Al- An’ am
Some people, when reminded of a weak trait or a certain flaw in their character or behavior, rather than taking note, try to find faults with others. It is also true that when some people are advised to apply their own mental and intellectual faculties to understand and verify certain basic facts, they turn to asking for concrete proof or miracles. However, what good are magic and miracles if the mind itself is not receptive or if it is reluctant to appreciate the truth? This has been the cause of the difficulty believers come up against when dealing with cynics, agnostics, or unbelievers, past and present. They are simply not prepared to see beyond what they know already. The verse that follows puts it very well:
If We were to send down to you [Muhammad] a book in scribed on paper and they touched it with their own hands, the unbelievers would still assert:
“This is but plain sorcery.” (7)
Another preposterous proposition they made was that Muhammad should have been accompanied by an angel to attest to his fidelity:
“They also say, ‘Why was an angel not sent to him?’
But if We had sent down an angel, their fate would have been sealed and it would have been too late for them” (8).
The point here is that if such an angel had been sent down to support the truth of the
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Prophet’s mission, and they still refused to believe, their end would then have been decided and their annihilation would have been inevitable. Although others before them had asked for miracles of this kind, when they were given them, they persisted in their rejec-tion of God’s apostles and prophets. God goes on to assert that for a human to seean angel in physical form is impossible, because the human vision is limited to a certain range of electro-magnetic waves beyond which no human can see. Indeed, even if angels were to appear in a form that humans could discern, doubt and uncertainty would always remain as to whether what was seen was human or angel. The verse puts it thus:
“If We had made him [the apostle] an angel, We would have given him the semblance of a man, and would have thus added to their confusion” (9).
However, despite the vehemence of their rejection of Islam, their hostility towards the Prophet, and their determination to dis-suade or even destroy him, the divine advice to Muhammad was always to persevere and continue with his own positive work to win more followers and supporters and persuade more of them to accept Islam. The assurance is:
“Other apostles before you have been scorned, but those that scoffed at them were overtaken by the very scourge they had derided” (10).
Being human, the Prophet was
nev-ertheless disappointed and saddened by some of that behavior, and was alway shoping for divine intervention to ease his burden. God again reassured him:
“We know well that what they say grieves you. It is not that they do not believe you, but transgressors always deny God’s revelations” (33).
The unbelievers were, in reality, guilty of offending against God more than they were against the Prophet, and by denying the truth of God’s revelation, they were being more hostile towards Him than they were towards His Messenger. The latter was being told to persevere because:
Other apostles have been disbelieved before you, but they patiently bore up and endured persecution until We granted them victory.
None can change the edicts of God, and you [Muhammad] have already heard of the experiences of other apostles. (34)
Nevertheless, the Prophet was hoping for an act of God, an extraordinary event that would confound his detractors and strike them dumb. However, God’s reply was:
“But if you [Muhammad] find their a version hard to bear, then seek a tunnel into the ground or a ladder through the sky by which you can bring them a sign” (35).
Naturally, this was a challenge which could not be met. These were matters for God to decide, and He is the ultimate judge, who, if He wished, “would have given them guidance, so do not be foolish” (35).
After reading these words, it would indeed be absurd and foolish to suggest that the Qur’an was not a divine book received through revelation by Muhammad, who had no hand what so ever in its com-position or authorship. God rules this world according to set laws and norms that no one else can influence or change. God’s prophets and messengers had to carry out their missions to the full, no matter what opposition or hostility they had to contend with. People have a certain defined space of time during which they are free to react to God’s commands and decide whether to adopt them or not. Once that time has passed, however, it is God’s prerogative to act and deal with those people in the appropriate manner.
The verses continue to explain to the Prophet that his people’s problem is with their minds that have led them to turn away from the truth.
“Those that can hear will surely respond. As for the dead, God will bring them back to life, and to Him they shall all return” (36).
Yet the unbelievers continue to flaunt their ignorance:
They ask, “Why has no sign been sent down to him [Muhammad] from his Lord?”
Say, “God is perfectly capable of sending down a sign. ”But most of them are unable to understand. (37)
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It is indeed curious how these people think. If the intricate and boundless systems of the universe and life are not sufficient evi-dence for the existence of God, how can such evidence be obtai-ned by breaking the very natural laws themselves and performing so-called miracles that contradict them? How can the incredibly accurate physical laws governing the movement of the galaxies and their countless planets and stars not be sufficient proof for God’s existence? When one looks at life in all its forms—human, animal, and plant—one can only be astounded and overwhelmed by the
phe-nomenon itself and by the fact that it has endured for all these millions of years. The following verse gives the answer:
All beasts roaming the earth and all birds flying with their wings are but communities and nations like you are. We have omitted noth-ing in the Book, and they shall all be gathered before their Lord. (38)
Look at the amazing bird kingdom, for example, and how the mothers fly around the fields and forests gathering food in their own bellies to go back and feed their fledglings waiting in the nest. God has indeed perfected creation at all levels, but cynics, unbelievers, and agnostics continue to deny His existence and worship idols and other false man made gods, while asking for fantastic proof of God’s existence.
