Central Theme and Relationship with the Previous Sūrah
The Qur'ānic name of this sūrah is the same as that of the previous one, and its introductory passage is also the same viz a viz the implied meaning as that of the introductory passage of the previous sūrah. However, the difference between the two sūrahs is that in the previous onearguments in favour of monotheism are prominent, while in this one, the element of warning is prominent. If the whole sūrah is reflected upon, it will become evident that in it the Qur'ān and the prophethood of Muhammad (sws) are validated through the premise that the fate of which the Qur'ān is informing its rejecters is something which is certain to take place both in this world and the Hereafter. History bears witness to it and it is also a requisite of sense and human nature. In other words, it can also be stated that the warning sounded in the last verse of the previous sūrah: فَاصْفَحْ عَنْهُمْ وَقُلْ سَلَامٌ فَسَوْفَ يَعْلَمُونَ (43: 89) (ignore them and say: "peace be to you"; so soon they shall come to know, (43:89)) is substantiated and corroborated in this sūrah. In the subsequent sūrahs of the group, this subject will become even more prominent. So much so, the Madīnan sūrahs at the end of the group declare that the Quraysh will be stripped of their position and the believers will be divinely helped and will reign supreme in the land.
Analysis of the Discourse
Verses (1-16): A reference to the exalted and majestic nature of the Qur'ān: it was revealed in the blessed Night of Destiny (ليلة القدر) in which affairs are decided at the behest of God. The Qur'ān has been revealed as a requisite of mercy and providence of the God Who hears and knows all, and apart from Whom there is no god. The purpose of its revelation is to warn people who are leading their lives in indifference and apathy to wake up from their slumber and prepare for the day which is to come. There were people in those times who said that they would only regard Muhammad (sws) to be a true prophet if they were shown the promised punishment. Such people are warned that the faith which is professed after observing this punishment is of no benefit. If the punishment is being deferred, it does not mean that its promise is merely a threat. If God grants respite to people in this world, it does not mean that they will be saved from His torment. They shall necessarily be punished in the Hereafter and a grave punishment it shall be.
Verses (17-33):The example of the Pharaoh and his people is cited to the Quraysh so that they can learn a lesson. Moses (sws) warned them of the Hereafter but they remained afflicted with the arrogance produced in them by their wealth and status. Once the truth had been conclusively conveyed to them, the Almighty destroyed them. Their country as well as their wealth and assets were occupied by others and the Israelites who were suffering in their yoke of slavery were emancipated and became a great nation of the world.
Verses (34-67):The real reason behind the arrogance and haughtiness of the Quraysh is alluded to: they do not believe in any concept of afterlife. For this reason, its warnings seem a piece of jest to them. In order to admonish them, logical as well as historical arguments in favour of reward and punishment are briefly referred to. It is mentioned in detail that God will not deal equally between those who spent their lives in indifference to the Hereafter and those who did so while having full faith in it. The Almighty will deal with them differently, and this dealing will be totally based on justice. The disbelievers will suffer the punishment for their ingratitude, and the believers will be duly rewarded for their virtues – and this is real success and not the one by which these naïve people are lured away.
Verses (58-59):This is the closing section of the sūrah. A reference is made to the great favour done by the Almighty to the Quraysh by revealing the Qur'ān to them in lucid Arabic. It may be noted that the sūrah began with a note on the exaltedness of the Qur'ān and it ends on the same note. In it, the Quraysh are warned that the Almighty has equipped the Qur'ān with all essential requisites to conclusively convey the truth. If they do not duly honour it, they should get ready to face the consequences that are destined for those who reject the messengers of God. In the last verse, the Prophet (sws) is also assured that if instead of benefiting from this favour, these people want to wait for the punishment, then he too should wait for the advent of this evil day for them.
