67. Surat al-Mulk (The Kingdom)


The tafsir of this sura is a compilation derived from the sources mentioned in Surat at-Tawba and Surat an-Nur, as well as a few additions.

This is a Makkan sura which was sent down after at-Tur (52) and before al-Haqqa ( 69). It has various names. As well being called al-Mulk, it is also called al-Waqiya (the Protector), al-Munjiyya (the Rescuer), and al-Mâni'a (the Defender) because it protects the one who knows it and rescues him from the punishment and defends him during the Rising. It is also called al-Mujadila (the Arguer) because it argues on behalf of the one who knows it when he is the grave. Numerous hadiths have mentioned its excellence.

It is related in a hadith from Jabir that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, used to recite this sura every night when he went to bed and he said, "It rescues people from the punishment of the grave."

The Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, "There is a sura of the Book which only has thirty ayats which will intercede for a man on the Day of Rising and will bring him out of the Fire and make him enter the Garden. It is Surat Tabarak (meaning al-Mulk)."

Ibn 'Abbas said, "One of the Companions of the Messenger of Allah pitched his tent on a grave without knowing that it was a grave, and it contained a man who was reciting 'Blessed is He who has the Kingdom in His hand.' He went and told the Prophet who said, 'It is the defender. It is the protector which is protecting him from Allah's punishment.' The Messenger of Allah further said, "I wish that 'Tabarak' could be in the heart of every believer."

It is related that if someone recites it every night, he will not be harmed by the tempter (fattân). "Fattân" is used for various things. It means Shaytans who tempts people and makes disobeying Allah attractive. It is used for the dirham and the dinar, meaning money, which tempts people. It is used for the angels Munkar and Nakir who question the dead in the graves. It is also used for a highwayman who attacks travellers on the road.

1 Blessed be He who has the Kingdom in His Hand!

     He has power over all things.

"Blessed" (tabaraka) is a verbal form derived from a word meaning blessing (baraka). It is said that it means something which is exalted, holy or lasting. Allah is the Lasting (dâ'im) whose existence has no beginning and whose everlastingness has no end. This expression, "tabaraka" is particular to Allah Almighty and it is not used in the present tense, but only in the past. Allah is exalted above all the attributes of creatures who are located in time and exalted above all else in His Essence, Attributes and Actions. As He says, "There is nothing like Him." Some commentators say that this means that He is beyond annihilation or alteration. The form "tabaraka" indicates His perfection and immensity. Another example of this verb form which is only used for Allah is ta'ala, "Exalted is..."

We can look at the root of this verb and its meaning in two ways. There is the root burûk which means continuance or remaining. It is used to refer to birds remaining at water, to someone being firm and ready for fighting, and to someone who does not move where he is. This quality of being permanent reflects Allah's everlastingness. The other root is blessing or baraka. It is a blessing, either physical or spiritual, which continues, increases and abounds. So there is blessing which abides and ever increases. So Allah is abundant in good and exceeds everything in His continual goodness . As He says elsewhere: "All favour is in the Hand of Allah. He gives it to anyone He wills. Allah 's favour is indeed immense." (57:28)

"He who has the Kigndom in His hand" means the sovereignty or kingdom of the heavens and the earth, this world and the Next. It is said that it means the King of kings in this world, as you say, "the master of the kingdom." The first is more general and encompassing. He abases or exalts whomever He wills, He gives life and makes die, enriches and makes poor, gives and withholds. It is also said by some that He has the dominion of prophethood by which He exalts those who follow it and abases those who oppose it. He has the control of affairs. As He says elsewhere: "They do not measure Allah with His true measure. The whole earth will be a mere handful for Him on the Day of Rising, the heavens folded up in His right hand." (39:64)

In Arabic "hand" (yad) designates authority and power. Allah has the power to bless and take revenge. Commentators say that yad refers to Allah's power (qudra) which is His attribute without interpretation or qualification. His power is beyond description or limitation. In this context, Abu Hurayra reported in a sound hadith that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, "Allah's hand is full, undiminished by any expenditure since He created the heaven and the earth, for what His hand holds has not decreased. His Throne was upon the water, and in His hand the scale which He lowers and raises."

Mulk means sovereignty, kingship, dominion, and it is means ownership. It usually refers to this world, the physical world of bodies, whereas Malakut refers to the dominion of the unseen as He says, "Glory be to Him who has the Dominion (malakût) of all things in His Hand." (36:83)

"He has power over all things" defines His power - it extends to all things without limit. It reinforces the first sentence.

2 He who created death and life

      to test which of you is best in action.

  He is the Almighty, the Ever-Forgiving.

Then Allah begins to go into the details of some aspects of His power and dominion over His subjects. "He who created death and life" can be taken to refer to the death and life of creatures. It is also said that it refers to the death of this world because its people will die while the life of the Next World will endure, as Allah says, "The Abode of the Next World is the Living." Death is lifelessness.

Allah begins by detailing some of the judgements of the kingdom and the consequences of power. Death and life are also part of His creation. There is an indication of the disparity between His everlastingness and creature's in-timeness. The use of "tabaraka" in the previous ayat indicates Allah's abiding and everlasting life whereas here He says, "He created life" which is the life of the creatures, which is temporal and dependent on Him. His life is not subject to end. The life and death of creatures is an event located in time.

