Alleged Contradictions in the Qur'an answer
Is everything devoutly obedient to Allah? That is the claim in 30:26, but dozens of verses speak of the proud disobedience of Satan [7:11, 15:28-31, 17:61, 20:116, 38:71-74, 18:50] as well of many different human beings who reject His commands and His revelations.
Verse in question,
30:26 To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and the earth. All are subservient to Him.
(Yusuf Ali translates subservient as devoutly obedient.)
It is obvious that there are many creatures that disobey God, so there is no need to quote the other verses. We need only examine the first verse.
1. The explanation of the verse will become clearer if we first explain some fundamental principles in Islam concerning Allah’s Will (Iraadah). Shaykh Muhammad bin Saalih Al-Uthaymeen (d.2001CE) writes the following:
We believe that Allah’s Will (iraadah) is of two types:
1. Universal will (kawniyyah): So whatever occurs, happens only by His Will. It is not necessary that what occurs is actually liked by Allah. Thus, it is similar in meaning to volition (mashee’ah); as in Allah’s statement:
And if Allah had so wished, they would not have fought eachother, but Allah does whatever He wills. [Al-Baqarah 2:253]
If Allah Wills to leave you astray, He is wour Lord. [Hood 11:34]
2. Legislated Will (shar’iyyah): It is not necessary that this Will should occur. This Will does not happen, except in what He loves and desires, such as in Allah the Exalted’s statement:
Allah desires to forgive you [An-Nisaa 4:27]
(Al-'Uthaymeen, Tenets of Faith, Al-Hidayah Publishing & Distribution, 2000, p.20-21)
In light of the above explanation, we can say that the interpretation of verse 30:26 is that this verse is an indication of the inescable and universal submission of creation to the Creator. This verse refers to the obedience and submission of all creation to God’s Universal Will (kawniyyah). All creation is obedient to Allah’s kawniyyah whether voluntarily or involuntarily. Allah is the Supreme Authority and all things in the heavens and the earth act under His power. Shaykh Abdul Azeez ibn Baaz (d.1999) writes about the Universal Will of Allah:
As for this Will, then nothing fails to fall under it. Thus, both the Muslim and the kaafir fall under this Universal Will; as do acts of obedience and disobedience, provisions and life-spans. They all occur by the Will of Allah and what He determines. (Shaykh Bin Baz's annotations to Tanbeehaatul-Lateefah of Imaam as-Sa'dee, p.41)
Therefore, a disbeliever is always obedient to Allah’s Universal Will, even when He disobeys God’s commands. If God had so Willed, the disbeliever could have obeyd the commands. But Allah has made this life a test for us. Shaykh Abdul Azeez ibn Baaz also explains the Legislated Will (shar’iyyah):
This covers what the Lord loves and is pleased with. This Will does not necessarily mean that what He Will will occur, rather it may or may not occur. So, for instance, Allah the Exalted Wills that He should be worshipped and obeyed. Yet some worship and obey Him, whilst others do not. This should demonstrate that these two wills [kawniyyah and shar’iyyah] are combined together in (i.e. acted upon by) the obedient person, but in the sinner it is only the Universal Will, since Allah did not desire for Him to sin, rather He forbade him from it. (Ibid.)
Therefore, although all human beings are powerless to act against God’s universal will, they may or may not be obedient to God’s legislated will, since the latter is not enforced. Hence, the test in life is to follow and obey God’s legislated will. This becomes even more clear when we examine the classic tafsir (exegesis) like that of Ibn Kathir Ad-Damishqi (d.1372CE), who writes in his renowned Tafsir Al-Qur'an Al-Azim:
(To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and the earth.) means, He owns it and it is enslaved to Him.
(All are obedient to Him.) they are humble before Him and submit to Him, whether willingly or unwillingly. (Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Abridged, Darussalam Publishers & Distributors, 2000, vol. 7, p. 540
The phrase, "whether willingly or unwillingly" should make it clear for the reader. This verse is not speaking of the voluntary submission that Allah asks us to give Him, nor the devotion of the heart. It simply points to the fact that Allah's supremacy indicates that all creation is bound by His Universal will, either willingly or unwillingly.
So the difference between this verse and those verses which condemn those who are disobedient to Allah, is that this verse speaks of the obedience and inescapable submission to His kawniyyah, while the other verses speak of the voluntary submission to His shar’iyyah. Everything occurs by God's permission.
For example, if one were to commit a sin, we would say they have disobeyed God. But we know that God allowed them to perform that sin, and He was testing them. Therefore, they were not able to defy God's power and universal will, although they did disobey His command, or legislated will. If God wanted to, He could have prevented them from commting the sin. But life is a test.
