Thursday 10 October 2019

Surah Al Isra - The Night Journey: 17th Chapter of Quran - Exegesis Part II

Sürah Al Isrāʼ " الإسراء " is the seventeenth surah with 111 ayahs with 12 rukus, part of the 15th Juzʼ  of the Holy Qur'an. This sürah is a Al-Musabbihat sürah because it begins with the glorification of Allah. It also has one Sajdah e talawat  (prostration of recitation) in verse 109.

The sürah takes its name Sürah Al-Isrāʼ "الإسراء " from the very first verse which mentions the word " اَسۡرٰى " thus indicative of the time of its revelation on the occasion of Mi`raj (Ascension). Since the miracle of Mi`raj took place before Hijra (migration) to Medina, it is an early Meccan sürah.

This sürah is also known as Sürah Banī Isrāʼīl " بني إسرائيل‎ "  as mentioned in the verse 4. But this name is merely a distinctive appellation like the names of many other surahs and not a descriptive title, and does not mean that "Bani Isra'il" is the theme of this Sarah.

Before specifically discussing / presenting its background of revelation and exegesis, let us go back and see how the various surahs of the Quran have been grouped and the place of this sürah:
In the gradation of religious teaching (see Introduction to Sürah vii), we saw in the first seven Sürahs sketched the early religious history of man, and led that up to the formation of the new Ummat of Islam. 
Sürahs viii to xvi formed another series dealing with the formation of the new Ummat and its consolidation, and Allah's dealing with man taken as an Ummat and considered in his social relations in organised communities (see Introduction to Sūrahs vii, x and xvi).
We now come to a fresh series, (Sūrahs xvii-xxix), which may be considered in three parts.
(1)  Sürahs xvii-xxi begin with an allusion to the Isrā (of which more later), and proceed to religious history as touching individuals rather than nations. The old prophets and stories of the past are now referred to from this point of view.
(2)  Sürahs xxii-xxv refer to Hajj (pilgrimage), worship and prayer, chastity, privacy, etc., as related to a man's individual religious growth. 
(3)  Sürahs xxvi-xxix go back to the old prophets and stories of the past, as illustrating the growth of the individual soul in its reactions against the lives of the communities and the reactions of the communities to the lives of its great individual souls.
As already mentioned in the Overview, this surah being a length surah with 111 verses, carrying a number of divergent subjects, it has been divided into four parts for ease of understanding and better comprehension:
  • Part I: Ruku / sections 1-2 [Verses 1-22] - The details of journey by night and signs of Allah
  • Part IIRuku / sections 3-5 [Verses 23-52] - Some commandments and explanations.
  • Part IIIRuku / sections 6-7 [Verses 53-70] - Allah's advises to Prophet Muhammad and mention of Prophet Adam and Iblees.
  • Part IV: Ruku / sections 8-12 [Verses 71-111] - Mention of ungratefulness of man, message to man, the Resurrection and the ultimate Truth in the form of the Quran
We have already given the details of Ascension of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) to the seven Heavens, and mention of Prophet Musa (Moses (peace be upon him) in Part I. 

We now begin with Part II: Ruku / sections 3-5 [Verses 23-52] which is specific to  some Divine commandments and explanations. The translation and exegesis / tafseer is in English, segmented into portions as per the subject matter. For Arabic Text, please refer to the references given at the end and may also listen to its recitation in Arabic with English subtitles:

بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْمِ 
"In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful"

In Ruku 3 and 4, there are some commandments of Allah for the believers including proper behavior with parents, relatives, and the community at large. The summary of these is given herein under:

  • Do not associate anything with God or you will be disgraced and forsaken.  God commands that you worship nothing but Him, and that you are kind to your parents.  As they grow older, do not be impatient or harsh rather be humble towards them and pray that God treats them mercifully as they treated you when you were young.  God knows exactly what is in your heart and He is most forgiving towards those who turn to Him in repentance. 
  • Give your relatives their rights but also spend on the needy and the travelers.  Do not be wasteful, squandering your money.  If you cannot assist needy people then at least be courteous to them.  Do not be miserly or extravagant, instead take a middle path.  God gives abundantly to some and sparingly to others, He knows and observes everyone.
  • Do not kill your children because you think you cannot provide for them, it is a great sin.  It is God who provides for them; they cannot cause poverty; that is the will of God.  Do not even come near to committing adultery; do not take a life, except within the laws of God.  If anyone is killed unjustly, God has granted a right of retribution but do not be vengeful and take things too far.  Do not deal with the property of orphans except with good intentions.
  • Honour your commitments because you will be questioned about them.  Conduct your business fairly, give full measure and do not balance your scales incorrectly.  Do not pursue that of which you have no knowledge - use your heart, eyes and ears to confirm the things you hear.  Do not walk about the earth arrogantly.  A human being is just a small and weak creature; don’t act as if you are something more than that. 
  • The evil deeds mentioned above are hateful to God and He knows the wisdom in their prohibition.  Again, do not set up something other than God to be worshiped or you will be thrown into Hell.  Do not say that God has taken the angels as daughters.  That is a monstrous statement with grave consequences.

