Verses from Surah al-Ra’d (35-43)

[35] The likeness of the Paradise that the god-fearing have been promised: gardens beneath which rivers flow.69 Its fruits eternal, (and so are) its shade. That is the requital of the god-fearing. And the requital of the unbelievers is the Fire.


69. The dwellers of Paradise will be able to make those rivers flow in the direction they wish. And, according to a report in Muslim, once the Prophet (saws) went a step forward in his Prayers, so everyone present in the rows also went forward. The Prophet extended his hand as if he was trying to pluck something. Then he withdrew his hand. After the Prayers they asked him the reason. He said, “I saw Paradise with all its bounties. I stepped forward to pluck a bunch of grapes but something came in between. Had I plucked it, it would have sufficed for you until the Day of Judgment.” And a hadith in Nasa’i and Ahmed says that a man of the people of the Book went up to the Prophet and asked, “O Abul Qasim! Do you say that the people of Paradise will eat and drink?” He replied, “Yes, by Him in whose hand is my life. Someone there will be given the strength of a hundred men in matters of food, drink and sex.” The man questioned, “Someone who eats and drinks will need to relieve himself. But there will be no filth in Paradise?” He answered, “Their relief will be from a fragrance as good as musk that will ooze out from their skin. That will empty their bowels” (Ibn Kathir).

[36] Those to whom We have given the Book rejoice in what has been sent down unto you (O Muhammad) while, among the factions there are some who reject a part of it.70 Say, ‘I have been ordered that I worship Allah and not associate (aught) with Him. To Him I invite and to Him is my return.’ 


70. There have been two interpretations. One, the allusion by “those who were given the Book,” is to the Companions of the Prophet, and by “the factions who rejected a part of it,” it is the Jews and Christians. This is attributed to Qatadah and Mujahid. A second opinion, attributed to Ibn Zayd is that the allusion by “those who were given the Book” is to the early converts from among the Jews and Christians, while the allusion by “the factions who rejected a part of it” is to those among them who rejected it (Ibn Jarir).

[37] And, thus We have revealed it as an ordinance71 in Arabic.72 But, if you were to follow their caprices after what has come to you of knowledge,73 then you will have no protector against Allah, nor anyone to shield you.


71. The textual word “hukman”, literally meaning “judgment”, has been understood by Zamakhshari as “hikmah” (wisdom). The current translation, “ordinance”, picked up from Asad, seemed more appropriate to this author.

72. Asad explains the connection with the previous verses, “i.e., by compromising with the followers of other creeds who, while accepting some of the fundamental verities of the Qur’an, are unwilling to accept the whole of it.”

73. Arabic, being capable of such rhetoric, richness, subtleties, eloquence and internal organization, deserves to be called the Mother of the Languages, or the Queen of Languages (Shabbir). And, therefore, if it cannot be the universal language, it should be, in the least, the language of the elite of the world, the position once held by Latin. But who will tell them what they miss by not knowing Arabic? (Au.)

Asad writes: “(The Qur’an has been revealed as an Arabic ordinance)… so as to enable the Arabian Prophet to propound it to the people of his immediate environment and, through them, to the whole world.”

[38] We sent Messengers before you (also) and assigned to them wives and children.74 And it was not for a Messenger that he should produce a sign, except by Allah’s leave. For every term, there is an appointed hour.75


74. Majid writes: “There is absolutely no contradiction between a family life and the dignity of the prophetic office; and there is nothing unholy or unclean about marriage and married life. This refutes and negatives the position of the Christians and others who have held that woman and the begetting of children were repugnant to spirituality. Influenced by the teachings of Paul, ‘the celibate life was exalted above that of marriage… on the ground that there was in marriage and its relations something impure and defiling.’”

75. That is, every term has been written down in the Book. However, Dahhak b. Muzahim had another explanation. According to him the meaning is, “Every book had its term.” That is, every revealed Book was destined to a term decreed by Allah (swt) after which it was replaced by a new Book. Hence Allah’s words in the following verse, “Allah erases what He will, or confirms. And with Him is the Mother of the Book” (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir).

[39] Allah erases what He will, or confirms.76 And with Him is the Mother of the Book.77


