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    Period of Revelation: The whole of the Surah was revealed at one time during the last year of the Prophet’s stay at Makkah. The traditions indicate that it was dictated by the Prophet the same evening that it was revealed.Major Issues, Divine Laws and Guidance:

    • Refutation of shirk (worshipping other deities besides Allah) and guidance towards Tawheed (Oneness of God).
    • Reality of the life after death and the Day of Judgement.
    • Clarification of self-imposed prohibitions by the Jews that were falsely attributed to Allah.
    • Allah’s commandments are not irrational taboos, but form the fundamental moral principles of the Islamic society.
    • Answers to objections raised against the person and the mission of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.
    • Comfort and encouragement is provided to the Prophet and his followers who were at that time in a state of anxiety and despondency.
    • Admonition, warnings and threats are given to the disbelievers to give up their apathy and haughtiness.
    • Prohibition of dividing the religion into sects.
    • Allah requires the Believer to declare: My Salah (Prayer), my devotion, my life and my death are all for Allah.”
     It is important to know that the above issues have not been discussed under separate heading; rather the discourse goes on as a continuous whole and these topics are discussed over and over from different angles. The discussion revolves around the major articles of faith: Tawheed, Prophethood and life after death, and their practical application in human life. Side by side with this, it refutes the erroneous beliefs of the Mushrikeen and provides answers to their objections. It also comforts the Prophet and his followers who were then suffering from persecution by the disbelievers.

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    this is the first makkan surah of the initial seven long surahs of the Qur’an. The Book itself was addressed in the first instance to the religiously ignorant pagans and polytheists of Arabia, who worshiped idols, were hopelessly unenlightened, and clung slavishly to the beliefs and religious traditions they had inherited from their ancestors. They were typically bigoted and narrow- minded. In talking to them, the Qur’an adopted a rigorous, patient approach, amassing all possible evidence and using all methods of persuasion to make them see the truth. It spoke at length about God, His omnipotence, and the proof for His existence and power, manifest in their own creation and their life, and in the natural world around them. It challenged, teased, and cajoled their basic human nature and common sense, tapping their latent spiritual instincts and urging them to shake off the fetters of paganism.

    The surah is distinguished for the recurring affirmations and direct instructions addressed to the Arab mind of the seventh cen- tury ac, that was reveling in religious ignorance and backwardness. This is clear right at the start as the opening verse says: “Praise be to God, who has created the heavens and the earth and ordained dark- ness and light. Yet the unbelievers set up other gods as equal with their Lord” (1). Despite God’s incredible and unique power, however, the ignorant and unenlightened continue to take other objects as gods besides Him, ascribing to them a comparable status. Following the opening verse, we find an emphasis on the fact that

    A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an

    humankind’s life span on earth is finite, and a day will come when all shall return to face God and account for their actions. God shall then stand as the judge of all. The praise due to the Almighty is enforced by the affirmation: “He is the God in the heavens and on earth. He knows what you conceal and what you reveal and He knows all that you do” (3).

    The surah also has a distinct feature in that God is frequently referred to in the third person singular, He, for example, in verses 97 and 98. This has the immediate result of capturing one’s attention very effectively, and one can feel the overwhelming and imposing presence of God, which invokes recognition of, and total submis- sion to, His majestic power. The Qur’an speaks of God with pure, direct awareness, and with unparalleled sincerity and reverence. It tries to pluck people out of the traditions they have adopted, shake them up, and rid them of the ignorance in which they have wal- lowed. In addition to these affirmations, we find explicit, precise, and direct instructions and briefings from God to His Prophet, Muhammad, on how to educate, inform, and argue with the unbe- lievers. The instructive word, “Say,” appears frequently; it is in fact repeated in the surah forty times, sometimes occurring as often as twice or four times in the same verse:

    Say, “To whom belongs all that the heavens and the earth contain?” Say, “To God. He committed Himself to mercy and shall gather you all on the Day of Resurrection; a day about which there is no doubt.” (12)

    Say, “What could be the greatest testimony?” Say, “God. He bears witness for me and for you. This Qur’an has been revealed to me that I may thereby warn you and all whom it may reach. Do you really believe that there are other gods besides God?” Say, “I do not so believe.” Say, “He is but one God, and I am totally guiltless of your polytheism.” (19)

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    The argument is eloquent, sincere, clear, straightforward and extremely powerful. It is being conducted by God on behalf of His Prophet. Clearly the surah was revealed at a time of tense and heated confrontations between the Prophet and the unbelievers of Makkah.

