Surah Al Balad is the 90th Surah of the Qur’an and the meaning of this title is “The City”. It is a Meccan Surah consisting of 20 ayats (verses).
The main subject or theme of this chapter is to show us the two paths Muslims can take. They are given the choice to drive either on the highway of good or evil. Allah tells us he has given us the ability and intelligence to judge right from wrong and that we will ultimately reap our own destiny. He also tells us that the right path is a difficult one for people, it is a test of one’s character and discipline. The difficult path includes “freeing of a slave”, “feeding on a day of severe hunger”, helping “an orphan of near relationship”, “or a needy person in misery”. The right path is also having good character traits like sabr (being patient) and having empathy or compassion towards one another.
One of the goals of the My Islam site is to make it easy to read and understand the Qur’an. Below you can read Surah Balad in its entirety with transliteration and Sahih International English translation. At end of the Surah we’ve included various Tafseer including Ibn Kathir for those looking to study this chapter of the Qur’an.
Read Surah Balad Translation and Transliteration
In the name of Allah, The Most Gracious and The Most Merciful
1. I swear by this city, Makkah –
2. And you, [O Muhammad], are free of restriction in this city –
3. And [by] the father and that which was born [of him],
4. We have certainly created man into hardship.
5. Does he think that never will anyone overcome him?
6. He says, “I have spent wealth in abundance.”
7. Does he think that no one has seen him?
8. Have We not made for him two eyes?
9. And a tongue and two lips?
10. And have shown him the two ways?
11. But he has not broken through the difficult pass.
12. And what can make you know what is [breaking through] the difficult pass?
13. It is the freeing of a slave
14. Or feeding on a day of severe hunger
15. An orphan of near relationship
16. Or a needy person in misery
17. And then being among those who believed and advised one another to patience and advised one another to compassion.
18. Those are the companions of the right.
19. But they who disbelieved in Our signs – those are the companions of the left.
عَلَيْهِمْ نَارٌ مُؤْصَدَةٌ
20. Over them will be fire closed in.
Tafsir of Surah Balad
Here you can read the interpretation of Surah Balad from four different sources including the tafseer by Ibn kathir. By reading the different commentaries you’ll be able to put together a more comprehensive view behind the teachings, benefits and significance of this Surah.
Tafseer Surah Balad by Ibn Kathir
In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
Here Allah has sworn by Makkah, the Mother of the Towns, addressing its resident (during the non-sacred months,) free in this city in order to draw his attention to the significance of its sanctity when its people are in the state of sanctity. Khusayf reported from Mujahid;
(Nay! I swear by this city;) “The word “La” (Nay) refers to the refutation against them (Quraish). I swear by this city.” Shabib bin Bishr narrated from `Ikrimah, from Ibn `Abbas that he said,
(Nay! I swear by this city;) “This means Makkah.” Concerning the Ayah:
(And you are free in this city.) he (Ibn `Abbas) said, “O Muhammad! It is permissable for you to fight in it.” Similar was reported from Sa`id bin Jubayr, Abu Salih, `Atiyah, Ad-Dahhak, Qatadah, As-Suddi and Ibn Zayd. Al-Hasan Al-Basri said, “Allah made it lawful (to fight in) for him (the Prophet ) for one hour of a day.” The meaning of what they have said was mentioned in a Hadith that is agreed- upon as being authentic. In it the Prophet said,
(Verily, Allah made this city sacred on the Day that He created the heavens and the earth. Therefore, it is sacred by the sanctity of Allah until the Day of Judgement. Its trees should not be uprooted, and its bushes and grasses should not be removed. And it was only made lawful for me (to fight in) for one hour of a day. Today its sanctity has been restored just as it was sacred yesterday. So, let the one who is present inform those who are absent.) In another wording of this Hadith, he said,
(So, if anyone tries to use the fighting of the Messenger (to conquer Makkah) as an excuse (to fight there), then tell him that Allah permitted it for His Messenger and He has not permitted it for you.) Concerning Allah’s statement,
(And by the begetter and that which he begot.) Mujahid, Abu Salih, Qatadah, Ad-Dahhak, Sufyan Ath-Thawri, Sa`id bin Jubayr, As-Suddi, Al-Hasan Al-Basri, Khusayf, Shurahbil bin Sa`d and others have said, “Meaning, by the begetter, Adam, and that which he begot is his children.” This view that Mujahid and his companions have chosen is good and strong. This is supported by the fact that Allah swears by the Mother of the Towns, which are dwellings. Then after it He swears by the dwellers therein, who is Adam, the father of mankind, and his children. Abu `Imran Al-Jawni said, “It refers to Ibrahim and his progeny.” Ibn Jarir recorded this statement as did Ibn Abi Hatim. Ibn Jarir preferred the view that it is general and it refers to every father and his children. This meaning is also acceptable. Allah then says,
(Verily, We have created man in Kabad.) Ibn Abi Najih and Jurayj reported from `Ata, from Ibn `Abbas concerning the phrase `in Kabad’, “He was created while in hardship. Don’t you see him” Then he mentioned his birth and the sprouting of his teeth. Mujahid said,
(in Kabad.) “A drop of sperm, then a clot, then a lump of flesh, enduring in his creation.” Mujahid then said, “This is similar to Allah’s statement,
(His mother bears him with hardship. And she brings him forth with hardship.) (46:15) and she breast-feeds him with hardship, and his livelihood is a hardship. So he endures all of this.” Sa`id bin Jubayr said,
(Verily, We have created man in Kabad.) “In hardship and seeking livelihood.” `Ikrimah said, “In hardship and long-suffering.” Qatadah said, “In difficulty.” It is reported from Al-Hasan that he said, “Enduring the hardships of the world by life and the severity of the Hereafter.”
(Does he think that none can overcome him) Al-Hasan Al-Basri said,
(Does he think that none can overcome him) “Meaning no one is able to take his wealth.” Qatadah said,
(Does he think that none can overcome him) “The Son of Adam thinks that he will not be asked about this wealth of his — how he earned and how he spent it.” Allah said:
(He says: “I have wasted wealth in abundance!”) This means, the Son of Adam says, “I spent an abundance of wealth.” Mujahid, Al-Hasan, Qatadah, As-Suddi and others have said this.
(Does he think that none sees him) Mujahid said, “Does he think that Allah, the Mighty and Majestic, does not see him.” Others among the Salaf have said similar to this. Allah said;
(Have We not made for him two eyes) meaning, for him to see with them.
(And a tongue) meaning, for him to speak with, and so that he can express that which is inside of him.
(and two lips) In order to help him with speaking, eating food, and beautifying his face and his mouth.
