Central Theme and Relationship with Previous Sūrah
This sūrah is the counterpart of Sūrah Tūr, the previous sūrah. The central theme of both sūrahs is the same: substantiation of reward and punishment. The only difference is that in the previous sūrah the aspect of torment is highlighted and in this one the concept of false intercession with which the Idolaters of Arabia were inflicted is refuted. The reason for this, as I have explained in the previous sūrahs, is that in the presence of this false belief threatening them with the greatest of punishments was of no avail. For this very reason, the Qur'ān has always mentioned tawhīd and the Hereafter side by side so that the Idolaters are not able to find any escape route. This reality is alluded to in the previous sūrahs while in this sūrah it is explained in detail. In other words, the common subject of both sūrahs is that the punishment of God is bound to come to the rejecters. They are relying on the intercession of their deities; in the first place, they are not a reality; they are mere names which they have invented and if they have some truth about them then the Almighty will deal with His people with perfect justice and fairness. There is no possibility that on that day the intercession of someone may add to His information or change His decision or turn falsehood into truth.
Besides the subject and central theme, a deliberation on the concluding verses of the previous sūrah and the opening verses of this sūrah will reveal very clear harmony between the two. The last verse of Sūrah Tūr: وَمِنَ اللَّيْلِ فَسَبِّحْهُ وَإِدْبَارَ النُّجُومِ very aptly dovetails into the opening verse of this sūrah: وَالنَّجْمِ إِذَا هَوَى. Such a link is found in most places in the Qur'ān – at some places, this link is between the words, at others between the meanings implied and at still others on both counts. I have alluded to such linkages in the previous sūrah.
Analysis of the Discourse
In this introductory part, it has been elaborated that the Qur'an which is being recited to them is not the work of a soothsayer or a fortune-teller; the Almighty Himself has revealed it to the Prophet (sws) through His most trusted and dependable angel. All its verses are based on the truth and what is stated in them is inevitable; there is not the slightest chance of any misguidance or falsehood in them. No one should have the misconception that the observations and experiences the Prophet (sws) is presenting about divine revelation and Gabriel are mere illusions or hallucinations. These observations are absolutely true and it is in the interest of its opponents to profess faith in the Prophet (sws) instead of showing hostility.
The Idolaters of Makkah have been warned that their false idols, on the basis of which they are denying the warnings of the Qur'ān, are nothing but a creation of their fancy and have no reality. They are but names which they have invented; neither has the Almighty ever sanctioned their existence nor can sense and reason, instinct or intellect accept them. These are merely frivolous conjectures that they are following, even though there has come to them manifest guidance from their Lord; they must bear in mind that conjectures and suppositions cannot take the place of the truth, and false wishes and desires have no basis. They shall not encounter what they desire and shall only encounter the facts about which they are being warned. Hence, they must prepare themselves to face them. They must remember that all the matters of this world and the Hereafter are under the control of the Almighty and no one can interfere in them. There are many angels in the heavens whose intercession shall be of no benefit to anyone. The Almighty alone shall give permission to intercede to whom He wants and for whom He chooses. Therefore, the myth of regarding the angels the daughters of Allah and seeking refuge from the law of retribution and accountability in the Hereafter by baselessly supposing that they shall intercede for them is mere fanciful thinking on their part and shall certainly not be of any benefit to them.
The Prophet (sws) has been solaced that he should turn away from the slaves to this world who are showing indifference to the Message of Allah and to leave them to themselves. This is the farthest limit of their knowledge and they have no awareness about the Hereafter. God best knows those who have strayed from His path and those who are rightly guided and He shall give each person his due. Whatever is in the heavens and the earth is under the sole jurisdiction of Allah and no one whosoever can save the evildoers from His punishment nor deprive the righteous of their reward. Only those shall be rewarded in the Hereafter who used to abstain from heinous sins and open indecencies and only indulged in occasional but minor sins to which they were induced, but never insisted on them because indeed the Almighty is vast in mercy; He shall forgive them. As far as those proud and rebellious people are concerned who, on the basis of their race and creed and on the false pretext of intercession reckon that they shall be granted a high place in the Hereafter, they must not regard themselves to be too pious; the Almighty has knowledge of all their stages of creation and is also aware of their deeds.
People who do not even have the spirit to spend in the path of the Almighty or make sacrifices and who vainly reckon that since they are the progeny of two great prophets – Abraham (sws) and Moses (sws) –are by birth entitled to Paradise are severely condemned on this attitude. Their attention is directed to the teachings and sacrifices of these prophets that their high rank and status are because of the unprecedented sacrifices they gave in the way of Allah and not because of their race or creed. A person's own deeds shall benefit him and they shall be of no use to others.
In this regard, it has also been emphatically explained that Allah alone gives comfort and pain, life and death, daughter and son, wealth and prosperity; therefore, a person should always attach oneself to the Almighty. Nations who remain indifferent to the Message of Allah and get deeply involved in worldly pleasures, in spite of their wealth and grandeur, meet the fate similar to the one met by the 'Ād and the Thamūd. Their remains still exist and everyone should learn a lesson from them.
This concluding section of the sūrah refers to what had been stated in the beginning: the Quran is not the work of fortune-tellers or soothsayers but, like previous heavenly scriptures, is another Reminder. Now the threatened hour is nigh and it is giving its opponents a timely warning. If they still do not take heed, no one shall be able to save them from Allah. They should not express surprise and wonder at the reality of which this Reminder is warning them and should reform themselves. They should not laugh at it; in fact, its consequences are so grave that they should take it very seriously. They must pay heed and prostrate themselves in front of the Almighty.
