23. Al-Mu’minun (The Believers)
This sūrah takes its title, Al-Mu’minun (The Believers), from the mention of the believers who are praised for their moral superiority at the very beginning of the sūrah. It was revealed in Makkah when the persecution perpetrated by the Makkan unbelievers was increasing. It consists of 118 verses.
The sūrah begins by mentioning certain moral characteristics of the believers. This is followed by stating the signs inherent in the creation of humankind and the universe in order to draw attention to God’s Existence and Unity. Then, significant episodes from the experiences of several previous Messengers and their peoples are given in order to emphasize that there was nothing untypical about the reactions of the Makkan unbelievers, and also that the teachings that the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, conveyed were the same as those communicated by the earlier Messengers. By recounting the experiences of some of the earlier Messengers, the Qur’ān also aims to stress that the final victory will always belong to the believers. Then, the sūrah reminds us of certain important principles concerning human life. The sūrah concludes by warning the unbelievers that they will face a severe reckoning in the Hereafter.
In the Name of God, the All-Merciful, the All-Compassionate.
1. Prosperous indeed are the believers.
2. They are in their Prayer humble and fully submissive (being overwhelmed by the awe and majesty of God).
3. They always turn away from and avoid whatever is vain and frivolous.
4. They are in a constant effort to give alms and purify their own selves and wealth.
5. They strictly guard their private parts, and their chastity and modesty,
6. Save from their spouses, or (as a permission for men) those (bondsmaids) whom their right hands possess, for with regard to them they are free from blame.
7. But whoever seeks beyond that, such are they who exceed the bounds (set by God).1
8. They are faithful and true to their trusts (which either God, society, or an individual places in their charge), and to their pledges (between them and God or other persons or society).
9. They are ever mindful guardians of their Prayers (including all the rites of which they are constituted).
10. Those (illustrious ones) are the inheritors,
11. Who will inherit the highest floor of Paradise. Therein they will abide forever.2
12. We created humankind (in the very beginning) from a specially sifted extract of clay.3
13. Then We made it into a fertilized ovum in a safe lodging.
14. Then We created of the fertilized ovum a clot clinging (to the womb wall), and (afterwards in sequence) We created of the clinging clot a (chew of) lump, and We created of (a chew of) lump bones, and We clothed the bones in flesh. Then We caused it to grow into another creation. So Blessed and Supreme is God, the Creator Who creates everything in the best and most appropriate form, and has the ultimate rank of creativity.4
15. Then, after all this, you are bound to die.
16. Thereafter, you will, on the Day of Resurrection, certainly be raised up.
17. Indeed, We have created above you seven heavens, one layer upon the other, and seven paths (for angels to move, God’s commands to descend, and acts of conscious beings to ascend along). Never are We unaware of creation and what We create (with all aspects of their lives).5
18. We send down from the sky water with a measure set by Us, and lodge it in the earth. We are most certainly able to withdraw it.6
19. And with it, We cause to grow for you gardens of date-palms and vines, wherein are abundant, diverse fruits for you, and from which you eat and obtain some of your livelihood,
20. As well as a tree that grows from and in the lands around Mount Sinai,7 yielding oil and a kind of relish for all to eat.
21. And in the cattle (feeding on the grass God brings forth with the water He sends down), there is a lesson for you. We give you to drink of that (milk) which is within their bodies; and you have many other benefits in them; and from them you obtain food;
22. And on them (on land) and on the ships (in the sea) you are carried.
23. Indeed, We sent Noah to his people as Messenger, and he said: “O my people! Worship God alone: you have no deity other than Him. Will you not, then, keep from disobedience to Him in reverence for Him and piety?”
24. The leading ones who disbelieved from among his people reacted, saying (among themselves and to each other): “This is but a mortal like you. He only wishes to gain superiority over you. Had God willed (to send us a Messenger to convey His Message), He would surely have sent down angels (to communicate His Message). Further, we have never heard of anything like this in the case of our forefathers of old.
25. “He is but a man in whom there is madness, so watch him for a while (to see) whether he will recover.”
26. Noah prayed: “My Lord, help me because they have denied me!”
27. Thereupon We revealed to him: “Build the Ark (which We have described to you), under Our eyes and in accordance with Our instructions to be revealed (to you). Then finally, when Our command comes to pass and the boiler starts boiling over, take on board a pair of each kind of animal, as well as your family, except those of them against whom Our sentence (of destruction) has already been passed. Do not plead with Me for those people who have persisted in wrongdoing. They are bound to be drowned.
28. “Then, when you are seated in the Ark, you and those who are with you, say: ‘All praise and gratitude are for God, Who has saved us from the wrongdoing people.’
