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

 Surah Ash-Shuraa 42:1-9 [1/4]
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Verse Summary -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
حمٓHa Meem.
عٓسٓقٓAyn Seen Qaaf.
إِلَيْكَto you,
وَإِلَىand to
مِن قَبْلِكَbefore you -
ٱلْعَزِيزُthe All-Mighty,
ٱلْحَكِيمُthe All-Wise.
لَهُۥTo Him
مَا(belong) whatever
فِى(is) in
ٱلسَّمَـٰوَٲتِthe heavens
وَمَاand whatever
فِى(is) in
ٱلْأَرْضِ‌ۖthe earth,
وَهُوَand He
ٱلْعَلِىُّ(is) the Most High,
ٱلْعَظِيمُthe Most Great.
ٱلسَّمَـٰوَٲتُthe heavens
يَتَفَطَّرْنَbreak up
فَوْقِهِنَّ‌ۚabove them,
وَٱلْمَلَـٰٓئِكَةُand the Angels
بِحَمْدِ(the) praise
رَبِّهِمْ(of) their Lord
وَيَسْتَغْفِرُونَand ask for forgiveness
لِمَنfor those
ٱلْأَرْضِ‌ۗthe earth.
ٱلْغَفُورُ(is) the Oft-Forgiving,
ٱلرَّحِيمُthe Most Merciful.
وَٱلَّذِينَAnd those who
مِن دُونِهِۦٓbesides Him
حَفِيظٌ(is) a Guardian
عَلَيْهِمْover them,
وَمَآand not
عَلَيْهِم(are) over them
بِوَكِيلٍa manager.
وَكَذَٲلِكَAnd thus
أَوْحَيْنَآWe have revealed
إِلَيْكَto you
قُرْءَانًاa Quran
عَرَبِيًّا(in) Arabic,
لِّتُنذِرَthat you may warn
أُمَّ(the) mother
ٱلْقُرَىٰ(of) the towns,
وَمَنْand whoever
حَوْلَهَا(is) around it,
وَتُنذِرَand warn
يَوْمَ(of the) Day
ٱلْجَمْعِ(of) Assembly,
لَا(there is) no
فِيهِ‌ۚin it.
فَرِيقٌA party
فِى(will be) in
وَفَرِيقٌand a party
ٱلسَّعِيرِthe Blazing Fire.
وَلَوْAnd if
شَآءَ ٱللَّهُAllah willed,
لَجَعَلَهُمْHe could have made them
أُمَّةًa community
يُدْخِلُHe admits
يَشَآءُHe wills
فِىin (to)
رَحْمَتِهِۦ‌ۚHis Mercy.
وَٱلظَّـٰلِمُونَAnd the wrongdoers,
لَهُمfor them
وَلَاand not
نَصِيرٍany helper.
ٱتَّخَذُواْhave they taken
مِن دُونِهِۦٓbesides Him
فَٱللَّهُBut Allah -
ٱلْوَلِىُّ(is) the Protector,
وَهُوَand He
يُحْىِgives life
ٱلْمَوْتَىٰ(to) the dead.
وَهُوَAnd He
عَلَىٰ(is) on

