Exposition of the Holy Quran – 34 Saba’ (G A Parwez)

Surah 34: Saba’

(1) Everything in the heavens and on the earth is busy fulfilling His destined programme of creation, and is an embodiment and example of His hamd. When you observe the entire cosmic system and the ultimate results of everything He has created, it will appear miraculous and would reflect in His hamd. This is because each and every scheme of His is based on wisdom, and He is fully aware of whatever happens here.
(2) He knows what goes into the earth and that which comes forth from it, and what descends from the heaven and that which ascends thereto. Also all of these continue to develop and remain safe from the evil effects of destructive elements.
(3) In spite of this, those who deny Our Law of Mukafat say, “The time of reckoning about which you threaten us, will not come for us.” Tell them, “It will most certainly come, and my Rabb Himself stands witness to this truth. He knows all deeds that are likely to happen and whatever is there in the heavens or the earth, even if it is the size of a particle. Even if it is smaller or larger it does not escape His knowledge and it is being recorded in the all-too-manifest book of Our Law of Mukafat, which is visible to all who see.
(4) Thus, people who profess eiman in the truth of Our laws and work according to a righteous programme, will get a suitable reward for their work and remain safe from the evil effects of destructive forces. They will receive dignified sustenance in abundance.
(5) On the contrary, people who try to subvert Our laws, seek to defeat them and, instead force results according to their own wishes. (They will never be successful in their efforts.) Due to their own plans they will be engulfed in a grievous and humiliating chastisement.
(6) Those who think and use knowledge can see with their own eyes that what is revealed to you from your Rabb is the truth and is capable of producing concrete result. It guides mankind to the path of Allah Almighty. It is worthy of all hamd that is from that God, Who is extremely overpowering. However, His programme produces such balanced and pleasant results that everyone is spontaneously full of praise and appreciation.
(7) On the other hand, those who do not think or use knowledge, simply deny our Law of Mukafat by following their elders and because of their prejudice. They have so much hatred that they ridicule and say to each other “Shall we point out to you a man who says that after death, when you have disintegrated into countless particles and become dust, you shall once again be re-created?
(8) “Furthermore, he claims that he has been told all this by Allah. We think that he does this either intentionally and attributes his concocted lies to Allah, or he is possessed.”
The fact of the matter is that those who do not believe in life after death have themselves gone completely astray; the result of which is nothing else but destruction.
(9) Don’t these people reflect over the physical universe around them? (As to how the process of life and death goes on? How a seed germinates into a new life after disintegrating in the soil; or how man himself has progressed continuously, in spite of the fact that he is surrounded by destructive elements? As it is, only one severe earthquake or a meteor from the sky is enough to destroy the entire human race. In all this there is a clear message for those who possess the capability to understand the truth.)
(10) (These are the sort of things the folk of Sheba also used to talk about. They too were very proud of their abundant wealth and trade, as well as the large size of their group. They also used to ridicule the Law of Mukafat. Before you hear about what happened to them, a brief reference to their contemporaries David and Solomon appears necessary.) We had endowed David with great powers and excellence. In his kingdom there were mighty and bold chiefs and other chieftains from the tribe of Tair, who had formed numerous cavalry troops (21:79, 27:15-16). We commanded them to obey Our laws along with David. Also, We taught him the art of making iron pliable.
(11) He founded an armoury to make weapons according to Our laws, where iron was melted to make chain armour with the links fixed properly. At the same time We told these people that all this weaponry should be used for their welfare and not for creating disturbance on the earth. We also told them that We always keep watch over whatever they do.
(12) (Likewise, We endowed his son Solomon with great power and excellence. His fleet of boats used to sail across the seas.) In this regard he had full knowledge of the direction of winds. As a result, in one day or even the earlier part of the day, his boats covered distances that other boats would travel in a month. Similar long distances were covered in the later part of the day. Also, we made a fount of molten copper gush forth for him like a spring; and the uncivilized tribes were subjugated by him. They worked in accordance with the laws of Rabb (21:82, 38:37).
(13) They built palaces, forts and synagogues for him, as per his programme. They also carved (rare) statues, and made paintings and basins which were as large as great watering-troughs and cauldrons. All these were firmly fixed in their places.
We had told David’s people that they should utilize properly whatever sources of nourishment We had given to them, according to Our laws. (The necessity for reminding them arose as) After attaining power and acquiring abundance, very few people put these things to proper use.
(14) After Solomon’s death, his son ascended the throne. The son, unlike his father or grand father, was an ordinary below average human being (38:34). As such the grandeur, might and authority of David and Solomon’s period just vanished (and ten tribes of the Bani-Israel revolted against him). Similarly, the uncivilized tribes who were working in complete submission, realized became rebellious and felt regretful that they had remained subjugated to a weak person. Had they known this earlier (that he was weak), they would never have continued to suffer such humiliating servitude.