(And shown him the two ways) This refers to the two paths. Sufyan Ath-Thawri narrated from `Asim, from Zirr, from `Abdullah bin Mas`ud that he said,
(And shown him the two ways) “The good and the evil.” Similar to this has been reported from `Ali, Ibn `Abbas, Mujahid, `Ikrimah, Abu Wa’il, Abu Salih, Muhammad bin Ka`b, Ad-Dahhak, and `Ata’ Al-Khurasani among others. Similar to this Ayah is Allah’s statement,
(Verily, We have created man from Nutfah Amshaj, in order to try him: so We made him hearer and seer. Verily, We showed him the way, whether he be grateful or ungrateful.) (76:2-3)
Ibn Zayd said,
(But he has not attempted to pass on the path that is steep.) “This means, will he not traverse upon the path which contains salvation and good Then He explains this path by his saying,
(And what will make you know the path that is steep Freeing a neck, or giving food.)” Imam Ahmad recorded from Sa`id bin Marjanah that he heard Abu Hurayrah saying that the Messenger of Allah said,
(Whoever frees a believing slave, Allah will free for every limb (of the slave) one of his limbs from the Fire. This is to such an extent that He (Allah) will free a hand for a hand, a leg for a leg, and a private part for a private part.) `Ali bin Al-Husayn then said (to Sa`id), “Did you hear this from Abu Hurayrah” Sa`id replied, “Yes.” Then `Ali bin Al-Husayn said to a slave boy that he owned who was the swiftest of his servants, “Call Mutarrif!” So when the slave was brought before him he said, “Go, for you are free for the Face of Allah.” Al-Bukhari, Muslim, At-Tirmidhi, An-Nasa’i, all recorded this Hadith from Sa`id bin Marjanah. Imam Ahmad recorded from `Amr bin `Abasah that the Prophet said,
(Whoever builds a Masjid so that Allah may be remembered in it, Allah will build a house for him in Paradise; and whoever frees a Muslim person, then it will be his ransom from Hell; and whoever grows grey in Islam, then it will be a light for him on the Day of Judgement.) According to another route of transmission, Ahmad recorded from Abu Umamah, who reported from `Amr bin `Abasah that As-Sulami said to him, “Narrate a Hadith to us that you heard from the Messenger of Allah , without any deficiency or mistakes.” He (`Amr) said, “I heard him saying,
(Whoever has three children born to him in Islam, and they die before reaching the age of puberty, Allah will enter him into Paradise by virtue of His mercy to them. And whoever grows gray in the way of Allah (fighting Jihad), then it will be a light for him on the Day of Judgement. And whoever shoots an arrow in the way of Allah (fighting Jihad) that reaches the enemy, whether it hits or misses, he will get the reward of freeing a slave. And whoever frees a believing slave, then Allah will free each of his limbs from the Fire for every limb that the slave has. And whoever equipped two riding animals in the way of Allah (for fighting Jihad), then indeed Paradise has eight gates, and Allah will allow him to enter any of them he choses.)” Ahmad recorded this Hadith from different routes of transmission that are good and strong, and all praise is due to Allah.Allah said,
(Or giving food in a day full of Masghabah,) Ibn `Abbas said, “Of hunger.” `Ikrimah, Mujahid, Ad-Dahhak, Qatadah and others all said the same. The word `Saghb’ means hunger. Then Allah says,
(To an orphan) meaning, he gives food on a day like this to an orphan.
(near of kin.) meaning, who is related to him. Ibn `Abbas, `Ikrimah, Al-Hasan, Ad-Dahhak and As-Suddi all said this. This is similar to what was related in a Hadith that was collected by Imam Ahmad on the authority of Salman bin `Amir who said that he heard the Messenger of Allah say,
(Charity given to the poor person is counted as one charity, while if it is given to a relative it is counted as two: charity and connecting the ties (of kinship).) At-Tirmidhi and An-Nasa’i both recorded this Hadith and its chain of narration is authentic. Then Allah says,
(Or to a Miskin cleaving to dust (Dha Matrabah).) meaning, poor, miserable, and clinging to the dirt. It means those who are in a state of destitution. Ibn `Abbas said, “Dha Matrabah is that who is dejected in the street and who has no house or anything else to protect him against the dirt.” Allah said;
(Then he became one of those who believed) meaning, then, along with these beautiful and pure characteristics, he was a believer in his heart, seeking the reward of that from Allah. This is as Allah says,
(And whoever desires the Hereafter and strives for it, with the necessary effort due for it while he is believer, then such are the ones whose striving shall be appreciated.) (17:19) Allah also says,
(Whoever works righteousness — whether male or female — while being a true believer….) (16:97) Allah says,
(and recommended one another to patience, and recommended one another to compassion.) meaning, he was from the believers who worked righteous deeds, and advised each other to be patient with the harms of the people, and to be merciful with them. This is similar to what has been related in the noble Hadith,
(The merciful people will be treated with mercy by the Most Merciful (Allah). Be merciful to those who are on the earth and He Who is above the heavens will be merciful to you.) In another Hadith he said,
(Allah will not be merciful with whoever is not merciful with the people.) Abu Dawud recorded from `Abdullah bin `Amr that he narrated (from the Prophet ),
(Whoever does not show mercy to our children, nor does he recognize the right of our elders, then he is not of us.) Then Allah says,
(They are those on the Right,) meaning, those who have these characteristics are the companions of the Right Hand.
Then Allah says,
(But those who disbelieved in Our Ayat, they are those on the Left.) meaning, the companions of the Left Hand.
(Upon them Fire will Mu’sadah.) meaning, it will be sealed over them and there will be no way for them to avoid it, nor will they have any way out. Abu Hurayrah, Ibn `Abbas, `Ikrimah, Sa`id bin Jubayr, Mujahid, Muhammad bin Ka`b Al-Qurazi, `Atiyah Al-`Awfi, Al-Hasan, Qatadah and As-Suddi, all said,
(Mu’sadah.) “This means shut.” Ibn `Abbas said, “Its doors will be closed.” Ad-Dahhak said,
(Mu’sadah.) “It will be sealed over them and it will have no door.” Qatadah said,
(Mu’sadah.) “It will be shut and there will be no light in it, no crevice (escape), and no way out of it forever.” This is the end of the Tafsir of Surat Al-Balad, and all praise and blessings are due to Allah.
[90:1] I swear by this city,
لَا أُقْسِمُ بِهَـٰذَا الْبَلَدِ (I swear by this city…90:1). The particle la (‘no’ ) in the beginning of this sentence has no meaning here. Such particles in Arabic language are commonplace. However, the more appropriate view is that when a Surah begins with a la (no) followed by an oath, it was revealed in refutation to a false assumption of the opponents. In other words, Allah is saying, ‘No, what you [the unbelievers] are saying or thinking is not correct, but the truth is what We are swearing about…’. The word al-balad ‘the City’ refers to the Holy City of Makkah, as in Surah At-Tin [95:3] where Allah swears an oath ‘by this peaceful City [of Makkah] وھٰذا البَلَدِ الاَمِین . The adjective attached to the ‘City’ is ‘peaceful’. This shows the superiority and honour of Makkah over other cities. Sayyidna ` Abdullah Ibn ` Adiyy ؓ reports that when the Holy Prophet of Allah ﷺ was migrating from Makkah to Madinah, he addressed the city of Makkah and said: “By Allah, you are dearer to Allah than the entire earth. If I was not forced out of this place, I would never have abandoned you.” [Transmitted by Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah vide Mazhari].
[90:2] and (0 Holy Prophet,) you are going to be allowed to fight in this city
وَأَنتَ حِلٌّ بِهَـٰذَا الْبَلَدِ (and [ 0 Holy Prophet,] you are going to be allowed to fight in this city….90:2). The word hillun bears two possibilities: [ 1] It could be derived from hulul which signifies to reside in or to descend on some place. In this sense, hillun signifies ‘a dweller or resident’ and the verse purports to say that the city of Makkah itself is sacred, and since Holy Prophet Muhammad ﷺ is the inhabitant of this city, it adds to the sanctity, honour and glory of the place. Thus, on account of the Holy Prophet’s ﷺ residing in that city its honour and sanctity has been enhanced and augmented. The second possibility is that it is derived from hillatun which means ‘the thing the doing of which is lawful’. From this point of view, hillun could signify one of two things: One that the pagans of Makkah consider it lawful to do the Holy Prophet ﷺ any harm, even to kill him, in this City of Makkah which is so sacred that the doing of harm to a living creature in its precincts, not to say of killing it or hunting it, is strictly forbidden even according to their own belief system. Secondly, this may be a prophecy that the city of Makkah is going to be made lawful for the Holy Prophet in the sense that fighting in it will be allowed for him for a specified time, and He will alight in this City of Makkah, as it happened on the occasion of the Conquest of Makkah. On this occasion, all the injunctions and ordinances of the حرم Haram were suspended for one day, and it was made lawful to kill the disbelievers. Mazhari cites three possible meanings, and says that all three of them are equally possible.
[90:3] and by the father and that which he begot,
وَوَالِدٍ وَمَا وَلَدَ (and by the father and that which he begot,…90:3) The word walid refers to Holy Prophet ‘Adam (علیہ السلام) the father of mankind, and the phrase مَا وَلَدَ ‘that which he begot’ refers to his children from the inception of the world to the end of the world. Thus this phrase swears an oath by Holy Prophet ‘Adam (علیہ السلام) and all his children. The subject of the oath follows next, thus:
[90:4] Indeed We have created man (to live) in hard struggle.
لَقَدْ خَلَقْنَا الْإِنسَانَ فِي كَبَدٍ (Indeed We have created man [ to live ] in hard struggle…90:4) The word kabad means ‘labour, ‘toil’ or ‘difficulty’. The verse purports to say that man’s life is a series of hard and toilsome works.