Section I: Verses (1-16)
Text and Translation
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
حم (1) وَالْكِتَابِ الْمُبِينِ (2) إِنَّا أَنزَلْنَاهُ فِي لَيْلَةٍ مُّبَارَكَةٍ إِنَّا كُنَّا مُنذِرِينَ (3) فِيهَا يُفْرَقُ كُلُّ أَمْرٍ حَكِيمٍ (4) أَمْرًا مِّنْ عِندِنَا إِنَّا كُنَّا مُرْسِلِينَ (5) رَحْمَةً مِّن رَّبِّكَ إِنَّهُ هُوَ السَّمِيعُ الْعَلِيمُ (6) رَبِّ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَمَا بَيْنَهُمَا إِن كُنتُم مُّوقِنِينَ (7) لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا هُوَ يُحْيِي وَيُمِيتُ رَبُّكُمْ وَرَبُّ آبَائِكُمُ الْأَوَّلِينَ (8) بَلْ هُمْ فِي شَكٍّ يَلْعَبُونَ (9) فَارْتَقِبْ يَوْمَ تَأْتِي السَّمَاء بِدُخَانٍ مُّبِينٍ (10) يَغْشَى النَّاسَ هَذَا عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ (11) رَبَّنَا اكْشِفْ عَنَّا الْعَذَابَ إِنَّا مُؤْمِنُونَ (12) أَنَّى لَهُمُ الذِّكْرَى وَقَدْ جَاءهُمْ رَسُولٌ مُّبِينٌ (13) ثُمَّ تَوَلَّوْا عَنْهُ وَقَالُوا مُعَلَّمٌ مَّجْنُونٌ (14) إِنَّا كَاشِفُو الْعَذَابِ قَلِيلًا إِنَّكُمْ عَائِدُونَ (15) يَوْمَ نَبْطِشُ الْبَطْشَةَ الْكُبْرَى إِنَّا مُنتَقِمُونَ (16)
This is Ha Mim. By the lucid Book! Indeed, We revealed it in a blessed night. Indeed, We were to inform people. On this night, all wise matters are distributed as a special directive from Ourself. Indeed, We were to send a Messenger as a special blessing from your Lord. Indeed, He it is Who sees and hears. With His mercy Who is the Lord of the heavens and the earth and all that is between them, if you show conviction. There is no god but Him. He only gives life and death. He is your Lord and also the Lord of your forefathers. (1-8)
Yet they are in doubt, playing about. So wait for the day when the sky will appear with a palpable smoke. That smoke will envelop people. This is a grave torment. Lord! Distance this torment from us; we are now believers. But what opportunity remains for them now to pay heed! An enlightening Messenger had come to them. So they turned away from him and said: "A madman, taught by others!" If We for some time open the torment, you will do what you had been doing. Remember the day when We will grasp intensely; on that day, We will take full revenge. (9-16)
This is the Qur'ānic name of the sūrah. The previous sūrah also has the same name. Commonality in name bears evidence to commonality in topic. Thus, a little deliberation shows that this sūrah explains in detail the threat sounded to the Quraysh in the last verse of the previous sūrah viz a viz the fate the Quraysh would meet as a result of denying the Messenger of God.
The succeeding verses will elucidate this.
وَالْكِتَابِ الْمُبِينِ (2)
The particle وَsignifies an oath and it has been explained in the course of this tafsīr that in Arabic, oaths are meant to substantiate a claim. For this reason, the question arises about the claim that is meant to be substantiated here. In general, our exegetes have regarded the very next verse to be the statement of this claim. Though there is nothing wrong with this view as far as linguistic principles are concerned, I am not fully convinced of this view. An oath and its complement (the statement which substantiates the claim) are related to one another the way a premise and corroborating evidence are. Here, I am unable to understand how the Qur'ān, being a lucid Book, bears evidence to the fact that God revealed it in a blessed night. In my opinion, the complement of oath is suppressed here. Contextual evidence and occasion of the discourse point to this suppression. There are several examples in the Qur'ān where a complement of oath is not mentioned because of concomitant indications. A clear example of this exists in Sūrah Qāf:ق وَالْقُرْآنِ الْمَجِيدِ بَلْ عَجِبُوا أَن جَاءهُمْ مُنذِرٌ مِّنْهُم (50: 1-2) (This is SūrahQāf. By the glorious Qur'ān! In fact, they were confounded by the fact that a warner from amongst themselves had come to them. (50:1-2)). Obviously, the complement of oath is suppressed here. In a similar manner, it is also suppressed in the verse under discussion. The benefit of this suppression is that whatever is implied can be supposed to be understood as per contextual indications. If this suppression is revealed, the overall discourse would be something to the effect: It is a lucid Book which in itself is a conclusive proof on its claim; it bears evidence to the fact that the fate with which it is threatening its rejecters is certain to come; the person who is presenting this Book should not be regarded by them to be a lunatic or a madman; he is an indisputable Messenger of God; all his preaching is based on wisdom; those who accept it will earn the mercy of God and those who reject it will earn his wrath; people do not need to look beyond the Qur'ān to find arguments in support of all these premises; the Qur'ān alone is sufficient to highlight each of them; those who deny it are calling for their own doom.
إِنَّا أَنزَلْنَاهُ فِي لَيْلَةٍ مُّبَارَكَةٍ إِنَّا كُنَّا مُنذِرِينَ (3)
This is a mention of the elaborate arrangement made by the Almighty to reveal this Book. The purpose is to make evident upon the addressees that this Book is not a matter of jest nor is it a pretentious product of a lunatic; on the contrary, it is a grand part of a great scheme of God and to reveal it the Almighty chose that blessed night in which all affairs of wisdom are specially entrusted by Him. The purpose of revealing it is to warn people whose forefathers had not been warned so that the truth is conclusively revealed to them from God and they are not able to present the excuse on the Day of Judgement that they had been seized without any warning. There are certain other aspects also which relate to this elaborate arrangement undertaken by the Almighty while revealing the Qur'ān. I will allude to them in the tafsīrs of the Sūrah Jinn and Sūrah Qadr respectively.
