Surah Al-Kahf

                           SURAH 18
                            (The Cave)


THE COSMOS REPRESENTS the physical evidence for the exis-tence of God, and revelation is the guide to that evidence. True and sincere belief in God (iman) grows out of studying and understand-ing the evidence and the guiding light leading to it. We read in the opening verse of al-An’am:

“Praise be to God who has created the heavens and the earth and ordained darkness and light…”.

Al-Kahf opens with the words:

“Praise be to God who has revealed to His servant [Muhammad] the perfect Book [the Qur’an] free of all blemish”(1).

In the Qur’an, God urges man to be curious about life and the world around him, to study every phenomenon he comes across, and, at the same time, to study the Qur’an and reflect on its concepts and meanings. Without this reflection and the will to learn and dis-cover, man will be bereft of guidance and understanding.

 Will they [the unbelievers] look at the universe of heavens and earth, and all that God has created, and [consider] that their appointed hour might be nigh? What other book than this one shall they believe? (al-A’raf.185)

The physical world is teeming with evidence for tawhid. Every-thing in the world points to one universal indubitable truth: that there is but one Creator, who has no ancestry or offspring, and to whom all creation belongs. The Qur’an has made this clear and


surah18              •Al-Kahf

beyond question. Even Muhammad himself, who received the revelation and relayed it to humankind, is a servant of God like every one else. Any argument to gainsay these facts is simply futile and untenable.

And admonish those who say that God has begotten a son. Neither they nor their ancestors have any knowledge of such claims. It is a monstrous claim that they utter; they are saying nothing but sheer falsehood. (4—5)

Reflection on the wonders of the cosmos enhances one’s faith in God and leads one closer to Him. The Qur’an has very clearly estab-lished the link between intelligent study and contemplation and the development of a strong and rational faith. The Qur’an, as the quintessential reference source for tawhid, is perfect, untampered with, and free of distortion. This assurance is in itself a divine favor which deserves praise. The surah thus opens with the words:

Praise be to God who has revealed  to His servant [Muhammad] the perfect Book [the Qur’an] free of blemish, so that he may give warning of a dire scourge from Him, and give good news to the believers who do good deeds that a wonderful reward awaits them, which they will enjoy endlessly…(1—3)

The surah cites episodes from the chronicles of history to illustrate the veracity of the concept of tawhid and its value to human society. It narrates the stories of the young men of the cave, the rich man of the orchard and the pauper, Moses and the pious man, and the well-known account of Dhu’l-Qarnayn. Each account is followed by an enlightening commentary designed to instill in the mind are cogni-tion of the existence of God and the need to prepare for our accoun-tability to Him.


A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an

Before this, however, a few words of comfort are given to allevi-ate Muhammad’s despondency at his people’s negative response to the Qur’an.

“You may destroy yourself with grief over their rejec-tion, sorry that they do not believe in this revelation” (6).

Muhammad was told not to over burden himself because his main task was to deliver the message, and that he would not be held responsible for the people’s reactions to it. Human beings are ration-al creatures, well equipped mentally and intellectually to discern ideas and judge actions and consequences. Every individual shall be accountable for the life he or she has spent on this earth. Divine jus-tice shall be done, and none shall be wronged. 

The Cave Youths, or the Sleepers, were young men who lived in a polytheist community but embraced tawhid and rejected all other ideologies, thereby earning the anger of their own people. This is made clear in the verse that says:

‘“Our people serve other gods besides Him, though they have no convincing proof of their divi-nity. Who is more wicked than him who invents lies about God?”’ (15)

Their belief had made them a target for mounting persecution by their people and their lives were in danger. They decided to seek safety elsewhere. This led them to a cave on the outskirts of the town, where they remained for a considerable period of time, unaware that they would go down in history as a paragon of faith and devotion. Political and religious bigotry and persecution are known to exist in every human society:

“Did you [Muhammad] think that the Youths of the Cave and al-raqim [the writing tablet] were the most extraordinary of Our signs?” (9).

Naturally, they were not! The sun is150 million kilometers away from the earth and its rays take eight minutes to reach us. Bearing these facts in mind, it is a miracle that, to protect the innocent youths, sunlight fell on the entrance of the caveat such an angle that it obscured its occupants from the unwelcome gaze of any passers-by.


surah18                      •Al-Kahf

You [Muhammad] would have seen the rising sun inclined to the right of their cavern and, as it sets, it passes them to the left, while they are inside it. That was one of God’s signs…(17)

God’s signs abound every where, in the history of humankind and all around us today, but most people are blind to them. Three hundred years later, unaware of how long they had been asleep, the youths awoke. The first thing they felt was hunger, and one of them went to the market to fetch some food. The others urged him to be careful and ensure that no one recognized him.

“For if they find you out they will stone you to death, or force you back into their religion and then you shall never succeed” (20).

They were so innocent and sincere that their only concern was for their faith and how they could protect it. Their account, therefore, is rather appropriately concluded with the  words:

Say, “None but God knows how long they stayed [in the Cave], He knows the secrets of the heavens and the earth. He sees and hears best. Man has no other ally besides Him. He shares His sovereignty with no one else.” (26)

The next verse reasserts the principle of tawhid, already empha-sized in the opening verse of the surah:

“Proclaim what has been revealed to you of your Lord’s Book. His words are immutable.You shall have no protection other than with Him” (27).

The Qur’an provoked two distinct reactions amongst the people of Muhammad; some believed it and its teachings, whilst others rejected it outright. God directed the Prophet to side with the for-mer, showing support and affinity towards them,butto keep away from the latter, saying:

Discipline yourself to remain with  those who pray to their Lord morning and evening, seeking His pleasure…and never obey him


A Thematic Commentary on the

whose heart We have rendered oblivious of Our remembrance; who follows his desires and whose lot is utterly hopeless. (28)

In this life man is free to believe or not to believe:

“Say, ‘The Truth comes from your Lord. Who ever wishes to believe, let him believe, and who ever wishes to deny, let him deny”’ (29).

