91: Ash-Shams

Tafseer Surah Ash-Shams

 

The previous surah highlighted certain conflicts one of which was the conflict between the messenger (saw) and the Quraysh where the disbelievers had made it acceptable to attack the messenger (saw). At the end of the same surah the disbelievers were in conflict with the revelation that the messenger (saw) had brought. A second conflict was the struggle of every day living which every human suffers from and that none can escape. A third conflict was the arrogant conflict man has with Allah (swt) whereby man assumes that none has control over him and that no one witnessed his actions. Another conflict highlighted was the conflict of the disbelievers and those who refuse to take the right path against those from amongst humanity in need of aid and assistance. The central ayah of the previous surah was that Allah (swt) has guided man to two paths both heading upwards and after mentioning the conflicts there are some internal realities that are alluded to. This surah can be considered a tafseer and an explanation of that one central ayah and those two pathways and gives us an insight into human psychology and personality.

 

91:1

1) By the sun in its morning brightness

This is a surah of many oaths and one opinion on oaths held by a minority of scholars is that every time Allah (swt) takes an oath by any of his creations there is a word implicitly understood – rabb. For example, this verse would be rendered ‘By the Lord of the Sun’. For the most part though the sunnah is that when we take an oath we take it by Allah (swt) but when Allah (swt) takes an oath He has the right to take it by whatever he wills. In this verse Allah (swt) swears by the Sun but then adds another attribute. The word duha here has been defined in two ways. Some have called it the light of the Sun whilst others have called it the entire day especially considering the day exists due to light given from the Sun. The majority opinion though comes from the linguistic analysis of it which implies that it is when the Sun comes out partially but not fully and to the extent that you can still look at it, so not the scorching Sun but rather the soothing morning light of the Sun. It is also worth noting that Allah (swt) takes two distinct oaths here, swearing by the Sun and then by its morning light as opposed to a single oath by the soothing Sun. Note also this glow or duha is only attributed to the sun as an exclusive feature and not any other light source, like a torch or lamp for example.

 

91:2

2) And by the moon as it follows it

The word talaa in Arabic has two origins, one of which means to read and the other which means to follow right behind something. In the previous ayah there were two oaths separated by a waw, however, in this ayah the moon is not given a unique entity, rather it is given a subservient quality. Allah (swt) swears by the moon as it follows the sun. When the moon becomes full it reflects light off the sun and draws light from it and hence is in a subservient position and this was also a view of the Salaf. It is not uncommon also to see in the Quran that when Allah (swt) talks about the day and night He (swt) always mentions the day first.

 

91:3

3) By the day as it displays its (the sun’s) glory

The word jalla is to give brilliance to something, where you give something that is already bright exposure. For example, the lamp that is covered up can only be appreciated when it is exposed. In classical Arabic tajal-la was used to describe when a wife beautified herself for her husband thereby exposing her full covered up beauty. The sun is what causes the day to appear but here Allah (swt) is saying that it is in fact the day that gives the sun the opportunity to show and present its full glory. Allah (swt) creates opportunities every day for the brilliant sun to be appreciated. Another opinion on the pronoun ha is that it is refers to the earth. An oath is being taken against the morning as it gives brilliance to the earth but that is a weaker opinion as the word jalla is used to describe exposing something that already possesses light, which the earth does not.

 

91:4
 4) And by the night as it conceals it (the sun)

The oaths in this surah thus far have centred around the sun and with this ayah Allah (swt) takes another oath by the sun (the ‘ha’ refers to the sun). In this ayah Allah (swt) swears by the sun as it’s light is covered up by the night. A parallel will soon be drawn in this surah between the sun and the nafs, which is commonly translated as soul but perhaps is better understood as one’s conscience.

 

91:5
 5) By the sky and how He built it

By the sky and the One who built it

Allah (swt) swears by the sky and by what made it. One would expect the word ‘man’ (who) to be used here and the question to be ‘who made it’ but instead the question is ‘maa’ (what) made it. Some mufassiroon have interpreted this as a ‘Maa Al Mawsoolah’ which is a question of what that thing is. It could also be a ‘Maa Masdariyyah’ which is an infinitive form of statement and here is a sign of astonishment at its creation and construction. The word ‘what’ which refers here to Allah (swt) should not feel inappropriate though. When you do not know someone you will ask who he is but sometimes you may also want to know what that person’s attributes are. When we ask who created the sky the answer is Allah (swt) but it is also appropriate to ask in amazement what kind of power can possibly create it. Man is being asked to look up at the sky and exhaust his imagination by thinking about what kind of power Allah (swt) must be.

