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Surah at-Takwir (No. 81: 'The Winding')

Verses no. 1-14

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ

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

إِذَا الشَّمْسُ كُوِّرَتْ

When the sun is wound up, (81:1).

وَإِذَا النُّجُومُ انْكَدَرَتْ

when the stars scatter, (81:2).

وَإِذَا الْجِبَالُ سُيِّرَتْ

when the mountains are set moving. (81:3).

وَإِذَا الْعِشَارُ عُطِّلَتْ

when the pregnant camels are neglected, (81:4).

وَإِذَا الْوُحُوشُ حُشِرَتْ

when the wild beasts are mustered, (81:5).

وَإِذَا الْبِحَارُ سُجِّرَتْ

when the seas are set afire, (81:6).

وَإِذَا النُّفُوسُ زُوِّجَتْ

when the souls are paired, (81:7)

وَإِذَا الْمَوْءُودَةُ سُئِلَتْ

when the girl buried-alive will be asked (81:8).

بِأَيِّ ذَنْبٍ قُتِلَتْ

for what sin she was killed. (81:9).

وَإِذَا الصُّحُفُ نُشِرَتْ

When the scrolls are unrolled, (81:10).

وَإِذَا السَّمَاءُ كُشِطَتْ

when the heavens are stripped away, (81:11).

وَإِذَا الْجَحِيمُ سُعِّرَتْ

when hell is set ablaze, (81:12).

وَإِذَا الْجَنَّةُ أُزْلِفَتْ

when paradise is brought near, (81:13).

عَلِمَتْ نَفْسٌ مَا أَحْضَرَتْ

then a soul shall know what it has readied [for itself]. (81:14).

1. Future Events Told In Past Tense

The Qur’an often discusses the Resurrection in past tense. For example, Allah says:

“When the Sun is wound up” (at-Takwir, 81:1).

and

“When the imminent hour befalls” (al-Waqi'ah, 65:1).

Both of these appear in the past-tense in Arabic. Future events which the Lord of the Worlds informs us about as if they are in the past signify that they will as surely come to pass as the past itself. Of course, discussing events ordained in the future is more beneficial than discussing the past, because there is still an opportunity to prepare for it, make amends and change a dark past into a bright present.

2. Nothing Is Truly Constant

When Allah wishes to convey the terrors of the Resurrection, He refers to stable worldly phenomena such as the Sun, the stars, and the firm, unshakable mountains. All of this is in order to show us that there is never anything truly stable and unchanging in this universe; everything will eventually fall apart –

“When the Sun is wound up,” (at-Takwir, 81:1).

and fade.

“when the stars scatter” (at-Takwir, 81:2).

and the only being that can be depended upon is one whose essence and effects are unchanging: Is he not the only one who answers the question:

“....To whom does the sovereignty belong today?....” (al-Ghafir, 40:16).

by saying:

“...to Allah, the One, the All-paramount!” (al-Ghafir, 40:16).

3. Distraction From Worldly Possessions

She-camels like those mentioned in the verse:

“when the pregnant camels are neglected” (al-Takwir, 81:4).

were extremely valuable to the Arabs when the Qur'an was revealed; they were pregnant she-camels in their tenth month. By them being neglected, this means that during the stages of the Resurrection, as the terrors of that day will distract Allah's servants from even their most valuable possessions! And were a servant's heart, while he is in this world, to be occupied with thoughts of the terrors of that day - as 'Ali (‘a) says in his sermon about the muttaqin - then he too will be distracted from the things worldly people deem precious; they do not seem valuable to him because his measure of value differs dramatically!

4. Resurrection Of Animals

The Qur'anic commentaries have disagreed concerning the resurrection of animals; how can they be resurrected when they have not been placed under any moral obligation? One opinion is that they shall be raised according to the extent they comprehended their own mistreatment of other animals; this view finds support in Allah's words:

“There is no animal on land, nor a bird that flies with its wings, but they are communities like yourselves.” (al-An'am, 6:38).

