34. Saba (The Sheba)

Revealed in Makkah in the initial years of the revelation of Islam, this sūrah of 54 verses derives its name from verse 15, in which the civilization of Saba (Sheba) is mentioned. That civilization was founded in Yemen and was famous for its cities. rich in greenery, dams, and trade. A queen of this country, who was mentioned in Sūrat an-Naml in the context of her experiences with the Prophet Solomon, upon him be peace, became a Muslim (for detailed information, see 27: 22–44, notes 10–17). This sūrah dwells for the most part on the pillars of faith, such as Divine Oneness, the afterlife, and Prophethood. By mentioning the civilization of Saba, with its magnificence and tragic end, and the favors God granted to the Prophets David and Solomon, upon them be peace, this sūrah warns us that God’s favors come as a result of following His commandments for human life and continually thanking Him in return for His favors. Thanking means acknowledging that all of one’s achievements belong to God, feeling gratitude in return for them, and obeying His commandments.

In the Name of God, the All-Merciful, the All-Compassionate.

1. All praise and gratitude are for God, to Whom belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth (for it is He Who has created them and sustains them); and for Him are all praise and gratitude in the Hereafter (as it is He alone Who will found it as an eternal abode for His servants). He is the All-Wise, the All-Aware.

2. He knows whatever enters into the earth and whatever comes out of it, and whatever descends from the heaven and whatever ascends to it. He is the All-Compassionate, the All-Forgiving.

3. The unbelievers say: “The Last Hour will not come upon us.” Say: “No indeed! By my Lord – and He is the Knower of the Unseen – it most certainly will come upon you.” Not an atom’s weight of whatever there is in the heavens or in the earth escapes Him, nor is there anything smaller than that, or greater, but it is (recorded) in a Manifest Book.1

4. (That is so, so) that He may reward those who believe and do good, righteous deeds. It is they for whom there is forgiveness (to bring unforeseen blessings) and an honorable, generous provision,

5. Whereas those who strive against Our Revelations, seeking to frustrate and void (them), for those (who have thus distanced themselves from their Lord) is a painful punishment of loathsome kind (earned by their own loathsome deeds).

6. Those to whom the knowledge (of the truth) has been granted are well aware that what is sent down to you from your Lord (the Qur’ān) is the truth (and what it declares of the afterlife is, therefore, also true), and that it guides to the Path of the All-Glorious with irresistible might, the All-Praiseworthy.

7. But those who disbelieve say (in ridicule): “Shall we show you a man who will inform you that after you have been scattered entirely to dust, you will, even then, be raised in a new creation?

8. “Does he fabricate something false in attribution to God, or is there a madness in him?” No! (The truth is that) those who disbelieve in the Hereafter are in torment (of mind and heart) and lost far in error.

9. Do they never consider that it is the heaven and the earth that are (extended) before and after them (so they are entirely and inescapably enclosed within His Kingdom)? If We so will, We can cause the earth to swallow them, or cause lumps of the heaven to fall down upon them. Surely in this is a sign for every servant of God who (being sincere in quest of the truth) will turn (to Him) in contrition.

10. Assuredly, We graced David with a great favor from Us: “O mountains! Sing the praises of God with him, and likewise you birds!”2 And We also made iron supple for him:

11. (So that he was enabled to obey the command) “Make long coats-of-mail (to cover more of the body), and order with care the sequence (of actions in the process)”. And (O family and followers of David,) do good, righteous deeds. Surely I see very well all that you do.”3

12. And to Solomon, We (subjugated) the wind: its morning course covered the distance of a month’s journey (at normal pace), and its evening course, a month’s journey.4 And We caused molten copper to flow for him (like a fountain).5 Among the jinn were some who, by the leave of his Lord, worked under him. Whoever of them swerved away from Our command (by disobeying him), We would make him taste the punishment of a fiery blaze.6

13. They made for him whatever he wished – sanctuaries, and figures (of inanimate objects), and carvings, as well as basins like ponds and boilers built into the ground. “Work, O family of David, in thankfulness to Me!” Few are the truly thankful among My servants.

