Verses from Surah Al-Anbiya’ (1-9)

[1] People’s Reckoning has drawn close, but they turn away in heedlessness. 3

Commentary

1. `Abdullah ibn Mas`ud has said in a report in Bukhari, “Al-Kahf, Maryam, Ta-ha and Al-Anbiya’ are the earliest (of revelations) and they are my earliest acquisitions” (Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir). In fact, writes Alusi, there is no difference in opinion that this is a Makkan chapter except for a verse or two such as no. 44.

2. Imam Razi raises a question and then answers it. How can the Reckoning be close when several centuries have passed since the promise? The answer is, this is a relative statement. That is, being close is in reference to the total time span since creation. A very long time has already passed. What remains is an extremely short span in relation to what has passed. Therefore, the Day is close.

3. Thanwi’s sharp sight does not miss to note that it is the “turning away” that makes the “heedlessness” blameworthy. Otherwise, are we not all heedless to some extent or the other?

Other commentators have reported instances of “living the Qur’an” from the lives of early Muslims. It is reported that `Amir b. Rabi`ah treated someone very generously while hosting him. Impressed, the man, who had recently received a valley as gift from the Prophet (saws), expressed his wish to cut a part of it for him saying. “It will come in handy for you and your offspring.” `Amir replied, “I do not think I stand in any need of your piece of land. It has just been revealed, ‘People’s Reckoning has drawn close, yet they turn away in their heedlessness. This chapter has taken our minds off this world” (Ibn Kathir, Shawkani, Alusi).

It is also reported of a Companion that he was building a wall. Another passed by. He asked him, “What has been revealed lately?” He replied, ‘People’s Reckoning has drawn close, yet they turn away in their heedlessness.’ The Companion gave up the construction saying, “I will not resume when Allah says that people’s Reckoning has drawn close” (Qurtubi).

[2] No new reminder comes to them from their Lord but they listen to it in sport. 5

Commentary

4.  The Qur’anic revelation is the latest and will ever remain fresh. Ibn `Abbas has said, as reported by Bukhari, “What’s wrong with you that you seek to know about what they posses (of the Scriptures) when they have altered it, added to it and deleted from it, while you possess latest of the revelations that will never become old?!” (Ibn Kathir).

5. Majid presents the Arab situation, which was no better than what prevails in our contemporary world: “The entire lack of interest in other-world conditions, among the pagan Arabs, arising from their sceptical outlook is a well-known fact of history. Reckless, sceptical, materialistic in their outlook, ‘a great majority believed in no future life nor in a reckoning-day of good and evil’ (LSK, Intro. P. xxxiii).”

As corollary Sayyid Qutb writes: “The people thus described by the Qur’an treated Qur’anic revelation – being sent down as a complete code of life, a comprehensive practical system, and a law for all kinds of interactions – as no more than sport. They responded to the closeness of the Day of Reckoning with total heedlessness! And people of this sort have been there throughout the ages. Whenever a person is bereft of meaning, purposefulness, and spirituality, then this is what it becomes: as sick as the Qur’an has portrayed. Such of them treat the whole life as a jest and a meaningless affair that has no aim and no purpose.

“On the other hand, those who treated the Qur’anic message with seriousness, responded to it in a manner described above, it is portrayed in the story of ‘ Amir who refused a plot of land on grounds that the Reckoning had drawn close.”

[3] Their hearts (toying with) trifles. And the evildoers kept secret their whispering to one another,‘Is he any more than a man like you? Will you go for magic while you are seeing?’

Commentary

6. Zamakhshari raises the question: every whisper is done in secret, why then did Allah say, they keep secret their whispering?” – and then answers that it is to express their great anxiety to conceal their secret discourses, as they asked each other by way of consultation: “Shall we respond to this revelation by calling it a magical feat, or shall we think of something else?”

Although Asad’s emphasis is on a different point, we can pick out from him a sentence of our profit. He writes, “… by rejecting the message of the Qur’an on the specious plea that Muhammad is but a human being endowed with ‘spellbinding eloquence’, the opponents of the Qur’anic doctrine in reality ‘conceal their innermost thoughts’: for, their rejection is due not so much to any pertinent criticism of the doctrines as such, rather, to their instinctive, deep-set unwillingness to submit to the moral and spiritual disciplines, which the acceptance of the Prophet’s call would entail.”

[4] He (the Messenger) said,‘My Lord knows every word (spoken) in the heavens and the earth. He is the Hearing, the Knowing.’ 8

Commentary

7. The present reading of the text as “qala” follows the reading of Hafs of Kufa. The Busri reading however is “qul” meaning, in the imperative, “say.”

8. “… so He knows well the secret plots against Islam and the Prophet, and will punish every culprit accordingly (Majid).

[5] Nay, but they said, ‘Medley of dreams. Nay, he has forged it. Nay, he is a poet.9 So let him bring us a sign even as the Messengers of the past were sent (with signs and miracles).’ 10

Commentary

9. Just like the Orientalists, Western scholars and the modern-day media, the Quraysh contemporary to the Prophet were also in a state of confusion. How should they counter the Prophet’s growing influence? In Mawdudi’s words: “The Prophet’s sphere of influence was continuing to expand and this prompted the Makkan leaders to mutual consultation so as to decide the lines along which a propaganda campaign could be launched against him.

“… A number of people were assigned to visit the pilgrims’ camps to poison the visitors’ ears against the Prophet (peace be upon him). A variety of notions were put before these pilgrims. At times they were told that the Prophet (peace be upon him) was a sorcerer. At times they were told that the Qur’an had in fact been composed by Muhammad himself and was falsely attributed to God. At times the Qur’an was dismissed as a series of insane outbursts, as a conglomerate of incoherent ideas. On other occasions the Qur’an was condemned as a piece of poetic imagination, a collection of rhymed discourses falsely ascribed to God.

