Surah Shams, Chapter 91
بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمنِ الرَّحِيمِ
In The Name of Allah, The Beneficent, The Merciful
This Surah, which is in fact a Surah on the purification of the 'carnal soul' and sanctification of the heart from vice and impurities', explains the same themes as in previous Suras, but at the beginning of the Surah eleven great subjects from the world of creation and Divine essence are mentioned and to prove that salvation depends upon 'purification of the carnal soul' some oaths are made. These oaths envelop most of the Qur'anic oaths collectively.
At the end of the Surah, the Thamood, as an example or a disobedient people, are briefly pointed out. They defied Allah's sacred Law and His prophet, Salih (as), and were destroyed for their crime; which was the fruit of neglecting 'the purification of the carnal soul’.
This short Surah, in fact, restates one of the most important instructive points for the destiny of Man's life, and leads him to true Islamic values.
On the virtue of reciting this Surah, we refer to a tradition narrated from the Prophet (S) who said:
"He who recites it (Surah Shams) is like he who has given charity (in the way of Allah) to all things that the sun and the moon shine upon.”1
And certainly, this great excellence belongs to the one who keeps the sublime content of this short Surah alive in his spirit and knows that the 'purification of the carnal soul' is his constant duty.
بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمنِ الرَّحِيمِ
In The Name of Allah, The Beneficent, The Merciful
وَالْقَمَرِ إِذَا تَلَاهَا
وَالنَّهَارِ إِذَا جَلَّاهَا
وَاللَّيْلِ إِذَا يَغْشَاهَا
وَالسَّمَاء وَمَا بَنَاهَا
وَالْأَرْضِ وَمَا طَحَاهَا
وَنَفْسٍ وَمَا سَوَّاهَا
فَأَلْهَمَهَا فُجُورَهَا وَتَقْوَاهَا
قَدْ أَفْلَحَ مَن زَكَّاهَا
وَقَدْ خَابَ مَن دَسَّاهَا
1. “By the Sun and its Brightness,"
2. “By the Moon when it follows it (reflects the Sun's light),"
3. “By the day when it unfolds its glory,"
4. “By the night when it enshrouds it,”
5. “By the heaven and He Who made it,"
6. “By the Earth and He Who spread it,"
7. “And by the soul and He Who perfected it,"
8,”Then inspired it to understand what is wrong and (what is) right for it,"
9. “Indeed he succeeds who purifies it,"
10. “And indeed he fails who corrupts it.”
There are some considerable oaths pointed out at the beginning of this Surah. By one consideration, they are eleven oaths, and by another one, they are seven. In any case, in this position the number of oaths is the largest throughout the Qur'an and this shows that in these verses the solemn appeal is made to something very splendid. The matter is as important as the solemnity of the heavens, Earth, sun, and moon; that which is effective in the fate of Man.
First, the oaths will be described and commented on and then, attention will be paid to the great subject that these oaths are made to.
As it was mentioned earlier, Qur'anic oaths are generally for two purposes. First, the oaths pertain to the importance of the subject which the oath is made to. Second, they pertain to the importance of the affairs themselves, since oaths are always made to great matters. In this way, the oaths make Man contemplate and evoke his thoughts to work on the great objects of Allah's sublime creation through which he may find a path to Him.
The sun plays a most important role in Man's life and in the life of all living creatures on the earth, because it is not only a source of heat and energy; the essential factors necessary for life, but also it is the origin of some other life giving factors such as; winds, rains, plants, running rivers and waterfalls, and even the energy mineral sources; oil, coal, and the like, all depend on the sunlight so that if this world- illuminating-lamp ceased one day, darkness, silence and death would dominate everywhere.
The term /duha/ originally means 'those hours of the morning which follow shortly after sunrise', and here it means 'the full brightness of the sun’.
The particular emphasis put on the term /duha/ is for its importance, when the glory of sunlight dominates the land.
This sense, as some commentators have said, refers to the full moon, i.e. on the fourteenth night of the lunar month; since on this night the moon appears on the eastern horizon nearly at the time of sunset and with its silver light, introduces itself in the sky and to the world when the world is in its most beautiful state to which swearing is done.
