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Surah al-Dhariyat (3)
Qur'anic Exegesis
Imam Hamiduddin Farahi
(Tr. by:Tariq Haashmi)

Coherence and Context Q. 51: 20-23


The above discussion sufficiently explains that this comprehensive paragraph contains beauty of order and arrangement. It connects the themes in the best logical way. The divine statement starting from the words, “wa fī al-arḍ ’āyāt (and on the earth are signs)” to “wa mā tū‘adūn (what you are promised)” mention the earth first, then the nafs (human self) and finally the heavens. Nafs has been placed in the middle. It works as an intermediary between the earth and the heavens. It is related to the two in diverse aspects. Then God has indicated the kind of signs these three contain. Then the discourse develops on to present the most comprehensive and basic argument, argument from God’s providence. God says: “fa wa rabbi al-samāwāti wa al-arḍi innahū laḥaqqun (By the Lord of the heavens and the earth! It is true).”

The part of the next verse, mithla mā annakum tanṭiqūn, emphasizes the same argument. It is a similitude comparing the speech faculty of the human self, which itself is a miniature universe. It reflects what is contained in the heavens and the earth. This in a way refers to the statement wa fī anfusikum afalā tubṣirūn (And in your nafs also; do not you see?), mentioned earlier. The example of the human speech is in fact the foundation of all beliefs and arguments. This example in a way invites the readers to ponder over the words ’āyātun li al-mūqinīn (signs for the believers) in the preceding verse.

The above is the internal coherence in the group of verses. As for the relation of this passage with the previous and the coming ones, as I have stated earlier, the statement starting from wa fī al-arḍi āyatun li al-mūqinīn (in the earth are signs for the believers) to mithla mā annakum tanṭiqūn are conjugated with and revisit the theme taken in the start of the sūrah. This passage takes up again the arguments for the inevitability of the afterlife. Thus, from the beginning of the sūrah to the last part of this passage, argumentation for the afterlife based on the cosmic phenomena is the theme. God has presented as proofs the winds, clouds, earth, heavens, and the human self (nafs). The verses following this passage adduce historical evidence to prove the same fact. This kind of development of arguments starting from natural phenomena leading to historical evidence is found in Sūrah Shams as we have explained in our commentary on that sūrah. You will find frequent examples in the holy Qur’ān where the arguments start from natural phenomena and then culminate in historical proofs for a claim. Following this style, here too, the Almighty has discussed famous punishment stories which represent divine judgment that has already passed in this very world and which serve as a reminder for the addressees and a warning for them. This issues a warning and presents the clearest evidence of the fact that God holds judgment and that He will definitely hold a final one as has been said in Sūrah Hūd:

Such is the retribution of your Lord when He chastises communities in the midst of their wrong. Indeed grievous and severe is His punishment. In that is a sign for those who fear the penalty of the Last Day. (Q. 11:102-3)

There is another beauty of discourse in the selection of the punishment stories in this context. God has, in the evidentiary oaths of the inaugural verses, referred to the winds and clouds. Now such punishment stories have been presented as employed winds and clouds working on divine bidding. This has, in addition to creating coherence, lent strength to the evidentiary oaths which have become clearer and more emphatic after this recourse to the punishment stories involving winds and clouds. Now study the next group of verses:


