This sūrah of 286 verses is the longest in the Qur’ān and may be regarded as a detailed summary of it. The sūrah began to be revealed just after the Emigration (Hijrah) to Madīnah and continued to be revealed over almost ten years until all the elements of it were completed. As pointed out in the Preface, whenever a verse or group of verses was revealed, God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, had it written and inserted in the place in the sūrah to which it belonged, and where it had to be, by God’s order.
- Alif. Lām. Mīm.1
- If the lām–alif (a compound letter) is counted, the Qur’ānic alphabet has 29 letters, oth- erwise 28. The Qur’ān uses half of these at the beginning of 29 sūrahs, either singly like qāf (as in Sūrah Qāf ) and sād (as in Sūrah Sād), or in two-, three-, four- or five-letter combina- tions. These letters are called hurūf al-muqatta‘āt: disjunct, isolated or abbreviated letters.
Much has been said and written about their meaning:
- Spelling these letters means that people had just begun to learn how to read and write. So, their presence at the beginning of some sūrahs shows that the Qur’ān was sent down to an illiterate people.
- They imply that the Qur’ān is a book composed of words and letters, which it is impossible for an illiterate person like the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, to have produced. As the Qur’ān is a book, the universe is also a book. This is why Muslim sages call the former “the Revealed and Written Universe,” and the latter “the created Book.” A letter has no meaning of itself; rather, it functions in a word and points to its writer in many ways. each creature in the universe functions in a similar way by likewise pointing to its creator.
- The characters of the Arabic alphabet are variant forms, extended and curved, of the first letter alif, which is itself described as the extended form of the nuktah, or “point.” This is a symbol of the reality that, like the letters, words and sentences of the Qur’ān, all the creatures of the universe originate in a single source and are interrelated. From this we may understand that, in order to be able to produce even a single atom in the universe or a word in the Qur’ān in its proper place, one must have the knowledge and power to produce the whole universe and the whole Qur’ān.
- These letters are like ciphers between the Revealer – God – and the Messenger, the exact and complete meaning of which is known to the Messenger only. However, this does not mean no one else can grasp some of their meanings. exacting scholars well- versed in the science of the mysteries of the letters have drawn many mysterious con-
clusions from them and discovered in them such truths that, in their view, these letters form a most brilliant miracle. For example, Imam Rabbānī Ahmad Fārūq al-Sirhindī (1564?–1624) discovered the signs of many future events in them.
- This is the (most honored, matchless) Book: there is no doubt about it (its Divine authorship and that it is a collection of pure truths throughout) — a guidance for the God-revering, pious who keep their duty to God.2
- The word translated as “the God-revering, pious who keep their duty to God” is muttaqī
. It is derived from taqwā, from wiqāyah , meaning protection, self-defense and averting (danger). Taqwā is one of the most important concepts used to characterize a Muslim believer. It denotes refraining from sins in utmost reverence for God and receiving His protection against deviations and His punishment. God has two sets of laws: one includes the “religious” laws (including the pillars of faith, and principles of worship and morality) governing human individual and social life, and the other, the Divine laws of the creation and operation of the universe studied by the natural sciences (which we wrongly call “laws of nature”). God’s protection depends on acting in accordance with both of these sets of laws. The recompense for complying or not with the former usually comes in the Hereafter, while for the latter, in this world. Taqwā , which we will render as “piety, righteousness, and reverence for God” in this commentary, is the only criterion of human distinction or nobil- ity in God’s sight: “Surely the noblest, most honorable of you in God’s sight is the one best in taqwā (piety, righteousness, and reverence for God).” (49: 13)
- Those who believe in the Unseen,3 establish the Prayer in conformity with its conditions, and out of what We have provided for them (of wealth, knowl- edge, power, etc.,), they spend (to provide sustenance for the needy and in God’s cause, purely for the good pleasure of God and without placing others under obligation.)
- The word translated as “the Unseen” is ghayb . Its opposite, shahādah , means what is observable or sensed. So, the ghayb denotes that which is not directly sensed or is beyond the physical senses. It has two categories: one absolute, the other limited or relative. The ab- solute ghayb, from the perspective of this world, denotes God, the Divine Being, with His Attributes and Names, and the worlds of the Hereafter. The worlds of angels, jinn, spirits and other immaterial beings can also be included in the absolute ghayb for the common people – “common” from the perspective of spiritual development. The exact knowledge of the absolute ghayb belongs to God exclusively. However, He may impart some of it to whomever He wishes amongst His servants, including primarily His Messengers, in what- ever way He wills. As for the limited or relative ghayb , it denotes all that we cannot “sense” within the present conditions we are in, of which the most obvious case is occurrences in the past and future. For example, the Qur’ān uses the term “the tidings of the ghayb ” when narrating the histories of bygone peoples. This class of the ghayb can be known through study and investigation and, in respect of the future, with the passage of time.
It is of great significance that the Qur’ān praises the believers, first of all, for their belief in the ghayb . This means that existence is not restricted to what is sensed and observed. This corporeal realm is the manifestation of the unseen and unobservable according to the measures particular to it. So the truth, or full reality, of every phenomenon in this world
lies in the world of the ghayb . By mentioning the believers’ faith in the ghayb at the outset, the Qur’ān teaches us how we must view things and events, providing us with the true criterion and viewpoint. This world is like a book whose meaning lies in the ghayb and which makes its Author known to us. Believers are those who study this Book and discover its Author. They view every thing and event in this world from this perspective and base all their studies upon this foundation. This is the point at which Islamic epistemology departs from modern epistemology.
- And those who believe in what is sent down to you, and what was sent down before you (such as the Torah, Gospel and Psalms, and the Scrolls of Abraham), and in the Hereafter, they have certainty of faith.4/5
- The word translated as “certainty of faith” is yaqīn . It means having no doubt about the truth of a matter and arriving at accurate, doubt-free knowledge. This knowledge can come from either Revelation, or study and verification. Yaqīn has three degrees: first, that which comes from knowledge ( ‘ilm al-yaqīn ); second, that which depends on seeing and observation ( ‘ayn al-yaqīn ); and third, that which comes from direct experience ( ‘haqq al-yaqīn ). For example, rising smoke is the sign of fire and gives us some certainty about the existence of a fire where it is rising. This certainty is that which is based on knowledge. When we go to where the smoke is rising and see the fire with our own eyes, our certainty of the fire’s existence is the kind coming from direct observation. If we put our hand into the fire and feel its burning quality, then we obtain experienced certainty about the exis- tence and quality of fire.
- And those who believe in what is sent down to you, and what was sent down before you (such as the Torah, Gospel and Psalms, and the Scrolls of Abraham), and in the Hereafter, they have certainty of faith.4/5
One may acquire certainty about, or certain faith in the Hereafter, through Revelation or discovery; through the seeing of the “heart” (the spiritual intellect); through intellectual de- duction or reasoning; or through some sort of contact with the spirits of the dead (provided that this last is done through authentic ways); through true dreams; or through scientific studies. In all these cases, it will be certainty based on knowledge, that is, certainty of the first degree.
- By describing the qualities of believers in a few concise phrases, the Qur’ān wonderfully summarizes the main essentials of Islam. Islam is based on believing in the meta-physical – including first and foremost the reality of God with all His Attributes and Names, which is the source of all truths. Believing in one of the pillars of the Islamic faith requires believing in the others, because one cannot be conceived of without the others. For example, believ- ing in God requires believing in the Messengership, because, first of all, it is only through Messengership that we can have accurate knowledge about God and receive answers to the basic questions we all ask as human beings: Who am I? What is this world all about? What is the essence, nature and meaning of life? Who sent me to this world and why? What do life and death ask of me? What is my final destination? Who is my guide in this journey- ing of life? Believing in Messengership requires believing in Revelation, Divine Books and angels. Finally, the afterlife is both the inevitable, eternal consequence of this life and a requirement of God’s being eternal, with all His Attributes and Names.
Second, as stated in a Prophetic Tradition, the (prescribed) Prayer constitutes the central pillar of Islamic life (ad-Daylamī, 2: 204). Without it, one cannot establish the building of Islam. Giving to those in need is the bridge between people, a bridge that fills the space
between social classes. Believing in all the Prophets and Divine Books make all believ- ers from the time of Adam brothers and sisters. Islam is the consummation of all Divine religions and the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, was heir to all his predecessors. Belief in the Hereafter extends life and time to eternity and embraces all believers among humankind, jinn and angels, in a single, eternal embrace.
- Those (illustrious ones) stand on true guidance (originating in the Qur’ān) from their Lord; and they are those who are the prosperous.6
- Prosperity ( falā h ) has many degrees and types according to the needs and aspirations of people and the degrees of their spiritual enlightenment. For example, some want to be saved from eternal punishment, while others desire Paradise. There are still some who aim at the higher ranks in Paradise, and others who aspire to obtain God’s good pleasure. By ending the account of the believers’ virtues with prosperity but without specifying it, the Qur’ān allows that there are various degrees in faith, sincerity, purity of intention, and good deeds, and corresponding degrees in the final prosperity achieved.
- (Despite the commitment and energy you show in striving to help people to believe,) those who willfully persist in unbelief, it is alike to them whether you warn them or do not warn them; (although it is your mission to warn them and you do it without any neglect,) they will not believe.
- God has set a seal upon their hearts and on their hearing, and on their eyes is a covering.7 For them is a mighty punishment (in the Hereafter).8
- The three most important reasons for unbelief are self-pride, wrongdoing or injustice, and prejudice causing deviancy in thought and action. Under the influence of these, the heart, which has been created to serve as a mirror to God, is darkened and polluted. Just as institutions or buildings that have operated in a way contrary to the law or the lawful purpose of their construction are sealed up, so does God seal up a heart which has lost its ability to believe internally.
If the heart is protected against sins, wrongdoing, prejudice, self-pride and the merciless- ness that does injustice, the senses of hearing and seeing through which the heart estab- lishes its relationship with the outer world, function properly. Besides, such a heart has a “point of affirmation.” That is, the verses of Revelation coming into it through the ears and the evidences the eyes obtain from the universe, cause the light of faith to be kindled in it. But if a heart loses its essential identity for the reasons mentioned above, it is useless to look for a point of affirmation in it. As a result, the ears become deaf to Revelation, and since the heart has no longer a point of affirmation, the eyes’ observation or study of the universe increases only unbelief in it. Perhaps that is why, in many science circles, where the science is pursued on the modern Western pattern, some still insist on atheism.
- Unbelief is an immeasurable, unpardonable crime because it is:
- an unforgivable ingratitude in the face of infi nite Divine favors;
- a limitless disrespect to God and His Attributes;
- Unbelief is an immeasurable, unpardonable crime because it is:
- a rejection of, and contempt for, the innumerable signs of God in the universe;
- an accusation of lying and deceit against numberless beings who have believed in God, among whom are angels, righteous and believing jinn and human beings, more than a hundred thousand Prophets, and millions of saints and most honourable scholars, all of whom have never lied;
- an everlasting destruction of human conscience, which has been created for eternity and, therefore, aspires to it.
Just as faith results in eternal happiness and bliss, so does unbelief, in the sense that reject- ing any of the pillars of faith has the potential to result in an eternal, painful punishment.
- 9Among people are some who say, “We believe in God and in the Last Day,” although they are not believers.
- After describing the believers and unbelievers in a few comprehensive statements, the Qur’ān starts to depict the hypocrites in thirteen verses. This is because:
A hypocrite is a deceiving, secret enemy. An undeclared enemy is the most dangerous – if cheating and dishonest, more malicious and seditious; and if internal to the community, more harmful. The crimes of hypocrisy in the Muslim world have always been greater and more destructive than the harm coming outside faith. A little attention to the char- acteristics described in these verses will suffice to call to mind the committees of evil, the underground gangs, and the secret circles who have been “setting fire” to this world for centuries.
evil attributes and acts such as derision, trickery, lying and ostentation are found more among hypocrites than unbelievers. This is another reason why the Qur’ān has described the hypocrites in detail and warned the Muslims against acquiring such attributes through unguarded association with them.
On the other hand, since hypocrites live among the believers, it is possible that long and re- peated descriptions of their characteristics may cause the hypocrites themselves to perceive the evil of their hypocrisy, and the Kalimat at-Taw h īd (the declaration of faith in God’s Unity, namely “There is no deity but God, and Muhammad is His Messenger”), which they pronounce with their tongues, may find a way to their hearts.
- They would trick God and those who believe, yet they trick only their own selves (of which they are enamored), but they do not perceive.
- In the very center of their hearts is a sickness (that dries up the source of their spiritual life, extinguishes their power of understanding and corrupts their character), and (because of their moral corruption and the tricks they deploy out of envy and malice) God has increased them in sickness.10 For them is a painful punishment because they habitually lie.
- Qur’ānic statements such as those about how God has “increased them in sickness”, “set a seal on their hearts and hearing”, and “left them to wander blindly” do not by any means
signify that human beings have no will-power and, therefore, no responsibility for their acts of deviancy. Rather, such statements clarify the true nature of Divine pre-determination or Destiny and human free will.
A person gets his or her just deserts in recompense for his or her inclinations, thoughts and actions. A person wills and acts , and God creates . creating human deeds means giving “external” existence or reality to human will and human actions. The Qur’ānic statements cited above mean that, in response to people using their will-power in a certain direction and acting in that direction, God has given “external” or “visible, material” existence to their intentions, choices and actions.
Having confused human acting with Divine creation and thus wrongly supposed that there are two kinds of destiny – one for the cause, and the other for the effect – the school of the Jabriyyah (fatalists) denied human free will, while the school of the Mu‘tazilah (rational- ists) accorded creative effect to human will and agency, concluding that it is human beings who create their actions.
- (Because of the disorder they intend to provoke with their lies,) whenever they are told (as part of the duty enjoined upon the believers to promote good and forbid evil), “Do not cause disorder and corruption on earth,” they say: “Why! We indeed are the ones who set things right.”
- Beware, they themselves are those who cause disorder and corruption, but they are unaware (of what they do and ignorant of what setting things right is and what causing disorder is).
- Again, whenever they are told (as a duty of calling to faith), “Believe as the people believe,” (in a way to demonstrate their self-pride and disparagement of the people) they say: “Shall we believe as the fools11 believe!?” Beware, they themselves are the fools, but they do not know (seeing that they have no true knowledge to distinguish between truth and falsehood, sincere faith and hypoc- risy, right and wrong).12
- elsewhere (63: 4), the Qur’ān describes the hypocrites in these words: When you see them, their outward form pleases you, and (their posture and speech are attractive and ef- fective so that) you give ear to their words when they speak. (In reality,) they are like blocks of wood propped up and (draped over) in striped cloaks . Throughout history, puffed up by their wealth, social status, and physique, the leaders of unbelievers and hypocrites have usually belittled specially weak or impoverished believers as “fools,” as “the lowliest among them,” and as “those without reflection.” But the truth is clearly the opposite.
This verse also clarifies that, besides being the shelter for the weak and poor, Islam defends and supports right and truth, and destroys haughtiness and self-pride. Islam has also es- tablished the true criteria for perfection, nobility and honor, so that the Religion cannot be made a means of oppression at the hands of worldly people and rulers. It is hypocrisy and unbelief that give rise to haughtiness, conceit, egotism, hatred, and enmity.
- The verse points out that only through knowledge and a sound viewpoint can one distinguish between truth and falsehood, between the way of faith and that of hypocrisy. Such other admonitions of the Qur’ān as, “Do they not reason and understand?”, “Do they not reflect?”, and “Do they not reflect and be mindful?”, signify that the appeal of Islam is based on knowledge, sound reasoning and wisdom, so that anyone with a sound intellect and capable of reflection is expected to accept Islam. By contrast, ignorance, falsehood, blind imitation and subjection to prejudice are characteristic of a disposition to superstition or unbelief and hypocrisy.
- When they meet those who believe, they declare (hypocritically), “We be- lieve”; but when they are alone in secret, with their (apparently human) satans (to whom they hasten in need, to renew their unbelief and their pledge to them, for fear of losing their support), they say: “Assuredly we are with you; we only mock (those others).”
- (Since what they do only means demanding straying and ridicule,) God re- turns their mockery, leaving them to wander blindly on in their rebellion.
- Such are the ones who have bought straying in exchange for guidance, but their trade has brought no profit, and they have no way out to escape it.
- They are like him who (while traveling with company in the desert, halted for the night and) kindled a fire (for light and warmth and protection). How- ever, when the fire had just lit all around him (and the company had become comfortable but was not properly appreciative of the fire and failed to guard it against wind, the fire was extinguished. Thus) God took away their light and left them in darkness, unseeing.
- They are utterly deaf, dumb, and blind; they can no longer recover.13
13. A fuller interpretation is as follows:
(Since no voice is heard in the darkness of night and their hearing has long been closed to any “good, beneficial” voice,) they are utterly deaf; (since they cannot hear, they are) dumb (who have no possibility to speak and shout for help;) and (since their eyes are veiled to light by darkness, they are) blind; they can no longer recover (from the state they are in).
verses 17–20 illustrate the condition and consequence of hypocrisy in the heart by means of two comparisons or similes. Both contain wonderfully effective and abrupt transitions from general truth to concrete representation, and vice versa. Without due consideration of this, the statement here, describing the hypocrites as “deaf, dumb, blind”, may seem at variance with the later one (verse 20) in which it is said that, had God willed, He would have taken away their hearing and sight. The two similes describe the hypocrites from dif- ferent viewpoints.
- Or like (those caught in) a rainstorm from the sky, accompanied by veils of
darkness, thunderclaps and flashes of lightning (terrified by the thunder, and as if they might thereby evade a possible stroke of lightning), they press their fingers into their ears in fear of death. This is how God has encompassed the unbelievers from all sides.
- The lightning almost snatches away their sight. Whenever it gives them light, they take a few steps in it, and when the darkness covers them, they stand still. Had God so willed,14indeed He would have taken away their hearing and sight. Surely God has full power over everything.
14. It points to an important truth, that God did not will to take away their sight and hearing. The eternal Divine Will is, in one respect, identical to Divine Knowledge. That is, with His eternal Knowledge Which encompasses all time or in Which all time ends, God knew eternally what people would do and “wrote” it. People do not do something because God (pre-)determined or (pre-)wrote it, but God (pre-)wrote it because He eternally knew that people would do it. So, since it is part of what the hypocrites have deserved that they suffer from the dreadful condition they are in, God did not will to take away their sight and hearing out of justice. He does not take away their sight and hearing also to give them respite so that they may yet see their pitiful condition and give up their way. However, it should particularly be pointed out that it is solely God Who determines what consequence people face in return for each deed. This “determinism,” which is prevalent in the world of conscious beings where knowledge and will have a significant place, points decisively to an all-encompassing Knowledge and Will, and therefore to God’s existence and Unity. That is why the Qur’ān presents the Divine Will as a link between cause and effect, and between human free will and its consequences.
- Now O humankind! Worship your Lord Who has created you as well as those before you (and brought you up in your human nature and identity), so that you may attain reverent piety toward Him and His protection (against any kind of straying and its consequent punishment in this world and the Hereaf- ter);
- And Who has made the earth a bed (comfortable, couch-like floor) for you, and the sky a canopy. He sends down from the sky water, with which He brings forth fruits for your provision.15So do not set up rivals to God (as deities, lords and objects of worship)16when you know (that there can be no deities, lords, creators and providers at all to worship, save God).17
- The atmosphere surrounds the earth as the rind of an orange surrounds and protects the fruit within it. The layer of the atmosphere nearest to the earth is the layer of air. It preserves the earth from the harmful rays coming from different parts of the sky. By allow- ing only the rays beneficial to life to pass through, it functions like a sort of filter or screen
providing shade. clouds and rain are formed in this layer of the atmosphere.
- This verse shows that unbelief is not based on true knowledge. However, it also points to the fact that knowing does not always prevent unbelief. As pointed out above, the main
reasons for unbelief are haughtiness, self-pride, wrongdoing, prejudice, and deviancy in thought and action. even if unbelief is not always based on ignorance, it causes ignorance. One whose heart is lacking in “a point of affirmation” may have specialist knowledge of all the natural and social sciences but, for want of that opening to faith, this knowledge increases him or her only in ignorance of Divine truths. According to the Qur’ān, only the knowledge which leads to “knowing” God and belief in Him is true knowledge: Of all His servants, only those possessed of true knowledge have awe of God . (35: 28). Any knowl- edge polluted by haughtiness, self-pride, wrongdoing, prejudice, and deviancy in thought
and action, is worthy only of being a piece of information.
- These two verses, as well as expressing many other truths, establish God’s Oneness in Divinity, Lordship and His being the Sole Object of Worship, and describe what this means. Believing in God’s Oneness requires that He must be affirmed as the only creator, Nourisher, Provider, as the One Who brings up every creature and equips it with the neces- sary systems, organs and faculties in accordance with its functions and duties in life, and the One Who deserves worship exclusively. All phenomena in the universe – from humanity’s creation to the earth’s being made like a comfortable, couch-like floor, and from the sky’s being built like a dome-like ceiling for us to the rain, and all kinds of vegetation brought forth to feed us – are enough to establish these three requirements of belief in God’s One- ness.
- If you are in doubt about the Divine authorship of what We have been sending down on Our servant (Muhammad) (and claim that it is the work of a human being like Muhammad, who can neither read or write 14), then pro- duce just a sūrah like it and call for help from all your supporters, all those (to whom you apply for help apart from God), if you are truthful in your doubt and claim.18
18. After mentioning some of the phenomena demonstrating God’s Oneness, the Qur’ān presents another proof as clear as daylight to establish both God’s Unity and the Mes- sengership of Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, and its Divine authorship. This proof is presented in the form of a challenge that humankind is absolutely unable to produce even the like of one of its sūrah s.
When the Qur’ān was revealed, eloquence, oratory and poetry were held in the highest regard among the Arabs. In order to prove its Divine authorship and the main purposes it pursues, the Qur’ān challenged first the literary geniuses of the time, and then the whole of humankind until the Last Day:
O men and jinn! If you have doubts concerning the Divine authorship of the Qur’ān and fancy it to be the product of a human mind, come forward and let an illiterate one among you like the one whom you call Muhammad, the Trustworthy, produce a like of the Qur’ān. If he (or she) cannot do that, let the most famous of your writers or scholars try it. If they too cannot do it, let them all work together and deploy the whole legacy of the past, and call on their deities to help. Let all of your scientists, philosophers, sociologists, theologians and men of letters try their utmost to produce the like of the Qur’ān. If they too cannot do it, then let them try – leaving aside the miraculous aspects of the Qur’ān’s meaning, which are
inimitable – to produce a work which can match the Qur’ān in the eloquence of its word order and composition.
By Then produce ten invented sūrahs like it (11: 13), the Qur’ān means: “It is not stipulated that the meaning of what you invent should be true, you may fabricate legends, myths or stories. If you cannot do that, not for the like of the whole Qur’ān, then produce a work which can match only ten sūrah s of it. If you cannot do that, either, then produce a work like only one sūrah of it. If that also is too difficult, then produce a work like one of its short sūrah s.
If you cannot do that either – and you will never be able to – although you are in dire need of doing so because your honor, religion, nationality, and even lives will otherwise be at risk, you will perish in the world in utter humiliation, and as stated in the verse, Then guard yourselves against the Fire, whose fuel is human beings and stones (that you have shaped into idols to adore), (2: 24), you will go to Hell. Since you have now understood that you are absolutely unable, you must admit that the Qur’ān is the miraculous Word of God ( The Words , “the 25 th Word,” 404-405).
Those self-conceited people were unable to argue with the Qur’ān in words. Although it was the easier and safer course for them to obstruct and falsify its message, they chose to fight against it with the sword, which was the perilous and most difficult course. If those intelligent people had been able to argue with the Qur’ān in words, they would not have chosen to put their property and lives at risk. However, al-Jāhiz remarked, since they could not argue with it in words, they were compelled to argue with their swords.
Like the parts of an organism, all the verses, even individual words, of the Qur’ān are inter- related. Among its verses, there is both the relation of whole and parts, and the relation of universal and particular. That is, most of the verses are each an independent part of the Qur’ān – wherever you put it, you will see it fitted. Yet most verses have an essential link to all other verses and represent the whole of the Qur’ān. The Qur’ān has many other aspects of miraculousness which make it impossible for humankind to produce the like of even one of its verses.
- If you fail to do that – and you will most certainly fail – then guard your- selves against the Fire whose fuel is human beings and stones (that you have shaped into idols to adore), prepared for the unbelievers.
- 19Give glad tidings to those who believe and do good, righteous deeds:20 for them are Gardens through which rivers flow. every time they are provided with fruits (of different color, shape, taste, and fragrance, and that are constantly renewed) therefrom, they say, “This is what we were provided with before.” For they are given to them in resemblance (to what was given to them both in the world, and just before in the Gardens, familiar in shape and color so that they may not be unattractive due to being unknown). Furthermore, for them are spouses eternally purified (of all kinds of worldly uncleanliness). They will abide there (forever).21
- In addition to being a miracle of eloquence, the Qur’ān is also miraculous in maintain- ing the balance among both the truths of divinity and the absolute and relative truths of the universe. It also maintains the balance between encouraging people to do good deeds in the hope and expectation of pleasing God and earning His reward, and discouraging them from doing evil ones for fear of His punishment. Following the presentation of the characteristics of believers, unbelievers and hypocrites, it warns those who are willfully determined in their unbelief against the Fire. Now it directs attention to the result of faith and doing good deeds with most pleasant and exhilarating expressions, and in so doing, it
both relieves the fearful souls and encourages faith and good deeds.
- There are many deeds and attitudes, such as believing, establishing the Prayer, giving alms, and helping others, that are praised as good and enjoined by the Qur’ān and God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings. There are other deeds and attitudes which can either be virtuous or evil according to the time and occasions when they are done. Be- sides, the qualities or “virtues” that are often associated with good deeds and good character are best judged according to the rightness of intention and the particular circumstances in
which it is expressed.
For example, the self-respect that a weak person should wear before a powerful one be- comes, if the powerful one assumes it before a weak one, self-conceit. The humility which a powerful person should wear before a weak one becomes, if assumed by a weak one, self- abasement. The solemn or strict bearing of an administrator in the exercise of his or her duties of office is dignity, while humility in that situation would be self-abasement. The same solemnity in his or her house would be self-conceit, whereas humility there would indeed be humility. Forbearance and forgiving the evils done to one is good and a virtue; but when done on behalf of others, it is bad and a treason: a person may and perhaps should bear patiently whatever is done to him or her personally; but it is impermissible for that person, for example, to bear patiently the wrongs being done to the society or nation. conversely, whereas pride and indignation on behalf of the nation are commendable, on
one’s own behalf, they are not.
Believing and doing good deeds are mentioned together but distinguished in the verse. This implies that doing good deeds is not a part of faith, yet faith alone without good deeds is not enough for the final salvation in the Hereafter. In fact, the same is stressed in the New Testament: “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is
dead also” ( James , 2: 26).
- The verse signifies that there will be Gardens for every believer within Paradise, and depicts them. The greatest blessing in Paradise is obtaining God’s approval and good plea- sure and (as indicated by some verses and explicitly stated in some hadīth s) “seeing God,” though this is a “seeing” beyond all our measures of quality and modality. However, since such wholly spiritual blessings are related to the elite among the believers, the Qur’ān usually presents the blessings of Paradise in a language that can appeal to pleasures of the body. A human being is a tripartite being composed of the spirit, the carnal soul, and the flesh or physical body. Since the body and carnal soul serve the believer in this world, and in order to be disciplined and trained, have to endure some hardships and deprivation of some worldly pleasures, the believer will be rewarded with the pleasures appropriate to the body
and the carnal soul. It should, however, not be thought that such pleasures are purely cor- poreal. The spiritual contentment they will give is greater than the corporeal. For example, every person needs a friend, a companion. What most satisfies this human need is having an intimate life-companion with whom to share love, joys, and sorrows. Since the kindest, most compassionate and generous of hearts is the heart of a woman, the Qur’ān mentions women among the greatest blessings of Paradise for men, rather than vice versa. This does not mean that the women will be left there without companions. The pleasure coming from mutual helping, sharing joys and sorrows, companionship, love, affection, and intimacy, is much greater than the bodily pleasures with which men and women may satisfy in each other. However, those who have been defeated by the bodily pleasures of this world, and who are therefore unaware of the spiritual pleasures accompanying them, may see Paradise as a realm of sensual enjoyment.
- God does not disdain to strike any parable – (that of ) something like a gnat or something greater or lower than it.22 Those who have already believed know that it is the truth from their Lord. As to those whose unbelief has long been established in their hearts, they say, “What does God mean by such a parable?” Thereby He leads many astray, and thereby He guides many. He thereby leads none astray save the transgressors:23
- Like the Divine Scriptures prior to it, the Qur’ān uses parables and comparisons to convey abstract truths. This is because people in general do not understand abstractions unless they have had some preparation in the specialized terms and specialized discourse appropriate to the presentation of abstract concepts. The Qur’ān addresses itself to all of humanity from the first day of its revelation until the Last Day, and accordingly deploys the full resources of language in a style that is forceful, clear, accessible and effective in com- municating its message. The accessibility of the Revelation is, like the intelligibility of the “book” of creation, an aspect of God’s mercy to His creatures, of His grace in making His will knowable and known to humankind.
A second point to note here is that what human beings may see as “small” or insignificant is not always so; conversely, what they see as “great” is not always so. It may sometimes be completely the other way round. Indeed, in many respects, the smaller a thing is, the greater the artistry it manifests. In terms of artistry, there is no difference between the solar system on the one hand, and on the other, the eye of a gnat or the belly of a flea. It could be argued that the artistry of the latter is greater in that they are constituent organs of living creatures.
- The verse confirms once more the truth explained in the note 10 above. One of the principal reasons why God creates straying for someone or why He leads them to straying, is transgression. This word translates fisq . Used as a term, it means deviating from what is true, going beyond the limit, and abandoning the path leading to the eternal life of happi- ness. Fisq originates in using the three principal human drives or faculties – namely reason, lust and anger – in the wrong way, a way that leads to demagogy, craftiness, hedonism, wrongdoing and oppression. The next verse mentions the main reasons for unbelief, which is the greatest transgression.
- (Those) who break God’s covenant after its solemn binding, and sever the bonds God commanded to be joined, and cause disorder and corruption on earth.24 Such are those who are the losers (in both this world and the next).