(15) The people of Sheba had vast lush green gardens stretching both on the right and left sides (thus covering the entire area). This aspect of their habitation was known even in far off places. Their cities had a very pleasant and healthy climate. We had told them, “Eat whatever you like out of the abundant resources which nature has provided to you free; but utilize them according to the divine laws, expressing gratitude and appreciation. If you do this, you will remain protected from all kinds of destructions.”
(16) But they turned away from this and created chaos. Heavy floods destroyed their dams which retained water; their vast luxuriant gardens were destroyed and in their place grew wild shrubs yielding bitter fruit, tamarisks and some wild trees. (Thus their comfortable and luxurious lives turned miserable.)
(Had they kept their economic and social life within divine laws and not created chaos, they could have faced such a natural disaster with courage and steadfastness. Thus, they would not have had difficulty in re-establishing themselves. It becomes easy to face natural disasters when one has a just society that plans properly in the light of the laws of nature.
(17) This result was not unique for the people of Sheba. Whoever disobeys our laws will get the same result.
(18) (Before this doom) There were several flourishing and affluent cities between their country (Yemen) and the lush green areas (of Syria and Palestine). These cities were their markets. The routes between them were well populated with resting places on the way, which made travelling safe and comfortable. Accordingly, the caravans travelled by day and night without fear.
(19) Gradually, however, their activities resulted in the erosion of their ever busy trade centres and law and order deteriorated. They thus destroyed themselves by such vicious and wicked activities. (The flood damaged them physically; and their wrong social and economic systems destroyed civil society.) The result was that they were scattered into countless fragments; and thereafter they became only tales of history.
In this episode of the people of Sheba, there are lessons for those who stay steadfast and brave against accidents and justly utilize the bounties and resources provided to them by the Almighty. (They tell you that two factors are necessary for nations to exist successfully. One is that the nation should be watchful of the natural physical systems around them; and secondly that society should be subservient to the divine laws so that it may not have undue imbalances.)
(20) In actual fact, the claim of Satan that human beings would toe his line instead of following the divine law (15:38-41) was proved correct by the conduct of such nations. (They proved Satan’s point by their deeds as) Almost everyone, except the group of momineen, followed him.
(21) In reality he (Satan) had no power or authority over man. (When he cannot conquer or control anything else in the universe, how can he control a human being who is capable of understanding and exploiting the physical phenomenon of the universe?) But it did happen as a result of Our programme which, unlike the rest of the universe, gave man the faculty of choice and discretion. The other objective of giving man the freedom of choice was to enable him to lead a distinctive and illustrious life by believing in life hereafter, as opposed to others who were in doubt of it. (The secret of a blissful and prosperous life lies in believing in God’s law of requital; and one cannot believe in it unless one believes in the hereafter.)
Most certainly your Rabb keeps a watchful eye over everything, so that everyone’s action produces results according to His law.
(22) (This is Allah’s Law of Mukafat. On the other hand) There are people who contend that some other beings also wield authority and power. (O Rasool), Just ask them to call such beings. You will see that they do not possess any power in the universe, not even an atom’s worth. Furthermore, they do not share any such power with the Almighty, who does not need any helper from amongst them.
(23) (This divine Law of Mukafat is so firm in producing its results that) Intercession by anyone will not be of any use to anyone, except in cases where their companionship and support is according to the divine law. The collective living of people who in this way become each other’s companions, takes away all the fear from their hearts. When they talk to each other about the divine law, they do so with absolute peace of mind. Thereupon, the reality would become clear and they would realize that this law is a fact. That it is firm, unchangeable and capable of producing concrete results. And He (the giver of that law) is exalted and possesses great powers.
(24) Ask them (if you want to keep the distribution of wealth in your own hands), who provides them with everything they get from the heavens and earth? Tell them that it is none other than Allah who provides them with these. Then ask them who amongst us is on the right path and who has openly gone astray?
(25) Tell them (that even after explaining so much), “If you do not intend to come to the right path, we give up on you. Do whatever you like. If whatever we do is unlawful, you will not be questioned about it (we alone will be responsible). Similarly, we will not be called to account for whatever you are doing. (Therefore, you continue your way and leave us on our way. There is no use quarrelling about this matter any more.)
(26) “If after this you do not stop opposing us, the decision will be taken in the battlefield (there is no other way left.) That decision will be taken on the basis of the law of truth, towards which we invite you. Remember that Allah’s law always judges correctly because in it everything is based on knowledge.”
(27) Ask them to show you the actuality of those beings whom they make partners with God. They will never be able to tell you anything. (What can they tell you when the fact is that) He alone is Almighty, all-wise. No one can share these powers with Him.
