In the name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful
Ha. Mim. Ayn Sin. Qaf. Thus has God, the Almighty, the Wise, sent revelation to you, Prophet, and to those who preceded you. His is all that is in the heavens and the earth. He is the Most High, the Supreme One. The heavens are well-nigh rent asunder from above as the angels extol their Lord’s limitless glory and praise, and beg forgiveness for all who are on earth. Surely God is Much-Forgiving, Ever Merciful. As for those who take for their protectors beings other than Him, God watches them, and you are not responsible for them. (Consultation, Al-Shura: 42: 1-6).
The surah begins with establishing the truth that the Qur’an is revealed by God, stressing some of His main attributes, the Almighty, the Wise, the Most High, the Supreme. When this truth is well established in our minds, we know to whom we should turn, to request when we wish for good things, provisions and earnings. Since He is the owner of the heavens and the earth, it is He who can decide what to give.
Moreover, being ‘the Most High, the Supreme’, He does not degrade or demean those who stretch out their hands requesting what they want from Him, as they would feel if they made their requests to other creatures.
The surah then gives us an aspect of the significance of God’s sole ownership of the universe and His supremacy. We see this in the heavens that are almost rent asunder, overawed as they are by God’s greatness, when they realize that some earth dwellers deviate from the right way. We also see this in the angels’ action as they glorify their Lord and pray to Him to forgive those who live on earth: “The heavens are well-nigh rent asunder from above as the angels extol their Lord’s limitless glory and praise, and beg forgiveness for all who are on earth. Surely God is Much-Forgiving, Ever Merciful.”
The ‘heavens’ are those creatures which we see above us wherever we are on earth and of which we know very little. We now know that these heavens include at least one hundred million galaxies, everyone of which includes one hundred million stars like our sun which is larger than our earth by at least a million times. These galaxies, which humans have managed to see with their telescopes, are scattered in space, with large distances between them, amounting to hundreds of thousands of light years. Yet these very heavens are almost rent asunder from above, fearing God, the Supreme, because some people on earth overlook His supremacy which the rest of the universe feels with a clear sense of awe.
“The angels extol their Lord’s limitless glory and praise, and beg forgiveness for all who are on earth.”
The angels are creatures whose obedience to God is absolute. Hence, they should be the most reassured of all creatures. Yet they never cease to extol God’s praise because they feel His total supremacy and fear that they may fall short in extolling His glory. By contrast, humans, the earth dwellers, reject and deviate. Hence, the angels fear that God’s anger may, thus, be incurred and they begin to pray to Him to forgive the people of earth for the sins they perpetrate.
The verse may also refer to the angels praying for the forgiveness of believers, as stated in Surah 40, the Forgiving One: “Those who bear the Throne and those around it extol their Lord’s limitless glory and praise, and have faith in Him, and pray for the forgiveness of all believers.” (40: 7) We see here how the angels dread that any act of disobedience is committed on earth, even by believers. They pray to God for forgiveness, knowing that He is surely ‘Much-forgiving, Ever Merciful.’
This opening of the surah ends with a reference to those who take for themselves protectors other than God, when it has become clear that no one else in the universe can give any protection.
In this way, He makes it clear to His Messenger that he is not responsible for them. It is God who watches over them and He will deal with them as He likes: “As for those who take for their protectors beings other than Him, God watches them, and you are not responsible for them.”
Those miserable people who seek protection with beings other than God, are like those who clutch nothing but thin air. They hold nothing in their hands. Little as they and their alleged protectors are, they appear to us weak and insignificant as they are subject to God’s power. The Prophet, and the believers with him, need not think or worry about them. God will make His own decision about them.
This truth must be well established in the hearts of all believers so that they are reassured, and this, whether the unbelievers appear to wield power on earth or not. No matter how arrogant and tyrannical the ones wielding power are, they remain insignificant as long as they do not derive their power from God, and as long as God watches over them and encompasses them with His might.
The whole universe around them believes in God and they alone are the ones who deviate, just like an odd beat in a beautiful symphony. From another point of view, the believers are reassured as they learn that they are not held in any way responsible for anyone who turns away and deviates. Their only task is to give sincere and sound counsel. It is God who ultimately holds people’s hearts in His hand. With such reassurance, the believers can continue along their way, caring nothing for the unbelievers and their deviation.