Beguilement
(istidrāj, imhāl)

Gibril Fouad Haddad

This article comprises the following sections: i. Definitions; ii. Istidrāj: Gradual Leading On; iii. False Miracles; iv. Imlāʾ, Imhāl, Ṭūl al-Amal: Prolongation, Respite, and Overlong Hope; v. Kayd and Makr: Divine Scheming and Plotting; vi. Ghurūr: Delusion; vii. Bibliography.

Istidrāj: Gradual Leading On

Istidrāj (see etymology below) is mentioned in two verses:

But those who deny Our signs We shall progressively lead on (sa-nastadrijuhum) from where they do not know (Q 7:182). The next verse also mentions imlāʾ and kayd, two more key terms of beguilement: And I shall give them ample time (wa-umlī lahum). Indeed, My scheme (kaydī) is firm! (Q 7:183)

So leave Me to deal with whoever denies this Speech. We shall progressively lead them on from where they do not know (Q 68:44). The next verse again mentions imlāʾ and kayd (Q 68:45).

The phrase from where they do not know (min ḥaythu lā yaʿlamūn) has also been translated without their perceiving how it came about (Asad, Message, sub Q 7:182, 68:44). The Qurʾānic sense comprises not only their nescience of the modality of their outcome, but also the suddenness of their demise. Al-Qurṭubī (d. 671/1273) comments:

Istidrāj is gradual seizing, stage by stage. Darj is the act of enveloping (laff) something. One says adrajtuh and darajtuh, whence the dead is wrapped up (udrija) in his shroud. It is also said to stem from daraja (step), so that istidrāj means that one is brought low step by step to the end. Al-Ḍaḥḥāk (d. 102/721) glossed it: “Every time they disobeyed Us with something new, We lavished a new favor on them.” Dhūl-Nūn (d. 245/859) was asked: “What is the utmost that a servant can be deceived [by]?” He replied: “Through kindnesses and miraculous gifts (karāmāt). This is why Allah Most High said, We shall progressively lead them on from where they do not know—lavish favors on them and cause them to forget gratitude. As [people] recite:

You thought the best of the days that were best,

not fearing the evil that fate might bring.

And the nights made you feel safe, which deluded you;

it is when nights are clear that trouble befalls.”

Tafsīr, sub Q 7:182

The above verses are extremely popular in Sufi literature and have been variously attributed, in order of frequency, to al-Shāfiʿī (150-204/767-820), ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib (d. 40/660), Saʿīd b. Wahb (d. 208/823), and the poet Saʿīd b. Ḥumayd (d. 26/647). They were engraved over the grave of the dynastic ruler Yaʿqūb b. Layth al-Ṣaffār (d. 265/879) and are abundantly cited in the Risāla Qushayriyya, Iḥyāʾ ʿulūm al-dīn, Sirāj al-mulūk, Ṭabaqāt al-awliyāʾ, etc. (Taḥqīq Dīwān al-Shāfiʿī p. 327). Al-Qurṭubī continued:

Wa-umlī lahum: That is: I give them more time, I give them respite (umhiluhum), and I defer their punishment. Inna kaydī: that is, My plotting (makrī). Matīn: that is, brutal and strong.... It has been said that the verse was revealed in reference to the mockers (mustahziʾīn) of Quraysh: Allah killed them in a single night after He had given them respite for a while. Equivalent to this is until, when they rejoiced in that which they had been given, We seized them suddenly (Q 6:44).

Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 68:44-45

The same Qurʾānic passage describes all the steps of the gradual process of Divine beguilement: Divine warning followed by human disregard, then hardening of hearts, dissoluteness and complete forgetfulness of Allah, followed by the opening of the floodgates of prosperity which seal that state; finally, sudden, merciless destruction. Then why, when Our punishment came to them, did they not humble themselves? But their hearts became hardened, and Satan made attractive to them that which they were doing. So when they forgot that by which they had been reminded, We opened to them the doors of everything until, when they rejoiced in that which they were given, We seized them suddenly, and they were [then] in despair (Q 6:43-44).

