Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 4

Continuing on the analysis of Ayah 40 of Surat al-Bara’ah:

إِلَّا تَنصُرُوهُ فَقَدْ نَصَرَهُ اللَّهُ إِذْ أَخْرَجَهُ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا ثَانِيَ اثْنَيْنِ إِذْ هُمَا فِي الْغَارِ إِذْ يَقُولُ لِصَاحِبِهِ لَا تَحْزَنْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ مَعَنَا ۖ فَأَنزَلَ اللَّهُ سَكِينَتَهُ عَلَيْهِ وَأَيَّدَهُ بِجُنُودٍ لَّمْ تَرَوْهَا وَجَعَلَ كَلِمَةَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا السُّفْلَىٰ ۗ وَكَلِمَةُ اللَّهِ هِيَ الْعُلْيَا ۗ وَاللَّهُ عَزِيزٌ حَكِيمٌ

If you do not aid the Prophet – Allah has already aided him when those who disbelieved had driven him out [of Makkah] as one of two, when they were in the cave and he said to his companion, “Do not grieve; indeed Allah is with us.” And Allah sent down his tranquillity upon him and supported him with angels you did not see and made the word of those who disbelieved the lowest, while the word of Allah – that is the highest. And Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise. (9:40 / Sahih International)

The focus of Part 3 will be on the part of the Ayah:

إِذْ يَقُولُ لِصَاحِبِهِ لَا تَحْزَنْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ مَعَنَا

… when he [Prophet Muhammad (sawa)] said to his companion [Abu Bakr]: Do not grieve; indeed Allah is with us.

First and foremost, there is no real question as to who spoke what. It is clear from the ayah of the Qur’an, hadith, historical records, and consensus, that the Prophet spoke the words “Do not grieve; indeed Allah is with us.” to Abu Bakr.

Let us now analyse this ayah.

Abu Bakr was afraid

The word “Huzn” (حزن) means sadness, grief or sorrow. Abu Bakr’s sadness stemmed from fear. Abu Bakr had fear and according to some accounts he began to cry. To demonstrate this, we look at some of the most popular Tafseers (and their school of thought) and their explanation of the reason Abu Bakr was in grief:

  • al-Shawkaani (Sunni): The Prophet (sawa) and Abu Bakr heard the voices of the Polytheists, so Abu Bakr became fearful, and he became anxious and afraid.(1)
  • Ibn Jawzy (Sunni): Abu Bakr was crying when the Polytheists reached the door of the cave.(2)
  • Ibn Katheer (Sunni): While in the cave, Abu Bakr was afraid the pagans might discover them for fear that some harm might touch the Messenger.(3)
  • al-Tabari (Sunni): He (Abu Bakr) was afraid from the seekers that they would know where they were, so he went into intense grief because of that.(4)
  • al-Fakhr al-Razi (Sunni): Abu Bakr cried from fear over the Messenger of Allah (sawa).(5)
  • al-Qurtubi (Sunni): He was afraid for the Prophet (sawa) that danger would reach him, and that at this point in time the Prophet (sawa) was not protected by Allah (swt) since the ayah – And Allah will protect you from the people.” (5:67) – was revealed after this incident.(6)
  • al-Tabrasi (Shia): [The Prophet (sawa) said to Abu Bakr] “Do not grieve”, meaning fear not [because he was afraid].(7)
  • al-Tabataba’i (Shia): [The Prophet (sawa) said to Abu Bakr] “Do not grieve”, meaning do not grieve out of fear from what you perceive of our lack of numbers (support in numbers).(8)
  • al-Toosi (Shia): [When the Prophet (sawa) said to Abu Bakr] “Do not grieve”, and these words was not an admonition, then certainly it was not praise as it was a specific order to abstain from his fearfulness.(9)
  • Faydh al-Kashani (Shia): [The Prophet (sawa) said to Abu Bakr] “Do not grieve”, meaning fear not [because he was afraid].(10)

So we can conclude here, that Abu Bakr was afraid. Some would say afraid of the situation, some would say for himself, and some would say for the sake of the Messenger of Allah (swt). Regardless of what he was afraid of, the common ground between all mufassareen is there was fear in Abu Bakr, and also according to some he was also crying. Establishing this (that Abu Bakr was afraid) is important for when we analyse other ayahs within this article.

Allah is with US ?

Now we look at what was meant by the Prophet (sawa) when he said “Allah is with us”.

