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Chapter 90:
Al-Balad — The City:

Revealed at Makkah: 20 verses

English Translation and Commentary of the Holy Quran by Maulana Muhammad Ali


Introduction:

The City spoken of in the first verse, from which this chapter receives its name, is Makkah — the City which in the last chapter has been warned of punishment overtaking it as it had overtaken former nations. But it was to be the spiritual centre of the whole world, and there is a clear prophecy in the second verse that a time would come when, not only would the Muslims not be persecuted in that city, but they would even enjoy freedom from all obligations in it — the reference being to the establishment of their rule therein. By general consent the chapter is regarded as one of the very earliest revelations; it is assigned to the first year of the Call.

Translation:

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

90:1 Nay, I call to witness this City!a

90:2 And thou wilt be made free from obligation in this Citya

90:3 And the begetter and he whom he begot!a

90:4 We have certainly created man to face difficulties.a

90:5 Does he think that no one has power over him?a

90:6 He will say: I have wasted much wealth.a

90:7 Does he think that no one sees him?

90:8 Have We not given him two eyes,

90:9 And a tongue and two lips,

90:10 And pointed out to him the two conspicuous ways?a

90:11 But he attempts not the uphill road;a

90:12 And what will make thee comprehend what the uphill road is?

90:13 (It is) to free a slave,

90:14 Or to feed in a day of hunger

90:15 An orphan nearly related,

90:16 Or the poor man lying in the dust.a

90:17 Then he is of those who believe and exhort one another to patience, and exhort one another to mercy.

90:18 These are the people of the right hand.

90:19 And those who disbelieve in Our messages, they are the people of the left hand.

90:20 On them is Fire closed over.

Commentary:

1a. By this City is meant Makkah (B. 65:xc). Thousands of years before, Abraham had prayed for a city to be raised in that wilderness where he had left one branch of his descendants (14:37), and for a Prophet to be raised among them (2:129); see 2:124a.

2a. The words are parenthetical. Hill is an infinitive noun, and signifies the same as halal, meaning in a state which is the opposite of haram, and hence it signifies free from obligation or responsibility with respect to a thing. English translators have generally adopted a different translation: And thou a dweller in this land (Palmer); and thou residest in this territory (Sale); the soil on which thou dost dwell (Rodwell); which is wrong, because halla, as meaning nazala, i.e., he alighted, or abode, or lodged in a place, has its infinitive hulul or hull (LL) and not hill, which is the word occurring here. Some commentators have also been led into this error. The significance which I adopt is in accordance with the true significance of the word hill, for you say anta fi hill-in min kadha, meaning thou art free from obligation or responsibility with respect to such a thing. The statement in this case is prophetical, indicating that the Prophet would be made free from obligation in respect to the sacredness of the territory of Makkah, being allowed to enter it by force (Bd), as he did at the conquest of Makkah, to which, in fact, the words refer. There is also a saying of the Holy Prophet in support of this: “And even I was made free from obligation with respect to it only for an hour of the day” (B. 64:55).

3a. The great begetter is none other than Abraham, the progenitor of the Arabs, and by he whom he begot is meant either Ishmael, who assisted Abraham in raising the foundations of the Sacred House at Makkah, or the Holy Prophet himself, who was the object of Abraham’s prayer.

4a. Kabad means distress or difficulty. We are here told that the advancement of man, even physically, lies along a path of hard struggle. Every conquest that man has made has been the result of suffering on his part. The same is the case in the sphere of the spiritual advancement of man. Abraham suffered great hardships in the cause of Truth; and so must the Prophet now, in order to bring about a spiritual awakening in the world. It is only a long and hard struggle on the part of certain benefactors of humanity that makes man’s advancement possible, physically as well as spiritually.

5a. The opponents of Truth, having great power in their hands, never think of the mighty power of God. It is to this that attention is drawn here.

6a. The reference is apparently to the ultimate state of the opponents when, after spending all their wealth for the extermination of Truth, they would find that the cause of Truth was triumphant, and would then say that they really wasted their wealth in a wrong cause. Elsewhere we have: “Surely those who disbelieve spend their wealth to hinder (people) from the way of Allah. So they will go on spending it, then it will be to them a regret, then they will be overcome” (8:36).

10a. Najd (from najada, he overcame or conquered) means high or elevated land, or also an elevated or conspicuous road or way (LL). Najdain or the two conspicuous ways are here spoken of as indicating the ways of truth and falsehood, of truth and falsehood in word or good and evil in deed (R). The two eyes (v. 8) enable him to distinguish good from evil, while with the tongue and the lips (v. 9) he can ask, if he cannot see for himself.

11a. ‘Aqabah means a mountain road or a road in the upper part of a mountain or a long mountain that lies across the way — metaphorically a difficult affair (LL).

16a. Note the tone of these earliest revelations. The service of humanity (along with the service of God) is the one topic. The doing of good to the oppressed, the poor, and the orphans is called an uphill road or a high mountain because of the difficulty of doing it. The constant reference to the helping of the poor and the orphans and the setting free of slaves brings to light the real character of the Prophet, who is described by one knowing him most intimately as one who earned for those who had no means themselves (B. 1:1). No religion has laid so much stress on the uplift of the poor and the distressed as Islam, and it is the only religion which enjoins the duty of granting freedom to slaves, and the Holy Prophet Muhammad is the only founder of a religion who showed the noble example of freeing all slaves that he ever had and helping in the freedom of others. Yet prejudiced writers blame Islam for not taking any steps to uproot slavery. There is even a suggestion that such precepts regarding the nobility of liberating slaves as exist in the Makkan chapters were abrogated by later revelation (see Wherry), a preposterous statement in view of the plain directions given in 9:60 (the latest revelation) to the State itself to spend a part of the public funds in purchasing freedom for slaves.

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