Surah Qalam

Surah Qalam

Table of Contents

Surah Qalam (سورة القلم) or Nun (ن) or Nun wa al-Qalam (ن و القلم) as it is also referred to is one of the chapters of the 29th part of the Quran. It starts and ends with an indication of the disbelievers calling the Prophet crazy and the verses in between discuss a variety of topics.

Facts about Surah Qalam

Surah Qalam or Nun or Nun wa al-Qalam as it is also referred to, begins and ends with the charge the disbelievers made to the Prophet of being crazy. The verses in between are those where God is responding to this charge. They discuss the topic of the attributes of the Prophet and the deniers, the reason for their transgression, warning and refuting their claims, taking lessons from the life of Prophet Jonah and ending with an indication of the severity of the anger of the disbelievers against the Prophet when they hear the Quran from him.

68 Surah no.

Juz’ 29 Place

Makki Makki/Madani

2 Order of revelation

52 No. of verses

301 No. of words

1288 No. of letters


Arabic Text and Translation of Surah Qalam


بِسْمِ ٱللَّهِ ٱلرَّحْمَٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيم

In the name of Allah, the most compassionate, most merciful

ن ۚ وَالْقَلَمِ وَمَا يَسْطُرُونَ ﴿1﴾

Nun. By the Pen and what they write:

مَا أَنتَ بِنِعْمَةِ رَبِّكَ بِمَجْنُونٍ ﴿2﴾

By your Lord’s blessing, you are not, crazy,

وَإِنَّ لَكَ لَأَجْرًا غَيْرَ مَمْنُونٍ ﴿3﴾

And yours indeed will be an everlasting reward,

وَإِنَّكَ لَعَلَىٰ خُلُقٍ عَظِيمٍ ﴿4﴾

And indeed you possess a great character.

فَسَتُبْصِرُ وَيُبْصِرُونَ ﴿5﴾

You will see and they will see,

بِأَييِّكُمُ الْمَفْتُونُ ﴿6﴾

Which one of you is crazy.

إِنَّ رَبَّكَ هُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِمَن ضَلَّ عَن سَبِيلِهِ وَهُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِالْمُهْتَدِينَ ﴿7﴾

Indeed your Lord knows best those who stray from His way, and He knows best those who are guided.

فَلَا تُطِعِ الْمُكَذِّبِينَ ﴿8﴾

So do not obey the deniers,

وَدُّوا لَوْ تُدْهِنُ فَيُدْهِنُونَ ﴿9﴾

Who are eager that you should be flexible, so that they [too] may be flexible [towards you].

وَلَا تُطِعْ كُلَّ حَلَّافٍ مَّهِينٍ ﴿10﴾

And do not obey any vile swearer,

هَمَّازٍ مَّشَّاءٍ بِنَمِيمٍ ﴿11﴾

Scandal-monger, talebearer,

مَّنَّاعٍ لِّلْخَيْرِ مُعْتَدٍ أَثِيمٍ ﴿12﴾

Hinderer of all good, sinful transgressor,

عُتُلٍّ بَعْدَ ذَٰلِكَ زَنِيمٍ ﴿13﴾

Callous and, on top of that, baseborn

أَن كَانَ ذَا مَالٍ وَبَنِينَ ﴿14﴾

— [who behaves in such a manner only] because he has wealth and children.

إِذَا تُتْلَىٰ عَلَيْهِ آيَاتُنَا قَالَ أَسَاطِيرُ الْأَوَّلِينَ ﴿15﴾

When Our signs are recited to him, he says, ‘Myths of the ancients!’

سَنَسِمُهُ عَلَى الْخُرْطُومِ ﴿16﴾

Soon We shall brand him on his snout.

إِنَّا بَلَوْنَاهُمْ كَمَا بَلَوْنَا أَصْحَابَ الْجَنَّةِ إِذْ أَقْسَمُوا لَيَصْرِمُنَّهَا مُصْبِحِينَ ﴿17﴾

Indeed we have tested them just as We tested the People of the Garden when they vowed they would gather its fruit at dawn,

وَلَا يَسْتَثْنُونَ ﴿18﴾

And they did not make any exception.

فَطَافَ عَلَيْهَا طَائِفٌ مِّن رَّبِّكَ وَهُمْ نَائِمُونَ ﴿19﴾

Then, a visitation from your Lord visited it while they were asleep.

فَأَصْبَحَتْ كَالصَّرِيمِ ﴿20﴾

So, by dawn it was like a harvested field.

فَتَنَادَوْا مُصْبِحِينَ ﴿21﴾

At dawn they called out to one another,

أَنِ اغْدُوا عَلَىٰ حَرْثِكُمْ إِن كُنتُمْ صَارِمِينَ ﴿22﴾

‘Get off early to your field if you have to gather [the fruits].’

فَانطَلَقُوا وَهُمْ يَتَخَافَتُونَ ﴿23﴾

So off they went, murmuring to one another:

أَن لَّا يَدْخُلَنَّهَا الْيَوْمَ عَلَيْكُم مِّسْكِينٌ ﴿24﴾

‘Today no needy man shall come to you in it.’

وَغَدَوْا عَلَىٰ حَرْدٍ قَادِرِينَ ﴿25﴾

And they set out at early morning, [considering themselves] able to deprive [the poor of its fruit].

فَلَمَّا رَأَوْهَا قَالُوا إِنَّا لَضَالُّونَ ﴿26﴾

But when they saw it, they said, ‘We have indeed lost our way!’

بَلْ نَحْنُ مَحْرُومُونَ ﴿27﴾

‘No, it is we who have been deprived!’

قَالَ أَوْسَطُهُمْ أَلَمْ أَقُل لَّكُمْ لَوْلَا تُسَبِّحُونَ ﴿28﴾

The most upright among them said, ‘Did I not tell you, ‘‘Why do you not glorify [Allah]?’’ ’

قَالُوا سُبْحَانَ رَبِّنَا إِنَّا كُنَّا ظَالِمِينَ ﴿29﴾

They said, ‘Immaculate is our Lord! We have indeed been wrongdoers!’

