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Surah al-Dhariyat (4):
Qur'anic Exegesis
Imam Hamiduddin Farahi
(Tr. by:Tariq Haashmi)

‘Ād and Thamūd


A careful analysis of the detailed account of the destruction of ‘Ād as depicted in the holy Qur’ān does not leave one deny the fact that the winds sent on them worked along with winter clouds that always accompany thunder and lightning. Wherever the Qur’ān mentions their destruction it mentions dry clouds and winds as well as thunder. Consider this verse from Sūrah Aḥqāf:

Then, when they saw a cloud traversing the sky, coming to meet their valleys, they said: “This cloud will give us rain!” Nay, it is that which you were asking to be hastened! – A wind wherein is a grievous penalty! Everything will it destroy by the command of its Lord. (46:24-5)

Obviously these are the signs of winter. In this season the searing cold northern winds enter Arabia, spreading dryness, famine, and destruction everywhere. Sūrah Qamar puts this clearly: “For We sent against them a furious wind, on a day of violent disaster,” (54:19). The same thing is presented in Sūrah Ḥ-M Sajdah: “So We sent against them a furious wind through days of disaster,” (41:16). Such cold searing winds, as we have told earlier, appear in winter and this is the time they prove most disastrous. Laylā al-Akhīlah, the famous poetess of the pagan era, says:


Walā ta’khudhu al-kūmu al-jalādu salāḥahā

Li tawbata fī ṣirr al-shitā’i al-ṣanābirī


(Freshness of strong she-camels and cold winds of winter do not hinder the slaughter.1)


Another famous poet Farazdaq says:


Ba‘athtu lahū dahmā’a laysat bi nāqatin

Tadurru idhā mā habba naḥsan ‘aqīmuhā


(I sent for him a brown healthy camel that gave milk during searing winds of winter.2)


These cold wintery winds accompany layers of red clouds, thunder, and lightning. Arabic literature contains various proofs which can be adduced to provide a detailed account of these winds. Some important points in this regard have been discussed in section two.

Sūrah H-M Sajdah mentions thunder and lightning in connection with the divine punishment meted out to ‘Ād: “But if they turn away, say you: ‘I have warned you of a stunning punishment like that which overtook the ‘Ᾱd and the Thamud!’ (Q. 41:13)

This verse makes it quite clear that they were crushed through heavy thunders. Allah punished them through the clouds, cold winds and thunder. The actual destruction was brought through the winds. However, it can be said that Allah sent on Thamūd a kind of layered clouds in which a frightful lightning and a deafening cry was hidden. It is just like He sent thunder and lightning over the ‘Ād. Thamūd were destroyed by lightning as depicted in Sūrah al-Qamar: “We sent against them a furious wind, on a day of violent disaster,” (54:19). Therefore, a mention of the lightning has been considered enough. Clouds have not been highlighted though the subsequent events prove that clouds were also involved. Likewise, in the story of ‘Ād, winds have been frequently mentioned while clouds have not been mentioned except on one occasion. It is a characteristic of the Qur’ān that for the sake of brevity it avoids details. This fact has been mentioned in the fourteenth section.


The People of Noah


The present sūrah does not detail the story of punishment meted out to the people of Noah (sws). It merely says that Allah seized and punished the people of Noah (sws) just as He punished other nations for their sins. But the punishment story of the People of Noah (sws) as described in the Torah and other sūrahs of the holy Qur’ān makes it quite clear that they too were destroyed through winds. Allah says in Sūrah ‘Ankabūt: “We sent Noah (sws) to his people, and he tarried among them a thousand years less fifty: but the ṭūfān overwhelmed them while they persisted in sin,” (29:14).

Here the word ṭūfān is noteworthy. The word ṭūfān is derived from a root that means to encircle or to wind. Arabs use this word for whirlwind. A pagan poet Ra‘ī lauds his she-camel in these words: 


tumsa idhā al-‘īsu adraknā nakā’ithahā

kharqā’a ya‘tāduhā al-ṭūfānu wa al-zu’ud


(She (the she-camel) enters evening (sturdily) while the best breeds of camels reach us about to having consumed their last bit of power to go on. She is quick in her pace and familiar with whirlwinds and troubles.3)


Such terrible winds are called girdbād in Persian, cyclones in English, and Bagolās in Hindi. Egyptians worshipped a god of winds. They called it taifūn. Such winds are distinguished from others because they bring heavy rain with them. Thus they cause the sea water to rise. I myself have witnessed such a scene when living in Karachi. A hurricane started from the eastern part of the Indian Ocean and passed to the West. It caused a mighty rain. Ships crashed on mountains causing great causalities. The details of the hurricane which destroyed the people of Noah (sws) as described in the Torah and holy Qur’ān are similar to the one I witnessed in Karachi. Allah Almighty says in Sūrah Qamar: “So We opened the gates of heaven, with water pouring forth. And We caused the earth to gush forth with springs; so the waters met [and rose] to the extent decreed,” (54:11-2). Genesis 7:11 recounts this story as follows: “On that very day, all the springs of the great abyss broke through. The windows of the sky were opened.” The holy Qur’ān says: “So the Ark floated with them on the waves like mountains,” (11:42). People who experience sea voyage know that currents rise to the mountains only when a whirlwind is at work. So the presence of tides in the Noachian flood indicates that the tornado was already blowing. Mentioning an effect leads one to the cause. This literary technique has been applied in the holy Qur’ān in more than one place.  It has jointly mentioned the winds and the sea currents so as to show that both are interdependent. Both work together to create the meaning. For example the Almighty says: “He it is Who enables you to traverse through land and sea; so that you even board ships;- they sail with them with a favorable wind, and they rejoice thereat; then comes a stormy wind and the waves come to them from all sides,” (10:22).

