‘Abasa Watawalla (He Frowned and Turned Away)

This verse is one of the verses of the Noble Qur’an whose interpretation differs between the two main schools of thought. The majority of the Sunni scholars claim that the man who frowned and turned away from a blind person was the Prophet, while the Shi‘a scholars say that the man who frowned and turned away was one of the companions of the Prophet; not the Prophet himself.

According to the Sunni scholars, the blind man was ‘Abdullah ibn Umm Maktoum. He is said to have come to the Prophet when the Prophet was conversing with a group of non-believers (Utbah ibn Rabi‘ah, Abu Jahl ibn Hisham, al-‘Abbas ibn ‘Abd al-Mutallib, ‘Ubay, and Umayyah ibn Khalaf) and was trying to incline their hearts towards Islam, since they were the leaders of Makkan society and if they embraced Islam then many others would follow them. The blind man came and interrupted the Prophet and asked him to teach him what Allah had taught him, not knowing that the Prophet was busy with this group of people. Thus according to the Sunni scholars the Prophet frowned.

The Shi‘a interpretation of this verse, as narrated from the sixth imam of the Ahlul Bayt, Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq, is that the verse descended because one of the companions of the Prophet, who happened to be from Bani Umayyah, was sitting next to the Prophet and when the blind man came the man expressed a dislike and disgust at him, hence he turned his face away from him.[1] This interpretation is more in character with the Prophet since frowning was not one of the Prophet’s characteristics, even with his enemies. Nor was it of the Prophet’s character to be more inclined towards the rich and to abandon the poor. Allah attributes the highest moral character to the Prophet,

“And verily you (Muhammad) are on an exalted standard of character.”[2] “And by the mercy of Allah, you (Muhammad) dealt with them kindly. And had you been severe and harsh-hearted, they would have broken away from you.”[3] “Verily, there has come unto you a messenger from among yourselves. It grieves him that you should receive any injury or difficulty. He is anxious for you to be rightly guided. For the believers, he is full of piety, kind and merciful.”[4]

After all of these testimonies from Almighty Allah, it is difficult to believe that the Prophet would still frown and turn away from one of his blind companions, since he began and ended his mission by expressing his affectionate support to the needy, the blind, and the disabled in society, and spent nights without food to sympathize with the poor.

It is strange that some commentators would consider attributing this verse to one of the companions of the Prophet as an insult to the companions, but they would not consider the interpretation of this verse as an insult to the Prophet himself; even though he is the highest example of ethical and moral behavior, and is the master and leader of all the faithful.

[1] Tafsir Majma ‘al-Bayan, Vol. 10, 437 (in the narration of al-Sadiq)
[2] Noble Quran, 68:4
[3] Noble Quran, 3:159
[4] Noble Quran, 9:128

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