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Introduction and Summary
This is an early Makkan Surah, and is the fourth of the series of seven which were described in the introduction to Surah 50.
The particular theme of this Surah is that Revelation is not an illusion: the illusion is in the minds of those who doubt and have false ideas of Allah: Allah is the source and goal of all things.
In some Surahs the consecutive arrangement is shown or suggested by a cue-word. Here the cue-word is "star", corresponding to "star" in the last verse of the last Surah.
Other examples will also be found.
Summary- The impression received by the Prophet in revelation is neither error on his part nor deception by others, nor does he speak from selfish motives: it comes clearly from Allah, Who is not what the vain imagination of men conceive: He is Al-in-All, First and Last, Lord of all. Ample in forgiveness (53:10-32, and C. 229).
Those who turn away are petty and ignorant, not knowing that Allah is the source and goal of all things---in men, in nature, and in the events of history; therefore serve ye Him (53:33-62, and C. 230).
C.229 (The running Commentary, in Rhythmic Prose)
True revelation is not a process
Either of error or deception, nor does
The Prophet speak from himself as he desires.
It is Allah's inspiration, true, without doubt.
It is reality--- the inner reality
Of heaven as far as knowledge can reach.
Not the false ideas and idols that men
Construct for themselves, names without truth
Behind them. The goal of all things is Allah,
As He is the One from Whom starts Reality.
No other can e'er intercede except
As He wills, He made us, and knows all
That we are. It is not for us to justify
Ourselves, but to offer ourselves as we are.
1. By the Star...
C5085. Najm is interpreted in various ways. As most commonly accepted, it means either a Star generically, or the close cluster of seven stars known as the Pleiades in the Constellation Taurus, which the sun enters about the 21st of April every year.
In mid-April, or a little later, the beautiful cluster would set just after the sun, after having gradually ascended the sky in the winter months. In late May, or a little later, it would rise just before the sun. In its western aspects, it might be considered a spring constellation.
To open-air nations (including the Arabs) whose climate usually presents starry skies, this is an object of great interest, and many folklore tales gather round it.
When so glorious a cluster is content to bow down in the horizon and merge its light in the greater light created by Allah, it becomes a symbol of humility in beauty and power before the Most High. Whose revelation discloses the summit of beauty, power, and wisdom.
... إِذَا هَوَى ﴿١﴾
... when it goes down --
Hawa in the text may mean either "goes down (or sets)" or "rises". Whichever meaning we take, it makes no difference to the interpretation given above.
مَا ضَلَّ صَاحِبُكُمْ وَمَا غَوَى ﴿٢﴾
2. Your Companion is neither astray nor being misled,
C5086. "Your Companion" is the holy Prophet Muhammad, who had lived among the Quraish. He is defended from three kinds of charges that the Unbelievers brought against him:
None of these charges were true. On the contrary he had direct inspiration from Allah.
وَمَا يَنطِقُ عَنِ الْهَوَى ﴿٣﴾
3. Nor does he say (aught) of (his own) Desire.
إِنْ هُوَ إِلَّا وَحْيٌ يُوحَى ﴿٤﴾
4. It is no less than inspiration sent down to him:
عَلَّمَهُ شَدِيدُ الْقُوَى ﴿٥﴾
5. He was taught by one mighty in Power,
C5087. This is referred by the Commentators to the angel Gabriel, through whom the inspiration came.
ذُو مِرَّةٍ ...
6. Endued with Wisdom:
... فَاسْتَوَى ﴿٦﴾
For he appeared (in stately form)
وَهُوَ بِالْأُفُقِ الْأَعْلَى ﴿٧﴾
7. While he was in the highest part of the horizon:
C5088. Gabriel appeared in stately form, perhaps towering above the Mountains of Light (see C. 31).
Istawa in verse 6 translated "appeared", means literally "mounted" or "ascended", or "set himself to execute a design";
see n. 1386 to 10:3.