Another important and noteworthy fact is that the words: “So the Ark floated with them” prove that winds were blowing. We know that the holy Qur’ān, at another occasion, has clarified that had God stopped the airs, the arks would have stood still. The Almighty says: “And among His signs are the ships, smooth-running through the ocean, as mountains. If it be His will He can still the wind: then would they become motionless on the back of the ocean,” (Q. 42:32-33). Elsewhere, the holy Qur’ān says: “Among His signs is this, that He sends the winds, as heralds of glad tidings, giving you a taste of His mercy, -- that the ships may sail by His command.” (30:46).

This explanation shows that the source of punishment for the People of Noah (sws) was a hurricane that brought heavy rains. Water from the sea nearby gushed and heavy floods sprang from everywhere. In this hurricane, the ark of Noah (sws) stopped at the mountain Jūdī. It is important to note here that the interpreters of the Torah have committed a blunder. Genesis 8:1 says: “And He made a wind pass over the earth, and the waters began to subside. The springs of the abyss were stopped up, and so were the windows of the sky. The downpour from the sky was checked.” Apparently it means that God sent normal wind to stop the cyclone but this is not true. The more probable interpretation is that it was merely the command of God. This we understand in the light of Sūrah Hūd: “Then the word went forth: “O earth! Swallow up thy water, and O sky! Withhold!” And the water abated, and the matter was ended,” (11:44).

This misinterpretation owes itself to the fact that the order was first recorded in Hebrew. In Hebrew, order and command and winds are expressed by a single common word. The holy Qur’ān has corrected this misinterpretation is this verse. The holy Qur’ān often mentions the misinterpretations given by the people of the book and corrects it. We have already discussed it at length.


Sequence of the Stories, their relation with the oaths and their Context


These stories are obviously related with the oaths sworn in the beginning of the sūrah. We have already explained this. However, it requires a detailed analysis. The stories of the Qur’ān contain different aspects of advice and admonition as well as proofs and arguments. This makes it possible to alter the sequence of the stories to suite the themes discussed. We will discuss briefly the order in which the stories have been put in this sūrah.

One aspect of the order in the stories described here is quite clear. The story of Moses (sws) and Lot (sws) very clearly contain both the glad tiding and the admonition. If we ponder over the issue we learn that the same is the case with the winds. They sometimes appear as a blessing and at another occasion as a source of punishment. This explains why the story of Abraham (sws) prefaces the rest of the stories.

It is followed by the story of Lot (sws) considering the fact that Arabs frequently passed through the trade routes where the remains of the destroyed towns were found. The addressees of the Qur’ān were therefore able to witness these signs with their very eyes.  The sūrah opens with an oath by the winds which scatter dust, then carry the burden. It refers to the function of the winds employed in the destruction of the people of Lot (sws): For they were crushed through stifling winds that covered their abodes with sand and stone pebbles. These were so heavily piled that the whole town was buried beneath them.

Furthermore, as has been explained earlier, the Divine statement that “On the earth are signs for those of assured faith,” has a clear proof in the story of Lot (sws). This has been fairly detailed in an earlier section.

In short, these are the four reasons that the story of Lot (sws) has sequential preference.

The next story is that of Moses (sws). Firstly, this story has been related many times in the holy Qur’ān. It contains many valuable signs and morals. Secondly, it has a deep connection with the second portion of the muqsam bihī, that is “and those that lift and bear away heavy weights, and those that flow with ease and gentleness” as discussed earlier.

There is point to be noted here. This story and the previous one start with the name of the prophets. It gives a slight hint that the aspect of blessing is prominent in these stories. The later stories start with the name of the nation of the respective prophets showing that the aspect of punishment is dominant. In this regard, ‘Ād and Thamūd are specially mentioned. This is well understood that the source of punishment inflicted on them (ie. By the rippled clouds) was rippled clouds. A little more deliberation will take us to the conclusion that the sequence adopted in the oaths is also kept up while relating the stories of parallel nations. In the mention of ‘Ād and Thamūd, the former has been preferred. The reason is that they were destroyed first. Another reason is that the source of their destruction was a combination of winds and the clouds.

At the end, comes the story of Noah (sws). It presents an everlasting portent of Allah’s blessing on all the nations and ummahs. The following verse hints towards this reality: “When the water overflowed beyond its limits, we carried you in the floating Ark that We might make it a reminder to you, and that bearing ears retain it,” (69:11-2). We have seen in the previous discussion that in this story, the earth, heaven, wind, clouds, boat and water, in short, all the signs of God have been put together. This quality has made the story a collection of internal as well as external signs and arguments. This makes this story correspond to the oaths by the winds in the beginning and also for the conclusion. However, it has been mentioned after the portents of the earth and the heaven along with the mentioned arguments. Thus in a way this story befittingly recapitulates the previously mentioned arguments.