Section I: (Verses 1-18)
Text and Translation
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
وَالنَّجْمِ إِذَا هَوَى (1) مَا ضَلَّ صَاحِبُكُمْ وَمَا غَوَى (2) وَمَا يَنطِقُ عَنِ الْهَوَى (3) إِنْ هُوَ إِلَّا وَحْيٌ يُوحَى (4) عَلَّمَهُ شَدِيدُ الْقُوَى (5) ذُو مِرَّةٍ فَاسْتَوَى (6) وَهُوَ بِالْأُفُقِ الْأَعْلَى (7) ثُمَّ دَنَا فَتَدَلَّى (8) فَكَانَ قَابَ قَوْسَيْنِ أَوْ أَدْنَى (9) فَأَوْحَى إِلَى عَبْدِهِ مَا أَوْحَى (10) مَا كَذَبَ الْفُؤَادُ مَا رَأَى (11) أَفَتُمَارُونَهُ عَلَى مَا يَرَى (12) وَلَقَدْ رَآهُ نَزْلَةً أُخْرَى (13) عِندَ سِدْرَةِ الْمُنْتَهَى (14) عِندَهَا جَنَّةُ الْمَأْوَى (15) إِذْ يَغْشَى السِّدْرَةَ مَا يَغْشَى (16) مَا زَاغَ الْبَصَرُ وَمَا طَغَى (17) لَقَدْ رَأَى مِنْ آيَاتِ رَبِّهِ الْكُبْرَى (18)
The stars, when they fall, bear witness that your companion is neither lost nor has gone astray. And he does not speak out of his own fancy. This is but a revelation sent down to him. He was taught by an angel, mighty in power, towering in character, endued with wisdom. He appeared while he stood poised, being on the highest horizon.Then he drew near and came down within two bows' length or even closer. The Almighty then revealed to His servant that which He revealed. His heart did not deny his vision. So will you then quarrel with him over what he is seeing? (1-12)
And he beheld him once again near the farthest lote-tree, close to which is the Garden of Repose, when the lote-tree was being covered with that which was covering it. His sight did not falter nor lost its poise. He saw his Lord's great signs. (13-18)
وَالنَّجْمِ إِذَا هَوَى (1)
Most exegetes are of the opinion that the word النَّجْمِ (star) here connotes the star cluster: Pleiades; however, there is no intrinsic or extrinsic contextual indication for this. A more evident indication could have been the Sirius star mentioned later in the sūrah. However, there is no occasion to regard it to be implied either, as will be explained later. In my opinion, it may connote genre and category the way it does in وَبِالنَّجْمِ هُمْ يَهْتَدُونَ (16:16) (and by the stars they are guided, (16:16))and وَالنَّجْمُ وَالشَّجَرُ يَسْجُدَانِ (55: 6) (and the stars and the trees also bow down in adoration (5:6)) as well as is many similar verses of the Qur'ān.
The word هوى يهوي primarily means "falling of something from above". This word is appropriate if used to connote the setting of stars and their vanishing from the horizon as well for the bombardment of meteors from the stars on the devils who try to eavesdrop on the news of the unseen (ghayb), as has been mentioned at several places in the Qur'ān.
The letter وَ in وَالنَّجْمِ is to signify an oath and I have explained at a number of places in this tafsīr that such oaths are meant to bear witness over a premise.
مَا ضَلَّ صَاحِبُكُمْ وَمَا غَوَى (2) وَمَا يَنطِقُ عَنِ الْهَوَى (3) إِنْ هُوَ إِلَّا وَحْيٌ يُوحَى (4)
These verses form the complement of oath (muqsam 'alayh). By swearing on the falling and setting of stars, the Quraysh are addressed and told that their companion (the Prophet Muhammad (sws)) is neither lost nor has gone astray. Whatever he is reciting out to them is not from his own fancy; it is revealed to him from God so that it can be recited out to them for their guidance.
The occasion of the discourse bears evidence that this is a refutation of the allegation of soothsaying which the Quraysh made on him. When he used to read out the Qur'ān to the leaders of the Quraysh and also relate to them his experiences of the angel Gabriel and of divine revelations, they would try to convince their masses that he too is a soothsayer and an astrologer like their own soothsayers and astrologers. They would allege that just as after observing the meeting place and various zones of the stars and after receiving inspiration from the jinn, these soothsayers produce a poetical cum prosaic discourse and inform people of the matters of the unseen, in a similar manner he too produces a similar discourse and claims to know matters belonging to the future. They would further allege that his claim that an angel of God brings revelations to them is totally false and that just as the jinn give inspirations to their soothsayers, in a similar manner some jinn gives inspirations to him and he regards this jinn to be an angel.
This allegation of the Quraysh has been refuted at a number of places in the Qur'ān. In particular, some of its very important aspects are discussed at the end of Sūrah Shu'arā'. Here, in this verse, this allegation is refuted from another angle which begins with the falling and setting of the stars.
By citing the falling and setting of the stars, the Qur'ān has refuted the beliefs of the Arabs which related to their soothsayers and astrologers with regard to two aspects.
Firstly, the sun, the moon and all other heavenly bodies do not have absolute authority nor can per se cast positive and negative influence; they are all subservient to God and are obedient to His commands. The manner in which they, with great precision and punctuality, rise and set as per an ordained timetable bears witness that they themselves do not have any power or authority and thus are neither worthy of being worshipped nor being regarded as the fountainhead of divine revelation and inspiration and thus be sought help from. This also shows that they should not be regarded as the source of calamities nor be beseeched for help to avoid them. Similarly, they should also not be regarded as the source of blessings nor be implored to grant them. The fact of the matter is that all these heavenly bodies prostrate before God and through this practice of theirs invite God's servants that they too serve God only and prostrate before Him alone. This topic though has been mentioned in the Qur'ān in various styles, however, the final word in this regard is the dialogue Abraham (sws) employed to conclusively convey the truth to his people.
