55:21 Which, then, of your Sustainer’s powers can you disavow?
For my rendering of hamim as “burning despair”, see note 62 on the last sentence of 6:70. The allegorical nature of all Qur’anic descriptions of “rewards” and “punishments” in the hereafter is clearly hinted at in the phrasing of the above verse, which speaks of the sinners’ “wandering to and fro” between hell and burning despair (baynaha wa-bayna hamim) – i.e., tossed between factual suffering and the despair of vain regrets.
55:22 Dust of these two [bodies of water] come forth pearls, both great and small.
i.e., two kinds of paradise, to be experienced simultaneously. Various interpretations are advanced on this score by the classical commentators: e.g., “a paradise for their doing of good deeds, and another paradise for their avoidance of sins” (Zamakhshari); or a paradise that “will comprise both spiritual and physical joys, [so that it will seem] as if it were two paradises” (Razi). Finally, one might conclude that the pointed reference to the “two gardens” of paradise contains – like the preceding reference to the sinners – wandering between hell and burning despair” – a pointed allusion to the allegorical character of all descriptions of the life to come, as well as to the inexpressible intensity (or multiplication) of all imaginable and unimaginable sensations in that afterlife. The subsequent descriptions of the joys of paradise must be understood in the same symbolic light.
55:23 Which, then, of your Sustainer’s powers can you disavow?
According to Tabari, the noun fann (lit., “mode” or “manner”) is in this case synonymous with lawn (“color” or “hue”). Afnan is a double plural, and hence denotes “many hues”; and since – as pointed out in the Taj al-‘Arus – one of the several accepted meanings of fann is “a wonderful thing”, afnan can also be understood as many wonderful things”. The rendering adopted by me combines both these interpretations. – As regards the indescribable nature of what is termed “paradise”, see 32:17 and the corresponding note 15.
55:24 And His are the lofty ships that sail like [floating] mountains through the seas.
The “two springs” of paradise call to mind the “two seas” spoken of in 18:60-61, which, according to Baydawi, symbolize the two sources or streams of knowledge accessible to man: the one obtained through the observation and intellectual analysis of external phenomena (‘ilm az-zahir), and the other through inward, mystic insight (‘ilm al-batin).
55:25 Which, then, of your Sustainer’s powers can you disavow?
Zamakhshari: “a kind that is known and a kind that is strange (gharrb)” – i.e., cognitions or sensations that are imaginable on the basis of our experiences in the present life, and such as are, as yet, unimaginable to us, and can, therefore, be only hinted at by means of symbols or allegories, Regarding the concept of “allegory” as such, see 3:7 and the corresponding note 8.
55:26 All that lives on earth or in the heavens is bound to pass away.
Cf. 18:31 and the corresponding note 41. The “reclining upon carpets” (or “upon couches” in 18:31) is a symbol of utter restfulness and peace of mind. The mention of the “carpets” of paradise being lined with rich brocade is perhaps meant to convey the idea that – just as the lining of a carpet is, as a rule, invisible – the beauty of paradise has nothing to do with outward show, being of inner, spiritual nature (Razi). This concept appears already in an earlier interpretation, quoted by Zamakhshari, according to which the ‘carpets” spoken of here consist of light.
55:27 But forever will abide thy Sustainer’s Self, full of majesty and glory.
See 56:35-36 and the corresponding note 14. As regards the expression qasirat at-tarf (lit., “such as restrain their gaze”), see note 46 on 38:52, the earliest Qur’anic instance of this expression.
55:28 Which, then, of your Sustainer’s powers can you disavow?
Most of the commentators assume – not very convincingly – that the “two other gardens” are those to which believers of lesser merit will attain. As against this weak and somewhat arbitrary interpretation, it seems to me that the juxtaposition of “two other gardens” with. the “two” previously mentioned are meant to convey the idea of infinity in connection with the concept of paradise as such: gardens beyond gardens in an endless vista, slightly varying in the description, but all of the symbols of supreme bliss.
55:29 On Him depend all creatures in the heavens and on earth, [and] every day He manifests Himself in yet another [wondrous] way.
i.e., by reason of abundant watering (Taj al-‘Arus). It is to be noted that the adjective “green” is often used in the Qur’an to indicate ever-fresh life: e.g., the “green garments” which the inmates of paradise will wear (18:31 and 76:21), or the “green meadows” upon which they will recline (cf. verse 76 of the present surah).
55:30 Which, then, of your Sustainer’s powers can you disavow?
For this rendering of the plural noun hur (which is both masculine and feminine), see note 8 on 56:22, the earliest occurrence of this term in the Qur’an; also note 13.