Narrations about the reward for religious acts

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Do the narrations about the reward for reciting certain suras and doing some religious acts not have much exaggeration?

Another category of the Traditions which the unfair atheists suppose to have as much exaggeration as to make the meaning impossible consists in those concerning the reward for religious acts and virtues of some of the Qur’an’s suras. For example, there are narrations that the reward for sura al-Fatiha is equal to that which is for the Qur’an.136 Sura al-Ikhlas equals a third of the Qur’an,137 sura al-Zilzal, a quarter,138 sura al-Kafirun, a quarter,139 and sura Ya Sin, ten times the Qur’an.140 Unfair and unthinking people argue that these are impossible and meaningless because sura Ya Sin and the other meritorious suras are all contained in the Qur’an.

Answer: The truth of the matter is this:

Let us suppose a field sown with one thousand seeds of maize. If we suppose that some seeds produce seven shoots, and from each shoot a hundred grains, then a single seed becomes the equivalent of two-thirds of the original one thousand. If one seed produces ten shoots, and each yields two hundred grains, then a single seed is the equivalent of twice the number of the seeds originally sown in the whole of the field. You can make further analogies in the same way.

In exactly the same way, if we suppose the wise Qur’an to be a sacred, luminous, heavenly field, then each of the 300,620 letters together with its original reward is like a seed. Without considering the shoots which these seeds may produce, the whole of the Qur’an may be compared with the suras and verses about the multiple virtues of which there are narrations. Out of Divine Grace the letters of some suras may sprout and sometimes yield 10, sometimes 70, and sometimes 700, like the letters of Ayat al-Kursi. Sometimes they yield 1,500, like the letters of sura al-Ikhlas, and sometimes 10,000, like verses recited on the Night of Forgiveness (Laylat al-Bara’a) and other blessed occasions. It sometimes even occurs that they yield 30,000, like verses recited on the Night of Power (Laylat al-Qadr), which are like poppy seeds each of which may produce 10 cones in each of which are thou-sands of seeds. It is understood from the Night of Power being regarded in the Qur’an as equivalent to 1,000 months that a letter of the Qur’an recited on that night brings 30,000 rewards.

Now, it is clear from the explanations above that some of the Qur’an’s suras and verses may bring multiple rewards. They can be compared in certain circumstances with the whole of the Qur’an when the letters of the Qur’an are considered in their original merits, without producing a new crop of merits. For example, sura al-Ikhlas together with Basmala (the formula: In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate) has 69 letters. Since sura al-Ikhlas equals one-third of the Qur’an and the Qur’an has 300,620 letters, three times 69 is 207. That means, each letter of sura al-Ikhlas has about 1,500 merits or rewards. Similarly, suraYa-Sin equals ten times the Qur’an. If all the letters of the wise Qur’an are multiplied ten times and then the result will be divided by the number of sura Ya-Sin’s letters, the result will be: each letter of sura Ya-Sin has about 500 merits or rewards. So, if you apply the others to this, you will understand what a subtle, true and unexaggerated reality you are pre-sented with.

As with most other species of creatures, certain individuals among mankind are extraordinary with respect to acts and achievements. If those individuals excel in good deeds, they become the pride of mankind. Otherwise, they are the cause of their shame. Also, they acquire a collective identity and become models for others who try to be like them—and it is theoretically, even really, possible for everyone else to be like them. That means, those extraordinary individuals may emerge anywhere in the world. Therefore, according to common sense, it is conceivable that every place in the world may have some of those individuals.

It follows that any act has the potential to deserve such reward as this: The Prophet (upon him be peace and blessings) decreed that the reward for two rak‘as of prayer performed at such and such a time equals the Hajj (pilgrimage to the Ka‘ba).141 This means that all the two-rak‘a prayers performed at that time have potentially a reward equal to going on pilgrimage to the Ka‘ba. It is equally possible that no two-rak‘a prayers performed at that time will earn the reward for pilgrimage. The reward promised in narrations of this sort is not actual, nor for everyone at all times. There are certain conditions upon it, and though everyone who fulfils the conditions may potentially earn the promised re-ward, as stated above, it is equally possible that no one earns it. Therefore, the generality of the promise in narrations of this sort is in respect of possibility or potentiality. For example, a narration says: Backbiting is like murder.142 This means that there is a sort of backbiting such that it is more harmful than deadly poison. Again, for example: A good word equals in virtue the emancipation of a slave, which is greatly meritorious.143

By pointing (for the purpose of encouraging good deeds and restraining from evil ones) to the highest reward one may gain from a good deed, the noble Prophet (upon him be peace and blessings) aims to arouse eagerness for good and aversion to evil. Furthermore, the things belonging to the other world cannot be measured with the scales of this world. The greatest thing belonging to this world cannot be equal to the least thing of the next. Since the rewards for good deeds are related to the other world, we are certain to be in difficulties when trying to grasp them.

