Translation & Commentary of Surah 26: Al-Shu`ara’ (The Poets)



 [1] Ta Sin Mim2


Prefatory to the Surah

Asad writes: “The main purport of the this Surah lies in its stress on the unchangeable character of man’s weakness and proneness to self-deception, which explains why the great majority of people, at all times in all communities, so readily reject the truth – whether it be the truth of God’s messages or of what is commonly described as ‘glory’, as well as a mindless acceptance of slogans and prevailing fashions of thought.”

Sayyid Qutb summarises the chapter in the following words: “The subject matter of this chapter is the same as the subject matter of all Makkan chapters: faith. Its main characteristics are, Oneness of Allah (swt): ‘Therefore, evoke not along with Allah another deity or you will be of the chastised (213).’ Fear of the Hereafter: ‘And do not humiliate me on the Day they will be raised, the Day neither wealth nor progeny will profit, except for him who came with a healthy heart (88).’ Testimony of Messengership: ‘And indeed, it is the sending down of the Lord of the worlds (that) Jibril has come down with, on your heart in order that you might be of those who warned (193).’ Then the threat of dire consequences in the form either of an immediate punishment that would annihilate the unbelievers, or the chastisement of the Hereafter that awaits the unbelievers: ‘They have denied, so soon the tidings of that which they use to mock at (6: 5).’”

Mawdudi has an elaborated prefatory which we reduce to few paragraphs: “The background of the Surah is that the disbelievers of Makkah were persistently refusing, on one pretext or the other, to accept the message of Islam. Sometimes they said he did not show them any sign to convince them of his Prophet-hood; sometimes they branded him as a poet or a sorcerer and mock his message; and sometimes they ridiculed his Mission, saying that his followers were either a few foolish young men, or those of the lower strata of the society whereas, they argued, if his Mission had a substantial message, the nobles and the elders would have been the first to accept it. Thus, the disbelievers were never tired of stubborn defiance in ever new form (and the Prophet was ever afraid of Allah’s scourge seizing them: Au.). This state of affairs was causing great anguish and grief to the Holy Prophet.

“It is in these conditions that this Surah was revealed. After this introduction, till verse 191, one and the same theme has been presented continuously, and it is said: The whole earth abounds in such Signs as can guide a seeker after truth to Reality, but the stubborn and misguided people have never believed in the past even after witnessing the Signs, whether these were the Signs of the natural phenomena or the miracles of the Prophets. Those wretched people stubbornly adhered to their erroneous creeds till the Divine scourge actually overtook them. It is to illustrate this that the history of seven of the ancient nations has been told, who persisted in disbelief just like the disbelievers of Makkah. In this connection, the following point, among others, has been stressed: The mentality of the disbeliever has been the same throughout the ages; their arguments and their objections, and their excuses and subterfuges for not believing have been similar and ultimately the fates that they met have also been the same.

“Finally, the discussion has been summed up, saying: ‘O disbelievers, if at all you want to see the Signs, why don’t you look into the Qur’an which is being presented in your own language? Why can’t you see and judge Muhammad (upon whom be Allah’s peace and mercy) and his Companions? Can the revelations of the Qur’an be the work of a Satan or Jinn? Does the recipient of the Qur’an appear to be a sorcerer? Are Muhammad and his Companions no different from a poet and his admirers? Why don’t you give up obduracy and search your hearts for the answers? When in the heart of your hearts you believe that the Revelations of the Qur’an have nothing in common with sorcery and poetry, then you should know that you are being cruel and unjust in rejecting it, and will certainly meet the end that awaits the cruel and the unjust.’”

1. Except for the ending passage starting with the verse, “As for the poets, they are followed by...”, the chapter is Makkah (Zamakhshari, Razi), which report comes to us from Ibn `Abbas, `Ata’ and Qatadah (Alusi).

2. To repeat the repeated, writes Ibn Jarir, is to say that several opinions have been offered over these letters. For example Ibn `Abbas has said that Taa Seen Meem are Allah’s names which He used here to swear. On the other hand, Qatadah said they are one of the several names of the Qur’an. Some others have said that it is the name of this Surah.

