The first five lines of this Sura constitute what may be regarded as the Investiture of Muhammad as the Messenger of God to humanity. They are his first revelation and the spirit of these brief lines lends a tone to the whole of the Quran. Almost every word in these five lines is important in guiding us further and, therefore, needs careful analysis.
The imperative verb, Iqra’ with which first line begins is closely allied to the English word ‘Cry’ and here has the meaning of ‘Crying out’ as through beat of drum; Call, Declare, Annouce, Proclaim, Teach, Preach, all these meanings come within the purview of this one word.
This injunction is ‘cry aloud’ is also found in the Old Testament, dating back to the Prophet Isaiah, about thirteen hundred years earlier:
“Cry aloud, spare not, lift up they voice like a trumpet, and show my people their
transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.” (Isaiah, 58.1)
For years has Mohammad been thinking; his poignant, overpowering desire to change for the good the ways of his people, is being suppressed by his innately modest nature. In what capacity is he to initiate change and reform? In what role can he make them see how they are misusing the gifts of God to their own hurt?
Ever present in his mind are the stories of the old Prophets among the Arabs, the Jews and the Christians. These men had, one after another, pulled out their followers from the morass of iniquity and callousness in which they had repeatedly fallen. Could he aspire to be in the same category as they? Is the role of a Prophet the only role in which he can be effective? Are these constant inner promptings of Divine origin?
Tradition presents this intense, psychological drama in its usually crude and medieval style:
An angel appears to Mohammad and says, “Read!” “What shall I read?” he asks. Three times the angels repeats his commands and three times the bewildered human repeats his question. Then the angel, no doubt exasperated, squeezes poor Mohammad and lo! the spring of Quranic verse begins to flow!
But, underneath this narrative folk-art, like rustic figures drawn on village walls, lies the magnificent saga of enlightenment. Mohammad’s modesty and truthfulness are being met with an urge to assume leadership, to preach the spiritual truths which have become manifest to him through forty years of his thoughtful life. This inner conflict finally resolves itself into a decision so incisive as to be impressed upon his heart as a command from the Divine itself!
Significantly enough, this word Iqra’ is closely allied to the word Quran. The first is an imperative verb, the second is common noun. The word Quran, which may or may not have been in common use at the time, means ‘that which has been or is to be ‘cried out.’ It is, in a sense, a verbal declaration, an announcement, a proclamation, a sermon to be spread by word of mouth.
In that sense, the imperative, Iqra’ embodies, in an intensely crystallized form, both a policy and a programme. His people are illiterate, scattered. The written word which has served as the scriptures of more advanced peoples, cannot reach the poor masses of the town, the slaves so much in need of solace and compassion, the bedouins hidden in the caves and oases of the desert. All these can be reached only through the spoken word.
The new guide to conduct therefore, has to be in a form that can be carried far even orally. The words themselves have to have wings. What God has taught to the few among men through the power of the pen, has now to be spread, according to His injunctions, to the many among the masses through only the spoken word.
These ‘announcements,’ therefore, must have tendrils that will cling to memory, to be effective, they must strike a chord of sympathy in every heart they reach. The magic of sounds, the resonance of words, the artistry of similes, the lure of verbal associations imbedded deeply in the social mind, all these must be utilized fully to evoke a response of their innermost beings.
This has probably been the genesis of all ancient religions – the Psalms of David, the Gathas of Zoroaster, the Mantras of the Rig Veda. Only the nature of the people among whom Mohammad had to spread his message, made his task more difficult. They were more primitive, influenced more by rugged prose than by softly flowing verse. In spite of the subject matter being quite different from the poetry of love and war and plunder, the new message had to be couched in the language and idiom of the people among whom it had to spread. It had to reflect the scorching sun and the withering winds of the desert. All these considerations finally crystallized in what must be one of the most comprehensive words of human speech: IQRA’.
The very second word in the first line is bisme’. Now this word ism is used in three senses in the Arabic language. It means (a) attribute, (b) name, and (c) bidding or injunction. So, preceded by the word Iqra’ and followed by word “Rabbeka” this phrase means, Announce the attributes of thy Lord, Call in the name of they Lord, Call at the bidding of thy Lord. Over and over again we shall meet words like this that cover several meanings which harmonize and lead to that word a comprehensive of meaning which is impossible to render by any equally short expression of any other language.
The third word of the first line is Rabekka, ‘thy Lord.’ Now Rabb literally means ‘Master’ and is more or less an antonym for ‘abd, meaning ‘slave.’ Arab society of the time is slave-ridden and this very first announcement disparages the ‘masters’ of this world by pointing to the real Master who has created both master and slave. Besides, the word Rabb implies certain characteristics of the master. It implies a master who ‘rears lovingly,’ one who moulds a child with a parent’s care. This word occurs many more frequently and almost to the exclusion of the word ‘Allah’ in the chronologically earlier part of the Quran when slaves constitute the base of Mohammad’s small pyramid of followers.
Then the last word khalaqa, ‘who created.’ Combined with the preceding word Rabbeka, it makes the Divinity all in all, the ‘loving’ Master, Creator, through love, of all creation.’
Verse 2. We can now go on the second line where we meet the word Insan. While the first line referred to all creation, this second line refers specially to the creation of man; the force of the first line, however, lingers and makes this creation also a process of loving care.
The word used for man is Insan and the word for the means of his creation is ‘Alaq. Both these words are deserving of much more attention than is generally given to them.
Insan is one who possesses Uns and Uns means love, attachment, fellow-feeling, sympathy. So Insan is that creature which possesses these attributes. In other words, it is these qualities that are the distinguished features of man, qualities not possessed by other creatures. And how was man made to acquire these qualities? How were they instilled into him? The Quran says, through ‘Alaq.
Unfortunately, tradition has accepted the meaning of the word ‘Alaq here to be the same as in Sura XXIII: 14, where, describing the development of the embryo, the word may justifiably mean ‘a clot of blood.’ But here that meaning is not justified because Insan is not the only creature that has been evolved from a ‘clot of blood.’ All Haiwan, warm blooded animals, would come under that category. But not all these would possess Uns, that is love, sympathy, fellow-feeling. Here, therefore, the word ‘Alaq must import something which contributes to the acquisition of these human characteristic – a means by which a Haiwan is transformed into an Insan.
And Abul Fazl, in his Gharib ul Quran, gives the Sihah the Taj and the Qamus as lexicographical authorities to establish the meaning of the word ‘Alaq here being ‘association,’ ‘contact,’ ‘attachment,’ ‘attraction,’ ‘affection,’ ‘love.’