Death is mentioned before life because death is older. In their beginnings things were under the jurisdiction of death, as sperm or the earth is initially lifeless. The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, "Allah Almighty abased the sons of Adam by death and made this world an abode of life and then an abode of death. He made the Next World an abode of repayment and then an abode of abiding."

Abu'-d-Darda' said, "If it had not been for three things, the sons of Adam would not have bowed their heads: poverty, illness and death. But in spite of that, he leaps up." Or it can refer to death in this world and eternal life in the Next.

It is also said that death precedes life because the strongest of people in seeking action is the one who keeps death before his eyes. He concentrates on immediate action because he knows that the domain of action will soon end and the Reckoning will take place. Abu Hurayra reported that the Prophet said, "Remember the cutter-off of delights, death." He also said, "In the evening do not expect to see the evening, and morning do not expect to se the evening, but take something when in health to serve you in time of illness and something in your life to serve you in your death."

Scholars state that the definition of death is not pure non-existence nor the obliteration of action. Death is the severance of the connection of the spirit to the body and a transference from one abode to another abode. So death is not the final end, but a transformation. The means of death is the Angel of Death. But in reality, it is Allah who makes die.

"To test which of you" means test you while you are alive. Allah's testing of His slaves is done in order to establish the proof against them by their own actions, although Allah knows beforehand what they will do. The meaning of the ayat is: "He will try you in order to repay you for what you do". A person is tested by the death of those who are dear to him to see whether he will be steadfast and by life to see whether he will be thankful for Allah's blessings. He says elsewhere: "We will test you with a certain amount of fear and hunger and loss of wealth and life and fruits. But give good news to the steadfast: the people who, when disaster strikes them, say, 'We belong to Allah and to Him we will return.' They are the people who will have blessings and mercy from their Lord. They are the ones who are the guided." (2:155-157)

He also tests your resolve, as He says elsewhere: "We will test you until We know the true fighters among you and those who are steadfast and test what is reported of you." (47:31)

It is said that He created death for resurrection and repayment, and life for testing. The noun from which "test" is derived is "balwa" which is a test or a trial with either something good or evil or ascertain what the quality of the thing tested. Allah knows what is inside His slaves, but this testing brings it out into the open so that there can be no argument about it.

"Which of you is best in action." It is related that the Messenger of Allah recited it and said, "It refers to which of you is the best in action, strongest in fear of Allah, most scrupulous about the forbidden things of Allah and swiftest in obeying Allah."

The use of the Divine Names, the Almighty, the Ever-Forgiving reflects the two results - might used against those who reject and forgiveness towards those who believe.

3 He who created the seven heavens in layers.

     You will not find any flaw

         in the creation of the All-Merciful.

  Look again – do you see any gaps?

Allah continues to mention aspects of His power and the creation in which life and death are found. He mentions "the seven heavens in layers" or in strata, meaning on top of one another. The word "tibaq" is a verbal noun which describes the heavens, or it is related to something elided, implying: "with levers." It is said to be the plural of tabaqa. The Throne lies beyond them. Traditionally this is said to refer to the seven heavens of the Greeks, but could equally apply to the layers of the atmosphere. The verb reflects covering, and can be used for clouds covering the sky and rain covering the earth, It also has to do with things being adjacent and touching.

"You will not find any flaw in the creation of the All-Merciful" means any lack of proportion or any weakness. The meaning is that He created the heavens in the limit of perfection. It is said that He means the creation of all created things. There is no doubt that all creatures are perfect, but the ayat is particular to the creation of the heavens which is more evident since it comes after His words, "He created the seven heavens in layers." So it is clear that His words, "You will not find any flaw in the creation of the Merciful" clarifies and completes what is before it. It means that nothing is neglected or beyond His reach. It is said that this means something about which a person could say, "If it were thus, it would have been better." You cannot improve upon creation. Nothing in it is discordant. "Do you see?" and "Look again" is addressed to the Prophet, or to everyone who is addressed to take note.

"Look again - do you see any gaps?" Discordance is gaps, and it is the plural of fatr, which is a split. "Look again" is literally "return the look". The meaning of the ayat is to look at that heaven. No gaps or rifts will be seen in it. "Gaps" is futûr, the plural of fatr. It is level and connected. Now that you have this information, then look again. It also infers to reflect after you have looked and investigated.

4     Then look again and again.

   Your sight will return to you

       dazzled and exhausted!

"Then look again and again" means investigate after looking so as to confirm and realise the consequences of what you see. Az-Zamakhshari said that the doubling means to do it a lot, not just twice, as they say, "Labbayk" which is answering a lot. The words used is basar which means both the eye and the faculty of seeing and understanding what is seen.

"Your sight will return to you dazzled and exhausted." "Dazzled" means to be far from the thing which is sought. It is used of a dog which is driven off in contempt. It is also used of the Jews who violated the Sabbath and were transformed into apes: "When they were insolent concerning what they had been forbidden to do, We said to them, 'Be apes, despised, cast out!'" (7:166)

"Exhausted" refers to a weary person who is overcome by exhaustion. The meaning of the ayat is that if you look at the heaven time after time to seek out gaps in it or imperfection, your glance will return not having seen any of that, and so it will be worn out because it has not obtained what you sought of locating gaps and imperfections. In addition, it will be tired from looking often and reflecting often. It carries a sense of grief because of having missed something. An animal is in this state when it becomes so tired that it cannot go on and so it must be left behind. But the Prophet said, "Supplicate to Allah and do not become weary." It implies smallness and abasement and regret as hasra means grief or regret for the loss of something.