ثُمَّ دَنَا فَتَدَلَّى ﴿٨﴾
8. Then he approached and came closer,
فَكَانَ قَابَ قَوْسَيْنِ أَوْ أَدْنَى ﴿٩﴾
9. And was at a distance of but two bow-lengths or (even) nearer;
C5089. Two bow-shots (counting 100 to 150 yards to a bow-shot) would be a dearly visible distance. (R).
فَأَوْحَى إِلَى عَبْدِهِ ...
10. So did (Allah) convey the inspiration to His Servant --
C5090. Gabriel would be just a messenger, to do no more than convey Allah's Message to Allah's Messenger.
... مَا أَوْحَى ﴿١٠﴾
(conveyed) what He (meant) to convey.
مَا كَذَبَ الْفُؤَادُ مَا رَأَى ﴿١١﴾
11. The (Prophet's) (mind and) heart in no way falsified that which he saw.
C5091. "Heart" in Arabic includes the faculty of intelligence as well as the faculty of feeling.
The impression conveyed was pure truth; there was no illusion in it.
أَفَتُمَارُونَهُ عَلَى مَا يَرَى ﴿١٢﴾
12. Will ye then dispute with him concerning what he saw?
وَلَقَدْ رَآهُ نَزْلَةً أُخْرَى ﴿١٣﴾
13. For indeed he saw him at a second descent.
C5092. The first occasion when Gabriel appeared in a visible form was at the Mountain of Light, when he brought his first revelation beginning with Iqra';
The second was at the Prophet's Miraj or Ascension: see Introduction to Surah 17.
These were the only two occasions when Gabriel appeared in visible form. (R).
عِندَ سِدْرَةِ الْمُنْتَهَى ﴿١٤﴾
14. Near the Lote-tree beyond which none may pass:
C5093. For the Lote-tree in its literal meaning, see n. 3814 to 34:16.
The wild Lote is thorny; under cultivation it yields good fruit and shade, and is symbolic of heavenly bliss, as here and in 56:28.
عِندَهَا جَنَّةُ الْمَأْوَى ﴿١٥﴾
15. Near it is the Garden of Abode.
C5094. The "Garden of Abode" (Jannat al-Mawa) lies close to the Lote-Tree and, in the opinion of some authorities, is so called because the souls of believers will find their abode therein. [Eds.].
إِذْ يَغْشَى السِّدْرَةَ مَا يَغْشَى ﴿١٦﴾
16. Behold, the Lote-tree was shrouded (in mystery unspeakable!)
مَا زَاغَ الْبَصَرُ وَمَا طَغَى ﴿١٧﴾
17. (His) sight never swerved, nor did it go wrong!
لَقَدْ رَأَى مِنْ آيَاتِ رَبِّهِ الْكُبْرَى ﴿١٨﴾
18. For truly did he see, of the Signs of his Lord, the Greatest!
أَفَرَأَيْتُمُ اللَّاتَ وَالْعُزَّى ﴿١٩﴾
19. Have ye seen Lat, and Uzza,
C5095. From the heights of divine Glory, we come back again to this sorry earth, with its base idolatries. We are asked to "look at this picture, and at that!"
The three principal idols of Pagan Arab Idolatry were the goddesses
Opinions differ as to their exact forms: one version is that
وَمَنَاةَ الثَّالِثَةَ الْأُخْرَى ﴿٢٠﴾
20. And another, the third (goddess), Manat?
أَلَكُمُ الذَّكَرُ وَلَهُ الْأُنثَى ﴿٢١﴾
21. What! for you the male sex, and for Him, the female?
C5096. To show Allah in human shape, or imagine sons or daughters of Allah, as if Allah were flesh, was in any case a derogation from the supreme glory of Allah, high above all creatures, even if the human shapes were invested with great beauty and majesty as in the Greek Pantheon. But when we consider in what low opinion Pagan Arabia held the female sex, it was particularly degrading to show Allah, or so-called daughters of Allah, in female shapes.
