THE TWENTY-FIRST SURAH

AL-ANBIYA (THE PROPHETS)

MECCA PERIOD

The main theme of this surah - which according to the Itqan belongs to the last group of the Meccan revelations - is the stress on the oneness, uniqueness and transcendence of God and on the fact that this truth has always been the core of all prophetic revelation, “the essence of all that you ought to bear in mind” (verse 10), and which man only too often forgets: for “the deaf [of heart] will not hearken to this call, however often they are warned” (verse 45), and “but listen to it with playful amusement, their hearts set on passing delights” (verses

2 -3).

The repeated allusions to some of the prophets of old, all of whom preached the same fundamental truth,

provide the title of this surah. The stories of those prophets are meant to illustrate the continuity and intrinsic unity of all divine revelation and of man’s religious experience: hence, addressing all who believe in Him. God says, “Verily, this community of yours is one single community, since I am the Sustainer of you all” (verse 92), thus postulating the brotherhood of all true believers, whatever their outward designation, as a logical corollary of their belief in Him - the belief that “your God is the One and Only God” (verse 108).

IN THE NAME OF GOD, THE MOST GRACIOUS, THE DISPENSER OF GRACE:

SPELLBINDING ELOQUENCE

(1) CLOSER DRAWS unto men their reckoning: and yet they remain stubbornly heedless [of its approach]. [Lit., “and yet in [their] heedlessness they are obstinate (muridun)”.] (2) Whenever there comes unto them any new re­minder from their Sustainer, they but listen to it with playful amusement, [Lit., “while they are playing”.] (3) their hearts set on passing ­delights; yet they who are [thus] bent on wrongdoing conceal their innermost thoughts [See next note.] [when they say to one another], “Is this [Muhammad] anything but a mortal like yourselves? Will you, then, yield to [his] spellbinding eloquence with your eyes open?’’ [As regards my occasional rendering of sihr (lit., “sorcery” or “magic”) as “spellbinding eloquence”, see 74: 24, where this term occurs for the first time in the chronology of Quranic revelation. By rejecting the message of the Quran on the specious plea that Muhammad is but a human being endowed with “spellbinding eloquence”, the opponents of the Quranic doctrine in reality “conceal their innermost thoughts”: for, their rejection is due not so much to any pertinent criticism of this doctrine as, rather, to their instinctive, deep-set unwillingness to submit to the moral and spiritual discipline which an acceptance of the Prophet’s call would entail.] (4) Say: [According to the earliest scholars of Medina and Basrah, as well as some of the scholars of Kufah, this word is spelt qul, as an imperative (“Say”), whereas some of the Meccan scholars and the majority of those of Kufah read it as qala (“He [i.e., the Prophet] said”). In the earliest copies of the Quran the spelling was apparently confined, in this instance, to the consonants q-l: hence the possibility of reading it either as qul or as qala. However, as Tabari points out, both these readings have the same meaning and are, therefore, equally valid, ‘‘for, when God bade Muham­mad to say this, he [undoubtedly] said it… Hence, in whichever way this word is read, the reader is correct (musib as-sawab) in his reading.” Among the classical commentators, Baghawi and Baydawi explicitly use the spelling qul, while Zamakhshari’s short remark that “it has also been read as qala” seems to indicate his own preference for the imperative qul.] “My Sustainer knows whatever is spoken in heaven and on earth; and He alone is all-hearing, all-knowing.”

REJECTION OF MUHAMMED MESSAGE

(5) “Nay,” they say, “[Muhammad propounds] the most involved and confusing of dreams!” [Lit., “confusing medleys (adghath) of dreams”.] “Nay, but he has invented [all] this!” - “Nay, but he is [only] a poet!” - [and,] “Let him, then, come unto us with a miracle, just as those [prophets] of old were sent [with miracles]?”(6) Not one of the communities that We destroyed in bygone times [Lit., “before them”.] would ever believe [their prophets]: will these, then, [be more willing to] believe? [The downfall of those communities of old - frequently referred to in the Quran - was invariably due to the fact that they had been resolved to ignore all spiritual truths which militated against their own, materialistic concept of life: is it, then (so the Quranic argument goes), reasonable to expect that the opponents of the Prophet Muhammad, who are similarly motivated, would be more willing to consider his message on its merits?] (7) For [even] before thy time, [O Muhammad,] We never sent [as Our apostles] any but [mortal] men, whom We inspired - hence, [tell the deniers of the truth,] “If you do not know this, ask the followers of earlier revelation” -[Lit., “followers of the reminder” - i.e., of the Bible, which in its original, uncorrupted form represented one of Gods “reminders” to man.] (8) and neither did We endow them with bodies that could dispense with food nor were they immortal. [Lit., “neither did We fashion them [ie., those apostles] as bodies that ate no food”, implying a denial of any supernatural quality in the prophets entrusted with God’s message (cf. 5:75, 13:38 and 25:20, as well as the corresponding notes). The above is an answer to the unbelievers’ objection to Muhammad’s prophethood expressed in verse 3 of this surah.]

RESULTS OF REJECTING GOD’S MESSAGE

(9) In the end, We made good unto them Our promise, and We saved them and all whom We willed [to save], [I.e., their believing followers.] and We destroyed those who had wasted their own selves. [As regards my rendering of al-musrifun as “those who had wasted their own selves”, see note on the last sentence of 10: 12.] (10) [O MEN!] We have now bestowed upon you from on high a divine writ containing all that you ought to bear in mind*: will you not, then, use your reason? [*The term dhikr, which primarily denotes a “reminder” or a ‘‘remembrance”, or, as Raghib defines it, the “presence (of something) in the mind’’, has also the meaning of “that by which one is remembered, i.e., with praise - in other words, “renown” or ‘‘fame’’ - and, tropically, “honour”, “eminence” or “dignity”. Hence, the above phrase contains, apart from the concept of a “reminder”, an indirect allusion to the dignity and happiness to which man may attain by following the spiritual and social precepts laid down in the Quran. By rendering the expression dhikrukum as ‘‘all that you ought to bear in mind’’, I have tried to bring out all these meanings.] (11) For, how many a community that persisted in evildoing have We dashed into fragments, and raised another people in its stead! [Lit., ‘‘after it’’.] (12) And [every time,] as soon as they began to feel Our punishing might, lo! they tried to flee from it - (13) [and at the same time they seemed to hear a scornful voice]: “Do not try to flee, but return to all that [once] gave you pleasure and corrupted your whole being. [For an explanation of the phrase ma utriftum fihi, see surah 11: 116.] and [return] to your homes, so that you might be called to account [for what you have done]!’’ [The Quran does not say whose words these are, but the tenor of this passage indicates, I believe, that it is the scornful, self-accusing voice of the sinners’ own conscience: hence my interpolation, between brackets, at the beginning of this verse.] (14) And they could only cry: [Lit., “They said’’.] “Oh, woe unto us! Verily, we were wrongdoers!” (15) And that cry of theirs did not cease until We caused them to become [like] a field mown down, still and silent as ashes.

GOD’S TRANSCENDENCE

(16) AND [know that] We have not created the heavens and the earth and all that is between them in mere idle play: [Lit., “playing” or “playfully”, i.e., without meaning and purpose: see note on 10: 5] (17) [for,] had We willed to indulge in a pastime, We would indeed have produced it from within Ourselves - if such had been Our will at all!  [Lit., “if We had [ever] willed to do so’’: meaning that, had God ever willed to “indulge in a pastime” (which, being almighty and self-sufficient, He has no need to do). He could have found it within His Own Self, without any necessity to create a universe which would embody His hypothetical - and logically inconceivable - will to “please Himself”, and would thus represent a “projection’’, as it were, of His Own Being. In the elliptic manner of the Quran, the above passage amounts to a statement of God’s transcendence.] (18) Nay, but [by the very act of creation] We hurl the truth against falsehood, [I.e., the truth of God’s transcendence against the false idea of His existential immanence in or co-existence with, the created universe.] and it crushes the latter: and lo! it withers away. [The obvious fact that everything in the created universe is finite and perishable effectively refutes the claim that it could be a “projection’’ of the Creator, who is infinite and eternal.] But woe unto you for all your [attempts at] defining [God] – [Lit., “for all that you attribute [to God] by way of description” or ‘‘of definition’’ (cf. the last sentence of 6: 100 and the corresponding note) - implying that the idea of God’s “immanence” in His creation is equivalent to an attempt to define His Being.]

FALSE OBJECTS OF WORSHIP

(19) for, unto Him belong all [beings] that are in the heavens and on earth; and those that are with Him* are never too proud to worship Him and never grow weary [thereof]: [*According to the classical commentators, this refers to the angels; but it is possible to understand the expression ‘‘those who are with Him” in a wider sense, comprising not only the angels but also all human beings who are truly God-conscious and wholly dedicated to Him. In either case, their “being with Him” is a metaphorical indication of their spiritual eminence and place of honour in God’s sight, and does not bear any spatial connotation of “nearness” (Zamakhshari and Razi): obviously so, because God is limitless in space as well as in time. (See also 40:7 and the corresponding note.)] (20) they extol His lim­itless glory by night and by day, never flagging [therein]. (21) And yet [As stressed by Zamakhshari, the particle am which introduces this sentence has not, as is so often the case, an interrogative sense (“is it that…”), but is used here in the sense of bal, which in this instance may be rendered as “and yet”.] some people choose to worship certain earthly things or beings as deities [Lit., “they have taken unto themselves deities from the earth”, i.e., from among the things or beings found on earth: an expression which alludes to all manner of false objects of worship - idols of every description, forces of nature, deified human beings, and, finally, abstract concepts such as wealth, power. etc.] that [are supposed to] resurrect [the dead; and they fail to realize that], (22) had there been in heaven or on earth [Lit., ‘‘in those two [realms]”, alluding to the first clause of verse 19 above.] any deities other than God, both [those realms would surely have fallen into ruin! But limitless in His glory is God, enthroned in His awesome almightiness [Lit., “the Sustainer (rabb) of the awesome throne of almightiness”. (For this rendering of al-arsh, see note on 7: 54.][far] above anything that men may devise by way of definition! [Cf. last sentence of verse 18 above and the corresponding note, as well as note on 6: 100.] (23) He cannot be called to account for whatever He does, whereas they will be called to account: (24) and yet, [See note on verse 21 above.] they choose to worship [imaginary] deities instead of Him! Say [O Prophet]: “Produce an evidence for what you are claiming: [Lit., “produce your evidence’’, i.e., for the existence of deities other than God, as well as for the intellectual and moral justification of worshipping anything but Him.] this is a reminder [unceasingly voiced] by those who are with me, just as it was a reminder [voiced] by those who came before me.” [I.e., the earlier prophets, the purport of whose messages was always the stress on the oneness of God.] But nay, most of them do not know the truth, and so they stubbornly turn away [from it] [In other words, most people’s obstinate refusal to consider a reasonable proposition on its merits is often due to no more than the simple fact that it is not familiar to them.] (25) and [this despite the fact that even] before thy time We never sent any apostle without having revealed to him that there is no deity save Me, - [and that,] therefore, you shall worship Me [alone]!

OFSPRINGS OF GOD

(26) And [yet,] some say, “The Most Gracious has taken unto Himself a son”! Limitless is He in His glory!  [I.e., utterly remote from the imperfection implied in the concept of ‘offspring”: see note on 19:92.] Nay, [those whom they regard as God’s “offspring” are but His] honoured servants: [This alludes to prophets like Jesus, whom the Christians regard as ‘‘the son of God”, as well as to the angels, whom the pre-Islamic Arabs considered to be “God’s daughters” (since they were conceived of as females). (27) they speak not until He has spoken unto them, and [whenever they act,] they act at His behest. [Lit., “they do not precede Him in speech - meaning that they proclaim only what He has revealed to them and bidden them to proclaim.] (28) He knows all that lies open before them and all that is hidden from them:  [See note on 2: 255.] hence, they cannot intercede for any but those whom He has [already] graced with His goodly acceptance, since they themselves stand in reverent awe of Him. [Cf. 19: 87 and 20: 109. Regarding the problem of intercession” as such, see note on 10:3.] (29) And if any of them were to say, “Behold, I am deity beside Him” - that one We should requite with hell: thus do We requite all [such] evildoers.

CREATION OF UNIVERSE IN BIG BANG

(30) ARE, THEN, they who are bent on denying the truth not aware that the heavens and the earth were [once] one single entity, which We then parted asunder? – [The above unmistakable reference to the unitary origin of the universe - metonymic­ally described in the Quran as “the heavens and the earth’’ - strikingly anticipates the view of almost all modern astrophysicists that this universe has originated from one entity, which became subsequently consolidated through gravity and then separated into individual nebulae, galaxies and solar systems, with further individual parts progressively breaking away to form new entities in the shape of stars, planets etc. (Regarding the Quranic reference to the phenomenon described by the term “expanding universe”, see 51: 47 and the corresponding note.)]

ORIGIN OF LIFE FROM WATER

and [that] We made out of water every living thing? Will they not, then, [begin to] believe? [The statement that God “made out of water every living thing” expresses most concisely a truth that is nowadays universally accepted by science. It has a threefold meaning: (1) Water was the environment within which the prototype of all living matter originated; (2) among all the innumerable - existing or conceivable - liquids, only water has the peculiar properties necessary for the emergence and development of life; and (3) the protoplasm, which is the physical basis of every living cell - whether in plants or in animals - and represents the only form of matter in which the phenomena of life are manifested, consists overwhelmingly of water and is, thus, utterly dependent on it. Read together with the preceding statement, which alludes to the unitary origin of the physical universe, the emergence of life from and within an equally unitary element points to the existence of a unitary plan underlying all creation and, hence, to the existence and oneness of the Creator. This accent on the oneness of God and the unity of this creation is taken up again in verse 92 below.] (31) And [are they not aware that] We have set up firm mountains on earth, lest it sway with them, [See 16: 15 and the corresponding note.]  and [that] We have appointed thereon broad paths, so that they might find their way, (32) and [that] We have set up the sky as a canopy well-secured? [See note on the first sentence of 13: 2, which seems to have a similar meaning.] And yet, they stubbornly turn away from [all] the signs of this [creation], (33) and [fail to see that] it is He who has created the night and the day and the sun and the moon - all of them floating through space!

FINALITY OF DEATH 

(34) AND [remind those who deny thee, O Prophet, that]  [This relates to the objection of the unbelievers, mentioned in verse 3 of this surah, that Muhammad is “but a mortal like yourselves”, and connects also with verses 7 – 8, which stress that all of God’s apostles were but mortal men (cf. 3: 144).] never have We granted life everlasting to any mortal before thee: [The obvious implication “and so We shall not grant it unto thee, either’’. Cf. 39: 30 – “thou art bound to die”.] but do they, perchance, hope that al­though thou must die, they will live forever?”  [Lit., “but if, then, thou shouldst die, will they live forever?” - implying an assumption on their part that they would not be called to account on death and resurrection.] (35) Every human being is bound to taste death; and We test you [all] through the bad and the good [things of life] by way of trial: and unto Us you all must return. [Lit., “you shall be brought back’’, i.e., for judgment.]  

REFUSAL TO BELIEVE IN GOD’S COMING JUDGMENT

(36) But [thus it is:] whenever they who are bent on denying the truth consider thee, [Lit., “see thee”: but since this verb has here obviously an abstract meaning, relating to the message propounded by the Prophet., it is best rendered as above.] they make thee but a target of their mockery, [saying to one another,] “Is this the one who speaks [so contemptuously] of your gods?’’ [Sc., “and dares to deny their reality although he is a mere mortal like ourselves?”]  and yet, it is they themselves who, at [every] mention of the Most Gracious, are wont to deny the truth! [I.e., although they resent any aspersion cast on whatever things or forces they unthinkingly worship, they refuse to acknowledge God’s planning will manifested in every aspect of His creation.] (37) Man is a creature of haste; [Lit., ‘‘is created out of haste” - i.e., he is by nature imbued with impatience: cf. last sentence of 17: 11. In the present context this refers to man’s impatience regarding things to come: in this case - as is obvious from the sequence - his hasty refusal to believe in God’s coming judgment.]

[but in time] I shall make obvious to you [the truth of] My mes­sages: do not, then, ask Me to hasten [it]!  [Cf. 16: 1 - “God’s judgment is [bound to] come: do not, then, call for its speedy advent!’’]

TIMING OF THE LAST HOUR

(38) But they [who reject My messages are wont to] ask, “When is that promise [of God’s judgment] to be fulfilled? [Answer this, O you who believe in it,] if you are men of truth!” [The Quranic answer to this question is given in 7: 187.] (39) If they but knew - they who are bent on deny­ing the truth - [that there will come] a time when they will not be able to ward off the fire from their faces, nor from their backs, and will not find any succour! (40) Nay, but [the Last Hour] will come upon them of a sudden, and will stupefy them: and they will be unable to avert it, and neither wilt they be allowed any respite. (41) And, indeed, [O Muhammad, even] before thy time have [God’s] apostles been derided - but those who scoffed at them were [in the end] overwhelmed by the very thing which they had been wont to deride. [See 6: 10 (which has exactly the same wording) and the corresponding note.]

RESPITE FROM GOD’S PUNISHMENT

(42) Say: “Who could protect you, by night or by day, from the Most Gracious?” [The reference to God, in this context, as “the Most Gracious” (ar-rahman) is meant to bring out the fact that He – and He alone – is the protector of all creation.] And yet, from a remembrance of their Sustainer do they stubbornly turn away! (43) Do they [really think that they] have deities that could shield them from Us? Those [alleged dei­ties] are not [even] able to succour themselves: hence, neither can they [who worship them hope to] be aided [by them] against Us. (44) Nay, We have allowed these [sinners] – as [We allowed] their forebears – to enjoy the good things of life for a great length of time: [Lit., “until their lives (umur) grew long’’ – i.e., until they grew accustomed to the thought that their prosperity would last forever (Zamakhshari).] but then – have they never yet seen how We visit the earth [with Our punishment], gradually depriving it of all that is best thereon? [For an explanation. See the identical phrase in 13: 41 and the corresponding notes.] Can they, then, [hope to] be the winners? (45) SAY [unto all men]: “1 but warn you on the strength of divine revelation!” But the deaf [of heart] will not hearken to this call, however often they are warned. [Lit., “whenever they are warned”.] (46) And yet, if but a breath of thy Sustainer’s chastisement touches them, they are sure to cry, “Oh, woe unto us! Verily, we were evildoers!”

PERFECT JUSTICE ON JUDGMENT DAY

(47) But We shall set up just balance-scales on Resurrection Day, and no human being shall be wrong­ed in the least: for though there be [in him but] the weight of a mustard-seed [of good or evil], We shall bring it forth; and none can take count as We do!

MOSES AND AARON

(48) AND, INDEED, We vouchsafed unto Moses and Aaron [Our revelation as] the standard by which to discern the true from the false, [See note on 2: 53. The reference to the revelation bestowed on the earlier prophets as “the standard by which to discern the true from the false” (al-furqan) has here a twofold implication: firstly, it alludes to the Quranic doctrine - explained in note on 2: 4 - of the historical continuity in all divine revelation, and, secondly, it stresses the fact that revelation - and revelation alone - provides an absolute criterion of all moral valuation. Since the Mosaic dis­pensation as such was binding on the children of Israel alone and remained valid only within a particular historical and cultural context, the term al-furqan relates here not to the Mosaic Law as such, but to the fundamental ethical truths contained in the Torah and common to all divine revelations.] and as a [guiding] light and a reminder for the God-conscious (49) who stand in awe of their Sustainer although He is beyond the reach of human perception, [For an explanation of the above rendering of the expression bi l-ghayb, see note on 2: 3.] and who tremble at the thought of the Last Hour. (50) And [like those earlier revelations,] this one, too, is a blessed reminder which We have bestowed from on high: will you, then, disavow it? 

ABRAHAM BREAKING IDOLS

(51) AND, INDEED, long before [the time of Moses] We vouchsafed unto Abraham his consciousness of what is right; [The possessive pronoun “his’’ affixed to the noun rushd (which, in this context, has the meaning of “consciousness of what is right’’) emphasizes the highly personal, intellectual quality of Abraham’s progressive realization of God’s almightiness and uniqueness (cf. 6: 74 -79 as well as note on 6: 83); while the expression min qabl - rendered by me as “long before [the time of Moses]” - stresses, once again, the element of continuity in man’s religious insight and experience.] and We were aware of [what moved] him (52) when he said unto his father and his people, “What are these images to which you are so intensely devoted?” (53) They answered: ‘‘We found our forefathers worshipping them.” (54) Said he: “Indeed, you and your forefathers have obviously gone astray!” (55) They asked: “Hast thou come unto us [with this claim] in all earnest - or art thou one of those jesters?’’ (56) He answered: “Nay, but your [true] Sustainer is the Sustainer of the heavens and the earth - He who has brought them into being: and I am one of those who bear witness to this [truth]!” (57) And [he added to himself.] “By God, I shall most certainly bring about the downfall of your idols as soon as you have turned your backs and gone away!” (58) And then he broke those [idols] to pieces, [all] save the biggest of them, so that they might [be able to] turn to it. [Sc., ‘‘for an explanation of what had happened’’.] (59) [When they saw what had happened,] they said: “Who has done this to our gods? Verily, one of the worst wrongdoers is he!’’(60) Said some [of them]: “We heard a youth speak of these [gods with scorn]: he is called Abraham.’’ (61) [The others] said: “Then bring him before the peoples eyes, so that they might bear witness [against him]!” (62) [And when he came.] they asked: “Hast thou done this to our gods, O Abraham?” (63) He answered: “Nay, it was this one, the big­gest of them, that did it: but ask them [yourselves] - provided they can speak!” (64) And so they turned upon one another, [Lit., “they turned to [or “upon”] themselves”, i.e., blaming one another.] saying, “Behold, it is you who are doing wrong.” [I.e., “you are doing wrong to Abraham by rashly suspecting him’’ (Tabari). (65) But then they relapsed into their former way of thinking and said: [Lit., “they were turned upside down upon their heads’’: an idiomatic phrase denoting a “mental somersault’’ - In this case, a sudden reversal of their readiness to exonerate Abraham and a return to their former suspicion.] “Thou knowest very well that these [idols] cannot speak!” (66) Said [Abraham]: “Do you then worship, instead of God, something that cannot benefit you in any way, nor harm you? (67) Fie upon you and upon all that you worship instead of God! Will you not, then, use your reason?” (68) They exclaimed: “Burn him, and [thereby] succour your gods, if you are going to do [anything]!” (69) [But] We said: O fire! Be thou cool, and [a source of] inner peace for Abraham!” [Nowhere does the Quran state that Abraham was actually, bodily thrown into the fire and miraculously kept alive in it: on the contrary, the phrase ‘‘God saved him from the fire” occurring in 29: 24 points, rather, to the fact of his not having been thrown into it. On the other hand, the many elaborate (and conflicting) stories with which the classical commentators have embroidered their interpretation of the above verse can invariably be traced hack to Talmudic legends and may, therefore, be disregarded. What the Quran gives us here, as well as in 29: 24 and 37: 97, is apparently an allegorical allusion to the fire of persecution, which Abraham had to suffer, and which, by dint of its intensity, was to become in his later life a source of spiritual strength and inner peace (salam). Regarding the deeper implications of the term salam, see note on 5: 16.] (70) and whereas they sought to do evil unto him, We caused them to suffer the greatest loss: [Inasmuch as Abraham forsook - as shown in the next verse - his homeland, and thus abandoned his people to their spiritual ignorance.] (71) for We saved him and Lot, [his brother’s son, by guiding them] to the land which We have blessed for all times to come. [Lit., “for all the worlds” or “for all people’’: i.e., Palestine, which subsequently became the homeland of a long line of prophets. (Abraham’s native place - and the scene of his early struggles against polytheism - was Ur in Mesopotamia.)]

ISAACS AND JACOB

(72) And We bestowed upon him Isaac and [Isaacs son] Jacob as an additional gift [I.e., in addition (nafilatan) to his eldest son Ishmael (Ismail) who had been born years before Isaac.] and caused all of them to be righteous men, (73) and made them leaders who would guide [others] in accordance with Our behest: for We inspired them [with a will] to do good works, and to be constant in prayer, and to dispense charity: and Us [alone] did they worship.

LOT

(74) AND UNTO Lot, too, We vouchsafed sound judg­ment and knowledge [of right and wrong], and saved him from that community which was given to deeds of abomination. [For the story of Lot, see 7: 80 - 84, 11: 77 - 83 and 15: 58 - 76.] [We destroyed those people - forr,] verily, they were people lost in evil, depraved - (75) whereas him We admitted unto Our grace: for, behold, he was among the righteous.

NOAH

(76) AND [remember] Noah - [how,] when He called out [unto Us], long before [the time of Abraham and Lot], We responded to him and saved him and his house­hold from that awesome calamity; [I.e., the Deluge. The story of Noah is mentioned several times in the Quran and particularly in 11: 25 - 48. Regarding the Deluge itself, see surah 7: 64.] (77) and [how] We succoured him against the people who had given the lie to Our messages: verily, they were people lost in evil - and [so] We caused them all to drown.

DAVID AND SOLOMON

(78) AND [remember] David and Solomon - [how it was] when both of them gave judgment concerning the field into which some people’s sheep had strayed by night and pastured therein, and [how] We bore witness to their judgment: [For an elucidation of the story - or, rather, legend - to which the above verse alludes, we must rely exclusively on the Companions of the Prophet, since neither the Quran nor any authentic saying of the Prophet spells it out to us. However, the fact that a good many Companions and their immediate successors {tabiun) fully agreed on the substance of the story, differing only in one or two insignificant details, seems to indicate that at that period it was already well-established in ancient Arabian tradition. According to this story, a flock of sheep strayed at night into a neighbouring field and destroyed its crop. The case was brought before King David for judicial decision. On finding that the incident was due to the negligence of the owner of the sheep, David awarded the whole flock - the value of which corresponded roughly to the extent of the damage - as an indemnity to the owner of the field. David’s young son, Solomon, regarded this judgment as too severe, inasmuch as the sheep represented the defendant’s capital, whereas the damage was of a transitory nature, involving no more than the loss of one years crop, i.e., of income. He therefore suggested to his father that the judgment should be altered: the owner of the field should have the temporary possession and usufruct of the sheep (milk, wool, newborn lambs, etc.), while their owner should tend the damaged field until it was restored to its former productivity, whereupon both the field and the flock of sheep should revert to their erstwhile owners; in this way the plaintiff would be fully compensated for his loss without depriving the defendant of his substance. David realized that his son’s solution of the case was better than his own, and passed judgment accordingly; but since he, no less that Solomon, had been inspired by a deep sense of justice, God - in the words of the Quran  bore witness to their judgment”.] (79) for, [though] We made Solomon understand the case [more profoundly] yet We vouchsafed unto both of them sound judgment and knowledge [of right and wrong]. [I.e., the fact that Solomon’s judgment was more profound did not disprove the intrinsic justice of David’s original judgment or deprive it of its merit.] And We caused [Lit., “We compelled”.] the mountains to join David in extolling Our limitless glory, and likewise the birds: [A reference to the Psalms of David, which call upon all nature to extol the glory of God - similar to the Quranic verses, “The seven heavens extol His limitless glory, and the earth, and all that they contain” (17: 44), or “All that is in the heavens and on earth extols God’s limitless glory” (57: 1).] for We are able to do [all things]. (80) And We taught him how to make garments [of God- consciousness] for you, [O men,] so that they might fortify you against all that may cause you fear: but are you grateful [for this boon]?  [The noun labus is synonymous with libas or libs, signifying “a garment” or “garments” (Qamus, Lisan al -.Arab). But since this term has occasionally been used by pre-Islamic Arabs in the sense of “mail” or “coats of mail” (ibid.), the classical commentators assume that it has this meaning in the above context as well; and in this they rely on the - otherwise unsupported - statement of the tabii Qatadah to the effect that “David was the first to make chain mail” (Tabari). Accordingly, they understand the term bas which occurs at the end of the sentence in it secondary sense of “war” or “warlike violence”, and interpret the relevant part of the verse thus: ‘We taught him how to make coats of mail for you, so that they might fortify you against your [mutual acts of] violence”, or “against [the effects of] your warlike violence”. One should, however, bear in mind that bas signifies also “harm’’, “misfortune”, “distress”, etc., as well as “danger”; hence it denotes, it its widest sense, anything that causes distress or fear (Taj al-Arus). If we adopt this last meaning, the term labus may be understood in its primary significance of “garment” - in, this case, the metaphorical “garment of God-consciousness” (libas at-taqwa) of which the Quran speaks in 7: 26. Rendered in this sense, the above verse expresses the idea that the Almighty taught David how to imbue his followers with that deep God-consciousness which frees men from all spiritual distress and all fears, whether it be fear of one another or the subconscious fear of the Unknown. The concluding rhetorical question, “but are you grateful [for this boon]?” implies that, as a rule, man does not fully realize - and, hence, is not really grateful for - the spiritual bounty thus offered him byy God.] (81) And unto Solomon [We made subservient] the stormy wind, so that it sped at his behest towards the land which We had blessed: [This is apparently an allusion to the fleets of sailing ships which brought untold riches to Palestine (“the land which We had blessed’’) and made Solomon’s wealth proverbial.] for it is We who have knowledge of everything. (82) And among the rebel­lious forces [which We made subservient to him] [My rendering, in this particular context, of shayatin (lit., “satans”) as “rebellious forces” is based on the tropical use of the term shaytan in the sense of anything “rebellious’’, “inordinately proud’’ or “insolent” (cf. Lane IV, 1552) - in this case, possibly a reference to subdued and enslaved enemies or, more probably, to “rebellious’’ forces of nature which Solomon was able to tame and utilize; however, see also next note.] there were some that dived for him [into the sea] and performed other works, besides: but it was We who kept watch over them. [In this as well as in several other passages relating to Solomon, the Quran alludes to the many poetic legends which were associated with his name since early antiquity and had become part and parcel of Judaeo-Christian and Arabian lore long before the advent of Islam. Although it is undoubtedly possible to interpret such passages in a “rationalistic” manner, I do not think that this is really necessary. Because they were so deeply ingrained in the imagination of the people to whom the Quran addressed itself in the first instance, these legendary accounts of Solomon’s wisdom and magic powers had acquired a cultural reality of their own and were, therefore, eminently suited to serve as a medium for the parabolic exposition of certain ethical truths with which this book is concerned: and so, without denying or confirming their mythical character, the Quran uses them as a foil for the idea that God is the ultimate source of all human power and glory, and that all achievements of human ingenuity, even though they may sometimes border on the miraculous, are but an expression of His transcendental creativity.]

JOB (AYYUB)

(83) AND [remember] Job, when he cried out to his Sus­tainer, “Affliction has befallen me: but Thou art the most merciful of the merciful!” [The story of Job (Ayyub in Arabic), describing his erstwhile happiness and prosperity, his subsequent trials and tribulations, the loss of all his children and his property, his own loathsome illness and utter despair and, finally, God’s reward of his patience in adversity, is given in full in the Old Testament (The Book of Job). This Biblical, highly philosophical epic is most probably a Hebrew translation or paraphrase - still evident in the language employed - of an ancient Naba­taean (i.e., North-Arabian) poem, for “Job, the author of the finest piece of poetry that the ancient Semitic world produced, was an Arab, not a Jew, as the form of his name (Iyyob) and the scene of his book, North Arabia, indicate” (Philip K. Hitti, History of the Arabs, London 1937, pp. 42 - 43). Since God “spoke” to him, Job ranks in the Quran among the prophets, personifying the supreme virtue of patience in adversity (sabr).] (84) whereupon We responded unto him and removed all the affliction from which he suffered; and We gave him new offspring, [Lit., “his family’’ i.e., new children in place of those who had died.] doubling their number as an act of grace from Us, and as a reminder unto all who worship Us.

ISHMAEL AND IDRIS

(85) AND [remember] Ishmael and Idris [See surah 19: 56] and every one who [like them] has pledged himself [unto God]: [Lit., “and him of the pledge”. The expression dhu  l-kifl is derived from the verb kafala - and especially the form takaffala - which signifies “he became responsible [for some- thing or someone]’’ or ‘‘pledged himself [to do something]”. Although the classical commentators consider dhu l-kifl to be the epithet or the proper name of a particular prophet - whom they variously, more or less at random, identify with Elijah or Joshua or Zachariah or Ezekiel - I fail to see any reason whatever for such attempts at “identification”, the more so since we have not a single authentic hadith which would mention, or even distantly allude to, a prophet by this name. I am, therefore, of the opinion that we have here (as in the identical expression in 38: 48) a generic term applying to every one of the prophets, inasmuch as each of them pledged himself un­reservedly to God and accepted the responsibility for delivering His message to man.] they all were among those who are patient in adver­sity, (86) and so We admitted them unto Our grace: behold, they were among the righteous!

JONAH

(87) AND [remember] him of the great fish [I.e., the Prophet Jonah, who is said to have been swallowed by a “great fish’’, as mentioned hi 37: 139, and more fully narrated in the Old Testament (The Book of Jonah).] - when he went off in wrath, thinking that We had no power over him! [According to the Biblical account (which more or less agrees with the Quranic references to his story), Jonah was a prophet sent to the people of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria. At first his preaching was disregarded by his people, and he left them in anger, thus abandoning the mission entrusted to him by God; in the words of the Quran (37: 140), “he fled like a runaway slave’’. The allegory of his temporary punishment and his subsequent rescue and redemption is referred to elsewhere in the Quran (i.e., in 37: 139 - 148) and explained in the corresponding notes. It is to that punishment, repentance and salvation that the present and the next verse allude. (The redemption of Jonah’s people is mentioned in 10: 98 and 37: 47 - 148.)] But then heeded out in the deep darkness [of his distress]: “There is no deity save Thee! Limit­less art Thou in Thy glory! Verily, I have done wrong!” [Lit., “I was among the wrongdoers’’.] (88) And so We responded unto him and delivered him from [his] distress: for thus do We deliver all who have faith.

ZACHARIAH

(89) AND [thus did We deliver] Zachariah when he cried out unto his Sustainer: “O my Sustainer! Leave me not childless! But [even if Thou grant me no bodily heir, I know that] Thou wilt remain when all else has ceased to be!” [Lit., “Thou art the best of inheritors - a phrase explained in note on 15: 23. The words interpolated by me between brackets correspond to Zamakhshari’s and Razi’s interpretation of this phrase. For more detailed references to Zachariah, father of John the Baptist, see 3: 37 and 19: 2.] (90) And so We responded unto him, and bestowed upon him the gift of John, having made his wife fit to bear him a child: [Lit., “for We had made his wife fit for him”, i.e., after her previous barrenness.] [and,] verily, these [three] would vie with one another in doing good works, and would call unto Us in yearning and awe; and they were always humble before Us.

MARY

(91) AND [remember] her who guarded her chastity, whereupon We breathed into her of Our spirit  [This allegorical expression, used here with reference to Mary’s conception of Jesus, has been widely - and erroneously - interpreted as relating specifically to his birth. As a matter of fact, the Quran uses the same expression in three other places with reference to the creation of man in general - namely in 15: 29 and 38:72, “when I have formed him… and breathed into him of My spirit” and in 32: 9, “and thereupon He forms [lit., “formed”] him fully and breathes [lit., “breathed’’] into him of His spirit”. In particular, the passage of which the last-quoted phrase is a part (i.e., 32: 7 - 9) makes it abundantly and explicitly clear that God “breathes of His spirit” into every human being. Commenting on the verse under consideration, Zamakhshari states that “the breathing of the spirit [of God] into a body signifies the endowing it with life’’: an explanation with, which Razi concurs. (In this connection, see also note on 4: 171.) As for the description of Mary as allati ahsanat farjaha, idiomatically denoting ‘‘one who guarded her chastity” (lit,, “her private parts”) it is to be borne in mind that the term ihsan - lit., ‘‘[one’s] being fortified [against any danger or evil]” - has the tropical meaning of “abstinence from what is unlawful or reprehen­sible’’ (Taj al-Arus), and especially from illicit sexual intercourse, and is applied to a man as well as a woman: thus, for instance, the terms muhsan and muhsanah are used elsewhere in the Quran to describe, respectively, a man or a woman who is “fortified [by marriage] against unchastity”. Hence, the expression allati ahsanat farjaha, occurring in the above verse as well as in 66: 12 with reference to Mary, is but meant to stress her outstanding chastity and complete abstinence, in thought as well as in deed, from anything unlawful or morally reprehensible: in other words, a rejection of the calumny (referred to in 4: 156 and obliquely alluded to in 19: 27 - 28) that the birth of Jesus was the result of an “illicit union”.]

and caused her, together with her son, to become a symbol [of Our grace] unto all people. [For my rendering of the term ayah as “symbol’’, see surah 17: 1 and surah 19: 21.]

EVIL OF SECTARIANISM

(92) VERILY, [O you who believe in Me,] this community of yours is one single community, since I am the Sustainer of you all: worship, then, Me [alone]!  [After calling to mind, in verses 48 - 91, some of the earlier prophets, all of whom stressed the oneness and uniqueness of God, the discourse returns to that principle of oneness as it ought to be reflected in the unity of all who believe in Him (See 23:51.)] (93) But men have torn their unity wide asunder, [This is the meaning of the idiomatic phrase, taqatta u amrahum baynahum. As Zamakhshari points out, the sudden turn of the discourse from the second person plural to the third person is indicative of God’s severe disapproval - His “turning away’’, as it were, from those who are or were guilty of breaking the believers’ unity. (See also 23: 53 and the corresponding note.)] [forgetting that] unto Us they all are bound to return.  (94) And yet, whoever does [the least] of righteous deeds and is a believer withal, his endeavour shall not be disowned: for, behold, We shall record it in his favour. [I.e., even a breach of religious unity may not be unforgivable so long as it does not involve a worship of false deities or false moral values (cf. verses 98 - 99 below): this is the meaning of the stress, in this context, on man’s being “a believer withal’’ - an echo of the principle clearly spelt out in 2: 62 and several other Quranic passages.]

DESTRUCTION OF COMMUNITY

(95) Hence, it has been unfailingly true of  [Lit., “an inviolable law (haram) upon…”, expressing the impossibility of conceiving anything to the contrary (Zamakhshari).] any community whom We have ever destroyed that they [were people who] would never turn back [from their sinful ways] [I.e., whenever God consigns a community to destruction, He does it not because of its people’s occasional lapses but only because of their irremediable, conscious unwillingness to forsake their sinful ways.] (96) until such a time as Gog and Magog  are let loose [upon the world] and swarm down from every corner [of the earth], [I.e., until the Day of Resurrection, heralded by the allegorical break-through of “Gog and Magog” (see note on surah 18: 98, especially the last sentence): for it is on that Day that even the most hardened sinner will at last realize his guilt, and be filled with belated remorse. The term hadab literally denotes “raised ground” or ‘‘elevation”, but the expression min kulli hadabin is used here idiomatically, signifying “from all directions” or ‘‘from every corner [of the earth]”: an allusion to the irresistible nature of the social and cultural catastrophes which will overwhelm mankind before the coming of the Last Hour.]

RESURRECTION

(97) the while the true promise [of resurrection] draws close [to its fulfillment]. But then, lo! the eyes of those who [in their lifetime] were bent on denying the truth will stare in horror, [and they will exclaim:] “Oh, woe unto us! We were indeed heedless of this [promise of resur­rection]! - nay, we were [bent on] doing evil!” [I.e., deliberately and without any excuse, since all the prophets had warned man of the Day of Resurrection and Judgment: cf. 14: 44 - 45. The words “bent on’’ interpolated by me within brackets indicate intent, similar to the preceding expression alladhina kafaru, ‘‘those who were bent on denying the truth” (see also note on 2: 6).] (98) [Then they will be told:] “Verily, you and all that you [were wont to] worship instead of God are but the fuel of hell: that is what you are destined for. [Lit., “you are bound to reach it”. The expression “all that you have worshipped instead of God” comprises not merely all false religious imagery but also all false ethical values endowed with quasi-divine sanctity, all of which are but “the fuel of hell’’.] (99) If those [false objects of your worship] had truly been divine, they would not have been destined for it: but [as it is, you] all shall abide therein!’’(100) Moaning will be their lot therein, and nothing [else] will they hear therein. [Thus, spiritual “deafness’’ in the life to come will be the inexorable consequence of ones having remained deaf, in this world, to the voice of truth, just as ‘‘blindness” and oblivion will be part of the suffering of all who have been spiritually blind to the truth (cf. 20: 124 - 126).

DAY OF TRIUMPH

(101) [But,] behold, as for those for whom [the decree of] ultimate good has already gone forth from Us [I.e., those who have been promised paradise on account of their faith and their good deeds.] these will be kept far away from that [hell]: (102) no sound thereof will they hear; and they will abide in all that their souls have ever desired. (103) The supreme awesomeness [of the Day of Resurrection] will cause them no grief, since the angels will receive them with the greeting. “This is your Day [of triumph - the Day] which you were promised!” (104) On that Day We shall roll up the skies as written scrolls are rolled up; [and] as We brought into being the first creation, so We shall bring it forth anew [See in this connection 14: 48 and the corresponding note.] - a promise which We have willed upon Our­selves: for, behold, We are able to do [all things]! (105) AND, INDEED, after having exhorted [man], [Lit., “after the reminder (adh-dhikr)”. For the deeper implications of the Quranic term dhikr, see note on verse 10 of this surah.] We laid it down in all the books of divine wisdom that My righteous servants shall inherit the earth: [Zabur (lit., “scripture” or “book”) is a generic term denoting any “book of wisdom”: hence, any and all of the divine scriptures revealed by God to the prophets (Tabari). The statement that “My righteous servants shall inherit the earth” is obviously an echo of the promise, “You are bound to rise high if you are [truly] believers” (3: 139) - the implication being that it is only through faith in God and righteous behaviour on earth that man can reach the heights envisaged for him by his Creator’s grace.] (106) herein, behold, there is a message for people who [truly] worship God.

UNIVERSALITY OF THE QURANIC MESSAGE

(107) And [thus, O Prophet,] We have sent thee as [an evidence of Our] grace towards all the worlds. [I.e., towards all mankind. For an elucidation of this fundamental principle underlying the message of the Quran, see 7: 158 and the corresponding note. The universality of the Quranic revelation arises from three factors: firstly, its appeal to all mankind irrespective of descent, race or cultural environment; secondly, the fact that it appeals exclusively to man’s reason and, hence, does not postulate any dogma that could be accepted on the basis of blind faith alone; and, finally, the fact that - contrary to all other sacred scriptures known to history - the Quran has remained entirely unchanged in its wording ever since its revelation fourteen centuries ago and will, because it is so widely recorded, forever remain so in accordance with the divine promise, “it is We who shall truly guard it [from all corruption]” (cf. 15: 9 and the corresponding note). It is by virtue of these three factors that the Quran represents the final stage of all divine revelation, and that the Prophet through whom it has been conveyed to mankind is stated to have been the last (in Quranic terminology, “the seal”) of all prophets (cf. 33: 40). (108) Say: “It has but been revealed unto me [Cf. the first sentence of verse 45 of this surah. This stress on divine revelation as the only source of the Prophet’s knowledge referred to in the sequence is expressed, in Arabic, by means of the restrictive particle innama.] that your God is the One and Only God: will you, then, surrender yourselves unto Him?” (109) But if they turn away, say: “I have proclaimed this in equity unto all of you alike; [The expression ala sawa (lit., “in an equitable manner’) comprises in this context two distinct concepts: that of fairness as regards the clarity and unambiguity of the above announce­ment, as well as of equality, implying that it is being made to all human beings alike; hence my composite rendering of this phrase.] but I do not know whether that [judgment] which you are promised [by God] is near or far [in time]. (110) “Verily, He knows all that is said openly, just as He [alone] knows all that you would conceal. (111) But [as for me,] I do not know whether, perchance, this [delay in God’s judgment] is but a trial for you, and a [merciful] respite for a while.’’  [Lit., “enjoyment [of life] for a while’’: i.e., a chance, mercifully granted by God, to attain to faith.] (112) Say: [See note on verse 4 of this surah.] “O my Sustainer! Judge Thou in truth!’’ - and [say]: ‘‘Our Sustainer is the Most GGracious, the One whose aid is ever to be sought against all your [attempts at] defining [Him]!” [Lit., “against (ala) all that you attribute [to Him] by way of description” or “of definition” (see note on the last sentence of 6: 100): implying that only God’s grace can save man from the blasphemous attempts - prompted by his inherent weakness - to bring God “closer” to his own, human understanding by means of humanly-conceived “definitions’’ of Him who is transcendent, infinite and unfathomable.]

THE TWENTY-SECOND SURAH

AL-HAJJ (THE PILGRIMAGE)

PERIOD UNCERTAIN

 Suyuti places most of this surah chronologically in the middle of the Medina period, except­ing verses 39-40 - which (according to Ibn Abbas, as quoted by Tabari) were revealed during the Prophet’s exodus from Mecca to Medina - as well as some other verses said to have been revealed at the time of he battle of Badr (in the year 2 H.). As against this, however, most of the classical Quran commentators (e.g., Baghawi, Zamakhshari, Razi. Baydawi) describe it unequivocally as a Meccan revelation, with the possible exception of six verses (l9 -24) which, according to some authorities, may belong to the Medina period. On the whole, it is most probable that by far the largest part of the surah is Meccan, while the rest was revealed shortly after the Prophets arrival at Medina. The title is derived from the reference, in verses 25 ff., to the Mecca pilgrimage (al-hajj) and some of the rituals connected therewith.

IN THE NAME GOD, THE MOST GRACIOUS, THE DISPENSER OF GRACE:

VIOLENT CONVULSION OF THE LAST HOUR

(1) O men! Be conscious of your Sustainer: for, verily the violent convulsion of the Last Hour will be an awesome thing! (2) On the Day when you behold it, every woman that feeds a child at her breast will utterly forget her nursling, and every woman heavy with child will bring forth her burden [before her time]; and it will seem to thee that all mankind is drunk, [Lit., “thou shalt see [or “behold”] mankind drunk”, i.e., behaving as if they were drunk. The illusory purely subjective character of this “seeing” - implied it the use of the singular form tara (“thou shalt see”) after the plural “you” employed in the first clause of this verse - justifies the rendering “it will seem to thee that…”, etc.] although they will not be drunk - but vehement will be [their dread of] God’s chastisement. [My interpolation of the words “their dread of” is based on the statement in 21: 103 that, as far as the righteous are concerned, “the supreme awesomeness [of the Day of Resurrection] will cause them no grief’’ despite the dread with which it will overwhelm every human being.] (3) And yet, among men there is many a one who argues about God without having any knowledge [of Him], and follows every rebellious satanic force [See first half of note on 15: 17.] (4) about which it has been decreed that whoever entrusts himself to it, him will it lead astray and guide towards the suffering of the blazing flame!

MIRACLE  OF CREATION OF LIFE

(5) O MEN! If you are in doubt as to the [truth of] resurrection, [remember that,] verily, We have created [every one of] you out of dust, then out of a drop of sperm, then out of a germ-cell, then out of an embryonic lump complete [in itself] and yet incom­plete [This rendering conforms with the interpretation of the phrase mukhallaqah wa-ghayr mu­khallaqah by Ibn Abbas and Qatadah (the latter quoted by Tabari and the former by Baghawi), alluding to the various stages of embryonic development, In addition, Tabari explains the expression ghayr mukhallaqah as denoting the stage at which the embryonic lump (mudghah) has as yet no individual life - or, in his words, “when no soul has as yet been breathed into it” (la yunfakh fiha ar-ruh). As regards the expression “created out of dust”, it is meant to indicate man’s lowly biological origin and his affinity with other “earthy’’ substances; see in this connection the second half of note on 3: 59, and note on 23: 12.] so that We might make [your origin] clear unto you. And whatever We will [to be born] We cause to rest in the [mothers’] wombs for a term set [by Us], and then We bring you forth as infants and [allow you to live] so that [some of] you might attain to maturity:  for among you are such as are caused to die [in childhood], just as many a one of you is reduced in old age to a most abject state, ceasing to know anything of what he once knew so well. [See note on 16: 70.]

BRINGING DEAD TO LIFE

And [if, O man, thou art still in doubt as to resur­rection, consider this:] thou canst see the earth dry and lifeless - and [suddenly,] when We send down waters upon it, it stirs and swells and puts forth every kind of lovely plant! (6) All this [happens] because God alone is the Ultimate Truth, [See note on surah 20: 114.] and because He alone brings the dead to life, and because He has the power to will anything. (7) And [know, O man] that the Last Hour is bound to come, beyond any doubt, and that God will [in­deed] resurrect all who are in their graves. (8) And yet, among men there is many a one that argues about God without having any knowledge [of Him], without any guidance, and without any light-giving revelation - (9) scornfully turning aside [from the truth] so as to lead [others] astray from the path of God. Disgrace [of the spirit] is in store for him in this world; [Since many unrighteous people apparently “prosper” in this world, it is clear that the disgrace of which the above verse speaks is of a moral nature - namely, a gradual coarsening of all moral perceptions and, thus, a degradation of the spirit.] and on the Day of Resurrection We shall make him taste suffering through fire; (10) [and he shall be told:] “This is an outcome of what thine own hands have wrought - for, never does God do the least wrong to His creatures!”

MEN OF BORDER-LINE FAITH

(11) And there is, too, among men many a one who worships God on the border-line [of faith]: [I.e., wavering between belief and disbelief, and not really committed to either.] thus, if good befalls him, he is satisfied with Him; but if a trial assails him, he turns away utterly, [Lit., “he turns about on his face’’ - the “face” (wajh) of man signifying metonymically his whole being.] losing [thereby both] this world and the life to come: [and] this, indeed, is a loss beyond compare! [Lit., “the [most] obvious loss’’.] (12) [By behaving thus,] he invokes, instead of God, something that can neither harm nor benefit him: [By failing to commit himself unreservedly to the faith which he professes, man is often inclined to attribute to all manner of extraneous forces, be they real or imaginary, a decisive “influence” on his own destiny, and thus invests them, as it were, with divine qualities.] [and] this is indeed the utmost one can go astray. [Lit., “this, this (dhalika huwa) is the straying far-away”. For an explanation of my paraphrase, see note on the last sentence of 14: 18.] (13) [And sometimes] he invokes [another human being] one that is far more likely to cause harm than benefit: vile, indeed, is such a patron and vile the follower!  [The interpolation of “another human being’’ in the opening clause of this verse is necessitated by the relative pronoun man (“one that’’ or “who”), which almost always relates to an animate person - in this case a human being who, by allowing himself to be idolized by those who “worship God on the border-line of faith” causes infinite spiritual harm to himself and to his followers. (14) VERILY, God will admit those who have attained to faith and have done righteous deeds into gardens through which running waters flow: for, behold, God does whatever He wills. (15) If anyone thinks that God will not succour him [I.e., that God is not enough to succour him: obviously an allusion to the type of man who “worships God on the border-line of faith’’ (verse 11 above) and therefore doubts His power to guide men towards happiness in this world and in the hereafter. The assumption of the majority of the commentators that the personal pronoun “him’’ relates to the Prophet Muhammad is, to my mind, very far-fetched and certainly not warranted by the context.] in this world and in the life to come, let him reach out unto heaven by any [other] means and [thus try to] make headway: [The rendering of la-yaqta as “let him [try to] make headway’’ is based on the accepted, tropical use of the verb qataa (lit., “he cut’’) in the sense of “traversing a distance’’: and this is the interpretation of yaqta by Abu Muslim (as quoted by Razi). The expression “by any [other] means” (bi-sabab) relates to what has been said in verses 12 - 13 above.] and then let him see whether this scheme of his will indeed do away with the cause of his anguish. [Lit., “that which causes anger’’ or “exasperation”, i.e., anguish at finding himself helpless and abandoned.] (16) And thus have We bestowed from on high this [divine writ] in the shape of clear messages: for [thus it is] that God guides him who wills [to be guided]. [Or: “God guides aright whomever He wills”. For an explanation of the rendering adopted by me, see note on 14: 4.]

TWO CONTRARY KINDS OF MAN: MONOTHEISTS AND IDOL WORSHIPPERS

(17) Verily, as for those who have attained to faith [in this divine writ], and those who follow the Jewish faith, and the Sabians, [See surah 2: 62.] and the Christians, and the Magians, [Al-majus: the followers of Zoroaster or Zarathustra (Zardusht), the Iranian prophet who lived about the middle of the last millennium B.C, and whose teachings are laid down in the Zend-Avesta. They are represented today by the Gabrs of Iran and, more prominently, by the Parsis of India and Pakistan. Their religion, though dualistic in philosophy, is based on belief in God as the Creator of the universe.] [on the one hand,] and those who are bent on ascribing divinity to aught but God, [on the other,] [The Christians and the Magians (Zoroastrians) are included in the first category, for although they do ascribe divine qualities to other beings beside God, they regard those beings, fundament­ally, as no more than manifestations - or incarnations - of the One God, thus persuading them­selves that they are worshipping Him alone; whereas “those who are bent on ascribing divinity to beings other than God” (alladhina ashraku) by obvious implication reject the principle of His oneness and uniqueness.] verily, God will decide between them on Resurrection Day: for, behold, God is witness unto everything.

(18) ART THOU NOT aware that before God prostrate themselves all [things and beings] that are in the heavens and all that are on earth  [For the meaning of this “prostration’’, see 13: 15 and 16: 48 - 49, and the corresponding notes. My rendering of the relative pronoun man, in this context, as “all [things and beings] that…” is explained in note on 13:15.] the sun, and the moon, and the stars, and the mountains, and the trees, and the beasts? And many human beings [submit to God con­sciously], [According to Zamakhshari and Razi, this interpolated phrase - with its stress on “consciously” - is an elliptically implied predicate (khabar) linked with the preceding nominal subject (mubtada): the purport being that although everything in creation “prostrates itself’’ before God, willingly or unwillingly (cf. 13:15), not all human beings do so consciously.] whereas many [others, having defied Him,] will inevitably have to suffer [in the life to come]; [Lit., “whereas upon many a one the suffering [in the life to come] has become unavoidably incumbent (haqqa alayhi)”, i.e., as a necessary consequence and corollary of his attitude in this world, and not as an arbitrary “punishment” in the conventional sense of this term.] and he whom God shall scorn [on Resur­rection Day] will have none who could bestow honour on him: for, verily, God does what He wills. (19) These two contrary kinds of man [Lit., “these two adversaries’’ or “antagonists”, i.e., those who believe in God’s oneness and uniqueness, and those who ascribe divine qualities to beings other than Him, or even deny His existence altogether.] have become engrossed in contention about their Sus­tainer!

GARMENTS OF FIRE FOR NONBELIEVERS

But [thus it is:] as for those who are bent on denying the truth [I.e., in distinction from those who err out of ignorance.] garments of fire shall be cut out for them [in the life to come]; burning despair [For this rendering of hamim, see note on the concluding sentence of 6: 70, as well as notes on 14: 50 and 73: 12 - 13 , which mention Razi’s interpretations of similar allegorical descriptions of the suffering that will befall the sinners in the hereafter.] will be poured over their heads, (20) causing all that is within their bodies, as well as the skins, to melt away. [I.e., causing their inner and outer personality utterly to disintegrate.] (21) And they shall be held [in this state as if] by iron grips; [Lit., ‘‘for them will be grips (maqami) of iron’’. The noun miqmaah - of which maqami is the plural - is derived from the verb qamaa, signifying “he curbed” or “restrained” or “held in subjection” (Lisan al-Arab). Hence, the ‘‘iron grips” mentioned in the above verse denote the inescapability of the suffering in the hereafter to which “they who are bent on denying the truth” condemn themselves.] (22) and every time they try in their anguish to come out of it, they shall be returned thereto and [be told]: “Taste suffering through fire [to the full]!’’

PARADISE

(23) [As against this,] behold, God will admit those who attain to faith and do righteous deeds into gar­dens through which running waters flow, wherein they will be adorned with bracelets of gold and pearls, and where silk will be their raiment: [See 18: 31 and the corresponding note.] (24) for they were [willing to be] guided towards the best of all tenets, [I.e., that there is no deity save God. (One must bear in mind that the term qawl denotes not merely a “saying” but also an intellectually formulated ‘‘opinion” or “tenet”.)] and so they were guided onto the way that leads to the One unto whom all praise is due.

INVIOLABLE HOUSE OF WORSHIP

(25) BEHOLD, as for those who are bent on denying the truth and bar [others] from the path of God [This connects with the allusion, in the preceding verse, to “the way that leads to the One unto whom all praise is due’’.] and from the Inviolable House of Worship which We have set up for all people alike - [both] those who dwell there and those who come from abroad - and all who seek to profane it [Lit., “who aim therein at a deviation from the right course (ilhad)’’ - a term which circumscribes every perversion of religious tenets.] by [deliberate] evildoing: [all] such shall We cause to taste grievous suffering in the life to come.] [According to Ibn Abbas, as quoted by Ibn Hisham, this verse was revealed towards the end of the year 6 H., when the pagan Quraysh refused the Prophet and his followers, who had come on pilgrimage from Medina, the right of entry into Mecca, and thus into the sanctuary of the Kabah (the “Inviolable House of Worship’’). But whether or not this claim is correct - and we have no definite historical evideence in either sense - the purport of the above verse is not restricted to any historical situation but relates to every attempt at preventing believers, be it physically or through intellectual seduction, from going on pilgrimage to this symbolic centre of their faith, or at destroying its sanctity in their eyes.] (26) For, when We assigned unto Abraham the site of this Temple, [I.e., the Kabah: see note on 2: 125.] [We said unto him:] “Do not ascribe divinity to aught beside Me!” [In view of the oft-repeated Quranic statement that Abraham was beyond all temptation to ascribe divinity to anything but God, it seems to me that the above injunction has a specific import, namely, “Do not allow this Temple to become an object of worship, but make it clear that it is holy only by virtue of its being the first temple ever dedicated to the worship of the One God’’ (cf. 3: 96). Apart from that, it refers to “those who are bent on denying the truth” spoken of at the beginning of the preceding verse.] - and: “Purify My Temple for those who will walk around it, [See surah 2: 125.] and those who will stand before it [in meditation], and those who will bow down and prostrate themselves [in prayer].” (27) Hence, [O Muhammad,] proclaim thou unto all people the [duty of] pilgrimage: [Lit., ‘‘proclaim thou the pilgrimage among the people’’, i.e., the believers (Tabari). Most of the commentators assume that this passage is a continuation of God’s command to Abraham; but some of them - in particular, Al-Hasan al-Basri - consider it to have been addressed to the Prophet Muhammad. (Regarding the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, as instituted in Islam, see 2: 196 - 203 and the corresponding notes.)] they will come unto thee on foot and on every [kind of] fast mount, [Lit., “lean mount” - an expression which has induced some of the commentators to assume that it denotes “a camel that has become lean on account of a long and fatiguing journey”. However, the verb dammarahu or admarahu relates in classical Arabic not only to camels but also to horses, and has the meaning of “he made it [i.e., the mount] lean and fit [for racing or war]”; thus, the noun midmar signifies “a training-ground where horses are prepared for racing or war”, as well as “a race-course” (Jawhari, Asas, etc.; cf. also lane V. 1803 f.). Hence, the adjectival noun damir - especially when contrasted, as above, with the expression rijalan (‘‘on foot’’) — has the connotation of “fleetness” or, more properly. “fitness for speed’’, and may by inference be applied to every kind of “fast conveyance”.] coming from every far-away point [on earth], (28) so that they might experience much that shall be of  benefit to them, [Lit., “that they might witness benefits [accruing] to them’’ - i.e., increased consciousness of God through facing the first temple ever dedicated to Him, as well as the consciousness of being part of a brotherhood embracing all believers. Apart from these spiritual benefits, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca provides an opportunity for believers from all parts of the world to become acquainted with the many social and political problems that confront the various geographically separated sectors of the community.] and that they might extol the name of God on the days appointed [for sacrifice], over whatever heads of cattle He may have provided for them [The repeated Quranic insistence on pronouncing the name of God whenever one slaughters an animal is meant to make the believers “realize the awfulness of taking life, and the solemn nature of the trust which God has conferred upon them in the permission to eat the flesh of animals” (Marmaduke Pickthall, The Meaning of the Glorious Koran, London 1930, p. 342, footnote 2). As regards the “days appointed” [ayyam ma lumat] spoken of above, they apparently denote the Festival of Sacrifices, which falls on the 10th of the lunar month of Dhu ‘l-Hijjah, as well as the next two days, marking the end of the pilgrimage (Ibn Abbas, as quoted by Razi).] [to this end]: eat, then, thereof, and feed the unfortunate poor. [Whereas the pilgrims are merely permitted to eat some of the flesh of the animals which they have sacrificed, the feeding of the poor is mandatory (Tabari and Zamakhshari) and constitutes. thus, the primary objective of these sacrifices. Apart from this, they are meant to commemorate Abraham’s readiness to sacrifice his first-born son (Ishmael) after he dreamt that God demanded of him this supreme sacrifice (see 37: 102 - 107 and the corresponding notes); furthermore, they are a reminder that God is the Provider of all sustenance and the One who gives life and deals death, and that all must return to Him; and lastly (as stressed by Razi), they are to be symbols of each believer’s readiness to sacrifice himself in the cause of truth.] (29) Thereafter let them bring to an end their state of self-denial, [In Tabari’s opinion, the phrase thumma ‘l-yaqdu tafathahum signifies “then let them complete the acts of worship (manasik) incumbent on them by virtue of their pilgrimage”. Other commentators, however, understand by the (extremely rare) expression tafath the prohibition of enjoying, while in the actual state of pilgrimage, certain bodily comforts like cutting or shaving one’s hair (see 2: 196), wearing any clothing but the simple, unsewn pilgrim’s garb (ihram), indulging in sexual intercourse (2: 197), etc. Consequently, they explain the above phrase as meaning “let them bring to an end the [condition of self-denial described as] tafath which was incumbent on them during pilgrimage’’.] and let them fulfill the vows which they [may] have made, and let them walk [once again] around the Most Ancient Temple. [I.e., around the Kabah (see surah 2: 125), thus completing the pilgrimage.]

(30) All this [is ordained by God]; and if one houours God’s sacred commandments, it will redound to his own good in his Sustainer’s sight. And all [kinds of] cattle have been made lawful to you [for sacrifice and food], save what is mentioned to you [as forbidden]. [See the first paragraph of 5: 3. Once again, the Quran stresses the principle that everything that has not been explicitly forbidden is per se lawful.] Shun, then, [all that God has forbidden and, most of all,] the loathsome evil of idolatrous beliefs and practices; [The term awthan (lit.,‘‘idols”) denotes not merely actual, concrete images of false deities but also, in its widest sense, everything that is associated with false beliefs and practices or with a tendency to ‘‘worship’’ false values: hence the subsequent injunction to shun every word that is untrue’’.] and shun every word that is untrue, (31) [inclining] towards God, [and] turning away from all that is false, [For an explanation of the term hunafa (sing. hanif ), see note on 2: 135.] without ascribing divine qualities to aught beside Him: for he who ascribes divinity to aught but God is like one who is hurtling down from the skies - whereupon the birds carry him off, or the wind blows him away onto a far-off place. (32) This is [to be borne in mind]. And anyone who honours the symbols set up by God [Lit., “God’s symbols (shaair)” - an expression which in this context refers to the rites of pilgrimage (see the second half of note on 5: 2). This stress on the symbolic character of all the rites connected with the pilgrimage is meant to draw the believer’s attention to the spiritual meaning of those rites, and thus to warn him against making, unthinkingly, a sort of fetish of them. - The assumption of some of the commentators that the “symbols” referred to here relate specifically to the sacrificial animals, and their sacrifice as such is not warranted by the text. As Tabari explains in his commentary on this and the next verse, the term shaa’ir comprises all the rites, actions and places connected with the pilgrimage (all of which have symbolic meaning), and cannot be restricted to any one of them.] [shall know that] verily, these [symbols derive their value] from the God-consciousness in the [believers’] hearts. (33) In that [God-consciousness] you shall find benefits until a term set [by Him is fulfilled], [I.e., “until the end of your lives’’ (Baydawi).] and [you shall know that] its goal and end is the Most Ancient Temple. [The noun mahill, derived from the verb halla (lit., “he untied’’ or “undid’’ [e.g., a knot]”, or “he loosened [a load]’’,or “he alighted’’), denotes primarily a “destination”, as well as “the time or place at which an obligation [e.g., a debt] falls due” (Taj al-Arus). In the above context, in which this term obviously relates to the “God-consciousness’’ (taqwa) unequivocally mentioned in the preceding verse, it has the tropical rneaning of “goal and end”, implying that the realization of God’s oneness and uniqueness - symbolized by the Kabah (the “Most Ancient Temple”) - is the goal and end of all true God-consciousness.] (34)        And [thus it is:] unto every community [that has ever believed in Us] have We appointed [sacrifice as] an act of worship, so that they might extol the name of God over whatever heads of cattle He may have provided for them [to this end]. [I.e., as a conscious, selfless offering in His name of something that one cherishes as necessary and valuable, and not as an attempt to “propitiate’’ Him who is far above anything that resembles human emotion. (See also verse 36 below.)] And (always bear in mind:) your God is the One and Only God: hence, surrender yourselves unto Him. And give thou the glad tiding [of God’s acceptance] unto all who are humble - (35) all whose hearts tremble with awe whenever God is mentioned, and all who patiently bear whatever ill befalls them, and all who are constant in prayer and spend on others out of what We provide for them as sustenance. [See surah 2: 3.] (36) And as for the sacrifice of cattle, We have ordained it for you as one of the symbols set up by God, [See note on verse 32 above.] in which there is [much] good for you. Hence, extol the name of God over them when they are lined up [for sacrifice]; and after they have fallen lifeless to the ground, eat of their flesh, [Lit., “of them”.] and feed the poor who is contented with his lot (and does not beg), as well as him who is forced to beg. It is to this end [Lit., “thus”.] that We have made them [I.e., the sacrificial animal.] subservient to your needs, so that you might have cause to be grateful. (37) [But bear in mind:] never does their flesh reach God, and neither their blood: it is only your God-consciousness that reaches Him. It is to this end that We have made them subservient to your needs, so that you might glorify God for all the guidance with which He has graced you. And give thou this glad tiding unto the doers of good: (38)  Verily, God will ward off [all evil] from those who attain to faith; [and,] verily, God does not love anyone who betrays his trust and is bereft of gratitude. [See surah 4:106.]

DEFENCE OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

(39) PERMISSION [to fight] is given to those against whom war is being wrongfully waged [Lit., inasmuch as they have been wronged’’. Connecting with the promise, in the preceding verse, that “God will ward off [all evil] from those who attain to faith’’, the present verse enunciates the permission to fight physically in self-defence. All relevant Traditions (quoted, in particular, by Tabari and Ibn Kathir) show that this is the earliest Quranic reference to the problem of war as such. According to Abd Allah ibn Abbas, it was revealed immediately after the Prophet left Mecca for Medina, i.e., at the beginning of the year 1 H. The principle of war in self-defence - and only in self-defence - has been further elaborated in Al-Baqarah, which was revealed about a year later (see 2: 190 - 193 and the corresponding notes).] - and, verily, God has indeed the power to succour them - : (40) those who have been driven from their homelands against all right for no other reason than their saying. “Our Sustainer is God!” For, if God had not enabled people to defend themselves against one another, [Lit., “were it not that God repels some people by means of others” (cf. the identical phrase in the second paragraph of 2: 251).][all] monasteries and churches and synagogues and mosques - in [all of] which Gods name is abundantly extolled - would surely have been destroyed [ere now]. [The implication is that the defence of religious freedom is the foremost cause for which arms may - and, indeed, must - be taken up (see 2: 193 and the corresponding note), or else, as stressed in the concluding clause of 2:251, corruption would surely overwhelm the earth”.] And God will most certainly succour him who suc­cours His cause: for, verily, God is most powerful, almighty, (41) [well aware of] those who, [even] if We firmly establish them on earth, remain constant in prayer, and give in charity, and enjoin the doing of what is right and forbid the doing of what is wrong; but with God rests the final outcome of all events. (42) AND IF THEY [who are bent on denying the truth] give thee the lie, [O Muhammad, remember that, long] before their time, the people of Noah and [the tribes of] Ad and Thamud gave the lie [to their prophets], (43) as did the people of Abraham, and the people of Lot, (44) and the dwellers of Madyan; and [so, too,] Moses was given the lie [by Pharaoh]. [I.e., not by his own people, since these, despite their sinning, had accepted him as God’s prophet (Tabari). References to the tribes of Ad and Thamud and the people of Madyan are given in surah 7: 65, 7: 73 and 7: 85.] And [in every ease] I gave rein, for a while, to the deniers of the truth: but then I took them to task - and how awesome was My denial [of them,]! (45) And how many a township have We destroyed because it had been immersed in evildoing - and now they [all] lie deserted, with their roofs caved in! And how many a well lies abandoned, and how many a castle that [once] stood high! (46) Have they, then, never journeyed about the earth, letting their hearts gain wisdom, and causing their ears to hear? [Lit., “whereupon they would have hearts wherewith they might understand, or ears whereby they might hear”.] Yet, verily, it is not their eyes that have become blind - but blind have become the hearts that are in their breasts!

MEANING OF TIME

(47) And [so, O Muhammad,] they challenge thee to hasten the coming upon them of [God’s] chastisement: [For an explanation, see 6: 57, 8: 32 and 13: 6, as well as the corresponding notes.] but God never fails to fulfill His promise - and, behold, in thy Sustainer’s sight a day is like a thousand years of your reckoning. [I.e., what men conceive of as “time” has no meaning with regard to God, because He is timeless, without beginning and without end, so that in relation to Him, one day and a thousand years are alike” (Razi). Cf. 70:4, where in the same sense, a “day” is said to be equal to ‘‘fifty thousand years”, or the well-authenticated saying of the Prophet, “God says, ‘I am Time Absolute (ad-dahr)’.”] (48) And to how many a community that was im­mersed in evildoing have I given rein for a while! But then I took it to task: for with Me is all journeys’ end! (49)

ASPERSION CAST BY SATAN

SAY [O Muhammad]: “O men! I am but a plain warner [sent by God] unto you!” (50) And [know that] those who attain to faith and do righteous deeds shall be granted forgiveness of sins and a most excellent sustenance; [See 8: 4 and the corresponding note.] (51) whereas those who strive against Our messages, seeking to defeat their purpose - they are destined for the blazing fire. (52) Yet whenever We sent forth any apostle or prophet before thee, and he was hoping [Lit., “We never sent any apostle or prophet before thee without that, when he was hoping (tamanna)…”, etc. According to most of the commentators, the designation “apostle” (rasul) is applied to bearers of divine revelations which comprise a new doctrinal system or dispensation; a “prophet” (nabi), on the other hand, is said to be one whom God has entrusted with the enunciation of ethical principles on the basis of an already-existing dispensation, or of principles common to all divine dispensations. Hence, every apostle is a prophet as well, but not every prophet is an apostle.] [that his warnings would be heeded], Satan would cast an asper­sion on his innermost aims: [I.e., insinuating that the innermost aim (umniyyah, lit., “longing” or “hope’’) of the message-bearer in question was not the spiritual improvement of his community but, rather, the attainment of personal power and influence: cf. 6: 112 – “against every prophet We have set up as enemies the evil forces (shayatin) from among humans as well as from among invisible beings (al-jinn)”.] but God renders null and void whatever aspersion Satan may cast; and God makes His messages clear in and by themselves [Lit., “and God makes His messages clear in and by themselves’’, This is the meaning of the phrase yuhkimu ayatahu (cf. the expression uhkimat ayatuhu in 11 : 1): i.e., God causes His messages to speak for themselves, so that any insinuation as to the prophets “hidden motives” is automatically disproved. The conjunction thumma at the beginning of this clause does not connote a sequence in time but a coordination of activities, and is best rendered by the simple conjunction “and”.] - for God is all-knowing, wise. (53) [And He allows doubts to arise] so that He might cause whatever aspersion Satan may cast [against His prophets] to become a trial for all in whose hearts is disease [See 2: 10 and the corresponding note.] and all whose hearts are hardened: for, verily, all who are [thus] sinning [against themselves] [Lit., “all [such] evildoers’’.] are most deeply in the wrong. (54) And [God renders Satan’s aspersions null and void] so that they who are endowed with [innate] knowledge might know that this [divine writ] is the truth from thy Sustainer, and that they aught believe in it, and that their hearts might humbly submit unto Him. For, behold, God does guide onto a straight way those who have attained to faith –

DAY VOID OF ALL HOPE

(55) whereas those who are bent on denying the truth will not cease to be in doubt about Him until the Last Hour comes suddenly upon them and [supreme] suffering befalls them on a Day void of all hope. [Lit., “or [until] there comes upon them the chastisement [or “suffering”] of a barren Day”, i.e., the Day of Judgment, which will offer no hope to those who, until their death, failed to realize the existence of God or to submit to His guidance.] (56) On that Day, all dominion shall [visibly] belong to God, He shall judge [all men and make a distinction] between them: thus, all who had attained to faith and did righteous deeds shall find themselves in gardens of bliss, (57) whereas for those who were bent on denying the truth and gave the lie to Our messages, there shall be shameful suffering in store.

