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Holy Quran Section > English Translation and Commentary of the Holy Quran by Maulana Muhammad Ali (Table of Contents) > Chapter 81: (Al-Takwir: The Folding Up)



Chapter 81: (Al-Takwir: The Folding Up)
(Revealed at Makkah: 1 section; 29 verses)

1. Introduction:

This chapter is entitled Al-Takwir or The Folding up from the mention of the folding up of the sun in the first verse. The significance of the folding up of the sun is that it will lose its light or that the entire solar system will be destroyed. It may thus indicate the end of things so far as this life is concerned and may thus stand for the new order, which is called the Resurrection. It may, however, be also a metaphorical expression for the distresses and misfortunes of a people, as if the sun of their fortune became dark.

That the chapter speaks of the final triumph of Truth is made clear in the latter part of this chapter: “Surely it is the word of a bountiful Messenger, the possessor of strength, established in the presence of the Lord of the Throne of Power, one to be obeyed” (vv. 19–21); and again: “And truly he saw himself on the clear horizon” (v. 23). The opening verses of the chapter from the 3rd onwards speak prophetically of certain events relating to the distant future and of certain portents of the overthrow of opposition and prevalence of Truth, and thus throw further light on the fact that the ultimate triumph of Truth is really the subject-matter of this chapter. Its revelation belongs to the very early Makkan period.

2. Translation:

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.

1 When the sun is folded up,a

2 And when the stars are dust-coloured,a

3 And when the mountains are made to pass away,a

4 And when the camels are abandoned,a

5 And when the wild animals are gathered together,a

6 And when the cities are made to swell,a

7 And when men are united,a

8 And when the one buried alive is asked

9 For what sin she was killed,a

10 And when the books are spread,a

11 And when the heaven has its covering removed,a

12 And when hell is kindled,a

13 And when the Garden is brought nigha

14 Every soul will know what it has prepared.a

15 Nay, I call to witness the stars,

16 Running their course, (and) setting,a

17 And the night when it departs,

18 And the morning when it brightens,a

19 Surely it is the word of a bountiful Messenger,

20 The possessor of strength, established in the presence of the Lord of the Throne,

21 One (to be) obeyed, and faithful.a

22 And your companion is not mad.

23 And truly he saw himself on the clear horizon.a

24 Nor is he niggardly of the unseen.a

25 Nor is it the word of an accursed devila

26 Whither then are you going?a

27 It is naught but a Reminder for the nations,a

28 For him among you who will go straight.a

29 And you will not, except Allah please, the Lord of the worlds.

3. Commentary:

1a. For the significance of the folding up of the sun, see the introductory note. The first thirteen verses of this chapter speak of twelve signs, some of which undoubtedly relate to this life and the rest may therefore also be taken as referring metaphorically to this life. As I have so often shown, the Resurrection of the dead in another life may often contain a deeper reference to the spiritual resurrection which was to be brought about by the Prophet in this very life, and hence the combination of the real with the metaphorical, as here. [Back to verse 1]

2a. The darkening of the stars indicates complete darkness, for when the sun is set the light of the stars helps man. We are told that not only would the light of the day disappear, but even the smaller lights, to which the traveller looks in the darkness of the night, would become dark, and so the opponents of Truth would be left in utter darkness. [Back to verse 2]

3a. The passing away of the mountains signifies the passing away of the greatest obstacles to the spread of Truth; see 20:105a. [Back to verse 3]

4a. ‘Ishar is plural of ‘ushara’ (from the root ‘ashr meaning ten), meaning a she- camel that has been ten months pregnant, and she is called ‘ushara’ until she has brought forth and also after she has brought forth (LL). "Farazdaq applies this term to camels that are milked" (LL). Such camels are undoubtedly the most precious, and their being abandoned may stand for the abandonment of camels generally. Bearing on this subject is a hadith of the Prophet: "The camels will be abandoned so that they will not be used for going swiftly (from one place to another)" (Msh. 26:5). The reference in this hadith is clearly to a time when swifter modes of going from one place to another will come into existence, so that the camels will no more be needed. [Back to verse 4]