Here it needs to be kept in consideration that soothsaying thrived and prospered because of its relationship with the jinn and devils, it also had deep links with the movement of the stars and the influence this movement cast. The Qur'ān has refuted this belief by saying وَالنَّجْمِ إِذَا هَوَى: Stars by their very practice bear witness that they are subservient to the Creator of this universe. It is at His behest that they rise and at His bidding that they set; so foolish are the people who try to receive divine inspiration from them or try to find out the future through them; even more foolish are the people who call the messengers of God astrologers and soothsayers even though all the teachings of these messengers strongly refutes their baseless practices.
Secondly, to refute the claim of the soothsayers that they have connections with such jinn as inform them of divine matters; they have no such access. The jinn and the devils who eavesdrop in the heavens in order to listen to such matters are pelted by meteors to shoo them away. The Almighty has made this special arrangement for this purpose. In Sūra Sāffāt, the words are:
إِلَّا مَنْ خَطِفَ الْخَطْفَةَ فَأَتْبَعَهُ شِهَابٌ ثَاقِبٌ(10:37)
Except one who tries to snatch [some words] will be pursued by a burning meteor.(37:10)
The jinn themselves have confessed to this arrangement made by the Almighty in the following words:
وَأَنَّا كُنَّا نَقْعُدُ مِنْهَا مَقَاعِدَ لِلسَّمْعِ فَمَن يَسْتَمِعِ الْآنَ يَجِدْ لَهُ شِهَابًا رَّصَدًا (72: 9)
And we deeply observed the heavens and found it filled with stern guards and darting meteors. (9:72)
It is by referring to these meteors in Sūrah Wāqi'ah (56:75-78), Sūrah Hāqqah (69:38-43) and Sūrah Takwīr (82:15-25), the Almighty has regarded the Qur'ān to be absolutely devoid of Satanic interference, and has explained that no jinn or devil has access to the Qur'ān. If any of them tries to reach it, he is pelted with shooting stars. Devils can neither reach the guarded tablet in which the Qur'ān is preserved nor influence the majestic angel who descends with it nor can lead astray the messenger to whom it is revealed. Devils come into contact with only those soothsayers who are worthless liars and wretches and in order to deceive people put up a false display and claim to have access to divine matters.
Once this relationship between the oath and its complement is understood, it is essential to fully grasp the words and meanings of these verses so that the whole discourse is completely understood.
The word ضَلَّ generally occurs for such error of a person as is a result of forgetfulness or because of an unintentional intellectual mistake while غَوَى relates to that error which is also a result of a person's base desires and intentional planning.
The word صَاحِب here is used for the Prophet (sws) and the addressed pronoun is for the Quraysh. They are told that the Prophet (sws) is their very close companion and not a stranger to them. They very well know his past and present as well as his character and conduct and his tastes and inclination. Have they ever seen any urge in him that could raise the doubt in their mind that he has a proclivity for astrology and soothsaying? If a person has such a proclivity, it does not remain hidden for the whole of his life from close companions. However, it is very strange that what they have never witnessed in him for such a long time, they are now blaming him for it once he expressed his claim to be a prophet of God. The fact of the matter is that his whole life and his words bear witness to the fact that he has never been besmeared by any error that is the result of forgetfulness, base desires, intentional or unintentional planning.
The word عَن in وَمَا يَنطِقُ عَنِ الْهَوَى is used to point to the source and origin: whatever discourse he is presenting before them does not originate from his own self. His discourse is in fact a divine revelation which the Almighty has sent to him for their guidance. These words are also a sarcastic remark on the soothsayers and astrologers: while their discourses arise from their own selves, the origin of the prophet's discourse is from a sublime source belonging to the realm of the divine.
The verse primarily refers to the Qur'ān which the Prophet (sws) was presenting as divine revelation. Thus the succeeding verse إِنْ هُوَ إِلَّا وَحْيٌ يُوحَى explains this aspect. However, since a prophet is infallible in matters of religion and since every word and deed of his is an example for his followers, none of his actions is against justice and fairness even in matters which relate to every day life. If ever he commits a mistake, the Almighty corrects Him.
عَلَّمَهُ شَدِيدُ الْقُوَى (5)
After the attributes of the discourse and those of the person to whom it was revealed are stated, mentioned here are the attributes of Gabriel who brought it down to the Prophet (sws). The words شَدِيدُ الْقُوَى show that he possesses all higher attributes and abilities and each of them is sound and well-grounded. There is absolutely no possibility that any other spirit influence or over-awe him or deceive or cause any confusion in the instruction of the book or that he himself commit any mistake or be afflicted with doubt or uncertainty. The Almighty has protected him from all such weaknesses so that he is able to discharge the responsibility entrusted to him with full honesty and sincerity. In Sūrah Takwīr, he is described thus:
إِنَّهُ لَقَوْلُ رَسُولٍ كَرِيمٍذِي قُوَّةٍ عِنْدَ ذِي الْعَرْشِ مَكِينٍمُطَاعٍ ثَمَّ أَمِينٍ(81: 19-21)
This is the word brought by a noble messenger. He is endued with great power and held in honour before the Lord of the Throne. He is obeyed and is very trustworthy. (81:19-21)
The expression ذُو مِرَّةٍ means that he is very stable and secure in both his intellect and his character. There is no possibility of him being deceived or being sold or bought. This word is used for intellectual and moral superiority.
It needs to be appreciated that these attributes of Gabriel are not merely mentioned here to disparage the origin and source of inspiration of the soothsayers and astrologers; in fact, the Jews and their associates: the extremist Shiites would, God forbid, blame the Prophet (sws) for being dishonest, biased and lacking in wisdom as has been alluded to in the tafsīr of Sūrah Baqarah. For this very reason, they always remained enemies of Gabriel, as has been referred to by the Qur'ān.
