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Holy Quran Section > Commentary of the Holy Quran by Dr. Basharat Ahmad > Chapter 95 (Al-Tin - The Fig)

Commentary of Chapter 95 (Al-Tin - The Fig) of the Holy Quran

by Dr. Basharat Ahmad
Translated by Imam Kalamazad Mohammed


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Links Present on this Page:
Introduction || Meaning of Fig, Olive, Mount Sinai, and City Made Secure || Prophecy in Bible || Man Created in Best Make || How Man Falls


"In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.
1. By the fig and the olive!
2. And Mount Sinai!
3. And this City made secure! -
4. Certainly We created man in the best make.
5. Then We render him the lowest of the low,
6. Except those who believe and do good; so theirs is a reward never to be cut off.
7. So who can give the lie to thee after this about the Judgement?
8. Is not Allah the Best of the Judges?"

This chapter was revealed at Makkah.

In the previous chapter, Al-Inshirah (The Expansion), Allah, Most High, had promised the Holy Prophet, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, that his reputation would become exalted. In this chapter, it is stated that man is the best of all creatures, and by nature, he possesses the highest talents and capabilities; and to get the best results, they must be used in a measured manner. If proof is needed, we should look at those people who nourish their natural potential according to the commands of Allah and who maintain their true nature on the principle of moderation and see how high they rise in life. These are the ones upon whom Allah has bestowed His favours and who walk along the straight path which is the way of the prophets and saints of Allah. Thus, those who develop their God-given aptitudes and abilities attain such a high rank that they are regarded with honour both in this world and the next, and among them, the prophets Moses (AS) and Jesus (AS) and the prophet Muhammad, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, have been specially mentioned in this chapter and evidence of their being the best of Allah's creation has been professed.

Wat-tin waz-zaitun

By the fig and the olive!

Wa turi sinin

And Mount Sinai!

Wa hadhal baladil amin

And this City made secure! -

La qad khalaqual insana fi ahsani taqwim

Certainly We created man in the best make.

Meaning of Fig, Olive, Mount Sinai, and City Made Secure:

Tin means fig, and in Palestine a mountain is also named so.

Tur refers to Mount Sinai.

Baladil amin means a safe town or a town in which fidelity to truth is always observed, and this refers, of course, to the city of Makkah.

It is a fact that Tur Sina and baladil amin refer to regions where prophets were raised to carry the message of Allah. And so tin (fig) and zaitun (olive) necessarily refer to those countries in which prophets appeared. At the time when the Holy Quran was revealed, and even today, the fig and the olive were fruits that were indigenous to Syria and Palestine, and in abundance and quality, they still cannot be matched by any country in the world. So if tin and zaitun can be symbolically applied to any territory where prophets were raised, then they could only refer to the region of Syria and Palestine where these fruits flourish.

However, some researchers consider tin and zaitun to be two mountains in Palestine, the first of which was the refuge of Prophet Abraham (AS) after he had fled his people and the second, the place of the prophetic appointment of Prophet Jesus (AS). If this is so, then it means that tin was that very mountain where Prophet Jesus used to deliver his sermons and it must be here that he delivered his famous Sermon on the Mount of which Christians are very proud. It is in this sermon that he exhorted his disciples to turn the other cheek; in other words, they must display utter humility and meekness.

Prophecy in Bible:

Zaitun (Mount Olive) was the place to which Prophet Jesus and many other Israelite prophets often repaired for worshipping and preaching. From this we can easily conclude that perhaps tin and zaitun were parts of that mountain which has been prophetically mentioned in the Torah as Seir concerning which it was written:

"The Lord came from Sinai and rose up from Seir unto them; He shined forth from Mt. Paran, and he came with ten thousand saints; from His right hand went forth a fiery law for them." (Deuteronomy 33:2.)