The ‘Sunni’ commentators, obviously, take the position that this immense praise for Abu Bakr.

al-Fakhr al-Razi (Sunni) says:

This ayah points to the idea that Allah was with Abu Bakr, and for everyone that Allah is with – they must be from those who fear Him (al-muttaqeen) and doers of good (al-muhsaneen). This is due to the statement of Allah (swt): Indeed, Allah is with those who fear Him and those who are doers of good. (16:128 / Sahih International).(11)

Reply: This is not always the case, and it will depend upon the context that Allah uses this term “with you/him/them/those” etc. For example, we find that Allah (swt) is also with all of those who have secret counsels, especially those who disbelieved and plotted against Allah (swt) and the Messenger (sawa):

أَلَمْ تَرَ أَنَّ اللَّهَ يَعْلَمُ مَا فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَمَا فِي الْأَرْضِ ۖ مَا يَكُونُ مِن نَّجْوَىٰ ثَلَاثَةٍ إِلَّا هُوَ رَابِعُهُمْ وَلَا خَمْسَةٍ إِلَّا هُوَ سَادِسُهُمْ وَلَا أَدْنَىٰ مِن ذَٰلِكَ وَلَا أَكْثَرَ إِلَّا هُوَ مَعَهُمْ أَيْنَ مَا كَانُوا ۖ ثُمَّ يُنَبِّئُهُم بِمَا عَمِلُوا يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عَلِيمٌ

Do you not see that Allah knows whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth? Nowhere is there a secret counsel between three persons but He is the fourth of them, nor (between) five but He is the sixth of them, nor less than that nor more but He is with them wheresoever they are; then He will inform them of what they did on the day of resurrection: surely Allah is Cognizant of all things. (58:7 / Shakir)

Here the Arabic is strikingly similar to what is mentioned in 9:40. It says “Allah is with them” (هُوَ مَعَهُمْ). However, the people mentioned in this ayah are not believers, but rather plotters against Allah (swt) and his Prophet (sawa). Al-Fakhr al-Razi himself says: “This ayah (58:7) was brought down upon a group of hypocrites”.(12)

Now, we see the context is obviously different here than 16:128 where Allah (swt) says: Indeed, Allah is with those who fear Him and those who are doers of good.”  So this “ma`iya” (being with) in 58:7 (who are hypocrites/disbelievers) is not the same as the “ma`iya” where Allah (swt) is with those who fear him and those who do good in 16:128 (who are believers). Al-Razi claims that “everyone that Allah is with – they must be from those who fear Him (muttaqeen) and doers of good (muhsaneen)” which is absurd and baseless, especially when looking at ayah 58:7!

What proof does al-Razi have that this “ma`iya” (being with) of 9:40 is in relation to those who fear him and do good, while presenting no evidence? Why did he not, for example, say that everyone who Allah (swt) is with are those who observe patience – due to the statement of Allah (swt): Indeed, Allah is with the patient.(2:153 / Sahih International) ?? Of course he cannot apply this ayah to Abu Bakr, because he did not have patience when he lost faith and hope that they would be saved and had fear and began to cry, resulting in the Prophet (saws) telling him to not grieve. It seems al-Razi has hand picked what suited his agenda, rejecting other ayahs along the way.

On the other hand, another scholar – al-Qurtubi (Sunni) – attempts to reconcile these two ayahs and show the difference between 9:40 and 58:7. He says:

The meaning of “with them” [in 9:40] is in aid and support. It is not the general meaning attributed to all of creation, where Allah (swt) said: Nowhere is there a secret counsel between three persons but He is the fourth of them” (58:7). So the general meaning is that he hears and he sees [the actions/words] of the disbelievers and the believers (which is not what is meant by 9:40).[…](13)

Reply: Indeed, it is quite odd that al-Qurtubi has singled out aid & support to this “ma`iya” and excluded the meaning of hearing and seeing of Allah (swt) as “general”. In reality they go hand in hand and the general meaning results in the “specific: meaning. The Qur’an explains this in the situation of Musa (as) and Haroon (as):

قَالَا رَبَّنَا إِنَّنَا نَخَافُ أَن يَفْرُطَ عَلَيْنَا أَوْ أَن يَطْغَىٰ قَالَ لَا تَخَافَا ۖ إِنَّنِي مَعَكُمَا أَسْمَعُ وَأَرَىٰ

They said, “Our Lord, indeed we are afraid that he (Pharaoh) will hasten [punishment] against us or that he will transgress.” [ Allah ] said, “Fear not. Indeed, I am with you both; I hear and I see. (20:45-46 / Sahih International)

Allah (swt) here specifically mentions that him being “hearing and seeing” of the events with Pharaoh is what eased the fear of them both. In the case of 58:7 it is used to put fear in the disbelievers, while in this ayah (20:46) it has the opposite effect on the believers!

al-Tabari (Sunni) explains what each part of the ayah means. He says:

Allah said to Musa and Haroon: {Fear not} (meaning do not fear) Pharaoh, {Indeed, I am with you both}, (meaning) I oversee you both over him (Pharaoh), and I observe you, {I hear} what is done between you both and him (Pharaoh), and I will inform you of what to say to him, {and I see} what you both do and what he does; nothing of this is hidden from of me.(14)

So from this Sunni tafseer we see that this statement of “I [Allah] is with you” is said to dispel fear, just as Abu Bakr had in the cave. Through Musa (as) and Haroon (as) knowing that Allah (swt) is aware of all that they do, seeing their actions as well as that of Pharaoh, knowing that Allah (swt) would not let them fail, was enough to remove any fear they had. This opposes in what al-Qurtubi said, asserting that “[I] Allah is with you” it does not include the “general meaning” of “ma`iya” of Allah (swt) seeing and hearing all, where as it is in reality inclusive of both. i.e. Allah (swt) being “with you” means he sees all and hears all around you, and because of this he will support those who deserve to be supported (believers), and defeat those who deserve to be defeated (disbelievers). In the case of 20:46, He (swt) saw the actions and heard the words of Musa (as) and Haroon (as), so He (swt) aided them; while He (swt) saw the actions and words of Pharaoh, and He (swt) destroyed him.

