English Translation and Commentary of the Holy Quran (2010)

by Maulana Muhammad Ali

Chapter 68: Al-Qalam — The Pen (Revealed at Makkah: 2 sections, 52 verses)

Section 1 (Verses 68:1–68:33): Not a Madman’s Message


بِسۡمِ اللّٰہِ الرَّحۡمٰنِ الرَّحِیۡمِ

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.

نٓ وَ الۡقَلَمِ وَ مَا یَسۡطُرُوۡنَ ۙ﴿۱﴾

68:1 (By) the inkstand1 and the pen and what they write!

مَاۤ اَنۡتَ بِنِعۡمَۃِ رَبِّکَ بِمَجۡنُوۡنٍ ۚ﴿۲﴾

68:2 By the grace of your Lord you are not mad.2

وَ اِنَّ لَکَ لَاَجۡرًا غَیۡرَ مَمۡنُوۡنٍ ۚ﴿۳﴾

68:3 And surely yours is a reward never to be cut off.3

وَ اِنَّکَ لَعَلٰی خُلُقٍ عَظِیۡمٍ ﴿۴﴾

68:4 And surely you have sublime morals.4

فَسَتُبۡصِرُ وَ یُبۡصِرُوۡنَ ۙ﴿۵﴾

68:5 So you will see, and they (too) will see,

بِاَىیِّکُمُ الۡمَفۡتُوۡنُ ﴿۶﴾

68:6 which of you is mad.

اِنَّ رَبَّکَ ہُوَ اَعۡلَمُ بِمَنۡ ضَلَّ عَنۡ سَبِیۡلِہٖ ۪ وَ ہُوَ اَعۡلَمُ بِالۡمُہۡتَدِیۡنَ ﴿۷﴾

68:7 Surely your Lord knows best who strays from His path, and He knows best those who go aright.

فَلَا تُطِعِ الۡمُکَذِّبِیۡنَ ﴿۸﴾

68:8 So do not obey the rejectors.

وَدُّوۡا لَوۡ تُدۡہِنُ فَیُدۡہِنُوۡنَ ﴿۹﴾

68:9 They wish that you should soften, so they (too) would soften (in their opposition).5

وَ لَا تُطِعۡ کُلَّ حَلَّافٍ مَّہِیۡنٍ ﴿ۙ۱۰﴾

68:10 And do not obey any mean swearer,

ہَمَّازٍ مَّشَّآءٍۭ بِنَمِیۡمٍ ﴿ۙ۱۱﴾

68:11 defamer, going about with slander,

مَّنَّاعٍ لِّلۡخَیۡرِ مُعۡتَدٍ اَثِیۡمٍ ﴿ۙ۱۲﴾

68:12 hinderer of good, overstepping the limits, sinful,

عُتُلٍّۭ بَعۡدَ ذٰلِکَ زَنِیۡمٍ ﴿ۙ۱۳﴾

68:13 dishonourable, (and) besides all that, notoriously mischievous6

اَنۡ کَانَ ذَا مَالٍ وَّ بَنِیۡنَ ﴿ؕ۱۴﴾

68:14 because he possesses wealth and sons.

اِذَا تُتۡلٰی عَلَیۡہِ اٰیٰتُنَا قَالَ اَسَاطِیۡرُ الۡاَوَّلِیۡنَ ﴿۱۵﴾

68:15 When Our messages are recited to him, he says: Stories of the ancients!

سَنَسِمُہٗ عَلَی الۡخُرۡطُوۡمِ ﴿۱۶﴾

68:16 We shall brand him on the snout.7

اِنَّا بَلَوۡنٰہُمۡ کَمَا بَلَوۡنَاۤ اَصۡحٰبَ الۡجَنَّۃِ ۚ اِذۡ اَقۡسَمُوۡا لَیَصۡرِمُنَّہَا مُصۡبِحِیۡنَ ﴿ۙ۱۷﴾

68:17 We shall try them as We tried the owners of the garden, when they swore to pluck its fruits in the morning,8

وَ لَا یَسۡتَثۡنُوۡنَ ﴿۱۸﴾

68:18 and would not set aside a portion (for the poor).

فَطَافَ عَلَیۡہَا طَآئِفٌ مِّنۡ رَّبِّکَ وَ ہُمۡ نَآئِمُوۡنَ ﴿۱۹﴾

68:19 But a visitation from your Lord came upon it, while they slept.

فَاَصۡبَحَتۡ کَالصَّرِیۡمِ ﴿ۙ۲۰﴾

68:20 So it became as black, barren land —

فَتَنَادَوۡا مُصۡبِحِیۡنَ ﴿ۙ۲۱﴾

68:21 then they called out to one another in the morning,

اَنِ اغۡدُوۡا عَلٰی حَرۡثِکُمۡ اِنۡ کُنۡتُمۡ صٰرِمِیۡنَ ﴿۲۲﴾

68:22 saying: Go early to your crop, if you are to pluck (the fruit).

فَانۡطَلَقُوۡا وَ ہُمۡ یَتَخَافَتُوۡنَ ﴿ۙ۲۳﴾

68:23 So they went, saying to one another in low voices:

اَنۡ لَّا یَدۡخُلَنَّہَا الۡیَوۡمَ عَلَیۡکُمۡ مِّسۡکِیۡنٌ ﴿ۙ۲۴﴾

68:24 no poor man shall enter it today against you.

وَّ غَدَوۡا عَلٰی حَرۡدٍ قٰدِرِیۡنَ ﴿۲۵﴾

68:25 And in the morning they went, having the power to prevent.

