68. Al-Qalam (The Pen)

This sūrah of 52 verses is one of the earliest Revelations in Makkah. It takes its name from the word Al-Qalam (the Pen), in the opening verse. It categorically refutes some allegations of the polytheists against God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, and proves the office of Prophethood. It cites the perfect character of the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, as the most visible and undeniable proof of his Prophethood. It warns against the evil consequences of ingratitude and unbelief, and promises the believers a happy, eternal life in the Hereafter.

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

1. Nūn. By the Pen and what they write with it line by line.1

2. You are not, by the grace of your Lord, a madman.

3. And yours, for sure, is a reward— constant and beyond measure.

4. You are surely of a sublime character, and do act by a sublime pattern of conduct.2

5. Soon you will see, and they will see,

6. Which of you is afflicted with madness.

7. Surely, your Lord is He Who knows best who is astray from His way, and He knows best those who are rightly guided.

8. So pay no heed to (the desires of) those who persistently deny (God’s Message).

9. They wish you to compromise (with them in matters of faith), so they would compromise (with you).

10. Pay no heed to any contemptible oath-maker (who swears much with no consideration of truth, and no will to act on his word);

11. A defamer, circulating slander (in all directions),

12. Who hinders the doing of good; a transgressor of all bounds (of sense or decency); one addicted to sinning,

13. Cruel and ignoble; and in addition to all that, morally corrupt,

14. Because he has wealth and many sons.

15. When Our Revelations are recited to him, he says: “Fables of the ancients.”

16. We will brand him on the nose (to mark indelibly his disgrace).

17. For sure, We try them (with drought, as they rely on their wealth and children We have granted them and reject Our call), just as We tried the owners of the garden. They swore that they would assuredly harvest its produce the next day.

18. They made no allowance (in their oaths, being oblivious of the rights of the needy and oblivious of God’s will).

19. Then a visitation from your Lord encompassed it while they were sleeping,

20. So by morning it had become bleak.

21. So they cried out to one another, having risen for the morning:

22. “Hurry to your cultivated land, if you mean to harvest (its produce)!”

23. So they set out, confiding to one another:

24. “(Take care) that no destitute enter there on you today.”

25. So early they went, firmly resolved in intent (to collect the harvest and not share it with the destitute).

26. But when they saw it, they said: “We have assuredly arrived at the wrong place!”

27. (Then when they realized that it was indeed their garden:) “No, rather we are made destitute!”

28. The one more equitable among them said: “Did I not say to you: ‘Will you not glorify God?’”3

29. They said: “All-Glorified is our Lord! Indeed we have done wrong (by regarding ourselves as self-sufficient and not dependent on Him).”

30. Then they approached one another, reproaching themselves.

31. They said: “Oh, woe to us! We were habituated to arrogance and rebellion.

32. “It may be that our Lord will grant us something better than this instead. Surely to our Lord do we turn with hope.”

33. That is (an example of) the punishment (such as the ingrate rebellious may be made to endure in the world); and certainly, the punishment of the Hereafter is greater, if they but knew!

34. For the God-revering, pious there are Gardens of bounty and blessing with their Lord.

35.Do We ever treat those who have submitted to God like the disbelieving criminals (who have submitted only to their own lusts and fancies)?

36. What is the matter with you (that you can judge so)? How can you judge (that all are valued alike in God’s sight, whether they are Muslims or not)?

37. Or do you have a Book (revealed by God) that you read,

38. Wherein you find that you will indeed have whatever you prefer (to have)?

39. Or do you have a covenant with Us, confirmed by Us, an oath as binding until the Day of Resurrection, that you will have whatever you judge (should be yours)?

40. Ask them (seeing that they do not have such a covenant), which of  them will vouch for that?

41. Or do they have partners (with God who guarantee them whatever they wish for themselves)? Then let them produce their partners, if they are truthful (in their claim).

42. On the Day when the truth will be manifest and they are in trouble, and being called to prostrate, they will be incapable of it:

43. Downcast will be their eyes, with abasement overwhelming them. Assuredly, they were called to prostrate while they were yet safe and whole (in this world, but they did not).

