with their thunder. In the face of this, the terrified calamity-stricken [dissemblers] imagine that the universe, whose beings co-operate and assist each other, is bent on harming them despite its tranquillity, and despite its silence is howling at them horribly. When they hear the thunder they imagine it is uttering threats at them, for out of fear they think it is roaring at them.
Then as soon as the listener hears the thunder, its constant companion strikes his mind, and for this reason [the Qur’an] says: “and lightning (wa barqun),” which indicates through the use of the indefinite that it is strange and wondrous. Yes, it is indeed wondrous. For when it is born, a world of darkness dies and is wrapped up and cast into nothingness. But on its death another world of darkness is resurrected and raised to life. It is as though it is fire that when extinguished leaves as its legacy a world full of smoke. The person struck by it therefore should examine it attentively and not glance at it superficially due to familiarity, for in this way he may discover the subtle art of divine power.
Having heard these descriptions the listener is moved to ask: “What did they do? Did they attempt anything?” So the Qur’an says: “they put their fingers into their ears to keep out the peals of thunder, in terror of death (yaj‘alūna aṣābi‘ahum fī ādhānihim min al-ṣawā‘iq ḥadhara al-mawt),” indicating that [the dissemblers] have no refuge and no place of recourse, and are like drowning men who clutch at what cannot be clutched at. In their terror, they use their fingers instead of just the fingertips, as though their alarm is beating them on the hands so they stuff their hands in their ears out of pain, and in their stupidity they block up their ears so the thunderbolts do not strike them. Following this, the listener’s mind [continues to] investigate and he asks: “Is this calamity general, or is it particular, that [escape is still] hoped for?” And [the Qur’an] replies: “but Allah encompasses [with His might] all who deny the truth (wa Allāhu muḥīṭun li’l-kāfirīn),” inferring that the disaster is a penalty for their ingratitude for bounties. Allah the Most High punishes them through it for their remaining exceptions to the divine laws deposited in general run of beings (al-jumhūr).
When [the listener] hears the violent peals of thunder, he asks himself: “Won’t the lightning be useful for them by lighting up their way?” So [the Qur’an] says: “The lightning well-nigh takes away their sight (Yakādu al-barqu yakhṭafu abṣārahum),” indicating that just as the thunder is inimical to them and they are unable to hear, so the lightning is hostile towards them