"Then pour over his head the Penalty of Boiling Water..."
Maududi says that sura 43 was revealed around the same time as suras 32, 40 and 42, when the pagan Quraysh of Mecca, the tribe from which Muhammad came, was plotting to kill him – he adds that Allah makes a reference to their secret plots in vv. 79-80.
The sura begins with the familiar affirmation of the Arabic character and wisdom of the Qur’an (v. 3), and notes that “it is in the Mother of the Book, in Our Presence” (v. 4). The “Mother of the Book” is, according to Islamic tradition, the Preserved Tablet, the copy of the Qur’an that has existed for all eternity with Allah. The Qur’an that Muhammad received through the angel Gabriel over the twenty-three years of his career as a prophet is a perfect copy of this eternal book. Then Allah again excoriates the unbelievers, warning them that the earlier prophets were mocked also (v. 7), and that he destroyed the mockers (v. 8).
Verses 9-12 then detail various signs of Allah’s power in the natural world, which are all signs for the unbelievers. Then verses 13-25 criticize the unbelievers for blindly following the religion of their fathers (vv. 23-24) and for suggesting that Allah has daughters, which they themselves are sorry to have (vv. 16-17). This refers to the goddesses of the Quraysh, which Muhammad himself briefly acknowledged as “daughter of Allah,” and then reneged when he realized he had compromised his monotheistic message. This was the notorious “Satanic Verses” incident, which we’ll discuss in detail in sura 53. As for this passage: “Women,” explains Ibn Kathir, “are regarded as lacking something, which they make up for with jewelry and adornments from the time of childhood onwards, and when there is a dispute, they cannot speak up and defend themselves clearly, so how can this be attributed to Allah?”
Abraham appears briefly (vv. 26-28) to repeat the warning to unbelievers, and then verses 29-42 detail the ingratitude and self-delusion of the unbelievers: they think they’re rightly guided when in fact they’re under demonic influence (vv. 36-37). Allah reassures Muhammad that the Qur’an is true and that he is on the right path (vv. 43-45). Moses reappears in verses 46-56, with the parallels to Muhammad more transparent than ever: the unbelievers ridicule his signs (v. 47) and call him a sorcerer (v. 49); ultimately Allah punished them (v. 55).
Jesus then follows (verses 57-65), with affirmations that he was not divine (v. 59), and that he shall return at the time of Judgment (v. 61). In a hadith, Muhammad says that at that time Jesus will “break the cross, kill the pigs, and abolish the Jizya tax” that is mandated for Christians under Islamic rule. This means he will destroy Christianity and Islamize the world. Jesus also preached the oneness of Allah (vv. 63-64), but his followers divided into warring sects (v. 65). If Allah really had a son, Allah tells Muhammad to say he would be the first to worship him (v. 81).
Verses 66-88 then rehearse the delights of the Garden of Paradise and the pains of Hell. The unbelievers will plead for it to end, but will be rebuffed (v. 77). Islam is the truth, but the unbelievers hate the truth (v. 78). Those whom they worship have no power (v. 86); Muhammad should turn away from them, for they will know he was right soon enough (v. 89).
According to Islamic tradition, sura 44 was revealed around the same time as sura 43. It too begins by praising the Qur’an: it “makes things clear” (v. 2) and began to be sent down during a “Blessed Night” (v. 3), which was during Ramadan. It was revealed as a sign of Allah’s mercy (vv. 5-6). Then follow warnings of the Day of Judgment, and the warning that people will be enveloped with smoke – a painful punishment (vv. 10-11). This penalty will be removed for a time, but the people will still not believe (v. 15). A hadith explains that Muhammad had asked Allah to curse the Quraysh; another says that he asked him to give them seven years of famine, “so famine overtook them for one year and destroyed every kind of life to such an extent that the people started eating hides, carcasses and rotten dead animals. Whenever one of them looked towards the sky, he would (imagine himself to) see smoke because of hunger.” After the chief of the Quraysh appealed to Muhammad that his own kin were dying (the Quraysh were Muhammad’s tribe), Muhammad relented and prayed for them, and Allah revealed vv. 10-16.
Pharaoh reappears in verses 17-33, challenged by a curiously unnamed Moses. Allah chose the Children of Israel above other nations (v. 32). Islamic commentators minimize the ongoing import of this: according to Mujahid, “This means that they were chosen above those among whom they lived,” and Qatadah agreed: “They were chosen above the other people of their own time, and it was said that in every period there are people who are chosen above others.” The Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs likewise says that the Israelites were chosen above others “of their time.”
Then verses 34-59 repeat warnings to the unbelievers, recounting their scorn at the idea of the resurrection of the dead (v. 35); they will be destroyed (v. 37). In hell the unbelievers will eat of the tree of Zaqqum, which will scald their insides (vv. 43-46), while the righteous in Paradise will enjoy the company of “fair women with beautiful, big, and lustrous eyes” (v. 54).
Sura 45 continues in this vein. The Qur’an is from Allah (v. 2); there are signs for the believers in the heavens and on earth (vv. 3-6, 12-13). But the unbelievers mock the signs of Allah (v. 9); hell awaits them (vv. 10-11). The believers should forgive the unbelievers (v. 14); however, Ibn Kathir explains that this was only a temporary provision: “Let the believers forgive the disbelievers and endure the harm that they direct against them. In the beginning of Islam, Muslims were ordered to observe patience in the face of the oppression of the idolaters and the People of the Scriptures so that their hearts may incline towards Islam. However, when the disbelievers persisted in stubbornness, Allah legislated for the believers to fight in Jihad.”
Allah favored the Children of Israel above the nations (v. 16), but they fell into schisms because of insolent envy (v. 17). Muhammad is now on the right path (v. 18), and Ibn Kathir warns that this passage “contains a warning to the Muslim Ummah as well. It warns them not to take the path the Jews took nor adopt their ways.” The evildoers will not judged in the same way as are the righteous (v. 21). Allah has left the one who worships his own desire blind and straying (v. 23). Then verses 24-37 conclude with more warnings of the Day of Judgment: the unbelievers scoff (v. 25), but there is no real doubt about the Day (v. 26). The unbelievers will be reminded that they witnessed Allah’s signs (v. 31), but they took them in jest, and now will burn forever (v. 35).
(Here you can find links to all the earlier "Blogging the Qur'an" segments. Here is a good Arabic Qur’an, with English translations available; here are two popular Muslim translations, those of Abdullah Yusuf Ali and Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall, along with a third by M. H. Shakir. Here is another popular translation, that of Muhammad Asad. And here is an omnibus of ten Qur’an translations.)