The Same Old Battle
None but the unbelievers dispute God’s revelations. Let it not deceive you that they seem to be able to do as they please on earth. Before their time the people of Noah rejected the truth, as did other groups and communities after them. Each of these communities schemed against the messenger sent to them, aiming to lay their hands on him. With false argument they strove to refute the truth, but then I took them to task. How awesome was My punishment! Thus your Lord’s word shall come true against the unbelievers: they will be the dwellers in the fire of hell.
(The Forgiving, Ghafir; 40: 4-6)
The opening of the surah established the truth of God’s oneness and His divine attributes. The surah now makes clear that this truth is accepted by all creatures. It is, in fact, firmly rooted in their nature and directly related to the nature of the universe. Only the unbelievers dispute these signs and argue about God’s revelations. Thus they are a class apart, choosing to be at odds with the universe and all other creatures within it.
“None but the unbelievers dispute God’s revelations.”
Throughout the entire expanse of the universe, only the unbelievers stand apart, deviating from the true path. In relation to the whole universe, they are weaker and less significant than an ant in relation to planet earth. When they stand on their own disputing God’s revelations and denying His signs, the rest of the universe declares its acceptance of Him and recognizes His oneness, deriving its strength from Him. With their odd attitude, the unbelievers’ fate is sealed, no matter how powerful, affluent and mighty they may appear to be: “Let it not deceive you that they seem to be able to do as they please on earth.”
They may be able to move about, gather wealth, enjoy their power and revel in easy living. However, they are ultimately doomed. The battle, if there could ever be a battle between them and the Creator of the universe, will lead to its inevitable end.
There were in former times communities that followed the same path. Their fate should make clear to the unbelievers what happens in the end to anyone who tries to stand against the power of the Almighty: “Before their time the people of Noah rejected the truth, as did other groups and communities after them. Each of these communities schemed against the messenger sent to them, aiming to lay their hands on him. With false argument they strove to refute the truth, but then I took them to task. How awesome was My punishment!”
It is the same old story, beginning with the Prophet Noah. In other words, the battle remains the same throughout all generations. This verse provides an overall picture: A message from God received with rejection and tyranny, which leads to the inevitable end.
Every messenger is met by those in power in his community who do not try to justify their stance with sound argument. On the contrary, they resort to tyranny and try to do away with God’s messenger. They also resort to trickery in order to deceive the masses and claim victory for themselves.
Therefore, God’s power intervenes and smashes them in the most amazing way: “How awesome was My punishment!” The punishments meted out were indeed severe, leaving in their wake ruins that testify to the same. Furthermore, all this is recorded in human history.
The battle, however, is not over yet. There is a further episode in the life to come: “Thus your Lord’s word shall come true against the unbelievers: they will be the dwellers in the fire of hell.” When God’s word applies to someone, it always comes true. There can be no argument about this.
Thus does the Qur’an describe the true nature of the battle between faith and unfaith, truth and falsehood, those who advocate God’s oneness and those who, against all right, behave arrogantly on earth.
We then realize that this is an old and ongoing battle that started at the dawn of human life. The battlefield is wider than the whole earth because the universe and all that exists in it believe in God and submit to Him. The only exceptions are those who dispute God’s revelations.
The two sides are far from equal: on the side of truth stand an endless line, while on the side of falsehood only a small band stands, weak and powerless even though it may appear to be able to do as it likes on earth and to possess power and authority.
The Qur’an describes the nature of the battle so that advocates of the truth, in all generations, are reassured. They should never be deceived by the apparent might enjoyed by the forces of falsehood at any particular time, or by the outcome of a single round in the battle. Such instances after all do not reflect the complete truth.
The truth is that which is described in God’s book, in His own words. He is the most truthful of all speakers, and He is the Almighty, the All-Knowing.
– Commentary by Syed Qutb