Any person who has even an indirect familiarity with Arabic can at once perceive the close relation between the word ‘Alaq and the word Ta’alluq, which is commonly used in Persian and Urdu to mean association and contact, the roots of both being palpably the same.
So this second verse means, ‘moulded humans through association.’ And this is a sociological fact which, by now, has become axiomatic as is well depicted in the following somewhat crude story:
The Arabic and Sanskrit scholars of a liberal king’s court vexed him by contending that their representative language was the natural language of man. Being a king, he ordered a new-born infant to be brought among mutes. When this victim of a royal experiment reached the age of childhood, he could only utter meaningless sounds which were unintelligible even to his associates!
All social psychology is based on this concept of development through interaction and association. Human beings acquire the human characteristics only through association with human society. Mirza Abul Fazl, gave to this Verse even a wider meaning: Humans, according to this Verse, he explained, were made ‘from love’ and ‘for love.”
Verse 3. Notice the persuasive repetition of the word Iqra’ as if there is still some hesitation on the part of the person addressed “Preach! (Do not be afraid) for thy loving Master is bountiful.”
Mohammad is evidently assailed by misgivings. How far can the verbal message of a lone man carry? And the Inner Voice, speaking to his heart, reassures him. “The spread of the verbal teaching, the Quran, through the written word, will follow through Divine Grace. You just propagate the message through word of mouth. Have not the verbal messages of former times been subsequently recorded and inherited through the pen?”
Verses 4 and 5. Notice the glorification of the Pen or the written word. It is through the accumulated knowledge of past generations treasured in writing that human society evolves. In the very first Call this debt to the Pen as a recorder of the past and a transmitter of knowledge has been acknowledged. Man becomes man, says this first Call, not only through association with his contemporary humans but by learning from the experience of earlier generations imbedded in the records which they have left behind. It is through the instrumentality of the Pen that he learns what he would not have otherwise known.
Beginning with this chronologically first Sura and throughout the Quran one comes across this insistence on taking the past as a lesson for the guidance of individual and collective conduct. With equal constancy the Quran eulogizes learning and thinking on the part of the reader.
Before going further let us take a cursory look at the rhyme endings of these five lines:
a, in, o, e, o
Throughout the Quran the endings of the verses lend to the text a rhythm and urge which makes the Quranic text distinguishable from any other.
Dr. M. Ajmal Khan of Dehli, an ardent proponent of an exactly chronological presentation of the Quran, contends that these five lines provide answers to the two most important questions facing philosophy: that of Being and that of Knowing. How do we come to be? HE created us. How do we come to know? HE has provided us the means for acquiring knowledge. The philosophers may continue to quibble; but these, says Ajmal Khan, are the simple answers provided by the Quran to the basic problems of Ontology and Epistomology in the very first revelations vouchsafed to Mohammad. They are, in fact, a prelude to all that follows and hence also the justification for beginning the study of the Quran with these five verses.
This is one of the shortest and also one of the earliest of Quranic Suras. In fact, Muir places it first even among the eighteen Suras which, he suggests, may have been composed before the call to Prophethood. There is no mention of Allah, no warning from a Prophet, it is a simple observation resulting from a review of human experience throughout the ages.
Because ‘asr also means ‘afternoon,’ and the word has subsequently been associated particularly with the afternoon prayer, Muslim orthodoxy and Western scholarship bave both accepted this phrase wal ‘asr, to the merely an oath on the afternoon prayers. This cannot be because this Sura was proclaimed long before any prayers had been enjoined.
On the other hand, no one can deny that the word ‘asr also, and more frequently, means just ‘time,’ and taking an oath on ‘time’ can mean nothing less than submitting TIME itself as witness!
In that sense, the brief expression, wal ‘asr covers innumerable volumes of written and unwritten history. The whole of man’s experience is laid bare as proof of the assertion which follows – Verily, man labours in vain! In reminds one of the first Noble Truth of Buddhism:
‘Existence in suffering!’
This brief compound word, wal ‘asr, embodying both the oath and the object on which the oath is taken, asks the one addressed to look back into man’s history. How many generations, one after another, have been born and have disappeared like the leaves of the forest. What have the vast majority of individuals in these generations achieved? Have they not eaten and mated and died like locusts? Have their labours not been in vain?
The moment one realizes the truth of this statement, there comes the reaction – Surely, not all could have labored in vain! Surely, the labours of some at least have not been in vain! And, lo! the very next line of the Sura brings the answer:
“Except those who have Faith!”
But here again the meaning which the word amanu, came to acquire later, distracts our attention from its wider significance and confines it to the limits of a particular belief. The Muslims tend to limit its meaning to themselves as ‘those who are in the faith!’ Again, however, it has to be pointed out, and here lies the value of a chronological analysis, that this Sura was announced at a time when there was practically none, or at least very few, ‘in the faith.’
‘Those who have faith,’ therefore, has to be understood in a wider sense, in the sense of having faith in the law of God, whether it be on the physical or on the moral plane. Only those who can be said to have faith, who believe implicitly that it as futile to do the slightest wrong and yet escape punishment as it is to hope that the force of gravitation will fail to operate when one takes a false step.
‘Those who have faith,’ in other words, are those who have implicit belief in both the existence of a Deity and in the all-permeability of an inescapable Law. For it is only such implicit belief that helps to keep them on the straight and onward path of righteousness and prevents them from straying inevitably into paths which make their labours vain.
This is the first but not the only qualification of the exception amongst men whose labours have not been, or are not to be, in vain, for the Sura goes on to say almost in the same breath:
“And who strive righteously.”
Yes, “Faith without works, is dead” (James 2:26). It is not enough to believe in the all-pervasiveness of the Law of God. One has to justify one’s existence by righteous endeavor, for life impels activity, and if that activity is not to lead astray, if it is not to lead to frustration and bankruptcy, if even those who have faith are not to flounder, then their vital energy has to be directed in harmony with the Law in which they have implicit faith.
But this brief Sura is not content with faith and righteous action. It imposes two other condition for preventing man’s labours being fruitless:
“Those who set examples of Truth
And are models of steadfasts perseverance.”
Evidently, falsehood and discouragement face man throughout life. In order that he might not fail amidst the vast generality of those who labourers have been futile, he has to hold on to the Truth and continue to Persevere until the end of his earthly existence. For the word tawasau means not only to be a temporary example to others but to live in an example to be left behind as a legacy. Only those whose whole life has been an example of Faith, Righteousness, Truth and Perseverance, only they, this Sura contends, are exceptions to the rule that Man, in general, is a loser; Man’s labours, generally, are in vain.