تِلْكَ إِذًا قِسْمَةٌ ضِيزَى ﴿٢٢﴾
22. Behold, such would be indeed a division most unfair!
إِنْ هِيَ إِلَّا أَسْمَاء سَمَّيْتُمُوهَا أَنتُمْ وَآبَاؤُكُم مَّا أَنزَلَ اللَّهُ بِهَا مِن سُلْطَانٍ ...
23. These are nothing but names which ye have devised -- ye and your fathers -- for which Allah has sent down no authority (whatever).
The divine names which they give to stocks and stones, or to heroes living or dead, or even to prophets and men of God, are but the creations of their own fancy. Whatever they were, they were not gods.
...إِن يَتَّبِعُونَ إِلَّا الظَّنَّ وَمَا تَهْوَى الْأَنفُسُ...
They follow nothing but conjecture and what their own souls desire! --
Conjecture is a dangerous thing in speaking of divine things. It follows lines which reflect the lusts of men's own hearts. Why not follow the divine guidance which comes through the prophets of Allah?.
...وَلَقَدْ جَاءهُم مِّن رَّبِّهِمُ الْهُدَى ﴿٢٣﴾
even though there has already come to them Guidance from their Lord!
أَمْ لِلْإِنسَانِ مَا تَمَنَّى ﴿٢٤﴾
24. Nay, shall man have (just) anything he hankers after?
C5099. The unpurified desires of men's hearts often lead to destruction, for they are dictated by Evil. The true source of guidance and light is Allah, just as He is also the goal to which all persons and things-all existence-returns.
فَلِلَّهِ الْآخِرَةُ وَالْأُولَى ﴿٢٥﴾
25. But it is to Allah that the End and the Beginning (of all things) belong.
وَكَم مِّن مَّلَكٍ فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ ...
26. How many so ever be the angels in the heavens,
C5100. We are apt to imagine the angelic host of heaven as beings of immense power. But their power is all derived from Allah.
Men, when they attain to the highest spiritual dignities, may have even more power and position than angels in the sight of Allah, as in typified by angels being hidden to bow down to Adam: 2:34.
The Quraish superstition about angels being intermediaries and intercessors for man with Allah is condemned.
... لَا تُغْنِي شَفَاعَتُهُمْ شَيْئًا...
their intercession will avail nothing
...إِلَّا مِن بَعْدِ أَن يَأْذَنَ اللَّهُ لِمَن يَشَاء وَيَرْضَى ﴿٢٦﴾
except after Allah has given leave for whom He pleases and that he is acceptable to Him.
No one can intercede except with the permission of Allah, and that permission will only be given for one who is acceptable to Allah.
For a possible different shade of meaning. See n. 2634 to 20:109.
إِنَّ الَّذِينَ لَا يُؤْمِنُونَ بِالْآخِرَةِ لَيُسَمُّونَ الْمَلَائِكَةَ تَسْمِيَةَ الْأُنثَى ﴿٢٧﴾
27. Those who believe not in the Hereafter, name the angels with female names.
The Pagan Quraish had no firm belief in the Hereafter. Their prayers for intercession to angels and deities was on account of their worldly affairs.
وَمَا لَهُم بِهِ مِنْ عِلْمٍ إِن يَتَّبِعُونَ إِلَّا الظَّنَّ وَإِنَّ الظَّنَّ...
28. But they have no knowledge therein.
They follow nothing but conjecture;
...لَا يُغْنِي مِنَ الْحَقِّ شَيْئًا ﴿٢٨﴾
and conjecture avails nothing against Truth.
فَأَعْرِضْ عَن مَّن تَوَلَّى عَن ذِكْرِنَا وَلَمْ يُرِدْ إِلَّا الْحَيَاةَ الدُّنْيَا ﴿٢٩﴾
29. Therefore shun those who turn away from Our Message and desire nothing but the life of this world.
ذَلِكَ مَبْلَغُهُم مِّنَ الْعِلْمِ...
30. That is as far as knowledge will reach them.
C5104. Men with a materialist turn of mind, whose desires are bounded by sex and material things, will not go beyond those things. Their knowledge will be limited to the narrow circle in which their thoughts move.