The above quotation contains clear prophecies. For example, the coming from Sinai refers to the appearance of Prophet Moses (AS) and rising from Seir means the coming of Prophet Jesus (AS) and shining forth from Mount Paran prophesies the advent of Prophet Muhammad, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him. Paran or Faran is the mountain chain that encircles the city of Makkah. The fiery law refers to the Shari'ah of the Holy Quran and when the Holy Prophet Muhammad conquered Makkah he did so with ten thousand of his righteous companions, thus fulfilling the prophecy: He came with ten thousand saints.

The question may arise in the minds of readers: Instead of mentioning the names of the prophets, why were the names of the places where they appeared used? It is one of the rules of eloquence and rhetoric that, in order to add force to a statement, sometimes the place is used when the people are really meant. For example, look at what the Mujaddid of the Age (Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad) writes concerning the martyrdom of Sahibzadah Abdul Latif: "God has looked down contemptuously on Kabul." Here Kabul does not refer to the city itself but to those people who took part in that horrendous crime.

Similarly, these four names tin (fig), zaitun (olive), tur sinin (Mount Sinai) and balodil amin (Makkah) refer to the appearance of four great prophets to whom divine teachings were revealed and who became paragons and exemplars of the highest moral virtues. The words tin (fig) and zaitun (olive) were applied to Prophet Jesus (AS) because he possessed a special distinction in that his teachings and character represented the beautific aspect of man's personality which it was his mission to develop.

On the other hand, Mount Sinai is the place where Prophet Moses (AS) was granted the Law which contained teachings and examples geared to nurturing the glorious side of man's character.

However, Makkah is that place where the Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, received the perfect guidance in the form of the Holy Quran which comprises teachings and examples aimed at developing both aspects of man's morals: the beatific and the glorious. In other words, his teachings did not emphasize humility and meekness alone as the Gospels did, neither did they concentrate only on stern measures as was the case with the Torah.

In contrast, in order to perfect both aspects of our character, the Holy Prophet Muhammad taught us to use gentleness or harshness according to the demands of the situation and by his example, he depicted the beatific and the glorious aspects of human nature to the highest degree thus proving beyond doubt that man is the best of Allah's creation.

Here, the point is worth remembering that in the prophecy of the Torah: "The Lord came from Sinai and rose up from Seir unto them, and He shined forth from Paran", Sinai is mentioned first because Prophet Moses (AS) appeared first and Seir comes after because Prophet Jesus' advent was later, for here attention was paid to the chronological order of events. However, in the Holy Quran, the order is reversed: Tin (fig) and zaitun (olive) which is a part of Seir, are placed first and Sinai after. This is because the period of Prophet Muhammad's, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, beatific character in which he bore a strong resemblance to Prophet Jesus (AS) came first in his life at Makkah, while the glorious era of his personality in which he resembled Prophet Moses (AS) came later in his sojourn at Madinah. Therefore, the order of occurrence of the beatific and glorious aspects of his character in which he resembled Prophet Jesus (AS) and Prophet Moses (AS) respectively, was maintained in this chapter. So if a person wants to look at the unfolding of the beatific aspect of our Prophet's personality he should look to his life in Makkah and conversely, if he wants a view of his glorious manifestation, he should study his life at Madinah. In this order of narration there is a hidden prophecy, for we must remember that this chapter was revealed at Makkah.

In short, different prophets came at different times at different places and each taught a different set of moral attributes thus proving that if man really wishes to improve his inner self he can excel all created things in virtue. But our Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, in nature and example, was a compendium of all moral virtues and this proves that not only can man supersede all created beings in moral excellence but can also become, like the Holy Prophet, a compendium of all virtues and in this way human dignity can attain the acme of perfection. Look how beautifully the poet eulogizes the Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him:

Husni Yusuf dam-e Eesaa yade baida daari
Aanche khoobaan hama daarand too tanhaa daari

"The beauty of Joseph, the spirit of Jesus, the white hand of Moses.
Each was resplendent beauty personified, But you and you alone are the compendium of all beauties par excellence."

