Surah ‘Alaq, Chapter 96
Contents of Surah 'Alaq
بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمنِ الرَّحِيمِ
In The Name of Allah, The Beneficent, The Merciful
It is commonly known among the commentators that this Surah is the first Surah that was revealed to the holy Prophet (S) of Islam. The contents of the Surah also confirm this idea. Some have said that the first Surah is Surah Fatihah, or perhaps Surah Muddaththir, but again this is contrary to what is commonly thought.
First, this Surah addresses the holy Prophet (S) and commands him to read or proclaim (the Message).
Then, it refers to the creation of Man out of a mere clot.
Further, it refers to the development of Man, who is taught from the bounty and by the Grace of Allah; the soul in him reaching out to knowledge sublime, and the instrument of it, the sanctified Pen.
Thereafter, it speaks about ungrateful Man, and that despite all the blessings and graciousness that Allah bestows on him, he rebels.
Following this, it points to the painful chastisement of those who cause a hindrance on the road to guidance and righteous deeds.
Then, the Surah ends with a command to prostration, and of drawing closer to Allah.
The Virtue of Studying this Surah
On the virtue of reciting this Surah, there is a tradition from Imam Sadiq (as) who said:
"He who recites Surah 'Alaq on a day or a night and passes away on the same day or night, at the time of the Day of Judgment, he will be considered as a martyr and Allah will raise him to life again as a martyr and He will resurrect him as one who has fought the holy war, on the way of Allah, in the presence of the Messenger of Allah.”1
Because of the different words used at the beginning, this Surah is called: 'Alaq, Iqra', or Qalam.
Surah ‘Alaq, Verses 1-5
بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمنِ الرَّحِيمِ
In The Name of Allah, The Beneficent, The Merciful
اقْرَأْ بِاسْمِ رَبِّكَ الَّذِي خَلَقَ
خَلَقَ الْإِنسَانَ مِنْ عَلَقٍ
اقْرَأْ وَرَبُّكَ الْأَكْرَمُ
الَّذِي عَلَّمَ بِالْقَلَمِ
عَلَّمَ الْإِنسَانَ مَا لَمْ يَعْلَمْ
1. “Read (Proclaim!) In the Name of your Lord Who created"
2. “Created man, out of a clot (of congealed blood).”
3. “Read (Proclaim), and your Lord is the Most Generous,"
4. “Who taught by the Pen,”
5. “Taught man that which he knew not.”
The Occasion of the Revelation
As it was mentioned in the description of the content of this Surah, the majority of commentators believe that this is the first Surah that came to the heart of the holy Prophet (S). Some have even said that all the commentators believe that the first five verses, of the Surah, were the first direct Revelation to the holy Prophet (S). Their contents confirm this idea, too.
Some narrations denote that the holy Prophet (S) had gone to Mount Hira when Gabriel came and told him:
He said that he was not 'versed'. Gabriel embraced him and told him again to proclaim; and the Prophet (S) repeated the same answer. Gabriel embraced him for a second time, but was given the same answer.
Then, for the fourth time he told him:
(and recited the first five verses).
Finishing the verse, Gabriel then took leave from the; Prophet (S).
The Messenger of Allah, his energy spent due to receiving the first rays of Revelation, went to his wife, Khadijah, and told her:
"Cover me; wrap me in a mantle”.
The following is a tradition from Tabarsi in Majma'-al-Bayan, and he cites that the Messenger of Allah told Khadijah that whenever he was alone he heard a voice.
According to Tabarsi, Khadijah told Muhammad (S):
"Allah will not bring anything on you but goodness because you are trustworthy and pay the deposits, you observe bonds of relationship, and you are truthful in speech.”
Khadijah said this statement and then, she went to see Waraqah-ibn Nufil.
(He was Khadijah's cousin and was of the knowledgeable Arabs.)
She described to him what had happened to Muhammad (S) and added that he had heard the voice say:
"O Muhammad say:
'La Ilaha Illallah’”.
