Tafseer Surah Al Layl
The previous surah mentioned rebellion and this surah mentions one of the root causes of rebellion which is the diseased attitude one can have to their wealth. When one becomes wealthy they can sometimes stop relying on Allah (swt) and feel that they are independent and free of need because of their wealth. The danger is that when you think you can mange on your own you stop feeling the authority of someone else. For example, when you work for someone who controls your paycheck you are obedient to him but if you acquire enough wealth your obedience to your boss starts disappearing. In the previous surah Allah (swt) told man to purify himself and in this surah He (swt) tells us how to do that.
The surah begins with a number of oaths and when an oath is taken you are being asked to reflect on each item within the oath and to prepare yourself for the response which is usually central to the entire surah. The fundamental lesson of this surah is that the efforts of man are truly diverse. Some are working hard towards righteousness and some are working hard towards being wretched and disobedient to Allah (swt) and these efforts and how Allah (swt) facilitates them are then described in detail. Reward and punishment in this life and the next are both owned by Allah (swt) and He (swt) warns of a fire that none will enter save the most wretched (Al Ashqa). Yet Allah (swt) also informs us how one can be saved. The most recurring theme in this surah is wealth and we learn in this surah that if you want to cleanse yourself it has much to do with your attitude towards wealth. There is nothing wrong with owning wealth but there is something wrong with the love of money entering one’s heart. Either you want to get wealthy in this world or the next. However, it is still possible to be wealthy in both if you are sincere to Allah (swt) and are striving for the next life more. When one concerns themselves with worldly things and it becomes a priority in their life and a priority over the next then they have turned away and are in danger of becoming one of the wretched ones (Al Ashqa).
1) By the night as it envelops
Allah (swt) swears by the night as it covers up but He (swt) does not mention what he covers up which is a part of the style of this surah where objects are not mentioned. The benefit of this is that it poses a question of what is covered up. Allah (swt) wants us to contemplate and reflect on the Quran and to not expect to have everything spelt out for us and this is one of the great styles of the Quran. The word yaghsha means to cover with darkness all that had light before and when Allah (swt) refers to the night he is alluding to disbelief and when he refers to the day he is alluding to revelation which like light gets rid of darkness. In the previous surah the night was also mentioned using the same word in a very similar looking ayah. In Ash-Shams though there was a pronoun attached (yaghshaha). The pronoun made it clear that the sun was being referred to and that the night covers up the sun. Thus, the question posed in this surah was answered in the previous surah. We learn from this that this surah is almost expecting us to look at the previous surah as a reference point because by saying yaghsha without an object you are forced to think what the object might be and that takes you back to the previous surah where it was mentioned.
When Allah (swt) speaks about the night and it’s covering up he uses the present tense. In English we think of the past and present tense in very simple terms but in the Arabic language there are additional benefits. One of the benefits of the present tense is that it can also be used for something incomplete whilst the past tense is used for a complete act. The benefit of using the present tense here is understood when we appreciate that the night is covered up gradually in stages and does not necessarily cover everything up. Furthermore, we learnt in the previous surah that some light from the sun does still come out and is used by the moon which reflects it and allows us to see at night. So the use of the present tense tells us that the night is not absolute in its covering. There is a difference in the sequencing also as in the previous surah the covering of the night was mentioned after the brilliance of the day and in this surah the opposite sequence is used with the covering of the night mentioned first.
In the previous surah Allah (swt) described the day as being the thing that gives the sun the opportunity to show its brilliance and here He (swt) describes the day itself as being brilliant and radiant which is another example of the listener being directed to Surah Ash-Shams for an explanation. When Allah (swt) speaks about the day in both this surah and Ash-Shams He (swt) uses the past tense as the past tense indicates certainty and completion. It enforces the meaning that the day removes the darkness and makes everything bright and manifest immediately with nothing hidden. It takes a long time for the night to creep up with first ‘Asr and then Maghrib but the brilliance of the day develops far quicker in comparison. There is a parallel here between imaan and kufr. Both disbelief and corruption in society does not manifest overnight, rather it takes a long time for the change to come and for sins to accrue and the acts of oppression and disobedience to spread. Compare that though to the amazing and complete transformation that the messenger (saw) brought to a society steeped in kufr and shirk for hundreds of years seemingly overnight, as twenty-three years in the history of a nation is nothing.
3) By His creation of male and female!
By Him who created male and female!