al-Tabataba’i (Shia) concurs, and says:

{Fear not. Indeed, I am with you both; I hear and I see.} meaning do not fear from his abuse and transgressions because I am present with you both, I hear what is said and I see what is done, so (because of this) I will support you, and i will not abandon both of you, so this is giving contentment with a promise of support. His (swt) saying {Fear not} is giving contentment, and His (swt) saying {Indeed, I am with you, I hear and  see} is the reason for them being content, with him (Allah) being present, hearing and seeing. This is proof that the sentence implies supervision and support (from Allah), otherwise it would be the same as Allah (swt) being present and having knowledge in all things and conditions.(15)

Returning to 9:40, we see that this “with you” is very similar to the “general” meaning that al-Qurtubi rejected. We see that Allah (swt) being “with you” means he sees all and hears all around you, and because of this he will support those who deserve to be supported (believers), and defeat those who deserve to be defeated (disbelievers). Thus, for the beleivers remembering Allah (swt) is present, and knowing that he supports the beleivers, is a source of contentment and calmness for them. al-Tabrasi (Shia) says:

[The Prophet (sawa) said to Abu Bakr] {Do not grieve}, meaning fear not, { indeed Allah is with us.} meaning He (swt) is aware of us and knows our condition so (because of this) he will protect us and aid us.(7)

Now it is clear the words of al-Qurtubi are baseless.

Now, the question is raised: If Allah (swt) supported and aided BOTH the Prophet (sawa) and Abu Bakr, doesn’t this give a big merit to Abu Bakr? If it was said to give calmness to Abu Bakr, doesn’t this mean he is a believer? To answer this, we need to look at the context of 9:40.

Context of 9:40

The topic/theme of the ayah is the support of Allah (swt) for the Prophet (sawa) even if there is no one else to support him, and the support of Allah (swt) is enough and sufficient. The ayahs previous to 9:40 talk about the lack of support the Prophet (sawa) received when he (sawa) called for Jihad, and the hypocritical ones of the companions did not go forward and join him, and furthermore not joining will be to your their detriment and it would not harm Allah (swt) in the least!

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مَا لَكُمْ إِذَا قِيلَ لَكُمُ انفِرُوا فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ اثَّاقَلْتُمْ إِلَى الْأَرْضِ ۚ أَرَضِيتُم بِالْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا مِنَ الْآخِرَةِ ۚ فَمَا مَتَاعُ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا فِي الْآخِرَةِ إِلَّا قَلِيلٌ إِلَّا تَنفِرُوا يُعَذِّبْكُمْ عَذَابًا أَلِيمًا وَيَسْتَبْدِلْ قَوْمًا غَيْرَكُمْ وَلَا تَضُرُّوهُ شَيْئًا ۗ وَاللَّهُ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ

O you who have believed, what is [the matter] with you that, when you are told to go forth in the cause of Allah , you adhere heavily to the earth? […] If you do not go forth, He will punish you with a painful punishment and will replace you with another people, and you will not harm Him at all. And Allah is over all things competent. (9:38-39 / Sahih International)

Then comes the ayah in question (9:40), where the theme of support for the Prophet (sawa) is climaxed by Allah pointing out the number that was with him in his migration and his stay at the cave – not to praise Abu Bakr – but to show the lack of apparent support the Prophet (sawa) had. Allah (swt) stresses that the Prophet (sawa) was alone only with one other person during his stay at the cave: he being the second of the two, when they were both in the cave” (ثَانِيَ اثْنَيْنِ إِذْ هُمَا فِي الْغَارِ). Here, there apparent seems like there are only two, and no one else. Abu Bakr falls into fear and tears when he sees this apparent lack of support while the Polytheists (armed and in numbers) were approaching the cave. The Prophet (sawa) then states to Abu Bakr: Do not grieve, surely Allah is with us,  meaning do not think that it is only us two in the cave, Allah (swt) is also here, present – he hears and sees all – and further then that he is my supporter even if you (Abu Bakr), or anyone else, cannot support me. In context, you can see this clearly from the beginning of the ayah: If you will not aid him, Allah certainly aided him when those who disbelieved expelled him, he being the second of the two, when they were both in the cave, when he said to his companion: Do not grieve, surely Allah is with us.