Does this mean that there is no such thing as disobedience? Of course not. This verse only points out the different forms of obedience i.e. obedience to His kawniyyah and obedience to His shar’iyyah. We may be disobeying His commands, but we will always be involuntarily acting by His leave or permission. This has always been the understanding of this verse, as Ibn Kathir wrote, "willingly or unwillingly". It was God's will that we have a choice in the first place. He gave us the ability to choose to serve Him, or to become enslaved to the evil of our desires and the whisperings of Satan. Allah gave us the choice, and He allows us to do what we choose. But those who choose good will be rewarded, while those who choose evil will be punished.
So why does God criticize the disobedient when they are actually obedient? The answer is that God criticizes them for their disobedience to His legislated will, which they are not binded by, or forced to follow. It is the universal will, to which they are forever subservient and obedient.
2. A second point to note is the literal understanding of the word used in this verse. The arabic word used is "Qanitoon", which implies subordinate and submissive to Him. Hence, the meaning of this verse that all of creation is subservient to Him,
As Qur'an commentator, Abul A`la Maududi (d.1979) writes on this verse:
What is meant is that it is Allah alone Who has created man, and provided for his sustenance and others of his needs, that there is no god but He, and that He alone is man's Master and the only authority rightfully deserving of his worship. Therefore, it would be fitly in accordance with this natural fact that man should believe, and behave, as only Allah's creature and servant and not anyone else's at all.(Maududi, Four Basic Qur'anic Terms, Islamic Publications (pvt) Ltd., ch.4)
And from a linguistic analysis, Sheikh `Abd al-Wahhab al-Turayri writes:
The word being translated as 'devoutly obedient' is the word qnitn (from qunt) which means 'to be subservient, subjugated'. This can be contrasted with the word ti`n (from t`ah) which means to be willfully obedient.
There are two types of subservience (qunt). There is the general subservience of all created things to Allah, since all things are subject to His decision and His determination. Then there is the specific subservience that is worship, where the servant willfully makes himself subservient and submissive before his Lord. The general sense is being used in this verse. All creatures are subservient to Allah's decision. If He wills, He can make then perish. If He wills, he can sustain their existence.
Yusuf Ali's translation of qnitn as 'devoutly obedient' is inexact in this context.
Mishaal ibn Abdullah writes:
The word used in 30:26 is "Qanitoon," meaning subservient or "under the mercy of." This can be verified very easily by reading any number of references such as the 18 volume encyclopedia of Arabic language, "Lisan Al-Arab," Vol. 2, p. 73. The verse does not use the word "aabidoon" or "mo'minoon" meaning "worshipful, believing, or devout." ([Link only for registered members])
If we view this verse in this light, there is no contradiction. Again, the case of disobedience to God is irrelevant to the fact that all creation is subservient to Him, and under His command.
3. The third point to be mentioned in response to this allegation, is on the subject of the verse. The critics claim that this verse is contradictory to other verses, because the verse states that all of creation is "devoutly obedient", i.e. voluntarily, while this is not the case with Satan and the evil humans and jinn, etc. But if we examine the various translations of the verse, we find that the majority do not translate it as "devoutly obedient", including Pickthall, Shakir, Daryabadi, Khan/Hilali, etc. Abdullah Yusuf Ali is the one who chooses this translation, therefore, it would seem logical that we examine his commentary on this verse.
Yusuf Ali writes the following in reference to verse 30:26:
3532. All nature in creation not only obeys God, but devoutly obeys Him, i.e. glories in its privelage of service and obedience. Why should we not do likewise? It is part of our original unspoilt nature, and we must respond to it, as all beings do, by their very nature. (Yusuf Ali, The Holy Qur'an: Text, Translation and Commentary, McGregor &; Werner 1946, p.1058)
This comment on this verse makes the issue very clear. If we are to accept Yusuf Ali's translation, we must evaluate his interpretation of this verse as a whole. And his interpretation is that this is not a reference to creatures with a choice, but to the rest of creation. This is the suppressed meaning of the phrase used in the verse. His statement, "Why do we not do likewise" makes it manifestly clear that his interpretation excludes certain beings from the meaning of this verse. It is common for the addressee of a statement to be excluded from its meaning.
For example, if two friends enter a room filled with people, one of the friends may comment to the other that the people in the room are very roudy. And his companion would understand that this is a reference to everyone in the room, excluding themselves.
Another example is if a group of firefighters charge into a burning building and one calls out, "Everyone get out of the building", we would not expect his fellow firefighters to exit the building, because it is understood that they are not included in the phrase, even though "everyone" would normally include them.
As these examples demonstrate, this interpretation of the verse is that certain groups are naturally excluded from the statement. If one chooses Yusuf Ali's translation of "devoutly obedient", they must accept the interpretation in its entirety. It is not acceptable to combine pieces of different interpretations in order to generate a contradiction.