5a. The gathering together (hashr) of wild animals seems also to be a prophecy relating to the distant future, when the wild animals were to be gathered together from all corners of the world into big towns. The word wuhush is the plural of wahsh which means a wild animal, such as is not tame or beasts of the desert (LL); and may be metaphorically applied to barbarous or uncivilised people — a shy girl is called wahsh — so that the reference may be to the gathering together of barbarous or uncivilised people in the centres of civilisation. Note also that the word hashr signifies not only going forth from one place to another, but also in particular causing people to go down to cities or towns (LL). [Back to verse 5]

6a. I make a departure here from the ordinary translation. Bihar is plural of bahr, which means sea or river, and if that significance be adopted, the reference would be to the destruction of the opponents, for the swollen sea (52:6) is plainly spoken of as a means of the destruction of those who would extirpate Truth. But the word bihar is the plural of bahrah as well as of bahr (T, LL), and barah is synonymous with baldah or a town "and the plural bihar they apply to cities as well as towns or villages" (T, LL). According to N, the Arabs call the cities and the towns al-bihar. The words bahrah (singular of bihar) and buhairah (diminutive of bahrah) are also applied to Madinah (N). This would leave no doubt that cities is as literal a significance of the word bihar as seas. The swelling of cities is a clear indication that the advancing civilisation of man will result in men gathering more and more in cities. The words of the next verse corroborate this significance, as it speaks in clear words of the uniting of men. [Back to verse 6]

7a. The uniting of men is one of the greatest achievements of modern civilisation. The time is not far distant indeed when the whole world will be united and may become as a single nation. [Back to verse 7]

9a. The reference here is to the burying alive of daughters, a practice common among the pre-Islamic Arabs who, either for fear of hunger or disgrace, buried alive their female children. The questioning refers to the time when, with the predominance of Islam in Arabia, this barbarous practice was to be abolished. But the one buried alive may stand generally for the female sex, and the reference here may, therefore, be to the general tyranny of the male over the female, who has been kept in ignorance. See 17:31a, where it is shown that the keeping ignorant of one’s children is equivalent to killing them. [Back to verse 9]

10a. Suhuf is the plural of sahifah, which means a written piece of paper or of skin. This may also be a prophetic reference to the distant future, with the circulation of books and papers to an almost incredible extent. The Muslim world did immense service to the cause of the circulation of literature in the days of its prosperity, and it is recognized on all hands that the revival of learning in Europe, which has brought about the great circulation of books and papers, was itself a direct result of the impetus which Islam gave to the study of letters. [Back to verse 10]

11a. The removal of the covering of the heaven signifies the unveiling of the mysteries relating to the heavens, which is one of the great achievements of modern science. Compare 99:2 where the earth is spoken of as yielding her treasures. [Back to verse 11]

12a. It should be noted that apart from the hell of the next life, the Holy Qur’an very often speaks of a hell in this life. Compare 79:36, and see 79:34a. Just as the righteous are promised heaven in this very life, the wicked are told that hell would be kindled for them even here, if they had only the eyes to see it. And indeed there has been a veritable hell raging in this life since the Second World War. The forces of materialism have already engulfed the world in a burning hell, and another World War would only make its flames appear the more hideous. [Back to verse 12]

13a. While the previous verses give us a picture of the material civilisation of the world, v. 12 drawing attention to its culmination in the form of bringing about a hell in this life owing to the utter neglect of all spiritual values, this verse gives the good news of the Garden being brought nigh. In the Hereafter, the Garden would be a sure reality and the righteous will find themselves in it, enjoying its bliss, but here it is only spoken of as being brought nigh. The evident conclusion is that God has not doomed this world to utter destruction, but that, when it has tasted somewhat of the evil consequences of its own doings, Divine mercy will take it by the hand and bring the Garden of bliss near to it by bringing about a spiritual awakening. Thus the solace of mind which man can attain to through realisation of the Divine in him is here described as the bringing nigh of the Garden. [Back to verse 13]

14a. Man will then become conscious that there is a higher life, which is his real goal, and he will know what to do to attain that goal. [Back to verse 14]

