Overview - Surah 21: al-Anbiya' (The Prophets )

Surah Introduction

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The basic theme of the Surah is Prophets and Prophethood as indicated by the name itself.  All Prophets were human beings.  They suffered at the hands of their enemies. Allah also tested them, but they always trusted Allah and lived according to His command.  They were people of prayers and devotions and Allah listened to their prayers.


  1. The Last Messenger has come. The judgment is coming closer. All prophets were human beings.
  2. Heaven and earth are created for a purpose. All Prophets preached Tawhid.
  3. Every thing is created for a term. The end will come suddenly.
  4. Allah cares for you day and night. Moses and Aaron received Allah's message and now this blessed reminder has come to you.
  5. Prophet Ibrahim argued against idolatry.
  6. Allah blessed His Prophets and delivered them.
  7. The righteous shall inherit the earth.

This Surah is known as al-Anbiyah [The Prophets] and is not known by any other name. Sixteen Prophets  are mentioned in this Surah [directly or indirectly]: Musa, Haroon, Isa, Zakariyyah, Yahyah, Jonah, Ismail, Idris, Dhul Kifl, Ayyub, Sulayman, Lut, Ishaq, Yaqub, Ibrahim and the Prophet Muhammad. 

There are 112 Ayat in this Surah.


Total Ayat112
Total Words *1169
Root Words *294
Unique Root Words *9
Makki / MadaniMakki
Chronological Order* 73rd (according to Ibn Abbas)
Year of Revelation* 11th year of Prophethood
Events during/before this Surah*
1st Pledge of Aqabah, Death of Abu Talib - Death of Khadijah - Stoning at Ta'if - al-Isra wal Mi'raj - Night Journey, Boycott of Banu Hashim Yr 3, Boycott of Banu Hashim Yr 2, Boycott of Banu Hashim Yr 1, 2nd Migration to Abyssinia, Physical beating and torture of some Muslims - 1st Migration of Muslims to Abyssinia, Public Invitation to Islam - Persecution of Muslims; antagonism - ridicule - derision - accusation - abuse and false propaganda., Revelation begins - Private Invitation to Islam , Revelation begins - Private Invitation to Islam , Revelation begins - Private Invitation to Islam
Events during/after still to occur*
2nd Pledge of Aqabah,,Migration from Makkah to Madinah - Building of Masjid Nabi in Madinah - Treaty with Jews of Madinah - Marriage of Prophet to Aishah,Change of Qiblah from Jerusalem to Makkah - Battle of Badr,Battle of Uhud,,Battle of Ahzab - Expedition of Banu Quraydhah,Treaty of Hudaiybiyah - Letters to Kings and Rulers,,Conquest of Makkah - Battle of Hunain,Hajj led by Abu Bakr - Expedition of Tabuk,Farewell Hajj by Prophet - Death of Prophet - End of Divine Revelation
Names of Prophets Mentioned
Idris , Nuh, Lut, Ibrahim, Ismail, Ishaq, Yaqub, Ayyub, Dhulkifl, Musa, Harun, Dawud, Sulayman, Zakariya, Yahya
Surah Index
Aaron, Abraham, Adversity (patience during) , God (wills no wrong to His creation) , Astronomy (celestial mechanics) (moon), Astronomy (celestial mechanics) (solar and lunar orbits), Astronomy (celestial mechanics) (sun), Behaviour (each group given a law and way of life) (one community under God), Charity, Cosmology (The Big Bang) , David, Death, Disbelievers (God’s promise to) , Earth, Gog and Magog, Hell, Idris, Isaac, Ishmael, Jacob, Jesus, Jews, Jinn, Job, John the Baptist, Jonah, Judgement (Day) , Judgement (Day) (will be rolled up), Knowledge, Lot, Mary, Moses, Noah, Poets, Prophet (only mortal human) , Religion, Resurrection (Day) , Resurrection (of soul) , Revelation, Solomon, Weather (wind) , Zachariah

Central Theme

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This Surah discusses the conflict between the Prophet and the chiefs of Makkah which was rampant at the time of its revelation. It answers those objections and doubts which were being put forward concerning his Prophethood, the doctrines of Monotheism (Tawhid) and the Hereafter. In the Surah, the chiefs of Makkah have also been rebuked for their machinations against the Prophet and warned of the evil consequences of their wicked activities. They have been admonished to give up their opposition to the Message. At the end of the Surah they have been told that the person whom they considered to be a “distress and affliction” had in reality come to them as a blessing.

