Surah At Takwir (Arabic: سورة التكوير) is the 81st Surah of the Quran. The title is “The Overthrowing” and it is classified as a Meccan Surah meaning it’s revelation was before Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) and his followers migrated from Mecca to Medina. It is composed of 29 ayat (verses).
This Surah gives us some details of the scenes of the Last Day. Some of these signs include the following:
(a) When the sun is shrouded in darkness (turns into a sphere)
(b) When the stars lose their light
(c) When the mountains are made to vanish
(d) When the seas boil over
(e) when the she camel about to give birth is left untended.
One of the goals of the My Islam site is to make it easy to read and understand the Qur’an. So below every Ayat in Arabic we’ve provided transliteration to make it easy to pronounce and Sahih International English Translation to make it easy to understand. At the end we’ve provided four different tafseer for those looking to read various interpretations by Quran commentators.
“So where are you going? It is not except a reminder to the worlds For whoever wills among you to take a right course.”
Surah Takwir Ayat 26-28
Read Surah Takwir with Translation and Transliteration
Bismillah Hir Rahman Nir Raheem
In the name of Allah, The Most Gracious and The Most Merciful
إِذَا الشَّمْسُ كُوِّرَتْ
Izash shamsu kuwwirat
1. When the sun is wrapped up [in darkness]
وَإِذَا النُّجُومُ انكَدَرَتْ
Wa izan nujoomun kadarat
2. And when the stars fall, dispersing,
وَإِذَا الْجِبَالُ سُيِّرَتْ
Wa izal jibaalu suyyirat
3. And when the mountains are removed
وَإِذَا الْعِشَارُ عُطِّلَتْ
Wa izal ‘ishaaru ‘uttilat
4. And when full-term she-camels are neglected
وَإِذَا الْوُحُوشُ حُشِرَتْ
Wa izal wuhooshu hushirat
5. And when the wild beasts are gathered
وَإِذَا الْبِحَارُ سُجِّرَتْ
Wa izal bihaaru sujjirat
6. And when the seas are filled with flame
وَإِذَا النُّفُوسُ زُوِّجَتْ
Wa izan nufoosu zuwwijat
7. And when the souls are paired
وَإِذَا الْمَوْءُودَةُ سُئِلَتْ
Wa izal maw’oodatu su’ilat
8. And when the girl [who was] buried alive is asked
بِأَيِّ ذَنبٍ قُتِلَتْ
Bi ayyi zambin qutilat
9. For what sin she was killed
وَإِذَا الصُّحُفُ نُشِرَتْ
Wa izas suhufu nushirat
10. And when the pages are made public
وَإِذَا السَّمَاءُ كُشِطَتْ
Wa izas samaaa’u kushitat
11. And when the sky is stripped away
وَإِذَا الْجَحِيمُ سُعِّرَتْ
Wa izal jaheemu su’-‘irat
12. And when Hellfire is set ablaze
وَإِذَا الْجَنَّةُ أُزْلِفَتْ
Wa izal jannatu uzlifat
13. And when Paradise is brought near,
عَلِمَتْ نَفْسٌ مَّا أَحْضَرَتْ
‘Alimat nafsum maaa ahdarat
14. A soul will [then] know what it has brought [with it].
فَلَا أُقْسِمُ بِالْخُنَّسِ
Falaaa uqsimu bil khunnas
15. So I swear by the retreating stars –
Al jawaaril kunnas
16. Those that run [their courses] and disappear –
وَاللَّيْلِ إِذَا عَسْعَسَ
Wallaili izaa ‘as’as
17. And by the night as it closes in
وَالصُّبْحِ إِذَا تَنَفَّسَ
Wassubhi izaa tanaffas
18. And by the dawn when it breathes
إِنَّهُ لَقَوْلُ رَسُولٍ كَرِيمٍ
Innahoo laqawlu rasoolin kareem
19. [That] indeed, the Qur’an is a word [conveyed by] a noble messenger
ذِي قُوَّةٍ عِندَ ذِي الْعَرْشِ مَكِينٍ
Zee quwwatin ‘inda zil ‘arshi makeen
20. [Who is] possessed of power and with the Owner of the Throne, secure [in position],
مُّطَاعٍ ثَمَّ أَمِينٍ
Mutaa’in samma ameen
21. Obeyed there [in the heavens] and trustworthy.
وَمَا صَاحِبُكُم بِمَجْنُونٍ
Wa maa saahibukum bimajnoon
22. And your companion is not [at all] mad.
وَلَقَدْ رَآهُ بِالْأُفُقِ الْمُبِينِ
Wa laqad ra aahu bilufuqil mubeen
23. And he has already seen Gabriel in the clear horizon.
وَمَا هُوَ عَلَى الْغَيْبِ بِضَنِينٍ
Wa maa huwa ‘alal ghaibi bidaneen
24. And Muhammad is not a withholder of [knowledge of] the unseen.
وَمَا هُوَ بِقَوْلِ شَيْطَانٍ رَّجِيمٍ
Wa maa huwa biqawli shaitaanir rajeem
25. And the Qur’an is not the word of a devil, expelled [from the heavens].
Fa ayna tazhaboon
26. So where are you going?
إِنْ هُوَ إِلَّا ذِكْرٌ لِّلْعَالَمِينَ
In huwa illaa zikrul lil’aalameen
27. It is not except a reminder to the worlds
لِمَن شَاءَ مِنكُمْ أَن يَسْتَقِيمَ
Liman shaaa’a minkum ai yastaqeem
28. For whoever wills among you to take a right course.
وَمَا تَشَاءُونَ إِلَّا أَن يَشَاءَ اللَّهُ رَبُّ الْعَالَمِينَ
Wa maa tashaaa’oona illaaa ai yashaaa ‘al laahu Rabbul ‘Aalameen
29. And you do not will except that Allah wills – Lord of the worlds.
Tafsir of Surah Takwir
Below you can read from four different tafseer on Surah Takwir including one by Ibn Kathir. It is our belief that we should make studying the Qur’an a priority and go beyond just reading the Arabic text.
By reading the various interpretations we have more to benefit by understanding the message and teachings of the Surah and applying these lessons in our own lives. In the hadith Allah tells us there’s reward for those who will read His holy book but let’s not forget it’s revelation was to deliver a message and we should study and understand that message as clearly as we possibly can.
Tafsir Surah Takwir by Ibn Kathir
Imam Ahmad recorded from Ibn `Umar that the Messenger of Allah said,
(Whoever wishes to look at the Day of Judgement as if he is seeing it with his own eyes, then let him read, (When the sun is wound round.) (81:1) (and; (When the heaven is cleft asunder.) (82:1) (and; (When the heaven is split asunder.) (84:1)) Likewise, At-Tirmidhi has also recorded this Hadith.
In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
`Ali bin Abi Talhah reported from Ibn `Abbas:
(When the sun is Kuwwirat.) “This means it will be darkened.” Al-`Awfi reported from Ibn `Abbas; “It will go away.” Qatadah said, “Its light will go away.” Sa`id bin Jubayr said, “Kuwwirat means it will sink in.” Abu Salih said, “Kuwwirat means it will be thrown down.” At-Takwir means to gather one part of something with another part of it (i.e., folding). From it comes the folding of the turban (`Imamah) and the folding of clothes together. Thus, the meaning of Allah’s statement,
(Kuwwirat) is that part of it will be folded up into another part of it. Then it will be rolled up and thrown away. When this is done to it, its light will go away. Al-Bukhari recorded from Abu Hurayrah that the Prophet said,
(The sun and the moon will be rolled up on the Day of Judgement.) Al-Bukhari was alone in recording this Hadith and this is his wording of it.
(And when the stars Inkadarat.) meaning, when they are scattered. This is as Allah says,
(And when the stars have fallen and scattered.) (82:2) The basis of the word Inkidar is Insibab, which means to be poured out. Ar-Rabi` bin Anas reported from Abu Al-`Aliyah, who reported from Ubayy bin Ka`b that he said, “Six signs will take place before the Day of Judgement. The people will be in their marketplaces when the sun’s light will go away. When they are in that situation, the stars will be scattered. When they are in that situation, the mountains will fall down upon the face of the earth, and the earth will move, quake and be in a state of mixed up confusion. So the Jinns will then flee in fright to the humans and the humans will flee to the Jinns. The domestic beasts, birds and wild animals will mix together, and they will surge together in a wave (of chaos).
(And when the wild beasts are gathered together.) This means they will be mixed.
(And when the pregnant she camels are neglected;) This means their owners will neglect them.
(And when the seas become as blazing fire)” Then he (Ubayy) went on to say, “The Jinns will say, `We come to you with news.’ So they will all go to the sea, and it will be a blazing fire. While they are in that state, the earth will be split with one huge crack that will extend from the lowest, seventh earth to the highest, seventh heaven. So while they are in that state, a wind will come that will kill all of them.” Ibn Jarir recorded this narration with this wording.