    Scholars are agreed that the surah, despite its length, was revealed in its entirety on one occasion. Although some doubtful and unsupported reports point out that parts were revealed in Madinah, this is due to a misconception that all Qur’anic passages relating to the People of the Book, Jews and Christians, belonged to the Madinah period. Likewise, some scholars are mistaken in claiming that zakah was implemented at Madinah, whereas in fact its implementation started with verses revealed at Makkah and the details of its application followed in verses received in Madinah. However, this surah was revealed on one occasion and the illiterate Prophet committed it to memory immediately and recited it to the scribes and other notable Companions who recorded and memo- rized it.

    We shall now continue to review the main issues raised in this surah, the first of which is the inevitable fate of transgressors and those who offend God, no matter how long that fate takes in com- ing. The actions of this type of people usually begin with their refusal to listen to the truth, and once they have listened to it they begin to deny it. When that fails they turn to trivializing and mocking it until they eventually have to make an all-out attack on it and on those who uphold it. All this with God choosing to allow things to take their natural course as a test of the tenacity and endurance of the believers, and to see how far the unbelievers are prepared to go in their transgression. Regarding the unbelieving Arabs, God says:

    Can they not see how many generations We have destroyed before them? We gave them more power in the land than We have given

    A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an

    you [the unbelievers], and sent down for them abundant water from the sky, and gave them rivers streaming beneath them. Yet We destroyed them for their sins and raised up other generations after them. (6)

    Thus, when nations and civilizations grow arrogant and oppressive, they fall apart, decline, and degenerate. The question here must be whether this divine law applies to those human societies that totally deny God and ignore His power, or is it also true for those human groups which in their way of living mix and confuse the truth with falsehood? The answer, according to the surah, is that the law holds for both. Let us read carefully the following words:

    We sent forth apostles before you to other nations, and afflicted them [the nations] with calamities and misfortunes so that they might humble themselves [to God]. If only they had humbled themselves when Our scourge overtook them! No, their hearts were hardened and Satan praised their deeds for them. (42–43)

    They misunderstood God’s grace and assumed that they had suc- ceeded in deceiving Him. However, before they could congr- atulate themselves for their hollow victory: “We suddenly struck them and they were plunged into utter despair, and thus was the power of the transgressors annihilated. Praise be to God, Lord of all creation” (44–45).

    Having studied the state of our Muslim nation throughout its his- tory, I find that the threats directed in this surah against the unbelievers are just as valid and real in the case of those who deviate from the truth:

    Say, “He has the power to afflict you with suffering from above your heads or from beneath your feet, or split you into factions causing the one to overpower the other.” Look how We demon-

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    strate the signs so that they may understand. Your people [Muhammad] have rejected it [the Qur’an] although it is the truth. Say, “I am not your guardian. Everything shall come to its end and then you shall realize.” (65–67)

    A person can indeed, at times, be benevolent and patient for much longer than necessary but when it is time to react, the reaction can be swift and devastating, and so it is with God when He decides to punish oppressive nations and redress injustice and wrongdoing.

    Some people, when reminded of a weak trait or a certain flaw in their character or behavior, rather than taking note, try to find faults with others. It is also true that when some people are advised to apply their own mental and intellectual faculties to understand and verify certain basic facts, they turn to asking for concrete proof or miracles. However, what good are magic and miracles if the mind itself is not receptive or if it is reluctant to appreciate the truth? This has been the cause of the difficulty believers come up against when dealing with cynics, agnostics, or unbelievers, past and present. They are simply not prepared to see beyond what they know already. The verse that follows puts it very well:

    If We were to send down to you [Muhammad] a book inscribed on paper and they touched it with their own hands, the unbelievers would still assert: “This is but plain sorcery.” (7)