Istidrāj contrasts with its cognate daraja (pl. darajāt), which denotes grades, levels, and ranks, and which the Qurʾān uses to refer to (i) the rewards and spiritual levels Allah bestows on His friends both in this world and the next, whether Prophets (Q 2:253; 12:76) or the commonality of His servants (Q 3:163; 4:96; 6:83, 132; 9:20; 11:85; 20:75; 46:19; 57:10)—with greater emphasis on the Hereafter: And truly the Hereafter is greater in levels and vaster in preferential treatment (Q 17:21)—as well as (ii) the Divine Attribute “He of the High Ranks” (Rafīʿ al-Darajāt, Q 40:15) and (iii) the single degree of superiority granted to men over women (Q 2:228).


False miracles

Dhūl-Nūn’s remark that “the utmost that a servant can be deceived is…through karāmāt,” mentioned by al-Qurṭubī in the passage cited above, summarizes many a discourse on the difference between true miracles and false ones, notably in works on the “proofs of Prophethood” (dalāʾil al-nubuwwa) and those concerning the friends of Allah (awliyāʾ Allāh). According to these, true miracles form evidence of Divine support and confirmation—of both Prophets and friends of Allah (awliyāʾ). False miracles are nothing more than beguilement, as in the case of magicians and the spectacular feats of non-Muslims—the last of them being at the end of time: the Arch-Liar, al-Dajjāl—or of corrupt Muslims. “Glory does not consist in folding up the earth so that one finds oneself in Makka or some other land; glory consists in folding up the attributes of the ego so that one finds oneself with one’s Lord” (Abū al-ʿAbbās al-Mursī in Ibn ʿAjība’s Īqāẓ al-himam p. 397, Bāb 20: al-karāmat al-ḥissiyya). Qāḍī Yūsuf al-Nabhānī (1265-1350/1849-1932) in the introduction to his 900-page encyclopedia of the Prophetic miracles entitled Ḥujjat Allāh ʿalā al-ʿālamīn bi-muʿjizāt Sayyid al-Mursalīn quotes the following excerpt from al-Amīr al-Ṣaghīr al-Sinbāwī’s (1154-1232/1741-1817) marginalia on ʿAbd al-Salām al-Laqānī’s commentary upon the classic theological treatise Jawharat al-tawḥīd:

Know that supernatural acts are of seven types: (i) an inimitable miracle (muʿjiza) accompanied by a challenge (taḥaddī); (ii) the “groundwork” (irhāṣ) before Prophethood which is its foundation, as we say “to do the groundwork for a wall” [see Muḥammad Quṭb’s Irhāṣāt al-Nubuwwa]; (iii) a miraculous Divine gift to a Saint; (iv) spontaneous aid (maʿūna) befalling a common person and saving him from catastrophe; (v) beguilement (istidrāj) for a brazen transgressor in proportion to his claim. This happens only to one who claims Divinity, as distinct from to one who claims Prophethood, since the proofs of the exclusion of any created attributes from Divinity are so obvious that there is no fear of confusion; (vi) humiliation for a brazen transgressor in flat contradiction of his claim; and (vii) witchcraft and quackery, although it has been argued that those are not among the supernatural acts as they are quite customary with respect to their practice.

Ḥujjat Allāh p. 12-13; cf. Ḥāshiyat Ibn al-Amīr p. 227-228; see also al-Kalābādhī, Taʿarruf, Bāb 26: Qawluhum fī karāmāt al-awliyāʾ toward the end


Imlāʾ, Imhāl, Ṭūl al-Amal: Prolongation, Respite, and Overlong Hope

The singular infinitive noun imlāʾ stems from the root m-l-y which denotes length of time, as in leave me for a long time (maliyyan) (Q 19:46). The dual noun malawān, singular malā, refers to “the day and night.” It denotes length of space as well, since malā also means desert. One says “I kept the camel on a long leash” (amlaytu lil-baʿīr fī qaydih) and “I bore with his error for a long time” (amlaytu lah fī ghayyih). Thus imlāʾ denotes leeway—both spatial and temporal—allowed by a controlling power (Jawharī, Ṣiḥāḥ, sub m-l-ā; Ibn al-Sikkīt, Iṣlāḥ 2:155).

