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Surah al-Layl, (no. 92: 'The Night')

Verses 1-11

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ

In the Name of Allah, the All-beneficent, the All-merciful.

وَاللَّيْلِ إِذَا يَغْشَىٰ

By the night when it covers, (92:1).

وَالنَّهَارِ إِذَا تَجَلَّىٰ

by the day when it brightened, (92:2).

وَمَا خَلَقَ الذَّكَرَ وَالْأُنْثَىٰ

by that which created the male and the female (92:3).

إِنَّ سَعْيَكُمْ لَشَتَّىٰ

your endeavours are Indeed, unlike. (92:4)

فَأَمَّا مَنْ أَعْطَىٰ وَاتَّقَىٰ

As for him who gives and is Godwary (92:5).

وَصَدَّقَ بِالْحُسْنَىٰ

and confirms the best promise, (92:6).

فَسَنُيَسِّرُهُ لِلْيُسْرَىٰ

We shall surely facilitate him into ease. (92:7).

وَأَمَّا مَنْ بَخِلَ وَاسْتَغْنَىٰ

But as for him who is stingy and thinks himself self-sufficient, (92:8).

وَكَذَّبَ بِالْحُسْنَىٰ

and denies the best promise, (92:9).

فَسَنُيَسِّرُهُ لِلْعُسْرَىٰ

We shall surely facilitate him into hardship. (92:10).

وَمَا يُغْنِي عَنْهُ مَالُهُ إِذَا تَرَدَّىٰ

His wealth shall not avail him when he perishes. (92:11).

1. “The Night”

'The Night' (al-layl) is mentioned in three successive surahs of the Qur'an; Surah al-Shams, Surah al-Layl, and Surah al-Duha, each time using similar language:

“By the night when it covers her”, (ash-Shams, 91:4).

“By the night when it covers,” (ad-Duha, 93:2).

“by the night when it is calm!” (ad-Duha, 93:2).

In the first two instances, the night is associated with envelopment (ghashyan), but what it is that the night covers, is not unanimously agreed:

a. Some say that it covers the day, drawing support from Allah's saying:

“He draws the night's cover over the day.” (ar-Ra'd, 13:3 & al-A'raf, 7:54).

b. Others that it covers the Sun, with reference to Allah's words:

“By the night when it covers her.” (ash-Shams, 91:4).

c. That it covers everything concealed by darkness, based on Allah's words:

“and from the evil of the dark night...” (al-Falaq, 113:3).

And perhaps the reason for this emphasis on the night - in the context of oaths sworn by these recurring dimensions - is to highlight the magnificence of the way in which it has been fashioned; the cycle of night and day is related to the dynamics of massive celestial bodies, such as the Earth and Moon, rotating on their axes and motions in relation to an even greater body like the Sun.

The goal here is to call attention to the power that keeps these planets turning, and Allah refers to this with His words:

“It is He who made the night and the day alternate for one who desires to take admonition, or desires to show gratitude.” (al-Furqan, 25:62).

The result of this day-night cycle is that the changing nature of time; activities during the day and rest during the night. That rest hours sometimes allow man to unwind and it also, provides an opportunity for him to be alone with Allah, especially in the last part of the night:

“and at dawns they would plead for forgiveness.” (adh-Dhariyat, 51:18).

2. “Covers”

Some scholars have suggested that the present tense is used for the verb 'covers' in the verses:

“by the night when it covers” (al-Layl, 92:1).

and

“by the night when it covers her” (ash-Shams, 91:4).

to indicate continuity. However, the Qur'an uses past tense verbs for the day in the same stretch:

“by the day when it brightened,” (al-Layl, 92:2).

and

“by the day when it revealed her.” (ash-Shams, 91:3).

So, it is suggested:

a. That the disparity between past tense and present tense for day and night is an allusion to the time of prophecy, in that the darkness of the ignorance still enveloped the land. And this obviously contains an element of ta'wil.

b. That a past tense verb following the conditional particle 'when' (idha) yields the meaning of present tense.

c. It is also, said that the original meaning intended was 'when it reveals.'

d. That the default state of being is that of night - namely the absence of a light source to bring about the day - so, it is as though the night is something pervasive and ongoing, and this is supported by Allah's words:

“...and He draws the night's cover over the day, which pursues it swiftly……” (al-A'raf, 7:54).

