Coherence and Context Q. 51: 20-23
The above discussion sufficiently explains that this
comprehensive paragraph contains beauty of order and arrangement. It connects
the themes in the best logical way. The divine statement starting from the
words, “wa fī al-arḍ ’āyāt (and on the earth are signs)” to “wa mā
tū‘adūn (what you are promised)” mention the earth first, then the nafs
(human self) and finally the heavens. Nafs has been placed in the middle.
It works as an intermediary between the earth and the heavens. It is related to
the two in diverse aspects. Then God has indicated the kind of signs these three
contain. Then the discourse develops on to present the most comprehensive and
basic argument, argument from God’s providence. God says: “fa wa rabbi al-samāwāti
wa al-arḍi innahū laḥaqqun (By the Lord of the heavens and the earth! It
The part of the next verse, mithla mā annakum tanṭiqūn,
emphasizes the same argument. It is a similitude comparing the speech faculty of
the human self, which itself is a miniature universe. It reflects what is
contained in the heavens and the earth. This in a way refers to the statement
wa fī anfusikum afalā tubṣirūn (And in your nafs also; do not you
see?), mentioned earlier. The example of the human speech is in fact the
foundation of all beliefs and arguments. This example in a way invites the
readers to ponder over the words ’āyātun li al-mūqinīn (signs for the
believers) in the preceding verse.
The above is the internal coherence in the group of verses.
As for the relation of this passage with the previous and the coming ones, as I
have stated earlier, the statement starting from wa fī al-arḍi āyatun li al-mūqinīn
(in the earth are signs for the believers) to mithla mā annakum tanṭiqūn
are conjugated with and revisit the theme taken in the start of the sūrah.
This passage takes up again the arguments for the inevitability of the
afterlife. Thus, from the beginning of the sūrah to the last part of this
passage, argumentation for the afterlife based on the cosmic phenomena is the
theme. God has presented as proofs the winds, clouds, earth, heavens, and the
human self (nafs). The verses following this passage adduce historical evidence
to prove the same fact. This kind of development of arguments starting from
natural phenomena leading to historical evidence is found in Sūrah Shams as we
have explained in our commentary on that sūrah. You will find frequent examples
in the holy Qur’ān where the arguments start from natural phenomena and then
culminate in historical proofs for a claim. Following this style, here too, the
Almighty has discussed famous punishment stories which represent divine judgment
that has already passed in this very world and which serve as a reminder for the
addressees and a warning for them. This issues a warning and presents the
clearest evidence of the fact that God holds judgment and that He will
definitely hold a final one as has been said in Sūrah Hūd:
Such is the retribution of your Lord
when He chastises communities in the midst of their wrong. Indeed grievous and
severe is His punishment. In that is a sign for those who fear the penalty of
the Last Day. (Q. 11:102-3)
There is another beauty of discourse in the selection of
the punishment stories in this context. God has, in the evidentiary oaths of the
inaugural verses, referred to the winds and clouds. Now such punishment stories
have been presented as employed winds and clouds working on divine bidding. This
has, in addition to creating coherence, lent strength to the evidentiary oaths
which have become clearer and more emphatic after this recourse to the
punishment stories involving winds and clouds. Now study the next group of
Text and Translation Q. 51:24-37
هَلْ أَتَاكَ حَدِيثُ ضَيْفِ إِبْرَاهِيمَ الْمُكْرَمِينَ إِذْ