Concerning Allah’s statement,
(And when the mountains are made to pass away;) meaning, they will not remain in their places and they will be destroyed. Then the earth will be left as a flat, level plain. Then Allah says,
(And when the pregnant she-camels (`Ishar) are neglected (`Uttilat);) `Ikrimah and Mujahid said, “`Ishar are (pregnant she-) camels.” Mujahid said, “`Uttilat means abandoned and left.” Ubayy bin Ka`b and Ad-Dahhak both said, “Their owners will neglect them.” Ar-Rabi` bin Khuthaym said, “They will not be milked or tied up. Their masters will leave them abandoned.” Ad-Dahhak said, “They will be left with no one to tend to them.” And the meaning of all of these statements is similar. What is intended is that the `Ishar is a type of camel. It is actually the best type of camel, and particularly the pregnant females of them when they have reached the tenth month of their pregnancies. One of them is singularly referred to as `Ushara’, and she keeps that name until she gives birth. So the people will be too busy to tend to her, take care of her or benefit from her, after she used to be the most important thing to them. This will be due to what will suddenly overtake them of the great, terrifying and horrible situation. This is the matter of the Day of Judgement, the coming together of its causes, and the occurrence of those things that will happen before it.
(And when the wild beasts are gathered together.) meaning, gathered. This is as Allah says,
(There is not a moving creature on earth, nor a bird that flies with its two wings, but are communities like you. We have neglected nothing in the Book, then unto their Lord they shall be gathered.) (6:38) Ibn `Abbas said, “Everything will be gathered, even the flies.” This statement was recorded by Ibn Abi Hatim. Allah also says,
(And (so did) the birds assembled.) ﴿38:19﴾ meaning, gathered.
(And when the seas become as blazing fire.) Ibn Jarir recorded from Sa`id bin Al-Musayyib that `Ali said to a Jewish man, “Where is the Hell” The man said, “The sea.” `Ali then said, “I think he is truthful, as Allah says
(And by the seas kindled (Masjur).) (52:6) and;
(And when the seas become as blazing fire.)” This has already been discussed previously with the explanation of Allah’s statement,
(And by the seas kindled (Masjur).) (52:6)
Concerning Allah’s statement,
(And when the souls are joined with their mates.) meaning, every type (of soul) will be gathered with its peer (or mate). This is as Allah says,
(It will be said to the angels): “Assemble those who did wrong, together with their companions (from the devils).) (37:22) Ibn Abi Hatim recorded from An-Nu`man bin Bashir that the Messenger of Allah said,
الضُّرَبَاءُ: كُلُّ رَجُلٍ مَعَ كُلِّ قَوْمٍ كَانُوا يَعْمَلُونَ عَمَلَهُ وَذَلِكَ بِأَنَّ اللهَ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ يَقُولُ:
((And When the souls are joined with their mates.)( Those who are alike. Every man will be with every group of people who performed the same deeds that he did. (This is because Allah says, (And you (all) will be in three groups. So those on the Right Hand – how (fortunate) will be those on Right Hand! And those on the Left Hand – how (unfortunate) will be those on the Left Hand!) (56: 7-10) (They are those who are alike.)
(And when the female infant (Al-Maw’udah) buried alive is questioned: For what sin was she killed) The majority have recited it as Su’ilat (she is questioned), as it is here. Al-Maw’udah is the female infant that the people of the pre-Islamic time of ignorance would bury in the dirt due to their hatred of girls. Therefore, on the Day of Judgement, the female infant will be asked what sin she committed that caused here to be murdered. This will be a means of frightening her murderer. For verily, if the one who was wronged is questioned, what does the wrongdoer (the one who is guilty of the oppression) think then `Ali bin Abi Talhah reported that Ibn `Abbas said,
(And when the female infant (Al-Maw’udah) buried alive Su’ilat:) “This means that she will ask.” Abu Ad-Duha made a similar statement when he said, “She will ask, meaning she will demand restitution for her blood.” The same has been reported from As-Suddi and Qatadah. Hadiths have been reported concerning the Maw’udah. Imam Ahmad recorded from `A’ishah, who reported from Judamah bint Wahb, the sister of `Ukkashah, that she said, “I was in the presence of the Messenger of Allah when he was with some people, and he said,
(I was about to prohibit sexual relations with breast feeding women, but then I saw that the Romans and the Persians have sexual relations with their women who breast feed their children and it does not harm the children at all.) Then they asked him about interruption of sexual intercourse to prevent the male discharge from entering the womb of the woman, and he said,
(That is the minor infanticide and it is the female infant buried alive (Maw’udah) that will be questioned.)” Muslim, Ibn Majah, Abu Dawud, At-Tirmidhi and An-Nasa’i, all recorded this Hadith as well.
`Abdur-Razzaq said that Isra’il informed them from Simak bin Harb, from An-Nu`man bin Bashir, who reported from `Umar bin Al-Khattab that he said concerning Allah’s statement,
(And when the female infant buried alive is questioned.) “Qays bin `Asim came to the Messenger of Allah and said, `O Messenger of Allah! Verily, I buried some daughters of mine alive in the period of pre-Islamic ignorance.’ The Messenger of Allah said,
(Free a slave for each one of them.) Then Qays said, `O Messenger of Allah! Verily, I am an owner of camels.’ The Prophet said,
(Then sacrifice a camel for each one of them.)”
(And when the pages are laid open.) Ad-Dahhak said, “Every person will be given his paper in his right hand or in his left hand.” Qatadah said, “O Son of Adam ! It (your paper) is written in, then it is rolled up, then it will be distributed to you on the Day of Judgement. So let each man look at what he himself dictated to be written in his paper.”
(And when the heaven is Kushitat;) Mujahid said, “It drawns away.” As-Suddi said, “Stripped off.” Concerning Allah’s statement,
(And when Hell is Su`irat.) As-Suddi said, “It is heated.” In reference to Allah’s statement,
(And when Paradise is brought near.) Ad-Dahhak, Abu Malik, Qatadah, and Ar-Rabi` bin Khuthaym, all said, “This means it will be brought near to its inhabitants.”
(Every person will know what he has brought.) This is the conclusive response of the previous statements, meaning at the time these matters occur, every soul will know what it has done, and that will be brought forth for it, as Allah says,
(On the Day when every person will be confronted with all the good he has done, and all the evil he has done, he will wish that there were a great distance between him and his evil.) (3:30) Allah also says,
(On that Day man will be informed of what he sent forward, and what he left behind.) (75:13)
Muslim recorded in his Sahih, and An-Nasa’i in his Book of Tafsir, in explaining this Ayah, from `Amr bin Hurayth that he said, “I prayed the Morning prayer behind the Prophet , and I heard him reciting,
(But nay! I swear by Al-Khunnas, Al-Jawar Al-Kunnas, and by the night when it `As`as, and by the day when it Tanaffas.)” Ibn Jarir recorded from Khalid bin `Ar`arah that he heard `Ali being asked about the Ayah; (لَا أُقْسِمُ بِالْخُنَّسِ. الْجَوَارِ الْكُنَّسِ) (Nay! I swear by Al-Khunnas, Al-Jawar Al-Kunnas.) and he said, “These are the stars that withdraw (disappear) during the day and sweep across the sky (appear) at night.” Concerning Allah’s statement,
(And by the night when it `As`as.) There are two opinions about this statement. One of them is that this refers to its advancing with its darkness. Mujahid said, “It means its darkening.” Sa`id bin Jubayr said, “When it begins.” Al-Hasan Al-Basri said, “When it covers the people.” This was also said by `Atiyah Al-`Awfi. `Ali bin Abi Talhah and Al-`Awfi both reported from Ibn `Abbas:
(when it `As`as) “This means when it goes away.” Mujahid, Qatadah and Ad-Dahhak, all said the same. Zayd bin Aslam and his son `Abdur-Rahman also made a similar statement, when they said,
(when it `As`as) “This means when it leaves, and thus it turns away.” I believe that the intent in Allah’s saying,
(when it `As`as) is when it approaches, even though it is correct to use this word for departing also. However, approachment is a more suitable usage here. It is as if Allah is swearing by the night and its darkness when it approaches, and by the morning and its light when it shines from the east. This is as Allah says,
(By the night as it envelops. By the day as it appears in brightness) (92:1-2) and He also says,
(By the forenoon. By the night when it darkens.) (93:1-2) Allah also says,
(Cleaver of the daybreak. He has appointed night for resting.) (6:96) And there are other similar Ayat that mention this. Many of the scholars of the fundamentals of language have said that the word `As`as is used to mean advancing and retreating, with both meanings sharing the same word. Therefore, it is correct that the intent could be both of them, and Allah knows best. Concerning Allah’s statement,
(And by the day when it Tanaffas.) Ad-Dahhak said, “When it rises.” Qatadah said, “When it brightens and advances.”
(Verily, this is the Word of a most honorable messenger.) meaning, indeed this Qur’an is being conveyed by a noble messenger, which is referring to an honorable angel, who has good character and a radiant appearance, and he is Jibril. Ibn `Abbas, Ash-Sha`bi, Maymun bin Mihran, Al-Hasan, Qatadah, Ar-Rabi` bin Anas, Ad-Dahhak and others have said this.
