Translation and Commentary of Verses from Surah 26: Al-Shu`ara’ (The Poets) [ 7 – 33 ]

IN THE NAME OF ALLAH, THE KIND, THE COMPASSIONATE

 

[7] Have they not considered the earth, how many of every kind11 of beautiful12 (vegetation) We have caused to grow therein?13

Commentary

11. Zawj is (not necessarily for pairs but: Au.) for kinds and classes too (Alusi).

12. The textual kareem, rendered as beautiful here, has the backing of Ibn Jarir, Zamakhshari and Qurtubi who cite examples of such usage in the Arabic language.

13. Sha`bi assumed the meaning of kareem as noble and commented: People are of the earth’s product. He who entered Paradise is kareem (noble), while he who entered Hellfire is la’eem (ignoble) – Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir.

The implied meaning is, adds Alusi, man is included in the allusion to “what Allah causes the earth to grow.”

[8] Surely, in that is a sign. But most of them were not to be believers.14

Commentary

14. That is because, even before any revelation, they had already decided not to accept anything that would morally bind them and restrain their freedom. So, rejection was a foregone decision (Au.)

[9] Surely your Lord – He indeed is the All-mighty, the All-compassionate.15

[10] And (recall) when your Lord called to Musa (saying), ‘Go to the wrongdoing people.

Commentary

15. That is, as Ibn Jurayj said, He is All-mighty who destroyed the past rebellious nations and All-compassionate who rescued the believers in Him (Ibn Jarir).

Asad adds a note to verses 8 and 9: “The above two verses appear eight times in this Surah. Apart from the present instance, they conclude, like a refrain, each of the subsequent seven stories of earlier prophets, which – by means of their, in places, almost identical phrasing – are meant to stress the essential identity of the ethical teachings of all the prophets, as well as to illustrate the statement, in verse 5, that a rejection of God’s message is a recurrent phenomenon in the history of mankind despite the fact that His existence is clearly manifested in all living creatures.”

[11] The folks of Fir`awn.’ Will they not fear?

[12] He said, ‘My Lord! I strongly fear they will cry me lies.

[13] And my breast will be constricted and my tongue will not move (fluently).16 So, make a Messenger of Harun.17

Commentary

16. That is, if they cry lies to me, my breast would be straightened and my tongue will not move fluently (out of anger) – Razi and others.

However, reminds Qurtubi, we have noted in Surah Taa Haa that Musa had some kind of (eloquence) impairment (20: 22). He could be referring to it (rather than the failure to communicate well because of anger).

17. Although literally “Send to Harun,” a more appropriate meaning is, “Raise Harun as a Messenger” (Kashshaf, Razi, Alusi, Thanwi). He sought Harun’s help and was not at all seeking excuse from the responsibility being placed on him. (Qurtubi)

The Torah alleges (see Exodus ch.3) that Musa refused altogether to accept the responsibility of Messengership to the extent of evoking God’s anger (Au.).

[14] Besides, they have a crime against me,18 and so I fear they will kill me (instantly).’19

Commentary

18. He was referring to the inadvertent killing of a Copt at his hand at the time he was living among the Fir`awn royalties. It is described in detail in Surah Qasas (28: 15-20).

19. That is, even before I have delivered the message. (Kashshaf, Alusi and others)

[15] He said, ‘By no means. Proceed, both of you, with Our Signs. Surely We are with you – listening.20

Commentary

20. That is, Our help and support is at close quarters (Alusi), which will spring to action with the first word of threat pronounced against you (Au.).

[16] So, go to Fir`awn and say, “We are indeed Messenger(s)21 of the Lord of the worlds.22

[17] (With the message) that (says), ‘Send forth with us the Children of Israel.’”

Commentary

21. Although the word rasool is singular, (because it has been used here as a masdar: Alusi), it covers the two: Musa and Harun (Au.). Alternatively, the expression could be translated as, “Each of us is a Messenger” (Alusi).

22. Fir`awn knew them as Musa and Harun; so they introduced themselves as Messengers of Allah, placing their personalities in the background (Au.).

[18] He (Fir`awn) said, ‘Did we not raise you amongst us as a child,23 and you stayed with us many years of your life?24

Commentary

23. In these words Fir`awn mixed taunt with derision (Qurtubi).

Yusuf Ali adds: “There is a little play of wit on the part of Pharaoh. When Moses speaks of the (Lord of the worlds), Pharaoh says: “Who cherished you? Did we not bring you up as a child?” (That is, who was your Lord then, if not we?)

