Chapter Scripts

Surah Al-Nahl: 16:51-60

16:51 And God has said: “Do not take to worshipping two [or more] deities. He is the One and Only God: hence, of Me, of Me alone stand in awe!”


i.e., in the midst of their habitual occupations. My interpolation of the word “suddenly” is warranted by the reference, in the next verse, to the alternative of gradual decay.

16:52 And His is all that is in the heavens and on earth, and to Him [alone] obedience is always due: will you, then, pay reverence to aught but Him?


One of the meanings of takhawwuf is “gradual diminution” or “decay” or “slow destruction” (Lisan al-‘Arab, art. khawafa; thus also Tabari and Zamakhshari); in the above context, the term has obviously both a social and a moral connotation: a gradual disintegration of all ethical values, of power, of civic cohesion, of happiness, and, finally, of life itself

16:53 For, whatever good thing comes to you, comes from God; and whenever harm befalls you, it is unto Him that you cry for help. 


Sc., “seeing that He offers you guidance through His prophets, and gives you time to reflect and mend your ways before you do irreparable harm to yourselves”.

16:54 Yet as soon as He has removed the harm from you, lo! some of you [begin to] ascribe to other powers a share in their Sustainer’s divinity. 


In view of the separate mention, in the next verse, of animals and angels, the “things” referred to here apparently denote inanimate objects and perhaps also living organisms like plants.

16:55 [As if] to prove their ingratitude for all that We have granted them! Enjoy, then, your [brief] life: but in time you will come to know [the truth]!


Lit., “and they are utterly lowly” or “submissive”. The “prostration” referred to in this and the next verse is obviously a symbolism expressing the intrinsic subjection of all created beings and things to God’s will. See also 13:15 and the corresponding notes 33 and 34.

16:56 As it is, they ascribe – out of what We provide for them as sustenance – a share unto things of which they know nothing. By God, you shall most certainly be called to account for all your false imagery!


i.e., the lowest as well as the highest. The term dabbah denotes any sentient, corporeal being capable of spontaneous movement, and is contrasted here with the non-corporeal, spiritual beings designated as “angels” (Razi).

16:57 And [thus, too,] they ascribe daughters unto God, who is limitless in His glory – whereas for themselves [they would choose, if they could, only] what they desire. 


i.e., they must, by virtue of their nature, obey the impulses implanted in them by God and are, therefore, incapable of what is described as “sinning”. Man, however, is fundamentally different in this respect. In contrast with the natural sinlessness of “every beast that moves, and the angels”, man is endowed with free will in the moral sense of this term: he can choose between right and wrong and therefore he can, and often does, sin. But even while he sins he is subject to the universal law of cause and effect instituted by God and referred to in the Qur’an as Sunnat Allah (“God’s way”): hence the Qur’anic statement that “before God prostrate themselves, willingly or unwillingly, all [things and beings] that are in the heavens and on earth” (13:15).

16:58 For, whenever any of them is given the glad tiding of [the birth of] a girl, his face darkens, and he is filled with suppressed anger. 


The double dual in ilahayn ithnayn (“two deities”) serves to emphasize the prohibition of worshipping “more than one deity”- i.e., anything but the One God.

16:59 Avoiding all people because of the [alleged] evil of the glad tiding which he has received, [and debating within himself:] Shall he keep this [child] despite the contempt [which he feels for it] – or shall he bury it in the dust? Old, evil indeed is whatever they decide! 


This is a striking example of the fluctuation to which personal pronouns are subjected in the Qur’an whenever they refer to God. As already pointed out in my Foreword, note 2. as well as in other places, such abrupt changes of pronoun (“He”, “I”, “We”, “Us”, “Me”, etc.) indicate that God is limitless and, therefore, beyond the range of definition implied in the use of “personal” pronouns.

16:60 [Thus it is that] the attribute of evil applies to all who do not believe in the life to come – whereas unto God applies the attribute of all that is most sublime: for He alone is almighty, truly wise!


Cf. 6:40-41.


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.
Back to top button