The 64th Call: The Command to Confer Blessings upon the Prophet
Almighty Allah says (what can be translated as): “Indeed, Allah confers blessing upon the Prophet, and His angels [ask Him to do so]. O you who have believed, ask [Allah to confer] blessing upon him and ask [Allah to grant him] peace.” (Al-Ahzab: 56)
Almighty Allah tells His believing servants about the status of His servant and Messenger Muhammad, Peace Be upon Him, in the exalted assembly where the angels confer blessings upon Him. Then, Almighty Allah commands His servants to confer blessings upon the Prophet, Peace Be upon Him, to have praise from both worlds: the high (Heavens) and the low (Earth).
Allah’s Messenger, Peace Be upon Him, said: (Gabriel came to me and said: ‘Shall I not give you glad tidings? Allah says to you, “Whoever sends blessings upon you, I confer blessings upon him. Whoever sends salutations to you, I send peace on him.”’ Therefore, I prostrated to Allah in thanks.) [Musnad Ahmed and Al-Hakim]
The Arabic text uses the word şalat and its derivatives for what is rendered in English as ‘bless’. Şalat means prayer, but prayer by Allah for the Prophet means that Allah praises him to those on high, while when it refers to the angels it means that they pray to Allah to raise the Prophet’s status and bless him. This gives the Prophet, Peace Be upon Him, a sublime position as the whole universe echoes Allah’s praise of His Prophet. No honor could be greater than this. How would a prayer and blessing by human beings compare with Allah’s own blessing and honor bestowed on the Prophet, or with those of the angels among the exalted assembly? There is certainly no comparison, but Allah wishes to bestow honor on the believers by putting their blessing of the Prophet together with His own, thus providing them with a tie with those on high.
Al-Qurtubi said what can be summarized as: Almighty Allah honors His Messenger, Peace Be upon Him, with this verse in the Prophet’s life and death. Allah mentions the Messenger’s status for Him. Conferring blessings upon the Prophet from Allah Almighty expresses mercy and contentment, and from the angels it expresses prayers and asking for forgiveness and high status for the Prophet, while conferring blessings upon the Prophet from the Muslim nation means honoring the Prophet. In the Arabic script, Almighty Allah uses one pronoun to refer to His Exalted Self and the angels conferring blessings upon the Prophet, Peace Be upon Him. Or it implies a shortened part, as a figure of speech, estimated as saying: Almighty Allah confers blessings and the angels confer blessings.
Ibn Kathir said: the meaning is that Almighty Allah tells His servants about the high status of the Prophet for Him and His angels in the exalted assembly. Allah praises His Prophet and His angels pray and praise the Prophet too. Then, Allah commands the people in the lower world to confer peace and blessings upon the Prophet so that praises upon the Prophet in the high and low worlds combine.
The meaning is: Almighty Allah praises His Prophet Muhammad, Peace Be upon Him, and raises his status. The angels confer blessings upon the Prophet, Peace Be upon Him, and pray for the Prophet to attain the highest and loftiest degrees.
“O you who have believed, ask [Allah to confer] blessing upon him”: Ennoble, praise and pray to Allah to raise Prophet Muhammad to the highest degree.
“…and ask [Allah to grant him] peace”: i.e. say peace be upon you, Prophet Muhammad. That is a supplication by the believers to Allah to raise the status of Prophet Muhammad and give His Prophet the promised degree.
Using a nominal sentence at the beginning of the verse is to show the obligation to continue to confer peace and blessing upon the Prophet. Allah addresses that command to the believers because the verse comes after the prohibition of abusing the Prophet, Peace Be upon Him, as abuse to the Prophet only come from nonbelievers.
The commentators of the Qur’an – including ibn Kathir, al-Qurtubi and al-Alwasi – mentioned many prophetic sayings about the virtue of extensively conferring peace and blessings on the Prophet and the proper wording of how to do so. Imam Ahmed and Ibn Majah narrated from Amer Ibn Rabi’ah who said: I heard the Prophet, Peace Be upon Him, saying: “He who confers peace and blessings upon me, angels will continue to supplicate to Allah to bless him as much as he confers peace upon me, so let the servant (Muslim) increase or decrease in conferring peace (upon the Prophet).”
The two Imams, al-Bukhari and Muslim, narrated from Ka’ab ibn Ujzah that he said: When this verse was sent down we said: O Messenger of Allah, we learned about peace, but how to confer blessings upon you? The Messenger said to them: Say “Allahumma salli ala Muhammadin wa ala Muhammad, kamaa sallayta ala Ibraheema wa alaa aali Ibrahim, Innaka hameedun Majeed. Wa barik ala Muhammadin wa ala aali Muhammad, kama barakta ala Ibrahima wa ala aali Ibrahim, Innaka hameedun majeed.” (O Allah, confer blessings upon Muhammad and upon the family of Muhammad in the manner You conferred blessings upon Ibrahim and the family of Ibrahim. Verily, You are the Praiseworthy, the Majestic. And bless Muhammad and the family of Muhammad in the manner You blessed Ibrahim and the family of Ibrahim. Verily, You are the Praiseworthy, the Majestic.)
The verse shows the obligation of conferring peace and blessings upon the Prophet, Peace Be upon Him, and the true believers do that a lot. The writer of al-Kashaf, a seminal tafsir (commentary on the Qur'an) by Al-Zamakhshari, said what can be summarized as: If you ask whether conferring blessings on the Messenger of Allah, Peace Be upon Him, is obligatory or recommended, I would say it is obligatory. The scholars had different opinions in terms of the way it is obligatory. Some of them said it is obligatory whenever the Messenger of Allah is mentioned, and some said it is obligatory in every assembly one time even if the Messenger is mentioned several times. Some said it is obligatory to be said at least once during the lifetime. To be cautious we should confer blessings upon the Messenger whenever He is mentioned as there are some Prophetic narrations in that regard like “May his nose soil with dust in whose presence mention is made of me and he does not invoke blessings upon me.”
Commentary: "May his nose soil with dust'' means to suffer humiliation and disgrace. That is "may such person be humiliated and disgraced who hears my name and does not invoke Allah's blessings upon me.''
Ali ibn Abi Talib (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: The Messenger of Allah (Peace Be upon Him) said, "The miser is the one in whose presence I am mentioned but he does not confer peace upon me.'' [At-Tirmidhi]
Commentary: "Miser'' means to deny someone his right. If a Muslim does not confer peace and blessings upon the Prophet when he hears the Prophet’s name, then such a person is a miser beyond doubt. Thus, we learn that one must recite Salat when he hears the name of the Prophet (PBUH).