Central Theme and Relation with Previous Surah
Thissurah, along with Surah D~uha, the previous surah, forms a pair. It begins after Surah Duha without any prior introduction, and the subject discussed in the verse: 'Did We not find you an orphan and gave you shelter' (93:6) and in the subsequent verses of the previous surah is brought to completion in this surah. The only difference it seems is that in Surah D~uha the bounties and blessings of the Almighty, cited in order to comfort and assure the Prophet (sws), belonged to the period prior to his Prophethood and to that extending a little after it; whereas, in this surah, the favours which were showered by the gracious Lord on him when the message of Islam had spread in other parts of the Arabian peninsula are pointed out.
In the previous surah, the Prophet (sws) is given the glad tidings of a bright future as far as the extent of the propagation of the Islamic thought was concerned. This would overshadow the bleak present. The difficulties and hardships which he is facing are, according to the law of providence, only meant to train and discipline him. He would soon be relieved of them. In this surah, by making a reference to some such predictions which by then had shown clear signs to materialise, an emphatic assurance is given to the Prophet (sws). He is comforted that all his troubles and grievances will continue to give way to the happiness of success if he faces them with courage and determination.
Analysis of the Surah's Meanings
There is no ambiguity in the meanings of the surah. Initially a reference is made to the gift of Sharh-i-Sadr, (inner satisfaction) which the Almighty had blessed the Prophet (sws) with in order to alleviate his mental worries. The Prophet(sws) is then consoled and solaced that just as in earlier times, every hardship was succeeded by ease and comfort, likewise, in the subsequent stages of this mission, the same pattern would continue. After this, an indication is made to the final phase of the completion of this mission with a mention of the method to benefit from its successes and triumphs.
Meaning of the Surah
Have We not opened your heart, and relieved you of the burden which weighed down heavily on your back, and raised your voice? (1-4)
So, with every difficulty there is relief; verily with every difficulty there is relief. (5-6)
Therefore, when your task is over, prepare yourself and seek your Lord with all fervour. (7-8)
Explanation of the Surah
(Have We not opened your heart and relieved you of the burden?) (1-2)
In the explanation of the previous surah, a detailed account of the mental worries and anxieties which the Prophet (sws) had been facing in the early period is given. In the period just before Prophethood, these worries were a result of his wanderings in quest for the truth, while in the early period of Prophethood they were caused by a scarcity of followers and supporters of the religion he had begun to preach. Also a bright future, better than the past and present, with regard to the acceptance of his message was predicted with the assurance that the difficulties he was encountering were only transient in nature and the Almighty would soon relieve him of their burden. Later on, when divine revelations had appeased his apprehensions and the truth was exposed to educate and further encourage him, the Almighty revealed His unchanging law of trial which every inviter towards virtue faces if he is to succeed in his mission. The law is in fact the real subject of the surah and is stated near its end in verses five and six: 'With every difficulty there is relief'.
To open someone's heart means to create in him a correct comprehension of the truth which is the outcome of true belief. This is also a means to develop in a person trust and faith in God, which is the fountain head of resolve and determination. With such a strong faith no impediment, however great it may be, can waver his stand and without it not even an impediment is needed to defeat his will.
The sentence Wa wada'na 'anka wizrak (and have We not relieved you of your burden?) is co-ordinated in meaning with the first, and, hence is translated keeping in view that the interrogative particle alam (Is it not that...) of the first verse governs this second verse also. In Surah Naba also, this style is adopted.
(Which weighed down heavily on your back?) (3)
This verse qualifies the word wizr (burden) stated in the previous verse. By wizr is implied the severe perplexity the Prophet (sws) was in when, prior to his prophethood, he was seeking the truth but to no avail. Later, when the Almighty revealed it to him his troubles merely changed shape as all his people turned against him.
There is no overstatement in the fact that the Prophet's troubles were breaking his back. The way the Almighty had provided him with Guidance quite naturally induced him to think that if one soul was able to appreciate and understand it why was it that others were finding a difficulty in accepting it. Moreover, he saw that the more effort he made in calling them towards it, the more they evaded his calls. As result, he was driven into thinking that probably his efforts were lacking both in approach and intensity since the desired results were not being produced. This led him to double his efforts, but when even then the situation did not change his worries increased twofold. Furthermore, if in these circumstances a delay occurred in between revelations then, again such a deference multiplied his worries, making him think that the real cause of the delay might be the Almighty's displeasure. To remove all these fears and to comfort and encourage the Prophet (sws), this surah was revealed. In Surah T~aha, also, the Prophet (sws) is assured in a similar manner:
This is Surah T~aha. We have not revealed the Qur'an upon you to distress you. It is only an admonition for the God fearing. (20:1-3)
(And raised your voice?) (4)
This simply comforts the Prophet (sws) by asserting that his once feeble voice has now become a reverberating roar. The word laka (for you [only]), as in the first verse, expresses the exclusive nature of help provided by the Almighty to the Prophet (sws).