Ibn ` Abbas ؓ says: ‘Man was conceived and held in his mother’s womb. The mother bore the pangs of birth. The hardship of sucking the mother’s milk and the difficulty of weaning. This is followed by seeking livelihood and other necessities of life with hardship. Then he endures hardships and long-suffering of old age, death, grave, resurrection, accountability of deeds before Allah, reward and punishment.’ These difficulties and hardships are not confined to man. Other animals too share them. Man has particularly been mentioned in this connection because of his intelligence. The more the power of a creature’s intelligence, the higher the degree of his legal obligation. Lastly, the greatest difficulty and hardship would be borne at resurrection and life-after-death, when we will be required to give an account of the deeds we might have done throughout our life. Other species of animals will not be required to do this.
Some scholars say that no creation suffers as much difficulties or hardships as human beings, despite the fact that his body is smaller and weaker than most other animals. Man’s brainpower, however, is most powerful. Therefore, he has been specifically mentioned. Swearing an oath by Makkah, ‘Adam and his children, Allah has made it plain that man has been created in difficulties and to endure hardships. This is a proof that man did not come into existence on his own but his Creator is an All-Powerful Being who has, in His wisdom, created every species of creation with specific predisposition and capacity of actions. If man had any part in his own creation, he would never have allowed such difficulties and hardships for himself. [ Qurtubi ]
Absolute Comfort, without Hardship, Is not Possible in the World: Man Must be Prepared to Endure Hardships
The oath and its subject makes plain to man that his desire to live peacefully and comfortably in this world, without enduring any hardship, is a silly idea and false notion, which is not possible to happen. Therefore, it is necessary for difficulty, hardship, distress and affliction to befall every person. Since they are bound to befall, a wise person should be in readiness to work hard for something that may help him for an eternal life. The only factor that will help him for this is faith and obedience to the Truth.
Then, after describing a few of the ignorant disbeliever’s qualities, the following verse says about an unbeliever: أَيَحْسَبُ أَن لَّمْ يَرَهُ أَحَدٌ (Does he think that no one has seen him?…90:7) that is, his evil deeds. He should realise that his Creator watches every action of his.
[90:5] Does he think that no one has power over him?
[90:6] He says, “I have spent a lot of wealth.”
[90:7] Does he think that no one has seen him?
[90:8] Did We not make for him two eyes,
أَلَمْ نَجْعَل لَّهُ عَيْنَيْنِ ﴿8﴾ وَلِسَانًا وَشَفَتَيْنِ ﴿9﴾ وَهَدَيْنَاهُ النَّجْدَيْنِ ﴿10﴾
(Did We not make for him two eyes, and a tongue and two lips, and showed him the two ways?…90:8-10)
The word najdain is the dual form of najd which means an elevated or conspicuous road. The word najdain signifies the two high and conspicuous ways of good and evil, or of success and destruction. The preceding verse pointed out the ignorance and heedlessness of man. He thinks that Allah has no power over him, and that there is no one watching over his actions. The current verse mentions a few of the organs and abilities that Allah has endowed him with. If he reflects carefully on these endowments, he will appreciate His infinite wisdom and power within himself. He has a pair of eyes. The optic nerves and tissues are rather delicate. They send nervous impulses to the brain when stimulated by light rays from external objects. The structure of the eye itself is most delicate. Each eye consists of a hollow, spherical capsule [ eyeball ], made up of several layers and structures. It is set into a socket in the skull, and is protected by eyelids and eyelashes, and eyebrows. It works like an automatic machine. When a harmful object is seen coming from the front, the eyelids close on their own. The eyelashes block the dust from getting into the eyes. The eyebrows help keep things away from falling into the eyes directly from top. The facial bones, especially the orbit [ eye socket and the cheek bones ], protect the eye, if one were to fall on one’s face or something were to fall on the face.
The second gift that man is endowed with is the ‘tongue’. This organ – the articulator – is the most amazing and important creation. It is the long piece of flesh fixed to the bottom of the mouth that can represent thoughts of the heart, the automatic and mysterious machine. The heart works in an amazing way. A thought occurs in the heart, the brain interprets it, and prepares appropriate topic and words. The words are uttered by the tongue. Such a complex task is performed so swiftly that the listener does not even realise how many systems have worked before the distinguishable sounds, letters and words were uttered. Nature has equipped man with two lips that play an important role in articulating the different sounds, letters and words. Nature has made the tongue such a swift-working articulator that within half a minute it may utter a word which may take him out from Hell and admit him into Paradise, as the word of faith, or may endear him to his enemy in the world, as by seeking forgiveness of his shortcomings. The same tongue within the same short span of time may take him to Hell, as by uttering the word of disbelief, or may make him his biggest enemy who was previously his closest friend, as by using obscene language against him. The tongue has many benefits as well as many ways of destruction. It is a double-edged sword that can operate against an enemy, and it can also cut one’s own throat. Therefore, Allah has kept it covered within the case of two lips. Probably, this is the reason why the pair of lips is mentioned. The Creator Who has endowed man with tongue has equipped him with a pair of lips in order to protect it. Therefore, he should be careful in its use. He should not unsheathe it unnecessarily. Allah has equipped him with a pair of eyes, a pair of lips and a tongue, and has equipped him with the ability to distinguish good from evil and right from wrong, thus:
فَأَلْهَمَهَا فُجُورَهَا وَتَقْوَاهَا
then inspired it with its [ instinct of ] evil and piety [ 91:8] ‘
Thus in the first instance man receives guidance from his own conscience. This is supported by the guidance of the Holy Prophets (علیہم السلام) and celestial books that clarify it.
In sum, an ignoramus and heedless person, who denies the power of the Omnipotent, should look into his own being, he would be able to observe His attribute of perfect power and consummate wisdom. He should observe with his two eyes and confess with his tongue. He has been shown the two ways of good and evil; and of right and wrong so that he may choose between the two. Obviously, he should choose the good way. In his make-up, there exists the ability to take either way. All these bounties have not motivated man to attempt the steep course. Then the heedless man is warned that he should reflect on the clear proofs and arguments pertaining to Allah’s Omnipotence, pertaining to the Day of Judgment, life after death and Reckoning, and believe in these articles of faith. This faith requires that man should be a source of benefit and comfort to others; he should abstain from hurting them; he should believe in Allah; he should amend his own conduct and think of reforming others also, so that, on the Day of Judgment, he may be among the people of the right hand, the inmates of Paradise, enjoying a happy recompense for what he has done in this life. The unfortunate ones who persistently denied the Truth shall be encircled by the Hell-fire. This theme has been taken up from this point onward to the end of the Surah. Failing to do a few of the good deeds have been [ selectively ] described in a unique style.
[90:9] and a tongue and two lips,
[90:10] and showed him the two ways?
[90:11] Yet he did not make his way through the steep course,
فَلَا اقْتَحَمَ الْعَقَبَةَ ﴿11﴾ وَمَا أَدْرَاكَ مَا الْعَقَبَةُ ﴿12﴾
(Yet he did not make his way through the steep course. And what may let you know what the steep course is? …90:11-12] ‘
The word ‘aqabah means ‘hill, high place or a steep road’. It also refers to a ‘low area of land between two hills or mountains, that is, a valley’. ‘Aqabah helps a man in saving himself when pursued by an enemy by ascending the summit of the mountain, or in escaping by descending into the valley. Here the word ‘aqabah refers to obedience and devotion. Just as it saves man from an enemy, righteous deeds save man from the punishment of the Hereafter. The righteous deeds are as follows:
فَكُّ رَقَبَةٍ ([ It is ] freeing of the neck of a slave…90:13). This is a great devotional act [ and carries a great reward because ] it moulds a man’s life.
أَوْ إِطْعَامٌ فِي يَوْمٍ ذِي مَسْغَبَةٍ (or giving food in a day of hunger…90:14).
Although it is an act of great reward to feed any hungry person, it carries even a greater reward to feed certain people, as follows:
يَتِيمًا ذَا مَقْرَبَةٍ ﴿15﴾ أَوْ مِسْكِينًا ذَا مَتْرَبَةٍ ﴿16﴾
(to an orphan near of kin, or to a needy person lying in dust….90:15-16)
If an orphaned family member is given food to eat, its reward is twofold, for satisfying the hunger of a hungry person and for maintaining family ties and fulfilling his rights.