فَأَقْبَلَ بَعْضُهُمْ عَلَىٰ بَعْضٍ يَتَلَاوَمُونَ ﴿30﴾

Then they turned to one another, blaming each other.

قَالُوا يَا وَيْلَنَا إِنَّا كُنَّا طَاغِينَ ﴿31﴾

They said, ‘Woe to us! Indeed, we have been rebellious.

عَسَىٰ رَبُّنَا أَن يُبْدِلَنَا خَيْرًا مِّنْهَا إِنَّا إِلَىٰ رَبِّنَا رَاغِبُونَ ﴿32﴾

Maybe our Lord will give us a better one in its place. Indeed we earnestly beseech our Lord.’

كَذَٰلِكَ الْعَذَابُ ۖ وَلَعَذَابُ الْآخِرَةِ أَكْبَرُ ۚ لَوْ كَانُوا يَعْلَمُونَ ﴿33﴾

Such was their punishment; and the punishment of the Hereafter is surely greater, had they known.

إِنَّ لِلْمُتَّقِينَ عِندَ رَبِّهِمْ جَنَّاتِ النَّعِيمِ ﴿34﴾

Indeed for the Godwary there will be gardens of bliss near their Lord.

أَفَنَجْعَلُ الْمُسْلِمِينَ كَالْمُجْرِمِينَ ﴿35﴾

Shall We treat those who submit [to Us] as [We treat] the guilty?

مَا لَكُمْ كَيْفَ تَحْكُمُونَ ﴿36﴾

What is the matter with you? How do you judge!

أَمْ لَكُمْ كِتَابٌ فِيهِ تَدْرُسُونَ ﴿37﴾

Do you possess a scripture in which you read

إِنَّ لَكُمْ فِيهِ لَمَا تَخَيَّرُونَ ﴿38﴾

That you shall have in it whatever you choose?

أَمْ لَكُمْ أَيْمَانٌ عَلَيْنَا بَالِغَةٌ إِلَىٰ يَوْمِ الْقِيَامَةِ ۙ إِنَّ لَكُمْ لَمَا تَحْكُمُونَ ﴿39﴾

Do you have a pledge binding on Us until the Day of Resurrection, that you shall indeed have whatever you decide?

سَلْهُمْ أَيُّهُم بِذَٰلِكَ زَعِيمٌ ﴿40﴾

Ask them, which of them will aver [any of] that!

أَمْ لَهُمْ شُرَكَاءُ فَلْيَأْتُوا بِشُرَكَائِهِمْ إِن كَانُوا صَادِقِينَ ﴿41﴾

Do they have any ‘partners’ [that they claim for Allah]? Then let them produce their partners, if they are truthful.

يَوْمَ يُكْشَفُ عَن سَاقٍ وَيُدْعَوْنَ إِلَى السُّجُودِ فَلَا يَسْتَطِيعُونَ ﴿42﴾

The day when the catastrophe occurs and they are summoned to prostrate themselves, they will not be able [to do it].

خَاشِعَةً أَبْصَارُهُمْ تَرْهَقُهُمْ ذِلَّةٌ ۖ وَقَدْ كَانُوا يُدْعَوْنَ إِلَى السُّجُودِ وَهُمْ سَالِمُونَ ﴿43﴾

With a humbled look [in their eyes], they will be overcast by abasement. Certainly, they were summoned to prostrate themselves while they were yet sound.

فَذَرْنِي وَمَن يُكَذِّبُ بِهَـٰذَا الْحَدِيثِ ۖ سَنَسْتَدْرِجُهُم مِّنْ حَيْثُ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ ﴿44﴾

So leave Me with those who deny this discourse. We will draw them imperceptibly [into ruin], whence they do not know.

وَأُمْلِي لَهُمْ ۚ إِنَّ كَيْدِي مَتِينٌ ﴿45﴾

I will grant them respite, for My devising is indeed sure.

أَمْ تَسْأَلُهُمْ أَجْرًا فَهُم مِّن مَّغْرَمٍ مُّثْقَلُونَ ﴿46﴾

Do you ask them for a reward, so that they are weighed down with debt?

أَمْ عِندَهُمُ الْغَيْبُ فَهُمْ يَكْتُبُونَ ﴿47﴾

Do they possess [access to] the Unseen, so that they write it down?

فَاصْبِرْ لِحُكْمِ رَبِّكَ وَلَا تَكُن كَصَاحِبِ الْحُوتِ إِذْ نَادَىٰ وَهُوَ مَكْظُومٌ ﴿48﴾

So submit patiently to the judgment of your Lord, and do not be like the Man of the Fish who called out as he choked with grief.

لَّوْلَا أَن تَدَارَكَهُ نِعْمَةٌ مِّن رَّبِّهِ لَنُبِذَ بِالْعَرَاءِ وَهُوَ مَذْمُومٌ ﴿49﴾

Had it not been for a blessing that came to his rescue from his Lord, he would surely have been cast on the bare shore, being blameworthy.

فَاجْتَبَاهُ رَبُّهُ فَجَعَلَهُ مِنَ الصَّالِحِينَ ﴿50﴾

So his Lord chose him and made him one of the righteous.

وَإِن يَكَادُ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا لَيُزْلِقُونَكَ بِأَبْصَارِهِمْ لَمَّا سَمِعُوا الذِّكْرَ وَيَقُولُونَ إِنَّهُ لَمَجْنُونٌ ﴿51﴾

Indeed the faithless almost devour you with their eyes when they hear this Reminder, and they say, ‘He is indeed crazy.’

وَمَا هُوَ إِلَّا ذِكْرٌ لِّلْعَالَمِينَ ﴿52﴾

Yet it is just a reminder for all the nations. 1

The topics discussed in this article are:

Benefits of Reciting Surah Qalam

According to a narration from the Holy Prophet (peace be on him and his household):

“Whoever recites it will be granted the rewards of those whose conduct is good.”