FORGIVENESS OF SINS FOR MARTYRS

(58) AND AS FOR those who forsake the domain of evil [For this rendering of the phrase alladhina hajaru, see note on 2: 218, The subsequent mention of ‘‘those who strive in God’s cause, and then are slain or die’’ connects with the reference, in verses 39 - 40, to God’s permission to the believers to fight in defence of their faith and liberty. The extreme merit of the self-sacrifice involved is stressed in several Quranic passages, and particularly in 4: 95 - 96; hence, it has also a bearing on the Day of Judgment spoken of in the preceding passage.] (and strive) in God’s cause, and then are slain or die - God will most certainly provide for them a goodly sustenance [in the life to come] for, verily, God - He alone - is the best of providers; (59) [and] He will most certainly cause them to enter upon a state (of being) that shall please them well: [Or: “cause them to enter (upon their life after death) in a manner that will please them well (cf. note on the last clause of 4: 31) - thus implying that by sacrificing their lives in God’s cause they will have obtained His forgiveness of whatever sins they may have previously committed.] for, verily, God is all-knowing, most forbearing. (60) Thus shall it be.

REPEATED, UNPROVOKED AGGRESSION

And as for him who responds to aggression only to the extent of the attack levelled against him, [Lit., ‘‘who has retaliated with the like of what he had been afflicted with” - i.e., has acted only in self-defence and done to his enemy no more than the enemy had done to him. (A similar phrase, relating to retaliation in argument, is found in 16: 126 and explained in the corresponding note.)] and is thereupon [again] treacherously attacked - God will most certainly succour him: for, behold, God is indeed an absolver of sins, much-forgiving. [While the opening sentence of this verse stresses the principle of self-defence as the only justification of war (cf. 2: 190 and 192 - 193) - with the proviso that retaliation must not exceed the injury initially suffered - the concluding part of the verse implies that in case of repeated, unprovoked aggression the believers are allowed to wage an all-out war with a view to destroying completely the enemy’s military power. Since such an all-out war might seem to conflict with the principle of limited retaliation alluded to above, the Quran states that God absolves the believers of what otherwise might have been a sin, since it is they ‘‘against whom war is being wrongfully waged” (verse 39) by repeated acts of aggression.]

GOD ALONE IS THE ULTIMATE TRUTH

(61) Thus it is, because God [is almighty [Sc., “and therefore has the power to succour the believers who have been wronged.] - the One who] makes the night grow longer by shortening the day, and makes the day grow longer by shortening the night; and because God is all-hearing, all-seeing. [I.e., it is He who knows what is in the hearts of men, and nevertheless, in His unfathomable wisdom, allows the darkness of oppression to grow at the expense of the light of freedom, and then causes the light to overcome the darkness: an eternal, cyclical recurrence which dominates the life of mankind. As Ibn Kathir points out, the above passage contains a direct allusion to 3: 26 – 27 – “Say: O God, Lord of all dominion! Thou grantest dominion unto whom Thou willest, and takest away dominion from whom Thou willest… Thou hast the power to will anything: Thou makest the night grow longer by shortening the day, and Thou makest the day grow longer by shortening the night…”] (62) Thus it is, because God alone is the Ultimate Truth, [See surah 20: 114.] so that all that men invoke beside Him is sheer falsehood, and because God alone is exalted, great! (63) Art thou not aware that it’s God who sends down water from the skies, whereupon the earth becomes green? Verily, God is unfathomable [in His wisdom], all-aware. [For an explanation of the term latif (“unfathomable”), see surah 6: 103.] (64) Unto Him belongs all that is in the heavens and all that is on earth; and, verily, God - He alone - is self-sufficient, the One to whom all praise is due. (65) Art thou not aware that it is God who has made subservient to you all that is on earth, [I.e., “has enabled you to benefit from all…” , etc. (cf. surah 14: 33).] and the ships that sail through the sea at His behest - and [that it is He who] holds the celestial bodies [Lit., ‘‘the sky” - used here as a metonym for the stars and planets, which are held on their courses by the God-willed laws of cosmic movement (Maraghi XVII, 137).] [in their orbits], so that they may not fall upon the earth otherwise than by His leave? [I.e., at the Last Hour, which - as the Quran so often states - will manifest itself in a universal cosmic catastrophe.] Verily, God is most compassionate towards men, a dispenser of grace - (66) seeing that it is He who gave you life, and then will cause you to die, and then will bring you back to life: [but,] verily, bereft of all gratitude is man!

ACCEPTANCE OF RELIGIOUS DIVERSITY AND WORSHIP

(67) UNTO every community have We appointed [different] ways of worship, [Lit., “a way of worship” (mansak, which sometimes denotes also ‘‘an act of worship”). For a fuller explanation of this passage, see the second paragraph of 5: 48 — “Unto every one of you have We appointed a [different] law and way of life” - and the corresponding notes.] which they ought to observe. Hence, [O believer,] do not let those [who follow ways other than thine] draw thee into disputes on this score, [I.e., do not allow thyself to be drawn into disputes” (Zamakhshari and Baghawi).] but summon [them all] unto thy Sustainer: for, behold, thou art indeed on the right way. (68) And if they [try to] argue with thee, say [only]: “God knows best what you are doing.” [Cf. 10: 41 - “To me [shall be accounted] my doings, aand to you, your doings: you are not accountable for what I am doing, and I am not accountable for whatever you do”.] (69) [For, indeed,] God will judge between you [all] on Resurrection Day with regard to all on which you were wont to differ. [See surah 2: 113.]

WORSHIP OF OTHER BEINGS OR FORCES

(70) Dost thou not know that God knows all that occurs in heaven as well as on earth? All this, behold, is in [God’s] record: verily, [to know] all this is easy for God. (71) And yet [I.e., despite their awareness that God alone knows all and is, therefore, unique in His all-embracing Presence.] they [who claim to believe in Him often] worship [other beings or forces] beside God - something for which He has never bestoweed any warrant from on high, [See surah 3:151.] and [of the reality] whereof they cannot have any knowledge: [I.e., through independent reasoning or observation.] and such evildoers shall have none to succour them [on Judgment Day]. (72) As it is, whenever Our messages are conveyed unto them in all their clarity, thou canst perceive utter repugnance on the faces of those who are bent on denying the truth: they would almost assault those who convey Our messages unto them! Say: “Shall I, then, tell you of something worse than what you feel at present? [Lit., “worse than this” - i.e., “more painful than the repugnance which you feel with regard to God’s messages”.]It is the fire [of the hereafter] that God has promised to those who are bent on denying the truth: and how vile a journey’s end!”

PARABLE OF CREATION OF FLY

(73) O MEN! A parable is set forth [herewith]; hearken, then, to it! Behold, those beings whom you invoke instead of God cannot create [as much as] a fly, even were they to join all their forces to that end! And if a fly robs them of anything, they cannot [even] rescue it from him! Weak indeed is the seeker, and [weak] the sought! (74) No true understanding of God have they [who err in this way]: for, verily, God is most powerful, almighty!

OMNISCIENCE OF GOD

(75) [In His almightiness,] God chooses message-bearers from among the angels as well as from among men. But, behold, God [alone] is all-hearing, all-see­ing: [I.e., the prophets and the angels are but created beings having no share whatever in His omniscience and, hence, no claim to being worshipped.] (76) [whereas their knowledge is limited,] He knows all that lies open before them and all that is hidden from them [For an explanation of this rendering of the phrase ma bayna aydihim wa-ma khalfahum, see 2: 255.] - for all things go back to God [as their source]. (77) O YOU who have attained to faith! Bow down and prostrate yourselves, and worship your Sustainer [alone], and do good, so that you might attain to a happy state!

ABSENCE OF HARDSHIP AS PERTAIN TO ISLAM

(78) And strive hard in God’s cause with all the striving that is due to Him: it is He who has elected you [to carry His message], and has laid no hardship on you in [anything that pertains to religion, [The absence of any ‘‘hardship” in the religion of Islam is due to several factors: (1) it is free of any dogma or mystical proposition which might make the Quranic doctrine difficult to understand or might even conflict with man’s innate reason; (2) it avoids all complicated ritual or system of taboos which would impose undue restrictions on mans everyday life; (3) it rejects all self-mortification and exaggerated asceticism, which must unavoidably conflict with mans true nature (cf. in this connection note on the first sentence of 2: 143); and (4) it takes fully into account the fact that “man has been created weak’’ (4: 28).] [and made you follow] the creed of your forefather Abraham. [Abraham is designated here as “your forefather” not only because he was, in fact, an ancestor of the prophet Muhammad - to whose followers this passage is addressed - but also because he is the prototype (and thus, the spiritual “forefather”) of all who consciously “surrender themselves to God” (see next note).] It is He who has named you in bygone times as well as in this [divine writ] – “those who have surrendered themselves to God”, [The term muslim signifies “one who surrenders himself to God”; correspondingly, islam denotes “self-surrender to God”. Both these terms are applied in the Quran to all who believe in the One God and affirm this belief by an unequivocal acceptance of His revealed messages. Since the Quran represents the final and most universal of these divine revelations, the believers are called upon, in the sequence, to follow the guidance of its Apostle and thus to become an example for all mankind (cf. 2: 143 and the corresponding note).] so that the Apostle might bear witness to the truth before you, and that you might bear witness to it before all mankind. Thus, be constant in prayer, and render the purifying dues, and hold fast unto God. He is your Lord Supreme: and how excellent is this Lord Supreme, and how excellent this Giver of Succour!

 

 

 

THE TWENTY-THIRD SURAH

AL-MUMINUN (THE BELIEVERS)

MECCA PERIOD

Most of the classical commentators agree in that this surah was revealed towards the end of the Mecca period; some authorities (quoted by Suyuti) are even of the opinion that it is the very last Meccan revelation! but we have no conclusive evidence to that effect.

From the first to the last verse, the discourse centres - as the title of the surah indicates - on the problem of true faith, the overwhhelming evidence which points to the existence of an almighty Creator, and on man’s ultimate responsibility before Him. Stress is laid on the fact of unceasing divine guidance manifested in a long succession of God-inspired prophets; and since all of them propounded one and the same truth, all who believe in God are reminded - as in 21: 92 - 93 - that ‘‘this community of yours is one single community” (verse 52), and that this unity has been torn asunder by man’s egotism, greed and striving after power (verses 53 ff.). But the main theme of the surah is the reminder, expressed in a variety of arguments that it is logically impossible to believe in God as a conscious Creative Power without believing in the reality of a life after death as well.

IN THE NAME OF GOD, THE MOST GRACIOUS, THE DISPENSER OF GRACE:

TRUE FAITH

(1) TRULY, to a happy state shall attain the believers: (2) those who humble themselves in their prayer, (23:3) and who turn away from all that is frivolous, (4) and who are intent on inner purity; [Lit., ‘‘working for” or “active in behalf of [inner] purity, which is the meaning of zakah in this context (Zamakhshari; the same interpretation has been advanced by Abu Muslim).] (5) and who are mindful of their chastity, [Lit., “who guard their private parts”.] (6) [not giving way to their desires] with any but their spouses - that is, those whom they rightfully possess [through wedlock]: [Lit., “or those whom their right hands possess” (aw ma malakat aymanuhum). Many of the commentators assume unquestioningly that this relates to female slaves, and that the particle aw (“or”) denotes a permissible alternative. This interpretation is, in my opinion, inadmissible inasmuch as it is based on the assumption that sexual intercourse with ones female slave is permitted without marriage: an assumption, which is contradicted by the Quran itself (see 4: 3, 24, 25 and 24: 32, with the corresponding notes). Nor is this the only objection to the above-mentioned interpretation. Since the Quran applies the term ‘‘believers” to men and women alike, and since the term azwaj (“spouses”), too, denotes both the male and the female partners in marriage, there is no reason for attributing to the phrase ma malakat aymanuhum the meaning of “their female slaves’’; and since, on the other hand, it is out of the question that female and male slaves could have been referred to here it is obvious that this phrase does not relate to slaves at all, but has the same meaning as in 4: 24 - namely, “those whom they rightfully possess through wedlock (see note on 4: 24) - with the significant difference that in the present context this expression relates to both husbands and wives, who “rightfully possess” one another by virtue of marriage. On the basis of this interpretation, the particle aw which precedes this clause does not denote an alternative (“or”) but is, rather, in the nature of an explanatory amplification, more or less analogous to the phrase “in other words” or “that is”, thus giving to the whole sentence the meaning, “save with their spouses - that is, those whom they rightfully possess [through wedlock]”, etc. (Cf. a similar construction 25: 62 - ‘‘for him who has the will to take thought -that is [lit., “or”], has the will to be grateful”.)] for then, behold, they are free of  all blame, (7) whereas such as seek to go beyond that [limit] are truly transgressors; (8) and who are faithful to their trusts and to their pledges, (9) and who guard their prayers [from all worldly intent]. (10) It is they, they who shall be the inheritors (23:11) that will inherit the paradise; [and] therein shall they abide.

GOD IS THE BEST OF ARTISANS

(12) NOW, INDEED, We create man out of the essence of clay, [The frequent Quranic references to mans being “created out of clay or out of dust” or (as in this instance) “out of the essence (sulalah) of clay point to the fact that his body is composed of various organic and inorganic substances existing on or in the earth, as well as to the continuous transmutation of those substances, through the intake of earth-grown food, into reproductive cells (Razi) - thus stressing man’s humble origin, and hence the debt of gratitude which he owes to God for having endowed him with a conscious soul. The past tense in verses 12 - 14 (lit., “We have created”, “We have caused him to remain”, etc.) emphasizes the fact that all this has been ordained by God and has been happening again and again ever since man was brought into being by Him; in the above context, this recurrence is brought out best by the use of the present tense.] (13) and then We cause him to remain as a drop of sperm in [the wombs] firm keeping, (14) and then We create out of the drop of sperm a germ-cell, and then We create out of the germ-cell an embryonic lump, and then We create within the embryonic lump bones, and then We clothe the bones with flesh - and then We bring [all] this into being as a new creation: [Lit., “as another creature”, i.e., existing independently of the mother’s body.] hallowed, therefore, is God, the best of artisans! [Lit., “the best of creators”. As Tabari points out, the Arabs apply the designation “creator” to every artisan (sani) - a usage also current in European languages with reference to the “creation” of works of art and imagination. Since God is the only Creator in the real, primary sense of this word, the phrase ahsan al-khaliqin must be understood in this secondary sense of the term khaliq (cf. Taj al-Arus, art. khalaqa).] (15) And then, behold! after all this, you are destined to die; (16) and then, behold! you shall be raised from the dead on Resurrection Day. (17) And, indeed, We have created above you seven [celestial] orbits: [Lit., “seven paths”, which may signify the orbits of the visible planets or - as the classical commentators assume - the “seven heavens’’ (i.e., cosmic systems) repeatedly spoken of in the Quran. In either case, the number “seven” is used metonymically, indicating multiplicity. See in this connection note on 2: 29.] and never are We unmindful of [any aspect of Our] creation. (18) And We send down water from the skies in accordance with a measure [set by Us], and then We cause it to lodge in the earth: but, behold, We are most certainly able to withdraw this [blessing]! (19) And by means of this [water] We bring forth for you gardens of date-palms and vines, wherein you have fruit abundant and whereof you eat, (20) as well as a tree that issues from [the lands adjoining] Mount Sinai, [I.e., the olive-tree, native to the lands around the eastern Mediterranean, where so many pre-Quranic prophets (here symbolized - because of its sacred associations - by Mount Sinai) lived and preached.] yielding oil and relish for all to eat. (21) And, behold, in the cattle [too] there is indeed a lesson for you: We give you to drink of that [milk] which is within their bellies; and you derive many [other] uses from them: for, you eat of their flesh, [Lit., “of them”.] (22) and by them - as by the ships [over the sea] - you are borne [overland].

UNCEASING DIVINE GUIDANCE THROUGH LONG SUCCESSION OF GOD-INSPIRED PROPHETS

(23) AND, INDEED, We sent forth Noah unto his people and he said: [Sc., “who had lost sight of all the multiform evidence of the Creator’s uniqueness and, thus, all gratitude for the innumerable blessings which He bestows upon man”.] “O my people! Worship God alone]: you have no deity other than Him. Will you not, then, become conscious of Him?” (24) But the great ones among his people, who refused to acknowledge the truth, replied: “This [man] is nothing but a mortal like yourselves who wants to make himself superior to you! For, if God had willed [to convey a message unto us], He would surely have sent down angels; [moreover,] we have never heard [any­thing like] this from our forebears of old! [Lit., “in connection with (fi) our early forebears” - a Quranic allusion to the fact that people often reject a new ethical proposition on no better grounds than that, it conflicts with their “inherited” habits of thought and ways of life. Indirectly, this allusion implies a condemnation of all blind taqlid, i.e., an unthinking acceptance of religious doctrines or assertions, which are not unequivocally supported by divine revelation, the explicit teachings of a prophet, or the evidence of unprejudiced reason.] (25) He is nothing but a madman: so bear with him for a while.” (26) Said [Noah]: “O my Sustainer! Succour me against their accusation of lying!” (27) Thereupon We inspired him thus: “Build, un­der Our eyes [I.e., “under Our protection”.] and according to Our inspiration, the ark [that shall save thee and those who follow thee]. [Regarding this interpolation, see surah 11: 37.  For an explanation of the passage that follows, see 11: 40 and the corresponding notes.  The reason for the (abbreviated) repetition of Noah’s story - given in much greater detail in 11: 25 - 48 - becomes evident from verse 29.] And when Our judgment comes to pass, and waters gush forth in torrents over the face of the earth, place on board of this [ark] one pair of each [kind of animal] of either sex, as well as thy family - excepting those on whom sentence has already been passed; and do not appeal to Me [any more] in behalf of those who are bent on evildoing - for, behold, they are destined to be drowned! (28) “And as soon as thou and those who are with thee are settled in the ark, say: ‘All praise is due to God, who has saved us from those evildoing folk!’ (29) “And say: ‘O my Sustainer! Cause me to reach a destination blessed [by Thee] [Lit., “Cause me to alight with a blessed alighting” - i.e., in a blessed condition of alighting, or at a blessed place of alighting (Tabari); both these meanings are implied in the word “destination”.] - for Thou art the best to show man how to reach his [true] destination!’ ” [Lit., “the best of all who cause [man] to alight”, i.e., at his true destination. In this prayer enjoined upon Noah – and, by implication, on every believer - the story of the ark is raised to symbollic significance: it reveals itself as a parable of the human soul’s longing for divine illumination, which alone can show man how to save himself and to reach his true destination in the realm of the spirit as well as in worldly life.] (30) In this [story], behold, there are messages indeed [for those who think]: for, verily, We always put [man] to a test. (31) AND AFTER those [people of old] We gave rise to new generations; [Lit., “a generation (qarn) of others’’. For a wider meaning of the term qarn, see surah 6: 6.] (32) and [every time] We sent unto them an apostle from among themselves, [he told them:] “Worship God [alone]: you have no deity other than Him. Will you not, then, become conscious of Him?”

[Most of the classical commentators assume that the apostle referred to in verses 32 - 41 is Hud, the prophet of the tribe of Ad (see surah 7: 65). Since, however, this passage contains elements appearing in the stories of many prophets - including that of the Prophet Muhammad – I am of the opinion that it has a general import: namely, an allusion to all of God’s apostles and to the ever-recurring similarity of their experiences.] (33) And [every time] the great ones among his people, who refused to acknowledge the truth and gave the lie to the announcement of a life to come - [simply] because We had granted them ease and plenty in [their] worldly life, and they had become corrupted by it  [Thus Tabari interprets the concise but meaningful phrase atrafnahum fi l-hayati d-dunya. For a fuller explanation of the verb tarifa, see note on 11: 116.] - [every time] they would say: “This [man] is nothing hut a mortal like yourselves, eating of what you eat, and drinking of what you drink: (34) and, indeed, if you pay heed to a mortal like your­selves, you will surely be the losers! (35) Does he promise you that, after you have died and become [mere] dust and bones, you shall be brought forth [to a new life]? (36) Far-fetched, far-fetched indeed is what you are promised! (37) There is no life beyond our life in this world: we die and we live [but once], and we shall never be raised from the dead! (38) He is nothing but a man who attributes his own lying in­ventions to God, and we are not going to believe him!” (39) [Whereupon the prophet] would say: “O my Sustainer! Succour me against their accusation of lying!” (40) [And God] would say: “After a little while they will surely be smitten with remorse!’’ [Lit., “they will surely become of those who feel remorse”.] (41) And then the blast [of Our punishment] over­took them, justly and unavoidably, [The expression bi l-haqq (lit., “in accordance with truth” or “with justice’’) combines in this instance the concepts of justice, wisdom, reality, inescapability, and consonance with the exigencies of the case under consideration (Raghib), and can be only approximately rendered in translation.] and We caused them to become as the flotsam of dead leaves and the scum borne on the surface of a torrent: and so - away with those evildoing folk! (42) AND AFTER them We gave rise to new genera­tions: [Lit., ‘‘generations of others”, i.e., new civilizations.] (43) [for,] no community can ever forestall [the end of] its term - and neither can they delay [its coming]. [See note on the identical phrase in 15: 5.] (44) And We sent forth Our apostles, one after another: [and] every time their apostle came to a community, they gave him the lie: and so We caused them to follow one another [into the grave], and let them become [mere] tales: and so - away with the folk who would not believe! (45) AND THEN We sent forth Moses and his brother Aaron with Our messages and a manifest authority [from Us] (46) unto Pharaoh and his great ones; [Moses and Aaron are mentioned here by name because their case was different from that of all other prophets: they were rejected not by their own community but by their community’s oppressors.] but these behaved with arrogance, for they were people wont to glorify [only] themselves. (47) And so they said: “Shall we believe [them] two mortals like ourselves - although their people are our slaves?” (48) Thus, they gave the lie to those two, and earned (thereby) their place among the doomed:  [Lit., “became of those who were destroyed’’.] (49) for, indeed, We had vouchsafed revelation unto Moses in order that they might find the right way. (50) And [as We exalted Moses, so, too,] We made the son of Mary and his mother a symbol [of Our grace], [For my rendering of ayah, in this instance, as “symbol”, see surah 19: 21. Jesus and his mother Mary are mentioned here specifically because they, too, had to suffer persecution and slander at the hands of “those who were bent on denying the truth”.] and provided for both an abode in a lofty place of lasting restfulness and unsullied springs. [I.e., in paradise. The expression (ma in) signifies “unsullied springs” or “running waters” (Ibn Abbas, as quoted by Tabari; also Lisan al-Arab and Taj al-Arus), and thus symbolizes the spiritual purity associated with the concept of paradise, the “gardens through which running waters flow”.] (51) O YOU APOSTLES! Partake of the good things of life, [This rhetorical apostrophe to all of God’s apostles is meant to stress their humanness and mortality, and thus to refute the argument of the unbelievers that God could not have chosen “a mortal like ourselves” to be His message-bearer: an argument which overlooks the fact that only human beings who themselves “partake of the good things of life” are able to understand the needs and motives of their fellow-men and, thus, to guide them in their spiritual and social concerns.] and do righteous deeds: verily, I have full knowledge of all that you do.

EVILS OF SECTARIANISM

(52) And, verily, this community of yours is one single community, since I am the Sustainer of you all: remain, then, conscious of Me! [As in 21: 92, the above verse is addressed to all who truly believe in God, whatever their historical denomination. By the preceding reference to all of God’s apostles the Quran clearly implies that all of them were inspired by, and preached, the same fundamental truths, notwith­standing all the differences in the ritual or the specific laws which they propounded in accordance with the exigencies of the time and the social development of their followers. (See notes on the second paragraph of 5: 48.)] (53) But they (who claim to follow you) have torn their unity wide asunder, [Cf. 21: 93.] piece by piece, each group delighting in [but] what they themselves possess [by way of tenets]. [Lit., “in what they have [themselves]”. In the first instance, this verse refers to the various religious groups as such: that is to say, to the followers of one or another of the earlier revelations who, in the course of time, consolidated themselves within different “denominations”, each of them jealously guarding its own set of tenets, dogmas and rituals and intensely intolerant of all other ways of worship (manasik, see 22: 67). In the second instance, however, the above condemnation applies to the breach of unity within each of the established religious groups; and since it applies to the followers of all the prophets, it includes the latter-day followers of Muhammad as well, and thus constitutes a prediction and condemnation of the doctrinal disunity prevailing in the world of Islam in our times - cf. the well-authenticated saying of the Prophet quoted by Ibn Hanbal, Abu Daud, Tirmidhi and Darimi: “The Jews have been split up into seventy-one sects, the Christians into seventy-two sects, whereas my community will be split up into seventy-three sects.” (It should be remembered that in classical Arabic usage the number “seventy” often stands for ‘‘many” - just as “seven” stands for “several” or ‘‘various’’ - and does not necessarily denote an actual figure; hence, what the Prophet meant to say was that the sects and divisions among the Muslims of later days would become many, and even more numerous than those among the Jews and the Christians.)] (54) But leave them alone, lost in their ignorance, until a [future] time. [I.e., until they themselves realize their error. This sentence is evidently addressed to the last of the apostles, Muhammad. and thus to all who truly follow him.] (55) Do they think that by all the wealth and offspring with which We provide them (56) We [but want to] make them vie with one another in doing [what they consider] good works? [I.e., “Do they think that by bestowing on them worldly prosperity God but wants them to vie with one another in their race after material goods and comforts, which they mistakenly identify with doing good works?” Another - linguistically permissible - rendering of the above two verses would be: “Do they think that by all the wealth and offspring with which We provide them We [but] hasten on [the coming] to them of all that is good?” Either of these two renderings implies, firstly, that worldly prosperity is not the ultimate good, and, secondly, that the breach of the unity spoken of in the preceding passage was, more often than not, an outcome of mere worldly greed and of factional striving after power.] Nay, but they do not perceive [their error]! (57) Verily, [only] they who stand in reverent awe of their Sustainer, (58) and who believe in their Sus­tainer’s messages, (59) and who do not ascribe divinity to aught but their Sustainer, (60) and who give whatever they [have to] give [This is an allusion to the giving of what one is morally obliged to give, whether it be in charity or in satisfaction of rightful claims on the part of one’s fellow-men, including such intangible “gifts” as the dispensing of justice.] with their hearts trembling at the thought that unto their Sustainer they must return: (61) it is they who vie with one another in doing good works, and it is they who outrun [all others] in attaining to them! (62) And [withal.] We do not burden any human being with more than he is well able to bear: for with Us is a record that speaks the truth [about what men do and can do]; and none shall be wronged. (63) NAY, [as for those who have torn asunder the unity of faith] - their hearts are lost in ignorance of all this!  [This passage obviously connects with the last sentence of verse 56 - ‘‘Nay, but they do not perceive [their error]!’’ - and, hence, refers to the people spoken of in verse 54 as being “lost in their ignorance’’ (fi ghamratihim).] But apart from that [breach of unity] they have [on their conscience even worse] deeds; [Namely, actions and dogmatic assertions which utterly contradict the teachings of the very apostles whom they claim to follow, like ascribing divine qualities to beings other than God, worshipping saints, or rejecting divine revelations which do not accord with their own likes and dislikes or with their customary mode of thinking.] and they will [continue to] commit them

THOSE LOST IN THE PURSUIT OF PLEASURES

(64) until - after We shall have taken to task, through suffering, those from among them who [now] are lost in the pursuit of pleasures -[See surah 17: 16. The particular reference, in this context, to people “who [at present] are lost in the pursuit of pleasures” contains an allusion to verse 55 above (see my explanation on verse 56 above, especially the last sentence). The ‘‘taking to task through suffering spoken of here may refer to the Day of Judgment or - as in 17: 16 - to the inevitable social ruin which, in the long run, wrong beliefs and actions bring with themselves in this world.] they cry out in [belated] supplication. (65) [But they will be told:] “Cry not in supplication today: for, behold, you shall not he succoured by Us! (66) Time and again [This is the meaning implied in the auxiliary verb kanat, preceded by the particle qad.] were My messages conveyed unto you, but [every time] you would turn about on your heels (67) [and,] impelled by your arrogance, you would talk senselessly far into the night.” [Lit., “as one who keeps awake at night’’ (samiran). In combination with the phrase kuntum . . . tahjurun, this expression indicates the pursuit of endless, fruitless discussions divorced from all reality, or a mere play with words leading nowhere. (See also 31: 6 and the corresponding note.)] (68) Have they, then, never tried to understand this word [of God]? Or has there [now] come to them something that never came to their forefathers of old? [Implying that the message of the Quran is but a continuation of all the divine messages ever revealed to man.] (69) Or is it, perchance, that they have not recog­nized their Apostle, and so they disavow him? (70) Or do they say. “There is madness in him”? Nay, he has brought them the truth - and the truth do most of them detest! [I.e., they hate to admit the truth: the reason being - as the sequence shows - that the world-view propounded by the Quran is not in accord with their own likes and dislikes or preconceived notions.] (71) But if the truth [I.e., the reality of all creation.] were in accord with their own likes and dislikes, the heavens and the earth would surely have fallen into ruin, and all that lives in them [would long ago have perished]! [I.e., if the universe - and, especially, human life - had been as devoid of meaning and purpose as they imagine, nothing could have endured, and everything would have long since perished in chaos.] Nay, [in this divine writ] We have conveyed unto them all that they ought to bear in mind: [For this rendering of the term dhikr, see note on 21:10.] and from this their reminder they [heedlessly] turn away! (72)    Or dost thou [O Muhammad] ask of them any worldly recompense? But [they ought to know that] recompense from thy Sustainer is best, since He is the best of providers! [The terms kharj and kharaj which occur in the above verse are more or less synonymous, both of them denoting “recompense”. According to Zamakhshari, however, there is a slight difference between these two expressions, kharj being more restricted in its meaning than kharaj: hence, the first has been rendered as ‘‘worldly recompense” and the second as “recompense” without any restrictive definition, implying that a recompense from God is unlimited, relating both to this world and the hereafter.] (73) And, verily, thou callest them onto a straight way - (74) but, behold, those who will not bellieve in the life to come are bound to deviate from that way. (75) And even were We to show them mercy and remove whatever distress might befall them [in this life], [Sc., “as it inevitably befalls all human beings”: an oblique allusion to the fact that human life is never free from distress.] they would still persist in their overweening arrogance, blindly stumbling to and fro. (76) And, indeed, We tested them [Lit., “We took them to task”.] through suffer­ing, but they did not abase themselves before their Sustainer; and they will never humble them­selves (77) until We open before them a gate of [truly] severe suffering [in the life to come]: and then, lo! they will be broken in spirit. [Or: “they will despair of all hope”.] (78) [O MEN! Pay heed to God’s messages,] for it is He who has endowed you with hearing, and sight, and minds: [yet] how seldom are you grateful! (79) And He it is who has caused you to multiply on earth; and unto Him you shall be gathered. (80) And He it is who grants life and deals death; and to Him is due the alternation of night and day. Will you not, then, use your reason?

DENIAL OF RESURRECTION

(81) But nay, they speak as the people of olden times did speak: (82) they say: “What! After we have died and become mere dust and bones, shall we, forsooth, be raised from the dead? (83) Indeed, this [very thing] we have been promised - we and our forefathers - long ago! This is nothing but fables of ancient times!” (84) Say: “Unto whom belongs the earth and all that lives there on? [Lit., “and all who are on it”.] [Tell me this] if you happen to know [the answer]!” (85) [And they will reply: “Unto God.” Say: “Will you not, then, bethink yourselves [of Him]?” (86) Say: “Who is it that sustains the seven heavens and is enthroned in His awesome almightiness?” [Lit., “who is the Sustainer (rabb) of the seven heavens’’ - see note on 2: 29 - ‘‘and the Sustainer of the awesome throne of almightiness”: cf. 9 : 129 as well as note on 7: 54.] (87) [And] they will reply: “[All this power belongs] to God.” Say: “Will you not, then, remain conscious of Him?” (88) Say: “In whose hand rests the mighty dominion over all things, and who is it that protects, the while there is no protection against Him? [Tell me this] if you happen to know [the answer]!” (89) [And] they will reply: “[All this power belongs] to God.” Say:     ‘How, then, can you be so deluded?” [Sc., “as to deny the prospect of resurrection”.] (90) Nay, We have conveyed unto them the truth: and yet, behold, they are intent on lying [to them­selves]!  [Lit., “they are indeed liars’’- i.e., they deceive themselves by asserting that they believe in God and, at the same time, rejecting the idea of a life after death, which - in view of the fact that many wrongdoers prosper in this world while many righteous lead a life of suffering - is insolubly bound up with the concept of divine justice. Apart from this, a denial of the possibility of resurrection implies a doubt as to God’s unlimited power and, thus, of His Godhead in the true sense of this concept. This latter doubt often finds its expression in the mystic belief in a multiplicity of divine powers: and it is to this erroneous belief that the next verse alludes.]

MULTIPLICITY OF DIVINE POWERS

(91) Never did God take unto Himself any offspring, [This allusion to the pre-Islamic Arabian belief in angels as “God’s daughters” and the Christian dogma of Jesus’ “sonship of God” connects with the statement “they are intent on lying [to themselves]”, which has been explained in the preceding note.] nor has there ever been any deity side by side with Him: [for, had there been any,] lo! each deity would surely have stood apart [from the others] in whatever it had created, [This is how almost all the classical commentators explain the phrase la-dhahaba bi-ma khalaqa (lit., “would surely have taken away whatever he had created”), implying that in such a hypothetical case each of the gods would have been concerned only with his own sector of creation, thus causing complete confusion in the universe.] and they would surely have [tried to] overcome one another! Limitless in His glory is God, [far] above anything that men may devise by way of definition, [See note on 6:100.] (92) knowing all that is beyond the reach of a created being’s perception as well as all that can be witnessed by a creature’s senses or mind [See surah 6: 73.] - and, hence, sublimely exalted is He above anything to which they may ascribe a share in His divinity! (93) SAY: “O my Sustainer! If it be Thy will to let me witness [Lit., ‘‘to show me” [sc., “in my lifetime”]. According to Zamakhshari, the combination of the conditional particle in (‘‘if’’) with ma (‘‘that which’’ or “whatever”) - spelt and pronounced imma - endows the verb turini (lit., “Thou wilt show me”) with the quality of intrinsic necessity - thus: “If it is inevitable (la budd) that “thou show me [or “let me witness”]…”, etc. In translation, this particular phrasing is best rendered as above, since anything that is God’s will becomes eo ipso inevitable.] [the fulfillment of] whatever they [who blaspheme against Thee] have been promised [to suffer] - (94) do not, O my Sustainer, let me be one of those evildoing folk!”

REPEL EVIL WITH ACT OF GOODNESS

(95) [Pray thus] for, behold, We are most cer­tainly able to let thee witness [the fulfillment, even in this world, of] whatever We promise them! (96) [But whatever they may say or do,] repel the evil [which they commit] with something that is bet­ter: [See surah 13: 22. In the present context, the evil referred to consists - as the next clause shows - in blasphemous attempts at “defining” God (cf. verse 91); but the ethical principle implied in the above injunction is the same as that expressed in the last clause of 13: 22 as well as in 41: 34 - namely, that evil must not be countered with another evil but, rather, repelled by an act of goodness.] We are fully aware of what they attribute [to Us].

SEEK REFUGE WITH GOD FROM SATANIC FORCES

(97) And say: “O my Sustainer! I seek refuge with Thee from the promptings of all evil impulses; [Lit., “of the satans’’ or “satanic forces”: see note on 2: 14.] (98) and I seek refuge with Thee, O my Sustainer, lest they come near unto me!’

WHEN SALVATION IS TOO LATE?

(99) [AS FOR THOSE who will not believe in the life to come, they go on lying to themselves] [Cf. verses 74 and 90 above, with which the present passage connects.] until, when death approaches any of them, he prays: “O my Sustainer! Let me return, let me return [to life], [Most of the commentators regard the plural form of address in the verb irji uni (“let me return”) as an expression of reverence. Since, however, the Quran offers no other instance of God’s being addressed in the plural (in contrast with the frequent use of the plural in His speaking of Himself), Baydawi suggests - on the strength of examples from pre-Islamic poetry - that this plural form of address is equivalent to an emphatic repetition of the singular form irji ni: hence the repetition of this phrase in my rendering.] (100) so that I might act righteously in whatever I have failed [aforetime]!’’ [Lit., “in respect of that which (fi-ma) I have left’’, comprising both the omission of good and the commission of bad deeds.] Nay, it is indeed but a [meaningless] word that he utters: for behind those [who leave the world] there is a barrier [of death] until the Day when all will be raised from the dead! (101) Then, when the trumpet [of resurrection] is blown, no ties of kinship will on that Day prevail among them, and neither will they ask about one another. (102) And they whose weight [of righteousness] is heavy in the balance - it is they, they who will have attained to a happy state; (103) whereas they whose weight is light in the balance - it is they who will have squandered their own selves, [destined] to abide in hell: (104) the fire will scorch their faces, and they will abide therein with their lips distorted in pain. (105) [And God will say:] “Were not My messages conveyed unto you, and were you [not] wont to give them the lie?” (106) They will exclaim: “O our Sustainer! Our bad luck has overwhelmed us, and so we went astray! [Lit., “we became people who go astray’’. This allegorical “dialogue” is meant to bring out the futile excuse characteristic of so many sinners who attribute their failings to an abstract bad luck” (which is the meaning of shiqwah in this context); and thus, indirectly, it stresses the element of free will - and, therefore, of responsibility - in man’s actions and behaviour.] (1077) O our Sustainer! Cause us to come out of this [suffering] - and then, if ever We revert [to sinning], may we truly be [deemed] evildoers!” (108) [But] He will say: “Away with you into this [ignominy]! [My interpolation of the word “ignominy’’ is based on the fact that this concept is inherent in the verb khasaa (lit., “he drove [someone or something] scornfully away’), and is, therefore, forcefully expressed in the imperative ikhsa’u.] And speak no more unto Me! (109) “Behold, there were among My servants such as would pray, ‘O our Sustainer! We have come to believe [in Thee]; forgive, then, our sins and bestow Thy mercy on us: for Thou art the truest bestower of mercy!’ [Lit., “the best of those [or “of all”] who show mercy”. The same expression is found in the concluding verse of this surah.] (110) - but you made them a target of your derission to the point where it made you forget [Lit., ‘‘until they made you forget’’: i.e., “your scoffing at them became the cause of your forgetting”.] all remembrance of Me; and you went on and on laugh­ing at them. (111) [But,] behold, today I have rewarded them for their patience in adversity: verily, it is they, they who have achieved a triumph!” (112) [And] He will ask [the doomed]: “What number of years have you spent on earth?” (113) They will answer: ‘We have spent there a day, or part of a day; but ask those who [are able to] count [time]…” [This part of the allegorical “dialogue” between God and the doomed sinners touches (as do several other verses of the Quran) upon the illusory, problematical character of “time” as conceived by man, and the comparative irrelevancy of the life of this world within the context of the ultimate - perhaps timeless - reality known only to God. The disappearance, upon resurrection, of man’s earth-bound concept of time is indicated by the helpless answer, “ask those who are able to count time”.] (114) [Whereupon] He will say: “You have spent there but a short while: had you but known [how short it was to be]! (115) Did you, then, think that We created you in mere idle play, and that you would not have to return to Us?” [Lit., “that you would not be brought back to Us”, i.e., for judgment.] (116) [KNOW,] then, [that] God is sublimely exalted, the Ultimate Sovereign, the Ultimate Truth: [See surah 20: 114.] there is no deity save Him, the Sustainer, in bountiful almightiness enthroned! [Lit., “the Sustainer (rabb) of the bountiful throne of almightiness (al -arsh al-karim)”. See also surah 7: 54, for an explanation of my rendering of al-arsh as “the throne of [His] almightiness’’.] (117) Hence, he who invokes, side by side with God, any other deity [- a deity] for whose existence he has no evidence - shall but find his reckoning with his Sustainer: [and,] verily, such deniers of the truth will never attain to a happy state! (118) Hence, [O believer,] say: “O my Sustainer! Grant [me] forgiveness and bestow Thy mercy [upon me]: for Thou art the truest bestower of mercy!”

THE TWENTY-FOURTH SURAH

AN-NUR (THE LIGHT)

MEDINA PERIOD

From various allusions (particularly in verses 11-20) to historical incidents connected with the Prophet’s campaign against the tribe of Mustaliq, it is evident that this surah was revealed towards the end of the fifth or the beginning of the sixth year after the hijrah.

A large part of it deals with the mutual relations of the sexes and with certain ethical rules to be observed in the context of this relationship. Verses 2 - 9, in particular, lay down definite legal injunctions concerning illicit sexual intercourse, while verses 27 - 29 and 58 - 59 stress each in­dividual’s right to privacy.

The title is derived from the mystic parable of the “light of God” in verse 35 and its echo in verse 40: “he to whom God gives no light, no light whatever has he!”

IN THE NAME OF GOD, THE MOST GRACIOUS, THE DISPENSER OF GRACE:

PUNISHMENT FOR ILLICIT SEX

A Surah [is this] which We have bestowed from on high, and which We have laid down in plain terms; [I.e., “the injunctions whereof We have made self-evident by virtue of their wording: thus, according to Bukhari (Kitab at-Tafsir), Abd Allah ibn Abbas explains the expression faradnaha in this context (cf. Fath al-Bari VIII, 361). Tabari, also on the authority of Ibn Abbas advances the same explanation. It would seem that the special stress on God’s having laid down this surah “in plain terms’’ is connected with the gravity of the injunctions spelt out in the sequence: in other words, it implies a solemn warning against any attempt at widening or re-defining those injunctions by means of deductions, inferences or any other considerations unconnected with the plain wording of the Quran.] and in it have We bestowed from on high messages which are clear [in themselves], so that you might keep [them] in mind. (2) AS FOR the adulteress and the adulterer [The term zina signifies voluntary sexual intercourse between a man and a woman not married to one another, irrespective of whether one or both of them are married to other persons or not: hence, it does not - in contrast with the usage prevalent in most Western languages - differentiate between the concepts of “adultery” (i.e., sexual intercourse of married man with a woman other than his wife, or of a married woman with a man other than her husband) and “fornication” (i.e., sexual intercourse between two unmarried persons). For the sake of simplicity I am rendering zina throughout as “adultery”, and the person guilty of it as “adulterer” or “adulteress”, respectively.] - flog each of them with a hundred stripes, and let not compassion with them keep you from [carrying out] this  law of God, if you [truly] believe in God and the Last Day; and let a group of the believers witness their chastisement. [The number of those to be present has been deliberately left unspecified, thus indicating that while the punishment must be given publicity, it need not be made a “public spectacle”.] (3) [Both are equally guilty:] the adulterer couples with none other than an adulteress - that is, a woman who accords [to her own lust] a place side by side with God; [The term mushrik (fem. mushrikah), which normally signifies a person who associates in his or her mind all manner of imaginary deities or forces with God, or who believes that any created being has a share in His qualities or powers, is here evidently used in the widest metaphorical sense of this term, denoting one who accords to his or her desires a supremacy which is due to God alone, and thus blasphemes against the principles of ethics and morality enjoined by Him. The particle aw (lit., “or”) which connects the word mushrikah with the preceding word zaniyah (‘‘adulteress”) has in this context - as well as in the next clause, where both these terms appear in their masculine form - an amplifying, explanatory value equivalent to the expression “in other words” or “that is”, similar to the use of this particle in 23: 6. For a further elucidation of the above passage, see next note.] and with the adulteress couples none other than an adulterer - that is, a man who accords [to his own lust] a place side by side with God: and this is forbidden unto the believers. [Some of the commentators understand this passage in the sense of an injunction: “The adulterer shall not marry any but an adulteress or a mushrikah: and as for the adulteress, none shall marry her but an adulterer or a rnushrik. This interpretation is objectionable on several counts: firstly, the Quran does not ever countenance the marriage of a believer, however great a sin he or she may have committed, with an unbeliever (in the most pejorative sense of this term); secondly, it is a fundamental principle of Islamic Law that once a crime has been expiated by the transgressor’s undergoing the ordained legal punishment (in this case, a hundred stripes), it must be regarded, insofar as the society is concerned, as atoned for and done with; and, lastly, the construction of the above passage is clearly that of a statement of fact (Razi), and cannot be interpreted as an injunction. On the other hand, since adultery is an illicit sexual union, the verb yankihu, which appears twice in this passage, cannot have the customary, specific meaning of ‘‘he marries’’ but must, rather, be understood in its general sense - applicable to both lawful and unlawful sexual intercourse - namely, “he couples with”. It is in this sense that the great commentator Abu Muslim (as quoted by Razi) explains the above verse, which stresses the fact that both partners are equally guilty inasmuch as they commit their sin consciously - implying that neither of them can cause himself or herself on the ground of having been merely “seduced”.]

FALSE ACCUSATION OF ILLICIT SEX

(4) And as for those who accuse chaste women [of adultery], [The term rnuhsanat denotes literally ‘‘women who are fortified [against unchastity]”, i.e., by marriage and/or faith and self-respect, implying that, from a legal point of view, every woman must he considered chaste unless a conclusive proof to the contrary is produced. (The passage relates to women other than the accusers own wife, for in the latter case - as shown in verses 6 - 9 - the law of evidence and the consequences are different.] and then are unable to produce four witnesses [in support of their accusation], flog them  with eighty stripes [By obvious implication, this injunction applies also to cases where a woman accuses a man of illicit sexual  intercourse, and is subsequently unable to prove her accusation legally. The severity of the punishment to be meted out in such cases, as well as the requirement of four witnesses - instead of the two that Islamic Law regards as sufficient in all other criminal and civil suits - is based on the imperative necessity of preventing slander and off-hand accusations. As laid down in several authentic sayings of the Prophet, the evidence of the four witnesses must be direct, and not merely circumstantial: in other words, it is not sufficient for them to have witnessed a situation which made it evident that sexual intercourse was taking or had taken place: they must have witnessed the sexual act as such, and must be able to prove this to the entire satisfaction of the judicial authority (Razi, summing up the views of the greatest exponents of Islamic Law). Since such a complete evidence is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to obtain, it is obvious that the purpose of the above Quranic injunction is to preclude, in practice, all third-party accusations relating to illicit sexual intercourse – for, “man has been created weak’’ (4: 28) - and to make a proof of adultery dependent on a voluntary, faith-inspired confession of the guilty parties themselves.] and ever after refuse to accept from them any testimony - since it is they, they that are truly depraved! - (5) excepting [from this interdict] only those who afterwards repent and made amends: [I.e., who publicly withdraw their accusation after having suffered the punishment of flogging - which, being a legal right of the wrongly accused person, cannot be obviated by mere repentance and admission of guilt. Thus, the above-mentioned exemption relates only to the interdict on giving testimony and not to the punishment by flogging.] for, behold, God is much forgiving, a dispenser of grace.

OATH OF CONDEMNATION

(6) And as for those who accuse their own wives [of adultery], but have no witnesses except them­selves, let each of these [accusers] call God four times to witness that he is indeed telling the truth, [Lit., ‘‘then the testimony of any of these shall be four testimonies [or “solemn affirmations’’] before God”.] (7) and the fifth time, that God’s curse be upon him if he is telling a lie. (8) But [as for the wife, all] chastisement shall be averted from her by her calling God four times to witness that he is indeed telling a lie, (9) and the fifth [time], that God’s curse be upon her if he is telling the truth, [Thus, the husband’s accusation is to be regarded as proven if the wife refuses to take an oath to the contrary, and disproved if she solemnly sets her word against his. Inasmuch as this procedure, which is called lian (“oath of condemnation”), leaves the question of guilt legally undecided, both parties are absolved of all the legal consequences otherwise attending upon adultery - resp. an unproven accusation of adultery - the only consequence being a mandatory divorce.] (10) AND WERE it not for God’s favour upon you, [O man,] and His grace, and that God is a wise acceptor of repentance...! [This sentence, which introduces the section dealing with the condemnation of all unfounded or unproven accusations of unchastity - as well as the similar sentence which closes it in verse 20 - is deliberately left incomplete, leaving it to man to imagine what would have happened to individual lives and to society if God had not ordained all the above-mentioned legal and moral safeguards against possibly false accusations, or if He had made a proof of adultery dependent on mere circumstantial evidence. This idea is further elaborated in verses 14 -15.]

FALSE SLANDER

(11) Verily, numerous among you are those who would falsely accuse others of unchastity: [Lit., “those who brought forth the lie (al-ifk, here denoting a false accusation of unchastity) are a numerous group (usbah) among you”. The term usbah signifies any group of people, of indeterminate number, banded together for a particular purpose (Taj al-Arus). According to all the commentators, the passage comprising verses 11-20 relates to an incident, which occurred on the Prophet’s return from the campaign against the tribe of Mustaliq in the year 5 H. The Prophet’s wife Aishah, who had accompanied him on that expedition, was inadvertently left behind when the Muslims struck camp before dawn. After having spent several hours alone, she was found by one of the Prophet’s Companions, who led her to the next halting-place of the army. This incident gave rise to malicious insinuations of misconduct on the part of Aishah; but these rumours were short-lived, and her innocence was established beyond all doubt. As is the case with all Quranic allusions to historical events, this one, too, is primarily meant to bring out an ethical proposition valid for all times and all social circumstances: and this is the reason why the grammatical construction of the above passage is such that the past-tense verbs occurring in verses 11-16 can be - and, I believe, should be - understood as denoting the present tense.] [but, O you who are thus wronged,] deem it not a bad thing for you: nay, it is good for you! [I.e., in the sight of God: for, the unhappiness caused by unjust persecution confers - as does every undeserved and patiently borne suffering - a spiritual merit on the person thus afflicted. Cf. the saying of the Prophet, quoted by Bukhari and Muslim: ‘‘Whenever a believer is stricken with any hardship, or pain, or anxiety, or sorrow, or harm, or distress - even if it be a thorn that has hurt him - God redeems thereby some of his failings.”] [As for the slanderers,] unto every one of them [will be accounted] all that he has earned by [thus] sinning; and awesome suffering awaits any of them who takes it upon himself to enhance this [sin]! [I.e., by stressing, in a legally and morally inadmissible manner, certain “circumstantial” details or aspects of the case in order to make the slanderous, unfounded allegation more believable.] (12) Why do not the believing men and women, whenever such [a rumour] is heard, [Lit., ‘‘whenever you hear it” - the pronoun “you” indicating here the community as a whole.] think the best of one another and say, “This is an obvious falsehood”? (13) why do they not [demand of the accusers that they] [This interpolation is necessary in view of the fact that the believers spoken of in the preceding verse are blamed, not for making the false accusation, but for not giving it the lie.] produce four witnesses to prove their allegation? [Lit., “in support thereof” (alayhi).] - for, if they do not produce such wit­nesses, it is those [accusers] who, in the sight of God, are liars indeed! (14) And were it not for God’s favour upon you, [O men,] and His grace in this world and in the life to come, awesome suffering would indeed have afflicted you* in result of all [the calumny] in which you indulge [*Sc., “yourselves and your whole society”. With this and the next verse the discourse returns to, and elaborates, the idea touched upon in verse 10 and explained in the corresponding note.] (15) when you take it up with your tongues, uttering with your mouths something of which you have no knowledge, and deeming it a light matter whereas in the sight of God it is an awful thing! (16) And [once again]: Why do you not say, whenever you hear such [a rumour], “It does not behove us to speak of this, O Thou who art limitless in Thy glory: this is an awesome calumny”? [The interjection subhanaka (“O Thou who art limitless in Thy glory”) stresses here the believers moral duty to bethink himself of God whenever he is tempted to listen to, or to repeat, a calumny (since every such rumour must be considered a calumny unless its truth is legally proved).] (17) God admonishes you [hereby] lest you ever revert to the like of this [sin], if you are [truly] believers; (18) for God makes [His] messages clear unto you - and God is all-knowing, Wise! (19) Verily, as for those who like [to hear] foul slander spread against [any of] those who have attained to faith [The term fahishah signifies anything that is morally reprehensible or abominable: hence, “immoral conduct” in the widest sense of this expression. In the above context it refers to unfounded or unproven allegations of immoral conduct, in other words, “foul slander”.] grievous suffering awaits them in this world [I.e., the legal punishment as stipulated in verse 4 of his surah.] and in the life to come: for God knows [the full truth], whereas you know [it] not. [This Quranic warning against slander and, by obvious implication, against any attempt at seeking out other people’s faults finds a clear echo in several well-authenticated sayings of the Prophet: “Beware of all guesswork [about one another], for, behold, all [such] guesswork is most deceptive (akdhab al-hadith); and do not spy upon one another and do not try to bare [other people’s] failings’’ (Muwatta; almost identical versions of this Tradition have been quoted by Bukhari, Muslim and Abu Daud): “Do not hurt those who have surrendered themselves to God (al-muslimin) and do not impute evil to them and do not try to uncover their nakedness [i.e., their faults]: for, behold, if anyone tries to uncover his brother’s nakedness, God will uncover his own nakedness [on the Day of  judgment]” (Tirmidhi); and, “Never does a believer draw a veil over the nakedness of the other believer without  Gods drawing a veil over his own nakedness on Resurrection Day” (Bukhari). All these injunctions have received their seal, as it were, in the Quranic exhortation: “Avoid most guesswork [about one another] – for, behold, some of [such] guesswork is [in itself] a sin” (49: 12).] (20) And were it not for God’s favour upon you and His grace, and that God is compassionate, a dispenser of grace...! [See verse 10 of this surah and the corresponding note.] (21) O You who have attained to faith! Follow not Satan’s footsteps: for he who follows Satan’s foot­steps [will find that], behold, he enjoins but deeds of abomination and all that runs counter to reason. [In this context, the term al-munkar has apparently the same meaning as in 16: 90 (explained in the corresponding note) since, as the sequence shows, it clearly relates to the unreasonable self-righteousness of so many people who “follow Satan’s footsteps” by imputing moral failings to others and forgetting that it is only due to Gods grace that man, in his inborn weakness, can ever remain pure.] And were it not for God’s favour upon you and His grace, not one of you would ever have remained pure. For [thus it is:] God who causes whomever He wills to grow in purity: for God is all-hearing, all-­knowing. (22) Hence, [even if they have been wronged by slander,] let not those of you who have been graced with God’s favour and ease of life ever become remiss in helping [Or: “Swear that [henceforth] they would not help [lit., “give to”]…”, etc. Both these meanings – “he swore [that]” and “he became remiss [in]” - are attributable to the verb ala, which appears in the above sentence in the form ya tal. My rendering is based on the interpretation given to this verb by the great philologist Abu Ubayd al-Qasim al-Harawi (Cf. Lane I, 84).] [the erring ones among] their near of kin, and the needy, and those who have forsaken the domain of evil for the sake of God, [For an explanation of this rendering of the designation al-muhajirun (or, in other places, alladhina hajaru), see surah 2: 218.] but let them pardon and forbear. [For,] do you not desire that God should forgive you your sins, seeing that God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace? [It is generally assumed that this verse refers to Abu Bakr, who swore that he would never again help his poor relative, the muhajir Mistah (whom he used to support until then) after the latter had taken part in slandering Abu Bakr’s daughter, Aishah (see note on verse 11 above). There is no doubt that this assumption of the commentators is well-founded; but there is also no doubt that the ethical purport of the above verse is timeless and, therefore, independent of the fact or facts with which it appears to be historically linked. (This view finds additional support in the use of the plural form throughout the above passage.) The call to “pardon and forbear” is fully consonant with the Quranic principle of countering evil with good (see 13: 22 and the corresponding note).] (23) [But,] verily, those who [falsely, and without repentance,] [According to Razi, the absence of repentance is incontrovertibly implied in the condemnation expressed in the sequence. since the Quran makes it clear in many places that God always accepts a sinner’s sincere repentance.] accuse chaste women who may have been unthinkingly careless but have remained true to their faith, [Lit., “chaste, unmindful [or “careless”] believing women”, i.e., virtuous women who thoughtlessly expose themselves to situations on which a slanderous construction may be put.] shall be rejected [from God’s grace] in this world as well as in the life to come: and awesome suffering awaits them (24) on the Day when their own tongues and hands and feet will bear witness against them by [recalling] all that they did! (25) On that day God will pay them in full their just due, and they will come to know that God alone is the Ultimate Truth, manifest, and manifesting [the true nature of all that has ever been done]. [Regarding the double meaning (“manifest’’ and “manifesting”) inherent in the adjective mubin, see note on 12: 1; for my rendering of God’s attribute al-haqq as “the Ultimate Truth”, see note on 20:114. In this particular instance, the active form of mubin (“manifesting”) apparently relates to Gods revelation, on Judgment Day, of the true nature of man’s actions and, thus, of the enormity of the sin to which this passage refers.] (26) [In the nature of things,] corrupt women are for corrupt men, and corrupt men, for corrupt women - just as good women are for good men, and good men, for good women. [Since God is aware that] these are innocent of all that evil tongues may impute to them, [Lit., “innocent of all that they [i.e., the slanderers] may say’’.] forgiveness of sins shall be theirs, and a most excellent sustenance! [See note on 8: 4. The reference, in this context, to God’s “forgiveness of sins” (maghfirah) is obviously meant to stress the innate weakness of man’s nature, which makes him prone to sinning, however good and pure he may be (cf. 4 28).]

INVIOLABILITY OF PERSON’S HOME

(27) O YOU who have attained to faith! Do not enter houses other than your own unless you have obtained permission and greeted their inmates. This is [enjoined upon you] for your own good, so that you might bear [your mutual rights] in mind. [This categorical prohibition connects with the preceding passages inasmuch as it serves as an additional protection of individuals against possible slander. In its wider purport, it postulates the inviolability of each person’s home and private life, (For the socio-political implications of this principle, see State and government in Islam, pp. 84 ff.)] (28) Hence, [even] if you find no one within [the house], do not enter it until you are given leave; [I.e., by the rightful owner or caretaker.] and if you are told, “Turn back,” then turn back. This will be most conducive to your purity; and God has full knowledge of all that you do. (29) [On the other hand,] you will incur no sin if you [freely] enter houses not intended for living in but serving a purpose useful to you: [Lit., “uninhabited houses wherein there are things of use (mata) for you”. In the consensus of all the authorities, including the Companions of The Prophet, this relates to buildings or premises of a more or less public nature, like inns, shops, administrative Offices, public baths, etc., as well as to ancient ruins.] but [always remember that] God knows all that you do openly, and all that you would conceal.

EMOTIONAL MODESTY (lower your gaze)

(30) Tell the believing men to lower their gaze and to be mindful of their chastity: [Lit., “to restrain [something] of their gaze and to guard their private parts”. The latter expression may be understood both in the literal sense of “covering of one’s private parts” - i.e., modesty in dress - as well as in the metonymical sense of “restraining one’s sexual urges”, i.e., restricting them to what is lawful, namely, marital intercourse (cf. 23: 5 -6). The rendering adopted by me in this instance allows for both interpretations. The “lowering of ones gaze”, too, relates both to physical and to emotional modesty (Razi).] this will be most con­ducive to their purity – [and,] verily, God is aware of all that they do.

MODEST DRESS IN PUBLIC

(31) And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and to be mindful of their chastity, and not to display their charms [in public] beyond what may [decently] be apparent thereof;  [My interpolation of the word “decently” reflects the interpretation of the phrase illa ma  zahara minha by several of the earliest Islamic scholars, and particularly by Al-Qiffal (quoted by Razi) as “that which a human being may openly show in accordance with prevailing custom (al-adah al-jariyah)”. Although the traditional exponents of Islamic Law have for centuries been inclined to restrict the definition of “what may [decently] be apparent” to a woman’s face, hands and feet - and sometimes even less than that - we may safely assume that the meaning off illa ma zahara minha is much wider, and that the deliberate vagueness of this phrase is meant to allow for all the time-bound changes that are necessary for man’s moral and social growth. The pivotal clause in the above injunction is the demand, addressed in identical terms to men as well as to women, to “lower their gaze and be mindful of their chastity”: and this determines the extent of what, at any given time, may legitimately - i.e., in consonance with the Quranic principles of social morality - be considered “decent” or “indecent” in a person’s outward appearance.] hence, let them draw their head-coverings over their bosoms. [The noun khimar (of which khumur is the plural) denotes the head-covering customarily used by Arabian women before and after the advent of Islam. According to most of the classical commentators, it was worn in pre-Islamic times more or less as all ornament and was let down loosely over the wearer’s back; and since, in accordance with the fashion prevalent at the time, the upper part of a woman’s tunic had a wide opening in the front, her breasts cleavage were left bare. Hence, the injunction to cover the bosom by means of a khimar, (a term so familiar to the contemporaries of the Prophet) does not necessarily relate to the use of a khimar as such but is, rather, meant to make it clear that a woman’s breasts are not included in the concept of “what may decently be apparent” of her body and should not, therefore, be displayed.] And let them not display [more of] their charms to any but their husbands, or their fathers, or their husbands’ fathers, or their sons, or their husbands’ Sons, or their brothers, or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their womenfolk, or those whom they rightfully possess, or such male attendants as are beyond all sexual desire, [I.e., very old men. The preceding phrase “those whom they rightfully possess” (lit., ‘‘whom their right hands possess’’) denotes slaves; but see also second note on verse 58.] or children that are as yet unaware of women’s nakedness; and let them not swing their legs [in walking] so as to draw attention to their hidden charms [Lit., “so that those of their charms which they keep hidden may become known”, The phrase yadribna bi-arjulihinna is idiomatically similar to the phrase daraba bi-yadayhi fi mishyatihi, “he swung his arms in walking” (quoted in this context in Taj al-Arus), and alludes to a deliberately provocative gait.] And [always], O you believers - all of you - turn unto God in repentance, so that you might attain to a happy state! [The implication of this general call to repentance is that “since man has been created weak’’ (4:28), no one is ever free of faults and temptations - so much so that even the Prophet used to say, ‘‘Verily, I turn unto Him in repentance a hundred times every day” (Ibn Hanbal, Bukhari and Bayhaqi, all of then, on the authority of Abd Allah ibn Umar).]

MARRIAGE

(32) AND [you ought to] marry the single from among you [I.e., from among the free members of the community, as is evident from the subsequent juxtaposition with slaves. (As most of the classical commentators point out, this is not an injunction but a recommendation to the community as a whole: hence my interpolation of the words, “you ought to”.) The term ayyim - of which ayama is the plural - signifies a person of either sex who has no spouse, irrespective of whether he or she has never been married or is divorced or widowed. Thus, the above verse expresses the idea - reiterated in many authentic sayings of the Prophet - that, from both the ethical and the social points of view, the married state is infinitely preferable to celibacy.] as well as such of your male and female slaves as are fit [for marriage]. [The term as-salihin connotes here both moral and physical fitness for marriage: i.e., the attainment of bodily and mental maturity as well as mutual affection between the man and the woman concerned. As in 4: 25, the above verse rules out all forms of concubinage and postulates marriage as the only basis of lawful sexual relations between a man and his female slave.] If they [whom you intend to marry] are poor, [let this not deter you;] God will grant them sufficiency out of His bounty - for God is infinite [in His mercy], all-knowing. (33) And as for those who are unable to marry, [I.e., because of poverty or because they cannot find a suitable mate, or for any other personal reason.] let them live in continence until God grants them sufficiency out of His bounty,

DEED OF FREEDOM

(33) And if any of those whom you rightfully possess [Lit., “whom your right hands possess”, i.e., male or female slaves.] desire [to obtain] a deed of freedom, write it out for them if you are aware of any good in them: [The noun kitab is, in this context, an equivalent of kitabah or mukatabah (lit., “mutual agreement in writing”), a juridical term signifying a “deed of freedom” or “of manumission” executed on the basis of an agreement between a slave and his or her owner, to the effect that the slave undertakes to purchase his or her freedom for an equitable sum of money payable in installments before or after the manumission, or, alternatively, by rendering a clearly specified service or services to his or her owner. With this end in view, the slave is legally entitled to engage in any legitimate, gainful work or to obtain the necessary sum of money by any other lawful means (e.g., through a loan or a gift from a third person). In view of the imperative form of the verb katibuhum (“write it out for them”), the deed of manumission cannot be refused by the owner, the only pre-condition being an evidence - to be established, if necessary, by an unbiased arbiter or arbiters - of the slave’s good character and ability to fulfill his or her contractual obligations. The stipulation that such a deed of manumission may not he refused, and the establishment of precise juridical directives to this end, clearly indicates that Islamic Law has from its very beginning aimed at an abolition of slavery as a social institution, and that its prohibition in modern times constitutes no more than a final implementation of that aim. (See also next note, as well as note on 2: 177.) and give them [their share of the wealth of God which He has given you. [According to all the authorities, this relates (a) to a moral obligation on the part of the owner to promote the slave’s efforts to obtain the necessary revenues by helping him or her to achieve an independent economic status and/or by remitting part of the agreed-upon compensation, and (b) to the obligation of the state treasury (bayt al-mal) to finance the freeing of slaves in accordance with the Quranic principle - enunciated in 9: 60 - that the revenues obtained through the obligatory tax called zakah are to be utilized, among other purposes, “for the freeing of human beings from bondage” (fi r-riqab, an expression explained in note on 2: 177). Hence, Zamakhshari holds that the above clause is addressed not merely to persons owning slaves but to the community as a whole - The expression “the wealth of God” contains an allusion to the principle that “God has bought of the believers their lives and their possessions, promising them paradise in return” (9: 111) - implying that all of man’s possessions are vested in God, and that man is entitled to no more than their usufruct.]

PROHIBITION OF CONCUBINAGE

(33) And do not, in order to gain [Lit., “so that you might seek out” or “endeavour to attain to”.] some of the fleeting pleasures of this worldly life, coerce your [slave] maidens into whoredom if they happen to be desirous of marriage; [Lit., “if they desire protection against unchastity (tahassun)”, i.e., through marriage (cf. the expression muhsanat as used in 4: 24). Most of the classical commentators are of the opinion that the term fatayat (“maidens”) denotes here “slave-girls”: an assumption which is fully warranted by the context hence, the above verse reiterates the prohibition of concubinage by explicitly describing it as “whoredom” (bigha).] and if anyone should coerce them, then, verily, after they have been compelled [to submit in their helplessness], God will be much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace! (34) AND, INDEED, from on high have We bestowed upon you messages clearly showing the truth, and [many] a lesson from [the stories of] those who have passed away before you, and [many] an admonition to the God-conscious.

PARABLE OF LIGHT

(35) God is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The parable of His light is, as it were, [The particle ka (“as if” or “as it were”) prefixed to a noun is called kaf at-tashbih (“the letter kaf pointing to a resemblance [of one thing to another]” or “indicating a metaphor”). In the above context it alludes to the impossibility of defining God even by means of a metaphor or a parable - for, since “there is nothing like unto Him” (42: 11, there is also “nothing that could he compared with Him” (112:4). Hence, the parable of “the light of God” is not meant to express His reality - which is inconceivable to any created being and, therefore, inexpressible in any human language - but only to allude to the illumination which He, who is the Ultimate Truth, bestows upon the mind and the feelings of all who are willing to be guided. Tabari, Baghawi and lbn Kathir quote Ibn Abbas and lbn Masud as saying in this context: “It is the parable of His light in the heart of a believer.”] that of a niche containing a lamp; the lamp is [enclosed] in glass, the glass [shining] like a radiant star: [The “lamp’’ is the revelation which God grants to His prophets and which is reflected in the believer’s heart - the “niche” of the above parable (Ubayy ibn Kab, as quoted by Tabari) - after being received and consciously grasped by his reason (“the glass [shining brightly] like a radiant star”): for it is through reason alone that true faith can find its way into the heart of man.] [a lamp] lit from a blessed tree - an olive-tree that is neither of the east nor of the west [It would seem that this is an allusion to the organic continuity of all divine revelation which, starting like a tree from one “root” or proposition - the statement of God’s existence and uniqueness - grows steadily throughout man’s spiritual history, branching out into a splendid variety of religious experience, thus endlessly widening the range of man’s perception of the truth. The association of this concept with the olive-tree apparently arises from the fact that this particular kind of tree is characteristic of the lands in which most of the prophetic precursors of the Quranic message lived, namely, the lands to the east of the Mediterranean: but since all true revelation flows from the Infinite Being, it is “neither of the east nor of the west” - and especially so the revelation of the Quran, which, being addressed to all mankind, is universal in its goal as well.] - the oil whereof [is so bright that it] would well-nigh give light [of itself] even though fire had not touched it: light upon light! [The essence of the Quranic message is described elsewhere as “clear [in itself] and clearly showing the truth” (cf. note on 12: 1) and it is, I believe, this aspect of the Quran that the above sentence alludes to. Its message gives light because it proceeds from God; but it would well-nigh give light [of itself] even though fire had not touched it”: i.e., even though one may be unaware that it has been “touched by the fire” of divine revelation, its inner consistency, truth and wisdom ought to be self-evident to anyone who approaches it in the light of his reason and without prejudice.] God guides unto His light him that wills [to be guided];  [Although most of the commentators read the above phrase in the sense of “God guides unto His light whomever He wills”, Zamakhshari gives it the sense adopted in my rendering (both being syntactically permissible).] and [to this end] God propounds parables unto men, since God [alone] has full knowledge of all things. [I.e., because of their complexity, certain truths can be conveyed to man only by means of parables or allegories: see first and the last notes on 3: 7.]

WORSHIP OF GOD

(36) IN THE HOUSES [of worship] which God has allowed to be raised so that His name be remembered in them, [Lit., “and [ordained] that His name…”, etc.: implying, as the sequence shows, that the spiritual purpose of those houses of worship is fulfilled only by some, and not all, of the people who are wont to congregate in them out of habit.] there [are such as] extol His limitless glory at morn and evening - (37) people whom neither [worldly] commerce nor striving after gain [lit., “bargaining” or “selling” or “buying and selling” (bay) - a metonym for anything that might bring worldly gain.] can divert from the remembrance of God, and from con­stancy in prayer, and from charity: [For this rendering of the term zakah, see surah 2: 43.]                                                                               

FAITH AND GOOD DEEDS

(37) [people] who are filled with fear [at the thought] of the Day On which all hearts and eyes will be convulsed, (38) [and who only hope] that God may reward them in accordance with the best that they ever did, and give them, out of His bounty, more [than they deserve]: for, God grants sustenance unto whom He wills, beyond all reckon­ing. (39) But as for those who are bent on denying the truth, their [good] deeds are like a mirage in the desert, which the thirsty supposes to be water – until, when he approaches it, he finds that it was nothing: [I.e., he is bound to realize on Judgment Day that all his supposedly “good” deeds have been rendered worthless by his deliberate refusal to listen to the voice of truth (Zamakhshari and Razi).] instead, he finds [that] God [has always been present] with him, and [that] He will pay him his account in full - for God is swift in reckoning! (40) Or [else, their deeds are] [I.e., their bad deeds, as contrasted with their good deeds, which in the preceding verse have been likened to a mirage.] like the depths of darkness upon an abysmal sea, made yet more dark by wave billowing over wave, with [black] clouds above it all: depths of darkness, layer upon layer, [Lit., “one above another”.] [so that] when one holds up his hand, he can hardly see it: for he to whom God gives no light, no light whatever has he!

