Life is short and time is running out...!
The message in this section revolved around giving warnings to the stubborn and spiritually blind. This section underscores that message by alerting them to the fleeting nature of this life to create a sense of urgency to heed those warnings. The shortness of this section, being only two verses long, reflects its message: Life is short and time is running out.
In these two verses—23 and 24—the entire life cycle of a human being on this earth is summarised. Youthfulness is quickly overtaken by old age, and the faculties of sight, hearing, and intellect, which we rely on to enjoy life, quickly diminish and undergo a reversal back to childhood. This should then create a sense of urgency within the reader to change and improve themselves in order to prepare for their inevitable meeting with Allah.
23. Say, [O Prophet,] “He is the One Who brought you into being
and gave you hearing, sight, and intellect. [Yet] you hardly give any thanks.”
24. [Also] say, “He is the One Who has dispersed you [all] over the earth, and to Him you will [all] be gathered.”
The basic meaning of this verse is that Allah alone deserves your ultimate thanks and worship, and that no other entity or person in your life should be loved and feared as much as the Almighty. The way in which this message is communicated makes it all the more compelling.
The Prophet (sws) is told to declare that Allah is the only One who has bestowed four blessings upon humanity, namely:
1. Brought us into being.
2. Gave us the faculty of hearing.
3. Blessed us with sight.
4. Gifted us intellect.
This should create an extra sense of importance within the heart of the listener, for the Prophet of God (sws) only speaks the truth and conveys spiritual knowledge that contains no doubt. All four relate to blessings that we carry within us, as opposed to the blessings around us, such as the beauty of a flawless starlit sky or an easily traversable earth, both of which have already been mentioned earlier in Surah al-Mulk. The order of the blessings also contains wisdom.
By first stating that Allah was the One who brought you into being, it suggests that of the four, the gift of life is the greatest. As for the other three, it is as if to say that Allah went further to complete that favour of life by gifting the human being with faculties by which they can experience and enjoy it. The ability to hear, see, and understand allows life to become meaningful and purposeful. Moreover, they enable the person to discover the Signs of Allah and follow the Straight Path. Thus, the wisdom in positioning this verse after a series of verses in which warnings and serious counsel were given becomes clear. Verse 19 told the critic to look at the flight of birds and see the Signs of God. Verses 16-18 told them to recall the devastating divine punishment that came to perished nations, something the Quraysh of Makkah would have heard about. Finally, verses 20 and 21 furnished rational proofs to show the fallacy of idol worship. Therefore, all three faculties listed here in verse 23—hearing, sight, and intellect—are neatly synced with the verses that precede it.
Figure 10: The 3 human faculties listed in verse 23 & their connection with previous verses
As for the compelling aspect, these four blessings are undeniably and
exclusively from God and not the idols. The Quraysh, though bent on disbelieving in Muḥammad (sws) would have had no choice but to recognise this fact, as part of their theology, was the belief in Allah as the sole creator.
When contrasting this verse with the previous verses, we notice two points of distinction. Firstly, Allah is no longer talking to the disbelievers directly, but through the blessed lips of His Messenger using the instruction qul, ‘say’ i.e. say on My behalf. This creates a sense of variety in speech which serves to heighten the interest of the reader. Secondly, the threatening tone and message of warning have been replaced with a softer call to reflect over the blessings of God and arrive at the station of faith. Lastly, the instruction to the Prophet (sws) to speak (qul) elevates his position and rank as he is being given an opportunity to speak alongside God.
The verse ends almost abruptly: [Yet] you hardly give any thanks. This is as if to say that despite such love and generosity, people still do not thank God as much as they ought to—a claim that could easily be made against many of us. In fact, some scholars explain that qalilan matashkurun is a figure of speech (kinayah) to mean: they give absolutely no thanks!
The conclusive remark, when understood in the context of the Quraysh refusing to worship God alone, illustrates a powerful lesson often repeated in the Qur’an. The idea of worshiping God ([ibadah) and being grateful to Him (shukr) are frequently used interchangeably. The reason for this is to show that the correct manner in which to show gratitude to God is to devote yourself in worship to Him alone without partners. Conversely, people can never consider themselves as true worshippers of God if they constantly fail to appreciate His blessings and are ungrateful towards Him. Compare this now with the kind of gratitude that the Prophet (sws) would show to Allah. Whilst prostrating face down on the ground, he would utter, “I have prostrated my face to the One who created it, fashioned it, and endowed it with the ability to hear and see.”
One of the most amazing praises given to Prophet Noah in the Qur’an is when Allah declares: He was indeed a grateful servant. The reason I find this fascinating is because Noah struggled in his mission to help people find God for almost a thousand years. When a person exerts great effort for a cause and sees little results, they often lose hope and blame God for a lack of support. Now imagine the case if the mission was undertaken because of God’s direct instruction. Noah struggled for 950 years with only 80-odd people following him, and yet he remained committed to God, always thanking him for His favours. May Allah make us from the few who truly thank Him.
24. [Also] say, “He is the One Who has dispersed you [all] over the
earth, and to Him you will [all] be gathered.”
This verse can be interpreted to mean that Allah is the One who allowed you to flourish in great numbers on the earth; which was already explained as having been made smooth and vast for humanity. It can also mean that Allah has distributed human beings throughout the various regions of the planet and, despite their different languages, colours, shapes, appearances, and forms, Allah will surely gather them all together on a single plane on the Day of Judgement for a reckoning. The extra pronoun ‘He’ (huwa) creates a double emphasis on Allah being the sole reason why human beings flourish on the earth with such diversity. Again, as if to echo the point made in the previous verse, it stresses the lack of appreciation people have for the role God plays in their lives.
The word dispersed translates the Arabic word dhara’a, which originally means to become old or refers to hair turning grey. The meaning would thus be that Allah is the One who causes people to live to see old age and experience its weaknesses and frailty. This would contrast with the previous verse (23), which says He is the One Who brought you into being (ansha’a), as the word ansha’a means to nurture something to grow and rise. The two verses therefore complete the picture of care that Allah shows to humanity. The format of the verse is also identical: “Say He is the One who”, thereby inviting the reader to compare and contrast the two verses.
The word dhara’a can also mean to sow into the earth. The meaning would then refer to the final resting place of people being inside the earth, buried in the soil like a seed. However, death is not the end. As the last part of the verse states, and to Him you will [all] be gathered. People will arise back up out of the earth for a reckoning. Verses 23 and 24 summarise the entire life cycle of a human being on this earth, and the brevity with which the verses do this reflects the shortness of this worldly life. In the blink of an eye, youthfulness is overtaken by old age, and the faculties of sight, hearing, and intellect, which we rely on to enjoy life (as mentioned in verse 23), begin to deteriorate. This realisation creates a sense of urgency within the reader to change and improve themselves in preparation for their unavoidable meeting with Allah.
Excerpt is from 'Kingdom of God: Commentary on Surah Mulk' by Asim Khan