Volume 1: Surah Baqarah, Verses 21-25
O men! worship your Lord Who created you and those before you so that you may guard (against evil) (21); Who made the earth a bed (resting place) and the sky a structure; and (Who) sends down rain from the heaven, thereby brings forth with it subsistence for you of the fruits; therefore do not set up equals to Allàh while you know (22). And if you are in doubt as to that which We have revealed to Our servant, then produce a chapter like it and call on your witnesses besides Allàh if you are truthful (23). But if you do (it) not - and never shall you do (it) - then be on guard against the fire of which men and stones are the fuel; it is prepared for the unbelievers (24). And convey good news to those who believe and do good deeds that for them are gardens in which rivers flow; whenever they shall be given a portion of the fruit thereof, they shall say: “This is what was given to us before;” and they shall be given the like of it, and they shall have pure mates in them; and in them they shall abide (25).
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QUR’ÀN: O men! worship your Lord . . . may guard (against evil):
The preceding nineteen verses have described the positions of the three groups category-wise: The pious ones who are on the guidance from their Lord; the disbelievers whose hearts and ears have been sealed and who have their eyes covered; and the hypocrites in whose hearts there is disease so Allàh added to their disease and they are deaf, dumb and blind.
In this background, Allàh calls the men to be His good servants, to worship Him and to join, not the disbelievers and the hypocrites, but the pious ones, those who guard themselves against evil. This context shows that the clause, “so that you may guard (against evil)”, is governed by the verb “worship” - you should worship Allàh to join those who guard against evil, who are pious. It may also be governed by the verb, “created” - Allàh created you in order that you may guard yourselves against evil.
QUR’ÀN: Who made the earth a bed . . . do not set up equals to Allàh while you know:
“al-Andàd” is plural of an-nidd (= alike, equal, peer). The phrase, “while you know”, is unconditional, and grammatically it is circumstantial phrase of “do not set up”; these two factors lend extra-ordinary force to the prohibition of setting up equals to Allàh. The sentence shows that a man who bas even a little knowledge should not ascribe any equal or partner to Allàh; he should know that it is Allàh Who has created him and those before him and arranged and managed this system in the creation for their sustenance and survival.
QUR’ÀN: And if you are in doubt . . . then produce a chapter like it…:
It is a challenge which human beings and jinn can never meet. This challenge has been offered to demonstrate the miracle of the Qur'àn, to show that it is a Book sent down by Allàh, there is no doubt in it; that it bas been revealed as an everlasting miracle that will remain alive till the end of the world. This challenge has repeatedly been given in the Qur’àn: -
Say: “If men and jinn should combine together to bring the like of this Qur’àn, they could not bring the like of it, even though some of them were aiders of the others” (17:88).
Or, do they say: “He has forged it?” Say: “Then bring ten chapters like it forged and call upon whom you can besides Allàh, if you are truthful” (11:13).
This context shows that the pronoun “it” in “like it” refers to “that which We have revealed to Our servant”, that is, the Qur’àn. It is a challenge to them to bring a like of the Qur’àn in its inimitable style and meaning.
The word “min mithlihi”(= translated here as “like it”) may also be rendered as “from like him”. In that case it will be a challenge to bring a like of the Qur’àn written by someone like the Holy Prophet. This Qur’àn has been brought by a person who was never taught by any teacher, who had not learnt these valuable and marvellous truths from any human being, nor had he taken this most eloquent style from any mortal. If the disbelievers thought that such a man can write such a Book, then let them bring its like from some such illiterate man. In this light, the verse would have the same import as the following one: -
Say: “If Allàh had desired (otherwise) I would not have recited it to you, nor would He have taught it to you; indeed I have lived a lifetime among you before it; do you not then understand?” (10:16)
Both explanations have been given in some traditions.
Obviously, this and the other challenging verses dare the antagonists to bring, if they can, like of even the shortest chapter of the Qur'àn - say, the Chapter of al-Kawthar or al-‘Asr.
A strange exegesis has been written by someone that “like it” means like this Chapter, The Cow, in which this verse occurs. This explanation is totally devoid of good literary taste. Those who disbelieved in the Qur'àn, rejected the whole Book as being forged against Allàh. What purpose could be served by challenging them to bring a Chapter like that of The Cow? Such a challenge would, in final analysis, mean this: If you are in doubt the short Chapter of al-Kawthar or al-Ikhlàs, then bring a like of the largest Chapter of The Cow. Absurd, isn't it!
QUR’ÀN: But if you do (it) not - and never shall you do (it) - then be on guard against the fire of which men and stones are the fuel; it is prepared for the unbelievers. And convey good news to those who believe and do good deeds that for them are gardens in which rivers flow; whenever they shall be given a portion of the fruit thereof, they shall say: “This is what was given to us before;” and they shall be given the like of it, and they shall have pure mates in them; and in them they shall abide.
The chapter began with description of three groups: the pious ones, the disbelievers and the hypocrites. But then all of them were joined together by the words, "O men!", calling them to worship Allah. In this context, they could be divided in two groups only: those who answered this call (i.e. the believers) and those who did not answer it (i.e. the disbelievers). The hypocrites do not come into this picture, probably because in their appearance they are with the first group, while in reality they are included in the second. Perhaps that is why the previous designation of the first group (those who guard against evil ) has been changed here for "those who believe".
"al-Waqud " is fuel. The verse says that man himself is the fuel of hell. He is his own fuel, to keep the fire burning, and to get himself burned in that fire. Allah says: then in the fire shall they be burned (40:72). It is the fire kindled by Allah, which rises above the hearts (104:6-7). Man shall be burned in a fire that will be kindled and fueled by his own self.
The next verse, 2:25, runs parallel to it and we find the same principle at work here also: "whenever they shall be given a portion of the fruit thereof, they shall say: 'This is what was given to us before;' and they shall be given the like of it". It indicates that man shall get there only what he has himself prepared here. The Prophet has said: "As you live so you will die, and as you die so you will be raised." But the people of the paradise have a pleasant distinction vis-a-vis the people of the fire, because they shall be given ever-increasing rewards by their Lord: They have therein what they wish and with Us is more yet (50:35).
".....of which men and stones are the fuel": The stones referred to here are the idols which the disbelievers worshipped. Allah says: Surely you and what you worship besides Allah are the firewood of hell.....(21:98).
".....they shall have pure mates in them": The adjective "pure", inasmuch as it qualifies the "mates", refers to purity from all such things as may create aversion and unpleasantness - whether in their bodies or in their behavior. In other words, the mates given to the believers in paradise will be free from every disagreeable characteristics or trait.
As-Sadùq narrates that as-Sàdiq (a.s.) was asked about this verse and be said: “The pure mates are the ones who shall be free from menstruation and other excrements.”
The author says: Some other traditions have expanded the meaning to include cleanliness from all defective traits, all characteristics causing aversion.