ALL CREATURES EXTOL GOD’S GLORY

(41) ART THOU NOT aware that it is God whose limit­less glory all [creatures] that are in the heavens and on earth extol, even the birds as they spread out their wings? [Cf. 17: 44 and the corresponding note.] Each [of them] knows indeed how to pray unto Him and to glorify Him; and God has full knowledge of all that they do: (42) for, God’s is the dominion over the heavens and the earth, and with God is all journeys’ end. (43) Art thou not aware that it is God who causes the clouds to move onward, then joins them together, then piles them up in masses, until thou can see rain come forth from their midst?  And He it is who sends down from the skies, by degrees, mountainous masses [of clouds] charged with hail, striking therewith whomever He wills and averting it from whomever He wills, [the while] the flash of His lightning well-nigh deprives [men of their] sight! (44) It is God who causes night and day to alter­nate: in this [too], behold, there is surely a lesson for all who have eyes to see!

EVOLUTION OF LIFE FROM WATER

(45) And it is God who has created all animals out of water; [See note on 21: 30. The term dabbah denotes every corporeal being endowed with both life and spontaneous movement; hence, in its widest sense, it comprises the entire animal world, including man.] and [He has willed that] among them are such as crawl on their bellies, and such as walk on two legs, and such as walk on four. God creates what He will: for, verily, God has the power to will anything. (46) INDEED, from on high have We bestowed messages clearly showing the truth; but God guides onto a straight way [only] him that wills [to be guided]. [Or: “God guides whomever He wills onto a straight way”. The rendering adopted by me in this instance seems preferable in view of the preceding, intensive stress on the evidence, forthcoming from all nature, of God’s creative, planning activity and the appeal to “all who have eyes to see” to let themselves be guided by this overwhelming evidence.]

VACILLATING BELIEVERS

(47) For, [many are] they [who] say, “We believe in God and in the Apostle, and we pay heed!” - but then, some of them turn away after this [assertion]: and these are by no means [true] believers. (48) And [so it is that] whenever they are summoned unto God and His Apostle in order that [the divine writ] might judge between them, [I.e., in order that the divine writ - which is implied in the preceding expression “God and His Apostle” - might determine their ethical values and, consequently, their social behaviour.] lo! some of them turn away; (49) but if the truth happens to be to their liking, they are quite willing to accept it! [Lit., “if the truth happens to be with them, they come to it willingly”: cf. 4: 60 - 61 and the corresponding notes.] (50) Is there disease in their hearts? Or have they begun to doubt [that this is a divine writ]? Or do they fear that God and His Apostle might deal unjustly with them? [I.e., by depriving them of what they choose to regard as “legitimate” liberties and enjoyments, or by supposedly preventing them from “keeping up with the times”. As in verses 47 and 48 (as well as in verse 51 below) the expression “God and His Apostle” is here a synonym for the divine writ revealed to the Apostle.] Nay, it is [but] they, they who are doing wrong [to themselves]! (51) The only response of believers, whenever they are summoned unto God and His Apostle in order that [the divine writ] might judge between them, can be no other than, [Lit., “The only saying of the believers…is that they say” - i.e., without any mental reservation. The term qawl (lit., “saying”) has here the sense of a genuine spiritual “response” in contrast to the mere lip-service alluded to in verse 47 above.] “We have heard, and we pay heed!”- and it is they, they who shall attain to a happy state: (52) for, they who pay heed unto God and His Apostle, and stand in awe of God and are conscious of Him, it is they, they who shall triumph [in the end]! (53) Now [as for those half-hearted ones,] they do swear by God with their most solemn oaths that if thou [O Apostle] shouldst ever bid them to do so, they would most certainly go forth [and sacrifice themselves]. [This is an allusion to the ephemeral, self-deceiving enthusiasms of the half-hearted and their supposed readiness for “self-sacrifice’’ contrasting with their obvious reluctance to live up to the message of the Quran in their day-to-day concerns.] Say: “Swear not! Reasonable compliance [with God’s message is all that is required of you]. [This elliptic phrase alludes to the principle - repeatedly stressed in the Quran - that God does not burden man with more than he can easily bear.] Verily, God is aware of all that you do!” (54) Say: “Pay heed unto God, and pay heed unto the Apostle.” And if you turn away [from the Apostle, know that] he will have to answer only for whatever he has been charged with, and you, for what you have been charged with; but if you pay heed unto him, you will be on the right way. Withal, the Apostle is not bound to do more than clearly deliver the message [entrust­ed to him].

SUCCESSORS ON EARTH

(55) God has promised those of you who have attained to faith and do righteous deeds that, of a certainty, He will cause them to accede to power on earth, [Lit., “cause them to be successors on earth” - i.e., enable them to achieve, in their turn, power and security and, thus, the capability to satisfy their worldly needs, this Quranic reference to God’s “promise” contains an oblique allusion to the God-willed natural law which invariably makes the rise and fall of nations dependent on their moral qualities.] even as He caused [some of] those who lived before them to accede to it; and that, of a certainty, He will firmly establish for them the religion which He has been pleased to bestow on them; [Cf. 5: 3 “I have willed that self-surrender unto Me (al-islam) shall be your religion”. Its firm establishment (tamkin) relates to the strengthening of the believers’ faith as well as to the growth of its moral influence in the world.] and that, of a certainty, He will cause their erstwhile state of fear to be replaced by a sense of security [Lit., “exchange for them, after their fear [or “danger”] security”. It is to be noted that the term amn signifies not merely outward, physical security but also - and, indeed, originally – “freedom from fear” (Taj al-Arus). Hence, the above clause implies not only a promise of communal security after an initial period of weakness and danger (which, as history tells us, overshadows the beginnings of every genuine religious movement), but also the promise of an individual sense of inner security - that absence of all fear of the Unknown, which characterizes a true believer. (See next note.)] - [seeing that] they worship Me [alone], not ascribing divine powers to aught beside Me. [I.e., the believer’s freedom from fear is a direct outcome of his intellectual and emotional refusal to attribute to anyone or anything but God the power to shape his destiny.] But all who, after [having understood] this, choose to deny the truth - it is they, they who are truly iniquitous! (56) Hence, [O believers,] be constant in prayer, and render the purifying dues, [The specific mention of the “purifying dues” (az-zakah) in this context is meant to stress the element of unselfishness as an integral aspect of true faith. According to Zamakhshari, the above verse connects with, and concludes, verse 54.] and pay heed unto the Apostle, so that you might be graced with God’s mercy. (57) [And] think not that those who are bent on denying the truth can elude [their final reckoning even if they remain unscathed] on earth: [For an explanation of the above sentence and the words interpolated by me, see note on a similar phrase in 11: 20.] the fire is their goal [in the life to come] - and vile indeed is such a journey’s end!

INDIVIDUAL’S RIGHT TO PRIVACY

(58) O YOU who have attained to faith! [In pursuance of the Quranic principle that the social and individual - as well as the spiritual and material - aspects of human life form one indivisible whole and cannot, therefore, be dealt with independently of one another, the discourse returns to the consideration of some of the rules of healthy social behaviour enunciated in the earlier parts of this surah. The following passage takes up and elaborates the theme of the individual’s right to privacy, already touched upon in verses 27 - 29 above.] At three times [of day], let [even] those whom you rightfully pos­sess, [Lit., “whom your right hands possess” - a phrase which, primarily and as a rule, denotes male and female slaves. Since, however, the institution of slavery is envisaged in the Quran as a mere historic phenomenon that must in time be abolished (cf. notes on verse 33 of this surah, as well as note on 2 : 177), the above expression may also he understood as referring, in general, to one’s close dependants and to domestic servants of either sex. Alternatively, the phrase ma malakat aymanukum may denote, in this context, “those whom you rightfully possess through wedlock”, i.e., wives and husbands (cf. 4: 24 and the corresponding note).] as well as those from among you who have not yet attained to puberty, [I.e., all children, irrespective of whether they are related to one or not.] ask leave of you [before intruding upon your privacy]: before the prayer of daybreak, and whenever you lay aside your garments in the middle of the day, and after the prayer of nightfall: [The term zahirah (lit., “midday” or, occasionally, “heat of midday”), which occurs in the Quran only in this one instance, may have been used metonymically in the sense of “day-time” as contrasted with the time after the prayer of nightfall and before the prayer of daybreak: hence my tentative rendering as “middle of the day”.] the three occasions on which your nakedness is likely to be bared. [Lit., “three [periods] of nakedness (thalath awrat) for you”. This phrase is to be understood both literally and figuratively. Primarily, the term awrah signifies those parts of a mature person’s body which cannot in decency be exposed to any but one’s wife or husband or, in case of illness, one’s physician. In its tropical sense, it is also used to denote spiritual “nakedness”, as well as situations and circumstances in which a person is entitled to absolute privacy. The number “three” used twice in this context is not, of course, enumerative or exclusive, but is obviously meant to stress the recurrent nature of the occasions on which even the most familiar members of the household, including husbands, wives and children, must respect that privacy.] Beyond these [occasions], neither you nor they will incur any sin if they move [freely] about you, attending to [the needs of] one another. In this way God makes clear unto you His mes­sages: for God is all-knowing, wise! (59) Yet when the children among you attain to puberty, let them ask leave of you [at all times], even as those [who have reached maturity] before them have been enjoined to ask it. [Lit., “have asked it”: a reference to the injunction laid down in verses 27-28 above. My interpolation, between brackets, of the phrase “who have reached maturity” is based on Zamakhshari’s interpretation of the words “those before them”.] In this way God makes clear unto you His mes­sages: for God is all-knowing, wise!

PRINCIPLE OF MODESTY (exception to the rule)

(60) AND [This conjunction is, I believe, meant to indicate that the verse which it introduces is connected with certain previously revealed passages, namely, verse 31 above and 33: 59, both of which allude to the principle of modesty to he observed by Muslim women in the matter of dress: hence, it must be regarded as a separate “section”.] [know that] women advanced in years, who no longer feel any sexual desire, [Lit., “who do not desire [or “hope for”] sexual intercourse” - the latter evidently being the meaning of nikah in this context. Although this noun, as well as the verb from which it is derived, is almost always used in the Quran in the sense of “marriage” or “marrying”, there are undoubtedly exceptions from this general rule: for instance, the manner in which the verbal form yankihu is used in verse 3 of this surah (see the corresponding note above). These exceptions confirm the view held by some philologists of great renown e.g., al-jawhari or Al-Azhari (the latter quoted in the Lisan al-Arab), to the effect that “in the speech of the Arabs, the original meaning of nikah is sexual intercourse (al-wat)”.] incur no sin if they discard their [outer] garments, provided they do not aim at a showy display of [their] charms. But [even so,] it is better for them to abstain [from this]: and God is all-hearing, all-knowing.

MUTUAL CHARITY, COMPASSION AND GOOD-FELLOWSHIP

(61) [ALL OF YOU, O believers, are brethren: hence.] [The whole of verse 61 is construed in so highly elliptic a form that disagreements as to its purport have always been unavoidable. However, if all the explanations offered by the early commentators are taken into consideration, we find that their common denominator is the view that the innermost purport of this passage is a stress on the brotherhood of all believers, expressed in a call to mutual charity, compassion and good-fellowship and, hence, the avoidance of all unnecessary formalities in their mutual relations.] no blame attaches to the blind, nor does blame attach to the lame, nor does blame attach to the sick [for accepting charity from the hale], and neither to your­selves for eating [whatever is offered to you by others, whether it be food obtained] from your [chil­dren’s] houses, [In the consensus of all the authorities, the expression “your houses” implies in this context also “your children’s houses”, since all that belongs to a person maybe said to belong, morally, to his parents as well.] or your fathers’ houses, or your mothers’ houses, or your brothers’ houses, or your sisters’ houses, or your paternal uncles’ houses, or your paternal aunts’ houses, or your maternal uncles’ houses, or your maternal aunts’ houses, or [houses] the keys whereof are in your charge! [I.e., “for which you are responsible”.] or [the house] of any of your friends; nor will you incur any sin by eating in company or separately. But whenever you enter [any of these] houses, greet one another with a blessed, goodly greeting, as enjoined by God. In this way God makes clear unto you His mes­sages, so that you might [learn to] use your reason.

LOYAL OPPOSITION

(62) [TRUE BELIEVERS are only they who have attained to faith in God and His Apostle, and who, whenever they are [engaged] with him upon a matter of concern to the whole community [lit., “a uniting [or “collective”] matter” (amr jami). The personal pronoun in “with him” relates to the Apostle and, by analogy, to every legitimate leader (imam) of the Muslim community acting in accordance with the spirit of the Quran and the Prophet’s life-example.] do not depart [from whatever has been decided upon] unless they have sought [and obtained] his leave. [I.e., his permission to abstain, for valid reasons, from participating in a course of action or a policy agreed upon by the majority of the community (amma ijtama u lahu min al-amr: Tabari). In a logical development of this principle we arrive at something like the concept of a “loyal opposition”, which implies the possibility of dissent on a particular point of communal or state policy combined with absolute loyalty to the common cause.] Verily, those who [do not abstain from the agreed ­upon action unless they] ask leave of thee - it is [only] they who [truly] believe in God and His Apostle! Hence, when they ask leave of thee for some [valid] reason of their own, grant thou this leave to whomsoever of them thou choose [to grant it], [I.e., after weighing the reasons advanced by the individual or the individuals concerned against the interests of the society as a whole.] and ask God to forgive them: for, behold, God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace! [The statement that “God is much-forgiving” obviously implies that an avoidance of “asking leave” to abstain from participation in an agreed-upon course of action is, under all circumstances morally preferable (Zamakhshari).]

THE APOSTLE’S SUMMONS

(63) DO NOT regard the Apostles summons to you [I.e., his summons to God’s message in general, spoken of in verses 46-54 above, as well as to a particular course of communal action, referred to in verse 62. Alternatively, “the Apostles summons” may, in this context, be synonymous with the Quran itself.] [in the same light] as a summons of one of you to another: God is indeed aware of those of you who would withdraw surreptitiously: so let those who would go against His bidding beware, lest a [bitter] trial befall them [in this world] or grievous suffering befall them [in the life to come]. (64) Oh, verily, unto God belongs all that is in the heavens and on earth: well does He know where you stand and at what you aim! [Lit., “well does He know upon what you are”: i.e., “what your beliefs are and what moral principles govern your attitudes and actions”.] And one Day, all [who have ever lived] will be brought back unto Him, and then He will make them [truly] understand all that they were doing [in life]: for, God has full knowledge of everything. 

THE TWENTY-FIFTH SURAH

AL-FURQAN (THE STANDARD OF TRUE AND FALSE)

MECCA PERIOD

There is little doubt that this surah belongs to the middle group of Meccan revelations, and is almost contemporaneous with Maryam (which can be placed chronologically in the fifth or the beginning of the sixth year of the Prophets mission).

The title by which it has always been known - Al-Furqan - pithily circumscribes the main theme of this surah namely the statement that it is the innermost purport of every divine revelation to provide man with a stable criterion of true and false or right and wrong and, thus with a standard of moral valuation binding on the individual and on the society. Consequent upon this proposition is the stress on the humanness of every apostle sent by God to man (verse 20), in rebuttal of the false argument that the Quran could not have been God-inspired inasmuch as Muhammad was but a mortal human being who shared the physical needs of all other mortals and took part in all normal human activities (verses 7-8).

By implication, the revelation of the divine writ is shown as belonging to the same majestic order of Gods creative activity as all the visible phenomena of nature (see, e.g., verses 2, 45-54, 61-62, etc.). But men do not easily submit to this divine guidance; hence, on the Day of Judgment the Prophet himself will point out that many of his own followers had come to regard this Quran as something [that ought to be] discarded (verse 30): a statement of particular significance for our time.

IN THE NAME OF GOD, THE MOST GRACIOUS, THE DISPENSER OF GRACE:

FUTILITY OF WORSHIPPING IDOLS

(1) Hallowed is He who from on high, step by step, has bestowed upon His servant the standard by which to discern the true from the false, [Almost all the commentators give this meaning to the term al-furqan. In the above context it denotes the Quran as well as the phenomenon of divine revelation as such. (For an amplified interpretation of this term by Muhammad Abduh see note on 2: 53.) The verbal form nazzala implies gradualness both in time (“successively”) and in method (“step by step”).] so that to all the world it might be a warning: (2) He to whom the dominion over the heavens and the earth belongs, and who begets no offspring, [See note on 17: 111.]  and has no partner in His dominion: for it is He who creates every thing and determines its nature in accordance with [His own] design. [I.e., in accordance with the function assigned by Him to each individual thing or phenomenon: cf. the oldest formulation of this idea in 87: 2 -3.] (3) And yet, some choose to worship, instead of Him, imaginary deities that cannot create anything but are themselves created, [I.e., whether they be inanimate “representations” of imaginary deities, or personified forces of nature, or deified human beings, or simply figments of the imagination.] and have it not within their power to avert harm from, or bring benefit to, themselves, and have no power over death, nor over life, nor over resurrection!

QURAN AS PLAGIARIZED VERSION OF BIBLE

(4) Moreover, those who are bent on denying the truth are wont to say, “This [Quran] is nothing but a lie, which he [himself] has devised with the help of other people, [Implying that the Quran, or most of it, is based on Judaeo-Christian teachings allegedly communicated to Muhammad by some unnamed foreigners (cf. 16: 103 and the corresponding notes) or, alternatively, by various Arab converts to Judaism or Christianity; furthermore, that Muhammad had either deceived himself into believing that the Quran was a divine revelation, or had deliberately - knowing that it was not so - attributed it to God.] who thereupon have perverted the truth and brought a falsehood into being.” [Lit., “and thus, indeed, have they come with [or “brought”] a perversion of the truth” [which obviously is the meaning of zulm  in this context] “and a falsehood’’. Whereas it is generally assumed that this clause constitutes a Quranic rebuttal of the malicious allegation expressed in the preceding clause, I am of the opinion that it forms part of that allegation, making the mythical “helpers” of Muhammad co-responsible, as it were, for the “invention” of the Quran.] (5) And they say, “Fables of ancient times which he has caused to be written down, so that they might be read out to him at morn and evening!” [Because his contemporaries knew it that he was unlettered (ummi) and could not read and write.] (6) Say [O Muhammad]: “He who knows all the mysteries of the heavens and the earth has bestowed from on high this [Quran upon me]! Verily, He is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace!”

EXPECTATION OF SUPERNATURAL POWERS FROM PROPHET

(7) Yet they say: What sort of apostle is this [man] who eats food [like all other mortals] and goes about in the market places? Why has not an angel [visibly] been sent down unto him, to act as a warner together with him?” (8) Or: “[Why has not] a treasure been granted to him [by God]?” Or: “He should [at least] have a [bountiful] garden, so that he could eat thereof [without effort]!” [A sarcastic allusion to the “gardens of paradise” of which the Quran so often speaks. (Cf. 13: 38 and the corresponding notes; also 5: 75 and 21: 7 - 8.)] And so these evildoers say [unto one another], “If you were to follow [Muhammad, you would follow] but a man bewitched!” (9) See to what they liken thee, [O Prophet, simply] because they have gone astray and are now unable to find a way to the truth]! (10) Hallowed is He who, if it be His will, shall give thee something better than that [whereof they speak] - gardens through which running waters flow - and shall assign to thee mansions [of bliss in the life to come].

DENIAL OF RESURRECTION DAY

(11) But nay! It is [the very coming of] the Last Hour to which they give the lie! However, for such as give the lie to [the announce­ment of] the Last Hour We have readied a blazing flame: (12) when it shall face them from afar, they will hear its angry roar and its hiss; [Lit., “When it shall see them from a far-off place”: a metaphorical allusion, it would seem, to the moment of their death on earth. As in many other instances, we are given here a subtle verbal hint of the allegorical nature of the Quranic descriptions of conditions in the life to come by a rhetorical “transfer” of man’s faculty of seeing to the object of his seeing: a usage which Zamakhshari explicitly characterizes as metaphorical (ala sabil al-majaz).] (13) and when they are flung, linked [all] together, into a tight space within, they will pray for extinction there and then! [For a tentative explanation of the allegory of the sinners’ being “linked together” in hell, see my note on 14: 49. As regards the “tight space” into which they will be flung, Zamakhshari remarks: “Distress is accompanied by [a feeling of] constriction, just as happiness is accompanied by [feeling of] spaciousness; and because of this, God has described paradise as being ‘as vast as the heavens and the earth’ [3:133].” (14) [But they will be told:] “Pray not today for one single extinction, but pray for many extinctions!” [Although the concept of “extinction” (thubur) implies finality and is, therefore, unrepeatable, the sinners’ praying for “many extinctions” is used here as a metonym for their indescribable suffering and a corresponding, indescribable desire for a final escape.] (15) Say: “Which is better - that, or the paradise of life abiding which has been promised to the God-conscious as their reward and their journey’s end - (16) a promise given by thy Sustainer, [always] to be prayed for?”

DIALOGUE BETWEEN GOD AND DEIFIED BEINGS ON JUDGMENT DAY

(17) BUT [as for people who are oblivious of thy Sus­tainer’s oneness -] [This passage connects elliptically with verse 3 above.] one Day He will gather them together with all that they [now] worship instead of God, and will ask [those to whom divinity was falsely ascribed]: [The rhetorical “question” which follows is obviously addressed to wrongfully deified rational beings - i.e., prophets or saints - and not, as some commentators assume, to lifeless idols which, as it were, “will be made to speak”.] “Was it you who led these My creatures astray, or did they by themselves stray from the right path?” (18) They will answer: “Limitless art Thou in Thy glory! It was inconceivable for us to take for our masters anyone but Thyself! [Sc., “and so it would have been morally impossible for us to ask others to worship us”. On the other hand, Ibn Kathir understands the expression “for us” (lana) as denoting “us human beings” in general, and not merely the speakers - in which case the sentence could be rendered thus: “It is not right for us [human beings] to take…”, etc. In either case, the above allegorical “question-and-answer” - repeated in many variations throughout the Quran - is meant to stress, in a dramatic manner, the moral odiousness and intellectual futility of attributing divine qualities to any being other than God.] But [as for them -] Thou didst allow them and their forefathers to enjoy [the pleasures of] life to such an extent that  [This is the meaning of hatta (lit., “till” or “until”) in the present context.] they forgot all remembrance [of Thee]: for they were people devoid of all good.” (19) [Thereupon God will say:] “And now, they [whom you regarded as divine] have given the lie to all your [past] assertions, and you can neither ward off [your punishment] nor obtain any succour! For, whoever of you has committed [such] evil, him shall We cause to taste great suffering!”

APOSTLES AS MORTAL MEN

(20) AND [even] before thee, [O Muhammad,] We never sent as Our message-bearers any but [mortal men] who indeed ate food [like other human beings] and went about in the market places: for [it is thus that] We cause you [human beings] to be a means of testing one another. [This elliptic passage undoubtedly alludes to the fact that the appearance of each new prophet had, as a rule, a twofold purpose: firstly, to convey a divinely-inspired ethical message to man, and thus to establish a criterion of right and wrong or a standard by which to discern the true from the false al-furqan, as stated in the first verse of this surah; and, secondly, to be a means of testing men’s moral perceptions and dispositions as manifested in their reactions to the prophets message - that is, their willingness or unwillingness to accept it on the basis of its intrinsic merit, without demanding or even expecting any “supernatural” proof of its divine origin. Indirectly, in its deepest sense, this passage implies that not only a prophet but every human being is, by virtue of his social existence, a means whereby the moral qualities of his fellow-men are put to a test: hence, some of the earliest commentators (among then, Tabari) give to the above phrase the connotation of “We caused you human beings to be a means of testing one another”.] Are you [I.e., “you men” or, more specifically, “you whom the message of the Quran has reached”.] able to endure [this test] with patience? For [remember, O man,] thy Sustainer is truly all-seeing! (21) But those who do not believe that they are destined to meet Us are wont to say, [lit., “who do not hope for [i.e., expect] a meeting with Us”: the implication being that they do not believe in resurrection and consequently, do not expect to be judged by God in after-life.] “Why have no angels been sent down to us?” – or, “Why do we not see our Sustainer?” Indeed, they are far too proud of themselves, hav­ing rebelled [against God’s truth] with utter disdain!

JUDGMENT DAY

(22) [Yet] on that Day - the Day on which they shall see the angeels [I.e., on judgment Day, when “all will have been decided” (cf. 6: 8).] - there will be no glad tiding for those who were lost in sin; and they will exclaim, “By a forbidding ban [are we from God’s grace debarred]!” - (23) for We shall have turned towards all the [supposedly good] deeds they ever wrought, and shall have transformed them into scattered dust - (24) [whereas] on that same Day those who are destined for paradise will be graced with the best of abodes and the fairest place of repose. [Lit., “will be happiest as regards their abode, and best as regards their place of repose”.] (25) And on the Day on which the skies, together with the clouds, shall burst asunder, and the angels are made to descend in a mighty descent - (26) on that Day [it will become obvious to all that] true sover­eignty belongs to the Most Gracious [alone]: hence, a Day of distress will it be for all who deny the truth, (27) and a Day on which the evildoer will bite his hands [in despair], exclaiming: “Oh, would that I had followed the path shown to me by the apostle! [Lit., “taken a path with the apostle”. The terms “the apostle” and “the evildoer” are here obviously used in their generic sense, applying to all of God’s apostles and all who consciously reject their guidance. Similarly, the expression “so-and-so” (fulan) occurring in the next verse circumscribes any person or personified influence responsible for leading a human being astray.] (28) Oh, woe is me! Would that I had not taken so-and-so for a friend! (29) Indeed, he led me astray from the remembrance [of God] after it had come unto me!” For [thus it is:] Satan is ever a betrayer of man. [For the implication of the term “Satan” as used here, see note on 2: 14, first half of note on 15: 17, as well as note on 14: 22.]

DISCARDING OF QURAN BY NOMINAL FOLLOWERS

(30) AND [on that Day] the Apostle will say: [My interpolation of the words “on that Day” and the (linguistically permissible) attribution of futurity to the past-tense verb qala is based on the identical interpretation of the above phrase by great commentators like Abu Muslim (as quoted by Razi) or Baghawi.] “O my Sustainer! Behold, [some of] my people have come to regard this Quran as something [that ought to be] discarded!” [I.e., as mere wishful thinking and, therefore, of no account, or as something that in the course of time has “ceased to be relevant”. Since many of those whom the message of the Quran has reached did and do regard it as a divine revelation and therefore as most “relevant” in every sense of the word, it is obvious that the expression “my people” cannot possibly denote here all of the Prophet’s community (either in the national or in the ideological sense of this word), but signifies only such of his nominal followers as have lost all real faith in the Quranic message: hence the necessity of interpolating the (elliptically implied) words “some of” before “my people”.] (31) For so it is that against every prophet We have set up enemies from among those who are lost in sin: [Cf. 6: 112, which refers in very similar terms to the evil forces (shayatin) against which every prophet has had to contend. The “glittering half-truths meant to delude the mind” spoken of in that verse are exemplified in the present passage, prophetically, by the deceptive argument that the Quran, having been enunciated fourteen centuries ago, must now be considered “obsolete”.] yet none can guide and give succour as thy Sustainer does!

QURAN AS ONE CONSISTENT WHOLE

(32) Now they who are bent on denying the truth are wont to ask. “Why has not the Quran been bestowed on him from on high in one single re­velation?” [Lit., “in one piece” or “as one statement” (jumlatan wahidatan) - implying, in the view of the opponents of Islam, that the gradual, step-by-step revelation of the Quran points to its having been “composed” by Muhammad to suit his changing personal and political requirements.] [it has been revealed] in this manner so that We might strengthen thy heart thereby - for We have so arranged its component parts that they form one consistent whole - [I.e., free of all inner contradictiions (cf. 4: 82). See also 39: 23, where the Quran is spoken of as “fully consistent within itself”. The concise phrase rattalnahu tartilan comprises the parallel concepts of “putting the component parts [of a thing] together and arranging them well” as well as “endowing it with inner consistency”. Inasmuch as full consistency and freedom from contradic­tions in a message spread over twenty-three years of a life as full of movement and drama as that of the Prophet does give a clear indication of its God-inspired quality, it is bound to strengthen the faith of every thinking believer: and herein lies, according to the Quran itself, the deepest reason for its slow, gradual revelation. (When applied to the reciting of the Quran - as in 73: 4 - the term tartil refers to the measured diction and the thoughtful manner in which it ought to be enunciated.)] (33) and [that] they [who deny the truth] might never taunt thee with any deceptive half-truth [Lit., “come to thee with a parable (mathal)”- i.e., with all manner of seemingly plausible parabolic objections (exemplified in verses 7 - 8, 21 and 32 of this surah as well as in many other places in the Quran) meant to throw doubt on Muhammad’s claim to prophethood and, hence, on the God-inspired character of the Quranic message.] without Our conveying to thee the [full] truth and [providing thee] with the best explanation. [Sc., “of the problem or problems involved”: an allusion to the self-explanatory character of the Quran. Throughout this section (verses 30 - 34) the personal pronoun “thou” (in the forms ‘‘thy” and ‘thee’’) relates not only to the Prophet but also to every one of his followers at all times.] (34) [And so, tell those who are bent on denying the truth that] they who shall be gathered unto hell upon their faces – [I.e., in utter spiritual abasement (Razi, mentioning some other commentators as well).] it is they who [in the life to come] will be worst in station and still farther astray from the path [of truth]! [Cf. 17: 72 and the corresponding note.]

ENEMIES AGAINST EVERY PROPHET

(35) AND, INDEED, [long before Muhammad] We vouchsafed revelation unto Moses, and appointed his brother Aaron to help him to bear his burden; [For this rendering of the term wazir, see note on 20: 29. The mention, at this place, of Moses and Aaron - and of Noah, etc., in the following verses - is intended to remind us of the statement in verse 31 above that “against every prophet We have set up enemies from among those who are lost in sin”.] (36) and We said, “Go you both unto the people who have given the lie to Our messages!” - and thereupon We broke those [sinners] to smithereens. (37) And [think of] the people of Noah: when they gave the lie to [one of] the apostles, We caused them to drown, and made them a symbol for all mankind: for, grievous suffering have We readied for all who [knowingly] do wrong! (38) And [remember how We punished the tribes of] Ad and Thamud and the people of Ar-Rass, [Regarding the tribes of Ad and Thamud, see surah 7, notes on verse 65 and 73. As for Ar-Rass, a town of that name exists to this day in the Central-Arabian province of Al-Qasim; in the ancient times referred to, it seems to have been inhabited by descendants of the Nabataean tribe of Thamud (Tabari). There is however, no agreement among the commentators as to the real meaning of this name or designation; Razi cites several of the current, conflicting interpretations and rejects all of them as purely conjectural.] and  many generations [of sinners] in-between: (39) and unto each of them did We proffer lessons [Sc., “which they failed to heed”. For my rendering of mathal, in this context, as “lesson”, see note on 7: 89.] and each of them did We destroy with utter destruction. (40) And they [who now deny Our messages] must surely have come across that town which was rained upon by a rain of evil: [A reference to Sodom and its destruction by a rain of “stone-hard blows of chastisement pre-ordained” (see 11: 82 and the corresponding note). The phrase “they have come across” may be understood in either of two ways: (a) in its literal sense of chancing upon” or “passing by”, in which case it applies to the Prophet’s contemporaries and opponents, the pagan Meccans, whose customary caravan route to Syria passed close by the Dead Sea and the probable site of Sodom and Gomorrah; or (b) in the tropical sense of “becoming aware [of something]” through reading or hearsay - in which case it may be taken to refer to people of all times, and to the fact that the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is part and parcel of mankind’s moral heritage.] have they, then, never beheld it [with their minds eye]? But nay, they would not believe in resurrection! [Lit., “they were wont not to look forward to (i.e., to expect or believe in) resurrection”.] (41) Hence, whenever they consider thee, [O Muhammad,] they but make thee a target of their mockery, [saying:] “Is this the one whom God has sent as an apostle? (42) Indeed, he would well-nigh have led us astray from our deities, had we not been [so] steadfastly attached to them!” But in time, when they see the suffering [that awaits them], they will come to know who it was that went farthest astray from the path [of truth]! (43) Hast thou ever considered [the kind of man] who makes his own desires his deity? Couldst thou, then, [O Prophet,] be held responsible for him? (44) Or dost thou think that most of them listen [to thy message] and use their reason? Nay, they are but like cattle - nay, they are even less conscious of the right way! [Lit., “they are farther astray from the path [of truth]”: see note on 7: 179.] (45) Art thou not aware of thy Sustainer [through His works]? - how He causes the shadow to lengthen [towards the night] when, had He so willed, He could indeed have made it stand still: but then, We have made the sun its guide; (46) and then, [after having caused it to lengthen,] We draw it in towards Our­selves with a gradual drawing-in. [I.e., “We cause it to contract in accordance with the ‘laws of nature’ which We Ourselves have instituted.” As in so many other instances in the Quran, the abrupt change from the third-person pronoun “He” to “We” is meant to illustrate the fact that God is indefinable, and that it is only the inadequacy of human speech - and, hence, of the human mind - that makes it necessary to refer to the Supreme Being by pronouns which in reality are applicable only to finite, created persons”.] (47) And He it is who makes the night a garment for you, and [your] sleep a rest, and causes every [new] day to be a resurrection. (48) And He it is who sends forth the winds as a glad tiding of His coming grace; and [thus, too,] We cause pure water to descend from the skies, (49) so that We may bring dead land to life thereby, and give to drink thereof to many [beings] of Our creation, beasts as well as humans. (50) And, indeed, many times have We repeated [all] this unto men,* so that they might take it to heart: but most men refuse to be aught but ingrate. [*Lit., “have We turned it over (sarrafnahu) among them”: a reference to the frequent, many-faceted reiteration, in the Quran as well as in earlier revelations, of all the evidence unmistakably pointing to the existence of a conscious Creator (Zamakhshari.)

MUHAMMED AS LAST PROPHET

(51) Now had We so willed. We could have [con­tinued as before and] raised up a [separate] warner in every single community: [Sc., “but We have willed instead that Muhammad be Our last prophet and, hence, a warner unto all people for all times to come”.] (52) hence, do not defer to [the likes and dislikes of] those who deny the truth, but strive hard against them, by means of this [divine writ], with utmost striving.

GOD’S PLANNING CREATIVE­NESS

(53) AND HE it is who has given freedom of movement to the two great bodies of water – [The noun bahr, usually signifying “sea”, is also applied to large agglomerations of sweet water, like rivers, lakes, etc.; in the above context, the dual al-bahrayn denotes “the two great bodies [or “kinds”] of water” - the salty and the sweet - existing side by side on earth.] the one sweet and thirst-allaying, and the other salty and bitter - and yet has wrought between them a barrier and a forbidding ban. [I.e., has caused them - as if by an invisible barrier - to remain distinct in kind despite their continuous meeting and mingling in the oceans: an indirect reminder of God’s planning creative­ness inherent in the cyclic transformation of water - its evaporation from the salty seas, followed by a formation of clouds, their condensation into rain and snow which feed springs and rivers, and its return to the seas. Some Muslim mystics see in this stress on the two kinds of water an allegory of the gulf - and, at the same time, interaction - between man’s spiritual perceptions, on the one hand, and his worldly needs and passions, on the other.] (54) And He it is who out of this [very] water has created man, [See second half of 21: 30 where the creation of “every living thing out of water” is spoken of, as well as 24: 45, which mentions in this connection the entire animal world (including, of course, man).] and has endowed him with [the con­sciousness of] descent and marriage-tie: [I.e., has enabled him to attribute spiritual value to, and to derive strength from, his organic and social relationships.] for thy Sustainer is ever infinite in His power. (55) And yet, some people [lit., “they”.] worship, instead of God, things that can neither benefit them nor harm them: thus, he who denies the truth does indeed turn his back on his Sustainer! (56) Yet [withal, O Prophet,] We have sent thee only as a herald of glad tidings and a warner. (57) Say: “For this, no reward do I ask of you [- no reward] other than that he who so wills may unto his Sustainer find a way!” (58) Hence, place thy trust in the Living One who dies not, and extol His limitless glory and praise: for none is as aware as His creatures’ sins as He - (59) He who has created the heavens and the earth and all that is between them in six aeons, and is established on the throne of His almightiness: [See note on the first sentence of 7: 54.] the Most Gracious! Ask, then, about Him, [the] One who is [truly] aware. [I.e., “ask God Himself”: since He alone holds the keys to the mysteries of the universe, it is only by observing His creation and listening to His revealed messages that man can obtain a glimpse, however distant, of God’s Own reality.]  (60) Yet when they [who are bent on denying the truth! are told, “Prostrate yourselves before the Most Gracious.” they are wont to ask, “And [who and] what is the Most Gracious? Are we to prostrate ourselves before whatever thou biddest us [to worship]?’’ - and so [thy call] but increases their aversion,  (61) HALLOWED is He who has set up in the skies great constellations, and has placed among them a [radiant] lamp and a light-giving moon. [See 10: 5, where the sun is spoken of as “a [source of] radiant light”, explained in the corresponding note. For my rendering of buruj as “great constellations”, see note on 15: 16.]  (62) And He it is who causes the night and the day to succeed one another, [revealing Himself in His works] unto him who has the will to take thought - that is* has the will to be grateful. [*Lit., “or” (aw) - a particle which obviously does not denote here an alternative but, rather, an explanatory amplification, similar to the expression “in other words”.]

TRUE SERVANTS

(63) For, [true] servants of the Most Gracious are [only] they who walk gently on earth, and who, whenever the foolish address them, [Sc., “with the aim to ridicule them or to argue against their beliefs”.] reply with [words of] peace; (64) and who remember their Sustainer far into the night, prostrating themselves and standing; (65) and who pray: “O our Sustainer, avert from us the suffering of hell - for, verily, the suffering caused by it is bound to be a torment dire: (66) verily, how evil an abode and a station!” -; (67) and who, whenever they spend on others, [In the Quran, the verb anfaqa (and the corresponding noun nafaqah) has usually this connotation.] are neither wasteful nor niggardly but [remember that] there is always a just mean between those [two extremes];

(68) and who never invoke any [imaginary] deity side by side with God, and do not take any human beings life - [the life] which God has willed to be sacred - otherwise than in [the pursuit of] justice, [See surah 6 and last note on the verse 151.] and do not commit adultery. And [know that] he who commits aught thereof  [Lit., “he who does that (dhalika)”, i.e., any of the three sins referred to in this verse. (For my translation of zina as “adultery”, see surah 24: 2.)] shall [not only] meet with a full requital (69) [but] shall have his suffering doubled on Resurrection Day: for on that [Day] he shall abide in ignominy. (70) Excepted, however, shall be they who repent and attain to faith and do righteous deeds: for it is they whose [erstwhile] bad deeds God will transform into good ones - seeing that God is indeed much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace, (71) and seeing that he who repents and [thenceforth] does what is right has truly turned unto God by [this very act of] repent­ance. (72) And [know that true servants of God are only] those who never bear witness to what is false, [Implying that neither do they themselves ever bear false witness (i.e., in the widest sense of this expression, tell any lie), nor do they knowingly take part in anything that is based on falsehood (Razi.)] and [who], whenever they pass by [people engaged in] frivolity, pass on with dignity; (73) and who, whenever they are reminded of their Sustainer’s messages, do not throw themselves upon them [as if] deaf and blind; [Explaining this verse, Zamakhshari remarks that whereas the average run of people approach the divine writ with a mere outward show of eagerness, “throwing themselves upon it” for the sake of appearances but, in reality, not making the least attempt to understand the message as such and, hence, remaining deaf and blind to its contents - the truly God-conscious are deeply desirous of understanding it, and therefore “listen to it with wide-awake ears and look into it with seeing eyes.] (74) and who pray “O our Sustainer! Grant that our spouses and our offspring be a joy to our eyes, [I.e., by living a righteous life.] and cause us to be foremost among those who are conscious of Thee!”  (75) [Such as] these will be rewarded for all their patient endurance [in life] with a high station [in paradise], and will be met therein with a greeting of welcome and peace, (76) therein to abide: [and] how goodly an abode and [how high] a station! (77) SAY [unto those who believe]: “No weight or value would my Sustainer attach to you were it not for your faith [in Him]!” [Lit., “were it not for your prayer”, which term Ibn Abbas (as quoted by Tabari) equates in this context with “faith”.] [And say unto those who deny the truth:] “You have indeed given the lie [to God’s message], and in time this [sin] will cleave unto you!” [I.e., unless you repent, this sin will determine your spiritual destiny in the life to come”.]

THE TWENTY-SIXTH SURAH

ASH-SHUARA (THE POETS)

MECCA PERIOD

THE WORD, which suggested to the Companions of the Prophet the “title” of this surah, is found in verse 224. Some of the commentators are of the opinion that the last four verses (beginning with, this very key-word) were revealed at Medina, but all the available evidence shows that the entire surah belongs to the middle Mecca period, having been revealed about six or seven years before the Prophet’s hijrah. Similarly, there is no cogent reason to assume, as Suyuti does, that verse 197 belongs to the Medina period simply because it mentions the “learned men from among the children of Israel”, since references to the latter abound in many Meccan revelations.

The main purport of this surah lies in its stress on the unchanging character of man’s weakness and proneness to self-deception, which explains why the great majority of people, at all times and in all communities, so readily reject the truth - whether it be the truth of Gods messages or of self-evident moral values - and, in consequence, lose themselves in a worship of power, wealth or what is commonly described as “glory”, as well as in a mindless acceptance of slogans and prevailing fashions of thought.

IN THE NAME OF GOD, THE MOST GRACIOUS, TRUE DISPENSER OF GRACE: (1) Ta. Sin, Mim. The letters ta, sin and min, are among the mysterious, disjointed letter-symbols (al-­muqatta at) preceding some of the chapters of the Quran (see Appendix II).

FREE CHOICE IN FAITH

(2) THESE ARE MESSAGES of the divine writ, clear in itself and clearly showing the truth! [See surah 12:1.]  (3) Wouldst thou, perhaps, torment thyself to death [with grief] because they [who live around thee] refuse to believe [in it]? [See notes on 18: 6] (4) Had We so willed, We could have sent down unto them a message from the skies, so that their necks would [be forced to] bow down before it in humility. [Inasmuch as the spiritual value of man’s faith depends on its being an outcome of free choice and not of compulsion, the visible or audible appearance of a “message from the skies” would, by its very obviousness, nullify the element of free choice and, therefore, deprive man’s faith in that message of all its moral significance.] (5) [But We have not willed it:] and so, whenever there comes unto them any fresh reminder from the Most Gracious, they [who are blind of heart] always - turn their backs upon it: (6) thus, indeed, have they given the lie (to this message as well). But [in time] they will come to understand what it was that they were wont to deride! [See 6: 4 -5 and the corresponding note.] (7) Have they, then, never considered the earth - how much of every noble kind [of life] We have caused to grow thereon? (8) In this, behold, there is a message [unto men], even though most of them will not believe [in it]. (9) But, verily, thy Sustainer - He alone - is almighty, a dispenser of grace!  [The above two verses appear eight times, in this surah. Apart from the present instance, they conclude, like a refrain, each of the subsequent seven stories of earlier prophets, which by means of their, in places, almost identical phrasing - are meant to stress the essential identity of the ethical teachings of all the prophets, as well as to illustrate the statement, in verse 5, that a rejection of God’s messages is a recurrent phenomenon in the history of mankind despite the fact that His existence is clearly manifested in all living creation.]

MOSES AND PHARAOH

(10) HENCE, [remember how it was] when thy Sustainer summoned Moses: “Go unto those evil doing people. (11) the people of Pharaoh, who refuse to be con­scious of Me!”  [Lit., “Will they not be [or “become”] conscious (of me)?” Zamakhshari and Razi understand this rhetorical question in the sense apparent in my rendering, namely, as a statement of fact.] (12) He answered: “O my Sustainer! Behold, I fear that they will give me the lie, (13) and then my breast will be straitened and my tongue will not be free: send, then, [this Thy command] to Aaron. [Cf. 20: 25 - 34 and the corresponding notes. In the present context, stress is laid on the deep humility of Moses, who considered himself incapable of fulfilling the task for which he had been chosen, and asked God to entrust it to Aaron instead.] (14) Moreover, they keep a grave charge [pending] against me, and I fear that they will slay me.” [Sc., “and thus frustrate my mission”. This is a reference to Moses killing of the Egyptian, which was the cause of his subsequent flight from his native land (cf. 28:15 ff.)] (15) Said He: “Not so, indeed! Go forth, then, both of you, with Our messages: verify, We shall be with you, listening [to your call]! (16) And go, both of you, unto Pharaoh and say, ‘Behold, we bear a message from the Sustainer of all the worlds: (17) Let the children of Israel go with us!’” (18) [But when Moses had delivered his message, Pharaoh] said: “Did we not bring thee up among us when thou wert a child? And didst thou not spend among us years of thy [later] life? (19) And yet thou didst commit that [heinous] deed of thine, [lit., “thou didst commit thy deed which thou hast committed” - a construction meant to express the speaker’s utter condemnation of the deed referred to: hence, my interpolation of the word “heinous”. As regards the above allusions to Moses’ childhood and youth at Pharaoh’s court, the manslaughter committed by him, and his flight from Egypt, see 28: 4 - 22.] and [hast thus shown that] thou art one of the ingrate!”(20) Replied [Moses]: “I committed it while I was still going astray; (21) and I fled from you because I feared you. But [since] then my Sustainer has endowed me with the ability to judge [between right and wrong], and has made me one of [His] message-­bearers. [As is shown in 28: 15 -16, after having killed the Egyptian, Moses suddenly realized that he had committed a grievous sin (see also note on the last two sentences of 28: 15).] (22) And [as for] that favour of which thou so tauntingly remindest me - [was it not] due to thy having enslaved the children of Israel?” [See 28: 4 -5.] (23) Said Pharaoh: “And what [and who] is that ‘Sustainer of all the worlds’?’’ [A reference to the terms in which Moses was to - and apparently did - announce his mission (see verse 16 above).] (24) [Moses] answered: “[He is] the Sustainer of the heavens and the earth and all that is between them: if you would but [allow yourselves to] be convinced!” [Sc., “by the evidence of His creative will in all that exists”: this proposition being, I believe, the main reason for a repetition of the story of Moses in the present surah. (Cf. also verse 28 above.)] (25) Said [Pharaoh] unto those around him: “Did you hear [what he said]?” [Lit., “Do you not hear?” - a rhetorical question meant to convey astonishment, indignation or derision, which may be idiomatically rendered in translation as above.] (26) [And Moses] continued: “[He is] your Sus­tainer, [too,] as well as the Sustainer of your fore­fathers of old!” (27) [Pharaoh] exclaimed: “Behold, [this] your ‘apostle’ who [claims that he] has been sent unto you is mad indeed! (28) [But Moses] went on: “[He of whom I speak is] the Sustainer of the east and the west and of all that is between the two”- [Cf. 2: 115.] [as you would know] if you would but use your reason!” (29) Said [Pharaoh]: “Indeed, if thou choose to worship any deity other than me, I shall most cer­tainly throw thee into prison! [In the religion of ancient Egypt, the king (or “Pharaoh”, as each of the rulers was styled) represented an incarnation of the divine principle, and was considered to be a god in his own right. Hence, a challenge to his divinity implied a challenge to the prevalent religious system as a whole.] (30) Said he: “Even if I should bring about before thee something that clearly shows the truth?” [For this rendering of the term mubin, see note on 12: 1.] (31) [Pharaoh] answered: “Produce it, then, if thou art a man of truth!”(32) Thereupon [Moses] threw down his staff - and lo! it was a serpent, plainly visible; (33) and he drew forth his hand - and lo! it appeared [shining] white to the beholders. [See 7: 107-108 and the corresponding note, as well as 20: 22. 27:12 and 28:32.] (34) Said [pharaoh] unto the great ones around him: “Verily, this is indeed a sorcerer of great knowledge (35) who wants to drive you out of your land by his sorcery. [Cf. 7: 109-110 and the corresponding note.] What, then, do you advise?” (36) They answered: “Let him and his brother wait a while, and send unto all cities heralds (37) who shall assemble before thee all sorcerers of great knowl­edge” (38) And so the sorcerers were assembled at a set time on a certain day, (39) and the people were asked: Are you all present, (40) so that we might follow [in the footsteps of] the sorcerers if it is they who prevail?” [There is no doubt that these “sorcerers” were priests of the official Amon cult, in which magic played an important role. Thus, their victory over Moses would constitute a public vindication of the state religion.] (41) Now when the sorcerers came, they said unto Pharaoh: “Verily, we ought to have a great reward if it is we who prevail. [See note on 7: 113.] (42) Answered he: “Yea - and, verily, in that case you shall be among those who are near unto me. (43) [And] Moses said unto them: “Throw whatever you are going to throw!” (44) Thereupon they threw their [magic ropes and their staffs, and said: “By Pharaoh’s might, behold, it is we indeed who have prevailed!” [The reason for their premature sense of triumph is given in 7: 116 (“they cast a spell upon the people’s eyes, and struck them with awe”) and 20: 66-67 (“by virtue of their sorcery, their [magic] ropes and staffs seemed to him to be moving rapidly and in his heart, Moses became apprehen­sive”).] (45) [But] then Moses threw his staff - and lo! it swallowed up all their deceptions. [See note on 7: 117.] (46) And down fell the sorcerers, prostrating them­selves in adoration, (47) [and] exclaimed: “We have come to believe in the Sustainer of all the worlds, (48) the Sustainer of Moses and Aaron!” (49) Said [Pharaoh]: “Have you come to believe in him [See note on 7:123.] ere I have given you permission? Verily, he must be your master who has taught you magic! [I.e., he is so superior a sorcerer that he could be your teacher”.] But in time you shall come to know [my revenge]: most certainly shall I cut off your hands and your feet in great numbers, because of [your] perverseness, and shall most certainly crucify you in great numbers, all together!” [See notes on 5: 33, and note on 7: 24, which explain the repeated stress on “great numbers” in the above sentence.] (50) They answered: “No harm [canst thou do to us]: verily, unto our Sustainer do we turn! (51) Behold, we [but] ardently desire that our Sustainer forgive us our faults in return for our having been foremost among the believers!” (52) AND [there came a time when] [I.e., after the period of plagues with which the Egyptians were visited (cf. 7:130.)] We inspired Moses thus: “Go forth with My servants by night: for, behold, you will he pursued!” (53) And Pharaoh sent heralds unto all cities, (54) [bidding them to call out his troops and to proclaim:] “Behold, these [children of Israel] are but a contemptible band; [Lit., “a small band”: Zamakhshari, however, suggests that in this context the adjective qalilun is expressive of contempt, and does not necessarily denote “few in  numbers”.] (55) but they are indeed filled with hatred of us (56) seeing that we are, verily, a nation united, fully prepared against danger – [Thus the Quran illustrates the psychological truth that, as a rule, a dominant nation is unable really to understand the desire for liberty on the part of the group or groups which it oppresses and therefore attributes their rebelliousness to no more than unreasonable hatred and blind envy of the strong.] (57) and so we have [rightly] driven them out of [their] gardens and springs, (58) and [deprived them of their erstwhile] station of honour!” [This is apparently an allusion to the honourable state and the prosperity which the children of Israel had enjoyed in Egypt for a few generations after the time of Joseph - i.e., before a new Egyptian dynasty dispossessed them of their wealth and reduced them to the bondage from which Moses was to free them. In the above passage, Pharaoh seeks to justify his persecution of the Israelites by emphasizing their dislike (real or alleged) of the Egyptians.] (59) Thus it was: but [in the course of time] We were to bestow all these [things] as a heritage on the children of Israel. [This parenthetical sentence echoes the allusion in 7: 137, to the period of prosperity and honour, which the children of Israel were to enjoy in Palestine after their sufferings in Egypt. The reference to “heritage” is, in this and in similar contexts, a metonym for God’s bestowal on the oppressed of a life of well being and dignity.] (60) And so [the Egyptians] caught up with them at sunrise; (61) and as soon as the two hosts came in sight of one another, the followers of Moses exclaimed: “Behold, we shall certainly be overtaken [and defeated]!” (62) He replied: Nay indeed! My Sustainer is with me, [and] He will guide me!” (63) Thereupon We inspired Moses thus: Strike the sea with thy staff!”- whereupon it parted, and each part appeared like a mountain vast. [See 20: 77 and the corresponding note. Cf. also the Biblical account (Exodus xiv, 21), according to which “the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided”.] (64) And We caused the pursuers [Lit., the others”.] to draw near unto that place: (65) and We saved Moses and all who were with him, (66) and then We caused the others to drown. [From various indications in the Bible (in particular Exodus xiv, 2 and 9), it appears that the miracle of the crossing of the Red Sea took place at the northwestern extremity of what is known today as the Gulf of Suez. In those ancient times it was not as deep as it is now, and in some respects may have resembled the shallow part of the North Sea between the mainland and the Frisian Islands, with its total ebbs which lay bare the sandbanks and make them temporarily passable, followed by sudden, violent tides which submerge them entirely.] (67) In this [story] behold, there is a message [unto all men], even though most of them will not believe [in it]. (68) And yet, verily, thy Sustainer - He alone - is almighty, a dispenser of grace! [See note on verses 8 - 9.]

ABRAHAM

(69) And convey unto them [I.e., to the kind of people spoken of in verses 3 -5 of this surah.] the story of Abraham - (70) [how it was] when he asked his father and his people, “What is it that you worship?”

(71) They answered: We worship idols, and we remain ever devoted to them.” (72) Said he: “Do [you really think that] they hear you when you invoke them, (73) or benefit you or do you harm?” (74) They exclaimed: But we found our fore­fathers doing the same!” [The particle bal at the beginning of the sentence expresses astonishment. Thus, evading a direct answer to Abraham’s criticism of idol-worship, his people merely stress its antiquity, forgetting - as Zamakhshari points out - that “ancient usage and precedence in time are no proof of [a concept] soundness”. Razi, for his part, states that the above verse represents “one of the strongest [Quranic] indications of the immorality (fasad) inherent in [the principle of] taqlid”, i.e., the blind,

unquestioning adoption of religious concepts or practices on the basis of ones uncritical faith in no more than the “authority” of a scholar or religious leader.] (75)            Said [Abraham]: “Have you, then, ever con­sidered what it is that you have been worshipping - (76)       you and those ancient forebears of yours? (77) “Now [as for me, I know that,] verily, these [false deities] are my enemies, [and that none is my helper] save the Sustainer of all the worlds, (78) who has created me and is the One who guides me, (79) and is the One who gives me to eat and to drink, (80) and when I fall ill, is the One who restores me to health, (81) and who will cause me to die and then will bring me back to life - (82) and who, [hope, will forgive me my faults on Judgment Day! (83) “O my Sustainer! Endow me with the ability to judge [between right and wrong], and make me one with the righteous, (84) and grant me the power to convey the truth unto those who will come after me, [Lit., “grant me a language of truth among the others” or “the later ones”. For alternative interpretations of this phrase, see note on 19: 50.] (85) and place me among those who shall inherit the garden of bliss! (86) “And forgive my father - for, verily, he is among those who have gone astray – [Cf. 19: 47 - 48.] (87) and do not put me to shame on the Day when all shall be raised from the dead: [Sc., “by letting me see my father among the damned” (Zamakhshari).] (88) the Day on which neither wealth will be of any use, nor children, (89) [and when] only he [will be happy] who comes before God with a heart free of evil!” (90) For, [on that Day,] paradise will be brought within sight of the God-conscious, (91) whereas the blazing fire will be laid open before those who had been lost in grievous error; (92) and they will be asked: “Where now is all that you were wont to worship (93) instead of God?

[Or: “beside God’’. Whenever the relative pronoun ma (“that which” or “all that which”) is used in the Quran with reference to false objects of worship, it indicates not merely inanimate things (like idols, fetishes, supposedly “holy” relics, etc.) or falsely deified saints, dead or alive, but also forces of nature, real or imaginary, as well as man’s “worship” of wealth, power, social position, etc. (See also 10: 28-29 and the corresponding notes.)] Can these [things and beings] be of any help to you or to themselves?” (94) Thereupon they will be hurled into hell – [Lit., “into it”.] they, as well as all [others] who had been lost in grievous error, (95) and the hosts of Iblis - all together. [Cf. 2: 24 - “the fire whose fuel is human beings and stones” - and the corresponding note. The “hosts of Iblis” are the forces of evil (“satans”) frequently mentioned in the Quran in connection with man’s sinning (see note on 2: 14, the first half of note on 15: 17, as well as note on 19: 68; also cf. 19: 83 and the corresponding note.] (96) And there and then, blaming one another, [Lit., “while they quarrel with one another”.] they [who had grievously sinned in life] will exclaim: (97) “By God, we were most obviously astray (98) when we deemed you [false deities] equal to the Sustainer of all the worlds - (99) yet they who have seduced us [into believing in you] are the truly guilty ones!  [Lit., “yet none but those guilty ones (al-mujrimun) have led us astray”: cf. 7: 38, 33: 67 - 68, 38: 60 - 61 and the corresponding notes.] (100) And now we have none to intercede for us, (101) nor any loving friend. (102) Would that we had a second chance [in life], [Lit., “would that there were a return for us”. See also 6: 27-28 and the corresponding note.] so that we could be among the believers!”(103) In all this, behold, there is a message [unto men], even though most of them will not believe [in it]. (104) But, verily, thy Sustainer - He alone - is almighty, a dispenser of grace! [Sc., “and He may grant forgiveness to whomever He wills’’.]

NOAH

(105) The people of Noah [too] gave the lie to [one of God’s] message-bearers (106) when their brother Noah said unto them: “Will you not be conscious of God? (107) Behold, I am an apostle [sent by Him] to you, [and therefore] worthy of your trust: (108) be, then, conscious of God, and pay heed unto me! (109) “And no reward whatever do I ask of you for it: my reward rests with none but the Sustainer of all the worlds. (110) Hence, remain conscious of God, and pay heed unto me!” (111) They answered: “Shall we place our faith in thee, even though [only] the most abject [of people] follow thee?’’ [See note on 11: 27.] (112) Said he: “And what knowledge could I have as to what they were doing [before they came to me]? (113) Their reckoning rests with none but my Sus­tainer: if you could but understand [this]!  [This is obviously a retort to the unbeliever’ suggestion (elliptically implied here) that those “abject” followers of Noah had declared their faith in him, not out of conviction, but only in order to gain some material advantages. Noah’s answer embodies a cardinal principle of Quranic ethics and, hence, of Islamic 1aw: No human being has the right to sit in judgment on another person’s faith or hidden motives, whereas God knows what is in the hearts of men, society may judge only by external evidence (az-zahir), which comprises a person’s words as well as deeds. Thus if anyone says, “I am a believer”, and does not act or speak in a manner contradicting his professed faith, the community must consider him a believer.] (114) Hence, I shall not drive away [any of] those [who profess to be] believers; (115) I am nothing but a plain warner.” (116) Said they: “Indeed, if thou desist not, O Noah, thou wilt surely be stoned to death!” [Lit., “thou will surely be among those who are stoned (to death”.)] (117) [Whereupon] he prayed: “O my Sustainer! Behold, my people have given me the lie: (118) hence, lay Thou wide open the truth between me and them, [Or: “decide Thou with a [clear] decision between me and them”. My choice of the primary significance of iftah (“lay open”, i.e., the truth) has been explained in note on the last sentence of 7: 89.] and save me and those of the believers who are with me!” (119) And so We saved him and those [who were] with him in the fully-laden ark, (120) and then We caused those who stayed behind to drown. [The story of Noah and his people, as well as: of the Deluge, is given in greater detail in 11: 25-48.] (121) In this [story], behold, there is a message [unto men], even though most of them will not believe [in it]. [For the message specifically alluded to here, see verses 111-115 above.] (122) But, verily, thy Sustainer - He alone - is almighty, a dispenser of grace

AD

(123) [AND the tribe of] Ad gave the lie to [one of God’s] message-bearers (124) when their brother Hud said unto them: [See 7: 65 and the corresponding note.] “Will you not be conscious of God? (125) Behold, I am an apostle [sent by Him] to you, [and therefore] worthy of your trust: (126) be, then, con­scious of God, and pay heed unto me! (127) “And no reward whatever do I ask of you for it: my reward rests with none but the Sustainer of all the worlds. (128) “Will you, in your wanton folly, build [idola­trous] altars on every height, [The noun ayah, which primarily denotes “a sign” or “a token”, evidently refers here to the ancient Semitic custom of worshipping the tribal gods on hilltops, which were crowned to this end by sacrificial altars or monuments, each of them devoted to a particular deity: hence my rendering of ayah, in this particular context, as “altars” (in the plural).] (129) and make for yourselves mighty castles, [hoping] that you might become immortal? [The meaning could be either “hoping that you might live in them forever”, or “that you might gain immortal renown for having built them”.] (130) And will you [always], whenever you lay hand [on others], lay hand [on them] cruelly, without any restraint?  [The term jabbar, when applied to man, as a rule denotes one who is haughty, overhearing, exorbitant and cruel, and does not submit to any moral restraints in his dealings with those who are weaker than himself. Sometimes (as, e.g., in 11: 59 or 14: 15) this term is used to describe a person’s negative ethical attitude, and in that case it may be rendered as “enemy of the truth”. In the present instance, however, stress is laid on the tyrannical behaviour of the tribe of Ad, evidently relating to their warlike conflicts with other people: and in this sense it expresses a Quranic prohibition, valid for all times, of all unnecessary cruelty in warfare, coupled with the positive, clearly-implied injunction to subordinate every act of war - as well as the decision to wage war as such - to moral considerations and restraints.] (131) “Be, then, conscious of God and pay heed unto me: (132) and [thus] be conscious of Him who has [so] amply provided you with all [the good] that you might think of -[Lit., “with all that you know” or “that you are [or “might be”] aware of”.] (133) amply provided you with flocks, and children, (134) and gardens, and springs -: (135) for, verily, I fear lest suffering befall you on an awesome day!” (136) [But] they answered. “It is all one to us whether thou preachest [something new] or art not of those who [like to] preach. (137) This [religion of ours] is none other than that to which our forebears clung, [Lit., “the innate habit of the earlier people (al-awwalin)”. The noun khuluq denotes one’s “nature” in the sense of “innate disposition” tabiah) or “moral character” (Taj al-Arus); hence the use of this term to describe “that to which one clings”, i.e., one’s “innate habit” or “custom”, and, in a specific sense, one’s religion (ibid.).] (138) and we are not going to be chastised [for adhering to it]!” (139) And so they gave him the lie: and thereupon We destroyed them. In this [story], behold, there is a message [unto men], even though most of them will not believe [in it]. [The message referred to here is contained in verses 128 - 130, which point out the three cardinal sins resulting from man’s inordinate striving for power: worship of anything apart from God, self-admiring search for “glory”, and cruelty or harshness towards one’s fellow-men.] (140) But, verily, thy Sustainer - He alone - is almighty, a dispenser of grace!

THAMUD

(141) [AND the tribe of] Thamud gave the lie to [one of God’s] message-hearers (142) when their brother Salih said unto them: [For the story of Salih and the tribe of Thamud, see 7: 73 and the corresponding note; also, the version appearing in 11: 61- 68.] “Will you not be conscious of God? (143) Behold, I am an apostle [sent by Him] to you, [and therefore] worthy of your trust: (144) be, then, conscious of God, and pay heed unto me! (145) “And no reward whatever do I ask of you for it: my reward rests with none but the Sustainer of all the worlds. (146) “Do you think that you will be left secure [forever] in the midst of what you have here and now? – [Lit., “of what is here”, i.e., on earth. In the original, this question has a direct form, thus: “Will you be left secure…?”, etc.] (147) amidst [these] gardens and springs (148) and fields, and [these] palm-trees with slender spathes? - (149) and that you will [always be able to] hew dwellings out of the mountains with [the same] great skill?” [See note on 7: 74.] (150) “Be, then, conscious of God, and pay heed unto me, (151) and pay no heed to the counsel of those who are given to excesses - (152) those who spread corruption on earth instead of setting things to rights!” (153) Said they: “Thou art but one of the be­witched! (154) Thou art nothing but a mortal like our­selves! Come, then, forward with a token [of thy

mission] if thou art a man of truth!” [Tabari: “… that is to say, ‘with an indication (dalalah) and a proof that thou art to be trusted as regards thy claim that thou hast been sent to us by God’.”] (155) Replied he: “This she-camel [Cf. the second paragraph of 7: 73 – “This she-camel belonging to God shall be a token for you” - and the corresponding note, which explaiins that the “token” spoken of by Salih was to consist in the manner in which the tribe would treat the animal.] shall have a share of water, and you shall have a share of water, on the days appointed [therefor]; [Lit., “on a day appointed”, which may mean either “each on a day appointed” (i.e., by turns), or, more probably - because more in consonance with the tribal customs of ancient Arabia - “on the days appointed for the watering of camels”: implying that on those days the ownerless she-camel should receive a full share of water side by side with the herds and flocks belonging to the tribe.] (156) and do her no harm, lest suffering befall you on an awesome day!” (157) But they cruelly slaughtered her - and then they had cause to regret it: [Lit., “they became regretful”. For my rendering of aqaruha as “they cruelly slaughtered her”, see note on 7: 77.] (158) for the suffering [predicted by Salih,] befell them [then and there]. In this [story], behold, there is a message [unto men], even though most of them will not believe [in it]. [In my opinion, the specific message alluded to here relates, in the first instance, to the individual person’s emotional reluctance to visualize the limited, transitory character of his own life on earth (hinted at in verses 146 - l49 above) and, hence, the judgment that awaits everyone in the life to come; and, secondly, to the element of compassion for all other living beings as a basis of true morality.] (159) But, verily, thy Sustainer - He alone – is almighty, a dispenser of ggrace!

LOT

(160) [AND] the people of Lot gave the lie to [one of God’s] message-bearers [The story of Lot and the sinful people among whom he lived is narrated in greater detail in 11: 69-83.] (161) when their brother Lot said unto them: “Will you not be conscious of God? (162) Behold, I am an apostle [sent by Him] to you, [and therefore] worthy of your trust: (163) be, then, conscious of God, and pay heed unto me! (164) “And no reward whatever do I ask of you for it: my reward rests with none but the Sustainer of all the worlds. (165) “Must you, of all people, [lustfully] approach men, (166) keeping yourselves aloof from all the [lawful] spouses whom your Sustainer has created for you? Nay, but you are people who transgress all bounds of what is right!”(167) Said they: “Indeed, If thou desist not, O Lot, thou wilt most certainly be expelled [from this town­ship]!’’(168) [Lot] exclaimed: “Behold, I am one of those who utterly abhor your doings!” (169) [And then he prayed:] “O my Sustainer! Save me and my household from all that they are doing!” (170) Thereupon We saved him and all his household - (171) all but an old woman, who was among those that stayed behind; [As is evident from 7: 83, 11: 81, 27: 57 and 29: 32-33, the old woman was Lots’ wife - a native of Sodom - who chose to remain with her own people instead of accompanying her husband, whom she thus betrayed (cf. also 66:10).] (172) and then We utterly destroyed the others, (173) and rained down upon them a rain [of destruction]: [See 11: 82 and the corresponding note.] and dire is such rain upon all who let themselves be warned [to no avail]!  [Or, in the past tense: “dire was the rain upon those who had been warned” in which case this sentence would refer specifically to the sinful people of Sodom and Gomorrah. However it is much more probable that its purport is general (see note on the last sentence of

11: 83). Zamakhshari’s interpretation of the above sentence is analogous to mine.] (174) In this [story], behold, there is a message [unto men], even though most of them will not be­lieve [in it]. (175) But, verily, thy Sustainer - He alone - is almighty, a dispenser of grace!

PEOPLE OF MADYAN

(176) [AND] the dwellers of the wooded dales [of Madyan] gave the lie to [one of God’s] message-bearers (177) when their brother Shuayb said unto them: [See note on the first sentence of 7: 85. The story of Shuayb and the people of Madyan (the “wooded dales”) is given in greater detail in 11:84 - 95.] “Will you not be conscious of God? (178) Behold, I am an apostle [sent by Him] to you, [and therefore] worthy of your trust: (179) be, then, conscious of God, and pay heed unto me! (180) “And no reward whatever do I ask of you for it: my reward rests with none but the Sustainer of all the worlds. (181) “[Always] give full measure, and be not among those who [unjustly] cause loss [to others]; (182) and [in all your dealings] weigh with a true balance, (183) and do not deprive people of what is rightfully theirs; [Cf. see second note on 7: 85.] and do not act wickedly on earth by spreading corruption, (184) but be conscious of Him who has created you, just as [He created] those countless generations of old!” [An allusion to the ephemeral character of man’s life on earth and, by implication, to God’s judgment.] (185) Said they: “Thou art but one of the be­witched, (186) for thou art nothing but a mortal like ourselves! And, behold, we think that thou art a consummate liar! [Lit., “that thou art indeed one of the liars”.] (187) Cause, then, fragments of the sky to fall down upon us, if thou art a man of truth!” (188) Answered [Shuayb]: “My Sustainer knows fully well what you are doing.”(189) But they gave him the lie. And thereupon suffering overtook them on a day dark with shadows: [This may refer either to the physical darkness which often accompanies volcanic eruptions and earthquakes (which, as shown in 7: 91, overlook the people of Madyan), or to the spiritual darkness and gloom which comes in the wake of belated regrets.] and, verily, it was the suffering of an awesome day! (190) In this [story], behold, there is a message [unto men], even though most of them will not believe [in it]. (191) But, verily, thy Sustainer - He alone - is almighty, a dispenser of grace! [With this refrain ends the cycle of seven stories showing that spiritual truth in all its manifestations - whether it relates Io an intellectual realization of God’s existence to a refusal to regard power, wealth or fame as real values, or to the virtues of compassion and kindness towards all that lives on earth - has at all times been unacceptable to the overwhelming majority or mankind, and has always been submerged under the average man’s blindness and deafness of heart. The very repetition of phrases, sentences and situations in all of the above stories - or, rather, in the above versions of these oft-narrated stories - tends to bring home to us the fact that the human situation as such never really changes, and that, in consequence, those who preach the truth must always struggle against human greed, power-hunger and proneness to self-adulation.]