It is also probable that the above mentioned meaning refers to the constant dependence of the moon on the sun and getting light from it, but in this case the sentence: “...when it follows it" will be an adverbial time clause.
There are also other commentaries cited about this verse, however, this discussion will conclude here.
The term /jalla ha/ is based on /tajliyah/ which means 'revealment’.
The commentators are divided on the meaning of the pronoun / ha/ in the term /jalla ha/. Many of them believe it refers to the earth (as was mentioned earlier).
Some also believe that the pronoun refers to the sun, that is; 'by the day when it makes the sun manifest'. It is true that the sun makes the day appear, but, figuratively speaking, it can be said that the day makes the sun apparent. However, the first commentary seems more appropriate.
At any rate, the swearing is done in the names of these great celestial phenomena, because they are extremely effective both in the life of Man and of all living creatures, and day, itself, is the sign of movement and struggle; a mystery to any intelligent, active mind.
Night, with all its blessings and effects, which, on the one hand, moderates the heat of the sun and on the other, brings quietude to living things, is completely necessary for life. It provides Man, and the majority of living creatures, with rest. If the darkness of night did not exist and the sun were to shine, continuously, there would be no tranquility, because the piercing heat of the sun would destroy everything.
Even if the regularity of day and night were not as it is, now the same situation would exist. For instance, like the moon whose one night is equal to two weeks time on our globe, as well as in the middle of one of its days, the heat of its atmosphere; almost three hundred degrees centigrade, or at midnight when the weather is so cold no living creature, that we know of, could live there.
It is noteworthy that the verbs, in the former verses, were in the past tense while, in this verse, the verb is in the present tense. This variety of tenses may be for the fact that some phenomena, such as day and night, are not peculiar to a definite time; they belong to both the past and the future to show the generality of these incidents over a length of time.
In the sixth and seventh oaths heaven and its Creator is referred to.
The creation of the glorious heaven with its beautiful heavenly bodies and their wonderful regularities, is one of the manifestations of Allah's might and wisdom which none else, besides Him, could ever produce.
It is worthy to note that /ma/, in Arabic, usually refers to non-intellectual beings and using it for Allah, All-knowing, is inappropriate.
Then, some had to consider it 'ma masdariyah' (the word after 'ma' is infinitive), and construed the verse as: 'by the heaven and its structure'.
But, regarding verses 7 and 8, whose commentaries will be dealt with later, we have to consider / ma/ as a relative pronoun that refers to Allah, the Creator of all heavens.
Using /ma/, for intelligent persons, referring to the word 'women' in the following verse, is not uncommon in the Arabic language, either, as in Surah Nisa, No. 4, verse 3:
A group of commentators believe that the term /ma/ with the meaning of 'something', here is for mentioning the origin of the world in an ambiguous form and consequently later, after careful study some become familiar with His Knowledge and Wisdom and can change the concept of 'something' to 'someone'. But, the commentary on 'He' is more fitting.
Continuing with the eighth and ninth oaths the reference is to the Earth and the Producer of the Earth.
The Earth, which is a cradle of life for Man and all living creatures, with all its wonders; mountains, seas, valleys, forests, springs, rivers, mines, and other precious sources, is a collection of the Divine Signs, each of which if studied intelligently, is an evidence of His might and wisdom, and more important than the Earth is the Creator of the Earth Who spreads it out.
The term /taha ha/ is derived from /tahw / used with the sense of 'to spread, spread out' and also with the meaning of 'to repel or to destroy' and here it means 'spread or expand', because:
1) the earth was totally submerged under water at the beginning and then, gradually the water subsided into the low lands causing high points of land to appear and spread which is called /dahw-ul-ard/,
2) At first the earth was totally in the form of high and low lands with steep slopes that were uninhabitable.
Continuous heavy rains washed the high lands and thereby, filled the valley, so, little by little, dry level lands appeared, becoming suitable for Man to live and farm on.
Some commentators believe that there is also a slight hint, in this sense, to the movement or the Earth, because one or the meanings of /tahw/ is 'repel' and it may point to the 'driving' or the Earth around the sun or around itself or both or them.
