ASH-SHU’ARA


Makkah Period

This sūrah of 227 verses takes its name from the word shu‘arā (poets) in verse 224. It rejects the Makkans’ claim that the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, was a poet and that the Qur’ān is the work of a poet (the Makkans used to associate poets with jinn, and viewed them as akin to soothsayers). The sūrah was revealed in the mid-Makkan period, when the unbelievers launched a campaign of fierce opposition to the Divine Message, using one pretext or another. It answers these pretexts, and sets forth the signs for the truth of the Message which abound in the universe and in the history of preceding communities.


  1. Ta. Sin. Mim.
  2. These are the Revelations of the Book clear in itself and clearly showing the truth.
  3. It may be that you (O Messenger) will torment yourself to death because they refuse to believe.
  4. If We will, We can send down a (compelling) sign on them from heaven, so that they are forced to bow their necks before it (in humility).1
    1. If God willed, He could, for example, write His Name on the surface of the heavens with stars or, as He caused Mount Sinai to tower above the children of Israel to compel them to keep their covenant (2: 63), He could compel people to believe in some way. However, the signs He provides in creation and the lives of humankind, as well as through the Prophets, are perfectly sufficient for one who is not overcome by arrogance, wrongdoing, misjudg- ment, and carnal desires; if God were to provide a more obvious sign, this would mean negating human free will and nullifying the purpose of the tests we are put through.

God has endowed human beings with distinguishing faculties and honored us with free will. He has also created us with a disposition to believe and worship. Moreover, just as the whole universe and our physical composition provide multiple signs for the existence and Unity of God, each human being has many experiences throughout his or her life that also give certainty to his or her conscience about this same, cardinal truth. In addition, God sent numerous Prophets throughout history, the character and life of each of whom, along with the many miracles God created at their hands, were an undeniable sign for the truth of the Message from God. In short, God opens all the doors to faith for human reason and conscience. However, He never compels human beings to believe, because this would be in contradiction to the dignity of free will. Unbelief arises not from there being a lack of suf- ficient signs, but rather from human arrogance, wrongdoing, misjudgment, an attachment

 

to the world and worldly benefits, or carnal desires. This is clear in the history of many peoples who refused to believe, even when the miracle they asked their Prophet to perform had been shown to them, and who were subsequently destroyed as a result. (For example, see 7: 73–79.)

  1. Whenever a new Revelation comes to them from the All-Merciful (to warn and enlighten them), they but turn away from it in aversion.
  2. So they have obstinately denied (this Message). But soon they will come to understand what it was that they were mocking.
  3. Have they not considered the earth, how many of every noble kind We have caused to grow therein in pairs?
  4. Surely in this there is a sign, but most of them are not believers.
  5. And surely your Lord is indeed the All-Glorious with irresistible might (able to punish whoever goes against His Glory), the All-compassionate (especially towards His believing servants).
  6. (Remember) when your Lord called Moses, saying: “Go to the wrongdoing people,
  7. “The people of the Pharaoh. Will they not give up their way in fear of Me and take the way of piety?”
  8. Moses replied: “My Lord! I fear that they will deny me,
  9. “And my breast will be constricted (so that I fail to show the necessary perse- verance and tolerance), and my tongue will not be free (to convey Your Message with the right fluency), so appoint Aaron as a Messenger beside me.
  10. “They also have a charge of crime against me,2 so I fear that they will kill me (and not let me convey Your Message).”

2. This verse is referring to the time (see 28: 15) when Moses, upon him be peace, acciden- tally killed an egyptian, which prompted him to leave egypt for Midian.

  1. (God) said: “Not so, indeed! Go forth, then, the two of you, with Our mi- raculous signs (with which I have provided you).3 We will surely be with you all (you and them), listening attentively (to all that is to happen between you).

3. For these signs, see 7: 106–108, 130–135.

  1. “So go, both of you, to the Pharaoh and say: ‘We have come with a message from the Lord of the worlds (He Who has created and sustains everything):
 
  1. ‘Let the children of Israel go with us!’ “
  2. (When Moses delivered his message, the Pharaoh) said: “Did we not bring you up among us (in our palace) when you were a child? And you spent many years of your life among us!
  3. “Then you committed that heinous deed of yours which you did,4 (proving thereby that) you are indeed one of the ungrateful.”

4. This is a reference to the unintentional killing, by Moses, upon him be peace, of a copt, who had fought with an Israelite (28: 15).

  1. (Moses) said: “I committed that deed unintentionally when I did not know (it would end in the way it did.)
  2. “Then I fled5 from you when I feared (living together with) you (any longer), but (since then) my Lord has granted to me sound, wise judgment, and has made me one of His Messengers.

5. Firār, which literally means to run away from or flee, is used in Muslim Sufi literature to denote the journey from the created to the creator, and thereby an escape from the con- finement of self-adoration to “melt away” in the rays of the Truth. The verse flee to God (51: 50), which points to a believer’s journeying in heart and in spirit, refers to this action of the heart, the spiritual intellect.

The further people are from the suffocating atmosphere of corporeality and the carnal dimension of their existence, the closer they are to God, and the more respect they have for themselves. Let us hear from the Prophet Moses, upon him be peace, a loyal devotee at the door of the Truth, about how one fleeing to and taking shelter in God is rewarded: Then I fled from you when I feared (living together with) you (any longer), but (since then) my Lord has granted to me the power of judgment (and the ability to distinguish between truth and falsehood, right and wrong, and to act accordingly) and has made me one of His Messengers. The Prophet Moses, upon him be peace, states that the way to spiritual con- tentment and meeting with God, the way to the Divine vicegerency and nearness to Him, proceeds through a stage of fleeing.

