(ENGLISH) COMMENTARY BY MUHAMMED ESED
( BY MUHAMMED ESED )
21 - AL-ANBIYA
In the name of god, the most gracious, The dispenser of grace: (1)

1 - According to most of the authorities, this invocation (which occurs at the beginning of every surah with the exception of surah 9) constitutes an integral part of "The Opening" and is, therefore, numbered as verse I. In all other instances, the invocation "in the name of God" precedes the surah as such, and is not counted among its verses. - Both the divine epithets rahman and rahrm are derived from the noun rahmah, which signifies "mercy", "compassion", "loving tenderness" and, more comprehensively, "grace". From the very earliest times, Islamic scholars have endeavoured to define the exact shades of meaning which differentiate the two terms. The best and simplest of these explanations is undoubtedly the one advanced by Ibn al-Qayyim (as quoted in Mandr I, 48): the term rahman circumscribes the quality of abounding grace inherent in, and inseparable from, the concept of God's Being, whereas rahrm expresses the manifestation of that grace in, and its effect upon, His creation-in other words, an aspect of His activity.

        
The main theme of this surah - which according to the Itqan belongs to the last group of the Meccan revelations - is the stress on the oneness, uniqueness and transcendence of God and on the fact that this truth has always been the core of all prophetic revelation, the essence of all that you ought to bear in mind (verse 10), and which man only too often forgets: for the deaf [of heart] will not hearken to this call, however often they are warned (verse 45), and but listen to it with playful amusement, their hearts set on passing delights (verses 2 -3).The repeated allusions to some of the prophets of old, all of whom preached the same fundamental truth, provide the title of this surah. The stories of those prophets are meant to illustrate the continuity and intrinsic unity of all divine revelation and of mans religious experience: hence, addressing all who believe in Him. God says, Verily, this community of yours is one single community, since I am the Sustainer of you all (verse 92), thus postulating the brotherhood of all true believers, whatever their outward designation, as a logical corollary of their belief in Him - the belief that your God is the One and Only God (verse 108).
1. CLOSER DRAWS unto men their reckoning: and yet they remain stubbornly heedless [of its approach]. (1)

1 - Lit., and yet in [their] heedlessness they are obstinate (muridun).

2. Whenever there comes unto them any new reminder from their Sustainer, they but listen to it with playful amusement, (2)

2 - Lit., while they are playing.

3. their hearts set on passing delights; yet they who are [thus] bent on wrongdoing conceal their innermost thoughts [when they say to one another], Is this [Muhammad] anything but a mortal like yourselves? Will you, then, yield to [his] spellbinding eloquence with your eyes open? (3)

3 - As regards my occasional rendering of sihr (lit., sorcery or magic) as spellbinding eloquence, see 74: 24, where this term occurs for the first time in the chronology of Quranic revelation. By rejecting the message of the Quran on the specious plea that Muhammad is but a human being endowed with spellbinding eloquence, the opponents of the Quranic doctrine in reality conceal their innermost thoughts: for, their rejection is due not so much to any pertinent criticism of this doctrine as, rather, to their instinctive, deep-set unwillingness to submit to the moral and spiritual discipline which an acceptance of the Prophets call would entail.

4. Say: (4) My Sustainer knows whatever is spoken in heaven and on earth; and He alone is all-hearing, all-knowing.

4 - According to the earliest scholars of Medina and Basrah, as well as some of the scholars of Kufah, this word is spelt qul, as an imperative (Say), whereas some of the Meccan scholars and the majority of those of Kufah read it as qala (He [i.e., the Prophet] said). In the earliest copies of the Quran the spelling was apparently confined, in this instance, to the consonants q-l: hence the possibility of reading it either as qul or as qala. However, as Tabari points out, both these readings have the same meaning and are, therefore, equally valid, for, when God bade Muhammad to say this, he [undoubtedly] said it Hence, in whichever way this word is read, the reader is correct (musib as-sawab) in his reading. Among the classical commentators, Baghawi and Baydawi explicitly use the spelling qul, while Zamakhsharis short remark that it has also been read as qala seems to indicate his own preference for the imperative qul.

5. Nay, they say, [Muhammad propounds] the most involved and confusing of dreams! (5) Nay, but he has invented [all] this! - Nay, but he is [only] a poet! - [and,] Let him, then, come unto us with a miracle, just as those [prophets] of old were sent [with miracles]?

5 - Lit., confusing medleys (adghath) of dreams.

6. Not one of the communities that We destroyed in bygone times (6) would ever believe [their prophets]: will these, then, [be more willing to] believe? (7)

6 - Lit., before them.

7 - The downfall of those communities of old - frequently referred to in the Quran - was invariably due to the fact that they had been resolved to ignore all spiritual truths which militated against their own, materialistic concept of life: is it, then (so the Quranic argument goes), reasonable to expect that the opponents of the Prophet Muhammad, who are similarly motivated, would be more willing to consider his message on its merits?

7. For [even] before thy time, [O Muhammad,] We never sent [as Our apostles] any but [mortal] men, whom We inspired - hence, [tell the deniers of the truth,] If you do not know this, ask the followers of earlier revelation(8)

8 - -[Lit., followers of the reminder - i.e., of the Bible, which in its original, uncorrupted form represented one of Gods reminders to man.

