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“But when he saw that their hands did not reach out to it...” (Hūd 11:70–71)

by Fethullah Gülen on . Posted in Sūrah Hūd

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فَلَمَّا رَأَىٰ أَيْدِيَهُمْ لَا تَصِلُ إِلَيْهِ نَكِرَهُمْ وَأَوْجَسَ مِنْهُمْ خِيفَةً ۚ قَالُوا لَا تَخَفْ إِنَّا أُرْسِلْنَا إِلَىٰ قَوْمِ لُوطٍ ۝ وَامْرَأَتُهُ قَائِمَةٌ فَضَحِكَتْ فَبَشَّرْنَاهَا بِإِسْحَاقَ وَمِن وَرَاءِ إِسْحَاقَ يَعْقُوبَ
But when he saw that their hands did not reach out to it (the food Abraham served them), he was doubtful of them (deeming their conduct strange) and became apprehensive of them. They said: “Do not fear! We have been sent to the people of Lot.” Meanwhile his (old, infertile) wife, standing by, felt she was menstruating (and smiled); and We gave her the glad tidings of (the birth of) Isaac and, after Isaac, of (his son) Jacob. (Hūd 11:70–71)

At the time of Prophet Abraham, if a guest did not eat the food served to them, it was assumed that the purpose of their visit was not good. In fact, the message to be delivered by the visitors of Abraham was very strange and frightening, especially for a man like Prophet Abraham, who was extremely tender-hearted and compassionate. The visitors were angels who came to him in human form. These heavenly envoys, who were free from the need to eat and drink like us, initiated communicating their message (about the people of Lot) in a mollifying manner by giving the greetings of peace, as stated in the verse prior to the ones under discussion.[1] Then by not accepting the food Abraham offered to them, they hinted at the coming of the bad news.

The fact that Abraham, peace be upon him, lived frightening moments because of the certain signals he felt was the result of his Prophetic wisdom and insightfulness. He discerned that some strange incidents would occur and thus showed signs of worry and apprehension. He would later overcome the first shock and, although he would not be able to help expressing his worry with words due to his deep affection and tender-heartedness, his Prophetic mind would take the place of the feelings of worry and excitement.

Regarding our mother Sarah’s – Abraham’s wife – remaining standing during the conversation between the angels and Prophet Abraham, the following may be considered:

  • Sarah was standing because she was serving the guests. Or, even though she may have had maidservants, she may have preferred standing out of respect for the guests.
  • The strangeness in the behavior of the guests may have caused her uneasiness and alertness. This nervousness continued until either she received the glad tidings of a son and a grandson or she felt some change in her.
  • As Virgin Mary got pregnant when she saw the Spirit or Gabriel, likewise, Sarah may have also experienced the same miracle, becoming pregnant when she saw those angels. Once she felt this, a happy astonishment and smile may have taken the place of worry.
  • The best possibility is that Sarah was an old woman in menopause. Pregnancy of a woman who is in menopause is not usual in the normal framework of events. So Sarah may have begun having her menstruation, which is more likely to be realized in the position of standing. Therefore, once Sarah felt it, she smiled. In other words, she felt having menstruation at exactly the same time as she received the glad tidings of a son. The Arabic expression, “Dahikati’l-mar’ah,” meaning “the woman has begun having her menstruation”[2] supports this interpretation. Because of this, we preferred giving the meaning, “she felt she was menstruating (and smiled)” to the verb “dahikah” in the verse, which also means “smiling.” Yet, God knows the best.

[1] “…They (the heavenly envoys appearing in human form) said, ‘Peace!’, and he (returning the greeting) said, ‘Peace!’ Without delay, he brought them a roasted calf” (Hūd 11:69).
[2] Ibn Manzūr, Lisānu’l-‘Arab, see the entry for “Da-Ha-Ka.”