QURAN AS DIVINE INSPIRATION

(192) Now, behold, this [divine writ] has indeed been bestowed from on high by the Sustainer of all the worlds: [Thus the discourse returns to the theme enunciated at the beginning of this surah, namely, the phenomenon of divine revelation as exemplified in the Quran, and men’s reactions to it.] (193) trustworthy divine inspiration has alighted with it from on high (194) upon thy heart, [O Muhammad] [According to almost all the classical commentators, the expression ar-ruh al-amin (lit., “the faithful [or “trustworthy”] spirit”) is a designation of Gabriel, the Angel of Revelation, who, by virtue of his purely spiritual, functional nature, is incapable of sinning and cannot therefore, be other than utterly faithful to the trust reposed in him by God (cf. 16:50). On the other hand, since the term ruh is often used in the Quran in the sense of “divine inspiration” (see second note on 2: 87, and note on 6: 2), it may have this latter meaning in the above context as well, especially in view of the statement that it had “alighted from on high upon the head” of the Prophet.] so that thou mayest be among those who preach (195) in the clear Arabic tongue. [See 14: 4 – “never have We sent forth any apostle otherwise than (with a message) in his own people’s tongue” and the corresponding note. “That the message of the Quran is, nevertheless, universal has been stressed in many of its verses (e.g., in 7: 158 or 25: 1). The other prophets mentioned in the Quran who “preached in the Arabic tongue” were Ishmael, Hud, Salih and Shuayb, all of them Arabians. In addition, if we bear in mind that Hebrew and Aramaic are but ancient Arabic dialects, all the Hebrew prophets may be included among “those who preached in the Arabic tongue”.] (196) And, verily, [the essence of] this [revelation] is indeed found in the ancient books of divine wisdom [as well]. [Lit., “in the scriptures (zubur, sing. zabur) of the ancients” (see 21: 105). This interpretation of the above verse - advanced among others by Zamakhshari and Baydawi (and, according to the former, attributed to Imam Abu Hanifah as well) - is in full consonance with the oft-repeated Quranic doctrine that the basic teachings revealed to Muhammad are in their purport (manni) identical with those preached by the earlier prophets. Another, more popular inter­pretation is, “… this [Quran] has been mentioned [or “foretold”] in the earlier scriptures” (see in this connection note on 2: 42 and - with particular reference to a prediction made by Jesus – note on 61: 6.)] (197) Is it not evidence enough for them [I.e., for those who disbelieve in the prophethood of Muhammad.] that [so many] learned men from among the children of Israel have recognized this [as true]?  [Sc., “and in consequence have become Muslims”: for instance, Abd Allah ibn Salam, Kab ibn Malik and other learned Jews of Medina in the lifetime of the Prophet. Kab al-Ahbar the Yemenite and a number of his compatriots during the reign of Umar, and countless others throughout the world who embraced Islam in the course of centuries. The reason why only learned Jews and not learned Christians as well are spoken of in this context lies in the fact that - contrary to the Torah, which still exists, albeit in a corrupted form - the original revelation granted to Jesus has been lost (see 3: 4) and cannot, therefore, be cited in evidence of the basic identity of his teachings with those of he Quran.] (198) But [even] had We bestowed it from on high upon any of the non-Arabs, (199) and had he recited it unto them [in his own tongue], they would not have believed in it. [As the Quran points out in many places, most of the Meccan contemporaries of Muhammad refused in the beginning to believe in his prophethood on the ground that God could not have entrusted “a man from among themselves” with His message and this in spite of the fact that the Quran was expressed “in the clear Arabic tongue”, which they could fully understand: but (so the argument goes) if the Prophet had been a foreigner, and his message expressed in a non-Arabic tongue, they would have been even less prepared to accept it - for then they would have had the legitimate excuse that they were unable to understand it (cf. 41: 44).] (200) Thus have We caused this [message] to pass [unheeded] through the hearts of those who are lost in sin:  [I.e., not to take root in their hearts but to “go into one ear and out of the other”. As regards God’s “causing” this to happen, see surah 2: 7, and 14: 4.] (201) they will not believe in it till they behold the grievous suffering (202) that will come upon them [on resurrection,] all of a sudden, without their being aware [of its approach]; (203) and then they will exclaim, “Could we have a respite?” [I.e., a second chance in life.] (204) Do they, then, [really] wish that Our chas­tisement be hastened on?  [For this sarcastic demand of the unbelievers, see 6: 57 and 8: 32, as well as the correspond­ing notes; also verse 187 of the present surah.] (205) But hast thou ever considered [this]: If We do allow them to enjoy [this life] for some years, (206) and thereupon that [chastisement] which they were promised befalls them - (207) of what avail to them will be all their past enjoyments? (208) And withal, never have We destroyed any community unless it had been warned (209) and reminded:* for, never do We wrong [anyone]. [*Lit., “unless it had its warners by way of a reminder”: see 6: 131, 15: 4, 20: 134, and the corresponding notes.]

QURAN AND EVIL SPIRITS

(210) And [this divine writ is such a reminder:] no evil spirits have brought it down: [During the early years of his prophetic mission, some of Muhammad’s Meccan opponents tried to explain the rhetorical beauty and persuasiveness of the Quran by insinuating that he was a soothsayer (kahin) in communion with all manner of dark forces and evil spirits (shayatin).] (211) for, neither does it suit their ends, nor is it in their power [to impart it to man]: (212) verily, [even] from hearing it are they utterly debarred! (213) Hence, [O man,] do not invoke any other deity side by side with God, lest thou find thyself among those who are made to suffer [on Judgment Day]. [The conjunctive particle fa at the beginning of this sentence (rendered here as “hence”) evidently connects with verse 208 above. As shown in note below, the whole of the present passage is addressed to man in general.] (214) And warn [whomever thou canst reach, beginning with] thy kinsfolk, [A believer is morally obliged to preach the truth to all whom he can reach, but obviously he must begin with those who are nearest to him, and especially those who recognize his authority.] (215) and spread the wings of thy tenderness over all of the believers who may follow thee; [For an explanation of the metaphorical expression “lower thy wing” - rendered by me as “spread the wings of thy tenderness” - see 17: 24 and the corresponding note. The phrase “all of the believers who follow thee” shows that (contrary to the assumption of most of the commentators) the above passage is not addressed to the Prophet - since all who believe in him are, by definition, his followers and vice versa - but to everyone who chooses to he guided by the Quran, and who is herewith called upon to extend his loving kindness and care to all believers who may “follow” him i.e., who may regard him as spiritually or intellectually superior or more experienced. This interpretation also explains verse 213 above: for whereas the exhortation contained in that verse is meaningful with regard to all who may listen to or read the Quran, it would be meaningless with reference to its Prophet, for whom the principle of God’s oneness and uniqueness was the unquestionable beginning and end of all truth.] (216) but if they disobey thee, say, “I am free of responsibility for aught that you may do!” - (217) and place thy trust in the Almighty, the Dispenser of Grace, (218) who sees thee when thou standest [alone], [According to Mujahid (as quoted by Tabari, this means “wherever thou mayest be”. Other commentators take it to mean “when thou standest up for prayer”, but this seems to be too narrow an interpretation.] (219) and [sees] thy behaviour among those who prostrate themselves [before Him]: [I.e., among the believers, as contrasted with those who “disobey thee” (see verse 216 above).] (220) for, verily, He alone is all-hearing, all-knowing! (221) [And] shall I tell you upon whom it is that those evil spirits descend? (222) They descend upon all sinful self-deceivers [The term affak, which literally denotes “a great [or “habitual”] liar”, has here the meaning of “one who lies to himself”: this is brought out in the next verse, which stresses the psychological fact that most of such self-deceivers readily lie to others as well.] (223) who readily lend ear  [to every falsehood], and most of whom lie to others as well. [Lit., “most of them are lying”.]  

QURAN AS MUHAMMAD’S POETRY

(224) And as for the poets [An allusion to the fact that some of the pagan Arabs regarded the Quran as a product of Muhammad’s supposedly poetic mind. (See also 36: 69 and the corresponding notes.)] - [they, too, are prone to deceive themselves: and so, only] those who are lost in grievous error would follow them. (225) Art thou not aware that they roam confusedly through all the valleys [of words and thoughts],  [The idiomatic phrase hama fi widyan (lit,, “he wandered or “roamed”] through valleys”) is used, as most of the commentators point out, to describe a confused or aimless - and often self-contradictory - play with words and thoughts. In this context it is meant to stress the difference between the precision of the Quran, which is free from all inner contradictions (cf. note on 4: 82), and the vagueness often inherent in poetry.] (226) and that they [so often] say what they do not do [or feel]? (227) [Most of them are of this kind -] save those who have attained to faith, and do righteous deeds, and remember God unceasingly,

FIGHT ONLY IN SELF-DEFENCE

and defend them­selves [only] after having been wronged, [Thus the Quran makes it dear that a true believer may fight only in self-defence: cf. 22: 39 – 40, the earliest reference to war as such, and 2: 190-194, where the circumstances making war fully justified are further elaborated.] and [trust in God’s promise that] those who are bent on wrong­doing will in time come to know how evil a turn their destinies are bound to take! [Lit., “by what [kind of] turning they will turn”.]

THE TWENTY-SEVENTH SURAH

AN-NAML (THE ANTS)

MECCA PERIOD

The prophet and most of his close Companions used to refer to this surah as Ta-Sin (the letter-symbols which precede its first verse). In later times, however, it came to be known as An-Naml after a word occurring in verse 18, which, because of its association with Solomonic legends, caught and held the imagination of countless Muslims who listened to or read the Quran. As pointed out in my note on 21: 82, the Quran often employs such legends as a vehicle for allegories expressing certain universal ethical truths; and it employs them for the simple reason that even before the advent of Islam they had become so firmly embedded in the poetic memories of the Arabs the people in whose language the Quran was expressed and to whom it was addressed in the first instance - that most of these legends had acquired, as it were, a cultural reality of their own, which made a denial or a confirmation of their mythical origin utterly irrelevant. Within the context of the Quran, the only thing that is relevant in this respect is the spiritual truth underlying each one of these legends: a many-sided, many-layered truth which the Quran invariably brings out, sometimes explicitly, sometimes elliptically, often allegorically, but always with a definite bearing on some of the hidden depths and conflicts within our own, human psyche.

In the consensus of most of the authorities, An-Naml belongs to the middle Mecca period, having been revealed shortly after the preceding surah.

IN THE NAME OF GOD, THE MOST GRACIOUS, THE DISPENSER OF GRACE: (1) Ta. Sin. [See Appendix II.]

QURAN AND AFTER LIFE

THESE ARE MESSAGES of the Quran - a di­vine writ clear in itself and clearly showing the truth: [For an explanation of this composite rendering of the adjective, mubin, see note on 12: 1. In the present instance, the term kitab (“divine writ”) is preceded by the conjunction wa, which primarily signifies “and”, but in this case has a function more or less similar to the expression “namely” hence, it may be replaced in translation by a dash without affecting the meaning of the sentence.] (2) a guidance and a glad tiding to the believers (3) who are constant in prayer and spend in charity: [This is obviously the meaning of the term zakah in the above context, since at the time of the revelation of this surah it had not yet received its later, specific connotation of a tax incumbent upon Muslims (cf. surah 2: 43).] for it is they, they who in their innermost are certain of the life to come! (4) As for those who will not believe in the life to come - behold, goodly have We made their own doings appear unto them, and so they stumble blindly to and fro [The implication is that people who do not believe in life after death concentrate all their endeavours as a rule, on material gains alone, and cannot think of anything worthwhile “beyond their own doings”. See also note on 2: 7, which explains why the “causing” of this spiritual blindness and confusion - in itself but a consequence of mans own behaviour - is attributed to God.] (5) It is they whom the worst of suffering awaits: for it is they, they who in the life to come shall be the greatest losers! (6) But [as for thee, O believer,] verily, thou hast received this Quran out of the grace of One who is wise, all-knowing. [This stress on the spiritual illumination offered to man through divine revelation not only connects with the opening verses of this surah, but also forms a link between this passage and the following one, which calls to mind the sudden illumination of Moses, symbolized by the vision of the burning bush.]

MOSES AND BURNING BUSH

(7) Lo! [While lost in the desert,] Moses said to his family: [Cf. 20: 9 ff., and particularly note on verse 10 of that surah.] “Behold, I perceive a fire [far away]; I may bring you from there some tiding [as to which way we arc to pursue], or bring you [at least] a burning brand so that you might warm yourselves.” (8) But when he came close to it, a call was sounded: “Blessed are all who are within [reach of] this fire, and all who are near it! [Thus Zamakhshari explains the expression hawlaha (lit., “around it”). According to some of the earliest commentators, quoted by Tabari the “fire” (nar) is in this context synonymous with “light” (nur), namely, the illumination which God bestows on His prophets, who - one may presume - <are a priori near it” by virtue of their inborn spiritual sensitivity. Alternatively, the phrase man fi n-nar wa-man hawlaha may be understood as referring to God’s Own light, which encompasses, and is the core of, all spiritual illumination.] And limitless in His glory is God, the Sustainer of all the worlds!” (9) [And God spoke thus:] “O Moses! Verily I alone am God, the Almighty, the Wise!”  (10) [And then He said:] “Now throw down thy staff!” [Cf. 20: 17-20.] But when he saw it move rapidly, as if it were a serpent, he drew back [in terror], and did not [dare to] return. [For a tentative explanation of the symbolism underlying the miracle of the staff, see note on 20: 20-21.] [And God spoke to him again:] O Moses! Fear not - for, behold, no fear need the message-bearers have in My Presence, (11) and neither [For my rendering of illa, in this context, as “and neither”, see note on 4: 29.] need anyone who has done wrong and then has replaced the wrong with good: [I.e., by sincere repentance. Apart from its general significance, this may also be an allusion to the crime, which Moses had committed in his youth by slaying the Egyptian (see 28: 15-17).] for, verily, I am much-forgiving, a dis­penser of grace! (12) “Now place thy hand into thy bosom: it will come forth [shining] white, without blemish!” [See note on 7: 108.] [And thou shalt go] with nine [of My] messages unto Pharaoh and his people [Cf. 17: 101 –We gave unto Moses nine clear messages” - <and the corresponding note.] - for, verily, they are people depraved!” (13) But when Our light-giving messages came unto them, they said, “This is clearly [but] spellbinding deception!” [See note on 10:76. The people referred to as “they” are Pharaoh and his nobles.] (14) - and in their wickedness and self-exaltation they rejected them, although their minds were convinced of their truth: and behold what hap­pened in the end to those spreaders of corruption!

SOLOMON

(15) AND, INDEED, We granted [true] knowledge [I.e., spiritual insight.] unto David and Solomon [as well]; and both were wont to say: All praise is due to God, who has [thus] favoured us above many of His believing servants!” (16) And [in this insight] Solomon was [truly] David’s heir; and he would say: “O you people! We have been taught the speech of birds, and have been given [in abundance] of all [good] things: this, behold, is indeed a manifest favour [from God]!” (17) And [one day] there were assembled before Solomon his hosts of invisible beings, [Apart from 114: 6, which contains the earliest Quranic reference to the concept of jinn, the above is apparently the oldest instance where this concept occurs in the personalized form of “invisible beings”. (For a fuller discussion, see Appendix III.)] and of men, and of birds; and then they were led forth in orderly ranks, (18) till, when they came upon a valley [full] of ants, an ant exclaimed: “O you ants! Get into your dwellings, lest Solomon and his hosts crush you without [even] being aware [of you]!” (19)            Thereupon [Solomon] smiled joyously at her words, and said: “O my Sustainer! Inspire me so that I may forever be grateful for those blessings of Thine with which Thou hast graced me and my parents, [In this instance, Solomon evidently refers to his own understanding and admiration of nature (cf. 38: 31-33 and the corresponding notes) as well as to his loving compassion for the humblest of God’s creatures, as a great divine blessing: and this is the Quranic moral of the legendary story of the ant.] and that I may do what is right [in a manner] that will please Thee; and include me, by Thy grace, among Thy righteous servants!” (20) And [one day] he looked in vain for [a parti­cular one of] the birds; and so he said: How is it that I do not see the hoopoe? Or could he be among the absent? (21) [If so,] I will punish him most severely or will kill him unless he bring me a convincing excuse!” [Lit., a clear evidence. The threat of “killing” the hoopoe is, of course, purely idiomatic and not to be taken literally.] (22) But [the hoopoe] tarried but a short while; and [when it came] it said: “I have encompassed [with my knowledge] something that thou hast never yet encompassed [with thine] - for I have come to thee from Sheba with a tiding sure! [Thus, we are parabolically reminded that even the most lowly being can - and on occasion does - have knowledge of things of which even a Solomon in all his wisdom may he ignorant (Razi) - a reminder which ought to counteract the ever-present danger (fitnah) of self-conceit to which learned men, more than anyone else, are exposed (Zamakhshari). As regards the kingdom of Sheba, see note on 34: 15.](23) “Behold, I found there a woman ruling over them; and she has been given [abundance] of all [good] things, and hers is a mighty throne, (24) And I found her and her people adoring the sun instead of God; and Satan has made these doings of theirs seem goodly to them, and [thus] has barred them from the path [of God], so that they cannot find the right way: (25) [for they have come to believe] that they ought not to adore God –[I.e., their own immoral impulses (which is the meaning of ash-shaytan in this context) had persuaded them that they should not submit to the idea of man’s responsibility to a Supreme Being who, by definition, is “beyond the reach of human perception” but should worship certain perceivable natural phenomena instead.] [although it is He] who brings forth all that is hidden in the heavens and on earth,  [An allusion to the appearance and disappearance of the sun and other celestial bodies which the Sabaeans - in common with almost all the Semites of antiquity - used to worship, (Cf. the story of Abraham’s search for God in 6: 74 ff.)] and knows all that you would conceal as well as all that you bring into the open: (26) God, save whom there is no deity - the Sustainer, in awesome almightiness enthroned!” [See surah 9: 129.]

 (27) Said [Solomon]: “We shall see whether thou hast told the truth or art one of the liars! (28) Go with this my letter and convey it to them; and thereafter withdraw from them and see what [answer] they return.” (29) [When the Queen had read Solomon’s letter,] she said: “O you nobles! A truly distinguished letter has been conveyed unto me. (30) Behold, it is from Solomon, and it says, ‘In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Dispenser of Grace: (31) [God says:] Exalt not yourselves against Me, but come unto Me in willing surrender!’ ” [My interpolation, at the beginning of this verse, of the words “God says” is based on the fact that, within the context of the above legend, the information brought by the hoopoe is the very first link between the kingdoms of Sheba and of Solomon. In the absence of any previous contact, hostile or otherwise, there would have been no point whatever in Solomon’s telling the people of Sheba that they should not “exalt themselves” against or above himself. On the other hand, the narrative of the hoopoe makes it clear that the Sabaeans did “exalt themselves” against God by worshipping the sun and by being convinced “that they ought not to worship God” (verses 24 - 25 above). Hence, Solomon, being a prophet, is justified in calling upon them, in the name of God, to abandon this blasphemy and to surrender themselves to Him. (Cf. the almost identical phrase, “Exalt not yourselves against God”, in 44: 19.)] (32) She added: “O you nobles! Give me your opinion on the problem with which I am now faced; [Lit., “on this case [or “problem”] of mine”.]I would never make a [weighty] decision unless you are present with me.” (33) They answered: “We are endowed with power and with mighty prowess in war - but the command is thine; consider, then, what thou wouldst command.” (34) Said she: “Verily, whenever kings enter a country they corrupt it, [In this context - as pointed out by all classical commentators - the term dukhul undoubtedly connotes “entering by force (anwatan)”, whether it be by armed invasion or by usurpation of political power from within the country. The term muluk, lit., “kings”, may he understood to denote also persons who, while not being “kings” in the conventional sense of this word, wrongfully seize and forcibly hold absolute power over their “subjects”.]

and turn the noblest of its people into the most abject. And this is the way they [always] behave? [Thus, the Queen of Sheba rules out force as a suitable method for dealing with Solomon. Implied in her statement is the Quranic condemnation of all political power obtained through violence (anwatan) inasmuch as it is bound to give rise to oppression, suffering and moral corruption.] (35) Hence, behold, I am going to send a gift to those [people], and await whatever [answer] the envoys bring back.” (36) Now when [the Queen’s messenger] came unto Solomon, he said: “Do you people mean to add to my wealth? But that which God has given me [I.e., not only worldly wealth but also faith, wisdom and an insight into realities normally hidden from other men.] is [so much] better than all that He has given you! Nay, it is [only such as] you [I.e., people who prize only material things and have no inkling of spiritual values.] that would rejoice in this gift of yours! (37) “Go thou back unto them [that have sent thee]! For, [God says:] ‘We shall most certainly come upon them with forces which they will never be able to withstand, and shall most certainly cause them to be driven from that [land of theirs], despicable and humbled!’ ” [Lit., “and they will be humbled”. Since the Quran explicitly prohibits all wars of aggression (see 2: 190 -194 and the corresponding notes), it is not plausible that this same Quran should place a crude threat of warlike aggression in the mouth of a prophet. We must, therefore, assume that here again, as in verse 31 above, it is God who, through His prophet, warns the people of Sheba of His “coming upon them” - i.e., punishing them - unless they abandon their blasphemous belief that they “ought not” to worship God. This interpretation finds considerable support in the sudden change from the singular in which Solomon speaks of himself in the preceding (as well as in the subsequent) verses, to the majestic plural “We” appearing in the above sentence.] (38) [When Solomon learned that the Queen of Sheba was coming,] [I.e., evidently in response to his message (Razi, lbn Kathir).] he said [to his council]: “O you nobles! Which of you can bring me her throne ere she and her followers come unto me in willing surrender to God?” [Lit., “before they come unto me as people who surrender themselves (muslimin)” i.e., to God (see verse 31 above). The term “throne (arsh) is used here and in the sequence - as well as at the end of verse 23 - in its metonymic sense of “dominion” or “regal power” (Raghib). It appears that Solomon intends to confront his guest with an image of her worldly power, and thus to convince her that her “throne” is as nothing when compared with the awesome almightiness of God.] (39) Said a bold one of the invisible beings [subject to Solomon]: “I shall bring it to thee ere thou rise from thy council-seat - for, behold, I am powerful enough to do it, [and] worthy of trust!” (40) Answered he who was illumined by revela­tion: [Lit., “he who had knowledge out of [or “through”] revelation (al-kitab)” - i.e., Solomon himself (Razi).] “[Nay,] as for me - I shall bring it to thee ere the twinkling of thy eye ceases!” [I.e., faster than any magic could achieve: thus alluding to the symbolic nature of the forthcoming appearance of the “throne”. Here, as in the whole of the story of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, symbolism and legendary “fact” are subtly intertwined, evolving into an allegory of the human soul’s awakening to a gradual realization of spiritual values.] And when he saw it truly before him, he exclaimed: [Lit., “established before him”. Since the verbal form istaqarra and its participle mustaqirr often indicate no more than that something “has being” or “exists” (cf. Lane VII, 2500), the phrase ra ahu mustaqirran indahu may be understood as “he saw it being (i.e., actually) before him”: hence my rendering.] “This is [an outcome] of my Sustainer’s bounty, to test me as to whether I am grateful or ungrateful! [I.e., “whether I attribute my spiritual powers to God or, vaingloriously, to myself”.] However, he who is grateful [to God] is but grateful for his own good; and he who is ungrate­ful [should know that], verily, my Sustainer is self-sufficient, most generous in giving!” (41) [And] he continued: Alter her throne so that she may not know it as hers: let us see whether she allows herself to be guided [to the truth] or remains one of those who will not be guided.” [I.e., whether she remains satisfied with perceiving only the outward appearance of things and happenings, or endeavours to fathom their spiritual reality. Seeing that the people of Sheba were, until then, motivated by love of luxury and worldly power.  Solomon intends to show the Queen her “throne”, or the image of her dominion, as it could be if it were inspired by faith in God and, hence, by a consciousness of moral responsibility.] (42) And so, as soon as she arrived, she was asked: “Is thy throne like this?” She answered: “It is as though it were the same!” [Sc., “and yet not quite the same”: thus, she expresses doubt - and doubt is the first step in all spiritual progress. She realizes that the “altered throne” is outwardly the same as that which she has left behind; but she perceives intuitively that it is imbued with a spiritual quality which the other did not possess, and which she cannot yet quite understand.] [And Solomon said to his nobles: “She has arrived at the truth without any help from us,]  [Thus Tabari, Zamakhshari and lbn Kathir, on whose interpretation of this passage my rendering and the above interpolation are based.] although it is we who have been given [divine] knowledge before her, and have [long ago] surrendered ourselves unto God! (43) [And she has recognized the truth] although that which she has been wont to worship instead of God had kept her away [from the right path]: [An allusion to her and her people’s worship of celestial bodies (cf. verses 24 - 25 and the corresponding notes).] for, behold, she is descended of people who deny the truth!” [Lit., “she was (sc., “born”) of people…”, etc. - thus stressing the role of the idolatrous tradition in which she had grown up, and which in the past had made it difficult for her to find the right path. Considering this cultural background, Solomon points out, her awakening at the very moment of her leaving her ancestral environment must be deemed most remarkable and praise­worthy.] (44) [After a while] she was told: “Enter this court!” - but when she saw it, she thought that it was a fathomless expanse of water, and she bared her legs. [I.e., in order to wade into it, or perhaps to swim through it, thus braving the seemingly fathomless deep: possibly a symbolic indication of the fear which a human being may feel when his own search after truth forces him to abandon the warm, soothing security of his erstwhile social and mental environment, and to venture into the - as yet - unknown realm of the spirit.] Said he: “Behold, it is [but] a court smoothly paved with glass!” [I.e., not a dangerous, bottomless deep, as it appeared at first glance, but, rather, the firm, glass-clear light of truth: and with her perception of the ever-existing difference between appearance and reality, the Queen of Sheba comes to the end of her spiritual journey.] Cried she: “O my Sustainer! I have been sinning against myself thy worshipping aught but Thee]: but [now] I have surrendered myself, with Solomon, unto the Sustainer of all the worlds!”

SALIH

(45) AND [likewise], indeed, We sent unto [the tribe of] Thamud their brother Salih [with this message]:

“Worship God alone!” [For the story of the Thamud and their prophet Salih, see notes on 7: 73. [My interpolation of the word “likewise” at the beginning of this verse is based on the fact that Salih’s message to the tribe of Thamud is identical with that of Solomon to the Queen of Sheba - which, in itself, is an indication of the sameness of the fundamental truths underlying all revealed religions.] - and, behold, they were [split into] two factions contending with one another. (46) Said [Salih to the erring ones]: Why do you seek to hasten the coming upon you of evil instead of hoping for the good?” [Lit., “hasten the evil before the good”: cf.

13: 6 and the corresponding note; also the second sentence of 10: 50.] Why do you not, rather, ask God to forgive you your sins, so that you might be graced with His mercy?”(47) They answered: “We augur evil from thee and those that follow thee!” [See surah 7: 131.] Said he: “Your destiny, good or evil, rests with God yea, you are people undergoing a test!” [Sc., “who has tied every human being’s destiny (ta ir) to his neck”: see 17: 13 and the corresponding note.] (48) Now there were in the city nine men who were wont to commit deeds of depravity all over the land, and would not reform; [Or “nine clans”, since, in the above context, the term raht is liable to either of these two interpretations. The “city” referred to is evidently the region known as Al-Hijr, in northern Hijaz (cf. surah 7: 73). In contrast with the preceding story of the Queen of Sheba’s eager way to faith, the stories of the tribe of Thamud and (in verses 54 -58) of Lot’s people are meant to call attention to the hostility which a call to righteousness so often evokes in people who are strong but vain, or, alternatively, weak and addicted to senseless passions.] (49) [and] after having bound one another by an oath in God’s name,* they said: [*Lit., “by God”. As is evident from 7: 73 ff. and from the above allusion, the Thamud did have a vague notion of God, but their erstwhile faith had been overlaid by their excessive arrogance and thus deprived of all spiritual value.] “Indeed, we shall suddenly fall upon him and his household by night [and slay them all]; and then we shall boldly say to his next of kin, ‘We did not witness the destruction of his household - and, behold, we are indeed men of truth!’ ” (50) And so they devised an evil scheme; but We devised a subtle scheme (of Our own), and they perceived it not. (51) Behold, then, what all their scheming came to in the end: We utterly destroyed them and their people, all of them; (52) and [now] those dwellings of theirs are empty, [ruined] as an outcome of their evil deeds. In this, behold, there is a message indeed for peo­ple of [innate] knowledge - (53) seeing that We saved those who had attained to faith and were conscious of Us,

LOT

(54) AND [thus, too, did We save] Lot, when he said unto his people: [The story of Lot and the perverted people of Sodom is mentioned in several places, particularly in 7: 80 – 84, 11: 69 - 83 and 26: 60 - 173.]  “Would you commit this abomination with your eyes open (to its being against all nature)? [Thus Zamakhshari and Razi, stressing the principle that a revolt against the God-willed nature of heterosexuality is a revolt against God Himself.] (55) Must you really approach men with lust instead of women? Nay, but you are people without any awareness (of right and wrong)!”  (56) But his people’s only answer was this: “Expel [Lot and] Lot’s followers from your township! Verily, they are folk who make themselves out to be pure!” [See note on 7: 82.] (57) Thereupon We saved him and his household - all but his wife, whom We willed to be among those that stayed behind - [See note on 7: 83; also 11: 81 and 66: 10, and the corresponding notes.] (58) the while We rained a rain [of destruction] upon the others: and dire is such rain upon all who let themselves be warned [to no avail] [Cf. 26: 173 and the corresponding note.]

GOD AS ULTIMATE REALITY UNDERLYING OBSERVABLE ASPECTS OF UNIVERSE

 (59) SAY: “All praise is due to God, and peace be upon those servants of His whom He chose [to be His message-bearers]!” Is not God far better than anything to which men [falsely] ascribe a share in His divinity? [Lit., “Is God better, or that to which they ascribe…”, etc.: thus including, by implication, not only deified beings or forces of nature, but also false social and moral values to which custom and ancestral tradition have lent an almost “religious” sanction.] (60) Nay - who is it that has created the heavens and the earth, and sends down for you [life-giving] water from the skies? For it is by this means that We cause gardens of shining beauty to grow - [whereas] it is not in your power to cause [even one single of] its trees to grow! Could there be any divine power besides God? Nay, they [who think so] are people who swerve [from the path of reason] (61) Nay - who is it that has made the earth a fitting abode [Lit., “place of rest” (qarar). But see also 77: 25-26 and the corresponding note.] [for living things], and has caused running waters [to flow] in its midst, and has set upon it moun­tains firm, and has placed a barrier between the two great bodies of water? [See 25: 53 and the corresponding notes.] Could there be any divine power besides God? Nay, most of those [who think so] do not know [what they are saying]! (62) Nay - who is it that responds to the distressed when he calls out to Him, and who removes the ill [that caused the distress], and has made you inherit the earth? [Cf. 2: 30 and the corresponding note. In the present instance the accent is on God’s having caused man to “inherit the earth” by endowing him with specific faculties and abilities - an implicit denial of man’s claim that he is independent and “master of his fate”.] Could there be any divine power besides God? How seldom do you keep this in mind! (63) Nay - who is it that guides you in the midst of the deep darkness of land and sea, [I.e., metonymically, through all the seemingly insoluble complexities of human life.] and sends forth the winds as a glad tiding of His coming grace? [See 7: 57 and the corresponding note.] Could there be any divine power besides God? Sublimely exalted is God above anything to which men may ascribe a share in His divinity! (64) Nay - who is it that creates [all life] in the first instance, and then brings it forth anew? [This relates to man’s life on earth and his resurrection after bodily death as well as to the this-worldly cycle of birth, death and regeneration manifested in all organic nature.]And who is it that provides you with sustenance out of heaven and earth? [As in 10: 31, the term “sustenance” (rizq) has here both a physical and a spiritual connotation; hence the phrase, “out of heaven and earth”.] Could there be any divine power besides God? Say: “[If you think so,] produce your evidence - if you truly believe in your claim!” [Lit., “if you are truthful” - the implication being that most people who profess a belief in a multiplicity of divine powers, or even in the possibility of the one God’s “incarnation” in a created being, do so blindly, sometimes only under the influence of inherited cultural traditions and habits of thought, and not out of a reasoned conviction.] (65) Say: “None in the heavens or on earth knows the hidden reality [of anything that exists: none knows it] save God.” [In this context, the term al-ghayb - rendered by me here as “the hidden reality” - apparently relates to the “how” of God’s Being, the ultimate reality underlying the observable aspects of the universe and the meaning and purpose inherent in its creation. My repetition, within brackets, of the words “none knows it”, i.e., save God, is necessitated by the fact that He is infinite, unlimited as to space, and cannot, therefore, be included among the beings “in the heavens or on earth”, who have all been created by Him.]

DENIAL OF RESURRECTION

(65) And neither can they [who are living] perceive when they shall be raised from the dead: (66) nay, their knowledge of the life to come stops short of the truth: [I.e., they cannot truly visualize the hereafter because its reality is beyond anything that man may experience in this world: and this, it cannot he stressed often enough, is an indirect explanation of the reason why all Quranic references to the conditions, good or bad, of man’s life after death are of necessity expressed in purely allegorical terms.] nay, they are [often] in doubt as to its reality: nay, they are blind to it. [I.e., blind to its logical necessity within God’s plan of creation. For, it is only on the premise of a life after death that the concept of man’s moral responsibility and hence, of God’s ultimate judgment can have any meaning; and if there is no moral responsibility, there can be no question of a preceding moral choice; and if the absence of choice is taken for granted, all differentiation between right and wrong becomes utterly meaningless as well.] (67) And so, they who are bent on denying the truth are saying: “What! After we have become dust - we and our forefathers - shall we [all], forsooth, be brought forth [from the dead]? (68) Indeed, we were promised this - we and our forefathers - in the past as well; it is nothing but fables of ancient times!” (69) Say: “Go all over the earth and behold what happened in the end to those [who were thus] lost in sin!” [I.e., those who denied the reality of a life after death and, hence, of man’s ultimate responsibility for his conscious doings. As pointed out in the preceding note, the unavoidable consequence of this denial is the loss of all sense of right and wrong: and this, in its turn, leads to spiritual and social chaos, and so to the downfall of communities and civilizations.] (70) But do not grieve over them, and neither be distressed by the false arguments which they devise [against Gods messages]. [Lit., “by their scheming”. For the Quranic use of the term makr in the sense of “devising false arguments [against something]”, see 10: 21 and the corresponding note.] (71) And [when] they ask, “When is this promise [of resurrection] to be fulfilled? [Answer this, O you who believe in it,] if you are men of truth!” - (72) say thou: “It may well be that something of that which [in your ignorance] you so hastily demands* has already drawn close unto you.” [I.e., the end of their own life, which must precede their resurrection.]

DIVERGENT VIEWS

(73) Now, verily, thy Sustainer is indeed limitless in His bounty unto men - but most of them are bereft of gratitude. (74) But, verily, thy Sustainer knows all that their hearts conceal as well as all that they bring into the open: (75) for there is nothing [so deeply] hidden in the heavens or on earth but is recorded in [His] clear decree. (76) BEHOLD, this Quran explains [For this rendering of the verb yaqussu, see note on 12: 3.] to the children of Israel most [of that] whereon they hold divergent views; [I.e., where they differ from the truth made evident to them in their scriptures. The term “children of Israel” comprises here both the Jews and the Christians (Zamakhshari) inasmuch as both follow the Old Testament, albeit in a corrupted form. It is precisely because of this corruption, and because of the great influence, which Jewish and Christian ideas exert over a large segment of mankind, that the Quran sets out to explain certain ethical truths to both these communities. The above reference to “most” (and not all) of the problems alluded to in this context shows that the present passage bears only on mans moral outlook and social life in this world and not on ultimate, metaphysical questions which - as the Quran so often repeats - will be answered only in the hereafter.] (77) and, verily, it is a guidance and a grace unto all who believe [in it]. (78) Verily, [O believer,] thy Sustainer will judge between them in His wisdom - for He alone is almighty, all-knowing. (79) Hence, place thy trust in God [alone] - for, behold, that in which thou believest is truth self-evident. [Lit., “thou art [or “standest”] upon the obvious [or “self-evident”] truth”.] (80) [But,] verily, thou canst not make the dead hear: and [so, too,] thou canst not make the deaf [of heart] hear this call when they turn their backs [on thee] and go away, (81) just as thou canst not lead the blind [of heart] out of their error; none canst thou make hear save such as [are willing to] believe in Our messages, and thus surrender themselves unto Us. [This passage corresponds to the oft-repeated Quranic statement that “God guides him that wills [to be guided] (yahdi man yasha)”.]

GOD’S JUDGMENT

(82) Now, [as for the deaf and blind of heart –] when the word [of truth] stands revealed against them, [Lit., “comes to pass against them” - i.e., when the truth becomes obvious to them against all their expectations, and thus confounds them utterly: an allusion to the approach of the Last Hour, Resurrection and God’s Judgment, all of which they were wont to regard as “fables of ancient times” (cf. verses 67-68 above). Alternatively, the phrase idha waqa a al-qawl alayhim may be understood as when the sentence [of doom] is passed on them”, i.e., at the approach of the Last Hour, when it will be too late for repentance.] We shall bring forth unto them out of the earth a creature, which will tell them that mankind had no real faith in Our messages. [The “creature brought forth out of the earth” is apparently an allegory of man’s “earthly” outlook on life - in other words, the soul-destroying materialism characteristic of the time preceding the Last Hour. This “creature” parabolically “tells” men that their submergence in exclusively materialistic values - and, hence, their approaching self-destruction - is an outcome of their lack of belief in God. (See also 7: 175-176 and the corresponding note.)] (83) And on that Day We shall gather from within every community a host of those who gave the lie to Our messages; and they will be grouped [according to the gravity of their sins] (84) until such a time as they shall come [to be judged. And] He will say: “Did you give the lie to My messages even though you failed to encompass them with [your] knowledge? [I.e., without having understood them or made any attempt to understand them (Zamakhshari).] Or what was it that [you thought] you were

doing?”(85) And the word [of truth] will stand revealed against them in the face of [Or: “the sentence [of doom] will have been passed on them in recompense of…”, etc.] all the wrong which they had committed, and they will not [be able to] utter a single word [of excuse]: (86) for, were they not aware that it is We who had made the night for them, so that they might rest therein, and the day, to make [them] see? [In the present context (as in 10: 67 or 40: 61) the reference to “night” and “day” has a symbolic significance: namely, man’s God-given ability to gain insight through conscious reasoning (“the day that makes them see”) as well as through the intuition that comes from a restful surrender to the voice of one’s own heart (“the night made for rest”) - both of which tell us that the existence of God is a logical necessity, and that a rejection of His messages is a sin against ourselves.] In this, behold, there are messages indeed for peo­ple who will believe! (87) And on that Day the trumpet [of judgment] will be sounded, and all [creatures] that are in the heavens and all that are on earth will be stricken with terror, except such as God wills [to exempt]: and in utter lowliness all will come unto Him. (88) And thou wilt see the mountains, which [now] thou deemest so firm, pass away as clouds pass away: a work of God, who has ordered all things to per­fection! [I.e., in perfect consonance with the purpose for which He has created them: which is the approximate meaning of the verb atqana. In this particular instance, stress is laid on the God-willed transitory nature of the world, as we know it, (cf. 14: 48 and 20: 105 – 107, and the corresponding notes) in contrast with the lasting reality of the life to come.] Verily, He is fully aware of all that you do! (89) Whoever shall come [before Him] with a good deed will gain [further] good there from; [Lit., “good shall be his from it”, i.e., inconsequence or in result of it (Ibn Abbas, Al-Hasan, Qatadah, Ibn Jurayj, all of them quoted by Tabari) - thus stressing the Quranic doctrine that what is metaphorically described as “rewards” and “punishments” in the life to come are but the natural consequences, good or bad, of man’s attitudes and doings in this world. On a different level, the above phrase may also be understood thus: “Whoever shall come with a good deed will gain something better than [or “through”] it” - an illusion to the fact that whereas the deed itself may be transitory, its merit is enduring (Zamakhshari).] and they will be secure from the terror of that Day. (90) But they who shall come with evil deeds – [I.e., those who did only evil, or whose evil deeds greatly outweigh their good deeds (Ibn Kathir).] their faces will be thrust into the fire, [and they will be asked:] “Is this aught but a just requital* for what you were doing [in life]?” [*Lit., “Are you requited for anything else than…”, etc.]

(91) [SAY, O Muhammad:] “I have been bidden to worship the Sustainer of this City – [I.e., Mecca, where the first temple dedicated to the One God was built (cf. 3: 96).] Him who has made it sacred, and unto whom all things belong: and I have been bidden to be of those who surrender themselves to Him, (92) and to convey this Quran [to the world].” Whoever, therefore, chooses to follow the right path, follows it but for his own good; and if any wills to go astray, say [unto him]: “I am only a warner. (93) And say: “All praise is due to God! In time He will make you see [the truth of] His messages, and then you shall know them [for what they are].” And thy Sustainer is not unmindful of whatever you all may do.

THE TWENTY-EIGHT SURAH

AL-QASAS (THE STORY)

MECCA PERIOD

There is hardly any doubt that this surah as a whole was revealed in the late part of the Mecca period, immediately preceding surah 17 (Al-Isra); but according to some authorities, verse 85 was revealed at a place called Juhfah during the Prophets flight from Mecca to Medina.

The conventional “title” appears to have been taken at random from the word al-qasas occurring in the second part of verse 25 - a choice that may have been influenced by the fact that about one-half of the surah is devoted to the story of Moses. It is noteworthy that most of this story depicts the purely human aspects of his life - that is to say, the impulses, perplexitiies and errors which are part of the human condition as such: aspects which the Quran stresses in order to counteract any possible tendency on the part of the pious to attribute superhuman or, in the last resort semi-divine qualities to God’s apostles. Appropriately, the surah ends with a sonorous evocation of the truth that “there is no deity save God”, and that “everything is bound to perish save His [eternal] Self”.

In the name of god, the most gracious, the dispenser of grace: (1) Ta. Sin. Mim. [See Appendix II.]

EVILS OF PHARAOH

(2) These are messages of a divine writ clear in itself and clearly showing the truth. 2 [For an explanation of the above rendering of the adjective mubin, see note on 12: 1.] (3) We [now] convey unto thee some of the story of Moses and Pharaoh, setting forth the truth for [the benefit of] people who will believe. (4) Behold, Pharaoh exalted himself in the land and divided its people into castes. [Lit., “parties” or “sects” - here undoubtedly referring to the division of people into “high” and “low-born”: a division which the Quran utterly condemns. The group which, as mentioned in the next sentence, Pharaoh “deemed utterly low” were the Israelites, who had been placed on the lowest rung of the Egyptian social scale and were deprived of almost all human rights.] One group of them he deemed utterly low; he would slaughter their sons and spare (only) their women: for, behold, he was one of those who spread corruption [on earth]. (5) But it was Our will to bestow Our favour upon those [very people] who were deemed [so] utterly low in the land, and to make them forerunners in faith. [Lit., “leaders” or “exemplars” (a immah, sing. imam) - an allusion to the historical fact that the Hebrews were the first to accept a monotheistic creed in a clear, unequivocal formulation, and thus became the forerunners of both Christianity and Islam.] and to make them heirs [to Pharaoh’s glory], (6) and to establish them securely on earth, and to let Pharaoh and Haman  [This Haman, who is mentioned several times in the Quran as Pharaoh’s chief adviser, is not to be confused with the Persian Haman of the Old Testament (The Book of Esther iii ff). Most probably, the word “Haman” as used in the Quran is not a proper name at all but the Arabicized echo of the compound designation Ha-Amen given to every high priest of the Egyptian god Amon. Since at the time in question the cult of Amon was paramount in Egypt, his high priest held a rank second only to that of the reigning Pharaoh. The assumption that the person spoken of in the Quran as Haman was indeed the high priest of the cult of Amon is strengthened by Pharaoh’s demand (mentioned in verse 38 of this surah as well as in 40: 36-37) that Haman erect for him “a lofty tower” from which he could “have a look at [or “ascend to”] the god of Moses”: which may be, among other things, an allusion to the hieratic purpose of the great pyramids of Egypt and to the function of the high priest as their chief architect.] and their hosts experience through those [children of Israel] the very thing against which they sought to protect themselves. [The Egyptians - obviously remembering the earlier, alien Hyksos dynasty that had invaded Egypt and subsequently allied itself with the Hebrews (see surah 12: 43) - feared that the latter might in the future, too, make common cause with foreign invaders (cf. Exodus i, 10): and to protect themselves against this danger, they decided - as mentioned in several places in the Quran as well as in the Bible - to have every male Hebrew child killed.]

RESCUE OF INFANT MOSES

(7) And so, [when he was born,] We inspired [thus] the mother of Moses: Suckle him [for a time], and then, when thou hast cause to fear for him, cast him into the river, [Sc., “and he will be saved”: cf. 20: 39.] and have no fear and do not grieve - for We shall restore him to thee, and shall make him one of Our message-bearers!” (8) And [some of] Pharaoh’s household [As is evident from the next verse as well as from 66: 11, it was Pharaoh’s own wife.] found [and spared] him: for [We had willed] that he becomes an enemy unto them and [a source of] grief, seeing that Pharaoh and Haman and their hosts were sinners indeed! (9) Now the wife of Pharaoh said: “A joy to the eye [could this child be] for me and thee! Slay him not: he may well be of use to us, or we may adopt him as a son!” And they had no presentiment [of what he was to become]. (10) On the morrow, however, an aching void grew up in the heart of the mother of Moses, and she would indeed have disclosed all about him [I.e., disclose his true identity in the hope that he would he returned to her.] had We not endowed her heart with enough strength to keep alive her faith [in Our promise]. [Lit., “so that she might be of those who have faith”.] (11) And so she said to his sister, “Follow him” - and [the girl] watched him from afar, while they [who had taken him in] were not aware of it, (12) Now from the very beginning We caused him to refuse the breast of [Egyptian] nurses; and [when his sister came to know this,] she said: “Shall I guide you to a family that might rear him for you, and look after him with good will?” (13) And thus We restored him to his mother, so that her eye might he gladdened, and that she might grieve no longer, and that she might know that God’s promise always comes true - even though most of them know it not!

MURDER OF INNOCENT HUMAN BEING BY MOSES

(14) Now when [Moses] reached full manhood and had become mature [of mind]. We bestowed upon him the ability to judge [between right and wrong] as well as [innate] knowledge: for thus do We reward the doers of good. [This statement, almost entirely identical with 12: 22 (where it refers to Joseph), stresses the supreme divine blessing of spiritual consciousness (ilm in its deepest significance) combined with rational thought, as expressed in the concept of hukm, the “ability to judge [between right and wrong]”. As is evident from 26: 20, Moses reached this spiritual maturity after the events described in verses 15 ff.] (15) And [one day] he entered the city at a time when [most of] its people were [resting in their houses,] unaware of what was going on [in the streets]; [Lit., “at a time of its people’s unawareness”.] and there he encountered two men fighting with one another - one of his own people, [I.e., of the Hebrews.] and the other of his enemies. And the one who belonged to his own people cried out to him for help against him who was of his enemies - whereupon Moses struck him down with his fist, and [thus] brought about his end. [But then] he said [to himself]: “This is of Satan’s doing! Verily, he is an open foe, leading [man] astray!” [Regarding the reference to “Satan’s doing”, see first half of note on 15: 17. In the present instance, verses 16 -17 seem to indicate that it was the Israelite, and not the Egyptian, who had been in the wrong (cf. next note). Apparently, Moses had come to the assistance of the Israelite out of an instinctive sense of racial kinship without regard to the rights and wrongs of the case; but immediately afterwards he realized that he had committed a grave sin not only by killing, however inadvertently, an innocent person, but also by basing his action on a mere tribal - or, as would describe it today, racial or national - prejudice. Evidently, this is the purport of the above Quranic segment of the story of Moses. Its moral has been stressed and explained by the Prophet on many occasions: cf. his famous saying, “He is not of us who proclaims the cause of tribal partisanship (asabiyyah); and he is not of us who fights in the cause of tribal partisanship; and he is not of us who dies in the cause of tribal partisanship” (Abu Daud, on the authority of Jubayr ibn Mutim). When he was asked to explain the meaning of “tribal partisanship”, the Prophet answered, it means helping thine own people in an unjust cause” (ibid., on the authority of Wathilah ibn al-Asqa). (16) [And] he prayed: O my Sustainer! Verily, I have sinned against myself! Grant me, then, Thy forgiveness!” And He forgave him - for, verily, He alone is truly forgiving, a dispenser of grace. (17) Said he: “O my Sustainer! [I vow] by all the blessings which Thou hast bestowed on me: Never­more shall I aid such as are lost in sin!” [According to Ibn Abbas and Muqatil (both of them quoted by Baghawi), “this is an indication that the Israelite whom Moses had helped was a denier of the truth (kafir)” - i.e., in the moral sense of this definition. (See also last sentence of verse 86 of this surah.)] (18) And next morning he found himself in the city, looking fearfully about him, when lo! the one who had sought his help the day before [once again] cried out to him [for help (Sc., “against another Egyptian”.) whereupon] Moses said unto him: “Behold, thou art indeed, most clearly, deeply in the wrong! [Lit., “lost in grievous error” or “deviating from what is right”.] (19) But then [Sc., “swayed once again by his feeling of kinship with the Israelite”, as indicated in the subsequent reference to the Egyptian as “their [common] enemy”.] as soon as he was about to lay violent hands on the man who was their [common] enemy, the latter exclaimed: “O Moses, dost thou intend to slay me as thou didst slay another man yesterday? Thy sole aim is to become a tyrant in this land, for thou dost not care to be of those who would set things to rights!”

FLEEING OF MOSES TO LAND OF MADYAN

(20) And [then and there] a man came running from the farthermost end of the city, and said: “O Moses! Behold, the great ones [of the kingdom] are deli­berating upon thy case with a view to killing thee! Begone, then: verily, I am of those who wish thee well!” (21) So he went forth from thence, looking fearfully about him, and prayed: “O my Sustainer! Save me from all evildoing folk!” (22) And as he turned his face towards Madyan, he said [to himself]: “It may well be that my Sustainer will [thus] guide me onto the right path” [The inhabitants of Madyan (called Midian in the Bible) were Arabs of the Amorite group. Since they were racially and linguistically closely related to the Hebrews, they could he counted upon to help Moses in his plight. For the geographical location of the region of Madyan, see note on 7: 85.] (23) NOW WHEN he arrived at the wells [Lit., “water” or “waters”.] of Madyan, he found there a large group of men who were watering [their herds and flocks]; and at some distance from them he came upon two women who were keeping back their flock. He asked [them]: “What is the matter with you?” They answered: “We cannot water [our animals] until the herdsmen drive [theirs] home - for [we are weak and] our father is a very old man.” (24) So he watered [their flock] for them: and when he withdrew into the shade and prayed: “O my Sus­tainer! Verily, in dire need am I of any good which Thou mayest bestow upon me!” (25) [Shortly] afterwards, one of the two [maidens] approached him, walking shyly, and said: “Behold, my father invites thee, so that he might duly reward thee for thy having watered [our flock] for us.” And as soon as [Moses] came unto him and told him the story [of his life], he said: “Have no fear! Thou art now safe from those evildoing folk!” (26) Said one of the two [daughters]: “O my father! Hire him: for, behold, the best [man] that thou couldst hire is one who is [as] strong and worthy of trust [as he]!” (27) [After some time, the father] said: “Behold, I am willing to let thee wed one of these two daughters of mine on the understanding that thou wilt remain eight years in my service; and if thou shouldst com­plete ten [years], that would be [an act of grace] from thee, for I do not want to impose any hardship on thee: [on the contrary,] thou wilt find me, if God so wills, righteous in all my dealings.” [Lit., “one of the righteous”.] (28) Answered [Moses]: “Thus shall it be between me and thee! Whichever of the two terms I fulfill, let there be no ill will against me. And God be witness to all that we say!”

BURNING BUSH

(29) And when Moses had fulfilled his term and was wandering with his family [in the desert], he per­ceived a fire on the slope of Mount Sinai; [For an explanation of Moses’ wanderings in the desert, see note on 20: 10; for that of the allegory of the “fire”, note on 27: 7-8. Throughout this work, the noun at-tur (“the mountain”) is being rendered as “Mount Sinai”, for it is to this and to no other mountain that the Quran invariably refers in the above term.] [and so] he said to his family: “Wait here. Behold, I perceive a fire [far away]; perhaps I may bring you from there some tiding, [Sc., “as to which way we are to pursue”.] or [at least] a burning brand from the fire, so that you might warm yourselves. (30) But when he came close to it, a call was sounded from the right-side bank of the valley, out of the tree [burning] on blessed ground: [As in 19: 52 and 20: 80, the reference to the “right” side has a connotation of “blessedness”: see in his respect note on 74: 39. As regards the “blessed ground”, see note on the expression “twice-hallowed valley” in 20: 12. The “tree” referred to in the above verse is obviously identical with the “burning bush” of the Bible (Exodus iii. 2).] “O Moses! Verily, I am God, the Sustainer of all the worlds!” (31) And [then He said]: “Throw down thy staff!” But as soon as [Moses] saw it move rapidly, as if it were a snake, he drew back [in terror], and did not [dare to] return. [The miracle of the staff has, possibly, a symbolic significance: see surah 20: 21.] [And God spoke to him again:] “O Moses! Draw near, and have no fear - for, behold, thou art of those who are secure [in this world and in the next]! [Cf. 27:10 – “no fear need the message-bearers have in My Presence”.] (32) “[And now] put thy hand into thy bosom: it will come forth [shining] white, without blemish. [See note on 7: 108.] And [henceforth] hold thine arm close to thyself, free of all fear. [As pointed out by Zamakhshari, the above idiomatic sentence is a metonym recalling a well-known gesture of terror - the involuntary stretching-forth of one’s hands or arms when suddenly faced with something terrifying; conversely, the “holding of one’s arm [lit., “wing”] close to oneself” is expressive of freedom from fear. In the present instance, the phrase echoes the concluding words of verse 31 – “behold, thou art of those who are secure (in this world and in the next)”.] “These, then, shall be the two signs [of thy bearing a message] from thy Sustainer [The “two signs” (burhanan) may be understood as Moses’ ability to remain, by virtue of his certainty of God’s omnipresence, forever free of all physical or moral fear, as well as his ability to show that appearance and reality are not always identical.] unto Pharaoh and his great ones - for, behold, they are people depraved!” (33) Said [Moses] “O my Sustainer! I have slain one of them, and so I fear that they will slay me. [Sc., “and thus make it impossible for me to accomplish my mission”: for, as regards himself, Moses was henceforth free of fear.] (34) And my brother Aaron - he is far better in speech than I am. [Cf. 20: 27-28 and 26:12-13, as well as the corresponding notes.] Send him, therefore, as a helper, so that he might [more eloquently] bear witness to my speaking the truth: for I fear indeed that they will give me the lie.” (35)       Said He: “We shall strengthen thine arm through thy brother, and endow both of you with power, so that they will not be able to touch you: [Lit., “so that they will not reach you”.] by virtue of Our messages shall you two, and all who follow you, prevail!”

PHARAOH’S REJECTION OF GOD’S MESSAGE

(36) But as soon as Moses came unto them with Our clear messages [Pharaoh and his great ones] said: “All this is nothing but spellbinding eloquence devised [by man]: [See note on 74: 24, which is the earliest Quranic instance of the term sihr in the above connotation.] and never did we hear [the like of] this, [nor has it ever been heard of] in the time of our forebears of old!” (37) And Moses replied: “My Sustainer knows best as to who comes with guidance from Him, and to whom the future belongs! [For an explanation of the above phrase, see surah 6: 135.] Verily, never will evil­doers attain to a happy state!” (38) Whereupon Pharaoh said: “O you nobles! I did not know that you could have any deity other than myself  [In view of the fact that the ancient Egyptians worshipped many gods, this observation is not to be taken literally; but since each of the Pharaohs was regarded as an incarnation of the divine principle as such, he claimed - and received - his people’s adoration as their “Lord All-Highest” (cf. 79: 24), combining within himself, as it were, all the qualities attributable to gods.] Well, then, O Haman, kindle me a fire for [baking bricks of] clay, and then build me a lofty tower, that haply I may have a look at the god of Moses [Or: “ascend to the god of Moses”. Whichever of the two meanings is given to the verb ittaliu, Pharaoh’s demand for a “lofty tower” is not only an allusion to the building of one of the great pyramids, but also a derisory, contemptuous reference to Moses’ concept of God as an all-embracing Power, inconceivably high above all that exists.] – although, behold, I am convinced that he is of those who [always] tell lies!” (39) Thus arrogantly, without the least good sense, [lit., “without (any) truth” or “justification” (bi-ghayr al-haqq).] did he and his hosts behave on earth - just as if they thought that they would never have to appear before Us [for judgment]! [Lit., “and they thought that they would not be brought back to Us”. There is no doubt that the ancient Egyptians did believe in a life after death, and that this belief included the concept of a divine judgment as well. Since, however, the particular Pharaoh whom Moses confronted is said to have behaved with an arrogance opposed to all good sense, the Quran - by implication - likens his attitude to that of a person who does not believe in resurrection and in man’s ultimate responsibility before God: hence my rendering of the conjunctive particle wa at the beginning of the above clause as “just as if”.] (40) And so We seized him and his hosts and cast them into the sea: and behold what happened in the end to those evildoers: (41) [We destroyed them,] and We set them up as archetypes [of evil] that show the way to the fire [of hell]; [Lit., “archetypes (aimmah) inviting to the fire”. This is the pivotal sentence of the above fragment of the story of Moses. Just as verses 15 - 16 are meant to draw our attention to the sin of tribal or racial prejudice, the present reference to Pharaoh as an “archetype [of evil]” points to the fact that false pride (takabbur) and arrogance {istikbar) are truly “satanic” attitudes of mind, repeatedly exemplified in the Quran by Iblis’s symbolic “revolt” against God (for the meaning of which see note on 2: 34 and note on 15: 41). Inasmuch as they are intrinsically evil, these “satanic” impulses lead to evil actions and, consequently, to a weakening or even a total destruc­tion of man’s spiritual potential: which, in its turn, is bound to cause suffering in the hereafter.] and [whereas] no succour will come to them on Resurrection Day, (42) We have caused a curse to follow them in this world as well;  [I.e., in the pejorative connotation universally given to the adjective “pharaonic”. It is to be noted that the term lanah, here rendered as “curse”, primarily denotes “estrangement” (ibad), i.e., from all that is good and, hence, really desirable.] and on Resurrection Day they will find themselves among those who are bereft of all good. [I.e., among those who by their own actions will have removed themselves from God’s grace: a meaning given to the term maqbuh, in this context, by most of the classical commentators and philologists (cf. Lisan al Arab, Taj al-Arus, etc.).] (43) And [then,] indeed, after We had destroyed those earlier generations [of sinners], We vouchsafed unto Moses [Our] revelation as a means of insight for men, [By virtue of its being the first instance of a divinely-inspired Law, the Torah inaugurated a new phase in mankind’s religious history (cf. the reference to the children of Israel as “forerunners in faith” in verse 5 of this surah).] and as a guidance and grace, so that they might bethink themselves [of Us]. (44) NOW [as for thee, O Muhammad,] thou wert not present on the sunset slope [of Mount Sinai] when We imposed the Law upon Moses, nor wert thou among those who witnessed [his times]: [Implying that the story of Moses as narrated in the Quran could not have come to Muhammad’s knowledge otherwise than through revelation: consequently, the Quran as such must obviously be a result of divine revelation. The term al-amr, rendered above as “the Law”, is the Arabic equivalent of he Hebrew word torah (“law” or “precept”), the commonly accepted title of the revelation granted to Moses.] (45) nay, but [between them and thee] We brought into being [many] generations, and long was their span of life. And neither didst thou dwell among the people of Madyan, conveying Our messages unto them: [I.e., “thou art not the first of Our apostles, O Muhammad: We have sent thee to the people of thy time just as We sent Shuayb to the people of Madyan (Ad-Dahhak, as quoted by Razi).] nay, but We have [always] been sending [Our message-bearers unto man]. (46) And neither wert thou present on the slope of Mount Sinai when We called out [to Moses]: [According to some of the classical commentators, this second reference to “the slope of Mount Sinai” contains an allusion to the divine assurance mentioned in 7: 156: “My grace overspreads everything . . .” (Tabari, Razi). This interpretation is most plausible in view of the subsequent reference to Muhammad’s mission as “an act of thy Sustainer’s grace (rahmah)”.] but [thou, too, art sent] as an act of thy Sustainer’s grace, to warn people to whom no warner has come before thee, so that they might bethink themselves [of Us]; (47) and [We have sent thee] lest they say [on Judg­ment Day], when disaster befalls them as an outcome of what their own hands have wrought, “O our Sus­tainer, if only Thou had sent an apostle unto us, we would have followed Thy messages, and would have been among those who believe!” (48) And yet, now that the truth has come unto them from Us, they say, “Why has he not been vouch­safed the like of what Moses was vouchsafed?” [As the Quran frequently points out, the basic ethical truths enunciated in it are the same as those of earlier revelations. It is this very statement which induced the opponents of Muhammad - in his own time as well as in later timees - to question the authenticity of the

Quran: “If it had really been revealed by God,” they argue, “would so many of its propositions, especially its social laws, differ so radically from the laws promulgated in that earlier divine writ, the Torah?” By advancing this argument (and quite apart from the question of whether the text of the Bible as we know it today has or has not been corrupted in the course of time), the opponents of Muhammad’s message deliberately overlook the fact, repeatedly stressed in the Quran, that the earlier systems of law were conditioned by the spiritual level of a particular people and the exigencies of a particular chapter of human history, and therefore had to he superseded by new laws at a higher stage of human development (see in this connection the second paragraph of 5: 48 and the corresponding note). However, as is evident from the immediate sequence - and especially from the last sentence of this verse - the above specious argument is not meant to uphold the authenticity of the Bible as against that of the Quran, but, rather, aims at discrediting both - and, through them, the basic religious principle against which the irreligious mind always revolts: namely, the idea of divine revelation and of man’s absolute dependence on and responsibility to God, the Ultimate Cause of all that exists.] But did they not also, before this, deny the truth of what Moses was vouchsafed? [For] they do say, “Two examples of delusion, [seemingly] supporting each other!” [A contemptuous allusion, on the one hand, to Old-Testament predictions of the coming of the Prophet Muhammad (cf. surah 2: 42), and, on the other, to the oft-repeated Quranic statement that this divine writ had been revealed to “confirm the truth of earlier revelations”. As regards my rendering of the term sihr (lit., “magic” or “sorcery”) as “delusion” - and occasionally as “spellbinding eloquence” - see note on 74: 24.] And they add, “Behold, we refuse to accept either of them as true!” (49) Say: “Produce, then, [another] revelation from God which would offer better guidance than either of these two [I.e., the Torah and the Quran. The Gospel is not mentioned in this context because, as Jesus himself had stressed, his message was based on the Law of Moses, and was not meant to displace the latter.] - [and] I shall follow it, if you speak the truth!” (50) And since they cannot respond to this thy challenge, [Lit., “if they do not respond to thee”, implying that they are unable to accept the above challenge.]

know that they are following only their own likes and dislikes: and who could be more astray than he who follows [but] his own likes and dislikes without any guidance from God? Verily, God does not grace with His guidance peo­ple who are given to evildoing!

CONVERSIONS OF JEWS AND CHRISTIANS

(51) NOW, INDEED, We have caused this word [of Ours] to reach mankind step by step, so that they might [learn to] keep it in mind. [Lit., “We have caused this word to reach them gradually”: this meaning is implied in the verbal form wassalna, which - like the grammatically identical form nazzalna - points to the gradual, step-by-step revelation of the Quran during the twenty-three years of Muhammad’s prophetic ministry.] (52) As for those unto whom We have vouchsafed revelation aforetime - they [are bound to] believe in this one [as well];  [This is both a statement of historical fact - alluding to conversions of Jews and Christians in Muhammad’s lifetime - and a prophecy. It must, however, be understood that, in the above context, God’s “vouchsafing” revelation implies a conscious, sincere acceptance of its teachings by those to whom it has been conveyed: for it is this sincerity that has enabled them - or will enable them - to realize that the Quran preaches the same ethical truths as those forthcoming from earlier revelations. (Cf. 26: 196-197 and the corresponding notes.)] (53) and whenever it is [clearly] conveyed unto them, they [are bound to] profess, “We have come to believe in it, for, behold, it is the truth from our Sustainer - and, verily, even before this have we surrendered ourselves unto Him!” (54) These it is that shall receive a twofold reward for having been patient in adversity, and having repelled evil with good,  [See note on the identical phrase in 13: 22. In the present context, the reference to “patience in adversity” and “repelling evil with good” evidently relates to the loss of erstwhile communal links, social ostracism, and all manner of physical or moral persecution which is so often the lot of persons who accept religious tenets different from those of their own community.] and having spent on others out of what We provided for them as sus­tenance, (55) and, whenever they heard frivolous talk, [This obviously refers to attempts, based on prejudice, at deriding the spiritual re-orientation of the person concerned.] having turned away from it and said: “Unto us shall be accounted Our deeds, and unto you, your deeds. Peace be upon you - [but] we do not seek out such as are ignorant [of the meaning of right and wrong].”

FAILURE TO CONVERT LOVED-ONE TO ISLAM

(56) VERILY, thou canst not guide aright everyone whom thou lovest: but it is God who guides him that wills [to be guided]; [Or: “God guides whomever He wills” - either of these two renderings being syntactically correct. According to several extremely well authenticated Traditions, the above verse relates to the Prophet’s inability to induce his dying uncle Abu Talib, whom he loved dearly and who had loved and protected him throughout his life, to renounce the pagan beliefs of his ancestors and to profess faith in God’s oneness. Influenced by Abu Jahl and other Meccan chieftains, Abu Talib died professing, in his own words, “the creed of Abd al-Muttalib” (Bukhari) or, according to another version (quoted by Tabari), “the creed of my ancestors (al-ashyakh)”. However, the Quranic statement “thou canst not guide aright everyone whom thou lovest” has undoubtedly a timeless import as well: It stresses the inadequacy of all human endeavours to “convert” any other person, however loving and loved, to one’s own beliefs, or to prevent him from falling into what one regards as error, unless that person wills to be so guided.] and He is fully aware of all who would let themselves be guided. [The above rendering of the expression al-muhtadin conforms to the interpretations offered in this context by many classical commentators - e.g., “those who accept guidance” (Zamakhshari), “everyone who in time would find the right way” (Razi), “those who are prepared (mustaiddin) for it” (Baydawi), “all who deserve guidance” (lbn Kathir), and so forth. Thus, God’s guidance is but the final act of His grace with which He rewards all who desire to be guided. For a further consideration of this problem, the reader is referred to Zamakhshari’s illuminating remarks quoted in the note on 14: 4.] (57) Now some say, “If we were to follow the guidance to which thou invitest us, we would be torn away from our very soil!” [Lit., If we were to follow the guidance together with thee, we would be snatched away from our land” (or “our soil”). This passage has obviously twofold connotation. On the historical plane, it echoes an objection voiced by many pagan Meccans to Muhammad’s preaching: “If we were to accept thy call, most of the other tribes would regard this as a betrayal of our common ancestral beliefs, and would drive us away from our land.” In a more general, timeless sense it reflects the hesitation of so many people - of whatever period, environment or religious persuasion - who, while realizing the truth of a new spiritual call, are yet fearful of acknowledging it as true lest this acknowledgment cause a total breach between them and their community and thus, as were, cut the ground from under their feet.] Why - have We not established for them a sanc­tuary secure, to which, as a provision from Us, shall be gathered the fruits of all (good) things? [Like the preceding expression of fear, this Quranic answer, too, can be understood in two senses. In the limited, historical sense it is an allusion to Abraham’s prayer that the land around the Kabah be made secure for all times and its natural barrenness be compensated by fruitful help from outside (cf. 14: 35 - 41 also 2: 126), and to God’s acceptance of this prayer: thus, the Prophet’s Meccan contemporaries are reminded that they need not fear to be dispossessed of this holy land so long as they remain righteous and trust in God. In its purely spiritual connotation, on the other hand, the “sanctuary secure” is God’s promise - referred to in verse 61 below - that all who have faith in Him and are conscious of their responsibility to Him shall be graced with a sense of inner peace in this world and with enduring bliss in the life to come; and since they are thus to be rewarded with the “fruits” of all their good deeds, “no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve” (cf. 2: 62, 3:170, 5: 69, 6: 48, 7: 35, 10: 62, 46: 13). See also note on 29: 67.] But most of them are unaware [of this truth].

PUNISHMENT IN THIS LIFE

(58) And how many a community that [once] exult­ed in its wanton wealth and ease of life have We destroyed, so that those dwelling-places of theirs – all but a few - have never been dwelt-in after them: for it is indeed We alone who shall remain when all else will have passed away! [Lit., “We are indeed (kunna) the inheritors”. For an explanation of my rendering of this phrase, see note on 15: 23. The above passage stresses the insignificance and brittleness of all worldly “advantages” as compared with the imperishable good of divine guidance.]  (59) Yet, withal, thy Sustainer would never destroy a community without having [first] raised in its midst an apostle who would convey unto them Our mes­sages; [Sc., “and thus make them aware of the meaning of right and wrong”: cf. 6: 130 - 132 and the corresponding notes.] and never would We destroy a community unless its people are wont to do wrong [to one another]. [Cf. in this connection note on 11: 117. All the three passages referred to in this as well as the preceding note (i.e., 6:130 -132, 11:117 and 28: 59) are interdependennt and must, therefore, be read side by side. The present passage connects with verse 58 above and its reference to “wanton wealth and ease of life”, for the sake of which people so often wrong one another.]

PUNISHMENT IN AFTERLIFE

(60) And [remember:] whatever you are given [now] is but for the [passing] enjoyment of life in this world, and for its embellishment - whereas that which is with God is [so much] better and more enduring. Will you not, then, use your reason? (61) Is, then, he to whom We have given that goodly promise which he shall see fulfilled [on his resurrection] [See second note on verse 57 above.] comparable to one on whom We have bestowed [all] the enjoyments of this worldly life but who, on Resurrection Day, will find himself among those that shall be arraigned [before Us]? [Sc., “for having misused Our gifts and attributed them to powers other than Us”.] (62) For, on that Day He will call unto them, and will ask: “Where, now, are those [beings or powers] whom you imagined to have a share in My divinity?” [Lit., “those partners of Mine whom you supposed [to exist]”: see notes on 6: 22-23.] - (63) [whereupon] they against whom the word [of truth] shall thus stand revealed [I.e., in the very fact of God’s calling them to account (cf. 27: 82 and the corresponding note). As the sequence shows, the persons thus addressed are the “leaders of thought” supposed to have set the community’s faulty standards of social behaviour and moral valuation; and since they are primarily responsible for the wrong direction, which their followers have taken, they will be the first to suffer in the life to come.] will exclaim: O our Sustainer! Those whom we caused to err so grievously, we but caused to err as we our­selves had been erring. [I.e., “we did not lead them astray out of malice, but simply because we ourselves had been led astray by our predecessors”. This “answer” is, of course, evasive, but it is quoted here to show that man’s attachment to false - but nevertheless, almost deified - values and concepts based on stark materialism is, more often than not, a matter of “social continuity”: in other words, the validity of those materialistic pseudo-values is taken for granted simply because they are time-honoured, with every generation blindly subscribing to the views held by their forebears. In its deepest sense, this passage - as so many similar ones throughout the Quran - points to the moral inadmissibility of accepting an ethical or intellectual proposition as true on no other grounds than that it was held to be true by earlier generations.] We [now] disavow them before Thee: it was not us that they worshipped!” [In other words, they were but wont to worship their own passions and desires projected onto extraneous beings. See in this connection 10: 28 and 34: 41 and the corresponding notes.] (64) And [they] will be told: “Call [now] unto those [beings or powers] to whom you were wont to ascribe a share in God’s divinity!” [Lit., “those [God-]partners of yours”.] — and they will call unto them [for help], but those [fake objects of worship] will not respond to them: whereupon they will see the suffering [that awaits them - the suffering which could have been avoided] if only they had allowed them­selves to be guided! [For this rendering of the phrase law kanu yahtadun, see second note on verse 56 above.] (65) And on that Day He will call unto them, and will ask: “How did you respond to My message­ bearers?” [This connects with the first sentence of verse 59, which has been explained in the corresponding note. The present verse clearly implies that those sinners had not responded to the guidance offered them by God’s apostles. As in many other instances in the Quran, God’s “question” is but meant to stress a moral failure, which by now has become obvious to man’s self-accusing conscience.] - (66) but all arguments and excuses will by then have been erased from their minds, [Lit., “will on that Day have become obscured to them”. The operative noun anba, which literally denotes “tidings”, has here the compound meaning of “arguments and excuses” (Tabari).] and they will not [be able to] obtain any [helpful] answer from one another. [I.e., they will all be equally confused. For the above rendering of la yatasa alun (lit., “they will not [be able to] ask one another”), see the explanations of this phrase advanced by Baghawi, Zamakhshari and Baydawi.] (67) But as against this - anyone who repents [I.e., during his life in this world. For an explanation of this stress on repentance - which flows from one’s realization of moral failure — see the last note on 24: 31.] and attains to faith and does righteous deeds may well [hope to] find himself among those who achieve a happy state [in the life to come].

