Abdel Haleem translation: http://www.kaskas.com/home/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Quran-Abdel-Haleem-Translation-1.pdf
The Surah begins with mention of the following verses being that of “wise Scripture with guidance and mercy for those who do good,” emphasizing the wisdom that Allah provided through His Word is much superior to those who were using “distracting tales” to falsely indicate the Qur’an is nothing other than beautifully written fiction (Andel Haleem states al-Nadr ibn al-Harith purchased ancient Persian stories as a way to redirect attention from the wisdom and truth of the Qur’an). Wisdom provides true direction through the use of knowledge, intuition and experience. The wise person who has spiritual discernment will seek the good and reject the morally bad. A “tale” simply expresses a story which may or not have a moral objective, but which is not used as an overall guidebook for a community, or as a basis for societal norms. The mention of the “wise scripture” sest the theme of wisdom for the entire Surah, including wisdom proverbs from Luqman.
To show that the gods of idol worship have not created anything, and hence, should not be worshiped, various representations of Allah’s created are given as examples: firm mountains to make the ground more stable, animals, and rain to grow vegetation abundantly. Brief mention is then made of a wise man named “Luqman” who gives wise counsel to his son, but then quickly transitions into how believers should treat their parents, especially their mothers, and then directly refers back to the wisdom of Luqman. Ibn Kathir’s book, Stories of the Prophets states that “Luqman Ibn ‘Anqa’ Ibn Sadun… was from among the people of Aylah (Jerusalem). He was a pious man who exerted himself in worship and who was blessed with wisdom.” It appears Luqman made every effort to teach his son the wisdom he had gained thereby guiding his son to the straight path, so this is perhaps why mention is made of the importance of being thankful to one’s parents. A good parent will teach their children how to be righteous, not only by their teachings, but by the modeling of their actions. This is the type of parent who should be lifted up and honored for raising up children to be pious, for it is just as important as converting a non-believer for their spiritual well-being and benefit. Additionally, the honoring of one’s mothers is mentioned more than once in the Qur’an. Allah is providing balance to human social interactions by this admonition to respect the woman who give birth and raise children. Tribal culture was extremely harsh to women and girls and highly patriarchal such that the value of females was so little that they were comparable to the value of animals or even less. This is a reminder to think about who gave men birth, and who raised them — if it wasn’t for women birthing and raising the men’s children with the support of running the household, men would be in a poor state. During this time period, men refused to acknowledge the important contribution women made to the effective running of the family and overall value to their community.
Luqman’s wisdom for his son mentioned in this particular Surah:
- Do not attribute partners to God.
- Even if the weight of a mustard seed were hidden in a rock or anywhere in the heavens or earth, God would bring it to light, for He is all subtle and all aware.
- Keep up the prayers, command what is right, and forbid what is wrong.
- Be steadfast in the faith during difficulties.
- Do not be arrogant.
- Walk at a moderate pace watching your voice tone. In other words don’t walk or talk in such a way to overtly bring attention to yourself.
The mention of a hidden mustard seed is symbolic of the person with faith who may not be outspoken, but who yet quietly displays their faith, in which Allah still has the capability to bring their faith and good deed to light, or to the attention of others as a witness to Him.
Some of the disbelievers refused to follow the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) because they believed it was more important to follow that which their forefathers were following. The Arabian tribal culture is a strongly bonded social group structured for the purpose of maintaining honor and survival such that it was extremely difficult for idol worshipers to separate themselves from the ties of kinship and otherwise. However, it was because the group identity was so strong that those tribal members who converted to Islam eventually help created a group dynamic that made the initial growth of Islam effective. In the introduction to Ibn Khaldun’s book, Arab Philosophy of History, the importance of “social solidarity” is made in establishing a new religion:
“A new religion, too, can establish itself only by strife, and will succeed only if it enlists the help of a powerful social solidarity. But a religion once established can greatly reinforce social solidarity even to the extent of replacing the primitive tribal solidarity, by grouping men’s wills and emotions around a common purpose. In fact, religion is the most powerful cement that can hold together a large, sedentary people. The combination of religious and tribal solidarity is formidable, and to it Khaldun attributes the rapid and sweeping conquests of the Muslim Arabs in the seventh century” (p. 11).