Besides, the ‘Ād and Thamūd were given the rule on the earth later than Noah (sws). It entails that the story of Noah (sws) is mentioned after the 'Ad and Thamūd. Another example of this type of ordering themes is found in the following verse: “And that it is He Who destroyed the ancient ‘Ad [people]; and the Thamūd nor gave them a lease of perpetual life. And before them, the people of Noah (sws), for that they were most unjust and most insolent transgressors,” (Q. 53:50-3). Since this story is well known and famous the holy Qur’ān merely gave a passing reference to it. Also it has been mentioned as a final story.

Besides, it is an outstanding form of brief introduction and a change of style that illustrates that it has a greater importance for its special and permanent connection with the past events. Therefore, the word wa fī nūḥin has not been used as is the case with the story of Moses (sws), ‘Ad and Thamūd. That is why this story does not come with connection to the story of Abraham (sws).


Relation of the Passage 47-51 with the Succeeding Verses


Islamic teachings are based on three fundamental articles. These include tawḥīd, the Last Judgment and risālah. Because these three beliefs are strongly interrelated, these are often mentioned together. Sometimes the discourse suddenly shifts from one of these to another.

We have clarified in the beginning of the eighth section that all proofs for the Day of Judgment and the risālah basically appear as the necessary and substantial result of belief in the unicity of God. The first two are considered branches of tawḥīd. This general reality made it possible that proofs for tawḥīd have been given just after mentioning the reward and punishment to close the argument. The style of expression adopted here is so outstanding that the discourse is never broken. However, it continues shifting from one point to another giving a slight indication of the belief in risālah. The holy Qur’ān says:


Text and Translation 51: 47-51


وَالسَّمَاء بَنَيْنَاهَا بِأَيْدٍ وَإِنَّا لَمُوسِعُونَ وَالْأَرْضَ فَرَشْنَاهَا فَنِعْمَ الْمَاهِدُونَ وَمِن كُلِّ شَيْءٍ خَلَقْنَا زَوْجَيْنِ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَذَكَّرُونَ فَفِرُّوا إِلَى اللَّهِ إِنِّي لَكُم مِّنْهُ نَذِيرٌ مُّبِينٌ وَلَا تَجْعَلُوا مَعَ اللَّهِ إِلَهًا آخَرَ إِنِّي لَكُم مِّنْهُ نَذِيرٌ مُّبِينٌ t

With power and skill did We construct the firmament: We have boundless power. And We have spread out the earth: How excellently We do spread out! And of everything We have created pairs: That you may receive instruction. Hasten you then to Allah. I am from Him a Warner to you, clear and open! And make not another object of worship with Allah. I am from Him a Warner to you, clear and open! (51:47-51)


Explanation of Words and Ta’wīl of Sentences and Phrases


wa al-samā’a..............lamūsi‘ūn

This part of the discourse is joined to the evidences given above regarding reward and punishment. Thus the adduced evidence follows circumstantial demonstrations.


Bi aydin: with power

The phrase ayyadahū means: He lent power to him. The Qur’ān reckons it at another occasion that the sky is a symbol of God’s invincible power and strength and His abounding wisdom: “What! Are you the more difficult to create or the heaven? He has constructed it,” (79:27).


La mūsi‘ūn: having boundless power

God’s power is boundless. One cannot deny the fact that the maker of the sky has boundless power. He has vast choices. This becomes obvious if one observes the vastness of the sky, its height, its beauty, and its shore-less corners.


Farashnāhā: spread it out

Allah made the earth the floor for His creatures. Elsewhere the holy Qur’ān says: “Who has made the earth your couch,” (2:22). It declares at another occasion: “Have We not made the earth as a wide expanse?” (78:6) At another occasion, the Almighty says: “It is He Who has made the earth manageable for you, so traverse you through its tracts,” (Q. 67:15).


Khalaqnā: We created

The context and placement of the verse shows that the heightening of the heaven and the spreading of earth is also included in the meaning of creation (khalaqnā). In considering this aspect, the whole verse can be paraphrased as follows: He raised the heaven and unfolded the earth and created a countless number of benefits out of it. Likewise, He has made everything in pairs so that you know that the Last Judgment will be held and learn that He alone is the provider of every creature. He is above every creature. He is powerful, merciful and wise. This will be discussed in next chapter in detail.


Zawjayn: pairs

The word zawj implies two significations. Firstly, it connotes that one part complements the other. The one suits and corresponds to the other. Both cooperate to produce a common result.  It is clear from the following verse: “We made his partner suit him,” (Q. 21:90). Secondly, each part of the pair parallels and contrasts the other. For instance: “And have sent down water from the sky. With it have We produced diverse pairs of plants each separate from the others,” (20:53). At another place the holy Qur’ān says: “And We produced therein every kind (zawj) of beautiful growth,” (50:7).


minhu nadhīrun mubīn: from Him a Warner

Minhu in this phrase means: from him. This is not a preposition used with the word nadhīrun. The Arabic word andhara does not require a preposition. The verb attaches a direct object. It is said andharahū iyyāhū. A warned B of something. It is not said: andharahū minhū.

A number of such examples can be found in the holy Qur’ān. The phrase minhu nadhīrun mubīn occurs twice in this passage. It is not repetition. The phrase in both of its occurrences delivers a different message. In the first instance of its use here it implies encouragement. It shows that Allah has sent the Warner with His special blessing to stop you from ignorance and to urge you upon seeking His nearness. In the second instance, it has been used as a warning. It conveys that polytheism is a great sin which is unforgivable. So He sent a Warner whose duty is to inform you of the severe consequences of this great sin so that you could avoid it.