5 We have adorned the lowest heaven with lamps

       and made some of them stones for the shaytans

  for whom We have prepared the punishment of the Blaze.

Allah goes on to describe the heaven which we see, which is the lowest heaven. "We have beautified the lowest heaven with lamps." The lowest heaven is the nearest one to us. The lamps which adorn it are the stars. If all the stars are in the lowest heaven, there is no confusion. If there are in other heavens, then the lowest heaven is adorned because they are manifest to us in it. no matter how far they are away. It is possible that it means adorning the lowest heaven with the stars which are above it in other heavens according to the statement based on the position of the stars, and in whichever heaven which is not refuted in the Shari'a. The stars are called "lamps" because they give off light and are beautiful..

"We made some of them stones for the shaytans" means: We made some of the stars stones because the fixed stars are not used to stone the Shaytans. It is like your words, "I honoured the Banu so-and-so" when you honoured some of them.

Rujûm is the plural of rajm, which is a verbal noun naming that which is used for stoning. Az-Zamakhshari said that it means the stars which are used to stone of shaytans, and the meteors fall from the stars to stone the shaytans who try to eavesdrop to the heaven, as mentioned in 37:10. Stoning meteors are separate from the fire of the stars because the stones are the stars themselves because they are fixed in the heavens. Qatada said that Allah created the stars for three reasons: to adorn the heaven, to stone the shaytans and to guide people in the darkness of the land and sea.

"For whom We have prepared the punishment of the Blaze" meaning for the shaytans. This is when the unbelievers are thrown into it. "Blaze" (Sa'ir) is a blazing fire which burns. It is used for fire itself and for a fire which is made to burn by other fire. The root of this word is which means madness, demonical possession, affliction, and punishment. We see this elsewhere in the Qur'an: "The evildoers are indeed misguided and insane (su'r ) on the Day that they are dragged face-first into the Fire: 'Taste the scorching touch of Saqar!'" (54:47-48) Some commentators say that this can be mean: "misguided and in punishment." Another word from the same root, su'âr, means heat and evil or mischief. The Fire that will burn them is thus a result of their own evil, which is a kind of madness.

6 Those who reject their Lord will have

      the punishment of Hell.

        What an evil destination!

Jahannam is the Fire of Hell. Some people say that this comes from Jahinnâm which is a deep well; anyone who falls into it perishes. This indicates that the People of the Fire are far from the beauty of Allah Almighty and the bliss of the Garden, burning in the fire of separation and distance from Allah. It is also ascribed to the root jahuma, which signifies frowning and grinning sternly.

Here Allah refers to those "who reject their Lord". It is a deeper existential rejection than simply rejecting the idea of a deity. Everyone has a Lord to whom he owes his allegiance and whom he obeys.

"What an evil destinatiion!" It is an evil masîr. The root means to reach a state or condition, or to attain to a place, as Allah says, "The final destination is to Allah." (3:37) This is the final state where people find themselves. So it could also be read as "What an evil final state of being!" They will remain in this condition forever.

7 When they are flung into it

       they will hear it gasping harshly as it seethes.

They are flung into it as wood is thrown into a fire either because it is so hot that they do not want to get near it or because Jahannam is so deep. "They will hear it gasping." Shahîq is the ugliest possible noise which a donkey makes. Here it means what is heard of the sound of Jahannam due to the intensity of its boiling and terror, or the sighing of its people. Shahîq is used of the people in the Fire, who "sigh and moan" (11:106). Shahîq is the sound made in the breast and zafir is made in the throat.

"When it seethes" means its boils with its people as the cauldron boils fiercely with its contents when there is a little grain in a lot of water.

8 It all but bursts with rage.

     Each time a group is flung into it

         its custodians will question them:

     'Did no warner come to you?'

"It all but bursts apart out of its rage" meaning Jahannam nearly splits part due to the intensity of its rage against the unbelievers. It is possible that it is rage itself. It is possible that it means the rage of the Zabaniyya, the custodians of the Fire (as mentioned as the Guards of Hell in 96:18). The first is more evident because the state of the Zabaniyya is mentioned after this. The rage of the fire can be real since Allah will create that rage for it, or it metaphorically designates its intensity. "Rage" (ghayth) means either a more intensive form of anger (ghadab) or it is latent because the person feeling the anger does not have the power to exercise it. It conveys a sense of heat.

"Each time a group is flung into it" meaning whenever a group of unbelievers is flung into Jahannam, the Zabaniyya will ask, "Did no warner come to you?" meaning any Messenger. This question is a form of rebuke and establishing the proof against them. They will admit that and said, "Indeed a warner did come to us." His word, "Whenever" demands that it be said to each group when it is cast into the Fire. The custodians are Malik and his helpers, the Zabaniyya.

9 They will say, 'Yes indeed,

     a warner did come to us

          but we denied him and said,

     "Allah has sent nothing down.