Ordinary people flee from the tumults of life and the ugliness of sin, taking refuge in God’s forgiveness and favor. They declare or ponder on the meaning of: My Lord, always treat us with Your forgiveness and mercy, for You are the Best of the merciful (23: 118). They seek God’s shelter in total sincerity, saying: “I take refuge in You from the evil that I have done” (at-Tirmidhī, “Dawa‘āt,” 15).

Those distinguished by their piety and nearness to God flee from their own lesser qualities to the Divine Attributes; they flee from feeling with their outward senses to discerning and observing with the heart; they flee from ceremonial worship to its innermost dimension, and from carnal feelings to spiritual sensations. This is what is referred to in: “O God, I take refuge in Your approval from Your wrath, and in Your forgiveness from Your punishment” (Muslim, “Salāh,” 222).

 

The most advanced in knowledge and love of God and in piety flee from the Attributes to the Divine Being or essence, and from the Truth to the Truth Himself. They say: “I take refuge in You from You” (ibid); and they are always in awe of God (See Key concepts, 1: 13–14).

  1. “As for that favor you taunt me with: (it is owed to the fact) that you have enslaved the children of Israel.”
  2. (The Pharaoh) said: “What (and who) is that, ‘the Lord of the worlds’?”
  3. (Moses) answered: “The Lord (creator, Sustainer, and sole Ruler) of the heavens and the earth and all that is between them, if you would but (let your- selves be) convinced!”
  4. (The Pharaoh) said to those around him: “Do you not hear (what he is say- ing)?”
  5. (Moses) continued: “Your Lord, and the Lord of your forefathers.”
  6. (The Pharaoh) exclaimed: “See! This Messenger of yours who has been sent to you is assuredly a madman.”
  7. (Moses) went on: “He is the Lord of the east and the west and all that is between them, if you would but reason and understand!”
  8. (The Pharaoh) threatened: “If you, (O Moses,) take any deity other than me (to worship, to offer your prayer and sacrifices to, and to seek help from), I will most certainly make you one of those imprisoned.”6

6. The Pharaoh claimed that he was the greatest lord of all those under his rule (79: 24). He ruled over them however he wished. Yet, when the Prophet Moses, upon him be peace, proclaimed that God was the Lord of all creation, including the Pharaoh himself and his men and their ancestors, the Pharaoh felt that his rule had been challenged. So, as every dictator does, he resorted to threats. Although Moses, upon him be peace, proclaimed God as the Lord (creator, Sustainer, and Ruler) of all creation, at this point the Pharaoh claimed divinity. He must have understood that Divinity and Lordship cannot be consid- ered separately and only one who has divinity can be lord. However, despite his claim of divinity, both the Pharaoh himself and the copts worshipped many deities (7: 127). So he must have used deity in the sense that he was the sole lord and master of egypt, where he deemed himself to have absolute authority.

Lordship demands obedience, while Divinity demands worship. Since God is the Deity of all creation, One Who has absolute, perfect Knowledge, Will, and Power, and Who de- serves to be worshipped exclusively, being entitled to receive all kinds of sacrificial offerings, and Whose help is sought, absolute Lordship also belongs to Him. As He has supreme authority and sovereignty over the universe as its Lord (its creator, Sustainer, and Ruler), One Who has full knowledge of the universe as a whole and of each particular thing or being, and absolute Will and Power to be able to do anything He wills, absolute sovereignty

 

in the human realm also belongs to Him. However, while all other beings, except jinn and humans, obey Him absolutely, because they have no free will, human beings and jinn are allowed some space for the exercise of their free will.

  1. (Moses) said: “even if I have brought you something clear (which demon- strates that I am speaking the truth)?”
  2. (The Pharaoh) answered: “Then, produce it if you are truthful (in your claim)!”
  3. Thereupon Moses threw down his staff, and it was manifestly a serpent.
  4. 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.
  5. (The Pharaoh) said to the chiefs around him: “This is indeed a learned, skillful sorcerer,
  6. “Who seeks to drive you out from your land by his sorcery. What, then, do you advise (me to do)?”
  7. They said: “Put him and his brother off for a while, and (in the meantime) send forth heralds to all cities,
  8. “To bring to your presence every learned, skillful sorcerer.”
  9. So the sorcerers were assembled (to contend with Moses) at the appointed time on a day (made) well-known (to all),7

7. See 20: 59.

  1. And it was said to the people: “Will you not assemble (and attend also)?
  2. “We are expecting that the sorcerers will triumph and we will follow them (in their religion).”8

8. The men of Pharaoh encouraged the sorcerers to overcome Moses, upon him be peace, with the hope of preventing Moses’ message to have any influence on people.

  1. So then the sorcerers came forth (for the encounter) and said to the Pha- raoh: “We shall surely have a reward, if we are the victors, shall we?”
  2. (The Pharaoh) answered: “Yes, indeed. And you will then be among those near-stationed to me.”
  3. Moses said to them (the sorcerers): “Throw whatever you are going to throw!”
 
  1. So they threw their ropes and staffs, saying: “By the might and glory of Pha- raoh, we will surely be the victors.”
  2. Thereafter, Moses threw his staff, and behold, it swallowed up their false devices.
  3. The sorcerers threw themselves down, prostrating,
  4. And they said: “We have come to believe in the Lord of the worlds,
  5. “The Lord of Moses and Aaron!”
  6. (The Pharaoh) said: “What! Do you believe in Him before I give you per- mission? For sure he is your chief who has taught you sorcery. But in time you will certainly come to know. I will most certainly have your hands and feet cut off alternately, and then I will most certainly have you crucified all together.”
  7. They responded: “There is no hurt (in what you threaten us with). For surely to our (true and everlasting) Lord we are bound to return.”
  8. “We ardently desire that our Lord will forgive us our sins for we are the first to believe.”
  9. (events developed to the point that) We revealed to Moses: “Set forth with My servants by night: surely, you will be pursued.”
  10. Then the Pharaoh sent heralds to the cities (to mobilize his troops),
  11. (Saying:) “Those people are indeed a paltry band;
  12. “And (forgetting their lack in numbers and power), they have offended against us (and so provoked our wrath).
  13. “As for us, we are assuredly a numerous host, ever on guard.”9

9. The Pharaoh’s propaganda indicates the deep-rooted fears that he was trying to hide un- der the guise of fearlessness. On the one hand, he was mobilizing forces from all corners of the country, and on the other, he was stating that the children of Israel were powerless. In fact, he was trying to prevent people from seeing that a mighty king like himself was afraid of a people whom he and his forefathers had been persecuting over the ages.

