Verses from Surah al-Isra’ (59-72)
 And nothing prevented us that We should send signs, except that the earlier ones rejected them.99 Indeed, We brought Thamud the she-camel as a clear (sign), but they did her wrong. And We send not signs except to frighten.100
100. Qurtubi writes with reference to the words, “And We send not signs except to frighten,” that five connotations are possible. First, the allusion is to the miracles that the Messengers perform, to warn the unbelievers and drive fear into them. Second, verses threatening punishments to prevent the sinners. Third, the allusion is to the changes in a person’s life: from childhood to youth to manhood and old age, for the people to draw the obvious lesson: this is Ibn Hanbal’s opinion. Fourth, the allusion by “the verses” is to the Qur’an. And fifth, sudden death (Qurtubi).
 And when We said unto you (O Muhammad), ‘Surely your Lord has encompassed the people;’101 and the vision that We showed you,102 and the tree accursed in this Qur’an,103 was not but a trial for the people. Thus We (aim to) drive fear into them. But it increases them only in great rebellion.104
101. E.g., the verse in Surah al-Buruj which said (85: 19-20): “The unbelievers are in a state of denial, but Allah is encompassing them from behind them.”
102. In the opinion of Ibn `Abbas, Hasan, Masruq, Sa`id b. Jubayr, Abu Malik and others, the reference is to the vision that the Prophet (saws) enjoyed when he was taken from Makkah to Bayt al-Maqdis and from there to the heavens. Ibn `Abbas was very specific. He said, “It was the vision of the eyes and not a dream.” The report is in Bukhari and Tirmidhi (Qurtubi), as also in Nasa’i and others (Shawkani).
Qurtubi adds that if it had been a dream, and not a vision of the eye, it couldn’t have become a means of trial for the people which the verse states was the purport.
Hasan said, “The Prophet was taken to Bayt al-Maqdis where he prayed, and Allah showed him the signs that He willed, then he did his morning in Makkah. When he informed the people that he had been taken to Bayt al-Maqdis they replied, ‘Muhammad. What’s the matter with you? You did your evening here in Makkah. Then by morning you are telling us that you had been to Bayt al-Maqdis by night, traveling the distance of two months in a single night?’ They were skeptically surprised. In fact, some (of the Muslims) apostatized. (Hence Allah’s words, ‘And the vision that We showed you and the tree accursed in this Qur’an, was not but a trial for the people’) – Ibn Jarir.
In contrast, Abu Bakr took a rational line. When told about the Prophet’s claim, he remarked, “Well, if he says so, I believe in him.” He was asked, “Do you believe in him before you have heard from him first hand?” He replied, “Where is your reasoning? I believe in him when he says he receives revelations from the heaven. Why I should I not believe in him when he says he had been to Jerusalem which is so close when compared to the heavens?” (Qurtubi)
In this connection, it may be noted that all the ahadith that have been narrated (while attempting explanation of the vision), to the effect, for example, that the Prophet saw Banu Umayyah in his vision as defiling his (prophetic) mission, are, according to commentators, untrustworthy. It is another thing that they were, as Alusi has stated, the first to bring corruption into the body politic of Islam. `A’isha is also reported to have made some adverse statements about them, before one of them. Nevertheless, the alluded reports are not prophetic words (Au.).
103. Ibn `Abbas, Masruq, Hasan and others have said that the allusion by the accursed tree is to the Zaqqum tree. According to Hasan the pagans said, “Isn’t Ibn abi Kabsha (Prophet Muhammad) lying when he says that stones will be fuel of Hell-fire, and in the same breath that there will be a tree therein called Zaqqum?” (Ibn Jarir). That is, how can a tree flourish in Fire? Thus it became a test for them. Will they believe, because Allah says so in His revelation, or will they trust their own minds and limited knowledge?
A tree is a hardy thing. There might be some cure for the rationalist’s skepticism in the information that “viable bacteria have been recovered in the interior of an operating nuclear reactor, having survived intense fluxes of ionizing reaction.” That is, a place where they should be disintegrated within seconds. Again, another finding that has sent the scientists home in amazement is that “bacteria can survive after exposures to pressures as high as 10 tonnes per square meter, and after flash heating under dry conditions at temperatures of up to 6000 C.” (Our Place in the Cosmos, Fred Hoyle and C. Wickramasinghe, Phoenix, p. 4). In view of this information, a tree in Hell seems to be a small-time story (Au.).
