(Translated from Tadabbur-i Qur'ān by Shehzad Saleem)
This sūrah forms a pair with Sūrah Mulk, the previous sūrah. Thus there is no principal difference between the central themes and topics of the two. The difference lies in the style, nature of arguments and the tone adopted. Just as in the previous sūrah the Quraysh are warned of the punishment of the Day of Judgement and of the punishment which they will face in this world if they deny the punishment of the Day of Judgement, similar is the warning sounded in this sūrah. However, this sūrah is more stern in its tone.
Relationship with Previous Sūrah and Analysis of the Discourse
At the end of the previous sūrah, the Quraysh were addressed through the tongue of the Prophet (sws) and told: قُلْ أَرَأَيْتُمْ إِنْ أَهْلَكَنِيَ اللَّهُ وَمَن مَّعِيَ أَوْ رَحِمَنَا فَمَن يُجِيرُ الْكَافِرِينَ مِنْ عَذَابٍ أَلِيمٍ (67: 28) (Ask them: "Have you ever thought that if Allah destroys me and my companions or has mercy on us, who shall save the disbelievers from an afflictive doom?") The implication was that they should not be crazy enough to think that the Prophet (sws) was a poet or a lunatic who will soon be destroyed by the vicissitudes of time. Even if their desire was fulfilled, they still had no grounds for remaining content. The question that still remained for them is who would save them from the punishment of God! In order to support this very premise, a comparison is made in this sūrah between the preaching of the Prophet (sws), the Book presented by him and his lofty character with the wicked and corrupt leadership of the Quraysh. The purpose of this comparison is to show that soon it would become evident to friend and foe that those who were in the grasp of the wretched leaders were being led to ruin and those who were the guided shall attain success.
After this, the Quraysh are admonished through the parable of the people of the orchard that the peace and security they have today should not mislead them to think that they would remain with them forever. The God Who has blessed them with these has the power to take them away too. If they have no fear of Him, then they should remember that He can deprive them of these blessings in the wink of an eye and leave them to brood over the consequences.
At the end of the sūrah, the addressees are vehemently ticked off over a false notion: they thought that if ever the Hereafter came, they would be blessed with the same favours there, in fact even more. They are asked how they have regarded God to be so unjust that He would equate the righteous with the wrongdoers. At the same time, they are challenged that if they have any oath from God in this regard or if there are some people who have assured them of this, then they should present its evidence. In this very connection, the Prophet (sws) is assured that he should not worry about the vain talk of these people. When the upheaval of the Day of Judgement takes place, then they will come to know how far their dreams were from reality.
At the end, the Prophet (sws) is informed that these people have been caught in the long noose of the respite given to them by God. Strong is God's scheme; there is no possibility for them to escape. So the Prophet (sws) should wait for the decision of God, and should not follow Jonah (sws) in showing impatience in this matter as a result of which he had to face a severe trial.