"Rejoice thou! Rejoice thou! According to what is mentioned in Taurat and Ingeel it is clear that he is the Messenger of Allah and he is the very one that Jesus Christ told about in his glad tidings. He has a religion like that of Moses; he is an apostle. He will be told to fight in the Holy War soon after this, and if I am alive then, I will be with him in that Holy War.”
Later, when Waraqah died, the Messenger of Allah said:
"I saw him in Heaven (the Heaven of the Lesser Judgment) having a high rank for he had believed in me and confirmed me.”
There are, of course, some unflattering statements cited in various history books or some commentaries about this period of Muhammad's life which seem incorrect. They are probably inserted by the enemies of Islam to taint both the idea about this divine religion and the person of the holy Prophet (S). Regarding what was said above, we are only concerned, here with these commentaries of the verses, which will be cited in this text.
Read (Proclaim!) In the Name of your Lord!
In the first verse of the Surah, it addresses the holy Prophet (S) and says:
Some have said that the object is not mentioned in the sentence, which basically would be:
and that is why they have considered this verse as an evidence that /bismillah/ is combined with the Suras of Qur'an.
It is worthy to note here first of all, that the emphasis is on the proposition of Lordship and we know that /rabb/ means a 'reformer Lord', the one Who is both the master and the cherisher.
Then, to establish the Lordship of Allah, it emphatically refers to the 'creation and the existence of this universe', because the best reason for His Lordship is, His Creative attribute. The One Who runs and sustains the universe is its Creator.
This is, indeed, an answer to the pagan Arabs who had accepted the creative power of Allah, but, they assumed the lordship and device of this world for their own idols and gods. Besides, the Lordship of the Lord and His Device, in this World, are the best evidence for proving His Being.
Then, amongst all the creatures of the world, it emphasizes on the best and the most important of them, i.e. Man, and referring to his creation, it says:
The term /'alaq/ originally means 'to adhere to something', and hence, some congealed blood or a leech which sticks to the body to suck blood, is called /‘alaq/.
Since the life-germ, in the course of its first processes until it becomes a foetus, changes to a type of sticking clot which is apparently very worthless, it is, indeed, the basic origin of the creation of Man, then, it makes the power of Allah clear that it is He Who is able to create such a worthy creature from such a lowly unworthy thing.
Some have also said that the objective point of using /‘alaq/, here is due to the clay of which Adam came from and which was sticky, too. It is obvious that the Creator Who creates this wonderful creature from that sticky piece of clay is apt to be worshipped.
Furthermore, some have considered the term /‘alaq/ as meaning 'a possessor of kindness and affection'. This refers to the social and gregarious manner of men and the love they have for each other which is the main basis of Man's development and progress in the history of his civilization.
Again, some have thought of the term /‘alaq/ as referring to 'the male seed' which they thought much resembled a 'leech'. It was their understanding that this microscopic creature, which swims in the fluid of men, approaches the woman's 'seed', in the womb, and adheres to it and that by the combining of these two complete 'seeds' Man came into being.
It is true that at the time of the appearance of Islam these problems were not known to Man, but the Holy Qur'an, as a scientific miracle, unveiled the true meaning.
Among these four commentaries, the first one seems more clear, although to combine all of them, together, is also possible.
It is understood, then, from what was said in the above that 'man', according to one commentary, means Adam, and according to the other three commentaries, means only 'Man'.
To emphasize the matter, again it says:
Some believe that the second
is an emphasis on the first /iqra'/ in the previous verses, while some others say that they are different. In the first sentence, the term requires the Prophet (S) to read (proclaim) to himself and in the second sentence, it means to read (proclaim) to people. But, the idea of emphasis seems more appropriate because there is no evidence available to show the difference between them.
In any event, this verse, in fact, is an answer to the statement of the Prophet (S) who responded to Gabriel saying:
'I am not versed’;
and it means: 'you can read (proclaim) because of the extreme graciousness and the extraordinary generosity of your Lord'.
Then, it tells about Allah Who is the Most Generous and says:
In fact, these verses are also an answer to that very statement of the Prophet (S) who said:
'I am not versed'.
