Surah Al Masad (meaning “Palm Fiber”) is the 111th surah of The Quran with 5 short verses. It’s also commonly referred to as Surah Lahab because of the mention of Prophet Muhammad’s uncle Abu Lahab.
It is given name ‘Palm Fiber’ based off verse 5 where it describes the rope being twisted around the Neck of the wife of Muhammad’s uncle Abu Lahab. In the Tafsir by Ibn Kathir (can read this at the bottom of page) it is discussed how she staunchly opposed Islam. Umm Jamil called her “the bearer of the wood” because she is said to have carried thorns and cast them in Muhammad’s pathway as to injure his feet.
In Sahih Bukhari hadith 4801, “Narrated Ibn `Abbas: One day the Prophet (ﷺ) ascended Safa mountain and said, “Oh Sabah! ” All the Quraish gathered round him and said, “What is the matter?” He said, Look, if I told you that an enemy is going to attack you in the morning or in the evening, would you not believe me?” They said, “Yes, we will believe you.” He said, “I am a warner to you in face of a terrible punishment.” On that Abu Lahab said, “May you perish ! Is it for this thing that you have gathered us?” So Allah revealed: ‘Perish the hands of Abu Lahab!…’ (111.1)”
Below you can read this Surah Al-Masad in Arabic. One of the goals of MyIslam site is to make the Qur’an easy to ready. So with each ayah we provide transliteration and Sahih international translation so you can find it easier to read and understand the Qur’an.
Surah Masad Translation and Transliteration
Bismillah Hir Rahman Nir Raheem
In the name of Allah, The Most Gracious and The Most Merciful
Tabbat yada abee lahabin watab
1. May the hands of Abu Lahab be ruined, and ruined is he.
Maa aghna ‘anhu maaluhu wa ma kasab
2. His wealth will not avail him or that which he gained.
Sayasla naran thatalahab
3. He will [enter to] burn in a Fire of [blazing] flame
Wam ra-atuhu hamma latal-hatab
4. And his wife [as well] – the carrier of firewood.
Fee jeediha hablun min masad
5. Around her neck is a rope of [twisted] fiber.
Tafsir of Surah Masad
Below you expand your knowledge of Surah Masad by reading the different tafseer works. By reading the various interpretations you’ll be able to gain a more comprehensive view of this Surah and it’s benefits, history, and signifcance.
In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
Al-Bukhari recorded from Ibn `Abbas that the Prophet went out to the valley of Al-Batha and he ascended the mountain. Then he cried out,
(O people, come at once!) So the Quraysh gathered around him. Then he said,
؟ (If I told you all that the enemy was going to attack you in the morning, or in the evening, would you all believe me) They replied, “Yes.” Then he said,
(Verily, I am a warner (sent) to you all before the coming of a severe torment.) Then Abu Lahab said, “Have you gathered us for this May you perish!” Thus, Allah revealed,
(Perish the two hands of Abu Lahab and perish he!) to the end of the Surah. In another narration it states that he stood up dusting of his hands and said, “Perish you for the rest of this day! Have you gathered us for this” Then Allah revealed,
(Perish the two hands of Abu Lahab and perish he!) The first part is a supplication against him and the second is information about him. This man Abu Lahab was one of the uncles of the Messenger of Allah.His name was `Abdul-`Uzza bin Abdul-Muttalib. His surname was Abu `Utaybah and he was only called Abu Lahab because of the brightness of his face. He used to often cause harm to the Messenger of Allah . He hated and scorned him and his religion. Imam Ahmad recorded from Abu Az-Zinad that a man called Rabi`ah bin `Abbad from the tribe of Bani Ad-Dil, who was a man of pre-Islamic ignorance who accepted Islam, said to him, “I saw the Prophet in the time of pre-Islamic ignorance in the market of Dhul-Majaz and he was saying,
(O people! Say there is no god worthy of worship except Allah and you will be successful.) The people were gathered around him and behind him there was a man with a bright face, squint (or cross) eyes and two braids in his hair. He was saying, “Verily, he is an apostate (from our religion) and a liar!” This man was following him (the Prophet ) around wherever he went. So, I asked who was he and they (the people) said, “This is his uncle, Abu Lahab.” Ahmad also recorded this narration from Surayj, who reported it from Ibn Abu Az-Zinad, who reported it from his father (Abu Zinad) who mentioned this same narration. However in this report, Abu Zinad said, “I said to Rabi`ah, `Were you a child at that time’ He replied, `No. By Allah, that day I was most intelligent, and I was the strongest blower of the flute (for music).”’ Ahmad was alone in recording this Hadith. Concerning Allah’s statement,
(His wealth and his children (Kasab) will not benefit him!) Ibn `Abbas and others have said,
(and his children (Kasab) will not benefit him!) “Kasab means his children.” A similar statement has been reported from `A’ishah, Mujahid, `Ata’, Al-Hasan and Ibn Sirin. It has been mentioned from Ibn Mas`ud that when the Messenger of Allah called his people to faith, Abu Lahab said, “Even if what my nephew says is true, I will ransom myself (i.e., save myself) from the painful torment on the Day of Judgement with my wealth and my children.” Thus, Allah revealed,
(His wealth and his children will not benefit him!) Then Allah says,
(He will enter a Fire full of flames!) meaning, it has flames, evil and severe burning.
