Translation & Commentary of Verses from Surah al-`Ankabut [14 – 30]


[14] Indeed We sent Nuh to his people. He dwelt among them a thousand years except for fifty years.16 Then the flood seized them while they were wrongdoers.17


16. The period of Nuh’s stay was mentioned to encourage the Prophet and his early followers to bear the Makkan rejection with patience. After all, an earlier Prophet had shown patience in the face of rejection for no less than 950 years. (Razi)

There are several opinions about the age at which Nuh (asws) was commissioned and how long he lived. The nearest to being correct is that of Ibn `Abbas, (as in Ibn Abi Shaybah, `Abd b. Humayd, Ibn al-Mundhir, Ibn Abi Hatim, Abu al-Sheikh and Hakim, with the last rating it Sahih: Shawkani), that he was granted Prophethood at forty, remained preaching for the next 950 years, after which the Flood overtook the unbelievers. After the floods he lived for another sixty years. (Qurtubi, Zamakhshari and others)

Qurtubi presents another report coming from Anas b. Malik. It says that when the angel of death came to Nuh, he asked him, “O thou, the longest living Prophet. How did you find the world?” Nuh replied, “Like a man who built a house with two doors. He entered by one door, stood in the middle to say, ‘Salam to you,’ and then left by another.” (The report is in Ibn `Asakir whose authenticity could not be checked: Au.).

Alusi points out that it is in Ibn Abi al-Dunya also, (but he does not evaluate it: Au.).

Mujahid said, “Ibn `Umar asked me, ‘How long did Nuh tarry among his people?’ I said, ‘A thousand years except for fifty.’ He said, ‘Since that time people have been suffering decrease in their ages, their aspirations, their morals, and their physical stature – to this day.’” (Durr al-Manthur)

Sayyid has an intelligent point for the rationalists who fail to think straight quite so often. He writes: “By any account, the length of Nuh’s life was certainly long. By today’s standards, it was unnatural and is not known to occur among humanity today. But we have it from a source that happens to be the truest source in existence. This is evidence enough for us. However, if we wished to explain, we could say that the human population then, at the time of consideration, must have been quite low. It is no surprise that Allah should have compensated fewness in numbers with long lives in order that human life could continue on the earth. When the numbers increased and mankind spread over the lands, there remained no need for such long lives. This can be noticed in many species: whenever the populations are low, the age factor increases such as in the case of certain reptiles. For example, turtles live for hundreds of years. On the other hand among the flies, which multiply in millions, individuals hardly live for more than two weeks.”

17. That is, they remained adamantly on unbelief: wrongdoers to the end (Razi).

[15] And We delivered him and the companions of the boat and appointed it a sign for the (peoples of the) worlds.18

[16] And (remember) Ibrahim, when he said to his people, ‘Worship Allah and fear Him. That is better for you if only you knew.



18. According to Qatadah the meaning is that Allah (swt) the boat on top of Mount Judiyy as a sign. But another possible meaning is that He appointed the punishment meted out to the unbelievers as a sign for the rest of the world. (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir)

[17] You only worship idols besides Allah, and invent a falsehood. Indeed, those you worship besides Allah have no power of sustenance for you. Therefore, seek sustenance from Allah,19 worship Him, and be grateful to Him; to Him you will be returned.



19. Rizq” of Arabic has a wide connotation, often relegated to the back of the mind. Yusuf Ali reminds us: “Sustenance: in the symbolic as well as the literal sense. Seek from Allah all that is necessary for your upkeep and development, and for preparing you for your future Destiny. Lay all your hopes in Him and in no one else. Dedicate yourselves to His worship. He will give you all that is necessary for your growth and well-being, and you should show your gratitude to Him by conforming your will entirely to His.”

[18] But if you cry lie (to Muhammad), then, surely nations before you also cried lies. And there is no more on the Messenger, except clear conveyance.’20

[19] Have they not seen how Allah begins the creation and then repeats it? That surely is easy for Allah.


20. It is also possible that these are the words of Ibrahim (asws) in which case he was referring to the nations of Sheeth, Idrees, Nuh and others. (Zamakhshari)

[20] Say, ‘Journey in the land and see how He began the creation.’ Then Allah will produce the final producing.21 Surely, Allah has power over all things.