        You are just greatly misguided"'

The use of qad in "he did come" stresses their confession, particularly when it follows bala (Yes indeed). The Prophet said, "I am the Warner and the death is that which undoes."They rejected the idea of a message and thought that it was nonsense. They said that there was no revelation, no Book, no Messenger. They use the plural "you" (antum) meaning that they reject all the Messengers, not just the Prophet Muhammad, may Allah bless him and grant him peace.

It is also possible that "You are just greatly misguided" are part of the words of the angels to the rejectors, or part of the words of the rejectors to the Messengers in this world.

10 They will say, "If only we had really listened and used our intellect,

        we would not have been Companions of the Blaze."

"They will say..." The pronoun refers to the unbelievers, i.e. if we have listened to the words of the Messengers when we were alive and understood the evidence of Allah's oneness, we would not have been among the people of the Blaze. He uses the unlikely "if" (law). This is not going to happen. They admit to their ignorance only when they are in the Fire, saying, "If only we had listened to the Messengers or understood their message."

11 Then they will acknowledge their wrong actions.

      Away with the Companions of the Blaze!

"They will acknowledge their wrong actions." This confession of theirs comes at a time when acknowledgement not help them. This is an admission based on knowledge (ma'rifa). Now they understand. Here "their wrong actions" means their denial of the Messengers.

"Away with the Companions of the Blaze!" "Away" (suhqan) is a noun in the accusative case based a hidden verb which carries the meaning of a curse on them: "May they be far from the mercy of Allah!" It means to be put far from prosperity, for a person to not be pitied for what has happened to him. The root, sahaqa, has other connotations as well: to bruise or pound; to pulverise by pounding. It is said that this is what the fierce wind does to the earth when it wears it down, and hence it also means to wear something out and destroy it. Something which is termed "sahiq" can be either remote or bruised by pounding. It is even said by some commentators to be a valley in Jahannam called as-Sahq.

12 Those who fear their Lord in the Unseen

     will have forgiveness and an immense reward.

They fear Allah and fear His punishment which they do not see. They fear their Lord, His punishment on the Day of Rising, on the day when one dies, and when they are questioned in the grave. As Allah says in Surat Qaf (50):

33 Those who fears the All-Merciful in the Unseen

      and come with a contrite heart.

34          Enter it in peace.

     This is the Day of Timeless Eternity.

35  They will have everything they want

      and with Us there is still more.

Fear has certain causes. The first of them is sound intellect which makes a person abandon acts of disobedience to Allah. It is only a weak intellect which has no fear of Allah.

Al-Hakim at-Tirmidhi speaks of fear as follows:

"Fear arises from knowledge of Allah. When the heart knows Him, it fears Him. Knowledge is obtained by opening. When Allah gives him an opening, he witnesses things with the eye of his heart and knows Him and so fears Him. When the heart clings to fear, Allah fills it with love. So by fear the heart is protected from what Allah detests, however great or small, and by love, it is cheerful and courageous in matters. If Allah were to leave the slave with fear alone, he would be constricted and unable to act in many matters. If He were to leave him with love alone, he would become presumptive and transgress because the self is aroused by the energy of love. But He - may His name be blessed! - was kind to him and made fear his inner part and love his outward so that his heart would go straight. So smiles and cheerfulness is seen in his face and business and that is due to the manifestation of love in the heart. Nevertheless, inwardly he has mountains of fear!"

Two things are said about what is meant by "in the Unseen". One is that it means they are not seen by people and thus describes their sincerity because they obey Allah where people do not see them. The second statement is that the Unseen is what is not seen by them in the affairs of the Next World It is reflected in His words, "they believe in the Unseen." They are not like the hypocrites who are described by Allah as: "When they meet those who believe, they say, 'We believe.' But then when they go aparts with their shaytans, they say, 'We are really with you. We were only mocking.'" (2:13)

Forgiveness is for their wrong actions. The "immense reward" is the Garden.

13 Whether you keep your words secret

       or say them out loud

   He knows what the heart contains.

Then Allah addresses all people. "Whether you keep your words secret or voice them out loud." The meaning is that Allah knows all. Nothing can be concealed from Him. He knows whatever good and evil is in the hearts. Jibril told the Prophet that the idolaters were saying to one another, "Conceal what you say so that the Lord of Muhammad does not hear." Then this ayat was revealed.

14 Does He who created not then know?

     He is the All-Pervading, the All-Aware.

"Does He who created not then know?" This is a proof that Allah Almighty knows everything because the Creator must necessarily know His creatures.

Various names are used to describe Allah's knowledge: He is the All-Knowing, al-'Alîm, who knows things in the most complete and perfect manner; the Aware, al-Khabîr, who has perfect knowledge of even the most hidden things; the Wise, al-Hakîm, who knows and acts well; the Witness, ash-Shahîd, who possesses knowledge of outward things; the Preserver, al-Hafîz, who remembers all; and the Enumerator, al-Muhsi, who knows the quantities of things and comprehends all. The All-Pervading, al-Latif, knows the fine points of things so that He can see the small black ant on the black stone in the deepest darkness.

15 It is He who made the earth submissive to you,

       so walk its broad trails and eat what it provides.

          The Resurrection is to Him.

