THE TITLE of this surah is based on an expression which occurs in verses 46 and 48; its meaning is explained in note 37. According to most of the authorities (and particularly Ibn 'Abbas), the whole of Al-A'raf was revealed shortly before the preceding surah - that is, in the last year of the Prophet's stay at Mecca; the assertion of As-Suyuti and some other scholars to the effect that verses 163-171 belong to the Medina period is the result of mere conjecture and cannot, therefore, be accepted (Manar VIII, 294). Although, in the chronological order of revelation, Al-A'raf precedes the sixth surah, it has been placed after the latter because it elaborates the theme outlined therein. After the exposition of God's oneness and uniqueness - which, as I have pointed out in the introductory note to Al-An'am, constitutes the main theme of the sixth surah - Al-A'raf proceeds with a reference to revelation as a means by which God communicates His will to man: in other words, to the mission of the prophets. The need for continued prophetic guidance arises from the fact of man's weakness and his readiness to follow every temptation that appeals to his appetites, his vanity, or his mistaken sense of self-interest: and this essential aspect of the human condition is illustrated in the allegory of Adam and Eve and their fall from grace (verses 19-25), preceded by the allegory of Iblis as man's eternal tempter (verses 16-18). Without the guidance which God offers man through His prophets, the right way cannot be found; and, therefore, "unto those who give the lie to Our messages and scorn them in their pride, the gates of heaven shall not be opened" (verse 40). From verse 59 onwards, most of the surah is devoted to the histories of some of the earlier prophets whose warnings were rejected by their people, beginning with Noah, continuing with Hud, Salih, Lot and Shu'ayb, and culminating in a lengthy account of Shu'ayb's son-in-law, Moses, and his experiences with the children of Israel. With verse 172 the discourse reverts to the complex psychology of man, his instinctive ability to perceive God's existence and oneness, and to "what happens to him to whom God vouchsafes His messages and who then discards them: Satan catches up with him, and he strays, like so many others, into grievous error" (verse 175). This brings us to God's final message, the Qur'an, and to the role of the Last Prophet, Muhammad, who is "nothing but a warner and a herald of glad tidings" (verse 188): a mortal servant of God, having no "supernatural" powers or qualities, and - like all God-conscious men - "never too proud to worship Him" (verse 206).
Alif. Lam. Mim. Sad.1