A corollary of this resemblance between communities of animals and birds and those of mankind is shared ends as represented in their ultimate fate, by which I mean being resurrected on a single level.

Therefore, a servant should pay attention to every fault that transpires with his knowledge, as this knowledge alone is enough to necessitate the resurrection and judgment of animals. It is even said that 'a wounded sheep will seek redress against the one with horns who gored it!1

5. The Sea

The sea contains two extremely flammable and explosive2 substances, but Allah joined them together and, through their reaction, made them inert and safe for His servants! Water puts out fire, but if you separate it into its constituent elements, they become a source of fire, and there, you see;

“when the seas are set afire.(at-Takwir, 81:6).

The Lord, who created a stable and safe substance from two elements with originally volatile properties, can also, combine different tempestuous personalities in a family and spread love and kindness therein. In society, he can join different individuals together, just as he joined the first Muslims together, whose hearts would have never been united had Allah not united them;

'Had you spent all that is on earth you could not have united their hearts, but Allah united them together.” (al-Anfal, 8:63).

6. “When The Souls Are Paired”

People's souls acquire their propensity to dwell in Paradise or be consigned to Hellfire in the life of this world; so, it is as though they are already engaged to the maidens of Paradise or bound to the malevolent devils! But the actual marriage is delayed until that promised day, about which Allah says:

'when the souls are paired.' (at-Takwir, 81:7).

And that is the wedding day of the righteous believers, and that is why the bounties of the maidens are suited to them; as for the others, who are the vicious ones, the malevolence of the devils to whom they are bound best befits them!

7. Severing Relations With Near Relatives

Burying infant girls alive is one example of severing family ties; in fact, it is the destruction of the family itself. The murdered child was nothing more than a newborn infant, and we do not know what she would have become, had she lived in this world. So, even worse, then, is the crime of cutting off the near relatives of Allah’s Messenger (S), and murdering their children!

Hence, one of the first acts of judgment on the Day of Resurrection, before even the infant that was buried alive is asked for what crime she was slain –

“when the girl buried-alive will be asked” (at-Takwir, 81:8).

shall be when Allah asks for what crime Husayn (‘a) and his closest companions were butchered!

8. Burying Of Innocent Children

When souls stray from the compass of guidance, they are actually leaving the bounds of healthy human nature. How can a mother, who is the very manifestation of kindness and affection, bury her own daughter alive, as the women in the age of ignorance did? When the time for birth drew near, they would dig a grave and sit in front of it, and if they gave birth to a girl they put her into the grave, but if they gave birth to a son they kept him!

Even though this practice is no longer common in our modern age of ignorance, burying children alive has taken on new forms. One of these is aborting fetus with special equipment. Another form is exposing them to harm and corruption [while in the womb]. There are narrations that mention still other forms of burying innocent children alive. For example, when Imam al-Baqir (‘a) was asked about the meaning of the verse, he said: 'Whoever was killed for loving us and adhering to our cause.’3 And there are many such victims throughout history!

9. Disgrace

There are some sinners who sin in private, afraid of disgrace amongst some of Allah's servants. But sometimes the person who witnesses them is not who they expect; it could even be a young child! The truth is that the Day of Judgment is a day sinners will be disgraced in the presence of witnesses; their records of deeds were rolled-up in the abode of this world, but behold, on the Day of Judgment they 'are unrolled.'

And the greatest cause for embarrassment, after that of knowing that Allah is aware of our [wicked) deeds, is the thought of the final prophet (S) being informed of the sins of his ummah in the presence of the other prophets.

10. Lifting Of The Veil

One of the most important features of the Day of Resurrection is the lifting of the veils from the sight of Allah's servants. The heavens that used to interpose between the inhabitants of the earth and those of the heavens will be 'stripped away.' In other words, the cloak will be removed from them, and a person will thereafter see clearly that which was hidden from him, including Paradise and Hellfire, and even the angels. The Qur'an has clearly announced this awe-inspiring event in another verse, which is the splitting of the heavens, accompanied by the descent of the angels:

“The day when the sky with its clouds will split open, and the angels will be sent down in a majestic descent.” (al-Furqan, 25:25).

