How can we be People of the Lord Rabbaniyyin?

How can we be People of the Lord Rabbaniyyin?

In Surat al Imran, Allah Almighty says

مَا كَانَ لِبَشَرٍ أَن يُؤْتِيَهُ اللَّهُ الْكِتَابَ وَالْحُكْمَ وَالنُّبُوَّةَ ثُمَّ يَقُولَ لِلنَّاسِ كُونُوا عِبَادًا لِّي مِن دُونِ اللَّهِ وَلَٰكِن كُونُوا رَبَّانِيِّينَ بِمَا كُنتُمْ تُعَلِّمُونَ الْكِتَابَ وَبِمَا كُنتُمْ تَدْرُسُونَ

No person to whom Allah has given the Scripture, and wisdom, and prophethood would ever say to the people, “Be my worshipers rather than Allah’s.” Rather, “Be people of the Lord, according to the Scripture you teach, and the teachings you learn.” [3:79]

Ibn Ashur (d.1393 H) in his tafseer commented on the background to this ayah and the reason behind its revelation. A man came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and said:

O Messenger of God, we greet you as we greet each other, so shall we not prostrate to you?

This is a common practice in other religions but not Islam.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) replied:

“It is not permissible for anyone to prostrate to anyone besides God, but honour your Prophet and give people of goodness their rights.” [Musnad Abd bin Humaid].

In another narration Imam al Wahidi (d.468 H) in his book, Asbab an Nuzul, commented on the reason behind this ayah said a delegation from Najran (Yemen) comprising Abu Rafi’, the Jew, and the master from the Christians of Najran asked:

“O Muhammad, do you want us to worship you?” The Messenger of God (peace be upon him) and he said, “God forbid that anyone be worshiped other than God.” And this verse was revealed.

The message is straightforward and clear, we worship Allah but not His messengers. The core of the ayah is about tawheed (monotheism), and having purity in worshiping Allah. In the ayah, Allah says ‘Be the people of the Lord (rabbaniyyin).’

What is rabbaniyyin?

Abu Ja’far At-Ṭabari (d. 310 H) said: “The most accurate interpretation, in my view, regarding ‘Al-Rabbaniyyin’ is that it is the plural of ‘Rabbani’, and ‘Al-Rabbani’ is attributed to ‘Al-Rabban’, the one who nurtures people, fixes their affairs, and ‘yarubbuhā’, takes care of them.” Allah is therefore commanding us to be people of goodness. It can be related to Ar Rabb, in Arabic they say the lord of the house meaning the man who looks after the house. Being people of the Lord means emulating the attributes of the Lord.

Imam al Qushayri (d. 465 H) in his tafseer on the spiritual aspects of the Quran, Lataif al Isharaat, commented beautifully on this ayah, by saying the definition of Rabbani is the one who is not living for himself, but the one who lives under the shadow of Allah. His life is dedicated to Allah and strives against his ego. He further commented that the true Rabbani is the one who is not changed by adversity or the one who remains unchanged by adversity and unaffected by blessings, as he maintains the spiritual same state no matter what the circumstances.

Therefore whether he is afflicted by a test he is just as the one who is in a state of full blessings.

Ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) said Al Rabbani is the one who is knowledgeable about Allah and tolerant of others and wise – ulama hulama.

Imam Tabari from the collection of different quotations from different scholars came up with five different meanings of Ar-Rabbani, those who are:

  1. Knowledgeable
  2. Wise (al hukama)
  3. People of taqwa (al atqiya)
  4. Those who teach others and look after them
  5. The reformers

Ibn Ajeebah (d. 1224 H) said in his Tafseer ( Al-Bahr Al-Madeed):

“Be scholars of Allah, knowledgeable in His religion, patient with people, and teach people through knowledge, action, determination, and your own state, because of what you used to teach from the Book of Allah and what you used to impart from it. Or because of the goodness you used to teach people from the Book of Allah, and what you used to instruct them with.

When Ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased with them) passed away, Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyya said, ‘A Rabbani scholar of this Ummah has passed away.'”

Al-‘Izz bin ‘Abd al-Salam (d. 660 H) may Allah have mercy on him said in his book “The Tree of Knowledge” (Shajarat al Ma’arif) wrote a chapter on how to develop oneself with names and attributes of Allah. There are two types of divine attribute the beautiful (jamali) and the majestic (jalali). Being kind, just, merciful and forgiving is jamali, we should emulate these. However, Al Qahhar – the One who prevails over Creation is a jalali attribute and we cannot emulate these. Al Izz said:

“It is appropriate to respond to each attribute of His attributes with the best of treatments – so, we respond to His Majesty with the greatest reverence, as there is no majesty like His Majesty, and we respond to His Beauty with the utmost love, as there is no beauty like His Beauty, and similarly, develop with all other attributes.

If you adopt excellence, then be excellent towards everyone whom you are capable of treating well. With every bit of goodness you can muster, for your closeness to your Lord is determined by the qualities you embody from His attributes. (And in this, let the competitors compete).

When we emulate the jamali attributes of Allah, we can become Rabbani. Our closeness to Allah is heavily dependent on how much we develop the jamali attributes of Allah.

The more you embody of Allah’s attributes, the closer you are to Him. Be people of mercy (rahma) and excellence (ihsan) and generosity. Try and reflect Allah’s attributes and names and this is how we can be People of the Lord, as He commanded us to be. Reflect and adopt His attributes.

We ask Allah to enable us to be among the Rabbaniyoon, those who reflect and live by Allah’s names. Ameen.

Shaykh Haytham Tamim 18th August 2023


Shaykh Haytham Tamim is the founder and main teacher of the Utrujj Foundation. He has provided a leading vision for Islamic learning in the UK, which has influenced the way Islamic knowledge is disseminated. He has orchestrated the design and delivery of over 200 unique courses since Utrujj started in 2001. His extensive expertise spans over 30 years across the main Islamic jurisprudence schools of thought. He has studied with some of the foremost scholars in their expertise; he holds some of the highest Ijazahs (certificates) in Quran, Hadith (the Prophetic traditions) and Fiqh (Islamic rulings). His own gift for teaching was evident when he gave his first sermon to a large audience at the age of 17 and went on to serve as a senior lecturer of Islamic transactions and comparative jurisprudence at the Islamic University of Beirut (Shariah College). He has continued to teach; travelling around the UK, Europe and wider afield, and won the 2015 BISCA award (British Imams & Scholars Contributions & Achievements Awards) for Outstanding Contribution to Education and Teaching.