Sorrowful Condition Of The Unbelievers
In the name of God, the Lord of Grace, the Ever Merciful
Around their necks We have put chains, reaching up to their chins, so that their heads are forced up. And We have set a barrier before them and a barrier behind them, and We enshrouded them in veils so that they cannot see. It is all the same to them whether you warn them or you do not warn them: they will not believe. You can truly warn only such a one as follows this reminder and who stand in awe of the Lord of Grace although He is beyond the reach of human perception. To such, then, give the happy news of God’s forthcoming forgiveness and a generous reward. It is We who will bring the dead back to life. We record whatever (deeds) they send ahead, as well as the traces they leave behind. We keep an account of all things in a clear record. Cite for them, as a case in point, the people of a township to which messengers came. (Ya Sin: 36: 8-13)
At this point, the surah draws an image of their psychological condition, and we see them with chains around their necks, barriers separating them from divine guidance, and with a cover over their eyes depriving them of the ability to see: “Around their necks We have put chains, reaching up to their chins, so that their heads are forced up. And We have set a barrier before them and a barrier behind them, and We enshrouded them in veils so that they cannot see.” Their hands are fastened with chains to their necks, placed under their chins, which has the effect of lifting up their heads such that they cannot see what is in front of them. Moreover, there are walls and barriers both in front of and behind them, which means that even if they were released from these chains, they still could not see through the barriers. Furthermore, the covers placed over their eyes makes it even more impossible for them to see.
Although this image is fierce and sharp, we actually do encounter people of this ilk. When you see them overlooking the plain truth that is in front of them, you feel as if there is a wall separating them from it. Although their hands are not chained and nor are their heads forced up, you nonetheless feel that their souls and minds are turned away from the truth, unable to see guidance. It is as if there are barriers preventing them from approaching it. Such were the people who turned deaf ears to the Qur’an and who received it with irrational denial as it put before them its argument and proof. This is when the Qur’an is itself a irrefutable proof.
“It is all the same to them whether you warn them or you do not warn them: they will not believe.” Their case is settled. God knows that faith will not penetrate their hearts. No warning will ever benefit a heart that has steeled itself against divine guidance, and barracked its approach. Warnings do not create hearts; it only alerts a heart that is alive, ready to receive guidance: “You can truly warn only such a one as follows this reminder and who stands in awe of the Lord of Grace although He is beyond the reach of human perception. To such, then, give the happy news of God’s forthcoming forgiveness and a generous reward.”
Most probably, the ‘reminder’ in this instance refers to the Qur’an. A person who follows the Qur’an and fears God despite not seeing Him is the one who benefits by the warning. It is as if the warning has been given to such people only and the Prophet (peace be upon him) directed it to them alone, even though he addressed it to all people. Since the others are prevented from receiving the warning, it looks as if it is given only to those who follow the Qur’an and fear God. Such people deserve to be given good news. Hence the Prophet is told to give them ‘the happy news of God’s forthcoming forgiveness and a generous reward.’ They need the forgiveness of any sin they commit providing they do not persist in doing it, and they deserve the generous reward for fearing God and following what He has revealed. These two aspects go hand in hand: When a person truly fears God, he or she is certain to follow His guidance and implement the system He has laid down.
At this point, the truth of resurrection is emphasized, together with the reckoning that ignores nothing: “It is We who will bring the dead back to life. We record whatever (deeds) they send ahead, as well as the traces they leave behind. We keep an account of all things in a clear record.” Bringing the dead back to life has always been an issue fraught with argument, of which we will see several types in this surah. They are warned here that whatever they do and whatever effects their deeds cause are written down, and nothing is forgotten. It is God Almighty who brings the dead back to life, records their actions and reckons everything. All this, then, is done in the perfect way that fits anything done by God. As for the ‘clear record’ and similar descriptions such as ‘the imperishable tablet’, these are most probably references to God’s perfect knowledge that transcends time and place.
Having presented the issues of revelation and resurrection in the form of a factual statement, the surah now presents them again in narrative form so as to touch hearts with a story about the fate of those who persist in denying the truth: “Cite for them, as a case in point, the people of a township to which messengers came.” The Qur’an does not mention which township this was or who were its people. Different reports suggest different towns and cities, but there is no real benefit in trying to establish its identity. The fact that the Qur’an neither identifies it nor mentions its location does not detract from the import of the story. It is a city to which God sent two messengers, just as He sent Moses and his brother Aaron to Pharaoh and his nobles. The people of the city rejected their message, accusing them of lying. God supported His two messengers with a third, confirming that they were truly His messengers. All three of them again presented their message, saying to the people: “We are messengers who have been sent to you.”
– Commentary by Sayyid Qutb