Arabia Felix




لَقَدْ كَانَ لِسَبَإٍ فِي مَسْكَنِهِمْ آيَةٌ ۖ جَنَّتَانِ عَن يَمِينٍ وَشِمَالٍ ۖ كُلُوا مِن رِّزْقِ رَبِّكُمْ وَاشْكُرُوا لَهُ ۚ بَلْدَةٌ طَيِّبَةٌ وَرَبٌّ غَفُورٌ

There was, for Saba’,

& > It illustrates a city and territory in Yemen. There the period was the time of Solomon and Queen Bilqis. Here it is some centuries later. It was still a happy and prosperous country, amply irrigated from the Ma’arib dam. Its road or perhaps its canals, were skirted by gardens on both sides, right and left: at any given point you always saw two gardens. It produced fruit, spices, and frankincense, and got the name of Araby the Blest for that part of the country.

Aforetime, a Sign in their

Homeland – two Gardens

To the right and to the left.

Eat of the Sustenance (provided)

By your Lord, and be grateful

To Him: a territory fair and happy,

And a Lord Oft-Forgiving!

& > The land was fair to look upon; the people happy and prosperous: and they enjoyed the blessings of Allah, Who is Gracious and does not punish small human faults or weaknesses.

فَأَعْرَضُوا فَأَرْسَلْنَا عَلَيْهِمْ سَيْلَ الْعَرِمِ وَبَدَّلْنَاهُم بِجَنَّتَيْهِمْ جَنَّتَيْنِ ذَوَاتَيْ أُكُلٍ خَمْطٍ وَأَثْلٍ وَشَيْءٍ مِّن سِدْرٍ قَلِيلٍ

But they turned away

(From Allah), and We sent

Against them the flood

& > Into that happy Garden of Eden in Arabia Felix (Araby the Blest) came the insidious snake of Unfaith and Wrongdoing. Perhaps the people became arrogant of their prosperity, or of their science, or of their skill in irrigation engineering, in respect of the wonderful works of the Dam which their ancestors had constructed. Perhaps they got broken up into rich and poor, privileged and unprivileged, high-caste and low-caste, disregarding the gifts and closing the opportunities given by Allah to all His creatures. Perhaps they broke the laws of the very Nature which fed and sustained them. The Nemesis came. It may have come suddenly, or it may have come slowly. The pent-up waters of the eastern side of the Yemen highlands were collected in a high lake confined by the Dam of Ma’arib. A mighty flow came: the dam burst: and it has never been repaired since. This was a spectacular crisis: it may have been preceded and followed by slow desiccation of the country.

(Released) from the Dams,

& > Dams or Embankments may have been a proper noun, or may simply mean the great earthworks lined with stone, which formed the Ma’arib dam, of which traces still exist. The French traveller T.J. Arnaud saw the town and ruins of the Dam of Ma’arib in 1843, and described its gigantic works and its inscriptions in “Journal Asiatique” (January 1874): the account is in French; there is a secondary account in English, “Through Yemen”, (Edinburgh, 1893) written by W.B. Harris. The dam as measured by Arnaud was two miles long and 120 ft. high. The date of its destruction was somewhere about 120 A.C., though some authorities put it much later.

And We converted their two

Garden (rows) into gardens

Producing bitter fruit,

And tamarisks, and some few

(stunted) Lote-trees.

& > The flourishing Garden of Arabia was converted into a waste. The luscious fruit trees became wild, or gave place to wild plants with bitter fruit. The feathery leaved tamarisk, which is only good for twigs and wattle-work, replaced the fragrant plants and flowers. Wild and stunted kinds of thorny bushes, like the wild Lote tree, which were good for neither fruit nor shade, grew in place of the pomegranates, the date palms, and the grapevines. The lote tree belongs to the family Rhamnaceae, Zizyphus Spina Christi of which (it is supposed) Christ’s crown of thorns was made, allied to the Zizyphus Jujuba, or ber tree of India. Wild, it is shrubby, thorny and useless. In cultivation it bears good fruit, and some shade, and can be thornless, thus becoming a symbol of heavenly bliss.