فِي يَوْمٍ ذِي مَسْغَبَةٍ (in a day of hunger…90:14). It means that feeding him in a day when he is hungry will attract more reward. If an orphan is not a close relative or family member, but he is so poor as to be wallowing in dust, spending on him will yield a greater reward. The poorer the person is, the greater will be the reward for the spender.
[90:12] And what may let you know what the steep course is?
[90:13] (It is) freeing of the neck of a slave,
[90:14] or giving food in a day of hunger
[90:15] to an orphan near of kin,
[90:16] or to a needy person lying in dust
[90:17] then he did not join those who believe and advise each other to be patient and advise each other to be merciful.
Obligations of a Believer
ثُمَّ كَانَ مِنَ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالصَّبْرِ وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالْمَرْحَمَةِ (then he did not join those who believe and advise each other to be patient and advise each other to be merciful…90:17). The verse points out that the doing only of good actions mentioned in the foregoing verse is not enough for raising the all round stature of the Muslim community. Good ideals and right principles, combined with continuous and sustained adherence to the path of moral rectitude and teaching of virtues to others, are equally essential for the attainment of the high aim. Thus the verse after ‘faith’ draws the attention of a believer to his socio-moral obligation to the effect that he ought to teach his other Muslim brothers to be patient and to be merciful. The word sabr signifies ‘to withhold oneself from evil deeds and to act upon good deeds’. The word marhamah signifies ‘to show mercy to one another or to empathise with others and abstain from hurting them.’ This embraces almost all the injunctions of the entire religion.
[90:18] Those are the People of the Right Hand. (i.e. their books of deeds will be given in their right hands)
[90:19] As for those who reject Our verses, they are the People of the Left Hand. (i.e. their books of deeds will be given in their left hand.)
[90:20] Upon them will be the Fire, enveloping them with closed exits.
The Commentary on
This short surah touches on a great many facts which are of central importance to human life. Its style is characterized by powerful allusions. Numerous facts of this nature are not easily combined in any form of concise writing except that of the Qur’an, with its unique ability to hit the right chords with such swift and penetrating strokes.
Affliction in Human Life
The surah opens with an emphatic oath asserting an inherent fact of human life: “I swear by this city, this city in which you are a dweller, by parent and offspring: indeed, We have created man in affliction.” (Verses 1-4) The city is Makkah, which houses the Ka`bah, the sacred house of God that was the first temple ever to be erected on this earth as a place of peace where people put down their weapons and forget their quarrels. They meet there in peace; each is sacred to all. Even the plants, the birds and all creatures that happen to be in this city enjoy full and complete security. It is the House built by Abraham, the father of Ishmael, who is the grandfather of all Arabs and Muslims.
God then honours His Prophet, Muhammad, by mentioning him and his residence in Makkah, a fact which adds to the sanctity of the city, its honour and glory. This is a point of great significance in this context; for the unbelievers were violating the sanctity of the House by harassing the Prophet and the Muslims in it. But the House is sacred and the Prophet’s dwelling in its neighbourhood makes it even more so. God’s oath by this city and by the Prophet’s residence in it adds even more to its sacredness and glory, which consequently makes the unbelievers’ attitude grossly impertinent and objectionable. Their attitude becomes even more singular, considering their claims to be the custodians of the House, Ishmael’s descendants and Abraham’s followers.
This last reference supports the inclination to take the next– verse, “by parent and offspring,” to refer to Abraham and Ishmael in particular. This reading includes in the oath the Prophet, the city where he lives, the founder of the House and his offspring. However, it does not preclude that the statement can also be a general one, referring to the phenomenon of reproduction which preserves the human race. This reference may be taken as an introduction to the discussion about man’s nature, which is indeed the theme of the surah.
In his commentary on this surah in Tafsir Juz `Amma, the late Shaikh Muhammad `Abduh, makes a fine remark which is useful to quote here:
God then swears by parent and children to draw our attention to the great importance of this stage of reproduction in life, and to the infinite wisdom and perfection which this stage involves. It also emphasizes the great suffering encountered by parent and offspring during the process from its inception up to its conclusion, when the newcomer achieves a certain degree of development.
Think of plants and the tough opposition met by a seed of a plant in the process of growth, until it adapts to the various factors of climate. Think of its attempts to absorb the food necessary for its survival from its surroundings, till it develops branches and leaves. It then prepares for the production of a similar seed or seeds that will repeat its function and add to the beauty of the world around it. Think of all this then consider the more advanced forms of animal and human life and you will see something much greater and far more wonderful concerning reproduction. You will have a feeling of the hardship and suffering met by all parents and offspring for the sake of preserving the species and the beauty of this world.
The oath reaffirms an intrinsic fact in human life: “Indeed, We have created man in affliction.” (Verse 4) Indeed, man’s life is a process of continued hardship that never ends, as stated in Surah 84, The Rending: “O man! You have been toiling towards your Lord, and you shall meet Him.” (84: 6)
No sooner does the first living cell settle in the mother’s womb than it starts to encounter affliction and has to work hard in order to prepare for itself the right conditions for its survival, with the permission of its Lord. It continues to do so until it is ready for the process of birth, which is a great ordeal for both mother and baby. Before the baby finally sees the light it undergoes a great deal of pushing and squeezing to the point of near suffocation in its passage out of the womb.
A stage of harder endurance and greater suffering follows. The new-born baby begins to breathe the air, which is a new experience. It opens its mouth and inflates its lungs for the first time with a cry which tells of the harsh start. The digestive system then starts to function in a manner which is totally unfamiliar, as does blood circulation. Then it starts to empty its bowels, encountering great difficulty in adapting its system to this new function. Indeed, every new step or movement is attended by suffering. If one watches this baby when it begins to crawl and walk, one sees the kind of effort required to execute such minor and elementary movements. Such affliction continues with teething, and learning to stand, walk, learn and think. Indeed, in every new experience much affliction is involved.
Then the roads diverge and the struggle takes different forms. One person struggles with his muscles, another with his mind and a third with his soul. One toils for a mouthful of food or a rag to dress himself with, another to double or treble his wealth. One person strives to achieve a position of power or influence and another for the sake of God. One struggles for the sake of satisfying lusts and desires, and another for the sake of his faith or ideology. One strives but achieves no more than hell and another strives for paradise. Everyone is carrying his own burden and climbing his own hill to arrive finally at the meeting place appointed by God, where the wretched shall endure their worst suffering while the blessed enjoy their endless happiness.
Affliction, life’s foremost characteristic, takes various forms and shapes but it is always judged by its eventual results. The loser is the one who ends up suffering more affliction in the hereafter, and the prosperous is the one whose striving qualifies him to be released from affliction and ensures him the ultimate repose under his Lord’s shelter. Yet there is some reward in this present life for the different kinds of struggle which people endure. The one who labours for a great cause differs from the one who labours for a trivial one, in the amount and the quality of gratification each of them gains from his labour and sacrifice.
Having established this fact concerning human nature and human life, the surah goes on to discuss some of the claims that man makes and some of the concepts underlying his behaviour. “Does he think that no one has power over him? He says: ‘I have spent abundant wealth.’ Does he think that none observes him?” (Verses 5-7)
This creature, man, whose suffering and struggling never come to an end, forgets his real nature and becomes so conceited with what God has given him of power, ability, skill and prosperity that he behaves as if he is not accountable for what he does. He indulges in oppression, tyranny, victimization and exploitation, trying to acquire enormous wealth. He corrupts himself and others in total disregard of anything of value. Such is the character of a man whose heart is stripped of faith. When he is called upon to spend for good causes, he says, “I have spent abundant wealth,” and given more than enough. “Does he think that none observes him?” (Verse 7) Has he forgotten that God is watching over him? He sees what he has spent and for what purposes. But man still ignores this, thinking that God is unaware of what he has done.