In another hadith, Ja‘far bin Muhammad al-Sadiq (peace be on him) narrates:

“Whoever recites it in his obligatory or optional prayers will never suffer from poverty, and Allah will grant him security from the constriction of the grave.” 2

Reason for Revelation of Surah Qalam

Surah Qalam was revealed following the injurious slander and defamation of the Prophet (peace be on him and his household) when they called him crazy; the chapter comforts and consoles through beautiful promises and protecting his glorious character. 3

The Disjointed Letters in Surah Qalam

Surah Qalam begins with one of the disjointed letters (حروف المقطعه). Disjointed letters are used in the Quran at the beginning of twenty-nine chapters and this is one of the characteristics particular to the Quran and is not seen in any of the other Divine books. 4

The question is, what do these disjointed letters mean?

Introduction to the Disjointed Letters in Surah Qalam

Before getting into the discussion of their meaning, the following two points need to be considered:

  1. The chapters which begin with these letters begin with either: one, two, three, four or five of these letters.
  2. These letters differ from each other as some of them are only used to begin one chapter and others are repeated in these twenty-nine chapters. 5

Similarity of Content of Chapters

Considering the abovementioned points, one can conclude that the chapters which begin with the disjointed letters are similar in content to each other and their context is one; such that such a similarity is not seen between these chapters and others in the Quran.

This is emphasized by the similarity that is seen between the first verses of many of these chapters.

When we considers these similarities, we can surmise that there is a special relationship between these letters and the content of the chapters that begin with them and this is affirmed by the fact that, for example, Surah al-Araaf, which begins with the letters ‘alif laam mim saad’ (المص) gathers the contents of the chapters that begin with ‘alif laam mim’ (الم) and those that begin with ‘saad’ (ص) within itself; other such examples can also be seen in other chapters. 6

Divine Secrets in Surah Qalam

It can therefore be concluded that these disjointed letters are secrets between God and His prophet and their meanings are hidden from us and their meanings are not able to be perceived by our normal understanding except to the extent that we surmise there is a special link between them and the contents of the chapters in which they appear.

It is possible if someone studies and delves into the commonalities of these letters and the contents of the chapters they are used in and compare them to each other, more secrets may be revealed to him/her. 7

Taking an Oath on Qalam

ن ۚ وَالْقَلَمِ وَمَا يَسْطُرُونَ ﴿1﴾

Nun. By the Pen and what they write:

The word ‘Qalam’ (قلم) refers to something that is used to write with. 8

Satara’ (سطر) from which the verb ‘yasturun’ (یسطرون) is derived refers to that which is written by an instrument of writing.

Surah Qalam has begun with these two oaths since writing tools and writings are one of the greatest Divine blessings through which God has guided man, recorded that which is hidden from sight and in the hearts of people and man can make all the events that take place through time and in distant places present for himself through writings. 9

Characteristics of the Holy Prophet in Surah Qalam

مَا أَنتَ بِنِعْمَةِ رَبِّكَ بِمَجْنُونٍ ﴿2﴾

By your Lord’s blessing, you are not, crazy,

The blessing mentioned in this verse of Surah Qalam is that of Prophet-hood, i.e. your (the Holy Prophet)’s prophet-hood negates all craziness and intellectual dysfunctions; otherwise God would not have given this position to you. 10

In other words, the reasons that prove his prophet-hood also prove he is not crazy; if they didn’t, they would also not prove his prophet-hood and in this case, Divine guidance – which is a necessity for system of life – would not be established. 11

The Prophet’s Ever-Continuing Grace from God in Surah Qalam

وَإِنَّ لَكَ لَأَجْرًا غَيْرَ مَمْنُونٍ ﴿3﴾

And yours indeed will be an everlasting reward,

The word ‘mamnun’ (ممنون) comes from the root word ‘mann’ (منّ) and means to be discontinued or interrupted. 12

The verse uses the negative form of the word and therefore, means uninterrupted.

 The sentence is the Prophet by telling him to bear the trials of prophet-hood as his rewards are everlasting with God and his pains are not wasted. 13

The Glorious Character of the Prophet as indicated in Surah Qalam

وَإِنَّكَ لَعَلَىٰ خُلُقٍ عَظِيمٍ ﴿4﴾

And indeed you possess a great character.

Khuluq’ (خُلُق) is the habit of the soul and the bodily actions are easily performed in accordance to its requirements. These habits could either be virtues or vices. However, when used in the absolute sense and alone, it is understood as virtues and good character.

Although considered alone, this verse of Surah Nun praises the great character of the Prophet Muhammad ; however, when considering the context, it refers to his good social ethics, i.e. the morals that relate to sociability.

Some examples of this are: being steadfast in the truth, patience in the face of persecution and the wrongs of the transgressors, forgiving and tolerating them, generosity, etc. 14

Ethics in Islam

Among the characteristics and attributes of the Prophet, the Quran stresses on his moral character and ethics and refers to it as ‘khuluqin azim’ (خلقٍ عظیم), i.e. a glorious character. 15

This shows the importance of moral character and therefore, we will mention a few narrations in this regard:

حُسْنُ الخُلْقِ رَأسُ كُلِّ بِرّ

Good character is the cornerstone of all virtuous acts. 16

رَأسُ الإيمانِ حُسْنُ الخُلْقِ، والتَّحَلّي بِالصِّدقِ

The foundation of belief is [adopting a] good character and adorning oneself with the truth. 17

The Deniers in Surah Qalam

فَسَتُبْصِرُ وَيُبْصِرُونَ ﴿5﴾

You will see and they will see,

بِأَييِّكُمُ الْمَفْتُونُ ﴿6﴾

Which one of you is crazy.

These verses of Surah Qalam are making a conclusion from the previous verses and state that now that it is clear that you are not crazy; rather, you hold the position of prophet-hood and are adorned with a great character and will have a great reward from your Lord, know that the effects of your invitation will very soon become clear and it will become clear for all who is afflicted with craziness: you, or those who denied you and accused you of craziness. 18

 God Knows of People’s Guidance and Misguidance in Surah Qalam

إِنَّ رَبَّكَ هُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِمَن ضَلَّ عَن سَبِيلِهِ وَهُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِالْمُهْتَدِينَ ﴿7﴾

Indeed your Lord knows best those who stray from His way, and He knows best those who are guided.