76. Several opinions have come down from the classical commentators. One opinion is that Allah (swt) erases anything from the Book of Divine Decree, or confirms anything except four things: life, death, whether one will be fortunate (sa‘eed) or wretched (shaqi). Another opinion is that there are two Books of the Divine Decree. Changes take place only in the second one. What is written in the Preserved Tablet (Al-Lawh al-Mahfuz) does not undergo any change. A third opinion is that the reference here is to those rules of law that Allah (swt) obliterates from the Book and replaces with others. That is, this verse carries the same meaning as verse 106 of Surah al-Baqarah, which says, “We do not abrogate a verse or render it forgotten but bring one better than it, or similar to it.” A fourth and the stronger opinion comes from ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab, ‘Abdullah ibn Mas‘ud, Dahhak and Hassan. They held that Allah erases what He will from the Book and confirms what He will of what is already written, with no exception whatsoever. Accordingly, ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab was heard weeping and saying during his circumambulation around the Ka‘bah, “O Allah, if You have written me among the fortunate ones (ahl al-sa‘adah), then confirm it. But if You have written me among the wretched ones (ahl al-shiqawah) and the sinners, then erase (my name) from there.” Ka‘b in fact once told ‘Umar, “If not for a verse in the Qur’an, I could have told you all that is going to happen.” ‘Umar asked, “What verse is it?” Ka‘b recited this verse, ‘Allah erases what He will, or confirms. And with Him is the Mother of the Book.’” (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir).

(A report in Ibn Abi Shaybah speaks for us the mind of the Salaf in complete clarity with regard to Allah’s intervention in the affairs of the world: Au.). In that report Ibn Mas‘ud says, addressing a supplication to Allah, “…If you have written me in Your Mother of the Book as a wretched one, then, erase it …” (Alusi). That is, Ibn Mas‘ud believed that what is written in the Mother of the Book, is subject to change by Allah’s will and command (Au.). And Mujahid has said in confirmation of the above that when the Quraysh heard some of the verses of the Qur’an, they said, “We do not see you, O Muhammad, except as (a helpless man) with power over nothing. God seems to have been through with the affair.” So Allah (swt) revealed, “Allah erases what He will, or confirms. And with Him is the Mother of the Book.”(Ibn Jarir, Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir). The report is in Ibn al-Mundhir and Ibn Abi Hatim also (Shawkani).

Ibn Kathir also writes: “What the above means is that the earliest Muslims believed in the alteration in Allah’s decree. There are ahadith that support this. One of them is in Nasa’i and Ibn Majah. It says, “A man destined to receive provision is denied because of sins. Nothing turns back the decree but supplication and nothing causes increase in life-span except righteousness.” Another hadith says that supplication and heavenly punishment engage themselves with each other in conflict between the earth and the heavens.

Qurtubi adds: The verse is clear in its meaning, viz., Allah (swt) erases what He will and confirms what He will, without any exception. Nothing else can be said about it

77. The allusion is to Al-Lawh al-Mahfuz (Zamakhshari).

[40] And, whether We show you (O Muhammad) some of what We are promising them, or cause you to die – (in both cases) there is no more upon you (than) delivery (of the message), and upon Us, the reckoning.

[41] Have they not observed that We are reducing the earth from its edges?78 Allah commands; there is none to turn back His command, and He is swift at reckoning.


78. The textual term “taraf” has several connotations: sides, extremities, borders or outlying areas and there have been several interpretations. One of them is that since the original word “taraf” is also used for “the best (of everything)”, the meaning of the verse is that Allah is gradually taking away good men from among the unbelievers and transferring them to the rank of the Muslims. This usage is not uncommon. We have a statement of ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib who used “taraf” in this sense. He said, i.e., “Knowledge is in several valleys. From whichever alone of the valleys you decide to take, (in exclusion of others) you will be a loser. Instead, take from everything, the best of it (taraf)” – Alusi.

Asad also derives the same meaning of the word “taraf” but gives its pronoun a wider meaning, translating the latter half of the verse as, “We visit the earth [with Our punishment], gradually depriving it of all that is best thereon”, and then explains in a note below:

“Thus in its widest sense, the phrase ‘gradually depriving it of all that is best in it’ may be taken to relate not merely to physical and social catastrophes but also to the loss of all ethical values – and, thus, to the loss of all worldly power – which ‘those that are bent on denying the truth’ are bound to suffer in the end.”

But the popular opinion is that with the ever continuing conversion to Islam, the unbelievers have constantly been losing ground to Muslims. A rough calculation tells us that after his emigration to Madinah, the Prophet (saws) was wresting control of the lands that were formally ruled by the pagans, at the rate of about 500 sq. km a day, excluding the deserted area known as the Empty Quarter.

Yusuf Ali is close to this meaning when he writes: “In the Prophet’s ministry at Makkah, the most stiff-necked opposition came from the seat and center of power at Makkah. The humbler people – the fringe of Makkan society – came in readily, as also did some tribes around Makkah. After the Hijrat there was a hard struggle between Makkah and Madinah and, at last, the bloodless conquest of Makkah in A.H. 8 made the Pagan structure totally collapse, though it had already been shaken of its foundations. So, generally, Truth finds easiest entrance through the humble and lowly, and not in the beginning at the headquarters of power, but in the fullness of time it makes its way everywhere with irresistible force.”

