Then in 25:11-34 Allah warns of the dreadful Day of Judgment, when the unbelievers will lament, “Oh! would that I had taken a (straight) path with the Messenger!” (v. 27) and will realize the terrible mistake they made in taking the Qur’an to be “foolish nonsense” (v. 30). Meanwhile, as the fearsome Day unfolds, the believers will rest in the Garden (v. 24). In verses 35-42, Allah briefly recalls Moses and Noah, and notes that the people to whom they and other prophets were sent received them with scorn also, and were utterly destroyed (vv. 36, 39). Yet they continue to mock Muhammad’s claim to be a prophet, and will soon receive their penalty (vv. 40-41).
Allah in verses 43-77 details some of his powers in governing the natural order of the earth — but the unbelievers are “like cattle” (v. 44) who are insensate amid all this evidence. Allah could have sent a prophet to every town (v. 51) — but of course we have already seen that he has sent Muhammad for all people (v. 1). Muhammad should “strive against” the unbelievers “with the utmost strenuousness” (v. 52) — in Arabic, “jihad against them a great jihad” (جَاهِدْهُمْ بِهِ جِهَادًا كَبِيرًا). According to the Tanwir al-Miqbas min Tafsir Ibn Abbas, this should be done “by means of the Qur’an” and “by the sword.”
Allah has created mankind from water (v. 54), but the idols are powerless (v. 55). Muhammad has been sent to give good news and a warning (v. 56) — “meaning,” says Ibn Kathir, “a bringer of good news to the believers, a warner to the disbelievers; bringing good news of Paradise to those who obey Allah, and bringing warnings of a dreadful punishment for those who go against the commandments of Allah.” Allah created everything in six days (v. 59), although it seems to take eight days in 41:9-12. The unbelievers refuse to do Muhammad’s bidding — they won’t prostrate themselves to Al-Rahman, the Merciful (v. 60).
Ibn Kathir explains that this comes from the time of the Treaty of Hudaibiyya between Muhammad and the pagan Arabs of Mecca. When Muhammad ordered that the treaty begin with “In the Name of Allah, Ar-Rahman (the Most Gracious), Ar-Rahim (the Most Merciful),” they responded: “We do not know Ar-Rahman or Ar-Rahim. Write what you used to write: ‘Bismika Allahumma (in Your Name, O Allah).'” This, along with v. 3, is another indication that Allah was one of the gods worshiped by the pagans before the advent of Islam. V. 60 is also one of the verses of prostration: the believer is to make a prostration whenever the verse is recited.
Those who “invoke not, with Allah, any other god, nor slay such life as Allah has made sacred except for just cause, nor commit fornication” (v. 68) will escape punishment, but those who do these things will receive double penalty on the Day of Judgment (v. 69). Allah will turn the evil done by those who repent, believe and do good works into good (v. 70). But Allah is not made uneasy by the unbelievers” refusal to accept Islam; however, because they have rejected him, punishment is inevitable (v. 77).
Sura 26 is a Meccan sura; its name comes from 26:224, in which Allah tells us that only those who are going astray follow the poets. The import of this is that Muhammad, of course, is not a poet, and the Qur’an not merely a poetical work, but a divine revelation, although the pagans of Mecca persistently refuse to accept this.
And that refusal causes Muhammad constant distress (26:2-9). Allah worries that Muhammad will fret himself to death over their unbelief (26:3), and assures him that if he willed, he could send down a sign that would make them all believe (26:4). However, there no sooner comes a new message from Allah than they reject it (26:5) — but soon they will discover that it really is true (v. 6). Haven’t they even seen on earth the many signs of Allah’s power (26:7-8)?
Allah then returns yet again to the story of Moses, which we have already seen in suras 2, 7, 10, 17, and 20 (vv. 10-68). The comparisons to Muhammad’s own story are frequent and unmistakable. When Allah tells him to go to preach to “the people of Pharaoh” (v. 11), Moses says to Allah: “I do fear that they will charge me with falsehood” (v. 12), just as they charged Muhammad (25:4). Moses is afraid the unbelievers will kill him (v. 14), just as they plotted to kill Muhammad (8:30). After Moses preaches to him, Pharaoh says Moses is a “veritable madman” (v. 27), just as the pagan Arabs have said about Muhammad (15:6).
Then follows the story of Moses’s miracles, and the attempts by Pharaoh’s sorcerers to replicate them. After Moses wins over Pharaoh’s sorcerers and they profess belief in Allah (vv. 47-48), Pharaoh warns them that he will punish them by amputating their hands and feet on opposite sides or crucifying them (v. 49) — the same punishment that Allah commands for those who “wage war against Allah and His Messenger, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land” (5:33). But the sorcerers stand firm, hoping that Allah will forgive them for their past sins (vv. 50-51). Moses parts the sea (v. 63) and the Children of Israel pass to safety.
