41 [Verses] Made Distinct (Fussilat): Poems based on the Qur’an with exegesis
Abdel Haleem e-book translation: https://archive.org/stream/TheQuranKoranenglishEbook-AbdelHaleem-BestTranslationInThe/the_QURAN-abdel-haleem-ebook-english_djvu.txt
The Qur’an gives “good news and warning” (v.4). The good news of course is Allah’s Mercy and Kindness in forgiveness of sins when we ask in sincerity, and the many spiritual blessings we are given when we believe in Allah. However, the threat of extreme punishment seems to act as no deterrent against disbelief. The disbelievers respond their hearts are too calloused or hard to react to the faith they are called to, their “ears are heavy,” and “there is a barrier between us and you” (v. 5). In other words, the disbelievers have intentionally blocked the Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) message from changing their hearts due to continued adherence to their rigid belief system, whether it is erroneous or not. This has been the case with every messenger sent by Allah because the disbelievers are stuck in set patterns of behavior that causes mental rigidity as well as holding on to arrogance and pride by refusing to acknowledge someone else may have the truth.
Lenn Goodman writing in the notes of Saadiah on Job, states: “Job has also made suggestions, by his illusions to light and darkness, that the wicked are evidently not deterred by fears about the judgement of their actions in this world, thus suggesting that the effectiveness of such judgments as they incur is so limited as not to affect the argument: the evils done are neither undone by punishment nor prevented by fear of punishment.” (1)
The use of the threat of punishment on the Day of Judgement is a recurrent theme throughout the Qur’an. And, so is the response of disbelievers in ignoring the threat of being burned alive in some unspecified future time. This Surah specifically mentions the consequences of disbelief among the communities of Ad and Thamud who were warned by messengers send by Allah which were then subsequently destroyed by Allah, “Ad behaved arrogantly throughout the land without any right, saying, ‘Who could be stronger than us?”(v. 14) While Thamud “preferred blindness” (v. 16). Fear of punishment seems to have no effect of creating converts even though the descriptions of Hell in the Qur’an are extremely descriptive in its visual representation of the torment unbelievers will experience as a consequence of their actions (eating thorns, drinking boiling water and bitter poison, skin being burned off and then Allah replacing it so it can continue to burn, drenched with burning tar, — just imagine the worst possible torments and you will get the idea-horrific!). However, a warning is a warning, so no unbeliever after hearing the warning will be able to defend themselves to Allah by stating they didn’t know what the consequences would be for their continued sinning and lack of belief. However, according to punishment deterrence theory, the threat of punishment as a deterrent is only effective when the punishment is immediate, consistent and severe (https://nij.gov/five-things/pages/deterrence.aspx). In the years after the Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) death when Caliphs instigated numerous conquests against other communities and countries did a significant number of conversions occur. Obviously, the threat of immediate death or dismemberment, as well having to pay a high tax, created fear which led to a high rate of conversions which confirms deterrence theory. However, that is conversion by coercion, and not necessarily the fear to avoid future punishment, or a desire to enter Paradise.
The next section asks the disbelievers how they could not believe when God created all of the world — He “measured out its varied provisions for all who seek them — all in four Days. Then (thumma) He turned to the sky, which was smoke — He said to it and the earth, ‘Come into being, willingly or not, and they said, ‘We come willingly” (vs. 10–11). The sky was smoke after the initial formation of earth because there were massive lava fields and volcanoes erupting. However, many commentators believe this refers to the initial “Big Bang,” and the smoke is “nebulous gases.” But, in looking at the preceding verses, “He is the Lord of all the worlds!’ He placed solid mountains on it, blessed it…Then” So, first mountains were on the earth and He blessed it, and then He turned to the smoke filled sky which is more of indicative of the earliest formation of the earth.The commentators who believe the smoke refers to gases, declares the word, thumma doesn’t indicate a creative progression or a sequence of events, but most likely refers to “and” which removes the progressive form. However, in looking at the word, thumma, in all of its 338 uses in the Qur’an, one finds all indicate “then” except for two uses of “morever” and a couple of “and it.”
The interesting phrase in these verses is Allah speaking to the sky and the earth and telling them to come into being, “willingly or not.” Certainly the Qur’an personifies various forms of matter such as what is found in 3:83 (“Do they seek anything other than submission to God? Everyone in the heavens and earth submits to Him, willingly or unwillingly; they will all be returned to Him.”) and in 13:15, “All that are in heaven and earth submit to God alone, willingly or unwillingly, as do their shadows in the mornings and in the evenings.” Everyone submits to Allah either willingly or unwillingly, because on the Day of Judgment all humans will submit, and those who were unwilling to submit to Allah before then will have no choice in the matter of submission as He will make Himself known and will determine their “unwilling” destination. In 13:15, “All…” will submit to Allah, and again we see “willingly or unwillingly” which again refers to free choice, but since this verse mentions “all that are in heaven and earth” this also refers to non-human forms of matter that also submit “unwillingly” to Allah’s laws of nature, because non-human forms are not endowed with “will.” However, with that clarification being stated, the verse in this Surah is preceded by reference to unbelievers and then believers (v. 6–8), and then in verse 11 Allah speaking to the heavens and the earth, who respond they will come willingly (“come into being”). It sounds like there is inference of a choice in the matter, but the clear inference here is not whether they choose to come into being or not by Allah’s divine command, as the heavens and the earth will “Be” regardless. They responded in the affirmative which indicates submission to Allah’s Divine Rule. There is a more esoteric message in this verse which is referring back to the unbelievers “who refuse to believe in the World to come!” Whether they are willing or not in believing the next World is coming, it will still come which indicates more their lack of submission to Allah or their “unwillingness.”
