Surah 89 The Dawn al Fajr
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
By the dawn, by the ten nights, by that which is even and that which is odd, by the night as it journeys on ! Is there not in that an oath for a man of sense? Have you not heard how your Lord dealt with Aad Who belonged to Iram and were tall as pillars, the like of whom had not been created in the whole land? And with Thamoud, who used to cut the rocks of the valley? And with Pharoah, of the tent-pegs? They were all tyrannical nd transgressors, and infested the land with much corruption. Your Lord let loose on them, therefore, the scourge of His punishment. Your Lord surely observes all. As for man, whenever his Lord tria him with honour and with favors He bestows on him, he says, My Lord has honoured me. But whenever He tries him by stinting his me w, then he says, My Lord has left me humilated. No indeed; but you show no kindness to the orphans, nor do you urge one another to feed the needy. You devour the orphans' inheritance greedily, and you love wealth passionately. No indeed! When the earth is systematically levelled down, and your Lord comes, with the angels rank on rank, and Gehanna is, then, brought near, Then man will remember, but how will that remembrance profit him . He shall say, "Oh, would that I had prepared for my life! On that day none shall chastise as He chastises, nor shall any bind with chains as He binds. "Oh soul at peace, return to your Lord, well pleased and well pleasing. Enter you among My servants! Enter My Paradise!"
The present surah follows, in general, the line of this thirtieth part of the Qur'an, inviting the human heart to faith, urging man to awake, meditate and follow the path of piety. It uses different kinds of emphasis, connotation and rhythm. It constitutes, nevertheless, a single harmonious piece of music varying in tones but maintaining the same cadence. Some of its scenes have a touch of quiet beauty and a light, pleasant rhythm. This is particularly evident in its opening, which describes certain charming scenes in the universe and provides at the same time an aura of worship and prayer: "By the dawn; by the ten nights; by that which is even and that which is odd; by rhe night as it journeys on!" Other scenes are tense and dramatic in both what they describe and their music, like this violent, frightening scene: When the earth is systematically levelled down; and your Lord comes, with the angels rank on rank; and Gehanna is, then, brought near, then man will remember, but how will that remembrance profit him? He shall say. 'Oh, would that I had prepared for my life! ' On that day none shall chastise as He chastises; nor shall any bind with chains as He binds." Others are pleasing, gentle and reassuring, striking perfect harmony between the subject matter and the rhythm. This is true of the ending of the surah. "Oh soul at peace, return to your Lord, well pleased and well pleasing. Enter you among My servants! Enter My Paradise." The surah also includes some references to the destruction that had befallen some insolent people of the past. The rhythm here is somewhere in between that of easy narration and that of violent destruction: "Have you not heard how your Lord dealt with Aad who belonged to Iram and were tall as pillars ... Your Lord surely observes all". We also have an outline of some human concepts and values which are at variance with faith. This part has its own style and rhythms: "As for man, whenever his Lord tries him with honour and with favours He bestows on him, he says, 'My Lord has honoured me'. But whenever He tries him by stinting his means then he says, 'My Lord has left me humiliated'." A refutation of these erroneous concepts and values is provided through an exposition of the human conditions which give rise to them. Here we have two kinds of style and rhythm: You show no kindness to the orphan, nor do you urge one another to feed the needy. You devour the orphans' inheritance greedily. and you love wealth passionately." It is noticeable that the latter style and rhythm serves as a bridge between that of the statement of the erroneous human ways and that of the explanation of their attendant fate. These verses are immediately followed by the scene of the earth as it is levelled down.
This brief survey reveals to us the numerous colours of the scenes described and explains the change of metre and rhyme according to the change of scenes. The surah is indeed an excellent example of an exceptionally beautiful style which is varied and harmonious at the same time.
"By the dawn, by the ten nights, by that which is even and that which is odd, by the night as it journeys on! Is there not in that an oath for a man of sense?" This opening of the surah groups together a few scenes and creatures who have familiar, pleasant, and transparent souls. "By the dawn" refers to the time when life starts to breathe with ease and happiness, the time which gives a feeling of fresh, friendly companionship. The dormant world gradually wakes up in a prayer-like process.
"By the ten nights". The Qur'an does not specify which are the ten nights referred to here. Several explanations, however, have been advanced. Some say they are the early part of the month of ThulHijja; some say they are in al-Muharram; and others state that they are the last ten nights of Ramadan. As it leaves them undefined, the Arabic reference acquires an added amiable effect. They are merely ten nights known to Allah but the expression connotes that these ten nights have a special character, as if they were living creatures with souls and there was mutual sympathy between them and us, transmitted through the Qur'anic verse.