بِسۡمِ اللهِ الرَّحۡمٰنِ الرَّحِيۡمِ حٰمٓ‏  عٓسٓقٓ‏  كَذٰلِكَ يُوۡحِىۡۤ اِلَيۡكَ وَاِلَى الَّذِيۡنَ مِنۡ قَبۡلِكَۙ اللّٰهُ الۡعَزِيۡزُ الۡحَكِيۡمُ‏  لَهٗ مَا فِى السَّمٰوٰتِ وَمَا فِى الۡاَرۡضِ​ؕ وَهُوَ الۡعَلِىُّ الۡعَظِيۡمُ‏   تَـكَادُ السَّمٰوٰتُ يَتَفَطَّرۡنَ مِنۡ فَوۡقِهِنَّ​ وَالۡمَلٰٓـئِكَةُ يُسَبِّحُوۡنَ بِحَمۡدِ رَبِّهِمۡ وَيَسۡتَغۡفِرُوۡنَ لِمَنۡ فِى الۡاَرۡضِ​ؕ اَلَاۤ اِنَّ اللّٰهَ هُوَ الۡغَفُوۡرُ الرَّحِيۡمُ‏  وَالَّذِيۡنَ اتَّخَذُوۡا مِنۡ دُوۡنِهٖۤ اَوۡلِيَآءَ اللّٰهُ حَفِيۡظٌ عَلَيۡهِمۡ​ۖ وَمَاۤ اَنۡتَ عَلَيۡهِمۡ بِوَكِيۡلٍ‏  وَكَذٰلِكَ اَوۡحَيۡنَاۤ اِلَيۡكَ قُرۡاٰنًا عَرَبِيًّا لِّـتُـنۡذِرَ اُمَّ الۡقُرٰى وَمَنۡ حَوۡلَهَا وَتُنۡذِرَ يَوۡمَ الۡجَمۡعِ لَا رَيۡبَ فِيۡهِ​ؕ فَرِيۡقٌ فِى الۡجَنَّةِ وَفَرِيۡقٌ فِى السَّعِيۡرِ‏  وَلَوۡ شَآءَ اللّٰهُ لَجَعَلَهُمۡ اُمَّةً وَّاحِدَةً وَّلٰـكِنۡ يُّدۡخِلُ مَنۡ يَّشَآءُ فِىۡ رَحۡمَتِهٖ​ؕ وَالظّٰلِمُوۡنَ مَا لَهُمۡ مِّنۡ وَّلِىٍّ وَّلَا نَصِيۡرٍ‏  اَمِ اتَّخَذُوۡا مِنۡ دُوۡنِهٖۤ اَوۡلِيَآءَ​ۚ فَاللّٰهُ هُوَ الۡوَلِىُّ وَهُوَ يُحۡىِ الۡمَوۡتٰى وَهُوَ عَلٰى كُلِّ شَىۡءٍ قَدِيۡرٌ‏ 
(42:1) Ha'. Mim. (42:2) Ayn. Sin. Qaf. (42:3) Thus does Allah, the Most Mighty, the Most Wise reveal to you even as (He revealed) to those (Messengers) who preceded you.1 (42:4) His is all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth; He is the Most High, the All-Great.2 (42:5) The heavens may well nigh rend asunder from above3 while the angels proclaim the praise of their Lord and ask forgiveness for those on earth.4 Lo, it is Allah, and He alone, Who is Most Forgiving, Most Merciful.5 (42:6) Those who have taken others than Him as their protectors beside Him,6 it is Allah Who oversees them; you are no guardian over them.7 (42:7) And thus did We reveal this Arabic Qur'an8 to you that you may warn the people of the Mother of Cities (to wit, Makkah) and those who dwell around it;9 and warn them of the Day of Gathering10 concerning which there is no doubt: whereon some will be in Paradise, and some in the Blazing Fire. (42:8) If Allah had so willed, He could have made them all a single community. But He admits whomsoever He pleases into His Mercy. As to those given to wrong-doing, they shall have none as protector or helper.11 (42:9) (Are they so foolish that) they have chosen others rather than Allah as their protectors? Yet it is Allah Who is the Protector and Who resurrects the dead and Who has power over everything.12

1. The style of the opening verses by itself shows that in the background there are the misgivings, wonder and amazement which were being expressed at that time in every assembly, every meeting place, every street and every house and shop of Makkah at the message of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and the themes of the Quran. The people said; Where is this man bringing from new revelations to us every day? The like of these we have never heard nor seen before. How strange that he rejects as false the religion that our forefathers have been following in the past, the religion that is still being followed by all of us, and the traditions and ways that have been prevalent in the country for so many centuries; and he says that the religion that he presents only is right and true. They said: Had he presented even this new religion in a way as to substitute some of the falsehood he found in the ancestral paganism and prevalent customs with certain others which might be the result of his own thought, there could be a dialogue with him. But he says that what he recites is divine Word. How can we accept this? Does God visit him, or does he visit God? Or does some dialogue take place between him and God? It is in the background of such expression of wonder and doubt that although the address is apparently directed to the Prophet (peace be upon him), the disbelievers have in fact been told: Yes, these very things are being revealed by the All-Mighty, the All-Wise Allah, and with the same themes has its revelation been coming down to all the former Prophets.