فِي سِدْرٍ مَّخْضُودٍ

(They will be) among Lote-trees without thorns,

ذَٰلِكَ جَزَيْنَاهُم بِمَا كَفَرُوا ۖ وَهَلْ نُجَازِي إِلَّا الْكَفُورَ

That was the Requital

We gave them because

They ungratefully rejected


& > Those who deliberately and continuously reject Allah and are ungrateful for His Mercies, as shown by their constant wrongdoing.

And never do We give

(Such) requital except to such

As are ungrateful rejecters.

وَجَعَلْنَا بَيْنَهُمْ وَبَيْنَ الْقُرَى

Between them and the Cities

& > An instance is now given of the sort of covetousness on the part of the people of Saba, which ruined their prosperity and trade and cut their own throats. The old Frankincense route was the great Highway between Arabia and Syria.

فَانتَقَمْنَا مِنْهُمْ وَإِنَّهُمَا لَبِإِمَامٍ مُّبِينٍ

So We exacted retribution

From them. They were both

& > i.e., The Cities of the Plain and the Companions of the Aykah.

On an open highway,

Plain to see.

وَإِنَّهَا لَبِسَبِيلٍ مُّقِيمٍ

And the (Cities were)

Right on the highroad.

& > The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were utterly destroyed, and even their precise position cannot be identified. But the brimstone plain of the tract still exists, right on the highway between Arabia and Syria. To the traveller in the neighbourhood of the Dead Sea, the whole locality presents a sense of dismal desolation which truly suggests the awful punishment for unspeakable crimes.

بَيْنَ الْقُرَى

& > Through Syria it connected with the great and flourishing Kingdoms of the Euphrates and Tigris valleys on the one hand and Egypt on the other, and with the great Roman Empire round the Mediterranean. At the other end, through the Yemen Coast, the road connected, by sea transport, with India, Malaya, and China. The Yemen-Syria road was much frequented, and Mada’in Salih was one of the stations on that route, and afterwards on the Pilgrim route. Syria was the land on which Allah “had poured his blessings”, being a rich fertile country, where Abraham had lived: it includes the Holy Land of Palestine. The route was studded in the days of its prosperity with many stations (cities) close to each other, on which merchants could travel with ease and safety, by night and by day. The close proximity of stations prevented the inroads of highwaymen.

الَّتِي بَارَكْنَا فِيهَا قُرًى ظَاهِرَةً وَقَدَّرْنَا فِيهَا السَّيْرَ ۖ سِيرُوا فِيهَا لَيَالِيَ وَأَيَّامًا آمِنِينَ

On which We had poured

Our blessings, We had placed

Cities in prominent positions,

And between them We had

Appointed stages of journey

In due proportion: Travel therein,

Secure, by night and by day.

فَقَالُوا رَبَّنَا بَاعِدْ بَيْنَ أَسْفَارِنَا وَظَلَمُوا أَنفُسَهُمْ فَجَعَلْنَاهُمْ أَحَادِيثَ وَمَزَّقْنَاهُمْ كُلَّ مُمَزَّقٍ ۚ إِنَّ فِي ذَٰلِكَ لَآيَاتٍ لِّكُلِّ صَبَّارٍ شَكُورٍ

But they said: Our Lord!

& > in this and other places in the Quran, language is used for thought or deed. The Commentators call it the “Language of actual facts” as opposed to the “Language of words”.

Place longer distances

Between our journey-stages:

& > The covetous Saba people, in order to get more profit from travellers’ supplies by concentrating them on a few stations which they could monopolise, tended to choke off traffic and ruin the big trade. Selfishness often runs counter to true self-interest. It is a historical fact that the great Yemen-Syria route in Arabia declined with the decline of Yemen. There were no doubt physical causes, but supreme above all were the moral causes, the grasping nature of the people, and their departure from the highest standards of righteousness.