Text and Translation
بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَاَن الرَحِيِم
ن وَالْقَلَمِ وَمَا يَسْطُرُوْنَ(1)مَا أَنْتَ بِنِعْمَةِ رَبِّكَ بِمَجْنُوْنٍ(2)وَإِنَّ لَكَ لَأَجْرًا غَيْرَ مَمْنُوْنٍ(3)وَإِنَّكَ لَعَلى خُلُقٍ عَظِيمٍ(4)فَسَتُبْصِرُ وَيُبْصِرُوْنَ(5)بِأَيِّيكُمْ الْمَفْتُوْنُ(6)إِنَّ رَبَّكَ هُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِمَنْ ضَلَّ عَنْ سَبِيلِهِ وَهُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِالْمُهْتَدِينَ(7)فَلَا تُطِعْ الْمُكَذِّبِينَ(8)وَدُّوْا لَوْ تُدْهِنُ فَيُدْهِنُوْنَ(9)وَلَا تُطِعْ كُلَّ حَلَّافٍ مَهِينٍ(10) هَمَّازٍ مَشَّاءٍ بِنَمِيمٍ(11)مَنَّاعٍ لِلْخَيْرِ مُعْتَدٍ أَثِيمٍ(12)عُتُلٍّ بَعْدَ ذَلِكَ زَنِيمٍ(13)أَنْ كَانَ ذَا مَالٍ وَبَنِينَ(14)إِذَا تُتْلَى عَلَيْهِ آيَاتُنَا قَالَ أَسَاطِيرُ الْأَوَّلِينَ(15)سَنَسِمُهُ
عَلَى الْخُرْطُوْمِ(16)إِنَّا بَلَوْنَاهُمْ كَمَا بَلَوْنَا أَصْحَابَ الْجَنَّةِ إِذْ أَقْسَمُوْا لَيَصْرِمُنَّهَا مُصْبِحِينَ(17)وَلَا يَسْتَثْنُوْنَ(18)فَطَافَ عَلَيْهَا طَائِفٌ مِنْ رَبِّكَ وَهُمْ نَائِمُوْنَ(19)فَأَصْبَحَتْ كَالصَّرِيمِ(20)فَتَنَادَوْا مُصْبِحِينَ(21) أَنْ اغْدُوْا عَلَى حَرْثِكُمْ إِنْ كُنتُمْ صَارِمِينَ(22)فَانطَلَقُوْا وَهُمْ يَتَخَافَتُوْنَ(23)أَنْ لَا يَدْخُلَنَّهَا الْيَوْمَ عَلَيْكُمْ مِسْكِينٌ(24)وَغَدَوْا عَلَى حَرْدٍ قَادِرِينَ(25)فَلَمَّا رَأَوْهَا قَالُوْا إِنَّا لَضَالُّوْنَ(26)بَلْ نَحْنُ مَحْرُوْمُوْنَ(27)قَالَ أَوْسَطُهُمْ أَلَمْ أَقُلْ لَكُمْ لَوْلَا تُسَبِّحُوْنَ(28)قَالُوْا سُبْحَانَ رَبِّنَا إِنَّا كُنَّا ظَالِمِينَ(29)فَأَقْبَلَ بَعْضُهُمْ عَلَى بَعْضٍ يَتَلَاوَمُوْنَ(30)قَالُوْا يَاوَيْلَنَا إِنَّا كُنَّا طَاغِينَ(31) عَسَى رَبُّنَا أَنْ يُبْدِلَنَا خَيْرًا مِنْهَا إِنَّا إِلَى رَبِّنَا رَاغِبُوْنَ(32)كَذَلِكَ الْعَذَابُ وَلَعَذَابُ الْآخِرَةِ أَكْبَرُ لَوْ كَانُوْا يَعْلَمُوْنَ(33)إِنَّ لِلْمُتَّقِينَ عِنْدَ رَبِّهِمْ جَنَّاتِ النَّعِيمِ(34)أَفَنَجْعَلُ الْمُسْلِمِينَ كَالْمُجْرِمِينَ(35)مَا لَكُمْ كَيْفَ تَحْكُمُوْنَ(36)أَمْ لَكُمْ كِتَابٌ فِيهِ تَدْرُسُوْنَ(37) إِنَّ لَكُمْ فِيهِ لَمَا يَتَخَيَّرُوْنَ(38)أَمْ لَكُمْ أَيْمَانٌ عَلَيْنَا بَالِغَةٌ إِلَى يَوْمِ الْقِيَامَةِ إِنَّ لَكُمْ لَمَا تَحْكُمُوْنَ(39)سَلْهُم أَيُّهُمْ بِذَلِكَ زَعِيمٌ(40) أَمْ لَهُمْ شُرَكَاءُ فَلْيَأْتُوْا بِشُرَكَائِهِمْ إِنْ كَانُوْا صَادِقِينَ(41)يَوْمَ يُكْشَفُ عَنْ سَاقٍ وَيُدْعَوْنَ إِلَى السُّجُوْدِ فَلَا يَسْتَطِيعُوْنَ(42)خَاشِعَةً أَبْصَارُهُمْ تَرْهَقُهُمْ ذِلَّةٌ وَقَدْ كَانُوْا يُدْعَوْنَ إِلَى السُّجُوْدِ وَهُمْ سَالِمُوْنَ(43)فَذَرْنِي وَمَنْ يُكَذِّبُ بِهَذَا الْحَدِيثِ سَنَسْتَدْرِجُهُمْ مِنْ حَيْثُ لَا يَعْلَمُوْنَ(44)وَأُمْلِي لَهُمْ إِنَّ كَيْدِي مَتِينٌ(45)أَمْ تَسْأَلُهُمْ أَجْرًا فَهُمْ مِنْ مَغْرَمٍ مُثْقَلُوْنَ(46)أَمْ عِنْدَهُمْ الْغَيْبُ فَهُمْ يَكْتُبُوْنَ(47) فَاصْبِرْ لِحُكْمِ رَبِّكَ وَلَا تَكُنْ كَصَاحِبِ الْحُوْتِ إِذْ نَادَى وَهُوَ مَكْظُوْمٌ(48)لَوْلَا أَنْ تَدَارَكَهُ نِعْمَةٌ مِنْ رَبِّهِ لَنُبِذَ بِالْعَرَاءِ وَهُوَ مَذْمُوْمٌ(49)فَاجْتَبَاهُ رَبُّهُ فَجَعَلَهُ مِنْ الصَّالِحِينَ(50)وَإِنْ يَكَادُ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوْا لَيُزْلِقُوْنَكَ بِأَبْصَارِهِمْ لَمَّا سَمِعُوْا الذِّكْرَ وَيَقُوْلُوْنَ إِنَّهُ لَمَجْنُوْنٌ(51)وَمَا هُوَ إِلَّا ذِكْرٌ لِلْعَالَمِينَ(52)
In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Ever-Merciful.