On the Day of Judgment, justice shall be fully done towards both parties:

“For the wrong-doers We have prepared a fire which will surround them like a formidable wall…”(29), while

“those who believe and do good works, We shall not deny them their reward” (30).

Having clarified the position, the surah directs Prophet Muhammad to address the whole of humankind, saying:

“‘This is the truth from your Lord. You are free to believe it or reject it’” (29).

A believer recognizes the existence of God and, conscious of this reality, dedicates his life to the pursuit of His pleasure and the hope of meeting Him in the hereafter, for he is fully aware that death does not signal the end of existence but is simply the staging post for a journey into another life. In contrast, however, a non-believer is firmly rooted in this life and spends it entirely in pursuit of his per-sonal pleasures, needs, and desires. In the expectation that his exis-tence will end at death, with no prospect of a life to come, the non-believer views the present and what ever remains of his life as the only reality.

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Surah Al-A’raf

We have allotted to hell many jinn and humans possessing hearts they cannot comprehend with, and eyes they cannot see with, and ears they cannot hear with. They are like animals, or even more heedless.

When ever We sent a prophet to a city We afflicted its people with calamities and misfortunes so that they might submit to Us. Then We replaced adversity with good fortune, until they multiplied and became prosperous and said,

“Our fathers, too, were afflicted with adversity and good fortune.”

Thus We smote them suddenly with-out them realizing it. (94-95)


                                Surah 7

                                 Al A’raf
                            (The Heights)

The surah has given much coverage to the history and experiences of earlier nations and human groups that rejected God’s revelation and bore dire consequences for their conduct. Most of these groups appeared in or around the Arabian peninsula. Noah’s people lived in Iraq,  ‘Ad in the Yemen, Thamud in northern Arabia, Madyan bet-ween Sinai and the river Jordan, and Lot’s people in eastern Palestine. All these nations resisted God’s messengers and rejected their teach-ings. The accounts of these peoples’ experiences were preceded with the story of Adam and his encounter with Satan, which highlights an aspect of particular significance to us here. Satan did not stop at deceiving Adam and having him expelled from Paradise, but con-tinued to pursue his offspring, generation after generation. The Qur’an relates to us in detail the experiences of earlier human so-cieties with God and  with Satan.

We may ask ourselves:

How many years does this history span in the annals of time?

My study of the subject leads me to estimate that Noah’s Flood occurred about eight thousand years ago.The interval between Adam’s arrival on earth and Noah’s Flood would not be much longer than that. The Qur’an does not say anything about the human generations that lived before Noah. This leads me to suspect the accuracy of archaeological and geological findings of a human skull tens of millions of years old. Having studied the Qur’an very carefully, I find that the history of earlier generations did not simply go through such mechanical phases of receiving God’s warnings, ignoring them, and then being punished. The reality would have extended in to succeeding generations which inherited these phases, one after another. This is clear in these verses:


A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an

When ever We sent a prophet to a city We afflicted its people with calamities and misfortunes so that they might submit to Us. Then We replaced adversity with good fortune, until they multiplied and became prosperous and said,

“Our fathers, too, were afflicted with adversity and good fortune.”

Thus We smote them suddenly with-out them realizing it. (94-95)

People grew complacent and believed that what had befallen them was normal, since it had already happened to their ancestors. What had God to do with the cycle of history?

The reply is:

Had the people of those cities believed and feared God, We would have showered upon them riches and blessings from heaven and out of the earth. But they disbelieved, and We destroyed them as pun-ishment for what they had done. (96)

Succeeding human generations should therefore learn from preceding ones:

Is it not plain to those who inherit the earth from their predecessors that if We wished We could punish them for their sins and set a seal upon their hearts that they would remain bereft of hearing? (100)

Thus the earlier inhabitants of Arabia and their contemporaries disappeared into history. God’s revelations were then directed towards another Semitic branch, the Israelites. God says:

“After them We sent Moses with our revelations and signs to the Pharaoh and his people, but they too disbelieved them. Look what fate awaited the evil-doers”(103).

The Israelites, descendants of Jacob, were originally Hebrew bedouins who inhabited the Syrian desert. They went to settle in Egypt in response to a call by Joseph, a son of Jacob. Their way of life flourished for sometime and their numbers multiplied. Refusing to assimilate into Egyptian society, they held


surah 7                  •Al-A’raf

their own religious beliefs and observed their own religious practices, which did not endear them much to the Egyptians. They came into bitter conflict with the indigenous population, which led to their being brutally persecuted at the hands of the Pharaoh.

After a long period of unrelenting suffering and perdition, salva-tion came at the hands of the prophet Moses who promised them:

“Your Lord may well destroy your enemies and make you inherit their power, and then see how you will manage” (129).

Moses seemed to fear the worst, and his premonitions were accurate. As soon as the Israelites, by the grace of God, were safe from Pharaoh’s abuse and persecution, their first undertaking was to indulge in idol worship.

We led the Israelites across the [Red] sea, and they came upon a people who were worshiping idols they had.

They said,

“Moses, make us a god like the gods they have.” He said, “You are indeed an ignorant people.These people are doomed, and their actions are damned.”(138-39)

Sadly, they were captivated by paganism and idol worship, which seemed to have taken hold of all their senses and consciousness. Hardly had Moses departed from them for prayer when they embarked on making a calf out of their women’s jewellery, as an object of worship instead of God. God says:

“Those who worshiped the calf shall incur anger from their Lord and disgrace in this life.Thus We reward the liars” (152).

A large section of the fugitives held false or confused beliefs, and were more susceptible to following their whims and desires.They would deceive God and try to circumvent the teachings and disci-plines of their religion. When, for example, they were forbidden fishing on the Sabbath (Saturday), they would throw their nets into the sea but not collect the fish until Sunday. Naturally, some of them had the sense to warn others and give advice, but to no avail.


A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an

Therefore, when they forgot the warnings they were given, We delivered those who had warned against evil and inflicted a stern punishment on the transgressors for their wrong doing.(165)

History tells us that the kingdom of the Jews was destroyed and ran-sacked by many enemies over successive generations, and the surah confirms that, saying:

“We dispersed them in groups and colonies throughout the earth; some of them were righteous and others were not” (168).