    Another preposterous proposition they made was that Muhammad should have been accompanied by an angel to attest to his fidelity: “They also say, ‘Why was an angel not sent to him?’ But if We had sent down an angel, their fate would have been sealed and it would have been too late for them” (8). The point here is that if such an angel had been sent down to support the truth of the

    A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an

    Prophet’s mission, and they still refused to believe, their end would then have been decided and their annihilation would have been inevitable. Although others before them had asked for miracles of this kind, when they were given them, they persisted in their rejec- tion of God’s apostles and prophets. God goes on to assert that for a human to see an angel in physical form is impossible, because the human vision is limited to a certain range of electromagnetic waves beyond which no human can see. Indeed, even if angels were to appear in a form that humans could discern, doubt and uncertainty would always remain as to whether what was seen was human or angel. The verse puts it thus: “If We had made him [the apostle] an angel, We would have given him the semblance of a man, and would have thus added to their confusion” (9).

    However, despite the vehemence of their rejection of Islam, their hostility towards the Prophet, and their determination to dis- suade or even destroy him, the divine advice to Muhammad was always to persevere and continue with his own positive work to win more followers and supporters and persuade more of them to accept Islam. The assurance is: “Other apostles before you have been scorned, but those that scoffed at them were overtaken by the very scourge they had derided” (10). Being human, the Prophet was nev- ertheless disappointed and saddened by some of that behavior, and was always hoping for divine intervention to ease his burden. God again reassured him: “We know well that what they say grieves you. It is not that they do not believe you, but transgressors always deny God’s revelations” (33). The unbelievers were, in reality, guilty of offending against God more than they were against the Prophet, and by denying the truth of God’s revelation, they were being more hostile towards Him than they were towards His Messenger. The latter was being told to persevere because:

    Other apostles have been disbelieved before you, but they patiently bore up and endured persecution until We granted them victory.

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    None can change the edicts of God, and you [Muhammad] have already heard of the experiences of other apostles. (34)

    Nevertheless, the Prophet was hoping for an act of God, an extraordinary event that would confound his detractors and strike them dumb. However, God’s reply was: “But if you [Muhammad] find their aversion hard to bear, then seek a tunnel into the ground or a ladder through the sky by which you can bring them a sign” (35). Naturally, this was a challenge which could not be met. These were matters for God to decide, and He is the ultimate judge, who, if He wished, “would have given them guidance, so do not be foolish” (35).

    After reading these words, it would indeed be absurd and foolish to suggest that the Qur’an was not a divine book received through revelation by Muhammad, who had no hand whatsoever in its com- position or authorship. God rules this world according to set laws and norms that no one else can influence or change. God’s prophets and messengers had to carry out their missions to the full, no matter what opposition or hostility they had to contend with. People have a certain defined space of time during which they are free to react to God’s commands and decide whether to adopt them or not. Once that time has passed, however, it is God’s prerogative to act and deal with those people in the appropriate manner.

    The verses continue to explain to the Prophet that his people’s problem is with their minds that have led them to turn away from the truth. “Those that can hear will surely respond. As for the dead, God will bring them back to life, and to Him they shall all return” (36). Yet the unbelievers continue to flaunt their ignorance:

    They ask, “Why has no sign been sent down to him [Muhammad] from his Lord?” Say, “God is perfectly capable of sending down a sign.” But most of them are unable to understand. (37)

    A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an

    It is indeed curious how these people think. If the intricate and boundless systems of the universe and life are not sufficient evi- dence for the existence of God, how can such evidence be obtai- ned by breaking the very natural laws themselves and performing so-called miracles that contradict them? How can the incredibly accurate physical laws governing the movement of the galaxies and their countless planets and stars not be sufficient proof for God’s existence?

    When one looks at life in all its forms—human, animal, and plant—one can only be astounded and overwhelmed by the phe- nomenon itself and by the fact that it has endured for all these millions of years. The following verse gives the answer:

    All beasts roaming the earth and all birds flying with their wings are but communities and nations like you are. We have omitted noth- ing in the Book, and they shall all be gathered before their Lord. (38)

    Look at the amazing bird kingdom, for example, and how the mothers fly around the fields and forests gathering food in their own bellies to go back and feed their fledglings waiting in the nest. God has indeed perfected creation at all levels, but cynics, unbelievers, and agnostics continue to deny His existence and worship idols and other false manmade gods, while asking for fantastic proof of God’s existence. The surah comments: “Those who controvert our reve- lations are deaf and dumb; they are in total darkness” (39). The irony of the unbelievers’ attitude is that they claim they will believe the Prophet when the evidence they ask for is produced.

