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Chapter 91:
Al-Shams — The Sun:

Revealed at Makkah: 15 verses

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


Introduction:

The Prophet is the Sun of righteousness (the word giving its title to this chapter), with whose rising the way to perfection is pointed out to man, but only those who purify themselves are really successful, while those who give themselves over to corruption fail to attain the object. The case of Thamud is given as an illustration. Like the last chapter, it is one of the earliest revelations.

Translation:

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

91:1 By the sun and his brightness!a

91:2 And the moon when she borrows light from him!a

91:3 And the day when it exposes it to view!a

91:4 And the night when it draws a veil over it!a

91:5 And the heaven and its make!

91:6 And the earth and its extension!

91:7 And the soul and its perfection!a

91:8 So He reveals to it its way of evil and its way of good;a

91:9 He is indeed successful who causes it to grow,

91:10 And he indeed fails who buries it.a

91:11 Thamud rejected (the truth) in their inordinacy,a

91:12 When the basest of them broke forth with mischief —

91:13 So Allah’s messenger said to them: (Leave alone) Allah’s she-camel, and (give) her (to) drink.

91:14 But they called him a liar and slaughtered her. So their Lord destroyed them for their sin and levelled them (with the ground);

91:15 And He fears not its consequence.a

Commentary:

1a. Al-shams, or the sun, is feminine, and al-qamar, or the moon, masculine, in the Arabic language, as opposed to English. Duha is the early part of the forenoon after sunrise, or the advanced state of the day, or when the sun shines brightly (LL). This is to show that the spiritual light of the Prophet will brighten as time passes on.

2a. Tala-ha literally signifies it followed him, but this is sometimes in one thing following another in body, and sometimes in imitating in respect of predicament (R); here it is explained as meaning following it in the way of imitation and in respect of rank, because it borrows light from the sun (R). Farra’ takes this to be the real meaning, for he says, such a one follows such a one in respect of such a thing, meaning he takes from him (Rz).

3a. The commentators take the personal pronoun in jalla-ha (“exposes it”) as referring to the world, though it is not mentioned here, because, as Kf says, in such cases the meaning is clear, as they say, it was cold, meaning the morning, though they do not mention it in words (Rz).

4a. The personal pronoun in yaghsha-ha (“draws a veil over it ”) also refers to the world.

7a. The ma in vv. 5­7 is either masdariyyah, as in the translation (“its”), or mausulah, as referring to the Divine Being, for ma is often used to indicate the majesty of the person spoken of; the meaning in this case would be: And the heaven and Him Who built it, and the earth and Him Who spread it. The mention of the perfection of the soul of man in this verse is a sequel to what is stated in the first six verses. Man is here spoken of as possessing the highest of qualities which are met with in nature. The sun is a source of light, even so is the perfect man a source of spiritual light. The moon borrows the light of the sun, even so is the perfect man, whose light is really borrowed from the Divine source, which is the real source of all light. The day makes things manifest and thus enables man to carry on his struggle, while the night casts a veil over light and brings rest; the perfect man possesses both these qualities, as he carries on a very hard struggle for the attainment of great ends, and at the same time his mind is at rest and he possesses the quality of contentment. The heaven is raised high, and the earth is spread out for men to walk over, being thus a manifestation of humility; the perfect man possesses both these qualities, having the highest of aspirations and being at the same time humble and lowly. The perfect man thus possesses the opposite qualities of giving light and receiving light, severe exertion and complete rest, greatness and humility. These qualities were possessed by the Prophet, who invited others to make the same the goal of their lives.

8a. The verse is a fitting sequel to the statement made in the previous verse as regards the perfection of the soul, as it points out the way to perfection. It is through ilham, Divine inspiration, or revelation, that the soul is made perfect, because Divine revelation makes clear, the two ways, fujur, or the way of deviation from the Truth, i.e., the way of evil, and taqwa, or the way of observance of duty, or the way of good. It is by avoiding the former and walking in the latter that perfection can be attained. Both Rodwell and Palmer are wrong here in translating the verse as meaning, “And breathed into it its wickedness and its piety” (Rodwell), “taught it its sin and its piety” (Palmer), for the statement in this form is not only contradicted by the whole of the Qur’an, but is also self-contradictory and meaningless. Ilham always signifies intimation by inspiration from the Divine Being, or Divine revelation. “And this is peculiar to that which is intimated by Allah” (R). Rz says the intimation by inspiration of good and evil means the making a man to understand and know them both, and he adds that this explanation is accepted by I‘Ab and all trustworthy commentators.

10a. Zakka is from zaka, meaning it increased, and therefore primarily the word signifies he made it to increase or thrive, and dassa-ha means he hid it or concealed it, or buried it (LL). The secondary meaning of the former is he purified it, and that of the latter he corrupted it. The adoption of these two words really indicates that the faculties necessary for perfection are given to every man, but there are some who make them thrive by their development and others who corrupt them by allowing them to remain concealed, not displaying them to their advantage.

11a. The verse gives an instance of those whose end is failure on account of the corrupt manner of their lives, giving at the same time a warning to men that, if they continued in their evil course and did not turn to righteousness, following the call of the Prophet, their end would be the same. If they followed the Prophet, they would attain to perfection, but, if they went against him, they would be given over to destruction as were the former people.

15a. Allah does not care for the consequences of the punishment to a people when they are found deserving of such punishment, for through their destruction comes life to humanity.

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