Sūrat al-A‘rāf was revealed in Makkah and consists of 206 verses. It takes its title from the word al- a‘rāf , which occurs in verses 46 and
48. Al-A‘rāf is the heights between Paradise and Hell. Following Sūrat al-An‘ām , which discusses the Oneness of God and other essentials of faith, this sūrah also is concerned with the same themes, as well as focusing on the basis of human nature and the lives of some of the Messengers. It dwells on the consequences, in both this and the next world, of following the way of belief in God’s Oneness, or of following polytheism.
- Alif. Lām. Mīm. Sād.
- This is a Book sent down to you (O Messenger) – so let there be no tightness in your breast in respect of it (in conveying it to people and fearing that they may not believe in it) – that thereby you may warn (people against any devia- tion), and as an admonition and advice to the believers.
- Follow what has been sent down to you (O humankind) from your Lord, and do not follow as confidants and guardians other than Him. How little you reflect and take heed!
- How many a township We have destroyed (because they did not pay heed to Our warning). Our scourge fell upon them at night, or when they were taking their ease in the noontime.
- And there was no appeal from them when Our scourge fell upon them, except for their saying: “Indeed, we have been wrongdoers.”
- So We will surely question those to whom Messengers were sent (as to how they responded to them), and We will surely question those sent with Our Mes- sage (concerning their duty of conveying it and how their peoples reacted to it).
- Then We will surely narrate to them (the full account of their worldly lives) with (full, accurate) knowledge; We were not absent (while they were doing their deeds, and so we have a perfect record).
- The weighing on that Day shall be the truth (complete and accurate), and he whose scales (of good deeds) are heavy – they will be the prosperous.
- And he whose scales are light (because they have no acceptable good deeds) – they will be those who have ruined their own selves because they were unjust to Our Revelations and signs (in both the universe and themselves).
- Indeed, We have established you on the earth (O humankind, endowed you with great potential) and arranged for your livelihood in it. Scarcely do you give thanks!1
- When we look about the earth and at the universe from the earth, we can easily see what great bounties humankind have been endowed with. The earth has been prepared for humankind, and we have been endowed with what is necessary to live on the earth, being equipped in a way that will satisfy both our material needs and all our outer and inner senses. Furthermore, not only the earth, but the heavens with the sun, the moon, and the stars are at the service of the earth and humankind, even though the earth is no bigger than a dot when compared to the heavens. Humans have an innate tendency to thank anyone who does them some good, so how ungrateful it would be not to give thanks to God Who has spread before us the earth like a table and made the universe a palace in which we can reside. Giving thanks to God is based on acknowledging that whatever humankind has, and whatever we acquire in our earthly life, is from God, and to follow the way He has established for us. Thankfulness, which we can say consists largely of belief and worship in all its forms, is a duty to be performed not for the sake of a future reward, but in return for the bounties already granted. That is, belief and worship are not a cause for God to give further rewards to humankind, like eternal bliss in Paradise; rather, they are a duty required by the bounties which have already been granted. eternal bliss in Paradise is only given out of God’s grace and mercy. For this reason, the Qur’ān expresses the attitude of those who have entered Paradise as being, All praise and gratitude are for God, the Lord of the worlds
! (39: 75); this is felt in their hearts and emerges as speech from their mouths.
- We brought you into existence, then We gave you each a form (perfectly suited to your nature), and then We said to the angels (to signify that they affirm the degree of knowledge and superiority of Adam and his deserving vicegerency, and that they will help him to perform his duty on the earth): “Prostrate before Adam!” They all prostrated, but Iblīs did not; he was not of those who pros- trated.
- He (God) said: “What prevented you from prostrating, when I commanded you to do so?” Iblīs said: “I am better than he, for You have created me from fire, and him You have created from clay.”
- (God) said: “Then go down from it; it is not for you to act haughtily there! So be gone! Surely you are of the degraded.”
- (Iblīs) said: “Grant me respite till the Day when they are raised from the dead.”
- (God) said: “You shall be among the ones (humankind) granted respite (so
long as they remain on the earth).”
- (Iblīs) continued: “Now that You have allowed me to rebel and go astray, I will surely lie in wait for them on Your Straight Path (to lure them from it).
- “Then I will come upon them from before them and from behind them, and from their right and from their left.2 And You will not find most of them thankful.”
- That is:
- I will come upon them from before them, and sow in them worry and hopelessness concerning their future; I will invite them not to pay the Zakāh or do any supereroga- tory forms of charity in fear of becoming poor; I will urge them to hoard their wealth; I will provoke them to disbelieve in the Hereafter and show them a dark future; I will present to them the way of the Prophets as reactionary and regressive; and I will call them into valleys of misguidance through the promises I make to them about their future.
- I will come upon them from behind them, and show them the past as a dark cemetery; and by showing them both the past and the present as dark, I will drive them to pes- simism and distress after distress; I will incite them to turn away from the way of the Prophets, and to condemn and reject their past while following this way, encouraging them to revive their former (ancient) past, when they had worshipped many so-called deities and had lived a corrupt life of sheer ignorance, and to see all this as progress.
- I will come upon them from their right and show them their religious devotions as being perfect, driving them to ostentation, self-pride, and to the desire that their reli- gious life be known and praised by others, thereby causing all their good deeds to go to waste. I will also provoke them to attach more importance to secondary matters in religion, while neglecting the essentials, thus provoking them to disagree and causing conflict. Again, I will cause them to use religion for their worldly interests and ambi- tions, and for the satisfaction of their carnal desires, but will whisper to them that they do so for the sake of religion, and try my best in order that they may go to the Hereafter devoid of any good deeds.
- I will come upon them from their left, and incite them to reject God’s existence, the Hereafter, and other essentials of faith, and to search different systems of belief or ideology; I will urge them to struggle and even fight against God’s religion and those who follow it; I will invite them to dive into the swamp of sins, such as adultery, prostitution, drinking alcohol, and gambling and similar games of chance; I will pro- voke them to unlawful transactions, like bribery, usury, corruption, theft, robbery, and deception, and other forms of wrong, such as injustice, oppression, murder, disrespect to parents, and the violation of basic human rights, and I will call them to present all these under the titles of justice, peace, humanism, progress, and civilization, etc.
- He (God) said: “Go away from there, disgraced and disowned! Those of them that follow you, surely I will fill Hell with you all!”
- (To Adam, He said): “O Adam! Dwell, you and your spouse, in the Garden, and eat (of the fruits) thereof where you desire, but do not approach this tree, or
you will both be among the wrongdoers.”
- Then Satan made an evil suggestion to both of them that he might reveal to them their private parts that had remained hidden from them (and waken their carnal impulses), and he said: “Your Lord has forbidden you this tree only lest you should become sovereigns, or lest you should become immortals.”
- And he swore to them: “Truly, I am for you a sincere adviser.”
- Thus he led them on by delusion; and when they tasted the tree, their pri- vate parts (and all the apparently shameful, evil impulses in their creation) were revealed to them, and both began to cover themselves with leaves from the Gar- den. And their Lord called out to them: “Did I not prohibit you from that tree, and did I not say to you that Satan is a manifest enemy to you?”3
- The relationship between Adam or humankind and Iblīs or/and Satan, some of the im- portant points of which were mentioned in Sūrat al-Baqarah (verses 34–39, notes 34–44), is narrated here with further details that are related to the main topic of this sūrah . In order to be able to understand the nature of humanity and its earthly life well, this relationship should be made clear. The main aspects of this relationship can be summed up as follows:
- Although they have free will, however weak it may be, the angels do not have the capacity to do evil, while Satan is a being who has completely lost his capacity to do good. contrary to this, human beings have the capacity to do both good and evil because of our dual nature that arises from our belonging to both the physical and the metaphysical realm and our having both spiritual, or angelic, and satanic, dimen- sions. However, evil means destruction; the absence of only one part of something will suffice for its destruction; good means existence, and the existence of something is dependent upon the existence of all of its parts. Therefore, humanity can cause great destruction and can even excel Satan in doing harm, yet we have very little power or ability to do good. We need help and support in doing good, and this is why God has established senses that ask for help and support in our hearts. These senses lead humankind to God.
- The dual nature of humankind and our being equipped with free will are the reasons why our inner world is an arena of struggle between good and evil. We feel the two opposing calls or invitations, one coming from God and the angels, the other coming from Satan and carnal, evil-commanding soul. Real humanity lies in this struggle. Since the angels have no capacity to do evil and, therefore, do not struggle with any inherent evil force, they do not progress spiritually; their stations are fixed. But the hu- man struggle with evil forces stimulates the potential of humankind and causes us to progress both scientifically and spiritually. For this reason, this struggle is the engine that powers the spiritual evolution of human beings.
- What caused Satan to be excluded from God’s mercy was his arrogance and vanity. Like many modern people, he thought that superiority lay in physical composition and opposed God’s command. He insisted on his defiance and tried to excuse himself for it. This caused him to lose his ability to reform himself and forced him to be sub- jected to eternal condemnation. In contrast, Adam and eve felt immediate remorse
after their lapse and pleaded with God for forgiveness. This teaches us that we must repent and ask God for forgiveness for any evil we have committed. In order to be able to do this, we must understand our innate poverty and helplessness before God, and we must be able to comprehend how always we need His help and support. We must also abandon all arrogance and be humble.
- We must always be on the alert against the seductions of the satans found among humankind and the jinn, and we must never give in to their invitations.
- They said (straightaway): “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!”
- He said: “Go down, (all of you,) (and henceforth you will live a life,) some of you being the enemies of the others. There shall be for you on the earth a habitation and provision until an appointed time.”
- He said: “You will live there, and there you will die, and from it you will be brought forth (on the Day of Resurrection).”
- O children of Adam! Assuredly We have sent down on you a garment4 to cover your private parts, and garments for adornment. However, (remember that) the garment of piety and righteousness – it is the best of all.5 That is from God’s signs, that they may reflect and be mindful.
- The use of the phrase “sending down” for the things human beings need in life, such as garments and, as appears later in the Qur’ān (57: 25), iron, means that these are all bounties of God which He has created especially for the benefit of humankind.
- We cover our private parts and the whole of our body with other garments, but the gar- ment of piety and righteousness transforms the apparently negative elements and impulses in our nature and channels them into means of virtues that adorn us.
- children of Adam! Never let Satan seduce you (and cause you to fail in simi- lar trials) as he caused your (ancestral) parents to be driven out of the Garden, pulling off from them their garment and revealing to them their private parts (and the carnal impulses ingrained in them). He sees you, he and his host (see you), from where you do not see them. We have made satans the confidants and fellow-criminals of those who do not believe.
- And whenever they commit an indecency, they say (attempting to excuse themselves): “We found our fathers doing that (and follow in their footsteps), and this is what God has enjoined upon us.” Say: “Indeed, God does not enjoin indecency. Or is it that you speak about God things you have no knowledge of?”
- Say: “My Lord enjoins right and justice.” Turn toward Him your faces (i.e.
your whole being) whenever you rise to perform the Prayer, and call upon Him, sincere in your faith in Him and practising the Religion for His sake. As He initiated you (in existence), so to Him you are returning.
- A party He has guided (to the right way), and for another party straying in error is their just due: they have taken satans, rather than God, for confidants, supporters, and guardians, yet they suppose that they are rightly-guided.6
- The last two verses, especially the sentences, As He initiated you (in existence), so to Him you are returning , and, A party He has guided (to the right way), and for another party straying in error is their just due , indicate significant truths:
- While all creatures have an archetypal existence in God’s Knowledge, Destiny de- termines their nature, and (the Divine) Power clothes them in the kind of existence that is peculiar to each. Being transferred from one world to another and clothed in the physical existence of this world, humankind has started on the road that leads to the Hereafter; this journey started when we first stepped into this world. Humans will be stripped of the garment of the body when they die and will be raised into an- other realm on the Resurrection Day, when this world will be destroyed and re-built. The world of every one in this new realm will be built upon his or her deeds in this world.
- In addition to indicating this journeying of humankind, that consists of coming down from high, transcendental worlds and of ascending toward the same worlds, the ex- pression, As He initiated you (in existence), so to Him you are returning , also alludes to the fact that time progresses not linearly, but in cycles, just like the earth, the sun and the solar system, that go onward or progress in orbit, each around itself. This expression also refers to the fact that day and night, winter and spring, winter or night-like periods, and spring or day-like periods exist in the lives of individuals and communities, one progressing after the other.
