Surah al-Anaam takes its name from Ayaat 136, 138 and 139 in which superstitious belief of the idolatrous Arabs concerning the lawfulness of some an’aam and the unlawfulness of some others have been refuted. Ibn ‘Abbas radhiAllahu ‘anhu narrates that the entire Surah was revealed in one sitting at Makkah, accompanied by 70,000 angels raising their voices in glorification of Allah.
Although revealed over a period of thirteen years, it deals with only one question, the question of faith. This question deals with the relationship between man and his Creator, rather the Creator of all creation.
Since it is a Makkan Surah, therefore the main addresses are the Mushrikeen [idolaters], and their false beliefs and practices.
The Surah starts with a confrontation with the idolaters who associate partners with Allah while the indicators of Allah’s Oneness stare them in the face presenting themselves everywhere. It presents the attitude of those who deny all the signs and indicators that they see in the world around them and within themselves. It is immediately followed with a warning, coupled with a reminder of the destruction of earlier communities. Allah’s overwhelming power is, thus, seen in full view. The stubborn attitude of those rejecting the truth in the face of such manifest truth appears to be strange indeed. We realize that it is not proofs that they lack but rather sincerity and an open mind. [Ayaat 1 – 3]
Then Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala defines the truth of Godhead as it is clearly reflected in His ownership of everything in the heavens and earth, and what takes its rest at night or day. It is also seen in the fact that Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala is the only one who provides for all creation, the one who feeds them and is fed by none. Hence, He is the only guardian and the only protector, to whom all creatures must submit themselves. [Ayaat 4 – 11]
Ayaat 20 – 32 speak of the fact that the people of earlier revelations are aware of this newly revealed book, i.e. the Qur’ān, which is rejected by the idolaters. It describes idolatry as the worst type of wrongdoing. It also shows the idolaters as they are gathered on the Day of Judgment. They are asked about the partners they used to associate with Allah, and their surprising answer is to deny having done so. Here, the idolaters are shown with non-functional faculties of reception: they cannot pick up any inspiration to accept the faith, and their hearts cannot appreciate the signs calling on them to believe. Hence they describe the Qur’ān as `fables of the ancients’.
They are told here that they only ruin themselves when they counsel others not to respond to divine guidance. They are shown as they are brought before the Fire on the Day of Judgment. In their predicament, they wish that they could be returned to this life so that they would not deny Allah’s revelations, but join the believers instead. This round then takes us back to this life to see the unbelievers denying resurrection and life after death. By way of comment, they are shown standing before their Lord on the Day of Resurrection, carrying their burdens on their backs, and being asked about their denial. It concludes with an unequivocal statement that those who deny the meeting with their Lord are certainly the losers, and that this present life is too trivial in comparison to what the God-fearing receive in the hereafter.
We then see Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala comforting His Prophet and dispelling his grief at the denial he receives from the unbelievers. He is told that he has a good example in the cases of earlier messengers. They were denied and received hostile opposition, but they remained steadfast until Allah gave them victory. It states that the laws Allah has set in operation will not be changed, but they cannot be hastened either. If the Prophet cannot withstand their rejection, then he may try to bring them a miracle by his own human endeavor. Had Allah so willed, He would have brought them all to His guidance. But His will has so determined that those whose natural receptive faculties are not switched off will respond to divine guidance, while those who are dead will not make such a response. He will resurrect them and they will all return to Him. It also gives a lesson to the believers to remain steadfast in da`wah work and be patient in testing times. [Ayaat 32 – 39]
Ayaat 40 – 49 talk about both calamities and blessings. Calamities are a means to humble man before his Lord. They serve as reminders that nothing lasts forever. Shaytan beautifies things for man to divert him from the right path and his main purpose of existence. It presents the example of two groups of the people: those who believe in the Message brought by the Messenger will have no fear and grief while the deniers will face a tormenting punishment.
Then we read about accountability and grace. First, Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala affirms that the Messenger does not know the Unseen. Then we read that in Islam there is no distinction between rich and poor and believing in Allah is the real honor.
From Ayaat 56 – 65, the Surah again picks up the theme of the true nature of Godhead. Here a response to the Mushrikeen has been given. The Prophet salAllahu `alayhi wa sallam is absolutely certain of this evidence, and his firm belief will not admit any doubts as a result of the attitude of unbelievers who deny his message. Hence, he devotes himself to his faith, and takes his stand away from his people. His certainty that they are in deep error is as strong as his certainty of the truth that he is rightly guided. In the same passage, we learn about Allah’s forbearance when He does not act on the unbelievers’ requests for a physical miracle. Should He give them such a miracle and should they continue to disbelieve, their continued rejection of the truth would ensure their total destruction.
Allah holds sway over all His creatures in all situations, whether asleep or awake, in life and after death, in this present world and in the next one. When the unbelievers are overwhelmed by serious danger, they call for help on none other than Allah. Yet, they associate partners with Him, forgetting that the one to whom they appeal for delivery from danger is able to inflict punishment on them that none can remove.
