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Surahs Shams-Layl
Qur'anic Exegesis
Javed Ahmad Ghamidi
(Tr. by:Dr. Shehzad Saleem)



Both these surahs form a pair with regard to their subject-matter. The first surah mentions rather concisely the pathways that lead to doom and success in the Hereafter, while the second one actually describes these pathways. Both address the leaders of the Quraysh but the style of address exudes evasion from them. It is evident from their subject-matter that like the previous surahs, they were also revealed in Makkah in the phase of indhar-i ‘am of the Prophet’s (sws) mission.

The theme of Surah Shams is to warn, on the basis of the law of retribution, the leaders of the Quraysh of their rebellious and arrogant attitude towards the Prophetic mission.

The theme of Surah Layl is the illustration of the pathways mentioned concisely in Surah Shams as قَدْ أَفْلَحَ مَن زَكَّاهَا وَقَدْ خَابَ مَن دَسَّاهَا (he succeeded who purified his soul and he failed who corrupted it).




Surah Shams

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

وَالشَّمْسِ وَضُحَاهَا. 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. (١-١٠)

In the name of Allah, the Most-Gracious, the Ever-Merciful.

The sun bears witness and its ascent, and the moon when it follows it, and the day when it illuminates it, and the night when it enshrouds it, and the sky and the way it is made, and the earth and the way it is spread out1, and the soul and way it is perfected2 and inspired with its evil and its good3 [that the Day of Judgement is certain to come;4 hence,] he succeeded who purified it and he failed who corrupted it5. (1-10)




كَذَّبَتْ ثَمُودُ بِطَغْوَاهَا. إِذِ انبَعَثَ أَشْقَاهَا. فَقَالَ لَهُمْ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ نَاقَةَ اللَّهِ وَسُقْيَاهَا. فَكَذَّبُوهُ فَعَقَرُوهَا فَدَمْدَمَ عَلَيْهِمْ رَبُّهُم بِذَنبِهِمْ فَسَوَّاهَا. وَلَا يَخَافُ عُقْبَاهَا. (١١-١٥)

The Thamud6 denied [it7] because of their rebelliousness when their most wretched person8 rose up [in defiance]. The Messenger of God then warned them of the she-camel of God and her turn9 to drink. But they denied him and hamstrung10 her. Because of this crime,11 their Lord let loose such a calamity upon them that flattened everything.12 And He had no fear of its consequences. 13(11-15)






Surah Layl

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

وَاللَّيْلِ إِذَا يَغْشَى. وَالنَّهَارِ إِذَا تَجَلَّى. وَمَا خَلَقَ الذَّكَرَ وَالْأُنثَى. إِنَّ سَعْيَكُمْ لَشَتَّى. (١-٤)

In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Ever-Merciful.

The night bears witness when it darkens and the day also when it brightens,14 and the creation of the male and the female species15 as well [that if this world exists, the next world also does,16 and] whatever you do shall necessarily have separate different results [in the next]. 17 (1-4)



فَأَمَّا مَن أَعْطَى وَاتَّقَى. وَصَدَّقَ بِالْحُسْنَى. فَسَنُيَسِّرُهُ لِلْيُسْرَى. وَأَمَّا مَن بَخِلَ وَاسْتَغْنَى. وَكَذَّبَ بِالْحُسْنَى. فَسَنُيَسِّرُهُ لِلْعُسْرَى. وَمَا يُغْنِي عَنْهُ مَالُهُ إِذَا تَرَدَّى. (٥-١١)


Then he who gave in the way of God, feared18 Him and believed in the good outcome, We shall ease His way to bliss. And he who was a miser, remained indifferent and belied the good outcome, We shall ease his way to hardship.19 And what will his wealth avail him when he plunges into the pit? (5-11)



إِنَّ عَلَيْنَا لَلْهُدَى. وَإِنَّ لَنَا لَلْآخِرَةَ وَالْأُولَى. فَأَنذَرْتُكُمْ نَارًا تَلَظَّى. (١٢-١٤)

