Selections from Surah 25: Al-Furqan (The Criterion) [32 – 46]

IN THE NAME OF ALLAH, THE KIND, THE COMPASSIONATE

[32] Also said those who had disbelieved, ‘Why has the Qur’an not been sent down on him as one whole?’36 That is how, in order to strengthen your heart therewith;37 and We have rehearsed it in gradual rehearsal.38

Commentary

36. Asad comments: “Lit., ‘in one piece,’ or ‘as one statement’ – implying, in the view of the opponents of Islam, that the gradual, step-by-step revelation of the Qur’an points to its having been ‘composed’ by Muhammad to suit his changing personal and political requirements.”

37. Yusuf Ali writes: “Three reasons are given for the gradual revelation of the Qur’an. (1) ‘To strengthen thy heart’: the tremendous task of winning the Arab nation, and through them the whole world, required superhuman patience, constancy and firmness,’ and these qualities were strengthened by the gradual promulgation of solutions for each difficulty as it arose. (2) ‘Slow, well-arranged stages’: though the stages were gradual, as the occasion demanded from time to time, in the course of twenty-three years, the whole emerged, when completed, as a well-arranged scheme of spiritual instruction, as we have seen in following the arrangement of the Surahs. (3) Questions put and answers given.”

Majid quotes: “…for the Prophet himself, these revelations, coming as they did, provided as Prophet’s sustenance the spiritual food that strengthened his heart and supplied the necessary stimulus throughout a long and arduous mission… At the most trying moments in his prophetic career it comforted and consoled him, and at no time did it take a surer tone in predicting ultimate triumph than when, to all outward appearances, the Prophet’s condition was hopeless.” (MA)

38. That is, “We have sent it down gradually, little by little” (Qurtubi).

Another interpretation, that of Ibn Zayd, is, “We have explained (the revelation) adequately” (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir).

Asad has another connotation in mind: “i.e., free of all inner contradictions… The concise phrase rattalnaahu tarteela comprises the parallel concepts of ‘putting the component parts [of a thing] together and arranging them well,’ as well as ‘endowing it with inner consistency.’ Inasmuch as full consistency and freedom from contradiction in a message spread over twenty-three years of a life as full of movement and drama as that of the Prophet does give a clear indication of its God-inspired quality, it is bound to strengthen the faith of every thinking believer; and there lies, according to the Qur’an itself, the reason for its slow, gradual revelation. (When applied to the reciting of the Qur’an – as in 73: 4 – the term tarteel refers to the measured diction and the thoughtful manner in which it ought to be enunciated).”

[33] And no similitude will they bring to you, but We bring you the truth and the best explanation.

[34] Those who will be mustered to Jahannum upon their faces39 –  it is they who are worst in position and most misguided in path.

[35] Indeed, We gave Musa the Book and appointed with him his brother Harun as an assistant.

[36] Then We said, ‘You two go to the people who have laid the lies against Our signs.’ Then We destroyed them (in) utter destruction.

Commentary

39. Anas b. Malik reports that a man went up to the Prophet and asked, “How will they be mustered on their faces?” He answered, “He who makes them walk on their feet has the power to make them walk on their faces.” And Abu Hurayrah said that there will be three kinds of people on the Judgment Day: (i) those riding beasts, (ii) those on their feet, and (iii) those on their faces (Ibn Jarir, Razi). The hadith quoted is in Sahihayn and other books (H. Ibrahim).

The Sufiya have said, adds Razi, that those whose hearts were stuck in this world, (stuck in the mud: Au.), will be befittingly resurrected with their faces stuck in the mud.

[37] And the people of Nuh – when they cried lies to the Messengers40 – We drowned them, and made them a sign for the people. And We have prepared for the unbelievers a painful chastisement.

Commentary

40. How are we to understand the words, “they cried lies to their Messengers” (in plural) when we know that Nuh was the only Messenger sent to his people? The answer is that, perhaps, they denied Messengers sent to peoples earlier to Nuh, or, that they denied the need for Messengers altogether, as the Brahmins do. (Zamakhshari, Razi)

[38] And `Aad, Thamud, the people of the Russ,41 and many generations in between.42

Commentary

41. For lack of details in the Qur’an and Hadith, there are various opinions over who the Companions of the Russ were. Qatadah’s opinion was that it was a town in Yamamah called Falj. `Ikrimah identified them with Companions of Yaaseen in Falj (in Yamamah). Ibn `Abbas and Mujahid simply said that Russ was a well; and the allusion is to Shu`ayb’s people who were largely shepherds (Razi). Doughty wrote in Travels in Arabia Deserta having seen a russ in Qaseem region in Waadiyy Rummah: “Where are seen wide ruins and foundations.” (Majid)

