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Translation & Commentary of Surah 26: Al-Shu`ara’ (The Poets)

Prefatory to the Surah

Asad writes: “The main purport of the this Surah lies in its stress on the unchangeable character of man’s weakness and proneness to self-deception, which explains why the great majority of people, at all times in all communities, so readily reject the truth – whether it be the truth of God’s messages or of what is commonly described as ‘glory’, as well as a mindless acceptance of slogans and prevailing fashions of thought.”

Sayyid Qutb summarises the chapter in the following words: “The subject matter of this chapter is the same as the subject matter of all Makkan chapters: faith. Its main characteristics are, Oneness of Allah (swt): ‘Therefore, evoke not along with Allah another deity or you will be of the chastised (213).’ Fear of the Hereafter: ‘And do not humiliate me on the Day they will be raised, the Day neither wealth nor progeny will profit, except for him who came with a healthy heart (88).’ Testimony of Messengership: ‘And indeed, it is the sending down of the Lord of the worlds (that) Jibril has come down with, on your heart in order that you might be of those who warned (193).’ Then the threat of dire consequences in the form either of an immediate punishment that would annihilate the unbelievers, or the chastisement of the Hereafter that awaits the unbelievers: ‘They have denied, so soon the tidings of that which they use to mock at (6: 5).’”

Mawdudi has an elaborated prefatory which we reduce to few paragraphs: “The background of the Surah is that the disbelievers of Makkah were persistently refusing, on one pretext or the other, to accept the message of Islam. Sometimes they said he did not show them any sign to convince them of his Prophet-hood; sometimes they branded him as a poet or a sorcerer and mock his message; and sometimes they ridiculed his Mission, saying that his followers were either a few foolish young men, or those of the lower strata of the society whereas, they argued, if his Mission had a substantial message, the nobles and the elders would have been the first to accept it. Thus, the disbelievers were never tired of stubborn defiance in ever new form (and the Prophet was ever afraid of Allah’s scourge seizing them: Au.). This state of affairs was causing great anguish and grief to the Holy Prophet.

“It is in these conditions that this Surah was revealed. After this introduction, till verse 191, one and the same theme has been presented continuously, and it is said: The whole earth abounds in such Signs as can guide a seeker after truth to Reality, but the stubborn and misguided people have never believed in the past even after witnessing the Signs, whether these were the Signs of the natural phenomena or the miracles of the Prophets. Those wretched people stubbornly adhered to their erroneous creeds till the Divine scourge actually overtook them. It is to illustrate this that the history of seven of the ancient nations has been told, who persisted in disbelief just like the disbelievers of Makkah. In this connection, the following point, among others, has been stressed: The mentality of the disbeliever has been the same throughout the ages; their arguments and their objections, and their excuses and subterfuges for not believing have been similar and ultimately the fates that they met have also been the same.

“Finally, the discussion has been summed up, saying: ‘O disbelievers, if at all you want to see the Signs, why don’t you look into the Qur’an which is being presented in your own language? Why can’t you see and judge Muhammad (upon whom be Allah’s peace and mercy) and his Companions? Can the revelations of the Qur’an be the work of a Satan or Jinn? Does the recipient of the Qur’an appear to be a sorcerer? Are Muhammad and his Companions no different from a poet and his admirers? Why don’t you give up obduracy and search your hearts for the answers? When in the heart of your hearts you believe that the Revelations of the Qur’an have nothing in common with sorcery and poetry, then you should know that you are being cruel and unjust in rejecting it, and will certainly meet the end that awaits the cruel and the unjust.’”

1.Except for the ending passage starting with the verse, “As for the poets, they are followed by...”, the chapter is Makkah (Zamakhshari, Razi), which report comes to us from Ibn `Abbas, `Ata’ and Qatadah (Alusi).

2. To repeat the repeated, writes Ibn Jarir, is to say that several opinions have been offered over these letters. For example Ibn `Abbas has said that Taa Seen Meem are Allah’s names which He used here to swear. On the other hand, Qatadah said they are one of the several names of the Qur’an. Some others have said that it is the name of this Surah.

Imam Razi breaks the line to say, taa is for Tarb (rapture of the Gnostics), seen for the Suroor (delight) of the lovers, and meem for the Munaajaah (secret talk) of the seekers (of Allah).

There are a few other opinions too. (Alusi)

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