8. and neither did We endow them with bodies that could dispense with food nor were they immortal. (9)

9 - Lit., neither did We fashion them [ie., those apostles] as bodies that ate no food, implying a denial of any supernatural quality in the prophets entrusted with Gods message (cf. 5:75, 13:38 and 25:20, as well as the corresponding notes). The above is an answer to the unbelievers objection to Muhammads prophethood expressed in verse 3 of this surah.

9. In the end, We made good unto them Our promise, and We saved them and all whom We willed [to save], (10) and We destroyed those who had wasted their own selves. (11)

10 - I.e., their believing followers.

11 - As regards my rendering of al-musrifun as those who had wasted their own selves, see note on the last sentence of 10: 12.

10. [O MEN!] We have now bestowed upon you from on high a divine writ containing all that you ought to bear in mind*: will you not, then, use your reason? (12)

12 - *The term dhikr, which primarily denotes a reminder or a remembrance, or, as Raghib defines it, the presence (of something) in the mind, has also the meaning of that by which one is remembered, i.e., with praise - in other words, renown or fame - and, tropically, honour, eminence or dignity. Hence, the above phrase contains, apart from the concept of a reminder, an indirect allusion to the dignity and happiness to which man may attain by following the spiritual and social precepts laid down in the Quran. By rendering the expression dhikrukum as all that you ought to bear in mind, I have tried to bring out all these meanings.

11. For, how many a community that persisted in evildoing have We dashed into fragments, and raised another people in its stead! (13)

13 - Lit., after it.

12. And [every time,] as soon as they began to feel Our punishing might, lo! they tried to flee from it
13. [and at the same time they seemed to hear a scornful voice]: Do not try to flee, but return to all that [once] gave you pleasure and corrupted your whole being. (14) and [return] to your homes, so that you might be called to account [for what you have done]! (15)

14 - For an explanation of the phrase ma utriftum fihi, see surah 11: 116.

15 - The Quran does not say whose words these are, but the tenor of this passage indicates, I believe, that it is the scornful, self-accusing voice of the sinners own conscience: hence my interpolation, between brackets, at the beginning of this verse.

14. And they could only cry: (16) Oh, woe unto us! Verily, we were wrongdoers!

16 - Lit., They said.

15. And that cry of theirs did not cease until We caused them to become [like] a field mown down, still and silent as ashes.
16. AND [know that] We have not created the heavens and the earth and all that is between them in mere idle play: (17)

17 - Lit., playing or playfully, i.e., without meaning and purpose: see note on 10: 5

17. [for,] had We willed to indulge in a pastime, We would indeed have produced it from within Ourselves - if such had been Our will at all! (18)

18 - Lit., if We had [ever] willed to do so: meaning that, had God ever willed to indulge in a pastime (which, being almighty and self-sufficient, He has no need to do). He could have found it within His Own Self, without any necessity to create a universe which would embody His hypothetical - and logically inconceivable - will to please Himself, and would thus represent a projection, as it were, of His Own Being. In the elliptic manner of the Quran, the above passage amounts to a statement of Gods transcendence.

18. Nay, but [by the very act of creation] We hurl the truth against falsehood, (19) and it crushes the latter: and lo! it withers away. (20) But woe unto you for all your [attempts at] defining [God] (21)

19 - I.e., the truth of Gods transcendence against the false idea of His existential immanence in or co-existence with, the created universe.

20 - The obvious fact that everything in the created universe is finite and perishable effectively refutes the claim that it could be a projection of the Creator, who is infinite and eternal.

21 - Lit., for all that you attribute [to God] by way of description or of definition (cf. the last sentence of 6: 100 and the corresponding note) - implying that the idea of Gods immanence in His creation is equivalent to an attempt to define His Being.

19. for, unto Him belong all [beings] that are in the heavens and on earth; and those that are with Him* are never too proud to worship Him and never grow weary [thereof]: (22)

22 - *According to the classical commentators, this refers to the angels; but it is possible to understand the expression those who are with Him in a wider sense, comprising not only the angels but also all human beings who are truly God-conscious and wholly dedicated to Him. In either case, their being with Him is a metaphorical indication of their spiritual eminence and place of honour in Gods sight, and does not bear any spatial connotation of nearness (Zamakhshari and Razi): obviously so, because God is limitless in space as well as in time. (See also 40:7 and the corresponding note.)

20. they extol His limitless glory by night and by day, never flagging [therein].
21. And yet (23) some people choose to worship certain earthly things or beings as deities (24) that [are supposed to] resurrect [the dead; and they fail to realize that],

23 - As stressed by Zamakhshari, the particle am which introduces this sentence has not, as is so often the case, an interrogative sense (is it that), but is used here in the sense of bal, which in this instance may be rendered as and yet.

24 - Lit., they have taken unto themselves deities from the earth, i.e., from among the things or beings found on earth: an expression which alludes to all manner of false objects of worship - idols of every description, forces of nature, deified human beings, and, finally, abstract concepts such as wealth, power. etc.

22. had there been in heaven or on earth (25) any deities other than God, both [those realms would surely have fallen into ruin! But limitless in His glory is God, enthroned in His awesome almightiness (26) [far] above anything that men may devise by way of definition! (27)

25 - Lit., in those two [realms], alluding to the first clause of verse 19 above.

26 - Lit., the Sustainer (rabb) of the awesome throne of almightiness. (For this rendering of al-arsh, see note on 7: 54.

27 - Cf. last sentence of verse 18 above and the corresponding note, as well as note on 6: 100.