We now explain each verse with reference to the context and the implications of these commandments:

Ruku / section 3 [23-30 ]

In the succeeding verses, those main basic principles have been put forward on which Islam desires to build the entire structure of human life. These form the manifesto of the invitation of the Prophet (peace be upon him) declared by him at the end of the Makki stage of his mission, and the eve of the new stage at Al-Madinah so that it should be known to all that the new Islamic society and state were going to be built on such and such ideological, moral, cultural economic and legal principles.  
( 23 )   Your Lord has decreed: Do not worship any but Him; Be good to your parents; and should both or any one of them attain old age with you, do not say to them even "fie" neither chide them, but speak to them with respect,
The spiritual and moral duties are now brought into juxtaposition. We are to worship none but Allah, because none but Allah is worthy of worship, not because "the Lord thy God is a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me" (Exod. xx. 5). Note that the act of worship may be collective as well as individual; hence the plural ta'buda. The kindness to parents is an individual act of piety; hence the singular taqul, qul, etc.

This commandment is very comprehensive. It prohibits not only the worship of anyone except Allah but also implies that one should obey and serve and submit to Allah alone without question. One should accept His commandments and law alone to be worthy of obedience and His authority to be supreme above all. This was not merely an instruction confined to a religious creed and individual practice but it served as the foundation of the moral, cultural, and political system which was practically established in Al-Madinah by the Prophet (peace be upon him). Its first and foremost principle was that Allah alone is the Master, Sovereign and Law-giver.
( 24 )   and be humble and tender to them and say: "Lord, show mercy to them as they nurtured me when I was small."
The metaphor is that of a high-flying bird which lowers her wing out of tenderness to her offspring. There is a double aptness. (1) When the parent was strong and the child was helpless, parental affection was showered on the child: when the child grows up and is strong, and the parent is helpless, can he do less than bestow similar tender care on the parent? (2) But more: he must approach the matter with gentle humility: for does not parental love, remind him of the great love with which Allah cherishes His creatures? There is something here more than simple human gratitude; it goes up into the highest spiritual region.

Note that we are asked to honour our father and mother, not "that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee" (Exod. xx. 12), but upon much higher and more universal grounds, such as befit a perfected revelation. In the first place, not merely respect, but cherishing kindness, and humility to parents, are commanded. In the second place, this command is bracketed with the command to worship the One True God. Parental love should be to us a type of divine love: nothing that we can do can ever really compensate for that which we have received. In the third place (see next verse) our spiritual advancement is tested by this: we cannot expect Allah's forgiveness if we are rude or unkind to those who unselfishly brought us up.
( 25 )   Your Lord is most knowing of what is within yourselves. If you should be righteous [in intention] - then indeed He is ever, to the often returning [to Him], Forgiving.
This verse enjoins that after Allah’s right, the greatest of all the human rights is the right of parents. Therefore, the children should obey and serve and respect their parents. The collective morality of society should make it incumbent on children to be grateful and respectful to their parents, they should serve them as they nursed and brought them up in their childhood. Above all, this verse is not merely a moral recommendation but is the basis of the rights and powers of parents the details of which we find in the Books of Hadith and Fiqh. Moreover, respectful behavior and obedience to and observance of the rights of parents comprise the most important element of the material education and moral training in the Islamic society and civilization. Incidentally, all these things have determined forever the principle that the Islamic state shall make the family life sound and secure by laws, administrative regulations and educational policy and prevent its disintegration.

It is the heart, and its hidden and secret motives, by which we are judged: for Allah knows them all.
( 26 )   And give the relative his right, and [also] the poor and the traveler, and do not spend wastefully.
In the Jewish Decalogue, which was given to a primitive and hard-hearted people, this refinement of Kindness,-to those in want and to wayfarers (i.e., total strangers whom you come across) finds no place. Nor was there much danger of their wasting their substance out of exuberance. Even the command "to honour thy father and mother" comes after the ceremonial observance of the Sabbath. With us, the worship of Allah is linked up with kindness-to parents, kindred, those in want, those who are far from their homes though they may be total strangers to us. It is not mere verbal kindness. They have certain rights which must be fulfilled.

All charity , kindness, and help are conditioned by our own resources. There is no merit if we merely spend out of bravado or for idle show. How many families are ruined by extravagant expenses at weddings, funerals, etc., or (as they may call it) to "oblige friends or relatives", or to give to able-bodied beggars? To no one was this command more necessary than it is to Muslims of the present day.
( 27 )   Indeed, the wasteful are brothers of the devils, and ever has Satan been to his Lord ungrateful.
Spendthrifts are not merely fools. They are of the same family as the Satans. And the Satan himself-fell by his ingratitude to Allah. So those who misuse or squander Allah's gifts are also ungrateful to Allah.
( 28 )   And when you must turn away from them - (that is, from the destitute, the near of kin, the needy, and the wayfarer) - in pursuit of God's Mercy which you expect to receive, then speak to them kindly.
These three articles are meant to impress that a man should not reserve his earnings and his wealth exclusively for his own person. He should do his utmost to fulfill his own necessities of life in a moderate way and render the rights of his relatives, neighbors and other needy persons as well. This attitude will help create the spirit of cooperation, sympathy and justice in the collective Islamic life. Thus every relative will cooperate with the other and every rich person will help the needy in his neighborhood and a wayfarer would find himself an honorable guest among generous hosts. The conception of rights should be so extensive that every person should consider that all other human beings have rights on his person and his property so that he should serve them with the idea that he is rendering their rights and is not doing any favor to them. In that case one would beg pardon of the other if he was unable to serve him and would pray to God to send his blessings upon him to enable him to serve His servants.

