Date, Context and Theme
This is a Meccan sura and the main theme is the testing the God brings on those who worship him.
Lo! We tested those who were before you. Thus Allah knoweth those who are sincere, and knoweth those who feign. 29:3
It is a call to stand firm and remember the example of those who opposed God in the past and were destroyed in the end.
v. 1, Mystery letters: ALM
vv. 2-4, All are tested.
Vv. 5-13, Living with the coming judgement in mind.
Vv. 14-15 Noah preached and was patient and waited then the flood came.
Vv. 16-35 Abraham and Lot. Abraham preached and was patient and waited. Lot believed and warned his own people. Their people were judged and are a sign today.
vv. 36-37 Shu'eyb warned his people and an earthquake came.
v. 38, A'ad and Thamud were warned and then his people were destroyed.
Vv. 39-40 Korah, Pharaoh and Haman were all warned and destroyed.
Vv. 41-44, Summary. Those who worship other than Allah have only a spider’s web for defence.
Vv. 45-69 Continue to practice Islam. Various issues dealt with regarding Christians and Jews and the objections of the Meccans. God’s judgement day with come.
What I found interesting.
Here are two verses were the word Jihad (striveth) is used and in each case they are not referring to warfare.
And whosoever striveth, striveth only for himself, for lo! Allah is altogether Independent of (His) creatures. 29:6
As for those who strive in Us, We surely guide them to Our paths, and lo! Allah is with the good. 29:69
This clearly shows that Jihad is a bigger concept than just warfare, but it does include warfare.
2. Bearing the sins of others.
But they verily will bear their own loads and other loads beside their own, and they verily will be questioned on the Day of Resurrection concerning that which they invented. 29:13
That they may bear their loads complete on the Day of Resurrection, and some of the loads of those that they lead astray without any knowledge. 16:25 Arberry
Narrated Ibn Abbas: A man came to the Prophet and said, "O Allah's Apostle! My mother died and she ought to have fasted one month (for her missed Ramadan). Shall I fast on her behalf?" The Prophet replied in the affirmative and said, "Allah's debts have more right to be paid." ... (Sahih al-Bukhuri: vol. 3, bk. 31, no. 174, Khan)
Narrated Ibn 'Abbas: A woman from the tribe of Juhaina came to the Prophet and said, "My mother had vowed to perform Hajj but she died before performing it. May I perform Hajj on my mother's behalf?" The Prophet replied, "Perform Hajj on her behalf. Had there been a debt on your mother, would you have paid it or not? So, pay Allah's debt as He has more right to be paid." (Sahih al-Bukhari: vol. 3, bk. 29, no. 77, Khan)
Narrated Ibn 'Abbas: The mother of Sad bin 'Ubada died in his absence. He said, "O Allah's Apostle! My mother died in my absence; will it be of any benefit for her if I give Sadaqa on her behalf?" The Prophet said, "Yes," Sad said, "I make you a witness that I gave my garden called Al Makhraf in charity on her behalf." (Sahih al-Bukhari: vol. 4, bk. 51, no. 19, Khan)
These references show that others can bear your load. The Islamic opposition to Jesus being unable to pay our debt could be challenged by these references.
Again we see that Allah’s justice will favour Muslims on judgement day.
And as for those who believe and do good works, We shall remit from them their evil deeds and shall repay them the best that they did. 29:7
In previous posts I have noted that the Qur’an normally does not contain the details of the events it records, however, on this occasion there was quite specific details about the age of Noah and this actually agrees with the Bible (Genesis 9:29).
And verily we sent Noah (as Our messenger) unto his folk, and he continued with them for a thousand years save fifty years; and the flood engulfed them, for they were wrong-doers. 29:14
5. Abraham and Prophethood
And We bestowed on him Isaac and Jacob, and We established the prophethood and the Scripture among his seed, and We gave him his reward in the world, and lo! in the Hereafter he verily is among the righteous. 29:27
6. Muslims are to believe all the previous scripture.
And argue not with the People of the Scripture unless it be in (a way) that is better, save with such of them as do wrong; and say: We believe in that which hath been revealed unto us and revealed unto you; our God and your God is One, and unto Him we surrender. 29:46
In like manner We have revealed unto thee the Scripture, and those unto whom We gave the Scripture aforetime will believe therein; and of these (also) there are some who believe therein. And none deny Our revelations save the disbelievers. 29:47
7. Muhammad’s Literacy
Often Muslim writers will appeal to 7:157 to show that Muhammad was illiterate, however this verse seems to do a better job at explaining Muhammad’s relation to the previous scripture.
And thou (O Muhammad) wast not a reader of any scripture before it, nor didst thou write it with thy right hand, for then might those have doubted, who follow falsehood. 29:48
8. Still No Sign
And they say: Why are not portents sent down upon him from his Lord? Say: Portents are with Allah only, and I am but a plain warner. Is it not enough for them that We have sent down unto thee the Scripture which is read unto them? Lo! herein verily is mercy, and a reminder for folk who believe. 29:50-51
9. The Meccans and the Creator.
It seems that the Meccans did know that Allah was the creator.
And if thou wert to ask them: Who created the heavens and the earth, and constrained the sun and the moon (to their appointed work)? they would say: Allah. How then are they turned away? 29:61
And if thou wert to ask them: Who causeth water to come down from the sky, and therewith reviveth the earth after its death? they verily would say: Allah. Say: Praise be to Allah! But most of them have no sense. 29:63