(ENGLISH) COMMENTARY BY MUHAMMED ESED
( BY MUHAMMED ESED )
61 - AS-SAFF
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 TITLE of this surah has been derived from the expression saffan ('"in [solid] ranks") occurring in verse 4. The central idea, first enunciated in verse 2 and developed in the subsequent passages, is "Why do you say one thing and do another?" Thus, it is essentially a call to unity between professed belief and actual behaviour. The date of revelation cannot be established with absolute certainty, but it is probable that it was revealed shortly after the near-defeat of the Muslims in the battle of Uhud - that is, towards the end of the year 3 or the beginning of 4 H.
1. ALL THAT IS in the heavens and all that is on earth extols God's limitless glory: for He alone is almighty, truly wise!
2. O YOU who have attained to faith! Why do you say one thing and do another? (1)

1 - Lit., "Why do you say what you do not do?" In the first instance, this may be an allusion to such of the Prophet's Companions as had retreated in disorder from their battle stations at Uhud (see surah 3, note 90) despite their previous assertions that they were ready to lay down their lives in the cause of God and His Apostle. In a wider sense, the passage is addressed to all those who claim that they are willing to live up to anything that the divine writ declares to be desirable, then fall short of this determination.

3. Most loathsome is it in the sight of God that you say what you do not do!
4. Verily, God loves [only] those who fight in His cause in [solid] ranks, (2) as though they were a building firm and compact.

2 - I.e., in unison, with their deeds corresponding to their assertions of faith. This moral necessity is further illustrated - by its opposite - in the subsequent reference to Moses and the recalcitrant among his followers.

5. Now when Moses spoke to his people, [it was this same truth that he had in mind:] "O my people! Why do you cause me grief, (3) the while you know that I am an apostle of God sent unto you?" And so, when they swerved from the right way, God let their hearts swerve from the truth: (4) for God does not bestow His guidance upon iniquitous folk.

3 Sc., "by admitting that I speak in the name of God, and acting contrary to this you assertion": an allusion to the many instances of the contrariness and rebelliousness of the children of Israel evident from their own scriptures.

4 Thus, persistence in wrong actions is bound to react on man's beliefs as well. As regards Gods "letting their hearts swerve from the truth", see surah 14, note 4. Cf. also the oft-recurring reference to God's "sealing" a sinner's heart explained in note 7 on 2:7.

6. And [this happened, too,] when Jesus, the son of Mary, said: "O children of Israel! Behold, I am an apostle of God unto you, [sent] to confirm the truth of whatever there still remains (5) of the Torah, and to give [you] the glad tiding of an apostle who shall come after me, whose name shall be Ahmad." (6) But when he [whose coming Jesus had foretold] came unto them (7) with all evidence of the truth, they said: "This [alleged message of his] is [nothing but] spellbinding eloquence!" (8)

5 Lit., "whatever there is between my hands" - a phrase explained in surah 3, note 3.

6 This prediction is supported by several references in the Gospel of St. John to the Parakletos (usually rendered as "Comforter") who was to come after Jesus. This designation is almost certainly a corruption of Periklytos ("the Much-Praised"), an exact Greek translation of the Aramaic term or name Mawhamana. (It is to be borne in mind that Aramaic was the language used in Palestine at the time .of, and for some centuries after, Jesus, and was thus undoubtedly the language in which the original - now lost - texts of the Gospels were composed.) In view of the phonetic closeness of Periklytos and Parakletos it is easy to understand how the translator - or, more probably, a later scribe - confused these two expressions. It is significant that both the Aramaic Mawhamana and the Greek Periklytos have the same meaning as the two names of the Last Prophet, Muhammad and Ahmad, both of which are derived from the verb hamida ("he praised") and the noun hamd ("praise"). An even more unequivocal prediction of the advent of the Prophet Muhammad - mentioned by name, in its Arabic form - is said to be forthcoming from the so-called Gospel of St. Barnabas, which, though now regarded as apocryphal, was accepted as authentic and was read in the churches until the year 496 of the Christian era, when it was banned as "heretical" by a decree of Pope Gelasius. However, since the original text of that Gospel is not available (having come down to us only in an Italian translation dating from the late sixteenth century), its authenticity cannot be established with certainty.

