Sura 21 of the Quran  
The Prophets

Arabic text · English translation

Classification Meccan
Position Juzʼ 17
Hizb number 33
Number of verses 112

Sūrat al-Anbiyāʼ (Arabic: سورة الأنبياء‎, "The Prophets")[1] is the 21st sura (or chapter) of the Qur'an with 112 ayat. It is a Makkan sura. Its principal subject matter is prophets of the past, who also preached the same faith as Muhammad.


  • Historical context 1
  • Part One: Verses 1-40 2
    • Verses 1-9: The doubts of the disbelievers 2.1
    • Verses 10-21: Self-consciousness of the Qur’an 2.2
    • Verses 22-31: God as the sole creator 2.3
    • Verses 32-40: Man's mortality 2.4
    • Part Two: Verses 41-91 2.5
      • Verses 41-47: Invocation of the prophets 2.5.1
      • Verses 48-91: Narratives of the prophets 2.5.2
      • Part Three: Verses 92-112 2.5.3
        • Verses 92-100: The Day of Judgment, doom of disbelievers
        • 101-104: Rewards for the believers
        • 105-112: The Merciful Lord
  • Structure and content 3
  • Important considerations 4
    • Approaching the Qur'an 4.1
    • Character of Second Meccan Suras 4.2
    • The role of prophets in the Qur'an 4.3
    • Dua e Yunus / Ayat-e-Kareema 4.4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Historical context

This Sura was revealed in the Second Meccan Period and is listed as Number 65 according to the Nöldeke Chronology. Within its verses are found numerous evocations of earlier Judeo-Christian prophets. These examples help to emphasize and define Muhammad’s role as a messenger within the Qur’anic context. Additionally, the incorporation of pre-existing Biblical and Judaic scriptures integrate Muhammad’s prophetic mission into a larger religious framework, thus broadening the horizons of both the Qur’an as a text and Islam as a religious movement. Sura 21: The Prophets, is thematically and stylistically characteristic of the Second Meccan Period. The verses identify the religious agency of Muhammad by relating him to preexisting Judeo-Christian figures, and from there illustrate common notional doctrines, such as: Islamic eschatology embodied in the Day of Judgment, the fates of the disbelievers and the believers, and the mercy of God. In terms of ordering and delivery, Sura 21 contains a tripartite composition and traceable “ring structure,” in which the path of revelation comes full circle through the sequence of three distinct parts.[2] Consisting of 112 verses in total, The Prophets maintains the Qur’an’s distinctive voice, in which the verses seem conscious of their own revelation and also depend on other Suras to illustrate particular messages. This clear self-referentiality, or "self-declaration," and intertextuality are perceptibly unique to the Qur’an and possess the book with a consciousness distinct from other religious texts.[3]

Part One: Verses 1-40

Verses 1-9: The doubts of the disbelievers

This selection anticipates the main body of the Sura, which features narratives of pre-existing Judeo-Christian prophets.

Verses 1-9 introduce the doubts of the disbelievers, posing the arguments they use to reject the prophethood of Muhammad and the authority of revelation. God refutes them, asserting that their arguments for disbelief are both weak and fundamentally misconstrued.
Verse 3: “The evildoers conferred in secret; ‘Is this man anything but a mortal like yourselves?’” Here the evildoers (Disbelievers) are saying that if Muhammad were truly invested with the knowledge of God, then he would not be mortal and rather divine in nature. God dismisses this argument by calling to the examples of the earlier prophets. In the same way that past civilizations were destroyed after ignoring their God-delivered messengers, so too will the present be destroyed if they do not believe Muhammad.
Verse 7: “All the messengers We sent were only men We inspired…We did not give them bodies at that ate no food.” God is saying that Muhammad is following the trend of the earlier prophets—they are mortal men inspired with the word of God, whom in the end he saved while destroying those who refused to believe.

Verses 10-21: Self-consciousness of the Qur’an

The Qur’an possesses a special self-referentiality.

One trait that distinguishes the Qur’an from other Scriptures is the style of its narration. It seems the Qur’an is conscious of itself. It has the capability to reflect on its own lessons and those of earlier iterations of the Word. While the Bible and Torah exist as long continuous recordings intended for interpretation, The Qur’an is more concerned with an objective and reminds the audience of what it sets out to accomplish. Between verses 10 and 21, the voice maintains a driven reflexivity,
Verse 16: “We did not create the heavens and the earth and everything between them playfully.” Here God is reminding Muhammad that creation is the product of a specific intent.

Verses 22-31: God as the sole creator

There is no God but God.