Earlier in the ayah Allah (swt) also shows that even if the number of supporters were large, without the support of Allah (swt) you can never gain victory – and even if you all (companions) flee, Allah (swt) will give the Prophet (sawa) victory:

لَقَدْ نَصَرَكُمُ اللَّهُ فِي مَوَاطِنَ كَثِيرَةٍ ۙ وَيَوْمَ حُنَيْنٍ ۙ إِذْ أَعْجَبَتْكُمْ كَثْرَتُكُمْ فَلَمْ تُغْنِ عَنكُمْ شَيْئًا وَضَاقَتْ عَلَيْكُمُ الْأَرْضُ بِمَا رَحُبَتْ ثُمَّ وَلَّيْتُم مُّدْبِرِينَ

Allah has already given you victory in many regions and [even] on the day of Hunayn, when your great number pleased you, but it did not avail you at all, and the earth was confining for you with its vastness; then you turned back, fleeing. (9:25 / Sahih International)

Ibn Kathir (Sunni) in his tafseer of this ayah says:

Ibn Jurayj reported from Mujahid that this was the first Ayah of Bara’ah in which Allah, the Exalted, reminds the believers how He favored and blessed them by giving them victory in many battles with His Messenger . Allah mentioned that victory comes from Him, by His aid and decree, not because of their numbers or adequate supplies, whether the triumphs are few or many. On the day of Hunayn, the Muslims were proud because of their large number, which did not avail them in the least; they retreated and fled from battle. Only a few of them remained with the Messenger of Allah, Allah then sent down His aid and support to His Messenger and the believers who remained with him, so that they were aware that victory is from Allah alone and through His aid, even if the victorious were few. Many a small group overcame a larger opposition by Allah’s leave, and Allah is ever with those who are patient.(16)

We can now see a clear picture being painted in this surah leading up to ayah 9:40. The purpose of the ayah is to show that if the Prophet (sawa) was supported by Allah (swt) while alone in the cave with a man who had lost hope in being saved, then what makes you think Allah (swt) will not support the Prophet (sawa) on the battlegrounds, even if you flee?

The Prophet (sawa) saying “with us” instead of “with me” is to point out to Abu Bakr that his false perceptions was incorrect, and that he did not realise that Allah (swt) was also present and he is the supporter of the Prophet (sawa). Note, that the ayah is suggesting that Allah’s being in the cave is conditional upon the Prophet (sawa) being present in there. If Abu Bakr was not in the cave, Allah (swt) would still be with the Prophet (sawa) – while if the Prophet (sawa) was not the cave, and ALL the companions would have gathered into the cave in great numbers, there is no guarantee that Allah (swt) would be with them in support, just as in Hunayn, when their great numbers had pleased them but it did not avail them at all – but for those who were around the Prophet (sawa) – following his orders and did not flee – calmness and aid was given to them simply because they were around the Prophet (sawa) in obedience.

Abu Bakr did not have any merit in being with the Prophet (sawa) in the cave, especially because was was firstly not invited (see Part 1) and secondly, he had already lost hope. He had fear and began to cry, and needed to be consoled by the Prophet (sawa) – so was not one of the supporters of the Prophet (sawa) who stood by him in tough times and in obedience, or one who had firm faith that Allah (swt) is always with the Prophet (sawa), which would deserve praise and reward from Allah (swt). We wonder, if Abu Bakr was not cornered and had the chance to flee the cave, what would he have done? Know, the support of Allah (swt) for both was only because the Prophet (sawa) was in the cave. Allah (swt) explains that there is a special favour upon those around the Prophet (sawa), even disbelievers, where they are protected simply because the Prophet (sawa) is amonth them:

لَقَدْ نَصَرَكُمُ اللَّهُ فِي مَوَاطِنَ كَثِيرَةٍ ۙ وَيَوْمَ حُنَيْنٍ ۙ إِذْ أَعْجَبَتْكُمْ كَثْرَتُكُمْ فَلَمْ تُغْنِ عَنكُمْ شَيْئًا وَضَاقَتْ عَلَيْكُمُ الْأَرْضُ بِمَا رَحُبَتْ ثُمَّ وَلَّيْتُموَمَا كَانَ اللَّهُ لِيُعَذِّبَهُمْ وَأَنتَ فِيهِمْ ۚ وَمَا كَانَ اللَّهُ مُعَذِّبَهُمْ وَهُمْ يَسْتَغْفِرُونَ

But Allah would not punish them while you, [O Muhammad], are among them, and Allah would not punish them while they seek forgiveness. (8:33 / Sahih International)

According to ibn Katheer, and Bukhari, this ayah was revealed upon Polytheists, such as Abu Jahl. If even Abu Jahl had protection from Allah (swt) only because the Prophet (sawa) was in his presence, then surely Abu Bakr would too.

In the next section we disect the statement through the hadiths, and show what is meant by “Allah is with us”.