But, although mentioned in two other places, where in the Qur’an has the tree been accursed? Zamakhshari answers this question by sayingthat “la`nah” in Arabic is denial of Allah’s mercy. Now, since Zaqqum tree will be in the Fire, far from Allah’s mercy, the word “mal`un” has been employed. Another connotation, he adds, comes from the Arab usage who were wont to refer to any distasteful, harmful eatable thing as “mal`un.”
The Lexicon writer Abdul Rashid No`mani writes under the entry Zaqqum that the Prophet (saws) said in a hadith, which Tirmidhi rated Hasan Sahih, “Fear Allah in the manner that Allah should be feared, for, if a drop of Zaqqum were to be dropped into the sea, it would pollute it entirely” (Lughat al-Qur’an).
104. When the pagans were threatened with Hell-fire and a fruit that they would eat therein, about whose tree Allah revealed (37: 64-65), “Lo! It is a tree that sprouts from the bottom of Hell. Its emergent fruits like the heads of the Devils,” – when these words were revealed, Abu Jahal (in a report of Ahmed: Ibn Kathir), asked for some dates and butter and said, “Eat. This is the only Zaqqum that we know of.” (In the Yemeni dialect dates [when taken] with butter was termed Zaqqum: Qurtubi). In response, Allah (swt) said, “We drive fear into them. But it increases them only in great rebellion” (Ibn Jarir).
 And when We said to the angels,105 ‘Prostrate yourselves before Adam.’ They all prostrated themselves, except Iblis. He said, ‘Should I prostrate myself before someone You created out of clay?’
105. Imam Razi’s explanation of the connection can be reduced to as follows: the Prophet (saws) was facing hard times with the pagans in Makkah. He and his message stood rejected. (There were a variety of reasons). But two elements were obvious: pride and envy. These two elements prevented the pagans from accepting the prophetic message. So the Prophet was told that he ought to in fact expect it and, mindless of it, should hold on to his good work. The very first man, Adam also faced difficulties in his life because of pride and envy.
 He also said, ‘See You?! The one You honored above me – if You grant me reprieve until the Day of Judgment, I shall surely bring his descendants under my sway,106 all but few.’
106. One of the connotations of the “ihtinak” of the original is to put a rope around the lower jaw of an animal in order to lead it (Razi). Another connotation is destruction. The Arabs say,
i.e., “the locusts destroyed the crops.”
 He replied, ‘Go ahead.107 Whoever of them followed you, surely Jahannum shall be your recompense – an ample reward.
107. The translation of the word “idh-hab” as “Go ahead” reflects the understanding of Imam Razi.
 And fool them gradually whomsoever of them you can with your voice,108 and rally against them with your horse and foot soldiers,109 and share with them in their wealth110 and progeny,111 and promise them.’ But Satan promises them not but delusion.112
108. The allusion by “voice” is to idle entertainment, songs and music. That was the opinion of Mujahid. Ibn `Abbas however said that the allusion is to any call to Allah’s disobedience (Ibn Jarir, Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir).
Thus, by implication, music is forbidden in Islam. (Qurtubi)
Zamakhshari writes that the meaning is: Satan will bring on his forces against those who accept his influence, pulling them out of their homes and resorts, with little regard or respect for their defenses, in short, with ease.
109. While Mujahid said that Satan actually has foot and mounted soldiers from men and Jinn, Ibn `Abbas said that the allusion is to everyone, on foot or mounted who walks in the way of sin. In a second opinion Mujahid said the same thing (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir).
110. In the opinion of the earliest scholars, anything spent in a cause disapproved by Allah (swt), is the share of Iblis (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir).
111. The allusion, according to Ibn `Abbas, Mujahid, Dahhak and others, is to children born out of sin. Hasan and Qatadah however felt that the allusion is to the parents baptizing their children in a false religion. Mujahid’s opinion was that every child sacrificed at an alter, or killed from fear of poverty, or buried alive out of shame, is the share of Iblis (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir).