As a proof of this condensed expression having such wide implications, the Sura calls on all human experience as witness. All past and all present, it says, bear out the truth of this assertion. And if we do look on the infinitesimally little that each one of us knows of history, we cannot help seeing the truth which this Sura embodies. For Time is more impartial than we assume it to be. The impartiality of history, as someone has said, is not that of a mirror which merely reflects objects but of the judge who sees, listens and decides. And history, indeed, corroborates the Quranic dictum presented in this brief Sura.
Reviewing human experience, a philosopher may well exclaim, “All, all is vanity!”
But the Quran says, “No! Not all. Look back and see: The labours of some have not been in vain …”
The briefest of all Quranic Suras is regarded by many as the finest example of Quranic comprehensiveness, construction and language. It is even said that Arab poets, gathered for a pre-Islamic hajj, had acclaimed it as surpassing all the odes that had been composed for the poetic contest.
All the three line end in the same rhyme, kauthar, anhar, abtar. Each of these three words, however, has led to conjectures and differences of interpretation.
The first of these, kauthar, all scholars agree, means plenty, abundance, ample good, inexhaustible blessings, brimming good life. But since such unmitigated blessings are difficult to picture in one’s mind, and most of us humans must have some image as an object of thought, this abstract idea of abundance was transformed in the minds of desert Arabs into a river flowing with cool milk and honey. Since, again, this was inconceivable on earth, it was transferred to heaven! And, of course, only the faithful would have access to it.
The second word, anhar, the most important of the three, is the imperative from nahara, the literal meaning of which is ‘to sacrifice’ as most commentators understand and render it. But, like the meaning of the word ‘service’ the meaning of this word ‘sacrifice’ too has been tragically mutilated, in perhaps all languages, by time and the human capacity to evade. The moral significance of the word ‘sacrifice,’ one preferred still by the righteous among all religions, is ‘to forego one’s needs and pleasures in favors of the needs and pleasures of others.’ To sacrifice to God, therefore, is to forego the satisfaction of one’s own needs and comforts in the service of God. To sacrifice one’s self or one’s life is to devote all one’s energy, time and possessions, and life itself if need be, in the pursuit of a cause.
But this is what the Quran calls ‘the steep and difficult path’ which man generally evades in one way or another. The priesthood of all religions and at all times simplify this hard task for their clients and (incidentally, no doubt) for their own advantage. Millions of Muslims every year escape the injunction to sacrifice their own needs and comforts for the sake of the community by conveniently transferring the responsibility of dumb animals who are made to pay with their lives for the omissions and commissions of those who agree to accommodate each other at the cost of a goat or a sheep, a cow or a camel!
The last of the three words, abtar, stands essentially for ‘unfortunate,’ ‘miserable,’ ‘deprived.’ But this again is too vague and abstract an idea. The common mind needs an image of misfortune. And among pagans, especially, to have no male heirs is considered the highest misfortune and deprivation.
Now even if we did not otherwise know that Mohammad had begun to be subjected to persecution of different sorts at this stage of his mission, these brief lines themselves indicate what he was facing.
He was now between forty and forty five years of age. He had married to a prosperous widow for fifteen or twenty years and yet had no male heir. Failing to ridicule his message, his opponents began to make personal attacks. They laughed at him, taunted him. His few staunch adherents who had no personal patrons besides Mohammad, were molested, often by masters who owned them as slaves. On all sides there was discouragement.
It is under these circumstances that the Divine Inner Voice consoles him:
‘Do not be discouraged! You might yourself be deprived according to prevailing
standards; but We have granted you an abundance of Our blessings …
‘Continue to serve and learn to forgo such pleasures and comforts as are
incompatible with your mission …
‘It is those who taunt you that are unfortunate, it is they who will be miserable,
the disinherited …
What comfort and courage must this Inner Voice have brought to him! What comfort and courage these three lines can still bring to those who are discouraged and yet aspire to follow the path of righteous endeavor!!
This and three other Sura commence with the word ‘Qul’, which means ‘Say,’ a word which is understood to be an injunction of God, or the Inner Voice, to Mohammad himself. But it is interesting to note that the word, ‘Qul’, especially as it is used here and repeated many times in the Quran, has a wider applicability. It can, in turn, represent an injunction of the Prophet to his followers, each of whom in reciting the Verses in question, not only repeats the statement he is asked to make but also, by saying ‘Qul,’ enjoins upon others, in their turn, to repeat it.
The essence of this Sura, for example, is a command to make the position of the new teaching clear to its opponents and then to accept a parting of ways cordially:
“Qul … lakum dinukum wa liya din”
Say … to you is your reckoning, for me mine.
The necessity of not being satisfied with faith and good works but of also enjoining truth and steadfastness on others (Q. 7) is here shown in practice. One has not only to adopt this attitude of Lakum dinukum wa liya din, towards others, but one is to persuade other Muslims to adopt it.
The word kafirun, most translators render as “Unbelievers.” That is perhaps not incorrect. But we have got so used to this English equivalent of the word kafirun that it never occurs to us that the translation might not be quite correct either.
It must be remembered that throughout the Quran this word, kafirun, is used as an antonym for mu’minin,’ and mu’minin, as discussed under Sura Asr (Q. 7), are the Men of Faith. Kafirun, therefore, are those whom there is no faith (Deuteronomy, XXXXii: 20) and ya ayyohal kafirun becomes identical with ‘O ye of little faith’ (Luke Xii:28),
The reason why the word kafirun seems so much stronger than ‘those of little faith’ is because of the almost abusive associations which the word kafir has acquired during subsequent Islamic history. That could not have been the case in these early times. For if the word kafir at that time was as strong a term as it is today addressing those he wants to cordially placate, as kafirun would be highly tactless. Besides, it would be a strange beginning for a Sura which was to end so amicably!
Each of the next four lines contains one or more forms of the root ‘abada meaning ‘to serve.’ Now the word ‘ibadat, (derived from ‘abada) in this Sura, and the word salat in the preceding Suras, are so inextricably linked in Islam as almost to be synonymous. Both words are used for ‘worship,’ both for ‘duties,’ both for ‘prayers,’ both for ‘service.; The first, ‘ibadat perhaps means all these things in a more general sense, while the latter, salat, in a more specific sense. In most cases they are interchangeable.
The essential purpose of this Sura, therefore, appears to be to announce the recognition of the fundamental difference of approach between decadent paganism and renascent Islam as to the meanings of ‘ibadat and salat, i.e., prayers, duties, service and worship; in short, religion as conceived by the one and the other.
