Verses from Surah al-Nahl (78-89)

[78] Allah brought you out of the wombs of your mothers not knowing a thing, and He gave you the (power of) hearing, sight120 and hearts,121 that you might give thanks.

Commentary

120. Note once again that everywhere in the Qur’an, the power of hearing always precedes that of sight, for without hearing, one cannot speak, and unable to speak, one is unable to learn, whereas being without the sight of eye is comparatively less disadvantageous. Again, hearing comes in singular but sight in plural, because in a wider view, one can see several things at a time, whereas one can never hear more than one voice: two complete sentences of fair length from two speakers, at one time (Au.).

121. The allusion by the word “af’idah” of the original is to the intellect (Au.).

[79] Have they not seen the birds poised in the middle of the heavenly air?122 No one holds them (from falling) except Allah. Surely, in that is a sign for a people who will believe.

Commentary

122. The addition of the words “heavenly air” suggests that the conditions that prevail up in the atmosphere are different from those on the surface of the earth. The air is purer and more refreshing (Au.).

[80] And Allah has made for you from your homes a repose, and made for you from the cattle’s skins houses that you find light (to handle) the day of your travel and the day of your encampment;123 and, of their wool, their fur, and their hair,124 furnishing125 – a provision for a while.

Commentary

123. Majid comments: “The reference is to the portable dwellings or tents, which formed an essential factor not only of the nomad life of the ancients but also play an important part in the camp-life of the moderns. Leaving aside the pastoral tribes of the interior of Asia, who have necessarily to be tent dwellers, ‘in Western countries tents are used chiefly in military encampments, by travelers and explorers, and for temporary ceremonial occasions and public gatherings’ (Ebr., xxvi, p. 634, 11th ed.).”

The importance of tents does not need overemphasis. The removal of tents from everyday life on any given day, whether in the east or in the west, will cause unknown inconvenience to millions of people (Au.).

124. Yusuf Ali writes: “Suf, wool, is what we get from sheep. Sha`r, hair, is what we get from goats or similar animals, for weaving into fabrics. Wabar is the soft camel’s hair of which, also, fabrics are woven; they may be considered intermediate between the other two; by extension and analogy the term may be applied to furs and such things, by way of illustration.”

Wabar” in fact, as Asad points out, “is the soft wool growing on the shoulders of camels (‘camel-hair’) used in the weaving of fine cloths and sometimes also of bedouin tents.”

125. Wealth, furniture and leather clothes are various interpretations of the textual word “athath” (Ibn Jarir). That is, carpets, clothes, articles of convenience and comfort, etc. (Ibn Kathir).

[81] And Allah made for you out of what He created, shades,126 and made for you of the mountains, shelters, and made for you garments that protect you from heat and garments that protect you from your own violence.127 Even so He perfects His blessing upon you, that haply you will submit.128

Commentary

126. Shades: such as of the trees.

127. For example, coats of mail of the past, and bullet proof vests of the modern times (Au.)

128. “All these blessings, which have both a physical and (by promoting the good of man) a spiritual purpose, should teach us to rally to Allah and tune our will with His Universal Will, which is another name for Islam” (Yusuf Ali).

`Ata al-Khurasani has said something worth reporting: Do you notice that Allah said, “And Allah made for you out of what He created, shades and made for you of the mountains, shelters,” although, what He provided the humankind as valleys is more and better. That is because the first to be addressed were people who lived among mountains. And, consider Allah’s words, “And … of their wool, their fur, and their hair furnishing – a provision for a while,” although He has provided to mankind more of other materials than mentioned here. That is because the first to be addressed were people who depended heavily on wool and fur. Again, consider Allah’s words (24: 43), “And He sends down from the sky mountains (of clouds) in which is hail,” although snow and ice are greater wonders. But, rain and hail were sufficient means of wonder for the people addressed, who knew nothing about snow and ice.

Again, see how Allah (swt) addressed them with words (16: 81), “clothes that protect you from the heat,” although clothes that protect mankind from cold are worthier. But Allah (swt) chose to mention clothes against heat because the first of those addressed were people who faced the harshness of heat and spared them a talk that they would not have fully appreciated (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir).

[82] But, if they turn away (O Muhammad), then upon you is only a clear delivery (of the message).

[83] They recognize Allah’s blessings, then they deny them,129 and most of them are ungrateful.

Commentary

129. Another possible meaning, and of Ibn Jarir’s preference, as originally expressed by Mujahid, Suddi and others, is that they recognize that the Prophet (saws) is a Messenger of Allah, a great blessing unto them, yet they deny him.

Ibn Abi Hatim has recorded that once a bedouin came up to the Prophet and inquired about Islam. The Prophet told him, “(Did) Allah made your homes a (means of) comfort?” He said, “Yes.” Then the Prophet recited, “And He made for you homes out of the skins of the cattle?” He replied, “Yes.” The Prophet recited the rest of the verses and the bedouin kept saying yes, until when he recited, “That is how He completed his favors so that you may surrender,” the bedouin turned his back and went away. The Prophet then recited, “They recognize Allah’s favors and then deny them” (Ibn Kathir). But Alusi drops a hint that this might not be a hadith.

[84] And (beware) the day We raise up a witness from every people130 – then, to the unbelievers no leave shall be granted (for excuses),131 nor shall they be allowed to make amends.