Text and Translation Q. 51:24-37

هَلْ أَتَاكَ حَدِيثُ ضَيْفِ إِبْرَاهِيمَ الْمُكْرَمِينَ إِذْ دَخَلُوا عَلَيْهِ فَقَالُوا سَلَامًا قَالَ سَلَامٌ قَوْمٌ مُّنكَرُونَ فَرَاغَ إِلَى أَهْلِهِ فَجَاء بِعِجْلٍ سَمِينٍ فَقَرَّبَهُ إِلَيْهِمْ قَالَ أَلَا تَاكُلُونَ فَأَوْجَسَ مِنْهُمْ خِيفَةً قَالُوا لَا تَخَفْ وَبَشَّرُوهُ بِغُلَامٍ عَلِيمٍ فَأَقْبَلَتِ امْرَأَتُهُ فِي صَرَّةٍ فَصَكَّتْ وَجْهَهَا وَقَالَتْ عَجُوزٌ عَقِيمٌ قَالُوا كَذَلِكَ قَالَ رَبُّكِ إِنَّهُ هُوَ الْحَكِيمُ الْعَلِيمُ قَالَ فَمَا خَطْبُكُمْ أَيُّهَا الْمُرْسَلُونَ قَالُوا إِنَّا أُرْسِلْنَا إِلَى قَوْمٍ مُّجْرِمِينَ لِنُرْسِلَ عَلَيْهِمْ حِجَارَةً مِّن طِينٍ مُسَوَّمَةً عِندَ رَبِّكَ لِلْمُسْرِفِينَ فَأَخْرَجْنَا مَن كَانَ فِيهَا مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ فَمَا وَجَدْنَا فِيهَا غَيْرَ بَيْتٍ مِّنَ الْمُسْلِمِينَ وَتَرَكْنَا فِيهَا آيَةً لِّلَّذِينَ يَخَافُونَ الْعَذَابَ الْأَلِيمَ

Have you heard the story of the honoured guests of Abraham (sws)? When they entered upon him and said: “Peace!” He responded: “Peace!” “Strangers” [he thought]. Then he turned to his household, brought out a fatted calf, and placed it before them. He said: “Will you not eat?” He conceived a fear of them. They said: “Fear not.” They gave him glad tidings of a knowledgeable son. But his wife came forward utterly surprised. She smote her forehead and said: “[Will] a barren old woman [bear one]!” They said: “That is what your Lord has said. He is full of wisdom and knowledge.” He [Abraham] said: “And what, O Messengers, is your errand then?” They said: “We have been sent to a sinful people to bring them a shower of stones of clay which are marked by your Lord for those who trespass beyond bounds.” Then We evacuated those of the believers who were there, but We found not there any persons submitting to the truth except in one house. We left there a sign for such as fear the grievous penalty. (Q. 51: 24-37)


Explanation of Words and Ta’wīl of Sentences and Phrases

This story has been recounted earlier in Sūrah Hūd. We shall, however, explain some important points in the story which are exclusively relevant here.


al-mukramīn: honoured

The word al-mukramīn qualifying the guests, in this context, leads us to that a host is obliged to honor his guests. He should welcome them gladly. It also tells us that Abraham (sws) was a kind and generous person.


qawmun munkarūn: stranger people

Abraham (sws) noticed that the guests were apparently noble and virtuous people. Noble and virtuous people were rare to see at that time. Those characterized by these qualities were already among the companions and followers of Abraham (sws). Thus finding some other people of the sort astonished him.


farāgha ilā ahlihī: turned to his household

This tells us that Abraham (sws) was a very generous host. He was a very social person. A truly generous person arranges for the entertainment of the guests secretly. He does not make a show of such actions so that the guests do not feel that they have troubled the host. This corresponds with the ideal of avoiding hinting towards one’s favors to others and the virtue of benefiting others secretly.


alā ta’kulūn: Will you not eat?

When Abraham (sws) placed the feast before the guests they did not taste it. Abraham (sws) called them to help themselves in a very kind and friendly manner.


fa awjasa minhum khīfah: He conceived a fear of them.

The verb awjasa connotes a feeling, especially of fear, in the heart. Khīfah denotes a mild fear. Abraham (sws) feared the guests a little because they firmly refused to eat. Thus they inspired awe in his heart. It alarmed Abraham (sws) even more. Sūrah Hūd depicts this in the following words:

But when he saw their hands went not towards the meal, he felt them strange, and conceived a fear of them. (Q. 11:70)

Bashsharūhu: They gave him glad tidings of

They gave the glad tidings loudly enough. Sarah could hear it. She was just near as has been clearly put in Sūrah Hūd.