This is Sūrah Nūn. By the pen and by that from which they write that you are not, by the grace of your Lord, possessed, and indeed for you is a reward unending, and you are of a lofty character. So soon you shall see and they shall also see with which of the groups is the one who has been led away. Your Lord only best knows those who have strayed from His path and those who are rightly guided. (1-7)
So, give no heed to these rejecters. They desire that you be flexible, then they will also become flexible. And heed not every person who is swearer of false oaths, despicable, maker of evil gestures, who goes about sowing seeds of dissension, forbidder of good, transgressor, usurper of rights, cruel and moreover is rootless. This character is so because he has wealth and children. When Our revelations are recited to him he cries out: "These are but tales of the ancients." Soon on this snout will We brand him. (8-16)
We put them through a test just as We put the owners of the orchard through a test when they swore that they would surely pick the fruit of their orchard in the morning and would not leave anything. Then whilst they were asleep, a mover from your Lord moved through it in such a manner that it became like a crop harvested. At daybreak, they called out to one another: "Go early in the morning to your plantation if you are to pick its fruit." Then off they went whispering to one another: "No needy person should set foot in this orchard today." And they proceeded with resolve and determination. But when they saw it, they cried out: "Surely we have lost our way; in fact, we have been ruined." Said a somewhat balanced person among them: "Did I not tell you: 'why do you not glorify the Lord?"' Then they cried out: "Glory be to our Lord; indeed it is we who were the wrong-doers." Then they started blaming one another: "Woe to us." they cried. "We have been great transgressors. Perhaps our Lord will give us in its place a better orchard than it. To Him do we now turn." In such a way, shall the punishment come, and the punishment of the Hereafter shall be much greater than this. Would that these people only knew! (17-33)
Indeed for the pious, there are gardens of bliss with their Lord. Should We equate the obedient with those who transgress? What is the matter with you? What is this judgement you make? Have you a scripture in which you read that you will have whatever you desire? Or have you oaths with Us binding till the Day of Judgement that you will have what you yourselves ordain? Ask them: "Who among them will take responsibility of this?" Do they have some associates? Let them produce these associates if what they say be true. (34-41)
They must remember the day when a great tumult will take place, and they will be called to bow in adoration and they will not be able to do so. Downcast shall be their looks; ignominy shall cover them. And they also used to be called to bow in adoration when they were normal. (42-43)
So leave Me with those who are denying this Discourse. We are gradually bringing them from a place they know not. And I am giving them respite. Indeed, very truly powerful is My scheme. (44-45)
Are you demanding some payment from them so that they are burdened with its penalty? Or is it that they have knowledge of the Unseen; thus they are writing it down? So with patience wait for the judgement of your Lord and be not like the companion of the fish when he called His Lord in anguish. Had not the favour of His Lord found him, he would have remained in the wilderness in disgrace. So His Lord chose him and placed him among the righteous. (46-50)
And when these disbelievers hear the reminder, they look at you as if they would almost make you stumble with their eyes and say: "He is surely possessed." Yet it is only a reminder to all mankind. (51-52)
ن وَالْقَلَمِ وَمَا يَسْطُرُوْنَ(1)
Just as in the opening verse of Sūrah Qāf (50:1), the name of the sūrah is mentioned as Qāf, similarly in the opening verse of this sūrah its name is mentioned as Nūn. According to linguistic principles of Arabic, the mubtatadā' (inchoative) is suppressed here, which I have revealed in the translation. While explaining the opening verses of Sūrah Baqarah, I have already alluded to the opinion of Imām Farāhī regarding the hurūf-i muqatta'āt(the abbreviated letters at the sūrah openings). According to him, these are names of their respective sūrahs and are used to signify some meaning. Though the meanings of most of these letters are now lost, however, some of them have survived to this day. In order to substantiate his theory, one of the letters he has cited is Nūn that still signifies its ancient meaning: fish. By naming this sūrah thus, the allusion is to the Prophet Jonah (sws) who had been swallowed by a fish. Thus at the very end of the sūrah, he is addressed as sāhib al-hūt (companion of the fish). In verse eighty seven of Sūrah Anbiyā', he is also addressed as dhū al-nūn which has precisely the same meaning as sāhib al-hūt.
