17:71 [But] One Day We shall summon all human beings [and judge them] according to the conscious disposition which governed their deeds [in life]: whereupon they whose record shall be placed in their right hand – it is they who will read their record [with happiness]. Yet none shall be wronged by as much as a hair’s breadth.
This highly elliptic sentence has a fundamental bearing on the purport of the Qur’an as a whole. In many places, the Qur’an stresses the fact that the Prophet Muhammad, despite his being the last and greatest of God’s apostles, was not empowered to perform miracles similar to those with which the earlier prophets are said to have reinforced their verbal messages. His only miracle was and is the Qur’an itself – a message perfect in its lucidity and ethical comprehensiveness, destined for all times and all stages of human development, addressed not merely to the feelings but also to the minds of men, open to everyone, whatever his race or social environment, and bound to remain unchanged forever. Since the earlier prophets invariably appealed to their own community and their own time alone, their teachings were, of necessity, circumscribed by the social and intellectual conditions of that particular community and time; and since the people to whom they addressed themselves had not yet reached the stage of independent thinking, those prophets stood in need of symbolic portents or miracles (see surah 6, note 94) in order to make the people concerned to realize the inner truth of their mission. The message of the Qur’an, on the other hand, was revealed at a time when mankind (and, in particular, that part of it which inhabited the regions marked by the earlier, Judaeo-Christian religious development) had reached a degree of maturity which henceforth enabled it to grasp an ideology as such without the aid of those persuasive portents and miraculous demonstrations which in the past, as the above verse points out, only too often gave rise to new, grave misconceptions.
17:72 For whoever is blind [of heart] in this [world] will be blind in the life to come [as well], and still farther astray from the path [of truth].
See the second paragraph of 7:73 and the corresponding note 57. Although there is absolutely no indication in the Qur’an that the she-camel referred to was of miraculous origin, it was meant to be a test for the people of Thamud (cf. 54:27), and thus a “light-giving portent” (mubsirah).
17:73 And, behold, they [who have gone astray] endeavor to tempt thee away from all [the truth] with which We have inspired thee, [O Prophet] with a view to making thee invent something else in Our name – in which case they would surely have made thee their friend!
The vision (ru’ya) mentioned here is the Prophet’s experience of the Ascension, preceded by the Night Journey (see Appendix IV). Inasmuch as this experience was and is open to most conflicting interpretations and, hence, may give rise to doubts regarding its objective reality, it becomes – as stated in the sequence – “a trial for men”: the weak of faith and the superficial are shaken in their belief in Muhammad’s veracity and, thus, in his prophethood; whereas those who firmly believe in God see in it extraordinary evidence of the spiritual grace which He bestows on His chosen ones, and are, therefore, strengthened in their faith in the message of the Qur’an.
17:74 And had We not made thee firm [in faith], thou might have inclined to them a little.
As regards “the tree cursed in this Qur’an”, there is no doubt that it is the “tree of deadly fruit” (shajarat az-zaqqum) spoken of in 37:62 ff. and 44:43 ff. as one of the manifestations of hell (see 37:62-63 and the corresponding notes 22 and 23, the latter of which explains why this “tree” has become “a trial for men”). In the above context, it is described as “cursed” because it obviously symbolizes hell itself. The reason why only “hell” – and no other manifestation of the hereafter – is specifically alluded to here becomes evident in the subsequent statement that it is meant to convey a warning.
17:75 In which case We would indeed have made thee taste double [chastisement] in life and double [chastisement] after death, and thou wouldst have found none to succor thee against Us!
For an explanation of the allegory of Adam and the angels, see 2:30-34, 7:11-18, and 15:26-41, as well as the corresponding notes. In the present instance, as in Al-A’raf and Al-Hijr, the accent is on the contempt of Iblis for Adam (which is obviously a metonym for the whole human race): hence, this passage apparently connects with the end of verse 53 above – “verily, Satan is man’s open foe!” The stress on man’s dignity – expressed in God’s commandment to the aangels to “prostrate themselves before Adam” – links this allegory with verses 70-72.
17:76 And [since they see that they cannot persuade thee,] they endeavor to estrange thee from the land [of thy birth] with a view to driving thee away from it – but, then, after thou wilt has left, they themselves will not remain [in it] for more than a little while.
Cf. 7:16-17. The verb hanaka denotes, literally, “he put a rope around the lower jaw (hanak) [of a horse]”, i.e., in order to lead it; hence, the form ihtanaka means “he made [another being] follow him submissively” or “obey him blindly”.
17:77 [Such has been Our] way with all of Our apostles whom We sent before thy time; and no change wilt thou find in Our ways.
This is an idiomatically established metaphor, signifying “with all thy might”.
17:78 Be constant in [thy] prayer from the time when the sun has passed its zenith till the darkness of night, and [be ever mindful of its] recitation at dawn: for, behold, the recitation [of prayer] at dawn is indeed witnessed [by all that is holy].
An allusion to possessions acquired by sinful means or spent on sinful purposes, and to the begetting of children through fornication or adultery. (It must, however, be pointed out that in the ethics and the canon law of Islam no moral stigma and no legal disability whatever attaches to the child thus begotten).
17:79 And rise from thy sleep and pray during part of the night [as well], as a free offering from thee, and thy Sustainer may well raise thee to a glorious station [in the life to come].
Cf. 4:120 and the corresponding note 142.
17:80 And say [in thy prayer]: “O my Sustainer! Cause me to enter [upon whatever I may do] in a manner true and sincere, and cause me to leave [it] in a manner true and sincere, and grant me, out of Thy grace, sustaining strength!”
i.e., “thou shalt have no real power over them”, as brought out in 14:22 and 15:42.