Now, it replies that it is the same god Who taught the human being by the
and taught him the things that he did not know, and Who is capable of teaching a servant, like 'you', who does not know how to read.
can be rendered in two ways.
The first is that: Allah taught writing and the book to Man and it is He Who is able to do this portent; to establish the origin of all sciences, knowledge and civilizations in him.
The second meaning is that through this way and by this means Man is taught all of the sciences and knowledge.
In short, according to one commentary, the objective meaning is 'teaching how to write' and another commentary says the objective meaning is 'the sciences taught to man by writing'.
In any case, this is an expressive statement, full of meaning, that was issued in these great verses at the sensitive moments of the onset of revelation.
The First Revelation Was Accompanied by a Societal Movement
These verses, as was mentioned before, according to the belief of most or all commentators, are the first rays of the Divine Light that glittered into the holy heart of the Prophet (S). This incident was a new door opened to humanity, and a new chapter was founded in the history of the human race, and then, Mankind was bestowed one of the greatest Blessings of Allah. the most complete divine religion, which was the last of all religions, was descended.
And after that descent, all the precepts of the religion, the ordinance of Allah, was completed according to the sense of
It is interesting to note that the fact is the Prophet (S) was unlettered and was not taught, and at the time when the territory of Hijaz was filled with ignorance, in the first verses of this Surah, of the revelation, the proposition of 'science and the Pen' is emphasized which is mentioned immediately along with the great blessing of 'creation'.
In fact, at first these verses tell about the development of the 'body' of Man from such an unworthy thing as a clot, and on the other hand, they speak about the development of his 'soul' by means of training and education, especially by the pen.
On the day when these verses were revealed, not only in the territory of Hijaz, which was the territory of ignorance, few people valued the pen, but also in the civilized world of that time, the pen was worth little.
Today, however, we know that the basis of whole civilizations, different kinds of knowledge, and the progresses of Man in different fields pivots on the existence of the 'pen'. The rank of scholars has preceded that of the martyrs, because the source for the appearance of the martyrs is really in the ink of the scholars' pen, and basically, it is their 'pen' that can change the destiny of individuals in different societies.
In communities, improvements often start by the pen of faithful, believing people who feel responsibility, but, also, vice and corruption originate from poisonous pens, too.
That is why the Holy Qur'an makes an oath to the
and to what the
We know that the whole life of the human being is divided into two distinct periods: the historical period and the prehistorical period.
The historical period begins from the time that the invention of writing appeared on the scene and Man used the
and was acquainted with reading and writing and as a consequence, Man could leave some trail's from his life for later generations. Hence, the history of Man can be dealt with from the date he could use the 'pen'; when the 'pen' and 'writing' appeared in the history of Man's life.
Therefore, from the very early beginning, Islam was founded on the basis of the
and 'knowledge'; and it is for this same reason that backward people of early Islam could progress in science so much so that they succeeded in introducing and exporting new scientific findings to Europe and all over the world.
As the popular European historians confess, it was the light of the knowledge of Muslims that enlightened the darkened feature of medieval Europe and let them enter the gate of the Golden age.
There are many books, in this field, supplied by the European writers, themselves, under different titles such as 'the History of the Civilization of Islam', or 'Islamic Heritage'.
How disgraceful is a nation with this historical background and with a rich religion like this to fall behind in the path of science and be in need of non-Muslim nations or even dependant on them!
Remembrance of Allah in any Condition
At first, the invitation of the Prophet (S) started with the remembrance of the Name of Allah:
And it is interesting that the whole fruitful life of the Prophet (S) was associated with His remembrance.
The remembrance of Allah accompanied each of his breaths; in his rising, sitting, sleeping, walking, riding, starting, stopping, all in all; he was always with the Name of Allah.
When he awakened he used to say:
"Praise be to Allah, Who raises us after our death: and unto Him is the Resurrection".
