The Message of the Quran
AL-JINN (THE UNSEEN BEINGS)
Total Verses: 28
REVEALED not later than during the last two years of the
Prophet's sojourn in
IN THE NAME OF GOD, THE MOST GRACIOUS, THE DISPENSER OF GRACE:
(1) SAY: "It has been revealed to me that some of the unseen beings gave ear [to this divine writ], 1 and thereupon said [unto their fellow-beings]: "'Verily, we have heard a wondrous discourse,
(2) guiding towards consciousness of what is right; and so We have come to believe in it. And we shall never ascribe divinity to anyone beside our Sustainer,
(3) for [we know] that sublimely exalted is our Sustainer's majesty: no consort has He ever taken unto Himself, nor a son!
(9) notwithstanding that we were established in positions [which we had thought well-suited] to listening to [whatever secrets might be in] it: 8 and anyone who now [or ever] tries to listen will [likewise] find a flame lying in wait for him! 9
(10) "'And [now we have become aware] that we [created beings] may not know whether evil fortune is intended for [any of] those who live on earth, or whether it is their Sustainer’s will to endow them with consciousness of what is right: 10
(11) Just as [we do not know how it happens] that some from among us are righteous, while some of us are [far] below that: we have always followed widely divergent paths.
(12) "'And, withal, we have come to know that we can never elude God [while we live] on earth, and that we can never elude Him by escaping [from life].
(13) Hence, as soon as we heard this [call to His] guidance, we came to believe in it: and he who believes in his Sustainer need never have fear of loss or injustice.
(14) "'Yet [it is true] that among us are such as have surrendered themselves to God - just as there are among us such as have abandoned themselves to wrongdoing. Now as for those who surrender themselves to Him - it is they that have attained to consciousness of what is right;
(20) Say: "I invoke my Sustainer alone, for I do not ascribe divinity to anyone beside Him."
(21) Say: "Verily, it is not in my power to cause you harm or to endow you with consciousness of what is right."
(22) Say: "Verily, no one could ever protect me from God, nor could I ever find a place to hide from Him
(23) if I should fail to convey 16 [to the world whatever illumination comes to me] from God and His messages." Now as for him who rebels against God and His Apostle - verily, the fire of hell awaits him, therein to abide beyond the count of time. 17
(24) [Let them, then, wait] until the time when they behold that [doom] of which they were forewarned: 18 for then they will come to understand which [kind of man] is more helpless and counts for less! 19
(25) Say: "I do not know whether that [doom] of which you were forewarned is near, or whether my Sustainer has set for it a distant term."
(27) unless it be to an apostle whom He has been pleased to elect [therefor]: 21 and then He sends forth [the forces of heaven] to watch over him in whatever lies open before him and in what is beyond his ken 22 –
(28) so as to make manifest that it is indeed [but] their Sustainer's messages that these [apostles] deliver: for it is He who encompasses [with His knowledge] all that they have [to say], 23 just as He takes count, one by one, of everything [that exists].
1 I.e., had heard and accepted it: this being the meaning, in the above context, of the verbal form istama’a. - As regards the various meanings attributable to the plural noun jinn (rendered by me here as "unseen beings"), see Appendix III. As pointed out there, the jinn are referred to in the Qur'an in many connotations. In a few cases - e.g., in the present instance and in 46:29-32 - this expression may possibly signify "hitherto unseen beings", namely, strangers who had never before been seen by the people among and to whom the Qur'an was then being revealed. From 46:30 (which evidently relates to the same occurrence as the present one) it transpires that the jinn in question were followers of the Mosaic faith, inasmuch as they refer to the Qur'an as "a revelation bestowed from on high after [that of] Moses", thus pointedly omitting any mention of the intervening prophet, Jesus, and equally pointedly (in verse 3 of the present surah) stressing their rejection of the Christian concept of the Trinity. All this leads one to the assumption that they may have been Jews from distant parts of what is now the Arab world, perhaps from Syria or even Mesopotamia. (Tabari mentions in several places that the jinn referred to in this surah as well as in 46:29 ff. hailed from Nasibin, a town on the upper reaches of the Euphrates.) I should, however, like to stress that my explanation of this occurrence is purely tentative.
2 If we accept the supposition that the beings spoken of here were Jewish strangers, the "outrageous things" (shatat) which they mention would appear to be an allusion to the deep-set belief of the Jews that they were "God's chosen people" - a belief which the Qur'an consistently rejects, and of which the new converts now divested themselves.
3 In this and the next verse, the term jinn (rendered here as "invisible forces") apparently refers to what is described as "occult powers'" or, rather to a person's preoccupation with them (see Appendix III). Irrespective of whether these "forces" are real or mere products of human imagination, they "tell lies about God" inasmuch as they induce their devotees to conceive all manner of fantastic, arbitrary notions about the "nature" of His Being and of His alleged relations with the created universe: notions exemplified in all mystery-religions, in the various gnostic and theosophical systems, in cabalistic Judaism, and in the many medieval offshoots of each of them.