Here, we must say how appropriate it is for those people with lofty goals in this world to strive to remove the veil of heedlessness (ghafla) from their hearts by continuous and vigilant self­ observation (muraqabah), and constant remembrance (dhikr), so, that they may glimpse in this world what they shall see clearly in the next, as this is something possible in both worlds!

11. Paradise Is Brought Near

If a man has some standing amongst people, then admirers woo him and try to win his heart, and this magnifies his character. And the opposite is also, true! On the Day of Resurrection, Paradise will be like a bride rushing towards her ideal suitor, which is why the Creator says of His Paradise:

“When Paradise is brought near.” (at-Takwir, 81:13).

Paradise, with its maidens and palaces, is described as if it is coming to its inhabitants out of love for them, as they are the purpose for which it was created.

These verses show us that Paradise and Hellfire encompass the inhabitants of this world but the veil of matter prevents them from being seen. Yet other narrations tell us that the maidens are longing to meet their spouses from this world. And what a difference there is between Paradise being brought near to its inhabitants, and the Hell created before the creation of the Hereafter, such that its flames are 'set blaze' ready to swallow its inmates!

12. Self-Observation

This surah is one of those distinguished by the many conditional statements (shart) it contains. In total it contains twelve antecedents, all of them are followed by a single consequence;

“then a soul shall know what it has readied.” (at-Takwir, 81:14).

This shows how important it is to practice self-observation in this world, lest the servant has an unpleasant surprise in store for him in the next. If a servant could see the physical manifestation of his deeds and the effects they have in this world - whether good or evil - he would be more disciplined in his behaviour and would not need much admonition. Every deed, righteous or wicked, would appear as a provision in this world that he would have to carry with him until that day. And this is why people's knowledge is described with "certainty" in the verse:

“No indeed! Were you to know with certain knowledge.” (at-Takathur, 102:5).

And their deeds are described as being "found" in the verse:

“They will find present whatever they had done.” (al-Kahf, 18:49).

13. Seeing Our Deeds

This condition of finding present one's deeds is actually for all people:

“The day when every soul will find present whatever good it has done ……” (Ale 'lmran, 3:30).

and this includes good deeds and evil ones. It is not unlikely that a servant will see his deeds on that day in a form that is different to the carnal form (surah mulkiyyah) it possessed in this world, in fact he will see it in its imaginal form (surah malakutiyyah). This is because the Hereafter is the abode of unveiling and seeing clearly, which is why the sin of wrongfully consuming the property of orphans may appear in the form mentioned about it in the Qur’an:

“Indeed, those who consume the property of orphans wrongfully, only ingest fire into their bellies...” (an-Nisa', 4:10).

In fact, we can say that if our senses were fully opened in this world, it is possible that our actions would take on their imaginal form even here. It has been narrated from Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) that he said: 'When the believer relinquishes this world, he ascends."4 And a corollary of such an ascent (samw) is that some hidden realities will be unveiled to him while he is still in this world.

Verses 15-29

فَلَا أُقْسِمُ بِالْخُنَّسِ

So, I swear not by the stars that withdraw, (81:15).

الْجَوَارِ الْكُنَّسِ

the planets that hide, (81:16).

وَاللَّيْلِ إِذَا عَسْعَسَ

by the night as it approaches, (81:17).

وَالصُّبْحِ إِذَا تَنَفَّسَ

by the dawn as it breathes, (81:18).

إِنَّهُ لَقَوْلُ رَسُولٍ كَرِيمٍ

it is Indeed, the speech of a noble Messenger, (81:19).

ذِي قُوَّةٍ عِنْدَ ذِي الْعَرْشِ مَكِينٍ

powerful and eminent with the Lord of the Throne, (81:20).

