Interpretation of Sura 'Abasa - Verses 11-23
11. Nay surely it is an admonishment,
12. So let him who pleases mind it,
13. (It is) in Books held (greatly) in honor,
14. Exalted (in dign4y) kept pure and holy,
15. In the hand of scribes,
16. Honorable and pious and just,
17. Cursed be man.' how ungrateful is he!
18. Of what thing did He create him?
19. Of a sperm-drop He created him, then molded him in due proportions;
20. Then He made the way easy for him,
21. Then He caused him to die, then assigned to him a grave,
22. Then, when it is His will, He will raise him to life again,
23. Nay but (man) has not done what He commanded him.
Only the Purified Ones Can much the Qur'an.
In connection with the aforementioned verses, which spoke about admonishing the one who was unmindful of a truth-seeking blind man, these verses are about the importance of the Qur'an, its pure origin, and the efficient effect it has on individuals.
Advising the one who was unmindful not to repeat this action again, it says: Nay, surely it is an admonishment.
'You' do not need to pay attention to those who are, apparently, gifted and self-sufficient and are, subsequently, proud, while neglecting the purified oppressed. It, is, also probable that the verse: Nay, surely it is an admonishment could be an answer to all accusations the pagans and the enemies of Islam uttered about the Qur'an. They called it 'a poetry', 'a magic', and sometimes 'a kind of soothsaying'. The Qur'an demands that none of them are right, but that these verses of Qur'an are reminders for acknowledgment, awareness and faith. It contains the proofs and documents in itself. The people who approach it can get the facts, themselves, except its enemies.
So let him who pleases, mind it. * * * *
This points 1to both the lack of obligation, and an evidence to exercise of free-will for everyone - that is, no one can obtain its merits unless one wishes to and makes the decision to follow its guidance.
(It is) in Books held (greatly) in honor,.
The term /suhuf/ is the plural form of /sahifah/ which means 'tablet' or 'sheet' or 'anything on which something can be written'. This shows that the verses of Qur'an had been written on some tablets before they were revealed to the Prophet (p.b.u.h.) , and the angels of revelation possessed them, therefore, it means that the tablets were in a very high position.
Some views have held that /suhuf/ means 'the Books of earlier prophets (p.b.u.h.) ,' which does not seem agreeable with its pre and post verses. Some have also said that it means 'the Preserved Tablet', but this idea does not seem suitable, either, because /suhuf/ is in a plural form and has not been used in the form of 'the Preserved Tablet'.
Exalted (in dignity) kept pure and holy.
It is beyond the reach of the aberrant ones; they cannot distort it; it is pure and kept far from tainted hands. Finally, it is pure from any contradiction, discrepancy and doubt.
Moreover, they are: In the hand of scribes, Who are: Honorable and pious and just.
The term /safarah/ is the plural form of /safir/ based on /safar/, which originally means 'to unveil a matter or a thing', so, one who comes unto people with a special mission; to remove their difficulties and uncover the ambiguous matters for them is called /safir/ 'an ambassador'. A writer is also called /safir/ since he or she uncovers the meaning of a matter.
Therefore, /safarah/ means 'the Divine angels who reveal Messages or write them down'.
A narration from Imam Sadiq (p.b.u.h.) says: One who learns the whole Qur'an by heart and acts accordingly is with the scribes, honorable and pious and just.
This clearly shows that those who know the Qur'an by heart, commentators, and those who act according to its instructions are in the same rank as the scribes. And it is a fact that when scholars and those who learn the Qur'an by heart, or preserve it, do something similar to what the angels and bringers of revelation do, then, they should be counted among them.
It is understood that, on the whole, any Muslim who tries to protect and keep the Holy Qur'an alive deserves a position as high as that of the 'honorable and pious angels'.
The term / kiram / is the plural form of /karim/ which means 'honorable, or beneficent' and refers to the greatness of the angels of revelation. It is sometimes said that it refers to their pureness of any sin, as Sura Anbiya, No 21, verses 26-27 say about the angels: ...Nay, they are honored servants, They do not precede Him in speech and (only) according to His commandment do they act.