GOD IS ALL KNOWING AND POWERFUL

(68) AND [thus it is:] thy Sustainer creates whatever He wills; and He chooses [for mankind] whatever is best for them. [Some of the classical commentators incline to interpret the ma in the phrase ma kana lahum al-khirah as a particle of negation and the noun khirah as “choice” or “freedom of choice”, thus giving to this phrase the meaning of “He chooses, [but] they [i.e., human beings) have no freedom of choice”. To my mind, however, this interpretation conflicts not only with the immediately preceding passages but with the tenor of the Quran as a whole, which insists throughout on man’s responsibility for (and, hence, on relative freedom in) choosing between right and wrong - and this side by side with its stress on God’s unlimited power to determine the factual course of events. Hence, I prefer to base my rendering on the interpretation advanced and convincingly argued by Tabari, who regards the crucial particle ma not as a negation but as a relative pronoun synonymous with alladhi (“that which” or “whatever”), and understands the noun khirah in its primary significance of “that which is chosen” or “preferred”, i.e., because it is considered to be the best: in another word, as a synonym of khayr. Zamakhshari refers to this interpretation with evident approval (without, however, mentioning Tabari specifically), and enlarges upon it thus: “God chooses for mankind whatever is best (ma huwa khayr) and most beneficial (aslah) for them, for He knows better than they themselves do what is good for them.”] Limitless is God in His glory, and sub­limely exalted above anything to which they may ascribe a share in His divinity! (69) And thy Sustainer knows all that their hearts conceal as well as all that they bring into the open: (70) for He is God, save whom there is no deity. Unto Him all praise is due, at the beginning and at the end [of time]; [Or: “in this first [i.e., present life] as well as in the life to come”.] and with Him rests all judgment; and unto Him shall you all be brought back. (71) Say: “Have you ever considered [this]: If God had willed that there should always be night about you, without break, until the Day of Resurrection - is there any deity other than God that could bring you light? [Lit., “who [i.e., “where”] is a deity…”, etc., obviously implying that no such “deity” exists.] Will you not, then, listen [to the truth]?” (72) Say: “Have you ever considered [this]: If God had willed that there should always be daylight about you, without break, until the Day of Resurrection - is there any deity other than God that could bring you [the darkness of] night, wherein you might rest? Will you not, then, see [the truth]?” [I.e., “Will you not recognize the miracle of planned and purposeful creation?”] (73) For it is out of His grace that He has made for you the night and the day, so that you might rest therein as well as seek to obtain [what you need] of His bounty: and [He gave you all this] so that you might have cause to be grateful.

ARRAIGNMENT BEFORE GOD

(74) AND ON THAT DAY [I.e., the Day of Resurrection - thus reverting to the theme enunciated in verses 62-66 above.] He will call unto those [that shall have been arraigned before His judgment seat], and will ask: “Where, now, are those [beings or powers] whom you imagined to have a share in My divinity?” [This repetition of God’s “question”, already mentioned in verse 62 above, is meant to stress the utter inability of the sinners concerned to justify their erstwhile attitude rationally; hence my interpolation at the beginning of the next verse.] (75) And [they will remain silent: for by then] We will have called forth witnesses from within every community, [I.e., the prophets who had appeared at various stages of man’s history, and who will now bear witness that they had duly conveyed God’s message to the people for whom it was meant.] and will have said [unto the sinners]: “Produce an evidence for what you have been claim­ing!” [Lit., “Produce your evidence” - i.e., for the possibility of anyone or anything having a share in God’s divinity.] And so they will come to understand that all truth is God’s [alone]; [I.e., that He is the Ultimate Reality, and that whatever is or could be is an outcome of His will alone.] and all their false imagery will have forsaken them. [For the meaning of the phrase ma kanu yaftarun (lit., “all that they were wont to invent” - rendered by me here as well as in 6: 24,7: 53, 10: 30, 11: 21 and 16: 87 as “all their false imagery”); see also note on 6:22. A specific instance of such “false imagery” the futility of man’s relying on his own wealth and worldly power - is illustrated in the immediately following legend of Qarun (see next note).]

FALSE PRIDE AND SELF-EXALTATION

(76) [NOW,] BEHOLD, Qarun was one of the people of Moses; [The structure of the above sentence is meant to show that even a person who had been a follower of one of the greatest of Gods apostles was not above the possibility of sinning under the influence of false pride and self-exaltation - a particular example of the “false imagery” referred to in the preceding passage. The conventional “identification” of Qarun with the Korah of the Old Testament (Numbers xvi) is neither relevant nor warranted by the Quranic text, the more so as the purport of this legend is a moral lesson and not a historical narrative. This, by the way, explains also the juxtaposition, elsewhere in the Quran (29: 39 and 40: 24), of Qarun with Pharaoh, the arch-sinner.] but he arrogantly exalted himself above them - simply because We had granted him such riches that his treasure-chests alone would surely have been too heavy a burden for a troop of ten men or even more. [The term usbah denotes a company of ten or more (up to forty) persons; since it is used here metonymically, pointing to the great weight involved, it is best rendered as above. The noun mafatih is a plural of both miftah or (“key”) and maftah (“that which is under lock and key”, i.e., a “hoard of wealth” or “treasure chest”), which latter meaning is obviously the one intended in the present context.] When [they perceived his arrogance,] his people said unto him: “Exult not [in thy wealth], for, verily, God does not love those who exult [in things vain]! (77) Seek instead, by means of what God has granted thee, [the good of] the life to come, [I.e., by spending in charity and on good causes.] without forget­ting, withal, thine own [rightful] share in this world; [Lit., “and do not forget...”, etc.: a call to generosity and, at the same time, to moderation (cf. 2: 143 – “We have willed you to be a community of the middle way”). and do good [unto others] as God has done good unto thee; and seek not to spread corruption on earth: for, verily, God does not love the spreaders of

corruption!” (78) Answered he: “This [wealth] has been given to me only by virtue of the knowledge that is in me!” [I.e., “as a result of my own experience, shrewdness and ability” (cf. 39: 49 and the corresponding note).] Did he not know that God had destroyed [the arrogant of] many a generation that preceded him - people who were greater than he in power, and richer in what they had amassed? But such as are lost in sin may not be asked about, their sins. [Obviously implying that “such as are lost in sin” (al-mujrimun) are, as a rule, blind to their own failings and, therefore, not responsive to admonition.] (79) And so he went forth before his people in all his pomp; [and] those who cared only for the life of this world would say, “Oh, if we but had the like of what Qarun has been given! Verily, with tremendous good fortune is he endowed!” (80) But those who had been granted true knowl­edge said: “Woe unto you! Merit in the sight of God [Lit., “God’s reward” sc., “of spiritual merit”.] is by far the best for any who attains to faith and does what is right: but none save the patient in adversity can ever achieve this [blessing].” (81) And thereupon We caused the earth to swallow him and his dwelling; and he had none and nothing to succour him against God, nor was he of those who could succour themselves. [Lit., “he had no host whatever to succour him…”, etc. Qarun’s being “swallowed by the earth” may possibly be metaphor of a catastrophic, unforeseen loss - from whatever cause - of all his worldly goods and, thus, of his erstwhile grandeur.] (82) And on the morrow, those who but yesterday had longed to be in his place exclaimed: “Alas [for our not having been aware] that it is indeed God [alone] who grants abundant sustenance, or gives it in scant measure, unto whichever He wills of His crea­tures! Had not God been gracious to us, He might have caused [the earth] to swallow us, too! Alas [for our having forgotten] that those who deny the truth can never attain to a happy state!” (83) As for that [happy] life in the hereafter, We grant it [only] to those who do not seek to exalt themselves on earth, nor yet to spread corruption: for the future belongs to the God-conscious. [This last clause makes it clear that, in order to have spiritual value, man’s “not seeking” worldly grandeur or self-indulgence in things depraved must be an outcome, not of indifference or of a lack of opportunity, but solely of a conscious moral choice.] (84) Whosoever shall come [before God] with a good deed will gain [further] good therefrom; [See note on the identical phrase in 27: 89.] but as for any who shall come with an evil deed - [know that] they who do evil deeds will not be requited with more than [the like of] what they have done. [Cf. 6:  60 and the corresponding note.] (85) VERILY, [O believer,] He who has laid down this Quran in plain terms, making it binding on thee, [According to Mujahid (as quoted by Tabari), the phrase farada alayka is almost synony­mous with ataka, “He gave [it] to thee”. This, however, elucidates only one part of the above complex expression, which, I believe, has here a meaning similar to that of faradnaha (“We laid it down in plain terms”) occurring in the first verse of surah 24 An-Nur) and explained in the corresponding note. In the present context, the particle alayka (“upon thee”}, with its pronominal suffix, gives to the above clause the additional meaning of a moral obligation on the part of the recipient of the Quranic message to conform his or her way of life to its teachings; hence my compound rendering of the phrase.] will assuredly bring thee back [from death] to a life renewed. [The term maad denotes, literally, “a place [or “a state”] to which one returns”, and, tropically, one’s “ultimate destination” or “ultimate condition”; in the present context, it is obviously synonymous with “life in the hereafter”. This is how most of the classical authorities interpret the above phrase. But on the vague assumption that this passage is addressed exclusively to the Prophet, some commentators incline to the view that the noun has here a specific, purely physical connotation – “a place of return” - allegedly referring to God’s promise to His Apostle (given during or after the latter’s exodus from Mecca to Medina) that one day he would return victoriously to the city of his birth. To my mind, however, the passage has a much deeper meaning, unconnected with any place or specific point in history: it is addressed to every believer, and promises not only a continuation of life after bodily death but also a spiritual rebirth, in this world, to anyone who opens his heart to the message of the Quran and comes to regard it as binding on himself.] Say [unto those who reject the truth]: My Sus­tainer knows best, as to who is right-guided [Lit., “as to who comes with guidance”.] and who is obviously lost in error!” (86) Now [as for thyself, O believer,] thou couldst never foresee [Lit., “hope” or “expect”.] that this divine writ would [one day] be offered to thee: but [it did come to thee] by thy Sustainer’s grace. Hence, never uphold those who deny the truth [of divine guidance], (87) and never let them turn thee away from God’s messages after they have been bestowed upon thee from on high: instead [Lit., “and”.] summon [all men] to thy Sustainer. And never be of those who ascribe divinity to aught but Him, (88) and never call upon any other deity side by side with God. There is no deity save Him. Everything is bound to perish, save His [eternal] self. [See 55: 26-27 and the corresponding note.] With Him rests all judgment; and unto Him shall you all be brought back.

THE TWENTY-NINTH SURAH

AL-ANKABUT (THE SPIDER)

PERIOD UNCERTAIN

Most of the authorities are of the opinion that this surah is one of the last to have been revealed in Mecca, while some maintain that it is one of the earliest Medina revelations. Others, again, assert that while the main body of the surah is Meccan, the first ten or eleven verses were revealed at Medina. And, finally, there are some scholars who hold the opposite view, ascribing the first nine verses to Mecca, and the rest to Medina. On the whole, it would seem that, historically, the surah marks the transition between the Mecca and Medina periods.

The title has been derived from the parable of “the spider’s house” in verse 41, a symbol of false beliefs and false values, which in the long run are bound to be blown away by the winds of truth.

IN THE NAME OF GOD, THE MOST GRACIOUS, THE DISPENSER OF GRACE: (1) Alif. Lam. Mim. [See Appendix II.]

TEST OF FAITH

(2) DO MEN THINK that on their [mere] saying, “We have attained to faith”, they will be left to themselves, and will not be put to a test? (3) Yea, indeed, We did test those who lived before them; and so, [too, shall be tested the people now living: and] most certainly will God mark out those who prove themselves true, and most certainly will He mark out those who are lying. [I.e., to others and/or to themselves (see note on verse 11 below). (4) Or do they think - they who do evil deeds [while claiming to have attained to faith] - that they can escape Us? Bad, indeed, is their judgment! (5) Whoever looks forward [with hope and awe] to meeting God [on Resurrection Day, let him be ready for it]: for, behold, the end set by God [for every­one’s life] is bound to come - and He alone is all-hearing, all-knowing!

GOOD DEEDS AND GOODNESS TOWARD PARENTS

(6) Hence, whoever strives hard [in God’s cause] does so only for his own good: for, verily, God does not stand in need of anything in all the worlds! (7) And as for those who attain to faith and do righteous deeds, We shall most certainly efface their [previous] bad deeds, and shall most certainly reward them in accordance with the best that they ever did. (8) Now [among the best of righteous deeds which] We have enjoined upon man [is] goodness towards his parents; [Cf. 31: 14 -15 and the corresponding note.] yet [eeven so,] should they endeavour to make thee ascribe divinity, side by side with Me, to something which thy mind cannot accept [as divine], obey then, not: [Lit., “something of which thou hast no knowledge”: i.e., in this particular case, “something which conflicts with thy knowledge that none and nothing can have any share in Gods qualities or powers”. According to Razi, this phrase may also allude to concepts not evolved through personal knowledge but, rather, acquired through a blind, uncritical acceptance of other people’s views (taqlid).] [for] it is unto Me that you all must return, whereupon I shall make you [truly] understand [the right and wrong of] all that you were doing [in life]. (9) But as for those who have attained to faith and have done righteous deeds, We shall most certainly cause them to join the righteous [in the hereafter as well].

HYPOCRITES

(10) Now there is among men many a one who says [of himself and of others like him], “We do believe in God” - but whenever he is made to suffer in God’s cause, he thinks that persecution at the hands of man is as [much to be feared, or even more than,] God’s chastisement; [I.e., the suffering which is bound to befall in the hereafter all who abandon their faith for fear of being persecuted in this world. It is to be borne in mind that a mere outward renunciation of faith under torture or threat of death is not considered a sin in Islam, although martyrdom for the sake of one’s faith is the highest degree of merit to which man can attain.] whereas, if succour from thy Sustainer comes [to those who truly believe] [I.e., when it is no longer risky to be counted as one of them.] he is sure to say. “Behold, we have always been with you!” Is not God fully aware of what is in the hearts of all creatures? (11) [Yea-] and most certainly will God mark out those who have [truly] attained to faith, and most certainly will He mark out the hypocrites. [This is probably the earliest occurrence of the term munafiq in the chronology of Quranic revelation. Idiomatically, the term is derived from the noun nafaq, which denotes an underground passage” having an outlet different from the entry, and signifying, specifically, the complicated burrow of a field-mouse, a lizard, etc., from which the animal can easily escape or in which it can outwit a pursuer. Tropically, the term munafiq describes a person who is “two-faced”, inasmuch as he always tries to find an easy way out of any real commitment, be it spiritual or social, by adapting his course of action to what promises to be of practical advantage to him in the situation in which he happens to find himself. Since a person thus characterized usually pretends to be morally better than he really is, the epithet munafiq may roughly be rendered as “hypocrite”. It should, however, be noted that whereas this Western term invariably implies conscious dissembling with the intent to deceive others, the Arabic term munafiq may also be applied - and occasionally is applied in the Quran - to a person who, being weak or uncertain in his beliefs or moral convictions, merely deceives himself. Hence, while using in my rendering of the Quranic text the conventional expression “hypocrite”, I have endeavoured to point out the above differentiation, whenever possible and necessary, in my explanatory notes.]

CONSEQUENCES OF LEADING OTHERS TO SIN

(12) And [He is aware, too, that] they who are bent on denying the truth speak [thus, as it were,] to those who have attained to faith: “Follow our way [of life], and we shall indeed take your sins upon ourselves!” [The above “saying” of the deniers of the truth is, of course, but a metonym for their attitude towards the believers: hence my interpolation, between brackets, of the words “as it were”. The implication is that people who deny the validity of any spiritual commitment arising out of one’s faith in “something that is beyond the reach of human perception” (al-ghayb) – in this case, the existence of God – are, as a rule, unwilling to tolerate such a faith and such a commitment in others as well: and so they endeavour to bring the believers to their way of thinking by a sarcastic, contemptuous reference to the alleged irrelevance of the concept of “sin” as such.] But never could they take upon themselves [Lit., “bear” – implying a reduction of the burden which the others would have to bear (Razi). See also next note.] aught of the sins of those [whom they would thus mislead]: behold, they are liars indeed! (13) Yet most certainly will they have to bear their own burdens, and other burdens besides their own; [Cf. the Prophet’s saying: “Whoever calls [others] unto the right way shall have a

reward equal to the [combined] rewards of all who may follow him until Resurrection Day, without anything being lessened of their rewards; and whoever calls unto the way of error will have to bear a sin equal to the [combined] sins of all who may follow him until Resurrection Day, without anything being lessened of their sins” (Bukhari).] and most certainly will they be called to account on Resurrection Day for all their false assertions!

TEST OF FAITH FOR NOAH’S PEOPLE

(14) And, indeed, [in times long past] We sent forth Noah unto his people, [This passage connects with verse 2 above. “We did test those who lived before them”. The story of Noah and of his failure to convert his people occurs in the Quran several times, and most extensively in 11: 25 - 48. In the present instance it is meant to illustrate the truth that no one - not even a prophet - can bestow faith on another person (cf. 28: 56 - “thou canst not guide aright everyone whom thou lovest”). The same purport underlies the subsequent references, in verses 16 - 40, to other prophets.] and he dwelt among them a thousand years bar fifty; [ Sc., “and despite this great length of time was unable to convince them of the truth of his mission”. The identical figure - 950 years - is given in the Bible (Genesis ix, 29) as Noah’s life span. By repeating this element of the Biblical legend, the Quran merely stresses the fact that the duration of a prophet’s mission has nothing to do with its success or failure, since “all true guidance is God’s guidance” (3: 73) - and, as we are so often told in the Quran, “God guides [only] him that wills [to be guided]”. Thus, the reference to Noah is meant to reassure the believer who may be distressed at seeing the majority of his fellow-men refuse to accept, all at once a truth which appears self-evident to him.] and then the floods over­whelmed them while they were still lost in evildoing: (15) but We saved him, together with all who were in the ark, which We then set up as a symbol [of Our grace] for all people [to remember].

TEST OF FAITH FOR ABRAHAM’S PEOPLE

(16) And Abraham, [too, was inspired by Us] when he said unto his people: “Worship God, and be conscious of Him: this is the best for you, if you but knew it! (17) You worship only [lifeless] idols instead of God, and [thus] you give visible shape to a lie! [Lit., you create a lie”.] Behold, those [things and beings] that you worship instead of God have it not in their power to provide sustenance for you: seek, then, all [your] sustenance from God, and worship Him [alone] and be grateful to Him: [for] unto Him you shall be brought back! (18) “And if you give [me] the lie - well, [other] communities have given the lie [to Gods prophets] before your time: but no more is an apostle bound to do than clearly deliver the message [entrusted to him].” (19) Are then they [who deny the truth] not aware of how God creates [life] in the first instance, and then brings it forth anew? This, verily, is easy for God! [This passage -consisting of verses 19 - 23 - is parenthhetically placed in the midst of the story of Abraham, connecting with the latter’s reference to resurrection at the end of verse 17 (“unto Him you shall he brought back”). The ever-recurring emergence, decay and re-emergence of life, so vividly exemplified in all organic nature, is often cited in the Quran not merely in support of the doctrine of resurrection, but also as evidence of a consciously-devised plan underlying creation as such - and, thus, of the existence of the Creator.] (20) Say: “Go all over the earth and behold how [wondrously] He has created [man] in the first in­stance: and thus, too, will God bring into being your second life for, verily, God has the power to will anything! [Cf., for example, 23:12 –14, which alludes to mans coming into existence out of most primitive elements, and gradually evolving into a highly complex being endowed not only with a physical body but also with a mind, with feelings, and instincts.] (21) He causes to suffer whomever He wills, and bestows His mercy on whomever He wills; and unto Him you shall be made to return: (22) and never - not on earth and not in the skies - can you [hope to] elude Him: and you have none to protect you from God, and none to bring you succour.” (23) And [thus it is:] they who are bent on denying the truth of God’s messages and of their [ultimate] meeting with Him - it is they who abandon all hope of My grace and mercy: and it is they whom grievous suffering awaits [in the life to come]. [Implying that such people deprive themselves of God’s grace and mercy (which is the twofold significance of the term rahmah in this context) by rejecting all belief in His existence: in other words, belief in God - or one’s readiness to believe in Him – is, in and by itself, already an outcome of His grace and mercy, just as suffering in the hereafter is an outcome of ones being “bent on denying the truth”.] (24) Now [as for Abraham,] his people’s only answer was, * “Slay him, or burn him!” – [*Lit., “the answer of his people was nothing but that they said” - thus connecting with the passage ending with verse 18.] but God saved him from the fire. [See note on 21: 69.] Behold, in this [story] there are messages indeed for people who will believe! (25) And [Abraham] said: “You have chosen to worship idols instead of God for no other reason than to have a bond of love * in the life of this world, [*Lit., “solely out of love”.] between yourselves [and your forebears]: [Thus Razi, explaining this idol-worship is a result of a mere blind imitation (taqlid) of attitudes inherited from past generations.] but then, on Resurrection Day, you shall disown one another and curse one another - for the goal of you all will be the fire, and you will have none to succour you.

TEST OF FAITH FOR LOT’S PEOPLE

(26) Thereupon [his brother’s son] Lot came to believe in him and said: “Verily, I [too] shall forsake the domain of evil [and turn] to my Sustainer: for, verily, He alone is almighty, truly wise!” [For an explanation of the concept of hijrah and of my above rendering of the term muhajir, see surah 2, note 203, and surah 4, note 24. In the present instance this term is obviously used in both its physical and spiritual senses, analogous to the earlier allusion (in 19:48 - 49) to Abraham’s “withdrawal” (itizal) from his evil, native environment and to his physical migration to Harran (in northern Mesopotamia), and thence to Syria and Palestine. The story of lot (Lut) is mentioned in the Quran several times, and particularly in 11: 69 - 83.] (27) And [as for Abraham,] We bestowed upon him Isaac and [Isaac’s son] Jacob, [I.e., in addition to Ishmael (lsmail). who had been born some years earlier (cf. 21:72).] and caused pro­phethood and revelation to continue among his offspring. And We vouchsafed him his reward in this world; [Among other things, by making him “a leader of men” (2: 24).] and, verily, in the life to come [too] he shall find himself among the righteous. (28) And Lot, [too, was inspired by Us] when he said unto his people: “Verily, you commit abominations such as none in all the world has ever committed before you! (29) Must you indeed approach men [with lust], and thus cut across the way [of nature]? [This particular interpretation of the phrase taqta un as-sabil is advanced by Baghawi and (on the authority of Al-Hasan) by Zamakhshari; Razi adopts it exclusively and without reservation.] - and must you commit these shameful deeds in your open] assemblies?” But his people’s only answer was, “Bring down upon us God’s chastisement, if thou art a man of truth!” (30) [And] he prayed: “O my Sustainer! Succour Thou me against these people who spread corrup­tion!” (31) And so, when Our [heavenly] messengers came to Abraham with the glad tiding [of the birth of Isaac], [See 11: 69 ff., as well as the first half of the corresponding note.] they [also] said, “Behold, we are about to destroy the people of that land, for its people are truly evildoers!” [The term qaryah has here, as so often in classical Arabic, the connotation of “land”, in this instance comprising the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah.] (32) [And when Abraham] exclaimed, “But Lot lives there!” - they answered: We know fully well who is there; most certainly we shall save him and his household - all but his wife: she will indeed be among those that stay behind.” [See notes on 7: 83 and 11: 81. In the present instance, as well as in the next verse, the past-tense auxiliary verb kanat is meant to stress the inevitability of the future event referred to; hence, “she will indeed be…”, etc.] (33) And when Our messengers came unto Lot, he was sorely grieved on their account, seeing that it was beyond his power to shield them; [See note on 11: 77.] but they said: “Fear not, and grieve not! Behold, we shall save thee and thy household - all but thy wife: she will indeed be among those that stay behind. (34) Verily, we shall bring down upon the people of this land a horror from heaven in requital of all their iniquitous doings!” (35) And [so it happened; and] thereof, indeed, We have left a clear sign for people who use their reason. [This is an allusion to the Dead Sea - known to this day as Bahr Lut (“The Sea of Lot”) - which covers most of the region in which Sodom and Gomorrah were once situated. Its waters contain so high a percentage of sulphur and potash that no fish or plants can live in them.]

TEST OF FAITH FOR PEOPLE OF MADYAN AND AD

(36) AND UNTO [the people of] Madyan [We sent] their brother Shuayb [See note on 7: 85. The story of Shuayb and his people appears in greater detail in 11:84 - 95.] who thereupon said: “O my peo­ple! Worship God [alone], and look forward to the Last Day, and do not act wickedly on earth by spreading corruption!” (37) But they gave him the lie. Thereupon an earthquake overtook them: and then they lay lifeless, in their very homes, on the ground. [See note on 7: 78 (a passage, which relates to the tribe of Thamud), and note on 7: 91.] (38) AND [the tribes of] Ad and Thamud [See notes on 7:65, and 7:73.] [too, did We destroy -] as should have become obvious to you from [whatever there remains of] their dwellings. [As regards the tribe of Ad, the above seems to be an allusion to their one-time capital, the legendary “Iram the many-pillared” (mentioned in the Quran only once, namely, in 89: 7). It has since been buried by the moving sand dunes of Al-Ahqaf (a region between Uman and Hadramawt, within the great South-Arabian desert of Rub al-Khali); it is said, however, that its traces are occasionally uncovered by strong winds. For an explanation of the reference to the dwellings of the Thamud, see note on 7: 74.] [They perished] because Satan had made their [sinful] doings seem goodly to them, and thus had barred them from the path [of God] despite their having been endowed with the ability to perceive the truth. [Thus, the Quran implies that it is man’s “ability to perceive the truth” (istibsar) that makes him morally responsible for his doings and, hence, for his failure to resist his own evil impulses - which is evidently the meaning of “Satan” in this context. See in this connection 14: 22 and the corresponding notes.]

TEST OF FAITH FOR QARUN AND PHARAOH, AND HAMAN

(39) And [thus, too, did We deal with] Qarun and Pharaoh, and Haman: [As regards Qarun, see 28: 76 ff. and, in the corresponding note; for Haman, note on 28: 6. The common denominator between these two and Pharaoh is their false pride (takabbur) and arrogance (istikbar), which cause them to become “archetypes of evil” (cf. 28: 41 and the corresponding note). A similar attitude of mind is said to have been characteristic of the tribes of Ad and Thamud, mentioned in the preceding verse.] to them had come Moses with all evidence of the truth, but they behaved arrogantly on earth [and rejected him]; and withal, they could not escape [Us].

PARABLE OF SPIDER’S WEB

(40) For, every one of them, did We take to task for his sin: and so, upon some of them We let loose a deadly storm wind; and some of them were overtaken by a [sudden] blast; [Sc., “of Gods punishment”: cf. note on 11: 67.] and some of them We caused to be swallowed by the earth: and some of them We caused to drown. And it was not God who wronged them, but it was they who had wronged themselves. (41) The parable of those who take [beings or forces] other than God for their protectors is that of the spider which makes for itself a house: for, behold, the frailest of all houses is the spiders house. Could they but understand this! (42)            Verily, God knows whatever it is that men invoke instead of Him [Lit., “whatever thing they invoke instead of Him”: i.e., He knows the nothingness of those false objects of worship (Zamakhshari), irrespective of whether they be imaginary deities, or deified saints, or forces of nature, or even false concepts or ideas; but He also knows the weakness of the human heart and mind and, hence, the hidden motivation of all such irrational worship.] - for He alone is almighty, truly wise. (43) And so We propound these parables unto man: but none can grasp their innermost meaning save those who [of Us] are aware [Inasmuch as awareness of the existence of God is here postulated as a prerequisite of a full understanding of the Quranic parables (and, by implication, allegories as well), the above verse should be read side by side with the statement that the Quran is meant to be “a guidance for all the God-conscious, who believe in the existence of a reality which is beyond the reach of human perception” (see 2: 2 -3 and the corresponding note).] (44) [[and hence are certain that] God has created the heavens and the earth in accordance with [an inner] truth: [I.e., endowed with meaning and purpose: see second note on 10:5. In other words, belief in the existence of a meaning and a purpose underlying the creation of the universe is a logical corollary of ones belief in God.] for, behold, in this [very creation] there is a message indeed for all who believe [in Him].

BENEFITS OF PRAYER

(45) CONVEY [unto others] whatever of this divine writ has been revealed unto thee, [If we assume that verses 45 - 46 are addressed not merely to the Prophet but to believers in general (an assumption which is strengthened by the plural form of address in the last clause of verse 45 and throughout verse 46), the above phrase may be taken to mean “whatever of the divine writ has revealed itself to thy understanding”.] and be constant in prayer: for, behold, prayer restrains [man] from loathsome deeds and from all that runs counter to reason; [For an explanation of this rendering of the term and concept of al-munkar, see second note on 16: 90.] and remembrance of God is indeed the greatest [good]. And God knows all that you do.

ARGUMENTS WITH JEWS AND CHRISTIANS

(46) And do not argue with the followers of earlier revelation otherwise than in a most kindly manner - unless it be such of them as are bent onn evildoing [Sc., “and are therefore not accessible to friendly argument”: the implication being that in such cases all disputes should a priori be avoided. As regards religious discussions in general, see note on 16: 125.] - and say: “We believe in that which has been be­stowed from on high upon us, as well as that which has been bestowed upon you: or our God and your God is one and the same, and it is unto Him that We [all] surrender ourselves.” (47) For it is thus [I.e., “in this spirit”: a reference to the sameness of the fundamental truths in all revealed religions.] that We have bestowed this divine writ from on high upon thee [O Muhammad]. And they to whom we have vouchsafed this divine writ believe in it [I.e., “they to whom We grant the ability to understand this divine writ”.] - just as among those [followers of earlier revelation] there are some who believe in it. And none could knowingly reject Our messages unless it be such as would deny [an obvious] truth: [This rendering of the verb jahada - in the present instance and in verse 49 below (as well as in 31: 32, 40: 63 or 41: 28) - in the sense of a person’s denying or rejecting something which he knows to be true is based on the authority of Zamakhshari’s Asas.] (48) for, [O Muhammad,] thou hast never been able to recite any divine writ ere this one [was revealed], nor didst thou ever transcribe one with your own hand [Lit., “with thy right hand” - the term yamin being used here metonymically, denoting no more than one’s “own hand”. It is historically established that Muhammad, the “unlettered prophet” (cf. 7: 157 and 158), could neither read nor write, and could not, therefore, have derived his extensive knowledge of the contents of earlier revelations from the Bible or other scriptures: which - as the Quran points out - ought to convince any unprejudiced person that this knowledge must have come to him through divine revelation.] - or else, they who try to disprove the truth [of thy revelation] might indeed have had cause to doubt [it]. [The participial noun mubtil is derived from the verb abtala, “he made a false [or “vain”] claim”, or “tried to disprove the truth [of something]”, or “to reduce [something] to nothing”, or “to prove [it] to be of no account” or “null and void”, or “unfounded”, “false”, “spurious”, etc., irrespective of whether the object is true or false, authentic or spurious, valid or unfounded (Lisan al-Arab and Taj al-Arus).] (49) Nay, but this [divine writ] consists of messages clear to the hearts of all who are gifted with [innate] knowledge [Lit., “self-evident (bayvinat) in the breasts of those who have been given knowledge” - the term ilm having here the connotation of intuitive, spiritual perception.] - and none could knowingly reject Our messages unless it be such as would do wrong [to themselves]. (50) And yet they say, “Why have no miraculous signs ever been bestowed upon him from on high by his Sustainer?” Say: “Miracles are in the power of God alone; [See note on 6: 109.] and as for me - I am but a plain warner.” (51) Why - is it not enough for them that We have bestowed this divine writ on thee from on high, to be conveyed [by thee] to them? [I.e., “are the contents of this revelation not enough for them to make them grasp its intrinsic truth without the help of ‘miraculous proofs’ of its divine origin?” (Cf. note on the last sentence of 7: 75.)] For, verily, in it is [manifested Our] grace, and a reminder to people who will believe. (52) Say [unto those who will not believe]: “God is witness enough between me and you! He knows all that is in the heavens and on earth; and they who are bent on believing in what is false and vain, and thus on denying God - it is they, they who shall be the losers!” (53) Now they challenge thee to hasten the coming upon them of [God’s] chastisement: [See note on 8: 32.] and indeed, had not a term been set [for it by God], that suffering would already have come upon them! But indeed, it will most certainly come upon them of a sudden, and they will be taken unawares. (54) They challenge thee to hasten the coming upon them of [God’s] chastisement: but, verily, hell is bound to encompass all who deny the truth - (55) [encompass them] on the Day when suffering will overwhelm them from above them and from beneath their feet, [I.e., from all directions and from many causes.] whereupon He shall say: “Taste [now the fruit of] your own doings!”

REWARDS FOR GOOD WORKS

(56) O YOU servants of Mine who have attained to faith! Behold, wide is Mine earth: worship Me, then, Me alone! [Implying that since the earth offers innumerable, multiform facilities to human life, there is no excuse for forgetting God “owing to the pressure of adverse circumstances”. Whenever or wherever the worship of God - in its essential, and not merely liturgical sense - becomes im­possible, the believer is obliged to “forsake the domain of evil” (which, as explained in note on 4: 97, is the innermost meaning of the concept of hijrah) and to “migrate unto God”, that is, to a place where it is possible to live in accordance with one’s faith.] (57) Every human being is bound to taste death, [and] in the end unto Us shall all be brought back: (58) whereupon unto those who have attained to faith and wrought good works We shall most certainly assign mansions in that paradise through which run­ning waters flow, therein to abide: how excellent a reward for those who labour - (59) those who are patient in adversity and in their Sustainer place their trust!

ALL PRAISE FOR GOD ALONE

(60) And how many a living creature is there that takes no thought of its own sustenance; [Lit., “that does not bear [or “assume responsibility for”] its sustenance” - i.e., is either too weak to fend for itself or (according to Al-Hasan, as quoted by Zamakhshari) does not store up provisions for the morrow. This passage connects with the reference at the end of the preceding verse to “those who in their Sustainer place their trust”.] [the while] God provides for it as [He provides] for you - since He alone is all-hearing, all-knowing. (61) And thus it is [with most people]: [Regarding my rendering of lain as “thus it is: if…,” etc., see note on 30: 51. The people spoken of in the sequence are such as do acknowledge the existence of God but have only a vague idea as to what this acknowledgment implies on should imply.] if thou ask them, “Who is it that has created the heavens and the earth, and made the sun and the moon subservi­ent [to His laws]?” - they will surely answer, “God.” How perverted, then, are their minds! [See second note on 5: 75. The perversion consists in their thinking that they really “believe in God” and nevertheless worshipping false values and allegedly “divine” powers side by side with Him: all of which amounts to a virtual denial of His almightiness and uniqueness.] (62) God grants abundant sustenance, or gives it in scant measure, to whichever He wills of His crea­tures: for, behold, God has full knowledge of every­thing. [Sc., “and, hence knows what is really good and, from the viewpoint of His unfathomable plan, necessary for each living being”.] (63) And thus it is: if thou ask them, “Who is it that sends down water from the skies, giving life thereby to the earth after it had been lifeless?” - they will surely answer, “God.” Say thou: “[Since this is so,] all praise is due to God [alone]!” But most of them will not use their reason: (64) for, [if they did, they would know that] the life of this world is nothing but a passing delight and a play - whereas, behold, the life in the hereafter is indeed the only [true] life: if they but knew this!

ASCRIBING DIVINITY TO AUGHT

(65) And so, when they embark on a ship [and find themselves in danger], they call unto God, [at that moment] sincere in their faith in Him alone; but as soon as He has brought them safe ashore, they [begin to] ascribe to imaginary powers a share in His divinity: (66) and thus [The particle li prefixed to the subsequent verbs yakfuru (“they show [utter] ingratitude”) and yatamattau (“they enjoy” or “go on enjoying”) their worldly life”) is not an indication of intent (“so that” or “in order that”) but merely of a causal sequence; in the above context, it may be appropriately rendered as “and thus”.] they show utter ingratitude for all that We have vouchsafed them, and go on [thoughtlessly] enjoying their worldly life.

SANCTUARY FOR BELIEVERS

(67) Are they, then, not aware that We have set up a sanctuary secure [for those who believe in Us], the while all around them men are being carried away [by fear and despair]? [See note on the second paragraph of 28: 57. In contrast to the “sanctuary secure” the inner peace and sense of spiritual fulfillment which God bestows on those who truly believe in Him - the atheist or agnostic is more often than not exposed to fear of the Unknown and a despair born of the uncertainty as to what will happen to him after death.] Will they, then, [continue to] believe in things false and vain, and thus deny God’s blessings.

ATTRIBUTING LIES TO GOD

(68) And who could be more wicked than he who attributes his own lying inventions to God, [I.e., by persuading himself that there is, side by side with God or even independently of Him, any “power” that could govern men’s destinies.] or gives the lie to the truth when it comes unto him [through revelation]? Is not hell the [proper] abode for all who [thus] deny the truth?

PATHS TO GOD

(69) But as for those who strive hard in Our cause -We shall most certainly guide them onto paths that lead unto Us: [Lit., “Our paths”. The plural used here is obviously meant to stress the fact - alluded to often in the Quran - that there are many paths, which lead to a cognizance (marifah) of God.] for, behold, God is indeed with the doers of good.

THE THIRTIETH SURAH

AR-RUM (THE BYZANTINES)

MECCA PERIOD

This surah, revealed about six or seven years before the hijrah, takes its designation from the prophetic reference to the Byzantines in the opening verses. (For the historical background of this prophecy, see notes below.) From this unequivocal prediction of events, which at the time of its revelation were still shrouded in the mists of the future, the surah proceeds rapidly to its central theme: the wonder of Gods creation of all that exists. His constant “bringing forth the living out of that which is dead” and thus His ability, and promise, to resurrect the dead at the end of time. But this, the Quran says, most people are “determined not to know” (verse 56), because “they know but the outer surface of this worlds life whereas of the ultimate things they are utterly unaware” (verse 7); and because of their oblivion of those ultimate things, “corruption has appeared on land and in the sea as an outcome of what men’s hands have wrought” (verse 41): a most incisive prediction of what is happening in the world of our days.

IN THE NAME OF GOD, THE MOST GRACIOUS, THE DISPENSER OF GRACE: (1) Alif. Lam. Mim. [See Appendix II.]

PROPHESY ABOUT VICTORY OF BYZANTINES’S AND MUSLIM

(2) Defeated have been the Byzantines (3) in the lands close-by; yet it is they who, notwithstanding this their defeat, shall be victorious (4) within a few years: [for] with God rests all power of decision, first and last. [Lit., “before and after”. The defeats and victories spoken of above relate to the last phases of the centuries-long struggle between the Byzantine and Persian Empires. During the early years of the seventh century the Persians conquered parts of Syria and Anatolia, “the lands close-by”, i.e., near the heartland of the Byzantine umpire; in 613 they took Damascus and it 614, Jerusalem; Egypt fell to them in 615–16, and at the same time they laid siege to Constantinople itself. At the time of the revelation of this surah - about the seventh year before the hijrah, corresponding to 615 or 616 of the Christian era - the total destruction of the Byzantine Empire seemed imminent. The few Muslims around the Prophet were despondent on hearing the news of the utter discomfiture of the Byzantines, who were Christians and, as such, believed in the One God. The pagan Quraysh, on the other hand, sympathized with the Persians who, they thought, would vindicate their own opposition to the One-God idea. When Muhammad enunciated the above Quran-verses predicting a Byzantine victory “within a few years”, this prophecy was received with derision by the Quraysh. Now the term bid (commonly rendered as “a few”) denotes any number between three and ten; and, as it happened, in 622 – i.e., six or seven years after the Quranic prediction - the tide turned in favour of the Byzantines. In that year, Emperor Heraclius succeeded in defeating the Persians at Issus, south of the Taurus Mountains, and subsequently drove them out of Asia Minor. By 624, he carried the war into Persian territory and thus put the enemy on the defensive: and in the beginning of December, 626, the Persian armies were completely routed by the Byzantines.] And on that day will the believers [too, have cause to] rejoice (5) in God’s succour: [This is a prediction of the battle of Badr, which was to take place eight or nine years later, in the month of Ramadan,

2 H. (corresponding to January, 624, of the Christian era), when the Muslims decisively defeated a very much superior force of pagan Quraysh (see introductory note to surah 8). The expression “on that day” has in this context the meaning of “at the same time”, for although the battle of Badr began and ended on one day, the victories of Heraclius over the Persians took some years to materialize.] [for] He gives suc­cour to whomever He wills, since He alone is almighty, a dispenser of grace. (6) [This is] God’s promise. Never does God fail to fulfill His promise - but most people know [it] not:

INNER REALITY OF THIS WORLD AND ULTIMATE REALITY OF HEREAFTER

(7) they know but the outer surface of this world’s life, whereas of the ultimate things they are utterly un­aware. [The term al-akhirah circumscribes, in this context, both the inner reality of this world’s life and the ultimate reality of the hereafter.] (8) Have they never learned to think for them­selves? [Lit., “Have they never thought within themselves?”] God has not created the heavens and the earth and all that is between them without [an inner] truth and a term set [by Him]: [I.e., in contrast to God, who is eternal and unlimited, everything created is limited and subject to change and termination. As regards my rendering of illa bil-haqq (lit., “otherwise than with [or “in”] truth) as without [an inner] truth”, see note on the second sentence of 10:5.] and yet, behold, there are many people who stubbornly deny the truth that they are destined to meet their Sustainer! (9) Have they, then, never journeyed about the earth and beheld what happened in the end to those [deniers of the truth] who lived before their time? Greater were they in power than they are; and they left a stronger impact on the earth, and built it up even better [Lit., “more”. The phrase can also be rendered as “peopled it [or “dwelt in it”] in great numbers”.] than these [are doing]; and to them [too] came their apostles with all evidence of the truth: and so, [when they rejected the truth and thereupon perished,] it was not God who wronged them, but it was they who had wronged themselves. (10) And once again: [For this particular rendering of thumma, see 6: 38.] evil is bound to be the end of those who do evil by giving the lie to God’s messages and deriding them. (11) GOD CREATES [man] in the first instance, and then brings him forth anew: [I.e., He will bring him forth anew: cf. 10: 4 and the corresponding note. (A more general formulation of the same statement is found in verse 27 of this surah.)] and, in the end, unto Him you all will be brought back. (12) And when the last Hour dawns, those who were lost in sin will be broken in spirit (13) for they will have no intercessors in the beings to whom they were wont to ascribe a share in God’s divinity, [Lit., “among their [God-] partners” (see 6: 22).] seeing that [by then] they themselves will have ceased to believe in their erstwhile blasphemous fancies. [Lit., “they will have rejected those [God-] partners of theirs”.] (14) And when the Last Hour dawns - on that Day will all [men] be sorted out: (15) as for those who attained to faith and did righteous deeds, they shall be made happy in a garden of delight; (16) but as for those who refused to acknowledge the truth and gave the lie to Our messages - and (thus) to the announce­ment [See note on 7: 147.] of a life to come - they will be given over to suffering.

FIVE DAILEY PRAYERS

(17) EXTOL, then, God’s limitless glory when you enter upon the evening hours, and when you rise at morn; (18) and [seeing that] unto Him is due all praise in the heavens and on earth, [glorify Him] in the afternoon as well, and when you enter upon the hour of noon. [I.e., “remember God at all times”. Apart from this general exhortation, the hours mentioned above circumscribe the times of the five daily prayers incumbent upon a Muslim. The “evening hours” indicate the prayer after sunset (maghrib) as well as that after nightfall (isha).]

PROMISE OF RESURRECTION

(19) He [it is who] brings forth the living out of that which is dead, and brings forth the dead out of that which is alive, and gives life to the earth after it had been lifeless: and even thus will you be brought forth [from death to life] (20) And among His wonders is this: He creates you out of dust – [See second half of note on 3: 59, and note on 23: 12.]  and then, lo! you become human beings ranging far and wide! (21) And among His wonders is this: He creates for you mates out of your own kind. [Lit., “from among yourselves” (see 4: 1).] so that you might incline towards them, and He engenders love and tenderness between you: in this, behold, there are messages indeed for people who think! (22) And among his wonders is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the diversity of your tongues and colours: for in this, behold, there are messages indeed for all who are possessed of [innate] knowledge! (23)           And among His wonders is your sleep, at night or in daytime, as well as your [ability to go about in] quest of some of His bounties: in this, behold, there are messages indeed for people who [are willing to] listen! (24) And among His wonders is this: He displays before you the lightning, giving rise to [both] fear and hope, [I.e., hope of rain - an oft-recurring Quranic symbol of faith and spiritual life (cf. 13:12).] and sends down water from the skies, giving life thereby to the earth after it had been lifeless: in this, behold, there are messages indeed for people who use their reason! (25) And among His wonders is this: the skies and the earth stand firm at His behest. [Cf. 13: 2, where God is spoken of as having “raised the skies without any supports that you could see” - a phrase explained in the corresponding note.] [Remember all this: for] in the end, when He will call you forth from the earth with a single call - lo! you will [all] emerge [for judgment]. (26)     For, unto Him belongs every being that is in the heavens and on earth; all things devoutly obey His will. (27) And He it is who creates [all life] in the first instance, and then brings it forth anew: [Although this statement is phrased in almost exactly the same words as in verse 11 above (as well as in 10: 4), it evidently has here a more general purport, relating not only to man and mans individual resurrection but to the creation and constant re-creation of all life.] and most easy is this for Him, since His is the essence of all that is most sublime in the heavens and on earth, and He alone is almighty, truly wise. [Primarily, the term mathal denotes a “likeness” or “similitude”, and hence is often used in the Quran (e.g., in the next verse) in the sense of “parable”. Occasionally, however, it is synonymous with sifah, which signifies the intrinsic “attribute”, “quality” or “nature” of a thing, concept or living being (cf. the reference to “the nature of Jesus” and “the nature of Adam” in 3:59). With reference to God, who is sublimely exalted above anything that men may devise by way of definition (see 6: 100 and the corresponding note), the expression mathal clearly points to a quality of being entirely different from all other categories of existence, inasmuch as there is “nothing like unto Him” (42: 11) and “nothing that could he compared with Him” (112: 4): hence, the rendering of mathal as “essence” is most appropriate in this context.]

PARABLE OF MASTER AND SLAVE

(28) He propounds unto you a parable drawn from your own life: [Lit., “a parable (mathal) from yourselves”.] Would you [agree to] have some of those whom your right hands possess [I.e., slaves or persons otherwise subject to ones authority.] as [full-fledged] partners in whatever We may have bestowed upon you as sustenance, so that you [and they] would have equal shares in it, and you would fear [to make use of it without consulting] them, just as you might fear [the more powerful of] your equals?

[Lit., “yourselves” - i.e., “those who are equal to you in status”. The question is, of course, rhetorical, and must be answered in the negative. But if (so the implied argument goes) a human master would not willingly accept his slaves as full-fledged partners - even though master and slave are essentially equal by virtue of the humanness common to both of them (Zamakhshari) - how can man regard any created beings or things as equal to Him who is their absolute Lord and Master, and is beyond comparison with anything that exists or could ever exist? (Parables with a similar purport are found in 16: 75-76.) Thus clearly do We spell out these messages unto people who use their reason. (29) But nay - they who are bent on evildoing fol­low but their own desires, without having any knowl­edge (of the truth). [In this instance, the phrase alladhina zalamu (“they who are bent on evildoing”) relates to those who deliberately ascribe divinity or divine powers to anyone or anything beside God, thus yielding to a desire for divine or semi-divine “mediators” between themselves and Him. Inasmuch as such a desire offends against the concept of God’s omniscience and omnipresence, its very existence shows that the person concerned does not really believe in Him and, therefore, does not have the least knowledge of the truth.] And who could guide those whom God has [thus] let go astray, and who (thereupon) have none to succour them? [For an explanation of God’s “letting man go astray”, see note on the second sentence of 14: 4, as well as note on 2: 7.] (30) AND SO, set thy face steadfastly towards the [one ever-true] faith, [I.e., “surrender thy whole being”; the term “face” is often used metonymically in the sense of one’s “whole being”.] turning away from all that is false, [For this rendering of hanif, see note on 2: 135.] in accordance with the natural disposition which God has instilled into man: [See 7: 172 and the corresponding note. The term fitrah, rendered by me as “natural disposition”, connotes in this context man’s inborn, intuitive ability to discern between right and wrong, true and false, and, thus, to sense God’s existence and oneness. Cf. the famous saying of the Prophet, quoted by Bukhari and Muslim: “Every child is born in this natural disposition; it is only his parents that later turn him into a ‘Jew’, a ‘Christian’, or a ‘Magian’.” These three religious formulations, best known to the contemporaries of the Prophet, are thus contrasted with the “natural disposition” which, by definition, consists in man’s instinctive cognition of God and self-surrender (Islam) to Him. (The term “parents” has here the wider meaning of “social influences” or “environment”).]

[for,] not to allow any change to corrupt what God has thus created  [Lit., “no change shall there be [or “shall be made”] in God’s creation (khalq)”. i.e., in the natural disposition referred to above (Zamakhshari). In this context, the term tabdil (“change”) obviously comprises the concept of “corruption”.] - this is the [purpose of the one] ever-true faith; but most people know it not.

SECTARIANISM

(31) [Turn, then, away from all that is false,] turn­ing unto Him [alone]; and remain conscious of Him, and be constant in prayer, and be not among those who ascribe divinity to aught beside Him, (32) [or] among those who have broken the unity of their faith and have become sects, each group delighting in but what they themselves hold [by way of tenets]. [See 6: 159, 21: 92 - 93 and 23: 52 - 53, as well as the corresponding notes.]

MAN’S INGRATITUDE

(33) NOW [thus it is:] when affliction befalls men, they cry out unto their Sustainer, turning unto Him [for help]; but as soon as He lets them taste of His grace, lo! some of them [begin to] ascribe to other powers a share in their Sustainer’s divinity, [see note on 16:54.] (34) [as if] to prove their ingratitude for all that We have granted them! Enjoy, then, your [brief] life: but in time you will come to know [the truth]! (35) Have We ever bestowed upon them from on high a divine writ [Lit., “a warrant” or “authority” (sultan), in this context obviously denoting a revelation.] which would speak [with appro­val] of their worshipping aught beside Us? [Lit., “of that which they were wont to associate [with Us]”. Cf. second paragraph of 35: 43 and the corresponding note.] (36) And [thus it is:] when we let men taste [Our] grace, they rejoice in it; but if evil befalls them as an outcome of what their own hands have wrought [See 4: 79 and the corresponding note.] - lo! they lose all hope!

CHARITY

(37) Are they, then, not aware that it is God who grants abundant sustenance, or gives it in scant measure, unto whomever He wills? In this, behold, there are messages indeed for peo­ple who will believe! (38) Hence, give his due to the near of kin, as well as to the needy and the wayfarer; [Cf. 17: 26.] this is best for all who seek God’s countenance: for it is they, they that shall attain to a happy state! (39) And [remember:] whatever you may give out in usury so that it might increase through [other] people’s possessions will bring [you] no increase in the sight of God [This is the earliest mention of the term and concept of riba in the chronology of Quranic revelation. In its general, linguistic sense, this term denotes an “addition” to or an “increase” of a thing over and above its original size or amount; in the terminology of the Quran, it signifies any unlawful addition, by way of interest, to a sum of money or goods lent by one person or body of persons to another. Considering the problem in terms of the economic conditions prevailing at or before their time, most of the early Muslim jurists identified this “unlawful addition” with profits obtained through any kind of interest-bearing loans irrespective of the rate of interest and the economic motivation involved. With all this - as is evidenced by the voluminous juridical literature on this subject - Islamic scholars have not yet been able to reach an absolute agreement on the definition of riba: a definition, that is, which would cover all conceivable legal situations and positively respond to all the exigencies of a variable economic environment. In the words of Ibn Kathir (in his commentary on 2: 275), “the subject of riba is one of the most difficult subjects for many of the scholars (ahl al-ilm)”. It should be borne in mind that the passage condemning and prohibiting riba in legal terms (2: 275 - 281) was the last revelation received by the Prophet, who died a few days later (cf. note on 2: 281); hence, the Companions had no opportunity to ask him about the shari implications of the relevant injunction - so much so that even Umar ibn al-Khattabb is reliably reported to have said: “The last [of the Quran] that was revealed was the passage [lit.. “the verse”] on riba; and, behold, the Apostle of God passed away without [lit., “before”] having explained its meaning to us” (Ibn Hanbal, on the authority of Said ibn al-Musayyab). Nevertheless, the severity with which the Quran condemns riba and those who practice it furnishes - especially when viewed against the backgground of mankind’s economic experiences during the intervening centuries - a sufficiently clear indication of its nature and its social as well as moral implications. Roughly speaking, the opprobrium of riba (in the sense in which this term is used in the Quran and in many sayings of the Prophet) attaches to profits obtained through interest-bearing loans involving an exploitation of the economically weak by the strong and resourceful: an exploitation characterized by the fact that the lender, while retaining full ownership of the capital loaned and having no legal concern with the purpose for which it is to be used or with the manner of its use, remains contractually assured of gain irrespective of any losses which the borrower may suffer in consequence of this transaction. With this definition in mind, we realize that the question as to what kinds of financial transactions fall within the category of riba is, in the last resort, a moral one, closely connected with the socio-economic motivation underlying the mutual relationship of borrower and lender; and, stated in purely economic terms, it is a question as to how profits and risks may be equitably shared by both partners to a loan transaction. It is, of course, impossible to answer this double question in a rigid, once-for-all manner: our answers must necessarily vary in accordance with the changes to which mans social and technological development - and, thus, his economic environment - is subject. Hence, while the Quranic condemnation of the concept and practice of riba is unequivocal and final, every successive Muslim generation is faced with the challenge of giving new dimensions and a fresh economic meaning to this term which, for want of a better word, may be rendered as “usury”. In the present instance (which, as I have mentioned, is the earliest in the history of the Quran), no clear-cut prohibition is as yet laid down; but the prohibition appearing in 2: 275 ff. is already foreshadowed by the reference to the immoral hope of increasing one’s own substance “through [other] people’s possessions”, i.e., through the exploitation of others.] - whereas all that you give out in charity, seeking God’s countenance, [will be blessed by Him:] [Cf. 2: 276.] for it is they, they [who thus seek His countenance] that shall have their recompense mul­tiplied! (40) IT IS GOD who has created you, and then has provided you with sustenance, and then will cause you to die, and then will bring you to life again. Can any of those beings or powers to whom you ascribe a share in His divinity [Lit., “any of your [God-] partners”. Cf. note on 6: 22.] ­do any of these things? Limitless is He in His glory, and sublimely exalted above anything to which men may ascribe a share in His divinity!

CORRUPTION

(41) [Since they have become oblivious of God,] corruption has appeared on land and in the sea as an outcome of what men’s hands have wrought: and so [The prefix li in li-yudhiqahum does not indicate here a purport or intent (“so that” or “in order that”), but is a lam al-aqibah, i.e., a prefix expressing a factual consequence (best rendered as “thereupon” or “and so”).] He will let them taste [the evil of] some of their doings, so that they might return [to the right path]. [Thus, the growing corruption and destruction of our natural environment, so awesomely - if as yet only partially - demonstrated in our time, is here predicted as “an outcome of what men’s hands have wrought”, i.e., of that self-destructive - because utterly materialistic - inventiveness and frenzied activity which now threatens mankind with previously unimaginable ecological disasters: an unbridled pollution of land, air and water through industrial and urban waste, a progressive poisoning of plant and marine life, all manner of genetic malformations in men’s own bodies through an ever widening use of drugs and seemingly “beneficial” chemicals, and the gradual extinction of many animal species essential to human well-being. To all this may be added the rapid deterioration and decomposition of man’s social life, the all-round increase in sexual perversion, crime and violence, with, perhaps, nuclear annihilation as the ultimate stage: all of which is, in the last resort, an outcome of man’s oblivion of God and, hence, of all absolute moral values, and their supersession by the belief that material “progress” is the only thing that matters.] (42) Say: “Go all over the earth, and behold what happened in the end to those [sinners] who lived before [you]: most of them were wont to ascribe divine qualities to things or beings other than God.” [I.e., they worshipped material comfort and power, and thus lost sight of all spiritual values and, in the end, destroyed themselves.] (43) Set, then, thy face steadfastly towards the one ever-true faith, [See verse 30 above, as well as the corresponding notes; also 3: 19 - “the only [true] religion in the sight of God is [man’s] self-surrender unto Him”.] ere there come from God a Day [of reckoning - the Day] which cannot be averted. On that Day all will be sundered: (44) he who has denied the truth will have to bear [the burden of] his denial, whereas all who did what is right and just will have made goodly provision for themselves, (45) so that He might reward, out of His bounty, those who have attained to faith and done righteous deeds. Verily, He does not love those who refuse to acknowledge the truth –

GOD’S BLESSING AND PUNISHMENT

(46) for among His wonders is this: He sends forth [His messages as He sends forth] the winds that bear glad tidings, [The mention of God’s messages, interpolated by me between brackets, is justified by the verses which precede and follow this passage. Moreover, it is only by means of such an interpolation that the symbolic purport of the above reference to “the winds that bear glad tidings” can be made fully obvious.] so that He might give you a taste of His grace [through life-giving rains], and that ships might sail at His behest, and that you might go about in quest of some of His bounties, and that you might have cause to be grateful. (47) And indeed, [O Muhammad, even] before thee did We send forth apostles - each one unto his own people [Lit., “did We send apostles to their [own] people”: see note on 10: 74.] - and they brought them all evidence of the truth: and then, [by causing the believers to triumph,] We inflicted Our retribution upon those who [de­liberately] did evil: for We had willed it upon Our­selves to succour the believers. (43) It is God who sends forth the winds [of hope], [As in verse 46 above, the reference to “the winds” has here a symbolic significance, namely, spiritual life and hope; hence my interpolation.] so that they raise a cloud - whereupon He spreads it over the skies as He wills, and causes it to break up so that thou seest rain issue from within it: and as soon as He causes it to fall upon whomever He wills of His servants - lo! they rejoice, (49) even though a short while ago, [just] before it was sent down upon them, they had abandoned all hope! (50) Behold, then, [O man,] these signs of God’s grace - how He gives life to the earth after it had been lifeless! Verily, this Selfsame [God] is indeed the One that can bring the dead back to life: for He has the power to will anything! (51) But thus it is: if  [The particle la in (lit., “indeed, if …”) is often used in the Quran to express the recurrent, typical character of the attitude or situation referred to in the sequence; in all such cases it may be suitably rendered as “thus it is: if …”, etc.] We send a wind [that scorches their land], and they see it turn yellow, they begin, after that [erstwhile joy], to deny the truth [of Our almightiness and grace]! [For a full explanation of this verse, see 11: 9 and the corresponding notes.] (52) And, verily, thou canst not make the dead hear: and [so, too,] thou canst not make the deaf [of heart] hear this call when they turn their backs [on thee] and go away, (53) just as thou canst not lead the blind [of heart] out of their error: none canst thou make hear [thy call] save such as [are willing to] believe in Our messages, and thus surrender them­selves unto Us. [Cf. the identical passage in 27: 80-81 and the corresponding note.]

LIFE AFTER DEATH

(54) IT IS GOD who creates you [all in a states of weak­ness, and then, after weakness, ordains strength [for you], and then, after [a period of] strength, ordains [old-age] weakness and grey hair. [In the original, this sentence is formulated in the past tense (“has created you” and “has ordained”), stressing the recurrent character of man’s life-phases. In translation, this recurrence can be suitably expressed by using the present tense.] He creates what He wills; and He alone is all-knowing, infinite in His power. (55) [He it is who will cause you to die, and in time will resurrect you.] [This interpolation - the meaning of which is elliptically implied here - shows the connection of the present passage with the preceding one, as well as with verses 11-16 and 27.] And when the Last Hour dawns, those who had been lost in sin will swear that they had not tarried [on earth] longer than an hour: thus were they wont to delude themselves [all their lives]! [The illusory character of man’s earthbound concept of “time” is brought out in the Quran in several places. In the above context stress is laid, firstly, on the relativity of this concept - i.e., on the infinitesimal shortness of our life on earth as compared with the timeless duration of life in the hereafter (cf., for instance, 10: 45 or 17: 52) - and, secondly, on the resurrected sinners’ self-deluding excuse that their life on earth had been too short to allow them to realize their errors and mend their ways. It is to this second aspect of the problem that the Quran alludes in the words, “thus were they wont to delude themselves” (lit., “to be turned away”, i.e., from the truth). For an explanation of the verb yu fikun, see the second note on 5: 75.] (56) But those who [in their lifetime] were endowed with knowledge [See the last note on 16: 27.] and faith will say: “Indeed, you have been tardy in [accepting as true] what God has revealed, [Lit., “with regard to (fi) God’s revelation (kitab)”, i.e., that the dead shall be resurrected and judged by Him. It is to be noted that the verb labitha signifies “he waited [for something] or he was tardy [with regard to something]” as well as “he stayed [in a place]” or “he remained”. Evidently, in verse 55 ma labithu has the meaning of “they had not stayed” or “remained”, while in verse 56 labithtum denotes “you have been tardy” or “you have waited”.] [and you have waited] until the Day of Resurrection: this, then, is the Day of Resurrection: but you - you were determined not to know it!  [Lit., “you were wont not to know” - i.e., “you persistently closed your mind to this promise”.] (57) And so, on that Day their excuse will be of no avail to those who were bent on evildoing, nor will they be allowed to make amends.

(58) AND, INDEED, We have propounded unto men all kinds of parables in this Quran. [See note on the first clause of 39: 27.] But thus it is: if thou approach them with any [such] message, those who are bent on denying the truth are sure to say, “You are but making false claims!” (59) In this way does God seal the hearts of those who do not [want to] know [the truth]. [For an explanation of God’s “sealing” the hearts of such people, see note on 2: 7.] (60) Remain, then, patient in adversity: verily, Gods promise [of resurrection] is true indeed - so let not those who are devoid of all inner certainty disquiet thy mind!

THE THIRTY-FIRST SURAH

LUQMAN

MECCA PERIOD

Revealed, like the preceding surah, in the middle of the Mecca period, Luqman owes its title to verses 12 - 19, where this legendary sage (see note 12) is spoken of as counselling his son. There is no cogent reason to ascribe, as some commentators do, certain verses of this surah to the Medina period.

IN THE NAME OF GOD, THE MOST GRACIOUS, THE DISPENSER OF GRACE: (1) Alif. Lam. Mim. [See Appendix II.] (2) THESE ARE MESSAGES of the divine writ, full of wisdom, [See note on 10:1.]

DOERS OF GOOD

(3) providing guidance and grace unto the doers of good (4) who are constant in prayer and dispense charity: [The term az-zakah seems to have here its more general meaning of “charity” rather than the legal connotation of “purifying dues” (see note on 2: 43), the more so as the above passage has a close inner resemblance to 2 : 2 – 4, where “spending on others out of what We provide as sustenance” is described as one of the characteristics of the God-conscious.] for it is they, they who in their innermost are certain of the life to come! (5) It is they who follow the guidance [that comes to them] from their Sustainer; and it is they, they who shall attain to a happy state!

 

EVILDOERS

(6) But among men there is many a one that prefers a mere play with words [to divine guidance], [Lit., “among the people there is he who [or “such as”] takes playful [or “idle”] talk in exchange”, i.e., for divine guidance: apparently an allusion to a pseudo-philosophical play with words and metaphysical speculations without any real meaning behind them (cf. note on 23: 67). Contrary to what some of the commentators assume, the above statement does not refer to any one person (allegedly a contemporary of the Prophet) but describes a type of mentality and has, therefore, a general import.] so as to lead [those] without knowledge astray from the path of God, and to turn it to ridicule: for such there is shameful suffering in store. (7) For, whenever Our messages are conveyed to such a one, he turns away in his arrogance [Cf. 23: 66-67.] as though he had not heard them - as though there were deafness in his ears.

LIMITED SUFFERING AND ETERNAL HAPPINESS

Give him, then, the tiding of grievous suffering [in the life to come]. (8) [As against this,] verily, those who attain to faith and do righteous deeds shall have gardens of bliss, (9) to abide therein in accordance with God’s true promise: for He alone is almighty, truly wise. [Commenting on the above three verses, Razi points out, firstly, that the deliberate contrast between the plural in the promise of “gardens (jannat) of bliss” and the singular in that of “suffering” (adhab) is meant to show that God’s grace surpasses His wrath (cf. note on 6:12); and, secondly, that the use of the expression “to abide therein” in connection with the mention of paradise only, and not with that of otherworldly suffering (or hell), is an indication that whereas the enjoyment of the former will be unlimited in duration, suffering in what is described as “hell” will be limited.]

CREATIONS OF GOD

(10) He [it is who] has created the skies without any supports that you could see, [See note on 13: 2.]

and has placed firm mountains upon the earth, lest it sway with you, [See note on 16: 15.] and has caused all manner of living creatures to multiply thereon. And We [This is another of the many Quranic instances where the personal pronoun relating to God is suddenly changed - in this instance, from “He” to “We” - in order to indicate that God, being infinite, cannot be circumscribed by any pronoun applicable to created, finite beings, and that the use of such pronouns with reference to Him is no more than a concession to the limited nature of every human language.] send down water from the skies, and thus We cause every noble kind [of life] to grow on earth. [Lit., “thereon”. As in 26: 7, the term zawj has here the significance of “a kind”.] (11) [All] this is God’s creation: show Me, then, what others than He may have created! Nay, but the evildoers [Sc., “who ascribe divine powers to beings or things other than God”.] are obviously lost in error!

LUQMAN’S ADVICE TO HIS SON

Be Grateful To God and Shun Idol-Worship

(12) and, indeed, we granted this wisdom unto Luq­man: [Popularly (though without sufficient justification) identified with Aesop, Luqman is a legendary figure firmly established in ancient Arabian tradition as a prototype of the sage who disdains worldly honours or benefits and strives for inner perfection. Celebrated in a poem by Ziyad ibn Muawiyah (better known under his pen-name Nabighah adh-Dhubyani), who lived in the sixth century of the Christian era, the person of Luqman had become, long before the advent of Islam, a focal point of innumerable legends, stories and parables expressive of wisdom and spiritual maturity: and it is for this reason that the Quran uses this mythical figure - as it uses the equally mythical figure of Al-Khidr in surah 18 - as a vehicle for some of its admonitions bearing upon the manner in which man ought to behave.] “Be grateful unto God - for he who is grateful [unto Him] is but grateful for the good of his own self; whereas he who chooses to be ungrateful [ought to know that], verily, God is self-sufficient, ever to be praised!” (13) And, lo, Luqman spoke thus unto his son, admonishing him: “O my dear son! [Lit., “O my little son” - a diminutive idiomatically expressive of endearment irrespective of whether the son is a child or a grown man.]

Do not ascribe divine powers to aught beside God: for, behold, such [a false] ascribing of divinity is indeed an awesome wrong!

Obey Your Parents except When They Are Wrong

(14) “And [God says:] ‘We have enjoined upon man goodness towards his parents: his mother bore him by bearing strain upon strain, and his utter dependence on her lasted two years: [Lit., “his weaning is [or “takes place”] within two years”. According to some philologists, the term fisal circumscribes the entire period of conception, gestation, birth and earliest infancy (Taj al-Arus): in brief, the period of a child’s utter dependence on its mother.] [hence, O man,] be grateful towards Me and towards thy parents, [and remember that] with Me is all journeys’ end. [Thus, gratitude towards parents, who were instrumental in one’s coming to life, is here stipulated as a concomitant to man’s gratitude towards God, who is the ultimate cause and source of his existence (cf. 17: 23-24).] (15) “‘[Revere thy parents;] yet should they endeavour to make thee ascribe divinity, side by side with Me, to something which thy mind cannot accept [as divine], [Lit., “something of which thou hast no knowledge”, i.e., “something which is contrary to thy knowledge that divine qualities are God’s alone” (cf. 29:  8).] obey them not; but [even then] bear them company in this world’s life with kindness, and follow the path of those who turn towards Me. In the end, unto Me you all must return; and thereupon I shall make you [truly] understand all that you were doing [in life].’ (16) “O my dear son,” [continued Luqman,] “verily, if there be but the weight of a mustard-seed, and though it be [hidden] in a rock, or in the skies, or in the earth, God will bring it to light: [Nothing is hidden from God and He will bring forth: i.e., take account of it.] for, behold, God is unfathomable [in His wisdom], all-aware [For my rendering of latif as “unfathomable”, see surah 6: 103.]

Practice humbleness

(17) “O my dear son! Be constant in prayer, and enjoin the doing of what is right and forbid the doing of what is wrong, and bear in patience whatever [ill] may befall thee: this, behold, is something to set one’s heart upon! (18) “And turn not thy cheek away from people in [false] pride, and walk not haughtily on earth: for, behold, God does not love anyone who, out of self- conceit, acts in a boastful manner. (19) “Hence, be modest in thy bearing, and lower thy voice: for, behold, the ugliest of all voices is the [loud] voice of asses…”

RELIGION OF FOREFATHERS

(20) ARE YOU NOT aware that God has made subservient to you all [I.e., “has enabled you to derive benefit from all, etc. (Cf. note on 14: 32-33.)] that is in the heavens and all that is on earth, and has lavished upon you His blessings, both outward and inward? [I.e., both visible and invisible benefits, as well as both physical and intellectual (or spiritual) endowments.] And yet, among men there is many a one that argues about God without having any knowledge [of Him], without any guidance, and without any light-giving revelation; (21) and when such [people] are told to follow that which God has bestowed from on high, they answer, “Nay, we shall follow that which we found our forefathers believing in and doing!” Why - [would you follow your forefathers] even if Satan had invited them unto the suffering of the blazing flame? [Regarding the implications of the term “Satan” in this context, see note on 2: 14 and on 15: 17. As in many other places in the Quran, the above verse expresses an oblique condemnation of the principle and practice of taqlid (see Razi’s observations quoted in note on 26: 74).] (22) Now whoever surrenders his whole being unto God, [See note on 2: l12.] and is a doer of good withal, has indeed taken hold of a support most unfailing: for with God rests the final outcome of all events. (23) But as for him who is bent on denying the truth - let not his denial grieve thee: unto Us they must return, and then We shall make them [truly] understand all that they were doing [in life]: for, verily, God has full knowledge of what is in the hearts [of men]. (24) We will let them enjoy them­selves for a short while - but in the end We shall drive them into suffering severe.

GOD IS ALL-POWERFUL, ALL-KNOWING, AND ALL-AWARE.