23. He cannot be called to account for whatever He does, whereas they will be called to account:
24. and yet, (28) they choose to worship [imaginary] deities instead of Him! Say [O Prophet]: Produce an evidence for what you are claiming: (29) this is a reminder [unceasingly voiced] by those who are with me, just as it was a reminder [voiced] by those who came before me. (30) But nay, most of them do not know the truth, and so they stubbornly turn away [from it] (31)

28 - See note on verse 21 above.

29 - Lit., produce your evidence, i.e., for the existence of deities other than God, as well as for the intellectual and moral justification of worshipping anything but Him.

30 - I.e., the earlier prophets, the purport of whose messages was always the stress on the oneness of God.

1 - In other words, most peoples obstinate refusal to consider a reasonable proposition on its merits is often due to no more than the simple fact that it is not familiar to them.

25. and [this despite the fact that even] before thy time We never sent any apostle without having revealed to him that there is no deity save Me, - [and that,] therefore, you shall worship Me [alone]!
26. And [yet,] some say, The Most Gracious has taken unto Himself a son! Limitless is He in His glory! (32) Nay, [those whom they regard as Gods offspring are but His] honoured servants: (33)

32 - I.e., utterly remote from the imperfection implied in the concept of offspring: see note on 19:92.

33 - This alludes to prophets like Jesus, whom the Christians regard as the son of God, as well as to the angels, whom the pre-Islamic Arabs considered to be Gods daughters (since they were conceived of as females).

27. they speak not until He has spoken unto them, and [whenever they act,] they act at His behest. (34)

34 - Lit., they do not precede Him in speech - meaning that they proclaim only what He has revealed to them and bidden them to proclaim.

28. He knows all that lies open before them and all that is hidden from them: (35) hence, they cannot intercede for any but those whom He has [already] graced with His goodly acceptance, since they themselves stand in reverent awe of Him. (36)

35 - See note on 2: 255.

36 - Cf. 19: 87 and 20: 109. Regarding the problem of intercession as such, see note on 10:3.]

29. And if any of them were to say, Behold, I am deity beside Him - that one We should requite with hell: thus do We requite all [such] evildoers.
30. ARE, THEN, they who are bent on denying the truth not aware that the heavens and the earth were [once] one single entity, which We then parted asunder? (37) and [that] We made out of water every living thing? Will they not, then, [begin to] believe? (38)

37 - The above unmistakable reference to the unitary origin of the universe - metonymically described in the Quran as the heavens and the earth - strikingly anticipates the view of almost all modern astrophysicists that this universe has originated from one entity, which became subsequently consolidated through gravity and then separated into individual nebulae, galaxies and solar systems, with further individual parts progressively breaking away to form new entities in the shape of stars, planets etc. (Regarding the Quranic reference to the phenomenon described by the term expanding universe, see 51: 47 and the corresponding note.)

38 - The statement that God made out of water every living thing expresses most concisely a truth that is nowadays universally accepted by science. It has a threefold meaning: (1) Water was the environment within which the prototype of all living matter originated; (2) among all the innumerable - existing or conceivable - liquids, only water has the peculiar properties necessary for the emergence and development of life; and (3) the protoplasm, which is the physical basis of every living cell - whether in plants or in animals - and represents the only form of matter in which the phenomena of life are manifested, consists overwhelmingly of water and is, thus, utterly dependent on it. Read together with the preceding statement, which alludes to the unitary origin of the physical universe, the emergence of life from and within an equally unitary element points to the existence of a unitary plan underlying all creation and, hence, to the existence and oneness of the Creator. This accent on the oneness of God and the unity of this creation is taken up again in verse 92 below.

31. And [are they not aware that] We have set up firm mountains on earth, lest it sway with them, (39) and [that] We have appointed thereon broad paths, so that they might find their way,

39 - See 16: 15 and the corresponding note.

32. and [that] We have set up the sky as a canopy well-secured? (40) And yet, they stubbornly turn away from [all] the signs of this [creation],

40 - See note on the first sentence of 13: 2, which seems to have a similar meaning.

33. and [fail to see that] it is He who has created the night and the day and the sun and the moon - all of them floating through space!
34. AND [remind those who deny thee, O Prophet, that] (41) never have We granted life everlasting to any mortal before thee: (42) but do they, perchance, hope that although thou must die, they will live forever? (43)

41 - This relates to the objection of the unbelievers, mentioned in verse 3 of this surah, that Muhammad is but a mortal like yourselves, and connects also with verses 7 8, which stress that all of Gods apostles were but mortal men (cf. 3: 144).

42 - The obvious implication and so We shall not grant it unto thee, either. Cf. 39: 30 thou art bound to die.

43 - Lit., but if, then, thou shouldst die, will they live forever? - implying an assumption on their part that they would not be called to account on death and resurrection.

35. Every human being is bound to taste death; and We test you [all] through the bad and the good [things of life] by way of trial: and unto Us you all must return. (44)

44 - Lit., you shall be brought back, i.e., for judgment.

36. But [thus it is:] whenever they who are bent on denying the truth consider thee, (45) they make thee but a target of their mockery, [saying to one another,] Is this the one who speaks [socontemptuously] of your gods? (46) and yet, it is they themselves who, at [every] mention of the Most Gracious, are wont to deny the truth! (47)

45 - Lit., see thee: but since this verb has here obviously an abstract meaning, relating to the message propounded by the Prophet., it is best rendered as above.

46 - Sc., and dares to deny their reality although he is a mere mortal like ourselves?

