In the name of God, the Merciful, the Beneficent
Ha. Mim. By the Book that makes things clear! We have made the Qur’an a discourse in Arabic so that you may understand. It originates in the source of revelation kept with Us; it is indeed sublime, full of wisdom. Should We ignore you and take away this reminder from you because you are people who transgress beyond bounds? Many a prophet did We send to people of olden times; but they mocked at each prophet who came to them. We destroyed them even though they were mightier than these. Thus their example has gone down in history.
(Al-Zukhruf: 43: 1-8)
The surah begins with the two separate letters Ha and Mim which are then followed by an oath by the book that makes things clear. Both the letters and the book are of the same nature: in its spoken form, the book is of the same type as the letters. Just like all letters in human language, the two letters, or sounds, are of God’s signs: it is He who created people and gave them the sounds of their languages. When such letters are mentioned, they carry more than a single meaning with reference to the Qur’an.
God states this oath by the two letters and the clear book so as to confirm the purpose of making this Qur’an in the form it was made when revealed to the Arabs: “We have made the Qur’an a discourse in Arabic so that you may understand.”
Suitable Message Bearers
The purpose, then, is that they should understand it as it is composed in their own tongue. The Qur’an is God’s revelation which He has made, in its spoken form, Arabic as He chose the Arabs to be the bearers of His message. Moreover, God made His choice on the basis of His knowledge that the Arabs were suitable message-bearers and that their language could best express it. God knows whom to entrust with His message.
He then defines what position He has assigned for the Qur’an with Him and its value in His overall plan for the universe: “It originates in the source of revelation kept with Us; it is indeed sublime, full of wisdom.” We will only in passing refer to the literal meaning of the phrase, Umm al-Kitab, translated here as ‘the source of revelation.’ Does it refer to the ‘imperishable tablet’ mentioned in Surah 85 of the Qur’an, or to God’s eternal knowledge? Both are the same in the sense that they do not have a specific meaning within our sphere of knowledge. Yet the verse transmits a definite impression that the Qur’an has an especially high value in God’s overall knowledge and planning. This is enough for us. The Qur’an is ‘sublime’, and ‘full of wisdom.’ These two qualities give it a specific rationality, and indeed it is so! It is as if the Qur’an has a soul of its own, with special features and qualities, that respond to the souls of those who interact with it. With its sublime position and wisdom, it provides guidance to humanity, leading it according to its own nature and qualities, imparting to its rational understanding and to its life values, concepts and facts that are also sublime and bear wisdom.
Transgressing Beyond Bounds
When this fact has been established it makes the people who speak the language in which the Qur’an has been revealed appreciate the great gift and blessing God has given them. It shows them the extent of their transgression when they turn away from it in disdain. It is they who deserve to be treated with contempt. Therefore, they are told that they may well be ignored because of their transgression: “Should We ignore you and take away this reminder from you because you are people who transgress beyond bounds?”
It is indeed most remarkable that God, in His glory and sublimity, should care for such people, revealing to them a book in their own tongue, telling them about what they feel, explaining the inner aspects of their lives, showing them the path delineated by His guidance, relating to them accounts of earlier communities and reminding them of God’s law that was in effect during ancient times. Yet they continue to ignore His guidance, turning away from it. For God to say that they will be deprived of His care and be ignored for their transgression sounds dreadful.
In addition to this threat, they are reminded of God’s law that applied to earlier communities that denied the prophets sent to them: “Many a prophet did We send to people of olden times; but they mocked at each prophet who came to them. We destroyed them even though they were mightier than these. Thus their example has gone down in history.” What can they expect when God has already destroyed people that were much mightier than they because of their derision of the messengers sent to them?