(2:258) Did you not consider the case of the person289 who remonstrated
with Abraham290 about who was Abraham’s Lord just because Allah
had granted him dominion?291
When Abraham said: “My Lord is He Who grants life and causes death,” he replied:
“I grant life and I cause death.” Abraham said: “But surely Allah causes the
sun to rise from the east; now you cause it to rise from the west.” Thereupon
the denier of the Truth was confounded.292 Allah does not direct
the wrong-doers to the Right Way.
اَلَمۡ تَرَ اِلَى الَّذِىۡ حَآجَّ اِبۡرٰهٖمَ فِىۡ رَبِّهٖۤ اَنۡ اٰتٰٮهُ اللّٰهُ
الۡمُلۡكَۘ اِذۡ قَالَ اِبۡرٰهٖمُ رَبِّىَ الَّذِىۡ يُحۡىٖ وَيُمِيۡتُۙ قَالَ اَنَا
اُحۡىٖ وَاُمِيۡتُؕ قَالَ اِبۡرٰهٖمُ فَاِنَّ اللّٰهَ يَاۡتِىۡ بِالشَّمۡسِ مِنَ الۡمَشۡرِقِ
فَاۡتِ بِهَا مِنَ الۡمَغۡرِبِ فَبُهِتَ الَّذِىۡ كَفَرَؕ وَاللّٰهُ لَا يَهۡدِى الۡقَوۡمَ
(2:259) Or consider him by way of example who passed by a town that was fallen
down upon its turrets.293 He exclaimed: “How will Allah restore
life to this town that is now dead?”294
Allah then caused him to remain dead for a hundred years and then raised him
to life, and asked him: “How long did you remain in this state?” He replied:
“I remained so for a day or a part of a day.” Allah rejoined: “No, you have
rather stayed thus for a hundred years. But look at your food and your drink,
there is no deterioration in them. And look at your ass (how its entire skeleton
has rotted)! And We did all this so that We might make you a token of instruction
for people.295 And see how We will put the bones (of the ass) together
and will clothe them with flesh.” Thus when the reality became clear to him,
he said: “I know that Allah has power over everything.”
اَوۡ كَالَّذِىۡ مَرَّ عَلٰى قَرۡيَةٍ وَّ هِىَ خَاوِيَةٌ عَلٰى عُرُوۡشِهَا ۚ
قَالَ اَنّٰى يُحۡىٖ هٰذِهِ اللّٰهُ بَعۡدَ مَوۡتِهَا ۚ فَاَمَاتَهُ اللّٰهُ مِائَةَ
عَامٍ ثُمَّ بَعَثَهٗ ؕ قَالَ كَمۡ لَبِثۡتَؕ قَالَ لَبِثۡتُ يَوۡمًا اَوۡ بَعۡضَ
يَوۡمٍؕ قَالَ بَلۡ لَّبِثۡتَ مِائَةَ عَامٍ فَانۡظُرۡ اِلٰى طَعَامِكَ وَشَرَابِكَ
لَمۡ يَتَسَنَّهۡۚ وَانْظُرۡ اِلٰى حِمَارِكَ وَلِنَجۡعَلَكَ اٰيَةً لِّلنَّاسِ
وَانْظُرۡ اِلَى الۡعِظَامِ كَيۡفَ نُـنۡشِزُهَا ثُمَّ نَكۡسُوۡهَا لَحۡمًا ؕ فَلَمَّا
تَبَيَّنَ لَهٗ ۙ قَالَ اَعۡلَمُ اَنَّ اللّٰهَ عَلٰى كُلِّ شَىۡءٍ قَدِيۡرٌ
(2:260) And recall when Abraham said: “My Lord, show me how You give life
to the dead,” Allah said: “Why! Do you have no faith?” Abraham replied: “Yes,
but in order that my heart be at rest.”296 He said: “Then take
four birds, and tame them to yourself, then put a part of them on every hill,
and summon them; they will come to you flying. Know well that Allah is All-Mighty,
All-Wise.”297 وَاِذۡ قَالَ اِبۡرٰهٖمُ رَبِّ اَرِنِىۡ كَيۡفَ تُحۡىِ الۡمَوۡتٰى ؕ قَالَ اَوَلَمۡ
تُؤۡمِنۡؕ قَالَ بَلٰى وَلٰـكِنۡ لِّيَطۡمَٮِٕنَّ قَلۡبِىۡؕ قَالَ فَخُذۡ اَرۡبَعَةً
مِّنَ الطَّيۡرِ فَصُرۡهُنَّ اِلَيۡكَ ثُمَّ اجۡعَلۡ عَلٰى كُلِّ جَبَلٍ مِّنۡهُنَّ
جُزۡءًا ثُمَّ ادۡعُهُنَّ يَاۡتِيۡنَكَ سَعۡيًا ؕ وَاعۡلَمۡ اَنَّ اللّٰهَ عَزِيۡزٌ
289. It was stated earlier that God is the protector and supporter of the
man of faith and brings him out of darkness into light whereas the protectors
and supporters of the unbelievers are taghut who lead him out of light into