After that, Allah returns to the story of Abraham (also told in suras 15, 19 and 21), again showing him confronting his people in their worship of idols (vv. 69-104). The idolaters readily tell Abraham that their idols are useless, and that they’re only worshiping them because their fathers did (v. 74). “They knew that their idols could not do anything,” says Ibn Kathir, “but they had seen their fathers doing this, so they made haste to follow in their footsteps.” This recalls Ibn Ishaq’s account of a delegation of Christians who came from the Yemeni city of Najran to see Muhammad. One of the leaders of this delegation was a bishop, Abu Haritha ibn Alqama, who received money, servants, and other favors from “the Christian kings of Byzantium.” Abu Haritha, says Ibn Ishaq, knew that Muhammad was a prophet, and told the other members of the delegation that he was, but refused to accept him for fear of losing the loot that the Byzantines were lavishing upon him.
In other words, whether out of cultural inertia or love of money, the unbelievers are in bad faith: there is no consideration of the possibility that people might reject Islam simply because they don’t think it is true. Everyone knows it is true, but some find it inconvenient, for various reasons, to admit that. Says Maududi: “The mentality of the disbeliever has been the same throughout the ages; their arguments and their objections, and their excuses and subterfuges for not believing have been similar and ultimately the fates that they met have also been the same.”
Allah follows all that up with the story of Noah (vv. 105-122; also in suras 10, 11, and 23). Noah tells the unbelievers that he is only a “plain warner” (v. 115) — exactly like Muhammad (7:184). Noah then appeals to Allah to judge between himself and his people, and the people are accordingly drowned while he is saved in the ark (v. 119). This is a sign, but most still persist in unbelief (v. 121). Allah then turns in verses 123-140 to another account of the prophet Hud, whom we have met in suras 7 and 11. He too warns his people, but they reject him, and Allah destroys them (v. 139). Likewise in verses 141-159 the unbelievers reject the message of the prophet Salih (who also appears in suras 7 and 11), and are also destroyed (v. 158). Here is told again the story of the “she-camel of Allah,” a miraculous beast Salih brings forth in answer to the people’s demand for a sign (vv. 154-155). Says Ibn Kathir: “A crowd of them gathered and demanded that he immediately bring forth from the rock a she-camel that was ten months pregnant, and they pointed to a certain rock in their midst. Allah’s Prophet Salih made them promise that if he responded to their request, they would believe in him and follow him. So they agreed to that. The Prophet of Allah Salih, peace be upon him, stood and prayed, then he prayed to Allah to grant them their request. Then the rock to which they had pointed split open, revealing a she-camel that was ten months pregnant, exactly as they had requested. So some of them believed, but most of them disbelieved.” Indeed, some of them set upon the camel and hamstrung it (v. 157), for which they were duly punished.
The pattern continues. Allah then tell the story of Lot (vv. 160-175; also in suras 7 and 15). Lot castigates the unbelievers for their homosexuality (vv. 165-166) and Allah destroys them all (v. 172), rescuing Lot and his family — all except for one old woman (v. 171), a vestige of Lot’s wife of Genesis 19:26. In verses 176-191, Allah returns to the prophet Shu’aib (who also appears in suras 7 and 11). The unbelievers charge that he is bewitched (v. 185), just as they say about Muhammad (17:47), as well as a mortal man like them and a liar (v. 186) — again, just like Muhammad (17:93, 25:4).
Allah concludes this sura by making the point explicit: this is a revelation from Allah (v. 192), in plain Arabic (v. 194), as was prophesied in the earlier Scriptures (v. 196). Isn’t it a sign that the Children of Israel recognized it as such (v. 197)? That is, says Ibn Kathir, “is it not sufficient witness to the truth for them that the scholars of the Children of Israel found this Qur’an mentioned in the Scriptures which they study?” He asserts that “the fair-minded among them admitted that the attributes of Muhammad and his mission and his Ummah were mentioned in their Books, as was stated by those among them who believed, such as Abdullah bin Salam, Salman Al-Farisi and others who met the Prophet.”
The unbelievers wouldn’t have believed a non-Arab messenger (vv. 198-199), and indeed, they will not believe until they taste hell (v. 201). Destruction will come suddenly, but Allah never destroys a population without warning it first (v. 208). So believe in Allah alone (v. 213), not the accursed poets (v. 224).
According to Ibn Abbas and Jabir bin Zaid, suras 26, 27, and 28 were revealed to Muhammad in Mecca in that order, although the subject matter of the suras themselves still does not follow any chronological order.