  1. Thus did We drive them out of (all that they had enjoyed of ) gardens and springs,
  2. And treasures, excellent dwellings, and noble status.
  3. Things happened thus, and We made the children of Israel survive them and inherit (the same kind of bounties).10
 

10. This is a reference to the final victory of the children of Israel and to their founding a great state and civilization during the time of the Prophets David and Solomon, upon them be peace. These verses refer to how events ended, with the subsequent verses proceeding to narrate the tale of the Pharaoh and his army, intended as an example for humanity.

  1. At sunrise, the Pharaoh set off in pursuit of them. tyrant tyrannical
  2. When the two hosts came in view of each other, the companions of Moses said: “We are certainly overtaken!”
  3. He replied: “certainly not. My Lord is surely with me; He will guide me (to deliverance).”11

11. When the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, hid himself and his friend, Abū Bakr, in the cave of Thawr during his emigration to Madīnah, those who pursued him from among the Makkans approached as close as the entrance of the cave. Worried about the life of the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, Abū Bakr told him: “O Messenger of God, we have been overtaken.” The Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, replied: “Do not grieve, God is surely with us” (9: 40). The reactions of both God’s Last Messenger and the Prophet Moses, upon them be peace, are in essence the same, yet there are significant and subtle differences between them.

Prophet Moses, upon him be peace, spoke on his own behalf, which shows that he had absolute leadership over his community, while Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, spoke on behalf of himself and his companion. This signifies that he shared his leadership with his community. This is why the Qur’ān addresses the whole community of Muslims when the matter concerns the performance of public responsibilities carried out by modern states. Sharing responsibilities, mutual help, solidarity, and consultation are essential in Islam. The Prophet Muhammad’s words also show Abū Bakr’s greatness and closeness to the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings.

Secondly, the Prophet Moses, upon him be peace, spoke of God as “my Lord,” which sug- gests that his relationship with God was particular to himself, while the Prophet Muham- mad, upon him be peace and blessings, spoke of Him as God, the proper Name of the Divine Being, a Name which contains the meaning of all of His other Names. So the Prophet Muhammad’s relationship with Him was universal and representative of all con- scious beings. This also shows that his mission was universal.

Thirdly, Prophet Moses, upon him be peace, used the (near) future tense in order to express God’s expected help, but Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, used the present tense, saying: God is surely with us. This difference implies that the Prophet Mu- hammad’s relationship with God and his expectations of God are eternal.

Finally, it should not be forgotten that this comparison is between two of the greatest Mes- sengers of God, and concerns the mission and particular greatness of each.

  1. We revealed to Moses: “Strike the sea with your staff.” Thereupon the sea split, and each part became like a towering mountain.
 
  1. We brought the others (the Pharaoh and his host) close to the same spot.
  2. And We saved Moses and all those who were with him.
  3. Afterwards, We caused the others to drown.12

12. For a more detailed account of the events narrated here, see 7: 103–137; 10: 75–93; 20: 9–79.

  1. Surely in that (which took place between Moses and Pharaoh) there is a sign (a great, important lesson). Most of them (the Pharaoh’s people) were not believers.
  2. And surely your Lord is indeed the All-Glorious with irresistible might (able to punish whoever goes against His Glory), the All-compassionate (espe- cially towards His believing servants).13

13. These last two verses refer back to verses 8 and 9, and express the same truth in the same words. They threaten those who stubbornly persist in unbelief and wrongdoing and who try to prevent the spreading of God’s Message, while they console and encourage the believers. The fact that the unbelievers are usually greater in number should not mislead us. So long as the believers are steadfast in God’s cause and help His cause, the final happy end will belong to them both in this world and, absolutely, in the Hereafter. For nothing can prevent God from punishing whom He wills, while at the same time He is All-com- passionate towards the believers.

  1. Now recite to them this exemplary history of Abraham.
  2. When he said to his father and his people: “What is it that you worship?”14

14. For Āzar, Abraham’s father, his people, and their faith, see 6: 74, note 16; 9: 114, note 25.

  1. They said: “We worship idols; and (even though they are made of wood and stone) we are ever devoted to them (as they are our deities).”
  2. (Abraham) said: “Do they hear you when you invoke them?
  3. “Or do they benefit you (when you worship them) or harm (you when you do not)?
  4. They replied: “But we found our forefathers doing the same.”15

15. This is typical human nature. It is really very difficult for human beings to abandon es- tablished ideas and customs. People tend not to think too much about whether or not what they are doing is rational or is based on some truth. Islam brings freedom to human think- ing, saves the human mind from prejudice and blind imitation, and explains the truth in all its clarity, aiming at removing all obstacles that can be placed before free human choice. A. cressy Morrison, former-head of the New York Academy of Sciences, draws attention to

 

this aspect of human nature:

…. all the nearly exact requirements of life could not be brought about on one planet at one time by chance. The size of the earth, the distance from the Sun, the temperature and the life-giving rays of the Sun, the thickness of the earth’s crust, the quantity of water, the amount of carbon dioxide, the volume of nitrogen, the emergence of man and his surviv- al—all point to order out of chaos, to design and purpose, and to the fact that, according to the inexorable laws of mathematics, all these could not occur by chance simultaneously on one planet once in a billion times. When the facts are so overwhelming, and when we recognize, as we must, the attributes of our minds which are not material, is it possible to flaunt the evidence and take the one chance in a billion that we and all else are the result of chance?