21. According to Ibn `Abbas and Qatadah, the allusion is to the resurrection after death. (Ibn Jarir)

[21] He punishes whom He will and shows mercy unto whom He will.22 And to Him shall you be turned back.



22. It is another thing that Allah (swt) does not punish every defaulter, every time he commits an error, but rather offers reprieve, punishing only those who cross all limits. Otherwise, as Ibn Kathir quotes a hadith (from Abu Da’ud, Ibn Majah and Musnad Ahmad: H. Ibrahim), “Verily, if Allah punished all of his creations in the heavens and all of them in the earth, He could do it without being unjust.”

Shu`ayb al-Arna’ut judged the above as a strong report. (Au.)

The connection with the previous verse is obvious. There it was said that Allah (swt) will resurrect a final time. Now, resurrection will be for the purposes of judging the people, rewarding or punishing them, which is what this present verse says. (Au.)

[22] And you are not going to frustrate (Him) either in the earth or in the heaven.23 And you have not, apart from Allah, a protector or helper.



23. That is, you will not be able to frustrate Allah’s designs either in the earth, or in the heavens if you happened to be there. (Ibn Jarir)

[23] As for those who rejected Allah’s revelations 24 and the encounter with Him, it is they (who) are despaired of My mercy, and it is they for whom awaits a painful chastisement.

[24] But there was no answer of his people except that they said, ‘Kill him, or burn him.’ But Allah rescued him from the fire. Surely, in that there are signs for a people who believe.



24. The translation of the word ayah as ‘revelation,’ has the backing of Qurtubi. (Au.)

[25] And he said, ‘You have only taken to yourselves, other than Allah, idols as (bonds of) mutual love between you for the life of this world. But on the Day of Standing you will disown one another, and you will curse one another. Your abode will be the Fire, and you will have no helpers.’25



25. Yusuf Ali comments on high level of co-operation seen among those who reject the truth, but who will end in sorrow: “In sin and wickedness there is as much log-rolling as in politics. Evil men humor each other and support each other; they call each other’s vice by high-sounding names. They call it mutual regard or friendship or love; at the lowest, they call it toleration. Perhaps they flourish in this life by such arts. But they deceive themselves, and they deceive each other. What will be their relations in the Hereafter? They will disown each other when each has to answer on the principle of personal responsibility. Each will accuse the others of misleading him, and they will curse each other. But there will then be no help, and they must suffer in the Fire.‏”

In connection with “some helping others” on the Day of Judgment, Ibn Kathir has the following to report from Ibn Abi Hatim. Umm Haani, the sister of `Ali ibn Abi Talib said, “The Prophet told me, ‘Let me inform you that Allah is going to gather together whole of mankind in one field on the Day of Judgment. Then who knows the two ends?’ She said, ‘Allah and His Messenger know best.’ He said, ‘Then a caller will call out from below the `Arsh: “Ya Ahl al-Tawhid.” They will raise their heads. Then he will call out again, “Ya Ahl al-Tawhid.” Then he will call out a third time and say, “Allah has forgiven you.”’ The Prophet added, ‘Then some people (of the Ahl al-Tawhid) will remain who would be held back because of wrongs committed against others in the world. Then it will be announced, “Ya Ahl al-Tawhid, let you forgive each other, and Allah will recompense.”’

Al-Haythamiyy noted that Abu Hatim declared the above hadith as “Munkar” – a kind of quite weak a hadith. (Au.)

[26] But Lut believed in him.26 And he said, ‘I am emigrating toward my Lord.27 He indeed is the All-mighty, the All-wise.’



26. That is, he believed in Ibrahim the moment he presented his call, and accepted all that he had brought as true. (Alusi)

Lut was a nephew of Prophet Ibrahim. (Qurtubi from Ibn Is-haq)

27. It is Ibrahim who said this (Ibn Jarir from the Salaf). Qatadah however said that both he and Lut emigrated (along with Ibrahim’s wife Sarah) from Kutha (a place near Kufa) to Syria. He also said that we used to hear that the Prophet had said, “There will be hijrah after hijrah. In droves peoples of the earth will go to the places Ibrahim migrated. Only the worst kind of people will be left in the earth, their lands will throw them out, Allah will disapprove of them, until Allah will send upon them the fire that will collect them along with monkeys and swine.”