(Sins committed under Shaytan’s evil influence are also, in a way, his share in a man’s life: Au.). It is in this vein that, according to a report in the Sahihayn, the Prophet taught us that: “When one of you wishes to go into his wife he may say,
i.e., ‘In the name of Allah. O Allah, keep us away from Satan and keep Satan away from what You will bestow us (of the progeny).’
That will – the Prophet (saws) continued – assure that if a child has been decreed, Satan shall never be able to harm it” (Ibn Kathir).
112. “Satan does not promise them but delusions:” a self-evident truth that has echoed throughout the ages in the lives of individuals and nations, but few have been who would heed. Modern Western world is one of the best examples. In pursuance of its dreams, men and women have been working day and night, like ants around a dead cockroach, offering everything they can in sacrifice: time, energy, family-life, moral values, and the soul’s yearning. But, and despite the amazing material developments, they are yet to experience a single day of peace and true happiness. Far from that, the cogs in the machine rarely experience a single day of relaxation. If not for drugs, wine and music, a large number of people would have gone mad from the relentless pressure on them. As it is, in America every week or so someone shoots a couple of innocent people to death and then commits suicide, to leave those spared pursue Satan’s delusions. And now the gauntlet is picked by the East, for the drama to end in the same sequel (Au.).
 ‘As for My slaves, you shall have no power over them.’ And Your Lord suffices as a guardian.113
113. The implication of the words “And suffices Your Lord as a guardian” is that sinless is he who is preserved by Allah. Otherwise, it is not possible for a man to save himself from falling into sin. Allah said therefore that He suffices. He did not say, “the (good) men suffice for themselves” (Alusi).
 Your Lord it is who drives for you the ships in the sea that you may seek of His bounty. Verily, He is ever Merciful unto you.  When affliction visits you upon the sea, then those you call upon disappear except for He. But as soon as He has brought you safe ashore, you turn away. Surely, man is ever ungrateful.114
114. It is said that someone said to a scholar, “Give me a proof of Allah’s existence; but not that of the contingencies.” He asked him if he had ever been into the sea. He said yes. Then he asked him if he ever faced a storm that threatened to drown everyone. The man said yes. Then he asked him whether he had lost hopes in those in the boat, or anyone on the land of being able to rescue him. The man replied that yes such a situation had occurred. He asked him, “Did your heart then, in that moment of despair, when you lost hope in everything, cling to hope in something, someone, coming to your rescue?” When he replied with a yes he said, “That something is Allah.” The man felt satisfied with the answer.
 Do you then feel secure that He should not cause you to be swallowed up by a tract of land115 or let loose against you a pebble storm? Then you will not find for yourself a protector.
115. The commentators have explained that “janib al-barr” (lit. earth-side) has been used to contrast it with the “janib al-bahr” (sea-side). That is, if you escape from one side – that of the sea – how can you be in peace from your Lord’s scourge on the other side, the land?
 Or do you feel secure that He should not return you to it a second time, and let loose against you a hurricane of wind and drown you for your rejection? Then you will not find for yourself against us anyone to follow up (the affair).116
116. The textual “tabi`a” lends several connotations: someone who could follow up the affair of the drowning to find out as to who holds the responsibility for the event, demand compensation, or sue the party that caused it, and so on. Alternatively it could mean someone who would avenge the action. Ibn `Abbas (as in Ibn Jarir) simply rendered it as “helper” (Au.).
 Lo! We have honored Adam’s progeny, borne them on the land and the sea, provided them with good things and preferred them greatly over many of those We created.117
117. Yusuf Ali comments: “The distinction and honor conferred by Allah on man are recounted in order to enforce the corresponding duties and responsibilities of man.”
Nobody ever disputes the fact of man’s superiority over all other organic organisms. But whom does the credit go to? Here comes the denial. However a few have refuted some wild denials. Majid quotes: “In the language of modern anthropology, ‘the great superiority of man’s mental manifestations over those of all other animals is too patent to be called in question by any serious worker in the field of anthropology. Indeed, according to some eminent psychologists, the gap between them cannot be bridged over by the doctrine of organic evolution’ (ERE, I. P. 569). ‘The attempt to minimize this remarkable disparity between man and brute has not met with much support from any class of investigation’ (ib.).”
