The ones Scattering Dust
This is the second of the group of seven sūrahs (from sūrah 50 to 56) which prove the veracity of the prophethood and holy Qur’ān, a source of news of the Last Judgment and a warning to those who ascribe patterns to God and reject the Messengers and their message, as their central theme around which they all revolve. Though these sūrahs share the same theme as ‘umūd yet each deals with different aspects of this theme, as has been mentioned in the commentary on the previous sūrah (Sūrah Qāf, Q. 50). Here I will confine myself to the aspects of the theme that are specific to this sūrah. In other words this discussion will aim at explaining how this sūrah is different from the previous ones.
The previous sūrah substantiates the resurrection and clarifies the doubts and objections of the contenders. In the present sūrah the need for retribution has been established. The previous sūrah, as we have learnt, starts with the words: “Qāf. By Gracious Qur'ān. (O Muhammad you are a rasūl of Allah). Yet they are surprised that there has come to them a warner from amongst themselves. So the unbelievers say, “This indeed is very strange: that after we are dead and have become dust, we shall be raised to life again. Such a resurrection is far from possible.” (Q. 50:1-3)
This has been followed by proofs corroborating the last judgment. The retribution ordained for the rejecters has also been reckoned. God Almighty says: “Previously the people of Noah (sws) and the people of al-Ras denied this truth, and so did Thamūd, ‘Ᾱd, Pharaoh, the brethren of Lūṭ, the dwellers of al-Aykah and the people of Tubba‘; all of them disbelieved in their Messengers. And my warning was fulfilled.” (Q. 50:12-4)
The punishment stories have not been mentioned in detail. The sūrah limits the discussion to a brief allusion to the parties and their fates. It has also not gone further in supporting the resurrection beyond clear and simple proofs. The sūrah ends with the advice to the holy Prophet (sws) to remain firm in his mission, to offer the ṣalāh, and to remind his addressees of the realities. The sūrah then concludes with the following warning: “On the day when the earth will split asunder from them, while they will be hastening forth. That is a gathering easy for Us to make. We are fully aware of what they say, and you (O Muhammad) are in no way a compeller over them. And warn through the Qur’ān him who fears My threat.”(Q. 50:44-5)
Since the central theme of the present sūrah is retribution, which implies rewarding the believers and punishing the disbelievers, the discussion starts with a mention of the arguments substantiating the promised retribution. God Almighty says: “What you are being promised is true; and verily Judgment (al-dīn) must indeed come to pass.”(Q. 51:5) The promise of reward and retribution cover divine mercy as well as wrath. The sūrah promises mercy to the believers and threatens the rejecters of punishment. The word “dīn” is a general term. It implies that everyone shall be rewarded according to his conduct in this worldly life. In consideration of this general meaning of the promise, the subsequent stories consistently deal with both mercy and punishment. Consider the verse, for example: “And in the heavens is your sustenance and also that which you are promised. (mā tū‘adūn)” (Q. 51:22) “That you are promised” is a general statement. It implies both reward and punishment. The blessing of the clouds and lightening/thunder both relate to the phenomenon of rain. This is followed by a reference to the encounter of Abraham (sws) with his guests. “Have you learnt the story of Abraham’s honored guests?” (Q. 51:24) This story, containing the tale of Abraham’s (sws) encounter with his guests, contained news of reward for one nation and of warning of destruction to another. This reality has been put in Sūrah al-Ḥijr (Q. 15) in most clear words. The Almighty says: “O Prophet! Tell My devote servants that I am indeed forgiving, merciful and that my punishment is the most painful one. And tell them about the guests of Abraham (sws).” (Q. 15:49:51)
Since God’s warning is a prominent theme in the present sūrah, the destruction of earlier nations receives great stress. Yet we observe in the subsequent discussions that all the stories quoted here relating to punishment and wrath also cover divine blessings and mercy. Mercy and blessings are not prominent because this aspect has been covered in other sūrahs, which use the same incidents with additional stress on the aspect of blessings, mercy and reward for the believers.
Thus, in the present sūrah, this aspect of the divine sunnah has not been detailed and explained. However, a brief account of the referred to punishment stories have been followed by a general rule governing both punishment and reward. The general rule is this: Allah Almighty has created everything with a particular wisdom. All creatures are created in pairs. It is only the co-ordination of its pair that each is complemented, and that the purpose of its creation is fulfilled. Nothing among the creation exists purposeless. Everything has a necessary end. This requires that a particular time is set for the fulfillment of this purpose. The divine punishment is a direct corollary of His mercy.
In the end, the sūrah calls us to believe in the idea of tawḥīd in such a way that its qualities necessitate retribution and final accountability. Here I intend to confine my discussion to this overview of the themes. Details will be offered at the proper place during the course of the commentary.
Text and Translation: Q. 51:1-14
وَالذَّارِيَاتِ ذَرْوًا فَالْحَامِلَاتِ وِقْرًا فَالْجَارِيَاتِ يُسْرًا فَالْمُقَسِّمَاتِ أَمْرًا إِنَّمَا تُوعَدُونَ لَصَادِقٌ وَإِنَّ الدِّينَ لَوَاقِعٌ وَالسَّمَاء ذَاتِ الْحُبُكِ إِنَّكُمْ لَفِي قَوْلٍ مُّخْتَلِفٍ يُؤْفَكُ عَنْهُ مَنْ أُفِكَ قُتِلَ الْخَرَّاصُونَ الَّذِينَ هُمْ فِي غَمْرَةٍ سَاهُونَ يَسْأَلُونَ أَيَّانَ يَوْمُ الدِّينِ يَوْمَ هُمْ عَلَى النَّارِ يُفْتَنُونَ ذُوقُوا فِتْنَتَكُمْ هَذَا الَّذِي كُنتُم بِهِ تَسْتَعْجِلُونَ
The winds that scatter dust, carry the load, speed lightly along, and differentiate the affair, bear witness that what you are being promised is true; and verily Judgment must indeed come to pass. By the rippled clouds, indeed you are in a doctrine discordant. Those who have lost their power to discern are unable to believe in it. Woe to the conjecturers, those who are engulfed in ignorance and are heedless. They ask: “when is the Day of Retribution?” It is when they will be heated on the fire. “Taste the consequence of your trials. This is what you used to ask to be hastened.”
Explanation of Words and Ta’wīl
of Sentences and Phrases (Q. 51: 1-14)
wa al-dhāriyāt, that scatter dust
The noun al-riyāḥ (winds) qualified by the adjective al-dhāriyāt (that which scatter dust) has been left unexpressed. The verb zarā means to scatter dust or soot. The adjective dhāriyāt is very widely used to describe riyāḥ (winds) and that is why they not been explicitly mentioned. A‘shā Bakr b. Wā’il says:
Fajarā bi’l ghulāmi shibh ḥarīqin
Fī yabīsin tadhrūhu rīḥu shimāl
The horse fled with the young man after the manner of a fire, in the way dry leaves are carried away by the North winds.
Since the adjective al-dhāriyāt famously qualifies winds, the noun has been omitted according to the convention of the Arabs. The sufficient quality has been considered a complete indicator to the relevant phenomenon. This style of omitting the qualified noun is frequently employed in the holy Qur’ān and the classical Arabic literature.
fa al-ḥāmilāt-i-wiqran, then carry the load (clouds)
Conjugation (‘aṭf) of adjectives by the particle “F” implies chronological sequence in the ordered adjectives. This indicates that all the adjectives in the structure qualify a single noun. Sometimes, the holy Qur’ān employs the conjunction waw to conjugate different adjectives in the oath formulas yet the oath is taken by a single entity. An example of this use can be found in Sūrah al-Mursalāt. (Q. 77) The above shows that it would not be correct to hold that these adjectives qualify different things, as has been held by some. They believe, for example, that some of the adjectives, mentioned in this oath cluster, qualify angels while others qualify things such as winds. This view militates against the conventions of the Arabic language. It also ignores the parallels of the same sentence structures used in the holy Qur’ān. The Almighty says: “The ones that run while panting, then strike sparks of fire, then make raids at dawn, then raise the dust, then penetrate into the ranks.” (Q. 100:1-5) Obviously all these adjectives qualify a single noun. These are not the qualities of different entities. Consider the following verse attributed to Ibn Ziyābah.
Yā lahfa Ziyābah li al-Ḥārith
Al-ṣā’ibu fa al-ghānimu fa al-’ā’ibu
Pity Ziyābah for Ḥārith, who raided at dawn, looted the spoils and returned.
Moreover, there is no need to attribute these adjectives to more than a single entity. All these adjectives and the corresponding noun properly and fully collocate. Details shall soon follow.
The word wiqr signifies weight and burden. In this instance the word has been used in its general sense. It refers to anything that is carried by the winds. This too will also be discussed in detail later. We can take this word to refer to clouds, since they are heavy. The holy Qur’ān says: “And (he) brings up heavy clouds (al-siḥāb al-thiqāl).”(Q. 13:12) The most well-known function of the winds is that they carry clouds. It has been said in the holy Qur’ān: “He is the one who, before his mercy, sends forth the winds as good news, until they lift up the heavy clouds; we drive them to a dead countryside and make the rain fall upon it.”(Q. 7:57)
fa al-muqassimāt-i-’amran, then differentiate the affair
Qassama al-amr means he separated and set apart different aspects of the matter. The expression qasama al-amra gives the same meaning. The former expression, however, contains an element of rigor as compared to the latter one. An example is the use of the verbs kassara (he broke something into pieces) and kasara (he broke it). Murād b. Manqadh describes a donkey in search for fresh grass:
Ẓalla fī a‘lā yafā‘in jādhilan
Yuqassimu al-amra ka qasmi al-mu’tamir
He (the donkey) stood at the top of the hillock keeping its head high. He discerned different aspects of the matter, after the manner of a careful deliberator.
The winds differentiate between nations by different functions. They prove to be a bounty for one nation, in that they produce life by giving rain, and bring punishment for another, as they cause floods and hurricanes resulting in utter destruction. We will discuss this issue later in detail. These verses ascribe a willful act to an inanimate force. This is not unusual. Many examples of the kind can be found in the classical Arabic literature as well as the holy Qur’ān.
innamā tū‘adūna laṣādiq, what you are being promised is true
The word tū‘adūna is a derivation of wa‘d (promise/threat). It refers to the reward and retribution the Almighty promised the people. He communicated this promise/threat (wa‘d) through the Messenger. The promise has been clarified and established with clear examples and sound proofs. The holy Qur’ān repeatedly asserts that the Day of Judgment will certainly come. People will be resurrected and judged for their actions and beliefs. Proper reward for the pious deeds and suitable punishment for bad conduct are promised by the Almighty Allah. For example, the Almighty says: “All of you will return to Him. God’s promise is always fulfilled. It is He who creates initially and He will surely repeat this act (of creation again) so that He may reward the believers.” (Q. 10:4)
At another place the holy Qur’ān says: “They swore that Allah will never raise the dead to life. Why not? This is what He promised. He shall surely fulfill this (promise).” (Q. 16:138)
Q. 21:104 reads: “Just as We produced the first creation, so shall We produce a new one: a promise We have undertaken: truly shall We fulfill it.” Yet another time God Almighty says: “So that they might know that the promise is true and that there is no doubt about the coming of the hour of the Judgment.” (Q. 18:21)
A great number of verses can be cited in order to explain that the holy Qur’ān proves the need for the Last Judgment.
The promise (mā tū‘adūna) stated in this verse includes the good news to the believers that they will be granted success. It also implies that the unbelievers shall fail in the end and will be punished. The Almighty says: “Allah has promised those of you who believe and do good deeds that He will surely make them inherit the earth as He made their ancestors [inherit it] before them.” (Q. 24:55)
This issue has been abundantly discussed in the holy Quran. The term tū‘adūna generally includes all these things. However, in this context, it specifically refers to the resurrection. The preceding verse as well as the succeeding one deal with the reward. This interpretation—that the promise of reward is dominating here—fits in the context more closely.
wa inna al-dīna lawāqi‘, Judgment must indeed come to pass
Dīn, meaning retribution, is implied by the phrase mā tū‘adoona. The conjunction (waw) in the beginning of the verse indicates that dīn too is included in the promised facts. A general entity (mā tū‘adoona) has been coordinated to a specific one (dīn). This style of expression is called conjugation of a general statement with a specific case (‘aṭaf khāṣ ‘ala al-‘ām). It can also be compared to the conjugation of the whole with its part (‘aṭaf al-kull ‘ala al-juz’). This style of conjugating components of an address is usually applied to emphasize the conjugated thing. Its special position is highlighted. The benefit obtained by this style of expression in this verse is evident. The implication is that the main purpose of resurrection is to reward the pious. Punishing the wicked is a corollary of the rewarding of the pious. This has been clearly stated in the holy Qur’ān at more than one occasion.
wa al-samā’-i- dhāt al-ḥubuk, By the rippled clouds
The word al-samā’ gives different meanings which include clouds. Consider the following verse: “O earth! Swallow up your water and O clouds! Cease your rain.” (Q. 11:44)
I base my interpretation of the word samā’ on the following arguments:
1. The sūrah swears by the winds and clouds in the inaugurating verses. Elsewhere in the Qur’ān, these two have been mentioned together several times.
2. It collocates with the muqsam ‘alayhi (sworn fact) and muqsam bihī (the entity/phenomenon sworn by). This point will be detailed later.
3. The adjective of dhāt al-ḥubuk corroborates this meaning. Ḥubuk means to tie the knot. Abū Dā’ūd says:
Ka’anna al-ghuḍūn min al-fahdatayn
‘ilā ṭarafi al-zawri ḥubk al-‘uadq
The pleats in the flesh projecting from the side of his thorax are like layers of a knot.
In this context it connotes strength and force that binds something in proper order. Ḥibāk (sing. ḥubuk) is another derivative of the same word which is used for the tides, currents, or plaits that are prominent in well woven cloth. Zuhayr b. Abī Sulmā, in one of his verses, depicts water in a spring rippled by currents of passing air. He says:
Mukallalin bi uṣūl al-nabati tansujuhū
Rīḥun kharīqun liḍāḥī mā’ihī ḥubukū
Objects have covered it. Air passing through it creates ripples (ḥubuk) on its surface.
Farrā’ has commented on the verse. He says that ḥubuk is used for the tides or currents that are formed when air disturbs water. A ḥadīth describes dajjāl as follows: “His hair will be weaved into plaits (inna sha‘rahū ḥubukun ḥubukun).” (Musnad Aḥmad No: 23534) Clouds too are often described by the adjective ḥubuk. This is because they are like ripples of water currents crowned by foam or wool. Imra’ al-Qays describes a palace covered with clouds.
Tulā‘ibu awlād al-wa‘ūl ribā‘ahā
Duwayn al-samā’i fī ru’ūs al-majādil
Mukallatan ḥamrā’ dhāta asirratin
Lahā ḥabakun ka’annahā min ḥabā’il
(Camel) calves play with the young camels on the top of mountains just below the sky while (the mountain tops) are crowned by the rubicund clouds with paths weaved like wasā’il (a stripy cloth of Yemenite make).
This depicts wintery clouds specifically noting its colour and pattern.
Khansā’ describes winter clouds in these words:
Ḥīna al-riyāḥu bilā’ilun
Nukbun hawā’ijuhā ṣawārid
Yabfīna ‘an līṭ al-samā‘i
Ẓalā’ilan wa al-mā’u jāmid
Mizaqan tuṭarriduhā al-riyāḥu
ka’annahā khiraqun ṭarā’id
Wild currents of cold and blind winds blew, driving the clouds ahead and leaving water frozen. The patches of clouds they carried seemed like swarms of grasshoppers riding the air.
Some scholars have held that ḥubuk describes the starry sky. Some hold that the heavens can be called dhāt al-ḥubuk for it is firm and established. Some others hold that it can be characterized as ḥubuk for it is decorated and is full of stars. I do not believe these interpretations to be plausible. The word ḥubuk in this place has not been used as a maṣdar (verbal noun). It is plural form of ḥibāk which means a ripple, path and branch. This, therefore, does not fit a description of the heavens, neither with reference to the firmness of the firmament nor to its starriness.
innakum lafī qawlin mukhtalif, indeed you are in a doctrine discordant
The implication is that you differ on the position of the Day of Judgment. Elsewhere it has been put explicitly: “About what are they asking? Are they asking about the mighty event, concerning which they differ with each other? Very soon they shall come to know.” (Q. 78: 1-4)
The placement and the context of situation make this sentence a rebuke and censure of the view of the contenders. Semantically it is not the complement of the oath (jawāb al-qasam) which was already mentioned after the first group of oaths, rendering the repetition redundant. The complement of the oath is left unstated yet is understood. We know that at times the holy Qur’ān prefaces rebukes and censures with an oath. In such instances jawab al-qasam is understood from the context. Again it is not necessarily mentioned. The following verse offers an example: “Qāf. By the glorious Qur’ān, (O Muhammad you are a rasūl of Allah). Yet they wonder that there came to them a warner from among themselves. So the unbelievers say: This indeed is very strange that after we are dead and have become dust, we shall be raised to life again. Such a resurrection is far from possible.” (Q. 50: 1-2)
In this verse, an oath follows a reproof and a censure instead of a muqsim ‘alayhi (object of oath). Another example of this style of omission of the jawāb al-qasam is found in Sūrah al-Burūj: “By the heaven and its constellations! by the promised Day of Judgment, by the witnesses and that which is being witnessed, doomed be the companions of the ditch.” (Q. 85:1-4)
A great number of examples can be cited from the Qur’ān in this regard.
yu’faku ‘anhu man ufika, those void of insight are unable to believe in it.