(And his wife too, who carries wood.) His wife was among the leading women of the Quraysh and she was known as Umm Jamil. Her name was `Arwah bint Harb bin Umayyah and she was the sister of Abu Sufyan. She was supportive of her husband in his disbelief, rejection and obstinacy. Therefore, she will be helping to administer his punishment in the fire of Hell on the Day of Judgement. Thus, Allah says,
(Who carries wood. In her neck is a twisted rope of Masad.) meaning, she will carry the firewood and throw it upon her husband to increase that which he is in (of torment), and she will be ready and prepared to do so.
(In her neck is a twisted rope of Masad.) Mujahid and `Urwah both said, “From the palm fiber of the Fire.” Al-`Awfi narrated from Ibn `Abbas, `Atiyah Al-Jadali, Ad-Dahhak and Ibn Zayd that she used to place thorns in the path of the Messenger of Allah . Al-Jawhari said, “Al-Masad refers to fibers, it is also a rope made from fibers or palm leaves. It is also made from the skins of camels or their furs. It is said (in Arabic) Masadtul-Habla and Amsaduhu Masadan, when you tightly fasten its twine.” Mujahid said,
(In her neck is a twisted rope of Masad.) “This means a collar of iron.” Don’t you see that the Arabs call a pulley cable a Masad
Ibn Abi Hatim said that his father and Abu Zur`ah both said that `Abdullah bin Az-Zubayr Al-Humaydi told them that Sufyan informed them that Al-Walid bin Kathir related from Ibn Tadrus who reported that Asma’ bint Abi Bakr said, “When
(Perish the two hands of Abu Lahab and perish he)!) was revealed, the one-eyed Umm Jamil bint Harb came out wailing, and she had a stone in her hand. She was saying, `He criticizes our father, and his religion is our scorn, and his command is to disobey us.’ The Messenger of Allah was sitting in the Masjid (of the Ka`bah) and Abu Bakr was with him. When Abu Bakr saw her he said, `O Messenger of Allah! She is coming and I fear that she will see you.’ The Messenger of Allah replied,
(Verily, she will not see me.) Then he recited some of the Qur’an as a protection for himself. This is as Allah says,
(And when you recite the Qur’an, We put between you and those who believe not in the Hereafter, an invisible veil.) (17:45) So she advanced until she was standing in front of Abu Bakr and she did not see the Messenger of Allah . She then said, `O Abu Bakr! Verily, I have been informed that your friend is making defamatory poetry about me.’ Abu Bakr replied, `Nay! By the Lord of this House (the Ka`bah) he is not defaming you.’ So she turned away saying, `Indeed the Quraysh know that I am the daughter of their leader.”’ Al-Walid or another person said in a different version of this Hadith, “So Umm Jamil stumbled over her waist gown while she was making circuits (Tawaf) around the House (the Ka`bah) and she said, `Cursed be the reviler.’ Then Umm Hakim bint `Abdul-Muttalib said, `I am a chaste woman so I will not speak abusively and I am refined so I do not know. Both of us are children of the same uncle. And after all the Quraysh know best.”
This is the end of the Tafsir of this Surah, and all praise and blessings are due to Allah.