The words لَيْلَةٍ مُّبَارَكَةٍ obviously allude to لَيْلَة الْقَدْر (the Night of Destiny). Thus it is specified in Sūrah Qadr that it was on this night that the Qur'ān was revealed:
إِنَّا أَنزَلْنَاهُ فِي لَيْلَةِ الْقَدْرِ (1) وَمَا أَدْرَاكَ مَا لَيْلَةُ الْقَدْرِ (2) لَيْلَةُ الْقَدْرِ خَيْرٌ مِنْ أَلْفِ شَهْرٍ (3) تَنَزَّلُ الْمَلَائِكَةُ وَالرُّوحُ فِيهَا بِإِذْنِ رَبِّهِمْ مِنْ كُلِّ أَمْرٍ (4) سَلَامٌ هِيَ حَتَّى مَطْلَعِ الْفَجْرِ(5)
Indeed, We sent it down in the Night of Destiny. And what do you imagine what the Night of Destiny is? Better is the Night of Destiny than a thousand months. The angels and the Spirit descend therein [with decrees] about all matters, by the permission of their Lord. The night is peace in its entirety. It remains until the rise of dawn. (97:1-5)
The لَيْلَة الْقَدْر (the Night of Destiny) has to be some night of the month of Ramadān because the Qur'ān has specified that it was in this month that the Qur'ān was revealed: شَهْرُ رَمَضَانَ الَّذِيَ أُنزِلَ فِيهِ الْقُرْآنُ (2: 185) (it is the month of Ramadān in which the Qur'ān was revealed, (2:185)).
As far as the question of the exact day is concerned, it is difficult to answer it. At best it can be said in the light of various narratives that it is of the last ten nights of Ramadān. Apparently the divine wisdom behind not specifying it is that people should continue to seek it, and in this manner their fondness and desire to find it is tested. It is in this fondness and desire on the part of the people that all the blessings of this night are concealed.
It is evident from all these details that there is no room for the view that this night refers to a night of the month of Sha'bān or of any other month.
The statement that the Qur'ān was revealed on this night does not necessitate that the whole Qur'ān was revealed in it; it refers to the fact that its revelation began in it. When a task was initiated in a blessed period of time and the decision for its complete revelation was also taken it is as if the task was accomplished in that blessed period of time. This is because no one can change the decisions of God. There are examples found in the Qur'ān in which the Almighty has stated in the past tense a promise which is to be fulfilled in the future.
The undefined form of the expression لَيْلَةٍ مُّبَارَكَةٍ is meant to express grandeur and majesty. Specific days, months and periods of time are regarded as blessed because of the gain and benefit they afford. Just as in our material world there exist various seasons suitable for certain crops and not every season is suitable for every crop, in a similar manner, the spiritual realm also contains times, months and years which have specific characteristics. The worship ritual which the Almighty has prescribed for a particular day and month will afford the desired blessings only when it is vigilantly undertaken at that particular time or day or month; otherwise, just as wheat sown in unfavourable seasons will not bear results, similarly prayer said at the wrong time, the fast observed at the wrong time and the hajj offered at the wrong time will not bear any result, and if they do and it would be marginal. In the twenty four hours of the day, the times of fajr, chāsht, zuhr, 'asr, maghrib, 'ishā and tahajjud carry special spiritual blessings. The Qur'ān and Hadīth have explained these blessings. Similarly, Friday occupies special significance from among the other days of the week. Likewise, the month of Ramadān and that of hajj are uniquely important with regard to other months of the year. Similarly, one single night among the last ten nights of Ramadān has been reserved by the Almighty in which He informs His angels deputed to run the affairs of this world of the whole program of one year so that they can implement it at its prescribed time. The Almighty revealed the Qur'ān on one such night so that people could be warned through it and the mercy which was ordained in the advent of a messenger of God manifests itself.
The purpose to refer to all the revelation of the Qur'ān on this night is that its revelation is neither an accidental happening nor a concoction by the Prophet (sws); it is also not ill-suited and inappropriate to the requirements of time nor the product of fancy. On the contrary, it is the materialization of a scheme chalked out by the Almighty to guide His creatures. Thus He has revealed it on a night which is specifically reserved for the distribution of all wise matters. Hence, it is the duty of those for whom it has been revealed to duly honour it; otherwise, they should remember that the Almighty will never forgive their contrary attitude towards something He has revealed in such an elaborate manner. It is not a baseless thing which they can dismiss with a bout of laughter and make it dissipate in thin air. Accepting or rejecting it – both entail serious consequences which are bound to ensue.
The words إِنَّا كُنَّا مُنذِرِينَ state the purpose for which the Qur'ān was revealed: it has remained part of the divine scheme that just as the Almighty conclusively warned previous nations of good and evil before destroying them, similarly, before the Arabs are punished for their insolence, He will fully conclusively inform them. The purpose is to afford an opportunity to those who want to accept guidance to do so and leave others who do not want to do so with no excuse. In other words, the revelation of the Qur'ān and the advent of the Messenger of God are meant to convey the truth in such a manner that the addressees are left with no excuse to deny it. It is an established practice of God that once this is done, no nation is given any further respite. For this reason, every person should decide and act after fully contemplating that he is facing a decisive situation. He has to choose between two things: eternal kingdom or eternal doom.
فِيهَا يُفْرَقُ كُلُّ أَمْرٍ حَكِيمٍ (4)
This verse defines the nature of this blessed night: all wise affairs are distributed in it. If this verse is interpreted in the light of Sūrah Qadr, it will become evident that on this night the Almighty informs His closest angels about all the affairs of this earth, and these angels then pass on this information to the angels deputed on the earth in accordance with the scheme chalked out by God.
The word أَمْرٍ is qualified by حَكِيمٍ to point to the fact that no directive of God is devoid of wisdom. Whenever He decides to punish a nation, it is based on His justice and wisdom, and whenever He is merciful to a nation, this too is based on His justice and wisdom.