- The sentence, A party He has guided (to the right way), and for another party stray- ing in error is their just due , teaches that guidance to the right way is from God, but it is the persons themselves that cause straying. This is because guidance means existence and construction. The existence of something depends on the existence of all its parts. Therefore, human beings are totally incapable of creating the conditions necessary for guidance and in dire need of God and His help for their guidance. In contrast, to stray or be misguided means non-existence and destruction. Seeing that the destruction of something is possible by the destruction or non-existence of one of its parts, humanity can outstrip the satans in destruction. So, in order to be saved from destruction and straying, human beings also need the help of God, and should never give up taking care or practicing self-criticism. Bediüzzaman Said Nursi gives us a golden criterion in this respect: “Take asking God for forgiveness for your sins in one of your hands, and prayer in the other. Asking for forgiveness severs evils and sins from their roots, while prayer encourages doing good.” That is, a person should always ask God for forgiveness for his or her sins and pray to Him, while also trying to be saved from sins and evils.
- O children of Adam! Dress cleanly and beautifully for every act of worship; and (without making unlawful the things God has made lawful to you) eat
and drink, but do not be wasteful (by over-eating or consuming in unnecessary ways): indeed, He does not love the wasteful.
- Say: “Who is there to make unlawful the beautiful things (obtained from plants, animals and minerals) that God has brought forth for His servants, and the pure, wholesome things from among the means of sustenance?” Say: “They are for (the enjoyment of ) the believers in the life of the world (without exclud- ing others), and will be exclusively theirs on the Day of Resurrection.” Thus, We set out in detail Our signs (showing Our way) and Revelations for a people seeking knowledge.7
7. Great misunderstandings and incorrect behavior have been caused by the fact that some specific matters are generalized. One of these matters is the categorical condemnation of the world and the concept of asceticism.
Human beings have the function or duty to be vicegerents on the earth. This function or duty entails the right to interfere with things within the bounds (the ecological equilibrium and the universal laws of “nature”) set up by God and to improve the earth, ruling on it in the name of God according to the laws He has established. It goes without saying that this duty falls on, first of all, the believers. The denial of God, or irreligion, severs the link between God and human beings, turning humans into the kind of beings that shed blood and cause unrest on the earth. Since the maintenance of human existence in the world depends on there being a formidable group of believers that has the potential to bear the Divine Trust, the Divine bounties on the earth belong, first of all, to these people, and it is their duty to administer and distribute the same justly among people. This means it is the believers’ right to make use of the bounties on the earth within the limits established by Islam, and it is their duty to administer and distribute these bounties justly among people, and to thank God in return. However, it is forbidden for them to go beyond the lawful limits in benefiting from these bounties, and to make eating and drinking the goal of their lives. Over-consumption not only causes competition and conflict over the things that are eaten and drunk, it also means that the accumulated energy of human beings is being spent without measure, causing some destructive sins, such as adultery and prostitution. If one is inclined to overindulge in eating and drinking, then one is more likely to seek the gratifica- tion of other desires in an indulgent manner. So, in order to protect against such destruc- tion, individuals can seek shelter in asceticism, and it is even advisable that they do so. But the Muslim community cannot leave the earthly bounties and their administration and distribution to others in the name of asceticism. As Bediüzzaman puts it, believers must not set their hearts on the world, but they must work and earn to maintain themselves, uphold the Word of God, and spend in God’s cause.
- Say: “My Lord has made unlawful only indecent, shameful deeds (like for- nication, adultery, prostitution, and homosexuality), whether those of them that are apparent and committed openly or those that are committed secretly; and any act explicitly sinful;8 and insolence and offenses (against the Religion, life, personal property, others’ chastity, and mental and bodily health), which is open- ly unjustified; and (it is also forbidden) that you associate partners with God, for
which He has sent no authority at all, and that you speak against God the things about which you have no sure knowledge.9
8. examples of explicitly sinful acts are consuming intoxicants, blood, carrion, the flesh of swine; taking part in games of chance, bribery, usurpation, corruption, and theft; etc.
9. See also 5: 3, and 6: 151–152.
- And (know that) for every community, there is a term appointed (by God considering their free will); and when the end of the term falls, they can neither delay it by a single moment, nor can they hasten it.10
10. This verse does not mean that an absolute determinism prevails in history. Rather, the Qur’ān sees human beings as the “motor” of history, contrary to the fatalistic approaches of some nineteenth century Western historical philosophies, such as dialectical material- ism and historicism. Such philosophies assert that time and conditions direct human his- tory, and the only thing that people must do is to keep up with the stream of time, which progresses independently of human will. However, according to the Qur’ān, just as every individual’s will and behavior determines the outcome of his or her life in this world and in the Hereafter, a society’s progress or decline is determined by the will, world-view, and lifestyle of its inhabitants. The Qur’ān says (13: 11): God does not change the condition of a people unless they change what is in themselves (their beliefs, world-view, and lifestyle)
. In other words, each society holds the reins of its fate in its hands. A prophetic Tradition emphasizes this idea: “You will be ruled according to how you are” (al-Hindī, 6: 89). There- fore, this verse should be viewed in the light of human free will in its relationship with the Divine eternal Will, and in other verses and our explanations that concern it (see sūrah 2: 20, note 13; sūrah 4, note 18; sūrah 5: 40, note 8; sūrah 6: 39, 112, 137, note: 8). Since God is absolutely independent of time and sees everything, witnessing all times as if they were no more than one point, He cannot be viewed in terms of the past, the present, or the future. His Will is, in some respect, identical with His Knowledge, and every event takes place according to the law of cause and effect, which His Will has appointed. Therefore, the verse mentions a phenomenon, rather than a compelling, determining law. The verses to come will clarify the matter.
- O children of Adam! (As to your earthly life, the term of which has already been appointed, We have decreed): Whenever there come to you Messengers from among yourselves, relating to you My Revelations, then whoever keeps from disobedience to Me and them so as to deserve My protection and mends his ways, thus acting for the general peace in the community, they will have no fear, nor will they grieve.
- But those who deny Our Revelations and turn arrogantly from them, they are the companions of the Fire, and therein they will abide.
- Who is more in wrong than he who fabricates falsehood in attribution to God and denies His Revelations and signs (in the universe and their selves)?
Their full portion of God’s decree (concerning life and providence) will reach them, until Our envoys (angels assigned for this duty) come to them to take their souls, and say: “Where, now, are those beings whom you have deified and invoked apart from God?” They say: “They have failed us,” and thus bear witness against themselves that they were (always) unbelievers.
- He (God) says: “enter in company with the communities of jinn and hu- mankind that went before you into the Fire!” every time a community enters the Fire, it curses its fellow-community (that went before it) – so much so that, when they all have gathered there one after another, those who came later say of those who came earlier: “Our Lord! Those are the ones who led us astray: give them, therefore, double suffering through fire!” He (God) says: “For each is double (since those who went earlier both strayed themselves and led others astray, and those who came later both strayed themselves and imitated the oth- ers blindly), but you do not know.”
- Then the preceding ones among them say to the succeeding ones: “You are in no wise superior to us, so taste the punishment for all (the sins) that you were busy earning (through your belief and deeds)!”
- Those who deny Our Revelations and turn arrogantly from them – for them, the gates of Heaven will indeed not be opened (i.e. God will not accept even their good deeds) and they will enter Paradise no further than a camel can pass through the eye of a needle. Thus do We recompense the disbelieving crimi- nals.
- For them is a bed of Hellfire and, over them, is a covering (of the same fire).11 Thus do We recompense the wrongdoers.
11. Using an extraordinarily eloquent style, the verse implies that those described are fond of lying in comfortable beds under comfortable coverings. One’s recompense is given in the same form as the crime. Those fond of lying in comfortable beds are also fond of eating and entertainment, and give in to their sexual impulses. Here we can remember the Prophetic saying, “concerning my community, I fear a large stomach, oversleeping, idleness and a lack of certainty” (al-Hindī, 3: 460). In addition to being an obstacle to believing, such a life also impinges on the rights of others. It is significant that the verse depicts these people as wrongdoers. They wrong both others and their own selves.
- But those who believe and do good, righteous deeds – We do not burden any soul beyond its capacity – they are the companions of Paradise; and therein they will abide.
- We will strip away whatever is in their bosoms of rancor and any jealousy (they may have felt against other believers while in the world). Rivers flowing
beneath them (and themselves overflowing with gratitude), they say: “All praise and gratitude are for God, Who has guided us to this (prosperity as a result of the guidance with which He favored us in the world). If God had not guided us, we would certainly not have found the right way. The Messengers of our Lord did indeed come with the truth.” And a voice calls to them: “That is the Paradise that you have been made to inherit in return for what you used to do (in the world).”
- And the companions of Paradise call out to the companions of the Fire: “Now we have found what our Lord promised us to be true. Have you (also) found true what your Lord promised you?” They say, “Yes!” And an announcer announces among them: “God’s curse (rejection and condemnation) is the due of all wrongdoers!”
- (The wrongdoers are) those who bar people from God’s way and seek to make it crooked; and they are persistent unbelievers in the Hereafter.
- And between the two, there is a barrier, and on the Heights (between Para- dise and Hell) are some men,12 recognizing each by their countenances. They
- not yet entering Paradise, but longing for it – call out to the companions of Paradise: “Peace be upon you!”
12. Some interpreters of the Qur’ān are of the opinion that those men mentioned are Prophets and other beloved servants of God who have drawn near to Him. Others defend the idea that they are the believers whose good and bad deeds are equal and who, therefore, expect God’s forgiveness. Fethullah Gülen, a contemporary Turkish scholar and activist, of- fers a good explanation: “Whatever misfortune happens to a believer, it serves as a means of forgiveness for some of his or her sins. God forgives some of His believing servants’ sins by making them suffer death pangs; some by making them suffer in the grave; some through tribulations in the Plain of Supreme Gathering; some while their deeds are being weighed; and there are still those who remain whose sins are to be forgiven by being kept on the Heights of the wall between Paradise and Hell. So, those people mentioned in this verse may be the believers whose remaining sins will be forgiven by being kept between Paradise and Hell, in suspense and fear of being thrown in Hell, while they also expect God’s for- giveness and admission to Paradise.” ( Tereddütler , 4: 133–136) God knows best.
- And when their eyes are turned towards the companions of Hell, they say (in dread of that state): “Our Lord! Do not include us among the people of the wrongdoing!”
- The people of the Heights call out to some men (who were the leaders of unbelief in the world, and) whom they recognize by their marks (on their coun- tenances), saying: “(Now you see that) neither your numbers and the wealth you amassed nor your growing arrogance and vanity have availed you!”
- (Pointing to the companions of Paradise, they continue): “Are those not the ones of whom you swore that God would not favor them with mercy?” (For now it is they who have been told:) “enter Paradise; you will have no fear, nor will you grieve.”
- And the companions of the Fire call out to the companions of Paradise: “Pour out some water upon us, or something of what God has provided for you!” They say: “Indeed God has forbidden both to the unbelievers.”
- (The unbelievers are) those who took their Religion (the one appointed for them by God) for a play and pastime (and have made play and fun their own religion), and present, worldly life deluded them. So We are oblivious of them today (concerning forgiveness and favoring), as they were oblivious of the en- counter of this Day of theirs, and were obstinately rejecting Our Revelations.
- Assuredly We have brought them a Book (the meaning and command- ments of ) which We set out in detail with knowledge, as guidance and mercy for people who will believe and who have already believed.
- Are they waiting but for the final end of the call to that Book? On the Day when this end comes, those, who until then have been oblivious of it, say: “The Messengers of our Lord assuredly came with the truth (but we did not pay heed.) Have we, then, any intercessors who will now intercede on our behalf? Or can we be returned (to the world) that we might do otherwise than we used to do (when we were in the world)? They have certainly ruined their selves and what they fabricated (of false deities) has failed them.
- Indeed your Lord is God, Who has created the heavens and the earth in six days, then He has established Himself on the Supreme Throne, covering the day with the night, each pursuing the other swiftly, with the sun, the moon, and the stars obedient to His command. Know well that His is the creation and His is the command. Blessed and Supreme is God, the Lord of the worlds.13
13. This verse and those that follow show humans traveling in the outer world and their inner world to demonstrate to them God’s absolute dominion. A person first focuses on his or her own private world. It is God, our Lord, Who creates all of us with all our features, and nourishes us and governs our lives and bodies. The verse, therefore, draws our attention to this fact, and, therefore, we must accept Him as our Lord Who has the right to direct us in all aspects of our lives. Then, it has us travel in the outer world and explains why the right to rule or command belongs to God, both in our world and the universe as a whole. Since it is He Who has created the heavens and the earth, He owns them and has the absolute right to rule over them. Seeing that a person claims exclusive ownership over private property in which he or she has only one share out of a thousand, the others belonging to God, God will surely have the total right to execute dominion over His property.