This is an independent statement and it does not describe the phrase qawlin mukhtalif (dispute) occurring in the previous verse. The implication is that those deprived of insight fail to believe in the resurrection. Ifk means overturning of something. It is understandable why the word ifk is used to mean falsity. Māfūk is the one void of insight. Layth says:
mā lī arāka ‘ājizan ufīkā
Why is it that I see you humble and deprived of insight (ufīkan)?
qutila al-kharrāsūn, Woe to the conjecturers.
Al-kharrāṣūn (singular kharrāṣ) signifies conjecturers. They say kharraṣa al-nakhl (he estimated the quantity of the dates on the date-palms). Kharraṣa fī al-ḥadīth means he said what he did not know. Al-kharrāsūn are, therefore, people who throw wild guesses regarding the Day of Judgment. Their views have no supporting grounds. This theme has been repeatedly discussed in the holy Qur’ān. The Almighty says: “They have confused knowledge of the Hereafter. Rather they are in doubt about it.” (Q. 27:66)
At another occasion their views over the hereafter have been mentioned as follows: “We believe it to be a mere conjecture. We are not convinced of it.” (Q. 45:32)
alladhīna hum fī ghamratin sāhūn, those who are engulfed in ignorance and are heedless
Fī ghamratin, in utter ignorance. This meaning can also be expressed by phrase fī ghitā’in wa ‘amāyatin. Sāhūn (singular: sāhin) is the second khabar (enunciative, the first being fī ghamratin). Sāhūn implies that the ignorance of the rejecters of the Last Judgment is perpetual. They are wholly caught in an unbreakable spell of ignorance. Consequently they cannot feel and understand facts which they could have realized otherwise. This, therefore, is their state which is the real cause of their disease. They are fully caught in ignorance and have indulged in desires of the flesh. This does not leave them a moment to come to senses and realize the consequences of their behavior. The basic thrust of the sentence is condemnation of the doubts they cherish about the afterlife. Their doubts originate from heedlessness to the preaching of the prophets. This origin of their doubts is evident from their following quizzical question.
ayyāna yawm al-dīn?, “when will be the Day of Retribution?
This question implies negation as well as mockery of the Last Judgment. It also expresses their demand that the Retribution should be brought upon them quickly if it is possible. Each of these three senses expresses the worst kind of disobedience as has been attested in Sūrah al-Qiyāmah. The Almighty says: “But man desires to show disobedience even in front of his Lord. He asks, ‘When will this Day of Judgment be?’” (Q. 75:5-6)
The response from the Almighty (immediately following the question) truly considers the base mentality of the questioners.
yawma hum ‘ala al-nāri yuftanūn, It is when they will be heated on the fire.
The accusative form of the word yawma, in this verse, indicates that it is an adverb (ẓarf). Here it marks time (ẓarf al-zamān). The implication is “the Day of Judgment will come when they will be tried in the fire.” In other words the time they will find themselves in this situation would be the Day of Judgment. The word yawma is used to mark a point of time (not the day as opposed to night) as is evidenced by the following verse: “That day, (i.e. at that time), will be a hard day.” (Q. 74:9)
Some people have opined that the word yawma in this instance is originally in the nominative case (marfū‘). Its apparent form is naṣb (accusative case) for in this case it (yawm) has been ascribed to something indeclinable. I believe that this explanation and analysis is grammatically correct. Yet, however, I believe this is not plausible. It does not fit in the context. We see that the question that has been previously mentioned pertains to the Judgment. It does not enquire about the Day of Judgment. However, it is possible that one interprets the answer according to one’s understanding of the question. Thus one could say that the question asks when this Day of Judgment is. And the response would be: “it will be held this and this day.”
Fatanahū means “he tested/assessed him” as in wa fatannāka fatūnā (we tested you thoroughly. Q. 20:40) The word fitnah is derived from this verb (fatana). Fitnah connotes every such enjoyment or pain that tests one’s mettle as well as determination. It is said: fatanathu al-mar’atu to mean that the woman enticed/tempted him and also fatanahū al-shayṭān means Satan misled him. I can say fatantu al-dhahba to mean that I put gold on fire to assess its quality. A tested pure dīnār is called dīnār maftūn. Waraq fatīn is fire-tested sliver. Lava field and volcanic area are called fatīn because the stones look as if they are burnt. All the above usages of the word share some aspect of the theme of trial and test.
The words “yuftanūn” (they shall be heated) alludes to two things. First, they would be burnt in it. Second, the fire in which they are burning is fueled with the worldly attractions which made them forget the Judgment. They will be told that they remained forgetful of this Day amidst the riches of the ephemeral world. This has been clearly put in the next verses. Since their question was toned to reflect conceitedness and mockery, the answer is but only appropriate.
dhūqū fitnatakum, taste (the consequence of) your trials
Taste what you cherished in the worldly life. The reality of what you courted of the charms of the worldly life has manifested itself to you. In the life of the world, you were overpowered by forgetfulness. You could not test its true taste. Now you have to taste it. This sentence has been addressed directly to the non-believers. We, however, do not need to suppose that the vocative particle have been suppressed. In fact the address has been changed from indirect to direct to obtain a specific rhetorical purpose. It assumes the third person addressee as present. This gives the impression that the Day of Judgment is already there. The addressees seem to have already been presented to the Fire before this address takes place.
Winds and the Promised Retribution
The above discussion makes it clear that the verses 1-4 (The winds that scatter dust, then carry the load, then speed lightly along, and then differentiate the affair) evoke the winds to substantiate the claim that follows. It is also clear that verse 7 (By the rippled clouds) cites the wintery clouds which frequently bring thunder and lightning to prove the claim that follows it. Clouds and thunder offer a more effective tool of warning and inspiring fear. It fits the occasion well. It highlights the gravity of their persistence in ignorance, conceitedness, indifference, and false assumptions. In the story of ‘Ᾱd we find those fallen in these evils continue to shut their minds. Even after observing the signs of the impending punishment they joyfully welcomed it as clouds of rain. They were told that it was not what they expected. They were engrossed in sheer ignorance. The holy Qur’ān puts this incident in the following words:
They said, “Here is a passing cloud that will bring us rain.” No! It is but what you have sought to hasten: a hurricane bringing a woeful punishment. (Q. 46:24)
Both the proofs are of the same kind. The winds as well as clouds are clear signs of God. Both are natural phenomena God created. Winds are employed in useful as well destructive natural phenomena. Winds carry heavy watery clouds to a barren dead land. They carry the loaded ships to their destinations. These are their positive and benevolent operations. They, however, at times, blow violently and rain the land with sandstones. At times they bring cold, thunder, and lightning. At other occasions they bring incessant rains and flood the rivers, seas, and the land. All these operations and uses of winds are implied in the phrase muqassimāt amran (which differentiate the affair). God has power and control over the winds. His acts are always characterized by wisdom. He makes winds a beneficial natural phenomenon even in its extreme form. At occasions He makes them destroy nations despite their apparent lean and weak blowing abilities. The punishment of Pharaoh proves this. We can even say that a single operation of winds proves blessing for the believers and punishment for the rejecters. This is how winds differentiate between those who receive mercy and those who meet punishment. They in these operations act as rational beings, differentiating between the parties by the command of the Lord. The following passage from the Psalms contains a similar theme:
He sends his command to the earth. And his word runs swiftly. He showers down snow, white as wool, and sprinkles hoar-frost thick as ashes; crystals of ice he scatters like bread crumbs; he sends the cold, and the water stands frozen; he utters his words and the ice is melted; he blows with his wind and the waters flow. (Psalm 147: 15-18)
The last verse refers to winds as the word of God. This passage is very difficult yet delicate discourse because original Hebrew uses the same term for the word and the winds.
The most comprehensive Qur’ānic statement, regarding the signs of God, is the following verse:
Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and the earth; in the alternation of night and day; in the boats that sail the oceans with cargoes beneficial to man; and in the water, which God sent down from the sky and with which He revived the earth after its death and dispersed over it all kinds of living creatures; in the variation of the winds and in the clouds put to service, between earth and the skies: surely, in these there are many signs (i.e. signs leading to tawḥīd, God’s power, providence, mercy, wisdom and justice) for rational men. (Q. 2:164)
In the variations of the winds and clouds— which benefit one people and harm another at the will of God— there are signs indicating that the affairs of all the created things in the universe are not purposelessly conducted. In the group of verses under discussion the Almighty has specifically hinted towards this fact. He says that the winds differentiate between the virtuous and the rebellious. These verses also point out that God has power and cosmic jurisdiction over everything. Everything acts according to His will. The winds, which have no free will in the general meaning of the word, are also found working under the will of God. They perform acts which accord to His wisdom and justice. God has said: “To God belong the armies of the heavens and the earth.” (Q. 48:4) They work for the domination of the party of God. This group of verses includes the two messages of glad tidings and warnings, as has been clearly put in Sūrah al-Ṣāffāt. God swears by His representative armies in the beginning of Sūrah al-Ṣāffāt. Then He says: “We have already decreed concerning Our chosen apostles that they would receive Our help and that Our armies would be victorious.” (Q. 37:171-3)
All these things clearly evidence divine retribution. The subsequent discussions contain further detail. In my commentary on the punishment stories mentioned in the sūrah you shall learn the other fine points the winds and the clouds imply.
Coherence and Context (1-14)
The winds, which have been evoked in this passage, prove to be a blessing for one people and punishment for another. The holy Qur’ān, in most places, refers to the beneficial aspect of the winds. When it points out their use as a tool of punishment, it does so subtly by pointing out that they are under the control of the Wise Lord. That is why, here too, the initial oaths have been followed by a general assertion as a complement of oath (jawāb al-qasam), which implies mercy as well as punishment. The Almighty says: “What you are being promised is true and verily Judgment must indeed come to pass.” (Q. 51:5-6)
The sense of warning in the evidence sought from the ripply clouds is more vividly expressed. The very picture of the heavens with such clouds creates a strong impression of warning and rebuke. That is why it is immediately followed by a mention of those rejecters who mocked the idea of punishment and demanded that it be unleashed to them instantly. Allah refers to the punishment they deserve. Since the fate of the rejecters exemplified only one aspect of the promise of retribution the mention of the other party, the believers, and their reward becomes necessary which is afforded in the next verses. The Qur’ān generally contrasts encouragement with threats. Here God mentions the rejecters and their attributes first. It requires, as per the general Qur’ānic style, that their opposite, the party of believers, find a mention as well along with their attributes. This leads to the fact that these rejecters and mockers are not going to be rewarded like the believers. This fact has clearly been mentioned in many parts of the Qur’ān. The verses mentioning the second party, or the believers, follow:
Text and Translation: Q. 51: 15-19
إِنَّ الْمُتَّقِينَ فِي جَنَّاتٍ وَعُيُونٍ آخِذِينَ مَا آتَاهُمْ رَبُّهُمْ إِنَّهُمْ كَانُوا قَبْلَ ذَلِكَ مُحْسِنِينَ كَانُوا قَلِيلًا مِّنَ اللَّيْلِ مَا يَهْجَعُونَ وَبِالْأَسْحَارِ هُمْ يَسْتَغْفِرُونَ وَفِي أَمْوَالِهِمْ حَقٌّ لِّلسَّائِلِ وَالْمَحْرُومِ
The righteous shall dwell amidst gardens and fountains. They shall be receiving what their Lord has decreed for them. For they have previously been virtuous. They would sleep but little in the night-time and would pray at dawn for God’s pardon. The beggars and the deprived had a share in their wealth. (Q. 51: 15-19)
Explanation of Words and Ta’wīl of Sentences and Phrases: Q.51: 15-19)
al-muttaqīn, the righteous
This adjective gives a comprehensive meaning. It is a distinguishing quality. Detail can be found in our commentary on the initial verses of Sūrah al-Baqarah. In this context it implies, though subtly, the qualities opposite to that of the rejecters mentioned in the previous verses.
fī jannātin wa ‘uyūn, amidst gardens and fountains
This is expressive of success and pleasure. It also connotes permanence of the blessings.
It is the best expression of permanence of the blessings. Instead of saying that they have received what God has bestowed upon them, it says that they would be the receivers of divine blessings. This clearly indicates that what they would have already been blessed with shall remain with them forever. This meaning is obtained in this phrase by its placement next to the previous sentence indicating continuity of the blessings. The meaning of the whole would be as follows: they would live forever in the gardens and would continue enjoying the blessings of their Lord.
innahum kānū, indeed they were
This expression too depicts the state of the successful believers. This state, however, has an argumentative aspect. This further corroborates the conclusion that the rejecters were not characterized by these qualities as has been clearly stated in many verses of the holy Qur’ān. The form and placement of the sentence makes it similar to iltifāt (direct address). It, in ways, resembles the divine saying in the previous group of verses: “Taste your fitnah” i.e. what you cherished in the worldly life. Here again it assumes that the Day of Judgment has already come. That is why the deeds and acts of the believers in the worldly life are expressed in the past tense.
Muḥsinīn, best performers
The word, in this context, has been used in a general sense. This adjective is specially and pointedly noted in the context of the best performance of the ṣalāh and the zakāh for two reasons. First, these two worship rituals are the most important practices in the religion. They have been considered the distinguishing signs of the believers. That is why we see that, in this passage, a mention of them is followed by two relevant qualities of the believers. Less sleep relates to the ṣalāh and generosity alludes to the zakāh.
kānū qalīlan min al-layli mā yahja‘ūn, They sleep but little in the night-time
Al-hujū‘ is sleep. The implication is that they interest themselves in offering the ṣalāh and remembering God during night-time. Elsewhere it has been stated: “They forsake their beds to pray to their Lord in fear and hope and give in alms from what We gave them.” (Q. 32:14) At another occasion God says: “O Muzzammil, (the one wrapped up in your mantle), keep vigil all night save for a little portion of it.” (Q. 73:1)
This sentence explains their quality of being muḥsin. The grammatical structure of the sentence can be explained in various ways without affecting the meaning. All the possible structures give a single meaning, i.e. they sleep little. The following structures are possible. 1. Their sleep has been little (innahum kānū qalīlan hujū‘uhum). 2. The time they sleep during the night was short (mā yahja‘ūna fīhī min al-layl). 3. They slept little time of the night (kānū yahja‘ūna qalīlan min al-layl). Imām Rāzī opines that the sentence structure is as follows: kānū qalīlīna wa innahum lā yahja‘ūna min al-layl i.e. they were less in number and that they do not sleep during the night-time. This is indeed a very improbable sentence structure.
wa bi al-asḥār, at dawn
Saḥr is used for the time a little before the daylight. This is the most appropriate time for seeking forgiveness. Concerning the muttaqīn it has been said: “(They are) steadfast, virtuous, heedful to God, and charitable. They implore forgiveness at dawn.” (Q. 3:17)
In one of the sound ḥadīths the Prophet (sws) mentioned this fact in no unclear terms. I have explained this issue in my commentary on the referred to verses forming part of Sūrah Āl-‘Imrān. Imām Ḥasan drew a very subtle meaning from the use of the conjunction wāw in the phrase wa bi al-asḥār (and at dawn). He held that this wāw indicates that the believers join this quality (praying at dawn) with the previous one (praying in the night time). He said: “they wholly remained engaged in praying during the night and prolong it till the time of seeking forgiveness in the morning approaches.” I believe the text does not reflect it plainly. Yet, however, this point is not very farfetched one. God knows best.
