Verses from Surah Taha (74-85)

[74] Surely, whoever came to his Lord as a criminal, for him shall be Jahannum, dying not therein nor living.69


69. The verse seems to be applicable to unbelievers. That is how Ibn `Abbas understood it. It can be substantiated with a hadith reported in Muslim, Ahmad, Ibn abi Hatim and Ibn Marduwayh. It says that once the Prophet was delivering a sermon. When he reached this verse he said, “As for its dwellers of the Fire, they are its inhabitants: they will neither live therein nor die. But as regards those people who entered the Fire because of their sins, it will deal them death of a kind; until, when they have become coals, intercession will be allowed. They will be brought like burnt out coals at the springs of Paradise. Then the inhabitants of Paradise will be asked to throw water at them. They will start growing there like plants that sprout forth in channels through which flood water has run.” One of those men around remarked, “As if the Prophet was brought up in the deserts” (Alusi).

[75] While he who came to Him a believer, having done righteous deeds, such, for them are ranks high.70


70. A hadith in the Sahihayn and ibn Abi Hatim gives us some details about the ‘high ranks.’ It says, “Those of the `Illiyyun will be seen by those below them like you see the stars in the horizons of the sky.” The Companions asked, “Messenger of Allah! Are those the dwelling places of the Prophets?” He replied, “Rather, by Him in whose Hands is my soul, they are for people who believed in Allah and testified to the Messengers.” According to a version in other collections, the Prophet added, “Abu Bakr and ‘Umar are of them.” (Ibn Kathir).

Shu`ayb al-Arna’ut thought that the report is Sahih li-Ghayrihi (Au.).

[76] Gardens of Eden underneath which rivers flow, abiding therein forever. That is the reward of one who purifies (himself).’71


71. That is, purified himself by obeying Allah’s commandments and abstaining from what He forbade (Ibn Jarir).

Sayyid Qutb is inclined to believe that the speech of the magicians ends here. And, therefore, he comments on the differences between true faith and ornamental faith, “The believers’ heart scoffed at the threats of the tyrant’s outburst and confronted him with a pure, deep and strong faith. Thus history lowered another curtain on a scene depicting the freedom of the heart from the bindings of the earth and earthly powers, and supremacy of faith in rewards of the hereafter over that of earthly, material rewards. This is something that no heart can pronounce except in the shades of faith.

“With this the curtain is brought down, to be raised over another scene, and over a new episode in the unfolding story.

“It is a scene that depicts the victory of truth and faith in a living, thriving world. It came after the truth and faith had been victorious in the arena of thoughts and beliefs. After the victory of the miracle of the staff over magic, the victory of faith in the hearts of the magicians over trickery, the victory of faith in their hearts over rewards and punishments, threats and promises – after all those victories –  truth now overcomes falsehood, guidance over error, and firm faith over tyranny of the living world. And the last of the victories is related to the first of the series of victories. For, the victory of the physical world does not manifest itself before victory at the level of conscience. The holders of truth will never rise up in the open, visible world, without the truth first overcoming falsehood in the hearts. Truth and faith possess a reality of such order that when they take hold of the sensory organs of the body, they rise up further to manifest themselves at the material, physical level. This, in order that the people can be witness to it. On the other hand, if faith happens to be simply an external ornament, it never takes hold of the inner self; and tyranny and falsehood easily overcome it. For they possess a power that is real and material: something that ornamental faith cannot confront. Therefore, it is necessary to establish true faith in the heart. It is this which proves stronger than the material powers and overcomes falsehood and tyranny.”

[77] And We revealed unto Musa that, ‘Depart with My slaves by night, and strike for them a dry path in the sea,72 fearing not to be overtaken, nor be afraid.’73


72. This refers to the situation when Musa and his followers had reached the sea shore. Fir`awn was behind them. Musa’s weak-hearted followers cried out in apprehension (26: 61-62),  “`We will be overtaken.’ He said, ‘Never. My Lord is with me, He will guide me.’”

Musa was then told to strike the sea with his staff. It split into two with dry land in between for Musa and his followers to pass through (Razi, Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir).