(Dhi Quwwah) This is similar to Allah’s statement,
(He has been taught by one mighty in power, Dhu Mirrah.) (53:5-6) meaning, mighty in creation, mighty in strength and mighty in actions.
(with the Lord of the Throne Makin,) meaning, he has high status and lofty rank with Allah.
(Obeyed there,) meaning, he has prestige, his word is listened to, and he is obeyed among the most high gathering (of angels). Qatadah said,
(Obeyed there) “This means in the heavens. He is not one of the lower ranking (ordinary) angels. Rather he is from the high ranking, prestigious angels. He is respected and has been chosen for (the delivery of) this magnificent Message.” Allah then says,
(trustworthy.) This is a description of Jibril as being trustworthy. This is something very great, that the Almighty Lord has commended His servant and angelic Messenger, Jibril, just as He has commended His servant and human Messenger, Muhammad by His statement,
(And your companion is not a madman.) Ash-Sha`bi, Maymun bin Mihran, Abu Salih and others who have been previously mentioned, all said, “This refers to Muhammad .” Allah said,
(And indeed he saw him in the clear horizon.) meaning, indeed Muhammad saw Jibril, who brought him the Message from Allah, in the form that Allah created him in (i.e., his true form), and he had six hundred wings.
(in the clear horizon. ) meaning, clear. This refers to the first sighting which occurred at Al-Batha’ (Makkah). This incident is mentioned in Allah’s statement,
(He has been taught by one mighty in power (Jibril). Dhu Mirrah, then he rose. While he was in the highest part of the horizon. Then he approached and came closer. And was at a distance of two bows’ length or less. So (Allah) revealed to His servant what He revealed.) (53:5-10) The explanation of this and its confirmation has already preceded, as well as the evidence that proves that it is referring to Jibril. It seems apparent — and Allah knows best — that this Surah (At-Takwir) was revealed before the Night Journey (Al-Isra’), because nothing has been mentioned in it except this sighting (of Jibril), and it is the first sighting. The second sighting has been mentioned in Allah’s statement,
(And indeed he saw him (Jibril) at a second descent. Near Sidrah Al-Muntaha. Near it is the Paradise of Abode. When that covered the lote tree which did cover it !) (53:13-16) And these Ayat have only been mentioned in Surat An-Najm, which was revealed after Surat Al-Isra’ (The Night Journey). The Prophet is not Stingy in conveying the Revelation (وَمَا هُوَ عَلَى الْغَيْبِ بِظَنِينٍ) (He is not Zanin over the Unseen) meaning Muhammad is not following false conjecture about what Allah revealed. Others have recited this Ayah with the `Dad’ in the word Danin, which means that he is not stingy, but rather he conveys it to everyone. Sufyan bin `Uyaynah said, “Zanin and Danin both have the same meaning. They mean that he is not a liar, nor is he a wicked, sinful person. The Zanin is one who follows false supposition, and the Danin is one who is stingy.” Qatadah said, “The Qur’an was unseen and Allah revealed it to Muhammad , and he did not withhold it from the people. Rather he announced it, conveyed it, and offered it to everyone who wanted it.” `Ikrimah, Ibn Zayd and others have made similar statements. Ibn Jarir preferred the recitation Danin. I say that both of recitations have been confirmed by numerous routes of transmission, and its meaning is correct either way, as we have mentioned earlier.
(And it is not the word of the outcast Shaytan.) meaning, this Qur’an is not the statement of an outcast Shaytan. This means that he is not able to produce it, nor is it befitting of him to do so. This is as Allah says,
(And it is not the Shayatin who have brought it down. Neither would it suit them nor they can. Verily, they have been removed far from hearing it.) (26:210-212) Then Allah says,
(Then where are you going) meaning, where has your reason gone, in rejecting this Qur’an, while it is manifest, clear, and evident that it is the truth from Allah. This is as Abu Bakr As-Siddiq said to the delegation of Bani Hanifah when they came to him as Muslims and he commanded them to recite (something from the Qur’an). So they recited something to him from the so called Qur’an of Musaylimah the Liar, that was total gibberish and terribly poor in style. Thus, Abu Bakr said, “Woe unto you! Where have your senses gone By Allah, this speech did not come from a god.” Qatadah said,
(Then where are you going) meaning, from the Book of Allah and His obedience. Then Allah says,
(Verily, this is no less than a Reminder to the creatures.) meaning, this Qur’an is a reminder for all of mankind. They are reminded by it and receive admonition from it.
(To whomsoever among you who wills to walk straight.) meaning, whoever seeks guidance, then he must adhere to this Qur’an, for verily it is his salvation and guidance. There is no guidance in other than it.
(And you cannot will unless (it be) that Allah wills — the Lord of all that exists.) This means that the will is not left to you all, so that whoever wishes to be guided, then he is guided, and whoever wishes to be astray, then he goes astray, rather, all of this is according to the will of Allah the Exalted, and He is the Lord of all that exists. It is reported from Sulayman bin Musa that when this Ayah was revealed,
(To whomsoever among you who wills to walk straight.) Abu Jahl said, “The matter is up to us. If we wish, we will stand straight, and we do not wish, we will not stand straight.” So Allah revealed,
(And you cannot will unless (it be) that Allah wills the Lord of the all that exists.)
This is the end of the Tafsir of Surat At-Takwir, and all praise and thanks are due to Allah.
[81:1] When the sun will be folded up,
إِذَا الشَّمْسُ كُوِّرَتْ (When the sun will be folded up…81:1) The word kawwara is derived from Takwir which denotes for the sun ‘to lose its light’.1 Sayyidna Hasan Basri (رح) has attached this interpretation to it. Another sense of the word is ‘to cause to fall’. Rabi` Ibn Khaitham assigns the following interpretation to this verse: The Sun will be thrown into the ocean, and as a result of its heat the entire ocean will turn into fire. The two interpretations are not contradictory. They may be reconciled thus: first, its light will be put off and then it may be thrown into the ocean. Sahih of Bukhari records from Sayyidna Abu Huharirah ؓ that the Holy Prophet ﷺ said that on the Day of Resurrection the Sun and the Moon would be thrown into the ocean. Musnad of Bazzar has the addition that they will be thrown into Hell. Ibn Abi Hatim, Ibn Abid-Dunya and Abush-Shaikh stated that on the Day of Resurrection Allah will throw the Sun, the Moon and all stars into the ocean. Then a violent wind will blow over them, as a result of which the entire ocean will turn into fire. Thus it is correct to say that the Sun and the Moon will be put into the ocean. It is likewise correct to say that they will be put into Hell, because the entire ocean at that time will have been turned into Hell. [Derived from Mazhari and Qurtubi]
(1) Another meaning of Takwir is ‘to fold’, and the translation in the text is based on this meaning. The sense of folding the sun is that its function will come to an end, and it will lose its light. As such, it comes to mean same thing as mentioned in first interpretation. Muhammad Taqi Usmani
[81:2] and when the stars will swoop down,
وَإِذَا النُّجُومُ انكَدَرَتْ (and when the stars will swoop down…81:2). The word inkadarat is derived from inkidar and it denotes ‘to fall’. The righteous predecessors have interpreted it thus. It signifies that all the stars from the sky will fall into the oceans as explained in the preceding verses.
[81:3] and when the mountains will be set in motion,
[81:4] and when the ten-months pregnant she-camels will be abandoned,
وَإِذَا الْعِشَارُ عُطِّلَتْ (and when the ten-months pregnant she-camels will be abandoned…81:4). The Arabic word ` ishar is the plural of the word ` ushara’ and is applied to she-camels having ten months pregnancy. Such she-camels were considered by the Arabs to be a very valuable asset, because they expected her to give birth to more camels and abundant milk. As such, they used to protect her and never left her free. The verse referring to this custom of the Arabs, who were the immediate addressees, depicts the horrible scene of the Doomsday when even the most favorite wealth, like such a she-camel, will be abandoned and neglected by its owners because of the calamity they will be facing.
[81:5] and when the wild beasts will be gathered together,
[81:6] and when the seas will be flared up,
وَإِذَا الْبِحَارُ سُجِّرَتْ (and when the seas will be flared up…81:6). The word sujjirat is derived from tasfir and it signifies ‘to set ablaze’. Sayyidna Ibn ` Abbas ؓ assigns this interpretation to the word in this context. Another sense of the word is ‘to fill’ and a third sense of the word is ‘to mix or admix’. Some commentators have interpreted it in this sense. None of these interpretations is contradictory to each other. First, the salt and sweet water are admixed and the rivers are made to flow forth into the sea; then the seas will meet together and become one and having more water; then the seas will be set on fire; and then the Sun and the Moon and the stars will be thrown into the water. Then all the water will be turned into fire which will become part of Hell. [Mazhari]
[81:7] and when the people will be arranged in categories,
وَإِذَا النُّفُوسُ زُوِّجَتْ (and when the people will be arranged in categories…81:7). It means that the people on the Plain of Gathering will be grouped, like with like, in terms of belief and deeds. Disbelievers will be grouped together and believers will be grouped together. There are differences between the deeds and habits of believers and there are differences between the deeds and habits of disbelievers. The non-believers will be regrouped according to their essential characteristics and the Muslims too will be regrouped according to their essential characteristics as is reported in Baihaqi on the authority of Sayyidna Nu` man Ibn Bashir ؓ that Sayyidna ` Umar Ibn Khattab ؓ said that the people doing similar deeds, good or bad, will be joined together. For example, the knowledgeable persons from among the Muslims who were serving Islamic studies will be made into one group; the people who devoted themselves for worship will be made into another group; the people performing jihad will be together, and the people whose main characteristic was to spend in charities will be gathered in one place. On the other hand, those who were involved in wicked activities like thieves, robbers, adulterers will also be assembled in their respective groups. Sayyidna ` Umar ؓ based this statement on the verse of the Holy Qur’an in which Allah says in Surah [and you will be (divided into) three categories. (56:7) It is mentioned further in that Surah that out of the three categories, two will attain salvation who are named as the ‘foremost’ and ‘people of the right’ while another group, namely the ‘people of the left’ will be comprised of the infidels.