16a. Khunnas (v. 15) is the plural of khanis (from khanasa, he went back), meaning going backward, and signifies the stars in general, because they retire or hide themselves at setting, or because they become concealed in the day-time, or the planets (Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus and Mercury), because of their retrogression (LL). Kunnas ("setting") is the plural of kani (from kanasa, he, an antelope, entered his kinas, i.e., his hiding-place), meaning an antelope, entering his hiding-place, and signifies the stars that hide themselves in their places of setting, or the planets, for a similar reason (LL). The calling to witness of the stars that run their course and set also draws attention to the disasters that awaited the opponents of the Truth; see 53:1a. [Back to verse 16]

18a. The departing of the night and the rise of the bright morning is clearly the disappearance of the darkness of ignorance, giving place to the bright light of the sun of Islam. [Back to verse 18]

21a. The commentators generally suppose the angel Gabriel to be referred to in vv. 19 –21, but the reference is to the Holy Prophet himself, who is undoubtedly Rasul karim, the bountiful Messenger, by which name he is generally known in the whole Muslim world. Again, he is clearly spoken of as your companion in v. 22, while Gabriel could not be called your companion. The negation of his being mad, spoken of in that verse and so often referred to in these chapters, also shows him to be the Prophet himself. Moreover, v. 21 speaks of him as being faithful, clearly referring to his past reputation in the whole of Arabia as al-Amin or the Faithful. His being a muta‘, or one to be obeyed, is also spoken of elsewhere in the Holy Qur’an: "And We sent no messenger but that he should be obeyed by Allah’s command" (4:64). His being possessor of strength prophetically refers to his future career and to his ultimate triumph over his enemies. [Back to verse 21]

23a. Ufuq is the horizon or the remote side, and the Prophet’s seeing himself on ufuq means that his light would shine in the remotest corners of the world. See also 53:7, 7a. [Back to verse 23]

24a. The Prophet (not Gabriel) is here declared to be not niggardly of the unseen, showing that there are some great prophecies relating to the future in what has gone before. And in fact, as I have shown, the chapter opens with prophecies of the triumphant career of Islam and certain portents relating to the distant future, while the latter part of the chapter speaks plainly of the ultimate triumph of Truth. [Back to verse 24]

25a. It is not the word of the devil, i.e., these are not the conjectures of a soothsayer — the prophecies of the Qur’an will be duly fulfilled. Sale’s comment is worthy of note: "The verse is an answer to a calumny of the infidels, who said the Qur’an was only a piece of divination or magic; for the Arabs suppose the soothsayer or magician receives his intelligence from those evil spirits who are continually listening to learn what they can from the inhabitants of heaven". It should be borne in mind that where the Qur’an speaks of the listening by stealth of the devils, it is in reference to this old Arab belief. It nowhere refers to this belief in words which would show that it upholds this old Arab belief; on the other hand, there are ample indications that it rejects this belief. [Back to verse 25]

26a. Wonder is expressed that notwithstanding the clearest evidence of Truth, humanity has been so slow to accept it. They were invited to the Truth which gave them peace, but they were not coming to it. Even such is the case today. [Back to verse 26]

27a. In the words — a Reminder for the nations — it is shown that it is not meant for the Arabs alone but for all nations. This being one of the earliest revelations, clearly shows that the foundations of the universality of the message of Islam were laid on the very first day. [Back to verse 27]

28a. How beautifully clear are the words of the Qur’an! It is a source of eminence for all the nations of the world, but only if people will follow its directions; hence it adds the words, For him among you who will go straight. (For dhikr meaning eminence see 2:152a, 21:10a, 38:1b, 43:5a.) See further 76:30a for what is said in the verse that follows: "You will not, except Allah please". [Back to verse 28]



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Chapter 80: ‘Abasa (He Frowned)

Chapter 82: Al-Infitar (The Cleaving)

Holy Quran Section > English Translation and Commentary of the Holy Quran by Maulana Muhammad Ali (Table of Contents) > Chapter 81: (Al-Takwir: The Folding Up)


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