Central Theme and Relationship with the Previous Surah
This surah and the one following it – Surah al-Muddaththir – are very similar to one another. The same mood pervades in them and together they form a pair. Most exegetes regard them to be very early Makkan surahs. However, a deliberation on their contents reveals that they were revealed at the time when the opposition of the affluent among the Quraysh to the call of Islam had reached such an extent that the Prophet Muhammad (sws) would continuously remain worried and thoughtful about this situation.
It is hard to imagine the sorrow and distress of a person who becomes a target of allegations and sarcasm of everyone in his surroundings even though he has been deputed by the Almighty to reform those very surroundings. In these circumstances, it is but natural for him to prefer seclusion and isolation from others. When he stands up, he covers himself with his shawl; when he walks, he wraps himself in it; when he sits, he seeks its refuge and when he lies down, he hides himself in it. The reason for this is that it is only his shawl which affords him the opportunity to immerse himself deep into his soul and it is through his shawl that he gets comfort and satisfaction in seeking the nearness of God.
Every person who is vigilant in his responsibilities towards his Creator and fellow brethren has some experience of what is stated above. However, the matter of the prophets of God was totally different. They were very affectionate and caring towards their fellow human beings and very sensitive regarding the responsibilities imposed on them by their Creator. When, in spite of their tremendous struggle and efforts for reformation, they saw that the animosity of people was only increasing, they thought that perhaps they themselves were at fault. This augmented their worries. The effect of this was that instead of assuring themselves by blaming others they isolated and secluded themselves in order to find a solution to that state of affairs. In this mental state, they felt that their shawl was their greatest sympathizer hiding in which they could detach themselves from their surroundings.
A person enshrouded in his shawl is called مُزَّمِّلُ. By addressing the Prophet (sws) in this manner, the Almighty has portrayed this thoughtful nature of his. It is a very affectionate address. By addressing him in such an affectionate manner, he is guided to the way which will relieve him of this sorrow and sadness, and instil in him the strength and determination essential to counter the circumstances he is facing and will be facing in future. In other words, through this surah, the Prophet (sws) is also encouraged and inspired so that he is able to defy the adverse circumstances he is facing. He is simultaneously informed of a very effective method which will lift his spirits and provide him with determination.
Analysis of the Discourse
Verses (1-14):The Prophet (sws) is directed to regularly offer the tahajjud prayer by night and to recite the Qur'an in it in slow measured tones. This will soothe and strengthen his mind and soul and enable him to bear the heavy burden of his responsibilities that will be entrusted to him during the course of his mission of prophethood. In the daytime also, there is an opportunity for him to glorify the praises of his Lord; so he should keep in remembrance the name of his Lord and seek refuge in His mercy; He is the Lord of the East and the West and so the Prophet (sws) should entrust all his matters to Him. With patience should he ignore the nonsensical acts of his enemies and leave their matter to God, Who is enough to take them to account.
Verses (15-19):The Quraysh are warned that just as the Almighty had sent the Prophet Moses (sws) to the Pharaoh to bear witness to the truth before him, He has also sent towards them a Prophet. They should keep in mind the fate of the Pharaoh and his nation and that if they also adopt the attitude the Pharaoh had adopted, their fate will be no different. They should remember the day of which the horror will make children grey-haired – the day with whose burden the sky will cleave asunder. The Qur'an is an admonition which is meant to remind people of this great event. Therefore, he who wants his own well-being should remain on the right path; otherwise he should get ready to face dire consequences.
Verse (20):The last verse of this surah was revealed in Madinah. In it, the directives of the tahajjud prayer mentioned at the beginning of the surah have been modified – being reduced in their extent. However, with this reduction, certain other alternatives have been suggested to compensate for it which will be helpful in protecting the real purpose and are in accordance with the new circumstances which had arisen.