[81:8] and when the girl-child that was buried alive will be asked,
وَإِذَا الْمَوْءُودَةُ سُئِلَتْ (and when the girl-child that was buried alive will be asked, for what sin she was killed…81:8) The word mau’udah is the girl-child buried alive. It was a common practice in pre-Islamic time of ignorance that people would take the birth of a girl as a matter of shame for their fathers, and therefore they would bury them alive as soon as they were born. Islam has abolished this barbaric practice completely. This verse, while depicting the scene of Resurrection, mentions that the girls who were buried alive will be questioned for what crime they were killed. Apparently, it seems that the question will be posed to the girl herself. This will give the victim an opportunity to prove her complete innocence and thus the perpetrators of this crime will be hauled up in the Divine Court of Justice, and will be duly punished for their wrongdoing.
It is also possible that the question will be posed to the killers of the girls why they committed infanticide.
In any case, one question may arise here: The day referred to in these verses is named as the ‘Day of Requital’ and the ‘Day of Judgment’. This name itself sows that every person, on that day, will be put to a trial where he will be asked all sorts of questions about his deeds. Why has the Holy Qur’an, at this place, singled out only the question asked about the girl that was buried alive. Carefully considered, it would appear that such a girl was the victim of the barbarism of her own parents. As such, there was no one to raise a plaint against such a brutal act, and to demand retaliation, especially when she was buried secretly with no evidence left. The verse, therefore, signifies that on the Day of Reckoning, even those criminals will be exposed and hauled up in the Divine Court of Justice against whom there was no evidence, nor was there anyone who could stand up on their behalf to demand justice. Allah knows best!
Abortion after Four Months is Tantamount to Infanticide
Burying alive infants or killing them is a major sin and a heinous brutality. Aborting a foetus after four months falls under the same category in Shari` ah, because within four months the foetus receives the soul and treated as a living human being. Likewise, if a person strikes on the stomach of a pregnant woman which causes the baby to abort, then, according to the common consent of the Muslim jurists, it would be incumbent upon him to set free a slave or pay its price in blood-wit or diyah. If the baby was alive at the time of aborting and then died, full diyah will be incumbent. Abortion before four months is also unlawful, except in cases of necessity, but compared to the first case, it is a sin of lesser degree, because it does not amount to killing of a living human being clearly.
Ruling : Birth Control
Birth control, whose many forms are invented today, is also termed by the Holy Prophet ﷺ as ‘hidden infanticide’ in a hadith reported by Muslim from Judhamah bint Wahb ؓ . There are, however, some ahadith in which the Holy Prophet ﷺ is reported to have allowed ` azl (coitus interruptus) or to have observed silence when asked about it, which is a sign of permissibility of such an act. But it should be remembered that its permissibility is restricted to genuine needs, and that too in a way that productivity of the woman is not permanently blocked. [Mazhari]. The present-day medical science has invented some measures that prevent pregnancy forever. The Shari’ah does not permit such measures under any circumstances. Allah knows best!
[81:9] for what sin she was killed,
[81:10] and when the scrolls (of deeds) will be unrolled,
[81:11] and when the sky will be stripped off,
وَإِذَا السَّمَاءُ كُشِطَتْ (and when the sky will be stripped off…81:11) The word kushitat is derived from kasht, and it literally means ‘to strip off the skin of an animal. Probably, this condition will prevail at the first blowing of the Horn, which will happen in this world. The stars, the Sun and the Moon that contributed to the beauty of the sky will all lose their light and lustre and will be thrown into the ocean. The outlook of the sky will be changed. This phenomenon is termed in this verse as: ‘The sky will be stripped off. Some commentators interpret the word kasht in the sense of ‘folding up’. The verse, according to them, purports to say that the sky that surrounds the upper atmosphere over our heads will be folded up.
[81:12] and when the Hell will be set ablaze,
[81:13] and when the Paradise will be brought close,
[81:14] then everyone will know what he (or she) has put forward,
عَلِمَتْ نَفْسٌ مَّا أَحْضَرَتْ (then everyone will know what he [or she] has put forward… 81:14). It means that when Resurrection, with all the horrors mentioned above, will take place, man will realise what he has brought with him. The word ‘what’ here refers to his good and bad deeds, all of which will be in front of him, either in the form of the Record of Deeds that will be given in his hands or his deeds will assume a specific body shape as is understood from certain Traditions. Allah knows best!
Having described the horrors of Resurrection, and the accountability of deeds, Allah swears an oath by a few stars to confirms that the Qur’an is the truth that has been sent down, fully protected from any interruption or distortion, and that the Prophet ﷺ who has received it is a great personality, and the angel (Jibra’il علیہ السلام) who descended with it was known to him before hand. Therefore, there can be no room for any doubt about its veracity. The verses here swear an oath by five stars which the ancient Greeks called khamsah mutahayyirah or ‘the five wandering stars’, since they seemed to stray irregularly across the sky. At times they are seen moving from East to West, and at others, from West to East. Different reasons have been assigned to their irregular movements. The ancient Greeks hold several contradictory explanations for this. The research of modern scientists concurs with some of the ancient philosophers, and differs from some others. The Creator alone knows the truth and reality. The scientists merely guess and conjecture which may be wrong. The Qur’an has, therefore, not involved its readers in such a useless debate. Allah showed us what was beneficial, that is, to observe the Divine Omnipotence, His Consummate Wisdom and to repose our faith in Him.
[81:15] So, I swear by those (stars) that recede,
[81:16] that proceed, that withdraw from the scene,
[81:17] and by the night when it departs,
[81:18] and the morning when it starts breathing,
[81:19] it (the Qur’an)is surely the word of a noble messenger (Jibra’il
إِنَّهُ لَقَوْلُ رَسُولٍ كَرِيمٍ ذِي قُوَّةٍ عِندَ ذِي الْعَرْشِ مَكِينٍ (it [the Qur’an] is surely the word of a noble messenger [Jibra’il], the one possessing power and a high status with the Lord of the Throne…81:19-20). This is the subject of oath that affirms that Qur’an is the word brought by a noble messenger. Then three qualities are attributed to this noble messenger. The first quality is that he possesses power. The second quality is that he has high status and lofty rank with Allah, and he is obeyed in the upper realm. The third quality is that he is trusted, and there is no possibility of his committing any breach of trust or tampering with the message he conveys. The word ‘noble messenger’ obviously refers to the angel Jibra’il (علیہ السلام) because the word ‘messenger’ is used for angels as it is used for prophets, and all the three qualities attributed to the ‘messenger’ in the next verses are truly present in Jibra’il (علیہ السلام) . His being powerful is mentioned in Surah An-Najm in the following words;
عَلَّمَهُ شَدِيدُ الْقُوَىٰ
It is taught to him by one (angel) of strong faculties.[53:5)
It is established through the hadith of Mi` raj that he is obeyed by other angels, because when he accompanied the Holy Prophet ﷺ to the sky and ordered the angels appointed on its doors to open them he was obeyed by them. That he is trust-worthy is too obvious to need a proof.
Some commentators, however, take the phrase ‘honourable messenger’ to refer to the Holy Prophet Muhammad “and accordingly have made an attempt to take all the three qualities referring to the Holy Prophet ﷺ .
In the next verses, the Holy Qur’an has mentioned the high status of the Holy Prophet ﷺ ، and has refuted the silly objections raised against him by the infidels.
(And your companion [Muhammad ﷺ] madman….81:22) This is rebuttal to the foolish criticism of the enemies who said that Muhammad ﷺ is [God forbid!] insane.
وَلَقَدْ رَآهُ بِالْأُفُقِ الْمُبِينِ (And he did see him [Jibra’il (علیہ السلام)] on the clear horizon. _81:23) In other words, Muhammad saw Jibra’il (علیہ السلام) on a clear horizon. A similar statement occurs in Surah An-Najm as follows:
The purpose of mentioning this is to show that the Holy Prophet ﷺ was well-acquainted with Jibra’il (علیہ السلام) the angel of revelation. He had seen him in his original shape. Therefore, there can be no room for doubt in the veracity of revelation he brings to him.