The surah comments:
“Those who controvert our reve-lations are deaf and dumb; they are in total darkness” (39).
The irony of the unbelievers’ attitude is that they claim they will believe the Prophet when the evidence they ask for is produced. They solemnly swear by God that if a sign is given to them they will believe it.
Say, “Signs are up to God.”
And how can you [believers] tell that even if a sign came to them [the unbelievers] they would not disbelieve? We turn away their hearts and their sight, just as they
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refused to believe the first time round, and then We let them blun-der about in their wrong doing.(109-10)
The unbelievers went even further in their folly by asking the Prophet to rid himself of the weak and humble among his followers in order for them alone to have the privilege of being around him.On this point God tells the Prophet:
“Do not drive away those who pray to their Lord morning and evening seeking His favor”(52),
but tell them the good news that God is on their side and will grace and honor them:
When those that believe in Our revelations come to you [Muhammad], say,
“Peace be upon you. Your Lord has committed Himself to mercy. Anyone of you who commits evil out of igno-rance and then repents and mends his ways, God shall be Forgiving and Merciful [towards him].” (54)
With these assurances, the Prophet was able to carry on with his task of spreading Islam and calling people to God. He also received instructions on how to refute the slanders and lies the unbelievers were spreading about him personally.
Say, “I am forbidden to worship the gods whom you invoke besides God.”
Say, “I will not yield to your wishes, for then I would have strayed and become misguided.”
Say, “I have received the veritable truth from my Lord, yet you refuse to believe it. I do not have what you urge me to give you; judgment is entirely up to God only. He declares the truth and He is the best of arbiters.”(56—57)
Indeed, one cannot help but feel sympathy and admiration for the Prophet for the patience and strength of character with which he faced his staunch detractors.One could also feel that Muhammad was displaying genuine and true leadership qualities in wishing for
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his people the same guidance, honor, and well-being he was wish-ing for himself. He is instructed to make it clear to his people:
“Say, ‘Were I capable of giving you what you urge me to give, matters between me and you would have been settled once and for all, but God is best aware of the evil-doers’”(58).
With this calm, persistent, and persuasive approach, the Prophet continued to execute his uni-versal mission.
A close and careful reading of this surah, its assertions, and instruc-tive exhortations, has led me to ask: What more could miracles do to convince people of God’s existence and power? If all the miracles cited in this surah are compared with the positive and rational argu-ments and reasoning put forward in it, they cannot be more per-suasive.
Let us read, as an example, the following passage:
He [God] has the keys [of knowledge] to all that is unknown; none knows them but He. He knows all that is on land and all that is in the sea, and every tree leaf that falls is known to Him. Every seed [growing] in the deepest recesses of the ground and every soft or hard element is recorded in a perspicuous Book.(59)
The unknown, which mainly includes things and events in the future, but a great deal of the present and the past as well, is totally obscured from our view, although fully accessible and exposed to God Almighty. One meets other people everyday, works with them, and talks to them about all manner of things. Nevertheless, what do we really know about one another’s personalities or what goes on in one another’s minds? God, however, is Omniscient; He has total and conclusive awa-reness of the inner and outer truth about every human being as well as overall knowledge of past, present, and future events. There
are simply no limits or bounds to His knowledge, or, as the Qur’an puts it,
“He is aware of everything”
God is also om-nipresent;
He is every where all of the time, but not merely as an observer or aspectator. Indeed, God acts, and directs and controls creation in accordance with His wisdom and purpose. He is not an abstraction, a theoretical concept, or an isolated notion of the imagi-nation, but is proactive and in full charge of the affairs and destiny of creation.
Now let us read on.
“It is He that causes you to sleep at night and knows what you have done during the day, and he causes you to rise again [the next day] to fulfill your allotted span of life…” (60).
Whether deeply asleep at night or working during the day, our lives and destinies are in the hands of God, with whom rest the final deci-sions. One day the end shall arrive for every one of us, and that is when we move closer to the Day of judgment:
“To Him you shall all return, and He will reveal to you all that you have done”(60).
More fundamental truths are still to come.
He reigns supreme over His servants. He sends forth guardians [angels] who watch over you until it is time for you to die when Our messengers [the angels] take your souls away, without fail.(61)
We humans have no initial control over our lot:
we can have no choice as to where and when to be born. We cannot determine the level of our intelligence, talent, and fortune. Even God’s prophets vary with respect to these endowments—some being more illustri-ous than others.?
However, when it comes to accountability, everyone is judged according to his or her limits and capabilities.
