Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XXXVIII.: ENTITLED SURAT AL SWÁD (S.) Revealed at Makkah. - The Quran, vol. 3
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CHAPTER XXXVIII.: ENTITLED SURAT AL SWÁD (S.) Revealed at Makkah. - Mohammed, The Quran, vol. 3 
A Comprehensive Commentary on the Quran: Comprising Sale’s Translation and preliminary Discourse, with Additional Notes and Emendations (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, and Co., 1896). 4 vols.
Part of: The Quran, 4 vols.
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ENTITLED SURAT AL SWÁD (S.)
This chapter owes its title to the letter of the Arabic alphabet with which it begins. It seems to have been written while the storm was brewing which resulted in the Muslims being shut up in the Sheb of Abu Tálib. The drift of the earlier verses, as well as that of the stories related (vers. 16-48), points to a decided conflict between the Muslims and their enemies. The title confederates, applied to the latter, leaves no doubt that the confederation of the Quraish against the Háshimites is referred to. The stories related here are puerile in the extreme. They do not encourage a belief in Muhammad’s prophetic claim. They seem to be connected with the first verses of the chapter, and were probably intended to encourage the Muslims under persecution and trial. If so, we must suppose Muhammad to have looked upon his adverse circumstances as a chastisement and a trial of his faith—a chastisement, however, from which he confidently expected to be delivered.
The allusion to the Book of Psalms in ver. 28 shows that Muhammad recognised that portion of the Old Testament Scriptures as the Word of God.
Here, as elsewhere (chaps. vi., xi., xxi., &c.), we find Muhammad likening himself to the former prophets. Confederates had arrayed themselves against them, as the Quraish had confederated against him. They had been defeated and destroyed, and in like manner these should taste the Divine vengeance (vers. 10-15).
In ver. 70 we have a remarkable claim of Muhammad to inspiration, based upon the fact that he relates the story of the fall of Iblís. This story, he says, he received by revelation from God, and is a proof of his inspiration, because it would not have been revealed to him but for the fact that he was a prophet! Now, who can doubt that he learned the story from Jewish informants, either directly or indirectly? If so, how reconcile the language of vers. 69, 70, with the sincerity and honesty claimed for him by his Christian apologists?
Probable Date of the Revelations.
That this chapter is Makkan in its origin is evident from the style of its language, from the attitude the Prophet and his townsmen manifest throughout, and from the general opinion of Muslim commentators. It is true Jaláluddín as Syuti (Itqán, 27) mentions a commentator who held the opinion that it was Madínic; but for such a view no good reason can be given. Noëldeke regards the whole chapter, as far as ver. 67, as connected, but thinks vers. 67-88 to be in no way connected with what precedes them. According to tradition, vers. 1-10 were revealed at the time when the Quraish endeavoured to persuade Abú Tálib to no longer give Muhammad his protection. This would be 615, or b.h. 8. Other traditions refer these verses, or at least ver. 5, to the time when Abú Tálib was on his deathbed ( 620, or b.h. 3). But all these traditions are no more than so many inferences from the first part of ver. 5. Muir, following the latter tradition, assigns this chapter to the fifth stage of Muhammad’s mission, i.e., 620-622. I think the mildness of the opposition and persecution apparent in this chapter, coupled with the general style of composition—notably the crudity of the stories narrated (vers. 16-48; the description of heaven and hell (vers. 49 seq.), the titles “warner” and “public preacher,” applied to the Prophet (vers. 3 and 70), point to the earlier date given above.
IN THE NAME OF THE MOST MERCIFUL GOD.
∥ (1) S. By the Qurán full of admonition. Verily the unbelievers are addicted to pride and contention. (2) How many generations have we destroyed before them! and they cried for mercy, but it was not a time to escape. (3) They wonder that a warner from among themselves hath come unto them. And the unbelievers said, This man is a sorcerer and a liar: (4) doth he affirm the gods to be but one God? Surely this is a wonderful thing. (5) And the chief men among them departed, saying to one another, Go, and persevere in the worship of your gods: verily this is the thing which is designed. (6) We have not heard anything like this in the last religion: this is no other than a false contrivance. (7) Hath an admonition been sent unto him preferable to any other among us? Verily they are in a doubt concerning my admonition: but they have not yet tasted my vengeance. (8) Are the treasures of the mercy of thy Lord, the mighty, the munificent God, in their hands? (9) Is the kingdom of the heavens and the earth, and of whatever is between them, in their possession? If it be so, let them ascend by steps unto heaven.(10)But any army of the confederates shall even here be put to flight. (11) The people of Noah, and the tribe of Ád, and Pharaoh, the contriver of the stakes, (12) and the tribe of Thamúd, and the people of Lot, and the inhabitants of the wood near Madian, accused the prophets of imposture before them; these were the confederates against the messengers of God. (13) All of them did no other than accuse their apostles of falsehood: wherefore my vengeance hath been justly executed upon them.