4 Lit., "that men (rijal) from among the humans used to (kana) seek refuge with men from among the jinn". Since the reference to "the humans" (al-ins) applies to men and women, the expression rijal is obviously used here - as so often in the Qur'an - in the sense of "some persons" or "certain kinds" of people. "Seeking refuge" is synonymous with seeking help, protection or the satisfaction of physical or spiritual needs: in the context of the above passage, this is evidently an allusion to the hope of "certain kinds of humans" that the occult powers to which they have turned would successfully guide them through life, and thus make it unnecessary for them to look forward to the coming of a new prophet.
5 Thus Tabari (on the authority of Al-Kalbi) and Ibn Kathir. The overwhelming majority of the Jews were convinced that no prophet would be raised after those who were explicitly mentioned in the Old Testament: hence their rejection of Jesus and, of course, Muhammad, and their "reaching out towards heaven" (see next verse) in order to obtain a direct insight into God's plan of creation.
6 The above may be understood as alluding not only, metaphorically, to the arrogant Jewish belief in their being "God's chosen people", but also, more factually, to their old inclination to, and practice of, astrology as a means to foretell the future. Apart from this - and in a more general sense - their "reaching out towards heaven" may be a metaphorical description of a state of mind which causes man to regard himself as "self-sufficient" and to delude himself into thinking that he is bound to achieve mastery over his own fate.
7 See notes 16 and 17 on 15:17-18.
8 I.e., "we failed notwithstanding our status as descendants of Abraham, and despite all our ability and learning".
9 As the sequence shows (and as has been pointed out in note 17 on 15:18), this relates to all attempts at predicting the future by means of astrology or esoteric calculations, or at influencing the course of future events by means of "occult sciences".
10 Thus, as in verses 2 and 21 of this surah, "consciousness of what is right" (rashad or rushd) is equated with the opposite of evil fortune, i.e., with happiness.
11 With this assertion ends, according to all classical commentators, the "confession of faith" of the beings described at the beginning of this passage as jinn. Whatever be the real meaning of this term in the present instance - whether it signifies "unseen beings" of a nature unknown to man or, alternatively, a group of humans from distant lands - matters little, for the context makes it abundantly clear that the "speech" of those beings is but a parable of the guidance which the Qur'an offers to a mind intent on attaining to "consciousness of what is right".
12 Lit., "water abundant": a metaphor of happiness, echoing the allegorical reference, so frequently occurring in the Qur'an, to the "running waters" of paradise (Abu Muslim, quoted by Razi).
13 I.e., God's bestowal of blessings is not just a "reward" of righteousness but, rather, a test of man's remaining conscious of, and therefore grateful to, Him.
14 Lit, "the places of worship" (al-masajid): i.e., worship as such.
15 Lit, "would almost be upon him in crowds (libad, sing. libdah )" - i.e., with a view to "extinguishing God's [guiding] light" (Tabari, evidently alluding to 9:32). Most of the commentators assume that the above verse refers to the Prophet Muhammad and the hostility shown to him by his pagan contemporaries. While this may have been so in the first instance, it is obvious that the passage has a general import as well, alluding to the hostility shown by the majority of people, at all times and in all societies, to a minority or an individual who stands up for a self-evident - but unpopular - moral truth. (In order to be understood fully, the above verse should be read in conjunction with 19:73-74 and the corresponding notes.)
16 Lit., "except through an announcement" (illa balaghan). In this instance, however, the particle illa is evidently a contraction of in la ("if not"): thus, the above phrase signifies "if I do not [or "if should fail to"] convey. . .", etc. (Tabari, Zamakhshari, Razi).
17 This obviously relates to "those who are bent on denying the truth"- i.e., consciously - and thus destroy their own spiritual identity. The people alluded to in this particular instance are those who "would gladly overwhelm God's servant with their crowds" (verse 19).
18 I.e., on the Day of Judgment. Cf. the second paragraph of 19:75, which is similarly phrased.
19 Lit., "is weaker as to helpers and less in numbers" - i.e., less significant despite its greater numbers.
20 The possessive pronoun "His" in the phrase ala ghaybihi evidently indicates God exclusive knowledge of "that which is beyond the perception of any created being" (al-ghayb): hence the above, somewhat free, rendering of this truly untranslatable phrase.
21 Cf. 3:179 - "And it is not God's will to give you insight into that which is beyond the real of human perception: but [to that end] God elects whomsoever He wills from among His apostles".
22 For an explanation of this rendering of the phrase min bayni yadayhi wa-min khalfihi (lit., "from between his hands and from behind him"), see note 247 on 2:255. In the present context the phrase implies that the very fact of his being graced by divine revelation protects every apostle, spiritually, in all concerns of his life, irrespective of whether these concerns are obvious to him or are beyond his ken.
23 Lit., "all that is with them", i.e., of knowledge and wisdom.