Then,“Our messengers [the angels] take your souls away, without fail. All shall then be returned to God, their true Lord. His is the judgment, and His reckoning is most swift” (61-62).
Those ominous and fore-boding words are, however, immediately followed by the most courteous and heart-warming ones:
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Say, “Who protects you against the dark perils of land and sea, when you humbly pray to Him openly and in private saying, ‘Save us this time, and we shall be ever thankful?’”
Say, “God delivers you from them and from all other afflictions, yet you still take other gods [besides Him].” (63-64)
The Qur’anic style taps people’s hopes and fears, their worries and their aspirations, in order for them to maintain a balanced view of life, their experience, and status in this world. The logical inci-sive arguments advanced in the Qur’an are far more persuasive and effective than any other pleading or polemic. The matter is quite serious and should not be taken half-heartedly or treated with fri-volity, so:
When you meet those who scoff at Our revelations, turn away from them until they engage in other talk. Should Satan cause you to for-get, take leave of the wrong doer as soon as you come to remember. (68)
Similar instructions to the Prophet and his followers were repeated in verse 70, all of which remain valid for Muslims every where. Once conversations or discussions of God and religion turn frivolous or derisive, a Muslim should make his or her point in earnest and then withdraw. God shall be the ultimate judge. More instructions are given to the Prophet:
Say, “Are we to pray to gods, other than God, who can neither benefit nor harm us, and relapse into unbelief after God has guided us, like someone lured by devils, bewildered, whose friends call him to the right path, saying: ‘Come with us.’” (71)
The note of sincerity, earnestness, and concern is quite impressive.
“Say, ‘God’s guidance is the only guidance, and we [the believers]
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have been commanded to surrender ourselves to the Lord of all creation’”(71).
The surah then takes us back to the past, recounting prophet Abraham’s encounter with the star-worshipers and how he tried to steer them gently to believing in the one God. Abraham went along with those people’s thinking and looked at a bright star in the night sky and said:
there was the Lord, as they claimed. But the star faded away. He then turned to the moon and said the same, but soon it also disappeared below the horizon. He saw the bright shining sun and said, as they would say, that must be God, since it was bigger and stronger, but before long it likewise set and darkness fell again. Abraham thought that surely the real God would not disappear and leave the world or parts of it be hind. If God were to abandon the planet Earth for only one instant, its orbital movement would get out of control and the oceans, which constitute three quarters of its area, would overflow, killing all land creatures. God controls the whole of the physical world and all ofthe forces that govern it. Any slight changes that could upset the delicate balance of these forces would spell the end of the world and life as we know it. God says else where in the Qur’an:
“It is God who keeps the heavens and the earth from collapsing, and if they were actually to collapse none would ever be able to hold them back in place except Him” (Fatir.41).
God can never be conceived to forget or relinquish His control of existence, nor wouldHe abandon or neglect His creation, whose existence and continuityaretotallyandcompletely dependent on Him. It is also God who ordains the destiny of every soul and coor-dinates relations among all elements of creation. The Qur’an, citing Abraham’s experience of his search for the one true God, sealed the account with this conclusion:
“I have turned my face to Him who has created the heavens and the earth, and to no one else, and I take no other gods besides Him” (79).
It was left to unbelievers, skeptics, and agnostics to ponder these truths and accept or reject them. God
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could not be made any fairer or clearer to them. Still, the success of God’s messengers in persuading their people and winning the mover to their side varies from one messenger to another, as indicated in the following surah:
And such was Our valid argument which We gave Abraham to use agains this people. We raise whom We wish to higher levels, and your Lord is Wise and All-Knowing. (83)
THIS IS THE FIRST MAKKAN surah of the initial seven long surahs of the Qur’an. The Book itself was addressed in the first instance to the religiously ignorant pagans and polytheists of Arabia, who worshiped idols, were hopelessly unenlightened, and clungs lavishly to the beliefs and religious traditions they had inherited from their ancestors. They were typically bigoted and narrow-minded. In talking to them, the Qur’an adopted a rigorous, patient approach, amassing all possible evidence and using all methods of persuasion to make them see the truth. Its poke at length about God, His omnipotence, and the proof for His existence and power, manifest in their own creation and their life, and in the natural world around them. It challenged, teased, and cajoled their basic human nature and common sense, tapping their latent spiritual instincts and urging them to shake off the fetters of paganism.
The surah is distinguished for the recurring affirmations and direct instructions addressed to the Arab mind of the seventh century AC, that was reveling in religious ignorance and backwardness. This is clear right at the start as the opening verse says:
“Praise be to God, who has created the heavens and the earth and ordained dark-ness and light. Yet the unbelievers setup other gods as equal with their Lord”(1).
Despite God’s incredible and unique power, however, the ignorant and unenlightened continue to take other objects as gods besides Him, ascribing to them a comparable status.