دَخَلُوا عَلَيْهِ فَقَالُوا سَلَامًا قَالَ سَلَامٌ قَوْمٌ مُّنكَرُونَ فَرَاغَ
إِلَى أَهْلِهِ فَجَاء بِعِجْلٍ سَمِينٍ فَقَرَّبَهُ إِلَيْهِمْ قَالَ أَلَا
تَاكُلُونَ فَأَوْجَسَ مِنْهُمْ خِيفَةً قَالُوا لَا تَخَفْ وَبَشَّرُوهُ بِغُلَامٍ
عَلِيمٍ فَأَقْبَلَتِ امْرَأَتُهُ فِي صَرَّةٍ فَصَكَّتْ وَجْهَهَا وَقَالَتْ
عَجُوزٌ عَقِيمٌ قَالُوا كَذَلِكَ قَالَ رَبُّكِ إِنَّهُ هُوَ الْحَكِيمُ
الْعَلِيمُ قَالَ فَمَا خَطْبُكُمْ أَيُّهَا الْمُرْسَلُونَ قَالُوا إِنَّا
أُرْسِلْنَا إِلَى قَوْمٍ مُّجْرِمِينَ لِنُرْسِلَ عَلَيْهِمْ حِجَارَةً مِّن طِينٍ
مُسَوَّمَةً عِندَ رَبِّكَ لِلْمُسْرِفِينَ فَأَخْرَجْنَا مَن كَانَ فِيهَا مِنَ
الْمُؤْمِنِينَ فَمَا وَجَدْنَا فِيهَا غَيْرَ بَيْتٍ مِّنَ الْمُسْلِمِينَ
وَتَرَكْنَا فِيهَا آيَةً لِّلَّذِينَ يَخَافُونَ الْعَذَابَ الْأَلِيمَ
Have you heard the story of the
honoured guests of Abraham (sws)? When they entered upon him and said: “Peace!”
He responded: “Peace!” “Strangers” [he thought]. Then he turned to his
household, brought out a fatted calf, and placed it before them. He said: “Will
you not eat?” He conceived a fear of them. They said: “Fear not.” They gave him
glad tidings of a knowledgeable son. But his wife came forward utterly
surprised. She smote her forehead and said: “[Will] a barren old woman [bear
one]!” They said: “That is what your Lord has said. He is full of wisdom and
knowledge.” He [Abraham] said: “And what, O Messengers, is your errand then?”
They said: “We have been sent to a sinful people to bring them a shower of
stones of clay which are marked by your Lord for those who trespass beyond
bounds.” Then We evacuated those of the believers who were there, but We found
not there any persons submitting to the truth except in one house. We left there
a sign for such as fear the grievous penalty. (Q. 51: 24-37)
Explanation of Words and Ta’wīl of Sentences and Phrases
This story has been recounted earlier in Sūrah Hūd. We
shall, however, explain some important points in the story which are exclusively
The word al-mukramīn qualifying the guests, in this
context, leads us to that a host is obliged to honor his guests. He should
welcome them gladly. It also tells us that Abraham (sws) was a kind and generous
qawmun munkarūn: stranger people
Abraham (sws) noticed that the guests were apparently noble
and virtuous people. Noble and virtuous people were rare to see at that time.
Those characterized by these qualities were already among the companions and
followers of Abraham (sws). Thus finding some other people of the sort
farāgha ilā ahlihī: turned to his household
This tells us that Abraham (sws) was a very generous host.
He was a very social person. A truly generous person arranges for the
entertainment of the guests secretly. He does not make a show of such actions so
that the guests do not feel that they have troubled the host. This corresponds
with the ideal of avoiding hinting towards one’s favors to others and the virtue
of benefiting others secretly.
alā ta’kulūn: Will you not eat?
When Abraham (sws) placed the feast before the guests they
did not taste it. Abraham (sws) called them to help themselves in a very kind
and friendly manner.
fa awjasa minhum khīfah: He conceived a fear of them.
The verb awjasa connotes a feeling, especially of fear, in
the heart. Khīfah denotes a mild fear. Abraham (sws) feared the guests a
little because they firmly refused to eat. Thus they inspired awe in his heart.
It alarmed Abraham (sws) even more. Sūrah Hūd depicts this in the following
But when he saw their hands went not
towards the meal, he felt them strange, and conceived a fear of them. (Q. 11:70)
Bashsharūhu: They gave him glad tidings of
They gave the glad tidings loudly enough. Sarah could hear
it. She was just near as has been clearly put in Sūrah Hūd.