These articles of the Islamic manifesto were not merely confined to moral teachings but these formed the basis of the commandments of Zakat and voluntary charity. The laws of inheritance and of making will and endowments were based on these articles. The rights of the orphans were determined by these and it was made obligatory on every habitation to entertain a wayfarer gratis for at least three days. Subsequently the whole moral system was formed so as to create the feelings of generosity, sympathy and cooperation. So much so that the people began to realize the importance of and observe voluntarily the moral rights which could neither be demanded legally nor enforced by law.
( 29 )   And do not make your hand [as] chained to your neck or extend it completely and [thereby] become blamed and insolvent.
“And do not keep your hand fastened to your neck”, means: Do not be parsimonious. “Nor outspread it altogether widespread” means: Do not be extravagant. The Quran desires the people to follow the golden mean, i.e. they should neither be so parsimonious as to prevent the circulation of wealth nor so extravagant as to destroy their own economy. On the contrary, they should learn to behave in a balanced manner so that they should spend money wherever it should be spent and refrain from becoming spendthrifts so as to involve themselves into trouble. As a matter of fact, it is ingratitude towards Allah’s favor to spend money for the sake of show, luxury and sinful acts and similar things which are neither man’s real necessities nor useful. Therefore, those people who spend money lavishly on such things as these are the brethren of Satan.

These clauses too, are not merely meant to be moral instructions for individuals. They are intended to safeguard the Islamic society against extravagance by moral instruction, collective pressure and legal restrictions. Accordingly, in the Islamic state of Al-Madinah, practical steps were taken to safeguard the community against extravagance. First, many forms of extravagance and luxury were forbidden by law. Secondly, legal measures were taken against it. Thirdly, social reforms were introduced to put an end to those customs which involved extravagance. The government was empowered to prevent people from the obvious forms of extravagance. Above all, Zakat and voluntary charity helped to break parsimony and the lust of hoarding money. Besides these measures, a public opinion was created that enabled the people to discriminate between generosity and extravagance and thrift and parsimony: so much so that parsimonious people were looked down upon as ignominious and the thrifty people were regarded as honorable. This moral and mental attitude became a part and parcel of the Muslim society, and even today the parsimonious people and hoarders are looked down upon in the Muslim society, while the generous people are respected everywhere.
( 30 )   Indeed, your Lord extends provision for whom He wills and restricts [it]. Indeed He is ever, concerning His servants, Acquainted and Seeing.
That is, man cannot realize the wisdom of the disparity of wealth among the people. Therefore, man should not try to interfere by artificial means with the natural distribution of wealth. It is wrong to level down natural inequality or to aggravate it by artificial means so as to make it unjust. Both the extremes are wrong. The best economic system is that which is established on the divine Way of the division of wealth.

As a result of the realization of the wisdom of economic disparity, no such problems arose which might have made that disparity an evil in itself so as to demand the creation of a classless society. On the contrary, in the righteous society established at Al-Madinah on these divine principles which are akin to human nature, the economic differences were not artificially disturbed. But by means of moral and legal reforms these became the means of many moral, spiritual and cultural blessings and benefits instead of becoming the means of injustice. Thus, the wisdom of the disparity created by the Creator of the Universe was practically demonstrated at Al-Madinah.

Ruku / section 4 [31-40]
( 31 )   And do not kill your children for fear of poverty. We provide for them and for you. Indeed, their killing is ever a great sin.
The Arabs were addicted to female infanticide. In a society perpetually at war a son was a source of strength whereas a daughter was a source of weakness. Even now infanticide is not unknown in other countries for economic reasons. This crime against children's lives is here characterized as one of the greatest of sins.

Therefore, it warns man, as if to say: O man, it is not you who make arrangement for food, but Allah, Who settled you in the land and has been providing for you and will provide for those who will come after you. History tells us that the food resources have always expanded in proportion to the number of inhabitants of a country. Nay, often they have exceeded far more than the needs of the inhabitants. Thus it is a folly on the part of man to interfere with the arrangements of Allah.
( 32 )   And do not approach unlawful sexual intercourse. Indeed, it is ever an immorality and is evil as a way.
“And do not come near to adultery”. This commandment is meant both for individuals and society as a whole. It warns each individual not only to guard against adultery or fornication itself but against all those things that lead to or stimulate it. As regards to society as a whole the commandment enjoins it to make such arrangements as prevent adultery and eradicate the means and stimulants that lead to adultery. Therefore, the society should employ all those legal and educative means that help develop such an environment as prevents and eradicates indecency.

Finally, this article formed the basis of laws and regulations of the Islamic system of life. In order to fulfill its implications adultery and false accusation of adultery were made criminal offenses. Regulations about hijab were promulgated. The publication of indecent materials was banned and drinking of intoxicants was made unlawful. Restrictions on music, dancing and pictures which are conducive to adultery were imposed. Such laws were enacted and marriage was made easy to and cut at the root of adultery.