In verses 20–24 the disbelievers who did everything possible to hide their sin by the use of deception which led to extreme hypocrisy will find even their own bodies will be witnesses to their sin — even if they successfully hid their evil deeds from all other people, they should have remembered that nothing is hidden from Allah. “You thought that God did not know about much of what you were doing, so it was the thoughts you entertained about your Lord that led to your ruin, and you became losers” (vs. 22b-23). Furthermore, Allah appoints disbelievers, “companions who make their past and present seem fair and right to them” (v 25). 43:36, “We assign an evil one as a comrade for whoever turns away from the revelations of the Lord of Mercy: evil ones bar people from the right path, even though they may think they are well guided.” And in 50:27, “Hurl him into severe punishment! and his evil companion will say, ‘Lord, I did not make him transgress; he had already gone far astray himself…” “But the disbelievers will say ‘Our Lord, show us those jinn and men who misled us and we shall trample them underfoot, so that they may be among the lowest of the low” (v. 29). Those disbelievers who refuted God’s word, and made fun of the Prophet (pbuh) will find their weak wills being weakened further by companions who will manipulate them into sin while leading them to believe they are not sinning. Not determining the truth for oneself is a different type of spiritual weakness which allows the disbeliever to go even more astray from the truth. It is ludicrous the disbeliever should be angry with those who led them astray as they were all given the same truth. This is contrasted with those who take the Straight Path, and who will have spiritual beings as their allies to guide them. “Good and evil cannot be equal,” (v. 34) for the disbeliever will not repel evil, but will join with it, while the believer with a stronger will and who is more spiritually mature will “repel evil with what is better” and in this way enemies will be turned to friends by their pious actions. Also, the Prophet is advised, “If a prompting from Satan should stir you, seek refuge with God: He is the All Hearing and the All Knowing” (v. 35). It is clear from the section of this Surah that those who are truly disbelieving will allow wrong to appear right to lead others astray, while the believers are expected to use their spiritual discernment with the help of Allah to stay on the Straight Path.
As in many other verses in the Qur’an it is stated in this Surah the Qur’an was revealed in the Arabic language so the message of truth and warning would be clear (v. 44). During pre-Islamic times shortly before the revelation of the Qur’an were men preaching the message of monotheism who had followers, including the influence of one of these men on the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) himself when he was 12 years old (according to tradition), but yet there was no Book or formalized religion formed at that time. Additionally, Judaism and Christianity were religions which the Arabs came into contact during this time period. However, the Books of the Jews and Christians were most likely in Latin which would make the message unavailable to the Arabic speaking peoples. Since it is emphasized numerous times in the Qur’an regarding having the message clearly stated in their own language, is it possible the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) while reflecting in the cave of Hira yearned in his heart for the message of the monotheistic God to be given in the Arabic language so that all may understand it? Did He yearn for the ability to read, so that He could understand Allah better? Allah answers the desires of the heart in amazing ways — I can certainly attest to that. Imagine, Allah, the All-Beneficient, All-Merciful, blessing Muhammad himself with the Book for the Arabs in such a way such that he would be the one to recite it and therefore know clearly what the Qur’an stated even though he couldn’t read? Gabriel tells the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) to tell the disbelievers, “It is [the Qur’an] guidance and healing for those who have faith, but the ears of the disbelievers are heavy, they are blind to it, it is as if they are being called from a distant place.” Even though the revelation of the Qur’an was Arabic and clearly worded the disbelievers refused to acknowledge the incredible message of truth.
“Whoever does good does it for his own soul and whoever does evil does it against his own soul…” (v. 46). For if one refuses to not believe the message and warnings from the Prophets they do so at the risk of their own souls. All of our actions in this world have an impact on our own souls, and in an egregious manner can even negatively impact the souls of others. We are responsible for our own actions, but it is much worse for ourselves when we lead others astray and prevent them gaining knowledge of the truth.
The Surah closes with, “We shall show them Our signs in every region of the earth and in themselves, until it becomes clear to them that this is the Truth. Is it not enough that your Lord witnesses everything? Truly, they doubt that they will meet their Lord; truly He encompasses everything.” All people on earth will have access to the truth so that Allah’s judgement will be just for all people. No person will be able to deny they were presented with the truth of the One True God. Furthermore, the Qur’an states that every Prophet will be a witness against unbelievers. In fact, there are Islamic paintings that show the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) on the Day of Judgement standing as witness for believers and against unbelievers. However, this witness is not at one point in time, as time for Allah is all time. All the Messengers are providing witness as proof of judgement even at the time they are giving the message of Allah. They stand in judgement as a witness against all people. If a person hears their message and refuses to believe up to the time of their own death, then that person’s judgement has already been determined. Allah has knowledge of all things.
The weak willed
led astray by Satan’s tricks
will plead for mercy,
but will be told
they received the same
message as the believers.
Their souls were in their own hands,
delivered to the fire
by their own actions.
(1) p.321, Saadiah Gaon translated the Book of Job from the Hebrew into Arabic, and was an important spiritual leader during medieval times (882–942). Saadiah was strongly influenced by Arabic Muslim thinkers who also sought to reconcile Islam with philosophical inquiry. Also, Saadiah emphasized reason and revelation very much like the Muslim theologians/philosophers did during the same time period. According to Saadiah, without reason superstitious beliefs will proliferate and revelation because not every person has the ability to arrive at the truth by rational thought. The Qur’an itself expresses the importance of the use of reason and knowledge, and in and of itself is a revelatory book.