(25) AND THUS it is [with most people]: if [For the above rendering of la in, see surah 30:51.] thou ask them, “Who is it that has created the heavens and the earth?” - they will surely answer, “God.” Say: “[Then you ought to know that] all praise is due to God!”- for most of them do not know [what this implies]. [I.e., they give the above answer unthinkingly, following a vague habit of thought, without realizing that a cognition of God as the Ultimate Cause of all existence logically postulates one’s full surrender to Him, and to Him alone.] (26) Unto God belongs all that is in the heavens and on earth. Verily, God alone is self-sufficient, the One to whom all praise is due! (27)  And if all the trees on earth were pens, and the sea [were] ink, with seven [morel seas yet [Lit., “after that”.] added to it, the words of God would not be exhausted: for, verily, God is almighty, wise. [Cf. a similar passage in 18: 109.] (28) [For Him,] the creation of you all and the resurrection of you all is but like [the creation and resurrection of] a single soul: [I.e., in view of His almightiness, there is no difference between the creation and resurrection of many and of one, just as every single soul is as much within His ken as is all mankind.] for, verily, God is all-hearing, all-seeing. (29) Art thou not aware that it is God who makes the night grow longer by shortening the day, and makes the day grow longer by shortening the night, and that He has made the sun and the moon subservient [to His laws], each running its course for a term set [by Him] [See note on 13: 2.] - and that God is fully aware of all that you do? (30) Thus it is, because God alone is the Ultimate Truth, [See surah 20:114.] so that all that men invoke instead of Him is sheer falsehood; and because God alone is exalted, truly great! (31) Art thou not aware how the ships speed through the sea by God’s favour, so that He might show you some of His wonders? Herein, behold, there are messages indeed for all who are wholly patient in adversity and deeply grate­ful [to God]. (32) For [thus it is with most men:] when the waves engulf them like shadows [of death], they call unto God, sincere [at that moment] in their faith in Him alone: but as soon as He has brought them safe ashore, some of them stop half-way [between belief and unbelief] [Cf. 17: 67, as well as 29: 65, which says - in a similar context - that “they (begin to) ascribe to imaginary powers a share in His divinity” (yushrikun). The parable of a storm at sea is, of course, a metonym applying to every kind of danger that may beset man in life.] Yet none could knowingly reject Our messages unless he be utterly perfidious, ingrate. (33) O MEN! Be conscious of your Sustainer, and stand in awe of the Day on which no parent will be of any avail to his child, nor a child will in the least avail his parent! Verily, God’s promise [of resurrection] is true in­deed: let not, then, the life of this world deludes you, and let not [your own] deceptive thoughts about God delude you! [For instance, the self-deluding expectation, while deliberately committing a sin, that God will forgive it (Said ibn Jubayr, as quoted by Tabari, Baghawi, Zamakhshari) According to Tabari, the term gharur denotes “anything that deludes” (ma gharra) a person in the moral sense, whether it be Satan, or another human being, or an abstract concept, or (as in 57: 14) “wishful thinking”.] (34) Verily, with God alone rests the knowledge of when the Last Hour will come: and He [it is who] sends down rain; and He [alone] knows what is in the wombs: [This relates not merely to the problem of the sex of the as yet unborn embryo, but also to the question of whether it will be born at all, and if so, what its natural endowments and its character will be, as well as what role it will be able to play in life: and life itself is symbolized by the preceding mention of rain, and the end of all life in this world, by the mention of the Last Hour.] whereas no one knows what he will reap tomorrow, and no one knows in what land he will die, Verily. God [alone] is all-knowing, all-aware.  

THE THIRTY-SECOND SURAH

AS-SAJDAH (PROSTRATION)

MECCA PERIOD

ALMOST all the authorities agree in that this surah belongs to the late Mecca period and that it was revealed immediately after surah 23 (“The Believers”). The view advanced by some commentators that verses16-20 were revealed at Medina is purely speculative and does not deserve serious consideration. The key-word which came to be accepted as the “title” of this surah is found in verse 15.

IN THE NAME OF GOD, THE MOST GRACIOUS, THE DISPENSER OF GRACE: (1) Alif. Lam. Mim. [See appendix II]

DIVINE WRIT TO WARN PEOPLE

(2) The bestowal from on high of this divine writ issues, beyond any doubt, from the Sustainer of all the worlds: (3) and yet, [Cf. note on 10: 38.] they [who are bent on denying the truth] assert, “[Muhammad] has invented it!” Nay, but it is the truth from thy Sustainer, enabling thee to warn [this] people to whom no warner has come before thee, so that they might follow the right path.

GOD’S CREATION FOR THIS LIFE AND RE-CREATION FOR AFTERLIFE

(4) IT IS GOD who has created the heavens and the earth and all that is between them in six aeons, and is established on the throne of His almightiness. [See note on 7: 54.] You have none to protect you from God, and none to intercede for you [on Judgment Day]: will you not, then, bethink yourselves? (5) He governs all that exists, from the celestial space to the earth; and in the end all shall ascend unto Him [for judgment] on a Day the length whereof will be [like] a thousand years of your reckoning. [I.e., the Day of Judgment will seem to be endless to those who are judged. In the ancient Arabic idiom, a day that is trying or painful is described as “long”, just as a happy day is spoken of as “short” (Maraghi XXI, 105).] (6) Such is He who knows all that is beyond the reach of a created being’s perception, as well as all that can be witnessed by a creature’s senses or mind: [See second note on surah 6: 73.] the Almighty, the Dispenser of Grace, (7) who makes most excellent everything that He creates. [I.e., He fashions every detail of His creation in accordance with the functions intended for it, irrespective of whether those functions can be understood by us or are beyond the reach of our perception. In the text, the passage comprising verses 7-9 is in the past tense; but since it relates to a continuous act of creation, it signifies the present and the future as well as the past, and may, therefore, be suitably rendered in the present tense.] Thus, He begins the creation of man out of clay; [Cf. note on 23: 12. In view of the next verse, this “beginning” of man’s creation seems to allude to the basic composition of the human body as such, as well as to each individual’s pre-natal existence in the separate bodies of his parents.] (8) then He causes him to be begotten [Lit., “He caused [i.e., as pointed out in note on verse 7 above, “He causes”] his procreation [or “his begetting”] to be out of…”, etc.] out of the essence of a humble fluid; (9) and then He forms him in accordance with what he is meant to be, and breathes into him of His spirit: [As in 15: 29 and 38: 72, God’s “breathing of His spirit into man” is a metaphor for the divine gift of life and consciousness, or of a “soul” (which, as pointed out in second note on surah 4: 171, is one of the meanings of the term ruh). Consequently, “the soul of every human being is of the spirit of God” (Razi). Regarding the verb sawwahu - rendered by me as “He forms him in accordance with what he is meant to be” - see notes on 87: 2 and 91: 7.] and [thus, O men,] He endows you with hearing, and sight, and feelings as well as minds: [Lit., “hearts” (afidah), which in classical Arabic is a metonym for both “feelings” and “minds”; hence my composite rendering of this term.] [yet] how seldom are you grateful! (10) For, [many are] they [who] say, “What! After we have been [dead and] lost in the earth, shall we indeed be [restored to life] in a new act of crea­tion?” Nay, but [by saying this] they deny the truth that they are destined to meet their Sustainer! [Sc., “and thus, by implication, they deny His existence”. (Cf. notes on 13:5.)] (11) Say: “[One day,] the angel of death who has been given charge of you will gather you, and then unto your Sustainer you will be brought back.”

PUNISHMENT FOR THOSE WHO ARE LOST IN SIN AND REWARDS FOR GOOD DEEDS

(12) If thou couldst but see [how it will be on Judgment Day], when those who are lost in sin will hang their heads before their Sustainer, [saying:] “O our Sustainer! [Now] we have seen, and we have heard! Return us, then, [to our earthly life] that we may do good deeds: for [now], behold, we are certain [of the truth]!” (13) Yet had We so willed, We could indeed have imposed Our guidance upon every human being: [Lit., “We could indeed have given unto every human being (nafs) his guidance”, i.e., forcibly: but since this would have deprived man of his ability to choose between right and wrong - and, thus, of all moral responsibility - God does not “impose” His guidance upon anyone (cf. 26: 4 and the corresponding note).] but [We have not willed it thus - and so] that word of Mine has come true: “Most certainly will I fill hell with invisible beings as well as with humans, all together!” [See 7: 18 as well as the last paragraph of 11: 119. As regards the “invisible beings” (jinn), see Appendix III.] (14) [And He will say unto the sinners:] “Taste, then, [the recompense] for your having been obli­vious of the coming of this your Day [of Judgment] - for, verily, We are [now] oblivious of you: taste, then, [this] abiding suffering for all [the evil] that you were wont to do!”

 (15) ONLY THEY [truly] believe in Our messages who, whenever they are conveyed to them, fall down, prostrating themselves in adoration, and extol their Sustainer’s limitless glory and praise; and who are never filled with false pride; (16) [and] who are im­pelled to rise [Lit., “whose sides [i.e., bodies] restlessly rise”.] from their beds [at night] to call out to their Sustainer in fear and hope; and who spend on others out of what We provide for them as sus­tenance. (17) And [as for all such believers,] no human being can imagine what blissful delights, as yet hidden, await them [in the life to come] as a reward for all that they did. [Lit., “what is kept hidden for them [by way] of a joy of the eyes”, i.e., of blissful delights, irrespective of whether seen, heard or felt. The expression “what is kept hidden for them” clearly alludes to the unknowable - and, therefore, only allegorically describable - quality of life in the hereafter. The impossibility of man’s really “imagining” paradise has been summed up by the Prophet in the well-authenticated hadith: “God says: ‘I have readied for My righteous servants what no eye has ever seen, and no ear has ever heard, and no heart of man has ever conceived” ’ (Bukhari and Muslim, on the authority of Abu Hurayrah; also Tirmidhi). This hadith has always been regarded by the Companions as the Prophet’s own comment on the above verse (cf. Fath al-Bari VIII, 418 f.).] (18) Is, then, he who [in his earthly life] was a believer to be compared with one who was in­iquitous? [Nay,] these two are not equal! (19) As for those who attain to faith and do right­eous deeds - gardens of rest await them, as a wel­comme [from God], in result of what they did; (20) but as for those who are lost in iniquity - their goal is the fire: as oft as they will try to come out of it, they will be thrown back into it; and they will be told, “Taste [now] this suffering through fire which you were wont to call a lie!” (21) However, ere [We condemn them to] that supreme suffering, We shall most certainly let them taste of a suffering closer at hand, [Lit., “nearer”, i.e., in this world: for an explanation, see note on 52: 47.] so that they might [repent and] mend their ways. [Lit., “so that they might return (to righteousness)”.] (22) And who could be more wicked than he to whom his Sustainer’s messages are conveyed and who thereupon turns away from them? Verily, We shall inflict Our retribution on those who are [thus] lost in sin!

COMMON SOURCE OF DIVINE REVELATION

(23) AND, INDEED, [O Muhammad,] We did vouchsafe revelation unto Moses [as well]: so be not in doubt of [thy] having met with the same [truth in the revelation vouchsafed to thee]. [With this passage the discourse returns to the theme enunciated at the beginning of this surah - namely, the divine origin of the revelation granted to Muhammad, which, as the present passage points out, proceeds from the same source as that granted to Moses (the last of the great apostles of God accepted as such by all the three monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam). Furthermore, the identity of the fundamental truths in all divine revelations, stressed in the above verse, implies an identity of the moral demands made of the followers of those revelations irrespective of period, race or social environment.] And [just as] We caused that [earlier revelation] to be a guidance for the children of Israel, (24) and [as] We raised among them leaders who, so long as they bore themselves with patience and had sure faith in Our messages, guided [their people] in accordance with Our behest [I.e., in accordance with the divine ordinances enunciated in and for their time in the Torah: an allusion to the decline of faith, frequently mentioned in the Quran, among the children of Israel of later times, and the tendency among many of their leaders and learned men to corrupt the text of the Torah and, thus, to “overlay the truth with falsehood” (see, e.g., 2: 42, 75, 79, and the corresponding notes).] - [so, too, shall it be with the divine writ revealed unto thee, O Muhammad.]  [This interpolation reflects Zamakhshari’s commentary on the above passage, to the effect that the Quran is destined to provide guidance and light so long as the community’s religious leaders are patient in adversity and steadfast in their faith: an interpretation which implies that the Quran will cease to be of benefit to people who have lost their moral virtues and their faith.]

BELIEF IN RESURRECTION

(25) VERILY, it is God alone who will decide between men [Lit., “between them”.] on Resurrection Day with regard to all on which they were wont to differ. [See surah 2: 113; also 22: 67-69. In the present instance, this difference of opinion relates to belief in resurrection, on the one hand, and its denial, on the other.] (26) [But] can, then, they [who deny the truth] learn no lesson by recalling how many a generation We have destroyed before their time? [For the wider meaning of the term qarn (lit., “generation”), see note on 20:128.] - [people] in whose dwelling-places they [themselves now] walk about? In this, behold, there are messages indeed: will they not, then, listen? (27) Are they not aware that it is We who drive the rain onto dry land devoid of herbage, and thereby bring forth herbage of which their cattle and they themselves do eat? Can they not, then, see [the truth of resurrection]? (28) But they answer: “When will that final decision take place, if what you [believers] say is true?” [A reference to the statement in verse 25.] (29) Say: “On the Day of the Final Decision, their [newly-found] faith will be of no use to those who [in their lifetime] were bent on denying the truth, nor will they be granted respite!” - (30) and then leave them alone, and wait [for the truth to unfold as] they, behold, are waiting.

THE THIRTY-THIRD SURAH

AL-AHZAB (THE CONFEDERATES)

MEDINA PERIOD

THE DESIGNATION of this surah is derived from the references in verses 9-27 to the War of the Confederates, which took place in the year 5 H. (see note on verse 9 below). The tone of these references, and especially of verse 20, shows that this part of the surah was revealed immediately after that war, i.e., towards the end of 5 H. Verses 37-40, which deal with the Prophet’s marriage to Zaynab bint Jahsh, were revealed in the same year, probably a few months earlier; the same can be said of verses 4-5, which apparently contain an indirect allusion to the Prophet’s adoptive relationship with Zaynab’s first husband, Zayd ibn Harithah (see in this connection note on verse 37 below). On the other hand, verses 28-29 and 52 cannot have been revealed earlier than the year 7 H., and may even belong to a later period (cf. note on verse 52). There is no clear evidence as to the date of the rest of this surah, although some authorities (e.g., Suyuti) maintain that much - if not most - of it was revealed after surah 3 (“The House of Imran”) and before surah 4 (“Women”), which would place it towards the end of 3 H., or in the early part of 4 H. In brief, it can be stated with certainty that the surah was revealed in small segments at various times between the end of the first and the middle of the last third of the Medina period. This, together with the fact that a considerable portion of it deals with the personal history of the Prophet, the relationship between him and his contemporaries - in particular, his family - and certain rules of behaviour which applied explicitly, and specifically, to his wives alone, explains why this surah is so complex in its structure and so diversified in its modes of expression.

ELECTIVE VERSES BLOOD RELATIONSHIPS

IN THE NAME OF GOD, THE MOST GRACIOUS, THE DISPENSER OF GRACE: (1) PROPHET! Remain conscious of God, and defer not to the deniers of the truth and the hypo­crites: for God is truly all-knowing, wise. (2) And follow [but] that which comes unto thee through revelation from thy Sustainer: [Lit., “what is revealed to thee from thy Sustainer” - indicating that He is the source of all revelation.] for God is truly aware of all that you do, [O men]. (3) And place thy trust in God [alone]: for none is as worthy of trust as God. (4) NEVER has God endowed any man with two hearts in one body: [Lit., “within him”. In the first instance, this connects with the preceding passage, implying that man cannot be truly conscious of God and at the same time defer to the views of “the deniers of the truth and the hypocrites” (Razi). Beyond this, however, the above sentence forms a conceptual link with the sequence, which states that it is against the God-willed laws of nature - and, therefore, unreasonable and morally inadmissible - to attribute to one and the same person two mutually incompatible roles within the framework of human relationships (Zamakhshari).] and [just as] He has never made your wives whom you may have declared to be “as

unlawful to you as your mothers’ bodies” [truly] your mothers, [This is a reference to the pre-Islamic Arabian custom called zihar, whereby a husband could divorce his wife by simply declaring, “Thou art [henceforth as unlawful] to me as my mother’s back”, the term zahr (“back”) being in this case a metonym for “body”. In pagan Arab society, this mode of divorce was considered final and irrevocable; but a woman thus divorced was not allowed to remarry, and had to remain forever in her former husband’s custody. As is evident from the first four verses of surah 58 (Al-Mujadalah) - which was revealed somewhat earlier than the present surah - this cruel pagan custom had already been abolished by the time of the revelation of the above verse, and is mentioned here only as an illustration of the subsequent dictum that the “figures of speech [lit., “your sayings”] which you utter with your mouths” do not necessarily coincide with the reality of human relations.] so, too, has He never made your adopted sons [truly] your sons: [I.e., in the sense of blood relationship: hence, the marriage restrictions applying to real sons - and, by obvious implication, daughters as well - do not apply to adoptive children. This statement has a definite bearing on verses 37 ff. below.] these are but [figures of] speech uttered by your mouths - whereas God speaks the [absolute] truth: [Sc., by bringing into being the factual, biological relationship of parent and child in distinction from all man-made, social relationships like husband and wife, or foster-parent and adoptive child. In this connection it should be borne in mind that the Quran frequently uses the metaphor of God’s “speech” to express His creative activity.] and it is He alone who can show [you] the right path. (5) [As for your adopted children,] call them by their [real] fathers’ names: this is more equitable in the sight of God; and if you know not who their fathers were, [call them] your brethren in faith and your friends. [I.e., “make it clear that your relationship is an adoptive one, and do not create the impression that they are your real children” - thus safeguarding their true identity.] However, you will incur no sin if you err in this respect: [I.e., by making a mistake in the attribution of the child’s parentage, or by calling him or her, out of love, “my son” or “my daughter”.] [what really matters is] but what your hearts intend - for God is indeed much-forgiv­ing, a dispenser of grace!

PROPHET AS A SPIRITUAL FATHER

(6) The Prophet has a higher claim on the believers than [they have on] their own selves, [seeing that he is as a father to them] and his wives are their mothers: [Thus, connecting with the preceding mention of voluntary, elective relationships (as con­trasted with those by blood), this verse points to the highest manifestation of an elective, spiritual relationship: that of the God-inspired Prophet and the person who freely chooses to follow him. The Prophet himself is reported to have said: “None of you has real faith unless I am dearer unto him than his father, and his child, and all mankind” (Bukhari and Muslim, on the authority of Anas, with several almost identical versions in other compilations). The Companions invariably regarded the Prophet as the spiritual father of his community. Some of them - e.g., Ibn Masud (as quoted by Zamakhshari) or Ubayy ibn Kab, Ibn Abbas and Muawiyah (as quoted by Ibn Kathir) - hardly ever recited the above verse without adding, by way of explanation, “seeing that he is [as] a father to them”; and many of the tabi in including Mujahid, Qatadah, lkrimah and Al-Hasan (cf. Tabari and Ibn Kathir) - did the same: hence my interpolation, between brackets, of this phrase. (However, see also verse 40 of this surah and the corresponding note.) As regards the status of the Prophet’s wives as the “mothers of the believers”, this arises primarily from the fact of their having shared the life of God’s Apostle in its most intimate aspect. Consequently, they could not remarry after his death (see verse 53 below), since all the believers were, spiritually, their “children”.] and they who are [thus] closely related have, in accordance with God’s decree, a higher claim upon one another than [was even the case between] the believers [of Yathrib] and those who had migrated [there for the sake of God]. [See note on the last but one sentence of 8: 75. As explained in that note, neither of these two passages (8: 75 and 33: 6) can be satisfactorily interpreted as bearing on the laws of inheritance: all endeavours to interpret them in that sense only do violence to the logical build-up and inner cohesion of the Quranic discourse. On the other hand, it is obvious that both passages have basically a similar (namely, spiritual) import - with the difference only that whereas the concluding sentences of Al-Anfal refer to the brotherhood of all believers in general, the present passage lays stress on the yet deeper, special relationship between every true believer and God’s Apostle.] None the less, you are to act with utmost goodness towards your [other] close friends as well: [I.e., towards all other believers, as stressed so often in the Quran, and particularly in 8: 75 (see preceding note): in other words, a believer’s exalted love for the Prophet should not blind him to the fact that “all believers are brethren” (49:10). The extremely complex term maruf rendered by me in this context as “innermost goodness”, may be defined as “any act [or attitude] the goodness whereof is evident to reason” (Raghib).] this [too] is written down in God’s decree. (7) AND LO! We did accept a solemn pledge from all the prophets [This parenthetic passage connects with verses 1-3 above, and relates to every prophet’s “pledge” - i.e., sacred duty - to convey God’s message to man, and thus to act as “a bearer of glad tidings and a warner”.] - from thee, [O Muhammad,] as well as from Noah, and Abraham, and Moses, and Jesus the son of Mary -: for We accepted a most weighty, solemn pledge from [all of] them, (8) so that [at the end of time] He might ask those men of truth as to [what response] their truthfulness [had received on earth]. [Cf. 5: 109 and, more particularly, 7: 6 - “We shall most certainly call to account all those unto whom Our message was sent, and We shall most certainly call to account the message-bearers [themselves]”.] And grievous suffering has He readied for all who deny the truth!

WAR OF THE TRENCH

(9) O YOU who have attained to faith! Call to mind the blessings which God bestowed on you (at the time) when [enemy] hosts came down upon you, where­upon We let loose against them a storm wind and [heavenly] hosts that you could not see: [Cf. 3: 124-125 and the corresponding note. The present passage (verses 9-27) relates to the War of the Confederates (al -ahzab) - also called the War of the Trench (al -khandaq) - which took place in 5 H. AAt the instigation of the Jewish tribe of Banu n-Nadir, who had been expelled from Yathrib (Medina) after they had broken the treaty binding them to the Muslims, several of the most powerful Arabian tribes formed a confederacy with a view to overcoming, once and for all, the threat posed by Islam to the beliefs and many of the customs of pagan Arabia. In the month of Shawwal, 5 H., a force of well over 12,000 men, composed of the Quraysh and their allies - the Banu Kinanah, Banu Asad and the people of the coastlands (the Tihamah), as well as the great Najdi tribe of Ghatafan and its allies, the Hawazin (or Banu Amir) and Banu Sulaym - converged upon Medina. Forewarned of their coming, the Prophet had ordered a deep trench to be dug around the town - a defensive measure unknown in pre-Islamic Arabia - and thus brought the assault of the Confederates to a halt. At that point, however, another danger arose for the Muslims: the Jewish tribe of Banu Qurayzah, who lived in the outskirts of Medina and until then had been allied with the Muslims, broke the treaty of alliance and openly joined the Confederates. Nevertheless, during a siege lasting several weeks all the attempts of the latter to cross the trench - manned by the numerically much weaker and less well-armed Muslims - were repulsed with heavy losses to the attackers; dissensions, based on mutual distrust, gradually undermined the much-vaunted alliance between the Jewish and the pagan Arab tribes; in the month of Dhu l-Qadah their frustration became complete when a bitterly-cold storm wind raged for several days, making life unbearable even for hardened warriors. And so, finally, the siege was raised and the Confederates dispersed, thus ending the last attempt of the pagans to destroy the Prophet and his community.] yet God saw all that you did. (10) [Remember what you felt] when they came upon you from above you and from below you, [The Ghatafan group tried to take the trench by assault from the upper, eastern part of the Medina plain, while the Quraysh and their allies launched an attack from its lower, i.e., western part (Zamakhshari), and this obviously in consonance with their original lines of approach - the Ghatafan having come from the highlands (Najd), and the Quraysh from the coastal lowlands (the Tihamah).] and when [your] eyes became dim and [your] hearts came up to [your] throats, and [when] most conflicting thoughts about God passed through your minds: [Lit., “[when] you thought all [manner of] thoughts about God”: i.e., “whether He would save you or allow your enemies to triumph”.] (11) [for] there and then were the believers tried, and shaken with a shock severe. (12) And [remember how it was] when the hypo­crites and those with hearts diseased [This phrase obviously denotes here the weak of faith among the believers.] said [to one another], “God and His Apostle have promised us nothing but delusions!” [This is a reference to Muhammad’s prophetic vision, at the time of digging the trench, of the future Muslim conquest of the whole Arabian Peninsula as well as of the Persian and Byzantine Empires (Tabari). Several authentic Traditions testify to the Prophet’s announcement of this vision at the time in question.] (13) and when some of them said, “O you people of Yathrib! You cannot withstand [the enemy] here: [I.e., outside the city, defending the trench.] hence, go back [to your homes]!” Whereupon a party from among them asked leave of the Prophet, saying, “Behold, our houses are exposed [to attack]!” — The while they were not [really] exposed: they wanted nothing but to flee. (14) Now if their town had been stormed, [Lit., “if entry to them had been forced”.] and they had been asked [by the enemy] to commit apos­tasy, [the hypocrites] would have done so without much delay [Lit., “and would not have tarried more than a little [while]”.] — (15) although ere that they had vowed before God that they would never turn their backs [on His message]: and a vow made to God must surely be answered for! (16) Say: “Whether you flee from [natural] death or from being slain [in battle], flight will not profit you - for, however you fare, [Lit., “for then” or “in that case” (idhan), signifying here “however it may be”.] you are not [allowed] to enjoy life for more than a little while!” (17) Say: “Who is there that could keep you away from God if it be His will to harm you, or if it be His will to show you mercy?” For, [do they not know that] besides God they can find none to protect them, and none to bring them succour? (18) God is indeed aware of those of you who would divert others [from fighting in His cause], as well as of those who say to their brethren, “Come hither to us [and face the enemy]!” — The while they [themselves] join battle but seldom, (19) begrudging you all help. But then, when danger threatens, thou canst see them looking to thee [for help, O Prophet], their eyes rolling [in terror] like [the eyes of] one who is overshadowed by death: yet as soon as the danger has passed, they will assail you [believers] with sharp tongues, begrudging you all that is good! [People like] these have never known faith - and therefore God will cause all their works to come to nought: for this is indeed easy for God. (20) They think that the Confederates have not [really] withdrawn; [Sc., “but would come back in force and resume the siege”.] and should the Confederates return, these [hypocrites] would prefer to be in the desert, among the bedouin, asking for news about you, [O believers, from far away;] and even were they to find themselves in your midst, they would but make a pretence at fighting [by your side]. [Lit., “they would not fight except a little”.] (21) VERILY, in the Apostle of God you have a good example for everyone who looks forward [with hope and awe] to God and the Last Day, and remembers God unceasingly. [This verse (and the passage that follows) connects with verses 9 - 11 above, and especially with verse 11 - “there and then were the believers tried, and shaken with a shock severe” - which summarizes, as it were, their experiences during the critical days and weeks of the War of the Trench. Although it is addressed, in the first instance, to those early defenders of Medina who were thus exhorted to emulate the Prophet’s faith, courage and steadfastness, the above verse is timeless in its import and its validity for all situations and conditions. Since the verb rajawa, as well as the noun-forms rajw, rujuww and raja derived from it, carry the connotation of both “hope” and “fear” (or “awe”), I have rendered yarju accordingly.] (22) And [so,] when the believers saw the Con­federates [advancing against them], they said, “This is what God and His Apostle have promised us!”- and, “Truly spoke God and His Apostle !“ [These seem to be allusions to 29: 2 (which may have been one of the last Meccan revelations) as well as to 2:155 and 214 (i.e., verses of the first surah of the Medina period).] and all this but increased their faith and their readiness to surrender themselves unto God. (23)            Among the believers are men who have [always] been true to what they have vowed before God; [Specifically, this verse is said to apply to certain of the Companions who vowed, at the time of the early campaigns, that they would fight until death at the Prophet’s side (Zamakhshari); in its wider sense, however, it relates to all efforts involving a supreme sacrifice in God’s cause.] and among them are such as have [already] redeemed their pledge by death, and such as yet await [its fulfillment] without having changed [their resolve] in the least. (24) [Such trials are imposed upon man] so that God may reward the truthful for having been true to their word, and cause the hypocrites to suffer - if that be His will - or [if they repent,] accept their repen­tance: [Cf. 6: 12 “God, who has willed upon Himself the law of grace and mercy” - and the corresponding note.] for, verily, God is indeed much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace! (25) Thus, for all their fury, God repulsed those who were bent on denying the truth; [I.e., the pagans among the Confederates (see note on verse 9 above); their Jewish allies are mentioned separately in the next verse.] no advantage did they gain, since God was enough to [protect] the believers in battle - seeing that God is most powerful, almighty; (26) and He brought down from their strongholds those of the followers of earlier reve­lation who had aided the aggressors, [Lit., “them”, i.e., the tribes allied against Muhammad and his community. The “followers of earlier revelation” (ahl al-kitab) referred to here were the Jews of the tribe of Banu Qurayzah, who despite their monotheistic faith had betrayed the Muslims and made common cause with the pagan Confederates. After the dismal rout of the latter, the Banu Qurayzah, anticipating the vengeance of the community which they had betrayed, withdrew to their fortresses in the vicinity of Medina. After a siege lasting twenty-five days they surrendered to the Muslims, forfeiting all that they possessed.] and cast terror into their hearts: some you slew, and some you made captive; (27) and He made you heirs to their lands, and their houses, and their goods - and [promised you] lands on which you had never yet set foot: [I.e., lands which the Muslims were to conquer and hold in the future. This clause - with its allusion to yet more prosperous times to come - provides a connection between the present passage and the next.] for God has indeed the power to will anything.

DESIRE FOR PROSPERITY BY PROPHET’S WIVES

(28) O PROPHET! Say unto thy wives: “If you desire [but] the life of this world and its charms - well, then, I shall provide for you and release you in a becoming manner; [By the time this verse was revealed (see note on verse 52 of this surah) the Muslims had conquered the rich agricultural region of Khaybar, and the community had grown more pros­perous. But while life was becoming easier for most of its members, this ease was not reflected in the household of the Prophet who, as before, allowed himself and his family only the absolute minimum necessary for the most simple living. In view of the changed circumstances, it was no more than natural that his wives were longing for a share in the comparative luxuries which other Muslim women could now enjoy: but an acquiescence by Muhammad to their demand would have conflicted with the principle, observed by him throughout his life, that the standard of living of God’s Apostle and his family should not be higher than that of the poorest of the believers.] (29) but if you desire God and His Apostle, and [thus the good of] the life in the hereafter, then [know that], verily, for the doers of good among you God has readied a mighty reward!” [When, immediately after their revelation, the Prophet recited the above two verses to his wives, all of them emphatically rejected all thought of separation and declared that they had chosen “God and His Apostle and the [good of the] hereafter” (recorded in several compilations of ahadith, among them Bukhari and Muslim). Some of the earliest Islamic scholars (e.g., Qatadah and Al-Hasan, as quoted by Tabari) held that the subsequent revelation of verse 52 of this surah constituted God’s reward, as it were, for this attitude.]

SPECIAL RESPONSIBILITIES AND PRIVILEGES OF PROPHET’S WIVES

(30) O wives of the Prophet! If any of you were to become guilty of manifestly immoral conduct, [Regarding this connotation of the term fahishah, see surah 4, second note on verse16. According to Zamakhshari, in his commentary on the present verse, this term comprises all that may be described as a “gross sin” (kabirah).] double [that of other sinners] would be her suffering [in the hereafter]: for that is indeed easy for God. (31) But if any of you devoutly obeys God and His Apostle and does good deeds, on her shall We bestow her reward twice-over: for We shall have readied for her a most excellent sustenance [in the life to come]. [See note on 8: 4.] (32) O wives of the Prophet! You are not like any of the [other] women, provided that you remain [truly] conscious of God. [Sc., “and, thus, conscious of your special position as the consorts of God’s Apostle and mothers of the believers”.] Hence, be not over-soft in your speech, lest any whose heart is diseased should be moved to desire [you]: but, withal, speak in a kindly way. (33) And abide quietly in your homes, and do not flaunt your charms as they used to flaunt them in the old days of pagan ignorance; [The term jahiliyyah denotes the period of a people’s - or civilization’s - moral ignorance between the obliteration of one prophetic teaching and the emergence of another; and, more specifically, the period of Arabian paganism before the advent of Muhammad. Apart from these historical connotations, however, the term describes the state of moral ignorance or unconscious­ness in its general sense, irrespective of time or social environment. (See also note on 5: 50.)] and be constant in prayer, and render the purifying dues, and pay heed unto God and His Apostle: for God only wants to remove from you all that might be loathsome, O you members of the [Prophet’s] household, and to purify you to utmost purity. (34) And bear in mind all that is recited in your homes of God’s messages and [His] wisdom: for God is unfathomable [in His wisdom], all-aware. [For the meaning of the term latif as applied to God, especially in combination with the term khabir, see note on 6: 103.]

REWARDS FOR SELF-SURRENDER

(35) VERILY, for all men and women who have sur­rendered themselves unto God, and all believing men and believing women, and all truly devout men and truly devout women, and all men and women who are true to their word, and all men and women who are patient in adversity, and all men and women who humble themselves [before God], and all men and women who give in charity, and all self-denying men and self-denying women, [The term saim, usually rendered as “fasting”, has here its primary connotation of “one who abstains [from anything]” or “denies to himself [anything]”: cf. 19: 26, where the noun sawm denotes “abstinence from speech”.] and all men and women who are mindful of their chastity, [Lit., “the men who guard their private parts and the women who guard [them]”: see note on 24: 30.] and all men and women who remember God unceasingly: for [all of] them has God readied forgiveness of sins and a mighty reward.

FREEDOM OF CHOICE AND LAW OF GOD

(36) Now whenever God and His Apostle have decided a matter, [I.e., whenever a specific law has been formulated as such in the Quran or in an injunction promulgated by the Prophet.] it is not for a believing man or a believing woman to claim freedom of choice insofar as they themselves are concerned: [Lit., “to have a choice in their concern (min amrihim)” - i.e., to let their attitude or course of action be determined, not by the relevant law, but by their personal interests or predilections.] for he who [thus] rebels against God and His Apostle has already, most obviously, gone astray.

PREJUDICE AGAINST SLAVES

With the next verse, the discourse returns to the problem of “elective” relationships touched upon in verses 4 ff. Several years before Muhammad’s call to prophethood, his wife Khadijah made him a present of a young slave, Zayd ibn Harithah, a descendant of the North-Arabian tribe of Banu Kalb, who had been taken captive as a child in the course of one of the many tribal wars and then sold into slavery at Mecca. As soon as he became the boy’s owner, Muhammad freed him, and shortly afterwards adopted him as his son; and Zayd, in his turn, was among the first to embrace Islam. Years later, impelled by the desire to break down the ancient Arabian prejudice against slaves or even a freedman’s marrying a “free-born” woman, the Prophet persuaded Zayd to marry his (Muhammad’s) own cousin, Zaynab bint Jahsh, who, without his being aware of it, had been in love with Muhammad ever since her childhood. Hence, she consented to the proposed marriage with great reluctance, and only in deference to the authority of the Prophet. Since Zayd, too, was not at all keen on this alliance (being already happily married to another freed slave, Umm Ayman, the mother of his son Usamah), it was not surprising that the marriage did not bring happiness to either Zaynab or Zayd. On several occasions the latter was about to divorce his new wife who, on her part, did not make any secret of her dislike of Zayd; and each time they were persuaded by the Prophet to persevere in patience and not to separate. In the end, however, the marriage proved untenable, and Zayd divorced Zaynab in the year 5 H. Shortly afterwards the Prophet married her in order to redeem what he considered to be his moral responsibility for her past unhappiness and to demonstrate that divorcee of ex-slave was worthy of  being a wife of the prophet and thus one of the “mother of believers”. This marriage was also meant to exemplify a point of canon law as described below.

DIVORCE BETWEEN ZAYD AND ZAYNAB

(37) AND LO, [O Muhammad,] thou didst say unto the one to whom God had shown favour and to whom thou hadst shown favour, [I.e., Zayd ibn Harithah, whom God had caused to become one of the earliest believers, and whom the Prophet had adopted as his son.] “Hold on to thy wife, and remain conscious of God!” And [thus] wouldst thou hide within thyself something that God was about to bring to light

[Namely, that the marriage of Zayd and Zaynab, which had been sponsored by Muhammad himself, and on which he had so strongly insisted, was a total failure and could only end in divorce (see also next note).] - for thou didst stand in awe of [what] people [might think], whereas it was God alone of whom thou shouldst have stood in awe! [Lit., “whereas God was more worthy (ahaqq) that thou shouldst stand in awe of Him”. Referring to this divine reprimand (which, in itself, disproves the allegation that the Quran was “composed by Muhammad”), Aishah is reliably quoted as having said, “Had the Apostle of God been inclined to suppress anything of what was revealed to him, he would surely have suppressed this verse” (Bukhari and Muslim).]

MARRIAGE BETWEEN MUHAMMAD AND ZAYNAB

[But] then, when Zayd had come to the end of his union with her, [Lit., “ended his want of [or “claim on”] her”, sc., by divorcing her (Zamakhshari).] We gave her to thee in marriage, so that [in future] no blame should attach to the be­lievers for [marrying] the spouses of their adopted children when the latter have come to the end of their union with them. [Thus, apart from the Prophet’s desire to make amends for Zaynab’s past unhappiness, the divine purpose in causing him to marry the former wife of his adopted son (stressed in the phrase, “We gave her to thee in marriage”) was to show that - contrary to what the pagan Arabs believed - an adoptive relationship does not involve any of the marriage-restrictions which result from actual, biological parent-and-child relations (cf. note on verse 4 of this surah).] And [thus] God’s will was done. (38)

[Hence,] no blame whatever attaches to the Prophet for [having done] what God has ordained for him. [I.e., his marriage with Zaynab, which was meant to exemplify a point of canon law as well as to satisfy what the Prophet regarded as his personal moral duty.] [Indeed, such was] God’s way with those that have passed away aforetime [I.e., the prophets who preceded Muhammad, in all of whom, as in him, all personal desires coincided with their willingness to surrender themselves to God: an inborn, harmonious disposition of the spirit which characterizes God’s elect and - as the subsequent, parenthetic clause declares - is their “destiny absolute” (qadar maqdur).] - and [remember that] God’s will is always destiny absolute-; (39) [and such will always be His way with] those who convey God’s messages [to the world], and stand in awe of Him, and hold none but God in awe: for none can take count [of man’s doings] as God does!

MUHAMMAD AS THE SEAL OF ALL PROPHETS

(40)[And know, O believers, that] Muhammad is not the father of any one of your men, [I.e., he is the spiritual “father” of the whole community (cf. note on verse 6 of this surah), and not of any one person or particular persons - thus, incidentally, refuting the erroneous idea that physical descent from a prophet confers, by itself, any merit on the persons concerned.] but is God’s Apostle and the Seal of all Prophets. [I.e., the last of the prophets, just as a seal (khatam) marks the end of a document; apart from this, the term khatam is also synonymous with khitam, the “end” or “conclusion” of a thing: from which it follows that the message revealed through Muhammad - the Quran - must be regarded as the culmination and the end of all prophetic revelation (cf. note on the first sentence of the second paragraph of 5: 48, and note on 7: 158). See also note on 21: 107.] And God has indeed full knowledge of everything. (41) O YOU who have attained to faith! Remember God with unceasing remembrance, (42) and extol His limitless glory from morn to evening. [Lit., “at morn and evening”, i.e., at all times.] (43)        He it is who bestows His blessings upon you, with His angels [echoing Him], so that He might take you out of the depths of darkness into the light. And, indeed, a dispenser of grace is He unto the believers. (44) On the Day when they meet Him, they will be welcomed with the greeting, “Peace”; and He will have readied for them a most excellent reward. (45) [And as for thee,] O Prophet - behold, We have sent thee as a witness [to the truth], and as a herald of glad tidings and a warner, (46) and as one who summons [all men] to God by His leave, [I.e., at His behest (Tabari).] and as a light-giving beacon. (47) And [so,] convey to the believers the glad tiding that a great bounty from God awaits them; (48) and defer not to [the likes and dislikes of] the deniers of the truth and the hypocrites, and disregard their hurtful talk, [Or: “yet [withal,] abstain from injuring them” (Zamakhshari - depending on whether adha­hum is taken to mean “the hurt caused by them” or “done to them”.] and place thy trust in God: for none is as worthy of trust as God.

NO WAITING PERIOD IF MARRIAGE NOT CONSUMMATED

(49) O YOU who have attained to faith! If you marry believing women and then divorce them ere you have touched them, you have no reason to expect, and to calculate, any waiting period on their part: [Lit., “you have no waiting-period whatever upon them which you should count” - i.e., “which either of you should take into account as an obligation”: cf. the first part of 2: 228, and the corresponding note. Since the question of pregnancy does not arise if the marriage has not been consummated, a waiting-period on the part of the divorced wife would be meaningless and of no benefit either to her or to her former husband.] hence, make [at once] provision for them, and release them in a becoming manner. [This injunction, relating to certain marital problems which affect the believers in general, forms an introduction, as it were, to resumption, in the next verse, of the discourse on the marital laws applying exclusively to the Prophet: thus, it connects with the passage beginning with the words, “O wives of the Prophet! You are not like any of the [other] women” (verse 32), as well as with the subsequent reference to his marriage with Zaynab (verses 37 f.).]

MARITAL LAWS APPLYING EXCLUSIVELY TO THE PROPHET

(50) O PROPHET! Behold, We have made lawful to thee thy wives unto whom thou hast paid their dowers, [The term ajr is in this context synonymous with faridah in its specific sense of “dower” (mahr): see note on surah 2: 236.] as well as those whom thy right hand has come to possess from among the captives of war whom God has bestowed upon thee. [As pointed out in several places (see, in particular, note on 4: 25), Islam does not countenance any form of concubinage, and categorically prohibits sexual relations between a man and a woman unless they are lawfully married to one another. In this respect, the only difference between a “free” woman and a slave is that whereas the former must receive a dower from her husband, no such obligation is imposed on a man who marries his rightfully owned slave (lit., “one whom his right hand possesses”) - that is, a woman taken captive in a “holy war” (jihad) waged in defense of the Faith or of liberty (notes on 2 :190 and on 8: 67) -: for, in such a case, the freedom conferred upon the bride by the very act of marriage is considered to be equivalent to a dower.] And [We have made lawful to thee] the daughters of thy paternal uncles and aunts, and the daughters of thy maternal uncles and aunts, who have migrated with thee [to Yathrib]; [This was - in addition to his not being allowed to divorce any of his wives (see verse 52 below) - a further restriction imposed on the Prophet in the matter of marriage: whereas all other Muslims are free to marry any of their paternal or maternal cousins, the Prophet was allowed to marry only such from among them as had proved their strong, early attachment to Islam by having accompanied him on his exodus (the hijrah) from Mecca to Medina. In the opinion of Baghawi - an opinion obviously based on the corresponding, ancient Arabian usage - the term “daughters of thy paternal uncles and aunts” comprises in this context not only the actual paternal cousins but, in general, all women of the tribe of Quraysh, to which Muhammad’s father belonged, while the term “daughters of thy maternal uncles and aunts” comprises all women of his mother’s tribe, the Banu Zuhrah.] and any believing woman who offers herself freely to the Prophet and whom the Prophet might be willing to wed: [The relevant clause reads, literally, “if she offered herself as a gift (in wahabat nafsaha) to the Prophet”. Most of the classical commentators take this to mean “without demanding or expecting a dower (mahr)”, which, as far as ordinary Muslims are concerned, is an essential item in a marriage agreement (cf. 4: 4 and 24, and the corresponding notes; also surah 2: 236).] [this latter being but] a privilege for thee, and not for other believers - [seeing that] We have already made known what We have enjoined upon them with regard to their wives and those whom their right hands may possess. [The above parenthetic sentence refers to the previously revealed, general laws relating to marriage (see 2: 221, 4: 3-4 and 19-25, as well as the corresponding notes), and particularly the laws bearing on the question of dower.] [And] in order that thou be not burdened with [undue] anxiety - for God is indeed much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace - (51) [know that] thou mayest put off for a time whichever of them thou pleasest, and mayest take unto thee whichever thou pleasest; and [that,] if thou seek out any from whom thou hast kept away [for a time], thou wilt incur no sin [thereby]: [Thus, the Prophet was told that he need not observe a strict “rotation” in the conjugal attentions due to his wives, although he himself, impelled by an inborn sense of fairness, always endeavoured to give them a feeling of absolute equality.] this will make it more likely that their eyes are gladdened [whenever they see thee], [I.e., by the inner certainty that whenever he turned to any of them, he did so on impulse, out of genuine affection, and not out of a sense of marital “obligation”.] and that they do not grieve [whenever they are overlooked], and that all of them may find contentment in whatever thou hast to give them: for God [alone] knows what is in your hearts - and God is indeed all-knowing, for­bearing. [According to a hadith on the authority of Aishah, recorded in the Musnad of Ibn Hanbal, the Prophet “used to divide his attentions equitably among his wives, and then would pray: ‘O God! I am doing whatever is in my power: do not, then, blame me for [failing in] something which is in Thy power [alone], and not in mine!’- thus alluding to his heart, and to loving some [of his wives] more than others.”] (52) No [other] women shall henceforth be lawful to thee [Some commentators (e.g., Tabari) assume that this restriction relates to the four categories of women enumerated in verse 50 above: it is, however, much more probable that it is a prohibition barring the Prophet from marrying any woman in addition to those to whom he was already married (Baghawi, Zamakhshari). Some of the earliest, most outstanding authorities on the Quran, like Ibn Abbas, Mujahid, Ad-Dahhak, Qatadah, Ibn Zayd (all of them cited by Ibn Kathir), or Al-Hasan al-Basri (quoted by Tabari in his commentary on verses 28-29), link this prohibition of further marriages with the choice between the charms of worldly life and the good of the hereafter with which the wives of the Prophet were confronted on the strength of verses 28-29, and their emphatic option for “God and His Apostle” (cf. note on verse 29 above). All those early authorities describe the revelation of verse 52 and the assurance which it was meant to convey to the wives of the Prophet - as God’s reward, in this world, of their faith and fidelity. Since it is inconceivable that the Prophet could have disregarded the categorical injunction, “No [other] women shall henceforth be lawful to thee”, the passage in question cannot have been revealed earlier than the year 7 H., that is, the year in which the conquest of Khaybar and the Prophet’s marriage with Safiyyah - his last marriage - took place. Consequently, verses 28-29 (with which, as we have seen, verse 52 is closely connected) must have been revealed at that later period, and not, as some commentators think, in the year 5 H. (i.e., at the time of the Prophet’s marriage with Zaynab).] - nor art thou [allowed] to supplant [any of] them by other wives, [I.e., to divorce any of them with a view to taking another wife in her stead (with the prohibitive accent on the “supplanting”- i.e., divorcing - of any of his wives).] even though their beauty should please thee greatly -: [none shall be lawful to thee] beyond those whom thou [already] hast come to possess. [In my opinion, the expression ma malakat yaminuka (lit., “what thy right hand possesses”, or has come to possess”) has here the same meaning as in 4: 24, namely, “those whom thou hast come to possess through wedlock” (see note on surah 4: 24); thus, the above verse is to be understood as limiting the Prophet’s marriages to those already contracted.] And God keeps watch over everything.

RESPECTING PROPHET’S PRIVACY AND HIS EXALTED STATUS

(53) O YOU who have attained to faith! Do not enter the Prophet’s dwellings unless you are given leave; [and when invited] to a meal, do not come [so early as] to wait for it to be readied: but whenever you are invited, enter [at the proper time]; and when you have partaken of the meal, disperse without lingering for the sake of mere talk: that, behold, might give offence to the Prophet, and yet he might feel shy of [asking] you [to leave]: but God is not shy of [teaching you] what is right. [Connecting with the reference, in verses 45-48, to the Prophet’s mission, the above passage is meant to stress his unique position among his contemporaries; but as is so often the case with Quranic references to historical events and situations, the ethical principle enunciated here is not restricted to a particular time or environment. By exhorting the Prophet’s Companions to revere his person, the Quran reminds all believers, at all times, of his exalted status (cf. note on 2: 104); beyond that, it teaches them certain rules of behaviour bearing on the life of the community as such: rules which, however insignificant they may appear at first glance, are of psychological value in a society that is to be governed by a genuine feeling of brotherhood, mutual consideration, and respect for the sanctity of each other’s personality and privacy.]

HIJAB FOR PROPHET’S WIVES

And [as for the Prophet’s wives,] whenever you ask them for anything that you need, ask them from behind a screen: [The term hijab denotes anything that intervenes between two things, or conceals, shelters or protects the one from the other; it may be rendered, according to the context, as “barrier”, “obstacle”, “partition”, “screen”, “curtain”, “veil”, etc., in both the concrete and abstract connotations of these words. The prohibition to approach the Prophet’s wives otherwise than “from behind a screen” or “curtain” may be taken literally - as indeed it was taken by most of the Companions of the Prophet - or metaphorically, indicating the excepttional reverence due to these “mothers of the faithful”.] this will but deepen the purity of your hearts and theirs. Moreover, it does not behove you to give offence to God’s Apostle - just as it would not behove you ever to marry his widows after he has passed away: [Lit., “to marry his wives after him.] that, verily, would be an enormity in the sight of God. (54) Whether you do anything openly or in secret, [remember that,] verily, God has full knowledge of everything. (55) [However,] it is no sin for them [I.e., the wives of the Prophet (connecting with the injunction, in verse 53 above, that they should be spoken to “from behind a screen”).] [to appear freely] before their fathers, or their sons, or their brothers, or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their womenfolk, or such [male slaves] as their right hands may possess. But [always, O wives of the Prophet,] [This interpolation is conditioned by the feminine gender of the subsequent plural imperative ittaqina.] remain con­scious of God - for, behold, God is witness unto everything. (56) Verily, God and His angels bless the Prophet: [hence,] O you who have attained to faith, bless him and give yourselves up [to his guidance] in utter self-surrender! (57) Verily, as for those who [knowingly] affront God and His Apostle - God will reject * them in this world and in the life to come; and shameful suffering will He ready for them. [*In classical Arabic, the term lanah is more or less synonymous with ibad (“removal into distance” or “banishment”); hence. God’s lanah denotes “His rejection of a sinner from all that is good” (Lisan al-Arab) or “exclusion from His grace” (Manar II, 50). The term malun which occurs in verse 61 below signifies, therefore, “one who is bereft of God’s grace”.] (58) And as for those who malign believing men and believing women without their having done any wrong - they surely burden themselves with the guilt of calumny, and [thus] with a flagrant sin!

DRESS MODESTLY IN PUBLIC

(59) O Prophet! Tell thy wives and thy daughters, as well as all [other] believing women, that they should draw over themselves some of their outer garments [when in public]: this will be more con­ducive to their being recognized [as decent women] and not annoyed. [Cf. the first two sentences of 24: 31 and the corresponding notes.] But [withal,] God is indeed much- forgiving, a dispenser of grace! [The specific, time-bound formulation of the above verse (evident in the reference to the wives and daughters of the Prophet), as well as the deliberate vagueness of the recommendation that women “should draw upon themselves some of their outer garments min jalabibihinna)” when in public, makes it clear that this verse was not meant to be an injunction (hukm) in the general, timeless sense of this term but, rather, a moral guideline to be observed against the ever-changing background of time and social environment. This finding is reinforced by the concluding reference to God’s forgiveness and grace.]

PREDICTION OF DEFEAT OF HYPOCRITES

(60) THUS IT IS: if [For my above rendering of lain see note on surah 30: 51. With this passage, the discourse returns to the theme touched upon in verse 1 and more fully dealt with in verses 9-27: namely, the opposition with which the Prophet and his followers were faced in their early years at Yathrib (which by that time had come to be known as Madinat an-Nabi, “the City of the Prophet”).]the hypocrites, and they in whose hearts is disease, [See note on verse 12 above.] and they who, by spreading false rumours, would cause disturbances [Thus Zamakhshari, explaining the term al-murjifun in the above context.] in the City [of the Prophet] desist not [from their hostile doings]. We shall indeed give thee mastery over them, [O Muhammad] - and then they will not remain thy neighbours in this [city] for more than a little while: [I.e., “there will be open warfare between thee and them”, which will result in their expulsion from Medina: a prediction which was fulfilled in the course of time.] (61) bereft of God’s grace, they shall be seized wherever they may be found, and slain one and all. [Lit., “slain with [a great] slaying”. See in this connection note on 2: 191. For my rendering of malunin as “bereft of God’s grace”, see note on verse 57 above.] (62) Such has been God’s way with those who [sinned in like manner and] passed away aforetime - and never wilt thou find any change in God’s way! [Cf. 35: 42—44, and particularly the last paragraph of verse 43.]

BLAZING FIRE FOR SINNERS

(63) PEOPLE will ask thee about the Last Hour. Say: “Knowledge thereof rests with God alone; yet for all thou knowest, the Last Hour may well be near!” [See 7: 187.] (64) Verily, God has rejected the deniers of the truth, and has readied for them a blazing fire, (65) therein to abide beyond the count of time: no protec­tor will they find, and none to bring them succour. (66) On the Day when their faces shall be tossed about in the fire, [As in several other instances in the Quran, the “face”, being the noblest and most expressive part of a human person, represents here man’s “personality” in its entirety; and its being “tossed about in the fire” is symbolic of the annihilation of the sinner’s will and his reduction to utter passivity.] they will exclaim, “Oh, would that we had paid heed unto God, and paid heed unto the Apostle!” (67) And they will say: “O our Sustainer! Behold, we paid heed unto our leaders and our great men, and it is they who have led us astray from the right path! (68) O our Sustainer! Give them double suffering, and banish them utterly from Thy grace!” [Lit., “reject them (il anhum) with a great rejection”, i.e., “from Thy grace”.]

ASPERSIONS UPON MOSES

(69) O YOU who have attained to faith! Be not like those [children of Israel] who gave offence to Moses, and [remember that] God showed him to be innocent of whatever they alleged [against him or demanded of him]: [This is an allusion to the aspersions occasionally cast upon Moses by some of his followers and mentioned in the Old Testament (e.g., Numbers xii, 1-13), as well as to the blasphemous demands of which the Quran speaks - e.g., “O Moses, indeed we shall not believe thee until we see God face to face” (2: 55) or, “Go forth, thou and thy Sustainer, and fight, both of you!” (5: 24). These instances are paralleled here with the frequently cited accusations that Muhammad had “invented” the Quran and then falsely attributed it to God, that he was a madman, and so forth, as well as with frivolous demands to prove his prophethood by bringing about miracles or - as is re-stated in verse 63 of this surah - by predicting the date of the Last Hour.] for of great honour  was he in the sight of God.

FACULTY OF VOLITION

(70) O you who have attained to faith! Remain conscious of God, and [always] speak with a will to bring out [only] what is just and true - [The expression qawl sadid signifies, literally, “a saying that hits the mark”, i.e., is truthful, relevant and to the point. In the only other instance where this expression is used in the Quran (at the end of 4: 9) it may be appropriately rendered as “speaking in a just manner”; in the present instance, however, it obviously relates to speaking of others in a manner devoid of all hidden meanings, insinuations and frivolous suspicions, aiming at no more and no less than the truth.] (71) [whereupon] He will cause your deeds to be virtuous, and will forgive you your sins. And [know that] whoever pays heed unto God and His Apostle has already attained to a mighty triumph. (72) Verily, We did offer the trust [of reason and volition] to the heavens, and the earth, and the mountains: [The classical commentators give all kinds of laborious explanations to the term amanah (“trust”) occurring in this parable, but the most convincing of them (mentioned in Lane I, 102, with reference to the above verse) are “reason”, or “intellect”, and “the faculty of volition” - i.e., the ability to choose between two or more possible courses of action or modes of behaviour, and thus between good and evil.] but they refused to bear it because they were afraid of it. Yet man took it up - [Sc., “and then failed to measure up to the moral responsibility arising from the reason and the comparative free will with which he has been endowed” (Zamakhshari. This obviously applies to the human race as such and not necessarily to all of its individuals.] for, verily, he has always been prone to be most wicked, most foolish. (73) [And so it is] that God imposes suffering on the hypocrites, both men and women, as well as on the men and women who ascribe divinity to aught beside Him. [In other words, on those who offend against what their own reason and conscience would have them do. This suffering, whether in this world or in the hereafter, is but a causal consequence - as the lam al-aqibah at the beginning of this sentence shows - of man’s moral failure, and not an arbitrary act of God. (Cf. in this connection note on 2: 7. which speaks of God’s “sealing” the hearts of those who are bent on denying the truth.)] And [so, too, it is] that God turns in His mercy unto the believing men and believing women: for God is indeed much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace!

THE THIRTY-FOURTH SURAH

SABA (SHEBA)

MECCA PERIOD

ALMOST certainly, this surah was revealed in the second half of the Mecca period, prob­ably a short time before surah 17 (“The Night Journey”). The title is based on the reference in verses 15-20, to the people of Saba (the Biblical Sheba), who are cited as an example of the impermanence of all human power, wealth and glory. The pivotal ideas of the whole surah may be summed up in the question, addressed to all human beings, in verse 9: “Are they, then, not aware of how little of the sky and the earth lies open before them, and how much is hidden from them?” - and in the call to moral responsibility sounded in verse 46: “Say: ‘I counsel you one thing only: Be ever conscious of standing before God, whether you are in the company of others or alone.’”

BIRTH, DEATH AND RE-BIRTH OF ALL OF GOD’S CREATION

IN THE NAME OF GOD, THE MOST GRACIOUS, THE DISPENSER OF GRACE:

(1) ALL PRAISE is due to God, to whom all that is in the heavens and all that is on earth belongs; and to Him will be due all praise in the life to come. For He alone is truly wise, all-aware: (2) He knows all that enters the earth, and all that comes out of it, as well as all that descends from the skies, and all that ascends to them. [This definition comprises things physical and spiritual: waters disappearing underground and reappearing; the metamorphosis of seed into plant, and of decaying plant into oil and coal; traces of old artifacts and entire civilizations buried in the earth and then reappearing within the sight and consciousness of later generations of men; the transformation of dead bodies of animals and men into elements of nourishment for new life; the ascent of earthy vapours towards the skies, and their descent as rain, snow or hail; the ascent towards the heavens of men’s longings, hopes and ambitions, and the descent of divine inspiration into the minds of men, and thus a revival of faith and thought and, with it, the growth of new artifacts, new skills and new hopes: in short, the endless recurrence of birth, death and re-birth which characterizes all of God’s creation.] And He alone is a dispenser of grace, truly-forgiving. (3) And yet, they who are bent on denying the truth assert, “Never will the Last Hour come upon us!” [This assertion of the godless has a twofold meaning: (1) “The universe is without beginning and without end: it can only change, but can never cease to exist” - which amounts to a denial of the fact that God alone is eternal; and (2) “There is no resurrection and divine judgment as symbolized by the Last Hour” - which amounts to a denial of life after death and, hence, of all significance and purpose attaching to human life as such.] Say: “Nay, by my Sustainer! By Him who knows all that is beyond the reach of a created being’s perception: it will most certainly come upon you!” Not an atom’s weight [of whatever there is] in the heavens or on earth escapes His knowledge; and neither is there anything smaller than that, or larger, but is recorded in [His] clear decree, (4) to the end that He may reward those who believe and do right­eous deeds: [for] it is they whom forgiveness of sins awaits, and a most excellent sustenance [See note on 8: 4.] –

SUFFERING FOR SINNERS IN AFTERLIFE

(5) whereas for those who strive against Our messages, seeking to defeat their purpose, there is grievous suffering in store as an outcome of [their] vileness. [The particle mim (lit., “out of”) which precedes the noun rijz (“vileness” or “vile conduct”) indicates that the suffering which awaits such sinners in the life to come is an organic consequence of their deliberately evil conduct in this world.] (6) NOW THEY who are endowed with [innate] knowl­edge are well aware that whatever has been be­stowed upon thee from on high by thy Sustainer is indeed the truth, and that it guides onto the way that leads to the Almighty, the One to whom all praise is due! (7) As against this, they who are bent on denying the truth say [unto all who are of like mind]: “Shall we point out to you a man who will tell you that [after your death,] when you will have been scattered in countless fragments, you shall - lo and behold! - be [restored to life] in a new act of creation? (8) Does he [knowingly] attribute his own lying inventions to God - or is he a madman?” Nay, [there is no madness in this Prophet -] but they who will not believe in the life to come are [bound to lose themselves] in suffering and in a profound aberration. [Lit., “remote aberration”. (For the Quranic use of the term dalal - lit., “error” or “going astray” - in the sense of “aberration”, see 12: 8 and 12: 95.) The construction of this phrase points definitely to suffering in this world (in contrast with the suffering in the hereafter spoken of in verse 5 above): for whereas the concept of “aberration” is meaningless in the context of the life to come, it has an obvious meaning in the context of the moral and social confusion - and, hence, of the individual and social suffering - which is the unavoidable consequence of people’s loss of belief in the existence of absolute moral values and, thus, in an ultimate divine judgment on the basis of those values.] (9) Are they, then, not aware of how little of the sky and the earth lies open before them, and how much is hidden from them? [Lit., “... not aware of what of the sky and the earth is between their hands, and what is behind them”: an idiomatic phrase explained in surah 2: 255. In the present context - as well as in 2: 255 - the above phrase stresses the insignificance of the knowledge attained to by man, or accessible to him; hence, so the argument goes, how can anyone be so presumptuous as to deny the reality of resurrection and life after death, seeing that it is a phenomenon beyond man’s experience, while, on the other hand, everything within the universe points to God’s unlimited creative power?] - [or that,] if We so willed, We could cause the earth to swallow them, [I.e., in an earthquake.] or cause fragments of the sky to fall down upon them? [This allusion to unpredictable geological and cosmic occurrences - earthquakes, the fall of meteors and meteorites, cosmic rays, and so forth - reinforces the statement about “how little of the sky and the earth lies open before them, and how much is hidden from them”, and contrasts man’s insignificance with God’s omniscience and almightiness.]

DAVID

In all this, behold, there is a message indeed for every servant [of God] who is wont to turn unto Him [in repentance]. [See last sentence of 24: 31 and the corresponding note.] (10) AND [thus], indeed, did We grace David with Our favour: [Lit., “did We bestow upon David a favour from Ourselves”. This connects with the elliptic reference to repentance in the preceding verse: David is singled out for special mention in view of the allusion, in surah 38, to his having suddenly become aware that he had committed a sin, whereupon “he asked his Sustainer to forgive him his sin… and turned unto Him in repentance”

(38: 24).] “O you mountains! Sing with him the praise of God! And [likewise] you birds!” [Cf. 21: 79 and the corresponding note.] And We softened all sharpness in him, [Lit., “for him”. The term hadid denotes, primarily, something that is “sharp” in both the concrete and abstract senses of the word: for the latter sense, cf. the Quranic phrase “sharp (hadid) is thy sight today” (50: 22), or the many idiomatic expressions like rajul hadid, “a man of sharp intellect”, hadid an-nazar, “one who looks boldly [at others]”, raihah hadidah, “a sharp odour”, etc. (Lisan al-Arab). As a noun with a definite article (al -hadid), it signifies “all that is sharp”, or “sharpness”, as well as “iron”. God’s having “softened all sharpness” in David is evidently an allusion to his exalted sense of beauty (expressed in the poetry of his Psalms) as well as to his goodness and humility. An alternative rendering of the above phrase would be: “We caused iron to become soft for him”, which might be an allusion to his outstanding abilities as poet, warrior and ruler.] (11) [and inspired him thus:] “Do good deeds lavishly, without stint, and give deep thought to their steady flow.” [The adjective sabigh (fem. sabighah) signifies anything that is “ample”, “abundant” and “complete” (in the sense of being perfect). In its plural form sabighat it assumes the function of the noun which it is meant to qualify, and denotes, literally, “things [or “deeds”] ample and complete” or “perfect” - i.e., good deeds done abundantly and without stint: cf. the only other Quranic instance of the same stem in 31: 20 - “[God] has lavished (asbagha) upon you His blessings”. The noun sard, on the other hand, denotes something “carried on consecutively”, or something the parts (or stages) whereof are “following one another steadily”. i.e., are continued or repeated.] And [thus should you all, O believers,] do righteous deeds: for, verily, I see all that you do!

SOLOMON

(12) AND UNTO Solomon [We made subservient] the wind: its morning course [covered the distance of] a month’s journey, and its evening course, a month’s journey. [Cf. 21: 81 and the corresponding note. For a more general explanation of the legends connected with the person of Solomon, see note on

21: 82.] And We caused a fountain of molten copper to flow at his behest; [Lit., “for him”: probably a reference to the many furnishings of copper and brass which, according to the Bible (cf. II Chronicles iv), Solomon caused to be made for his newly-built temple.] and [even] among the invisible beings there were some that had [been constrained] to labour for him by his Sustainer’s leave [Lit., “between his hands”, i.e., subject to his will: see 21: 82 and the corresponding notes. For my rendering of jinn as “invisible beings”, see Appendix III.]- and whichever of them deviated from Our command, him would We let taste suffering through a blazing flame -: (13) they made for him whatever he wished of sanctuaries, and statues, and basins as [large as] great watering - troughs, and cauldrons firmly anchored. [I.e., because of their enormous size. Cf. II Chronicles iii, 10 - 13, where statues (“images”) of cherubim are mentioned, as well as iv, 2 – 5, describing “a molten sea” (i.e., basin) of huge dimensions, resting upon twelve statues of oxen, and meant to contain water “for the priests to wash in” (ibid., iv, 6). The “sanctuaries” were apparently the various halls of the new temple.] [And We said:] “Labour, O David’s people, in gratitude [towards Me]  [These words, ostensibly addressed to “the people” or “the family” of David, are in reality an admonition to all believers, at all times, since all of them are, spiritually, “David’s people”.] - and [remember that] few are the truly grateful [even] among My servants!” [I.e., even among those who consider themselves God’s servants - for “truly grateful [to God] is only he who realizes his inability to render adequate thanks to Him” (Zamakhshari).] (14) Yet [even Solomon had to die; but] when We decreed that he should die, nothing showed them that he was dead except an earthworm that gnawed away his staff. [This is yet another of the many Solomonic legends which had become an inalienable part of ancient Arabian tradition, and which the Quran uses as a vehicle for the allegorical illustration of some of its teachings. According to the legend alluded to above, Solomon died on his throne leaning forward on his staff, and for a length of time nobody became aware of his death: with the result that the jinn, who had been constrained to work for him, went on labouring at the heavy tasks assigned to them. Gradually, however, a termite ate away Solomon’s staff, and his body, deprived of support, fell to the ground. This story - only hinted at in its outline - is apparently used here as an allegory of the insignificance and inherent brittleness of human life and of the perishable nature and emptiness of all worldly might and glory.] And when he fell to the ground, those invisible beings [subservient to him] saw clearly that, had they but understood the reality which was be­yond the reach of their perception, [Al-ghayb, “that which is beyond the reach of [a created being’s] perception”, either in an absolute or - as in this instance - in a relative, temporary sense.] they would not have continued [to toil] in the shameful suffering [of servitude] [I.e., because they would have known that Solomon’s sway over them had ended. In the elliptic manner so characteristic of the Quran, stress is laid here, firstly, on the limited nature of all empirical knowledge, including the result of deductions and inferences based on no more than observable or calculable phenomena, and, secondly, on the impossibility to determine correctly, on the basis of such limited fragments of knowledge alone, what course of action would be right in a given situation. Although the story as such relates to “invisible beings”, its moral lesson (which may be summed up in the statement that empirical knowledge cannot provide any ethical guideline unless it is accompanied, and completed, by divine guidance) is obviously addressed to human beings as well.]

PEOPLE OF SHEBA

(15) INDEED, in [the luxuriant beauty of] their homeland, the people of Sheba had an evidence [of God’s grace] [This connects with the call to gratitude towards God in the preceding passage, and the mention, at the end of verse 13, that “few are the truly grateful” even among those who think of themselves as “God’s servants”. The kingdom of Sheba (Saba in Arabic) was situated in south-western Arabia, and at the time of its greatest prosperity (i.e., in the first millennium B.C.) comprised not only the Yemen but also a large part of Hadramawt and the Mahrah country, and probably also much of present-day Abyssinia. In the vicinity of its capital Marib - the Sabaeans had built in the course of centuries an extraordinary system of dams, dykes and sluices, which became famous in history, with astonishing remnants extant to this day. It was to this great dam that the whole country of Sheba owed its outstanding prosperity, which became proverbial throughout Arabia. (According to the geographer Al-Ham­dani, who died in 334 H., the area irrigated by this system of dams stretched eastward to the desert of Sayhad on the confines of the Rub al-Khali). The flourishing state of the country was reflected in its people’s intense trading activities and their control of the “spice road” which led from Marib northwards to Mecca, Yathrib and Syria, and eastwards to Dufar on the shores of the Arabian Sea, thus connecting with the maritime routes from India and China. The period to which the above Quranic passage refers is evidently much later than that spoken of in 27: 22 - 44.] — two [vast expanses of] gardens, to the right and to the left, [calling out to them, as it were:] “Eat of what your Sustainer has provided for you, and render thanks unto Him: a land most goodly, and a Sustainer much-forgiving!” (16) But they turned away [from Us], and so We let loose upon them a flood that overwhelmed the dams, [Lit., “the flooding of the dams” (sayl al-arim). The date of that catastrophe cannot be established with any certainty, but the most probable period of the first bursting of the Dam of Marib seems to have been the second century of the Christian era. The kingdom of Sheba was largely devastated, and this led to the migration of many southern (Qahtan) tribes towards the north of the Peninsula. Subsequently, it appears, the system of dams and dykes was to some extent repaired, but the country never regained its earlier prosperity; and a few decades before the advent of Islam the great dam collapsed completely and finally.] and changed their two [expanses of luxuriant] gardens into a couple of gardens yielding bitter fruit, and tamarisks, and some few [wild] lote-trees: (17) thus We requited them for their having denied the truth. But do We ever requite [thus] any but the utterly ingrate?  [Neither the Quran nor any authentic hadith tells us anything definite about the way in which the people of Sheba had sinned at the time immediately preceding the final collapse of the Dam of Marib (i.e.. in the sixth century of the Christian era). This omission, however, seems to be deliberate. In view of the fact that the story of Sheba’s prosperity and subsequent catastrophic downfall had become a byword in ancient Arabia, it is most probable that its mention in the Quran has a purely moral purport similar to that of the immediately preceding legend of Solomon’s death, inasmuch as both these legends, in their Quranic presentation, are allegories of the ephemeral nature of all human might and achievement. As mentioned above, the story of Sheba’s downfall is closely linked with the phenomenon of men’s recurrent ingratitude towards God. (See also verse 20 below.)] (18) Now [before their downfall,] We had placed between them and the cities which We had blessed [I.e., Mecca and Jerusalem, both of which lay on the caravan route much used by the people of Sheba.] [many] towns within sight of one another; and thus We had made travelling easy [for them, as if to say]: “Travel safely in this [land], by night or by day!” (19) But now they would say, “Long has our Sus­tainer made the distance between our journey- stages!” - for they had sinned against themselves. [In its generally-accepted spelling - based on the reading adopted by most of the early scholars of Medina and Kufah - the above phrase reads in the vocative rabbana and the imperative ba’id (“Our Sustainer! Make long the distances…”, etc.), which, however, cannot be convincingly explained. On the other hand, Tabari, Baghawi and Zamakhshari mention, on the authority of some of the earliest Quran-commentators, another legitimate reading of the relevant words, namely, rabbuna (in the nominative) and ba’ada (in the indicative), which gives the meaning adopted by me: “Long has our Sustainer made the distances…”, etc. To my mind, this reading is much more appropriate since (as pointed out by Zamakhshari) it expresses the belated regrets and the sorrow of the people of Sheba at the devastation of their country, the exodus of large groups of the population, and the resultant abandonment of many towns and villages on the great caravan routes.] And in the end We caused them to become [one of those] tales [of things long past], and scattered them in countless fragments. [An allusion to the mass-migration of South-Arabian tribes in all directions - particularly towards central and northern Arabia - subsequent to the destruction of the Dam of Marib.] Herein, behold, there are messages indeed for all who are wholly patient in adversity and deeply grate­ful [to God].

SATAN HAS NO POWER OVER MEN

(20) Now, indeed, Iblis did prove that his opinion of them had been right: [See 17: 62, as well as the last sentence of 7: 17, in which Iblis (i.e., Satan) says of the human race, “most of them wilt Thou find ungrateful”.] for [when he called them,] they followed him - all but some of the believers [among them]. (21) And yet, he had no power at all over them: [Cf. a similar phrase placed in the mouth of Iblis in 14: 22 (“I had no power at all over you: I but called you - and you responded unto me”), and the corresponding note; also, see note on 15: 39 - 40. Although, on the face of it, verses 20 - 21 of the present surah refer to the people of Sheba, their import is (as the sequence shows) much wider, applying to the human race as such.[for if We allow him to tempt man,] it is only to the end that We might make a clear distinction between those who [truly] believe in the life to come and those who are in doubt thereof: [See 15 :41 and the corresponding note.] for thy Sustainer watches over all things.

