From Merchant to Messenger
Rhetoric to the Rescue
One definition of a rhetorical question is “a figure of speech in the form of a question that is asked in order to make a point without the expectation of a reply.”
It is still, however, unsettling for a god who knows everything, and what everyone is thinking, or will think, to use this device. Cynics might argue that it is not a rhetorical question, Allah expects an answer.
23:62 We do not charge any soul beyond its capacity; and We have a Book which utters the truth, and they shall not be wronged.
23:63 But their hearts are in confusion with respect to this (the Qur’an); and they have works (misdeeds, Moududi) other than that, which they continue to do.
23:64 Until We seize those who live in luxury among them, and then they groan.
23:65 Do not groan today; you shall not be supported against Us.
23:66 My Revelations were recited to you, but you were turning upon your heels in flight;
23:67 In arrogance, talking nonsense about it by night.
23:68 Have they not pondered the Word (the Qur’an); or have they received what was not given to their forefathers?
23:69 Or have they not recognized their Messenger, and so they are denying him?
23:70 Or do they say: “He is possessed”? Rather, he brought them the Truth, but most of them hate the Truth.
The Truth as a corruptible thing:
23:71 If the Truth followed their whims, the heavens and the earth would be corrupted, together with everything therein; but We have brought them their reminder, yet from their reminder they turn away.
If you repeat it often enough maybe they will be convinced:
23:78 It is He Who created for you ears, eyes and hearts; but how little you give thanks.
23:79 And it is He who created and multiplied you in the land, and unto Him you will be gathered.
23:80 And it is He who gives life and causes death, and His is the alternation of night and day. Do you not understand?
23:81 No, they said just what the ancient said.
23:82 They said: “What, when we are dead and become dust and bones, we will be brought back to life?
23:83 “We have been promised this, we and our fathers before. This is merely legends of the ancients.”
Perhaps not a rhetorical device per se, but answering a questing with a question is an effective way of getting your message across while putting your detractors on the defensive, even, or especially if your question is beside the point as is the question asked in revelation 23:84 in response to the scepticism expressed in revelation 23:83.
23:84 Say: “Whose is the earth and all those in it, if you really know?”
Allah uses this technique and His Knowledge of the future to great effect, not only telling His Messenger the question to ask, but the response to expect so that the Prophet is never caught short by an unexpected rejoinder.
23:85 They will say: “Allah’s”; say: “Do you not reflect, then?”
23:86 Say: “Who is the Lord of the seven heavens and the Lord of the Mighty Throne?”
23:87 They will say: “They are Allah’s.” Say: “Do you not fear God then?”
23:88 Say: “In whose hand is the dominion of everything, protecting and is not protected, if you really know?”
The response to this question will lead back to where Allah likes to end these discussions. O them other gods who have you “bewitched”; I am so much better than them!
23:89 They will say: “[In] Allah’s.” Say: “How, then, are you bewitched?”
23:90 Nay, We brought them the truth, but they are liars.
23:91 Allah did not take to Himself a child and there was never another god with Him; or else each god would have carried off what he has created, and some of them would have risen against the others. Exalted be Allah above what they describe!
23:92 Knower of the unseen and the Seen; He is exalted above what they associate.
It would have been interesting to see what type of creation these other gods might have imagined, even at the expense of heavenly peace; but I digress.
More Questions than Answers
52:29 So remind [them]; for you (Muhammad) are not, by the Grace of your Lord, a soothsayer or a madman.
52:30 Or do they say: “A poet for whom we await an uncertain fate.”
52:31 Say: “Await, I am indeed with you awaiting.”
52:32 Or do their minds bid them to do this; or are they, rather, an aggressive people?
52:33 Or do they say: “He fabricated it?” No, they believe not.
52:34 Let them bring, then, a discourse like it, if they are truthful.
52:35 Were they created out of nothing, or are they like creators?
52:36 Or did they create the heavens and the earth? No, they do not believe with certainty.
52:37 Or do they possess the treasuries of your Lord; or are they the domineering ones?
52:38 Or, do they have a ladder (that reaches to heaven) whereon they listen (to conversations between Allah and His angels). Let, their listener, then, bring a manifest authority.
52:39 Or, does He have the daughters and you have the sons?
52:40 Or, are you asking them a wage; therefore they are weighted down with debt?
52:41 Or, do they do they have knowledge of the Unseen, and so they are writing it down?
52:42 Or, do they desire to scheme? The unbelievers are truly the object of scheming.
52:43 Or, to they have a god other than Allah? Allah will be exalted above what they associate!
Bemoaning and boasting, and death as the way to the “real life”. This will take us to the end surah 29, The Spider.
29:61 And if you ask them: “Who created the heavens and the earth and subdued the sun and the moon?”, they will say: “Allah.” Why then do they vacillate?
29:62 Allah expends the provisions for whomever He wishes of His servants or restricts it. Surely, Allah has knowledge of all things.
It may have been one of these revelations about Allah expending His provisions “for whomever He wishes” which prompted the logical question in 37:47 and the accusation of being “in manifest error”.
Without waiting for a reply, Allah reveals that the Meccans then asked a question which has nothing to do with the first.
36:47 And if it is said to them: “Spend freely from what Allah provided for you, the unbelievers say to the believers: ‘Shall we feed him whom Allah would have fed, if He wished. You are only in manifest error?’”
36:48 And they say: “When is this promise coming, if you a truthful?”
36:49 They are only awaiting a single cry to seize them, while they are feuding.
36:50 So they cannot make a testament nor return to their own people.
29:63 And if you ask them: “Who sends from heaven water [with which] He revives the earth after it was dead?”, they will say: “Allah.” Say: “Praise be to Allah.” Yet most of them do not understand.
29:64 The present life is nothing but amusement and sport, but the Hereafter is real life, if only they knew.