47 - I.e., although they resent any aspersion cast on whatever things or forces they unthinkingly worship, they refuse to acknowledge Gods planning will manifested in every aspect of His creation.

37. Man is a creature of haste; (48) [but in time] I shall make obvious to you [the truth of] My messages: do not, then, ask Me to hasten [it]! (49)

48 - Lit., is created out of haste - i.e., he is by nature imbued with impatience: cf. last sentence of 17: 11. In the present context this refers to mans impatience regarding things to come: in this case - as is obvious from the sequence - his hasty refusal to believe in Gods coming judgment.

49 - Cf. 16: 1 - Gods judgment is [bound to] come: do not, then, call for its speedy advent!

38. But they [who reject My messages are wont to] ask, When is that promise [of Gods judgment] to be fulfilled? [Answer this, O you who believe in it,] if you are men of truth! (50)

50 - The Quranic answer to this question is given in 7: 187.

39. If they but knew - they who are bent on denying the truth - [that there will come] a time when they will not be able to ward off the fire from their faces, nor from their backs, and will not find any succour!
40. Nay, but [the Last Hour] will come upon them of a sudden, and will stupefy them: and they will be unable to avert it, and neither wilt they be allowed any respite.
41. And, indeed, [O Muhammad, even] before thy time have [Gods] apostles been derided - but those who scoffed at them were [in the end] overwhelmed by the very thing which they had been wont to deride. (51)

51 - See 6: 10 (which has exactly the same wording) and the corresponding note.

42. Say: Who could protect you, by night or by day, from the Most Gracious? (52) And yet, from a remembrance of their Sustainer do they stubbornly turn away!

52 - The reference to God, in this context, as the Most Gracious (ar-rahman) is meant to bring out the fact that He and He alone is the protector of all creation.

43. Do they [really think that they] have deities that could shield them from Us? Those [alleged deities] are not [even] able to succour themselves: hence, neither can they [who worship them hope to] be aided [by them] against Us.
44. Nay, We have allowed these [sinners] as [We allowed] their forebears to enjoy the good things of life for a great length of time: (53) but then have they never yet seen how We visit the earth [with Our punishment], gradually depriving it of all that is best thereon? (54) Can they, then, [hope to] be the winners?

53 - Lit., until their lives (umur) grew long i.e., until they grew accustomed to the thought that their prosperity would last forever (Zamakhshari).

54 - For an explanation. See the identical phrase in 13: 41 and the corresponding notes.

45. SAY [unto all men]: 1 but warn you on the strength of divine revelation! But the deaf [of heart] will not hearken to this call, however often they are warned. (55)

55 - Lit., whenever they are warned.

46. And yet, if but a breath of thy Sustainers chastisement touches them, they are sure to cry, Oh, woe unto us! Verily, we were evildoers!
47. But We shall set up just balance-scales on Resurrection Day, and no human being shall be wronged in the least: for though there be [in him but] the weight of a mustard-seed [of good or evil], We shall bring it forth; and none can take count as We do!
48. AND, INDEED, We vouchsafed unto Moses and Aaron [Our revelation as] the standard by which to discern the true from the false, (56) and as a [guiding] light and a reminder for the God-conscious

56 - See note on 2: 53. The reference to the revelation bestowed on the earlier prophets as the standard by which to discern the true from the false (al-furqan) has here a twofold implication: firstly, it alludes to the Quranic doctrine - explained in note on 2: 4 - of the historical continuity in all divine revelation, and, secondly, it stresses the fact that revelation - and revelation alone - provides an absolute criterion of all moral valuation. Since the Mosaic dispensation as such was binding on the children of Israel alone and remained valid only within a particular historical and cultural context, the term al-furqan relates here not to the Mosaic Law as such, but to the fundamental ethical truths contained in the Torah and common to all divine revelations.

49. who stand in awe of their Sustainer although He is beyond the reach of human perception, (57) and who tremble at the thought of the Last Hour.

57 - For an explanation of the above rendering of the expression bi l-ghayb, see note on 2: 3.

50. And [like those earlier revelations,] this one, too, is a blessed reminder which We have bestowed from on high: will you, then, disavow it?
51. AND, INDEED, long before [the time of Moses] We vouchsafed unto Abraham his consciousness of what is right; (58) and We were aware of [what moved] him

58 - The possessive pronoun his affixed to the noun rushd (which, in this context, has the meaning of consciousness of what is right) emphasizes the highly personal, intellectual quality of Abrahams progressive realization of Gods almightiness and uniqueness (cf. 6: 74 -79 as well as note on 6: 83); while the expression min qabl - rendered by me as long before [the time of Moses] - stresses, once again, the element of continuity in mans religious insight and experience.

52. when he said unto his father and his people, What are these images to which you are so intensely devoted?
53. They answered: We found our forefathers worshipping them.
54. Said he: Indeed, you and your forefathers have obviously gone astray!
55. They asked: Hast thou come unto us [with this claim] in all earnest - or art thou one of those jesters?
56. He answered: Nay, but your [true] Sustainer is the Sustainer of the heavens and the earth - He who has brought them into being: and I am one of those who bear witness to this [truth]!
57. And [he added to himself.] By God, I shall most certainly bring about the downfall of your idols as soon as you have turned your backs and gone away!
58. And then he broke those [idols] to pieces, [all] save the biggest of them, so that they might [be able to] turn to it. (59)

59 - Sc., for an explanation of what had happened.