Yousaf Ali in his commentary adds: Adultery is not only shameful in itself and inconsistent with any self-respect or respect for others, but it opens the road to many evils. It destroys the basis of the family: it works against the interests of children born or to be born; it may cause murders and feuds and loss of reputation and property, and also loosen permanently the bonds of society. Not only should it be avoided as a sin, but any approach or temptation to it should be avoided.
( 33 )   And do not kill the soul which Allah has forbidden, except by right. And whoever is killed unjustly - We have given his heir authority, but let him not exceed limits in [the matter of] taking life. Indeed, he has been supported [by the law].
“And do not kill a person” includes not only the prohibition of the killing of other souls but also his own soul as well for it is also included in the prohibition that immediately follows this command. Thus suicide is regarded as heinous a sin as murder. Some foolish people object to the prohibition of suicide saying that they themselves are the masters of their souls. Therefore, there is nothing wrong in killing one’s own self or in destroying one’s own property. They forget that every soul belongs to Allah, and none has any right to destroy it, nay, even to abuse it. For this world is a place of trial, where we should undergo the test up to the end of our lives in accordance with the will of Allah. It does not matter whether our circumstances are favorable or adverse for trial. Therefore, it would be wrong to run away from the place of test, not to speak of committing such a heinous crime as suicide (which Allah has prohibited) to escape it. For it means that the one who commits suicide tries to run away from small troubles and ignominies towards greater affliction and eternal torment and ignominy.

When the Islamic state was established, “killing by right” was confined to five cases only, namely to punish, (1) A willful murderer for retribution. (2) Opponents of the true religion during war. (3) Those who attempt to overthrow the Islamic system of government. (4) A man or woman guilty of adultery. (5) An apostate.

The Arabic word sultan has been translated as “the authority of retribution”. Here it stands for “a ground for legal action”. This also lays down the legal principle that in a case of murder, the real plaintiff is not the government but the guardian or the guardians of the murdered person who are authorized to pardon the murderer or receive blood money instead of taking his life.

Exceed limits in killing would be to kill more persons than the murderer or to kill the criminal by degrees with torment or to disfigure his dead body or to kill him after receiving blood money, etc. All these things have been forbidden.

It has not been defined how succor will be given because at the time of its revelation the Islamic state had not yet been established. After its establishment it was made clear that a guardian was not authorized to enforce retribution by murdering the criminal. The Islamic government alone is legally authorized to take retribution; therefore, succor for justice should be demanded only from it.

On the subject of Qisas see Surah ii. Al Baqarah verse 178.
"Believers! Retribution is prescribed for you in cases of killing: if a freeman is guilty then the freeman; if a slave is guilty then the slave; if a female is guilty, then the female. But if something of a murderer’s guilt is remitted by his brother this should be adhered to in fairness, and payment be made in a goodly manner. This is an alleviation and a mercy from your Lord; and for him who commits excess after that there is a painful chastisement." (2:178) 
Under the strict limitations there laid down, a life may be taken for a life. The heir is given the right to demand the life; but he must not exceed due bounds, because he is helped by the Law. Some Commentators understand "he" in "he is helped (by the Law)" to refer to the heir of the person against whom Qisas is sought. He too will be helped by the Law, if the heir of the first slain exceeds the bounds of Law.
( 34 )   And do not approach the property of an orphan, except in the way that is best, until he reaches maturity. And fulfill [every] commitment. Indeed, the commitment is ever [that about which one will be] questioned.
This too, was not merely a moral instruction. When the Islamic state was established, legal and administrative methods were adopted to safeguard the rights of orphans, the details of which are found in the literature of Hadith and Fiqh. Then this principle was extended to cover the cases of all those citizens who were unable to safeguard their own rights. The Prophet (peace be upon him) himself declared: I am the guardian of the one who has no guardian. And this is the basis of many rules and regulations of the Islamic law.

Fulfillment of pledges was not meant to be merely a moral instruction for individuals but afterwards when the Islamic state was established, this became the guiding principle for the conduct of all internal; and external affairs by the Muslim community and the Islamic government.

Yousaf Ali's commentary on this verse is as under:

Cf. Surah 4. An-Nisaa 152, and other passages relating to orphans, e.g., Surah 2. Al-Baqara 220. If an orphan's property is touched at all, it should be to improve it, or to give him something better than he had before,-never to take a personal advantage for the benefit of the guardian. A bargain that may be quite fair as between two independent persons would be, under this verse, unfair as between a guardian and his orphan ward until the latter attains the full age of understanding.

The Arabic word "Ashuddahu" means the age when the orphan reaches his full maturity of strength and understanding, say between the ages of 18 and 30. The age of legal maturity may be 18 (as for certain purposes in India) or 21 (as in England). For certain purposes in Muslim law it may be less than 18. In the orphan's interest a much stricter standard is required in his case.

The definite article "al" has here a generic meaning, and is best translated by "every".

