Author: Commentary by Sayyid Qutb
In the name of God, the Merciful, the Beneficent
Do you not see how your Lord causes the shadow to lengthen when, had He so willed, He could have indeed made it stand still? But then We have made the sun its guide. And then, little by little, We draw it in toward Ourselves.
(The Standard, Al-Furqan: 25: 45-46)
These two verses begin a passage which concentrates on great wonders in the universe that testify to God’s existence and the unique system He has put in place to control and conduct everything that happens anywhere in the universe. It directs the Prophet (peace be upon him) to look carefully at these signs and interact with them. Such interaction, particularly when it is done with open heart and mind, is sufficient to redress any lingering effects of the hardship caused by the unbelievers. He will be looking at the great horizons against which the schemes and hostility of unbelievers is reduced to insignificance.
The Qur’an always directs people’s hearts and minds to reflect on what they see in the universe. It alerts them to receive the message they give with a new, clear feeling that interacts with such scenes and their message. They will then definitely recognize the work of God’s hand in all that they see, hear and feel. They will have much to reflect upon and strengthen their bond with God through His work.
When man lives in the universe with open heart and mind, alert soul and sensation, his life rises above the petty concerns of this world. His sense of life is heightened as he feels, at every moment, that the universe around him is much larger and greater than his own world, while all that he sees and feels come into being through one and the same will, are subject to the same law, and submit to one creator. He will realize that he is but one of countless creatures that submit to God, and that God’s hand is visible in all that he sees, hears and feels.
The feelings of fearing God alone will be mixed in his consciousness with parallel feelings of friendliness and trust. These feelings will fill his soul and his whole world, imparting a mixture of love and reassurance that accompany man in his life journey and remain with him until he meets God. He could not fail to experience such feelings when everything around him, throughout his life, is made by God, according to His fine and elaborate system of creation.
We will see in this passage how the surah paints the scene of shadows extending then gently contracting, before we move to a scene of the quiet night of deep slumber and the bustling day of tireless activity. We then see the winds as heralds of God’s mercy, followed by water pouring down from the skies to quicken barren land. We see the salty sea and the sweet water of rivers, and the barrier between them preventing them from mixing. Then we look at a different type of fluid, the semen giving rise to human life. We contemplate how the heavens and the earth were created in six days, and look at the star constellations in the sky, with the sun as a lamp lightening the world for us, and the moon giving us splendid light at night. We also contemplate the succession of night and day without fail.
As it paints these images, the surah directs our hearts and minds to reflect that they are all of God’s creation, reminding us of His power and fine planning. It shows how singular the unbelievers’ attitude is when they associate partners with God and worship alongside Him some entities that can cause them neither benefit nor harm. Those unbelievers are so ignorant that they speak impudently about God and support one another in denying Him. It is a very strange attitude, particularly when seen against such a multitude of universal signs of God’s creation. We will look at these scenes and images as we discuss this passage over the next few weeks.
“Do you not see how your Lord causes the shadow to lengthen when, had He so willed, He could have indeed made it stand still? But then We have made the sun its guide. And then, little by little, We draw it in toward Ourselves.”
The image of shadow and shade imparts to a troubled and tired soul a feeling of comfort, relaxation and security, as if it is a gentle, compassionate hand that wipes away pain and worry, giving comfort and energy. Is this God’s purpose as He directs the Prophet, who has suffered the ridicule and opposition leveled at him by the unbelievers, to contemplate the shadow? In the hard fight the Prophet was going through in Makkah, facing determined opposition and wicked scheming, his soul must have felt the burden too heavy, with only a small number of believers supporting him against the overwhelming majority of unbelievers. Not only so, but he was not allowed then to retaliate against physical aggression, or to repel hostile ridicule.
In this troubled atmosphere passages of the Qur’an were revealed to Muhammad (peace be upon him) to serve as a healing balsam, comforting shade and kind blessing. It provided him with support in the midst of determined denial and opposition. Shade, particularly when considered against a hot desert background, gives an image that is in full harmony with the whole atmosphere of the surah that is full of compassion and blessings.
The surah shows the shadow as God’s hand gently stretches it before it easily contracts it: “Do you not see how your Lord causes the shadow to lengthen.” Then, “little by little, We draw it in toward Ourselves.” The shadow is faint darkness made by different bodies when sun rays rebound against them during the day. It moves along with the movement of the earth in relation to the sun, changing its position, length and shape. The sun points it with its light and heat, determining its area and length. When we follow how the shadow changes shape and extent, we experience a feeling of comfort and we are gently alert to the fact that it is an aspect of God’s work.
When the sun starts on its decline, we see shadows lengthen and lengthen. Then all of a sudden all shadows disappear as the sun sets. Where have all the shadows gone? God’s unseen hand has collected them all as the deep darkness of the night gathers and spreads all over our world.