The verse also states that God has created the heavens and the earth in six days and estab- lished Himself on the Supreme Throne. The Qur’ān uses the word “day” not only in the sense of our normal day, but also as time unit and period. Another verse (32: 5) mentions that one day is like 1,000 years in our reckoning, and another mentions a day which lasts 50,000 years (70: 4). This shows that the concept of day is relative. The “world” does not consist in our world or the visible universe. Rather, there are worlds or dimensions one within another. Just as time is different in the world of dreams, so is it also different in the worlds of the spirit and imagination, as well as in the world of immaterial forms and the High empyrean ( Jabarūt ). It can even be said that the whole lifespan of the universe, from its creation to its final destruction, is a day; and as mentioned in the Qur’ān, the lifetime in the other world is also a day. So, what the Qur’ān means by six days may be the geological eras of the earth or the creational periods of the universe, which still continue, or the periods from the beginning of the creation of the universe until the time it took its present form.
‘Arsh (translated as the Supreme Throne) literally means anything constructed high like a roof, a dome, an arch, or pavilion. However, since the Qur’ān addresses all levels of under- standing through all ages, it tends to present certain abstract truths, like those pertaining to Divinity, with concrete expressions, and it uses metaphors and comparisons. It presents the Kursiyy (Seat: see 2: 256) as if it were a platform or seat, and the ‘Arsh as if it were a throne and God were the ruler of the universe seated on His throne, governing all creation. By so doing, the Qur’ān establishes in our minds God’s supreme authority and dominion. God is not just the creator of the universe, but is also its sovereign and ruler. Having created the universe, He did not detach Himself from it, nor become indifferent to His creation. On the contrary, He effectively rules over the universe as a whole, as well as controlling every small part of it. All power and sovereignty rest with Him. everything in the universe is fully in His grasp and is subservient to His Will and Power. Bediüzzaman Said Nursi says that, “‘Arsh is the composition of God’s Names the First, the Last, the Outward, and the Inward ( Mathnawī, 175). Also, deducing from his description of water as the ‘Arsh (throne) of mercy and earth, the throne of life, we can say that ‘Arsh (the Supreme Throne) implies God’s full control of, and authority over, the universe. elements such as water and earth are things that conduct God’s decrees or media by which they are manifested and executed.
- call upon your Lord (O humankind) with humility and in the secrecy of your hearts. Indeed your Lord does not love those who exceed the bounds.
- (Keep within the bounds He has decreed:) Do not cause disorder and cor- ruption on the earth seeing that it has been so well ordered, and call upon Him with fear (of His punishment) and longing (for His forgiveness and mercy). God’s mercy is indeed near to those devoted to doing good, aware that God is seeing them.
- And He it is Who sends forth the merciful winds as glad tidings in advance of His mercy – so that, when they carry heavy clouds, We drive them towards a dead land, then We cause thereby water to descend, and bring forth thereby fruits (crops) of every kind. even so We make the dead come forth (on Judg- ment Day), that you may reflect and be mindful.
- And the good, pure land: its vegetation comes forth in abundance by its Lord’s leave, whereas from the bad, corrupt land, it comes forth but poorly (like thorny bushes). Thus do We, in diverse ways, set out the signs (of God’s exis- tence and Unity, and other truths of faith) for the people who give thanks (from the heart and in speech, and in action by fulfilling God’s commandments).14
14. The Qur’ān mentions “natural” truths, along with sociological truths and those that pertain to human spiritual life, in order that the more familiar truths (natural truths, which surround us in our everyday life) can provide an example for the other truths. These verses provide one of the best instances of this aspect of the Qur’ānic style. They mention the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the fact that the celestial bodies are subservi- ent to God’s command to present the absolute sovereignty of God, calling on humanity to submit to this sovereignty and worship and to pray to Him. Both in the spiritual life of people, and in the lives of communities and the life of the earth, the days and nights (light and darkness), winter and spring (winter-like and spring-like periods), and dearth and abundance follow one another. It is God Almighty Who will change night to daytime, winter to spring, and dearth to abundance, and the duty that falls upon human beings is to turn to God sincerely and entreat Him with fear (of His punishment) and expectation (of His forgiveness and mercy), remaining within the bounds which He has established for us. In the same way that He accepts the prayers the “dead” earth recites in the language of need and disposition, and as He moves the winds and clouds of rain to revive it, so, too, exhausted or dead hearts and communities are revived with the rain of Revelation, mercy, and are favored as a result of turning to God. What is important here is that the earth, and our minds and hearts, should be fertile and pure (uncontaminated by prejudices, not cling- ing to wrong viewpoints or wrongdoings, or having attachments to worldly ambitions). Then, the fertile, pure earth and our minds and hearts will be favored with a rain of mercy that helps to produce an abundance of good, fresh vegetation and delicious fruit (faith, true and enlightening knowledge, good morals, and virtues). If this is not the case, our infertile, unclean earth, and our contaminated minds and hearts, will only produce thorny bushes (false beliefs, and misleading thoughts and ideologies), no matter how much the rain of mercy pours from the heavens.
After such expressions, full of meaning and messages, after presenting what is abstract and what is concrete, and after discussing the physical realities alongside sociological and spiri- tual ones, the sūrah continues by giving concrete examples from history.
- Indeed We sent Noah to his people as Messenger (to convey Our message to them), and he said: “O my people! Worship God alone: you have no deity other than Him. Indeed I fear for you the punishment of an awesome day!”
- The leading ones among his people said: “We see that you are surely lost in obvious error.”
- He (Noah) said: “O my people! There is no error in me. Rather, I am a Mes- senger from the Lord of the worlds.
- ”I convey to you the messages of my Lord, give you sincere advice, and I
know from God that which you do not know.
- ”Why, do you deem it strange that a reminder (a message and guidance) from your Lord should have come to you through a man from among yourselves that he may warn you (against the consequences of your way of life), and that you may guard against His punishment, and so that you may be favored with His grace and mercy?”
- And yet, they (instead of paying heed to Noah’s warning) denied him. And so, We saved him and those who were with him in the Ark, and caused to drown those who denied Our Revelations and signs (of Our existence and Unity). They were indeed a blind people.15
15. The Qur’ānic allusions and Biblical statements lead us to conclude that the Prophet Noah, upon him be peace, lived in Iraq around Mosul (Nineveh). This is also supported by the inscriptions belonging to pre-Biblical times discovered during archaeological excava- tions. Kurdish and Armenian traditions also corroborate this account. Some relics ascribed to Noah, upon him be peace, can still be found in the vicinity of Mount Ararat. The people of Nakhichevan believe that their city was founded by Noah, upon him be peace.
Traditions similar to the story of Noah, upon him be peace, and the Flood are also found in classical Greek, egyptian, Indian, and chinese literature. Moreover, stories of identi- cal import have been popular since time immemorial in Burma, Malaya, the east Indies, Australia, New Guinea, and various parts of europe and America. This is a good indica- tion that this story was either learned from the Messengers sent to these areas, or that the people in the company of Noah and their descendants dispersed to different parts of the world after the Flood. It is also possible that both these events happened.
- And to the (people of ) ‘Ād We sent their brother, Hūd.16 He said: “O my people! Worship God alone: you have no deity other than Him. Will you not, then, keep from disobedience to Him and deserve His protection?”
16. The people of ‘Ād were an ancient Arab people known throughout Arabia for their leg- endary prosperity. There were many references to them in pre-Islamic ( Jāhiliyyah ) poetry, and their stories circulated widely, so much so that the word ādī , in the sense of ancient things, and ādiyāt , in the sense of archeological remnants, found their way into Arabic as derivatives from the name of this people. The region called Ahqāf that is situated between Hijaz, Yemen, and Yamāmah is their native land; they scattered as far as the western coasts of Yemen and expanded their dominion to Oman, Hadramawt, and Iraq. A few remnants found in the southern Arabian Peninsula and a grave in Hadramawt are attributed to this tribe. In 1837, James R. Wellested, a British naval officer, found an inscription in Hisn al- Ghurab where the name of Hūd was mentioned. It clearly belonged to those who followed the religion of Hūd (al-Mawdūdī, 3: 42–3, note 51).
- The leading ones among his people who were persisting in unbelief said: “We see you to be indeed foolish and weak-minded, and we are certain that you
are a liar.”
- He (Hud) said: “O my people! There is no folly and weak-mindedness in me, rather I am a Messenger from the Lord of the worlds.
- ”I convey to you the messages of my Lord, and I am a trustworthy counselor to you.
- ”Why, do you deem it strange that a reminder (a message and guidance) from your Lord should have come to you through a man from among you that he may warn you (against the consequences of your way)? Remember and be mindful that He has made you successors (on the earth) after Noah’s people and increased you in stature and power. Remember and be mindful, then, of God’s bounties, that you may prosper (in both worlds, and attain your goals).”
- They said: “Have you come to us (with the command) that we should wor- ship God alone and forsake what our forefathers used to worship? Then bring about what you have threatened us with, if you are truthful!”
- He (Hud) said: “Already abhorrence and anger (i.e. idol-worship in blind imitation of your forefathers) from your Lord have befallen you. What, do you dispute with me about mere designations which you and your forefathers in- vented and for which God has not sent down any authority? (If that is the case) then wait, as indeed I too am among those who wait.”
- Then, through mercy from Us, We saved him and those who were in his company, while we uprooted those who denied Our signs and Revelations and were not believers.
- And to (the people of ) Thamūd (We sent) their brother, Sālih. He said (con- veying the same message): “O my people! Worship God alone: you have no deity other than Him. Assuredly a manifest proof has come to you from your Lord: this is a she-camel from God as a sign for you (of the truth of my Messenger- ship). So leave her to pasture on God’s earth, and touch her with no harm lest a painful punishment should seize you.17
17. The Thamūd were another ancient Arab people, and almost as famous as the ‘Ād. Their name was frequently mentioned in pre-Islamic poetry and Greek, Alexandrian, and Roman histories and geographies. The Roman historians recorded that they joined the Roman armies against the Nabateans. They lived in H ijr, in the north-west of Arabia, and their main city was Madā’in S āli h , situated along the route of the famous Hijāz railway. Some remnants of this city can still be found. The Makkan merchants passed by this area on their journeys to Syria. It was during the Tabuk campaign that the Messenger passed by there with his army; he did not halt there because it was a region where God’s scourge had fallen. He told his companions to reflect on it and to take lessons from it (al-Mawdūdī, 3: 45–6,
The she-camel appeared as the result of the demand of the Thamūd leaders to have a sign or miracle to prove S āli h ‘s Messengership. There is nothing in the Qur’ān or authenti- cated hadīth literature to indicate how this camel came into existence. However, she was an extraordinary creature and recognized by the people as a sign or miracle. Some wicked person killed her, and the other unbelievers, instead of opposing him, supported him. This was the final atrocity of the Thamūd that brought upon them God’s punishment. It caused their ruin.
- ”And remember and be mindful that He made you successors of the people of ‘Ad and established you securely on the earth so that you build castles on its plains and hew out dwellings in the mountains. Remember, then, and be mind- ful of God’s bounties, and do not go about acting wickedly in the land, causing disorder and corruption.”
- The leading ones among his people, who were arrogant and oppressed the others, said to those that they scorned, to those among them who were believers: “Do you really know and consider Salih as one sent by His Lord with a mes- sage?” They replied: “We do indeed believe in what he has been sent with.”
- Those who were arrogant said: “What you have come to believe in we indeed disbelieve.”
- Then (without enduring any longer to see her as evidence of the truth of Salih’s message), they cruelly slaughtered the she-camel, and disdainfully dis- obeyed the command of their Lord, and said: “O Salih! Bring upon us that (punishment) with which you have threatened us, if you are of those sent (by God with the truth)!”
- Then a shocking catastrophe seized them, so that they lay prostrate and life- less in their very dwellings.
- And Salih left them, saying: “O my people! I conveyed to you the message of my Lord and gave you good counsel; but you have no love for good counsel- ors.”
- And (remember) Lot (Lūt), when he said to his people18: “Do you commit an indecency such as no people in all the world have ever done before you?