In view of man’s arrogance, which makes him believe that he is invincible, and in view of his meanness and claims of having spent abundantly, the Qur’an puts before him the bounties God has bestowed on him which are manifested in his inherent abilities, although he has depreciated them: “Have We not given him two eyes, a tongue and two lips, and shown him the two paths?” (Verses 8-10)
Man is conceited because he feels himself powerful, but he is granted his power by God. He is mean with his wealth while God is the One who provided him with it. He neither follows right guidance nor shows gratitude, although God has given him the means to do so. He has given him eyes which are marvellous, precise and powerful. He has also granted him speech and the means of expression, “a tongue, and two lips.” He has equipped him with the ability to distinguish good from evil, and right from wrong: and shown him the two paths,” so that he can choose between them. Inherent in his make-up is the ability to take either way. It is God’s will that man should be given such ability and such freedom of choice, to perfect His scheme of creation which assigns to every creature its role in life and equips it with the means necessary for its fulfilment.
This verse explains the essence of human nature. In fact, the basis of the Islamic viewpoint of human psychology is contained in this verse and four verses in the next surah, The Sun: “By the soul and its moulding and inspiration with knowledge of wickedness and righteousness. Successful is the one who keeps it pure, and ruined is the one who corrupts it.” (91: 7-10)
Scaling the Ascent
These are the favours bestowed on man to help him follow right guidance: his eyes with which he recognizes the evidence of God’s might and the signs throughout the universe which should prompt him to adopt the faith, and his tongue and lips which are his means of speech and expression. One word sometimes does the job of a sword or a shotgun and can be even more effective than either. It may, on the other hand, plunge a man into the fire of hell. Mu ‘adh ibn Jabal said: “I was with the Prophet on a journey. One day I was walking beside him when I said, ‘Messenger of God! Point out to me something I may do to take me to paradise and keep me away from hell.’ He said, ‘You have indeed asked about something great, yet it is quite attainable by those for whom God has made it easy. Worship God alone, assigning to Him no partner, offer your prayers regularly, pay out your zakat [i.e. what is due to the poor of one’s money], fast in the month of Ramadan and offer the pilgrimage.’ The Prophet then said, ‘Shall I point out to you the gates of goodness?’ I said, ‘Yes, Messenger of God, please do.’ He said, ‘Fasting is a safeguard and a means of protecting yourself; charity erases your errors just as water extinguishes a burning fire; and your praying in the late hours of the night is the sign of piety.’ He then recited the verse, “[those] who forsake their beds as they call on their Lord in fear and in hope; and who give in charity of what We have bestowed on them. No soul knows what bliss and comfort is in store for these as reward for their labours.” (32: 16-17) The Prophet then added: ‘Shall I tell you what the heart of the matter is, its backbone and its highest grade?’ I said, ‘Yes, Messenger of God, please do.’ He said, ‘The heart is Islam, i.e. submission to God, the backbone is prayers, and the highest grade is jihad, i.e. struggle for the cause of God.’ He then said, ‘Shall I tell you what commands all these?’ I said, ‘Yes, Messenger of God, please do.’ He said, ‘Control this,’ pointing to his tongue. I said, ‘Are we, Prophet of God, really accountable for what we say?’ He said ‘Watch what you are saying.
For what else are people dragged on their faces in hell apart from what their tongues produce?’“ [Related by Ahmad, al-Tirmidhi, al-Nasa’i and Ibn Majah.]”
All these bounties have not motivated man to attempt the Ascent that stands between him and heaven. God explains the nature of the Ascent in the following verses: “Yet he would not scale the Ascent. Would that you knew what the Ascent is. It is the freeing of a slave, or the feeding, on a day of famine, of an orphaned near of kin, or a needy man in distress, and to be of those who believe and enjoin on one another to be patient in adversity, and enjoin mercy on one another. Those who do this shall be on the right hand.” (Verses 11-18)
This is the ascent which man, except those who equip themselves with faith, refrains from attempting, and which separates him from paradise. If he crosses it he will arrive! Putting it in such a way serves as a powerful incentive and stimulus to take up the challenge. For the ascent has been clearly marked as the obstacle depriving man of such an enormous fortune. The importance of scaling the ascent in God’s sight is then emphasized to encourage man to scale it no matter what the effort. For struggle he must, in any case. But if he attempts it, his struggle will not be wasted but will bring him favourable results.
Then follows an explanation of this ascent and its nature by means of, first, pointing out some actions which were totally lacking in the particular surroundings that the message of Islam was facing at the time: the freeing of slaves and the feeding of the poor who were subjected to the cruelty of an ungracious and greedy society. It then adds what is applicable to all ages and societies and needed by all who wish to attempt the ascent: “To be of those who bElieve and enjoin on one another to be patient in adversity, and enjoin mercy on one another.” (Verse 17) There are reports which comment on the particular usage of freeing slafes in this suraH, explaining that it includes eVen sharing in an effort to free a slave, not meBely bearing all the expense involved. Even then the outcome is the same.
Setting Practical Examples
This surah sas revealed in Iakkah when IslaM was surrounded powerful enemies and the state that would implement its laws s non-existent. Slavery was widespread in Arabia and the world large. The treatment meted out to slaves was brutal. When some the slaves or former slaves, like `Ammar ibn Yasir and his family, Bilal ibn Rabah, and others, accepted Islam their plight became worse, and their cruel masters subjected them to unbearable torture. then became clear that the only way to save them was to buy them from their masters. Abu Bakr, the Prophet’s Companion, was, as usual, the first to rise to the occasion, with all the boldness and gallantry it required.
Ibn Ishaq relates:
Bilal, Abu Bakr’s servant, was owned by some individual of the clan of Jumah as he was born a slave. He was, however, a genuine Muslim and cleanhearted. Umayyah ibn Khalaf, the Jumah master, used to take Bilal out when it became unbearably hot and order him to be laid down on his back on the hot sand of Makkah and cause a massive rock to be placed on his chest. Then, he would say to Bilal that he was to stay like that until he died or renounced Muhammad and accepted as deities the idols called al-Lat and al-‘Uzza, the goddesses of the pagan Arabs. Under all such pressure, Bilal would simply say, ‘One, One,’ meaning that there is only one God.
One day, Abu Bakr passed by and saw Bilal in that condition. He said to Umayyah: ‘Do you not fear God as you torture this helpless soul? How long can you go on doing this?’ Umayyah replied, ‘You spoiled him, so you save him.’ Abu Bakr said, ‘I will. I have a black boy who follows your religion but he is stronger and more vigorous than Bilal. What do you say to an exchange deal?’ Umayyah said, ‘I accept.’ Abu Bakr said, ‘Then he is yours.’ Then Abu Bakr took Bilal and set him free.
While in Makkah, before the migration to Madinah, Abu Bakr freed a total of seven people: `Amir ibn Fahirah, who fought in the Battle of Badr and was killed in the Battle of Bi’r Ma`unah, was the only other man freed by Abu Bakr. The other five were women. The first two were Umm `Ubays and Zanirah, who lost her eyesight when she was freed. Some of the Quraysh claimed that the two idols al-Lat and al-‘Uzza caused the loss of her eyesight. Zanirah said, ‘What rubbish! Al-Lat and al-‘Uzza are absolutely powerless.’ God then willed that she should recover her sight. Abu Bakr also freed a woman called al-Nahdiyyah and her daughter, who belonged to a woman of the clan of `Abd al-Dar. One day he passed by the two women as their mistress was sending them on an errand to prepare some flour. As she gave them her instructions, she declared: ‘By God, I will never set you free.’
Abu Bakr said to her, ‘Release yourself of your oath.’ She rejoined, ‘It was you who spoilt them. Why don’t you set them free?’ He said, ‘How much do you want for them?’ She named her price. He said, ‘It is a deal, and they are free.’ He turned to the two women and told them to give the woman her flour back. They suggested that they should finish preparing it for her first and he agreed.
The fifth woman was a Muslim slave of the clan of Mu`ammal. She was being tortured by `Umar ibn al-Khaţţab, who was then still an unbeliever. He beat her until he was tired and said to her, ‘I apologize to you. I have only stopped beating you because I am bored,’ to which she replied, And so God shall thwart you.’ Abu Bakr bought her and set her free.
Abu Quhafah, Abu Bakr’s father, said to him, ‘I see you, son, freeing some weak slaves. Why don’t you free some strong men who can defend and protect you?’ Abu Bakr replied, ‘I am only doing this for the sake of God, father.’ Thus Abu Bakr scaled the ascent by freeing those helpless souls, for the sake of God. The attendant circumstances in that particular society make such an action one of the most important steps towards scaling the ascent.