The spiritual world is beyond their ken. While persons with a spiritual outlook, even though they may fail again and again in attaining their full ideals, are on the right Path. They are willing to receive guidance and Allah's Grace will find them out and help them.
... إِنَّ رَبَّكَ هُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِمَن ضَلَّ عَن سَبِيلِهِ ...
Verily thy Lord knoweth best those who stray from His path,
... وَهُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِمَنِ اهْتَدَى ﴿٣٠﴾
and He knoweth best those who receive guidance.
وَلِلَّهِ مَا فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَمَا فِي الْأَرْضِ...
31. Yea, to Allah belongs all that is in the heavens and on earth;
... لِيَجْزِيَ الَّذِينَ أَسَاؤُوا بِمَا عَمِلُوا وَيَجْزِيَ الَّذِينَ أَحْسَنُوا بِالْحُسْنَى ﴿٣١﴾
so that He rewards those who do evil, according to their deeds, and He rewards those who do good, with what is best.
C5105. All deeds have their consequences, good or ill. But this is not an iron law, as the Determinists in philosophy, or the preachers of bare Karma, would have us believe.
Allah does not sit apart. He governs the world. And Mercy as well as Justice are His attributes. In His Justice every deed or word or thought of evil has its consequence for the doer or speaker or thinker. But there is always in this life room for repentance and amendment. As soon as this is forthcoming, Allah's Mercy comes into action. It can blot out our evil, and the "reward" which it gives is nearly always greater than our merits.
الَّذِينَ يَجْتَنِبُونَ كَبَائِرَ الْإِثْمِ وَالْفَوَاحِشَ إِلَّا اللَّمَمَ...
32. Those who avoid great sins and shameful deeds. Only (falling into) small faults,
...إِنَّ رَبَّكَ وَاسِعُ الْمَغْفِرَةِ...
verily thy Lord is ample in forgiveness.
C5106. Allah's attributes of Mercy and Forgiveness are unlimited. They come into action without our asking, but on our bringing our wills as offerings to Him. Our asking or prayer helps us to bring our minds and wills as offering to Him. That is necessary to frame our own psychological preparedness. it informs Allah of nothing, for He knows all.
...هُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِكُمْ إِذْ أَنشَأَكُم مِّنَ الْأَرْضِ وَإِذْ أَنتُمْ أَجِنَّةٌ فِي بُطُونِ أُمَّهَاتِكُمْ...
He knows you well when He brings you out of the earth, and when ye are hidden in your mother's wombs,
...فَلَا تُزَكُّوا أَنفُسَكُمْ هُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِمَنِ اتَّقَى ﴿٣٢﴾
therefore justify not yourselves. He knows best who it is that guards against evil.
C5107. As Allah knows our inmost being, it is absurd for us to justify ourselves either by pretending that we are better than we are or by finding excuses for our conduct. We must offer ourselves unreservedly such as we are: it is His Mercy and Grace that will cleanse us. If we try, out of love for Him, to guard against evil, our striving is all that He asks for.
C.230 (The running Commentary, in Rhythmic Prose)
When once in Allah's Way, turn not away,
Nor check your generous impulse to give
Your all to Allah. The spiritual world
Unseen is above all worldly bargains.
Each soul must bear its own responsibility.
It must strive its utmost and attain its end.
The final Goal of all is Allah;
In His hands are Laughter and Tears, Life
And Death, the mystery of Birth and Creation,
And the Hereafter. He Controls our Bliss
And inner satisfaction. He is Lord
Of the highest and noblest in Nature. His hand
Traces the course of History, Learn,
Oh learn from His Revelation and
Adore the Lord of your inmost Soul!
أَفَرَأَيْتَ الَّذِي تَوَلَّى ﴿٣٣﴾
33. Seest thou one who turns back.
C5108. The particular reference in this passage, according to Baidhawi is to Walid ibn Mugaira, who bargained with a Quraish Pagan for a certain sum if the latter would take upon himself the sins of Walid. He paid a part of the sum but withheld the rest.
