In the name of God, the Merciful, the Beneficent

God’s judgment has come; so do not seek to hurry it on. Limitless He is in His glory and sublimely exalted above anything people may associate with Him. He sends down angels with this divine inspiration, (bestowed) by His will on any of His servants He may wish: “Warn (mankind) that there is no deity but Me: so fear Me.” He has created the heavens and the Earth with truth; sublimely exalted above anything people may associate with Him. He creates man out of a drop of sperm; yet this same man is openly contentious. (The Bee, An-Nahl: 16: 1-4)

The nonbelievers in Makkah used to ask the Prophet (peace be upon him) to hasten their punishment in this life, or to hasten the punishment God has in store for them in the life to come. As time passed with no punishment being inflicted, they would urge the Prophet more and more to hasten it, showing that they could not care less. They thought that Muhammad (peace be upon him) was warning them against something that would never happen. His only aim, as they imagined, was to get them to believe what he said and accept his faith. They could not understand God’s wisdom in giving them time. Nor could they appreciate His grace. They would not reflect on the signs He has placed everywhere in the universe around them. Nor would they reflect on His revelations in the Qur’an, which address people’s minds and hearts. That is a much more effective address than punishment and suffering. It is more worthy of man whom God has honored when He gave him a mind and feeling to study and reflect, as well as an independent will and free choice.

The opening of the surah is very decisive: “God’s judgment has come.” It implies that the command has been given, and that God’s will has been made. That is sufficient for the judgment to come to pass at the time appointed for it by God Himself. “So do not seek to hurry it on.” The laws God has set operate in accordance with His will. They cannot be hurried on, nor can they be postponed to satisfy people’s wishes. The statement here tells us that God’s judgment, to resurrect people or to inflict His punishment, has been made. It will come to pass at the time God has determined. There shall be no hurrying or delay.

The decisive nature of this statement is highly effective, even in the case of those who try to put a careless face. Moreover, it expresses the truth. Whatever God wills is bound to take place. The fact that He has made a judgment means that it is carried out, and that it becomes part of the reality. Hence, there is no overstating of the facts or deviating from them.

Their beliefs, associating partners with God, and all the false concepts that they formulate on this basis, are far removed from the true nature of God: “Limitless He is in His glory and sublimely exalted above anything people may associate with Him.” Beliefs that ascribe divinity to anyone other than God are all without foundation. They are only the result of degenerate and disgraceful thinking.

God, who does not abandon mankind to their erring beliefs and baseless concepts, sends down from on high what gives them life and saves them: “He sends down angels with this divine inspiration, (bestowed) by His will on any of His servants He may wish.” This is God’s greatest favor and blessing. He does not only send down water from the sky to make the earth quicken and to give physical life, as the surah will soon mention. He also sends down the angels with His divine inspiration. The Arabic expression uses the word rooh, which also means “spirit,” for inspiration. This adds connotations of life within people’s souls, consciences and feelings, and within society so as to preserve it from corruption. That is the first thing that God sends down to people from on high, and it is His most important blessing and bounty. God’s purest creation, the angels, are sent down to His chosen servants, the Prophets, giving them a message that is summed up in these words: “Warn (mankind) that there is no deity but Me: so fear Me.”

The emphasis here is on the oneness of God, which is the central point of the Islamic faith. It breathes life into people’s souls. It is also the parting point between the way, which gives life and the one, which destroys it. A soul that does not believe in the oneness of God is lost, confused, pulled in all directions by diverse and contradictory concepts and beliefs. It cannot move with its whole being to achieve a definite goal. The usage of the term rooh in reference to God’s message implies all these. Indeed it provides a fitting reference to them at the beginning of this surah, which speaks of a great variety of God’s blessings. It is the top of all these, the one blessing without which all other blessings lose their value. Indeed man does not make a proper use or derive proper benefits from any thing on earth unless his soul comes alive with the great blessing of faith.

The warning is given a special mention so as to appear to be the central point of the message, because the larger part of the surah speaks about the nonbelievers who deny God’s blessing, prohibit what God has made lawful, violate their covenant with God and reject the faith altogether. This makes the warning more appropriate at the outset. The warning is coupled with a call to fear God and beware of incurring His displeasure.

The surah then begins to outline the aspects of creation that emphasize the oneness of the Creator, and the aspects of blessing that confirm the oneness of the One who bestows them all. All these are shown in groups that follow one another, starting with the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the creation of man: “He has created the heavens and the earth with truth; sublimely exalted above anything people may associate with Him. He creates man out of a drop of sperm; yet this same man is openly contentious.”

“He has created the heavens and the earth with truth.” The truth is at the core of their creation and their existence. Indeed the truth is an essential element in managing their affairs and the affairs of all the creation that live in both. Nothing of that is created in vain or idle play. Everything derives its existence on the basis of the truth, and leads eventually to the truth. “Sublimely exalted above anything people may associate with Him.” He is exalted above their pagan beliefs and above those of His creation whom they associate with Him. He is indeed the One who has created the heavens and the earth and all creatures living in them. No creature is worthy of being His partner. Indeed He has no partners.

“He creates man out of a drop of sperm; yet this same man is openly contentious.” The gulf is so huge between the origin and the end, between the worthless sperm and the man in open contention. He disputes with his Lord and denies Him. He argues about His existence or His oneness. Yet the way the verse runs leaves no gap between the point of origin, the drop of sperm, and the grown up man engaged in dispute and contention. That shows the contrast to be complete and the gulf too wide. These two contrasting images of man are intended to enhance the effect of expression.

“And certainly, We shall test you with something of fear, hunger, loss of wealth, lives and fruits, but give glad tidings to As-Sabirin (the patient ones).” (Qur’an, 2:155)

“…Only those who are patient shall receive their reward in full, without reckoning.” (Qur’an, 39:10)

– Commentary by Sayyid Qutb