“Or the feeding, on a day of famine, of an orphaned near of kin, or a needy man in distress.” (Verses 14-16) A time of famine and hunger, when food becomes scarce, is a time when the reality of faith is tested. For orphans in that greedy, miserly and ungracious society were oppressed and mistreated even by their relatives. The Qur’an is full of verses which urge people to treat orphans well. This, in itself, is a measure of the cruelty of the orphans’ surroundings. Good treatment for orphans is also urged in the surahs revealed in Madinah, as they outline the rules of inheritance, custody and marriage, especially in Surahs 2, The Cow, and 4, Women. The same can be said of feeding the needy on a day of famine, which is portrayed here as another step for scaling the ascent. For this is again a test which reveals the characteristics of the believer, such as mercy, sympathy, co-operation and lack of selfishness. It also reveals the extent of one’s fear of God.
These two steps, freeing slaves and feeding the needy, are mentioned in the surah as necessary in the existing situation at the time of revelation. However, their implication is general, which accounts for their being mentioned first. They are followed by the widest and most important step of all: “And to be of those who believe and enjoin on one another to be patient in adversity, and enjoin mercy on one another.” (Verse 17) The conjunction in the Arabic text is ‘then’, but it does not signify here any time ordering; it is used simply as an introduction to the statement about the most important and valuable step of all towards scaling the ascent. For what would be the value of freeing slaves or feeding the hungry without faith? It is faith which gives such actions their value and their weight in God’s sight, because it relates them to a profound and consistent system. Thus good deeds are no longer the result of a momentary impulse. Their aim is not any social reputation or self-interest.
Patience in adversity is an important element in the general context of faith as well as in the particular context of attempting the ascent. That people should counsel each other to be patient in adversity is to attain a highest level than that of having such a quality themselves. It is a practical demonstration of the solidarity of the believers as they co-operate closely to carry out their duties as believers in God. The society formed by the believers is an integrated structure whose elements share the same feelings and the same awareness about the need to exert themselves in establishing the divine system on earth and to carry out its duties fully. Hence, they counsel each other to persevere as they shoulder their common responsibilities. They rally to support one another in order to achieve their common objective. This is something more than perseverance by individuals, although it builds on it. For it indicates the individual’s role in the believers’ society, namely, that he must be an element of strength and a source of hope and comfort to the whole society.
The same applies to enjoining each other to be merciful, which is a grade higher than simply being merciful themselves. Thus the spirit of mercy spreads among the believers as they consider such mutual counselling an individual and communal duty in the fulfilment of which all co-operate. Hence, the idea of ‘community’ is evident in this injunction, as it is emphasized elsewhere in the Qur’an and in the traditions of the Prophet. This idea is central to the concept of Islam which is a religion and a way of life. Nevertheless, the responsibility and accountability of the individual are clearly defined and strongly emphasized. Those who scale the ascent, as defined here in the Qur’an, shall have their dwelling place on the right hand, which indicates that they will enjoy a happy recompense for what they do in this life.
“And those who deny Our revelations shall be on the left hand, with fire closing in upon them.” (Verses 19-20) There is no need here to identify this group with more than ‘those who deny Our revelations,’ as this is enough to settle the issue. Nothing can be good if coupled with unbelief. All evil is contained and encompassed by the denial of God. There is no point in saying that this group do not free slaves or give food to the needy, and, moreover, they deny Our revelations. For such a denial renders worthless any action they may do. They dwell on the left hand, which indicates their degradation and disgrace. These people cannot scale the ascent.
“With fire closing in upon them.” (Verse 20) That is, they are encircled by it either in the sense that they are locked within it, or in the sense that it is their eternal abode. Its being close above them gives them no chance of breaking away from it. The two meanings are quite interesting.
These are then the fundamental facts concerning human life laid down from the point of view of faith, in a limited space but with great power and clarity. This remains the distinctive characteristic of Qur’anic style.References:
Ibn Hisham, Al-Sirah al-Nabawiyyah, Dar al-Qalam, Beirut, Vol. 1, n.d., pp. 339-41
Tafseer Surah Balad by Abul A’la Maududi
The Surah has been so named after the word al balad in the first verse.
Period of Revelation
Its subject matter and style resemble those of the earliest Surahs revealed at Makkah, but it contains a pointer which indicates that it was sent down in the period when the disbelievers of Makkah had resolved to oppose the Holy Prophet (upon whom be Allah’s peace), and made it lawful for themselves to commit tyranny and excess against him.
Theme and Subject Matter
In this Surah a vast subject has been compressed into a few brief sentences, and it is a miracle of the Quran that a complete ideology of life which could hardly be explained in a thick volume has been abridged most effectively in brief sentences of this short Surah. Its theme is to explain the true position of man in the world and of the world in relation to man and to tell that God has shown to man both the highways of good and evil, has also provided for him the means to judge and see and follow them, and now it rests upon mans own effort and judgment whether he chooses the path of virtue and reaches felicity or adopts the path of vice and meets with doom.
First, the city of Makkah and the hardships being faced therein by the Holy Prophet (upon whom be peace) and the state of the children of Adam have been cited as a witness to the truth that this world is not a place of rest and ease for man, where he might have been born to enjoy life, but here he has been created into toil and struggle. If this theme is read with verse 39 of Surah An-Najm (Laisa lil insani illa ma saa: there is nothing for man but what he has striven for), it becomes plain that in this world the future of man depends on his toil and struggle, effort and striving.
After this, man’s misunderstanding that he is all in all in this world and that there is no superior power to watch what he does and to call him to account, has been refuted.
Then, taking one of the many moral concepts of ignorance held by man, as an example, it has been pointed out what wrong criteria of merit and greatness he has proposed for himself in the world. The person who for ostentation and display squanders heaps of wealth, not only himself prides upon his extravagances but the people also admire him for it enthusiastically, whereas the Being Who is watching over his deeds, sees by what methods he obtained the wealth and in what ways and with what motives and intention he spent it.
Then Allah says: We have given man the means of knowledge and the faculties of thinking and understanding and opened up before him both the highways of virtue and vice: one way leads down to moral depravity, and it is an easy way pleasing for the self; the other way leads up to moral heights, which is steep like an uphill road, for scaling which man has to exercise self- restraint. It is man’s weakness that he prefers slipping down into the abyss to scaling the cliff.
Then, Allah has explained what the steep road is by following which man can ascend to the heights. It is that he should give up spending for ostentation, display and pride and should spend his wealth to help the orphans and the needy, should believe in Allah and His Religion and joining the company of believers should participate in the construction of a society which should fulfill the demands of virtue and righteousness patiently and should be compassionate to the people. The end of those who follow this way is that they would become worthy of Allah’s mercies. On the contrary, the end of those who follow the wrong way, is the fire of Hell from which there is no escape.
As we have explained in E.N.1 of Surah AI-Qiyamah above, to begin a discourse with a “Nay” and resume it with an oath means that the people were asserting a wrong thing to refute which it was said: “Nay, the truth is not that which you seem to assert, but I swear by such and such a thing that the truth is this and this” As for the question what it was to refute which this discourse was sent down, it is indicated by the theme that follows. The disbelievers of Makkah said that there was nothing wrong with the way of life that they were following, as if to say: “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die in the natural process of time. Muhammad (upon whom be Allah’s peace), without any reason, is finding fault with this way of life and warning us that we would at some time in the future be called to account for it and rewarded and punished accordingly.”
2″This City”: the city of Makkah. There was no need here to explain why an oath was being sworn by this City. The people of Makkah were well aware of the background and importance of their city and knew how in the midst of desolate mountains, in an un-cultivated, barren valley, the Prophet Abraham had brought his wife and suckling child and left them there without any support; how he had built a House there and proclaimed to the people to visit it as pilgrims when there was no soul for miles around to hear the proclamation, and then how this city had eventually become the commercial and religious center of Arabia and was blessed with such sacredness that there was no other place of security beside it in that lawless land for centuries.