Prophet Muhammad is reported to have been asked,

“Will God destroy us while good people are still living amongst us?”

His reply was, “Yes, when most of you are wrong-doers.”16

For such reasons God dispersed the Israelites and subjugated them to the rule of other nations. In this case, however, human transgression and disobedi-ence had not come about as a result of ignorance or lack of prior warning, but had been a calculated and deliberate stance:

“Every time a messenger came to them with something they did not fancy, they either rejected or killed him” (al-Ma’idah:70).

As cases of over-weening pride and insolence accumulated, there came a time when God’s patience with them would run out, and their state is described by this parable:

Tell them of the man to whom We vouchsafed Our revelations but he turned away from them, and Satan over took him and he was led a stray. Had We wished, We would through Our revelations have given him a lofty status, but he clung to worldly life and succumbed to his desires. He is like the dog that pants if you chase it and pants if you leave it alone. (175—76)

This of course is true for individuals as well as nations who receive guidance, underestimate its value, or reject it altogether. Today, the
16 Narrated by al-Tirmidhl.


surah 7                     •Al-A’raf

opponents of Islam are facing “Muslims” who, unfortunately, are far more negligent of God’s revelations and guidance than they are.

Sadly, many of today’s “Muslims” are people who have violated God’s laws, cast aside the banner of Prophet Muhammad, and adopted systems that are alien to their religion and their culture. It would come as no surprise, therefore, that they too should be included with Moses’ recalcitrant followers in the general meaning of the verse which says:

We have allotted to hell many jinn and humans possessing hearts they cannot comprehend with, and eyes they cannot see with, and ears they cannot hear with. They are like animals, or even more heedless.

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Surah Al-An’am Part II

                                   PART II

                                    Surah 6


                                 (The Cattle)

The roots of the Islamic faith go deep into history. The version delivered by Prophet Muhammad was not a new religion that had suddenly emerged in the Middle Ages, but are presentation of the messages of all the earlier prophets who identified the one God and called on their people to obey and worship Him alone. Noah, for example, also advanced the same message, saying:

‘“I have been commanded to be among those who surrender [to God]’” (Yunus:72).

Such prophets and messengers are mentioned in the Qur’an with the greatest of respect and reverence, and their experiences and examples are related with praise for their sincerity, hardwork, and total devotion to God. Their central imperative was: God is true; God is one; all must surrenderto Him. Verses 83 to 86 of al-An’am mention by name eighteen of those prophets, followed by this comment:

All these [prophets] We exalted above all nations, and We guided many of their fathers, their children, and their brothers. We selected them and guided them to a straight path. Such is God’s guidance; He bestows it on whom He pleases of His servants. Had they taken other gods besides God, all their labors would have been in vain. Those are the men on whom We bestowed the Book, wisdom, and prophethood. If these people [the Arabs] reject them, We will entrust them to others who will not deny them.(86—89)


surah 6                 •Al-An’am

And so it was. All the Arabs of Makkah embraced Islam while Prophet Muhammad was still alive, and with in a relatively short period it was to reign supreme over the whole of Arabia. From there, Islam spread rapidly along the Nile valley and through North Africa in the west, to Syria and Iraq in the north, and to Asia Minor in the east, liberating and enfranchising. Whole communities embra-ced Islam enmasse and became its most stalwart defenders and pro-ponents. The surah asserts the fact that Islam was an extension of and a complement to the messages received by earlier prophets :

Those were the men whom God guided, and so [Muhammad] fol-low their guidance and say [to your people],

“I do no task of you any recompense for this. It is a reminder to all humanity.” (90)

It is thus clear from these verses that Muhammad’s followers are the legitimate beneficiaries and the bonafide heirs of Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. They are the true challengers to the unbelievers and they are the ones to be relied on to establish God’s order on earth and spread His message to all humankind. 

Unbelief, past and present, is the outcome of ignorance and arrogance, while religion entails proper and sober understanding of the reality of the true and only God, His power, and total submission and obedience to His order. This characteristic remains uniquely true of the followers of Islam. There are yet those who deny God’s revelation, is not altogether surprising since they deny God’s own existence. This was the belief held by heathens and pagans in the past, and is today held and advocated by secularists, agnostics, skep-tics,and & atheists of all schools and description. Nevertheless, God is too merciful and benevolent to leave the human race drifting aim-lessly without guidance or direction. Prophets and messengers are sent to show humanity the true way in life.

However, the surah says that the unbelievers,

“have not truly appreciated God when they have said, ‘God has never revealed anything to a human being’” (91).


A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an

The retort follows swiftly:

“Say, ‘Who, then, revealed the Book which Moses brought as a light and a guide for people?’” (91).

The reference here to Moses rather than to Muhammad em-phasizes Islam’s universal nature, asserting the belief in all God’s messengers and Books. As mentioned earlier Islam is the religion of eternal and universal truth, which the People of the Book, Jews and Chris-tians, were incited to forsake and neglect. Their scholars and elders did not look after God’s revelation properly, some of which they had lost, some they concealed, and some they unashamedly violated.

“You [the rabbis] transcribe it [the Torah] on scraps of paper, of which you show some and conceal most” (91).

Further-more, and as if that was not enough, they were determined to op-pose Muhammad relent-lessly, and fight him and his followers with such aggression and vehemence.

The surah then turns to address the Arabs, telling them that they have been taught things that neither they nor their forefathers knew before. They have now been chosen to bear the responsibility of upholding God’s revelation on earth, and it is they who are now being tested and challenged. 

All three divinely revealed Books: the Torah, the Gospel, and the Qur’an, are accessible to us today and can be studied and scrutinized as closely as one would wish. All that is required is that people should study them with open and fair minds. My own reasoning has led me to believe that the world has a Master and that this Master enjoins upon human beings fairness and benevolence and inspires them to avert oppression and transgression. I further believe that God will bring all people back to life in the hereafter to account for their actions and behavior in this life. The question that immediately springs to mind is:

Which of the three divinely revealed Books has best expounded these truths and has more soundly defended them? Which of them has been most effective in winning the hearts and minds of people all through the ages? To help us answer these ques-tions, let us refer to the following verse:


surah 6                    •Al-An’am

Who is more of a transgressor than the one who ascribes lies to God or says,

“Something has been revealed to me,” when nothing has been revealed to him, or the one who says,

“I will reveal the same as God has revealed”? (93)

This is followed by an account of what those transgressors will face when they die and before they are even brought back to life in the hereafter. 

