Verses from Surah al-Nahl (56-67)

[56] And they assign to things they do not even know, a share out of what We provide them.82 By Allah, you will be questioned for what you were fabricating.


82. That is, the pagans assign a share from what Allah bestows on them to their deities about whom they do not even know if they will be rewarded for, or not (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir, Zamakhshari). Another possible meaning is, ‘the idols do not even know that the pagans are ascribing divinity to them (Razi).

Asad assigns connects to a wider context: “… (the verse) bears a wider, more general meaning: It connects directly with the three preceding verses of this surah – namely, with the attribution of a share (nasib) in God’s creativeness – and thus of a decisive influence on one’s life – to ‘causes’ or ‘powers’ other than Him. This view has also been advanced by Razi (with a special reference to astrological speculations).”

[57] And they assign to Allah daughters – Glory to Him – and for themselves what they desire.83


83. The allusion is to the pagan suggestion that the angels were female and daughters of Allah (swt), while they preferred sons for themselves (Au.). They ascribed “feminism” to them perhaps because they were not visible, like women, who stay in the inner quarters, invisible to the outsiders (Razi). “The tribes of Khuza`ah .. in particular used to call angels the daughters of God” (Majid).

[58] When one of them is given the good news of a female, his face turns dark as he suppresses (his anger).

[59] Hiding from the people because of the ill of which he was informed:84 (debating within himself) should he preserve it in  humiliation or should he bury it in the ground?85 Lo! Evil is that they decide.86


84. He did not wish to face the people because his wife had given birth to a female.

85. There were several ways in which the pre-Islamic Arabs disposed off their new-born female children. Some of them dig a hole in the ground and buried the infant alive. Others threw them down a cliff, yet others slit their throat, etc. Qays b. ‘Asim told the Prophet, “Messenger of Allah. I buried eight female infants in pre-Islamic times.” He replied, “Free a slave for each one of them now” (Razi).

According to Qatadah, it were the Mudar and Khuda`ah tribes that regularly buried their female infants – the Tamim tribe being the severest. But their world knew of some kind-hearted men also. Sa`sa`ah b. Najiyyah, Farazdaq’s uncle, was one of those who bought off the lives of those destined to die in return of camels (Qurtubi).

All polytheistic religions, whether Indian, African, or some other variety, evince similar tendencies. Newspapers have reported that in the year 2000 alone, some 7 million abortions were carried out in India, majority of them female fetuses (Au.).

86. “Evil is that they decide”: That is, although they hate daughters for themselves, to the point of burying them alive, in an evil judgment, they attribute them to Allah as His daughters (Thanwi, Shafi`). Asad thinks of another possibility. He writes, “i.e., either of these alternatives is evil: to keep the child as an object of perpetual contempt, or to bury it alive.” And Alusi writes that a Muslim should feel happier at the birth of a daughter, if nothing else, then, in opposition of the pagans.(Majid).

[60] Those who do not believe in the Hereafter, theirs is an evil similitude. For Allah is the loftiest similitude; He is the Most Powerful, Most wise.

[61] And, if Allah were to seize the people for their wrongdoing, He would not have left thereon a single creature.87 But, He allows them respite until a stated term. Then, when their term arrives, they will not be able to delay it for a moment or hasten it.


87. The textual word “dabbah” is applicable to every living body that moves or creeps, although originally meant for large animals. (See note 75 above). The translation as “animal” or as, “insects” would still fit the verse since many animals commit wrongs on others – by which we are not referring to larger animals killing smaller ones for food, following the instinct placed in them; rather, to wrongs done to their own kind and species.

Abu Salamah says once Abu Hurayrah heard someone say that a transgressor wrongs no one but himself. Abu Hurayrah (happened to be around, he) turned to him and said, “Rather, the transgression of a transgressor can sometimes kill the hawk in its nest” (Ibn Jarir, Zamakhshari, Razi). The reports is preserved by Bayhaqi, ‘Abd b. Humayd, Ibn Abi Dunya and others (Shawkani).

So, one might ask, why should animals be punished? The answer is given by Shabbir and others, viz., if, for e.g., rains are held back because of men’s sins, will not the animals be destroyed in their nests?

