And from among these examples is Allah’s statement,
“Have you not considered how Allah presents an example, [making] a good word like a good tree, whose root is firmly fixed and its branches (high) in the sky? Producing its fruit all the time by the permission of its Lord. And Allah presents examples for the people that perhaps they will be reminded.”
Here, Allah has likened the good word to the good tree because the outcome of a good word is a good deed, and a good tree will also yield beneficial and good fruits. The meaning is obvious and apparent and in conformity with the view adopted by the majority of scholars of Tafsir who say that the good word in this ayah means the declaration that there is no deity worthy of worship but Allah (i.e. Shahadah). For indeed the fruits of this statement are all hidden and manifest good deeds since every good deed pleasing Allah, Most High, has to be a result of this statement.
In the Tafsir of Ali ibn Abi Talib, Ibn Abbas, may Allah be pleased with him, said regarding this ayah, “whose roots are firmly fixed” refers to the statement, “there is no deity worthy of worship but Allah” that is established in the hearts of the believers – “and it branches (high) in the sky” refers to the deeds of believers that are elevated to the sky by the means of this statement.”
Al-Rabi ibn Abbas said, “The good word (mentioned in the ayah) is said in reference to man, as it resembles the good tree. ‘Whose root is firmly fixed’ refers to the everlasting sincerity within it, and ‘its branches (high) in the sky’ refers to fearing Allah.” The explanation used in this latter interpretation is the most correct and most suitable because Allah, Exalted is He, likened the tree of Tawhid in the heart, to the good tree whose roots are firmly fixed and its branches reach high in the sky, continually bearing fruit whenever a good deed is raised high.
If one contemplates this comparison, he will realise that it perfectly corresponds to the tree of Tawhid who roots are fixed in the heart (of a believer), whose branches comprising of good deeds, are raised high in the sky (and) continuing provide the fruits of good deeds depending on the firmness and well-establishment of Tawhid in the heart – the level of love that a heart has for it, the level of understanding of its reality and truths – and the level to which a person is appropriately mindful of the rights (of the deed).
He is successful who has this good word established firmly in his heart, understands its reality and his heart is engulfed with its characteristics; his tongue testifies its correctness and his limbs act upon what it necessitates. His heart and tongue affirm and negate that which Tawhid affirms and negates, while his limbs submit willingly and in totality to the Commandments of Allah similar to how his heart accepts no Lord but its truthful Creator. Undoubtedly, this good word which eminates from the heart and is uttered by the tongue continues to bear its fruit. The good deeds that are raised to the Lord of the Worlds are those that yield plenty of good fruits whenever it accompanies a good deed by which it ascends the good word. Allah said, “Unto Him ascend (all) good words and righteous deeds elevates them.” (Surah Fatir:10)
Allah also informs us that the result of a good word is a good deed for the person who utters it at all times. This is because whenever a believer testifies and utters the word of Tawhid while knowing its true meaning and reality – what it confirms and negates and encapsulates his heart – he is rewarded. For indeed, the roots of this word are firmly entrenched in his heart and its branches are connected to the sky, yielding fruit all the time.
The Example of the Palm Tree and the Believer
Some of the righteous predecessors said that the good tree (in Surah Ibrahim:24) is the palm tree. This is supported by the hadith on the authority of Ibn Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, that is recorded in the Sahih books. Some of them also said (the good tree) is the believer, as per the report narrated by Muhammad ibn Sad who relayed (through a salad [chain]) that Ibn Abbas, may Allah be pleased with him, said, “In the ayah “See you not how Allah coins a similitude: A goodly saying, as a goodly tree, its root set firm, its branches reaching into heaven”, the goodly tree is the believer and “its root set firm, its branches in the heavens” means that the believer works and talks on earth so his words and deeds reach into heaven while he still lives on earth.”
Atiyyah al-Ufi said, “See you not how Allah coins a similitude: A goodly saying, a goodly tree” is similar to the believer whose words and good deeds emanate from him and ascend to Allah.”
Al-Rabi ibn Anas said, “its root set firm, its branches reaching into heaven” is to exemplify the sincerity of the believer to Allah and his devoted worship to Allah alone without associating any partner with Him, ‘its root set firm’ means the origin of his good deeds are well established on earth and ‘its branches reaching into heaven’ means his name is mentioned in heaven.”
There is no contradiction between these two interpretations because the intended meaning of the example is the believer, who also shares many similarities with the palm tree. Thus, since the palm tree is a goodly tree then it is more befitting to say that the believer is similar to it. And though some of the righteous predecessors said: ‘the goodly tree’ is a tree in paradise; it is also known that the palm tree is amongst the most honourable of trees in paradise.