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Towards Understanding the Quran
With kind permission: Islamic Foundation UK
Introduction to Tafheem | Glossary | Verbs
Other resources: Maarif | Dawat 

 Surah Al-Isra 17:11-22 [2/12]
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Verse Summary -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
وَيَدْعُAnd prays
ٱلْإِنسَـٰنُthe man
بِٱلشَّرِّfor evil
دُعَآءَهُۥ(as) he prays
بِٱلْخَيْرِ‌ۖfor the good.
وَكَانَAnd is
ٱلْإِنسَـٰنُthe man
عَجُولاًever hasty.
وَجَعَلْنَاAnd We have made
ٱلَّيْلَthe night
وَٱلنَّهَارَand the day
ءَايَتَيْنِ‌ۖ(as) two signs.
فَمَحَوْنَآThen We erased
ءَايَةَ(the) sign
ٱلَّيْلِ(of) the night,
وَجَعَلْنَآand We made
ءَايَةَ(the) sign
ٱلنَّهَارِ(of) the day
لِّتَبْتَغُواْthat you may seek
رَّبِّكُمْyour Lord,
وَلِتَعْلَمُواْand that you may know
عَدَدَ(the) number
ٱلسِّنِينَ(of) the years,
وَٱلْحِسَابَ‌ۚand the account.
وَكُلَّAnd every
شَىْءٍthing -
فَصَّلْنَـٰهُWe have explained it
تَفْصِيلاً(in) detail.
وَكُلَّAnd (for) every
أَلْزَمْنَـٰهُWe have fastened to him
طَـٰٓئِرَهُۥhis fate
عُنُقِهِۦ‌ۖhis neck,
وَنُخْرِجُand We will bring forth
لَهُۥfor him
يَوْمَ(on the) Day
ٱلْقِيَـٰمَةِ(of) the Resurrection
كِتَـٰبًاa record
يَلْقَـٰهُwhich he will find
مَنشُورًاwide open.
كِتَـٰبَكَyour record.
بِنَفْسِكَ(is) yourself
عَلَيْكَagainst you
حَسِيبًا(as) accountant."
ٱهْتَدَىٰ(is) guided
فَإِنَّمَاthen only
يَهْتَدِىhe is guided
لِنَفْسِهِۦ‌ۖfor his soul.
وَمَنAnd whoever
ضَلَّgoes astray
فَإِنَّمَاthen only
يَضِلُّhe goes astray
عَلَيْهَا‌ۚagainst it
وَلَاAnd not
تَزِرُwill bear
وَازِرَةٌone laden with burden,
أُخْرَىٰ‌ۗ(of) another.
وَمَاAnd not
مُعَذِّبِينَare to punish
نَبْعَثَWe have sent
رَسُولاًa Messenger.
وَإِذَآAnd when
أَرَدْنَآWe intend
نُّهْلِكَWe destroy
قَرْيَةًa town,
أَمَرْنَاWe order
مُتْرَفِيهَاits wealthy people
فَفَسَقُواْbut they defiantly disobey
فَحَقَّso (is) proved true
عَلَيْهَاagainst it
ٱلْقَوْلُthe word,
فَدَمَّرْنَـٰهَاand We destroy it
تَدْمِيرًا(with) destruction.
وَكَمْAnd how many
أَهْلَكْنَاWe destroyed
ٱلْقُرُونِthe generations
مِنۢ بَعْدِafter
وَكَفَىٰAnd sufficient
بِرَبِّكَ(is) your Lord
بِذُنُوبِconcerning the sins
عِبَادِهِۦ(of) His servants
ٱلْعَاجِلَةَthe immediate
عَجَّلْنَاWe hasten
لَهُۥfor him
فِيهَاin it
نَشَآءُWe will
لِمَنto whom
نُّرِيدُWe intend.
جَعَلْنَاWe have made
لَهُۥfor him
يَصْلَـٰهَاhe will burn
وَمَنْAnd whoever
ٱلْأَخِرَةَthe Hereafter
وَسَعَىٰand exerts
لَهَاfor it
سَعْيَهَاthe effort,
وَهُوَwhile he
مُؤْمِنٌ(is) a believer,
فَأُوْلَـٰٓئِكَthen those
سَعْيُهُمtheir effort,
مَّشْكُورًا(is) appreciated.
كُلاًّ(To) each
نُّمِدُّWe extend
هَـٰٓؤُلَآءِ(to) these
وَهَـٰٓؤُلَآءِand (to) these,
عَطَآءِ(the) gift
رَبِّكَ‌ۚ(of) your Lord.
وَمَاAnd not
عَطَآءُ(the) gift
رَبِّكَ(of) your Lord
فَضَّلْنَاWe preferred
بَعْضَهُمْsome of them
وَلَلْأَخِرَةُAnd surely the Hereafter
أَكْبَرُ(is) greater
دَرَجَـٰتٍ(in) degrees
وَأَكْبَرُand greater
تَفْضِيلاً(in) excellence.
لَّا(Do) not
فَتَقْعُدَlest you will sit