In addition to the passages of Sūrat al-Aʿrāf (Q 7) and Sūrat al-Qalam (Q 68) already cited, imlāʾ is mentioned in several verses in the Qurʾān as an act of Allah Most High for the most part (Q 3:178; 13:32; 22:44, 48), and as an act of the devil: Verily, those who turned their backs after guidance had been vouchsafed to them, Satan has enticed them and prolonged hope for them (amlā lahum) (Q 47:25, cf. 4:119-120). In the latter case, the prolongation of false hope is equivalent to the fear of poverty which impels one to avarice, as narrated in the glosses of Satan threatens you with the prospect of poverty and bids you to be niggardly (Q 2:268): “The prospect of poverty is overlong hope (ṭūl al-amal)” (Ibn Abī Ḥātim, Tafsīr, sub Q 2:268). ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib—may Allah ennoble his countenance—identified the latter as his greatest fear for the Community, and described it as “making one forgetful of the hereafter” (Ibn Abī Shaybā, Muṣannaf, Zuhd, kalām ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib, §35636-7).

Since the prolongation of hope—the delusion that one will live for a long time to come—is often accompanied by the trappings of power and prosperity, it is commonly assumed that the unbelievers who enjoy them are in an enviable state, as was said of Qārūn (Q 28:79). That notion is dismissed by Allah Most High as follows: And let not those who disbelieve ever think that We extend their time [of enjoyment] for their own good. We only extend it for them to let them grow in sinfulness; and shameful suffering awaits them (Q 3:178). The chief Qurʾānic archetype of this delusion is the rich man mentioned in Sūrat al-Kahf (Q 18:32-44), on whose story al-Rāzī (543-606/1148-1209) comments thus:

He (Allah Most High) compared the state of the unbelievers and the believers with that of two men who were brothers hailing from the Israelites. One of them was an unbeliever by the name of Bardaeus (Brāṭūs) and the other a believer by the name of Yehuda (Yahūdhā). It is said they are the ones mentioned in Sūrat al-Ṣāffāt where Allah says One of them speaks and says: Verily I had a comrade (Q 37:51). They inherited eight thousand dinars from their father, of which each took half. The unbeliever bought a plot of land while the believer said, “O Allah, I am buying from You a plot of land in Paradise for a thousand,” and he gave away that amount in charity. After that his brother built a house for a thousand, whereupon the believer said, “O Allah, I am buying from You a house in paradise for a thousand,” and he gave away that amount in charity. Then his brother married a woman for a thousand, whereupon the believer said, “O Allah, I am placing a thousand as dowry for the wide-eyed maidens.” Then his brother bought servants and landed properties for a thousand, whereupon the believer said, “O Allah, I am buying from you offspring for a thousand,” and he gave away that amount in charity. Later, he fell into need. He sat by the roadside where his brother usually passed and the latter showed up with his retinue. His brother then rejected his request and rebuked him severely for giving away his money in charity...and he said: I am greater than you in wealth and stronger in respect of men (Q 18:34) ...then he said, and if indeed I am brought back unto my Lord I surely shall find better than this as a resort (Q 18:36), an error into which he fell by imagining that, since Allah Most High gave him property in this world, he must have deserved it, and that such deserts will remain after death. But his premise is a lie, for the opening of the gate of worldly abundance for a human being is in most cases beguilement (istidrāj) and prolongation of false hope (tamliya).

Tafsīr, sub Q 18:32-44

Imhāl is the infinitive noun of the Form IV amhala, to grant delay, the infinitive noun mahal denoting “slow and deliberate pace” (tawʾada) while the Qurʾānic muhl (Q 18:29; 44:45; and 70:8) is variously glossed as molten copper, dregs of oil, and pus (Jawharī, Ṣiḥāḥ, sub m-h-l). Imhāl is mentioned in a similar context as imlāʾ but with an additional undertone of Divine threat:

So leave Me to deal with the naysayers, those of easy living, and allow them respite (amhilhum) a little.

Q 73:11

So allow time for the unbelievers. Let them be (amhilhum) awhile!

Q 86:17

Such allowance is not one of actual permission but rather one of Divine indifference (lā-mubālāt) and derision (tahakkum), as underlined by a similar verse decrying misplaced amal (hope) and implying a resemblance between the unbelievers and grazing beasts: Leave them alone; let them eat and enjoy themselves while hope beguiles them (yulhihim al-amal): for in time they will come to know (Q 15:3). The next two verses mention their impending doom (Q 15:4-5). This Qurʾānic stance applies to the letter even today to those who still say “Eat, drink and be merry, for there is nothing else” like the pagans of old who used to say “It is nothing but wombs that push, earth that swallows, and nature at work” (Ibn al-Qayyim, Ṭarīq al-hijratayn p. 204). To those who consider creation to be an evolutionary fortuity Allah replies: Does man think that he will be left without purpose? (Q 75:36). True hope, on the other hand, consists in (i) excellent deeds and remembrance of Him, all of which are connected not to this world but to the Hereafter: Wealth and children are an adornment of this world’s life; but good deeds, the fruit whereof endures forever, are of far greater merit in your Sustainer’s sight, and a far better source of hope (khayrun amalan) (Q 18:46); and (ii) not despairing in Divine Mercy: Despair not of the mercy of Allah, Who forgives all sins. Truly He is the Much-Forgiving, the Merciful (Q 39:53).

