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Sūrahs Shams-Lail (91-92)
Qur'anic Exegesis
Javed Ahmad Ghamidi
(Tr. by:Dr. Shehzad Saleem)



These two sūrahs form a pair since they discuss the same subject. However, the first sūrah mentions the pathways which lead to doom and success in the Hereafter, while the second one actually describes these pathways. The leaders of the Quraysh have been addressed in them. The address mostly is indirect as their arrogant attitude has made them unworthy of being addressed directly. A study of the contents of this sūrah-pair shows that, like the previous sūrahs, they were revealed in Mecca in the phase of `Inzār-i-Aam'. In this phase of his mission, the Prophet (sws) was discharging his duty of warning the Quraysh in general of the dire consequences of their defiant attitude.

Central Theme

Sūrah Shams

The leaders of the Quraysh have been warned, on the basis of the law of retribution, about their rebellious and arrogant attitude towards the Prophetic mission.

Sūrah Lail

A final warning has been sounded to the Quraysh with reference to this law of retribution and the right and wrong pathways referred to by the words ‘he succeeded who purified it and he failed who corrupted it’ of Sūrah Shams have been illustrated.

Subject Analysis

Sūrah Shams

The existence of pairs --- like the sun and the moon, the night and the day and the earth and the sky --- as a general rule in the manifestations of nature shows that just as either member of a pair needs its complement to become meaningful, this world also is incomplete unless it is viewed together with its complement: the Day of Reward and Punishment.

The innate concepts about good and evil in the human soul and the perfection given to it also testify to this reality --- the Day of Judgement. A mention of the pathways which will lead to success and doom in the Hereafter.

Historical evidence is presented on the law of retribution to thereby indirectly warn the Quraysh that if they too exceed the limits in their arrogant and rebellious attitude, like the people of the Thamūd, then they will be totally wiped out, and the Almighty shall enforce his decision on them without any hesitation.

Sūrah Lail

The principle of the existence of pairs in this universe testifies that just as the night and the day and the male species and the female species, become meaningful when considered with each other, this world also shall become meaningful on the Day of Judgement.

An explanation of the way by which the terrible fate on that Day can be avoided and success achieved.

The Quraysh are given the final warning in this phase of Inzār-i-`Aam with reference to this fate in the words: `It is for Us to give guidance', and `I have warned you of the Raging Fire'.

Abu Lahab, the premier leader of the Quraysh is threatened of his dreadful fate, and, in contrast, the Prophet (sws) is given glad tidings of success in the Herein and in the Hereafter.


Sūrah Shams1

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 illuminates2 it, and the night when it enshrouds it, and the sky and its [wondrous] make, and the earth and its [wide] expanse3 [that if this world exists, the next world also does.4] --- and the soul bears witness and the perfection given to it. Then inspired it with its evil and its good5 that he succeeded who purified it and he failed who corrupted it.6

The Thamud7 denied [their Prophet8] in their rebellious pride when their most wretched person rose against him. The Prophet of Allah then warned them of the she-camel of Allah and her turn [to drink]9. But they rejected him and slaughtered it; so because of this crime, their Lord let lose His scourge upon them and razed their city to the ground. And He had no fear of its consequences.10


Sūrah Lail

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

The night when it darkens bears witness and the day when it brightens and the creation of the male and the female species also11 [that if this world exists, the next world also does and] whatever you do [in this world] shall necessarily have different results in the next12.

So, he who gave in the way of Allah and was godfearing and believed in the good outcome [in the Hereafter]13, We shall, indeed, take him14 to [a fate] of delight. And he who was a miser and was indifferent and belied the good outcome [in the Hereafter]15, We shall, indeed, take him to [a fate] of affliction16. What will his wealth avail him when he plunges into the Pit17? It is for Us to give guidance18 and verily, this world and the next are under Our control19. So, [O People of Mecca!] I have warned you of the raging Fire20 .

Only this most wretched leader [of yours]21 shall enter it; who denied and turned away. And [Our Prophet] --- the most god-fearing shall be kept away from it, who spends his wealth to purify his soul, and does not confer favours on anyone for recompense but only to seek the countenance of his Lord, Most High22. Soon [O People!] he shall prosper [from the favours of his Lord]23.



1. The various oaths mentioned in the Quran are meant to present an evidence which substantiates a claim. The muqsim bihi (object of oath) serves as an evidence for the point made in the muqsim alaih (complement of oath), which sometimes is stated just after the muqsim bihi and at other times is suppressed when it is too obvious to be expressed. In this particular surah, the oaths are of two distinct categories with each category having its own oath complement. In the first category, the complement has been suppressed while in the second category it has been expressed.