Creation in Pairs and Tawḥīd, Risālah and Day of Judgment

The belief in tawḥīd is very natural and clear to the human intellect. It does not need proofs. That is why most of the worldly religions teach belief in one God. It is a universally accepted reality. This wide universe and its contents distinctly witness His existence. It is impossible to deny the belief in tawḥīd. Conflicts and dissention are based on the way of accepting God instead of His acceptance or rejection. People believe in Allah but do not do so as they should. Consequently, they are considered as rejecters in spite of their belief in His existence. The holy Qur’ān has described this reality in these words: “And most of them believe not in Allah without associating other as partners with Him!” (12:106). Therefore, whenever the holy Qur’ān calls human beings to believe in Allah, it adopts such a style which negates polytheism. It aims at removing the basis of the evil. It also explains that tawḥīd, risālah and the Day of Judgment are a necessary corollary of belief in God. The holy Qur’ān adopts this manner of argument in brief as well as in concise descriptions. But finding no time to go into details we will lean on necessary points only.

Creation of everything in pairs has two different aspects. Both the aspects come from different meanings of the same word ie. al-zawj

1. The first aspect is that, the whole universe, in spite of its vastness and the differences of its contents, witnesses that its Creator is one and only. He, alone, is managing this universe. He alone is its occupant and owner. If each part of it had a different creator or manager, it would have been impossible to make these different things cooperate with each other. These different classes of creations could never agree to work for a shared result that is not to their personal benefit. Whereas on the other hand, we find all parts of the universe always ready for the service to the rest.

A group of atheists and philosophers think that the germination or development and completion of everything are resulting from forces working hidden within the things. Those forces create suitable parts for a thing and fulfill all of its needs. We don’t consider this to be the right thinking. If the development of everything is based on the movement or instruction of its inner forces, how can these forces make it compatible with other objects which are far away from its needs or knowledge? The compatibility of one part of a pair with its other part is clear evidence that their creator is an entity totally different and above them who knows their benefits and makes each part of a pair suitable for the other.

Furthermore, it should not be ignored that this world is a unit as a whole. Many of its aspects seem to be faulty and its existence is dependent on a complement entity that could bring it to perfection such that it is no more suffering from these faults and is able to fulfill its purposes. This very thing is called the Day of Judgment.

Looking carefully into this reasoning leads us to two great realities.

Firstly, it proves the existence of a powerful and wise creator, who made one thing a complementing counterpart of another so that both works united for the benefits of human beings.

Secondly, it supports that a resurrection and Day of Judgment function as a pair of this temporary world. For more detail on this aspect, see my commentary of Sūrah Shams.

2. The second aspect of the argument is that God has created numberless creations. The created things differ with each other in many aspects despite their unity of origin. This proves that there is a Creator who manages the system of this universe. He is taking care of the needs of these things. Necessarily He is alone and above these created things. That is why, in spite of the differences between the objects, He manages the system in such a way that none of the parts clashes with the others and the whole system of the world is working harmoniously.

As much as it proves that Allah has no partner to share His power, dominion, knowledge and wisdom, it also establishes that He will deal with everything on merit. He will not deal with the pious and sinners, and the obedient and the arrogant, in the same way. This is a clear and manifest argument for reward and punishment. This has been expressed numerous times in the holy Qur’ān. We need not detail it here. 

This argument regarding the creation of everything in pairs, in both of the aspects, leads to the conclusion that the universe has a creator who alone is managing the universe. It also proves that the Creator is kind and loving. His knowledge and mercy enshrouds everything. Everything from the heaven to the earth is in His shelter and possession. He has put the created things in service to human beings.

Since His mercy and power cover everything He is the only source of help and support. In His hands is all good. It is only by His permission that any harm comes to those who disobey Him and seek help from other than Him. This has been openly explained in many places in the holy Qur’ān. The Almighty, for example, says:

What Allah out of his Mercy does bestow on mankind there is none that can withhold: what He does withhold, there is none that can grant, apart from Him: and He is the Exalted in Power, full of Wisdom. O men! Call to mind the grace of Allah unto you! Is there a creator, other than Allah, to give you sustenance from heaven or earth? There is no god but He: how then are you deluded away? (35:2-3)

The implication is that how, then, are you turning away from Him, Who is your refuge and protector while you find His blessings abundant and His mercy boundless.

The best expression of His mercy is the fact that He sends messengers and prophets for the guidance of human beings. They are sent to warn people from the way of the sinners who turn their face from their real Creator and go astray. The main duty of the divine messengers, therefore, is to invite people to adopt the path leading to their real Lord and to admonish them of the painful doom nearing them every second.

A person rejecting the advice of these messengers, who come with clearly established evidence, leads himself into destruction. He himself is to be blamed for the unfortunate consequences. This is because firstly he flees from His Lord. Secondly, he does not accept what His messengers tell him. Thirdly, he rejects all the painful inflictions waiting for him as a result of his wrongdoings. The last three verses guide us to these three things. These invite to the belief in tawḥīd in a way that includes belief in risālah and the Day of Judgment. These verses also reveal that believing in the Divine Messengers and the Resurrection is a necessary corollary of belief in the most kind, powerful and wise God.