24. The shortest meaning of this verse provided by the character of the words is as fol- lows:
(Those) who break God’s covenant (which is a rope of light woven of the threads of Divine Will, Wisdom and Favor, and responsible for the order in the universe, and able to establish peace, order and harmony in human life) after its solemn binding, and sever the bonds God commanded to be joined (among the relatives as a requirement of blood relationship, and among people as required by human social needs), and (in an attempt to spread their vices in the whole community, even in the whole world, like one who, having caught a contagious disease, desires to pass it to others) cause disorder and corruption on earth, such are those who are the losers (in both this world and the next.)
The words given in brackets are not additional commentary; they indicate the meanings carried in the words used in the verse, in their order, and in their structure and style. For example, the word translated as “break up” is from the verb Na-Qa- D a , which means unraveling a thick, strong rope. This implies that God’s covenant is a strong rope binding people together and humanity to God. The word mīthāq , translated as binding, corrobo- rates this meaning.
God’s covenant is a “rope of light” woven of His Will, Wisdom, Knowledge, and Favor- ing, and which extends from eternity in the past to eternity in the future. This rope holds together the magnificent order in the universe and establishes the relationship among all creatures. One end of it was given into the hand of humankind. This led to the implanting of the seeds of many capabilities in the human spirit. The seeds should germinate and be developed by human beings themselves into “good trees yielding ever-fresh fruits” accord- ing to the principles of Sharī‘ah. Loyalty to God’s covenant is possible by developing these capabilities and using them in the way established by Islam. Breaking the covenant means breaking this “rope of light” into pieces. Denying any of the Prophets or Divine Books; rejecting some of the commandments of Islam while accepting others; approving some of the verses of the Qur’ān while disapproving others; and similar attitudes or approaches mean breaking this rope into pieces. Such destruction results in environmental imbalance as well as imbalance and disorder in human relations. The present environmental crisis and the state of relations between people(s) and nations in the world are the result of breaking God’s covenant.
- How can you disbelieve in God, seeing that you were dead, and He gave you life?25 Then He causes you to die.26 Then He will bring you to life again; and then you will be returned to Him.27
- In order to better understand the truth presented in the verse, we should provide a fuller translation derived from the character of the words used and other relevant verses (i.e., 22: 5; 23: 12-14; 76: 1):
How can you disbelieve in God, seeing you were dead (the particles or atoms that had long
been appointed to constitute the body of each of you were dispersed in air, water, and earth, then transferred to the worlds of plants and animals according to certain laws and prin- ciples, and, taken as food, formed into sperm in the loins of your fathers, thereafter placed as a drop of seed in the wombs of your mothers. Having undergone several stages, they came to the point of formation where God breathed into them out of His Spirit) and He gave you life. (You live until the hour He appointed for each of you, and) then He causes you to die. Then (you stay as long as He wills in the world of the grave, between this world and the next, until, following many mighty revolutions) He will bring you to life again; and then (passing through a series of tremendous revolutions and several worlds) you will be returned to Him.
In order to establish belief in the existence and Unity of God in the minds and hearts of people, the Qur’ān draws attention to His being the creator and how humanity was brought to life. Life is the most pleasant and fascinating miracle of God, as well as being one of His greatest blessings. It also provides a bright evidence for the eternal existence and Unity of God and other pillars of faith. The simplest of the degrees of life visible to ordinary observation is the life of plants, the beginning of which is germination under the soil. Despite its being apparently common and observable, the origin and nature of life is still unknown to humanity. The sphere of relationship of a lifeless body, even if it is as big as a mountain, is restricted to the spot where it is located. By contrast, a living creature so small as a honeybee establishes a relationship with the whole world and can say, “The world is my property, my garden.” When life attains the degree of the human being, it can travel through all times and places and perhaps beyond on the wings of mind, heart and imagination. containing the material, biological, and spiritual dimensions of life, as well as its mineral, vegetable and animal divisions, human life encompasses all kinds and degrees of life. Since it is pure and transparent in both its outer and inner dimensions, there is not the veil of “natural” causes between life and God’s Power. That is, the “natural” causes have no part in God’s creating life.
- Like life, death is also created by God and therefore as great a blessing as life itself. It may even be said that death is a greater blessing than life. every degree of earthly life results in death, but death in every degree results in a greater degree of life. For example, consumed in animal and human bodies, plants attain by dying the degree of animal and human life, while the animals consumed in human bodies acquire by dying the degree of human life in the human body. A seed annihilating itself under the soil develops into a plant or tree which will yield thousands of its exact like. By dying and going into the earth, a person starts his or her eternal life. From that perspective, death is as good and as great a blessing as, or one greater than, life.
- Some claim that, together with the verse, Our Lord! You have made us die twice, and given us life twice (40: 11), this verse provides evidence for reincarnation. However, both that verse and this one utterly refute reincarnation. First of all, reincarnation, as defined, is not restricted to two cycles of rebirth. Secondly, reincarnation as a belief is actually re- stricted to unbelievers—those who deny the essential message of monotheism— but the verse in question addresses everyone (for the full interpretation of verse 40: 11, consult itin its ordinal location). Thirdly, there are several verses stating that there is no return to the world after death. In response to the desire of the unbelievers to be returned to the world so that they may believe and do good, righteous deeds in order to be saved from the Fire,
God will say: No, never! (23: 99–100).
The expression You were dead , implies that each member of humankind has some sort of existence in the world of atoms or particles. It has already been determined in God’s Knowledge which atoms in the worlds of elements, plants and animals will constitute the body of which person. So there is no room for chance or coincidences in the motion of the particles that constitute human bodies. The expression also suggests that since death follows life, those particles are themselves devoid of what we recognize as life, which is a direct gift from God, pointing to Him clearly. Again, the verse draws attention to the fact that it is God Who deals both death and life, with no one and nothing else having any part in it. It signifies: “You were lifeless in the world of elements because God willed you to be so and made you so.”
- It is He Who (prepared the earth for your life before He gave you life, and) created all that is in the world for you (in order to create you – the human species
- and make the earth suitable for your life); then He directed (His Knowledge, Will, Power, and Favor) to the heaven28 and formed it into seven heavens.29 He has full knowledge of everything.
- While this verse and the verses 41: 9–12 apparently imply that the earth was created prior to the heavens, verses 79: 27–30 suggest the opposite, and verse 21: 30 seems to be saying that they were created together at the same time. However, when considered to- gether, they mean:
In the primeval stages of creation, the heavens or the solar system and the earth were like a piece of dough that the Hand of Power kneaded of ether, which resembles water in spread- ing and permeation and in its being the medium for God’s creation in the beginning as water is the medium for life on the earth. This fact is what the verse His Supreme Throne was upon the water (11: 7) refers to. Out of this matter – ether – God made atoms and molecules, and intensified and solidified some part of it, making this part into the earth. In its being solidified and crusted with a cover, the creation of the earth was prior to the heavens. However, before the earth was solidified and crusted with a cover, there was a single heaven in the form of clouds of gaseous elements. The fashioning of these clouds of gaseous elements, the primal form of the heavens, into “seven heavens” and adorning them with the sun, moon and stars followed the formation of the earth, while the preparation of the earth for human life was after the fashioning of the heavens.
What the Qur’ān means by seven heavens has been interpreted in different ways, the most significant of which are as follows:
- This extremely broad space is filled with ether, the existence of which physics once ad- mitted, without, however, establishing it. This ether serves as the medium to transmit heat, light and the like, and establish the relationship among the laws God established for the movement of the heavenly bodies. Like water changing into vapor and ice without losing its essential nature, this ether has also similar kinds of formation. What the Qur’ān means by “seven heavens” may be these different kinds of formations of ether.
- It is a known fact that there are many galaxies, of which the Milky Way is but one, their exact number being (as yet) unknown.
- Just as ash, coal and diamond are substances produced from the same mineral during the process of its working, fire generates flames and smoke, so too, different levels or layers could have been formed of the same matter during its being fashioned. Since in Arabic usage (as in other languages) such numbers as seven, seventy, and seven hun- dred signify different degrees of multiplicity, there may be more than seven heavens.
- The Qur’ān calls the heaven where the sun, moon and stars are the lowest heaven or the heaven of the world (67: 5). The other six heavens may be the heavens of the worlds of the Hereafter. (God knows best.)
- In respect of how the Qur’ān deals with issues that are the subject matter of sciences, the following points should be noted:
- The Qur’ān is not a book of sciences like physics, chemistry, biology, and astronomy.
- The Qur’ān aims to establish in minds and hearts the pillars of faith and the truths of worshipping and justice.
- The Qur’ān mentions scientific facts only parenthetically and uses them as evidences of the truths it conveys. For this reason, it prefers a style accessible and adapted to every level of understanding from its revelation until the Last Day.
- Since the Qur’ān uses such matters as evidence, and evidence cannot be more abstruse than the thesis propounded, it gives consideration to the people’s understanding and sense-perceptions.
- The Qur’ān was revealed fourteen centuries ago, when little was known about the is- sues sciences study. Seeing that humanity has made continuous progress in scientific studies and discoveries since then, the Qur’ān would obviously have to use a language impossible to contradict in any age.
- In point of fact, all the Qur’ānic expressions that allude to realities as studied in the sciences are absolutely true. However, what the Qur’ān means by them is, in most cases, open to interpretation. In this way, the Qur’ān, opens the door to scientific study and encourages it.
Science is an assemblage of hypotheses, tested and disproved, partially or wholly, then replaced by other hypotheses, calling for further testing, and so on. It can be said that the sciences are still far away from knowing “the human” thoroughly and may always remain so. They will never be able to solve the mystery of creation and the origin of life, two mighty issues beyond the scope of scientific experiment and verification. For this reason, on the basis of present knowledge, no one can or should object to the Qur’ānic expressions that allude to realities as studied in the sciences. If there is any appearance of contradiction, one should wait for what future studies will reveal and confirm about the meaning of the Qur’ānic expressions. There are three principles concerning Qur’ānic expressions which are considered to be allegorical or ambiguous:
- The expression is God’s word.
- What God means by it is absolutely true.
- What God means by it may be “such and such.”
confirming the first two principles is a requirement of faith, the denial of which amounts
to unbelief. The third indicates that what God means by a particular expression is open to study and interpretation and, within certain conditions, different opinions may be put for- ward. The conditions are: (i) having excellent knowledge of Qur’ānic Arabic and its rules and modes of eloquence, and always considering them; (ii) having excellent knowledge of the essential principles of Islam and the main, clear pronouncements of the Qur’ān; (iii) having sufficient expertise in the subject-matter in question; and (iv) having no intention whatever other than to find out the truth and do so purely to obtain God’s approval. If these conditions are met, any opinion may be respected and appreciated as true, at least in part, or as contributing to the effort to arrive at the truth.
- 30Remember (when) your Lord said to the angels:31 “I am setting on the earth a vicegerent.” The angels asked: “Will you set therein one who will cause disorder and corruption on it and shed blood, while we glorify You with Your praise (proclaiming that You are absolutely free from any defect and that all praise belongs to You exclusively,) and declare that You alone are all-holy and to be worshipped as God and Lord?” He said: “Surely I know what you do not know.”
- Just previous to this, the Qur’ān presented the creation of the heaven and the earth, and the formation of the heavens, as the most manifest signs of God’s existence and Unity in the outer world. Then, as signs in their inner world, it showed how humankind was brought into life. It now proceeds to explain what kind of beings humans are, why they were created, and how they can fulfill the purpose of their creation. For we need to know why so valued a being was created and wherein the value lies.
- The primary reason why God informed the angels of His will to set a vicegerent on the earth was to indicate a better way of counseling and to teach the angels the wisdom in His making humankind vicegerents on earth. The angels knew that this vicegerent would cause disorder and corruption because the jinn, beings who resemble humankind in having free will and powers of intellect, anger, and lust, had caused sedition and bloodshed on the earth before.
Angels are among the beings in the universe endowed with a life different in kind from the life of the earthly kinds directly known to us. That different kinds of life-forms can exist in the universe should not surprise us. Yet, there was surprise when, in 1993, nearly 300 animal species, almost all of them previously unknown, were discovered living around hydrother- mal vents formed where sea-water, leaking through the ocean floor at spreading ridges, is heated by the underlying magma and rushes into the cold ocean. Until then, scientists had thought that there could be no life without solar energy, and few organisms were known to survive without a direct or indirect way to tap it. Perhaps this “most startling discovery of twentieth century biology” will strengthen our willingness to recognize that there can be life in other forms and conditions than those known to us. If scientists had given ear to the Qur’ān, and not defined life solely by the earthly forms known to them, they might have acknowledged that there can be different kinds of life in other parts and dimensions of the universe, particular to each part or dimension, and so given a truer direction to their sciences.
Angels are spiritual beings, of subtle forms created from “light” ( Muslim , “Zuhd,” 10); they have different kinds or species but are not differentiated as male or female (37: 149– 150; 43: 19; 53: 27; The essentials , 64). Being servants of God with no evil-commanding soul, they obey the commandments issuing from the eternal Will and creative Power that rules the universe. There is nothing to cause quarrels or disputes among them because they are innocent, their realm is vast, their nature is pure, and their stations are fixed. each of the heavenly bodies is a place of worship for the angels ( The Words , “the 29 th Word,” 532–533).
They ask no reward for their services; their reward is the spiritual contentment of nearness to their creator. Their worship varies according to their different natures and functions. No event in the universe can be conceived of or occurs without the function of the angels. There are angels representing or responsible for every event in the universe and every spe- cies on the earth. For example, some of them, the chief of whom is Michael, are responsible for the growth of vegetation. Michael superintends the growth of all kinds of corn and provision by leave and Power of God, and, if one may put it in such terms, he is the head of all the angels who may be likened to farmers. There is another great angel who, by God’s leave, command and Power, is the chief of the “incorporeal shepherds” of all animals. They look on God’s acts with wonder and admiration and present to Him the glorification and worship of each species of creature offered in the language of its nature and disposition.
There are still other kinds or species of angels, such as Gabriel who carried Revelation to the Messengers; ‘Azrāīl and his aides, whom God employs in taking the lives of people; and Isrāfīl, who will blow the Trumpet during the final destruction of the world and the resur- rection of the dead. The Qur’ān also mentions the angels who record people’s deeds (82: 11); and angels who carry out a variety of tasks of awesome majesty and power ( sūrah 77: 1–4, sūrah 79: 1–5, sūrah 82: 11).
- (Having brought him into existence,) God taught Adam the names, all of them.32 Then (in order to clarify the supremacy of humankind and the wis- dom in their being created and made vicegerent on the earth), He presented them (the things and beings, whose names had been taught to Adam, with their names) to the angels, and said, “Now tell Me the names of these, if you are truthful (in your praising, worshipping, and sanctifying Me as My being God and Lord deserves).
- The primary reason why humankind was accorded superiority over the angels is that we were “taught the names.” The duty of humankind on the earth is vicegerency or khilāfah , meaning succession. This indicates another species or kind of beings on the earth preced- ing humankind. These were the jinn, who were succeeded by humankind because of their unending conflicts and revolts against God.
As a term, khilāfah or vicegerency denotes improving the earth, on the basis of knowledge of things and the laws of creation (which we wrongly call the “laws of nature”), and ruling on the earth according to the dictates of God, thus establishing justice. carrying out this duty requires scientific knowledge and religion. Humankind can acquire scientific knowl- edge by studying nature and are given religion through God’s Messengers. The Books
given or revealed to the Messengers, in addition to containing the religious principles, are, in one respect, like discourses describing nature and its meaning. That is why, in Islam, the universe, or nature, is seen as the “created Book,” and its laws as the laws of the creation and operation of the universe issuing from the Divine Attributes of Will and, Power. The Qur’ān is the “Revealed Book,” the set of Divine laws and principles issuing from God’s Attribute of Speech. For this reason, there can and should be no dichotomy or conflict between science and religion.
The names taught to Adam are the names of both things and his descendants. We know this from the use of the pronoun hum – meaning “their” in the compound “their names” – which is used for conscious beings. It shows that Adam’s descendants are included among the “names” taught to him. There must be a relation between this event, which took place in the World of the Unseen ( ghayb ), and the event (referred to in 7: 172) when God brought forth from the children of Adam, from their loins, their seed, and made them testify to His being their Lord, which also must have taken place in the Unseen. The angels must have fully comprehended Adam’s supremacy and the wisdom in his vicegerency, not merely because of his being taught the names that they had not been taught, but also because they saw the illustrious members of humankind among the descendants of Adam – such as the Prophets, saints, and pure, exacting scholars, who would change the earth into gardens of Paradise through their faith, knowledge and morality.
The knowledge of things was given to Adam in summarized form and then, during the course of history, was taught to the Messengers in relative detail according to the mission of each. That is why the Messengers became also the forerunners of scientific knowledge and progress, in addition to their being guides in spirituality and morality. The Qur’ān, which consummates all the previous Scriptures, sheds light on future scientific studies and discoveries, and indicates their final point of advancement in its narrations of the miracles of the Messengers.
The names taught to Adam also signify the potentiality of learning bestowed on human- kind. Giving a name means knowing, for one can give a name only to something one knows. Animals come, or rather, are sent, to the world as if taught and trained in another world. They are adapted to the conditions of their life within a very short period as if they knew them already. By contrast, it takes human beings, on average, one year to learn how to walk, and many more years to learn the conditions of life, to distinguish securely between what is harmful and what is beneficial for them. This learning indeed continues until death, as evidence that learning has a fundamental place in human life and progress.
As pointed out above, vicegerency denotes humankind’s ruling on the earth and improv- ing it by using all that is subjected to it in accordance with the dictates of God. If humans attribute to themselves what God has given them of knowledge, power, the ability of learn- ing, and various other capacities, and then attempt to act independently of God, it is then that disorder and bloodshed begin on the earth. For this reason, their happiness, dignity, and the improvement of the earth lie in acknowledging their innate weakness, poverty, and ignorance before God and, attributing whatever they have and their accomplishments to God, becoming to His infinite Power, Absolute Sufficiency and Knowledge.
- (In acknowledgement of their imperfection, and their perception of the truth
of the matter,) the angels said: “All-Glorified You are (in that You are absolutely above having any defect and doing anything meaningless, and Yours are all the attributes of perfection). We have no knowledge save what You have taught us. Surely You are the All-Knowing, the All-Wise.”
- (In order to demonstrate the superiority of humankind more clearly,) God said: “O Adam, inform them of these things and beings with their names.” When he (Adam) informed them with their names, He said (to the angels), “Did I not tell you that I know the unseen of the heavens and the earth, and I know all that you reveal and all that you have been concealing?”33
- Historically, humans have not avoided bloodshed nor ceased to cause disorder, from the beginning of their earthly existence. Furthermore, the majority of people have been those who follow false doctrines or beliefs and associate partners with God. However, this does not mean that the creation of humankind and our being appointed as vicegerents on the earth has proved evil and ugly. The following simple analogy will explain:
For example: 100 seeds of fruit have the value of 100 seeds while they are seeds. But once they are planted, if even 80 out of the 100 rot away while the remaining 20 germinate and grow to bear fruit, the value of those 20 will far exceed that of the 100 seeds.
If the human race had remained existent only in God’s Knowledge, without developing its potential on the earth, the Tree of creation would not have yielded more than 100,000 Prophets, millions of saints, pure, exacting scholars, heroes of good morals, and other virtu- ous members of humankind. The good that these illustrious fruits have added to existence far exceeds the evil of the rest. The angels, at first, could not discern this outcome, but when the potential of the human race was made clear to them, they admitted its supremacy with full contentment of heart.
- 34And (remember) when We said to the angels: “Prostrate before Adam!”35 They all prostrated, but Iblīs did not; he refused, and grew arrogant, and dis- played himself as an unbeliever.36
- After the potential supremacy of humankind to the angels became evident, it can be said that an arena of trial was opened for both humankind and the angels and other conscious beings, among whom was Satan. This also implied that the earthly life of humankind was about to begin. The motor of this life would be human free will. Having free will meant making a choice between at least two contrary alternatives. The individual and collective life of humankind, as well as human history, is the history of the conflicts of choices.
- 34And (remember) when We said to the angels: “Prostrate before Adam!”35 They all prostrated, but Iblīs did not; he refused, and grew arrogant, and dis- played himself as an unbeliever.36
Besides the Attributes essential to His being God, namely existence, having no beginning, Permanence, Oneness, being unlike the created, and Self-Subsistence, God has another kind of Attribute collectively called the Positive Attributes, which are Life, Knowledge, Will, Power, Hearing, Seeing, Speech, and creating. These Attributes are the origin of the Names such as Giver of life and the All-Reviver, the All-Knowing, the All-Willing, the All-Powerful, the All-Hearing, the All-Seeing, the All-Speaking, and the creator, etc. Having such absolute, unrestricted Attributes and all-beautiful Names means that their
manifestation will be “inevitable.” One Who exists in and of Himself, and Whose exis- tence is absolutely perfect, will manifest Himself, as “required” by His very “nature.” Thus, the universe is the collection of the manifestations of God’s Attributes and Names, and those manifestations are focused on humankind. It is as if God Almighty drew an imagi- nary veil before His Attributes and Names and created humankind as the theater where almost all of His Attributes and Names are manifested. This demonstrates the high value accorded to humankind.
- The prostration mentioned here signifies the angels’ admission of the superiority of humankind and their obedience to the Divine purpose for the creation of Adam and his being made vicegerent on the earth. Prostration in the meaning of worship is done exclu- sively before God. By obeying God’s order to prostrate before Adam, the angels were, in reality, prostrating to Him.
- The angels (as explained in note 30 above) are beings created from “light,” always busy with worshipping God and almost unable to commit sins. Since they do not have to struggle against sin, they do not progress spiritually. Satan and his progeny represent the opposite pole to the angels. The Qur’ān mentions Satan in the course of narrating his refusal to prostrate before Adam as Iblīs and subsequently as Satan. Iblīs belonged to the jinn (18: 50) and had free will. He had not been tested until he was ordered to prostrate before Adam. Defeated by his vainglory, he attempted to justify his refusal on the pretext that he had been created from smokeless fire while Adam was created from clay. In other words, he considered himself superior by virtue of his physical composition, whereas no one should claim superiority on the basis of something in which they have no part. What brings superiority is righteous acts done freely, without compulsion. Such things as physical structure, wealth, status, position, and the like, cannot be the basis of a reasonable claim to superiority. Because of this, the Qur’ān openly decrees: “Surely the noblest, most honor- able of you in God’s sight is the one best in taqwā (piety, righteousness, and reverence for God).” (49: 13). Unlike Adam, Satan did not acknowledge his error and so appeared as the embodiment of haughtiness and malicious enmity towards humankind. It is clear that he had been inwardly defeated by the attributes that cause unbelief, such as wrong viewpoint, prejudice, and self-pride. In the very first test he was set, these attributes swallowed him up and caused him to become an obstinate, refractory unbeliever.
As pointed out above, Satan was called Iblīs at the stage of his rebellion against God’s order to prostrate before Adam. Iblīs means one who is desperate. After that event, he was called Satan, meaning one expelled from God’s Presence and Mercy and burning with envy and passion. As Adam is the father of humankind, Satan has also progeny. The disbelieving human beings who share the same character with Satan and are always busy misleading people from the path of God are also called “satans” in the Qur’ān. The “satans” of the hypocrites, referred to in 2: 14, are an example.
- “O Adam! Dwell you, and your spouse, in the Garden,37 and eat (of the fruits) thereof to your hearts’ content where you desire, but do not approach this tree,38 or you will both be among the wrongdoers.”39
- There are different opinions about whether the Garden mentioned here was a Paradise- like corner of the earth or the Paradise to which the believers will go in the Hereafter by
God’s grace. There is another point of view worthy of consideration: the significant events narrated in 2: 30–39 – Adam being created and presented as the prototype of humankind, taught the names by God; the angels prostrating to him as God commanded; and Iblīs (the embodiment of wickedness and prototype of devils) refusing to prostrate – all these events took place in the Unseen. Similarly, the event (7: 172) when God brought forth from the children of Adam, from their loins, their seed, and they testified to His being their Lord, must have taken place in the Unseen. If Adam’s being placed in the Garden with eve also happened in one of the worlds of the Unseen, then that Garden might be a Garden belong- ing to those worlds, some aspect or dimension of the manifestation of the Paradise in the Hereafter, which must even now be existing as a “seed.” What we should dwell on here is the lessons that God wills to teach us by such events. From this perspective, the Garden may be a realm where the parents of humankind stayed for some time or a stage they had to pass through on the way to being fully “human,” in order to reside on the earth.
- There are, again, different opinions about the forbidden tree. When we reflect on how Satan tempted Adam and eve – “O Adam, shall I lead you to the tree of eternity and a kingdom that will never decay?” (20: 120) – and the inevitable results to come from ap- proaching the forbidden tree (experiencing toil, hunger, nakedness, thirst and exposure to the sun’s heat (20: 117–19), and that after they ate of it, their shameful parts were revealed to them (20: 121)), then we may conclude that the forbidden tree indicates the act of sexual union, which would later be allowed, or a kind of food or something else that caused them to become aware of their full physical and biological humanity, with all the needs, feelings, and passions attendant upon it. We can deduce that this prohibition would have been only for a limited time, as in fasting or during the Hajj or during post-childbirth b lee ding. But they showed haste and disobeyed.
- The word here translated as wrongdoer is z ālim , derived from z ulm , meaning dark- ness. It is the opposite of light and the reason or symbol of non-existence as opposed to existence. For this reason, it is used as a Qur’ānic term for acts causing the darkening and extinction of the faculties of the heart (“seeing” and “hearing” in the sense of verse 2: 7). The main feature of such acts is transgressing the bounds established by the Religion, and behaving without considering the time, place, or conditions. Having a very wide area of us- age, it ranges from putting something in the wrong place to associating partners with God. People harm, first of all, themselves by committing z ulm . This is why the Qur’ān says that people wrong themselves by transgressing the bounds. The wrongdoing mentioned in this verse is such an act. (This will be clearer in the words Adam received from his Lord, explained below in note 41.)
- But Satan40 (tempting them to the forbidden tree despite Our forewarning,) caused them both to deflect therefrom and brought them out of the (happy) state in which they were. And We said, “Go down, all of you, (and henceforth you will live a life,) some of you being the enemies of others. There shall be for you on the earth a habitation and provision until an appointed time.”41
- Although Satan is the embodiment of evil and always tries to cause evil in human life, his being created is not evil. God is the only creator Who creates all things and beings, along with their good or evil deeds, and whatever He creates is good either in itself or with respect to its result. The angels never do evil and Satan never does good, but humans have
been endowed with the ability to do both good and evil. They are responsible for using and developing their ability to do good, resisting their potentialfor evil, and channeling it towards what is good. For example, envy can be channeled into competitiveness in doing good; obstinacy can be turned into steadfastness on the path of right and truth. By doing good and, especially, by struggling against the temptations of Satan and the carnal, evil- commanding soul, and against the potential for evil, a person evolves spiritually, while the ranks or stations of the angels are fixed because they are free from the seduction of Satan and have no evil tendency to struggle against. The inclusion in creation of relative evil – there is nothing absolutely evil in creation – is the wheel of both spiritual, intellectual, and scientific development in human life. That is why the creation of Satan and other apparent evils is not evil in itself. Against the argument that many people deviate and many evils appear in human life because of the temptations of Satan, readers may refer to the analogy in note 33. Unaware of this highly significant truth, the Magians in Iran attributed the creation of evil to a second deity, and within the civilization of Islam, the Mu‘tazilites at- tributed it to humankind.
- While it was Adam and his spouse who were tested in the Garden, we understand from the Qur’ān’s usage of the plural form in the order “Descend, all of you!” that more than two people received the order: Go down, all of you, (henceforth you will live a life,) some of you being the enemies of others. Those addressed by this order must be Adam, eve, Satan, and their future progeny.
37.(Aware of his lapse and in the hope of retrieving his error, rather than attempt- ing to find excuses for it,) Adam received from his Lord words that he perceived to be inspired in him (because of his remorse, and he pleaded through them for God’s forgiveness). In return, He accepted his repentance. He is the One Who accepts repentance and returns it with liberal forgiveness and additional reward, the All-compassionate (especially towards His believing servants).42
- Unlike Satan, Adam did not offer to defend himself with excuses for his lapse. Rather, he felt great remorse and thus opened the door to being forgiven. In return for his remorse, God inspired in him some words – talaqqā here translated as “received”, connotes “in- spired”– through which he, together with his spouse, pleaded for God’s forgiveness. It is agreed by the majority of the interpreters of the Qur’ān, that these words were those given in 7: 23: “Our Lord! We have wronged ourselves, and if You do not forgive us and do not have mercy on us, we will surely be among those who have lost!”
Some (probably under the influence of narrations from Biblical sources) have argued that eve led Adam to be deceived by Satan. Since this is the approach in the Old Testament ( Genesis , 3: 1–6), woman was considered evil and held in disgrace in medieval christianity. In contrast, the Qur’ān presents the event as being centered on Adam; that is why it was he who received the words and, even more than eve, had to implore God’s forgiveness, although they both did so.
- 43We said: “Go down, all of you, from there!” (and executed Our order). If, henceforth, a guidance (like a Book through a Messenger) comes to you from Me, and whoever follows My guidance (and turns to Me with faith and wor-
ship), they will have no fear (for they will always find My help and support with them), nor will they grieve.”
43. The acceptance of the repentance of Adam and eve, following their appeal to God for forgiveness, did not mean that God’s decree that they would descend to the earth would not be implemented. Rather, it meant that they started their earthly life cleansed of their error – without any blemish or “original sin” to be passed on to their descendants – as all newborns begin their life free of sin. It is also a Qur’ānic principle – one which is one of the basic principles of law – that no one every soul earns only to its own account; and no soul, as bearer of burden, bears and is made to bear the burden of another ( sūrah 6: 164).