Name and Nickname of Abu Lahab
Abu Lahab [ Father of Flame ] was the Nickname of ` Abd-ul-` Uzza, one of the sons of Abdul-Muttalib. As he was ruddy in complexion, he was nicknamed Abu Lahab [Father of Flame]. The Qur’an did not mention his real name, because it smacked of paganism, and the last element ‘lahab’ [ Flame ] in the nickname has also nexus with the flame of Hell. This person was the inveterate enemy and persecutor of the Holy Prophet ﷺ ، and violently opposed Islam. Whenever the Holy Prophet ﷺ invited the people to Islamic Faith, he would stand up and cry lie to his message. [Ibn Kathir]
Cause of Revelation
It is recorded in the two Sahihs that when the verse وَأَنذِرْ عَشِيرَتَكَ الْأَقْرَبِينَ (Warn your closest relatives – 26:214) was revealed, the Holy Prophet ﷺ ascended the mount Safa and cried out to the tribe of Quraish in a manner that was known among them for warning of an attack by the enemy. Some narratives maintain that he called the different Makkah clans by name, the clan of Banu ` Abd Munaf, Banu ` Abdul-Muttalib and others. All the clans of Quraish gathered around him, and he said to them: ‘If I were to tell you that the enemy is about to attack you in the morning or in the evening, would you believe me?’ They all unanimously replied in the affirmative. Then he said: ‘Verily, I am a warner sent to you before the coming of a severe torment (as a result of disbelief or paganism). Abu Lahab then responded: تَبَاً لَکَ اَلِھٰذَا جَمَعتَنَا ‘Ruin may seize you! Is it for this purpose that you have called us together?’ and picked up a stone to hit him. Thus this Surah was revealed.
Verse [ 111:1] تَبَّتْ يَدَا أَبِي لَهَبٍ وَتَبَّ (Perish the two hands of Abu Lahab, and perish he! ) The word yad literally means a ‘hand’. Because hands play a very important role in all of human works and actions, often yad (hand) refers to the human person, as in the phrase ذَٰلِكَ بِمَا قَدَّمَتْ يَدَاكَ (…All this is due to what your hands have sent forth…22:10). Baihaqi has recorded on the authority of Sayyidna Ibn ‘Abbas ؓ that one day Abu Lahab said to the people that Muhammad says that such-and-such a thing will happen after death. Then, pointing to his hands, said that none of those things have come into these hands; then he addressed his hands and said: تَبّاً لکما ما اریٰ فیکما شیٔاً ممّا قال محمد (Perish you! I do not see any of the things Muhammad said in you.) Therefore, the Qur’an attributes his destruction to his hands.
The verb tabba is derived from tabab which means ‘to perish’. In verse [ 11, the first sentence تَبَّتْ يَدَا أَبِي لَهَبٍ (Perish the two hands of Abu Lahab) is in the form of a prayer invoking or imprecating destruction upon Abu Lahab, and the second sentence wa tabba is the declarative sentence prophesying the consequence of the invocation. The first sentence was invoked against him to satisfy the indignation of the Muslims, because when Abu Lahab imprecated destruction upon the Holy Prophet ﷺ ، it was the desire of the Muslims that imprecation be invoked against him. Allah thus fulfilled their desire, and also informed them that the invocation has taken effect and he perished. Seven days after the battle of Badr, he developed a terrible case of plague because of which people avoided him. They regarded the disease as infectious and were afraid that it might be transmitted by contact, so they forced him to live in an isolated house, and they did not come into contact with him at all. He at last died in this state. His dead body lay untouched in his house for three days. When his body began to rot giving out unbearable stench, people taunted his sons, and they hired laborers to take it away and bury it. They dug a pit in the ground, pushed his body into it with a stick and covered it with stones. [ Bayan-ul-Qur’ an from Ruh ].
Verse [ 111:2] مَا أَغْنَىٰ عَنْهُ مَالُهُ وَمَا كَسَبَ (Neither his wealth availed him, nor what he earned.) The phrase ma kasab [ what he earned ] could refer to the profits that accrued to him from investment of his wealth in business, and it could also imply ‘children’, for the children of a person are also referred to (in Arabic) as his earning. Sayyidah ` A’ishah ؓ reports that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said:
ان اطیب ما اکل الرّجل من کسبہ وان ولدہ من کسبہ
“The best and the purest thing a man eats is from his earnings and his children are part of his earnings”.
