A very beautiful and powerful lesson stems from this Aayah from Surah Muzammil, وَاذْكُرِ اسْمَ رَبِّكَ وَتَبَتَّلْ إِلَيْهِ تَبْتِيلًا.
Allah gives a piece of advice to his messenger (Peace and blessings upon him), وَاذْكُرِ اسْمَ رَبِّكَ. “Make mention of the name of your master . . .”
Then Allah says this remarkable phrase, “وَتَبَتَّلْ إِلَيْهِ تَبْتِيلًا ” (Wa tabattal ilayhi tabteelan)ز Purposely I’m not going to translate it yet.
In order to appreciate it better I will need to first highlight a few things from which we can derive such profound wisdom and guidance of what it actually means.
We’re going to focus on the two words which have the same three root letters; ب ت ل. Linguistically these letters together has something to do with; “To cut” or to be “Severed”.
For example, when a palm tree grows, usually it’s because somebody planted a seed, watered it and took care of it in order for it to grow.
Sometimes however, when a palm tree grows, naturally some of its dates fall off, which then naturally get buried into the ground, and then the tree independently grows on its own. That kind of palm tree is called بَتٌوْل in classical Arabic. That’s the specific name for it.
How does that connect with the word, “To cut”, meaning that it cut itself off from its origin, from where it came from. I.e. Its mother, the planted palm tree. The fallen seed got separated, and then it grew independently all by itself. It became a بَتٌوْل. Part of it is its independence.
To be cut off, become separated, to be independent and to become distinct and individual.
*Remember these points as it will all come together when understanding the wisdom’s in the Aayah.
The Aayah is actually talking about the Messenger of Allah (Peace and blessings upon him). Cutting himself off in the night time for Qiyam ul Layl (The post-midnight prayer). That’s what the context of the Aayah is.
The Surah began, . . . يَا أَيُّهَا الْمُزَّمِّلُ . قُمِ اللَّيْلَ إِلَّا قَلِيلًا . نِّصْفَهُ أَوِ انقُصْ مِنْهُ قَلِيلًا ‘Oh you who wraps himself. Arise (to pray) the night, except for a little. Half of it or subtract from it a little.’
The context is standing in prayer in the middle of the night, cutting yourself off from the world, and when you cut yourself being alone, you are solely focused on Allah.
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In the Arabic language you have the word تَبَتَّلْ (Tabattal), تَبَتَّلْ إِلَيْهِ here is referring to ‘Cut yourself off and focus solely towards Allah’.
What you find here though; which makes this whole phrase so interesting is an extra word at the end. تَبْتِيلًا (Tabteelan)
The expected word here instead, was the word تَبَتُّلًا (Tabattulan). You would expect the phrase to be; وَتَبَتَّلْ إِلَيْهِ تَبَتُّلًا (Wa Tabattal Ilayhi Tabattulan)
If you’re not a student of Arabic, simply put, you find a word which was unexpected that does not follow the pattern you’d expect. It’s unusual.
Arabic sentences, and words in particular follow certain patterns. Now because the pattern was broken, to the Arabic reader, it’s surprising and strange; which raises questions in the mind of the reader.
Even though this is not an Arabic lesson, I need to highlight some things about this word and the profound phrase as a whole, and how we can derive some wisdom from it.
Understand this to get the point. There are certain word patterns in Arabic in which the action affects yourself. (Arabic Grammarians call it Laazim). For example if I say “I sat down”, The action of sitting, to sit, who does that affect? Me, Myself.
Then there are actions that affect others; Teaching. If I say “I taught”, then who does that affect? Somebody else, the students.
If I say, “I slept”. Who does that affect? Me. If I say, “I put the child to sleep”. Who does that affect? The child, somebody else.
In English this is called Intransitive, and Transitive.
If it affects yourself, Intransitive. If it affects somebody else, Transitive.
That’s what these two words in the Aayah have to do with. Transitive and Intransitive.
The first word تَبَتَّلْ is designed in a way that affects yourself.
The second word تَبْتِيلًا, which is brought unusually into this same Aayah, is designed in a way that it affects somebody else.
Now, when you cut yourself off, and you focus on your own worship. Who does that affect? Yourself. So the phrase تَبَتَّلْ إِلَيْهِ is about yourself.
Then on the other hand, following this part of the phrase, you have تَبْتِيلًا, which is not about yourself. It’s about others.
Very interesting, that Allah combined both of those words which share the same roots, but by the pattern and alternative design, Allah combines the variation of meanings in one single phrase, putting them together.
This phrase is really really difficult to translate in one line in the English language. Part of this Aayah is about yourself, and the other part of the Aayah is about others.
The point I’m trying to drive home is; It is as though Allah is saying to the messenger, ‘Cut yourself off, focus towards Allah, in such a way, that gets other people interested in cutting themselves off, and focusing.’
I.e. Lead by example, and do it in such a way, that people are so moved by it, that then they themselves want to cut themselves off. So you’re not only going to impact yourself, but by doing so, you’re going to end up impacting others.
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The other beautiful thing about these 2 words is that; Firstly the pattern of the word تَبَتَّلْ implies progression. When it’s little, and then it grows and grows and grows, more and more. That’s تَبَتَّلْ in this case.
Like تَعَلَّمْ (Ta’allam) which follows the same pattern, means “To learn”. When and as you learn, is something increase in yourself? What’s increasing as you learn? Your understanding, your knowledge, your awareness is increasing. The depth in which you appreciate something is increasing. That is part of تَعَلَّمْ. The pattern in which these types of words appear, suggests the more you engage and indulge in it, the further you get. Progression in whatever thing it is.
The word in the Aayah تَبَتَّلْ means, to continually increase in the way you cut yourself off. Meaning, Allah is commanding the Prophet to progress in this process.
On the other hand you have this word تَبْتِيلًا which firstly, affects others, however it’s not limited to just affecting others. The pattern also implies extremity in its meaning. It’s used in extreme cases; when you reach the height of something, to advance and supersede. A hyperbole.
So combining تَبَتَّلْ and تَبْتِيلًا in the same phrase, what does it suggest? As you continue to focus on yourself, and progress in it more and more and more, you will then actually get more people to be so inspired, that they may excel. As a result of being inspired by you yourself. You’re going to create an excellent example.
Just this one phrase, you can think of it as, the Messenger of Allah, leading by example in the word تَبَتَّلْ, that because of it, it is going to produce great models of excellence like the Sahabah, in the word تَبْتِيلًا.
In the phrase تَبَتَّلْ إِلَيْهِ تَبْتِيلًا we have the legacy of the Prophet and his impact on the greatest generation in humanity, the Sahabah (May Allah be pleased with them all).
Incredible! وَاذْكُرِ اسْمَ رَبِّكَ وَتَبَتَّلْ إِلَيْهِ تَبْتِيلً