Tafsir Zone - Surah 17: Al-Isra (The Night Journey )

Tafsir Zone

Surah Al-Isra 17:26

Overview (Verses 26 - 30)

Kindness to All

The sūrah proceeds to include all relatives and the need to be kindly to them, adding also the needy and travellers who may find themselves in difficulty. It expands on family relations so as to include all human bonds in their broadest sense:
Give to the near of kin their due, and also to the needy and the traveller in need. Do not squander your substance wastefully, for the wasteful squanderers are Satan’s brothers, and Satan has always been ungrateful to his Lord. But if you must turn aside from them in pursuit of an act of kindness you hope to receive from your Lord, then at least speak to them kindly. (Verses 26-28)

The Qur’ān makes it clear that the near of kin, the needy and stranded travellers have a right against us which may only be discharged by financial assistance. This does not come as a favour which one person does to another; it is rather a duty imposed by God and associated with worshipping Him alone. When we fulfil this duty we are only discharging our responsibility, and cultivating a close relationship between ourselves and those to whom we give. The giver has no favour against the recipient, because he is only fulfilling a duty towards God.
The Qur’ān speaks strongly against squandering, which is defined as spending one’s money in the wrong way. Mujāhid says that if one spends all one’s money for rightful purposes, one is not a squanderer, but if one spends a small amount in the wrong way, then one is. Thus, it is not the amount which one spends, but the purpose for which one spends it. Hence, squanderers are indeed Satan’s brothers because they spend their money for evil purposes, and to finance their disobedience of God. This makes them Satan’s cronies. It must be remembered that “Satan has always been ungrateful to his Lord.” (Verse 27) Both Satan and those who squander do not fulfil their duty of appreciating God’s favours, which means that they should use it only in purposes that earn God’s pleasure, doing His bidding and refraining from anything He has forbidden.
When a person does not have the means to do his duty by relatives, the needy and stranded travellers, and he finds it embarrassing to meet them face to face, he should turn to God praying to Him to give him good provisions and to provide for those in need. At the same time, he should promise the needy that he will give to them whenever his means improve. At the same time, he should speak to them kindly. He must not be bored with them, nor should he remain silent and so embarrass them. A kind word serves a good purpose and opens up hope: “But if you must turn aside from them in pursuit of an act of kindness you hope to receive from your Lord, then at least speak to them kindly.” (Verse 28)
Within the context of prohibiting the squandering of money, the Qur’ān orders moderation in all spending: “Do not be miserly, allowing your hand to remain shackled to your neck, nor stretch it out fully to the utmost limit, lest you find yourself being blamed or reduced to destitution.” (Verse 29) Striking a proper balance is the Islamic rule. To move to either extreme leads to imbalance. The verse employs subtle imagery to enhance the intended meaning. It paints miserliness as a hand tied up to one’s neck, while a spendthrift is shown as one with hands stretched out completely, unable to hold on to anything. The end of miserliness and the end of squander is drawn as a person sitting down, facing blame, powerless. It implies a position of weakness like that which makes an animal refuse to move. This applies to the miserly person whose miserliness weakens him to the point of inaction, and to the spendthrift who finds himself deprived of all power. Both are blamed in the end, one for stinginess, the other for squandering. The best attitude is a middle of the road one, tilting neither towards a tight fist nor towards careless extravagance.
The order to seek a middle course is followed with a comment stating that the provider for all is God, and it is He who may give abundant provisions or may give only in a tight measure. Yet the One who gives to all is the One who orders a middle course: “Your Lord gives in abundance, or in scant measure, to whom He wills. He is indeed fully aware of all His servants, and sees them all.” (Verse 30) Whichever way He gives to any one of His servants is determined on the basis of His wisdom. He commands all to follow a course of moderation, prohibiting both extremes of miserliness and careless extravagance on the basis of His perfect knowledge of what is most suitable for all His servants at all times. It is He who has revealed the Qur’ān to always guide along the straight path.