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Surah ash-Sharh (No. 94: 'The opening-up')

Verses 1-4

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ

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

أَلَمْ نَشْرَحْ لَكَ صَدْرَكَ

Did We not open your breast for you (94:1).

وَوَضَعْنَا عَنْكَ وِزْرَكَ

and relieve you of your burden (94:2).

الَّذِي أَنْقَضَ ظَهْرَكَ

which [almost] broke your back? (94:3).

وَرَفَعْنَا لَكَ ذِكْرَكَ

Did We not exalt your name? (94:4).

1. Blessings For Prophet Muhammad (S)

Assuming that this surah is connected to Surah ad-Duha above, as we can understand from the fact we can only recite them together in prayer and never separately, it draws attention to the many ways in which Allah had been generous to the Final Prophet (S). It is as though this is meant to stand in sharp contrast to the erroneous idea that Allah is displeased with him because of the break in revelation. And this is connected to the different kinds of divine generosity detailed in the previous surah, which begins by stating that Allah is not displeased, explaining that it is in the Hereafter that Allah's full honour for Him will become clear, and that He will give him something that will surely please him. Then the surah mentions Allah's special care for His Prophet from childhood when he was an orphan, and He cared for him. Then when he was a grown man without special guidance, He guided him. Then when he was poor and Allah enriched him. As for this surah, it continues enumerating the blessings which Allah has bestowed upon His beloved Prophet, Muhammad the Chosen One (S), as represented by opening his breast, relieving him of his burden, exalting his name and making his hardship lighter and easier.

These two surahs mention the blessings directed towards him a total of ten times. Add to this the number of pronouns referring to the Prophet (S), whether obvious or implicit - to complete this special affection - and the total is eleven. So, between these two surahs we see the Prophet being addressed a total of twenty-one times, which is also, the total number of verses in both.

2. Opening Of The Breast (Sharh As-Sadr)

Expounding the blessings of Allah causes a person to feel lowly and humble before the One who is the source of these blessings. And even if the recipient is not (humbled), a generous giver does not reproach people for his gifts for he sees no wisdom in that, what more the Most Generous One? So, when we see the Lord, at the beginning of the surah, mentioning the various blessings bestowed upon His chosen Prophet (S), it must be understood in this context.

Hence it is very appropriate for a person to remind himself of the blessings his Lord has given him, to deepen his sense of devotion towards Allah whenever he finds his connection with his Lord lacking.

3. Opening Of The Breast (Sharh As-Sadr)

The opening of the breast (sharh al-sadr) is a station that every seeker (murid) of his Master should seek, just as Moses (‘a) sought it, saying:

“My Lord! Open my breast for me.” (Ta Ha, 20:25).

And this is not only to endure the persecution of other persons, but to also, receive the designated divine wisdom, which is not given to the majority of people, let alone borne by them!

And it is possible for this state to be achieved by people who are not messengers, as happened to Luqman the Wise, who received special wisdom from the Lord of the Worlds.1 And the value of this privilege is expressed in a tradition from the Prophet (S), in which he is narrated to have said: 'I asked my Lord for something which I wish I had not asked him. I said: "My Lord, there have been prophets before me; for some you disposed the winds, others revived the dead." He said: "Did I not find you an orphan and care for you?" I said: "Of course!" Then He said: "Did I not find you astray and guide you?" I said: "Of course, my Lord!" He said: "Did I not open your breast for you and relieve you of your burden?" I said: "Of course, my Lord!"’2

4. Opening Of The Breast (Sharh As-Sadr)

If a person is placed in charge of the prophetic mission, and bears the responsibility of calling Allah's servants towards him and transforming the corrupted lands, then Allah must grant him a receptive heart to bear the consequences of this mission. The enmity of the people of falsehood, and the instigations of the devils are a source of great distress, which cannot be borne except by one whose breast has been expanded by Allah for that purpose.

5. Effects Of Opening Of The Breast

Some of the effects that opening the breast has on the recipient are:

a. Receiving special divine guidance which will shows him the correct path when all paths seem alike.

b. Being given special illumination from his Lord, which removes confusion from his decisions.

c. Empowering him to guide others towards Allah and bring them out of darkness and into light, having himself been brought out thereof.

All of these traits are only attained with the grace of having one's breast opened to divine illumination.

6. Degree of Superiority Between Different Prophets

Moses (‘a) asked Allah to open his breast with the words:

“My Lord! Open my breast for me.” (Ta Ha, 20:25).

But Allah granted our Prophet (S) this blessing directly, as we can discern from the words:

“Did We not open your breast for you?” (ash-Sharh 94:1).

which shows that there are degrees of superiority even among prophets. And it is only natural that the bearer of the final message is also, endowed with the most receptive heart.