Coherence and Context 51: 47-51

The above proves that the basic thrust of these verses is to invite the unbelievers towards Allah, who provides them with food and shelter. These verses employ natural evidence. These also tell us that the disobedient to God and the rejecters of the admonition of His Messenger are awaited by a horrible treatment. These verses warn people that if they follow the path of such unfortunate folks, they would meet the fate of their leaders. The holy Qur’ān says:

But if they turn away, tell them: “I have warned you of a stunning punishment like that which overtook the ‘Ad and the Thamūd!” (41:13)

These verses also clarify that there is no God but Allah who alone provides His servants with shelter. He protects all, but is not protected. Everything in the universe evidences His blessings, power, knowledge and wisdom. So worship Him and listen to the advice of His Messengers who have been sent to ask people to follow the way of virtue and do good deeds so that He might forgive them. The same message was delivered by Noah (sws) to his people. The holy Qur’ān says in this regard:

We sent Noah (sws) to his People [with the command[: “Do warn your people before there comes to them a grievous penalty.” He said: “O my People! I am to you a warner, clear and open: “That you should worship Allah, fear Him and obey me: “So He may forgive you your sins and give you respite for a stated term.” (71:1-4).

If we carefully analyze this passage it becomes clear that it mixes warning with encouragement. This is not the only instance that the Qur’ān mixes warning and glad tidings. Indeed most of the stories of the Qur’ān combine the two. For example, the story of Abraham (sws) and Lot (sws) in Sūrah Ḥijr starts as follows:

Tell My servants that I am indeed the Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful; And that My penalty will be indeed the most grievous penalty. Tell them about the guests of Abraham (sws). (15:49-51)

Likewise, the stories of ancient people related here do not only warn the people but draw their attention towards the beneficent and merciful Lord.

After a mention of the three basic articles of faith i.e. tawḥīd (unicity of God), ma‘ād (Resurrection) and the risālah (the institution of prophecy), the discourse turns to console the holy Prophet (sws). This consolation also has some meaningful aspects. This consolation has been repeated throughout the holy Qur’ān. Sometimes it is put at the end of surāhs. Some examples have been cited in the commentary on the previous sūrah. On this basis, this sūrah also concludes in consolation to the Prophet (sws). Here it adopts a style which is so precise that it covers most of the important aspects in this regard. The Almighty says:


Text and Translation 51: 52-60


كَذَلِكَ مَا أَتَى الَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِهِم مِّن رَّسُولٍ إِلَّا قَالُوا سَاحِرٌ أَوْ مَجْنُونٌ أَتَوَاصَوْا بِهِ بَلْ هُمْ قَوْمٌ طَاغُونَ فَتَوَلَّ عَنْهُمْ فَمَا أَنتَ بِمَلُومٍ وَذَكِّرْ فَإِنَّ الذِّكْرَى تَنفَعُ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَمَا خَلَقْتُ الْجِنَّ وَالْإِنسَ إِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُونِ مَا أُرِيدُ مِنْهُم مِّن رِّزْقٍ وَمَا أُرِيدُ أَن يُطْعِمُونِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ هُوَ الرَّزَّاقُ ذُو الْقُوَّةِ الْمَتِينُ فَإِنَّ لِلَّذِينَ ظَلَمُوا ذَنُوبًا مِّثْلَ ذَنُوبِ أَصْحَابِهِمْ فَلَا يَسْتَعْجِلُونِ فَوَيْلٌ لِّلَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا مِن يَوْمِهِمُ الَّذِي يُوعَدُونَ

Similarly, no apostle came to the peoples before them, but they said in like manne: “A sorcerer, or one possessed”! Is this the legacy they have transmitted, one to another? Nay, they are themselves a people transgressing beyond bounds! So turn away from them: not yours is the blame. But teach for teaching benefits the believers. I have only created the Jinn and men, that they may serve Me. No sustenance do I require of them, nor do I require that they should feed Me. For Allah is He Who gives sustenance,- powerful, mighty. The wrong-doers are granted a respite similar to the one granted to their fellows: then let them not ask Me to hasten that! Woe, then, to the unbelievers, on account of that day of theirs which they have been promised! (51:52-60)


Explanation of Words and Ta’wīl of Sentences and Phrases 51: 52-60


Kadhālika: similarly

This word introduces a new independent passage. This means that it is a totally new discussion. This word ie. kadhālika beckons to the rejection of the Prophets (sws) by the people of earlier nations. The whole message can be paraphrased as follows:

Every nation that rejected the messengers raised among them did so after the fashion of the above mentioned people. Therefore, you do not have to worry over their deeds. Do not let the delay of domination of the truth overcome you and do not hurry towards the day of triumph.


Qālū sāḥirun aw majnūn:  they said: a sorcerer, or possessed

The comment of Pharaoh has been discussed above where the Almighty says: “But [the Pharaoh] turned back with his chiefs, and said, “A sorcerer, or one possessed!”” (51-39). The same words were used for other prophets of the past. The Qur’ān points out that the holy Prophet (sws) received the same response. The above phrase refers to the response of the addressees of the Prophet (sws).


Atawāṣaw bihī bal hum qawmun ṭāghūn: Is this the legacy they have transmitted, one to another? Nay, they are themselves a people transgressing beyond bounds!

The question here implies an exclamation. The conjunction bal draws the attention of the listener to the reality. The whole sentence can be interpreted as follows: Their statement that the divine Messenger is a sorcerer or possessed one is utterly against reality. It seems that their ancestors advised this to them and that is what they followed. They have been utterly blind refusing to use their brains. It also draws their attention towards the fact that what they say is based on their pride and ignorance.


Fatawalla ‘anhum famā anta bimalūm: So turn away from them: not yours is the blame.