darkness. It is to illustrate this that three examples are cited here. The first
is that of a person before whom truth was put with such clear and impressive
arguments that he could not refute it, but since he had placed his reins in
the hands of taghut, he still could not believe in it. The two subsequent examples
are those of two people who clung to God as their support, and God drew them
out of darkness so that they were enabled to perceive directly those realities
which are beyond the reach of man's perception.
290. Here the reference is to Nimrod the ruler of the land of Abrahams birth,
Iraq. The event which is referred to here is not mentioned at all in the Bible.
However, the whole story occurs in the Talmud and is largely in harmony with
the Qur'anic version. In the Talmudic version it is said that the father of
Abraham occupied the highest office in Nimrod's government. When Abraham denounced
polytheism, preached the doctrine of the unity of God and smashed the idols
of the temple, his own father lodged a complaint against him before the king.
This was followed by a conversation which is mentioned here.
291. The dispute was over the question: Whom did he acknowledge as his Lord?
The reason why this dispute arose was that God had granted kingship to the remonstrator,
namely Nimrod. In order to comprehend fully the nature of the dispute hinted
at in these statements, it is necessary to bear in mind the following:
(1) All polytheistic societies from the earliest times till today share one
characteristic: they acknowledge God to be the Lord of lords, the greatest of
all deities. They are unwilling to acknowledge Him, however, as the only God,
the only object of man's worship and service.
(2) Polytheists tend to divide godhead into two categories. One of these belongs
to the supernatural stratum. The being invested with godhead at this stratum
rules over the entire system of causation and is the one to whom man turns for
the fulfilment of his needs and for solutions to his problems. With this godhead
the polytheists associate spirits, angels, jinn, heavenly bodies and several
other beings. To them they address their prayers. They regard them as the objects
of their worship. It is at their altars that offerings and sacrifices are placed.
The second category of godhead belongs to the social and political stratum,
and refers to the being who has the privilege of absolute sovereignty: the one
who is entitled to make the rules of conduct for human life, the one who is
entitled to unreserved obedience, the one who has unlimited authority to command
in worldy matters. Polytheists of all ages have either wrested this godhead
from God altogether, or they have had this godhead distributed, in addition
to God, among many others such as royal dynastics, religious divines and the
venerated personalities of society, whether they belonged to the past or to
their own times. Many royal families have laid claim to godhead of the second
category and, in order to consolidate their claim, they have pretended to be
the offspring of gods in the former sense. In general there has been collusion
between the religious and the ruling classes on this question.
