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Holy Quran Section > English Translation and Commentary of the Holy Quran by Maulana Muhammad Ali (Table of Contents) > Chapter 68 (Al-Qalam- The Pen) > Section 1 (Verses 1 to 33)



Section/Ruku 1 [Verses 1 to 33]: Not a madman’s message:
Chapter 68: (Al-Qalam: The Pen)
(Revealed at Makkah: 2 sections; 52 verses)

1. Introduction:

When the Holy Prophet delivered his message, the disbelievers first called him a madman.

The inkstand and the pen and all writings are called to bear witness to the fact that the utterances of the Prophet are not those of a madman; hence this chapter is called The Pen. The first section closes with a parable clearly foretelling that all the struggles of the Makkans against the Holy Prophet will be a complete failure, and that they will in the end regret what they did. The second section lays stress on the knowledge of the future which was revealed through the Holy Qur’an; the example of Jonah is quoted to show how trials and sufferings sometimes make the issue doubtful, and the chapter concludes with the statement that the Holy Qur’an will ultimately raise the whole of humanity to eminence. In this chapter, which is admittedly one of the earliest revelations, it should be noted that the message of the Holy Qur’an is declared to be meant for all nations.

As regards the time of revelation, learned opinion is admittedly in favour of a very early date, so much so that it is generally considered to be the second chapter in order of revelation. But as the 74th chapter is shown by trustworthy reports to have been the second revelation, we can only place it after that chapter.

2. Translation:

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.

1 (By) the inkstanda and the pen and that which they write!

2 By the grace of thy Lord thou art not mad.a

3 And surely thine is a reward never to be cut off.a

4 And surely thou hast sublime morals.a

5 So thou wilt see, and they (too) will see,

6 Which of you is mad.

7 Surely thy Lord knows best who is erring from His way, and He knows best those who go aright.

8 So obey not the rejecters.

9 They wish that thou shouldst be pliant, so they (too) would be pliant.a

10 And obey not any mean swearer,a

11 Defamer, going about with slander,

12 Hinderer of good, out-stepping the limits, sinful,

13 Ignoble, besides all that, notoriously mischievous —

14 Because he possesses wealth and sons.

15 When Our messages are recited to him, he says: Stories of those of yore!

16 We shall brand him on the snout.a

17 We shall try them as We tried the owners of the garden, when they swore to pluck its fruits in the morning,a

18 And would not set aside a portion (for the poor).

19 But a visitation from thy Lord came on it, while they slept.

20 So it became as black, barren land —

21 Then they called out one to another in the morning,

22 Saying: Go early to your tilth, if you would pluck (the fruit).

23 So they went, while they said one to another in low tones:

24 No poor man shall enter it today upon you.

25 And in the morning they went, having the power to prevent.

26 But when they saw it, they said: Surely we are in error;

27 Nay, we are made to suffer privation.

28 The best of them said: Said I not to you, Why do you not glorify (Allah)?

29 They said: Glory be to our Lord! surely we were unjust.

30 Then some of them advanced against others, blaming each other.

31 Said they: O woe to us! Surely we were inordinate —

32 Maybe, our Lord will give us instead one better than it — surely to our Lord we make petition.a

33 Such is the chastisement. And certainly the chastisement of the Hereafter is greater, did they but know!a

3. Commentary:

1a. Nun is not an abbreviation, but a word meaning inkstand. There is the authority of the earliest commentators that the letter nun here stands for the word nun, for both Hasan and Qatadah regard it as meaning inkstand, while I‘Ab considers the meaning to be fish. The context, which mentions the pen and writing, clearly favours the former interpretation.

Rodwell’s note here, that "the meaning of this, and of the similar symbols throughout the Qur’an, was unknown to the Muhammadans themselves even in the first century", shows a lamentable ignorance on the part of a translator of the Holy Qur’an. The abbreviations in the beginning of chapters are in many cases explained by the companions of the Holy Prophet, Ibn ‘Abbas being the chief authority. But here the Holy Qur’an itself, in the very first abbreviation used in it, gives us a clue to the significance of the abbreviations used in it by giving an abbreviation nun, which is also a significant word. [Back to verse 1]

