Ayyūb, upon him be peace

Muzaffar Iqbal

One of the twenty-five prophets mentioned in the Qurʾān by name. His name appears four times in four different suras (Q 4, 6, 21, 38), one of which (Q 4) was revealed in Madina. 

His Genealogy, Time, and Person

According to al-Jawālīqī (465-540/1072-1145), Ayyūb is a non-Arabic (aʿjamī) proper name (see Arabic) (al-Jawālīqī, al-Muʿarrab 2:61) meaning “oft-returning” (Fayrūzābādī, Qāmūs). Al-Jawālīqī says all but four Prophetic names (Ādam, Ṣāliḥ, Shuʿayb, and Muḥammad) are non-Arabic. It is also said that the name is a Hebrew loan-word meaning “one who returns to Allah in all states” (Fayrūzābādī, Baṣāʾir, baṣīra dhikr Ayyūb), which, according to al-Qurṭubī (d. 671/1273), is the meaning of awwāb in Arabic (cf. Q 38:17, 30), from āba ilā Allāh (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 50:32).

Ayyūb, upon him peace, is one of the six prophets whose life story is only briefly narrated in the Qurʾān, the other five being Idrīs (Q 19:56-57, 21:85); al-Yasaʿ(Q 6:87, 38:48); Ilyās (Q, 6:85, 37:124-130); Yūnus—also referred to as Dhūl-Nūn and Ṣāḥib al-Ḥūt—(Q 4:163, 6:86, 10:98, 21:87-88, 37:139-148, 68:48-50); and Dhūl Kifl (Q 21:85, 38:48), who is identified in some reports as Bishr, son of Ayyūb and who was appointed as prophet after the death of his father (cf. Bayḍāwī, Tafsīr; Suyūṭī, Durr; and Alūsī, Rūḥ, sub Q 38:48).

There are two sets of verses related to Prophet Ayyūb. The first consists of the two passages where he is included in an assembly of prophets (Q 4:163 and 6:84); the second succinctly provides details of his life (Q 21:83-84 and 38:41-44) and mentions his distinct station as a paragon of patience and steadfastness (Q 38:41-44).


Ayyūb in the Assembly of other Prophets, upon them all peace

The verses surrounding verse 84 of the Makkan Sūrat al-Anʿām (Q 6), where Ayyūb, upon him peace, is among an assembly of prophets, contain three characteristic motifs: (i) a conclusive Divine argument (hujja), (ii) guidance, which He bestows upon His prophets, and (iii) His election and raising of these chosen individuals above all other humankind.

This cluster of verses begins by mentioning Ibrāhīm, upon him peace, who is described as guided by Allah Who shows him the kingdom of the heavens and the earth (Q 6:75). This leads to his declaration, “indeed I have turned my face solely to the One Who originated the heavens and the earth, and I am certainly not one of those who associate others with Allah” (Q 6:79). When his people argued against his rejection of their idols as deities, Ibrāhīm responds: “Do you argue with me concerning Allah, when He has guided me?” (Q 6:80). This is followed by the mention of Our decisive proof (hujjatunā) (see below), which Allah Most High had granted to Ibrāhīm, upon him peace, and then comes the successive mention of Prophets among whom is Ayyūb, upon them all peace: And We gave him Isḥāq and Yaʿqūb, each of them We guided; and before them We guided Nūḥ, and of his offspring [We guided] Dāwūd and Sulaymān and Ayyūb and Yūsuf and Mūsā and Hārūn; thus do We reward those who do good. And Zakariyyā and Yaḥyā and ʿĪsā and Ilyās; each one of them was of the righteous. And Ismāʿīl, and al-Yasaʿ and Yūnus and Lūṭ; each one of them We favored over all mankind. And of their forebears and posterity and brethren, We chose them and guided them to a straight path. This is the guidance of Allah; He guides whom of His servants He will. Yet were they to put aught beside Him, all they have done would fall from them. It is these to whom We have given the Book, Wisdom, and Prophecy. And if they refuse to believe in it now, We will bestow this favor on a people who do believe in it. [O Muḥammad], those are the ones Allah has guided; follow, then, the guidance given them and say: “I ask of you no reward; it is merely an admonition to all humanity” (Q 6:84-90). Ayyūb, upon him peace, is placed here in the assembly of eighteen prophets mentioned in non-chronological order. These verses are addressed to Prophet Muḥammad (and by extension to all believers), who is told that these Prophets are those Allah has guided and so, follow the guidance given them (Q 6:90).