24.  It is said that Musa left Egypt when he was thirty, and was given Messengership when forty (Alusi).

[19] ‘And you committed a deed of yours that you committed,25 and you are of the ungrateful.’26

Commentary

25. The allusion was of course to the accidental killing of a Copt: a taunt Musa had well-anticipated. Yusuf Ali adds: “Pharaoh… taunts him, ‘You are not only a murderer: you are an ungrateful wretch… to have killed one of the race that brought you up.’”

Min al-kafirin: Most commentators have explained that Fir`awn had no idea of what kufr is. He meant ‘you were ungrateful that although we brought you up in our royal quarters, you killed one of our men.’

26. Nonetheless, some commentators have thought that it could mean, ‘you aided one of your men, murdering one of ours – because,’ as Hasan has said, writes Alusi: ‘all along you had remained an unbeliever in our religion.’

[20] He replied, ‘I did it then while I was of the unguided.’27

Commentary

27. The translation tries to closely represent the text. But Ibn Mas`ud, Ibn `Abbas, Mujahid, Qatadah and others have said that it means, “I was of the ignorant” (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir). Another meaning forwarded is, “I had forgotten” which is another connotation of the word “dalla.”

[21] So I fled from you when I feared you.28 But (now) Allah has granted me the Judgment,29 and made me of the Messengers.

Commentary

28. That is, ‘I was apprehensive that you’d punish me for the man’s death while I did not deserve such a retaliation since I had never intended to kill him nor does anybody die of a single punch.’ (Razi)

Shabbir has another point. Musa intended to say, “Look! At one point I was so fearful that I fled. But now, here I am, right before you without any fear. Why? It is because now I am a Messenger.”

29. With the backing of Suddi, Ibn Jarir believes that hukm is equivalent of nubuwwah (Prophethood).

What Musa meant is, ‘While you were planning to kill me, my Lord was so kind as to appoint me His envoy’ (Razi).

[22] And, (is) this the favor that you taunt me with (as the reason) that you have enslaved the Children of Israel!?’30

Commentary

30. That is, ‘Do you enslave a whole nation, tyrannizing them, and taunt me that you brought me up – a mere individual? To what purpose? And, how can you taunt me when it was your tyrannical system of killing the Israeli male children that brought me to your palace (Kashshaf, Alusi, Thanwi – with the backing of Qatadah).

Shabbir has the same point in slightly different words. Musa was trying to tell him, “It is true that you brought me up. But what kind of taunting is it? Wasn’t such upbringing a result of your persecution of the Israelites? If you hadn’t persecuted them, my mother wouldn’t have been forced to sail me across in a basket to be picked up by your women!”

[23] Fir`awn asked, ‘Alright! What is (this) Lord of the worlds?’31

Commentary

31. Unable to get any result out of the loose talk, a habit of all ignorant people, Fir`awn finally gets serious. They said they were “Messengers of the Lord of the Worlds.” So he asked, “Whoever is this your Lord of the worlds?” (Au.).

Ibn Kathir has a meaning in mind that other commentators do not seem to subscribe: Fir`awn was not asking about the reality of the Supreme Deity, as to what He is made up of. But rather, when Musa said that he was sent by the Lord of the worlds, Fir`awn said, in effect, ‘A deity other than me is not recognized in this part of the world, so what other God is it that you are talking of?’ (Paraphrased)

Razi, Alusi and Thanwi, however, believe he was asking about the reality of the Supreme Deity; and Musa answered him that whenever He is described, it will be with the help of His Attributes and Works of creation.

[24] He replied, ‘Lord of the heavens and the earth, and what is between them,32 if you would be convinced.’33

Commentary

32. Thus Musa answered him two questions. Who is the Lord? It is the Owner and Sustainer of all that there is. Next, what are these “worlds?” The answer is: all and everything that falls within the heavens and the earth (Au.).

33. The textual address is in plural, because, although Musa was talking to Fir`awn, he had his courtiers and attendants in mind (Au.).

[25] He said to those around him, ‘Do you not hear?’34

Commentary

34. That is, does not (this outlandish) talk amaze you? (Ibn Kathir)

[26] He (Musa) added, ‘(He is) your Lord and the Lord of your forefathers of old.’35

Commentary

35. Thus, when Fir`awn made another attempt at digression by saying, “Do you not hear him?” – Musa tried to drag him back to the main point by saying, “(He is) your Lord and the Lord of your forefathers of old.”