Commentary

130. Qatadah has said that the witnesses alluded to are the Prophets that were sent to the peoples of the past (Ibn Jarir). Majid writes: “God’s messenger (or messengers) to every nation will bear witness on the Day of Judgement that God’s message was conveyed in full to that particular people.” In Asad’s words, “An allusion to the Day of Judgement, when the prophets whom God has called forth within every community – or, in the wider sense of the term ummah, within every civilization or cultural period – will symbolically bear witness to the fact that they had delivered God’s message to their people and explained to them the meaning of right and wrong, thus depriving them of any subsequent excuse.

131. The addition of the word “excuses” in brackets is supported by another verse of the Qur’an which says (Al- Mursalat, 3), “Then they will not be allowed that they make excuses” (Shawkani), which implies, Alusi writes, that the condemned will seek permission to offer excuses but will be denied the opportunity. Another possibility is that they will seek to be returned to the world so that they could behave better, but they will not be allowed.

According to Zamakhshari, but in the words of Asad, “…their being ‘refused permission’ to plead is a metonym for their having no valid argument or excuse to proffer.”

[85] And once the wrongdoers have seen the chastisement, it shall not be lightened for them, nor shall they be allowed respite.

[86] And when those who associated (others with Allah) will see those of their associate (gods), they will say, ‘Our Lord! These are our associate (gods) whom we invoked besides You.’ But they will fling back the statement at them (and say), ‘You are veritable liars.’132

Commentary

132. That is, those that the unbelievers had served in this world – men like them, devils, angels, or inanimate objects – will toss back the statement to their accusers denying that they ever invited the people to their own worship (Ibn Jarir). As Allah (swt) said elsewhere (46: 5-6), “And who can be more misguided than he who calls upon those that will not answer him until the Day of Judgment, and they are unaware of their invocations. And, when the people are gathered (on the day of Judgment), they will be their enemies and will disown their worship” (Ibn Kathir).

If the false gods were stones, trees, etc., then, poor things, they never knew how they were being treated by men. But, if it were prophets and righteous men who were worshiped after them, then, they would surely disown their worshipers. As for the devils, although they will lie and accuse their worshipers of lies, they too would not want to own up that they were worshiped. Thus, the worshipers of false gods will be left totally devastated by disappointment and left in despair (based on a point from Shabbir).

The conversation referred to in this verse will take place, Qurtubi adds, when, as in a hadith of Muslim, Allah will bring forth those that were deified or served. The people will be told to follow those they served in the world. They will follow them, and those they served will lead them to Hellfire. (It is there that the conversation of this verse will perhaps take place: Au.).

[87] On that day they will proffer their surrender to Allah, and lost from them will be what they had fabricated.

[88] Those who disbelieved and prevented from Allah’s path, We shall add on them chastisement upon hastisement,133 for that they used to spread corruption.

Commentary

133. According to a hadith in Ibn Marduwayh and Khatib, when the Prophet (saws) was asked about the words, “We shall add on them chastisement upon chastisement,” he replied that they refer to “scorpions as large as date palm trees that will be stinging them in the Hellfire.” (That would be in response to they seeking relief: Alusi). According to another report in Ibn Marduwayh, the allusion is to “five rivers (of fire) that will be let lose on the inhabitants of Hell” (Shawkani). The earlier hadith is in Bayhaqi, Hakim and Haythami who declared it a trustworthy report of Tabarani, and the latter in Haythami who declared it a trustworthy report of Abu Ya`la (S. Ibrahim).

[89] And, the day We raise up from every people a witness against them, from among themselves, and bring you (O Muhammad) as a witness against these.134 And, We have sent down to you a Book, making everything clear,135 a guide, a mercy, and a glad tiding to those who have surrendered.

Commentary

134. By the term “these” the allusion is to the Prophet’s own nation (Ibn Jarir). We have already presented Ibn Mas`ud’s report (see Nisa’ n. 147) which says that once the Prophet asked him to recite that Surah. When he reached verse 41 which says, “How will it be when we bring from every people a witness and bring you as a witness against these”, the Prophet said, “Enough”. When Ibn Mas`ud looked up, he found the Prophet’s eyes were filled with tears (Ibn Kathir).

It is reported of some of the Companions that they said, “When you see someone committing a wrong, prevent him. If he listens, good. If he does not, you will be a witness against him on the Judgment-day.” It is also said that every age and epoch has its own witness (Alusi).

135. “A Book making everything clear”: that is, everything pertaining to human guidance (Zamakhshari). Otherwise, when asked about the new moons, the revelation replied that they were for computing time (and did not explain the behavior of the celestial body). And the Prophet (saws) said, in reference to a famous incident, “You know your worldly affairs better.” Further, that there are a few other sources of guidance is proven by the Qur’an itself, such as, its repeated instructions that the Prophet be followed, or that the consensus of the Muslims be followed when it said (4: 115), “Thereafter, he who followed a path other than that of the Muslims… (to the end of the verse).” In other words, the Qur’an is the primary source of guidance which approves of certain other sources of guidance (Alusi).

That the religion of Islam has sources other than the Qur’an, is something over which the Companions did not have any difference among themselves. E.g., when once Ibn Mas`ud said, “Allah has cursed those women who tattoo themselves,” and a woman objected to the use of the word “cursed,” Ibn Mas`ud said, “Why should I not curse someone the Prophet cursed. Moreover, it is in the Book of Allah.” The woman said, “I have read the Qur’an cover to cover, but I haven’t found any such statement in it.” Ibn Ma`ud replied, “Had you read in the proper manner of recitation, you would not have missed it. Did you come across the verse (59: 7), ‘And take what the Messengers gives and shun what he prohibits?” She said, “Yes.” He said, “Then, know that the Prophet has cursed those women who tattoo themselves” (Alusi).