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Surah an-Nas (No. 114: 'Mankind')

Verses 1-6

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ

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

قُلْ أَعُوذُ بِرَبِّ النَّاسِ

Say, 'I seek the protection of the Lord of mankind, (114:1).

مَلِكِ النَّاسِ

Sovereign of mankind, (114:2).

إِلَٰهِ النَّاسِ

God of mankind, (114:3).

مِنْ شَرِّ الْوَسْوَاسِ الْخَنَّاسِ

from the evil of the whisperer who withdraws (114:4).

الَّذِي يُوَسْوِسُ فِي صُدُورِ النَّاسِ

who whispers into the breasts of men, (114:5).

مِنَ الْجِنَّةِ وَالنَّاسِ

from among the jinn and men.'(114:6).

1. Evils From Imperceptible Sources

Allah connects two surah’s to call on His servants to seek refuge in Him, for in all of his life the human being is never free from things that scare him. The previous surah, Surah al-Falaq, is distinguished in its mention of perceptible sources of harm, such as the night, the envious person or the witch, while this surah is distinguished by its focus on imperceptible sources of harm such as whispers in the hearts of men, whether these come from Jinn or other men. And no one is fully protected from evil unless they are saved from both physical and spiritual sources of harm.

2. Taking Refuge With Allah

Some people suffice themselves with verbally seeking Allah’s protection before reciting the Qur’an, acting in accordance with Allah's saying:

“When you recite the Qur'an, seek the protection of Allah against the outcast Satan” (An-Nahl (16:98).

because the hounding by the devils intensifies when a person does good deeds! But this verbal action will not render a person needless of truly seeking protection, for what is being enjoined by the words:

“Say: I seek the protection ...” (an-Nas 114:1).

is not merely the utterance of some words, but first and foremost the heartfelt sensation that one is taking refuge with Allah, followed by acting outwardly in a way that accords with seeking divine protection, such as giving up the pre-Islamic customs of the Arabs after emigrating [to Islamic lands] when seeking protection from the corruption of one's religion. In fact, one must give up any behaviour which conflicts with seeking divine protection; like a person seeking Allah's protection from wild animals while there is a fortified castle standing in front of him, but he does not enter it!

3. Divine Protection

The one whose protection is sought in this surah is mentioned from various dimensions; from one angle, divine protection is sought from:

“ ……The Lord of mankind” (an-Nas 114:1).

And this is an independent reason for seeking protection in its own right, because Allah is the refuge of everyone who seeks protection; He is the Lord who arranges everything and in whose hand all of His servants’ affairs rest.

“The Sovereign of mankind' (an-Nas 114:2).

which is another independent reason, as Allah is the sovereign whose authority over His servants is absolute, and who can do whatever He likes to whomever He likes and however He likes.

The God of mankind” (an-Nas 114:3).

which is again an independent reason, for He is the object of worship to whom everything returns in all affairs, and upon whom rests the fulfillment of all needs.

From all of the above, it is clear that a person must seek the protection of someone who combines all of these factors in his being.

4. Seeking Protection From Allah

We find in numerous verses phrases that highlight Allah's divine aspects of lordship and godhood, such as:

“Lord of the east and the west, there is no god except Him, so, take Him for your trustee” (al-Muzzammil, 73:9).

There are verses that highlight His divine aspect of sovereignty:

“To Him belongs the kingdom of the heavens and the earth, and to Allah all matters are returned.” (al-Hadid, 57:5).

And there is a single verse that highlights all three divine aspects together these verses:

“....That is Allah, your Lord! To Him belongs all sovereignty. There is no god except Him. Then where are you being led away?(az-Zumar, 39:6).

combining lordship, godhood and sovereignty.

And here we ask: If someone believes he is seeking the protection of a being that combines all three of these dimensions, then how can he have any fear left in his heart when confronted with the evils of this life?

5. The Lord, The Sovereign, The God

The first three verses gradually introduce the giver of protection, who is Allah, by mentioning the Lord, then the Sovereign and finally the God. And we can suppose that it is the ideas these designations hold that necessitates this gradual arrangement:

a. The station of lordship is the nearest to the lives of Allah's servants, and that is because they can see the effects of His arrangement of the creation - which belongs to the dimension of lordship - in even the tiniest details of their lives.

b. This is followed by a sense of the sovereignty, which permeates all existence. Of course, recognizing this station is only for those who truly live with the knowledge that there is none to suffice them save Him, in accordance with His words:

“Does not Allah suffice His servant ……?” (az-Zumar, 39:36).

c. And this in turn is followed by a sense of spiritual immanence, represented by the connection of devoted servanthood between a person and God who is the only object of worship!