    They solemnly swear by God that if a sign is given to them they will believe it. Say, “Signs are up to God.” And how can you [believers] tell that even if a sign came to them [the unbelievers] they would not disbelieve? We turn away their hearts and their sight, just as they

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    refused to believe the first time round, and then We let them blun- der about in their wrongdoing. (109–10)

    The unbelievers went even further in their folly by asking the Prophet to rid himself of the weak and humble among his followers in order for them alone to have the privilege of being around him. On this point God tells the Prophet: “Do not drive away those who pray to their Lord morning and evening seeking His favor” (52), but tell them the good news that God is on their side and will grace and honor them:

    When those that believe in Our revelations come to you [Muhammad], say, “Peace be upon you. Your Lord has committed Himself to mercy. Any one of you who commits evil out of igno- rance and then repents and mends his ways, God shall be Forgiving and Merciful [towards him].” (54)

    With these assurances, the Prophet was able to carry on with his task of spreading Islam and calling people to God. He also received instructions on how to refute the slanders and lies the unbelievers were spreading about him personally.

    Say, “I am forbidden to worship the gods whom you invoke besides God.” Say, “I will not yield to your wishes, for then I would have strayed and become misguided.” Say, “I have received the veritable truth from my Lord, yet you refuse to believe it. I do not have what you urge me to give you; judgment is entirely up to God only. He declares the truth and He is the best of arbiters.” (56–57)

    Indeed, one cannot help but feel sympathy and admiration for the Prophet for the patience and strength of character with which he faced his staunch detractors. One could also feel that Muhammad was displaying genuine and true leadership qualities in wishing for

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    his people the same guidance, honor, and well-being he was wish- ing for himself. He is instructed to make it clear to his people: “Say, ‘Were I capable of giving you what you urge me to give, matters between me and you would have been settled once and for all, but God is best aware of the evil-doers’” (58). With this calm, persistent, and persuasive approach, the Prophet continued to execute his uni- versal mission.

    A close and careful reading of this surah, its assertions, and instruc- tive exhortations, has led me to ask: What more could miracles do to convince people of God’s existence and power? If all the miracles cited in this surah are compared with the positive and rational argu- ments and reasoning put forward in it, they cannot be more per- suasive. Let us read, as an example, the following passage:

    He [God] has the keys [of knowledge] to all that is unknown; none knows them but He. He knows all that is on land and all that is in the sea, and every tree leaf that falls is known to Him. Every seed [growing] in the deepest recesses of the ground and every soft or hard element is recorded in a perspicuous Book. (59)

    The unknown, which mainly includes things and events in the future, but a great deal of the present and the past as well, is totally obscured from our view, although fully accessible and exposed to God Almighty. One meets other people every day, works with them, and talks to them about all manner of things. Nevertheless, what do we really know about one another’s personalities or what goes on in one another’s minds?

    God, however, is Omniscient; He has total and conclusive awa- reness of the inner and outer truth about every human being as well as overall knowledge of past, present, and future events. There

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    are simply no limits or bounds to His knowledge, or, as the Qur’an puts it, “He is aware of everything” (al-Mulk: 19). God is also om- nipresent; He is everywhere all of the time, but not merely as an observer or a spectator. Indeed, God acts, and directs and controls creation in accordance with His wisdom and purpose. He is not an abstraction, a theoretical concept, or an isolated notion of the imagi- nation, but is proactive and in full charge of the affairs and destiny of creation.

    Now let us read on. “It is He that causes you to sleep at night and knows what you have done during the day, and he causes you to rise again [the next day] to fulfill your allotted span of life…” (60). Whether deeply asleep at night or working during the day, our lives and destinies are in the hands of God, with whom rest the final deci- sions. One day the end shall arrive for every one of us, and that is when we move closer to the Day of Judgment: “To Him you shall all return, and He will reveal to you all that you have done” (60). More fundamental truths are still to come.