The letter و(waw) here denotes an oath. I have explained many times earlier in this tafsīr that in the Qur'ān such oaths are meant to substantiate a claim(s). Here, as shall be presently explained, three claims are substantiated.
First, it is an utter idiocy of the opponents of the Prophet (sws) to call him a person possessed. He is not an insane person; in fact, by the grace of God, he is sanest of all people.
Second, if these opponents think that all the efforts of the Prophet (sws) will be short-lived, then this is a false notion. There is unending reward for him both in this world and in that to come.
Third, he possesses a lofty character; hence those who are ignoring him by regarding him to be a poet or a mad person are only inviting their doom.
At various instances, the Qur'ān has presented itself to substantiate these claims. Thus, there is a strong indication that the verse وَالْقَلَمِ وَمَا يَسْطُرُوْنَ actually refers to the Qur'ān. Moreover, there is a narrative from Mujāhid that the word "pen" refers to the pen with which the Qur'ān was being written and the expression "that which they write" refers to the Qur'ān itself.
It needs to be kept in mind that teaching by the pen is one of the greatest favours of the Almighty. Thus it is said in Sūrah 'Alaq: (96: 3-5) عَلَّمَ الْإِنسَانَ مَا لَمْ يَعْلَمْالَّذِي عَلَّمَ بِالْقَلَمِ اقْرَأْ وَرَبُّكَ الْأَكْرَمُ (Read and the fact is that your Lord is the most Bounteous who taught by the pen. He taught man what he knew not, (96:3-5)).Earlier prophets of God orally taught their followers and it was very difficult to preserve those oral teachings. They would soon become adulterated or would be erased from memories. In order to protect religion from this danger, the Almighty taught man the use of the pen and writing. This made it possible for him to gain knowledge through writing instead of gaining it orally. Thus, first of all, he was given the ten commandments of the Torah written on stone tablets. The teachings of the later prophets were also written. Finally, the Qur'ān, the last word of God was preserved in such an elaborate manner that there could remain no possibility of any alteration in it till the Day of Judgement.
It is because of this importance of the pen that the Almighty has sworn by it. In my opinion, it does not refer to any specific pen; it refers to all the written record of divine teachings which was preserved through the pen ie. the Torah, the Psalms and the Injīl etc. The teachings of these sacred scriptures also attest to the Prophethood of Muhammad (sws), and also found in them are indubitable testimonies to his advent. I have already explained these earlier in this tafsīr.
Contextual indications show that the words وَمَا يَسْطُرُوْنَ (what they are writing) refer to the Qur'ān which was being revealed at that time and was being written by the Companions (rta). After an oath sworn by the previous scriptures, this is an oath sworn by the Qur'ān. It has been presented as an evidence to the veracity, civility and the prophethood of Muhammad (sws). What is implied is that the very exaltedness and loftiness of the discourse of the person who is presenting it shows that he is not a poet or a person possessed; he is, in fact, a messenger of God.
It should be kept in consideration that in response to such allegations of the disbelievers, the Almighty has generally presented the Qur'ān before them so that they can see and justly judge whether such words can be produced by some poet, soothsayer or mad person or whether they originate from God.
مَا أَنْتَ بِنِعْمَةِ رَبِّكَ بِمَجْنُوْنٍ(2)
This is the complement of the oath: All previous scriptures, and this Qur'ān which is being written bear witness that the Prophet (sws) is not a person possessed; he is, in fact, imparting people the same teachings as were imparted by all other prophets of God from Adam (sws) to Jesus (sws) upon whose veracity history bears witness. If these self-styled intellectuals are calling him a person possessed, he should not feel sad; he is not insane; in fact, by the grace of his Lord, he is the sanest of all people; it is only that these reckless intellectuals have lost their senses and are not able to distinguish between the sane and the insane.
The reason that the Quraysh called the Prophet (sws) mad was that their leaders were totally unable to understand from where the punishment with which he was emphatically and vehemently warning them as if he had seen it with his very eyes would arrive. They were worried that the extra-ordinary conviction found in his tone, the superhuman concern and anxiety found in his preaching endeavours and the heart-melting affection and sympathy found in his manner of reminding people was greatly influencing the masses. For this reason, they wanted to convince people that his anxiety and concern were not because there was any imminent danger of they being punished and that the Almighty had actually sent him to forewarn them of this punishment; the fact of the matter was that he was afflicted with hallucinations which made him imagine its coming from all sides. In order to further strengthen their claim, they would add that he was under some magical spell which had mentally deranged him and caused such nonsensical conversation from him.