59. [When they saw what had happened,] they said: Who has done this to our gods? Verily, one of the worst wrongdoers is he!
60. Said some [of them]: We heard a youth speak of these [gods with scorn]: he is called Abraham.
61. [The others] said: Then bring him before the peoples eyes, so that they might bear witness [against him]!
62. [And when he came.] they asked: Hast thou done this to our gods, O Abraham?
63. He answered: Nay, it was this one, the biggest of them, that did it: but ask them [yourselves] - provided they can speak!
64. And so they turned upon one another, (60) saying, Behold, it is you who are doing wrong. (61)

60 - Lit., they turned to [or upon] themselves, i.e., blaming one another.

61 - I.e., you are doing wrong to Abraham by rashly suspecting him (Tabari).

65. But then they relapsed into their former way of thinking and said: (62) Thou knowest very well that these [idols] cannot speak!

62 - Lit., they were turned upside down upon their heads: an idiomatic phrase denoting a mental somersault - In this case, a sudden reversal of their readiness to exonerate Abraham and a return to their former suspicion.

66. Said [Abraham]: Do you then worship, instead of God, something that cannot benefit you in any way, nor harm you?
67. Fie upon you and upon all that you worship instead of God! Will you not, then, use your reason?
68. They exclaimed: Burn him, and [thereby] succour your gods, if you are going to do [anything]!
69. [But] We said: O fire! Be thou cool, and [a source of] inner peace for Abraham! (63)

63 - Nowhere does the Quran state that Abraham was actually, bodily thrown into the fire and miraculously kept alive in it: on the contrary, the phrase God saved him from the fire occurring in 29: 24 points, rather, to the fact of his not having been thrown into it. On the other hand, the many elaborate (and conflicting) stories with which the classical commentators have embroidered their interpretation of the above verse can invariably be traced hack to Talmudic legends and may, therefore, be disregarded. What the Quran gives us here, as well as in 29: 24 and 37: 97, is apparently an allegorical allusion to the fire of persecution, which Abraham had to suffer, and which, by dint of its intensity, was to become in his later life a source of spiritual strength and inner peace (salam). Regarding the deeper implications of the term salam, see note on 5: 16.

70. and whereas they sought to do evil unto him, We caused them to suffer the greatest loss: (64)

64 - Inasmuch as Abraham forsook - as shown in the next verse - his homeland, and thus abandoned his people to their spiritual ignorance.

71. for We saved him and Lot, [his brothers son, by guiding them] to the land which We have blessed for all times to come. (65)

65 - Lit., for all the worlds or for all people: i.e., Palestine, which subsequently became the homeland of a long line of prophets. (Abrahams native place - and the scene of his early struggles against polytheism - was Ur in Mesopotamia.)

72. And We bestowed upon him Isaac and [Isaacs son] Jacob as an additional gift (66) and caused all of them to be righteous men,

66 - I.e., in addition (nafilatan) to his eldest son Ishmael (Ismail) who had been born years before Isaac.

73. and made them leaders who would guide [others] in accordance with Our behest: for We inspired them [with a will] to do good works, and to be constant in prayer, and to dispense charity: and Us [alone] did they worship.
74. AND UNTO Lot, too, We vouchsafed sound judgment and knowledge [of right and wrong], and saved him from that community which was given to deeds of abomination. (67) [We destroyed those people - forr,] verily, they were people lost in evil, depraved

67 - For the story of Lot, see 7: 80 - 84, 11: 77 - 83 and 15: 58 - 76.

75. whereas him We admitted unto Our grace: for, behold, he was among the righteous.
76. AND [remember] Noah - [how,] when He called out [unto Us], long before [the time of Abraham and Lot], We responded to him and saved him and his household from that awesome calamity; (68)

68 - I.e., the Deluge. The story of Noah is mentioned several times in the Quran and particularly in 11: 25 - 48. Regarding the Deluge itself, see surah 7: 64.

77. and [how] We succoured him against the people who had given the lie to Our messages: verily, they were people lost in evil - and [so] We caused them all to drown.
78. AND [remember] David and Solomon - [how it was] when both of them gave judgment concerning the field into which some peoples sheep had strayed by night and pastured therein, and [how] We bore witness to their judgment: (69)

69 - For an elucidation of the story - or, rather, legend - to which the above verse alludes, we must rely exclusively on the Companions of the Prophet, since neither the Quran nor any authentic saying of the Prophet spells it out to us. However, the fact that a good many Companions and their immediate successors {tabiun) fully agreed on the substance of the story, differing only in one or two insignificant details, seems to indicate that at that period it was already well-established in ancient Arabian tradition. According to this story, a flock of sheep strayed at night into a neighbouring field and destroyed its crop. The case was brought before King David for judicial decision. On finding that the incident was due to the negligence of the owner of the sheep, David awarded the whole flock - the value of which corresponded roughly to the extent of the damage - as an indemnity to the owner of the field. Davids young son, Solomon, regarded this judgment as too severe, inasmuch as the sheep represented the defendants capital, whereas the damage was of a transitory nature, involving no more than the loss of one years crop, i.e., of income. He therefore suggested to his father that the judgment should be altered: the owner of the field should have the temporary possession and usufruct of the sheep (milk, wool, newborn lambs, etc.), while their owner should tend the damaged field until it was restored to its former productivity, whereupon both the field and the flock of sheep should revert to their erstwhile owners; in this way the plaintiff would be fully compensated for his loss without depriving the defendant of his substance. David realized that his sons solution of the case was better than his own, and passed judgment accordingly; but since he, no less that Solomon, had been inspired by a deep sense of justice, God - in the words of the Quran bore witness to their judgment.