Allah is the Third

The idea that Allah (swt) is present in support of the Prophet (sawa), rather than because of the merit of Abu Bakr, is further proven in the multiple & popular hadith found in the books of the Sunni’s, narrated by Abu Bakr himself. Abu Bakr expresses his fear, and the Prophet (sawa) responded by explaining Allah (swt) is present, rather than “with us”:

Narrated Abu Bakr:
I said to the Prophet (ﷺ) while I was in the Cave. “If any of them should look under his feet, he would see us.” He said, “O Abu Bakr! What do you think of two (persons) the third of whom is Allah?
حَدَّثَنَا مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ سِنَانٍ، حَدَّثَنَا هَمَّامٌ، عَنْ ثَابِتٍ، عَنْ أَنَسٍ، عَنْ أَبِي بَكْرٍ ـ رضى الله عنه ـ قَالَ قُلْتُ لِلنَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم وَأَنَا فِي الْغَارِ لَوْ أَنَّ أَحَدَهُمْ نَظَرَ تَحْتَ قَدَمَيْهِ لأَبْصَرَنَا‏.‏ فَقَالَ ‏ “‏ مَا ظَنُّكَ يَا أَبَا بَكْرٍ بِاثْنَيْنِ اللَّهُ ثَالِثُهُمَا ‏”‏‏‏

Reference: Sahih al-Bukhari 3653; Sahih al-Bukhari 3922,  Sahih Muslim 2381, Jami` at-Tirmidhi Vol. 5, Book 44, Hadith 3096 (Sahih), Musnad Ahmad (Sahih) etc.

Link: http://sunnah.com/bukhari/62/5

The Prophet (sawa) here clearly states the meaning of the ayah and statement “surely Allah is with us” by explaining that they are not alone in the cave as Abu Bakr thought. Allah (swt) explained the apparent with “he being the second of the two, when they were both in the cave“, stressing that there was only two, but never is there two except with Allah (swt) being the third! Indeed, Allah (swt) was the third person present, because Allah (swt) is always with the Prophet (sawa) in support, and indeed he sees and hears all things.

So we now come to the understanding that “Allah is with us” means Allah (swt) is present with us, and the reason why he is present is because he is in support and aid of his Messenger (sawa) no matter where he is or how many others are with him. We derive this from His words shared above, and specifically the beginning of 9:40: If you will not aid him, Allah certainly aided him.

The Prophet (sawa) did not actually say “Allah is with us” ?

When we examine the words of Allah (swt) in the Qur’an, and when He (swt) quotes certain people, we find that there is a lack of precision in what is said. The reason for the lack of precision is not because of a fault in the Qur’an, but rather because of the style of the Qur’an. The purpose of the Qur’an is not to quote the words exactly, but rather portray the message and purpose of the words to fit the context of the theme in the surah.

For example, we look at the story of Mariam, the mother of Jesus (as):

قَالَتْ أَنَّىٰ يَكُونُ لِي غُلَامٌ وَلَمْ يَمْسَسْنِي بَشَرٌ وَلَمْ أَكُ بَغِيًّا

She said, “How can I have a boy while no man has touched me and I have not been unchaste?” (19:20 / Sahih International)

We then see these same words expressed differently in another place:

قَالَتْ رَبِّ أَنَّىٰ يَكُونُ لِي وَلَدٌ وَلَمْ يَمْسَسْنِي بَشَرٌ ۖ قَالَ كَذَٰلِكِ اللَّهُ يَخْلُقُ مَا يَشَاءُ ۚ إِذَا قَضَىٰ أَمْرًا فَإِنَّمَا يَقُولُ لَهُ كُن فَيَكُونُ

She said, “My Lord, how will I have a child when no man has touched me?” […] (3:47 / Sahih International)

Another example is Prophet Zakariyah (as):

قَالَ رَبِّ أَنَّىٰ يَكُونُ لِي غُلَامٌ وَقَدْ بَلَغَنِيَ الْكِبَرُ وَامْرَأَتِي عَاقِرٌ ۖ قَالَ كَذَٰلِكَ اللَّهُ يَفْعَلُ مَا يَشَاءُ

He said, “My Lord, how will I have a boy when I have reached old age and my wife is barren?” […] (3:40 / Sahih International)

again, expressed differently:

قَالَ رَبِّ أَنَّىٰ يَكُونُ لِي غُلَامٌ وَكَانَتِ امْرَأَتِي عَاقِرًا وَقَدْ بَلَغْتُ مِنَ الْكِبَرِ عِتِيًّا

He said, “My Lord, how will I have a boy when my wife has been barren and I have reached extreme old age? (19:8 / Sahih International)

One more example is Prophet Moses:

إِذْ قَالَ مُوسَىٰ لِأَهْلِهِ إِنِّي آنَسْتُ نَارًا سَآتِيكُم مِّنْهَا بِخَبَرٍ أَوْ آتِيكُم بِشِهَابٍ قَبَسٍ لَّعَلَّكُمْ تَصْطَلُونَ

[Mention] when Moses said to his family, “Indeed, I have perceived a fire. I will bring you from there information or will bring you a burning torch that you may warm yourselves. (27:7 / Sahih International)

and again:

إِذْ رَأَىٰ نَارًا فَقَالَ لِأَهْلِهِ امْكُثُوا إِنِّي آنَسْتُ نَارًا لَّعَلِّي آتِيكُم مِّنْهَا بِقَبَسٍ أَوْ أَجِدُ عَلَى النَّارِ هُدًى

When he saw a fire and said to his family, “Stay here; indeed, I have perceived a fire; perhaps I can bring you a torch or find at the fire some guidance. (20:10 / Sahih International)

Even the words of Allah (swt) that he spoke to Musa (as) via the fire, varies from ayah to ayah:

يَا مُوسَىٰ إِنَّهُ أَنَا اللَّهُ الْعَزِيزُ الْحَكِيمُ

O Moses, indeed it is I – Allah , the Exalted in Might, the Wise. (27:9 / Sahih International)

يَا مُوسَىٰ إِنِّي أَنَا اللَّهُ رَبُّ الْعَالَمِينَ

O Moses, indeed I am Allah , Lord of the worlds. (28:30 / Sahih International)

So we see clearly the Qur’an is not to considered precise when looking at quotations, as it may vary from the exact words being used.