There are 999,999,999 chances to one against a belief that all things happen by chance. Science will not deny the facts as stated; the mathematicians will agree that the figures are correct. Now we encounter the stubborn resistance of the human mind, which is reluctant to give up fixed ideas. The early Greeks knew the earth was a sphere, but it took two thou- sand years to convince (Western) men that this fact is true.

New ideas encounter opposition, ridicule and abuse, but truth survives and is verified. (Morrison, 99–100)

  1. (Abraham) said: “So, have you considered what you have been worship- ping?
  2. “You and all your forefathers that have passed (before you)?
  3. “I see that they (all that you worship) are enemies to me,16 but the Lord of the worlds is not:

16. These idols are enemies in that when one worships them, their worship brings ruin in both worlds, and they deny this worship of them and turn against that person on the Day of Judgment.

  1. “He Who has created me and so guides me (to whatever is to my benefit in both this world and the next).
  2. “And He it is Who gives me food and drink;
  3. “And Who, when I fall ill, heals me.
  4. “And Who will make me die and then will give me life again.
  5. “And Who, I hope, will forgive me my faults on Judgment Day.17

17. everyone, even a Prophet, is in need of God’s Mercy and Forgiveness. God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, used to pray:

 

O God, I ask You for contentment after misfortune, a peaceful life after death, the pleasure of observing Your Face, and the desire to meet You. I take refuge in You from wronging others and from being wronged, from showing animosity and being subject to animosity, and from erring or committing unforgivable sins. If You leave me to myself, You leave me in weakness, need, sinfulness, and error. I depend only on Your Mercy, so forgive all my sins, for only You can do so. Accept my repentance, for You are the Oft-Relenting, All- compassionate. (Ibn Hanbal, 5: 191)

This invocation does not mean that God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, sinned; instead, it shows His deep devotion to God and his consciousness of responsibil- ity. He regarded himself as an ordinary servant of God. Once he said: “No one can enter Paradise by virtue of his own deeds (without God’s Mercy).” When asked if this was true for himself as well, he replied that God’s Mercy embraced him (al-Bukhārī, “Riqāq,” 18).

God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, asked God to forgive him at least seventy times a day. It is a great characteristic of a Prophet that he regards himself as being fallible. Other people can never state that a Prophet ever sinned, because sinlessness is one of the essentials of Prophethood; but at the same time, all the Prophets were notable for their humility.

  1. “My Lord! Grant me true, wise judgment, and join me with the righteous.
  2. “And grant me a most true and virtuous renown among posterity.18

18. The Qur’ān declares that God granted Prophets Zachariah, John, Jesus, Abraham, Mo- ses, and Aaron, upon them all be peace, a most true and virtuous renown among people (19: 50). This means that He made them (and all other Prophets) exceptional examples to follow in belief, thought, and conduct. The example they left continued to benefit later gen- erations by inspiring them to do good. By virtue of this, the Prophets continue to increase their rewards, because “one who causes (enables something) is like one who does it.” God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, declared: “Those who establish a good path in Islam receive the reward of those who follow it, without any decrease in their reward. Those who establish an evil path in Islam are burdened with the sins of those who follow it, without any decrease in their burden” (Muslim, “Zakāh,” 69).

  1. “And make me one of the inheritors of the Garden of bounty and bless- ing.19

19. The reason why we ask to be an inheritor of Paradise is that: (1) Inheritance is the easiest way of earning, a way which requires no labor, so asking to inherit Paradise means that we are saying, “I ask You, O my Lord, to place me in Paradise out of Your pure grace, because I cannot deserve it by my deeds.” (2) There is a place pre-assigned for everyone in both Paradise and Hell. If one dies and enters Hell, the people of Paradise inherit that person’s place.

  1. “And forgive my father, for he is among those who have gone astray.20

20. The Prophet Abraham, upon him be peace, prayed for Āzar because he had prom-

 

ised his father that he would prayer for him (19: 47). But when God informed him that Āzar was an enemy of God, condemned to eternal punishment because he had associated partners with God, Abraham, upon him be peace, stopped praying for him (9: 114). God declared: It is not for the Prophet and those who believe to ask God for the forgiveness of those who associate partners with God, even though they be near of kin, after it has become clear to them that those (polytheists) are condemned to the Blazing Flame (9: 113).

  1. “And do not disgrace me on the Day when all people will be raised up to life.
  2. “The Day when neither wealth will be of any use, nor offspring,
  3. “But only he (will prosper) who comes before God with a sound heart (free of all kinds of unbelief, hypocrisy, and associating partners with God).”
  4. And Paradise (on that Day) will be brought near for the God-revering, pi- ous;
  5. And the Blazing Flame will be laid open before those who rebelled (against God) and went astray.21

21. Paradise and Hell are two fruits growing on the tip of a branch that extends from the Tree of creation far into eternity, two opposite destinations along the chain of beings. These destinations are located on opposite ends of the chain: the degraded one on the lower end, and the luminous, sublime one on the upper end.

Paradise and Hell are two storerooms for the flow of worldly events and the products of the earth, all made by its conscious inhabitants. They are two pools that collect the flow of two streams, one stream carrying the wicked and foul while the other carries the good and pure. Paradise is the place where Divine Favor and Mercy manifest themselves, whereas Hell is the place where Divine ‘Wrath’ and Awe are exhibited. The All-Merciful and the All-Majestic One manifests Himself (through His Names and Attributes) wherever He wills. The existence of the fruit is as evident as the existence of the branch; the existence of the destination is as evident as the existence of the chain, the existence of the storeroom is as evident as that of the product, the pool is as evident as the stream, and the place of manifestation is as evident as the existence of (Divine) Mercy and Wrath (The Letters, “The First Letter,” 6–8).