7 - I.e., to the later followers of the Bible.

8 Alluding to the Quran (see 74:24-25 and the corresponding note 12).

7. And who could be more wicked than one who invents [such] a lie about [a message from] God, seeing that he is [but] being called to self-surrender unto Him? But God does not bestow His guidance upon evil-doing folk.
8. They aim to extinguish God's light with their utterances: (9) but God has willed to spread His light in all its fullness, however hateful this may be to all who deny the truth

9 Lit., "with their mouths" - i.e., by describing God's message as "nothing but spellbinding eloquence" on the part of Muhammad.

9. He it is who has sent forth His Apostle with [the task of] spreading guidance and the religion of truth, to the end that He make it prevail over all [false] religion, (10) however hateful this may be to those who ascribe divinity to aught but God.

10 Cf. 3:19 - "the only [true] religion in the sight of God is [mans] self surrender unto Him".

10. O YOU who have attained to faith! Shall I point out to you a bargain that will save you from grievous suffering [in this world and in the life to come]? (11)

11 - Cf. 9:111 - "God has bought of the believers their lives and their possessions, promising them paradise in return" - which explains the metaphor of a "bargain" (tijarah). My interpolation, between brackets, of the phrase "in this world and in the life to come" is justified by the subsequent verses 12 and 13, one of which relates to the hereafter, and the other to this world.

11. You are to believe in God and His Apostle, and to strive hard in God's cause with your possessions and your lives: this is for your own good - if you but knew it!
12. [If you do so,] He will forgive you your sins, and [in the life to come] will admit you into gardens through which running waters flow, and into goodly mansions in [those] gardens of perpetual bliss: (12) that [will be] the triumph supreme!

12 - For this rendering of 'adn, see note 45 on 38:50.

13. And [withal, He will grant you] yet another thing that you dearly love: succour from God [in this world], and a victory soon to come: : (13) and [thereof, O Prophet,] give thou a glad tiding to all who believe.

13 - Some of the commentators see in this promise of victory a prediction of actual, warlike conquests by the Muslims. It is, however, much more probable that it relates to a spiritual victory of the Qur'anic message, and its spread among people who had not previously understood it.

14. O YOU who have attained to faith! Be helpers [in the cause of God - even as Jesus, the son of Mary, said unto the white-garbed ones, (14) "Who will be my helpers in God's cause?" - whereupon the white-garbed [disciples] replied, "We shall be [thy] helpers [in the cause] of God!" And so [it happened that] some of the children of Israel came to believe [in the apostleship of Jesus], whereas others denied the truth. (15) But [now] We have given strength against their foes unto those who have [truly] attained to faith: (16) and they have become the ones that shall prevail.

14 - For this rendering of al-hawariyyun, see surah 3, note 42.

15 - I.e., some of them recognized him as a prophet - and, therefore, as no more than a created, human being - whereas others denied this truth in the course of time by regarding him as "the son of God" - and, therefore, as "God incarnate" - while still others rejected him and his message altogether. The fact that the earliest followers of Jesus regarded him as purely human is evident from the many theological controversies which persisted during the first three or four centuries of the Christian era. Thus, some renowned theologians, like Theodotus of Byzantium, who lived towards the end of the second century, and his followers - among them Paul of Samosata, Bishop of Antioch in the year 260 - maintained that the "sonship of God" mentioned in the then-existing texts of the Gospels was purely symbolic, denoting no more than that Jesus was a human being exalted by God. The originally widespread teachings of Bishop Arius (280-326) centred in the concept of Jesus as a mortal man chosen by God for a specific task, and in the concept of God as absolutely One, unknowable, and separate from every created being; this doctrine, however, was ultimately condemned by the Councils of Nicaea (325) and Constantinople (381), and gradually ceased to have any influence on the Christian masses.

16 - I.e., all who truly believe in Jesus as Gods Apostle and thus, as a forerunner of the Last Prophet, Muhammad, whose message confirms and expands the true message of Jesus.