In "the earth subservient (dhalul)". here the form of the adjective means the passive tense, meaning made abased or subservient. This form is usually used for an animal which is manageable or tame, as He describes the cow in Surat al-Baqara (2:71) It means that the earth is easy for you to walk on and and cultivate. Its surface remains steady. So when there is an earthquake, we realise how merciful Allah is by generally keeping the earth firm and steady for us. It is neither too hot nor too cold to walk on it nor made of stone so that we slip on it and cannot cultivate nor made of quicksand so that we cannot stand on it. It is such that we can dig wells in it. The root, dhalla, also means to become subservient after having been difficult, which indicates that were it not for Allah's mercy, the earth could easily have been difficult for habitation.

Ibn 'Abbas said that "walk its trails" refers the mountains, and it is said that it refers to the slopes and it is said that it is paths. The word "trails" (manakib) is used to continue the metaphor of an animal. It literally means "shoulders" as if the earth were the back of an animal. It is related that Bashir ibn Ka'b had a slavegirl and he said to her, "If you can tell me what is meant by 'the shoulders of the earth' you are free." She replied, "Its shoulders are its mountains," and so she was free. It further shows the blessing in making it easy to walk on the earth. "Walk" is a command which indicates the permission to do so. "Eat what it provides" which was created for your sake and made lawful for you.

"The Resurrection is to Him" refers the resurrection and the return to Allah on the Day of Rising. "Nushûr" refers to the rising from the graves and the return to life of the dead . It is said that it means that the One who has the power to make the earth subservient and provide provision is able to bring you back from the graves. The verb nashara also means "land becoming green with rain after having dried up, spreading out, charming away the effects of enchantment, possession or insanity, scattering a flock after they were confined in their night shelter, all reflectin the arising to a new state of existence." This quickening from death is then waking after spent a night. Allah provides another metaphor of this in 35:9:

It is Allah who sends the winds which raise the clouds

    which We then drive to a dead land

and by them bring back the earth to life after it was dead.

That is how the Rusurrection will be.

The sojourn in the graves is clearly short in relation to eternity. We also recall this in the supplication we make when we wake up from sleep, "Praise be to Allah who brought us to life after death and to Him is the Resurrection."

16 Do you feel secure against Him Who is in heaven

       causing the earth to swallow you up

    when suddenly it rocks from side to side?

After enumerating His blessings to you in a stable and frutiful earth, Allah calls attention to its fragility. "Do you feel secure?" If you rebel against Allah, are you safe? The aim of the ayat is to threaten and alarm the unbelievers, as is the case with the ayat after it. It is important to note that the word belief or iman and security (aman) come from the same root. It is only belief that gives security.

"Him who is in heaven" is the One who has power and authority in heaven. He made the earth stable for you, but He can equally make it shake and split apart and so engulf you. The power to do both is in His hands. You have no security apart from Him.It is also possible that "Him" (man) refers to the angels who are entrusted with managing this world, and so it would be translated as, "those who are in heaven". This indicates the actual fragility of the stability of the earth. Al-Qurtubi says that it could mean: "Are you secure that the Creator of those in heaven..." It is important not to think of "who is in heaven" spatially, but rather it refers to His authority and power. Spatiality cannot be attributed to Allah. He is described by height and immensity which has no relation to defined quantities of physical beings. People stretch their hands towards heaven because the Revelation descended from it, the actions of human beings ascend to it and beyond it is the Throne of Allah and His Garden. It is taken as a direction as the Ka'ba is used for the qibla. Allah created places and has no need of them. Before them, He was before time and space when there was neither time nor space, "And He is now as He was."

Elsewhere the Qur'an gives us the example of Qarun (28:76-82) who was a man of the tribe of Israel who had vast wealth which he thought he had obtained because of his superior knowledge. In spite of this, he and his house were swallowed up by the earth to provide an example. This should certainly be a warning to people today who think that their wealth and position is based on their superior technological knowledge. It is an illusion.

"When it rocks" mentioned in Surat at-Tur. Mawr means to shake from side to side.

17 Or do you feel secure against Him Who is in heaven

        releasing against you a sudden squall of stones,

    so that you will know how true My warning was?

There is a second avenue by which punishment can come - from the heaven because His Sovereignty embraces all and He can send destruction from which direction He wills. "A sudden squall of stones" (hasib) can mean pebbles or a strong wind which contains small stones, and hence destruction. This is what happened to the people of Lut when Allah rained down stones on them, and to Abraha and when he invaded Makka and birds came bearing stones in their beaks. It also refers to destruction of crops by a such a wind.

"Warning (nadhîr)" means warning (indhar) as nakîr (denial) in the next ayat means inkar. It means warning about the punishment. If Allah were to send this to you, you would immediately know the truth of the punishment. It is also said that nadhîr also means "mundhir" (warner), in which case it refers to Muhammad. Then it means: you will know the truth of what he says. Warsh has "nadhîrî " (My warning) rather than "nadhîr " in Hafs, as in the next ayat it also has "nakîrî" (My denial) rather than the "nakîr" in Hafs.

18 Those before them also denied

     but then how great was My denial!