(28) (The situation is such that everything in the entire universe is run under His laws and control. It is not that His laws prevail in some spheres, and someone else’s in others. Therefore, the same should apply in all human affairs as well and everyone should be subjected to only one law. That is why) O Rasool! We have sent you as Our messenger to the whole of mankind, with the mission that you should tell people how pleasant the results of following the divine law would be; and how awful and destructive the results of opposing it would be. Those who continue to oppose these laws should be stopped. (This is the reason that as a consequence, the followers of truth have to go to war – 34:26) But most people are ignorant about this (and object to why the anbiya went to war).
(29) After all this they will ask you, that if you are true about what you say, to tell them when that decisive hour (of clash) about which you threaten them will come (34:26).
(30) Tell them that according to the divine law there is a time of respite for it. When that time is over, it cannot be deferred or advanced even by a single moment.
(31) At present they are so stubborn and bent upon denying the truth that they are arrogantly saying, “We neither believe in this Qur’an, nor in the teachings revealed earlier (which it is being claimed are now preserved in the Qur’an).” But just imagine the scenario when these zalimeen will be standing before their Rabb, their heads cast down, quarrelling and contradicting one another. Ordinary people who were weak, will say to their leaders, “If you were not there, we would certainly have been amongst the momineen.”
(32) In reply to this the leaders will say, “Did we forcibly hold you back from following the right path after it had become obvious to you? You yourselves were guilty.”
(33) Again the ordinary people will say unto the leaders, “Not the least. It was your deceitful plotting, night and day, that kept us away from the right path. Are you saying that you did not stop us and that we ourselves denied this? You kept devising such rules that we were forced to disobey the divine laws; and associate laws of other authorities with the laws of Allah (33:47).
When these leaders see the sufferings before them and the accusations being levied by their followers, they will (vainly) try to conceal their remorse. We shall put iron shackles around their necks (and they will be dragged towards the chastisement). All this will be a just requital for what they had been doing.
(This will happen when these leaders will stand as prisoners of war after their defeat, as well as in the hereafter.)
(34) (This attitude is not particular to the chiefs from the Quraish, but has been continuously exhibited from the very beginning of history.) Whenever We sent a messenger to a nation to warn them about the destructive effects of their unjust system or behaviour, its affluent class,(1) who were lost in the pursuit of pleasure and were used to an easy life through the labour of others, told Our messengers, “Behold! We deny that there is any truth in what you say and we are not ready to accept it;

(35) “And we have a lot of wealth. We are so strong in numbers that (we can do whatever we like) and nobody can dare to touch us.”
(36) That is exactly what these people are also saying. So, O Rasool! Tell them, “Do not be so haughty and arrogant about the abundance of your wealth. Increase or restriction in wealth takes place according to the divine laws.” However, most of the people do not understand this (and think that their wealth will not decrease, regardless of what they do).
(37) Tell them it is neither their wealth nor their offspring that can help them scale the stairs and achieve a higher status with Us. This status and position can only be achieved by those who, through trusting the truth of Our laws, do constructive work in the society. They will be given a twofold reward, firstly they will have all the comforts and pleasant things of life and secondly they will develop their self. Thus, this nation will keep moving forward with all the pleasant things of life with peace and security, and continue to attain an even higher status (25:75).
(38) On the contrary, the people who strive to subvert Our laws by their opposition (although such laws shall never become helpless), will surely be destroyed.
(39) Tell them once again that abundance or restriction in sustenance is linked with the laws of the Almighty. The sustenance of whoever follows His laws, will increase, while that of whoever turns away will be restricted (20:124).
The law is that through whatever you make available for the nourishment and development of others, your own sustenance will become augmented accordingly (although apparently it seems that whatever you have given is gone forever). (However, this is like the autumn season when the leaves of a tree wither and fall but numerous buds and leaves sprout over the entire tree when spring comes – 2:261.)
Now you can well imagine the excellent provisions you get according to the divine law.
(40) The day they will all be gathered around, the malaika (celestial forces) will be questioned, “Did all these people worship you (and did you ask them to do so)?”
(41) They would answer, “O our Sustainer! You are far above and nobody else can ascribe a share with you. How can we ascribe anyone else with You? It is only You who is our protector, leaving aside all of them. The fact is that they used to worship the jinns and not us; and most of them believed that the jinns were their gods.”
(42) In any case, on that day, none of you will be in a position to benefit or harm others. And We shall say unto the people who had remained bent on transgressing our laws, “Taste the chastisement of the destruction which you used to belie.”
(43) The condition of these people is such that when Our clear laws (message) are presented to them, they incite people by saying that this person wants to turn you away from the path which your ancestors used to follow; (and the path he wants you to follow is from God). All this is a falsity which he has fabricated and attributed to Allah. When the truth is presented to these people, they say that it is nothing but pure and open falsehood.
