by Kareem Elsayed
This surah was revealed during the middle stages of the Makkan period. This was the onset of the conflict between the believers and pagans. The surah was revealed after Omar ibn al-Khattab became Muslim. He said, “This Surah was revealed in my presence and I myself observed the state of the Holy Prophet during its revelation. When the revelation ended , the Holy Prophet remarked, ‘On this occasion ten such verses have been sent down to me that the one who measures up to them, will most surely go to Paradise’. Then he recited the initial verses of the surah.”
“Certainly will the believers have succeeded: They who are during their prayer humbly submissive And they who turn away from ill speech And they who are observant of zakah And they who guard their private parts Except from their wives or those their right hands possess, for indeed, they will not be blamed – But whoever seeks beyond that, then those are the transgressors – And they who are to their trusts and their promises attentive
And they who carefully maintain their prayers – Those are the inheritors Who will inherit al-Firdaus. They will abide therein eternally. (1-11)”
Notice how Allah (SWT) intertwines acts of worship and aspects of good character together. SubhanAllah, the reward of this combination will be nothing but Jannat al-Firdaus! After this initial passage, Allah (SWT) begins to highlight His signs in creation, starting with the creation of the human being. In these verses are a sign for those who follow science! How could an illiterate man 1400 years ago know the details of embryology as described in this surah? The conclusion that one must draw is at the end of the passage:
“And certainly did We create man from an extract of clay. Then We placed him as a sperm-drop in a firm lodging. Then We made the sperm-drop into a clinging clot, and We made the clot into a lump [of flesh], and We made [from] the lump, bones, and We covered the bones with flesh; then We developed him into another creation. So blessed is Allah , the best of creators. (12-14)”
Next Allah (SWT) mentions the stories of older prophets, including Nooh, Musa, and others. This portion of the surah teaches us many lessons:
- The doubts that Quraysh was having were not new. In fact, they were the same as those of the previous nations.
- The message the each prophet came with was the same message as before, including the Prophet Muhammad (SAAWS).
- The warning is made to Quraysh to beware the consequences of the rejection of the prior nations. SubhanAllah – the pattern of destruction of those who rejected the message should strike an immediate sense of awe and cause one to incline towards worshipping Allah (SWT) properly
Allah (SWT) then juxtaposes the status of those who are rich and powerful in the dunya to those who are seeking the akhirah. At this time the sahabah were seen as weak and lowly, while the chieftains of Quraysh had yet to accept Islam. Allah (SWT) here confirms that their worldly status is meaningless in the akhirah.
Allah (SWT) also instructs the Prophet Muhammad (SAAWS) to engage in an intellectual debate with the disbelievers, and to rehearse the signs of Allah (SWT) to them:
“Say, “In whose hand is the realm of all things – and He protects while none can protect against Him – if you should know?” They will say, “[All belongs] to Allah .” Say, “Then how are you deluded?” (88-89)”
Finally, Allah (SWT) concludes the surah with a reminder of the Day of Judgement, and the condition of the believers on that Day. This served to raise the spirits of the believers at the end of their surah, and warn the disbelievers of their ultimate outcome if they did not change their course.
This surah was revealed in the 5th or 6th year after the Hijra, after the campaign against Bani al-Mustaliq, which likely took place after the battle of al-Ahzab. At this point the offensive against Islam had ended on the battle field, and it was shifted to the moral arena. This surah came down establishing the innocence of `A’isha (RA) after the incident of the slander, and also established many of the rules and regulations regarding chastity, modesty, and the interactions between men and women. Allah (SWT) opens the surah with a verse stressing the importance of these laws, because the fabric of society depends on their observance:
“[This is] a surah which We have sent down and made [that within it] obligatory and revealed therein verses of clear evidence that you might remember. (1)”
Allah (SWT) then mentions some of the laws of chastity including lashing the convicted fornicator and the accuser without four witnesses. Then Allah (SWT) rebukes the Muslim community for their reaction to the incident of the slander. But the manner in which Allah (SWT) responds to the incident is truly remarkable. It confirms that this Qur’an is a message from Allah (SWT), because if it was from the Prophet Muhammad (SAAWS) there would have surely been a more bitter or sharp reply to those who accused his dearest wife of such a reprehensible act. Truly this incident is a treasure trove of lessons to be learned.
Indeed, those who came with falsehood are a group among you. Do not think it bad for you; rather it is good for you. For every person among them is what [punishment] he has earned from the sin, and he who took upon himself the greater portion thereof – for him is a great punishment. Why, when you heard it, did not the believing men and believing women think good of one another and say, “This is an obvious falsehood”? Why did they [who slandered] not produce for it four witnesses? And when they do not produce the witnesses, then it is they, in the sight of Allah , who are the liars. (11-13)
Next, Allah (SWT) mentions some of the manners of visitation, and proceeds to command the believing men to lower their gaze first, then the believing women. He (SWT) also instructs them to conceal their adornments, except to their close family. Allah (SWT) also encourages marriage among the believers, even among the slaves, and discourages the practice of slavery, and prohibits the practice of prostitution (which was practiced exclusively amongst their class).
This surah derives its name from the following passage, in which Allah (SWT) describes his Light in such a beautiful manner:
“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 (35)”
Next Allah (SWT) recites some of His signs to the people and then begins to address the hypocrites. They were chiefly responsible for the spread of the slander of `A’isha (RA). Their leader, Abdullah ibn Ubayy also attempted to instigate a civil war between the Muhajireen and the Ansar while returning from the battle of Bani al-Mustaliq. Were it not for the swift action of the Prophet Muhammad (SAAWS), the situation would have escalated greatly. Allah (SWT) says regarding the hypocrites:
“Is there disease in their hearts? Or have they doubted? Or do they fear that Allah will be unjust to them, or His Messenger? Rather, it is they who are the wrongdoers. The only statement of the [true] believers when they are called to Allah and His Messenger to judge between them is that they say, “We hear and we obey.” And those are the successful. (50-51)”