وَيَدۡعُ الۡاِنۡسَانُ بِالشَّرِّ دُعَآءَهٗ بِالۡخَيۡرِ​ ؕ وَكَانَ الۡاِنۡسَانُ عَجُوۡلًا‏  وَجَعَلۡنَا الَّيۡلَ وَالنَّهَارَ اٰيَتَيۡنِ​ فَمَحَوۡنَاۤ اٰيَةَ الَّيۡلِ وَجَعَلۡنَاۤ اٰيَةَ النَّهَارِ مُبۡصِرَةً لِّتَبۡتَغُوۡا فَضۡلًا مِّنۡ رَّبِّكُمۡ وَلِتَعۡلَمُوۡا عَدَدَ السِّنِيۡنَ وَالۡحِسَابَ​ؕ وَكُلَّ شَىۡءٍ فَصَّلۡنٰهُ تَفۡصِيۡلًا‏   وَكُلَّ اِنۡسَانٍ اَلۡزَمۡنٰهُ طٰۤـئِرَهٗ فِىۡ عُنُقِهٖ​ؕ وَنُخۡرِجُ لَهٗ يَوۡمَ الۡقِيٰمَةِ كِتٰبًا يَّلۡقٰٮهُ مَنۡشُوۡرًا‏  اِقۡرَاۡ كِتٰبَك َؕ كَفٰى بِنَفۡسِكَ الۡيَوۡمَ عَلَيۡكَ حَسِيۡبًا ؕ‏  مَنِ اهۡتَدٰى فَاِنَّمَا يَهۡتَدِىۡ لِنَفۡسِهٖ ​ۚ وَمَنۡ ضَلَّ فَاِنَّمَا يَضِلُّ عَلَيۡهَا​ ؕ وَلَا تَزِرُ وَازِرَةٌ وِّزۡرَ اُخۡرٰى​ ؕ وَمَا كُنَّا مُعَذِّبِيۡنَ حَتّٰى نَبۡعَثَ رَسُوۡلًا‏  وَاِذَاۤ اَرَدۡنَاۤ اَنۡ نُّهۡلِكَ قَرۡيَةً اَمَرۡنَا مُتۡرَفِيۡهَا فَفَسَقُوۡا فِيۡهَا فَحَقَّ عَلَيۡهَا الۡقَوۡلُ فَدَمَّرۡنٰهَا تَدۡمِيۡرًا‏  وَكَمۡ اَهۡلَكۡنَا مِنَ الۡقُرُوۡنِ مِنۡۢ بَعۡدِ نُوۡحٍ​ؕ وَكَفٰى بِرَبِّكَ بِذُنُوۡبِ عِبَادِهٖ خَبِيۡرًۢا بَصِيۡرًا‏  مَنۡ كَانَ يُرِيۡدُ الۡعَاجِلَةَ عَجَّلۡنَا لَهٗ فِيۡهَا مَا نَشَآءُ لِمَنۡ نُّرِيۡدُ ثُمَّ جَعَلۡنَا لَهٗ جَهَنَّمَ​ۚ يَصۡلٰٮهَا مَذۡمُوۡمًا مَّدۡحُوۡرًا‏   وَمَنۡ اَرَادَ الۡاٰخِرَةَ وَسَعٰى لَهَا سَعۡيَهَا وَهُوَ مُؤۡمِنٌ فَاُولٰۤـئِكَ كَانَ سَعۡيُهُمۡ مَّشۡكُوۡرًا‏  كُلًّا نُّمِدُّ هٰٓؤُلَاۤءِ وَهٰٓؤُلَاۤءِ مِنۡ عَطَآءِ رَبِّكَ​ ؕ وَمَا كَانَ عَطَآءُ رَبِّكَ مَحۡظُوۡرًا‏  اُنْظُرۡ كَيۡفَ فَضَّلۡنَا بَعۡضَهُمۡ عَلٰى بَعۡضٍ​ ؕ وَلَـلۡاٰخِرَةُ اَكۡبَرُ دَرَجٰتٍ وَّاَكۡبَرُ تَفۡضِيۡلًا‏  لَا تَجۡعَلۡ مَعَ اللّٰهِ اِلٰهًا اٰخَرَ فَتَقۡعُدَ مَذۡمُوۡمًا مَّخۡذُوۡلًا‏  
(17:11) Man prays for evil in the manner he ought to pray for good. Man is ever hasty.12 (17:12) We have made night and day as two signs. We made the sign of the night devoid of light, and made the sign of the day radiant that you may seek the bounty of your Lord and know the computation of years and numbers. Thus We have expounded everything in detail to keep everything distinct from the other.13 (17:13) We have fastened every man's omen to his neck.14 On the Day of Resurrection We shall produce for him his scroll in the shape of a wide open book, (saying): (17:14) "Read your scroll; this Day you suffice to take account of yourself." (17:15) He who follows the Right Way shall do so to his own advantage; and he who strays shall incur his own loss.15 No one shall bear another's burden.16 And never do We punish any people until We send a Messenger17 (to make the Truth distinct from falsehood). (17:16) When We decide to destroy a town We command the affluent among them, whereupon they commit sins in it, then the decree (of chastisement) becomes due against them and thereafter We destroy that town utterly.18 (17:17) Many a generation has been destroyed by Our command since Noah's time. Your Lord is well aware and fully observant of the sins of His servants. (17:18) If anyone desires immediate benefits,19 We hasten to grant whatever benefits We will in the present life to whomsoever We please, but thereafter We decree for him Hell wherein he shall burn, condemned and rejected.20 (17:19) But he who desires the Hereafter and strives for it in the manner he should, and is a true believer, his striving will come to fruition.21 (17:20) To all of these as well as those We shall provide the wherewithal of this life in the present world by dint of your Lord's Bounty; and from none shall the Bounty of your Lord be withheld.22 (17:21) See, how We have exalted some above others in this world, and in the Life to Come they will have higher ranks and greater degrees of excellence over others.23 (17:22) Do not set up any other god with Allah24 lest you are rendered humiliated and helpless.

