Answered by Shaykh Abdul-Rahim Reasat
“A man can have nothing, except what he strives for.” [Quran, 53:39]
Please explain this verse and how it is not in contradiction with other established principles such, the prayers of angels for him, the funeral prayer over him, charity given by others in his name, and the supplications of believers for him.
I pray you are well.
There are a number of sound interpretations for the verse you mentioned. Each of them affirms the clear outward meaning of the verse and the points you raised.
1. The first position is that this is the rule that applied to the followers of the Prophets Ibrahim and Musa (peace and blessings be on them), whereas our Sharia allows donating rewards to others and performing good deeds for others to benefit from.
This position is clearly understood from the context which tells us of what those former messages said:
“Have you seen the one who turned away [from Islam], and [initially[ paid a little [for his salvation], and then stopped? Does he have the knowledge of the unseen so that he sees [the Hereafter]? Or has he not been informed of what is in the Scripture of Moses, and [that of] Abraham, who [perfectly] fulfilled [his covenant]?
[They state] that no soul burdened with sin will bear the burden of another, and that each person will only have what they endeavored towards, and that [the outcome of] their endeavors will be seen [in their record]…“ [Quran, 53:33-40; Alusi, Ruh al Ma‘ani]
2. The next position is that the word ‘insan’ (human being) here refers to the disbeliever – this is understood from verse 33. According to this, gaining extra rewards for actions one has not done is possible for Believers. They receive this through the generosity of Allah. As for the disbeliever, he does not qualify for this reward due to his disbelief. [Ibn ‘Ashur, al-Tahrir wa al-Tanwir)
3. Another position is that the lam in ‘laysa lil insani’ is the lam of istihqaq. This is used when referring to a matter that belongs to the subject rightfully. Based on this, Allah has granted human beings the rewards of their good deeds. They have a right to them. They don’t, however, have a right to more than that.
They can receive the reward of deeds from another, but this is not something that is rightfully theirs. Rather, it is something Allah allows our of his generosity. [Habannaka, Ma‘arij al Tafakkur]
These are some of the explanations of the verse, and each shows that there is no contradiction in the meaning of the verse and the matter of benefitting from the deeds of others. I hope that clarifies the matter.
May Allah grant you the best of both worlds.
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Shaykh Abdul-Rahim Reasat began his studies in Arabic Grammar and Morphology in 2005. After graduating with a degree in English and History he moved to Damascus in 2007 where, for 18 months, he studied with many erudite scholars. In late 2008 he moved to Amman, Jordan, where he continued his studies for the next six years in Sacred Law (fiqh), legal theory (Usul al-fiqh), theology, hadith methodology, hadith commentary, and Logic. He was also given licenses of mastery in the science of Quranic recital and he was able to study an extensive curriculum of Quranic sciences, tafsir, Arabic grammar, and Arabic eloquence.