English Translation and Commentary of the Holy Quran (2010)

by Maulana Muhammad Ali

Chapter 17: Bani Israil — The Israelites (Revealed at Makkah: 12 sections, 111 verses)

Section 6 (Verses 17:53–17:60): Punishment must Follow


وَ قُلۡ لِّعِبَادِیۡ یَقُوۡلُوا الَّتِیۡ ہِیَ اَحۡسَنُ ؕ اِنَّ الشَّیۡطٰنَ یَنۡزَغُ بَیۡنَہُمۡ ؕ اِنَّ الشَّیۡطٰنَ کَانَ لِلۡاِنۡسَانِ عَدُوًّا مُّبِیۡنًا ﴿۵۳﴾

17:53 And say to My servants that they speak what is best. Surely the devil sows dissensions among them. The devil is surely an open enemy to man.1

رَبُّکُمۡ اَعۡلَمُ بِکُمۡ ؕ اِنۡ یَّشَاۡ یَرۡحَمۡکُمۡ اَوۡ اِنۡ یَّشَاۡ یُعَذِّبۡکُمۡ ؕ وَ مَاۤ اَرۡسَلۡنٰکَ عَلَیۡہِمۡ وَکِیۡلًا ﴿۵۴﴾

17:54 Your Lord knows you best. He will have mercy on you, if He please, or He will punish you, if He please.2 And We have not sent you as being in charge of them.

وَ رَبُّکَ اَعۡلَمُ بِمَنۡ فِی السَّمٰوٰتِ وَ الۡاَرۡضِ ؕ وَ لَقَدۡ فَضَّلۡنَا بَعۡضَ النَّبِیّٖنَ عَلٰی بَعۡضٍ وَّ اٰتَیۡنَا دَاوٗدَ زَبُوۡرًا ﴿۵۵﴾

17:55 And your Lord best knows those who are in the heavens and the earth. And certainly We made some of the prophets to excel others, and to David We gave the Zabūr.3

قُلِ ادۡعُوا الَّذِیۡنَ زَعَمۡتُمۡ مِّنۡ دُوۡنِہٖ فَلَا یَمۡلِکُوۡنَ کَشۡفَ الضُّرِّ عَنۡکُمۡ وَ لَا تَحۡوِیۡلًا ﴿۵۶﴾

17:56 Say: Call on those whom you assert besides Him; they have no power to remove distress from you nor to change.

اُولٰٓئِکَ الَّذِیۡنَ یَدۡعُوۡنَ یَبۡتَغُوۡنَ اِلٰی رَبِّہِمُ الۡوَسِیۡلَۃَ اَیُّہُمۡ اَقۡرَبُ وَ یَرۡجُوۡنَ رَحۡمَتَہٗ وَ یَخَافُوۡنَ عَذَابَہٗ ؕ اِنَّ عَذَابَ رَبِّکَ کَانَ مَحۡذُوۡرًا ﴿۵۷﴾

17:57 Those whom they call upon, themselves seek the means of access to their Lord — whoever of them is nearest — and they hope for His mercy and fear His punishment. Surely the punishment of your Lord is a thing to be cautious of.4

وَ اِنۡ مِّنۡ قَرۡیَۃٍ اِلَّا نَحۡنُ مُہۡلِکُوۡہَا قَبۡلَ یَوۡمِ الۡقِیٰمَۃِ اَوۡ مُعَذِّبُوۡہَا عَذَابًا شَدِیۡدًا ؕ کَانَ ذٰلِکَ فِی الۡکِتٰبِ مَسۡطُوۡرًا ﴿۵۸﴾

17:58 And there is not a town but We will destroy it before the day of Resurrection or punish it with a severe punishment. That is written in the Book.5

وَ مَا مَنَعَنَاۤ اَنۡ نُّرۡسِلَ بِالۡاٰیٰتِ اِلَّاۤ اَنۡ کَذَّبَ بِہَا الۡاَوَّلُوۡنَ ؕ وَ اٰتَیۡنَا ثَمُوۡدَ النَّاقَۃَ مُبۡصِرَۃً فَظَلَمُوۡا بِہَا ؕ وَ مَا نُرۡسِلُ بِالۡاٰیٰتِ اِلَّا تَخۡوِیۡفًا ﴿۵۹﴾

17:59 And nothing hindered Us from sending signs, but the ancients rejected them.6 And We gave to Thamūd the she-camel, a manifest sign, but they did her wrong, and We send signs only to warn.