14. Then, when We executed Our decree for his death, nothing showed them (the jinn who had been laboring at the tasks he assigned to them) that he was dead, except that a crawling creature of the earth had been gnawing away his staff (until it broke). Then, when he fell to the ground, it became clear to the jinn that if they had known the Unseen, they would not have continued in the tormenting toil that humiliated them.7

15. Indeed, there was a sign (a meaningful lesson) for the people of Sheba to take from their abode8 –two (lovely, vast expanses of) gardens, on the right and on the left. “Eat of the provision your Lord has granted you, and give thanks to Him: a land most wholesome and a Lord All-Forgiving.”

16. But they turned away (from thanksgiving to the sins of luxury and heedless self-indulgence). So We sent upon them the flood of (waters released from) the dams, and converted their two (lovely) gardens into a couple of gardens yielding bitter produce, tamarisks, and sparse lote-trees.

17. Thus, We recompensed them for their (sins originating in persistent) ingratitude. Do We ever punish any but the ingrate?

18. We had set between them and the lands We blessed (Palestine and Damascus, with great blessings for their people) many towns within sight of one another, and We had established the journey distances (between them for ease and safety): “Travel therein by night or by day in security!”

19. But (this comfort and security spoiled them, and) they said: “Our Lord! Make the distances between our travel-stages longer!”9, and they wronged themselves (by committing sins). So We caused them to become one of the legends (to circulate among later generations about the distant past), and dispersed them around in numerous fragments.10 Surely in that are signs (important lessons) for all who are greatly patient and perseverant (in obedience to God and in adversity for His sake), and greatly thankful (for His favors).

20. Iblīs certainly found his conjecture (about humankind) true in what they (the people of Sheba) did. (He called them, and) they followed him, all but a group of true believers.11

21. And yet, he had no authority over them (to compel them to do anything),12 except in that (by testing humankind through him) We distinguish those who truly believe in the Hereafter from those who are in doubt concerning it. Your Lord keeps watch and record of all things.

22. Say: “Call upon those (things or beings) whom you fancy to be deities besides God: they have no ownership or authority over an atom’s weight (of anything), either in the heavens or on the earth (so that they could benefit you therewith or avert from you any harm), nor do they have any share in (governing) them, nor does He (God) have any aide from among them.

23. Besides, no intercession (for the fulfillment of any demand, or for the accomplishment of any deed) is of any avail before Him, except that it be made for him (and by him) whom He permits.13 Yet, when the dread and awe (the angels whose intercession those polytheists hope for feel before God’s commands) is removed from their hearts, (other angels) ask: “What has your Lord commanded?” They answer: “The truth (that which is always and unalterably true).”14 He is the All-Exalted, the All-Great.

24. Say: “Who is it that provides for you out of the heavens and the earth?” Say: “It is God! Surely then, either we (who believe in His Oneness as the Deity, Lord, and Supreme Sovereign) or you (who associate partners with Him in His Divinity, Lordship, and Sovereignty) follow the right guidance or are in obvious error.”

25. Say: “(If you consider us to be committing a wrong in believing in and worshipping the One God, then know that) you will not be called to account for what we have done, nor will we be called to account for what you do.”

26. Say: “Our Lord will bring us all together, and then He will judge between us with truth and separate us. He is One Who judges between people with truth and separates them, the All-Knowing.”15

27. Say: “Show me those beings that you have joined with Him as partners, (so that I may see whether any among them deserve worship!) No! (You cannot do it because it is impossible!) But He alone is God, the All-Glorious with irresistible might (Who never needs or admits any partnership), the All-Wise (Whose Divine Wisdom rejects partnership with Him).”

28. We have not sent you but to all humankind as a bearer of glad tidings (of prosperity for faith and righteousness) and a warner (against the consequences of misguidance). But most humans do not know (this, nor do they appreciate what a great blessing it is for them).

