Chapter Scripts

Surah An-Najm 53:11-20

53:11 The [servant’s] heart did not give the lie to what he saw.


Lit., “when the lote-tree was veiled with whatever veiled [it]”: a phrase deliberately vague (mubham), indicative of the inconceivable majesty and splendor attaching to this symbol of paradise “which no description can picture and no definition can embrace” (Zamakhshari).

53:12 Will you, then, contend with him as to what he saw?


Lit., “[some] of the greatest of his Sustainer’s symbols (ayat)”. For this specific rendering of the term ayah, see note 2 on 17:1, which refers to the same mystic experience, namely, the Ascension. In both these Qur’anic allusions the Prophet is said to have been “made to see” (i.e., given to understand) some, but not all, of the ultimate truths (cf. also 7:187-188); and this, too, serves to explain the idea expressed in verse 10 above.

53:13 And, indeed, he saw him a second time. 


After pointing out that the Prophet was granted true insight into some of the most profound verities, the Qur’an draws our attention to the “false symbols” which men so often choose to invest with divine qualities or powers: in this instance by way of example – to the blasphemous imagery of the Prophet’s pagan contemporaries epitomized in the triad of Al-Lat, Manat and Al-‘Uzza, These three goddesses – regarded by the pagan Arabs as “God’s daughters” side by side with the angels (who, too, were conceived of as females) – were worshipped in most of pre-Islamic Arabia, and had several shrines in the Hijaz and in Najd. The worship of Al-Lat was particularly ancient and almost certainly of South-Arabian origin; she may have been the prototype of the Greek semi-goddess Leto, one of the wives of Zeus and mother of Apollo and Artemis.

53:14 By the lote-tree of the farthest limit.


In view of the contempt which the pagan Arabs felt for their female offspring (cf. 16:57-59 and 62, as well as the corresponding notes), their attribution of “daughters” to God was particularly absurd and self-contradictory: for, quite apart from the blasphemous belief in God’s having “offspring” of any kind, their ascribing to Him what they themselves despised gave the lie to their alleged “reverence” for Him whom they, too, regarded as the Supreme Being – a point which is stressed with irony in the next sentence.

53:15 Near unto the garden of promise. 


Cf. 12:40.

53:16 With the lote-tree veiled in a veil of nameless splendour….


An allusion to the pagan idea that those goddesses, as well as the angels, would act as “mediators” between their worshippers and God: a wishful idea that lingers on even among adherents of higher religions in the guise of veneration of saints and deified persons.

53:17 [And withal] the eye did not waver, nor yet did it stray.


Lit., “Is it for man to have …”, etc.

53:18 Truly did he see some of the most profound of his Sustainer’s symbols.


i.e., despite the fact (which is the meaning of the particle Ia in this context) that God is omnipotent and omniscient and does not, therefore, require any “mediator” between Himself and His creatures.

53:19 Have you, then, ever considered [what you are worshipping in] Al-Lat and Al-‘Uzza.


For an explanation of the Qur’anic concept of “intercession”, see note 7 on 10:3, as well as notes 26 and 27 on 10:18.

53:20 As well as [in] Manat, the third and last [of this triad]?


Lit., “that name the angels with a female name” – i.e., think of them as being endowed with sex and/or as being “God’s daughters”. As the Qur’an points out in many places, the people spoken of in this context do believe in life after death, inasmuch as they express the hope that the angels and the imaginary deities which they worship will “mediate” between them and God, and wil~ “intercede” for them. However, their belief is far too vague to make them realize that the quality of man’s life in the hereafter does not depend on such outside factors but is causally, and directly, connected with the manner of his life in this world: and so the Qur’an declares that their attitude is, for all practical purposes, not much different from the attitude of people who reject the idea of a hereafter 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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