This suggests that the night is the stronger of the two, because it pursues the day and chases it swiftly.

The lesson we learn from these verses and others like them is that the Qur'an is deliberately vague in some issues - despite it being a scripture sent to inspire remembrance - because it wants to awaken the human mind to the level where even the greatest commentators become perplexed!

3. An Oath By Himself As The Creator

After Allah invokes oaths by the night and day in this surah, He invokes an oath by himself as the Creator -

“by that which created ...” (al-Layl, 92:3).

- assuming the intended meaning of the pronoun 'that which' is none other than the Divine Essence, or His creative power. As was the case in Surah al-Shams, we see Allah using 'that which' (ma) instead of 'He who' (man) to refer to the reality itself:

“by the soul and Him who fashioned it.” (ash-Shams, 91:7).

So, in more than one place in the Qur'an, we see an oath sworn upon the Creator invoked in conjunction with one sworn upon the creation, to demonstrate that pondering on the creation is one way in which we can reach its Creator.

Herein we see the fulfillment of Allah's promise to show people His signs on the horizons and in their own souls;

“Soon We shall show them Our signs in the horizons and in their own souls ....” (Fussilat, 41:53).

and this is what is technically known as an aposteriori demonstration (burhan inni).1

Concerning the oaths that open this surah it is clear that they point to the signs on the horizons in the form of night and day, and signs in the souls in the form of the soul itself.

4. Gender Pairs

When an oath is invoked upon the Creator, after oaths having been invoked upon the phenomena of night and day, Allah connects the male and female to the ingenuity of His creation. And whether He means - by this - the creation of all the male-female pairs in existence, just the human male and female, or just the very first human pair (Adam and Eve), this ultimately points to the creation of male and female, which is one of the most complex phenomena in existence insofar as:

a. The divine arrangement of the two coming together, both by way of instinct, and through other amazing physical means.

b. The wondrous stages of creation, for it seems impossible to imagine that there is a relation between the matter of the first stage - semen - and the perfectly proportioned creation that ultimately emerges!

And what we have said here applies to all male-female pairs in existence, whether in different types of animals or in plants.

5. “Sa’i” (Endevours)

Human activity on the earth is described as 'endeavours' (sa'i) which literally means to walk with haste; and this word contains a suggestion of someone expending their efforts, whether for good or for bad purposes. This is why multiple verses use the expression of 'endeavours' for human activity in this world. But these endeavours are also, described as being numerous and varied in their nature; Allah says:

“your endeavours are Indeed, unlike.” (al-Layl, 92:4).

This verse is the object of the three oaths at the opening of this surah, and we can find the same reality being discussed in another:

“Is someone who is a believer like someone who is a transgressor? They are not equal.” (as-Sajdah, 32:18).

Pondering on these two realities - by which I mean human endeavour and its varied forms - teaches us that a sensible person (because he knows he is expending his efforts whether he likes it or not) must direct these efforts towards pleasing his Creator, as according to the verse:

“ ... him who gives and is God wary,” (al-Layl, 92:4).

rather than angering him, as in the verse

“him who is stingy and thinks that he is self-sufficient,” (al-Layl, 92:8).

or else he will be truly

“wrought­ up and weary.” (al-Ghashiyah, 88:3).

Of course, the paths of goodness are as numerous as there are souls of human beings; everyone is predisposed to his purpose in life; so, does wisdom not then demand that a sensible person direct his endeavours towards the most direct route to it? Is this not the Straight Path, which represents the shortest distance between two points?

6. Giving

The giving mentioned in these verses applies to anyone who gives, but it is joined to virtue (taqwa), and therefore we can explain 'giving' to mean more than just monetary giving; it can mean one's soul giving its due in obedience to Allah. We have this expression in everyday language too: 'So-and-so, gave his obedience to so-and­so.' Although some commentators restrict its meaning to monetary giving because money and miserliness are mentioned in the same context, below.

