Tafsir Zone - Surah 10: Yunus (Jonah)

Tafsir Zone

Surah Yunus 10:23

Overview (Verses 23 - 25)
A Description of Life in This World

“Yet when He has saved them, they transgress in the land, offending against all right.” (Verse 23) This also comes as a complete surprise.
This in itself is a whole scene, and we miss none of its totality and fine detail. Nor do we miss any feeling or reaction it induces. In essence we are given a picture of a real event, but it is also a mental scene describing the nature of many people regardless of the generation they were born into. Hence the sūrah follows it with comments addressed to mankind throughout history.
“Mankind, it is against your own souls that your offences rebound.” (Verse 23) Whether these offences are committed against oneself, by sending it on the way to perdition, letting it indulge in disobedience that is certain to make it the loser, or offences against all humanity since humanity represents one soul, the offenders will suffer the consequences. These consequences will also be shared by those who allow them to offend.
The worst type of offence is that which represents an aggression against God Himself, usurping His Lordship and sovereignty, claiming these for the usurpers themselves. When people are guilty of this type of offence, they suffer its wretched consequences in this present life before they endure its punishment in the hereafter. These consequences are manifested in corruption that spreads into the whole life. All mankind are miserable because of it. No human dignity, freedom or virtue is left untouched by it.
The basic point here is that people should submit themselves purely to God, or else they will find themselves submitting to tyrants who try to impose their authority on them. The struggle to establish the principle of God’s oneness in human life and to acknowledge God as the only Lord is a struggle for human dignity, freedom and morality, and indeed for every value which helps man to break his shackles, and lift himself to the high standards that befit him.
“Mankind, it is against your own souls that your offences rebound. [You care only for] the enjoyment of this present life.” (Verse 23) That then is all that you will have. “In the end you will return to Us when We will tell you the truth of what you were doing [in this life].” (Verse 23) That is the reckoning and reward that take place in the hereafter, when all the misery and suffering of this life is clearly over.
So how much are the pleasures of this life worth? What is the reality of their enjoyment? This is described in the sūrah in a Qur’ānic scene that portrays aspects of everyday activity, but to which most people pay little attention: “This present life may be compared to rain which We send down from the sky, and which is then absorbed by the plants of the earth from which men and animals eat. Then, when the earth has been clad with its fine adornments and well embellished, and its people believe that they have full mastery over it, Our command comes down upon it, by night or by day, and We make it like a field that has been mowed down, as if it did not blossom but yesterday. Thus do We spell out Our revelations to people who think. God calls to the abode of peace, and guides him that wills to a straight path.” (Verses 24-25)
This is the reality of the life of this world, where people have only its pleasures which they are content with, seeking no higher aspiration and hoping for no better abode. Rain comes down from the sky and is soon absorbed by plants which grow and blossom. The earth takes on its finest adornments, as if she were a bride preparing for her happiest night. People take pleasure in looking on, feeling that its fine appearance is the result of their own efforts. In the back of their minds they think they control everything on earth and that nothing can change this.
Yet in the midst of all this pleasure and fine celebration, their confidence is suddenly shattered. What has happened? The answer is simple: “Our command comes down upon it, by night or by day, and We make it like a field that has been mowed down, as if it did not blossom but yesterday.” (Verse 24) It all happens in a moment. It is all expressed in a sentence. Such mode of expression is a deliberate contrast to the detailed description which paints the land’s fertility and beauty, as well as people’s pleasure and confidence. Such is the life of this world which some people regard as their utmost aspiration, and for the pleasures of which they sacrifice their future life. It is a life in which there is no settlement or security. People’s control over it is very limited indeed. The sūrah then contrasts this image with the other world: “God calls to the abode of peace, and guides him that wills to a straight path.” (Verse 25) The contrast is remarkable. In one place there is no security. Even the most perfect of enjoyments can be replaced with complete misery in a matter of seconds. The other is the home of peace to which God invites people. It is reserved for those who keep their hearts and minds receptive of God’s guidance and who endeavour to attain the happiness of the life to come, which is indeed the life of peace.