This verse, in fact, sounds a warning to the addressees to seriously reflect on each and every aspect of the situation they are facing; if they continue to remain indifferent and do not fulfill the requirements of a divine scheme based on wisdom, then the consequences can be disastrous for them.
أَمْرًا مِّنْ عِندِنَا إِنَّا كُنَّا مُرْسِلِينَ (5)
The word أَمْرًا is declined in the accusative on account of ikhtisās (specification), and the purpose is to highlight the importance and exaltedness of the distribution of affairs implying the fact that whatever happens, happens because of a special divine command; no one else has any say in this matter. Hence it is essential that people accept it in the capacity of a special command from the real sovereign of this universe, and follow each directive with true sentiments of obedience. If they reject them or make fun of them or deny them, then they should remember that this would be tantamount to rebellion against the real sovereign of this universe – the punishment for which is very grave.
The sentence إِنَّا كُنَّا مُرْسِلِينَ is of the same occasion as إِنَّا كُنَّا مُنذِرِينَ. Just as the previous verses say that the purpose of revelation of the Qur'ān is to sound a warning, in the same manner, this verse states that it was pre-ordained in the scheme of God that He would send a Messenger to the Ishmaelites who would be a mercy for them as well as for the rest of the world. This is a reference to the predictions which are ascribed to Abraham (sws), Moses (sws) and Jesus (sws) and which have already been cited earlier in this tafsīr. In other words, what is implied is that this Messenger has been sent in accordance with this scheme and exactly on the night fixed by the Almighty for all such important affairs.
رَحْمَةً مِّن رَّبِّكَ إِنَّهُ هُوَ السَّمِيعُ الْعَلِيمُ (6)
This verse alludes to the purpose of sending the Messenger and the prophet Muhammad (sws) is addressed viz: your Lord has sent you as a great mercy; if people do not duly value you, this attitude will not be of harm to you; it will only deprive them of the greatest mercy of God.
Verse three mentions that a Messenger is a warner and it also says that he is a mercy and bearer of glad tidings. Both these features are two aspects of the same reality: the greatest mercy can become the greatest torment if it is not duly honoured.
It needs to be kept in mind that the aspect of warning is mentioned here first even though the real purpose of the revelation of the Qur'ān is to show mercy to mankind. The reason for this has already been pointed out earlier while discussing the central theme of this sūrah: the real tone of the sūrah is to sound a warning.
إِنَّهُ هُوَ السَّمِيعُ الْعَلِيمُ (indeed He hears and knows all): one aspect in citing these attributes at the end of the verse is to highlight the fact that the Lord of this universe is a wise and prudent being. He cannot let His creatures go scot-free. It is an essential requirement of these attributes that He keep an eye on the circumstances which befall His creatures and inform them of His directives; if they follow these, He rewards them in this world and in the next, and if they rebel against Him, He punishes them.
Another aspect in citing these attributes is that today whatever the leadership of the Quraysh is doing with the Book of God and his Messenger is fully in God's notice because He hears and knows all. When everything is in His knowledge and nothing is beyond His power, the Prophet (sws) and the believers should rest assured that whatever is a requisite of His wisdom will definitely materialize; nothing can hinder this.
In order to fully understand the premises put forward by these verses, readers are advised to look up what I have written under verses 45-46 of Sūrah Qasas.
رَبِّ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَمَا بَيْنَهُمَا إِن كُنتُم مُّوقِنِينَ (7)
This is warning to the opponents of the Prophet (sws) and what a severe warning it is. They are told that these warnings and glad tidings should not be considered baseless and as being sounded to bluff them; they are from the Lord of the heavens and the earth and all that is between them. The implication is that when He is the Lord and Master of everything, no one can have the power to impede any of His intentions which He wants to implement. He can seize people if and when He wants to; no one can save them, and if He wants to forgive people, no one can stop Him from doing so.
The words إِن كُنتُم مُّوقِنِينَ are meant to rebuke people: they are told that what is indicated above is obvious and self-evident; however, to believe in something does not require that it merely be obvious and self-evident; equally necessary is the will to believe in it. If this will is not found in a person, he can deny the most obvious of realities and the greatest of logicians is not able to convince him.
لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا هُوَ يُحْيِي وَيُمِيتُ رَبُّكُمْ وَرَبُّ آبَائِكُمُ الْأَوَّلِينَ (8)
This verse stresses what is said earlier: there is no god except Him whose intercession can be of any use to them. Life and death are under His control. He is their Lord and also the Lord of their forefathers. If their forefathers worshipped some other deity, it is their foolishness and ignorance; they should not make blindly following them an argument in favour of their attitude otherwise they will end up harming their own selves to benefit others.
بَلْ هُمْ فِي شَكٍّ يَلْعَبُونَ (9)
The verse implies that though these warnings and glad tidings are undeniable realities which no sane person can deny, however, these people are such slaves to their desires that they will not believe in anything they are being informed of unless they see it with their very eyes. For this reason, they are playing about in doubt and making fun.
This verse sounds an assurance to the Prophet (sws) that it is not his responsibility to convince people who have adopted an indifferent attitude in life. These people will only get convinced when they will see torment lashing them; hence the Prophet (sws) should leave these people to themselves.