These verses are thematically linked to the other pericope mentioning Ayyūb in the company of other Prophets (Q 4:163-165), which has revelation as its central theme. Here Ayyūb, upon him peace, is placed in the company of Prophets previously mentioned, but this assembly extends to include others about whom Prophet Muḥammad was not informed. Like the previous set of verses mentioning eighteen Prophets, this assembly of twelve named Messengers bringing good tidings and warnings is not ordered chronologically: after Yaʿqūb, upon him peace, Prophets appear in a constellation that places ʿĪsā before Ayyūb, and Yūnus and Sulaymān before Dāwūd, and separates Hārūn from Mūsā, upon them all peace. The common thematic link between this and the previous passage is that here the continuity of revelation from Nūḥ to the final Prophet Muḥammad, upon him peace and blessings, leaves humankind without an argument (ḥujja) against Allah, as none can claim ignorance of His Will after Messengers have been sent. The link between the guidance sent by Allah Most High through His Messengers and completion of proof (ḥujja) is also mentioned in Q 20:134 and 28:47, as both al-Ṭabarī and Ibn Kathīr note (cf. their Tafsīrs, sub Q 4:165), the former paraphrasing Q 6:149, where it is said that the ultimate proof (al-ḥujja al-bāligha) is, indeed, for Allah.


Trials and Patience of Ayyūb, upon him peace

Two Makkan suras succinctly describe the great trial, patience, and steadfastness of Prophet Ayyūb through two inter-referential set of verses (Q 21:83-84 and 38: 41-44)—six verses altogether. Both accounts begin in a similar manner, adding to and elaborating upon what is said in the other verses: And tell of Our servant Ayyūb, when he called to his Sustainer, “Satan has indeed touched me with hardship and pain.” “Scuff [the earth] with your foot; this [spring] is a cool place to bathe, and a drink.” We gave [back] to him his kinsfolk and the like of them with them as a mercy from Us and as a remembrance to those with understanding. “Take in your hand a sprig [of leaves] and strike with it! Do not break the oath.” Indeed We have found him patient. How excellent a servant, ever-turning unto Us (Q 38:41-44). The second set of verses gives additional details: And Ayyūb, when he cried out to his Sustainer: “Affliction has indeed befallen me; though You are the Most Merciful of the merciful.” We thereupon accepted [his prayer], and removed what of hurt was upon him and We brought back to him his kinsfolk and the like of them with them as a mercy from Us and as a remembrance for [Our] servants (Q 21:83-84).

The condensed language of these two accounts, their allusive nature, and the absence of details about Ayyūb’s affliction immediately direct attention to his particular spiritual characteristic as a paragon of patience for which he is praised with a laudatory phrase—how excellent a servant, ever-turning unto Us—reserved in the Qurʾān for only two prophets, Ayyūb and Sulaymān (cf. Q 38:30), although the second half of the phrase (innahu awwāb) is also used for Dāwūd (Q 38:17), upon them all peace.

The narrative patterns of the two passages enhance the dramatic nature of these accounts. In the first set of verses (Q 38:41-44), the Prophet Muḥammad, upon him peace and blessings, is commanded to tell of Our servant Ayyūb when he cried out. Ayyūb’s words are presented directly, followed by a reply from Allah Most High in the form of a command (“Strike with your foot”); this is followed by a third person narrative of the Divine response; returning to the second-person voice, Ayyūb is commanded “take in your hand a sprig [of leaves] and strike with it! Do not to break the oath.” These verses end with Divine praise of Ayyūb, upon him peace, mentioning qualities including his patience, which has become proverbial, as noted by Ibn Kathīr (Tafsīr, sub Q 38:44).

The second passage adds more information—bringing back to him his kinsfolk and the like of them with them as a mercy from Us and as a remembrance for [Our] servants (Q 21:84)—but also leaves many questions unanswered: How did Satan bring pain upon Ayyūb, upon him peace (Q 38:41)? Why was he told to scuff the ground? What was the function of water in curing his affliction? When, how, and why was his family taken from him? Why was he ordered to take a sprig of leaves to strike someone or something with it (faḍrib bihi)? What was the oath he was commanded to keep? Why was he praised so highly in the concluding part of the verse?