- But those who disbelieve and deny Our signs (the verses of the revealed Book of guidance, as well as the signs in both their inner world and the outer world establishing My existence and Unity and other pillars of faith), they will be the companions of the Fire; they will abide therein.44
44. With wonderful eloquence and concision, the Qur’ān, thus far in this sūrah , has in- formed us about guidance, about faith and Islam and the pillars and main principles there- of, then about unbelief and hypocrisy and the reasons for them, together with a description of the different qualities of the believers, unbelievers and hypocrites. Then, it has presented decisive and comprehensive proofs, in the inner world of human beings and in the outer world around them, of God’s existence and Unity, the Divine authorship of the Qur’ān, the Messengership of Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, and about the Hereafter, Paradise and Hell. It has then explained the nature and duty of humankind and how we started our earthly life. The Qur’ān has, in this way, summarized its main purposes before beginning to narrate the earthly adventure of humankind and human communities, which will illustrate those purposes with concrete, historical examples. In verses 38 and 39, it has extended a rope to the beginning of the sūrah , binding the whole together. It makes direct reference to the guidance mentioned at the beginning of the sūrah with the mention of guidance in verse 38. It interprets or expands on the prosperity mentioned in verse 5 with the explanation in verse 38: They will have no fear (in this world and the next, for they will always find My help and support with them), nor will they grieve . In addition, by stating that the unbelievers and those who deny God’s Revelations and signs will be the compan- ions of the Fire to abide therein, it recalls verses 23 and 24, which threaten those who deny the Divine authorship of the Qur’ān with the Fire “whose fuel is human beings and the stones (that they have shaped into idols to adore)”.
- 45O children of Israel!46 Remember My favor47 that I bestowed upon you, and fulfill My covenant (which I made with you through your Prophets),48 so that I fulfill your covenant,49 and of Me alone be in awe and fear (in awareness of My Power and of your being My servants).
- The history of the children of Israel narrated in the Qur’ān is an example of the general history of humankind or of all nations. It is for this reason, and because of the significant part that the Israelites and their descendants would play in the future history of Islam and humankind, that the Qur’ān draws attention to certain aspects of their story.
In presenting and praising the true believers at the beginning of the sūrah , the Qur’ān opened a door on the history of previous peoples with the expression, Those believe in what is sent down to you, and what was sent down before you (such as the Torah, Gospel and Psalms, and the Scrolls of Abraham ) (2: 4). This door is opened for several reasons: because of the importance of the part the children of Israel played in the past, and would play in the future history of humankind; because of the important position the Jews enjoyed in Madīnah during the Madīnan period of the Messengership of Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings; and to warn the nascent Muslim community and all the Muslims to come in the future against lapsing into the same deviancy and error as the children of Is- rael fell. For these reasons, the Qur’ān recounts notable events in the history of the Jews, at the same time urging them to believe in Muhammad and enter the Muslim community.
- “Israel” was a title of the Prophet Jacob, upon him be peace, meaning a pure servant of God. In Muslim history, the Jews are usually referred to as Yahūdī , meaning one who belongs to Yahūda –Judah in the Old Testament. Judah – Yehudah in Hebrew – is the name of one of the two kingdoms which emerged with the division of Prophet Solomon’s king- dom after his death, and takes this name from Judah, one of the sons of Jacob. According to another opinion, Yahūdī means one who follows the Law established by Judah, an Israelite jurist who lived in the second century after Jesus. The Jews themselves name their religion
– Judaism – after Judah. The Qur’ān uses the term Yahūdī for the most rigid enemies of Muslims among the children of Israel and those who regard and call themselves as Yahūdī among them (6: 82; 2: 62). By referring to them as the children of a Prophet, a pure servant of God, the Qur’ān means that they are expected to believe in the Prophet Muhammad and so fulfill their covenant with God. This usage also establishes an important principle of good manners, especially in calling people to the Straight Path, that one should address people with the titles they like to be addressed with.
- Here there is a reference to the favor mentioned in Sūrat al-Fāti h ah . When used in a general sense, it means being favored with religion, a Divine Book, a Prophet, guidance, and following the Straight Path without deviancy. It specifically means here God’s choosing Prophets and Messengers from amongst the children of Israel and granting them a great kingdom, and giving them a Book, guiding them to the Straight Path, and making them inhabit the land promised to them.
- The covenant God made with the children of Israel was that when a Messenger came after the Prophets, they would believe in him and help him; therefore, they were required to believe in Muhammad, whom God had mentioned with his particular attributes and, the good tidings of whose coming He had given in the Book He had sent to them, and whom they consequently knew very well.
- The covenant of the children of Israel – your covenant in the verse – is that they would continue to receive His favor if they reformed themselves and were steadfast in following His way after so many calamities striking them in return for their rebellions and transgres- sions.
For the covenant between God and the children of Israel, see also 17: 4–8.
- Believe in that which I have sent down (the Qur’ān), confirming what (of
the truth) you already possess, and do not be the first to disbelieve in it. And (you scribes, fearful of losing your status and the worldly benefit accruing from it) do not sell My Revelations for a trifling price (such as worldly gains, status and renown); and in Me alone seek refuge, through reverence for Me and piety.
- Do not confound the truth by mixing it with falsehood,50 and do not conceal the truth while you know (the meaning and outcome of what you do, and that what you strive to hide is true, and that Muhammad is the Messenger of God, whose coming you have been anticipating).51
- About the ways in which the children of Israel confounded the truth by mixing it with falsehood, see 2: 71, 79, 140, 174, 179; 3: 167; 4: 13, 46; 5: 106. (They made additions or changes in the Book and then attributed them to God; they willfully misinterpreted its words; and they hid the truths which they thought did not serve their purposes. They also confounded the message through false testimony and wrong judgment.)
- The late elmalılı Hamdi Yazır (1877–1942), one of the greatest Muslim interpreters of the Qur’ān, made the following comment on confounding the truth by mixing it with falsehood:
Were it not for another verse concerning this subject, this verse alone would suffice to teach us how we must act in the matter of the translation and interpretation of the Qur’ān and in similar other issues of the religious sciences. It must never be forgotten how important it is that the Qur’ān should remain and be preserved in its original form, and its translation, interpretation or commentary in any other language can never replace and be substituted for the Qur’ān. We must avoid such expressions as the “Turkish Qur’ān” and the “Persian Qur’ān.” No matter into how many languages the Qur’ān is translated, or in how many languages it is interpreted or commented on, none of them can be the Qur’ān, nor can they substitute for it. God Almighty declares explicitly: “Do not confound the truth by mixing it with falsehood.” (Yazır , 1: 336.)
This point should be considered especially with reference to the controversies about whether the extant versions of the earlier Scriptures are (or could be) exactly the same as their originals. As is well known, the earlier Scriptures were not preserved in their original language and only translations of them are extant.
- establish the Prayer, and pay the Prescribed Purifying Alms (the Zakāh); and bow (in the Prayer, not by forming a different community or congregation, but) together with those who bow (the Muslims).52
52. The Qur’ān orders the children of Israel to pray—not their own prayer, which lacks the rite of bowing, for they must have changed it during their long history – but, rather, the Prayer God taught the Muslims through the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings. The Qur’ān draws particular attention to the bowing ( rukū‘` ) in the Prayer. This tells us that bowing has a special importance in the Prayer, and because of this, every cycle of the Prayer is called rak‘ah , a word derived from the same root as rukū‘. In addition, the verse is alluding to the importance of establishing the Prescribed Prayer in congrega-
tion, which is both a means and an expression of the solidarity and unity of Muslims. This is a warning against forming separate congregations on the basis of differences of opinion about minor legal or other secondary matters. The verse is also inviting the children of Israel to join the Muslim community. We can infer from this verse that they had become negligent about the duties of the Prayer and the Prescribed Purifying Alms (the Zakāh ). The latter is a tax at fixed rate in proportion to the value of property or wealth above a certain minimum, and its proper expenditure is decreed in 9: 60.
- Do you enjoin upon people godliness and virtue but forget your own selves, (even) while you recite the Book (and see therein the orders, prohibitions, ex- hortations and warnings)? Will you not understand and come to your senses?53
53. enjoining godliness on others but forgetting it oneself means knowingly exposing one- self to perdition and consenting to punishment. Not acting on the advice one gives to oth- ers means contradicting oneself and degrading the knowledge and authority on which that advice is based. Obviously, it can have little or no effect on others to recommend and enjoin on them what one does not do oneself. So, enjoining the good on others but not doing it is sheer stupidity and absurdity.
Like earlier Israelite Prophets who severely admonished and scolded their people, we also see in the Gospels that the Prophet Jesus, upon him be peace, addressed many among the Jewish scholars of his time in terms much harsher than the Qur’ān. For example:
Brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart brings forth good things; and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. ( Matthew , 12: 34–35)
….saying, the scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore whatever they tell you observe, that observe and do; but do not do according to their works, for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do for to be seen by men: they make their phylacteries broad, and enlarge the borders of their garments. They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the market places, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi. ‘ But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the christ; and you are all brethren.
But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers; therefore, you will receive the greater damnation. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whosoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obliged to perform it!’ . . . Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the out-
side of them may be clean also. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like unto whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. . . Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous , and say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.’ Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are the sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt. ‘Serpents, brood of vipers, how can you escape the damnation of hell? (Matthew, 23: 2–8; 13–16, 23, 26–27, 29, 31–33)
The Qur’ān’s warnings are not addressed only to the scholars and leading representatives of a certain religion; they are directed to all those who represent a heavenly religion, including, of course, Muslim scholars.
- Seek help through patience54 (and fasting, which requires and enables great patience), and through the Prayer. Indeed the Prayer is burdensome, but not for those humbled by their reverence of God:
- It can be said that patience is the half of Islam, the other half being thankfulness. The patience shown just at the moment when misfortune strikes is true patience. With respect to the situations requiring it, patience can be divided into the following categories:
- enduring the difficulties of fulfilling the duty of servanthood to God or steadfastness in performing regular acts of worship;
- resisting the temptations to sin of the carnal soul and Satan;
- enduring heavenly or earthly calamities, which entails resignation to Divine decrees;
- steadfastness in following the Straight Path without deviancy in spite of worldly at- tractions and distractions;
- showing no haste in pursuing those of one’s hopes or plans that require a stretch of time to achieve.
Because fasting requires prohibiting to the carnal soul the things of which it is most en- amored – eating, drinking, and sexual relations, as well as lying, backbiting and gossip – it strengthens and deepens the believer’s willpower. Accordingly fasting as a duty of worship has come to be regarded as identical with patience. For this reason, the meaning of “pa- tience” in the verse includes fasting.
- Those who feel as if always in the Presence of their Lord, having met with Him; and are certain of following the way to return to Him.55
55. God’s guidance is based on compassion, knowledge, evidence, logic, reasoning, warning, giving good tidings, and illustration. Here, again, the Qur’ān refers to the beginning of the sūrah : it relates the topic here to faith, establishing the Prescribed Prayer, Purifying Alms- giving, and spending in God’s cause, reverence for God, and the afterlife – all of which were treated at the beginning. By recounting the history of the children of Israel and the favors God bestowed upon them, the Qur’ān continues to send its rays of guidance to their minds and hearts.
- O children of Israel! Remember My favor that I bestowed upon you, and that I once exalted you above all peoples;
- And be fearful of and strive to be guarded against a day when (everybody will be seeking a means to save himself, and when) no soul will pay on behalf of another, nor will any intercession (of the sort common in the world but which does not meet with God’s permission and approval) be accepted from any of them, nor will compensation be received from them, nor will they be helped.
- And (remember) that We saved you from the clan (the court and military aristocracy) of the Pharaoh,56 afflicting you with the most evil suffering (by enslaving you to such laborious tasks as construction, transportation and farm- ing57), slaughtering your sons and letting live your womenfolk (for further hu- miliation and suffering). In that was a grievous trial from your Lord.58
- When the Prophet Joseph, upon him be peace, was taken to egypt as a slave, the Hyksos dynasty ruled egypt. They were a northwestern Arab or mixed Arab–Asiatic people who came to egypt from Syria sometime between 1720 and 1710 bc and subdued the Middle Kingdom. The Muslim historians call them al-Amālīk. From the time of Joseph (roughly the mid-seventeenth century bc ), the Divine Religion represented by the children of Israel (Prophet Jacob) became prevalent, and they had the authority in egypt (Qur’ān, 5: 20). However, within two centuries thereafter, the native copts took over the rule. Their kings were called Pharaohs. As understood from the Qur’ān, the Pharaoh ruled in egypt with his family, army, and a privileged aristocracy. What the Qur’ān means by Āli Fir‘awn is this ruling oligarchy.
- For a description of this period in history, see also The Bible, “exodus,” 1: 11–14.
- The Qur’ān uses the term balā’ (trial) for the tormented life of the children of Israel in egypt. God tries people with both good and evils. When He tries with good such as suc- cess, wealth, high position, and physical beauty, it requires gratitude to God and attributing it to Him. When He tries with evils such as a misfortune, illness or poverty, it requires pa- tience without complaint. This, however, does not mean that one stricken by an evil should not try to escape from it. Being tried with evil is usually the result of a sin. Therefore, it also requires repentance and seeking forgiveness. Whether a believer is tried with good or evil it is good with respect to its consequence, provided it is met with gratitude in case of the former and patience without complaint in case of the latter. In addition to serving for the forgiveness of the sin committed and bringing extra good, trial causes the stricken people to be saved from wrong conceptions, beliefs and assertions, and matures and perfects them. The trial of the children of Israel resulted in their escaping a life of torment in egypt and being favored with God’s guidance and a great kingdom.
- And remember when (after years of struggle to escape egypt, you had just reached the sea with the army of the Pharaoh in close pursuit and) We parted the sea for you and saved you, and (as sheer grace from Us, which you had no part in) caused the family of the Pharaoh to drown while you were looking on.
- And when, on another occasion, We appointed with Moses forty nights,59 then (during the time he stayed on Mount Sinai, ) you adopted the (golden) calf as deity and worshipped it after him; and you were wronging yourselves thereby with a most heinous wrong.
59. The night (because it is quieter and there are fewer distractions than in the day) is particularly favored for spiritual journeying in God’s cause. We read in the Qur’ān that the Last Messenger of God, upon him be peace and blessings, was commanded long night vigils, especially at the beginning of his mission, because night is more suitable for prayer and night vigils are more impressive, with the recitation in them being more certain and upright (73: 2–6; 76: 26). The Messenger’s miraculous journey to Jerusalem and his Ascen- sion also took place at night.
- Then (even though adopting as deity any other than God is an unpardon- able sin, We accepted your atonement and) We pardoned you after that, that you might (acknowledge Our many and great favors to you and) give thanks (believing in God and worshipping Him alone, and carrying out His command- ments.)
- And remember when We granted Moses (while he was on Mount Sinai for forty nights) the Book60 and the criterion to distinguish between truth and falsehood, and the knowledge, and the power of judgment to put it into effect,61 that you might be guided to truth and abide by it.62
- The Book, wherein was light, guidance, mercy and the solution to all the problems that would confront them. See: 5: 44; 6: 91, 154; 7: 145.
- The word translated as “the criterion to distinguish between truth and falsehood, and the knowledge, insight, and power of judgment to put it into effect” is al-Furqān , as it is the means to distinguish truth and falsehood, right and wrong, and lawful and unlawful. In another verse (8: 29), the Qur’ān declares that if those who believe keep their duty to God in fear and respect, in order to deserve His protection, He will assign them a furqān . Here it means an inner sense or faculty of insight, discernment, inspiration, and power of judgment to distinguish between right and wrong. Al-Furqān is also one of the titles of the Qur’ān. God’s Messenger said: “I have been given the Qur’ān and its like together with it.” (Abū Dāwūd, “Sunnah,” 5.) The “like of the Qur’ān” is the Sunnah of the Messenger. In addition to its other functions, the Sunnah interprets the Qur’ān. In order to understand the Qur’ān correctly and fully, especially its commandments, we must, of necessity, depend upon the Sunnah. For this reason, as the Sunnah may be a furqān , the Furqān given to the Prophet Moses, upon him be peace, may be his Sunnah, in the sense of the criteria by which to practice the Book in daily life.
- The previous verse concludes with the need to give thanks – a comprehensive concept that includes carrying out God’s commands and refraining from His prohibitions – for forgiveness after apostasy and returning to taw h īd , while this verse, which mentions that God gave Moses the Book and the Furqān , ends with being guided to truth and abiding by it. This points to a very significant fact: the only way to find the Straight Path and follow
it without deviancy is by obeying the Book in accordance with the Furqān – the Divine criteria. The concept includes both the Divine commandments in the Book and the criteria to apply them, namely the Sharī‘ah. The rules and principles of the Sharī‘ah are the citadel of religion. It is also the Sharī‘ah which determines the limits and principles of the spiritual ways leading to God. Any spiritual or esoteric journeying trespassing its limits ends in a marsh of deviancy. It is also worthwhile noting that “Torah” means “law.”
- 63And when Moses said to his people: “O my people, assuredly you have wronged yourselves by adopting the (golden) calf as deity; so turn in repen- tance to your All-Holy creator (Who is absolutely above having any partners), and kill amongst yourselves those who have committed that great offense, thus purifying yourselves of this tremendous sin.64 That will be best for you in the sight of your All-Holy creator, and He will accept your repentance and pardon you. Surely He is the One Who accepts repentance and returns it with liberal forgiveness and additional reward, the All-compassionate.65
- In a few verses, the Qur’ān has summarized the history of the children of Israel from their life of slavery in egypt to Moses being given the Book and the Furqān on Mount Sinai, reminding them of God’s past favors to them. It has invited them to believe in the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, about whom the Bible states that he resembles the Prophet Moses ( Deuteronomy , 18: 18; also see the introduction to Sūrat al-Qasas ), and thereby reform themselves to follow the Straight Path. At this point, it en- ters into certain details and mentions particular events in order to strengthen its encourage- ment and give greater contentment to minds and hearts. While following these events, we will note how the Qur’ān bases all the topics it discusses on belief in God, the Messenger, and the Last Day, and on worshipping and doing good deeds.
- After many eventful years, the Prophet Moses, believing that his people had attained to the stage of forming a civilized community on the basis of the Divine laws, went to Mount Sinai to receive the Torah. However, the children of Israel adopted as deity the calf – one amongst them (called as-Sāmiriyy in the Qur’ān) made it of jewelry – and they began wor- shipping it. This demonstrated that belief in God as the only Lord to be worshipped was not yet ingrained in their hearts, and they were still enthralled by the impressions they had received in egypt, where the cow was one of the deities. Moses postponed putting the To- rah into effect and attempted to suppress this doctrinal uprising. He ordered them to “kill amongst yourselves those who have committed that great offense, thus purifying yourselves of this tremendous sin.” Some interpreters are of the opinion that this order meant for them to kill their carnal, evil-commanding souls, that is, to reform themselves. However, it may well mean that an internal conflict ensued between those who remained loyal to the Divine Oneness and the apostates, and Moses ordered the killing of the latter. (Also, see note 70.) Killing the carnal, evil-commanding souls might be a consequence of this. The Bible is full of accounts of such punishments as mass-killing, exile, plagues, pestilence, and famine that came in return for certain grave sins. It records that 3000 people were killed because of taking to themselves the calf ( exodus , 32: 28).
- In earlier verses, God draws attention to His favors by using the pronoun “We.” This verse presents the orders of the Prophet Moses, upon him be peace, to his people. It indi-
cates that after receiving the Book and the Furqān , Moses became a “Prophet-ruler.” Mo- ses’ command, “kill amongst yourselves those who have committed that great offense, thus purifying yourselves of this tremendous sin,” as recorded in the Qur’ān, marks this change.
- And (despite all that had occurred and the manifest signs of your Lord that you witnessed over many years, a time came) when you said: “Moses, we will never believe in you (whether the commandments you have brought are really from God) unless we plainly see God (speaking to you).” Thereupon, the thun- derbolt (that you saw come unexpectedly) seized you. Motionless, as if dead, you were gazing.66
66. In order to petition God, probably not to inflict another greater punishment on his people for their adopting the calf as deity, Moses, upon him be peace, chose seventy from amongst his people and took them to Mount Sinai (7: 155). He also desired that they might witness God’s orders and persuade their people of the Divine origin of the orders. Although the Almighty did not speak to them directly, they witnessed the manifest, con- vincing signs of God’s revealing to Moses His orders (Yazır, 4: 2292 - 93). Despite this, they demanded to openly see God speaking to Moses. Thereupon, a thunderbolt seized them.
Although the seventy people or some amongst them made this demand and the thunder- bolt seized them, since they represented the whole of the people and the people themselves had the same mood of deviancy, the Qur’ān attributes the offense to the children of Israel as a whole. If the collective duties that fall upon the whole community and must be carried out by at least a group of responsible people are totally neglected, then the punishment comes to the community as a whole. The verse, And beware and guard yourselves against a trial that will surely not smite exclusively those among you who are engaged in wrongdo- ing; and know that God is severe in retribution . (8: 25) points to this fact. For this reason, the elite of any Islamic movement should continuously scrutinize themselves and their actions more than others.
- Then after that death-like state (and your spiritual death), We revived you (recovering you from the death-like state) so that you might give thanks.
- And (since, unaided, you could not survive in the desert without shelter and food) We caused the cloud (which you plainly saw was assigned for you) to shade you, and sent down upon you manna and quails: “eat of the pure, whole- some things that We have provided for you.” Yet (in breaking the laws, in refus- ing to obey the injunctions about even those foods) they did not wrong Us, but they were wronging themselves.67
67. God bestowed the three favors mentioned here on the children of Israel for many years in the desert. A cloud constantly provided them with shade, quails poured down wherever they were in the evening, and manna came in abundance in the morning. Despite this, and despite the fact that the quails and manna came on the sixth day of the week in double the quantity of other days because they were forbidden to work on the seventh day (Sabbath)
and therefore could not collect them, many of them went out to collect on that day. Also, though they were ordered not to leave the food they collected in the evening for the next day, some left it only to go bad, and still others collected more than their need ( exodus , 16: 4–31) In addition to many other wise purposes, these commandments surely aimed to purify their hearts of such evil attributes as avarice, hoarding and selfishness, in order to perfect them morally and spiritually.
- And remember (after you had been wandering in the desert, how We guided you to a town) when We commanded: “enter this town and eat (of the fruits) thereof as you may desire to your hearts’ content.68 enter it (not through differ- ent ways with the aim of plundering and massacring its people but) through its gate humbly and in utmost submission to God. Say words of imploring forgive- ness and loyalty to Him,69 that We forgive you your misdeeds.” We will increase the reward for those devoted to doing good, aware that God is seeing them.
- There is a clear link between the command in this verse and the command given to Adam (2: 35): “Dwell you, and your spouse, in the Garden, and eat (of the fruits) thereof to your hearts’ content where you desire.”
- It is not certain (either from the Qur’ān or from the Bible) what town this was. In re- counting historical events, the Qur’ān focuses on the lessons to be taken from them, rather than chronicling details of the place, time, or individuals involved. What is of importance here is that, on entering a town triumphantly after a battle or with the aim of settling, one should enter humbly, as our Prophet did when entering Madīnah during the Hijrah and Makkah during its conquest, and giving praise, glory, and thanks to God, with loyal sub- mission to His commands, and seeking His forgiveness for one’s sins, and not thinking of plundering and massacring. The orders recorded in the Bible ( Leviticus , 25, 26; Numbers
, 15: 1–41), to be carried out while entering a town, such as keeping the Sabbath and of- fering sacrifice to the Lord, are of the same import. Beyond such commandments is the consciousness of being seen by God and, therefore, doing good with greater sincerity and diligence. God exhorts the believers to this level of spiritual awareness in doing good.
- Then those who persisted in wrongdoing changed what had been said to them (regarding humility, imploring forgiveness, submission, and loyalty) for another saying (and so acted contrarily to how they had been ordered.) So We sent down upon those who did wrong a scourge from heaven because they were continually transgressing .70
70. The scourge sent down from heaven was probably a plague in which, according to the Bible, 14,700 people died ( Numbers , 16:46–49). The Qur’ān describes a pestilence, the causes of which are known, as a scourge sent down from heaven, and a means of suppress- ing an uprising against a Prophetic order. This teaches us to regard calamities (whether they strike individually or collectively) from the viewpoint of their real causes and the Divine wisdom in them, rather than their apparent “natural” causes. They come as the re- sult of our negligence in God’s laws governing our religious and “natural” lives, and of our transgressing the bounds established by Him. The great scholar, Hamdi Yazır, remarks:
God Almighty is the One of Majesty Who is powerful enough to pull up the mountains and demolish them over the heads of people. He can change in an instant the gravity between things and objects. Those who have some sense should not forget how great and irresistible a force earthquake and volcanic eruption demonstrate. Some think that such events have nothing to do with the transgressions of humankind. This is a manifest error. Although it cannot be said that all of them are punitive, all of them are certainly linked to the life and actions of humankind. (Yazir, 4: 2322)
The function and dignity of humankind as vicegerent require this to be so.
- Again (remember) when Moses (on an occasion when his people were with- out water in the desert) beseeched water for his people, so We told him: “Strike the rock with your staff !” (As soon as he struck) there gushed forth from it twelve springs. each tribe knew their drinking place.71 eat and drink of that which God has provided, and do not go about acting wickedly on earth, causing disorder and corruption.
71. The staff of Moses served as a means for many of his miracles. The gushing forth of water from the rock was one of them. This rock is still to be found in the Sinai and attracts tourists. It bears the signs of the slits and cracks made by the springs. (al-Mawdūdī, 1, note: 75).
By this miracle, the Almighty conveys the message that it is possible to benefit from the hidden treasuries of His Mercy, and even to cause “the water of life” to gush forth from a place as hard as a rock, with simple tools such as a staff. In addition, He encourages human- kind: O humankind! I gave to the hand of a servant of Mine who had perfect trust in Me such a staff that he could summon by it the “water of life” when he wished. If you rely on My Mercy and your studies are founded upon Its laws, you can discover an instrument like that staff. So, come on and discover! ( The Words , “the 20 th Word,” 261–262)
This verse contains two other messages. One is that there is a “natural” cause, no matter how slight, in every miracle, because humankind is tested in this world, not compelled. If there were no “natural” causes, then all would be compelled to believe. The Almighty opens a door to faith for human reason but does not compel it to pass through that door. Given their free will, human beings choose and determine their way and, therefore, get their just deserts. The second message the verse conveys is that one who prays to God for any need should do whatever is normally required to attain the end desired. For example, if one is ill, one should both go to a doctor and pray. If one desires success, one should both work and pray. When Moses prayed for water, God could have sent down water from the sky, but He ordered him to strike a rock with his staff. Moses did what he was ordered without the slightest hesitation about whether water could or would come out from the rock. He had perfect reliance on God and was perfectly certain of his mission.
- And (remember the time) when you said: “Moses, we will no longer be able to endure one sort of food. Pray for us to your Lord, that He may bring forth for us of all that the soil produces – its green herbs, and its cucumbers, and its
corn, and its lentils, and its onions.” He (Moses) responded: “Would you have in exchange what is meaner for what is better? Get you down to egypt (or some city); surely there is for you there what you ask for.”72 So, in the end, ignominy and misery were pitched upon them, and they earned wrath (a humiliating pun- ishment) from God. That was because they were persistently disbelieving in Our Revelations and rejecting Our signs (despite continuously observing them in their lives), and killing the Prophets against all right and truth. That was be- cause they disobeyed and kept on exceeding the bounds (of the Law).73
- “egypt (or some city)” translates misr , which can mean either. It might be a city that the children of Israel passed on the way to Palestine, or it might be egypt, which they had left. Their demand indicates that they still felt longing for their life in egypt and it was also a sign of ignobility of character. That is why Moses might have meant in a satirically warning manner, “Get you down to egypt, where there was what you ask for, and return to your previous life of slavery.”
- What the children of Israel asked for was not, in itself, sinful. But by saying “your Lord” instead of “our Lord,” they manifested a sign of unbelief. Second, as a people on the way to becoming a civilized society under the leadership of a great Messenger, they were expected to make demands required by a civilized life. By drawing attention to the ignominy and misery pitched upon them, and to their crimes, even after they became settled and founded a great kingdom during the reigns of the Prophets David and Solomon, upon them be peace, the Qur’ān illustrates how they relapsed into their character of slavery. In telling of the humiliating punishment they earned from God’s wrath, the verse links back to, and interprets, “those who have incurred (Your) wrath” in Sūrat al-Fāti h ah .
considered in the light of this verse, the Prophetic saying warning the Muslims against the causes of ignominy and misery becomes more apt: “When you let yourselves go into speculative transactions and are occupied with animal-breeding only and content with ag- riculture and abandon striving in God’s cause to preach His religion, God will subject you to such a humiliation that He will not remove it from you until you return to your religion.” (Abū Dāwūd, “Buyū‘,” 54; Ibn Hanbal, 2: 84)
It may serve as a comparison that the apostles of Jesus, upon him be peace, made a similar demand from him, also using the expression, “your Lord.” However, while the children of Israel demanded what the soil produces, Jesus’ apostles demanded a table from heaven. (5: 112)
- (The truth is not as they – the Jews – claim, but this:) Those who believe (i.e. professing to be Muslims), or those who declare Judaism, or the christians or the Sabaeans (or those of some other faith) – whoever truly believes in God and the Last Day and does good, righteous deeds, surely their reward is with their Lord, and they will have no fear, nor will they grieve.74
74. The aim of the verse is to repudiate the illusion cherished by the Jews that, by virtue of their being Jews, they have a monopoly over salvation. They had long asserted their
belief that a special and exclusive relationship existed between themselves and God. They thought that Jews, as Jews, were predestined to salvation, regardless of their beliefs and ac- tions, whereas all non-Jews were predestined to serve as fuel for the Fire.
The context of the verse makes it clear that it does not aim to enumerate in full all the articles of faith in which one should believe in order to be saved. They are mentioned else- where, in the appropriate places. No one should conclude from this verse that for eternal salvation, it is not compulsory to believe in the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, and follow his way. There is a clear relationship between this verse and verse 38 – If, henceforth, a guidance (like a Book through a Messenger) comes to you from Me, and whoever follows My guidance (and turns to Me with faith and worship), they will have no fear (in this world and the next, for they will always find My help and support with them), nor will they grieve .– and the beginning of the sūrah , where belief in the Qur’ān and the previous Books, together with establishing the Prayer and spending in God’s cause, are mentioned as the attributes of the believers who prosper. verses 41, 42, 43 – Believe in that which I have sent down (the Qur’ān), confirming that which is with you (of the truth), and do not be the first to disbelieve in it. And (you scribes, fearful of losing your status and the worldly benefit accruing from it) do not sell My Revelations for a trifling price (such as worldly gains, status and renown); and in Me alone seek refuge through piety and rever- ence for Me. Do not confound the truth by mixing it with falsehood, and do not conceal the truth while you know (the meaning and outcome of what you do, and that what you strive to hide is true, and that Muhammad is the Messenger of God, the Messenger whose coming you have been anticipating). establish the Prayer, and pay the Prescribed Purify- ing Alms (the Zakāh); and bow (in the Prayer, not by forming a different community or congregation, but) together with those who bow (the Muslims) . –explicitly address the Jews and explicitly invite them to believe in the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings.