If only you, [Muhammad], were to see the transgressors while in the throes of death and the angels stretching their hands out to them saying,

“Give up your souls; today you shall be rewarded with a shameful punishment in return for the falsehood you were uttering against God and for the arrogance you have shown towards His rev-elation.” (93)

Can any fair-minded person really doubt that the Qur’an, with such an approach and style, is a genuine divine revelation or claim that it is false or that it is the work of the human mind?

Having sharply reprimanded the unbelieving ignorant people, the surah returns to affirm and assert God’s glory and power. It puts forward a series of fundamental questions.

How does the soil acquire its fertility?

How do trees grow and bring forth their fruits?

How do crops and vegetation come about?

And it goes on to give the answers.

“It is God who splits the seed and the fruit stone. He brings forth the living from the dead, and the dead from the living. Such is God, so how then can you turn away?” (95).

This is true also for other phe-nomena in the wider universe:

“He kindles the light of dawn. He made the night for rest, and the sun and the moon for reckoning. Such is the ordinance of the Mighty, the Omniscient” (96).

The verses continue to elaborate on this theme, describing the various physical phenomena that point to God’s power and wisdom, concluding that He alone deserves to be worshiped, glorified, and


A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an

obeyed. Those who can see that will do well for themselves, but those who cannot will be much worse off:

Enlightening signs have come to you from your Lord. He that sees the light shall benefit himself, but he who is blind would incur harm to himself. [Say, O Muhammad],

“I am not your keeper.”(104)

What good will miracles do when the issue is so compellingly clear and simple? The sole objective of God’s messengers all through the ages has gone no further than trying to bring about this rational and sensible belief. Prophet Muhammad is then cited as saying:

“Should I then seek a judge other than God who has revealed to you the Book [the Qur’an] fully explained?” (114).

Indeed, the learned elders among the People of the Book, within their hearts, realize and appreciate the power of the Qur’an and the veracity of its propo-nent:

“Those to whom We gave the Book know well that it [the Qur’an] is revealed by your Lord with the truth, and you should therefore have no doubts” (114)

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Surah Al An’am Part III

                            PART III

                             Surah 6


                            (The Cattle)

To cement the relationship between the Ummah and the Qur’an, we read in this


Follow what has been revealed to you from your Lord; there is no God but He, and avoid the polytheists. (106)

And thus is your Lord’s path a straight path. We have made all signs plain to those who think and learn. (126)

This [the Qur’an] is a blessed Book which We have revealed, confirming what came before it, that you may warn the mother city [Makkah] and its environs. Those who believe in the life to come will believe in it too. (92)


surah 6                 •Al-An’am

The Israelites, after the decline and destruction of the earlier Arab communities of ‘Ad, Thamud, Madyan, and others, inherited the custodianship of God’s revelation. However, with the advent of Muhammad and Islam the task fell back on to the Arabs, who are told:

“This is a blessed Book We have revealed. Observe it and fear God, so that you may find mercy” (155).

This should urge the Arabs to understand fully and appreciate the responsibility they are shoul-dering, having received the Qur’anic revelation. God rewards people according to their efforts, without any compulsion or coer-cion:

“Your Lord would not destroy nations without just cause and due warning”

Even so, people will continue to argue and try to find excuses for and ways around their faults and misdemeanors, falsely and erroneously ascribing them to the will of God. God puts it in the following way: 

The idolaters will say,

“Had God wished it, neither we nor our fathers would have taken other gods besides Him; nor would we have made any thing unlawful.”

Those who had come before them did likewise reject [theTruth] until they had a taste of Our scourge.

Say, “You have no proof that you can put before us, you have noth-ing but conjecture and you are nothing but perjurers.” (148)

Before that, God made it clear that He would further guide and help those who opened their hearts to the Truth and believed in it, but those who did not would be down cast and dejected, and,

“thus shall God bring punishment on those who do not believe”(125).

The inference is that God will not offer guidance to those who reject faith out right, but will help those who are receptive and willing to beguided. This was put very graphically and suc-cinctly as follows:

He whom God wishes to guide, He opens his heart to Islam, but he whom He wishes to confound, He will make his heart narrow and restricted as though climbing up into heaven. (125)

A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an 

God’s will in this context does not preempt one’s choice to believe or not to believe, because the verse continues to say:

“Thus shall God bring punishment on those who do not believe” (125).

Every man and every woman shall stand up to be judged, to review their record in this life and account for their actions. Even so, this accountability will have no meaning or justification if the person was helpless, powerless, or restricted. Belief and faith, how-ever, are not merely to be proclaimed. Believers are required to give their beliefs real expression in their obedience to God’s com-mands in all walks of life.

 The surah points out that the ignorant pagans invented certain forms of religious practise and worship that had no basis of truth or logic. They created the very gods to whom they turned for guidance and judgment, and they built their arguments and religious doctrines on false and nonsensical premi-ses. God has warned against this very strongly in the surah, saying:

“The devils will inspire their cronies to argue with you, but if you obey them you shall also become idolaters”(121); 


“Who is more wicked than the one who invents lies about God in order to mislead others through sheer ignorance? God does not guide trans-gressors” (144).

We notice that people in various societies quite often develop religious practices and traditions of their own to decide what is good and what is bad, thereby confusing the true original religion with alien teachings and laws that can in many cases distort and obliterate it. 