This means that eating from the earnings of one’s children is tantamount to eating from one’s own earnings. [ Qurtubi ]
Therefore, Sayyidah ` A’ishah, Mujahid, ‘Ata’, Ibn Sirin and others interpret ma kasab [ what he earned ] as referring to ‘children’. Allah had granted Abu Lahab abundant wealth and many children, and these two factors led him to be ungrateful, and caused him to be proud and arrogant. Sayyidna Ibn ` Abbas ؓ says that when the Messenger of Allah ﷺ called his people to faith and warned them about the Divine punishment, Abu Lahab said: “Even if what my nephew says is true, I will save myself from the painful torment on the Day of Judgment with my wealth and my children.” Thus Allah revealed verse [ 2] مَا أَغْنَىٰ عَنْهُ مَالُهُ وَمَا كَسَبَ that is, when the Divine torment seized him in this world, neither his wealth nor his children benefited him!
Verse [ 111:3] سَيَصْلَىٰ نَارًا ذَاتَ لَهَبٍ (He will enter a fire, full of flames.) That is, either on the Day of Judgment or immediately after his death, while in grave, he will be pushed into the blazing fire. There is a rhetorical relationship between Abu Lahab and dhata lahab [ full of flames ].
The Fate of ‘Umm Jamil, the Wife of Abu Lahab
Verse [ 111:4] وَامْرَأَتُهُ حَمَّالَةَ الْحَطَبِ (And his wife as well, the wicked, the carrier of firewood.) As Abu Lahab was a vehement enemy of the Holy Messenger ﷺ ، his wife too was supportive of her husband in his disbelief, rejection, obstinacy, and in persecuting the Holy Prophet ﷺ . She was a sister of Abu Sufyan, and daughter of Harb Ibn ‘Umayyah. Her nickname was Umm Jamil. The Qur’an makes plain in this verse that this wretched woman will also roast with her husband in the fire of Hell. She is described as حَمَّالَةَ الْحَطَبِ which literally means ‘the carrier of firewood’. Idiomatically, Arabs use this expression to refer to a ‘tale-bearer ‘, that is, one who gathers pieces of gossip and carries them between individuals and families in order to ignite the fires of discord and enmity between people, exactly as one would gather firewood to kindle the fire. This telltale woman improperly carried information concerning the private affairs of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ ، and the blessed Companions in an attempt to ignite and instigate trouble. In this verse too, the phrase ‘the carrier of firewood’ has been interpreted by Sayyidna Ibn ` Abbas ؓ ، Mujahid, ` Ikrimah رحمۃ اللہ علیہما and a group of commentators to mean that ‘She was a tale-bearer’ while Ibn Zaid, Dahhak and other commentators رحمۃ اللہ علیہم retain it in its original sense, and explain that she literally used to collect thorny branches from the jungle, and place them in the path of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ in order to harm him – hence the description: ‘carrier of firewood’. [Qurtubl, Ibn Kathir].
Some scholars explain that just as she used to help her husband in this world to promote disbelief and tyranny and to assist him in harming the Messenger of Allah ﷺ ، she will add to the torment of her husband in the Hereafter. She will collect the branches of zaqqum and other trees and add them as fuel to the fire of Hell in which her husband would be roasting. [Ibn Kathir].
