replies saying: “They put their fingers into their ears to keep out the peals of thunder, in terror of death.” That is, there is no escape for them; they are like drowning men clutching at straws, for they try to protect themselves from the heavenly projectiles by blocking up their ears. But that is impossible and they cannot be saved.
The word “they put (yaj‘alūna)” is used instead of ‘they put into’ (yad-khulūna) as a sign that they searched for some means [of escape] but the only thing they could think of was sticking [their fingers in their ears]. The use of the imperfect tense, which evokes present situations, indicates that [on hearing about] such bewildering circumstances the listener conjures up in his imagination the actual time and place. The imperfect also indicates [the] continuance and perpetual renewal [of the calamity], and in this continuance is a sign that the clouds are attacking them incessantly.
The use of “fingers (aṣābi‘ahum)” instead of ‘fingertips’ indicates their complete confusion.
And “into their ears (fī ādhānihim)” alludes to their awful fright at the sound of the thunder, making them imagine that the thunder is going to enter their ears and their spirits will fly out of the doors of their mouths. In this is a subtle sign that they did not open their ears to the call of truth and good advice so are being punished in this way by the crash of thunder; that is, as they blocked them up [voluntarily] in the first instance, so they are [forcibly] blocked up in the second. Like someone who says something disgraceful is hit in the mouth, and he puts his penitent right hand over his mouth and covers his eyes with his ashamed left hand.
“[To keep out] the peals of thunder (min al-ṣawā‘iq)” indicates that the thunder and lightning united to harm them, for the thunder(bolt) comprised both a terrible noise and scorching fire, felling whomever it encountered.
As for “in terror of death (ḥadhara al-mawt),” it hints that the calamity has reached its final point and the knife has hit the bone. Everything is finished except life, and now they are concerned with nothing except fear of death and the wish to save their lives.
The parts of the phrase: “but Allah encompasses [with His might] all who deny the truth (wa Allāhu muḥīṭun bi’l-kāfirīn):”
Consider this: the conjuction “but (lit. and) (wa)” necessitates a relationship between two clauses, and here it is between the implied outcome of the previous [phrase] and this one. It is as though the conjunction is denouncing them, saying: “These are people who fled from town life and loathe civilization. They rebelled against the law that makes the night the