18. The people of Lot, upon him be peace, lived in the region lying to the southeast of the Dead Sea. According to archeologists, this area was very prosperous between 2300 and 1900 bc . It has been estimated that Abraham, upon him be peace, the uncle of Lot, upon him be peace, lived around 2000 bc . The people of Lot, upon him be peace, were destroyed during Abraham’s lifetime (15: 51–60).
The land in which they lived was very verdant; it was resplendent with gardens and or- chards, appearing as if a single garden, and it fascinated those who saw it. The most fertile and populous part of the region was the area called the “valley of Siddim.” The major cities were Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboim, and Zo’ar.
These cities were devastated on account of the major sins that were indulged in there, in particular, homosexuality, which had almost become a general way of life. The valley sank and was covered by the Dead Sea. The rain mentioned in verse 84 was a rain of stones. According to the Bible, when Abraham, upon him be peace, heard about what had befallen Lot’s people, he traveled from Hebron and observed: “The smoke of the land rose like the smoke from a furnace” ( Genesis , 19: 28).
- ”You come to men with lust in place of women. You are a people committing excesses and wasteful (of your God-given faculties).”
- But his people’s response was only that they said (to one another): “Banish them from your settlement, for they are a few persons who make themselves out to be pure!”
- Then We saved Lot and his household (who left the land upon Our com- mand) except his wife, who was among those who stayed behind.
- And We rained a destructive rain (of stones) upon them (those who stayed behind). Then, look, how was the outcome for the criminals committed to ac- cumulating sins.
- And to (the people of ) Midian, (We sent) their brother, Shu‘ayb, as Mes- senger.19 He (conveying the same message) said: “O my people! Worship God alone: you have no deity other than Him. A manifest proof has assuredly come to you from your Lord. So give full measure and weight (in all your dealings), and do not wrong people by depriving them of what is rightfully theirs, and do not cause disorder and corruption in the land, seeing that it has been so well- ordered. That is for your own good, if you are (to be) true believers.
19. The territory of Madyan (Midian) lay to the north-west of the Hijāz and south of Pal- estine, on border of the Sinai Peninsula. The towns were situated at the crossroads of the trade routes from Yemen through Makkah and Yanbu‘, to Syria along the Red Sea coast, and from Iraq to egypt. Midian was, therefore, quite well known to the Arabs. The Midi- anites related themselves to Midyan, a son of the Prophet Abraham, upon him be peace, born of his third wife, Qatūrā. Initially they were Muslims, but later contaminated their pure faith with polytheism, and their economic life with corruption and dishonesty.
The destruction of Midian remained well-known in Arabia for a long time. As such, the following lines in the Psalms are significant:
For they have consulted together with one consent;
They form a confederacy against You:
Deal with them as with Midian, As with Sisera,
As with Jabin at the Brook Kishon, Who perished at en Dor
Who became as refuse on the earth.
O my God, make them like the whirling dust,
Like the chaff before the wind! ( Psalms , 83: 5, 9–10, 13).
(al-Mawdūdī, 3: 53, note 69)
- ”And do not lurk in ambush by every pathway, seeking to overawe and bar from God’s way one who believes in Him, and seeking to make it appear crooked. And remember how you were once few (and weak), and then He increased you in number (and strength). And look, how was the outcome for those who cause disorder and corruption (on the earth).
- ”If there are a party among you who have come to believe in the message with which I have been sent, while another party do not believe, then persevere and be patient until God judges between us. He is the best in judging.”
- The leading ones among his people who were arrogant and oppressed the others said: “We will surely banish you, O Shu‘ayb, and those who believe in your company from our township, or else you will return to our way (of faith and life).” He (Shu‘ayb) said: “What? even though we abhor it?
- “Should we return to your way after God has saved us from it, then most cer- tainly we would be fabricating lies in attribution to God. It is not for us to turn back to it, unless God, our Lord, should so will.20 Our Lord embraces all things within His Knowledge. In God do we put our trust. Our Lord! Judge between us and our people, making the truth manifest, for You are the Best in judging to make the truth manifest.”
20. That is: “We will never turn back to your way, but we cannot know what God, our Lord, has in store for us in His Will and Knowledge. We cannot do anything unless He wills it, and He embraces all things within His Knowledge.”
- The leading ones who persisted in unbelief said (so as to put pressure upon the others among his people): “Should you follow Shu‘ayb, you will then surely be the losers!”
- Then a shocking catastrophe seized them, so that they lay prostrate and lifeless in their very dwellings –
- Those who denied Shu‘ayb – as though they had not lived there in abun- dance – those who denied Shu‘ayb (and threatened the believers with loss and ruin), it was they who were the losers.
- And Shu‘ayb left them, saying: “O my people! I conveyed to you the mes- sages of my Lord and gave you good counsel. How, then, could I mourn for a people ungrateful and persistent in unbelief?”21/22
- The Messengers whose stories are narrated in the Qur’ān are those who lived and con- veyed the Divine Message in the places which, particularly, the people of Makkah passed through during their travels to the south, north, and the north-east. Their stories were known to a certain extent in the region. In addition, they were the greatest of the Prophets who, if we can make such a comparison, were like great persons founding the spiritual orders and schools of law, each being an important link in the chain of Messengers, and guiding our Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, especially during the Makkan pe- riod of his mission. Though all were endowed with the necessary characteristics, capacities, and attributes that are found in a Messenger, some exceeded others in patience, some in gratitude, some in mildness, some in knowledge, and some in their ability to administer; these particular strengths were in relation to what was required by each mission, and each set an example for the last Messenger of God, upon him be peace and blessings. Having progressed in their footsteps during a certain period of his mission, the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, exceeded them all later and became the universal guide, as required by his universal mission.
Just as with God’s final Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, all the preceding Messengers, upon them be peace, conveyed, first of all, God’s Oneness as the bedrock of God’s Religion, and then they conveyed the other pillars of faith and Divine worship, along with principles of good morality and behavior. These are the roots of the universal tree of Islam, providing irrefutable proof for the Messengership of the Last Prophet. Neverthe- less, it should be pointed out that, due to the conditions in which the previous Messengers lived and the restrictions of their mission to a certain time and people, each tended to attach more importance to certain dimensions of God’s Religion that were of paramount importance in his time, while other things were more briefly explained. It is the last form of this Religion, namely “the Islam” communicated by the Last Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, that expounded and established this Religion with all its dimensions, giving each matter the importance it needed to be given, and which has grown into a blessed, universal tree encompassing all times and places. The Qur’ān having provided the roots and the principles and laws of its growth, this blessed tree grew up, making a strong trunk, consisting of the life and practices of the Messenger, which we call the Sunnah, and became a tree which has yielded its ever-fresh fruits during all times in Islamic history. The great contribution that Muslim statesmen, commanders, scholars in every field of religious knowledge, scientists, and spiritual masters have made to Islamic civilization cannot be for- gotten or neglected. Those who claim to return to the Messenger’s Age of Happiness omit this magnificent history, and then go so far as to criticize the Sunnah and even the Qur’ān itself; these are people who recognize no bounds and who invite ruin upon themselves.
The Qur’ān relates stories of the previous Messengers as examples of guidance to be used during the period when Islam was first conveyed by God’s Messenger, upon him be peace
and blessings, and during later times. So it presents these stories in dimensions that are related to the main subject of the sūrah where they occur. It never aims to make reiterations or to tell stories. These stories are like a prism which reflects a different, but complemen- tary view, within a whole.
- The stories of the Messengers mentioned demonstrate that there are points shared among all the destroyed peoples and that are peculiar to each:
- Manifest polytheism was common among all. However, this was not something that was mentioned in relation to the people of Lot, upon him be peace, but which was particularly ingrained in the peoples of Noah, Hūd, and S āli h, upon them be peace
. For this reason, all of the Messengers mentioned except Lot, upon him be peace, based their mission on the precept, Worship God alone: you have no deity other than Him .
- There are other important social and economic diseases, other than polytheism, that are fatal, mentioned as afflicting the peoples of S āli h and Shu‘ayb, upon them be peace. In the former, there is a fondness for luxury and the problems that accompany such indulgence; while in the latter, economic life is based on deception, injustice, and total corruption. The people of Shu‘ayb, upon him be peace, gave no respite to those who attempted to oppose them and refo the economic life.
- In all of these communities, there was a leading elite or class. However, at the time of Noah, upon him be peace, this class was merely a “leading elite,” and the whole of the people, with the exception of the believers, were equally persistent in their unbelief and polytheism. The leading elite among the people of ‘Ād led others in associating partners with God and forced them to follow them. During the time of S āli h (the Thamūd), upon him be peace, this elite group formed a small, despotic oligarchy that indulged in vices and tyrannized the people. Likewise, during the time of Shu‘ayb, upon him be peace, this class became a despotic oligarchy leading the people in un- belief.
- During the time of Lot, upon him be peace, moral corruption demonstrated itself, more than other vices, in the homosexuality that had become the way by which people satisfied their lusts; at that time, this was the most prevalent problem, even more than polytheism. The people as a whole had been engulfed by it; in fact, they showed no inclination toward stopping this behavior.
- And We did not send a Prophet to a township but We seized its people with distress and hardship so that they might (wake from heedlessness and) be humble (invoking Us for forgiveness and turning to the truth.)
- Then (after this phase of trial and training), We changed the affliction into good (ease of life) until they increased (in numbers and wealth, and indulged in comforts) and said (without taking any lesson from it): “Sometimes distress and sometimes happiness visited our forefathers (whereas we are living an easy life.” So We seized them all of a sudden without their being aware (of what was coming).23
23. The last two verses express an important historical and sociological truth. When the
Divine Message begins to be conveyed to a people by a Prophet or by a person or commu- nity qualified to be heir to a Prophet, distress and hardship (like diseases, wars, famine, and poverty) would appear among that people so that they may make their hearts softer and turn to God. If, despite this, people insist on unbelief and wrongdoing and struggle against the preaching of Islam, God changes this adversity to ease and abundance: abundant rain replaces famine, new ways of treatment are discovered, wars come to an end, etc. This both means a destruction is on its way to the wrongdoers and is in order to stimulate a feeling of thankfulness in people and to remind them of the blessings that have come along with the Divine Message. People tend to perceive and appreciate a blessing more if it follows adversity. Repletion after hunger, health after disease, and wealth after poverty make these blessings more appreciated. Nevertheless, if a people cannot see the Divine Hand and wis- dom behind these blessings and continue to resist the Divine Message, and if those who represent it and try to communicate it are too weak to carry it to a victory, then Divine punishment comes.
These two verses contain another important message. ease and abundance also follow after the Divine Message has been accepted by a people and when this message has become a way of life. However, if succeeding generations lead a life of ease, forgetting that this easy life is the result of the acceptance of the Divine Message and, instead of continuing to fulfill their duties toward God in thankfulness, attribute it to their own ability to indulge in luxuries, then this is a grave error, and heedless behavior. This will be the start of a decline, which will pervade all the community like a cancer. The time when the corruption has almost entirely encompassed the entire community is when its death is imminent.
- If the peoples of those townships had but believed and, in order to deserve His protection, had kept from disobedience to God in reverence for Him and piety, We would surely have opened up for them blessings from heaven and earth; but they denied (the Messengers and the Divine Message they brought), and so We seized them for what they habitually earned (through their deeds).
- Did the peoples of the townships feel secure that Our mighty punishment would not come upon them at night while they are sleeping?
- Or did the peoples of the townships feel secure that Our mighty punishment would not come upon them in the daytime while they have indulged in worldly play?
- Or did they feel secure from God’s designing (against them some unexpect- ed affliction)? But none feels secure from God’s designing (against them some unexpected affliction) save the people of loss and self-ruin.
- Has it not, then, become clear to those who have inherited the earth in the wake of former generations that, if We so willed, We could strike them for their sins? But (they are unresponsive to the meaning of events because, in con- sequence of their wrongdoing, their misguided attitudes and arrogance, and the grave sins they commit) We impress their hearts with a seal so that they cannot
hear (the revealed truths and any admonition).
- Those townships – We relate to you some tidings of them by way of ex- emplary histories (to teach you this): assuredly the Messengers came to them (chosen by God) from among themselves with clear proofs of the truth but they did not believe in that which they used to deny before. Thus does God impress the hearts of the unbelievers with a seal (that shuts them off from the affects of admonition).
- We did not find in most of them any (faithfulness to) covenant; indeed We found most of them to be transgressors.