Tale-Bearing: A Gravely Major Sin
It is recorded in the two Sahihs that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ is reported to have said that a tale-bearer (to harm others) will not enter Paradise. Fudail Ibn ` Iyad (رح) says that there are three evil deeds of man that destroy all his righteous actions. They are: [ 1] backbiting; [ 2] tale-bearing; and [ 3] lying. ` Ata’ Ibn Sa’ib (رح) says that he asked Sha’bi (رح) about the Prophetic Tradition in which the Messenger of Allah ﷺ is reported to have said: لَا یدخل الجنّۃ سافک دم ولا مشّاء بنمیمۃ ولا تاجر یربی . “Three types of people will not enter Paradise: [ 1] a murderer; [ 2] a tale-bearer; and [ 3] a trader who is involved in usury.” ` Ata’ (رح) says that I cited this Tradition to Sha’bi and asked him in a surprising tone that the Holy Prophet ﷺ has equated ‘a tale-bearer’ with a murderer and a usurer. He replied: “Indeed, tale-bearing is the root cause of murder and usurpation of wealth.” [Qurtubi]
Verse [ 111:5] فِي جِيدِهَا حَبْلٌ مِّن مَّسَدٍ (In her neck there is a rope of twisted palm-fibre.) The masd with the letter-s-bearing sukun [ quiescence or rest ] is an infinitive which means ‘to twist rope or cord, or to twist it strongly and tightly’. If the word is read as masad with the letters m-s bearing fatha [= a-a ], the word refers to fibres. It is also a rope made of ‘twisted fibres of palm tree’ or ‘tightly braided fibres of coconut tree’ or ‘cord that has been woven strongly’ or ‘coil or cable formed by winding iron strands together’. [ al-Qamus ]. Some scholars have preferred to translate it specifically as ‘a rope made of twisted fibres of palm tree’ and no other string or twine. This is in conformity with the general usage of the Arabs. Basically, it refers to any string or twine or rope or cord or coil or cable formed by intertwining strands of any material. In keeping with this general sense of the word, Sayyidna Ibn ` Abbas ؓ ، ` Urwah Ibn Zubair ؓ and others said that in this context the phrase حَبْلٌ مِّن مَّسَدٍ “rope of masad” refers to ‘rope formed by twisting iron strands’. This will be her condition in Hell where an iron-collar will be in her neck. Sayyidna Mujahid (رح) interprets min masad as min hadid, that is, ‘of iron’. [Mazhari].
Sha’bi, Muqatil and other commentators have taken the phrase min masad to refer to ‘a rope made of twisted fibres of palm tree’ and said that Abu Lahab and his wife were extremely wealthy and were looked upon as leaders of their nation but, on account of his wife’s mean disposition and miserliness, she used to collect firewood from the jungle, bind them together with a rope, place the bundle on her head and put its rope round her neck, so that it might not fall from her head. This practice of hers one day led to her destruction. She had a bundle of wood on her head and the rope in her neck. She felt tired and sat down. Then fell, was choked and died. According to this second interpretation, the verse describes her mean disposition and the disastrous consequences of her sadistic behavior. [Mazhari]. However, such a conduct in Abu Lahab’s family, especially of his wife, was hardly conceivable; therefore, most commentators have preferred the first interpretation. Allah knows best!
The Commentary on
Background Abu Lahab, whose real name was `Abd al-‘Uzza ibn `Abd alMuttalib, was the Prophet’s uncle. He was so nicknamed because of the radiant look on his face. Together with his wife, Abu Lahab was one of the most hostile opponents of God’s Messenger and the ideas he propagated.
Ibn Ishaq related the following report by Rabi`ah ibn `Abbad al-Dayli: “When I was young I once watched, with my father, God’s Messenger preaching Islam to the Arab tribes, saying ‘O sons of… (calling their respective tribal names), I am God’s Messenger sent to order you to submit to, and worship Him alone, invoking nothing else beside Him, and to believe in me and protect me until I carry out what God has entrusted to me.’ A cross-eyed, bright-faced man was behind him, who used to say, after he had finished, ‘O sons of… This man wants you to forsake al-Lat and al-`Uzza [two prominent idols worshipped by the pagan Arabs] and your allies of the jinn, the children of Malik ibn Aqmas and to substitute for them these innovations and nonsense he has come up with. Do not listen to him, nor follow what he preaches.’ I asked my father who that man was and he told me that it was Abu Lahab, the Prophet’s uncle.” [Related by Ahmad and al-Tabarani.]
This is but one incident of Abu Lahab’s intimidation and ill- will towards the Prophet and his message. His wife, Arwa bint Harb ibn Umayyah, Abu Sufyan’s sister, gave him unfailing support in his virulent, relentless campaign.