ذُو مِرَّةٍ فَاسْتَوَى (6) وَهُوَ بِالْأُفُقِ الْأَعْلَى (7) ثُمَّ دَنَا فَتَدَلَّى (8) فَكَانَ قَابَ قَوْسَيْنِ أَوْ أَدْنَى (9) فَأَوْحَى إِلَى عَبْدِهِ مَا أَوْحَى (10)
The word ذُو مِرَّةٍ is related to شَدِيدُ الْقُوَى. That is why it has been explained in conjunction with the latter earlier. From the word فَاسْتَوَى begins a description of the nature of teaching referred to above by the words: Gabriel instructed the Prophet (sws) in a very painstaking way and with great affection and attention taught him the divine revelation which was revealed to him by God. The ف in the word فَاسْتَوَى is for description: initially, he appeared in his original form and stood straight. The place of his appearance was on the higher horizon of the heavens. Higher horizon refers to the one found right on top of one's head. If something appears from this horizon, it will look as clear, sharp and unambiguous as the full moon or the midday sun. On the other hand, if something appears from the eastern, western, northern or southern horizon it will be vague and indistinct just like the new moon on the first day. The purpose of this explanation is that Gabriel appeared before the Prophet (sws) from the higher horizon, and the Prophet (sws) was able to fully observe him with his eyes.
The word تَدَلَّى means "to bend" or "to hang". This describes the fact that Gabriel in order to teach the Prophet (sws) came near him and just as an affectionate and elderly teacher bends over his dear student with great fondness, he too bent over the Prophet (sws). In other words, it was not that he taught the Prophet (sws) from a distance without caring whether he had fully heard him or not and if he did, was able to understand it or not; on the contrary, with full attention and focus, he delivered the words in a manner that he be able to fully hear and understand them. Here it needs to be kept in consideration that the knowledge provided by the devils of the soothsayers is mentioned in by the Qur'ān as
(37: 10) خَطِفَ الخَطًفَةُ: It is a stolen piece of information which thieves and crooks have gotten hold of. Obviously, when the teachers are thieves, they would only be teaching their students the way thieves do. The Qur'ān has here prominently mentioned the nature and method of teaching of Gabriel so that the difference in teaching of both is fully highlighted.
In فَكَانَ قَابَ قَوْسَيْنِ أَوْ أَدْنَى the word قَابَ means "to the extent" and refers to ultimate proximity and nearness. That is, Gabriel came so near the Prophet (sws) that a distance of two bows or even less remained. This comparison also takes into account the Arab taste for they were a people very conversant and familiar with bows and arrows and to express great nearness would use the comparison of one bow's length or two bows' length in the very way we say in our language one meter or two meters. The word "or" here conveys the fact that this comparison is merely an expression for nearness; for the distance can even be less.
In فَأَوْحَى إِلَى عَبْدِهِ مَا أَوْحَى the subject of أَوْحَى can be God as well as Gabriel. In the first case, the meaning as absolutely clear: God in an elaborate manner revealed to His servant ie Muhammad (sws) that which He wanted to reveal. In the second case, the antecedent of the genitive pronoun in عَبْدِهِ will be God and the meaning would be that with attention and thoroughness Gabriel revealed to the servant of God what He wanted to reveal or revealed that which God had directed Gabriel to reveal. My inclination is towards the first of these interpretations and there is nothing particularly wrong with the second one either. Some Sufis have absolutely wrongly concluded from this verse that the Almighty, God forbid, has regarded Muhammad to be a servant of Gabriel. I have continued to point out in this tafsīr in the light of various examples that the antecedents of pronouns are determined through contextual indications. Multiplicity (intishār) in antecedents is not a defect in every case; in many cases, it creates brevity which is part of the eloquence found in the discourse of the Arabs.
مَا كَذَبَ الْفُؤَادُ مَا رَأَى (11)
This is God's attestation to the Prophet's observation: no one should regard this observation to be a result of his fancy or deception of his inner self; it was none of these and in reality, the Prophet (sws) fully observed him.
I have mentioned earlier that when the Prophet (sws) mentioned these observations to his adversaries, they made fun of him. They said that that he saw his hidden desires in his dreams and by regarding his dreamy Paradise to be a reality he related them to people to over-awe them whereas all of them were the products of his fancy and delusions from his inner-self. The Qur'ān has negated this allegation at many places in various styles. In the tafsīr of Sūrah Takwīr, more details will be provided.
أَفَتُمَارُونَهُ عَلَى مَا يَرَى (12)
The adversaries of the Prophet (sws) are addressed in this verse and rebuked for disputing with the Prophet (sws) on his observations. The fact of the matter is that he informs them of only what he sees with his eyes and hears with his ears. If they are not able to see this, then this will not negate the reality.
Here it needs to be kept in consideration that the adversaries of the Prophet (sws) would believe in all the nonsense the soothsayers would convey to them without any hesitation because whatever they would say would be in accordance with their desires; however, the call of the Prophet (sws) was against their desires and for this reason they would raise all kinds of doubts to oppose him.
وَلَقَدْ رَآهُ نَزْلَةً أُخْرَى (13) عِندَ سِدْرَةِ الْمُنْتَهَى (14) عِندَهَا جَنَّةُ الْمَأْوَى (15)
It is not that this was a one-time observation by the Prophet (sws) and thus could be regarded as a mistake or a result of his imagination; he saw Gabriel again near the farthest lote-tree near which is also the garden of repose. The implication is that they should not make fun of the observation he is presenting to them; it is something which requires their serious consideration. It may be kept in mind that here only two initial observations are presented in response to people who were the pioneers in making fun of the Prophet's observations. This does not mean that he saw Gabriel only twice. After these two initial observations, Gabriel started regularly appearing before him in various forms and at different times. So much so, he became the Prophet's most known, frequent and cherished visitor.