It is noteworthy that the verse joins ‘giving’ to ‘virtue’, because fruitful giving is that which takes place in the atmosphere of virtue. This is supported by Allah's words:

“…... Allah accepts only from the Godwary.” (al-Ma'idah, 5:27).

7. Giving And Faith In The Hereafter

This surah affirms a fact that must be realized in the practical realm, namely the act of making monetary donations:

“…… him who gives and is Godwary” (al-Layl, 92:5).

or more general still, as it affirms yet another fact that must be realized in theoretical realm, namely believing in the Last Day, as indicated by the words

“and confirms the best promise” (al-Layl, 92:6).

meaning the best promise which will be fulfilled on the Day of Resurrection. In another verse, we read:

“……to each Allah has promised the best ………” (an-Nisa', 4:95; al-Hadid, 57:10).

“and in case I am returned to my Lord, I will Indeed, have the best” (Fussilat, 41:50).

And

“...he shall have the best....” (al-Kahf, 18:88).

Of course, this faith, taken together with acting upon its demands in practice, such as spending from one's wealth and other things, is one of the factors that make a person's endeavours praiseworthy in a world in which people's endeavours Indeed, differ.

8. Divine Grace

It is well understood that this world of ours is subject to the laws of cause and effect, but this does not mean that divine grace (tawfiq) cannot operate within these causes, and it ultimately depends on there being a suitable foundation in the person himself. This grace is what Allah promises with his words:

We shall surely facilitate him into ease” (al-Layl, 92:7).

and the word 'to facilitate' (tayassur) means to prepare and equip someone. As for 'ease' (yusra) this is explained as:

a. A quality in which there is ease without hardship; in which case being granted divine grace for righteous deeds means that these righteous deeds are made easy for you.

b. Making it a provision for a happy life with one's Lord in Paradise because of the righteous deeds one has brought, and this is most appropriate if we interpret 'the best' to mean Paradise.

9. Deeds

The nature of being facilitated into ease is something directly experienced by anyone who has taken the path of nearness to the Lord of the Worlds; because he sees good as something to which his own soul is endeared, as Allah says:

“But Allah has endeared faith to you and made it appealing in your hearts...” (al-Hujurat, 49:7).

Moreover he is determined to do good without hesitation, as Allah says:

“Allah fortifies those who have faith with an immutable word in the life of this world ...” (Ibrahim, 14:27).

This removes all fear and grief from him:

“Look! The friends of Allah will Indeed, have no fear nor will they grieve.” (Yunus, 10:62).

To the extent that the angels descend to assist him, as happened in the Battle of Badr:

“your Lord will aid you with five thousand marked angels.” (Ale 'lmran, 3:125).

Conversely, good deeds are difficult for someone who denies Allah's promise: He finds it difficult to stand for prayer:

“and it is Indeed, hard except for the humble” (al-Baqarah, 2:45).

In fact, he is even lazy during its performance:

'when they stand up for prayer, they stand up lazily...” (an-Nisa', 4:142).

And they are averse to struggling for the sake of Allah: What is the matter with you that when you are told:

“ .... Go forth in the way of Allah,' you sink heavily to the ground?” (at-Tawbah, 9:38).

Therefore, a believer should not rely solely on his own efforts, because it is the divine assistance that ultimately determines his success or failure, even if the servant does not realize this. Special notice should be given to the fact that Allah has connected this easing and enabling to the person himself, not his deeds. So, it is the person in his entirety for whom all good deeds become easy –

“we shall surely facilitate him…” (al-Layl, 92:7).

- to the extent that Imam al-Baqir (‘a) describes it, saying: 'He wants no good thing save that Allah makes it easy for him.’2

10. Giving In Charity

There is a clear relation between

'As for him who gives and is Godwary' (al-Layl, 92:5).

and

'We shall surely facilitate him into ease' (al-Layl, 92:7).

insofar as 'facilitate' here means to open the path to good for the servant. This is because someone who makes easy the affairs of Allah's servants by spending on them, his immediate recompense for that shall belong to the same category as his deeds in this world; in other words, divine assistance and facilitation. As it is often said: 'Show mercy and you shall receive it!' And there are abundant narrations indicating that the effects of giving charity include: avoiding an evil death, longevity, an increase in sustenance, and blessings in one's wealth and children, in addition to the well­known rewards that await the giver in the Hereafter!