The verse emphasizes the fact that God knows better who has deviated from His path and who has found it since the path is His and guidance is also through Him; it is obvious that the owner of the path and its guide knows better who is on His path and who is not.

Sugar-coating the Truth in Surah Qalam

فَلَا تُطِعِ الْمُكَذِّبِينَ ﴿8﴾

So do not obey the deniers,

وَدُّوا لَوْ تُدْهِنُ فَيُدْهِنُونَ ﴿9﴾

Who are eager that you should be flexible, so that they [too] may be flexible [towards you].

These verses of Nun wa al-Qalam branch out from that which is mentioned in the previous verses, i.e. now that it is known that the aforementioned deniers are deviated and crazy do not agree with them – neither in words nor in actions.

The word ‘dahana’ (دهن) means oil and ‘mudahina’ (مداهنة) refers to sugar-coating and blandishment. The verse is explaining that the deniers want the Prophet to oblige them by getting closer to their religion and they will also oblige him by getting close to his religion. In short, they wanted him to compromise a bit of his religion and they would compromise a bit of theirs.

And it has been narrated that the disbelievers suggested this very thing to the Prophet (peace be on him and his household) when they asked that he stop objecting to their gods and in return they would not object to his. 19

Attributes of the Deniers in Surah Qalam

The following verses of Surah Qalam mention nine vices of the enemies of Islam who were inviting the Prophet to oblige and agree with them

Too Much Oath-taking and Abjectness in Surah Qalam

وَلَا تُطِعْ كُلَّ حَلَّافٍ مَّهِينٍ ﴿10﴾

And do not obey any vile swearer,

The first two vices of the enemies are mentioned in this verse.

Hallaaf’ (حلاف) refers to someone who swears too much and one who swears too much regarding all things important and unimportant, and regarding all truth and falsehood shows that he does not respect the one whose name he swears upon; in this case God. Such a person does not believe in His majesty and greatness.

Maheen’ (مهین) means abjectness and refers to one’s shortsightedness and lowliness of his opinions. Some other commentators believe it refers to one who lies profusely. 20

Seeking Faults and Gossip in Surah Qalam

هَمَّازٍ مَّشَّاءٍ بِنَمِيمٍ ﴿11﴾

Scandal-monger, talebearer,

The next two attributes are mentioned in this verse.

Hammaz’ (همّاز) refers to one who seeks faults in others 21 and is sarcastic. 22

Masha’in binamim’ (مشّاءٍ بنمیم) is a person who narrates the words of one group to another with the intention of corrupting their relationship, 23 i.e. a gossip and telltale.

Inhibiting Good and Excessive Sinning

مَّنَّاعٍ لِّلْخَيْرِ مُعْتَدٍ أَثِيمٍ ﴿12﴾

Hinderer of all good, sinful transgressor,

 The disbelievers excessively hinder good; either from all people or in relation to his family and does not allow goodness to reach them.

Mutadi’ (معتدی) refers to one whose oppression has exceeded limits and ‘atheem’ (أثیم) is one who sins excessively such that he/she is always sinning. These are three other attributes mentioned for this group. 24

Immorality and Cruelty in Surah Qalam

عُتُلٍّ بَعْدَ ذَٰلِكَ زَنِيمٍ ﴿13﴾

Callous and, on top of that, baseborn

The last attributes mentioned for this group in Surah Nun are the following:

Utull’ (عُتُلّ) has been interpreted to have any of the following meanings:

  • An immoral and cruel person who shows great enmity on the path of falsehood
  • Someone who eats excessively but prevents others from eating
  • A person who leads others to imprisonment and torture through his cavils. 25

The word ‘zaneem’ (زنیم) refers to a person who has no clear lineage and is not attributed to any nation; i.e. an illegitimate child. 26

The Reason for Transgression in Surah Qalam

The following verses of Surah Qalam speak of the reason which stirred this group to transgress s that they achieved these vices for themselves.

Wealth and Children

أَن كَانَ ذَا مَالٍ وَبَنِينَ ﴿14﴾

— [who behaves in such a manner only] because he has wealth and children.

Nun wa al-Qalam is giving us the reason for why they have attained such a state – it is because of their wealth and children. 27

Their wealth caused them to rebel against God and as a result of their estrangement from God these vices were born in them; instead of thanking God for the wealth and reforming themselves, they were ungrateful.

Therefore, this verse is reprehending them for this. 28

Explaining ‘do not obey’ in Surah Qalam

إِذَا تُتْلَىٰ عَلَيْهِ آيَاتُنَا قَالَ أَسَاطِيرُ الْأَوَّلِينَ ﴿ ﴿15﴾

When Our signs are recited to him, he says, ‘Myths of the ancients!’

The word ‘asateer’ (أساطیر) means myths and this sentence is giving the reason and explaining the command to not obey, i.e. the denier is one who considers our verses to be myths of the ancients [so do not agree with him in any form]

A Mark on their Faces

سَنَسِمُهُ عَلَى الْخُرْطُومِ ﴿16﴾

Soon We shall brand him on his snout.

On Qiyamah a mark will be put on the nose of the denier  which would be a sign and proof of his abjection and disgrace 29 in such a way that anyone who sees him will recognize him. 30

Warning the Liars in Surah Qalam

Verses 17-33 of Surah Qalam are warning the wealthy of the time of the Prophet by narrating a story of the wealthy owners of a garden that had rebelled against God.

The Burnt Garden in Surah Qalam

A man who owned a garden and would every year give away fruits from his garden to the poor passed away. His inheritors decided to deprive the poor of this; except for one of them who objected. However, most of them were stingy and decided to go the garden early in the morning and pick the fruits so that the poor wouldn’t find out what they were doing.

