English Translation and Commentary of the Holy Quran (2010)

by Maulana Muhammad Ali

Chapter 90: Al-Balad — The City (Revealed at Makkah: 20 verses)

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Introduction:

The City spoken of in the first verse, from which this chapter receives its name, is Makkah, which in the last chapter was warned of punishment overtaking it. But it was to be the spiritual centre of the whole world, when Muslims would be made free from all obligations in it, as stated in the second verse. The second half of the chapter speaks of the importance of attempting the uphill struggle for the service of humanity, which marks a great nation. It is one of the earliest revelations, assigned to the first year of the Holy Prophet’s mission.

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Translation:

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

90:1 No, I call to witness this City!1
90:2 And you will be made free from obligation in this City2
90:3 And the father and the offspring whom he produced!3
90:4 We have certainly created man to face difficulties.4
90:5 Does he think that no one has power over him?
90:6 He will say: I have wasted much wealth.5
90:7 Does he think that no one sees him?
90:8 Have We not given him two eyes,
90:9 and a tongue and two lips,
90:10 and pointed out to him the two conspicuous ways?6
90:11 But he does not attempt the uphill road.
90:12 And what will make you comprehend what the uphill road is?
90:13 (It is) to free a slave,
90:14 or to feed in a day of hunger
90:15 an orphan near of kin,
90:16 or the poor man lying in the dust.7
90:17 Then he is of those who believe and exhort one another to patience, and exhort one another to mercy.
90:18 These are the people of the right hand.
90:19 And those who disbelieve in Our messages, they are the people of the left hand.
90:20 On them is Fire closed over.

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Commentary:

  1. By this City is meant Makkah. Thousands of years before, Abraham had prayed for a city to be raised in that wilderness where he had left one branch of his descendants (14:37), and for a Prophet to be raised among them (2:129).
  2. The translation here is in accordance with the true significance of the word ḥill, meaning being free from obligation or responsibility with respect to some­thing. The statement is prophetical, indicating that the Prophet would be made free from obligation in respect to the sacredness of the territory of Makkah, being allowed to enter it by force, as he did at the conquest of Makkah, to which, in fact, the words refer.
  3. The father is none other than Abraham, the progenitor of the Arabs, and by the offspring whom he produced is meant either Ishmael, who assisted Abraham in raising the foundations of the Sacred House at Makkah, or the Holy Prophet himself, who was the object of Abraham’s prayer.
  4. The advancement of man, even physically, lies along a path of hard struggle. The same is the case in the sphere of the spiritual advancement of man. Abraham suffered great hardships in the cause of Truth; and so must the Prophet now, in order to bring about a spiritual awakening in the world. It is only a long and hard struggle on the part of certain benefactors of humanity that makes man’s advance­ment possible, physically as well as spiritually.
  5. The opponents, after spending all their wealth for the extermination of Truth, would find that the cause of Truth was triumphant, and would then say that they really wasted their wealth in a wrong cause.
  6. The two conspicuous ways are the ways of truth and falsehood in word or good and evil in deed. The two eyes (v. 8) enable him to distinguish good from evil, while with the tongue and the lips (v. 9) he can ask, if he cannot see for himself.
  7. The service of humanity, along with the service of God, is the one topic of these earliest revelations. The doing of good to the oppressed, the poor, and the orphans is called an uphill road or a high mountain because of the diffi­culty of doing it. The constant reference to the helping of the poor and the orphans and the setting free of slaves brings to light the real character of the Prophet, who is described by one knowing him most intimately as one who earned for those who had no means themselves (Bukhari, 1:1). No religion has laid so much stress on the uplift of the poor and the distressed as Islam, and it is the only religion which enjoins the duty of granting freedom to slaves, and the Holy Prophet Muhammad is the only founder of a religion who showed the noble example of freeing all slaves that he ever had and helping in the freeing of others. The latest revelation in 9:60 contains plain directions to the State itself to spend a part of the public funds in purchasing freedom for slaves.

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