فَارْتَقِبْ يَوْمَ تَأْتِي السَّمَاء بِدُخَانٍ مُّبِينٍ (10) يَغْشَى النَّاسَ هَذَا عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ (11)
The verses say that the Prophet (sws) should wait for the day when the sky will appear with a smoke palpable to everyone. It will engulf all and by its very existence declare to everyone that it is a grievous torment.
This is actually a threat of the punishment which people were demanding and were not prepared to acknowledge the warnings of the Prophet (sws) unless they were shown the punishment.
Here the question arises: what does دُخَانٌ مُّبِينٌ refer to? The word دُخَانٌ means "smoke" and the adjective مُّبِينٌ which qualifies it shows it will appear to everyone, big or small, very clearly and no one will be mistaken about it.
One group of exegetes has answered this question by saying that the smoke will appear at the advent of the Day of Judgement. They have also cited a narrative in support of this opinion; however, critics have dismissed it as a tale fabricated by story-tellers. In my opinion, this narrative is also against the context of the verses. Readers will see that the subsequent verses clearly show that this mention is not of the Day of Judgement but of the punishment which descends on nations who reject their respective messengers. Details of such a punishment have been mentioned in earlier sūrahs in the anecdotes of the peoples of 'Ād, Thamūd and Shu'ayb (rta).
Another group of exegetes regards it to refer to a famine which in their opinion was inflicted on the Quraysh as a result of a prayer of doom for them by the Prophet (sws). Such was its intensity that people were forced to eat the meat of dead animals, and such was the situation of every person that when out of hunger he would look towards the sky, it would appear to have smoke all over it.
Generally, our exegetes have adopted this second view; however, there are many things which make me uncomfortable about it.
Firstly, it is only this exegetical narrative in which it is reported that the Prophet (sws) prayed for the doom of the whole of his nation; there exists is no other corroborating evidence. The prayer of the Prophet (sws) always remained: رب اهد قومي فإنهم لا يعلمون (Lord! Guide my people because they are unaware). The most precarious instance was that of migration to Madīnah. Some other messengers of God have prayed for the doom of their people at such instances but we find not a single word of this sort coming out of the mouth of the Prophet (sws) even at this instance. He is only reported to have said: Makkah! You are very dear to me; but what can I do as the sons of your soil do not allow me to live here.
Even at instances of war when the armies of Muslims and Quraysh faced one another, the prayers of the Prophet (sws) consisted of beseeching God to grant perseverance to the believers and to help them in their cause. If ever a word came out of his mouth against his enemies, it was nothing but a prayer to strike awe in their hearts and make them lose courage. I am unable to recall if at even such instances the Prophet (sws) ever prayed to God to harm his nation.
Secondly, the most precarious instance after migration was the truce of Hudaybiyyah when the Quraysh's bias to emotional frenzy had become totally evident and the Muslims were stirred up against them to the ultimate extent. At this instance also, the Prophet (sws) did not pray for their doom; not only he this, he even appeased the Muslims and stopped them from waging war and the wisdom which the Qur'ān has mentioned in stopping this war, as shall be explained later in Sūrah Fath, is that if war had ensued there was a chance that harm might have come to people who were Muslims in their hearts but were not able to migrate to Madīnah yet because of compelling circumstances. One should consider the fact that if because of the Muslims who had concealed their faith Muslims abstained from any warfare and the Prophet (sws) entered into an agreement with the Quraysh which was against the general emotions of the Companions, how could he have prayed to God to inflict such a drought on the people of Makkah in which they would be forced to eat forbidden food items? If such a drought had ensued, merely the leaders of the Quraysh and Tā'if would not have been afflicted by it; its real target would have been the poor and the masses of which a great many were Muslims.
Thirdly, here the Prophet (sws) has neither been asked to pray for or against anyone; he has been asked to patiently wait for a day on which the sky will appear with such smoke that will spread over the whole nation and the very existence of this smoke will be instrumental in reminding people of the same painful doom they had been informed of but which they kept making fun of. In other words, the smoke is like a threat and a threat depends on the circumstances which arise. The Qur'ān has repeatedly warned the Quraysh of the punishment similar to the one meted out to the 'Ād, the Thamūd, the people of Lot (sws) and Shu'ayb (sws) but such a punishment never visited the Quraysh. This is because the majority of the people of Arabia embraced faith. Very few miscreants persisted in their mischief and were either killed in battles against the believers or submitted to Islam at the conquest of Makkah.
Fourthly, it is linguistically inappropriate to describe a drought with the expression دُخَانٌ مُّبِينٌ (palpable smoke). Droughts are portrayed many a time in classical Arabic poetry. When cold northern winds blew in Arabia, they would cause drought. In certain areas, the situation would become very severe. Arab poets depict very moving scenes of this drought and through various similes, metaphors and veiled references try to portray the whole situation; however, I do not recall any instance in which a poet has called the worst of droughts دُخَانٌ مُّبِينٌ or adopted this style to describe its effects.
For these reasons, even if the narratives which report this drought are true, they cannot relate to this verse. There is a possibility that a drought befell and it is equally possible that it was very severe. It is a known practice of God that in the times of His messengers their people were afflicted with trials and tests to caution and prod them. The Qur'ān contains references to this practice of God. In spite of all these possibilities, this verse does not seem to relate to any drought whose severity was such that it made the sky appear as smoke to everyone.