Several traditions similar to the above-mentioned one are also cited which conform to this idea. 4
Surah ‘Alaq, Verses 6-14
كَلَّا إِنَّ الْإِنسَانَ لَيَطْغَى
أَن رَّآهُ اسْتَغْنَى
إِنَّ إِلَى رَبِّكَ الرُّجْعَى
أَرَأَيْتَ الَّذِي يَنْهَى
عَبْدًا إِذَا صَلَّى
أَرَأَيْتَ إِن كَانَ عَلَى الْهُدَى
أَوْ أَمَرَ بِالتَّقْوَى
أَرَأَيْتَ إِن كَذَّبَ وَتَوَلَّى
أَلَمْ يَعْلَمْ بِأَنَّ اللَّهَ يَرَى
6. “Nay! Most surely man does transgress (all bounds).”
7. “For he thinks himself self-sufficient.”
8. “Verily, to your Lord is the return (of all).”
9. “Have you seen him who forbids"
10. “A servant when he prays?"
11. “Have you seen whether he is on (the road of) Guidance?"
12. “Or enjoins piety?"
13. “Have you seen if he rejects and turns away?"
14. “Does he not know that Allah surely sees?"
Do You Not Know That Allah Surely Sees What You Do?
Following the last verses in which some material and spiritual gifts of Allah bestowed on Man were mentioned, that which demands his gratitude and absolute submission to Him, here it says:
This is the nature of most human beings, the nature of those who are not acquainted with revelation and are not trained wisely that, when they think they are self-sufficient, they rebel.
Although all of our knowledge and capacities come as gifts from Allah, Man, in his inordinate vanity and insolence. Misinterprets Allah's gifts as his own achievements. So, he neither obeys Him nor follows His guidance, nor pays attention to his conscience, nor observes the right and justice.
Not only Man, but, also, no creature will be self-sufficient and free from the help of Allah. All of them are always in need of His Grace and His blessings. If His Mercy stops for a moment, just at the same time, all will be destroyed. Man sometimes makes mistakes and as the verse points out, thinks himself self-sufficient.
The delicate sense of the verse is that it says:
and not: 'For he becomes self-sufficient'.
Some think that the word 'Man' in the verse, here means, Abu-Jahl', who opposed the invitation to Islam from the Prophet (S) in the very beginning. But, 'Man', here certainly means Mankind collectively and persons like Abu-Jahl are only an example.
At any rate, the verse seems to mean that the Prophet (S) should not expect that all people will accept his invitation easily, but he should be prepared to be opposed by the denial and enmity of the transgressors and know that the road in front of him is full of ups and downs.
Then, warning the rebels, it says:
And it is Allah Who punishes the transgressors for their deeds. Originally, just as the return of all is to Him and
everything has also been from Him, from the beginning, then, it is not reasonable for Man to think that he is self-sufficient and to become bold and rebel.
Next, our attention is turned to a on the behaviour of the arrogant transgressors who prevent believing people from doing righteous deeds, and says:
Does such a person not deserve the Divine Punishment?
In traditions it is said that Abu-Jahl inquired of the people around him:
"Does Muhammad put his face on the ground (for prostration) amongst you, too?"
They answered that he did.
Then, he said:
"By what we take an oath to, if I see him in that state I will tread His neck under my foot".
At that moment they told him to look; that the Prophet was praying thereabout.
Abu-Jahl went to tread the Prophet's (S) neck under his foot, but when he approached him he stopped and it seemed as if he was pushing something away from himself with his hand. He was asked what was the matter with him, and he answered.
“Suddenly, I saw a ditch of fire between me and him; a frightful thing, and I saw some wings and feathers, too.”
The Messenger of Allah (S) said about this:
"By the One in Whose hand is my life, if he had come close to me, the angels of Allah would have torn his body to pieces and taken them away one by one.”
It was on this occasion that the above verses were revealed.6
In conformity with those traditions, the above verses were revealed at the beginning of the Prophetic mission. They were not revealed later when the call of Islam was known to all. Hence, some believe that only the first five verses of this Surah were revealed at the beginning of the Prophetic mission and the rest were revealed after a considerable length of time.
In any case, this occasion of revelation can never stand as a barrier for the broad meaning of the verse.
