Chapter Scripts

Surah Al-Muddaththir 74:21-30

74:21 And then he looks [around for new arguments]. 


Or: “God lets go astray whomever He wills, and guides aright whomever He wills” (see surah 14, note 4). The stress on the allegorical nature of the above passage, spoken of as a “parable” (mathal), has here the same purpose as in 2:26 – namely, to prevent the followers of the Qur’an from attaching a literal meaning to its eschatological descriptions – a purpose that is unmistakably expressed in the concluding sentence of this passage: “All this is but a reminder to mortal man”. (See also next note.)

74:22 And then he frowns and glares.


Lit., “it” or “these” – depending on whether the personal pronoun hiya is taken to denote a singular – in which case it would refer to the feminine noun saqar, “hell-fire” (Tabari, Zamakhshari, Baghawi, Ibn Kathir) – or plural, referring to what Razi pinpoints as “those [Qur’anic] verses dealing with these allegories (hadhihi ‘l-mutashabihat)”: hence my compromise rendering “all this”.

74:23 And in the end he turns his back [on Our message], and glories in his arrogance.


This is the earliest Qur’anic instance of the adjurative particle wa used in the sense of a solemn, oathlike assertion – a calling to witness, as it were – meant (as in the expression “by God!”) to give weight to a subsequently stated truth or evidence of the truth: hence, I am rendering it here and elsewhere as “consider”. In the present case, the truth thus to be stressed is the implied statement that just as the changing phases of the moon and the alternation of night and day are the outcomes of Godgiven, natural laws, so, too, a sinner’s suffering in the hereafter is but a natural outcome of his deliberate wrongdoing in this world. (See also note 7 on 2:7.)

74:24 And says “All this is mere spellbinding eloquence handed down [from olden times]!


Lit., “any of you who chooses…”, etc. – i.e., irrespective of whether one has chosen to follow or to disregard the divine call: implying that even true believers may stumble into sinning, and hence need to be warned.

74:25 This is nothing but the word of mortal man!”


Lit., “those [or “the people”] on the right hand” (ashab al-yamin), an expression based on the tropical significance of yamin as “righteous” or “righteousness” and consequently, “blessedness”. The above is probably the oldest Qur’anic incidence of this expression, which evidently comprises all those whose conduct in life will have earned them God’s forgiveness of whatever sins they may have committed.

74:26 [Hence] I shall cause him to endure hell-fire [in the life to come]!


In view of the fact that at the time of the revelation of this very early surah the canonical prayer (salah) had not yet been made obligatory on the followers of the Qur’an, it is reasonable to assume that in the above context this term is used in its widest sense, namely, conscious belief in God.

74:27 And what could make thee conceive what hell-fire is?


Lit., “the intercession of intercessors” – implying that there would be none to intercede for them with God. As regards the much-misunderstood Islamic concept of “intercession”, see 10:3 – “there is none that could intercede with Him unless He grants His leave therefor” – and the corresponding note 7

74:28 It does not allow to live, and neither leaves [to die]. 


i.e., with so many people who refuse to listen to the truth.

74:29 Making [all truth] visible to mortal man.


Lit., “every one of them wants to be given wide-open scriptures”, or “scriptures unfolded” (i.e., open to everyone’s understanding): cf. 2:118 – “Why does not God speak unto us, nor is a message conveyed to us?” – i.e., directly, without the intervention of a prophet. The above is the earliest illustration of the “arrogance” or “false pride” to which the Qur’an so often refers.

74:30 Over it are nineteen [powers]. 


Namely, unless He bestows His grace on them by making their minds and hearts receptive to the truth, so that they are compelled – from within themselves, as it were – to make the right choice. (See also note 11 on 81:28-29, as well as note 4 on 14:4).


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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