  1. They will be asked: “Where are all those (idols or revered human beings, or angels, or jinn) that you used to worship
  2. “Apart from God? can they be of any help to you, or even to themselves?”
  3. Then they will be hurled into the Flame headlong, one upon another – they (the idols), and the rebellious (who worship them).
  4. And so too the hosts of Iblis, all together.
 
  1. Blaming one another therein, they (the rebellious) will say (to the others):
  2. “By God, assuredly, we were lost in obvious error,
  3. “When we held you as equals (in worship and obedience) to the Lord of the worlds.
  4. “It is none but the criminals (the leaders in associating partners with God) who led us astray.
  5. “And now we have none to intercede (on our behalf ),
  6. “Nor any intimate friend.
  7. “If only we had a second chance (in the world), so that we might be among the believers!”
  8. Surely in that (which took place between Abraham and his people) there is a sign (a great, important lesson). Most of them were not believers.
  9. And surely your Lord is indeed the All-Glorious with irresistible might (able to punish whoever goes against His Glory), the All-compassionate (espe- cially towards His believing servants).
  10. The people of Noah denied (Noah and thereby meant to deny all) the Mes- sengers.
  11. (Recall) when their brother Noah said to them (by way of timely warning): “Will you not keep from disobedience to God in reverence for Him and seek refuge with His protection?
  12. “Surely I am a Messenger to you, trustworthy.
  13. “So keep form disobedience to God in reverence for Him, and obey me.
  14. “I ask of you no wage for that (for conveying God’s Message); my wage is due only from the Lord of the worlds.22

22. Trustworthiness and communication of God’s Message are two of the essentials of Messengership, the others being truthfulness, intelligence, sinlessness, and freedom from all bodily and mental defects. These are present in every Messenger.

Truthfulness is the cornerstone of Messengership. No lies or deceit, whether explicit or implicit, were ever uttered by them. The second attribute of Messengership is amānah, an Arabic word meaning trustworthiness and which is derived from the same root as mu’min (believer). Being a believer implies being a trustworthy person. All Prophets were the best believers and therefore perfect exemplars of trustworthiness. To stress this principle, God summarizes the stories of five Prophets in this sūrah using the same statements: Surely I

 

am a Messenger to you, trustworthy (107, 125, 143, 162, 178).

Mu’min is also a Divine Name, for God is the ultimate Mu’min, the source of security and reliability. We put our trust in, confide in, and rely upon Him. He distinguished the Proph- ets by their trustworthiness, and our connection to Him through the Prophets is based entirely on their trustworthiness and reliability.

The third attribute of Messengership is communication of the Divine Message. God mani- fested His Mercy and compassion for humankind through the Messengers. They expected no reward for performing their mission. They suffered hunger, thirst, and every other hard- ship. Many of them were forced into exile and were made the target of many assaults and traps, and still many others were killed. They bore all of these simply for the good pleasure of God and the good of humankind.

Messengers never thought of material gain, spiritual reward, or even Paradise – they strove only for God’s good pleasure and to see humanity guided to the truth. Imam Busīrī ex- presses in vivid language the altruism, sincerity, and patience of God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings: “Mountains would desire to run on either side of him in heaps of gold, but he refused.”

Those who feel responsible for serving the cause of Islam in every age must be trustworthy and communicate God’s Message without expecting any reward from others.

  1. “So keep from disobedience to God in reverence for Him, and obey me.”
  2. They responded: “Shall we believe in you, when the lowliest (among the people) follow you!”23

23. For a detailed explanation of the attitude of the leaders among the people of Noah, upon him be peace, see 11: 27, note 8.

  1. (Noah) said: “What knowledge could I have about what they were engaged in doing (before they became believers)?
  2. “Indeed their reckoning rests with none but my Lord; if only you could understand!24

24. That is, a believer cannot be a lowly person. What the Prophet Noah, upon him be peace, is saying here is: “You may regard them as the lowliest of people because of some of the deeds they had done before believing, but I cannot have any knowledge about these deeds. Furthermore, belief removes all that was left in the past. Nor can I question any of their deeds. Nor can I know whether they believe in me for some ulterior motives, such as gaining material advantages. Furthermore, I am not responsible for judging their inten- tions. It is God alone Who knows everybody’s intention and will take them to account.” The Prophet Noah, upon him be peace, could only judge the people according to what they said, not what was truly in their hearts, nor in their past.

  1. “And it is not expected of me that I should repel the believers.
 
  1. “I am but a plain warner (responsible for no other duty than the duty to warn).”
  2. They said: “If you do not desist, O Noah, you will certainly be stoned to death in utter abjection.”
  3. (After ages of struggle,)25 he said (in supplication): “My Lord! Indeed, my people have denied me.

25. The Prophet Noah, upon him be peace, remained among his people for 950 years (29: 14).

  1. “So judge between me and them a conclusive (and everlasting) separation, and save me and the believers in my company.”
  2. So We saved him and those who were with him in the laden Ark.
  3. And then, following their rescue, We caused the rest to drown.26

26. For a detailed account of the Ark and the fate of Noah, upon him be peace, and his people, see 11: 25–48 and the corresponding notes 8–14.