The place of the farthest lote-tree is the one where this world of ours ends. It seems that this lote-tree divides our world from the divine realm which is beyond our observation. Neither are we aware of the boundaries of these two worlds nor of the reality of this sign called the lote-tree which bifurcates the two. These things belong to the category of the mutashābihāt. Hence as per the directive of the Qur'ān, it is essential to profess faith in them and one should not try to determine their real form and shape. Only God knows their real form. The knowledge of those who have sound knowledge increases through such things. People who make efforts to try to find out their real form and shape, falter and go astray.
The words عِندَهَا جَنَّةُ الْمَأْوَى specify the place of the lote-tree: it is near the garden of repose. Discussion on this garden can be seen in verse nineteen of Sūrah Sajdah. It seems that just as the lote tree is at the place this world ends, the Garden of Repose is at the place the divine realm begins. It is evident from this stipulation that the Prophet (sws) observed Gabriel the second time at the point these two worlds met.
إِذْ يَغْشَى السِّدْرَةَ مَا يَغْشَى (16)
Described in this verse is the nature of the observation: when the lote-tree was covered with that which was covering it. These words point to the fact that at that time divine manifestations were so numerous on the lote-tree that words are unable to express them.
مَا زَاغَ الْبَصَرُ وَمَا طَغَى (17)
Just as earlier on, the words were: مَا كَذَبَ الْفُؤَادُ مَا رَأَى (53: 11) (his heart did not deny his vision, (53:11)), it is stated that at the instance of this second observation that his sight did not falter nor lose its poise; whatever he observed was observed with full concentration and attention.
The word زَيْغْ means "to bend or to distort" something. The implication is that the Prophet's sight did not bend from its correct angle in the observation of a divine manifestation; on the contrary, he observed everything from a correct angle. The word طَغَى means "to lose poise and balance". The implication of the word is that though so numerous were the divine manifestations that words are unable to express them, yet his sight did not lose control the slightest. In fact, he deeply and fully observed everything.
لَقَدْ رَأَى مِنْ آيَاتِ رَبِّهِ الْكُبْرَى (18)
This verse refers to the observations of the Prophet (sws) at that instant: indeed, he saw his Lord's great signs. The Qur'ān does not provide details of any of these signs because not only are they beyond words, but also they are beyond human intellect. However, the word كُبْرَى (great) bears witness to the fact that these signs were above and beyond the ones every man of vision can observe in the world within him and that which surrounds him. Our exegetes are of the opinion that these signs refer to the ones the Prophet (sws) saw in his divine journey to the skies. What supports their opinion is that in Sūrah Banī Isrā'īl where this journey is mentioned, it is stated that he observed great signs of his Lord. However, it must be kept in consideration that he only observed the signs of God; there is no indication that he observed God Himself.
This introductory portion of the sūrah may now be summarized so that the remaining portion is easily understood.
People who by regarding the Qur'ān to be a product of soothsaying and astrology wanted to belittle its status are addressed and told:
1. They should not regard the Day of Judgement which the Qur'ān is informing them of to be something ordinary. The Qur'ān is not at all like the nonsensical uttering of their soothsayers and astrologers that has been concocted by its presenter. It is in fact a revelation from God which He has delivered to a special servant of His through His loftiest angel. The purpose is to fully inform them of this day before its advent.
2. The angel who has brought down this divine revelation is held in high esteem by God and that is why he has been selected by God for this task. He is the most trustworthy; he cannot show dishonesty in what he has been entrusted with; he is also very powerful and no one can dare overpower or over-awe him; he has been blessed with all high moral attributes and intellectual abilities and hence there is no possibility that he may be afflicted with any misconception or someone may deceive him or that he may show bias to someone or unjustly oppose anyone.
3. This angel was twice seen by the Prophet (sws) very clearly. In the first instance, he saw him in the higher horizon and in the second near the farthest lote-tree. There is absolutely no possibility that this observation that he has stated to them be a product of his fancy.
4. The angel taught the Prophet (sws) the way an affectionate teacher instructs his pupil by going near him and bending over him. The Prophet (sws) fully grasped and understood this instruction. It is not that he heard some words coming from a distant source of which he was not sure what he heard and understood.
Section II: Verses (19-30)
In the succeeding verses, the adversaries of the Prophet (sws) are warned that they have no basis not to fear of the Day of Judgement which they are being so elaborately and thoroughly informed of. Are they depending on the intercession of their self-claimed deities: Lāt, Manāt and 'Uzzā? If this is true, then they should remember that they are merely hypothetical names which qualify no one in the real world. Reward and punishment is a reality. They cannot combat reality with conjecture. Whatever false wishes they have nurtured in their hearts are mere desires; it is not certain that they materialize. All the affairs of the heavens and the earth are in the hands of God. Not even an angel can open his mouth in the presence of God without His permission. Those who have named angels after women, and are indifferent to the Qur'ān because of depending on them have only made a back door to escape the accountability of the Hereafter. However, even this will be of no benefit to them. God knows best the righteous from the wrong-doers.
In the light of this background, readers may proceed to read the next section of verses.