And his wife was standing nearby, and
she laughed: then we gave her glad tidings of Isaac. (Q. 11:71)
Since the angels did not communicate the glad tidings to
Sarah it has not been ascribed to the angels. They did not talk to her directly.
It concerned her however.
This attribute of the promised son indicates that the glad
tiding would be fulfilled only if the son was of worthy qualities. Attribute of
knowledge alone has been mentioned because it is the source of all positive
attributes and praiseworthy qualities.
Fa aqbala: she came forward
Having heard the glad tiding Sarah paid attention to the
discussion between the angels and her husband. She came forward to express her
surprise as has been made clear in the next part of the discussion.
fī ṣarratin: surprised
It implies surprise and lack of belief. The Arabs say:
ṣarrat al-faras udhunayhi to mean that the horse raised his ears. This happens
when one hears something unbelievable.
faṣakkat wajhahā: She smote her forehead
She struck her forehead. Women usually express their
surprise and their lack of belief in what they hear of unimaginable things.
Sūrah Hūd puts her feelings in words as follows:
She said: ‘Alas for me! Shall I bear
a child, while I am an old woman, and my husband here is an old man? That would
indeed be a strange thing!” (Q. 11:72)
ḥijāratan min ṭīn: stones of clay
Elsewhere such stones are termed sijjīl. It is
arabicisation of the Persian compound sang-i gil which means stones of clay.
Sūrah Hūd uses the latter term in this very story:
And we rained down on them pebbles of
baked clay (ḥijāratan min sijjīl). (Q. 11:82)
Here the holy Qur’ān has clarified the meaning of the word
sijjīl occurring in Sūrah Hūd. It is a marked feature of the Qur’ān that parts
of it explain their parallels.
Grammatically the word musawwamah in this construction can
be taken to function as an adjective qualifying the word ḥijārah. It can also
be taken to function as an adverb (ḥāl) of state. As for the meaning of the
word, I quote the grammarian Akhfash: “It means marked. The stones marked thus
are the ones dispatched. They say: sawwama fīhā al-khayl, he dispatched/sent the
Abū Zayd says: “al-khayl al-musawwamah, the horses sent
forth/dispatched while carrying their riders. This expression is developed from
a common expression: sawwamtu fulānan: I let him free. They say sawwamahū i.e.
he let him do what he likes.”
If the word musawwamah is taken to mean that the stones are
marked, that would entail that the stones would be marked for their victims as
if God had written the names of the victims on the stones striking them. They do
not strike except for those whose names are written on them. If the word
musawwmah gives the meaning takhliyah, the dispatched ones, then it would mean
that these stones are ready to strike the rebels. The version of the story in
Sūrah Hūd corroborates this meaning of the word. There it has been said:
Layer on layer of the stones of clay,
ready as from your Lord. Nor are they ever far from those who do wrong. (Q.
There is no fundamental difference between both of these
Lilmusrifīn: trespassers beyond bounds
Isrāf means trespassing beyond limits. This word connotes
all types of sins. The holy Qur’ān frequently employs this word for sins.
O My servants who have transgressed (asrafū)
against their souls, don’t be despair of Allah’s mercy, for Allah forgives all
sins. (Q. 39:53)
General terms of this type are usually explained through
textual indicators and context. Here this word has been used for the sin that
spoilt the people of Lot.
The part of the discourse starting from akhrajnā to alīm is
not spoken by angels. It has been attributed directly to God. After having
delivered the divine message to Abraham (sws), the angels went to Lot and
brought Lot and his companions out of the town. They ensured that the Messenger
and his party were saved from the imminent ruin. The word fīhā (in it),
discussed below, supports this interpretation of the statement.
Fīhā: in it
Its antecedent is not put plainly. However, the context
shows that it refers to the abode of the people of Lot. It refers to the area
that was overturned in the impending punishment. The textual indicator proving
my claim that these words are not uttered by angels but by Allah is that this
verse is deeply and strongly connected with the verse wa fil arḍi ayātun
lilmūqinīn. This verse gives a detailed account of the portents of the earth
alluded to in the above mentioned verse. We have already explained that the
history of these towns was known to the Arabs. These towns were situated on
their trade routes. They frequently passed through these routes.
min al-muslimīna: from among submitters
Lot’s family was the only believing household in the town.