  1. Surely in that (which took place between Noah and his people) there is a sign (a great, important lesson). Most of them were not believers.
  2. And surely your Lord is indeed the All-Glorious with irresistible might (able to punish whoever goes against His Glory), the All-compassionate (espe- cially towards His believing servants).
  3. The ‘Ad denied (Hud and thereby meant to deny all) the Messengers.
  4. (Recall) when their brother Hud said to them (by way of timely warning): “Will you not keep from disobedience to God in reverence for Him and seek refuge with His protection?
  5. “Surely I am a Messenger to you, trustworthy.
  6. “So keep from disobedience to God in reverence for Him and obey me.
  7. “I ask of you no wage for that (for conveying God’s Message); my wage is only due from the Lord of the worlds.
  8. “Will you continue to build on every high spot monumental buildings for fun and show;
  9. “And make for yourselves great castles (as if ) hoping that you might live for ever;
 
  1. “And when you strike and seize (others and their goods), strike and seize in the style of tyrants?
  2. “So keep from disobedience to God in reverence for Him and obey me.
  3. “Keep from disobedience to Him Who has amply provided you with (all that) you are well-aware of;
  4. “Amply provided you with flocks and herds and children,
  5. “And gardens and springs.
  6. “Indeed I fear for you the punishment of an awesome Day.”
  7. They responded: “It is all the same to us whether you preach or are not of those who preach.
  8. “This (what we do) is the pattern of conduct of (all our) predecessors.
  9. “And (so) we are not going to be subject to any punishment.”
  10. So they denied him and, in consequence, We destroyed them. Surely in that (which took place between Hud and his people) there is a sign (a great, impor- tant lesson). Most of them were not believers.
  11. And surely your Lord is indeed the All-Glorious with irresistible might (able to punish whoever goes against His Glory), the All-compassionate (espe- cially towards His believing servants).
  12. The Thamud denied (Salih and thereby meant to deny all) the Messen- gers.
  13. (Recall) when their brother Salih said to them (by way of timely warning): “Will you not keep from disobedience to God in reverence for Him and seek refuge with His protection?
  14. “I am indeed a Messenger to you, trustworthy.
  15. “So keep from disobedience to God in reverence for Him and obey me.
  16. “I ask of you no wage for that (for conveying God’s Message); my wage is only due from the Lord of the worlds.
  17. “(Do you think) you will be left secure forever in what is here before us,
  18. “Amidst gardens and springs,
  19. “cornfields and date-palms with heavy bunches (of dates);
 
  1. “And that you will (continue to) skillfully hew dwellings out of moun- tains?
  2. “So keep from disobedience to God in reverence for Him and obey me;
  3. “And do not follow the commands of those who are wasteful (of God-given faculties) and commit excesses,
  4. “Those who cause disorder and corruption on the earth, without setting things right.”
  5. They responded: “You are only one of those who are bewitched.
  6. “You are but a mortal like us, so produce a sign if you are truthful (in your claim of Messengership).”
  7. (Sālih) said: “This is a she-camel;27 one day is for her to drink, and one day is for you to get water.

27. For the she-camel, see 7: 73, note 17; 11: 64.

  1. “Do not touch her with evil lest the punishment of an awesome Day should seize you.”
  2. But (after a time, being unable to put up with it any longer,) they cruelly slaughtered her, and then became regretful,
  3. For the (shocking) punishment seized them. Surely in that (which took place between Salih and his people) there is a sign (a great, important lesson). Most of them were not believers.
  4. And surely your Lord is indeed the All-Glorious with irresistible might (able to punish whoever goes against His Glory), the All-compassionate (espe- cially towards His believing servants).
  5. The people of Lot denied (Lot and thereby meant to deny all) the Mes- sengers.
  6. (Recall) when their brother Lot said to them (by way of timely warning): “Will you not keep from disobedience to God in reverence for Him and seek refuge with His protection?
  7. “I am indeed a Messenger to you, trustworthy.
  8. “So keep from disobedience to God in reverence for Him and obey me.
  9. I ask of you no wage for that (for conveying God’s Message); my wage is
 

only due from the Lord of the worlds.

  1. “What! Do you, of all the world’s people, approach men (with lust),
  2. “And leave aside what your Lord has created (and made lawful) for you in your wives? No, indeed! you are a people exceeding all bounds (of decency).”
  3. They responded: “If you do not desist, you will most certainly be cast out (from our land).”
  4. (Lot) said: “I am indeed one who abhors your practice.”
  5. (And he prayed:) “My Lord! Save me and my family28 from (the conse- quences of ) what they have been doing.”

28. Lot, upon him be peace, prayed for himself and his family only because his family had accepted his Message and submitted to God (51: 36).

  1. So We saved him and his family, all of them,
  2. except an old woman, who was among those who stayed behind (and were destroyed).29

29. The verse refers to Lot’s wife, who did not believe in him and who sided with the wicked people (11: 81).

  1. Then We annihilated the others.
  2. We poured upon them a (destructive) rain (of stones). How evil was the rain of those who had been warned!30

30. For other accounts of Lot’s people, see 7: 80–84, note 18; 11: 77–83, note: 18; 15: 61–77.

  1. Surely in that (which took place between Lot and his people) there is a sign (a great, important lesson). Most of them were not believers.
  2. And surely your Lord is indeed the All-Glorious with irresistible might (able to punish whoever goes against His Glory), the All-compassionate (espe- cially towards His believing servants).
  3. The dwellers of al-Aykah31 denied (Shu‘ayb and, thereby, meant to deny all) the Messengers.

31. For the identity of the people of al-Aykah, see 15, note 15.

  1. (Recall) when Shu‘ayb said to them (by way of timely warning): “Will you not keep from disobedience to God in reverence for Him and seek refuge with
 

His protection?

  1. “I am indeed a Messenger to you, trustworthy.
  2. “So keep from disobedience to God in reverence for Him and obey me.
  3. “I ask of you no wage for that (for conveying God’s Message); my wage is only due from the Lord of the worlds.
  4. “Give full measure (in all your dealings) and be not one of those who (by cheating and giving less) cause loss to others.
  5. “And weigh with the straighta true, accurate balance.
  6. “Do not wrong people by depriving them of what is rightfully theirs, and do not go about acting wickedly in the land, causing disorder and corruption.
  7. “Keep from disobedience to Him in reverence for Him Who has created you and all the earlier generations.”
  8. They responded: “You are only one of those who are bewitched.
  9. “You are but a mortal like us, and we have become convinced that you are certainly one of the liars.
  10. “So cause lumps from the sky to fall down upon us, if you are truthful in your claim (of Messengership).”
  11. (Shu‘ayb) said: “My Lord knows well all that you do.” (Thus he referred their matter to God.)
  12. So they denied him and in consequence, the punishment of the Day of the Overshadowing seized them. It surely was the punishment of an awesome day.