Leave them for a considerable time so that they can revise their stance. Such a command to the holy Prophet (sws) does not mean that he should let them go astray but it contains the following pieces of advice.

First, they should be left alone for a short time so that their enmity loses heat.

Second, their rudeness should be cured sympathetically. Their matter should be left to God to decide. The holy Qur’ān asserts:

Therefore do give admonition, for you are one to admonish. You are not one to manage [their] affairs. But if any turn away and reject Allah,- Allah will punish him with a mighty punishment, for to Us will be their return; Then it will be for Us to call them to account. (88:21-6)

At another place, the Qur’ān puts in: “Your duty is to make [the Message] reach them: it is Our part to call them to account.” (13:40)


Thirdly, the messenger should not run after their addressees to make their wish to convert them into Muslims come true and should not lose his energy for their cause. This has been repeated many times in the holy Qur’ān. Consider the following verse: “You would only, perchance, fret yourself to death, following after them, in grief, if they believe not in this Message,” (18:6). At another occasion it warns him [the Prophet] in the following words: “So let not your soul go out in sighing after them: for Allah knows well all that they do!” (35:8).

For these reasons, whenever the Qur’ān orders the Prophet (sws) to leave the rejecters, it also conveys the following messages:

First, it threatens the rejecters.

Second, it promises divine help to the faithful.

Third, there is consolation to the Prophet stating that he has fulfilled his duty. He needs not worry about the result.

Fourth, it advises the holy Prophet (sws) to remain steadfast in his belief and to offer the prayer. It also advises him not to worry about the respite given them and to accept Allah’s decision as He is the savior. He shows the right path to whomever He chooses. He never hastens to punishment and gives a chance to those who repent over their deeds. Therefore, it is a duty of every Muslim and the messenger to show patience, and to tolerate the rejection and wait for the triumph of the truth.

The holy Qur’ān presents clear evidences in support of this interpretation. For example, it declares in Sūrah Muzzammil:


And have patience with what they say, and leave them with noble dignity. And leave Me [deal with] those in possession of the good things of life, who yet deny the truth; and bear with them for a little while. With Us are fetters, and a fire, and a food that chokes, and a penalty grievous. (73:10-13)


At another place, this theme has been put in as follows:

And turn away from those who join false gods with Allah. For sufficient are We unto you against those who scoff,- Those who adopt, with Allah, another god: but soon will they come to know. We do indeed know how your heart is distressed at what they say. But celebrate the praises of your Lord, and be of those who prostrate themselves in adoration. And serve your Lord until there come unto you the Hour that is certain. (15:94-9)

Sūrah Sāffāt says:

Already has Our word been passed before to Our servants sent, that they would certainly be assisted, and that Our forces,- they surely must conquer. So turn you away from them for a little while, and watch them, and they soon shall see! Do they wish to hurry on our punishment? But when it descends into the open space before them, evil will be the morning for those who were warned! So turn you away from them for a little while, and watch and they soon shall see! (37:171-9)

The whole of Surāh Shu‘arā’ explicates aspects of this reality. It says that although most of the rejecters do not accept the faith, Allah never rushes towards the infliction of His doom. So the Messenger should not be disheartened over the delay in appearance of divine judgment. To prove this point, the sūrah presents the stories of the past people. Each story is followed by the verse: “Verily, in this is a sign: but most of them do not believe. And verily, your Lord is the one, exalted in might, Most Merciful.” (26:8-9, 103-4, 121-2, 139,40, 158-9, 174-5, 190-1)


Wa dhakkir: and warn

Besides ignoring the previously mentioned group of rejecters, you must continue advising the general addressees. It is useful for them all. The wisdom of the continuous reminder to the generality is explained in the following verses.


al-dhikrā: reminder

Although the word is used for advice in general, here it refers to the reminder of the Day of Judgment as is clear from the following verse from Sūrah Ibrāhim: “And teach them to remember the days of Allah,” (Q. 14:5). We know that in the holy Qur’ān the arguments for reward and punishment are mostly followed by the verses which contain the word dhikrā as in: “Verily in this is a message (dhikrā),” (Q. 39:21 and Q. 50:8). Elsewhere the words tabsiratan wa dhikrā (there is a reminder and a message in it (50:8) have also been mentioned in the same context.


Dhū al-quwwatin al-matīn:  powerful, mighty

Due to the stop at the word matīn, we cannot judge its right declension (i‘rāb). Due to absence of any i‘rāb difference of reading and pronunciation of the ending of the sentence is out of question. However, the scholars have differed over the i‘rāb of the word. Some people consider it to be in the genitive (majrūr). They hold that it is an adjective qualifying the preceding noun al-quwwah (might). Actually, al-quwwah originally signified the strength of a rope. We know that the word matīn and the word ḥabl collocate. This makes it more probable that the word matīn here qualifies the noun al-quwwah. The word matīn is not used in the feminine form since it is formed after the formation fa‘īl which is used both for the masculine as well as the feminine gender. For instance, the holy Qur’ān says: “inna raḥmata Allahi qarībum (for the Mercy of Allah is always near) to those who do good,” (7:56). In this sentence the feminine word raḥmah has been described as qarīb which is masculine. Yet both agree.

