Abbas - Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs
(But We brought forth) We created (generations) generation after generation, and explained the event of the former to the latter, just as We explained it to you, (and their lives dragged on for them) their lives were prolonged, and when they did not believe We destroyed them. (And thou wast not) O Muhammad (a dweller in Midian, reciting unto them Our revelations) reciting the Qur'an to your people, (but We kept sending (messengers to men)) to past generations and exposited to them the events of those who preceded them just as We explained the events of the people of old to you.
but We brought forth generations, communities, after Moses, and life was prolonged in their case, in other words, they lived long lives and so they forgot the covenants [made with God], knowledge disappeared and revelation ceased. Then We brought you as Messenger and revealed to you the story of Moses and others. And you were not a dweller, a resident, among the people of Midian reciting to them Our revelations (tatlū ‘alayhim āyātinā, a second predicate [after thāwiyan, ‘dweller’), to know their story and inform of it; but truly We are the senders, of you [as Messenger] and [the senders] to you of the stories of former generations.
Allah points out the proof of the prophethood of Muhammad, whereby he told others about matters of the past, and spoke about them as if he were hearing and seeing them for himself. But he was an illiterate man who could not read books, and he grew up among a people who knew nothing of such things. Similarly, Allah told him about Maryam and her story, as Allah said:
(You were not with them, when they cast lots with their pens as to which of them should be charged with the care of Maryam; nor were you with them when they disputed) (3:44), meaning, `you were not present then, but Allah has revealed this to you.' Similarly, Allah told him about Nuh and his people, and how He saved Nuh and drowned his people, then He said:
(This is of the news of the Unseen which We reveal unto you ; neither you nor your people knew it before this. So, be patient. Surely, the (good) end is for those who have Taqwa) (11:49). And at the end of the same Surah (Hud) Allah says:
ذَلِكَ مِنْ أَنْبَآءِ الْقُرَى نَقُصُّهُ عَلَيْكَ
(That is some of the news of the towns which We relate unto you) (11: 100). And here, after telling the story of Musa from beginning to end and how Allah began His revelation to him and spoke with him, Allah says:
(And you were not on the western side (of the Mount), when We made clear to Musa the commandment,) meaning, `you -- O Muhammad -- were not on the western side of the mountain where Allah spoke to Musa from the tree which was to the east of it, in the valley.'
وَمَا كنتَ مِنَ الشَّـهِدِينَ
(and you were not among the witnesses.) `to that event, but Allah has revealed this to you,' so that it may be evidence and proof of events which happened centuries ago, for people have forgotten the evidence that Allah established against them and what was revealed to the earlier Prophets.
(And you were not a dweller among the people of Madyan, reciting Our Ayat to them.) meaning, `you were not living among the people of Madyan reciting Our Ayat to them, when you started to tell about Our Prophet Shu`ayb and what he said to his people and how they responded.'
وَلَكِنَّا كُنَّا مُرْسِلِينَ
(But it is We Who kept sending. ) means, `but We revealed that to you and sent you to mankind as a Messenger.'
وَمَا كُنْتَ بِجَانِبِ الطُّورِ إِذْ نَادَيْنَا
(And you were not at the side of At-Tur when We called.) Qatadah said that:
وَمَا كُنْتَ بِجَانِبِ الطُّورِ إِذْ نَادَيْنَا
(And you were not at the side of At-Tur when We did call.) refers to Musa, and this -- and Allah knows best -- is like the Ayah:
(And you were not on the western side (of the Mount), when We made clear to Musa the commandment,) Here Allah puts it in a different and more specific way by describing it as a call. This is like the Ayat:
وَإِذْ نَادَى رَبُّكَ مُوسَى
(And (remember) when your Lord called Musa) (26:10).
(And We called him from the right side of At-Tur, and made him draw near to Us for a talk with him) (19:52).
وَلَـكِن رَّحْمَةً مِّن رَّبِّكَ
(But (you are sent) as a mercy from your Lord,) means, `you were not a witness to any of those things, but Allah has revealed them to you and told you about them as a mercy from Him to you and to His servants, by sending you to them,'
(And if (We had) not (sent you to the people of Makkah) -- in case a calamity should seize them for (the deeds) that their hands have sent forth, they would have said: "Our Lord! Why did You not send us a Messenger) meaning: `and We have sent you to them to establish proof against them, and to give them no excuse when the punishment of Allah comes to them because of their disbelief, lest they offer the excuse that no Messenger or warner came to them.' This is like what Allah says about the situation after He revealed His blessed Book the Qur'an:
(Lest you should say: "The Book was sent down only to two sects before us, and for our part, we were in fact unaware of what they studied.'' Or lest you should say: "If only the Book had been sent down to us, we would surely have been better guided than they.'' So, now has come unto you a clear proof from your Lord, and a guidance and a mercy) (6:156-157).
(O People of the Scripture! Now has come to you Our Messenger making (things) clear unto you, after a break in (the series of) Messengers, lest you say: "There came unto us no bringer of glad tidings and no warner.'' But now has come unto you a bringer of glad tidings and a warner) (5:19). And there are many similar Ayat.
Maududi - Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi - Tafhim al-Qur'an
That is, "When the former generations met with the evil consequences of turning away from the teachings of the Prophets, and they met the doom that was experienced by Pharaoh and his hosts, then Moses was granted the Book so as to usher in a new era for mankind."
"Western side": Mount Sinai, which lies to the west of the Hijaz and on which the Prophet Moses was given the Divine Law.