Our duty is only to guide and, in reality, this world and the next are under Our control20 alone. So, [O People of Makkah!] I have warned you of the raging Fire 21 (12-14)



لَا يَصْلَاهَا إِلَّا الْأَشْقَى. الَّذِي كَذَّبَ وَتَوَلَّى. وَسَيُجَنَّبُهَا الْأَتْقَى. الَّذِي يُؤْتِي مَالَهُ يَتَزَكَّى. وَمَا لِأَحَدٍ عِندَهُ مِن نِّعْمَةٍ تُجْزَى. إِلَّا ابْتِغَاء وَجْهِ رَبِّهِ الْأَعْلَى. وَلَسَوْفَ يَرْضَى. (١٥-٢١)

Surely, that most wretched leader [of yours]22 shall enter it who denied and turned away. And [Our Prophet] – the most God-fearing shall certainly be kept away from it, who spends his wealth to purify his soul and who does not confer favours on anyone for recompense but only to seek the countenance of his Lord, the Most High. And not long from now he shall prosper [from the favours of his Lord.]23 (15-21)



Kuala Lumpur

07th March 2010


(Translated from Al-Bayan by Dr Shehzad Saleem)








1. The words وَمَا بَنَاهَا and وَمَا طَحَاهَا are used for the heavens and the earth respectively. In my opinion the letter مَا in them is masdariyyah (making the verb following it to be verbal noun. In the succeeding verses, it is this very مَا which occurs in وَنَفْسٍ وَمَا سَوَّاهَا and فَأَلْهَمَهَا فُجُورَهَا وَتَقْوَاهَا is also governed by this مَا. In other words, what is overall said is: “By the soul and the perfection given to it and by the good and evil inspired to it.” What is the novelty in this style? Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi writes:

The particle مَا is used is masdariyyah … it does not merely convert a verb into a verbal noun, it also directs our attention to the majesty, grandeur, wisdom, uniqueness and creativity hidden or apparent in the verb. Thus for example, the words وَمَا بَنَاهَا which qualify the sky would mean: “and the sky and its amazing structure bear witness.” Implied in it would be all the marvels and wonders of the heavens towards which the Qur’an has called our attention in its varied style and used them as an argument to substantiate its basic premises. It is obvious that if مَا is used as a demonstrative noun then it would not have the capability in it to allude to all this reasoning. Because of this comprehensive nature of مَا used in the sense of a verbal noun, it is quite difficult to translate it. Some Arabs have translated it keeping in view its comprehensive nature; however, since in Urdu1 this style does not exist, I have not been able to translate it fully even though I have tried my best.

The sentence وَالْأَرْضِ وَمَا طَحَاهَا (and the earth and the way it is laid out) should also be understood keeping in view the above aspects. In Surah Ghashiyah, it is said: (20:88) وَإِلَى الْأَرْضِ كَيْفَ سُطِحَتْ (and [do they not see] the earth, how it has been spread out? (88:20)). I have explained there that implied in this concise and terse statement are details which the Qur’an has delineated at other places while referring to the marvels and wonders of the earth and used them to substantiate its various claims. In other words, the facts on which the word كَيْفَ (how) in this verse of Surah Ghashiyah induce a person to reflect, for the same purpose, the مَا used in the sense of a verbal noun is employed here. However, there is a subtle difference between the nature of the two, an explanation of which is beyond the scope of the discussion intended here. (Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tadabbur-i Qur’an, vol. 9, 386)

2. The actual words are: وَنَفْسٍ وَمَا سَوَّاهَا. The word نَفْسٍ is not defined by alif lam to portray its augmented magnitude. The purpose is to direct attention to its amazing nature and prudent composition. The words portray this very aspect and occur because the final phase of the creation of the human soul is under discussion – when as a masterpiece of God’s creation it became worthy of being blessed with the awareness of good and evil.

