فَطَافَ عَلَيْهَا طَائِفٌ مِنْ رَبِّكَ وَهُمْ نَائِمُوْنَ(19)فَأَصْبَحَتْ كَالصَّرِيمِ(20)
What happened in the orchard is attributed to God and this alludes to two things: firstly, the calamity arrived without the slightest expectation that it would, and secondly, it was so devastating in nature that it miraculously routed the orchard to nothingness in the wink of an eye.
The Prophet (sws) is addressed in the words مِنْ رَبِّكَ (from your Lord) to assure him. In the initial verses of this sūrah, the Prophet (sws) is told that if today he warns these people of God's punishment, they regard him to be a person possessed since they see themselves in smooth circumstances. They fail to understand from where this punishment would descend on them. This parable has shown them that the punishment of God comes in such a manner that all of man's schemes which he devises with the conviction of pledges and oaths are rendered into ruin when he wakes up to embark upon executing them.
فَتَنَادَوْا مُصْبِحِينَ(21) أَنْ اغْدُوْا عَلَى حَرْثِكُمْ إِنْ كُنتُمْ صَارِمِينَ(22)
The word حَرْثٌٌ actually means "sown land"; here it refers to the orchard mentioned earlier. The reason for this is, as has already been indicated before, that in Arabia within orchards there were pieces of land in which various crops would be sown. For this reason, both the word orchard (جَنَّةٌ) and sown land (حَرْث) are used for such areas.
The words إِنْ كُنتُمْ صَارِمِينَ (if you are to pick its fruit) are to challenge and convince their associates. What is implied is that if they want to carry out this task, they should not waste time and immediately proceed to the place; otherwise, they might incur loss.
فَانطَلَقُوْا وَهُمْ يَتَخَافَتُوْنَ(23)أَنْ لَا يَدْخُلَنَّهَا الْيَوْمَ عَلَيْكُمْ مِسْكِينٌ(24)
This is another portrayal of their stinginess. Earlier on, the words وَلَا يَسْتَثْنُوْنَ (and would not leave anything) also referred to this despicable trait in them.
وَغَدَوْا عَلَى حَرْدٍ قَادِرِينَ(25)
The word حَرْدmeans "enthusiasm, freshness, resolve and hurried-gait". The implication is that they were fully prepared to protect themselves from being followed by the poor and needy, and marched off to the orchard with grit and resolve. The word قَادِرِينَ portrays their inner confidence and determination that soon they would be able to realize their aim: the fruit was ripe to be picked and no one could interfere to stop them; the only fear was from the poor and that too had been taken care of.
فَلَمَّا رَأَوْهَا قَالُوْا إِنَّا لَضَالُّوْنَ(26)بَلْ نَحْنُ مَحْرُوْمُوْنَ(27)
Such was the extent of devastation met by the orchard that on first sight they were not able to recognize it. They thought that they had lost their way in the dark but they soon realized what had happened. All their desires and wishes were dashed to the ground. Their orchard was ruined and they were deprived of this prized possession.
قَالَ أَوْسَطُهُمْ أَلَمْ أَقُلْ لَكُمْ لَوْلَا تُسَبِّحُوْنَ(28)
The word أَوْسَطُهُمْ refers to the most upright and fair person among them. Even the most evil of societies have some noble souls who stop people from their ill-ways whether those sunk in oblivion hear them or not. A similar person was found among them who would, at various instances, remind them to be heedful of God and to glorify Him. The word تَسْبِيْخٌ is very comprehensive in nature and encompasses remembering the Almighty as well as worshipping Him. Initially, his exhortations were met with a deaf ear but later when they saw the consequences of their attitude, they realized that God was a reality and that this person was not wrong in his counsel.
قَالُوْا سُبْحَانَ رَبِّنَا إِنَّا كُنَّا ظَالِمِينَ(29)
These words were their instant reaction. They realized that they were so inebriated with their success that they forgot the majesty of God, and if someone tried to remind them of it, they never paid heed.
This confession is similar to the confession made by the Pharaoh when he and his army were about to drown. Such repentance is too late to be accepted and is of no avail.
فَأَقْبَلَ بَعْضُهُمْ عَلَى بَعْضٍ يَتَلَاوَمُوْنَ(30)قَالُوْا يَاوَيْلَنَا إِنَّا كُنَّا طَاغِينَ(31)
After meeting this fate, everyone started the blame game. People who are not sensible blame one another when they see the consequences of their foolishness even though all are to be equally blamed for the mishap. The only difference is that some lead the way in creating such disorder and others blindly follow them. At last, they all have to confess that all of them are responsible for the crime.