The word ma can be understood linguistically as either ‘ma al mawsoolah’ or ‘ma al masdariyyah’. If it is the former then it is a statement of incredulity at how incredible the One who created the male and female is. If the latter then it is incredulity and amazement at how awe inspiring the creation of the male and the female is. Allah (swt) uses the phrase ‘dhakara wal untha’ in this ayah and it refers to the male ad the female and is of greater scope than simply man and woman as it includes in it’s meaning any creation that has a male and female gender. It follows the pattern thus far of this surah whereby much is left open for consideration and reflection. These pairs that are being mentioned have a profound lesson in them. Consider the following verse, ‘We created everything in pairs so perhaps you may remember’ (Adh-Dhariyat 51:49). Everything you can think of was created in a pair and imagine how damaging it must be, for example, if we only had night with no day, or how difficult life would be with a never-ending day, “Say, ‘Have you considered: if Allah should make for you the night continuous until the Day of Resurrection, what deity other than Allah could bring you light? Then will you not hear?” (Al Qasas 28:71). So, one necessitates the other just like a male by itself is incomplete and life cannot continue.
Men are paired with women not just physically but psychologically also as both genders have weaknesses that are compensated for by the opposite pair. For example, men have corrupt tendencies like violence and rage which the women in our lives such as our mothers, wives and sisters, help calm and settle. Thus, the male and female complement each other just like night and day. In the same vein if everything is in pairs then life too must be paired and life can only be complete when it meets its other half, the hereafter, a necessary pair to this worldly life. This is why in verse thirteen Allah (swt) says, ‘And truly belongs to Us the last (life) and the first (life)’.
In the previous surah Allah (swt) mentioned different aspects of the process of creation and used words such as banaaha (made it) when referring to the sky and tahaha (spread it out) when referring to the earth. Here, however, Allah (swt) uses the more comprehensive word of khalaqa which is applicable to all the different types of creation and which sums up what the previous surah was illustrating. In the previous surah Allah (swt) spoke about the sky and its architecture and the earth and its expanse but here in contrast Allah (swt) mentions how remarkable the creation of the male and the female is. There are actually many parallels between the sky and the earth as a contrast and the male and the female as a contrast. As just like the male and the female, two contradictory entities, work together so to do the sky and the earth work together for a greater purpose. The sky works with the day to produce vegetation as the earth could not produce what it does without water coming down from the sky. Thus, the earth gets impregnated with plants just like the female gets impregnated by the male. The seed in the ground will grow until it either benefits humanity through its product and by spreading its seed for future generations or it will simply wither away.
In the previous surah Allah (swt) spoke continuously in the third person but in this surah Allah (swt) switches to speaking in the second person. The third person can sometimes seem general and feel as if a statement is not directed at oneself. For example, when someone says ‘a person should be kind and generous’ it does not make the listener think that he is being addressed but when someone says ‘you should be kind and generous’ it becomes more specific and is akin to taking a universal lesson and making it directly applicable to you. Thus, the previous surah had universal lessons which we now learn are not just theory but are actually lessons that apply directly to the audience. In the previous surah Allah (swt) was talking about Thamood a distant nation that no longer exists as they were destroyed but in this surah we learn through the change from third to second person that the audience is now ready for these lessons directly and so Allah (swt) is turning his attention towards the Quraysh whom the specific warning is for.
The word kum has been interpreted in a number of ways. One opinion is that is addressing the many different efforts of the Muslims which ultimately in the end complement each other. Most mufassiroon however have said that it refers to the whole of humanity. The word sa’ee means to pace at a speed faster than walking but slower than running. People often pace up and down when they have an urgent or important matter to deal with. Allah (swt) used this word to describe Fir’aun in Surah An-Naziat when he was pacing up and down stressed out with trying to find a way to counter Musa’s growing influence, ‘The he turned away hastily’ (An-Naziat 79:22). Allah (swt) is essentially saying that the concerns people are running towards, in both a religious and non-religious sense, are diverse and contradictory in the same way the night and the day and the male and the female are. In a religious sense for example, the Muslims are making efforts for the establishment of the deen and the non-Muslims are making efforts in the opposite direction to harm the teachings of the deen. In the dunya also everyone has different concerns, problems and responsibilities which push them in different directions.
There are two words used in the Quran for different and diverse. The word mukhtalif is used to describe two wholly and originally different things. Shatta however is for something that was once whole but subsequently was separated into different entities. Allah (swt) says in the Quran:
‘The night is also a sign for them: We strip the daylight from it, and– lo and behold! – they are in darkness’ (Surah Ya Sin 36:37)
Allah (swt) describes that day as being snatched or pulled from the night almost as if the day is broken away from the night. Similarly, the first woman Hawwa was broken away from Adam (as) and mankind was originally upon the way of Islam and Adam (as) until that way got shattered into different paths. Humanity is meant to be a united nation whose efforts are one and the same. Yet, just like night and day, male and female come together to become a whole so too do the opposite efforts of the Muslims and non-Muslims come together to fulfil a greater plan. This changes the way we look at the seerah of the messenger (saw). If the two opposite efforts of the Muslims trying to further the cause of Islam and the disbelievers trying to oppose it did not come together then the verses instructing people to be patience and the verses instructing the believers to make hijra for example would not have come down. All the efforts and struggles in the life of the messenger (saw) are not the result of a one directional effort on the part of the believers but rather it is in addition to the opposing effort of the disbelievers. So, although the people are divided (shatta) in their motives and ideologies, they are all under the One main plan of Allah (swt).
