Sunday, 13 November 2016

Prophet Abraham (A.S) and the Four Birds

My series on the topic of whether the dead can return to this Dunya has already addressed the the verse (2:259) cited by the opposing side concerning the man whom Allah caused to die for a hundred years then was raised back to life. I explained that the man spoken of in that Ayah is the prophet Hizqiyal (Ezekiel), and that he experienced a vision. The reader can refer back here for that entry.
As I mentioned, that verse (2:259) was cited by Mawdudi himself as the strongest proof for the opposing side’s belief that the dead can return to this Dunya.
However, the very next verse (2:260) is also considered by many Muslims to be yet another strong evidence that the dead can return to this world:
وَإِذْ قَالَ إِبْرَاهِيمُ رَبِّ أَرِنِي كَيْفَ تُحْيِي الْمَوْتَىٰ ۖ قَالَ أَوَلَمْ تُؤْمِن ۖ قَالَ بَلَىٰ وَلَـٰكِن لِّيَطْمَئِنَّ قَلْبِي ۖ قَالَ فَخُذْ أَرْبَعَةً مِّنَ الطَّيْرِ فَصُرْهُنَّ إِلَيْكَ ثُمَّ اجْعَلْ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ جَبَلٍ مِّنْهُنَّ جُزْءًا ثُمَّ ادْعُهُنَّ يَأْتِينَكَ سَعْيًا ۚ وَاعْلَمْ أَنَّ اللَّـهَ عَزِيزٌ حَكِيمٌ۝
And [mention] when Abraham said, “My Lord, show me how You give life to the dead.” [Allah] said, “Have you not believed?” He said, “Yes, but [I ask] only that my heart may be satisfied.” [Allah] said, “Take four birds and commit them to yourself. Then put on each hill a portion of them; then call them - they will come [flying] to you in haste. And know that Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise.” (2:260)
Before we consider the argument presented concerning this verse, keep in mind that it is dealing with birds and not human beings. Even if, for the sake of argument, we grant that this verse proves that Abraham killed four birds and then they were miraculously resurrected, it does not necessarily break the divine law that the souls of deceased human beings are forbidden from returning to this world.
The opposing side’s argument and understanding of this Ayah is that Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) was instructed by Allah Most High to slaughter four birds by cutting them into pieces, then mixing those cut up pieces together and dividing them into four portions. Then Prophet Abraham placed each portion on a different hill, and when he called upon them the four birds were suddenly resurrected and came flying in his direction.
However, when one examines the English translations of the Holy Qur’an that are sponsored by the Saudi government, such as Saheeh International or Hilali & Khan, and others, one notices it being said that Abraham slaughtered or cut to pieces the birds placed in brackets. The fact that it has been placed in brackets demonstrates that the plain text of the Holy Qur’an does not explicitly state it. The text of this Verse merely informs us that Prophet Abraham was commanded to take four birds and incline or attach them towards him. Some classical exegetes interpret فَصُرْهُنَّ إليك to mean قَطِّعْهُنَّ (“cut them”). However, the preposition الى (“to”) determines the significance of the word in the sense of inclining or attaching and not “cutting”.
Another argument of the opposing side that the birds were literally slaughtered or cut up into pieces is the phrase اجْعَلْ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ جَبَلٍ مِّنْهُنَّ جُزْءًا interpreted to mean “place upon each hill from them (the birds) a piece”. Here the noun جزء signifies, according to the opposing side’s argument, a cut piece, implying that the birds were indeed cut up. But the reality is that the word جزء simply means “part”. Since the Verse is mentioning a group of four birds, a Juz’ or part of that whole group would mean each individual member (single bird) of the group of four birds. In other words, Allah is saying to gather four birds and place one bird from the group of four on each of the four hills.
We find an example of this in the following Ayah:
لَهَا سَبْعَةُ أَبْوَابٍ لِّكُلِّ بَابٍ مِّنْهُمْ جُزْءٌ مَّقْسُومٌ۝
It (Hell) has seven gates; for every gate is of them a portion (of people) designated. (15:44)
In summary, our position is that Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) was not instructed by Allah Most High to slaughter or cut up the birds with a knife. Rather, he was simply instructed to train the birds so that they would be “inclined” or “attached” toward him. Then he placed each bird on four different hills, called upon them, and they came flying towards him.
The major objection the opposing side poses toward our rational and harmonized understanding of this Verse is that the context is raising the dead back to life. Prophet Abraham asks Allah to literally show him how the dead are raised back to life. How does one reconcile this fact if it is to be believed that Prophet Abraham did not kill the birds?

The simple answer to this objection is that Prophet Abraham is being taught, through a practical demonstration, that the One who nurtures and sustains humanity in the first place rationally and logically has the ability to revive them after death. An example of this is how human beings, after training and nurturing birds, are able to command them to move in a certain direction simply by calling them with a voice. That is because the birds have been trained and nurtured to be inclined, attached and dependent upon their human owner. Likewise, mankind is inclined or dependent upon God, Who with a single call or command will raise them back to life. Through this practical demonstration, Prophet Abraham’s heart was satisfied that Allah Most High does indeed have the ability to raise the dead back to life, something which will occur on Yawm al-Qiyamah (Judgment Day) and not a moment before.

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