Chapter Scripts

Surah Ash-Shura 42:31-40

42:31 And you cannot elude Him on earth, and you will have none to protect you from God [in the life to come], and none to bring you succor.

Explanation

This passage connects with, and elucidates, the statement in the preceding verse that God “responds unto all who attain to faith and do righteous deeds” – a statement which, at first glance, seems to be contrary to the fact that whereas many wrongdoers prosper and are happy, many righteous people suffer hurt and deprivation. In reply to this objection, the above verse points elliptically to man’s innate “greed for mere and more” (see 102:1), which often causes him to become “grossly overweening whenever he believes himself to be self-sufficient” (96:6). To counteract this tendency, the Qur’an stresses again and again that God’s “response” to the righteous – as well as to wrongdoers – will become fully evident only in the life to come, and not necessarily in this world, which, after all, is only the first, short stage of man’s existence.

42:32 And among His signs are the ships that sail like [floating] mountains through the seas. 

Explanation

This reference to the symbol of life-giving rain connects with the preceding statement that “He bestows [His grace] in due measure, as He wills”, and is a preamble, as it were, to the statement in the next verse that all creation is but a visible “sign” or “revelation” of God’s existence and purposeful activity, as well as of the God-willed continuation of all life in the hereafter.

42:33 If He so wills, He stills the wind, and then they lie motionless on the sea’s surface [and] herein, behold, there are messages indeed for all who are wholly patient in adversity and deeply grateful [to God]. 

Explanation

Lit., “in both”. In the Qur’an, the expression “the heavens and the earth” invariably denotes the universe in its entirety.

42:34 Or else He may cause them to perish because of what they have wrought, and [withal] He pardons much.

Explanation

As is evident from the sequence, in this instance the term ayah (lit., “sign” or “[divine] message”) is used in the sense of “parable”. (See next note.)

42:35 And let them know, those who call Our messages in question, that for them there is no escape.

Explanation

As is evident from the sequence, in this instance the term ayah (lit., “sign” or “[divine] message”) is used in the sense of “parable”. (See next note.)

42:36 And [remember that] whatever you are given [now] is but for the [passing] enjoyment of life in this world – whereas that which is with God is far better and more enduring. [It shall be given] to all who attain to faith and in their Sustainer place their trust. 

Explanation

i.e., because of the evil which they have committed. The above passage is, I believe, a parabolical allusion to the three possible alternatives in the life to come: spiritual progress and happiness (symbolized by ships that sail freely through the sea); spiritual stagnancy (ships that lie motionless on the sea’s surface); and spiritual disaster and suffering (summarized in the concept of perdition). The second of these three alternatives seems to point to the condition of those ‘ala ‘l-a’raf spoken of in 7:46 f. and explained in the corresponding note 37.

42:37 And who shun the more heinous sins and abominations; and who, whenever they are moved to anger, readily forgive. 

Explanation

For this rendering of yujadilun, see note 25 on 40:35.

42:38 And who respond to [the call of] their Sustainer and are constant in prayer; and whose rule [in all matters of common concern] is consultation among themselves, and who spend on others out of what We provide for them as sustenance.

Explanation

This particular qualification of true believers – regarded by the Prophet’s Companions as so important that they always referred to this surah by the key-word “consultation” (shara) – has a double import: firstly, it is meant to remind all followers of the Qur’an that they must remain united within one single community (ummah); and, secondly, it lays down the principle that all their communal business must be transacted in mutual consultation. (For the political implications of this principle, see State and Government, pp.44 ff.).

42:39 And who, whenever tyranny afflicts them, defend themselves.

Explanation

See note 4 on 2:3. Following as it does immediately upon the call to communal unity and consultation, the “spending on others” bears here the general connotation of social justice.

42:40 But [remember that an attempt at] requiting evil may, too, become an evil, hence, whoever pardons [his foe] and makes peace, his reward rests with God – For, Verily, He does not love evildoers.

Explanation

Lit., “is [or “maybe”] an evil like it”. In other words, successful struggle against tyranny (which latter is the meaning of the noun baghy in the last sentence of the preceding verse) often tends to degenerate into a similarly tyrannical attitude towards the erstwhile oppressors, Hence, most of the classical commentators (e.g., Baghawi, Zamakhshari, Razi, Baydawi) stress the absolute prohibition of “going beyond what is right” (i’tida’) when defending oneself against tyranny and oppression. (Cf. the passage relating to fighting against “those who wage war again you” in 2:190 ff).

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