In Ash-Shams we learnt of the balanced creation of the nafs and how Allah (swt) programmed it to recognise its evil capacity and its capacity to protect itself, what is good for it and what is bad for it. An innate nature, its fitrah, which allows this person to recognise these things was put inside of it by Allah (swt). Yet, despite this pre-programmed ability we learn in this surah that man’s efforts are all over the place. Even though we all know what is essentially good and what is bad we still don’t find everyone doing good and avoiding evil. We find some doing good and others doing bad and hence our efforts differ. Allah (swt) also mentioned in Ash-Shams the internal feelings of the nafs but here we find the outwardly state of the nafs which is the efforts and actions one makes. So what happens inside and outside the person is being compared in these two surahs. In the previous surah the ones who make the effort to cleanse themselves are the ones who have attained success and now Allah (swt) will describe how you attain that success. Furthermore, the path to failure taken by the one who abased his nafs is also going to be discussed.
5) As for the one who gives (in charity) and fears Allah
The word a’ataa means to give abundantly and is also the word used by Allah (swt) in the Quran when he gives his messenger (saw) Al Kawthar, ‘(O Prophet,) surely We have given to you Al-Kauthar’ (Al Kauthar 108:1). This word carries in it the meaning of giving in response to something but giving far and beyond that which was expected. So Allah (swt) is speaking about the one who gave a lot and more than was required. In line with the theme of this surah Allah (swt) does not spell out what or to whom this person gives as the precedent has been established in other surahs. In surah Al Balad the precedent was already established (verses 13-17) on where you should spend your money. So here it suffices to just say he gave a lot.
The word taqwa literally means to save yourself from harm or from the consequences of evil and is also used in the context of saving yourself from the fire on the Day of Judgement, ‘So guard yourself against the fire’ (Al Baqarah 2:24 excerpt). Although taqwa is sometimes translated as fear there is a fundamental difference to a word like khawf which also means fear. Taqwa in addition to the fear of something is to also take an action as a result of that fear and the fear of falling into trouble. For example, khawf would be used for someone frightened by a loud noise whereas taqwa would result in a person taking cover as a consequence of his fear of the loud sound. The one who usually gives charity feels good about themselves, confident that they have secured their place in Jannah. However, the person described in this verse is scared even after giving charity. Also, some people have taqwa but they do not give in charity. A Muslim should have both, taqwa and generosity.
Sometimes a person can give charity for the wrong reasons such as when they try to compensate for their wrong deeds i.e. someone who sells alcohol gives a lot of money to the masjid out of guilt but still does not want to get rid of the store. This person gives in charity but does not fear the consequences of his actions as he does not stop his haram actions. However, the believer fears whether his actions will be accepted after giving in charity. This sequence of giving and then feeling afraid also happens in surah Al Insaan, ‘We feed you for Allah’s face (wajh), we do not want any reward or thanks, we fear from our Master a day which will make the faces frown’ (Al Insaan 76:9-10). These people gave charity not to see a smile on the face of the recipient but rather to see their Lord pleased with their efforts. Allah (swt) is talking about the person who exhausted his wealth in all kinds of good, constantly searching for good causes, afraid of being cheap and fully cognisant of the fact that the money we have is not really ours. This person was afraid he might start thinking it was his own money and so he gives without even thinking about it or how much he can afford to give, afraid of being cheap and miserly in the sight of Allah (swt).
In contrast though is the person constantly looking for good places to invest his money such that he reaps the rewards in the dunya. Imagine if such a person did this for the sake of Allah (swt) and invested his money in all types of good; in helping the orphan, the oppressed, the Muslim prisoner etc. The fruits of all this would amaze him on Judgement Day. The weaker your trust in Allah (swt), the less you give and the stronger your faith the more you give. Money can make us think that we are in charge and psychologically we can start to think that we are the owners of the money in our possession, greedy like children claiming that it belongs to us alone, and it can lead a person to think that he is fully independent and free of all need.
