61. Although the textual word is “milh” meaning salt, most have understood it as “maalih” or “maleeh.” The latter, in fact, happens to be a variant reading (Qurtubi). Alusi shows, however, that linguistically it is perfectly alright to say “maa’un milh” as it is also perfectly alright to say “maa’un maalih” (both meaning, salty water).
62. Mujahid’s opinion was that the letting forth of the two waters meant letting one of them flow into the other (Qurtubi), as it happens when river water joins with the sea (Au.).
According to the ancient scholars, the allusion is to the two bodies of water: of the rivers and of the seas. Allah has placed a barrier between them so that one does not spoil the other and both retain their qualities. The barrier between them is the land that prevents the seas from joining with the rivers. Mujahid however added that he was told by someone who had some naval experience that when Dijlah water (Euphrates) falls into the sea it doesn’t mix up with the seawater but rather, a line separating the two remains visible. After reporting the above, Ibn Jarir expresses his own opinion that the land could not be considered as the barrier mentioned. But rather, the allusion is to the invisible barrier that is placed between them that prevents one from mixing with the other when the two waters meet (in the sea). This is because, Ibn Jarir adds, when the two waters are let forth, then, there is no barrier of dry land between them. Further, the aayah is speaking of the Power of Allah, (which is more apparent when the barrier is invisible between two adjacent bodies of waters).
Yusuf Ali considers both the meanings as possible whom Majid quotes, “Maraja: literally, let free or let loose cattle for grazing. Bahrain: two seas, or two bodies of flowing water; for bahr is applied both to the salty sea and to rivers. In the world taken as a whole, there are two bodies of water, viz.,: (1) the great salt Oceans, and (2) the bodies of sweet water fed by rain, whether they are rivers, lakes or underground springs: their source in rain makes them one, and their drainage, whether above-ground or underground, eventually to the Ocean, also makes them one. They are free to mingle, and in a sense they do mingle, for there is a regular water-cycle .. and the rivers flow constantly to the sea, and tidal rivers get sea-water for several miles up their estuaries at high tide. Yet in spite of all this, the laws of gravitation are like a barrier or partition set by Allah, by which the two bodies of water as a whole are always kept apart and distinct. In the case of rivers carrying large quantities of water to the sea, like the Mississippi or the Yangtse-Kiang, the river-water with its silt remains distinct from sea-water for a long distance out at sea. But the wonderful Sign is that the two bodies of water, though they pass through each other, remain distinct bodies, with their distinct functions.”
He adds, “Incidentally, this verse points to a fact which has only recently been discovered by science. This fact relates to the oceans of the world: they meet and yet each remains separate for Allah has placed ‘a barrier, a partition’ between them.” [However, this does not adequately explain the present verse which speaks of two bodies of water, one sweet, the other bitter. It could be used to explain another passage of the Qur’an (55: 19-22) which we shall attempt when we arrive at it by Allah’s will (Au.)].
Mawdudi comments: “This happens whenever a large river flows into the sea. There are springs of sweet water at several locations in different seas where the sweet water remains separate from the salty water of the sea. Sayyidi `Ali Ra’is, a Turkish Admiral of the sixteenth century, mentions in his work, Mir’aat al-Mamalik, one such place in the Persian Gulf. He writes that he found springs of sweet water under the salty waters of the sea and drew drinking water from them for his fellow sailors. In more recent times, when the Arabian American Oil company began drilling oil wells in Saudi Arabia, they used the water of the same springs of the Persian Gulf as drinking water until the wells in the vicinity of Dhahran were dug. Also, near Bahrain, there are springs of sweet water under the sea from which people have drawn upon for ages.
“This verse identifies the wondrous manifestation of God’s omnipotence as evidence of His Unicity. But there is an additional, albeit more subtle, meaning implicit in the verse too. No matter how bitter and salty the ocean of human society may become, God can always produce a righteous group of people in the same manner that He can produce a spring of sweet water in the depths of a salty ocean.”
Shabbir remarks, “It is reported that from Arakaan to Chaatgaam (in Bangladesh) one can see two separate and distinct bodies of water: one clear (that of the river) while the other dark (that of the sea). This is visible for miles and miles. One of them remains sweet, while the other bitter. The interesting thing is that while the black body of water shows tempestuous characteristics, the clear water remains calm. “Here at (Gujarat) where I am staying,” adds he, “it is people’s daily experience to watch sea water rush into the land riding over the river water, for quite some distance, at the time of heavy tides. However, even when the river mouth is filled with bitter sea water, at bottom the water remains sweet. The two do not mix.”
Asad adds: “Some Muslim mystics see in this stress on the two kinds of water an allegory of the gulf – and, at the same time, interaction – between man’s spiritual perception, on the one hand, and his worldly needs and passions, on the other.”