- Then, after them (those early Messengers) We sent Moses to the Pharaoh and his chiefs with Our Revelations and signs (miracles to support him), but they treated them wrongfully. So look, how was the outcome for those causing disorder and corruption!
- And Moses said: “Pharaoh! I am a Messenger from the Lord of the worlds,
- “Bound in truth to say nothing about God except the truth. I have surely come to you with a clear proof from your Lord (Who creates, nourishes, and sustains you). So, let the children of Israel go with me!”
- He (the Pharaoh) said: “If you have come with a sign, then bring it forth, if you are truthful!”
- Then he (Moses) threw down his staff, and thereupon it was a serpent manifest (clear for all to see as a sign).
- And he drew forth his (right) hand (from his armpit, where he had put it), and thereupon it was shining white to those looking on.24
24. We must approach the Divine Being, existential reality, the universe, and the things and events in it from two viewpoints: one from a viewpoint related to God, and the other from our own viewpoint. When we approach the matter from the viewpoint related to God, the concepts of time, space, and dimensions no longer exist; everything consists in God’s manifestations and deeds beyond time, space, and dimension. For this reason, the Qur’ān usually relates events connected to the Resurrection and Judgment Day in the past tense. In addition to this is the fact that the past tense in Arabic expresses the certainty of an event’s having taken place; such a usage also indicates that for God there is no difference between that which took place, that which is taking place, and that which will take place.
When we approach existential reality, the universe, and things and events in it from our viewpoint, restrictions such as time, space, and dimension intervene, as do human free will and its functions. Moreover, causality is added to these restrictions, which exist so that we can follow events by including some principles that we call “law,” and order our life accord-
ingly. These function as veils before God’s manifestations and actions that are beyond all dimensions; we deal with whatever takes place before the outermost veil in the framework of causality and the principles which we call “laws.” This is one of the most important points that cause materialists and naturalists to err. Since the outer five senses of human beings cannot penetrate the veils, those who restrict themselves to the perceptions of their five senses accept only those things that are in front of the veils as being existent and real. However, a person who merely considers only their own being can easily perceive that this being has many “mental worlds”: for example, the imagination, and the “worlds” of con- cepts, thoughts, ideals, and intentions. even if he or she does not believe in the existence of spirit – there are other innermost worlds, like those of consciousness, willpower, emotions, and the heart, all one within another, each one more spacious than the last. These are reflec- tions or examples of the worlds beyond the material one.
The phenomena that the Qur’ān calls “signs”— and theologians, “miracles”— are God’s certain executions and acts of creation which, from the human viewpoint of things and events, exceed the frame of causality and other laws, and are, therefore, extraordinary. Al- though they are miracles from our viewpoint, they are actually only some “ordinary” ac- tions of God, Who holds the universe in His Grasp of Power and governs it as He wills, manifesting, along with other Attributes, His Attributes of Knowledge, Wisdom, Absolute Will, and Favor. For those who view things and events with the eye of faith, everything and every event in the universe is a miracle that is no less than the miracles worked by the Prophets. For this reason, addressing the period of human history where reason and science have much greater prominence and importance, the Qur’ān and “the Islam” in the form perfected through the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, give prominence to knowledge and such mental faculties as thought, reflection, and reasoning, as well as to the spiritual aspects of these and other human faculties.
- The chiefs among the people of the Pharaoh said, (discussing the matter among themselves): “This is indeed, (as the Pharaoh says,) a learned, skillful sorcerer,
- “Who seeks to drive you out from your land. Then, what do you advise (to do)?”
- They said (to the Pharaoh): “Put him and his brother off for a while, and (in the meantime) send forth heralds to all cities
- “To bring to your presence every learned, skillful sorcerer.”
- The sorcerers came to the Pharaoh and said: “We must surely have a re- ward, if we are the victors.”
- (The Pharaoh) answered: “Yes, and you will indeed be among those near- stationed to me.”
- They (the sorcerers) said: “Moses! either you throw first or we will be the first to throw!”
- He answered: “Throw!” And when they threw (whatever they held in their hands to make spells) they cast a spell upon the people’s eyes (i.e. overawed and deluded them), and produced a mighty sorcery.
- We revealed to Moses: “Throw down your staff !” and behold! it swallowed up their false devices.
- Thus was the truth made victorious and all that they were doing was proved false.
- Thus were they (the Pharaoh and his chiefs) defeated there (in front of everyone’s eyes), and brought low
- And the sorcerers threw themselves down, prostrating,
- And they said: “We have come to believe in the Lord of the worlds,
- “The Lord of Moses and Aaron.”
- The Pharaoh said: “What! Do you believe in Him before I give you permis- sion? This is indeed a plot you have contrived in the city that you may drive out its (native) people from it. But you shall come to know!
- “I will certainly have your hands and feet cut off alternately, and then I will certainly have you crucified all together.”
- They responded: “Indeed, to our (true and everlasting) Lord are we bound to return.
- “You take vengeance on us only because we have come to believe in our Lord’s Messages when they came to us.25 “Our Lord! Pour out upon us per- severing patience, and take our souls to You as Muslims (wholly submitted to You)!”
25. Throughout history the opposing side has always attempted to take vengeance on be- lievers merely because they declare, “Our Lord is God alone!” Such actions have been con- cealed behind many false excuses; for example, the believers have been disturbing the order, exploiting religion and religious sentiments for personal interests, or dividing people in the name of religion, to mention a few of the spurious claims that have been made over time.
- The chiefs among the Pharaoh’s people said: “Will you (O Pharaoh) leave Moses and his people to cause disorder and corruption in the country, and for- sake you and your deities?” He replied: “We will kill their sons and let live their women (to serve and satisfy our desires). And indeed we hold irresistible sway over them.”
- Moses said to his people: “Seek help from God and be patient, persevering. The earth belongs indeed to God, and He makes it an inheritance for whom He wills of His servants. The (final, happy) outcome is in favor of the God-revering, pious.”
- They (having been subjected to persecutions by the Pharaoh) said: “We suffered hurt before you came to us, and since you came to us.” He (Moses) replied: “It may well be that your Lord is going to destroy your enemy and make you the inheritors of rule in (some part of ) the earth: and then He will look to see how you act (when you hold power).”
- And We certainly seized the family (the court and military aristocracy) of the Pharaoh with years of famine and scarcity of corps, so that they might reflect and be mindful.
- But whenever prosperity came their way, they would say: “This is but our due and by our deserving,” and whenever evil befell them, they would attribute it to the ill augury (they alleged) of Moses and whoever was in his company. Beware! their auspice (whether evil or good) was decreed by God, but most of them did not know (being ignorant of true knowledge).
- And they would say: “Whatever sign you produce before us to cast a spell on us, we are not going to believe you.”
- So, (in order that they might reflect and be mindful) We sent upon them floods and (plagues of ) locusts and vermin, and frogs, and (water turning into) blood: distinct signs one after another. Yet they remained arrogant, and they were a criminal people committed to accumulating sins.
- each time a plague befell them, they would say: “O Moses, pray for us to your Lord for the covenant He has made with you (of servanthood and Messen- gership with respect to His Lordship): for sure, if you remove this plague from us, we will surely believe in you, and we will surely let the children of Israel go with you.”
- But when We removed the plague from them for a term in which they were to fulfill (what they promised), they then broke their promise.
- So We inflicted Our retribution on them (just as they deserved), and so caused them to drown in the sea, as they denied Our signs (with willful persis- tence), and were heedless of them.26
- Prior to our Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, many well-developed, strong communities were totally destroyed by what seemed to be “natural catastrophes.” It may be asked why the same kind of total destruction has not taken place since this time. The first
thing to be said in reply to such a question is that the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, was sent as mercy for the whole of creation. As he is a mercy for all creation, the religion he brought and the Qur’ān also provide universal mercy for all beings. This means that as long as the Qur’ān and Islam exist, an overall, sudden destruction, like those witnessed in the pre-Islamic era, will not occur. When there are almost no Muslims and when the Qur’ān is no longer heeded, the final destruction of the world will occur.
Secondly, the pre-Islamic era communities were crude and uncivilized to a great extent. They were very obstinate, refractory, and unyielding. The vices causing their destruction were so widespread that they became almost a lifestyle. Only a few people believed in the Prophets that had been sent, and these were too weak to carry out the requirements of the Divine Religion.
Thirdly, it is difficult to say that there was no destruction. The communities in the pre- Islamic era were totally destroyed by calamities such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods, and whirlwinds; we refer these to nature and call them natural calamities. When such calamities take place, costing many lives and even towns, we try to explain them away by referring them to nature. However, these are also a type of punishment sent by God in recompense for disobedience to God’s Religion and laws of life and the operation of the universe. In addition to these, there are disturbances, in particular world wars, internal conflicts and coups, economic imbalances, and revolutions costing millions of lives, and instances of famines; these are also punishment from God. But we attempt to explain these on the basis of their apparent reasons and never try to discover their real reasons or understand their meaning.
It may be asked here why these acts of destruction may also encompass the believers. These kinds of destruction, unlike the total destruction that came in the early ages purely to pun- ish the criminals, come partially both as a punishment and as an admonition. Not only the disbelieving criminals but also the believers may also need admonition and deserve punishment. In addition, admonition comes in a way that it appeals to reason to take heed but does not compel human will to believe and submit. If the calamities were to encompass only the disbelieving criminals, this would be like the miracles which were given to earlier Prophets. When their peoples did not believe despite all the miracles, they were destroyed. So, if the calamities were to come to the disbelieving criminals exclusively, and then other peoples did not believe, this would cause the coming of even greater calamities. God saves humanity from such greater calamities due to some important reasons. A powerful reason is that it is hoped that many people will embrace Islam in the future. Third, the destruction of the believers causes the forgiveness of their sins and is a kind of martyrdom for them, while the destruction of their goods causes them to gain the merit of giving charity. Fourth, it may be argued that the destruction of some “good” believers who are ever-ready to sacri- fice themselves for the good of others may serve for the salvation of believers from greater destruction for their sins and their failures in representing Islam.
As an example for Muslims, the defeat of the Ottoman State in the First World War, resulting in its collapse, has some apparent reasons. commenting on this event and its rela- tionship to modern Turkey, Bediüzzaman Said Nursi deals with the real reason, the reason why Divine Destiny judged this collapse necessary, in two categories:
- Based on His Attribute of Will, God has a way, or a form, of acting in creating and governing the universe with whatever there is in it, the events, and human individual and collective life. Since this way or form of acting is apparently constant, we can reach certain conclusions as the result of our study of “nature” and human life and call them “laws of nature,” “laws of sociology,” “history,” and “principles of science.” Obey- ing or disobeying God with respect to these laws and principles has recompense in the world, such as prosperity or poverty, win or loss, success or defeat, or development or regress. As Muslims, we tend to neglect these laws while the part of the world that has equipped itself with the power of science and technology obeys them, consciously or unconsciously, thereby taking the upper hand.
- To the degree which we have unforgivably neglected obeying the laws of the first category, we also neglect to obey the second collection of Divine laws, which issue from God’s Attribute of Speech and which He has sent as religion. God ordered us to assign approximately one hour of our day to performing the prescribed five daily Prayers, but we were negligent in the last centuries preceding the First World War, and in return He prostrated us during the war (and unfortunately we have not been able to raise our heads from this prostration yet). He ordered us to fast for a single month in Rama d ān each year, but we neglected, pitying our souls. In return, He made us fast for five years during the war (and additionally the next 25 years. In many parts of the Muslim world, we still suffer this punishment of fasting!) He ordered us to give the Zakāh (Prescribed Purifying Alms) at a rate of 1 out of 40, or 30, or 20, or 10, or 5 – varying according to the kind of the property – of the property He provided for us. We neglected this and acted niggardly, and in return He took back for five years all of our belongings that had accumulated as the Zakāh , (and since we have not been able to be saved from this niggardliness, our wealth still continues to be plundered by world powers). God ordered those who could to go on the Pilgrimage; this is a very important, multi-dimensional form of worship. We neglected this and in return He drove us from one front to another for five years, (and we still continue to seek our livelihood in foreign lands) ( Sözler , “Lemeât,” 667).
When we approach the matter from the perspective of the main truth, other truths disclose themselves.