7. Opening Of The Heart For The Servants (Of God)

The opening of the breast is a great gift from Allah, and it is for those who take the path of calling others towards Him. But is possible for a servant who pays attention to the divine gifts to detect signs of this. The Prophet (S) has alluded to these with his words: 'Turning towards the abode of everlasting life, shunning the abode of deceit, and preparing for death before it draws near.'3 So, someone who does not find these qualities in himself should not imagine he has attained this level, even if he finds some degree of receptiveness in his heart.

8. Deep Affection Between Allah And His Most Beloved Messenger

It could be said that when Allah says:

“Did We not open your breast for you?” (ash-Sharh 94:1).

this serves to clarify and affirm His words:

“Your Lord has neither forsaken you nor is He displeased with you.” (ad-Duha, 93:3).

After all, how can Allah forsake someone whose breast He has opened and whose name He has exalted? And this demonstrates the deep affection between Allah and His most beloved messenger (S). And the Qur'an is full of words that allude to Allah's extreme kindness (lutf) towards him:

a. Sometimes He swears an oath by his noble life:

“By your life...” (al-Hijr, 15:72).

b. Sometimes He expresses sympathy for what he suffers for the sake of Allah:

“We did not send down to you the Qur’an that you should be miserable ...” (Ta Ha, 20:2).

c. And sometimes He even places the matter of his marriage and divorce in His hand:

“It may be that if he divorces you ...” (at-Tahrlm, 66:5).

9. The Results of Opening of Breast

One of the effects of a receptive heart that Allah bestowed upon His chosen Prophet (S), is behaving in a manner that is unmatched with the very people who persecuted him and exiled him from his homeland. He (S) said: 'O Allah! Guide my people ... for they do not know!' 4 And if he had asked his Lord for revenge, not only would he have been granted it, there would also, have been no blame on him either! And here is a valuable lesson for anyone who wants to follow his example, and that is to look upon those astray from Allah's path with kindness, what more the obedient.

10. The Nature Of The Relationship Between Allah And His Messengers

The first four verses highlight the nature of Allah's relationship with His prophets and the gifts He gives them, especially His final prophet (S), namely the level of having a receptive heart, being relieved of one's burdens, having one's name exalted and being granted ease after hardship. But all these great qualities are connected to the last two verses of this surah, which are:

“So, when you are done, toil,” (ash-Sharh 94:7).

“and turn eagerly to your Lord.” (ash-Sharh 94:8).

And this means either:

a. A connection between a cause and its effect, which is that these qualities are the result of putting one's soul to work, causing it to toil in worship and desiring nothing from Allah except Himself.

b. A connection between an effect and its cause, that is, whoever has been given these qualities should be putting himself to work in worship and turn eagerly towards His Lord.

11. Calling Others Towards Allah

The great burden that Allah relieved His Prophet (S) of is embodied by his confrontation with the thugs of pre-Islamic period of ignorance who brutally resisted the rise of Islam. This reveals that one of a person's most difficult duties is to face Allah's enemies, but of course the harder the duty, the closer it brings one to the Divine!

Hence, those who avoided the difficulty of calling others towards Allah and enjoyed the pleasures of worship in private, like the monks and ascetics, are only pursuing their own comfort and avoiding the hardships in which lies their Lord's pleasure.

12. Obstacles

The best solution to a problem is never to flee from obstacles and seek relief from sources of anxiety and concern. Rather the only solution is to seek the strength to face and bear these, and this is the ‘opening of the breast’. When a person is granted this blessing, he becomes like a deep ocean that takes whatever is thrown at it without any effect, unlike a bowl that overflows at the first opportunity.

13. Success In Calling Others Towards Allah

Exalting the name of those who call to Allah - and at their head stands the Prophet (S) and his Household (‘a) - results from one factor and in turn it causes another:

“And exalted your name.” (ash-Sharh 94:4).

Thus:

a. From one viewpoint, it is a gift and a blessing which comes from Allah's effusions in the firmament and the souls, as Allah bestowed on Abraham (‘a) by causing people’s hearts to incline towards him, as well as creating a special affection between him and his Lord. So, in this way, exalting his name was caused by this divine kindness.

b. And from another perspective, it is a special quality that makes the prophet’s mission successful; for anyone whose name is exalted amongst people would in turn better able to win them over; it is the nature of people's hearts to accept something from a person whom they love. And this explains why the companions of the Imams (‘a) threw themselves into the struggle for Allah's sake and other (divine) causes. So, it is in this way that this divine kindness brings about a person's success in calling others towards Allah.

