Translation & Commentary of Verses from Surah 26: Al Shu’ara’ (The Poets) [ 123 – 159 ]

IN THE NAME OF ALLAH, THE KIND, THE COMPASSIONATE

 

[123] `Aad rejected the Messengers.

[124] When their brother Hud said to them, ‘Will you not fear?

[125] Verily, I am to you a trustworthy Messenger.

[126] Therefore, fear Allah and follow me.

[127] I do not ask you any wage for it. My wage falls only upon the Lord of the worlds.

[128] Do you build on every elevation106 a monument, committing vanity?107

Commentary

106. The translation of “ri`” as elevation expresses one aspect of its meaning. It covers every place which catches the eye because of its prominence, whether a high place, or low (Mujahid), whether a main road (Qatadah) or a mountain pass (`Ikrimah and Mujahid). – Ibn Jarir

107. That is, writes Alusi, monuments and landmarks that they stood in no need of, but erected for show, pride and beautification. `Abath is an act that is of no material or spiritual benefit. It is prohibited in our religion also.

Mawdudi writes: “Hud chided his people for constructing grand buildings which had no utility, which fulfilled no genuine need and which were designed only to make a spectacular display of their affluence and grandeur.”

Yusuf Ali points at the futility in another way: “Any merely material civilization prides itself on show and parade. Its votaries scatter monuments for all sorts of things in conspicuous places – monuments which commemorate deeds and events which are forgotten in a few generations! [cf. Shelley’s poem on Ozymandias: “I am Ozymandias, King of Kings! Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair! …. Boundless and bare the lonely and level sands stretch far away!]

[129] And do you take buildings for yourselves,108 as though you will abide forever!109

Commentary

108.  Masaani` is from sana`a which stands for a making which requires some effort. Here it has been explained as ‘well-built houses and palaces’ by Mujahid. Some others have interpreted the word as meaning “wells.” (Ibn Jarir, Razi, Ibn Kathir)

109. That is, your lofty monuments and colossal mansions seem to be built on the supposition that you will abide in this earth forever (Thanwi). The prohibition of course, wrote Alusi, might be extended to anything attempted which betrays belief in permanence. It is in this light that one might look at some of the utterances of the Prophet or some of the Sufis.

It is said that when the Muslims began to build houses and plant trees in Ghota (Syria), Abu Darda’ stood up in their mosque and called out, “O people of Dimashq!” When they gathered he addressed them saying (after praises to Allah), “Are you not ashamed? Are you not ashamed? Do you gather together what you do not eat, build what you will not live in, fasten hopes that you will not attain. There were generations before you who gathered together and hoarded, built on hopes of living in them, fastened hopes and prolonged them. But their hopes turned into deceptions, their savings into destruction, and their houses into graves. Lo! `Aad possessed the area between `Adn and `Umman, horse riders and footmen. But who will buy from me today for two Dirhams what they left behind them?” (Ibn Kathir)

[130] And when you seize, you seize like tyrants.110

[131] Fear Allah then, and follow me.

Commentary

110. Asad explains, “The term jabbar, when applied to man, as a rule denotes one who is haughty, overbearing, exorbitant and cruel, and does not submit to any moral restraints in his dealings with those who are weaker than himself. Sometimes (as, e.g., in 11: 59 or 14: 15) this term is used to describe a person’s negative ethicalattitude, and in that case it may be rendered as ‘enemy of truth.’ In the present instance, however, stress is laid on the tyrannical behaviour of the tribe `Aad, evidently relating to their warlike conflicts with other people…”

[132] Fear Him who has helped you with what you know.111

[133] Helped you with livestock and offspring.

[134] Gardens and springs.

[135] Verily, I fear for you the chastisement of a Great Day.’