189. So they denied him and, in consequence, the punishment of the Day of the Overshadowing seized them.32 It surely was the punishment of an awesome day.

32. There is nowhere in the Qur’ān or the Hadīh that explains the identity of the Over- shadowing. It might have been a dark cloud hovering over al-Aykah and from which a “rain of calamity” poured upon them; or it might be a reference to the dark shadows which accompany volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.

  1. And surely your Lord is indeed the All-Glorious with irresistible might (able to punish whoever goes against His Glory), the All-compassionate (espe- cially towards His believing servants).
  2. This (Qur’an) is indeed the Book of the Lord of the worlds being sent
 

down by Him (in parts).

  1. The Trustworthy Spirit33 brings it down

33. The Trustworthy Spirit is Archangel Gabriel, as explicitly stated in, Whoever is an enemy to Gabriel (should know that) it is he who brings down the Qur’ān on your heart by the leave of God (2: 97). God mentions him here as trustworthy in order to stress that there can be no doubt about the authenticity and genuineness of the Qur’ān. As clearly seen in the verses above about the Messengers, and verses 221–226 which follow and state that jinn or devils can never have an effect on the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, this sūrah dwells on the trustworthiness of the Messengers and the fact that there is nothing that can in any way interfere with Divine Revelation.

  1. On your heart, so that you may be one of the warners (entrusted with the Divine Revelation),
  2. In clear Arabic tongue.
  3. It has certainly been (prefigured) in the previous Scriptures.
  4. Is it not an evidence enough for them that the scholars of the children of Israel know it (to be so)?
  5. But even if We had sent it down on any of the non-Arabs,
  6. And he had recited it to them, they would still not have believed in it .34

34. The Makkans sometimes claimed that the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, himself composed the Qur’ān. But all their assertions were only pretexts in order not to believe. even if one of the non-Arabs had brought it in such a clear and eloquent Arabic, they would still not have believed and would have simply come up with new pretexts.

  1. Thus (because of their willful persistence in unbelief and injustices) have We caused it (the Qur’an) to pass unheeded through the hearts of the disbeliev- ing criminals:
  2. (Despite irrefutable proofs of its truth,) they will not believe in it until they see the painful punishment.35

35. This refers to death for every unbeliever and a calamity in the world for some commu- nities, and the world’s final destruction of all the unbelievers who will witness it.

  1. So it will come on them all of a sudden, when they are unaware (and inca- pable of awareness) of its coming.
  2. Then they say: “Are we to be granted some respite (so that we might reform ourselves?”
 
  1. (This being so,) do they still wish for Our punishment to be hastened?36

36. The unbelievers did not believe that any punishment with which they were threatened would ever come upon them, so, with derision, they told the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, to bring the punishment without delay.

  1. Have you considered that, if We let them enjoy life for many (more) years (– something they will desperately wish for when they face the punishment),
  2. And the punishment they were promised comes upon them after that,
  3. It will be of no avail to them at all (that their lives of enjoyment were pro- longed).
  4. We have never destroyed any township except that it had warners (sent to it),
  5. To remind and admonish them. We have never been unjust.
  6. It is not the satans who have brought down this (Book).
  7. It is neither (permitted nor proper) for them, nor is it within their power (to do that).
  8. Indeed they are utterly debarred even from hearing it (during its revelation).37

37. Whatever may be claimed about the revelation of the Qur’ān, the satans were never al- lowed to listen to a single word of it from the moment Archangel Gabriel received the Rev- elation from God and conveyed it to God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, until the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, had fully grasped and memorized it. For further information about attempts by the satans or devils to ascend to heaven and their being expelled, see 15: 18, note 5; 67: 5, note 4.

  1. Hence, never take to you any other deity to invoke besides God, lest you should become of those condemned to the punishment.
  2. And (O Messenger) warn your nearest kinsfolk.38

38. That the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, was sinless does not mean that he was not responsible for carrying out God’s commands and avoiding His prohibitions. Moreover, there is no special consideration or dispensation for either him or his family. Rather, the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, is the first of those responsible for carrying out God’s commandments, and he began communicating God’s Message with his family. In addition, he always employed the members of his family and clan in the most dangerous tasks and never showed them any undue favor. This is a very important lesson and warning for Muslim leaders and administrators.

When this verse was revealed, God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, invited

 

his nearest relatives over for a meal. ‘Ali, may God be pleased with him, later narrated the incident:

God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, invited his relatives to his house. Af- ter the meal, he addressed them: “God has commanded me to warn my nearest relatives. You are my tribe of the nearest kindred. I will not be able to do anything for you in the Hereafter unless you proclaim that there is no deity but God.” At the end of his speech, he asked who would support him. At that time, I was a boy with puny legs and arms. When no one responded, I put aside the pitcher in my hand and declared: “I will, O Messenger of God!” The Messenger repeated the call three times, and each time only I answered him. (Ibn Hanbal, 1: 159)

Once, the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, climbed Mount Safā and, calling every clan of the Quraysh by name, conveyed to them God’s Message and warned them against His punishment (Muslim, “al-Īmān,” 355).

