Quran Read Along: Al’-Imran 190-200 – The Message of the Final Verses

Nature Ex Nihilo
The opening verse here is very philosophical in its nature, insinuating that written all throughout nature is evidence of God – we only have to know what we’re looking at. That is to say, everything comes from God and the reason there is so much harmony in nature and things are designed as they are is because it is all divinely planned.
A few examples regarding the absurd construction of natural things often pop into my head when people talk about how perfect nature is, but setting these things aside, nature certainly is wondrous and the argument of God being behind its design is a most necessary one religiously for a great many people.
The terminology here makes me want to confirm, though: does Islam believe in creation ex nihilo? Islam has a strong philosophical tradition, and much of that philosophy champions the notion that the cosmos are eternal. What is the traditional Islamic line about that notion?
The Conclusion of Al’-Imran
Verse 195 holds quite a promise and a reassurance for the downtrodden. The notion of suffering in God’s name is one I associate generally with Christianity, as it is a religion focused almost obsessively on suffering. This is not a focus of Islam, or at least I haven’t found that to be so, but it makes sense that God would promise those who do happen to suffer for righteous reasons a stake in the afterlife. “Efface their bad deeds” sounds like “sin forgiveness,” another concept I associate with Christianity.
Pointing out these similarities is not meant to undermine what is written here by applying a syncretistic bend to it, but merely to say that it is rather logical that these religions born of the same impetus (people who needed more than they were getting) and of the same God are to emphasize these inherently humane notions: all will be okay for those who are good yet suffer. When we think, why do bad things happen to good people, the Quran replies, God straightens it all out in the end.
My thoughts incline towards the fact that these are the concluding verses of Al’-Imran. Why? Are they a warning to the new Muslim community not to ultimately misinterpret this revelation as the religions before it misinterpreted theirs’? Verse 199 certainly seems to champion this notion as it provides the other side of this coin: that there are those of earlier revelations who have remained true to said religions and who deserve the same recompense as Muslims in the hereafter.
Please add what you can to our understanding of these final verses of Al’-Imran!
Al’-Imran 190-200
190. Verily, in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and in the succession of night and day, there are indeed messages for all who are endowed with insight, 191. [and] who remember God when they stand, and when they sit, and when they lie down to sleep, and [thus] reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth: “O our Sustainer! Thou hast not created [aught of] this without meaning and purpose. Limitless art Thou in Thy glory! Keep us safe, then, from suffering through fire! 192. “O our Sustainer! Whomsoever Thou shalt commit to the fire, him, verily, wilt Thou have brought to disgrace [in this world]; and such evildoers will have none to succor them. 193. “O our Sustainer! Behold, we heard a voice call [us] unto faith, `Believe in your Sustainer!’ – and so we came to believe. O our Sustainer! Forgive us, then, our sins, and efface our bad deeds; and let us die the death of the truly virtuous! 194. “And, O our Sustainer, grant us that which Thou hast promised us through Thy apostles, and disgrace us not on Resurrection Day! Verily, Thou never failest to fulfill Thy promise!” 195. And thus does their Sustainer answer their prayer: “I shall not lose sight of the labour of any of you who labors [in My way], be it man or woman: each of you is an issue of the other. Hence, as for those who forsake the domain of evil, and are driven from their homelands, and suffer hurt in My cause, and fight [for it], and are slain – I shall most certainly efface their bad deeds, and shall most certainly bring them into gardens through which running waters flow, as a reward from God: for with God is the most beauteous of rewards.” 196. LET IT NOT deceive thee that those who are bent on denying the truth seem to be able to do as they please on earth: 197. it is [but] a brief enjoyment, with hell thereafter as their goal – and how vile a resting-place! – 198. whereas those who remain conscious of their Sustainer shall have gardens through which running waters flow, therein to abide: a ready welcome from God. And that which is with God is best for the truly virtuous. 199. And, behold, among the followers of earlier revelation there are indeed such as [truly] believe in God, and in that which has been bestowed from on high upon you as well as in that which has been bestowed upon them. Standing in awe of God, they do not barter away God’s messages for a trifling gain. They shall have their reward with their Sustainer – for, behold, God is swift in reckoning! 200. O you who have attained to faith! Be patient in adversity, and vie in patience with one another, and be ever ready [to do what is right], and remain conscious of God, so that you might attain to a happy state!