The word al-maḥrūm has been placed after the word al-sā’il (seeker). This placement entails that it connotes those of the needy who do not ask others for help as word sā’il already covers them. Qatādah holds the same view. He is reported to have said that it is applied to such among the needy who do not ask for help. Al-Zuhrī said that it refers to the self-restrained. Perhaps both of these exegetes base their view on the following verse: “(Alms are) for the poor who are restricted in the cause of God – cannot move about in the land for work: the ignorant take them for men of wealth on account of their self-restraint. You can recognize them by their look—they do not beg from men importunately.” (Q. 2:273)
Coherence and Context: Q. 51: 15-19
This passage contrasts the rejecters with the believers. A discourse marked with brevity (‘ījāz), this passage beautifully points to unstated things by contrasting them with the stated facts. These verses state that the rejecters are fallen in the depths of heedlessness. We can learn that the believers, contrarily, are fully conscious and are certain that they will meet their Lord. The attribute muttaqīn (God-conscious) guides us to this inference for the essence of consciousness is taqwā (God-consciousness). This has been explained earlier. Similarly when these verses state that the God-conscious perform good deeds in their best form and that they offer the ṣalāh and pay the zakāh we learn that the rejecters are hard hearted, wretched and misers. That is why the holy Qur’ān quotes them saying: “They would say, ‘We were not to offer the ṣalāh. We would not feed the needy.’” (Q. 74:43-4)
Verses 8-9 form a parenthetical comment. These follow arguments for the last accountability. These verses start with a disapproval of the conduct of the unbelievers. This is further followed by a mention of the fate of those showing the opposite conduct, the believers. This way the verses combine encouragement for the believers with warning to the rejecters. Then (in the below mentioned verses) the topic of arguments for the Last Judgment has been taken up yet another time, for it is the central theme (‘umūd) of the discourse. That is why the following passage has been conjoined with the preceding one by the use of the conjunction wāw (and). This points out that the oaths in the initial verses are based on arguments and signs. Now ponder over the next verses:
Text and Translation Q. 51: 20-23
وَفِي الْأَرْضِ آيَاتٌ لِّلْمُوقِنِينَ وَفِي أَنفُسِكُمْ أَفَلَا تُبْصِرُونَ وَفِي السَّمَاء رِزْقُكُمْ وَمَا تُوعَدُونَ فَوَرَبِّ السَّمَاء وَالْأَرْضِ إِنَّهُ لَحَقٌّ مِّثْلَ مَا أَنَّكُمْ تَنطِقُونَ
On earth, and in your selves, there are signs for believers. Can you not see? Heavens holds your sustenance and all that you are promised. I swear by the Lord of heaven and earth, that this is true, as true as you speak! (Q. 51: 20-23)
Explanation of Words and Ta’wīl of Sentences and Phrases: Q. 51: 20-23
wa fī al-arḍ, On earth
This passage is joined with the meaning of the preceding oaths. It is as though it has been said, “verily in the alteration of the winds and the clouds there are signs which prove the Last Judgment. Similarly there are signs on earth and in your selves also proving the same reality.” The phrase ‘āyāt lil-mūqinīn (signs for the believers), in this place, serves to state that only the mūqinīn (believers) may benefit from the signs. This restriction of the benefit of the signs to the muttaqīn follows a very frequently used Qur’ānic style. Consider the following verses:
Guidance for the muttaqīn (the God-fearing). (Q. 2:2)
Surely in this there is a reminder for every man who has a heart, and who hears heedfully. (Q. 50:37)
An insight (baṣīrah) and a reminder to every heedful man. (Q. 50:8)
Surely in this there is a sign for him that dreads the torment of the hereafter. (Q. 11:103)
Signs for men of understanding. (Q. 45:5, Q. 13:4, Q. 16:12, Q. 30:24)
All these verses tell us that there are signs for those who intend to make use of and take guidance from them, just as the saying goes: “Day has dawned for those who have eyes.” These kinds of the verses give important lessons of two kinds.
First, all are not forced to take heed and benefit from the signs. These signs do not benefit everyone. We know that the rejecters could not benefit from them. These signs benefit only those who pay heed. One thing, however, is clear. These signs and arguments are clear and evident. It is only the people who fail to benefit from them.
Second, these verses explain the conditions that are to be fulfilled for taking benefit from these signs and arguments. The indicators and the conditions they allude to require analysis and deliberation. I intend to discuss some of these conditions here.
That only the mūqinīn may take benefit from these signs entails that signs help only those who make them a point of ponder and infer guidance from them. We discern this from the fact that the argumentation from these signs is based on one’s tendency to rely on and believe in what they lead to for argumentation and inference is based on two things:
a. recognition of universally acknowledged facts upon which the argument rests, a priori data for example.
b. agreement to accept sound conclusions.
This is important because the rejecters of a fact can be of two kinds: a) those adopting sophistry and rejecting even the first principles, not to say of other forms of valid arguments and b) the blind followers and wrongdoers.
The second category of the rejecters, at times, do not actually reject the first principles, but reject the sound conclusions immediately resulting from the first principles because of their conceitedness. We see that the holy Qur’ān frequently exposes this kind of contradiction in their view. It refers to this very wrong from them in frequent comments like the following ones: fa annā tu’fakūn (how then do you turn away?) and fa annā tusḥarūn (how then can you be so bewitched).
In short, the holy Qur’ān, in this context, has referred to the first condition for one can obtain sound knowledge through arguments. I believe those who lack this quality may not be considered humans. They belong to animals lacking rationality. They do not merit being addressed in this connection. Then in the next verses the holy Qur’ān has indicated to the essence of yaqīn (belief) as you shall soon learn.
The Almighty has not mentioned the direct object of the implied verb in the adjective mūqinīn. It has not stated what the referred to people believe in what they have firm faith in. This, I believe, is because the Qur’ān intends to keep it general so that all such things can be understood as that which ought to be believed in. The most fundamental realities among these include tawḥid (unicity of God), risālah (prophethood) and the Last Judgment.
Yaqīn, in this place, is not belief in obvious imperial phenomena. This kind of yaqīn is found in all the humans including the rejecters (kāfir) and even the animals. Yaqīn here refers to the belief obtained through careful deliberation over the signs of God in the world and then inferring certain realities. Only this kind of yaqīn proves that one has a sound mind and intellect. This fact has been explained in detail in our commentary on verse three of Sūrah al-Baqarah.
The word mūqinīn too is used in this passage in its general sense, as mentioned above. The context, however, guides us to know that it implies belief in the Afterlife. Besides, at other places, the Qur’ān makes this fact explicit, such as in the verse: wa bi al-ākhirati hum yūqinūn (of the Judgment are they certain.)
aflā tubṣirūn, Can you not see?
This interrogative is expressive of wonder as well as repulsion. The signs of God found in oneself are the more manifest and clearest ones of all. The one who fails to notice these is in fact blind.
wa fī al-arḍ […..] wa mā tū‘adūn (verses 20-22)
This passage covers an uncountable number of signs of tawḥīd, God’s providence, and wisdom. A Qur’ānic parallel follows: “Many of the signs in the heavens and the earth they pass by while not heeding them.” (Q. 12:105) The holy Qur’ān contains a lot of brief as well as detailed verses on this issue. I do not feel a need to repeat them all. Some of them, however, will be discussed later in this sūrah. The context of the verse indicates that the word āyāt implies only those of the signs which lead to the Afterlife. In fact all the signs of God’s providence, power, wisdom, and mercy lead to the Afterlife. This I have explained elsewhere in the book.
This passage follows a particular style of terseness. Sometimes a speaker confines the discussion to the mention of only one aspect of a thing. He considers it sufficient and leaves it for the listeners to deduce the complements. Thus the mention of the earth as sign of God suffices. Its opposite, the heavens, has been omitted. Similar the Almighty has mentioned the sustenance from the heavens and left out the part played by the earth. What has been promised concerning the heavens too has been considered sufficient and the part played by the earth again has been omitted. There are, however, many verses in which it has been explicitly mentioned that the heavens too contain the signs. That the earth too contains sources of sustenance and what is promised has also been made explicit in many other verses. As for the part played by the earth with regards to the promise of the Last Judgment, we can refer to the following verse: “It (the Last Day) is a heavy thing, in the heavens and on earth.” (Q. 7:187) The implication is that they (the heavens and the earth) are heavy with the signs of the Last Day which they carry. These are waiting for the command of their Lord to bear those signs.
Fa wa rabbi al-samā’i wa al-arḍ, I swear by the Lord of heaven and earth
This oath contains a clear argument for the Last Judgment for the signs found in the heavens and the earth mentioned earlier clearly lead to the afterlife. Then the Lord of the heavens and the earth has been referred to as witness to the fact that the Last Judgment is sure to come. If this oath would not be based on the signs recounted earlier, the oath would not have been conjugated with the previous verses by the particle fa (and/therefore) which connotes necessary immediate consequence. The preposition fa joins this sentence with the previous one very strongly and expressly. The word rabb (lord) also indicates to the implied argumentation. Every sign in the heavens and the earth, and also in humans themselves, is a sign of the providence of God. All the arguments for the Last Judgment are based on this fact alone. This issue will be further explained in the next section.
innahū laḥaqqun, that this is true
The muqsam ‘alayhi (complement of the oath) repeats the assertion made in the oaths in beginning of the sūrah. In those verses it has been said, “that which you are being promised is true; and verily Judgment must indeed come to pass.” (Q. 51:5-6). The phrase mā tū‘adūna has again been repeated in the previous verse. That is why in this place the pronoun sufficed to indicate to it. This can, therefore, be paraphrased as follows: By the Lord of the Heavens and the earth you will surely be resurrected and judged. There is no doubt in that.
mithla mā antum tanṭiqūn, as true as you speak
The word mithla has been put in the accusative (naṣab) form. It is an expression of circumstance or state of the pronoun “hū, (it)” in innahū (it is). There is no verb in the sentence to govern this adverb. The function of the absent verb is substituted by the word laḥaqqun (it is true). The grammarians call such a replacement shibh al-fi‘l, that takes the stead of a verb. An example is the sentence: “zayd ḥasunun ḍāḥikan (Zayd looks good while smiling).” In this sentence the noun ḥasanun (good/beautiful) works as a verb. This verbal sense becomes apparent in English. The sentence thus can be paraphrased as follows. What you are being promised, including resurrection, returning to God and reward and punishment, is true. There is no doubt in it. It is as true as you find yourselves speaking.
The earlier authorities do not differ over the interpretation of the verse. They, however, differ over the original (not apparent) declensions of the word mithla. Some commentators hold that its original case is nominative (raf‘). They hold that it has only been put in accusative form (naṣab) only because it has, in this place, been attributed to something which is indeclinable (ghayr mutamakkin). This follows the use of the phrase yawma’idhin (that day). A group of the reciters of the Qur’ān including Ḥamzah, Kisā’ī and Abū Bakr have read the word as mithlu with the final ḍammah making it marfū‘ (in the nominative case). All these grammatical structures give the same meaning. The best explanation of the use of this similitude (likeness of promise with the phenomenon of human speech), in this occasion, is that it implies certain arguments. This issue will be discussed in the ninth section.
Nature of Evidence for Accountability in Q. 51: 20-23
These four signs cover all the evidences for accountability found in the heavens, the earth and in humans themselves. We know that God has created wonders in humans as well as in the earth and the heavens and what lies between these two. He has created things which reveal His power to create. Everything corresponds to the needs and requirements of others. One thing supports the function of the other. Thus in every such wonder and creature of God there are signs which contain clear arguments for tawḥīd and God’s providence. A little deliberation on the order of the universe shows that the creator of this universe is dominant, powerful, knowing, wise, just and merciful. Further deliberation shows that a creator possessing these attributes must hold humans accountable for their actions in life. All these attributes demand that He holds final judgment. The signs in the universe and in humans lead to the fact that there is one God (tawḥīd). Then unicity of God leads to the necessity of retribution and accountability. The holy Qur’ān has put this order of the arguments elsewhere in clear terms. I have discussed some of such arguments in my work Ḥujaj al-Qur’ān (Arguments in the Qur’ān). In this passage, God Almighty started by a reference to the signs of God’s providence in general terms. Then He has referred specifically to the signs which call for retribution. He has indicated to this line of argument in the verse: “And in the heavens is your sustenance and also that which you are promised.” (Q. 51:22). It argues that the Lord who provides sustenance from the heavens and the earth has not created humans without purpose. He will not leave them unaccountable. Elsewhere it has been put plainly in the following words: “Do you think that We created you in jest, and that you would not be brought back to Us (for account)?” (Q. 23:115)
This theme has been put clearly in the next verse. God says: “By the Lord of heaven and earth, this is true, as true as the fact that you speak!” (Q. 51:23). The verse bases retribution and accountability on the fact that God is the Lord of the heavens and the earth. This includes all the signs found in the heavens and earth and human beings themselves which lead to accountability. This fact has been explicitly mentioned in the holy Qur’ān at another occasion, for one part of the Qur’ān explains other parts. God says: “Soon will We show them our signs in the (furthest) regions (of the earth), and in their own persons, until it becomes manifest to them that this is the truth.” (Q. 41:53) The implication is that it the last judgment is true. This implication becomes clear when we study the last part of the same verse. God says: “Is it not enough that your Lord does witness all things?” (Q. 41:53) That He is the Lord and that He observes everything sufficiently proves that He will hold a final judgment. This has further been explained in the verse immediately following the above mentioned one. God says: “Beware! Are they in doubt concerning the meeting with their Lord? Beware! It is He that does encompass all things!” (Q. 41:54). Omniscience, power, dominion, rule, wisdom and mercy of God, all entail final judgment.
The above is an analysis of the argumentation contained in the group of verses under discussion. These arguments have been detailed and explained in other parts of the Qur’ān. I do not afford detailing them all in this place. I will confine the discussion to the part of this argumentation that is necessary to detail here.
The Speech Faculty as Evidence for the Last Judgment
It is clear that when the phrase “mithla mā annakum tanṭiqūn (as true as the fact that you are speaking now)” is joined with what precedes it, it means that the Last Judgment, which includes resurrection and retribution, is a reality. It is sure to come. It is as sure as the reality in which you find yourselves speaking. Do not then doubt it. This much obviously follows from the wording of the statement. However, comparison of the possibility of the last judgment with the possibility of the human speech is a kind of similitude. It contains some points of wisdom calling for deliberation. God has chosen to refer to the speech phenomenon in order to make us consider something important. He could have said, “as true as you see, or hear, or eat or drink”. But he has not. When we ponder over the question why speech has been specifically mentioned we understand two great realities:
Speech phenomenon is the most certain observation. We are sure of this experience more than any other human activity.
It must involve something that can be presented as proof for the final judgment. This you shall learn soon. You will see that both these issues contain substantial wisdom which polish reason and cure the hearts.
I begin by explaining the first point. I base my view that speech is the most certain of phenomena on three facts.
The speech faculty is the most direct experience of human beings. We know that human beings come into contact and experience other things through the thinking process which is a mental speech. The thinking process lies immediately connected to the self. There is no other connector between the self and the mind. Thinking indeed is the original and pure form of speech. This is why the human self is called the speaking self. As for the external manifestation of speech, the auditory speech, that is only a manifestation and material form of the original speech activity. Thus experience and knowledge of the speech faculty is the most obvious and immediate human knowledge. It is the most self-evident and fundamental truth.
The speech faculty is the most deep-rooted and well ingrained in the human self. It is an essential part of the human nature. That is why they define a human being as speaking animal. The Arabs themselves acknowledge this fact. Al-Muraqqish al-Akbar says:
hal bi al-diyāri ’an tujība ṣamam
law kāna ḥayyun/rasmun nāṭiqan kallam
Is there only deafness in the settlement (which cannot) respond? Had there been someone alive and with power of speech he would have spoken.
All the states and external manifestations of the human self provide various kinds of corroboratory evidences proving certain facts. Speech, however, is the only faculty which combines in itself most of such diverse signs and arguments.
Some facts are self-evident. They are natural truths. Yet sometimes we offer corroboratory evidences for them. Such corroboratory evidences are independent from and above the self-evident nature of the given facts. They are usually helpful in convincing us and adding to strength to our belief in these facts.
If you consider the speech phenomenon with this perspective you will learn that it contains and involves more evidences to the given facts than any other human faculty. A human being, endowed with speech faculty, first engages in thinking and reasoning. This thinking and reasoning is the original inner speech activity. By this he experiences himself. He learns that he exists. Then the reasoning man expresses his thought by his tongue. He speaks of only that which he thinks. The voice he utters returns to him. What he expresses he hears. This increases his belief in his existence. Then these evidences based on human speech continue increasing. Every word, rather, every alphabet one utters evidences these mutual corroboratory facts. Nothing is clearer a sign leading to the existence of the speaking self, or the human being. This is why the Almighty has referred to mere human speech in this place. He has not used the word mithla nuṭuqikum (like your speech). He has referred to human activity and the experience of speech. He used the words mithla mā annakum tanṭiqūn (the way you speak). The above discussion shows that our knowledge of and belief in anything we know in is a branch (far‘) of our reliance on and use of our speech: the origin of all beliefs and argumentations.