From the context the engagements referred to would relate to beneficial contracts connected with the orphan's property or promises or undertakings given by the guardian or implied in the terms of his appointment. But the words are general and may be interpreted in the general sense. Note that this sentence does not occur in the similar passage in vi. 152, where there was a discussion of social laws: it is appropriate here, where the discussion is about the guardian's personal and individual responsibility.
( 35 )   And give full measure when you measure, and weigh with an even balance. That is the best [way] and best in result.
This instruction was not confined to individuals only but it has been made a part of the duties of an Islamic government to supervise transactions in the markets and streets to see that exact measures and weights are being observed, and prevent their breach and violation by the force of law. Afterwards it was made one of the duties of the government to eradicate dishonesty in all commercial dealings and economic transactions.

That is, its end will be best in this world and it will be best in the Hereafter. It is best in this world because it produces mutual trust between sellers and buyers. As a result of this, commerce prospers and there is a general prosperity. As regards the Hereafter, there the end depends entirely on honesty, piety and fear of God.
( 36 )   And do not pursue that of which you have no knowledge. Indeed, the hearing, the sight and the heart - about all those [one] will be questioned.
The meanings of “Do not follow that of which you have no knowledge” are very comprehensive. It demands that both in individual and collective life, one should not follow mere guess work and presumption instead of knowledge.

This instruction covers all aspects of Islamic life, moral, legal, political, administrative and applies to science, arts and education. It has thus saved the society from numerous evils which are produced in human life by following guesswork instead of knowledge. The Islamic moral code demands: Guard against suspicion and do not accuse any individual or group without proper investigation. In law, it has been made a permanent principle that no action should be taken against anyone without proper investigation. It has been made unlawful to arrest, beat or imprison anyone on mere suspicion during investigation. In regards to foreign relations, the definite policy has been laid down that no action should be taken without investigation, nor should rumors be set afloat. Likewise in education the so called sciences based on mere guess work, presumptions and irrational theories have been disapproved. Above all, it cuts at the very root of superstitions, for this instruction teaches the believers to accept only that which is based on the knowledge imparted by Allah and His Messenger.

Idle curiosity may lead us to nose into evil, through our ignorance that it is evil. We must guard against every such danger. We must only hear the things that are known to us to be of good report, and see things that are good and instructive and entertain in our hearts feelings or in our minds ideas that we have reason to expect will be spiritually profitable to us. We shall be called to account for the exercise of every faculty that has been given to us. This goes a little farther than a famous sculpture on a Japanese temple in which three monkeys are shown as putting their hands to their ears, eyes, and mouths, respectively, to show that they were not prepared to hear any evil, or see any evil, or speak any evil. Here idle curiosity is condemned. Futility is to be avoided even if it does not reach the degree of positive evil.
( 37 )   And do not walk upon the earth exultantly. Indeed, you will never tear the earth [apart], and you will never reach the mountains in height.
 This instruction warns against the ways of tyrants and vain people and is not merely meant for the individual but also for the collective conduct of the Muslim community. It was because of this guidance that the rulers, governors and commanders of the Islamic state which was established on the basis of this manifesto, were free from every tinge of tyranny, arrogance, haughtiness, pride and vanity, so much so that even in the battlefield they never uttered a word which had the slightest indication of any of these vain things. Their gait, dress, dwelling and conveyance showed humility. In short, their ways of conduct were not those of big ones but those of humble persons. That is why they never tried to overawe the people of a conquered city by show of pomp and pride.

Insolence, or arrogance, or undue elation at our powers or capacities, is the first step to many evils. Besides, it is unjustified. All our gifts are from Allah.
( 38 )   All that - its evil is ever, in the sight of your Lord, detested.
That is, Allah disapproves of the commission of anything that has been prohibited or, in other words, He disapproves of disobedience to any of these commandments.
( 39 )   That is from what your Lord has revealed to you, [O Muhammad], of wisdom. And, [O mankind], do not make [as equal] with Allah another deity, lest you be thrown into Hell, blamed and banished.
The words of the text are a clear proof that the deities and the helpers referred to in this verse were not idols of stone but were either angels or dead saints. It is clearly implied in this that no prophet, no saint and no angel, whom the people invoke for help, has the power to hear prayers and help anyone. They themselves hope for mercy from Allah and dread His punishment and vie with one another in seeking means for nearness to Him.

The moral law, as expounded in xvii. 23-39 is far in advance of the bare Decalogue in that it searches out motives, and draws pointed attention to the weak and helpless if we are to reach any real understanding of Allah. It begins with a mention of the worship of Allah, the One True God and ends with a similar mention to close the argument, thus emphasizing the fact that the love of Allah embraces the love of man and practical help of our fellow-creatures.

"Blameworthy" carries us back by reminiscence to xvii. 29, between which and this verse there is mention of crimes committed out of covetousness and a selfish disregard of other people's rights. "Rejected" carries back our reminiscence to xvii. 18, from which to here we have a reference to crimes that lead to deprivation of Allah's grace. The latter is of course wider than the former. Note how subtly the two streams of thought are here conjoined.
( 40 )   Then, has your Lord chosen you for [having] sons and taken from among the angels daughters? Indeed, you say a grave saying.
Cf. xvi. 57-59. Insistence on true worship means also exclusion of false worship or worship derogatory to Allah. In circles where daughters were despised and even their lives had to be protected by special legislation, what could have been dreadful than ascribing daughters to Allah?