29. They say: “When is this promise (of judgment) to be fulfilled, if you are truthful (in your claim)?”

30. Say: “You have the promise of a Day which you can neither delay by a single moment nor advance.”

31. Those who disbelieve say: “We will not believe in this Qur’ān, nor in any (Message) that came before it.” If you could but see when such wrongdoers are made to stand before their Lord, throwing back blame at one another! Those who (in the world) were oppressed (and did not oppose to being oppressed, humiliated, and misled) say to those who acted in arrogance and oppressed others: “Had it not been for you, we would have been true believers.”

32. The arrogant oppressors retort to those who were oppressed: “What! Did we (forcibly) bar you from following the guidance after it had reached you? No, but you yourselves were the criminals (committed to accumulating sins)!”

33. Those who were oppressed and humiliated say to the arrogant (who oppressed them): “No! Rather, (it was your) scheming night and day (that kept us away from the guidance), you were constantly commanding us to blaspheme against God and set up rivals to Him.” When they all face the punishment, they will be unable to express their remorse. We will put fetters around the necks of those who disbelieved (and keep them in the Fire). Will they have been recompensed for anything other than what they used to do?

34. We never sent a warner to any township but those of its people who had been lost in the pursuit of pleasures without scruples reacted, saying: “Surely we are unbelievers in that with which you have been sent.”

35. And they said: “We are more abundant (than you) in wealth and children, and so we are not (the ones) to be punished (as you tell us will happen in the Hereafter).”

36. Say: “Surely my Lord God enlarges provision for whom He wills, and straitens it (for whom He wills); but most of humans do not know.”

37. And it is neither your wealth nor your children which will bring you near to Us; but only one who believes and does good, righteous deeds (can come near to Us). And it is those whose reward for their deeds is multiplied, and they will dwell in high, lofty mansions (of Paradise), secure (from any suffering),

38. Whereas those who strive hard against Our Revelations, seeking to frustrate them, such will be arraigned for punishment (in Hell).

39. Say: “Surely God enlarges provision for whom He wills of His servants, and straitens it (for whom He wills). Whatever you spend (in God’s cause and in alms), He will replace it. He is the Best to be sought as provider with the ultimate rank of providing.”

40. And a Day (will come and) He will gather those (who strive against Our Revelations and those beings or things they worshipped in the world) all together, and will ask the angels, “Was it you that those used to worship (within your knowledge and to your pleasure)?”

41. They will answer: “All-Glorified You are (in that You are absolutely above having partners). You alone are our Guardian (Whom We worship,) having no such relation with them! Rather, they were worshipping jinn; most of them believed in them (jinn as beings deserving worship).”16

42. So, on this Day, you will have no power over one another to benefit or harm. And We will say to those who have persistently committed wrong (by following misleading paths): “Taste the punishment of the Fire, (the existence of) which you used to deny!”

43. When Our Revelations, clear as evidence and in meaning, are recited to them (the Makkan polytheists), they say: “This is but a man who wants to bar you from what your forefathers used to worship.” They also say (of the Qur’ān): “This is nothing but a fabrication falsely attributed to God.” Those who disbelieve say of the truth when it has reached them (in willful defiance of its clarity): “This is clearly nothing but sorcery.”

44. But We did not grant them any Book which they studied (so that they should dare pretend to be able to discriminate between true and false scripture). Nor did We send them a warner before you (so that they should dare pretend to be able to distinguish you as being a fabricator and a sorcerer).

45. Many of those who lived before them also denied the truth. These have not attained a tenth of what We granted to those (of knowledge, as well as power and means); and yet, they denied My Messengers – then how awesome was My disowning them!

46. Say: “I exhort you to one thing: pull yourselves together and draw aside purely for God’s sake, together with another person or alone, and then reflect (on this issue, leaving aside all your prejudices). There is no madness in your companion (God’s Messenger). He is but a warner to you, (sent) prior to a severe punishment.”

47. Say: “(I ask of you no wage, yet, even so) whatever you may think I might ask you for by way of wage, it is yours. My wage is only due from God. He is indeed a witness over everything.”