And his wife was standing nearby, and she laughed: then we gave her glad tidings of Isaac. (Q. 11:71)

Since the angels did not communicate the glad tidings to Sarah it has not been ascribed to the angels. They did not talk to her directly. It concerned her however.


‘alīm: knowledgeable

This attribute of the promised son indicates that the glad tiding would be fulfilled only if the son was of worthy qualities. Attribute of knowledge alone has been mentioned because it is the source of all positive attributes and praiseworthy qualities.


Fa aqbala:  she came forward  

Having heard the glad tiding Sarah paid attention to the discussion between the angels and her husband. She came forward to express her surprise as has been made clear in the next part of the discussion.


fī ṣarratin: surprised

It implies surprise and lack of belief. The Arabs say: ṣarrat al-faras udhunayhi to mean that the horse raised his ears. This happens when one hears something unbelievable.


faṣakkat wajhahā: She smote her forehead

She struck her forehead. Women usually express their surprise and their lack of belief in what they hear of unimaginable things. Sūrah Hūd puts her feelings in words as follows:


She said: ‘Alas for me! Shall I bear a child, while I am an old woman, and my husband here is an old man? That would indeed be a strange thing!” (Q. 11:72)


ḥijāratan min ṭīn: stones of clay

Elsewhere such stones are termed sijjīl. It is arabicisation of the Persian compound sang-i gil which means stones of clay. Sūrah Hūd uses the latter term in this very story:


And we rained down on them pebbles of baked clay (ḥijāratan min sijjīl). (Q. 11:82)


Here the holy Qur’ān has clarified the meaning of the word sijjīl occurring in Sūrah Hūd. It is a marked feature of the Qur’ān that parts of it explain their parallels.


Musawwamah: marked

Grammatically the word musawwamah in this construction can be taken to function as an adjective qualifying the word ḥijārah. It can also be taken to function as an adverb (ḥāl) of state. As for the meaning of the word, I quote the grammarian Akhfash: “It means marked. The stones marked thus are the ones dispatched. They say: sawwama fīhā al-khayl, he dispatched/sent the horses forth.”1

Abū Zayd says: “al-khayl al-musawwamah, the horses sent forth/dispatched while carrying their riders. This expression is developed from a common expression: sawwamtu fulānan: I let him free. They say sawwamahū i.e. he let him do what he likes.”2

If the word musawwamah is taken to mean that the stones are marked, that would entail that the stones would be marked for their victims as if God had written the names of the victims on the stones striking them. They do not strike except for those whose names are written on them. If the word musawwmah gives the meaning takhliyah, the dispatched ones, then it would mean that these stones are ready to strike the rebels. The version of the story in Sūrah Hūd corroborates this meaning of the word. There it has been said:


Layer on layer of the stones of clay, ready as from your Lord. Nor are they ever far from those who do wrong. (Q. 11:82:83)

There is no fundamental difference between both of these interpretations.


Lilmusrifīn: trespassers beyond bounds

Isrāf means trespassing beyond limits. This word connotes all types of sins. The holy Qur’ān frequently employs this word for sins.

O My servants who have transgressed (asrafū) against their souls, don’t be despair of Allah’s mercy, for Allah forgives all sins. (Q. 39:53)

General terms of this type are usually explained through textual indicators and context. Here this word has been used for the sin that spoilt the people of Lot.

The part of the discourse starting from akhrajnā to alīm is not spoken by angels. It has been attributed directly to God. After having delivered the divine message to Abraham (sws), the angels went to Lot and brought Lot and his companions out of the town. They ensured that the Messenger and his party were saved from the imminent ruin. The word fīhā (in it), discussed below, supports this interpretation of the statement.