The word binaa in Arabic is to put something together in such a way that it gets fused together and becomes inseparable and this is actually an illustration of the flawless sky in which there are no cracks or gaps. Even in the newest constructions built today with the most advanced methods possible you will often find some flaws. Yet there is nothing in the sky that needs fixing. Rather it is all covered up for our safety and protection. (And) who created seven heavens in layers. You do not see in the creation of the Most Merciful any inconsistency. So return (your) vision (to the sky); do you see any breaks? (Al Mulk 67:3). By using the word banaa we know that the sky has been constructed and was not always there. Similarly the words used in this surah like talaa which means to follow and the night as it covers all suggest a beginning. By definition when a verb is used there must be a beginning and so it poses a question of when did all this, the following and covering etc., begin. Allah (swt) here asks the more fundamental question of what kind of power constructed this sky.

 

91:6

6) And by the earth and how He spread it

And by the earth and the One who spread it

If the maa in this ayah is maa al mawsoolah then Allah (swt) is swearing by the earth and what kind of power it must be that spread it and gave it its vastness. If the maa is mas masdariyyah then it is an exclamation of how incredible the earth’s creation and vastness is. So one part of the translation makes man wonder about the remarkable attributes of Allah (swt) and the other His incredible creation and both meanings are captured by the word maa. The word taha means to spread out and to lay down. This word is used only once in the Quran and its sister word is daha (And after that He spread out the earth: An-Naziat 79:30) and according to the mufassiroon both words are actually the same but were used by different Arab tribes. How universal the message of the Quran is in that both words from both tribes are used and both are used only once. The word taha is also used when the Arab would go to a castle or to a huge house, so large that one can barely see where it begins and where it ends. The Arab would say that the house is muthiyya which means well spread out and Allah (swt) uses the same root to describe the earth’s vastness.

The function of these oaths is to invite us to reflect on these illustrations that Allah (swt) has given, e.g. the sun, the moon and the night, in preparation for the rest of the surah. These things are in conflict; the sun is in conflict with the moon and the day is in conflict with the night but both form part of a larger picture particularly in the human experience of one dwelling in the desert. Many people now are city dwellers and spend a lot of time indoors to the extent that we have no real appreciation of night and day and when night transitions to day. The desert dweller however has a very different experience of living during the day and night and hence has a greater appreciation for these things that Allah (swt) has created and their limitations. There is a time for night and a time for the early morning and that order will not be broken. These opposites have been given rules and a system that they follow and cannot break.

Imagine if that balance disappeared and the sun and the moon rebelled (tugyaan). When water exceeds its limits in the ocean and causes flooding it has rebelled and if the sun and the moon rebelled there would be chaos on the earth. We are talking about things in the sky yet if they went awry the consequences would be on earth and on us. In this surah we will learn that such conflicts and balance are also within the human being. Allah (swt) balanced and perfected and gave limits and discipline to each and every different human attribute and inclination. When you reflect on the harmony between these opposite entities you must wonder what kind of power must it be that made such an enormous creation like the sun and moon and gave them harmony despite them being such opposites. This is the point of reflection that has been set for us before we continue to the rest of the surah.

 

91:7

7) By the soul and how He formed it

Allah (swt) swears by the nafs and notice that there is no definite article here which is a departure from all the other oaths taken thus far in this surah. The absence of the definite article serves to magnify the points of reflection that has been put forward in this surah. Some verses in the Quran are like seeds and other verses and places in the Quran are like the flowers that blossomed from those seeds. The beginning verses in this surah cause us to reflect on the universe and the fruits of reflecting on them are seen in this ayah which helps us understand ourselves better. The word nafs is often translated as conscience in English but this translation has its limitations. In English conscience is not necessarily used to describe when you want to do something good or bad but is rather used to describe your state of mind, for example you may have a guilty or clear conscience.

