Verses from Al-Hijr (10-23)

[10] We sent (Messengers) before you (O Muhammad) among the factions13 of the ancients.


13. “The term ‘Shi`ah’ denotes a distinct group of people having in common the same persuasion or adhering to the same principles of behaviour, and is sometimes (though not here) used in the sense of ‘sect’” (Asad).

Yusuf Ali offers another, more subtle, understanding in words that the modern day Muslim preachers could place on their desks in bold letters, as should also the non-believing thinkers, philosophers, social workers and all those to whom this life is a baffling assembly of unconnected truths: “Mankind sees fragments of Truth at a time, and is apt to fall into fragments and divisions. All true messengers of Allah come to reconcile these fragments or divisions, for they preach the true Gospels of Unity.”

In other words, Prophet Muhammad offered an organized whole that integrates the parts that mankind see on their own, but are not able to make much of, not knowing their place in a workable system. Nor do they know their quantitative values, or results of their interactions: factors without which the data cannot be used for constructing a harmonized working system. The following illustration might help. A well-designed, efficient system runs a large manufacturing industry. An outsider sees a few cards, stationary, charts & graphs, and observes some people at work in various departments. He appreciates the functional beauty of the charts & data, and the efficiency of the men. But, does he understand the system that brings the end-product neatly packed at one end, after the raw material was fed at another? Can he ever formulate the system with the help of those cards, stationary and charts alone? Or, from observation of men at work? Modern man has a million pieces of fragmented truths that he presumes he can assemble to yield a meaningful shape. But time and again he fails. Beyond that, he thinks if he had all the bits and pieces of data, he could also come up with the same results as the Messenger of Allah produced. From the start he is doomed to fail. Reductionism (the principle that to understand something it must be broken down into its component parts) is considered as a tool that can work this wonder. But reductionism might work very well in the physical world, and help in successfully unraveling physical laws. But it can never succeed in generating a system that can so govern life as to produce good individuals, and a peaceful world (Au.).

[11] No Messenger went to them but they made fun of him.

[12] That is how we make a way for it in the hearts of the criminals.14


14. According to Hasan and others, the article “it” refers to disbelief, association, etc., which Allah (swt) lets creep into the hearts of a people when they have made up their minds to deny clear truths (Ibn Jarir).

Razi however strongly feels that the reference by “it” is to the Qur’an which Allah runs through the hearts of the unbelievers, even though they do not wish to know anything about it, and even though they have no desire to accept its message.

[13] They do not believe in it; and the ways of the past peoples have already been.

[14] If we opened a door for them in the heaven, and they spent the day15 climbing through it,


15. Zalla” of the original text has the sense of doing something during the day. Thanwi and Majid have taken note of this in their translations.

[15] They would only say, ‘Our eyes have been intoxicated. Nay, we are a people bewitched.’16


16. Ibn ‘Abbas, Dahhak and Hasan have said that such is the adamancy of the unbelievers, that even if a door to heaven was opened, and they saw angels passing through them, in and out, they would only say that either they were drunk or bewitched (Ibn Jarir). Another possible meaning is that if a door was opened and the unbelievers ascended to the heavens through it, they would still say … (Zamakhshari, Razi).

Asad adds: “The confusing of revealed truths with illusory ‘enchantment’ or ‘sorcery’ is often pointed out in the Qur’an as characteristic of the attitude of a people who a priori refuse to accept the idea of revelation and, thus, of prophethood.”

Yusuf Ali once again takes us up to a higher plain of understanding. He writes “The spiritual kingdom is open to all to enter. But the entrance is not a mere matter of physical movement. It is a question of a total change of heart. Evil must cease to be evil, before it can see or enjoy Good. If we could suppose Evil, like Bottom the weaver, to be “translated” or in some way carried up to heaven, it would only think that the Truth was an illusion, and the reality was mere witchery. The taint is in its very nature, which must be purified and rendered fit for the reception of light, truth and bliss.”

Sayyid relates the verse to the modern situation: “This attitude is illustrated here as an example of the audacious attitude of the deniers of all times. It is not specific to the past ages, nor the product of a culture of a certain phase of human existence. It is the example of human responses when their natures are corrupted and vision is restricted; when they are cut off from the real world.

“In our times, this attitude can be seen among the atheists who deny Allah’s existence and construct their lives on this denial and on the supposition that this world came into existence by itself, without the aid of an outside agency; that it is self-subsistent and self-supportive; it has ever been there, and will ever be there: without a Creator, without a Sustainer and without a meaningful end. The various social, economic and political systems created by them are based on these principles, although the fact is, signs that lead to opposite conclusions, are more numerous and much weightier than they would be if they could ascend to the heavens.