Who is it that would loan Allah a goodly loan so He may multiply it for him many times over? And it is Allah who withholds and grants abundance, and to Him you will be returned (Al Baqarah 2:245)
Sequentially, you would expect a person to fear before he gives, however, in this verse the charity comes before the fear. This is a style of this surah whereby Allah (swt) gives the conclusion and the fruits before the root and in this case it serves to exhibit the amazing emotions of the charitable person. Similarly, in verse thirteen the conclusion is the life of the akhirah and is mentioned before the life of the dunya which is the root.
6) Who testifies to the ultimate good
The word husna is the feminine equivalent of akhbar and in English it is a comparative (used to compare two things with suffix ‘-er’) or superlative verb (used to compare three or more things with suffix ‘-est’) and it means the ultimate or the best possible. Allah (swt) says that the truth is confirmed and attested but He (swt) did not tell us in what the truth was confirmed which is consistent with the theme of this surah which invites us to reflect deeply. It could be in obeying Allah (swt), or in Jannah, or in obeying the messenger (saw), or in giving to the poor, or in the testimony of faith. By not listing every possibility and by using the comprehensive term Al Husna (ultimate good), Allah (swt) has implied that they are all true.
The word tasdeeq is to know something is good and true but to also act upon it. For example, if you say fire burns and then touch it anyway it means you were either lying and that you did not think it was the truth or it means that you are not very smart and are insane. Sometimes a person may say that prayer is good to do but still does not perform it themselves. Confirming the truth in something should lead to positive action afterwards and the fundamental theme of this surah is action which is seen in the sequencing of this verse and the previous one. One would normally expect someone to first come to and confirm the truth, then to develop taqwa and then to give as a consequence. Yet, the sequence we see here is of first giving, then taqwa and then of confirming the truth. We can see that the sequence focuses on actions as giving is exclusively an action, taqwa is partly in the heart and partly seen in one’s actions with faith being purely a matter of the heart. Thus, the sequencing of the words focuses on actions. Furthermore, the closest word to sa’yakum (your efforts/actions) in verse four is an action – a’ataa, then taqwa which is partly action and then sad-daqqa which is a belief in the heart and this is part of the eloquence of the Quran. The word that most fits in with the theme of the surah is closest in proximity whilst the word furthest from the theme is also furthest in proximity.
Another interesting comparison here is between the nature of an individual and the nature of a society. When an individual confirms the truth he develops taqwa and as a consequence he gives charity. On a societal level however the first thing you have to do is give. One cannot be considered part of a society, whether he is a Muslim or non-Muslim, if he does not contribute in some way. Then this individual must abide by the law and be afraid of the consequences of breaking the law which is taqwa. Society then takes the final step and becomes the ideal society by confirming the truth and ultimate good. When one confirms the truth it means that he gave the right of Allah (swt) which he recognises as being binding upon him. This is manifested in his actions when he understands that when he gives charity he is giving what was not his in the first place. First and utmost though we recognise the right of Allah (swt) as being binding upon man because everything else like salah and zakat then falls under it.
Verse five commenced with ‘fa amma man’ which is a conditional statement (kalimat ash-Shart) and essentially means that for the one who does this (gives in charity and fears, and confirms the truth) then as per the response in this verse Allah (swt) will make ease for him. By implication then if this person does not make that commitment then Allah (swt) will not make things easy for him and things will remain difficult. Yusra is the feminine equivalent of aysar which means the easiest and so Allah (swt) says that He (swt) will make the easiest easy for him. Allah’s gift to this person is that he finds doing good things easier to do and finds doing bad things harder. Many of us find the opposite that doing bad things is easy and doing good things is hard. This change in attitude is the gift you get in this dunya from Allah (swt). In Surah Al Balad there was reference to the path of righteousness being difficult and akin to a tough trail up a mountain but Allah (swt) wants to change our attitude towards difficulty and so when He (swt) talks about the one doing good deeds which apparently sounds difficult Allah (swt) says that He will facilitate for him the easiest thing and make that path easy for him.
In the Quran there are two words used for ease, yaseer and hayyin. Yaseer is a task that is done without any difficulty whilst hayyin is a task that is way beneath your ability, something insultingly easy like a maths professor having to do basic arithmetic. Yaseer in comparison is a task that is more suited to your skill set but which you can still complete with ease. In surah Al Hajj Allah (swt) says:
‘Strive hard for God as is His due: He has chosen you and placed no hardship in your religion, the faith of your forefather Ibrahim’ (Al Hajj 22:78).
Allah (swt) has not put any difficulty in our deen yet for some people things such as getting up in time for Fajr prayers is very hard, yet, for the messenger (saw) the prayer was not hard. Allah (swt) promised his messenger (saw):
‘And We will ease you to a state of ease’ (Al ‘Ala 87:8).
