Man was Not Created to Enjoy the World and Live in Comfort
The Surah opens with an assertive oath by Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala. He says,
When Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala begins an ayah with the word la and resumes it with an oath it means that the people are asserting a wrong thing to refute which it was said, “Nay, the truth is not that which you seem to assert, but I swear by such and such a thing that the truth is this and this.” What is Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala refuting here? The Quraysh said that there was nothing wrong with the way of life that they were following, as if to say, “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die in the natural process of time. Muhammad, without any reason is finding fault with this way of life and warning us that we would at some time in the future be called to account for it and rewarded and punished accordingly.”
This city in ayah 2 means ‘Makkah’ because the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam was in Makkah when this Surah was revealed. Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala swears by this city because Makkah enjoys a special place in Islam. Its sanctity is unmatched. The people of Makkah were well-aware of the background and importance of their city and knew how in the midst of desolate mountains in an uncultivated, barren valley, the Prophet Ibraheem ‘alayhi salaam brought his wife and infant and left them there without any support. He built the Ka`bah, the House of Allah and the first place of worship ever to be erected on this earth. He proclaimed to the people to visit it as pilgrims when there was no soul for miles around to hear the proclamation, and then how this city had eventually become the commercial and religious center of Arabia and was blessed with such sacredness that there was no other place of security beside it in that lawless land for centuries.
The ayah, “You are free of restriction in this city,” has been interpreted in three ways. One opinion is that you are a resident of this city and your residence here has further enhanced the glory of this city. For we know that Makkah was Prophet salAllahi `alayhi wa sallam’sbirthplace which increases the honor and status of the city. The Prophet loved Makkah so much that Ibn ‘Abbas radhiAllahu ’anhu reports when he was instructed to migrate to Madina, the Prophet addressed the city of Makkah and said, “By Allah, you are dearer to Allah than the entire earth. If I was not forced out of this place, I would never have abandoned you.” A person may feel unsafe in a foreign land but his hometown is a safe and comfortable place.
The second opinion is that although this city is a sanctuary, a time will come when for some time it will become lawful for you to fight and kill the enemies of Islam. We witnessed this in the Conquest of Makkah; for one whole day, the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam was allowed to fight the disbelievers in the Holy city of Makkah.
The third opinion is that in this city where even killing of animals and cutting of trees is forbidden for the people of Arabia, and where everyone is living in perfect peace, your life, O Muhammad, is not safe? This was the early days of Islam, and the Quraysh were harassing the Prophet leaving no peace for him. They were persecuting him and devising plans to kill him.
Then Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala swears by the father and what he begets. Again this has two meanings: the reference could be Adam ‘alayhi salaam and the entire mankind or it could be Ibraheem ‘alayhi salaam and Isma`eel ‘alayhi salaam, for the Quraysh were the descendants of Prophet Isma`eel and felt pride in this association.
Then there is an oath that reaffirms an intrinsic fact of human life, “We have certainly created man into hardship.” Indeed, man’s life is a process of continued hardship that never ends, as stated in Surah Al-Inshiqaq Ayah 6, “O mankind! You are indeed laboring toward your Lord with [great] exertion and will meet it.”
Man has not been created to enjoy in this world and live a life of ease and comfort. The world for him is a place of enduring and undergoing toil, labor and hardship, and no man can be immune from this. The city of Makkah is a witness that a servant of Allah toiled and struggled hard, then only did it become a city and the center of Arabia. In this city of Makkah the condition of Muhammad salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam is a witness that he is enduring every kind of hardship for the sake of a mission; so much so that there is full peace here for the wild animals but no peace for him.
Then, every man’s survival, from conception till the last breath of life, is a witness that he has to pass through trouble, toil, labor, dangers and hardships at every step. A child who has just been born is so helpless that had there not been somebody to look after him, he would perish uncared for and un-noticed. When he began walking he stumbled at every step. From childhood to youth and old age he had to pass through such physical changes that if any change had taken a wrong turn, his life would have been at stake.
Then the roads diverge and the struggle takes different forms. One person struggles with his muscles, another with his mind and a third with his soul. One toils for a mouthful of food or a rag to dress himself with, another to double or triple his wealth. One person strives to achieve a position of power or influence and another for the sake of Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala. One struggles for the sake of satisfying lusts and desires, and another for the sake of his faith or ideology. One strives but achieves no more than hell and another strives for Paradise. Thus, there is no one who may be enjoying perfect peace freely and without hesitation, for man indeed has been created into a life of toil and trouble.
Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala then asks if man thinks nothing can overcome him. A being that is exposed to such hazards is deluded and believes it can do whatever it likes? Is there no Superior Authority to seize and suppress it? The fact, however, is that even before the occurrence of the Hereafter in this world itself, man sees that every moment of his life is being ruled by some other Being against Whose decrees all his plans and designs prove ineffective. A single jolt of the earthquake, a blast of wind, a flood in the river and a sea-storm are enough to show how weak and feeble man is against the Divine forces. A sudden accident can reduce a strong and robust person to a cripple; one turn of the fortune deposes a mighty sovereign from the position of authority. When the fortunes of the nations, which have climbed to the very apex of glory and prosperity, change, they are humiliated and disgraced even in the world where no one could dare look them in the face. How has then this man been deluded into thinking that no one else can have power over him?