The word sawaa comes from taswiyah and is to take something that is uneven and to organise and balance in such a way that it evens out. Sawaa would be akin to balancing out a set of scales such that each side is equal in weight. It also means to build something and to perfect it to the finest detail. Allah (swt) asks us to reflect not only on our nafs (ourselves) but also on how remarkably it has been balanced and how amazing the One who balanced it is. What kind of attributes must the One Who balanced it have? Our conscience is something that makes us remember Allah (swt) and since He (swt) is the one that gave us our conscience we should realise that He is watching what we do with it. Allah (swt) is the One who programmed feelings like guilt, remorse, satisfaction and joy into us and watches how we handle ourselves.

Modern society has become obsessed in science and in the study of things that are tangible which is a break from the past pre-modern obsession in philosophy and the study of thoughts. In the past many cultures have engaged in discussion on finding balance in oneself, in understanding good energy and bad energy etc. but the advent of modern society resulted in a shift to the empirical sciences and in the belief that only knowledge with a tangible origin has merit. There is therefore no room for a discussion on the soul in modern society as it is not tangible and cannot be studied in scientific terms. Even in psychology which is the modern day philosophy, studies into man is under molecular and chemical parameters and has led to conditions like depression being treated by tablets. One of the biggest unanswered questions in psychology today is the definition of the human personality. Yet, Allah (swt) Himself has given us a profound and deep understanding of the human self in the Quran.

Rooh is one of the words used to describe the human personality in the Quran and on it Allah (swt) says that it is a mystery, something that we cannot learn much about. Al Bicaa’i commented that the Nafs is comparable with the body in the same way the Sun is comparable to its glow. In other words the sun is something physical like the human body but its glow is intangible just like the Nafs. Al Aloosi commented that when Allah (swt) created us He created clay and blew into it the Rooh. Thus, we are created from organic matter on this earth. Furthermore, the things we need and desire in this world all come from the earth. Yet, there is something different inside us that did not come from earth but rather it came from the command of Allah (swt) – our rooh (soul). Just like the body feels hunger and nourishment so too does the rooh. The difference is that nourishment of the body comes from the earth and the nourishment of the soul comes from Allah (swt). When we are hungry spiritually we need satisfaction directly from Allah (swt). These two components that make us up are in conflict with each other. The body and the soul have their own separate needs and desires and pull the human in opposing directions. Imbalances in people and in societies are normally due to indulging in one force over another and a society in imbalance is completely immersed in pleasing itself where individual concerns are dominated by thoughts on how to beautify the body, and to indulge in its desires and excesses.

This imbalance occurs when you overfeed one and starve the other. In Catholicism there was the other extreme where monasticism was popular. Monks considered the body and its desires to be evil and so would deprive themselves of marriage and other comforts like decent clothes. In fact even some Muslims in our history have worn exceptionally uncomfortable clothing to prevent themselves from feeling the pleasures of this dunya. However, it needs to be understood that Allah (swt) made us of two different components and He (swt) expects us to give justice to both. So while we have obligations to our rooh we should not forget our portion from this life. The balance in man is manifested in the inclination towards good and bad and there should also be a balance between our spirituality for Allah’s sake and in channelling our body’s desires in a permissible way. This is why Allah orders us to keep our spiritual duties as well as our worldly duties fulfilled.

But seek, through that which Allah has given you, the home of the Hereafter; and [yet], do not forget your share of the world. And do good as Allah has done good to you. And desire not corruption in the land. Indeed, Allah does not like corrupters’
(al Qasas 28:77).

At the centre of the discussion on iman and kufr in the Quran is the word qalb. The word Qalb (heart) contains concepts one associates with all the emotions and diseases of the heart such as desire, fear, hate, love, anger, jealousy etc. Even belief resides in the heart: And know that among you is the Messenger of Allah .If he were to obey you in much of the matter, you would be in difficulty, but Allah has endeared to you the faith and has made it pleasing in your hearts and has made hateful to you disbelief, defiance and disobedience. Those are the [rightly] guided (Al Hujurat 49:7). This heart is affected by two influences, one from the needs of the body and the other the soul. If man listens to the body too much the heart becomes hard as a consequence and if it listens to the soul excessively it does injustice to the body. These two influences are trying to win over the heart and assert it’s authority over it and its important for man to strike a balance between the two in this constant battle for the Nafs: And do not pursue that of which you have no knowledge. Indeed, the hearing, the sight and the heart – about all those [one] will be questioned (Al Israa’ 17:36).

