Tafsir Zone - Surah 17: Al-Isra (The Night Journey )

Tafsir Zone

Surah Al-Isra 17:40

Overview (Verses 40 - 43)

The second passage of this sūrah, discussed in Chapter 2, starts and finishes with a strong emphasis on God’s oneness and the prohibition of associating any partners with Him. Within its two ends, it contains a number of orders, prohibitions and values that are all based on the central principle of God’s oneness. The present passage begins and ends with the denunciation of the very concept of assigning a son or a partner to God, explaining its absurdity. It states that the whole universe functions on the basis of believing in God as one, having no partners: “Indeed every single thing extols His glory and praise.” (Verse 44) It stresses the fact that all shall return to God in the life to come, and that God knows everything about all creatures in the heavens and earth.
He is the One who controls the destinies of all His creatures, and no one has any say about it: “If He so wills, He will bestow His grace on you; and if He so wills, He will inflict punishment on you.” (Verse 54)
As the passage goes on, we see the fallacy of all beliefs based on associating partners with God, and we watch how they collapse. We also see that God is the One who controls everything in this universe, this life and the life to come, what is visible to us and what we do not see. We realize that it all addresses its praises, sincere and devoted to God alone. In such praises all creatures and living things take part.
All Glorify Him
Has your Lord distinguished you by [giving you] sons and taken for Himself daughters from among the angels? That which you utter is indeed an enormity. (Verse 40)

This question implies a sarcastic response to what the unbelievers used to do, as they described the angels as God’s daughters. God is indeed too exalted to take to Himself a son or a wife, and He is too sublime to have any partner or associate. The verse also ridicules the assigning of daughters to God, when the Arabs considered girls to be of lesser status than boys. They indeed killed their daughters for fear of poverty or shame. Nevertheless they considered angels to be female and made them God’s daughters. When it is God who gives life and gives everyone their sons and daughters, how come He favours them with the better sons and takes to Himself the inferior daughters!
This is stated merely for argument’s sake, so as to make apparent the hollowness and fallacy of their claims. The whole issue is too bizarre to merit any discussion: “That which you utter is indeed an enormity.” (Verse 40) It is enormously odd, impudent, false and outlandish.
“We have certainly explained things in various ways in this Qur’ān, so that they may take it to heart, but it only increases their aversion.” (Verse 41) The Qur’ān preaches the faith of God’s oneness, presenting it in a variety of ways, styles and methods, so that people may ‘take warning’. Indeed accepting the faith based on God’s oneness does not require more than a reminder and a reference to uncorrupted human nature. It only needs to reflect on the various signs presented in the universe. But they only grow in their aversion to this faith whenever they listen to the Qur’ān. They show that they are averse to the faith the Qur’ān preaches, and averse to the Qur’ān itself, lest it clearly show the fallacy of their erroneous beliefs based on myth and superstition.
Here also the sūrah goes part of the way with them to make its argument about their alleged deities. It states that had such deities existed, they themselves would have tried to get closer to God and believe in Him: “Say: If there were other deities alongside Him, as some people assert, they would have to seek a way to the Lord of the Throne.”‘ (Verse 42) As linguists tell us, the construction of the sentence means that the whole supposition is false. There are no deities alongside God. What they claim to be their gods are no more than some of His creatures, be they stars, human beings, animals, plants and trees or other inanimate objects. All these turn to God, submitting themselves to His will, in accordance with the law of nature. They find their way to God through their obedience to His will and His laws: “They would have to seek a way to the Lord of the Throne.” (Verse 42)
Mention of the Throne here indicates God’s clear exaltation above all creatures, including those they claim to be deities alongside Him. They are below His Throne, which means that they cannot be ‘with Him’. This is followed by a clear statement glorifying God: “Limitless is He in His glory and sublimely exalted is He above everything they may say [about Him].” (Verse 43)
The sūrah then portrays the whole universe, with all creatures living in it, under God’s Throne. They all turn to God glorifying Him: “The seven heavens extol His limitless glory, as does the earth, and all who dwell in them. Indeed every single thing extols His glory and praise, but you cannot understand their praises. He is indeed Forbearing, Much Forgiving.” (Verse 44) Every single particle in this vast universe shares in this glorification. Indeed it comes alive as it praises God and glorifies Him. The scene shows the whole universe full of life and activity, sharing in a single action, addressing God in His exalted nature in a glorification that implies submission to His will and acknowledgement of His authority over everything.