Imam Razi breaks the line to say, taa is for Tarb (rapture of the Gnostics), seen for the Suroor (delight) of the lovers, and meem for the Munaajaah (secret talk) of the seekers (of Allah).

There are a few other opinions too. (Alusi)

[2] These are verses of a clear Book.3


3. Or, the Book that makes (things) clear. Ibn Kathir combines both the meanings, Asad being close to it.

Mawdudi elaborates: “That is, the verses of this Surah are from a clear and lucid Book. Everyone who reads or listens to this Book can understand, without any difficulty, what it is calling people to: what it enjoins and what it forbids; what it regards as Truth and what it condemns as falsehood. To believe, or not to believe, is a different matter, but no one has any valid excuse to say that he cannot understand the teachings of the Book or cannot ascertain what that Book would like him to follow and what it urges him to give up.

“To call the Qur’an a clear Book has another aspect too: that it is abundantly clear that the Qur’an is a Divine Book. Its language and diction, its subject matter and themes, the truth that it expounds and the circumstances in which it was revealed, all these testify that it is indeed the Book of the Lord of the Universe.”

[3] Perhaps you will grieve yourself to death4 that they will not be believers.5


4. The textual word baakhi` is for killing oneself out of grief. It is rooted in al-bakh` which is for reaching up to the neck-bone (al-bikhaa`) with the knife during the slaughter of an animal (Zamakhshari, Razi, Alusi). Also see Al-Kahf, note 5 for another connotation.

The above explains the depth of the Prophet’s anguish at the refusal of the Makkans to heed. He went beyond the limits of empathy and compassion to evoke these words from Allah (Au.).

5. Majid comments, “Tinged as it is, by antipathy and hostility, the testimony of a Christian writer is remarkable: ‘In the materialistic commercial town of Mecca, where lust of gain reigned supreme, where women, wine and gambling filled up the leisure time, where might was right, and widows, orphans, and the feeble were treated as superfluous ballast, an unfortunate being Muhammad, if his constitution were sensitive, must have experienced most painful emotions…’”

It might be noted how accurately the above describes the state of the Western, and now close on heal the Eastern world of today. (Au.)

[4] Had We so willed, We could have sent down to them a sign out of heaven, so that their necks would stay humbled to it.6


6. If Allah (swt) did not do it, it is because He wished that people choose to believe rather than be forced to do it (Ibn Kathir), “(which) would make them automata.” (Majid)

The translation expresses the connotation forwarded by Ibn Zayd; otherwise, as Ibn `Abbas, Mujahid, Ibn Jurayj, and others said, ‘they would hang their necks (and not commit any sin).’ Yet others have understood a`naaq in the sense of the “chiefs (of the Quraysh)” [i.e., not an allusion, but as the meaning of the word].

Ibn Jarir quotes several poetic pieces followed by detailed discussions why the feminine form has been employed in zallat, and if, by a`naaq the allusion is to necks, then why khade`een is masculine. Zamakhshari, Imam Razi, Qurtubi and Alusi also discuss the issue on similar lines quite lengthy to reproduce.

Verses of this kind spread over the Qur’an also imply that Truth will never be manifested in such a manner as to leave no room for any doubt, which would mean no role for the free play of human will, and no trial of his inner good or evil. Thus, an element of doubt will always remain, for man to match this element with the mass of truth and reach rightful conclusions – if he stays honest. This is applicable to the whole message in question, as well as to its parts (Au.).

[5] But7 there comes not to them a fresh reminder from the All-merciful, except that they remain turning away from it.8


7. That is, since We do not force the people to believe, “there does not come …”

8. The allusion is to the passages of revelations sent down to the Prophet following short or long intervals. But every fresh revelation was treated as cursorily and heedlessly as the previous one (Ibn Jarir, Razi). Ibn Kathir however believes that the address is to the humankind that whenever a new Messenger was raised and a new message given, people rejected (in the old manner).

[6] They have already cried lies,9 therefore, soon there will come to them the tidings of that they were mocking at.10


9. That is, in a manner similar to the habits of the past, mankind has cried lies to this message also (based on Asad).

10. Imam Razi draws our attention to various levels of disbelief. It starts with “turning away in heedlessness,” (v. 5) grows into “denial” (v. 6), which develops into outright “mocking” (also v. 6).