[81:20] the one possessing power, and a high status with the Lord of the Throne,
[81:21] the one obeyed there, trusted.
[81:22] And your companion (Muhammad) is not a madman.
[81:23] And he did see him (Jibra’il) on the clear horizon.
[81:24] And he (the Prophet) is not stingy about (the news of) the unseen.
[81:25] Nor is it the word of an outcast shaitan (devil).
[81:26] So where are you going?
[81:27] It is nothing else but a message of advice for all the worlds,
[81:28] for the benefit of any one from among you who intends to go straight.
[81:29] And you cannot intend (to do anything) unless it is so intended by Allah, the Lord of all the worlds.
The Commentary on
This surah may be divided into two parts, each of them treating one major principle of faith. The first is the principle of resurrection accompanied by a great upheaval in the universe, which affects the sun and the stars, the mountains and seas, heaven and earth, wild and domestic animals, as well as man. The second principle is that of revelation. The surah has something to say about the angel carrying the divine revelation, the Prophet receiving it, the people addressed by it, and the Supreme Will which has shaped their nature and bestowed this revelation.
The rhythm of the surah is one of violent movement which leaves nothing in its place. Everything is thrown away, smashed or scattered. The movement is so violent that it excites and frightens. It alters every familiar situation and shakes people’s hearts violently so that they feel deprived of both shelter and reassurance. In such a violent destructive storm the human heart is no more than a little feather, blown in every direction. No protection and, indeed, no safety can be found except what is granted by God, the Eternal. Thus, the rhythm of the surah has, on its own, the effect of pulling man’s heart and soul away from everything associated with safety and security, in order to seek peace, safety and protection with God.
The surah is also a gem of striking images drawn from the universe in both its present beautiful condition, which is familiar to us, and its condition on the Day of Resurrection when every familiar thing is changed beyond recognition. The surah is, moreover, rich in fine expressions which add colour to the images portrayed. As the surah is so short, the rhythm, images and expressions combine together to produce a very strong and lasting effect. Had it not been for the fact that the surah contains some words which are no longer familiar to us today, I would have preferred not to comment on it. Its rhythm and images leave a far stronger effect than any human interpretation can aspire to achieve.
Upheaval in the Universe
When the sun is darkened, when the stars fall and disperse, when the mountains are made to move away, when the camels, ten months pregnant, are left untended, when the wild beasts are brought together, when the seas are set alight, when people’s souls are paired [like with like], when the infant girl, buried alive, is asked for what crime she was slain, when the records are laid open, when the sky is stripped bare, when hell is made to burn fiercely, when paradise is brought near, every soul shall know what it has put forward. (Verses 1-14)
These verses sketch a scene of great upheaval which envelops the whole universe. It is an event which reveals every guarded secret and leaves nothing hidden away. Every human being faces what he has put forward for the day of reckoning and judgement. The great events mentioned indicate that the present familiar state of the universe, with its perfect harmony, measured movement, controlled relations, perfected by the Maker whose work is flawless, will suffer a complete break down. Its role will be finished. Along with all creation, it will move into a new predetermined phase of life, unlike anything known to us in this world.
The surah aims to get this idea of the inevitable upheaval well established in people’s hearts and minds so that they may attach little or no importance to the values and riches of this world, though these may seem to be of lasting consequence. People should establish a firm bond with the everlasting truth, i.e. the truth of God, the Eternal, who never changes when everything else changes and disappears. They should break the chains of what is familiar in this life in order to recognize the absolute truth which admits no restrictions of time, place, finite faculties or temporal standards.
As one goes through the events of this universal upheaval, one cannot fail to observe an inner feeling for this affirmation.
As to what exactly happens to all these creations during the resurrection we can only say that it is known to God alone. We can only comprehend what we have experienced. When we think of a great upheaval in the world, our imagination cannot stretch beyond a violent earthquake or volcano, or, perhaps, the fall of a comet or a small celestial body. Floods are perhaps the most destructive manifestation of the power of water known to us. The most powerful events in the universe we have monitored were some limited explosions in the sun, which is millions of miles away from us. All these events, great as they may be, seem so small when they are compared to the universal upheaval which will take place on the Day of Resurrection that they may be considered akin to child’s play. If we really want to know what will happen then, we can do no more than attempt to draw some sort of comparison with what we have experienced in this life.
The darkening of the sun probably means that it will cool down and its flames which stretch out for thousands of miles in space will dwindle and die. As the sun is now in gaseous form because of its intense heat, which reaches a maximum of 12,000 degrees, its darkening probably means its transformation by freezing to a form similar to that of the surface of the earth. It may adopt a circular shape without becoming stretched out. This is probably the meaning of the opening verse, but it could also mean something different. As to how it will happen, or its causes, we can only say that this is known only to God.
The falling of the stars probably means that they will break away from the system which holds them together and lose their light and brightness. Only God knows which stars will be affected by this event: will it affect only a small group of stars, say, our own solar system, or our galaxy, which comprises hundreds of millions of stars, or will it affect all the stars in their millions of millions? The universe, as everyone knows, comprises an almost infinite number of galaxies, each with its own space.
Forcing the mountains to move away probably means that they will be crushed and blown away as indicated in other surahs: “They ask you about the mountains. Say: My Lord will crush them to fine dust and leave them a desolate waste.” (20: 105) “When the mountains crumble away and scatter into fine dust.” (56: 5) “And the mountains are made to move away, and seem to have been a mirage.” (78: 20) All these verses refer to a certain event which will affect the mountains and do away with their firm foundations and stability. This may be the beginning of the quake which will shake the earth violently, and which is mentioned in Surah 99, The Earthquake: “When the earth is rocked with her final earthquake, when the earth shakes off her burdens.” (99: 1-2) All these events will take place on that very long day.
“When the camels, ten months pregnant, are left untended.” (Verse 4) The Arabic description of the camel here specifies that she is in her tenth month of pregnancy. When in this state, she is to the Arab his most valuable possession because she is about to add to his wealth a highly valued young camel, and to give him a lot of milk which he and his family will share with the new-born animal. However, on that day, which will witness such overwhelming events, such priceless camels will be left without care, completely untended. The Arabs who were the first to be addressed by this verse never left such camels untended, except for the gravest of dangers.
“When the wild beasts are brought together.” (Verse 5) The great terror which overwhelms the wild beasts in their jungles is the cause of their coming together. They forget their mutual enmities, and move together, unaware of their direction. They neither seek their homes nor chase their prey as they usually do. The overwhelming terror changes the character of even the wildest of beasts. What then will it do to man?
“When the seas are set alight.” (Verse 6) The Arabic term, sujjirat, used here may mean that the seas will be overfilled with water, from floods similar to those which characterized the early stages of life on earth. On the other hand, earthquakes and volcanoes may remove the barriers now separating the seas so that the water of one will flow into the other. The Arabic expression may also mean that the seas will experience explosions which set them ablaze, as mentioned elsewhere in the Qur’an: “When the oceans are made to explode.” (82: 3) Such explosions may result from separating oxygen and hydrogen which make sea water. They could also be atomic explosions of some sort. If the explosion of a limited number of atoms in a hydrogen or atom bomb produces such dreadful consequences as we have seen, then the atomic explosion of the waters of the oceans, in whatever manner it may occur, will produce something much too fearful for our minds to visualize. Similarly, we cannot conceive the reality of hell, which stands beyond these vast oceans.
“When people’s souls are paired.” (Verse 7) The pairing of souls may mean the reunion of body and soul at the time of resurrection. It may also mean their grouping, like with like, as mentioned elsewhere in the Qur’an: “You will be divided into three groups.” (56:7) These are the chosen elite, the people of the right, and the people of the left. It may also mean some other way of grouping.
Girls Buried Alive
“When the infant girl, buried alive, is asked for what crime she was slain.” (Verses 8-9) The value of human life must have sunk very low in pre-Islamic Arabian society. There existed a convention of burying young girls alive, for fear of shame or poverty. The Qur’an describes this practice in order to portray its horror and denounce it as a practice of ignorance or jahiliyyah. Its condemnation fits in perfectly with the declared aim of Islam, to destroy jahiliyyah and save mankind from sinking to its depths. In Surah 16, The Bee, we read in translation: “When the birth of a girl is announced to one of them, his face grows dark and he is filled with rage and inward gloom. Because of the bad news he hides himself from everybody: should he keep her with disgrace or bury her under the dust? How ill they judge.” (16:58-9) And in Surah 17, The Night Journey: “You shall not kill your children for fear of want. We will provide for them and for you.” (17:31)
Girls were killed in an extremely cruel way. They were buried alive! The Arabs used different ways of doing so. Some would leave the girl until she was six years of age. The father would then say to his wife to dress the girl in her best clothes and make her presentable because she would be visiting her prospective in-laws. He would have already dug a hole for her in the desert. When the girl got there, he would tell her that the hole is a well and then tell her to look down it. As she stood at the edge, he would push her into the hole and as she fell, he would throw sand over her and bury her. In certain tribes when a pregnant woman was about to give birth, she would sit over a hole in the ground. When the baby was born she would first establish its sex. If it was a boy, she would take him home, and if it was a girl, she would throw her in the hole and bury her. If a father decided not to bury his daughter alive, he would bring her up in a condition of deprivation until she was old enough to tend sheep or cattle, giving her only an overall made of rough wool to dress and making her do this type of work.