In Ruku 5, certain explanations are given, stressing that the belief in the hereafter is necessary to understand Al-Quran and Hereafter is Life after death. The summary of Ruku 5 is as under:
  • The Quran explains things in many different ways but that makes some people turn even further away.  If there really was some other deity, why does it not dethrone the Master of the Throne?! He is exalted and far above what they say about Him.  Everything in the heavens and earth glorifies Him, but you do not understand how they glorify.
  • When you recite the Quran there is a barrier between you and those who do not believe in the Hereafter.  They do not understand it and when God’s Oneness is mentioned they turn away.  God is aware of what they (the unbelievers of Mecca) want to hear (from Prophet Muhammad), and He knows that privately they call Prophet Muhammad a man bewitched.  They dispute that they will be raised up after they become bones and dust.  God says, even if they were stones and iron they would be bought back and tells Prophet Muhammad to say that.  When they ask who will do this, say, the One who created you in the first place, and when they ask when this will take place remind them that this might well be very soon.  On the Day you are raised up you will imagine that you had been dead for only a very short time.
We now explain each verse with reference to the context and the implications of these explanations:

Ruku / section 5 [41-52]
The theme of verses 41-44: If there were other gods besides Allah, they would have tried to dethrone Him:
( 41 )   And We have certainly diversified [the contents] in this Qur'an that mankind may be reminded, but it does not increase the disbelievers except in aversion.
Things are explained in the Qur'an from all points of view, individual and national, by means of stories, parables, and figures of speech, and by way of categorical commands. But those who are evil, instead of profiting by such instruction, often go farther and farther away from the Truth.
( 42 )   Say, (O Muhammad): "Had there been other gods with Him, as they claim, they would surely have attempted to find a way to the Lord of the Throne.
That is, they would have themselves tried their best to become masters of the Throne. This is because if there had been more than one partners in Godhead, it would produce one of the two results: (1) If they were all independent gods, it was not conceivable that they would agree and cooperate with one another in the management of the boundless universe and there could never have been unanimity, uniformity and balanced proportion in its functioning. There would have been conflict at every step and everyone would have tried to dominate others in order to become its sole master. or (2) if one of them had been the supreme god and the others his obedient servants whom he had delegated some of his powers, then, according to the maxim “power corrupts”, they would never have been content with remaining obedient servants of the supreme god and would have conspired to become the supreme god themselves.

There is only One True God. But if, as polytheists say, there had been subsidiary gods, they would yet have had to submit to the Throne of the Supreme God, and worship Him.

Whereas the fact is that in this universe not even a grain of wheat or a blade of grass can grow unless and until everything in the earth and the heavens cooperate with one another for its production. Therefore, only an utterly ignorant and block headed person can conceive that there are more than one independent or semi independent rulers, who carry on the management of this universe. Anyone who has tried to understand the nature and functioning of the universe will most surely arrive at the conclusion that there is One and only One Sovereign ruling over this universe, and there is absolutely no likelihood of anyone else to be a partner in this at any stage.
( 43 )   Exalted is He and high above what they say by great sublimity.
تُسَبِّحُ لَهُ السَّمٰوٰتُ السَّبۡعُ وَالۡاَرۡضُ وَمَنۡ فِيۡهِنَّ​ؕ وَاِنۡ مِّنۡ شَىۡءٍ اِلَّا يُسَبِّحُ بِحَمۡدِهٖ وَلٰـكِنۡ لَّا تَفۡقَهُوۡنَ تَسۡبِيۡحَهُمۡ​ؕ اِنَّهٗ كَانَ حَلِيۡمًا غَفُوۡرًا‏ 
( 44 )   The seven heavens and the earth and whatever is in them exalt Him. And there is not a thing except that it exalts [Allah] by His praise, but you do not understand their [way of] exalting. Indeed, He is ever Forbearing and Forgiving.
That is, the entire universe and everything in it bear witness to the fact that their Creator and Guardian is free from each and every fault, defect and weakness, and that He is far above this that there should be any partner or associate in His Godhead.

Everything is not only singing hymns of the glory of its Creator but is affording the proof that He is perfect in every respect and worthy of all praise. Everything is an embodiment of the proof that its Creator and Administrator is the one in whom there is perfection of every quality. Therefore, He alone is worthy of praise.

At the end of the verse, two major attributes of Allah have been mentioned: Al-Halim (الحليم) - The Forbearing, The Calm-Abiding,  and Al-Ghafur (الغفور) - The Forgiving, The Pardoner.

Due to His forbearance and forgiveness that though you are persistently insolent to Him and go on inventing one false thing or the other against Him, He forbears and forgives you. He neither withholds provisions from you nor deprives you of His favors nor strikes an insolent person instantly dead with a thunderbolt. Above all, He is so forbearing and forgiving that He gives long enough respite to the individuals and communities to mend their ways, sends His prophets and reformers for their admonition and guidance and forgives all the past mistakes and errors, if one sincerely repents and adopts the right way.