The believers among his family members were rescued and saved by God Almighty.
Lot’s wife sided with the rejecters even though she was a member of the family
of the Prophet. This is why the holy Qur’ān uses the phrase min al-muslimīn for
the household of Lot instead of mu’minīn. Those hypocritically attached to the
believers can be called Muslims.
Coherence and Context (Q. 51: 24-37)
The previous passage tells us that there are signs for the
believers in the earth. The earth contains many portents of Allah’s blessing and
providence. He provides for His servants from the earth. Similarly in it there
are signs of His wrath and retribution for the rejecters. The earth is filled
with the relics of punishments meted out to the rejecters of the divine message
and the Prophets.
On the other hand, the above mentioned verses proclaim that
the heavens contain sustenance for people as well as damnation. This is this
damnation which is being discussed in this passage. Thus in this combined story
of Abraham (sws) and Lot, both glad tidings and admonition have been put
together. The same angels who bring glad tidings for Abraham (sws) bring
damnation for the nation of Lot. If we study the story while keeping this in
mind we learn that it provides proofs for the claims made in the verses wa fi
al-arḍ āyāt and wa fī al-samā’ rizkuqum wamā tū‘adūn. The Almighty has
connected this passage with the pervious lesson more explicitly by following it
with the verse wa taraknā fīhā a’āyatan lilladhīna yakhāfūna al-‘adhāb al-alīm.
The word fīhā used later also indicates to the interconnection of the two
passages. Besides, the story of Moses (sws) presented in the following verses
have been connected through conjunction (wa) with the passage under discussion.
The Holy Qur’ān says: wa fī mūsā …bisulṭānin mubīn (Q. 51:38). This also
illustrates that the purpose is to proclaim that there are portents in this
story, as well as in the story of Abraham (sws) and his guests, and in the
wreckage of the people of Lot. Likewise, this story along with the proceeding
ones, exemplifies the reality expressed in the beginning of this sūrah. This
issue will be detailed later. The following verses tell another punishment and
reward story similar to that of Lot (sws) and Abraham (sws):
Text and Translation Q. 51: 38:46
وَفِي مُوسَى إِذْ أَرْسَلْنَاهُ إِلَى فِرْعَوْنَ بِسُلْطَانٍ
مُّبِينٍ فَتَوَلَّى بِرُكْنِهِ وَقَالَ سَاحِرٌ أَوْ مَجْنُونٌ فَأَخَذْنَاهُ
وَجُنُودَهُ فَنَبَذْنَاهُمْ فِي الْيَمِّ وَهُوَ مُلِيمٌ وَفِي عَادٍ إِذْ
أَرْسَلْنَا عَلَيْهِمُ الرِّيحَ الْعَقِيمَ مَا تَذَرُ مِن شَيْءٍ أَتَتْ عَلَيْهِ
إِلَّا جَعَلَتْهُ كَالرَّمِيمِ وَفِي ثَمُودَ إِذْ قِيلَ لَهُمْ تَمَتَّعُوا
حَتَّى حِينٍ فَعَتَوْا عَنْ أَمْرِ رَبِّهِمْ فَأَخَذَتْهُمُ الصَّاعِقَةُ وَهُمْ
يَنظُرُونَ فَمَا اسْتَطَاعُوا مِن قِيَامٍ وَمَا كَانُوا مُنتَصِرِينَ وَقَوْمَ
نُوحٍ مِّن قَبْلُ إِنَّهُمْ كَانُوا قَوْمًا فَاسِقِينَ
And in the story of Moses (sws) is a
sign. We sent him to Pharaoh, with manifest authority. Pharaoh turned away
conceitedly. He said, “this is a sorcerer or possessed one!” So We took him and
his forces, and threw them into the sea; and his was the blame. And in the
people of ‘Ad, there is another sign. Behold, We sent
against them the abortive wind (‘aqīm). It left nothing whatever that it came up
against, but reduced it to ruin and rottenness. And in the story of Thamūd is a
lesson. They were told, “Enjoy for a little while!” But they insolently defied
the command of their Lord. So the stunning noise seized them, even before their
eyes. Then they could not even stand on their feet, nor could they help