    He reigns supreme over His servants. He sends forth guardians [angels] who watch over you until it is time for you to die when Our messengers [the angels] take your souls away, without fail. (61)

    We humans have no initial control over our lot: we can have no choice as to where and when to be born. We cannot determine the level of our intelligence, talent, and fortune. Even God’s prophets vary with respect to these endowments—some being more illustri- ous than others. However, when it comes to accountability, every one is judged according to his or her limits and capabilities. Then, “Our messengers [the angels] take your souls away, without fail. All shall then be returned to God, their true Lord. His is the judgment, and His reckoning is most swift” (61–62). Those ominous and fore- boding words are, however, immediately followed by the most courteous and heart-warming ones:

    A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an

    Say, “Who protects you against the dark perils of land and sea, when you humbly pray to Him openly and in private saying, ‘Save us this time, and we shall be ever thankful?’” Say, “God delivers you from them and from all other afflictions, yet you still take other gods [besides Him].” (63-64)

    The Qur’anic style taps people’s hopes and fears, their worries and their aspirations, in order for them to maintain a balanced view of life, their experience, and status in this world. The logical inci- sive arguments advanced in the Qur’an are far more persuasive and effective than any other pleading or polemic. The matter is quite serious and should not be taken half-heartedly or treated with fri- volity, so:

    When you meet those who scoff at Our revelations, turn away from them until they engage in other talk. Should Satan cause you to for- get, take leave of the wrongdoer as soon as you come to remember. (68)

    Similar instructions to the Prophet and his followers were repeated in verse 70, all of which remain valid for Muslims everywhere. Once conversations or discussions of God and religion turn frivolous or derisive, a Muslim should make his or her point in earnest and then withdraw. God shall be the ultimate judge.

    More instructions are given to the Prophet:

    Say, “Are we to pray to gods, other than God, who can neither benefit nor harm us, and relapse into unbelief after God has guided us, like someone lured by devils, bewildered, whose friends call him to the right path, saying: ‘Come with us.’” (71)

    The note of sincerity, earnestness, and concern is quite impressive. “Say, ‘God’s guidance is the only guidance, and we [the believers]

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    have been commanded to surrender ourselves to the Lord of all creation’” (71).

    The surah then takes us back to the past, recounting prophet Abraham’s encounter with the star-worshipers and how he tried to steer them gently to believing in the one God. Abraham went along with those people’s thinking and looked at a bright star in the night sky and said: there was the Lord, as they claimed. But the star faded away. He then turned to the moon and said the same, but soon it also disappeared below the horizon. He saw the bright shining sun and said, as they would say, that must be God, since it was bigger and stronger, but before long it likewise set and darkness fell again. Abraham thought that surely the real God would not disappear and leave the world or parts of it behind. If God were to abandon the planet Earth for only one instant, its orbital movement would get out of control and the oceans, which constitute three quarters of its area, would overflow, killing all land creatures. God controls the whole of the physical world and all of the forces that govern it. Any slight changes that could upset the delicate balance of these forces would spell the end of the world and life as we know it. God says elsewhere in the Qur’an: “It is God who keeps the heavens and the earth from collapsing, and if they were actually to collapse none would ever be able to hold them back in place except Him” (F¥~ir: 41).

    God can never be conceived to forget or relinquish His control

    of existence, nor would He abandon or neglect His creation, whose existence and continuity are totally and completely dependent on Him. It is also God who ordains the destiny of every soul and coor- dinates relations among all elements of creation. The Qur’an, citing Abraham’s experience of his search for the one true God, sealed the account with this conclusion: “I have turned my face to Him who has created the heavens and the earth, and to no one else, and I take no other gods besides Him” (79). It was left to unbelievers, skeptics, and agnostics to ponder these truths and accept or reject them. God

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    could not be made any fairer or clearer to them. Still, the success of God’s messengers in persuading their people and winning them over to their side varies from one messenger to another, as indicated in the following surah:

    And such was Our valid argument which We gave Abraham to use against his people. We raise whom We wish to higher levels, and your Lord is Wise and All-Knowing. (83)