2. The subtle literary device of inversion (qalb) has been employed in this part of the oath. The day, obviously, does not illuminate the sun: it is vice versa.

3. It can be observed that the oath objects of the first category are mentioned as pairs in which either member is presented in its prime and utmost form. However, inspite of its ultimate form, every member has certain deficiencies as regards its relation and benefit to man. Its real beauty and wisdom is only unfolded if it is viewed together with the other member which, actually, is its complement. The pair actually represents a complete phenomenon. The sun and the moon without one another form an incomplete picture. If human nature needs the brightness of the sun during the day, it also needs the milky light of the moon at night. Similarly, the night and day lose their meaning and purpose for human life without one another. Likewise, the earth and the sky must co-exist to fulfil man's requirements.

4. This is the oath complement. In other words, this is the claim which is to be substantiated by the evidence furnished by the oath objects just mentioned. According to the Quran, the existence of pairs is a universal phenomenon: `We have created everything in pairs that you may take heed' (51:39). After enlisting a few examples of the various pairs found in the universe, the Quran here leaves its addressees to figure out for themselves the counterpart of this world. It induces them to ponder on the imperfections of this world so that they automatically reach the conclusion that this world must have a complement, without which it is incomplete and meaningless.

5. This is the second category of oaths. The perfection in the human soul and the fact that it has been inspired with its good and evil point to a great reality which is stated as the oath complement in the next verse.

6. This oath complement states the reality: the result of good and evil should, certainly, be different. The voice of human conscience says that if a person adopts the good revealed to his soul, he should attain salvation and if a person adopts the evil revealed to his soul he should be doomed. However, since in this world, the result of a good enterprise is not necessarily good and the result of an evil undertaking is not necessarily evil, therefore, it is the verdict of the human conscience that there must come a day when results are in accordance with the nature of deeds.

7. Historical evidence is presented on the law of retribution. This is an unalterable law of the Almighty according to which he never spares a nation guilty of arrogance and ingratitude. According to this law, one form of punishment meted out to a nation which rejects a Prophet (rasool) sent to it is that it is destroyed in this world and shall have to face a grievous penalty in the Hereafter as well. The Quraysh are warned that if they too, like the Thamud, adopt a rebellious and defiant attitude against the Prophetic mission, they shall be destroyed like the Thamud. The Thamud have been presented as evidence because the Arabs were well aware of the history and fate of the Thamud. The anecdote of the Thamud had become part of their tradition and many of their poets had versified the whole episode. Moreover, among the various nations destroyed in antiquity, the territory of the Thamud was the closest to Mecca. In northern Hejaz, its historical ruins were extant, which the people of Mecca passed by during their trade journeys to Syria.

8. ie, the Prophet Saalih (sws), who was sent forth to them.

9. The Prophet Saalih (sws) 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 Saalih appointed a she-camel as an indication of this punishment. He cautioned them that if they harmed it, the punishment would descend upon them. He also informed them that it would drink water from the spring on one particular day, while the rest of the animals must do so on some other day. However, the Thamud, instead of taking heed, hamstrung the she-camel. Thereafter, they were given a final warning to mend their ways in three days. After this final warning, which only increased their arrogance, they were wiped out by a tempest.

10. When the Almighty destroys a nation guilty of denying the Prophet sent to them, He does so, according to his law of retribution. This law is based on His desire for the the well-being of this world and His profound wisdom and knowledge. Consequently, He has no fear whether His decision is wrong and whether anyone might challenge it. He is answerable to no one in this regard. The verse also refutes the false claim of the Bible that the Almighty regretted creating man on this earth: `The Lord saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that He had made man on the earth, and His heart was filled with pain.' (Genesis, 6: 5-6)

11. In this surah also, the oath objects are stated as pairs. The two pairs are: the day and the night; the male and the female. As pointed out in the previous surah, the Quran employs the phenomenon of existence of pairs in the universe as an argument to substantiate the existence of the Hereafter as the complement to the Herein. Almost everything in this universe exists in pairs. The extensiveness of this phenomenon is pointed out by the Quran in the following words: `Glory be to Allah, who created in pairs all things that the earth produces, as well as of their own [human] kind and [other] things of which they have no knowledge.' (36:36)

12. This is the claim which the oaths substantiate: The existence of the Hereafter in which man's endeavours shall necessarily have different results. In other words, a good endeavour done in this world which may or may not have produced good results in this world shall necessarily produce good results in the next world. Similarly, an evil endeavour shall necessarily produce evil consequences for the evil doer in the next world. The Quran stresses that not believing in a Day in which good and evil shall produce congruous results would mean that this world is the toy-land of an unjust Creator in which the righteous and the wrongdoers meet the same fate. It must be realized that the basic question which the philosophers have addressed since time immemorial is the purpose of man's existence in this world and his fate afterwards. It can be safely said that twenty-five centuries of man's intellectual history have gone by and the philosophers are still to present a satisfactory answer to this question. Divine religions have presented their own solution to the problem. Precisely stated, it is based on just one premise: man's existence in this world is meaningless without believing in a world which answers the imperfections present in this one.