themselves. So were the People of Noah (sws) before them for they wickedly
transgressed. (Q. 51:38-46)
Explanation of Words and Ta’wīl of Sentences and Phrases
fī mūsā: in (the story of) Moses
There are portents of God’s revenge and His help in the
story of Abraham (sws). Likewise, there are signs of Allah’s blessings and
punishment in the story of Moses (sws) and Pharaoh. It has been mentioned in
Sūrah al-Shu‘arā’ in these words:
We delivered Moses (sws) and all his
companions. But We drowned the others. Verily in this story there is a great
lesson. (Q. 26: 66-68)
bisulṭānin mubīn: manifest proof
The word sulṭān covers all the things provided to Moses (sws)
by God including clear signs proving his prophethood. It also includes the
domination and victory granted to Moses (sws). This is why the word sulṭān has
been described as clear (mubīn). This meaning of this construction is
corroborated by many other verses of the holy Qur’ān dealing with this issue.
He said: “We will certainly
strengthen your arm through your brother, and invest you both with sulṭānan, so
they shall not be able to touch you. You two as well as those who follow you
shall triumph with the help of Our signs. When Moses (sws) came to them with Our
clear signs...” (Q. 28:35-6)
At another occasion it is said:
Proceed then, both of you, with Our
signs. We are with you listening. So go forth, both of you, to Pharaoh, and tell
him: “We have been sent by the Lord and Cherisher of the worlds.” (Q. 26:15-6)
After a few verses the Almighty says:
(Moses (sws)) said: “Even if I showed
you something clear and convincing?” (Pharaoh) said: “Show it then, if you tell
the truth!” (Q. 26:30-1)
fatawallā biruknihī: he turned away arrogantly
Pharaoh turned away arrogantly gesturing rejection. Rukn
here means shoulder and the preposition ba serves to make the verb tawallā
transitive (ta‘dīah) as has been stated at another place:
Yet when We bestow Our favours on
man, he turns away (a‘raḍa) and turns his face arrogantly (na’ā bijānibihī).
Arrogance of Pharaoh and his people has been described at
another place in these words:
But when Our signs came to them that
should have opened their eyes, they said: “This is sorcery manifest!” And they
rejected those signs in iniquity and arrogance, though their souls were
convinced thereof. (Q. 27:13-4)
’Ālam means to commit something that renders one
condemnable. In this context it implies that that the arrogance Pharaoh showed
was apparent. All those who heard this story later held Pharaoh responsible for
his dreadful end.
al-rīḥ al-‘aqīm: unproductive winds
Winds that do not bring rain, hence useless. In Arabic,
winds which cause rain are qualified with the adjective lawāqiḥ meaning
valuable. Harmful wind is described as ‘aqīm meaning futile. It is dry. Cold
winter winds are described in the following verse:
So We sent against them a furious
wind in days of disaster. (Q. 41:16)
It will be discussed in detail later on.
Ka all-ramīm: ruined and rotten
The word ramīm refers to decayed pieces of a rope, wood, or
bone. Cold and dry air destroys power, freshness, and life. Its coldness and
dryness and its furious gales rend everything asunder. A similar statement says:
We sent against them a furious wind,
on a day of violent disaster, plucking out men as if they were roots of
palm-trees torn up from the ground. (Q. 54:19-20)
tamatta‘ū ḥattā ḥīn: Enjoy for a little while
When the miscreant Thamūd crippled the she-camel and cut
its hamstrings, they were threatened by the Prophet Ṣāliḥ of impending doom.