Nature Ex Nihilo
The opening verse here is very philosophical in its nature, insinuating that written all throughout nature is evidence of God – we only have to know what we’re looking at. That is to say, everything comes from God and the reason there is so much harmony in nature and things are designed as they are is because it is all divinely planned.
A few examples regarding the absurd construction of natural things often pop into my head when people talk about how perfect nature is, but setting these things aside, nature certainly is wondrous and the argument of God being behind its design is a most necessary one religiously for a great many people.
The terminology here makes me want to confirm, though: does Islam believe in creation ex nihilo? Islam has a strong philosophical tradition, and much of that philosophy champions the notion that the cosmos are eternal. What is the traditional Islamic line about that notion?
The Conclusion of Al’-Imran
Verse 195 holds quite a promise and a reassurance for the downtrodden. The notion of suffering in God’s name is one I associate generally with Christianity, as it is a religion focused almost obsessively on suffering. This is not a focus of Islam, or at least I haven’t found that to be so, but it makes sense that God would promise those who do happen to suffer for righteous reasons a stake in the afterlife. “Efface their bad deeds” sounds like “sin forgiveness,” another concept I associate with Christianity.
Pointing out these similarities is not meant to undermine what is written here by applying a syncretistic bend to it, but merely to say that it is rather logical that these religions born of the same impetus (people who needed more than they were getting) and of the same God are to emphasize these inherently humane notions: all will be okay for those who are good yet suffer. When we think, why do bad things happen to good people, the Quran replies, God straightens it all out in the end.
My thoughts incline towards the fact that these are the concluding verses of Al’-Imran. Why? Are they a warning to the new Muslim community not to ultimately misinterpret this revelation as the religions before it misinterpreted theirs’? Verse 199 certainly seems to champion this notion as it provides the other side of this coin: that there are those of earlier revelations who have remained true to said religions and who deserve the same recompense as Muslims in the hereafter.
Please add what you can to our understanding of these final verses of Al’-Imran! Al’-Imran 190-200
190. Verily, in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and in the succession of night and day, there are indeed messages for all who are endowed with insight, 191. [and] who remember God when they stand, and when they sit, and when they lie down to sleep, and [thus] reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth: “O our Sustainer! Thou hast not created [aught of] this without meaning and purpose. Limitless art Thou in Thy glory! Keep us safe, then, from suffering through fire! 192. “O our Sustainer! Whomsoever Thou shalt commit to the fire, him, verily, wilt Thou have brought to disgrace [in this world]; and such evildoers will have none to succor them. 193. “O our Sustainer! Behold, we heard a voice call [us] unto faith, `Believe in your Sustainer!’ – and so we came to believe. O our Sustainer! Forgive us, then, our sins, and efface our bad deeds; and let us die the death of the truly virtuous! 194. “And, O our Sustainer, grant us that which Thou hast promised us through Thy apostles, and disgrace us not on Resurrection Day! Verily, Thou never failest to fulfill Thy promise!” 195. And thus does their Sustainer answer their prayer: “I shall not lose sight of the labour of any of you who labors [in My way], be it man or woman: each of you is an issue of the other. Hence, as for those who forsake the domain of evil, and are driven from their homelands, and suffer hurt in My cause, and fight [for it], and are slain – I shall most certainly efface their bad deeds, and shall most certainly bring them into gardens through which running waters flow, as a reward from God: for with God is the most beauteous of rewards.” 196. LET IT NOT deceive thee that those who are bent on denying the truth seem to be able to do as they please on earth: 197. it is [but] a brief enjoyment, with hell thereafter as their goal – and how vile a resting-place! – 198. whereas those who remain conscious of their Sustainer shall have gardens through which running waters flow, therein to abide: a ready welcome from God. And that which is with God is best for the truly virtuous. 199. And, behold, among the followers of earlier revelation there are indeed such as [truly] believe in God, and in that which has been bestowed from on high upon you as well as in that which has been bestowed upon them. Standing in awe of God, they do not barter away God’s messages for a trifling gain. They shall have their reward with their Sustainer – for, behold, God is swift in reckoning! 200. O you who have attained to faith! Be patient in adversity, and vie in patience with one another, and be ever ready [to do what is right], and remain conscious of God, so that you might attain to a happy state!