Paganish regarded religion to consist of conforming rigidly to the ritualistic and static way of life inherited from the hoary past. Islam emphasized a re-appraisal of values, a reconstruction of thought, a revision of the ritual so as to make all these more in keeping with the stage of social evolution reached at the time, more in harmony with the existing needs of the community.
The meaning of the word ‘abada, to ‘to serve,’ as taught by Mohammad was diametrically opposite to the meanings which this word had for the pagan Arabs. And this Sura forces the recognition of the difference between ‘ibadat as understood by the two in the same manner as Sura Ma’un (Q. 11) distinguishes between salat as understood by one from that as understood by the other.
The terse and facile last line of the Sura, coming after the alliterative and repetitious contents of the intervening four lines, present a finale which is remarkable for both its strength and its eloquence.
“For you is your reckoning; for me, mine.”
What a formula of co-existence! How peaceably all arguments would end if this, distilled essence of the ‘Live and let live” attitude formed the finale of all unsettled disputes.
This is one of the Suras often recited in the daily prayers. Many Muslim children are made to learn it by heart and to retie it on occasions even if they do not, as in most non-Arab lands, understand a single word of the original.
Tradition, with its characteristic tendency to limit and narrow down the meaning, has interpreted the ‘night’ mentioned in it, to refer specifically to one of the last ten nights of the month of Ramadan which now revolves round the seasons. It is generally accepted that the essence of the Quran was revealed to Mohammad on this night.
The devotion which the Sura enjoys among Muslims is perhaps due to the fact that for us it commemorates briefly the birth of Islam which we have come to regard as specifically our inheritance.
It is strange, however, that the beauty and majesty of Enlightenment, which the Sura presents in such a charmingly veiled and rhetorical form, has only been vaguely discerned and rarely emphasized.
This Sura, in fact, embodies in its few lines a saga of spiritual enlightenment whether it be that of Moses or Jesus, Buddha or Mohammad. The story in each case is the same in essence. It is only colored differently with the different tints of local understanding.
Moses goes to Mt. Sinai burdened with the problems of his people. For forty days and forty nights he is all by himself (Exodus: xxiv:18). Then God, manifested in all Nature around him, begins to ‘speak’ to him.
Jesus is led into the wilderness; for forty days and forty nights he struggles against the spirit of evil appearing in the form of Satan and comes out victorious (Matthew, iv: 1-11).
Both of these experiences are described by their respective disciples in the Old and the New Testaments.
A more elaborate description of the same phenomenon, as experienced by Gautama Buddha, is contained in the charming poem of Edwin Arnold called Light of Asia. Here one reads long passages describing:
‘the lonely searchings and the strife for light.’
and, finally, one comes across the description of the moment of illumination which comes with such serenity
‘that far and near, in homes of men, there spread an unknown peace.’
It is only after reading these long and rhythmic passages that one begins to appreciate the brevity, the modesty and the comprehensiveness of this Quranic Sura.
Mohammed too has been spending days and nights in the cave on Mount Hira. He has now passed his youth and early manhood; he is now forty and fully mature. He has traveled on commercial enterprise over fifteen years.
It is the month of Ramadan which then corresponded year after year, with the hottest season. Wakefully, in the magic nights under the starry heavens, he contemplates on the destiny of man and of the beloved city spread out before him. He too struggles against human weakness – doubt and inertia, fear and misgiving – until illumination comes to him: it is this spiritual experience that is described in this Sura.
All other descriptions of such experiences, vouchsafed to Supermen, are the devoted tributes of perspicuous followers who have understood in varying degrees the Divine illuminations of their Masters and have, with the ample leisure available to the scholarly, transcribed them with thoughtful precision. How Moses or Jesus or Buddha themselves described these experiences to their disciples, we shall never know.
But here, in this Sura, there is something first hand. The words of this Sura, like those of the rest of the Quran, from whatever source they may have come to him, have come to us originally from the lips of the Prophet. That is something which neither tradition nor higher criticism can deny. And therein lies the extraordinary charm and uniqueness of this narration.
In the very first verse the Divine itself is the first person:
“Verily it is We that revealed it on a glorious night.”
And from the very second line it appears as if the Prophet is addressing his followers in the first person. Strangely enough, one is struck with no glaring incongruity. It seems that the Sufis are right when they say that the highest stage of spiritual attainment is that in which the human identity is lost in the Divine, the finite is absorbed in the Infinite. There is no longer any difference between Thee and I. Expressions emanating from this state of bliss are not subject to the ordinary rules of prosody.
What an Euclidean impossibility is expressed in the second Verse:
‘Oh what can make you comprehend how blessed the night of illumination is?!’
Yes, how is it possible for others, ordinary men and women, bound by their plodding, reasoning minds, involved in the little problems of their small egos, how is it possible for them to comprehend that which the illuminated consciousness of the deserving alone can experience at the zenith of their enlightenment?
What more than a vague, vague idea can be conveyed through words and analogies however apt these may be?
David sang: ‘For a day in thy court is better than a thousand … (Ps. lxxxiv:10)’
And here we read: ‘The blessed night is the benediction of a thousand months: the Powers (working through time and space) being inspiration by His grace …. There is peace … and peace … until … there breaks … the …. D A W N !!!
Note that all six lines end in the same rhyme; in fact, all lines but the fourth, end in the same word nas, meaning ‘men.’
In the preceding Sura the first line alone mentioned the Being in whom refuge was being taken while the other four referred to the evils from which refuge was being sought. In this Sura the first three lines glorify the Being and the last three describe only one evil from which refuge was being sought.
What is this one great evil?
The nearest translation is, slinking doubts that cast and leave doubts in the hearts of men. In other words, refuge is being sought from a particular frame of mind which predisposes an individual to hurt of many sorts.
What then is this dangerous frame of mind and what its consequences? Let us examine this in some detail.
That state is the state of doubt, uncertainty, hesitation; it leads to bewilderment, fear and misgiving; it makes one perplexed, it makes one falter. One is liable to get lost, to go astray, to go adrift. It can make one distraught and distracted.
‘He who doubts,’ says an old Sanskrit proverb, ‘perishes.’
It is this state of mind that shakes one’s faith and makes on skeptical, mistrustful and disbelieving. It is this mental state that leads to apathy, indifference, laxity and thence gradually towards misconduct, crime, schizophrenia, or lunacy. In short it is a state of mind which is the exact opposite of Faith which strengthens the minds of men and predisposes them to both right conduct and happiness.