So, this shows that the gradual development of this surah's opening verses reveals the gradation that exists between the different stations of a person's connection to the Origin of all things, in whom it befits him to seek protection from spiritual evils. As for in Surah al-Falaq, protection is sought from 'the Lord of the Dawn' alone, and this befits worldly evils which are less dangerous than those mentioned in this surah.

6. Different Reasons For Seeking His Protection

This surah commands people to seek security with Allah through His three manifestations (tajalliyat), meaning lordship, sovereignty and divinity, without using any particle of conjunction in the Arabic, and repeating the word 'mankind' with each mention of Allah. What we understand from this is that each verse provides us with different reasons for seeking His protection.

It is interesting to note that human beings also, make these various dimensions reasons for seeking one another's protection; anyone who suffers some injustice will first take recourse to whoever looks after his affairs, such as his father, then to someone who has power and authority, such as a ruler. And when he despairs of these, he will turn to whichever deity he worships beyond mankind!

7. The Whispers

The devastating influence of the whispers (waswas) by devils and men alike on the human soul is demonstrated by the fact that there are three formulas of seeking protection (from the Lord, Sovereign and God of mankind) from a single evil, unlike Surah al­Falaq where a single formula of seeking protection was used for four evils. The reason for this could be:

a. These insinuations are subtle and a person might not notice them, for they belong to the realm of being cast into men's hearts:

“ ...into the breasts of men.” (an-Nas 114:5).

b. They come from various sources:

“ from among the jinn and men.” (an-Nas 114:6).

c. The whisperer whispers continuously, as indicated by the use of a present continuous verb ('who whispers ...')

d. Because this whisperer never gives up and returns to whisper time and again, for he is the one 'who withdraws.'

“from the evil of the whisperer who withdraws” (an-Nas, 114:4).

And this is why such great protection must be sought with a great Lord from this great evil!

8. Purifying The Hearts From The Influence Of Satan

Purifying the hearts from the influence of Satan is a way of purifying one's limbs, for the human being is exposed to the influence of these insinuations which are sometimes so, intense that they almost overwhelm his own will, so, long as there is one whispering in his heart. So, whatever force pushes a person internally could reach a level of intensity where it could push him externally, like a shove.

It is well known that just as Allah has given free reign to the one who whispers evil into men's hearts, He has reserved for Himself the right - through a superior means - to inspire His friends with that which contains good. And this happens quite frequently, as the Qur'an mentions in numerous places. For example, Allah says:

“When We revealed to your mother whatever was revealed …” (Ta Ha, 20:38).

And another instance of this is what happened to the Companions of the Cave:

“They were Indeed, youths who had faith in their Lord, and We had enhanced them in guidance.” (al-Kahf, 18:13).

9. Escaping The Whispers

When a person conceives of how Satan watches over his human heart and hovers around it, and he remembers that Satan flows through the son of Adam as blood flows in his veins, and he recalls that whenever Allah is mentioned, Satan withdraws, as is mentioned in this surah... all of this should make him eager to be in a state of constant remembrance, for the only way to break the continuous whispering - as mentioned by the present continuous verb 'who whispers ...' - is through continuously seeking divine protection: 'I seek the protection of...'

Hence, we must know that the default state of the human being is to be exposed to Satan's gnawing upon his heart, and he cannot escape this except by realizing that which will repels Satan from him. And the best way for us to imagine this situation is what has been narrated from the Prophet (S), who said: 'Satan places his snout upon the heart of the son of Adam; if he remembers Allah, Satan withdraws; but if he forgets, Satan swallows his heart; that is the whisperer who withdraws!'1

10. Influencing Hearts

If we say that the description 'the whisperer who withdraws' applies to both 'jinn and men' - as this verse would appear to suggest - then this shows that some people have the ability to influence the hearts of others in their species, because Satan's subtle influence on the hearts of men is something to be expected, but the power of one person over another normally does not go beyond their physical being.