Linguistically, russ is for any hole dug in the ground, such as a grave or a well. Hence, Ibn Jarir believes they must be identified with the As-haab al-Ukhdood (Companions of the Trenches). Nonetheless, Ibn Is-haq has a narration from Ka`b al-Qurazi, who attributed his words to the Prophet, (but whose authenticity could not be checked: Au.). The Prophet said, “The first to enter Paradise will be a black slave. That is because Allah (swt) sent a Prophet to a town. But none believed but a black man. The townspeople dug a well, threw the Prophet in and sealed it with a stone slab. This (black) man used to carry wood on his back, sell it, buy food and drink and then, sliding the slab by Allah’s help, he would let the victuals down to him. It went on until one day he slept off before he could go to the woods. Allah (swt) sent on him seven years of sleep, after which he turned to another side, He sent another seven years of sleep on him. When he finally woke up, he thought he had slept off a few hours. He proceeded to gather the wood, sold it, and as usual went up to the well with the food. But he didn’t find him, for, in the meantime, his people were sorry for what they had done to him, and had brought him out. The Prophet (who was brought out) kept inquiring about the black slave, but nobody knew anything about him, until he (that Prophet) died. (Ibn Jarir)

The above report seems to be pretty weak (Ibn Kathir).

Further, Allah (swt) tells us that the people mentioned here were destroyed, whereas the above report says that they came to believe in their Prophet. If the above report is true then, perhaps, the Qur’anic verse does not allude to them, or, maybe, they were destroyed thereafter, for some other reason. (Qurtubi)

42. Although one opinion says that qarn is a period – some saying 120 years, others, 100, and yet others 80, etc. – the Prophet, at least, used the term in the sense of generation. He said, “The best generation is mine (qarni), then those who come after them and then those who come after them.” (Ibn Kathir)

Hakim has a report in his Al-Kuna coming from Ibn `Abbas who said, “Whenever the Prophet counted, he went as far as Ma`d b. `Adnan, at whom he would stop and say, ‘Genealogists lied (when they counted beyond this).’ Then he would recite, ‘and many generations between that.’” (Shawkani)

[39] For each We struck similitude for him,43 and each We annihilated in utter annihilation.

Commentary

43. In explanation of the singular pronoun, Qatadah said, “That is, unto each one Allah (swt) sent the warning to eliminate his excuse, and then destroyed him because of consistent denial.” (Ibn Jarir)

[40] And they have already come upon the town which was showered upon with an evil rain.44 Have they not seen it then?45 But they hoped not for resurrection.

Commentary

44. That is, the people of Loot.

45. The allusion is to the Makkan trade caravans passing by the destroyed towns of the people of Loot.

[41] And when they see you, they take you not but in jest: ‘Is this the one whom Allah has raised as a Messenger?’

[42] ‘He would have indeed wellnigh led us away from our deities, had we not stayed firm with them.’ But presently they shall know – when they see the chastisement – (as to) who was more astray in respect of the path.

[43] Have you seen him who took his own self as his god?46 Will you then be a guardian over him?

[44] Or, do you think most of them hear or contemplate? They are but as cattle, nay, they are more lost of the way.

Commentary

46. Whoever follows his desires in religious matters, blindly going after everything that he receives (from others), seeking neither evidence nor proof, is the one who worships his (lower) self. (Zamakhshari)

Yusuf Ali adds: “The man who worships his own passions or impulses or desires is the most hopeless to teach or lead or guide. If it were anything else the matter with him, the Prophet could argue with him. But Reason cannot prevail over blind passion. It is vain to hope that such a man could be led, until his mad desires are restrained. No one could undertake any responsibility for him, for he obeys no laws and follows no advice. He is worse than brute beasts, which may not understand, but at least follow the wholesome instincts implanted in them by Allah (swt). The lawless man has killed his instincts and is unwilling to submit to guidance.”

[45] Have you not regarded your Lord,47 how He stretches the shadow?48 If He willed, He could have made it stand still; but then, We have made the sun its guide.49

Commentary

47. The translation is literal, otherwise, most scholars have understood the construction as meaning, “Have you not regarded the power of your Lord?” The form employed suggests that all observations of nature and its wonders should ultimately lead to the Lord of the world, His powers and His complete control (Au.).