79. for, [though] We made Solomon understand the case [more profoundly] yet We vouchsafed unto both of them sound judgment and knowledge [of right and wrong]. (70) And We caused (71) the mountains to join David in extolling Our limitless glory, and likewise the birds: (72) for We are able to do [all things].

70 - I.e., the fact that Solomons judgment was more profound did not disprove the intrinsic justice of Davids original judgment or deprive it of its merit.

71 - Lit., We compelled.

72 - A reference to the Psalms of David, which call upon all nature to extol the glory of God - similar to the Quranic verses, The seven heavens extol His limitless glory, and the earth, and all that they contain (17: 44), or All that is in the heavens and on earth extols Gods limitless glory (57: 1).

80. And We taught him how to make garments [of God- consciousness] for you, [O men,] so that they might fortify you against all that may cause you fear: but are you grateful [for this boon]? (73)

73 - The noun labus is synonymous with libas or libs, signifying a garment or garments (Qamus, Lisan al -.Arab). But since this term has occasionally been used by pre-Islamic Arabs in the sense of mail or coats of mail (ibid.), the classical commentators assume that it has this meaning in the above context as well; and in this they rely on the - otherwise unsupported - statement of the tabii Qatadah to the effect that David was the first to make chain mail (Tabari). Accordingly, they understand the term bas which occurs at the end of the sentence in it secondary sense of war or warlike violence, and interpret the relevant part of the verse thus: We taught him how to make coats of mail for you, so that they might fortify you against your [mutual acts of] violence, or against [the effects of] your warlike violence. One should, however, bear in mind that bas signifies also harm, misfortune, distress, etc., as well as danger; hence it denotes, it its widest sense, anything that causes distress or fear (Taj al-Arus). If we adopt this last meaning, the term labus may be understood in its primary significance of garment - in, this case, the metaphorical garment of God-consciousness (libas at-taqwa) of which the Quran speaks in 7: 26. Rendered in this sense, the above verse expresses the idea that the Almighty taught David how to imbue his followers with that deep God-consciousness which frees men from all spiritual distress and all fears, whether it be fear of one another or the subconscious fear of the Unknown. The concluding rhetorical question, but are you grateful [for this boon]? implies that, as a rule, man does not fully realize - and, hence, is not really grateful for - the spiritual bounty thus offered him byy God.

81. And unto Solomon [We made subservient] the stormy wind, so that it sped at his behest towards the land which We had blessed: (74) for it is We who have knowledge of everything.

74 - This is apparently an allusion to the fleets of sailing ships which brought untold riches to Palestine (the land which We had blessed) and made Solomons wealth proverbial.

82. And among the rebellious forces [which We made subservient to him] (75) there were some that dived for him [into the sea] and performed other works, besides: but it was We who kept watch over them. (76)

75 - My rendering, in this particular context, of shayatin (lit., satans) as rebellious forces is based on the tropical use of the term shaytan in the sense of anything rebellious, inordinately proud or insolent (cf. Lane IV, 1552) - in this case, possibly a reference to subdued and enslaved enemies or, more probably, to rebellious forces of nature which Solomon was able to tame and utilize; however, see also next note.

76 - In this as well as in several other passages relating to Solomon, the Quran alludes to the many poetic legends which were associated with his name since early antiquity and had become part and parcel of Judaeo-Christian and Arabian lore long before the advent of Islam. Although it is undoubtedly possible to interpret such passages in a rationalistic manner, I do not think that this is really necessary. Because they were so deeply ingrained in the imagination of the people to whom the Quran addressed itself in the first instance, these legendary accounts of Solomons wisdom and magic powers had acquired a cultural reality of their own and were, therefore, eminently suited to serve as a medium for the parabolic exposition of certain ethical truths with which this book is concerned: and so, without denying or confirming their mythical character, the Quran uses them as a foil for the idea that God is the ultimate source of all human power and glory, and that all achievements of human ingenuity, even though they may sometimes border on the miraculous, are but an expression of His transcendental creativity.

83. AND [remember] Job, when he cried out to his Sustainer, Affliction has befallen me: but Thou art the most merciful of the merciful! (77)

77 - The story of Job (Ayyub in Arabic), describing his erstwhile happiness and prosperity, his subsequent trials and tribulations, the loss of all his children and his property, his own loathsome illness and utter despair and, finally, Gods reward of his patience in adversity, is given in full in the Old Testament (The Book of Job). This Biblical, highly philosophical epic is most probably a Hebrew translation or paraphrase - still evident in the language employed - of an ancient Nabataean (i.e., North-Arabian) poem, for Job, the author of the finest piece of poetry that the ancient Semitic world produced, was an Arab, not a Jew, as the form of his name (Iyyob) and the scene of his book, North Arabia, indicate (Philip K. Hitti, History of the Arabs, London 1937, pp. 42 - 43). Since God spoke to him, Job ranks in the Quran among the prophets, personifying the supreme virtue of patience in adversity (sabr).

84. whereupon We responded unto him and removed all the affliction from which he suffered; and We gave him new offspring, (78) doubling their number as an act of grace from Us, and as a reminder unto all who worship Us.

78 - Lit., his family i.e., new children in place of those who had died.