Fīhā: in it

Its antecedent is not put plainly. However, the context shows that it refers to the abode of the people of Lot. It refers to the area that was overturned in the impending punishment. The textual indicator proving my claim that these words are not uttered by angels but by Allah is that this verse is deeply and strongly connected with the verse wa fil arḍi ayātun lilmūqinīn. This verse gives a detailed account of the portents of the earth alluded to in the above mentioned verse. We have already explained that the history of these towns was known to the Arabs. These towns were situated on their trade routes. They frequently passed through these routes.


min al-muslimīna: from among submitters

Lot’s family was the only believing household in the town. The believers among his family members were rescued and saved by God Almighty. Lot’s wife sided with the rejecters even though she was a member of the family of the Prophet. This is why the holy Qur’ān uses the phrase min al-muslimīn for the household of Lot instead of mu’minīn. Those hypocritically attached to the believers can be called Muslims.  


Coherence and Context (Q. 51: 24-37)


The previous passage tells us that there are signs for the believers in the earth. The earth contains many portents of Allah’s blessing and providence. He provides for His servants from the earth. Similarly in it there are signs of His wrath and retribution for the rejecters. The earth is filled with the relics of punishments meted out to the rejecters of the divine message and the Prophets.

On the other hand, the above mentioned verses proclaim that the heavens contain sustenance for people as well as damnation. This is this damnation which is being discussed in this passage. Thus in this combined story of Abraham (sws) and Lot, both glad tidings and admonition have been put together. The same angels who bring glad tidings for Abraham (sws) bring damnation for the nation of Lot. If we study the story while keeping this in mind we learn that it provides proofs for the claims made in the verses wa fi al-arḍ āyāt and wa fī al-samā’ rizkuqum wamā tū‘adūn. The Almighty has connected this passage with the pervious lesson more explicitly by following it with the verse wa taraknā fīhā a’āyatan lilladhīna yakhāfūna al-‘adhāb al-alīm. The word fīhā used later also indicates to the interconnection of the two passages. Besides, the story of Moses (sws) presented in the following verses have been connected through conjunction (wa) with the passage under discussion. The Holy Qur’ān says: wa fī mūsā …bisulṭānin mubīn (Q. 51:38). This also illustrates that the purpose is to proclaim that there are portents in this story, as well as in the story of Abraham (sws) and his guests, and in the wreckage of the people of Lot. Likewise, this story along with the proceeding ones, exemplifies the reality expressed in the beginning of this sūrah. This issue will be detailed later. The following verses tell another punishment and reward story similar to that of Lot (sws) and Abraham (sws):


Text and Translation Q. 51: 38:46


وَفِي مُوسَى إِذْ أَرْسَلْنَاهُ إِلَى فِرْعَوْنَ بِسُلْطَانٍ مُّبِينٍ فَتَوَلَّى بِرُكْنِهِ وَقَالَ سَاحِرٌ أَوْ مَجْنُونٌ فَأَخَذْنَاهُ وَجُنُودَهُ فَنَبَذْنَاهُمْ فِي الْيَمِّ وَهُوَ مُلِيمٌ وَفِي عَادٍ إِذْ أَرْسَلْنَا عَلَيْهِمُ الرِّيحَ الْعَقِيمَ مَا تَذَرُ مِن شَيْءٍ أَتَتْ عَلَيْهِ إِلَّا جَعَلَتْهُ كَالرَّمِيمِ وَفِي ثَمُودَ إِذْ قِيلَ لَهُمْ تَمَتَّعُوا حَتَّى حِينٍ فَعَتَوْا عَنْ أَمْرِ رَبِّهِمْ فَأَخَذَتْهُمُ الصَّاعِقَةُ وَهُمْ يَنظُرُونَ فَمَا اسْتَطَاعُوا مِن قِيَامٍ وَمَا كَانُوا مُنتَصِرِينَ وَقَوْمَ نُوحٍ مِّن قَبْلُ إِنَّهُمْ كَانُوا قَوْمًا فَاسِقِينَ