In order to fully understand the message of this verse, verse 22: 17 should also be taken into consideration.
- And (remember) when We took your promise (to keep Our covenant) and (in order to stress the importance of both the covenant and keeping it, and warn you against breaking it,) We raised the Mount (causing it to tower) over you: “Hold firmly to what We haven given you (of the Book) and study its com- mandments and instructions so that you may attain reverent piety toward God and His protection (against any kind of straying and its consequent punishment in this world and the Hereafter.)”
- Then, after that, you turned away again (breaking your promise and disobey- ing the commandments of the Book). So, had it not been for the grace of God to you and His mercy (overlooking your offenses and forgiving you), surely you would have been of the losers (in this world and the next.).
- You surely know of those among you who exceeded the bounds with respect to the Sabbath, how We said to them, “Be you apes, miserably slinking and
75. The event outlined here is told in detail in 7: 163–66.
It was laid down that the children of Israel should consecrate the Sabbath – Saturday – for rest and worship. They were required to abstain from all worldly acts. The injunctions in this connection were so strict that breaking the Sabbath was punishable by death ( exodus
, 31: 12–17).
Some have commented on Be you apes, miserably slinking and rejected ! that they were invested with the characteristic of apes, becoming “like” apes in character, thought and conduct, in other words, that the transformation was a moral (and not a physical) one. However – quite aside from the fact that there were many similar unusual events in the history of the Israelites – its being meant to serve as a severe affliction, exemplary for their own generation and those to follow them (see: the verse to come), reinforces the opinion that the transformation into apes was physical. It may be that while their minds were al- lowed to remain intact, their bodies were changed into those of apes, so they were driven away wherever they were encountered.
There are several passages in the Old Testament concerning the Sabbath ( exodus , 16: 21–30; 20 :8–11; 31: 12–17; Deuteronomy , 5: 12–15). As can be understood from Deuter- onomy , one of the reasons for its consecration may have been so that the Israelites should not forget their life of slavery in egypt, and be mindful of perceiving God’s blessings upon them, as well as serving as a day of respite for slaves and animals.
God’s “saying” an order is identical with expressing and executing His will: When He wills a thing to be, He but says to it “Be!” and (in the selfsame instant) it is . (36: 82).
- We made it a severe affliction exemplary for their own generations and those to follow them, and instruction and guidance for the God-revering, pious.
- And (remember) when Moses told his people: “God commands you to sacri- fice a cow.” They responded: “Are you making fun of us?” He replied: “I seek ref- uge in God lest I should be among the ignorant (by making fun of anybody.)”76
76. Despite numerous signs of God through many eventful years, the children of Israel began, very soon after Moses went to Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, to worship a calf made of jewelry. This deviancy, happening in defiance of the Prophet Aaron, demonstrated the extent to which the Israelites had absorbed the attitudes of the native people of egypt, in particular their sanctifying cattle. As may be understood from their demanding of Mo- ses what the soil produces – the green herbs, cucumbers, corn, lentils, and onions – their occupation as farm laborers in egypt may also have contributed to their veneration of the cow. By commanding them to sacrifice a cow, God willed to disabuse them of this attitude. However, it is with great difficulty that human nature can free itself from long and deeply ingrained prejudices. Accordingly, the Israelites, who had been expected to sacrifice any cow, chose to make trouble about it. Although the useless questions they asked and the expressions they used, such as “your Lord,” that displayed their disrespect for God, brought them to the door of perdition, the mercy and gentle forbearance of God rescued them once
more, and they were able to carry out the order. There are lessons for Muslim guides to take from this event.
As pointed out before, establishing faith in the Hereafter in minds and hearts is one of the four cardinal purposes of the Qur’ān. For this reason, while narrating an event even from a different perspective or for a different purpose, if it is possible to open a way through it to one of its main purposes or essentials of faith, the Qur’ān always does so. The main reason for the order of sacrificing a cow was, as we said, to disabuse the Israelites of their reverence for cattle. However, in order to disclose the identity of a murderer which they had been hiding, God created a miracle. Upon His order, they smote the corpse with some part of the sacrificed cow and the corpse, restored to life, told who his murderer was. This showed that God can bring the dead back to life in any way He wills, so it is foolishness to doubt or question whether God can revive the dead. Such doubts and questions indicate a deficiency in the use of reason, or its abuse.
- They said, “Pray for us to your Lord that He may make clear to us what it should be like.” He (Moses) answered: “He says, it should be a cow neither old nor virgin, middling between the two. So do what you are commanded.”
- They (continuing to make trouble about the matter) responded: “Pray for us to your Lord that He may make clear to us what color it should be.” He (Moses) answered: “He says, it should be a yellow cow, radiant in its color, gladdening those who see.”
- They (still unwilling to carry out the order) replied: “Pray for us to your Lord that He make clear to us what it should be like; cows are much alike to us; and if God wills, we will then be guided (to find the precise type of cow we are com- manded to sacrifice, and sacrifice it.)”
- He (Moses) answered: “He says, it is a cow unyoked to plough the earth or water the tillage, one kept secure and sound, with no blemish on it.” “Now you have brought the truth,” they answered; and they sacrificed it, though they all but did not.
- And (remember also) when you had killed a living soul, and were accusing one another to deny the responsibility, but God would disclose what you were concealing.
- So We commanded: “Strike him (the corpse) with part of it (the sacrificed cow).” (So they did and the corpse, brought to life, informed of the murderer.) even so, God brings to life the dead and shows you the signs (of His Power, Oneness and way of acting), that you may understand the truth (and have no doubt at all, concerning the essentials of faith).77
77. Like every other Prophetic miracle, this miracle also marks a horizon for scientific ad-
vances. In the future, it may well become possible to discover, for example, the murderer of a victim by “interrogating” some of the cells of the brain that remain alive for some time after death, or trace the murderer through some other element of the victim’s body, analogous to the way that traces of the murderer’s DNA found on the victim or at the crime scene can lead to definitive identification.
- Then, a while after that, your hearts became hardened; they were like rocks, or even harder, for there are rocks from which rivers come gushing; there are some that split and water issues from them; and there are still others that roll down for fear and awe of God. (Whereas your hearts are harder than rocks, and) God is not unaware and unmindful of what you do.78
78. Hard rocks give way to the roots and fibers of plants. Those fibers, though as soft as silk, can, saying “In the Name of God”, pierce and pass through hard stones and earth. By their mentioning the Name of God, the Name of the Merciful, everything becomes subjected to them.
As a result of the awesome manifestations of Divine Majesty in the form of earthquakes and other abrupt geological events, we can see huge rocks fall from the high summits of mountains (mostly formed, long ago, from thickened and cooled molten fluid) and shat- ter. Some of these crumble and disintegrate further to become soil for plantation. Others remain as rocks, and are scattered down to the valleys and plains. They serve many uses in the works of the earth’s inhabitants, as in their houses. In submission to the Divine Power and Wisdom that foresees hidden purposes and benefits, mountains and rocks are thus ever ready and willing to be used in accordance with the principles of the Divine Wisdom. It is neither in vain nor accidental that, out of awe of God, they leave their lofty positions at the summits and choose the lower places in humility and become the means of those significant benefits. Rocks are so wonderfully subjugated to God’s commands that rivers do appear to gush out of them. However, it is not possible that the mountains could be the actual source of the mighty rivers in the world such as the Tigris, euphrates and the Nile. even if the mountains were made up entirely and only of water, like giant conical reservoirs, the swift and abundant flow of those great rivers would exhaust their supply of water in only a few months. Also, the rain, which only penetrates about a meter into the earth, cannot be suf- ficient income for such a high expenditure. In fact, reason cannot yet satisfactorily explain the sources and flow of these rivers in terms of “natural causes.” The All-Majestic creator makes the rivers flow forth in a truly wonderful fashion from an unseen “treasury.”
By drawing attention to the benefits of rocks, and by comparing the rocks favorably with the hardened hearts of the Israelites, the Qur’ān gives the following instruction to all hu- mankind:
O children of Israel and O children of Adam! Despite your weakness and impotence, what sorts of hearts do you have that, in their hardness, they resist the commands of the Divine Being? By contrast, massive formations of rocks carry out their subtle tasks perfectly in darkness, in utmost submission to His commands. Indeed, the rocks act as a store and conduit for water (and other means of life) for all the living creatures on the earth. In the hand of Power of the All-Wise One of Majesty, the hard rocks become, unresistingly, as malleable as wax or air, making way for the flowing waters, and the delicate roots and silk-
like fibers of plant life, which, also, are acting under the command of God.
O children of Israel and children of Adam! Through hardness of heart and lack of feeling, you disobey the commandments of One of such awesome Majesty and life-giving Power; through heedlessness, you close your eyes to the light of the Knowledge of such an ever- lasting Sun. He makes mighty rivers like the Nile gush from solid rocks and makes the land of egypt fertile –and yet you fail to notice and take heed. He produces for the heart of the universe and the mind of the earth miracles of His Power, and witnesses to His Oneness as strong and abundant as those mighty rivers, and makes them flow to the hearts and minds of jinn and humankind. How, then, is it that you are blind to the light of His Knowledge and do not see the truth? (The Words , “the 20th Word,” 262).
- (O community of the believers!) Do you hope that those people (whose hearts have become more hardened than rocks and who have continually shown disloyalty to God,) will believe you (and believe in the Prophet Muhammad, and in the Book he brought and the Religion he preaches)? (It is surely not pos- sible) when there has been a party among them that hear the Word of God, and then, after they reasoned and judged it (to be the Word of God), have tampered with it knowingly.79
79. One of the aims of the Qur’ān in presenting diverse aspects of the history of the chil- dren of Israel is to make them known to the nascent Muslim community in Madīnah and the succeeding Muslim generations. Prior to the emigration ( Hijrah ), the Jewish com- munities in Madīnah were better off than the native Arab tribes, al-Aws and Khazraj, being more knowledgeable of worldly affairs and belonging to a heavenly religion. Whenever a conflict arose between them and the Arabs, they threatened that a Prophet would appear among them and that, under his leadership, they would triumph over them. Thus, they had been anticipating the coming of the Last Prophet. However, when he appeared not among them but among the Arabs, they refused to believe in him. It was partly because of this background that the Muslims of Madīnah had expected that they would be the first to believe in the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings. Accordingly, the Muslim converts among the Arab tribes approached their Jewish friends and neighbors and invited them to embrace Islam. When the Jews declined to do so, this was exploited by the hypocrites and other enemies of Islam as an argument for creating doubts about the truth of Islam. In order to warn the new Muslim converts against such doubts and the mischief the Jewish communities might bring about, the Qur’ān draws attention to their character and past history, and the real reasons for their reluctance to embrace Islam.
- When they meet those who believe, they declare (hypocritically), “We be- lieve (in what you believe in);” but when they are alone with one another, in pri- vate, they say (chiding each other): “Will you tell them what God has disclosed to you, that they might use it as an argument against you before your Lord? Do you have no sense?”80
80. Among the Jewish rabbis were some who partly preserved their loyalty to their religion. They had told the members of al-Aws and Khazraj tribes about the attributes of the Last
Prophet they had been anticipating. Since all of these attributes were seen in the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, ‘Abdullāh ibn Salām, the greatest among them, accepted Islam. It was because of such factors that at least some among them felt compelled to admit faith when they encountered the Muslims. However, when they were alone with one another, they chided each other or those who admitted faith, saying: “God had disclosed to you some secrets about the Last Prophet in the Book He sent to you. By telling the Muslims these secrets, would you like it if they use them as an argument against you in the presence of your Lord?” In thinking and acting in this way, they demonstrated that they did not have true knowledge of God, but rather had a conception of Him such that He does not know what people keep secret. Also, by using the expression “your Lord,” they demonstrated that they believed that they had a Lord exclusive to themselves. (This is a false conception: either it means that God is not the Lord of all, or, equally bad, it means that God practices a sort of “favoritism” on behalf of some of His creatures to the neglect or detriment of others.)
- Do they not know that surely God knows what they keep concealed and what they disclose?
- Among them are the illiterate folk who do not know anything about the Book except fancies from hearsay, and merely follow their conjectures.
- Woe, then, to those who write the Book with their hands (interpolating into it their readings of the Scriptures and their explanatory notes thereto, stories from their national history, superstitious ideas and fancies, philosophical doc- trines and legal rules) and then, in order to sell it for a trifling price (such as worldly benefit, status, and renown), they declare: “This is from God.” So woe to them for what their hands have written, and woe to them for what they have earned (of the worldly income and the sin thereby).81
81. In addition to interpreting the Book of God according to their wishes, for the sake of fame, status and worldly gain, the rabbis interpolated into it their own readings of the Scriptures, stories from their national history, superstitious ideas and fancies, philosophical doctrines and legal rules, and attributed these to God. This caused what was human and what was Divine to be confounded. Furthermore, they expected others to believe in what- ever there was in the Book, and they regarded rejection of their additions as being identical with unbelief. As pointed out in verse 78, the common people were unlettered. They tended to believe in whatever they were told in the name of religion, and thus, they were dragged along into conjectures and fancies through mere imitation.
As in other similar verses, this one contains significant warning for the learned scholars and the unlearned Muslims of this community. As pointed out by Bediüzzaman Said Nursi, the religious books written by scholars should serve as “binoculars” to look at the Qur’ān, not as substitutes for it. This and similar verses also shed light on why God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and bless- ings, showed some reluctance in the early years of his mission to have his sayings written down.
- They say (despite all that): “The Fire will not touch us at all except for a certain number of days.”82 Say, then, (to them): “Have you made a covenant with God and received a promise from Him? If so, God will never break His covenant. Or do you say things against God that you do not know?”
82. Left without any means to object to the Qur’ān’s unveiling their past and inner world, some Jewish rabbis attempted to defend themselves by claiming that the Fire would not touch the Israelites except for a definite number of days – as many days as they had wor- shipped the calf. They put forward as an excuse their being Jewish and a nation exalted above others, whereas this was not intended in terms of supremacy in virtue, but was for a determined period when they were granted a great kingdom during the reigns of the Prophets David and Solomon, upon them be peace. They even went so far as to claim that they were the children of God and His beloved ones (5: 18). The only true criterion in the sight of God in judging people is taqwā ; as stressed in verse 2: 62, being a Jew, christian, or Muslim by name does not suffice for salvation.
- (It is indeed the case that you speak in ignorance. The truth is,) rather, that whoever earns an evil (by his free will) and his vices engulf him – those are the companions of the Fire;83 they will abide therein.
83. There is a close relation between this and the following verse (82), as well as verses 2: 28 and 29. This verse is also linked to verse 24, which threatens those who reject belief in the Qur’ān. The words and expressions used here – evil, earning evil, vices, and vices engulfing the person – describe the people of Hell, who are deprived of faith and engulfed in sins. The verse also implies a warning for those Jews that the sins that they committed in their past history and were committing in Madīnah were of the kind that, contrary to their claim that the Fire would not touch them except for a certain number of days, had contaminated their very being and would doom them to being companions of the Fire eternally.
- While those who believe and do good, righteous deeds, those are the com- panions of Paradise; they will abide therein.
- And (remember) when We took a promise from the children of Israel: You shall worship none save God (as the only Deity, Lord and Sovereign), and do good to parents in the best way possible, and to the near (relatives), to the orphans, and to the destitute; and speak kindly and well to the people; and establish the Prayer in conformity with its conditions; and pay the Prescribed Purifying Alms. But then you turned away in aversion, all except a few of you; in fact, you are a people always avoiding your compacts and responsibilities.84
- When the noble Messenger of God, upon him be peace and blessings, emigrated to Madīnah, three Jewish tribes were living there, namely Banū (the children of ) Qurayzah, Banū Qaynuqa‘ and Banū Nadīr. The Messenger made a written contract with each of them, as co-citizens of the city-state of Madīnah, then in process of establishment. None of these tribes remained loyal to the contract, and they went so far as to attempt to kill God’s Messenger, and to make secret agreements with the enemy forces during the Battle of the
Trench against the Muslims. The verses in this sūrah recounting God’s favors to the chil- dren of Israel, inviting them to believe in the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, and making them known to the Muslim community, did not come on a single occasion but covered a period of at least five or six years. They were intended to warn the nascent Muslim community in Madīnah and all the Muslims to come until the Last Day against any conspiracy to put doubt in the mind concerning the tenets of Islam. They were also intended to invite and encourage the Jews to believe in the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, and follow him. To this end, by reminding them of God’s favors to them during their history, stressing their continual disloyalty, and drawing their atten- tion to the calamities that struck them because of their transgressions, these verses would have stirred their inner human resources – to return good with good, to take lessons from past experiences, to feel remorse for wrongs done, and to reform themselves.
- And (remember also) when We took a promise from you: you shall not shed blood among yourselves, and shall not expel one another from your habitations. You confirmed it, and you yourselves were (and still must be) witnesses to it.
- Then, here you are, killing one another, and expelling a party of your own from their habitations, conspiring against them in iniquity and enmity. If you take them as captives, you hold them to ransom, and if they are brought to you as captives, you ransom them; yet their expulsion was made religiously forbid- den to you.85 Then (like a people having no sense), do you believe in part of the Book, and disbelieve in part? What else, then, could be the recompense of those of you who act thus than disgrace in the life of this world? On the Day of Resurrection, they will be consigned to the severest of punishments. God is not unaware or unmindful of what you do.
- The style of the verses is of a nature to guide to a historical review and understanding of events. Past and present are linked and brought together in a meaningful juxtaposition. This is how narration of the past becomes, instead of a random chronicling of events, a meaningful history – an account of life still vivid and relevant for the present, full of lessons connected with its continuing effects. In addition, since the characters of the past and those of the present share the same attitudes and qualities, all the events, those of the past and the present, give the impression that they occur around the same characters. That is why in the foreground, we see the persons, with their characteristics, intentions, and attributes, rather than the events.
Before the emigration of God’s Messenger to Madīnah, the Jewish tribes had concluded an alliance with the Arab tribes of al-Aws and Khazraj, who were then polytheists. When fighting broke out between the Arab tribes, each Jewish tribe fought against another on the side of its allies, which led to fratricide and, therefore, to a violation of the Divine Book. Furthermore, when the war ended, the captives were ransomed. They justified the ransom on the basis of scriptural arguments. They venerated the Book when it allowed the ransom of captives, but when it came to its prohibition of mutual feuding, they paid no heed to it.
- Such are the ones who have bought the present, worldly life (the life of cor-
poreal desires and ambitions) in exchange for the Hereafter. So (in consequence of this exchange) the punishment will not be lightened for them, nor will they be helped (not saved from the punishment in any of the ways they resort to in the world such as bribery, influence, or unjust intercession).
- (That is their just deserts. For) We assuredly granted Moses the Book, and after him sent succeeding Messengers (in the footsteps of Moses to judge ac- cording to the Book, and thus We have never left them without guides and the light of guidance). And (in the same succession) We granted Jesus son of Mary the clear proofs of the truth (and of his Messengership), and confirmed him with the Spirit of Holiness.86 Is it (ever so) that whenever a Messenger comes to you with what (as a message and commandments) does not suit your selves, you grow arrogant, denying some of them (the Messengers) and killing others?
86. Different views have been put forward about “the Spirit of Holiness” with which Jesus, upon him be peace, was confirmed. Literally meaning the spirit of extraordinary purity, cleanliness, and blessing, it is, according to some, a spirit from God, while some are of the opinion that it is one of the Greatest Names of God, and still others maintain that it is the Gospel. Others hold that it is the archangel Gabriel, upon him be peace, whom the Qur’ān calls the Holy Spirit (16: 102) and One Trustworthy (81: 21). Still some others opine that the Spirit whose holiness is stressed with respect to Jesus, and both holiness and trustwor- thiness with respect to the Prophet Muhammad, is the same being or entity. According to Imam al-Ghazzālī, he is an angel (or angel-like being) whom God employs in breathing each one’s spirit into his/her body. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi maintains that there is a spirit representing every thing, every being. In the light of these opinions, it can be said that there is a Spirit which functions differently according to the particular mission of each Prophet. It is a Spirit of Law for the Prophet Moses, a Spirit of Holiness and Trustworthiness for the Prophet Muhammad, and a Spirit of Holiness for the Prophet Jesus. The Qur’ān’s mentioning of Jesus being confirmed with the “Spirit of Holiness ” is because spirituality had precedence in Jesus’ mission. Muhammad’s mission is distinguished with both holiness and trustworthiness, more than the missions of other Prophets. (Also see 70, note 1.)
- (Despite all such favors, affection, forgiveness, advice and truths, they refuse to believe, and by way of excuse, they ask derisively: “Do we need any of what you have to tell?” Recognizing that what they are told has no effect on them) they say: “Our hearts have become covered (callous, no longer having any abil- ity to believe).” No! Rather, because of their unbelief, God has cursed them (excluded them from His mercy and set a seal on their hearts and hearing, and a veil on their eyes.) So, little do they believe (or can admit of the truth).
- And when there has (now) come to them a Book from God, confirming what (of the truth) they already possess – and though before that they were ask- ing for a victory over the (tribes of al-Aws and Khazraj who were then) unbe- lievers (saying: “The Last Prophet will come and we will defeat and destroy you
under his leadership”) – and when there has come to them what they recognize (as well as their own sons), they have disbelieved in it. Then God’s curse (rejec- tion) is on the unbelievers.
- How evil is that for which they have sold themselves: (they have disbelieved in what God has sent down) begrudging that God should send down out of His grace the Book (and bestow Messengership) on whomever He wills of His servants. So they have earned wrath upon wrath. And, (as with other unbeliev- ers who, defeated by their haughtiness, malicious envy, racial prejudice, worldly desires and ambitions, knowingly reject the truth) for those unbelievers is a shameful, humiliating punishment.
- And when they are told (since the sign of a believer is believing in whatever God has sent down): “Believe in that which He has sent down (on Muhammad, namely the Qur’ān),” they retort: “We believe in only what was sent down to us,” and they disbelieve in what is beyond that, though it is the truth, confirming what (of the truth) they already possess.87 Say (to them, O Messenger): “Why then did you kill the Prophets of God before, if indeed you are believers (loyal to what was sent down to you)?”
87. every unfair, unjust individual and community surely acts in this way. For them, belief is no more than a mere assertion by which they make a display of themselves. They will not acknowledge a Prophet or a scholar as such, if he does not belong to their community or nation. It has usually been this self-centered haughtiness, this kind of racist nationalism, which has brought about rifts within a people and led them to associate partners with God, and to oppose right with sophistry and intrigue or brute force. It was the same kind of at- titude that caused Ibl ī s to be expelled from the Presence and Mercy of God.
- Assuredly, Moses came to you with the clear proofs of the truth. Then, how- ever, very soon after he left you, you adopted the calf as deity, proving yourselves to be wrongdoers (who were continually committing such sins as breaking your covenants with God and serving false deities in His place).
- And (remember) when We took your promise (to keep Our covenant) and (in order to stress the importance of both the covenant and keeping it, and warn you against breaking it) We raised the Mount (and caused it to tower) above you: hold firmly to what We haven given you (of the Book) and give ear (to Our commandments and obey Moses). They replied: “We give ear,” (but by doing the opposite of what they were commanded, they meant) “we disobey.” Because of their unbelief, they were made to drink into their hearts (love of ) the calf (with then no place left therein for faith). Say (to them): “How evil is that which your belief enjoins on you, if you are believers.”88
88. even if action is not a part, an essential element, of faith, faith exhibits itself through
actions commanded or required by it. Actions are the mirror that show whether one is a believer or not.
- Say (to them again): “If (as you claim, you are the beloved ones of God and the sole followers of the Straight Path, and therefore) the abode of the Hereaf- ter with God is (reserved) for you alone, excluding other people, then long for death, if you are sincere in your belief and truthful in your claim.”
- But because of what they have forwarded with their own hands (to the Hereafter, namely the sins and offenses which have destroyed the desire in them to meet God), they will never long for it. God has full knowledge of the wrong- doers (who wrong their own selves by what they have done).
- And you will undoubtedly find them the greediest of all people for life, more greedy than even those who associate partners with God. everyone of them wishes if only he might be spared for a thousand years,89 yet his being spared to live will not remove him from the punishment. God sees well all that they do.
89. “Love of the world is the source of all errors and sins.” (al-Bayhaqī, Shu‘ab al-Īmān , 7: 338)
- (This is not all. They feel enmity toward Gabriel because he brings the Qur’ān to you, not to one among them.) Say (O Messenger, to them): “(The Lord of the worlds, my and your Lord, declares:) ‘Whoever is an enemy to Ga- briel (should know that) it is he who brings down the Qur’ān on your heart by the leave of God, (not of his own accord), confirming (the Divine origin of and the truths still contained in) the Revelations prior to it, and (serving as) guid- ance and glad tidings for the believers.’”90
90. The link between this verse and the opening verses of the sūrah , describing the praise- worthy qualities of the believers, is explicit. The believers mentioned here are as described in those verses— that is, they are those who believe in the Unseen; establish the Prayer; and spend, out of whatever God provides for them, to help those in need; who believe in what has been sent down to the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, and what was sent down before him; and who have certain faith in the Hereafter. The opening verses of every sūrah are of pivotal importance to an understanding of its meaning.
Gabriel ( Jibr ī l in the Qur’ān) denotes the angelic existence above every other power, with the exception of the Divine, and the spirit that no material force can resist, whose works are irreversible and indispensable. Since Revelation has an absolute certainty, with no room for the intervention of any mortal being, the name Jibr ī l (by which the angel bringing it is called) also serves as a definition of that angel. He has other titles, as well (e.g., a Spirit from God, the Trustworthy Spirit, and even the Spirit of Holiness according to some: see, footnote 85), and is described in the Qur’ān as a noble, honored messenger, mighty, having a high, secured position with the Lord of the Supreme Throne, obeyed by other angels, and trustworthy (81: 18–21) (Yazır, 1: 432).
- (enmity to Gabriel, who does nothing other than what he is commanded to do by God, means enmity to God and to His will.) Whoever is an enemy to God, and His angels, and His Messengers, and (so) Gabriel, and Michael, (should know that) God is surely an enemy to the unbelievers.
- (O Messenger, do not grieve about their persistence in unbelief!) Assur- edly We have sent down to you truths so manifest (that they both prove your Messengership and the Divine Authorship of the Qur’ān as brightly as the sun- light). None disbelieve in them except transgressors (who have strayed from the Straight Path in belief, thought and conduct).
- Is it not ever so that whenever they (those transgressors) make a covenant, a party of them set it aside? (Indeed, they do so, and they are not a small party,) rather, most of them do not believe (so that they might be expected to keep their covenant).
- (This is not all.) When (finally) there has come to them a Messenger from God, confirming what (of the truth) they already possess, a party of those who were given the Book (the Torah) have (instead of paying heed to what it con- tains concerning the Last Messenger) flung the Book of God (the Qur’ān) be- hind their backs, as if they did not know (that it is a Book from God and that the Messenger who has brought it is the Last Prophet they have been anticipat- ing).
- And (just as their ancestors did) they follow the fictions the satans in- vented and spread about the rule of Solomon (falsely attributing his employ- ment of jinn, devils, and animals in his kingdom to sorcery). But (ascribing creativity or creative effect to sorcery is a kind of unbelief and) Solomon (being a Prophet and excellent servant of God) never disbelieved. Rather, the satans (who spread false things about his rule) disbelieved, teaching people sorcery and the (distorted form of the) knowledge that was sent down on Hārūt and Mārūt, the two angels in Babylon. And they (these two angels charged with teach- ing people some occult sciences such as breaking a spell and protection against sorcery) never taught them to anyone without first warning, “We are a trial, so do not disbelieve (– It is risky to learn the knowledge given to us, therefore use it in lawful ways, and beware of committing an act of unbelief by abusing it).” And (yet) they (those who followed the falsehoods of the satans) learned from them (the two angels) that by which they might divide a man and his wife. But (though they wrongly attributed creative power to sorcery, in fact) they could not harm anyone thereby save by the leave of God. And they learned what would harm them, not what would profit them. Assuredly, they knew well that he who bought it (in exchange for God’s Book) will have no share (no happy portion)
in the Hereafter. How evil was that for which they sold their selves; and if only they had known (acted like people of true knowledge and understanding). 9191. In addition to many miracles and miraculous achievements, Prophet Solomon, upon him be peace, was distinguished by his ability, by the leave of God, to sub- jugate jinn and satans to his command and employ them in diverse tasks. Once, they made an attempt to revolt against him but failed. After his death, satans began to whisper to their intimates among the devilish people that Solomon had derived his power from sorcery. When moral and material decline set in among the children of Israel, they turned increasingly to black magic, sorcery and charms in order to ensure the achievement of their desired ends.
During their life of exile in Babylon, a very ancient center of science, especially of the sci- ence of astronomy, God sent them two angels, called Hārūt and Mārūt, in order to teach them some occult sciences so that they might be protected against sorcery and the evils it caused. The angels, as dutiful servants of God with the power to assume the form most fitting for the specific task assigned to them, must have come to them in human form, just as the angels sent to the Prophet Lot came in the form of handsome youths (11: 69–81). While teaching people some occult knowledge, they warned them, saying: “Any knowledge is indeed a trial and temptation. So what we teach you may be used for undesirable ends by some evil ones. Beware that these evil ones do not lead you to any act of unbelief.” Any knowledge, indeed even elements as essential to human life as fire and water, can be turned into a means for evil in the hands of evil people. The evil ones among the Israelites were interested only in how they could sow discord between a man and his wife. This indicates the depth of moral corruption to which these people had fallen.
The Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, said: “Satan sends his agents to all parts of the world. On their return, these agents report their accomplishments, each mentioning his own special evil act. But Satan is not satisfied with any of them. It is only when an agent reports that he was able to separate a wife from her husband that Satan becomes joyful and embraces him.” (al-Bukhārī, “Talaq,” 25.)
We might consider the teaching of the Kabala and certain similar esoteric doctrines and rituals of some secret organizations in the light of this verse. (We may note in passing that there was a deity called Madruk among the deities of Babylon, a deity of magic.)