Thus, when we look at the words of Abu Bakr, to see what exactly was said by the Prophet (sawa) to him, we find a stark contrast and difference in meaning to how many ‘Sunni’ commentators perceive it.

Narrated Abu Bakr:
I said to the Prophet (ﷺ) while I was in the Cave. “If any of them should look under his feet, he would see us.” He said, “O Abu Bakr! What do you think of two (persons) the third of whom is Allah?
حَدَّثَنَا مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ سِنَانٍ، حَدَّثَنَا هَمَّامٌ، عَنْ ثَابِتٍ، عَنْ أَنَسٍ، عَنْ أَبِي بَكْرٍ ـ رضى الله عنه ـ قَالَ قُلْتُ لِلنَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم وَأَنَا فِي الْغَارِ لَوْ أَنَّ أَحَدَهُمْ نَظَرَ تَحْتَ قَدَمَيْهِ لأَبْصَرَنَا‏.‏ فَقَالَ ‏ “‏ مَا ظَنُّكَ يَا أَبَا بَكْرٍ بِاثْنَيْنِ اللَّهُ ثَالِثُهُمَا ‏”‏‏‏

Reference: Sahih al-Bukhari 3653; Sahih al-Bukhari 3922,  Sahih Muslim 2381, Jami` at-Tirmidhi Vol. 5, Book 44, Hadith 3096 (Sahih), Musnad Ahmad (Sahih) etc.

Link: http://sunnah.com/bukhari/62/5

It is quite possible that the exact words said by the Prophet (sawa) was not surely Allah is with usbut rather “O Abu Bakr! What do you think of two (persons) the third of whom is Allah?” – and He (swt) used the specific wording of “surely Allah is with us” for the context of the ayah, explaining that Allah (swt) is always with the Prophet (sawa).

Thus “surely Allah is with us” = “O Abu Bakr! What do you think of two (persons) the third of whom is Allah?”

Remember, this is according to sahih sunni hadiths, from the mouth of Abu Bakr himself.

If we accept this idea, it means nothing more than Allah (swt) is present among us as the third in the cave with two others in it. As explained by the beginning of the ayah, Allah (swt) is always with the Prophet (sawa) in support of him. If you will not aid him, Allah certainly aided him.” This is why Allah (swt) was the third in the cave when there were only two (apparently) present, because he will support the Prophet (sawa) where ever he is.

With this being said, it is no longer possible to draw parallels of this ayah with ayahs such as “Indeed, Allah is with those who fear Him and those who are doers of good.” (16:128) which has an entirely different meaning to “O Abu Bakr! What do you think of two (persons) the third of whom is Allah?”.

Yes, there are hadiths that quote the Qur’an directly and say that the Prophet (sawa) literally said: surely Allah is with us, but these are either weak, narrated by other than Abu Bakr (i.e. were not present), or are quoting the Qur’an directly and not the actual words of the Prophet (sawa). Not to mention the most reliable of hadiths state the words were “O Abu Bakr! What do you think of two (persons) the third of whom is Allah?” found in Bukhari, Muslim, and multiple reliable books and tafseers of the ‘Sunnis’!

Sakeenah sent down upon upon HIM

Another strong point that shows that Allah (swt) was present in the cave exclusively because of the Prophet (sawa) and His (swt) support for him (sawa), is the next part of the ayah, where Allah (swt) says: So Allah sent down His tranquillity upon him and strengthened him with hosts which you did not see, him being the Prophet (sawa). Allah (swt) did not say “them” which would include Abu Bakr. If Allah was “with” Abu Bakr in support and aid then Allah (swt) would have said So Allah sent down His tranquillity upon them both and strengthened them both with hosts which you did not see. We will discuss who “him” is referring to and why Allah (swt) did not use “them” in part 4, God willing.

Why “us” and not “me”

Some claim that because the Prophet (sawa) said “Allah is with us” and not “Allah is with me”, for if the above claims were true then he (sawa) would have said “we”.

Reply: This would not be fitting in terms of the context and lack in eloquence. Allah (swt) suggests the Prophet (sawa) said “we” because he (sawa) was replying to Abu Bakr’s fears that the Polytheists would come to know that they are both in the cave, and them kill them both. The Prophet (sawa) suggests that you, Abu Bakr will be protected because if you are killed it would automatically mean I will also be killed – and how can that be when the third person among us is Allah (swt) who is my supporter? So fear not, no harm will befall you because Allah (swt) is present with us.