Nations before them, meaning before the Quraysh, denied the message as Allah says elsewhere in the Qur'an:

   If they deny you, the people of Nuh before them denied him

       and those of 'Ad and of Thamud

41  and the people of Ibrahim and the people of Lut

42     and the companions of Madyan;

            and Musa was denied as well.

     I allowed time to the rejectors

            but then I seized them.

     How terrible was My denial!" (22:40-42)

This is to console the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, by the fact that the same denial was experienced by Prophets before him. "Denial" (nakîr ) can mean the manifestation of disapproval of their behaviour, by changing life into destruction, favour into trial, and prosperity into ruin. The verb nakkara has to do with changing a state, in this case by destruction being visited upon them.

19 Have they not looked at the birds above them,

       with wings outspread and folded back?

    Nothing holds them up but the All-Merciful.

      He sees all things.

Then Allah gives a metaphor of something very beautiful, but at the same time very fragile, the the flight of birds in the air without anything to hold them up. "Have they not looked at the birds above them with wings outspread?" The way the question is asked implies that they are heedless of this sign. As the earth is subject to man, so the air is subject to the birds. But we can see how fragile it is while we forget how fragile we are on the surface of the earth.

"Outspread" (sâffât) is the plural of sâffa. They are the birds who spread their wings out and hold them open. Qabd refers to folding the wings to the sides. "Folded back" is in a verbal form and is joined to "outspread" because the verb has the meaning of the noun, and it implies the noun, qâbidât. It can also refer to birds in formation as "sâffât" also refers to ranks.

It is only the power of the All-Merciful which holds them up. "He sees all things," even each individual bird so that He keeps them suspended in the air.

20 Who is there who could be a force for you,

      to come to your support,

         apart from the All-Merciful?

   The kafirun are only living in delusion.

Having recounted all these aspects of Allah's power, He then says: "Who is there whoocould to be a force for you?" This is addressed to the unbelievers to rebuke and threaten them and to establish the proof against them. The form of the question implies a negative answer. Ibn 'Abbas says that "force" (jund) means a party and a defence or helpers. This is negating their false assumption of power. Only Allah possesses power.

The shaytans delude them that there will be neither punishment nor reckoning nor afterlife. "Delusion" (ghurûr) is a verbal noun. The root, gharra, means to be deceived or beguiled into desiring what is false and made to be bold against something, to follow a course without being rightly guided. The verb, gharra, also means to expose a person to destruction by deceit. Another noun from this root, gharar, means peril or jeopardy or risk, which is a type of sale which is forbidden.

21 Who is there who could provide for you

       if He withholds His provision?

    Yet still they obstinately persist in insolence and evasion.

"Provision" can refer to the rain or the crops. Who will make it rain if He withholds it? Furthermore, if He makes it impossible for you to eat, who will enable you to eat? provision is not just material goods, but it is everything a person makes use of. Provision includes the air we breathe, the water, the food we eat, the gifts and talents and character Allah has given us. All of this is provision - speech, sight, touch, taste, blood cells, internal organs, osmosis, photosynthesis, etc. Allah gives us an excellent parable of his absolute control over provision in Surat al-Kahf:

32  Make an example for them of two men.

      To one of them We gave two gardens of grape-vines

        and surrounded them with date-palms,

      putting between them some cultivated land.

33  Both gardens yielded their crops and did not suffer any loss,

      and We made a river flow right through the middle of them.

34  He was a man of wealth and property

      and he said to his companion, debating with him,

   'I have more wealth than you and more people under me.'

35    He entered his garden and wronged himself by saying,

    'I do not think that this will ever end.

      I do not think the Hour will ever come.

   But if I should be sent back to my Lord,

     I will definitely get something better in return.'

36  His companion, with whom he was debating, said to him,

     'Do you then disbelieve in Him who created you from dust,

   then from a drop of sperm, and then formed you as a man?

37      He is, however, Allah, my Lord,

      and I will not associate anyone with my Lord.

38  Why, when you entered your garden, did you not say,

      "It is as Allah wills, there is no strength but in AllahÓ?

  Though you see me with less wealth and children

      than you possess,

39  it may well be that my Lord will give me

     something better than your garden

   and send down on it a fireball from the sky

     so that morning finds it a shifting heap of dust,

40  or morning finds its water drained into the earth

     so that you cannot get at it.'

41 The fruits of his labour were completely destroyed

    and he woke up wringing his hands in grief,

       rueing everything that he had spent on it.

  It was a ruin with all its trellises fallen in.

     He said, 'Oh, if only I had not associated

        anyone with my Lord!'

42  There was no group to come to his aid, besides Allah,

    and he was not given any help.

43  In that situation the only protection is from Allah, the Real.

    He gives the best reward and the best outcome.

"To be obstinate" means to be stubborn and continue and persist in "disdain and insolence" and "evasion" to belief and the Truth. "Insolence" ('atw) means to be proud and excessive and immoderate in disbelief, to recoil and revolt from obedience. It also means to become dried up and rigid, which reflects the state of the unbelievers who persist in their disbelief. They are rigid and cannot move from their entrenched position. It also implies a threat because it is a term which is used elsewhere to refer to the insolence of the unbelievers before divine punishment befalls them. It is used of Thamud when they hamstrung the camel (7:77; 51:44), and when those who broke the Sabbath were transformed into apes. (7:166) They are much like Satan in Milton's Paradise Lost, "that fixed mind and high disdain, from sense of injured merit." (1.94) and "Vaunting aloud, but racked with despair." (1.16)

"Evasion (nufûr)" means shying away. This is the refractoriness of an unbroken horse or camel which shies and breaks away from something, refusing to be compliant and obedient. This is something that animals do. We might deduce that the first refers to their leaders and the second to their followers. Allah also describes this elsewhere in the Qur'an (35:40-43):

40 Say: 'Have you thought about your partner gods,

       those you call upon besides Allah?