The Qurʾān further mentions a state parallel to overlong hopes, in which those who are being beguiled experience weariness of life (ṭūl al-ʿumur/al-amad/al-ʿahd) (Q 20:86; 21:44; 57:16). Thus, on the one hand, time is not long enough for the worldly hopes of the beguiled; but on the other, it is too long with regard to their covenant with their Creator and Cherisher. At the opposite extreme the friends of Allah live for the Hereafter, their paragons being the Emigrants and Helpers among the Companions, at their vanguard the Two Shaykhs—Abū Bakr and ʿUmar—who respectively brought all and half of their fortunes to the Prophet when he called upon them to help (Tirmidhī, Sunan, Manāqib, manāqib Abī Bakr al-Ṣiddīq, rated ḥasan ṣaḥīḥ). Such acts are unsurprising from those who had no “long worldly hope” (ṭūl al-amal) but rather shortness of hope—qiṣar al-amal, the title of a monograph by Ibn Abī al-Dunyā—and did not expect to live to see the end of the day, or the next day, or even the next prayer, as illustrated in the following reports:

Ibn ʿUmar used to say: “When you reach evening, do not expect to see the morning; and when you reach the morning, do not expect to see the evening. Take from your well-being provision for your sickness and take from your life provision for your death.”

Bukhārī, Riqāq, qawl al-Nabī kun fīl-dunyā ka-annak gharīb

The iqāma was called and Maʿrūf al-Karkhī asked a certain man to lead the prayer. The man said, “I shall lead you in this prayer on condition that I not lead you in any other after this.” Maʿrūf said: “Are you telling yourself that you will [live to] pray another prayer? We seek refuge in Allah from ṭūl al-amal, for truly it blocks one from the best deeds.”

Abū Nuʿaym, Ḥilya, sub “Maʿrūf al-Karkhī”


Kayd and Makr: Divine Scheming and Plotting

Also part of Allah’s beguilement of the unbelievers, the scheming, plotting, devising, and planning (kayd, makr) attributed to Him in the Qurʾān—misunderstood by many modern readers—are only nominally similar to the analogous acts of human beings (see Secret Plots). Originally meaning “a ruse by which one draws someone else into harm’s way,” human makr is generally malevolent, while the Divine makr stands for overwhelming Divine power and irresistible will. Such terms, therefore, cannot be attributed to Allah Most High except in the sense of what al-Māwardī (364-450/974-1058), al-Bāqillānī (d. 403/1013), al-Bayhaqī (384-458/994-1066), Ibn ʿAṭiyya (480-542?/1087-1148?), Qurṭubī, Abū Ḥayyān (d. 745/1344), al-Samīn al-Ḥalabī (d. 756/1355), Ibn ʿAjība (d. 1224/1809), Ibn ʿĀshūr (d. 1339/1973), and others called “antithetical pairing” (muqābalat izdiwāj) and “alliterative semblance” (tajānus muzāwaja, mushākala), simply put, a verbal echo with two rhetorical functions: (i) naming a punishment by the same name as the offense; (ii) dramatizing the precision, justice, irony, and suddenness of the Divine requital of the unbelievers’ plotting—a reflection of the cosmic law that the selfsame plot ultimately turns against the plotters: they scheme evil, and evil scheming (al-makr al-sayyiʾ) will engulf none but its authors in the end (Q 35:43), just as Allah Most High said “We are only mocking”—Allah is mocking them! (Q 2:14-15), They want to dupe Allah but He is duping them (Q 4:142), and (Q 9:79) (Bāqillānī, Iʿjāz, p. 271, fī waṣf wujūh min al-balāgha; Qurṭubī, Jāmiʿ, sub Q 2:15; Abū Ḥayyān, Baḥr, sub Q 2:193, 3:54, 5:116, 7:99, 150, 16:126 etc.; Māwardī, Nukat; Ibn ʿAṭiyya, Muḥarrar; Ibn ʿAjība, Baḥr; Samīn, Durr; and Ibn ʿĀshūr, Taḥrīr, sub Q 3:54; Bayhaqī, Asmāʾ, Qawl Allāh ʿazza wa-jall: innā maʿakum innamā naḥnu mustahziʾūn).

