Verses 33-44: Spiritual Lessons in Physical Signs
The Surah now transitions from the theme of signs in history to signs in nature. This is the coherence between the two sections.
Section three of Surah Yāsīn presents spirituals signs embedded within the physical world around us. A total of eight are pointed out which people see constantly without paying any attention to the message they impart.
“There is a sign for them in the lifeless earth: We give it life and We produce grain from it for them to eat; We have put gardens of date palms and grapes in the earth, and We have made springs of water gush out of it so that they could eat its fruit. It was not their own hands that made all this. How can they not give thanks? Glory be to Him who created all the pairs of things that the earth produces, as well as themselves and other things they do not know about.” (36:33-36)
Recall how the previous verse spoke of life being given to the dead: Each and every one will be summoned to Our presence. Directly after mentioning bringing people back to life, Allāh then relates the very familiar phenomenon that we know of and can see, and that is the giving of life to a once barren earth.
According to Imām al-Qurtubi the phrase a sign for them can have three meanings: it is something to be contemplated; it is a blessing upon human beings; or it is a warning to human beings. More specifically, Allāh’s ability to revive the earth is cited as evidence of His ability to resurrect people. It can also be seen as an allusion to the revivification, through faith and knowledge, of a heart that is spiritually dead.
We have put gardens of date palms and grapes in the earth specifies two fruits because they were thought by Arabs to be the best of fruits; they can thus be seen as an allusion to all forms of plant life by which people are nourished ...and We have made springs of water gush out of it so that they could eat its fruit. Syed Qutb commented here saying, ‘the sight of growing plants, flowering gardens and ripening fruit should open people’s eyes and hearts to appreciate the wonderful work engendered by God’s hand.’ This sign not only illustrates the beauty of Allāh but His care and compassion towards people. As such, the grain from which we make our bread and the fruits we love to bite into are two signs rolled into one: their growth from the barren land is a sign proving Allāh’s ability to resurrect in the next world and at the same time it is the very thing that sustains human life in this world!
Imām al-Tabari explained that there are two ways of interpreting: It was not their own hands that made all this. The first is the basis of this translation i.e. the fruits did not grow because of human power but rather it was God’s power that was behind it. The second view would change the translation to: that they may eat of its fruit and of that which their hands have worked, i.e. not only has Allāh given people natural foods that come out of the ground, but He has also given them the ability to use them as ingredients to make their own foods.
How can they not give thanks? People’s lack of gratitude is a common Qur’ānic theme. Elsewhere Allāh says: Truly God is Possessed of Bounty for mankind, but most of mankind do not give thanks.
Finally, these first set of signs are concluded with the words: Glory be to Him …which indicates both God’s being beyond all that the idolaters associate with Him and amazement at what they say.
…who created all the pairs of things, where pairs translates azwāj, which can also mean ‘kinds’ in the sense of species, thus indicating the many different kinds of things that God has created. 80It is Allāh who created life in great varieties of shapes, sizes, races, features, and so on in all creatures, and Allah knows best their count and forms.
This amazing cycle of life, growth, death and then life again, all points to the wisdom of the One who created such a seamless and finely balanced system.
The beauty in diversity which we witness purges all defects and shortcomings from the One who placed it there and as a result we glorify Him.
The night is also a sign for them: We strip the daylight from it, and– lo and behold!– they are in darkness. The sun, too, runs its determined course laid down for it by the Almighty, the All Knowing. We have determined phases for the moon until finally it becomes like an old date-stalk. The sun cannot overtake the moon, nor can the night outrun the day: each floats in [its own] orbit. (36:37-40)
Where the previous spiritual signs related to God’s power over the land these signs relate to His control over the sky giving an uplifting contrast.
The night is also a sign for them: We strip the daylight from it, and–lo and behold!– they are in darkness. Strip translates naslakha, which originally means to remove the skin from an animal. 81 Here daylight is described as being something that wraps up the night and is stripped away by God’s power producing the darkness of night time. This alternation of night and day are cited throughout the Qur’ān as a sign of God’s Power and Perfection, as are the sun and the moon. The reason why it is called an āyah, sign, is because a reflective mind can appreciate that a phenomena of such magnitude occurring with such intricacy, precision and splendid continuity must be the result of intended design. Furthermore, the stability it brings to human life through the creation of time, is a manifestation of care and concern by the One who designed it. Moreover, our own incapability of bringing it about necessitates our humility and submission to Him, Most High.
The sun, too, runs its determined course laid down for it by the Almighty, the All Knowing. The sun runs or glides (tajrī) to a given point each day at which it disappears from our perspective. This is how the Prophet explained it to his companion Abū Dharr when he asked him at sunset, ‘Do you know where the sun goes [when it sets]?’ Abu Dharr replied, ‘God and His Messenger know best.’ He said, ‘It travels till it prostrates itself underneath the Throne and asks permission to rise again, and it is permitted. Then it is about to prostrate itself, but its prostration will not be accepted, and it will ask permission to go on its course, but it will not be permitted and will instead be ordered to return whence it has come, and so it will rise in the west”. 82 The verse can also be understood to mean the sun will continue its course until its final dwelling place (mustaqir) on the Day of Judgment.
In either case, the spirit of the verse is to demonstrate that the greatest entity in the sky is a mere creature of Allāh, whose life-giving function in our world comes as a product of its devotion to its Creator. Moreover it expresses the Might and Majesty of Allāh in bringing such a huge destructive entity 83 under control and subservience. Hence the names chosen to seal the verse were: by the Almighty, the All Knowing.
We have determined phases for the Moon until finally it becomes like an old date-stalk.
This verse is a reference to the waxing and waning of the moon through the twenty-eight stations (manāzil) of a single lunar month. Like an old date-stalk is a reference to the appearance of what remains from a date cluster after its fruit has been removed and it has withered, when it resembles the thin crescent moon in shape, width, and colour.
The Qur’ān shifts our perceptions towards things we tend to hold as arbitrary or coincidental into seeing Allāh’s power and wisdom behind such phenomena and appreciating them as such. This new shift in attitude brings with it a whole new reaction to witnessing the same phenomena, now the person is able to marvel over the wisdom behind it and express gratitude to Allāh for having made it part of the human world. For instance, the moon provides a cool, calm light in the darkness of the night, to the service of travellers, but without disruption to those resting.
The Sun cannot overtake the Moon, nor can the night outrun the day: each floats in [its own] orbit. The word 'yasbahun', translated here as ‘floats’, means to swim, glide, or move at speed. In this instance it is in reference to the movement of celestial bodies in space and beyond. The famous Companion Ibn ‘Ābbās explained this verse to mean the sun and moon do not interfere with each other’s light; they, along with other celestial bodies spin around like the spindle that winds the thread. Today we refer to this as the orbiting of planets.
The sun, moon, and other celestial bodies move in separate measurable orbits that are essential for navigating space and calculating time; without them human beings would lose their bearings and not be able to continue their lives on earth; more specifically, they would not be able to perform the religious rites required of them. In this way they can be seen as manifestations of God’s Guidance and Mercy.
This excerpt is from 'The Heart of the Qur'an by Asim Khan'
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