29. “And pray: ‘My Lord, let me land in a blessed place (in peace and safety and) with blessings from You. You are the Best to cause people to land in peace and safety.’”8
30. Surely in that (exemplary story) are signs (manifesting the truth); and for sure, We are ever trying (people).9
31. Then, after them, We brought forth another generation.
32. In time, We sent among them a Messenger from among themselves (with the message): “Worship God alone; you have no deity other than Him. Will you not, then, keep from disobedience to Him in reverence for Him and piety?”
33. The leading ones from among his people – who disbelieved, and denied the meeting of the Hereafter, and to whom We granted ease and comfort in the life of this world – said: “This is but a mortal like you, eating of what you eat of, and drinking of what you drink of.
34. “If you obey a mortal like yourselves, then you will surely be the losers.
35. “Does he promise you that, after you have died and become mere dust and bones, you will be brought forth (to a new life)?
36. “Far-fetched, utterly far-fetched, is what you are promised.
37. “There is no life beyond our present, worldly life. Some of us die (while others are born,) and so life continues; and we are not raised from the dead.
38. “He is nothing but a man, fabricating falsehood in attribution to God; and we are not (going to) to believe in him.”
39. Eventually, the Messenger invoked: “My Lord, help me because they deny me!”
40. (God) said: “In a little while, they are sure to be regretful.”
41. So, in consequence, the awful blast seized them as a judgment of God justly and unavoidably, and We made them like the waste of dead plants carried by a flood and left on the coast once the water recedes. So away with the wrongdoing people!
42. Then, after them, We brought forth new generations (in succession).
43. (What happened to all those generations proves that) no community can ever hasten on the end of its term, nor can they delay it (once it has been decided by God, because of their beliefs and lifestyles).10
44. We sent Our Messengers one after the other (each to a generation). Whenever their Messenger came to a community, they denied him, and, in consequence, We caused each community to follow the other to its doom, and reduced them to mere tales of the past. So away with a people who do not believe!
45. After all those Messengers (sent to the past generations that are now all extinct), We sent Moses and his brother, Aaron, as Messengers with Our clear signs (miracles to support them) and a manifest authority (from Us),
46. To the Pharaoh and his chiefs. But they grew arrogant (in the face of those signs), and demonstrated that they were a haughty, self-exalting people.
47. They said: “Shall we believe in two mortals like ourselves, when their people (the people of Moses and Aaron) are serving us in humility and obedience?”
48. They denied them, and they, too, eventually became of those who were destroyed.
49. (After their destruction) We granted Moses the Book, so that his people might follow the right way.
50. We made the Son of Mary and his mother a miraculous sign (of Our Lordship and Power), and We provided for them refuge on a lofty ground of comfort and security, and with a (water) spring.
51. O you Messengers! Partake of (God’s) pure and wholesome bounties, and always act righteously. I have full knowledge of all that you do.
52. This community of yours is one single community of the same faith, and I am your Lord (Who creates, sustains, and protects you); so hold Me alone in fear, and keep your duty to Me in piety.
53. But people, having broken up into groups, differed among themselves as regards the Religion, each group proudly rejoicing in the portion they have.
54. So (if they, despite all the evidence We have put forth in support of the truth of the Message that you, O Messenger, are conveying to them, still refuse to accept it), leave them alone, immersed in their ignorance and heedlessness, until an appointed time.
55. Do they think that by all the wealth and children We provide for them,
56. We but hasten to lavish on them all kinds of good? No, but they do not perceive (the reality of the matter).
57. While as for those who live in awe because of deep reverence for their Lord,
58. Who have renewed, ever-strengthening faith in their Lord’s signs and Revelations,
59. Who never associate partners with their Lord,
60. Who do whatever they do, and give whatever they give, in charity and for God’s cause, with their hearts trembling at the thought that they are bound to turn to their Lord (remaining anxious, for they are unsure whether God will accept their deeds from them and be pleased with them)11 –
61. It is those (illustrious ones) who hasten to do all kinds of virtuous deeds, and they are in a virtuous competition with one another in doing them.
62. (No one, especially those unbelievers, should think that there is something superhuman required of humanity. For) We do not burden any soul except within its capacity, and with Us is a record that speaks the truth (about the deeds, thoughts, and intentions of each individual). They will in no wise be wronged.
63. The fact is that the hearts of those unbelievers are utterly ignorant and heedless of all this, and apart from this, they have some evil deeds that they habitually commit (which prevent them from seeing and accepting the truth),
64. Until the time when We seize (them) with the punishment – those of them who have been lost in the pursuit of pleasures. They will then begin to groan for help.
65. “Stop groaning for help today; you are not to receive any help from Us!
66. “You know that My Revelations used to be recited to you, but you used to turn on your heels in aversion,
67. “Behaving arrogantly, and talking nonsense (about the Messenger and the Religion he conveys) in your nightly conversations.”