"The witnesses": the seventy of the elders of Israel who had been summoned along with Moses for the covenant to follow the Law. (For reference, see AI-A'raf: 155 and Exod., ch. 24)
That is, "You had no direct means of obtaining this information. All this is being revealed to you by Allah. That is how you have been enabled to relate these two-thousand-year old events, in a manner as if you were an eye-witness."
That is, "You did not exist at the time when the Prophet Moses reached Midian, passed ten years of his life there, and then left for Egypt. You were not preaching in the habitations of Midian that which you are preaching in the streets of Makkah. You are not relating those events as an eye-witness, but because you have been given the knowledge of these by Us through Revelation."
These things have been presented as a proof of the Holy Prophet's Prophethood. At the time when these were cued all the chiefs of Makkah and the common disbelievers were bent upon somehow proving him as a non-prophet, and, God forbid, a false claimant to Prophethood. To help and assist them in their campaign there were the Jewish scholars and the Christian monks also, who were living in the habitations of the Hijaz. Besides, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (may Allah's peace be upon him) had not appeared all of a sudden from somewhere and started reciting the Qur'an to the people, but he was a resident of the same city of Makkah, and no aspect of his life was hidden from the people of his city and clan. That is why when these three things were presented like an open challenge as a proof of his Prophethood, not a single person from Makkah and Hijaz and the entire land of Arabia could stand up to say the absurd thing which the modern orientalists say, although those people were no less. efficient in fabricating falsehood than these so-called scholars. But how could they utter an unprofitable lie that could not survive for a single moment? How could they say, "O Muhammad, you have attained this information from such and such a Jewish scholar and a Christian monk?" For, this purpose, they could not mention any name in the entire land. For whatever name they mentioned, it would become manifest there and then that the Holy Prophet had not obtained any information from him. How could they say, "O Muhammad, you possess a full-fledged library containing all sorts of books an ancient history and sciences and literature, from which you take help to prepare all your discourses?"' For not to speak of a library, no one could seize even a scrap of paper from his house containing such information. Everyone in Makkah knew that Muhammad (may Allah's peace be upon him) was un-lettered and no one could also say that he had had some translators at his disposal, who supplied him with translations from Hebrew and Assyrian and Greek books. Then, none of them could be so shameless as to dare claim that he had obtained this information during the trade journeys to Syria and Palestine, for he had not performed those journeys alone, but had traveled in company with trade caravans of Makkah. Had somebody made any such assertion, hundreds of living witnesses would have refuted this and testified that he had received no such instruction from anyone there. Then, within two years of the Holy Prophet's death war had started between the Romans and the Muslims. If he had any son of discussion anywhere in Syria and Palestine with any Christian monk or Jewish rabbi, the Roman Empire would not have hesitated to launch a propaganda campaign, saying, that Muhammad (peace be upon him), God forbid, had learned everything from them and gone back to Makkah and proclaimed himself a Prophet. In short, at that time when the challenge of the Qur'an was the knell of the disbelieving Quraish and the polytheists and the need of those people to refute it was far greater then of the modern orientalists, no one could discover any material by which he could prove that the Holy Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be Allah's peace) had some other means than Revelation for obtaining that information.
One should also know that the Qur'an has not given this challenge only here, but at several other places also in connection with different stories. After narrating the story of the Prophet Zacharias and Mary, it was said: "These are of the 'unseen' things We are revealing to you: you were not present there when the priests of the Temple were casting lots by throwing their quills to decide which of them should be the guardian of Mary: nor were you there with them when they were arguing about it." (Al-i-`Imran: 44) At the end of the Prophet Joseph's story it was said: "This story which We are revealing to you is of those things that were not known to you: for you were not with the brothers (of Joseph), when they had conspired together a plot against Joseph." (Yusuf: 102) Similarly, after relating the full story of the Prophet Noah, it was said: "These are some of the tidings of the `unseen' which We are revealing to you. You did not know these before nor did your people." (Hud: 49) That this thing has been reiterated several times shows that this was one of the main arguments that the Qur'an gave to prove its being Allah's Word and the Holy Prophet's being a Messenger of Allah. For there was no perceptible means of knowledge available to the Holy Prophet who was an unlettered person, apart from Revelation, through which he could narrate so accurately the events that had happened hundreds and thousands of years in the past. And this was one of the important reasons why the contemporaries of the Holy prophet were coming to believe, in larger and still larger numbers, that he was really a Prophet of Allah and received Allah's Revelations. Now one can easily imagine how important it must have been for the opponents of the Islamic movement at that time to meet this challenge, and what efforts they must have made to collect arguments and proofs against it. One can also see that if, God forbid, there was the slightest weakness. in this challenge, it would not have been at all difficult for the contemporary people to provide evidence for its refutation.
No prophet had been born especially in Arabia after the Prophets Ishmael and Shu`aib (peace be upon them both), during the past two thousand years or so, though teachings of the Prophets like Moses and Solomon and Jesus (peace be upon all of them) had reached the people of that land.
This very thing has been presented at several places in the Qur'an as the reason for sending the Messengers, but it will not be correct to conclude from this that a Messenger should be sent on every occasion at every place for this purpose. AS long as the message of a Prophet remains intact in the world and the means of conveying it to others exist, there is no need for a new Prophet, unless need arises to supplement the previous message, or to supplant it by a new message, Nevertheless, when the teachings of the Prophets are forgotten, or become mixed up with errors and deviations and can no longer be relied upon as means of guidance, then the people do get a chance to make the excuse that there existed no arrangement whatever to make them aware of the distinction between the Truth and the untruth and guide them to the right way: so they could not be guided aright. To meet such an excuse Allah sends the Prophets in such conditions so that any one who follows a wrong way after that may himself be held responsible for his going astray.