The bodily desires enter our heart through our sight and hearing and the needs of the rooh reach us when we hear and see the truth. When we hear and see the truth, we either accept it or reject it and we will accept the truth if our fitrah (natural disposition) is intact and the more intact it is, the more likely we will accept the message of truth. Our fitrah is called the light inside us and the Wahy (revelation) which Allah (swt) sent to humans is also a light and of it He said: ‘Indeed, We sent down the Torah, in which was guidance and light’ (Al Ma’idah 5:44). Thus, when one hears the revelation the image is of light entering inside of us and into the light of our fitrah. Iman is also called light and when the light of revelation and the light of iman enters the heart and makes contact with the light of the fitrah Allah (swt) refers to it as light upon light. Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The example of His light is like a niche within which is a lamp, the lamp is within glass, the glass as if it were a pearly [white] star lit from [the oil of] a blessed olive tree, neither of the east nor of the west, whose oil would almost glow even if untouched by fire. Light upon light. Allah guides to His light whom He wills. And Allah presents examples for the people, and Allah is Knowing of all things (Al Noor 24:35).

The Nafs is thus in a constant conflict and moves between different states. The Nafs that sins is called An-Nafs al Ammaarah bis-soo’ (the Nafs that commands to evil). The Nafs is constantly being pulled towards the desires of the body and it is these very desires that are the hardest to avoid as we are constantly being bombarded with them in our day-to-day life. When the Nafs strays too far in this direction it feels bad and makes tawba and this is called An-Nafs al Lawaamah (the self-blaming soul) and it then pulls itself back to An-Nafs al Mutma’inah (the tranquil soul).

 

91:8

8) And inspired it (to know) its own rebellion and piety

The word ilham is when there is something in your heart that feels more certain than fact and in English is what we would call a gut feeling. Sunrise is called Fajr because the morning light tears through the darkness and a Faajir is someone who is extremely rebellious and tears through the sanctities of Allah’s boundaries without fear of consequence. Note that the first armed conflict that the messenger (saw) witnessed took place before he had received the message and was called the Fijaar War and was called thus because the sanctity of the sacred months and the sacred territory of Makkah was violated. Fujoor is the understanding of that which is clearly rebellious to Allah (swt). Allah (swt) pre-programmed the nafs with an awareness of this evil inclination inside it and the evil potential it has for itself (as indicated by the object ha) such that it is almost as if an alarm triggers when the nafs heads in the direction of evil and rebellion. This alarm is the guilt the nafs feels. Whenever someone does something wrong regardless of their faith and whether they have studied revelation or not something inside them tells them that this act is wrong and they feel bad about it. The one who continually rebels against Allah (swt) has programmed themselves to ignore this feeling and their guilty conscience.

How often do we see Muslims when they have erred and feel bad about it seek out someone knowledgeable or pious who can condone what they have done and if that is not possible then they will keep searching until they can find an opinion, no matter how weak or how much of a minority view it is, that will state that their action is permitted in certain cases or that it is merely repulsive and detested. It was however the heart that issued the first fatwa and the heart which caused this person to seek a fatwa. Sometimes we should listen to our heart and indeed there is a principle and maxim that scholars advocate ‘At-taqwa qabl al-fatwa’ (have taqwa before you find a fatwa).

Allah (swt) also gave this human the ability and awareness to protect itself (notice the object ha once more) and taqwa literally means protection and precaution. Taqwa is often translated as fear but this is not taqwa although fear is an implication of it. Taqwa is made up of two qualities, firstly protecting yourself by staying away from something bad and secondly protecting yourself from the punishment that will come as a result of not keeping away. It is commented that Allah (swt) made the human thoroughly aware of these two states and of the beauty in taqwa and the ugliness in fujoor. Also, the messenger (saw) said ‘Righteousness is in good character, and wrongdoing is that which wavers in your soul, and which you dislike people finding out about’ (Sahih Muslim). Allah (swt) made man recognise the path of evil and the understanding that taking that first and then the subsequent steps takes one further along the path of evil and further away from Allah (swt) until this person ends up in the worst possible state. People often make excuses to justify their behaviour and cite examples of people who have done far worse crimes like murder and this is in of itself is an acknowledgement of a guilty conscience and that their crime can lead to worse. Imagine a dam with a crack in it which allows water to seep through until gradually the crack gets wider and wider allowing more water out until eventually the dam simply breaks and flood waters overwhelm.