Such was Abu Lahab’s attitude towards the Prophet from the very start of his divine mission. Al-Bukhari relates, on Ibn `Abbas’s authority, that “one day the Prophet went out to al-Batha’, a large square in Makkah, climbed a hill and summoned the people of the Quraysh. When they came to him, he addressed them, saying, ‘Were I to tell you that an enemy is drawing near and will attack you tomorrow morning or evening, would you believe me?’ ‘Yes,’ they replied. ‘o listen to me,’ he went on, ‘I am warning you of [God’s] gruesome torment.’ Abu Lahab was there and snapped at him, ‘Damn you! For this have you called us?” [Another version says: Abu Lahab stood up shaking the dust off his hands and saying, ‘Damn you all day long…’] Then this surah was revealed.
Another instance was when the Hashimite clan [i.e. the Prophet’s own clan], under Abu Talib’s leadership, decided on grounds of tribal loyalty to protect the Prophet despite their rejection of the religion he preached. Abu Lahab was the only one to take a different stand. He joined with the Quraysh instead, and was with them in signing the document imposing a complete social and business boycott on the Hashimites so as to starve them out unless they delivered the Prophet to them.
Abu Lahab also ordered his two sons to renounce Muhammad’s two daughters to whom they had been engaged before Muhammad’s prophetic assignment. His aim was to burden the Prophet with their living and welfare expenses.
Thus, Abu Lahab and his wife, Arwa, who was also called Umm Jamil, continued with their persistent onslaught against the Prophet and his message. The fact that they were close neighbours of the Prophet made the situation even worse. We are told that Umm Jamil used to carry thorns and sharp wood and place them along the Prophet’s path [although it is thought that the phrase the carrier of firewood’ in the surah is used only metaphorically to indicate her lies and malice about him].
The Final Word
This surah was revealed as a counterattack against Abu Lahab’s and his wife’s hostile campaign. God took it upon Himself to say the final word on behalf of His Messenger.
“Doomed are the hands of Abu Lahab; doomed is he.” (Verse 1) The Arabic term, tabba, rendered here as ‘doomed’ also signifies failure and cutting off. The term is used twice in two different senses. It is used first as a prayer, while in the second instance it implies that the prayer has been already answered. So, in one short verse, an action is realized which draws the curtains upon a battle scene. What later follows is merely a description of what took place with the remark that “his wealth and his gains shall avail him nothing.” (Verse 2) He can have no escape. He is defeated, vanquished and damned. This was his fate in this world, but in the hereafter “he shall have to endure a flaming fire.” (Verse 3) The fire is described as having flames in order to emphasize that it is raging. “And his wife, the carrier of firewood,” will reside there with him having “a rope of palm-fibre round her neck,” with which, as it were, she is being dragged into hell, or which she used for fastening wood bundles together, according to whether a literal or metaphorical interpretation of the text is adopted.
The language of this surah achieves remarkable harmony between the subject matter and the atmosphere built around it. Abu Lahab will be plunged into a fire with lahab, which is the Arabic for flames; and his wife who carries the wood, a fuel, will be met with the same fire with a palm-fibre rope around her neck. Hell, with its fiercely burning lahab, or flames, will be inhabited by Abu Lahab. At the same time his wife, who collects thorns and sharp woods, materials which can significantly increase the blaze of a fire, puts them all in the Prophet’s way. Hence, she will, in time, be dragged into hell with a rope tied round her neck, bundled like firewood. How perfectly matched are the words and the pictures portrayed: the punishment is presented as being of the same nature as the deed: wood, ropes, fire and lahab!
Phonetically, the words are arranged in a way which provides wonderful harmony between the sounds made by the tying of wood into bundles and pulling the neck by ropes. Read in Arabic the opening verse, “Tabbat yada abi Lahabin wa tabb.” You will not fail to note that it sounds like a hard sharp tug, analogous to that of bundles of wood or an unwilling person being dragged by the neck into a wild fire; all is in phase with the fury and violent, bellicose tone that goes with the theme of the sūrah. Thus, in five short verses making up one of the shortest surahs in the Qur’an, the vocal melodies click neatly with the actual movement of the scene portrayed.
This extremely rich and powerful style led Umm Jamil to claim that the Prophet was in fact satirizing her and her husband. This arrogant and vain woman could not get over being referred to by such a humiliating phrase as ‘the carrier of firewood,’ who ‘shall have a rope of palm fibre round her neck.’ Her rage grew wilder when the surah became popular among the Arab tribes who greatly appreciated such fine literary style!
