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See they not that We gradually reduce the land (in their control) from its outlying borders? (Where) Allah commands, there is none to put back His Command: and He is swift in calling to account.

Or: “curtailing it from [all] its sides” (min atrafiha) -depending on whether one understands
by atraf the “sides” or “extremities” or “outlying parts” (of a concrete body or land) or,
alternatively,
the “outstanding men” – i.e., the great leaders, scholars and thinkers (Taj al-‘aras) – and “the best
of the [earth’s] inhabitants and fruits” (ibid.). Many commentators, taking the primary meaning
of atraf, are of the opinion that the above sentence relates to the struggle between the early Muslim
community at Medina and the pagans of Mecca, and interpret it thus: “Do they [i.e., the pagans
of Mecca]
not see that we are visiting [with Our punishment] the land [held by them], gradually curtailing it
from [all] its sides?” – which would imply a prophecy of the gradual conquest of all Arabia by
the
Muslims. Other commentators, however, prefer the secondary meaning of atraf and – without
denying
its relevance to the early history of Islam – interpret this passage in a more general sense, similar
to the rendering adopted by me. Thus, for instance, Razi: “Have they [i.e., the deniers of the
truth]
never yet seen the turns of fortune (ikhtildfdt) that take place in this world-destruction after
prosperity, death after life, humiliation after glory, deficiency after perfection?… Hence, what
makes those deniers of the truth so sure that God will not render them abject after they had been
mighty,
and subjected [by others] after they had been rulers?” Thus, in its widest sense, the phrase
“gradually
depriving it of all that is best in it” may be taken to relate not merely to physical and social
catastrophes but also to the loss of all ethical values – and, thus, to the loss of all worldly power –
which “those who are bent on denying the truth” are bound to suffer in the end.

References:

Asad, Muhammad (1980). The Message of the Quran. http://www.islamicweblibrary.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/55877864-54484011-Message-of-Quran-Muhammad-Asad-Islam-Translation.pdf

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