Quran Read-A-Long: Al-‘Imran 31-41 Starts to Reveal Where This Surah Gets Its Name

These verses are very interesting, particularly as they discuss the mother of Mary (the grandmother of Jesus), and make it quite clear that Jesus and this woman came from the House of Imran, which is the house of the father of Moses and Aaron. This ultimately creates a huge and direct connection right in the Quran from Adam through Noah, Abraham Moses, Aaron, and Jesus. As this surah is called Al-‘Imran, or as I understand that, the House/Family of Imran (or Amram, of the Bible), this surah (or at least part of it) is about these prophets and important people. I’m very excited to see how these different characters and this larger family are made relevant in Islam and the Quran.

In the last surah, JDsg had to point out to me the point of the surah being called the Cow and when we were in the midst of those particular verses he was like, “Yoohoo, Jay! Over here.” I hope that this time I’ve at least identified the connection (a bit) between the surah title and the relevant verses (not that it was obfuscated or anything), but I look forward to everyone’s help elaborating upon their relevance and meaning within this surah.

These verses are particularly interesting because as far as I know there is no where in the New Testament that Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is mentioned before the story of Jesus is immediately relevant. I would be fascinated to learn if there are any Gnostic sources or alternate non-canonical gospels that discuss the birth and life of Mary before Jesus and if they exist, how they compare to this story here. Beyond that, I’d be interested in knowing where and how long they were preserved, whether on parchment or orally. Does anyone know of anything in particular?

The story about Zechariah recounted in verses 38-41 can be found in a somewhat similar fashion at the beginning of the New Testament book of Luke. The Quran’s version is certainly more terse than that in the New Testament, and though it’s not necessary to recall all of the differences between the two versions, I will point out what seems to me to be a significant lacuna: that the angel mentioned in the New Testament who foretold the birth of John (the Baptist) was the Angel Gabriel, the same angel that relates the Quran to Mohammed, if I have my facts straight. Why would this be left out? Could it be that the story was not known in this fashion or was it an intentional omission and a ‘clarification’ of the New Testament story? Intentional, I say, because perhaps the significance of Mohammed’s revelation was not meant to be compared with that provided to Zechariah about John the Baptist? That doesn’t seem a good answer to me as the Quran, though recognizing the new trumping of itself revelation-wise, still respects all revelation – that leaves the question open and one over which I will anxiously await others’ thoughts.

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Al-‘Imran 31-41

31. Say [O Prophet]: “If you love God, follow me, [and] God will love you and forgive you your sins; for God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace.” 32. Say: “Pay heed unto God and the Apostle.” 33. BEHOLD, God raised Adam, and Noah, and the House of Abraham, and the House of `Imran above all mankind, 34. in one line of descent.* And God was all-hearing, all-knowing** 35. when a woman of [the House of] `Imran prayed: “O my Sustainer! Behold, unto Thee do I vow [the child] that is in, my womb, to be devoted to Thy service. Accept it, then, from me: verily, Thou alone art all-hearing, all-knowing!” 36. But when she had given birth to the child,  she said: “O my Sustainer! Behold, I have given birth to a female” – the while God had been fully aware of what she would give birth to, and [fully aware] that no male child [she might have hoped for] could ever have been like this female – “and I have named her Mary. And, verily, I seek Thy protection for her and her offspring against Satan, the accursed.” 37. And thereupon her Sustainer accepted the girl-child with goodly acceptance, and caused her to grow up in goodly growth, and placed her in the care of Zachariah. Whenever Zachariah visited her in the sanctuary, he found her provided with food. He would ask: “O Mary, whence came this unto thee?” She would answer: “It is from God; behold, God grants sustenance unto whom He wills, beyond all reckoning.” 38. In that self-same place, Zachariah prayed unto his Sustainer, saying: “O my Sustainer! Bestow upon me [too], out of Thy grace, the gift of goodly offspring; for Thou, indeed, hearest all prayer.” 39. Thereupon, as he stood praying in the sanctuary, the angels called out unto him: “God sends thee the glad tiding of [the birth of] John, who shall confirm the truth of a word from God, and [shall be] outstanding among men, and utterly chaste, and a prophet from among the righteous.” 40. [Zachariah] exclaimed: “O my Sustainer! How can I have a son when old age has already overtaken me, and my wife is barren?” Answered [the angel]: “Thus it is: God does what He wills.” 41. [Zachariah] prayed: “O my Sustainer! Appoint a sign for me!” Said [the angel]: “Thy sign shall be that for three days thou wilt not speak unto men other than by gestures. And remember thy Sustainer unceasingly, and extol His limitless glory by night and by day.”

