Translation & Commentary of Verses from Surah al-`Ankabut [31 – 40]


[31] When Our messengers came to Ibrahim with the good news,34 they said, ‘Indeed We are about to destroy the inhabitants of this township. Verily, its inhabitants have been evildoers.’


34. When Lut (asws) prayed to Allah (swt) for help against the evildoers, Allah responded by sending angels of destruction. They passed by Ibrahim (asws) but first gave him the glad tiding of a son and a grandson in order to comfort him at the impending destruction of the people of Lut (Ibn Kathir).

[32] He said, ‘But surely Lut is in it.’35 They said, ‘We know very well who is in it. Assuredly we shall save him and his family – except his wife: she has been of those who lag behind.’


35. Ibrahim was not informing the angels about Lut’s presence in the township (Au.), but rather he meant to express his wonder over how could a people be destroyed when there happened to be a Prophet among them (Razi); so, primarily he was concerned with Lut (Au.).

[33] And when Our messengers came to Lut, he was troubled on their account and felt himself powerless for them.36 They said, ‘Fear not, nor grieve. We shall save you and your family, except your wife – she has been of those who lag behind.

[34] Indeed, we are about to bring down upon the inhabitants of this township a scourge from the heaven because they have been doing corruption.’



36. Their arrival, and the nefarious intentions of the inhabitants of his town, made Lut distressful, (Qatadah: Ibn Jarir), especially so because he felt himself powerless against the corrupt folk (Razi). According to details given in Hud, al-Hijr and al-Qamar, the townsmen visited Lut to demand his guests. He cried out in anguish (10: 80), “Would that I had a power against you or take refuge in a strong corner’” (Mawdudi).

[35] Indeed, We left thereof a clear sign for a people who reason.37


37. That is, a lasting sign and unforgettable lesson was left in them, in the town, and in the punishment which was meted out to them (Ibn Jarir, reworded). When the Arabs of the Prophet’s time visited the Syrian region, they passed by the Dead Sea and learned from the local populations that the nation of Lut was buried in there (Au.). Allah (swt) said about their main town under the sea (15: 76-77): “And it is right on the high-road. Surely, in that is a sign for those who believe.”

Asad adds: “This is an allusion to the Dead Sea – known to this day as Bahr Lut (“The Sea of Lot”) – which covers most of the region in which Sodom and Gomorrah were once situated. Its waters contain so high a percentage of sulphur and potash that no fish or plants can live in them.”

Majid adds: “The sea itself has certain very curious peculiarities. ‘Ocean water contains on an average 4-6% of salts. Dead Sea water contains 25% .. Owing principally to the large proportion of chloride and bromide of magnesia, no animal life can exist in its water. Fish .. die in a very short time if introduced into the main waters of the lake.’ (EBr. VII. p. 879, 11th ed.). ‘The water of the Dead Sea is intensely saline .. The Chlorides of magnesium, largely held in solution, gives water its nauseous taste .. No animal life can exist in its waters…

The recent (1924) joint expedition of the Xenio seminary and the American School of Oriental Research sent out to locate the Cities of the Plain are convinced that three of them, Sodom, Gomorrah and Zoar, stood in the south-east corner of the Dead Sea … but now of course beneath the area.’ (EBr. VII, pp. 99-100).”

Yusuf Ali has his usual poignant remark: “The whole tract on the east side of the Dead Sea (where the Cities were situated) is covered with sulphureous salts and is deadly to animal and plant life. The Dead Sea itself is called in Arabic the Bahr Lut (the sea of Lot). It is a scene of utter desolation, that should stand as a Symbol of the Destruction that awaits Sin.”

[36] And to Madyan (We sent) their brother Shu`ayb. He said, ‘O my people, worship Allah and look to the Last Day.38 And act not corruptly in the earth, spreading mischief.




38. That is, you should look forward to be rewarded for your good deeds in the Hereafter (Ibn Jarir). A few have thought that the meaning is “fear the Hereafter” (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir, Qurtubi).

[37] But they lay the lie on him and so the earthquake seized them and by morning they lay prostrate in their dwelling.39



39. That is, they lay dead, piled upon each other (Ibn Jarir).

[38] And (remember) `Ad40 and Thamud – surely, it has become clear to you (what We did to them) from their homes (now in ruins). Shaytan decked out fair to them their deeds, and thus averted them from the Path, although they were (otherwise) quite sagacious.41



40. Asad comments: “As regards the tribe of `Aad, the above seems to be an allusion to their one-time capital, the legendary ‘Iram, the many pillared’ (mentioned in the Qur’an only once, namely, in 89: 7). It has since been buried by the moving sand-dunes of Al-Ahqaf (a region between ‘Uman and Hadramawt, within the great South-Arabian desert of Rub al-Khali); it is said, however, that its traces are occasionally uncovered by strong winds.”

41. Alternative meanings are, “they were endued with sight” (Majid), or “were keen of sight.” Asad writes, “Thus, the Qur’an implies that it is man’s ‘ability to perceive the truth’ (istibsar) that makes him morally responsible for his doings and hence, for his failure to resist his own evil impulses..”

Ibn `Abbas, Mujahid and Qatadah said that they were quite sagacious in their religious affairs, doing what they did consciously; upon which Dahhak added that not only they knew well what they clung to as their religion, but were in fact sort of proud of it (Ibn Jarir). Another possible meaning is that they knew the error in their pagan religion, and were quite aware that the truth lay in the message brought by their Prophets, yet clung to paganism. Farra’s opinion on the other hand was that although they were a sagacious people, their sagacity served them not (when they decided to reject the messages) – Qurtubi.

[39] And Qarun, Fir`awn and Haman – Musa did go to them with clear signs but they waxed proud in the earth, but they were not the overtakers (against Us).

[40] Wherefore We seized each one for his sin. Against some We loosed a storm of stones;42 some were seized by the Cry;43 some We sank in the earth;44 while some We drowned.45 And Allah was not such as to wrong them, but rather, they were wronging themselves.


42. The allusion is to `Aad and the nation of Lut.

The Arabs name every storm that carries sand, pebble, or hale, as `aasif (Ibn Jarir).

43. The allusion is to Thamud and the inhabitants of Madyan.

44. Such as Qarun. Asad comments: “The common denominator between these two (Haman and Qarun: au.) and Pharaoh is their false pride (takabbur) and arrogance (istikbar), which caused them to become ‘archetype of evil’.. A similar attitude of mind is said to have been the characteristic of the tribes of `Aad and Thamud mentioned in the preceding verse.”

45. Such as the nations of Nuh, Fir`awn and his folks.

(To be continued)

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