Ayaat 66 – 70 re-endorse Prophet’s independence of people’s actions. He will not be responsible for people’s erring ways. He is further instructed not to sit with them when they engage in idle talk about religion, taking it as a sport and fun, showing no due respect to it. His instructions are very clear: he has to remind and warn them, convey his message to them and explain to them what they will have to face on the Day of Judgment. However, he must realize that although they are his people, they belong to two different nations. No considerations of nationality, race, clan or family are of much value in Islam. It is faith that causes relationships to be established or severed. When the bond of faith is established all other bonds may establish their roots. When the bond of faith is severed, however, no other ties can be established. This was their point of separation.
Ayaat 70 – 73 denounce those who turn away from guidance to sink back into disbelief and their associating partners with Allah. They portray a man who is totally lost, bewildered, not knowing where to turn because he turned away from faith after believing in Allah. These Ayaat emphasize that Allah’s guidance is the only true guidance.
Then begins a very long passage. Here, we find a story followed by comments, coupled with a number of inspiring elements. One element used here that deserves particular mention is an elaborate scene depicting our approaching deaths. This long passage provides a vivid picture of the long procession of the faithful, beginning with the Prophet Noah and travelling down the ages until the time of the Prophet Muhammad.
We come across splendid scene of uncorrupted human nature seeking the true Lord, whose presence it clearly senses; the story of Prophet Ibraheem `alayhi salaam and his da`wah to his people. As we look attentively at this procession, all concepts of polytheism and all the arguments of those who reject the truth are shown to be worthless. All the faithful across all ages are seen as constituting one nation and one community, the later generations of which follow the same guidance received by earlier generations. Thus, considerations of time, place, race, nationality, lineage or color are seen to be of no value whatsoever. The tie that links all the faithful is the single faith preached by the noble prophets (peace be upon them all).
This is a splendid picture followed by a powerful commentary making it clear that whoever turns his back on Allah’s guidance shall find that all his deeds avail him nothing. People are required to follow the divine guidance outlined by the prophets who seek no wages for teaching their people. They only fulfill the mission entrusted to them by Allah. [Ayaat 74 – 94]
Ayaat 95 – 111 include specific directives for us to appreciate the beauty which is all too visible in the flourish of life. In this way we behold the Originator of the heavens and earth who has placed all these wonderful things in the universe. The Surah speaks of Him in images and expressions the beauty of which cannot be intimated except by the Qur’anic text itself. People pass by this universe all the time without pausing for a moment to look at its miraculous features, its telling signs and wonderful features.
The Qur’an takes us on a tour of this universe, and we feel as if we see it for the first time. We want to look at its wonders, contemplate its beauty and enjoy its splendor. It stops us in front of the miracle that occurs at every moment of the night and day: the miracle of life as it stirs in the midst of the dead world around it. How does it start? Where does it come from? It simply comes from Allah, and starts by His will.
As the Surah places this rich and varied tapestry in front of unbelievers, the very concept of polytheism is felt to be infinitely absurd. Indeed, everyone who contemplates the great many signs pointing to the truth and indicating the source of guidance will find this concept too hideous to deserve even a moment’s consideration. The whole argument of those unbelievers who associate partners with God falls to pieces.
Ayaat 112 – 135 speak of the continuing battle launched against every Prophet by the evil ones among human beings and the Jinn, and how this battle is resolved. They dwell on the issue of what is lawful or forbidden of slaughtered animals, and whether Allah’s name is invoked at the time of their slaughter or not.
From Ayaat 136 till the end of the Surah, we study the intertwining laws and concepts. It begins with a brief reference to concepts that prevailed in jāhiliyyah days, and the pagan practices of the Arabs concerning their agricultural produce, livestock and children. Then it speaks of Torah given to Prophet Musa `alayhi salaam. To him, Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala revealed a book in which He spelled out everything, providing guidance and bestowing grace, in the hope that his people would believe in the resurrection and the meeting with their Lord. It then moves on to mention the new blessed book, which is closely related to the one revealed to Musa. It gives full details of the faith and the law which people are required to accept and implement consciously. This will ensure that people receive Allah’s grace in both this life and the life to come.
The Surah has taken us on a fascinating and breathtaking journey, to look at the great truths of existence. It is a journey that covers the major and fundamental Islamic concepts. It portrays the truth of Godhead in all its awesome glory, majesty, splendor and beauty. It holds in front of our eyes the truths of the universe, life and what lies beyond life which we cannot perceive with our limited faculties. It shows us the truth of Allah’s will and how it initiates and obliterates, gives life and causes death, and runs the universe and all living things. It reflects the truth of the human soul: its depths, apparent and hidden pathways, desires and leanings, the guidance it follows and the errors it commits, how it reacts to the whispers of evil humans and jinn, as well as how it is led along the right or wrong way.
The panorama it shows us is vast and extensive. We cannot sum it up in words. It can only be seen through the Surah itself, with its surpassing excellence and inimitable style of expression.
All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of all the worlds.
“He it is who has made you inherit the earth and has raised some of you by degrees above others, so that He might try you by means of what He has bestowed upon you. For certain, your Lord is swift in retribution; yet, He is indeed much forgiving, merciful.”
Compiled from Sayyid Qutb’s: In the Shade of Qur’an.