When they went to the garden, however, they saw it burnt to ashes. At first they thought they had lost their way but then one of them said that they had deviated from the right path of their father and decided to deprive the poor and therefore, had been deprived themselves. The son who had objected from the beginning reminded them that he had had told them they were making a mistake. Anyhow, they witnessed Divine wrath and were admonished and rebuked each other for their act. 31

Divine Wrath in Surah Qalam

God’s wrath sometimes comes upon people – as we see in the case of the Pharaoh, sometimes comes upon their wealth – as in the case of the these inheritors of the garden, and sometimes comes upon both – as in the case of Qarun, indicated in the following verse:

فَخَسَفْنَا بِهِ وَبِدَارِهِ الْأَرْضَ…

So We caused the earth to swallow him and his house… 32 33

Lessons from this Story

There are many lessons that we can take from this story narrated in Surah Qalam; some of which are the following:

  • The story is admonishing the stingy and this is the second time in the chapter this matter has been implied. The first time was in the verse mentioning the attribute of hindering good.
  • The good practices of our ancestors should continue to be upheld
  • Sins cause deprivation. In a narration Muhammad bin Ali al-Baqir (peace be on him) states that a person who commits a sin is deprived to that same extent of Divine sustenance.
  • The value of wealth is only up to the time that it doesn’t divert our thoughts. 34
  • Helping the poor and needy is not a recommended act; rather, it is an obligatory one as God does not punish people for not performing recommended acts. 35

Teaching a Lesson to Man Based on Surah Qalam

كَذَٰلِكَ الْعَذَابُ ۖ وَلَعَذَابُ الْآخِرَةِ أَكْبَرُ ۚ لَوْ كَانُوا يَعْلَمُونَ ﴿33﴾

Such was their punishment; and the punishment of the Hereafter is surely greater, had they known.

Through the story of the inheritors of the garden in Surah Qalam, God seeks to explain a general rule for all people.

God tests people through wealth and children and it through them that man rebels and becomes arrogant, feels he does not need God and even forgets Him; for such a person, material causes and his own power become partners to God and he is bound to commit sins, ignorant of the fact that punishment and the weight of his actions surround him and his punishment awaits him in the most bitter form.

It is then that he awakens from his sleep of ignorance, remembers the advice he did not follow and regrets his actions; he is ashamed of his actions and beseeches God to return His blessings so that this time he may thank Him; in the same way as it happened in case of the owners of the garden. 36

In order to change thoughts and culture, sometimes, a person or a group of people must be disgraced in society so that they can become an example and lesson for others. 37

The Punishment of the Hereafter is Worse

The punishment of the Hereafter is worse than that of this world as there is no escape from it; even through death. It encompasses all aspects of man’s existence and is eternal and never-ending.

In contrast, in some instances the punishment of the world can be canceled and remedied and also will end with a person’s death. 38

Refuting the Claim of the Deniers of Qiyamah in Surah Qalam

أَفَنَجْعَلُ الْمُسْلِمِينَ كَالْمُجْرِمِينَ ﴿35﴾

Shall We treat those who submit [to Us] as [We treat] the guilty?

مَا لَكُمْ كَيْفَ تَحْكُمُونَ ﴿ ﴿36﴾

What is the matter with you? How do you judge!

These two verses of Surah Qalam and the following verses negate the equality of the Muslims with the guilty of denying the Hereafter. It seems the polytheists have said between themselves that even if there is a Hereafter, we will be superior or at least equal to Muslims in blessings there.

The phrase, what is the matter with you? How do you judge! Indicates a logical negation, i.e. the intellect would not make such a judgment as to lower the status of the Muslims to be equal to that of the polytheists. 39

The Deniers have no Written Proof of their Claim

أَمْ لَكُمْ كِتَابٌ فِيهِ تَدْرُسُونَ ﴿37﴾

Do you possess a scripture in which you read

إِنَّ لَكُمْ فِيهِ لَمَا تَخَيَّرُونَ ﴿38﴾

That you shall have in it whatever you choose?

These two verses negate the deniers having any proof from Divine books to prove their claim that they will have whatever they want in the Hereafter. 40

No Verbal Proof

أَمْ لَكُمْ أَيْمَانٌ عَلَيْنَا بَالِغَةٌ إِلَىٰ يَوْمِ الْقِيَامَةِ ۙ إِنَّ لَكُمْ لَمَا تَحْكُمُونَ ﴿39﴾

Do you have a pledge binding on Us until the Day of Resurrection, that you shall indeed have whatever you decide?

The word ‘ayman’ (أیمان) with its attribute ‘balighah’ (بالغة) in this verse of Surah Qalam refers to emphatic vows which cannot be broken; these are vows that will continue till Qiyamah.

Not only do the deniers not have written or intellectual proofs to back their claims; they do not even have any verbal vows from God that would promise to give them whatever they desired and make them equal to the Muslims. 41

Questioning the Deniers in Surah Qalam

The verses then go on to ask four questions of the deniers. However, the verses now address the Prophet and it seems as though they have turned away from the deniers in order to make us understand that such people are not even worthy of being addressed. And therefore, the questions asked are in the third person form.

Who is Responsible for this Equality?

سَلْهُمْ أَيُّهُم بِذَٰلِكَ زَعِيمٌ ﴿40﴾

Ask them, which of them will aver [any of] that!

The word ‘zaeem’ (زعیم) refers to someone who is custodian over a matter.

This verse of Surah Qalam is asking the Prophet (peace be on him and his household) to ask the deniers that since it has been proved that God goes does not consider them equal, which one of them is the custodian of the matter of equality based on the claim they make? If there is such a person, is he/she from among the polytheists? Who is it?

The invalidity of such a claim is so clear that no one but a mad person would say such a thing. 42

Do they have Helpers?

أَمْ لَهُمْ شُرَكَاءُ فَلْيَأْتُوا بِشُرَكَائِهِمْ إِن كَانُوا صَادِقِينَ ﴿41﴾

Do they have any ‘partners’ [that they claim for Allah]? Then let them produce their partners, if they are truthful.

This verse is refuting the claim of the deniers regarding the equality of the deniers and the believers based on the supposition that, firstly, the objects of their worship are gods; secondly, that they are partners in lordship to God and third, that they would intercede on their behalf with God on Qiyamah.

