The following excerpt is taken from “The Message of the Quran” by Muhammad Asad pg. 1019-1022:
NOW, VERILY, it is We who have created man, and We know what his innermost self whispers within him: for We are closer to him than his neck-vein. (50:17) [And so,] whenever the two demands [of his nature] come face to face, contending from the right and from the left,11 (50:18) not even a word can he utter but there is a watcher with him, ever-present.12
11 The first part of the above sentence – i.e., the phrase yatalaqqa al–mutalaqqiyan – may be understood in either of two senses: “the two that are meant to receive do receive”, or “the two that aim at meeting each other do meet”. The classical commentators adopt, as a rule, the first sense and, consequently, interpret the passage thus: ….. the two angels that are charged with recording man’s doings – do record them, sitting on his right and on his left”. In my opinion, however, the second of the two possible meanings (“the two that aim at meeting each other”) corresponds better with the preceding verse, which speaks of what man’s innermost self (nafs) – whispers within him”, i.e., voices his subconscious desires. Thus, “the two that aim at meeting” are, I believe, the two demands of, or, more properly, the two fundamental motive forces within man’s nature: his primal, instinctive urges and desires, both sensual and non-sensual (all of them comprised in the modern psychological term “libido”), on the one side, and his reason, both intuitive and reflective, on the other. The “sitting (qa’id) on the right and on the left” is, to my mind, a metaphor for the conflicting nature of these dual forces which strive for predominance within every human being: hence, my rendering of qa’id as “contending”. This interpretation is, moreover, strongly supported by the reference, in verse 21, to man’s appearing on Judgment Day with “that which drives and that which bears witness” – a phrase which undoubtedly alludes to man’s instinctive urges as well as his conscious reason (see note 14 below).
12 I.e., his conscience, The “uttering of a word” is conceptually connected with the “whispering” within man’s psyche spoken of in the preceding verse,
And [then,] the twilight of death brings with it the [full] truth 13 – that [very thing, O man,] from which thou wouldst always look away! – (50:20) and [in the end] the trumpet [of resurrection] will be blown: that will be the Day of a warning fulfilled.
13 I.e., full insight into one’s own self.
And every human being will come forward with [his erstwhile] inner urges and [his] conscious mind,14 (50:22) [and will be told:] “Indeed, unmindful hast thou been of this [Day of Judgement]; but now We have lifted from thee thy veil, and sharp is thy sight today!” (50:23) And one part 15 of him will say: “This it is that has been ever-present with me!”16
14 Lit., “with that which drives (sa’iq) and that which bears witness (shahid)”. While the former term evidently circumscribes man’s primal urges – and particularly those which drive him into unrestrained self-indulgence and, thus, into sin – the term shahd (rendered by me as “conscious mind”) alludes here to the awakening of the deeper layers of man’s consciousness, leading to a sudden perception of his own moral reality – the “lifting of the veil” referred to in the next verse – which forces him to “bear witness” against himself (cf. 17:14, 24:24, 36:65, 41:20 ff.).
15 Lit., “his intimate companion” (qarinuhu). The term qarin denotes something that is “connected”, “linked” or “intimately associated” with another thing (cf. 41:25 and 43:36, where qarin is rendered as “[one’s] other self”). In the present instance – read together with verse 21 – the term apparently denotes “one part” of man, namely, his awakened moral consciousness.
16 I.e., the sinner’s reason will plead that he had always been more or less conscious, and perhaps even critical, of the urges and appetites that drove him into evildoing: but, as is shown in the sequence, this belated and, therefore, morally ineffective rational cognition does not diminish but, rather, enhances the burden of man’s guilt.
[Whereupon God will command:] “Cast, cast 17 into hell every [such) stubborn enemy of the truth, (50:25) [every] withholder of good [and] sinful aggressor [and] fomentor of distrust between man and man – everyone who has set up another deity beside God:18 cast him, then, cast him into suffering severe!”
17 In this instance, as well as in verse 26, the imperative “cast” has the dual form (alqiya). As many classical philologists (and almost all of the commentators) point out, – this is linguistically permissible for the sake of special stress, and is equivalent to an emphatic repetition of the imperative in question. Alternatively, the dual form may be taken as indicative of an actual duality thus addressed: namely, the two manifestations within man’s psyche alluded to in verse 17 and described in verse 21 as sa’iq and shahid (see note 14 above), both of which, in thefr interaction, are responsible for his spiritual downfall and, hence, for his suffering in the life to come.
18 This relates not merely to the veneration of real or imaginary beings or forces to which one ascribes divine qualities, but also to the “worship” of false values and immoral concepts to which people often adhere with an almost religious fervour.
Man’s other self19 will say: “O our Sustainer! It was not I that led his conscious mind20 into evil – [nay,) but it had gone far astray [of its own accord]!”21 (50:28) [And] He will say: “Contend not before Me, [O you sinners,] for I gave you a forewarning [of this Day of Reckoning). (50:29) The judgment passed by Me shall not be altered; but never do I do the least wrong unto My creatures!”
19 Lit., as in verse 23, “his intimate companion” (qarin): but whereas there it may be taken as denoting man’s moral consciousness or reason (cf. note 15 above), in the present instance the “speaker” is obviously its counterpart, namely, the complex of the sinner’s instinctive urges and inordinate, unrestrained appetitites summarized in the term sa’iq (“that which drives”) and often symbolized as shaytan (“satan” or “satanic force”: see Razi’s remarks quoted in note 31 on 14:22.) In this sense, the term qarin has the same connotation as in 41:25 and 43:36.
20 Lit., “him” or “it” – referring to man’s faculty of conscious, controlling reason (shahid).
21 I.e., man’s evil impulses and appetites cannot gain ascendancy unless his conscious mind goes astray from moral verities: and this explains the purport, in the present context, of verses 24-25 above.
The following excerpt is taken from “The Message of the Quran” pg. 1195:
And yet, verily, there are ever-watchful forces over you, (11) noble, recording, (12) aware of whatever you do!7 (13) Behold, [in the life to come] the truly virtuous: will indeed be in bliss, (14) whereas, behold, the wicked will indeed be in a blazing fire (15) [a fire] which they shall enter on Judgment Day, (16) and which they shall not [be able to] evade.
7 The classical commentators are of the opinion that we have here a reference to the guardian angels who record, allegorically, all of men’s deeds. However, another explanation has been suggested by me in my rendering of 50:16-23 and elaborated in the corresponding notes 11-16. In consonance with that interpretation, the “watchful force” (hafiz) set over every human being is his own conscience, which “records” all his motives and actions in his subconscious mind. Since it is the most precious element in man’s psyche, it is described in verse 11 as “noble”.