Text and Translation
بِسۡمِ اللّٰہِ الرَّحۡمٰنِ الرَّحِیۡمِ
یٰۤاَیُّہَا الۡمُزَّمِّلُ ۙ﴿۱﴾قُمِ الَّیۡلَ اِلَّا قَلِیۡلًا ۙ﴿۲﴾نِّصۡفَہٗۤ اَوِ انۡقُصۡ مِنۡہُ قَلِیۡلًا ۙ﴿۳﴾اَوۡ زِدۡ عَلَیۡہِ وَ رَتِّلِ الۡقُرۡاٰنَ تَرۡتِیۡلًا ؕ﴿۴﴾اِنَّا سَنُلۡقِیۡ عَلَیۡکَ قَوۡلًا ثَقِیۡلًا ﴿۵﴾اِنَّ نَاشِئَۃَ الَّیۡلِ ہِیَ اَشَدُّ وَطۡاً وَّ اَقۡوَمُ قِیۡلًا ؕ﴿۶﴾اِنَّ لَکَ فِی النَّہَارِ سَبۡحًا طَوِیۡلًا ؕ﴿۷﴾وَ اذۡکُرِ اسۡمَ رَبِّکَ وَ تَبَتَّلۡ اِلَیۡہِ تَبۡتِیۡلًا ؕ﴿۸﴾رَبُّ الۡمَشۡرِقِ وَ الۡمَغۡرِبِ لَاۤ اِلٰہَ اِلَّا ہُوَ فَاتَّخِذۡہُ وَکِیۡلًا ﴿۹﴾وَ اصۡبِرۡ عَلٰی مَا یَقُوۡلُوۡنَ وَ اہۡجُرۡہُمۡ ہَجۡرًا جَمِیۡلًا ﴿۱۰﴾وَ ذَرۡنِیۡ وَ الۡمُکَذِّبِیۡنَ اُولِی النَّعۡمَۃِ وَ مَہِّلۡہُمۡ قَلِیۡلًا ﴿۱۱﴾اِنَّ لَدَیۡنَاۤ اَنۡکَالًا وَّ جَحِیۡمًا ﴿ۙ۱۲﴾وَّ طَعَامًا ذَا غُصَّۃٍ وَّ عَذَابًا اَلِیۡمًا ﴿٭۱۳﴾یَوۡمَ تَرۡجُفُ الۡاَرۡضُ وَ الۡجِبَالُ وَ کَانَتِ الۡجِبَالُ کَثِیۡبًا مَّہِیۡلًا ﴿۱۴﴾اِنَّاۤ اَرۡسَلۡنَاۤ اِلَیۡکُمۡ رَسُوۡلًا ۬ۙ شَاہِدًا عَلَیۡکُمۡ کَمَاۤ اَرۡسَلۡنَاۤ اِلٰی فِرۡعَوۡنَ رَسُوۡلًا ﴿ؕ۱۵﴾فَعَصٰی فِرۡعَوۡنُ الرَّسُوۡلَ فَاَخَذۡنٰہُ اَخۡذًا وَّبِیۡلًا ﴿۱۶﴾فَکَیۡفَ تَتَّقُوۡنَ اِنۡ کَفَرۡتُمۡ یَوۡمًا یَّجۡعَلُ الۡوِلۡدَانَ شِیۡبَۨا ﴿٭ۖ۱۷﴾السَّمَآءُ مُنۡفَطِرٌۢ بِہٖ ؕ کَانَ وَعۡدُہٗ مَفۡعُوۡلًا ﴿۱۸﴾اِنَّ ہٰذِہٖ تَذۡکِرَۃٌ ۚ فَمَنۡ شَآءَ اتَّخَذَ اِلٰی رَبِّہٖ سَبِیۡلًا ﴿۱۹﴾اِنَّ رَبَّکَ یَعۡلَمُ اَنَّکَ تَقُوۡمُ اَدۡنٰی مِنۡ ثُلُثَیِ الَّیۡلِ وَ نِصۡفَہٗ وَ ثُلُثَہٗ وَ طَآئِفَۃٌ مِّنَ الَّذِیۡنَ مَعَکَ ؕ وَ اللّٰہُ یُقَدِّرُ الَّیۡلَ وَ النَّہَارَ ؕ عَلِمَ اَنۡ لَّنۡ تُحۡصُوۡہُ فَتَابَ عَلَیۡکُمۡ فَاقۡرَءُوۡا مَا تَیَسَّرَ مِنَ الۡقُرۡاٰنِ ؕ عَلِمَ اَنۡ سَیَکُوۡنُ مِنۡکُمۡ مَّرۡضٰی ۙ وَ اٰخَرُوۡنَ یَضۡرِبُوۡنَ فِی الۡاَرۡضِ یَبۡتَغُوۡنَ مِنۡ فَضۡلِ اللّٰہِ ۙ وَ اٰخَرُوۡنَ یُقَاتِلُوۡنَ فِیۡ سَبِیۡلِ اللّٰہِ ۫ۖ فَاقۡرَءُوۡا مَا تَیَسَّرَ مِنۡہُ ۙ وَ اَقِیۡمُوا الصَّلٰوۃَ وَ اٰتُوا الزَّکٰوۃَ وَ اَقۡرِضُوا اللّٰہَ قَرۡضًا حَسَنًا ؕ وَ مَا تُقَدِّمُوۡا لِاَنۡفُسِکُمۡ مِّنۡ خَیۡرٍ تَجِدُوۡہُ عِنۡدَ اللّٰہِ ہُوَ خَیۡرًا وَّ اَعۡظَمَ اَجۡرًا ؕ وَ اسۡتَغۡفِرُوا اللّٰہَ ؕ اِنَّ اللّٰہَ غَفُوۡرٌ رَّحِیۡمٌ ﴿۲۰﴾
In the name of God, the Most-Gracious, the Ever-Merciful.
O ye enfolded in the shawl! Stand by night, but a little. Half the night, or decrease it a little or increase it a little more and recite the Qur'an in a slow measured tone. Soon We shall lay on you the burden of a heavy word. Indeed, this rising by night is very suitable for the heart's resolve and for the comprehension of speech. During the daytime also, you have a lot of time for glorifying the Almighty and remember the name of your Lord and devote yourself entirely to Him. He only is the Lord of the East and the West. There is no god but He. Therefore, take Him alone as your Guardian, and bear with patience what they say and with dignity ignore them. And leave the matter of these rejecters who enjoy the comforts of life to Me and give them a little respite. We have in store for them fetters and the fire of Hell and choking food and a very painful torment. On the day when the earth and the mountains shall tremble and the mountains shall be as if they are disbanding heaps of sand. (1-14)
To you people We have sent forth a Messenger as a witness upon you just as We sent a Messenger to the Pharaoh. Then the Pharaoh disobeyed this Messenger; so We seized him in a dreadful manner. So, how then will you, if you also deny, save yourself from the day which shall make the children old? The sky is ripping apart with its burden and the promise of God is certain to be fulfilled. This is a reminder. So, whoever wants, he can take the path of His Lord. (15-19)
Your Lord, indeed, knows that you stand about two-thirds of the night or half or one-third of it, and so does a group among your Companions. And God alone appoints the day and night in due measure. He knew that you would not be able to follow this. So, He turned towards you mercifully. Recite then from this Qur'an as much as you are able to. He knows that there are those among you who will be sick and others who will be travelling to seek the bounty of God and others who will be fighting for the cause of God; recite then from this as much as is possible for you, and diligently adhere to the prayer and pay zakah and lend to God a befitting loan. And whatever good you send forth for yourselves, you shall find it with God better than before and greater in reward. And keep seeking God's forgiveness: indeed, God is Most-Forgiving, Ever-Merciful.(20)
یٰۤاَیُّہَا الۡمُزَّمِّلُ ۙ﴿۱﴾
The words in which the Prophet (sws) is addressed in this verse reflect his inner state at the time of revelation of this surah.