وَإِنَّ لَكَ لَأَجْرًا غَيْرَ مَمْنُوْنٍ(3)
This verse states positively what was said negatively earlier on: foolish are they who regarding the Prophet (sws) to be crazy await his devastation through the vicissitudes of time; it is they who, on the contrary, are destined to be devastated; for the Prophet (sws) there is an everlasting reward; these arrogant people whose affluence has made them proud are facing an imminent punishment, and soon they will face the consequences of this conceit; contrary to them, the Prophet (sws) will receive a never ending reward for his adherence to the truth.
The word غَيْرَ مَمْنُوْن means "unending". Some people have interpreted it differently; however, this interpretation is not only against linguistic principles of Arabic, it is also against other parallel verses of the Qur'ān.
وَإِنَّكَ لَعَلى خُلُقٍ عَظِيمٍ(4)
The Prophet (sws) is addressed and told that just as prophets before him had exemplary characters, he too has a lofty character. In fact, this character of his is a conclusive answer to those who by regarding him to be a poet, a soothsayer or a madman want to convince themselves and their masses that soon his influence will die away.
At many places in the Qur'ān, the lofty character of the Prophet (sws) is presented to substantiate the truth of his mission. In Sūrah Shu'arā', the moral depletion of poets and soothsayers, their intellectual ramblings and the lack of correspondence between what they claim and what they practice is discussed in detail, and those people are rebuked who regard the Prophet (sws) to be among this ignoble group. They are asked what is the relationship of the exalted character of the Prophet with the character of these soothsayers and poets whose inner and outer selves are equally dreadful.
فَسَتُبْصِرُ وَيُبْصِرُوْنَ بِأَيِّيكُمْ الْمَفْتُوْنُ(5-6)
This is an assurance to the Prophet (sws) and a threat to his opponents. If they want to belittle his mission by regarding him to be a person possessed, he should show patience. Very soon, he shall see and they shall also see which of the two are with the person who has been led away: the believers who are led by the Prophet (sws) or the Quraysh are who led by Abū Lahab and Abū Jahal. The implication is that the time of judgement is near, and soon reality will manifest itself. Very soon all will see who had been led away by Satan and had thereby ruined their nation, and who had been shielded from the onslaughts of Satan and had led his followers to success both in this world and in that to come.
Here a law of God which has been mentioned at numerous places in the Qur'ān should be kept in consideration: the messengers of God decide the fate of their respective nations in this very world. Just as the assurance for the believers and the warning for the disbelievers found in the verse relates to the Hereafter, it also relates to this world. This is merely a restatement of what was said at the end of the previous sūrah in the words: فَسَتَعْلَمُونَ مَنْ هُوَ فِي ضَلَالٍ مُّبِينٍ (29:67)(soon you shall know who is in manifest error, (67:29)).
In the expression بِأَيِّيكُمْ الْمَفْتُوْنُ the letter بapparently seems incongruous withتُبْصِرُ andيُبْصِرُوْنَ. However, as per a common linguistic principle of Arabic, the word يُبْصِرُوْنَ encompasses the meaning of يَعْلَمُوْن and if I remember correctly, Zamakhsharī also holds this view and I regard this view to be in accordance with linguistic principles of Arabic. The بِأَيِّيكُمْ means بِأَيِّ الحِزْبَيْن.
The word مَفْتُوْن does not mean مَجَنُوْن (mad). It connotes its original meaning ie a person who has been led away by this world and by Satan. In other words, the Qur'ān says that those who are lured away in this manner are in fact مَجَنُوْن (mad), and the group whose reins are controlled by such madmen finally ends up in Hell.
إِنَّ رَبَّكَ هُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِمَنْ ضَلَّ عَنْ سَبِيلِهِ وَهُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِالْمُهْتَدِينَ(7)
This is a further emphasis and substantiation of what is said above. Since the Almighty knows full well those who are guided and those who have deviated from this guidance, He will deal with each of these in the manner they are worthy of. It is not possible that those worthy of humiliation will always be blessed with a life of honour and success, nor is it possible that those worthy of success always remain afflicted with the cruelty of the oppressors. This world is not a place where people are not being watched. It is the creation of a creator who has full knowledge of all things. It is essential that it culminate in a day of judgement. The implication is that the Prophet (sws) should trust God; He will not deal in the same manner with the righteous and the wrongdoers.
فَلَا تُطِعْ الْمُكَذِّبِينَ(8)
When the reality is what has been stated above, then the Prophet (sws) should not pay attention to the nonsensical talk of those who deny the punishment of rejecting the Day of Judgement and those who deny the Day of Judgement itself. If these people have no fear of both these punishments, then let them be as they are. If they are satisfied that if ever the Day of Judgement comes, they will be blessed with the same favours as they have been blessed with here, let them remain in the trance of this dream. This world is not revolving around their desires; it has been created by a wise and powerful being, and it is essential that one day His wisdom and justice manifest in their ultimate forms.