2a. The first allegation of the disbelieving Makkans against the Holy Prophet was that he was majnun, i.e., mad, and this allegation is dealt with in this chapter. The first answer to it is contained in the first two verses. By mentioning the inkstand and the pen and that which they write, attention is really called to the fact that the Prophet’s prophecies about his own future and the fate of the opponents, which were already put down in writing, would prove that the Prophet was not mad, for the ravings of a madman could not bear fruit. It should be noted that the Holy Qur’an again and again challenges its opponents to write down their prophecies about the Holy Prophet, thus showing that its own were actually written down from the first; and thus this chapter, which is one of the earliest, conclusively establishes the truth that every revelation of the Holy Qur’an was put down in writing as soon as it was communicated to the Prophet. For the assertion made here see v. 47, and 52:41: "or possess they the unseen, so they write (it) down"

But the words have a wider significance, indicating that the Qur’an will always continue to occupy a unique position among all the books which are ever written. This unique position consists in its completeness and exhaustive dealing with all the truths about religion, so that every religious truth is found within its covers; see 25:33a. [Back to verse 2]

3a. The Prophet is further told that his exertions will be followed by a reward which will never be cut off, i.e., he will be successful in establishing a religion whose blessings will continue forever, while a madman’s actions cannot bear any fruit. Thus there is not only a clear prophecy here of the final triumph of the Prophet over his enemies, but there is also a prophecy that what is stated in the Qur’an rests on such a firm foundation that it will never prove untrue. [Back to verse 3]

4a. The Prophet’s possession of the sublimest morals is a further proof that he cannot be a madman. In fact, he had already won from his contemporaries the recognition of his sublime morality, inasmuch as he had won the title of al-Amin, the faithful one. The Arabs, on account of their haughty spirit and tribal and family feuds, could not bow their heads to a man who was neither a king, nor the chief of a tribe, nor a great warrior, nor a famous poet. Nor could flattery have been their motive in according an unparalleled honour to a man who would not even mix with them, and led the life almost of a recluse. By calling him al-Amin, the people expressed their high appreciation of his sublime morality, as if he were the one, and only one, as indicated by prefixing al, who could be trusted in all matters. His moral greatness was thus testified to by ‘A’ishah, than whom none was more intimate with the Holy Prophet: His morals are the Qur’an; meaning that all the pictures of sublime morality depicted by the Holy Qur’an afford really a glimpse of the moral greatness of the Prophet. [Back to verse 4]

9a. The first desire of the Quraish was no doubt, owing to their great respect for the Holy Prophet, that he should not condemn their evil deeds in strong language, and thus they too would not be severe in opposition to him. [Back to verse 9]

10a. The description applies to all leaders of opposition to Truth. As against the sublime morals of the Inviter to Truth, vv. 10–13 describe the low state of morality of those who do not care for the moral values of life. [Back to verse 10]

16a. Branding on the snout is equivalent to bringing a man to disgrace which sticks to him (R). Khurtum signifies really "the proboscis of an elephant (R), or the nose of a beast of prey (T), or a large or an elevated nose" (LL), and the word is here applied to the nose of a man to indicate its ugliness (R). Some commentators apply this description to Walid ibn Mughirah in particular, and take the branding on the snout literally, a prophecy fulfilled in the battle of Badr, where Walid received a wound on his nose, the mark of which remained till his death (Rz). [Back to verse 16]

17a. This is a parable which sets forth the ultimate fate of the opponents. Stated as it is in unmistakable terms, it is one of the earliest prophecies, when opposition to the Holy Prophet had not yet assumed the severity of the later days. It foretells not only the failure of opposition but shows also that the Prophet’s heart was full of sympathy for the poor from the very first. [Back to verse 17]

32a. It shows that while the Qur’an threatened the opponents with punishment, it foretold at the same time that they would accept the Truth ultimately. This happened about twenty years afterwards. All their exertions came to naught and their power in the land was frustrated, but they then saw their error, came over to Islam, and were made the rulers of vast kingdoms. Thus their Lord gave them instead one better, because they made their petition to Him. [Back to verse 32]

33a. The separate mention of the chastisement of the Hereafter is clear evidence that the punishment spoken of in the previous verses, which is referred to at the commencement of this verse in the words such is the chastisement, was a punishment which was to overtake them in this life, and thus to afford a proof of the truth of the chastisement of the Hereafter. [Back to verse 33]



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Chapter 67: Al-Mulk (The Kingdom)

Chapter 69: Al-Haqqah (The Sure Truth)

Holy Quran Section > English Translation and Commentary of the Holy Quran by Maulana Muhammad Ali (Table of Contents) > Chapter 68 (Al-Qalam- The Pen) > Section 1 (Verses 1 to 33)

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