Surah Ya-Sin has been called the heart of the Noble Qur’an by the Prophet Muhammad (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam). And within this Surah is the story of a believer, who gets martyred for calling his people to the truth. But who was this person? Who was it residing at the edge of the city? In the following Tafsir of Hadhrat Mufti Muhammad Shafi’ (nawarallahu marqadahu) he sheds some light on this individual honoured by Allah Ta’ala with the favours of Paradise.
“And cite to them the example of the People of the Town, when the messengers came to it, when We sent to them two (apostles), and they rejected them both, so We supported them with a third one. So they said, “We are sent to you.” They (The people of the Town) said, “You are no more than human beings like us, and the Rahman has not sent down any thing. You are but telling a lie.” They (the messengers) said, “Our Lord knows that we are undoubtedly sent to you. And our obligation is no more than to convey the message clearly.” They (the People of the Town) said, “We take you as a bad omen for us. If you do not desist, we will certainly stone you, and you will be subjected to a painful punishment from us. They said, ‘Tour bad omen is with yourselves. (Do you take it as bad omen) if you are given a good counsel? Rather, you are a people who cross all limits.” And there came a man rushing from the farthest part of the city. He said, “O my people, follow the messengers. Follow those who do not claim any reward from you, and they are on the right path. And what excuse do I have if I do not worship the One who has created me and to whom you will be returned? Shall I adopt those gods besides Him that if the Rahman intends to do harm to me, their intercession cannot help me in the least, nor can they come to my rescue? In that case, I will be in open error indeed. Undoubtedly I have believed in your Lord; so listen to me. “(Thereafter when his people killed him,) it was said to him, “Enter the Paradise”. He said, “Would that my people knew how my Lord has forgiven me and placed me among the honored ones!” And We did not send down to his people any army from the heavens after him, nor were We (in need) to send down. It was no more than a single Cry, and in no time they were extinguished.” (Surah Ya-Seen : 13-29)
The noble Qur’an has left this too as ambiguous. It does not mention his name, nor does it say who he was. As part of historical narrations, Ibn Ishaq has reported from Sayyidna Ibn ‘Abbas, Ka’b al-Ahbar And Wahb Ibn Munabbih that the name of this person was Habib. There are different sayings about his profession. The most famous is the one that says that he was a carpenter. (Ibn Kathir)
Other historical narrations reported by commentators at this stage tell us that this person too was initially an idolater. He happened to meet the two messengers who came to this town the first time. It was either as a result of their teachings or, as it appears in some narrations, by seeing extraordinary working of wonders at their hands, his heart was lit with faith. He repented from past idolatry, embraced Islam and retired to a cave devoting to worship. When he got the news that the people of the city have rejected the teachings of these messengers, have become hostile to them and were threatening to kill them, he came to his people prompted by the mixed objectives of his concern for their good as well as the safety of the messengers. He advised them to follow these messengers and declared that he himself had become a believer: (I have believed in your Lord; so listen to me. – 25). The addressee here could be his own people where calling Allah Ta’ala their Lord was to express a reality – though, they did not accept it. Then, it could also be that this address is to the messengers and the purpose of saying: (listen to me) may be that they should hear what he was saying and bear witness before Allah that he was a believer.
Verse 26 states: (it was said to him, “Enter the Paradise”. He said,”Would that my people knew how my Lord has forgiven me and placed me among the honoured ones!” – 26, 27), that is, it was said to the person who had come from the farthest part of the city to prompt people to believe in the messengers, “Enter Paradise.”
It is obvious that this address was communicated through some angel who told him to go into the Paradise. In fact, the essential sense of asking him to enter Paradise is to give him the good news that his place in Paradise is a settled matter which would translate into reality at its appointed time after going through the process of Resurrection. (Qurtubi)
And the possibility that he was shown his place in Paradise at that very point of time is not so remote. In addition to that, there is the post-death and pre-resurrection state known as barzakh. In this state of Barzakh too, people bound to go to Paradise are treated well with provision of comfort from Paradise. Therefore, the arrival of such people in the state of Barzakh is, in a way, virtual entry into Paradise.
By the words, “Enter Paradise” a hint is released to suggest that this person was martyred – because, entering Paradise or being enabled to perceive the traces of Paradise can come about only after death.
In historical narratives, it has been reported from Sayyidna Ibn ‘Abbas (Radhiallahu Anho) and early Tafsir authorities, Muqatil and Mujahid that this person was Habib Ibn Isma’il an-Najjar and he is among people who had believed in our noble Prophet (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) six hundred years before he actually appeared – as it has been reported about the great tubba’ (line of kings in Yemen) that he had come to believe in him much before he was born by reading the prophesies of his coming given in past scriptures. The third respected elder who believed in him before he was ordained and gave his call as prophet is Waraqah Ibn Nawfal who has been mentioned in the Hadith of the Sahih al-Bukhari as part of the events that relate to the initial descent of Wahy (revelation). This too is a singularity of the Holy Prophet (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) that these three persons had believed in him before his birth and ordainment. This did not come to pass in the case of any other messenger or prophet.
According to the report of Wahb Ibn Munabbih, this person was a leper. He lived in a house at the farthest gate of the city. For seventy years, he kept praying to his assumed gods that he be delivered from his ailment. By chance, these messengers entered the city of Antakiyah from that very gate. When he met them the first time, they advised him to shun idolatry and invited him to turn to the worship of Allah Ta’ala for all his needs. He asked them if they had any proof for the correctness of their assertion. When they answered in affirmative, he told them about the disease of leprosy he suffered from and asked them if they could remove it from him. They said, ‘We shall pray to our Lord. He will make you healthy.’ He said, ‘How strange of you to say that. Here I am, praying to my gods for the past seventy years, yet nothing has happened. How can your Lord change my condition in a single day?’ They said, ‘Our Lord is powerful over everything, while those you have taken as gods have no reality. They can neither bring benefit to anyone nor can they cause loss.’ After hearing what they said, this person believed and those blessed souls prayed for him. Allah Ta’ala blessed him with perfect health, leaving no traces of the disease he suffered from. Now, his faith became firm, and he promised to himself that he would spend the half of what he will earn in a day in the way of Allah. When he heard that people of the city were mobbing the messengers, he came running, tried to explain that the messengers were true, and that he himself was a believer. The result was that his people charged at them in fury. It appears in the narration of Sayyidna ‘Abdullah Ibn Mas’ud (Radhiallahu Anho) that with their kicks and blows they martyred them. According to some other narrations, they threw rocks at them. As for him, even at a time such as this, when he was being beaten mercilessly, he kept saying: (My Lord, show my people the right way).
It is mentioned in some narrations that these people martyred the three messengers as well. But, no authentic narration mentions specifically as to what happened to them. Probably, they were not killed. (Qurtubi)
Since this man of piety laid down his life valiantly in the way of Allah, he was blessed with honour as said in Verses 26 and 27: (“He said, ‘Would that my people knew how my Lord has forgiven me and placed me among the honoured ones!”). He was asked to enter Paradise. When he saw the supreme rewards and blessings of Paradise, he remembered his people and wished that if his people could know how generously he was rewarded and what honours were bestowed on him in return for believing in the messengers, perhaps, they too would have believed. This is the wish expressed in this verse.
["Ma'ariful Qur'an" English, vol. 7, pg. 375-378]