ATTRIBUTION OF DIVINE QUALITIES TO SAINTS AND ANGELS

(22) SAY: “Call upon those [beings] whom you imagine [to be endowed with divine powers] beside God: they have not an atom’s weight of power either in the heavens or on earth, nor have they any share in [governing] either, nor does He [choose to] have any helper from among them.” [I.e., anybody who would “mediate” between Him and any of His creatures. As is evident from the sequence (as well as from 17: 56 - 57), this passage relates, in particular, to the attribution of divine or semi-divine qualities to saints and angels and to the problem of their “intercession” with God.] (23) And, before Him, intercession can be of no avail [to any] save one in whose case He may have granted leave [therefor]: [See note on the first sentence of 10: 31.] so much so that when the terror [of the Last Hour] is lifted from their hearts, they [who have been resurrected] will ask [one an­other], “What has your Sustainer decreed [for you]?” - [to which] the others will answer, “Whatever is true and deserved - for He alone is exalted, great!” [Lit., “the truth” - i.e., whatever God decides regarding His grant or refusal of leave for intercession (which is synonymous with His redemptive acceptance or His rejection of the human being concerned) will conform with the requirements of absolute truth and justice (see note on 19: 87).]

SELF ACCOUNTABILITY ON JUDGEMENT DAY                                                                                

(24) Say: “Who is it that provides for you sus­tenance out of the heavens and the earth?” [See note on the first sentence of 10:31.] Say: “It is God. And, behold, either we [who believe in Him] or you [who deny His oneness] are on the right path, or have clearly gone astray!” (25) Say: “Neither shall you be called to account for whatever we may have become guilty of, nor shall we be called to account for whatever you are doing.” (26) Say: “Our Sustainer will bring us all together [on Judgment Day], and then He will lay open the truth between us, in justice - for He alone is the One who opens all truth, the All-Knowing!” (27) Say: “Point out to me those [beings] that you have joined with Him [in your minds] as partners [in His divinity]! Nay - nay, but He [alone] is God, the Almighty, the Wise!”

DENIAL OF RESURRECTION

(28) NOW [as for thee, O Muhammad,] We have not sent thee otherwise than to mankind at large, to be a herald of glad tidings and a warner; but most people do not understand [this], (29) and so they ask, “When is this promise [of resurrection and judgment] to be fulfilled? [Answer this, O you who believe in it,] if you are men of truth!” [The Quranic answer to this ironic question is found in 7:187.] (30) Say: “There has been appointed for you a Day, which you can neither delay nor advance by a single moment.” [For my rendering of sa’ah (lit., “hour”) as “a single moment”, see surah 7:34.] (31) And [yet,] those who are bent on denying the truth do say, “We shall never believe in this Quran, and neither in whatever there still remains of earlier revelations!” [For the rendering of ma bayna yadayhi, in relation to the Quran, as “whatever there still remains of earlier revelations”, see surah 3: 3. As is evident from the preceding and subsequent verses, the rejection by “those who are bent on denying the truth” of all revelation is motivated by their refusal to believe in resurrection and God’s judgment, and, hence, to admit the validity of absolute moral standards as postulated by every higher religion.]

DIALOGUE BETWEEN LEADERS AND THEIR FOLLOWERS ON JUDGMENT DAY

But if thou couldst only see [how it will be on Judgment Day,] when these evildoers shall be made to stand before their Sustainer, hurling reproaches back and forth at one another! Those [of them] who had been weak [on earth] will say unto those who had gloried in their arrogance: [I.e., as the “intellectual leaders” of their community.] “Had it not been for you, we would certainly have been believers!” (32) [And] those who were wont to glory in their arrogance will say unto those who had been weak: “Why - did we keep you [forcibly] from following the right path after it had become obvious to you?  [Lit., “did we keep you away from guidance after it had come to you?”] Nay, it was but you [yourselves] who were guilty!” (33) But those who had been weak will say unto those who had gloried in their arrogance: “Nay, [what kept us away was your] devising of false arguments, night and day, [against God’s messages- as you did] [I.e., always, the term makr (lit., “a scheme” or “scheming”) has here the connotation of “devising false arguments” against something that is true: in this case, as is shown in the first paragraph of verse 31 above, against God’s messages (cf. a similar use of this term in 10: 21 and 35: 43; see also 86:15).] when you persuaded us to blaspheme against God and to claim that there are powers that could rival Him!” [Lit., “[that we should] give God compeers (andad)”. For an explanation of this phrase and my rendering of it, see 2: 22.] And when they see the suffering [that awaits them], they will [all] be unable to express [the full depth of] their remorse: [For a justification of this rendering of the phrase asarru ‘n-nadamah, see 10: 54.] for We shall have put shackles around the necks of those who had been bent on denying the truth: [As pointed out by several of the classical commentators (e.g., Zamakhshari, Razi and Baydawi) in their explanations of similar phrases occurring in 13: 5 and 36: 8, the “shackles” (aghlal) which these sinners carry, as it were, “around their necks” in life, and will carry on Judgment Day, are a metaphor of the enslavement of their souls to the false values to which they had surrendered, and of the suffering which will be caused by that surrender.] [and] will this be aught but a [just] requital for what they were doing?

PURSUIT OF MATERIAL PROSPERITY AT THE EXPENSE OF MORALITY

(34) For [thus it is:] whenever We sent a warner to any community, those of its people who had lost themselves entirely in the pursuit of pleasures would declare, [The term mutraf denotes “one who indulges in the pursuit of pleasures”, i.e., to the exclusion of all moral considerations: cf. note on 11: 116.] “Behold, we deny that there is any truth in [what you claim to be] your message!” - (35) and they would add, “Richer [than you] are we in wealth and in children, and [so] we are not going to be made to suffer!” [Implying, firstly, that the only thing that really counts in life is the enjoyment of material benefits; and, secondly, that a materially successful life is, by itself, an evidence of one’s being “on the right way”.] (36) Say: “Behold, my Sustainer grants abundant sustenance, or gives it in scant measure, unto whomever He wills: but most men do not understand [God’s ways].” [Sc., “and foolishly regard riches and poverty as indications of God’s favour or disfavour”. Indirectly, this statement refutes the belief held by many people in the present as well as in the past that material prosperity is a justification of all human endeavour.] (37) For, it is neither your riches nor your children that can bring you nearer to Us: only he who attains to faith and does what is right and just [comes near unto Us]; and it is [such as] these whom multiple recompense awaits for all that they have done; and it is they who shall dwell secure in the mansions [of paradise] - (38) whereas all who strive against Our messages, seeking to defeat their purpose, shall be given over to suffering. (39) Say: “Behold, my Sustainer grants abundant sustenance, or gives it in scant measure, unto whomever He wills of His servants; [I.e., God’s promise to the righteous that they would attain to happiness in the life to come neither precludes nor implies their being wealthy or poor in this world.] and whatever it be that you spend on others, He [always] replaces it: for He is the best of providers.” [I.e., either with worldly goods, or with inner contentment, or with spiritual merit (Zamakhshari).]

WORSHIP OF ANGELS

(40) And [as for those who now deny the truth,] one Day He will gather them all together, and will ask the angels, “Was it you that they were wont to worship?” [This allegorical “question” - allegorical, because God is omniscient and has no need to “ask” - implies that many of “those who deny the truth” of God’s messages delude themselves into believing that they are, nevertheless, worshipping spiritual forces, here comprised in the term “angels”.] (41) They will answer: “Limitless art Thou in Thy glory! Thou [alone] art close unto us, not they! [Implying that they (the angels) would never have accepted that worship which is due to God alone.] Nay, [when they thought that they were worshipping us,] they were but [blindly] worshipping forces concealed from their senses; most of them believed in them.” [In this instance, I believe, the term jinn has its primary meaning of “that which is concealed from [man’s] senses” (see Appendix III), thus including all manner of unknown forces, both real and imaginary, believed to be inherent in what we describe as “nature”. Hence, the answer of the angels implies that the sinners’ alleged worship of them had never been more than a subconscious screen for their fear of the invisible forces of nature and, ultimately, of the yet deeper fear of the Unknown - that fear which sooner or later engulfs all who refuse to believe in the existence of God and, hence, cannot see any meaning or purpose in human life. (See also the last sentence of 10: 28 and the corresponding note.)] (42) And [on that Day God will say]: “None of you [created beings] has today any power to benefit or to harm another!” And [then] We shall say unto those who had been bent on evildoing: “Taste [now] that suffering through fire which you were wont to call a lie!”

RELIGION OF ANCESTORS

(43) For [thus it is:] whenever Our messages are conveyed unto them in all their clarity, they [who are bent on denying the truth] say [to one another], “This [Muhammad] is nothing but a man who wants to turn you away from what your forefathers were wont to worship!” And they say, “This [Quran] is nothing but a falsehood invented [by man]!” And [finally,] they who are bent on denying the truth speak thus of the truth when it comes to them: “This is clearly nothing but spellbinding eloquence!” [Lit., “sorcery” or “magic” - a term frequently used in the sense of “spellbinding eloquence” (cf. 74: 24, the earliest instance in the chronology of Quranic revelation).] (44) And yet, [O Muhammad,] never have We vouchsafed them any revelations which they could quote, and neither have We sent unto them any warner before thee. [Lit., “which they could study”, i.e., in support of the blasphemous beliefs and practices inherited from their ancestors. Cf. 30: 35, which expresses a similar idea.] (45) Thus, too, gave the lie to the truth [many of] those who lived before them; and although those [earlier people] had not attained to even a tenth of [the evidence of the truth] which We have vouch­safed unto these [late successors of theirs], yet when they gave the lie to My apostles, how awesome was My rejection! [Sc., “And how much worse will fare the deniers of the truth to whom so explicit and so comprehensive a divine writ as the Quran has been conveyed!” My rendering of the whole of this verse is based on Razi’s interpretation, which differs from that of most of the other commentators.] (46) Say: “I counsel you one thing only: Be [ever­ conscious of] standing before God, whether you are in the company of others or alone; [Lit., “two by two (mathna) and singly (furada)”. According to Razi, the expression mathna denotes, in this context, “together with another person” or “other persons”: hence, the above phrase may be understood to refer to man’s social behaviour - i.e., his actions concerning others - as well as to his inner, personal attitude in all situations requiring a moral choice.] and then bethink yourselves [that] there is no madness in [this pro­phet,] your fellow-man: [See note on 7: 184.] he is only a warner to you of suffering severe to come.” (47) Say: “No reward have I ever asked of you [out of anything] that is yours: [I.e., no reward of a material nature: cf. 25: 57 - “no reward other than that he who so wills may unto his Sustainer find a way”.] my reward rests with none but God, and He is witness unto everything!” (48) Say: “Verily, my Sustainer hurls the truth [against all that is false] [Cf. 21:18.] - He who fully knows all the things that are beyond the reach of a created being’s perception!” (49) Say: “The truth has now come [to light, and falsehood is bound to wither away]: [Cf. 17: 81.] for, falsehood cannot bring forth anything new, nor can it bring back [what has passed away].” [I.e., in contrast to the creativeness inherent in every true idea, falsehood - being in itself an illusion - cannot really create anything or revive any values that may have been alive in the past.] (50) Say: “Were I to go astray, I would but go astray [due to my own self, and] to the hurt of myself; [According to Zamakhshari, the idea expressed by the interpolated words “due to my own self” is implied in the above, inasmuch as “everything that goes against [the spiritual interests of] oneself is caused by oneself”. (See note on 14: 4.)] but if I am on the right path, it is but by virtue of what my Sustainer reveals unto me: for, verily, He is all-hearing, ever-near!”

RESURRECTION DAY

(51) IF THOU couldst but see [how the deniers of the truth will fare on Resurrection Day,] when they will shrink in terror, with nowhere to escape - since they will have been seized from so close nearby [Lit., “from a place nearby” - i.e., from within their own selves: cf. 17: 13 (“every human being’s destiny have We tied to his neck”) and the corresponding note. The same idea is expressed in 13: 5 (“it is they who carry the shackles [of their own making] around their necks”), as well as in the second part of verse 33 of the present surah (“We shall have put shackles around the necks of those who had been bent on denying the truth”). See also 50: 41 and the corresponding note.] - (52) and will cry, “We do [now] believe in it!” But how can they [hope to] attain [to salvation] from so far away, [Lit., “from a place far-away” - i.e., from their utterly different past life on earth.] (53) seeing that aforetime they had been bent on denying the truth, and had been wont to cast scorn, from far away, on something that was beyond the reach of human perception? [The obvious implication is that man’s fate in the hereafter will be a consequence of, and invariably conditioned by, his spiritual attitude and the manner of his life during the first, earthly stage of his existence. In this instance, the expression “from far away” is apparently used in a sense similar to sayings like “far off the mark” or “without rhyme or reason”, and is meant to qualify as groundless and futile all negative speculations about what the Quran describes as al-ghayb (“that which is beyond the reach of human [or “a created being’s”] perception”): in this case, life after death.] (54) And so, a barrier will be set between them and all that they had [ever] desired, [Thus, the impossibility of attaining to the fulfillment of any of their desires - whether positive or negative - sums up, as it were, the suffering of the damned in the life to come.] as will be done to such of their kind as lived before their time: for, behold, they [too] were lost in doubt amounting to suspicion. [I.e., a suspicion that all moral postulates were but meant to deprive them of what they considered to be the “legitimate advantages” of life in this world.]

THE THIRTY-FIFTH SURAH

AL-FATIR (THE ORIGINATOR)

MECCA PERIOD

Most of the authorities place this surah – which derives its title from God’s attribute of “Originator of the heavens and the earth” in its first verse - chronologically between surahs 25 (Al-Furqan) and 19 (Maryam): that is, about seven or eight years before the Prophet’s exodus from Mecca to Medina. Another title given to it by some of the Companions and several classical commentators is Al-Malaikah (“The Angels”), also based on verse 1.

Almost the whole of Al-Fatir deals with God’s unique power to create and to resurrect, as well as with His having revealed His will through the medium of His prophets - but “only such as are endowed with [innate] knowledge stand [truly] in awe of God: [for they alone comprehend that,] verily, God is almighty, much-forgiving” (second paragraph of verse 28).

IN THE NAME OF GOD, THE MOST GRACIOUS, THE DISPENSER OF GRACE:

GOD, ORIGINATOR OF THE HEAVENS AND THE EARTH

(1) ALL PRAISE is due to God, Originator of the heavens and the earth, who causes the angels to be (His) message-bearers, endowed with wings, two, or three, or four. [The “wings” of the spiritual beings or forces comprised within the designation of angels are, obviously, a metaphor for the speed and power with which God’s revelations are conveyed to His prophets. Their multiplicity (“two, or three, or four”) is perhaps meant to stress the countless ways in which He causes His commands to materialize within the universe created by Him: an assumption which, to my mind, is supported by an authentic hadith to the effect that on the night of his Ascension (see Appendix IV) the Prophet saw Gabriel “endowed with six hundred wings” (Bukhari and Muslim, on the authority of Ibn Masud).] [Unceasingly] He adds to His creation whatever He wills: for, verily, God has the power to will anything. [I.e., the process of creation is continuous, constantly expanding in scope, range and variety.] (2) Whatever grace God opens up to man, none can withhold it; and whatever He withholds, none can henceforth release: for He alone is almighty, truly wise. (3) O men! Call to mind the blessings which God has bestowed upon you! Is there any creator, other than God, that could provide for you sustenance out of heaven and earth? [See 10: 31 and the corresponding note.] There is no deity save Him: and yet, how perverted are your minds! [Sc., “inasmuch as you attribute divine qualities or powers to anyone or anything beside Him”. For an explanation of the phrase anna tu fakun (lit., “how turned-away you are”, i.e., from the truth), see 5: 75.]

ALL THINGS GO BACK TO GOD

(4) But if they [whose minds are perverted] give thee the lie, [O Prophet, remember that] even so, before thy time, have [other] apostles been given the lie: for [the unbelievers always refuse to admit that] all things go back to God [as their source]. (5) O men! Verily, God’s promise [of resurrection] is true indeed: let not, then, the life of this world delude you, and let not [your own] deceptive thoughts about God delude you! [See 31: 33 (which is phrased in exactly the same way) and the corresponding note. As regards the explicit reference to Satan in the next verse of the present surah, see Razi’s remarks quoted in note on 14: 22, as well as note on 15: 17.]

SATAN AS A FOE

(6) Behold, Satan is a foe unto you: so treat him as a foe. He but calls on his followers to the end that they might find themselves among such as are des­tined for the blazing flame - (7) [seeing that] for those who are bent on denying the truth there is suffering severe in store, just as for those who have attained to faith and do righteous deeds there is forgiveness of sins, and a great reward. (8) Is, then, he to whom the evil of his own doings is [so] alluring that [in the end] he regards it as good [anything but a follower of Satan]? For, verily, God lets go astray him that wills [to go astray], just as He guides him that wills [to be guided]. [See note on 14: 4, which explains my rendering of this sentence.] Hence, [O believer,] do not waste thyself in sorrowing over them: verily, God has full knowledge of all that they do!

GOD’S POWER TO CREATE LIFE

(9) AND [remember:] it is God who sends forth the winds, so that they raise a cloud, whereupon We drive it towards dead land and thereby give life to the earth after it had been lifeless: even thus shall resur­rection be! (10) He who desires might and glory [ought to know that] all might and glory belong to God [alone]. Unto Him ascend all good words, and the righteous deed does He exalt. But as for those who cunningly devise evil deeds - suffering severe awaits them; and all their devising is bound to come to nought. [It appears that in this context - as in the first paragraph of 10: 21 or in 34: 33 - both the noun makr (lit., “a scheme”, or “scheming” or “plotting”) and the verb yamkurun (lit., “they scheme” or “plot”) have the connotation of “devising false [or “fallacious”] arguments” against something that is true. Since the preceding passages refer to God’s creativeness and, in particular, to His power to create life and resurrect the dead (verse 9), the “evil deeds” spoken of above are, presumably, specious arguments meant to “disprove” the announcement of resurrection.] (11) And [remember:] God creates [every one of] you out of dust, [See second half of note on 3: 59, and note on 23:12.] then out of a drop of sperm; and then He fashions you into either of the two sexes. [Lit., “makes you pairs” or “mates (of one another)”.] And no female conceives or gives birth unless it be with His knowledge; and none that is long-lived has his days lengthened - and neither is aught lessened of his days - unless it be thus laid down in [God’s] decree: for, behold, all this is easy for God. (12) [Easy is it for Him to create likeness and variety:] [This interpolated sentence reflects Razi’s convincing explanation of the passage that follows here, and its connection with the preceding one.] thus, the two great bodies of water [on earth] are not alike [For this rendering of al-bahran, see note on 25:53.]-the one sweet, thirst-allaying, pleasant to drink, and the other salty and bitter: and yet, from either of them do you eat fresh meat, and [from either] you take gems which you may wear; and on either thou canst see ships ploughing through the waves, so that you might [be able to] go forth in quest of some of His bounty, and thus have cause to be grateful. (13) He makes the night grow longer by shortening the day, and He makes the day grow longer by shortening the night; and He has made the sun and the moon subservient [to His laws], each running its course for a term set [by Him]. [See note on 13: 2.]

FALSE OBJECTS OF WORSHIP

Thus is God, your Sustainer: unto Him belongs all dominion - whereas those whom you invoke instead of Him do not own so much as the husk of a date-stone! (14) If you invoke them, they do not hear your call; and even if they could hear, they would not [be able to] respond to you. And [withal,] on the Day of Resurrection they will utterly disown your having associated them with God. [The Quran states in many places that all false objects of worship - whether saints, angels, relics, fetishes, or deified forces of nature - will “bear witness” against their one-time worshippers on Resurrection Day, and will “disown” them: a symbolic allusion to man’s perception, at the end of time, of the ultimate reality.] And none can make thee understand [the truth] like the One who is all-aware. (15) O men! It is you, who stand in need of God, whereas He alone is self-sufficient, the One to whom all praise is due. (16) If He so wills, He can do away with you and bring forth a new mankind [in your stead]: [See note on 14:19.] (17) nor is this difficult for God.

ORIGINAL SIN AND VICARIOUS ATONEMENT

(18) AND NO BEARER of burdens shall be made to bear another’s burden; [I.e., on Judgment Day - for “whatever [wrong] any human being commits rests upon him alone” (6:164, which is followed by a sentence identical with the one above).] and if one weighed down by his load calls upon [another] to help him carry it, nothing thereof may be carried [by that other], even if it be one’s near of kin. [Thus, any transfer of moral responsibility from one person to another is shown to be impossible. Whereas the first part of the above statement implies a negation of the Christian doctrine of “original sin” with which mankind is supposedly burdened, the second part categorically refutes the doctrine of the “vicarious atonement” of that sin by Jesus. (See also 53: 38 and the corresponding note.) Hence, thou canst [truly] warn only those who stand in awe of their Sustainer although He is beyond the reach of their perception, [For an explanation of this rendering of bi’l-ghayb, see note on 2: 3. The meaning is that only those “who believe in the existence of that which is beyond the reach of human perception” can really benefit by the “warning” inherent in the preceding statement. (See also 27: 80 - 81 and 30: 52 - 53.)] and are constant in prayer, and [know that] whoever grows in purity, attains to purity but for the good of his own self, and [that] with God is all journeys’ end. (19) For [thus it is:] the blind and the seeing are not equal; (20) nor are the depths of darkness and the light; (21) nor the [cooling] shade and the scorching heat: (22) and neither are equal the living and the dead [of heart]. Behold, [O Muhammad,] God can make hear whomever He wills, whereas thou canst not make hear such as are [dead of heart like the dead] in their graves: (23) thou art nothing but a warner. (24) Verily, We have sent thee with the truth, as a bearer of glad tidings and a warner: for there never was any community but a warner has [lived and] passed away in its midst. [One of the meanings of the term ummah (preferred by Zamakhshari in his commentary on the above verse) is “people of one time” or “age”; another, “people of one kind”, i.e., “a nation” or a community” (which is adopted by me in this context). Taking into consideration a third, well-established meaning, namely, “a (particular) way of life” or “of behaviour” (Jawhari), the term “community” comes, in this instance, close to the modern concept of “civilization” in its historical sense. The stress on the warners (i.e., prophets) having “passed away” is meant to emphasize the humanness and mortality of each and all of them.] (25) And if they give thee the lie - even so gave the lie to the truth [many of] those who lived before their time, [when] there came unto them their apostles with all evidence of the truth, and with books of divine wisdom, and with light-giving revelation; (26) [but] in the end I took to task all those who were bent on denying the truth: and how awesome was My rejection!

DIVERSITY IN CREATION

(27) ART THOU NOT aware that God sends down water from the skies, whereby We bring forth fruits of many hues - just as in the mountains there are streaaks of white and red of various shades, as well as (others) raven-black, (28) and (as) there are in men, and in crawling beasts, and in cattle, too, many hues? [Cf. 16: 13, where the splendour of nature (“the beauty of many hues”) is spoken of as an evidence of God’s creative power.] Of all His servants, only such as are endowed with [innate] knowledge stand [truly] in awe of God: [I.e., spiritual knowledge, born of the realization that the phenomena which can be observed do not comprise the whole of reality, inasmuch as there is “a realm beyond the reach of a created being’s perception” (cf. note on

2: 3).] [for they alone comprehend that,] verily, God is almighty, much-forgiving.

DOERS OF GOOD

(29) (It is) they who [truly] follow God’s revelation, and are constant in prayer, and spend on others, secretly and openly, out of what We provide for them as sustenance - it is they who may look forward to a bargain that can never fail, (30) since He will grant them their just rewards, and give them yet more out of His bounty: for, verily, He is much-forgiving, ever-responsive to gratitude. (31) And [know that] all of the divine writ with which We have inspired thee is the very truth, confirming the truth of whatever there still remains of earlier revelations [For this explanatory rendering of the phrase ma bayna yadayhi, see note on 3: 3.] - for, behold, of [the needs of] His servants God is fully aware, all-seeing. (32) And so, We have bestowed this divine writ as a heritage unto such of Our servants as We chose: and among them are some who sin against themselves; and some who keep half-way [between right and wrong]; [See 7: 46 and the corresponding note.] and some who, by God’s leave, are fore­most in deeds of goodness: [and] this, indeed, is a merit most high! (33) [Hence,] gardens of perpetual bliss will they enter, therein to be adorned with bracelets of gold and pearls, and therein to be clad in raiments of silk; [Regarding this symbolic “adornment” of the blessed in paradise, see note on 18: 31.] (34) and they will say: “All praise is due to God, who has caused all sorrow to leave us: for, verily, our Sustainer is indeed much-forgiving, ever-responsive to gratitude - (35) He who, out of His bounty, has made us alight in this abode of life enduring, wherein no struggle can assail us, and wherein no weariness can touch us!”

EVIL DOERS

(36) But as for those who are bent on denying the truth - the fire of hell awaits them: no end shall be put to their lives so that they could die, nor shall aught of  the suffering caused by that [fire] be lightened for them: thus shall We requite all who are bereft of gratitude. (37) And in that [hell] they will cry aloud: “O our Sustainer! Cause us to come out [of this suffering]! We shall [henceforth] do good deeds, not such as we were wont to do [aforetime]!” [But We shall answer:] “Did We not grant you a life long enough so that whoever was willing to take thought could bethink himself? And [withal,] a war­ner had come unto you! Taste, then, [the fruit of your evil deeds]: for evildoers shall have none to succour them!” (38) Verily, God knows the hidden reality of the heavens and the earth: [and,] behold, He has full knowledge of what is in the hearts [of men]. (39) He it is who has made you inherit the earth. [See note on 2: 30. In this instance, God’s having made man “inherit the earth” implies the grant to him of the ability to discern between right and wrong as well as between truth and falsehood.] Hence, he who is bent on denying the truth [of God’s oneness and uniqueness ought to know that] this denial of his will fall back upon him: for their [per­sistent] denial of this truth does but add to the deniers’ loathsomeness in their Sustainer’s sight and, thus, their denial of this truth does but add to the deniers’ loss. (40) Say: “Have you ever [really] considered those beings and forces to whom you ascribe a share in God’s divinity, [Lit., “those [God-] partners of yours”: see note on 6: 22.] [and] whom you invoke beside God? Show me what it is that they have created on earth - or do [you claim that] they have a share in [govern­ing] the heavens?” Have We ever vouchsafed them [I.e., to those who ascribe divinity to beings or forces other than God.] a divine writ on which they could rely as evidence [in support of their views]? [Cf. 30: 35 - “Have We ever bestowed upon them from on high a divine writ which would speak [with approval] of their worshipping aught beside Us?” The reference to a “divine writ” makes it clear that the people spoken of here are the erring followers of earlier revelation, and not atheists.] Nay, [the hope which] the evildoers hold out to one another [is] nothing but a delusion. [I.e., their expectation that the saints whom they invest with divine or semi-divine qualities will “mediate” between them and God, or “intercede” for them before Him, is based on nothing but wishful thinking.] (41) Verily, it is God [alone] who upholds the celestial bodies [Lit., “the heavens”- in this case apparently a metonym for all the stars, galaxies, nebulae, etc., which traverse the cosmic spaces in obedience to a most intricate system of God-willed laws, of which the law of gravity, perhaps most obvious to man, is but one.] and the earth, lest they deviate [from their orbits] - for if they should ever deviate, there is none that could uphold them after He will have ceased to do so. [Lit., “after Him”. This seems to be an allusion to the Last Hour, which, according to the Quran, will be heralded by a cosmic catastrophe.] [But,] verily, He is ever-forbearing, much-for­giving! [I.e., inasmuch as He does not speed up the end of the world despite the sinfulness of most of its inhabitants, and neither punishes without giving the sinner time to reflect and to repent (cf. verse 45).] (42) As it is, they [who are averse to the truth often] swear by God with their most solemn oaths that if a warner should ever come to them, they would follow his guidance better than any of the communities [of old had followed the warner sent to them]: [Cf. 6: 157 and the corresponding note.] but now that a warner has come unto them, [his call] but increases their aversion, (43) their arro­gant behaviour on earth, and their devising of evil [arguments against God’s messages]. [I.e., fallacious arguments meant to disparage those messages and to “disprove” their divine origin (cf. 10: 21 or 34: 33 and the corresponding notes on the Quranic use of the term makr in this sense).] Yet [in the end,] such evil scheming will engulf none but its authors: and can they expect anything but [to be made to go] the way of those [sinners] of olden times? [I.e., the way (sunnah) in which God has punished them.] Thus [it is]: no change wilt thou ever find in God’s way; yea, no deviation wilt thou ever find in God’s way! (44) Have they never journeyed about the earth and beheld what happened in the end to those [deniers of the truth] who lived before their time and were [so much] greater than they in power? And [do they not see that the will of] God can never be foiled by anything whatever in the heavens or on earth, since, verily, He is all-knowing, infinite in His power? (45) Now if God were to take men [at once] to task for whatever [wrong] they commit [on earth], He would not leave a single living creature upon its surface. However, He grants them respite for a term set [by Him]: [Or: “known [to Him alone]” - i.e., the end of their lives on earth.] but when their term comes to an end - then, verily, [they come to know that] God sees all that is in [the hearts of] His servants.

THE THIRTY-SIXTH SURAH

YA SIN (O THOU HUMAN BEING)

MECCA PERIOD

For an explanation of my rendering of the title Ya Sin as “O Thou Human Being”, see note below.

Revealed in the early part of what is termed the “middle” Mecca period (probably just before Al-Furqan), this surah is almost entirely devoted to the problem of man’s moral responsibility and, hence, to the certainty of resurrection and God’s judgment: and it is for this reason that the Prophet called upon his followers to recite it over the dying and in prayers for the dead (cf. several Traditions to this effect quoted by lbn Kathir at the beginning of his commentary on this surah).

IN THE NAME OF GOD, THE MOST GRACIOUS, THE DISPENSER OF GRACE:

QURAN FULL OF WISDOM

(1) O THOU human being! [Whereas some of the classical commentators incline to the view that the letters y-s (pronounced ya sin) with which this surah opens belong to the category of the mysterious letter-symbols (al-muqatta at) introducing a number of Quranic chapters (see Appendix II), Abd Allah ibn Abbas states that they actually represent two distinct words, namely the exclamatory particle ya (“O”) and sin, which in the dialect of the tribe of Tayy is synonymous with insan (“human being” or “man”): hence, similar to the two syllables ta ha in surah 20, ya sin denotes “O thou human being!” This interpretation has been accepted by Ikrimah, Ad-Dahhak, Al-Hasan al-Basri, Said ibn Jubayr, and other early Quran-commentators (see Tabari, Baghawi, Zamakhshari, Baydawi, Ibn Kathir. etc.). According to Zamakhshari, it would seem that the syllable sin is an abbreviation of unaysin, the diminutive form of insan used by the Tayy in exclamations. (It is to be borne in mind that in classical Arabic a diminutive is often expressive of no more than endearment: e.g., ya bunayya, which does not necessarily signify “O my little son” but, rather, “my dear son” irrespective of the son’s age.) On the whole, we may safely assume that the words ya sin apostrophize the Prophet Muhammad, who is explicitly addressed in the sequence, and are meant to stress - as the Quran so often does - the fact of his and all other apostles’ humanness.] (2) Consider this Quran full of wisdom: (3) verily, thou art indeed one of God’s message-bearers, [This statement explains the adjurative particle wa (rendered by me as “Consider”) at the beginning of the preceding verse - namely: “Let the wisdom apparent in the Quran serve as an evidence of the fact that thou art an apostle of God”. As regards my rendering of al-Quran al-Hakim as “this Quran full of wisdom”, see note on 10: 1.] (4) pursuing a straight way (5) by [virtue of] what is being bestowed from on high by the Almighty, the Dispenser of Grace, [Cf. 34: 50 - “if I am on the right path, it is but by virtue of what my Sustainer reveals unto me”.] (6) [bestowed upon thee] so that thou mayest warn people whose forefathers had not been warned, and who therefore are unaware [of the meaning of right and wrong]. [Cf. 6: 131-132. In the wider sense of this expression, the “forefathers” may be a metonym for a community’s cultural past: hence, the reference to those “forefathers” not having been “warned” (i.e., against evil) evidently alludes to the defectiveness of the ethical heritage of people who have become estranged from true moral values.]

SPIRITUAL STAGNATION OF SINNERS

(7) Indeed, the word [of God’s condemnation] is bound to come true [Lit., “has come true”, the past tense indicating the inevitability of its “coming true” - i.e., taking effect.] against most of them: for they will not believe. (8) Behold, around their necks We have put shack­les, [Zamakhshari: “[This is] an allegory of their deliberate denial of the truth.” See notes on 13: 5 and 34: 33.] reaching up to their chins, so that their heads are forced up; [Sc., “and they cannot see the right way” (Razi); their “forced-up heads” symbolize also their arrogance. On the other hand, God’s “placing shackles” around the sinners’ necks is a metaphor similar to His “sealing their hearts and their hearing”, spoken of in 2: 7 and explained in the corresponding note. The same applies to the metaphor of the “barriers” and the “veiling” mentioned in the next verse.] (9) and We have set a barrier before them and a barrier behind them, and We have enshrouded them in veils so that they cannot see: [Sc., “so that they can neither advance nor go back”: a metaphor of utter spiritual stagnation.] (10) thus, it is all one to them whether thou warnest them or dost not warn them: they will not believe. (11) Thou canst [truly] warn only him who is willing to take the reminder to heart, [Lit., “who is following the reminder”.] and who stands in awe of the Most Gracious although He is beyond the reach of human perception: unto such, then, give the glad tiding of [God’s] forgiveness and of a most excellent reward!

(12) Verily, We shall indeed bring the dead back to life; and We shall record whatever [deeds] they have sent ahead, and the traces [of good and evil] which they have left behind: for of all things do We take account in a record clear.

PARABLE OF THREE PROPHETS

(13) AND SET FORTH unto them a parable - [the story of how] the people of a township [behaved] when [Our] message-bearers came unto them. (14) Lo! We sent unto them two [apostles], and. they gave the lie to both; and so We strengthened [the two] with a third; and thereupon they said: “Behold, we have been sent unto you [by God]!” [As is usual with such passages, the commentators advance various speculations as to the “identity” of the town and the apostles. Since, however, the story is clearly described as a parable, it must be understood as such and not as an historical narrative. It seems to me that we have here an allegory of the three great monotheistic religions, successively propounded by Moses, Jesus and Muhammad, and embodying, essentially, the same spiritual truths. The “township” (qaryah) mentioned in the parable represents, I think, the common cultural environment within which these three religions appeared. The apostles of the first two are said to have been sent “together”, implying that the teachings of both were - and are - anchored in one and the same scripture, the Old Testament of the Bible. When, in the course of time, their impact proved insufficient to mould the ethical attitude of the people or peoples concerned, God “strengthened” them by means of His final message, conveyed to the world by the third and last of the apostles, Muhammad.] (15) [The others] answered: “You are nothing but mortal men like ourselves; moreover, the Most Gracious has never bestowed aught [of revelation] from on high. You do nothing but lie!” [Cf. 6: 91 - “no true understanding of God have they when they say, ‘Never has God revealed anything unto man.”’ See also 34: 31 and the corresponding note. Both these passages, as well as the one above, allude to people who like to think of themselves as “believing” in God without, however, allowing their “belief” to interfere in the practical concerns of their lives: and this they justify by conceding to religion no more than a vaguely emotional role, and by refusing to admit the fact of objective revelation - for the concept of revelation invariably implies a promulgation, by God, of absolute moral values and, thus, a demand for one’s self-surrender to them.] (16) Said [the apostles]: “Our Sustainer knows that we have indeed been sent unto you; (17) but we are not bound to do more than clearly deliver the mes­sage [entrusted to us].”  (18) Said [the others]: “Truly, we augur evil from you! [For an explanation of the phrase tatayyarna bikum, see surah 7: 131.] Indeed, if you desist not, we will surely stone you, and grievous suffering is bound to befall you at our hands!” (19) [The apostles] replied: “Your destiny, good or evil, is [bound up] with yourselves! [Cf. 17: 13 - “every human being’s destiny (ta ir) have We tied to his neck” - and the corresponding note.] [Does it seem evil to you] if you are told to take [the truth] to heart? Nay, but you are people who have wasted their own selves!” [For this rendering of musrifun (sing. musrif), see note on the last sentence of 10:12.]

WARNER

(20) At that, a man came running from the farthest end of the city, [and] exclaimed: “O my people! Follow these message-bearers! (21) Follow those who ask no reward of you, and themselves are rightly guided! (22)           “[As for me,] why should I not worship Him who has brought me into being, and to whom you all will be brought back? (23) Should I take to worship­ping [other] deities beside Him? [But then,] if the Most Gracious should will that harm befall me, their intercession could not in the least avail me, nor could they save me: (24) and so, behold, I would have indeed, most obviously, lost myself in error! (25) “Verily, [O my people,] in the Sustainer of you all have I come to believe: listen, then, to me!” (26) [And] he was told, [I.e., by the apostles or, more probably (in view of the allegorical character of this story), by his own insight. The intervention of the man who “came running from the farthest end of the city” is evidently a parable of the truly believing minority in every religion, and of their desperate, mostly unavailing endeavours to convince their erring fellow-men that God-consciousness alone can save human life from futility.] “[Thou shalt] enter paradise!” - [whereupon] he exclaimed: “Would that my people knew (27) how my Sustainer has forgiven me [the sins of my past], and has placed me among the honoured ones!”

PUNISHMENT FOR SINS

(28) And after that, no host out of heaven did We send down against his people, nor did We need to send down any: (29) nothing was [needed] but one single blast [of Our punishment] - and lo! they became as still and silent as ashes. (30) OH, THE REGRETS that [most] human beings will have to bear! [Lit., “Oh, the regrets upon the bondmen” (al-ibad) - since all human beings, good or bad, are God’s “bondmen”. This phrase alludes to the Day of Judgment - which is described in 19: 39 as “the Day of Regrets” - as well as to the fact, repeatedly stressed in the Quran, that most human beings choose to remain deaf to the voice of truth, and thus condemn themselves to spiritual death.] Never has an apostle come to them without their deriding him! (31) Are they not aware of how many a generation We have destroyed before their time, [and] that those [that have perished] will never return to them, [I.e., to the people now living. As in many other Quranic passages, the term qarn, which literally signifies a “generation” or “people living at the same period”, has in this context the wider meaning of “society” or “civilization” in the historical connotation of these terms. Thus, the downfall and utter disappearance of past societies and civilizations is here linked to their spiritual frivolity and consequent moral failure. A further lesson to be drawn from this parable is the implied conclusion that the majority of people in every society, at all times (our own included), refuse to be guided by moral considerations, regarding them as opposed to their conventional mode of life and their pursuit of materialistic values - with the result that “never has an apostle come to them without their deriding him”.] (32) and [that] all of them, all together, will [in the end] before Us be arraigned?

CREATION OF OPPOSITES

(33) And [yet,] they have a sign [of Our power to create and to resurrect] in the lifeless earth which We make alive, and out of which We bring forth grain, whereof they may eat; (34) and [how] We make gardens of date-palms and vines [grow] thereon, and cause springs to gush [forth] within it, (35) so that they may eat of the fruit thereof, though it was not their hands that made it. Will they not, then, be grateful? (36) Limitless in His glory is He who has created opposites in whatever the earth produces, and in men’s own selves, and in that of which [as yet] they have no knowledge. [Lit., “who has created all the pairs out of whatever the earth produces, and out of  themselves, and out of that of which they have no knowledge”: a reference to the polarity evident in all creation, both animate and inanimate, which expresses itself in the existence of antithetic and yet complementary forces, like the sexuality in human beings, animals and plants, light and darkness, heat and cold, positive and negative magnetism and electricity, the positive and negative charges (protons and electrons) in the structure of the atom, and so forth. (It is to be borne in mind that the noun zawj denotes both “a pair” and “one of a pair”, as explained in note on 13: 3.) The mention of “that of which they have no knowledge” evidently relates to things or phenomena not yet understood by man but potentially within the range of his comprehension: hence my interpolation, between brackets, of the words “as yet”.] (37) And [of Our sway over all that exists] they have a sign in the night: We withdraw from it the [light of] day - and lo! they are in darkness.

SUN AND THE MOON

(38) And [they have a sign in] the sun: it runs in an orbit of its own [In the generally-accepted reading, this phrase is spelled li-mustaqarrin laha, which may be rendered as above or, more conventionally, as “to its point of rest”, i.e., the time (or point) of the daily sunset (Razi). However, Abd Allah ibn Masud is reliably reported to have read these words as la mustaqarra laha (Zamakhshari), which gives us the meaning of “it runs [on its course] without having any rest”, i.e., unceasingly.] - [and] that is laid down by the will of the Almighty, the All-Knowing; (39) and [in] the moon, for which We have determined phases [which it must traverse] till it becomes like an old date-stalk, dried-up and curved: [This is, in a condensed form, the meaning of the noun urjun - the raceme of the date-palm, which, when old and dry, becomes slender and curves like a crescent (cf. Lane V, 1997).] (40) [and] neither may the sun overtake the moon, nor can the night usurp the time of day, [Lit., “nor does the night outrun [or “outstrip”] the day”.] since all of them float through space [in accordance with Our laws].

MAN’S INGENUITY AS DIRECT MANIFESTATION OF GOD’S CREATIVENESS

(41) And [it ought to be] a sign for them that We bear their offspring [over the seas] in laden ships, [Lit., “in the laden ship”: a generic singular with a plural significance. The term “offspring” denotes here the human race as a whole (cf. the recurring expression “children of Adam”).] (42) and [that] We create for them things of a similar kind, on which they may embark [in their travels]; [Cf. 16: 8 and the corresponding note. In both of these passages man’s ingenuity is shown to be a direct manifestation of God’s creativeness.] (43) and [that,] if such be Our will, We may cause them to drown, with none to respond to their cry for help: and [then] they cannot be saved, (44) unless it be by an act of mercy from Us and a grant of life for a [further span of] time. (45) And [yet,] when they are told, “Beware of [God’s insight into] all that lies open before you and all that is hidden from you, [For an explanation of this rendering of the above phrase, see surah 2: 255. In the present instance it apparently denotes men’s conscious doings as well as their unconscious or half-conscious motivations.] so that you might be graced with His mercy,” [most men choose to remain deaf;] (46) and no message of their Sustainer s messages ever reaches them without their turning away from it.  [Or: “no sign of their Sustainer’s signs” - since the noun ayah, repeated several times in the preceding passage, denotes “a message” as well as “a sign”.]

ZAKAH

(47) Thus, when they are told, “Spend on others out of what God has provided for you as sus­tenance,” [In Quranic usage, the verb anfaqa (lit., “he spent”) invariably signifies one’s spending on others, or for the good of others, whatever the motive. The ethical importance of this “spending on others” is frequently stressed in the Quran, and is embodied in the concept of zakah, which denotes “purifying dues” or, in its broader sense, “charity” (see note on 2: 43).] those who are bent on denying the truth say unto those who believe, “Shall we feed anyone whom, if [your] God had so willed, He could have fed [Himself]? Clearly, you are but lost in error!”

BLAST AND TRUMPET OF RESURRECTION

(48) And they add, “When is this promise [of resurrection] to be fulfilled? [Answer this] if you are men of truth!” (49) [And they are unaware that] nothing awaits them beyond a single blast [of God’s punishment], [Lit., “they wait for nothing but a single blast…”, etc.] which will overtake them while they are still arguing - [against resurrection]: (50) and so [sudden will be their end that] no testament will they be able to make, - nor to their own people will they return! (51) And [then] the trumpet [of resurrection] will be   blown   - and lo! out of their graves towards their Sustainer will they all rush forth! (52) They will say: “Oh, woe unto us! Who has roused us from our sleep [of death]?” [Whereupon they will be told:] “This is what the Most Gracious has promised! And His message-bearers spoke the truth!” (53) Nothing will there have been but one single blast - and lo! before Us will all of them be arraigned [and be told]: (54) “Today, then, no human being shall be wronged in the least, nor shalt you be requited for aught but what you were doing [on earth].

REWARD OF PARADISE

(55) “Behold, those who are destined for paradise shall today have joy in whatever they do: (56) in happiness will they and their spouses on couches recline; [In the Quranic descriptions of paradise, the term zill (“shade”) and its plural zilal is often used as a metaphor for “happiness” - thus, for instance, in 4: 57, where zill zilal signifies “happiness abounding” (see surah 4: 57) - while the “couches” on which the blessed are to recline are obviously a symbol of inner fulfillment and peace of mind, as pointed out by Razi in his comments on 18: 31 and 55: 54.] (57) [only] delight will there be for them, and theirs shall be all that they could ask for: (58) peace and fulfillment through the word of a Sustainer who dispenses all grace. [This composite expression is, I believe, the nearest approach in English to the concept of salam in the above context. For a further explanation of this term, see note on 5:16, where salam is rendered as “salvation”.]

HELL

(59) “But stand aside today, O you who were lost in sin! (60) Did I not enjoin on you, O you children of Adam, that you should not worship Satan – since, verily, he is your open foe [For the meaning of what the Quran describes as “worship of Satan”, see note on 19: 44.] – (61) and that you should worship Me [alone]? This would have been a straight way! (62) And [as for Satan -] he had already led astray a great many of you: could you not, then, use your reason? (63) “This, then, is the hell of which you were warned again and again: 31 The phrase “This, then, is the hell” points to the fact that the sinners’ realization of their having gone astray despite repeated warnings by the prophets will, in itself, be a source of intense suffering (adhab) in the life to come. The element of repetition or persistence is implied in the use of the auxiliary verb kuntum both here and in the next verse.] (64) endure it today as an outcome of your persistent denial of the truth!” (65) On that Day We shall set a seal on their mouths*- but their hands will speak unto Us, and their feet will bear witness to whatever they have earned [in life]. [*A metaphor for their being unable really to excuse or defend their past actions and attitudes.]

FREE CHOICE BETWEEN RIGHT AND WRONG

(66) NOW HAD IT BEEN Our will [that men should not be able to discern between right and wrong], We could surely have deprived them of their sight, [Lit., “We could surely have effaced their eyes”: a metaphor for “We could have created them morally blind” and, thus, devoid of all sense of moral responsibility - which, in its turn, would constitute a negation of all spiritual value in human life as such. (Cf. 2: 20 - “if God so willed, He could indeed take away their hearing and their sight”.)] so that they would stray forever from the [right] way: for how could they have had insight [into what is true]? [In this instance - as, e.g., in 20: 96 - the verb basura (“he became seeing” or “he saw”) is obviously used in its tropical sense of “perceiving [something] mentally”. According to Ibn Abbas as quoted by Tabari, the phrase anna yubsirun signifies “how could they perceive the truth”.] (67) And had it been Our will [that they should not be free to choose between right and wrong], We could surely have given them a different nature [Lit., “transformed [or “transmuted”] them”.] [and created them as beings rooted] in their places, so that they would not be able to move forward, and could not turn back.] [I.e., if it had been God’s will that men should have no freedom of will or moral choice, He would have endowed them from the very beginning with a spiritually and morally stationary nature, entirely rooted in their instincts (“in their places”), devoid of all urge to advance, and incapable either of positive development or of retreat from a wrong course.] (68) But [let them always remember that] if We lengthen a human being’s days, We also cause him to decline in his powers [when he grows old]: will they not, then, use their reason? [I.e., man should never postpone his exercise of moral choice - for if human beings are superior creatures inasmuch as they have been endowed with the faculty of discernment and a wide measure of free will, let them also remember that “man has been created weak” (4: 28) and liable to decline still further in old age, so that the time at his disposal is short.]

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN POETRY AND THE QURAN

(69) AND [thus it is:] We have not imparted to this [Prophet the gift of] poetry, nor would [poetry] have suited this [message]: [This passage resumes the theme enunciated in the opening verses of this surah, namely, the revelation of the Quran. As in 26: 224, we have here an allusion to the allegation of Muhammad’s opponents, in his own as well as in later times, that what he described as divine revelation was in reality an outcome of his own poetic invention. This the Quran refutes by alluding to the fundamental difference between poetry - especially Arabic poetry - and divine revelation as exemplified by the Quran: whereas in the former the meaning is often subordinated to the rhythm and the melody of language, in the Quran the exact opposite is the case, inasmuch as here the choice of words, their sound and their position in the sentence - and, hence, its rhythm and melody - are always subordinated to the meaning intended. (Cf. also 26: 225 and the corresponding note.)] it is but a reminder and a [divine] discourse, clear in itself and clearly showing the truth, [For this composite rendering of the adjective mubin, see surah 12: 1. Literally, the above phrase reads, “a reminder and a [divine] discourse…”, etc., with the conjunctive particle wa (“and”) being used here, as in 15: 1, to point out that the Quran is an integral element in the process of divine revelation.] (70) to the end that it may warn everyone who is alive [of heart], and that the word [of God] may bear witness* against all who deny the truth. [*Lit., “may come [or “be proved”] true”, i.e., on the Day of Judgment (cf. verse 7 of this surah).]

HANDIWORK OF GOD

(71) Are they, then, not aware that it is for them that We have created, among all the things which Our hands have wrought, [I.e., “which We alone have or could have created” (Zamakhshari and Razi). The above metaphorical expression is based on the concept of “handiwork” in its widest sense, abstract as well as concrete.] the domestic animals of which they are [now] masters? - (72) and that We have subjected them to men’s will, [Lit., “made them submissive (dhallalnaha) to them”: implying also that man is morally responsible for the manner in which he uses or misuses them.] so that some of them they may use for riding and of some they may eat, (73) and may have [yet other] benefits from them, and [milk] to drink? Will they not, then, be grateful? (74) But [nay,] they take to worshipping deities other than God, [Or: “other deities beside God” - alluding, in either case, to objects of worship consciously conceived as such - i.e., idols, imaginary deities, deified persons, saints, etc. - as well as to abstract concepts like power, wealth or “luck”, which may not be consciously “worshipped” but are nevertheless often revered in an almost idolatrous fashion. The verb ittakhadhu (lit., “they took [or “have taken”] for themselves”), used in the Quran in this and in similar contexts, is particularly suited for the wide range of meanings alluded to inasmuch as it bears the connotation of adopting something - whether it be concrete or abstract - for one’s own use or adoration.] [hoping] to be succoured [by them, and not knowing that] (75) they are unable to succour their devotees, [Lit., “them”.] even though to them they may [appear to] be hosts drawn up [for succour]. (76) However, be not grieved by the sayings of those [who deny the truth]: verily, We know all that they keep secret as well as all that they bring into the open. (77) IS MAN, then, not aware that it is We who create him out of a [mere] drop of sperm - whereupon, lo! he shows himself endowed with the power to think and to argue? [See similar passage in 16: 4, as well as the corresponding note. Completing the inter­pretation advanced in his (and Zamakhshari’s) commentary on the above-mentioned verse, Razi equates here the term khasim (lit., “contender in argument”) with the highest manifestation of what is described as natiq (“articulate [or “rational”] being”).] (78) And [now] he [argues about Us, and] thinks of Us in terms of comparison, [Lit., “he coins for Us a simile (mathal)” - an elliptic allusion to the unwillingness of “those who deny the truth” to conceive of a transcendental Being, fundamentally different from all that is graspable by man’s senses or imagination, and having powers beyond all comparison with those which are available to any of the created beings. (Cf. 42: 11, “there is nothing like unto Him”, and 112: 4, “there is nothing that could be compared with Him”.) Since they are enmeshed in a materialistic outlook on life, such people deny - as the sequence shows - all possibility of resurrection, which amounts to a denial of God’s creative powers and, in the final analysis, of His existence.] and is oblivious of how he himself was created! [And so] he says, “Who could give life to bones that have crumbled to dust?” (79) Say: “He who brought them into being in the first instance will give them life [once again], seeing that He has full knowledge of every act of creation: (80) He who produces for you fire out of the green tree, so that, lo! you kindle [your fires] therewith.” [Cf. the ancient Arabian proverb, “In every tree there is a fire” (Zamakhshari): evidently an allusion to the metamorphosis of green - i.e., water-containing - plants into fuel, be it through desiccation or man-made carbonization (charcoal), or by a millennial, subterranean process of decomposition into oil or coal. In a spiritual sense, this “fire” seems also to symbolize the God-given warmth and light of human reason spoken of in verse 77 above.] (81) Is, then, He who has created the heavens and the earth not able to create [anew] the like of those [who have died]? Yea, indeed - for He alone is the all-knowing Crea­tor: (82) His Being alone * is such that when He wills a thing to be, He but says unto it, “Be” — and it is. [*This is the meaning of the phrase innama amruhu - the term amr being synonymous, in this instance, with shan (“state [or “manner”] of being”). The exclusiveness of God’s creative Being is stressed by the restrictive particle innama.] (83) Limitless, then, in His glory is He in whose hand rests the mighty dominion over all things; and unto Him you all will be brought back!

THE THIRTY-SEVENTH SURAH

AS-SAFFAT (THOSE RANGED IN RANKS)

MECCA PERIOD

All authorities agree in that this surah was revealed in its entirety in Mecca, most probably about the middle of that period.

Like the preceding surah, this one deals mainly with the prospect of resurrection and, hence, the certainty that all human beings will have to answer before God for what they have done on earth. Since man is apt to err (cf. verse 71 - “most of the people of old went astray”), he is in constant need of prophetic guidance: and this explains the renewed reference (in verses 75-148) to the stories of some of the earlier prophets, as well as the frequent allusions to the message of the Quran itself, which centres in the tenet that “your God is One” (verse 4), “above anything that men may devise by way of definition” (verses 159 and 180).

IN THE NAME OF GOD, THE MOST GRACIOUS, THE DISPENSER OF GRACE:

TRUE BELIEVERS AMONG HUMAN BEINGS

(1) CONSIDER these [messages] ranged in serried ranks, [Regarding the adjurative particle wa and my rendering it as “Consider”, see first half of note on 74: 32. Most of the classical commentators assume that verses 1-3 refer to angels - an assumption which Abu Muslim al-Isfahani (as quoted by Razi) rejects, stating that the passage refers to the true believers among human beings. However, Razi advances yet another (and, to my mind, most convincing) interpretation, suggesting that what is meant here are the messages (ayat) of the Quran, which - in the commentator’s words - “deal with various subjects, some speaking of the evidence of God’s oneness or of the evidence of His omniscience, omnipotence and wisdom, and some setting forth the evidence of [the truth of] prophetic revelation or of resurrection, while some deal with man’s duties and the laws [relating thereto], and yet others are devoted to the teaching of high moral principles; and these messages are arranged in accordance with a coherent system above all [need of] change or alteration, so that they resemble beings or things standing ‘in serried ranks’.” ] (2) and restraining [from evil] by a call to restraint, (3) and conveying [to all the world] a reminder: (4) Verily, most surely, your God is One - (5) the Sustainer of the heavens and the earth and of all that is between them, and the Sustainer of all the points of sunrise! [Sc., “and of sunset” (cf. 55: 17 and the corresponding note). The stress on the various “points of sunrise” (al-mashariq) brings out the endless variety of all created phenomena as contrasted with the oneness and uniqueness of their Creator. The mention of “the points of sunrise” and omission of “the points of sunset” in the wording (though not in the meaning) of the above phrase alludes, I believe, to the light-giving quality of the Quran spoken of in verses 1-3.]

UNIVERSE HIDDEN FROM MAN

(6) Behold, We have adorned the skies nearest to the earth with the beauty of stars, (7) and have made them secure against every rebellious, satanic force, [For an explanation of this passage, see note on 15: 17.] (8) [so that] they [who seek to learn the unknowable] should not be able to overhear the host on high, [I.e., the angelic forces, whose “speech” is a metonym for God’s decrees.] but shall be repelled from all sides, (9) cast out [from all grace], with lasting suffering in store for them [in the life to come]; (10) but if anyone [Lit., “excepting [or “except that”] anyone who …”, etc. However, as pointed out by some authorities (e.g., Mughni), the particle illa is occasionally synonymous with the simple conjunction Wa, which in this case has the significance of “but”.] does succeed in snatching a glimpse [of such knowledge], he is [henceforth] pursued by a piercing flame. [For the meaning of this phrase, see note on 15: 18. After the stress on God’s oneness in verses 4-5, the passage comprising verses 6-10 points to the fact that human beings are precluded from really grasping the variety and depth of the universe created by Him. We have here an echo of 34: 9 – “Are they, then, not aware of how little of the sky and the earth lies open before them, and how much is hidden from them?” – and, thus, a new, oblique approach to the theme of resurrection, which is taken up in the sequence in the form of an indirect question.]

ORIGIN OF MAN FROM PRIMITIVE SUBSTANCES

(11) AND NOW ask those [who deny the truth] to enlight­en thee: Were they more difficult to create than all those [untold marvels] that We have created? - for, behold, them have We created out of [mere] clay commingled with water! [I.e., out of primitive substances existing in their elementary forms in and on the earth (see 23: 12) - substances which are as nothing when compared with the complexity of “the heavens and the earth and all that is between them”: hence, man’s individual resurrection is as nothing when compared with the creation of the multiform universe.] (12) Nay, but whereas thou dost marvel, they [only] scoff; [I.e., at God’s creative power as well as at the blind arrogance of those who deny it.] (13) and when they are reminded [of the truth], they refuse to take it to heart; (14) and when they become aware of a [divine] message, they turn it to ridicule (15) and say: “This is clearly nothing but [a mortal’s] spellbinding eloquence!

RESURRECTION THE DAY OF DISTINCTION

(16) Why - after we have died and become mere dust and bones, shall we, forsooth, be raised from the dead? - (17) and perhaps also our forebears of old?” (18) Say: “Yea, indeed - and most abject will you then be!” - (19) for that [resurrection which they deride] will be [upon them of a sudden, as if it were] but a single accusing cry - and then, lo! they will begin to see [the truth] (20) and will say: “Oh, woe unto us! This is the Day of Judgment!” (21) [And they will be told:] “This is the Day of Distinction [between the true and the false - the Day] [See note on 77: 13.] which you were wont to call a lie!” (22) [And God will thus command:] “Assemble all those who were bent on evildoing, together with others of their ilk [According to almost all of the earliest authorities - including Umar ibn al-Khattab, Abd Allah ibn Abbas, Qatadah, Mujahid, As-Suddi, Said ibn Jubayr, Al-Hasan al-Basri, etc., - the expression azwaj denotes here “people resembling one another [in their dispositions]”, or “people of the same kind” or “of the same ilk”.] and [with] all that they were wont to worship (23) instead of God, and lead them all onto the way to the blazing fire, (24) and halt them [there]!”

MUTUAL REPROACHES OF SINNERS ON THE DAY OF JUDGMENT

[And then,] behold, they shall be asked, (25) “How is it that [now] you cannot succour one another?” (26) Nay, but on that Day they would willingly surrender [to God]; (27) but [since it will be too late,] they will turn upon one another, demanding of each other [to relieve them of the burden of their past sins]. [Cf. the contrasting - though verbally identical - passage in verses 50 ff. of the present surah. Whereas in the latter instance the verb yatasa alun has its primary connotation of “asking one another [about something]”, it signifies here “demanding [something] of one another” - as the sequence shows, to assume responsibility for their erstwhile denial of the truth.] (28) Some [of them] will say: “Behold, you were wont to approach us [deceptively] from the right!” [I.e., “claiming that what you were asking us to do was right and good”. The idiomatic phrase “approaching one from the right” is more or less synonymous with “pretending to give a morally good advice”, as well as “approaching another person from a position of power and influence” (Zamakhshari).] (29) [To which] the others will reply: “Nay, you yourselves were bereft of all faith! (30) Moreover, we had no power at all over you: nay, you were people filled with overweening arrogance! (31) But now our Sustainer’s word has come true against us [as well]: verily, we are bound to taste [the fruit of our sins]. (32) So then, [if it be true that] we have caused you to err grievously - behold, we ourselves had been lost in grievous error!” [For an explanation see 28 : 62-64 and the corresponding notes.] (33) And, verily, on that Day they all will share in their common suffering. (34) Verily, thus shall We deal with all who were lost in sin:

MAD POET

(35) for, behold, whenever they were told, “There is no deity save God,” they would glory in their arrogance (36) and would say, “Shall we, then, give up our deities at the bidding of a mad poet?” [Lit., “for [or “for the sake of”] a mad poet” - thus alluding to the allegation that the Quran is a product of Muhammad’s mind (see note on 36: 69). The reference to “deities” comprises, in this context, everything that man may “worship” in both the literal and the metaphorical senses of this word.] (37) Nay, but he [whom you call a mad poet] has brought the truth; and he confirms the truth of [what the earlier of God’s] message-bearers [have taught]. [See surah 2: 4. It is to be borne in mind that this refers to the fundamental teachings, which have always been the same in every true religion, and not to the many time-bound laws evident in the earlier religious codes.] (38) Behold, you will indeed taste grievous suffering [in the life to come], (39) although you shall not be requited for aught but what you were wont to do.

PARADISE

(40) Not so, however, God’s true servants: [Lit., “sincere servants”. In contrast to the principle that “a bad deed will be requited with no more than the like thereof”, implied in the preceding verse, the Quran states here that he who “shall come [before God] with a good deed will receive ten times the like thereof” (see 6: 160).] (41) [in the hereafter,] theirs shall be a sustenance which they will recognize [Lit., “a known sustenance”. For a tentative explanation of this phrase, see note on 2: 25.] (42) as the fruits [of their life on earth]; and honoured shall they be (43) in gardens of bliss, (44) facing one another [in love] upon thrones of happiness. [For my occasional rendering of the plural noun surur as “thrones of happiness”, see note on 15: 47.] (45) A cup will be passed round among them [with a drink] from unsullied springs, (46) clear, delightful to those who drink it: (47) no headiness will be in it, and they will not get drunk thereon. (48) And with them will be mates of modest gaze, [See note on 38: 52, where the expression qasirat at-tarf (lit., “such as restrain their gaze”) appears for the first time in the chronology of Quranic revelation.] most beautiful of eye, (49) [as free of faults] as if they were hidden [ostrich] eggs. [This is an ancient Arabian figure of speech derived from the habit of the female ostrich, which buries its eggs in the sand for protection (Zamakhshari). Its particular application to the women who attain to paradise becomes clear from 56: 34 ff., which states that all righteous women, irrespective of their age and condition at the time of death, will be resurrected as beautiful maidens.]

CONVERSATION OF THE BLESSED

(50)And they will all turn to one another, asking each other [about their past lives]. [Cf. verse 27 above and the corresponding note. Like the mutual reproaches of the sinners in that passage, the “conversation” of the blessed which follows here is, of course, allegorical, and is meant to stress the continuity of individual consciousness in the hereafter.] (51) One of them speaks thus: “Behold, I had [on earth] a close companion (52) who was wont to ask [me], ‘Why - art thou really one of those who believe it to be true (53) [that] after we have died and become mere dust and bones we shall, forsooth, be brought to judgment?”’ (54) [And] he adds: “Would you like to look [and see him]?” - (55) and then he looks and sees that [companion of his] in the midst of the blazing fire, (56) and says: “By God! Verily, thou hast almost destroyed me [too, O my erstwhile companion] - (57) for had it not been for my Sustainer’s favour, I would surely be [now] among those who are given over [to suffering]! (58) But then, [O my friends in paradise,] is it [really] so that we are not to die (59) [again,] beyond our previous death, and that we shall never [again] be made to suffer? (60) Verily, this - this indeed - is the triumph supreme!” (61) For the like of this, then, let them labour, those who labour [in God’s way]!

TREE OF DEADLY FRUIT A SYMBOL OF HELL

(62) Is such [a paradise] the better welcome - or the [hellish] tree of deadly fruit? [According to the lexicographers, the noun zaqqum (which occurs, apart from the present instance, in 44: 43 and in 56: 52 as well) denotes any “deadly food”; hence, the expression shajarat az-zaqqum, a symbol of hell, may be appropriately rendered as “the tree of deadly fruit” (undoubtedly identical with “the tree cursed in this Quran”, mentioned in 17: 60), symbolizing the fact that the otherworldly sufferings which the Quran describes as “hell” are but the fruit - i.e., organic consequence - of one’s evil deeds done on earth.] (63) Verily, We have caused it to be a trial for evildoers: [It cannot be often enough repeated that all Quranic references to hell and paradise - and, for that matter, all descriptions of men’s conditions in the hereafter - are, of necessity, highly allegorical (see Appendix 1) and therefore liable to be grossly misunderstood if one takes them in their literal sense or, conversely, interprets them in an arbitrary manner (cf. 3: 7 and the corresponding notes): and this, to my mind, explains why the symbol of the “tree of deadly fruit” - one of the metonyms for the suffering of the sinners in the hereafter - has become “a trial (fitnah) for evildoers” (or “for men” in 17: 60). See in this connection 74: 31, which is the earliest Quranic instance of this concept of “trial”.] (64) for, behold, it is a tree that grows in the very heart of the blazing fire [of hell], (65) its fruit [as repulsive] as satans’ heads; [According to Zamakhshari, “this purely verbal metaphor (isti arah lafziyyah) is meant to express the ultimate in repulsiveness and ugliness . . . inasmuch as Satan is considered to be the epitome of all that is evil”.] (66) and they [who are lost in evil] are indeed bound to eat thereof, and to fill their bellies therewith. (67) And, behold, above all this they will be confounded with burning des­pair! [Lit., “and upon it, behold, they will have an admixture [or “confusion”] of hamim”. (For my rendering of the last term as “burning despair”, see surah 6: 70.) (68) And once again: [See surah 6: 38.] Verily, the blazing fire is their ultimate goal - (69) for, behold, they found their forebears on a wrong way, (70) and [now] they make haste to follow in their footsteps! [I.e., blind imitation (taqlid) of the - obviously absurd - beliefs, valuations and customs of one’s erring predecessors, and disregard of all evidence of the truth supplied by both reason and divine revelation, is here shown to be the principal cause of the suffering referred to in the preceding passage (Zamakhshari).] (71) Thus, indeed, most of the people of old went astray before them, (72) although, verily, We had sent warners unto them: (73) and behold what happened in the end to those that had been warned [to no avail]! (74) EXCEPT for God’s true servants, [most people are apt to go astray.] [Sc., “and are, therefore, in need of prophetic guidance”: which explains the subsequent mention of stories relating to several of the prophets. The story of Noah, which is briefly referred to here, appears in greater detail in 11: 25-48.]

NOAH

(75) And, indeed, [it was for this reason that] Noah cried unto Us - and how excellent was Our response: (76) for We saved him and his household from that awesome calamity, [I.e., the Deluge.] (77) and caused his offspring to endure [on earth]; (78) and We left him thus to be remembered among later generations: [Lit., “and We left upon him”, sc., “this praise” or “remembrance”, expressed in the salutation which follows.] (79) “Peace be upon Noah throughout all the worlds!” (80) Verily, thus do We reward the doers of good - (81) for he was truly one of our believing servants: (82) [and so We saved him and those who followed him] and then We caused the others to drown.

ABRAHAM

(83) AND, BEHOLD, of his persuasion was Abraham, too, (84) when he turned to his Sustainer with a heart free of evil, (85) and [thus] spoke to his father and his people: “What is it that you worship? (86) Do you want [to bow down before] a lie - [before] deities other than God? (87) What, then, do you think of the Sustainer of all the worlds?” [Abraham’s argument goes thus: “Do you believe in the existence of a Creator and Lord of the universe?” - a question which his people were bound to answer in the affirmative, since belief in a Supreme Deity was an integral part of their religion. The next stage of the argument would be: “How, then, can you worship idols - the work of your own hands - side by side with the idea of a Creator of the universe?”] (88) Then he cast a glance at the stars, [Obviously an allusion to his early, futile attempts at identifying God with the stars, the sun or the moon (see 6: 76-78).] (89) and said, “Verily, I am sick [at heart]!” [Sc., “at your worshipping idols instead of God” (lbn Kathir; cf. also Lane IV, 1384). - (90) and at that they turned their backs on him and went away. (91) Thereupon he approached their gods stealthily and said, “What! You do not eat [of the offerings placed before you]? (92) What is amiss with you that you do not speak?” (93) And then he fell upon them, smiting them with his right hand. [A metonym for “with all his strength”. For what happened afterwards, see 21: 58.] (94) [But] then the others came towards him hur­riedly [and accused him of his deed]. (95) He answered: “Do you worship something that you [yourselves] have carved, (96) the while it is God who has created you and all your handiwork?” (97) They exclaimed: “Build a pyre [Lit., “a building” or “a structure”.] for him, and cast him into the blazing fire!” (98) But whereas they sought to do evil unto him, We [frustrated their designs, and thus] brought them low? [See surah 21: 69.] (99) And [Abraham] said: “Verily, I shall [leave this land and] go wherever my Sustainer will guide me!” [Lit., “I shall go to my Sustainer: He will guide me.”]

ISMAIL

(100) [And he prayed:] “O my Sustainer! Bestow upon me the gift of [a son who shall be] one of the righteous!” - (101) whereupon We gave him the glad tiding of a boy-child gentle [like himself]? [I.e., Abraham’s first-born son, Ishmael (Ismail).] (102) And [one day,] when [the child] had become old enough to share in his [father’s] endeavours, [Lit., “attained to [the age of] walking [or “striving”] with him”: evidently a metonym for the child’s attaining to an age when he could understand, and share in, his father’s faith and aims.] the latter said: “O my dear son! I have seen in a dream that I should sacrifice thee: consider, then, what would be thy view!” [Ishmael] answered: “O my father! Do as thou art bidden: thou wilt find me, if God so wills, among those who are patient in adversity!” (103) But as soon as the two had surrendered themselves to [what they thought to be] the will of God, [The above interpolation is, I believe, absolutely necessary for a proper understanding of this passage. As pointed out repeatedly in these notes, the verb aslama signifies, in Quranic usage, “he surrendered himself to God”, or “to God’s will”, even if there is no express mention of God; hence, the dual form aslama occurring in the above verse might, on the face of it, have this meaning as well. Since, however, the sequence clearly shows that it was not God’s will that Ishmael should be sacrificed, his and his father’s “self-surrender to God’s will” can have in this context only a purely subjective meaning - namely “to what they thought to be the will of God”.] and [Abraham] had laid him down on his face, (104) We called out to him: “O Abraham, (105) thou hast already fulfilled [the purpose of] that dream- vision!” [I.e., the moral significance of Abraham’s dream-vision consisted in a test of his readiness to sacrifice, at what he thought to be God’s behest (see preceding note), all that was dearest to him in life.] Thus, verily, do We reward the doers of good: (106) for, behold, all this was indeed a trial, clear in itself. [I.e., a trial of this severity clearly implied that Abraham would be capable to bear it, and thus constituted a high moral distinction - in itself a reward from God.] (107) And We ransomed him with a tremendous sacrifice, [The epithet azim (“tremendous” or “mighty”) renders it improbable that this sacrifice refers to nothing but the ram which Abraham subsequently found and slaughtered in Ishmael’s stead (Genesis xxii, 13). To my mind, the sacrifice spoken of here is the one repeated every year by countless believers in connection with the pilgrimage to Mecca (al-hajj), which, in itself, com­memorates the experience of Abraham and Ishmael and constitutes one of the “five pillars” of Islam. (See 22: 27-37, as well as 2: 196-203.)] (108) and left him thus to be remembered among later generations: [See note on verse 78 above.] (109) “Peace be upon Abraham!” (110) Thus do We reward the doers of good - (11l) for he was truly one of our believing servants.

ISAAC

(112) And [in time] We gave him the glad tiding of Isaac, [who, too, would be] a prophet, one of the righteous; (113) and We blessed him and Isaac: but among the offspring of these two there were [des­tined] to be both doers of good and such as would glaringly sin against themselves. [I.e., commit evil. With this prediction the Quran refutes, as in so many other places, the spurious contention of the Jews that they are “the chosen people” by virtue of their descent from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and therefore a priori “assured”, as it were, of God’s acceptance. In other words, God’s blessing a prophet or a saint does not, by itself, imply the conferment of any special status on his descendants.]

MOSES AND AARON

(114) THUS, INDEED, did We bestow Our favour upon Moses and Aaron; [I.e., in consideration of their own merit, and not because of their descent from Abraham and Isaac (see preceding verse and note). (115) and We saved them and their people from the awesome calamity [of bondage], (116) and succoured them, so that [in the end] it was they who achieved victory. (117) And We gave them the divine writ that made [right and wrong] distinct, [I.e., “the Torah, wherein there was guidance and light ... unto those who followed the Jewish faith” (5: 44).] (118) and guided them the straight way, (119) and left them thus to be remem­bered among later generations: (120) “Peace be upon Moses and Aaron!” (121) Thus do We reward the doers of good - (122) for those two were truly among Our believing ser­vants.