Those Arabs who did not kill their young daughters or send them to mind cattle, had different methods of ill-treating women. If a man died, the head of the clan would throw his gown over the widow. This was a gesture of acquisition which meant that the widow could not marry anyone except the owner of the gown. If he was attracted to her, he would marry her, paying absolutely no regard to her feelings. If he did not marry her, he would keep her until she died so as to inherit any money or property she might leave behind.
Such was the attitude of jahiliyyah society in Arabia to women. Islam condemns this attitude and spurns all these practices. It forbids the murder of young girls and shows its abhorrent and horrifying nature. It is listed as one of the subjects of reckoning on the Day of Judgement. Here, the surah mentions it as one of the great events which overwhelms the universe in total upheaval. We are told that the murdered girl will be questioned about her murder. The surah leaves us to imagine how the murderer will be brought to account.
The jahiliyyah social order of the pre-Islamic period would never have helped women to gain a respectable, dignified position. That had to be decreed by God. The way of life God has chosen for mankind secures a dignified position for both men and women who share the honour of having a measure of the divine spirit breathed into them. Women owe their respectable position to Islam, not to any environmental factor or social set-up.
When the new man with heavenly values came into being, women became respected and honoured. The woman’s weakness of being a financial burden to her family was no longer of any consequence in determining her position and the respect she enjoyed. Such considerations have no weight on the scales of heaven. Real weight belongs to the noble human soul when it maintains its relationship with God. In this men and women are equal.
When one puts forward arguments in support of the fact that Islam is a divine religion, and that it has been conveyed to us by God’s Messenger who received His revelations, one should state the change made by Islam in the social status of women as being irrefutable. Nothing in the social set-up of Arabia at the time pointed to such elevation for women. No social or economic consideration made it necessary or desirable. It was a deliberate move made by Islam for reasons which are totally different from those of this world and from those of jahiliyyah society in particular.
“When the records are laid open.” (Verse 10) This is a reference to the records of people’s deeds. They are laid open in order that they may be known to everybody. This, in itself, is hard to bear. Many a breast has a closely hidden secret, the remembrance of which brings shame and a shudder to its owner. Yet all secrets are made public on that eventful day. This publicity, representative of the great upheaval which envelops the whole universe, is part of the fearful events which fill men’s hearts with horror on the day.
“When the sky is stripped bare.” (Verse 11) This image corresponds closely to throwing open people’s secrets. When the word ‘sky’ is used, our first thoughts reach to the blue cover hoisted over our heads. Its stripping means the removal of that cover. How this happens remains a matter of conjecture. It is enough to say that when we look up we will no longer see our familiar blue dome.
The last scene of that fearful day is portrayed by the next two verses: “When hell is made to burn fiercely, when paradise is brought near.” (Verses 12-13) Where is hell? How does it burn? What fuel is used in lighting and feeding its fire? The only thing we know of it is that it “has the fuel of men and stones.” (66:6) This is, of course, after they have been thrown in it. Its true nature and its fuel prior to that is part of God’s knowledge. Heaven, on the other hand, is brought near to those who have been promised admission. They see it to be of easy access. Indeed, the expression here shows it ready to receive its dwellers.
When all these great events take place throughout the universe, changing the status of all life, no one can entertain any doubt about what they have done in this present life, or what they have carried with them to the next life: “Every soul shall know what it has put forward.” (Verse 14) In the midst of all these overwhelming events, every soul shall know for certain what sort of deeds it has brought and that it cannot change, omit from or add to what it has done.
People will find themselves completely separated from all that has been familiar to them, and from their world as a whole. Everything will have undergone a total change except God. If man turns to God, he will find that His support is forthcoming when the whole universe is overwhelmed by change. Thus ends the first part of this surah, leaving us with a vivid impression of the universal upheaval on the Day of Resurrection.
A Splendid Universal Scene
The second part of the surah opens with a form of oath using some very beautiful scenes of the universe. Essentially, this oath is made to assert the nature of revelation, the angel carrying it, and the Messenger receiving and delivering it to us, as well as people’s attitudes to it, all in accordance with God’s will: “I swear by the turning stars, which move swiftly and hide themselves away, and by the night as it comes darkening on, and by the dawn as it starts to breathe, this is truly the word of a noble and mighty messenger, who enjoys a secure position with the Lord of the Throne. He is obeyed in heaven, faithful to his trust. Your old friend is not mad. He saw him on the clear horizon. He does not grudge the secrets of the unseen. It is not the word of an accursed devil. Whither then are you going? This is only a reminder to all mankind, to those of you whose will is to be upright. Yet, you cannot will except by the will of God, Lord of all the worlds.” (Verses 15-29)
The stars referred to here are those which turn in their orbit, and are characterized by their swift movement and temporary disappearance. In translating the text we have to forego the metaphor used in Arabic which draws an analogy between these stars and the deer as they run at great speed towards their homes, disappear for a while and then reappear at a different point. This metaphor adds considerable liveliness and beauty to the description of the movement of the stars, which echoes the fine rhythm of the expression.
Again, the rhythm of the Arabic verse translated as “and by the night as it comes darkening on” gives a feeling of life, depicting the night as a living being. The beauty of the Arabic expression is of surpassing excellence. The same applies to the next verse: “and by the dawn as it starts to breathe”. This verse is indeed more effective in portraying dawn as alive, breathing. Its breath is the spreading light and the life that begins to stir in everything. I doubt whether the Arabic language, with its inexhaustible wealth of imagery and vivid expression, can produce an image portraying dawn which can be considered equal to this Qur’anic image in aesthetic effect. After a fine night, one can almost feel that dawn is breathing.
Any aesthete will readily perceive that the divine words of the first four verses of this second part of the surah constitute a gem of expression and description: “I swear by the turning stars, which move swiftly and hide themselves away, and by the night as it comes darkening on, and by the dawn as it starts to breathe.” (Verses 15-18) This descriptive wealth adds power to man’s feelings as he responds to the natural phenomena to which the verses refer.
The Two Messengers
As the Qur’an makes this brief, full-of-life description of these phenomena it establishes a spiritual link between them and man, with the result that, as we read, we feel the power which created these phenomena, and the truth which we are called upon to believe. This truth is then stated in a manner which fits in superbly with the general theme of the surah: “This is truly the word of a noble and mighty messenger, who enjoys a secure position with the Lord of the Throne. He is obeyed in heaven, faithful to his trust.” (Verses 19-21) This Qur’an with its description of the Day of Judgement is the word of a noble and mighty messenger, i.e. Jibril or Gabriel, the angel who carried and delivered it to Muhammad (peace be upon him).
The surah then gives a description of this chosen messenger. He is ‘noble’, honoured by God who says that he is ‘mighty’, which suggests that considerable strength is required to carry and convey the Qur’an. “Who enjoys a secure position with the Lord of the Throne.” (Verse 20) What a great honour for Jibril to enjoy such a position with the Lord of the universe. “He is obeyed in heaven”, i.e. by the other angels. He is also “faithful to his trust”, carrying and discharging the message.
These qualities add up to a definite conclusion: that the Qur’an is a noble, mighty and exalted message and that God takes special care of man. It is a manifestation of this care that He has chosen an angel of Jibril’s calibre to bring His revelations to the man He has chosen as His Messenger. As man reflects on this divine care he should feel humble. For he himself is worth very little in the kingdom of God, were it not for the care God takes of him and the honour He bestows on him.
There follows a description of the Prophet who conveys this revelation to mankind. The surah seems to say to them: You have known Muhammad very well over a considerable length of time. He is your old, honest, trusted friend. Why, then, are you fabricating tales about him, when he has been telling you the simple truth which he has been entrusted to deliver to you: “Your old friend is not mad. He saw him on the clear horizon. He does not grudge the secrets of the unseen. It is not the word of an accursed devil. Whither then are you going? This is only a reminder to all mankind.” (Verses 22-27)
They knew the Prophet perfectly well. They knew that he was a man of steady character, great sagacity and complete honesty. But in spite of all this they claimed that he was mad, and that he received his revelations from the devil. Some of them took this view as the basis for their sustained attack on the Prophet and his Islamic message. Others did so out of amazement and wonder at the words revealed to him, which are unlike anything said or written by man. Their claim confirmed the traditional belief that each poet had a devil writing his poems, and each monk had a devil uncovering for him the secrets of the unknown world. They also believed that the devil might come into contact with people causing them to say some very strange things. They ignored the only valid explanation, that the Qur’an was revealed by God, the Lord of all the worlds.