    The roots of the Islamic faith go deep into history. The version delivered by Prophet Muhammad was not a new religion that had suddenly emerged in the Middle Ages, but a representation of the messages of all the earlier prophets who identified the one God and called on their people to obey and worship Him alone. Noah, for example, also advanced the same message, saying: “‘I have been commanded to be among those who surrender [to God]’” (Y‰nus: 72). Such prophets and messengers are mentioned in the Qur’an with the greatest of respect and reverence, and their experiences and examples are related with praise for their sincerity, hard work, and total devotion to God. Their central imperative was: God is true; God is one; all must surrender to Him. Verses 83 to 86 of al-An¢¥m mention by name eighteen of those prophets, followed by this comment:

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

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

    Those were the men whom God guided, and so [Muhammad] fol- low their guidance and say [to your people], “I do not ask of you any recompense for this. It is a reminder to all humanity.” (90)

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

    Unbelief, past and present, is the outcome of ignorance and arrogance, while religion entails proper and sober understanding of the reality of the true and only God, His power, and total submission and obedience to His order. This characteristic remains uniquely true of the followers of Islam. There are yet those who deny God’s revelation, which is not altogether surprising since they deny God’s own existence. This was the belief held by heathens and pagans in the past, and is today held and advocated by secularists, agnostics, skep- tics, and atheists of all schools and description. Nevertheless, God is too merciful and benevolent to leave the human race drifting aim- lessly without guidance or direction. Prophets and messengers are sent to show humanity the true way in life. However, the surah says that the unbelievers, “have not truly appreciated God when they have said, ‘God has never revealed anything to a human being’” (91).

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    The retort follows swiftly: “Say, ‘Who, then, revealed the Book which Moses brought as a light and a guide for people?’” (91). The reference here to Moses rather than to Muhammad em-phasizes Islam’s universal nature, asserting the belief in all God’s messengers and Books. As mentioned earlier Islam is the religion of eternal and universal truth, which the People of the Book, Jews and Chris-tians, were incited to forsake and neglect. Their scholars and elders did not look after God’s revelation properly, some of which they had lost, some they concealed, and some they unashamedly violated. “You [the rabbis] transcribe it

    [the Torah]

    on scraps of paper, of which you show some and conceal most” (91). Further-more, and as if that was not enough, they were determined to op- pose Muhammad relent- lessly, and fight him and his followers with such aggression and vehemence.

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

    All three divinely revealed Books: the Torah, the Gospel, and the Qur’an, are accessible to us today and can be studied and scrutinized as closely as one would wish. All that is required is that people should study them with open and fair minds. My own reasoning has led me to believe that the world has a Master and that this Master enjoins upon human beings fairness and benevolence and inspires them to avert oppression and transgression. I further believe that God will bring all people back to life in the hereafter to account for their actions and behavior in this life. The question that immediately springs to mind is: Which of the three divinely revealed Books has best expounded these truths and has more soundly defended them? Which of them has been most effective in winning the hearts and minds of people all through the ages? To help us answer these ques- tions, let us refer to the following verse:

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    Who is more of a transgressor than the one who ascribes lies to God or says, “Something has been revealed to me,” when nothing has been revealed to him, or the one who says, “I will reveal the same as God has revealed”? (93)

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

    If only you, [Muhammad], were to see the transgressors while in the throes of death and the angels stretching their hands out to them saying, “Give up your souls; today you shall be rewarded with a shameful punishment in return for the falsehood you were uttering against God and for the arrogance you have shown towards His rev- elation.” (93)

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

    Having sharply reprimanded the unbelieving ignorant people, the surah returns to affirm and assert God’s glory and power. It puts forward a series of fundamental questions. How does the soil acquire its fertility? How do trees grow and bring forth their fruits? How do crops and vegetation come about? And it goes on to give the answers. “It is God who splits the seed and the fruit-stone. He brings forth the living from the dead, and the dead from the living. Such is God, so how then can you turn away?” (95). This is true also for other phe- nomena in the wider universe: “He kindles the light of dawn. He made the night for rest, and the sun and the moon for reckoning. Such is the ordinance of the Mighty, the Omniscient” (96).