The word مُزَّمِّلُ is actually مُتَزَّمِّلُ and the letter ت has been assimilated into ز. Similar, is the case with the word مُدَّثِّرُ. It refers to a person who has wrapped himself in his shawl. Such generally is the situation of a person who is worried because of the circumstances he is facing and is also disgruntled with the people around him. The Prophet (sws) was warning people of the punishment which was looming over them; however, these people were so indifferent and averse to this message that they would pounce on the Prophet (sws) and regard his sympathy and anxiety to be mere madness, let alone listen to this message. In such circumstances, it was but natural for the Prophet (sws) to remain worried and thoughtful, and in this state of anxiety, a person's greatest sympathizer is his shawl, as indicated earlier. He can just wrap himself in it whenever he wants and dissociate from his fellow brethren and associate more closely with his Creator. It also needs to be kept in consideration that a shawl was an essential part of the Arabic dress of those times, and the Prophet (sws) would also keep a shawl with him.
It is evident from various narratives that even before being called to prophethood, the Prophet (sws) would search earnestly the truth. He would remain secluded in a similar manner as described in this verse until he was shown the light by the Almighty, as is referred to in Surah al-Ḍuha. Later these same feelings overcame him when he personally experienced the aversion of his sick nation to its medicine and its animosity towards its healer. The word مُزَّمِّلُ points to the feelings of the Prophet (sws) which he experienced in this state.
Some of our exegetes are of the opinion that the Prophet (sws) has been addressed in this manner because he was sleeping while wrapped in his shawl and this verse directed him to get up and stand in prayer before his Lord. This interpretation is interesting because it seems to be in harmony with subsequent verses; however, in my opinion, this view is incorrect. Never in any phase of his life was the Prophet Muhammad (sws) among people who would sleep without any worry enwrapped in a shawl. He would always sleep in a state of worry, and like the day a better part of his night would also be spent in worry and in remembering God. There is not a single verse in the Qur'an which in any manner insinuates that the Prophet (sws) was ever admonished for being indifferent to God. Quite contrary to this, he has been often lovingly chided in the Qur'an for burdening himself with much more than what was required of him by the Almighty. However, we do find in the Qur'an at various places a mention of his worry and anxiety when he began to encounter hardship in his preaching mission; in order to strengthen his resolve and to relieve him of his worries, on such instances he was advised to stand up in prayer, in particular the tahajjud prayer. In my opinion, the verse under discussion is one such instance.
قُمِ الَّیۡلَ اِلَّا قَلِیۡلًا ۙ﴿۲﴾نِّصۡفَہٗۤ اَوِ انۡقُصۡ مِنۡہُ قَلِیۡلًا ۙ﴿۳﴾اَوۡ زِدۡ عَلَیۡہِ وَ رَتِّلِ الۡقُرۡاٰنَ تَرۡتِیۡلًا ؕ﴿۴﴾
Mentioned in these verses is the way the Prophet (sws) was to adopt to alleviate his worry and anxiety reflected in the word مُزَّمِّلُ. In fact, when he was faced with worries in the course of his preaching mission, the Qur'an prescribed precisely the same remedy to him. I have tried as best as I can to explain the underlying wisdom in this. In this surah, since the effectiveness of the remedy and its value have been explained subsequently, I will content myself to merely explaining these verses. It will inshallah become evident from this the blessings which are concealed for a true believer if he offers the tahajjud prayer. It will also become clear how this prayer rejuvenates his energy and strengthens his faith and resolve.
In the verses قُمِ الَّیۡلَ اِلَّا قَلِیۡلًا نِّصۡفَہٗۤ اَوِ انۡقُصۡ مِنۡہُ قَلِیۡلًا اَوۡ زِدۡ عَلَیۡہِ night refers to the last half of the night when a person gets up after sleeping awhile. The subsequently mentioned expression نَاشِئَۃَ الَّیۡلِ refers to this. This is the time for the tahajjud prayer which is evident from the practice of the Prophet (sws) and is also very apt for the objective it has been prescribed. This time period can be equal to half the night and it can also be lesser or a little more. It is very difficult to wake up in the later part of the night and there is always the possibility that one is not able to get up at the right time; for this reason, some latitude has been given with regard to the time span so that this may reduce any hardship. It is evident from the words of the Qur'an that standing in prayer for half of the night is more blessed than any other time span; however, there is a possibility of slight variation in this.
In the expression وَ رَتِّلِ الۡقُرۡاٰنَ تَرۡتِیۡلًا, we are informed of the right way of reading the Qur'an in this prayer: it should be read in slow measured tones. Consequently, it is evident from various narratives that the Prophet (sws) would read the Qur'an with a melodious and tuneful voice and would stop at each verse. At times, he would repeat a single verse many times, overcome with emotion. Moreover, he would seek refuge with the Almighty on verses which would depict punishment and torment and express gratitude on verses which would depict mercy. As an immediate compliance to some verses which would implicitly or explicitly ask him to prostrate, he would bow down in prostration.
This way of recital is in accordance with the guidance of God and is also recorded in Prophetic narratives. Moreover, it is this very way which could be of benefit viz-a-viz the purpose of revelation of the Qur'an. However, this way of reading the Qur'an only remained in currency so long as people regarded it to be a Book worthy of reflection and deliberation and a source of guidance for their life. Later, when Qur'anic recital became only a means of gathering reward for one's own self or of transferring the reward of the recital to a departed soul, it came to be read in the manner it is being read by our memorizers in the tarawih and the shabinah prayers.