48. Say: “Surely my Lord sends down the truth, hurling it (against falsehood to destroy it). (My Lord:) He alone is the All-Knowing of the whole of the unseen (all that is beyond human perception).”

49. Say: “The truth has come (and manifested itself); and falsehood cannot originate (anything, even if its followers try to keep it going), nor can it restore anything (of that which it has lost).”

50. Say: “Were I to go astray, it would be to my own harm (and due to my own self). And if I am rightly guided, it is by virtue of what my Lord is revealing to me. Surely He is All-Hearing, All-Near.”

51. If you could but see when they quake with dread (of death), with no escape, and are seized from a position very near.17

52. They say: “We have believed in it (the Qur’ān)!” But how can they hope to attain to faith and salvation from a position so far away,18

53. (And) when they certainly disbelieved in it before? They have been aiming at the Unseen (the Hereafter) from far away19 (with words all untrue, and without any basis in true knowledge).

54. And a barrier has been placed between them and what they had appetite for (while in the world), as was done with the likes of them before. Surely they were (lost) in hopeless doubt.

The Qur'an with Annotated Interpretation in Modern English

The Qur’an with Annotated Interpretation in Modern English

1. On the Manifest Book, see 6: 59, note 13; 13: 39, note 13; 17: 14, note 10; 27: 1, note 1.

2. For an explanation, see 21: 79, note 10.

3. This is both an order to give thanks in return for God’s favors, and a warning to use all of God’s favors, such as the ability to make coats-of-mail out of iron, within the limits established by God and for lawful purposes.

4. See 21: 81, note 11. Despite the fact that conditions usually change, the wind kept its speed every day both in the morning and in the evening for Solomon, upon him be peace.

5. The verses, We also made iron supple for him (10), and We caused molten copper to flow for him (like a fountain) (12), indicate that softening iron and melting copper to use in making different tools are two of God’s greatest bounties for humankind, revealed through two of His Messengers. It also points to the virtues of those two Messengers. Softening iron, melting copper, and extracting minerals is the origin, source, and basis of all material industries. These favors were granted to two great Prophets, who ruled according to God’s commandments, and these have become the basis of most industries that serve our needs today.

By endowing two of His Prophets, who were both spiritual and temporal leaders, with craftsmanship and industry, God urges people toward craftsmanship and industry. In these verses, God Almighty suggests the following, as Said Nursi explains:

I endowed two servants of Mine who obeyed My religious commandments with such skill that one could cast iron into any mold and then use it as an important source of strength for his rule, and the other could make many things out of molten copper. Since these are possible and since iron and copper have great significance for your social life, such wisdom and skill will be bestowed on you if you obey My commands of creation, My laws of nature. Eventually you will attain it. (The Words, “The 20th Word,” 269)

By softening iron and smelting copper, people have achieved great industrial progress and material power. These verses direct our attention toward this truth. These verses not only warned earlier peoples, who did not appreciate its importance, but they also warn the idle people of today.

6. Since the jinn are created from fire, it is understood that they are punished with something from fire.

7. It is understood that a termite or other crawling creature of the earth had been gnawing away Solomon’s staff from within it. It must have taken it a long time to gnaw away a staff so that it would break. If jinn had known the Unseen (beyond the reach of a created being’s perception), they could have been aware of this. This verse may also be referring figuratively to the fact that Solomon’s kingdom had for long been being “gnawed away” from within it by some secret organizations. The jinn had not been aware of this either.

8. On the people of Sheba, see 27, note 9, and note 10 below.

9. This was like the demand of the Children of Israel for the produce of the soil when they were provided with manna and quails by God in the desert (2: 57). They said: “Moses, we will no longer be able to endure one sort of food. Pray for us to your Lord, that He may bring forth for us of all that the soil produces – its green herbs, and its cucumbers, and its corn, and its lentils, and its onions.” He (Moses) responded: “Would you have in exchange what is meaner for what is better? (2: 61) (For an explanation, see 2, notes 72–73.) They were not content with what God had provided for them, and instead of thanking God, spoiled by richness, they indulged in sins.