- And if only they had believed and, in fear and reverence of God, sought to deserve His protection (against their straying and His punishment), a re- ward from God (of which they could not conceive) would have been abso- lutely good; if only they had known (acted like people of true knowledge and understanding).92
92. Both this and the preceding verse conclude with the words literally meaning, If only they had known . However, in the light of – Assuredly they knew very well that he who bought it (in exchange for God’s Book) has no share, (no happy portion) in the Hereafter – these words mean that these people did know, but they did not act according to what they knew as men of true knowledge and understanding. We can conclude that any knowledge
which does not lead its possessors to act according to it is of no benefit to them, and thus is not regarded as “true knowledge” by the Qur’ān. Another point to note here is that in some of its verses (e.g. 3: 19), the Qur’ān refers to the Divine Book or Revelation as “knowledge.” Therefore, those who do not act according to this “knowledge” are ignorant, even though they may be knowledgeable in some other matters. All that we would wish to explain here is succinctly expressed by the verse (35: 28): Of all His servants, only those possessed of true knowledge have awe of God. The pre-Islamic period is called the “Age of Ignorance” ( Jāhiliyyah ). This is not because the people living in that era were ignorant, but because they believed and acted like people without (true) knowledge and understanding.
- O you who believe!93 Do not say (in your relationship and conversations with God’s Messenger,) rā‘inā (please attend to us), but say, unzurnā94 (favor us with your attention), and pay heed to him. (And be assured that) for the unbe- lievers (who are disrespectful to God’s Messenger) is a painful punishment.
- In the Qur’ān, the phrase “O you who believe!” occurs in about eighty places. This ad- dress is to those who declare their belief (with their tongue) and perform the Prescribed Prayer in congregation with the Muslims; pay the Prescribed Purifying Alms due on their wealth, including property held in the open (such as livestock and agricultural produce); and eat of the animals sacrificed by the Muslims. Obeying the commandments that follow the use of this address is a requirement of being a believer. Only one who sincerely believes in the essentials of faith and obeys the prescribed commandments from the heart, purely for the good pleasure and approval of God, is a true believer.
- In their conversation with God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, the companions sometimes used the expression ra‘inā , meaning “kindly lend ear to us,” or “please attend to us,” when they wanted to request a short pause. However, when some local Jews visited the Messenger, they tried to vent their spite by using ambiguous expressions in their greetings and conversation. They either used words with double meanings, one in- nocent and the other offensive, or changed the pronunciation of the expressions used by the companions. They would pronounce ra‘inā to sound like a Hebrew word meaning, “Listen, may you become deaf ”, and sometimes like an Arabic word meaning, “our shepherd.” To prevent the expression ra‘inā from being abused in this way, the Muslims were asked to avoid it and use instead the straightforward expression un z urnā , meaning “kindly favor us with your attention,” or “kindly grant us a while to follow.” The verse draws attention to the importance of showing the necessary respect to God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, and paying heed to his teachings.
- Those who disbelieve among the People of the Book (by denying any of the Prophets or Divine Books or associating partners with God or cherishing enmity to His angels or in another way), and those who associate partners with God (among the people of Makkah and others) love not that there should be sent down on you any good from your Lord. But God singles out for His mercy (of favoring with Prophethood or another similar mission) whomever He wills. God is of tremendous grace and bounty.
- O you who believe!93 Do not say (in your relationship and conversations with God’s Messenger,) rā‘inā (please attend to us), but say, unzurnā94 (favor us with your attention), and pay heed to him. (And be assured that) for the unbe- lievers (who are disrespectful to God’s Messenger) is a painful punishment.
- (Though they would exploit the abrogation of some rules of secondary degree to challenge your authority, the truth is that) We do not abrogate any verse or omit it (leaving it to be forgotten) but We bring one better than it or the like of it (more suited to the time and conditions in the course of perfecting the Religion and completing Our favor upon you).95 Do you not know (and surely you do know) that God has full power over everything?
- With regard to legislation, Islam followed three principal ways:
- It retained the commandments that pre-dated it, in the previous Books or in the custom and practice of the community in which Islam appeared, and which were not contradictory with its essential principles.
- It corrected or amended the ones that were not in conformity with its principles.
- It installed new legislation. In establishing new legislation, it considered both life’s unchanging (essential) and changing (temporal) aspects. In the second case, it laid down rules that could be revised when necessary, according to time and conditions, and in conformity with its essentials of faith, worship, and morality; and it established legal principles to maintain this process. The best known and most important of these are drawing analogies ( qiyās ); deducing new laws through reasoning based on the Qur’ān and Sunnah ( ijtihād ); adopting what is good and beneficial ( isti h sān ); maintaining without change what has already been approved ( isti s hāb ); taking what is suited to the public benefit and discarding what is harmful (ma s āli h al-mursalah ); and blocking corruption and what is unlawful ( sadd az-zarā‘ī ). The same procedure was also followed in the time of the Prophet himself, during which the Qur’ān was revealed. God abrogated some verses, either with the injunction contained in their wording or with both their wording and the command they contained. This process was called naskh ; the verses abrogated, mansūkh ; and the new ones substituting the previous ones, nāsikh .
Scholars differ over the number of abrogated verses. However, it must always be re- membered that the Qur’ān has absolute authority until Judgment Day and that human life consists of ups, downs, and twists. Given this, there may be times when some of the commands replacing or abrogating others should be temporarily neglected or viewed as not-yet-revealed. This process of naskh contributes a great deal to Islam’s dynamism, for preaching Islam and transforming people into true and perfect Muslims is a process. Also, the principles or commands conveyed to new believers or those who are interested have different priorities.
- Do you not know (and surely you do know) that God is He to Whom belongs the sovereignty (absolute ownership and dominion) of the heavens and the earth (with all that is therein)? (He acts as He wills in His dominion, and you are His servants wholly submitted to Him. Given this, and unless He wills,) you have, apart from God, neither a guardian (to whom you can entrust your affairs) nor a helper.
- Or do you desire (prompted by the unbelievers among the People of the Book, and without perceiving the wisdom in the abrogation of some verses)
to harass your Messenger with senseless questions and unanswerable demands (such as seeing God plainly), as Moses was harassed before? Whoever exchanges faith for unbelief has surely strayed from the right, even way.
- Many among the People of the Book, out of the envy ingrained in their souls, wish they could restore you as unbelievers after you have believed, after the truth was clear to them (that the Qur’ān is God’s Word and Muhammad is the last, awaited Messenger). Yet pardon and overlook them (avoiding useless debates and polemics with them) until God brings in His verdict about them. Surely God has full power over everything.
- (Let your concern be to) establish the Prayer in conformity with its condi- tions and pay the Prescribed Purifying Alms. Whatever good you send ahead (to your future life in this world and the next) to your own souls’ account, you will find it with God. Whatever (good or evil) you do, surely God sees it well.
- They ( Jews or christians) say that none will enter Paradise unless he be a Jew or a christian. That is their wishfulness (vain desires and fancies). Say (to them, O Messenger): “Produce your proof if you are truthful (in and convinced of your claim)!”
- No! Rather, whoever submits his whole being to God (and does so) as one devoted to doing good, aware that God is seeing him, his reward is with his Lord, and all such will have no fear, (for they will always find My help and sup- port with them), nor will they grieve. 96
96. We sometimes need to stress the relationships between individual verses and how the sūrah turns round its opening verses. The relationship between this verse and verses 2: 38 and 62 is manifest. These three verses are especially important with respect to linking the events narrated to the pivot or main theme of the sūrah and drawing attention to that link.
- The Jews say the christians have nothing (from God) to be based on, and the christians say the Jews have nothing (from God) to be based on; yet they (both) recite the Book. So, too, those who have no knowledge (from God) say the like of their word. God will judge between them on the Day of Resurrection concerning what they have been disputing.
- Who is more in the wrong than he who bars God’s places of worship, so that His Name be not mentioned and invoked in them, and strives to ruin them?97 Such people might never enter them, save in fear (whether because of their alienation from the Religion or because they try to destroy them owing to their animosity against God). For them is disgrace in the world, and in the Hereafter a tremendous punishment.98
- The verse asks rhetorically if there is a greater wrongdoing than barring God’s places of worship so that His Name is not extolled there, and striving to ruin them. This does not mean that it is uniquely the greatest wrongdoing. Rather, it is one of the greatest offenses, some others being concealing a truth revealed and established by God concerning faith (2: 140), knowingly denying God’s Revelations (6: 21, 93), and turning away from God’s Rev- elations in purposeful denial (32: 22). each of these is among the greatest wrongdoings.
- This verse severely denounces any offenses against God’s places of worship, and alludes to such historical examples as the Bayt al-Maqdis in Jerusalem being ruined by the As- syrian kings; by Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylon king; and by the Roman emperor Titus and other Roman rulers, such as Adrianus. It also refers to the Muslims being prevented from worshipping in the Ka‘bah. In general, it warns against any attempt in the future to close down places of worship or ban people from worshipping in them.
- (They attempt to exploit the issue of qiblah – the direction of Prayer – as a pretext to bar Muslims from places of worship and to prevent God’s Name being mentioned and invoked in them.) To God belong the east and the West (and, therefore, the whole earth with its east and west: wherever you are, you can turn to Him in the Prayer). Then, in whatever direction you turn, there is the “Face” of God.99 God is All-embracing (with His mercy), All-Knowing.
99. The Laws of the previous Prophets stated that worship should be performed in specific places. For example, Jews worship in synagogues and christians in churches. But Islam allows worship in any clean place (al-Bukhārī, “Tayammum,” 1; “Salāh,” 56). This verse also clarifies that God’s “Face” is not connected with a specific direction, for God is not contained by time or space. Specifying a certain spot, such as the Ka‘bah, was done only to establish unity and solidarity among Muslims in the Prayer and all other matters.
- And (despite this fact, and the fact that God is infinite, with nothing to restrict Him and, therefore, has no equal or like) they claim that God has taken to Him a son. All-Glorified He is (in that He is absolutely above having any attributes particular to those contained in time and space). Rather, to Him be- longs all that is in the heavens and the earth (under His absolute rule);100 all are (by their very nature, as beings created by Him) subservient to Him.
100. Since absolutism was prevalent among ancient peoples, they held that any son they attributed to a deity must also be a deity, as the son of a king succeeded to his father’s rank and powers. By categorically refuting the doctrine that God might have a son and clarifying that God, being the Infinite, cannot have any like, the Qur’ān decisively rejects christians’ attributing Divine sonship to Jesus, and some Jews’ attributing the same to ezra. Just as God cannot have a like, so too there cannot be any partner with Him in the dominion of the heavens and the earth, for it is He Who originated them without any help from any other, and without any precedent or example to follow.
- The Originator of the heavens and the earth with nothing preceding Him to imitate. When He decrees a thing, He does but say to it, “Be!” and it is.101
101. There is no contradiction between God’s saying to a thing, “Be,” when He wills to create it –indicating that creation is instantaneous – and creation’s appearing to us in our perspectives to be a process that takes time.
existence has two dimensions, one corporeal—where matter,material causes, time and space have their relevance—and the other purely spiritual and transcendental—where mat- ter, material causes, time and space have no part at all, and where thought and action are almost identical. The Divine Power mainly operates in this second dimension in the act of creation, linking it to, matter and material causes, as well as time and space. Any corporeal thing comes into existence in that way because the Divine Wisdom requires it to be so.
Second, neither matter and material causes, nor time and space, can put any constraints on the Divine Being of God nor on His Power. Above the corporeal realm or dimension are many other realms or dimensions, all of which are spiritual and transcendental to varying degrees, and in each of which the measure of time is completely different. All of these realms are infinitely contained by the Divine “Realm,” where any aspect of corporeality is out of the question. The operations of the Divine Power originating in this “Realm” are manifested in the other realms according to the characteristic of each realm.
As many saintly scholars such as Muhyi’d-Dīn ibn al-‘Arabī (1165–1240) and Mawlānā Jalālu’d-dīn ar-Rūmī (1207–1273) have observed, in several places in their works, and as – in different terms – modern quantum physics also asserts, what we see as a solid, corporeal world really consists in continuous movement. The universe is in a continuous cycle of appearance and disappearance by God’s Power.
We witness even in this corporeal or material world that things come into existence as if all at once. especially when we observe the lack of proportion between causes and effects
– that is, God makes the existence of huge things dependent on minute seeds, or causes minute things to end in great consequences – we can conclude that the manifestation of the Divine Power, even in this world, is also instantaneous. (Also see 36: 83, note 27.)
- Those who have no knowledge (from Him, and, therefore, lead an igno- rant life) say: “Why does not God speak to us (directly), or a manifest sign (a miracle) come to us?” So spoke those before them, a word like theirs. Their hearts are alike. Yet We have made clear the signs (the Revelations establishing the Unity and Sovereignty of God, the Messengership of Muhammad, and the Divine authorship of the Qur’ān,) to a people who seek certainty (with open, inquiring minds).
- (O Messenger! Let not what they say grieve you.) Assuredly, We have sent you as a Messenger with the truth (with the truth), as a bearer of glad tidings (of prosperity in return for faith and righteousness), and as a warner (against the consequences of straying and transgression). You (carry out your duty truly and perfectly, and therefore) will not be questioned concerning the companions of the Blazing Flame.
- Never will the Jews be pleased with you, nor the christians, unless you fol- low their way of faith and life.102 Say (to them, O Messenger): “God’s guidance (represented by the Qur’ān) is the true guidance.” If (supposing the impossible) you were to follow their desires and fancies after the knowledge103 that has come to you, you will have against God neither a guardian (who can protect you from His punishment), nor a helper.
- The word millah , here translated as “way of belief and life,” comes from the infinitive imlāl , meaning dictation or writing down from memory. As a term, it means the way fol- lowed, whether it be straight or twisted and crooked. The Qur’ān uses it in the meaning of a system of faith and conduct, a lifestyle. For this reason, it is attributed to people, not to God. We say, for example, the millah of Abraham, not the millah of God.
- As we said in note 91 above, by “knowledge,” the Qur’ān refers primarily to either the knowledge based on the Divine Revelation, or the Revelation itself. Its opposite is the out- put of human desires and fancies based on nothing certain or proven, and conjectures hav- ing nothing to do with established knowledge (see 3: 4, 157; 10: 36, 66; 53: 23, 28). Thus, the first and primary source of knowledge in Islam is Divine Revelation or the Qur’ān and the established Sunnah – the sayings and actions of the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings. The other sources are sound intellect, or reason and sound perceptions, and, therefore, observation and experiment.
- Those (people) to whom We gave the Book (and who) recite it with true recitation, following its commandments without making any changes or distor- tions in it, they have (renewed, ever-strengthening) faith in it. Whoever dis- believes in it (conceals and distorts the truths the Book contains), they are the losers (in both this world and the Hereafter).
- O children of Israel! Remember My favor that I bestowed upon you (by choosing Prophets and Messengers from amongst you and granting you a great kingdom, and by giving you a Book and guiding you to the Straight Path), and that I once exalted you above all peoples.
- And be fearful and strive to be guarded against a day when (everybody will be seeking a means to save himself, and when) no soul will pay on behalf of another, nor will compensation be accepted from any of them, nor will any intercession (of the sort common in the world but which does not meet with God’s permission and approval) be of use to them, nor will they be helped.
- (You refuse to believe in and follow Muhammad chiefly because Prophet- hood was not retained with you, and so he did not appear amongst you. Now, you surely do admit Abraham’s Prophethood, so)104 remember that his Lord tested Abraham with commands and ordeals (such as his being thrown into a fire, the destruction of the people of his kinsman, Lot, and his being ordered to
sacrifice his son, Ishmael), and he fulfilled them thoroughly. He said: “Indeed I will make you an imām for all people.” He (Abraham) pleaded: “(Will You appoint imāms) also from my offspring?” He (his Lord) answered: “(I will ap- point from among those who merit it. But) My covenant does not include the wrongdoers.”105
- The explanatory words that we put (usually in brackets) before or within the transla- tions of the verses are not additions to, nor any sort of adaptations of, the meaning of the verses. They express the full normal meaning of the words, understood individually and in context. By “context” we mean both the context of the passage or the sūrah or the Qur’ān as a whole, and also the historical context, the situation that is the background to the verses. Also, we should be aware that the Qur’ān is miraculous in its power of concision, of conveying much in few words. Sometimes this concision is achieved through the powerful compactness of the structures and syntax of Arabic, raised to inimitable perfection in the Qur’ān. A relatively uninflected language like english simply cannot reproduce the full meaning without adding words to convey the meaning that is carried in the words of the Arabic by their inflection, position in the sentence, etc. Sometimes the concision of the Qur’ān is achieved through ellipsis, that is, through omission of what is already known or easily knowable to one familiar with the language and the subject-matter. concision by ellipsis is most briefly illustrated from narrative passages, such as in the wonderful Sūrah Yūsuf (the best of narratives): For example, between verse 12: 45 ( Then said he – of the two [prisoners] the one who was released – remembering after a long time, “I will inform you of its meaning, so send me forth ) and the next verse (12: 46, beginning Joseph, O man of truth!) a number of events are passed over because they are not immediately relevant to the meaning being conveyed, and because the listener or reader can supply what is missing from familiarity with the story and/or ordinary common sense: “He left the king’s court to get to the prison. He arrived there and, on receiving permission from the prison guard to enter, did so. He came to Joseph and, after exchanging greetings with him, said: ‘Joseph, O man of truth. . .’ ”
The occasions on which the verses were revealed require explanatory additions (as well as notes) because the historical context is not known to us in the way that it was known to the first addressees of the Qur’ān. However, it is important to clarify that, while the historical context is important for the meaning of the verses and, equally important, for the links between them, it does not restrict their meaning. everyone should respond to the Qur’ān as if its words and meanings were being revealed to them as the first addressees of the Revela- tion. Knowing the historical context of certain verses or passages, in fact, enhances under- standing of their present and permanent relevance, but it does not diminish or restrict it.
- God accorded to Abraham a very high rank and charged him with a very significant function: the imamate for people. The meaning of imāmah includes any important leader- ship function, from leading others in the Prayer to leading a formally constituted group or institution in specific matters, to leading the Muslim community as a whole in all matters. The main function of the imamate is acting as a means for the guidance of people in God’s cause (21: 73; 32: 24). Being a very important mission requiring competence and qualifica- tions, it usually comes, as stated in this verse and 32: 24, after great tests and trials demand- ing patience, and needs, as stressed in the same verse, expert knowledge. So, one who will lead Muslims in all matters should have certainty in matters of faith, scholarly expertise
in the religious sciences, and discernment of the outer and inner meaning of things and events. It is significant that the Qur’ān describes as “wrongdoers” those who are not wor- thy of such a mission. In the terminology of the Qur’ān, “wrongdoing” ( z ulm ) includes a wide of range of wrong actions, from deviancy in a small matter to the unforgivable sin of associating partners with God. It literally means putting something in what is not its proper place, or doing something not at the proper time or place and in the wrong way. One who has come to be known as a “wrongdoer” ( z ālim ) cannot be an imam. The verse allusively explains why Prophethood and the imamate were not retained with the children of Israel, who, though descendants of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob, all of whom were appointed as imams, engaged in wrongdoing, including adoption of the calf as deity and attributing a son to God.
The Sh ī ‘ah, especially the so-called Twelver-Shī‘ah, typically rest their doctrine of imam- ate on this verse. They claim that imamate was accorded to Abraham, upon him be peace, after he became a Prophet and Messenger, and, therefore, Imamate is a greater rank than both Prophethood and Messengership. As is well-known, a Messenger is a Prophet who usually receives a Book or Scrolls and is charged with preaching God’s Message, while a Prophet usually follows in the footsteps of the Messenger preceding him. The Shī‘ah, therefore, argue that the Twelve Imams, the first of whom is considered to be ‘Ali, the fourth caliph, and the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, the others having come from the line of Imam Husayn, the son of ‘Ali, are greater than all the Prophets and Messengers except Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings. However, this argument contradicts their doctrine of imamate, as none of the Twelve is either a Prophet or a Messenger. Second, according to the Qur’ān, imamate is, rather than an office or institution, a function. It is for this reason that all of the Prophets and Messengers were also imams. Third, the Qur’ān never associates the concepts of Prophet and Messenger with a negative value, whereas the concept of imam, because it is a function, is associated in that way: for example, there may be imams “of unbelief ” (9: 12) and imams “calling to the Fire” (28: 41).
- Remember, again, that We made the House (the Ka‘bah in Makkah) a resort for people, and a refuge of safety (a sanctuary, that is, a sign of the truth). Stand in the Prayer (O believers, as you did in earlier times) in the Station of Abraham. And We imposed a duty on Abraham and Ishmael: “Purify My House for those who go around it as a rite of worship, and those who abide in devotion, and those who bow and prostrate (in the Prayer).”106
106. The Station of Abraham is (the place of ) the stone on which Abraham reportedly stood while building the Ka‘bah. By mentioning that, in older times, people used to visit the Ka‘bah for the purpose of worship, going around it and abiding there in devotion, the verse refers to the fact that the real and historical center of the true Religion that God chose for humankind is the Ka‘bah. It thereby prepares hearts and minds for the chang- ing of the qiblah (the direction to which people turn in Prayer) from Bayt al-Maqdis in Jerusalem to the Ka‘bah. It also prepares the way for the commandment of the Hajj (the Pilgrimage to the Ka‘bah), which is the fifth pillar of Islam.
The Ka‘bah was the first building to be built in the world. It was built by Prophet Adam,
upon him be peace. The Prophets Abraham and Ishmael, upon them be peace, rebuilt it upon its original foundations. Abraham’s rebuilding it with his son, Ishmael, the forefather of the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, and not with Isaac, is an important symbol and sign that the Last Prophet, who would make the Ka‘bah the focus for his followers in Religion, was to appear among the descendants of Ishmael, upon him be peace.
- And (remember) once Abraham prayed: “My Lord! Make this (untilled valley) a land of security, and provide its people with the produce of earth, such of them as believe in God and the Last Day.”107 He (his Lord) answered: “(I will bestow provision upon both believers and unbelievers. But) whoever is thankless and disbelieves, I will provide for him to enjoy himself for a short while, then I will compel him to the punishment of the Fire – how evil a destination to arrive at!
107. Belief in God and the Last Day are two of the cardinal elements of the Islamic faith. That does not mean that the essentials of faith are restricted to these two elements. Nor does it lead to the conclusion that salvation is possible without believing in the other essen- tials – notably, believing in Moses, upon him be peace, and the Torah as it was during the time of Moses, together with the Prophets and Books preceding him; in Jesus, upon him be peace, and the Gospel as it was during Jesus’ time together with those preceding him; and finally, in the Prophet Muhammad and the Qur’ān as the seal of the Prophets and Divine Books, without excluding any of the other Prophets or Books in their original forms.
- And when Abraham, and Ishmael with him, raised the foundations of the House (they were praying): “Our Lord! Accept (this service) from us. Surely You are the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing.
- “Our Lord! Make us Muslims, submissive to You, and of our offspring, a community Muslim, submissive to You. Show us our rites of worship (includ- ing particularly the rites of the Pilgrimage), and accept our repentance (for our inability to worship You as worshipping You requires). Surely You are the One Who accepts repentance and returns it with liberal forgiveness and additional reward, the All-compassionate.
- “Our Lord! Raise up among that community a Messenger of their own, reciting to them Your Revelations, and instructing them in the Book (that You will reveal to him) and the Wisdom,108 and purifying them (of false beliefs and doctrines, of sins and all kinds of uncleanness). Surely You are the All-Glorious with irresistible might, the All-Wise.”
108. By “the Wisdom” is meant the ways of understanding the Book and the ways of practicing or applying it in daily life. In this meaning, “the Wisdom” is almost synonymous with the Sunnah of the Messenger, and this is why many scholars have interpreted it as the Sunnah. It also includes knowing the meaning of things and events in the universe, in the
human realm in particular. (For a detailed explanation, see note 159.)
- Who (therefore) shrinks from the Way of Abraham, save him who makes himself a fool? Indeed We chose him as one pure and distinguished in the world, and he is surely among the righteous in the Hereafter.
- When his Lord told him, “Submit yourself wholly (to your Lord),” he re- sponded: “I have submitted myself wholly to the Lord of the worlds.”109
109. This very short verse is a wonderfully concise summary of the Prophet Abraham’s life from the beginning of his mission in Babylon to his being made an Imam for all people and rebuilding the Ka‘bah. God presents Himself as “his” Lord when He orders him to submit to Him. This signifies the initial phase of Abraham’s mission: initially his relationship was with God as “his” Lord, when he had not yet been charged with preaching. After this, he acquired knowledge of the outer and inner dimensions of existence, began preaching the Religion, and passed through many severe tests. Finally, he attained the “universal rank of relationship” with God as the Lord of the worlds, and he was appointed as an imām for people. This is a significant point to help differentiate sainthood and Prophethood and the various ranks in each. Saints, no matter what their “station,” can build a relationship with God only as the Lord of the heart of each. But a Prophet, especially one who is also a Mes- senger, has a relationship, according to his degree, with God as the Lord of his people, of all humankind, and of all existence as a whole. This explains in what sense the Prophet Mu h ammad, upon him be peace and blessings, as the heir to the missions of all the Prophets and Messengers before him, is the greatest of all, as his mission began in the “universal relation” with God as Lord of the worlds, for he was sent to all of humankind and jinn and as a mercy for the whole of creation.
- Abraham bequeathed and enjoined this submission to his sons (Ishmael and Isaac) and (to his grandson) Jacob, saying: “My sons, God has chosen for you (from different ways of faith and life) the Religion (of Islam,110 based on submission to Him, and absolutely free from any kind of associating partners with Him). Therefore, make sure that you do not die except as Muslims (those submitted to Him exclusively).”
110. The Religion which God Almighty sent from the time of Adam is Islam, which means, as well as submission to God, peace, harmony, order, and serenity. In its essentials – the pil- lars of faith, the principles of devotion or worship, and the moral and ethical standards for individual and collective behavior – it has remained the same. It is only with respect to the changing aspects of life that, as explained in note 95, it laid down rules subject to revision in the light of both changing conditions and the unchanging essentials of faith, worship, and morality, and it established legal principles to maintain this process.
At the cosmic level, Islam is the religion or universal system which the whole of existence, including the very bodies of the unbelievers, follow unconditionally. That is, the whole universe maintains its life in perfect and unconditional submission to God’s laws. This is why there is a perfect stability, order and harmony throughout it. What falls on humankind is to follow the counterparts of these laws in their lives, not unconditionally but of their
free will. If they do that, the same stability, order and harmony will prevail in their lives and their relationships with each other, individually and collectively, and with their “natural” environment. As stated above, the word islām means, as well as submission to God, peace, harmony, order, and serenity.
- Or were you (O children of Israel, of Jacob) witnesses when death came to Jacob (so that you might claim that he bequeathed and enjoined a religion otherwise than as Abraham did, to give yourselves an excuse for refusing Islam,) when he said to his sons: “What will you worship after me?” They answered: “We will worship your God and the God of your fathers, Abraham, Ishmael, and Isaac, One God; we are Muslims submitted to Him.”
- Those were a people that passed away. Theirs is what they earned, and yours is what you earn. You will not be called to account for what they used to do.
- And they (the Jews) say, “Be Jews,” or (the christians say,) “Be christians (hūdan aw nasārā),111 that you may be rightly guided.” Say (to them, O Mes- senger): “Rather, the Way of Abraham of pure faith (is what we choose, the Way free from unbelief, associating partners with God and hypocrisy, that we may be rightly guided.)” Abraham was never of those who associate partners with God.
111. The Qur’ān does not typically use the term “Jews.” Rather, as is clear from many pre- ceding verses, it prefers the honorific phrase “children of Israel” to designate the Jews. As we briefly explained in note 46, the Qur’ān uses the term “Jews” strictly for those among the children of Israel who describe themselves as such. As for the term Nazarenes ( christians
), it was invented by pagan Romans as a pejorative term to designate the followers of “Jesus of Nazareth. The Qur’ān prefers the term “the People of the Book” for both the christians and Jews as an honorary title and to encourage them to obey the commandments of the Books given to each— and, therefore, to accept Islam.
- (O Muslims! You) declare: “We have believed in God (without associat- ing any partners with Him), and that which has been sent down to us, and that which was sent down to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob and the Prophets who were raised in the tribes, and that which was given to Moses and Jesus, and that (knowledge, Wisdom and Prophethood) which was given to all other Prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them (in believing), and we are Muslims (submitted to Him wholly and exclusively).”
- If (the Jews and christians who claim to be guided) believe in the same as that which you believe in, they are rightly guided; but if they turn away, then they are in schism. God suffices you against them. He is the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing.
- (O Muslims, say: “We take) the “color” of God (the “color” that He has put on the whole universe, not the color some party put upon themselves through some rites in the name of religion112).” Who is better than God in coloring, (and whose color is better than God’s)? And We are those who worship Him (as He is to be worshipped,) exclusively.”
112. The Arab christians used to mix a dye or color in the baptismal water, signifying that the person baptized took on a new color in life.
- Say: “Do you dispute with us concerning God (as if He had said Paradise is only for the Jews or the christians), seeing that He is our Lord and your Lord (He has created and provides for us as well as for you). (Whatever He commands us to believe, He also commands you to believe. Yet if you persist in disputing and asserting your superiority, then) to us are accounted our deeds, and to you, your deeds. It is we who are sincere to Him (in believing in Him and worshipping Him exclusively).”
- Or do you claim that Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the Prophets who were raised in the tribes were “Jews” or “christians?” Say (to them): “Do you know better, or does God?” (They know well that none of the Prophets were either “Jews” or “christians,” but they conceal the truth.) Who is more in the wrong than he who conceals the testimony he has from God? God is never unaware or unmindful of what you do.
- Those were a people that passed away. Theirs is what they earned, and yours is what you earn. You will not be called to account for what they used to do.
- The (hypocritical) fools among the people will say, “What has turned them from the direction they were facing in the Prayer?” Say (O Messenger): “To God belong the east and the west (and, therefore, the whole earth with its easts and wests; in whatever direction He wants us to turn, we turn). He guides whomever He wills to a straight path.”