But they wronged themselves (therein)

At length We made them

As a tale (that is told),

& > The people of Saba were given every chance. They had prosperity, skill, trade and commerce, and a healthy and beautiful country. They also had, apparently, great virtues, and as long as they remained true to their virtues, i.e., the Law of Allah, they remained happy and contented. But when they became covetous and selfish, and became jealous of other people’s prosperity instead of rejoicing in it, they fell from grace and declined. It may be that the climate changed, the rainfall became scantier, perhaps on the account of the cutting down of hill forests: trade routes changed, on account of the people falling off in the virtues that make men popular: behind all the physical causes was the root-cause, that they began to worship mammon, self, greed, or materialism. They fell into the snare of Iblis. They gradually passed out of history, and became only a name in a story. Moral: it is only Allah’s Mercy that can give true happiness or prosperity, and happiness or prosperity is only a snare unless used for the highest service of Allah and man.

And We dispersed them

All in scattered fragments.

Verily in this are Signs

For every (soul that is)

Patiently constant and grateful.

وَلَقَدْ صَدَّقَ عَلَيْهِمْ إِبْلِيسُ ظَنَّهُ

And on them did Iblis

Prove true his idea,

قَالَ أَرَأَيْتَكَ هَٰذَا الَّذِي كَرَّمْتَ عَلَيَّ لَئِنْ أَخَّرْتَنِ إِلَىٰ يَوْمِ الْقِيَامَةِ لَأَحْتَنِكَنَّ ذُرِّيَّتَهُ إِلَّا قَلِيلًا

He said: Seest Thou? This is

The one whom Thou hast honoured

Above me! If Thou wilt but

Respite me to the Day

Of Judgement, I will surely

Bring his descendants

Under my sway –

All but a few!

& > The power of Evil over man is due to man’s limited free will. In other words man hands himself to Evil. As to those who loyally worship and serve Allah, Evil has no power over them.

إِنَّ عِبَادِي لَيْسَ لَكَ عَلَيْهِمْ سُلْطَانٌ ۚ وَكَفَىٰ بِرَبِّكَ وَكِيلًا

As for My servants,

& > Evil has no power except over those who yield to its solicitations.

No authority shalt thou

Have over them.

Enough is thy Lord

For a Disposer of affairs.

& > Evil has no authority over the sincere servants of Allah, they should put their trust completely in Him. For He is All-Sufficient to carry out their affairs, and by His grace, to save them from all harm and danger.

فَاتَّبَعُوهُ إِلَّا فَرِيقًا مِّنَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ

And they followed him, all but a party that believed.

إِنَّ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَالَّذِينَ هَادُوا وَالنَّصَارَىٰ وَالصَّابِئِينَ

Those who believe (in the Quran),

And those who follow the Jewish (scriptures),

And the Christians and

the Sabians,

& > Latest researchers have revealed a small remnant of a religious community numbering about 2,000 souls in Lower Iraq, near Basra called Sabians and Nasoraeans, or Mandaens, or Christians of St. John. They claim to be Gnostics, or Knowers of the Great Life. They dress in white, and believe in frequent immersions in water. Their Book Ginza is in a dialect of Aramaic. They have theories of Darkness and Light as in Zoroastrianism. They use the name Yardan (Jordan) for any river. They live in peace and harmony among their Muslim neighbours. They resemble the Sabi’un mentioned in the Quran, but are not probably identical with them. The pseudo-Sabians of Harran, who attracted the attention of Khalifah Ma’mun al Rashid in 830 A.C. by their long hair and peculiar dress probably adopted the name as it was mentioned in the Quran, in order to claim the privileges of the People of the Book. They were Syrian Star-worshippers with Hellenistic tendencies, like the Jews contemporary with Jesus. There was another people called Sabaens, who played an important part in the history of early Arabia, are are known through their inscriptions in an alphabet allied to the Phoenician and Babylonian. They had a flourishing kingdom in the Yemen tract in South Arabia about 800-700 B.C., though their origin may have been in North Arabia. They worshipped the planets and stars (Moon, Sun, Venus). Probably the Queen of Sheba is connected with them. They succumbed to Abyssinia about 350 A.C. and to Persia about 579 A.C. Their capital was near San’a. They had beautiful stone buildings, in which the pointed arch is noticeable.

