74:11 Leave Me alone [to deal] with him whom I have created alone.
74:12 And to whom I have granted resources vast.
The term sihr, which usually denotes “sorcery” or “magic”, primarily signifies “the turning of something from its proper [or “natural”] state of being into another state”; hence, it is often applied to the fascination or enchantment caused by exceptional, “spellbinding” eloquence (Taj al-‘Arus). In its pejorative sense – as used by deniers of the truth to describe a divine message – it has also the connotation of wilful deception” or “delusion”.
74:13 And children as [love’s] witnesses.
This is unquestionably the earliest instance of the term saqar (“hell-fire”‘), one of the seven metaphorical names given in the Qur’an to the concept of the suffering in the hereafter which man brings upon himself by sinning and deliberately remaining blind and deaf, in this world, to spiritual truths (cf. surah 15, note 33). The allegorical character of this and all other Qur’anic descriptions of man’s condition and destiny in the hereafter is clearly alluded to in the subsequent verse as well as in verses 28 ff.
74:14 And to whose life I gave so wide a scope.
Most of the commentators interpret the above elliptic phrase in the sense of “changing the appearance of man” or “scorching the skin of man”. The rendering adopted by me, on the other hand, is based on the primary significance of the verb laha – “it appeared”, “it shone forth” or “it became visible”. Hence, the primary meaning of the intensive participial noun lawwah is “that which makes [something] visible”. In the above context, it relates to the sinner’s belated cognition of the truth, as well as to his distressing insight into his own nature, his past failings and deliberate wrongdoings, and the realization of his own responsibility for the suffering that is now in store for him: a state neither of life nor of death (cf. 87:12-13).
74:15 And yet, he greedily desires that I give yet more!
Whereas most of the classical commentators are of the opinion that the “nineteen”‘ are the angels that act as keepers or guardians of hell, Razi advances the view that we may have here a reference to the physical, intellectual and emotional powers within man himself: powers which raise man potentially far above any other creature, but which, if used wrongly, bring about a deterioration of his whole personality and, hence, intense suffering in the life to come. According to Razi, the philosophers (arbab alhikmah) identify these powers or faculties with, firstly, the seven organic functions of the animal – and therefore also human-body (gravitation, cohesion, repulsion of noxious foreign matter, absorption of beneficent external matter, assimilation of nutrients, growth, and reproduction); secondly, the five “external” or physical senses (sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste); thirdly, the five “internal” or intellectual senses, defined by Ibn Sina – on whom Razi apparently relies – as (1) perception of isolated sense images, (2) conscious apperception of ideas, (3) memory of sense-images, (4) memory of conscious apperceptions, and (5) the ability to correlate sense-images and higher apperceptions; and, lastly, the emotions of desire or aversion (resp. fear or anger), which have their roots in both the “external” and “internal” sense categories – thus bringing the total of the powers and faculties which preside over man’s spiritual fate to nineteen. In their aggregate, it is these powers that confer upon man the ability to think conceptually and place him, in this respect, even above the angels (cf. 2:30 ff. and the corresponding notes; see also the following note).
74:16 Nay, Verily, it is against Our messages that he knowingly, stubbornly sets himself.
Since it is by virtue of his powers of conscious perception and conceptual thinking that man can arrive at a discriminating cognition of good and evil and, thus, rise to great spiritual heights, these powers are described here as “angelic” (lit., “angels” – this being the earliest occurrence of the term malak in the history of Qur’anic revelation). On the other hand, since neglect or deliberately wrong use of these angelic powers is at the root of all sinning on the part of man and, therefore, of his suffering in the hereafter, they are spoken of as “the lords (ashab) of the fire [of hell]”, which complements the expression “over it”‘ in the preceding verse.
74:17 [And so] I shall constrain him to endure a painful uphill climb!
This is apparently an allusion to the allegorical character of this passage, which “those who are bent on denying the truth” are unwilling to recognize as such and, hence, fail to grasp its real purport. By speculating on the reasons which allegedly induced Muhammad – whom they regard as the “author” of the Qur’an – to lay ~tress on one particular number, they tend to take the allegory in a literal sense, thus missing its point entirely.
74:18 Behold, [when Our messages are conveyed to one who is bent on denying the truth] he reflects and meditates [as to how to disprove them].
Namely, by being enabled, through an understanding of the above allegory, to appreciate the rational approach of the Qur’an to all questions of faith. The reference to “those who have been granted revelation aforetime is the earliest statement outlining the principle of continuity in mankind’s religious experience.
74:19 And thus he destroys himself, the way he meditates.
i.e., in this instance, the half-hearted ones who, despite their ability to discern between right and wrong, incline towards unbelief.
74:20 Yeah, he destroys himself, the way he meditates!
Cf. the identical phrase in 2:26, together with the corresponding note 18. My interpolation, in both these passages, of the word “your” between brackets, are necessitated by the fact that it is the unbelievers who ask this question.