Calling to Islam in Surat Ya Sin

In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful

So far, our analysis of the chronological order of revelation for the Quranic chapters has introduced us to the objectivity of the divine message and the subjectivity of humans with respect to their hearts. This subjectivity is related to the level of faith in believers, and the lack of it in those who disbelieve. This observation is critical in teaching us not to excessively focus on “proving” that the message is correct while ignoring the root cause of its rejection, disbelief due to illnesses in the heart, for no amount of argumentation will convince an unbeliever whose reason and heart have been veiled by their animalistic desires:

صُمٌّ بُكْمٌ عُمْيٌ فَهُمْ لَا يَرْجِعُونَ

Deaf, dumb, and blind, so they will not return.

Surat al-Baqarah 2:18

The Quran further teaches us how to cleanse our hearts, so one can fully internalize the message by engaging in righteous deeds, reading the Quran, and reflecting on our own limitations. This observation also teaches us that debates between those who believe and those who do not are not always helpful:

إِنَّ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا سَوَاءٌ عَلَيْهِمْ أَأَنذَرْتَهُمْ أَمْ لَمْ تُنذِرْهُمْ لَا يُؤْمِنُونَ خَتَمَ اللَّهُ عَلَىٰ قُلُوبِهِمْ وَعَلَىٰ سَمْعِهِمْ ۖ وَعَلَىٰ أَبْصَارِهِمْ غِشَاوَةٌ ۖ وَلَهُمْ عَذَابٌ عَظِيمٌ

Verily, for those who disbelieve, it is the same whether you warn them or not. They will not believe. Allah has placed a seal over their hearts and their hearing, and over their seeing is a veil. They will have a great punishment.

Surat al-Baqarah 2:6-7

Such debates might only be useful to clarify a misconception, but they are not necessarily helpful to “convince” someone to believe who has no interest in the first place. Islam calls people to transcend their lower desires, while some people live only for the sake of their lower desires; they will never change their way of life regardless of how perfectly rational you present your case. It is a better use of time to motivate believers to engage in activities and reflections that can purify their heart, so it can bring them closer to Allah.

Supporting this approach from the Sunnah of Prophet Muhamad (ṣ) is an authentic tradition in which he was asked by one of his companions about the good deeds people had done before they accepted Islam. The Prophet (ṣ) responded:

أَسْلَمْتَ عَلَى مَا أَسْلَفْتَ مِنْ خَيْرٍ

You have embraced Islam with the good you previously did.

Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 123

This Hadith demonstrates that the path leading to faith consists of doing heart-purifying deeds. Non-Muslims who were already cleansing their hearts with good deeds are more likely to accept the message of Islam, and they will be rewarded for those good deeds they had done as non-Muslims. Yet even after a person accepts Islam, they will need to continuously engage in personal struggle (mujahada) to not only maintain their current level of faith, but to increase its strength with even more good works. Such a struggle is a life-long journey until we meet Allah in Hereafter, lest the heart relapse into the darkness of ignorance and worldliness.

In Surat al-A’raf, Allah teaches us that the ability to announce the message publicly and spread it between people depends on the status of the heart too. Within the context of this lesson comes the next chapter in the order of revelation: Surat Ya Sin. This chapter teaches us how to actually conduct calling to the path of Allah after the barriers within the heart are overcome. This progression takes the believers from dealing with their own subjective barriers to fully embracing the imperative to proclaim the message to all humanity. Once this purification of the heart is achieved, Allah explains the proper method to engage in preaching the message.

In Surat Ya Sin, Allah summarizes the theme of the chapter in only two letters at the beginning of it. The letter ya is a self-reference letter; it is a vowel that when added to the end of any noun it means attributing that noun to oneself, i.e. adding it to the end of a noun makes it possessive, i.e. book (kitab) becomes my book (kitabi). The sound of the letter is pronounced as a continuation of air all through the airway passage with a slight elevation of the middle of the tongue. This elevation interrupts the continuity that the letter alif communicates.

The chapter starts with this letter to imply that the message can only be communicated if there is a clear personal reference, in this case the Quran and the Prophet (ṣ) as its messenger:

يس وَالْقُرْآنِ الْحَكِيمِ إِنَّكَ لَمِنَ الْمُرْسَلِينَ عَلَىٰ صِرَاطٍ مُّسْتَقِيمٍ تَنزِيلَ الْعَزِيزِ الرَّحِيمِ

Ya sin. By the wise Quran! Verily, you are among the messengers upon a straight path, a revelation from the Almighty, the Merciful.

