The Meccan sura 67 contains yet another round of brief repetitions of many familiar and oft-repeated themes of the Quran: Allah controls all things and designed his creation perfectly (vv. 1-5); the unbelievers will suffer the pains of hell and will at that point regret having rejected Allah’s messengers (vv. 6-11); the righteous shall be rewarded (v. 12); Allah knows what is in everyone’s heart (vv. 13-14); Allah sustains all things and death can come without notice, so it is better to be mindful of Allah and obey him than to ignore him (vv. 15-22). The sura concludes with Allah giving Muhammad six things to say to the unbelievers in response to their skepticism about whether and when the Day of Judgment will come (vv. 23-30).
Likewise sura 68, an early Meccan sura, traverses very familiar ground. Allah consoles Muhammad over the unbelievers’ rejection of his message, assures him that he is not mad or possessed (v. 2), but actually has an exalted character (v. 4). According to Aisha and others, this refers to the fact that Muhammad’s character conformed entirely to the Qur’an, such that he was the living embodiment of its ethos. Those who accuse Muhammad of madness are the ones who are really mad (v. 6). Muhammad should not listen to them (vv. 8, 10). Muhammad’s unnamed accuser is a violent, cruel slanderer (vv. 11, 13) who rejects the signs (verses of the Qur’an) of Allah as “tales of the ancients” (v. 15) — but soon Allah will brand him on the nose (v. 16)! Islamic tradition identifies this unfortunate man as al-Walid ibn al-Mughira, an opponent of Muhammad from among the pagan Quraysh. Of him Ibn Abbas says: “We know of no one whom God has described in the derogatory way in which He describes him, blighting him with ignominy that will never leave him.” Was this curse fulfilled? The Tafsir al-Jalalayn informs us that “his nose was chopped off by a sword at Badr.”
Then follows a parable. Allah blessed the “people of the garden” but they were ungrateful and ignored the warning of a man who invited them to glorify Allah (v. 28); thus they lost their garden, and only then did they realize that they needed to repent and return to Allah (vv. 17-33). The message is that failure to heed Muhammad’s words will lead to ruin in both this life and the next (v. 33). Allah then taunts the unbelievers with questions (vv. 34-41, 46-47) — do they have a sacred book that tells them everything they want to hear (vv. 36-38)? Can they produce the partners they worship along with Allah (v. 41)? The Day of Judgment will surely come (vv. 42-45), so Muhammad should wait in patience and not be like the complaining Jonah — the “companion of the fish” (v. 48), even when the unbelievers try to trip him up with their eyes (v. 51). They were, says the Tafsir al-Jalalayn, “looking at you in a severe way, almost hurling you to the ground or making you fall from your place, when they hear the Reminder, the Qur’an, and they say, out of envy: ‘He is truly a madman!’, on account of the Qur’an that he has brought.”
Sura 69, another early Meccan sura, occasioned the conversion of Umar, who became the leader of the believers after the deaths of Muhammad and his first successor, Abu Bakr. Umar explained:
Before embracing Islam, one day I came out of my house with a view to causing trouble to the Holy Prophet, but he had entered the Masjid al-Haram before me. When I arrived I found that he was reciting surah Al-Haaqqah [sura 69] in the Prayer. I stood behind him and listened. As he recited the Qur’an I wondered at its literary charm and beauty. Then suddenly an idea came to my mind that he must be a poet as the Quraish alleged. Just at that moment he recited the words: “This is the Word of an honorable Messenger: it is not the word of a poet.” I said to myself: Then, he must be a soothsayer, if not a poet. Thereupon be recited the words: “Nor is it the word of a soothsayer: little it is that you reflect. It is a Revelation from the Lord and Sustainer of the worlds.” On hearing this Islam entered deep into my heart.
The sura opens with Allah asserting the divine judgment as a “sure reality” (vv. 1-3); then he lists some of the disobedient peoples he punished on earth for their rejection of his messengers (v. 10): the Thamud and Ad people (vv. 4-8); the people of Pharaoh (v. 9); and the people of Noah (vv. 11-12). Then follows a description of the Day of Judgment (vv. 13-18) and of the fate of the righteous (vv. 19-24) and of the damned (vv. 25-37). The sura concludes (vv. 38-52) by assuring us again that this a true revelation from Allah, not the word of a poet (v. 41) or a soothsayer (v. 42). Nor did the messenger invent it — for if he did, Allah would cut the artery of his heart (vv. 44-46).
