English Translation and Commentary of the Holy Quran (2010)

by Maulana Muhammad Ali

Chapter 91: Ash-Shams — The Sun (Revealed at Makkah: 15 verses)

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Introduction:

The Holy Prophet is the Sun of righteousness, the word in the first verse after which this chapter is named. With the rising of this sun, the way to perfection is pointed out to man. But only those who purify themselves are really successful, while those who give themselves over to corruption meet with failure, as illustrated by the case of Thamūd. It is one of the earliest revela-tions, like the last chapter.

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Translation:

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

91:1 By the sun and its brightness!1
91:2 And the moon when it borrows light from it!
91:3 And the day when it exposes it to view!
91:4 And the night when it draws a veil over it!2
91:5 And the heaven and its make!
91:6 And the earth and its extension!
91:7 And the soul and its perfection!3
91:8 So He reveals to it its way of evil and its way of good;4
91:9 he is indeed successful who causes it to grow,
91:10 and he indeed fails who buries it.5
91:11 Thamūd rejected (the truth) in their inordinacy,6
91:12 when the most wretched one among them broke forth with mischief —
91:13 so Allah’s messenger said to them: (Leave alone) Allah’s she-camel, and (give) her (to) drink.
91:14 But they called him a liar and slaughtered her. So their Lord destroyed them for their sin and levelled them (with the ground);
91:15 and He does not fear its consequence.7

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Commentary:

  1. This is to show that the spiritual light of the Prophet will brighten as time passes on.
  2. In the words “exposes it” (v. 3) and “draws a veil over it” (v. 4), the pronoun it refers to the world.
  3. The mention of the perfection of the soul of man in this verse is a sequel to what is stated in the first six verses. Man is here spoken of as possessing the highest of qualities which are met with in nature. The sun is a source of light, even so is the perfect man a source of spiritual light. The moon borrows the light of the sun, even so is the perfect man, whose light is really borrowed from the Divine source, which is the real source of all light. The day makes things manifest and thus enables man to carry on his struggle, while the night casts a veil over light and brings rest; the perfect man possesses both these qualities, as he carries on a very hard struggle for the attainment of great ends, and at the same time his mind is at rest and he possesses the quality of contentment. The heaven is raised high, and the earth is spread out for people to walk over, being thus a manifesta­tion of humility; the perfect man possesses both these qualities, having the highest of aspirations and being at the same time humble and lowly. The perfect man thus possesses the opposite qualities of giving light and receiving light, severe exertion and complete rest, greatness and humility. These qualities were possessed by the Holy Prophet, who invited others to make the same the goal of their lives.
  4. The verse is a fitting sequel to the statement made in the previous verse as regards the perfection of the soul, as it points out the way to perfection. It is through Divine inspiration, or revelation, that the soul is made perfect, because Divine revelation makes clear the two ways, the way of evil and the way of good. It is by avoiding the former and walking in the latter that perfection can be attained.
  5. The words for “causes it to grow” (zakkā-hā) and “buries it” (dassā-hā) also have the secondary meaning of purifies it and corrupts it respectively. The adoption of these two words really indicates that the faculties necessary for perfection are given to everyone, but there are some who make them thrive by their development and others who corrupt them by allowing them to remain concealed, not displaying them to their advantage.
  6. The verse gives an instance of those whose end is failure on account of the corrupt manner of their lives, giving at the same time a warning to people that, if they continued in their evil course and did not turn to righteousness, following the call of the Prophet, their end would be the same. If they followed the Prophet, they would attain to perfection, but, if they went against him, they would be given over to destruction as were the former people.
  7. Allah does not care for the consequences of the punishment to a people when they are found deserving of such punishment, for through their destruction comes life to humanity.

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