And how is this evil, pathological state of mind brought about?
This Sura, in effect, says ‘through evil thoughts, through unhealthy suggestions – whether they reach the mind from other men or from some unknown sources, within or without one’s self, which is here referred to, in the colloquialism of the time, as ‘jinn.’
Now the development of mental sciences, and as for that matter even the development of the physical sciences, during the past fifty years, has again given to the Mind of man a greater importance than it enjoyed in the preceding centuries. And, apart from this relative precedence, we today know much more of its working than we ever did before. Psychiatry, hypnotism, mental hygiene, psycho-analysis and a host of other words of a similar nature, have been coined only recently, and we are fact coming to realize that not only most evils, with which social life is beset, but all evils which flesh is heir to, are after all, perhaps, manifestations of the Mind and the Mind alone.
“Today,” said the Queen of England, when ushering in the year 1958, “we need the kind of courage that can withstand the subtle corruption of the cynics!’
We have become aware too of the fact that both the causes and cures of mental ill-health are thoughts injected, thoughts which we now call suggestions. And these suggestions come to the mind, exactly as the Quran says, either from other men or from some undefinable source either within or without one’s self. When the latter lead to health and courage and mental happiness or to the social good, we say they are from the Inner Voice, from God. When they tend to hurt either an individual or society we say they are from satan, from jinn, any one of the many names which men have given to these evil sources in different places and at different times.
And how is each individual to deal with such thoughts that hurt the body, affect the mind and sear the soul? Should the Quran have advised the Arabs of seventh century to seek help from psychiatrists?
It recommends a far more efficacious and ever available source of help. It says, seek refuge in HIM:
“Say: I take refuge
in the Lord and Master of men,
In the King of men
In the God of men!”
And the echoes of Gita resound:
“They who take refuge in Me, O Partha,
though of the womb of sin,
women, vaishyas, even sudras,
they also tread the highest path!”
This Sura is an excellent example of the metaphorical language which so often puzzles the reader. When looked at superficially it can be so very misleading; and yet it can mean so much when the veil of metaphor is lifted.
The first three lines here, for example, draw attention to three different peoples – the Christians, the Jews and the pagan Arabs. The fourth line points to the pristine origin of each and the fifth their demoralization at the time when this Sura is revealed. The sixth and seventh lines withdraw the exceptional individuals from each of these groups and the eight and ninth lines present a whole philosophy of life in the form of two simple questions.
Seven authorities indicate that there were two hills in the vicinity of Jerusalem respectively called Zaita and Tina. With the first, now called Mount of Olives, we are all familiar. Perhaps the other hill is still called the Mount of Figs or simply Tina. Perhaps, it is at present in the Jewish section of the holy land. In any case the Olive and the Fig are so common in Palestine that they come to be representatives of that region. Used also as symbols in the New Testament (See Luke, XIII AND XII, Romans, XI) there are here used as symbols for the land where Christ taught the cradle of Christianity.
The Tor Of Sinai is located in the Sinai Peninsula, north-west of Mecca and is generally accepted as the place from where Moses brought down the Ten Commandments – the birth- place of Judaism.
And of course, ‘this city invoilate’ is plainly a reference to Mecca, the city bearing the sanctuary of the Ka’ba sanctified for the worship of the One God by Abraham.
In Sura ‘Asr (Q. &; CIII) Time was submitted as witness to the working of an impartial Law of Retribution and Reward. Here the three major peoples or religious groups, familiar to the then Arabs, are put in the witness box.
Just look at all these three religions, these three peoples, says the Quran: How glorious was their origin, how great their Teachers, the Messengers of God who gave them shape and collective individuality! But look at them today. Are they not the coarsest among the coarse?
But, characteristically, the Quran immediately withdraws from this generalization the exceptions to the rule:
“Except those (among these groups) who have Faith and engage in good works;
for them is reward without obligation.”
Such exceptions among even these miserable groups are not themselves miserable, that is what the Quran contends.
And then it asks, Who then, can deny the incessant working of a moral Law? An automatic reckoning set in motion by God? Is not Allah the Justest among the just?
The first line of this Sura in the original Arabic, alam nashrah laka sadraka, translated literally, amounts to a simple question: ‘Have we not opened thy heart?’
Metaphorically, the meaning is quite clear:
Have we not given thee enlightment?
Have we not expanded thy understanding?
Have we not widened thy vision?
Have we not given thee courage to face difficulties?
Any of these, or something similar, would have conveyed the meaning more or less satisfactorily. But medieval religiosity could condemn all of them as ‘opinionated interpretations,’ what they called taqfsir bi r rai; it would be satisfied with nothing but the crude literal meaning.
Condensing the interpretations given to this Verse by eminent and honored Muslim commentators of the Quran, such as Baidhawi and Yahya, Sale has the following solemn note to his translation of this verse:
“This passage is thought to intimate the opening of Muhammad’s heart in
his infancy or when he took his journey to heaven, by the Angel Gabrriel,
who, having wrung out the black drop, or seed of original sin, washed and
cleansed the same, and filled it with wisdom and faith … “
This is how inspired words soon assume the form of myths!
Shorn of all such accretions, viewed by itself and read in the original, over and over again, what charm this Sura has!
It is the Inner Voice addressing a man in his early forties. He has passed through a childhood of orphanage and poverty and a youth of striving, both economic and moral. Through sheer honesty and sincerity, he has acquired the title of Amin. Through marriage and trade he has now reached affluence. Perhaps, his daughter, Fatima, has just been born to Khadija; ease has come to him after toil, the buds of his human desires have opened into flowers.
But his consuming desire to serve his people and his God continue. His subconscious is ever busy revolving the task that still lies before him. In the still hours of the night, these words take form in his mind. From, he knows not where, the rhymes arrange themselves, the message assumes the shape of rhetorical questions and ends in a firm, unambiguous directive.
He is not able to explain, even to himself, the source of the inspiration. But is so chaste, so elegant, so clear, so intimate, so touching! So free from the vulgarities of the sha’ir and the ambuigities of the kahin. No, it cannot be from Satan or from the Jinns! Who can it be from except the One and true Allah?
So it is carefully memorized, and, later, recited to the little band of followers. Immediately it strikes a chord in their hearts and is, in turn, memorized by them all.
From them it has come down to us in a miracle of undiluted form through three score and ten generations in these thirteen hundred years. What was only for a small band of Arabs of the seventh century can now stir the hearts of all mankind.