Ibn ʿĀdil al-Ḥanbalī (d. after 880/1475) establishes a section (“Exposition of Attributes not Attributable to Allah”) in his exegesis of Q 1:1 and lists some of the Divine attributes mentioned in the Qurʾān which are  not permissible to attribute to Allah Most High except in the above-mentioned sense. Among them are mockery (istihzāʾ), scheming (makr), anger (ghaḍab), wonderment (taʿajjub), self-aggrandizement (takabbur), and shame (ḥayāʾ). Furthermore, according to Abū Ḥayyān, it is impermissible to derive Divine Names—such as Mustahziʾ or Mākir—from any of the above acts, unless those names are revealed in Scripture, such as al-Mutakabbir (Lubāb 1:154-155; Baḥr, sub Q 7:180).

Kayd is the infinitive noun of the root k-y-d and denotes “everything one faces” (kull shayʾ tuʿālijuh) as well as military combat (Jawharī, Ṣiḥāḥ). Kayd and its cognates in the Qurʾān are attributed to the Devil (Q 4:76), Firʿawn (Q 20:60, 40:37) and his magicians (Q 20:69), the women of the court of Egypt (Q 12:28, 33-34, 50, 52), the unbelievers (Q 3:120, 7:195, 8:18, 11:55, 21:70, 22:15, 37:98, 40:25, 52:46, 77:39, 86:15, 105:2), and Prophet Yūsuf’s brothers (12:5). It is also attributed in the positive sense to Ibrāhīm—upon him peace—in reference to his intention to destroy his people’s idols (Q 21:57), and to Allah Most High—in the rhetorical sense mentioned above—in the following places besides the verses from Sūrat al-Aʿrāf (Q 7) and Sūrat al-Qalam (Q 68) already cited:

Thus did We plan (kidnā) for Yūsuf

Q 12:76

Or do they intend entrapment? But the unbelievers themselves are the entrapped! (makīdūn)

Q 52:42

They are scheming a scheme (yakīdūna kaydan), and I am scheming a scheme (wa-akīdu kaydan)

Q 86:16

Makr is synonymous with kayd, according to the lexicographers (e.g. Jawharī, Ṣiḥāḥ, sub k-y-d) and al-Qurṭubī (in the above-mentioned gloss on Q 68:44-45). Ibn ʿAbd al-Salām (577-660/1181-1262) assimilates makr to istidrāj in his commentary on the verse We shall progressively lead them on (sa-nastadrijuhum) (Q 7:182), with the important distinction that “istidrāj comes about through outward favors while makr does so through inward ones” (Tafsīr). It is attributed to human beings in the negative sense where the Qurʾān mentions the historical precedents of the unbelievers’ scheming through the ages, while it is attributed to Allah Most High in the positive sense to stress (i) the complete Divine appropriation of the deliberative and logistical powers that makr presupposes and (ii) the fact that the final outcome is entirely decided by Him.

And they conspired an immense conspiracy

Q 71:22

Rather, [it was your] plotting night and day

Q 34:33

those who lived before also planned, but to Allah belongs the plan entirely

Q 13:42

they schemed their scheming, but Allah has their scheming under His control, even if their scheming had been enough to do away with mountains!

Q 14:46

And so they schemed and schemed; but We schemed and schemed, and they perceived it not. Behold, then, the outcome of all their scheming: We utterly destroyed them and their people, all of them!

Q 27:50-51

One translator, in his keenness to divest such verses of any attribution of scheming to Allah Most High, all but divested them of their original meaning, as in God brought their scheming to nought: for God is above all schemers (Asad, Message, sub Q 3:54 and 8:30) instead of Allah schemed—and Allah is the best of schemers (Q 3:54 and 8:30), while another went to the opposite extreme: But they (the Jews) were crafty, and God was crafty, for God is the best of crafty ones! (Palmer, Qurʾān [translated], sub Q 3:54).