This is why Allah (swt) says enter the fold of Islam totally and don’t let any ‘cracks’ in ‘O you who have believed, enter into Islam completely (and perfectly) and do not follow the footsteps of Satan. Indeed, he is to you a clear enemy’ (Al Baqarah 2:208). Allah (swt) also says ‘If you do good, you do good for yourselves; and if you do evil, (you do it) to yourselves’ (Al Israa’ 17:7). Allah (swt) gave the nafs understanding of rebellion and also of how to protect itself from it and this is the reality of the nafs. Its instinct is to protect itself and to benefit itself and even an atheist who does not believe in heaven and hell will do good as it satisfies his own conscience. In the previous surah Allah (swt) reminded us of the blessings he has given us ‘Did we not give him eyes? And a tongue and two lips?’ (Al Balad 90:8-9). In this surah we learn that as long as your nafs is in the right place you will use these gifts for the right things but if the nafs has deviated then those same gifts will be misused. Recall also that Allah (swt) showed us the two paths in the previous surah ‘And shown him the two ways?’ (Al Balad 90:10). We now clearly understand that the two paths are fujooraha (its evil) wa taqwaha (its protection).

 

91:9

9) The one who purifies his soul succeeds

The word qad in the Arabic language is used for two reasons; one is to illustrate a statement that is already the case, for example qad kharaja meaning he already left. Another implication is certitude and is comparable to the function of inna. Aflaha is commonly translated as he succeeded but as there are multiple words in the Quran used for success we need to appreciate why aflaha in particular has been used here. The word aflaha comes from iflaah and iflaah is used for a farmer that is about to reap harvest. In other words success is attained but not without a long duration of labour and usually when aflaha is used you will normally see some kind of effort mentioned after it as you will not often find success without effort. Allah (swt) is saying that the one who is engaged in purifying and cleansing himself has already attained success. One can work hard to cleanse his nafs but however hard he strives he will never get a pure nafs. Yet as long as he is sincerely engaged in this activity the effort itself is called success. The word tazkiyya means to cleanse or purify something and you will only ever clean something dirty and thus when man recognises that Allah (swt) has instructed him to purify himself he realises that he has not been clean his whole life and engages in the act of cleansing himself. This self-purification involves becoming a better human being by cleansing your nafs of problems such as anger or jealousy, lying or cheating. It could be the shamelessness with which you don’t guard you eyes or maybe it’s your tongue that is not guarded from evil speech.

In Surah Al A’la verse fourteen Allah (swt) says in a very similar verse ‘Indeed whosoever purifies himself shall achieve success’. In that surah the word tazzakkaa was used but here zakkaaha is used. In English grammar there are transitive and intransitive verbs. A transitive verb is one where the action affects someone else (zakkaaha) and an intransitive verb is one where the action affects oneself (tazzakkaa). In this surah the transitive form of the verb has been used meaning he purified it but not himself. So, the nafs is mentioned as an entity outside of you and it is almost as if you have to think of your nafs as being separate from yourself, an enemy inside that you have to fight. This is a subtle reality alluded to in a number of places in the Quran such as in Surah An-Naziat 79:40 ‘But as for him who feared standing before his Lord and restrained himself from his desires’.

Elsewhere in the Quran Allah (swt) says that He cleanses whomever He wants which is the opposite to this verse where Allah (swt) says we have to cleanse ourselves. These two verses are reconciled with the understanding that none of us can purify ourselves. We can only try to purify ourselves and when we make a sincere effort it is only Allah (swt) Who can grant us that cleanliness from sins. This is why we should try our hardest to avoid sin in the hope that Allah (swt) will forgive us. Unfortunately, there are many Muslims who think they have already attained purity to the extent that they may not even feel the need to pray, as they consider their heart to be pure. This belief is something that Allah (swt) has warned us about ‘Those who avoid the major sins and immoralities, only [committing] slight ones. Indeed, your Lord is vast in forgiveness. He was most knowing of you when He produced you from the earth and when you were fetuses in the wombs of your mothers. So do not claim yourselves to be pure; He is most knowing of who fears Him(An-Najm 53:32). Allah (swt) does not want people to declare themselves pure and to be self-righteous in thinking they have attained a certain level of iman. We assume iman for others but never for ourselves. We should not say someone has weak iman but rather you should say he is better than you in iman as Allah (swt) has not given us the stature to declare that we are pure.

