21:11 For, how many a community that persisted in evildoing have We dashed into fragments, and raised another people in its stead!
i.e., their believing followers.
21:12 And [every time] as soon as they began to feel Our punishing might, lo! they tried to flee from it.
As regards my rendering of al-musrifun as “those who had wasted their own selves”, see note 21 on the last sentence of 10:12.
21:13 (And at the same time they seemed to hear a scornful voice]: “Do not try to flee, but return to all that [once] gave you pleasure and corrupted your whole being. and [return] to your homes, so that you might be called to account [for what you have done]!
The term dhikr, which primarily denotes a “reminder” or a “remembrance”, or, as Raghib defines it, the “presence [of something] in the mind”, has also the meaning of “that by which one is remembered”, i.e., with praise – in other words, “renown” or “fame” – and, tropically, “honor”, “eminence” or “dignity”. Hence, the above phrase contains, apart from the concept of a “reminder”, an indirect allusion to the dignity and happiness to which man may attain by following the spiritual and social precepts laid down in the Qur’an. By rendering the expression dhikrukum as “all that you ought to bear in mind”, I have tried to bring out all these meanings.
21:14 And they could only cry: “Oh, woe unto us! Verily, we were wrongdoers!”
Lit., “after it”.
21:15 And that cry of theirs did not cease until We caused them to become [like] a field mown down, still and silent as ashes.
For an explanation of the phrase ma utriftum fihi, see surah 11, note 147.
21:16 And [know that] We have not created the heavens and the earth and all that is between them in mere idle play.
The Qur’an does not say whose words these are, but the tenor of this passage indicates, I believe, that it is the scornful, self-accusing voice of the sinners’ own conscience: hence my interpolation, between brackets, at the beginning of this verse.
21:17 [For] had We willed to indulge in a pastime, We would indeed have produced it from within Ourselves – if such had been Our will at all!
Lit., “They said”.
21:18 Nay, but [by the very act of creation] We hurl the truth against falsehood, and it crushes the latter: and lo! it withers away. But woe unto you for all your [attempts at] defining [God].
Lit playing or “playfully”, i.e., without meaning and purpose: see note 11 on 10:5.
21:19 For, unto Him belong all [beings] that are in the heavens and on earth; and those that are with Him are never too proud to worship Him and never grow weary [thereof].
Lit. “if We had [ever] willed to do so”: meaning that, had God ever willed to “indulge in a pastime (which being almighty and self-sufficient, He has no need to do), He could have found it within His Own Self, without any necessity to create a universe which would embody His hypothetical and logically inconceivable – will to “please Himself”, and would thus represent a projection, as it were, of His Own Being. In the elliptic manner of the Qur’an, the above passage amounts to a statement of God’s transcendence.
21:20 They extol His limitless glory by night and by day, never flagging [therein).
i.e., the truth of God’s transcendence against the false idea of His existential immanence in, or co-existence with, the created universe.