∥ (14) And these wait only for one sounding of the trumpet, which there shall be no deferring. (15) And they scoffingly say, O Lord, hasten our sentence unto us, before the day of account. (16) Do thou patiently bear that which they utter, and remind them of our servant David, endued with strength; for he was one who seriously turned himself unto God.(17) We compelled the mountains to celebrate our praise with him, in the evening and at sunrise, (18) and also the birds, which gathered themselves together unto him: all of them returned frequently unto him for this purpose. (19) And we established his kingdom, and gave him wisdom and eloquence of speech. (20) Hath the story of the two adversaries come to thy knowledge? when they ascended over the wall into the upper apartment, (21) when they went in unto David, and he was afraid of them. They said, Fear not: we are two adversaries who have a controversy to be deceived. The one of us hath wronged the other: wherefore judge between us with truth, and be not unjust; and direct us in the even way. (22) This my brother had ninety and nine sheep, and I had only one ewe; and he said, Give her me to keep; and he prevailed against me in the discourse which we had together.(23)David answered, Verily he hath wronged thee in demanding thine ewe as an addition to his own sheep; and many of them who are concerned together in business wrong one another, except those who believe and do that which is right; but how few are they! And David perceived that we had tried him by this parable, and he asked pardon of his Lord, and he fell down and bowed himself, and repented. (24) Wherefore we forgave him this fault; and he shall be admitted to approach near unto us, and shall have an excellent place of abode in Paradise. (25) O David, verily we have appointed thee a sovereign prince in the earth: judge therefore between men with truth; and follow not thy own lust, lest it cause thee to err from the way of God: for those who err from the way of God shall suffer a severe punishment, because they have forgotten the day of account.
∥ (26) We have not created the heavens and the earth, and whatever is between them, in vain. This is the opinion of the unbelievers; but woe unto those who believe not, because of the fire of hell. (27) Shall we deal with those who believe and do good works as with those who act corruptly in the earth? Shall we deal with the pious as with the wicked? (28) A blessed book have we sent down unto thee, O Muhammad, that they may attentively meditate on the signs thereof, and that men of understanding may be warned. (29) And we gave unto David Solomon; how excellent a servant! for he frequently turned himself unto God.(30) When the horses standing on three feet, and touching the ground with the edge of the fourth foot, and swift in the course, were set in parade before him in the evening, he said, (31) Verily I have loved the love of earthly good above the remembrance of my Lord,and have spent the time in viewing these horses until the sun is hidden by the veil of night; (32) bring the horses back unto me. And when they were brought back, he began to cut off their legs and their necks. (33) We also tried Solomon, and placed on his throne a counterfeit body: afterwards he turned untoGod, (34) and said, O Lord, forgive me, and give me a kingdom which may not be obtained by any after me; for thou art the giver of kingdoms.(35) And we made the wind subject to him; it ran gently at his command, whithersoever we directed. (36) And we also put the devils in subjection under him; and among them such as were every way skilled in building, and in diving for pearls; (37) and others we delivered to him bound in chains, saying,(38) This is our gift: therefore be bounteous, or be sparing unto whom thou shalt think fit, without rendering an account. (39) And he shall approach near unto us, and shall have an excellent abode in Paradise.(40) And remember our servant Job, when he cried unto his Lord,saying, Verily Satan hath afflicted me with calamity and pain.
∥ (41)And it was said unto him, Strike the earth with thy foot; which when he had done, a fountain sprang up, and it was said to him, This is for thee to wash in, to refresh thee, and to drink. (42) And we restored unto him his family, and as many more with them, through our mercy; and for an admonition unto those who are endued with understanding. (43) And we said unto him, Take a handful of rods in thy hand, and strike thy wife therewith; and break not thine oath. Verily we found him a patient person: (44) how excellent a servant was he! for he was one who frequently turned himself unto us. (45) Remember also our servants Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, who were men strenuous and prudent. (46) Verily we purified them with a perfect purification, through the remembrance of the life to come; (47) and they were in our sight elect and good men.(48) And remember Ismaíl, and Elisha, and Dhu’l Qifl; for all these were good men.(49) This is an admonition. Verily the pious shall have an excellent place to return unto, (50)namely, gardens of perpetual abode, the gates whereof shall stand open unto them. (51) As they lie down therein, they shall there ask for many sorts of fruits, and for drink; (52)(52) and near them shall sit the virgins of Paradise, refraining their looks from beholding any besides their spouses, and of equal age with them.(53) This is what ye are promised at the day of account.