 Show me what they have created of the earth;

      or do they have a partnership in the heavens?'

 Have We given them a Book whose Clear Signs they follow?

     No indeed! The wrongdoers promise each other

        nothing but delusion.

41 Allah keeps a firm hold on the heavens and earth,

      preventing them from vanishing away.

  And if they vanished no one could then keep hold of them.

     Certainly He is Most Forbearing, Ever-Forgiving.

42 They swore by Allah with their most earnest oaths

     that if a warner came to them

         they would be better guided

           than any other community.

 But then when a warner did come to them,

      it only increased their aversion,

43 shown by their arrogance in the land and evil plotting.

     But evil plotting envelops only those who do it.

  Do they expect anything

      but the pattern of previous peoples?

  You will not find any changing in the pattern of Allah.

     You will not find any alteration in the pattern of Allah.

22 Who is better guided:

       he who goes grovelling on his face

    or he who walks upright on a straight path?

"Who is better guided?" What is meant by this is to rebuke the unbelievers. Two things are said about what it means. One is that walking is a metaphor about travelling the path of guidance and misguidance in this world. The other is that it is real and refers to the form of walking in the Next World because the unbeliever will be made to crawl to Jahannam on his face.

In the case of the first statement, it is said that the one who walks grovelling was Abu Jahl and the one who walked upright was Muhammad, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and it is said that it is Hamza, and it is said that it is general to every believer and unbeliever.

"Grovelling (mukibb) is to walk with head bowed without looking forward or to the right or the left, not being safe from stumbling or falling on his face. The one who walks upright can look to the right and left. Someone who is blind is like this. He will be gathered in the Next World on his face. The Straight Path is Islam. Qatada said that the unbeliever is bent (akabb) on acts of disobedience in this world and so Allah will gather him on his face in the Fire in the end. As Allah says, "Those who perform bad actions will be thrown head first into the Fire." (27:90)

The believer was straight in following Allah's command in this world, and so Allah gathers him on his feet to the Garden. The Prophet was asked, "How can they walk on their faces?" He said, "The One who enabled them to walk on their feet is able to make them walk on their faces." Al-Qashani said that walking with face down is to incline to what is low, to sensual pleasures and to walk on the Straight Path is to follow the Path of tawhid.

23 Say: 'It is He who brought you into being

       and gave you hearing, sight and hearts.

   What little thanks you show!'

"Brought you into being" (nasha') refers to originating something from nothing. He has given you all these blessings and yet you do not show your gratitude to Him! You have hearing so that you can hear the signs of Allah and eyes so that you can see His signs and the things He has created and hearts so that you can reflect on them. This and the following ayat are also found in 23:78-79, and so it is a command to be grateful.

Various definitions have been given for thankfulness or shukr. They can be summarised as the heart being joyful at receiving the blessing and inclining to love the one who bestowed it, the limbs being disposed to obey the Giver, and the tongue to praise and mention Him. And, as Allah says, "He has given you everything you have asked Him for. If you tried to number Allah's blessings, you could never count them. Man is indeed wrongdoing, ungrateful." (14:34) Allah's blessings are infinite and start with existence itself, as He says: "Allah brought you out of your mothers' wombs knowing nothing at all, and gave you hearing, sight and hearts so that perhaps you would show thanks." (16:77) It is impossible to be adequately grateful to the Creator. It is reported that Prophet Da'ud said, "O Lord, how can I be grateful to You when my gratefulness to You is a blessing to me for which I must be grateful?" Allah said, "Now you have been grateful to me, Da'ud."

Thankfulness involves the use of the tongue, to praise the Giver; the use of the limbs to act to serve Him; and that the heart should acknowledge the Giver. Thankfulness itself gives increase, as Allah says, "If you are grateful, I will certainly give you increase, but if you are ungrateful, My punishment is severe." (14:8) Thankfulness is nothing but benefit for you.

24 Say: 'It is He who scattered you about the earth

       and you will be gathered to Him.'

All you see comes from Him and you will be returned to Him for the reckoning. The verb dhara'a (scatter) also means to create and to multiply. Dhurriya () means created beings or children, offspring. The verb also refers to the winnowing of wheat, and the casting of grain for planting. So the previous ayat refers to the initial creation of man from nothing and this ayat refers to the increase in the numbers. It also means to sow. So this is the propagation of mankind. Allah further describes this scattering in 42:11: "The Bringer-into-being of the heavens and earth. He has given you mates from among yourselves, and given mates to the livestock, in that way multiplying you."

25 They say, 'When will this promise come about

      if you are telling the truth?'