Text and Translation
أَفَرَأَيْتُمُ اللَّاتَ وَالْعُزَّى (19) وَمَنَاةَ الثَّالِثَةَ الْأُخْرَى (20) أَلَكُمُ الذَّكَرُ وَلَهُ الْأُنثَى (21) تِلْكَ إِذًا قِسْمَةٌ ضِيزَى (22) إِنْ هِيَ إِلَّا أَسْمَاء سَمَّيْتُمُوهَا أَنتُمْ وَآبَاؤُكُم مَّا أَنزَلَ اللَّهُ بِهَا مِن سُلْطَانٍ إِن يَتَّبِعُونَ إِلَّا الظَّنَّ وَمَا تَهْوَى الْأَنفُسُ وَلَقَدْ جَاءهُم مِّن رَّبِّهِمُ الْهُدَى (23) أَمْ لِلْإِنسَانِ مَا تَمَنَّى (24) فَلِلَّهِ الْآخِرَةُ وَالْأُولَى (25) وَكَم مِّن مَّلَكٍ فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ لَا تُغْنِي شَفَاعَتُهُمْ شَيْئًا إِلَّا مِن بَعْدِ أَن يَأْذَنَ اللَّهُ لِمَن يَشَاء وَيَرْضَى (26) إِنَّ الَّذِينَ لَا يُؤْمِنُونَ بِالْآخِرَةِ لَيُسَمُّونَ الْمَلَائِكَةَ تَسْمِيَةَ الْأُنثَى (27) وَمَا لَهُم بِهِ مِنْ عِلْمٍ إِن يَتَّبِعُونَ إِلَّا الظَّنَّ وَإِنَّ الظَّنَّ لَا يُغْنِي مِنَ الْحَقِّ شَيْئًا (28) فَأَعْرِضْ عَن مَّن تَوَلَّى عَن ذِكْرِنَا وَلَمْ يُرِدْ إِلَّا الْحَيَاةَ الدُّنْيَا (29) ذَلِكَ مَبْلَغُهُم مِّنَ الْعِلْمِ إِنَّ رَبَّكَ هُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِمَن ضَلَّ عَن سَبِيلِهِ وَهُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِمَنِ اهْتَدَى (30)
Have you ever pondered over Lāt and 'Uzzā and the third Manāt which is next in rank below them? For your own selves you like sons and for Him daughters! This indeed is a division unjust! They are but names which you and your fathers have invented in whose favour the Almighty has revealed no argument. They follow conjectures and the whims of their own souls, even though there has already come to them a manifest guidance from their Lord. (19-23)
Will man attain all that he desires? Therefore, remember that the Hereafter and this world are under the control of Allah. And how many angels are there in the heavens whose intercession shall be of no availuntil the Almighty gives permission to whom He wants and for whom He chooses. (24-26)
Those who do not believe in the Hereafter call the angels by the names of women. Yet of this they have no knowledge; They merely follow conjecture and conjecture can never take the place of truth. Therefore, turn away from those who turn away from Our Reminder and seek only the life of this world. This is the farthest limit of their knowledge. Your Lord fully knows those who have strayed from His path and those who are rightly guided. (27-30)
أَفَرَأَيْتُمُ اللَّاتَ وَالْعُزَّى (19) وَمَنَاةَ الثَّالِثَةَ الْأُخْرَى (20)
The question posed in these verses is meant to express amazement and humiliation. Earlier on, the attributes of Gabriel were mentioned: He is mighty in power, towering in character, endued with wisdom. In Sūrah Takwīr, the words are: مُطَاعٍ (21:81) (he is obeyed, (81:21)) and عِنْدَ ذِي الْعَرْشِ مَكِينٍ (81: 20) (held in honour before the Lord of the Throne, (81:20))and I have already discussed what these attributes tacitly imply. Here another special aspect of his is worthy of attention which becomes evident from the humiliating style of this verse: a little deliberation shows that the attributes of Gabriel mentioned are very commendable manly ones. In other words, the Quraysh are rebuked by referring to these attributes of this exalted angel: how can these angels having such lofty manly attributes be compared to their deities? : Lāt, 'Uzzā and Manāt about whom they think that they are God's daughters and whom they have named after women.
It will become evident from succeeding verses that all three of them are symbols of the angels. It has been pointed out at a number of places in this tafsīr that the Idolaters of Arabia regarded the angels to be daughters of God and thought that God did whatever they said. For this reason, these deities were able to procure for their worshippers sustenance and children in this world and if ever there was going to be a Day of Judgment they would have them go scot-free without any punishment. In particular, these three deities had a great status for them. Their recommendation and intercession was considered to bear certain results. About them, they believed تلك الغرانيق العلى وإن شفاعتهن لترتجى (these are deities of exalted status and there is full hope that their recommendations will be accepted).
There is no need to get into a discussion as to which among the tribes of Arabia worshipped which one of them. It is possible that a particular tribe specially related itself to one of them; however, all the Idolaters of Arabia equally acknowledged their exaltedness. In order to express and impose their political and religious leadership over the whole of Arabia, the Quraysh had gathered the statues of all the deities in the holy ka'bah. Since the worshippers of these three deities in Arabia outnumbered all others, the Quraysh too revered them the most.
It is also evident from the Qur'ān that though these three deities were regarded as the most exalted in the eyes of Arabs yet between them there were gradations in status. Lāt and 'Uzzā had the highest status. Though Manāt was also regarded as very exalted yet it was lower in rank to the other two. Thus the Qur'ān has qualified it with the attributes: ثالثة and أخرى. The first of these refers to its placement amongst the highest of the deities and the second of them informs us of its relative rank as compared to the rest of the two: though it belongs to their category yet it is second in stature to them. The words أولىand أخرىare known in Arabic to express rank and status and have been used in this in the Qur'ān as well. A clear example of this usage can be seen in the following verse: وَقَالَتْ أُولاَهُمْ لأُخْرَاهُمْ فَمَا كَانَ لَكُمْ عَلَيْنَا مِن فَضْلٍ فَذُوقُواْ الْعَذَابَ بِمَا كُنتُمْ تَكْسِبُونَ (39:7) (Then the first will say to the last: "You were no better than we. Taste the penalty of your misdeeds," (7:39)).