Ibn Ishaq relates: “Umm Jamil, I was told, having heard what the Qur’an said about her and her husband, came to the Prophet who was with Abu Bakr at the Ka`bah. She was carrying a handful of stones. God took her sight away from the Prophet and she saw only Abu Bakr to whom she said, ‘Where is your comrade? I have heard that he has been satirizing me. Were I to find him, I would throw these stones right into his face. I, too, am gifted in poetry.’ Then she chanted before leaving:
The contemptible we obey not! Nor what he says shall we accept!
“Abu Bakr turned around to the Prophet and said, ‘Do you think that she saw you?’ ‘No,’ replied the Prophet, ‘God made her unable to see me.
Al-Bazzar relates on Ibn `Abbas’s authority that “when this surah was revealed Abu Lahab’s wife sought the Prophet. While he was with Abu Bakr she appeared. Abu Bakr suggested to the Prophet: ‘She will not harm you if you move out of her sight.’ ‘Do not worry,’ said the Prophet in a soothing manner. ‘She will not see me.’ She came to Abu Bakr and said: ‘Your friend has lampooned us!’ ‘By the Lord of this Ka`bah, he has not,’ Abu Bakr assured her. ‘He is no poet and what he says is not poetry,’ he added. She said, ‘I believe you,’ and then left. Abu Bakr then enquired from the Prophet whether she had seen him and he said, ‘No, an angel was shielding me all the time she was here.’ So much was her fury and her indignation at what she thought was poetry and which Abu Bakr rightly refuted.
Thus, the humiliating picture of Abu Lahab and his wife has been recorded to last forever in this eternal book, the Qur’an, to show God’s anger with them for their animosity towards His Messenger and message. All those who choose to take a similar attitude towards Islam, therefore, will meet with the same disgrace, humiliation and frustration, both in this life and in the life to come.
His real name was Abd al-Uzza, and he was called Abu Lahab on account of his glowing, ruddy complexion. Lahab means the flame of fire, and Abu Lahab the one with a flaming, fiery face. His being mentioned here by his nickname (Kunyat), instead of his real name, has several reasons. First, that he was better known by his nickname than by his real name; second, that the Quran did not approve that he should be mentioned by his polytheistic name Abd al Uzza (slave of Uzza); third, that his kunyat goes well with the fate that has been described of him in this Surah.
Some commentators have translated tabbat yada Abi Lahab to mean: May the hands of Abu Lahab be broken, and tabba to mean: may he perish or he perished. But this, in fact, was not a curse which was invoked on him, but a prophecy in which an event taking place in the future, has been described in the past tense, to suggest that its occurrence in the future is certain and inevitable.
In fact, at last the same thing happened as had been foretold in this Surah a few years earlier. Breaking of the hands obviously does not imply breaking of the physical hands, but a person’s utterly failing in his aim and object for which he has exerted his utmost. And Abu Lahab indeed had exerted his utmost to defeat and frustrate the message of Islam presented by the Prophet (peace be upon him). But hardly seven or eight years after the revelation of this Surah most of the big chiefs of Quraish, who were a party with Abu Lahab in his hostility to Islam, were killed in the Battle of Badr. When the news of the defeat reached Makkah, he was so shocked that he could not survive for more than seven days. His death occurred in a pitiable state. He became afflicted with malignant pustule and the people of his house left him to himself, fearing contagion. No one came near his body for three days after his death, until the body decomposed and began to stink. At last, when the people began to taunt his sons, according to one tradition, they hired some black people, who lifted his body and buried it.
According to another tradition, they got a pit dug out and threw his body into it by pushing it with wood, and covered it up with earth and stones. His utter failure became manifest when the religion which he had tried his utmost to impede and thwart, was accepted by his own children. First of all, his daughter, Darrah, migrated from Makkah to Madinah and embraced lslam; then on the conquest of Makkah, both his sons, Utbah and Muattab, came before the Prophet (peace be upon him) through the mediation of Abbas, believed and took oath of allegiance to him.