12. This is in answer to the foolish demands of the disbelievers of Makkah who repeatedly demanded from the Prophet (peace be upon him) to bring about that torment with which he threatened them. It is closely connected with the preceding verse, as if to say: O foolish people instead of asking goodness you demand the torment. Can’t you realize the sufferings of the community which was visited by God’s torment?

It also contains a subtle warning to those Muslims who prayed for punishment for those disbelievers who persecuted them and rejected the message obdurately; there were still among those disbelievers many such people who afterwards embraced Islam and became its standard bearers in the world. That is why Allah says: Man does so because he is very hasty and impatient. He prays to Allah for all such things as are the immediate need of the time, though often subsequent experience shows that if Allah had granted his prayer, it would have been very harmful to him.

13. Allah invites man to study the wisdom that underlies variety in the world and not get confused and long for monotonous uniformity. In fact, the whole system is based on variety, distinctiveness and diversity in things. For the sake of illustration let us take the case of the signs of day and night: You see these opposite things daily in your life. If you just consider the underlying wisdom, you will find that without this variety there would have been hardly any activity in the world. Likewise great wisdom lies in the creation of the people with different temperaments, thoughts and inclinations. If Allah had made all men righteous by birth or annihilated disbelievers and wicked people and left only believers and submissive people in the world, the purpose of men’s creation could not leave been realized. Therefore, it is wrong to desire that there should only be day and no night. The righteous thing is that these people, who have the light of guidance, should exert their utmost to remove the darkness of deviation. It is their duty that if they find darkness like that of night, they should pursue it like the sun so that the light of guidance should reappear.

14. “We have fastened his fate to his neck”: therefore one does not need to take omens from a bird. This is to remove the superstition of the disbelievers who used to take omens from birds etc. as if to say: The causes and consequences of good fortune or bad fate exist in man’s own person. He merits good fortune because of his own good conduct and good judgment, and likewise, suffers the consequences of evil fate by the lack of these. This was necessitated because foolish people always try to attribute their misfortunes to external causes, when in fact our fate depends on our own deeds, good or bad. If they probe into the causes, they will find that their fate was decided by their own good or bad qualities and judgments.

15. This is to impress that if a person adopts the right way, he does not do any favor to God or His Messenger or a reformer but he himself gets its benefits. On the other hand, if a person deviates from the right way, he can do no harm to God or His Messenger or a reformer, for they desire only to protect men from wrong ways and guide him on to the right way, and not for any selfish ends. Therefore, the right course for a wise man is to adopt the righteous way when it becomes distinct to him what is truth and what is falsehood. On the other hand, if he rejects truth because of his prejudices and self interest, he will be his own enemy and not a well wisher.

