Chapter Scripts

Surah Ya’sin: 36:1-10

In The Name of God, The Most Gracious, The Dispenser of Grace.

36:1 O Thou, human being!

Explanation

Whereas some of the classical commentators incline to the view that the letters y-s (pronounced ya sin) with which this surah opens belong to the category of the mysterious letter-symbols (al-muqatta’at)  introducing a number of Qur’anic chapters (see Appendix II), ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Abbas states that they actually represent two distinct words, namely the exclamatory particle ya (“O”) and sin, which  in the dialect of the tribe of Tayy’ is synonymous with insan (“human being” or “man”): hence similar to the two syllables ta ha in surah 20, ya sin denotes “O thou human being!” This interpretation has been accepted by ‘Ikrimah, Ad-Dahhak, Al-Hasan al-Basri, Sa’id ibn Jubayr, and other early Qur’an-commentators (see Tabari, Baghawi, Zamakhshari, Baydawi, Ibn Kathir, etc.). According to Zamakhshari, it would seem that the syllable sin is an abbreviation of unaysin, the diminutive form of insan used by the Tayy’ in exclamations. (It is to be borne in mind that in classical Arabic a diminutive is often expressive of no more than endearment: e.g., ya bunayya, which does not necessarily signify “O my little son” but, rather, “my dear son” irrespective of the son’s age.) On the whole, we may safely assume that the words ya sin apostrophize the Prophet Muhammad, who is explicitly addressed in the sequence, and are meant to stress – as the Qur’an so often does – the fact of his and all other apostles’ humanness.

26:2 Consider this Qur’an full of wisdom. 

Explanation

This statement explains the adjuration particle wa (rendered by me as “Consider”) at the beginning of the preceding verse – namely: “Let the wisdom apparent in the Qur’an serve as an evidence of the fact that thou art an apostle of God”. As regards my rendering of al-Qur’an al-hakim as “this Qur’an full of wisdom”, see note 2 on 10:1.

36:3 Verily, thou indeed one of God’s Message Bearers.

Explanation

Cf. 34:50 – “if I am on the right path, it is but by virtue of what my Sustainer reveals unto me.

36:4 Pursuing a straightway. 

Explanation

Cf. 6:131-132. In the wider sense of this expression, the “forefathers” may be a metonym for a community’s cultural past: hence, the reference to those “forefathers” not having been “warned” (i.e., against evil) evidently alludes to the defectiveness of the ethical heritage of people who have become estranged from true moral values.

36:5 By [virtue of] what is being bestowed from on high by the Almighty, the Dispenser of Grace.

Explanation

Lit., “has come true”, the past tense indicating the inevitability of its “coming true’ I.e., taking effect.

36:6 [Bestowed upon thee] so that thou mayest warn people whose forefathers had not been warned, and who therefore are unaware [of the meaning of right and wrong].

Explanation

Zamakhshari: “[This is] an allegory of their deliberate denial of the truth.” See note 13 on 13:5 and note 44 on 34:33.

36:7 Indeed, the word [of God’s condemnation] is bound to come true against most of them, for they will not believe.

Explanation

Sc., “and they cannot see the right way” (Razi); their “forced-up heads” symbolize also their arrogance. On the other hand, God’s ‘placing shackles” around the sinners’ necks is a metaphor similar to His “sealing their hearts and their hearing”, spoken of in 2:7 and explained in the corresponding note 7. The same applies to the metaphor of the “barriers” and the “veiling” mentioned in the next verse.

36:8 Behold, around their necks We have put shackles, reaching up to their chins, so that their heads are forced up.

Explanation

Sc., “so that they can neither advance nor go back”: a metaphor of utter spiritual stagnation.

36:9 And We have set a barrier before them and a barrier behind them, and We have enshrouded them in veils so that they cannot see. 

Explanation

Lit., “who is following the reminder”.

36:10 Thus, it is all one to them whether thou warnest them or dost not warn them, they will not believe.

Explanation

As is usual with such passages, the commentators advance various speculations as to the “identity” of the town and the apostles. Since, however, the story is clearly described as a parable, it must be understood as such and not as a historical narrative. It seems to me that we have here an allegory of the three great monotheistic religions, successively propounded by Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad, and embodying, essentially, the same spiritual truths. The “township” (qaryah) mentioned in the parable represents, I think, the common cultural environment within which these three religions appeared. The apostles of the first two are said to have been sent “together”, implying that the teachings of both were – and are – anchored in one and the same scripture, the Old Testament of the Bible. When, in the course of time, their impact proved insufficient to mold the ethical attitude of the people or peoples concerned, God “strengthened” them by means of His final message, conveyed to the world by the third and last of the apostles, Muhammad.

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