Main Themes

In v. 1-47 the following themes have been discussed in particular:

1.         The objection of the disbelievers that a human being could not be a Messenger and therefore they could not accept Muhammad as a Prophet has been refuted.

2.         They have been taken to task for raising many diverse and contradictory objections against the Prophet and the Qur’an.

3.         Their concept of life has been proved to be false because it was responsible for their heedless attitude towards the Message. They believed that life was merely a sport and pastime and had no purpose and there was no accountability, reward or punishment.

4.         The main cause of the conflict between the disbelievers and the Prophet was their insistence on polytheism (Shirk) and antagonism to Monotheism. So the doctrine of polytheism has been refuted and the doctrine of Monotheism reinforced by weighty but brief arguments.

5.         Arguments and admonitions have been used to remove other false understandings. They presumed that Muhammad was a false prophet and his warnings of a punishment from God were empty threats because no punishment had seized them despite their persistent rejection of the Prophet.

In v. 48-91 instances have been cited from the important events from the lives of the Prophets to show that all Prophets were normal human beings except those characteristics exclusive to Prophethood. They had no share in Lordship and they prayed and worshipped God alone, imploring Him only.

1.         All the Prophets had to pass through distress and affliction; their opponents did their utmost to thwart their mission but the Prophets still came out successful by God’s will.

2.         All the Prophets had one ‘way of life’, the same as was being presented by the Prophet Muhammad. This was the only true way of life and all other ways were wrong.

In v. 92-106 it has been declared that only those who follow the right way will come out successful in the final judgment of God and those who discard it shall meet with the worst consequences.

In v. 107-112 the people have been told that it is a great favour of God that He has sent His Messenger to inform them of the reality of the hereafter and to reaffirm that God is One. Interestingly, the Prophet is made to declare that he is unaware of the plan of God and that this knowledge of the future is with God and He alone will judge the people and decide their fate. Rather, he is simply a vehicle for the message and his responsibility is to convey that to the people.  The Surah then ends with a reminder that God is the Most Merciful and that his help is sought against the lies and disbelief of the people.

Connection of the name of the Surah and its Ayaat

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Some key Characteristics of the Prophets of God:

  • All the Prophets were human beings. They used to eat and drink like ordinary humans. They were not given everlasting life [Ayat 8 and 34
     وَمَا جَعَلْنَاهُمْ جَسَدًا لَّا يَأْكُلُونَ الطَّعَامَ وَمَا كَانُوا خَالِدِينَ "And We did not make the prophets forms not eating food, nor were they immortal [on earth]." [21:8]
  • All the Prophets were given revelation of 'La ilaha illa Allah' وَمَا أَرْسَلْنَا مِن قَبْلِكَ مِن رَّسُولٍ إِلَّا نُوحِي إِلَيْهِ أَنَّهُ لَا إِلَـٰهَ إِلَّا أَنَا فَاعْبُدُونِ "And We sent not before you any messenger except that We revealed to him that, "There is no deity except Me, so worship Me." [21:25]
  • The Prophets were appointed leaders of their people. وَجَعَلْنَاهُمْ أَئِمَّةً يَهْدُونَ بِأَمْرِنَا وَأَوْحَيْنَا إِلَيْهِمْ فِعْلَ الْخَيْرَاتِ وَإِقَامَ الصَّلَاةِ وَإِيتَاءَ الزَّكَاةِ ۖ وَكَانُوا لَنَا عَابِدِينَ "And We made them leaders guiding by Our command. And We inspired to them the doing of good deeds, establishment of prayer, and giving of zakah; and they were worshippers of Us." [21:73]
  • The Prophets were foremost in doing good deeds [in trying to attain closeness to God] - وَأَوْحَيْنَا إِلَيْهِمْ فِعْلَ الْخَيْرَاتِ "....And We inspired to them the doing of good deeds..." [21:73] and إِنَّهُمْ كَانُوا يُسَارِعُونَ فِي الْخَيْرَاتِ "...Indeed, they used to hasten to good deeds..." [21:90]
  • All the Prophets were enjoined to establish Prayer and Charity - وَإِقَامَ الصَّلَاةِ وَإِيتَاءَ الزَّكَاةِ "...establishment of prayer, and giving of zakah;.." [21:73]
  • Allah makes all the Prophets pious - وَكُلًّا جَعَلْنَا صَالِحِينَ "....and all [of them] We made righteous." [21:73]
  • The Prophets pray to Allah Almighty with utmost eargeness and fear. وَيَدْعُونَنَا رَغَبًا وَرَهَبًا "...supplicate Us in hope and fear..." [21:90

Connection between the beginning and the ending of the Surah

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The drawing close to the end of times is mentioned in the beginning and end of the Surah.