The surah counters this attitude by a reference to the surpassing beauty of God’s creation, noticeable everywhere in the universe, and by portraying some universal scenes, as they appear, full of life. This method of reply suggests that the Qur’an comes from the same creative power which has endowed the universe with matchless beauty. It also tells them about the two messengers entrusted with the Qur’an, the one who brought it down and the one who delivered it to them, i.e. their own friend whom they knew to be sane, not mad. The surah tells them that he has indeed seen the other noble and mighty messenger, Gabriel, with his own eyes, on a clear horizon where no confusion is possible. He is faithful to his trust and cannot be suspected of telling anything but the truth. After all, they have never associated him with anything dishonest. “It is not the word of an accursed devil”. (Verse 25) Devils, by nature, cannot provide such a straightforward and consistent code of conduct. Hence the surah asks disapprovingly: “Whither then are you going?” (Verse 26) How far can you err in your judgement. And where can you go away from the truth which stares you in the face wherever you go?
“This is only a reminder to all mankind.” (Verse 27) It reminds them of the nature of their existence, their origin and the nature of the universe around them. The reminder is to all men and women.
Islam here declares the universal nature of its call right from the start, in Makkah, where it was subjected to sustained and unabating persecution.
The surah then reminds us that it is up to every individual to choose whether to follow the right path or not. Since God has granted everyone his or her free will, then every human being is responsible for himself: “To those of you whose will is to be upright”, (Verse 28) that is to say, to follow God’s guidance. All doubts have been dispelled, all excuses answered by this clear statement of all the relevant facts. The right path has been indicated for everyone who wishes to be upright. Anyone who follows a different path shall, therefore, bear the responsibility for his actions.
There are, in the human soul and in the universe at large, numerous signs which beckon every man and woman to follow the path of faith. These are so clearly visible and so powerful in their effect that one needs to make a determined effort to turn one’s back on them, especially when one’s attention is drawn to them in the stirring, persuasive manner of the Qur’an. It is, therefore, man’s own will which leads him away from God’s guidance. He has no other excuse or justification.
The surah concludes by stating that the operative will behind everything is the will of God: “You cannot will except by the will of God, Lord of all the worlds.” (Verse 29) We notice that the Qur’an makes statements of this type whenever the will of human beings or creatures generally is mentioned. The reason for this is that the Qur’an wants to keep the fundamental concepts of faith absolutely clear. These include the fact that everything in the universe is subject to God’s will. No one has a will which is independent from that of God. That He grants man free will is part of His own divine will, like everything else. The same applies to His granting the angels the ability to show complete and absolute obedience to Him and to carry out all His commandments.
This fundamental fact must be clearly understood by believers, so that they have a clear concept of absolute truth. When they acquire this concept they will turn to divine will for guidance and support, and regulate their affairs according to this will.
Tafseer of Surah Takwir by Abul A’la Maududi
81. Surah At Takwir (The Folding Up)
It is derived from the word kuwwirat in the first verse. Kuwwirat is passive voice from takvir in the past tense, and means “that which is folded up”, thereby implying that it is a Surah in which the “folding up” has been mentioned:
Period of Revelation
The subject matter and the style clearly show that it is one of the earliest Surahs to be revealed at Makkah.
Theme and Subject Matter
It has two themes: the Hereafter and the institution of Prophethood.
In the first six verses the first stage of the Resurrection has been mentioned when the sun will lose its light, the stars will scatter, the mountains will be uprooted and will disperse, the people will become heedless of their dearest possessions, the beasts of the jungle will be stupefied and will gather together, and the seas will boil up. Then in the next seven verses the second stage has been described when the souls will be reunited with the bodies, the records will be laid open, the people will be called to account for their crimes, the heavens will be unveiled, and Hell and Heaven will be brought into full view. After depicting the Hereafter thus, man has been left to ponder his own self and deeds, saying: “Then each man shall himself know what he has brought with him.”
After this the theme of Prophethood has been taken up. In this the people of Makkah have been addressed, as if to say “Whatever Muhammad (upon whom be Allah’s peace and blessings) is presenting before you, is not the bragging of a madman, nor an evil suggestion inspired by Satan, but the word of a noble, exalted and trustworthy messenger sent by God, whom Muhammad (upon whom be Allah’s peace and blessings) has seen with his own eyes in the bright horizon of the clear sky in broad day light. Whither then are you going having turned away from this teaching?”
In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful.
(81:1) When the sun shall be folded up, (81:2) when the stars shall scatter away, (81:3) when the mountains shall be set in motion, (81:4) when the ten-months pregnant camels shall be abandoned, (81:5) when the savage beasts shall be brought together, (81:6) when the seas shall be set boiling, (81:7) when the souls shall be rejoined (with their bodies),  (81:8) and when the girl-child buried alive shall be asked: (81:9) for what offence was she killed? (81:10) and when the scrolls of (men’s) deeds shall be unfolded, (81:11) and when Heaven is laid bare; (81:12) and Hell is stoked, (81:13) and Paradise brought near: (81:14) then shall each person know what he has brought along.
1. This is a matchless metaphor for causing the sun to lose its light. Takwir means to fold up; hence takwir al-amamah is used for folding up the turban on the head. Here, the light which radiates from the sun and spreads throughout the solar system has been likened to the turban and it has been said that on the Resurrection Day the turban will be folded up about the sun and its radiation will fade.
2. That is, when the force which is keeping them in their orbits and positions is loosened and all the stars and planets will scatter in the universe. The word inkidar also indicates that they will not only scatter away but will also grow dark.
3. In other words, the earth will also lose its force of gravity because of which the mountains have weight and are firmly set in the earth. Thus, when there is no more gravity the mountains will be uprooted from their places and becoming weightless will start moving and flying as the clouds move in the atmosphere.
4. This was by far the best way of giving an idea of the severities and horrors of Resurrection to the Arabs. Before the buses and trucks of the present day there was nothing more precious for the Arabs than the she-camel just about to give birth to her young. In this state she was most sedulously looked after and cared for, so that she is not lost, stolen, or harmed in any way. The people’s becoming heedless of such she-camels, in fact, meant that at that time they would be so stunned as to become unmindful of their most precious possessions.
5. When a general calamity befalls the world, all kinds of beasts and animals gather together in one place, then neither the snake bites, nor the tiger kills and devours.
6. The word sujjirat as used in the original in passive voice from tasjir in the past tense. Tasjir means to kindle fire in the oven. Apparently it seems strange that on the Resurrection Day fire would blaze up in the oceans. But if the truth about water is kept in view, nothing would seem strange. It is a miracle of God that He combined oxygen and hydrogen, one of which helps kindle the fire and the other gets kindled of itself and by the combination of both He created a substance like water which is used to put out fire. A simple manifestation of Allah’s power is enough to change this composition of water so that the two gases are separated and begin to burn and help cause a blaze, which is their basic characteristic.
7. From here begins mention of the second stage of Resurrection.
8. That is, men will be resurrected precisely in the state as they lived in the world before death with body and soul together.
9. The style of this verse reflects an intensity of rage and fury inconceivable in common life. The parents who buried their daughters alive, would be so contemptible in the sight of Allah that they would not be asked: Why did you kill the innocent infant? But disregarding them the innocent girl will be asked: For what crime were you slain? And she will tell her story how cruelly she had been treated by her barbarous parents and buried alive. Besides, two vast themes have been compressed into this brief verse, which though not expressed in words, are reflected by its style and tenor. First that in it the Arabs have been made to realize what depths of moral depravity they have touched because of their ignorance in that they buried their own children alive; yet they insist that they would persist in the same ignorance and would not accept the reform that Muhammad (peace be upon him) was trying to bring about in their corrupted society. Second, that an express argument has been given in it of the necessity and inevitability of the Hereafter. The case of the infant girl who was buried alive, should be decided and settled justly at some time, and there should necessarily be a time when the cruel people who committed this heinous crime, should be called to account for it, for there was none in the world to hear the cries of complaint raised by the poor soul. This act was looked upon with approval by the depraved society; neither the parents felt any remorse for it, nor anybody in the family censured them, nor the society took any notice of it. Then, should this monstrosity remain wholly unpunished in the Kingdom of God?
This barbaric custom of burying the female infants alive had become widespread in ancient Arabia for different reasons. One reason was economic hardship because of which the people wanted to have fewer dependents so that they should not have to bear the burden of bringing up many children. Male offspring were brought up in the hope that they would later help in earning a living, but the female offspring were killed for the fear that they would have to be raised till they matured and then given away in marriage. Second, the widespread chaos because of which the male children were brought up in order to have more and more helpers and supporters; but daughters were killed because in tribal wars they had to be protected instead of being useful in any way for defense. Third, another aspect of the common chaos also was that when the hostile tribes raided each other and captured girls they would either keep them as slave-girls or sell them to others. For these reasons the practice that had become common in Arabia was that at childbirth a pit was kept dug out ready for use by the woman so that if a girl was born, she was immediately cast into it and buried alive. And if sometimes the mother was not inclined to act thus, or the people of the family disapproved of it, the father would raise her for some time half-heartedly, and then finding time would take her to the desert to be buried alive. This tyranny and hardheartedness was once described by a person before the Prophet (peace be upon him) himself. According to a Hadith related in the first chapter of Sunan Darimi, a man came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and related this incident of his pre-Islamic days of ignorance: I had a daughter who was much attached to me. When I called her, she would come running to me. One day I called her and took her out with me. On the way we came across a well. Holding her by the hand I pushed her into the well. Her last words that I heard were: Oh father, oh father! Hearing this, the Prophet (peace be upon him) wept and tears started falling from his eyes. One of those present on the occasion said: O man, you have grieved the Prophet (peace be upon him). The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: Do not stop him, let him question about what he feels so strongly now. Then the Prophet (peace be upon him) asked him to narrate his story once again. When he narrated it again the Prophet (peace be upon him) wept so much that his beard became wet with tears. Then he said to the man: Allah has forgiven what you did in the days of ignorance: now turn to Him in repentance.