And in the story of Moses (sws) is a sign. We sent him to Pharaoh, with manifest authority. Pharaoh turned away conceitedly. He said, “this is a sorcerer or possessed one!” So We took him and his forces, and threw them into the sea; and his was the blame. And in the people of ‘Ad, there is another sign. Behold, We sent against them the abortive wind (‘aqīm). It left nothing whatever that it came up against, but reduced it to ruin and rottenness. And in the story of Thamūd is a lesson. They were told, “Enjoy for a little while!” But they insolently defied the command of their Lord. So the stunning noise seized them, even before their eyes. Then they could not even stand on their feet, nor could they help themselves. So were the People of Noah (sws) before them for they wickedly transgressed. (Q. 51:38-46)


Explanation of Words and Ta’wīl of Sentences and Phrases


fī mūsā: in (the story of) Moses

There are portents of God’s revenge and His help in the story of Abraham (sws). Likewise, there are signs of Allah’s blessings and punishment in the story of Moses (sws) and Pharaoh. It has been mentioned in Sūrah al-Shu‘arā’ in these words:

We delivered Moses (sws) and all his companions.  But We drowned the others. Verily in this story there is a great lesson. (Q. 26: 66-68)

bisulṭānin mubīn: manifest proof

The word sulṭān covers all the things provided to Moses (sws) by God including clear signs proving his prophethood. It also includes the domination and victory granted to Moses (sws). This is why the word sulṭān has been described as clear (mubīn). This meaning of this construction is corroborated by many other verses of the holy Qur’ān dealing with this issue. God says:

He said: “We will certainly strengthen your arm through your brother, and invest you both with sulṭānan, so they shall not be able to touch you. You two as well as those who follow you shall triumph with the help of Our signs. When Moses (sws) came to them with Our clear signs...” (Q. 28:35-6)

At another occasion it is said:

Proceed then, both of you, with Our signs. We are with you listening. So go forth, both of you, to Pharaoh, and tell him: “We have been sent by the Lord and Cherisher of the worlds.” (Q. 26:15-6)

After a few verses the Almighty says:

(Moses (sws)) said: “Even if I showed you something clear and convincing?” (Pharaoh) said: “Show it then, if you tell the truth!” (Q. 26:30-1)


fatawallā biruknihī: he turned away arrogantly

Pharaoh turned away arrogantly gesturing rejection. Rukn here means shoulder and the preposition ba serves to make the verb tawallā transitive (ta‘dīah) as has been stated at another place:

Yet when We bestow Our favours on man, he turns away (a‘raḍa) and turns his face arrogantly (na’ā bijānibihī). (Q. 17:83)

Arrogance of Pharaoh and his people has been described at another place in these words:

But when Our signs came to them that should have opened their eyes, they said: “This is sorcery manifest!” And they rejected those signs in iniquity and arrogance, though their souls were convinced thereof. (Q. 27:13-4) 


Mulīm: blameful

’Ālam means to commit something that renders one condemnable. In this context it implies that that the arrogance Pharaoh showed was apparent. All those who heard this story later held Pharaoh responsible for his dreadful end.


al-rīḥ al-‘aqīm: unproductive winds

Winds that do not bring rain, hence useless. In Arabic, winds which cause rain are qualified with the adjective lawāqiḥ meaning valuable. Harmful wind is described as ‘aqīm meaning futile. It is dry. Cold winter winds are described in the following verse:

So We sent against them a furious wind in days of disaster. (Q. 41:16)

It will be discussed in detail later on.


Ka all-ramīm: ruined and rotten

The word ramīm refers to decayed pieces of a rope, wood, or bone. Cold and dry air destroys power, freshness, and life. Its coldness and dryness and its furious gales rend everything asunder. A similar statement says:

We sent against them a furious wind, on a day of violent disaster, plucking out men as if they were roots of palm-trees torn up from the ground. (Q. 54:19-20)


tamatta‘ū ḥattā ḥīn: Enjoy for a little while

When the miscreant Thamūd crippled the she-camel and cut its hamstrings, they were threatened by the Prophet Ṣāliḥ of impending doom. He told them that they did not have much time to live. They would meet the promised doom in exact three days. The Almighty says in Sūrah Hūd:

But they did ham-string her. So he said: “Enjoy yourselves in your homes for three days, this promise will not be belied!” (Q. 11:65)


fa ‘ataw ‘an amri rabbihim: and they insolently defied and ignored the command of their Lord

‘Ataw signifies showing disobedience and arrogance. When used with the preposition ‘an it gives the extended meaning of rejecting and ignoring something.


al-ṣā‘iqah: a chide or yell

It means chide or yell. The version of the same story in Sūrah Hūd employs the word al-ṣayḥah which again means censure. Wa akhadha al-ladhīna ẓalamū al-ṣayḥah (The mighty cry overtook the wrong-doers) (Q. 11:67). Some reciters read this word as al-ṣa‘aqah. They have in a way glossed the original. In that case this word would mean unconsciousness, as result of the cry/yell, as is clear from the following details of the story.


wa hum yanẓurūn: before their eyes

It covers a number of implications. The first meaning is that the punishment came upon them openly. They were left gazing at it. They observed it openly. They could not doubt it. Elsewhere the same story includes the following verse:

Then the cry overtook them with what was destined to befall, and We left them as rubbish of dead leaves! (Q. 23:41)


The following verse too supports this meaning:

And We drowned Pharaoh’s people within your very sight. (Q. 2:50)


Numerous examples can be cited in support of this meaning of the expression.

Another possible meaning is that the punishment struck them suddenly. The people had no time to settle themselves. Elsewhere the holy Qur’ān says:

We sent against them a single mighty cry, and they became like the dry stubble used by one who pens cattle. (Q. 54:31)

A third possible meaning of the expression is that they were bewildered. They could not understand what to do. This meaning is supported by the remaining details of the story.


famastaṭā‘ū min qiyāmin: Then they could not even stand on their feet

When they heard the thunder from the heavens, they were stunned and fell down. Their state has been described in Sūrah al-A‘rāf in these words:

So the tremor took them unaware, and they lay prostrate in their homes in the morning! (Q. 7:78)


They stuck to the earth shivering and died in this very position.


muntaṣirīn: defending themselves

They could not defend themselves. Imr’ al-Qays has used this word in a verse to connote the same meaning.


fa anshaba aẓfārahū fī al-nisā 

fa qultu hubilta ‘alā tantaṣira

(The dog dug his jaws into the limbs of the cow and I said to the cow, “For God’s sake, will not you defend yourself?)3


The previous comment that they could not stay on their legs has been further elucidated by this word.


wa qawma nūḥin: and the people of Noah

The conjunction wa (and) uncovers the meaning buried in all these stories. In the mention of the story of Pharaoh the meaning was clearly put. There it has been said: fa akhadhnāhu wa junūdahū (we caught Pharaoh and his army.) The meaning, therefore, is that we caught these nations the way we caught the nation of Noah (sws) earlier. This is strengthened by other parallels in the book. Sūrah ‘Ankabūt says:


Then the mighty cry seized them, and they lay prostrate in their homes by the morning. And ‘Ad and Thamūd [….] (Q. 29:37-8)

A little later the Almighty referred to Qārūn, Pharaoh, and Hāmmān. (Q. 29:39). The entire discussion then culminates in the comment: “Each one of them We seized for his crime”. (Q. 29:40)

Yet another similar passage reads:


And that it is He Who destroyed the ancient people of ‘Ad, and the Thamūd. Thus they were not left to live long. And before them, the people of Noah (sws). (Q. 53:50-2)


I.e. He killed and destroyed the people of Noah (sws). The verses under discussion too express the same theme. The two words used in different versions of the stories including akhdha (he caught) and ahlaka (he destroyed) give the same meaning.