اِنَّا سَنُلۡقِیۡ عَلَیۡکَ قَوۡلًا ثَقِیۡلًا 
Mentioned in these words is the great objective for which the Prophet (sws) was directed to stand up in prayer by night. He was asked to do this in preparation for and as an initial training to bear the burden of a heavy word. Our exegetes differ in ascertaining what this heavy word refers to. My mentor Hamid al-Din Farahi regards it to mean the responsibility of open warning (indhar 'am) mentioned in Surah al-Muddaththir in the following words: یٰۤاَیُّہَا الۡمُدَّثِّرُ قُمۡ فَاَنۡذِرۡ (74: 1-2) (O ye enfolded in the shawl! Arise and warn people,(74:1-2)). I also would endorse this view because it was after this phase of delivering open warning that the phases of acquittal (bara'ah), migration (hijrah) and war (qital) ensued. These were the toughest phases of the life of the Prophet (sws) in which both he and his companions passed through such severe tests that one shudders merely on imagining them.
It is evident from this discussion that the Prophet (sws) was directed to stand in the tahajjud prayer to prepare for the great jihad which he and his companions were about to face in their struggle for the establishment of Islam. This distinctive feature of the struggle distinguishes it from all other movements. Before other material means are provided for it, it is essential that its participants have a true comprehension of God, a strong faith, an unshakable resolve and complete trust and conviction in the Almighty. The sole method to achieve these traits is the prayer, in fact the tahajjud prayer, on the condition that it is offered the way we have been directed to offer it. On this bedrock rests the struggle for the establishment of Islam. If the edifice of religion is raised without this foundation, then it will collapse even before it comes into being.
اِنَّ نَاشِئَۃَ الَّیۡلِ ہِیَ اَشَدُّ وَطۡاً وَّ اَقۡوَمُ قِیۡلًا ؕ﴿۶﴾
In these verses, the Prophet (sws) is informed of the underlying reason and wisdom for being directed to stand in prayer by night.
The word نَاشِئَۃَ is from the verb نَشَاَ meaning "to get up." Like عَاقِبَةٌ, and عَافِيَةٌ it is a verbal noun. The expression نَاشِئَۃَ الَّیۡلِ means "standing up by night."It is evident from this word that the time of tahajjud begins after a person gets up from sleep which is the later part of the night. It is indeed very difficult to get up at this time since one's sleep is dearest to one at that time; however, if a person is able to overcome this trial, then no time is more favourable for him to remember God and to understand His Book. A person who is blessed by the Almighty with the urge to get up at this blessed time is indeed very fortunate: firstly, he finds in himself the power and strength to overcome his base desires which become instrumental in making him capable of reforming and rehabilitating his soul; secondly, the Almighty Who is the Creator of night and day has reserved this time for sending down His blessings and favours and the doors to these blessings are opened for those who value it and come to the presence of God to ask for His mercy and blessings.
The expression اَشَدُّ وَطۡاً portrays the effects of getting up at night for the prayer: when a person gets up from his bed and after making ablutions stands up in the prayer, he finds that his feet are firmly grounded; this actually refers to the complete devotion of the mind, peace of the heart and vigilance of the intellect. If a person has a worried mind and a heart devoid of peace, his feet do not strongly hold the ground. In this state, he is not able to carry out the smallest of tasks let alone the big ones. In other words, by this expression, one gets to know of the inner-self of a person through his outer-self. Some exegetes have taken it to mean that getting up in the night is a means of fully trampling one's soul. Although this interpretation is linguistically possible, later verses are not in harmony with it. My interpretation has also been adopted by other exegetes; however, they have not alluded to the fact that feet being firmly grounded actually refers to the devotion and resolve of the heart and mind.
The expression وَّ اَقۡوَمُ قِیۡلًا implies that since this time is specifically suited for the mind's peace and heart's attentiveness, whatever comes out of one's tongue touches the right strings of the heart and is readily received by one's intellect. A person accepts it as if it was the call of his own heart and for other listeners too its effect is very profound and most desirable. It is evident from various narratives and other indications that the incident of the jinn hearing the Qur'an mentioned in Surah Jinn took place when the Prophet (sws) was reading it in the tahajjud prayer; they were so deeply moved by it that they not only embraced faith but also started calling others to this Book. The great caliph 'Umar (rta) too embraced faith when he once heard the Qur'an. It is evident from these details that reading the Qur'an in the tahajjud prayer according to the way taught by God is not only beneficial for the inner purification and training of the person himself but also at times is beneficial in reviving others whether they are from men or from the jinn.
اِنَّ لَکَ فِی النَّہَارِ سَبۡحًا طَوِیۡلًا ؕ﴿۷﴾
Generally people are of the opinion that this verse tells the Prophet (sws) that he has a lot of other work to do during the day. In other words, the verse says that since in the daytime the Prophet (sws) is hard pressed for time due to work and other involvements and hence seldom finds time to pray with full concentration, he should be very diligent in offering the tahajjud prayer in the night.
Although it is linguistically possible to interpret the word in this meaning, for various reasons I am not convinced with this interpretation.
Firstly, the Almighty has not selected the time of the tahajjud prayer to be the later part of the night because in the daytime a person has many other involvements; on the contrary, it is evident from many indications in the Qur'an that in the twenty four hours of day and night, this specific time due to its nature is the most appropriate for attaining the objectives to be achieved by standing in the payer by night.
Secondly, if this meaning was to be conveyed from the verse, then it could have been simply done so by the words اِنَّ لَکَ فِی النَّہَارِشَغْلاً كَثِيْراً or others having a similar meaning. The word سَبْحٌ does mean "to swim" and "to walk;" however, it is not commonly used to mean "to be involved and to be busy" unless of course there is a strong intrinsic or extrinsic indication for this.
Thirdly, if the word had this meaning, then it would be more appropriate that its qualifying adjective should have been كَثِيْراً or كَبِيْراً instead of being طَوِيلًا.
For these reasons, I am unable to convince myself of the conventional interpretation. In my opinion, the word تسبيح here is in its common meaning of glorifying the Almighty and the meaning of the verse is that besides the tahajjud prayer which the Prophet must offer at night, during the day also he has a lot of time for glorifying the Almighty which he should do. Consequently, it is known that the Prophet (sws) would diligently try to remember the Almighty in the daytime too while walking, sitting, eating and carrying out other routines of life. It is for this very reason that before embarking on every small or big life-routine, supplications offered by him have been reported down to us. If a person diligently adheres to these supplications, he will remember God at every step he takes and, with their blessing, undertakings which are seemingly of a worldly nature become worship.