Finally, attention is paid to the tenth and eleventh oaths, the last oaths or this portion, saying
Man is an essence or the world or creation; the best on the earth and in the heavens. The human soul is one or the greatest mysteries of the universe. Its importance is so much so that Allah swears by it and by its Producer, both.
Commentators have delivered some different probabilities as to whether the term /nafs/, here means Man's 'soul' or his 'body and soul'.
If it means 'soul' the term /sawwa ha/ (based on /taswiyah /) refers to the proportion and order of Man's soul and his spiritual faculties including his external and internal senses such as comprehension, memory, apprehension, imagination, faculty of origination, love, will, and the like, all of which can be studied in psychology.
If it means 'soul and body', both, it covers all the wonders and regularities found in the body and its different systems and these can be studied in anatomy and physiology.
However, the term /nafs/, in the Qur'an, refers to both of them. Regarding the use of /nafs/ for both the soul and the body the Qur'an says about the
and about the body (a man) it says
But, here both meanings are involved since the wonders of the Divine Power are seen in both the soul and body not in only one of them.
It is interesting that the
is mentioned, here in an indefinite form which may refer to the importance of Man's soul something which is beyond the imagination and also full of ambiguity that introduces him as an 'unknown being'; the very title that some scientists have used for Man.
In the next verse, concerning the creation of Man, one of the most important things is referred to. It says:
Yes, when the creation of Man was completed and he came into being, Allah taught him how to discriminate between right and wrong. This is the most precious gift of all granted exclusively to Man. Thus, an entity out of clay and Allah's spirit, into which He breathes an understanding of what is sin, impiety, and wrong doing and what is piety and right conduct, in the special circumstances in which it may be placed, was formed as Man.
By those faculties and talents, and these various tokens, Man should learn that his success, prosperity, salvation, and position, where he can be in a rank higher than the angels, depends on himself, on his keeping his soul pure as Allah has made it, and his failure, his decline; to the lowest degree even lower than the beast, and his perdition depends on himself soiling his soul by choosing evil.
The term /alhamaha/ derived from /ilham/ originally means 'to ingurgitate, swallow up something greedily', then, it has been used with the sense of 'to inspire a matter from Allah to the soul of Man', as if Man's soul ingurgitates the matter with all its entity.
Sometimes, it has also been used in the sense of 'revelation' while some of the commentators believe that the difference between 'inspiration' and 'revelation' is that in the former, the one to whom something is inspired does not understand where he has gotten it from, but in the latter, he knows well where he has received the revelation from and how.
The term /fujur/ is based on /fajr /and as it was said before, it means 'break open', and since the light of dawn breaks the gloom of night it is called /fajr/, and also, since committing sin breaks the curtain of piety and religion, it is called /fujur/.
Of course, the purpose of using the term /fujur/ in the verse under discussion, is to denote the means of this breaking and also the means and ways of its occurrence.
And the purpose of using the term /taqwa/ based on /wiqayah/ with the meaning of 'protection', is that Man protects himself from sin, crime, corruption and vice.
It is necessary to note that verse 8 does not mean, as some have considered, that Allah put the means of committing / fujur/ and /taqwa / inside the soul of Man; the very means which cause him to do wrong actions and break the curtains of piety, or the means and ways that push him towards piety and good actions.
They have thought of the verse as an evidence for the existence of some contrariety in the entity of Man.
It says that Allah inspired him and taught him these two facts.
In simpler words, He showed him the difference between right and wrong, as is mentioned in Surah Balad, No. 90 verse 10:
And expressively, the soul is inspired by Allah; its Almighty and All-wise Author, with the consciousness and the faculty of discretion to distinguish between piety and impiety, right conduct and the wrong ways in life, by the means of his 'wisdom' and 'primordial nature'.
This is why some commentators believe that this verse, in fact, refers to the proposition of the idea of 'rational goodness and rational badness' and that Allah has gifted Man with the ability to distinguish between them.