The question in the verse is an idiomatic one which has a negative answer and shows that the objects of their worship are not gods, they are not partners in God’s Lordship and they are incapable of such intercession.

The sentence, then let them…, alludes to the inexistence of such partners and is a negation of do they have partners. 43

The Day of Great Difficulty in Surah Qalam

يَوْمَ يُكْشَفُ عَن سَاقٍ وَيُدْعَوْنَ إِلَى السُّجُودِ فَلَا يَسْتَطِيعُونَ ﴿42﴾

The day when the catastrophe occurs and they are summoned to prostrate themselves, they will not be able [to do it].

The phrase ‘yukshafu ‘an saaq’ (یُکشَفُ عَن ساقٍ) is a metaphor that alludes to the great difficulty and severity of matters on Qiyamah and literally means to reveal ones shins. This is something which usually a person does when a war is raging (by hitching up one’s trousers and fighting)

Unable to Prostrate

According to this verse of Surah Qalam, the only way to obtain happiness in the Hereafter is through prostration, i.e. accepting to be humble for God and accepting His oneness in Lordship in the world in a way that one achieves the attribute of humility and brings him bliss in the Hereafter.

However, the guilty deniers who did not prostrate for God in the world will be unable to do so in the Hereafter as well and therefore, will not be blissful there. As a result, their state and that of the Muslims cannot be equal in any way; rather, because of their arrogance in the world, God makes them more deserving of the eternal punishment of the Hereafter by appeasing them and employing the Divine custom of Istidraj (إستدراج) [the meaning of this will be explained under verse 44] so that their wretchedness reaches its peak. 44

The State of the Disbelievers in Surah Qalam

خَاشِعَةً أَبْصَارُهُمْ تَرْهَقُهُمْ ذِلَّةٌ ۖ وَقَدْ كَانُوا يُدْعَوْنَ إِلَى السُّجُودِ وَهُمْ سَالِمُونَ ﴿ ﴿43﴾

With a humbled look [in their eyes], they will be overcast by abasement. Certainly, they were summoned to prostrate themselves while they were yet sound.

The first part of this verse consists of two sentences that explain the state of the guilty disbelievers, i.e. the lowering of their eyes in shame and their forced abasement.

Their being sound could refer to any of the following two meanings:

  • Their soundness from the illnesses and calamities that took hold of them due to their arrogance and not allow them to accept the truth
  • Unconditional obedience and power to prostrate in the world

When they were invited to prostrate, though they were sound and able to do so, they did not prostrate nor did they pay heed to the invitations of the prophets. 45 The Hereafter is the manifestation of the world; those who do not prostrate in the world will be unable to do so on that day too. 46

Gradual Lowering of Position in Surah Qalam

فَذَرْنِي وَمَن يُكَذِّبُ بِهَـٰذَا الْحَدِيثِ ۖ سَنَسْتَدْرِجُهُم مِّنْ حَيْثُ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ ﴿44﴾

So leave Me with those who deny this discourse. We will draw them imperceptibly [into ruin], whence they do not know.

The verse is explaining how God will exact punishment from the disbelievers and deniers.

Istidraj’ (إاستدراج) means to gradually and little by little lower someone’s rank until their wretchedness and misery reaches its peak and they fall into the abyss of destruction.

When God wishes to deal with a person in this way he send for him blessing after blessing and every blessing distracts a person and makes him heedless of his bliss, he neglects thanking God and forgets the one who gave him that blessing.

The phrase ‘whence they do not know’ refers to the fact that this destruction is paved through blessings which the disbelievers assume to be good and blissful and not evil and misery.

Istidraj in Verses and Narrations

This concept has been indicated in other verses of the Quran too; for example in the following verse:

As for those who deny Our signs, We will draw them imperceptibly [into ruin], whence they do not know. 47 , 48

Ja‘far bin Muhammad al-Sadiq (peace be on him) narrates in this regard:

“When a person commits a sin and the bounty (that he had received) is renewed for him, he leaves off asking for forgiveness (istighfar), and this is al-istidraj (as mentioned in verse 7:182).” 49

Another Meaning of Istidraj

Another meaning of this is that when they become heedless of God’s remembrance and deny His blessings they lose the tranquility of their hearts and are forced to seek this in other than God; however, since this can only truly be found only with God, therefore, their inner anxiety only increases and they are no more aware of the true bliss of life and think that the life they have is the only meaning to it and increase their amusement with the silly and destructive things of the world. In reality, they are increasing their punishment everyday till they are joined to punishment of the Hereafter which is bitterer.

This is the istidraj in punishment is what they will face as a consequence of denying God’s signs; till they reach a day when they will receive what they have been promised. This has been indicated in verses like [20: 124], etc. 50

Giving Respite in Surah Qalam

وَأُمْلِي لَهُمْ ۚ إِنَّ كَيْدِي مَتِينٌ ﴿45﴾

I will grant them respite, for My devising is indeed sure.

The word ‘imla’ (إملاء) from which the word ‘umli’ (أملی) in the verse has been derived means to give respite.

God gives the disbelievers respite so that they drown in sins in His blessings and commit sins however they wish as His ‘kayd’ (کید) which is a kind of stratagem, is strong.

In the previous verse God uses the pronoun ‘we’ 51 as istidraj, which is the delivering of blessing after blessing, is done through angels; 52 however, in this verse, He uses the pronoun I. This is because giving respite is the same as delaying ‘ajal’ (أجل) which means a fixed or specified term (of life) and wherever this has been used in the Quran it has not been attributed to anyone other than God. 53 , 54

Have You Asked Them for a Reward?

أَمْ تَسْأَلُهُمْ أَجْرًا فَهُم مِّن مَّغْرَمٍ مُّثْقَلُونَ ﴿46﴾

Do you ask them for a reward, so that they are weighed down with debt?

This verse of Surah Qalam and the next are a continuation of the questions asked a few verses back and are a part of the four questions mentioned to negate the deniers’ claim of their equality with the Muslim in the Hereafter.