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

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

    Enlightening signs have come to you from your Lord. He that sees the light shall benefit himself, but he who is blind would incur harm to himself. [Say, O Muhammad], “I am not your keeper.” (104)

    What good will miracles do when the issue is so compellingly clear and simple? The sole objective of God’s messengers all through the ages has gone no further than trying to bring about this rational and sensible belief. Prophet Muhammad is then cited as saying: “Should I then seek a judge other than God who has revealed to you the Book [the Qur’an] fully explained?” (114). Indeed, the learned elders among the People of the Book, within their hearts, realize and appreciate the power of the Qur’an and the veracity of its propo- nent: “Those to whom We gave the Book know well that it [the Qur’an] is revealed by your Lord with the truth, and you should therefore have no doubts” (114).

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

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

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

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

    surah 6 • Al-An¢¥m

    The Israelites, after the decline and destruction of the earlier Arab communities of ¢®d, Tham‰d, Madyan, and others, inherited the custodianship of God’s revelation. However, with the advent of Muhammad and Islam the task fell back onto the Arabs, who are told: “This is a blessed Book We have revealed. Observe it and fear God, so that you may find mercy” (155). This should urge the Arabs to understand fully and appreciate the responsibility they are shoul- dering, having received the Qur’anic revelation. God rewards people according to their efforts, without any compulsion or coer- cion: “Your Lord would not destroy nations without just cause and due warning” (131). Even so, people will continue to argue and try to find excuses for and ways around their faults and misdemeanors, falsely and erroneously ascribing them to the will of God. God puts it in the following way:

    The idolaters will say, “Had God wished it, neither we nor our fathers would have taken other gods besides Him; nor would we have made anything unlawful.” Those who had come before them did likewise reject [the Truth] until they had a taste of Our scourge. Say, “You have no proof that you can put before us, you have noth- ing but conjecture and you are nothing but perjurers.” (148)

    Before that, God made it clear that He would further guide and help those who opened their hearts to the Truth and believed in it, but those who did not would be downcast and dejected, and, “thus shall God bring punishment on those who do not believe” (125). The inference is that God will not offer guidance to those who reject faith outright, but will help those who are receptive and willing to be guided. This was put very graphically and suc- cinctly as follows:

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

    A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an

    God’s will in this context does not preempt one’s choice to believe or not to believe, because the verse continues to say: “Thus shall God bring punishment on those who do not believe” (125).

    Every man and every woman shall stand up to be judged, to review their record in this life and account for their actions. Even so, this accountability will have no meaning or justification if the person was helpless, powerless, or restricted. Belief and faith, how- ever, are not merely to be proclaimed. Believers are required to give their beliefs real expression in their obedience to God’s com- mands in all walks of life. The surah points out that the ignorant pagans invented certain forms of religious practise and worship that had no basis of truth or logic. They created the very gods to whom they turned for guidance and judgment, and they built their arguments and religious doctrines on false and nonsensical premi- ses. God has warned against this very strongly in the surah, saying: “The devils will inspire their cronies to argue with you, but if you obey them you shall also become idolaters” (121); also: “Who is more wicked than the one who invents lies about God in order to mislead others through sheer ignorance? God does not guide trans- gressors” (144).

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

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

    1. You should not take other gods besides Him.
    2. Show kindness towards parents.
    3. You should not kill your children for fear of destitution, because We provide for you and for them.
    4. Avoid foul sins, overt and covert.
    5. Do not kill a soul that God has forbidden to be killed,

    surah 6 • Al-An¢¥m

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

    • You have no right to any of an orphan’s possessions, except what is required for his [her] own wellbeing, until he [she] comes of age.
    • Observe fairness and justice in weights and measures; We never burden a soul with more than it can bear.
    • Judge fairly and testify to the truth, even against your own kinsmen.
    • Be true to the covenant of God. This is what He urges you to do, so that you may take heed.
    • And, this is My path, a straight one. Follow it and do not fol- low other paths, for these shall lead you away from it. This is what He urges you to do, so that you may be fearful of God. (151–53)

    On hearing these verses, an Arab elder is reported to have com- mented, “Even if this were not a religion, then it is certainly highly ethical and fair.” False religious belief is usually the product of fatuous ideas and absurd myths presented as supernatural and myste- rious.