73. That is, do not be afraid of getting drowned (Ibn Jarir).

[78] Then Fir`awn pursued them with his forces. Then that overwhelmed them of the sea which overwhelmed them.74


74. That is, when the Israelites had crossed, Fir`awn and his forces followed them into the dry bed. But, while in the middle, the two waters met and they all drowned.

Mawdudi comments: “The manner in which the Qur’an mentions this event leaves no doubt that it is a miracle. The Qur’anic description provides no justification for those who claim that the event was caused by wind storm or by the ebb and flow of the tide. This was clearly not the case. For neither a wind storm nor the recession of the tide would cause the water to stand in the form of high walls; nor does wind storm or recession of the tide cause a dry road to emerge in the midst of the sea by the splitting of water into two parts.”

[79] Fir`awn led his people to error and did not guide them aright.75


75. Fir`awn had assured his courtiers earlier (40: 29), “I am not leading you but to the right course;” and, in the Hereafter too he will lead their entry into the Fire (Thanwi).

[80] O children of Israel! Indeed, We delivered you from your enemy, and took a covenant from you by the right side of (Mount) Tur,76and sent down unto you Manna and quails.77


76. The allusion is to the covenant taken from the representatives of the Israelites, by the right side of (Mount) Tur to the effect that when revealed, the Law of Torah will be followed by one and all in good spirit (Au.).

Another possible rendering of the second half of the verse however is, “When We gave you an appointment by the right side of (Mount) Tur” – the allusion being to the permission given to Musa to bring seventy of the Israelites along with him to witness the coming down of Revelation. Further, the textual “right side of the Tur” alludes to the situation of the Mount Tur when Musa reached it, that is, as he arrived, the Mount was on his right side (Qurtubi).

77. Asad has a useful note here. He writes: “According to Arab philologists, the term manna denotes not only the sweet, resinous substance .. but also to everything that is ‘bestowed as a favor’, i.e., without any effort on the part of the recipient. Similarly, the term salwa signifies not merely ‘quail’ or ‘quails’, but also “all that makes man content and happy after privation (Qamus). Hence the combination of these two term denotes, metonymically, the gift of sustenance freely bestowed by God upon the followers of Moses.”

[81] Eat of the good things We have provided you, and commit not excesses therewith lest My anger should alight on you. And on whomsoever My anger alighted, he is lost.

[82] Indeed, I am very Forgiving unto him who repented, believed and did righteous deeds and then remained guided.78


78. The translation of “ihtada” as here reflects the understanding of Ibn `Abbas, as in Razi. However, Imam Razi adds other possible meanings, such as, attending to the purification of the heart and soul.

[83] ‘And what has hastened you from your people O Musa?’

[84] He said, ‘They are on my footsteps,79 and I hastened to You, O my Lord, that You be pleased.’80


79. There have been at least two opinions regarding the words “they are on my footsteps.” One, which is adopted by most commentators, “they (the promised seventy) are just a little way off behind me.” And second, the term “they” refers not to the seventy at the foot of the mountain, but to the general Israeli public back in the tents; in which case the meaning is, as was the opinion of Hasan, “I have hastened to You O my Lord because the general public of the Israelites follows me closely in guidance.” Hence Allah said, “(That is not the case, but rather), they have been put to test after you).”

Asad sees the second meaning more plausible and comments: “This passage relates to the time of Moses’ ascent of Mount Sinai, mentioned in 2: 51 and 7: 142. (The statement here implies) that he should not have left them alone, without his personal guidance, at so early a stage in their freedom. In this inimitable elliptic manner the Qur’an alludes to the psychological fact that a community which attains to political and social freedom after centuries of bondage remains for a long time subject to the demoralizing influences of its past, and cannot all at once develop a spiritual and social discipline of its own.”

80. It is said that Musa (asws) was to bring seventy of his followers to Mount Tur to witness the coming down of the revelation. However, it appears that although Musa started with the seventy, he left them a little behind him and hastened his own presence (Razi and others).