God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, himself suffered hunger, thirst, and every other hardship. He was forced into exile and made the target of many assaults and ambushes. He bore all of these simply for the good pleasure of God and the good of hu- manity. Abu Hurayrah once saw him praying in a sitting position and asked if he was ill. The Messenger’s reply caused Abu Huraryah to weep: “I am hungry, Abu Hurayrah. Hun- ger has left me no strength to stand up for prayer” (Muslim, “Ashribah,” 140).

even though most of his companions became wealthier in later years in Madīnah, the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, and his family never changed their very simple lifestyle. Fātimah, his only surviving child, did all of the housework for her family herself. Once, when captives were distributed in Madīnah, she asked her father for a maid. He replied:

O my daughter. I can give you nothing before I satisfy the needs of the people of the Suffah. However, let me teach you something that is better for you than having a servant. When you go to bed, say: “Glory be to God, All praise be to God, God is the Greatest” 33 times. (Some Traditions say that the last phrase should be recited 34 times.) This is better for your next life. (al-Bukhārī, “Fadā’il as-Sahābah,” 9)

One day he saw her wearing a bracelet (or a necklace, according to another version) and warned her: “O my daughter, do you want people to say of my daughter that she is wear- ing a ring of Hellfire? Take it off immediately!” Fātimah sold it and bought a slave for the money she received and emancipated him (an-Nasā’ī, “Zīnah,” 39).

  1. Spread your wings (to provide care and shelter) over the believers who fol- low you (in practicing God’s commandments in their lives).
  2. But if they disobey you (your kinsfolk, by refusing your call; or those who have newly believed, by not giving up their former way of life), then say (to them): “I am free of (responsibility for) what you do.”39

39. The acts, lifestyles, and conduct of a leader’s family members and relatives in particular,

 

and also those of his followers, may be either in the leader’s favor or against him. every evil action on their part makes the position of the leader difficult in the face of the masses. For this reason, a leader cannot defend their evil acts through kinship. Rather, the leader must declare being quit of their evil acts.

  1. And (taking no account of any earthly power in performing your mission,) put your trust in the All-Glorious with irresistible might (able to do whatever He wills), the All-compassionate (especially towards His believing servants),40

40. It is worth noting that this sūrah begins by declaring that God is the All-Glorious with irresistible might and the All-compassionate (verse 9), and continues by relating the experiences of some Messengers, concluded with the pronouncement of the same two Divine Names. Once again, it mentions them and calls God’s Messenger to rely on Him Who has these Names. This implies that God is able to punish whoever goes against His Glory, while He is All-compassionate toward the believers and, therefore, protects the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, against his opponents. It also suggests that believers should be honored and mighty in the face of the unbelievers and compassionate toward one another.

  1. He Who sees you when you rise (in the Prayer, and in readiness to carry out Our commands),
  2. As well as your strenuous efforts in prostration among those who prostrate (to be able to fulfill your duty of servanthood and help the believer to reform their lives).
  3. Surely, He is the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing.
  4. (O people!) Shall I inform you upon whom the satans descend?
  5. They descend upon everyone addicted to inventing falsehoods, addicted to sinning.
  6. They (the satans) give ear eagerly (to the conversations of the angels, and whisper to every forger lost in sin, as if they received something); but they (both the satans and their sinful agents) are liars in most of their words.41

41. Satans or jinn try to rise to the heaven in order to listen to hear the conversations of the angels, but are prevented. However, they whisper some things to their agents among hu- man beings as if they received something. In addition, since they are more refined in matter than humans, their time-dimension is different and they move much more swiftly in time and space than humans can. This is why they can acquire some information which humans cannot. They add many lies to that information and whisper them to those who can hear them – fortune-tellers, mediums, magicians, etc. – in order to deceive and mislead them and others and separate people, particularly spouses, from each other. This is expressed in a hadīth recorded by al-Bukhārī in his Sahih. When asked about magicians and fortunetell- ers, God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, answered that they were nothing. When he was told that they sometimes told the truth, the Messenger explained: “Jinn

 

whisper this truth to their friends, and they forge a story out of it by adding many false- hoods to it” (al-Bukhārī, “Bad’u’l-Khalq,” 6).

  1. As for poets, only the misguided follow them.
  2. Do you not see that they roam confusedly through all the valleys (of false- hoods, thoughts, and currents).
  3. And they say what they themselves do not do.42

42. In the pre-Islamic age of ignorance, people believed that poets had some contact with evil spirits. The Makkan polytheists sometimes claimed that God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, was one of these poets who, therefore, had received the Qur’ān from these spirits. God declares that the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, is absolutely free of any contact with evil spirits and that the Qur’ān is entirely His Word. The Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, was one without any sin, while those who had contact with evil spirits were people lost in sin. Like the satans who whispered to them, those who had contact with them were also liars, but the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, was absolutely truthful in every word he uttered. The poets who had contact with satans wandered aimlessly in every valley of (literary) trends, played with words, followed every false thought and philosophy, were dragged along by their impulses, lacked consis- tency, and did not observe any established true standard in their sayings, thoughts, or ac- tions. However, just as the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, had nothing to do with such acts or behavior, the Qur’ān is also absolutely above having anything to do with the utterances of poets. Moreover, while it was the misguided, that is, the Makkan polythe- ists who opposed the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, and who followed the poets, the companions who believed in and followed the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, were of high character and conduct and had laudable virtues. Also, the poets related acts that they did not perform or act upon. There was no consistency between their sayings and their actions, whereas the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, and his companions preached what they practiced, and practiced what they preached.

  1. except those who believe and do good, righteous deeds, and remember God much, and vindicate themselves when they have been wronged.43 The wrongdo- ers will come to know by what a (great) reverse they will be overturned.

43. This verse makes four exceptions to the general condemnation of poets. The poets who

(i) believe in the essentials of faith; (ii) do good, righteous deeds required by their faith; (iii) never forget God, perform their Prayers, and mention Him much; and (iv) without ever us- ing their literary ability for sinful ends or for any goals disapproved by Islam, support truth and defend it whenever it is attacked. Whenever necessary, they use their poetic talent to defend Islam and Muslims, and oppose oppression and the oppressors.