Lexically, wahi means swift and secret instruction, i.e. an inspiration which is made with such haste and speed that none may know it except the inspirer and the one being inspired. As a term this word has been used for the guidance and instruction that is put in the mind of a man by Allah like a flash of lightning. What is meant to be said here is this: There is no question of Allah’s visiting somebody or somebody’s visiting Allah and speaking face to face with Him. He is All-Mighty and All-Wise. Whenever He pleases to have a contact with a servant for the guidance and instruction of mankind, nothing can obstruct His will and intention, for He adopts the method of revelation for the purpose by His wisdom. This very theme has been repeated in the last verses of the Surah with greater clarity and detail.

As to the people’s objection that the Prophet (peace be upon him) was presenting strange and novel things, it has been said: There is nothing strange and novel in what Muhammad (peace be upon him) presents. Allah has been giving the same guidance and instruction to the Prophets who came before him in the world.

2. These introductory sentences are not meant to be said merely in praise of Allah Almighty, but their each word has a deep link with the background in which these verses were sent down. The foremost basis of the objections of the people who were expressing wonder and doubts against the Prophet (peace be upon him) and the Quran was that he was inviting them to Tauhid and they were being alarmed at this and saying that if Allah alone is the Creator, Sustainer and Ruler, what would be the position of their saints and holy men? At this it has been said: This whole universe belongs to Allah. How can therefore the godhead of another work and operate in the kingdom of the real Sovereign, particularly when those others whose godhead is acknowledged, are themselves also His subjects? Then, it has been said: He is the High, the Great! That is, He is far above that somebody else should be equal to Him in rank and should become His associate in His Being, attributes, powers or rights.

3. That is, it is not a trivial matter that a creature should be joined in lineage with Allah and regarded as His son or daughter. Another regarded as fulfiller of the needs and the answerer of the petitions so that the people should start invoking him for help. Yet another taken as the maintainer of the entire world, and his devotees should start proclaiming that their holy saint heard the prayer of everyone at all places at all times and came to his help and answers his petition. Another invested with the authority to enjoin and prohibit things and declare them as lawful and unlawful, and the people should start obeying his commands, instead of the commands of God, as if he alone was their God. This boldness against God is such that they may well cause the heavens to break asunder. (This same theme has also been presented in (Surah Maryam, Ayats 88- 91).

4. It means: the angels shudder with disgust when they hear such nonsense being uttered by the people in respect of their Lord, and they regard it as a rebellion against Him. They say: Glorified be Allah! No one can have the position that he should become an associate with Allah, Lord of the worlds, in divinity and command; there is none beside Him who may be our and all other servants benefactor so that hymns be sung in his praise and he be thanked. So they feel that it is a grave crime being committed in the world, and it may provoke Allah Almighty’s wrath any moment. Therefore, they implore Allah for mercy again and again for the dwellers of the earth who have forgotten themselves and their God, and pray that they may yet be spared from the torment and given more respite to mend their ways.

5. That is, it is only Allah’s clemency, mercifulness and forgiveness that the people who have touched the extreme limits in disbelief, polytheism, atheism, sinfulness and tyranny, have been receiving respite after respite for years and years, even for centuries; yet they not only go on receiving their sustenance but are also acclaimed as the great people of the world and they are provided with such adornments of the worldly life as cause the ignorant people the misunderstanding that this world perhaps has no God.