As another example, God’s noble Messenger (upon him be peace and blessings) declares:

Whoever recites All praise be to God, the Lord of the heavens and the Lord of the layers of the earth, the Lord of the Worlds: His is sublimity in the heavens and the earth, and He is the All-Mighty, the All-Wise. All praise be to God, the Lord of the heavens and the Lord of the layers of the earth, the Lord of the Worlds: His is grandeur in the heavens and the earth, and He is the All-Mighty, the All-Wise. His is the Kingdom, the Lord of the heavens, and He is the All-Mighty, the All-Wise is given the reward of Moses and Aaron.

This is one of the narrations which have been made the target of unfair criticism by unthinking people. However, the truth of the matter is this:

There is a certain degree of reward which, with our narrow minds and limited outlooks, we imagine Moses and Aaron (upon them be peace) to have in the world of eternity. The Absolutely Compassionate One may give a servant of His in infinite need of everlasting happiness as much reward for a single invocation of his as that which we imagine those two prophets to have, not what they really have.

For example, there is a primitive, uncultured man who has never seen the king and is therefore unaware of the splendor of his kingdom. However, he imagines a lord in a village, with his narrow experience, he thinks of the king as a bit greater than that lord. Among the tribes living in the East there were once some simple-minded people who used to say: ‘Our lord knows what the Sultan does, while he cooks his bulgur soup144 in a saucepan over the fire.’ In other words, they imagined the Sultan as someone greater than an ordinary man, who cooked his own bulgur soup. If someone were to say to one among those people, ‘If you do this work for me today, I’ll reward you with as much splendor as you think the Sultan has,’ he would be promising the man as much splendor as he can imagine—namely, what the Sultan has.

Thus, with our worldly views and narrow minds, we cannot think, even as much as the primitive man can think of the life-style of the Sultan, of the actual rewards related to the Hereafter. The Tradition in question does not compare the unknown reward for an invocation of a believing servant of God, to the actual reward of the Prophets Moses and Aaron, the degree of which is unknown to us. Rather it compares it (as, according to the rule of comparisons, the unknown is compared to the known) to the reward that we think those two prophets have.

Moreover, the surface of the sea [if supposed as smooth] and the ‘pupil’ of a drop are equal in holding the complete reflection of the sun; the difference is only in regard to quality. The nature of the reward reflected in the mirror of the ocean-like spirits of Moses and Aaron (upon them be peace) is of the same nature as the reward that a believing servant with a drop-like spirit receives from a Qur’anic verse. They are the same in regard to nature and quantity, while their quality depends on capacity.

Again, it sometimes happens that a single word, a single act of glorification, opens up such a treasury of happiness as one has not been able to open through a lifetime of divine service. In certain circumstances, a single verse may earn as much reward as the whole of the Qur’an. Also, the divine gifts and enlightenment which the noble Messenger of God (upon him be peace and blessings) who was endowed with God’s Greatest Name, received through a single verse, may have been as much as all of the gifts and enlightenment one of the other prophets received. If it is argued that a believer who through succession to the mission of Muhammad (upon him be peace and blessings) is endowed with the shadow of God’s Greatest Name, receives, corresponding to his own capacity and in respect of quantity, a reward as great as a Prophet’s enlightenment, it may not be contrary to the truth. Further-more, reward and virtues are from the realm of light, and one world from that realm may be contained in an atom from this world. The heaven with all its stars may appear in a tiny fragment of glass. So too reward and virtue, which are of pure light and as much as to fill the heavens, may be contained in an invocation or a Qur’anic verse which acquires transparency through sincerity and pure intention.

136. Bukhari, Tafsir sura 1.1; Tirmidhi, Thawab al-Qur’an, 1; Nasa’i, Iftitah, 26.

137. Tirmidhi, Thawab al-Qur’an, 10; Ibn Maja, Adab, 52; Abu Dawud, Witr, 18.

138. Tirmidhi, Thawab al-Qur’an, 14; Musnad Ibn Hanbal, 3.147.

139. Tirmidhi, Thawab al-Qur’an, 9; Musnad Ibn Hanbal, 3.147.

140. Tirmidhi, Thawab al-Qur’an, 7; Darimi, Fada’il al-Qur’an, 21.

141. Muttaqi al-Hindi, Kanz al-‘Ummal, 7.808; Tabarani, al-Mu’jam al-Kabir, 7740.

142. Musnad al-Firdaws, 3.116.

143. Kanz al-‘Ummal, 3.589.

144. A kind of soup made of boiled, pounded wheat. (Tr.)


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