Theme of verses 45-52: Belief in the hereafter is necessary to understand Al-Quran and Hereafter is Life after death:

وَاِذَا قَرَاۡتَ الۡقُرۡاٰنَ جَعَلۡنَا بَيۡنَكَ وَبَيۡنَ الَّذِيۡنَ لَا يُؤۡمِنُوۡنَ بِالۡاٰخِرَةِ حِجَابًا مَّسۡتُوۡرًا ۙ‏ 
( 45 )   And when you recite the Qur'an, We put between you and those who do not believe in the Hereafter a concealed partition.
Yousaf Ali explains this verse as:

Veil invisible: Some Commentators understand mastur " مَّسۡتُوۡرً " here as equivalent to satir: a veil that makes invisible, a thick or dark veil. But I think that the meaning of mastur (in the passive voice) as "hidden or invisible" is more consonant with the whole passage. If all nature, external and within ourselves, declares Allah's glory, those unfortunate who cut themselves off from their better nature are isolated from the true servants of Allah and the revelation of Allah, because (1) they are unfit for being in their company, and (2) because the servants of Allah and the revelation of Allah must be protected from the pain which blasphemy or rebellion must cause to their unsullied nature. The veil is none the less real even though it is invisible.
( 46 )   And We have placed over their hearts coverings, lest they understand it, and in their ears deafness. And when you mention your Lord alone in the Qur'an, they turn back in aversion.
This refers to the divine law according to which those people, who do not believe in the Hereafter, cannot benefit from the Quran. Allah has attributed this law to Himself, as if to say: The natural result of disbelief in the Hereafter is that the heart of such a man becomes dull and his ears become deaf to the message of the Quran, for Quran bases its invitation on the belief in the Hereafter. So it warns the people that they should not be deluded by this apparent aspect of the worldly life if there appears to be none to call them to account here; for it does not mean they are not at all accountable and answerable to anyone. Likewise if Allah allows freedom of belief to practice shirk, atheism, disbelief or Tawhid with impunity in this world, and their practice does not appear to make any practical difference in this world, it does not mean that these things do not produce any results at all. For, in fact, everyone shall be accountable and answerable after death in the next world. Then everyone will realize that the doctrine of Tawhid alone is true and all other doctrines are false. For, if at present the consequences of deeds do not appear after death, they shall inevitably appear, but the reality has now been hidden behind an invisible curtain. There is an inevitable moral law according to which submission to it will bear its fruit and disobedience shall incur its losses. As decisions according to this moral law will be made in the Hereafter. You should not be enticed by the charms of this transitory life. You should, therefore, keep in view that ultimately you shall have to render an account of all your deeds in this world before your Lord, and adopt that true creed and moral attitude which may be conducive to your success in the Hereafter.

From this it must have become obvious that if a man does not believe in the Hereafter, he will never consider the message of the Quran worth his while but will hanker after this world and its joys which he can feel and experience. Naturally his ears will not listen to the message and it will never reach the depths of his heart. Allah has stated this psychological fact in this verse.

In this connection, it should be remembered that the words contained in this verse were uttered by the disbelievers of Makkah as quoted in (Ayat 5 of Surah 41. Ha-Mim / As Sajdah): “They say, O Muhammad, a covering has fallen over our hearts, and our ears are deaf for the message you give and there is a curtain between you and us. You may go on with your work and we will do whatever we desire.” Here the same words have been cited, as if to say: You consider this state of yours to be a virtue, whereas this is a curse which has fallen on you according to the divine law because of your disbelief of the Hereafter.

They do not like it at all that you should consider Allah alone as your Lord and not mention the Lords they have set up. They seem to think it strange that one should go on praising Allah and never mention the miracles of their elders and saints nor praise them for their favors. For, according to them, Allah has delegated the powers of His Godhead to their great ones. Therefore, they say: What a strange fellow he is! He believes that the knowledge of the unknown, and all the power and authority belong to One Allah alone. Why does he not pay tribute to those who give us children, cure us of diseases, and help make our commerce flourish, in short, fulfill all our wishes and desires.

The invisible veil being put against the ungodly on account of their deliberate rejection of Truth, the result is that their minds are fogged so that they cannot understand and their ears are clogged so that they cannot hear. In other words the effects of Evil become cumulative in shutting out Allah's grace.
( 47 )   We are most knowing of how they listen to it when they listen to you and [of] when they are in private conversation, when the wrongdoers say, "You follow not but a man affected by magic."
This refers to those devices which they conspired against the message of the Prophet (peace be upon him). They would secretly listen to him, and then hold consultations in order to counteract this. Sometimes it so happened that they suspected that someone had been influenced by the Quran. Then they would sit together and try to dissuade him, saying: How is it that you have been influenced by a person who himself is bewitched by some enemy and talks like this?

The only motive for the ungodly to listen to Allah's Truth is to scoff at it instead of to be instructed by it. They may make a show of listening, but when they meet together in private, they show themselves in their true colours. Cf. Surah ii. Al Baqara 14. They cannot help seeing that there is singular charm and attractiveness in Allah's Word, and that it consoles, helps, and elevates many people who receive it in the right spirit. So they pretend that they are superior to such people and laugh at them for listening to some one who is only under the influence of something which they call magic!

