avoiding all people because of the [alleged] evil of the glad tiding which he has received, [and debating within himself:] Shall he keep this [child] despite the contempt [which he feels for it] - or shall he bury it in the dust? Oh, evil indeed is whatever they decide!66
I.e., either of these alternatives is evil: to keep the child as an object of perpetual contempt, or to bury it alive, as was frequently done by the pagan Arabs. - This passage, containing as it does an utter condemnation of men's attitude towards women in pre-Islamic Arabia, has - as is always the case with Qur'anic references to historical events or customs - a meaning that goes far beyond this specific social phenomenon and the resulting infanticide. It would seem that the pivotal point of the whole passage is the sentence, "for themselves [they would choose, if they could, only] what they desire": that is to say, while they are only too ready to associate with God ideas which are repugnant to themselves (for instance, female progeny, which they themselves despise), they are unwilling to accept the concept of man's ultimate responsibility to Him, because such a concept militates against their own hedonistic inclinations by obliging them to impose a moral discipline on themselves. And because they rebel against the idea of ultimate moral responsibility, they instinctively reject the idea of resurrection and of life after bodily death; and since they deny, by implication, God's power to resurrect the dead, they deny His omnipotence and, consequently, begin to "ascribe divinity" - i.e., a genuinely causative function - to all manner of imaginary forces, beings or influences: and so, by means of a parenthetic reference to pre-Islamic Arabian beliefs and customs, the discourse returns full circle to the concept of God's oneness, uniqueness and omnipotence, around which the whole of the Qur'an revolves.