عَسَى رَبُّنَا أَنْ يُبْدِلَنَا خَيْرًا مِنْهَا إِنَّا إِلَى رَبِّنَا رَاغِبُوْنَ(32)
This is what they said later after blaming one another.
Here the Qur'ān has not commented upon whether their hope was fulfilled or not. However, as per divine practice, people who repent after the time for repentance expires are not entertained by the Almighty.
For the purpose that the Quraysh are recounted this parable, a similar parable occurs in verses 32-43 of Sūrah Kahf.
كَذَلِكَ الْعَذَابُ وَلَعَذَابُ الْآخِرَةِ أَكْبَرُ لَوْ كَانُوْا يَعْلَمُوْنَ(33)
After recounting the parable, the Quraysh are warned that the punishment with which the Messenger of God is threatening them will come to them in a similar manner. Today they are engrossed in their pleasures and have no fear of God seizing them. If the Prophet (sws) is warning them of this danger, they call him a mad person. They are not able to understand from where this punishment will descend on them. The fact of the matter is that it will come to them from where they cannot even imagine. At that time, they will encounter something very similar to what the owners of the orchard encountered; however, their wailings at that time will be absolutely useless to them.
The words كَذَلِكَ الْعَذَابُ point to the punishment which according to an unalterable divine practice comes to a people who reject its Messenger after he has conclusively communicated the truth to it. This punishment, as I have pointed out at several places, decides the fate of such people. After that they will face the punishment of the Hereafter which will be much greater than this punishment. The Messengers of God, warned their people of both these types of punishment.
The words لَوْ كَانُوْا يَعْلَمُوْنَ express yearning and sorrow: these foolish and reckless people regard the Hereafter to be improbable even though it is inevitable and the punishment it will bring is very horrible; only if these people cared to know and understand.
إِنَّ لِلْمُتَّقِينَ عِنْدَ رَبِّهِمْ جَنَّاتِ النَّعِيمِ(34)
After a delineation of the fate of the arrogant, mentioned in this verse is the reward for the God-fearing (مُتَّقِينَ). For people who led their lives in this world while remaining fearful of their accountability in the Hereafter, there are gardens of bliss with their Lord. The God-fearing are mentioned in parallel to the arrogant who were so deeply inebriated with their worldly successes that this had left them unafraid of God's grasp and the punishment of the Hereafter. From this contrast, one can gauge what the God-fearing are: they are people who have not been lured away by the pleasures of this world; they are fully aware of the reality.
أَفَنَجْعَلُ الْمُسْلِمِينَ كَالْمُجْرِمِينَ(35)
Mentioned in this verse is the reason for which the God-fearing will be awarded such gardens of bliss. It is said that this is but a natural requisite of God's justice and mercy. If this does not happen, it will mean that to the Creator of this world the righteous and the wrongdoers, the loyal and the traitors, the believers and the disbelievers are equal. This obviously conflicts with the higher attributes of God. How can good and evil be equal in His eyes?
مَا لَكُمْ كَيْفَ تَحْكُمُوْنَ(36)
Amazement is expressed on the attitude of the arrogant. The implication of these questions is that if they do not believe in the accountability of the Hereafter, and that the only life is the life of this world which will either continue forever or end one day, then this means that they regard the Creator to be devoid of the attributes of justice and mercy Who does not care whether people are pious or impious. If this is their verdict, they should think how far away it is from sense and reason. What a great allegation they make on the Creator Whose providence, mercy, power and wisdom is borne witness to by every speck and object of this universe.
It is obvious from this question of the Qur'ān that human intellect and nature do not accept this verdict. If some accept this verdict, then this can only mean two things: either they are merely deceiving their intellect while being helpless before their desires and negate their nature or they have perverted both their intellect and nature.
أَمْ لَكُمْ كِتَابٌ فِيهِ تَدْرُسُوْنَ(37) إِنَّ لَكُمْ فِيهِ لَمَا يَتَخَيَّرُوْنَ(38)
This is another scathing criticism on another baseless desire of the Quraysh: they claimed that in the first place there was no such thing as the Hereafter and if ever it was going to come, they would be blessed with even more than what they had in the world. They had the misconception that if they were not favourites of God, how could they have been blessed with such political and social leadership; so, they contended, that if they were favourites of God, they would be given even more in the Hereafter. It is on this misconception that these verses address them and ask what had led them to this misunderstanding and whether they had a scripture from God which guaranteed that all their desires would be fulfilled. The implication of these questions is that these desires which they nurture in their hearts have no basis in sense and reason; yes, if they have a divine scripture in support of this claim, they should present it.