3. This is a mention of the consequence of perfection: just as the Almighty has blessed a person with eyes to see and ears to hear, similarly, he has blessed him with a faculty which distinguishes good and evil for him. A person is not mere body and intellect. He is also a moral being. This means that the ability to distinguish good from evil and the appreciation that good is good and evil is evil is innately ordained in him. In some other verses of the Qur’an, this aspect is referred to as: (٧٦: ٣) إِنَّا هَدَيْنَاهُ السَّبِيلَ (We inspired in him the way of good and evil, (76:3)) and (٩٠:١٠) وَهَدَيْنَاهُ النَّجْدَيْنِ (have We not shown him both paths? (90:10)). This appreciation of good and evil is a universal reality. Thus when the most evil of persons does something wrong, he tries to hide it in the first phase. When Adam’s son, Cain, tried to hide the body of his brother, Abel, after killing him, it was because he knew that he had committed a sin. Same is the case with good. A person loves what is good and respects and reveres it. When he establishes a society, he always sets up a system of justice in it. This is ample testimony of his innate ability to distinguish between good and evil. No doubt, at times, a person may justify a sin he commits, however, at the very time he invents excuses for this justification, he very well knows that he is inventing these excuses against his nature. The reason for this is that if someone else commits the same sin against him, he regards it to be an evil without any hesitation, and vehemently protests against that person.

4. The testimony presented earlier is in the form of oaths. The Qur’an has suppressed the complement of these oaths. The next sentence points to the complement and for this reason its expression in words is not needed. Initially, these oaths depict the testimony of the majesty and exaltedness, gradual progression and elaborate arrangement, power and wisdom that we observe in the rising and setting of the sun and the moon, in the alternation of day and night and in the way the heavens and the earth have been created. Each of them is a record of God’s signs that relate to His creativity and organization. If a person’s eyes are open and his intellect is vigilant he will find a treasure of knowledge and wisdom before him when he observes them. Each and every motion of these objects bears witness that that their creator has immense power, unbounded wisdom and limitless and universal providence and it is not impossible for Him to accomplish the greatest of tasks. The elements referred to are conflicting with one another but it is really amazing how harmoniously and obediently they obey their creator. The words ضُحَاهَا, إِذَا تَلَاهَا,إِذَا جَلَّاهَا and يَغْشَاهَا in these verses highlight these very aspects. Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi writes:

… Neither does the sun interfere with movement of the moon nor does the moon push itself to appear before its appointed time; neither does the day dare emerge before its appointed time nor does the night have the power to terminate before time the duty the day must observe. (Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tadabbur-i Qur’an, vol. 9, 385)

After this the testimony of the soul is presented so that a person may reflect on it and see what a masterpiece of creation it is and to observe the abilities it has and the qualities of intellect it has and the potentials it possesses that materialize at their time and make sense and reason wonder. If man deliberates on these astounding aspects of his soul he will find a whole world in his corporeal body. Not only this, the soul has also been given the awareness of good and evil. It is the result of this awareness that there exists a guardian in his conscience which rebukes him on every wrong committed by him. It is a small court of justice within him that gives its unbiased verdict at every instance. Whether it accepts this verdict or not he does hear its calls after every error relating to his thoughts, ideology and actions except if his wretchedness increases so much that all his evil deeds stain his heart to an extent that it makes him blind and deaf to the truth. This is a testimony of a man’s inner self on him. It is called the testimony of the rebuking soul (nafs-i lawwamah) in Surah Qiyamah. After directing attention to all these manifestations of soul and matter the Qur’an has argued that this world is not an accidental creation or a place of amusement; neither will man go scot-free without being held accountable for his deeds and he will not be punished by his Creator for his attitudes towards his beliefs and deeds. On the contrary, he shall definitely be held accountable. Moreover, this world has a purpose to it which will definitely be fulfilled one day. The Day of Judgement has been appointed by God to fulfill this purpose. Hence the Day of Judgement is bound to come.

