Translation & Commentary of Verses from Surah 28: Al-Qasas (The Stories) [44-48]


[44] And you were not at the Western side when We decreed the commission to Musa,79 nor were you of the witnesses.80 


79. That is: “You were not, O Prophet, present there when Musa was being addressed, for you to be narrating it now (and in such details, as if you were standing right there observing every minute detail: Shabbir). But rather, it is by Our mercy that We narrate to you these stories for the admonition of those who believe in you.’

Stories of the Prophets, Messengers, and nations of the past then, as narrated in the Qur’an, are proofs of authenticity of the Prophet’s Messengership.

Similarly Allah (swt) said, writes Ibn Kathir (3: 44),

These are a part of the tidings of the past that We reveal unto you (O Muhammad) for, you were not there with them when they were casting their quills to decide by lot which of them shall have charge of Maryam, nor were you there with them when they were disputing.

Or He (swt) said (11: 49),

These are the tidings of the Unseen that We reveal unto you (O Muhammad). You did not know about it, nor your people before this. So be patient. Surely the (good) end is for the righteous.

Asad has a useful point:

“The term al-Amr… is the Arabic equivalent of the Hebrew word Torah (‘Law’ or ‘Precept’), the commonly-accepted title of the revelation granted to Moses.”

80. Ashraf Ali sums up the Qur’anic argument neatly. He writes:

“‘Following Our practice, We made you (O Muhammad) a Prophet.’ Now, of the various evidences of the Prophets authenticity, one is his narration of Musa’s story in such detail. To narrate any story with such accuracy, one has to follow one of the four ways: (i) Make use of one’s own intellect. But intellect is of little use in matters involving news of the past. (ii) Re-narrate a report heard earlier. But the channels to this were closed for the Prophet because of the early appearance of antagonism between him and those who were the sources of knowledge (i.e., the Jews and Christians). They would not divulge any information to him. (iii) The Prophet should have been personally there at the time the events took place, which, of course, was not the case. Thus, we are left with the fourth option alone, namely (iv) Revelation from Allah (swt).”

[45] But rather We raised (several) generations, and long periods passed over them;81 nor were you a dweller among the people of Madyan, to be rehearsing upon them Our revelations,82 but rather, We were to send the Messengers.


81. That is: “You came to know, O Prophet, because We decided to raise you and send a fresh revelation, which had become due as a long time had elapsed since the previous revelation.” (Razi)

 82. That is, Muqatil said, “You were not there with the people of Madyan to be rehearsing their story to the Makkans now.” (Razi)

Shabbir looks at it in another way. He writes:

‘The verse seems to be saying, ‘You are now, O Prophet, rehearsing the affairs that took place in Madyan in such details as if you were a Messenger unto those people at that earlier time, and were reciting these verses to them. This of course is not the case, but rather, Allah (swt) has now raised you, and reveals these stories to you, in such precise manner, that you might warn your contemporaries and save them from a destruction of the kind the previous nations met with.’

Indeed, no one, not even the Jews knew anything about the people of Madyan at the time of the revelation of the Qur’an. (Au.)

[46] Neither were you there at the side of (Mount) Tur when We called (to Musa); but rather a mercy from your Lord, so that you might warn a people to whom no warner came before you, haply that they will receive the admonition.

[47] If it was not (for the fact) that had a calamity struck them because of what their hands forwarded, they (would have) said, ‘O our Lord! Had you only sent us a Messenger, so that we could have followed Your revelations and been of the believers.’83  


83. In other words, the Prophet was sent in order to remove any excuse they could have had, if no Messenger was raised, but punished for idol-worship. The same thing is differently worded elsewhere in the Qur’an (4: 165),

“… So that the people might have no argument against Allah (swt) after the Messengers.

It must be noted however, that Allah (swt) did not say, “If they had not said this, we would not have sent a Messenger.” (Razi)

[48] But when there came to them the truth from Us, they said, ‘Why is he not given the like of what Musa was given?’84Had they not disbelieved in what Musa was given earlier?85 They said,86 ‘A pair of sorceries,87 mutually supporting each other.88 And they said, ‘As for us, we are disbelievers in each one of them.’89


84. Asad places a note here which, as it terminates, correctly portrays the mind of the atheists which have worked similarly throughout the ages, including our own. He writes:

“As the Qur’an frequently points out, the basic ethical truths enunciated in it are the same as those of earlier revelations. It is this very statement which induced the opponents of Muhammad (saws) – in his own time as well as in later times – to question the authenticity of the Qur’an: ‘If it had really been revealed by God,’ they argue, ‘would so many of its propositions, especially its social laws, differ so radically from the laws promulgated in that earlier divine writ, the Torah?’ By advancing this argument (and quite apart from the question whether the text of the Bible as we know it today has, or has not, been corrupted in the course of time), the opponents of Muhammad’s message deliberately overlook the fact, repeatedly stressed in the Qur’an, that the earlier systems of law were conditioned by the spiritual level of particular people and the exigencies of a particular chapter of human history, and therefore had to be superseded by new laws at a higher stage of human development… However, as is evident from the immediate sequence – and especially from the last sentence of this verse – the above specious argument is not meant to uphold the authenticity of the Bible as against that of the Qur’an, but rather, aims at discrediting both – and, through them, the basic religious principle against which the irreligious mind always revolts: namely, the idea of divine revelation and of man’s absolute dependence on, and responsibility to, God, the Ultimate Cause of all that exists.”

