Welcome Friends: Ahlan wa sahlan!
Yusuf Ali’s Explanation of this Chapter:
Muhammad Asad’s Explanation of this Chapter:
Their commentaries can be read in ‘verse by verse’ view.
From Introduction of Yusuf Ali:
This is the third of the group of seven Makkan Surahs described in the introduction to Surah 50. It is, like its predecessor, an early Makkan Surah. The points here emphasized are: that Revelation is in accord with all God’s Signs, including previous Revelation, and that the Hereafter is inevitable, and we must prepare for it.
From Introduction of Muhammad Asad:
THIS SURAH, revealed most probably in the later half of the Mecca period (according to some authorities, immediately after surah 32), takes its designation from the mention of Mount Sinai (at-tur) in verse 1.
The title of this Chapter refers to the Mount where God first called unto Moses (HQ 28:46). This important location is mentioned in the Qur’an as THE Mount 8 times, and as the Mount of ‘Seynaa/ Sineen,’ one time each.
Regular Readers might remember my opinion on ‘Biblical’ locations:
To me, the ‘Mount Sinai’ mentioned in the Bible and the Qur’an has nothing to do with the geographic location called the ‘Sinai’ peninsula, or the ‘Mount of Moses’ today[i].
Aside: Please copy & paste hyperlinks if they do not open on their own; I’m trying to fix this glitch.
However, an IMPORTANT topic we should discuss today, is the main difference between the later verses of Qur’an revealed in Medina (from 622-632), and the earlier verses revealed in Mecca (from 610-622):
The main difference is in those who were receiving the Message:
Most of the recipients of the later verses of the Message were a group of people who had already shed Tradition and were now worshipping God Alone. They knew that they shall be held accountable in life and in the Hereafter, and needed to know the extent of their responsibilities and to uphold the most important concepts and behaviors which would ensure their continued success, growth and transcendence as Cognizant Beings whose Selves emanated from God Himself. The ‘Medina’ Chapters deal mostly with such issues, mostly addressing ‘those who had attained Faith,’ and sometimes addressing ‘People of the Compilation’ (Jews and Christians[ii]), and last but not least, exposing the pretenses of ‘hypocrites/ munaafiqeen,’ those persons who were literally ‘in camouflage’ (put ‘nafaqa’ in ‘Search this Site’).
Dear Reader: It is these ‘Medina’ chapters which ask you and me today to do the same: To realize the extent of our responsibilities and to uphold the most important concepts and behaviors which would ensure our continued success, growth and transcendence as Cognizant Beings.
Most of the recipients of the early verses of the Message were a group of people who, for generations, had been heading THE major event in Arabia. After gradually importing 360 idols which represented people’s fears and desires and placing them in their historically renowned sanctuary (originally built by their patriarch, Prophet Abraham, peace upon him, for the worship of God Alone) they had become wealthy businessmen and women, enjoying the fruits of a most lucrative trade. Their aim was to keep pilgrim-caravans coming their way, and they made sure that whoever visited, did so on their terms and for their benefit. Everyone knew that the months of Pilgrimage were months designated for peaceful travel, when the carrying of arms was not allowed and warfare was replaced with mandatory cease-fire, but Qureish manipulated that. They issued ‘religious edicts’ every year keeping or changing the calendar-dates of ‘Hajj/ Pilgrimage’ according to suitability (they had skirmishes which sometimes needed time to resolve, plus they enjoyed exercising this power). Furthermore, they made it mandatory for pilgrims to purchase everything from them, assuring them that whatever they brought with them into Mecca was still ‘impure’ due to past sin, and therefore required replacing. This applied to everything including clothing, which is why it was common for some men and women to circumambulate the ‘ka’ba’ in the nude. (Warring tribes with Qureish refused to buy anything from them, so some of their bashful yet wealthy persons would have servants/slaves walk at their sides holding up sheets. Poor people had no choice but to go in the nude.)
In short: Tradition ruled, sexual relations were not regulated, defeated tribes became slaves unless they could ransom themselves, few were certain who their actual fathers were, and newborn daughters were often killed to save their parents and themselves from later suffering. Despite all that and more, Arabs of the time did have noble codes of conduct (which the Qur’an left intact).
So, early Revelation in Mecca was speaking mostly to a community of self-interested ‘idol-worshippers’ who were in reality worshipping their own Tradition, and who believed in nothing past this immediate life. But what some people do not realize, is that these verses also spoke to the Jews and Christians who, despite believing in One God, had also become hostage to their Tradition, and needed to be reminded of their patriarch, Prophet Abraham, who had ‘come to his Lord with a sound heart/mind’ and forsaken the traditions of his father and people. That is why we see the Meccan Chapters coming forward with strong arguments to convince skeptical listeners by dissuasion or persuasion, as well as to offer solace and strength to the Messenger and his companions in their time of struggle.
The Meccan chapters brought to an end a period termed ‘Jaahiliyyah,’ from the root-verb ‘jahala’ which denotes ‘ignorance’ and ‘agitation’ جهل[iii] . It is these early chapters of the Qur’an, in all their power, glory, persuasion and dissuasion, which were to uproot Tradition, strengthen resolve, and set the community on its path to enlightenment.