مُطَاعٍ ثَمَّ أَمِينٍ

one who is heard and trustworthy as well. (81:21).

وَمَا صَاحِبُكُمْ بِمَجْنُونٍ

Your companion is not crazy: (81:22).

وَلَقَدْ رَآهُ بِالْأُفُقِ الْمُبِينِ

Certainly, he saw him on the manifest horizon, (81:23).

وَمَا هُوَ عَلَى الْغَيْبِ بِضَنِينٍ

and he is not miserly concerning the unseen. (81:24).

وَمَا هُوَ بِقَوْلِ شَيْطَانٍ رَجِيمٍ

And it is not the speech of an outcast Satan. (81:25).

فَأَيْنَ تَذْهَبُونَ

So, where are you going? (81:26).

إِنْ هُوَ إِلَّا ذِكْرٌ لِلْعَالَمِينَ

It is just a reminder for all the nations, (81:27).

لِمَنْ شَاءَ مِنْكُمْ أَنْ يَسْتَقِيمَ

for those of you who wish to be steadfast; (81:28).

وَمَا تَشَاءُونَ إِلَّا أَنْ يَشَاءَ اللَّهُ رَبُّ الْعَالَمِينَ

but you do not wish unless Allah, the Lord of all the worlds, wishes so, (81:29).

14. Negation Of An Oath

Verses which contain a negation of an oath, such as

“So, I swear not...” (at-Takwir, 81:15).

have been interpreted in a number of ways, the most fitting of these is that Allah wishes to convey that the matter under discussion is so, obvious, it does not need someone to swear an oath to establish it as true, and that if an oath must be sworn, then he will swear by the things mentioned.

This is something common amongst people; a father might say, 'I do not wish to swear by my son, for the matter is such-and-such ..., meaning that if I had wanted to swear an oath, I would have sworn it by him. And this is much better that swearing a multitude of oaths!

15. Observing The Firmament

A number of verses in the Qur'an refer to planets and stars in a manner that draws attention - whether by invoking an oath or some other method. One such example is found in this surah, when Allah says:

“by the planets that hide.” (al-Takwir, 81:16).

And what surrounds this with a degree of ambiguity is that the Qur'an says they 'withdraw’, meaning they hide and journey to their place of rest - 'planets’ (jawar) - as an animal returns to its den, which is its home in which it rests - 'that withdraw' - and so, this verse contains an allusion to something we have yet to discover about the planets of our solar system, classically referred to as "the five stars."

In short, verses like these want the servant to turn his attention towards the dominions of the heavens and the signs they contain. And because their creation is greater than that of mankind, observing their firmament allows man to enter new realms and discover new horizons in thought, rather than clinging to the earth beneath his feet.

16. Relief At Sunrise

When Allah says:

“by the dawn as it breathes,” (al-Takwir, 81:18).

this suggests that the day is a new phase of activity after the stillness of the night; it is as though the day was constrained by the night and as soon as the brightness of the dawn appears, it is released:

“from the evil of the dark night when it settles!” (al-Falaq, 113:3).

But this meaning only applies to a day that follows night. As for those who live the night as their day, they do not experience this relief at sunrise.

17. Gabriel (A)

The oaths repeated in this surah - whether literal or figurative - are uttered to affirm the trustworthy nature of Gabriel (‘a):

“One who is heard and trustworthy...” (at-Takwir, 81:21).

which in turn entails the veracity of the Qur'an and any other revelation brought by the angel. There is no doubting that this principle - namely the fidelity of revelation's herald - is the foundation for believing in the authenticity of the Faith as a whole and in its ascription to Allah. To doubt this principle means that the revelation given to the Prophet (S) cannot be relied upon because it may be contaminated by errors!

18. The Qualities Of Prophets And Messengers

If the messenger represented by Gabriel (‘a) has the qualities mentioned in this verse, namely nobleness, power, eminence, obedience and fidelity, then what about those prophets and messengers whose forefather was Adam, the object of the angels' prostration!