“To say that this world came into existence by itself along with all the numerous laws that help in its sustenance, as also the factors that produced life and sustain it, is an idea that human reason and the deep-rooted nature within him refuse to accept. Says a professor of a German university, ‘Several ideas have been offered to explain the origin of biological life. From virus, to proteins, to several other theories have been suggested. To the common people these suggestions fill the huge gulf that divides the animate world from the inanimate. But the truth is that the gulf is not bridged by the least and the origin of life remains a great mystery which inexorably leads to the existence of an outside Power that created it.’ This person did not start off from a position of belief in God. His inquiry was simple and objective. He arrived at a truth at which anyone will arrive who starts with an unprejudiced mind.

“But those who begin from a position of denial of a Deity, oppose every logic and every reasoning. They have given a holiday to their capacity to see and acknowledge the truth whenever it shows itself. They are the blind ones the Qur’an referred to when it said (13: 19): ‘Is he who knows that what is revealed to you by your Lord is truth, equal to someone who is blind?’

“Obviously, if this happens to be the truth of the matter, then what respect can we have for the systems of thought and life that the deniers have developed. How trustworthy are their opinions and ideas about this world, the life in it, human history therein, etc.? It should be obvious that these ideas should be treated as no more than a confused package, which have blind men. It does not behoove a Muslim that he should accept the ideas about life and society as advanced by them, or, what would be more disastrous, build his life and society on ideas promoted by them.”

[16] Indeed We have set (great) constellations17 in the heaven, and have beautified it for the observers


17. The textual word “buruj” (sing., burj) has been explained as stars by Mujahid and Qatadah (Ibn Jarir). But others of the Salaf have said that the allusion is to sun and moon orbits (Ibn Kathir). Many others explained it as the twelve constellations which stood for twelve spheres of the zodiac (Razi and Alusi). On the other hand Taj al-`Arus offers the meaning as “great constellation.” Baghawi, Baydawi and (even) Ibn Kathir are with him (Asad).

Until the development of modern cosmology, the term “buruj” was referred to groups of stars in various parts of the cosmos, some twelve of them. Modern cosmologists however, often speak of a new concept, or phenomenon, which, if proved true, could be looked into for a possible explanation of the Qur’anic “buruj.” John D. Barrow and Joseph Silk write in “The Left Hand of Creation”: “Strings, however, are a different matter. Their gravitational effects are even more moderate. They could emerge from the ‘big bang’ as a huge tangled network of thin tubes of energy that are gradually stretched and unraveled by the expansion of the universe. What would these strings of energy look like to the intergalactic traveler? A string born at the grand unification epoch would resemble a thin tangled tube of radiation about 10-27 centimeter wide, stretching 15 billion light years across the entire observable universe. It would have the mass of more than ten million galaxies.” (Penguin ed. 1995, p. 201). But are there Muslim cosmologists around to look into this, or other, possibilities? (Au.).

[17] And We have guarded it from every accursed Satan.

[18] Excepting such as one who steals a hearing, and is pursued by a bright fiery object.18


18. Bukhari has a hadith explaining this verse. Reported by Abu Hurayrah it says, “When Allah decrees an affair in the heavens, angels flutter their wings at His Command. That makes a noise similar to the noise of (an iron) chain struck against a rock. When they are out of fright they ask, ‘What did your Lord say?’ They reply, ‘He spoke the truth. He is the Most High, the Most Great.’ Those (of the Satans) who try to steal a hearing also try to hear. They pile themselves upon each other (rising to the heaven). A fiery flame is shot at the one on top. Sometimes it burns him, at others it misses him and he is able to pass on the word to the one next, until the news is brought down to the earth. There it is passed on to one of the soothsayers who adds up a hundred lies (and spreads it among the people); so that, when something comes true, it is said (by the people), ‘Did he not tell us that on such and such a day, such and such a thing will come to pass? It’s come true and confirms the news we received from the heavens,” (shortened) – Ibn Kathir.

The descending of Allah’s word of command, adds Shabbir, happens in stages, from heaven to heaven, downward. It is at the bottom-most heaven, the one closest to the earth, (in fact, according to one report in Bukhari, in the clouds), that the devils try to eavesdrop, in the fashion of secret agencies trying to eavesdrop on (electronic) messages exchanged by the humans.

To the question, “can anyone with the littlest intelligence, ever attempt to steal a hearing when he knows that he might get burned?” The answer is, can anyone with the littlest intelligence ever attempt to be high on drugs when he knows that it will burn out his body and mind? How do we explain the millions in our times who pay no heed? Or, can we explain people climb high mountains, with fifty percent chance of they losing their lives? Who can say what fun or pleasure the eavesdropping has for the Satans? Further, in common usage the textual word “shihab” is for (i) a bright flame, (ii) a bright burning piece of wood, and (iii) asteroids and meteorites. The allusion here is only to the first meaning, viz., “a bright flame.” Nor, every bright flame visible in the constellation is the “shihab” of the Qur’an as some people imagine. In fact, the “shihab” aimed at the Jinn might not be visible to us at all, just as the Jinn are not visible to us, although made of flame (Au.).

