Surah Al A’raf Series -1: Lessons from the surah ]


I used to think that In sha Allah I will go to paradise, but as I delve deeper into the Qur’an, I worry: what if I am not even among the people of Al-A’raf?

I did not notice the silent footsteps of this surah that made its way into my heart and settled there, in the process of reviewing the Qur’an a few Ramadans back.

Four years fast forward, as I started studying Surat Al-A’raf again, they rose up and nudged me. I was surprised to see them there and looked in the direction they were pointing me to turn.

They wanted me to see, understand, apply and share the immense resources in the Qur’an that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) made available for you and me, so that we could use them and try to at least end up on Al-A’raf.

So, here I am, delving into the Qur’an to search for treasures that can enrich our lives in this world and the hereafter.

These treasures are what we call ‘productivity lessons’. They are a reminder for myself before anyone else. May Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) enable us to acquire and apply them to the best of our abilities.

So are you ready for this treasure hunting spree? Let’s get going then.

Before we begin our journey into this surah to search for our treasures, let’s first gather the supplies we will need:

1- A pure intention

Umar Ibnul Khattab raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) told us: “I heard Allah’s Messenger ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) saying, “The reward of deeds depends upon the intentions and every person will get the reward according to what he has intended…” [Sahih Bukhari]. We therefore must make our intentions clear and keep renewing them.

Our intention is to understand and apply the Qur’an as that is the book of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and it contains most precious information for us to live our lives while we are in this world.

2- Dua

This is the most powerful tool of a believer. You and I must have at some point made a dua to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) to help us comprehend the Qur’an in a manner easy for us to apply. That is why we are here today; this is an answer to some duas of ours!

It’s time to make another one now.

“O Controller of the hearts make my heart steadfast in Your religion” [At- Tirmidhi]

“O my Lord, as you brought us this far, help us correctly understand and implement Your Commands in a manner most pleasing to You.”

3- Seek refuge from the Satan

We all know that Satan’s sole purpose is to see all mankind in hell.

“(Satan)) said: “O my Lord! Because you misled me, I shall indeed adorn the path of error for them (mankind) on the earth, and I shall mislead them all.”” [Qur’an: Chapter 7, Verse 16]

“Except Your chosen, (guided) slaves among them” [Qur’an: Chapter 15, Verse 40].

But we are too smart for him, right? Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has taught us ways by which we can guard ourselves and deflect his attacks on us.

During the course of this journey into the surah, there might be times when we feel that a certain lesson is too hard for us to apply or that the timing to make that change is not right.

Remember these are all tricks of Iblis, as Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has forewarned us in the Qur’an:

“Satan threatens you with poverty and orders you to immorality” [Qur’an: Chapter 2, Verse 268]1

At times like this we should seek refuge often in Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) from the accursed satan and continue on with determination and firm resolve.

4- Firm determination

Determination to complete this journey is a must. Tough times, difficult decisions and glittering distractions on the way can weaken us. But we have to persevere to stay on track, as a lot is at stake. Our hereafter is at stake. And you are not alone. We are all in this together. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has told us to be there for each other; to push and pull, drag and carry each other into paradise1 as He subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) told us:

“Indeed, mankind is in loss, Except for those who have believed and done righteous deeds and advised each other to truth and advised each other to patience” [Qur’an: Chapter 103, Verses 3-43]

And now, it’s time to get a clear picture of what exactly we are travelling towards, In sha Allah.

Background of the surah

Al-A’raf is the title of the seventh surah in the Qur’an, placed after Surat Al-An’am (The Cattle). Interestingly, Surat Al-A’raf was revealed before Surat Al-An’am. It is the longest Makki surah in the Qur’an, revealed towards the end of the Makkan period.

By “Makki”, scholars mean the period that the Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) spent in Makkah before he migrated to Madinah.

When the Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) went public with the message of Islam calling everyone to it, he faced opposition and oh boy, what an opposition he faced! From thinly veiled insults to outright boycott, to personal harm, to public humiliation; you name it.

And the opposition against him ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and the other Muslims only escalated with time.

Quraish (the tribe that was settled in Makkah during that period) tried to always find points to argue with him ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), through the Qur’an, answered many of these points of argument.

Surat Al-A’raf is a continuation of the argument between the disbelievers and Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).

In Surat Al-An’am, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is telling the disbelievers that the Qur’an is sufficient as a revelation, whereas in Al-A’raf, He is telling them to look at the past. The past holds great lessons for all of us that primarily teach us to learn from our mistakes and those of others.

Scholars like Mujahid say that Al-A’raf is a barrier between paradise and hellfire.

In the Arabic language, “A’raf” is the plural of “urf” which is an elevated piece of land.

As I briefly stated in the beginning, those words were directing me towards an elevated piece of land between paradise and hellire, which house those people whose good and bad deeds are equal: their good deeds prevented them from entering hell, while their bad deeds prevented them from entering paradise.

Woah! What a feeling it must be! Saved for the time being!

And between them will be a partition, and on [its] elevations are men who recognize all by their mark. And they call out to the companions of Paradise, “Peace be upon you.” They have not [yet] entered it, but they long intensely. [Qur’an: Chapter 7, Verse 46]

Productivity Lesson # 1 : Pay Attention!

Alif Laam Meem Saad [ Qur’an: Chapter 7, Verse 1]

These words are called the “huroof el muqata’at” and appear in 29 surahs in the Qur’an. They are recited separately. The word “huroof” is the plural of the Arabic word “harf” which means word. And “muqata’at” literally means “abbreviated”.

So in simple terms these words are abbreviations. Of what? We don’t know. Only Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) knows the full form of these abbreviations.

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) uses these words in the beginning of the surah to draw the attention of the listener. Strange words prick the ears of the listener and catch his attention, as he waits to know what follows.

So why are these placed in the beginning of the surah and how can they be our very first productivity lesson?

By telling us to look up, listen up, pay attention!

Attention is in very simple terms “directing a person’s mind towards something”.

According to Rick Hanson, the author of “Buddha’s Brain: The practical neuroscience of love, happiness and wisdom”, “attention shapes the brain.”

When we pay attention to something, we focus on something specific thus tuning out other irrelevant details, making us ignore other things.

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) wants us to pay attention to the Qur’an when it is being recited so “…that you may receive mercy” [Qur’an: Chapter 7, Verse 204].

Just the Qur’an when it is being recited? No, but to everything that reminds us of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). Whether it is a discussion between some people in a gathering, a forwarded message on our phones, a beneficial reminder in our Facebook feed or advice being given to us. A repeated act of paying attention will shape our minds and turn us more towards Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).

So pay attention, as any single tiny good deed could be all we need to breeze over the A’raf and squeeze into paradise!

Do you think paying attention will do the trick by itself?

No, it won’t. There is something else that is needed along with it.

Productivity Lesson # 2: Focus

Attention is the act of looking in the direction of something, but focus is the act of actually looking at something.

Our relationship with Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is the most important in our lives. If we pay attention to and focus on it, then In sha Allah, all our matters will fall in place.

The Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) always focused on the person he was listening to. Focusing in salah and focusing on our work by avoiding distractions are some areas in which we all need help.

There are amazing resources on ProductiveMuslim that you can check out for maintaining focus.

Attention and focus are the building blocks of strong relationships. There are so many accounts of the Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) listening with attention and focus, even to little children.2

Subhan Allah! We learned some amazing lessons from just one ayah of the surah. I can’t wait to delve into it more!

Curious to know what’s coming up next? In sha Allah see you again next time with some more treasures from the Qur’an. Until then, I urge you to recite, read and learn more about the surah and share your thoughts below in the comments section.
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