The verse states that their claim is baseless; if the Prophet had asked them for compensation it could be said that his love for wealth made him say such words 55 (that the deniers and believers will be equal on Qiyamah). However, he asked for no compensation from them in return for his mission.

Do They Have Knowledge of the Unseen?

أَمْ عِندَهُمُ الْغَيْبُ فَهُمْ يَكْتُبُونَ ﴿47﴾

Do they possess [access to] the Unseen, so that they write it down?

From the context it is apparent that the unseen mentioned here is the unseen of things from which limited affairs are sent down and become manifest and therefore, the writing in the verse refers to measurement and destiny and possessing the unseen refers to them having mastery over the unseen.

As a result, the verse questions: but is the destiny and decree in their hands that they decree however they desire and desire that on Qiyamah their situation is equal to that of the Muslims? 56

A Reference to Prophet Yunus (Jonas) in Surah Qalam

فَاصْبِرْ لِحُكْمِ رَبِّكَ وَلَا تَكُن كَصَاحِبِ الْحُوتِ إِذْ نَادَىٰ وَهُوَ مَكْظُومٌ ﴿48﴾

So submit patiently to the judgment of your Lord, and do not be like the Man of the Fish who called out as he choked with grief.

Inviting to Patience in Surah Qalam

God has invited the Prophet to patience about twenty times in the Quran; this is because guiding the people requires patience and perseverance.

The disbelievers were given a warning in verse forty-five with the phrase for My devising is indeed sure, therefore, God has a judgment and plan for them and d the Prophet is asked to exercise patience and not curse them. 57

From this verse one can understand that the denial and stubbornness of the polytheists had upset the Prophet greatly. 58

The Companion of the Fish in Surah Qalam

 ‘Makzum’ (مکظوم) is someone whose throat is tight with anger and he can’t get rid of it in any way.

In this verse, God asks the Prophet to not be like the Companion of the Fish, i.e. Prophet Yunus (یونس), i.e. Prophet Jonah, who was filled with anger (against his people) when talking to God. The Prophet is being asked to refrain from the cause of that anger and the reason for that anger is that when one lacks patience, he seeks hastens in the coming of the punishment upon the enemies.

God is decided the fate and destruction of the disbelievers through istidraj and the Prophet is being asked to wait and not be like Prophet Jonas who was angry and upset with his people and ended up being swallowed by the fish where he glorified God and confessed to his mistake; so as to be careful not to meet the same fate as him. 59

The Blessing of Repentance in Surah Qalam

لَّوْلَا أَن تَدَارَكَهُ نِعْمَةٌ مِّن رَّبِّهِ لَنُبِذَ بِالْعَرَاءِ وَهُوَ مَذْمُومٌ ﴿49﴾

Had it not been for a blessing that came to his rescue from his Lord, he would surely have been cast on the bare shore, being blameworthy.

What was the blessing that Prophet Yunus received from God?

God gave him both a material blessing since he did not drown, the fish swallowed him, he remained alive in its stomach and God brought him out of it; as well as a spiritual blessing which was the grace of seeking repentance and its acceptance since no repentance and act of obedience is performed by man except that God gives him/her the grace to perform it. 60

Prophet’s Jonah’s Fate in Surah Qalam

The verse of Surah Qalam speaks about a blessing that came to his rescue; this blessing is the acceptance of his repentance in the belly of the fish after his cry of ‘there is no god except You! 61 i.e. if it had not been for the acceptance of his repentance he would have been thrown out of the fish while being deserving to be reprehended. 62

Apparent Conflict

Of the other verses in the Quran regarding the events that took place regarding Prophet Jonah are the following:

فَلَوْلَا أَنَّهُ كَانَ مِنَ الْمُسَبِّحِينَ ﴿143﴾

Had he not been one of those who celebrate Allah’s glory,

لَلَبِثَ فِي بَطْنِهِ إِلَىٰ يَوْمِ يُبْعَثُونَ ﴿144﴾

he would have surely remained in its belly till the day they will be resurrected. 63

Although it may seem that there is a conflict between this verse and the verse of Surah Qalam, there is, in fact, no such conflict.

However, this verse above narrates that Jonas was among the glorifiers of God before he fell into the belly of the fish and it was this act that caused him not to remain there; otherwise, the result of his anger was that he should forever remain in the belly of the fish. On the other hand, his repentance and glorification in the fish’s belly was reason for him not being thrown out of it while being blameworthy. 64

The Result of Repentance in Surah Qalam

فَاجْتَبَاهُ رَبُّهُ فَجَعَلَهُ مِنَ الصَّالِحِينَ ﴿50﴾

So his Lord chose him and made him one of the righteous.

As a result of his repentance, God gave Prophet Yunus two bounties and blessings and he was thrown out of the fish while being praiseworthy:

  1. So his Lord chose him  indicates that when he left the city, prophet-hood was taken from him; however, now God returned it to him
  2. And made him one of the righteous expresses that the acceptance of his repentance eradicated what had passed. 65

Did Jonah Commit a Sin?

A question may come to our mind that did the Prophet Jonah commit a sin leaving his people in anger?

The answer is that the status of the prophets is more glorified than that they should neglect or fail in bearing the difficulties of prophet-hood and apostleship. In Prophet Jonah’s case, God sent a tribulation his way in order to raise his status and therefore, it was better and right that he bear that trial. He, however, was unable to tolerate it and asked God to free him of it. 66

As such, it was not a sin; rather, it was forgoing the preferable act or ‘tark-I awla’ (ترک اولی). He thought that now that his people are not listening to his words, he should go somewhere else to preach. However, it was better and preferable that he not do such a thing and he assumed God would not take it hard on him; as the following verse indicates: … thinking that We would not put him to hardship. 67 , 68

The Severity of the Anger of the Disbelievers according to Surah Qalam

وَإِن يَكَادُ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا لَيُزْلِقُونَكَ بِأَبْصَارِهِمْ لَمَّا سَمِعُوا الذِّكْرَ وَيَقُولُونَ إِنَّهُ لَمَجْنُونٌ ﴿51﴾

Indeed the faithless almost devour you with their eyes when they hear this Reminder, and they say, ‘He is indeed crazy.’