(44) (Just ask them, “As you never use intellect and reason in reaching a decision rationally and only follow your ancestors blindly, how have you come to know that this message is not wahi and is my own created lie?) Also, never has any rasool come to you and given you God’s book, after reading which you would conclude that whatever I say is not wahi; and that the style of wahi is different. On what basis do you say that the Qur’an is not revealed from Allah?”
(45) (In actual fact these people are saying this blindly, out of sheer prejudice) Likewise, previous generations also used to belie the wahi. These earlier people were given so much sustenance that the present generation has not received even one-tenth of it. Ask them, “Do you know their fate in the end?” (In spite of all their power, strength and resources they were destroyed. So how can you get away?)
(46) Tell them (O Rasool!), “I neither want to enter into unnecessary lengthy discussions with you nor do I want to give you a long lecture. All I ask of you is, whether in pairs or alone, that you stop for a while and think only for the sake of Allah. If you set the process of thinking while using your intellect and reason, you will see for yourself that this Rasool is not insane. (Whatever he says is based on intellect and reason. On this basis) He is forewarning you about the destructive results of your erroneous ways.”
(47) Tell them O Rasool, “Whatever I ask of you is for your own good. (I have no personal gains to achieve in this.) I do not ask for any reward from you, as my reward rests with Allah Almighty, Whose ever- watchful eye is seeing everything.”
(48) Tell them that in the system of my Rabb, clashes between good and evil happen now and again (and eventually the truth overcomes all that is false – 21:18); because He knows fully how much power the truth possesses.
(49) Say, “The truth has come out and your forces of falsehood are bound to wither away. They cannot stand against the truth and will be defeated in the very first encounter. They will be defeated every time they return; and the era of falsehood has passed away (17:81).
(50) “(In this clash of truth and evil), If I have to suffer at any stage (3:139) then that would be due to my (or my companions’) fallacious planning. (That does not mean that falsehood overpowers the truth and) When I am on the right path, this is due to divine guidance, which I receive from my Rabb. He is all-hearing and ever near!”
(51) (In any case, if they do not correct themselves even after so much explanation, then soon that day will come.) At that time, no matter how much they are gripped with terror, their distress and commotion will not be postponed. Instead it will come still closer and seize them.
(52) Then they will say, “Now we believe in divine laws.” But how can they now have eiman when they had gone astray for so long and seen the results confronting them!
(53) Earlier (when eiman could have been useful) they continued to deny the truth without any reason and were casting slander and scorn in ignorance. As such they continued getting further away from the straight path.
(54) And now, just as it happened to people who lived earlier, a barrier will be cast between them and all that they desire (that is they will never be able to attain the fulfilment of any of their desires). This is because they have constantly remained in doubt about the truth of Our laws; and they are lost in disquieting doubts and suspicion.
During the era of ignorance, man used to worship natural forces; some called them angels, while others called them jinns. Human knowledge removed such superstition, but new types of superstitions took their place. The materialistic man of today does not acknowledge God (Allah) in human affairs. He is only subservient to natural forces. The result of this is obvious. If the forces of nature are utilized under the injunctions of the wahi, they become malaika, and are a source of peace and security. If they are left rebellious and uncontrolled (free), they become jinns, which spread devastation all around. Today these jinns control the world.
Commonly this is translated as, “You think that I am treading the wrong path. If to say that is correct, then it will be I who shall suffer its consequences. You will not suffer any loss from this.” However, with this meaning, there is no relation between it and the next part of the verse. In this way the meaning of the complete verse becomes thus:
“If, as you comprehend, I am on the wrong path, then I shall have to suffer the consequences. It will not cause you any harm; but if I am on the correct path, it is on account of the wahi that Allah sends towards me.”
The fact is that the Rasool always asserted, that they should follow his path and thus save themselves from the suffering. They used to say that the Rasool was on the wrong path and therefore they did not want to follow him. But to say to them, “If I am on the wrong course, only I shall suffer the loss and it will not cause you any harm,” cannot be true, because if they follow the same wrong course, they would also have to suffer the loss.
Based on this, the meaning that has been given above in the text appears more rational and acceptable. An objection that can be raised against it is that it points to the possibility of the Rasool committing an apparent error; but such a minor fallacy of planning on the part of the Rasool has been mentioned in the Qur’an (9:43). It does not in any way ascribe any blame to the person of the Rasool.


(1) The indulgent; from root TRF which has the basic notion of ‘opulence’ and ‘luxury as mentioned in Surah Al-Waaqiah, 56:45.  In present day language, they are called parasites who live in luxury on the sweated labour of other people. See also 17:16, 43:23.


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