6. The word auliya (sing. wali) as used in the text is very comprehensive in meaning. The different beliefs and all sorts of diverse practices with regard to the false deities held and worshiped by the polytheistic people, have been described as: taking others as auliya (guardians) instead of Allah in the Quran. According to the Quran, a person takes such a one his wali:

(1) Whom he obeys in all matters, whose instructions he carries out and whose ways and customs and rules he follows in all affairs of life (Surah An-Nisa, Ayats 118-120); (Surah Al-Aaraf, Ayats: 3,27-30);

(2) In whose guidance he has full faith, and who he thinks will lead him aright and save him from error and deviation (Surah Al-Baqarah, Ayat 257); (Surah Bani Israil, Ayat 97); (Surah Al-Kahf, Ayats 17-50); (Surah Al-Jathiah, Ayat 19).

(3) About whom he trusts that he will protect him from the torment of God in the Hereafter if it really existed (Surah An-Nisa, Ayats 123, 173); (Surah Al-Anaam, Ayat 51); (Surah Ar-Raad, Ayat 37); (Surah Al-Ankabut, Ayat 22); (Surah Al- Ahzab, Ayat 65); (Surah Az-Zumar, Ayat 3).

(4) About whom he has the belief that he helps him in the world in supernatural ways, protects him from disaster and afflictions, gets him jobs, blesses him with children, and fulfills his desires and all other needs. (Surah Houd, Ayat 20); (Surah Ar-Raad, Ayat 16); (Surah Al-Ankabut, Ayat 4l).

At some places in the Quran the word wali has been used in one of these senses and at others in all its meanings. The verse being commented upon is one of such verses. In it, taking others as guardians instead of Allah implies regarding them as one’s patron and supporter and helper in all the four above mentioned meanings.

7. Allah is watching over them and seeing whatever they are doing and is recording their conduct. It is His responsibility to call them to account and punish them. As for the words “You are not disposer of affairs over them”, these have been addressed to the Prophet (peace be upon him). They mean: Their destiny has not been placed under yow control so that you may burn to ashes anyone who does not listen to you, or depose him from power, or annihilate him. This, however, does not mean that, God forbid, the Prophet (peace be upon him) regarded himself as such, and this was said in order to remove his misunderstanding or self-conceit, but this was meant for the disbelievers. Although apparently the Prophet (peace be upon him) himself is the addressee, the real object is to tell the disbelievers that the Prophet of Allah has made no such claims as were usually made by their so-called saints who posed to possess great spiritual powers. Among the ignorant people it is generally thought that the so-called holy men have the power to ruin the destiny of anyone who behaves insolently towards them in any way; so much so that even after their death if somebody happened to dishonor their grave, or if nothing else, only nursed an evil thought about them in his mind, they destroyed him completely. Such a thought is in most cases spread by the holy men themselves. As for the good men who do not themselves say any such thing, their names are exploited by some other clever people, who spread such thoughts about them in order to promote their business. In any case this is regarded as a necessary corollary of spirituality and piety among the common people that one should possess the powers of making and marring destinies. To destroy the spell of this same fraud, Allah is addressing His Messenger (peace be upon him), as if to tell the disbelievers: You are no doubt Our Messenger and We have blessed you with Our revelations, but your duty is only to guide the people to the right path. Their destinies have not boon placed under yow control; they are in Our hands; therefore, to watch over the deeds and acts of the servants and to punish or not to punish them is Our own responsibility." 7

8. The same thing which had been said in the beginning of the discourse has been said again with greater emphasis, and by making mention of the Arabic Quran, the listeners have been warned to the effect: The Quran is not in any foreign language but in your own language, you can understand it yourself directly, study its themes and see for yourself that the pure and selfless guidance that is being given in it can be from none other than the Lord of the Universe.

9. That is, arouse them from slumber and warn them that there is nothing but destruction in store for them in consequence of the errors of morality and conduct in which they are involved and of the perverse principle on which they have ordered their individual and collective lives.

10. That is, tell them also that this destruction is not confined only to this world but the Day has to come when Allah will gather together all mankind and subject them to accountability. Even if a person escaped the evil consequences of his deviation and wickedness in the world, there will be no chance of his escape on that Day, and highly unfortunate is he, who is doomed to a tragic fate both in this world and in the Hereafter.