- And We made the people who had been persecuted and oppressed (for centuries) inherit all the easts and wests (the whole length and breadth) of the land that We had blessed (with benefits for humankind). And your Lord’s gra- cious word to the children of Israel was fulfilled,27 for they had endured pa- tiently; and We obliterated what the Pharaoh and his people had produced (by art or industry), and what they had erected (of castles, palaces, gardens, and the like).28
- This word was what is mentioned in sūrah 28: 5–6: We willed to bestow Our favor upon those who were being humiliated and oppressed in the land (of egypt), and make of them (exemplary) leaders (to guide people on the way to God and in their lives), and make them inheritors (of the glory of the Pharaoh and the land in which We produced blessings for people), and to establish them in the land with power.
- This verse expresses another important historical and sociological principle: doing
wrong or carrying out an injustice, and anything based on these, cannot endure. God has made an enduring promise to the oppressed believers who, without submitting to unjust systems of polytheism or unbelief, adhere to God’s Religion, carrying out its command- ments within the principles that God has established and who, without yielding to persecu- tions, are able to show “active patience” in serving God after the way of His Messengers, upon them be peace and blessings, and refrain from sins. In this verse, the Qur’ān informs us of the final triumph God bestowed upon the children of Israel that came with Prophets David and Solomon, upon them be peace, almost five centuries after their escape from the egypt of the Pharaohs, under the leadership of the Prophet Moses, upon him be peace. It is emphasized that this came about as the result of their patience, as described above. In Sūrat al-Baqarah , some episodes are given that took place during this span of five centuries (50–61, 63–74, etc.), and others will be given in the following verses, in a suitable style and according to the main topics of the sūrah , and in consideration of the conditions prevalent in Makkah at the time when these verses were revealed.
- And We led the children of Israel across the sea, and then they came upon a people who were devoted to the worship of some idols that they had (particu- lar to themselves). They said: “O Moses! Make for us a deity even as they have deities!”29 He replied: “You are indeed a people given to ignorance.
29. This shows how slavery can degenerate a people. The children of Israel, descended from Prophet Jacob, upon him be peace, were Muslims for centuries in the fundamental sense of submitting to God. But after they had been enslaved by the Pharaohs, they lost their identity. This degeneration showed itself frequently during their lives. The sight of a temple would be enough to stir up in them what they had observed among their former masters. even though, according to the Bible, they had been taught by Moses, upon him be peace, for 40 years and by Joshua, upon him be peace, for nearly 30 years after their exodus from egypt, Joshua, upon him be peace, still addressed them as follows:
Now, therefore, fear the Lord, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in egypt. Serve the Lord. And it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord ( Joshua, 24: 14–15).
For the influence of slavery on the children of Israel, see also: sūrah 2, notes 62, 71, 72, 74, 155; and sūrah 4, note 3.
- “As for those people – what they are engaged in (by way of religion) is bound to destruction, and false and vain is all they have been doing (by way of worship)”.
- He said: “What! shall I seek a deity for you other than God, when He has exalted you above all other people (through faith and the true religion with which He has favored you)?”
- And (remember, O children of Israel,) when We saved you from clan of the Pharaoh, who were afflicting you with the most evil suffering (by enslaving you to such laborious tasks as construction, transportation and farming), slaugh- tering your sons and letting live your womenfolk (for further humiliation and suffering). In that was a grievous trial from your Lord.
- And (so that you would be favored with the Torah to order your affairs) We appointed with Moses thirty nights, to which We added ten, so he completed the term of forty nights set by His Lord (for him to spend in devotion).30 (Be- fore leaving his people in order to come to Our Presence) Moses had said to his brother (Aaron): “Take my place among my people (act to reform them and set things right), and do not follow the way of those who provoke disorder and corruption.”
30. As God also ordered the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, to keep long vigils at night due to the fact that devotion at night is more potent and effective (73: 1–8; 76: 26), it can be concluded that the time of devotion that brings a human being nearer to God is the night-time. It is because of this that the Qur’ān mentions 30 and 40 nights, not days. Assigning 40 nights (yet meaning a 24-hour period) for devotion, ascetic discipline, and reflection is very important in following a spiritual path to God in Muslim Sufism. It is called ‘arba‘īn (Arabic) or chilah (Persian), which means “fourty.” The Sufis also attach great importance to 40 days as being the time period required to acquire a sec-
ond nature or form a habit, and be saved from a bad habit or sin.
- And when Moses came to Our appointed time, his Lord spoke to him. (Then, in the rapture of nearness to God arising from his being addressed by Him) he said: “My Lord, show me Yourself, so that I may look upon You!” He (God) said: “You cannot see Me (with your eyes in the world). But look at that mountain: if it remains firm in its place, then you will see Me.” And the moment his Lord manifested His glorious Majesty to the mountain, He made it crumble to dust, and Moses fell down in a faint (as if struck by lightning). When he awoke, he said: “All-Glorified are You (in that You are absolutely above having any defects and any resemblance with the created)! I turn to You in repentance (for my desire to see You), and I am the first of the (true) believers (who realize that You are beyond any resemblance to any creature and beyond the grasp of any creature’s senses).31
31. each Prophet bears some traits peculiar to his people, as required by his mission. An educator will be more successful in matters in which they have personal experience and which they share with their students. This explains why the children of Israel (2: 55), among nations, and the Prophet Moses, upon him be peace, among Prophets, desired to see God. However, there is a great difference between the two desires. While the demand of the children of Israel arose from doubt about God’s existence, despite all the evidence that they had observed until then, Moses, upon him be peace, displayed the ardent desire
that every lover of God has to see Him. That is why God responded to the demand of the Israelites by nearly killing them with a thunderbolt followed by revival, while He answered Moses’ desire with an exclusive manifestation upon a mountain, making it crumble to dust. Moses, upon him be peace, fell down in a swoon in the face of this manifestation.
The Prophet Moses, upon him be peace, was favored with, and distinguished by, receiving a particular manifestation of God’s Speech. However, it should be noted that this manifesta- tion came according to the receiving capacity of his spirit. When he desired a manifestation beyond the degree of that which he was favored with, he could not bear it. As stated in the verse to come, God told him by way of compliment that He had favored him with bearing His Messages and being His addressee and, therefore, without aspiring to something high- er, he should be thankful for what he had been granted. We should, however, point out here that the noted scholar, Fethullah Gülen, comments on Moses’ falling down in a swoon as being the result of his utter amazement and shock in the face of God’s partial manifestation of His Majesty in all Its transcendence and above all corporeality (Key concepts, 2: 41)
God Almighty manifests Himself with His Names and Attributes behind numerous veils. Neither anything in the universe, nor the universe in its totality, is able to bear His mani- festation beyond that. Those who feel His particular manifestations in their hearts, each according to the capacity of their hearts, are enraptured or intoxicated like Prophet Moses, upon him be peace. But some among them cannot measure these manifestations according to the rules and criteria of the Sharī‘ah, and they utter some words for which they would be held accountable if they were to utter them in a normal state. The utterance of Hallāj al-Mansūr, “I am the Truth,” is an example. Nevertheless, there are many who demonstrate sainthood or see themselves as saints and utter the same kinds of words; they will be held accountable for such words. There are still some who think that they have attained great ranks when they feel favored with a few slight manifestations in return for their devotion or ascetic discipline, and who cannot balance their words and acts, with the result that they finally deviate and lead others to deviation. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi writes: “I have observed that the deviating sectarian groups have all been led to deviation by their lead- ers. Those leaders follow a spiritual path. When they advance a little, they think that they have reached the final station and turn back, deviating and leading others to deviation” (Mathnawī an-Nūriyah , 224). For this reason, any spiritual path must be followed in the light of the rules of the Sharī‘ah.
- He (God) said: “O Moses! Indeed I have chosen you above people by virtue of My Messages (that I have entrusted to you) and My speaking (to you). So (without aspiring to what is not for you), hold fast to what I have granted you, and (in return, with your every word and action) be of the thankful!” 32
32. This verse gives a very important lesson: God the Almighty reminds even the Prophet Moses, upon him be peace, who is one of His greatest Messengers, that he should not crave for what is beyond the favors bestowed on him. He means: “Be pleased with what I have favored you with, and try to do the duty of thanksgiving it requires.” That is, God the Almighty bestows upon each and every one the exact favor which each can receive, and the favor bestowed upon each without the part of their free will (such as capacities, lifespan, physical structure, race and family, and the time and place of birth, and the like), is that which is best for each. So what everyone must do is simply being pleased with the
favors bestowed upon them and, without making objections as to why certain other favors have not been bestowed upon them, try to fulfill the duty of thanksgiving required by those favors.
- (Moses completed the term appointed by his Lord for him to be favored with the Book to order his people’s affairs.) And We recorded for him on the Tablets whatever is necessary as instruction and guidance (to follow the way to God), and as explanation for all matters. And (We said): “Hold fast to them with strength, and command your people to hold fast to the best thereof (fulfill the commandments in the best way possible). I will soon show you the (ulti- mate) abode of the transgressors.
- I will turn away from My Revelations and signs those who act with haugh- tiness on the earth against all right. And though they see every sign (of the truth), they do not believe in it; and though they see the way of right guidance, they do not take it as a way to follow. But if they see the way of error and rebel- lion against the truth, they take it as a way to follow. That is because they deny Our Revelations and are ever heedless of them.
- Those who deny Our Revelations and the meeting of the Hereafter – their works have wasted. Or are they to be recompensed for anything but what they used to do?
- The people of Moses, after (he had left them to meet with his Lord) ad- opted for worship a calf (in effigy, made) of their ornaments, which gave out a lowing sound.33 Did they not see that it neither spoke to them nor guided them to a way? They adopted it for worship and so became wrongdoers (acting contrary to all the truths of creation and Divine commandments, and thereby wronging their very selves).34
- This verse contains three allusions to the character of the children of Israel:* The an- cient egyptians, among whom the children of Israel lived for centuries, were mainly farm- ers, and due to the importance of animals in farming, they worshipped cattle. This idolatry penetrated their hearts so deeply that, as we can also see in verse 138 above, it would fre- quently reveal itself, despite the education Moses, upon him be peace, was providing. They still carried the traces of slavery in their souls.The children of Israel were a people , like so many people of the past and present, who were often inclined towards weakness and cor- ruption; therefore, they could benefit from strict controls over certain aspects of their lives. Like so many people of the past and present, they were deeply attached to the world, and material wealth meant a great deal to them.
- It is significant that in this verse speech and guidance are mentioned in connection with the Deity. God spoke to the children of Israel through Moses, upon him be peace, whom He had specially favored with His address, and constantly guided them along their way from egypt to Palestine. They openly witnessed these two great favors of God upon
themselves. Despite this, and despite the fact that anything which cannot grant such favors cannot be a deity, they adopted the calf as a deity. This was a grave sin, no less than treat- ing all the truths of creation, the universe, and Deity unjustly and, therefore, they wronged themselves.
- When they realized in remorse that they earned nothing but ruin, and per- ceived that they had gone astray, they said: “If our Lord does not have mercy on us and forgive us, we will certainly be among the losers.”35
35. As can clearly be seen in verses 137 and 142, as well as in this verse, the Qur’ān some- times mentions the result of something first, and then proceeds to narrate the events that led up to it, thus teaching us eloquence in the name of guidance. verse 137 mentions the final result which would come about five centuries later, along with the more immediate one, namely the exodus from egypt. It then proceeds to relate some important events that took place after the exodus. verse 142 presents Moses’ instruction to his brother before leaving for the mountain; this is described after mentioning his term of 40 days spent in the mountain, and the verses that follow relate his experiences on the mountain and what happened to his people in his absence. As for this verse, it draws attention to the conse- quence of worshipping the calf, while the verses that follow mention certain events prior to this event.
- And when Moses (having received the Tablets and learned that his people had adopted a calf to worship) returned to his people, full of wrath and sor- row, he said: “evil is the course you have followed after me! Have you forsaken your Lord’s commandment so hastily to hasten your destruction?” And he threw down the Tablets (to postpone enforcement of the laws therein until he put an end to this rebellion against faith in God’s absolute Oneness), and laid hold of his brother’s head, dragging him towards himself. He (Aaron) said: “Son of my mother! Indeed the people deemed me weak, and almost killed me. So let not my enemies gloat over me, and do not count me among the wrongdoing people.”
- He (Moses) said: “My Lord! Forgive me and my brother, and admit us in Your special Mercy, for You are the Most compassionate of the compassion- ate.”
- Those who adopted the calf for worship – a severe punishment and con- demnation from their Lord will indeed overtake them, and humiliation in this life of the world. Thus do We recompense those who fabricate falsehood (in attribution to God). 36
36. God punished those who adopted the calf for worship, but forgave the others. The oth- ers had not prevented the calf-worshippers from this deviance or apostasy. However they repented after Moses’ return and God forgave them (See, 2: 54; 4: 153).