There is another explanation for tin (fig) and zaitun (olive), which are well-known fruits. Olive oil has two very important uses. It is eaten and it also serves as a fuel for lamps. Now, one may well ask, what relationship is there in the fig and the olive and man's being the noblest of Allah's creation. Here, we have to understand that by way of simile and analogy tin (fig) and zaitun (olive), besides their literal meaning, also bear a metaphorical and figurative meaning. And this indeed is true for in the Torah, the Prophet Moses' light and his dispensation are likened to the fig as we read in Jeremiah Chapter 24 of this dream which the prophet relates:

"The Lord showed me, and behold, two baskets of fig were set before the temple of the Lord….One basket had very good figs and the other basket had very naughty figs."

Later on we are told that the good figs referred to the righteous from among the Children of Israel whilst by the bad figs are meant the evil ones from among them.

In addition, as a further argument in support of the above, we read in Matthew Chapter 21 of the well-known incident of the fig tree that the Prophet Jesus (AS) cursed. Referring to this occasion, the Gospel says:

"Now in the morning, as he returned to the city, he hungered. And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he came to it and found nothing thereon, but leaves only; and he said unto it: 'Let there be no fruit from thee henceforward forever.' And immediately the fig tree withered away."

The question arises as to how can the Messiah be angry with the fig tree for not having fruits when it was not the season for them. In fact, this was either a vision or a metaphorical narration which the literal-minded writers of the Gospel took as a real event. Here, the fig tree stands for the nation of the Children of Israel: it had leaves but no fruits. That is, on the outside, their deeds seemed beautiful, but they were really devoid of sincerity and purity. So the curse of the Messiah fell on them and that tree withered away henceforth forever. This meant that the chain of prophethood and spirituality was taken away from this nation. In the same way, the Holy Quran likens the Muhammadi dispensation to the olive tree. This similarity is mentioned in the Holy Quran in Chapter 24, An-Nur (The Light) where we read that the Muhammadi light was lit by the oil of a blessed olive tree. Thus the fig is a symbol of the Israelite people and the olive tree, the dispensation of the Prophet Muhammad, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, and this symbolism is explained in the expressions tur sina (Mount Sinai) and baladil amin (Makkah), the former referring to the beginning of the Mosaic dispensation on Mount Sinai and the latter being a reference to Makkah where the Muhammadi dispensation was founded.

So this chapter presents a comparable history of both dispensations in order to substantiate the fact that whatever divine teachings descended on Mount Sinai and at Makkah, and whatever high morals Prophet Moses (AS) and Prophet Muhammad, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, inculcated in themselves and taught their respective communities, all serve to prove, without doubt, that man can become the noblest of Allah's creation.

Man Created in Best Make:

In any case, whether tin (fig) and zaitun (olive) metaphorically refer to the respective Mosaic and Muhammadi dispensations, or whether they signify Palestine and Syria, where Prophet Jesus appeared in his prophetic mission, it is clear that in both cases the intention was to prove the assertion: La qad khalaqual insana fi ahsani taqwim (We created man in the best make).

The purpose of manifesting this truth is to remove from man a misconception in which he has fallen when he is confronted with the varying and often contradictory actions of human beings. For when he looks at the deeds of man - good and bad, honourable and dishonourable - he draws the wrong conclusion that man is predestined by his nature to goodness and evil and to greatness and abasement.

So, on account of his faulty reasoning, he cannot recognize his true nature because he becomes blinded and lost in a welter of human actions. In fact, when he observes his own actions, a great dichotomy is created in him for he sees that in man's behaviour good and evil are fighting for supremacy. If on the one hand the beautiful instincts of virtue and nobility predominate in him, on the other hand, he experiences the horror of beastly and inhuman promptings.

If, like the angels, he is prompted by feelings of love and goodness, then like wolves and bears, he is gripped in the vice of greed and selfishness and feels the urge to shed blood wantonly. He also observes that man is sometimes ruler and sometimes subject, sometimes worshipper sometimes god, sometimes learned, sometimes ignorant. He also sees that if it is man who stands guard at night over houses so that his fellow human beings may sleep safely inside, it is man, too, who breaks into homes and steals, thus causing pain and damage to his own kind. Again he observes that places of worship are filled with men and not angels, and bands of dacoits are not made up of bears but of children of Adam.