Some other scholars think that the word matīn is in the nominative (marfū‘). Thus they make it an adjective of the phrase dhu al-quwwah (the one possessed of quwwah, strong). But this word (matīn) has not been used as an attribute of Allah. Therefore, it seems better to consider that a pronoun hū (his) has been left unstated. The proper construction would be al-matīn quwwatihī which means the one whose power is matīn, i.e. strong. Thus both the views on the declension of the word matīn do not affect the meaning.


Dhanūban: respite

Dhanūb is used for a filled bucket. An empty vessel is not called dhanūb. From this signification this word has been used for fortune. Abu Dhu’ib says in one of his verses:


La ‘amriki wa al-manāyā ghālibāt

Li kulli banī abin minhā dhanūb


(By your life! None can escape death. Every son born of a father has a certain share (dhanūb) in it.4)


‘Aqlamah b. ‘Abdah, in his laudatory remarks for Ḥarath, says:


Wa fī kulli qawmin qad khabaṭṭa bi ni‘mat

Fa ḥuqqa li Sha’sin min nadāka dhanūb


(You have honored every nation with your generosities and Shāsh has a right to enjoy a share from it.5)

In the above verse, the word dhunūb has been used for a short respite granted to the unbelievers. The holy Qur’ān says that whatever they want to enjoy from the short life, let them do, until the time is over. Time and food destined for them from Allah should reach them. Let them do whatever evil they want to commit. They have to face a dreadful doom. Notice how the word dhunūb has embellished the expression and lent great eloquence to it. The next verse supports this interpretation. Many other verses can be found in the holy Qur’ān supporting this point of view. For example, the verse:

But your Lord is Most forgiving, full of mercy. If He were to call them to account for what they have earned, then surely He would have hastened their punishment, but they have their appointed time, beyond which they will find no refuge. (18:58)

In this verse, the promise signifies the exact time of punishment. Similarly, dhunūb illustrates the life given to unbelievers by Allah. When they would have used up the bounties of Allah destined for them and they would have finished with what they wanted to do, their bowl will be filled ie. their time would be over.


Ta’wīl of the Last Three Verses


These three verses give a very important message. In these verses, the purpose of the creation of human beings has been stated. These also refer to the Last Judgment which is a necessary corollary of this purpose of creation.  These contain a glad tiding for the faithful and a threat for the rejecters. Therefore, under this heading, we will discuss these things connecting them with some other realities.

In the interconnection and coherence of these verses, important evidence to the necessity of reward and punishment is buried. They also clear the doubt of the disbelievers about the reward and punishment, who infer from the delay in the seizure that the judgment might never come. This aspect of these verses makes plain their relationship with the preceding and the succeeding passages. I intend to highlight all these indications and discuss these verses in detail.

The context of the verses clearly shows that their main purpose is to express the wisdom behind the delay in the seizure of the rejecters and the unbelievers. This theme has been clarified at different occasions in the holy Qur’ān. However, these verses provide the clearest evidence to the fact. In this context, they come as evidence to the fact mentioned in the previous verses: fatawalla ‘anhum to al-mu’minīn (So turn away from them: not yours is the blame. But teach [your Message] for teaching benefits the Believers. (51:54-5)

The detail of the argument follows. Worldly masters put their servants in service to them. They want them to be a source of provision of food, or power and honor for them. Allah has, however, not created humans and the jinn for such a purpose. He himself provides all the sources, including sustenance and wealth to His creatures. He does not need their help in any situation. But it does not mean that He has let the humans go free after creating them nor that He does not have anything to do with them. Such a view is sheer nonsense. There is no room to doubt that Allah has not created the human beings for His personal benefit. He is above receiving help from others. He has created them so that they can take benefit from His bounties, win His favor and enjoy the blessing of this world as well as the Hereafter. Those who look into the matter carefully cannot ignore that the perfect success for the human beings lies in worshipping God, winning His favor and obeying His orders for He has commanded them only that which brings success to them and lends them excellence and perfection. They have been created to achieve such excellence and perfection. The good things (khayrāt) are hidden. It is through the creation that they become manifest. The potential materializes into reality. This gives rise to further good. This way the created things develop and progress on the plan of excellence and perfection. The holy Qur’ān says in this regard: “If any do seek for glory and power,- to Allah belongs all glory and power. To Him mount up all words of purity.” (35:10)

This reality gives rise to two important points. Firstly, Allah never hastens to punish people for their misdeeds. He gives them respite so that those capable of bringing a change in them should use this opportunity. Allah says:

If Allah were to punish men for their wrong-doing, He would not leave on the earth a single living creature: but He gives them respite for a stated term. (16:61)

Secondly, when they do not abandon their evil activities even after Allah has given His warnings, they are necessarily annihilated. In this regard, the holy Qur’ān says: “Such were the populations we destroyed when they committed iniquities; but we fixed an appointed time for their destruction.” (18:59)

The Qur’ānic words dhū al-quwwata al-matīn combine two points:

First, humans and the jinn are not related to Allah the way slaves are related to their masters. Masters totally depend on their servants who are a source of their sustenance, honour and dignity. If their servants rebel against them, their high status is ruined. Allah is totally free of such need for help. His kingdom is built on His own scheme. Neither is He in need of any help nor does enmity of someone affect Him.

Second, the respite Allah Almighty gives to the rejecters does not mean that they are beyond His control or that He will not hold them into account or that they will always remain at large. No, they are always under His control. He can seize them anytime. Confident in His power and strength, He leaves them for a while as He knows no one can cross the boundaries He marks. This has been explicitly mentioned in the succeeding verse (verse 59).