وَ اِذۡ قُلۡنَا لَکَ اِنَّ رَبَّکَ اَحَاطَ بِالنَّاسِ ؕ وَ مَا جَعَلۡنَا الرُّءۡیَا الَّتِیۡۤ اَرَیۡنٰکَ اِلَّا فِتۡنَۃً لِّلنَّاسِ وَ الشَّجَرَۃَ الۡمَلۡعُوۡنَۃَ فِی الۡقُرۡاٰنِ ؕ وَ نُخَوِّفُہُمۡ ۙ فَمَا یَزِیۡدُہُمۡ اِلَّا طُغۡیَانًا کَبِیۡرًا ﴿٪۶۰﴾

17:60 And when We said to you: Surely your Lord encompasses people. And We made the vision which We showed you7 only a trial for people, as also the tree cursed in the Quran.8 And We warn them, but it only adds to their great inordinacy.


  1. The Muslims — My servants — are here enjoined to be very kind when they speak to the disbelievers. It is related that when the Muslims com­plained to the Holy Prophet that they were abused by the idolaters, they were told to be kind and not to retaliate. It was the devil that was causing these quarrels. The words evidently imply that these dissensions were only transient, and that the two parties would again become united.
  2. In this verse, as elsewhere in the Quran, mercy is mentioned first, thus showing that Divine mercy has precedence over Divine retribution.
  3. By saying that some of the prophets are made to excel others, the excellence of the Holy Prophet over others is implied. David is specially men­tioned, because, as stated in the Psalms (called here Zabūr), he prayed for the utter destruction of his enemies, whereas the two previous verses show that the Holy Prophet was enjoined to deal mercifully with his opponents.
  4. These divinities, it is argued, themselves hoped for Divine mercy and feared His retribution; the nearer a person to the Divine Being, the greater was his hope of mercy and his fear of punishment if he disobeyed.
  5. There is a prophetical reference here to great disasters which would ruin populous towns. The words “before the day of Resurrection” clearly show that the destruction of the towns does not refer to the end of things. Already we have seen the fulfilment of this prophecy in the destruction of populous towns in almost every country of the world on an unprecedented scale, but it is nothing compared with the havoc which the atomic bomb and other inventions of this modern age are likely to work, if the mad struggle for power is not ended. It should be noted that the prophecy of the ruination of populous towns is here men­tioned as a part of the Divine scheme in the ultimate triumph of Islam with which this chapter deals, and hence the reference to the sending of signs in v. 59.
  6. After speaking of a great sign in the latter days, the destruction of towns on a large scale, this verse speaks of a general law that God has always been sending signs to establish truth, and that nothing ever hindered Him from sending signs, though such signs were rejected by the people to whom they were sent. It is further made clear that signs are sent to warn people of the evil con­sequences of doing evil.
  7. The reference here is to the vision of Ascension or the Mi‘rāj (Bukhari, 63:42), which was really a prophecy of the ultimate triumph of Islam. In a Hadith report the words describing the condition in which the Holy Prophet was at the time of this Ascension are: whilst I was in a state between that of one sleep­ing and one awake (Bukhari, 59:6). Thus it was not an Ascension of the body. Although he was not asleep he was in a vision. He was actually carried to the Holy Presence, and he was shown great wonders, but it was in spirit that he was carried, and it was with the spiritual eye that he saw those wonders, not in body and with the physical eye, for things spiritual can only be seen with the spiritual eye. This vision had an important significance. He saw it at a time when his con­dition was one of utmost helplessness, and he was shown that a great future lay before him. His opponents, as usual, disbelieved in such visions, and laughed at him.
  8. As the Holy Prophet’s vision signified his future triumph and gave an indication of the greatness to which Islam would rise, the statement made else­where that the tree of zaqqūm was the food of sinners (44:43-44) contained a pro­phecy of the discomfiture of the enemies of Islam, telling them that a deadly food was in store for them. The reason why the vision and the statement about the cursed tree are conjoined is that the triumph of Islam and the discomfiture of the enemy went hand in hand.