Surat Ya Sin 36:1-5

Then comes the letter sin (pronounced seen), which means a request. As the letter sad is pronounced by restricting air at the top of the mouth, representing a resistance of full disclosure, the letter sin is pronounced by opening the air channel further; it represents a request or a quest for an answer. When compared to sad, this letter is a relaxation to express the inner state of oneself. Adding sin to the front of any verb in Arabic changes the verb to being a request. For example, ka-ta-ba is “to write” and istak-ta-ba is “to ask someone to write.”

Here, Allah orders the Prophet (ṣ) to request people to accept the message of Islam, as implied by sin, after setting the Quran and himself as its reference point, as implied by the letter ya:

لِتُنذِرَ قَوْمًا مَّا أُنذِرَ آبَاؤُهُمْ فَهُمْ غَافِلُونَ

…to warn a people whose forefathers were not warned, so they are unmindful.

Surat Ya Sin 36:6

Calling people to Islam is a goal and a duty in itself, regardless of whether they accept it or not:

لَقَدْ حَقَّ الْقَوْلُ عَلَىٰ أَكْثَرِهِمْ فَهُمْ لَا يُؤْمِنُونَ

The word is proven true over most of them, so they do not believe.

Surat Ya Sin 36:7

Calling to Islam in the face of certain rejection by some people, even violent opposition, is a later stage in the development of a believer, which as we noted must be preceded by the purification of his or her heart. The Prophets (ṣ) and other callers to Islam, then, serve as living examples of believers whose hearts are absorbed in the remembrance of Allah and Godfearing piety:

وَسَوَاءٌ عَلَيْهِمْ أَأَنذَرْتَهُمْ أَمْ لَمْ تُنذِرْهُمْ لَا يُؤْمِنُونَ إِنَّمَا تُنذِرُ مَنِ اتَّبَعَ الذِّكْرَ وَخَشِيَ الرَّحْمَٰنَ بِالْغَيْبِ ۖ فَبَشِّرْهُ بِمَغْفِرَةٍ وَأَجْرٍ كَرِيمٍ

It is the same whether you warn them or not, they will not believe. Verily, you can only warn one who follows the Remembrance and fears the Most Merciful in the Unseen. Give him glad tidings of forgiveness and a generous reward.

Surat Ya Sin 36:10-11

Then Allah gives the example of a regular individual, not a prophet, who called to the path of Allah after his people rejected the references of the message, i.e. the Messengers. Although people did not listen to him, his status was elevated in the Hereafter due to the effort he gave, not necessarily the worldly results of his work:

وَجَاءَ مِنْ أَقْصَى الْمَدِينَةِ رَجُلٌ يَسْعَىٰ قَالَ يَا قَوْمِ اتَّبِعُوا الْمُرْسَلِينَ اتَّبِعُوا مَن لَّا يَسْأَلُكُمْ أَجْرًا وَهُم مُّهْتَدُونَ وَمَا لِيَ لَا أَعْبُدُ الَّذِي فَطَرَنِي وَإِلَيْهِ تُرْجَعُونَ أَأَتَّخِذُ مِن دُونِهِ آلِهَةً إِن يُرِدْنِ الرَّحْمَٰنُ بِضُرٍّ لَّا تُغْنِ عَنِّي شَفَاعَتُهُمْ شَيْئًا وَلَا يُنقِذُونِ إِنِّي إِذًا لَّفِي ضَلَالٍ مُّبِينٍ إِنِّي آمَنتُ بِرَبِّكُمْ فَاسْمَعُونِ قِيلَ ادْخُلِ الْجَنَّةَ ۖ قَالَ يَا لَيْتَ قَوْمِي يَعْلَمُونَ

A man from the outskirts of the city came running. He said: O people, follow the Messengers, follow those who do not ask you for any wage and they are guided! Why should I not worship the One who produced me and to whom I will return? Do you take gods besides Him? If the Most Merciful intended to harm me, their intercession would not be enough for me in the slightest and they could not save me! Indeed, in that case I would clearly be astray. Indeed, I have faith in your Lord, so listen! It was said to him: Enter Paradise! He said: If only my people knew!

Surat Ya Sin 36:20-26

What is unique about this man is that he had an outside perspective, coming from the outskirts of the town. He was not part of the elites or the wealthy, whom are most likely to be veiled from guidance by their entrenched worldly desires. The man again used the same two references, the message from Allah and their Messengers.

It is explained in the exegesis (tafsir) that his people had killed him, so he entered Paradise as a martyr. His ability to step into danger for the sake of the message was an indication of the purity of his heart, his courage, and his conviction.