Another defining characteristic of Islam is its commitment to “pure monotheism.” More so than those of the First Meccan period, the Second Meccan Suras spend time defining the nature of God and refuting the notion of polytheism. This characterization of God helps distinguish Islam from other religions like Judaism and Christianity, whose respective followers were presented with Islam as Muhammad’s own following spread and expanded. Verse 26 makes a reference to the Christian belief of the Holy Trinity, “And they say, ‘The Lord of mercy has taken offspring for Himself,’ and God declares that Christians have misinterpreted the scripture. God cannot have a son, and as he is the sole creator, only he should be worshipped. These verses distinguish the tenets of Islam from the tenets of Judaism and Christianity. At the same time, they unite the Qur’an to earlier revealed scriptures.
Verse 24: “This is the Scripture for those who are with me and the Scripture for those who went before me.” God’s word is continuous and eternal—Muhammad is a continuation of the line of Prophets with a refined message, and the Qur’an is a renewal of the scriptures, one ready to be revealed truthfully.

Verses 32-40: Man's mortality

The Soul will face Judgment after the Body dies.

Verses 32 through 40 remind man of his mortality and that death is universal. In this way, final judgment is inescapable. The section concludes with an admonition for the disbelievers:
Verse 39: “If the disbelievers only knew, the time will arrive when they will not be able to ward off the Fire from their faces or their backs, and they will get no help.” The fates of the disbelievers are characterized as terrible and intolerable. Closing this first section of the tripartite structure, preceding the main narrative text, man is reminded of the imminence of death and the certainty of destruction provided he does not believe in Muhammad’s message from God.

Part Two: Verses 41-91

The following verses are framed as a "Salvation History Narrative." This style emerged, which uses a "kitab-generated" form to demonstrate the tenets of faith, emerged in the Second Meccan Period. Narratives of Salvation History are liturgical in nature, and point to the maturation and canonization of Islamic sentiment.[4]

Verses 41-47: Invocation of the prophets

The trials of earlier prophets serve as motivation for Muhammad.

These verses encourage Muhammad in his revelation of prophecy.
Verse 41: “Messengers before you were also ridiculed.” In truth, worldly matters are of no concern, for the Day of Judgment is the ultimate assessment of one’s fate. Though they may face adversity in life, those who believe will be rewarded. Though those who do not pay attention to prophecy may have an enjoyable life on Earth, they will surely face eternal misery.
Verse 47: “We will set up scales of justice for the Day of Resurrection.”

Verses 48-91: Narratives of the prophets

The story of each prophet shapes a provision of Islamic belief. All the Prophets that came so far had played an important role for Islam.

Moses and Aaron (Verse 48)

Moses and Aaron exemplify the significance of conscience and the ability to see “right from wrong” without an accompanying arrogance. It is right to maintain awe and obedience to God.

Abraham (Verse 51)

Abraham is the example of the Pure Monotheist. He is a universally recognized and revered figure in both Judaism and Christianity. The superiority of the Qur’an and the Islamic faith are supported by the fact that he is characterized as a devout monotheist. Abraham appeals to the monotheism that Islam promotes in Verse 66: “How can you worship what can neither benefit or harm you, instead of God?” Of all the prophets discussed in Sura 21, Abraham receives the most attention and is awarded most text, thus he is the most important within the selection.

Lot (Verse 74)

The example of Lot provides that it is essential to stay true to one’s faith as defined by Revelation—those who stray from “judgment and knowledge” and instead follow the group will surely not reach Paradise.

Noah (Verse 76)

Noah is saved although his family and neighbors are not: Though man may be attached to his family or community, the attachment to God precedes all earthly bonds.

David and Solomon (Verse 78)

God teaches David and Solomon to make informed decisions: Under his guidance, God gives man the sense necessary for worldly existence and through that sense, may procure the qualifications of salvation.

Job (Verse 83)

Job acknowledges his suffering, but continues to recognize God’s compassion.
Verse 83: “You are the most Merciful of the merciful.” The faithful will be tested, and no matter the circumstance that faith must not be broken.

Zachariah (Verse 89)

Zachariah is given a son in John after he expresses his faith in God: The questions of the faithful will be answered, and all things are answered through the creation of God.

Mary and Jesus (Verse 91)

Mary maintained her chastity, and so she was rewarded with the immaculate conception of Jesus,
Verse 91: “We breathed into her from Our Spirit and made her son a sign for all people.” Honesty to one’s calling confers Paradise and gifts from God.

Part Three: Verses 92-112

The following verses deal with the eschatological concerns of the Qur'an: death, judgment, and the fate of mankind. Considerations of eschatology were a defining characteristic of Meccan Suras[5]

Verses 92-100: The Day of Judgment, doom of disbelievers

Verses 92-100 describe The Day of Judgment is imminent, and that on this day, God will not help the disbelievers.
Verse 98: “You [disbelievers] and what you worship instead of God will be fuel for Hell: that is where you’ll go.” In the case of idolaters, what they worship will not serve them in Hell.

101-104: Rewards for the believers

Verses 101-104 illustrate the good things that will come to the Believers. Those who listen to the prophecies, take heed of Muhammad’s recitations, and maintain obedience to God are promised a place in Paradise.
Verse 103: “They will have no fear of the great Terror: the angels will receive them with the words, ‘This is the Day you were promised!’”