Commentary

111. “The gifts are described generally, immaterial and material. ‘All that ye know’ includes not only material things, but knowledge and the faculties by which knowledge may be used for human well-being, all that makes life beautiful and refined. ‘Cattle’ means wealth generally, and ‘sons’ means population and man-power. ‘Gardens and Springs’ are things that contribute to the delight and pleasure of man.” (Yusuf Ali)

[136] They said, ‘It is equal unto us whether you admonish us, or be not of those who admonish.112

Commentary

112. “The form of the words implies,” writes Majid, “We have had plenty of admonishers like you.”

[137] This is naught but the custom of the ancients.113

[138] And we shall never be chastised.’

Commentary

113. Explanations for the textual khuluq have varied. Ibn `Abbas understood it as ‘deen,’ while Qatadah said it meant the ‘ways of the ancients who lived and died in similar manner.’‘Tales of the ancients’ is another interpretation that has come down from Ibn Ibn `Abbas. Ibn Jarir quotes one or two others but thinks ‘custom’ comes closest. Imam Razi points out that the word also has the connotation of fictitious tales.

Asad comments: “The noun khuluq denotes one’s ‘nature’ in the sense of ‘innate disposition’ (tabi`ah) or moral character (Taj al-`Arus); hence, the use of the term to describe ‘that to which one clings,’ i.e., one’s ‘innate habit’ or ‘custom,’ and, in a specific sense, one’s religion.”(ibid)

Mawdudi adds: “This statement can be interpreted in two ways: (i) that in their view there was nothing new in what they were doing; their forefathers had done the same for centuries. Their religion, their culture and moral values were all the same, and yet their ancestors had not been subjected to any calamitous punishment. Why should they fear, then, that they would be severely chastised? How could they be punished when their predecessors had not? Had there been anything too wrong with their way of life, they contended, God’s Wrath and punishment, with which they were being constantly threatened, would have seized them long ago. (ii) That regardless of what was being said to them then, it was appropriate to remember that many religious fanatics and moral purists had earlier said much the same. Yet the world had gone on as ever before. As far as they were concerned, just because some were overly obsessed with morality, this did not mean that the world would come to a standstill or suffer a monumental disaster.”

[139] Thus they rejected him. So We destroyed them. Surely, in that is a sign.114 But most of them were not to be believers.

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

[141] Thamud rejected the Messengers.

[142] When their brother Saleh said to them, ‘Will you not fear?

[143] Verily, I am to you a trustworthy Messenger.

[144] Therefore, fear Allah and follow me.

[145] I do not ask you any wage for it. My wage falls only upon the Lord of the worlds.

[146] Will you be left in peace amid what is here?

[147] In gardens and springs?

Commentary

114. Asad writes, “The message (or sign: Au.) referred to here is contained in verses 128-130, which point out the three cardinal sins resulting from man’s inordinate striving for power: worship of anything apart from God, self-admiring search for ‘glory’, and cruelty or harshness towards one’s fellow-men.”

[148] Sown fields and date palms with tender swathes.115

Commentary

115. “Tender swathes” is how Mujahid understood the terms “talhuhahadim” where “tender” is for “hadim” and “swathes” for “talh” (Ibn Jarir), or, “ripe and rich” as expressed by Ibn `Abbas (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir), or, “near breaking point” because of its being heavily laden, as interpreted by Dahhak and as preferred by Ibn Jarir.

Yusuf Ali comments: “The date palm flowers on a long spathe: when the flowers develop into fruit, the heavy ones hang with the load of fruit. The Thamud evidently were proud of their skill in producing corn and fruit and in hewing fine dwellings out of rocks, like the later dwellings of Roman times in the town of Petra.”

[149] And, do you skillfully116 hew houses out of mountains?

[150] Therefore, fear Allah and follow me.

Commentary

116. The rendering reflects the understanding of Ibn `Abbas and Dahhak. Another opinion that came down from Ibn `Abbas is that the textual “fareheen” stands for “artfully” or “with artistic skill”.Suddi said it meant “through coercion” or “with forced labor.” Of course, the different meanings are reconcilable (Ibn Jarir).