[19] And the earth – We have stretched it out wide,19 and placed thereon pegs20 and caused to grow therein all kinds of  things in due proportion.


19. Although round, for all practical purposes the earth is stretched out flat for us human beings. However, Qatadah has said that Makkah is the “umm al-qura” (mother of all towns) starting from where the rest of the earth was stretched (Alusi and others). The textual word of Qatadah’s usage “duhiyat”, has the linguistic connotation of being “folded in” to a round shape. That is, with Makkah as the starting point, the rest of the earth was created in a round shape, stretched around it. But there is the spiritual aspect. Every town is infested with Shirk barring Makkah which is kept free of it. If Shirk enters this town, it will be the sign of end of the world (Au.).

20. The textual “rasiyat” is literally pegs, and the reference is to mountains, with the clear allusion to the fact that the mountains are pitched into the surface of the earth, just as pegs (of a tent, for example). In fact, just as pegs are more inside the ground than out, greater part of the mountains are also, according to latest findings, inside the earth. For more details, see Surah Al-Naba’, note 4 of this work (Au.).

[20] And We have placed therein the means of living for you, and for those for whom you are not the providers.21


21. The second part of the verse could also mean, “We also provided you with those that you do not provide for; such as, your dependents. You think you provide them. But you do not. It is We who do” (Zamakshari and others).

Two notes of Yusuf Ali could be combined together: “And every kind of thing is produced on the earth in due balance and measure. The mineral kingdom supports the vegetable and they in their turn support the animal, and there is a link of mutual dependence between them. Excess is eliminated. The waste of one is made the food of another, and vice versa. And this is a chain of gradation and inter-dependence… ‘We provide sustenance of every kind, physical, mental, spiritual, etc., for you. But We do more. We provide for everyone of Our creatures. And there are those of which mankind is not even cognizant. We provide for them also. There are those who may at first sight appear hostile to man, or whom man may consider hostile, such as wild and noxious animals. They are Our creatures, and We provide for them also, as they are Our creatures. But there is due order and balance in the economy of Our universal Plan.’”

[21] And, there is not a thing but We have treasures thereof, but send it not except in a known measure.22


22. As Allah (swt) said elsewhere (Shura, 27), “If Allah were to extend the provision (excessively) for His slaves, surely they would commit tyranny in the land. But rather He sends down in measures as He will” (Shawkani).

‘Abdullah ibn Mas`ud said, “There isn’t any land that receives greater amount of rain than another, but Allah sends it down in known measures,” then he recited this verse, “And, there is not a thing but We have treasures of it, sending it not but in known measure.” The words of another version are, “No year it rains more than the previous year. But Allah (swt) spreads it around, sometimes in one region, and at others in another region” (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir).

Also, Ibn ‘Abbas has said, in a report preserved by Ibn al- Mundhir and Ibn Abi Hatim, “Rains have not decreased since the time Allah sent them down for the first time, rather, sometimes it rains more in a place than in another” (Shawkani).

Scientifically correct, the above statement leaves one curious about the source of such knowledge in those antiquated times (Au.).

[22] And We send the winds, impregnating;23 and then send down water from the heaven, providing it to you for drink. And you are not its treasurers.


23.Lawaqih” is the plural of “laqih” (from laqaha: to impregnate), since “riyah” is plural. One meaning is that the allusion is such winds as are productive and fruitful, as against those that are unproductive (‘aqim), mentioned elsewhere in the Qur’an. Another is that the word is in the sense of impregnator, or fertilizer. The winds impregnate both the clouds as well as trees. That is how ‘Abdullah ibn Mas`ud understood it. However, Ibn ‘Abbas, Dahhak and others thought that the allusion is to the seeding of the clouds (Zamkhshari, Ibn Jarir). Ibn Kathir adds: ‘Ubayd b. ‘Umary al-Laythi said, “Allah sends the winds. They sweep the earth in a thoroughgoing fashion. Then He sends them as stirrers that stir up the clouds. Then He sends those winds that help in cloud formation. Then He sends the impregnators that impregnate (the cloud) and the trees.”

Once again, the description, a millennium and a half old, comes so close to modern scientific description leaving us wonder about the source of knowledge. After all, those were days when followers of other religions thought that God had buckets of water that He threw onto the earth as rains (Au.).

[23] And, surely, it is We who give life and deal death, and We are the Inheritors.24


24. A metaphorical usage, meaning He is the true Owner and Possessor to whom things return after His creations have used them (Au.).

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