5. This is the consequence for which the Day of Judgement will be brought about. It is towards this purification (tazkiyah) that prophets of God invite – the purification whose achievers are given glad tidings of success in these verses. The objective of the guidance brought by the prophets of God is purification. It means to cleanse something from evil and also to nourish and develop that thing. Thus people who cleanse their souls from evil and stir it to the level of comprehending God called the “contented soul” by the Qur’an are guaranteed success by Him. Religion has primarily been revealed to guide man to achieve this objective. It has not been revealed to forcibly establish the rule of divine warriors on them.

6. After adducing from the signs of the world found within man and the one outside him, evidence is presented from the history of a nation that faced God’s law of retribution. This nation was specially selected because the Arabs were fully aware of its history and the tale of its destruction was known to every child.

7. The real sin of nations which were punished once their respective messenger conclusively delivered the truth to them was that they intentionally denied them because of arrogance even after they were convinced of the truth; this denial was not because the truth was not evident to them.

8. Reference is to Qaydar, the leader of the Thamud. He is mentioned in classical Arabic poetry in this very capacity.

9. The Prophet Saalih (sws) who was sent to the Thamud warned them of the punishment of destruction they would face if they rejected him. At this, the Thamud demanded an indication of this punishment. The Prophet Salih appointed a she-camel as an indication of this punishment. He also prescribed a test for the people by saying that the she-camel would drink water from the spring on one particular day, while on another day the Thamud will make their other animals drink water. For this the actual words are: نَاقَةَ اللَّهِ. It is declined in the accusative on account of tahdhir. This style in which one intends to warn someone of some danger is common in our language also. In this style, an ellipsis of a verb which conveys the meaning of warning and admonition occurs.

10. This signifies the killing of the she-camel. When the hamstrings of a camel are severed, it faces certain death.

11. Ie., because of the crime of killing the she-camel which was appointed as a sign of punishment on their own demand and in this way proved that their arrogance had reached the extreme stage after which no possibility of forgiveness remained. Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi writes:

… This she-camel was a sign of divine punishment and … it was made a trial for them so that the extent of rebelliousness of the whole nation could be adjudged. Obviously, any further respite after this would have seen them go after the life of the Messenger of God and this is a crime for which the Almighty does not grant reprieve to any nation. In fact, whenever a nation planned to kill its Messenger, it was necessarily destroyed. (Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tadabbur-i Qur’an, vol. 9, 393)

12. The actual word is: دَمْدَمَ. It is very appropriate to signify the punishment that visited the Thamud in the form of winter clouds, tempestuous winds and hail-storm. Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi writes:

… The word دَمْدَمةَ means to kill someone but implied in it is also the intensity and severity of the act of killing which cannot be conveyed by a word which simply means to kill. A true rendering of this would be: “When their Lord sent on them a resounding punishment.” (Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tadabbur-i Qur’an, vol. 9, 393)

13. Ie., He accomplished this task on account of His unfathomable knowledge, unbounded power and all-embracing wisdom; He does not feel any regret on it. By stating this, the Qur’an has secondarily refuted the statements of the Bible (Genesis, 6:5-6; 8:21) in which it is mentioned that God regretted certain decisions He had taken.

14. The words إِذَا يَغْشَى and إِذَا تَجَلَّى mentioned with the testimony of the night and day like Surah Shams, the previous surah highlight the harmony found between the night and to its meaningfulness.

15. The actual words are: وَمَا خَلَقَ الذَّكَرَ وَالْأُنثَى. The particle مَا is one that converts a verb into a verbal noun (مصدرية). I have explained its eloquent nature in footnotes 1-6 of the previous surah.