3Three meanings of the words in the Text have been given by the commentators:
(1) “That you are a resident of this city and your residence here has further enhanced the glory of this city”;
(2) “that although this city is a sanctuary; a time will come when for some time it will become lawful for you to fight and kill the enemies of the true Faith here; and,
(3) “that in this city where even killing of animals and cutting of trees is forbidden for the people of Arabia, and where everyone is living in perfect peace, you, O Prophet, have no peace, and persecuting you and devising plans to kill you has been made lawful.”
Although the words are comprehensive enough to cover all the three meanings, yet when the theme that follows is considered, one feels that the first two meanings bear no relevance to it, and only the third meaning seems to be correct.
4As the words “father and children he begot” have been used indefinitely, and this is followed by the mention of man, father could only imply Adam (peace be on him) and children the human beings who existed in the world, exist today and will exist in the future.
5This is that for which the oaths as mentioned above have been sworn. Man’s being created in toil means that man in this world has not been created to enjoy himself and live a life of ease and comfort, but the world for him is a place of enduring and undergoing toil, labor and hardship, and no man can be immune from this. The city of Makkah is a witness that a servant of Allah toiled and struggled hard, then only did it become a city and the center of Arabia. In this city of Makkah the condition of Muhammad (upon whom be Allah’s peace) is a witness that he is enduring every kind of hardship for the sake of a mission; so much so that there is full peace here for the wild animals but no peace for him. Then, every man’s survival, from the tithe he is conceived in the mother’s womb till the last breath of life, is a witness that he has to pass through trouble, toil, labor, dangers and hardships at every step. The most fortunate of us is also exposed to grave dangers of death before birth or of elimination by abortion while in the mother’s womb. At birth he is only a hair-breadth away from death. After birth he is so helpless that had there not been somebody to look after him, he would perish uncared for and un-noticed. When he became able to walk he stumbled at every step. Froth childhood to youth and old age he had to pass through such physical changes that if any change had taken a wrong turn, his very life would have been at stake. Even if he is a king or a dictator, he at no time enjoys internal peace from the tear that a rebellion might arise against him somewhere. Even if he is a conqueror he is never at peace from the danger that one of his generals might rise in revolt against him Even if he is a Korah of his time, he is ever anxious to increase his wealth and to safeguard it. Thus, there is no one who may he enjoying perfect peace freely and without hesitation, for man indeed has been created into a life of toil and trouble.
6That is: Is man, who is ever exposed to such hazards, involved in the delusion that he can do what he likes, and there is no superior power to seize and suppress him? The fact, however, is that even before the occurrence of the Hereafter in this world itself, he sees that his destiny every moment is being ruled by some other Being against Whose decrees all his plans and designs prove ineffective. A single jolt of the earthquake, a blast of wind, a flood in the river and a sea-storm are enough to show how weak and feeble man is against the Divine forces. A sudden accident can reduce a strong and robust person to a cripple; one turn of the fortune deposes a mighty sovereign froth the position of authority. When the fortunes of the nations, which have climbed to the very apex of glory and prosperity, change, they are humiliated and disgraced even in the world where do one could dare look them in the face. How has then this man been deluded into thinking that no one else can have power over him ?
7Literally: “I have destroyed heaps of wealth”, i.e. squandered and wasted it. These words show how proud the speaker was of his wealth. The heaps of wealth that he spent was so insignificant as against his total wealth that he did not mind squandering it carelessly. And to what purpose did he squander it’? Not for a genuine, good cause as becomes evident from the following verses, but for display of his wealth and expression of his pride and glory. Bestowing rich awards on , poetic admirers, inviting and feeding hundreds of thousands of people on marriage and death ceremonies, gambling away heaps of wealth, attending festivals with large entourages, trying to excel others in display of glory and grandeur, having heaps of food cooked on ceremonial occasions and throwing invitations to all and sundry to come and eat, or arranging and supplying running meals at the residence so as to impress the people around with one’s generosity and largeheartedness; such were the expenditures of ostentation, which in the days of ignorance were regarded as a symbol of man’s munificence and magnanmity, and a sign of his greatness. For these they were praised and admired; on these their Praises were sung; and on account of these they prided themselves against the less fortunate.
8That is, “Doesn’t this boaster understand that there is also a God above him, Who sees by what means he obtained this wealth, in what ways he spent it, and with what intention, motive, and purpose he did all this ? Does he think that God will put any value on his extravagance, his fame-mongering and his boasting Does he think that like the world, God too will be deluded by it?”
9That is, “Have We not given him the means of obtaining knowledge and wisdom ‘?” “Two eyes” does not imply the eyes of the cow and buffalo, but human eyes, which if used intelligently can help man see all around himself those signs which lead to the reality and distinguish the right from the wrongs. “The tongue and lips” do not merely imply the instruments of speech but the rational wind behind these instruments which performs the functions of thinking and understanding and then uses them for expressing its ideas, motives and designs.
10That is, “We have not left him alone after granting him the faculties of thinking and reasoning so that he may have to search out his own way, but We have also guided him and opened up before him both the highways of good and evil, virtue and vice, so that he may consider them seriously and choose and adopt one or the other way on his own responsibility. This same subject has been expressed in Surah Ad-Dahr: 2-3, thus: “Indeed We created man from a mixed sperm-drop, to try him, and so We made him capable of hearing and seeing. We showed him the way, whether to be grateful or disbelieving. ” For explanation, see E.N.’s 3 to S of Ad-Dahr.
11The words in the original are: fa-lagtaham-al- aqabah. Iqtiham means to apply oneself to a hard and toilsome task, and ‘aqabah is the steep path that passes through mountains for ascending heights. Thus, the verse means: “One of the two paths that We have shown him, leads to heights but is toilsome and steep; man has to tread it against the desires of his self and the temptations of Satan. The other path is easy which descends into chasms, but does not require any toil from man; one only needs to give free reins to oneself, then one automatically goes on rolling down the abyss. Now, the man to whom We had shown both the paths, adopted the easy down-hill path and abandoned the toilsome path, which leads to the heights.”
12Since in the foregoing verses the extravagances of man which he indulges in for ostentation and expression of superiority to others, have been mentioned, now here it is being stated as to what expenditure of wealth it is which leads man up to moral heights instead of causing him to sink into moral depravity and perversion. But in this there is no enjoyment for the self; on the contrary, man has to exercise self-restraints and make sacrifices. The expenditure is that one should set a slave free, or should render a slave monetary help so as to enable him to win his freedom by paying the ransom, or free a debtor from his debt, or secure release of a helpless person without means from penalties. Likewise, the expenditure is that one should feed a nearly related orphan (i.e. an orphan who is either a relative or a neighbor) who is hungry, and a needy, helpless person who might have been reduced to extreme poverty and might have none to support and help him. Helping such people does not win a person fame and reputation, nor feeding them brings him the admiration for being wealthy and generous which one usually wins by holding banquets to thousands of well-to-do people. But the path to moral and spiritual heights passes on steep uphill roads only.
Great merits of the acts of virtue mentioned in these verses have been described by the Holy Prophet (upon whom be Allah’s peace). For instance, about fakku raqabah (fleeing a neck from bondage) many ahadith have been related in the traditions, one of which is a tradition from Hadrat Abu Hurairah, to the effect; “The Holy Prophet said: The person who set a believing slave free, Allah will save from fire of Hell every limb of his body in lieu of every limb of the slave’s body, the hand in lieu of the hand, the foot in lies of the foot, the private parts in lieu of the private parts ” (Musnad, Ahmad, Bukhari. Muslim, Tirmidhi, Nasa’i). Hadrat ‘Ali bin Husain (lmam Zain al-`Abedin) asked Sa`d bin Marjanah, the reporter of this Hadith: “Did you hear it yourself from Abu Hurairah?” When 6e replied in the affirmative, Imam Zain al-`Abedin called out his most valuable slave and set him free there and then. According to Muslim, he had an offer often thousand dirhams for the slave. On the basis of this verse, Imam Abu Hanifah and Imam Sha`bi have ruled: “Setting a slave free is superior to giving away charity, for Allah has mentioned it before the mention of charity.
