فَمَالِ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا قِبَلَكَ مُهْطِعِينَ عَنِ الْيَمِينِ وَعَنِ الشِّمَالِ عِزِينَ أَيَطْمَعُ كُلُّ امْرِئٍ مِّنْهُمْ أَن يُدْخَلَ جَنَّةَ نَعِيمٍ (36-38)
After hearing the verdict of the Qur'ān, the arrogant Quraysh would burn and writhe with anger. How could they hear that Muhammad (sws) and his destitute companions would reside in Paradise and be the beneficiaries of all favours and blessings while these leaders would become the firewood of Hell. Filled with anger, they would madly rush at the Prophet (sws) from left and right to refute and to humiliate him. The word عِزِينَis the plural of عِزَةٌ and means "group" or "ally". The verb اهطاع means to "run and move forward in a brisk manner".
In these verses, wonder is expressed at the situation and at the foolishness of these people. If they vainly think that each one of them will be rewarded with Paradise, then this hope is never going to materialize.
This vain desire of these megalomaniacs is mentioned at several places in the Qur'ān. Thus, for example, it is said in Sūrah Hāmīm al-Sajdah:
وَقَالُوا قُلُوبُنَا فِي أَكِنَّةٍ مِّمَّا تَدْعُونَا إِلَيْهِ وَفِي آذَانِنَا وَقْرٌ وَمِن بَيْنِنَا وَبَيْنِكَ حِجَابٌ فَاعْمَلْ إِنَّنَا عَامِلُونَ (5:41)
And they say: "Our hearts are immune to the faith to which you call us. Our ears are plugged, and a thick veil stands between us. Do as you think fit, and so will we." (41:5)
In Sūrah Qalam, these arrogant people are refuted in the following words:
أَفَنَجْعَلُ الْمُسْلِمِينَ كَالْمُجْرِمِينَمَا لَكُمْ كَيْفَ تَحْكُمُوْنَأَمْ لَكُمْ كِتَابٌ فِيهِ تَدْرُسُوْنَإِنَّ لَكُمْ فِيهِ لَمَا يَتَخَيَّرُوْنَ(68: 35-38)
So are We to deal with those who submit to Us as We deal with those who transgress? What is the matter with you? What is this judgement you have made? Have you a scripture in which you read that you will have there whatever you desire? (68:35-38)
كَلَّا إِنَّا خَلَقْنَاهُم مِّمَّا يَعْلَمُونَ (39)
The false notion of the arrogant people among the Quraysh mentioned in the previous verse is refuted here: they should not think too much and too highly of themselves; this dream of theirs will never materialize; they very well know from what the Almighty has created them; they should not forget it. In other words, it is not befitting for a creature made from water, mud, and sperm to think of being a natural inheritor of Paradise in its conceit on its noble lineage. No one has this right merely on the basis of this. A person can only have a right to Paradise only because of good deeds. If a person does not have this priceless asset with him, then as far as his physical substance is concerned, all human beings are equal to the impurest of animals. In Sūrah Najm, the words are:
هُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِكُمْ إِذْ أَنشَأَكُم مِّنَ الْأَرْضِ وَإِذْ أَنتُمْ أَجِنَّةٌ فِي بُطُونِ أُمَّهَاتِكُمْ فَلَا تُزَكُّوا أَنفُسَكُمْ هُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِمَنِ اتَّقَى(32:53)
He knew you well when He created you from earth and when you were still in your mothers' wombs. Do not pretend to purity; He knows best those who guard themselves against evil. (53:32)
I have explained in the exegesis of Sūrah Najm that this verse is a strong rebuttal of the concept of wahdat al-wujūd of the mystics.
فَلَا أُقْسِمُ بِرَبِّ الْمَشَارِقِ وَالْمَغَارِبِ إِنَّا لَقَادِرُونَ عَلَى أَن نُّبَدِّلَ خَيْرًا مِّنْهُمْ وَمَا نَحْنُ بِمَسْبُوقِينَ (40-41)
The oath sworn here is similar to the one sworn in verses 38-39 of the previous sūrah.
I have already explained the meaning of the particle of negation at the beginning of the verse.
The words مَشرِق and مَغرِب occur in all three formats in the Qur'ān: singular, dual and plural, and in all the three there is not much difference in meaning. In Arabic, the dual of a word at times refers to both edges or boundaries of a thing just as it has come in Sūrah Kahf in (18: 96) بَيْنَ الصَّدْفَيْن. Similarly, the plural at times comes to refer to the vastness and boundaries of a thing. I have already explained this in the tafsīr of Sūrah A'rāf.
Here the Almighty by swearing upon His own self in His capacity of being the Lord of all the East and the West has substantiated His infinite power: whenever He wants, He will be able to re-create mankind even if their remains decay into the earth; nothing will cause any hindrance in this. The aspect of evidence which is the primary objective of every oath is very obvious in this oath. In this world, we observe everyday the sun, the moon and billions of stars rise and set at the behest of the Almighty. So is the re-creation of man once his remains decay more difficult for the Mighty God Who is able to make them disappear everyday and then reappear again? Is the first task more difficult or the second? If He was powerful enough to create the first time, why will He be powerless to create again?