The verse also helps us in ascertaining the time of revelation of the surah as when the message of Islam had penetrated in the surrounding areas of Arabia. It should be borne in mind that the leaders of the Quraysh, who were the first invitees of this religion, persisted in opposing it. However, during Hajj, the pilgrims who came to Ka'bah became a constant source of spreading its teachings in the whereabouts of Makkah, particularly among the Ansar of Madinah. Subsequently, it reached the far flung areas of Arabia and then infiltrated into other countries. Such was the extent of its tide that it was not difficult for someone to imagine that this voice was not to be silenced and soon a hitherto feeble call would become a deafening uproar and that before long every nook and corner of Arabia would resound with the cries of Allahu Akbar.
(So, with every difficulty there is relief. Verily, with every difficulty there is relief.) (5-6)
This is the real lesson which is meant to be given in the light of the above mentioned references, and which actually is the central theme of the surah. The Prophet (sws) is addressed and asked to ponder over the persistence of the Almighty during the course of his mission. When he has witnessed that every hardship is followed by relief, then he should bear all afflictions with patience, for only after passing through such trying circumstances would he taste the fruit of success. In the previous surah, the consistency in application of this law of trial is proven by citing examples both from natural surroundings and from some experiences from the Prophet's life, while in this surah, only some experiences of the Prophet's life are included to demonstrate the law and make the matter more effective.
An important aspect that should be kept in mind is that the verses are not been repeated merely to emphasise the point, as most commentators contend. The repetition only stresses that difficulty and ease co-exist and follow each other in an eternally periodic sequence. After surmounting one peak no one should rest assured that his remaining life would be spent on a smooth terrain. In fact, a series of such peaks might have to be overcome if he has to succeed in life. He should always be prepared to scale every summit that comes his way -- for life is the name of a relentless struggle. Every passenger of this journey must brave the storm of its vicissitudes if he is to reach his destination. The Almighty has decreed the same law for those who tread the path of truth. Those who intend to trudge through it will have to make their own way and struggle through every inch they trek. But the Almighty has guaranteed one thing: if in spite of all these obstacles and hindrances they remain steadfast, muster all their strength to combat every test they are put through, and hold on to the slogan 'to seek, to strive to fight and never to yield', He shall bring ease after every difficulty, and reinvigorate them to continue this remorseless journey till the ultimate destination is reached.
The philosophy behind this test has at many instances been stated in the Qur'an. By its means, the Almighty discriminates between the righteous and the hypocrites and the believers from the disbelievers so that everyone can be rewarded or punished according to his deeds, and that no one is able to complain that he was the victim of injustice. Without this test the good cannot be distinguished from the evil to the extent that no one is able to refute the fate he deserves.
(So, when your task is over, prepare yourself and seek your Lord with all fervour.) (7-8)
This verse directs the Prophet (sws) to prepare for the ultimate destination. The verb nasaba means 'to prepare' and 'to work hard'. The Prophet (sws) is told that after he successfully overcomes the obstacles which come in way of the mission, and when the Almighty showers His help, and when Makkah is conquered once again and when the enemies are humbled once and for all and when the people embrace Islam in large numbers, he should totally converge all his efforts and turn all his attentions to earnestly seek the Almighty. In other words, two aspects are highlighted in these verses: First, they bring glad tidings to the Prophet (sws) that he shall soon successfully complete his mission. Second, they assert that even after accomplishing the mission he should continue with more fervour, and direct all his energies and efforts in seeking the Almighty and prepare for the final journey which will bring him to the Creator of the heavens and the earth.
In complying with this final directive, the Prophet (sws) began to spend more and more time in worship. Such was the extent of his involvement that some people even inquired from him the reason for taking so much pains in worship when all his sins had been forgiven. The Prophet (sws) is said to have replied: 'Should not I become a grateful servant of my Lord.' In Surah Nasr, an elaborate treatment is given to this topic:
When comes the help of God and victory and you see men embrace the religion of God in multitudes, celebrate the praises of your Lord and seek His forgiveness. He is ever disposed to mercy. (110: 1-3)
(Translated from 'Tadabbur-i-Qur'an' by Shehzad Saleem)