14. Allah Exalting Someone

There is a significant difference between a person who strives to promote his own reputation through his endeavours for short-term gain and another whose name Allah wishes to exalt; the first may not be successful in this, and even if he is, the fame he attains may be short-lived, for Allah rotates fortune amongst the people. The reputation of the person (whose name is exalted by Allah) would endure with Allah. And this is what has happened in the case of the Final Messenger (S), in that his name is mentioned in the declaration of faith (shahadah), the azan (call to prayer), the iqamah and the tashahhud of every single prayer, whether obligatory or supererogatory, and this idea will remain until the Final Hour. It has been narrated from the Prophet (S) as an explanation of this verse: 'Gabriel (‘a) told me: Allah says: 'When I am mentioned, you will be mentioned with me."5

Verses 5-8

فَإِنَّ مَعَ الْعُسْرِ يُسْرًا

Indeed, ease accompanies hardship. (94:5).

إِنَّ مَعَ الْعُسْرِ يُسْرًا

Indeed, ease accompanies hardship. (94:6).

فَإِذَا فَرَغْتَ فَانْصَبْ

So, when you are done, toil, (94:7).

وَإِلَىٰ رَبِّكَ فَارْغَبْ

and tum eagerly to your Lord. (94:8).

15. Ease

Certainly ease (yusr) is the general principle which accords with Allah's overflowing mercy; it is as if to say that hardship does not befall anyone except to bring them closer to perfection. Hence it is possible to say that a single hardship is accompanied by two eases, because here the Arabic word for ‘hardship’ takes the definite article and is repeated, and whenever a definite noun is repeated in speech, the purpose intended by the second instance is always the same as that intended by the first. And it has been narrated from the Prophet (S): 'No difficulty shall overcome two eases.'6

16. Hardship

Hardship accompanies ease concomitantly (ma’iyya), as is mentioned in the verse; it does not precede ease in the sense of being before it. This offers solace to the faithful who have fallen into hardship, because they know that ease actually accompanies their hardship rather than merely coming at some future time. Of course, they are aware that all of this is in the hands of the All­Aware and the Most-Wise, who governs all the sources of hardship and ease together. It has been narrated from the Prophet (S): 'Know that with assistance (nasr) comes patience (sabr), with grief (karb) comes relief (faraj), and that with hardship ('usr) comes ease (yusr).7

17. “Indeed, Ease Accompanies Hardship”

We can treat the verse:

“Indeed, ease accompanies hardship” (ash-Sharh 94:5).

In two ways:

a. The cause for ‘opening the breast’ (sharh al-sadr), above, for one of the instances of being granted ease is to open the breast of he who is afflicted by grievous woe.

b. The result of ‘opening the breast’ from another angle, in that we take the experience of ease to be a consequence of this opening. So, whosoever's breast Allah opens, and whosoever's burden He relieves, He has also, made easy his hardship.

18. The Path Of Obedience

Mention of the divine blessings - especially spiritual blessings such as the opening of the breast - gives occasion for the servant to turn to his Lord and be eager for Him, as shown by the verse:

“...and turn eagerly to your Lord.” (ash-Sharh 94:8).

This encourages the servant to urge himself onwards on the path of obedience;

“So, when you are done, toil...” (ash-Sharh 94:7).

as the final two verses of this surah suggest.

19. Toil

Those who strive to attain proximity to the truth know no weariness or boredom in their devotion; after they are finished with their duties to spread the message, they put themselves to toil in worship and supplication before their Lord; to prepare themselves to endure further hardships to liberate Allah's servants and purify His lands.

There is a powerful lesson in this for those who call people towards Allah, which is that their preoccupation with confronting the enemies of Allah does not excuse them from devoting themselves to worship and seeking recourse with Allah to the extent that they put themselves to toil, as we understand from the word '...toil' seeking additional steadfastness and divine grace.

20. Being Eager

Some verses of the Qur'an mention material forms of reward in Paradise, such as young men (ghulman) and maidens (hur),8 and bids the faithful to hasten towards a Paradise whose span is the heavens and the earth,9 but others encourage the elect (khawass) to attain degrees which cannot be compared to those blessings, such as the bliss of Divine Satisfaction (ridwan) which is greater than every other bliss in Paradise. It is the bliss of proximity and connectedness to the Divine.

It is possible that Allah's words:

“and turn eagerly to your Lord” (ash-Sharh 94:8).

allude to the level of being eager for Allah, not for His recompense, because in these verses it is to Allah that eagerness is directly fastened. And there is a clear distinction between desiring the Real Himself and merely desiring His reward.

  • 1. Surah Luqman:
    'Certainly We gave Luqman wisdom.' (31:12).
  • 2. Majma’ al-Bayan 10/770.
  • 3. Amali, 532.
  • 4. Al-lhtijaj 1/212.
  • 5. Manaqib 1/302.
  • 6. Majma' al-Bayan 10/771.
  • 7. Mishkat al-Anwar 20.
  • 8. See, for instance Surah ad-Dukhkhan:
    'So, shall it be, and We shall wed them to black-eyed houris' (44:54).
  • 9. See Surah Ale 'Imran:
    'And hasten towards your Lord's forgiveness and a paradise as vast as the heavens and the earth, prepared for the Godwary ...' (3:133).