Ghurūr: Delusion

Ghurūr or delusion is the self-driven, internal dynamic of beguilement that blinds one to reality and is fed by mankind’s four spiritual enemies—the world (dunyā), lust (hawā), ego (nafs), and the Devil (shayṭān). This is shown in the two classics on the topic, al-Ghazālī’s (450-505/1058-1111) study of the delusions of mankind, particularly some Sufis, entitled al-Kashf wal-tabyīn fī ghurūr al-khalq ajmaʿīn, and al-Shaʿrānī’s (898-973/1493-1565) Tanbīh al-mughtarrīn awākhir al-qarn al-ʿāshir ʿalā mā khālafū fīh salafahum al-ṭāhir, in which he demonstrated how much the would-be pious people of his time fell short of the manners of the early Muslims.

The infinitive noun ghirra is defined as “wakeful inattention,” whence the expression “unawares” (ʿalā ghirra) which comes up in the discussion of beguilement in relation to the sudden seizure of the beguiled:

It has been said that His scheming (makr) is his beguilement through favor and good health (istidrājuh bil-niʿma wal-ṣiḥḥa) and His seizing [of the beguiled] unawares. (Abū Ḥayyān, Baḥr, sub Q 7:99: Do they, then, feel secure from Allah’s devising? But none feels secure from Allah’s devising but those who are [already] lost).

Until, when they rejoiced in that which they were given: Its meaning is that they strutted, were arrogant, were complacent, and thought that such gifts would never end and that they indicated Allah’s satisfaction with them. We seized them suddenly (baghtatan): That is, we uprooted them and had at them, baghtatan meaning “by surprise,” which is to seize them unawares without warning. When a human being is taken while unaware and inattentive, he has been “seized suddenly” (ukhidha baghtatan), and it is the most crushing thing to be startled suddenly... Such was Allah Most High’s beguilement. The Prophet said, upon him blessings and peace: “When you see Allah Most High giving His servants whatever they wish despite their sins, that can only be beguilement of them on His part;” he then recited that entire verse (Aḥmad, 28:547 §17311; Bayhaqī, Asmāʾ 2:441-442 §1021).

Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 6:44

Another infinitive noun, ghurr, denotes “the visible trace of something,” the gharr of a piece of cloth being the spot where its folding-line can be seen. Thus, gharrahu ghurūran, al-Rāghib says, “is as if he folded him at his folding-line,” after which he cites nine of the twenty-five Qurʾānic occurrences of gh-r-r (Q 82:6, 3:196, 4:120, 35:40, 6:112, 3:185, 6:70, 33:12, 35:5) and says:

Ghurūr, then, is anything that deludes (yaghurr) a human being, whether property, high repute, lust, or Satan. It has actually been explained as meaning the latter since Shayṭān is the most perfidious of deluders; it has also been explained as meaning the world, as it is said [with rhetorical assonance] that “the world deludes, harms, and passes” (al-dunyā taghurr wa-taḍurr wa-tamurr). Gharar is danger...and gharīr is good character, in consideration of the fact that it can be duped.

Allah Most High specified the elements of delusion when He warned the Prophet—and the believers in his wake—against the delusion of valorizing them: Let not their wealth or their children impress you: Allah only intends to punish them through them in this worldly life and for their souls to depart while they are unbelievers (Q 9:55, 85); Stretch not your eyes toward what We gave certain classes of them to enjoy—the bloom of the life of the world—that We may test them thereby. The provision of your Lord is better and more lasting (Q 20:131, cf. 15:88); And whatever you have been given is a comfort (matāʿ) of the life of the world and an ornament thereof; and that which Allah has is better and more lasting. Have you then no sense? (Q 28:60; cf. 42:36; 87:17). The same message is implied in the verses that mention the scant or temporary enjoyment (matāʿ qalīl) of this world followed by unending punishment: And whoever shall deny the truth, I will let him enjoy himself for a short while—but in the end I shall drive him to suffering through fire: and how vile a journey’s end! (Q 2:126). Thus outward abundance of Divine apportionment in this life is not only a false index of Divine acceptance but may well be a sign of Divine contempt. This is a most momentous test for those who view material plenty as the sole index of success and happiness, and one which ultimately no one could have passed:

What, is it they who apportion the mercy of your Lord? We have apportioned between them their livelihood in the present life, and raised some of them above others in rank, that some of them may take others in servitude; but the mercy of your Lord is better than what they amass. And were it not that mankind would have become one nation [in unbelief and materialism], We would have appointed for those who disbelieve in the All-Merciful roofs of silver to their houses, and stairs whereon to mount, and doors to their houses, and couches whereon to recline, and ornaments of gold! Yet all that would have been but a provision of the life of the world. And the Hereafter with your Lord is for the Godfearing.