With the meaning of the term “taraf” assumed as “the best part (of anything), a couple of other modern interpretations are possible. The first is a further elaboration of Asad’s understanding. It can be said that not only the earth is losing its ethical values, but also, thinkers, scholars, and great leaders are disappearing from it. This is clearly noticeable in the non-Muslim world where, after a brief spurt during the last three centuries, now, since about a century, there is a tremendous paucity of outstanding men in every field of thought and activity: literature, philosophy, fine arts, and even politics. Everywhere, substandard men seem to be now occupying important positions while ordinary men and women have been converted into mules: who do not know right from wrong, truth from falsehood, treading the path of everyone who can trick them into believing that he is the man of the hour.

Another possible, allusion could be to the massive exploitation of the earth’s natural resources at a maddening pace, despite the warnings issued by the scientists of the consequence resulting from the loss of “its best part.” Very soon the world is out to exhaust its valuable, non-replaceable resources to human greed.

Water, fossil fuels, essential minerals, everything is being used to manufacture products that have a short life, which are used and thrown away in a manner that it is not possible to recycle them. The allusion by the words, “Have they not observed that We are reducing the earth from its edges?” could as well be to referring to this situation, which, although is felt more acutely in our times, had actually begun with the dawn of the so-called iron-age.

A third interpretation is that the allusion is to the physical reduction in the land mass on this planet. We do not know since when this began to happen. Measurement and records are only too recent. But that the land surface of the earth has been decreasing due to rise in sea levels is a fact. One of the reasons is the famous Green House effect. Fossil fuel burning gives rise to carbon dioxide emission which increases the temperature of the earth. It is said that during the past decades the temperature has risen by one degree centigrade. In one of its effects, it has led to the creation of a huge lake at the North Pole, where once there was no lake. If the lake further expands, its waters will join with the seas and increase its level all over, eating away land masses at the edge of the continents.

It is further being predicted that in the coming decades the temperature of the earth might go up by as much as 3-6 degrees. That will cause millions of tons of ice at the poles to melt. One estimate says that in consequence the sea level will rise up by 10 meters, swallowing millions of km of low lying areas at the edges of the continents while thousands of islands will go under the sea.

There is another, and a strong reason that the sea level has to rise. Millions of tons of extraterrestrial material falls yearly on the planet from space in the form of meteorites. Sea area being larger than the land area, it receives more of them than the land area, and hence the sea level has to rise to encroach on the land mass. Another source is erosion of the land by the river waters. The waters drag down millions of tons of sand into the sea every year. That again causes the sea level to rise. The allusion by this verse could as well include this phenomenon.

Finally, it might be noted that all the possible interpretations are close to the text, without the need to stretch the meaning, and are reconcilable to each other. This is the meaning of the Prophetic statement that the Qur’an will never run dry of its meaning.

[42] Surely, those who went before them (also) devised plots.79 But for Allah is the devising altogether. He knows what every soul earns, and soon the unbelievers will know whose will be the Ultimate Abode.80 


79. That is, past nations also plotted against the Messengers and their Messages, but it was to no avail (Au.).

80. Or, in the words of Asad (the unbelievers will soon know) “to whom the future belongs.”

[43] And the unbelievers say, ‘You are not a sent one.’ Say, ‘Allah suffices as a witness between me and you, and (such as) those who possess knowledge of the Book.’81


81. That is, those who have the knowledge of the Qur’an. In the words of Asad again, “…implying that a true understanding of the Qur’an unavoidably leads to the conviction that it has been revealed by God.”

Another opinion is that by the words, “one who has the knowledge of the Book” the allusion is to the people of past Scriptures, that is, Jews and Christians. When they compared their Scriptural knowledge with that of the Qur’an, they felt convinced that both should have had the same origin (Alusi and others).

(Some others, who believe that this verse of the Surah is Madinan, have thought that although the application is general), the immediate reference was to men such as ‘Abdullah b. Salam, Salman al-Farsi, Tamim al-Dari and others of their class (Ibn Jarir). There were altogether 80 of them (Zamakhshari, Razi).

We do not know Zamakhshari’s source, but surely men of this class were more numerous than that. For example, the inhabitants of Najran, whose numbers ran into hundreds of thousands. They were entirely Christian, every one of whom converted to Islam. Quite a few others had been converted in Abyssinia.

Similarly, Yemen had a large population of Jews, most of whom converted to Islam, although of course, the conversion there was gradual, and not everyone in those places had embraced Islam during the life of the Prophet (saws). Further, several tribes in the northern part, below the Syrian borders, were originally either Christian, or were heavily influenced by its traditions, all of whom converted to Islam. And, finally, conversion has not ended there.

In every age Jews and Christians have been studying the Qur’an and embracing the faith. Muhammad Asad for instance, one of the commentators often quoted in this work, was formerly a Jew. It is estimated in our times that all over the world at least 100,000 men and women embrace Islam every year, of whom Christians account for the largest numbers (Au.)

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