The early Meccan sura 70 is similar. It begins with Allah’s assurance that no one can ward off the punishment that he (“Lord of the Ways of Ascent”) has in store for the unbelievers (vv. 1-4). So Muhammad should be patient, because the Day will certainly come (vv. 5-7). Allah describes the dreadful Day yet again (vv. 8-18). Then the unbelievers are contrasted with the righteous: the unbelievers are anxious and stingy (vv. 19-21), while the believers are steadfast in prayer (v. 23), help the needy (v. 25), believe in the Day of Judgment (v. 26), guard their chastity except with their wives and slave girls (vv. 29-30), respect their treaties and covenants (v. 32), and are attentive in worship (v. 34). The unbelievers don’t even long to enter the Gardens of Delight (v. 38), but the Day will surely come upon them anyway (vv. 42-44).
The Meccan sura 71 contains Noah’s message to his people and then his prayer to Allah. Here again there are strong parallels to Muhammad’s message, with the oblique lesson being that those who reject Muhammad will suffer the same fate as those who rejected Noah. Like Muhammad, Noah is a “warner” (v. 2), but his hearers are obstinate and refuse to listen (v. 7). Like Muhammad, Noah tells the unbelievers that Allah will bless them in this world (vv. 11-12) but they still won’t listen. Like Muhammad, Noah invokes the signs of Allah’s power in creation (vv. 13-20). As they plot against Muhammad, so the unbelievers plotted against Noah (v. 22). So the unbelievers are drowned in the flood (v. 25), as Noah prays that none of them be left on the earth (v. 26), for they will only mislead the believers (v. 27). Noah prays that Allah bless the believers while increasing the destruction and punishment of the unbelievers (v. 28).
In The Caliph’s House, the Afghan-English writer Tahir Shah’s marvelous account of his adventures moving his family to Morocco and buying and refurbishing a home in Casablanca, Shah is repeatedly amazed by the belief of the locals (including Westernized Moroccans whom he believes to be sophisticated) in the existence of jinn, the mischievous spirit beings who interfere in human affairs. And their invariable reply to his astonished inquiries is “It’s in the Qur’an.”
One of the most prominent treatments of the jinn in the Qur’an is in the Meccan sura 72. In verses 1-15, they recount their hearing of a wonderful “recitation,” or “Qur’an,” which leads them to profess belief in Allah who “has taken neither a wife nor a son” (v. 3). Allah follows this in verses 16-28 with more warnings for the unbelievers: if only they had accepted Islam, Allah would have sent them rain — indicating once again that obedience to Allah brings earthly prosperity. The “places of worship are for Allah alone” (v. 18) — as Qatadah explains: “Whenever the Jews and Christians used to enter their churches and synagogues, they would associate partners with Allah. Thus, Allah commanded His Prophet to tell them that they should single Him out alone for worship.” The sura ends with warnings that while Muhammad may seem weak, Allah’s promises are sure, and the unbelievers will taste hell (vv. 23-24).
The Meccan sura 73 begins with Allah addressing Muhammad as “you who are wrapped in garments” (v. 1), as Muhammad was holding vigil in prayer during the night. Allah gives him instructions about how long he should pray (vv. 3-4, 20) and a promise of further revelations (v. 5). Allah commands Muhammad to give him his full devotion (v. 8), and to be patient with the unbelievers (v. 10) who will suffer the tortures of hell (vv. 13-14). Muhammad is a messenger as was Moses to Pharaoh, and those who refuse to accept his message will be punished as was Pharaoh (vv. 15-16). The believers should read as much of the Qur’an as is easy for them, as Allah knows they’re busy with jihad, or some may be ill or traveling (v. 20).
Sura 74, also Meccan, begins in a similar fashion: Allah addresses Muhammad as “you wrapped up in your cloak” (v. 1) and commands him to deliver his warning (v. 2). Muhammad should keep himself pure (vv. 4-5) and not expect any material gain from preaching Allah’s word (v. 6). Then Allah describes the ruin and damnation of an unbeliever who scoffed at Muhammad’s message, culminating in his torture in hellfire (vv. 8-29).