29:65 When they embark in the ships, they will call on Allah, professing religion sincerely to Him. Yet when He delivers them safely to land, behold they associate (other gods with Him).
29:66 To disbelieve in what We have imparted to them and enjoy themselves. They will surely come to know.
29:67 Do they not see that We have set up a safe sanctuary for them while, all around them people are being snatched away? Do they, then, believe in falsehood and repudiate Allah’s Bounty?
29:68 Who, then, is more unjust than one who imputes falsehood to Allah or denies the truth when it comes to him. Is there not in Hell a dwelling for the unbelievers?
29:69 And those who strive in Our Cause We shall guide in Our Ways, and Allah is with the Beneficent.
Nothing But Rhetoric
The following revelations which will take us to the end of the surah The Cattle are presented without comments or interruptions so that you may appreciate the difficulties for some who listened to the Prophet to take him seriously, even if they understood what Allah had revealed to him, possibly the night before.
The series begins with an accusation against the Prophet followed by verses about how he should respond, and just as quickly degenerates into what readers of the Koran have come to expect, a hodgepodge of revealed truths.
6:147 If they accuse you of lying, say: "Your Lord has an All-Encompassing Mercy and His Wrath cannot be prevented from afflicting the guilty people."
6:148 The polytheists will say: “If Allah pleased, we would not have associated [other gods with Him], nor would our fathers; nor would we have forbidden anything.” Thus those before them denied the truth until they tasted Our Wrath. Say: “Do you have any knowledge which you can produce for us? You only follow conjectures and you only tell lies.”
6:149 Say: “To Allah belongs the decisive argument. Had He pleased he would have guided you all.”
6:150 Say: “Produce your witnesses to testify that Allah has forbidden this.” Then, if they testify, do not bear witness with them, and do not follow the fancies of those who deny Our Revelations and those who do not believe in the Hereafter and set up equals with their Lord.”
6:151 Say: “Come, I will recite what your Lord has forbidden you: that you associate nothing with Him; that you show kindness to your parents; that you do not kill your children for fear of poverty; We will provide for you and for them; that you do not approach indecencies, whether open or secret; and that you do not kill a living soul which Allah has forbidden you to kill except for a just cause. This is what Allah command you to do, so you may understand.”
6:152 Do not approach the property of the orphan, except in the fairest manner, until he comes of age; and give full measure and weight equitably. We do not charge any soul except with what is within its power. And if you speak, be just even if it is against a relative, and fulfill Allah’s Covenant. Thus He commands you, so that you may take heed.
6:153 This is indeed My Path, the straight path; follow it and do not follow [other] paths, lest they divert you from His Path. Thus He commands you, that perchance you may fear God.
6:154 Then We gave Moses the Book, completing Our Grace on Him who would do good, making plain everything and serving as a guidance and mercy, so that they (the Children of Israel) may believe in the encounter with their Lord.
6:155 This Book (the Qur’an) which We sent down is blessed; so follow it and fear God, so that you may receive mercy.
6:156 Lest you should say: “The Book was revealed only to two sects (the Jews and Christians) before us, and we were unaware of their reading.”
6:157 Or lest you should say: “Had the Book been revealed to us, we would have been better guided than they.” A clear proof has come to you from your Lord, and a guidance and mercy, too. Who, then, is more unjust than he who denies Allah’s revelations and turns away from them? We will surely inflict on those who turn away from Our Signs grievous punishment, because they turned away.
6:158 What! Do they expect the angels, or your Lord or some of your Lord’s signs to come to them? The day some of your Lord’s Signs come, faith will not avail any soul which did not already accept it, nor earned some good through its faith. Say: “Wait we too are waiting.”
6:159 Surely, you are not in any way part of those who have differentiated between parts of their religion and split into sects. Their fate is in Allah’s Hands. He will inform them about what they have done.
6:160 He who comes up with a good deed shall have ten times its like; and he who comes up with an evil deed will only be requited for it once; and they shall not be wronged.
6:161 Say: “My Lord has guided me to a Straight Path, a right religion, the creed of Abraham, an upright man who was no polytheist”.
6:162 Say: “My prayer and my sacrifice, my life and my death, are Allah’s, the Lord of the Worlds.
6:163 “He has no associate, and thus I am commanded, and I am the first of those who submit.”
6:164 Say: “Shall I seek a Lord other than Allah, Who is the Lord of all things? Every soul is accountable for what [evil] it commits, and no soul shall bear the burden of another soul. Then, unto your Lord is your return; and He will inform you about that over which you used to defer."
6:165 And it is He Who made you successors on earth, and raised some of you above the others in rank, so as to test you regarding what He has given you. Your Lord is indeed Quick in retribution, and He is indeed All-Forgiving, Merciful.
Who Will Have the Last Laugh
Whatever happens, We, you and Me and the jinn, will have the last laugh.
6:20 Those to whom We have given the Book know him (the Prophet) as they know their own children; but those who have lost their souls will not believe.
6:21 And who is more unjust than he who imputes falsehood to Allah or denies His Revelations? Indeed the unjust shall not prosper.
6:22 And on the Day that We shall gather them all together, they say to those who associated other gods [with Allah]: “Where are those whom you allege to have been your associate-gods?”
6:23 Then their only excuse will be simply to say: “By Allah, our Lord, we have not been polytheists.”
6:24 Look [O Muhammad], how they will lie to themselves and how that which they fabricated will fail them.
6:135 Say: “O My people, do whatever you can; and I shall do what I can. You shall surely know whose is the happy outcome in the Hereafter. Indeed, the wrongdoers shall not prosper."
10:20 And they say: “If only a sign is sent to him from His Lord.” Say then: “The Unseen belongs to Allah; so wait, I will be waiting with you.”