It is noteworthy that Allah has given Man many blessings, but, among all of them the Qur'an emphasizes, here on the inspiration of understanding 'piety' and 'impiety' and the recognition of right and wrong, because this is the most important factor in the destiny of Man.
Finally, after these numerous important oaths, attention is paid to the result of them and says:
The term /zakkaha/ is based on /tazkiyah/ which originally means 'to grow’; and /zakat / basically means 'growth'.
This meaning is used in a narration from Hazrat Ali (as), thus:
“...wealth decreases if you keep spending it and knowledge increases the more you make use of it”.4
Later, the term was used to mean 'to purify', perhaps because the purification of wealth from putridity causes it to increase. In the current verse both meanings are suitable.
Yes, 'salvation' depends upon preserving the soul in its original purity against its getting soiled, polluted and clouded from' carnal desires, by submitting it to the will and the pleasure of the Lord. This is the main, right goal in the life of every human individual, male and female, to succeed in salvation by the way of /tazkiyah/, otherwise, he or she will be in perdition.
Then, our attention is directed to the contrary group of people and says:
The term /xaba/ is based on /xibah/ which means 'to be in a hopeless state, deprived, damaged'.
The term /dassaha/ is based on /dass/ which basically means 'to foist something unwillingly', as the Holy Qur'an says about the pagan Arabs who hatefully buried the baby girls alive:
And hidden, harmful actions, in Arabic, are termed /dasisah/.
It is also said that the term refers to sin and corruption because wrongdoers and sinners hide themselves.
Further, it has been said that the objective meaning of the term is that sinners conceal themselves amongst the good-doers, or one conceals his soul in vice, or, yet still, one hides vice and corruption inside his soul.
In any case, it refers to sin and evil which contrasts with piety.
It is also possible to gather all these ideas in the vast meaning of the verse.
Thus, those who are successful and those who fail in their lives, in this world are defined here. The characteristic of these two groups is only the following: Piety and the growth in the spirit of virtue and obeying Allah, or impiety and polluting the soul with sin and corruption.
A tradition from Imam Baqir and Imam Sadiq (as) commenting on this verse, says:
"Indeed he succeeds who obeys and he is deprived who disobeys.”6
Again, commenting on these two verses, the Messenger of Allah (S) is narrated to have said in a tradition:
“The soul succeeds that Allah purifies, and the soul is deprived that Allah deprives of every goodness”.
Discussion on the relation of the Qur'anic oaths and their solemn affirmations follows:
What relation is there between these eleven highly important oaths and the truth for which the adjurations are fulfilled?
It seems that the main purpose is that Allah wants to tell Man that everything, either material or spiritual, was made ready for him to enable him to reach his salvation. On the one hand, He made the world illuminated and fruitful with sunshine and moonlight for him to live in, and brought the regularity of day and night into existence on the Earth to make his life calm and useful.
On the other hand, He created him with a soul gifted with all applicable talents and merits necessary for this aim, such as; a wakeful conscience and a sense of understanding piety and impiety for paving the way to felicity. Yet, he does not purify his soul, but, follows the intrigues of Satan.
كَذَّبَتْ ثَمُودُ بِطَغْوَاهَا
إِذِ انبَعَثَ أَشْقَاهَا
فَقَالَ لَهُمْ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ نَاقَةَ اللَّهِ وَسُقْيَاهَا
فَكَذَّبُوهُ فَعَقَرُوهَا فَدَمْدَمَ عَلَيْهِمْ رَبُّهُم بِذَنبِهِمْ فَسَوَّاهَا
ولَا يَخَافُ عُقْبَاهَا
11. “The Thamood (people) rejected (their prophet) through their inordinate wrong doing,"
12. “When rose up the most reprobate of them,"
13. “Then the Messenger of Allah (Salih) said to them: 'It is a she-camel of Allah and (bar her not from) having her drink!"
14. “But they rejected him and hamstrung her, so their Lord crushed them for their sin and levelled them (with the ground),"
15. “And for Him if no fear of its consequences.”
Following the previous awakening verses about the end of those who pollute their soul, in the next verses one of the clear examples of these people, of the past, is referred to and the destiny of the Thamood is explained with some short, expressive, decisive sentences.