Sayyid Qutub prefaces this passage with a few lines that could be profited from: “Time and again, the Qur’an seeks the attention of the minds and hearts to the scenes of nature spread above us, and relates them with the minds and hearts. It awakens the senses in order to be ready to receive the effects in a renewed conscientious manner – receiving its lights and echoes – in order to interact and respond. It takes a journey into the universe so as to pick up during the excursion, signs that are spread all over, abundantly, in every corner, written over every of its page. The soul sees the Hand of the Maker behind them; that of the Planner and the Deliberator. As the mind saunters about, it can feel this Hand in everything over which the eyes fall, everything that it can sense and feel, everything that the ears pick up, and then, uses the information as guidelines to reflect deeper and reach his Lord.

“When a man learns to live in this world with his eyes and hearts open, when he is awake to his senses and spirit, is well-connected with ideas and sentiments, then his life rises up against the allurement of this little earth. His perceptions of life also rise up along with his spirit. Every moment adds to his feeling that the horizons of the universe are far wider than the surface of the earth, that all that he sees is the product of a single Will, and is bound to a single set of laws… (leading up inexorably to a single Lord).”

48. The allusion, according to Ibn `Abbas, Sa`id b. Jubayr, Dahhak and others, is to the (lengthening and shortening of the) shadow from dawn to the rise of the sun (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir). The report is in Ibn Abi Hatim and others (Shawkani).

That is, the darkness extends itself from the dawn until the rise of the sun (Au.).

49. An alternative translation could be, as done by Majid and others, “And then We have made the sun for it an indication.”

[46] Then We draw it in toward Us50 – an easy drawing.51

Commentary

50. Asad explains the change in pronoun: “As in so many other instances in the Qur’an, the abrupt change from the third-person pronoun ‘He’ to ‘We’ is meant to illustrate the fact that God is undefinable, and that it is only the inadequacy of human speech – and, hence, of the human mind – that makes it necessary to refer to the Supreme Being by pronouns which in reality are applicable only to finite, created ‘persons.’”

51. That is, every time a part of it is withdrawn, some amount of darkness is placed in its wake, so that it does not disappear altogether, at once (Qurtubi).

The pronoun in “qabadnaahu” (the “it” of “We draw it”) has been explained by the ancient scholars as referring to the shadow. In other words, “Then We draw in the shadow toward Us…” And the meaning is, “We make the shadow disappear unnoticed and quickly,” where “quickly” is the explanation of “khafiyyah” offered by Ibn `Abbas (Ibn Jarir).

Yusuf Ali stretches the verse to cover the whole day: “As the sun rises higher and higher, the shadows contract. In regions where the sun gets actually to the zenith at noon, there is no shadow left at that time. Where does it go to? It was but a shadow cast by a substance and it gets absorbed by the substance which produced it.” Further, “The shadows are constantly in a state of flux; so are all things in Creation, all things we see or covet in this life. Allah, if He wills, can give some of them greater fixity or comparative stability.”

Mawdudi thinks on the same lines. He explains the in-drawing toward Allah in the following words, “…for, whatever vanishes or becomes extinct returns to God. From Him everything issues and to Him everything ultimately returns.”

It might be interesting to note that modern science tells us that everything has a shadow of itself, even under a shade. A man for example, has a shadow of himself falling on the earth even when he is standing under a shade. Thermal photography can photograph it even 72 hours after he has left the place. Could this be another implication of the words “stretches the shadow?” – Au.

Imam Razi and Qurtubi add that the allusion by “in-drawing” could as well be to the darkening of the sun at the approach of the Hour when it will be gradually indrawn, (meaning, shrunk in size), to ultimately go out of existence.

With the above meaning before us, it might be useful to know that the scientific position is very near to this. Our sun, a medium sized star among the billions of stars in our galaxy, is calculated to be about five billion years old. At present it is burning its hydrogen. When its hydrogen is burnt out, it will begin to burn its helium. At that point in time, about five billion years from now, it will become a red giant of such size as to enclose the earth in its radius. Obviously, everything on earth will be reduced to ashes. After it has burnt out its helium, the sun will begin to contract, get reduced to a very small size, a white dwarf in scientific jargon, and fade into oblivion. But of course, the Final Day scenario drawn by the Qur’an is quite different from the death of the sun as predicted by modern science (Au.).

(To be continued)