(3) Nimrod's claim to godhead belong to this second category. He did not deny
the existence of God, and he did not deny that He was the creator of the heavens
and the earth, and that He alone governed the entire universe. Nimrod did not
claim for himself that he held the reins of the entire realm of causation in
his hands; he claimed rather that he was the absolute sovereign of Chaldaea
and its inhabitants, that in his realm his word was law, that there was no authority
superior to his own to which he was answerable. Any Chaldaean who did not either
acknowledge him to be his lord or took anyone other than him to be so, was a
rebel and a traitor.
(4) Abraham asserted that he acknowledged none else but the creator of the universe
as his God, the only object worthy of his worship. He also denied categorically
the godhead and overlordship of anyone else. This raised the question of how
far the new creed could be tolerated, in so far as it was opposed to the tenets
of the national religion and rejected the current ideas regarding the deities
it worshipped. It also alerted the establishment in so far as Abraham's ideas
might constitute a serious threat to the national state and to the position
and privilege of its ruling coterie.
292. Even though it was clear from Abraham's very first sentence that none
other than God could legitimately be regarded as the Lord, Nimrod resorted to
an unreasonable reply. But Abraham's second statement left no room even for
Nimrod's brazenness. He knew well enough that the sun and the moon were subjected
to the overlordship of the same God as Abraham had acknowledged as his Lord.
What, then, could he say in reply? To accept the Truth which Abraham had made
crystal clear by his argument meant that Nimrod ought to part with his absolutist
despotism. The devil within him was not prepared for that. Hence he was left
wonderstruck, unable to get out of the darkness of self-adoration to the light
of Truth. If he had taken God rather than the Evil One as his patron and supporter,
the true path would have been opened to him after Abraham's preaching.
According to the Talmud, Abraham was interned in prison on the orders of this
king. He remained in prison for ten days, after which the king decided to have
him burnt alive. It was then that the famous incident of Abraham being thrown
into the fire took place see
(21:51 f f).;
293. It is irrelevant to ask who the person was and the place where this
incident occurred. The real purpose in mentioning this event is to show how
God showed light to the one who had chosen God as his protector and supporter.
As for determining the name of the person and the locality, we neither possess
the means to do so, nor is such an endeavour in any way beneficial. What seems
to be evident from the statement that follows is that the person concerned must
necessarily have been a Prophet.
294. This question does not signify that the person concerned denied or entertained
any doubts regarding life after death. His enquiry merely indicates his wish
to have direct knowledge of reality, like the Prophets of the past.
295. The restoration of life to a man considered to have died a hundred years
ago was in itself sufficient to make him, for his contemporaries, a living testimony.
296. That is, the rest and inner peace that one attains as a result of direct
297. People have subjected this incident and the one above to very strange
interpretations. If one bears in mind, however, God's dealings with the Prophets,
one will not feel any need to strain one's energies in hammering out such artificially-contrived
interpretations. The truth of the matter is that the kind of function that ordinary
believers are required to perform requires of them no more than believing in
certain truths without perceiving them through their senses. The function entrusted
by God to the Prophets is such that they ought to have direct knowledge of the
truths, the acceptance of which they are required to invite others to.
Thanks to the nature of their mission, the Prophets had to tell the world that
while others resorted to conjecture and fancy, they spoke from personal direct
observation and experience; that while others could claim to possess only imagination,
they possessed reliable knowledge; that while others were blind, they alone
had the God-given capacity to perceive the Truth. It is for this reason that
the angels come to the Prophets and they see them with their own eyes. It is
for the same reason that the Prophets were allowed a glimpse of the system of
governance of the heavens and the earth. It is for the same reason, again, that
they were enabled to observe Heaven and Hell and witness scenes of resurrection.
The Prophets are in possession of faith in the Unseen at the time they are invested
with prophethood. After being designated to prophethood, they are further honoured
by special favours and privileges, and initiated into what may be termed as
'faith in the seen' (for the 'Unseen' is changed for them to the 'seen'). This
favour is a special prerogative of the Prophets. (For a further explanation
(Surah 9, nn. 17, 18, 19 and