Q 43:32-35, cf. Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 43:33

In the above context the Qurʾānic noun for enjoyment, matāʿ, and its frequent verbal cognates are therefore all metonyms of ghurūr—delusional happiness soon followed by painful reality—such as mattaʿtuhum/mattaʿnāhum (“I/We left them to enjoy themselves,” Q 25:18, 26:205), mā kānū yumattaʿūn (“the enjoyments they were provided,” Q 25:207), tamattaʿū (“enjoy yourselves,” Q 11:65, 14:30, 16:55, 30:34, 51:43, 77:46), etc. Such enjoyment is nothing like true enjoyment but only the lowliest form of happiness, and is shared with animal life, whereas the people of Paradise taste true and everlasting pleasure: Truly, Allah shall admit those who believe and do righteous deeds to gardens through which rivers flow; but those who disbelieve enjoy themselves and eat as cattle eat—then the Fire will be their abode (Q 47:12).


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Definitions

The Divine beguilement of the unbelievers is a major theme of the Qurʾān that revolves around the terms istidrāj (gradual leading on), the synonyms imlāʾ and imhāl (prolongation, giving respite) and ṭūl al-amal (overlong hope), the synonyms kayd and makr (scheming, planning, entrapment, plotting, machination, conspiracy), and ghurūr (delusion). The etymology of each term is discussed in the appropriate section. This theme contrasts Allah’s self-disclosure through His creations and revelations with His blinding of those of His creatures He leads down the path of perdition and loss while allowing them to bask in God-given material enjoyments and the trappings of power and prosperity, heedless of Him and mindful only of the lower world and their own delusions (see Unbelief). Thus, beguilement underlies the following additional Qurʾānic themes:

The doctrine of the Divine Decree (q.v.) and Apportionment (q.v.) (al-Qaḍāʾ wal-Qadar), in which sense Ibn Masʿūd commented on the verse None but the lost feel safe from the makr of Allah (Q 7:99) by saying that feeling safe and secure from the makr of Allah ranked with polytheism and despair of Divine mercy as the greatest of enormities (ʿAbd al-Razzāq, Muṣannaf 10:459-460 §19701);

Stories of the Prophets (q.v.) with their respective peoples including tyrants such as Namrūd/Numrūd and Firʿawn, wherein beguilement entraps not only individuals but nations: And how many a community of greater power than yours which has driven you out have We destroyed, with none to rescue them! (Q 47:13);

The Qurʾānic call to be conscious of death, remember Allah (see Remembrance of Allah), abstain from the world (see Abstinence), and turn to the Creator, as the ways of safety from istidrāj.

Al-Zajjāj (241-311/855-923) discusses beguilement in his commentary on the Divine Name “The Empowerer” (al-Muʿizz):

He—exalted is He!—empowers whomever He wants among His friends (awliyāʾih, see Friends of Allah). Empowerment is of several types: (i) from both the perspectives of sacred law and material fact (min jihat al-ḥukm wal-fiʿl); (ii) from the perspective of sacred law alone; (iii) from the perspective of materiality alone. The first case is what Allah Most High does with many of His friends in the world by granting them material ease and eminence: this is empowerment from both perspectives of sacred law and material fact. The second case is what He does—exalted is He!—with His friends when He straitens their material conditions in the world, while you can see that those that are not even following His religion are above them in state. This is a test from Allah Most High for His friend, and He shall reward him, if He wills, for his steadfastness over it. The third case is what Allah Most High does with many of His enemies by granting them affluence, power, influence, and vast worldly wealth: this is material empowerment but not empowerment from the perspective of sacred law; such have perpetual punishment from Allah in the Hereafter (q.v.). This is only prolonged free rein (imlāʾ) for and beguilement (istidrāj) of them on the part of Allah Most High, Who said We only give them ample time (innamā numlī lahum) to let them grow in sinfulness; and shameful suffering awaits them (Q 3:178).