Whenever the messenger (saw) used to recite this verse there are many narrations that say he used to recite the following dua:

‘Allahumma inni a`udhu bika minal-`ajzi wal-kasali, wal-bukhli wal-harami, wa `adhabil-qabri. Allahumma ati nafsi taqwaha, wa zakkiha Anta khairu man zakkaha, Anta waliyyuha wa maulaha. Allahumma inni a`udhu bika min `ilmin la yanfau`, wa min qalbin la yakhsha`u, wa min nafsin la tashba`u, wa min da`watin la yustajabu laha`’ (Sahih Muslim and Riyad us-Saaliheen -Chapter on Prayers/Invocations).

O Allah! I seek refuge in You from the inability (to do good), laziness, cowardice, miserliness, weakness and torment of the grave. O Allah! Grant my nafs its protection (this gift of wanting to protect itself) and purify my soul as You are the Best to purify it. You are its Guardian and its Protecting Friend. O Allah! I seek refuge in You from the knowledge which is not beneficial, and from a heart which does not fear (You), and from a conscience which is not satisfied, and from a prayer which is not answered.

The messenger did not say that Allah (swt) is the only one to cleanse in this dua but rather said that He is the best to do so and in doing so puts responsibility on us too to try to cleanse ourselves.

The parallel between the sun and the nafs drawn in this surah is that Allah (swt) gives the nafs bright ability to cleanse itself but it can still come to a point where it becomes covered with the darkness of sin and misguidance just like when the day ends and the night begins. However, even in the night the sun still benefits the moon by bringing out its light and in the same way a clean nafs benefits not just itself but others by letting its light reach others. So, even in the toughest time of fitna you will still benefit from a clean nafs because it will be like the bright moon that shines in the darkness. Also, remember that Allah (swt) allows the brightness of the sun to return every day and overcome the darkness and in the same way the nafs can repent and move back towards doing good. This is the parallel that is drawn between the beginning oaths and the trials of the nafs.

 

91:10
 10) And the one who corrupts it fails

Khaaba is when you run after something and fail to get it or you when you desperately want something and finally acquire it, you find it was not what you really wanted (e.g. children disappointed with Eid gifts). It includes in its meaning disappointment, frustration and failure. The word dassaa means to disregard something and its root construct is daal, seen, seen. In the Arabic morphology of a word if there is repetition in a letter it is sometimes fused together and replaced with a vowel and in this case dassaa has an alif at the end. This serves to hyperbolise or exaggerate the meaning (mubalagha). Therefore the meaning here is the one who completely and utterly disregarded his nafs by not listening to his inner voice and in doing so has set himself up for immense disappointment. This diseased nafs put himself in the dust because he did not care about his nafs and does not think anyone else is going to care either. Allah (swt) asked in the previous surah ‘Does he think that no one saw him?’ (Surah Al Balad 90:7). This is what happens to the one who assumes that none sees him or controls him. The only concern this person with imbalance in his nafs has is seeking worldly things like pleasure and greed with no concern of things that balances the nafs. Just like the night and the day and the sun and the moon were created in balance so too was this nafs but this person has lost control.

 

91:11

11) The people of Thamud called (their messenger) a liar through their transgression

The subject now immediately switches to a nation. A corrupt nation is made up of corrupt individuals and when a nation has gone bad the first step to fixing it is through fixing the people. We can sometimes exhaust ourselves talking about the larger problems in society and the big political picture and give it precedence over issues like family values and community cohesion. We forget that the root of the problem is in the individual and not the collective and if people can better themselves individually then society as a whole can be influenced to become better. The messenger (saw) in a short period or time created a radical socio-economic change in society. However, the greatest change he brought was not in the political or economic sphere but rather it was the change he brought to individuals. The great accomplishment of the messenger (saw) was the companions. Like seeds that are put in the ground eventually coming out as plants strong and firm, the companions under the training of the messenger (saw) became mature human beings firm in their deen and concerned with cleansing themselves.