 اقْتَرَبَ لِلنَّاسِ حِسَابُهُمْ وَهُمْ فِي غَفْلَةٍ مُّعْرِضُونَ "The time of people's reckoning has drawn near, and yet they turn aside in heedlessness." (21:1)

وَاقْتَرَبَ الْوَعْدُ الْحَقُّ فَإِذَا هِيَ شَاخِصَةٌ أَبْصَارُ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا يَا وَيْلَنَا قَدْ كُنَّا فِي غَفْلَةٍ مِّنْ هَـٰذَا بَلْ كُنَّا ظَالِمِينَ "and the time for the fulfilment of the true promise of Allah draws near, whereupon the eyes of those who disbelieved will stare in fear, and they will say: "Woe to us, we were indeed heedless of this; nay, we were wrongdoers." (21:97)

Manuscripts / Inscriptions

Connection of the Surah to the Surah before/after it

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The Virtues of the Surah

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Special Features of the Surah

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Important key and unique words of the Surah

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Total Word Count per Ayat (shows how many words per Ayat) = 9*

Unique Root Words to this Surah only

9 unique root words that do not appear in any other Surah *

Top 10 Most Frequent Root Words used in this Surah

Root Word Frequency
in Surah
in Qur'an
ك و ن 32 1390
ق و ل 31 1722
أ ل ه 20 2851
ٱلَّذِى 18 1464
ع ل م 17 854
ر ب ب 14 980
أ ت ي 13 549
ذ ك ر 13 292
إِلَىٰ 13 742
ج ع ل 12 346

Period of Revelation

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According to  Ibn Attiyah and Qurtubi there is consensus on this Surah being a Makki Surah -

"Both the subject matter and the style of the Surah indicate that it was sent down in the third stage of the life of the Prophet at Makkah" [Ref: Mawdudi]

Background Reasons for Revelation

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Relevant Hadith

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  • The main issue for the people to consider is the Message of Allah rather than disputing about whether a human can be a Rasool.
  • The creation of heaven and earth is not a game.
  • If there were more than one God, the heavens and earth would have been in a state of disorder.
  • The skies and earth once were one mass; Allah split them asunder and created the different planets.
  • Allah has created all living beings from water.
  • Allah has not granted immortality to any human being.
  • Humans' invented gods cannot even defend themselves; how can they defend their worshippers.
  • Prophet Musa (pbuh) was given Al-Furqan, so is this Al-Qur'an (The Qur'an) given to Muhammad (pbuh).
  • Prophet Ibrahim (pbuh) was not an idol worshipper but an idol breaker.
  • Mankind is but a single brotherhood.
  • Whoever will do good deeds provided he is a believer, his endeavor shall not be rejected.
  • Allah has sent Muhammad (pbuh) as a blessing for all the worlds (humans, jinns, and others).

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Miscellaneous Issues

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Scientific References

The ‘Big Bang’

أَوَلَمْ يَرَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا أَنَّ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ كَانَتَا رَتْقًا فَفَتَقْنَاهُمَا ۖ وَجَعَلْنَا مِنَ الْمَاءِ كُلَّ شَيْءٍ حَيٍّ ۖ أَفَلَا يُؤْمِنُونَ  "Have those who disbelieved not considered that the heavens and the earth were a joined entity, and We separated them and made from water every living thing? Then will they not believe? " (21:30)

The enormously vast universe has been the object of curiosity since time immemorial. Greek philosophers, including Aristotle, believed that the Universe had always existed and would continue to do so eternally. This was also the mainstream view in scientific circles at the beginning of the 20th century, aptly known as the ‘steady state theory’. An eternal state of the universe meant that there was no inherent need for a Creator – for what does not have a beginning does not necessitate a need for a cause. However, advancements in science would shatter this view and fundamentally prove that the Universe had a beginning.

In 1922, physicist Alexander Friedmann, produced computations showing that the structure of the universe was not static and that even a tiny impulse might be sufficient to cause the whole structure to expand or contract according to Einstein’s ‘Theory of General Relativity’. George Lemaitre was the first to recognise the implications of what Friedmann concluded. Lemaitre formulated that the universe had begun in a cataclysmic explosion of a small, primeval atom. He also proposed that the amount of cosmic radiation are the leftover remnants of the initial “explosion.”