اُنْظُرۡ كَيۡفَ ضَرَبُوۡا لَكَ الۡاَمۡثَالَ فَضَلُّوۡا فَلَا يَسۡتَطِيۡعُوۡنَ سَبِيۡلًا‏ 
( 48 )   Look how they strike for you comparisons; but they have strayed, so they cannot [find] a way.
Note that the word used is "Sabilan" "a way", not "the way". In going astray they have lost the way; but never can they find any means of getting back to that way, or of justifying themselves or making good their wicked similes.

This is to say that they expressed different opinions at different times which contradicted each other. Sometimes they said: You are a sorcerer. And at other times: You have been bewitched by someone, or you are a poet or you are possessed of some evil spirit. These contradictory things were a proof that they did not know the reality. Otherwise, they would not have invented a different name to suit each occasion. This also shows that they themselves were not sure of the charge they leveled against him. If they called him by one epithet one day, they themselves felt afterwards that it did not fit in. Then they would invent the second epithet and then the third and so on. Thus every new epithet contradicted the previous ones and showed that there was no truth in them, but in their enmity they were inventing one falsehood after the other.
( 49 )   And they say, "When we are bones and crumbled particles, will we [truly] be resurrected as a new creation?"
They do not realize that Allah Who created them once out of nothing can create them again, with memories of their past, in order to render to Him an account of how they used or misused the talents and opportunities which they were given. If it is to be a new Creation, what then? Bones and dust or ashes may yet retain something of the personality which was enshrined in them. But even if they were reduced to stones or iron or anything which their minds can conceive of as being most unlike them, yet there is nothing impossible to Allah! He has clearly sent a Message that we shall have to render an account of ourselves, and His Message is necessarily true.
( 50 )   Tell them: "(You will be raised afresh even if) you turn to stone or iron,
( 51 )   Or [any] creation of that which is great within your breasts." And they will say, "Who will restore us?" Say, "He who brought you forth the first time." Then they will nod their heads toward you and say, "When is that?" Say, "Perhaps it will be soon
The sceptic (a person inclined to question or doubt accepted opinions) shifts his ground when he is cornered in argument. It is no longer tenable for him to say that it cannot happen or that there is no one who can bring him back to life and memory. He now gets shaky, and says, "Well, when is that going to happen?" The actual time no man can tell. Indeed that event will be on a plane in which there will be no Time. Our relative ideas of time and place will have been completely overthrown, and it will appear to us then, not that it has been postponed too long, but that it has come too soon! See the next verse and note.
( 52 )   On the Day He will call you and you will respond with praise of Him and think that you had not remained [in the world] except for a little."
That is, you will feel as if the intervening period between death and coming again to life on the Day of Resurrection was only a few hours or so, for you will think that you had just woken up after a short sleep by the sudden noise produced on the Day. As regards to you will rise up praising Him, it is a subtle hint towards a great reality. At the time of rising up from death, both the believer and the unbeliever will be uttering the praise of Allah. The believer will do so because in the worldly life also he believed in this creed and practiced it. As regards the unbeliever, he will have the urge to do so because of the inherent and ingrained tendency in him which he had been suppressing by his folly. In the new life all those deliberate suppression will vanish away and he will involuntarily utter the praise of Allah.

Yousaf Ali translation:
It may be that this verse should not be in the inverted commas governed by the verb "say", in the last clause of the last verse. In that case, the answer to the sceptic would be finished in the last verse, and this verse would be a general statement applying also to the righteous, who will rise up celebrating the praises of Allah. But on the whole, I think it is better to take this verse as part of the answer to the sceptic referred to in the last verse.

Whatever may have been your spiritual blindness in this life, the "new creation" will have opened your eyes to the Truth. No one will any longer be in any delusion as regards the Reality of Allah, and will be forced, by their new circumstances, to recognize the Truth and sing Allah's praises. And all will be surprised at the seemingly short flight of time since they had their little ephemeral life on this earth. They will now appraise its true worth.

Here we come to the end of Part 2 of  Sürah Al Isrāʼ. In Part 3, we will present the exegesis of Ruku / sections 6-7 [Verses 53-70] - in which Allah advises to Prophet Muhammad, besides a mention of Prophet Adam and Iblees.

You may now like to listen to Arabic recitation of Sürah Al Isrāʼ with English subtitles:

You may refer to our post "114 Chapters (Sūrahs) of the Holy Qur'an" for translation, meaning and summary / exegesis of other chapters (Though not complete but building up from 30th Juzʼ / Part backwards for chapters in 30th Juzʼ / Part are shorter and easier to understand). 

Photo | References: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 678 |
Reading the Holy Quran should be a daily obligation of a Muslim - Reading it with translation will make it meaningful. But reading its Exegesis / Tafsir will make you understand it fully.

An effort has been made to gather explanation / exegesis of the surahs of the Holy Qur'an from authentic sources and then present a least possible condensed explanation of the surah. In that:
  • The plain translation has been taken from the Holy Quran officially published by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. [1]
  • The exegesis of the chapters of the Holy Quran is mainly based on the "Tafhim al-Qur'an - The Meaning of the Qur'an" by one of the most enlightened scholars of the Muslim World Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi. [2] 
In order to augment and add more explanation as already provided by [2], additional input has been interjected from following sources:
In addition the references of  other sources which have been explored have also been given above. Those desirous of detailed explanations and tafsir (exegesis), may refer to these sites.

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