Now we discuss the second point, that this similitude implies certain evidences leading to the Last Judgment. There is no denying the fact that, at times, similitude is based on mere claims. This aspect of the figure of speech is frequently employed by poets. However, at times, the similitude implies a sort of argument as is the case with the present example. We know based on the original form of speech of reasoning and thinking, that there is a common bond between a thing and what is presented as an example to it. It is based on this shared quality that the similitude is possible. This is similar to the practice of analogy. Take the example of wine. You say that an intoxicant like khamar is ḥarām. By this you indicate towards the reason which makes something ḥarām. This shared quality is referred to as manāṭ al-ḥukm (the cause of the directive). Then if the manāt al-ḥukm (the effective cause) is more evident in the new case then the directive applies to it (far‘) all the more. Such an application is called qiyās awlā (superior qiyās).
Keeping the above in perspective we state that the comparison of human speech with the last judgment is not a mere similitude. It contains an argument for the necessary final judgment. When you ponder over the coherence in the discourse it would become clear to you that the phenomenon of human speech in many aspects resembles and corresponds to the issue of the last divine judgment. Now I proceed to explain these important similarities between the two.
1. The oath itself leads to the first common connector of the speech and the last judgment. This oath, like many others, is an argumentative oath. I have explained this issue in my book Im‘ān fī Aqsām al-Qur’ān (A Study of Qur’ānic Oaths). Here the evidence adduced is the providence of the Lord of the heavens and the earth. We have explained in the preceding paragraphs that the heavens and the earth are full of signs of providence of God leading to the necessity of the last judgment. This oath adduces as evidence the heavens and the earth and the signs contained in both of these. All these, the heavens and the earth and the signs they contain, evidence that the people are being provided by God. Among these signs, speech is the most clear and manifest one. God Himself has referred to it in the following verse: “They will say: “(Allah) has given us speech,- (He) who gives speech to everything.”” (Q. 41:21) At another occasion it has been stated: “there is not a thing but celebrates His praise.” (Q. 17:44). It is as though it has been said, “just as you have speech so do these things speak, thus return to the Lord is an indubitable fact.”
2. God has endowed human beings not only with the power to speak but to repeat what they speak. By repeated efforts man can improve his expression. He speaks better the next time. This way he can master perfection in speech. It is the greatest of God’s blessings upon man. It has been said in the holy Qur’ān: “He created man. He taught him how to speak.” (Q. 55:3-4) If man ponders over his power to speak and repeats his statements he learns that it is not possible for him to deny that God has power to create things after their destruction. This is just as humans can speak something and then speak it again or continue to speak. It is even easier for God to recreate things because He has created everything by His word (kalimah). He does not need to use any raw material for the making of things. He says: “For to anything which We have willed, We but say the word, ‘Be’, and it is.” (Q. 16:40).
The entire creation of God is but a word from Him. He has created the heavens and earth by His word. He can repeat this creation process through the word at will. Even more so, it is easier for Him to recreate. He says: “It is He Who begins creation; then repeats it; and for Him it is the easiest. (Q. 30:27) If this is correct that He creates everything and then continues creating it, then, it follows that, He will not find it difficult to recreate humans after their death. God has said: “Is not He who created the heavens and the earth able to create the like thereof?” (Q. 36:81) “To create the like thereof” implies that He is able to recreate them after giving them death. For, the discussion here revolves in the context of proving the afterlife. Thus the mere fact that He is the creator of the heavens and the earth is sufficient proof that He can recreate. This fact has been clearly put in other verses dealing with the proofs for the afterlife. Those verses base their argument merely on the fact that God has the perfect power to create and that He knows all. This has been indicated in the verses which follow the above mentioned one (Q. 30:27). God says: “Yes, indeed! for He is the Creator Supreme, of skill and knowledge! Verily, when He intends a thing, His Command is, “be”, and it is! So glory to Him in whose hands is the dominion of all things: and to Him will you be all brought back.” (Q. 36:81-3). Similarly, He has stated, “Verily, all things have We created in proportion and measure. And our command is but single,—like the twinkling of an eye. (Q. 54:49-50)
To sum up, the implication is that in the fact that you speak, there is evidence that the Lord has great power to resurrect you. He has more power over the recreation than that you have on repeating your speech experience. It is easier for Him to recreate than for you to speak from another angle also. When you speak you make use of some material means which God has created for the purpose. At times you do not have access to such means, and then you fail to speak. At times you forget what you say previously and are no more able to reproduce what you spoke of, completely or partially. As for God, His power to resurrect is absolute. He is as powerful to recreate as He is to create. What we have stated above has been mentioned in clear words in various places in the holy Qur’ān. Consider the following verse:
Does man think that We cannot assemble his bones? Nay, We are able to put together in perfect order the very tips of his fingers. (Q. 75:3-4)
And you certainly know already the first form of creation: why then do you not celebrate His praises? (Q. 56:62)
And He makes comparisons for Us, and forgets his own creation: He says, “Who can give life to dry bones and decomposed ones at that?” Say, “He will give them life who created them for the first time! for He is Well-versed in every kind of creation! (Q. 36:78-9)
There are numerous other verses on this theme. This kind of argumentation for the afterlife argues with only those who negate the afterlife declaring it an impossible work. Response to their objection is thus obtained in rejection of the view that it is impossible for God to resurrect them.
3. Speech returns to the speaker. Only the deaf cannot perceive it. Moreover, a deaf person is often speechless. He cannot speak. Similarly the creations of God shall return to Him. Just as the voice of a speaker’s utterances return to him the creation must return to its creator for it is He who controls it perfectly. All the creatures exist because of His will. It does not escape His rule, His power and His knowledge. The following verses refer to this reality: “Is not He who created the heavens and the earth able to create the like thereof? Yes, indeed! for He is the Supreme Creator, of skill and knowledge! Verily, when He intends a thing, His Command is, “be”, and it is! So glory to Him in whose hands is the dominion of all things: and to Him will you be all brought back.” (Q. 36:81-3). How is it possible that God creates all of creation and then they do not return to Him? Does God speak but not hear? Does He create and yet lack the ability to observe His creation? Does he create things ex nihilo and then loses control over them? Does He plan all the creation and then loses rule over these? Certainly not.
This argumentation confutes the view that it is not possible for God to resurrect things once they are destroyed completely. This view has been quoted in the following verse: “What! When we die and become dust, (shall we live again?) That is a sort of return far from our understanding.” We already know how much of them the earth takes away: With Us is a guarding record.” (Q. 50:3-4) The same theme has been expressed in the following verses: They say: “What! when we die and become dust and bones, could we really be raised up again? Such things have been promised to us and to our fathers before! They are nothing but tales of the ancients!” Say: “To whom belong the earth and all beings therein if you know?” They will say: “To Allah.” Say: “Yet will you not receive admonition?” Say: “Who is the Lord of the seven heavens, and the Lord of the Supreme throne?” They will say: “(They belong) to Allah.” Say: “Will you not then fear?” Say: “Who is it in whose hands is the governance of all things,- who protects (all), but is not protected (of any)? (Say) if you know.” They will say: “(It belongs) to Allah.” Say: “Then how are you deluded?” (Q. 23:82-9)
Notice how emphatically these verses point that all the creation is in His grip and rule. All belongs to Him. All lie in His dominion. He is the shelter. Nothing can shelter Him. He guards everything.
This kind of argument proving the power of God and His ability to resurrect is frequently found in the holy Qur’ān. I do not need to present all the verses in this regard. I consider the above specimen sufficient a model of this form of arguments.
4. The fourth aspect of argumentation from the human speech for the afterlife is based on the similarity between God’s attributes of providence and justice and the human faculty of speech. We know that the holy Qur’ān forwards the arguments based on God’s providence in many ways. A full understanding of these arguments requires that one keeps in mind that God’s providence and justice are necessary complements of each other. The concept of providence cannot be imagined without perfect justice. The holy Qur’ān, therefore, clearly and unequivocally declares that the heavens and the earth rest upon divine justice. It says: “If the truth had been in accord with their desires, truly the heavens and the earth, and all beings therein would have been in corruption.” (Q. 23:71)
In this passage, signs of the heavens and the earth have been mentioned first. This is followed by evidence from God’s providence proving the afterlife. The conclusion uses the example of human speech to stress certainty of the afterlife. The entire structure of arguments can be put plainly as follows:
All of your planned acts start from thinking. This is mental speech. Your faculty of speech distinguishes you from the rest of the animals who lack this faculty. This is your distinctive attribute and quality. Similarly God too has held distinctive qualities. He is characterized by the attribute of justice and mercy. In this universe, you observe various wonderful phenomena. All of these indicate that this universe has been created by someone possessed of profound wisdom. This in turn proves that the universe has been created for a specific purpose and that it will surely meet an end involving mercy and wisdom. It follows from this that you have not been created without purpose. It is, therefore, necessary that everybody is held accountable for his conduct in this worldly life and is rewarded or punished according to his deeds. God must differentiate between the good and the evil, the virtuous and the pious.
This conclusion has been clearly affirmed in various places in the holy Qur’ān. Consider a few such verses:
Shall we then treat the believers like the criminals? What is the matter with you? How do you judge? (Q. 67:35-6)
It is He who begins the process of creation. He shall repeat it so that He may reward with justice those who believe and work righteousness. (Q. 10:4)
We did not create heaven and earth and all between without purpose! That was the thought of those who do not believe in the afterlife. But woe to the rejecters because of the fire! Shall we treat those who believe and work deeds of righteousness, the same as those who do mischief on earth? Shall we treat those who fear God, the same as the disobedient? (Q. 30:27-8)
Such reminders are frequently sounded in the holy Qur’ān. The basic argument behind all of them is that the divine mercy, justice, and wisdom demand the final judgment. In other words it says that you speak out of specific purposes and ends. God has similarly created the heavens and the earth and humans themselves for a specific purpose. They will be led to fulfill this purpose. This latter fact is rather sounder and well established and more obvious than the former, for the Lord is perfectly wise and just. When humans perform acts and speak to meet specific purposes, the one who is more just and wise must have also created the universe for a defined purpose.
This interpretation is better, sounder and truer to the text. Still however I do not claim that I have covered all the meanings and significations of the text. Meanings and significations of the divine speech may only exhaustively covered by God himself.
Coherence and Context Q. 51: 20-23
The above discussion sufficiently explains that this comprehensive paragraph contains beauty of order and arrangement. It connects the themes in best logical way. The divine statement starting from the words, “wa fī al-arḍ ’āyāt (and on the earth are signs)” to “wa mā tū‘adūn (what you are promised)” mention earth first, then nafs (human self) and finally the heavens. Nafs has been placed in the middle. It works as an intermediary between the earth and the heavens. It is related to the two in diverse aspects. Then God has indicated the kind of signs these three contain. Then the discourse develops on to present the most comprehensive and basic argument, argument from God’s providence. God says: “fa wa rabbi al-samāwāti wa al-arḍi innahū laḥaqqun (by the Lord of the heavens and the earth it is true).”
The part of the next verse, mithla mā annakum tanṭiqūn, emphasizes the same argument. It is a similitude comparing the speech faculty of the human self, which itself is a miniature universe. It reflects what is contained in the heavens and the earth. This in a way refers to the statement wa fī anfusikum afalā tubṣirūn (and in your nafs also. Do not you see?), mentioned earlier. The example of the human speech is in fact the foundation of all beliefs and arguments. This example in a way invites the readers to ponder over the words ’āyātun lilmūqinīn (signs for the believers) in the preceding verse.
The above is the internal coherence in the group of verses. As for the relation of this passage with the previous and the coming ones, as I have stated earlier, the statement starting from wa fī al-arḍi āyatun lilmūqinīn (in the earth are signs for the believers) to mithla mā annakum tanṭiqūn are conjugated with and revisit the theme taken in the start of the sūrah. This passage takes up again the arguments for the inevitability of the afterlife. Thus, from the beginning of the sūrah to the last part of this passage, argumentation for the afterlife based on the cosmic phenomena is the theme. God has presented as proofs the winds, clouds, earth, heavens, and the human self (nafs). The verses following this passage adduce historical evidence to prove the same fact. This kind of development of arguments starting from natural phenomena leading to historical evidence is found in Sūrah al-Shams as we have explained in our commentary on that sūrah. You will find frequent examples in the holy Qur’ān where the arguments start from natural phenomena and then culminate in historical proofs for a claim. Following this style, here too, the Almighty has discussed famous punishment stories which represent divine judgment that has already passed in this very world and which serve as a reminder for the addressees and a warning for them. This issues a warning and presents the clearest evidence of the fact that God holds judgment and that He will definitely hold a final one as has been said in Sūrah Hūd:
Such is the retribution of your Lord when He chastises communities in the midst of their wrong. Indeed grievous and severe is His punishment. In that is a sign for those who fear the penalty of the Last Day. (Q. 11:102-3)
There is another beauty of discourse in the selection of the punishment stories in this context. God has, in the evidentiary oaths of the inaugural verses, referred to the winds and clouds. Now such punishment stories have been presented as employed winds and clouds working on divine bidding. This has, in addition to creating coherence, lent strength to the evidentiary oaths which have become clearer and more emphatic after this recourse to the punishment stories involving winds and clouds. Now study the next group of verses:
Text and Translation Q. 51:24-37
هَلْ أَتَاكَ حَدِيثُ ضَيْفِ إِبْرَاهِيمَ الْمُكْرَمِينَ إِذْ دَخَلُوا عَلَيْهِ فَقَالُوا سَلَامًا قَالَ سَلَامٌ قَوْمٌ مُّنكَرُونَ فَرَاغَ إِلَى أَهْلِهِ فَجَاء بِعِجْلٍ سَمِينٍ فَقَرَّبَهُ إِلَيْهِمْ قَالَ أَلَا تَْاكُلُونَ فَأَوْجَسَ مِنْهُمْ خِيفَةً قَالُوا لَا تَخَفْ وَبَشَّرُوهُ بِغُلَامٍ عَلِيمٍ فَأَقْبَلَتِ امْرَأَتُهُ فِي صَرَّةٍ فَصَكَّتْ وَجْهَهَا وَقَالَتْ عَجُوزٌ عَقِيمٌ قَالُوا كَذَلِكَ قَالَ رَبُّكِ إِنَّهُ هُوَ الْحَكِيمُ الْعَلِيمُ قَالَ فَمَا خَطْبُكُمْ أَيُّهَا الْمُرْسَلُونَ قَالُوا إِنَّا أُرْسِلْنَا إِلَى قَوْمٍ مُّجْرِمِينَ لِنُرْسِلَ عَلَيْهِمْ حِجَارَةً مِّن طِينٍ مُسَوَّمَةً عِندَ رَبِّكَ لِلْمُسْرِفِينَ فَأَخْرَجْنَا مَن كَانَ فِيهَا مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ فَمَا وَجَدْنَا فِيهَا غَيْرَ بَيْتٍ مِّنَ الْمُسْلِمِينَ وَتَرَكْنَا فِيهَا آيَةً لِّلَّذِينَ يَخَافُونَ الْعَذَابَ الْأَلِيمَ
Have you heard the story of the honoured guests of Abraham (sws)? When they entered upon him and said: “Peace!” He responded, “Peace!” “Strangers” (he thought). Then he turned to his household, brought out a fatted calf, and placed it before them. He said, “Will you not eat?” He conceived a fear of them. They said, “Fear not.” They gave him glad tidings of a knowledgeable son. But his wife came forward utterly surprised. She smote her forehead and said: “(Will) a barren old woman (bear one)!” They said, “That is what your Lord has said. He is full of wisdom and knowledge.” He (Abraham) said: “And what, O Messengers, is your errand then?” They said, “We have been sent to a sinful people to bring them a shower of stones of clay which are marked by your Lord for those who trespass beyond bounds.” Then We evacuated those of the believers who were there, but We found not there any persons submitting to the truth except in one house. We left there a sign for such as fear the grievous penalty. (Q. 51: 24-37)
Explanation of Words and Ta’wīl of Sentences and Phrases (Q. 51:24-37)
This story has been recounted earlier in Sūrah Hūd. We shall, however, explain some important points in the story which are exclusively relevant here.
The word al-mukramīn qualifying the guests, in this context, leads us to that a host is obliged to honor his guests. He should welcome them gladly. It also tells us that Abraham (sws) was a kind and generous person.
qawmun munkarūn, stranger people
Abraham (sws) noticed that the guests were apparently noble and virtuous people. Noble and virtuous people were rare to see at that time. Those characterized by these qualities were already among the companions and followers of Abraham (sws). Thus finding some other people of the sort astonished him.
farāgha ilā ahlihī, turned to his household
This tells us that Abraham (sws) was a very generous host. He was very social person. A truly generous person arranges for the entertainment of the guests secretly. He does not make a show of such actions so that the guests do not feel that they have troubled the host. This corresponds with the ideal of avoiding hinting towards one’s favors to others and the virtue of benefiting others secretly.
alā ta’kulūn, Will you not eat?