“In short, a variety of things were said but with just one purpose in mind – to mislead people about Islam. The Quraysh were not the least concerned with considerations of truth or veracity and hence they made no attempt to formulate and express a well-considered and definitive opinion on any matter. All this false propaganda, however, had one redeeming effect – it carried the name of the Prophet (peace be on him) to all parts of Arabia and made him known far and wide. The Muslims would not have been able to give the Prophet (peace be on him) and Islam the same amount of publicity as the hostile propaganda campaign launched by the Quraysh generated in a very short span of time.

A few lines down, Mawdudi continues, “Another report narrated by Ibn Is-haq, indicates that the Quraysh leaders themselves conceded that their propaganda campaign against the Prophet (peace be on him) was totally false. According to Ibn Ishaq, Nadr b. al-Harith once addressed the Quraysh, saying: ‘The way you have been trying to confront Muhammad will be of no avail. As a youth he was the best mannered among you. He was regarded as one most truthful and most trustworthy. Now that his hair is graying, you have taken to branding him as a magician, a soothsayer, a poet and a lunatic. By God, he is not a magician. We have seen magicians and we are fully conversant with their craft. By God, he is not a soothsayer. We have listened to their feigned utterances and their enigmatic sayings. By God, he is not a poet either. We are aware of all genres of poetry but his discourse does not fall into any of those categories. By God, he is not a mad person either. Are we not aware of the condition of a mad person, and of the stupid things he says? O leaders of the Quraysh, think again. What confronts you today is far too serious to be met with (such) recourse…”

10. Shabbir and Sayyid comment in effect: “The Quraysh could not decide and hold on to a single opinion because at heart they knew that every opinion they thought of, held no ground. So from one, they switched to another, and then to another – confused and unsure. Ultimately they thought they would get out of the hopeless situation by crying out: ‘So let him bring us a sign even as the Messengers of the past were sent (with signs and miracles).’”

The Qur’an said elsewhere about their inability to get out of their conundrum (17: 48),

“So, see how they strike examples for you. Thus they lost (the truth) and find no way out” (Shabbir).

[6] No town that We destroyed before them believed.11 So, will these (people) believe? 12

Commentary

11. That is, signs and miracles were shown to earlier nations. But, did they believe? (Ibn Kathir)

12. The apparent meaning is, “So, will these people believe in this message?” But Mujahid thought the meaning is “Will these people accept that the earlier ones were destroyed because of their refusal to believe?” (Ibn Jarir)

[7] We did not send before you (O Muhammad) but men to whom We revealed.13 Ask then the people of Remembrance, if you do not know. 14

Commentary

13. This is the answer to the objection raised by the unbelievers as stated in verse 3, “Is he any more than a man like you?” Messengers have always been humans (Razi).

Sayyid comments: “Those who suggested during the time of the Prophet that Messengers should have been angels, were similar to those of our times who think that a Messenger should be above human senses, feelings and passions. This kind of people have always been unmindful of the fact that firstly, angels cannot live the life of human beings. They are beings of a different nature altogether. They can never feel like the humans can, who are constitutionally so different from them. On the other hand it was important for the Messengers to have been endowed with the capacity to feel like the humans do, to have the same inner urges, and be affected in the same manner – physically, emotionally and spiritually – as the humans, in order for them to offer workable solutions to their problems.

“Secondly, if Messengers were to be of the angels, they could never evoke among their followers the desire to follow them in their ways and practices being a different species, and of different nature from them.

“Thirdly, those who suggest that Messengers ought to be angels, do not accord as much respect to Man as he deserves and are unaware of the honorable position he occupies with his Lord. (They do not believe humans are worthy of being given revelations).

“Therefore, it has been Allah’s way that He should select human beings for Messengership – such humans as who took birth and died, ate, drank and married, bore hopes and fear, and were affected by other emotions exactly in the manner of the humans. And then Allah made the greatest of His Messenger and the final one, the best of examples in everything that the humans attempt to remain an ideal for them up to the end of time.”

14. The general opinion is that the allusion by the “people of Remembrance” is to the Jews and Christians. ‘Ali’s opinion however is that it is Muslims, “people of the Qur’an” who are intended. Ibn Zayd was also of the same opinion who said, “We are ‘the people of Remembrance.’ Allah (swt) has referred to this revelation as ‘Dhikr’ in several places in the Qur’an (e.g.15: 9: ‘Indeed, We have revealed this Dhikr, and We shall surely guard it (from corruption); and we happen to carriers of the Dhikr.’” (Ibn Jarir).

Imam Razi however thinks that since the argument is about the Prophet, his followers – being one of the party – cannot be asked about his authenticity. Therefore, it is the People of the Book who can be identified as the people of Remembrance.

In either case, it should be clear that the people of Remembrance are to be asked a simple question: were the Prophets of the past humans or not? Their opinion is not to be sought on other religious truths which some people think the present verse allows. This verse is a repetition of verse 43 of Surah al-Nahl where too the suggestion is, ask the people of Remembrance whether Prophets of past were men or not (Au.).

The meaning and application however, adds Qurtubi, is general, and leads us to the rule that following opinions of a scholar (taqlid) is a necessity for common men. It is not allowable for a non-specialist to deliver rulings as he is ignorant of the principles of law, following which something becomes lawful while another unlawful.

[8] Nor did We fashion them as bodies that did not eat,15 neither were they immortal.

[9] Then We made true the promise to them and rescued them and those We wished, and destroyed the transgressors.

Commentary

15. The Sufi Thanwi writes that the implication of the words, “We did not fashion them as bodies that did not eat,” is that abstaining from food is not a sign of sainthood as imagined by most of the unknowledgeable people, and some of the knowledgeable ones too.