85. AND [remember] Ishmael and Idris (79) and every one who [like them] has pledged himself [unto God]: (80) they all were among those who are patient in adversity,

79 - See surah 19: 56

80 - Lit., and him of the pledge. The expression dhu l-kifl is derived from the verb kafala - and especially the form takaffala - which signifies he became responsible [for some- thing or someone] or pledged himself [to do something]. Although the classical commentators consider dhu l-kifl to be the epithet or the proper name of a particular prophet - whom they variously, more or less at random, identify with Elijah or Joshua or Zachariah or Ezekiel - I fail to see any reason whatever for such attempts at identification, the more so since we have not a single authentic hadith which would mention, or even distantly allude to, a prophet by this name. I am, therefore, of the opinion that we have here (as in the identical expression in 38: 48) a generic term applying to every one of the prophets, inasmuch as each of them pledged himself unreservedly to God and accepted the responsibility for delivering His message to man.

86. and so We admitted them unto Our grace: behold, they were among the righteous!
87. AND [remember] him of the great fish (81) when he went off in wrath, thinking that We had no power over him! (82) But then heeded out in the deep darkness [of his distress]: There is no deity save Thee! Limitless art Thou in Thy glory! Verily, I have done wrong! (83)

81 - I.e., the Prophet Jonah, who is said to have been swallowed by a great fish, as mentioned hi 37: 139, and more fully narrated in the Old Testament (The Book of Jonah).]

82 - According to the Biblical account (which more or less agrees with the Quranic references to his story), Jonah was a prophet sent to the people of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria. At first his preaching was disregarded by his people, and he left them in anger, thus abandoning the mission entrusted to him by God; in the words of the Quran (37: 140), he fled like a runaway slave. The allegory of his temporary punishment and his subsequent rescue and redemption is referred to elsewhere in the Quran (i.e., in 37: 139 - 148) and explained in the corresponding notes. It is to that punishment, repentance and salvation that the present and the next verse allude. (The redemption of Jonahs people is mentioned in 10: 98 and 37: 47 - 148.)

83 - Lit., I was among the wrongdoers.

88. And so We responded unto him and delivered him from [his] distress: for thus do We deliver all who have faith.
89. AND [thus did We deliver] Zachariah when he cried out unto his Sustainer: O my Sustainer! Leave me not childless! But [even if Thou grant me no bodily heir, I know that] Thou wilt remain when all else has ceased to be!(84)

84 - Lit., Thou art the best of inheritors - a phrase explained in note on 15: 23. The words interpolated by me between brackets correspond to Zamakhsharis and Razis interpretation of this phrase. For more detailed references to Zachariah, father of John the Baptist, see 3: 37 and 19: 2.

90. And so We responded unto him, and bestowed upon him the gift of John, having made his wife fit to bear him a child: (85) [and,] verily, these [three] would vie with one another in doing good works, and would call unto Us in yearning and awe; and they were always humble before Us.

85 - Lit., for We had made his wife fit for him, i.e., after her previous barrenness.

91. AND [remember] her who guarded her chastity, whereupon We breathed into her of Our spirit (86) and caused her, together with her son, to become a symbol [of Our grace] unto all people. (87)

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

87 - For my rendering of the term ayah as symbol, see surah 17: 1 and surah 19: 21.

92. VERILY, [O you who believe in Me,] this community of yours is one single community, since I am the Sustainer of you all: worship, then, Me [alone]! (88)

88 - After calling to mind, in verses 48 - 91, some of the earlier prophets, all of whom stressed the oneness and uniqueness of God, the discourse returns to that principle of oneness as it ought to be reflected in the unity of all who believe in Him (See 23:51.)

93. But men have torn their unity wide asunder, (89) [forgetting that] unto Us they all are bound to return.

89 - This is the meaning of the idiomatic phrase, taqatta u amrahum baynahum. As Zamakhshari points out, the sudden turn of the discourse from the second person plural to the third person is indicative of Gods severe disapproval - His turning away, as it were, from those who are or were guilty of breaking the believers unity. (See also 23: 53 and the corresponding note.)

94. And yet, whoever does [the least] of righteous deeds and is a believer withal, his endeavour shall not be disowned: for, behold, We shall record it in his favour. (90)

90 - I.e., even a breach of religious unity may not be unforgivable so long as it does not involve a worship of false deities or false moral values (cf. verses 98 - 99 below): this is the meaning of the stress, in this context, on mans being a believer withal - an echo of the principle clearly spelt out in 2: 62 and several other Quranic passages.

95. Hence, it has been unfailingly true of (91) any community whom We have ever destroyed that they [were people who] would never turn back [from their sinful ways] (92)

91 - Lit., an inviolable law (haram) upon, expressing the impossibility of conceiving anything to the contrary (Zamakhshari).

92 - I.e., whenever God consigns a community to destruction, He does it not because of its peoples occasional lapses but only because of their irremediable, conscious unwillingness to forsake their sinful ways.

96. until such a time as Gog and Magog are let loose [upon the world] and swarm down from every corner [of the earth], (93)

93 - I.e., until the Day of Resurrection, heralded by the allegorical break-through of Gog and Magog (see note on surah 18: 98, especially the last sentence): for it is on that Day that even the most hardened sinner will at last realize his guilt, and be filled with belated remorse. The term hadab literally denotes raised ground or elevation, but the expression min kulli hadabin is used here idiomatically, signifying from all directions or from every corner [of the earth]: an allusion to the irresistible nature of the social and cultural catastrophes which will overwhelm mankind before the coming of the Last Hour.