68. Have they ever pondered over this Word (of God), or has there come to them something (completely novel in human history) which never came to their forefathers of old?
69. Or is it that they are unaware of their Messenger, and so they disavow him?
70. Or do they say that there is madness in him? No, he has brought them the truth, but most of them are disdainful of the truth.
71. Were the truth to follow their desires and caprices, the heavens and the earth and all those who live in them would certainly have gone to ruin. But We have brought to them whatever they must heed in life for their honor and happiness, and they turn away from that which will bring them honor and happiness.12
72. Or do you (O Messenger) ask them for any payment? Yet the reward of your Lord is the best and for everyone’s good. He is the Provider, with the ultimate rank of providing, and the Best to be sought as provider.
73. And certainly, you are calling them to a Straight Path,
74. Whereas those who do not believe in the Hereafter are ever astray from the Path.
75. If We have mercy on them and remove from them the harm afflicting them, for sure they will persist in their rebellion, blindly wandering on.
76. For indeed, We have seized them with the punishment (of famine); and yet, they have not bowed down to their Lord, nor do they invoke Him humbly.
77. Finally, We open to them a gate of severe punishment— and look, they are plunged into utter despair and sorrow.13
78. He it is Who has made for you (the faculty of) hearing, and eyes, and hearts.14 Scarcely do you give thanks.
79. He it is Who has brought forth and made you grow up on earth, and to Him you will be gathered.
80. He it is Who gives life and causes to die, and the alternation of night and day (with their periods shortening and lengthening) occurs in obedience to Him (and for the purposes He has established). Will you not, then, reason and understand (that there cannot be another deity besides God)?
81. (Instead of using their reason,) they only speak as the former (disbelieving) peoples spoke.
82. They say, “What! After we have died and become dust and bones, will we then be raised from the dead?
83. “We were already promised such things, we and our forefathers. These are no more than the fables of the ancients.”
84. Say: “To Whom belongs the earth and whoever is on it? (Tell me,) if you have any knowledge!”
85. They could not help but acknowledge: “To God.”15 Say: “Will you not, then, reflect and be mindful?”16
86. Say: “Who is the Lord of the seven heavens and the Lord of the Supreme Throne (He Who rules the whole universe and sustains all that live in it)?”
87. They could not help but acknowledge: “These belong to God, too.” Say: “Will you not, then, keep from disobedience to God, in reverence for Him and piety?”
88. Say: “In Whose Hand is the absolute ownership and dominion of all things, and He protects and grants asylum, whereas against Him no asylum is available, and Himself never needs protection? (Tell me,) if you have any knowledge.”
89. They could not help but acknowledge: “God exclusively.” Say: “How, then, can you be so deluded?”17
90. The fact is that We have conveyed to them the truth, but for sure they are the liars (in their assertions, denial of the pillars of faith, and against their own selves).
91. God has never taken to Himself a child, nor is there any deity along with Him; otherwise, each deity would surely have sought absolute independence with his creatures under his authority, and they would surely have tried to overpower one another. All-Glorified is God, in that He is far above what they attribute to Him,
92. The Knower of the Unseen and the witnessed (all that lies in the hidden and visible realms and beyond, and within the reach of any created being’s perception), and absolutely exalted is He above all that they associate with Him as partners.
93. Say: “My Lord, if You let me witness the fulfillment of what they have been promised (to suffer),
94. “Then, do not include me, my Lord, among those wrongdoing people!”
95. Surely, We are absolutely able to let you witness the fulfillment of what We have promised them to suffer (and save you from).
96. (But whatever they may say or do) repel the evil (done to you and committed against your mission) with the best (of what you can do).18 We know best all that they falsely attribute to Us.
97. And say: “My Lord! I seek refuge in You from the promptings and provocations of the satans (of the jinn and humankind, especially in my relations with people, while I am performing my mission).
98. “I seek refuge in You, my Lord, lest they be present with me.”
99. (Those who persist in their evil ways will not cease from their false attributions to God, and from their harsh reaction to you) until when death comes to one of them, and then he implores: “My Lord! Please, let me return to life,
100. “That I may act righteously with respect to whatever I have left undone in the world.” No, never! It is merely a word that he utters over and over again. Before those (who are dead) is an intermediate world (of the grave, where they will stay) until the Day when they will be raised up.19
101. Then, when the Trumpet (of Resurrection) is blown, there will no longer be any ties of kinship among them (which will be of any avail), nor will they ask about one another (as everyone will be too engrossed in their own plight to think of others).
102. (Balances are set up,) and those whose scales (of good deeds) are heavy – they are the prosperous.
103. While those whose scales (of good deeds) are light – they will be those who have ruined their own selves, in Hell abiding.
