39:11 Say [O Muhammad], “Behold, I am bidden to worship God, sincere in my faith in Him alone.
Or: “If you deny the truth”.
39:12 And I am bidden to be foremost among those who surrender themselves unto God.”
This statement occurs in the Qur’an five times in exactly the same formulation (apart from the above instance, in 6:164, 17:15, 35:18, and 53:38 – this last being the earliest in the chronology of revelation). In the present instance, it contains an allusion to (and rejection of) the Christian doctrine of “vicarious atonement” and, indirectly, to the worship of saints, etc., spoken of in verse 3 above and referred to in note 1. (See also note 31 on 53:38).
39:13 Say, “Behold, I would dread, were I to rebel against my Sustainer, the suffering [which would befall me] on that awesome Day [of Judgment].”
Lit., “he cries out”; i.e., instinctively, and as a rule.
39:14 Say, God alone do I worship, sincere in my faith in Him alone.
Lit., “and gives God compeers (andad, sing. nidd)”. Cf. the last sentence of 2:22 and the corresponding note 13.
39:15 And [it is up to you, O sinners, to] worship whatever you please instead of Him!” Say: “Behold, the [true] losers will be they who shall have lost their own selves and their kith and kin on Resurrection Day, for is not this, this, the [most] obvious loss?
Alternatively, the above verse could be rendered thus: “Is, perchance, he who worships … hoping for his Sustainer’s grace, [equal to one who denies the truth]?”
39:16 Clouds of fire will they have above them, and [similar] clouds beneath them….” In this way does God imbue His servants with fear. O you servants of Mine! Be, then, conscious of Me.
This interpolation is justified by the fact that the possessive pronoun in the subsequent phrase “servants of Mine” obviously relates to God.
39:17 Seeing that for those who shun the powers of evil lest they [be tempted to] worship them, and turn unto God instead, there is the glad tiding [of happiness in the life to come]. Give, then, this glad tiding to [those of] My servants.
i.e., there is always a possibility of doing good and “migrating from evil unto God” – which is the permanent, spiritual connotation of the concept of hijrah implied here: see note 124 on 4:97.
39:18 Who listen [closely] to all that is said, and follow the best of it, [for] it is they whom God has graced with His guidance, and it is they who are [truly] endowed with insight!
Implying that on Resurrection Day they will be irretrievably separated from all whom they had loved, and all who had been close to them in this world. The “loss of one’s own self” signifies, I think, the destruction of one’s true identity and uniqueness as a human being, which is described in the next clause as “the most obvious loss” that man may be made to suffer in the life to come.
39:19 On the other hand, could one on whom [God’s] sentence of suffering has been passed [be rescued by man]? Couldst thou, perchance, save one who is [already, as it were,] in the fire?
As in many other instances, the Qur’an alludes in this phrase to the allegorical nature as well as to the real purpose of all descriptions of the suffering which awaits the sinners in the hereafter; cf. 74:35-36 – “that [hell-fire] is indeed one of the great [forewarnings], a warning to mortal man”.
39:20 As against this, they who of their Sustainer are conscious shall fin the life to come] have mansions raised upon mansions high, beneath which running waters flow, [this is] God’s promise – [and] never does God fail to fulfill His promise.
For my rendering of at-taghut as “powers of evil”, see surah 2, note 250. In the present context, this term apparently circumscribes the seductive force of certain evil ambitions or desires – like striving after power for its own sake, acquisition of wealth by exploiting one’s fellow-beings, social advancement by all manner of immoral means, and so forth – any of which may cause a man to lose all spiritual orientation, and to be enslaved by his passions.