The term /bararah/ is the plural form of /bar/ based on /bar/ which originally means 'vastness', then, 'a vast land' is called /barr/, and since good people's generosity is vast and benefits many others, they are called /bar/.
The term 'pious' used in this verse, of course, means 'obedient to His Command' and 'sinlessness'. Thus Allah characterizes the angels in three ways: first, they are His agents for His revelations; second, they are naturally pious and honorable; and third, they are pure, obedient and sinless.
Though there are so many signs of guidance from Allah in His 'Books held (greatly) in honor' containing all kinds of reminders revealed by the angels, the ungrateful Man does not resign himself to Him, hence, it says: Cursed be man! how ungrateful is he!
The term /kufr/ may mean 'disbelief' or 'ingratitude' or 'any covering and denial of Allah', which can be suitable, here, because, in the last verses it refers to the signs of guidance and faithfulness, and in the next verses it mentions the different kinds of blessings from Allah.
In any case, the objective point of Cursed be man! is to express an intensive hatred toward the ungrateful ones.
Since the origin of disobedience and ungratefulness is generally pride, then to break it. the next verse says:
Of what thing did He create him?
Of a sperm-drop He created him, then molded him in due proportions.
Why does Man not think about the origin of his creation? Why does he forget his main source? Moreover, why does he not take note of Allah's ability in the creation of this strange creature from a sperm-drop? If he contemplated on his creation from a sperm-drop and then, about the formation of his body and its limbs, and his faculties and abilities and even his necessities of life being in a suitable proportion, it could be the best guidance for his theological and divine knowledge.
The term /qaddarahu/, 'He molded him in due proportions' is based on /taqdir/ which means 'the act of measuring and well-balancing'.
We know that there are more than twenty metals and metalloids in the human body, each of which is at a determined level from the point of quantity and quality. If these levels change to a lower or a higher degree. the regularity of the body's chemistry will be disturbed. Besides this, the condition of the body's structure and the relations between its organs, have exact limits. The intellect and instincts hidden in an individual, alone, and in human beings, all together, must be in a special arrangement to provide for Man's happiness.
Allah is He Who fulfilled all the above proportions for the worthless life-germ in the form of a sperm-drop. The life-germ is so small that if we gathered, together, as many of them as the number of human beings, which exists today, they would not amount to a thimbleful. Yes, He designed so many colorful characteristics and embellishments on and in such a slight, tiny particle, and from this created a creature such as Man.
The term /taqdir/ has been defined as: 'to make ready' by some commentators. It is also probable that the meaning of /taqdir/ is 'to make the unworthy life-germ powerful'. How great is the Creator Who makes this feable substance so powerful; Who puts the sky, the earth and the seas at his disposal, and enables him to conquer all the forces of his surroundings.
Of course, all three of the above comments can be considered, together, also.
Then He made the way easy for him.
Allah made the way for the foetus to develop in its mother's womb, and then made the way for moving to this world, easy for Man.
One of the wonders of Man's birth is that a few moments before the time of nativity the child is so located in the mother's womb that usually its head is right side up, its face is to the mother's back and its feet are toward the down side of the womb; but when the time of birth comes, the child turns upside down so that its head is downwards, and this very position makes the birth easier for both the child and its mother. There are, of course, exceptions where some children are born under various complications and, therefore, their mothers encounter many difficulties.
Allah has made everything easy for him: after his birth he grows during his childhood, then his human instincts grow, and after that he grows along the path of faith and spiritual perfection by way of guidance from the prophets (P.B.U.th.) and by his own reasoning.
Then He made the way easy for him. What a completely meaningful and interesting sentence this is! It is very short, but it alludes to so many facts!
Another point which is noteworthy is that it says: Then He made the way easy for him. It does not say: 'Then He forced him to go the way'. This is an emphasis, again, on Man's free-will.
Further, it declares the end of Man's life and says: Then He caused him to die, then assigned to him a grave.
Surely, the act of 'putting to death' belongs to Allah, but the act of covering the corpse, in a grave, apparently belongs to Man, however, the required intelligence, for this action and, also, the other necessary means for it have been supplied by Allah, and that is why the assigning of a grave has been attributed to Allah too.