ELIJAH

(123) AND, BEHOLD, Elijah [too] was indeed one of Our message-bearers [The Hebrew prophet Elijah (Ilyas in Arabic) is mentioned in the Bible (I Kings xvii ff. And II Kings i-ii) as having lived in the Northern Kingdom of Israel during the reigns of Ahab and Ahaziah - i.e., in the ninth century B.C. - and having been succeeded by Elisha (Al-Yasa in Arabic). The above stress on his, too, having been “one of the message-bearers” (min al-mursalin) recalls the Quranic principle that God makes “no distinction between any of His apostles” (cf.2:136 and 285, 3 : 84, 4:152, and the corresponding notes).] (124) when he spoke [thus] to his people: “Will you not remain conscious of God? (125) Will you invoke Baal and forsake [God,] the best of artisans - [As regards this rendering of ahsan al-khaliqin, see surah 23: 14. The term bal (conventionally spelt Baal in European languages) signified “lord” or “master” in all branches of ancient Arabic, including Hebrew and Phoenician; it was an honorific applied to every one of the many    ‘male” deities worshipped by the ancient Semites, especially in Syria and Palestine. In the Old Testament this designation has sometimes the generic connotation of “idol-worship” - a sin into which, according to the Bible, the early Israelites often relapsed.] - (126) God, your Sustainer and the Sustainer of your forebears of old?” 127) But they gave him the lie: and therefore they will most surely be arraigned [on Judgment Day], (128) excepting only [those who were] God’s true servants; (129) and him We left thus to be remem­bered among later generations: (130) “Peace be upon Elijah and his followers!” [The form I1-Yasin in which this name appears in the above verse is either a variant of llyas (Elijah) or, more probably, a plural - “the Elijahs” - meaning “Elijah and his followers” (Tabari, Zamakhshari, et al.). According to Tabari, Abd Allah ibn Masud used to read this verse as “Peace be upon Idrasin”, which, apart from giving us a variant or a plural of Idris (“ Idris and his followers”), lends support to the view that Idris and llyas are but two designations of one and the same person, the Biblical Elijah. (See also note on 19: 56.)] (131) Verily, thus do We reward the doers of good - (132) for he was truly one of Our believing servants!

LOT

(133) AND, BEHOLD, Lot was indeed one of Our mes­sage-bearers; (134) [and so,] when [We decreed the doom of his sinful town,] [See 7: 80 – 84 and 11: 69 - 83.] We saved him and his household, (135) except an old woman who was among those that stayed behind; [As is evident from 7: 83 and 11:  81, that woman was Lot’s wife, who had chosen to stay behind (cf. note on 7 83).] (136) and then We utterly destroyed the others: (137) and, verily, [to this day] you pass by the remnants of their dwellings at morning-time (138) and by night. [Lit., “you pass by them”, i.e., by the places where they lived (see 15: 76 and the corresponding note).] Will you not, then, use your reason?

JONAH

(139) AND, BEHOLD, Jonah was indeed one of Our mes­sage-bearers (140) when he fled like a runaway slave onto a laden ship. [I.e., when he abandoned the mission with which he had been entrusted by God (see 21: 87, which gives the first part of Jonah’s story), and thus, in the words of the Bible (The Book of Jonah i, 3 and 10), committed the sin of “fleeing from the presence of the Lord”. In its primary significance, the infinitive noun ibaq (derived from the verb abaqa) denotes “a slave’s running - away from his master”; and Jonah is spoken of as having “fled like a runaway slave” because - although he was God’s message-bearer - he abandoned his task under the stress of violent anger. The subsequent mention of “the laden ship” alludes to the central, allegorical part of Jonah’s story. The ship ran into a storm and was about to founder; and the mariners “said everyone to his fellow, Come and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is upon us” (The Book of Jonah i, 7) - a procedure to which Jonah agreed.] (141) And then they cast lots, and he was the one who lost; [Lit., “he cast lots [with the mariners], and was among the losers”. According to the Biblical account (The Book of Jonah i, 10 - 15), Jonah told them that he had “fled from the presence of the Lord”, and that it was because of this sin of his that they all were now in danger of drowning. “And he said unto them, Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this tempest is upon you .... So they took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging.”] (142) [and they cast him into the sea,] whereupon the great fish swallowed him, for he had been blameworthy. [In all the three instances where Jonah’s “great fish” is explicitly mentioned in the Quran (as al-hut in the above verse and in 68: 48, and an-nun in 21: 87), it carries the definite article al. This may possibly be due to the fact that the legend of Jonah was and is so widely known that every reference to the allegory of “the great fish” is presumed to be self-explanatory. The inside of the fish that “swallowed” Jonah apparently symbolizes the deep darkness of spiritual distress of which 21: 87 speaks: the distress at having “fled like a runaway slave” from his prophetic mission and, thus, “from the presence of the Lord”. Parenthetically, the story is meant to show that, since “man has been created weak” (4: 28), even prophets are not immune against all the failings inherent in human nature.] (143) And had he not been of those who [even in the deep darkness of their distress are able to] extol God’s limitless glory, [I.e., to remember God and to repent: see 21: 87, which reveals in its very formulation the universal purport of Jonah’s story.] (144) he would indeed have remained in its belly till the Day when all shall be raised from the dead: (145) but We caused him to be cast forth on a desert shore, sick [at heart] as he was, (146) and caused a creeping plant to grow over him [out of the barren soil]. [I.e., to shade and comfort him. Thus, rounding off the allegory of Jonah and the fish, the Quran points out in the figurative manner so characteristic of its style that God, who can cause a plant to grow out of the most arid and barren soil, can equally well cause a heart lost in darkness to come back to light and spiritual life.] (147) And [then] We sent him [once again] to [his people,] a hundred thousand [souls] or more: (148) and [this time] they believed [in him] [Cf. the reference to the people of Jonah in 10: 98. For the Biblical version of this story, see The Book of Jonah iii.] - and so We allowed them to enjoy their life during the time allotted to them? [Lit., “for a time”: i.e., for the duration of their natural lives (Razi also Manar XI, 483).]

ASCRIBING DIVINITY TO BEINGS OTHER THAN GOD

(149) AND NOW ask them to enlighten thee: [This reference to people who ascribe divinity to beings other than God connects with verse 4 (“verily, most surely, your God is One”) as well as with verses 69 - 70 (“behold, they found their forebears on a wrong way, and [now] they make haste to follow in their footsteps”).]

Has thy Sustainer daughters, whereas they would have [only] sons? [For an explanation of this passage, see 16: 57-59 and the corresponding notes.] (150) - or is it that We have created the angels female, and they [who believe them to be divine] have witnessed [that act of creation]? (151) Oh, verily, it is out of their own [inclination to] falsehood that some people [Lit., “they”.] assert, (152) “God has begotten [a son]”; and, verily, they are lying [too, when they say], (153) “He has chosen daughters in preference to sons”! [Cf. 6: 100 (“they have invented for Him sons and daughters”) and the corresponding notes. See also note on

17: 40, as well as 53: 19-22 and the corresponding notes.] (154) What is amiss with you and your judgment? [Lit., “how do you judge?”] (155) Will you not, then, bethink yourselves? (156) Or have you, perchance, a clear evidence [for your assertions]? (157) Produce, then, that divine writ of yours, if you are speaking the truth! (158) And some people [Lit., “they”.] have invented a kinship between Him and all manner of invisible forces [See Appendix III. Whereas most of the classical commentators are of the opinion that the term al-jinnah denotes here the angels, since they - like all beings of this category - are im­perceptible to man’s senses, I believe that the above verse refers to those intangible forces of nature which elude all direct observation and manifest themselves only in their effects: hence their designation, in this context, by the plural noun al-jinnah, which primarily denotes “that which is concealed from [man’s] senses”. Inasmuch as people who refuse to believe in God often tend to regard those elemental forces as mysteriously endowed with a purposeful creative power (cf. Bergson’s concept of the elan vital), the Quran states that their votaries invent a “kinship” between them and God, i.e., attribute to them qualities and powers similar to His.] - although [even] these invisible forces know well that, verily, they [who thus blaspheme against God] shall indeed be arraigned [before Him on Judgment Day: for]  [For this metaphorical attribution of “knowledge” to the elemental forces of nature, see verses 164 -166 and the corresponding note below.]

GOD IS INDEFINABLE

(159) limitless is God in His glory, above anything that men may devise by way of definition! [See note on the last sentence of 6: 100.] (160) Not thus, however, [behave] God’s true ser­vants: (161) for, verily, neither you [blasphemers] nor the objects of your worship (162) can cause anyone to fall prey to your temptation (163) unless it be such as rushes towards the blazing fire [of his own accord]! [True belief in God precludes all temptation to define Him who is indefinable, or to associate, conceptually, anyone or anything with Him; conversely, the blasphemy inherent in such attempts destroys the potential value of one’s belief in God and, thus, brings about the spiritual ruin of the person concerned.]

PRAISING GOD

(164) [All forces of nature praise God and say:] [The metaphorical “saying” that follows is in tune with many other Quranic passages which speak of even inanimate objects as “praising God”, e.g., “The seven heavens extol His limitless glory, and the earth, and all that they contain” (17: 44), or “We caused the mountains to join David in extolling Our glory” (21: 79), or “O you mountains! Sing with him the praise of God!” (34: 10); similarly, even the shadows of material things are spoken of as “prostrating themselves before God” (16: 48).] “Among us, too, there is none but has a place assigned to it [by Him]; (165) and, verily, we too are ranged [before Him in worship]; (166) and, verily, we too extol His limitless glory!”

ANCESTRAL TRADITIONS AND THE QURAN

(167) AND, INDEED, they [who deny the truth] have always been wont to say, (168) “If only we had a tradition [to this effect] from our forebears, [Lit., “a reminder (dhikr) from those of old”: see note on verses 69 - 70 above. Most of the commentators assume that the term dhikr connotes here, as so often in the Quran, a “divine writ”. In my opinion, however, it is far more probable - because more in tune with the context - that in this case it signifies an ancestral tradition bearing on the (to them astonishing) message of God’s oneness and uniqueness as promulgated by the Quran.] (169) we would certainly be true servants of God.” (170) And yet, [now that this divine writ has been placed before them,] they refuse to acknowledge it as true! In time, however, they will come to know [what it was that they had rejected]: (171) for, long ago has Our word gone forth unto Our servants, the message- bearers, (172) that, verily, they - they indeed - would be succoured, (173) and that, verily, Our hosts - they indeed - would [in the end] be victorious! (174) Hence, turn thou aside for a while from those [who deny the truth], (175) and see them [for what they are]; [I.e., as people who are bent on deceiving themselves. In this context, the verb basura (lit., “he saw” or “became seeing”) is used tropically, in the sense of “seeing mentally” or “gaining insight”.] and in time they [too] will come to see [what they do not see now]. [I.e., they will realize the truth as well as the suffering which its rejection entails: obviously a reference to the Day of Judgment.] (176) Do they, then, [really] wish that Our chas­tisement be hastened on? [This is an allusion to the sarcastic demand of the people who refused to regard the Quran as a divine revelation, to be punished forthwith “if this be indeed the truth from God” (see 8: 32 and the corresponding note).] (177) But then, once it alights upon them, hapless will be the awakening of those who were warned [to no avail]! [Lit., “when it alights in their courtyard, evil [or “hapless”] is the morning of those…”, etc. In ancient Arabic usage, the idiomatic phrase “chastisement [or “suffering”] has alighted (nazala) in so-and-so’s courtyard” denotes its coming-down upon, or befalling, the person or persons concerned (Tabari). Similarly, the “morning” (sabah) is a metonym for “awakening”.] (178) Hence, turn thou aside for a while from them, (179) and see [them for what they are]; and n time they [too] will come to see [what they do not see now]. (180) LIMITLESS in His glory is thy Sustainer, the Lord of almightiness, [exalted] above anything that men may devise by way of definition! (181) And peace be upon all His message-bearers! (182) And all praise is due to God alone, the Sus­tainer of all the worlds!

THE THIRTY-EIGHTH SURAH

SAD

MECCA PERIOD

Revealed comparatively early - probably towards the end of the fourth or the beginning of the fifth year of the Prophet’s mission - this surah is devoted almost entirely to the problem of divine guidance and its rejection by those who are “lost in false pride, and [hence] deeply in the wrong” (verse 2). The only “title” - or, rather, key-word - applied to this surah since the earliest times is the letter s (sad) which introduces the first verse.

IN THE NAME OF GOD, THE MOST GRACIOUS, THE DISPENSER OF GRACE:

QURAN ENDOWED WITH EMINENCE

(1) Sad. [See Appendix II.] CONSIDER [For an explanation of this rendering of the adjurative particle Wa, see first half of note on 74: 32.] this Quran, endowed with all that one ought to remember! [Or: “endowed with eminence” (Zamakhshari), since the term dhikr (lit., “reminder” or “remembrance”) has also the connotation of “that which is remembered”, i.e., “renown”, “fame” and, tropically, “eminence”. As regards the rendering preferred by me, see 21: 10, where the phrase fihi dhikrukum (relating, as above, to the Quran) has been translated as “wherein is found all that you ought to bear in mind”, i.e., in order to attain to dignity and happiness.] (2) But nay - they who are bent on denying the truth are lost in [false] pride, and [hence] deeply in the wrong. [I.e., they refuse to acknowledge the fact of divine revelation because such an acknowledg­ment would imply an admission of man’s responsibility to God - and this their false pride, manifested in their arrogant belief in man’s “self-sufficiency”, does not allow them to do. The same idea is expressed in 16: 22 and, in a more general way, in 2: 206. Cf. also 96: 6-7.] (3) How many a generation have We destroyed before their time [for this very sin]! [It is to be noted that the term qarn signifies not merely a “generation” but also - and quite frequently in the Quran - “people belonging to a particular period and environment’, i.e., a “civilization” in the historical connotation of this word.] And [how] they called [unto Us] when it was too late to escape! [Lit., “while there was no time for escaping”.]

ARE ALL DEITIES ARE BUT ONE GOD?

(4) Now these [people] deem it strange that a warner should have come unto them from their own midst - and [so] the deniers of the truth are saying: “A [mere] spellbinder is he, a liar! [Although this passage describes, in the first instance, the attitude of the pagan Quraysh towards the Prophet, it touches upon the reluctance of most people, at all times, to recognize “a man from their own midst” - i.e., a human being like themselves - as God-inspired. (See note on 50: 2.)] (5) Does he claim that all the deities are [but] one God? Verily, a most strange thing is this!” [Divorced from its purely historical background, this criticism acquires a timeless significance, and may be thus paraphrased: “Does he claim that all creative powers and qualities are inherent exclusively in what he conceives as ‘one God’?” - a paraphrase which illustrates the tendency of many people to attribute a decisive influence on human life - and, hence, a quasi-divine status - to a variety of fortuitous phenomena or circumstances (like wealth, “luck”, social position, etc.) rather than to acknowledge the overwhelming evidence, in all observable nature, of God’s unique existence.] (6) And their leaders launch forth [thus]: “Go ahead, and hold steadfastly onto your deities: this, behold, is the only thing to do! [Lit., “a thing desired” or “to be desired”, i.e., a sensible course of action.] (7) Never did we hear of [a claim like] this in any faith of latter days! [I.e., “in any of the faiths prevalent in our days”: an oblique reference to Christianity and its dogma of the Trinity, which contrasts with the Quranic concept of God’s oneness and uniqueness, as well as to any other faith based on the belief in a multiplicity or multiform incarnation of divine powers (e.g., Hinduism with its triad of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva).] It is nothing but [a mortal man’s] invention! (8) What! Upon him alone from among all of us should a [divine] reminder have been bestowed from on high?” Nay, but it is My Own reminder that they distrust! [Lit., “that they are in doubt of”: i.e., it is not the personality of the Prophet that fills them with distrust, but, rather, the substance of the message proclaimed by him - and, in particular, his insistence on God’s absolute oneness and uniqueness, which runs counter to their habits of thought and social traditions.] Nay, they have not yet tasted the suffering which I do impose! [Sc., “on people who refuse to accept the truth”.] (9) Or do they [think that they] own the treasures of thy Sustainer’s grace - [the grace] of the Almighty, the Giver of Gifts? [I.e., “Do they think that it is for them to decide as to who should and who should not be graced with divine revelation?” (10) Or [that] the dominion over the heavens and the earth and all that is between them is theirs? Why, then, let them try to ascend [to God-like power] by all [conceivable] means! [I.e., “Do they think that human beings are so highly endowed that they are bound to attain, some day, to mastery over the universe and all nature, and thus to God-like power?” Cf. in this connection 96: 6-8 and the corresponding note. As regards my rendering of al-asbab as “all [conceivable] means”, see note on 18: 84.] (11) [But] there it is: any and all human beings, however [strongly] leagued together, * are bound to suffer defeat [whenever they refuse to accept the truth]. [*The collective noun jund, which primarily denotes “a host” or “an army”, has also the meaning of “created beings”, in this context obviously human beings; in combination with the particle ma, “any number of human beings”. The term hizb (of which ahzab is the plural), on the other hand, denotes “a party” or “a group of people of the same mind” or “people leagued together”, i.e., for a definite purpose.] (12) To the truth gave the lie aforetime [Lit., “before them”, i.e., before the people who opposed or oppose Muhammad’s message.] Noah’s people, and [the tribe of] Ad, and Pharaoh of the [many] tent-poles, [In classical Arabic, this ancient bedouin term is used idiomatically as a metonym for “mighty dominion” or “firmness of power” (Zamakhshari). The number of poles supporting a bedouin tent is determined by its size, and the latter has always depended on the status and power of its owner: thus, a mighty chieftain is often alluded to as “he of many tent-poles”.] (13) and [the tribe of] Thamud, and the people of Lot, and the dwellers of the wooded dales [of Madyan]: they all were leagued together, [as it were, in their unbelief:] (14) not one [was there] but gave the lie to the apostles - and thereupon My retribution fell due. (15) And they [who now deny the truth - they, too,] have but to wait for one single blast [of punishment to overtake them]: it shall not be delayed a whit. [Sc., “beyond the term set for it by God”.] (16) As it is, they say [mockingly]: “O our Sus­tainer! Hasten on to us our share [of punishment even] before the Day of Reckoning!” [Cf. 8: 32. This mocking “demand” of the unbelievers is mentioned in several other places in the Quran.] (17) [But] bear thou with patience whatever they may say,

IN THE DEFENSE OF DAVID

and remember Our servant David, him who was endowed with [so much] inner strength! He, verily, would always turn unto Us: (18) [and for this,] behold, We caused [Lit., “We compelled” or “constrained”.] the mountains to join him in extolling Our limitless glory at eventide and at sun­rise, (19) and [likewise] the birds in their assemblies: [See surah 21: 79.] [together] they all Would turn again and again unto Him [who had created them]. (20) And We streng­thened his dominion, and bestowed upon him wisdom and sagacity in judgment.  (21) AND YET, has the story of the litigants come within thy ken - [the story of the two] who surmounted the walls of the sanctuary [in which David prayed]? [The story which, according to the oldest sources at our disposal, is alluded to in verses 21-26 affects the question as to whether God’s elect, the prophets - all of whom were endowed, like David, with “wisdom and sagacity in judgment” - could or could not ever commit a sin: in other words, whether they, too, were originally subject to the weaknesses inherent in human nature as such or were a priori endowed with an essential purity of character which rendered each of them incapable of sinning” (masum). In the form in which it has been handed down from the earliest authorities (including, according to Tabari and Baghawi, Companions like Abd Allah ibn Abbas and Anas ibn Malik, as well as several of the most prominent of their immediate successors), the story contradicts the doctrine - somewhat arbitrarily developed by Muslim theologians in the course of the centuries - that prophets cannot sin by virtue of their very nature, and tends to show that their purity and subsequent sinless ness is a result of inner struggles and trials and, thus, represents in each case a moral achievement rather than an inborn quality. As narrated in some detail by Tabari and other early commentators, David fell in love with a beautiful woman whom he accidentally observed from his roof terrace. On inquiring, he was told that she was the wife of one of his officers, named Uriah. Impelled by his passion, David ordered his field-commander to place Uriah in a particularly exposed battle position, where he would be certain to be killed; and as soon as his order was fulfilled and Uriah died, David married the widow (who subsequently became the mother of Solomon). This story agrees more or less with the Old Testament, which gives the woman’s name as Bath-Sheba (II Samuel xi), barring the Biblical allegation that David committed adultery with her before Uriah’s death (ibid. xi, 4-5) - an allegation which has always been rejected by Muslims as highly offensive and slanderous: cf. the saying of the fourth Caliph, Ali ibn Abi Talib (quoted by Zamakhshari on the authority of Said ibn al-Musayyab): “If anyone should narrate the story of David in the manner in which the story-tellers narrate it, I will have him flogged with one hundred and sixty stripes - for this is a [suitable] punishment for slandering prophets” (thus indirectly recalling the Quranic ordinance, in 24: 4, which stipulates flogging with eighty stripes for accusing ordinary persons of adultery without legal proof). According to most of the commentators, the two “litigants” who suddenly appeared before David were angels sent to bring home to him his sin. It is possible, however, to see in their appearance an allegory of David’s own realization of having sinned: voices of his own conscience which at last “surmounted the walls” of the passion that had blinded him for a time.] (22) As they came upon David, and he shrank back in fear from them, they said: “Fear not! [We are but] two litigants. One of us has wronged the other: so judge thou between us with justice, and deviate not from what is right, and show [both of] us the way to rectitude. (23) “Behold, this is my brother: he has ninety-nine ewes, whereas I have [only] one ewe - and yet he said, ‘Make her over to me,’ and forcibly prevailed against me in this [our] dispute.” (24) Said [David]: “He has certainly wronged thee by demanding that thy ewe be added to his ewes! Thus, behold, do many kinsmen wrong one another [The term khulata (sing. khalit) denotes, literally, “people who mix [i.e., are familiar or intimate] with others” or “with one another”. In the present instance it evidently alludes to the “brotherhood” between the two mysterious litigants, and is therefore best rendered as “kinsmen”.] - [all] save those who believe [in God] and do righteous deeds: but how few are they!” And [suddenly] David understood that We had tried him: [Sc., “and that he had failed” (in the matter of Bath-Sheba).] and so he asked his Sustainer to forgive him his sin, and fell down in prostration, and turned unto Him in repentance. (25)       And thereupon We forgave him that [sin]: and, verily, nearness to Us awaits him [in the life to come], and the most beauteous of all goals! (26) [And We said:] “O David! Behold, We have made thee a [prophet and, thus, Our] vicegerent on earth: judge, then, between men with justice, and do not follow vain desire, lest it lead thee astray from the path of God: verily, for those who go astray from the path of God there is suffering severe in store for having forgotten the Day of Reckoning!” (27) AND [thus it is:] We have not created heaven and earth and all that is between them without meaning and purpose, as is the surmise of those who are bent on denying the truth: [Cf. 3: 191. The above statement appears in the Quran in several formulations; see, in particular, note on 10: 5. In the present instance it connects with the mention of the Day of Reckoning in the preceding verse, thus leading organically from a specific aspect of David’s story to a moral teaching of wider import.]

but then, woe from the fire [of hell] unto all who are bent on denying the truth! [I.e., a deliberate rejection of the belief that the universe - and, in particular, human life - is imbued with meaning and purpose leads unavoidably - though sometimes imperceptibly - to a rejection of all moral imperatives, to spiritual blindness and, hence, to suffering in the life to come.] (28) [For,] would We treat those who have attained to faith and do righteous deeds in the same manner as [We shall treat] those who spread corruption on earth? Would We treat the God-conscious in the same manner as the wicked? [By implication, belief in resurrection, judgment and life after death is postulated in this passage (verses 27-28) as a logical corollary - almost a premise - of all belief in God: for, since we see that many righteous people suffer all manner of misery and deprivations in this world, while, on the other hand, many of the wicked and depraved enjoy their lives in peace and affluence, we must either assume that God does not exist (because the concept of injustice is incompatible with that of Godhead), or - alternatively - that there is a hereafter in which both the righteous and the unrighteous will harvest in full what they had morally sown during their lives on earth.] (29) [All this have We expounded in this] blessed divine writ which We have revealed unto thee, [O Muhammad,] so that men may ponder over its mes­sages, and that those who are endowed with insight may take them to heart.

SOLOMON

(30) AND UNTO DAVID We granted Solomon [as a son - and] how excellent a servant [of Ours he grew up to be]! Behold, he would always turn unto Us - [I.e., he would always think of God, as illustrated by the example given in the sequence.] (31) [and even] when, towards the close of day, nobly-bred, swift-footed steeds were brought before him, (32) he would say, “Verily, I have come to love the love of all that is good because 1 bear my Sustainer in mind!” [Lit., “because of [or “out of”] the remembrance of my Sustainer”.] - [repeating these words as the steeds raced away,] until they were hidden by the veil [of distance - whereupon he would command], [This and the preceding interpolation are based on Razi’s interpretation of this passage.] (33) “Bring them back unto me!”- and would [lovingly] stroke their legs and their necks. [The story of Solomon’s love of beautiful horses is meant to show that all true love of God is bound to be reflected in one’s realization of, and reverence for, the beauty created by Him.] (34) But [ere this], indeed, We had tried Solomon by placing upon his throne a [lifeless] body; [To explain this verse, some of the commentators advance the most fantastic stories, almost all of them going back to Talmudic sources. Razi rejects them all, maintaining that they are unworthy of serious consideration. Instead, he plausibly suggests that the “body” (jasad) upon Solomon’s throne is an allusion to his own body, and - metonymically - to his kingly power, which was bound to remain “lifeless” so long as it was not inspired by God-willed ethical values. (It is to be borne in mind that in classical Arabic a person utterly weakened by illness, worry or fear, or devoid of moral values, is often described as “a body without a soul”.) In other words, Solomon’s early trial consisted in his inheriting no more than a kingly position, and it rested upon him to endow that position with spiritual essence and meaning.] and thereupon he turned [towards Us; and] (35) he prayed: “O my Sustainer! Forgive me my sins, and bestow upon me the gift of a kingdom which may not suit anyone after me: [I.e., a spiritual kingdom, which could not be inherited by anyone and, hence, would not be exposed to envy or worldly intrigue.] verily, Thou alone art a giver of gifts!” (36) And so [I.e., as a reward for his humility and turning-away from worldly ambitions, implied in the prayer, “Forgive me my sins”.] We made subservient to him the wind, so that it gently sped at his behest whithersoever he willed, [Cf. 21: 81 and the corresponding note. For the meaning, in general, of the many legends surrounding the person of Solomon, see note on 21: 82.] (37) as well as all the rebellious forces [that We made to work for him] - every kind of builder and diver - (38) and others linked together in fetters. [I.e., subdued and, as it were, tamed by him: see note on 21: 82, which explains my rendering, in this context, of shayatin as “rebellious forces”.] (39) [And We told him:] “This is Our gift, for thee to bestow freely on others, or to withhold, without [having to render] account!” (40) And, verily, nearness to Us awaits him [in the life to come], and the most beauteous of all goals!

JOB

(41) AND CALL to mind Our servant Job, [See note on 21: 83.] [how it was] when he cried out to his Sustainer, “Behold, Satan has afflicted me with [utter] weariness and suffering!” [I.e., with life-weariness in consequence of suffering. As soon as he realizes that God has been testing him, Job perceives that his utter despondency and weariness of life - eloquently described in the Old Testament (The Book of Job iii) - was but due to what is described as “Satan’s whisperings”: this is the moral to be drawn from the above evocation of Job’s story.] - (42) [and thereupon was told:] “Strike [the ground] with thy foot: here is cool water to wash with and to drink!” [According to the classical commentators, the miraculous appearance of a healing spring heralded the end of Job’s suffering, both physical and mental.] (43) And We bestowed upon him new offspring, [Lit., “his family” (cf. 21: 84 and the corresponding note).] doubling their number as an act of grace from Us, and as a reminder unto all who are endowed with insight. (44) [And finally We told him:] “Now take in thy hand a small bunch of grass, and strike therewith, and thou wilt not break thine oath!” [In the words of the Bible (The Book of Job ii, 9), at the time of his seemingly hopeless suffering Job’s wife reproached her husband for persevering in his faith: “Dost thou still retain thine integrity? Curse God, and die.” According to the classical Quran-commentators, Job swore that, if God would restore him to health, he would punish her blasphemy with a hundred stripes. But when he did recover, he bitterly regretted his hasty oath, for he realized that his wife’s “blasphemy” had been an outcome of her love and pity for him; and thereupon he was told in a revelation that he could fulfill his vow in a symbolic manner by striking her once with “a bunch of grass containing a hundred blades or more”. (Cf. 5: 89 - “God will not take you to task for oaths which you may have uttered without thought.”)] - for, verily, We found him full of patience in adversity: how excellent a servant [of Ours], who, behold, would always turn unto Us!

ABRAHAM, ISAAC AND JACOB

(45) AND CALL to mind Our servants Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, [all of them] endowed with inner strength and vision: (46) for, verily, We purified them by means of a thought most pure: the remembrance of the life to come. [Lit., “of the [final] abode”.] (47) And, behold, in Our sight they were indeed among the elect, the truly good!

ISHMAEL AND ELISHA

(48) And call to mind Ishmael and Elisha, [Al-Yasa in Arabic - the Biblical prophet who succeeded Elijah (see surah 37: 123).] and every one who [like them] has pledged himself [unto Us]: for, each of them was of the truly good! [For an explanation of this rendering of dhu l-kifl, see 21: 85.]

PARADISE

(49) LET [all] this be a reminder [to those who believe in God] - for, verily, the most beauteous of all goals awaits the God-conscious: (50) gardens of perpetual bliss, with gates wide-open to them, [In all the eleven instances in which the noun adn occurs in the Quran - and of which the present is the oldest - it is used as a qualifying term for the “gardens” (jannat) of paradise. This noun is derived from the verb adana, which primarily denotes “he remained [somewhere]” or “he kept [to something]”, i.e., permanently: cf. the phrase adantu l-balad (“I remained for good [or “settled”] in the country”). In Biblical Hebrew - which, after all, is but a very ancient Arabian dialect - the closely related noun eden has also the additional connotation of “delight”, “pleasure” or bliss”. Hence the combination of the two concepts in my rendering of adn as “perpetual bliss”. As in many other places in the Quran, this bliss is here allegorized - and thus brought closer to man’s imagination - by means of descriptions recalling earthly joys.] (51) wherein they will recline, [and] wherein they may [freely] call for many a fruit and drink, (52) having beside them well-matched mates of modest gaze.” [Lit., “such as restrain their gaze”, i.e., are of modest bearing and have eyes only for their mates (Razi). This allegorical reference to the delights of paradise occurs in the Quran three times (apart from the above instance, which is chronologically the earliest, in 37: 48 and 55: 56 as well). As an allegory, this phrase evidently applies to the righteous of both sexes, who in the life to come will be rejoined with those whom they loved and by whom they were loved in this world: for, “God has promised the believers, both men and women, gardens through which running waters flow, therein to abide, and goodly dwellings in gardens of perpetual bliss”

(9: 72); and, “anyone - be it man or woman - who does [whatever he can] of good deeds and is a believer withal, shall enter paradise” (4: 124, with similar statements in 16: 97 and 40: 40). Finally, we are told in

36: 56 that in this paradise “will they and their spouses on couches recline” - i.e., will find peace and inner fulfillment with and in one another. (For an explanation of the term atrab, rendered by me as “well-matched”, see note on 56: 38.)] (53) This is what you are promised for the Day of Reckoning: (54) this, verily, shall be Our provision [for you], with no end to it! (55) All this [for the righteous]:

HELL

but, verily, the most evil of all goals awaits those who are wont to transgress the bounds of what is right: (56) hell will they have to endure - and how vile a resting-place! (57) This, [then, for them -] so let them taste it: burning despair and ice-cold darkness (58) and, coupled with it, further [suffering] of a similar nature. [Lit., “of its kind”: i.e., corresponding in intensity to what the Quran describes as hamim and ghassaq. For my rendering of hamim as “burning despair”, see note on 6: 70. The term ghassaq, on the other hand, is derived from the verb ghasaqa, “it became dark” or “intensely dark” (Taj al-Arus); thus, al-ghasiq denotes “black darkness” and, tropically, “the night” or, rather, “the black night”. According to some authorities, the form ghassaq signifies “intense [or “icy”] cold”. A combination of these two meanings gives us the concept of the “ice-cold darkness” of the spirit which, together with “burning despair” (hamim), will characterize the suffering of inveterate sinners in the life to come. All other interpretations of the term ghassaq are purely speculative and, therefore, irrelevant.] (59) [And they will say to one another: “Do you see] this crowd of people who rushed headlong [into sin] with you? [I.e., “people whom you had seduced, and who thereupon blindly followed you”: an apostrophe stressing the double responsibility of the seducers.] No welcome to them! Verily, they [too] shall have to endure the fire!” [In Arabic usage, the phrase “no welcome to them” or “to you” (la marhaban bihim, resp.bikum) is equivalent to a curse. In this context - carried on into the next verse - it expresses a mutual disavowal of the seducers and the seduced.] (60) [And] they [who had been seduced] will exclaim: “Nay, but it is you! No welcome to you! It is you who have prepared this for us: and how vile a state to abide in!” (61) [And] they will pray: “O our Sustainer! Who­ever has prepared this for us, double Thou his suffering in the fire!” [Cf. 7: 38 (and the corresponding notes) as well as

33: 67-68.] (62) And they will add: “How is it that we do not see [here any of the] men whom we were wont to count among the wicked, (63) [and] whom we made the target of our derision? [I.e., the prophets and the righteous, who - as the Quran points out in many places - have always been derided by people enamoured of the life of this world and, therefore, averse to all moral exhortation.] Or is it that [they are here, and] our eyes have missed them?” (64) Such, behold, will in truth be the [confusion and] mutual wrangling of the people of the fire! (65) SAY [O Muhammad]: “I am only a warner; and there is no deity whatever save God, the One, who holds absolute sway over all that exists, (66) the Sustainer of the heavens and the earth and all that is between them, the Almighty, the All-Forgiving!” (67) Say: “This is a message tremendous: (68) [how can] you turn away from it?”

CREATION OF MAN AND DISOBEDIENCE OF IBLIS

(69) [Say, O Muhammad:] “No knowledge would I have had of [what passed among] the host on high when they argued [against the creation of man], [For the allegorical contention of the angels (“the host on high”) against the creation of man, see 2: 30 ff. and the corresponding notes. The allegory of man’s creation, of God’s command to the angels to “prostrate themselves” before the new creature, and of Iblis’ refusal to do so appears in the Quran six times (2: 30-34, 7: 11 ff., 15: 28-44, 17: 61-65, 18: 50, and 38: 69-85), each time with an accent on a different aspect of this allegory. In the present instance (which is undoubtedly the earliest in the chronology of revelation) it is connected with the statement, in 2: 31, that God “imparted unto Adam the names of all things”, i.e., endowed man with the faculty of conceptual thinking (see note on 2: 31) and, thus, with the ability to discern between what is true and what false. Since he possesses this faculty, man has no excuse for not realizing God’s existence and oneness - the “message tremendous” referred to in the preceding passage.] (70) had it not been revealed unto me [by God] - to no other end than that I might convey [unto you] a plain warning. [Lit., “otherwise than that I be (illa annama ana) a plain warner” - i.e., of the prospect of spiritual self-destruction inherent in a willful disregard of the fact of God’s existence and oneness, which is the core of all religious cognition and, hence, of all true prophethood.] (71) [For,] lo, [For this rendering of idh, see surah 2: 30.] thy Sustainer said unto the angels: “Behold, I am about to create a human being out of clay; [See note on 15: 26.] (72) and when I have formed him fully and breathed into him of My spirit, fall you down before him in prostration!” [See 15: 29 and the corresponding note.] (73) Thereupon the angels prostrated themselves, all of them together, (74) save Iblis: he gloried in his arrogance, and [thus] became one of those who deny the truth. [See note on 2: 34 and note on 15 :41.] (75) Said He: “O Iblis! What has kept thee from prostrating thyself before that [being] which I have created with My hands? [Cf. the metaphorical phrase “the things which Our hands have wrought” in 36: 71, explained in the corresponding note. In the present instance, the stress lies on the God-willed superiority of man’s intellect - which, like everything else in the universe, is God’s “handiwork” - over the rest of creation (see note on 2: 34).] Art thou too proud [to bow down before another created being], or art thou of those who think [only] of themselves as high?” [This “question” is, of course, only rhetorical, since God is omniscient. The phrase inter­polated by me (“to bow down before another created being”) reflects Zamakshari’s interpretation of this passage.] (76) Answered [Iblis]: “I am better than he: Thou hast created me out of fire, [I.e., out of something non-corporeal and, therefore (in the view of Iblis), superior to the “clay” out of which man has been created. Inasmuch as “fire” is a symbol of passion, the above “saying” of Iblis contains, I believe, a subtle allusion to the Quranic concept of the “satanic forces” (shayatin) active within man’s own heart: forces engendered by uncontrolled passions and love of self, symbolized by the preceding characterization of Iblis, the foremost of the shayatin, as “one of those who think only of themselves as high” (min al-alin).] whereas him Thou hast created out of clay.” (77) Said He: “Go forth, then, from this [angelic state] - for, behold, thou art henceforth accursed, (78) and My rejection shall be thy due until the Day of Judgment!” (79) Said [Iblis]: “Then, O my Sustainer, grant me a respite till the Day when all shall be raised from the dead!” (80) Answered He: “Verily, so [be it:] thou shalt be among those who are granted respite (81) till the Day the time whereof is known [only to Me].” [The grant of “respite” to Iblis implies that he would have the power to tempt man until the end of time.] (82) [Whereupon Iblis] said: “Then [I swear] by Thy very might: I shall most certainly beguile them all into grievous error - (83) [all] save such of them as are truly Thy servants!” (84) [And God] said: “This, then, is the truth! [Cf. 15:41 - “This is, with Me, a straight way”- and the corresponding note.] And this truth do I state: (85) Most certainly will I fill hell with thee and such of them as shall follow thee, all together!” (86) SAY [O Prophet]: “No reward whatever do I ask of you for this [message]; and I am not one of those who claim to be what they are not. [The expression mutakallif denotes, primarily, “a person who takes too much upon himself”, be it in action or in feeling; hence, a person who pretends to be more than he really is, or to feel what he does not really feel. In this instance, it indicates the Prophet’s disclaimer of any “supernatural” status.] (87) This [divine writ], behold, is no less than a reminder to all the worlds — (88) and you will most certainly grasp its purport after a lapse of time!”

THE THIRTY-NINTH SURAH

AZ-ZUMAR (THE THRONGS)

MECCA PERIOD

REVEALED in the middle of the Mecca period, this surah derives its title from the inci­dental mention of the word zumaran (“in throngs”) in verses 71 and 73. Its central theme is the evidence, in all manifestations of nature, of God’s existence and oneness - from which it follows that He alone can determine man’s fate, and that it is to Him that man is ultimately responsible. A pivotal idea is expressed in verse 53 - “O you servants of Mine who have transgressed against your own selves! Despair not of God’s mercy: behold, God forgives all sins”, i.e., to him who repents before his death. Hence, a large part of the surah consists of allegories of the Last Hour and the Day of Judgment - for “in this way does God imbue His servants with fear” (verse 16), just as He promises the righteous that “all that they have ever yearned for awaits them with their Sustainer” (verse 34).

IN THE NAME OF GOD, THE MOST GRACIOUS, THE DISPENSER OF GRACE:

MEDIATION BETWEEN GOD AND MAN

(1) THE BESTOWAL from on high of this divine writ issues from God, the Almighty, the Wise: (2) for, behold, it is We who have bestowed this revela­tion upon thee from on high, setting forth the truth: so worship Him, sincere in thy faith in Him alone! (3) Is it not to God alone that all sincere faith is due? And yet, they who take for their protectors aught beside Him [are wont to say], “We worship them for no other reason than that they bring us nearer to God.” [This relates not only to the worship of saints, angels and “deified” persons as such, but also to that of their symbolic representations (statues, pictures, relics, etc.) and, in the case of defunct human personalities, of their real or reputed tombs. Since all such practices are based on the worshipper’s hope of “mediation” between himself and God, they obviously conflict with the concept of His omniscience and justice, and are, therefore - notwithstanding their widespread occurrence - utterly rejected by the Quran.] Behold, God will judge between them [on Resur­rection Day] with regard to all wherein they differ [from the truth]: [I.e., between those worshippers and the spiritual leaders who have led them astray (cf. 34: 31-33).] for, verily, God does not grace with His guidance anyone who is bent on lying [to himself and is] stubbornly ingrate! [Cf. 6: 22-24 and the corresponding notes.]

SON OF GOD

(4) Had God willed to take Unto Himself a son, He could have chosen anyone that He wanted out of whatever He has created - [but] limitless is He in His glory! [The implication is this: Since God is almighty, He can have or do anything that He wills; and so, if He wanted, He could “take unto Himself a son” (which is an allusion to the Christian doctrine of Jesus as “the son of God”). Since, however, He is “limitless in His glory” - i.e., complete in His excellence and utterly remote from all imperfection - He is ipso facto remote from the incompleteness inherent in the need of, or desire for, progeny, which logically precludes the possibility of His having a “son”. (Cf. the last sentence of 6: 100 and the corresponding note.)] He is the One God, the One who holds absolute sway over all that exists!

DIVINE CREATIONS

(5) He it is who has created the heavens and the earth in accordance with [an inner] truth. [See note on the last but one sentence of 10: 5.] He causes the night to flow into the day, and causes the day to flow into the night; and He has made the sun and the moon subservient [to His laws], each running its course for a term set [by Him]. [See note on 13: 2.] Is not He the Almighty, the All-Forgiving? (6) He has created you [all] out of one living entity, and out of it fashioned its mate; [See 4: 1 and the corresponding note.] and he has be­stowed upon you four kinds of cattle of either sex; [Lit., “eight [in] pairs”, i.e., the male and the female of four kinds of cattle (sheep, goats, camels and bovine cattle). For an explanation of my rendering, see note on 6: 143-144, where the same kinds of domesticated cattle are spoken of in connection with certain meaningless, superstitious taboos of pre-Islamic times, whereas here they are mentioned as “bestowed upon you” by God, and therefore lawful. Beyond this, the mention of cattle in this context is meant to remind man that it is God who provides his sustenance and therefore, man is utterly dependent on Him.] [and] He creates you in your mothers’ wombs, one act of creation after another, in threefold depths of darkness. [Lit., “by creation after creation, in three darknesses”: an allusion to the successive stages of embryonic development, repeatedly spoken of in the Quran (cf. 22: 5 and 23:12-14), and to the darkness of the womb, the membrane enveloping the embryo, and its pre-natal blindness.] Thus is God, your Sustainer: unto Him belongs all dominion: there is no deity save Him: how, then, can you lose sight of the truth? [Lit., “how, then, are you turned away?” - i.e., from the truth.]

VICARIOUS ATONEMENT

(7) If you are ingrate [Or: “If you deny the truth”.] - behold, God has no need of you; none the less, He does not approve of in­gratitude in His servants: whereas, if you show grati­tude, He approves it in you.

And no bearer of burdens shall be made to bear another’s burden. [This statement occurs in the Quran five times in exactly the same formulation (apart from the above instance, in 6: 164, 17: 15, 35: 18 and 53: 38 - this last being the earliest in the chronology of revelation). In the present instance, it contains an allusion to (and rejection of) the Christian doctrine of “vicarious atonement” and, indirectly, to the worship of saints, etc., spoken of in verse 3 above and referred to in the corresponding note above. (See also note on 53: 38.)] In time, unto your Sustainer you all must return, and then He will make you [truly] understand all that you were doing [in life]: for, verily, He has full knowledge of what is in the hearts [of men].

MAN’S INGRATITUDE

(8) NOW [thus it is:] when affliction befalls man, he is likely to cry out to his Sustainer, turning unto Him [for help]; [Lit., “he cries out”, i.e., instinctively, and as a rule.] but as soon as He has bestowed upon him a boon by His grace, he forgets Him whom he in­voked before, and claims that there are other powers that could rival God * - and thus leads [others] astray from His path. [*Lit., “and gives God compeers (andad, sing. nidd)”. Cf. the last sentence of 2: 22 and the corresponding note.] Say [unto him who sins in this way]: “Enjoy thyself for a while in this thy denial of the truth; [yet,] verily, thou art of those who are destined for the fire!

DOING GOOD

(9) Or [dost thou deem thyself equal to] one who devoutly worships [God] throughout the night, prostrating himself or standing [in prayer], ever- mindful of the life to come, and hoping for his Sustainer’s grace?” [Alternatively, the above verse could be rendered thus: “Is, perchance, he who worships hoping for his Sustainer’s grace, [equal to one who denies the truth]?”] Say: “Can they who know and they who do not know be deemed equal?” [But] only they who are endowed with insight keep this in mind! (10) Say: “[Thus speaks God:] [This interpolation is justified by the fact that the possessive pronoun in the subsequent phrase “servants of Mine” obviously relates to God.] ‘O you servants of Mine who have attained to faith! Be conscious of your Sustainer! Ultimate good awaits those who per­severe in doing good in this world. And [remember:] wide is God’s earth, [I.e., there is always a possibility of doing good and “migrating from evil unto God” - which is the permanent, spiritual connotation of the concept of hijrah implied here: see note on 4: 97.] [and,] verily, they who are patient in adversity will be given their reward in full, beyond all reckoning!’ ”

FREEDOM OF WORSHIP AND RESULT IN HEREAFTER

(11) Say [O Muhammad]: “Behold, I am bidden to worship God, sincere in my faith in Him alone; (12) and I am bidden to be foremost among those who surrender themselves unto God.” (13) Say: “Behold, I would dread, were I to rebel against my Sustainer, the suffering [which would befall me] on that awesome Day [of Judgment].” (14) Say: “God alone do I worship, sincere in my faith in Him alone - (15) and [it is up to you, O sinners, to] worship whatever you please instead of Him!” Say: “Behold, the [true] losers will be they who shall have lost their own selves and their kith and kin on Resurrection Day: for is not this, this, the [most] obvious loss? [Implying that on Resurrection Day they will be irretrievably separated from all whom they had loved, and all who had been close to them in this world. The “loss of one’s own self” signifies, I think, the destruction of one’s true identity and uniqueness as a human being, which is described in the next clause as “the most obvious loss” that man may be made to suffer in the life to come.] (16) Clouds of fire will they have above them, and [similar] clouds beneath them…” In this way does God imbue His servants with fear. [As in many other instances, the Quran alludes in this phrase to the allegorical nature as well as to the real purpose of all descriptions of the suffering which awaits the sinners in the hereafter; cf. 74: 35-36 - “that [hell-fire] is indeed one of the great [forewarnings]: a warning to mortal man”.]

GLAD TIDINGS FOR THOSE WHO SHUN EVIL

O you servants of Mine! Be, then, conscious of Me - (l7) seeing that for those who shun the powers of evil lest they [be tempted to] worship them, [For my rendering of at-taghut as “powers of evil”, see note on 2: 256. In the present context, this term apparently circumscribes the seductive force of certain evil ambitions or desires - like striving after power for its own sake, acquisition of wealth by exploiting one’s fellow-beings, social advancement by all manner of immoral means, and so forth - any of which may cause man to lose all spiritual orientation, and to be enslaved by his passions.] and turn unto God instead, there is the glad tiding [of happiness in the life to come]. 21 Cf. 10:62—64. Give, then, this glad tiding to [those of] My ser­vants (18) who listen [closely] to all that is said, and follow the best of it: [According to Razi, this describes people who examine every religious proposition (in the widest sense of this term) in the light of their own reason, accepting that which their mind finds to be valid or possible, and rejecting all that does not measure up to the test of reason. In Razi’s words, the above verse expresses “a praise and commendation of following the evidence supplied by one’s reason (hujjat al-aql), and of reaching one’s conclusions in accordance with [the results of] critical examination (nazar) and logical inference (istidlal).” A somewhat similar view is advanced, albeit in simpler terms, by Tabari.] [for] it is they whom God has graced with His guidance, and it is they who are [truly] endowed with insight! (19) On the other hand, [This, to my mind, is the meaning of the prefix fa in fa-man - stressing, by implication, the contrast between the glad tiding given to those who have attained to faith and the suffering which awaits those “who shall have lost their own selves” through sinning (verses 15-16).] could one on whom [God’s] sentence of suffering has been passed [be rescued by man]? Couldst thou, perchance, save one who is [already, as it were,] in the fire?  [In view of the repeated Quranic statements that God always accepts a sinner’s sincere repentance, provided it is proffered before the hour of death, His ineluctable “sentence of suffering” obviously relates to such as die without repentance, and hence find themselves, as it were, “already in the fire”.] (20) As against this [Lit., “But” (lakin), indicating a return to the theme of verses 17-18.] they who of their Sustainer are conscious shall [in the life to come] have man­sions raised upon mansions high, beneath which run­ning waters flow: [this is] God’s promise - [and] never does God fail to fulfill His promise. (21) ART THOU NOT aware that it is God who sends down water from the skies, and then causes it to travel through the earth in the shape of springs? And then He brings forth thereby herbage of various hues; and then it withers, and thou canst see it turn yellow; and in the end He causes it to crumble to dust. [As in many other instances, the above Quranic reference to the endless transformations and the miraculous cycle of life and death in all nature serves to emphasize God’s almightiness and, specifically, His power to resurrect the dead - thus alluding, indirectly, to the statement at the end of the preceding verse that “never does God fail to fulfill His promise”.] Verily, in [all] this there is indeed a reminder to those who are endowed with insight! (22) Could, then, one whose bosom God has opened wide with willingness towards self-surrender unto Him, so that he is illumined by a light [that flows] from his Sustainer, [be likened to the blind and deaf of heart]? Woe, then, unto those whose hearts are hardened against all remembrance of God! They are most obviously lost in error!

CONTINUITY OF DIVINE REVELATION

(23) God bestows from on high [Lit., “has been bestowing from on high”, i.e., step by step. The verbal form nazzala indicates both gradualness and continuity in the process of divine revelation and may, therefore, be appropriately rendered by the use of the present tense.] the best of all teachings in the shape of a divine writ fully consistent within itself, repeating each statement [of the truth] in manifold forms [This is the most acceptable meaning, in this context, of the term mathani (p1. of mathna), as explained by Zamakhshari in his commentary on the above verse. Another possible meaning, preferred by Razi, is “pairing its statements”, i.e., referring to the polarity stressed in all Quranic teachings (e.g., command and prohibition, duties and rights, reward and punishment, paradise and hell, light and darkness, the general and the specific, and so forth). As regards the inner consistency of the Quran, see also 4: 82 and 25: 32, as well as the corresponding notes.] - [a divine writ] whereat shiver the skins of all who of their Sustainer stand in awe: [but] in the end their skins and their hearts do soften at the remembrance of [the grace of] God. Such is God’s guidance: He guides therewith him that wills [to be guided] [Or: “He guides therewith whomever He wills”, either of these two formulations being syntactically correct.] - whereas he whom God lets go astray can never find any guide [See note on 14: 4.]

PUNISHMENT IN THIS WORLD AND IN HEREAFTER

(24) Could, then, one who shall have nothing but is [bare] face to protect him  from the awful suffering [that will befall him] on Resurrection Day [be likened to the God-conscious]? [Lit., “who will protect himself with his face”: an idiomatic phrase implying that the person concerned has nothing whatever with which to protect himself.] [On that Day,] the evildoers will be told: “Taste [now] what you have earned [in life]!” (25) Those who lived before them did [too] give the lie to the truth - whereupon suffering befell them without their having perceived whence it came: (26) and thus God let them taste ignominy [even] in the life of this world. [Cf. 16: 26, which contains the additional sentence, “God visited with destruction all that they had ever built …”, etc., which explains the present reference to their suffering and ignominy “in the life of this world”.] Yet [how] much greater will be the [sinners’] suffering in the life to come - if they [who now deny the truth] but knew it!

PARABLE OF SEVERAL MASTERS

(27) THUS, INDEED, have We propounded unto men all kinds of parables in this Quran, so that they might bethink themselves; [As in many other passages of the Quran, the use of the term “parable” (mathal) im­mediately or shortly after a description of men’s condition - whether good or bad - in the hereafter is meant to remind us that all such descriptions relate to something that is “beyond the reach of a created being’s perception” (al-ghayb), and cannot, therefore, be conveyed to man otherwise than by means of allegories or parables expressed in terms of human experience and therefore accessible, in a general sense, to human imagination.] [and We have revealed it] (28) as a discourse in the Arabic tongue, free of all devious­ness, so that they might become conscious of God. [Lit., “without any deviousness (iwaj)”, i.e., which could obscure its meaning: see note on 18:1, where this term occurs in a slightly different phrasing. As regards the stress on the formulation of this divine writ “in the Arabic tongue”, see 12: 2, 13: 37, 14: 4 and 41: 44, as well as the corresponding notes.] (29) [To this end,] God sets forth a parable: A man who has for his masters several partners, [Lit., “with regard to whom there are [several] partners (shuraka’)”, i.e., as masters: a metaphor for belief in a plurality of divine powers.] [all of them] at variance with one another, and a man depending wholly on one person: can these two be deemed equal as regards their condition? [The term mathal, which is usually rendered by me as “parable” (e.g., at the beginning of this verse as well as in verse 27), primarily denotes a “likeness”, i.e., of one thing to another; but sometimes it is used tropically as a synonym for sifah (the “quality”, “intrinsic attribute” or “nature” of a thing) or halah (its “state” or “condition”). In the present instance, the last­ mentioned of these meanings is most appropriate, inasmuch as it alludes to man’s condition arising from either of two contrasting attitudes: a belief in God’s transcendental oneness and uniqueness, on the one hand, and a readiness to ascribe divine powers and qualities to a variety of created beings or supposed “incarnations” of God, on the other.] [Nay,] all praise is due to God [alone]: but most of them do not understand this.

HELL

(30) Yet, verily, thou art bound to die, [O Muhammad,] and, verily, they, too, are bound to die: (31) and then, behold, on the Day of Resurrection you all shall place your dispute before your Sustainer. (32) And who could be more wicked than he who invents lies about God? [In this instance, the “inventing of lies about God” alludes to the attribution of a share in His divinity to anyone or anything beside Him, whether it be a belief in a plurality of deities, or in an imaginary “incarnation” of God in human form, or in saints allegedly endowed with semi-divine powers.] and gives the lie to the truth as soon as it has been placed before him? Is not hell the [proper] abode for all who deny the truth? [Lit., “Is not in hell an abode, etc.: a rhetorical question indicating, firstly, that otherworldly suffering is the unavoidable destiny -symbolically, “an abode” - of all such sinners; and, secondly, that in the concept and picture of “hell” we are given an allegory of that self-caused suffering.]

FORGIVENESS OF SINS

(33) But he who brings the truth, and he who wholeheartedly accepts it as true - it is they, they, who are [truly] conscious of Him! (34) All that they have ever yearned for awaits them with their Sustainer: such will be the reward of the doers of good. (35) And to this end, God will efface from their record the worst that they ever did, and give them their reward in accordance with the best that they were doing [in life].

GOD IS ENOUGH

(36) IS NOT God enough for His servant? And yet, they would frighten thee with those [imaginary divine powers which they worship] beside Him! [Or: “instead of Him”. This relates not merely to false deities, but also to saints alive or dead, and even to certain abstract concepts which the popular mind endows with charismatic qualities - like wealth, power, social status, national or racial pre-eminence, the idea of man’s “self- sufficiency”, etc. - and, finally, to all false values which are allowed to dominate man’s thoughts and desires. The godless always stress the supposed necessity of paying attention to all these imaginary forces and values, and frighten themselves and their fellow-men by the thought that a neglect to do so might have evil consequences in their practical life.] But he whom God lets go astray can never find any guide, (37) whereas he whom God guides aright can never be led astray. Is not God almighty, an avenger of evil? (38) And thus it is [with most people]: if [For this rendering of lain, see note on 11: 7.] thou ask them, “Who is it that has created the heavens and the earth?” - they will surely answer, “God.” [See note on 31: 25.] Say: “Have you, then, ever considered what it is that you invoke instead of God? If God wills that harm should befall me, could those [imaginary powers] remove the harm inflicted by Him? Or, if He wills that grace should alight on me, could they withhold His grace [from me]?” Say: “God is enough for me! In Him [alone] place their trust all who have trust [in His existence].” (39) Say: “O my [truth-denying] people! Do yet all that may be within your power, [whereas] I, behold, shall labour [in God’s way]: in time you will come to know (40) who it is that shall be visited [in this world] by suffering which will cover him with ignominy, and upon whom long-lasting suffering shall alight [in the life to come]!” [Lit., “suffering (adhab) that will disgrace him”: implying that surrender to false values inevitably leads to man’s spiritual decay and, if persisted in by many, to social catastrophes and widespread suffering.]

LIGHT OF GUIDANCE AND DEATH FOR GOING ASTRAY

(41) BEHOLD, from on high have We bestowed upon thee this divine writ, setting forth the truth for [the benefit of all] mankind. And whoever chooses to be guided [thereby], does so for his own good, and whoever chooses to go astray, goes but astray to his own hurt; and thou hast not the power to determine their fate. [Or: “thou art not responsible for their conduct” (see note on 17: 2).] (42) It is God [alone that has this power - He] who causes all human beings to die at the time of their [bodily] death, and [causes to be as dead], during their sleep, those that have not yet died: [According to Razi, this passage connects allegorically with the preceding - the light of guidance being likened to life, and man’s going astray, to death or, if it is not permanent, to death-like sleep followed by awakening. Beyond this, however, we have here a reminder - in tune with the subsequent passages - of God’s almightiness, and especially of His exclusive power to create and to withdraw life. As to the operative verb yatawaffa, it primarily denotes “He takes [something] away in full”; and because death is characterized by a disappearance of all vital impulses (the “soul”) from the once-living body - their being “taken away in full”, as it were - this form of the verb has been used tropically, since time immemorial, in the sense of “causing to die”, and (in its intransitive form) “dying” or (as a noun) “death”: a usage invariably adhered to in the Quran. The traditional likening of sleep to death is due to the fact that in both cases the body appears to be devoid of consciousness, partially and temporarily in the former case, and completely and permanently in the latter. (The popular translation of anfus - p1. of nafs - as “souls” is certainly inappropriate in the above context, since, according to the fundamental teaching of the Quran, man’s soul does not “die” at the time of his bodily death but, on the contrary, lives on indefinitely. Hence, the term

anfus must be rendered here as “human beings”.)] thus, He withholds [from life] those upon whom He has decreed death, and lets the others go free for a term set [by Him]. In [all] this, behold, there are messages indeed for people who think!

IMAGINARY INTERCESSORS

(43) And yet, [This is the meaning of the particle am in this context (Zamakhshari, implying that despite all the evidence of God’s almightiness, many people tend to disregard it.]

they choose [to worship], side by side with God, [imaginary] intercessors!” [I.e., intercessors who could act as such independently of God’s permission - an assumption which the Quran categorically denies (see note on 10: 3).] Say: “Why - even though they have no power over anything, and no understanding?” [A reference to the adoration of dead saints or their tombs or relics, as well as of inanimate representations of saints, of imaginary deities, etc.] (44) Say: “God’s alone is [the power to bestow the right of] intercession: [Regarding the problem of intercession as such, see note on 10: 3.]His [alone] is the dominion over the heavens and the earth; and, in the end, Unto Him you will all be brought back.” (45) And yet, whenever God alone is mentioned, the hearts of those who will not believe in the life to come contract with bitter aversion - whereas, when those [imaginary powers] are mentioned side by side with Him, lo, they rejoice! [Since cognition of God must have a sense of moral responsibility as its correlate, the godless shrink from it, and joyfully turn to the “worship” - real or metaphoric - of imaginary powers which make no such moral demand.]

RANSOM ON RESURRECTION DAY

(46) Say: “O God! Originator of the heavens and the earth! Knower of all that is beyond the reach of a created being’s perception, as well as of all that can be witnessed by a creature’s senses or mind! [See the second note on 6: 73.] It is Thou who wilt judge between Thy servants [on Resurrection Day] with regard to all on which they were wont to differ!” (47) But if those who are bent on evildoing posses­sed all that is on earth, and twice as much, [Lit., “and the like of it with it”.] they would surely offer it as ransom from the awful suffering [that will befall them] on the Day of Resur­rection: [Cf. 3: 91 and the corresponding note.] for, something with which they had not reckoned before will [by then] have been made obvious to them by God; [Lit., “will have become obvious to them (bada lahum) from God” - i.e., the fact that man’s attitudes and actions in this world determine his state and further development in the hereafter: in other words, that happiness or suffering in the life to come (allegorically described as “paradise” or ‘hell”, and “reward” or “chastisement”) are but natural consequences of the use which man makes in this life of his capabilities, endowments and opportunities.] (48) and obvious to them will have become the evil that they had wrought [in life]: and thus shall they be overwhelmed by the very truth which they were wont to deride. [Lit., “that which they were wont to deride will enfold them” or “will have enfolded them”: i.e., the reality of life after death and of the spiritual truths preached by God’s prophets will overwhelm them.]

FALSE PRIDE AND ARROGANCE OF MAN

(49) NOW [thus it is:] when affliction befalls man, he cries out unto Us for help; but when We bestow upon him a boon by Our grace, he says [to himself], “I have been given [all] this by virtue of [my own] wisdom!” [Lit., “knowledge” - i.e., “my prosperity is due to my own ability and shrewdness”: see the first sentence of 28: 78 and the corresponding note. But whereas there this “saying” or thought is attributed to the legendary Qarun, in the present instance - which is by far the earlier in the chronology of Quranic revelation - it is said to be characteristic of man as such (see, e.g., 7:189-190, where this tendency is referred to in connection with the experience of parenthood).] Nay, this [bestowal of grace] is a trial: but most of them understand it not! (50) The same did say [to themselves many of] those who lived before their time; but of no avail to them was all that they had ever achieved: (51) for all the evil deeds that they had wrought fell [back] upon them. And [the same will happen to] people of the present time who are bent on wrongdoing: [Lit., “those who are bent on wrongdoing (alladhina zalamu) from among these here”.] all the evil deeds that they have ever wrought will fall [back] upon them, and never will they be able to elude [God]! (52) Are they, then, not aware that it is God who grants abundant sustenance, or gives it in scant measure, unto whomever He wills? In this, behold, there are messages indeed for peo­ple who will believe!

REPENTANCE AND FORGIVENESS OF SINS

(53) SAY: “[Thus speaks God:] [See note on the opening words of verse 10 of this surah.] ‘O you servants of Mine who have transgressed against your own selves! Despair not of God’s mercy: behold, God forgives all sins - for, verily, He alone is much-forgiving, a dis­penser of grace!’ ” [Sc., “whenever the sinner repents and turns to Him”: cf., for instance, 6: 54 - “Your Sustainer has willed upon Himself the law of grace and mercy - so that if any of you does a bad deed out of ignorance, and thereafter repents and lives righteously, He shall be [found] much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace”; or 4: 110 - “he who does evil or [otherwise] sins against himself, and thereafter prays God to forgive him, shall find God much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace”.] (54) Hence, turn towards your Sustainer [alone] and surrender yourselves unto Him ere the suffering [of death and resurrection] comes upon you, for then you will not be succoured. [Cf. 4: 18 - “repentance shall not be accepted from those who do evil deeds until their dying hour, and then say, ‘Behold, I now repent’; nor from those who die as deniers of the truth”.]

PUNISHMENT FOR DENYING THE TRUTH

(55) And ere that suffering comes upon you of a sudden, without your being aware [of its approach], follow the most goodly [teaching] that has been revealed unto you by your Sustainer, (56) lest any human being * should say [on Judgment Day], “Alas for me for having been remiss in what is due to God, and for having been indeed one of those who scoffed [at the truth]!” [*Whenever there is no clear indication that the term nafs has another meaning, it signifies a “human being”; hence, the personal pronouns relating to this term (which is feminine in Arabic) are masculine in my rendering.] - (57) or lest he should say, “If God had but guided me, I would surely have been among those who are conscious of Him!”- (58) or lest he should say, when he becomes aware of the suffering [that awaits him], “Would that I had a second chance [in life], so that I could be among the doers of good!” [Cf. 2: 167 and 26: 102, as well as 6: 27-28 and the corresponding note.] (59) [But God will reply:] “Yea, indeed! My mes­sages did come unto thee; but thou gavest them the lie, and wert filled with false pride, and wert among those who deny the truth!”(60) And [so,] on the Day of Resurrection thou wilt see all who invented lies about God [with] their faces darkened [by grief and ignominy]. [The phrase iswadda wajhuhu (lit., “his face became black” or “dark”) is used idiomatically to describe a face expressive of grief or ignominy (cf. 16: 58), just as its opposite, ibyadda wajhuhu (lit., “his face became white” or “shining”) describes a countenance expressive of happiness or justified pride: cf. 2: 106 - “some faces will shine [with happiness] and some faces will be dark [with grief]”. Apart from this, both phrases have also a tropical significance, namely, “he became [or “felt”] disgraced”, resp. “honoured”. As regards the “inventing of lies about God” spoken of in this verse, see note on verse 32 above.]  Is not hell the [proper] abode for all who are given to false pride? [See note on the last sentence of verse 32 of this surah.]

(61) But God will safeguard all who were conscious of Him, [and will grant them happiness] by virtue of their [inner] triumphs; no evil shall ever touch them, and neither shall they grieve. (62) GOD is the Creator of all things, and He alone has the power to determine the fate of all things. [For the meaning of the term wakil in this context, see note on 17: 2.] (63) His are the keys [to the mysteries] of the heavens and the earth: and they who are bent on denying the truth of God’s messages - it is they, they, who are the losers! (64) Say: “Is it, then, something other than God that you bid me to worship, O you who are unaware [of right and wrong]?”

ALL WORKS IN VAIN

(65) And yet, it has already been revealed to thee [O man,] * as well as to those who lived before thee, that if thou ever ascribe divine powers to aught but God, all thy works shall most certainly have been in vain: for [in the life to come] thou shalt most certainly be among the lost. [*I.e., “it has been conveyed to thee through the divine messages revealed to the prophets”. The assumption of almost all the classical commentators that this passage is addressed to Muhammad does not make much sense in view of God’s knowledge that neither he nor any of the prophets who came before him would ever commit the deadly sin (referred to in the sequence) of “ascribing divine powers to aught beside God”. On the other hand, the above reminder becomes very cogent and relevant as soon as it is conceived as being addressed to man in general, irrespective of time and circumstance.]

JUDGMENT DAY

(66) Nay, but thou shalt worship God [alone], and be among those who are grateful [to Him]! (67) And no true understanding of God have they [who worship aught beside Him], inasmuch as the whole of the earth will be as a [mere] handful to Him on Resurrection Day, and the heavens will be rolled up in His right hand: [I.e., the whole universe is as nothing before Him: for this specific allegory of God’s almightiness, see 21: 104. There are many instances, in the Quran as well as in authentic ahadith, of the clearly metaphorical use of the term “hand” in allusions to God’s absolute power and dominion. The particular reference, in the above, to the Day of Resurrection is due to the fact that it will be only on his own resurrection that a human being shall fully grasp the concept of God’s almightiness, referred to in the subsequent words, “limitless is He in His glory” (subhanahu)”.] limitless is He in His glory, and sublimely exalted above anything to which they may ascribe a share in His divinity! (68) And [on that Day,] the trumpet [of judgment] will be sounded, and all [creatures] that are in the heavens and all that are on earth will fall down senseless, unless they be such as God wills [to exempt]. [As is evident from 27:  89, the above is an allusion to the unbroken spiritual life in this world - and, therefore, happiness in the hereafter - of those who have attained to faith and have done righteous deeds. Cf. 21:103 - “the supreme awesomeness [of the Day of Resurrection] will cause them no grief”.] And then it will sound again - and lo! standing [before the Seat of Judgment], they will begin to see [the truth]! [Cf. 37:19.] (69) And the earth will shine bright with her Sus­tainer’s light. [I.e., with a clear revelation of His will. See also 14: 48, where it is stated that on Resurrection Day “the earth shall be changed into another earth, as shall be the heavens”. A further allusion to this transformation (and not annihilation) of the universe is found in 20: 105 - 107.] And the record [of everyone’s deeds] will be laid bare, [Cf. 17: 13-14 (and the corresponding note): also 18: 49.] and all the prophets will be brought forward, and all [other] witnesses; [See 4: 41 and the corresponding note. Accordingly, the above phrase may well have the meaning of “all the prophets as witnesses”, i.e., for or against those to whom they conveyed God’s message. In all probability, however, the term shuhada (or ashhad in 40: 51) signifies here - as its singular shahid obviously does in 50: 21 - man’s newly-awakened consciousness, which will compel him to bear witness against himself on Judgment Day (cf. 6: 130, 17: 14, 24: 24, 36: 65, 41:20 ff.).] and judgment will be passed on them all in justice. And they will not be wronged, (70) for every human being will be repaid in full for whatever [good or evil] he has done: [Cf. 99: 7-8, “he who shall have done an atom’s weight of good, shall behold it; and he who shall have done an atom’s weight of evil, shall behold it”.] and He is fully aware of all that they do.

HELL

(71) And those who were bent on denying the truth will be urged on in throngs towards hell till, when they reach it, its gates will be opened, and its keepers will ask them, “Have there not come to you apostles from among yourselves, who conveyed to you your Sustainer’s messages and warned you of the coming of this your Day [of Judgment]?”They will answer: “Yea, indeed!” But the sentence of suffering will [already] have fallen due upon the deniers of the truth; [I.e., as an ineluctable consequence of their unrepented sinning.] (72) [and] they will be told, “Enter the gates of hell, therein to abide!” And how vile an abode for those who were given to false pride! [Sc., “and therefore refused to submit to the guidance offered them by God’s apostles”: cf. 96: 6-7 - “man becomes grossly overweening whenever he believes himself to be self-sufficient”. See also 16: 22 and the corresponding note.]

PARADISE

(73) But those who were conscious of their Sus­tainer will be urged on in throngs towards paradise till, when they reach it, they shall find its gates wide- open; * and its keepers will say unto them, “Peace be upon you! Well have you done: enter, then, this [paradise], herein to abide!” [*Lit., “and its gates have [or “will have”] been opened”, i.e., before their arrival, as indicated by the particle wa (lit., “and”), which in this case denotes precedence in time (Zamakhshari). Cf. in this connection 38: 50 - “gardens of perpetual bliss, with gates wide-open to them”.] (74) And they will exclaim: “All praise is due to God, who has made His promise to us come true, and has bestowed upon us this expanse [of bliss] as our portion, * so that we may dwell in paradise as we please!” And how excellent a reward will it be for those who laboured [in God’s way]! [*Lit., “has made us heirs to this land”, i.e., of paradise. According to all the classical commentators, the concept of “heritage” is used here metaphorically, to denote the rightful due, or portion, of the blessed. The term ard (lit., “earth” or “land”) has also - especially in poetry - the connotation of “anything that is spread” (cf. Lane I, 48): hence my rendering of it, in the above context, as “expanse”.] (75) And thou wilt see the angels surrounding the throne of [God’s] almightiness, extolling their Sus­tainer’s glory and praise. [Whenever the term al-arsh (“the throne [of God]”) occurs in the Quran, it is used as a metaphor for His absolute dominion over all that exists: hence my rendering, “the throne of [God’s] almightiness”. (See also

7: 54 and the corresponding note.) The mention of the “angels surrounding” it has, obviously, a metaphorical meaning: see note on 40:7.] And judgment will have been passed in justice on all [who had lived and died], and the word will be spoken: [Lit., “it will be said”.] “All praise is due to God, the Sustainer of all the worlds!”

 

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