16. Only two things exist in this world: soul and matter. From among the manifestations of the first, the male and female species and from among the manifestations of the second, night and day are presented to substantiate the Day of Judgement. This substantiation is on account of the relationship between the counterparts of a pair in that they are complements of one another and as such together form a pair. Moreover, these two counterparts complete one another if the general expediency of the universe is kept in consideration. Similarly, if one is accepted then the other cannot be rejected. The Hereafter forms a pair with the Herein in this very manner. Only after affirming the Hereafter can all the circumstances and scenarios of this world be cogently interpreted. Thus if this world exists, the next one is bound to exist. Negating one and accepting the other would have no basis except if man considers this world to be a place of entertainment of various deities and God to be a being devoid of knowledge and wisdom Who amuses Himself by His creation without calling them to account for their deeds.

17. This is the consequence for the which the Day of Judgment will be brought about. The actual words are: إِنَّ سَعْيَكُمْ لَشَتَّى. The verb سَعْيَ is to connote its consequence. Its use in the Arabic language in this meaning is common. The word شَتّٰی is the plural of شَتِيْتٌ and refers to what is different and separate from one another. Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi writes:

The implication is that it is an obvious requirement of human nature and intellect that the consequences of the سَعْيَ of the righteous and the wrongdoers be different: those who have done virtuous deeds be rewarded and those who have done evil deeds be rewarded accordingly. In other words, the claim that a Day of Judgement must come has been presented here on the basis of the real need for the advent of such a day: it is essential that such a day come because without it this world is nothing but a place of merrymaking where one may go scot-free for all one’s misdeeds. (Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tadabbur-i Qur’an, vol. 9, 402)

18. Ie., they did not spend to boast and brag; on the contrary, they spent for fear of God and to please Him. This is automatically evident from the mention of اتَّقٰی after أَعْطَى.

19. The actual words are:  حُسْنَى , عُسْرَى  and يُسْرَى. These are attributes and the nouns they qualify are suppressed. The implied expressions are: الْعَاقِبَةُ الحُسْنى andاليُسْرى و العُسْرى  الْعَاقِبَةُ. The word تيسير with يُسْرَى signifies easiness of effort and with عُسْرَى signifies respite. This explains the established practice of God regarding those who adopt the path of virtue and vice. Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi writes:

At many places in the Qur’an, the practice of the Almighty has been mentioned that people who do not have the courage to adopt the path of virtue are left by the Almighty at the mercy of their base desires. They encounter no opposition from these base desires with them and for this reason they think that they are smoothly going on in life. While becoming a prey to these base desires, they reach the end of their lives. After this comes the phase to which the Qur’an has referred by the words: سَأُرْهِقُهُ صَعُودًا (١٧: ٧٤) (soon I will make him climb a mounting slope, (74: 17)). In these verses, under discussion, it is this phase which is alluded to.

Diametrically opposite are the lives of people who muster courage to tread the path of faith and do righteous deeds. At every step, they have to fight their base desires and it is through this assault that they gradually gain the strength needed to fight the hardships of this path. Finally they reach their destination mentioned thus in the Qur’an:  (٨٩: ٢٩-٣٠) فَادْخُلِي فِي عِبَادِي وَادْخُلِي جَنَّتِي ([Return] and enter among My servants and enter My Paradise, (89:29-30)). (Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tadabbur-i Qur’an, vol. 9, 404)

20. A note of warning to the arrogant chiefs of the Quraysh that they cannot achieve anything in this world or the next through their own planning and effort. It is the Almighty to Whom belong both worlds. If any of them has any conceited notion about their wealth and lineage or about their alleged deities, they should remember that none of these things will be of any use to them in the Hereafter.

21. On this surah ends the surahs of the phase of indhar-i ‘am of the Prophet’s mission. Before the two surahs that sound assurance to the Prophet (sws) and give glad tidings to him, this is the last surah that relates to topic of indhar (warning). If this background is kept in mind, then the true stress of this verse can be understood.

22. Reference is to Abu Lahab whose personality will become fully evident by the end of this group.

23. It is this motif which is mentioned in the succeeding two surahs as their real subject-matter.

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