He told them that they did not have much time to live. They would meet the
promised doom in exact three days. The Almighty says in Sūrah Hūd:
But they did ham-string her. So he
said: “Enjoy yourselves in your homes for three days, this promise will not be
belied!” (Q. 11:65)
fa ‘ataw ‘an amri rabbihim: and they insolently
defied and ignored the command of their Lord
‘Ataw signifies showing disobedience and arrogance. When
used with the preposition ‘an it gives the extended meaning of rejecting and
al-ṣā‘iqah: a chide or yell
It means chide or yell. The version of the same story in
Sūrah Hūd employs the word al-ṣayḥah which again means censure. Wa akhadha al-ladhīna
ẓalamū al-ṣayḥah (The mighty cry overtook the wrong-doers) (Q. 11:67). Some
reciters read this word as al-ṣa‘aqah. They have in a way glossed the original.
In that case this word would mean unconsciousness, as result of the cry/yell, as
is clear from the following details of the story.
wa hum yanẓurūn: before their eyes
It covers a number of implications. The first meaning is
that the punishment came upon them openly. They were left gazing at it. They
observed it openly. They could not doubt it. Elsewhere the same story includes
the following verse:
Then the cry overtook them with what
was destined to befall, and We left them as rubbish of dead leaves! (Q. 23:41)
The following verse too supports this meaning:
And We drowned Pharaoh’s people
within your very sight. (Q. 2:50)
Numerous examples can be cited in support of this meaning
of the expression.
Another possible meaning is that the punishment struck them
suddenly. The people had no time to settle themselves. Elsewhere the holy Qur’ān
We sent against them a single mighty
cry, and they became like the dry stubble used by one who pens cattle. (Q.
A third possible meaning of the expression is that they
were bewildered. They could not understand what to do. This meaning is supported
by the remaining details of the story.
famastaṭā‘ū min qiyāmin: Then they could not even
stand on their feet
When they heard the thunder from the heavens, they were
stunned and fell down. Their state has been described in Sūrah al-A‘rāf in these
So the tremor took them unaware, and
they lay prostrate in their homes in the morning! (Q. 7:78)
They stuck to the earth shivering and died in this very
muntaṣirīn: defending themselves
They could not defend themselves. Imr’ al-Qays has used
this word in a verse to connote the same meaning.
fa anshaba aẓfārahū fī al-nisā
fa qultu hubilta ‘alā tantaṣira
(The dog dug his jaws into the limbs of
the cow and I said to the cow, “For God’s sake, will not you defend yourself?)
The previous comment that they could not stay on their legs
has been further elucidated by this word.
wa qawma nūḥin: and the people of Noah
The conjunction wa (and) uncovers the meaning buried
in all these stories. In the mention of the story of Pharaoh the meaning was
clearly put. There it has been said: fa akhadhnāhu wa junūdahū (we caught
Pharaoh and his army.) The meaning, therefore, is that we caught these nations
the way we caught the nation of Noah (sws) earlier. This is strengthened by
other parallels in the book. Sūrah ‘Ankabūt says:
Then the mighty cry seized them, and
they lay prostrate in their homes by the morning. And ‘Ad
and Thamūd [….] (Q. 29:37-8)
A little later the Almighty referred to Qārūn, Pharaoh,
and Hāmmān. (Q. 29:39). The entire discussion then culminates in the comment:
“Each one of them We seized for his crime”. (Q. 29:40)
Yet another similar passage reads:
And that it is He Who destroyed the
ancient people of ‘Ad, and the Thamūd. Thus they were
not left to live long. And before them, the people of Noah (sws). (Q. 53:50-2)
I.e. He killed and destroyed the people of Noah (sws).
The verses under discussion too express the same theme. The two words used in
different versions of the stories including akhdha (he caught) and ahlaka (he
destroyed) give the same meaning.
Relationship of the Punishment Stories with the Oaths
The people of Lot, Noah (sws), Pharaoh, and ‘Ad find
frequent mention in the holy Qur’ān. If part of a story is put briefly in one
place it is detailed in another. The style is, however, different each time to
avoid repetition and to keep characteristic brevity of the holy Qur’ān.
