Surah 16 pivots on verse 89.  Up to this point the focus has been upon unbelievers and why they should believe.  Nature has been appealed to often as a reason to believe (the bee for which this surah receives its name is in today’s section).  Then Allah addresses the Prophet Muhammad directly and says he is the witness and guide that has been sent forth to his people, just as Allah has sent prophets to all people everywhere throughout time.  From this point forward the focus of the surah will be on believers. 

I found one passage especially intriguing, although largely unrelated to the main point.  I think I would read this passage with a bit of a sarcastic tone, particularly at the end.

They assign daughters to God–may He be exalted!–and the [sons] they desire to themselves.  When one of them is given news of the birth of a baby girl, his face darkens and he is filled with gloom.  In his shame he hides himself away from his people because of the bad news he has been given.  Should he keep her and suffer contempt or bury her in the dust? How ill they judge!  Those who do not believe in the Hereafter should have the contemptible image, and God should have the highest one: He is the Mighty, the One to Decide. . . . They attribute to God what they themselves dislike while their own tongues utter the lie that the best belongs to them.  Without doubt it is the Fire that belongs to them: they will be given priority there! (16:57-60, 62)

By way of explanation: Abdel Haleem says in his translation of the Quran that some pagan Arabs believed that angels were the “daughters” of God, the implication being that God gives birth to daughters, but not sons.  The ironic part of this belief is that the average Arab father would loath the news that his wife was pregnant with a daughter.  Sons were desired for war, business, and agriculture; a daughter was only a liability in each of these situations.  It would appear from ayah 59 that some pagan Arabs even practiced female infanticide.  A father who could only produce girls and no desired sons was a disgrace, a lesser than his friends. 

The pagan belief system, therefore, is an immensely offensive one. They believe something of God — he is a father who only gives birth to daughters — that they themselves would find shameful if true of them.  The best should be thought of God, not themselves.  One more reason their pagan beliefs are corrupt. 

These pagans want to be best, first, given priority?  Sure!  In punishment.

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