11. Visible Traits Of The People Of Falsehood

The visible traits for the people of falsehood after their denial and disbelief include love of this world, seeking wealth therein and miserliness by amassing wealth and hoarding it.

This means that anyone who displays these traits shares some of the most important bad qualities of the disbeliever, in spite of whatever faith he may personally have. Now the nature of believing in Allah and the Last Day requires a person to display abstinence in worldly matters and a love for spending his wealth so, that Allah will facilitate him into ease.

It's interesting that Allah describes a wealthy person as tumbling down the path to perdition, or specifically through the levels of Hell:

“His wealth shall not avail him when he perishes.” (al-Layl, 92:11).

This represents a complete humiliation for him; it describes him as though he is an animal that has slipped from the top of a mountain - in fact, he is more astray than such an animal, as we find in another verse!

Verses 12-21

إِنَّ عَلَيْنَا لَلْهُدَىٰ

Indeed, upon Us rests guidance, (92:12).

وَإِنَّ لَنَا لَلْآخِرَةَ وَالْأُولَىٰ

and Indeed, to Us belong the world and the Hereafter. (92:13).

فَأَنْذَرْتُكُمْ نَارًا تَلَظَّىٰ

So, I warn you of a blazing fire, (92:14).

لَا يَصْلَاهَا إِلَّا الْأَشْقَى

which none shall enter except the most wretched (92:15).

الَّذِي كَذَّبَ وَتَوَلَّىٰ

- he who denies and turns back. (92:16).

وَسَيُجَنَّبُهَا الْأَتْقَى

The Godwary shall be spared it (92:17).

الَّذِي يُؤْتِي مَالَهُ يَتَزَكَّىٰ

- he who gives his wealth to refine himself (92:18).

وَمَا لِأَحَدٍ عِنْدَهُ مِنْ نِعْمَةٍ تُجْزَىٰ

and none has any favour with him for reward, (92:19).

إِلَّا ابْتِغَاءَ وَجْهِ رَبِّهِ الْأَعْلَىٰ

but seeks only the countenance of his Lord, the Most Exalted, (92:20).

وَلَسَوْفَ يَرْضَىٰ

and, surely, soon he will be well pleased. (92:21).

12. Guidance

Allah has decreed for Himself - out of courtesy and without compulsion - that He must guide His creation just as He has decreed He must provide for them. The expression 'upon' ('ala) is used to signify this, as though Allah has made this His own responsibility, just as a person makes it his responsibility to fulfill his own promises; Allah says:

“Indeed, upon Us rests guidance,” (al-Layl, 92:12).

and

“There is no animal on the earth, but that its sustenance is upon Allah.” (Hud, 11:6).

We can also, explain the guidance mentioned in this surah and elsewhere as follows:

a. Showing people the way, while leaving the decision up to them, as we understand from Allah's words:

“With Allah rests guidance to the straight path, and some of them stray” (an-Nahl, 16:9).

“Indeed, We have guided him to the way, be he grateful or ungrateful.” (al-Insan, 76:3).

Of course the Prophets - by His leave - are made to share in this duty of moral guidance, based on His saying:

“And Indeed, you guide to a straight path.” (ash-Shura, 42:52).

b. Conveying people to the destination: In this world, they are conveyed to a good life, and in the Hereafter to the best recompense, as in Allah's saying:

“Whoever acts righteously, male or female, and is a believer, - We shall revive him with a good life and pay them their reward by the best of what they used to do.” (an-Nahl,16:97).

Allah only treats those chosen among His creation in this manner (i.e. conveying people to their destination), while He treats everyone else as above (i.e. showing them the path) in that

“……gave everything its creation and then guided it.” (Ta Ha, 20:50).

Of course, attributing this fully-realized guidance to Allah whether in the sense of showing people the right path or conveying them to their destination - does not prevent us from also, attributing it to people, as in all other areas where there is a chain of cause and effect between the Maker and His creatures.