The expression دُخَانٌ مُّبِينٌ leads the mind to think of the punishment of the hāsib and not of any drought. This punishment had previously visited most nations of Arabia who had denied their respective messengers. The details of this punishment can be seen in the anecdotes of the 'Ād, Thamūd, the peoples of Shu'ayb (sws) and Lot (sws) mentioned in the earlier sūrahs. The picture which can be gauged of this punishment from the description of the Qur'ān and classical Arab poetry is very similar to دُخَانٌ مُّبِينٌ. In this punishment, a tall column of smoke is seen rising towards the sky. In this smoke, until the sun is fully hidden in it, the rays of the sun mingle with its particles as a result of which to onlookers it seems as if in some jungle a fire has erupted of which the smoke is rising to the sky. Then when the wind picks up and the storm heads in some direction, it seems as if black clouds are enveloping the place and are about to burst with rain. The storm then takes on a very horrid shape and engulfs whole cities with sand and stones. When the people of the 'Ād were visited by their punishment they deemed the black smoke overspread above them to be a black cloud. In Sūrah Ahqāf, this smoke is mentioned thus:فَلَمَّا رَأَوْهُ عَارِضًا مُّسْتَقْبِلَ أَوْدِيَتِهِمْ قَالُوا هَذَا عَارِضٌ مُّمْطِرُنَا بَلْ هُوَ مَا اسْتَعْجَلْتُم بِهِ رِيحٌ فِيهَا عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ (46: 24) (And when they saw the scourge in the form of a cloud heading for their valleys, they said: "This is a passing cloud that will drench us." "By no means! It is that what you had been seeking to hasten: it is a hurricane which contains a woeful scourge." (46:24)). In the destruction meted out to the people of Shu'ayb (rta), this punishment is called as: عَذَابُ يَوْمِ الظُّلَّةِ. The verse reads:فَكَذَّبُوهُ فَأَخَذَهُمْ عَذَابُ يَوْمِ الظُّلَّةِ (26: 189) (so they denied it, as a result of which they were seized by the punishment of the day of zullah, (26:189)). The word الظُّلَّةِ (zullah) is used for an umbrella, roof and tent and is also used for clouds.
The punishment of hāsib in its initial stages appears to be a rising cloud or smoke. Thus it is quite likely that this be a threat of the punishment of hāsib. This threat had been sounded to the Quraysh by recounting before them the tales of the peoples of 'Ād, Thamūd and other nations. I have explained in great detail in the exegesis of the previous sūrahs the nature of punishments which visited these peoples. These details will also be referred to in the exegesis of the forthcoming sūrahs. At these instances, I will also inshallāh present the research of my mentor Imām Hamīd al-Dīn al-Farāhī in this regard.
This threat, as is indicated earlier, signifies that divine punishment is conditional on the rejection of the messenger of God. However, it is known that the majority of the Idolaters of Arabia had gradually embraced faith and after the truce of Hudaybiyyah circumstances arose which mellowed down the severity of the opposition. This situation reached the point that the Qur'ānic prediction of people entering the fold of Islam in large numbers mentioned in Sūrah Nasr materialized to such an extent that everyone saw it with his own eyes. It is obvious that there was no need for the threat which was conditional on rejection to materialize after this mass conversion. Thus the Quraysh in their collective capacity remained shielded from divine punishment. Only those of their miscreants who attacked the Muslims were put to the sword while the remaining ones submitted as Muslims at the conquest of Makkah.
يَغْشَى النَّاسَ هَذَا عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ (11)
This verse expresses the severity of the punishment: it will totally engulf people and no one will be able to find any escape route from it. The words عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌهَذَا can be spoken or be an expression of the situation: everyone can see that this was not a temporary thing that would come and go; the wrath of God would break the backs.
رَبَّنَا اكْشِفْ عَنَّا الْعَذَابَ إِنَّا مُؤْمِنُونَ (12)
The implication is that these people are showing great arrogance now and haughtily asking to bring about the punishment. However, once they encounter it, they will cry out: Lord! Deliver us from this punishment; we now embrace faith.
أَنَّى لَهُمُ الذِّكْرَى وَقَدْ جَاءهُمْ رَسُولٌ مُّبِينٌ (13) ثُمَّ تَوَلَّوْا عَنْهُ وَقَالُوا مُعَلَّمٌ مَّجْنُونٌ (14)
This is the answer which will be given to these people at that time: after the punishment descends, there will be no time to take heed; God has sent His messenger to them who conclusively delivered the truth to them; however, they arrogantly turned away from it, and went on to blame the messenger that he was being been taught and led by others and was inflicted with a morbid fear of punishment of the Day of Judgement. The time of repentance is now over. It was when the messenger was making his call that they had this time. They squandered that opportunity and now they have no option left.