To show further emphasis, it says-
Is it right for him (a man such as Abu-Jahl) to forbid? Can the punishment of such a man be anything but the fire of Hell?
The aforementioned conditional sentence indicates that this proud rebel should, at least, think of the possibility that the Prophet (S) is on the path of piety. This contingency is enough to stop his rebellion.
Therefore, these verses do not contain the meaning that there is doubt about the invitation of the Prophet (S) of people to guidance and piety, but they point out the above delicate case.
Some of the commentators think that the pronoun in the Arabic word /kana/ or /amr/ refers to the one who prohibits, like Abu-Jahl. So, the verses mean that if he assumes the guidance and instead of prohibiting the saying of prayers, invites to piety, how beneficial it will be for himself!
Yet, the first commentary seems more appropriate.
Explanation: All the World is Before the Presence of Allah
Taking this fact into consideration that all the deeds that Man does are in front of Allah and for that matter, all the world is in front of Him, so that nothing of Man's deeds and thoughts is hidden from Him, this still has little effect on the routine of Man, in his whole life, or prevents him from doing wrong except when faith, in this fact, actually settles in his mind and establishes a certain belief in him.
There is a saying which goes:
"Worship Allah as if you see Him, and if you do not see Him, He sees you.”
It is said that once a heedful believer, who had repented for his sin, was weeping.
Someone asked him:
"Why are you weeping? Do you not know that Allah, the Almighty, is forgiving?".
"Yes, He might forgive, but how can I keep away the shame of that which He has seen from me?"
Surah ‘Alaq, Verses 15-19
كَلَّا لَئِن لَّمْ يَنتَهِ لَنَسْفَعًا بِالنَّاصِيَةِ
نَاصِيَةٍ كَاذِبَةٍ خَاطِئَةٍ
كَلَّا لَا تُطِعْهُ وَاسْجُدْ وَاقْتَرِبْ
15. “Nay! If he desist not, We will certainly seize him by the forelock,"
16. “A lying, sinful forelock!"
17. “Then, let him call (for help) to his council (of comrades),"
18. “We will call on the angels of punishment (to deal with him)!"
19. “Nay! Heed him not: but prostrate yourself and draw nigh (to Allah)”
Prostrate Yourself and Draw Nigh (to Allah)!
The description of the previous verses is about the disbelieving rebels and their disgraceful treatment towards the holy Prophet (S) and those who pray.
Now, in the following verses these rebels are warned most violently. It says that it is not so as Abu-Jahl imagines.
(He thinks that he can tread on the neck of the Prophet (S) when he is prostrating himself and restrain him from doing this divine action):
The term /la nasfa'an/ is based on /saf '/ which carries different meanings such as: 'laying hold upon, or seizing; to drag; to slap a man or his face with one's hand; to blacken the face; to make a mark upon something', and 'to abase';7 the best choice being the first meaning, here though there are also some other possibilities in the current verse.
Therefore, the phrase /la nasf 'an bin-nasiyah/ means: 'We will assuredly take him by the forelock to the fire (of Hell); or 'We will assuredly lay hold upon his, forelock and drag him thereby with violence to the fire’; or ‘We will assuredly blacken his face", the
being used for the face because it is the fore part, or ‘"We will assuredly mark him with the mark of the people of the fire, making his face black, and his eyes blue"; or 'We will assuredly abase him or render him despicable’.
In any event, the objective meaning that Abu-Jahl, or the likes of him, will be seized by his forelock and dragged on to the blazing fire, is that this happening occurs in the Hereafter or in this world or in both of them. Its witness is the narration cited in Tafsir-i-Fakhr-i-Razi8.
The term /nasiyah/ means 'forelock', and 'its seizing' is said for the case when a person is to be taken to something with humiliation, because when the forelock of a person is seized he can do nothing but submit to the circumstances.
The word /nasiyah / of course, is used for both men and precious things. It is used in some other senses, too.
refer to a person with a forelock who was both a lier and sinful like Abu-Jahl.