∥ (54) This is our provision, which shall not fail. (55) This shall be the reward of the righteous. But for the transgressors is prepared an evil receptacle, (56) namely, hell: they shall be cast into the same to be burned, and a wretched couch shall it be. (57) This let them taste, to wit, scalding water, and corruption flowing from the bodies of the damned, (58) and divers other things of the same kind. (59) And it shall be said to the seducers, This troop which was guided by you shall be thrown together with you headlong into hell: they shall not be bidden welcome; for they shall enter the fire to be burned. (60) And the seduced shall say to their seducers, Verily ye shall not be bidden welcome: ye have brought it upon us; and a wretched abode is hell. (61) They shall say, O Lord, doubly increase the torment of him who hath brought this punishment upon us in the fire of hell. (62) And the infidels shall say, Why do we not see the men whom we numbered among the wicked, (63) and whom we received with scorn? Or do our eyes miss them? (64) Verily this is a truth, to wit, the disputing of the inhabitants of hell-fire. (65) Say, O Muhammad, unto the idolaters, Verily I am no other than a warner; and there is no god except the one only God, the Almighty,
∥ (66) The Lord of heaven and earth, and of whatsoever is between them; the mighty, the forgiver of sins. (67) Say, It is a weighty message (68) from which ye turn aside. (69) I had no knowledge of the exalted princes when they disputed concerning the creation of man: (70) (it hath been revealed unto me only as a proof that I am a public preacher:) (71) when thy Lord said unto the angels, Verily I am about to create man of clay: (72) when I shall have formed him, therefore, and shall have breathed my spirit into him, do ye fall down and worship him. (73) And all the angels worshipped him in general, (74) except Iblís, who was puffed up with pride, and became an unbeliever. (75)God said unto him, O Iblís, what hindereth thee from worshipping that which I have created with my hands? (76) Art thou elated with vain pride? or art thou really one of exalted merit? (77) He answered, I am more excellent than he: thou hast created me of fire, and thou hast created him of clay. (78)God said unto him, Get thee hence, therefore; for thou shalt be driven away from mercy;(79) and my curse shall be upon thee until the day of judgment. (80) He replied, O Lord, respite me, therefore, until the day of resurrection. (81)God said, Verily thou shalt be one of those who are respited (82) until the day of the determined time. (83)Iblís said, By thy might do I swear, I will surely seduce them all, (84) except thy servants who shall be peculiarly chosen from among them. (85)God said, It is a just sentence; and I speak the truth: I will surely fill hell with thee, and with such of them as shall follow thee, altogether. (86) Say unto the Makkans, I ask not of you any reward for this my preaching: neither am I one of those who assume a part which belongs not to them. (87) The Qurán is no other than an admonition unto all creatures: (88) and ye shall surely know what is delivered therein to be true, after a season.
[(1) ]S. “The meaning of this letter is unknown; some guess it stands for Sidq, i.e. Truth, or for Sadaqa, i.e. he (viz., Muhammad) speaketh the truth; and others propose different conjectures, all equally uncertain.”—Sale. See Prelim. Disc., pp. 100-102.
[(3) ]A warner. See notes on chap. ii. 119, iii. 184, and vi. 109.
[(5) ]The chief men. “On the conversion of Omar, the Quraish being greatly irritated, the most considerable of them went in a body to Abu Tálíb to complain to him of his nephew Muhammad’s proceedings; but being confounded and put to silence by the Prophet’s arguments, they left the assembly, and encouraged one another in their obstinacy.”—Sale, Baidháwi.
[(6) ]The last religion, i.e., “in the religion which we received from our fathers; or in the religion of Jesus, which was the last before the mission of Muhammad.”—Sale.
[(10) ]Any army of the confederates. The allusion may be to the confederacy of the Quraish against Muhammad and his followers. The Tafsír-i-Raufi regards the passage as prophetic of Muslim victory at Badr.