When Abraham (sws) placed the feast before the guests they did not taste it. Abraham (sws) called them to help themselves in a very kind and friendly manner.
fa awjasa minhum khīfah, He conceived a fear of them.
The verb awjasa connotes a feeling, especially of fear, in the heart. Khīfah denotes a mild fear. Abraham (sws) feared the guests a little because they firmly refused to eat. Thus they inspired awe in his heart. It alarmed Abraham (sws) even more. Sūrah Hūd depicts this in the following words:
But when he saw their hands went not towards the meal, he felt them strange, and conceived a fear of them. (Q. 11:70)
Bashsharūhu, they gave him glad tidings of
They gave the glad tidings loudly enough. Sarah could hear it. She was just near as has been clearly put in Sūrah Hūd.
And his wife was standing nearby, and she laughed: then we gave her glad tidings of Isaac. (Q. 11:71)
Since the angels did not communicate the glad tidings to Sarah it has not been ascribed to the angels. They did not talk to her directly. It concerned her however.
This attribute of the promised son indicates that the glad tiding would be fulfilled only if the son was of worthy qualities. Attribute of knowledge alone has been mentioned because it is the source of all positive attributes and praiseworthy qualities.
fa’aqbalat, she came forward
Having heard the glad tiding Sarah paid attention to the discussion between the angels and her husband. She came forward to express her surprise as has been made clear in the next part of the discussion.
fī ṣarratin, surprised
It implies surprise and lack of belief. The Arabs say: ṣarrat al-faras udhunayhi to mean that the horse raised his ears. This happens when one hears something unbelievable.
faṣakkat wajhahā, She smote her forehead
She struck her forehead. Women usually express their surprise and their lack of belief in what they hear of unimaginable things. Sūrah Hūd puts her feelings in words as follows:
She said: ‘Alas for me! Shall I bear a child, while I am an old woman, and my husband here is an old man? That would indeed be a strange thing!” (Q. 11:72)
ḥijāratan min ṭīn, stones of clay
Elsewhere such stones are termed sijjīl. It is arabicisation of the Persian compound sang-i gil which means stones of clay. Sūrah Hūd uses the latter term in this very story:
And we rained down on them pebbles of baked clay (ḥijāratan min sijjīl). (Q. 11:82)
Here the holy Qur’ān has clarified the meaning of the word sijjīl occurring in Sūrah Hūd. It is a marked feature of the Qur’ān that parts of it explain their parallels.
Grammatically the word musawwamah in this construction can be taken to function as an adjective qualifying the word ḥijārah. It can also be taken to function as an adverb (ḥāl) of state. As for the meaning of the word, I quote the grammarian Akhfash: “It means marked. The stones marked thus are the ones dispatched. They say: sawwama fīhā al-khayl, he dispatched/sent the horses forth.”
Abū Zayd says: “al-khayl al-musawwamah, the horses sent forth/dispatched while carrying their riders. This expression is developed from a common expression: sawwamtu fulānan: I let him free. They say sawwamahū i.e. he let him do what he likes.”
If the word musawwamah is taken to mean that the stones are marked, that would entail that the stones would be marked for their victims as if God had written the names of the victims on the stones striking them. They do not strike except for those whose names are written on them. If the word musawwmah gives the meaning takhliyah, the dispatched ones, then it would mean that these stones are ready to strike the rebels. The version of the story in Sūrah Hūd corroborates this meaning of the word. There it has been said:
Layer on layer of the stones of clay, ready as from your Lord. Nor are they ever far from those who do wrong. (Q. 11:82:83)
There is no fundamental difference between both of these interpretations.
Lilmusrifīn, trespassers beyond bounds
Isrāf means trespassing beyond limits. This word connotes all types of sins. The holy Qur’ān frequently employs this word for sins.
O My servants who have transgressed (asrafū) against their souls, don’t be despair of Allah’s mercy, for Allah forgives all sins. (Q. 39:53)
General terms of this type are usually explained through textual indicators and context. Here this word has been used for the sin that spoilt the people of Lot.
The part of the discourse starting from akhrajnā to alīm is not spoken by angels. It has been attributed directly to God. After having delivered the divine message to Abraham (sws), the angels went to Lot and brought Lot and his companions out of the town. They ensured that the Messenger and his party were saved from the imminent ruin. The word fīhā (in it), discussed below, supports this interpretation of the statement.
Fīhā, in it
Its antecedent is not put plainly. However, the context shows that it refers to the abode of the people of Lot. It refers to the area that was overturned in the impending punishment. The textual indicator proving my claim that these words are not uttered by angels but by Allah is that this verse is deeply and strongly connected with the verse wa fil arḍi ayātun lilmūqinīna. This verse gives a detailed account of the portents of the earth alluded to in the above mentioned verse. We have already explained that the history of these towns was known to the Arabs. These towns were situated on their trade routes. They frequently passed through these routes.
min al-muslimīna, from among submitters
Lot’s family was the only believing household in the town. The believers among his family members were rescued and saved by God Almighty. Lot’s wife sided with the rejecters even though she was a member of the family of the Prophet. This is why the holy Qur’ān uses the phrase min al-muslimīn for the household of Lot instead of mu’minīn. Those hypocritically attached to the believers can be called Muslims.
Coherence and Context (Q. 51: 24-37)
The previous passage tells us that there are signs for the believers in the earth. The earth contains many portents of Allah’s blessing and providence. He provides for His servants from the earth. Similarly in it there are signs of His wrath and retribution for the rejecters. The earth is filled with the relics of punishments meted out to the rejecters of the divine message and the Prophets.
On the other hand, the above mentioned verses proclaim that the heavens contain sustenance for people as well as damnation. This is this damnation which is being discussed in this passage. Thus in this combined story of Abraham (sws) and Lot, both glad tidings and admonition have been put together. The same angels who bring glad tidings for Abraham (sws) bring damnation for the nation of Lot. If we study the story while keeping this in mind we learn that it provides proofs for the claims made in the verses wa fi al-arḍ āyāt and wa fī al-samā’ rizkuqum wamā tū‘adūn. The Almighty has connected this passage with the pervious lesson more explicitly by following it with the verse wa taraknā fīhā a’āyatan lilladhīna yakhāfūna al-‘adhāb al-alīm. The word fīhā used later also indicates to the interconnection of the two passages. Besides, the story of Moses (sws) presented in the following verses have been connected through conjunction (wa) with the passage under discussion. The Holy Qur’ān says: wa fī mūsā …bisulṭānin mubīn (Q. 51:38). This also illustrates that the purpose is to proclaim that there are portents in this story, as well as in the story of Abraham (sws) and his guests, and in the wreckage of the people of Lot. Likewise, this story along with the proceeding ones, exemplifies the reality expressed in the beginning of this sūrah. This issue will be detailed later. The following verses tell another punishment and reward story similar to that of Lot and Abraham (sws):
Text and Translation Q. 51: 38:46
وَفِي مُوسَى إِذْ أَرْسَلْنَاهُ إِلَى فِرْعَوْنَ بِسُلْطَانٍ مُّبِينٍ فَتَوَلَّى بِرُكْنِهِ وَقَالَ سَاحِرٌ أَوْ مَجْنُونٌ فَأَخَذْنَاهُ وَجُنُودَهُ فَنَبَذْنَاهُمْ فِي الْيَمِّ وَهُوَ مُلِيمٌ وَفِي عَادٍ إِذْ أَرْسَلْنَا عَلَيْهِمُ الرِّيحَ الْعَقِيمَ مَا تَذَرُ مِن شَيْءٍ أَتَتْ عَلَيْهِ إِلَّا جَعَلَتْهُ كَالرَّمِيمِ وَفِي ثَمُودَ إِذْ قِيلَ لَهُمْ تَمَتَّعُوا حَتَّى حِينٍ فَعَتَوْا عَنْ أَمْرِ رَبِّهِمْ فَأَخَذَتْهُمُ الصَّاعِقَةُ وَهُمْ يَنظُرُونَ فَمَا اسْتَطَاعُوا مِن قِيَامٍ وَمَا كَانُوا مُنتَصِرِينَ وَقَوْمَ نُوحٍ مِّن قَبْلُ إِنَّهُمْ كَانُوا قَوْمًا فَاسِقِينَ
And in the story of Moses (sws) is a sign. We sent him to Pharaoh, with manifest authority. Pharaoh turned away conceitedly. He said, “this is a sorcerer or possessed one!” So We took him and his forces, and threw them into the sea; and his was the blame. And in the people of ‘Ᾱd, there is another sign. Behold, We sent against them the abortive wind (‘aqīm). It left nothing whatever that it came up against, but reduced it to ruin and rottenness. And in the story of Thamūd is a lesson. They were told, “Enjoy for a little while!” But they insolently defied the command of their Lord. So the stunning noise seized them, even before their eyes. Then they could not even stand on their feet, nor could they help themselves. So were the People of Noah (sws) before them for they wickedly transgressed. (Q. 51:38-46)
Explanation of Words and Ta’wīl of Sentences and Phrases (Q. 51:38-46)
fī mūsā, in (the story of) Moses
There are portents of God’s revenge and His help in the story of Abraham (sws). Likewise, there are signs of Allah’s blessings and punishment in the story of Moses (sws) and Pharaoh. It has been mentioned in Sūrah al-Shu‘arā’ in these words:
We delivered Moses (sws) and all his companions. But We drowned the others. Verily in this story there is a great lesson. (Q. 26: 66-68)
bisulṭānin mubīn, manifest proof.
The word sulṭān covers all the things provided to Moses (sws) by God including clear signs proving his prophethood. It also includes the domination and victory granted to Moses (sws). This is why the word sulṭān has been described as clear (mubīn). This meaning of this construction is corroborated by many other verses of the holy Qur’ān dealing with this issue. God says:
He said: “We will certainly strengthen your arm through your brother, and invest you both with sulṭānan, so they shall not be able to touch you. You two as well as those who follow you shall triumph with the help of Our signs. When Moses (sws) came to them with Our clear signs...” (Q. 28:35-6)
At another occasion it is said:
Proceed then, both of you, with Our signs. We are with you listening. So go forth, both of you, to Pharaoh, and tell him: “We have been sent by the Lord and Cherisher of the worlds.” (Q. 26:15-6)
After a few verses the Almighty says:
(Moses (sws)) said: “Even if I showed you something clear and convincing?” (Pharaoh) said: “Show it then, if you tell the truth!” (Q. 26:30-1)
fatawallā biruknihī, he turned away arrogantly
Pharaoh turned away arrogantly gesturing rejection. Rukn here means shoulder and the preposition ba serves to make the verb tawallā transitive (ta‘dīah) as has been stated at another place:
Yet when We bestow Our favours on man, he turns away (a‘raḍa) and turns his face arrogantly (na’ā bijānibihī). (Q. 17:83)
Arrogance of Pharaoh and his people has been described at another place in these words:
But when Our signs came to them that should have opened their eyes, they said: “This is sorcery manifest!” And they rejected those signs in iniquity and arrogance, though their souls were convinced thereof. (Q. 27:13-4)
’Ālam means to commit something that renders one condemnable. In this context it implies that that the arrogance Pharaoh showed was apparent. All those who heard this story later held Pharaoh responsible for his dreadful end.
al-rīḥ al-‘aqīm, unproductive winds
Winds that do not bring rain, hence useless. In Arabic, winds which cause rain are qualified with the adjective lawāqiḥ meaning valuable. Harmful wind is described as ‘aqīm meaning futile. It is dry. Cold winter winds are described in the following verse:
So We sent against them a furious wind in days of disaster. (Q. 41:16)
It will be discussed in detail later on.
Ka all-ramīm, ruined and rotten
The word ramīm refers to decayed pieces of a rope, wood, or bone. Cold and dry air destroys power, freshness, and life. Its coldness and dryness and its furious gales rend everything asunder. A similar statement says:
We sent against them a furious wind, on a day of violent disaster, plucking out men as if they were roots of palm-trees torn up from the ground. (Q. 54:19-20)
tamatta‘ū ḥattā ḥīn, Enjoy for a little while
When the miscreant Thamūd crippled the she-camel and cut its hamstrings, they were threatened by the Prophet Ṣāliḥ of impending doom. He told them that they did not have much time to live. They would meet the promised doom in exact three days. The Almighty says in Sūrah Hūd:
But they did ham-string her. So he said: “Enjoy yourselves in your homes for three days, this promise will not be belied!” (Q. 11:65)
fa ‘ataw ‘an amri rabbihim, and they insolently defied and ignored the command of their Lord
‘Ataw signifies showing disobedience and arrogance. When used with the preposition ‘an it gives the extended meaning of rejecting and ignoring something.
al-ṣā‘iqah, a chide or yell
It means chide or yell. The version of the same story in Sūrah Hūd employs the word al-ṣayḥah which again means censure. Wa akhadha al-ladhīna ẓalamū al-ṣayḥah (The mighty cry overtook the wrong-doers) (Q. 11:67). Some reciters read this word as al-ṣa‘aqah. They have in a way glossed the original. In that case this word would mean unconsciousness, as result of the cry/yell, as is clear from the following details of the story.
wa hum yanẓurūn, before their eyes.
It covers a number of implications. The first meaning is that the punishment came upon them openly. They were left gazing at it. They observed it openly. They could not doubt it. Elsewhere the same story includes the following verse:
Then the cry overtook them with what was destined to befall, and We left them as rubbish of dead leaves! (Q. 23:41)
The following verse too supports this meaning:
And We drowned Pharaoh’s people within your very sight. (Q. 2:50)
Numerous examples can be cited in support of this meaning of the expression.
Another possible meaning is that the punishment struck them suddenly. The people had no time to settle themselves. Elsewhere the holy Qur’ān says:
We sent against them a single mighty cry, and they became like the dry stubble used by one who pens cattle. (Q. 54:31)
A third possible meaning of the expression is that they were bewildered. They could not understand what to do. This meaning is supported by the remaining details of the story.
famastaṭā‘ū min qiyāmin, Then they could not even stand on their feet
When they heard the thunder from the heavens, they were stunned and fell down. Their state has been described in Sūrah al-A‘rāf in these words:
So the tremor took them unaware, and they lay prostrate in their homes in the morning! (Q. 7:78)
They stuck to the earth shivering and died in this very position.
muntaṣirīn, defending themselves
They could not defend themselves. Imr’ al-Qays has used this word in a verse to connote the same meaning.
fa anshaba aẓfārahū fī al-nisā
fa qultu hubilta alā tantaṣira
The dog dug his jaws into the limbs of the cow and I said to the cow, “For God’s sake, will not you defend yourself?
The previous comment that they could not stay on their legs has been further elucidated by this word.
wa qawma nūḥin, and the people of Noah
The conjunction wa (and) uncovers the meaning buried in all these stories. In the mention of the story of Pharaoh the meaning was clearly put. There it has been said: fa akhadhnāhu wa junūdahū (we caught Pharaoh and his army.) The meaning, therefore, is that we caught these nations the way we caught the nation of Noah (sws) earlier. This is strengthened by other parallels in the book. Sūrah al-‘Ankabūt says:
Then the mighty cry seized them, and they lay prostrate in their homes by the morning. And ‘Ᾱd and Thamūd [….] (Q. 29:37-8)
A little later the Almighty referred to Qārūn, Pharaoh, and Hāmmān. (Q. 29:39). The entire discussion then culminates in the comment: “Each one of them We seized for his crime”. (Q. 29:40)
Yet another similar passage reads:
And that it is He Who destroyed the ancient people of ‘Ᾱd, and the Thamūd. Thus they were not left to live long. And before them, the people of Noah (sws). (Q. 53:50-2)
I.e. He killed and destroyed the people of Noah (sws). The verses under discussion too express the same theme. The two words used in different versions of the stories including akhdha (he caught) and ahlaka (he destroyed) give the same meaning.
Relationship of the Punishment Stories with the Oaths
The people of Lot, Noah (sws), Pharaoh, and ‘Ᾱd find frequent mention in the holy Qur’ān. If part of a story is put briefly in one place it is detailed in another. The style is, however, different each time to avoid repetition and to keep characteristic brevity of the holy Qur’ān. Coherence and preciseness is carefully observed in all parts. The Qur’ān confines the stories to the elements that which suffice as a warning and as an admonition. Even at times a very subtle beckoning has been considered sufficient, as is shown in the following verse:
Has the story reached you, of the forces of Pharaoh and the Thamūd? And yet the unbelievers persist in rejecting. (Q. 85:17-9)
This style of subtle allusions to known facts is visibly employed in Psalm. Such allusions give a very subtle reference to a story to prove some claims. If a person skims such texts, he fails to grasp the coherence. This is not a proper place to detail this issue here. However, we believe we must examine the connection of the stories mentioned in the Sūrah with the oaths sworn at the opening.