Answers to these questions are provided by the exegetical tradition, Prophetic sayings, and Qiṣaṣ literature—often largely based on Jewish lore (see Israelite Accounts). Al-Ṭabarī provides three accounts (Tabarī, Tafsīr, sub Q 21:83-84), two deriving from Wahb b. Munabbih (d. ca.109/728) and one from al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī (21-109/642-728). These can be summarized as follows: Satan said to Allah Most High, “Ayyūb is only faithful to You in times of prosperity—if You were to allow me to put Ayyūb to the test by destroying his property, killing his livestock and members of his family, and then afflicting him with a painful and repulsive disease, Ayyūb will lose faith!” Satan was granted permission to carry out his plot to tear away Ayyūb’s faith, afflicting him as proposed and causing thereby his whole family except his wife to abandon him. Satan then tempted his wife by playing on her loyalty and grief for him in his misery, and persuaded her to urge him to sacrifice a goat-kid to Satan. Ayyūb, upon him peace, realized that she had succumbed to Satan’s whisperings and in his anger swore an oath to punish her with one hundred lashes if he recovered from his illness. He told her to leave him; utterly alone and in deep anguish, he cried out to Allah Most High, “Satan has indeed touched me with hardship and pain” (Q 38:41). Allah Most High answered his supplication and relieved him of his suffering by providing a spring of water that healed him and quenched his thirst. As a sign of His Mercy, Allah Most High restored to him his family and, in addition, the like of them with them. Furthermore, Allah Most High made Ayyūb’s patience and endurance a lesson for those with understanding (Q 38:43). Ayyūb, upon him peace, was commanded by Allah to take in his hand a sprig of a hundred leaves and strike his wife with it only once, so that he fulfilled his oath without hurting her.

Some exegetes consider certain parts of this story—or its entirety—as spurious and apocryphal (Abū Shahba, al-Isrāʾīliyyāt p. 275-282 and its rebuttal al-Najjār, Qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ p. 349-352; also Ibn Kathīr’s comment on the three accounts in Ṭabarī’s Tafsīr; Ibn Abī Ḥātim, Tafsīr, sub Q 21:83-84; Mawdūdī, Tafhīm, sub Q 21:83-84; Naʿnāʿa, al-Isrāʾīliyyāt p. 332-335). Despite differences of opinion about particulars, however, the general contours of the story remain consistent across exegetical works. There are varying estimates of the duration of his disease ranging from three to eighteen years (cf. Tafsīrs of Ṭabarī, Bayḍāwī, Ibn Kathīr, Ibn Abī Ḥātim, sub Q 21:83 and Q 38:41-44; al-Kisāʾī, Qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ; al-Thaʿlabī, Qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ; Ibn Kathīr, Qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ, sub Ayyūb), but, according to al-Ḥākim, Ibn Ḥajar, al-Haythamī, and others, the authentic opinion, based on a hadith reported by Anas b. Mālik (d. 91/709), sets this duration as 18 years (al-Hilāli, Ṣaḥīḥ al-anbāʾ p. 481-483). Having recovered, Ayyūb, upon him peace, was further blessed with miraculous wealth: one day, “while [he] was taking a bath, naked, golden locusts began to fall on him; and he started to collect them in his clothing. His Sustainer addressed him: ‘O Ayyūb, have We not given you enough so that you are not in need of these?’ He said, ‘Indeed, O my Sustainer, but I cannot dispense with Your Blessings’” (Bukhārī, Aḥādīth al-anbiyāʾ, qawl Allāhi taʿalā wa Ayyūb idh nāda Rabbahu innī massanī al-ḍurr).

In reference to the restoration of his family (Q 21:84), al-Ṭabarī presents four opinions: (i) His original family was restored to him as well as the like of them with them; (ii) only the like of those who had perished were resuscitated for him in this world while the actual members of his family who had died will be restored to him in the world to come; (iii) he was given a choice as to whether his original kinsfolk should be resuscitated for him in this or in the world to come, and he chose to accept the like of them in this world and be reunited with his original family in the world to come; and (iv) his original family was resuscitated for him in this world, and the like of them with them means their increase in due course of time as a mercy (raḥma)”, al-Zajjāj (d. 311/924) considered this to be more acceptable opinion (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, sub Q 21:84; Zajjāj, Maʿanī, sub Q 38:44).


Prophet Ayyūb, upon him peace, and the Biblical Job

While most exegetes and historians rely on the narrations of the People of the Book for their reconstruction of the life of Ayyūb, upon him peace, and consider the Biblical “man [of] the land of Uz, whose name was Job” (Job 1:1) and whose story is chronicled in the Book of Job, to be one and the same person (Ṭabarī, Tārīkh, dhikr Ayyūb ʿalayhi-l-salām 1:322-25; Ibn ʿAsākir, Tārīkh 3:190-200)—even as they doubt the authenticity of certain Israelite accounts—the pronounced difference between the character of the Biblical Job and the Qurʾānic Prophet Ayyūb prompted at least one twentieth-century commentator to state that “while reading these [Biblical] passages, it is hard to believe that the account pertains to the same person who has been presented in the Qurʾān as a paragon of patience, and whose life is an example for the devout” (Mawdūdī, Tafhīm, sub Q 21:84).


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See also

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