أَمْ لَكُمْ أَيْمَانٌ عَلَيْنَا بَالِغَةٌ إِلَى يَوْمِ الْقِيَامَةِ إِنَّ لَكُمْ لَمَا تَحْكُمُوْنَ(39)
The answer to this question of course has to be in the negative. So when this is so, on what basis do they vainly claim that neither can anyone touch them here in this world nor will they be accountable in the Hereafter?
Here it should remain clear that the promises made by the Almighty with nations regarding their success in the Hereafter are conditional to them adhering to the faith and doing righteous deeds and to the fulfillment of covenants pledged with Him through His messengers. He has never made any promise with any nation abiding till the Day of Judgement. The covenant made by the Almighty with both branches of Abraham's progeny regarding leadership in this world is mentioned both in the Torah and in the Qur'ān. It is absolutely evident from it that this covenant does not relate to people who become wrongdoers by breaking the promise of God. After Abraham (sws) successfully passed the trial of Ishmael's sacrifice, the Almighty gave him glad tidings of being given the leadership of the world in the words:(2: 124) إِنِّي جَاعِلُكَ لِلنَّاسِ إِمَامًا(I will appoint you the leader of mankind, (2:124)). Abraham (sws) then asked him:وَمِن ذُرِّيَّتِي (2: 124)(what of my progeny? (2:124). The Almighty's immediate reply was:لاَ يَنَالُ عَهْدِي الظَّالِمِينَ (2: 124) (My covenant does not relate to those among your progeny who wrong their souls by breaking it, (2:124). Obviously, just as this verdict of God relates to the Israelites, it also relates to the Ishmaelites. However, the Quraysh by vainly regarding themselves to be the progeny of Abraham (sws) and Ishmael (sws) believed that they would not be held accountable before God; similarly, the Israelites also being inebriated with the notion of being God's family and near ones نَحْنُ أَبْنَاء اللّهِ وَأَحِبَّاؤُهُ (18:5)(we are the children of God and His loved ones, (5:18)) ended up in absolving themselves from being held accountable before God.
سَلْهُم أَيُّهُمْ بِذَلِكَ زَعِيمٌ(40) أَمْ لَهُمْ شُرَكَاءُ فَلْيَأْتُوْا بِشُرَكَائِهِمْ إِنْ كَانُوْا صَادِقِينَ(41)
These questions are posed to them so that they bring forward such guarantors and associates or even merely mention their name so that others are also able to assess their rank and status. It needs to be kept in consideration that the deities which the Idolaters of Makkah were very proud of and who they thought were very dear to God and would save them from God's grasp had been so very clearly rendered baseless and unfounded by the Qur'ān that in response to this challenge the Quraysh could not have dared to present their names.
يَوْمَ يُكْشَفُ عَنْ سَاقٍ وَيُدْعَوْنَ إِلَى السُّجُوْدِ فَلَا يَسْتَطِيعُوْنَ(42)خَاشِعَةً أَبْصَارُهُمْ تَرْهَقُهُمْ ذِلَّةٌ وَقَدْ كَانُوْا يُدْعَوْنَ إِلَى السُّجُوْدِ وَهُمْ سَالِمُوْنَ(43)
The expression كشف ساقis a common Arabic idiom to express the severity of a situation. Poets of the age of ignorance have used it in various ways. A famous couplet of Hātim reads:
أخو الحرب ام عضت به الحرب عضها
و ان شمرت عن ساقها الحرب شمرا
(The praised person is a warrior. If a battle attacks him, he also fights with it, and if the situation becomes severe, he jumps into the battle without any inhibition.)
The reason why this idiom expresses the severity of a situation is that whenever an upheaval takes place, chaste and decent ladies are forced to flee while raising their legware as a result of which both their shins and the jewelry worn on them are exposed. A poet says:
تذهل الشيخ عن بنييه
و تبتدي عن خدام العقيلة العذراء
(An upheaval which will make the aged forget their children and which will expose the shins and shin jewelry.)