- But as for those who do evil deeds, but later turn to God in repentance and (truly) believe – after that (effort of self-reform) your Lord is assuredly All-For- giving, All-compassionate (especially toward His servants who turn to Him).
- And so when the anger subsided from Moses, He took up the Tablets (to put them into force). Inscribed on them was guidance and mercy for those who have awe of their Lord.
- Moses chose of his people seventy men (to represent them) for Our ap- pointment (on the mountain, in order to ask God for forgiveness for the calf- worship of some among them and to renew their covenant with Him). Then, when the shocking catastrophe seized them,37 Moses said: “My Lord! Had You so willed, You would have destroyed them before, and me (along with them). Will You now destroy us for what the fools among us have done? This is a trial from You whereby You lead whom You will astray, and whom You will guide. You are Our Guardian (to Whom we entrust our affairs and on Whom we rely), so forgive us and have mercy on us! You are the Best in forgiving.
37. This shocking catastrophe was an earthquake. It came because, despite all the manifest signs they had witnessed, the seventy men refused to believe that the commandments Mo- ses brought were indeed from God unless they openly saw God speak to him.
- “Ordain for us good in this world as well as in the Hereafter, for we have turned to You, following Your way.” He (God) said: “My punishment – I afflict with it whom I will (and no one can escape it except that I have mercy on him), and My Mercy embraces all things; and so, (although in the world every being has a share in My Mercy, in the Hereafter) I will ordain it for those who act in reverence for Me and piety and pay their Prescribed Purifying Alms, and they are those who truly believe in all of Our Revelations and signs.
- They follow the (most illustrious) Messenger, the Prophet who neither reads nor writes (and has, therefore, remained preserved from any traces of the existing written culture and is free from any intellectual and spiritual pollution), whom they find described (with all his distinguishing features) in the Torah and the Gospel (that are) with them. He enjoins upon them what is right and good, and forbids them what is evil; he makes pure, wholesome things lawful for them, and bad, corrupt things unlawful. And he relieves them of their burdens (remaining of their own Law) and the restraints that were upon them. So those who believe in him (with all sincerity), honor and support him, and help him, and follow the Light (the Qur’ān) which has been sent down with him –they are those who are the prosperous.”38
38. The Qur’ān suddenly, and in a purposeful style, jumps to the period of God’s Mes-
senger – the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings – and makes the acceptance of Moses’ prayer for those who live in the Messenger’s period dependent upon believing in, and following, both him and the Qur’ān. It gently reminds the People of the Book, especially the children of Israel, of the fact that following their own Prophets and Books requires following God’s Messenger and the Qur’ān; or, in other words, believing in and following God’s Messenger and the Qur’ān is the same as believing in and following their own Prophets and Books. It also warns that true prosperity can only be achieved by so doing, and thus once more refers to the initial verses of Sūrat al-Baqarah . The verse to come will announce that the mission of the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, includes all human beings, and will explain the foundation upon which his mission is based.
Another point that is emphasized in this verse is that there were strict commandments in the Torah that were there due to the conditions of the time and the character of the children of Israel; these commandments are what the Qur’ān describes as burdens and fet- ters. The Prophet Jesus, upon him be peace, modified and lightened some of them (3: 50). God’s Messenger removed all of them, and it is for this reason that Islam is described as the pure, primordial religion which is easy to follow. In the last verse of Sūrat al-Baqarah , the believers are taught to pray: “Our Lord, lay not on us a burden such as You laid on those gone before us (as required by the education they had to receive according to the time and conditions and to their disposition).”
- Say (O Messenger to all humankind): “O humankind! Surely I am to you all the Messenger of God, of Him to Whom belongs the sovereignty of the heavens and the earth. There is no deity but He. He gives life and causes to die.” Believe, then, in God and His Messenger, the Prophet who neither writes nor reads, who believes in God and His words (all His Books, commandments, and deeds); and follow him so that you may be rightly-guided.
- And of the people of Moses there was a community who guided by the truth (by God’s leave) and dispensed justice by it.
- We divided Moses’ people into twelve tribes, forming them into commu- nities. We revealed to Moses when his people asked him for water (on the oc- casion that they were left without water in the desert), saying: “Strike the rock with your staff !” And (as soon as he struck) there gushed forth from it twelve springs. each tribe knew their drinking place. And We caused the cloud to shade them, and sent down upon them manna and quails: “eat of the pure, wholesome things that We have provided for you.” And (by disobeying Our commandments) they wronged not Us, but themselves they used to wrong.
- And when they were told, “Dwell in this town and eat (of the fruits) thereof as you may desire, and say words of imploring forgiveness and loyalty to Him, and enter it (not through different ways with the aim of plundering it and mas- sacring its people, but) through its gate humbly and in utmost submission to
God, so that We forgive you your misdeeds.” We will increase the reward for those devoted to doing good, aware that God is seeing them.
- But those among them who persisted in wrongdoing changed what had been said to them (regarding humility, imploring forgiveness, submission, and loyalty) for another saying (and acted contrarily to how they had been ordered). So We sent down on them a scourge from heaven because they were persistent in wrongdoing.39
39. See also 2: 57–60, notes 67–71.
- Ask them about the township that was by the sea: how its people were vio- lating the Sabbath when their fish came swimming to them on the day of their Sabbath, but on the day they did not keep Sabbath, they did not come to them. Thus did We test them as they were transgressing (all bounds).40
40. God never tests a person or a people in order to mislead them. God has established the laws for the operation of the universe and life. Religion is also a collection of the laws God has established to order our personal and collective life and which He has conveyed to us through His Messengers. Just as these laws include our relationship with, and duty toward, all other creatures, they also include our relationship and duty toward our creator, God. We come to know what will happen as a consequence of what we do either through the teach- ings of God sent to us through the Messengers or from the Books He has sent to them, or through our study of the universe and life. everyone sees the consequence of their decisions and actions in life. We meet the consequences of both types of God’s laws, the laws for the operation of the universe and life, and the laws comprising religion. This is what God calls testing or trial. In this sense, all of life is a collection of trials.
If persons or communities continuously perform good deeds, they will find themselves in a “virtuous circle,” where good deeds give rise to good results which, in turn, lead to good deeds again. If they continue to do evil, this time a vicious circle will appear whereby evil deeds yield evil results which, in turn, lead to evil deeds again. either of these circles be- comes “second nature” in a person. The Qur’ān also indicates this fact with expressions like, Thus did We test them as they were transgressing all bounds (7: 163); so taste the punish- ment for all (the sins) that you were busy earning (through your belief and deeds) (7: 39); That is the Paradise that you have been made to inherit in return for what you were busy doing (in the world) (7: 43); etc.
- And when a community of people among them asked (others who tried to restrain the Sabbath-breakers): “Why do you preach to a people whom God will destroy or punish with a severe punishment?” They said: “So as to have an excuse before your Lord and so that they might keep from such disobedience in reverence for God.”
- Then, when they became heedless of all that they had been reminded of, We saved those who had tried to prevent the evil-doing, and seized the others
who had been doing wrong with an evil punishment for their transgressions.
- Then, when they disdainfully persisted in doing what they had been for- bidden to do, We said to them: “Be apes, miserably slinking and rejected!”41
41. For an explanation, see: 2: 65, note 75.
- And (remember) when your Lord proclaimed that He would, until the Day of Resurrection, send forth against them those who would afflict them with the most evil of suffering. Your Lord is indeed swift in retribution (when it is due), and He is indeed the All-Forgiving, the All-compassionate (especially toward those who turn to Him in repentance and His believing servants).42
42. This proclamation of God is restricted by both the conclusion of the verse which de- clares that God is the All-Forgiving and the All-compassionate, and the verse: Ignominy has been their (the Jews’) portion wherever they have been found except for (when they hold on to) a rope from God or a rope from other peoples (See sūrah 3: 112, note 24). So, the verse means: And (remember) when your Lord proclaimed that He would, until the Day of Resurrection, send forth against them those who would afflict them with the most evil of suffering, (so long as they persist in their wrongdoing and transgressions and do not hold on to a rope from God or a rope from other peoples).
- And We have split them up on the earth as separate communities. Among them are those who are righteous, and those who are not; and We have tested them with blessings as well as with afflictions, that they might turn back (to the right way from the misleading paths they follow).
- And there have succeeded after them new generations who inherited the Book, taking the gains of this low life (for which they sell it), and saying: “We will be forgiven.” (Although by saying so they recognize what they do as a sin), if there comes to them the same sort of fleeting gains, they are ready to take them (instead of refraining). Was there not taken from them the promise con- cerning the Book that they should say of God nothing but the truth? and they (are people who) have st?died and taught what is therein. But the abode of the Hereafter is better for those who keep from disobedience to God in reverence for Him and piety. Will you not, then, reason and understand?
- And as for those who hold fast to the Book sincerely and establish the Prayer in conformity with its conditions – indeed We do not let waste the re- ward of those who are ever reforming (themselves and society), and setting things right.
- And (remember) when We shook the Mount above them as if it were a canopy, and they thought that it was going to fall on them. (We said:) Hold
firmly to (the Book) that We haven given you and be mindful of (the commands and warnings) that it contains, that you may attain piety and due reverence for God, so deserving His protection (against any kind of deviancy and its conse- quent punishment in both this world and the Hereafter.)
- And (remember, O Messenger,) when your Lord brought forth from the children of Adam, from their loins, their offspring, and made them bear witness against themselves (asking them:) “Am I not your Lord?” They said: “Yes, we do bear witness.” (That covenant was taken) lest you should say on the Day of Resurrection, “We were indeed unaware of this (fact that you are our Lord).”
- Or lest you should say (in trying to excuse yourselves): “Our forefathers used to associate partners with God before us, and we were their offspring just fol- lowing after them. Will You, then, ruin us for what those did who rejected Your Lordship and invented that false way (of associating partners with You)?”43
- The event mentioned in verse 172 is of the utmost significance in understanding the ex- istential position of humanity and its relationship with God. We can summarize its mean- ing and importance as follows:
- As God cannot be contained in time or space, nothing exists and no event takes place in relation to Him within the framework of the past, the present, or the future. It is human beings that are contained in time and space, and it is we who view all things and events within the framework of time and space. So, in relation to God, it is mean- ingless to ask when and where He spoke to us.
- When viewed from our perspective and within the framework of time and space, creation follows a descending and ascending line that passes through many stages or realms; existence is within this same line. Just as an article, for instance, has many stages of existence, like existing in the mind of the writer, and then as a plan, and then in a written form, so, too, every being has a primordial existence in God’s Knowledge, then as a general form determined by Destiny, and then in the stages of its material ex- istence. Since our consciousness comes not from our corporeal being, but rather from our spiritual existence, it is completely possible that God may have spoken to us before He sent us, or may speak after He has sent us, to the world, through our spirit or our nature. Some people whom God has enabled to acquire such spiritual refinement that they are able to live at the life-level of the spirit and heart, and, therefore, able to travel in these realms, can remember the incident mentioned in the verse, namely God tak- ing from them the primordial covenant.
- It is very important to note that the covenant God received from all human beings is binding on them, to the extent that we must remember it and cannot defend ourselves in the Hereafter by simply saying that we were unaware of it. Therefore, this covenant must have an objective reality. We can find this reality in the Prophetic Tradition: “ev- ery newborn child is born with a primordial nature and disposition inclined to Islam (al-Bukhārī, “Janāiz,” 80; Muslim, “Qadar,” 22).” Despite this, as stated in the continu- ation of this same Prophetic Tradition, the human disposition to find God, and the innate inclination to find Him, can be obscured by the family, environment or educa-
tion received, and in many verses, such as, Say (to them): “Tell me, if some punishment of God comes upon you or the Last Hour comes upon you, do you then invoke other than God? (Answer that) if you are truthful (and admit the voice of your conscience)
!” (6: 40); the Qur’ān stresses that the human conscience cannot help but be aware of Him in certain circumstances. God has inculcated in everyone’s conscience a point where we seek help, and a point where we seek support. Both manifest themselves at various times, especially when one is left with no apparent, material means of escaping from danger or difficulties, and one feels that there is no way out other than turning to God. even if most people behave as if they have had no such experience when they reach safety, everyone has had some such experience several times in their lives. A per- son can deny God when they are under the influence of their carnal soul, directed by Satan; but everything, every truth, becomes manifest when they die and are left with no other choice but to acknowledge that they have felt deeply and many times dur- ing their worldly life the existence of God, and that He is their Lord, the One Who created and sustained them, and protected them during their worldly life many times against dangers that appeared unexpectedly.