10. The people of Sheba ruled in southern Arabia for almost 1,000 years from around 1100 bc to around 115 bc. Their capital was Ma’ārib. They controlled the trade between East Africa, India, the Far East, and Arabia with Egypt, Syria, Greece, and Rome. In addition to this, they had an excellent irrigation system that dotted the length and breadth of the country with dams. Their land was unusually fertile and lush. Between their lands and Syria, there were cities that were closely located to each other and travelers could travel in this vast area in security. As understood from the relationship between the Prophet Solomon, upon him be peace, and the Queen of Sheba, in his time (27: 22–44), the Divine Religion found a way to their land, although they had previously worshipped the sun. However, they went astray later and their prosperous life drove them to sins without repentance. They did not give heed to the warnings of the Prophets who were sent to them. In the end, they deserved a severe punishment. The dams and the irrigation systems collapsed, and their cities and fertile lands were overwhelmed by floods and changed into wastelands. The people were scattered throughout Arabia in small groups, and the civilization of Sheba came to exist only in tales that circulated among people.

11. For the conjecture of Iblīs concerning humankind, see 15: 39–40: (Iblīs said:) “Because You have allowed me to rebel and go astray, I will indeed deck out to be appealing to them on the earth (the worldly, material dimension of human existence and the path of error), and I will surely cause them all to rebel and go astray, except Your servants from among them, endowed with sincerity in faith and Your worship”; 4: 119: “I will surely lead them astray”; and 7: 17: “…Then I will come upon them from before them and from behind them, and from their right and from their left. And You will not find most of them thankful.”

12. For similar statements and an explanation, see 14: 22; 15: 39-42, and note 10.

13. The polytheists claimed that they believed in the idols and some beings such as angels, thinking that they might intercede with God for the fulfillment of their desires. The verse categorically rejects this.

14. The angels are God’s servants whom He employs in many tasks. As explained in note 31 to 2: 30, no event in the universe can be thought of without the function of the angels. There are angels that represent or are responsible for every event in the universe and every species on the earth. They also look on God’s acts with wonder and admiration and present to Him the glorification and worship each species of creature makes in the language of their disposition. Angels are of different ranks. So, the ones who the verse tells us are asked about what God has commanded must be those of greater ranks. They receive God’s commands, and when the dread and awe they feel while they are receiving those commands, other angels ask them what God has commanded. All angels carry out whatever God orders them (21: 27). So they cannot do anything of their own accord and cannot intercede with God or pray to Him for anybody they wish.

15. The manners in the verses 24, 25, and 26 are the manners to be preferred in communicating the truth to others. Although God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, clearly follows the right guidance, and he is certain of this, he is ordered to say, either we or you follow the right guidance or are in a manifest error, instead of we follow the right guidance and you are in a manifest error. In verse 25, he allows that, in the polytheists’ view, the believers may be people who are in the wrong, but he does not accuse the polytheists, whom he is addressing, of any sins. And, in verse 26, he refers the matter to God’s judgment.

16. Most of the pagans worshipped angels they regarded as good spirits from whom benefit was expected, and jinn as evil spirits against whom protection was sought. However, since in many cases these people went astray under the influence of jinn, they were actually worshipping jinn while they thought they were worshipping angels; they were being led by jinn. Most of them also attributed divinity to jinn, as they regarded them as beings that were capable of causing harm and, therefore, were to be worshipped in order to be protected from their evil.

17. This statement expresses, in relation with the previous verse, which says God is All-Near, God’s infinite nearness to human beings. He is nearer to us than our own selves. A living being is seized at the time of death from within its own self.

18. This means that at the time of death, a human being is extremely near to the Hereafter and far away from the world. There is no longer any chance of escape or return, so it is no more possible for an unbeliever, who has lived very far away from faith, to attain to faith.

19. This signifies that a human being is extremely far away from the world at the time of death when he or she is on the verge of being transferred to the Hereafter. It also implies that while in the world, he or she is far away from the Hereafter. This distance signifies the distance between unbelief and the Hereafter and arises from unbelief itself.