It is our appreciation, at the sub-conscious level, of the intellectual wrestling between the two that makes this short conversation enjoyable. (Au.)

[27] He said, ‘Verily, the Messenger who has been sent to you is truly mad.’36

Commentary

36. Fir`awn used the word “Messenger” out of utter derision and to press his point that Musa seems to be unable to talk intelligently in that, ‘I say one thing, and he says another.’ (Alusi)

This was yet another attempt to divert the minds and change the topic. Anyone who has ever had the opportunity to talk to a little Fir`awn will realize how the conversation here mirrors that which is experienced with this class of people (Au.).

[28] He said, ‘The Lord of the east and the west and what is between them,37 if you would think.’38

Commentary

37. So Musa holds on to his own point. He will not be side-tracked. He tells him that Allah’s kingdom extends beyond his little kingdom (Au.).

Thus Musa implied that even if Egypt belonged to Fir`awn where he could implement his command, and so, in a way he owned it, to whom belonged the East and the West where, and between which, appeared great many creations, in the earth and the heavens? (Ibn Kathir)

38. That is, why can’t you use the brains you are so proud of? A question one might ask every atheist of every age (Au.).

Aren’t you closer to being mad yourselves? (Alusi)

[29] He said, ‘If you took a deity other than me,39 I shall surely place you among the imprisoned (ones).’40

Commentary

39. Majid offers us results of his vast readings: “Moses and Aaron ‘had to present themselves before a king, who, by the long-established usage of the country, was looked upon as ‘a good god,’ and ‘the great god,’ and who inherited from his father the idea that he was actually on a par with the greatest of the recognized divinities.’ (Rawlinson, Moses: His Life and Times, p. 88). ‘Egypt is remarkable for the extraordinary realistic way in which it depicted the dogma that the Pharaoh was the visible-god, begotten by the god, and the divine begetter of his wife’s children.’ (UHW.I., p.646). ‘As the great Pharaonic State arose, the impressive figure of the sovereign profoundly influenced religion; the forms of the State passed over into human conceptions of the gods, and the Sun-gods, the greatest of them all, was received as a Pharaoh ruling other divinities.’ (EBr. XII, p. 77). ‘The Pharaoh was a god upon earth. Like the Incas of Pras, he belonged to the solar race, and the blood which flowed in his vein was the ichor of the gods… The supreme sovereign, the Pharaoh… was veritable god on earth. To his subjects he was the source, not only of material benefits but of spiritual blessings as well. He was ‘the good god,’ the beneficent dispenser of all good things. The power of life and death was in his hands, and rebellion against him was rebellion against the gods.’ (Sayce, pp. 42, 44).”

40. When challenged to use reason, unwittingly Fir`awn threw away his gauntlet. At heart, he knew that if he carried on, his shallow intellectual reasoning – at bottom mere non-sense – would not stand its ground. Furthermore, his threat was not only directed at Musa, but at his courtiers too, whose faces must have been reflecting the change of minds. (Au.)

Defeated on the intellectual platform, Fir`awn, like tyrants of all times, threatened to use force (Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir, Alusi).

Thus, at the intellectual level Musa won out. That is only possible if a caller stays cool and intellectually alert. It might also be noticed that the whole conversation is conducted by Musa alone, without a word from Harun, in fulfillment of Allah’s promise when He said, “By no means” (verse 15) in reply to Musa’s apprehensions that his anger might get the better of him and he would not be able to express himself powerfully if Fir`awn rejected the call. (Au.)

[30] He asked, ‘Even if I brought you something clear (and convincing)?’41

Commentary

41. Musa’s magnanimity and kindness will not allow him lose hope. He will try with his miracles (with a point from Qurtubi).

[31] He said, ‘Produce it then,42 if you are of the truthful.’

Commentary

42. Fir`awn has found a straw: “Produce it,” he says (with a point from Alusi).

[32] So he threw his staff, and lo, it was a serpent, manifest.’43

Commentary

43. That is, it was not a make-believe kind of thing – like those produced later by the magicians – but a very real serpent for anyone to be in any doubt thereof (with a point from Alusi).

[33] And he drew out his hand and lo, it was white to the beholders.44

Commentary

44. That is, the onlookers were not repelled by the white spot on the palm. It did not resemble a leprous hand, but rather, something that caught the eyes of the beholders – like the face of the moon. (Kashshaf and Alusi rephrased)