A better part of the discussions found in the tafsīr books regarding the etymology and meaning of these names is baseless. In my opinion, the name is اللاّتْ (al-Lāt) a distorted form of الآلِهَة (al-Ālihah). Just as the greatest of the worshipped is الله they had adopted the name الآلِهَة for their greatest deity which the common masses with their repeated use of the word had converted to اللاّتْ. Some people regard it from the root لَتٌّ which means "to dissolve and to knead". They thought that this was the name of a person who fed the pilgrims in the times of hajjby making a beverage in which they would dissolve barley in water. After his death, people started worshipping his grave and he came to be regarded by this name as a deity. This opinion is not only wrong as far as etymology is concerned, it is also against Qur'ānic stipulations. It is evident from the Qur'ān that they were statues of deities and they were carved out by naming the angels after women.
The word عُزّى obviously is the feminine form of عَزِيْز ('Azīz) and أَعَزَّ (A'azza). عَزِيْز is a prominent attribute of God which portrays His exaltedness and reverence. From this very aspect, this deity is called عُزّى.
In my opinion the word مَنَات is from the root منية which would mean a deity coming close to which is greatly cherished or which is a means to grant wishes.
أَلَكُمُ الذَّكَرُ وَلَهُ الْأُنثَى (21) تِلْكَ إِذًا قِسْمَةٌ ضِيزَى (22)
There is sarcasm in these sentences: the Arabs like male offspring and hate female offspring to the extent that whenever a girl is born to them they start hiding themselves from others out of embarrassment. So when such are their feelings about the female gender they should at least be gracious enough to not impute to others what they dislike for their own selves. What justice can be seen in this distribution for God has created all but they associate daughters to Him and sons to their own selves? This distribution is absolutely unfair and unmerited. It was but just and fair that what they disliked for themselves should not have been related by them to God.
The word ضِيزَى means "something which is unjust and unfair". The verb ضَازَهُ would mean ظَلَمَهُ (he oppressed him; he was unjust to him).
The implication of the whole verse is that ascribing sons or daughters to God is in the first place totally against God's oneness as well as human nature and intellect; they have shown further injustice by ascribing to God what they regard a means of embarrassment for themselves. This only means that they regard God to beeven inferior in status to themselves.
إِنْ هِيَ إِلَّا أَسْمَاء سَمَّيْتُمُوهَا أَنتُمْ وَآبَاؤُكُم مَّا أَنزَلَ اللَّهُ بِهَا مِن سُلْطَانٍ إِن يَتَّبِعُونَ إِلَّا الظَّنَّ وَمَا تَهْوَى الْأَنفُسُ وَلَقَدْ جَاءهُم مِّن رَّبِّهِمُ الْهُدَى (23)
Expressed in these verses is the reality of these deities: they are merely names which they and their forefathers have given them and they do not represent any one in the real world. The Almighty has not revealed any sanction in their favour which they can present in their support. If they have found their forefathers worshipping them, then this is not reason enough. They too like them worshipped these deities while blindly following their own forefathers. God's sanction in this regard could have been found in human nature and intellect or could have been found in God's signs scattered not only in the world around man but also in the world within him or could have been directly communicated to them through His prophets and messengers. He could have said that such and such are his favourite daughters whose recommendation He always accepts and forgives all those who worship these deities. When none of these sanctions exists, then they are merely names invented by them and their forefathers and the beings they qualify do not exist in reality.
Consider next the portion: إِن يَتَّبِعُونَ إِلَّا الظَّنَّ وَمَا تَهْوَى الْأَنفُسُ وَلَقَدْ جَاءهُم مِّن رَّبِّهِمُ الْهُدَى.In the previous portions of this set of verses, the discourse was set in direct address. Here the discourse has become indirect. This is a rebuke on their deprivation and misfortune and an expression of sorrow on their intellectual decadence: God Himself had specially revealed His guidance to them; however instead of following it, they started following their own conjectures and their own whims.
The word الْهُدَى is used for the guidance which the Almighty has revealed in the form of the Qur'ān and Sunnah and whose exaltedness and purity has been mentioned in the introductory verses of the sūrah. Following conjecture and whims is dangerous in all circumstances; however, following them in spite of the presence of divine guidance is like throwing one self into the pit of death in broad daylight.
The words وَمَا تَهْوَى الْأَنفُسُ specifically refer to the innovation of polytheism of these people which is under discussion. The reason is that every innovation originates from some personal whim or wish. When a person's soul does not find in itself the strength to fulfil the demands of a reality and its denial is also not easy for it, then it tries to adopt ways which apparently do not seem to be its denial yet are able to afford it with a route to escape heavy responsibilities thereby imposed. Whatever religious innovation one reflects on, one will find this fiend of human whim and desire hidden in it.
Obviously, there existed no intellectual or scriptural arguments in favour of these deities; however, in order to silence every indicator for reward and punishment, Satan tried to deceive these Idolaters by saying that angels were daughters of God and that such and such daughters were specially dear to Him. They tried to convince them that He listens to what these special ones say to Him and that if they intercede, He necessarily honours them. Hence all those who worship them and make offerings at their altars will win God's favour through their intercession and be granted wealth and children in this world and a high status in the Hereafter if ever it comes about. In this manner, success in this world and the next was rendered an easy affair and any danger of accountability and reward and punishment in the Hereafter was warded off.
However, if one deliberates on this issue, what else is the reason behind this mythology other than personal desire and fancy? A person's inner-self wanted that a way be found to procure God's nearness and Paradise so that it did not have to sacrifice any of its desires. Satan showed it this way.
أَمْ لِلْإِنسَانِ مَا تَمَنَّى (24) فَلِلَّهِ الْآخِرَةُ وَالْأُولَى (25)
This is an expression of amazement on what is said above as well as a comment on it. The implication is that it is up to them to carve out any philosophy in the guidance of their whims and desires to please themselves; however, it is not necessary that all their desires will be granted; there is a great difference between reality and desire; when they face reality, only then will they realize that they were building castles in the air – castles whose foundations are built on sand; none of their deities will be able to help them in any way; each person will be faced with his deeds; those whose good deeds abound will enter Paradise and those in whom evil deeds abound will be cast into Hell regardless of who they are.