Qurtubi opts for the first meaning expressed in the last note and adds his own Sufistic comment: It seems the people with him were a bit slow. But Musa lost control of himself and, out of love, hastened to present himself to his Lord. So that, when asked why he had hastened, he had no answer except to say that “they are right behind me.” Why should Musa have not hastened, when we are told of our Prophet that when it rained, he would bare his upper body and stand in the open receiving the downpour saying, “This is fresh from my Lord?” And, it is reported of `A’isha that when going to bed she would sometimes say, “Pass the Book (the Qur’an) to me.” She would place it upon her breast, drawing comfort from it.

[85] He said, ‘We have tested your people in your absence – and the Samiri81 has led them into error.’82


81. As regards Samiri’s identification, although the opinion of Ibn `Abbas was that he was not an Israeli, but rather an outsider whose tribe used to worship the cow, and who somehow attached himself to them. The opinion of others was that he was in fact an Israelite of a tribe called Samirah (Razi). Alusi adds that there is a tribe in Syria even until his time which is called as the Samiri tribe. But Asad rules out that the Samiri belonged to the Samiri tribe. He prefers the opinion of Ibn `Abbas who held that he was one of the Egyptians who believed in Musa and joined the Israelites in their exodus from Egypt. “In which case,” writes Asad, “the designation samiri might be connected with the ancient Egyptian shemer, ‘a foreigner’ or ‘stranger.’ This surmise is strengthened by his introduction of the worship of the golden calf, undoubtedly an echo of the Egyptian cult of Apis.”

Mawdudi attends to the problem of Orientalists’ scholarship: “Al-Samiri was not the proper name of that person. The last letter ya of the word clearly indicates an affiliation, either to a race, a tribe, or to a place. Moreover, the prefix al here indicates that the person referred to was one particular Samiri, implying that there were many other people bearing that appellation because of their particular tribal, racial or habital affiliation – and that it was only he from among the Israelites who was responsible for the spread of calf-worship.

“In order to explain what the Qur’an says here no further information seems to be required. However, this particular matter has been deemed to be of great significance by Christian missionaries and especially by some Orientalists who have gone to great lengths to cast aspersions on the Qur’an. According to them, what is said here betrays – God forbid – the grievous ignorance of the Qur’an’s author.

“They contend that Samaria, the capital of the ancient kingdom of Israel, was built in 925 B.C., several centuries after this event, [implying, thereby, that the world al-Samiri is an anachronism]. Moreover, several centuries after this a hybrid people – a cross breed of Israelites and non-Israelites – appeared on the scene and were named Samaritans. The critics point out that along with other polytheistic innovations, worship of the golden calf was in vogue among the Samaritans. They claim that the Prophet (peace be on him) got wind of it from the Jews, and linked it with the time of the Prophet Moses (peace be on him), but invented the story that the worship of the golden calf was introduced by a Samaritan.

“They level similar charges against Haman whom the Qur’an mentions as one of Pharaoh’s ministers. Both Christian missionaries and Orientalists identify Haman as a courtier of the Persian King, Cyrus, who did indeed share the same name. Using this assumption, they argue that the current Qur’anic statement is further proof of the ignorance of the Qur’an’s author. Such a contention can only be sustained if one were to believe that in olden times there existed only one person, tribe or place, with a particular name; if that were indeed the case, the possibility of there being two or more people, tribes or places bearing the same name, is altogether excluded.

“The fact, however, is that the Samaritans were a well-known ancient nation who held sway over Iraq and the areas surrounding it during the time of Abraham (peace on him). It seems quite likely then for people belonging to this nation, or to any branch of it, to have been known as Samiris in Egypt during the time of Moses (peace be on him).”

82. In Islamic literature the Jews are sometimes referred to as the “enemies of the Prophets.” This is one instance of their enmity. The Bible attributes the calf-making to Harun (asws). Exodus, ch. 32, verses 1-5 say,

“When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron, and said to him, ‘Up, make us gods, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ And Aaron said to them, ‘Take off the rings of gold which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.’ So all the people took off the rings of gold which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, and made a molten calf; and they said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’ When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamations and said, ‘Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.’ (Au.).


(To be continued)