Even if the disbelievers are asked who created the heavens and the earth, and they say, ‘God’, in which Muhammad is instructed to say, ‘Praise belongs to God,’ yet they still can’t seem to understand that if God created everything, then why should they worship idols instead of the One,True God. In fact, “If all the trees on earth were pens and all the seas, with seven more seas besides [were ink], still God’s words would not run out: God is almighty and all wise. Creating and resurrecting all of you is only like creating or resurrecting a single soul: God is all hearing and all seeing” (vs. 27–28). God’s revelations are everflowing streams which never subside or dry up, but is eternally given as wisdom and guidance for humankind. God is so all powerful, that it is a simple manner for Him to create and bring back to life again through resurrection. He can create all souls just as easily as He creates one soul.
Signs are discussed as a means to illustrate Allah’s knowledge and as a representation of His Mighty Power: God creates the balance between the sun and the moon by the pattern of its movements, and in the same way God is aware of our movements by the vibrating principle of His emanation reflecting off our physical and spiritual bodies in the same way the light from the sun reflects off the moon in its various stages of movement around the sun. By the viewing of the moon, one can know its exact position in its orbit around the earth. It is a dance of light and shadows, which reveals the position of the physical to the spiritual. Another sign is the ships that sail on the sea only by the grace of Allah and yet when the ship is caught in a storm the people become frightened for their lives so cry out to Allah for help, but when their lives are saved by delivering them safely to land, some of them fall away again. The sailing ships wrought by men in all their glory, are nothing compared to the power of Allah. Men oftentimes pridefully depend upon their own power by the things they create and build, not understanding Allah can destroy them in an instance. Sailing ships were mentioned as a thing of power and beauty that men built, but when the ship almost goes down, the prideful men turn to Allah for help. Unfortunately, in our world today, nations have turned to massive amounts of weapons as their protection, which really isn’t protection at all. Only Allah is the true Protector — we must turn to Him for guidance. Also, this is a sign that symbolizes Allah’s grace which will save us if we turn to Him, but if we turn away we are at risk for sinking beneath the waves and losing our lives. Grace is not to be taken lightly by rejecting His Sovereignty after receiving it — “only a treacherous, thankless person refuses to acknowledge Our signs” (v. 32). The person crying out for help from Allah is acknowledging by faith His ability to help them, but when Allah reinforces that faith by His loving assistance, and then is rejected again, it is worse for that person as if they had never asked for His help in the first place. He means to use His power as a witness to Himself, so the discarding of His gift of grace erases the intent and purpose of Allah for the growing of His Kingdom.
“Be mindful of your Lord and fear a day when no parent will take the place of their child, nor a child take the place of their parent, in any way” (v. 33). For even in spite of the tight bond parents and children, neither one will be willing out of fear to take the place of the other. Don’t “let the present life delude you” into thinking you are safe from the consequences of the Hereafter. It is like going into an airport bar to drink and gamble and not paying attention to the time, thereby missing your flight. The present life is beautiful when set in the context of eternal life, but is a dangerous diversion when attention is not paid to your final destination. “Knowledge of the Hour [of Resurrection] belongs to God” (v 34), so look to the signs provided by Allah of the symbolic representation of rain providing new life, and the new life forming in the womb in which only God knows the fullness of its form — its DNA, its future, and the fetus’ final destination. “No soul knows what it will reap tomorrow, and no soul knows in what land it will die; it is God who is all knowing and all aware.” It is God in His position of omniscience who knows all things at once, and all time in a moment.
A sparkle of light flashed before you,
so you turned away,
you saw a circus in the distance
and went to see,
a beautiful woman caught your eyes,
and your body followed,
and without realizing it
you had lost your way
and couldn’t find your way back home.