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

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

    A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an

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

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

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

    The Prophet is reported to have spoken of cataclysmic events to occur in the universe towards the end of the world, which will cause the sun to rise in the west. At that moment it will be too late for regrets and repentance. What use is it for unbelievers to declare their faith when they are drowning or when they are in the throes of death? The question still remains whether the Arab nation of today will revert to Islam and save itself before it is too late. The Arabs are notorious for internecine conflict and division. Their appetite for such strife seems to be insatiable, thus inviting weakness and dissolu- tion upon themselves. The surah warns the Prophet that he should: “Have nothing to do with those who have split up their religion into sects. Their fate is up to God, who will show them what they had been doing” (159).

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

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

    surah 6 • Al-An¢¥m

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

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

    These verses point to the fact that Muhammad had led a life of total devotion and dedication to God and His message, and that he had done his utmost to deliver, uphold, and disseminate it faithfully and diligently.

    The last statement in the surah is an affirmation of the nature of life in this world as a trial, a continuous test, from beginning to end. Human beings are being challenged and tested in their relations with other fellow humans as well as in their behavior towards and treat- ment of all that is around them. The result of this grand test shall be revealed later in the hereafter. Life here is a passing phase; it has no permanency. Nevertheless, what happens in this life is crucial for the final judgment.

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

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    الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ الَّذِي خَلَقَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ وَجَعَلَ الظُّلُمَاتِ وَالنُّورَ ۖ ثُمَّ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا بِرَبِّهِمْ يَعْدِلُونَ

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    هُوَ الَّذِي خَلَقَكُم مِّن طِينٍ ثُمَّ قَضَىٰ أَجَلًا ۖ وَأَجَلٌ مُّسَمًّى عِندَهُ ۖ ثُمَّ أَنتُمْ تَمْتَرُونَ

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    وَهُوَ اللَّهُ فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَفِي الْأَرْضِ ۖ يَعْلَمُ سِرَّكُمْ وَجَهْرَكُمْ وَيَعْلَمُ مَا تَكْسِبُونَ

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    وَمَا تَأْتِيهِم مِّنْ آيَةٍ مِّنْ آيَاتِ رَبِّهِمْ إِلَّا كَانُوا عَنْهَا مُعْرِضِينَ

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    فَقَدْ كَذَّبُوا بِالْحَقِّ لَمَّا جَاءَهُمْ ۖ فَسَوْفَ يَأْتِيهِمْ أَنبَاءُ مَا كَانُوا بِهِ يَسْتَهْزِئُونَ

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    أَلَمْ يَرَوْا كَمْ أَهْلَكْنَا مِن قَبْلِهِم مِّن قَرْنٍ مَّكَّنَّاهُمْ فِي الْأَرْضِ مَا لَمْ نُمَكِّن لَّكُمْ وَأَرْسَلْنَا السَّمَاءَ عَلَيْهِم مِّدْرَارًا وَجَعَلْنَا الْأَنْهَارَ تَجْرِي مِن تَحْتِهِمْ فَأَهْلَكْنَاهُم بِذُنُوبِهِمْ وَأَنشَأْنَا مِن بَعْدِهِمْ قَرْنًا آخَرِينَ

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    وَلَوْ نَزَّلْنَا عَلَيْكَ كِتَابًا فِي قِرْطَاسٍ فَلَمَسُوهُ بِأَيْدِيهِمْ لَقَالَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا إِنْ هَٰذَا إِلَّا سِحْرٌ مُّبِينٌ

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    وَقَالُوا لَوْلَا أُنزِلَ عَلَيْهِ مَلَكٌ ۖ وَلَوْ أَنزَلْنَا مَلَكًا لَّقُضِيَ الْأَمْرُ ثُمَّ لَا يُنظَرُونَ

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    وَلَوْ جَعَلْنَاهُ مَلَكًا لَّجَعَلْنَاهُ رَجُلًا وَلَلَبَسْنَا عَلَيْهِم مَّا يَلْبِسُونَ


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