After that comes a cryptic and famous verse: “Above it are nineteen” (v. 30). Above what? Nineteen what? The text offers no clear answer, and that is where the fun begins. Here is a discussion that airs out many theories regarding this verse, including the theory of the Qur’anic scholar Günter Lüling, who suggests a slight emendation of the text to make it a simple reference to the gates of hell — which works in context. But the existing cryptic verse has become the foundation for numerous elaborate flights of Islamic numerology, attempting to show that this verse contains a hidden number-based key that demonstrates the Qur’an’s miraculous character. The verse has also led to the development of a mysticism surrounding the number nineteen — such that some have opined, despite the many nominees for the role of “twentieth hijacker,” that there is no such person, and the number of nineteen hijackers was chosen for the September 11, 2001 jihad missions because of the mystical significance of the number.
The following verse looks as if it dropped in from somewhere else, as it is lengthy and discursive in the middle of what is otherwise a sura full of clipped, poetic verses. It reinforces the mysticism surrounding the number nineteen saying of the angels who act as “Guardians of the Fire” that Allah has “fixed their number only as a trial for unbelievers, in order that the People of the Book may arrive at certainty, and the believers may increase in Faith” (v. 31). If this is meant to say that the number of angels guarding hell is nineteen, how would that fact help the Jews, Christians, and other People of the Book become certain that Muhammad was a prophet, and strengthen the Muslims’ faith?
That question is left unanswered in the text, but in Islamic history it is where the numerological mysticism begins. And the object of it is always to demonstrate the truth of the Qur’an, so as to show the People of the Book that, as Ibn Kathir puts it, Muhammad “speaks according to the same thing that they have with them of heavenly revealed Scriptures that came to the Prophets before him.” But ultimately Allah is absolutely sovereign regarding who will accept Muhammad’s message and who doesn’t, for the verse repeats again the often-repeated Qur’anic adage, “Allah leaves to stray those whom He pleases, and guides those whom He pleases.”
Then Allah concludes the sura with more warnings of hellfire (vv. 32-56), with the unbelievers lamenting that they landed there because they didn’t pray (v. 43) or feed the poor (v. 44). Instead, they used to talk vanities (v. 45) and deny the Day of Judgment (v. 46), on which no one will be there to intercede for them (v. 48).
The Meccan sura 75 is a poetic meditation on the resurrection and divine judgment, and on those who doubt that they will come. Allah insists that he can reassemble the bones of the dead (vv. 3-4, 40), and when the Day comes, man will find no refuge from judgment (vv. 10-11, 34-36). Instead, he will be evidence against himself even as he makes excuses (vv. 14-15). Those who gave nothing in charity, did not pray, and rejected the truth will be damned (vv. 30-32).
Allah also tells Muhammad not to try to memorize the Qur’an hastily as it is being revealed to him (vv. 16-19). As the Tafsir al-Jalalayn explains: “God, exalted be He, says to His Prophet: Do not move your tongue with it, with the Qur’an, before Gabriel is through with [reciting] it, to hasten it, fearing to lose it.” Allah will make sure he remembers it, as Ibn Kathir says: “Allah would make sure to collect it in his chest, and He would make it easy for him to recite it in the same way that it was revealed to him.” This passage doesn’t discuss the possibility that Allah might cause some parts of the Qur’an to be forgotten, as mentioned in 2:106.
Sura 76, Meccan as well, dwells on the rewards of the righteous. Because they helped the needy (vv. 8-10) they will be delivered from evil on the Day of Judgment (v. 11) into a decidedly physical Paradise: Allah will reward them with a place in the Garden, where they will wear silk garments (vv. 12, 21) and sit on thrones, protected from the heat and the cold (v. 13). They will enjoy low-hanging fruit (v. 14) and drink from silver vessels and crystal goblets (v. 15) a wine mixed with ginger (v. 17) while immortal boys like pearls serve them (v. 19).
Allah has revealed the Qur’an to Muhammad in stages (v. 23); Muhammad should therefore be patient and not listen to the unbelievers (v. 24), remaining constant in prayer (vv. 25-26). Those who love this fleeting life should be warned: they will suffer a grievous penalty (vv. 27-31).
We have now entered into the section of the Qur’an in which the suras are Meccan, brief, poetic, striking in their vivid imagery, and generally focused on urgent warnings of the impending Day of Judgment. “Ah woe, that Day, to the Rejecters of Truth!” This is the focus and refrain of sura 77, “The Emissaries” (vv. 15, 19, 24, 28, 34, 37, 40, 45, 47, 49). Woe to them, for they will be punished severely on the Day of Sorting (vv. 13, 14, 38), when Allah will separate those who rejected Islam from those who accepted it. He taunts the unbelievers, saying that on that Day, “If now you have any wit, outwit me” (v. 39).