104. The Fire will scorch their faces, their lips being displaced and their jaws protruding.
105. “Were not My Revelations recited to you, and you used to deny them?”
106. They will say: “Our Lord! Our wretchedness (which we ourselves provoked upon ourselves) prevailed over us, and we were people lost in error.
107. “Our Lord! Take us out of this (suffering). Then, if we ever revert to evil, we will indeed be wrongdoers.”
108. “Away with you into it! No longer address Me!”
109. “There was among My servants a party who would pray, ‘Our Lord! We have believed, so forgive us, and have mercy on us, for You are the Best of the merciful.’
110. “You used to take them in mockery, so much so that your hostilities to them caused you to forget My remembrance, and you simply persisted in laughing at them.
111. “But look, today I have rewarded them for what they endured patiently, so that they are those who are the triumphant.”
112. (God) says: “For how many years did you stay on earth?”
113. They say: “We stayed for a day or part of a day. Ask of those who are able to keep count of this.”
114. Says He: “You stayed but for a short while, if only you had known (how short it was to be, and acted accordingly)!
115. “Or did you think that We created you in vain, and that you should devote all your time to play and entertainment, and that you would not be brought back to Us?”
116. Absolutely exalted is God, the Supreme Sovereign, the Ultimate Truth and Ever-Constant. There is no deity but He, the Lord of the Supreme Throne of Nobility and Munificence.20
117. Whoever asserts the existence of another deity to worship along with God, for which it is inconceivable for him to have any evidence, will certainly be questioned by his Lord. Surely the unbelievers will not prosper.
118. Say: “O my Lord, forgive me and have mercy on me (always treat me with Your forgiveness and mercy), for You are the Best of the merciful.”
1. These last three verses lay down important principles concerning one’s family life:
Islam emphasizes chastity and modesty, but it never orders celibacy or monasticism. It allows people to satisfy their desires and needs in a legitimate manner.
A man must guard his private parts except from his wife and bondsmaids whom he rightfully possesses, while a woman must do the same except from her husband.
The verse, Whoever seeks beyond that, such are they who exceed the limits (set by God), forbids all forms of sexual relations, except the two specified in the previous verse, including homosexuality, and sex with animals. Imam Malik and Imam Shafi‘ī also consider masturbation to be a way of seeking something beyond what is lawful.
Some commentators of the Qur’ān cite this verse as a proof for the prohibition of mut‘ah, (temporary marriage). As a matter of fact, a mut‘ah is neither a normal, lawful marriage nor a relationship with a slave-girl whom one possesses. None of the laws with regard to lawful marriage, such as divorce, the waiting period (‘iddah), or maintenance (nafaqah), apply to it. In mut‘ah, there is no divorce; once you pay the set amount of money and the assigned time ends, there are no rights, no duties, no inheritance laws, nor a divorce process. The only law which applies in this case is that the woman should wait for a period of 45 days before entering into another mut‘ah, while the man can have an immediate one, even while he is married or in another mut‘ah.
Although the argument of the commentators that these verses ban mut‘ah is weighty, it is recorded in the hadīth collections that mut‘ah was categorically and decisively forbidden in Madīnah (Muslim, “Nikah,” 22). This sūrah was revealed during the Makkan period of the Prophet’s mission. Despite this decisive prohibition, only a few Companions, who might not have heard of its prohibition by the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, continued to think it was lawful. But they confined its lawfulness to highly exceptional circumstances. Ibn ‘Abbās, who is recorded as one of those Companions, clarified himself and said: “I meant something similar to what God meant when He allowed the meat of dead animals and pork to be eaten in extreme necessity” (al-Jassās, 2: 147).
Many of the Shī‘īte scholars, the scholars of the sect which accepts the lawfulness of mut‘ah, have contradicting opinions and report divergent traditions concerning it. One of their highly authentic hadīth books, Usūl al-Kāfī, 5: 462, has a hadīth that states that a mut‘ah for a virgin girl is not recommended, because of the shame it will bring upon her parents. Imam Abī ‘Abdullāh (Ja‘far al-Sādiq) proclaims: “Do not enter a mut‘ah with a believing woman, because you will humiliate her by so doing” (Kitāb at-Tadhhīb, 1: 253; al-Istibsār, 3: 143). In another narration, it is stated that a mut‘ah can only be entered into with a believing woman (al-Kāfī, 5: 454), while in yet another, it is stated that a mut‘ah is not allowed with a Muslim woman, but only with Jewish or Christian women. In Bihār al-Anwār (103: 340), it is also stated that it is unlawful to enter into a mut‘ah with a person who is married or able to marry.