And, dear Reader, these same Meccan chapters ask us today to:
Forsake our servility to Tradition, and rethink whatever preconceived notions we have inherited from our fathers, and then consciously seek God Himself. They remind us all (no matter what we happen to call ourselves; ‘Muslims, Christians, Jews, etc..’) to beware of ‘religious’ institutions who would seek to retain power over us in the name of God, headed by those who would manipulate everything in their own interest.
Such Meccan verses remind us all that God Is One, and that His Message is -and has always been- one throughout time, and that His Message can strengthen and enlighten us all.
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1. This Chapter begins with 5 oaths, in Verses 1-8:
· By the Mount.
· By the Aligned Compilation.
· By the well-inhabited/ well-frequented House.
· By the Elevated Ceiling/ Crest.
· By the Flaming Sea/ Ocean.
This series of oaths features Revelation, its Recipients, the summit of Creation, and the End of this World as we know it. From Moses upon the Mount, to the Compilation which God had sent him and was sending Muhammad (peace upon both), to the House built by Abraham which Muhammad was commanded to re-purify for God’s worship…all within the circle of Creation from beginning to end… the Qur’an vows by all these oaths that:
The Lord’s suffering shall indeed befall, and nothing can ward it off!
Then Verses 9- 16 continue, telling listeners of the END of this world as they know it, of the sky heaving and churning, and the mountains running and rolling, when those who had belied God’s Message and taken it frivolously shall be pushed into the Fire with the words: ‘This is the Fire you had been lying about!’
This is the first time we hear the warning: ‘Wail, on that day, to Those who Belie!’ We shall encounter it again 10 times in HQ 77, and once in HQ 83:10. New Readers: Put ‘wail’ in ‘Search this Site.’
Then their insight/ eyesight is challenged (obviously due to their having accused the Messenger of sorcery), as they are told that whether or not they can endure it, they are only being recompensed for what they had been doing.
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2. The next ten verses (Verses 18- 28) are of Persuasion: They describe the Gardens and Bliss in which the Aware are dwelling in the Hereafter (present continuous), granted to them by their Lord who had protected them from suffering (‘na’eem’ denotes utmost pleasure and well-being). They are told to eat, drink and enjoy the fruits of their toil (they had been working in life!).
· Verse 20 speaks of the Aware reclining on rows of couches (sururسرر- mentioned 6 times) paired with ‘Een’ most honored/ noble/ (companions who are also) ‘Hhoor’ pure/ returning to them/ conversant. We have already discussed this topic in detail: These are NOT ‘fair, doe-eyed damsels’ as some might like to explain it (put ‘Hhoor’ in ‘Search this Site’).
Read ahead to get the full scene, from beginning to end: It is not about the kind of ‘pairing’ we undergo in life to propagate our species, driven by instinct and desire. It is about an existence unrestrained by physical limits or needs, a camaraderie of pure awareness, where those who had worked in life now share the ‘fruits of their toil’ in joy and gratefulness, while reminiscing of times past (yes, conversation is one of these joys, hence the ‘Hhoor-حور’ with whom one can have interesting conversation ‘Hhiwaar حوار’!).
Am I certain of this interpretation? No.
Is it a likely interpretation? Yes. It may be unheard of so far, but it is more likely than the common interpretation.
Regular Readers will remember the renowned authority on Arabic language and poetry, ‘Abu Sa’eed al Assma’i (740- 831 A.D./ 121- 216 A.H.), who was asked about the meaning of the words (Een and 'Hhoor'), and replied that he did not know. That was more than 1000 years ago, so how do less qualified people allege that they know what these words mean? Where did the sensual interpretations come from, other than wishful thinking? If people hadn’t been for so long propagating the single titillating misconceived ‘interpretation’ of these words, we wouldn’t have had to go to such lengths today disproving it.
· Verse 24 (Ali/ Asad) speaks of ‘ghilmaan/غلمان’ which is plural of both ‘ghulaam (m.) and ‘ghulaamah (f.), which refers literally to ‘stimulated youths[iv].’ Some have explained this as ‘slave/servants’ while others have gone farther in their imaginations. But the verses clearly add the words ‘of theirs/ lahum,’ indicating that they are, in fact, ‘theirs.’ Other verses help us understand who they are (HQ 56:17; 76:19), referring to them coming and going in their midst as ‘wildaanun ولدان’ which literally means ‘(born) children,’ and ‘mukhalladoonمخلدون perpetually inclined to them, homing-in to them’ (New Readers: Put ‘khalada’ in ‘Search this Site’). So Verse 24 is about the people of the Garden having their own children, youths who seem to take pleasure in being around and waiting on them (something which can only take place in Heaven, don’t you think? But ‘one-track-minded’ people color such verses with their own desires, adding to this scene what is simply not there).