إِنَّ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَالَّذِينَ هَادُوا وَالصَّابِئُونَ وَالنَّصَارَىٰ مَنْ آمَنَ بِاللَّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ وَعَمِلَ صَالِحًا فَلَا خَوْفٌ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا هُمْ يَحْزَنُونَ

Those who believe (in the Quran),

Those who follow the Jewish (scriptures),

And the Sabians and the Christians –

Who believe in Allah

And the Last Day,

And work righteousness –

On them shall be no fear,

Nor shall they grieve.

& > Here the Quran underscores the importance of true and genuine FAITH, which is to be judged by a sincere belief in Allah and man’s accountability to Him backed by righteous conduct rather than by mere forms or labels. In both places it repudiates the false claims of the People of the Book that they had a special relationship with Allah for they were the children of Abraham; that they were a chosen people with special privileges, and no matter what they did, their high status would remain unaffected. Here this false notion is refuted and the People of the Book are being reminded that it is through sincere belief and righteous conduct rather than pretentious claims that man can win his Lord’s pleasure and achieve ultimate success. The verse does not purport to lay down an exhaustive list of the articles of faith. Nor does it seek to spell out the essentials of a genuine belief in Allah, which has no meaning unless it is accompanied by belief in His Prophets for it is through their agency alone that we know Allah’s Will and can abide by it in our practical lives. This is especially true of His final Prophet, Muhammad whose message is universal, and not confined to any particular group or section of humanity. Belief in the Prophethood of Muhammad is thus an integral part and a logical corollary of belief in Allah. Moreover, it is also an essential test of genuineness of such belief. This becomes clear when the verse is read in conjunction with other relevant verses of the Quran.

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ قَدْ جَاءَكُمُ الرَّسُولُ بِالْحَقِّ مِن رَّبِّكُمْ فَآمِنُوا خَيْرًا لَّكُمْ ۚ وَإِن تَكْفُرُوا فَإِنَّ لِلَّهِ مَا فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ ۚ وَكَانَ اللَّهُ عَلِيمًا حَكِيمًا

Mankind! the Messenger

Hath come to you in truth

From Allah: believe in him;

It is best for you. But if

Ye reject Faith, to Allah

Belong all things in the heavens

And on earth: And Allah

Is All-knowing, All-wise.

& > Allah’s solicitude for us is for our own good, not because He gets any advantage from it. For He is independent of all things, and everything declares His glory and praise.

يَا أَهْلَ الْكِتَابِ قَدْ جَاءَكُمْ رَسُولُنَا يُبَيِّنُ لَكُمْ كَثِيرًا مِّمَّا كُنتُمْ تُخْفُونَ مِنَ الْكِتَابِ وَيَعْفُو عَن كَثِيرٍ ۚ قَدْ جَاءَكُم مِّنَ اللَّهِ نُورٌ وَكِتَابٌ مُّبِينٌ

Wherewith Allah guideth all

Who seek His good pleasure

To ways of peace and safety,

And leadeth them out

Of darkness, by His will,

Unto the light – guideth them

To a Path that is Straight.

يَا قَوْمِ ادْخُلُوا الْأَرْضَ الْمُقَدَّسَةَ الَّتِي كَتَبَ اللَّهُ لَكُمْ وَلَا تَرْتَدُّوا عَلَىٰ أَدْبَارِكُمْ فَتَنقَلِبُوا خَاسِرِينَ

My people! enter

The holy land which

Allah hath assigned unto you,

And turn not back

Ignominiously, for then

Will ye be overthrown,

To your own ruin.

