Tafsir of Duna Allah
‘Allamah Sarfaraz Khan Safdar
The phrase ‘Min Dun-Allah’… ‘besides Allah’… (5:116) is often repeated in the Qur’an. Some people have misunderstood these verses to mean that the polytheists of Makkah considered Allah to be… ‘something gone, forgotten’… (19:23) and turned to deities (other than Allah) and that they used to present gifts to these deities (other than Allah) or turn to them for seeking assistance (isti’anah) and that is why they were polytheists (mushriks). This is a fatal mistake as we have previously quoted clear and unambiguous verses of the Qur’an and narrations that they considered these deities mere intercessors to get their requests to Allah. In fact, we have elaborated explicitly that in the time of extreme need the polytheists used to call upon Allah Most High.
In brief, the meaning of ‘dun’ from Qur’an, Hadith, poetry of Arabs and dictionary can be summarized as: ‘on the other side, underneath, front’.
 When Sayyiduna Musa (may the peace of Allah be upon him) reached Madyan from Egypt and came upon a well and there,
He found, aloof (dun) from them, two women keeping (their animals) back (Qur’an, 28:23)
‘Dun’ here does not mean ‘ghayr’ (other than) because then the verse would mean that there were no people there and only the two women were present. This is contrary to meaning of the Qur’an, rather it means ‘aloof’.
 Similarly consider the following verse:
When she [Maryam] secluded herself from her people… (19:16)
 And the following:
For whom We did not make any shelter against it… (18:90)
 And the following:
He [Dhul Qarnayn] found by them a people… (18:93)
These verses clearly indicate that ‘dun’ means beside or in front.
 When Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) went on Mi’raj (celestial ascension) he described Al-Buraq (the animal) upon which he traveled in the hadith of Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih al-Muslim as, “Which is an animal white and long, higher than a donkey but lower (dun) than a mule.”
In this hadith ‘dun’ is used as a comparison [in height] with (fawq) meaning higher and lower.
 A poet says:
عجبت لمسراھا ونی تخلصت
إلي و باب السجن دوني مغلق
I was astonished at the vision of my beloved, how it reached me, when prison-door in front of me was locked.” (Hamasah)
 Another poet says:
ملکت بھا کفي فأنھرت فتقھا
یری قائم من دونھا ما وراءھا
My palm held the spear and widened the wound, such that the one standing behind it would see what is it front of it. (Hamasah)
These two couplets show that ‘dun’ can mean on the other side and in front.
 And Sirah (p. 502) says that the meaning of ‘dun’ is:
Inferior, part, opposite and up.
After considering the meanings of ‘dun’ and the beliefs of polytheists about Allah to be Creator, Lord, Arranger and Omnipotent, it must be accepted that the phrase … ‘gods besides Allah’… (5:116) could only mean that, in spite of their belief in Allah, they used to call deities below, in front, and behind as above the means (ma fawqa al-asbab) and used to make vows for them so that these deities would be pleased and plead their case to Allah and that was their shirk (polytheism). However today, we see that this sort of shirk (polytheism) is prevalent even amongst those who proclaim the Kalimah.
Dear readers, you must have understood well that what was the shirk (polytheism) of the polytheists of Makkah? So even today if someone calls upon someone other than Allah Most High as above the means – ma fawqa al-asbab – (that he is not present in front or not even in this world) then such a call would be shirk (polytheism). May Allah Most High protect all Muslims from it (Amin, O Lord of the Worlds!). It must also be noted that although common people are stricken with this explicit form of shirk but the notables (amongst them) also teach them these lessons to call ‘Ghayr Allah’ for assistance. Hence Khan Sahib Barelwi writes:
I said Ya Rasul Allah while sitting and standing in order to seek his help, so who are you to blame me.” (Hadaiq Bakhshish, 2:50)
Therefore, all fair-minded individuals and those who are concerned about hereafter must consider it their obligation to reflect upon the pros and cons of the enormity called shirk (polytheism) and not take the matter lightly because shirk (polytheism) is such a crime that Allah Most High sent Prophet after Prophet (may the peace of Allah be upon them) to eradicate it…”
Guldasta Tawhid, p.133-135 — Maktabah Safdariyyah
 ‘Allamah Sarfaraz Khan Safdar mentioned in his tafsir lecture that amongst all the Urdu translations of the Qur’an, the translation of Shah ‘Abd al-Qadir Muhaddith Dahlawi (may Allah have mercy on him) is the finest. Qasim al-‘Ulum wal-Khayrat Mawlana Nanautwi (may Allah have mercy on him) said: “It is ilhami (inspired) translation.” Amir Shari’ah Mawlana Sayyid Ata’ullah Shah Bukhari (may Allah have mercy on him) used to say: “Had Qur’an been revealed in India it would have been revealed in the language of Shah ‘Abd al-Qadir.” Then, the next is the translation of his brother Shah Rafi’ al-Din Muhaddith Dahlawi (may Allah have mercy on him). Shaykh al-Hind Mawlana Mahmud al-Hassan (may Allah have mercy on him) rephrased the translation of Shah ‘Abd al-Qadir in an easy language. In all these translations, the word ‘dun’ is translated as ‘ware’ which means below. For example, we say: the fan is below [in Urdu: ware] the ceiling. It means that let alone above him, there is none under Him who can do the same; since the polytheists themselves considered Allah as Most High, they believed that there was none higher than Him. So, the meaning of the verse is: ‘Call upon your aids if there is anyone below Allah from human beings, jinns, Satans, etc. who can accept the challenge’.