Period of Revelation: Makkan
Order of Revelation: 35. It was revealed after Surah Qaf.
Theme and Subject Matter
In this Surah a vast subject has been compressed into a few brief sentences, and it is a miracle of the Qur’an that a complete ideology of life which could hardly be explained in a thick volume has been abridged most effectively in brief sentences.
Its theme is to explain the true position of man in the world and of the world in relation to man and to tell that Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala has shown to man both the highways of good and evil, has also provided for him the means to judge and see and follow them, and now it rests upon man’s own effort and judgment whether he chooses the path of virtue and reaches felicity or adopts the path of vice and meets with doom.
First, the city of Makkah and the hardships being faced therein by the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and the state of the children of Adam have been cited as a witness to the truth that this world is not a place of rest and ease for man, where he might have been born to enjoy life, but here he has been created into toil and struggle. If this theme is read with ayah 39 of Surah An-Najm: Laisa lil-insani illa masa`a meaning, “there is nothing for man except what he has striven for”, it becomes plain that in this world the future of man depends on his toil and struggle, effort and striving.
After this, man’s misunderstanding that he is all in all in this world and that there is no superior power to watch what he does and to call him to account, has been refuted.
Then, taking one of the many moral concepts of ignorance held by man, as an example, it has been pointed out what wrong criteria of merit and greatness he has proposed for himself in the world. The person who for ostentation and display squanders heaps of wealth, not only himself prides upon his extravagances but the people also admire him for it enthusiastically, whereas the Being Who is watching over his deeds, sees by what methods he obtained the wealth and in what ways and with what motives and intention he spent it.
Man has been given the faculties of thinking and understanding. He has both the ways before him, one leading to virtue and other to vice. The path of moral depravity is easy and pleasing for the nafs while the path that leads to moral heights is steep like an uphill road. Man has to exercise self-restraint. It is man’s weakness that he prefers slipping down into the abyss to scaling the cliff.
The Surah then describes the steep road which the man should follow and ascend to the heights. First and foremost, man must give up ostentation and pride. Rather he should help the orphans and the needy, believe in Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala and His Religion and join the company of other believers establishing a proper Islamic society. The end of those who follow this way is that they would become worthy of Allah’s mercies. On the contrary, the end of those who follow the wrong way, is the fire of Hell from which there is no escape.
May Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala save us from being the torment of the Fire, aameen.