The title of this Sura, defining its theme in general, has been rendered differently by different persons. The Desire for Increase, The Pride of Abundance, The Multiplication of Wealth, Unmeaning Rivalry, and Worldly Gain, all these variations go to show that the moral purport of this brief Sura of eight lines is essentially to inculcate a realization of the futility of abundance and the end of avarice.
Mirza Abul Fazl, in his small pamphlet, Islam and Buddhism, equates the truth contained in this Sura with the second “Noble Truth” of Buddhism: “The desire for existence is the origin of suffering.”
A free rendering of the Sura would be somewhat as follows:
Coverousness beguiles you till Death comes,
Only then will ye realize how futile
the amassing of wealth was,
O, if you could only realize through inference,
You could have foreseen the hell of regrets!
But you will go your way
until you actually experience that hell!
Then you will ask yourselves
what real pleasure abundance provided you!
Evidently, the annunciation of a truth is not effective unless the truth is presented effectively; and if this has to be done through word symbols, the selection and arrangement of these symbols also need both effort and inspiration. In other words, to know what to say is easy than to understand how to say it. The more you ponder on the original Arabic words of this brief Sura the more you realize the magic of its sounds, the effectiveness of its swaying rhythm and changing rhyme.
Those who have access to the original will notice, for example the peak-like a sounds in the first two lines; this gives way to the intermediate ‘u’ in the second and third lines. In the fourth line this ‘u’ mingles with ‘i’ and this soft sighing sound accompanies the regret expressed in the words till the end.
The whole Sura has a form as distinct as a sonnet; only, it is less stereotyped. Even today and even to one who is by birth an alien to the Arabic language, it is an enchanting as music, as fresh as a transient desert bloom.
Unfortunately, it is this very musicality of the Quran (which helped its effectiveness when it was originally recited) that tended to veil its intrinsic message in later years. To listen to this sonorous reading of this Sura by a good Qari is to bring tears to our eyes. But those tears are the tears of an almost sensuous pleasure born out of the mingling of a delicious present with a nostalgic past. They are not the tears of self-realization. The beautiful melody, without intellectual meaning for most of us tends to moral numbness rather than to moral awakening. None the less, to hear the Quran recited well even now is a feast for the soul, such are its words, its construction, it cadence.
This also is one of the Suras often recited in the daily prayers. It is an outstanding gem among the gems of Quranic verses from the viewpoints of both meaning and construction. It sheds light on two of the most important words of the Quran, din and salat.
The first of these two words, din, occurs frequently throughout the Quran but all translators have interpreted it as ‘reckoning’ or ‘judgement’ in some places and in the sense of ‘religion,’ ‘creed’ or ‘faith’ when translating it in other passages.
For example, in the third Verse of the famous Sura Fatihah (Sura I), the phrase, yaum id din, is invariably translated as ‘the day of reckoning.’ On the other hand, in the oft-quoted Verse 3 of Sura Mai’da (Sura V), the words, akmaltu lajim dinukum, are with equal unanimity, translated as, ‘perfected for you your religion.’
There in, in fact, justification for this variation because even the word ‘reckoning’ in the English language has two allied meanings. It can be used as a verb and as a noun. As a verb, ‘reckoning’ means to ‘judge,’ ‘to calculate,’ to ‘reckon’; as a noun, ‘reckoning’ stands for ‘the answer,’ ‘the formula,’ ‘the truth’ arrived at according to a process of reasoning or logic.
The word din, likewise, means both ‘a process of reckoning’ and ‘an outcome of reckoning’ which can constitute a religion or a creed. The decision as to which of these two meanings is to be applied to the word din in different places will, therefore, have to depend upon whether this or that meaning fits better into the particular context.
Likewise, the word salat, conveys more than one meaning. First and foremost it means ‘duty,’ ‘moral obligation,’ ‘responsibility.’ And, because some kind of worship has always been regarded as the ‘duty’ of man in all religions, the same word, salat was in use to connote the ritual of worship as practiced by the pagan Arabs.
In fact the word ‘service,’ in English, with its dual meaning of ‘church service’ and ‘service to man or God,’ would be the exact equivalent of the word salat in Arabic. Its phonetic resemblance to the English word ‘salute’ is also startling; perhaps, like sirat and ‘street, they have a common origin.
Even Mohammad’s new teaching, retained the same word, salat, for the new form of worship and merely altered the form, the content and the objective. Instead of salat being offered to idols, and consisting of the clapping of hands and other such clamour, he made his followers bow in salute to the unseen, Omnipresent, Universal Allah; it only became a more disciplined collective performance resembling partly pagan and partly Christian worship.
But this was only a ritual, a means of providing firm roots to the new eclectic religion, a parade before the One for whom alone it was to command those who had mobilized themselves in His service. But the spirit of the new teaching, like that of true Christianity, was to permeated with the desire for service to man. Righteous endeavor to help the needy was emphasized as the real salat.
It is only the light of this variety of meanings to the word din and salat that the delicate nuances of these words become discernible in the Sura.
The implication of the rhetorical question in the first line, therefore, comes to be that the detractors of Mohammad are bringing a double charge against him:
First, that of adandoning the creed (din) of their fathers;
Second, that of disregarding the consequences, the reckoning (din) which must, as they see it, mean disaster to their community.
The Quran turns the table against these detractors by asking barbed questions:
“Do you not see who is making a travesty of the creed (din) of the community?
or “Do you not see who it is that is disregarding the inevitability of reckoning (din)?
and it goes on itself to answer:
“It is those who have no sympathy for their fellow creatures, those who push away, and care not even for those who are orphans and, therefore, helpless …
“It is they who make a show of serving God by ritual salute and advertised charity while they deny even ordinary courtesy to their fellow neighbours …
It will be remembered that the Bible has a somewhat similar passage:
“And when thou prayest, thou shall not be as the hypocrites … and use not vain repetition.” (Matthew vi, 5-7)
Both the chiseled form and the contents indicate that this is evidently a message very much akin to the one in the preceding Sura. Since these are the only two Suras addressed specifically and personally to Mohammad, the text itself has suggested the context. It is, therefore, stated with an assurance which leaves room for doubt, that these Suras depict a period when the stream of inspiration had been suspended for a time and people had begun to say that Mohammad’s Allah had forsaken him, etc, etc.
Abul Fazl is a little restrained in his appraisal of the situation. This and the preceding Suras, he says, “are all expressions of a state of deep anxiety and depression in which Mohammad is assured of God’s continued protection. They belong to a time when his success was very dubious and his future career by no means clearly marked out.”