Thus when he observes the diverse actions of man and the mixture of light and darkness in him, he comes to the wrong belief that if there is duality in a creature's behaviour, then that is so because of its nature. For example, if man's behaviour reflects goodness and evil, honour and debasement, then these propensities also reside in his nature. So he thinks having seen the actions of man, he makes a pronouncement concerning his nature and having observed the behaviour of a few individuals, he has stereotyped the whole species. This error has led him to the wrong thought and belief that we, human beings, are not created only for goodness and evil as we observe in some people, but we are also fated to suffer abasement and humiliation as we can see in the lot of some individuals. The result of this belief was that goodness and evil were not thought to be part of every human being's nature, but instead, certain people were believed to be predestined to do good while others were inherently conditioned to do evil, and that false belief threw people into a pit of despair and lethargy. This led to the death of man's courage and determination to rise higher in life as he accepted his lot without complaint. This erroneous belief killed his initiative, and thinking that abasement and evil were really the result of his nature, he fell into a false feeling of resignation.

Thus to summarize this whole argument, it can be said that man fell into error in his understanding of the reality of human nature and of the origin of goodness and nobility. This came about because when he contemplated the combination of good and evil and greatness and abasement in man, he came to the conclusion that these attributes were embedded in his very nature and thus committed the error of postulating the quality of man's nature from the kinds of actions he saw in a few individuals. So this misconception led him to a misguided acceptance of his lot for he began to think that if goodness and evil were ingrained in his nature, then why should he feel guilty if goodness was absent from him, and why should he strive to change his condition.

In order to remove this destructive error from the mind of man, Allah, Most High, has announced in several verses of the Holy Quran that He has fashioned man's nature good and pure and created him to attain honour and dignity. This announcement is repeated here in clear and unmistakable terms in this verse of the chapter under discussion: La qad khalaqnal insana fi ahsani taqwim, We have created man in the best constitution (inner and outer).

As man in his search for the reality of his nature had fallen into error by looking at evil people and inferring from their conduct that his nature was evil, therefore Allah, Most High, has presented in this chapter the example of people who rose high in life by establishing the purity of their nature. Indeed it is to these people that the expressions fig, olive, Mount Sinai and Makkah refer. These are the ones on whom Allah has bestowed His favours - those who chose the religion of nature (Islam) and walked along the straight path, the secret of which was taught to them in the opening chapter of the Holy Quran, the Fatihah, in the verse: The path of those upon whom Thou hast bestowed Thy favours, that is, the path of the prophets, the saints, the truthful ones and the martyrs.

In short, in this chapter Allah, Most High, in order to establish the honour and dignity, the goodness and justice of man's nature, has put before us the examples of those people who did not allow their basic constitution to degenerate, but acted according to the yearnings of their inner self and made progress and advancement in life. And to underline this point, He asks the following question: Why do you look at the state of those who have fallen and deduce from this that your nature is low? Instead of letting your eyes rest on those who have deteriorated, why don't you lift your gaze to those who are exalted and dignified?

Man, He continues, does not fall into abasement because his nature is bad. On the contrary, his nature is based on righteousness and justice as is evident from the fruitful endeavours of those who did not allow their pure nature to fall into degeneration, but instead developed their natural talents and hidden capabilities along the straight path and so became the inheritors of human dignity, advancement and perfection.

It is true that if man chooses the wrong path in life and corrupts his just and righteous nature, and falls into vile behaviour, then just as his nature is the highest of the high, so because of his evil conduct, he brings himself down to the lowest of the low to such an extent that the essence of his humanity deteriorates and he becomes worse than wild beasts. When man contemplates this depraved condition of some people, he mistakenly feels that this is due to man's inherently evil nature. But he does not realize that this evil does not originate from within but comes from outside as a result of unrighteous conduct.