- The expression made them bear witness against themselves , draws our attention to the fact that, although we are innately aware of God’s existence and His being our Lord, our carnal soul does not want to accept or acknowledge His existence or His being our Lord. This is because it desires to live in whatever way it wishes, satisfying all of its ambitions and appetites without recognizing any power that may be able to restrict it. But the carnal soul cannot prevent its owner, the human being, from feeling and acknowledging God’s existence and being aware of the fact that He is our Lord in our conscience, although this acknowledgment goes against the carnal soul.
- And thus We set out in detail the signposts of Our way and the relevant Revelations (included in the Qur’an), so that they may turn back (from their wrong ways to Us).
- Tell them (based on Our Revelation) the story of him whom We made well-informed of Our signs and Revelations, but he cast them off, and Satan overtook him, and he became of those (followers of Satan) who rebel (against God’s way) and go astray.
- If We had willed (to impede the way he chose by his free will), We could indeed have lifted him (toward the perfections enabled by faith) through those signs and Revelations, but (by his own free choice) he clung to the earth and followed his desires. So (in his being surrendered to greed), his likeness is that of a dog: if you move to drive it away, it pants with its tongue lolling out (still hoping to be fed more), or if you leave it, it pants with its tongue lolling out. Such is the likeness of those who deny Our signs and Revelations. So tell them this narrative so that they may (be stirred to) reflect.
- How evil an example are the people who deny Our signs and Revelations, and (in so doing) are ever wronging themselves.
- He whom God guides, he is indeed rightly guided; and he whom He leads
astray – they are the losers.
- Surely, among the jinn and humankind are many that We have created (and destined for) Hell (knowing that they would deserve it). They have hearts with which they do not seek the essence of matters to grasp the truth, and they have eyes with which they do not see, and they have ears with which they do not hear. They are like cattle (following only their instincts) – rather, even more astray (from the right way and in need of being led). Those are the unmindful and heedless.
- To God belong the All-Beautiful Names, so call and pray to Him by them.44 And keep aloof from those who blaspheme (and distort the meaning of ) His Names. They will be recompensed for what they are doing.
44. A perfectly written article demonstrates the perfection of the act or work of writing, which, in turn, demonstrates the perfection of the title “author.” This title is a sign of the perfection of the attribute of authorship, which, in turn, demonstrates the perfection of the talent for or ability in writing possessed by the author. And this capacity indicates the per- fect writer who has written the article. Similarly, the perfection of creation or the universe demonstrates the perfection of the act of creation which, in turn, indicates the perfection of the title of the creator. The perfection of the title is a sign of the perfection of the attribute of creativity, which, in turn, demonstrates the perfection of the essential, indispensable quality of having the “ability” to create. And the perfection of this indispensable quality or ability shows the perfection of the Being Who has it.
An article displays many other abilities or qualities, such as knowledge, fluency in writ- ing, eloquence, the will to write, and the abilities to write, to arrange, and to express one’s opinions; in short, there are many titles such as scholar, author, and organizer. The universe displays many Attributes and Titles or Names of God in the same way. Since it must be the product of only a perfect, infinite knowledge, will and power, we can deduce from this that God is All-Knowing, All-Willing, and All-Powerful. Similarly, as the universe also displays the acts of forming, giving shape, and adorning, etc., and many attributes, such as infinite mercy, munificence, justice, wisdom, grace, and purity, etc., we can deduce that God is All-Merciful, All-Munificent, All-Just, All-Wise, All-Gracious, and All-Pure. This means that the universe, with whatever is in it, points to the Names of God which origi- nate in His Attributes. These, in turn, originate in His essential, Indispensable Qualities of being God, and these qualities have their source in God Himself, as the Divine essence or Being. One or some of these Names are more manifested in a being, with other Names being subordinate; this is what gives it its essence with its particular characteristics. This causes differences among beings. For example, human beings on whom the Divine Name the All-Generous is more manifested than on others are potentially more generous; those on whom the Name All-Knowing is more manifested become more knowledgeable poten- tially, and those on whom the Name the All-Wise is more manifested, generally become wiser, and so on.
We call and must call God by His Names which He taught us, and can and must never call Him by names that are not compatible with His absolute perfection. Also, we pray to
Him by mentioning His Names. For example, if we are ill and pray to Him for recovery, we pray to Him as the All-Healing, and mention this Name. If we feel we need provision and compassion, we pray to Him as or mentioning His Names the All-Providing and the All-Merciful. This is what is meant in this verse.
- And of those whom We have created there are people who, (in due recogni- tion of God with His Names,) guide by the truth (by God’s leave) and dispense justice by it.
- Whereas those who deny Our signs and Revelations, (as the consequence of their way,) We will step by step lead them on to perdition in ways they do not know.
- I grant them respite. My designing is firm and irresistible.
- And do they not reflect (by all that they witness in the Messenger and the Revelations coming to him) that there is no madness in their companion (the Prophet Muhammad)? He is but a plain warner.
- And do they never consider the inner dimension of the heavens and the earth and God’s absolute dominion over them, and what things God has cre- ated, and that the end of their appointed term may already have approached? In what other discourse than this (warning contained in the Qur’an) will they believe?
- Whomever God leads astray there is no one to guide him; and He leaves them wandering blindly in their rebellion.
- They ask you about the Hour, when it will come to anchor. Say: “It is my Lord alone Who knows it; none will disclose it in its time but He. It weighs heavily on the heavens and the earth. It does not come to you except unawares.” They ask you as if you (being a Messenger required or meant that you) were well-informed of it. Say: “It is indeed God alone Who knows it, but most people have no knowledge (of this).”
- Say: “”It is not within my power (to deal benefit and harm so) that unless God wills (and allows me to), I can neither bring benefit to, nor avert harm from, even myself. Had I knowledge of the Unseen, I would always be in profit (with no loss at all), and no adversity would ever touch me. I am only a warner (against the evil consequences of misguidance) and a bearer of glad tidings (of prosperity in return for faith and righteousness) for people who will believe and who have already believed.”
- He it is Who created you from a single human self, and made from it its
mate, so that he (inclining with love towards woman) may find rest in her. And so, when he has covered her, she conceives a light burden, and continues to bear it. Then, when she grows heavy (with child), both (feel the need to) turn to God, their Lord, with prayer: “If You indeed grant us a righteous child, we will most certainly be among the thankful.”
- Then when He grants the couple a sound child, they begin to associate partners with God in respect of what He has granted them.45 Absolutely ex- alted is He above their association of partners with Him and whatever they associate with Him as partners.
45. Parents associate partners with God in respect of their children in the ways such as at- tributing them to nature or “natural laws” and causes or by ascribing their children’s looks or intelligence or achievements in life to themselves or to their children themselves, forgetting God and their debt and duty toward Him because of their children.
- Do they associate as partners with Him those who create nothing and themselves are created,
- And who have no power to give them any help, nor can help themselves?
- And if you call them in the direction of guidance, they do not follow you: It is the same for you whether you call to them or remain silent.
- Those whom you deify and invoke, apart from God, are subservient beings created by God just like yourselves. (If you think and claim otherwise) then call on them and let them answer you, if you are truthful!46
46. Some elementary school teachers in some Muslim lands used to enter their classrooms with sweets in their pockets and, in order to avert young minds from belief in God, would ask the students, “Ask God for sweets and see whether He will give you any!” When, natu- rally, the students did not receive their sweets, using the most primitive method of dialec- tics, the teacher then would say: “Now ask me and see whether I will give you any!” This was the basest and most primitive way of thinking that history has ever seen, conceiving of God as being of the same as the created. Like Abraham’s challenging Nimrod to make the sun rise from the west, as opposed to how God makes it rise from the east, this verse, too, provides an answer to such primitive modes of thinking. The operation of the universe, like its creation, is included in God’s acts; these are not based on partial wisdom, taking into consideration individual entities as being independent from others, but rather are based on universal wisdom, considering the universe both as a whole and with every individual entity in it, and the universe’s relationships with individual entities as well as the relationships among those entities.
Among beings, humans have the most developed consciousness and the greatest ability to do or bring about something; yet most aspects of our lives are independent of us. For ex- ample, we have no say in the matter of our color, race, family, physique, or the date and place of our birth and death. Our bodies work automatically, according to a system established by
the creator and independent of us. Our vital needs, such as hunger, thirst, respiration, and sleeping, keep us always under their grip and, therefore, we cannot overcome them; rather, we are compelled to live bound to these needs. However, we observe a magnificent, perfect coordination and harmony between our lives, our needs, the composition and working of our bodies, and the “natural” environment that surrounds us. If, despite all this and the magnificent order of the universe, with whatever is in it that demonstrates the existence of an absolute, all-including knowledge, will, and power, we deny that there is One Who possesses them, then this is nothing less than self-deception. Denial of God is the deepest abyss into which we can fall, the darkest ignorance, the basest choice, the meanest lie, and it means abandoning reason, consciousness, and the power of thought.
God makes humankind aware of His existence in many other ways. everyone has experi- enced how some of their needs have been met unexpectedly; some of our inward prayers, those that appear in the form of desires, have been answered; an unseen hand has come to our aid in an impossible situation; or we have been saved from a danger when left without any other means. But, in order to be able to deny the existence of a Supreme Being, people attribute all these to chance or coincidence; both are, in fact, nothing more than mere des- ignations, and attributing the creation and direction of the universe and events is the great- est and most shameful of crimes. In the face of such an unforgivable crime, committed by many in the world, including many scientists, it is not possible to perceive and acknowledge how great a blessing belief is, how valuable a gift He grants us almost for nothing.
The verse to come will explain that anything substituted for God – be it nature, chance, matter, causality, or an idol – must possess power, seeing, and hearing. In the universe, there are beings, like animals and humanity, which have these powers. Seeing that it is not these beings themselves who create with such faculties; seeing that their lives pass independently of themselves to a great extent; and seeing that anyone who does not have these powers cannot impart them to others, there must be one who possesses them and imparts them to others. What a great pity it is that in the present age, which we call the age of science, many scientists cannot see this most manifest reality; this is a reality which even the people who lived in the most “primitive” ages could see. The reason many refuse to see this nowadays is merely in order to deny the existence of God, and to attribute existence to such idols as matter, nature, chance, and causality, which have no knowledge, consciousness, seeing, or hearing. This is a most heinous deception on their part and a trick that their carnal selves, caprices, and satans play on them.
- (How can you expect that they will answer:) have they feet on which they could walk; or have they hands with which they could grasp; or have they eyes with which they could see; or have they ears with which they could hear? Say (to them): “call upon those you associate with God as partners, then scheme against me, and give me no respite!
- “Indeed, my Guardian is God Who sends down the Book in parts, and He befriends and protects the righteous.
- “Whereas those whom you deify and invoke, apart from Him, have no power to help you, nor can they help themselves.
- If you call them to the guidance, they will not hear. And you see them look- ing at you (and may suppose that they have the power of seeing), but they do not see (having no insight or perceptiveness).”
- (even so, O Messenger) adopt the way of forbearance and tolerance, and enjoin what is good and right, and withdraw from the ignorant ones (do not care what they say and do).
- And if a prompting from Satan should cause you hurt (as you carry out your mission or during worship or in your everyday life), seek refuge in God. He is All- Hearing, All-Knowing.
- Those who keep from disobedience to God in reverence for Him and piety: when a suggestion from Satan touches them – they are alert and remember God, and then they have clear discernment.
- Whereas their brothers (the brothers of the satans in the form of human beings) – satans draw them deeper into error and do not give over relax in their efforts.
- When you (O Messenger) do not produce for them a sign (a miracle of the kind they desire, or Revelation temporarily ceases), they say, “Were you unable to make one up?” Say: “I only follow whatever is revealed to me from my Lord. This (the Qur’an) is the light of discernment and insight (into the truth) from your Lord, and guidance and mercy for people who will believe and who have already believed.”
- And so, when the Qur’an is recited, give ear to it and listen in silence so that you may be shown mercy.
- Remember and mention your Lord within yourself (in the depths of your heart), most humbly and in awe, not loud of voice, at morning and evening. And do not be among the neglectful.
- Those (angels) who are in your Lord’s Presence never turn away from His service out of pride, and they glorify Him, and prostrate before Him.