Coherence and preciseness is carefully observed in all parts. The Qur’ān
confines the stories to the elements that suffice as a warning and as an
admonition. Even at times a very subtle beckoning has been considered
sufficient, as is shown in the following verse:
Has the story reached you, of the
forces of Pharaoh and the Thamūd? And yet the unbelievers persist in rejecting.
This style of subtle allusions to known facts is visibly
employed in Psalm. Such allusions give a very subtle reference to a story to
prove some claims. If a person skims such texts, he fails to grasp the
coherence. This is not a proper place to detail this issue here. However, we
believe we must examine the connection of the stories mentioned in the Sūrah
with the oaths sworn at the opening.
The Almighty punished the rejecters among these nations and
helped the believers against them by employing winds or thunders and lightening,
or a combination of both. You shall learn this in the following discussions. The
initial oaths adduce winds and clouds. Under the next heading we will discuss
this in detail.
The People of Lot (sws)
Allah sent a sooty wind over the people of Lot which later
turned into a violent gale. It rained stones and pebbles on them. Eventually it
turned their abodes over. At another occasion the holy Qur’ān describes this as
follows: Against some We sent a violent tornado with showers of stones. (Q.
29:40) The holy Qur’ān also states: We turned [the cities] upside down, and
rained down on them brimstones hard as baked clay, spread layer on layer. (Q.
The implication is that God unleashed strong winds which
left their houses and roofs plain. Pebbles and dust covered them. This has been
alluded to in the following verse: He destroyed the overthrown cities [mu’tafikah].
So that covers covered them up. (53:53-4)
The renowned Arabic lexicon Lisān al-‘Arab explains the
word al-mu’tafikāt as follows:
1. It connotes winds which overturn the earth and leave it
inside out as a farmer ploughs the field.
2. It can also be taken to mean a great flood which strikes
a piece of land and puts new layers of sand on the surface.
3. The winds which blow over a land and leave the earth
covered with pebble or dirt is also called mu’tafikah.”
An Important Point
One thing is important to appreciate. Allegedly the Bible
and the Qur’ān differ over the object used in the destruction of the people of
Lot. It is, however, not true. The apparent contradiction owes itself to
misunderstanding of the translators of the Old Testament. The translator of the
Torah could not understand what struck the people of Lot (sws). They mistook it
as fire or sulfur. On the contrary, it is quite clear that the object they
rendered as “fire” is nothing other than thunder or lightning.
The Torah often uses the word “fire” for thunder and
lightning. It is clear from a detailed analysis of the miracles given to Moses (sws)
to be shown to Pharaoh. Exodus 9:23 reads: “The Lord sent thunder and hails, and
fire flowed on the earth.” While making a mention of this miracle, the holy
Qur’ān uses a comprehensive term, ṭūfān, which covers all three; fire, thunder,
and lightning. God says: “We sent a ṭūfān on them.” (7:133) We will discuss
this issue in detail in the story of Noah (sws).
What corroborates my understanding of the Torah in this
regards is the fact that in all the seven instances, where the Torah mentions
thunders and hail in this context, it does not say that anything on earth was
burnt. It has rather clarified in one instance that it was rain. God says: “When
Pharaoh saw that the downpour, hail, and the thunder ceased, he sinned again.”
(Exodus: 9:34) The damages caused by rain and lightning have also been
discussed in the Bible. Exodus 9:31 reads: “The flax and barley were destroyed
because the barley was in the ear and the flax in bud, but the wheat and spelt
were not destroyed because they come later.” Notice there is not a slightest
indication of anything being destroyed and burnt by fire.
My understanding is also supported by the following verse
of the Psalms: “Fire and hail, snow and ice, gales of wind obeying His voice.”
(Psalms: 148:8) Obviously, “fire” refers to thunder and lightning in this
context. The Bible mentions, in the context of the story of destruction of the
people of Lot, that Abraham (sws) saw smoke rising from the remains of the
abodes of the people of Lot. The smoke was nothing but black soot and dust
rising from the doomed abodes. When viewed from distance it looked like smoke.