Thus the surah delivers clear and strong directives:

Say: Come, I will tell you what your Lord has ordained for you. 

a. You should not take other gods besides Him. 

b. Show kindness towards parents. 

c. You should not kill your children for fear of destitution, because We provide for you and for them.

d. Avoid foul sins, overt and covert.

e. Do not kill a soul that God has forbidden to be killed,


surah 6                       •Al-An’am

without the right justification to do so. This is what He urges you to do, so that you may understand.

f. You have no right to any of an orphan’s possessions, except what is required for his [her] own well being, until he [she] comes of age.

g. Observe fairness and justice in weights and measures; We never burden a soul with more than it can bear.

h. Judge fairly and testify to the truth, even against your own kinsmen.

i. Be true to the covenant of God. This is what He urges you to do, so that you may take heed.

j. And, this is My path, a straight one. Follow it and do not fol-low other paths, for these shall lead you away from it. This is what He urges you to do, so that you may be fearful of God.(151-53)

On hearing these verses, an Arab elder is reported to have com-mented,

“Even if this were not a religion, then it is certainly highly ethical and fair.”

False religious belief is usually the product of fatuous ideas and absurd myths presented as supernatural and myste-rious. Reflecting closely on these ten directives or “commandments,” one cannot fail to see the underlying logic, wisdom, and common sense. There is none of the superstitions, mysticism, or wizardry that are so typical of pagan belief and worship, past and present. Before Islam, the Arabs used to claim to be purer and much more intellectually endowed than the People of the Book, and that if they were, like them, to receive divine revelation, they would out-shine them completely. God addresses this claim thus:

Or you would say, “Had the Book been revealed to us, we would have been better guided than they.” A veritable sign has now come to you from your Lord as a guide and a mercy. Who is more wicked

A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an

than he who has denied the revelations of God and turned away from them? Those who turn away from Our revelations shall be sternly punished for their antipathy. (157)

The cautionary threat imparted in this verse is not addressed to seventh-century ac Arabs alone, but to all modern-day Ba’thists, Arab nationalists, and secularist Arabs, among others, who oppose Islam. 

Are they [the unbelievers] waiting for the angels [to come and take their souls] or for your Lord [to carry out His threat against them], or for some of your Lord’s [extraordinary] signs to come? The day these come, faith shall not benefit a soul that had no faith hitherto. (158)

The Prophet is reported to have spoken of cataclysmic events to occur in the universe towards the end of the world, which will cause the sun to rise in the west. At that moment it will be too late for regrets and repentance. What use is it for unbelievers to declare their faith when they are drowning or when they are in the throes of death? The question still remains whether the Arab nation of today will revert to Islam and save itself before it is too late. The Arabs are notorious for internecine conflict and division. Their appetite for such strife seems to be insatiable,thus inviting weakness and dissolu-tion upon themselves. The surah warns the Prophet that he should: 

“Have nothing to do with those who have split up their religion into sects. Their fate is up to God, who will show them what they had been doing”(159).

The surah ends with three of the forty-four direct instructions addressed to the Prophet, which are as follows: 

Say, “My Lord has guided me on to a straight path, to an upright religion, the faith of Abraham, the devout.” (161)


surah 6             •Al-An’am 

Says, “My prayer and my devotions, my life and my death, are all devoted to God, Lord of all creation.”(162)

Say, “Should I seek a lord other than God, when He is the Lord of every thing?”(164)

These verses point to the fact that Muhammad had led a life of total devotion and dedication to God and His message, and that he had done his utmost to deliver, uphold, and disseminate it faithfully and diligently. The last statement in the surah is an affirmation of the nature of life in this world as a trial, a continuous test, from beginning to end. Human beings are being challenged and tested in their relations with other fellow humans as well as in their behavior towards and treat-men to fall that is around them. The result of this grand test shall be revealed later in the hereafter. Life here is a passing phase; it has no permanency. Nevertheless, what happens in this life is crucial for the final judgment. 

He has made you the inheritors of the earth and raised some of you in rank above others, in order to test your gratitude. Swift is your Lord’s retribution; yet He is certainly Forgiving and Merciful.(165)


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Surah Al- A’raf (The Heights)

   We shall question those to whom the messengers were sent, and We shall question the messengers themselves. With full knowledge, We shall recount for them all they have done, for We have never been absent. (6—7)

                              Surah 7

                        (The Heights)

THIS SURAH BEGINS with an overview of two main issues:

one relates to the Qur’an itself, and the other to those who deny or reject divine revelation as a whole. About the first issue, we read God’s words saying:

This is a Book that has been revealed to you [Muhammad] — let there be no distress in your heart because of it — so that you may warn thereby, and as an admonition to the believers. Observe what has been revealed to you from your Lord and do not take other deities besides Him. (2—3)

The “distress” in the Prophet’s heart would be a result of the nega-tive reception with which the unbelievers would greet God’s revelation and His Messenger, while the “warning” is in fact an integral aspect of the proclamation of the message. The people Muhammad was addressing were being called upon to obey the teachings of the Qur’an and abandon all other pagan religious prac-tices and traditions, regardless of their origins. These “other deities” and traditions would bring them no good whatsoever.

The surah refers to the “Book” on several occasions such as:

We have given them a Book which We have imbued with know-ledge, a guidance and a blessing to those who believe. Are they [the unbelievers] waiting but for its fulfillment? (52—53)


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Once the Book’s prophecies and warnings are fulfilled, the believers would be successful but the unbelievers would be frustrated and chastised.

We also read:

“My guardian is God who has revealed the Book, and He takes good care of the righteous”(196).

These words were said on behalf of the Prophet asserting that God would support him and protect him until he had delivered God’s message in full and conveyed His guidance to humankind. On the need to study God’s Book and comprehend its teachings and wisdom, we are instructed thus:

“When the Qur’an is recited, listen to it and observe silence so that you may be blessed” (204).

The second issue with which the surah opens, those who deny God’s revelation, is also addressed in several verses right from the beginning of the surah when it says:

“We have destroyed many a city, striking it at night or by day. Their only cry, when our punishment be fell them, was to say, ‘We have indeed transgressed’” (4-5).

The rise and fall of states, nations, and civilizations have been a prominent feature of human history all through the ages. The surah speaks at length of specific ancient Arabian tribes such as ‘Ad, Thamud, and Madyan, to whom prophets and messengers were sent, as well as the people of Noah and Lot. We gather from these accounts that God’s revelations and messengers had in the first instance been directed towards communities in southern and northern Arabia. However, when those communities reneged and opposed the messengers, God punished them severely, destroying them and their cities and towns. 