Quran Read-A-Long: Al-‘Imran 21-30 Speaks of Judgment Day and Allies

Considering the stories in the Bible about the Israelites slaying their prophets, is verse 21 a reference to them? The following verses makes me believe so because they are a discussion of, I think, the Israelites and their laws (the Torah). At the end of verse 23, is the “it” that is turned away from, the Torah, the true uncorrupted Torah or neither, but actually the Quran which Jews are currently not accepting? This line about the fire not touching them but for a limited time is something we saw in The Cow, I think. As for the false beliefs, is this a reference to the corrupted Torah and the associated “silly” laws or is this something more ‘present,’ – as in, their corrupted Torah has caused Jews to betray the larger faith that the Quran now teaches and they aren’t accepting the latter because of the purnicious influence of the former?

Lot of questions there but I didn’t seem to be getting these opening verses with an overwhelming amount of clarity.

The remainder of this section seems to be a recognition of God’s power and what will happen on Judgment Day when everyone will be required to reckon for his deeds. In the midst of this larger theological speech is a point about acquiring allies and how Muslims cannot accept allies who are deniers of the truth rather than believers. Interestingly, there seems to be a caveat in place that is quite practical and allows non-believing allies to be acquired if good strategy and safety require it. I suppose that in the early years of the Medinan community, it would have been an absolute necessity for this to be so and were it not, the nascent Muslims may have been destroyed. However, strategic allying and political decision making by Mohammed allowed for the community’s survival and thriving.

What can you tell us about these verses? I feel like I left out a lot, but I wasn’t quite sure what to address and how.

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Al-‘Imran 21-30

21. Verily, as for those who deny the truth of God’s messages, and slay the prophets against all right, and slay people who enjoin equity – announce unto them a grievous chastisement. 22. It is they whose works shall come to nought both in this world and in the life to come; and they shall have none to succour them. 23. Art thou not aware of those who have been granted their share of revelation [aforetime]? They have been called upon to let God’s writ be their law – and yet some of them turn away [from it] in their obstinacy, 24. simply because they claim, “The fire will most certainly not touch us for more than a limited number of days”: and thus the false beliefs which they invented have [in time] caused them to betray their faith. 25. How, then, [will they fare] when We shall gather them all together to witness the Day about [the coming of] which there is no doubt, and every human being shall be repaid in full for what he has done, and none shall be wronged? 26. SAY: “O God, Lord of all dominion! Thou grantest dominion unto whom Thou willest, and takest away dominion from whom Thou willest; and Thou exaltest whom Thou willest, and abasest whom Thou willest. In Thy hand is all good. Verily, Thou hast the power to will anything. 27. “Thou makest the night grow longer by shortening the day, and Thou makest the day grow longer by shortening the night. And Thou bringest forth the living out of that which is dead, and Thou bringest forth the dead out of that which is alive. And Thou grantest sustenance unto whom `Thou willest, beyond all reckoning.” 28. LET NOT the believers take those who deny the truth for their allies in preference to the believers – since he who does this cuts himself off from God in everything – unless it be to protect yourselves against them in this way. But God warns you to beware of Him: for with God is all journeys’ end. 29. Say: “Whether you conceal what is in your hearts or bring it into the open, God knows it: for He knows all that is in the heavens and all that is on earth; and God has the power to will anything.” 30. On the Day when every human being will find himself faced with all the good that he has done, and with all the evil that he has done, [many a one] will wish that there were a long span of time between himself and that [Day]. Hence, God warns you to beware of Him; but God is most compassionate towards His creatures.

Quran Read-A-Long: Al-`Imran 10-20 Discuss Hell and Surrender to God

I can’t assume that verse 11 refers to anything but the story of the Exodus and the Pharaoh who refused to free the enslaved Hebrews. True or false?