In the previous surah Allah (swt) spoke about the punishment of the next life, the consequence of denying Allah’s signs, ‘And the Fire will close in on them’ (Surah Al Balad 90:20). This surah though deals with the punishment in this life. The disbeliever would have dismissed the punishment stated in the previous surah thinking he can deal with it later as it seems distant and far away. Yet, in this surah he is warned of a closer punishment in this life. They think death is far off but a punishment in this life should makes the nafs want to guard itself before its destruction. The people of Thamood denied the signs of their messenger Salih (as). Although, the verse does not explicitly say ‘messenger’ it is understood as Allah (swt) is addressing Muhammad (saw) almost as if to say in consolation that Thamood lied too just like the Quraysh are doing. Also a missing word makes the listener give greater attention to what has been missed out and heightens the lesson.

Allah (swt) says that the reason they denied the message was because of the rebellion (tughyaan) inside their nafs. Thamood did not reject the message because they were in doubt of it and lacked conviction or because of a lack of knowledge or information. Rather they were shown clear signs and saw with their own eyes a she-camel emerge from a boulder and drink the amount of water an entire herd would. Yet, they ignored it because their nafs was corrupt and this is why tughyaan is mentioned. It was because of their rebellion in the light of their conviction in the true signs that they lied. Considering the previous surah mentioned Fir’aun and ‘Aad as well as Thamood from the previously destroyed nations why has only Thamood been highlighted in this surah? This is because from amongst these destroyed nations the Arabs knew most about the people of Thamood to the extent that they featured in their poetry even before the advent of Islam and were famously known by the Arabs for receiving punishment and destruction from Allah (swt). If someone was a corrupt leader, the Arabs would say ‘The people are following him like the people followed Kidaar (a leader of Thamood) who led them to their destruction’. Thus, Allah (swt) hits them hardest with the closest example possible. The closest and most infamous example known to the Quraysh of punishment in this world was Thamood which is why only they have been mentioned here.

 

91:12

12) When the most wicked man among them rose (against him to kill the she-camel) 

We have already learnt that the people who do not take advantage of the nafs that has been created in balance inside of them and completely disregard it are setting themselves up for immense and utter disappointment. Now Allah (swt) gives us an example of a horrible nafs in history who falls into this category of people. Naqata Allah was a she camel which Prophet Salih (as) asked Allah (swt) for on the request of Thamood who wanted this as a miracle. The she-camel would drink all the water available one day and then the people of Thamood would take all the water the next day. The camel would produce enough milk for everyone to drink from, however, the people started getting angry at having to be patient with the camel. These people asked their leaders to prevent the she-camel from drinking the water but the leaders were reluctant because of their promise to Salih (as) and also because they had seen the miraculous nature of the she-camel.

The word ba’atha means to rise and idhin ba’atha means that he rose all on his own. So, the most wretched (ashqa) and rebellious leader from amongst the people of Thamood took the initiative by taking responsibility for dealing with the she-camel of Salih (as). He did not kill it straight away but rather he killed it a slow death in the worst possible way in order to make a statement. This person had no fear of consequence and Allah (swt) asked in the previous surah ‘Does he think that no one will have power over him?’ (Surah Al Balad 90:5). People such as this do not think that anyone can control them or account them for their actions but Allah (swt) is aware of all that he does.

 

91:13

13) The Messenger of Allah said to them: ‘Beware! That is the she-camel of Allah! (Do not harm it) and prevent it from having its drink!”

In this ayah the phrase ‘lahum’ is brought forward in the sentence structure (known as muqaddam) to emphasise that Salih (as) especially warned those that had the intention of harming the she-camel. Allah (swt) did not mention Salih (as) by name rather He said ‘the messenger of Allah’ as this is more likely to impact the Quraysh who are listening. They will be able to draw parallels between the story of Salih (as) and Thamood and their own selves and Muhammad (saw) and learn from it. Thamood were destroyed and their destruction is a threat for the Quraysh.

The fatha on the word naaqata is called mansoob in Arabic grammar and there are sixteen reasons for having it. In Arabic one of the reasons this is done is to emphasise one thing over everything else and can also be a warning. For example, if there is a child playing close to a car, calling out ‘as-sayaarata is the same as saying ‘there is a car – watch out’. This is also how it is used in a hadith where the messenger (saw) warned us about speaking inappropriately about the companions when he (saw) said ‘Allaha fee as-haabi’ – ‘Watch out for Allah when it comes to talking about my companions!’ (Sunan At-Tirmidhi). The phrase ‘naaqatallah’ therefore means ‘watch out! this is the she-camel of Allah!’. Thus, Salih (as) is going out of his way to warn Thamood that they are in danger and don’t realise the consequence of their actions. They must not violate the she-camel’s place and time of drink (suqyaha) as this is a serious act of evil and rebellion.