Imam ‘Alī is one of the leading Companions who declared that mut‘ah is unlawful (al-Bukhārī, “Nikāh,” 31; Muslim, “Nikāh,” 29–31). The Shī‘īte scholars also recorded that ‘Alī declared its unlawfulness, although they attributed this to taqiyyah (dissimulation) (Kitāb al-Tadhhīb, 7: 253; al-Istibsār, 3: 142).
It would not be correct to say that it was ‘Umar who forbade mut‘ah. What ‘Umar did was to enforce the prohibition (Ibn Mājah, “Nikāh,” 44: 196).
2. Verses 1–9 expound the qualities of true believers. These qualities serve as evidence in support of the claim that one is a true believer, and that the believers who have these qualities will inevitably prosper in both worlds. God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, declared: “There are ten verses that have been revealed to me that if anyone follows them, he will certainly enter Paradise.” Then he recited the first ten verses of this sūrah (at-Tirmidhī, “Kitāb at-Tafsīr,” 24).
3. The verse implies: We created humankind (in the very beginning) from a specially sifted extract of clay; and subsequently, create each human being from mineral, vegetable and animal elements produced in extracts of clay and which constitute the sustenance to form the male sperm and female egg.
4. The literal translation of the phrase here rendered as, the Creator Who creates everything in the best and most appropriate form, and has the ultimate rank of creativity, is “the Best of the creators.” Phrases such as, the Best of the creators, or the Most Merciful of the merciful, or the Best of the providers do not suggest the existence of other creators or merciful ones or providers comparable with God. Rather, as Bediüzzaman Said Nursi explains, they point to the ultimate or perfect ranks of the manifestations of the attributes of creating, showing mercy, and providing. Thus, these phrases mean that He is the Majestic Creator having the ultimate rank or all-beautiful degree of creating; a Merciful One having the ultimate or perfect rank of mercifulness; and a Provider with the ultimate or perfect rank of providing.
Secondly, such phrases as, the Best of the creators do not suggest a plurality of creators. Rather, they mean that God is the Creator Who creates everything in the best and most appropriate fashion. Verses like, He Who makes excellent everything that He creates (32: 7) have the same meaning.
Thirdly, such phrases as, the Best of the creators, the Best of the judges, and, the Best of the providers, do not compare the acts and Attributes of God that are manifested in the universe with those of creatures, who manifest only their shadowy reflections. Whatever beings have is a gift from God (We see because God is the All-Seeing, and hear because He is the All-Hearing.) All (relative) perfections shared by humanity, angels, and jinn are only indistinct shadows in relation to His, which are beyond compare.
People, especially the misguided, cannot have true judgment of God as His right (in being God) requires, and they are usually forgetful of Him. For example, a private respects his corporal, but is oblivious of the king when he thanks the corporal for anything. Such a private should be warned: “The king is greater than your corporal, so you must thank the king.” Actually, everything ultimately comes from the king; the corporal is only an envoy. The king’s majestic command cannot be compared with that of the corporal. The only purpose for the warning, which contains a comparison, is to warn the private, who prefers the corporal in gratitude against forgetting the gratitude he owes to the king.
Similarly, the means by which something is achieved, as well as nature and causes, make heedless people blind to the True Bestower of Bounties. They attribute the bounties which they receive to means and nature, and give creativity to causes, as if they were the real sources, and praise and thank them. This is a path to associating others with God, and so the Qur’ān warns: Almighty God is much greater and a far better Creator and Provider (actually meaning that He is the sole Creator and Provider). Regard Him and thank Him.
Fourthly, comparisons may be made between actually existent, possible, or even imagined things. People may imagine infinite grades in the essence of the Divine Names and Attributes. Almighty God is, however, of the highest, most perfect, and most beautiful of all grades that His Names and Attributes are imagined to have. The universe bears witness to this. His description of all His Names as the best or all-beautiful, as in: His are the All-Beautiful Names (20: 8), underlines this fact (The Words, “The 32nd Word,” 631–632).
5. The phrase, creation and what We create (with all aspects of their lives), clearly demonstrates that creation is based on absolute Knowledge, Will, and Power. So, it certainly has a purpose and meaning and bears countless messages. No so-called deities, nature, material causes, or any notions, such as coincidence or necessity, have any part in either its coming into existence or its continuance.
6. In several verses, the Qur’ān draws attention to water. This verse may be understood to mean both the seasonal rainfall and the water which God lodged in the earth during the creation of the universe. God provided the earth with water in a known, measured quantity that would suffice the needs of the earth for all time to come. The water that was so provided accumulated in the recesses of the earth, giving rise to seas, gulfs and subterraneous water. It is this accumulation of water which is kept rotating through the varying seasons and with the winds. The original source of water continues to be distributed through the rain, from snow-clad mountains, rivers, springs, and wells. This very accumulation of water enters into the process of creation and into the composition of a variety of things. Then it also becomes part of the wind and, eventually, it returns to the same original water source. Thus, from the beginning of time until the present, the total quantity of water has neither increased nor decreased in the world, not by as much as a single drop.