Is there something larger going on in this warning about hell and who goes there? It just seems like it’s straight-up talking about hell. You’re bad. Okay, to hell you go. I hate to ask, is there more going on here? It’s the Quran! Of course there’s more going on here 😉 but what is going on exactly?

As for verse 13 about the unequally matched forces in battle, Asad offers the dual interpretation (favoring the second) that this refers to the Battle of Badr but also to the more general occurrence of a battle between two sides, one numerically weaker but with faith and conviction in its cause and which therefore ultimately wins. Not that I can speak to the timing of this revelation, but I would tend to think that both interpretations are correct. On more than one occasion, to my knowledge, the Medinan Muslim community faced foes much larger than it and was victorious. Depending on the time of this revelation this verse could be referring to any number of those battles that any person being addressed witnessed (just a supposition, though). Thoughts?

In verse 19 it sounds like two different kinds of people are being discussed. On the one hand there are those who have received previous revelations but whose texts have become corrupted and whose communities have become fractured with sectarianism. These people, however, do not “deny the truth of God’s messages,” (except perhaps in their refusal to adopt Islam, though they are surrendering in their own ways to a single God, presumably) and so, therefore, they can still go to Heaven. I think. On the other hand are those who deny the truth of God’s messages, and they are another matter entirely. They, to be sure, cannot go to Heaven because they deny what is revealed. Verse 20 would seem to affirm this, pointing out that it is Mohammed’s duty to proselytize and bring the message of surrender to God to all people, those with previous revelation and those without. Whether or not they accept Mohammed’s Islam, so long as they surrender to God, they’ll be okay (i.e. get the opportunity to go to Heaven) because God knows what’s in their hearts and whether or not they’re truly surrendering, regardless of what they call their religion. Surrender to God is surrender to God.

What can you tell us about these verses or my interpretation of them?

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Al-`Imran 10-20

10. BEHOLD, as for those who are bent on denying the truth – neither their worldly possessions nor their offspring will in the least avail them against God; and it is they, they who shall be the fuel of the fire! 11. [To them shall – happen] the like of what happened to Pharaoh’s people and those who lived before them: they gave the lie to Our messages – and so God took them to task for their sins: for God is severe in retribution. 12. Say unto those who are bent on denying the truth: “You shall be overcome and gathered unto hell – and how evil a resting-place! 13. You have already had a sign in the two hosts that met in battle, one host fighting in God’s cause and the other denying Him; with their own eyes [the former] saw the others as twice their own number: but God strengthens with His succor whom He wills. In this, behold, there is indeed a lesson for all who have eyes to see. 14. ALLURING unto man is the enjoyment of worldly desires through women, and children, and heaped-up treasures of gold and silver, and horses of high mark, and cattle, and lands. All this may be enjoyed in the life of this world – but the most beauteous of all goals is with God. 15. Say: “Shall I tell you of better things than those [earthly joys]? For the God-conscious there are, with their Sustainer, gardens through which running waters flow, therein to abide, and spouses pure, and God’s goodly acceptance.” And God sees all that is in [the hearts of] His servants – 16. those who say, “O our Sustainer! Behold, we believe [in Thee]; forgive us, then, our sins, and keep us safe from suffering through the fire” – 17. those who are patient in adversity, and true to their word, and truly devout, and who spend [in God’s way], and pray for forgiveness from their innermost hearts. 18. GOD [Himself] proffers evidence* – and [so do] the angels and all who are endowed with knowledge – that there is no deity save Him, the Upholder of Equity: there is no deity save Him, the Almighty, the Truly Wise. 19. Behold, the only [true] religion in the sight of God is [man’s] self-surrender unto Him; and those who were vouchsafed revelation aforetime* took, out of mutual jealousy, to divergent views [on this point] only after knowledge [thereof] had come unto them.** But as for him who denies the truth of God’s messages – behold, God is swift in reckoning! 20. Thus, [O Prophet,] if they argue with thee, say, “I have surrendered my whole being unto God, and [so have] all who follow me!” – and ask those who have been vouchsafed revelation aforetime, as well as all unlettered people,* “Have you [too] surrendered yourselves unto Him?” And if they surrender themselves unto Him, they are on the right path; but if they turn away – behold, thy duty is no more than to deliver the message: for God sees all that is in [the hearts of] His creatures.

