Surah 16:71 – How Could The Creator Be Compared to created?

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Background

This verse was revealed in Makkah (Mawdudi and Anwarul bayan) [1]

Analysing Verse

“And Allah has favored some of you over others in provision. But those who were favored would not hand over their provision to those whom their right hands possess so they would be equal to them therein. Then is it the favor of Allah they reject?” – Quran 16:71

All humans in the sight of God are equal. God is not saying, as some have suggested that some are above, except by piety and good action. In fact, this verse is a parable. The verse’s main goal was to show that polytheism is a grave sin, and those who associate partners with God Almighty have committed a major unforgivable sin if they didn’t repent from it. Furthermore, God here shows them an example, how could an idol that can not benefit them be equal to God? Some of these polytheists used to own slaves in Makkah, and God throws the question at the polytheists if these human beings who are under them i.e., slaves are not equal to them as they believed, nor would they share their wealth with them, how could they then say that these idols are equal to God? It was a question to make them think and abandon their polytheistic beliefs and accept Monotheism.

Commentaries

George Sale commentary:

These words reprove the idolatrous Meccans, who could admit created beings to a share of the divine honour, though they suffered not their slaves to share with themselves to what GOD had bestowed on them. …
Or propound no similitudes or comparisons between him and his creatures. One argument the Meccans employed in defence of their idolatry, it seems, was, that the worship of inferior deities did honour to GOD; in the same manner as the respect showed to the servants of a prince does honour to the prince himself?
The idols are here likened to a slave, who is so far from having anything of his own, that he is himself in the possession of another; whereas GOD is as rich free man, who provideth for his family abundantly, and also assiseth others who have need, both in public, and in private.
(George Sale commentary, page 202, online source https://archive.org/stream/TheKoranTranslatedByGeorgeSale/GSale-Quran#page/n133/mode/1up )

Mawdudi:

THE WHOLE PASSAGE IN WHICH THIS VERSE OCCURS DEALS WITH THE REFUTATION OF SHIRK (POLYTHEISM) AND PROOF OF TAUHID (MONOTHEISM). The same themes are continued in the subsequent verses. There seems to be no reason why an economic law should have been inserted here, which would have been absolutely irrelevant, to say the least. On the contrary, when the verse is considered in its context, it becomes quite obvious that it is no more than the statement of a fact to prove the same theme that is contained in this passage. It argues like this: “When you yourselves do not make your servants and slaves equal partners in your wealth-which in fact is given to you by Allah-how is it that you join other gods with God in your gratitude to Him for the favors with which He has blessed you. You know that these gods have no powers to bestow anything on anyone, and, therefore, have no right in your worship of Allah, for they are after all His slaves and servants.” (Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi – Tafhim al-Qur’an – The Meaning of the Qur’an – online source http://www.englishtafsir.com/Quran/16/index.html#sdfootnote63sym )

Tafsir al-Jalalayn:

“And God has favoured some of you above others in [respect of] provision, thus, some of you are poor, some are rich, some owners, others are owned. Now those who have been [more] favoured, namely, the masters, would not hand over their provision to those [slaves] whom their right hands possess, that is, they would not assign that wealth and other things which We have given them as something to be shared [equally] between them and their slaves, so that they, that is, the slaves and [their] masters, become equal, partners, in respect thereof. The meaning is: they do not have partners from among their slaves in respect of their wealth, so how can they make certain of God’s servants partners of His? Is it then the grace of God that they deny?, [that] they reject, when they ascribe partners to Him?” (Tafsir al-Jalalayn – on Surah 16:71 – online source http://www.altafsir.com/Tafasir.asp?tMadhNo=0&tTafsirNo=74&tSoraNo=16&tAyahNo=71&tDisplay=yes&UserProfile=0&LanguageId=2 )

Tanwir al-Miqbas min Tafsir Ibn Abbas:

“(And Allah hath favoured some of you above others in provision) this verse was revealed about the delegation of Najran who claimed that Jesus was the son of Allah. So Allah revealed this verse to tell people that He has favoured some people to the exclusion of others in relation to the possession of wealth and servants. (Now those who are more favoured) with wealth and servants (will by no means hand over their provision to those (slaves) whom their right hands possess, so that they) i.e. the master and the slave (may be equal with them in respect thereof) about wealth. They said: “We will not do so nor are we happy about this”, and so Allah said: (Is it then the grace of Allah that they deny?) Do you like for Me what you do not like for yourselves, and thus deny the Oneness of Allah?” (Tanwir al-Miqbas min Tafsir Ibn Abbas – on Surah 16:71 – online source http://www.altafsir.com/Tafasir.asp?tMadhNo=0&tTafsirNo=73&tSoraNo=16&tAyahNo=71&tDisplay=yes&UserProfile=0&LanguageId=2 )