For some people to penetrate to the level of other's hearts requires a special kind of power, which is why people should beware them as they beware the devils themselves! But know also, that the description 'who withdraws' applies to them as well, so, they will not give up their prize at the first sign of resistance, for their nature is like that of the devils in their determination to drag their victim down into moral depravity.

11. Attacking And Retreating

Connecting the expression 'the whisperer' to 'who withdraws' suggests that there is a state of attacking and retreating between the human soul and the devils from amongst the jinn and men, which is why an expression is used which implies that they hide one more after emerging - ‘who withdraws’ - but that this battle continues until the 'whisperer' ultimately triumphs, for this affair ultimately goes beyond withdrawing to the level of a person's heart being impressed –

“They are the ones on whose hearts Allah has set an impressure” (an-Nahl, 16:108).

- and sealed -

“Allah has set a seal on their hearts and their hearing, and there is a blindfold on their sight” (al-Baqarah, 2:7).

which is the level which the Commander of the Faithful (‘a) described as follows: 'It is there that Satan takes control of his allies.'2

12. Impregnable Armor

So, long as this whispering is connected to the realm of the hearts, and not every person has control over that which is hidden from the realm of senses, this affirms the desperate need for people to take refuge with the One who holds in His hand the keys of the hearts, for 'People's hearts rest between two fingers of the All­Beneficent.'3 It is He who

“ ...intervenes between a man and his heart” (al-Anfal, 8:24).

and it is He who

“ ....knows the treachery of the eyes, and what the breasts hide.” (al-Ghafir, 40:19).

This surah came down in order to push the human being towards this dimension, for only it has the power to place the one who seeks protection in its impregnable armour.

13. Different Types Of Satanic Whisperings

There is a difference between the satanic whispering (waswasa) directed into the breasts of people in general - 'into the breasts of men' - from whence emerge false thoughts, then an inclination towards to the forbidden, followed by the response of the limbs to this; and between the satanic whispering to which the elect (khawass), namely the Prophets (‘a), are exposed. An example is one that happened to Adam (‘a):

“Then Satan whispered to him ...” (Ta Ha, 20:120).

and what befalls the Godwary of Allah's servants:

“When those who are Godwary are touched by a visitation of Satan, they remember and, behold, they perceive.” (al-A'raf, 7:201).

The difference is that the latter type of whisperings are fleeting and do not remain in the hearts, nor is it feared that the persons concerned will fall into forbidden things as a result.

14. Men Being Evil

Placing a conjunction between human beings and devils –

“from among the jinn and men” (an-Nas, 114:6).

signifies that there is a kind of commonality between them; so, just as we find we have an ‘inner prophet’, represented by the intellect ('aql), which assists the ‘outer prophet’, there are also, people who are - in their own way - outward representations of the ‘inner devil’, which is why the Qur'an joins them together in a single verse: “the devils from among humans and jinn” (al-An'am, 6:112).

And it is of interest to note that there is a class of people who, in a few short years, can learn what it took the devils a long period to learn; in fact, they can even reach a level where they and the devils inspire one another to obstruct the path of the Prophets (‘a):

“That is how for every prophet We appointed as enemy the devils from among humans and jinn, who inspire each other with flashy words, deceptively” (al-An'am, 6:112).

15. Protecting The Heart

The take-home message of this, the final surah of the Qur’an, is that a person must protect the very core of his being, namely the heart (which is called the breast here), lest it fall into the grasp of his enemies who lie in wait; the devils amongst the jinn and men who whisper temptations to him. And it is well known that unless a person fortifies this castle, which contains the governing force of his entire body, then his bodily acts of worship will not be able to help him in the slightest when it comes to repelling the besiegers of this citadel.

The best means to make tangible the war being waged between the soul and its enemies, which this surah hints at, is the tradition narrated from Imam al-Sadiq (‘a), in which he says: 'The heart is Allah's sanctuary, so, do not let anyone reside in Allah's sanctuary except Allah.'4 And this sentence, in its succinctness and brevity, perfectly encapsulates the view of the Prophet’s (S) Household (‘a) when it comes to the purification and refinement of the human heart.

  • 1. Ilal al-Shara'i 2/566.
  • 2. Al-Kafi 8/159.
  • 3. Al-Kafi 2/353.
  • 4. Bihar al-Anwar, 25/67.