Allah (swt) is giving us the same option but there is a difference. In this verse there is the extra letter ‘seen’ (fasa) not present in Al ‘Ala. This means soon and so when Allah (swt) spoke to his messenger (saw) He (swt) said that He will make easy for him but in this verse Allah (swt) says to everyone else that He will soon make easy for them. The reason for this difference is due to the fact that the messenger (saw) was content, firmly on the path of Islam and not in a state of unrest. People other than the messenger (saw) are in a state of unrest, not tranquil perhaps due to sin and need calming down and so are advised that things will soon become easy if they persist in doing good deeds. This shows that the relationship between Allah (swt) and his messenger (saw) is very tranquil but ours it not. The word yasara was originally used to describe how easy it was to ride a horse once it was saddled up and hooked up with reins as opposed to riding it without these things. Just like the horse is set up to make it easier to ride, Allah (swt) is saying that he will make all of the arrangements necessary to make it easier for us to perform good deeds. So it is akin to saying that if you do good acts such as giving in charity and guarding against evil then it will be like Allah (swt) has placed you upon a comfortable riding horse making your journey much easier.
And will provide for him from where he does not expect. And whoever relies upon Allah – then He is sufficient for him. Indeed, Allah will accomplish His purpose. Allah has already set for everything a (decreed) extent (At-Talaq 65:3)
All of the things you have to do to elevate your status with Allah (swt) will be made easy for you. If you have taqwa of Allah (swt), He (swt) will make in every one of his decisions some ease for him and will provide for that person from where he could not even imagine. In a hadith the messenger (saw) said, ‘Work (in good deeds) because everyone has had made easy for them what they have been created for’ (Sahih Al Bukhari). Everyone has been predisposed to do good and certain things have been made easy for him because whatever has been written for you (in your destiny) will be made easy for you.
From a human nature point of view the things one does with regularity such as exercising and dieting eventually becomes easier. It is simply a matter of conditioning oneself. For example, getting up for work is always difficult the first few days but after a number of years it becomes much easier and routine. The person who thinks it is hard ends up failing and losing their job. Once you accept that you have to be at work and on time, you will take the appropriate steps with determination to achieve success at work. In the same way one must condition himself to do good because if you have a defeatist attitude it will never become easy for you and Allah (swt) will not make it easy for you. This is an important lesson for us in addressing and changing our obedience to Allah (swt). Ease comes when you accept the fact that you have to make an effort. You do not complain about it, rather you do it because you affirm that with this will come reward from Allah (swt). Allah (swt) talks about this ease in many places in the Quran and also that He (swt) intends to make life easy upon us through his instruction, ‘Allah wishes to lighten (the burden) for you; and man was created weak’ (An-Nisa 4:28).
8) But as for the one who is miserly and thinks himself self-sufficient
When amma is mentioned in Arabic then you can expect it to be followed by another amma and this is akin to saying ‘as for this one’ and then ‘but as for that one’. Thus, after mentioning the one that gives generously Allah (swt) mentions the one who is not only cheap and miserly (bakhila) in spending his wealth but also encourages others to be cheap. The word bakhila comes from bukhl which means to store and hoard wealth and this word was also used in Surah An-Nisa, ‘Who are stingy and enjoin upon (other) people stinginess…’ (An-Nisa 4:37). This is a person who does not spend any money in the path of Allah (swt) or any of the pathways of good and this implies that there were many opportunities to do good which were not taken advantage of. This person was reluctant to invest in any of the rewards of the hereafter and when others choose to invest in the hereafter he advises them to save their money for a rainy day. This disease of hoarding wealth leads to another disease which is called istighna and further developed into him thinking that he does not need the hereafter but rather only needs things in this life. When you don’t spend your money and save it for yourself it can make you feel safe, empowered and superior to others who don’t have wealth. Istighna is the feeling that you are not in need of anyone else and that you can do everything for yourself. As a consequence of them developing this attitude of not needing anyone, Allah (swt) developed this attitude towards them and He (swt) is truly ghani, the One who has no need, ‘And know that Allah is self-sufficient (Ghani), praiseworthy’ (excerpted, Al Baqarah 2:267).
9) And who denies the ultimate good
As a result of this person’s arrogant attitude he feels empowered and independent enough to deny Islam and goodness. Unfortunately, this is something which is also happening in the Muslim world where some Muslims get further and further away from Islam the wealthier they get to the extent that they are even attacking the religion and verbally questioning the good in everything. They begin to think that they do not need the religion rather the religion needs them as they are the ones with money after all. They think through their arrogance that the religion should suit their desires and that they do not need to submit to religious commands and principles. When they say the religion should be adapted to suit them they are lying against goodness and the ultimate good of Islam. O Allah, protect us from such characteristics, ameen.