The distribution of water through the rains is dependent on the Divine Will, and there are changes in that distribution owing to many instances of Divine Wisdom. In addition, since we cannot know exactly the time of rain before its signs appear, and rain is one of the most important embodiments of Divine mercy, the Almighty occasionally reminds us how great a blessing rain is through drought, and calls us to pray for it.
What is even more astonishing is that water is composed of two gases, namely hydrogen and oxygen, which were released only once in such a quantity and in the right proportions, allowing a vast quantity of water to be produced; this continues to fill the seas and oceans, with no fresh supply being added to it. So Who is it Who prevents hydrogen and oxygen from intermingling, even though both gases are found in the world? Who is it Who prevents this mixture from happening, with the result being that not a drop of water has been added to the original reservoir of water? We also know that water evaporates into the air. Again, Who is it Who prevents the two gases from separating after this evaporation? Do atheists, materialists, and naturalists have any answers to these questions? Or can all this be satisfactorily explained by those who believe in a multiplicity of deities, who believe that there are separate deities for the wind and water, and for the heat and cold? (Extracted in part from al-Mawdūdī, 6: 90, note 17.) For another astonishing feature of water, see 2: 74, note 78.
7. The tree mentioned here is the olive tree. The Qur’ān mentions it as a tree growing in the lands around Mount Sinai; Mount Sinai may have been its natural habitat or the place where the best olives were produced, at least at the time when the verse was revealed.
8. For a detailed account of the events mentioned concerning the Prophet Noah’s mission, particularly the boiling over of the oven, and the Ark, see 11: 25–48 and the corresponding notes 10–14.
9. One of the most important instances of wisdom in God’s putting people to test is that human beings need to be educated, matured, and perfected, and that by developing their minds, hearts, and potential, they can rise from being potential humans to being true, perfected human beings. Through the testing of humankind, life is purified, it grows, and it is enriched. In short, through this testing, human beings reach the rank or position of being able to perform the function of vicegerency on the earth. In this testing, without the guidance of the Religion that God conveyed through the Prophets to guide humankind, success is not possible. However, the Religion is also a means of this testing.
10. For an explanation of this verse, see 7: 34, note 10.
11. This is the state of a true believer. As stated in a hadīth, a true believer prays, fasts, and pays the Zakāh, and yet fears whether God will accept his deeds or not, forgive him and be pleased with him) (at-Tirmidhī, “Kitāb at-Tafsīr,” 4; Ibn Mājah, “Kitāb az-Zuhd,” 20). One of the best examples in this regard is ‘Umar ibn al-Khattāb. Despite his great care in practicing Islam and his outstanding services in God’s cause, he said, close to the time of his death: “If I am reckoned on the Day of Judgment as one whose good and evil deeds are equal, that will be enough for me.” Hasan al-Basrī also says: “A believer obeys and yet remains fearful, whereas a hypocrite disobeys and is fearless” (al-Mawdūdī, 6: 108–109, note 54).
12. Almost all the unbelievers throughout history who opposed the Messengers or the truth which they brought from God did not base their opposition on any truth. For God is the Absolute Truth, and whatever He orders or establishes is the truth itself. The clearest example of this is the universe with whatever is in it.
We clearly see that as a whole, and in all its individual parts, the universe displays an evident order and an extraordinary concord. Everything in it is so exactly measured and proportioned that it announces, there is no deity but God; it is He Who has set this measure and made all things in proportion and exactly commensurate with one another.
The mutual relationship between all things and the faultless artistry displayed in each, the connection among and between all things, such as, say, the eyes of a honeybee and an ant, and the sun and the solar system, demonstrate that the One Who created the sky with the stars is the same as He Who created the honeybee and the ant and their cells. In the language of all its creatures, the universe bears witness to the fact that, there is no deity but God.
A compound’s minutest particles or atoms, as well as the compounds one within another, are placed according to such delicate calculations that, for example, all the atoms or particles in the eye are interrelated with the other atoms of the eye and with all bodily systems and cells. If an atom were misplaced, existence would not be possible, or an abnormality or anomaly would be the result. We know that when just a single cell in the human body, out of nearly one hundred thousand billion cells, malfunctions, as in cancer, the result can be the death of the entire body.
A species’ comprehensive disposition, and the wide distribution of certain species, such as birds and fish, indicate that the Creator of one living being is the Creator of the entire species. The Pen which draws the lines of an individual’s face, and thus identifies or individualizes that person, has to be able to see all the faces at the same time in order to make each one unique. Otherwise, individualization would be impossible. This requires that the Creator of an individual be the Creator of the human family and the species.