The implication of this verse is that whilst these people may be dreaming of having the same luxuries they have here, that Day will be very cataclysmic. Today, when they are called to prostrate before the Almighty, they show arrogance; however, on that Day when they will be asked to prostrate themselves their backs will become hard and inflexible and in spite of wanting to prostrate they will not be able to do so. Their eyes will be downcast and ignominy will cover them. Their whole person from head to toe will bear witness to their helplessness and humiliation.
The directive of calling them to prostrate themselves will obviously be given to humiliate them and to show them that they had no excuse to deny the truth; in other words, their own being will bear irrefutable testimony to their arrogance and deprivation.
In Sūrah Ma'ārij, this topic is discussed in the following words:
يَوْمَ يَخْرُجُونَ مِنَ الْأَجْدَاثِ سِرَاعًا كَأَنَّهُمْ إِلَى نُصُبٍ يُوفِضُونَ خَاشِعَةً أَبْصَارُهُمْ تَرْهَقُهُمْ ذِلَّةٌ ذَلِكَ الْيَوْمُ الَّذِي كَانُوا يُوعَدُونَ (70: 43-44)
The Day on which they will emerge from their graves as if racing towards targets marked. Their eyes will be downcast; ignominy will cover them. This is the Day about which they had been warned. (70:43-44)
In other words, what is said in this sūrah by the words
يَوْمَ يُكْشَفُ عَنْ سَاقٍ is expressed in Sūrah Ma'ārij by the words
يَوْمَ يَخْرُجُونَ مِنَ الْأَجْدَاثِ سِرَاعًا (the Day on which they will emerge from their graves as if racing). Thus, both language and parallels of the Qur'ān corroborate the meaning I have taken.
Some people, on the basis of a narrative, have interpreted this verse as: "the Day the Almighty will expose His shin";however, many authorities of tafsīr have recorded the same interpretation as I have adopted. A narrative from Ibn 'Abbās reported by 'Ikramah says that it refers to the Day of Judgement which will be a Day of harshness and brutality.Ibn Jarīr Tabarī on the authority of Ibn 'Abbās (rta) has also recorded the opinion of a poet in support of this opinion; the idiom قامت الحرب بنا على ساق is used in it. Mujāhid,another tafsīr authority has also adopted this meaning.
فَذَرْنِي وَمَنْ يُكَذِّبُ بِهَذَا الْحَدِيثِ سَنَسْتَدْرِجُهُمْ مِنْ حَيْثُ لَا يَعْلَمُوْنَ(44)
This is a threat sounded to the rejecters of the Qur'ān mentioned in verse fifteen earlier by the words: إِذَا تُتْلَى عَلَيْهِ آيَاتُنَا قَالَ أَسَاطِيرُ الْأَوَّلِينَ (when Our revelations are recited to him he cries out: "these are but tales of the ancients.") This threat at the same time has a note of assurance for the Prophet (sws): he has done what was required of him and now he should leave things to God Who is sufficient by Himself to settle their matter; He will gradually lead them to their destruction and the respite which He is now giving them is further entangling them while they count this to be their success.
وَأُمْلِي لَهُمْ إِنَّ كَيْدِي مَتِينٌ(45)
The Almighty is giving them time to do whatever they want to; however, this does not mean that they are beyond His control; His scheme is very sound.
أَمْ تَسْأَلُهُمْ أَجْرًا فَهُمْ مِنْ مَغْرَمٍ مُثْقَلُوْنَ(46)
This is an expression of amazement at their aversion to the Qur'ān: why is it that they don't even bother to hear what the Prophet (sws) is telling them; how will hearing him out harm them? After all, he is not demanding any payment for this service. Found in this verse is also an assurance to the Prophet (sws) in a passing manner. He should not fret over them; if they are running away from this great blessing, they are only depriving themselves; as far as the Prophet (sws) is concerned, he has succeeded before God in his mission for he is distributing this divine treasure for free.
أَمْ عِنْدَهُمْ الْغَيْبُ فَهُمْ يَكْتُبُوْنَ(47)
This is another expression of wonder on the indifference and unconcern shown to the warnings given to these people by the Prophet (sws). What is the reason for this apathy? Do they have the knowledge of the Unseen that if the Hereafter will come, they will be blessed with high status? The implication is that holding on to one's desires without any grounds, living in a fool's paradise and ignoring the facts of life is no wisdom; this attitude will only lead them to eternal doom.
