Many “worlds” in the Qur’an

Many “worlds” in the Qur’an November 21, 2018


Al-Fatiha al-Qur’aniyya
The first surah or chapter of the Qur’an, called the “Fatihah” or “Opener” (Wikimedia Commons)



Over the next while, I’m going to be assembling into meaningful units some of the notes that I’ve taken from a careful recent reading of the Qur’an (on which, by the way and coincidentally, I’m currently teaching a class).  Where I cite an English translation, the version that I’m citing is the Oxford edition by M. A. S. Abdel Haleem.  When I finally publish the results of my work, though, I’ll probably use my own renderings.


One noteworthy aspect of the Qur’an is its frequent reference to more than one “world” of which God is said to the “the Lord.”


Thus he is described as “Lord of the Worlds” at 1:2; 6:45, 71; 7:121; 10:10, 37; 26:16, 23, 47, 77, 98, 109, 127, 145, 164, 180, 192; 27:8, 44; 28:30; 32:2; 39:75; 40:64, 65, 66; 43:46; 45:36; 59:16; 69:43; 83:6, and as “the Lord of all Worlds” at 5:28; 6:162; 7:54, 61, 67, 104, 37:87, 182; 41:9.


That this not merely a reference to, say, “this world” and “the next world” is shown, among other things, by the fact that the word worlds in Arabic (al-‘alamin) is in the plural, not in the dual.  The reference, accordingly, is to at least three “worlds,” not merely two.


Moreover, the word that’s typically used for “the present world” (3:185) or “this lower world” (7:169) or “this world” (6:70, 130; 10:7, 24, 70) or “this life” (10:15) or “this present life” (10:23), as opposed to “the Hereafter” (as at 2:114, 130, 200, 201, 217; 4:77; 5:41; 6:32; 7:169; 8:67; 9:74) or “the next” (as at 2:220; 3:22, 45; 4:134; 9:69) or the world “to come” (3:152; 4:74; 7:156; 9:38, 69; 10:19; 11:22), is completely distinct.  It’s al-dunya (literally, “the near [life]”), as contrasted with al-akhira (literally, “the further [life]” or “the latter [life”).  It refers, simply, to the world of everyday reality around us.  In Egyptian colloquial Arabic today, for instance, it’s common to say such things as id-dunya bard ‘awi (“It’s very cold,” or, literally, “The world is very cold”).


In the Qur’an, the word typically as a moral connotation rather more than a locational one:


“The life of this world is made to seem glamorous to the disbelievers, and they laugh at those who believe.  But those who are mindful of God will be above them on the Day of Resurrection.”  (2:212)


“some of you desire the gains of this world and others desire the world to come”  (3:152)


“The present world is only an illusory pleasure.”  (3:185)


“Little is the enjoyment in this world, the hereafter is far better for those who are mindful of God.”  (4:77)


“The life of this world is nothing but a game and a distraction; the Home in the Hereafter is best for those who are aware of God.”  (6:32)


“the life of this world with all its finery”  (10:15)


Posted from Port Douglas, Queensland, Australia



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