39:31 And then, Behold, on the Day of Resurrection you all shall place your dispute before your Sustainer.
Lit., “who will protect himself with his face”: an idiomatic phrase implying that the person concerned has nothing whatever with which to protect himself.
39:32 And who could be more wicked than he who invents lies about God, and gives the lie to the truth as soon as it has been placed before him? Is not hell the [proper] abode for all who deny the truth?
Cf. 16:26, which contains the additional sentence, “God visited with destruction all that they had ever built …”, etc., which explains the present reference to their suffering and ignominy “in the life of this world”.
39:33 But he who brings the truth, and he who wholeheartedly accepts it as true – it is they, they, who are [truly] conscious of Him!
As in many other passages of the Qur’an, the use of the term “parable” (mathal) immediately or shortly after a description of men’s condition – whether good or bad – in the hereafter is meant to remind us that all such descriptions relate to something that is “beyond the reach of a created being’s perception” (al-ghayb), and cannot, therefore, be conveyed to man otherwise than by means of allegories or parables expressed in terms of human experience and therefore accessible, in a general sense, to human imagination.
39:34 All that they have ever yearned for awaits them with their Sustainer: such will be the reward of the doers of good.
Lit., “without any deviousness (‘iwaj)”, i.e., which could obscure its meaning: see note 1 on 18:1; where this term occurs in a slightly different phrasing. As regards the stress on the formulation of this divine writ “in the Arabic tongue”, see 12:2, 13:37, 14:4 and 41:44, as well as the corresponding notes.
39:35 And to this end, God will efface from their record the worst that they ever did, and give them their reward in accordance with the best that they were doing [in life].
Lit., “with regard to whom there are [several] partners (shuraka’)”, i.e., as masters: a metaphor for belief in a plurality of divine powers.
39:36 Is not God enough for His servant? And yet, they would frighten thee with those [imaginary divine powers which they worship] beside Him! But he whom God lets go astray can never find any guide.
The term mathal, which is usually rendered by me as “parable” (e.g., at the beginning of this verse as well as in verse 27), primarily denotes a “likeness”, i.e., of one thing to another; but sometimes it is used topically as a synonym for sifah (the “quality”, “intrinsic attribute” or “nature” of a thing) or halah (its “state” or “condition”). In the present instance, the last-mentioned of these meanings is most appropriate, inasmuch as it alludes to man’s condition arising from either of two contrasting attitudes: a belief in God’s transcendental oneness and uniqueness, on the one hand, and a readiness to ascribe divine powers and qualities to a variety of created beings or supposed “incarnations” of God.
39:37 Whereas he whom God guides aright can never be led astray. Is not God Almighty, an avenger of evil?
39:38 And thus it is [with most people), thou ask them, “Who is it that has created the heavens and the earth?” – they Will surely answer, “God” Say “Have you, then, ever considered what it is that you invoke instead of God? If God wills that harm should befall me, could those [imaginary powers] remove the harm inflicted by Him? Or, if He wills that grace should alight on me, could they withhold His grace [from me]?” Say, “God is enough for me! In Him [alone] place their trust all who have trust [in His existence].”
Lit., “Is not in hell an abode…, etc.: a rhetorical question indicating, firstly, that other-worldly suffering is the unavoidable destiny – symbolically, “an abode” – of all such sinners; and, secondly, that in the concept and picture of “hell” we are given an allegory of that self-caused suffering.
39:39 Say “O my [truth-denying] people! Do yet all that may be within your power, [whereas] I, behold, shall labour [in God’s way], in time you will come to know.
Or: “instead of Him”. This relates not merely to false deities, but also to saints alive or dead, and even to certain abstract concepts which the popular mind endows with charismatic qualities – like wealth, power, social status, national or racial pre-eminence, the idea of man’s “self-sufficiency”, etc. – and, finally, to all false values which are allowed to dominate man’s thoughts and desire’s. The godless always stress the supposed necessity of paying attention to all these imaginary forces and values and frighten themselves and their fellow men by the thought that neglect to do so might have evil consequences in their practical life
39:40 Who it is that shall be visited [in this world] by suffering which will cover him with ignominy, and upon whom long-lasting suffering shall alight [in the life to come]!”
For this rendering of la’in, see surah 11, note 11.