85. It is reported that the Jews had coaxed the Makkans into asking the Prophet to produce similar miracles as Musa (asws) had done. Hence, it is the Jews that Allah (swt) addressed when He said, “Had they not disbelieved in what Musa was given earlier?” (Ibn Jarir, Kashshaf, Ibn Kathir).

Yusuf Ali expounds:

“When a Revelation is sent to them, in the Qur’an, adapted to all their needs and the needs of the time they live in, they hark back to antiquity. The holy Prophet (saws) was in many respects like Moses, but the times in which he lived were different from the times of Moses, and his age did not suffer from the deceptions of sorcery, like that of Moses. The remedies which his age and future ages required (for his Message was universal) were different. His miracle of the Qur’an was different and more permanent than the Rod and the Radiant-White Hand of Moses. But supposing that the Quraish had been humoured in their insincere demands, would they have believed? Did they believe in Moses? They were only put up by the Jews to make objections which they themselves did not believe in.”

86. To whom is the allusion by the pronoun “they”? There are several answers. Imam Razi’s opinion is that the allusion is to the Makkans, who refused to believe in any Prophet or any heavenly message. This leads to the acceptance of the following word “sihran” as alluding to Tawrah and the Qur’an; which, in turn, is explained by the ayah that follows, “As for us, we are disbelievers in each one of them.

87. A variant reading has been “sahiran” meaning, the two magicians. Following this reading, Ibn `Abbas said that the allusion is to the two Prophets, Musa and Muhammad. But Mujahid thought the allusion is to Musa and Harun. (This is Ibn Kathir’s preferred meaning, if the variant reading is accepted). But most have read the word as it now appears in the Qur’an, viz.,sihran” meaning the two sorceries.

Hence, we have a second opinion of Ibn `Abbas which says that the allusion by two sorceries is to Tawrah and the Qur’an. Dahhak and Qatadah said the allusion is to Tawrah and Injeel. Ibn Jarir is with this last opinion.

If we accept the reading as “sihran,” writes Ibn Kathir, then the preferred meaning is that the allusion is to Tawrah and the Qur’an. This is strengthened by another verse of the Qur’an wherein Allah (swt) reports the Jinn as saying (46: 30),

Indeed we have heard a Book sent down after Musa, confirming that which came before it.

And, Warqah b. Nawfal had said, (when the Prophet read out to him the first ever revelation he had received), “This is the same Namus (message) that had been revealed to Musa.”

Those who are endowed with knowledge, continues Ibn Kathir, know instinctively that out of the Books that Allah (swt) sent down from the heaven unto the Prophets, there is no other as noble, eloquent, complete and perfect as the Book revealed to Muhammad (saws), viz., the Qur’an. What comes next in nobleness and greatness, is the Book that was given to Musa, viz., Tawrah. 

88. “A contemptuous allusion,” comments Asad, “on the one hand, to Old Testament predictions of the coming of the Prophet Muhammad (saws) … and, on the other, to the oft-repeated Qur’anic statement that this divine writ had been revealed to ‘confirm the truth of earlier revelations.’” 

89. Mujahid said that when they said, “we disbelieve in each one of them,” they meant that they disbelieved in the Qur’an; (which was their primary concern). Although Ibn `Abbas and Dahhak thought the allusion was to Tawrah and Injeel (Ibn Jarir). Imam Razi is of the opinion that their allusion was to every Revelation that was ever sent, whether the Tawrah, the Qur’an, or any other Book.

This means the pronoun in “We” is for the Makkans. Hence, Allah (swt) said, “Say, ‘Then bring a writing from Allah (swt) which is a better guide than the two.’”

Shah Abdul Qadir commented:

“The Makkan unbelievers asserted that had the Prophet (saws) brought such miracles as Musa did in his own time, they would have unhesitatingly accepted him. However, when they discussed the affair with the Jews, and found that the Tawrah also contained some of what the Qur’an was rehearsing, namely, idol-worship is tantamount to disbelief, Resurrection and Reckoning are true, carrion is unlawful, and that a final Messenger is to appear, etc., then they declared that both the Tawrah and the Qur’an are sorceries, and both Musa and Muhammad were sorcerers (and hence the words, ‘We disbelieve in each one of them’).” – Shabbir

(To be continued)

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