It also needs to be noted that what is required in religion is continual remembrance of God. I have already elaborated on this aspect at some place in this exegesis. Just as for the material life of man, breathing is essential, for his spiritual life, remembering God is essential. The body dies if breathing stops. Similarly, if a person becomes indifferent to God, his soul becomes lifeless. It is God's remembrance that keeps it fresh and alive, and the life of the heart is real life.
It also needs to be kept in consideration that calling people towards religion, and reflecting on the signs of God present in the world within man and those without, are also included in remembering the Almighty. I have explained this aspect at more than one place in this exegesis. In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to say that this reflection is the most superior form of remembering God because through reflection remembrance becomes really meaningful. In the absence of reflection, remembrance becomes merely an exercise of the tongue, and is not beneficial to the life of a person. I have already alluded to this aspect under the following verse of Surah Al-i 'Imran:
الَّذِیۡنَ یَذۡکُرُوۡنَ اللّٰہَ قِیٰمًا وَّ قُعُوۡدًا وَّ عَلٰی جُنُوۡبِہِمۡ وَ یَتَفَکَّرُوۡنَ فِیۡ خَلۡقِ السَّمٰوٰتِ وَ الۡاَرۡضِ ۚ رَبَّنَا مَا خَلَقۡتَ ہٰذَا بَاطِلًا ۚ سُبۡحٰنَکَ فَقِنَا عَذَابَ النَّارِ (191:3) (Those who remember God when standing, sitting, and lying down, and reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth, saying: "Lord! You have not created this in vain. Glory be to You! Save us from the torment of the Fire, (3:191). Readers can look up its explanation.
وَ اذۡکُرِ اسۡمَ رَبِّکَ وَ تَبَتَّلۡ اِلَیۡہِ تَبۡتِیۡلًا ؕ﴿۸﴾
Both تَبَتُّلٌandتَبْتِيْلٌmean devoting oneself entirely to God. It involves isolating oneself from people and seeking refuge with God's mercy. In this verse, the Prophet (sws) has been told how to cope with his distress at seeing people shunning the truth and at being hurt by them: on such occasions, he should cut himself off from people who do not value the truth and seek refuge with the mercy of his Lord. For this purpose, the only thing that is required is to remember His name. When he does so, the Almighty will Himself enshroud him in His mercy.
It needs to be kept in mind that all names of God reflect His attributes, and it is on these attributes that the edifice of religion and faith stands. If a person keeps fresh the true knowledge of these attributes, he will find himself being backed by such a large army that the army of Satan will appear trivial compared to him. He will find himself to be firmer than mountains. On the other hand, if a person does not have a true comprehension of divine attributes or this comprehension becomes weak, then his belief will become baseless or weak. As a result, he will find every outbreak of lightning striking his own shelter.
رَبُّ الۡمَشۡرِقِ وَ الۡمَغۡرِبِ لَاۤ اِلٰہَ اِلَّا ہُوَ فَاتَّخِذۡہُ وَکِیۡلًا ﴿۹﴾
The implication of this verse is that God's refuge is not weak and frail; it is the refuge of the God of the East and the West. No one is god except Him so no one is His partner and no one can cause hindrance in the implementation of His intentions. If the Prophet (sws) makes Him his guardian, He will suffice, as is also mentioned in وَ کَفٰی بِاللّٰہِ وَکِیۡلًا (81:4).
وَ اصۡبِرۡ عَلٰی مَا یَقُوۡلُوۡنَ وَ اہۡجُرۡہُمۡ ہَجۡرًا جَمِیۡلًا ﴿۱۰﴾
The Prophet (sws) is directed in this verse to be patient on the foolish talk of his opponents and to strongly adhere to his view. He should neither be sorrowful at what they say nor go after them too much; he should just ignore them in a dignified manner for they themselves will bear the consequences of this attitude.
Leaving someone alone can be done in two ways: one is to leave a person alone after humiliating and cursing him with the intention of animosity and revenge. This is what is generally adopted by people who are slaves to this world. The righteous and the pious never adopt this attitude. Their efforts to reform their fellow brethren are not because they have some personal interest in this; they do this for the guidance of the people and to please their Lord. If people harass or disregard them, then instead of being angry and showing hatred, they feel sad on the state of affairs and sorrowful at the terrible fate these people will meet. In this situation, they might ignore and leave the people alone, but this leaving alone is much like the leaving alone of a disobedient son by his father. It is this leaving alone which is called ہَجۡرًا جَمِیۡلًا in this verse. Such abandoning is very beneficial at times. Those who have even a small trace of goodness in them are moved by this noble behaviour and are led into analyzing their own demeanour. At least they realize that the person will never accept their evil stance come what may. As long as a prophet remains among his people, he faces the excesses of his people with such dignified patience. However, when the Almighty decides to punish these people, the prophet announces his acquittal from them and dissociates from them. This dissociation is a prelude to their destruction.
وَ ذَرۡنِیۡ وَ الۡمُکَذِّبِیۡنَ اُولِی النَّعۡمَۃِ وَ مَہِّلۡہُمۡ قَلِیۡلًا ﴿۱۱﴾
In this verse, the Almighty has very sternly warned the rejecters by addressing the Prophet (sws). The implication is that the Almighty will really make an example of them.
The style of the expressionوَ ذَرۡنِیۡ وَ الۡمُکَذِّبِیۡنَ is reflective of the fact that the Prophet (sws) should just isolate himself from these rejecters and let the Almighty alone take care of them; he does not need to do anything.
Concealed in this verse is also the message that if there is a delay in the destruction of the disbelievers, it is because the Prophet (sws) is still among them. As per divine practice, as long as a prophet is among his people, they are not punished. If the prophet leaves them, they are immediately annihilated. It is the misfortune of the oppressive people that they want to harm him, for it is he who is actually shielding them from the wrath of God. If they deprive themselves of this shield, who will save them from torment and affliction?