- And in that way (O community of Muhammad, whereas others turn in different directions and, straying from the Straight Path, falter between extremes in thought and belief ), We have made you a middle-way community, that you may be witnesses for the people (as to the ways they follow), and that the (most noble) Messenger may be a witness for you.113 We formerly appointed (the Bayt al-Maqdis in Jerusalem) the direction to turn in the Prayer (and now are about to change it) so that We may determine who truly follows the Messenger from him who turns back on his heels (when the Messenger’s way does not suit his desires). And indeed that testing was burdensome, save for those whom God has guided (and made steadfast in faith). God will never let your faith go to waste.114
Surely God is for the people All-Pitying, All-compassionate.
- The most distinguishing characteristic of Islam and, when loyal to that characteristic, of the community of Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, is that it is far from all kinds of extremism. Islam represents the middle way in all aspects of life. For example, it is neither spiritualism nor materialism; neither realism nor idealism, neither capitalism nor socialism; neither individualism nor statism; neither absolutism nor anarchism; and neither this-worldly and hedonist, nor purely other-worldly or monastic. As it is unique in its worldview and social, economic and political aspects, it is also unique in the moral education it gives to individuals. The human being has three cardinal drives or faculties, namely the intellect or reasoning power; lust or worldly appetite; and anger, or the impulse to self-assertion or defense. each of these faculties has an upper and lower extreme. For example, the extremes of the intellect are demagogy or deceitful reasoning, and the re- fusal or failure to reason, namely stupidity; the extreme conditions of lust are wanton self- indulgence and listlessness; and of anger arrogant, thoughtless rashness and self-abasing cowardice. The teachings of Islam discipline and balance these faculties. The disciplining of the intellect enables the acquisition of knowledge that is sound and functions as wisdom. The disciplining of lust results in the development of the virtues of restraint and chastity and, subsequently, forbearance. The disciplining of anger results in the ability to live and act with courage in the cause of right and justice. Representing the middle way in its creed, its rites of worship, its social, economic and political principles, and the moral training it gives to people, Islam as a way of life means peace, balance, harmony and salvation.
Islam being the consummation or final, universal form of the Divine religion, which cor- rects the deviations into which the earlier communities had lapsed during the course of history, the community of Muhammad will bear witness on behalf of the communities of the previous Prophets in the Hereafter, and the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, on behalf of them.
- The sentence, “God will never let your faith go to waste” has usually been interpreted to mean, “God will never let the Prayers you did turning to the Bayt al-Maqdis go to waste.” However, it also conveys more general and important truths, such as:
- Faith cannot be separated from action. One’s way of life and acting demonstrate whether one is a believer or not.
- The Prayer has an essential relation with faith. The Prayer, together with the inten- tion in it and the way of doing it, is a definite sign of the character and depth of one’s faith.
- Good deeds or actions done only for the good pleasure of God and based on faith will profit in the Hereafter. Whatever is done as a requirement of faith never goes to waste, provided one preserves one’s faith and goes to the other world with that faith strong and intact.
- certainly We have seen you (O Messenger) often turning your face to heaven (in expectation of a Revelation. Do not worry, for) We will surely turn you towards a direction that will please and satisfy you. (Now the time has come, so) turn your face towards the Sacred Mosque. (And you, O believers,) turn your faces towards it, wherever you are. Surely those who were given the Book
(before, no matter if the hypocrites or the foolish among them deny or object to it) do know (the coming of this Prophet and this change of qiblah) to be true (commandments) from their Lord.115 God is not unaware and unmindful of whatever they do.
115. The expression “true (commandments) from their Lord”, that is, the Lord of those who were given the Book before, is to stress that the Prophet Mu h ammad, upon him be peace and blessings, was predicted in the previous Divine Books, with all of his attributes including the fact that he would turn in the Prayer toward the Sacred Mosque (the Mosque of the Ka‘bah) in Makkah.
- even if (O Messenger) you were to bring to those who were given the Book (before) all kinds of signs and evidences, they would not follow your direction (qiblah). Indeed you are not a follower of their direction, nor are they follow- ers of one another’s direction. (Theirs is an attitude arising from their fancies and desires, not from knowledge.) Were you to follow their fancies and desires after the knowledge that has come to you, then you would surely be among the wrongdoers (those who wrong themselves because of the errors they have done).
- Those to whom We gave the Book (before) know him (the Messenger with all his distinguishing attributes, including the direction he will turn to in the Prayer) as they know their own sons. Yet a party among them conceals the truth, and they do it knowingly.116
116. The Jews and christians of that time recognized God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings. After his conversion, ‘Umar asked ‘Adbullah ibn as-Salām, the most renowned Jewish scholar of the time, who converted after the Messenger’s emigration to Madīnah, if he had recognized God’s Messenger. “I recognized him,” Ibn as-Salām an- swered and added, “I may doubt my children – my wife might have deceived me – but I have no doubt about God’s Messenger being the Last Prophet.’ (a s - S ābūnī, 1: 140)
For the indications to the Prophet Muhammad’s coming that still exist in the Bible, see Appendix 1.
- It (your turning towards the Sacred Mosque, O Messenger,) is the truth from your Lord, and only that which is from your Lord is the truth; so you (and your followers) can never be among the doubters.
- every people have a direction towards which they turn (a goal they turn to in life, and those who turn to the Sacred Mosque have a way they follow to their goal). So strive together, as if in a race (O community of believers), towards all that is good. Wherever you may be, God will bring you all together.117 Surely God has full power over everything.
117. The sentence Wherever you may be, God will bring you all together has a wide range of meaning, such as:
- The Muslims will be scattered throughout the world and turn toward the Ka‘bah in the Prayer as a single community.
- Islam will spread throughout the world extensively, among many diverse peoples and societies, having superiority or dominance over other religions.
- God will bring all the people together in the Place of Supreme Gathering and judge them.
- From wherever you go out (for journeying), turn your face (O Messenger) towards the Sacred Mosque (in the Prayer). This is the truth from your Lord. (O you who believe! Do the same, for) God is not unaware and unmindful of what you do.
- From wherever you go out (for journeying), turn your face (O Messenger) towards the Sacred Mosque (in the Prayer). Wherever you may be (O you who believe), turn your faces towards it, that the people may not have an argument against you – unless they be those immersed in wrongdoing; and hold not them in awe, but stand in awe of Me – and that I may complete My favor (of faith and Islam) upon you, and that you may be wholly guided (in Islam, to the truth.)
- As We have sent among you a Messenger of your own, reciting to you Our Revelations, and purifying you (of false beliefs and doctrines, and sins, and all kinds of uncleanness), and instructing you in the Book and the Wisdom, and instructing you in whatever you (must but) do not know.
- So always remember and make mention of Me (when service to Me is due), that I may remember and make mention of you (when judgment and recom- pense are due); and give thanks to Me, and do not be ungrateful to Me.118
118. Thankfulness or gratitude is the door to faith, and ingratitude is the way to unbelief. The Qur’ān uses the same word – kufr – for both unbelief and ingratitude. Kufr (unbelief ) literally means overlaying or concealing, and as a term, it means concealing and rejecting, or denying, any of the pillars of faith and the established religious commandments. Denying God, or not recognizing Him with His essential Attributes, such as His being the creator, the Provider, the absolute Ruler and Governor of the universe, the Sustainer, and the Self- Subsisting One, etc., is primarily included in kufr . Those who do not recognize God, with His Attributes, will attribute anything good or praiseworthy in their lives to themselves, instead of attributing it to God. Such an attitude is obviously identical with ingratitude.
- O you who believe! Seek help (against all kinds of hardships and tribu- lations) through persevering patience and the Prayer; surely God is with the persevering and patient.119
119. The verse’s ending with God is with the persevering and patient , not “God is with
those who establish the Prayer and those who are persevering and patient,” indicates that establishing the Prayer properly itself requires persevering patience (as, indeed, it also en- ables it). As mentioned in note 54, enduring the difficulties of the duty of servanthood to God or steadfastness in regular worship is one of the categories of patience. The verse’s ending also links it to the verses to come that announce how God tests His servants. Being successful in the test obviously demands patience.
- And say not of those who are killed in God’s cause: “They are dead.” Rather they are alive,120 but you are not aware.
120. Human life has five degrees:
- Our life which depends on certain conditions and the fulfillment of certain needs.
- The life of Khidr and Ilyās (elijah), upon him be peace, which is free to some extent from the necessities of our life. They (Khidr and elijah) can be present in different places at the same time.
- The life of the Prophets Jesus and enoch, upon them both be peace. These two Prophets live in heaven free of the necessities of human life in their “astral” bodies.
- The life of martyrs – those who are killed in God’s cause. Martyrs do not feel the pangs of death and know themselves to be transferred into a better world where they enjoy the blessings of God.
- The life of the dead. Death means one’s being discharged from worldly duties with the soul set free ( The Letters , “The 1 st Letter”).
- We will certainly test you with something of fear and hunger, and loss of wealth and lives and fruits (earnings);121 but give glad tidings to the persevering and patient:
121. The believers, both individually and collectively, pass through one or some of these tests. These include the religious obligations which would come after the revelation of this verse, such as war, which causes fear and the loss of wealth and lives, and the fasting of Ramadan. The main purpose for testing is to mature and perfect the believers, both as individuals and as a community, purify them, distinguish the true believers among them from the hypocritical ones, develop their capacities, prepare them for the future, and make them worthy of Paradise.
- Those who, when a disaster befalls them, say, “Surely we belong to God (as His creatures and servants), and surely to Him we are bound to return.” (And they act accordingly.) 122
122. This is the reaction of a sincere believer when visited by one of the tests mentioned in
the previous verse. It signifies the highest spiritual degree, which is complete resignation to what God has decreed for the believer. The following verse explains the glad tidings (the door to which was opened in the preceding verses, 2: 153–55) given to those who have at- tained this degree.
- Such are those upon whom are blessings from their Lord (such as forgive-
ness, answering their calls and satisfying their needs) and mercy (to come in the form of help in both this world and Hereafter, and favors in Paradise beyond human imagination); and they are the rightly guided ones.
158.123(The hills of ) as-Safā and Marwah are among the emblems God has appointed (to represent Islam and the Muslim community).124 Hence, whoever does the Hajj (the Major Pilgrimage) to the House (of God, the Ka‘bah) or the ‘Umrah (the Minor Pilgrimage), there is no blame on him to run between them (and let them run after they go round the Ka‘bah as an obligatory rite). And whoever does a good work voluntarily (such as additional going-round the Ka‘bah and running between as-Safā and Marwah, and other kinds of good works), surely God is All-Responsive to thankfulness, All-Knowing.
- The verses up to here have followed a line of argument that, either through exhorta- tion or admonition, urges the children of Israel to accept Islam and thereby re-discover their original way. They also contain warnings for the young Muslim community against dangers that may originate within itself and/or from within the communities of the Jews and christians. Besides, these verses prepare minds and hearts for the kind of jihad with their possessions and persons that may become unavoidable for the Muslims.
The approach and style the Qur’ān deploys are miraculous and unique to it. The Qur’ān turns around its main purposes, namely God’s Oneness, Prophethood, the Hereafter, and worship and justice. It deals with the Religion and life as a whole and with different aspects of each. Just as we can see our “natural” environment both as a whole and in its constitu- ent elements, when we look at it, so, too, the Qur’ān directs our minds and hearts through all the elements of life. As a matter of fact, the best of styles, or the highest degree of eloquence, can be attained by approximating the way the natural world impresses itself upon our senses and understanding. The Qur’ān is, in fact, a perfect translation or another copy of the “books” of the universe and humanity, which is the miniature specimen of the universe.
- A s - S afā and al-Marwah are two hills near the Ka‘bah in Makkah. The Prophet Abraham, upon him be peace, left his wife, Hagar, together with his son, Ishmael, upon him be peace, near these two hills. In order to find water or see whether there was a caravan nearby, Hagar ran between these two hills. During the hajj , pilgrims must also run between these two hills, four times from a s - S afā to al-Marwah, and three times the other way; this is called sa‘y (speedy walking). emblems ( shi‘ār ) like the call to the Prayer, Prayer in congregation—most particularly the congregational prayers of Jumu‘ah and the two ‘ Īd s, and the Hajj, with its rituals, mosques, sacrifice, etc.. are (as well as having their religious meaning for the individual and the community) public symbols that identify Islam and the Muslim community. Such emblems or public symbols, even those established by the Prophet himself and not directly by God, are more important than the individual obliga- tory prayers or rituals for the life and maintenance of the Muslim community.
- Those who conceal anything of the clear truths (concerning the fundamen- tals of the Religion, including Muhammad’s Messengership, in particular) and
(the Revelations conveying) the Guidance that We have sent down, after We have made them clear in the Book – God curses such people (excludes them from His mercy) and so do all who (have any authority to) curse.
- except those who repent and mend their ways, and openly declare (those signs and Revelations) – for those, I return their repentance with forgiveness (and include them in My special mercy). I am the One Who accepts repentance and returns it with liberal forgiveness and additional reward, the All-compas- sionate.
- But those who reject belief (demonstrated in their persisting in concealing the truths) and die unbelievers, on them is the curse of God and the angels, and of all humankind.125
125. This verse explains the phrase “all who curse” at the end of 2: 159. They are the angels who are extremely averse to unbelief, polytheism, hypocrisy and other sins. The curse of all humankind may rather be related to the Hereafter, when all the truths will be manifest. All kinds of relations between people, especially those between the unbelievers—such as ties of blood, of economic or political interest, or of leadership or subservience— will be severed. They will curse and blame each other. The curse of God means His excluding from His forgiveness and special mercy, while the curse of the angels, who continuously pray for the believers, denotes their asking God to exclude those deserving the curse from His mercy and condemn them to punishment.
- Abiding therein (in the Fire, the consequence or place of the curse); the punishment will not be lightened for them, nor will they be reprieved.
- (So, O people, refrain from concealing the truths and from disbelieving, and do not seek in vain a source of help and another refuge for yourselves. For) Your God is One God; there is no deity but He, the All-Merciful, the All- compassionate.126
126. This verse marks a conclusion with respect to the topics discussed up to this point. It links all those topics with the Basmalah (In the Name of God, the All-Merciful, the All- compassionate), which is the seed of Islam and the Opening chapter (the Fāti h ah , the core of the Book), and the initial verses of this sūrah.
- Surely in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the alternation of night and day (with their periods shortening and lengthening), and the vessels sailing in the sea with profit to people, and the water that God sends down from the sky, therewith reviving the earth after its death and dispersing therein all kinds of living creatures, and His disposal of the winds, and the clouds subservi- ent between sky and earth – surely there are signs (demonstrating that He is the One God deserving worship, and the sole Refuge and Helper) for a people who reason and understand.
- Yet there are among humankind those who (devoid of good sense and unable to reason) take to themselves objects of worship as rivals to God, lov- ing them with a love like that which is the due of God only – while those who truly believe are firmer in their love of God. If only those who do this (greatest) wrong could see – as they will see when they behold the punishment – that the power altogether belongs to God, and that God is severe in punishment.127
127. The verses emphasize the Oneness of God as the only Object of Worship, and the sole Refuge and Helper of humanity. None other than God is worthy of being worshipped and being regarded as a deity. Those who love their Prophets or leaders or elders with a love due to God only, and go so far as to see in them attributes belonging exclusively to God, and obey them willingly in their orders, contrary to those of God, have rebelled against God and associated partners with Him, and therefore committed the greatest wrong. Such people are those who do not use their reason and cannot see the uncountable manifest signs in the universe and in human life that demonstrate God and His Oneness. It is only when they see the punishment of God that they will perceive that the power altogether belongs to God. This verse also refers to the absolute necessity of following God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, and accepting him as the leader, a fact announced in the verse (3: 31): Say (O Messenger): “If you indeed love God, then follow me, so that God will love you and forgive you your sins.”
- At that time when (they see it), those who were followed (in the world as elders, heads, or leaders, and were loved as only God is to be loved) disown those who followed them and declare themselves innocent of their evil deeds, and they see the punishment, and the relations between them are cut off.
- And those who followed say: “If only we might return (to the world) and disown them, as they have disowned us.” Thus does God show them their deeds in a manner that will cause them bitter regrets. Never will they come out of the Fire.
- O humankind! (Observe whatever God commands you. He has made you dwell on the earth, so) eat of what is on the earth, provided it is lawful, pure and wholesome (in composition and religiously); and do not follow in the footsteps of Satan, (who deceives both those who are followed and those who follow); indeed he is a manifest enemy to you.
- He only commands you to evil and indecency and that you should speak against God the things about which you have no (sure) knowledge.128
128. Satan deceives people. He continuously whispers evils and indecency into their hearts, urges them to utter what they do not know concerning God, and invites them to disbelieve in Him or to associate partners with Him. He is insistent in this whispering and draws people under his influence, to the extent that the Qur’ān describes this as “commanding.” Another important point included in the meaning of Satan’s “commanding” is that those who follow in the footsteps of Satan are, so to speak, acting on his authority as his officials
and agents. What Satan commands them to utter about God without any knowledge are wrong conceptions of God’s very Being or essence, and errors of thought, attitude and ac- tion in relation to His Attributes, acts, and commandments.
- When it is said to them (who follow in the footsteps of Satan), “Follow what God has sent down,” they respond: “No, but we follow that (the tradi- tions, customs, beliefs, and practices) which we found our forefathers in.” What, even if their forefathers had no understanding of anything, and were not rightly guided?
- The likeness of those who refuse to believe is that of those who hear, from the one who is calling them, nothing except a shouting and crying out – they are deaf, dumb and blind, and so they have no understanding of (what is said to them).129
129. This parable has two aspects. On the one hand, it suggests that the unbelievers are like animals that only follow their herdsmen and obey them without knowing or understanding why. On the other hand, it also suggests that when the truth is preached to them, they show such insensitivity to it that one may as well be addressing animals that merely comprehend sounds but are incapable of understanding their meaning. “Shouting and crying” allude to the fact that the call is “loud” enough to be easily registered as sound, but they are incapable of any effort to make sense of it.
- O you who believe! (Without concern for the rules the unbelievers contrive in regard to food,) eat of the pure, wholesome things that We have provided for you, and (in return) give thanks to God, if you worship Him alone.
- He has made unlawful to you only carrion, and blood, and the flesh of swine, and that (the animal) which is offered in the name of other than God. Yet whoever is constrained by dire necessity to eat of them, provided he does not covet (that which is forbidden) nor transgress (the bounds of necessity), no sin shall be on him. Surely God is All-Forgiving, All-compassionate.
- Those who conceal the truths and commandments in the Book that God has sent down, and sell them for a trifling price (such as worldly benefit, status and renown), they eat nothing but fire in their bellies. And God will not speak to them on the Day of Resurrection (when they will be in dire need to speak to Him, to implore forgiveness and mercy), nor will He absolve them to pronounce them pure. For them is a painful punishment.
- Such are the ones who have bought straying in exchange for guidance, and punishment in exchange for forgiveness. How they persevere in their striving to reach the Fire (and enduring it)!130
130. Those unbelievers who have no patience when it comes to heeding the truth, doing
good and refraining from the unlawful pleasures of the world, are nevertheless steadfast and persevering in deserving the Fire, which it is impossible to endure. This is an astonishing disposition, impossible to understand.
- That is so because God is sending down the Book with the truth, and there is nothing false in it. Those who are at variance regarding the Book (believing in part of it, disbelieving in part, and believing in one or some of the Divine Books, while disbelieving in the others), have certainly veered far (from the truth) into wide schism.
- Godliness and virtue is not that you should turn your faces in the direction of the east and west; but he is godly and virtuous who believes in God and the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the Prophets, and gives away of his prop- erty with pleasure, although he loves it, to relatives, orphans, the destitute, the wayfarer, and those who have to beg (or who need a loan), and for the liberation of slaves, and establishes the Prayer and pays the Prescribed Purifying Alms. And those (are godly and virtuout) who fulfill their covenant when they have engaged in a covenant, and who are patient and persevering in misfortune, hard- ship, and disease, and at the time of stress (such as a battle between truth and falsehood). Those are they who are true (in their faith), and those are they who have achieved righteousness, piety, and due reverence for God.
- O you who believe! Prescribed for you is retaliation in cases of (deliberate, unjust) killing: freeman for freeman, slave for slave, female for female. Yet if he (the murderer) is granted some remission by his brother (any of the heirs of the victim), then what falls on the pardoning side is fulfilling in fairness what has been agreed on, and the other side is making the payment kindly enough to please the other side.131 This is a lightening from your Lord, and a mercy. Who- ever offends after that, for him is a painful punishment.
131. The law of retaliation was also prescribed in the Bible: “He who strikes a man, so that he dies, shall surely be put to death.” ( exodus , 21: 12) “And he who strikes his father or his mother shall surely be put to death. And he who kidnaps a man and sells him, of if he is found in his hand, shall surely be put to death.” ( exodus , 21: 15–6) However, there is no law of remission in the Bible. Islamic law decrees retaliation but also decrees that if the injured parties (or in cases of murder, the heirs of the deceased) pardon the guilty person, either outright or in return for some compensation, then retaliation is not executed. Insofar as modern law reserves the right to punish for the state, it denies that right to the victim. This is, on the face of it, an offense against natural justice. Whoever is a victim of an offense must have the right to punish or pardon.
Although some countries recognize and apply the death penalty, imprisonment is the usual mode of punishment for murder in the West. However, to make a brief, general compari- son, although an offense is something concrete, imprisonment is not. Second, an offense
and its punishment should be considered together in the same context, and they should be of the same sort, like an oil spill being cleaned with oil-based soap. Thirdl, an offense and its punishment must be of the same nature. For example, killing and stealing are two of- fenses of a different nature. Yet modern law gives the same kind and nature of punishment for both, namely imprisonment. The difference is only in quantity. However, quantity can never serve as a substitute for quality or nature. As for Islam, the punishment it gives for any offense is of the same nature as the offense. Fourth, the criminal law of Islam is based on justice and mercy. According to the declaration in the next verse, “There is life for you in retaliation (if you understand), O people of discernment,” it takes into consideration both the criminal and the victim, as well as the society and the fundamental moral and spiritual values all together, and it is of a nature that trains, reforms, prevents, and satisfies the victim. But there is none of these attributes in imprisonment. It is neither reformative nor preven- tive, and it is not satisfactory for the victim, either. In addition, it destroys the spirit and personality, and excludes the person from social life.
In conclusion, like all of its other laws, the criminal law of Islam is reformative and based on justice, balance, and mercy.
Although Islam allows retaliation in case of wrong as a requirement of justice, as inviolate values demand retaliation and equal respect (2: 194), it advises an individual to forgive an offense done to himself or herself, or better, to repel it with what is better. For a discussion of this matter, see 22, note 18.
The expressions “freeman for freeman, slave for slave, female for female” do not mean that a freeman will not be liable to retaliation for a crime against a slave, or that a man will not be liable to retaliation for a crime against a woman. On the contrary, the Qur’ān put an end to a practice widespread in pre-Islamic Arabia and still existing in the present world – if a respected member of the tribe was killed by an ordinary member of another, they would kill several members of the murderer’s tribe as well as the murderer himself. Also, if the murderer was a man of high standing, the pre-Islamic Arabs were unwilling to permit the murderer to be executed. even today, those nations that are supposedly the most civilized often proclaim that if one of their citizens is killed, they will execute scores of the killer’s compatriots.
- There is life for you in retaliation (if you understand), O people of discern- ment, so it may be that you (will perceive it and fulfill God’s command and, in so doing,) attain the desired piety and righteousness and deserve His protection.
- Prescribed for you, when any of you is visited by death, if he leaves behind wealth, is to make testament in favor of his parents and near relatives according to customary good and religiously approvable practice132 – a duty for the truly God-revering, pious.
132. This commandment relates to the period when there were no rules for the distribution of inheritance. Thus, everyone was required to make testament in order not to deprive par- ents and nearest relatives of some inheritance that would otherwise have been distributed, most probably only among one’s children. Later, when God revealed a set of laws regarding
the distribution of the inheritance (4: 11–12), the Prophet, upon him be peace and bless- ings, clarified the laws relating to testaments and inheritance. These may be summarized as follows:
Provisions in a will cannot be made in favor of any of an individual’s legal heirs, i.e. those whose different portions are specified in the Qur’ān, as no changes can be made therein. Second, the will may specify the distribution of only one-third of the deceased’s whole estate. When a person has died, his or her debts (if any) are cleared, the person’s last will and testament (within the limitations just mentioned) is carried out, and then the estate is divided among the legal heirs according to the Qur’ānic injunctions.
- Then if anyone changes the will after hearing it (and the will is not carried out as it must be), then the sin thereof is on those who change it. Surely God is All-Hearing, All-Knowing.
- But if anyone fears from the testator an injustice or sin and brings about a settlement between the parties (by making the necessary change), then no sin will be on him. Surely God is All-Forgiving, All-compassionate.
- O you who believe! Prescribed for you is the Fast, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may deserve God’s protection (against the tempta- tions of your carnal soul) and attain piety.
- (Fasting is for) a fixed number of days. If any of you is so ill that he cannot fast, or on a journey, he must fast the same number of other days. But for those who can no longer manage to fast, there is a redemption (penance) by feeding a person in destitution (for each day missed, or giving him the same amount in money). Yet better it is for him who volunteers greater good (by either giving more, or fasting in case of recovery), and that you should fast (when you are able to) is better for you, if you but knew (the worth of fasting).
- The month of Ramadān, in which the Qur’ān was sent down as guidance for people, and as clear signs of Guidance and the criterion (between truth and falsehood). Therefore whoever of you is present this month must fast it, and whoever is so ill that he cannot fast or is on a journey (must fast the same) num- ber of other days. God wills ease for you, and He does not will hardship for you, so that you can complete the number of the days required, and exalt God for He has guided you, and so it may be that you will give thanks (due to Him).
- And when (O Messenger) My servants ask you about Me, then surely I am near: I answer the prayer of the suppliant when he prays to Me.133 So let them respond to My call (without hesitation), and believe and trust in Me (in the way required of them), so that they may be guided to spiritual and intellectual excel- lence and right conduct.
133. Prayer or supplication is the essence of worship or servanthood to God. What rises to God from the whole creation is prayer. It has kinds and degrees:
- The first kind is the prayer of all organisms, plant, animal and human, through the natural disposition of their bodies and their functioning in line with their duties in creation. This kind of prayer is always acceptable.
- The second kind is that which is uttered by all organisms, plant, animal and human, in the tongue of vital needs. God meets these needs just on time, with the exception that plants, and the animals relatively weaker and less intelligent (as compared to others, such as wolves and foxes), are nourished more easily than the others. The more power- ful and intelligent and more self-subsisting a creature is, the greater hardship it suffers to get nourishment. All that a baby has to do in order to procure its need is cry.
- The third kind of prayer is that which is done by human beings. This falls into two categories:
- The first category is the active prayer. It means complying with the laws that God has set for life. For example, a farmer’s plowing the soil is knocking on the door of Divine providence. A patient’s going to the doctor’s is appealing to God for cure. This kind of prayer is usually accepted.
- The second category is the verbal prayer that we do. This kind of prayer is also an- swered. But answering is different from accepting. God answers all the prayers done sincerely. However, He answers sometimes by giving whatever is asked for, sometimes by giving what is better, sometimes by postponing giving to the afterlife, and some- times by not giving at all, since it will not turn out in favor of the one who prays. The way that God answers a prayer depends on His Wisdom. ( The Words, “the 23 rd Word,” 333–334 )
- It is made lawful for you to go in to your wives on the night of the Fast. (There is such intimacy between you that) they are a garment for you (enfold- ing you to protect you against illicit relations and beautifying you) and you are (in the same way, for the same reasons) a garment for them. God knows that (you felt that) you were betraying yourselves (by doing what you supposed was prohibited), and has turned to you in lenience (and protected you from possible sins by not legislating such a prohibition). So now, associate in intimacy with them and seek what God has ordained for you. And (you are permitted to) eat and drink until you discern the white streak of dawn against the blackness of night; then observe the Fast until night sets in.134 But do not associate in inti- macy with them (your wives) during the period when you are in retreat in the mosques. These are the bounds set by God; do not draw near them (keep a safe distance away from them).135 Thus does God make His Revelations clear to people, so that they may attain piety and be protected against the punishment therefore.
- In fixing the time of obligatory rites, God has decreed what is so clear and simple that people in all times and places, and at any stage of scientific development, can observe them. Accordingly, the timing of the rites is done with reference to conspicuous and familiar
Some people argue that this method is not feasible in zones close to the poles, where night and day each last for about six months. However, in these zones, signs of morning and evening do appear with unfailing regularity and the people know them. It is on the basis of these signs that people time their s lee ping and waking patterns. In the days before watches were common, the inhabitants of countries like Finland, Norway and Greenland used to fix the hours of the day and night by means of various signs that appeared on the horizon. Just as those signs helped them to determine their schedules in other matters, they should enable them to time their various prayers, the pre-fast meal, and the breaking of the Fast.
- The phrase “in retreat in the mosques” refers to the practice of spending some time in Rama d ān in a mosque in devotion to God. God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, used to dedicate the last ten days of Rama d ān to such retreat in the mosque. While in this state, known as i‘tikāf , one may go out of the mosque for only the absolutely necessary requirements of life, and one must refrain from gratifying sexual desire.
- (eat and drink, but do the kinds of worship that help you to control your soul, such as the Fast.) And do not consume your wealth among yourselves in false ways (in vanities, sins and crimes such as theft, usurpation, bribery, usury, and gambling); nor proffer it to those in authority so that you may sinfully con- sume a portion of other people’s goods, and that knowingly.
- They ask you (O Messenger) about the new moons (because of the month of Ramadān). Say: “They are appointed times (markers) for the people (to de- termine time periods) and for the Pilgrimage.” (Do not link them to supersti- tions and superstitious behavior, like entering dwellings by the back rather than the front.) It is not virtue that you enter dwellings from the backs of them, but virtue is (the state of ) one who (truly believing in God) strives to attain righ- teousness and piety (by carrying out His commandments and refraining from His prohibitions). So come to dwellings (in the normal way) by their doors. (Do everything according to the rule, and establish relations with your leader and among yourselves in proper terms.) And strive to obey God in due reverence for Him and piety so that you may prosper.136
136. The waxing and waning of the moon attracted people’s attention in the pre-Islamic era, as it still does today, and some fanciful ideas and superstitions were associated with it. The moon was considered the basis of good and bad omens. The Qur’ân warns against such superstitious notions.