Relationship of the Punishment Stories with the Oaths

The people of Lot, Noah (sws), Pharaoh, and ‘Ad find frequent mention in the holy Qur’ān. If part of a story is put briefly in one place it is detailed in another. The style is, however, different each time to avoid repetition and to keep characteristic brevity of the holy Qur’ān. Coherence and preciseness is carefully observed in all parts. The Qur’ān confines the stories to the elements that suffice as a warning and as an admonition. Even at times a very subtle beckoning has been considered sufficient, as is shown in the following verse:


Has the story reached you, of the forces of Pharaoh and the Thamūd? And yet the unbelievers persist in rejecting. (Q. 85:17-9)


This style of subtle allusions to known facts is visibly employed in Psalm. Such allusions give a very subtle reference to a story to prove some claims. If a person skims such texts, he fails to grasp the coherence. This is not a proper place to detail this issue here. However, we believe we must examine the connection of the stories mentioned in the Sūrah with the oaths sworn at the opening.

The Almighty punished the rejecters among these nations and helped the believers against them by employing winds or thunders and lightening, or a combination of both. You shall learn this in the following discussions. The initial oaths adduce winds and clouds. Under the next heading we will discuss this in detail.


The People of Lot (sws)

Allah sent a sooty wind over the people of Lot which later turned into a violent gale. It rained stones and pebbles on them. Eventually it turned their abodes over. At another occasion the holy Qur’ān describes this as follows: Against some We sent a violent tornado with showers of stones. (Q. 29:40) The holy Qur’ān also states: We turned [the cities] upside down, and rained down on them brimstones hard as baked clay, spread  layer on layer. (Q. 11:82).

The implication is that God unleashed strong winds which left their houses and roofs plain. Pebbles and dust covered them. This has been alluded to in the following verse: He destroyed the overthrown cities [mu’tafikah]. So that covers covered them up. (53:53-4)

The renowned Arabic lexicon Lisān al-‘Arab explains the word al-mu’tafikāt as follows:

1. It connotes winds which overturn the earth and leave it inside out as a farmer ploughs the field. 

2. It can also be taken to mean a great flood which strikes a piece of land and puts new layers of sand on the surface.

3. The winds which blow over a land and leave the earth covered with pebble or dirt is also called mu’tafikah.”4 


An Important Point


One thing is important to appreciate. Allegedly the Bible and the Qur’ān differ over the object used in the destruction of the people of Lot. It is, however, not true. The apparent contradiction owes itself to misunderstanding of the translators of the Old Testament. The translator of the Torah could not understand what struck the people of Lot (sws). They mistook it as fire or sulfur. On the contrary, it is quite clear that the object they rendered as “fire” is nothing other than thunder or lightning.

The Torah often uses the word “fire” for thunder and lightning. It is clear from a detailed analysis of the miracles given to Moses (sws) to be shown to Pharaoh. Exodus 9:23 reads: “The Lord sent thunder and hails, and fire flowed on the earth.”  While making a mention of this miracle, the holy Qur’ān uses a comprehensive term, ṭūfān, which covers all three; fire, thunder, and lightning. God says: “We sent a ṭūfān on them.” (7:133) We will discuss this issue in detail in the story of Noah (sws).

What corroborates my understanding of the Torah in this regards is the fact that in all the seven instances, where the Torah mentions thunders and hail in this context, it does not say that anything on earth was burnt. It has rather clarified in one instance that it was rain. God says: “When Pharaoh saw that the downpour, hail, and the thunder ceased, he sinned again.” (Exodus: 9:34)  The damages caused by rain and lightning have also been discussed in the Bible. Exodus 9:31 reads: “The flax and barley were destroyed because the barley was in the ear and the flax in bud, but the wheat and spelt were not destroyed because they come later.” Notice there is not a slightest indication of anything being destroyed and burnt by fire.