وَمَا هُوَ إِلَّا ذِكْرٌ لِّلْعَالَمِينَ ﴿52﴾

Yet it is just a reminder for all the nations.

At the start of Surah Qalam, the verses indicated the charge of the disbelievers against the Prophet, i.e. his being crazy and in these ending verses, this matter is clearly stated.

The word ‘layuzliqunak’ (لیزلقونک) is derived from ‘zalaqa’ (زلق) which means to slip and fall and is a metaphor for destruction and ruin.

Verse fifty-one of Surah Qalam shows the severity of the anger of the disbelievers against the Prophet; that when they hear the verse of the Quran, they wish to kill him with their looks. This could refer to either casting the evil eye or is a metaphor. 69

Making Aspersions on the Quran

Attributing craziness to the Prophet when they heard the Quran from him is proof that they wished to say that it is inspired by devils and jinn.

It is for this reason that when God replies to this, He says that the Quran is but a reminder for all people. 70

Summary of Surah Qalam

Surah Qalam or Nun or Nun wa al-Qalam is a chapter of the 29th part of the Quran and is responsding to the disbelievers and polytheists accusing the Prophet of being crazy and it begins and end with a discussion in this regard.

The verses of this chapter respond to this by extolling the characteristics of the Prophet like the continuous grace he receives from God and his high moral character. It then mentions nine attributes of the deniers and disbelievers. It follows this with a warning to them through the narrating of a n event and the lessons that can be learnt from it.

The verses that follow negate the claim of the deniers that they share the same status with the Muslim in the Hereafter by mentioning they have neither written, nor logical and nor verbal proofs to back their claims of equality.

Towards the end of Surah Qalam, the verses speak of Prophet Jonah or Yunus and advise the Prophet through the life of that Prophet and the chapter finally ends with an indication of the severity of the anger the disbelievers have towards the Prophet by calling him crazy when he recites the verses of the Quran.


References

  1. Qarai translation
  2. Al – Islam
  3. Tabatabai, M.H. (1374). Tafsir al-Mizan. (Trans. by Muhammad Baqir Musawi Hamedani). Jamiat al-Modarresin Publications. Vol. 19, p. 615
  4. Ibid. vol. 18, pp. 4 & 7
  5. Ibid. p. 7
  6. Ibid. pp. 7 & 8
  7. Ibid. p. 8
  8. Tabarsi, F. (1360). Majma‘ al-Bayan fi Tafsir al-Quran. Translated by a group of translators. Farahani Publications. Vol. 25, p. 210
  9. Tabatabai, M.H. Ibid. Vol. 19, p. 615
  10. Qarashi, A. A. (1377). Tafsir-i Ahsan al-Hadith. Bethat Publications. Vol. 11. p. 278
  11. Tabatabai, M. H. Ibid. p. 617
  12. Ibid. p. 618
  13. Ibid.
  14. Ibid. pp. 618 & 619
  15. Qaraati, M. Tafsir Nur. Commentary of Surah Qalam. Commentary of verses 1-4
  16. Qaraati, M. Ibid.
  17. Ghurar al Hikam
  18. Tabatabai, M. H. Ibid. p. 619
  19. Ibid. pp. 620-621
  20. Ibid. pp. 621 & 622
  21. Qaraati, M. Ibid. Verses 8-16; Tabatabai, M. H. Ibid. p. 621
  22. Tabatabai, M. H. Ibid. p. 621
  23. Ibid.
  24. Ibid.
  25. Ibid. pp. 621-622
  26. Qaraati, M. Ibid.
  27. Qarashi, A. A. Ibid. p. 281
  28. Tabatabai, M. H. Ibid. p. 622
  29. Qarashi, A. A. Ibid. p. 281
  30. Tabatabai, M. H. Ibid. p. 623
  31. Qaraati, M. Ibid. Verses 17-22
  32. [28: 81]. Qarai translation
  33. Qaraati, M. Ibid.
  34. Ibid.
  35. Ibid. Verses 23-33
  36. Tabatabaii, M. H. Ibid. pp. 628-629
  37. Qaraati, M. Ibid
  38. Tabatabai, M. H. Ibid. p. 629
  39. Qarashi, A. A. Ibid. p. 294
  40. Ibid.
  41. Ibid. pp. 294-295
  42. Tabatabai, M. H. Ibid. pp. 641-642
  43. Ibid. p. 642
  44. Ibid. p. 643
  45. Ibid. vol. 19, p. 644
  46. Qaraati, M. Ibid. Verses 42-43
  47. [7: 182]. Qarai translation
  48. Tabatabai, M. H. Ibid. Vol. 8, pp. 452-453
  49. Forty Hadith Book
  50. Tabatabai, M. H. Ibid. Vol. 8, pp. 452-453
  51. Ibid. vol. 18, p. 645
  52. Ibid, vol. 8, p. 454
  53. For example, see [6: 2].
  54. Tabatabai, M. H. Ibid. vol. 19, p. 645
  55. Qarashi, A. A. Ibid. p. 300
  56. Tabatabai, M. H. Ibid. pp. 645-646
  57. Qaraati, M. Ibid. Verses 47-50
  58. Qarashi, A. A. Ibid. p. 300
  59. Tabatabai, M. H. Ibid. p. 646
  60. Qaraati, M. Ibid.
  61. [21: 87]. Qarai translation
  62. Qarashi, A. A. Ibid. p. 300
  63. [37: 143-144]. Qarai translation
  64. Qarashi, A. A. Ibid. p. 300-301
  65. Ibid. p. 301
  66. Hosseini Shah Abdul Azimi, H. (1363). Tafsir Ithan Ashari. Miqat Publications. Vol. 13. P. 282
  67. [21: 87]. Qarai translation
  68. Qarashi, A. A. Ibid. p. 301
  69. Qaraati, M. Verses 51-52
  70. Tabatabai, M. H. Ibid. p. 649
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