A brief preamble to sura 27 (27:1-6) asserts that the Qur’an “makes things clear” (v. 2). Those who pray regularly and give alms are assured of Paradise (v. 3). But Allah has made the evil deeds of those who don’t believe in the afterlife seem good to them (v. 4). The Tafsir al-Jalalayn explains: “Truly those who do not believe in the Hereafter, We have adorned their vile deeds for them, by making such [deeds] seem sensuous so that they then deem them wholesome, and so they are bewildered, confused about why We deem these [deeds] to be vile.” They’ll be duly punished in the next life (v. 5).
Then Allah returns yet again to the story of Moses, which we have already seen in suras 2, 7, 10, 17, 20, and 26 (vv. 7-14). This time we get a version of the story of the burning bush from Exodus 3:2ff (vv. 7-9), but no revelation of the Name of God (Exodus 3:14). Instead, the Qur’anic account fast-forwards to Exodus 4:2-6, in which Moses at God’s bidding casts down his rod and sees it become a serpent (v. 10) and puts his hand inside his cloak, whereupon it becomes leprous and is then restored — although in the Qur’an, it merely turns white, without disease (v. 12). But Pharaoh and his court reject these signs “in iniquity and arrogance, though their souls were convinced thereof” (v. 14) — here again is a hint that people who reject Islam do so only because they are corrupt, even though they know it’s true.
Allah then turns to the story of Solomon, focusing primarily on his meeting with the Queen of Sheba (vv. 15-44). Allah gave Solomon the gift of understanding the speech of birds (v. 16). He can also understand the ants, overhearing when one ant warns the others to flee before they’re trampled by Solomon and those with him, as all the jinns, men, and birds come before him (vv. 17-19). Solomon is annoyed when he discovers that the hoopoe is not among the birds (v. 20), and vows to punish him (v. 21). However, the hoopoe comes in late with news of the Queen of Sheba, who has a magnificent kingdom (v. 23) — but she and her people are deceived by Satan and worship the sun (v. 24). The hoopoe himself is a pious Muslim (v. 26). Solomon sends the hoopoe with a letter for the Queen (v. 28), as much to test the hoopoe’s veracity as anything else (v. 27). The letter begins with the standard Islamic invocation Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Rahim (v. 30) — In the name of Allah, the compassionate, the merciful — and calls the Queen and her people to Islam (v. 31). The Queen consults with her advisers (v. 32) and resolves to send Solomon a gift (v. 35). Ibn Kathir explains this passage as “meaning, ‘I will send him a gift befitting for one of his status, and will wait and see what his response will be. Perhaps he will accept that and leave us alone, or he will impose a tax which we can pay him every year, so that he will not fight us and wage war against us.'”
This idea seems modeled on the jizya, the tax prescribed for the dhimmis (9:29): she seems prepared to pay a tax as a symbol of her submission to Solomon’s authority. Qatadah, one of Muhammad’s companions, marveled: “May Allah have mercy on her and be pleased with her — how wise she was as a Muslim and (before that) as an idolater! She understood how gift-giving has a good effect on people.”
But Solomon rejected the gifts (vv. 36-37), intent instead on converting the Queen to Islam. Ibn Kathir paraphrases his response to the gifts: “Are you trying to flatter me with wealth so that I will leave you alone with your Shirk [worshipping others besides Allah] and your kingdom?” He is not disposed to leave them alone, as Muslims have never been disposed to leave infidel kingdoms alone, when they had the means to confront them. Solomon asks one of his men to bring him her throne (v. 38) and gets a volunteer (v. 39). The throne received (v. 40), Solomon orders it altered slightly, to test the Queen’s powers of recognition (v. 41). She recognizes it (v. 42), which, according to Ibn Kathir, shows “the ultimate in intelligence and strong resolve.” She forsakes her other objects of worship and worships Allah alone (v. 43). Solomon devised the further test in v. 44, according to the Tafsir al-Jalalayn, to get a gander at the Queen’s legs:
“It was, also, said to her, ‘Enter the palace [hallway]’ — this was a transparent white glass floor underneath which flowed sweet water that contained fish. Solomon had it made when he was told that her legs and feet resembled the shanks of a mule. And when she saw it, she supposed it to be a pool, of water, and so she bared her legs, to wade through it. Meanwhile Solomon was seated on his throne at the front part of the palace [hallway], and he saw that her legs and feet were [in fact] fair. He said, to her: ‘It is a hallway paved [smooth] with crystal’, and thereafter he called her to submit [to God]. She said, ‘My Lord, indeed I have wronged myself, by worshipping other than You, and I submit with Solomon to God, the Lord of the Worlds.'”
Solomon, says the Tafsir al-Jalalayn, “wanted to marry her but disliked the hair on her legs. So the devils made a [depilatory] lime mixture (nūra) and she removed it therewith. He married her and had [great] love for her.”
Allah follows this in verses 45-53 with the story of Salih (also in suras 7, 11, and 26), prophet of the people of Thamud, whom Allah destroys for their unbelief (vv. 51-52).