The word إِطَاعَةٌ here means "to be affected or influenced by something". It is used in this sense in both the Qur'ān and in classical Arabic.
وَدُّوْا لَوْ تُدْهِنُ فَيُدْهِنُوْنَ(9)
This verse unveils the real reason the Prophet's enemies are opposing him for. In other words, they have no doubt in the veracity of what he says; however, accepting it is against their desires; for this reason they are trying to vehemently pressurize him to soften his stance so that as a result he accepts some of their demands and they accept some of his. In this manner, a compromise is reached. The verse thus brings to light the fact that their opposition is not based on any sincerity with their own religion; it is merely an attempt to bargain their position with the Prophet (sws). As long as they have hope of succeeding in these tactics, they will continue with their efforts; however, as soon as they realize that this is a lost cause, they will lose the will and determination to continue with these.
Here a question arises on the language pattern used by the Qur'ān. According to linguistic principles, the verse should have been thus: وَدُّوْا لَوْ تُدْهِنُ فَيُدْهِنُوا; however, the word used is فَيُدْهِنُوْنَ. The answer to this question is that a different style has been adopted here; the inchoative (mubtadā') has been suppressed. The sentence actually was فَهُمْ َيُدْهِنُوْنَ. The meaning would then be: it is their desire that the Prophet (sws) softens his stance and then they too will soften their attitude. Examples of this style can be seen in the Qur'ān.
وَلَا تُطِعْ كُلَّ حَلَّافٍ مَهِينٍ(10)
This verse is co-ordinated to the previous verse, and once again the Prophet (sws) is emphatically warned that he should not pay attention to such people. The verse does not refer to someone in particular, as has been generally understood by people. This and the subsequent verses portray a graphic picture of the moral degradation and depletion of the leadership of the Quraysh. The purpose is to compare the lofty character of the Prophet (sws) alluded to in verse four with the character of such leaders of the Quraysh as Abū Lahab, Walīd ibn Mughīrah, Abū Jahal and Akhnas ibn Shurayq. By this comparison, everyone can decide what fate each will meet.
The fact that these verses do not portray the character of someone in particular and in fact depict the character of the whole leadership of the Quraysh is evident from various aspects.
Firstly, this verse is co-ordinated to the previous verse "pay no attention to the disbelievers", and the word disbelievers of course does not refer to a specific person; the occasion of this word shows that it refers to all the leadership of the Quraysh.
Secondly, the word كُلّ (every) shows that the character under discussion is that of the complete group and not of a specific individual.
Thirdly, in the coming verses, the word used is بَلَوْنَاهُمْ which obviously has a plural pronoun which shows that its antecedent is not an individual but a group of individuals.
Fourthly, the character traits which are portrayed here relate to the complete leadership of the Quraysh; if they are made to relate to a single individual, then this will require a lot of artificial effort.
Once these principles are understood, let us deliberate on the words of the verse.
The word حَلَّافٌ refers to a person who swears a lot. I have already explained in this tafsīr that this word never comes in the positive sense. Moreover, here it is qualified by the word مَهِينٌ (despicable). Obviously, only that person will swear a lot who has no regard for his own self-esteem. People who have an immoral or blameworthy character always remain in doubt because of their inferiority complex that unless they swear, others will not be convinced of what they are saying. Thus, it is mentioned at many instances in the Qur'ān that the Hypocrites would swear to camouflage their character. As far as the leadership of the Quraysh is concerned, they could not point out the slightest blemish in the Prophet's character nor did have anything to say against Islam based on arguments. The only means they had to fool their masses was to swear profusely that God forbid, he is a poet or a soothsayer, a mad person and someone who imputes lies to God.
هَمَّازٍ مَشَّاءٍ بِنَمِيمٍ(11)
The word هَمَّاز is an emphatic form of همز and means "maker of evil gestures". Making such evil gestures and verbal caricatures is a special trait of those who want to belittle someone in the eyes of others. Body movements, eyes and eye-brows are also employed for this purpose as well as words and sentences. Examples of the gestures and mocking sentences with which the Quraysh used to target the Prophet (sws) and poor Muslims can be seen in the Qur'ān, and I have also explained them at the relevant places of this tafsīr. Such traits are also referred to in وَيْلٌ لِّكُلِّ هُمَزَةٍ لُّمَزَةٍ (104: 1) (woe to every back-biting slanderer, (104:1)). The arrogant do not have the force of arguments to support their views; so they try to defeat the cause of truth with whatever evil means they can lay their hands on. In reality, how can such feeble weapons counter the razor-sharp sword of the truth?