The expression اُولِی النَّعۡمَۃِ refers to rich and affluent people. The word نَعۡمَۃٌ means "riches and affluence." By citing this attribute of the disbelievers, the purpose is to bring to light the real reason for their denial and to censure them on their ingratitude. The implication is that if the Almighty had blessed them with wealth and affluence, they should have been grateful to Him; on the contrary, this God-given affluence made them arrogant and haughty and they rose against their Lord.
اِنَّ لَدَیۡنَاۤ اَنۡکَالًا وَّ جَحِیۡمًا ﴿ۙ۱۲﴾وَّ طَعَامًا ذَا غُصَّۃٍ وَّ عَذَابًا اَلِیۡمًا ﴿٭۱۳﴾
The implication of this verse is that if the God-given affluence has led them to haughtiness and rejection of the Prophet (sws), then they should remember that in the Hereafter they will be chained in fetters and thrown into Hell.
The word اَنْكَالٌ is a plural of نِكْلٌ. It means "fetters" as well as "bridles of iron." At other instances (eg. 76:4), the words used are سَلاَسِلُ and اَغْلاَلٌ.
The expression وَ طَعَامًا ذَا غُصَّۃٍ وَّ عَذَابًا اَلِیۡمًا refers to the fact that if these people do not realize the obligation they owe because of the copious food and resources they have been blessed with, they should remember that in the Hereafter they will be given food that will get stuck in their gullets, and, instead of a blissful life, they will have to encounter a painful doom.
یَوۡمَ تَرۡجُفُ الۡاَرۡضُ وَ الۡجِبَالُ وَ کَانَتِ الۡجِبَالُ کَثِیۡبًا مَّہِیۡلًا ﴿۱۴﴾
This is a reminder of the day when the conceited people will face what is depicted in the verse. The earth and mountains will reel and shake in such a manner that even mountains will become like disbanding heaps of sand, let alone the houses and palaces of the affluent.
اِنَّاۤ اَرۡسَلۡنَاۤ اِلَیۡکُمۡ رَسُوۡلًا ۬ۙ شَاہِدًا عَلَیۡکُمۡ کَمَاۤ اَرۡسَلۡنَاۤ اِلٰی فِرۡعَوۡنَ رَسُوۡلًا ﴿ؕ۱۵﴾فَعَصٰی فِرۡعَوۡنُ الرَّسُوۡلَ فَاَخَذۡنٰہُ اَخۡذًا وَّبِیۡلًا ﴿۱۶﴾
After giving the Prophet (sws) the necessary instructions, in these verses the Quraysh are admonished that just as the Almighty had sent a Messenger to the Pharaoh, He has sent a Messenger to them. The purpose of sending a Messenger to them was to inform them of God's directives and the ways to please Him, the reward they will earn in this world and in the Hereafter if they follow these directives and the fate they will meet if they show disobedience. The implication is that they must fully comprehend the status and position of the person they are rejecting and humiliating and must know the consequences of such an attitude. He is not merely a person who asks people to accept his message or a mere preacher whose message can be treated in any way; in fact, the Almighty has sent him to them as a witness to the truth. Thus through him a judgement shall be passed regarding what is right and what is wrong. This judgement will be the one which was passed between Moses (sws) and the Pharaoh. Just as the Pharaoh was seized by the Almighty for disobeying their prophet, and seized in a manner that he could find no refuge anywhere, similarly they too will be seized by Him and seized in a manner that no one will be able to free them from His clasp.
I have fully explained the meaningsof شَاہِدًا عَلَیۡکُمۡ under the following verse of Surah al-Baqarah: لِتَکُوۡنُوۡا شُہَدَآءَ عَلَی النَّاسِ وَ یَکُوۡنَ الرَّسُوۡلُ عَلَیۡکُمۡ شَہِیۡدًا (143:2)(so that you be witnesses [to the truth] before the people, and the rasul be such a witness before you, (2:143). Readers can look up the exegesis of this verse.
فَکَیۡفَ تَتَّقُوۡنَ اِنۡ کَفَرۡتُمۡ یَوۡمًا یَّجۡعَلُ الۡوِلۡدَانَ شِیۡبَۨا ﴿٭ۖ۱۷﴾
The implication of this verse is that if the Quraysh are not being seized, then they should not think that they will never be seized. Even if this does not take place in this world, the next world is certain to come and they should contemplate its horrific nature; if they deny the Prophet (sws), how will they save themselves from the Day which will make the children old? This is actually an expression of the intensity and all-embracing nature of something horrific. We often say: "That sorrow has made me grow old." It is recorded in certain narratives that the Prophet (sws) is reported to have said: شيبتني هود واخواتها (Surah Hud and surahs similar to it have made me grow old).Arab poets have used this idiom in various styles, and it is so common that parallels need not be cited. Al-Zamakhsharihas furnished some examples which can be relied upon.
السَّمَآءُ مُنۡفَطِرٌۢ بِہٖ ؕ کَانَ وَعۡدُہٗ مَفۡعُوۡلًا ﴿۱۸﴾
The Day of Judgement should not be regarded as far-fetched. The sky is heavily laden with its burden. It might tear apart and the Day of Judgement appears from within it while they are still in their state of ignorance and indifference. This topic is discussed in the following verse of Surah al-A'raf thus:
ثَقُلَتۡ فِی السَّمٰوٰتِ وَ الۡاَرۡضِؕلَا تَاۡتِیۡکُمۡ اِلَّا بَغۡتَۃً ؕ(187:7)
The heavens and the earth are burdened with it. It will come upon you suddenly. (7:187)
In other words, the Hereafter does not require any evidence. Though the time of its advent is known to no one except the Almighty, its signs are as evident in the heavens and the earth as the pregnancy of a lady in its last stage. No one can tell when she will deliver; however, everyone who sees her knows that she will deliver. In a similar manner, the signs of the Day of Judgement are obvious and the sky is about to cleave asunder with their burden; it can come anytime. Unfortunate are people who are indifferent to it merely because its exact time of arrival is not known to them.