105-112: The Merciful Lord

Verses 105-112 come to close the revelation with an acknowledgement of God’s mercy. God gives a final reminder and affirmation of the Islamic faith,
Verse 108: “Say ‘What is revealed to Mohammad (Peace be upon Him) is that your God is one God—will you submit to Him?’” In the final verses, God is defined as both merciful and just. He has shown the way, but he will not nudge one toward it. He will make the final call, but the decision of belief or disbelief rests on the individual,
Verse 110: “He knows what you reveal and conceal.”

Structure and content

Part One, Verses 1-40, affirms the revelation and commits Muhammad to his role as the chosen prophet. Part One also declares the oneness of God in his creation.

Part Two, Verses 41-91, seeks to draw examples of faith and righteousness through the narratives of earlier prophets. This method of revelation simultaneously thrusts the Qur’an upward and integrates the religious identity of Islam into a broader existing context.

Part Three, Verses 92-112, works to conclude the Sura with another affirmation of revelation, this time through identification of the divergent fates of the Believers and Non-believers on the Day of Judgment. The chapter ends with a final exaltation of God’s merciful nature.

Important considerations

Approaching the Qur'an

From a literary perspective, the Qur'an differs from other scriptures like the Bible and the Torah. While the Bible is read as a long sequence of continual narration, the Qur'an is likened to a collection of discrete, yet interdependent pronunciations of faith. Additionally, the treatment of Muhammad in the Qur'an differs from that of Jesus in the New Testament, or of earlier prophets in the Old Testament, in which the reader is given an interpretation of the figure's life and activities from which to draw religious inspiration. The focus of the Qur'an is not about Muhammad's enterprise of faith. Rather, the Qur'an is purely the revelation of God's word through the messages of Muhammad: provided solitarily; not to be extruded from a literary or narrative context. The Islamic equivalent of the Biblical Gospels can be found in Hadith Literature, which centers around the process of Muhammad's prophecy—his achievements and his proclamations.[6]

Character of Second Meccan Suras

Many factors contribute to the emergence of Second Meccan Suras as a marker of structural, stylistic, and thematic development. When evaluating the relationship between First Meccan and Second Meccan suras, historical and cultural factors must be taken into consideration. From the First Meccan Period to the Second Meccan Period, Muhammad witnessed the expansion of both his receptive and his apprehensive audience, and with a larger group came a more inconstant and diverse collection of listeners. The content of revelation becomes less individually centric, and instead applies itself to the needs of a group: a more accessible, exoteric source of expression, attention to ethics as opposed to individual faith, and an evocation of religious principles supported by the pre-existing "religious matrix" of the Judeo-Christian traditions.[7]

The role of prophets in the Qur'an

The Arabic "nabī" is the most regularly used word for prophet in the Qur'an. It is related to the word "naba'," meaning news, tiding, or tale. According to Islamic understanding, a prophet is inspired with the Word of God and is sent down to relate stories and give predictions for humankind. One important qualification of the prophet is that though he is instilled and motivated with the power of God, he does not himself possess any Godly traits, and rather functions as a mortal human being. According Hadith Literature, God has sent down thousands of prophets. In the Qur'an, Muhammad is depicted as a prophet, but he is also a messenger, "rasül." The distinction between prophets and messengers lies in the notion that Messengers are sent down by God with a specific message that imports a religious objective.[8]

Dua e Yunus / Ayat-e-Kareema

In this Sura, Verse 87, there is a Dua made by Yunus inside the fish, that is famous and commonly used among Muslims (Madhabi, Salafi, Sufi, Shia) in times of problems and distress.
Laa ilaaha ilaa anta Subhaanaka innee kuntu minazzaalimeen. (the pronunciation is kuntu, not kuntum)

See also


  1. ^ Haleem, Trans. M.A.S. Abdel (2010). The Qur'an (Oxford World's Classics). New York: Oxford University Press. 
  2. ^ Ernst, Carl W. (2011). How To Read the Qur'an: A New Guide, with select Translations. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. p. 106. 
  3. ^ McAuliffe, Jane Demmen (2006). The Cambridge Companion to the Qur'an. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. p. 3. 
  4. ^ McAuliffe, Jane Demmen (2006). The Cambridge Companion to the Qur'an. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. p. 106. 
  5. ^ McAuliffe, Jane Demmen (2006). The Cambridge Companion to the Qur'an. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. p. 109. 
  6. ^ Ernst, Carl W. (1997). The Shambhala Guide to Sufism. Boston: Shambhala. p. 35. 
  7. ^ Berkey, Jonathan P. (2003). The Formation of Islam: Religion and Society in the Near East, 600-1800. New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 61–69. 
  8. ^ "'"Meaning of 'Nabi' and 'Rasul. Retrieved October 31, 2013. 

External links

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