The words نَمِيْمَةٌ and نمِيْمٌ refer to sowing seeds of dissension and back-biting. This is a reference to the activity of horse-trading and causing disgruntlement in people with which the leadership of the Quraysh would remain pre-occupied day and night, and for this they would use the weapon of back-biting. This was their greatest means of causing dissent and disunity among people.
It was through this means that they were also opposing Islam. They were vehemently engaged in spreading rumours and misconceptions among Muslims in order to cause dissension between them. The purpose was to destroy the seeds of fraternity and brotherhood sown by Islam and to try to make people form absolutely unfounded bad opinions about one another.
مَنَّاعٍ لِلْخَيْرِ مُعْتَدٍ أَثِيمٍ(12)
It is evident from the previous verses that the whole edifice of their leadership stood on lies, back-biting and humiliating others. In this verse, it is explained that these die-hard enemies of virtue who violate the bounds set by God are also ones who usurp the rights of human beings.
The words مَنَّاعٍ لِلْخَيْرِ refer in general to people who stop others from doing any kind of virtuous deed; however, here a special reference is to their stinginess: they neither have the heart to spend even a penny on the poor nor can bear seeing others spend on them; they want that others too should become misers like themselves so that they are able to hide their own miserliness. The Qur'ān has explained from various aspects this very trait of misers that they lead others to miserliness also so that they their own meanness remains concealed.
The words مُعْتَدٍ أَثِيمٍ imply that they usurp the rights of others and also do not fulfill the rights of others imposed on them. The word إِعْتَدَاrefers to the first type of sin and the word إثْمٌ to the second type. Thus these people not only are misers and want others to be misers too, they also have these traits.
عُتُلٍّ بَعْدَ ذَلِكَ زَنِيمٍ(13)
The word عُتُلٍّ means "cruel and ruthless". A person who is stingy shall necessarily be cruel. This is only the inner aspect of the traits mentioned earlier. It is about these people that the Qur'ān has said: فَذَلِكَ الَّذِي يَدُعُّ الْيَتِيمَأَرَأَيْتَ الَّذِي يُكَذِّبُ بِالدِّينِ (103: 1-2) (have you seen the one who belies reward and punishment?! He it is who drives away the orphan, (103:1-2)).
The word زَنِيمٍis explained thus by lexicographers:الملحق بقوم ليس منهم و لا يحتاجون إليه (a person who associates himself with the lineage of a clan whereas he actually does not belong to it and the clan also feel no need of him). This word has been formed from زنمة, which refers to glands that hang from the necks of goats, and their status is that of a redundant limb of the body. It is mentioned in some narratives that Akhnas ibn Shurayq belonged to the Thaqīf tribe but he claimed to belong to the Zahrah tribe. Similarly, it is known that Walīd ibn Mughīrah claimed to belong to the Quraysh tribe although he did not belong to it. People who want to associate themselves with superior tribes regarding their own lineage to be worthless are generally show-offs. Such people have a habit of flattery and sycophancy and putting up a false show of national pride to earn credibility in the clan. Thus such "impure" Qurayshites were specially in the forefront in opposing the Prophet (sws). To show their deep affiliation to their clan, they would try to instigate their people against the Prophet (sws) by alleging that his preaching was causing dissensions in the unity of the Quraysh. It is such show-offs that the Qur'ān has pointed out and said that besides immoral traits which these leaders have, there are some parasites who claim to be more loyal than the real members of the clan and have become the custodians of their traditions of the age of ignorance. Their evil nature has been further incited by more evil. The Qur'ān here has harshly commented in this manner on a character trait which necessarily finds expression in people who are afflicted with the malady of inferiority complex and lack of self-confidence.
أَنْ كَانَ ذَا مَالٍ وَبَنِينَ(14)
Mentioned in this verse is the reason for such a character. This verse is very subtle: if God had blessed them with wealth and children they should have shown gratitude and obedience to Him and should have become the proponents of the truth revealed by Him; on the contrary, they became ingrates and utterly defiant. It is mentioned at many instances in the Qur'ān in different styles that the purpose of God in blessing people with favours is to test them whether they become grateful or being overcome with arrogance start following Satan. It is in this same trial that the Almighty put these people but they badly failed in it and their blessings became a means of God's wrath.
إِذَا تُتْلَى عَلَيْهِ آيَاتُنَا قَالَ أَسَاطِيرُ الْأَوَّلِينَ(15)
This is a portrayal of the arrogance and haughtiness with which these people were overcome. Instead of seeking a lesson from nations who had been destroyed because they too had been similarly inflicted with arrogance and haughtiness, they make fun of them when their accounts are mentioned to them. They regard them to be ancient stories which have no link with the present. What they implied was that neither were they willing to accept the relater of such tales to be a prophet nor would they be over-awed by such tales; what relation have these tales to rejecting or accepting a prophet of God, they contended.