It might be noted however, that Allah (swt) said that He favored man above most of His creations. He did not say He favored them above all creatures. Hence, and although the present verse does not lend help, the commentators have judged that: (i) Common but committed believers are superior to common angels. (ii) Messengers from among the humans are superior to the messengers from among the angels. (iii) The messengers from among the angels are superior to all common angels as well as committed believers. And (iv) Common angels are superior to common men (Alusi, Shabbir, Shafi`).
 On the day when We shall call all men with their record,118 then whoso is given his book in his right hand – those shall read their book (with pleasure); and they shall not be wronged by a thread.119
118. “Imam” is anyone who is followed. So the Prophet is our Imam, the Qur’an is our Imam, and the followers of every religion have their own Imam. The Qur’an itself has used the word “imam” in the sense of a book. It said (36: 12),
i.e., “And everything We have recorded in a clear book” (Razi). Mujahid and Qatadah were of the opinion that by the textual term “imam” the allusion is to the Messengers sent to the nations. But Ibn `Abbas, Hasan and Dahhak thought the allusion is to the Book of Deeds (Ibn Jarir).
A second opinion of Ibn `Abbas as in Ibn Marduwayh, Ibn Abi Shaybah, Ibn al-Munddhir and Ibn Abi Hatim agrees with the earlier opinion that the allusion is to Messengers (Shawkani). Qurtubi writes the opinion of Abu ‘Ubaydah that the allusion could well be to the religious denominations (madhahib, in which people take pride and deride others). They might be called as, “(Come forward), O Hanafiyy, O Shafe`i, etc.”
Zamakhshari notes (while Razi and Alusi reproduce from him) that the Shi`ah have interpreted “imam” as the plural of Umm (meaning mother). In the light of this meaning they explain that on the Day of Judgment, the people will be referred to by the names of their mothers. They also say that the wisdom behind this is that Jesus Christ could then be called by his mother’s name, Hasan and Hussain by their mother’s name as well as a man out of adultery by his mother’s name. Zamakhshari then throws the punch, “I don’t know which of the two part of the statement is more ridiculous: the interpretation itself or the wisdom cited.”
Alusi notes that ‘Uqayli has a report coming from Anas that he said, “The records (of deeds) are stored under the `Arsh. On Judgment Day Allah will send across a (powerful) wind that will fly the records into either the right hands or left hands of the people. The first line in it would read (17: 14), ‘Read your record. Sufficient is your own soul this day for reckoning against yourself.’” Alusi is not too sure of the authenticity of this report but feels that it is supported by another in Ahmed brought to us by `A’isha. She asked, “Messenger of Allah. Will a lover remember his beloved on the Judgment Day?” He answered, “On three occasions, no.” (The third occasion being), “When the Records fly.”
Incidentally, the Qur’an or Sunnah are not specific about angels handing over the Book of Records to the people on the Judgment Day (Au.).
119. “Fatil” is that little thread which is found in the cleft (central split portion) of date seed.
 And whosoever is blind in this (world),120 shall be blind in the Hereafter and more lost of the way.121
120. That is, blind to truth.
121. When asked by someone coming from Yemen, Ibn `Abbas explained that a man who is blind to Allah’s signs in this world – those signs that are spread around him – will be more so in affairs concerning the Hereafter (Ibn Jarir, Razi). Another meaning is that those who are blind to Allah’s signs in this world will be blind to the ways leading to Paradise in the Hereafter. But the reference could as well be to actual blindness in the Hereafter as in the verse (20: 124-126), “And whoever turns away from My Reminder, shall have a livelihood of hardship, and We shall raise him up in the Hereafter blind. He will cry out, ‘My Lord. Why have you raised me blind when I was seeing?’ He will reply, ‘That is how Our signs came to you but you forgot all about them. That is how you will be forgotten today’” (Razi).
(to be continued)