This is then followed by an extensive  account of the mission of Moses, who emerged with divine revelation aimed first at the Pharaohs and later on at the Hebrew Israelites of Egypt. When these also deviated, neglected God’s guidance, and refused to submit to His will, they too were punished and their power was destroyed. Subsequently, God’s revelation was again addressed to the inhabi-tants of central Arabia, where Prophet Muhammad was able to lead the Arabs in setting up a righteous and enlightened society that was


A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an

to be come a model for humanity and the world for many centuries to come. Through this process, the Arabs inherited the responsibili-ty for divine revelation, and the Book they received, the Qur’an, has endured intact. It stands today as, and will continue to be, a beacon of virtue for all humanity and a guidance for all aspects of human life. 

The Arab nation has to realize and appreciate the importance of the task it has undertaken, and understand well that it will be accountable to God for the way it handles it. The surah emphasizes:

We shall question those to whom the messengers were sent, and We shall question the messengers themselves. With full knowledge, We shall recount for them all they have done, for We have never been absent. (6—7)

God affirms right at the beginning of the surah that accountability and judgment will be comprehensive and fair:

On that Day, truth shall be the criterion. Those whose good deeds tip the scales shall be successful, but those whose deeds are of little weight shall lose their souls, because they denied our revelations. (8-9)

This is followed by a detailed account of the history of other groups and nations that dissented and quarrelled over God’s revela-tion and an assessment of the outcome of their experiences. Even-tually we are given a glimpse of a dialog that takes place in the here-after between the believers, the unbelievers, and a third group of people who occupy a place on an elevated wall (Arabic: al-A’raf, the heights,or raised decks) separating the other two groups. Those who enter Paradise are portrayed as enjoying a life of boundless love, magnanimity, and peace. Their sole preoccupation is to glorify and venerate God,thanking Him for His generosity and grace, saying:

“Praise be to God who has guided us to this. Were it not for Him


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we should have never been rightly guided” (43).

They are greatly humbled by God’s overwhelming grace, which they consider is more than they have earned or actually deserve. However, God reassures them:‘

“This is a Paradise you have earned with your labors’” (43).

Once they have settled down, they become curious about what has become of their former antagonists and oppressors. Then those in Paradise called out to those in the hell fire, saying,

“We have found what our Lord promised us to be true. Have you, too, found what your Lord promised to be true?” They said, “Yes.” 

A voice will then declare to them both, saying, “God’s curse be upon the transgressors.” (44)

The transgressors will be those who deny life in the hereafter and their accountability to God for their actions here in this life. Among them will be tyrants, persecutors, and despots as well as people who distort divine truth and lead others away from God’s straight path.

The surah refers to, “those sitting on the raised decks” (Arabic: ashabal- ‘Araf), who are generally identified by Qur’anic scholars as people whose good and bad deeds have balanced each other, and who are awaiting God’s word that will decide their fate. In my opinion, however, these comprise pious people and martyrs who, all through the ages, have complemented the good work of God’s prophets and messengers and carried forward His messages, leading others and humanity as a whole to God’s straight path and to the righteous life the prophets have advocated. Their position indicates an elevated and lofty status, looking with grace and amity towards those in Paradise, and with scorn at those in the hell fire. This is also borne out by the tone and nuance of the Qur’anic expressions. They are described as self-confident individuals who are strongly critical of God’s detractors and berate the position in which they have ended. This could not be a description of people whose good deeds have simply balanced their bad ones or who are not sure of their destiny


A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an

It is also unlikely that they will be unaware of God’s decision on their fate. 

A final cry is heard from those in the hell fire, calling for help:

“Those in the hell fire cry out to those in Paradise, saying, ‘Give us some water, or some of that which God has bestowed upon you’” (50), but to no avail! How can they be saved now, since, when they were given the chance, they refused to believe in God and denied they would ever be accountable to Him? The Day of Judgment was never on their minds, nor had they prepared themselves.

It is important to point out here that the Qur’anic style makes use of.the interchange and blending of ideas, metaphors, and images within the same coherent context, to drive home the mea-nings and reach the heart and the mind at the same time. It is not made up of clearly defined or conventionally structured sentences and passages as those with which we are familiar in ordinary prose or composition. The Qur’anic style and approach reflect the diver-sified, complex, and intricate though essentially unified nature of the world around us. It is a world that is made up of millions of elements encompassing an unlimited number of manifestations, themes, and images. 

There is also an intriguing interchange of reference in the surah to Adam, the father of the human race, and to humankind as a whole. Towards the beginning the surah says:

    “We have created and shaped you [human kind] and then said to the angels, ‘Prostrate before Adam’” (11), whereas towards the end it says: 

    “He created you of a single being and from that being He created a mate to seek comfort and peace with her” (189), until it says: 

    Yet, when He granted them a goodly child, they setup on taking  other gods besides Him. Exalted be God above their gods. Will they worship those that can create nothing, but are themselves created?(190-91)


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    Surah Al’ An’ am Part 1

                                Surah 6

                                Al- An’ am

                               (The Cattle)

    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


    A Thematic Commentary on the

    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.


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    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)


    A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an

    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


    surah 6                   •Al-An’am

    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


    A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an

    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


    surah6                  •Al-An’am

    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:


    A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an

    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]


    surah 6              •Al-An’am

    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


    A Thematic Commentary on the  Qur’an

    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)

                            SURAH 6

                          (The Cattle)

    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


    A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an

    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)


    surah 6                  •Al-An’am 

    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


    A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an

    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-


    surah 6                   •Al-An’am

    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.

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      Al-Shu’ara’ (The Poet)

                                SURAH 26

                                (The Poets)

    A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an

    WHEN IT FIRST EMERGED in the seventh century AC, Islam was greeted with strong hostility and resistance by the idol-worshiping Arabs of Makkah. They rejected its two fundamental concepts, that there could be only one God, and that Muhammad was a Messenger sent by Him to humankind.