سَنَسِمُهُ عَلَى الْخُرْطُوْمِ(16)
This is the punishment these people will encounter in the Hereafter for their pride and arrogance. The word خُرْطُوْمِ means "trunk". Here it is used as a metaphor for the noses of such people because these people were opposing the Prophet (sws) only to keep their noses high. If someone becomes so infatuated with keeping his nose high that he is ready to deny the most obvious of truths, then this means that his nose is not merely a nose, he has actually enlarged and inflated it to become a trunk. It is for this crime that soon the Almighty will brand him on his trunk and everyone will see this humiliation he will go through. This is a very apt expression of arrogance and its punishment; its subtlety and eloquence are beyond words.
إِنَّا بَلَوْنَاهُمْ كَمَا بَلَوْنَا أَصْحَابَ الْجَنَّةِ إِذْ أَقْسَمُوْا لَيَصْرِمُنَّهَا مُصْبِحِينَ(17)
In order to highlight the hollowness of the character of the leadership mentioned above, a parable is recounted here to them. In it, they are shown that their authority which has made them so conceited and proud that they are making fun of the warnings of the Prophet (sws) has no foundation. Whenever the Almighty wishes, He can deprive them of it in the wink of an eye. At that time, they will mourn their wretchedness, and will even repent before Him but this will be of no use to them.
The antecedent of the pronoun هُمْ (they) in بَلَوْنَاهُمْ obviously refers to the people whose character has been discussed earlier. This alone, as has been indicated earlier, is a very clear indication of the fact that this character is not that of a specific individual; it is that of the total leadership of the Quraysh. Had only one person's character been discussed, the pronoun would have been singular.
Similarly, another important point relating to the language should be kept in consideration. In the expression أَصْحَابَ الْجَنَّةِ, the word الْجَنَّة has an alif lām which apparently means that the reference is to some specific people of the orchard. The defining alif lāms or demonstrative nouns (الَّذِي or الَّتي) which occur in parables are not meant to point to some specific entity, as has been explained in this tafsīr at a number of occasions. Their purpose is only to portray the overall situation so that the reader gets to know the complete picture. For this reason, there is no need to go after finding out the incident that relates to the owners of a particular orchard in Yemen or in Sana as has been done by our exegetes. This is merely a picture of the mentality and fate of the leadership of the Quraysh portrayed in a manner that no aspect remains hidden.
The words إِذْ أَقْسَمُوْا لَيَصْرِمُنَّهَا مُصْبِحِينَ refer to the confidence which the people of the orchard had in their success. They were very satisfied and content that their orchard had braved various phases of weather change and had become safe and secure from all calamities. In their opinion, the only thing left for them to do was to go there the next day and pick its fruit and bring it home. Consequently, they swore to express this intention that the next morning they would definitely harvest its fruit.
Generally, people have interpreted this verse to mean that while swearing these people did not utter the words إِنْ شَاءَ الله (if God wills). In other words, they were so sure of their success that they could not in the slightest think of anything that could cause any impediment in this. Although all the exegetes are unanimous in this interpretation, I personally am not convinced about it. Although the word إِسْتِثْنَاء can be possibly translated thus however the style adopted is not appropriate to convey the derived meaning. In such a case, instead of saying وَلَا يَسْتَثْنُوْنَ the words should have been وَ لَمْ يَسْتَثْنُوْا or something similar. The word إِسْتِثْنَاء is not a very explicit word for saying إِنْ شَاءَ الله . If it has to imply this meaning, then there must be some contextual indication for it. Here we find no such satisfactory indication.
In my opinion, the word is used in its literal meaning. They swore that they would necessarily pick the fruit of the orchard and would not leave any of them. In other words, what they swore was that they would pick all the fruit and leave nothing for the poor. Leaving some fruit for the poor and needy is a common age old custom found in generous and pious people. It is mentioned in the Bible:
Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus, 19:10).
It is while keeping this known tradition in mind that these people swore that they would not follow this tradition. They swore to lay emphasis on their statement otherwise such swearing was not needed in the statement.
Since in this parable the character of the leaders of the Quraysh has been highlighted by calling them مَنَّاعٍ لِلْخَيْرِ (forbidder of good), عُتُلٍّ (cruel) and أَثِيمٍ (usurper of rights), the oath sworn by the owners of the orchard is specially mentioned here so that the similarity between the two is highlighted. Readers should recall to their minds the picture of the stinginess of Abū Lahab and his associates portrayed by the Qur'ān at various places.