The Almighty punished the rejecters among these nations and helped the believers against them by employing winds or thunders and lightening, or a combination of both. You shall learn this in the following discussions. The initial oaths adduce winds and clouds. Under the next heading we will discuss this in detail.
The People of Lot
Allah sent a sooty wind over the people of Lot which later turned into a violent gale. It rained stones and pebbles on them. Eventually it turned their abodes over. At another occasion the holy Qur’ān describes this as follows: Against some We sent a violent tornado with showers of stones. (Q. 29:40) The holy Qur’ān also states: We turned (the cities) upside down, and rained down on them brimstones hard as baked clay, spread layer on layer. (Q. 11:82).
The implication is that God unleashed strong winds which left their houses and roofs plain. Pebbles and dust covered them. This has been alluded to in the following verse: He destroyed the overthrown cities (mu’tafikah). So that covers covered them up. (53:53-4)
The renowned Arabic lexicon Lisān al-‘Arab explains the word al-mu’tafikāt as follows:
1. It connotes winds which overturn the earth and leave it inside out as a farmer ploughs the field.
2. It can also be taken to mean a great flood which strikes a piece of land and puts new layers of sand on the surface.
3. The winds which blow over a land and leave the earth covered with pebble or dirt is also called mu’tafikah.”
An Important Point
One thing is important to appreciate. Allegedly the Bible and the Qur’ān differ over the object used in the destruction of the people of Lot. It is, however, not true. The apparent contradiction owes itself to misunderstanding of the translators of the Old Testament. The translator of the Torah could not understand what struck the people of Lot. They mistook it as fire or sulfur. On the contrary, it is quite clear that the object they rendered as “fire” is nothing other than thunder or lightning.
The Torah often uses the word “fire” for thunder and lightning. It is clear from a detailed analysis of the miracles given to Moses (sws) to be shown to Pharaoh. Exodus 9:23 reads: “The Lord sent thunder and hails, and fire flowed on the earth.” While making a mention of this miracle, the holy Qur’ān uses a comprehensive term, ṭūfān, which covers all three; fire, thunder, and lightning. God says: “We sent a ṭūfān on them.” (7:133) We will discuss this issue in detail in the story of Noah (sws).
What corroborates my understanding of the Torah in this regards is the fact that in all the seven instances, where the Torah mentions thunders and hail in this context, it does not say that anything on earth was burnt. It has rather clarified in one instance that it was rain. God says: “When Pharaoh saw that the downpour, hail, and the thunder ceased, he sinned again.” (Exodus: 9:34) The damages caused by rain and lightning have also been discussed in the Bible. Exodus 9:31 reads: “The flax and barley were destroyed because the barley was in the ear and the flax in bud, but the wheat and spelt were not destroyed because they come later.” Notice there is not a slightest indication of anything being destroyed and burnt by fire.
My understanding is also supported by the following verse of the Psalms: “Fire and hail, snow and ice, gales of wind obeying His voice.” (Psalms: 148:8) Obviously, “fire” refers to thunder and lightning in this context. The Bible mentions, in the context of the story of destruction of the people of Lot, that Abraham (sws) saw smoke rising from the remains of the abodes of the people of Lot. The smoke was nothing but black soot and dust rising from the doomed abodes. When viewed from distance it looked like smoke. The Bible also mentions sulfur. Genesis 19:34 reads: “God sent fire and sulfur on Sadūm and ‘Amūrah.” Here the word which the translators of the Bible rendered as sulfur connotes stones. The word they translated as sulfur is Ḥaṣba’. It stands for pebbles. A similar mistake has been committed by the translators of the Bible with regards to the use of brimstone. They thought it to be sulfur. It is quite clear from the Torah that the word in this context stands for stones. Job 18:15 mentions the destruction of the miscreants in these words: “Strangers will occupy his lodging and his house will be destroyed by ḥasbah.” It means his grave will be covered with stones. It does not make sense to hold that sulfur will be rained on his grave. This shows that Allah sent stones and a storm on the people of Lot. It covered their houses. If we consider the interpretation of the Torah as correct, it would mean that rain accompanied thunder and lightning.
Pharaoh and his People
The story of Moses (sws) and Pharaoh has been described both in the holy Qur'ān and the Torah a number of times. Both these sources sometimes fairly detail the story while at some others briefly allude to it. The holy Qur'ān does not mention the whole story in one sūrah with detail. It does not produce a sustained narrative. Rather it has treated the relic as a well-known historical fact on more than one occasion. On the other hand, the Torah mentions the whole story in a complete sustained narrative in a single instance. In this story different functions of winds have been described. This fact obtains a mere passing reference in the holy Qur'ān and is fairly detailed in the Torah.
Exodus 14:21 recounts the story in these words: “Then Moses (sws) stretched out his hand over the sea and the Almighty drove the sea away all night with a strong east wind and turned the seabed into dry land. The waters were torn apart.” This storm continued to havoc till the next morning. It stopped at dawn. The air pressure forced the sea water to the Gulf of Suez in the west. It dried the eastern gulf, or the Gulf of ‘Aqabah. When the storm stopped, the sea water rushed off to fill the space and the armies of Pharaoh chasing the Israelites were drowned. This has been confirmed by the holy Qur'ān in Sūrah al-Dukhkhān: “March forth with My Servants by night: for you are sure to be pursued. And leave the sea when it is peaceful (wa ‘utrukī al-baḥra rahwan): for they are a host (destined) to be drowned.” (al-Dukhkhan: 23-4)
In “wa ‘utrukī al-baḥra rahwan”, the word rahwan signifies relief. The relief in a river is obtained if there is no commotion in the air. Allah says in Sūrah Tāhā: “We sent an inspiration to Moses (sws): ‘Travel by night with My servants, and strike a dry path for them through the sea, without fear of being overtaken (by Pharaoh) and without (any other) fear.’ Then Pharaoh pursued them with his forces, but the waters completely overwhelmed them and covered them up.” (Q. 20:77-8)
In Exodus 15:10 Moses (sws) praises his Lord in these words: “You blew your blast and the sea covered them.” Deuteronomy 11:4 lays out this as follows: “…and all that he did to the Egyptian army, its horses and chariots, when he caused the waters of the Red Sea to flow over them as they pursued you. In this way the Lord destroyed them, and so things remain to this day.”
In short, Allah rescued Moses (sws) through a violent wind. He killed Pharaoh and his armies with the usual function of air. This is how winds are employed by God miraculously. We see that two different functions, blessing and punishment, were accomplished through the employment of different kinds of winds.
The People of the Book have differed over the place where the Children of Israel crossed the sea. The majority of them think that they crossed the Gulf of Suez. I believe that they crossed the Gulf of ‘Aqabah. Some scholars, in the present day, hold that Allah got Moses (sws) across the sea by lowering the sea water and that He Killed Pharaoh and his armies through the rising of the sea water. I have refuted both these claims elsewhere.
‘Ād and Thamūd
A careful analysis of the detailed account of the destruction of ‘Ād as depicted in the holy Qur’ān does not leave one deny the fact that the winds sent on them worked along with winter clouds that always accompany thunder and lightning. Wherever the Qur’ān mentions their destruction it mentions dry clouds and winds as well as thunder. Consider this verse from Sūrah al-Aḥqāf:
Then, when they saw a cloud traversing the sky, coming to meet their valleys, they said, ‘This cloud will give us rain!’ ‘Nay, it is that which you were asking to be hastened!- A wind wherein is a grievous penalty! Everything will it destroy by the command of its Lord. (Q. 46:24-5)
Obviously these are the signs of winter. In this season the searing cold northern winds enter Arabia, spreading dryness, famine, and destruction everywhere. Sūrah al-Qamar puts this clearly: “For We sent against them a furious wind, on a day of violent disaster” (Q. 54:19) The same thing is presented in Sūrah Ḥ-M al-Sajdah: “So We sent against them a furious wind through days of disaster.” (Q. 41:16) Such cold searing winds, as we have told earlier, appear in winter and this is the time they prove most disastrous. Laylā al-Akhīlah, the famous poetess of the pagan era, says:
Walā ta’khudhu al-kūmuu al-jalādu salāḥahā
Li tawbata fī ṣirr al-shitā’i al-ṣanābirī
Freshness of strong she-camels and cold winds of winter do not hinder the slaughter.
Another famous poet Farazduq says:
Ba‘athtu lahū dahmā’a laysat bi nāqatin
Tadurru idhā mā habba naḥsan ‘aqīmuhā
I sent for him a brown healthy camel that gave milk during searing winds of winter.
These cold wintery winds accompany layers of red clouds, thunder, and lightning. Arabic literature contains various proofs which can be adduced to provide a detailed account of these winds. Some important points in this regard have been discussed in section two.
Sūrah H-M al-Sajdah mentions thunder and lightning in connection with the divine punishment meted out to ‘Ād: “But if they turn away, say you: “I have warned you of a stunning punishment like that which overtook the ‘Ᾱd and the Thamud!” (Q. 41:13)
This verse makes it quite clear that they were crushed through heavy thunders. Allah punished them through the clouds, cold winds and thunder. The actual destruction was brought through the winds. However, it can be said that Allah sent on Thamūd a kind of layered clouds in which a frightful lightning and a deafening cry was hidden. It is just like He sent thunder and lightning over the ‘Ād. Thamūd were destroyed by lightning as depicted in Sūrah al-Qamar: “We sent against them a furious wind, on a day of violent disaster” (Q. 54:19). Therefore, a mention of the lightning has been considered enough. Clouds have not been highlighted though the subsequent events prove that clouds were also involved. Likewise, in the story of ‘Ād, winds have been frequently mentioned while clouds have not been mentioned except on one occasion. It is a characteristic of the Qur’ān that for the sake of brevity it avoids details. This fact has been mentioned in the fourteenth section.
The People of Noah
The present sūrah does not detail the story of punishment meted out to the people of Noah (sws). It merely says that Allah seized and punished the people of Noah (sws) just as He punished other nations for their sins. But the punishment story of the People of Noah (sws) as described in the Torah and other sūrahs of the holy Qur’ān makes it quite clear that they too were destroyed through winds. Allah says in Sūrah al-‘Ankabūt: “We sent Noah (sws) to his people, and he tarried among them a thousand years less fifty: but the ṭūfān overwhelmed them while they persisted in sin.” (Q. 29:14)
Here the word ṭūfān is noteworthy. The word ṭūfān is derived from a root that means to encircle or to wind. Arabs use this word for whirlwind. A pagan poet Ra‘ī lauds his she-camel in these words:
tumsa idhā al-‘īsu adraknā nakā’ithahā
kharqā’a ya‘tāduhā al-ṭūfānu wa al-zu’ud
She (the she-camel) enters evening (sturdily) while the best breeds of camels reach us about to having consumed their last bit of power to go on. She is quick in her pace and familiar with whirlwinds and troubles.
Such terrible winds are called girdbād in Persian, cyclones in English, and Bagolās in Hindi. Egyptians worshipped a god of winds. They called it taifūn. Such winds are distinguished from others because they bring heavy rain with them. Thus they cause the sea water to rise. I myself have witnessed such a scene when living in Karachi. A hurricane started from the eastern part of the Indian Ocean and passed to the West. It caused a mighty rain. Ships crashed on mountains causing great causalities. The details of the Hurricane which destroyed the people of Noah (sws) as described in the Torah and holy Qur’ān are similar to the one I witnessed in Karachi. Allah Almighty says in Sūrah al-Qamar: “So We opened the gates of heaven, with water pouring forth. And We caused the earth to gush forth with springs, so the waters met (and rose) to the extent decreed.” (Q. 54:11-2) Genesis 7:11 recounts this story as follows: “On that very day, all the springs of the great abyss broke through. The windows of the sky were opened.” The holy Qur’ān says: “So the Ark floated with them on the waves like mountains.” (Q. 11:42) People who experience sea voyage know that currents rise to the mountains only when a whirlwind is at work. So the presence of tides in the Noachian flood indicates that the tornado was already blowing. Mentioning an effect leads one to the cause. This literary technique has been applied in the holy Qur’ān in more than one place. It has jointly mentioned the winds and the sea currents so as to show that both are interdependent. Both work together to create the meaning. For example the Almighty says: “He it is Who enables you to traverse through land and sea; so that you even board ships;- they sail with them with a favorable wind, and they rejoice thereat; then comes a stormy wind and the waves come to them from all sides” (Q. 10:22)
Another important and noteworthy fact is that the words: “So the Ark floated with them” prove that winds were blowing. We know that the holy Qur’ān, at another occasion, has clarified that had God stopped the airs, the arks would stand still. The Almighty says: “And among His signs are the ships, smooth-running through the ocean, as mountains. If it be His will He can still the wind: then would they become motionless on the back of the ocean.” (Q. 42:32-3) Elsewhere, the holy Qur’ān says: “Among His signs is this, that He sends the winds, as heralds of glad tidings, giving you a taste of His mercy,- that the ships may sail by His command” (Q. 30:46)
This explanation shows that the source of punishment for the People of Noah (sws) was a hurricane that brought heavy rains. Water from the sea nearby gushed and heavy floods sprang from everywhere. In this hurricane, the ark of Noah (sws) stopped at the mountain Jūdī. It is important to note here that the interpreters of the Torah have committed a blunder. Genesis 8:1 says: “And He made a wind pass over the earth, and the waters began to subside. The springs of the abyss were stopped up, and so were the windows of the sky. The downpour from the sky was checked.” Apparently it means that God sent normal wind to stop the cyclone but this is not true. The more probable interpretation is that it was merely the command of God. This we understand in light of Sūrah Hūd: “Then the word went forth: “O earth! Swallow up thy water, and O sky! Withhold!” And the water abated, and the matter was ended.” (Q. 11:44)
This misinterpretation owes itself to the fact that the order was first recorded in Hebrew. In Hebrew, order and command and winds are expressed by a single common word. The holy Qur’ān has corrected this misinterpretation is this verse. The holy Qur’ān often mentions the misinterpretations given by the people of the book and corrects it. We have already discussed it at length.
Sequence of the Stories, their relation with the oaths and their Context
These stories are obviously related with the oaths sworn in the beginning of the sūrah. We have already explained this. However, it requires a detailed analysis. The stories of the Qur’ān contain different aspects of advice and admonition as well as proofs and arguments. This makes it possible to alter the sequence of the stories to suite the themes discussed. We will discuss briefly the order in which the stories have been put in this sūrah.
One aspect of the order in the stories described here is quite clear. The story of Moses (sws) and Lot very clearly contain both the glad tiding and the admonition. If we ponder over the issue we learn that the same is the case with the winds. They sometimes appear as blessing and at another occasion as source of punishment. This explains why the story of Abraham (sws) prefaces the rest of the stories.
It is followed by the story of Lot considering the fact that Arabs frequently passed through the trade routes where the remains of the destroyed towns were found. The addressees of the Qur’ān were therefore able to witness these signs with their very eyes. The sūrah opens with an oath by the winds which scatter dust, then carry the burden. It refers to the function of the winds employed in the destruction of the people of Lot: For they were crushed through stifling winds that covered their abodes with sand and stone pebbles. These were so heavily piled that the whole town was buried beneath them.
Furthermore, as has been explained earlier, the Divine statement that “On the earth are signs for those of assured faith” has a clear proof in the story of Lot. This has been fairly detailed in the eleventh section.
In short, these are the four reasons that the story of Lot has sequential preference.
The next story is that of Moses (sws). Firstly, this story has been related many times in the holy Qur’ān. It contains many valuable signs and morals. Secondly, it has a deep connection with the second portion of the muqsim bihī, that is “and those that lift and bear away heavy weights, and those that flow with ease and gentleness” as discussed earlier.
There is point to be noted here. This story and the previous one start with the name of the Prophets. It gives a slight hint that the aspect of blessing is prominent in these stories. The later stories start with the name of the nation of the respective Prophets showing that the aspect of punishment is dominant. In this regard, ‘Ād and Thamūd are specially mentioned. This is well understood that the source of punishment inflicted on them (i.e. By the rippled clouds) was rippled clouds. A little more deliberation will take us to the conclusion that the sequence adopted in the oaths is also kept up while relating the stories of parallel nations. In the mention of ‘Ād and Thamūd, the former has been preferred. The reason is that they were destroyed first. Another reason is that the source of their destruction was a combination of winds and the clouds.