So, in order to manifest this truth, Allah says:

Thumma radadnahu asfala safilin
illal-ladhina amanu was 'amilus-salihati,
falahum ajrun ghairu mamnun

"Then we render him the lowest of the low, except those who believe and do good. For them is a reward never to be cut off."

Allah says that He created man in the best make on a foundation of virtue and nobility. However, in order to nurture his inherent faculties and capabilities so that he might attain spiritual progress and perfection of his inner self for which reason he was called the vicegerent of Allah in another verse of the Holy Quran, it was necessary for Allah in His perfect and complete knowledge to show him the straight path so that he might walk along it and become the recipient of Divine gifts and so gain admission to that blessed group, that is, those upon whom Allah has bestowed His favours.

Thus, if man believes in the divine revelation which came down through the prophets and of which the Holy Quran is the most complete and authentic example and if he obeys that revelation and acts righteously, then his natural talents, which were created on the principle of moderation and comprise goodness and dignity, will steadily improve and he will be the embodiment of the highest morals and from this he will be able to acquire a true estimate of the essence of man's nature. For example, a seed contains the potential of a whole tree and if that seed is sown and watered it will develop and disclose to the world its true form. Similarly, the cultivation and watering of human nature too, depends on divine revelation and obedience and submission to it. If a child drinks from this water of divine revelation, it will receive nourishment and so manifest those lofty moral qualities which will unveil to the world the true features of man's ethos.

We must bear in mind that just as a seed bears fruit, so too every action of man has a consequence. For example, if a person drinks poison, he will most likely die and if he commits a sin, punishment is the result. Thus every action has its sequel. So, if man's actions are patterned on Allah's religion which He has bestowed on him for the express purpose of aiding, guarding and nurturing his pure nature, then man will not allow it to go to waste. Instead, his soul will receive the correct nourishment and thus manifest its hidden greatness and righteousness. But if he deviates from the straight path, he will destroy his inborn purity and end up becoming worse than any beast on earth. So just as those talents that man has received from on high, and which comprise the most exalted qualities, are calculated to enable him to seek the loftiest peaks of goodness so that he can excel all creation in dignity and excellence to the extent that the angels will submit to him, similarly if he misapplies those inbred powers, and takes the path of evil he will descent to the lowest depths of degradation.

How Man Falls:

In the verse: We render him the lowest of the low, Allah says that it is He Who does so, but one should not misunderstand the statement. The fact is that in the Holy Quran, Allah has always attributed to Himself the results of man's actions which really fall under His laws of cause and effect for He indeed is the only Creator of laws as well as means. For example, if we close the door of a room then the room will become dark. The closing of the door is the action and the darkness is the result. If we use our own words to explain this incident, we may say something like this: "When we closed the door, it became dark."

However, in the terminology of the Holy Quran, if Allah speaks of the same incident it will read like this: "When the man closed the door, We made the room dark." In other words, if there is to be light, then the door should be kept open and if we close the door then darkness is the consequence. But Allah ascribes the resulting darkness to Himself because it came about in obedience to one of His laws.

To summarize, Allah says that those people who destroy the purity of their nature by unrighteous conduct fall from the pedestal of humanity. But those people who believe and choose to do good deeds, and add to the resplendence of their inner light, attain the summit of human dignity and honour. These are the blessed ones whose reward, Allah promises, will never be cut off.

It is very clear that this chapter emphatically asserts that man has been blessed with a pure nature from the Almighty and if he establishes it on a firm footing of justice and moderation, he will become the deserving recipient of the highest elevation and honour, and a garden will be prepared for him.

This same point is explained in another verse of the Holy Quran by the expression: Qalu bala (They, the souls, said: "Yes" - 7:172). That is, when Allah, Most High, created the souls he asked them: "Am I not your Lord?" They replied: "Yes, we bear witness" (that You are our Lord), and this is compelling evidence of man's true inner nature which Allah has bestowed on him. If anyone should deny the truth of Allah's Lordship, then this rejection would not be the voice of his inner self but rather an unnatural and contrived belief which has come about through external causes.