اِنَّ ہٰذِہٖ تَذۡکِرَۃٌ ۚ فَمَنۡ شَآءَ اتَّخَذَ اِلٰی رَبِّہٖ سَبِیۡلًا ﴿۱۹﴾
The demonstrative pronoun "this" refers to those verses of the Qur'an which have been conveyed to the Quraysh to remind them of the Hereafter. In other words, before sending punishment, it was essential that they be warned and admonished. So the Almighty, by sending His prophet, left the Quraysh with no excuse because the truth was communicated to them in its ultimate form. It was now the responsibility of the people. He who wanted could adopt the path leading to his Lord and in this manner become worthy of His pleasure and mercy and he who wanted could remain in error and also see his fate. The Almighty has no concern for him.
اِنَّ رَبَّکَ یَعۡلَمُ اَنَّکَ تَقُوۡمُ اَدۡنٰی مِنۡ ثُلُثَیِ الَّیۡلِ وَ نِصۡفَہٗ وَ ثُلُثَہٗ وَ طَآئِفَۃٌ مِّنَ الَّذِیۡنَ مَعَکَ ؕ وَ اللّٰہُ یُقَدِّرُ الَّیۡلَ وَ النَّہَارَ ؕ عَلِمَ اَنۡ لَّنۡ تُحۡصُوۡہُ فَتَابَ عَلَیۡکُمۡ فَاقۡرَءُوۡا مَا تَیَسَّرَ مِنَ الۡقُرۡاٰنِ ؕ عَلِمَ اَنۡ سَیَکُوۡنُ مِنۡکُمۡ مَّرۡضٰی ۙ وَ اٰخَرُوۡنَ یَضۡرِبُوۡنَ فِی الۡاَرۡضِ یَبۡتَغُوۡنَ مِنۡ فَضۡلِ اللّٰہِ ۙ وَ اٰخَرُوۡنَ یُقَاتِلُوۡنَ فِیۡ سَبِیۡلِ اللّٰہِ ۫ۖ فَاقۡرَءُوۡا مَا تَیَسَّرَ مِنۡہُ ۙ وَ اَقِیۡمُوا الصَّلٰوۃَ وَ اٰتُوا الزَّکٰوۃَ وَ اَقۡرِضُوا اللّٰہَ قَرۡضًا حَسَنًا ؕ وَ مَا تُقَدِّمُوۡا لِاَنۡفُسِکُمۡ مِّنۡ خَیۡرٍ تَجِدُوۡہُ عِنۡدَ اللّٰہِ ہُوَ خَیۡرًا وَّ اَعۡظَمَ اَجۡرًا ؕ وَ اسۡتَغۡفِرُوا اللّٰہَ ؕ اِنَّ اللّٰہَ غَفُوۡرٌ رَّحِیۡمٌ ﴿۲۰﴾
This is the last verse of this surah. It is evident from its subject that it was revealed in Madinah; however, it relates to the directive given to the Prophet (sws) about the tahajjud prayer right at the beginning of the surah. For this reason, it was placed at the end of this surah so that one is able to understand the relationship between the initial and final directives given in this regard. Several examples of this kind have been seen in earlier surahs, and this is a very obvious corroboration of the fact that verses in a surah are placed in harmony with the meanings they signify, and that all this arrangement and placement was made under the guidance of God and His Prophet (sws).
In the sentence اِنَّ رَبَّکَ یَعۡلَمُ اَنَّکَ تَقُوۡمُ اَدۡنٰی مِنۡ ثُلُثَیِ الَّیۡلِ وَ نِصۡفَہٗ وَ ثُلُثَہٗ, the Prophet (sws) is lauded on the fact that he was very befittingly fulfilling the directive of standing in prayer by night which the Almighty knows full well. The implication is that these endeavours of his are in the knowledge of God, and when this is so they will not go unnoticed; he will be greatly rewarded for them.
After expressing praise for the Prophet (sws), the next part of the verse: وَ طَآئِفَۃٌ مِّنَ الَّذِیۡنَ مَعَکَ expresses praise for the Companions who in their fervour to follow him adopted the tahajjud prayer as a mandatory practice of their own accord. This directive was specifically related to the Prophet (sws) as is evident from its wording; however, the Companions would leap to do every deed they would see the Prophet (sws) do. Although the real requirement of faith in the Prophet (sws) is to follow him in each and every step he takes, there is a world of difference between the power of endurance of a prophet and that of common people. For this reason, the Almighty altered this directive for common Muslims. The next section of the verse describes this change. The reason, of course, being that its burden should not exceed their power of endurance.
The next section of the verse: وَ اللّٰہُ یُقَدِّرُ الَّیۡلَ وَ النَّہَارَ ؕ عَلِمَ اَنۡ لَّنۡ تُحۡصُوۡہُ فَتَابَ عَلَیۡکُمۡ فَاقۡرَءُوۡا مَا تَیَسَّرَ مِنَ الۡقُرۡاٰنِ states that it is the Almighty who sets the measure of night and day. It is only He who knows their requirements and demands and the various aspects with regard to which they affect life. It is also He alone who knows which of these are needed by man and the circumstances and difficulties through which he has to pass. In the light of His knowledge, His verdict is that the Companions will not be able to stand up in prayer for half the night or one third or two thirds of the night; hence they should stand up in prayer to read the Qur'an as much as they are able to.
I have already explained the meaning of the expression فَتَابَ عَلَیۡکُمۡ in an earlier surah. When the verb تَابَ comes with the preposition عَلَیۡ, it means "to turn to someone graciously."