It also draws attention to another important matter, namely propriety and good sense in controlling curiosity, so that it does not become, nor lead to, idle or vain preoccupations. It is unbecoming to believers that they should ask pointless questions or become preoccupied with useless things. But if such questions are put, the teacher or leader should give an an- swer that will, rather than satisfying their curiosity, keep the questioners curious but direct
their curiosity towards more worthy or useful matters.
As to the questions put to the Messenger about the waxing and waning of the moon, the worthwhile, useful element of the questioners’ curiosity is indicated in the response of God: it is necessary for them to know the beginning and end of months and the periods between, so that the time of the great religious rites can be determined by reference to phenomena literally visible or knowable by all human beings, but not the special privilege of a particular caste of people. That tells us what the waxing and waning is for, and how the knowledge thereof helps us. It also tells us that such knowledge should be useful and open – it should not become difficult, secret, mysterious, or, therefore, liable to degenerate into superstition among the ignorant, or to become subject to the malicious manipulation of the ignorant by the knowledgeable. Any questions related to how the moon waxes and wanes, or why it does so, could not, at that time, have been answered in any way which was both accurate and intelligible to the questioners. Indulging curiosity of this kind is precisely what breeds ignorance and superstition. curiosity needs to be disciplined so that it approaches what is unknown through questions that can be answered intelligibly, in a way that sustains the questioning – questions that, if asked and answered truthfully, increase the stock of human knowledge and strengthen the pillars of faith in the knowledge and wisdom of the creator Who made this world made it intelligible, and made human beings, within certain limita- tions, capable of understanding it.
The verse uses the occasion of the Prophet’s being asked about the new moons to establish or emphasize the proper rules and norms in people’s relations among themselves and with their leader/teacher. It invites them again to true piety and godliness. clearly the verse has a fundamental connection with all the verses of the sūrah to this point, especially 2: 177 and the opening verses describing “those who prosper” (2: 1–5). Next, the Qur’ân goes on to lay down important principles concerning war in order to put an end to the Jâhiliyyah wars that recognized no rules, and to educate the believers, as individuals and a community, in the best conduct.
- Fight in God’s cause (in order to exalt His Name) against those who fight against you, but do not exceed the bounds (set by God),137 for surely God loves not those who exceed the bounds.
For a detailed explanation concerning Islam and war, see Appendix 2.
- (While at war) kill them wherever you come upon them, and drive them out from where they drove you out (thus recovering your lands from their usur- pation). (Though killing is something you feel aversion to,) disorder (rooted in rebellion against God and recognizing no laws) is worse than killing.137 Do not fight against them in the vicinities of the Sacred Mosque unless they fight against you there; but if they fight against you (there), kill them – such is the recompense of the (rebellious) unbelievers.
138. The verse regards fitnah (here translated as “disorder [rooted in rebellion against God and recognizing no laws]”) as one of the most prominent reasons for war. War is something undesired and abhorrent; nevertheless, situations do arise that will make it inevitable. Fit-
nah is just such a situation or, rather, all such situations share characteristics that may be summed up as fitnah . In most Qur’ānic contexts, it denotes associating partners with God and adopting that as a lifestyle, spreading unbelief and apostasy, committing major sins with willful, insolent abandon, open hostilities to Islam, destroying collective security or causing public disorder, and oppression, all of which are worse than killing. Although each of these can constitute a reason for war, the term fitnah covers all of them.
- Then if they desist (from fighting), surely God is All-Forgiving, All-com- passionate (especially towards those who return to Him in repentance).
- (But if they persist in causing disorder, continue to) fight against them until there is no longer disorder rooted in rebellion against God, and the religion (the right for worship and the authority to order the way of life is recognized) for God. However, if they desist, then there is no hostility except to the wrongdo- ers.139
139. Believing in God’s Oneness entails accepting Him as the sole Deity, Lord, and Object of Worship. That in turn means recognizing Him as having the exclusive authority to make things lawful or unlawful. So His laws must prevail in human life; in others words, human life must be ordered according to His laws. If some people, exploiting any means available to them, attempt to usurp this authority and establish a social order according to their own desires and moreover force others to obey them, this is the fitnah which the Muslims are ordered to fight against. Islam seeks to eradicate fitnah and set up a stable environment of justice and freedom for all, without excuses for injustice, oppression, violation of essential human rights, for anarchy and terror. Under the rule of Islam, properly constituted and administered, everyone is allowed to live according to their faith and practice their religion individually and collectively.
- A sacred month is retributive for another sacred month, and the inviolate values demand retaliation. So whoever attacks you, attack them in like manner as they attacked you. Nevertheless, fear God and remain within the bounds of piety and righteousness, and know that God is with the God-revering, pi- ous.140
140. The months of Dhu’l-Qa‘dah, Dhu’l-Hijjah, Muharram and Rajab (the 11 th , 12 th
, 1 st and 7 th months of the lunar year, respectively) were consecrated, and warfare, killing and pillage were prohibited during these months. However, in order to have an advantage over others, the polytheist Arabs frequently violated the sanctity of these months and tried to compensate for this violation by substituting one of the other months for the violated sacred month. In order not to allow them this advantage over the Muslims, and because of the principle expressed in statement that “the inviolate values demand retaliation,” the Qur’ān permitted the Muslims to attack their enemies in whichever month they first at- tacked them.
This verse establishes an important principle in social life, in the penal code, and in in- ternational relations. Islamic Law recognizes as priorities the protection of religion, life, reason, family and lineage, and private property. Whoever is killed while defending one of
these dies a martyr. It is because of the sanctity of these five things that offending religion and religious values (apostasy and blasphemy), killing and murder, alcohol and narcotics (which enfeeble reason), fornication and adultery (which dishonor as well as confound lineage), and theft and usurpation, are among the major sins. The life or property of no one individual,nation or race is more sacred than another. So, since there is equality between these things which the Qur’ān calls “the inviolate values,” it requires that any violation is reciprocated only within the strict measure of just and equal retaliation. This is also what natural justice demands. However, an individual may forgive anything wrong done to him or her; such forgiving is praised and commended by the Qur’ān as virtue. However, one does not have the right to pardon on behalf of others, or to pardon an offense against public order or property, or against national values or security.
Islam allows retaliation but prohibits doing harm or returning harm with harm. That is, if someone or some group does wrong or evil, the victims of the wrong are not licensed to do the same; still less is the wrong or evil to be accepted as the normal way of doing things. Retaliation must be for the sake of restoring justice and must be strict as to means and proportionality. Islam strives for peace and for the removal of violations. That is why the verse continues with the command to remain within the bounds of piety, meaning that any further offense, or exceeding the bounds in repelling an attack, is prohibited.
- ( Just retaliation, as well as war or other defensive measures to maintain your existence, are not possible without expense. So) spend in God’s cause (out of whatever you have) and do not ruin yourselves by your own hands (by refrain- ing from spending. Whatever you do,) do it in the best way, in the awareness that God sees it. Surely God loves those who are devoted to doing good, aware that God is seeing them.
- complete the Hajj (the Major Pilgrimage) and the ‘Umrah (the Minor Pilgrimage) for God, and if you are impeded (after you have already put on the Pilgrimage attire), then send (to Makkah) a sacrificial offering you can af- ford. Do not shave your heads (to mark the end of the state of consecration for the Pilgrimage) until the offering has reached its destination and is sacrificed. However, if any of you is ill (so that he is obliged to leave the state of consecra- tion) or has an ailment of the head, he must make redemption by fasting, or giving alms, or offering a sacrifice. When you are secure (when the Pilgrimage is not impeded, or the impediment is removed), then whoever takes advantage of the ‘Umrah before the Hajj must give a sacrificial offering he can afford. For whoever cannot afford the offering, a fast for three days during the Hajj, and for seven days when you return home, that is, ten days in all. This is for those whose families do not live in the environs of the Sacred Mosque. Act in due reverence for God and piety (avoiding disobedience to Him and obeying His ordinances), and know that God is severe in retribution.
- The Hajj is in the months well-known.141 Whoever undertakes the duty
of Hajj in them, there is no sensual indulgence, nor wicked conduct, nor disput- ing during the Hajj. Whatever good you do (all that you are commanded and more than that, especially to help others), God knows it. Take your provisions for the Hajj (and do not be a burden upon others). In truth, the best provision is righteousness and piety, so be provided with righteousness and piety to guard against My punishment, O people of discernment!
141. The months of the Hajj are Shawwāl, Dhu’l-Qa‘dah and Dhu’l-Hijjah. The Hajj cannot be performed in another month than these ones. One of the two pillars of the Hajj is staying for some time on the mount of ‘Arafāt. This is done on the ninth day of Dhu’l- Hijjah, the eve of the ‘ Ī d al-a d hā (the religious festival of the day of sacrifice). The time of performing the other pillar, which is the circumambulation of Ifā d ah – the obligatory go- ing round the Ka‘bah seven times – begins on the first of the three days of ‘ Īd al-a d hā.
- There is no blame on you that you should seek of the bounty of your Lord (by trading during the Hajj, but beware of preoccupation to the extent of ne- glecting any of the rites of the Hajj.) When you press on in multitude from ‘Arafāt (after you have stayed there for some time), mention God at Mash‘ar al-Harām (al-Muzdalifah); mention Him, aware of how He has guided you, for formerly you were surely of those astray.
- Then (do not choose to remain in al-Muzdalifah without climbing ‘Arafat, in order to refrain from mixing with other people because of vanity. Instead,) press on in multitude from where all the (other) people press on, and implore God’s forgiveness (for your opposing Him in any way before now, and for the mistakes you have made during the Hajj). Surely God is All-Forgiving, All- compassionate.
- And when you have performed those rites, mention God, as you mentioned your fathers (with the merits you approve of in them), or yet more intensely. For there are, among humankind, those who pray, “Our Lord, grant us in the world,” and they have no share in the Hereafter.
- And among them are those who pray, “Our Lord, grant us in the world what is good, and in the Hereafter what is good, and protect us from the punish- ment of the Fire.”
- Those people – for them is a portion, each according to what they have earned. God is swift at reckoning.
- Mention God during the (three) appointed days (of ‘Īd al-adhā). Whoever is in haste and content with two days (of mentioning God, having performed the rite of throwing pebbles at Satan), it is no sin for him; and whoever delays (continuing the rite to the third day), it is no sin for him, for him who is care-
ful of the bounds of piety. Keep from disobedience to God in due reverence for Him and piety, and know that you will be gathered to Him.
- Among the people there is he whose conversation on (the affairs of ) the present, worldly life fascinates you, and he calls on God to bear testimony to what is in his heart, yet he is most fierce in enmity.
- When he leaves (you) or attains authority, he rushes about the land to fo- ment disorder and corruption therein, and to ruin the sources of life and human generations. Surely God does not love disorder and corruption.
- When he is told, “Be fearful of your duty to God (and so follow His com- mands),” vainglory seizes and thrusts him toward (greater) sin. Hell will settle the account for him – how evil a cradle indeed it is!
- And (in contrast, there is) among the people one who sells himself in pursuit of God’s good pleasure. God is All-Pitying towards His servants (and therefore commends to them reverent piety and fear of His punishment).
- O you who believe! come in full submission to God, all of you, (without al- lowing any discord among you due to worldly reasons), and do not follow in the footsteps of Satan, for indeed he is a manifest enemy to you (seeking to seduce you to rebel against God, with glittering promises).
- If you stumble and fall back (from following God’s way to realize peace and agreement) after the clear proofs of the truth have come to you, then know that God is All-Glorious with irresistible might, All-Wise.142
142. The conclusions of verses are particularly important to understanding their meaning. For example, this verse concludes with the declaration that God is ‘Azīzun H akīm (All- Glorious with irresistible might, All-Wise). It reminds us that it can neither harm nor benefit God whether we are submitted to Him and, therefore, able to come to peace and agreement among ourselves or not. In whatever way we act, God is All-Glorious with ir- resistible might and does whatever He wills. While we cannot do anything to Him, He can, if He wills, punish and destroy us. However, He is also All-Wise; there are many instances of wisdom in whatever He does. He tests us in this world. That is why life here has laws particular to itself. For this reason, while evaluating the events and outcomes of human history, we should be ever-mindful that God is All-Wise as well as All-Glorious with ir- resistible might. We may make judgments in partial or complete ignorance of our own and others’ motives, of the near and far consequences of the conditions and events in which we are immersed, but God sees the whole future as He sees the whole past, and His Power and Wisdom are manifested throughout. The following verse sheds further light on this point.
- What do those (who fail to come in full submission to God) look for but that God(‘s command of destruction) should come to them in the shades of clouds with angels, and the matter be settled? To God are all matters ultimately
referred (and whatever He wills occurs).
- Ask the children of Israel how many clear proofs We gave to them (and what happened when they heeded them or did not heed them). Whoever tam- pers with God’s blessing after it has come to him (whoever alters the guidance or exchanges it for straying): surely God is severe in retribution.143
143. The punishment that the Qur’ān mentions in return for the sins or crimes that people commit, or for the discord among them arising from tampering with God’s blessing of guidance, should not be understood as restricted in reference to the Hereafter. God has laws that He has established for the worldly life of humankind. A person gets the recom- pense for obedience to those laws, or for disobedience to them, more in this world than in the Hereafter. conversely, for the laws of God as presented through the dīn or Religion, human compliance or non-compliance is, for the most part, recompensed in the Hereafter. Whether as individuals or as a community, human beings meet their just deserts both in this world and Hereafter. Accordingly, we should understand God’s punishment to include the consequences of our actions in both this world and in the Hereafter.
The verses above warn the believers against discord and disagreements which may arise from failure in full submission to God. The shades of clouds in verse 210 may be alluding to various kinds of disasters they may suffer because of the disagreements among them. The verse to come (212) explains the cardinal cause for failure in full submission to God. It is attachment to the allurements of the worldly life, which is also the principal cause for unbelief.
- The present, worldly life is decked out as appealing to those who are un- grateful to God’s blessing and disbelieve, and they deride those who believe. But those who obey God in due reverence for Him and piety will be above them on the Day of Resurrection. God provides for whomever He wills without reckon- ing.
- Humankind were (in the beginning) one community (following one way of life without disputing over provision and other similar things. Later on, dif- ferences arose and) God sent Prophets as bearers of glad tidings (of prosperity in return for faith and righteousness) and warners (against the consequences of straying and transgression), and He sent down with them the Book with the truth (containing nothing false in it) so that it might judge between the people concerning that on which they were differing. And only those who were given it differed concerning it, after the most manifest truths came to them, because of envious rivalry and insolence among themselves. God has guided by His leave those who have believed (in the Book and the Prophets, those who now believe in the Qur’ān and Muhammad) to the truth about that on which they were dif- fering. God guides whomever He wills to a straight path.144
144. This verse explains the right understanding or philosophy of history. God declared in
2: 38–39, with which this verse has a clear link, that He would send guidance to human- kind, who were destined to live on the earth – that is, He would show them the way they should follow. In the early period of their earthly life, they followed a way under the leader- ship of Prophet Adam, upon him be peace, to whom some Divine Scrolls were reportedly given. As alluded to in the previous verse (2: 212), there was no competition among them about how to share the products of their labor and what the earth yielded. When such competition eventually arose, it resulted in differences, clashes and bloodshed. God, out of compassion, raised up Messengers among them and sent Books with some and Scrolls with some others so that they might live in justice and be guided to the truth in what they differed on. He also raised up Prophets in the footsteps of the Messengers to continue their way. Nevertheless, because of rivalry, greed and envy, those who were given the Book dif- fered on it, and this history continued so until, finally, the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, came with the Qur’ān. Some of those who had been given the Book before believed in him, and some did not.
This verse clarifies that the primary reason for the conflicts among the People of the Book, as well as among other peoples, is envious rivalry. It also clarifies that the final source or reference for the solution of the problems among people is the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, and the Qur’ān.
There have been differences of opinion among the Muslims in understanding some verses and commandments of the Qur’ān. This is very natural. The recourse for the settlement of these differences is the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and bless- ings. The Sunnah interprets the Qur’ān, expanding what is brief in it, particularizing what is general in it, and generalizing what is particular in it. It also has the authority to make new legislation. For this reason, opposing, even attacking, the Sunnah means opposing and attacking one of the two foundations of Islam.
- (Given the history of humankind in this world,) do you think that you will enter Paradise while there has not yet come upon you the like of what came upon those who passed away before you? They were visited by such adversities and hardships, and were so shaken as by earthquake that the Messenger and those who believed in his company nearly cried out: “When comes God’s help?” Beware! The help of God is surely near!145
145. This verse points to way marks in the history of those following the Straight Path. This Path is no easy route. It passes through privations, persecutions, and even sufferings of war to the point where the believers all but cry out, “When comes the help of God?” This point, when the followers of the Straight Path are convinced that it is only God Who gives success, is also the point when God’s help is at hand, and which leads on to the final triumph or prosperity in both worlds. However, testing of the quality of faith and obedi- ence continues: it requires thankfulness and controlling the drives of the carnal soul, so as to guard against rebellion.
- They ask you what they will spend (to provide sustenance for the needy). Say: “Whatever you spend of your wealth is for (your) parents and the near rela- tives, and the (needy) orphans, the destitute, and the wayfarer.” Whatever good
you do, surely God has full knowledge of it.146
146. even if the verses seem independent of each other, they are linked in that they draw attention to the important marks of the way leading to the final triumph and Paradise, and teach how to follow that way. It requires patience through all hardships and privations and, as mentioned in the preceding verse, spending in God’s cause for the relatives and needy – in other words, building “social” bridges between various strata in society.
- Prescribed for you is fighting, though it is disliked by you. It may well be that you dislike a thing but it is good for you, and it may well be that you like a thing but it is bad for you. God knows, and you do not know.
- They ask you about the Sacred Month and fighting in it. Say: “Fighting in it is a grave sin; but barring people from the way of God, unbelief in Him, and denying entry into the Sacred Mosque, and expelling its inmates from it are far graver and more sinful in the sight of God; disorder (rooted in rebellion to God and recognizing no laws) is even far graver and more sinful than killing. And they will not cease fighting against you until they turn you from your Religion, if they can. Whoever of you turns away from his Religion and dies an unbeliever
- those are they whose works have been wasted in both the world and the Here- after, and those are the companions of the Fire; they will abide therein.
- Surely those who believe, those who emigrate and strive in God’s cause147
- they are the ones who may hope for the mercy of God. God is All-Forgiving, All-compassionate.
147 . Jihâd denotes, literally, doing one’s utmost to achieve something. It is not the equiva- lent of war, for which the Arabic and Qur’ânic word is qitâl . Jihad does not mean Holy War either; in fact that term was coined during the crusades to mean a war against Mus- lims. It does not have a counterpart in Islam, and jihad is certainly not its translation. Although warfare is contained in the meaning of jihâd , the root meaning is doing one’s best to achieve something.
Jihâd has a wider connotation and embraces every kind of striving in God’s cause. Mujâhid s (those who do jihâd ) are sincerely devoted to the cause of Islam, expend the utmost of their intellect and spirit in its service, and deploy all the force at their command to defend Islam against aggression; and, whenever necessary, they do not hesitate to risk their very lives for Islam. All this is jihâd . Jihâd in God’s cause is that striving in which a person engages exclusively to win God’s good pleasure, and to make His Word superior to all other words.
There are two aspects of jihâd . One is fighting against superstitions and wrong convictions, and also against carnal desires and evil inclinations; it is, therefore, a seeking of enlighten- ment, both intellectual and spiritual. This is called the greater jihâd . The other is encourag- ing others to seek and achieve the same objective, and it is called the lesser jihâd .
The lesser jihâd , which has usually been taken to mean fighting for God’s cause, does not refer only to the form of striving done on battlefields. The term is comprehensive. It includes every action, from speaking out when necessary (for example, to challenge tyr- anny), to presenting oneself on the battlefield – provided the effort is done for God’s sake. Whether speaking or keeping silent, smiling or making a sour face, joining a meeting or leaving it, every action taken to ameliorate the lot of humanity, whether by individuals or communities, is also included in the meaning of the lesser jihâd .
While the lesser jihâd depends on the mobilization of outward or material facilities and is done in the outer world, and the greater jihâd is an inward struggle against the carnal soul, the two forms of jihâd cannot really be separated from each other. Only those who are sincere in battling their carnal selves can initiate and sustain the lesser jihâd in the right way, which, in turn, helps them to succeed in the greater jihâd .
The Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, combined these two aspects of jihâd in the most perfect way in his person. He displayed monumental courage in com- municating God’s Message, and he was the most devoted in worshipping God. He was consumed with love and fear of God in his Prayer, and those who saw him felt great tenderness towards him. He frequently fasted every other day or even on successive days. Sometimes he would spend almost the whole night in the Prayer and his feet would swell up as a result of long periods of standing in the Prayer. As recorded in al-Bukhârī , ‘Ā’ishah, thinking his persistence in the Prayer excessive, once asked him why he exhausted himself so, considering that all his sins had been forgiven. He said in reply: Shall I not be a servant grateful to God ?
As explained above, striving in God’s cause entails, besides conveying the Message to oth- ers, a believer’s struggle with the carnal soul to build a true spiritual character, overflowing with faith and ardent with the love of God. A believer’s struggle in God’s cause, with these two dimensions of it, continues, in the individual sphere, until the believer’s death, and up to the Last Day in the collective sphere.
Islam did not come to cause dissension among humankind; it came to establish spiritual contentment in the inner worlds of human beings and to make them at peace with God, with each other, with nature, and with the whole of being as such, in its entirety. It came to eradicate injustice and corruption on the earth, and to “unite” the earth with the heavens in peace and harmony. Islam calls people to the faith with wisdom and fair exhortation, and does not resort to force until those who desire to maintain the corrupted order they built on injustice, oppression, self-interest and exploitation of others, and the usurpation of their rights, resist it with force, determined to prevent its being preached.
- They ask you about intoxicating drinks and games of chance. Say: “In both there is great evil, though some use for people, but their evil is greater than their usefulness.” They also ask you what they should spend (in God’s cause and for the needy). Say: “What is left over (after you have spent on your dependents’ needs).” Thus does God make clear to you His Revelations, that you may re- flect.148
148. Alcohol and games of chance were deeply established and widespread among the Arabs in the pre-Islamic era (the Jâhiliyyah or “Age of Ignorance”). It is not easy to eradi- cate such evil habits in a community. As in almost all other such matters, the Qur’ân followed a step-wise approach in forbidding alcohol and gambling: instead of forbidding them outright, it first persuaded the believers of their evil. When the final commandment of prohibition came, there was no one among the believers who did not willingly renounce these habits. The same procedure was followed in establishing new patterns of conduct. For example, before commanding the women to wear the head-scarf, or veil, the Qur’ân first persuaded the Muslim community of the value and good of women wearing head-scarves. Several people came to the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, and asked him when he would order the women to veil themselves. When the order of veiling came, as stated by ‘Ā’ishah, may God be pleased with her, all the women without exception put on the veil willingly.
As another important example, the next two verses instruct the Muslims on how to treat the orphans and manage their affairs, and forbid the Muslims to marry idolaters. Although seemingly disconnected, these two verses together prepared the hearts of the believers to marry orphan girls. Before verse 3 in Sūrat al-Nisâ’ was revealed, which allowed marriage to more than one woman, these verses encouraged wealthy men to prefer orphans if they were considering more than one marriage.
This is the Qur’ân, the Word of God. While God’s Word is available to instruct human- kind, minds and hearts should be turned to it with the utmost attentiveness, so that we may reform ourselves and our societies according to His will, Who created us. The Muslims, es- pecially those who feel responsibility to guide and teach others, should avoid being diverted by fashionable theories and agendas with little connection to the Qur’ânic foundations of faith, worship, morality, social and political relationships and economy. They should strive to return to those foundations. In particular, they should heed the Qur’ân’s way of guiding, its way of teaching and achieving vital reforms. No effort exerted in the name of Islam, yet neither based upon the Qur’ân nor permitted by it, can be successful.
- Upon this world and the Hereafter (with all the truths related to both). And they ask you about (how they should act in regard to) orphans. Say (to them): “(Rather than doing nothing for fear of doing wrong) set their affairs aright for their good; that is the best. If you intermix (your expenses) with theirs, (there is no harm in that for) they are your brothers(-in-religion, and brother- hood demands doing what is good for one’s brothers). God knows well him who causes disorder from him who sets aright. Had God willed, He would have imposed on you exacting conditions. Indeed He is All-Glorious with irresistible might, All-Wise.
- Do not marry the women who associate partners with God until they be- lieve. A believing slave-girl is better than a (free) woman who associates partners with God, even though she pleases and attracts you (with her beauty, wealth, status, or family). Nor marry (your believing women) to the men who associate partners with God until they believe. A believing slave is better than a (free) man who associates partners with God, even though he pleases and attracts you. Those call to the Fire, while God calls to Paradise and forgiveness (of your sins) by His leave. He makes clear His Revelations for people, that they may reflect and be mindful (of their duty to God).
- They also ask you about (the injunctions concerning) menstruation. Say: “It is a state of hurt (and ritual impurity), so keep away from them during their menstruation and do not approach them until they are cleansed.149 When they are cleansed, then (you can) go to them inasmuch as God has commanded you (according to the urge He has placed in your nature, and within the terms He has enjoined upon you). Surely God loves those who turn to Him in sincere repentance (of past sins and errors), and He loves those who cleanse them- selves.150
- This verse, which answers a question from male believers, ensures that women are protected from sexual intercourse during their menstrual cycle. Other intimacies between husband and wife are permitted. Also, numerous hadith indicate that Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, continued to eat from the same plate and sleep with his menstruating wife. He prayed while his clothes touched his menstruating wife or while his wife lay in bed in front of him. His menstruating wife would comb his hair and wash it even when he was in the state of seclusion in the mosque ( I’tikâ f ). He recited the Qur’an while reclining his head in the lap of his menstruating wife and asked his menstruating wife to go into the mosque to get his mat (answering her concerns about entering the mosque by saying, “Your menstruation is not in your hand.”) The Prophet thereby challenged the pre- vailing view in his era that menstruating women should be banished from all social life.
A woman in her menstrual period is excused from as- S alâh (ritual Prayer) and fasting. This condition also applies to women during post-partum bleeding (40 days), but does not apply to all conditions in which women experience bleeding (“ al-istiha d a ” or bleeding from the womb in-between a woman’s periods). She is not required to make up her missed Prayers, though she must make up whatever days of fasting she missed during Rama d ân . She may continue with supplicatory prayer during her period. During the H ajj (Pilgrimage), she may not circumambulate the Ka‘bah ; barring this exception, she is allowed on Prophetic authority to do what other pilgrims do. The Prophet specifically ordered that menstruating women should take part in the two ‘ Īyd festivals and other religious gatherings of Mus- lims. The schools of Islamic law generally rule that a woman in her period cannot enter a mosque and cannot touch the Qur’ân or recite it, except the petitionary sentences in it with the intention of saying prayers. However, there are some jurists who rule that during her period, she may continue to teach or study the Qur’ân not in the entirety of its verses but in words or phrases. (Also see Appendix 4, “The Status of Women in Islam.”)
- As the Qur’ân draws attention to the spiritual garment of piety where it mentions bodily dress (7: 26), and spiritual nourishment where it mentions provision (2: 197), so here it draws attention to spiritual purity or being cleansed of sins through repentance, where it mentions being clean of body. This is because true beauty and good rest not in “turning one’s face toward east or west” but in the proper orientation of the heart and spirit. The form is something shaped by the essence and revealing it. The commandments of the
Religion are intended to lead humanity to intellectual and spiritual excellence and purity, and, therefore, to personal integrity.
- Your women are like a tilth for you (where you plant seed to obtain pro- duce), so come to your tilth as you wish, and send ahead (good issue) for (the future of ) your souls. Act in due reverence for God, keeping within the bounds of piety and obedience to Him (both in your relations with your women and bringing up offspring, as in all other matters).151 And know that you are to meet with Him; and give glad tidings to the believers (of what they will find in His Presence).
151. In a few concise statements, this verse reminds us that the true purpose of marital relations is not carnal pleasures but reproduction and having good issue, that is, bringing up children properly. The satisfaction of carnal desires is a sort of advance reward to en- courage the realization of this purpose. As mentioned in some related verses (2: 187), there are other instances of wisdom in marriage – for example, that the spouses are a garment for each other (to protect each other from unlawful relations and to enhance each other’s spiritual beauty), and that they become life-companions sharing each other’s joys and sor- rows. For this reason, as implied in this verse and stated in a hadīth (al-Bukhārī, “Nikā h
,” 15), sincere piety is the best quality to look for in a marriage partner. After that, as also pointed out by the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, the spouses should be as closely matched as possible in certain qualities, so that their companionship may be richer and more respectful (at-Tirmidhī, “Nikā h ,” 3).
- (Do not make thoughtless oaths by God,) and do not (in striving to keep your oaths) make Him a hindrance by your oaths to doing greater good, acting from piety, and making peace among people. And God is All-Hearing, All- Knowing.
- God does not take you to task for a slip in your oaths, but He takes you to task for what your hearts have earned (through intention). And God is All- Forgiving, All-clement.
- For those who vow abstinence from their wives, there is a respite of four months. Then, if they go back on their vow (within this period, by atoning), then surely God is All-Forgiving, All-compassionate.
- But if (the period ends and) they resolve on divorce, (know that) God is All-Hearing, All-Knowing, (well aware of what they say and do).
- Divorced women shall keep themselves in waiting for three menstrual courses, and it is not lawful for them, if they believe in God and the Last Day, to conceal what God has created in their wombs. In such time, their husbands have better right to take them back if they desire a settlement. According to customary good and religiously approvable practice, women have rights similar to those against them (that men have), but men (in respect of their heavier duty and responsibility) have a degree above them (which they must not abuse). And God is All-Glorious with irresistible might, All-Wise.
- Divorce is (to be) pronounced twice. Then (at the end of each pronounce- ment) the husband should either retain (his wife) without offending her honor and in a fair manner, or release (her) kindly and in a manner fairer and pleasing (to her). (In the event of divorce) it is not lawful for you to take back anything of what you have given them (as bridal-due or wedding gift, or gifts on other oc- casions), unless both fear that they might not be able to keep within the bounds set by God. If you fear that they might not be able to keep within the bounds set by God (and deviate into unlawful acts, particularly because of the wife’s disgust with the husband), there is no blame on them that the wife might pay some compensation to be released from the marriage tie. Those are the bounds set by God; therefore, do not exceed them. Whoever exceeds the bounds set by God, such are wrongdoers.