This is the same understanding that the translator of the official English Sahih Muslim (Abdul Hamid Siddiqui) has come to conclude:

Anas b. Malik reported that Abu Bakr Siddiq reported him thus:
I saw the feet of the polytheists very close to us as we were in the cave. I said: Allah’s Messenger, if one amongst them were to see at his feet he would have surely seen us. Thereupon he said: Abu Bakr, what can befall two who have Allah as the third One with them.
حَدَّثَنِي زُهَيْرُ بْنُ حَرْبٍ، وَعَبْدُ بْنُ حُمَيْدٍ، وَعَبْدُ اللَّهِ بْنُ عَبْدِ الرَّحْمَنِ الدَّارِمِيُّ، قَالَ عَبْدُ اللَّهِ أَخْبَرَنَا وَقَالَ الآخَرَانِ، حَدَّثَنَا حَبَّانُ بْنُ هِلاَلٍ، حَدَّثَنَا هَمَّامٌ، حَدَّثَنَا ثَابِتٌ، حَدَّثَنَا أَنَسُ بْنُ مَالِكٍ، أَنَّ أَبَا بَكْرٍ الصِّدِّيقَ، حَدَّثَهُ قَالَ نَظَرْتُ إِلَى أَقْدَامِ الْمُشْرِكِينَ عَلَى رُءُوسِنَا وَنَحْنُ فِي الْغَارِ فَقُلْتُ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ لَوْ أَنَّ أَحَدَهُمْ نَظَرَ إِلَى قَدَمَيْهِ أَبْصَرَنَا تَحْتَ قَدَمَيْهِ فَقَالَ ‏ “‏ يَا أَبَا بَكْرٍ مَا ظَنُّكَ بِاثْنَيْنِ اللَّهُ ثَالِثُهُمَا ‏”‏ ‏.‏

Reference: Sahih Muslim 2381; In-book reference: Book 44, Hadith 1, USC-MSA web (English) reference: Book 31, Hadith 5868 (deprecated numbering scheme)

Link: http://sunnah.com/muslim/44/1

Allah was only with Musa (as)

Following this point above, they reply “what about Musa (as) when he said:

قَالَ كَلَّا ۖ إِنَّ مَعِيَ رَبِّي سَيَهْدِينِ

[Moses] said, No! Indeed, with me is my Lord; He will guide me.” (26:62 / Sahih International)

He did not say “Indeed, with us is our Lord””?

Reply: Again, one needs to look at the context. Here the context is in terms of guidance, with his words “He will guide me.” The point of this ayah is Musa (as) was awaiting an order to take the next step in delivering the children of Israel. This is why the following ayah was:

فَأَوْحَيْنَا إِلَىٰ مُوسَىٰ أَنِ اضْرِب بِّعَصَاكَ الْبَحْرَ ۖ فَانفَلَقَ فَكَانَ كُلُّ فِرْقٍ كَالطَّوْدِ الْعَظِيمِ

Then We inspired to Moses, “Strike with your staff the sea,” and it parted, and each portion was like a great towering mountain. (26:62 / Sahih International)

Here it is clear that the way that Musa (as) delivered the children of Israel was through the guidance that Allah (swt) gave him in inspiring him to strike the sea with his staff. This inspiration only came to Musa (as), and not the children of Israel (as). Thus, when the children of Israel thought they were doomed, Musa (as) rejected this knowing that Allah (swt) will guide him to a solution to their escape. The a few ayahs down it shows that through this guidance, all of the children of Israel were saved, and not just Musa (as).

وَأَنجَيْنَا مُوسَىٰ وَمَن مَّعَهُ أَجْمَعِينَ

And We saved Moses and those with him, all together. (26:65 / Sahih International)

Keeping this ayah in mind – if we take the meaning of “Allah is with me” to ONLY mean support and aid from Allah (swt), did he not aid and support all of the children when he saved them all? So why did Musa (as) only say “Allah is with me” and not “us” ? Obviously the answer lies within the context, that this is speaking in terms of aid and support through guidance to a solution, which was exclusive to Musa (as).

One must also remember that this “ma`yah” which was exclusive to Musa (as) does not mean that anyone who was not included in this does not have Allah (swt) with him, for certainly Haroon (as) was with Musa (as) during this incident, and we know from earlier that Allah (swt) was also with him!

 قَالَ لَا تَخَافَا ۖ إِنَّنِي مَعَكُمَا أَسْمَعُ وَأَرَىٰ

[ Allah ] said [to Musa and Haroon] , “Fear not. Indeed, I am with you both; I hear and I see. (20:46 / Sahih International)

Thus, this specific “ma`yah” was in relation to guidance in terms of inspiration, which at that point of time was exclusive to Musa (as).

Returning to 9:40, we see that the “ma`yah” was not in terms of guidance at all, but in fact Allah (swt) saving the Prophet (sawa) and his companion from any harm by His (swt) own plan – i.e. the spider web, pigeon laying eggs, and blinding of the Polytheists. Prophet Muhammad (sawa) was not guided into performing any action specifically, which led to their survival, unlike Musa (as). This is why the “ma`yah” here has a completely different context.

The Prophet (sawa) told Abu Bakr to “shut up!”