In the light of above discussion, we can see that the verses 56-58 bring two things to light about the rejecters. Firstly, the rejecters are granted respite to think over their issue and change their behavior. Secondly, if they do not utilize the respite and persist in rejection of the truth they would be executed. Similarly, these verses give the Prophet (sws) two messages. Firstly, he should continue with his call to the faith. Secondly, he should not worry about the response of the rejecters. He should spend his spare time in prayer and singing hymns to God.

A parallel in the holy Qur’ān explains this topic in the following words: “Enjoin prayer on thy people, and be constant therein. We ask you not to provide sustenance: We provide it for you. But the Hereafter is for righteousness.” (20:132)

If you consider both groups of the verses (20:132 and 51:56-8) you will learn that both of them elucidate that Allah does not need any help from His human servants. Worshiping and serving Him is their duty and to their benefit. Similarly, at more than one place, advice has been given to offer prayer, to be attentive to God and to leave the matter of the disbelievers to Allah.  Here, it has been told that we all are servants of God and all the systems are working according to His schemes.

All this detail shows that in these verses some points of wisdom have been discussed. Some of them are given below.

1. The purpose of the creation of mankind and the jinn is that they should serve God.

2. Worship and service to the masters are different things. Allah requires obedience from His servants, not service. It explains the nature and reality of the lordship of God.

3. The purpose for which the mankind have been created and the blessings of God require that the rejecters are not caught imminently for their sins. They are given considerable time to mend their behavior to the truth.

4. The wisdom behind the creation of mankind and the divine attribute of justice require that reward and punishment are applied and that the truth be made to triumph over falsehood.

5. The faithful should not hurry for the triumph of truth over falsehood. They should rather remain content with Allah’s decision. Whatever happens is approved by the wise God. It is the demand of God’s wisdom, justice and blessing.

6. The soul of all the worship rituals is the prayer and the celebration of the praises of God for it implies submission (to God) as well as reliance on Him.

The central theme (‘umūd) of these verses is the necessity of the Last Judgment. The creation of mankind and the jinn for a specific purpose requires that they should be held accountable for their deeds one day. It also entails that this world is ephemeral and not everlasting. The humans and other creatures must meet an end. Therefore, the truth will triumph over short-lived falsehood. Several verses of the holy Qur’ān explain this reality. Consider the following passage:

How many were the populations We utterly destroyed because of their iniquities, setting up in their places other peoples? Yet, when they felt Our punishment, behold, they flee from it. “Flee not, but return to the good things of this life which were given to you, and to your homes in order that you may be called to account.” They said: “Ah! woe to us! We were indeed wrong-doers!” And that cry of theirs ceased not, till We made them as a field that is mown, as ashes silent and quenched. Not for idle sport did We create the heavens and the earth and all that is between! If it had been Our wish to take just a pastime, We would surely have taken it from the ]things nearest to Us, if We would do [such a thing]!6 Nay, We hurl the truth against falsehood, and it knocks out its brain, and behold, falsehood does perish! Ah! Woe be to you for the false things you ascribe to Us. To Him belong all creatures in the heavens and on earth: Even those who are in His [very] presence are not too proud to serve Him, nor are they ever weary of His service: They celebrate His praises night and day, and do not ever flag or intermit.” (21:11-20)

These verses clearly explain that Allah has been replacing the cruel and miscreants with other people, for He had not created them to have fun or make merry. He would not sit and watch them ignoring whatever good or evil they do and not call them to account for their deeds. Allah is truth and He loves the truth. Therefore, he distinguishes truth from falsehood. Everything except God is false. If anything truly exists, it is only because it garments itself in the truth by worshipping and submitting to God. All the respected angels live only on account of their worship to God and submission before Him. They worship Allah continuously and earn a right to living. One refusing to enter Allah’s submission exposes himself to destruction and makes himself a target of Allah’s wrath. All these things signify Allah’s greatness, His wisdom, justice and His blessing. They bear a threat for the cruel reprobates and a good tiding for the God-fearing and the pious.

The above discussion clearly shows that these nine verses were revealed for the consolation of the holy Prophet (sws). But along with the consolation, they carry a few other messages to him which follow:

1.      Gossip and comments by the cruel and miscreants should be ignored.

2.      To have patience and wait for the victory of the truth.

3.      Allah is wise, Just and Merciful.

4.      Giving the cruel a delay is a part of the divine wisdom.

5.      Allah has set up a specific time for everything.

6.      Allah has created all the creatures for a defined purpose.

7.      Essence of worship and reality of service are totally distinct things.

8.      The Last Judgment and resultant grant of reward and infliction of punishment is inevitable.

All these themes have been put in a striking sequence. Each among these proves and leads to the other. The discussion culminates in a mention of the theme of the sūrah, that is, to admonition and threat (takhwīf) so that the people can relent to their Lord.


(Translated by Tariq Mahmood Hashmi)




1. Ibn Qutaybah, al-Shi‘r wa al-Shu‘arā’ (Cairo: Dār al-ma‘ārif, 1967), 451.

2. Farazdaq, Diwān, 1st ed. (Beirut: Dar al-kutub al-‘ilmiyyah, 1987), 572.

3. Al-Lisān al-‘Arab, N.K.TH.

4. Lisān al-‘Arab, Dh-N-B

5. See Al-Ṭabarī’s commentary on Q. 27:9.

6. I.e. He is exalted enough for taking something as sport from this lowly universe.

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