Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER LXVIII.: ENTITED SURAT AL QALAM (THE PEN). Revealed at Makkah. - The Quran, vol. 4
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CHAPTER LXVIII.: ENTITED SURAT AL QALAM (THE PEN). Revealed at Makkah. - Mohammed, The Quran, vol. 4 
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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ENTITED SURAT AL QALAM (THE PEN).
This chapter is also entitled Nún (N), from the letter in the beginning of the first verse, wherein the ordinary title is also found. In its revelation we have indicated a period of strong opposition between Muhammad and his townsmen. The Prophet had been called a madman and an impostor. Slander and defamation had been resorted to even by some of the chief men of Makkah. In reply to the warnings of the seer, they had challenged him to hasten on his judgments.
These charges had not failed to rouse the resentment of Muhammad. He did not now hesitate to call the chief of his opponents “a common swearer,” “a transgressor, a wicked person, cruel, and, besides this, of spurious birth.” He even threatens him with a mark on a prominent part of his face!
The preacher of Makkah had been rejected, and his unbelieving hearers were ready to treat him with violence (ver. 51).
Probable Date of the Revelations.
This chapter is regarded by ancient Muslim writers as the oldest, or at least the second revelation of the Qurán. There is, however, little to give credence to their dictum. On the contrary, there is good reason to believe that this chapter does not even belong to the very early period of Muhammad’s ministry assigned it by Noëldeke and Rodwell. The attitude of the Quraish (vers. 8 and 51), especially of the notable person mentioned in vers. 10-16, is not that of the earliest period of Muhammad’s prophetic history. The same is true of the attitude of the preacher towards his townsmen, apparent in vers. 16 and 48. At the same time, the absence of any notice of violence towards Muslims (which notice would assuredly have been recorded in a chapter specifying the crimes of the unbelievers), proves Muir’s date (fourth stage) to be too late. We would fix the date about the fourth year of Muhammad’s ministry.
IN THE NAME OF THE MOST MERCIFUL GOD.
∥ (1) N. By the pen, and what they write, (2) thou, O Muhammad, through the grace of thy Lord,art not distracted. (3) Verily there is prepared for thee an everlasting reward: (4) for thou art of a noble disposition. (5) Thou shalt see, and the infidels shall see, (6) which of you are bereaved of your senses. (7) Verily thy Lord well knoweth him who wandereth from his path; and he well knoweth those who are rightly directed; (8) wherefore obey not those who charge thee with imposture. (9) They desire that thou shouldest be easy with them, and they will be easy with thee.(10) But obey not any who is a common swearer, a despicable fellow,(11) a defamer, going about with slander, (12) who forbiddeth that which is good, who is also a transgressor, (13) a wicked person, cruel, and besides this, of spurious birth; (14) although he be possessed of wealth and many children; (15) when our signs are rehearsed unto him, he saith, They are fables of the ancients. (16) We will stigmatise him on the nose. (17) Verily we have tried the Makkans, as we formerly tried the owners of the garden, when they swore that they would gather the fruit thereof in the morning, (18) and added not the exception, if it please God: (19) wherefore a surrounding destruction from thy Lord encompassed it while they slept; (20) and in the morning it became like a garden whose fruits had been gathered. (21) And they called the one to the other as they rose in the morning, (22) saying, Go out early to your plantation, if ye intend to gather the fruit thereof: (23) so they went on, whispering to one another, (24) No poor man shall enter the garden upon you this day. (25) And they went forth early, with a determined purpose. (26) And when they saw the garden blasted and destroyed they said, We have certainly mistaken our way: (27)but when they found it to be their own garden they cried, Verily we are not permitted to reap the fruit thereof. (28) The worthier of them said, Did I not say unto you, Will ye not give praise unto God? (29) They answered, Praise be unto our Lord! Verily we have been unjust doers. (30) And they began to blame one another, (31) and they said, Woe be unto us! verily we have been transgressors: (32) peradventure our Lord will give us in exchange a better garden than this: and we earnestly beseech our Lordto pardon us. (33) Thus is the chastisement of this life: but the chastisement of the next shall be more grievous: if they had known it, they would have taken heed. (34) Verily for the pious are prepared, with their Lord, gardens of delight.