Though the words فَاقۡرَءُوۡا مَا تَیَسَّرَ مِنَ الۡقُرۡاٰنِ are general in style yet since they are mentioned with relation to standing in prayer by night, they refer to reading the Qur'an in the tahajjud prayer. Although reciting the Qur'an in itself is an act that entails many rewards, however, reading it in a measured tone in the tahajjud prayer brings the blessings for which the Prophet (sws) has been so emphatically asked to adopt this practice.
It is evident from this discussion that this relief was given to common Muslims because they would not have been able to abide by this taxing directive. As far as the Prophet (sws) himself was concerned, he abided by this directive till his very last breath. For a common Muslim, this prayer is still an optional act which earns great rewards, and the extent of time in which he should stand in this prayer has been left to his vigour and zeal.
The next part of the verse:عَلِمَ اَنۡ سَیَکُوۡنُ مِنۡکُمۡ مَّرۡضٰی وَ اٰخَرُوۡنَ یَضۡرِبُوۡنَ فِی الۡاَرۡضِ یَبۡتَغُوۡنَ مِنۡ فَضۡلِ اللّٰہِ وَ اٰخَرُوۡنَ یُقَاتِلُوۡنَ فِیۡ سَبِیۡلِ اللّٰہِ فَاقۡرَءُوۡا مَا تَیَسَّرَ مِنۡہُ refers to every journey which is undertaken for a noble and higher cause whether it is for seeking knowledge or for offering the hajj or for doing business. For trade journeys, this expression is used many times in the Qur'an.
The wordsوَ اَقِیۡمُوا الصَّلٰوۃَ وَ اٰتُوا الزَّکٰوۃَ وَ اَقۡرِضُوا اللّٰہَ قَرۡضًا حَسَنًا inform us of how to compensate for not being able to pray the tahajjud; if people are not able to fully benefit from the blessings of this prayer, they should be vigilant in the five prayers as much as possible, and spend their money for the cause of God, which includes spending it for the supremacy of the word of God and for emergency needs related to religion and state.
The expressionوَ اَقۡرِضُوا اللّٰہَ قَرۡضًا حَسَنًا can refer to all types of generous spending for the cause of God; however, when it is mentioned with zakah it refers to the spending which is done for the requirements of war or for some emergency need.
The wordsوَ مَا تُقَدِّمُوۡا لِاَنۡفُسِکُمۡ مِّنۡ خَیۡرٍ تَجِدُوۡہُ عِنۡدَ اللّٰہِ ہُوَ خَیۡرًا وَّ اَعۡظَمَ اَجۡرًا urge the believers to spend in the way of God: they are told that this spending will not be for others; it will, in fact, benefit their own selves. It will accumulate in their own accounts with God, and they will find it in a very beneficial form when they go to their Lord. The implication is that this spending is not an unprofitable undertaking; it is the most profitable of trades.
The words وَ اسۡتَغۡفِرُوا اللّٰہَ ؕ اِنَّ اللّٰہَ غَفُوۡرٌ رَّحِیۡمٌ refer to the fact that besides diligently doing what is mentioned above, believers should continue to seek forgiveness from their Lord for their sins and faults, and hope that He will forgive them. He is Most-Forgiving and Ever-Merciful.
With the grace of God, I come to the end of this surah's exegesis. I pray that He forgive my sins and make hearts receptive to the truth. وَ اللّٰہُ هو الموفق للصواب (It is He who produces the urge in a person for the truth).
7th November, 1978 AD
5th Dhu al-Hijjah, 1398 AH
.O ye enfolded in the shawl!
.Stand by night, but a little. Half the night, or decrease it a little or increase it a little more and recite the Qur'an in a slow measured tone.
.Soon We shall lay on you the burden of a heavy word.
.Indeed, this rising by night is very suitable for the heart's resolve and for the comprehension of speech.
.During the daytime also, you have a lot of time for glorifying the Almighty.
.And remember the name of your Lord and devote yourself entirely to Him.
.He only is the Lord of the East and the West. There is no god but He. Therefore, take Him alone as your Guardian.
.And bear with patience what they say and with dignity ignore them.
.And leave the matter of these rejecters who enjoy the comforts of life to Me and give them a little respite.
. We have in store for them fetters and the fire of Hell and choking food and a very painful torment.
.On the day when the earth and the mountains shall tremble and the mountains shall be as if they are disbanding heaps of sand.
.To you people We have sent forth a Messenger a witness upon you just as We sent a Messenger to the Pharaoh. Then the Pharaoh disobeyed this Messenger; so We seized him in a dreadful manner.
.So, how then will you, if you also deny, save yourself from the day which shall make the children old?
'Abd al-Razzaq ibn Hammam, Al-Musannaf, 3rd ed., vol. 3 (Yamamah: Dar Ibn Kathir, 1987), 368.
.Abu al-Qasim Muhammad ibn 'Umar al-Zamakhshari, Al-Kashshaf 'an haqa'iq al-tanzil wa 'uyun al-aqawil fi wujuh al-ta'wil, vol. 4 (Beirut: Dar ihya' al-turath al-'arabi, n.d.), 642-643.
.The sky is ripping apart with its burden and the promise of God is certain to be fulfilled.
.This is a reminder. So, whoever wants, he can take the path of His Lord.
.Your Lord, indeed, knows that you stand about two-thirds of the night or half or one-third of it, and so does a group among your companions. And God alone appoints the day and night in due measure. He knew that you would not be able to follow this. So, He turned towards you mercifully. Recite then from this Qur'an as much as you are able to. He knows that there are among you who will be sick and others who will be travelling to seek the bounty of God and others who will be fighting for the cause of God; recite then from this as much as is possible for you, and diligently adhere to the prayer and pay zakah and lend to God a befitting loan. And whatever good you send forth for yourselves, you shall find it with God better than before and greater in reward. And keep seeking God's forgiveness: indeed, God is Most-Forgiving, Ever-Merciful.
(Tr. by Dr Shehzad Saleem)