Such an answer has been cited at many places in the Qur'ān for the arrogant who were about to be afflicted with divine punishment. Some of the arrogant have been given this answer by addressing them. Thus for example, about the Pharaoh, it is said: آلآنَ وَقَدْ عَصَيْتَ قَبْلُ وَكُنتَ مِنَ الْمُفْسِدِينَ (10: 91) (now you have embraced faith and before this you were among the defiant, (10:91)).At another place, the words are: فَيَقُولُ الَّذِينَ ظَلَمُواْ رَبَّنَا أَخِّرْنَا إِلَى أَجَلٍ قَرِيبٍ نُّجِبْ دَعْوَتَكَ وَنَتَّبِعِ الرُّسُلَ أَوَلَمْ تَكُونُواْ أَقْسَمْتُم مِّن قَبْلُ مَا لَكُم مِّن زَوَالٍ (14: 44) (So after being seized by the punishment people who have wronged their souls will cry out: "Our Lord! Give us a little more respite, we will respond to your call and follow the prophets." At that time, they will be answered thus: "Would you people not swear before this that you would never leave your stance," (14:44)). In the verse under discussion, the same thing is said to them while not directly addressing them. These stylistic changes are governed by the eloquence of the discourse, and for people having a keen literary sense, do not need any explanation. In direct address, there exists sternness and in the indirect address, indifference is evident.
The charge of the Qurraysh that the Prophet (sws) was taught by some other people and it was this which he presented to them in the name of divine revelation has been mentioned at some other places in the Qur'an as well. This charge had been invented by the Quraysh to satisfy those who, after being influenced by the arguments of the Qur'an, were led to think that such an intelligent discourse could not be produced by an illiterate person without divine help. In order to disenchant such people from the Qur'ān, the Quraysh fabricated the story that the discourse was not the product of any divine revelation; it was only a conspiracy of some literate people; it is those people who secretly authored the discourse and this person presented it as divine revelation; the purpose of these people was to divide the nation. While making this allegation, they would also give the impression that some People of the Book as well as some non-Arabs were among the conspirers so that, in this manner, they could successfully incite the nationalistic emotions of the Arabs.
I have already alluded at an appropriate place in this tafsīr to the real reason why they called the Prophet (sws) a man possessed. Briefly restated, the Quraysh in the first place felt that he was so overwhelmed with the fear of the punishment of the Hereafter that all the time he reminded people of it; in the second place, such was the extent of certitude in his tone that everyone being impressed by it would wonder that if he had not been sent by God, why would he forsake his own comfort while grieving for others. In order to dispel this impression in the people, the Quraysh started saying that just as a person becomes possessed with some things and keeps repeating them at every moment and keeps seeing those things everywhere, in a similar manner, this person too had become possessed and insane; he saw in every nook and corner what he imagined; there was no reality in it; it was only a madness and insanity; why and wherefrom could punishment visit them?
إِنَّا كَاشِفُو الْعَذَابِ قَلِيلًا إِنَّكُمْ عَائِدُونَ (15)
The verse implies that what the Almighty could have done was that on their request defer punishment for them so that they could embrace faith; however, the truth of the matter is that even if God had acceded to their request they would again tread the same path which they were treading before the advent of the punishment. Those who are slaves of their desires adopt this attitude: when they are faced with a trial, they go to great lengths to show their repentance but when the trial ends, they walk away as if nothing had happened; neither had they made a commitment nor will such a thing happen again.
يَوْمَ نَبْطِشُ الْبَطْشَةَ الْكُبْرَى إِنَّا مُنتَقِمُونَ (16)
The verse refers to the fact that even if they are let off in this world, this should not be any reason for assurance to them. They should remember the day when the Almighty will seize them in a profound manner. This refers to the way they will be seized on the Day of Judgement. Whatever way nations are seized in this world, is nevertheless lesser in extent than how they will be seized in the Hereafter, which will be more abiding. On that Day, the Almighty will take full revenge from all the sinners.
Section II: Verses (17-33)
By citing historical references, the subsequent verses substantiate what is stated in the previous paragraph. In order to warn the Quraysh, the part of the story of Moses (sws) and Pharaoh is briefly recounted which makes it clear on them that the plot which the Pharaoh had contrived against Moses (sws) is the same which the Quraysh are plotting against the Messenger of God. The Almighty punished the Pharaoh and his followers and all their arrogance was brought to nothing. Similarly, these people too will be seized by God if they do not desist from their attitude. Readers may now proceed to study the subsequent verses.