The theoretical musings of these two scientists did not attract much attention and probably would have gone ignored except for new observational evidence that rocked the scientific world in 1929. That year, American astronomer Edwin Hubble, made one of the most important discoveries in the history of astronomy. He discovered that galaxies were moving away from us at speeds directly relative to their distance from us and from each other. A universe where everything constantly moves away from everything else implied a constantly expanding universe. Stephen Hawking writes, ‘The expansion of the universe was one of the most important intellectual discoveries of the 20th century, or of any century.’  Since the universe is constantly expanding, were we to rewind a film [of its history], then necessarily we would find the entire universe was in a joint state, referred to by some as the ‘Primordial Atom’. Many scientists and philosophers resisted the idea of a beginning to the universe because of the many questions that it raised – primarily what or who caused it. However, with Penzias and Wilson’s discovery of microwave radiation emanating from all directions, possessing the same physical characteristics - namely petrified light which came from a huge explosion during the first seconds after the birth of the universe – left little doubt about the fact that the universe had a beginning.

 For fourteen hundred years, since the revelation of the Qur’ān, sceptics had trouble understanding the verse, ‘...the heavens and the earth were a joined entity and We separated them...’ [21:30]. However, with the assistance of scientific advancements, we can now understand these verses in a new light which help us piece together the cosmological puzzle. The miraculous nature of the Qur’ān lies in the knowledge it contains. Its verification of scientific facts shows that its message is as applicable to the scientist in his laboratory today as it was to the Bedouin in the desert.

The word ‘ratq’ translated as ‘sewn to’ means ‘mixed in each, blended’ in Arabic. It is used to refer to two different substances that make up a whole. The phrase ‘fataqa’ is ‘unstitched’ and implies that something comes into being by tearing apart or destroying the structure of things that are sewn to one another. In the verse, heaven and earth are at first subject to the status of ‘ratq.’ They are separated [fataqa] with one coming out of the other. Intriguingly, when we think about the first moments of the ‘Big Bang’ we see that the entire matter of the universe collected at one single point. In other words, everything including ‘the heavens and earth’ which were not created yet were in an interwoven and inseparable condition. Then, this point exploded violently, causing its matter to disunite.

The Orbital Movement of the Sun and the Moon

وَهُوَ الَّذِي خَلَقَ اللَّيْلَ وَالنَّهَارَ وَالشَّمْسَ وَالْقَمَرَ ۖ كُلٌّ فِي فَلَكٍ يَسْبَحُونَ "And it is He who created the night and the day and the sun and the moon; all [heavenly bodies] in an orbit are swimming. " (21:33)

The Arabic words used in these verses are falak and yasbahoon which can be translated as ‘sphere or orbit’ and ‘swimming.’ This concept of the movement of the sun and the moon and the other planets is in perfect harmony with recent discovery. It is inconceivable that an Arab, living centuries ago in the most primitive part of the world, could have rightly used such a specific term to describe the movements of planets without divine guidance. It should be noted that the discovery of the orbital movement of all celestial bodies was due to the invention of telescopes.

The Qur’ān on the Origin of Life in Water

وَجَعَلْنَا مِنَ الْمَاء كُلَّ شَيْءٍ حَيٍّ أَفَلَا يُؤْمِنُونَ “...and We made from water every living thing? Then will they not believe?” (21:30)

The origin of life is now such a basic scientific fact that it is accepted without hesitation. This could lessen one’s appreciation for these verses. Yet it must be borne in mind that the Arabian peninsula is a desert land without a single lake or river, these verses describe something unimaginable to those at the time of the Prophet Muhammad.

The verse is categorical and states a universal reality – that the source of all ‘life’ and everything ‘living’ is water. Water is the main element of all living organisms. It has been proved that the percentage of water in a human body is 71% in an adult and 93% in an embryo that is a few months old. All vital actions and processes like nutrition, excretion, growth and reproduction cannot be undertaken without water: photosynthesis, the exchange of solutions between cells due to the capillarity of aquatic solutions as they pass through the cell wall [osmosis] and the building of new cells and tissues that help growth and reproduction. The absence of water equates ‘death’ of every living organism.

Scientists, having studied millions of life forms that live in innumerable ecosystems globally, conclude that for any ‘living’ organism to exist, water must be present. Even astronomers, investigating the existence of life forms on other planets, seek the presence of water when considering the possibility of life on that planet.