Quran Read-A-Long: Al-`Imran 1-9 Discuss the Quran Itself

We’ve reached the third surah! What’s more, verse two begins with a very important affirmation that we’ve discussed before: that there is no deity but God. Why important other than the obvious truth of the matter? Because Mohammed had to make it clear to the Quryash and other Arabs that Allah was the only God and that the secondary daughter deities that they worshiped and had shrines to were not real.

Verse three is a noteworthy internal affirmation of the Quranic revelation. The idea, as Asad seems to interpret it, is that whatever still remains so of the Torah has its verity confirmed by the Quran wherever the Quran speaks of similar things. We’ve discussed that the Quran believes the Torah and the Gospels to be corrupted. I have agreed that the Torah is not a single text but actually a series of interwoven texts (this theory is known as the Documentary Hypothesis). What I am particularly interested in at this moment is the Injil, or what the Quran believes the Synoptic Gospels are based on – a more accurate Gospel of Jesus. Is this document the same one that biblical scholars believe exists – the document known as Q? Or is this more similar to the Torah situation in which there is believed to be a complete and accurate document that lacks corruption and tells the story of Jesus’ life exactly as it happened (the implication here being that scholars don’t believe that Q is necessarily the truth so much as a document closer to Jesus and which the documents we have would have been partially based on)?

It seems significant that the directly stated verses are the “essence of the divine writ,” though there are many other verses that are allegorical in nature and require more strenuous mental searching and understanding. I think this is for the benefit of everyone who reads the Quran. All Muslims – not just the wise – should be able to read the Quran, God’s word, and take away from it the most important points, values and rules. There are plenty of simple people in the world and they should not be intimidated by reading the Quran and hearing God’s word: they should have the pleasure of knowing what God wants from them on their own. This speaks to the Islamic lack of clergy (which I think is awesome, by the way) because Muslims don’t require someone else to tell them what the Quran says. It is God’s word right to their ears. Similarly, Muslims don’t need any sort of intermediary through which to offer their prayers, whether a preist or Jesus (or Mohammed, as the case may be). Their prayers go right to God – perhaps in part because they are able to undersand God’s simple and most important words for themselves.

What are your thoughts about these verses? Please feel free to answer any posed questions or just address your own issues with the opening verses of Al-‘Imran.

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Al-`Imran 1-9

In the name of God, the most gracious, the dispenser of grace:

1. Alif. Lam. Mim. 2. GOD – there is no deity save Him, the Ever-Living, the Self-Subsistent Fount of All Being! 3. Step by step has He bestowed upon thee from on high this divine writ, setting forth the truth which confirms whatever there still remains [of earlier revelations]: for it is He who has bestowed from on high the Torah and the Gospel 4. aforetime, as a guidance unto mankind, and it is He who has bestowed [upon man] the standard by which to discern the true from the false. Behold, as for those who are bent on denying God’s messages – grievous suffering awaits them: for God is almighty, an avenger of evil. 5. Verily, nothing on earth or in the heavens is hidden from God. 6. He it is who shapes you in the wombs as He wills. There is no deity save Him, the Almighty, the Truly Wise. 7. He it is who has bestowed upon thee from on high this divine writ, containing messages that are clear in and by themselves – and these are the essence of the divine writ – as well as others that are allegorical. Now those whose hearts are given to swerving from the truth go after that part of the divine writ which has been expressed in allegory, seeking out [what is bound to create] confusion, and seeking [to arrive at] its final meaning [in an arbitrary manner]; but none save God knows its final meaning. Hence, those who are deeply rooted in knowledge say: “We believe in it; the whole [of the divine writ] is from our Sustainer – albeit none takes this to heart save those who are endowed with insight. 8. “O our Sustainer! Let not our hearts swerve from the truth after Thou hast guided us; and bestow upon us the gift of Thy grace: verily, Thou art the [true] Giver of Gifts. 9. “O our Sustainer! Verily, Thou wilt gather mankind together to witness the Day about [the coming of] which there is no doubt: verily, God never fails to fulfil His promise.”