"By that which is even and that which is odd". This verse adds an atmosphere of worship to that of the dawn and the ten nights. According to at-Tirmithi, the Prophet says: "Some prayers are of even number and some are odd." This is the most appropriate import to be attached to this verse, in the general context of the surah. It suggests a mutual response between the souls of the worshippers and those of the selected nights and the brightening dawn .
"By the night as it journeys on." The night here is personified as if it were journeying on in the universe like an insomniac walking on and on in the darkness, or a traveller who prefers to start his long journey at night. What a beautiful expression, describing a pleasant scene with a superb rhythm! The harmony between this verse and the dawn, the ten nights and the even and the odd is perfect. These are not mere words and expressions: they provide a feeling of the breeze of dawn, and the morning dew diffusing the fragrance of flowers.
This is the effect of a gentle whisper to the heart and soul, and an inspiring touch upon the conscience. The beauty of this loving address is far superior to any poetic expression because it combines the beauty of originality with the statement of a certain fact. Hence it is concluded with a rhetorical question: "Is there not in that an oath for a man of sense?" The oath and the conviction are certainly there for anyone with a meditative mind. Although the positive meaning is intended, the interrogative form is used because it is gentler. Thus harmony with the preceding gentle address is maintained.
The subject of the oath is omitted, but it is explained by the following discussion of tyranny and corruption. The chastisement inflicted by Allah on the insolent, tyrannical and corrupt peoples is a law of nature asserted by this oath. The assertion takes the form of a hint suitable to the generally light touches of this surah: "Have you not heard how your Lord dealt with Aad who belonged to Iram and were tall as pillars, the like of whom had not been created in the whole land? And with the Thamoud, who used to cut the rocks of the valley? And with Pharoah, of the tent-pegs? They were all tyrannical and transgressors and infested the land with much corruption. Your Lord let loose on them, therefore, the scourge of His punishment. Your Lord surely observes all."
The interrogative form in such a context is more effective in drawing the attention of the addressee, who is, in the first instance, the Prophet (peace be on him) and then to all those who may ponder over the fates of those nations of the past. The people of the Prophet's generation, who were the first to be addressed by the Qur'an, were aware of what happened to these nations. Their fates were also explained in reports and stories conveyed by one generation to another The description of these fates as the deeds of Allah is comforting and reassuring to the believers. It was particularly so to those believers in Makka who, at the time when this surah was revealed were subjected by the disbelievers to relentless persecution and great hardship.
These short verses refer to the fates of the most powerful and despotic nations in ancient history. They speak of the earlier tribe of Aad of Iram, a branch of the extinct Arabs. They used to dwell at Ahqaf, a sandy piece of land in southern Arabia, midway between Yemen and Hadramout. Aad were nomadic people who used posts and pillars to erect their tents. They are described elsewhere in the Qur'an as extremely powerful and aggressive. Indeed they were the most powerful and prestigious of all contemporary Arabian tribes: "The like of whom had not been created in the whole land. " The distinction here is restricted to that particular age. "And with Thamoud, who used to cut the rocks in the valley? " The tribe of Thamoud used to live at Al-Hijr, a rocky tract in northern Arabia, on the road from Medina to Syria. Thamoud excelled in using rocks to build their palaces and homes. They also dug shelters and caves in the mountains. "And with Pharoah. of the tent-pegs." The term "tent-pegs" denotes the pyramids which are as firm in their construction as pegs well dug in the ground. The Pharoah referred to here is that despot who was Moses's contemporary.
All these people "were tyrannical and transgressors, and infested the land with much corruption". Corruption is an inevitable result of tyranny, and it affects the tyrant and his subjects alike. Indeed, tyranny ruins all human relations. It forces human life out of its healthy, constructive and straight path and diverts it into a line which does not lead to the fulfilment of man's role as Allah's vicegerent on earth. Tyranny makes the tyrant captive of his own desires because he is uncommitted to any principle or standard and unrestrained within any reasonable limits. Thus the tyrant is always the first to be corrupted by his own tyranny. He assumes for himself a role other than that of a servant of Allah, entrusted with a specific mission . This is evident in Pharoah's boastful claim: "I am your Lord, the most high".
Here we have an example of the corrupting influence of despotism in Pharoah's aspiration to something greater than the status of an obedient creature, an aspiration which made him very insolent.
Tyranny also corrupts the masses, as it humiliates them and compels them to suppress their discontent and the hatred they feel towards the tyrant. It kills all feelings of human dignity and wastes all creative talents, which cannot flourish except in an atmosphere of freedom . A humiliated soul inevitably rots away and becomes a breeding ground for the germs of sickly desires. Hence, digression from the right path becomes the order of the day as clear vision becomes an impossibility. In such conditions no aspiration to a higher human standard can be entertained. The net result of all this is spreading corruption.