    The idea of revelation (wahi), as a means of communication between God and man, had never been known to the Arabs before and prior to the advent of the Prophet. They had also not believed in the ideas of resurrection and accountability in a life hereafter. In fact, their view of whatever remnants of Jewish and Christian religious beliefs and practices were left among them was characterized by in dif-ference and derision. For these and other reasons, the Makkan Arabs initially showed very little interest in Muhammad or what he was try-ing to teach them, and the harder he tried to explain his mission the more hostile and rebellious they grew. In the end they came to cherish the distress that he and his followers were suffering and did their best to prolong their misery and anguish. This surah came to Muhammad with reassuring and soothing words advising him that he should not encumber himself by worrying about his people. It says:

    These are the verses of the indubitable Book. You will perhaps overstrain yourself for the fact that they do not believe. If We will, We can send them a sign from heaven, before which their heads would be bowed in humiliation. (2—4)


    surah 26             •Al-Shu’ara’


    In His infinite wisdom, however, God chose that the sign Muhammad would present to the world would be the Qur’an, a book to be recited and handed down from one generation to the next, which would appeal to man’s mind and address above all else his intelligence. The Makkans, however, were demanding miracles, stunning indications or signs which would convince them once and for all that Muhammad was telling them the truth.The irony was that such signs were in existence all around them, both in the realms of place and of time, and if they chose to they could observe the many time of the day or night. As far as place is concerned, the surah draws attention to the barren earth which, in one season, can be arid and lifeless and yet, in another, can be green and fertile. It says:

    Do they not see the earth and how We have brought forth from it all kinds of beneficial plants?

    Surely in this there is a sign; yet most of them do not believe. Your Lord is the Mighty one, the Merciful.(7-9)

    The last two verses recur in the surah eight times; once following a reference to a place and the rest following a reference to an event in time. These latter occasions are related to episodes in the history of earlier communities who had been destroyed as a result of their hostility towards, and rejection of, the divine revelation conveyed to them by Messengers with similar experiences to that of Muhammad. Those episodes were cited to warn the Arabs against meeting with a similar fate.


    God’s prophets were individuals who had commendable leader-


    A Thematic Commentary on the

    ship qualities such as integrity, honesty and selflessness. They were, moreover, teachers rather than egotistic profit seekers.What the surah tells us about Noah can be applied, in general, to them all. The people of Noah, too, rejected their messengers. Noah, their compatriot, said to them,

    “Do you not fear God? I am your true messenger. Fear God and follow me. For this I ask no recompense from you, for none can reward me except the Lord of the whole universe.”(105—109)

    None of the prophets asked any thing of their people except that they should submit to God and fear Him, neither did they seek any material remuneration or power. But despite these selfless motives many were treated harshly and unfairly with a large number being slain by their own people: a tragic outcome. The surah says:

    “Tell Me! If We had let them live in ease for several years and then the promised scourge fell upon them, what good would their past prosperity do them? Never have We destroyed a nation without sending them warners. This is a reminder to others. We are never unjust.”.(205-209)

    The surah recalls the encounters between Moses and the Pharaoh and those between Abraham, Lot and Shu’ayb and their respec-tive peoples, as well as episodes from the experiences of ‘Ad and Thamud. All these accounts a represented lucidly with clear language and good effect. The debate between Moses and the Pharaoh revolved around the subject of the true identity of God. The Pharaoh wanted to know who or what God really was, a question that even Moses could not answer, for to identify and define the essence or nature of God in terms that we can understand is beyond human intelligence. The Pharaoh asked,

    “And who is the Lord of the universe?” Moses


    surah 26               •Al-Shu’ara’

    replied, “He is the Lord of the heavens and the earth and all that lies between them. If you would only believe!”

    Pharaoh said to those around him,

    “Did you hear what he said?”

    Moses said,

    “He is your Lord and the Lord of your forefathers.”

    Pharaoh said,

    “This Messenger who has been sent to you is certainly insane…”(23—27) 

    This argument is similar to the one we saw in Surah TaHa. Nevertheless, the Pharaoh refused to recognize the God of Moses and said to him:

    “‘If you serve any god other than me, I shall throw you in prison’”(29).

    A day was agreed for a public duel between Moses and the Pharaoh’s sorcerers, organized to expose the fraudulence of what Moses was preaching and put an end to his mission and teachings. The stage was set 

    “and the people were summoned,

    ‘Assemble, so that we can follow the sorcerers if they win the day!”’  (39-40).

    To Pharaoh and his entourage, it was afore gone conclusion that Moses would be publicly defeated and humiliated and as such the sorcerers’ triumph was never indoubt. However, events took such a turn that not only were the sorcerers spectacularly defeated, but they also renounced their faith in the Pharaoh and accepted the religion of Moses instead. As expected, this sent the Pharaoh into a terrible rage and he turned on them and said,

    “Do you dare follow him [Moses] without my consent? He must be your master who taught you sorcery. But you shall see! I will cut off your hands and legs on alternate sides and will crucify everyone of you.”(49)

    This sudden but complete change of attitude by the sorcerers never ceases to amaze. Almost at a stroke, they turned from abject servi-tude to the Pharaoh to the deepest and most sincere faith in God. The Pharaoh persisted in his arrogant refusal to accept the truth and condemned his courtiers for changing their convictions without


    A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an

    waiting for his permission. Like all tyrants every where, the Pharaoh believed that he was in command of his followers’ consciences as well as their livelihood.

    The days went by and Moses decided to lead his people out of Egypt to escape the Pharaoh’s wrath and persecution. When the Pharaoh heardof this he gathered his army and wentafter them. As they drew nearer, Moses’ followers became alarmed and said to him:

    ‘“They are catching up with us’”(61).

    The Torah records this episode in graphic detail and gives a description of the panic and fear which had struck the Israelites. But Moses said to them:

    ‘“No, my Lord is with me, and He will guide me’”(62).