97. the while the true promise [of resurrection] draws close [to its fulfillment]. But then, lo! the eyes of those who [in their lifetime] were bent on denying the truth will stare in horror, [and they will exclaim:] Oh, woe unto us! We were indeed heedless of this [promise of resurrection]! - nay, we were [bent on] doing evil! (94)

94 - I.e., deliberately and without any excuse, since all the prophets had warned man of the Day of Resurrection and Judgment: cf. 14: 44 - 45. The words bent on interpolated by me within brackets indicate intent, similar to the preceding expression alladhina kafaru, those who were bent on denying the truth (see also note on 2: 6).

98. [Then they will be told:] Verily, you and all that you [were wont to] worship instead of God are but the fuel of hell: that is what you are destined for. (95)

95 - Lit., you are bound to reach it. The expression all that you have worshipped instead of God comprises not merely all false religious imagery but also all false ethical values endowed with quasi-divine sanctity, all of which are but the fuel of hell.

99. If those [false objects of your worship] had truly been divine, they would not have been destined for it: but [as it is, you] all shall abide therein!
100. Moaning will be their lot therein, and nothing [else] will they hear therein. (96)

96 - Thus, spiritual deafness in the life to come will be the inexorable consequence of ones having remained deaf, in this world, to the voice of truth, just as blindness and oblivion will be part of the suffering of all who have been spiritually blind to the truth (cf. 20: 124 - 126).

101. [But,] behold, as for those for whom [the decree of] ultimate good has already gone forth from Us (97) these will be kept far away from that [hell]:

97 - I.e., those who have been promised paradise on account of their faith and their good deeds.

102. no sound thereof will they hear; and they will abide in all that their souls have ever desired.
103. The supreme awesomeness [of the Day of Resurrection] will cause them no grief, since the angels will receive them with the greeting. This is your Day [of triumph - the Day] which you were promised!
104. On that Day We shall roll up the skies as written scrolls are rolled up; [and] as We brought into being the first creation, so We shall bring it forth anew (98) a promise which We have willed upon Ourselves: for, behold, We are able to do [all things]!

98 - See in this connection 14: 48 and the corresponding note.]

105. AND, INDEED, after having exhorted [man], (99) We laid it down in all the books of divine wisdom that My righteous servants shall inherit the earth: (100)

99 - Lit., after the reminder (adh-dhikr). For the deeper implications of the Quranic term dhikr, see note on verse 10 of this surah.

100 - Zabur (lit., scripture or book) is a generic term denoting any book of wisdom: hence, any and all of the divine scriptures revealed by God to the prophets (Tabari). The statement that My righteous servants shall inherit the earth is obviously an echo of the promise, You are bound to rise high if you are [truly] believers (3: 139) - the implication being that it is only through faith in God and righteous behaviour on earth that man can reach the heights envisaged for him by his Creators grace.

106. herein, behold, there is a message for people who [truly] worship God.
107. And [thus, O Prophet,] We have sent thee as [an evidence of Our] grace towards all the worlds.

101 - I.e., towards all mankind. For an elucidation of this fundamental principle underlying the message of the Quran, see 7: 158 and the corresponding note. The universality of the Quranic revelation arises from three factors: firstly, its appeal to all mankind irrespective of descent, race or cultural environment; secondly, the fact that it appeals exclusively to mans reason and, hence, does not postulate any dogma that could be accepted on the basis of blind faith alone; and, finally, the fact that - contrary to all other sacred scriptures known to history - the Quran has remained entirely unchanged in its wording ever since its revelation fourteen centuries ago and will, because it is so widely recorded, forever remain so in accordance with the divine promise, it is We who shall truly guard it [from all corruption] (cf. 15: 9 and the corresponding note). It is by virtue of these three factors that the Quran represents the final stage of all divine revelation, and that the Prophet through whom it has been conveyed to mankind is stated to have been the last (in Quranic terminology, the seal) of all prophets (cf. 33: 40).

108. Say: It has but been revealed unto me (102) that your God is the One and Only God: will you, then, surrender yourselves unto Him?

102 - Cf. the first sentence of verse 45 of this surah. This stress on divine revelation as the only source of the Prophets knowledge referred to in the sequence is expressed, in Arabic, by means of the restrictive particle innama.

109. But if they turn away, say: I have proclaimed this in equity unto all of you alike; (103) but I do not know whether that [judgment] which you are promised [by God] is near or far [in time].

103 - The expression ala sawa (lit., in an equitable manner) comprises in this context two distinct concepts: that of fairness as regards the clarity and unambiguity of the above announcement, as well as of equality, implying that it is being made to all human beings alike; hence my composite rendering of this phrase.

110. Verily, He knows all that is said openly, just as He [alone] knows all that you would conceal.
111. But [as for me,] I do not know whether, perchance, this [delay in Gods judgment] is but a trial for you, and a [merciful] respite for a while. (104)

104 - Lit., enjoyment [of life] for a while: i.e., a chance, mercifully granted by God, to attain to faith.

112. Say: O my Sustainer! Judge Thou in truth! - and [say]: Our Sustainer is the Most GGracious, the One whose aid is ever to be sought against all your [attempts at] defining [Him]! (105)

105 - Lit., against (ala) all that you attribute [to Him] by way of description or of definition (see note on the last sentence of 6: 100): implying that only Gods grace can save man from the blasphemous attempts - prompted by his inherent weakness - to bring God closer to his own, human understanding by means of humanly-conceived definitions of Him who is transcendent, infinite and unfathomable.