Tyranny also destroys all healthy standards and concepts because they constitute a threat to its existence. Hence, values are falsified and standards are distorted so that the repulsive idea of despotism becomes acceptable as natural. This, in itself, is great corruption. When the aforementioned people caused so much corruption, the remedy was, inevitably, a complete purge: "Your Lord let loose on them, therefore, the scourge of His punishment. Your Lord surely observes all." Allah is certainly aware of their deeds and He records them. So, when corruption increased, He punished the corrupt severely. The text connotes that the chastisement was very painful as it uses the term "scourge'', (or "whip" as the Arabic term literally means) and that it was in large supply as is indicated by the use of the phrase "let loose". Thus the corrupted tyrants were made to suffer plentiful and painful retribution.
As the believer faces tyranny in any age or place, he feels great reassurance emanating from far beyond the fates of all those nations. He also feels a particular comfort as he reads the verse: "Your Lord surely observes all." Nothing passes unnoticed and nothing is forgotten. So let the believers be always reassured that Allah will deal, in time, with all corruption and all tyranny.
Thus the surah provides some examples of what Allah may do about the cause of faith, which are totally different from the example of the "People of the Pit" outlined in surah 85, "The Constellations". All these stories are related for a definite purpose, namely, the education of the believers and their preparation to face whichever course Allah chooses for them. They will be, then, ready for all eventualities and equipped with the Divine reassurance as they submit themselves to Allah and let His will be done.
"Your Lord surely observes all." He sees, records, holds to account and rewards according to a strict and accurate measure which neither errs, nor exceeds the limits of justice. It is never deceived by appearances because it judges the essence of things. Human measures and standards are liable to all sorts of errors. Man sees nothing beyond the appearances unless he adopts the Divine measure.
"As for man, whenever his Lord tries him with honour and with favours He bestows on him, he says 'My Lord has honoured me'. But whenever He tries him by stinting his means, then he says. 'My Lord has left me humiliated'." Such is man's thinking about the various forms of trial Allah may set for him, be it comfort or hardship, wealth or scarcity. Allah may test him with comforts, honour, wealth or position but he does not realise the probationary nature of what he is given. Rather he considers the gesture as proof that he deserves to be honoured by Allah and as evidence that He has chosen him for a special honour. It is a line of thinking which mistakes trial for reward and test for result. It imagines honour in the sight of Allah to be measured by the amount of worldly comforts given to a certain person. Allah may also try man by stinting his means, and man again mistakes trial for reward and imagines the test to be a retribution. He feels that Allah has made him poor in order to humiliate him.
In both situations the human concept is faulty. Wealth and poverty are two forms of a test Allah sets for His servants. A test with abundance reveals whether a man is humble and thankful to his Lord or arrogant and haughty, while a trial of the opposite kind reveals his patient acceptance or his irritability and fretfulness. A man's reward is given according to what he proves himself to be. What he is given or denied of worldly comforts is not his reward, and a man's standing in the sight of Allah is in no way related to his possessions, for He gives and denies worldly comforts regardless of whether a man is good or bad. A man devoid of faith cannot comprehend the wisdom behind Allah's action of giving worldly comforts or denying them But when his mind is enlightened with faith and truth becomes apparent to him, he realises the triviality of worldly riches and the value of the reward after the test. So he works for this reward whether he is tried with abundance or scarcity of worldly riches. As he disregards the hollow considerations of wealth and poverty, he feels reassured about his fate and his position in the sight of Allah.
At the time of its revelation, the Qur'an was addressing a kind of people, common to all Ignorant societies, who lost all their relations with a world beyond our present life. Such people adopt this mistaken view about Allah's granting or denial of wealth, and apply a set Of values which reserve all honour to money and social standing.
Hence, their craving for wealth is irresistible. It makes them covetous, greedy and stingy. The Qur'an reveals their true feelings and states that their greed and stinginess are responsible for their inability to understand the true significance of a Divine trial by granting wealth or denying it. "No, indeed; but you show no kindness to the orphan, nor do you urge one another to feed the needy. You devour the orphans' inheritance greedily, and You love wealth passionately." The real issue is that when men are given wealth they do not fulfil the duties demanded of the wealthy They do not look after a young orphan who has lost his father and becomes therefore in need of protection and support. They do not urge one another to contribute to the general welfare. Such a mutual encouragement is indeed an important feature of the Islamic way of life. Since those people do not comprehend the significance of the trial, they do not even try to come out of it successfully by looking after the orphans and urging one another to feed the needy. On the contrary, they devour the orphans' inheritance greedily, and crave unrestrainedly for wealth. It is a craving which kills all nobility in their minds and leaves no room for generous gestures or goodwill towards the poor.