 

91:14 

14) But they called him a liar and hamstrung her. Their Lord destroyed them for their crime and levelled them

Thamood commited two crimes. The first was to call Salih (as) a liar and ignore his warning and the second was to slaughter the she-camel in a callous and cruel way. They stabbed the camel and chopped the bottom parts of its limbs hamstringing her making her immobile such that she bled to death. This surah according to many mufassiroon suggests that the Quraysh are being told that they are already criminals and that Allah (swt) had pre-knowledge that they were going to attack the messenger (saw) soon taking them further down the path of criminality. Almost as if the Quraysh are being told ‘Oh Quraysh – you have already lied to the Messenger, if you harm him or attempt to kill him – you will be worse than the people of Thamood. And what punishment did the Thamood recieve?’

The word damdama is to destroy something by pounding it into the ground such that it becomes one with the ground. This was Allah’s punishment and notice that the word rabb is used and not Allah’s name almost as if to drive home the point that Allah (swt) was in control the whole time, their Lord and Master, Who always had the power to deal with them but gave them time so that they might repent back to Him. It was due to their sin that they were destroyed. The Quran uses many words for sin but dhanb specifically comes from the word dhanab which refers to the tail of an animal. Dhanb is used for any type of sin including big and small and is also used for something that should have caused you shame because the tail is a place of embarrassment i.e. it is found at the rear of an animal. An Arab tribe would boast in its poetry that they were like the nose of a lion due to its proud position on the face and in rebuttal another tribe would insult them by saying they were more like the tail. So, dhanb here captures the meaning that they did something that should have caused them shame, something that would have been recognised as wrong by their nafs. So, just like Allah (swt) balanced and evened out the nafs He literally crushed these people and levelled out their town to the point you would never have known there was a settlement at that place. Similarly, just like Allah (swt) created the nafs in balance and harmony He destroyed these corrupt people who had created disorder in society and thereby restored order.

 

91:15

15) And He (Allah) has no fear of its consequence (of destroying them)

This surah has been talking about the person who has no fear of the consequence of his actions and this is a person who can do something as heinous as denying the witnessed miracle of Allah (swt) and call His messenger a liar. The majority opinion on the interpretation of this verse is that Allah (swt) does not fear the consequence of destroying these people. Only Allah (swt) can be free of concern and carefree about the consequence of his plans as no one can retaliate or question His authority, ‘He is not questioned about what He does, but they will be questioned’ (Al Anbiya 21:23). A minority opinion of this verse is that it refers to the worst person mentioned in verse twelve who has no fear of consequence but because of the instance between the verses it does not seem that plausible, which is why most of the mufassiroon prefer the former opinion. The word ‘uqba is the mubalagha (exaggerated or emphatic) form of the word ‘aaqiba which is used elsewhere in the Quran. Even if there is an enormous consequence of Allah’s action and decision, He is not afraid of it. The worst consequence you can imagine is not enough for Allah (swt) to be deterred from whatever punishment He is going to decide.

This is an important lesson for us. So often we become certain of the fact that Allah (swt) is not going to take us yet. We have so much still to do in life, so much unfinished business, my studies have not yet finished, our children are not yet fully grown up etc. How can Allah (swt) take me early as He knows I am a good person? We constantly make plans and worry about the consequences of our unfinished plans but know that Allah (swt) is not afraid of the consequences and does not fear when He takes us. Muslims worry about who will take care of their family after they are gone and will pay the bills and even get scared into taking out home or life insurance. The believer should realise that whatever or whenever your family eats it is not because of you but because Allah (swt) is providing for them and will continue to provide for them after you have gone. We might fear the consequences of losing our worldly sustenance and approaching death but Allah (swt) does not. Allah (swt) does not fear or delay in taking our souls whenever He wants, and no one will scare or prevent Him from fulfilling His command. The one who truly seeks to cleanse his nafs should seek it through total and true dependence and reliance on Allah (swt).

 


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