10) We will make smooth for him the path of hardship
We will soon make the hardest thing easy for him
Some mufassiroon have commented that the word ‘usr refers to jahannum and that Allah (swt) is saying that he will make the path to hellfire easy for this person. The word ‘usr also means an evil deed and so the verse can be interpreted to means that Allah (swt) will make the evil deeds easy for this person. In it’s literal form though, ‘usr means the hardest possible thing. After developing this attitude, the curse of Allah (swt) upon him is that he does things that lands him in the worst difficulty. This person will live carefree and not concern himself about religion spending his money wherever he wants and ultimately the things he spends his money on such as his children or property will become the cause of his problems in the future. The children they spend their money on could grow up rebellious and difficult whilst their property investments could be a source of loss and stress. The messenger (saw) was told not to be impressed with the hypocrite’s wealth or children as Allah (swt) only intended to torture them with these things:
So let not their wealth or their children impress you. Allah only intends to punish them through them in worldly life and that their souls should depart (at death) while they are disbelievers. (At-Tawba 9:55)
They were looking for ease in these things but Allah (swt) facilitated the hardest things for them with these things. The evil that leads to the punishment of Allah (swt) becomes easy for this person and is undertaken without even thinking twice about it.
The word radda means to throw someone into a ditch or off a cliff and taradda is to throw yourself into a ditch or off a cliff. The ditches of evil deeds are the grave and the hellfire and this person’s wealth will not help him when he is thrown into them. The one who Allah (swt) elevates is the one who gives up his wealth and lowers himself in front of his supreme lord but the one who wants to elevate himself is thrown into a ditch by Allah (swt). These people wanted high status and to be free of need but how can this be attained in a ditch.
A person may be obedient to Allah (swt) performing good deeds and protecting themselves from evil but then they can sometimes start developing the idea that they are guided and guaranteed Allah’s safety and reward. Even self-righteousness is a disease and guidance is not something one gets through their deeds rather it is something one begs Allah (swt) for and every time we recite Al Fatiha we are asking Allah (swt) for guidance. The wretched person who disobeys and rebels against Allah (swt) and considers himself free of need also thinks he is in no need of guidance. Yet, you can have all the wealth in the world but the one wealth you will never own is guidance. Allah (swt) says it is only upon Him to give guidance regardless of how poor or wealthy you are. The word ‘alayna has been placed early in the verse (muqaddam) to emphasis that only Allah (swt) can give guidance. This verse has been interpreted in a number of ways. Firstly, by understanding that true guidance is only that which leads to Allah (swt) and secondly that it is only upon Allah (swt) to guide and to clarify the path of guidance. Of course, it was Allah (swt) who guided man even before revelation by giving him a sense of what is right and what is wrong. So, we have the pre-programmed guidance inside us and then also revealed guidance from Allah (swt) on top. Furthermore, if you are seeking guidance then the ultimate goal and conclusion of that guidance must be Allah (Swt) Himself.
Allah (swt) owns everything in this life and the next, moulding and changing situations however He (swt) pleases. One may ask for good in this life or the next but Allah (swt) told the Muslims to ask for good in both, ‘Our Master, give us good in this life, and good in the next life, and save us from the fire’ (Al Baqarah 2:201). This is in contrast to some Christian groups who shunned this life and concentrated only on the hereafter by living in monasteries and the like. Allah (swt) owns not only the reward of the next life but this life too so we should ask Him for both. The sequencing of this verse is of particular interest. The hereafter is mentioned first and then the dunya which is consistent with the style of this surah where the conclusion is frequently given before the root.
Notice in Surah Al Qasas the sequence is reversed and the hereafter is mentioned second, ‘He is God; there is no god but Him; all praise belongs to Him in this world and the next; His is the Judgement; and to Him you shall be returned’ (Al Qasas 28:70). The reason for the difference in the order is due to the fact that in Al Qasas the passages are about the favours of Allah (swt) and we appreciate His favours in the dunya which is why the praise belongs to him firstly in this life and then the next. In this surah though we are being taught not to get trapped into the allure of the dunya and so the akhira takes precedence. In An Najm Allah (swt) uses the same sequence as this verse but with a difference. An-Najm lacks the extra letter laam which has been added here. This additional laam serves to add emphasis, emphasising that the next life and this one truly belongs to him. The need to emphasis it in this surah is because this surah has been talking about ownership and of the type of person who falsely thinks he owns things.