Tafsir Ibn Kathir:

“There is a Sign and a Blessing in Matters of People’s Livelihood
ALLAH EXPLAINS TO THE IDOLATORS THE IGNORANCE AND DISBELIEF INVOLVED IN THEIR CLAIM THAT ALLAH HAS PARTNERS while also admitting that these partners are His servants. In their Talbiyah for Hajj, they used to say, “Here I am, there are no partners for You except Your own partner, You own him and everything he owns.” Allah says, denouncing them: `You would not accept for your servant to have an equal share in your wealth, so how is it that Allah would accept His servant to be His equal in divinity and glory As Allah says elsewhere:
(He sets forth a parable for you from yourselves: Do you have partners among those whom your right hands possess (i.e. your servant) to share as equals in the wealth We have granted you, those whom you fear as you fear each other) (30:28) Al-`Awfi reported that Ibn `Abbas mentioned this Ayah, saying, “Allah is saying – `If they did not want their servant to have a share with them in their wealth and wives, how can My servant have a share with Me in My power’ Thus Allah says:
(Do they then deny the favor of Allah)” According to another report, Ibn `Abbas said: “How can they accept for Me that which they do not accept for themselves”
(Do they then deny the favor of Allah) meaning, they assign to Allah a share of the tilth and cattle which He has created. They denied His blessings and associated others in worship with Him. Al-Hasan Al-Basri said: “Umar bin Al-Khattab wrote this letter to Abu Musa Al-Ash`ari: `Be content with your provision in this world, for the Most Merciful has honored some of His servants over others in terms of provision as a test of both. The one who has been given plenty is being tested to see if he will give thanks to Allah and fulfill the duties which are his by virtue of his wealth…”’ It was reported by Ibn Abi Hatim.” (Tafsir Ibn Kathir – on Surah 16:71 – online source http://www.alim.org/library/quran/AlQuran-tafsir/TIK/16/71 )

Maulana Muhammad Ali:

“71a. The verse points to the differences in the physical world and affords an answer to the demand of the disbelievers expressly stated elsewhere: “We will not believe till we are given the like of that which Allah’s messengers are given” (6:124), claiming an equal right with the Prophet to receive Divine revelation. It is, therefore, pointed out that, as there are differences in the physical world, so there are differences in the spiritual world. All men are not equally fit to receive the gift of Divine revelation. It is to this that the concluding words of the verse allude; the favour of Allah, which is the Divine revelation, should not be denied simply because all men are not equal recipients of it.” (The Holy Quran Arabic Text with English Translation, Commentary and comprehensive Introduction [Year 2002 Edition] by Maulana Muhammad Ali, page 548)

Dr. Muhammad Asad:

“80 The phrase “to share their sustenance with…”, etc., reads, literally, “to turn over their sustenance to”. The expression “those whom their right hands possess” (i.e., “those whom they rightfully possess”) may relate either to slaves taken captive in a war in God’s cause (see surah 2, notes 167 and 168, and surah 8, note 72) or, metonymically, to all who are dependent on others for their livelihood and thus become the latters’ responsibility. The placing of one’s dependants on an equal footing with oneself with regard to the basic necessities of lifeis a categorical demand of Islam; thus, the Prophet said: “They are your brethren, these dependants of yours (khawalukum) whom God has placed under your authority [lit., “under your hand”]. Hence, whoso has his brother under his authority shall give him to eat of what he eats himself, and shall clothe him with what he clothes himself. And do not burden them with anything that may be beyond their strength; but if you [must] burden them, help them yourselves.” (This authentic Tradition, recorded by Bukhari in several variants in his Sahih, appears in the compilations of Muslim, Tirmidhi and Ibn Hanbal as well.) However, men often fail to live up to this consciousness of moral responsibility: and this failure amounts, as the sequence shows, to a denial of God’s blessings and of His unceasing care for all His creatures.” (The Message of The Quran translated and explained, Dr. Muhammad Asad, page 577 – 578, online source http://www.usc.edu/schools/college/crcc/private/cmje/religious_text/The_Message_of_The_Quran__by_Muhammad_Asad.pdf )