The general application that concerns us is threefold:
وَأَعْطَى قَلِيلًا وَأَكْدَى ﴿٣٤﴾
34. Gives a little, then hardens (his heart)?
أَعِندَهُ عِلْمُ الْغَيْبِ فَهُوَ يَرَى ﴿٣٥﴾
has he knowledge of the Unseen so that he can see?
C5109. 'So that he can see what will happen in the Hereafter': for no bargains can be struck about matters unknown.
أَمْ لَمْ يُنَبَّأْ بِمَا فِي صُحُفِ مُوسَى ﴿٣٦﴾
36. Nay, is he not acquainted with what is in the books of Moses --
C5110. Books of Moses: apparently not the Pentateuch, in the Torah, but some other book or books now lost. For example, the Book of the Wars of Jehovah is referred to in the Old Testament (Num. 21:14) but is now lost. The present Pentateuch has no clear message at all of a Life to come.
37. And of Abraham
C5111. No original Book of Abraham is now extant. But a book called "The Testament of Abraham" has come down to us, which seems to be a Greek translation of a Hebrew original. See n. 6094 to 87:19, where the Books of Moses and Abraham are again mentioned together.
... الَّذِي وَفَّى ﴿٣٧﴾
who fulfilled his engagements? --
C5112. One of the titles of Abraham is Hanif, the True in Faith.
Cf. 16:120, 123.
أَلَّا تَزِرُ وَازِرَةٌ وِزْرَ أُخْرَى ﴿٣٨﴾
38. Namely, that no bearer of burdens can bear the burden of another;
C5113. Here follows a series of eleven aphorisms.
There can be no vicarious atonement.
وَأَن لَّيْسَ لِلْإِنسَانِ إِلَّا مَا سَعَى ﴿٣٩﴾
39. That man can have nothing but what he strives for;
وَأَنَّ سَعْيَهُ سَوْفَ يُرَى ﴿٤٠﴾
40. That (the fruit of) his striving will soon come in sight;
C5114. The second and third aphorisms are that
ثُمَّ يُجْزَاهُ الْجَزَاء الْأَوْفَى ﴿٤١﴾
41. Then will he be rewarded with a reward complete;
وَأَنَّ إِلَى رَبِّكَ الْمُنتَهَى ﴿٤٢﴾
42. That to thy Lord is the final Goal;
C5115. The fourth, fifth, and sixth aphorisms are that
وَأَنَّهُ هُوَ أَضْحَكَ وَأَبْكَى ﴿٤٣﴾
43. That it is He who Granteth Laughter and Tears;
وَأَنَّهُ هُوَ أَمَاتَ وَأَحْيَا ﴿٤٤﴾
44. That it is He who Granteth Death and Life;
وَأَنَّهُ خَلَقَ الزَّوْجَيْنِ الذَّكَرَ وَالْأُنثَى ﴿٤٥﴾
45. That He did create in pairs -- male and female.
C5116. The seventh aphorism relates to sex:
مِن نُّطْفَةٍ إِذَا تُمْنَى ﴿٤٦﴾
46. From a seed when lodged (in its place);
وَأَنَّ عَلَيْهِ النَّشْأَةَ الْأُخْرَى ﴿٤٧﴾
47. That He hath promised a Second Creation (raising of the Dead)
and this is the subject of the eighth aphorism.
وَأَنَّهُ هُوَ أَغْنَى وَأَقْنَى ﴿٤٨﴾
48. That it is He Who giveth wealth and satisfaction;
This is referred to in the ninth aphorism.
وَأَنَّهُ هُوَ رَبُّ الشِّعْرَى ﴿٤٩﴾
49. That He is the Lord of Sirius (the Mighty Star);
C5119. The tenth aphorism
وَأَنَّهُ أَهْلَكَ عَادًا الْأُولَى ﴿٥٠﴾
50. And that it is He Who destroyed the (powerful) ancient 'Ad (people),
C5120. The eleventh and last aphorism
For the 'Ad people, see n. 1040 to 7:65, and for the Thamud, see n. 1043 to 7:73. They were strong; and they were talented: but their strength and their talents did not save them from being destroyed for their sins.