"They say, 'When will this promise come about?'" The pronoun refers to the unbelievers. The promise means the resurrection and the gathering, or their punishment in this world. They say this in mockery and denial. "If you are telling the truth" means the believers. The unbelievers do not believe that this will come about.

26 Say: 'The knowledge is with Allah alone

       and I am only a clear warner.'

This is what the Prophet is to say in answer to them. Only Allah knows when the Last Hour will come. He tells them that he has only come to warn them and alarm them about what their behaviour. Allah describes this interrchange further in Surat al-A'raf: "They will ask you about the Hour: when is it due? Say: 'Knowledge of it is rests with my Lord alone. He alone will reveal it at its proper time. It hangs heavy in the heavens and the earth. It will not come upon you except for suddenly.' They will ask you as if you had full knowledge of it. Say: 'Knowledge of it is with Allah alone. But most people do not know that.'" (7:187)

27 When they see it right up close,

       the faces of those who are kafir

           will be appalled

        and they will be told,

   'This is what you were calling for.'

Then it will inevitably come. "When they see it" is when the unbelievers see the promised punishment. They will see it with their own eyes. Al-Hasan said that it is eye-witnessing. It is said that it is the punishment of the Next World or the punishment inflicted on the unbelievers in the Battle of Badr. Or it could be when they see the Gathering. "Close" (zulfa) is a verbal noun meaning physically near or immediate.

"The faces of those who reject will be appalled" or "blackened" or "clouded over", meaning that the evil of what befalls them will be seen in them. Their faces will show their evil because they will become black. It will be physically seen in them. Allah says, "On the day when faces are whitened and faces are blackened." (3:106) The effects of what is being felt is seen in the faces.

"They will be told, 'This is what that you were calling for." This is what they were seeking and trying to hasten. Those who say that will be the angels, or it is a metaphor for the situation becoming evident to them. It is their words, "Our Lord, advance our share to us before the Day of Reckoning." (38:16)

28 Say: 'What do you think?

       If Allah destroys me and those with me,

            or if He has mercy on us,

     who can shelter the kafirun

       from a painful punishment?'

The reason for the revelation of this ayat is that the unbelievers used to wish for the destruction of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and the Muslims. Allah commanded him to say to them, "If Allah destroys me and those with me, or he has mercy on us, you still will not be saved from the painful punishment." Destruction here can refer to death or some disaster. "Those with me" are the believers.

The meaning of "who can shelter the rejectors from a painful punishment?" is: who will prevent their punishment. "Shelter" (yajîru) means to protect, help and deliver from evil. It is said of Allah, "He protects, but none is protected against Him." The verb involves giving shelter from something, in this case, the punishment.

29 Say: 'He is the All-Merciful.

     We have iman in Him

          and trust in Him.

       You will soon know

          who is clearly misguided.'

It is the All-Merciful to whom he calls them to worship. Here we have belief and trust (tawakkul). As He says elsewhere: "The believers are those whose hearts tremble when Allah is mentioned, whose belief is increased when His Signs are recited to them, and who put their trust in their Lord." (8:2)

Trust or tawakkul, means that the heart relies on Allah and not on creatures. This trust is one of the fruits of belief and knowledge. The greater the belief and knowledge of Allah, the greater the trust, hence Allah says: "Put your trust in Allah if you are believers." (5:23)

Trust also entails being content with Allah's decree. Hence Bishr al-Hafi said, "One of you says, 'I trust on Allah,' and he lies. If he had truly trusted in Allah, he would have been content with what Allalh Almighty does to him."

The Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, recommended trust in Allah in every instance. He said, "If, when he leaves the hourse, a person says, 'In the name of Allah. I have put my trust in Allah and there is no power nor strength except by Allah,' he will be told, 'You are guided, sufficed, protected, and saved from Shaytan.' Then one shaytan will say to another, 'How can you have any power over a man who has been guided, sufficed and protected?'" (Abu Dawud, an-Nasa'i & at-Tirmidhi)

Trusting in Allah produces calmness and tranquillity in the hearts, exspecially in trials and tribulations. As Allah says elsewhere:

     Those to whom people said,

          "The people have gathered together against you, so fear them."

     But it increased them in belief and they said,

          "Allah is enough for us and the Best of Guardians."

174 So they returned with blessing and bounty from Allah

          and no evil touched them.

     They pursued the pleasure of Allah.

   Allah's favour is indeed immense." (3:173-174)

30 Say: 'What do you think?

      If, one morning, your water disappears into the earth

          who will bring you running water?'

"Say: 'What do you think? If, one morning, your water disappears into the earth...'" This ayat is an argument against the idolaters. "Disappears" (ghawr) is a verbal noun which is used as an adjective, meaning vanishing into the earth. "Running"(ma'în) is abundant. The meaning is: if your water which you drink vanishes, will other than Allah bring you running water? This hearkens back to the example from Surat al-Kahf given under ayat 21, when one of the two men with a garden has his water disappear.

This is a further question addressed to Quraysh to show their lack of power. Their water was well water and wells can go dry. A spring which is ma'ana has ample water. Ibn 'Abbas says that it means: who will bring you sweet water? In reference to the people of Makka, whose water came from two wells, Zamzam and Maymun al-Hadrami, this is a telling point. What happens if Allah were to make the wells go dry? Zamzam itself was a miracle which appeared the middle of the desert.

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