What this Sura explains, perhaps most clearly than the others, is that a relation has been established between the subconscious self of Mohammad and the Great Consciousness, a relation which neither he could understand then nor can we comprehend now.
It is this Great Consciousness which is urging him on, providing solace and encouragement, comparing the gloom of his past circumstances with the darkness of night, contrasting it with the brightest of the forenoon in which Mohammad finds himself. Through such comparisons and contrasts it suggest to him that while the night is over, the brightest part of the day is still to come.
The ring thrown by Hanuman assures Sita that Ram has not forsaken her; the fresh blossoms opening in his garden assure Rabindranath that God has not yet lost faith in Man.
To Mohammad, the Source of all Inspiration itself points out to the light of the morning, following the darkness of night, as an example of effulgence following gloom.
The only difference between the first two and the last instance is that, while in the former, consolation was the only objective, the purpose of the last is to persuade the recipient of the message to more and more righteous endeavor.
It is not for nothing that the Lord of Creation brings the light of the day after the gloom of night. In this light of day one has to perform certain duties entrusted to him: One must not chide an orphan, one must not turn away from the seeker; what has been given to one, he must, through words and actions, gratefully acknowledge.
The advice is here whispered to the heart of Mohammad: it is a stage whisper of all mankind!
The forceful alliteration of the first five lines can only be appreciated in the original Arabic. But the rhyming shown in the margin will give at least a faint idea of the poetic form of the Sura. The changing assonance of the rhymes is also to be noted: kanud, shahid, shaded; qubur, sudur, khabir.
All these poetic values are entirely lost when the Sura is rendered in another language. The more faithful the translation the more it becomes a parody and the more one tries to abide by the literal meanings of the words the further he drifts from the spirit of the passage.
According to this particular chronological arrangement, this happens to be the first Sura which begins with ‘Wa’, an epithet generally rendered into English as ‘By’ and rendered here as ‘See’ and elsewhere as ‘Consider’ or ‘Witness.’ Since this ‘swearing by’ is likely to be met with frequently in the Suras that follow, the literary significance of the word may perhaps better be explained by an example from a Jewish writer of modern times:
“By the torture prolonged from age to age,
By the infamy, Israel’s heritage,
By the Ghetto’s plague, by the garb’s disgrace,
By the badge of shame, by the felon’s place,
By the branding tool, by the bloody whip,
And the summons to Christian fellowship … “
This quotation (from A Book of Jewish Thoughts by J. H. Hertz, published in New York recently) is not altogether a good example; while it serves excellently to illustrate the use of ‘By’ as equivalent to the oft-founded ‘Wa’ of the Quran, it also embodies a bitterness and sarcasm entirely alien to the Muslim scripture. It has been given here merely because no other example has been met with to explain more explicity the use of a mode of expression rarely met with and, therefore, obscure and somewhat repugnant to the average reader in English.
To the Arabs of the time, however, not only this ‘Wa’ but every word and every line must have had a distinct meaning. But we cannot understand this calling of horses as witnesses until we at least try to picture in our minds the cultural patterns of the times.
Ethnology is full of patterns of nomads riding in hordes to the destruction of settled peoples. And even today such predatory raids are not uncommon in desert lands. In the time of the Prophet the sight of horsemen in small groups engaging in surprise raids on their near and distant neighbours must have been a frequent occurrence.
It was almost a nomad pattern of desert life. But Mohammad’s sensitive mind perceives the basic wrongness of the pattern. His desert-born fondness for the horse, combining with his love of man, gives rise to feelings of pity – and inspiration moulds this exquisitely worded Sura.
The name of this brief Sura of 11 lines, Al-Adiyat, is translated as the Assaulters by Muhammad Ali and as Chargers by Mirza Abul Fazl. It consists of three parts, the opening, the body and the conclusion – each in a different rhyme. Each of the first five lines is a word picture: the swift horses, the sparks flashing from their hoofs while it is still dark, the scouts silhouetted against the brightening horizon, the dust that suddenly rises behind the swooping raiders and finally the abrupt entry among bewildered habitations.
Then comes the thought: How ungrateful is man! These beautiful animals, this pearly dawn. How little does man appreciates what God has given him. Is he not ingratitude personified? Oh, how absorbed he is in the weal of his little self!
Thought then takes a wider range. Does not man see the wrongness of this predatoriness? Does he not see that such a mode of life is harmful to his species in the long run?
The Sura, in short, is a beautiful example of verbal imagery and picturesque language eminently effective in bringing into relief the ingratitude of man in misusing the gifts of God.
But orthodoxy, in understanding or in translating the Sura, refuses to look beyond the literal meanings of its words and thus gets enmeshed in the very first word ‘Wa,’ which is generally accepted as a form of oath. All the beauty and grandeur and moral value of the word-pictures are thus lost because they become meaningless oath-words; whole passages are omitted from Selections of the Quran because they are considered to be more effusions of impassioned language. Sensitive scholars, to whom any form of ‘swearing’ is unseemly, blush at the indiscretions of the Almighty no matter with what love and symphathy they may have taken up Quran to study as one of the scared books of mankind.
It is interesting to note the following rendering of the first five lines by Pickthall:
“1. By the snorting coursers
2. Striking sparks of fire,
3. And scouring to the raid at dawn,
4. Then therewith, with their trail of dust,
5. Cleaving, as one, the center (of the foe) … “
But in spite of achieving so excellent a translation, Pickthall, who had Egyptian Muslim scholars to elucidate the Quran for him, has the following emphatic note:
“The meaning of the first five verses is by no means clear. The above is a
Here is a striking example of how a clear passage, even when translate correctly, remains obscure and unintelligible when one cannot, or will not, see its background of time and place.
It is difficult for me to grasp the essence of this Sura in which Slander and Hoarding are denounced together as if one was an inevitable accompaniment of the other.
Perhaps, the words used for the two evils were associated in the social milieu of the time. Perhaps the meanings of the two Arabic words, translated as “slander’ and ‘hoarding,’ are not, or possibly, were not, as distinct as their equivalent English words are. A last possibility is that a particular person having a combination of these two characteristics is under fire and his two characteristics have been condemned in general terms instead of condemning him.
It is undoubtedly an early Sura. But Muir’s inclusion of it among the Suras which, according to him, might have been composed even before the Call to Prophethood, is untenable because this is evidently a rejoinder to the slander and opposition which Mohammad had already begun to encounter. It does not contain a universal observation like the one in the preceding Sura. On the contrary its fiery spirit is more akin to denunciations like the one we came across in the later passage associated with Sura ‘Alaq (Q. I:XCVI).