Text and Translation
وَلَقَدْ فَتَنَّا قَبْلَهُمْ قَوْمَ فِرْعَوْنَ وَجَاءهُمْ رَسُولٌ كَرِيمٌ (17) أَنْ أَدُّوا إِلَيَّ عِبَادَ اللهِ إِنِّي لَكُمْ رَسُولٌ أَمِينٌ (18) وَأَنْ لَّا تَعْلُوا عَلَى اللهِ إِنِّي آتِيكُم بِسُلْطَانٍ مُّبِينٍ (19) وَإِنِّي عُذْتُ بِرَبِّي وَرَبِّكُمْ أَن تَرْجُمُونِ (20) وَإِنْ لَّمْ تُؤْمِنُوا لِي فَاعْتَزِلُونِ (21) فَدَعَا رَبَّهُ أَنَّ هَؤُلَاء قَوْمٌ مُّجْرِمُونَ (22) فَأَسْرِ بِعِبَادِي لَيْلًا إِنَّكُم مُّتَّبَعُونَ (23) وَاتْرُكْ الْبَحْرَ رَهْوًا إِنَّهُمْ جُندٌ مُّغْرَقُونَ (24) كَمْ تَرَكُوا مِن جَنَّاتٍ وَعُيُونٍ (25) وَزُرُوعٍ وَمَقَامٍ كَرِيمٍ (26) وَنَعْمَةٍ كَانُوا فِيهَا فَاكِهِينَ (27) كَذَلِكَ وَأَوْرَثْنَاهَا قَوْمًا آخَرِينَ (28) فَمَا بَكَتْ عَلَيْهِمُ السَّمَاء وَالْأَرْضُ وَمَا كَانُوا مُنظَرِينَ (29) وَلَقَدْ نَجَّيْنَا بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ مِنَ الْعَذَابِ الْمُهِينِ (30) مِن فِرْعَوْنَ إِنَّهُ كَانَ عَالِيًا مِّنَ الْمُسْرِفِينَ (31) وَلَقَدِ اخْتَرْنَاهُمْ عَلَى عِلْمٍ عَلَى الْعَالَمِينَ (32) وَآتَيْنَاهُم مِّنَ الْآيَاتِ مَا فِيهِ بَلَاء مُّبِينٌ (33)
And before them, We tested the Pharaoh's people and a gracious messenger came to them with the message: "Hand over to me God's servants; I am for you a trustworthy messenger and that you should not be rebellious against God; I present to you a clear argument; and I seek refuge with My and Your Lord from you stoning me, and if you do not attest me, leave me to myself." (17-21)
Thus he prayed to his Lord that they are a sinful people. It was ordered: "Take along My servants with you in the night; beware! you shall be pursued." And leave the sea at rest; they will become an army drowned. (22-24)
How many orchards, fountains, cornfields, blissful abodes and pleasant things in which they took delight they left behind them! Thus do We deal with the wrongdoers; and what was once theirs We gave to others. So neither the heavens nor the earth shed tears for them; nor were they given reprieve. (25-29)
And We saved the Israelites from a humiliating punishment that is from the Pharaoh. Indeed, he was a great tyrant and a transgressor. And knowingly We gave them preference to all the world, and showed them signs in which there was an open reward. (30-33)
وَلَقَدْ فَتَنَّا قَبْلَهُمْ قَوْمَ فِرْعَوْنَ وَجَاءهُمْ رَسُولٌ كَرِيمٌ (17)
At a number of places, the Qur'ān has referred to the similarities between the Quraysh and the people of the Pharaoh. Here too, this reference is present. The implication is that just as at the time of the Prophet's advent, the Almighty has put the Quraysh through a test, He put the people of the Pharaoh through a similar test earlier. Just as the Quraysh are affluent and have abundant resources, the people of the Pharaoh too had the same abundance. Then just as a noble messenger was sent to the Quraysh to conclusively communicate the truth to them, similarly, a noble messenger was sent to the Pharaoh and his people. The purpose of this mention obviously is to let the Quraysh know that they too will meet the same fate as that of the Pharaoh and his people if they adopt the same attitude.
It is clearly evident from these details that whatever wealth and honour nations receive in this world are a trial and test from God. By blessing them with such favours, He wants to see whether they become grateful and serve Him or become rebellious and tyrannical. If they adopt the latter of these attitudes, they are given a little respite after which the Almighty totally wipes them out.
The attribute كَرِيمٌ (noble) which qualifies the word رَسُولٌ (messenger) signifies the fact that since a messenger is an envoy of the God of the worlds, nobility and respect are an essential part of his status; the question whether he is rich or poor or whether he belongs to the royal family of the Pharaoh or to a poor family of the Israelites whom the Pharaoh and his followers regard to be slaves and unworthy does not even arise. The real status of the messenger is that He is an envoy of God and only God is more noble than His envoy; no one else is or can be nobler than him.
أَنْ أَدُّوا إِلَيَّ عِبَادَ اللهِ إِنِّي لَكُمْ رَسُولٌ أَمِينٌ (18)
A genitive particle (حرف جر) is suppressed before the letter أَنْ. The meaning after taking this suppression in consideration would be: the noble messenger came with the message that the servants of God should be consigned to him. This is the same directive which is given in Sūrah Tāhā by the words: فَأَرْسِلْ مَعَنَا بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ (so send with me the Israelites, (20:47)). The difference between the two is that in the verse under discussion, Moses (sws) has also mentioned the reason for making this demand: no one has the right to make the servants of God his own servants; thus these servants should be allowed to go with him so that they are able to serve and worship God the way they want to without any hindrance. The question of the destination where Moses (sws) wanted to take the Israelites has been discussed at many places of this tafsīr. Restating it is not required; what is evident is that Moses (sws) wanted the Israelites to have complete freedom to serve and worship God. He was not prepared to give the Pharaoh the right to make them his own servants.
By the words إِنِّي لَكُمْ رَسُولٌ أَمِينٌ, Moses (sws) has tried to assure the Pharaoh and his courtiers that he is not an impostor or a phony; but that he is in fact God's messenger and is delivering to them with full honesty and integrity the message God has given him to deliver to them. Moses (sws) did not utter these words merely to absolve himself of impersonation; concealed in them is also a threat: if they reject him by regarding him an impostor, the consequences will be very grave. He Who has sent him as a messenger, will necessarily take revenge from them.