Some commentators have also said that the objective point of attributing the action to Allah is that He has created a grave for Man which is under the ground, while some others have thought of it as a religious instruction, from Allah about the burial of corpses.
One of the graces of Allah to human beings is the very burial of corpses. If they did not know what to do with their corpses or if there were not any instructions issued about the burial of corpses, the corpses ould humiliatingly remain putrid on the ground, and the beasts and birds would feast on them, which would be a horrible debasement. Therefore, Allah's graces are bestowed on Man; not only during his life time, but even after his death.
Moreover, the instruction for burying the corpses of people (after the ceremonial bath, shroud, and prayer) is an inspirational one, because it is to say that the dead bodies of human beings must be purified and respected, even more than their live ones, because live people have the responsibility of keeping themselves pure.
Another noteworthy point is that the situation of death, in this verse, is counted among the blessings of Allah This is really true if we care to understand, because, first, death is a release from the troubles and imperfections of this world and a close to the probationary period, after which will dawn the full Reality in a world so much broader than this world. Secondly, the death of the present generations makes mom for the later generations, and causes Mankind to continue to live and to improve, or else the human population would reach such extremes that would be impossible for them to live on Earth.
It is interesting that this very idea is delicately mentioned in Sura Rahman, No. 55, verses 26-28 thus:
Everything on earth will pass away; And there will endure the Face of your Lord, the Lord of Glory and Honor. Then which of the bounties of your Lord will you deny?.
There, again, according to these verses, death is one of the great gifts from Allah.
Yes, the world, with all its blessings, is a prison for a believer. Moving from this world to the next world is a release from this prison. Besides, the abundance of blessings, in this world, sometimes causes people to neglect their position, then, the remembrance of death may awaken them, therefore, from this point of view, too, it is a blessing. If all of the past events of life were always alive, it would certainly be tiresome to continue it, but the immortal life, on the contrary, will be thoroughly full of joy and happiness.
Then, our attention is turned to the Rusurrection of the human race, and, it says: Then when it is His will, He will raise him to life again.
The term /insharaha/ is based on /inshar/ which means 'to spread abroad after gathering'. It is an interesting point which shows that the life of Man is totally gathered up by death, but it will be spread out, again, through Resurrection in a higher and greater environment.
It is worthy to note that for 'death' and for burial' it says: Then He caused him to die, then assigned to him a gave, but for Resurrection it says: When it is His will, He will raise him to life again and this makes it clear that no one knows the time of the Great Event The Resurrection) , but, it is only Allah Who knows it, and death is an inevitable event where everyone, after living a willy-nilly natural life, will die.
The last verse of this group says that although these blessings and stages have been provided by Allah's grace, for the good of Man, (from the time he was a lowly sperm-drop to the time he arrived in this world and went on the path of growth and, finally, passed away and was covered with dust in the grave) , unregenerate Man fails in carrying out the purpose of his creation and life:
Nay, but (man) has not done what He commanded him.
The term /lamma/ is usually used with a negative meaning when something is still expected. It touches on this sense that Man, having these divine gifts and the means of guidance, is expected to be earnest in obeying Allah and acting on His commands, but surprisingly he has not done it yet.
The following are two different ideas about the meaning of the term 'man' used in this verse:
The first idea says that it alludes to the persons who go the path of ungratefulness, denial, and injustice and corresponds with Sura Ibrahim, No. 14, verse 34 which says:... most surely man is very unjust, very ungrateful.
The second idea says that it refers to all of Mankind, because no one (irrespective of believers and unbelievers) has accurately carried out what Allah has commanded him to do, to the extent that it deserves the greatness of His glory and dignity; as a Persian poem says:
Servants of Allah should ask Him to excuse them for their short comings. Else, no one is Able to do according to His Lordship.
Adapted from the book: "The Light of The Holy Qur'an; Interpretation of Sura Nazi'at and Abasa and Takwir" by: "Sayyid Kamal Faghih Imani and A Group of Muslim Scholars"
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