The Bible also mentions sulfur. Genesis 19:34 reads: “God sent fire and sulfur
on Sadūm and ‘Amūrah.” Here the word which the translators of the Bible rendered
as sulfur connotes stones. The word they translated as sulfur is Ḥaṣba’.
It stands for pebbles. A similar mistake has been committed by the translators
of the Bible with regards to the use of brimstone. They thought it to be sulfur.
It is quite clear from the Torah that the word in this context stands for
stones. Job 18:15 mentions the destruction of the miscreants in these words:
“Strangers will occupy his lodging and his house will be destroyed by ḥasbah.”
It means his grave will be covered with stones. It does not make sense to hold
that sulfur will be rained on his grave. This shows that Allah sent stones and a
storm on the people of Lot. It covered their houses. If we consider the
interpretation of the Torah as correct, it would mean that rain accompanied
thunder and lightning.
Pharaoh and his People
The story of Moses (sws) and Pharaoh has been described
both in the holy Qur’ān and the Torah a number of times. Both these sources
sometimes fairly detail the story while at some others briefly allude to it. The
holy Qur’ān does not mention the whole story in one sūrah with detail. It does
not produce a sustained narrative. Rather it has treated the relic as a
well-known historical fact on more than one occasion. On the other hand, the
Torah mentions the whole story in a complete sustained narrative in a single
instance. In this story different functions of winds have been described. This
fact obtains a mere passing reference in the holy Qur’ān and is fairly detailed
in the Torah.
Exodus 14:21 recounts the story in these words: “Then Moses
(sws) stretched out his hand over the sea and the Almighty drove the sea away
all night with a strong east wind and turned the seabed into dry land. The
waters were torn apart.” This storm continued to wreak havoc till the next
morning. It stopped at dawn. The air pressure forced the sea water to the Gulf
of Suez in the west. It dried the eastern gulf, or the Gulf of ‘Aqabah. When the
storm stopped, the sea water rushed off to fill the space and the armies of the
Pharaoh chasing the Israelites were drowned. This has been confirmed by the holy
Qur’ān in Sūrah Dukhān: “March forth with My Servants by night: for you are sure
to be pursued. And leave the sea when it is peaceful [wa ‘utrukī al-baḥra
rahwan]: for they are a host [destined] to be drowned.” (Dukhān: 23-4)
In “wa ‘utrukī al-baḥra rahwan”, the word rahwan signifies
relief. The relief in a river is obtained if there is no commotion in the air.
Allah says in Sūrah Tāhā: “We sent an inspiration to Moses (sws): ‘Travel by
night with My servants, and strike a dry path for them through the sea, without
fear of being overtaken [by the Pharaoh] and without (any other) fear.’ Then
Pharaoh pursued them with his forces, but the waters completely overwhelmed them
and covered them up.” (Q. 20:77-8)
In Exodus 15:10, Moses (sws) praises his Lord in these
words: “You blew your blast and the sea covered them.” Deuteronomy 11:4 lays out
this as follows: “…and all that he did to the Egyptian army, its horses and
chariots, when he caused the waters of the Red Sea to flow over them as they
pursued you. In this way the Lord destroyed them, and so things remain to this
In short, Allah rescued Moses (sws) through a violent wind.
He killed Pharaoh and his armies with the usual function of air. This is how
winds are employed by God miraculously. We see that two different functions,
blessing and punishment, were accomplished through the employment of different
kinds of winds.
The People of the Book have differed over the place where
the Children of Israel crossed the sea. The majority of them think that they
crossed the Gulf of Suez. I believe that they crossed the Gulf of ‘Aqabah. Some
scholars, in the present day, hold that Allah got Moses (sws) across the sea by
lowering the sea water and that He Killed Pharaoh and his armies through the
rising of the sea water. I have refuted both these claims elsewhere.
(Translated by Tariq Mahmood Hashmi)