The report is in Abu Da’ud also. (Ibn Kathir)

But Albani declared it weak; although meaning-wise there are other reports of trustworthy nature (Au.).

Ibn Jurayj, however, said that Lut first migrated to Harran. Then he was ordered to move to the Syrian region. (Ibn Jarir)

It has been thought by some scholars however, that the words are those of Lut (asws). In this context Anas b. Malik reported that `Uthman b. `Affan left with Ruqayyah – the Prophet’s daughter – to the Abyssinian lands. For some time no news reached the Prophet about them, until a Qurayshi woman, who had just come back from a journey, told him: “I saw your son-in-law with your daughter.” He asked, “In what state did you find them?” She said, “I saw him having mounted his wife on a lean donkey, while he led it on.” The Prophet said,

“`Uthman is the first after Lut, to migrate along with his family.” (Qurtubi)

Asad comments on the term “muhajir”: “In the present instance, this term is obviously used in both its physical and spiritual senses, analogous to the early allusion (in 19: 48-49) to Abraham’s ‘withdrawal’ (i`tizal) from his evil, native environment and to his physical emigration to Harran (in northern Mesopotamia), and thence to Syria and Palestine.”

 [27] Then We bestowed on him Is-haq and Ya`qub28 and appointed Prophethood and the Book to be among his progeny;29 and We gave him his reward in this world,30 and in the world to come he shall surely be among the righteous.  



28. That is, a son Is-haq, and a grandson Ya`qub. It is in this sense that Ibn `Abbas meant to say when he said that the two were sons of Ibrahim. (Ibn Kathir)

29. So that, writes Ibn Kathir, every Prophet who came after Ibrahim (asws) was raised from his progeny.

30. It is said that Mujahid sent someone to `Ikrimah to find out what was the ‘this-worldly’ reward that Ibrahim was given. He told him, his ‘this-worldly’ reward was that all the nations of the world love to own him as theirs. When the man returned with the answer to Mujahid he remarked, “He is correct.” This is the opinion of Ibn `Abbas and others who added that another of the rewards of this world granted to him was righteous progeny. (Ibn Jarir)

[28] And (recall) Lut when he said to his people, ‘Verily, you commit a lewdness that no one has preceded with before you in the worlds.31



31. `Amr b. Dinar used to say that no one in the world ever committed homosexuality before the people of Lut (Ibn Jarir); perhaps he meant as a nation. (Au.)

[29] What, do you approach men, cut off the highway,32 and commit abomination in your assembly?’33 But there was no answer of his people except that they said, ‘Bring us Allah’s chastisement if you are of the truthful.’

[30] He said, ‘O my Lord. Help me against the corrupting people.’


32. Ibn Zayd has said that the allusion is to their habit of waylaying passers-by and forcing anal sex on them. (Ibn Jarir, Qurtubi)

Another connotation of “taqta`una al-sabil” is, as offered by Hasan and quoted by Zamakhshari: “to cut across the way (of nature).” And, as noted by Asad, “Imam Razi adopts it exclusively and without reservation.”

33. While a report from `A’isha said that the allusion is to wind-passing contests in their assemblies; Umm Haani says she was told by the Prophet that they squatted on the roads, threw pebbles at the passers-by, (especially women: Qurtubi), and made fun of them. (Ibn Jarir)

Umm Hani’s report is in Tirmidhi also, but who declared it not so reliable. The report is also in Hakim who declared it trustworthy (Alusi). The allusion could, in general, be to all sorts of indecencies that they committed in their assemblies. (Ma`arif)

The report about throwing pebbles etc., is in Abu Da’ud Tayaalisi, Nuhhas, Tha`labi, Mahdawi and Mawardi. As regards reports about passing winds, it also comes from Ibn `Abbas and Qasim b. Abi Bazzah. Several other indecencies are reported of them, including lesbianism (Qurtubi), such as, as one coming from Ibn `Abbas, which says that the allusion is to finger-joints crackling, chewing gum, rubbing miswak in public, removing clothes before others, calling names, and indecency in jokes. (Zamakhshari)

The above report has not been authenticated. We have presented it to give some idea of what our ancestors disapproved of, some of which have entered into Muslim society of our times. (Au.)


(To be continued)

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