Following the opening verse, we find an emphasis on the fact that
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humankind’s life span on earth is finite, and a day will come when all shall return to face God and account for their actions. God shall then stand as the judge of all. The praise due to the Almighty is enforced by the affirmation:
“He is the God in the heavens and on earth. He knows what you conceal and what you reveal and He knows all that you do” (3).
The surah also has a distinct feature in that God is frequently referred to in the third person singular, He, for example, in verses 97 and 98. This has the immediate result of capturing one’s attention very effectively, and one can feel the overwhelming and imposing presence of God, which invokes recognition of, and total submis-sion to, His majestic power. The Qur’an speaks of God with pure, direct awareness, and with unparalleled sincerity and reverence. It tries to pluck people out of the traditions they have adopted, shake them up, and rid them of the ignorance in which they have wal-lowed. In addition to these affirmations, we find explicit, precise, and direct instructions and briefings from God to His Prophet,Muhammad, on how to educate, inform, and argue with the unbe-lievers. The instructive word,“Say,” appears frequently; it is infact repeated in the surah forty times, sometimes occurring as often as twice or four times in the same verse:
Say,“To whom belongs all that the heavens and the earth contain?”
Say, “To God. He committed Himself to mercy and shall gather you all on the Day of Resurrection; a day about which there is no doubt.” (12)
Say, “What could be the greatest testimony?”
Say, “God. He bears witness for me and for you. This Qur’an has been revealed to me that I may thereby warn you and all whom it may reach. Do you really believe that there are other gods besides God?”
Say, “I do not so believe.”
Say, “He is but one God, and I am totally guiltless of your polytheism.” (19)
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The argument is eloquent, sincere, clear, straight forward and extremely powerful. It is being conducted by God on behalf of His Prophet. Clearly the surah was revealed at a time of tense and heated confrontations between the Prophet and the unbelievers of Makkah.
Scholars are agreed that the surah, despite its length, was revealed in its entirety on one occasion. Although some doubtful and unsupported reports point out that parts were revealed in Madinah, this is due to a misconception that all Quranic passages relating to the People of the Book, Jews and Christians, belonged to the Madinah period. Likewise, some scholars are mistaken in claiming that zakah was implemented at Madinah, whereas in fact its implementation started with verses revealed at Makkah and the details of its application followed in verses received in Madinah.
However, this surah was revealed on one occasion and the illiterate Prophet committed it to memory immediately and recited it to the scribes and other notable Companions who recorded and memo-rized it.
We shall now continue to review the main issues raised in this surah, the first of which is the inevitable fate of transgressors and those who offend God, no matter how long that fate takes incom-ing. The actions of this type of people usually begin with their refusal to listen to the truth, and once they have listened to it they begin to deny it. When that fails they turn to trivializing and mocking it until they eventually have to make an all-out attack on it and on those who uphold it. All this with God choosing to allow things to take their natural course as a test of the tenacity and endurance of the believers, and to see how far the unbelievers are prepared to go in their transgression.
Regarding the unbelieving Arabs, God says:
Can they not see how many generations We have destroyed before them? We gave them more power in the land than We have given
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you [the unbelievers], and sent down for them abundant water from the sky, and gave them rivers streaming beneath them.Yet We destroyed them for their sins and raised up other generations after them.(6)
Thus, when nations and civilizations grow arrogant and oppressive, they fall apart, decline, and degenerate. The question here must be whether this divine law applies to those human societies that totally deny God and ignore His power, or is it also true for those human groups which in their way of living mix and confuse the truth with falsehood? The answer, according to the surah, is that the law holds for both. Let us read carefully the following words:
We sent forth apostles before you to other nations, and afflicted them [the nations] with calamities and misfortunes so that they might humble themselves [to God], If only they had humbled themselves when Our scourge over took them! No, their hearts were hardened and Satan praised their deeds for them.(42-43)
They misunderstood God’s grace and assumed that they had
suc-ceeded in deceiving Him. However, before they could
congr-atulate themselves for their hollow victory:
“We suddenly struck them and they were plunged into utter despair, and thus was the power of the transgressors annihilated. Praise be to God, Lord of all creation”(44-45).
Having studied the state of our Muslim nation throughout its his-tory, I find that the threats directed in this surah against the unbelievers are just as valid and real in the case of those who deviate from the truth:
Say, “He has the power to afflict you with suffering from above your heads or from beneath your feet, or split you into factions causing the one to over power the other.” Look how We demon-
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strate the signs so that they may understand. Your people [Muhammad] have rejected it [the Qur’an] although it is the truth.
Say, “I am not your guardian. Everything shall come to its end and then you shall realize.”(65-67)
A person can indeed, at times, be benevolent and patient for much longer than necessary but when it is time to react, the reaction can be swift and devastating, and so it is with God when He decides to punish oppressive nations and redress injustice and wrong doing.