Everything is measured in exact proportion. Also, for the simplest example, as the fact that almost everyone has had a glimpse or clue of the future in dreams indicates, a universal Destiny, a Determining Power with absolute Knowledge, Will, and Wisdom that predetermines everything, prevails in the universe. This negates chance. Again, all seeds and fully grown plants or trees indicate this universal Destiny or Determining Power. Due to this all-inclusive Destiny, everything is perfectly ordered and serves predetermined, evident purposes according to the form, characteristics, and capacities of each thing. Consider the human body, with all its characteristics and limbs. Each one has been built and shaped according to its purpose, thus signifying the Destiny that has determined these purposes and structure. According to Destiny’s plan, the Power puts into “writing” the meanings established and kept by the Knowledge. The Destiny that has preplanned all things and the Destiny that records the life-histories of all things indicate the necessary existence of Him, Whose Pen of Destiny and Decree has drawn the outlines of all things.
All these facts are only some of the innumerable universal facts that demonstrate the Existence and Unity of a single, unique Creator, Orderer, and Ruler, as well as proving that it is not possible for different hands to interfere in the universe, whether for its existence or for its maintenance. Everyone should acknowledge that it is much easier for one Creator to create everything than for many creators to create one thing. The interference of many blind hands in creating something only increases the blindness. For example, if the creation of a honeybee were not attributed to the Power of a Necessarily Existent Being, everything that exists must have participated in its existence. The creation of a minute particle or a hair, if attributed to many agents, like material causes, would be as difficult as the creation of a mountain. A commander can organize and direct a military company much better than the soldiers themselves or multiple commanders could. Apparent material causes have no consciousness or will, and most are subject to nominal (not material) “laws” that are perceived only after the effects have been brought about. Compared to their causes, effects are extraordinary and display splendid artistry. For example, a cell’s formation and its relation with all other cells and the body are so complex that it requires much more knowledge, skill, comprehensive will, and power to create it than can be found in all the members of creation. Only a Creator with boundless Power can be the real agent. Material causes and means are only excuses that allow human beings to contemplate that there is some space for human agency. We speak about the material causes and means because most people cannot discern the beauty and wisdom behind events, and they complain of, and object to, God. To divert such complaints from God, causes are placed as an intervening veil (between people and God’s acts). However, those who see the real beauty and wisdom in events know the truth of what is going on. In short, God’s Dignity and Grandeur require apparent causes and means to prevent complaints and to hide, from those who reason superficially, the Hand of Power’s involvement in certain seemingly insignificant or vile things and affairs. At the same time, God’s Unity and Glory require that these apparent causes have no part in either the creation or disposition of things. In fact, what we call “laws” are manifestations of the Divine Knowledge, Command, and Will.
Humankind is the most capable part of creation, the most eminent of causes that is equipped with consciousness and free will. However, our role, even in our own actions, is very small. This being the case, what part can inanimate objects have in creating and operating the universe?
In short, the existence and maintenance of the universe clearly show that everything is based on an absolute truth which comes from the One Who is the Absolute Truth. If the truth, which is responsible for the magnificent order, harmony, and proportion in the universe, were to follow the desires, caprices, or even the intellect of humanity, then the entire universe would long ago have gone to ruin. When humankind attempts to order life, we see that only disorder and chaos ensue, as witnessed by history. Harmony, happiness, order, and proportion require universal knowledge; this must encompass the entire universe, with all its parts and humanity, in all its aspects, down to the being of every person, as well as all of time, with the past, present, and future. It is clear that human beings cannot do this.
13. As reported in al-Bukhārī (“Kitāb al-Istisghā,” 2), when God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, encountered severe and harsh opposition, he prayed to God: “O God, help me against them with a seven-year famine as You helped Joseph with a seven-year famine.” As a result, a severe famine took hold of the Makkans, to the extent that they had to eat carrion. Verses 75 and 76 refer to this famine, while verse 77 refers to death as the gate opened on or the way that leads to the severe punishment of the Hereafter.
14. Hearing and seeing are two important senses with which people perceive the outer world and from which they learn. What they receive from the outer world is made into knowledge by the heart (fuād), which, in English, may also be rendered as, “the mind.” The Qur’ān uses the power of hearing as a singular noun, while the power of seeing and that of the heart are plural nouns. The reason why the Qur’ān uses the singular for the power of hearing while the others are plural is that it refers to the Revelation, or God, as the source of knowledge that comes via the ears. However, the visual perceptions people have, and their way of understanding and interpreting them through the hearts or minds, may differ from person to person, and the objects of seeing and the material to be used by the hearts to form knowledge are infinitely abundant.