We have seen in the preceding Suras ( Q. 3, 4, 5 and 6), how vested interests were being undermined through the burning eloquence of the new Message. Naturally, these vested interests too were initiating a campaign of slander and backbiting supported by the wealth of some individuals who were financing the opposition. It was on the strength of such wealth that Mohammad’s message had so far been treated with derision and laughter. But, evidently, that stage was soon passing and the battle between exploitation and liberation was becoming hot.
One word, al-hutama, in Verses 4 and 5, is of particular interest owing to it being defined as if its meaning was either not commonly understood or because a certain phase of its meaning was intended to be emphasized. Sale retains the original Arabic word in his English translation. A Turkish translator renders it as the Bottomless Pit. Mirza Abul Fazl had rendered it as Blasting Fire even in his first (1910) edition. Muhammad Ali renders it as Crushing Disaster. N. J. Dawood translates it as Destroying Flame. But the point to be particularly noticed is that in all cases hutuma, whatever it might be, rises ‘in’ or ‘above’ or ‘upto’ the hearts of men!
Muhammad Ali adds in the foot-note: ‘A man’s hell is thus within his own heart in this life and it will assume a more palpable shape in the life to come.”
So the Quran, using the language of the desert, is evidently appealing to the hearts of men, warning them that their own consciences will continue to revile and spread slander which they know to be false and undeserved. Their wealth, it says, will not avail them against their own consciences; it will only be as fuel to the fire in which they will burn.
Al-Qari’ah, used also as the title of this Sura, is the central word which sets the rhyme as well as the rhythm, and it is around this word that the whole Sura is built up. Verse 3 suggests that this was unusual word the meaning of which was not clear to the Arabs themselves. It was either borrowed from some milieu other than the Quraish or was newly coined to express some tornado-like calamity through its onomatopoetic value and tonal associations with some other words.
The word is, therefore, difficult to translate into English and is rendered differently by different translators as follows:
Sale The Striking
Rodwell The Blow
Palmer The Smiting
Muhammad Ali The Repelling Calamity
Ghulam Sarwar The Rattling
Pickthall The Calamity
Arberry The Clatterer
Mirza Abul Fazl, ever ready to better his own effort, changes from ‘The Striking’ in his 1910 edition to ‘The Decision’ in his 1916 edition and finally to ‘The Terrible Calamity” in his 1955 edition.
With so much divergence of opinion among distinguished Arabic scholars, the layman is left to get a feeling for the word from a combination of all these renderings and he may also notice the resemblance of this word qar’iah ( in spite of a slight difference in root words) to the words iqra and quran which have already been dealt with in the notes to: Q.1.
So Qar’iah, whatever else it might signify, is associated with loudness, or loud noise which is generally the outcome of some clash such as the thunder in the clouds, the uproar of rushing waters, the blasts accompanying earthquakes. Metaphorically speaking it might even suggest a clash of ideas which a new ‘cry’ or ‘call’ can bring about in a staqnant society.
Medieval orthodoxy, reading this Sura at the end of the Quran, and after the foretold upheaval in the socio-political life of Mecca had already taken place, has naturally taken this Sura to be descriptive only of the Doomsday which, always, is still to come.
While this aspect need not be entirely ignored, the basic purpose underlying this Sura, as that of most Suras of this period, is to prepare the ground for an upheavel by making the down-trodden look forward in their own life-time to some events which were likely to free them from the yoke of slavery and exploitation. It is also intended to inculcate a grain of fear in the minds of the privileged classes, the high and mighty of the Meccan society.
Wherry, in his footnotes to Sale’s translation, appreciatively gives the following translation by Savary:
“Day of calamities! Terrible day! Who is able to depict it unto thee? In that
day men shall be like unto scattered locusts.”
But this sowing of revolutionary seed, through the medium of resonant words, does not have a political objective. It is not designed for the usurpation of power by one party from another. Its ultimate aim is a moral revolution. The idea to be instilled in the minds of the people is that a reign of the good, and the just is about to be ushered in ‘kingdom of God,’ a social order based on moral values, a human organization in which goodness will be amply rewarded and evil will be inevitably punished.
With what speed the word Al-Qari’ah must have spread among the small band of adherents! With what sparkling eyes this Sura must have been whispered by one to another!
What quivers it must have caused in the hearts of those who did not want a change in the existing circumstances!
Al-Zalzala the name given to this Sura, and based upon the outstanding word in its first line, means ‘convulsion,’ ‘upheaval,’ ‘earthquake,’ ‘castastrophe,’ any sudden and unexpected calamity. The Sura itself is just a neatly phrased warning that the people of Mecca will soon meet with the Judgment of God, that the evil consequences of their idolatorous life are about to descend upon them. The existing social order will soon be submerged in an upheaval and give place to a more righteous regime.
Paraphrased in more general terms than is permissible in a translation, it would mean something like this:
When the land is shaken and fear grips the hearts of men;
When those great ones who are a burden on the people are thrown out;
And men say: What has happened?”
On that day, history will turn over a new leaf
And each shall meet with his just deserts.
Keeping its chronological place in mind, it is evident that the Sura presages some social upheaval in the near future. But, having been recorded in the Quran after the upheaval brough about by the teaching of Islam itself, and being put in the last part of that Book when compiled, this and several other similar warnings soon began to be understood as referring only to some distant Judgement Day after death. It is this post-Mohammed misplacement of emphasis that is chiefly responsible for the exclusively other-worldly interpretation of this part of the Quran.
The effect of listening to and learning by heart this Sura on the few Muslims that were beginning to cluster around the new Teacher can be hardly imagined. The small Sura may well have appeared to them like a tiny cloud on the distant horizon promising to quench their thirst for a brighter existence. And what effect did it have on the arrogant vested interests that burdened the land? Did it promise for them a storm also? Did it make them uncomfortable? Did they try to suppress its recital? The answers are available in the Suras that follow and only a chronological analysis, even if it cannot be on any but a tentative, approximate basis, can show the gradual development of the situation and provide a context for understanding the meaning.
The last two lines of the Sura contain its moral in a more concentrated form. No human deed passes by without leaving its mark on the tablet of existence. An ounce of good has its reward as certainly as an ounce of evil leads to punishment. Only during an upheaval brought about by the accumulation of evil do men realize the truth of this law.
In short then, this Sura is a neatly composed series of lines beginning with a striking alliteration and ending in an emphatic climax. The existing state of affairs is definitely leading to a moral revolt; the impending catastrophe will demolish the present order and show up the right and wrong done so far.