These verses begin the final passage of this surah, which picks up the legends the pagan Arabs weaved around their worship of angels. It refers to one of the arguments they used to defend their absurd beliefs. It was a futile argument that reflected no attempt to arrive at the truth; it was more an exercise in polemics. They had been told that both they and what they worshipped were bound for hell. The reference here being to their idols that were first intended as representations of angels, but which were later worshipped as deities. They were told that whoever worshipped anything other than God will be in hell together with the thing worshipped. In response, some of them cited the example of Jesus (peace be upon him), who was worshipped by some of those who deviated from true Christianity. They asked whether Jesus would also be in hell? This was nothing but idle argument. They also claimed that they were better guided than the Christians who worshipped Jesus, a human being, while they worshipped the angels, God's daughters. All this was no more than compounded falsehood. In connection with this, the surah gives an account of Jesus, explaining the truth about him and his message, and the differences that gripped his people both before and after him.
Addressing all those who deviate from the true faith, the surah warns them against the sudden coming of the Last Hour. It moves on to portray a long scene of the Day of Judgment, giving an image of lasting happiness for the God-fearing and one of painful suffering for the guilty. Furthermore, the surah negates their legends concerning the angels, makes it clear that God is free of all that they allege concerning Him and outlines some of His attributes, including His complete ownership of both this life and the life to come. The surah concludes with a directive to the Prophet (peace be upon him) to be forbearing and to turn away from the unbelievers. They will come to know what is there to be known. This is an implicit warning to those who continue to argue after things have been made very clear.
In his biography of the Prophet (peace be upon him), Ibn Ishaq gives the following report: The Prophet sat with Al-Waleed ibn Al-Mugheerah in the Sacred Mosque, and they were joined by Al-Nadr ibn Al-Harith. There were a few other men from the Quraysh. The Prophet spoke to them, but Al-Nadr interrupted him. The Prophet argued with him until he silenced him. He then read to them a passage of the Qur'an that included the verse that says: "You and all that you were wont to worship instead of God are but the fuel of hell: that is what you are destined for." (21: 98) The Prophet then left.
Then came Abdullah ibn Al-Zibaari of the Tameem tribe who sat with them. Al-Waleed said to him: Al-Nadr was no match for Muhammad. Indeed Muhammad said that both we and the deities we worship will be the fuel of hell. Ibn Al-Zibaari said: "Had I been the one who argued with him I would have won. Ask Muhammad whether everyone worshipped other than God will be in hell together with those worshipping him. Well, we worship the angels, and the Jews worship Ezra, while the Christians worship Jesus, son of Mary." Al-Waleed and those who were in the Mosque admired what Ibn Al-Zibaari had said and felt that he put forward a winning argument. When this was mentioned to the Prophet, he said: "Anyone who likes to be worshipped in place of God will be joined to those who worship him. These people only worship Satan and whoever Satan orders them to worship." God then revealed the verse that says: "But those for whom (the decree of) ultimate good has already gone forth from Us will be kept far away from that hell." (21: 101) This means that Jesus, Ezra and other rabbis and priests who were sincere in their faith, but were then worshipped as deities by later people will be safe from hell. Furthermore, concerning the argument about Jesus being worshipped and the admiration of the argument by Al-Waleed ibn Al-Mughirah and others, God revealed the verse that says: Whenever the son of Mary is cited as an example, your people raise an outcry.
In Al-Kashshaf, a commentary on the Qur'an, Al-Zamkhshari gives a largely similar report, without mentioning its source. Both reports show clearly how argumentative the pagan Arabs were. They were exactly as the Qur'an describes them: "They are contentious people." They were certainly skilful in dispute. They realized what the Qur'an and the Prophet meant, but they tried hard to twist its meaning, indulged in polemics, exploiting the fact that the Qur'anic statement was general in its implication. This is characteristic of everyone who is devoid of sincerity, seeking to manipulate words and phrases in order to twist what was a clear meaning. Therefore, the Prophet strictly prohibited contentious arguments. Abu Umamah, a companion of the Prophet, reports: "The Prophet came out once only to find some people involved in argument concerning the Qur'an. He was so angry that he looked as though vinegar had been poured over his face. He then said to them: 'Do not argue about God's book citing parts of it against other parts. No community strays into error unless they are given to contentious argument.' He then quoted the Qur'anic verse that says: 'They cite him only to challenge you. They are contentious people.'
Reproduced from Arab News