& > We now come to the events detailed in the 13th and 14th chapters of the Book of Numbers in the Old Testament; the Comments examine the good map of the Sinai Peninsula, showing its connections with Egypt on the west, Northwest Arabia on the east, and Palestine on the northeast. We may suppose that Israel crossed from Egypt into the Peninsula somewhere near the northern extremity of the Gulf of Suez. Moses organised and numbered the people, and instituted the PRIESTHOOD. They went south about 200 miles to Mount Sinai where the Law was received. Then, perhaps a hundred and fifty miles north, was the desert of Paran, close to the southern borders of Canaan. From the camp there, twelve men were sent to spy out the land, and they reached as far as Hebron, say about 150 miles north of their camp, about 20 miles south of the future Jerusalem. They saw a rich country, and brought from it pomegranates and figs and a bunch of grapes so heavy that it had to be carried by two men on a staff. They came back and reported that the land was rich, but the men there were too strong for them. The people of Israel had no courage and no faith, and Moses remonstrated with them.

قُلْ إِن كُنتُمْ تُحِبُّونَ اللَّهَ فَاتَّبِعُونِي يُحْبِبْكُمُ اللَّهُ وَيَغْفِرْ لَكُمْ ذُنُوبَكُمْ ۗ وَاللَّهُ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ

Say: If ye do love Allah,

Follow me: Allah will love you

And forgive you your sins;

For Allah is Oft-Forgiving,

Most Merciful.

قُلْ أَطِيعُوا اللَّهَ وَالرَّسُولَ ۖ فَإِن تَوَلَّوْا فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُحِبُّ الْكَافِرِينَ

Say: Obey Allah

And His Messenger:

But if they turn back,

Allah loveth not those

Who reject Faith.

مَنْ آمَنَ بِاللَّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ وَعَمِلَ صَالِحًا فَلَهُمْ أَجْرُهُمْ عِندَ رَبِّهِمْ وَلَا خَوْفٌ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا هُمْ يَحْزَنُونَ

Who believe in Allah

And the Last Day,

And work righteousness,

Shall have their reward

With their Lord; on them

Shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.

& > The point of the verse is that Islam does not teach an exclusive doctrine, and is not meant exclusively for one people. The Jews claimed this for themselves, and the Christians in their origin were a sect of the Jews. Even the modern organised Christian churches, though they have been, consciously or unconsciously, influenced by the Time Spirit, including the historical fact of Islam, yet cling to the idea of Vicarious Atonement, which means that all who do not believe in it or who lived previously to the death of Christ are at a disadvantage spiritually before the Throne of Allah. The attitude of Islam is entirely different. Islam existed before the PREACHING of Muhammad on this earth: the Quran expressly calls Abraham a Muslim. Its TEACHING (submission to Allah’s will) has been and will be the teaching of Religion, for all time and for all peoples.

قَالَ سَنَنظُرُ أَصَدَقْتَ أَمْ كُنتَ مِنَ الْكَاذِبِينَ

(Solomon) said: Soon shall we see whether thou hast told the truth or lied!

& > Solomon does not doubt his messenger’s pleas that he has scouted a new country, but wants to test whether he has loosened the rein of imagination in describing its splendour or its worship.

اذْهَب بِّكِتَابِي هَٰذَا فَأَلْقِهْ إِلَيْهِمْ ثُمَّ تَوَلَّ عَنْهُمْ فَانظُرْ مَاذَا يَرْجِعُونَ

Go thou, with this letter

Of mine, and deliver it

To them: then draw back

From them, and (wait to) see

What answer they return.

قَالَتْ يَا أَيُّهَا الْمَلَأُ إِنِّي أُلْقِيَ إِلَيَّ كِتَابٌ كَرِيمٌ

(The Queen) said: Ye chiefs!

Here is – delivered to me –

A letter worthy of respect.

إِنَّهُ مِن سُلَيْمَانَ وَإِنَّهُ بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ

It is from Solomon, and is

(As follows): In the name

Of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful:

& > Solomon expressly begins his letter with the formula of the true and universal Religion of Unity, and he invites to the true Faith the new people with whom he establishes honourable relations, not for worldly conquest but for the spreading of the Light of Allah.

أَلَّا تَعْلُوا عَلَيَّ وَأْتُونِي مُسْلِمِينَ

Be ye not arrogant

Against me, but come

To me in submission

(To the true Religion).

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