In Makka, Islam was facing a situation characterised by a common urge to accumulate wealth by every possible means, an urge which makes hearts hard and unsympathetic. The weak positions of the orphans, and orphan girls in particular, tempted many to deprive them of their inheritance in different ways. The ardent love of wealth, the craving to accumulate it through usury and other means, was a distinctive feature of the Makkan society before the advent of Islam. Indeed, it is a distinctive feature of all Ignorant societies in all ages and in the present age.
These few verses do not merely expose the true nature of their attitude. They also condemn this attitude and urge its discontinuation. The condemnation is evident in the repetition in these verses, their rhythm and metre which provide a strong feeling of the urge to accumulate wealth: "You devour the orphans' inheritance greedily, and you love wealth passionately."
Once their erroneous concept of the trial with wealth and poverty is outlined, and their vile attitude has been exposed there follows a stern warning about the Day of Judgement which comes after the result of the test is known. Here the rhythm is very powerful: "No indeed! When the earth is systematically levelled down, and Your Lord comes, with the angels rank on rank, and Gehanna is, then, brought near, then man will remember, but how will that remembrance profit him? He shall say, 'Oh would that I had prepared for my life!' On that day none shall chastise as He chastises, nor shall any hind with chains as He binds." The total destruction of all that is on earth and the systematic levelling down is one of the upheavals which will take place in the universe on the Day of Resurrection. Allah's coming with the angels is unexplained but the expression overflows with connotations of reverence, awe and fear. The same applies to the bringing closer of Gehanna: we take it to mean that Gehanna will be on that day very close to its prospective dwellers. What actually happens and how it happens is part of the Divine knowledge Allah has chosen to withhold until that day. These verses, with their captivating rhythm and sharp notes, portray nevertheless a scene which strikes fear into the hearts, and makes it apparent in the eyes. The earth is being systematically levelled down: Allah the Almighty sits to judge everyone: the angels stand there rank on rank and Gehanna is brought near and set in readiness. At that moment "man will remember". Man, who lived unaware of the wisdom behind the trial with worldly riches or with deprivation; who devoured the inheritance of orphans greedily; who craved for money and did not care for the orphans or the needy; who tyrannised, spread corruption and turned away from the Divine guidance will then remember the truth and take account of what he beholds. But alas ! it is too late: "but how will that remembrance profit him?" The time for remembrance is over, so remembrance on the Day of Judgement and Reward will not profit anybody. It serves merely as an act of grief for a chance given but not taken in the first life.
When man is fully aware of the true nature of his situation he says despairingly, "Oh, would that I had prepared for my life!" For the true life, the only one that deserves the name is indeed the life hereafter. It is the one which is worth preparing for. "Oh, would that I had ... " It is a sigh of evident regret and grief, but it is the most a man can do for himself in that second life.
The surah goes on to portray the fate of that man after his desperate sigh and useless wish: "On that day none shall chastise as He chastises, nor, shall any bind with chains as He binds." It is Allah, the Supreme Victor, the Almighty Who inflicts His incomparable chastisements, and Who binds as no one can bind. The Divine punishment and binding are explained in detail in other parts of the Qur'an as it outlines various scenes of the Day of Judgement. But the reference to them here is very brief, stressing mainly their incomparability to human chastisement and binding. The reference to the Divine punishment here brings to mind the earlier reference to human tyranny in the given examples of Aad, Thamoud and Pharoah . Those tyrants are stated to have spread much corruption in the land, which includes the infliction of physical torture on people and binding them with chains and ropes. These last verses serve as an address to the Prophet and the believers, reminding them that their Lord will chastise and chain those who used to torture people and chain them But the two kinds of punishment and chaining are entirely different. Meagre is the torture that any creature can administer, but great is that inflicted by the Creator. Let the tyrants continue with their punishment and persecution; they will have their turn and be the sufferers of a punishment which is beyond all imagination.
Amidst all this unimaginable horror comes an address from on high to the believers: "Oh soul at peace, return to your Lord, well pleased and well pleasing. Enter you among My servants! Enter My Paradise!" It is a tender, compassionate and reassuring address: "Oh soul at peace". It speaks of freedom and ease, after the earlier reference to chains and affliction: "return to your Lord" After your alienation on earth and your separation from the one you belong to, return now to your Lord with Whom you have strong ties: "well pleased and well-pleasing." It is a gentle address which spreads an atmosphere of compassion, and satisfaction. "Enter you among My servants", among those servants chosen to enjoy this Divine grace. "Enter My Paradise", to receive Allah's mercy and protection. As it opens, this address generates an aura of heaven: "Oh soul at peace".The believer's is a soul at peace with its Lord, certain of its way, certain of its fate. It is a soul satisfied in all eventualities: happiness or affliction, wealth or poverty. It entertains no doubts; it is free from transgressions. The gentle music adds a feeling of intimacy and peace. The majestic face of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful, with alt His splendour looks from above.