In the Name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful
Ya Sin. By the Qur’an, full of wisdom, you are indeed one of God’s messengers, pursuing a straight way. It is a revelation by the Almighty, the Merciful.
(Ya Sin: 36: 1-5)
This Makkan surah is characterized by short verses and a fast rhythm. These two characteristics give the surah a special outlook. Its rhythm sounds successive beats, the effect of which is increased by the numerous images it draws, all leaving a profound impression.
It shares the same main themes of all Makkan surahs, aiming to lay the foundation of faith. At the very outset, it dwells on the nature of revelation and the truth of the message: “Ya Sin. By the Qur’an, full of wisdom, you are indeed one of God’s messengers, pursuing a straight way. It is a revelation by the Almighty, the Ever Merciful.” It relates the story of the people of the township to which messengers were sent, using the story to warn against rejection of the message and denial of the revelation. It shows the end that befell the people of the township to emphasize the message the surah wants to deliver. Towards the end, the surah picks up this point again: “We have not taught the Prophet poetry; nor is it fitting for him (to be a poet). This is but a reminder and a Qur’an making all things clear, to warn everyone who is alive, and that the word of God be proved against the unbelievers.”
The surah also discusses the oneness of God, giving the voice of denunciation of polytheism to the man who came from the farthest end of town. It is he who argues with his people about their denial of God’s messengers: “Why should I not worship the One who has brought me into being? It is to Him that you will all return. Should I worship other deities besides Him? If the Lord of Grace should will that harm befall me, their intercession will avail me nothing, nor will they save me. Indeed, I should clearly be in error.” The same point is emphasized again towards the end of the surah: “Yet they have taken to worship deities other than God, hoping for (their) support. They are unable to support them; yet their worshippers stand like warriors to defend them.”
The issue that is most strongly emphasized in the surah is that of resurrection. Mention of this is first made at the very outset: “It is We who will bring the dead back to life. We record whatever (deeds) they send ahead, as well as the traces they leave behind. We keep an account of all things in a clear record.” Resurrection is further alluded to in the story of the township as it mentions the reward given to the man arguing the case of faith: “He was told: Enter paradise. He said: Would that my people knew how my Lord has forgiven me my sins, and has placed me among the highly honored!” In the middle of the surah, resurrection is once again referred to: “They also ask: ‘When will this promise be fulfilled, if what you say be true?’ All they are waiting for is a single blast that will overtake them while they are still disputing. No time will they have to make bequests, nor will they return to their own people.” And at the end of the surah, it is stated in the form of dialogue: “He comes up with arguments against Us, forgetting how he himself was created. He asks: ‘Who could give life to bones that have crumbled to dust?’ Say: ‘He who brought them into being in the first instance will give them life again. He has full knowledge of every act of creation.”
These fundamental issues of faith are repeatedly discussed in Makkan surahs. Each time though they are tackled from a different angle, brought under new focus, and given effects that fit the overall ambience of the surah, maintaining harmony with its rhythm, images and impressions.
These effects vary in this surah. Some derive from the scenes of the Day of Judgment, the scenes in the story and the positions taken in it and the dialogue it includes as also the end suffered by earlier communities. Other effects are derived from the numerous images given of the universe, each of which imparts its own message. The dead land as life begins to emerge in it; the night stripped out of the day to spread total darkness; the sun running its course up to its point of destination; the moon moving from one phase to another until it becomes like an old date stalk; the boats laden with the offspring of old human generations; the cattle made subservient to man; and the green tree made into a fire from which they light their own fires. It is by using all these scenes and images that the surah emphasizes its message.
Alongside these there are other effects made to touch our hearts and alert our minds. One of these is the image of those who deny the truth when God’s judgment befalls them. No longer can they derive any benefit from the signs and the warnings given to them: “Around their necks We have put chains, reaching up to their chins, so that their heads are forced up. And We have set a barrier before them and a barrier behind them, and We enshrouded them in veils so that they cannot see.” Another is the fact that whatever they harbor inside their hearts and whatever they leave open are known to God; nothing is hidden from Him. A third effect is the description of the mechanism of creation as involving nothing but one short word: “When He intends something to be, He only says to it, ‘Be,’ and it is.”