In Sūrah Nāzi'āt, this argument is presented in a more comprehensive style thus:
أَأَنْتُمْ أَشَدُّ خَلْقًا أَمْ السَّمَاءُ بَنَاهَارَفَعَ سَمْكَهَا فَسَوَّاهَاوَأَغْطَشَ لَيْلَهَا وَأَخْرَجَ ضُحَاهَاوَالْأَرْضَ بَعْدَ ذَلِكَ دَحَاهَاأَخْرَجَ مِنْهَا مَاءَهَا وَمَرْعَاهَاوَالْجِبَالَ أَرْسَاهَا(79: 27-32)
Is it more difficult to create you or the heavens? He made it and raised high its roof; then perfected it, covered its night and uncovered its day, and after that spread out the earth, and He brought forth from it, its water and its fodder, and set firm mountains over it. (79:27-32
The part عَلَى أَن نُّبَدِّلَ خَيْرًا مِّنْهُمْ وَمَا نَحْنُ بِمَسْبُوقِينَ means that the Almighty is capable of replacing man with a better creature who will believe in the religion of God. Another interpretation could be that the Almighty is capable of creating man in a better form. The implication in this case would be that if the Almighty is able to create man in a better form, then it is all the more easy for the Almighty to create him in his original form. People have generally interpreted the verse in the first of these meanings, and there is nothing wrong in this interpretation linguistically as well. I however prefer the second of these interpretations. The reason for my preference is that the real topic of this sūrah is that the Hereafter is a probable incident. A big reason because of which the disbelievers regarded the Hereafter to be unlikely was that they regarded re-creation of man once his bones decayed and decomposed into the earth to be very unlikely. The subsequent verses also corroborate this view.
فَذَرْهُمْ يَخُوضُوا وَيَلْعَبُوا حَتَّى يُلَاقُوا يَوْمَهُمُ الَّذِي يُوعَدُونَ (42)
At the end of the sūrah, the Prophet (sws) is assured and the disbelievers are warned. If these people do not listen to the Prophet (sws), then he should leave them alone. They should let them indulge in their vain talk and engagements until they are face to face with the day they are being warned of. In spite of this warning, they have no fear of it.
يَوْمَ يَخْرُجُونَ مِنَ الْأَجْدَاثِ سِرَاعًا كَأَنَّهُمْ إِلَى نُصُبٍ يُوفِضُونَ (43)
The word نُصُب is the plural of نَصِيْبٌ and means a stone set firmly in the earth. They can refer to the stones which were set firm by the Idolaters to present their vows and sacrifices, and can also refer to the stones which are set firm in the earth to act as targets in races and other similar events.
In the opinion of Ibn 'Abbās (rta), Mujāhid and al-Dahhāk, it refers to flagswhich are set firm in the earth to be used as marks during races.
Abū al-'Āliyah and Yahyā ibn Abī Kathīr are of the view that it refers to signs which are marked as a target for runners to race to.
In my opinion also, it refers to a flag or a target. The implication of the verse is that today these arrogant people are showing their tantrums before the Prophet of God and evading his guidance and following others; however, a day is to come when the beckoner of the Day of Judgement will blow the trumpet and these people will rush towards him as if running to their targets in a race. Thus their arrogance will be shattered on that day and their deviant behaviour will come to an end. The way these people will run to this beckoner is portrayed at another place in the Qur'ān thus: يَوْمئِذٍ يَّتَّبِعُوْن الدَّاعِىَ لاَ عِوَجَ لَهُ (20: 108) (the day they will follow the call of the caller without any crookedness, (20:108)).
In other words, just as an arrow goes straight to its prescribed target, similarly these people will run towards the beckoner. People have generally interpreted the word نُصُب to refer to altars and temples of deities. This does not seem correct. Firstly, this is just a secondary meaning of the word and secondly, what is the purpose of running towards these objects. I also am not aware of any such tradition of the Idolaters.
خَاشِعَةً أَبْصَارُهُمْ تَرْهَقُهُمْ ذِلَّةٌ ذَلِكَ الْيَوْمُ الَّذِي كَانُوا يُوعَدُونَ (44)
The implied meaning is that today when the messenger of God warns these people of the Day of Judgement, they rush madly at him; however, when the caller of the Day of Judgement will call them they will rush to him with eyes downcast because of fear and ignominy will cover their faces. It is this day that they are being warned of. Readers should refresh in their memories the question which is mentioned at the beginning of the sūrah: "A person in haste asked to hasten the punishment…." After the question is discussed from various aspects and the Day of Judgement is portrayed, here at the very end, an answer is finally given to the question: this is the day which they had been threatened with, but they kept on making fun of it. In this manner, the whole discourse is a harmonious whole.
By the grace of God, I come to the end of this sūrah's tafsīr. فَالْحَمْدُ لِلهِ عَلَى إِحْسَانِهِ (gratitude be to God for His favour).
4th September, 1978 AD
27th Ramadān al-Mubārak, 1398 AH