Ancient 'Ad (people): some Commentators construe, "First 'Ad people", distinguishing them from the later 'Ad people, a remnant that had their day and passed away.
وَثَمُودَ فَمَا أَبْقَى ﴿٥١﴾
51. And the Thamud, nor gave them a lease of perpetual life.
وَقَوْمَ نُوحٍ مِّن قَبْلُ إِنَّهُمْ كَانُوا هُمْ أَظْلَمَ وَأَطْغَى ﴿٥٢﴾
52. And before them, the people of Noah,
for that they were (all) Most unjust and most insolent transgressors.
وَالْمُؤْتَفِكَةَ أَهْوَى ﴿٥٣﴾
53. And He destroyed the Overthrown Cities (of Sodom and Gomorrah),
C5121. Verses 53-60 may be construed as a commentary on the aphorisms.
This story may well be treated as separate from the aphorisms as it refers to events that happened in the later life of Abraham.
فَغَشَّاهَا مَا غَشَّى ﴿٥٤﴾
54. So that (ruins unknown) have covered them up.
فَبِأَيِّ آلَاء رَبِّكَ تَتَمَارَى ﴿٥٥﴾
55. Then which of the gifts of thy Lord, (O man,) wilt thou dispute about?
C5122. With a slight modification this forms the refrain of the next Surah but one, the highly artistic Surah of Rahman.
In Surah 54:15, 17 etc., there is a similar refrain in different words.
Every gift and benefit you have is from Allah, and to save you from the just punishment of your sins, Allah at all times sends revelations and Messengers to warn you. Why not accept Allah's Grace instead of disputing about it?
هَذَا نَذِيرٌ مِّنَ النُّذُرِ الْأُولَى ﴿٥٦﴾
56. This is a Warner, of the (series of) Warners of old!
C5123. The Prophet before the Quraish (and before us) continues the line of messengers of Allah who have come to teach mankind and lead men into unity and righteousness.
Shall we not listen to his voice?
Every day that passes, the Judgment approaches nearer and nearer. But Allah alone can say at what precise hour it will come to any of us. It is certain, and yet it is a mystery, which Allah alone can lay bare.
أَزِفَتْ الْآزِفَةُ ﴿٥٧﴾
57. The (Judgment) ever approaching draws nigh:
لَيْسَ لَهَا مِن دُونِ اللَّهِ كَاشِفَةٌ ﴿٥٨﴾
58. No (soul) but Allah can lay it bare.
أَفَمِنْ هَذَا الْحَدِيثِ تَعْجَبُونَ ﴿٥٩﴾
59. Do ye then wonder at this recital?
C5124. Mere wondering will not do, even if it is the wonder of admiration. Each soul must strive and act, and Allah's Mercy will take it under its wings.
وَتَضْحَكُونَ وَلَا تَبْكُونَ ﴿٦٠﴾
60. And will ye laugh and not weep --
C5125. The higher issues of Life and the Hereafter are serious, and therefore all that we do in this life is serious and important. We must shun inanities and frivolities. It is no laughing time. If we only realized our own shortcomings, we should weep. But weeping by itself will not help. We must try and understand Allah and adore Him. Thus shall we be able to understand ourselves and our fellow-men.
وَأَنتُمْ سَامِدُونَ ﴿٦١﴾
61. Wasting your time in vanities?
فَاسْجُدُوا لِلَّهِ وَاعْبُدُوا ﴿٦٢﴾
62. But fall ye down in prostration to Allah, and adore (Him)!
C5126. And so we are invited to prostrate ourselves and adore Him. For this is the true end of Revelation and the true attitude when we understand the world, Nature, History and the working of Allah's Plan.
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Zahid Javed Rana, Abid Javed Rana
Visits Since 19 Apr 2013
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