On this basis, we say that the Successor, insofar as he is an extension of the Messenger, must also, be endowed with many of the Messenger's qualities in order for a commonality to exist between them, and this commonality between them is more fitting than the commonality between the Messenger and the Herald of Revelation!

19. The Characters Of Prophet Muhammad (S)

If we interpret the verse such that the attributes mentioned belong to the Prophet (S) - including the quality of obedience - as some claim, then this shows that the Prophet (S) is ennobled before Allah to the extent that his own commands are obeyed. And the unqualified nature of this statement implies that it encompasses both the physical and moral realms, for he attained the pinnacle of obedience to Allah and it has been narrated in some books that his uncle, Abu Talib (‘a) once said to him: 'How obedient your Lord is to you, O Muhammad!' To which he (S) replied: 'and were you to obey him, O Uncle, He would obey you too!’5

20. Prophet Muhammad (S) Being Called Crazy

When Allah says:

“Your companion is not crazy,” (at-Takwir, 81:22).

this shows the foolishness of some people, who accuse the most reasonable person on earth of being crazy! And even though these people are unworthy of a response from the Lord of the Worlds for this grave lie, the Qur'an answers them and refutes this description of Allah's Messenger. In fact, it goes so, far as to call the Prophet (S) the companion of these wicked people:

“Your companion is not crazy,” (at-Takwir, 81:22).

One could say that describing him as their companion in this manner is not intended to suggest that the Prophet (S) is anything like them, but rather to call attention to the fact that they have lived with him and know him as one companion knows. Another reason is that they have seen that he is perfectly reasonable, so, how do they dare to accuse him thus?

21. The Verse

“certainly he saw him on the manifest horizon” (at-Takwir, 81:23).

shows the nobility of both parties who met:

a. Gabriel (‘a) is honoured by seeing the Prophet (S), and this does not mean merely looking at him in passing, it means becoming familiar with him and talking to him.

b. From another aspect, the Prophet (S) saw Gabriel on the manifest horizon, and in another verse from Surah an-Najm, we read:

“while he was on the highest part of horizon" (an-Najm, 53:7).

What an honour it is for any human being to reach a horizon which no ·human being could attain by his own nature, a level which is only for those beings not subject to the forces of the material realm, like the angels brought near (mala'ika muqarrabun)

22. Generosity

Just as the Prophet (S) was generous in giving material gifts, so, is he generous in bestowing spiritual ones;

“and he is no miserly concerning the Unseen.” (at-Takwir, 81:24).

And so, those who emulate him - as the religion enjoins us to - must also, be generous in both dimensions; anyone for whom Allah opens a door to knowledge and wisdom must give thanks for the value of this blessing by sharing it with its people, lest he do an injustice to wisdom. This runs counter to the practice of some ascetics, who hoard the benefits of asceticism for themselves, cloistering themselves away from having an effect on others.

23. Those Who Have Gone Astray

Those who wander the wastes of confusion and error, and called to with the words:

“So, where are you going?' (at-Takwir, 81:26).

The likeness of those who stray from the path of guidance are like a people who wander confused in the darkness, and it is obvious that no matter how fast they travel, it will only increase their distance from the right path!

This is in addition to the fact that a wanderer does not remain on any path, but constantly changes his route stage by stage; this is the condition of those who have gone astray in their thoughts, as is plain to see!

24. A Book For All Nations

Even though the Qur’an contains subtleties and allusions that are understood only by its people, it is a reminder for all the nations too;

“It is just a reminder for all the nations.” (at-Takwir, 81:27).

So, no one can make the excuse that Allah's Book is above the level of understanding of most people! And this is why the Qur’an is described in various verses as being an explanation for mankind,6 sent to be contemplated upon,7 a manifest book,8 and manifest signs.9

25. Determination To Receive The Qur’an’s Teachings

The Qur'an is a reminder for anyone who desires to be steadfast:

“for those of you who wish to be steadfast” (at-Takwir, 81:28).