13. After justifying the need of the Hereafter, an explanation follows of how to attain the good fate in the Hereafter and how to avoid the evil one in it. The explanation takes into consideration the foremost addressees of the surah: the wealthy leadership of the Quraysh who do not spend on the deprived. Consequently, the requirements which must be fulfilled to attain salvation are mentioned in an ascending order by first all mentioning this aspect. The next requirement --- the fear of Allah --- is the root of all good deeds, while the third requirement --- belief in the good outcome in the Hereafter actually mentions the driving force behind each benevolent deed: Only that person can do a good deed who believes that it will be of benefit to him in the Hereafter. Consequently, those who do not fear Allah and do not believe in the Hereafter are greedy misers, and if they do spend, the motivation is to merely achieve worldly fame.

14. This refers to the law of the Almighty which has found a lot of mention in the Quran. According to this law, the Almighty removes the difficulties which a person encounters in the path of righteousness once he resolutely adopts this path. He also increases in him the yearning and desire to do good so that it becomes easy for him to do a righteous deed. In this manner, the Almighty shall finally take him to the blissful life of Paradise.

15. A mention of the fate of the people who shall be doomed in the Hereafter. They are very stingy in spending on the needy. Moreover, they are totally indifferent to the Hereafter and do not believe in the reward and punishment they will encounter in it. It is this attitude which shall lead them to an ignominious doom.

16. Again, in this regard a reference is made to the negative aspect of the law mentioned in the previous verses. The Almighty facilitates a person in treading the path of evil once he himself adopts this path. A person's soul within him and the surroundings outside him become so conducive to his life of vice and evil that he thinks that he is on the right path. However, the `let-off' on the Almigthy's part is a punishment which, in fact, only makes the person more resolute in his ill-ways. This, of course, would lead him to negotiate the severest of penalties in the Hereafter.

17. The verse stresses the fact that the wealth which had actually made him indifferent to the Hereafter shall be of no use to him once he is raised up on the Final day. The words seem more meaningful once the foremost addressees of this surah --- the rich and arrogant leadership of the Quraysh --- are taken into consideration:

18. A warning is sounded to the Quraysh that the Almighty's responsibility is over once He has shown them the right path. It is now up to them to accept or reject it.

19. The note of warning continues with the assertion that the arrogant chiefs must not forget that it is the Almighty who is the sovereign of this world as well as of the next. It is He who has endowed them with riches in this world as a test, and it is He who shall take an account of these favours in the Hereafter.

2. The verb `anzartukum' has been used in its ultimate sense ie, the Almighty has thoroughly warned the people of the Quraysh, through the Prophet (sws), of the dire consequences of their denial in the Hereafter. It must be kept in mind that with this surah ends the phase of `Inzaar-i-Aam' which began from Surah Muddaththir.

21. In every Prophetic mission, there is one person who stands out as its greatest enemy. He becomes the symbol of the forces of evil. In the previous surah, the word ashqaa (the most wretched) has been used for Qaidar, the leader of the Thamud who had ultimately become the sole symbol of the forces of evil against the Prophet Saalih (sws). In case of the Prophet Muhammad (sws), it was Abu Lahab in whom the the enmity of the Quraysh was symbolized. His character is also portrayed in one of the succeeding surahs, Surah Alaq and finally his name has been mentioned in Surah Lahab and his fate highlighted.

22. In contrast, the noble and benevolent character of the Prophet (sws) has been portrayed. To understand this contrast and the stress of these verses, one must keep in mind the comments of Abu Lahab and his companions which have also been mentioned in the Quran. They used to boast that, as in this world, they would be showered with wealth and riches in the next as well. These verses actually negate this claim. It is stressed that it is Abu Lahab who shall be thrown into the raging Pit of Hell and it is the Prophet (sws) who shall be kept away from it and rewarded with a life of bliss.

23. Glad tidings are given to the Prophet (sws) that not only shall his efforts be rewarded in the Hereafter, they shall be fruitful in this world as well. His message shall receive acclaim and his mission shall emerge victorious in the desolate deserts of Arabia. Verse five of the next surah underscores this aspect in almost the same words: `Very soon your Lord shall give [success] to you and you shall be pleased with it.' (93:5)

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