The Holy Prophet has mentioned the merits of rendering help to the needy in many ahadith, one of which is this Hadith from Hadrat Abu Hurairah: “The Holy Prophet said: The one who strives in the cause of rendering help to the widow and the needy is like the one who endeavors and strives in the cause of jihad for the sake of Allah. (And Hadrat Abu Hurairah says 🙂 I think that the Holy Prophet also said: He is even like him who keeps standing up in the Prayer constantly, without ever taking rest, and like him who observes the fast continuously without ever breaking it:” (Bukhari, Muslim).
As for the orphans, there are numerous sayings reported from the Holy Prophet. Hadrat Sahl bin Sa`d has reported: “The Holy Prophet (upon whom be peace) said: I and the one who supports a nearly related of un-related orphan, shall stand in Paradise like this-saying this he raised his index finger and the middle finger, keeping them a little apart.” (Bukhari). Hadrat Abu HIurairah has reported this saying of the Holy Prophet: “The best among the Muslim homes is the home wherein an orphan is treated well and the worst the one wherein an orphan is mistreated.” (Ibn Majah, Bukhari in Al-Adab al- Mufrad). Hadrat Abu Umamah says that the Holy Prophet said: “The one who passed his hand on the head of an orphan, only for the sake of Allah, will have as many acts of virtue recorded in his favour as the number of the hair on which his hand passed, and the one who treated an orphan boy or girl well. will stand in Paradise with me like this…saying this the Holy Prophet joined his two fingers together.” (Musnad Ahmad, Tirmidhi). Ibn ‘Abbas says: The Holy Prophet said: “The one who made an orphan join him in eating and drinking, Allah will make Paradise obligatory for him unless he commits a sin which cannot be forgiven.” (Sharh as-Sunnah).Hadrat Abu Hurairah says: A man complained before the Holy Prophet (upon whom be peace), saying: “I am hard-hearted.” The Holy Prophet said to him: “Treat the orphan with kindness and love and feed the needy one.” (Musnad Ahmad).
13That is, “In addition to these qualities it is essential that one should be a believer, for without faith no act is an act of virtue, nor acceptable in the sight of Allah. At numerous places in the Qur’an it has been stated that only such an act of virtue is appreciable and becomes a means of salvation as is accompanied by faith. In .Surah An-Nisa’, for example, it has been said: “The one who does good deeds, whether man or woman, provided that the one is a believer, will enter Paradise (v. 1245.)” In Surah An-Nahl: “Whosoever does righteous deeds, whether male or female, provided that he is a believer, We shall surely grant him to live a pure life in this world, and We will reward such people (in the Hereafter) according to their best deeds” (v. 97). In Surah Al-Mu’min: “Whoever does good, whether man or woman, provided that he is a believer, all such people shall enter Paradise wherein they shall be provided without measure.” (v : 4U). Whoever studies the Qur’an, will see that in this Book wherever the good reward of a righteous act has been mentioned, it has always been made conditional upon the faith, a good act without faith; has nowhere been regarded as acceptable to God, nor has any hope been given for a reward for it.
Here, the following important point also should not remain hidden from view: In this verse it has not been said: “Then he believed”, but: “Then he joined those who believed.’ This means that mere believing as an individual and remaining content with it is not what is desired; what is desired is that every new believer should join those who have already believed so as to form a party of the believers, to bring about a believing society, which should work for establishing the virtues and wiping out the vices as demanded by the faith.
14These are two of the important characteristics of the believing society, which have been expressed in two brief sentences. The first characteristic is that its members should exhort one another to patience, and the second that they should exhort one another to compassion and mercy.
As for patience, we have explained at many places that in view of the extensive meaning in which the Qur’an has used this word, the entire life of a believer is a life of patience. As soon as a man stops on to the path of the faith, test of his patience starts. Patience is required to be exercised in performing the acts of worship enjoined by Allah patience is needed in carrying out the commands of Allah; abstention from the things forbidden by Allah is not possible without patience; patience is needed in abandoning the moral evils and in adopting the pure morals; temptations to sin faced at every step can be resisted only by recourse to patience. On countless occasions in life obedience to God’s law entails losses, troubles, hardships and deprivations, and disobedience to the law seems to bring benefits and pleasures. Without patience no believer can fare well on such occasions. Then, as soon as a believer has adopted the way of the faith, he has to meet with resistance not only from his own self and personal desires but also from his children, family, society, country and nation and from the base-hearted among men and jinn of the entire world; so much so that he is even required to abandon his country and undertake Jihad in the cause of God. Under all these conditions only the quality of patience can cause a man to remain steadfast to principles. Now, obviously, if every believer individually was put to such a hard test, he would be faced with the danger of defeat at every step and world hardly be able to pass through the test successfully. On the contrary, if there existed a believing society every member of which was not only himself possessed of patience but all its members also were .supporting one another mutually in the test of patience, successes would fall to its lot, a tremendous power would be generated to face the evil, a mighty force of good individuals would be ready to help bring the entire society on to the path of virtue and righteousness.
As for mercy and compassion, it is the distinctive feature of the society of believers that they are not a hard-hearted, merciless and unjust people but a society whose members are merciful and compassionate. to humanity at large and sympathetic and friendly among themselves. A believer as an individual is an embodiment of Allah’s quality of mercy and the group of the believers as a party also is a representative of Allah’s Messenger, who has been described thus: “O Muhammad, We have sent you to be a real blessing for the people of the world.” (AI-Anbiya’: 107). The highest moral quality which the Holy Messenger (upon whom be Allah’s peace) tried his utmost to inculcate among his followers was this very quality of mercy. Consider – the following of his sayings, which show what importance he attached to it. Hadrat Jarir bin `Abdullah says that the Holy Messenger (upon whom be peace) said: “Allah does not show mercy to him who does not show mercy to others.” (Bukhari, Muslim).
Hadrat `Abdullah bin `Amr bin al-`As says that the holy Prophet said: “The Rahman (Merciful) shows mercy to those who show mercy (to others). Show mercy to those who live in the earth, the One who is in heaven will show mercy to you.” (Abu Da’ud, Tirmidhi).
Hadrat Abu Sa`id Khudri has reported that the Holy Prophet said: “The one who does not show mercy, is not shown mercy. ” (Bukhari in Al-Adab al-Mufrad). Ibn `Abbas says that the Holy Prophet said: “The one who does not treat our young ones mercifully and does not treat our elderly ones respectfully, dces not belong to us. ” (TirmidhI).
Abu Da’ud has related this same saying of the Holy Prophet on the authority of Hadrat `Abdullah bin `Amr, thus: “The one who did not feel pity on our young and did not respect our elderly does not belong to us.”
Hadrat Abu Hurairah says: “I have heard Abul-Qasim, the Truthful (upon whom be peace), say: “The heart of the wretched one is deprived of the quality of mercy altogether’ . ” (Musnad Ahmad, Tirmidhi).
Hadrat `Iyad bin Humad relates that the Holy Prophet said: “Three kinds of men belong to Paradise, one of whom is the person who is kindly and compassionate to every relative and every Muslim.” (Muslim).
Hadrat Nu`man bin Bashir has reported that the Holy Prophet said: “You will find the believers like a body in the matter of mutual kindness, love and sympathy, so that if one part of the body suffers the whole body suffers and becomes restless because of it.” (Bukhari, Muslim).
Hadrat Abu Musa Al-ash`ari says that the Holy Prophet said: “The believer is for the other believer like a wall each part of which supports and strengthens the other part.” (Bukhari, Muslim).
Hadrat `Abdullah bin ‘Umar has reported that the Holy Prophet said: “A Muslim is a brother of the other Muslim: neither treats him unjustly, nor withholds his help from him. The person who works to fulfill a need of his brother, Allah will seek to fulfill his need; and the one who rescues a Muslim from an affliction, Allah will rescue him from an affliction of the afflictions of the Resurrection Day; and the one who conceals the fault of a Muslim, Allah will conceal his fault on the Resurrection Day. ” (Bukhari, Muslim).
These traditions indicate what kind of a society is envisaged by the Qur’anic instruction given in this verse, which exhorts the righteous people to join the group of the believers after they have affirmed the faith.
15For an explanation of “the people of the right hand and of the left hand”, see E.N.’s 5, 6 of Surah Al-Waqi’ah.
16That is, fire will be so covering them from every side that they will find no way of escape from it.