At the end of the chapter, Allah combines the observation of natural phenomena with the logical conclusion of the divine purpose they reveal. It is a reconciliation between the objective (i.e. observations) and the subjective (i.e. internalized meanings) that can bring the heart and mind together. For example, Allah draws our attention to the natural polarity we see in the creation:

سُبْحَانَ الَّذِي خَلَقَ الْأَزْوَاجَ كُلَّهَا مِمَّا تُنبِتُ الْأَرْضُ وَمِنْ أَنفُسِهِمْ وَمِمَّا لَا يَعْلَمُونَ

Glory be to Him who created all pairs of what you plant in the earth, from yourselves, and from what you do not know.

Surat Ya Sin 36:36

This reality is deeply embedded in the creation. At the time this verse was revealed, human beings had no understanding of highly developed branches of physics like electromagnetism or quantum mechanics. Yet, we can see the law of polarity at work in these fields, as a functioning magnet is composed of two poles, an electrical circuit is composed of positive and negative charges, and even an atomic particle must be composed of a balance of protons and electrons. These are the pairs we “do not know” and there are surely more manifestations of this law we may observe in the future, or which we may never know.

The deeper meaning is the role of polarities or opposites in the purpose of creation. This world (dunya) was created as a place of consumption, and material wealth is only generated by differences. We can only appreciate the value of something by knowing its opposite, i.e. richness is appreciated by observing poverty, shade is appreciated by observing heat, life is appreciated by observing death, and so on. As noted by the companion Hudhayfah ibn al-Yaman (rḍa):

من لا يعرف الشر لا يعرف الخير

Whoever does not know evil, does not know good.

Source: Iḥyā’ ‘Ulūm al-Dīn 1/78

At an even deeper level, we cannot come to know Allah except by observing what is opposite to Him, i.e. the glory of monotheism is revealed by the feebleness of idolatry.

Allah created this life to be sustainable if natural opposites are balanced. Society functions best when people are in a state of moderation between extravagance (too much wealth) and poverty (not enough wealth). When the wealthy are miserly and refuse to give charity to those in need, it produces an imbalance in the economic system that harms the whole society. Nevertheless, the motivation to balance the system should not be simply materialistic, but rather to serve the Creator by willingly obeying His command to give charity:

وَإِذَا قِيلَ لَهُمْ أَنفِقُوا مِمَّا رَزَقَكُمُ اللَّهُ قَالَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا لِلَّذِينَ آمَنُوا أَنُطْعِمُ مَن لَّوْ يَشَاءُ اللَّهُ أَطْعَمَهُ

When it is said to them: Spend from what Allah has provided for you! Those who disbelieve say to those who believe: Shall we feed those whom Allah could feed if He wished?

Surat Ya Sin 36:47

The reason they do not spend in charity is because their hearts are attached to the material world and not to Allah. They love their wealth more than they love obeying Allah and seeking nearness to Him, being deluded by Satanic whisperings in their hearts:

أَلَمْ أَعْهَدْ إِلَيْكُمْ يَا بَنِي آدَمَ أَن لَّا تَعْبُدُوا الشَّيْطَانَ ۖ إِنَّهُ لَكُمْ عَدُوٌّ مُّبِينٌ وَأَنِ اعْبُدُونِي ۚ هَٰذَا صِرَاطٌ مُّسْتَقِيمٌ

Did I not make a covenant with you, O children of Adam, not to worship Satan? Verily, he is clearly an enemy to you. Worship Me, for this is the straight path.

Surat Ya Sin 36:60-61

In sum, from the progression of the Quranic chapters from Qaf to Ya Sin, we see how objective observations of nature result in the recognition of one Creator, and how the inherently subjective nature of the human heart can be a barrier to accepting this plain fact. Allah reveals to us the nature of the heart and the means of cleansing it: doing good deeds, reading the Quran, and reflecting upon oneself and the creation.

Once the heart is purified of worldly desires and spiritual diseases, we are then charged with the duty to publicly, confidently, and humbly call others to the true religion. Surat Ya Sin acknowledges the subjectivity of the believer’s inner-experience and his need to rely on the Quran and its Messengers as the reference point, then it moves back to objective observations of nature to validate the believer’s subjective experience. The takeaway here is that purification of the heart is necessary before one can properly spread the message of Islam, a process which begins first by observing nature and drawing logical conclusions about what they mean for our understanding of Reality.

Success comes from Allah, and Allah knows best.