The terms /taqwa/ and /tuqiyan / both have the same meaning, which is 'transgression'; and here it means 'exceeding all the Divine bounds and disobeying His Law'.
The Thamood people, whose prophet was Salih (as) are the most ancient people to have lived in a zone between Hijaz and Sham (Syria). They lived comfortably and care-free on a fertile, level land in strong, splendid castles.
They not only showed ingratitude for the abundant blessings they had, but disobeyed their Lord by acting rebellious to the instruction of the Apostle Salih (as) and mocked His Sign, the she-camel. This conduct brought perdition to the people by means of a sudden, violent blast from heaven which was accompanied by an earthquake.
Then, the Qur'an illustrates one of the clear examples of this rebellious group and says:
The term /asqa/ means 'the most wretched' among them, referring to the person who hamstrung the she-camel which was sent to them as a trial and whose murder was a sign of rebellion against their divine Prophet (S).
Some commentators and historians have said that the most wicked man among them, who dared to commit that heinous crime, was Qudar-ibn-Salif.
In some traditions it is narrated that the holy Prophet (S) of Islam said:
“The most wicked person among the ancient ones was the murderer of the harmless she-camel of Salih (as), and the most wicked person of the latter age is the murderer of Ali-ibn-Abi-Taleb. A wicked one, who will make his beard dyed (red) from the blood of his forehead.”7
In the next verse there is more about the rebellious impieties of the Thamood people.
The meaning of
here is Salih (as), the prophet of the Thamood people; and
refers to the fact that it was no ordinary she-camel, but it was a miracle from Allah sent to those people to prove that the prophet was a true prophet and from Allah. One of the specialities of the camel, according to a known narration, was that she exiled from inside the mountain to be a clear miracle for the arrogant disbelievers.
It is well understood from other verses of the Qur'an that Salih (as) told the people that they should divide the water of the town between the camel and themselves so that on one day they could drink the water and in turn the next day the camel could drink, without them bothering each other:
And he particularly told them:
The term /aqaruha/ is based on /uqr/ which basically means 'origin, basis' and then 'to cut the basis, or to kill'.
Some have said that the objective meaning here is 'to hamstring an animal', that is to cut the legs of the animal and make it fall so that it consequently dies.
It is interesting to note that the man who was deputed to do the impious deed of hamstringing the she-camel was only an individual whom the Qur'an considers 'the most reprobate' but had of course the sympathy and cooperation of the whole people as the verse too mentions the subjective pronoun of the verb in the plural form / aqaruha/ ‘they hamstrung her' which means that others of the Thamood tribe had a share in committing the act also.
An action like that is usually plotted by a group and then is fulfilled by one or a few definite individuals. Furthermore, they are content to do it and pleased with it, which unequivocally introduces the group as participants.
That is why Hazrat Ali (as) has said:
"…for only one individual killed the camel of Thamood, but Allah punished all of them, because all of them joined him by their acquiescing in their contentment to it. Thus, Allah, the glorified has said:
But, it was too late for that regretfulness.
It was the fruit of their own rejection and impiety that destroyed them and then they were buried in their houses by the punishment of Allah.
The term /damdama/ is based on the term /damdamat/ which is sometimes used in the sense of 'to destroy' and sometimes 'to make shared punishment fall upon people' or 'to cut the roots of them', or 'to pound, crush' and sometimes 'to disfavor' or 'to surround, involve', all or which can be applicable, in this verse, because that penalty originated from the wrath of Allah due to their sin which resulted in their being made level with the ground.
The term /sawwaha/ is based on /taswiyah/ which means 'to make level or equal', and it may mean that their houses were levelled to the ground, Allah sent an equal destruction upon them all so that no one could escape. All these meanings can also be accepted.
The pronoun /ha/ in the term /sawwaha/ refers to the tribe of Thamood or to their cities and buildings which Allah destroyed and levelled with the ground.
Some have said that the pronoun refers to the term /damdama/ ‘destruction' which is understood from the next sentence, i.e. Allah divided this wrath and destruction equally between them all.