Mawdudi offers the following, “Some of the buildings of the Thamud are still intact, and I did, indeed have the opportunity to see them for myself in December 1959. The place itself is located between Tabuk and Madina, lying a few miles to the north of al-`Ula (called Wadi al-Qura at the time of the Prophet – peace upon him). Nowadays, this is known as al-Hijr and Mada’inSalih. As far as al-`Ula is concerned, it is still located in lush green surroundings in the midst of springs and orchards. An ominous atmosphere, however, surrounds al-Hijr. Not only is it very sparsely populated, but it is a ruined place which gives a feeling of doom and decay. The few who live there do so in an area devoid of greenery and vegetation. Of the few wells that remain, one is identified by the local populace as that from which Salih’s she-camel used to drink. Now, this well is inside a former military barracks dating back to the Turkish period, and is dry…

“We also saw buildings of the type constructed by the Thamud at al-Hijr in Midian along the Gulf of `Aqabah and at Petra in Jordan. As regards Petra, the buildings of the Thamud and the Nabateans stand side by side; their carvings and designs are do dissimilar that even a layman can positively say that they belong to two different periods and to two different nations. The English Orientalist Charles Doughty (d. 1926), the author of Travels in Arabia Deserta (published in 1888), attempted to prove that the Qur’an was false on the grounds of his theory that the buildings at al-Hijr were not constructed by the Thamud but rather by the Nabateans. However, the difference between the architectural design of the people of Thamud and Nabateans is so clear that only someone who is altogether blind could suggest such a theory.”

[151] And follow not the bidding of the boundary exceeders.117

[152] Those who spread corruption in the land, and carry out no reform.’

Commentary

117. “They are told: ‘All your skill is very well; but cultivate virtue and do not follow the ways of those who put forward extravagant claims for men’s powers and material resources, or who lead lives of extravagance in luxury and self-indulgence; that makes mischief: but the door of repentance is open: will you repent?’”‏ – Yusuf Ali.

Another possibility, says Shabbir, is that he was addressing the common folk, warning them against blind following of the elites: they are a corrupt lot.

[153] They said, ‘You are only one (of those) that are bewitched.118

[154] You are naught but a man like ourselves. So bring forth a sign, if you are of the truthful.’

Commentary

118. The translation is the common understanding of the word “musahharin.” Ibn `Abbas however was of the opinion that the meaning is: “created.” That is, they meant to say, “You are one of the created, who eats and drinks like us.” Ibn Jarir prefers this opinion and presents a verse by Labid in support.

Razi adds: “Sahr” is for the upper part of the stomach; and, according to Farra’, everything that has a stomach is “musahhar.”

[155] He said, ‘Here is a she-camel: to her a drink and to you a drink, on a day appointed.119

[156] And touch her not with malice, lest the chastisement of a Great Day seizes you.’

Commentary

119. That is, each had an appointed day for drink: a day for the camel, another for the people. The day the camel drank, the people were not supposed to draw water, and the day they drew, the camel was not given a drink from the well (Ibn Jarir).

[157] But they hamstrung her; and then became regretful.120

[158] So the chastisement seized them. Surely, in that is a sign. But most of them were not to be believers.

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

Commentary

120. But, once a people have seen the chastisement approaching them, their remorse is not worthy of acceptance (Zamakhshari, Razi and others).

Feelings of regret and remorse are natural feelings arising out of wrong actions. They are automatically generated by the inner self. Of value in the sight of Allah are acts of true repentance. But the Thamud showed no sign of these, they remained disbelieving to the end (Alusi and Thanwi, reworded).

Yusuf Ali further clarifies the issue: “Their regrets were too late. They had themselves asked for a Sign. The Sign had been given to them in the she-camel, which their prophet Salih had put forward as a test-case. Would they, through that symbol, respect the law’ of equity by which all people had rights in water and in the gifts of nature? They refused to respect that law, and committed sacrilege by deliberately killing the she-camel. They themselves came to an evil end.‏”

(To be continued)