    As they reached the Red Sea, God intervened and directed Moses to strike the water with his staff, and, lo and behold, the water receded on both sides leaving a dry pathway across the sea for Moses and his follow-ers to cross safely to the other shore. The Pharaoh and his army duly followed through, but once they had progressed well along the sea bed, the water flooded over them from all sides and they were drowned. 

    Thus ended one of the most infamous episodes of man’s disingenuous attempts to challenge the sovereignty of God Almighty in the world.


    As we read the story of prophet Abraham, we can clearly see how simple and straight forward were the teachings imparted to him by God. The more one reads the philosophers’ attempts in trying to explain and understand life and existence, the more one is struck and impressed by the simplicity of divinely-revealed religious belief.

    Listen to how Abraham expresses his faith in God:

    “He is the One who created me and He gives me guidance. When I am sick He restores my good health; He will cause me to die and He will bring me back to life. I also hope that, on the Day of Judgment,


    surah 26         •Al-Shu’ara’

    He will forgive me my misdemeanors.”(78—82)

    As pointed out on several occasions, the establishment of tawhid as a fundamental foundation of human life hasn been a common denominator for the missions of all prophets. Prophet  Muhammad was the rightful heir to Abraham’s legacy. Some of the communi-ties which refused to believe in the concept of tawhid professed that they had only worshiped idols in order to bring them closer to God. They had recognized the existence of a master God but in reality saw minor gods as a link to Him.The only problem with this kind of belief was that the differentiation would soon disappear and all the gods become equal. In  this part of Abraham’s story we read the following:

    As the idolaters argued with their idols in hell, they said to them,

    “By God, we were in great error when we equated you with the Lord of the universe. It was the evil-doers who led us a stray. We have no intercessors now, nor a single loving friend.” (96—101)

    A feature of contemporary civilization is that it marginalizes God and drives people away from Him and into the arms of materialism and agnosticism.

    We note that the story of Abraham follows on from the story of Moses and precedes that of Noah because the chronological order is not of importance in this context. In the story  of Noah, attention is drawn to the degrading and demeaning treatment which the rich and strong mete out to the poor and weak.This tells us that dis-crimination and class distinction in society have been known since the dawn of human history. It is not surprising, therefore, to find that it is the poor, the under-privileged, and the weak who are the first social groups to come to the support of the prophets and Messengers. What they seek is justice and equality and the restora-tion of their dignity and self-pride.

    Noah was told:


    A Thematic Commentary on the

    “Are we to believe in you when you have attracted only the most abject of people?”

    He said,

    “I have no way of knowing what they have been doing. My Lord will bring them to account. Would that you understand! I will not drive away the believers. I am sent only to give clear warnings.” (111—115)

    The idolaters of Makkah made similar objections to Muhammad
    but he rebutted them and God instructed him that he should not:

    “Drive away those who invoke their Lord morning and evening, seeking His pleasure…” (al-An’am:52).

    Else wherein the Qur’an this
    affinity in attitude between the unbelievers is highlighted:

    “Have they inherited this, one generation from another?
    Surely,  they are  transgressors. Turn away from them; you shall incur no blame!” (al-Dhariyat:53-54)

    However, the history of religion is not a simple conflict between the poor and the rich, for both the rich, as well as the poor, supported Muhammad when he called them to the faith and embraced Islam. Moreover, they would all stand side by side during the prayers and were equally happy to accept the tribula-tions they collectively had to face.

    Perhaps no community has as much in common with contempo-rary civilization as the ‘Ad and Thamud. The ‘Ad were a nation of giant-like people, endowed with a strong and imposing physique. They were also very clever and resourceful. Their power and mate-rial superiority led them to believe that they were invincible. They lived extravagantly, spent their wealth lavishly, gave no considera-tion to weaker communities or individuals, and exercised power with complete arrogance and insolence, thinking that no force in the world could stand in their way. Prophet Hud was sent to them by God and is quoted here as saying:

    “You have erected tall edifices as landmarks on every hill, just for vanity; you have built strong fortresses, hoping that you may live forever; and when you exercise power you act like tyrants. Fear God


    surah 26       •Al-Shu’ara’

    and follow me.”(128—131)

    They had constructed splendid buildings as symbols of their vanity and power, and although construction and building are in them-selves not a crime—indeed, rather the reverse, for they are commendable activities—what was being condemned here was the extravagance and wastage of the wealth and resources involved, especially when these edifices and monuments were erected for nothing other than ostentation and vain glory. These same features are only too conspicuous in thegreed-motivated, lust-driven Western civilization of today which is be set by consumerism, nar-cissism, and arrogance. Whenever the United States or Europe went to war against weaker nations they played havoc with their culture, history, and resources, totally ignoring all considerations of humanity, justice, and respect of human rights. It was this ungodly attitude which had incurred God’s wrath upon the ‘Ad, Thamud and their like.

    The surah then goes on to cite the story of the people of Lot, who were indulging in depraved and perverted practices. These very same actions are fast becoming acceptable in today’s contemporary Western civilization, and instead of fighting against their immoral and destructive nature and guarding society against their evil, con-temporary society is in fact doing the reverse, naturalizing, legalizing, and accepting them, with an end to incorporating them into the life of the society itself.This is a recipe for disaster. Lot’s people were destroyed because they ignored his warnings to them:

    “You have [sexual] relations with males and abandon your wives whom God has created for you.

    Nay, but you are people who trans-gress [all bounds of what is right]”(165—166).

    Finally, we are told of the story of Shu’ayb and his people, the forest dwellers (ashabu ’laykah), who were advised to:

    “Give just measure and do not defraud others. Weigh with even scales and do not defraud your fellow men of what is rightly theirs;


    A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an

    nor should you go about spreading corruption.” (181-183)

    The people of Shu’ayb did not heed their prophet’s call and they were also destroyed. The Muslim community is required to learn from the lessons and experiences of past communities, and as the rightful heir of all the goodness and achievements of past generations and civilizations, it leads humanity by virtue of the obligations imposed on it by God.

    Muslims must remember that Muhammad’s mission was a uni-versal and eternal one; that they are the custodians of the Qur’an which represents the definitive and conclusive message that God has conveyed to humanity and which is designed to govern and organ-ize life on this earth.


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