Zajjāj, Asmāʾ, p. 41

Istidrāj: Gradual Leading On

Istidrāj (see etymology below) is mentioned in two verses:

But those who deny Our signs We shall progressively lead on (sa-nastadrijuhum) from where they do not know (Q 7:182). The next verse also mentions imlāʾ and kayd, two more key terms of beguilement: And I shall give them ample time (wa-umlī lahum). Indeed, My scheme (kaydī) is firm! (Q 7:183)

So leave Me to deal with whoever denies this Speech. We shall progressively lead them on from where they do not know (Q 68:44). The next verse again mentions imlāʾ and kayd (Q 68:45).

The phrase from where they do not know (min ḥaythu lā yaʿlamūn) has also been translated without their perceiving how it came about (Asad, Message, sub Q 7:182, 68:44). The Qurʾānic sense comprises not only their nescience of the modality of their outcome, but also the suddenness of their demise. Al-Qurṭubī (d. 671/1273) comments:

Istidrāj is gradual seizing, stage by stage. Darj is the act of enveloping (laff) something. One says adrajtuh and darajtuh, whence the dead is wrapped up (udrija) in his shroud. It is also said to stem from daraja (step), so that istidrāj means that one is brought low step by step to the end. Al-Ḍaḥḥāk (d. 102/721) glossed it: “Every time they disobeyed Us with something new, We lavished a new favor on them.” Dhūl-Nūn (d. 245/859) was asked: “What is the utmost that a servant can be deceived [by]?” He replied: “Through kindnesses and miraculous gifts (karāmāt). This is why Allah Most High said, We shall progressively lead them on from where they do not know—lavish favors on them and cause them to forget gratitude. As [people] recite:

You thought the best of the days that were best,

not fearing the evil that fate might bring.

And the nights made you feel safe, which deluded you;

it is when nights are clear that trouble befalls.

Tafsīr, sub Q 7:182

The above verses are extremely popular in Sufi literature and have been variously attributed, in order of frequency, to al-Shāfiʿī (150-204/767-820), ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib (d. 40/660), Saʿīd b. Wahb (d. 208/823), and the poet Saʿīd b. Ḥumayd (d. 26/647). They were engraved over the grave of the dynastic ruler Yaʿqūb b. Layth al-Ṣaffār (d. 265/879) and are abundantly cited in the Risāla Qushayriyya, Iḥyāʾ ʿulūm al-dīn, Sirāj al-mulūk, Ṭabaqāt al-awliyāʾ, etc. (Taḥqīq Dīwān al-Shāfiʿī p. 327). Al-Qurṭubī continued:

Wa-umlī lahum: That is: I give them more time, I give them respite (umhiluhum), and I defer their punishment. Inna kaydī: that is, My plotting (makrī). Matīn: that is, brutal and strong.... It has been said that the verse was revealed in reference to the mockers (mustahziʾīn) of Quraysh: Allah killed them in a single night after He had given them respite for a while. Equivalent to this is until, when they rejoiced in that which they had been given, We seized them suddenly (Q 6:44).

Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 68:44-45

The same Qurʾānic passage describes all the steps of the gradual process of Divine beguilement: Divine warning followed by human disregard, then hardening of hearts, dissoluteness and complete forgetfulness of Allah, followed by the opening of the floodgates of prosperity which seal that state; finally, sudden, merciless destruction. Then why, when Our punishment came to them, did they not humble themselves? But their hearts became hardened, and Satan made attractive to them that which they were doing. So when they forgot that by which they had been reminded, We opened to them the doors of everything until, when they rejoiced in that which they were given, We seized them suddenly, and they were [then] in despair (Q 6:43-44).

Istidrāj contrasts with its cognate daraja (pl. darajāt), which denotes grades, levels, and ranks, and which the Qurʾān uses to refer to (i) the rewards and spiritual levels Allah bestows on His friends both in this world and the next, whether Prophets (Q 2:253; 12:76) or the commonality of His servants (Q 3:163; 4:96; 6:83, 132; 9:20; 11:85; 20:75; 46:19; 57:10)—with greater emphasis on the Hereafter: And truly the Hereafter is greater in levels and vaster in preferential treatment (Q 17:21)—as well as (ii) the Divine Attribute “He of the High Ranks” (Rafīʿ al-Darajāt, Q 40:15) and (iii) the single degree of superiority granted to men over women (Q 2:228).


See also

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