Fi Dhilal Al Qur’an – Qutb:

“The second aspect demonstrates what God has provided for people. In this respect people clearly differ with some having more than others. Such differences have their reason in accordance with God’s law. Nothing takes place haphazardly. A man may have intelligence, knowledge and common sense, but his talent in earning a living remains limited. This does not detract from the fact that he may be talented in other areas. Another person may appear dull, lacking in knowledge or naïve, but he has an eye for what brings profit and how to make the best of any financial investment. At a casual glance, it seems that affluence has nothing to do with ability, but the fact is that it is the fruit of a special type of ability. Moreover, it may be that God gives someone in abundance to test that person, and He may test another by giving him limited provisions. Whichever test a person has to go through is determined by God’s wisdom. That people have different means is a well-known phenomenon. This is more pronounced in communities where there is much inequity. The surah refers to this phenomenon which was clearly apparent in Arabian society, and makes use of it in order to dispel those myths that had their roots in the pagan beliefs of the Arabs. These have been referred to in an earlier surah. One such myth was their practice of allocating to false gods a share of the provisions of agricultural produce God gave them. Here the surah identifies that they do not give such provisions to their slaves to establish equity. How come, then, they give a portion of what God has granted them to false gods? “Will they, then, deny God’s favours?” (Verse 71) Instead of expressing their thanks and gratitude to God who has given them these provisions, they associate partners with Him.” (In The Shade Of The Quran (‘Fi Dhilal Al Qur’an’), by Sayyid Qutb volume 11, page 50 – 51)

Malik Ghulam Farid:

“1558. In every age some individuals or nations, by their superior intellect and harder work, come to acquire ascendancy and control over other individuals or nations. This is neither unfair nor unjust so long as proper opportunities are not denied to the less fortunate peoples also to make proper use of their talents and intelligence to earn the good things of life.
But the ‘haves’ have always set their face against all attempt on the part of the ‘have-nots’ to better their condition and to have a share in the power and privileges they enjoy. In order to save the world from the tyranny of those in possession of power and privileges and to open the doors of progress and advancement to real merit and talent and thereby to rehabilitate justice and equality among mankind. God raises Reformers. Their advent heralds a new era and the dispossessed and the ‘have-nots’ have their rights restored to them. Briefly, but very beautifully, the verse laid down the Islamic law with regard to private ownership. Whereas on the one hand Islam has recognized the right of private ownership by emphasizing the word ‘their’ in the expression ‘of their worldly gifts’ it has, by using the words ‘will restore,’ also laid down the principle of the collective ownership of all things by all-human beings as such, because only that thing is ‘restored’ to another person which belongs to him.
In fact, the Qur’an has accepted the principle of dual ownership of everything – the right to possess a property to be recognized in the person who earns it by the sweat of his brow and the right in that property of all human beings as human beings. Islam, in reality, neither believes of wealth and the means of its production by the State. It adopts the middle course.
1559. The expression clearly includes all persons under one’s control such as private servants, subordinates, labourers, ryots etc.” (The Holy Qur’an – Arabic Text With English Translation & Short Commentary by Malik Ghulam Farid, page 532 – 533)

Abdullah Yusuf Ali

“2102 Even in the little differences in gifts, which men enjoy from Allah, men with superior gifts are not going to abandon them so as to be equal with men of inferior gifts, whom, perhaps, they hold in subjection. They will never deny their own superiority. HOW THEN (AS THE ARGUMENT IS PURSUED IN THE TWO FOLLOWING VERSES), CAN THEY IGNORE THE IMMENSE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE CREATOR AND CREATED THINGS, AND MAKE THE LATTER, IN THEIR THOUGHTS, PARTNERS WITH ALLAH?” (The Meaning of The Noble Qur’an, by Abdullah Yusuf Ali, page 176, online source http://www.ulc.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/English-Quran-With-Commentaries.pdf )

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Reference:

[1] Illuminating Discourses on the Noble Quran (“Tafseer Anwarul Bayan”),  by Shaykh Ashiq Ilahi Madni volume 3, page 175

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