فَلَمَّا رَاَوۡہَا قَالُوۡۤا اِنَّا لَضَآلُّوۡنَ ﴿ۙ۲۶﴾

68:26 But when they saw it, they said: Surely we are in error;

بَلۡ نَحۡنُ مَحۡرُوۡمُوۡنَ ﴿۲۷﴾

68:27 indeed, we have been deprived.

قَالَ اَوۡسَطُہُمۡ اَلَمۡ اَقُلۡ لَّکُمۡ لَوۡ لَا تُسَبِّحُوۡنَ ﴿۲۸﴾

68:28 The best of them said: Did I not say to you, Why do you not glorify (Allah)?

قَالُوۡا سُبۡحٰنَ رَبِّنَاۤ اِنَّا کُنَّا ظٰلِمِیۡنَ ﴿۲۹﴾

68:29 They said: Glory be to our Lord! surely we were wrongdoers.

فَاَقۡبَلَ بَعۡضُہُمۡ عَلٰی بَعۡضٍ یَّتَلَاوَمُوۡنَ ﴿۳۰﴾

68:30 Then they turned to one another, blaming each other.

قَالُوۡا یٰوَیۡلَنَاۤ اِنَّا کُنَّا طٰغِیۡنَ ﴿۳۱﴾

68:31 Said they: O woe to us! Surely we were inordinate —

عَسٰی رَبُّنَاۤ اَنۡ یُّبۡدِلَنَا خَیۡرًا مِّنۡہَاۤ اِنَّاۤ اِلٰی رَبِّنَا رٰغِبُوۡنَ ﴿۳۲﴾

68:32 maybe, our Lord will give us instead one better than it — surely to our Lord we make petition.9

کَذٰلِکَ الۡعَذَابُ ؕ وَ لَعَذَابُ الۡاٰخِرَۃِ اَکۡبَرُ ۘ لَوۡ کَانُوۡا یَعۡلَمُوۡنَ ﴿٪۳۳﴾

68:33 Such is the punishment. And certainly the punishment of the Hereafter is greater, if only they knew!10


  1. Nūn, with which this verse begins, while being a letter of the Arabic alphabet, is also a word meaning inkstand. The context, which mentions pen and writing, favours this interpretation. It is not an abbreviation such as those occurring at the commencement of chapters 2, 3 etc. The Quran, in the earliest abbreviation used in it, gives us a clue to the significance of the abbreviations occurring in it by using nūn, which is also a word. The verse also has a wider significance, indicating that the Quran will always continue to occupy a unique position among all the books which are ever written. This unique position consists in its completeness and exhaustive dealing with all the truths about religion. See also 25:33 footnote.
  2. The first allegation of the disbelievers against the Holy Prophet was that he was mad. This allegation is dealt with in this chapter. The first answer to it is contained in verses 1–2. In v. 1, attention is really called to the fact that the Prophet’s prophecies about his own future and the fate of the opponents, which were already put down in writing, would prove that the Prophet was not mad, for the ravings of a madman could not bear fruit. It should be noted that the Quran again and again challenges its opponents to write down their prophecies about the Holy Prophet, thus showing that its own were actually written down from the first, as this chapter is one of the earliest revelations. See also v. 47 and 52:41.
  3. The Prophet is further told that his exertions will be followed by a reward which will never be cut off, i.e., he will be successful in establishing a religion whose blessings will continue forever, while a madman’s actions cannot bear any fruit. Thus there is not only a clear prophecy here of the final triumph of the Prophet over his enemies, but there is also a prophecy that what is stated in the Quran rests on such a firm foundation that it will never prove untrue.
  4. The Prophet’s possession of the most sublime morals is a further proof that he cannot be a madman. He had already won from his contemporaries the recognition of his sublime morality, who had given him the title of al-Amīn, the faithful one. By calling him al-Amīn, the people expressed their high appreciation of his sublime morality, as if he were the one, and only one, as indicated by pre­fixing al, who could be trusted in all matters. His moral greatness was thus testi­fied to by Aishah, than whom none was more intimate with the Prophet, who said: His morals are the Quran; meaning that all the pictures of sublime morality depicted by the Quran are really a glimpse of the moral greatness of the Prophet.
  5. The first desire of the Quraish was no doubt, owing to their great respect for the Holy Prophet, that he should not condemn their evil deeds in strong lan­guage, and thus they too would not be severe in opposition to him.
  6. The description applies to all leaders of opposition to Truth. As against the sublime morals of the Inviter to Truth, verses 10–13 describe the low state of morality of those who do not care for the moral values of life.
  7. Branding on the snout is equivalent to bringing a man to disgrace which sticks to him.
  8. This parable sets forth the ultimate fate of the opponents. It is one of the earliest prophecies, and it foretells the failure of opposi­tion and shows also that the Prophet’s heart was full of sympathy for the poor from the very first.
  9. It shows that while the Quran threatened the opponents with punish­ment, it foretold at the same time that they would accept the Truth ultimately. This happened about twenty years afterwards. All their exertions came to naught and their power in the land was frustrated, but they then saw their error, came over to Islam, and were made the rulers of vast kingdoms. Thus their Lord gave them instead one better, because they made their petition to Him.
  10. The separate mention of the punishment of the Hereafter is clear evidence that the punishment spoken of in the previous verses, referred to at the beginning of this verse, was a punishment which was to overtake them in this life, and thus to afford a proof of the truth of the chastisement of the Hereafter.