[62] And they attribute to Allah what they dislike (for themselves); and their tongues ascribe lies that the good is for them.88 No doubt that theirs is the Fire, and that they will be left there and forgotten.89


88. Mujahid, Qatadah and others have thought that the term “al-husna” of the text alludes to sons. The pagans assigned daughters to Allah (swt) while to themselves sons (Ibn Jarir). But a more general meaning is possible, viz., the unbelievers think they will have a good life here on this earth, and, if there happens to be a Hereafter, a good life there also. In the like manner of the orchard owner mentioned in Surah al-Kahf who said (verse 35-36), “I do not think that this will ever perish. And I do not think that the Hour will ever come. If indeed I am brought back to my Lord, then surely, I shall find (for myself) better than this when I return to Him” (Kashshaf [who quotes another example], Ibn Kathir).

Asad adds: “… (this) connects logically with the statement in the next verse that ‘Satan had made their own doings seem goodly to them.’

89. The translation of the term “mufratun” as “left and forgotten” has the backing of Sa`id b. Jubayr, Mujahid, Qatadah and others. Another connotation of the term is, “to be hastened on (to something).” A hadith says, “I shall precede you at the Pond” (Ibn Jarir, Shawkani). But, obviously, reconciliation is possible. They will be hastened into the Fire and then forgotten there (Ibn Kathir). Another possible meaning is that, ‘they are being hastened to the Hell-fire, even now, as the days pass by’ (Shabbir).

[63] By Allah, We surely sent to nations before you. But Satan decked out fair to them their deeds. So He is their ally today90 and for them is a painful chastisement.


90. “Today,” that is, now, in this world (Ibn Jarir). Some others have said that the allusion is to the Day of Resurrection, when those who befriended Satan in the world will be taunted by him (Razi, Qurtubi). Alusi writes that the allusion is to the day when Satan decks out fair evil deeds to them and misguides them.

[64] And We did not send down to you the Book but that you might make clear to them that in which they differ – and a guide and a (source of) mercy for a people who believe.

[65] It is Allah who sent down, out of heaven, water. Then He quickens the earth thereby after its death.91 Surely, in that is a sign for a people who listen.92


91. Just as He sent water, which gives life to the earth, Allah (swt) has now sent down the Qur’an as water for the thirsty souls (Au.).

92. Mawdudi elucidates: “Man witnesses an instructive spectacle every year. He observes that during the course of each year a time comes when the earth turns altogether barren, becoming bereft of every sign of life and fertility. One does not even see a blade of grass, nor plants nor leaves, nor vines nor flowers, nor even insects. Then suddenly the rainy season sets in. The very first shower causes life to well up from the depths of the earth. Innumerable roots that lay crushed under layer upon layer of earth are suddenly revived, causing the plants which had appeared on the surface a year ago and had then withered away, to make their appearance once again. Likewise, innumerable insects, every trace of which had been destroyed by the heat of summer, make their reappearance. Men observe this spectacle year after year – that life is followed by death and death by life.

“Despite all this, when the Prophet (peace be on him) tells that God will restore people to life after death, they are struck with surprise. This reaction clearly indicates that their observation of the phenomenon of life following death is one akin to the observation of irrational brutes who can hardly make any intelligent sense of what they see.”

[66] And, verily, in the cattle (too) there is a lesson for you.93 We give you to drink94 of what is in its bellies,95 from between excretion96 and blood, milk: pure and easyflowing97 for the drinkers.98


93. The word “`ibrah” has its root in “`abar” which means, to move over, to cross over, etc. Therefore, the connotation hidden is that “`ibrah” is a movement from ignorance to knowledge, from heedlessness to heedfulness (Alusi).

94. Ibn Jarir points out, with Razi seconding him, the difference between “asqaynakum” (the normal way of putting it) and “nusqikum” which is the occurrence here. In contrast to the former, the latter has the connotation of permanence: a continued act, a recurring bestowal.

95. Once again, linguistically it is allowable, as Ibn Jarir demonstrates with the help of pre-Islamic poetry, that the pronoun be in singular while the noun is in plural, or noun feminine while its pronoun masculine. (But the latter case is only allowable for non-humans: Razi). Or, perhaps, the allusion by the article “it,” (instead of “their”) is to the “cattle” as a species (Zamakhshari and others). The meaning, however, Ibn Jarir further explains, of the words “mimma fi butunihi” is that, “We give you for drink through those of them that yield milk, since, not every cattle yields milk.” In other words, the translation of the words “mimma fi butunihi,” as, “out of what is in their bellies”, (as in the verbal translation above because of complications in expression), is, according to Ibn Jarir, not very accurate. Differently stated, according to the ancients, “mimma fi butunihi” should be understood to mean, “out of those that (carry milk) in their bellies.”