A narration from Ibn-Abbas denotes that once when the Messenger of Allah (S) was praying around 'the standing place of Abraham (at Mecca)’, Abu-Jahl went to him and told him that he had prohibited him from praying. The Holy Prophet loudly called at him and sent him away.
"Do you call at me and send me away? Don't you know that the men in my tribe are more numerous of all others in these surroundings?"
At this time the next verse was revealed, saying.
It is then that the punishment of Allah encompasses him when this neglectful, arrogant Man will understand he can do nothing.
The term /nadi/ is derived from /nida/ with the sense of 'call' which means 'common meeting', and sometimes it is used fur an activity center, since, therein, the members usually 'call' each other.
Some have said that it is based on the root /nida/ with the sense of 'graciousness', because they entertain each other there.
But, the purpose of using /nadi/, here is to refer to the people who gather in that meeting, or, in other words, the people and comrades which persons like Abu-Jahl rely on for their power in their affairs.
The term /zabaniyah/ is the plural form of /zibniyah/ which originally means 'disciplinary guards', and here it appears to refer to 'the Angels who keep guard over Hell'.
In the last verse, of this Surah, (that is; the verse of compulsory prostration), it emphasizes that it is not as he imagines and persists on not bowing in adoration, it says:
Those, such as Abu-Jahl, are naught to be able to stop 'you' from prostration, or to be a hinderance on the path of progress for 'your' religion. 'You' do cover the way by prostration and adoration to draw yourself closer to Allah.
By the way, it is understood from this verse that prostration causes Man to be close to Allah; so a tradition from the Messenger of Allah says:
“The time when a servant of Allah is closest to Him is the time when he prostrates himself".
We know of course, that, according to the narrations of Ahlul-Bait, there are four obligatory prostrations in the verses of Qur'an. The Suras containing them are: Sujdah, Fussilah, al-Najm. And here 'Alaq; the rest are only recommended prostrations.
Explanation: Rebellion and Self-Sufficiency
Most corruptions and vices raise their ugly heads amongst rich and oppressive people who have always been at the head of the line against prophets.
These people are the same ones who are mentioned in the Qur'an under the names of
The first refers to the rich whose outside appearances look valuable but, their real insides are empty; the second means the ones who enjoy the good things of this life and live in comfort and are completely proud, self-sufficing, and unaware of others' pain; and the third is applied to those who, talking nonsense about the Qur'an, insolently transgress the bounds of Allah and the rights of His servants.
The origin of them all is the imagination of being self-sufficient, the characteristic of those of low capacity who, when they obtain some blessings, wealth, tranquility or high position, feel self-sufficient and forget their Lord, quite neglectfully.
But, we know that the wealth of a person may disappear easily in a few minutes, or be wholly destroyed by a flood, an earthquake or lightning. One's health too, is in danger by such a slight thing as drinking water.
What kind of negligence is it that dwells in some people to the point that they think they are self-sufficient, and transgress on others proudly in the society?
In order to remove this vice from himself, Man should think of his own weaknesses, on the one hand, and on the other hand, he should contemplate on the Great Power of Allah, and study the history of the destruction of arrogant people of ancient generations, who were much stronger and more powerful than him.
He must learn humility: This is his defence.
O Lord! Protect us against pride and arrogance; the main vices which cause us to be far from You.
O Lord! Please do not leave us alone, even for a moment.
O Lord! Please bestow on us such an ability that we valiantly overcome the oppressors who hinder our path, and make their evil plans fruitless.
- 1. Tafsir-i-Borhan, vol. 4, p. 478.
- 2. Surah Maidah, No. 5, verse 4
- 3. Surah Qalam, No. 68, verse 1
- 4. Fi-Zalal-il-Qur'an, vol. 8, p. 619.
- 5. Surah 'Imran. 'No. 3, verse 180
- 6. Majma' –al- Bayan, commentary, vol. 10. p. 515
- 7. Fakhr-i-Razi vol. 32, p. 23.
- 8. vol. 32, p. 23
- 9. 7:60
- 10. 34:34
- 11. 23:67