It is not correct to think that the people of Arabia had no feeling of the harshness of this hideous, inhuman act. Obviously, no society, however corrupted it may be, can be utterly devoid of the feeling that such tyrannical acts are evil. That is why the Quran has not dwelt upon the vileness of this act, but has only referred to it in awe-inspiring words to the effect: A time will come when the girl who was buried alive, will be asked for what crime she was slain? The history of Arabia also shows that many people in the pre-Islamic days of ignorance had a feeling that the practice was vile and wicked. According to Tabarani, Sasaah bin Najiyah al-Mujashii, grandfather of the poet, Farazdaq, said to the Prophet (peace be upon him): O Messenger of Allah, during the days of ignorance I have also done some good works, among which one is that I saved 360 girls from being buried alive: I gave two camels each as ransom to save their lives. Shall I get any reward for this? The Prophet (peace be upon him) replied: Yes, there is a reward for you, and it is this that Allah has blessed you with Islam.
As a matter of fact, a great blessing of the blessings of Islam is that it not only did put an end to this inhuman practice in Arabia but even wiped out the concept that the birth of a daughter was in any way a calamity, which should be endured unwillingly. On the contrary, Islam taught that bringing up daughters, giving them good education and enabling them to become good housewives, is an act of great merit and virtue. The way the Prophet (peace be upon him) changed the common concept of the people in respect of girls can be judged from his many sayings which have been reported in the Hadith. As for example, we reproduce some of these below:
The person who is put to a test because of the birth of the daughters and then he treats them generously, they will become a means of rescue for him from Hell. (Bukhari, Muslim).
The one who brought up two girls till they attained their maturity, will appear along with me on the Resurrection Day. Saying this, the Prophet (peace be upon him) joined and raised his fingers. (Muslim).
The one who brought up three daughters, or sisters, taught them good manners and treated them with kindness until they became self-sufficient, Allah will make Paradise obligatory for him. A man asked: what about two, O Messenger (peace be upon him) of Allah? The Prophet (peace be upon him) replied: the same for two. Ibn Abbas, the reporter of the Hadith, says: Had the people at that time asked in respect of one daughter, the Prophet (peace be upon him) would have also given the same reply about her. (Sharh as-Sunnh).
The one who has a daughter born to him and he does not bury her alive, nor keeps her in disgrace, nor prefers his son to her, Allah will admit him to Paradise. (Abu Daud).
The one who has three daughters born to him, and he is patient over them, and clothes them well according to his means, they will become a means of rescue for him from Hell. (Bukhari, Al-Adab al-Mufrad, Ibn Majah).
The Muslim who has two daughters and he looks after them well, they will lead him to Paradise. (Bukhari: Al- Adab al-Mufrad).
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said to Suraqah bin Jusham: Should I tell you what is the greatest charity (or said: one of the greatest charities)? He said: Kindly do tell, O Messenger of Allah. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: Your daughter who (after being divorced or widowed) returns to you and should have no other bread-winner. (Ibn Majah, Bukhari Al-Adab al-Mufrad).
This is the teaching which completely changed the viewpoint of the people about girls not only in Arabia but among all the nations of the world, which later become blessed with Islam. 1
10. That is, everything which is hidden from view now will become visible. Now one can only see empty space, or the clouds, hanging dust, the moon, the sun or stars, but at that time the Kingdom of God will appear in full view before the people, without any veil in between, in its true reality.
11. That is, in the Plain of Resurrection, when the hearing of the cases of the people will be in progress, the blazing fire of Hell will also be in full view, and Paradise with all its blessings will also be visible to all, so that the wicked would know what they are being deprived of and where they are going to be cast, and the righteous as well would know what they are being saved from and with what being blessed and honored.
(81:15) No indeed;  I swear by the alternating stars (81:16) that hide, (81:17) and by the night as it recedes, (81:18) and the morn as it breathes. (81:19) Verily this is the word of a noble message-bearer; (81:20) one mighty and held in honour with the Lord of the Throne; (81:21) there he is obeyed and held trustworthy. (81:22) (O people of Makkah), your companion is not mad; (81:23) he indeed saw the message-bearer on the clear horizon; (81:24) nor does he grudge (conveying this knowledge about) the Unseen; (81:25) nor is it a word of an accursed Satan. (81:26) Where to are you then heading? (81:27) It is nothing but Good Counsel for everyone in the world, (81:28) for everyone of you who wishes to follow the Straight Way; (81:29) but your wishing will not avail unless Allah, the Lord of the Universe, so wishes.
12. That is, you are not correct that what is being presented in the Quran is the bragging of an insane person, or the evil suggestion of a devil.
13. That for which the oath has been sworn, has been stated in the following verses. The oath means: Muhammad (peace be upon him) has not seen a vision in darkness, but when the stars had disappeared, the night had departed and the bright morning had appeared, he had seen the Angel of God in the open sky. Therefore, what he tells you is based on his own personal observation and on the experience that he had in full senses in the full light of day.
14. A noble messenger: the Angel who brought down revelation, as becomes explicit from the following verses. The word of a noble messenger does not mean that the Quran is the word of the Angel himself, but, as the context shows, of Him Who appointed him a messenger. In (Surah Al-Haqqah Ayat 40), likewise, the Quran has been called the word of Muhammad (peace be upon him), and there too it does not mean that it is the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) own composition, but describing it as the word of an honorable messenger, it has been made clear that the Prophet (peace be upon him) is presenting it in his capacity as the Messenger of God and not as Muhammad bin Abdullah (peace be upon him). At both places, the word has been attributed to the Angel and to Muhammad (peace be upon him) on the ground that the message of Allah was being delivered to Muhammad (peace be upon him) by the Angel and to the people by Muhammad (peace be upon him). (For further explanation, see (E.N. 22 of Surah Al- Haaqqah).
15. (Surah An-Najm, Ayat 45) deals with the same theme, thus “It is but a revelation which is sent down to him. One, mighty in power, has taught him.” As to what is implied by the mighty powers of the Angel Gabriel is ambiguous. In any case it at least shows that he is distinguished even among the angels because of his extraordinary powers. In Muslim (kitab-al-iman) Aishah has reported the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) saying to the effect: I have twice seen Gabriel in his real shape and form: his glorious being was encompassing the whole space between the earth and the heavens. According to the tradition reported from Abdullah bin Masud in Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmidhi and Musnad Ahmad, the Prophet (peace be upon him) had seen Gabriel with his six hundred wings. From this one can have an idea of his mighty powers.
16. That is, he is the chief of the angels and all angels work under his command.
17. That is, he is not one who would tamper with divine revelation, but is so trustworthy that he conveys intact whatever he receives from God.
18. Your Companion: the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him). Here, making mention of the Prophet (peace be upon him) as the companion of the people of Makkah, they have been made to realize that the Prophet (peace be upon him) was no stranger for them. He was not an outsider but a man of their own clan and tribe; he had lived his whole life among them; even their children knew that he was a very wise man. They should not be so shameless as to call such a man a mad man. (For further explanation, see ( E.Ns 2, 3 of Surah An-Najm).
19. (In Surah An-Najm, Ayats 7-9), this observation of the Prophet (peace be upon him) has been described in greater detail, (For explanation, see (E.Ns 7. 8 of Surah An-Najm).
20. That is, the Messenger (peace be upon him) of Allah does not conceal anything from you. Whatever of the unseen realities are made known to him by Allah, whether they relate to the essence and attributes of Allah, the angels, life-after death and Resurrection, or to the Hereafter, Heaven and Hell, he conveys everything to you without change.
21. That is, you are wrong in thinking that some Satan comes and whispers these words into the ear of Muhammad (peace be upon him). It does not suit Satan that he should divert man from polytheism, idol worship, atheism and sin and turn him to God-worship and Tauhid, make man realize that he should live a life of responsibility and accountability to God instead of living an irresponsible, care-free life, should forbid man to adopt practices of ignorance, injustice, immorality and wickedness and lead him to a clean life of justice, piety and high morals. (For further explanation, see (Surah Ash-Shuara, Ayats 210-212 along with E.Ns 130 to 133), and (Ayats 221-223 along with E.Ns 140, 141).
22. In other words, although this is an admonition for all mankind, only such a person can benefit by it, who is himself desirous of adopting piety and righteousness. Man’s being a seeker after truth and a lover of right is the foremost condition of his gaining any benefit from it.