13. To Allah Belong This World And The Hereafter

The verse:

“and Indeed, to Us belong the world and the Hereafter.” (al-Layl, 92:13).

which demonstrates Allah's sovereignty and His ownership of existence, suggests:

a. His might ('izzah), if we take this verse to mean that Allah possesses this world and the Hereafter, so, their denial of the Day of Recompense and their stinginess with what He has given them does not harm him in the least; He is the sovereign and master of everything that exists.

b. An encouragement to the faithful to obey Him and spend their wealth in His way, if we take this verse to mean that Allah owns both worlds, and thus He gives whatever He wants from them to whomsoever He wills. So, whoever wants this world should turn to Allah and whoever wants the next world should turn to Him as well. And this is why we seek the best of both worlds from Allah:

“Our Lord, give us good in this world and good in the Hereafter ...” (al-Baqarah, 2:201).

14. The Disbelievers And The God-Fearing

The exclusivity (hasr) in the verse

“which none shall enter except the most wretched” (al-Layl, 92:15).

is qualified exclusivity, not absolute; and the fire is qualified by being perpetual (istimrari). Only the one who lies and turns away will enter it, namely the one who combines doctrinal disbelief with turning away from Allah's shari'a in practice. This does not mean that the punishment of Hellfire - for a finite period - cannot be directed towards sinful believers, as we can glean from many indicators in the Qur'an and Sunnah.

In other words, this verse discusses the contrast between one group of people that reject and another that is God-fearing and spends their wealth. This is not the right place to mention a group in between these two, namely the believers who are not God-fearing (and commit sins).

15. “The Most Wretched”

The expression 'the most wretched' invites people to ask what are the qualities of the wretched or, in fact, the most wretched of the wretched? What are the different types of wretchedness? Some see it in poverty, illness and the loss of loved ones, but the Qur'an says that the most wretched person is he whose final abode is the blazing fire!

Imam 'Ali (‘a) has mentioned this fact, saying: 'No good is good when Hellfire follows it, and no bad is bad when it is followed by Paradise! Every joy beneath Paradise is a trifle, and every tribulation less than Hellfire is a boon.’3

16. Definition Of Wretchedness

Allah's criteria for distinguishing the wretched (shaqi) from the God-fearing (taqi) differ from those of man; in fact, they differ in their very definition of wretchedness. We have already said that the most wretched is he who enters Hellfire, while the most God-fearing person is described in this surah as:

“the most God-wary shall be spared it.” (al-Layl, 92:17).

This is not someone who fears the sufferings in this world, but someone who protects themselves from Allah's wrath!

And it should not escape notice that the use of the superlative ('most God-wary') opens a discussion of vying in good deeds, for a sensible person will not be satisfied with reaching a particular level of virtue. No, he will race to be the best, or at least as close to the best that he can.

17. Deeds

Salvation from Hellfire depends on the deeds of the person - especially spending from one's wealth, as is mentioned in these verses - but one should not rely on his own efforts alone, as in a momentary lapse he might sin without excuse, in which case they must enter Hellfire. That is why Allah does not say that the servant will avoid it, but that he will be spared it (in the passive voice), as it is Allah who spares him! Also, notice that Hell is described in the indefinite 'a blazing fire' to signify its magnitude, and the word 'blazing' appears in the present tense to show that this fire continues to burn uninterrupted!

18. Giving From One’s Wealth

The act of giving from one's wealth in this surah is at one point joined with taqwa - or being wary of God - and at another qualified by self-refinement:

“he who gives his wealth to refine himself” (al-Layl, 92:18).

and this condition could be to explain:

a. The state of self-refinement, meaning that he undertakes this deed intending to purify himself, for example from love of this world.

b. The outcome of spending one's wealth in the way of Allah, for self-refinement is necessarily achieved by the one who is God-fearing and gives away from his wealth. This is something we can glean from the verse:

“Take charity from their possessions to refine them and purify them thereby.” (at-Tawbah, 9:103).

Here, it is appropriate to pay attention to the expression 'his wealth' in 'who gives his wealth' for the basic criterion for struggling with the self and raising oneself above wealth is spending from one's own property, not for someone to encourage another to do so, and ask him for permission to spend from the latter's property, as often happens in good projects and programs to feed the poor.