∥ (35) Shall we deal with the Muslims as with the wicked? (36) What aileth you that ye judge thus? (37) Have ye a book from heaven wherein ye read (38) that ye are therein promised that which ye shall choose? (39) Or have ye received oaths which shall be binding upon us to the day of resurrection, that ye shall enjoy what ye imagine? (40) Ask them which of them will be the voucher of this. (41) Or have they companions who will vouch for them? Let them produce their companions, therefore, if they speak truth. (42) On a certain day the leg shall be made bare, and they shall be called upon to worship, but they shall not be able. (43) Their looks shall be cast down: ignominy shall attend them; for that they were invited to the worship of God while they were in safety, but would not hear.(44) Let me alone, therefore, with him who accuseth this new revelation of imposture. We will lead them gradually to destruction, by ways which they know not, (45) and I will bear with them for a long time; for my stratagem is effectual. (46) Dost thou ask them any reward for thy preaching? But they are laden with debts. (47)Are the secrets of futurity with them; and do they transcribe the same from the table of God’s decrees?(48) Wherefore, patiently wait the judgment of thy Lord: and be not like him who was swallowed by the fish, when he cried unto God, being inwardly vexed. (49) Had not grace from his Lord reached him, he had surely been cast forth on the naked shore, covered with shame: (50) but his Lord chose him, and made him one of the righteous. (51) It wanteth little but that the unbelievers strike thee down with their malicious looks, when they hear the admonition of the Qurán; and they say, He is certainly distracted: (52) but it is no other than an admonition unto all creatures.
[(1) ]N. “This letter is sometimes made the title of the chapter, but its meaning is confessedly uncertain. They who suppose it stands for the word Nún are not agreed as to its signification in this place; for it is not only the name of the letter N in Arabic, but signifies also ‘an inkhorn’ and ‘a fish.’ Some are of opinion the former signification is the most proper here, as consonant to what is immediately mentioned of ‘the pen’ and ‘writing;’ and, considering that the blood of certain ‘fish’ is good ink, not inconsistent with the latter signification; which is, however, preterred by others, saying that either the whole species of ‘fish’ in general is thereby intended, or the fish which swallowed Jonas (who is mentioned in this chapter), or else that vast one called Behemoth, fancied to support the earth, in particular. Those who acquiesce in none of the foregoing explications have invented others of their own, and imagine this character stands for the ‘table of God’s decrees’ or ‘one of the rivers in Paradise,’ &c.”—Sale, Zamaḳshari, Baidháwi, Yahya.
[(4) ]A noble disposition. “In that thou hast borne with so much patience and resignation the wrongs and insults of thy people, which have been greater than those offered to any apostle before thee.”—Sale, Baidháwi.
[(8) ]See notes on chap. xxii. 53.
[(9) ]“That is, if thou wilt let them alone in their idolatry and other wicked practices, they will cease to revile and persecute thee.”—Sale.
[(10-13) ]“The person at whom this passage was particularly levelled is generally supposed to have been Muhammad’s inveterate enemy, al Walíd Ibn al Mughaira, whom, to complete his character, he calls ‘bastard,’ because al Mughaira did not own him for his son till he was eighteen years of age. Some, however, think it was al Aḳhnas Ibn Shuraik, who was really of the tribe of Thakíf, though reputed to be that of Zahra.”—Sale, Jaláluddín.
[(15) ]Fables, &c. See note on chap. xxi. 5.
[(16) ]The nose. “Which, being the most conspicuous part of the face, a mark set thereon is attended with the utmost ignominy. It is said that this prophetical menace was actually made good, al Walíd having his nose slit by a sword at the battle of Badr, the mark of which wound he carried with him to his grave.”—Sale, Jaláluddín.
[(17) ]We have tried the Makkans. “By afflicting them with a grievous famine.”—Sale. See chap. xxiii. 65.
[(27) ]We are not permitted. See note on chap. lvi. 66.
[(30) ]Began to blame. “For one advised this expedition, another approved of it, a third gave consent by his silence, but the fourth was absolutely against it.”—Sale, Baidháwi.
[(35) ]“This passage was revealed in answer to the infidels, who said, ‘If we shall be raised again, as Muhammed and his followers imagine, they will not excel us; but we shall certainly be in a better condition than they in the next world, as we are in this.’ ”—Sale, Baidháwi.
[(41) ]Companions. “Or, as some interpret the word, ‘idols;’ which can make their condition in the next life equal to that of the Muslims.”—Sale.
[(42) ]The leg shall be made bare. “This expression is used to signify a grievous and terrible calamity; thus they say, ‘War has made bare the leg,’ when they would express the fury and rage of battle.”—Sale, Baidháwi.
[(44) ]We will lead them gradually, &c., i.e., “by granting them long life and prosperity in this world, which will deceive them to their ruin.”—Sale.
[(47) ]See chap. lii. 38-41.
[(48) ]Him who was swallowed by the fish. Jonah. See note on chap. xxi. 87.