The person who is cheap and does not give charity and who considers himself free of need owns nothing in reality. It is Allah (swt) to whom belongs true ownership both in the hereafter and in this life. Accepting this will make all of one’s spending for Allah (swt) easy. It is not easy spending money for Allah’s sake if you consider it yours but when you understand that it was never yours to begin with it becomes easy. Allah (swt) used the word oola (that which came earlier) to refer to the dunya and there are very few instances where Allah (swt) uses this word. The word dunya comes from adna which means inferior and hence dunya technically is the inferior worldly life. Understand that this verse is about the ownership of Allah (swt) and as Al Oola is what came before it includes more than dunya which is something inferior and lesser and so the choice of word befits the ownership of Allah (swt) and is better suited to His (swt) magnitude. So, to Allah (swt) belongs everything that came before and everything that will come after (akhirah).
14) So I have warned you of a blazing fire
In the previous surah Salih (as) warned the people to watch out and to not kill the she-camel. In this surah Allah (swt) himself is giving a warning and He (swt) is not warning people about the danger of performing a bad deed rather He (swt) is warning of the consequences. In the previous surah the consequence in the dunya of their disobedience was described when Allah (swt) crushed and levelled the ground with them whilst in this surah the punishment in the akhira is described. The word taladhdhaa is something that keeps sparking and is the kind of flame that makes a popping and crackling type of noise. The word indhaar means to sit someone down and to make them thoroughly aware of the situation they are in, as if they do not fully appreciate it’s peril, and to make them realise that there is great danger ahead of them if they continue on this path. By using this word here Allah (swt) is saying that the Quran is enough for one to fully understand the situation they are in, where they are headed and what the outcome will be. Allah (swt) is warning man about the fire using the past tense in this verse as whenever He (swt) warns about one thing specifically He (swt) uses the past tense. In another place in the Quran Allah (swt) warns in the present tense by means of revelation as revelation can warn you by means of worldly consequences, shortage of good deeds, earning to many bad deeds etc. So, Allah (swt) used the past tense to give the ultimate warning of the hereafter and used the present tense to warn man through revelation as wahy keeps coming down during the life of the messenger (saw).
The word yasla means to throw oneself in and Allah (swt) is saying that none will throw themselves into this specific fire except for the most wretched. There are other types of fire for other types of disbelievers but this fire has been specifically prepared for this specific type of disbeliever because Allah (swt) says that no one will go into it except for Al Ashqa. Allah (swt) in the third person is warning that the most wretched enters this fire but he is not calling the audience the worst kind of people leaving open the implication that there may still be hope for the audience or worse still that maybe the audience are being told because they are indeed the worst kind of person and need to rectify themselves. This type of person was mentioned in the previous surah too where we learnt that Thamood lied against the messenger Salih (as) and violated and disrespected the miracle that Allah (swt) had sent to them by slaughtering the she-camel. Now the Quraysh have committed a crime against the miracle that Allah (swt) sent Muhammad (saw) by turning away from the Quran. In one the instruction was to stay away from the miracle whilst here the instruction was to come towards the miracle. Yet, in both cases the people rebelled against the gift that Allah (swt) sent them and now in this surah we learn what their punishment in the hereafter will be when they throw themselves into the fire.
Allah (swt) does not say what this person rejected leaving us to figure it out, which is consistent with this surah, and it is clear from the context it has been mentioned in that it is the message. This most wretched and unfortunate person is the one who rejected the revelation on the inside, whilst knowing it was the truth, and turned away on the outside and because the previous passage mentioned giving to the poor he also turns away from the ones who ask him.
17) The most pious one will be far removed from it
A muttaqi is someone who has taqwa whilst an attqa is someone who has the most taqwa. The word janaba means to be on the side and tajannub means to be moved to the side away from something harmful whilst tajneeb means to be taken far away from something harmful and to safety and security, for example, when someone pulls you out of the way of an approaching car. Most mufassiroon consider these verses to have come down in the historical context of when Abu Bakr (ra) freed a group of slaves. He is the attqa who gave and was fearful and freed a group of slaves from the kuffar who were torturing them. Allah (swt) says the most righteous and fearful will be pulled away from the direction of harm and will be completely and absolutely safe. This idea of being far off and safe is very powerful as the people who have not even entered hellfire yet, are by implication therefore, close to it and will be crying for death through their fear of it.
The Quran is very precise in its language. In the previous surah we learn that the Ashqa will exclusively enter the crackling fire that has been prepared for them. In contrast though Allah (swt) does not say la ujannabuha al-atqa, that none will be saved except the most righteous and God fearing. Rather He (swt) said that the people with the most taqwa will be saved from it and from this we learn that they are not exclusively the only ones who are going to be saved from it. People who have less taqwa than those on the highest level will also have hope which is a mercy from Allah (swt). May Allah make us from the people with the most taqwa.