15. Any person who is concerned with true knowledge and the power of thinking cannot help but acknowledge that the universe with whatever is in it has been created and belongs to God exclusively as His creation, unless one is prejudiced or purposefully refractory, or there are some other factors, such as arrogance, wrongdoing, and self-centeredness, which prevent them from believing.
16. If it is God Who has created the earth and whoever is on it, and Who has absolute authority over them as their Master and Lord, then why will He not bring them back to life after their death if He so wills? Is the One Who has created the earth and whoever is on it, the One Who has absolute power to create something from nothing, and the One who deals death, not able to restore the dead to life?
17. At first glance, it seems as if all these questions are asked to those who have some knowledge of the One God Who creates and governs the universe, but who still associate partners with Him in ordering their lives. However, the answers demanded are dependent on knowledge. This means that true knowledge – knowledge acquired through an objective study of the universe – must inevitably conclude that there is only One God Who creates and governs the entire universe, and has absolute authority over everything. So what falls to human beings is to submit to Him in governing their lives, too. As true knowledge confirms this, anyone who listens to the message of the universe and the voice of his or her conscience will also acknowledge the same truth. But if they are deluded by false hopes, carnal desires, arrogance, selfishness, ignorance, or ideological or quasi-religious prejudices or predispositions, people may follow ways that mislead them instead.
18. As this order pertains to the way of repelling the evil done to a Muslim personally, it also pertains to how the Muslims must respond to the evils committed while they are practicing Islam and trying to communicate it to others. We cannot act with feelings of vengeance; we cannot follow our desires and act in the way we wish. Whatever we do must be for the purpose of serving the cause of Islam in the best possible way and for winning the hearts of others in its favor.
19. The grave is an intermediate world between this world and the next. The dead stay there until the Day of Resurrection. The Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, says that the grave is either a garden from among the Gardens of Paradise, or a pit from among the pits of Hell (at-Tirmidhī, “Sifat al-Qiyāmah,” 26). The deeds of human beings take forms in the world of the grave peculiar to it, and the dead live a life resembling either Paradise or Hell, each according to their rank.
After burial, the spirit waits in the intermediate world between this one and the Hereafter. Although the body decomposes, its essential particles (called ‘ajb adh-dhanab, which literally means coccyx, in a hadīth) do not rot. We do not know whether ‘ajb adh-dhanab is a person’s genes or something else. Regardless of this ambiguity, however, the spirit continues its relations with the body through it. God will make this part, which is formed of the body’s essential particles, atoms, or all its other particles already dispersed in the soil, conducive to eternal life during the final destruction and rebuilding of the universe. He also will use it to re-create us on the Day of Judgment.
The intermediate world is the realm where the spirit feels the “breath” of the bliss of Paradise or the punishment of Hell. If we led a virtuous life in the world, our good deeds (e.g., prayers, recitations, acts of charity) will appear as amiable fellows. Also, windows onto heavenly scenes will be opened for us, and our grave will become like a garden of Paradise. However, if some of our sins still remain unpardoned, regardless of how virtuous we were, we may suffer some punishment in the intermediate world until we become deserving of Paradise. Unbelievers who indulged in sin will be met by their deeds, which will assume the forms of bad fellows and vermin. They will see scenes of Hell, and their graves will become like a pit of Hell.
Martyrs enjoy a higher degree of life in the grave than non-martyrs who have died. Since martyrs have sacrificed their life in His way, they do not feel the pangs of death or know that they are dead. Instead, they consider themselves as having been transferred to a better world, and they enjoy perfect happiness. On the other hand, the dead are aware that they are dead (although their spirits are eternal), and those who believed and did righteous deeds among them experience a lesser degree of pleasure in the intermediate life than that enjoyed by martyrs.
Death is a change of residence and a discharge from worldly duties; the spirit is set free. Death is not annihilation into non-existence. This degree of life has been established clearly by facts that have been repeatedly observed; for example, the spirits of some godly persons appear in their human (material) forms and are seen by those who have insight into hidden truths. Another proof is the deceased’s ability to communicate with us while we are dreaming or awake.
Almost everyone, with the exception of the Prophets, who are sinless, may suffer in the grave to a certain extent, because of the sins which were not forgiven while they were in the world. However, just as any suffering in the world serves as a means of forgiveness for the believers, any suffering in the grave also causes some of their sins to be forgiven. If there are still sins that have been left unpardoned, then the suffering that this person will have to experience in the other worlds of the Hereafter— such as the Supreme Gathering Place; the Balance, which is the world where the records of people’s deeds will be laid open and dealt out; the Bridge, and the Heights (see 7: 46, note 12)— will serve as purgatory.
20. For the Supreme Throne, see sūrah 2: 28, note 28; sūrah 7: 54, note: 13; sūrah 17: 42, note 19.