However, the first commentary seems more appropriate. By the way, this verse denotes that their penalty was the fruit of their sin and was in proportion to it and this adopts to Divine Justice and Wisdom.
It is said about many nations that when they felt that they were receiving punishment and saw its preliminary signs, they became regretful and repented; but as some narrations denote, the situation about the Thamood is different.
They decided to find Salih (as), their sincere prophet and kill him when they saw the first signs of the Divine penalty for their disobedience. This shows the depth of their rebellion and disobedience, against Allah, and the Messenger of Allah (S), Salih (as), whom He saved by His Mercy and then destroyed all the rejectors.
Finally, in the last verse of the Surah, in order to clearly warn all those who go on the same path, it says:
There are many rulers who have the authority and power to punish others, but, they fear the consequence that it may have and the reactions of the people. For this very reason they do not use their power completely or putting it more directly, their power is based on weakness and inability, and their knowledge is mingled with ignorance hence they fear of being unable to afford the unknown results that they will face with.
Allah, the Almighty, the All-knowing, has created and can create at will, and there can be no question of any such apprehension in His case, that is why He does decisively what He pleases.
Transgressors and wrongdoers should be careful of their conditions, lest they will be involved in the wrath of Allah for their evil actions.
The term /uqba/ means 'end, finite', and the pronoun /ha/, at the end of the Arabic word, refers to
As it was mentioned before, the Thamood flourished in a territory between Medina and Sham (Syria). The plain was known as 'wadi-ul-Qura’ which forms the southern boundary of Syria. They worshipped a part of a mountain when Salih (as) was sent to them as an Apostle of Allah.
He preached to those people and tried his best to correct their faith and conduct, but it was to no avail at all. At last the people challenged Salih (as) saying that they would believe in Allah and obey His Apostle, Salih, if Salih could cause a she-camel to come out of the mountain with a young one.
Salih (as) did cause the miracle and yet the people did not believe and correct themselves. It was then fixed that on one day the she-camel would drink of the water of the town and on the next day the people would have the water.
As some narrations denote, even on the day the she-camel drank the water, she gave so much milk that the whole town was supplied.
Salih (as) had already warned them that if they caused the least harm or hurt to her a chastisement from Allah would overtake them. But, the cup of their inequities was full enough to plan to kill both Salih (as) and the she-camel who were obstacles to their carnal desires.
They cruelly hamstrung the poor, harmless she-camel by the hand of the most wretched man among them, Qudar-ibn-Salif. But, they failed to find Salih (as) to slay.
After that he had warned them that they had only three days time in which to enjoy themselves in this world:
Just three days time for further thought and repentance! However, they were not only heedless, but also increased their impiety.
Then, by night came a terrible earthquake as a Divine punishment, and buried them in their own fortress homes which they thought to be such places of security:
They were destroyed and the light of life in their land was extinguished so that no one there remained alive, but, Allah saved Salih (as) and his believing followers:
O Lord! You are our hope in avoiding carnal desires; please help us.
O Lord! You inspired in us the understanding of what is 'piety' and what is 'impiety'. Bestow upon us the success of taking benefit from this inspiration.
O Lord! The temptations and intrigues of Satan are mysteriously concealed in the soul of Man. Open their mysteries to us so that we may know them and be able to avoid them.
- 1. Majma'-al-Bayan, vol, 10. p. 496
- 2. Surah Zumar, No. 39, verse 42
- 3. Surah Qasas, No. 28, verse 33
- 4. Nahj-ul-Balagha. Saying 147.
- 5. Surah Nahl, No. 16, verse 59
- 6. Majma-al-Bayan. vol, 10. p. 498
- 7. Majma'-al-Bayan, vol. 10, p. 499; and also in Tafsir-e-Qartabi, vol. 6, p. 7168.
- 8. Surah Qamar, No. 54 verse 28
- 9. Surah Shu'ara, No. 26, verse 157
- 10. Nahj-ul-Balagha, Sermon 201 (Arabic Version).
- 11. Surah Hud, No. 11, verse 65
- 12. Surah Hud, No. 11, Verse 67
- 13. Surah Hud, No. 11, Verse 66