This verse also occurs in Sūrah Tūr. I have explained it there in the light of its context. Its context in Sūrah Najm explains its meaning completely:
أَعِندَهُ عِلْمُ الْغَيْبِ فَهُوَ يَرَى أَمْ لَمْ يُنَبَّأْ بِمَا فِي صُحُفِ مُوسَى وَإِبْرَاهِيمَ الَّذِي وَفَّى أَلَّا تَزِرُ وَازِرَةٌ وِزْرَ أُخْرَى (53: 36-38)
Has he the knowledge of the Hidden; thus he is seeing it.? Has he not heard of what is preached in the scriptures of Moses and Abraham, who fulfilled his duty: that no soul shall bear another's burden? (53:35-38)
فَاصْبِرْ لِحُكْمِ رَبِّكَ وَلَا تَكُنْ كَصَاحِبِ الْحُوْتِ إِذْ نَادَى وَهُوَ مَكْظُوْمٌ(48)
The word فَاصْبِرْ (be patient) encompasses the meaning of إِنْتَظِرْ (wait) because it is mentioned with the preposition لِ. Here at the end of the sūrah, the Prohet (sws) is being assured to be steadfast and wait for the verdict of God, and be on guard that he too does not end up making a mistake like Jonah (sws) who became impatient.
The expression "companion of the fish" obviously refers to Jonah (sws). There is an element of affection in calling him with this name and it also indicates the trial he had to go through.
I have elaborated on the whole incident of Jonah (sws) in this tafsīr: when his people did not value his preaching, he was so overwhelmed by their apathy that he left them without the God's permission; at this, he was rebuked by the Almighty and had to undergo a trial in the belly of a fish. It is by referring to this incident that the Prophet (sws) is told that even though his people are also not paying heed to his call, showing their disinterest and have become adamant on denying him, he should remain steadfast and firm and wait for the decision of his Lord. He should not make the mistake of leaving his people until the Almighty tells him to lest he too faces a trial similar to the one faced by Jonah (sws).
The words إِذْ نَادَى وَهُوَ مَكْظُوْمٌ (when he called in anguish)briefly refer to the attitude adopted by Jonah (sws) right after the trial. He immediately realized his mistake, and in a state of deep anguish he remembered God with the immortal words: لَاإِلَهَ إِلَّا أَنتَ سُبْحَانَكَ إِنِّي كُنتُ مِنَ الظَّالِمِينَ (87:21) (there is no god but You; glory be to You! I have wronged my soul, (21:87). I have already explained their eloquence while writing the tafsīr of the above verse. Here it is mentioned as a guide so that no misconception should arise from the words of Jonah (sws) and that it should remain clear that though he committed a folly by being overwhelmed with a notion, he immediately repented, and the Almighty once again chose him, as is evident from the subsequent verse.
لَوْلَا أَنْ تَدَارَكَهُ نِعْمَةٌ مِنْ رَبِّهِ لَنُبِذَ بِالْعَرَاءِ وَهُوَ مَذْمُوْمٌ(49)فَاجْتَبَاهُ رَبُّهُ فَجَعَلَهُ مِنْ الصَّالِحِينَ(50)
The word نِعْمَةٌ(favour) here refers to that favour of the Almighty which was bestowed upon Jonah (sws) in the form of being once again granted prophethood after he repented and this repentance was accepted by the Almighty. The Almighty once again chose him as a prophet so that he could complete his holy mission. What is implied is that he did not fail in this world; he was regarded among the righteous who were the ones who succeeded.
وَإِنْ يَكَادُ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوْا لَيُزْلِقُوْنَكَ بِأَبْصَارِهِمْ لَمَّا سَمِعُوْا الذِّكْرَ وَيَقُوْلُوْنَ إِنَّهُ لَمَجْنُوْنٌ(51)
This verse also urges the Prophet (sws) to be patient and persevering, as is already expressed in verse forty eight earlier. Even though the circumstances are tough and they make such allegations, he should remain patient. Here one should once again refresh the opening verses of the sūrah: مَا أَنْتَ بِنِعْمَةِ رَبِّكَ بِمَجْنُوْنٍ. It is evident that the sūrah ends on the same topic as it began.
وَمَا هُوَ إِلَّا ذِكْرٌ لِلْعَالَمِينَ(52)
What this verse implies is that if after hearing this they call the Prophet (sws) a person possessed, let them do so; they should however remember that this Qur'ān is not the product of a mad person; if they do not heed this reminder, they will regret it one day but this regret will be of no use to them at that time.
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).
30th July, 1978 AD
23rd Sha'bān, 1398 AH
(Translated from Tadabbur-i Qur'ān by Shehzad Saleem)