Chapter Scripts

Surah Al-Isra’: 17:31-40

17:31 Hence, do not kill your children for fear of poverty: it is We who shall provide sustenance for them as well as for you. Verily, killing them is a great sin.


Regarding this expression, see surah 2, note 145.

17:32 And do not commit adultery” – for, behold, it is an abomination and an evil way.


Lit., “with [utter] squandering” (tabdhiran), i.e., senselessly and to no good purpose. It is to be borne in mind that the term tabdhir does not relate to the quantity but, rather, to the purpose of one’s spending. Thus, Ibn ‘Abbas and Ibn Mas’ud (both of them quoted by Tabari) defined tabdhir as “spending without a righteous purpose” or “in a frivolous (batil) cause”: and Mujahid is reported (ibid.) to have said, “If a man were to spend all that he possesses in a righteous cause, it could not be termed squandering; but if he spends even a small amount in a frivolous cause, it is squandering.”

17:33 And do not take any human being’s life – [the life] which God has willed to be, sacred – otherwise than in [the pursuit of] justice.” Hence, if anyone has been slain wrongfully, We have empowered the defender of his rights [to exact a just retribution] ; but even so, let him not exceed the bounds of equity in the [retributive] killing. [And as for him who has been slain wrongfully -] behold, he is indeed succored [by God]!


Since squandering – in the sense explained in the preceding note – implies an utter lack of gratitude for the gift of sustenance bestowed by God upon man, the squanderers are described as being “of the ilk [lit., “brethren”] of the satans”. Regarding the deeper meaning of the terms “satans” and “satanic”, see surah 15, note 16.

17:34 And do not touch the substance of an orphan, save to improve it, before he comes of age. And be true to every promise – for, verily, [on Judgment Day] you will be called to account for every promise which you have made!


i.e., “because thou art thyself in want, and therefore unable to help others”.

17:35 And give full measure whenever you measure and weigh with a balance that is true: this will be [for your own] good, and best in the end.


A metaphor signifying miserliness and, in particular, unwillingness to help others (cf. a similar expression in 5:64).

17:36 And never concern thyself with anything of which thou hast no knowledge: verily, [thy] hearing and sight and heart – all of them – will be called to account for it [on Judgment Day]!


Historically, this may be a reference to the pre-Islamic Arabian custom of burying unwanted female children alive (see note 4 on 81:8-9), as well as to the occasional – though much rarer – sacrifices of male children to some of their gods (see Zamakhshari’s comments on 6:137). Beyond this, however, the above prohibition has a timeless validity inasmuch as it relates also to abortions undertaken “for fear of poverty”, i.e., on purely economic grounds.

17:37 And walk not on earth with haughty self-conceit: for, verily, thou canst never rend the earth asunder, nor canst thou ever grows as tall as the mountains!


Lit., “do not come near adultery”, thus intensifying the prohibition. It is to be noted that the term zina signifies all sexual intercourse between a man and a woman who are not husband and wife, irrespective of whether either of them is married to another partner or not; hence, it denotes both “adultery” and “fornication” in the English senses of these terms.

17:38 The evil of all this is odious in thy Sustainer’s sight


i.e., in the execution of a legal sentence or in a just war (see 2:190 and the corresponding note 167), or an individual; legitimate self-defense.

17:39 This is part of that knowledge of right and wrong with which thy Sustainer has inspired thee. Hence, do not set up any other deity side by side with God, lest thou be cast into hell, blamed [by thyself] and rejected [by Him]!


This refers to the legal punishment for homicide, termed qisas (“just retribution”) and explained in 2:178 and the corresponding notes. In the present context, the term wall (“protector” or “defender of [one’s] rights”) is usually taken to mean the heir or next of kin of the victim; Zamakhshari, however, observes that it may also apply to the government (as-sultan): an interpretation which is obviously based on the concept of the government as the “protector” or “defender of the rights” of all its citizens. As regards the expression qutila mazlaman (“slain wrongfully”), it is obvious that it refers only to cases of wilful homicide, since the concept of zulm applies in the Qur’an exclusively to intentional and never to accidental wrongdoing.

17:40 Has, Then, your Sustainer distinguished you by [giving you] sons, and taken unto Himself daughters in the guise of angels? Verily, you are uttering a dreadful saying!


Thus, the defender of the victim’s rights (in this case, a court of justice) is not only not entitled to impose a capital sentence on any but the actual murderer or murderers, but may also, if the case warrants it, concede mitigating circumstances and refrain from capital punishment altogether.


The divine scriptures are God’s beacons to the world. Surely God offered His trust to the heavens and the earth, and the hills, but they shrank from bearing it and were afraid of it. And man undertook it.
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