“The Prophet frowned and turned away because there came to him the blind man, (interrupting). But what would make you perceive, (O Muhammad), that perhaps he might be purified or be reminded and the remembrance would benefit him? As for he who thinks himself without need, to him you give attention. And not upon you (is any blame) if he will not be purified. But as for he who came to you striving (for knowledge) while he fears (Allah), from him you are distracted.” (Qur’an 80:1-10)
For some, this perhaps is an unusual or an unexpected passage to find in the Qur’an. Allah the all Wise is obviously reprimanding Muhammad (pbuh) here, for frowning at and disregarding a blind man who approached him for guidance. One can notice, even the chapter of which the passage belongs to, is named ‘He Frowned’ in Arabic ‘Abasa’ taken from the beginning of the passage. It may be surprising but this was much of a learning curve for Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) which he never forgot, it aided him to a great extent in his mission of prophet-hood. And also it is a great example for Muslims and non-Muslims alike, to what it means to be mindful and aware of the society and environment.
The passage from the Qur’an does not tell much about the situation upon which it was revealed. Rather focuses on correcting the Messenger’s (pbuh) slight of moral slip. The situation recorded in most commentaries of Qur’an including Ibn Kathir’s commentary, is that Muhammad (pbuh) was addressing or educating one or a number of the great non-Muslims leaders of the Quraysh tribe in Makkah, hoping that he may convince them to join the fold of Islam. This was something of a rare occasion for the Prophet (pbuh), to find the enemy who were against him taking time to listen about Islam and his mission. So with kind intention, he looked to take full advantage of the opportunity. And while he was speaking to them directly, Ibn Umm Maktum, a blind man who became a Muslim in the earliest days of Islam, came and interrupted him. He interrupted Muhammad (pbuh) repeatedly asking him for what Allah has taught him. He was asking for guidance. The Messenger Muhammad (pbuh) became somewhat annoyed and frowned and turned away from Ibn Umm Maktum to face the leaders of Quraysh who he was in conversation with. And thus Allah revealed to Muhammad (pbuh), “The Prophet frowned and turned away because there came to him the blind man…”.
From the Messenger Muhammad’s (pbuh) point of view, one can understand this, why he was so urgent in addressing the leaders before Ibn Umm Maktum. Ibn Umm Maktum was already a believer and he could wait, while the non-Muslim leaders would rarely engage with Muhammad (pbuh) like this. He saw this rare opportunity to educate them about Islam and didn’t want to be interrupted; when Ibn Umm Maktum did he frowned and turned away from him. Allah teaches the Messenger (pbuh) here, the blind man was coming to him for spiritual solace and that he could grow in knowledge, which he could benefit from him. But this blind believing man was neglected, for those who did not see any purpose for the one Creator. “And not upon you (is any blame) if he will not be purified.”, though Muhammad (pbuh) was deeply worried for humanity and the people around him, his Educator assured him that he was not responsible for those who will not become Muslims. “But as for he who came to you striving (for knowledge) while he fears (Allah), from him you are distracted.”, and the Prophet (pbuh) is taught never to forget those who actually seek guidance no matter who they are.
We learn from this story two lessons. First, the message of Islam is for non-Muslims and Muslims both, the attention should be balanced so that neither side are neglected from the message. While non-Muslims may have queries and issues which may have them from understanding the religion, if they are not satisfactorily addressed then obviously they may turn to others who misinterpret it for them. Muslims are looking to increase their knowledge about Islam, that they may practice better and become better Muslims and closer to their Creator. And second, human equality has to be embedded into every aspect of life. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was taught never to neglect a person in need whatsoever the conditions maybe, however difficult. He was to try his best of ability, regardless of the person being poor, old and blind etc. And so being a lesson for humanity also.
This was a very dear lesson for Muhammad (pbuh) and he always loved and respected Ibn Umm Maktum very much for it. He took this lesson throughout his life remembering and reflecting upon it and teaching it. Muslims and non-Muslims can take this story and learn from it profoundly; the example of Muhammad (pbuh), not only from his fineness and excellence of behaviour, but also from his weakness of humanity.
Listen to a complete detailed commentary (tafsir) by Nouman Ali Khan on this story from the Qur’an here.