16. The Quran has laid great stress on the doctrine of personal responsibility at several places, for one cannot follow the right way scrupulously without understanding fully its implication. It means that, everyone is solely responsible for his moral conduct and is accountable to God as an individual in his own person and no other person can share the burden of responsibility with him. As an instance, we take the case of a particular action or a particular way of conduct in which a generation or a community of a large number of people had collaborated. When the people will assemble before Allah on the Day of Judgment, their collective action will be analyzed so as to lay the burden of its responsibility on each and every person who had been conducive to it, and rewarded or punished in accordance with it. Neither will a person be punished for the part another had played in its performance nor shall the burden of the sin of one individual be laid on the shoulders of another. This doctrine has been emphasized over and over again so that a wise man should not act in imitation of another or justify his own conduct by similar deeds of others. If a particular person feels the sense of his own responsibility, he will act in such a way as to come out successful on the Day of Judgment, regardless of what the others do.

17. This is another doctrine which has been impressed on the minds by the Quran in different ways. This is to emphasize the basic importance that a Messenger has in the dispensation of divine justice because this is determined in the light of the message brought by him. This will be employed as an argument in favor of or against the concerned people. Otherwise the infliction of punishment on the people would be unjust for in that case they could argue that they should not be punished as the knowledge of the righteous way had not been conveyed to them. But after the message had been conveyed to a particular people, and they had rejected it, there would be left no excuse for them.

It is an irony that instead of accepting the message some people are misled by reading verses like this and they ask such absurd questions: What will be the position of those, who might not have received the message of any Prophet? The wise course for such persons would have been to ask themselves what their own position will be on the Day of Judgment, because they themselves had received the message. As regards to other people, Allah knows best who has received the message, and when, how and to what extent and what attitude a certain person adopted towards it. In short, Allah alone is aware of whether a particular person received the message in such a way as to fulfill the required condition for punishment.

18. Here a definite form of divine procedure for the destruction of a people has been stated. When the affluent people of a habitation become disobedient, it is a portent that it is doomed to destruction. After their persistent and continuous transgression, the affluent people become so obdurate in their disobedience that they begin to discard the instinctive dictates of their conscience. The same thing has been stated in this Ayat: And when We intend to destroy a town, We give commands to its affluent people and they show disobedience. This is because Allah has created conscience for the guidance of man. Therefore, the dictates of conscience are really the commands of Allah. Thus it has become quite obvious that by “And when We intend to destroy a town” is not meant that Allah intends to destroy it without any reason. It is destroyed because after their disobedience that habitation incurs Our just wrath and We totally exterminate it. The habitation deserves such a punishment because its common people follow the affluent people who are the factual leaders of a community and are mainly responsible for the corruption of the community. At first the affluent people commit acts of disobedience, wickedness, mischief, cruelty and tyranny and then the common people follow them and incur the torment of Allah. Incidentally, this is a warning for every community that it should be very discreet and prudent in choosing and electing its leaders and rulers, for if the latter are mean and wicked, they will inevitably lead the community to destruction. 1

19. The Arabic word ajilah literally means something which can be had immediately, but the Quran employs it as a term for “this world” which yields its advantages and results in this worldly life. Its antonym is Akhirat (Hereafter) which will yield its advantages and results after death in the life of the next world.

20. The person who does not believe in the life of the Hereafter deserves Hell, because he strives only for the successes and good things of this world and his endeavors are confined to material objects. Consequently, such a person becomes a mere worshiper of this world and adopts wrong conduct, for he has no sense of personal responsibility and accountability to God and ultimately deserves the torment of Hell.

21. Whose effort shall be appreciated, he will be rewarded for the efforts he had made for success in the Hereafter.

22. Allah gives the provisions of this world both to those who strive for this world and to those who strive for the Hereafter, but it is the gift of Allah alone and not of anyone else. It does not lie in the power of the worshipers of the world to deprive the seekers after the Hereafter of these provisions, nor have the seekers after the Hereafter any power to withhold these provisions from the worshipers of the world.

23. This is to show that the seekers of the Hereafter have been exalted over the worshipers of the world even in this worldly life. However, this exaltation is not in regards to the good things of this world, rich food and dresses, palatial dwellings, luxurious means of travelling and other grand things. They enjoy that true honor, love and goodwill which is denied to the tyrants and the rich people in spite of the fact that they may be indigent. This is because whatever the seekers of the Hereafter get in this world, it is earned in righteous and honest ways, while the worshipers of the world amass wealth by employing dishonest and cruel ways. Then the former spend what they get with prudence and righteousness. They fulfill the obligations they owe to others. They spend their money in the way of Allah and to please Allah on the needy and the indigent. In contrast to them, the worshipers of this world spend their money in the enjoyment of luxuries, wicked works, corruption and spreading other evil things. This makes the former models of God worship and purity in every respect and distinguishes them so clearly from the worshipers of the world that they shine in exaltation over the latter. These things clearly indicate that in the next world the rewards of the seekers of the Hereafter will be far greater and their superiority far higher than those of the worshipers of the world.

24. Or it can be rendered like this: Do not invent another deity besides Allah, or do not set up another as a deity beside Allah.