My understanding is also supported by the following verse of the Psalms: “Fire and hail, snow and ice, gales of wind obeying His voice.” (Psalms: 148:8) Obviously, “fire” refers to thunder and lightning in this context. The Bible mentions, in the context of the story of destruction of the people of Lot, that Abraham (sws) saw smoke rising from the remains of the abodes of the people of Lot. The smoke was nothing but black soot and dust rising from the doomed abodes. When viewed from distance it looked like smoke. The Bible also mentions sulfur. Genesis 19:34 reads: “God sent fire and sulfur on Sadūm and ‘Amūrah.” Here the word which the translators of the Bible rendered as sulfur connotes stones. The word they translated as sulfur is Ḥaṣba’. It stands for pebbles. A similar mistake has been committed by the translators of the Bible with regards to the use of brimstone. They thought it to be sulfur. It is quite clear from the Torah that the word in this context stands for stones. Job 18:15 mentions the destruction of the miscreants in these words: “Strangers will occupy his lodging and his house will be destroyed by ḥasbah.” It means his grave will be covered with stones. It does not make sense to hold that sulfur will be rained on his grave. This shows that Allah sent stones and a storm on the people of Lot. It covered their houses. If we consider the interpretation of the Torah as correct, it would mean that rain accompanied thunder and lightning.


Pharaoh and his People


The story of Moses (sws) and Pharaoh has been described both in the holy Qur’ān and the Torah a number of times. Both these sources sometimes fairly detail the story while at some others briefly allude to it. The holy Qur’ān does not mention the whole story in one sūrah with detail. It does not produce a sustained narrative. Rather it has treated the relic as a well-known historical fact on more than one occasion. On the other hand, the Torah mentions the whole story in a complete sustained narrative in a single instance. In this story different functions of winds have been described. This fact obtains a mere passing reference in the holy Qur’ān and is fairly detailed in the Torah.

Exodus 14:21 recounts the story in these words: “Then Moses (sws) stretched out his hand over the sea and the Almighty drove the sea away all night with a strong east wind and turned the seabed into dry land. The waters were torn apart.”  This storm continued to wreak havoc till the next morning. It stopped at dawn. The air pressure forced the sea water to the Gulf of Suez in the west. It dried the eastern gulf, or the Gulf of ‘Aqabah. When the storm stopped, the sea water rushed off to fill the space and the armies of the Pharaoh chasing the Israelites were drowned. This has been confirmed by the holy Qur’ān in Sūrah Dukhān: “March forth with My Servants by night: for you are sure to be pursued. And leave the sea when it is peaceful [wa ‘utrukī al-baḥra rahwan]: for they are a host [destined] to be drowned.” (Dukhān: 23-4)

In “wa ‘utrukī al-baḥra rahwan”, the word rahwan signifies relief. The relief in a river is obtained if there is no commotion in the air. Allah says in Sūrah Tāhā: “We sent an inspiration to Moses (sws): ‘Travel by night with My servants, and strike a dry path for them through the sea, without fear of being overtaken [by the Pharaoh] and without (any other) fear.’ Then Pharaoh pursued them with his forces, but the waters completely overwhelmed them and covered them up.” (Q. 20:77-8)

In Exodus 15:10, Moses (sws) praises his Lord in these words: “You blew your blast and the sea covered them.” Deuteronomy 11:4 lays out this as follows: “…and all that he did to the Egyptian army, its horses and chariots, when he caused the waters of the Red Sea to flow over them as they pursued you. In this way the Lord destroyed them, and so things remain to this day.”

In short, Allah rescued Moses (sws) through a violent wind. He killed Pharaoh and his armies with the usual function of air. This is how winds are employed by God miraculously. We see that two different functions, blessing and punishment, were accomplished through the employment of different kinds of winds.

The People of the Book have differed over the place where the Children of Israel crossed the sea. The majority of them think that they crossed the Gulf of Suez. I believe that they crossed the Gulf of ‘Aqabah. Some scholars, in the present day, hold that Allah got Moses (sws) across the sea by lowering the sea water and that He Killed Pharaoh and his armies through the rising of the sea water. I have refuted both these claims elsewhere.


(Translated by Tariq Mahmood Hashmi)









1. Al-lisān al-‘Arab, SWM.

2. Ibid.

3. Imr al-Qays, Dīwān, 70.

4. Al-Lisān al-‘Arab, ’-F-K

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