96. For want of another, more suitable word, we have used “excretion,” as we shall also employ it or its synonyms in notes that follow. Otherwise, the textual word “farth” is different from “rawth.” The latter is for animal dropping, discharge, faeces or dung. “Farth” on the other hand, is the material which would have left the animal intestine, but not yet excreted. After excretion, it is not referred to as “farth” anymore, rather, as “rawth.” Many modern commentators seem to have missed the difference pointed out by the Salaf.

Ibn ‘Abbas described the formation of the three: blood, milk and farth, in the following order: with the fodder entering into the animal’s intestine, the first to form is blood, then milk, and then “farth” (which is finally ousted out as “rawth”) – Razi, Qurtubi. One wonders at Ibn ‘Abbas’ source for the correct statement of sequence.

Imam Razi is not far behind in his concepts. He states that blood enters by many veins into the udders where it is converted into white, wholesome milk.

What does the statement milk “from between excretion and blood” mean? Imam Razi explains that it simply means that of three things involved: the fodder consumed, the blood produced, and, finally, the excretion sent out, milk has its distinctive quality, expressed as coming out between excrement and blood.

97. Here again, the meaning of the ancients is different from the meaning apparent to today’s reader. Ibn Jarir states that the meaning of “sa’igh” is “pure” and of the whole sentence, “We give you for drink, milk that happens to be ‘pure’ – with no traces of dung or blood in it.”

However, “easy-flowing”, “easy to swallow” are other connotations of the word “sa’iqh” that have been mentioned by several commentators.

Zamakhshari adds: This verse is the basis of some jurists’ opinion that semen is not impure: it has no traces of either blood or urine, just like milk that has no trace of either.

98. That is, it does not choke the drinkers, as food chokes them. It is said that nobody was ever choked on milk (Ibn Jarir). Another possible connotation of the term “sa’igh” is that the glands in the udder that secrete milk, have many other kinds of liquid secretions. But, upon suction by the infant, it is milk alone that secretes out, without any adulteration and hence flowing easily out of the glands (Au.).

[67] And of the fruits of the palm trees and vines, you extract therefrom strong drink and wholesome food.99 Surely, in that is a sign for a people who think.


99. Ibn ‘Abbas has been reported through a variety of sources, as well as Ibn Jubayr, Mujahid, Hasan and others, that the allusion by “sakar” is to intoxicants that were later declared unlawful, and by “rizqan hasanan” to dates and grapes that remained lawful. In other words, the first part of this Makkan verse was abrogated in Madinah. However, Sha`bi and Mujahid were of the preferable opinion, that by “sakar” the allusion was to “nabidh” (non-intoxicant but a bitter drink) and vinegar, since “intoxicant” is only one of the several connotations of the word “sakar” (Ibn Jarir). Treating, therefore, this verse as not abrogated, scholars like Ibrahim Nakha`i, Imam Tahawi, Sufyan Thawri and others have declared “nabidh” as lawful. An important qualification of such a drink is that it should be nonintoxicant, whether consumed in small quantity or large (Qurtubi).

“Even if we accept the textual word ‘sakar’ as meaning ‘intoxicants,’ writes Mufti Shafi`, the hint that it is disapproved, and that it will be banned later, is hidden in the adjective ‘good’ added to the noun ‘provision.’ In other words, the verse in discussion becomes the first in a series of steps towards the ultimate ban placed on wine.” In Yusuf Ali’s words, “If sakar is to be taken in the sense of fermented wine, it would refer to the time before intoxicants were prohibited, for this is a Makkan Sura and the prohibition came in Madinah. In such a case it would imply a subtle disapproval of the use of intoxicants and mark the first of a series of steps that in time culminated in total prohibition.”

That non-intoxicant beer is lawful is proven by a hadith of Muslim which reports that the Prophet’s slave-girl used to leave raisins (dried grapes) into water overnight which he drank the next morning. When it became stronger by the second or third day, it was thrown away. It is also reported of ‘Umar that he sought digestion of camel meat with the help of “nabidh.” Another report in Nasa’i, however, states that the “nabidh” that ‘Umar drank was, in fact, merely water mixed with vinegar (Qurtubi).

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