When we put this (Verse 24) in context we see even more clearly that a loving family atmosphere is what it is all about. Any one of us would like to be with loved ones in the Hereafter, and a preceding verse (Verse 21) tells us that Those who had attained faith AND any of their offspring/progeny who had in faith pursued them, their progeny shall be made to follow them, none of their deeds going unrewarded. This verse seems to take for granted that labors of LOVE are especially rewarded, and that people you had loved and cared for in the immediate life, shall be with you in the next.
At the end of Verse 24 is an important rule (similar to HQ 74:38):
Every person is ‘hostage to’ / held in pledge for’ what he has earned.
Isn’t that statement worthy of a lo-o-o-o-n-g pause for thought, dear Reader?
3. In Verses 26- 28 we hear a discussion taking place between people in the Garden, as some speak of their SENSITIVITYشفق in their past life, even among their family, and recall how they used to call upon God, The True/Forthcoming, The Unceasingly Compassionate!
Verse 29 then says to the Messenger ‘Therefore: Remind!....’ adding that, by his Lord’s Grace, he is neither a soothsayer nor a madman/ possessed.
Then, the following verses address other allegations against him, such as his being ‘a poet’ (Verse 30), or ‘an inventor/ composer’ (Verse 33). In Verses 30-31 they (the idolaters) scoff at the prospect of awaiting judgment, but the Messenger is told to announce to them that he shall indeed be awaiting it, with them!
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4. Verse 34 addresses the last allegation of those who belied the Messenger (where the Messenger was accused of having made this all up) by challenging them to come up with a ‘hadeeth’ like this (the Qur’an), if they are indeed truthful.
This is not to be confused with what people later came to call ‘Hadeeth’ referring to the reported ‘sayings of Prophet Muhammad,’ peace upon him. Read what we said earlier about ‘hadeeth’ (by putting in search-words).
The term ‘hadeeth’ refers to something that was no there before, is the opposite of ‘old’ or ‘qadeem,’ AND INDICATES SOMETHING THAT IS BEING ANNOUNCED IN REAL TIME (HQ 53:59; 56:81; 68:44). As we saw in HQ 39:23, the Compilation, which God has sent us, is considered ‘the best of Hadeeth.’
5. Indeed, the entire Chapter is an ongoing challenge. Readers of Arabic would note the eloquence in Verses 30-43 where the challenge appears 12 times marked the question ‘Or/ أم…?’ and its response:
Those who belie the Messenger are challenged by their own powerlessness to create, grant livelihood, choose their offspring, compose the future, maneuver things to their benefit, or find a god other than God. The response is that they shall be the ones upon whom their strategies backfire!
6. Verse 44 describes their utter incredulousness:
Even if they were to see the sky fall in pieces, they would say it was clouds piled-up!
Verses 45-47 tell the Messenger to ‘let them be/ leave them’ (ذرهم mentioned 8 times) until they encounter the ‘day in which they shall be ‘stricken,’ when their guile/ strategies shall not avail them, nor shall they be succored. But the Wrongdoers are then warned of suffering BEFORE that day, which most of them do not know about.
The last two verses encourage the Messenger to patiently persevere until God’s judgment comes to pass, and to be in constant motion/ praise of his Lord when he arises, and during part of the night, and at the setting of the stars.
(The strengthening and reinforcing power of ‘tasbeeh’ (motion in devotion) is recommended, especially during times when one feels the need for support. In the Qur’an, سبح is demanded of the Messenger 17 times).
Within these verses, we find the comforting statement addressed to the Messenger: ‘You are in our ‘sight/ support’ أعيننا.. ….’ This word is mentioned 3 times with regard to Prophet Noah, and once regarding Prophet Moses who, as an infant, was to be ‘formed in our sight/ support على عيني’ ….
[i] There are differing opinions on where the original mount is; renowned historians such as Kamal Salibi and Ahmad Daoud have spoken of a location thousands of miles away. I keep an open mind and do not dwell on this at all because to me, the incident itself is what matters.
[ii] Although the Qur’an often addressed them both, the contrast was clear between the Christians and Jews: While the former seemed humble in devotion to God and in affinity with Believers in the Qur’an, the Jews seemed arrogantly hostile, and were often questioned about this. Read HQ 5:82 in Asad’s explanation (remember Asad was a born Jew who had been versed in Rabbinical knowledge, before becoming a Believer).
[iii] This 1,000 year old definition (which I just looked up) is VERY interesting! ‘Ignorance/Jahl’ is first posited as the opposite of ‘knowledge/’ilm,’ and then as the opposite of stability.
[iv] While the masculine singular ‘ghulaam’ is still in common usage today, Arabs have long ceased to use the feminine singular ‘ghulaamah,’ which is why the plural ‘ghilmaan’ or ‘youth’ seems to refer to males only. We spoke about something similar when we noted that the masculine singular ‘rajul’ is still in common usage today, while Arabs have long ceased to use the feminine singular ‘rajulah,’ which is why the plural ‘rijaal’ seems to refer to males only…. despite its existence in ANY dictionary (not just the old ones).
Strangely enough, it is unlikely that an Arab student would be asked to look-up any definition in a dictionary because approved definitions are pre-written in their text-books. This deficiency should be addressed; it should be a priority for Arabic school systems from now on.