[(11) ]Pharaoh, the contriver of stakes. “For they say Pharaoh used to tie those he had a mind to punish by the hands and feet to four stakes fixed in the ground, and so tormented them. Some interpret the words, which may also be translated the lord or master of the stakes, figuratively, of the firm establishment of Pharaoh’s kingdom, because the Arabs fix their tents with stakes; but they may possibly intend that prince’s obstinacy and hardness of heart.”—Sale, Jaláluddín, Baidháwi.
[(12) ]Imposture. See notes on chap. vii. 60 seq: also introduction to chap. xi.
[(16) ]David, endued with strength. “The commentators suppose that ability to undergo the frequent practice of religious exercises is here meant. They say David used to fast every other day, and to spend one-half of the night in prayer.”—Sale.
[(17, 18) ]See note on chap. xxi. 79.
[(20) ]The two adversaries. “These were two angels, who came unto David in the shape of men, to demand judgment in the feigned controversy after mentioned. It is no other than Nathan’s parable to David (2 Sam. xii.), a little disguised.”—Sale.
[(21) ]Fear not. “Because they came suddenly upon him, on a day of privacy, when the doors were guarded, and no persons admitted to disturb his devotions. For David, they say, divided his time regularly, setting apart one day for the service of God, another day for rendering justice to his people, another day for preaching to them, and another day for his own affairs.”—Sale, Baidháwi, &c.
[(23) ]“The crime of which David had been guilty, was the taking the wife of Uriah, and ordering her husband to be set in the front of the battle to be slain. Some suppose this story was told to serve as an admonition to Muhammad, who, it seems, was apt to covet what was another’s.”—Sale.
[(24) ]This verse is fatal to the Muslim theory that the prophets of God were sinless. See also note on chap. ii. 253.
[(28) ]A blessed book. I agree with Noëldeke, who thinks these words are addressed to David. The book would therefore be the Psalms.
[(30) ]The horses, &c. “Some say that Solomon brought these horses, being a thousand in number, from Damascus and Nisibis, which cities he had taken; others say that they were left him by his father, who took them from the Amalekites; while others, who prefer the marvellous, pretend that they came up out of the sea, and had wings. However, Solomon having one day a mind to view these horses, ordered them to be brought before him, and was so taken up with them that he spent the remainder of the day till after sunset in looking on them, by which means he neglected the prayer which ought to have been said at that time till it was too late; but when he perceived his omission, he was so greatly concerned at it, that ordering the horses to be brought back, he killed them all as an offering to God, except only a hundred of the best of them. But God made him ample amends for the loss of these horses, by giving him dominion over the winds.”—Sale, Baidháwi, Zamaḳhshari, Yahya.
[(33) ]A counterfeit body. “The most received exposition of this passage is taken from the following Talmudic fable. Vide Talm. en Jacob, Part ii., et Yalkut in Lib. Reg., p. 182.
[(35, 36) ]See notes on chaps. xxi. 81, 82, and xxvii. 16 seq.
[(38) ]Be bounteous, &c. “Some suppose these words relate to the genii, and that Solomon is thereby empowered to release or to keep in chains such of them as he pleased.”—Sale.
[(40) ]Remember Job. See notes on chaps. vi. 85 and xxi. 83.
[(41) ]This . . . to wash in. “Some say there were two springs, one of hot water, wherein he bathed, and the other of cold, of which he drank.”—Sale, Baidháwi.
[(43) ]A handful of rods. “The original not expressing what this handful was to consist of, one supposes it was to be only a handful of dry grass or of rushes, and another that it was a branch of a palm-tree.”—Sale.
[(46) ]Through the remembrance, &c. “Or, as the words may be interpreted, according to al Zamaḳhsharí, ‘We have purified them, or peculiarly destined and fitted them for Paradise.’ ”—Sale.
[(48) ]See note on chap. vi. 87.
[(49-54) ]See notes on chaps. iii. 15, 196, and ix. 73.
[(52) ]Equal age, i.e., “about thirty or thirty-three.”—Sale.
[(65) ]A warner. See notes on chaps. ii. 119, iii. 184, and vi. 109.
[(69) ]Exalted princes, i.e., the angels, who disputed about the creation of man.
[(71-85) ]See notes on ii. 30-34, vii. 11-19, and xv. 28-39.
[(88) ]After a season, i.e., at death or the resurrection, or at the triumph of Islám.—Tafsír-i-Raufi.