English Translation and Commentary of the Holy Quran (2010)

by Maulana Muhammad Ali

Chapter 96: Al-Alaq — The Clot (Revealed at Makkah: 19 verses)

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Introduction:

The first five verses of this chapter are by universal admission the first revelation which the Holy Prophet received. The chapter is entitled The Clot as the second verse states that God created man from a clot of blood, which contains a hint that, as a beautiful human form is developed out of such a humble origin, even so the Holy Prophet would raise humanity to the greatest eminence morally and spiritually.

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Translation:

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

96:1 Read in the name of your Lord Who creates1
96:2 creates man from a clot (of blood)2
96:3 read and your Lord is most Generous,3
96:4 Who taught by the pen,4
96:5 taught man what he did not know.
96:6 No! Man is surely inordinate,
96:7 because he looks upon himself as self-sufficient.5
96:8 Surely to your Lord is the return.
96:9 Have you seen him who forbids
96:10 a servant when he prays?6
96:11 Do you see if he is on the right way,
96:12 or enjoins observance of duty?
96:13 Do you see if he denies and turns away?
96:14 Does he not know that Allah sees?
96:15 No! If he does not stop, We will seize him by the forelock7
96:16 a lying, sinful forelock!
96:17 Then let him summon his council,
96:18 We will summon the braves of the army.8
96:19 No! Do not obey him, but prostrate yourself, and draw near (to Allah).Prostration

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Commentary:

  1. The Arabs were a people who rarely made use of reading and writing, and the Prophet himself did not know reading or writing, yet the very first revela­tion which he received was a command to read. The significance of this order is expressed in v. 3, v. 2 being parenthetical as referring to the origin of man. The order to read is repeated in v. 3, adding that your Lord is most Generous, to show that it is through reading and writing that man can attain to a position of glory, while v. 4 says that it is by the use of the pen that knowledge can be acquired. The words in the name of your Lord signify by the help of your Lord. The use of the word Rabb (Nourisher to perfection), translated as Lord, shows that revelation was being granted to the Prophet, to bring him, and through him the whole of humanity, to perfection.
  2. ‘Alaq signifies a clot of blood as well as attachment and love. The former significance is the one generally adopted, because of the mention of ‘alaqah in the process of the creation of man in other places in the Quran, and it indicates the insignificance of man’s origin. Having regard to the other signifi­cance of ‘alaq, the words may, however, also be translated as meaning created man out of love. The Prophet is reported to have said: I (God) loved that I should be known, so I created man.
  3. The word Akram means Generous as well as Honourable. It has been used here in reference to the great goal of honour and glory which the Prophet was destined to attain.
  4. The mention of the pen in this, the very first, revelation of the Holy Prophet, is significant, and it not only indicates the help for propagating know­ledge of Islam which the Holy Prophet was to find in the pen, but signifies as well that the pen should be specially used in guarding the revelation which was to be granted to the Holy Prophet. It is a fact that the pen has played an important part in the propagation of Islam as well as in the protection of the Quran against corrup­tion of every sort. The frequent mention of writing and the pen in the Quran, and particularly in connection with the revelation of the Holy Prophet, is rather striking when it is borne in mind that not only was the use of writing a rare novelty in the Arabian peninsula, but the Prophet was himself unacquainted with writing and reading.
  5. Man becomes inordinate or rebellious because he thinks himself to be self-sufficient, and free from all need of God Who breathed into him of His Spirit. The soul of man has in fact a mystic relation with the invisible Divine Spirit, which the materialist fails to realize.
  6. So great was the opposition that the Prophet and his companions could not say their prayers in a public place.
  7. Seizing by the forelock signifies abasement.
  8. The significance of verses 17–18 is that they should take their decision unitedly and do their utmost against the Prophet and his message. The two verses thus clearly speak prophetically of the battles in which the mighty men of both sides were to be brought into conflict.

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