In Suratul Hajj (22:75) Allah ta’ala uses two distinct words to give the meaning of “selection”. ( اجتبى and اصطفى)
Allah ta’ala says in ayah 75:
اللَّهُ يَصْطَفِي مِنَ الْمَلَائِكَةِ رُسُلًا وَمِنَ النَّاسِ
Allah selects messengers out of angels and man.
Then He ta’ala says in ayah 77:
He has selected you (muslims).
Both of these words carry the same English meaning of ’selection’ or ‘to choose’, yet there is a profound difference between the two which shows the precise choice of these words.
Istafaa’ is from the root saad-fa-wow ( ص ف و) and it means to be chosen based on purity. When Allah ta’ala selects Messengers, He selectsthe purest of mankind. We learn this from our creed (aqeedah) that the Messengers are all pure. The Jews and Christians on the other hand did not keep this standard and in their books that they claim to be divine, there are references to these Messengers that are lewd and horrifying. When we hear anything horrendous, we automatically know it is wrong based on this ayah. We know it cannot be from the revelation because it questions the purity of the Messengers.
Another meaning of istafaa’ is to make a choice that is purely your own, no explanation is needed for this choice and it is free from any agendas, pressures and dictates. This protects another aspect of the Messengers. At the time of the Prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam, the Jews and the Quraysh denied the Messengership of the Prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam just because he was not Jewish or not rich; they questioned the choice of Allah ta’ala. Allah’s Choice is BEYOND our question, and by using istafaa’ Allah ta’ala makes that clear. We cannot say the Messenger alayhi salaatu wa salaam was picked for X, Y or Z reasons–we should stop at: Allah chose Him.
Ijtibaa’ on the other hand is from jeem-ba-ya (ج ب ي),Ijtibaa’ is to pick something for a purpose, an agenda, and based on qualifications. For example, this word is used to collect taxes, and when collecting taxes there is a purpose: to store the money in the treasury. Another example is when a recruiter hires an employee: he chooses based on the qualifications of the employee. There is a reason for ijtibaa’.
Everyone who has the priviledge of saying la ilaaha il Allah [there is no god but Allah]has been selected. Allah ta’ala did not just select us, but there is areason, something thatHe the Most High sees in us that He sees us as qualified for this task and the mission of this ummah [muslim Nation].
The vast majority of the people on this earth were not chosen; yet we make up the small minority of those whom Allah ta’ala selected.
This shows great honor, but at the same time: great responsibility. SubhanAllah.
These two examples are from Surat al-Hajj, and it connects with the last ayah of this surah which is an emotional roller coaster:
وَجَاهِدُوا فِي اللَّهِ حَقَّ جِهَادِهِ ۚ هُوَ اجْتَبَاكُمْ وَمَا جَعَلَ عَلَيْكُمْ فِي الدِّينِ مِنْ حَرَجٍ ۚ مِلَّةَ أَبِيكُمْ إِبْرَاهِيمَ ۚ هُوَ سَمَّاكُمُ الْمُسْلِمِينَ مِنْ قَبْلُ وَفِي هَـٰذَا لِيَكُونَ الرَّسُولُ شَهِيدًا عَلَيْكُمْ وَتَكُونُوا شُهَدَاءَ عَلَى النَّاسِ ۚ فَأَقِيمُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَآتُوا الزَّكَاةَ وَاعْتَصِمُوا بِاللَّهِ هُوَ مَوْلَاكُمْ ۖ فَنِعْمَ الْمَوْلَىٰ وَنِعْمَ النَّصِيرُ
[Surah Hajj 22:78]
(I did not translate this ayah for a reason)
In a previous ayah, ayah 22:74, Allah ta’ala said:مَا قَدَرُوا اللَّهَ حَقَّ قَدْرِهِthey did not make a just estimate of Allah as He deserves.The ayah above begins [22:78] with an impossible goal: جَاهِدُوا فِي اللَّهِ حَقَّ جِهَادِهِto struggle before Allah as much as He deserves/a true striving.