Abu Lahab was a stingy, materialistic man. Ibn Jarir has stated that once in the pre-Islamic days he was accused of having stolen two golden deer from the treasury of the Kabah. Though later the deer were recovered from another person, the fact that he was accused of stealing indicates the opinion the people of Makkah held of him. About his riches Qadi Rashid bin Zubair writes in his Adh-Dhakhair wat- Tuhaf: He was one of the four richest men of the Quraish, who owned one qintar (about 260 oz) of gold each. His love of wealth can be judged from the fact that when on the occasion of the battle of Badr the fate of his religion was going to be decided forever, and all the Quraish chiefs had personally gone to fight, he sent Aas bin Hisham to fight on his own behalf, telling him: This is in lieu of the debt of four thousand dirhams that you owe to me. Thus, he contrived a plan to realize his debt, for Aas had become bankrupt and there was no hope of the recovery of the debt from him.
Some commentators have taken maa kasaba in the meaning of the earning, i.e. the benefits that accrued to him from his wealth were his kasab (earning), and some other commentators have taken it to imply children, for the Prophet (peace be upon him) has said that a man’s son also is his kasab (earning). (Abu Daud, Ibn Abi Hatim). Both these meanings fully correspond to the fate met by Abu Lahab. For when he was afflicted with the malignant pustule, his wealth availed him nothing, and his children also left him alone to die a miserable, wretched death. They did not even bury him honorably. Thus, within a few years the people witnessed how the prophecy which had been made in this Surah about Abu Lahab was literally fulfilled.
Her name was Arwa and her nickname (kunyat) Umm Jamil. She was sister of Abu Sufyan and was no less bitter than her husband, Abu Lahab, in her enmity to the Messenger (peace be upon him). Abu Bakr’s daughter Asma has related that when this Surah was revealed, and Umm Jamil heard it, she was filled with rage and went out in search of the Prophet (peace be upon him). She carried a handful of stones and she was crying some verses of her own, satirizing the Prophet (peace be upon him). She came to the Kabah, where the Prophet (peace be upon him) was sitting with Abu Bakr. The latter said: O Messenger of Allah, there she comes and I fear lest she should utter something derogatory to you. The Prophet (peace be upon him) replied: She will not see me. The same thing happened. She could not see the Prophet (peace be upon him) although he was there. She said to Abu Bakr: I hear that your companion has satirized me. Abu Bakr replied: No, by the Lord of this house, he has not satirized you. Hearing this she went off. (lbn Abi Hatim, Ibn Hisham; Bazzar has related an incident on the authority of Abdullah bin Abbas also, which closely resembles this). What Abu Bakr meant was that she had not been satirized by the Prophet (peace be upon him), but by Allah Himself.
The words in the original are hammalat al-hatab, which literally mean: carrier of the wood. The commentators have given several meanings of it. Abdullah bin Abbas, Ibn Zaid, Dahhak and Rabi bin Anas say: She used to strew thorns at the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) door in the night; therefore, she has been described as carrier of the wood. Qatadah, Ikrimah, Hasan Basri, Mujahid and Sufyan Thauri say: She used to carry evil tales and slander from one person to another in order to create hatred between them; therefore, she has been called the bearer of wood idiomatically. Saaid bin Jubair says: The one who is loading himself with the burden of sin is described idiomatically in Arabic as: Fulan-un Yahtatibu ala zahri bi (so and so is loading wood on his back); therefore, hummalat al-hatab means: The one who carries the burden of sin. Another meaning which the commentators have also given is: she will do this in the Hereafter, i.e. she will bring and supply wood to the fire in which Abu Lahab would be burning.
The word used for her neck is jeed, which in Arabic means a neck decorated with an ornament. Saeed bin al- Musayyab, Hasan Basri and Qatadah say that she wore a valuable necklace and used to say: By Lat and Uzza, I will sell away this necklace and spend the price to satisfy my enmity against Muhammad (peace be upon him). That is why the word jeed has been used here ironically, thereby implying that in Hell she would have a rope of palm-fiber round her neck instead of that necklace upon which she prides herself so arrogantly. Another example of this ironical style is found at several places in the Quran in the sentence: Bashshir-hum bi-adhab-in alima “Give them the good news of a painful torment.
The words habl-um min-masad have been used for the rope which will be put round her neck, i.e. it will be a rope of the masad kind. Different meanings of this have been given by the lexicographers and commentators. According to some, masad means a tightly twisted rope; others say that masad is the rope made from palm-fiber; still others say that it means the rope made from rush, or camel-skin, or camelhair. Still another view is that it implies a cable made by twisted iron strands together.