English Translation and Commentary of the Holy Quran (2010)

by Maulana Muhammad Ali

Chapter 81: At-Takwir — The Folding Up (Revealed at Makkah: 29 verses)

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Introduction:

This chapter is named after the mention of the folding up of the sun in the first verse, which means that it will lose its light. This may refer to the end of things or metaphorically to the sun of the fortune of the opponents becoming dark. The chapter begins by speaking prophetically of certain events of the distant future fulfilled in the modern age. It concludes by making clear that the Holy Prophet’s light will reach the remotest horizon and the Quran will reach all nations. Its revelation belongs to the very early period at Makkah.

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Translation:

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.

81:1 When the sun is folded up,1
81:2 and when the stars are dust-coloured,2
81:3 and when the mountains are made to pass away,3
81:4 and when the camels are abandoned,4
81:5 and when the wild animals are gathered together,5
81:6 and when the cities are made to swell,6
81:7 and when people are united,7
81:8 and when the one buried alive is asked
81:9 for what sin she was killed,8
81:10 and when the books are spread,9
81:11 and when the heaven has its covering removed,10
81:12 and when hell is kindled,11
81:13 and when the Garden is brought near12
81:14 every soul will know what it has prepared.13
81:15 Indeed, I call to witness the stars,
81:16 running their course, (and) setting,
81:17 and the night when it departs,
81:18 and the morning when it brightens,14
81:19 surely it is the word of a bountiful Messenger,
81:20 the possessor of strength, established in the presence of the Lord of the Throne,
81:21 one (to be) obeyed, and faithful.15
81:22 And your companion is not mad.
81:23 And truly he saw himself on the clear horizon.16
81:24 Nor is he miserly (with knowledge) of the unseen.17
81:25 Nor is it the word of an accursed devil —
81:26 where then are you going?18
81:27 It is nothing but a Reminder for the nations,19
81:28 for whomever among you who wishes to go straight.
81:29 And you do not (so) wish, unless Allah please, the Lord of the worlds.20

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Commentary:

  1. For the folding up of the sun, see the introductory note above. Verses 1–13 speak of twelve signs, some of which undoubtedly relate to this life and the rest may therefore also be taken as referring metaphorically to this life. The Resurrection of the dead in another life may often contain a deeper reference to the spiritual resurrection which was to be brought about by the Prophet in this very life, and hence the combination of the real with the meta­phorical, as here.
  2. The darkening of the stars indicates complete darkness. Not only would the light of the day disappear, but even the smaller lights would become dark, and so the opponents of Truth would be left in utter darkness.
  3. The passing away of the mountains signifies the passing away of the greatest obstacles to the spread of Truth; see 20:105 footnote.
  4. ‘Ishār is plural of ‘usharā’, meaning a she-camel that has been ten months pregnant. It is applied to the she-camel until she has delivered and also after she has delivered, and to a camel that is milked. Such camels are undoubtedly the most precious, and their being abandoned may stand for the abandonment of camels generally. Bearing on this subject is a hadith of the Prophet: “Camels will be abandoned so that they will not be used for going swiftly (from one place to another)” (Mishkāt, 26:5). This clearly refers to a time when swifter modes of going from one place to another will come into existence, so that camels will no more be needed.
  5. The gathering together (ḥashr) of wild animals seems also to be a prophecy relating to the distant future, when the wild animals were to be gathered together from all corners of the world into big towns. It may refer metaphorically to the gathering together of barbarous people into towns and cities.
  6. The word biḥār is the plural of baḥr, which means sea or river, as well as of baḥrah which is synonymous with baldah or a town. The swelling of cities is a clear indication that advancing civilization will result in people gathering more and more in cities. The next verse corroborates this significance, as it speaks in clear words of the uniting of people.
  7. The uniting of people is one of the greatest achievements of modern civilization. The time is not far distant indeed when the whole world will be united and may become as a single nation.
  8. The reference here is to the burying alive of daughters, a practice common among the pre-Islamic Arabs who, either for fear of hunger or disgrace, buried alive their female children. The questioning refers to the future when, with the predominance of Islam in Arabia, this barbarous practice was to be abolished. But the one buried alive may stand generally for the female sex, and the reference here may, therefore, be to the general tyranny of the male over the female. (Editor’s Note: Killing of girls at birth still takes place in some parts of the world. Abortion of foetuses for the reason of being female is a modern extension of the same barbarous practice.)
  9. This is also a prophetic reference to the distant future, with the circu­la­­tion of books and papers to an incredible extent. The Muslim world did immense service to the cause of the circulation of literature, and the revival of learning in the West, which has brought about the great spread of books and papers, was a direct result of the impetus which Islam gave to the study of letters.
  10. The removal of the covering of the heaven signifies the unveiling of the mysteries relating to the heavens, which is one of the great achievements of modern science. Compare 99:2 where the earth is spoken of as yielding her treasures.
  11. Just as the righteous are promised heaven in this very life, the wicked are told that hell would be kindled for them even here, if they had only the eyes to see it. Compare 79:36. The forces of materialism have already engulfed the world in a burning hell in the form of modern wars.
  12. God has not doomed this world to utter destruction, but when it has tasted somewhat of the evil consequences of its own doings, Divine mercy will take it by the hand and bring the Garden of bliss near to it by bringing about a spiritual awakening. Thus the solace of mind which man can attain to through reali­zation of the Divine in him is here described as the bringing near of the Garden.
  13. Man will then become conscious that there is a higher life, which is his real goal, and he will know what to do to attain that goal.
  14. The calling to witness of the stars that run their course and set also draws attention to the disasters that awaited the opponents of the Truth; see 53:1 footnote. The departing of the night and the rise of the bright morning is clearly the disappearance of the darkness of ignorance, giving place to the bright light of the sun of Islam.
  15. Verses 19–21 refer to the Holy Prophet Muhammad. He is the bountiful Messenger (Rasūl Karīm), the one to be obeyed (see 4:64), and the faithful (al-Amīn). His being possessor of strength prophetically refers to his future career and to his ultimate triumph over his enemies.
  16. This means that his light would shine in the remotest corners of the world. See also 53:7 and footnote.
  17. This shows that there are some great prophecies relating to the future in what has gone before.
  18. Wonder is expressed that despite the clearest evidence of Truth, humanity has been so slow to accept it.
  19. This, one of the earliest revelations, clearly shows that the foundations of the universality of the message of Islam were laid on the very first day.
  20. See 76:30 footnote for explanation.

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