44. So leave Me with such as deny this Word (the Qur’ān). We will lead them on to perdition, step by step from where they do not know.

45. But I grant respite to them (so that they may mend their ways). My scheme (all that is willed for them) is firm and unfailing.

46. Or is it that you ask them for a wage (in return for your calling them to Our Word), and so they are weighed down with debt?

47. Or is the Unseen within their reach that they write down (prescribing and stipulating what is to come, and how they are to be judged)?

48. So wait patiently for your Lord’s judgment, and do not be like the companion of the fish,4 when he called out choking inwardly (with distress).5

49. If there had not reached him grace from his Lord (Who accepted his repentance), he would indeed have been cast forth on the desert shore, being reproached.6

50. But his Lord chose him and enabled him to be among the specially chosen, righteous servants.

51. Those who disbelieve would (if they could) strike you down with their looks because of hatred and enmity, when they hear the Reminder, and they say: “Surely he is a madman.”

52. But it is not other than a Reminder for all beings.

1. Endowing humankind with the capacity of speech is one of God’s greatest blessings. The greatest expression is the Qur’ān, which is also God’s greatest blessing on humankind (55: 1–4). God also draws attention to the fact that He has taught humans to write with the pen (96: 4). One of the basic reasons for which the Qur’ān has come down to us unchanged is that God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, had it written down by scribes, verse by verse. Writing is the most important means of both storing and transmitting information. So, due to this great importance, God swears by the Pen – especially the pens with which the Qur’ān was written down – and what is written with the pen – especially the Qur’ān. Nūn is one of the abbreviated or isolated letters, concerning which see sūrah 2, note 1. In addition to its other meanings or implications, nūn may be referring to the inkpot or similar equipment used in writing. In addition, the Qur’ān calls the Prophet Jonah, upon him be peace, Dhu’n-Nūn (the owner of Nūn) in 21: 87, and verses 48–50 of this sūrah also mention him. So according to some, Nūn also refers to the fish which swallowed up the Prophet Jonah, upon him be peace.

2. The sublime character of God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, and the praiseworthy qualities he had in the greatest degree are known to history and to everybody. Including his fiercest opponents in his time, no one, except some blind, willfully prejudiced orientalists, has ever been able to say anything that could taint his pure person. For an account of his most sublime qualities, see The Messenger of God, 279–309.

With his every act and word, he represented the Qur’ān. As his wife ‘A’ishah said, he was a perfect embodiment of the Qur’ān. So the verse also points to this fact and means that every word and act of his is an embodiment of a Qur’ānic principle.

3. That is, ‘Why do you not acknowledge Him as Lord, Who alone sustains and provides all that we are and have? Why do you not hold Him in awe, Who does not admit any partner in His authority, and is not pleased with arrogance and wrongdoing?’

4. The companion of the fish is the Prophet Jonah, upon him be peace. For a detailed explanation of his story, see sūrah 10: 98, note 20; sūrah 21: 87–88, note 18; sūrah 37: 139–148.

5. He called out in the abdomen of the fish: “There is no deity but You, All-Glorified You are (in that You are absolutely above having any defect). Surely, I have been one of the wrongdoers (who have wronged themselves)” (21: 87). For the meaning of this, see sūrah 21, note 18.

6. Verses 37: 143–145 say: Had it not been that he was one who glorified (God, declaring Him absolutely above having any defects and partners), he would certainly have remained in its belly (serving as his grave) until the Day when all will be raised (from the dead). But We caused him to be cast forth on a desert shore, sick as he was. However, this verse says that if there had not reached him grace from his Lord, he would indeed have been cast forth on the desert shore, being reproached. Yet there is no contradiction between these verses. Verse 37: 143 says that if the Prophet Jonah, upon him be peace, had not been one who always glorified God, he would have remained in the belly of the fish until the Day of Resurrection. His being one who always glorified God caused him to be cast forth. This verse says that if he had not glorified God in the belly of the fish, he would have been cast forth, being reproached. His special glorification in the belly of the fish caused him to be cast forth, forgiven, preserved on desert land, and returned to his people, who accepted his message.

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