In the last comes the story of Noah (sws). It presents an everlasting portent of Allah’s blessing on all the nations and ummahs. The following verse hints towards this reality: “When the water overflowed beyond its limits, we carried you in the floating Ark that We might make it a reminder to you, and that bearing ears retain it.” (69:11-2) We have seen in the previous discussion that in this story, the earth, heaven, wind, clouds, boat and water, in short, all the signs of God have been put together. This quality has made the story a collection of internal as well as external signs and arguments. This makes this story correspond to the oaths by the winds in the beginning and also for the conclusion. However, it has been mentioned after the portents of the earth and the heaven along with the mentioned arguments. Thus in a way this story befittingly recapitulates the previously mentioned arguments.
Besides, the ‘Ād and Thamūd were given the rule on the earth later than Noah (sws). It entails that the story of Noah (sws) is mentioned after the Ᾱd and Thamūd. Another example of this type of ordering themes is found in the following verse: “And that it is He Who destroyed the ancient 'Ad (people), And the Thamūd nor gave them a lease of perpetual life. And before them, the people of Noah (sws), for that they were most unjust and most insolent transgressors.” (Q. 53:50-3) Since this story is well known and famous the holy Qur’ān merely gave a passing reference to it. Also it has been mentioned as a final story.
Besides, it is an outstanding form of brief introduction and a change of style that illustrates that it has a greater importance for its special and permanent connection with the past events. Therefore, the word wa fī nūḥin has not been used as is the case with the story of Moses (sws), ‘Ᾱd and Thamūd. That is why this story does not come with connection to the story of Abraham (sws).
Relation of the Passage 47-51 with the Succeeding Verses
Islamic teachings are based on three fundamental articles. These include tawḥīd, the Last Judgment and risālah. Because these three beliefs are strongly interrelated, these are often mentioned together. Sometimes the discourse suddenly shifts from one of these to another.
We have clarified in the beginning of the eighth section that all proofs for the Day of Judgment and the risālah basically appear as the necessary and substantial result of belief in the unicity of God. The first two are considered branches of tawḥīd. This general reality made it possible that proofs for tawḥīd have been given just after mentioning the reward and punishment to close the argument. The style of expression adopted here is so outstanding that the discourse is never broken. However, it continues shifting from one point to another giving a slight indication of the belief in risālah. The holy Qur’ān says:
Text and Translation Q. 51: 47-51
وَالسَّمَاء بَنَيْنَاهَا بِأَيْدٍ وَإِنَّا لَمُوسِعُونَ وَالْأَرْضَ فَرَشْنَاهَا فَنِعْمَ الْمَاهِدُونَ وَمِن كُلِّ شَيْءٍ خَلَقْنَا زَوْجَيْنِ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَذَكَّرُونَ فَفِرُّوا إِلَى اللَّهِ إِنِّي لَكُم مِّنْهُ نَذِيرٌ مُّبِينٌ وَلَا تَجْعَلُوا مَعَ اللَّهِ إِلَهًا آخَرَ إِنِّي لَكُم مِّنْهُ نَذِيرٌ مُّبِينٌ
With power and skill did We construct the firmament: We have boundless power. And We have spread out the earth: How excellently We do spread out! And of everything We have created pairs: That you may receive instruction. Hasten you then to Allah. I am from Him a Warner to you, clear and open! And make not another object of worship with Allah. I am from Him a Warner to you, clear and open! (Q. 51:47-51)
Explanation of Words and Ta’wīl of Sentences and Phrases Q. 51: 47-51
This part of the discourse is joined to the evidences given above regarding reward and punishment. Thus the adduced evidence follows circumstantial demonstrations.
bi’aydin, with power
The phrase ayyadahū means: He lent power to him. The Qur’ān reckons it at another occasion that the sky is a symbol of God’s invincible power and strength and His abounding wisdom: “What! Are you the more difficult to create or the heaven? He has constructed it.” (Q. 79:27)
lamūsi‘ūna, having boundless power
God’s power is boundless. One cannot deny the fact that the maker of the sky has boundless power. He has vast choices. This becomes obvious if one observes the vastness of the sky, its height, its beauty, and its shore-less corners.
Farashnāhā, spread it out
Allah made the earth the floor for His creatures. Elsewhere the holy Qur’ān says: “Who has made the earth your couch.” (Q. 2:22) It declares at another occasion: “Have We not made the earth as a wide expanse?” (Q. 78:6) At another occasion, the Almighty says: “It is He Who has made the earth manageable for you, so traverse you through its tracts.” (Q. 67:15)
Khalaqnā, We created
The context and placement of the verse shows that the heightening of heaven and the spreading of earth is also included in the meaning of creation (khalaqnā). In considering this aspect, the whole verse can be paraphrased as follows: He raised the heaven and unfolded the earth and created a countless number of benefits out of it. Likewise, He has made everything in pairs so that you know that the Last Judgment will be held and learn that He alone is the provider of every creature. He is above every creature. He is powerful, merciful and wise. This will be discussed in next chapter in detail.
The word zawj implies two significations. Firstly, it connotes that one part complements the other. The one suits and corresponds to the other. Both cooperate to produce a common result. It is clear from the following verse: “We made his partner suit him.” (Q. 21:90) Secondly, each part of the pair parallels and contrasts the other. For instance: “And have sent down water from the sky. With it have We produced diverse pairs of plants each separate from the others.” (Q. 20:53) At another place the holy Qur’ān says: “And We produced therein every kind (zawj) of beautiful growth.” (Q. 50:7)
minhu nadhīrun mubīnun, from Him a Warner
Minhu in this phrase means: from him. This is not a preposition used with the word nadhīrun. The Arabic word andhara does not require a preposition. The verb attaches a direct object. It is said andharahu iyyāhu. A warned B of something. It is not said: andharahū minhu.
A number of such examples can be found in the holy Qur’ān. The phrase minhu nadhīrun mubīnun occurs twice in this passage. It is not repetition. The phrase in both of its occurrences delivers a different message. In the first instance of its use here it implies encouragement. It shows that Allah has sent the Warner with His special blessing to stop you from ignorance and to urge you upon seeking His nearness. In the second instance it has been used as a warning. It conveys that polytheism is a great sin which is unforgiveable. So He sent a Warner whose duty is to inform you of the severe consequences of this great sin so that you could avoid it.
Creation in Pairs and Tawḥīd, Risālah and Day of Judgment
The belief in tawḥīd is very natural and clear to the human intellect. It does not need proofs. That is why most of the worldly religions teach belief in one God. It is a universally accepted reality. This wide universe and its contents distinctly witness His existence. It is impossible to deny the belief in tawḥīd. Conflicts and dissention are based on the way of accepting God instead of His acceptance or rejection. People believe in Allah but do not do so as they should. Consequently, they are considered as rejecters in spite of their belief in His existence. The holy Qur’ān has described this reality in these words: “And most of them believe not in Allah without associating other as partners with Him!” (Q. 12:106) Therefore, whenever the holy Qur’ān calls the human to believe in Allah, it adopts such a style which negates polytheism. It aims at removing the basis of the evil. It also explains that tawḥīd, risālah and the Day of Judgment are a necessary corollary of belief in God. The holy Qur’ān adopts this manner of argument in brief as well as in concise descriptions. But finding no time to go into details we will lean on necessary points only.
Creation of everything in pairs has two different aspects. Both the aspects come from different meanings of the same word i.e. al-zawj.
1. The first aspect is that, the whole universe, in spite of its vastness and the differences of its contents, witnesses that its Creator is one and only. He, alone, is managing this universe. He alone is its occupant and owner. If each part of it had a different creator or manager, it would have been impossible to make these different things to cooperate with each other. These different classes of creations could never agree to work for a shared result that is not to their personal benefit. Whereas on the other hand, we find all parts of the universe always ready for the service to the rest.
A group of atheists and philosophers think that the germination or development and completion of everything are resulting from forces working hidden within the things. Those forces create suitable parts for a thing and fulfill all of its needs. We don’t consider this to be the right thinking. If the development of everything is based on the movement or instruction of its inner forces, how can these forces make it compatible with other objects which are far away from its needs or knowledge? The compatibility of one part of a pair with its other part is clear evidence that their creator is an entity totally different and above them who knows their benefits and makes each part of a pair suitable for the other.
Furthermore, it should not be ignored that this world is a unit as a whole. Many of its aspects seem to be faulty and its existence is dependent on a complement entity that could bring it to perfection such that it is no more suffering from these faults and is able to fulfill its purposes. This very thing is called the Day of Judgment.
Looking carefully into this reasoning leads us to two great realities.
Firstly, it proves the existence of a powerful and wise creator, who made one thing a complementing counterpart of another so that both work united for the benefits of human beings.
Secondly, it supports that a resurrection and Day of Judgment function as a pair of this temporary world. For more detail on this aspect, see my commentary of Sūrah al-Shams.
2. The second aspect of the argument is that God has created numberless creations. The created things differ with each other in many aspects despite their unity of origin. This proves that there is a Creator who manages the system of this universe. He is taking care of the needs of these things. Necessarily He is alone and above these created things. That is why, in spite of the differences between the objects, He manages the system in such a way that none of the parts clashes with the others and the whole system of the world is working harmoniously.
As much as it proves that Allah has no partner to share His power, dominion, knowledge and wisdom, it also establishes that He will deal with everything on merit. He will not deal with the pious and sinners, and the obedient and the arrogant, in the same way. This is a clear and manifest argument for reward and punishment. This has been expressed numerous times in the holy Qur’ān. We need not detail it here.
This argument regarding the creation of everything in pairs, in both of the aspects, leads to the conclusion that the universe has a creator who alone is managing the universe. It also proves that the Creator is kind and loving. His knowledge and mercy enshrouds everything. Everything from the heaven to the earth is in His shelter and possession. He has put the created things in service to human beings.
Since His mercy and power cover everything He is the only source of help and support. In His hands is all good. It is only by His permission that any harm comes to those who disobey Him and seek help from other than Him. This has been openly explained in many places in the holy Qur’ān. The Almighty, for example, says:
“What Allah out of his Mercy does bestow on mankind there is none that can withhold: what He does withhold, there is none that can grant, apart from Him: and He is the Exalted in Power, full of Wisdom. O men! Call to mind the grace of Allah unto you! Is there a creator, other than Allah, to give you sustenance from heaven or earth? There is no god but He: how then are you deluded away?” (Q. 35:2-3)
The implication is that how, then, are you turning away from Him, Who is your refuge and protector while you find His blessings abundant and His mercy boundless.
The best expression of His mercy is the fact that He sends Messengers and Prophets for the guidance of human beings. They are sent to warn people from the way of the sinners who turn their face from their real Creator and go astray. The main duty of the divine messengers, therefore, is to invite people to adopt the path leading to their real Lord and to admonish them of the painful doom nearing them every second.
A person rejecting the advice of these Messengers, who come with clearly established evidence, leads himself into destruction. He himself is to be blamed for the unfortunate consequences. This is because firstly he flees from His Lord. Secondly, he does not accept what His Messengers tell him. Thirdly, he rejects all the painful inflictions waiting for him as a result of his wrongdoings. The last three verses guide us to these three things. These invite to the belief in tawḥīd in a way that includes belief in risālah and the Day of Judgment. These verses also reveal that believing in the Divine Messengers and the Resurrection is a necessary corollary of belief in the most kind, powerful and wise God.
Coherence and Context Q. 51: 47-51
The above proves that the basic thrust of these verses is to invite the unbelievers towards Allah, who provides them with food and shelter. These verses employ natural evidence. These also tell us that the disobedient to God and the rejecters of the admonition of His Messenger are awaited by a horrible treatment. These verses warn people that if they follow the path of such unfortunate folks, they would meet the fate of their leaders. The holy Qur’ān says:
But if they turn away, tell them: “I have warned you of a stunning punishment like that which overtook the ‘Ᾱd and the Thamūd!” (Q. 41:13)
These verses also clarify that there is no God but Allah who alone provides His servants with shelter. He protects all, but is not protected. Everything in the universe evidences His blessings, power, knowledge and wisdom. So worship Him and listen to the advice of His Messengers who have been sent to ask people to follow the way of virtue and do good deeds so that He might forgive them. The same message was delivered by Noah (sws) to his people. The holy Qur’ān says in this regard:
We sent Noah (sws) to his People (with the command): “Do warn your people before there comes to them a grievous penalty.” He said: “O my People! I am to you a warner, clear and open: “That you should worship Allah, fear Him and obey me: “So He may forgive you your sins and give you respite for a stated term.” (Q. 71:1-4).
If we carefully analyze this passage it becomes clear that it mixes warning with encouragement. This is not the only instance that the Qur’ān mixes warning and glad tidings. Indeed most of the stories of the Qur’ān combine the two. For example, the story of Abraham (sws) and Lot in Sūrah al-Ḥijr starts as follows:
Tell My servants that I am indeed the Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful; And that My penalty will be indeed the most grievous penalty. Tell them about the guests of Abraham (sws). (Q. 15:49-51)
Likewise, the stories of ancient people related here do not only warn the people but draw their attention towards the beneficent and merciful Lord.
After a mention of the three basic articles of faith i.e. tawḥīd (unicity of God), ma‘ād (Resurrection) and the risālah (the institution of prophecy), the discourse turns to console the holy Prophet (sws). This consolation also has some meaningful aspects. This consolation has been repeated throughout the holy Qur’ān. Sometimes it is put at the end of surāhs. Some examples have been cited in the commentary on the previous sūrah. On this basis, this sūrah also concludes in consolation to the Prophet (sws). Here it adopts a style which is so precise that it covers most of the important aspects in this regard. The Almighty says:
Text and Translation Q. 51: 52-60
كَذَلِكَ مَا أَتَى الَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِهِم مِّن رَّسُولٍ إِلَّا قَالُوا سَاحِرٌ أَوْ مَجْنُونٌ أَتَوَاصَوْا بِهِ بَلْ هُمْ قَوْمٌ طَاغُونَ فَتَوَلَّ عَنْهُمْ فَمَا أَنتَ بِمَلُومٍ وَذَكِّرْ فَإِنَّ الذِّكْرَى تَنفَعُ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَمَا خَلَقْتُ الْجِنَّ وَالْإِنسَ إِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُونِ مَا أُرِيدُ مِنْهُم مِّن رِّزْقٍ وَمَا أُرِيدُ أَن يُطْعِمُونِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ هُوَ الرَّزَّاقُ ذُو الْقُوَّةِ الْمَتِينُ فَإِنَّ لِلَّذِينَ ظَلَمُوا ذَنُوبًا مِّثْلَ ذَنُوبِ أَصْحَابِهِمْ فَلَا يَسْتَعْجِلُونِ فَوَيْلٌ لِّلَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا مِن يَوْمِهِمُ الَّذِي يُوعَدُونَ
Similarly, no apostle came to the peoples before them, but they said in like manner, “A sorcerer, or one possessed”! Is this the legacy they have transmitted, one to another? Nay, they are themselves a people transgressing beyond bounds! So turn away from them: not yours is the blame. But teach for teaching benefits the believers. I have only created Jinns and men, that they may serve Me. No sustenance do I require of them, nor do I require that they should feed Me. For Allah is He Who gives sustenance,- powerful, mighty. The wrong-doers are granted a respite similar to the one granted to their fellows: then let them not ask Me to hasten that! Woe, then, to the unbelievers, on account of that day of theirs which they have been promised! (Q. 51: 52-60)
Explanation of Words and Ta’wīl of Sentences and Phrases Q. 51: 52-60
This word introduces a new independent passage. This means that it is a totally new discussion. This word i.e. kadhālika beckons to the rejection of the Prophets (sws) by the people of earlier nations. The whole message can be paraphrased as follows:
Every nation that rejected the Messengers raised among them did so after the fashion of the above mentioned people. Therefore, you do not have to worry over their deeds. Do not let the delay of domination of the truth overcome you and do not hurry towards the day of triumph.
Qālū sāḥirun aw majnūn, they said: a sorcerer, or possessed
The comment of Pharaoh has been discussed above where the Almighty says: “But (Pharaoh) turned back with his chiefs, and said, “A sorcerer, or one possessed!”” (Q. 51-39) The same words were used for other Prophets of the past. The Qur’ān points out that the holy Prophet (sws) received the same response. The above phrase refers to the response of the addressees of the Prophet (sws).
Atawāṣaw bihī bal hum qawmun ṭāghūn, Is this the legacy they have transmitted, one to another? Nay, they are themselves a people transgressing beyond bounds!
The question here implies an exclamation. The conjunction ‘bal’ draws the attention of the listener to the reality. The whole sentence can be interpreted as follows: Their statement that the divine Messenger is a sorcerer or possessed one is utterly against reality. It seems that their ancestors advised this to them and that is what they followed. They have been utterly blind refusing to use their brains. It also draws their attention toward the fact that what they say is based on their pride and ignorance.
Fatawalla ‘anhum famā anta bimalūm, So turn away from them: not yours is the blame.
Leave them for a considerable time so that they can revise their stance. Such a command to the holy Prophet (sws) does not mean that he should let them go astray but it contains the following pieces of advice.