In another place in the Holy Quran this pure God-given nature of man is referred to as qalb salim (a sound heart). Concerning Prophet Abraham (AS) it is said: man ata-al laaha bi qalbin salim (who comes to his Lord with a sound heart, that is, a pure heart, free from pollution - 26:89). Now everyone knows that Prophet Abraham possessed such a sinless heart that not even the greatest show of pomp and glory could overawe him. In fact, it was the light of this pure heart that cried to Allah in complete submission thus: "Surely I have turned myself, being upright, wholly to Him Who originated the heavens and the earth, and I am not of the polytheists" (6:80).

The grand task of Allah's revelation and religion is that man should expunge from his inner self all artificial and extraneous forms of misguidance which cover the heart with rust, so that his real nature may shine forth in full resplendence.

It is for this reason that the Holy Quran has used the word dhikr (remembrance) to refer to Divine guidance, and deviation from the right path is called nisyan (forgetfulness). Dhikr has several meanings: preservation or guarding, remembrance, honour, greatness, eminence, and nisyan means forgetfulness, because man is apt to forget his true nature with the result that he swerves from the path of rectitude. It is for this reason that nisyan (forgetfulness) is called dalalat (deviation from the right way) and hidayat (guidance) is so called because it causes man to remember his real nature which he has forgotten. That is why it is called dhikr (remembrance). In the other meanings of dhikr, that is, honour and eminence, there is a subtle hint that if man remembers the forgotten purpose of his nature and acts righteously he will be rewarded with greatness and dignity.

It is this very forgetfulness that gives birth to heedlessness which the Holy Quran regards as the utmost limit of deviation, as it says:

They have hearts wherewith they understand not, and they have eyes wherewith they hear not. They are as cattle; nay, they are more astray. These are the heedless ones (7:179).

And referring to nisyan (forgetfulness) again, the Holy Quran warns us:

And be not like those who forget Allah, so He makes them forget their own souls (59:19).

Here, by forgetting their own souls is meant the forgetting of the inborn purity of their nature and the purpose of its creation. So, according to the laws of Allah, when they forgot Him, the result was that they forgot their own souls; that is, they deviated from the religion of nature.

Fa ma yukadh-dhibu ba 'du bid-din

"And who can give the lie to thee after (this) about the Judgement?"

If we look at what man's actions lead him to, that is, either elevation or degradation, who can deny that deeds carry their own consequences of reward and punishment? And why should we not receive requital for our actions when Allah's power encompasses the heavens and the earth? Furthermore, if obedience or disobedience to a mere earthly judge entails certain repercussions, then how much more far-reaching will be the consequences of an acceptance or rejection of the laws of Allah Who is Judge par excellence.

Alaisal-Lahu bi Ahkamil hakimin

"Isn't Allah the Best of all judges?"

According to Abu Hurairah, whenever the above verse was recited, the companions of the Holy Prophet, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, used to answer: "Indeed! And we are witnesses of it." And their assertion was based on factual evidence, for the truthfulness of Allah's claim to being the Best of all judges is not limited only to intellectual arguments and to what is explained in this chapter, but He has also demonstrated those arguments through the evidence of the life of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, thus manifesting with such clarity and purity that glory of His being the Best of all judges that the companions spontaneously acquiesced. They followed the guidance of Allah with avid devotion and reverence and they emulated the high morals and righteous deeds of His Messenger and by walking along the straight path they removed the veils of ignorance and barbarity that shrouded their pure nature. They so nurtured their inner selves that they were transformed from wild and ignorant savages to cultured and civilized human beings and not only did they advance in high morals but they became veritable men of God.


Holy Quran Section > Commentary of the Holy Quran by Dr. Basharat Ahmad > Chapter 95 (Al-Tin - The Fig)