Here it needs to be kept in consideration that just as the Idolaters of Arabia had nurtured a lot of baseless desires in their hearts whilst relying on their deities, the Jews, Christians and Muslims too had a lot of desires in their hearts which were a product of their fancy. I have already alluded to the details of the desires of the Jews and Christians which the Qur'ān calls as amāniyyu in thetafsīr of Sūrah Baqarah and Sūrah Āl 'Imrān. In my book Haqīqat-e Shirk-o Tawhīd, I have elaborated upon the beliefs which Muslims while following the Jews and Christians had invented against the Qur'ān and Sunnah. By using the general word "man" in this verse, the Qur'ān has addressed each and every individual without any exception and informed him that whatever wishes and desires a person may harbour in his heart is up to him; however, he should remember that desires neither alter the reality nor will the law of God show bias for any one in the slightest way.
The words فَلِلَّهِ الْآخِرَةُ وَالْأُولَى signify that if any person wrongly wishes that the laws and practices of God will change to accommodate his desires, then he should fully know that both this world and the next are in the complete control of God; no one has the status or stature to intercede before Him for someone without His permission or to try to affect a change in His laws or decisions.
وَكَم مِّن مَّلَكٍ فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ لَا تُغْنِي شَفَاعَتُهُمْ شَيْئًا إِلَّا مِن بَعْدِ أَن يَأْذَنَ اللَّهُ لِمَن يَشَاء وَيَرْضَى (26)
This verse further explains the previous one: not to speak of these deities of the Idolaters there are many angels, both of high and low rank, present in the heavens whose intercession will be of no avail to anyone except if God permits them. In the first place, no one will dare open his mouth without the permission of God and whoever tries to open it will only be allowed to do so in favour of the person for whom God will permit his intercession.
إِنَّ الَّذِينَ لَا يُؤْمِنُونَ بِالْآخِرَةِ لَيُسَمُّونَ الْمَلَائِكَةَ تَسْمِيَةَ الْأُنثَى (27)
This verse points to the people who have fabricated this mythology: they are the ones who do not have faith in the Hereafter; even if they accept it in the capacity of a supposition, they do not have belief in the reality of the Hereafter as the Day on which the complete justice of God will manifest itself and each person will be rewarded or punished in accordance with his deeds. It is these people who have named angels after women and concocted the mythology that they are beloved daughters of God and it is through their intercession alone that the favours of this life are won and if there ever is a hereafter, then it is they who will become their real helpers and will make God grant them all they want.
وَمَا لَهُم بِهِ مِنْ عِلْمٍ إِن يَتَّبِعُونَ إِلَّا الظَّنَّ وَإِنَّ الظَّنَّ لَا يُغْنِي مِنَ الْحَقِّ شَيْئًا (28)
Though they have fabricated this folk-tale to save their skins from the responsibilities of the Hereafter, it is based on mere conjecture. Merely to fulfil their fancies, they are indulging in blatant conjecture. These foolish people do not know that conjecture is what it is and cannot replace reality in any way. When the reality manifests itself, they will come to know that they had been only dreaming throughout their lives.
In verse 23, the word ظَنٌّ has been used in contrast to the word الْهُدَى (the guidance). Here it has been used in contrast to both عِلْم (knowledge) and حَقِّ (the truth). Knowledge is not only obtained through innate guidance and through one's intellect but also through divine revelations. Knowledge which is obtained through divine revelation in fact occupies the status of الْهُدَى (the guidance) because it is beyond any shadow of doubt. Thus it has also been called حَقِّ (the truth). What is not substantiated by innate guidance and intellect nor by divine revelation is in fact totally speculative and baseless. The Qur'ān by using the words وَمَا لَهُم بِهِ مِنْ عِلْمٍ has stripped this mythology of the Idolaters from every support of knowledge and thereby regarded it to be a fabricated tale. In other words, in its favour, they neither have any corroboration by reason nor revelation. The Arabs were fully aware of this reality that what is not substantiated by reason cannot be regarded as knowledge; it is mere conjecture (ظَنٌّ) which has no basis. The famous classical poet Tarfah ibn al-'Abd has distinguished between conjecture and knowledge in the following manner:
وأَعْلَمُ عِلْماً لَيْسَ بِالظَّنِّ أَنَّهُ
(and I know what is based on knowledge which is not conjecture so that …)
There is another aspect of conjecture (ظّنٌّ) which I will inshallah explain under the following verse of Sūrah Hāqqah:
إِنِّي ظَنَنتُ أَنِّي مُلَاقٍ حِسَابِيه (69: 20).
فَأَعْرِضْ عَن مَّن تَوَلَّى عَن ذِكْرِنَا وَلَمْ يُرِدْ إِلَّا الْحَيَاةَ الدُّنْيَا (29)
Here the Prophet (sws) has been directed that people who are so arrogant and big-headed that instead of following the guidance of God they want to follow their own fancies and instead of knowledge want to rely on conjecture and in place of good want to tread the path of evil, he should not pursue them much. If they have shown indifference to God's guidance, then the Prophet (sws) too should ignore them; he has discharged his responsibility; now it is their responsibility; soon they shall witness its consequences.
The word ذِكْرhere refers to the Qur'ān. It is used for it at many instances, and it has various aspects to which I have alluded at various places. Here it is used in this sense because the Qur'ān is reminding them of the Hereafter and its responsibilities – people who have become indifferent to them because of reliance on their imaginary deities.
The words وَلَمْ يُرِدْ إِلَّا الْحَيَاةَ الدُّنْيَا refer to the real reason behind their denial: they have regarded this life and its lures to be their real objective.