18) Who gives his wealth away (in charity) to become purified
The previous surah told us that the one who succeeded was the one who tried to cleanse himself and in this surah it tells you how to become clean and a person with great taqwa. In Arabic one would expect there to be a laam (li) in front of yatazakka which would indicate that this person gave his money in order to (li) cleanse himself. The laam however has been omitted to teach us that giving wealth will not purify one, rather Allah (swt) will. In the hope of cleansing oneself we should therefore give away our wealth and as a result Allah (swt) will clean the filth inside of us. Thus, the purpose of giving wealth is to cleanse oneself through the gift of Allah (swt). The surah began in verse five by discussing the one who gave a lot without qualifying what exactly is given. By not limiting the verse by adding an object, the verse is left open ended and general and opens up the possibility of people who don’t have wealth giving other things in abundance such as their time, effort, talent and even their money if they have a lot of it. In this verse though Allah (swt) specifically says wealth because even the poorest can give something and it does not have to be a lot which is why Allah (swt) does not ask for a lot. The condition to cleanse oneself is not to give a lot but to just give something. As Muslims we should be constantly giving away money to charity so that we lose the love of our wealth. We should also teach our children from a young age to be generous as giving and not giving is the key to being a good person in this surah.
Never will you attain the good (reward) until you spend (in the way of Allah) from that which you love. And whatever you spend – indeed, Allah is Knowing of it. (Al Imran 3:92)
This person did not give charity because he felt he had a favour that had to be paid back to someone. For example, when one visit’s family abroad he may sometimes feel obligated to give them gifts otherwise they may say something negative afterwards. Or, when invited to stay at someone’s house you purchase them a gift as you feel obligated to. Alternatively, a member of your family may discourage you from giving sadaqah to a particular person due to a grievance they have with them. This is not the attitude of the person giving in this case. We should only give to cleanse ourselves and not for worldly consequences, or to be popular, or to avoid getting in trouble and through the fear of consequence. Another interpretation of this verse is that no one will be able to pay you back for what you gave in charity because, even if they were to pay you back in full, they don’t know how hard it was for you to give that money in the first place, who you might have upset, what cuts in your spending you had to make etc. The word jazaa means to give completely so that there is no feeling of dissatisfaction left and in reality no one can do that which is why the next verse ties this up and makes this verse make sense.
The one with a lot of wealth feels high and superior and thinks that the more wealth he has the higher in society he gets. In truth though when they understand that Allah (swt) is Al ‘Ala they become low and so this is any ayah of humility. By mentioning the elevation of Allah (swt) man is lowered. The word ibtighaa’a means to seek out and to demand and also to rebel meaning that this person is in pursuit of the face of his lord and his pleasure so badly that he crosses all the limits in trying to get it. The fatha on ibtighaa’a indicates that seeking the face of Allah (swt) was the only reason they did it. They were pursuing Allah (swt) through prayer, fasting and other good deeds and then gave charity as they realised how beloved it was and how it was another way of getting close to Allah (swt). It is in fact the one giving who is getting high when he lowers himself before Allah (swt) understanding that He (swt) is the most high.
21) And surely he will soon be pleased
This world is all about seeking contentment which is why people chase money. People think that money will make them happy but Allah (swt) says that if you seek His face and do what He (swt) tells you to then He (swt) will give you the contentment you are truly seeking. When Allah (swt) mentioned punishment in the previous surah He (swt) quantified it by crushing and levelling Thamood. When it comes to His (swt) reward however He (swt) does not even try to quantify it simply saying that the believer will be soon pleased, meaning that one cannot even imagine the reward.
‘The ones who believe and their hearts are peaceful with the remembrance of Allah. Listen, the hearts find peace only in the remembrance of Allah.’ (Ar-Rad 13:28)
The la in this ayah is Allah (swt) taking an oath, swearing that the people who acquire the attributes described will very soon be content when they enter paradise. Part of the audience listening to this are convinced that they will find satisfaction in the dunya and so Allah (swt) is taking an oath to add emphasis and to convince them that the dunya will not bring them satisfaction rather they should acquire the attributes described and they will surely find true contentment and satisfaction. Many mufassiroon consider these verses to have come down with regards to Abu Bakr (ra) because of the usage of the name Al Atqa (the most God conscious) and then to the general. Yet Ibn Kathir is of the opinion that although the verses may be referring to him, as the verses are general so too are the lessons. Furthermore, his contention is that he could not find any direction narration confirming the verses were in reference to Abu Bakr (ra).