In a variation of the hadith, in the most authentic books of the ‘Sunnis’, al-Bukhari, Abu Bakr narrates himself that the Prophet (sawa) told him to shut up! Obviously, the Prophet (sawa) was not praising Abu Bakr here for his excessive fear and crying, which would have potentially giving away their location. This wording clearly shows that the prophet was admonishing Abu Bakr – something which is far from merit.

Narrated Abu Bakr:
I was with the Prophet (ﷺ) in the Cave. When I raised my head, I saw the feet of the people. I said, “O Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ)! If some of them should look down, they will see us.” The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “O Abu Bakr, Shut up! (For we are) two and Allah is the Third of us.”
حَدَّثَنَا مُوسَى بْنُ إِسْمَاعِيلَ، حَدَّثَنَا هَمَّامٌ، عَنْ ثَابِتٍ، عَنْ أَنَسٍ، عَنْ أَبِي بَكْرٍ ـ رضى الله عنه ـ قَالَ كُنْتُ مَعَ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم فِي الْغَارِ فَرَفَعْتُ رَأْسِي، فَإِذَا أَنَا بِأَقْدَامِ الْقَوْمِ، فَقُلْتُ يَا نَبِيَّ اللَّهِ، لَوْ أَنَّ بَعْضَهُمْ طَأْطَأَ بَصَرَهُ رَآنَا‏.‏ قَالَ ‏ “‏ اسْكُتْ يَا أَبَا بَكْرٍ، اثْنَانِ اللَّهُ ثَالِثُهُمَا ‏”‏‏

Reference: Sahih al-Bukhari 3922; In-book reference: Book 63, Hadith 148; USC-MSA web (English) reference: Vol. 5, Book 58, Hadith 259 (deprecated numbering scheme)

Link: http://sunnah.com/bukhari/63/148

The word uskut (اسْكُتْ) was translated as “be quiet!” by one of the translators of Bukhari (Mohsin Khan). It is important to note that firstly, this statement is always said with exclamation and urgency, this is why you will notice “!” always after the translated word. Secondly, the more accurate wording would be “shut up.” See here and here (minute 3:50) for more accurate translations.

Further admonition

Al-Toosi shows further that after the Prophet (sawa) told Abu Bakr to “shut up”, the statement “Allah is with us”. He says:

{Surely Allah is with us} – It is said that it is meant “with” the Prophet (sawa). However, if it is said that it is meant that [Allah is with] Abu Bakr, it would not be a merit to him, because it is possible that the statement was said as an admonition, just as one would say to another if he sees him doing an evil action “Do not do this, indeed Allah is with us” i.e. he sees our actions, and knows our condition.(9)

Conclusion

In this ayah, Allah (swt) wishes to portray his support for the Prophet (sawa) at all times despite the number of supporters he has. The only reason why Abu Bakr is mentioned is to demonstrate that even if the Prophet (sawa) was alone with one other person, who had already given up hope – know that Allah (swt) is present. He hears all, and sees all. He hears and sees the situation of the Prophet (sawa) [in this case being isolated in the cave] and that of the enemies [approaching the cave] – and always is Allah (swt) with his Prophet (sawa) – ready to aid and support him, and to defeat his enemies.

The Prophet (sawa) admonishes Abu Bakr for his grief by telling him to shut up! He (sawa) the explains to Abu Bakr that his perceiving that there was only two people in the cave and their doom was near – was wrong, and that Allah (swt) was also present, seeing and hearing all, and will support the Prophet (sawa) where ever he is – be it on the battlefield while the companions flee, or alone in a cave.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 4

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Footnotes

(1) al-Shawkani, Fath al-Qadeer, page 574

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(2) ibn al-Jawzy, Zaad al-Museer, 584

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(3) ibn Katheer, Tafseer al-Qur’an al-`adheem, Volume 4, Page 155

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(4) al-Tabari, Tafseer al-Tabari, Volume 4, Page 110

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(5) al-Razi, Tafseer Fakhr al-Razi, Volume 16, Page 65

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(6) al-Qurtubi, al-Jaami` ul-Ahkaam al-Qur’an, Volume 10, Page 216

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(7) al-Tabrasi, Majma` al-Bayan, Volume 5, Page 45

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(8) al-Tabataba’i, al-Mizan, Volume 9, Page 288-289

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(9) al-Toosi, al-Tibiyan fi Tafseer al-Qur’an, Volume 5, Page 223

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(10) al-Kashani, Tafseer al-Safi, Volume 2, Page 344

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(11) al-Razi, Tafseer Fakhr al-Razi, Volume 16, Page 67

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(12) al-Razi, Tafseer al-Fakhr al-Razi, Volume 29, page 266

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(13) al-Qurtubi, al-Jaami` ul-Ahkaam al-Qur’an, Volume 10, Page 215

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(14) al-Tabari, Tafseer al-Tabari, Volume 5, Page 197

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(15) al-Tabataba’i, al-Mizan, Volume 14, Page 155-156

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(16) ibn Katheer, Tafseer al-Qur’an al-`adheem, Volume 4, Page 125

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