11. This theme has three objects in this context:

First, it is meant to instruct and console the Prophet (peace be upon him), as if to say: Do not grieve so much at the ignorance and deviation of the disbelievers of Makkah and their stubbornness and obduracy. It is Allah’s will that man should be granted the freedom of choice and action. Then whoever desires to have guidance should be given guidance, and whoever wants to remain astray should be allowed to go astray. Had this not been Allah’s will, there was no need whatsoever of sending the Prophets and the Books. For this only a creative hint of Allah Almighty’s was enough, all human beings would have become as obedient as the rivers, mountains, trees, stones, and all other creatures. (In this connection, see (Surah Al-Anaam, Ayats 35-36, 107).

Secondly, its addressees are all those people who were involved in the confusion, and even now are, that if Allah really had wanted to show guidance to human beings and He did not like the differences of creed and practice that were prevalent among the people, and wanted to have the people adopt the way of the faith and Islam, there was no need for the revelation and the Book and the Prophethood. He could have easily achieved this object by creating everyone a believer and Muslim by birth. Another result of this confusion was also this reasoning: When Allah has not done so, the different ways that we are following, are approved by Him, and whatever we are doing, is according to His will. Therefore, nobody has any right to object to it. (To remove this misunderstanding also this theme has been mentioned at several places in the Quran. Please see (Surah Al-Anaam, Ayats 112, 137, 148-149); (Surah Yunus, Ayat 99); (Surah Houd, Ayats 118-119); (Surah An-Nahl, Ayats 9, 35 )and the relevant E.Ns).

Thirdly, its object is to make the believers realize the truth about the difficulties that one generally faces in the way of preaching religion and reforming the people. Those people who do not understand the reality of the God, given freedom of choice and will and of the resulting differences of temperament and methods, sometimes become despondent at the slow progress of the reformatory work and wish that some supernatural things should appear from Allah, which should change the hearts of the people, and are sometimes inclined to adopt unsound methods of bringing about reformation, owing to excessive enthusiasm. (For this object also this theme has occurred at some places in the Quran, for which see (Surah Ar-Raad, Ayat 31); (Surah An-Nahl, Ayats 91-93).

To highlight these objects a very important theme has been expressed in these brief sentences. Allah’s real vicegerency in the world and His Paradise in the Hereafter is not an ordinary blessing, which may be distributed over creatures of the rank of the earth and stones and donkeys and horses as a common blessing. This is indeed a special blessing and a blessing of a very high order for which even the angels were not considered fit. That is why Allah created man as a creature endowed with power and authority and placed vast means of His earth under his control and blessed him with these special powers so that he may pass through the test, success in which alone can entitle a servant to His blessings. This blessing is Allah’s own; no one has a monopoly over it, nor can anyone claim to have it on the basis of a personal right, nor has anyone the power to take it by force. He who presents service before Allah, who takes Him as his Guardian and comes under His protection, alone can have it. Then Allah blesses him with help, guidance and grace to pass this test, so that he may enter His Mercy. As for the unjust man who turns away from Allah Himself and instead takes others as his patrons, Allah has no need that he should become his guardian by force. And the others whom He takes as his guardians do not possess any knowledge and power and authority that they may enable him to achieve success by dint of their guardianship of him.

12. That is, protection or guardianship is not a thing of one’s personal choice and satisfaction that he may take anyone, he may please, as his guardian, and the other may also become his real and true guardian and may do full justice to the function of guardianship. This is a reality, which does not change with the whims of the people. The guardian is he who is really the guardian, whether someone regards and acknowledges him as his guardian or not, and the one who is not in reality the guardian is not the guardian, no matter whether someone continues to regard and acknowledge him as his guardian till the last moment. Now, as for the question: What is the proof of only Allah’s being the real guardian and of no one else’s being the guardian? The answer is: Man’s real guardian can be the one who changes death into life, who has created a living man by breathing life into inorganic substances, and who also possesses the powers and authority to do full justice to the function of guardianship. If there is such a one, apart from Allah, he may be made the guardian, and if He is Allah alone, then taking another beside Him as one’s guardian is nothing but ignorance and folly and selfdestruction.