SubhanAllah! Can we ever thank Allah as He deserves? Can we ever pray to Allah as He deserves? Can we ever fear Allah as He deserves? The first thing we think of when reading this statement is that we cannot do it! It’s too difficult!
But directly after this statement, Allah azza wa jal says: هُوَ اجْتَبَاكُمْ He selectedyou. Allah azza wa jal sees it in us to carry this task.
He says after that: وَمَا جَعَلَ عَلَيْكُمْ فِي الدِّينِ مِنْ حَرَجٍHe did not place in this deen/religion for you any difficulty. Our deen is not that hard.
Then He reminds us that we are the continuation of a legacy before us: مِلَّةَ أَبِيكُمْ إِبْرَاهِيمَthe religion of your father Ibrahim (alayhi salaam).
Ibrahim alayhi salaam struggled so much in his life: he was thrown into the fire, sought to slaughter his beloved son, leaving his wife and child in the desert. Ibrahim alayhi salaam left his child [Isma’il] and wife in a barren desert, a certain death (except that Allah kept them alive and lookaftered them)! The last thing we think of about his life alayhi salaam is that it was easy, yet Allah ta’ala says that there is no haraj (hardship) in this deen.
What is the lesson here? If Allah ta’ala can make jumping into the fire easy for Ibrahim, if He can substitute a ram in place of his son, if He can send a river in the middle of the desert for his family…then what do you have that is so hard? There is no comparison.
Then Allah ta’ala reminds us that: هُوَ سَمَّاكُمُ الْمُسْلِمِينَHe is the one who named you “Muslims”. In Surat ul Baqarah, Allah states that Ibrahim made the duaa while building the Ka’bah and said to Allah to make us “ummatan Muslimatan.” [people who submit to Allah/are Muslims] If this ayah means that Allah named accepted his du’a & made us Muslims, then we should be in trust to Allah that He chose us and named us.
How do you feel now? Encouraged, right?
But Allah reminds us that with this Qualification comes Responsibility:
لِيَكُونَ الرَّسُولُ شَهِيدًا عَلَيْكُمْ so that the Messenger is a witness against you. Allah ta’ala says عَلَيْكُمْ, ‘alaa here means against. If the Messenger alayhi salaam is a witness against us, then that means we have a mission to complete. Just because of the qualification, doesn’t mean we will do the job. Allah ta’ala is reminding us here, if we do not fulfill our mission then our Messenger will be the one complaining to Allah azza wa jal!
Furthermore, وَتَكُونُوا شُهَدَاءَ عَلَى النَّاسِ and that you all are witnesses against mankind. Not only is the Messenger alayhi salaatu wa salaam a witness against us; we will also be a proof and witness against humanity, if we fulfilled our mission or not. SubhanAllah, on one side it is the Messenger sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam complaining and on the other side it’s humanity!
Now we realize the magnitude of our mission, but before you become uneasy, Allah ta’ala consoles us again:
فَأَقِيمُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَآتُوا الزَّكَاةَt hen perfectly establish the prayer and give zakah.Salah is the therapy and reinforcement for the Muslim, and through giving zakah, Allah ta’ala ensures our purification. And if you want to pray and give zakah properly: وَاعْتَصِمُوا بِاللَّهِ and hold fast to Allah. Hold fast to the rope of Allah, the Qur’an.
Then Allah ta’ala says at the end of this ayah:
هُوَ مَوْلَاكُمْHe is your Mawlaa. Not only is a Mawlaa a friend, but a Mawlaa is the ONLY ONE who can protect you. When you embark on this hard journey, this great mission, He is the One who will help you.
and how awesome a Mawlaa, and how awesome a Helper.فَنِعْمَ الْمَوْلَىٰ وَنِعْمَ النَّصِيرُ
SubhanAllahil A’dheem. O Allah we ask you to grant us istqaamah and to make us bearers of Your deen, and to grant us success as callers. Ameen.