36:31 Are they not aware of how many a generation We have destroyed before their time, [and] that those [that have perished] will never return to them.
The phrase “This, then, is the hell” points to the fact that the sinners’ realization of their having gone astray despite repeated warnings by the prophets will, in itself, be a source of intense suffering (‘adhab) in the life to come. The element of repetition or persistence is implied in the use of the auxiliary verb kuntum both here and in the next verse.
36:32 And [that] all of them, all together, will [in the end] before Us be arraigned?
A metaphor for their being unable really to excuse or defend their past actions and attitudes.
36:33 And [yet] they have a sign [of Our power to create and to resurrect] in the lifeless earth which We make alive, and out of which We bring forth grain, whereof they may eat.
Lit., “We could surely have effaced their eyes”: a metaphor for “We could have created them morally blind” and, thus, devoid of all sense of moral responsibility – which, in its turn, would constitute a negation of all spiritual value in human life as such. (Cf. 2:20 – “if God so willed, He could indeed take away their hearing and their sight”).
36:34 And [how] We make gardens of date palms and vines [grow] thereon, and cause springs to gush [forth] within it.
In this instance – as, e.g., in 20:96 – the verb basura (“he became seeing” or “he saw”) is obviously used in its tropical sense of “perceiving [somethingj mentally”. According to Ibn ‘Abbas, as quoted by Tabari, the phrase anna yubsirun signifies “how could they perceive the truth”.
36:35 So that they may eat of the fruit thereof, though it was not their hands that made it. Will they not, then, be grateful?
Lit., “transformed [or “transmuted”] them”.
36:36 Limitless in His glory is He who has created opposites in whatever the earth produces, and in men’s own selves, and in that of which [as yet] they have no knowledge.
i.e., if it had been God’s will that men should have no freedom of will or moral choice, He would have endowed them from the very beginning with a spiritually and morally stationary nature, entirely rooted in their instincts (“in their places”), devoid of all urge to advance, and incapable either of positive development or of retreat from a wrong course.
36:37 And [of Our sway over all that exists] they have a sign in the night, We withdraw from it the [light of] day – and lo! they are in darkness.
i.e., man should never postpone his exercise of moral choice – for if human beings are their devotees, even though to them they may superior creatures inasmuch as they have been endowed with the faculty of discernment and a wide measure of free will, let them also remember that “man has been created weak” (4:28) and liable to decline still further in old age, so that the time at his disposal is short.
36:38 And [they have a sign in] the sun: it runs in an orbit of its own – [and] that is laid down by the will of the Almighty, the All-Knowing.
This passage resumes the theme enunciated in the opening verses of this surah, namely, the revelation of the Qur’an. As in 26:224, we have here an allusion to the allegation of Muhammad’s opponents, in his own as well as in later times, that what he described as divine revelation was, in reality, an outcome of his own poetic invention. This the Qur’an refutes by alluding to the fundamental difference between poetry – especially Arabic poetry – and divine revelation as exemplified by the Qur’an: whereas in the former the meaning is often subordinated to the rhythm and the melody of language, in the Qur’an the exact opposite is the case, inasmuch as here the choice of words, their sound and their position in the sentence – and, hence, its rhythm and melody – are always subordinated to the meaning intended. (Cf. also 26: 225 and the corresponding note 100).
36:39 And [in] the moon, for which We have determined phases [which it must traverse] till it becomes like an old date-stalk, dried-up and curved.
For this composite rendering of the adjective mubin, see surah 12, note 2. Literally, the above phrase reads, “a reminder and a [divine] discourse…, etc., with the conjunctive particle wa (“and”) being used here, as in 15:1, to point out that the Qur’an is an integral element in the process of divine revelation.
36:40 [And] neither may the sun overtakes the moon, nor can the night usurp the time of day, since all of them float through space [in accordance with Our laws].
Lit., “may come [or “be proved”] true”, i.e., on the Day of Judgment (cf. verse 7 of this surah).