In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Beneficent
Those to whom We sent the book before this believe in it, and when it is recited to them, they say: “We believe in it, for it is the truth from our Lord. Indeed even before this have we submitted ourselves to Him.”
These are the ones who shall be given their reward twice for having been patient in adversity, having repelled evil with good, and having spent in charity out of what We have provided for them.
And whenever they hear frivolous talk they turn away from it and say: “To us our deeds and to you yours. Peace be to you! We will have nothing to do with ignorant folk.”
Indeed, you cannot guide aright everyone whom you love. It is God who guides whom He wills. He knows best those who are guided aright. (The Story, Al-Qasas: 28: 52-56)
As we have learned from the story mentioned in the surah concerning a delegation of people who followed earlier religions, the Prophet (peace be upon him) did not need to do more than recite a portion of the Qur’an in his effort to present his faith and get it accepted by them.
Yet with regard to his own people, the Prophet made every endeavor to help them see the light of faith, yet God did not open their hearts to it because of what He knew of them. The Prophet could not give guidance to everyone he wished. It is certainly God who guides those whom He knows to have the right attitude and mentality making them ready to accept the faith: “Indeed, you cannot guide aright everyone whom you love. It is God who guides whom He wills. He knows best those who are guided aright.” (Verse 56)
It is reported in the two most authentic anthologies of Hadith that this verse was revealed in reference to Abu Tâlib, the Prophet’s uncle who looked after him and gave him much support, extending his protection to him against the Quraish so that he could deliver his message in peace. Indeed, he put up with much pressure and hardship that involved the Quraish’s boycott of his own clan, the Hashemite, for three years when they were practically besieged in their own quarters. He did all this out of love for his nephew, Muhammad, and upholding the value of supporting one’s kindred in the face of adversity. When his death was approaching, the Prophet urged him to believe in God and accept Islam, but God did not facilitate this for Abu Tâlib because of something God, in His wisdom, knew.
Al-Zuhri reports on the authority of Al-Musaiyib ibn Hazn Al-Makhzumi: “When it was clear that Abu Tâlib was about to die, the Prophet went to see him and found Abu Jahl and Abdullah ibn Umayyah ibn Al-Mughirah with him. The Prophet said to him: ‘Uncle! Say: ‘There is no deity other than God,’ and I will be able to give you good support in front of God.’ Abu Jahl and Abdullah said to him: ‘Abu Tâlib! Would you abandon the religion of Abd Al-Muttalib, your father?’ The Prophet continued to press him while the two unbelievers urged him to stick to his father’s faith. The last thing he said was: ‘I follow Abd Al-Muttalib’s faith.’ He refused to say: ‘There is no deity other than God.’ The Prophet said: ‘I will certainly pray for your forgiveness unless I am ordered not to do so.’ God later revealed the verse that says: “It is not for the Prophet and the believers to pray for the forgiveness of those who associate partners with God, even though they may be their close relatives.” (9: 113) In reference to Abu Tâlib, He also revealed the verse that says: “Indeed, you cannot guide aright everyone whom you love. It is God who guides whom He wills. He knows best those who are guided aright.” (Verse 56)
This Hadith is related by Al-Bukhari and Muslim. Muslim gives another version on the authority of Abu Hurairah: “When death was approaching Abu Tâlib the Prophet said to him: ‘Uncle! Say, ‘There is no deity other than God,’ and I will be your witness to it on the Day of Judgment.’ He said: ‘If it was not for my fear that the Quraish will shame me saying that it is only for the fear of death that I said it, I would certainly have pleased you by saying it. I would not do so except to give you that pleasure.’ Then the verse was revealed saying: “Indeed, you cannot guide aright everyone whom you love. It is God who guides whom He wills. He knows best those who are guided aright.” (Verse 56) Further reports by Ibn Abbas, Ibn Umar, Mujahid, Al-Shaabi and Qatadah confirm that the verse was revealed in reference to Abu Tâlib and that the last he said was: “I follow Abd Al-Muttalib’s faith.”
It is amazing just how serious and strict this religion of Islam is. Abu Tâlib was the Prophet’s uncle. He had supported and protected him against all who tried to harm him. Yet he was not to be one of the believers. This despite his great love for the Prophet and the Prophet’s reciprocation of that love. Nor did the Prophet’s desire that his uncle accept Islam make any difference. The point is that Abu Tâlib gave all that he did to the Prophet out of paternal love and a sense of commitment to his kindred. Faith and its ties did not come into it. God was certainly aware of his motives; so he did not facilitate for him what the Prophet dearly wished. Thus, this aspect of guidance was not part of what the Prophet could have. It belongs to God’s will and His evaluation of the situation. The Prophet’s task is to deliver his message. Advocates of Islam in subsequent generations can only advise people. As for people’s hearts, these belong to God. Whether a person chooses guidance or error depends on what God knows of their feelings and what is in their hearts.