So, its verses are not like water which extinguishes fire by simply being poured over it, rather this requires man’s determination to receive its teachings, to act upon them and to be steadfast in his action. But this desire is also, connected to first the Divine Will, for it is Allah who, when he desires good for someone, opens his heart. Second, it is the servant who desires to be steadfast, and third the Qur'an becomes a reminder for him.

And the essence of this final verse in the surah is realizing the intermediate affair (al-amr bayn al-amrayn) with regards to free will:

a. From one angle, the human being has been given the free will lest he excuse himself by saying he had no choice, as it is unjust to punish someone who was compelled to act in a certain way.

b. From another angle, human free will is not completely independent from the divine will, lest His authority over the universe be constrained, and this is expressed most eloquently by the Commander of the Faithful (‘a), when he says: 'I knew Allah through thwarted ambitions and dashed hopes.' 10

26. Human Will Tied To Divine Will

One could say that in all places where human will is tied to the divine will:

“but you do not wish unless it is wished by Allah, the Lord of all the worlds.” (at-Takwir, 81:29).

The Divine Will dominates in the universe by virtue of Divine Creatorship, but from another angle: it actually follows the will of the human being; meaning that when the servant desires guidance or the like thereof, Allah acts to fulfill this will and realize its effects, hence Allah increases their guidance;

“As for those who are [rightly] guided, He enhances the level of guidance for them, and invests them with their Godwariness” (Muhammad, 47:17).

He is the one who guides:

“Allah guides to His Light whomever He wishes.” (an-Nur, 24:35).

And He is the one who

“gives wisdom to whomever He wishes ...” (al-Baqarah, 2:269).

“and forgives whomever He wishes.” (al-Ma'idah, 5:40).

  • 1. Ma'alim Al-Tanzil Fi Tafsir Al-Qur'an, 5/ 203.
  • 2. Most probably referring to the chemically reactive elements in salt (sodium and chlorine) [Note of Al-Islam].
  • 3. Al-Kafi 1/295.
  • 4. Al-Kafi, 2/130.
  • 5. Tafsir Ruh Al-Ma'ani 4/56.
  • 6. See Surah Ale 'Imran:
    “This is a clear statement for men, and a guidance and an admonition to those who guard (against evil)”. (3:138).
  • 7. See Surah an-Nisa':
    “Do they not then meditate on the Quran? And if it were from any other than Allah, they would have found in it many a discrepancy. (4:82).
    Surah al-Mu'minoon:
    “Do they not ponder over the Word (of Allah), or has anything (new) come to them that did not come to their fathers of old?” (23:68).
    Surah Sad:
    “(Here is) a Book which We have sent down unto thee, full of blessings, that they may mediate on its Signs, and that men of understanding may receive admonition” (38:29).
    SurahMuhammad:
    “Do they not then reflect on the Quran, or are their hearts locked up by them?” (47:24).
  • 8. See Surah al-Ma'idah
    “O followers of the Book! indeed Our Messenger has come to you making clear to you much of what you concealed of the Book and passing over much; indeed, there has come to you light and a clear Book from Allah” (5:15).
    Surah Yusuf:
    “Alif Lam Ra. These are the verses of the Book that makes (things) manifest.” (12:1).
    Surah ash-Shu'ara':
    “These are the verses of the Book that makes (things) clear.” (26:2).
    Surah an-Naml:
    “Ta Sin! These are the verses of the Quran and the Book that makes (things) clear” (27:1). Surah al-Qasas:
    “These are the verses of the Book that makes (things) clear.” (28:2).
  • 9. See Surah al-Hajj:
    “And thus have We revealed it, being clear arguments, and because Allah guides whom He intends”. (22:16).
  • 10. Nahj al-Balaghah, aphorism no. 250.