19. Countenance

The tone of the Qur'anic address follows a profound wisdom; so, every time it switches from the third person to the second person or vice versa, this is only because the Wise Speaker has a particular goal in mind. So, when the verse

So, I warn you of a blazing fire” (al-Layl, 92:14).

switches from speaking in the third-person to the second-person, this is appropriate to its being a warning; a threat only becomes serious when it is directly addressed to its target. But in the verse

“but seeks only the countenance of his Lord, the Most Exalted,” (al-Layl, 92:20).

we see that it switches to the third-person as this better befits the magnificence of the station of Lordship; extolling the Divine Essence does not need anyone to be present or listening, for He praises Himself for Himself by Himself, especially when He mentions the attribute of being exalted!

The only thing that turns a person's face away from others, not seeing any favour with them to reward, is seeing that countenance whose beauty enshrouds every transient countenance beneath it, after which he does not find it difficult to turn his face away from others, nor see any effective cause in existence except Him. These ideas are contained in Allah's words:

...but seeks only the countenance of his Lord ...” (al-Layl, 92:20).

and the mention of Allah's countenance (wajh) is repeated in numerous verses, including the one in this surah and others. We can explain this concept in two possible ways:

a. First, the countenance of every being is that aspect of it which faces others, and this countenance befits its nature. So, a man’s countenance is the frontal portion of his face; but for Allah who is neither visible nor exists in a specific location, His countenance is that which manifests from Him through His interactions with His servants, such as the effects of His attributes of essence, such as hearing and sight, or His attributes of act, such as creation and sustenance.

b. Second, what is meant by countenance is something external to the essence but attributed to it in some way, shape or form. In this case, seeking the Divine Countenance means seeking the Divine Essence by the latter's leave, and this countenance is represented by the Prophets, Legatees and Awliya'.

20. Spending Of Wealth

When the God-wary spend, they do so, free from (spiritual) contamination. It is free even from the hidden forms of associating partners with Allah (shirk khafi). One such example is that one might show kindness to another in return for a previous kindness. In such case it is not considered as being purely for God, but rather to redeem oneself from his debt (of kindness) to another. But the type of spending - by those who are the God-wary - sees only the Lord's countenance first and foremost, and with its description as exalted second. These are both motivations for a person to devote his efforts to His noble countenance alone.

But one might ask: The verse indicates that the God-wary person who spends from his wealth does not see any blessings coming from other people in order that he reward them for it –

“And none has any favour with him for reward” (al-Layl, 92:19).

- while the fact is that no one is free from the debt of gratitude to another, so, how can we reconcile this with what the Lord is demanding here?

The answer is that this class of people has attained a level of insight whereby they see no efficient cause in existence except Allah, so, whatever good reaches them from other people; they see it issuing from the hand of their master. As Allah says:

“ .... All good is in Your hand ...” (Ale 'Imran, 3:26).

What is meant here is when others do not act kindly towards the God-fearing person, yet he still treats them kindly for the sake of his Lord's countenance, not because he sees any benefit with them that he needs. Of course, this does not mean there is no benefit from people who the God-fearing person does not show kindness to.

21. Recompense

The greatest recompense that the Lord of the Worlds will grant the God-fearing is His words

and, surely, soon he will be well pleased.” (al-Layl, 92:21).

This is the same type of recompense as that, which He gave to His beloved prophet, Muhammad (S), as Allah promised him a gift that would please him, interpreted to mean the right of intercession (shafa'ah). This is the greatest gift, for it is the ability to save people from Hellfire through the blessing of the person whom Allah has singled out for this gift. This kind of gift is available to those mentioned in the verse in the sense that they might be given a degree of this ability that will please the believing person also. And this is supported by narrations that indicate that the believers will fall within the scope of this ability for intercession on the Day of Resurrection.

  • 1. Meaning an argument that rests upon an experience of the external world, as opposed to an a priori demonstration (burhan lammi), which means an argument that is independent of experience. [Translator].
  • 2. Majma 'al-Bayan 10/376.
  • 3. Nahj al-Balaghah, aphorism no. 387.