First, they should be left alone for a short time so that their enmity loses heat.
Second, their rudeness should be cured sympathetically. Their matter should be left to God to decide. The holy Qur’ān asserts:
Therefore do give admonition, for you are one to admonish. You are not one to manage (their) affairs. But if any turn away and reject Allah,- Allah will punish him with a mighty punishment, for to Us will be their return; Then it will be for Us to call them to account. (Q. 88:21-6)
At another place, the Qur’ān puts in: “Your duty is to make (the Message) reach them: it is Our part to call them to account.” (Q. 13:40)
Thirdly, the Messenger should not run after their addressees to make their wish to convert them into Muslims come true and should not lose his energy for their cause. This has been repeated many times in the holy Qur’ān. Consider the following verse: “You would only, perchance, fret yourself to death, following after them, in grief, if they believe not in this Message.” (Q. 18:6) At another occasion it warns him (the Prophet) in the following words: “So let not your soul go out in sighing after them: for Allah knows well all that they do!” (Q. 35:8)
For these reasons, whenever the Qur’ān orders the Prophet (sws) to leave the rejecters, it also conveys the following messages:
First, it threatens the rejecters.
Second, it promises divine help to the faithful.
Third, there is consolation to the Prophet stating that he has fulfilled his duty. He needs not worry about the result.
Fourth, it advises the holy Prophet (sws) to remain steadfast in his belief and to offer the prayer. It also advises him not to worry about the respite given them and to accept Allah’s decision as He is the savior. He shows the right path to whomever He chooses. He never hastens to punishment and gives a chance to those who repent over their deeds. Therefore, it is a duty of every Muslim and the Messenger to show patience, and to tolerate the rejection and wait for the triumph of the truth.
The holy Qur’ān presents clear evidences in support of this interpretation. For example, it declares in Sūrah al-Muzzammil:
And have patience with what they say, and leave them with noble dignity. And leave Me (deal with) those in possession of the good things of life, who yet deny the truth; and bear with them for a little while. With Us are fetters, and a fire, and a food that chokes, and a penalty grievous. (Q. 73:10-13)
At another place, this theme has been put in as follows:
And turn away from those who join false gods with Allah. For sufficient are We unto you against those who scoff,- Those who adopt, with Allah, another god: but soon will they come to know. We do indeed know how your heart is distressed at what they say. But celebrate the praises of your Lord, and be of those who prostrate themselves in adoration. And serve your Lord until there come unto you the Hour that is certain. (Q. 15:94-9)
Sūrah al-Sāffāt says:
Already has Our word been passed before to our servants sent, that they would certainly be assisted, and that Our forces,- they surely must conquer. So turn you away from them for a little while, and watch them, and they soon shall see! Do they wish to hurry on our punishment? But when it descends into the open space before them, evil will be the morning for those who were warned! So turn you away from them for a little while, and watch and they soon shall see! (Q. 37:171-9)
The whole of Surāh al-Shu‘arā’ explicates aspects of this reality. It says that although most of the rejecters do not accept the faith, Allah never rushes towards the infliction of His doom. So the Messenger should not be disheartened over the delay in appearance of divine judgment. To prove this point, the sūrah presents the stories of the past people. Each story is followed by the verse: “Verily, in this is a sign: but most of them do not believe. And verily, your Lord is the one, exalted in might, Most Merciful.” (Q. 26:8-9, 103-4, 121-2, 139,40, 158-9, 174-5, 190-1)
Wa dhakkir, and warn
Besides ignoring the previously mentioned group of rejecters, you must continue advising the general addressees. It is useful for them all. The wisdom of the continuous reminder to the generality is explained in the following verses.
Although the word is used for advice in general, here it refers to the reminder of the Day of Judgment as is clear from the following verse from Sūrah Ibrāhim: “And teach them to remember the days of Allah.” (Q. 14:5) We know that in the holy Qur’ān the arguments for reward and punishment are mostly followed by the verses which contain the word dhikrā as in: “Verily in this is a message (dhikrā).” (Q. 39:21 and Q. 50: Elsewhere the words tabsiratan wa dhikrā (there is a reminder and a message in it (Q. 50:8) have also been mentioned in the same context.
Dhū al-quwwatin al-matīn, powerful, mighty
Due to the stop at the word matīn, we cannot judge its right declension (i‘rāb). Due to absence of any i‘rāb difference of reading and pronunciation of the ending of the sentence is out of question. However, the scholars have differed over the i‘rāb of the word. Some people consider it to be in the genitive (majrūr). They hold that it is an adjective qualifying the preceding noun al-quwwah (might). Actually, al-quwwah originally signified the strength of a rope. We know that the word matīn and the word ḥabl collocate. This makes it more probable that the word matīn here qualifies the noun al-quwwah. The word matīn is not used in the feminine form since it is formed after the formation fa‘īl which is used both for the masculine as well as the feminine gender. For instance, the holy Qur’ān says: “inna raḥmata Allahi qarībum (for the Mercy of Allah is always near) to those who do good.” (Q. 7:56) In this sentence the feminine word raḥmah has been described as qarīb which is masculine. Yet both agree.
Some other scholars think that the word matīn is in the nominative (marfū‘). Thus they make it an adjective of the phrase dhu al-quwwah (the one possessed of quwwah, strong). But this word (matīn) has not been used as an attribute of Allah. Therefore, it seems better to consider that a pronoun hū (his) has been left unstated. The proper construction would be al-matīn quwwatihī which means the one whose power is matīn, i.e. strong. Thus both the views on the declension of the word matīn do not affect the meaning.
Dhanūb is used for a filled bucket. An empty vessel is not called dhanūb. From this signification this word has been used for fortune. Abu Dhu’ib says in one of his verses:
La ‘amriki wa al-manāyā ghālibāt
Li kulli banī abin minhā dhanūb
By your life! None can escape death. Every son born of a father has a certain share (dhanūb) in it.
‘Aqlamah b. ‘Abdah, in his laudatory remarks for Ḥarath, says:
Wa fī kulli qawmin qad khabaṭṭa bi ni‘mat
Fa ḥuqqa li Sha’sin min nadāka dhanūb
You have honored every nation with your generosities and Shāsh has a right to enjoy a share from it.
In the above verse, the word dhunūb has been used for a short respite granted to the unbelievers. The holy Qur’ān says that whatever they want to enjoy from the short life, let them do, until the time is over. Time and food destined for them from Allah should reach them. Let them do whatever evil they want to commit. They have to face a dreadful doom. Notice how the word dhunūb has embellished the expression and lent great eloquence to it. The next verse supports this interpretation. Many other verses can be found in the holy Qur’ān supporting this point of view. For example, the verse:
But your Lord is Most forgiving, full of mercy. If He were to call them to account for what they have earned, then surely He would have hastened their punishment, but they have their appointed time, beyond which they will find no refuge.” (Q. 18:58)
In this verse, the promise signifies the exact time of punishment. Similarly, dhunūb illustrates the life given to unbelievers by Allah. When they would have used up the bounties of Allah destined for them and they would have finished with what they wanted to do, their bowl will be filled i.e. their time would be over.
Ta’wīl of the Last Three Verses
These three verses give a very important message. In these verses, the purpose of the creation of human beings has been stated. These also refer to the Last Judgment which is a necessary corollary of this purpose of creation. These contain a glad tiding for the faithful and a threat for the rejecters. Therefore, under this heading, we will discuss these things connecting them with some other realities.
In the interconnection and coherence of these verses, important evidence to the necessity of reward and punishment is buried. They also clear the doubt of the disbelievers about the reward and punishment, who infer from the delay in the seizure that the judgment might never come. This aspect of these verses makes plain their relationship with the preceding and the succeeding passages. I intend to highlight all these indications and discuss these verses in detail.
The context of the verses clearly shows that their main purpose is to express the wisdom behind the delay in the seizure of the rejecters and the unbelievers. This theme has been clarified at different occasions in the holy Qur’ān. However, these verses provide the clearest evidence to the fact. In this context they come as evidence to the fact mentioned in the previous verses: fatawalla ‘anhum to al-mu’minīn (So turn away from them: not yours is the blame. But teach (your Message) for teaching benefits the Believers. (Q. 51:54-5).
The detail of the argument follows. Worldly masters put their servants in service to them. They want them to be a source of provision of food, or power and honor for them. Allah has, however, not created humans and the jinns for such a purpose. He himself provides all the sources, including sustenance and wealth to His creatures. He does not need their help in any situation. But it does not mean that He has let the human free after creating them nor that He does not have anything to do with them. Such a view is sheer nonsense. There is no room to doubt that Allah has not created the human beings for His personal benefit. He is above receiving help from others. He has created them so that they can take benefit from His bounties, win His favor and enjoy the blessing of this world as well as the Hereafter. Those who look into the matter carefully cannot ignore that the perfect success for the human beings lies in worshipping God, winning His favor and obeying His orders for He has commanded them only that which brings success to them and lends them excellence and perfection. They have been created to achieve such excellence and perfection. The good things (khayrāt) are hidden. It is through the creation that they become manifest. The potential materializes into reality. This gives rise to further good. This way the created things develop and progress on the plan of excellence and perfection. The holy Qur’ān says in this regard: “If any do seek for glory and power,- to Allah belongs all glory and power. To Him mount up all words of purity.” (Q. 35:10)
This reality gives rise to two important points. Firstly, Allah never hastens to punish people for their misdeeds. He gives them respite so that those capable of bringing a change in them should use this opportunity. Allah says:
If Allah were to punish men for their wrong-doing, He would not leave, on the earth, a single living creature: but He gives them respite for a stated term. (Q. 16:61)
Secondly, when they do not abandon their evil activities even after Allah has given His warnings, they are necessarily annihilated. In this regard, the holy Qur’ān says: “Such were the populations we destroyed when they committed iniquities; but we fixed an appointed time for their destruction.” (Q. 18:59)
The Qur’ānic words dhū al-quwwata al-matīn combine two points:
First, humans and the jinns are not related to Allah the way slaves are related to their masters. Masters totally depend on their servants who are a source of their sustenance, honour and dignity. If their servants rebel against them, their high status is ruined. Allah is totally free of such need for help. His kingdom is built on His own scheme. Neither is He in need of any help nor does enmity of someone affect Him.
Second, the respite Allah Almighty gives to the rejecters does not mean that they are beyond His control or that He will not hold them into account or that they will always remain at large. No, they are always under His control. He can seize them anytime. Confident in His power and strength, He leaves them for a while as He knows no one can cross the boundaries He marks. This has been explicitly mentioned in the succeeding verse (verse 59).
In the light of above discussion, we can see that the verses 56-58 bring two things to light about the rejecters. Firstly, the rejecters are granted respite to think over their issue and change their behavior. Secondly, if they do not utilize the respite and persist in rejection of the truth they would be executed. Similarly, these verses give the Prophet (sws) two messages. Firstly, he should continue with his call to the faith. Secondly, he should not worry about the response of the rejecters. He should spend his spare time in prayer and singing hymns to God.
A parallel in the holy Qur’ān explains this topic in the following words: “Enjoin prayer on thy people, and be constant therein. We ask you not to provide sustenance: We provide it for you. But the Hereafter is for righteousness.” (Q. 20:132)
If you consider both groups of the verses (Q. 20:132 and Q. 51:56-8) you will learn that both of them elucidate that Allah does not need any help from His human servants. Worshiping and serving Him is their duty and to their benefit. Similarly, at more than one place, advice has been given to offer prayer, to be attentive to God and to leave the matter of the disbelievers to Allah. Here, it has been told that we all are servants of God and all the systems are working according to His schemes.
All this detail shows that, in these verses, some points of wisdom have been discussed. Some of them are given below.
1. The purpose of the creation of mankind and the jinns is that they should serve God.
2. Worship and service to the masters are different things. Allah requires obedience from His servants, not service. It explains the nature and reality of the lordship of God.
3. The purpose for which the mankind have been created and the blessings of God require that the rejecters are not caught imminently for their sins. They are given considerable time to mend their behavior to the truth.
4. The wisdom behind the creation of mankind and the divine attribute of justice require that reward and punishment are applied and that the truth be made triumph over falsehood.
5. The faithful should not hurry for the triumph of truth over falsehood. They should rather remain content with Allah’s decision. Whatever happens is approved by the wise God. It is the demand of God’s wisdom, justice and blessing.
6. The soul of all the worship rituals is the prayer and the celebration of the praises of God for it implies submission (to God) as well as reliance on Him.
The central theme (‘umūd) of these verses is the necessity of the Last Judgment. The creation of mankind and jinns for a specific purpose requires that they should be held accountable for their deeds one day. It also entails that this world is ephemeral and not everlasting. The humans and other creatures must meet an end. Therefore, the truth will triumph over short-lived falsehood. Several verses of the holy Qur’ān explain this reality. Consider the following passage:
How many were the populations We utterly destroyed because of their iniquities, setting up in their places other peoples? Yet, when they felt Our punishment, behold, they flee from it. “Flee not, but return to the good things of this life which were given to you, and to your homes in order that you may be called to account.” They said: “Ah! woe to us! We were indeed wrong-doers!” And that cry of theirs ceased not, till We made them as a field that is mown, as ashes silent and quenched. Not for idle sport did We create the heavens and the earth and all that is between! If it had been Our wish to take just a pastime, We would surely have taken it from the things nearest to Us, if We would do (such a thing)! Nay, We hurl the truth against falsehood, and it knocks out its brain, and behold, falsehood does perish! Ah! Woe be to you for the false things you ascribe to Us. To Him belong all creatures in the heavens and on earth: Even those who are in His (very) presence are not too proud to serve Him, nor are they ever weary of His service: They celebrate His praises night and day, and do not ever flag or intermit.” (Q. 21:11-20)
These verses clearly explain that Allah has been replacing the cruel and miscreants with other people, for He had not created them to have fun or make merry. He would not sit and watch them ignoring whatever good or evil they make and not take them into account for their deeds. Allah is truth and He loves the truth. Therefore, he distinguishes truth from falsehood. Everything except God is false. If anything truly exists, it is only because it garments itself in the truth by worshipping and submitting to God. All the respected angels live only on account of their worship to God and submission before Him. They worship Allah continuously and earn a right to living. One refusing to enter Allah’s submission exposes himself to destruction and makes himself a target of Allah’s wrath. All these things signify Allah’s greatness, His wisdom, justice and His blessing. They bear a threat for the cruel reprobates and a good tiding for the God-fearing and the pious.
The above discussion clearly shows that these nine verses were revealed for the consolation of the holy Prophet (sws). But along with the consolation, they carry a few other messages to him which follow:
1. Gossip and comments by the cruel and miscreants should be ignored.
2. To have patience and wait for the victory of the truth.
3. Allah is wise, Just and Merciful.
4. Giving the cruel a delay is a part of the divine wisdom.
5. Allah has set up a specific time for everything.
6. Allah has created all the creatures for a defined purpose.
7. Essence of worship and reality of service are totally distinct things.
8. The Last Judgment and resultant grant of reward and infliction of punishment is inevitable.
All these themes have been put in a striking sequence. Each among these proves and leads to the other. The discussion culminates in a mention of the theme of the sūrah, that is, to admonition and threat (takhwīf) so that the people can relent to their Lord.
Yuqinūn, ayqana bi al-shay’ means he knows it surely and does not have any doubt regarding it. The almighty says: “Nay. were you to know with certainty of mind, you shall certainly see Hell-Fire! Again, you shall see it with certainty of sight!” (Q. 102:5-7)
What is the difference between īmān and īqān? Īmān implies recognition and acceptance. Its opposite is (takdhīb) belying, (juḥūd) knowingly rejection and kufr (rejection). Opposite of īqān is doubt and uncertainity. Every mūqin (the one who is certain of something) is not necessarily true in his statement. Rather men at time reject facts out of haughtiness and conceit while they are certain of them. An example is afforded by Pharaoh and his allies. The Qur’ān says: “But when Our Signs came to them, clear and manifest, they said: "This is sorcery manifest!" And they rejected those Signs in iniquity and arrogance.” (Q. 27:13-4)
Similarly not everyone who believes (āmanā) is certain in his belief. At times one believes in this on the basis of probability. Then Allah Almighty blesses him with the capability and he is escaped from the impression of ẓann. However, the īmān is not perfect unless attended by certitude (īqān). Thus āmān is two parts: knowledge and submission. With the perfect presence of these two the īmān is perfected. However, when a man of pure unaffected heart has knowledge it suffices him because the knowledge necessarily lends submission and ability to act according to the knowledge to a man of pure heart to the level of his knowledge.
As for īqān it is the cognitive part of īmān yet it adds a degree in the knowledge. (Farāhī, Niẓām al-Qur’ān, al-Baqarah: p. 3)