- If he divorces her (finally, for the third time), she will no longer be lawful to him unless she takes another husband in wedlock (of her own volition). (If she and her new husband do not get along well and) if he divorces her, there is no blame on them (the woman and her first husband, if they agree) to return to each other, if they think that they can keep within the bounds set by God. These are the bounds set by God; He makes them clear for a people who know (the wisdom and benefit in the bounds prescribed for them by their creator).
- And when you divorce women and they reach the end of their waiting term, then either retain them without offending their honor and in a fair man- ner, or release them without offending their honor and in a fair manner. Do not retain them to their hurt and to transgress (their rights). Whoever does that, surely he has wronged himself. Do not take God’s Revelations for a mockery (by not paying them due heed), and remember God’s favor on you and what He has sent down on you of the Book and the Wisdom, wherewith He exhorts you (to guidance). Keep from disobedience to God in due reverence for Him and piety, and know that God has full knowledge of everything.
- When you divorce women and they have reached the end of their wait- ing term, (then, you judges, and you who are guardians of either party,) do not debar them from marrying their (former) husbands, (and O former husbands of them), from marrying other men, if they have come to an agreement between them on equitable terms.152 This is an admonition to whoever among you truly believes in God and the Last Day; that is a cleaner and purer way for you. And God knows, and you do not know.153
- Islam makes divorce possible when it is established beyond doubt that the spouses cannot get along with each other and marriage has lost its meaning and function. Never- theless, as is clear in the verses, Islam makes the arrangement of divorce difficult inasmuch as the arrangement contains the opportunity for both spouses to re-think, and again re- think, their decision. Also, God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, said: “Of the permitted things, the most abhorrent to God is divorce.” (Abū Dâwūd, “Talaq,” 3)
Divorce initiated by the husband is in this way: he pronounces divorce at a time when his wife has no period. The wife then waits for three monthly courses, during which the husband is obliged to provide for her and may not force her to leave home. They may turn to each other during this period. If they do so, they do not have to renew the marriage contract. If they turn to each other after the end of this period, they do. The divorce may be pronounced a second time, but if it is repeated for the third time, they can no longer be reunited unless the woman first marries another man and then divorces or is divorced by him.
The wife also has a right to initiate divorce. If she feels disgust at her husband, and it is feared that either or both of them may deviate into unlawful ways, she can refer the matter to the judge and demand divorce. In the event of such a divorce, the woman pays something to the husband, whereas when the husband initiates divorce he cannot claim anything of what he gave her by way of dower or after marriage.
- For a brief outline of the status of women in Islam, see Appendix 4.
- Mothers (whether married or divorced) are to suckle their children for two complete years if the fathers wish that the period be completed. It is incumbent upon him who fathered the child to provide the mothers (during this period) with sustenance and clothing according to customary good and religiously ap- provable practice. But no soul is charged save to its capacity; a mother should not be made to suffer because of her child, nor the one who fathered the child because of his child. The same duty (toward the suckling mother) rests upon the heir (of a father who has died). If the couple desire by mutual consent and con- sultation to wean the child (before the completion of the two years’ period), then there is no blame on them. And if you desire to seek nursing for your children, there is no blame on you, provided you pay what is due from you according to customary good and religiously approvable practice. Keep from disobedience to God and try to act within the bounds of piety, and know that whatever you do, surely God sees it well.
- Those among you who die, leaving behind their wives: they (the wives) shall keep themselves in waiting for four months and ten days,154 (during which they should refrain from marrying and from self-adornment with a view to present- ing themselves for marriage). When they have reached the end of the waiting term, then there is no blame on you for what they may do by themselves within (the bounds of ) decency. God is fully aware of all that you do.
154. A pregnant widow is exempted from this rule. Her waiting period expires with child- birth, irrespective of whether the time between the husband’s death and the birth is shorter or longer than the waiting period here prescribed.
- There is no blame on you that (during this waiting period) you indicate a marriage proposal to such women or keep it hidden in yourselves. God knows that you will think of them (with such proposals in mind), but do not make any secret engagement with them, except that you speak it properly in decent words. Do not resolve on the marriage tie until the ordained term has come to its end. Know that God knows what is in your hearts, so be careful about Him; and know that God is All-Forgiving, All-clement (Who shows no haste in punishing).
- There is no blame on you if you divorce women (with whom you made a marriage contract,) while as yet you have not touched them nor appointed any marriage-portion for them. Yet, make some provision for them, the affluent ac- cording to his means, and the straitened according to his means – a provision according to customary good and religiously approvable practice, as a duty upon those devoted to doing good, aware that God is seeing them.
- If you divorce them before you have touched them, but have already ap- pointed for them a bridal-due, then (give them) half of what you appointed, unless they make remission and forgo it, or he in whose hand the marriage tie is makes remission (and pays the full amount). If you make remission, this is nearer and more suited to piety, and do not forget magnanimity among your- selves. Whatever you do, surely God sees it well.
- Be ever mindful and protective of the prescribed Prayers, and the Middle Prayer, and stand in the presence of God in utmost devotion and obedience.
- If you are exposed to danger (and it is impossible for you to perform the Prayer standing in a place, then pray) afoot or mounted. When you are secure, mention God (and establish the Prayer) as He has taught you what you did not know (of faith, Book, and the Prayer.)155
155. Having explained the rules for a happy family and social life, God rounds off this address by emphasizing the Prayer, for the Prayer has an indispensable function in the spiritual education of humanity. It instills the ideals of goodness and purity, and it nurtures the disposition to obey the ordinances of God; it fosters adherence to piety and religious seriousness; and it forbids indecency and iniquities (29: 45). The order to be ever-mindful and protective of the Prescribed Prayers gains even greater importance in the light of verse
- For a Muslim can in no wise neglect the Prayer. even in times of danger, one must perform it whether “afoot or mounted.” One can only postpone it during actual fighting on a battlefield.
There are different opinions on the “middle Prayer.” According to the majority of scholars, it is the Afternoon Prayer, i.e. ‘asr . Since this is the time of the day when daily work draws to its end, people may neglect the Prayer prescribed for this time. Being the third of the five daily Prayers, the Afternoon Prayer may also be the middle Prayer in that sense. However, given that, in the Islamic tradition, the day is usually considered to start after sunset, the third or middle Prayer could then be the Morning Prayer ( fajr ).
- Those of you who (are about to) die leaving behind wives should make testament in their favor of one year’s provision without expulsion. If they them- selves leave (of their own accord), there is no blame on you for what they may do of lawful deeds by themselves. Surely God is All-Glorious with irresistible might, All-Wise.
- Likewise, there should be a provision for the divorced women according to customary good and religiously approvable practice, as a duty upon the God- revering, pious.
- Thus does God make His Revelations (and signposts of His way) clear to you, that you may understand (where your benefit lies and act accordingly).
- Do you not call to mind those who went forth from their habitations for fear of death even though they were in thousands? God said to them “Die!”; then He restored them to life. Indeed God is gracious to humankind, but most of humankind do not give thanks.
- (Do not act in fear of death; rather,) fight in God’s cause, and know that God is All-Hearing, All-Knowing.
- Who is he that (by spending out of his wealth purely in God’s cause) lends to God a handsome loan that He will return after multiplying it for him mani- fold? God straitens (your means of livelihood), and He enlarges it; (in either case,) you are being returned to Him.
- Do you not consider what happened with the elders of the children of Israel after Moses: once they appealed to a Prophet chosen for them, saying: “Set up for us a king and we will fight in God’s cause.” He said: “Is it possible you would hold back from fighting, if fighting were prescribed for you?” They said: “Why should we not fight in God’s cause, when we have been driven from our habitations and our children?” But when fighting was prescribed for them, they did turn away, except a few of them. God has full knowledge of (such) wrongdoers.
- Their Prophet said to them: “God has set up Saul (Tālūt) for you as king." They said: “How can he have kingdom over us when we are more deserving of kingdom than him, seeing that he has not been given abundance of wealth?” He said: “God has chosen him over you and increased him abundantly in knowl- edge and physical power (so that he can execute his decrees). God bestows king- dom on whomever He wills, and God is All-embracing (with His mercy), All- Knowing.”
- Their Prophet added: “The sign of his kingdom is that the Ark will come to you, in which there is inward peace and assurance from your Lord, and a rem- nant of what the house of Moses and the house of Aaron left behind, the angels bearing it. Truly in that is a sign for you, if you are (true) believers.”
- And when Saul (Tālūt) set out with the army and said (to them): “God will put you to a test by (means of ) a river: whoever then drinks of it is not of my company, and whoever does not taste it, he is of my company; but forgiven will he be who takes thereof in the hollow of his hand. But they drank thereof, all save a few of them; and when he crossed it, he and those who believed with him (those who, with weak faith, took of the river in the hollow of their hands) said: “Today we have no power against Goliath and his forces.” But those who had certainty of their meeting with God and felt as if always standing in His Presence said: “Many a small company has overcome a numerous company by God’s leave.” God is with the patient and persevering.
- And when they went forth against Goliath and his forces, they prayed: “Our Lord, pour out upon us steadfastness, and set our feet firm, and help us to victory over the disbelieving people.”
- So they routed them by God’s leave, and David killed Goliath, and God granted him kingdom and Wisdom, and taught him of that which He willed. Were it not that God repelled people, some by means of others, the earth would surely be corrupted; but God is gracious for all the worlds.156
156. The event described in these verses, which reveals the wisdom in war as a reality of human history, and an important part of the dynamics of the believers’ prevailing over the unbelievers, was a turning-point in the history of the children of Israel. God had delivered them from the oppression of the Pharaohs in egypt and guided them toward Palestine. However, never inwardly free from the influence of their lives as slaves in egypt, their hearts had not revived spiritually. After many years spent in the desert, new generations brought up in the climate of Divine Revelation replaced the old ones. The verse 2: 243 may be referring to this fact.
After Moses, upon him be peace, they conquered Jericho under the leadership of the Prophet Joshua (Yūshâ), upon him be peace. Then came the period of the Judges, which lasted almost five centuries. During this period, the children of Israel sometimes got the upper hand over their enemies and sometimes lost ground to them. The event described in these verses happened during the period of Prophet Samuel, upon him be peace. The Israelites defeated the pagan Philistines and founded the greatest and most powerful state in their history. David, upon him be peace, became the first Prophet-caliph of this state.
The Ark referred to in 2: 248, was, as mentioned in various places in the Old Testament ( exodus , 25: 10–16, 40: 20–21; Deuteronomy , 10: 1–5; Joshua, 3: 3) and mentioned by some interpreters of the Qur’ân (see al-Qur t ubī), a wooden coffer containing the tablets on which the Torah was inscribed, and some “remnant of what the house of Moses and the house of Aaron left behind.” The Israelites carried it ahead of them in their marches in the desert and military campaigns. It was an emblem of their triumph. It had evidently been lost during the centuries following Moses, or it may have been captured by their enemies.
- Those are the Revelations of God and His signs (demonstrating Him with His Names and Attributes) that We recite to you in truth, for indeed you (O Muhammad) are one of the Messengers (sent with the Book and receiving Rev- elation).
- Of those Messengers, some We have exalted above others (in some re- spects). Among them are those to whom God spoke (in a peculiar fashion), and He raised some others in degrees. We granted Jesus son of Mary the clear proofs (of his Messengership), and confirmed him with the Spirit of Holiness. Had God willed (to deny humankind free will, and compelled them to act in a pre-determined way), those who came after them would not have fought one against the other after the most manifest truths had come to them; but they differed among themselves, some of them believing and some disbelieving. Yet had God so willed, they would not have fought one against the other, but God does whatever He wills.
- O you who believe! (So that you may enjoy solidarity and discipline, as a cohesive, peaceful community) spend (in God’s cause and for the needy) out of what We have provided for you (of wealth, power, and knowledge, etc.) before there comes a Day when there will be no trading nor friendship (which will bring any benefit), nor intercession (of the sort you resort to unjustly in the world). The unbelievers – it is they who are wrongdoers (those unable to discern the truth, who darken both their inner and outer world, and who wrong, first and most of all, themselves).
- God, there is no deity but He; the All-Living, the Self-Subsisting (by Whom all subsist). Slumber does not seize Him, nor sleep. His is all that is in the heavens and all that is on the earth. Who is there that will intercede with Him save by His leave? He knows what lies before them and what lies after them (what lies in their future and in their past, what is known to them and what is hidden from them); and they do not comprehend anything of His Knowledge save what He wills. His Seat (of dominion) embraces the heavens and the earth, and the preserving of them does not weary Him; He is the All- exalted, the Supreme.
- There is no compulsion in the Religion. The right way stands there clearly distinguished from the false. Hence, he who rejects the tāghūt (false deities, and powers of evil which institute patterns of faith and rule in defiance of God) and believes in God (as the only God, Lord and Object of Worship) has indeed taken hold of the firm, unbreakable handle; and God is All-Hearing, All-Knowing.
- God is the confidant and guardian of those who believe (to Whom they can entrust their affairs, and on Whom they can rely), bringing them out from all kinds of (intellectual, spiritual, social, economic and political) darkness into the light, and keeping them firm therein. And those who disbelieve, their confidants and guardians are the tāghūt; bringing them out from the light into all kinds of darkness.157 Those are companions of the Fire; and they will abide therein.
157. The verse may cause one to ask whether the unbelievers whom the t āghūt bring out from the light into all kinds of darkness were in the light. So this statement has been in- terpreted that, first, it came by way of comparison with the previous statement: God brings the believers out from all kinds of darkness into the light . Secondly, the Tāghūt call the believing people to darkness (unbelief, associating partners with God, transgression, etc.) and try to cause them to fall into it. Thirdly, as stated in a hadīth , everyone is born with a disposition to believe in God and submit to Him, but his parents (and environment) cause them to deviate (al-Bukhārī, “Janā’iz,” 80, 93). This is what the t āghūt do, that is, they strive to mislead generations.
- Do you not consider the one who remonstrated with Abraham about his Lord (in defiance of Him) because of the kingdom God had granted him? When Abraham said, “My Lord is He Who gives life and causes to die,” he retorted: “I give life and cause to die.” Said Abraham: “Surely God causes the sun to rise in the east, now you cause it to rise in the west.” Thus was the unbeliever utterly confounded.158 God does not guide (such) wrongdoing people.
158. This event (not recounted in the Bible) is told in the Talmud in considerable harmony with the Qur’ânic description. The exchange referred to must have taken place between the Prophet Abraham, upon him be peace, and the chaldaean king, Nimrod, who ruled at that time over Mesopotamia. According to the Talmud, the father of Abraham held a high office in the government of Nimrod. When Abraham, upon him be peace, began preaching taw h īd , belief in God’s Oneness, and smashed the idols in the temple, his father lodged a complaint against him before the king. This was followed by the conversation mentioned here.
All disbelieving peoples from the earliest times have either rejected God’s existence, being
materialists or atheists in a general sense, or associated partners with Him. Some of those who associate partners with God share out His absolute authority in the universe to physi- cal things (such as natural forces), nominal entities (such as the so-called “laws of nature”), or other things or beings (such as angels, spirits, and heavenly bodies). Some others who accept God’s universal authority nevertheless invent for themselves religions or systems for the direction of human life in all its aspects, and force others to obey them. They at- tempt to appropriate for themselves God’s absolute sovereignty in the human realm. As is understood from the verse, Nimrod associated himself as a partner with God in ruling the people in his kingdom. He desired absolute rule over them. For this reason, he stood utterly confounded when Abraham, upon him be peace, moved from giving and taking life in the particular field of humanity, to the universal field. The earth is a part of the universe, and humans are a part of all beings: whoever owns true sovereignty in the cosmic realm, must also own it in the human realm. Seeing that human beings regard themselves as being so powerful as to dispute with God concerning sovereignty, yet have no part (to say nothing of the creation and maintenance of the universe) in even their own coming into existence, the time and place of their birth and death, their family environment, the specific features and operation of their bodies, or the characteristics of their personalities, what falls on them is to submit to God’s authority. This is what the Prophet Abraham, upon him be peace, the breaker of idols, declared before the Pharaoh of his time; and it was universally pronounced and preached and inculcated in minds and hearts by his most illustrious descendant, the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings.
- Or (as another proof that it is God alone Who gives and takes life, and will restore life to the dead, call to mind) him who passed by a town that had fallen into utter ruin, and asked himself (in bewilderment): “How will God restore life to this town that is now dead?” So God made him remain dead for a hundred years and then raised him to life, and asked him: “How long did you remain in this state?” He said: “I remained so for a day or part of a day.” God said: “No, you have rather remained thus for a hundred years. But look at your food and drink: it has not spoiled; and look at your donkey! So We would make you a sign for the people (that they might understand how We have created them and will restore life to them after their death.). And look at the bones, how We will set them up, and then clothe them with flesh.” Thus when the truth became clear to him, he said: “I know that God has full power over everything.”
- And recall when Abraham said: “My Lord, show me how You will restore life to the dead!” God said: “Why? Do you not believe?” Abraham said: “Yes, but that my heart may be at rest.” He (his Lord) said: “Then take four of the birds (of different kinds), and tame them to yourself to know them fully. Then (cut them into pieces and mix the pieces with each other, and) put on every one of the hills a piece from each, and then summon them, and they will come to you flying. Know that surely God is All-Glorious with irresistible might, All-Wise.
- The parable of those who spend their wealth in God’s cause is like that of a grain that sprouts seven ears, and in every ear, there are a hundred grains.
God multiplies for whom He wills. God is All-embracing (with His mercy), All-Knowing.
- Those who spend their wealth in God’s cause and then do not follow up what they have spent with putting (the receiver) under obligation and taunting, their reward is with their Lord, and they will have no fear, nor will they grieve.
- A kind word and forgiving (people’s faults) are better than almsgiving fol- lowed by taunting. God is All-Wealthy and Self-Sufficient, (absolutely indepen- dent of the charity of people), All-clement (Who shows no haste in punish- ing.)
- O you who believe! Render not vain your almsgiving by putting (the receiv- er) under an obligation and taunting – like him who spends his wealth to show off to people and be praised by them, and believes not in God and the Last Day. The parable of his spending is that of a rock on which there is soil; a heavy rain falls upon it, and leaves it barren. They have no power (control) over what they have earned. God guides not such disbelieving people (to attain their goals).
- The parable of those who spend their wealth in pursuit of where God’s good pleasure lies and to make their hearts firmly established (in faith) is that of a garden on a hilltop: a heavy rain falls upon it, and it yields its produce twofold; even if no heavy rain falls upon it, yet a light shower suffices. Whatever you do, God sees it well.
- Would any of you wish to have a garden of palms and vines with rivers flowing in it, where he has all kinds of crops, and that, when old age has come upon him while he has offspring still too small (to look after their affairs), a fi- ery whirlwind should smite it, and it should be burnt up? Thus does God make clear to you the Revelations (and signs of truth), that you may reflect (on them and act accordingly).
- O you who believe! Spend (in God’s cause and for the needy) out of the pure, wholesome things you have earned and of what We have produced for you from the earth, and do not seek after the bad things to spend thereof (in alms and in God’s cause) when you would not take it save with disdain; and know that God is All-Wealthy and Self-Sufficient (absolutely independent of the charity of people), All-Praiseworthy (as your Lord, Who provides for you and all other beings and meets all your needs).
- Satan frightens you with poverty and bids you into indecencies, whereas God promises you forgiveness from Himself and bounty. God is All-embracing (with His mercy), All-Knowing.
- He grants the Wisdom159 to whomever He wills, and whoever is granted the Wisdom has indeed been granted much good. Yet none except people of discernment reflect and are mindful.
159. Although the term has a broad range of meanings, “the Wisdom” basically signifies knowledge of creation, life, right and wrong, and of the Divine system prevailing in the universe, so as to enable persuasive, convincing answers for such questions as, “Who am I? What is the purpose for my existence in this world? Who has sent me to this world and why? Where did I come from and where am I heading? What does death ask of me?” It also signifies the true nature of and purpose behind the things and events in the universe, including especially human life; in other words, it may be regarded, from one perspective, as harmony with Divine destiny or knowledge of it. The Qur’ān is the source of knowledge in all these vital matters. The Sunnah of the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, being the system or principles by which to understand and practice the Qur’ān in daily life, comes to mind first of all when speaking of “the Wisdom.”
Deceived by Satan, worldly people believe that it is the height of wisdom to be constantly concerned with saving out of one’s earnings and to be perpetually on the look-out for a higher income. But those granted wisdom aim at eternal happiness in the eternal world, which requires spending in God’s cause and giving to the needy for a balanced, happy social life.
- Whatever you spend (whether little or much, good or bad, in God’s cause or in the way of Satan) and whatever vow you make, God surely knows it. (even though they may regard their future as secured,) the wrongdoers have no helpers (with regard to their ultimate future).
- If you dispense your alms openly, it is well, but if you conceal it and give it to the poor (in secret), this is better for you; and God will (make it an atonement to) blot out some of your evil deeds. God is fully aware of all that you do.
- (O Messenger! Your mission is to communicate all such commandments, so) it is not your duty to secure their guidance (in every matter); but God guides whomever He wills. (O people,) whatever good you spend (in charity and other good causes) is to your own benefit, and (as believers) you do not spend but in search of God’s “Face” (seeking to be worthy of His approval). Whatever good you spend will be repaid to you in full, and you will not be wronged.
- That (which you spend) is for the poor who, having dedicated themselves to God’s cause, are in distressed circumstances. They are unable to move about the earth (to render service in God’s cause and earn their livelihood). Those who are unaware (of their circumstances) suppose them wealthy because of their abstinence and dignified bearing, but you will know them by their countenance
- they do not beg of people importunately. And whatever good you spend, surely God has full knowledge of it.
- Those who spend their wealth night and day, secretly and in public, their reward is with their Lord, and they will have no fear, nor will they grieve.
- As to those who devour interest, (even though they seem, for a time, to be making a profit), they turn out like one whom Satan has bewitched and con- founded by his touch, (and they will rise up from their graves in the same way before God). That is because they say interest is just like trading, whereas God has made trading lawful, and interest unlawful.160 To whomever an instruction comes from his Lord, and he desists (from interest), he may keep his past gains (legally), and his affair is committed to God (– if he repents sincerely and never again reverts to taking interest, he may hope that God will forgive him). But whoever reverts to it (by judging it to be lawful), they are companions of the Fire; therein they will abide.
160. As with the implementation of other Islamic injunctions, interest was forbidden gradually, and all kinds of interest transactions were utterly stopped during the Farewell Pilgrimage, just three months before the death of God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings. Bediüzzaman Said Nursi writes on interest very succinctly as follows:
The cause of all revolutions and social corruption, and the root of all moral failings, are these two attitudes:
- First: I do not care if others die of hunger so long as my own stomach is full.
- Second: You must bear the costs of my ease – you must work so that I may eat.
The cure for the first attitude is the obligation of the Zakâh , the Purifying Alms prescribed by the Qur’ân. The cure for the second attitude is the prohibition of all interest transac- tions. The justice of the Qur’ân stands at the door of the world and turns away interest, proclaiming: “No! You have no right to enter.” Humankind did not heed this prohibition and have suffered terrible blows in consequence. Let them heed it now to avoid still greater suffering ( The Words, “the 25 th Word,” 427–428).
As will be seen in the following verses, the Qur’ân is extremely strict on interest, so much so that regarding it as lawful amounts to persistence in unbelief and sin, and still taking interest while regarding it as unlawful because of God’s prohibition of it amounts to war- ring with God and His Messenger.
Interest is the principal mechanism for the concentration of wealth, for making the rich richer and the poor poorer. The present state of the world, where the poor countries are crushed under the burden of loans to the rich ones, and the rich people live off the poor, is an example of this. Interest is the means for the maintenance of oppression both on a world scale and within a country. In addition to the corruption it causes in the economy, by its very nature, interest breeds meanness, selfishness, apathy and cruelty towards oth- ers. It leads to the worship of money, to the valuing of it for its own sake, and it destroys fellow-feeling and the spirit of altruistic cooperation among people. Thus, it is ruinous for humankind from both an economic and a moral viewpoint.
When Islam is fully applied, there is no need for interest-based loans and transactions. Islamic economics encourages partnership-based investment, in which participants share directly in the profit or loss of a venture, and mutual helping, cooperation and altruism. The prohibition of interest reduces the cost of such ventures, and also suppresses infla- tion. Money is a means of exchanging goods. To make money itself a subject of (what is in practice) risk-free trade is irrational and exploitative, and it generates a host of essentially parasitic attitudes and activities.
- God deprives interest (which is thought to increase wealth) of any bless- ing, and blights it, but makes alms-giving (which is thought to decrease wealth) productive. God does not love any obstinate unbeliever (who regards what God has made lawful as unlawful, or vice versa), any obstinate sinner.
- Those who believe and do good, righteous deeds, and establish the Prayer in conformity with its conditions, and pay the Prescribed Purifying Alms, their reward is with their Lord, and they will have no fear, nor will they grieve.
- O you who believe! Keep from disobedience to God and try to attain piety in due reverence for Him, and give up what remains (due to you) from interest, if you are (in truth) believers.
- If you do not (and you persist in taking interest, whether regarding it as lawful or not) be warned of war from God and His Messenger. If you sincerely repent (and give up all interest transactions completely), you will have your prin- cipal. Then you will neither be doing wrong nor being wronged.
- If the debtor is in straitened circumstances, let him have respite until the time of ease; if you make any remission (of his debt) by way of charity, this is better for you, if only you knew.
- And guard yourselves against a Day in which you will be brought back to God (with all your deeds referred to His judgment). Then every soul will be repaid in full what it has earned (while in the world), and they will not be wronged.
- O you who believe! When you contract a debt between you for a fixed term, record it in writing. Let a scribe write it down between you justly, and let no scribe refuse to write it down: as God has taught him (through the Qur’ān and His Messenger), so let him write. And let the debtor dictate, and let him avoid disobeying God, his Lord (Who has created him and brought him up with mercy and grace) and curtail no part of it. If the debtor be weak of mind or body, or incapable of dictating, let his guardian dictate justly. And call upon two (Muslim) men among you as witnesses. If two men are not there, then let there be one man and two women,161 from among those of whom you approve
as witnesses, that if either of the two women errs (through forgetfulness), the other may remind her. Let the witnesses not refuse when they are summoned (to give evidence). And (you, O scribes) be not loath to write down (the contract), whether it be small or great, with the term of the contract. Your doing so (O you who believe), is more equitable in the sight of God, more upright for testimony, and more likely that you will not be in doubt. If it be a matter of buying and selling concluded on the spot, then there will be no blame on you if you do not write it down; but do take witnesses when you settle commercial transactions with one another, and let no harm be done to either scribe or witness (nor let either of them act in a way to injure the parties). If you act (in a way to harm either party, or the scribe and witnesses), indeed it will be transgression on your part. (Always) act in due reverence for God and try to attain piety. God teaches you (whatever you need in life, and the way you must follow in every matter); God has full knowledge of everything.
161. The reason why the Qur’ân demands two women in place of one man in commercial transactions is straightforward. It does not at all mean that the Qur’ân regards a woman as half of a man. For what is important here is not the relative status of women or men but reliability, justice and equity in business transactions, particularly transactions involving debt.
Typically, across the diverse cultures in the world, men engage in business more than wom- en, and men are directly responsible for the livelihood of the family. Furthermore—again, typically (but not always)—women are more emotional than men and more susceptible to forgetting. Accordingly, it is reasonable to expect that, in matters wherein they are not typi- cally engaged, women may be more susceptible to erring or forgetting than men. Of course, there will always be some women with a keener memory than some men, and some men more emotional than some women. However, rather than exceptions, the norm and the typical majority are considered in matters relating to institutions for the community.
Islam does not demand two women in place of one man in all cases of bearing testimony. For example, whether it be a wife or husband, whoever accuses his/her spouse of adultery, he or she must swear by God four times. Likewise, there is no difference between a man and woman in scanning the sky and bearing testimony to seeing the crescent, in order to establish whether a lunar month has begun or ended. In addition, the testimony of two women is not sought in place of a man in the matters in which women have greater knowl- edge or specialty than men.
It is of considerable significance that this verse contains the rules necessary for the estab- lishment of the office of “notary public.” It is one of the many proofs for the universality of the Qur’ân, for its being timeless, that it established these rules at a time when, and for a society in which, there were few who knew how to read and write, and there was almost no paper to write on. These rules are based on justice, equity, ensuring accuracy in testimony, and removing all doubts concerning the terms of the transaction, thus reducing the poten- tial for future disagreement.
- If you are (in circumstances like being) on a journey and cannot find a scribe, then a pledge in hand will suffice. But if you trust one another, let him (the debtor) who is trusted fulfill his trust, and let him act in piety and keep from disobedience to God, his Lord (by fulfilling the conditions of the con- tract). And do not conceal the testimony; he who conceals it, surely his heart (which is the center of faith) is contaminated with sin. God has full knowledge of what you do.
- To God belongs all that is in the heavens and the earth; whether you reveal what is within yourselves (of intentions, plans) or keep it secret, God will call you to account for it. He forgives whom He wills (either from His grace, or His grace responding to the repentance of the sinful), and He punishes whom He wills (as a requirement of His justice). God has full power over everything.
- The Messenger believes in what has been sent down to him from his Lord, and so do the believers; each one believes in God, and His angels, and His Books, and His Messengers: “We make no distinction between any of His Mes- sengers (in believing in them).” And they say: “We have heard (the call to faith in God) and (unlike some of the people of Moses) obeyed. Our Lord, grant us Your forgiveness, and to You is the homecoming.”
- (O believers, if you are worried that God will take every soul to account even for what the soul keeps within it of intentions and plans, know that) God burdens no soul except within its capacity: in its favor is whatever (good) it earns, and against it whatever (evil) it merits. (So, pray thus to your Lord:) “Our Lord, take us not to task if we forget or make mistakes. Our Lord, lay not on us a burden such as You laid on those gone before us.162 Our Lord, impose not on us what we do not have the power to bear. And overlook our faults, and forgive us, and have mercy upon us. You are our Guardian and Owner (to Whom We entrust our affairs and on Whom we rely) so help us and grant us victory against the disbelieving people!”163
- The burden laid upon the previous communities was required by the education they had to receive according to the time and conditions, and to their disposition. (Also see sūrah 7, note 38.)
- The last two verses were revealed to God’s Messenger during the Ascension. It is a highly meritorious Sunnah act to recite them before going to bed every night. The Mes- senger advises parents to teach them to their children.