Tafsir of Surah al Shams - The Sun (Surah 91)

by 'Abdur-Rahmân ibn Nâsir as-Sa'dî

Translated by Abű Rumaysah

  1) By the sun and its morning glow, 2) by the moon as it follows in tow, 3) by the day as it reveals its glory, 4) by the night as it conceals it totally, 5) by the heaven and He who built it, 6) by the earth and He who spread it, 7) and by a soul and He who proportioned it,* 8) inspiring it with depravity or piety.  

Allah, Most High, takes an oath by all these great Signs, the purpose of the oath being to direct attention to the successful soul and the depraved soul. “By the sun and its morning glow,” and the benefits ensuing thereby, “by the moon when it follows in tow,” in its lunar cycle, reflecting its light, “by the day as it reveals its glory,” displays and shows all that is on the earth’s surface, “by the night as it conceals it totally,” i.e. envelops the face of the earth in darkness. The alternation of darkness and light, and the movement of the sun and moon in perfect harmony and precision, and their bringing about great benefit for the servants, proves clearly that Allah is All-Knowing, Omnipotent, that He alone deserves worship, and that every object of worship besides Him is false.

“By the heaven and He who built it,” it is possible that meaning be this, so the oath is taken by the heaven and by Allah; or the meaning be, “by the heaven and its construction” so the oath is taken by the heaven and its perfect and precise construction. The same applies to “by the earth and He who spread it,” i.e. stretched it and made it vast so that mankind would be able to benefit from it. “And by a soul and He who proportioned it, inspiring it with depravity or piety,” it is possible that the soul be a reference to the soul of every creature as is proven by the generality of the verse. It is also possible that the reference be to the soul of man as is proven by what follows. In either case, the soul is one His great Signs which is deserving of taking an oath by. It is something that is subtle, hidden, swift, quick to change, and produces emotions such as grief, desire, intent, love and hate. Were it not for the soul, the body would be a mere empty shell having no benefit. Therefore, its being proportioned in this way is one of the Allah’s great Signs.

  9) He who purifies his soul has succeeded, 10) and he who stifles it has failed. 11) Thamud denied (the truth) in their inordinacy, 12) when the worst of them rose up. 13) The Messenger of Allah said, ‘This is Allah’s she-camel, let her drink!’ 14) But they denied him and hamstrung her; so their Lord crushed them for their sin, visiting all alike.** 15) Nor does He fear the consequences.  

“He who purifies his soul” of sins and cleanses it of defects, who urges it to obey Allah and ennobles it through beneficial knowledge and righteous deeds “has succeeded, and he who stifles it,” who covers his noble self up – which should not be curbed or hidden – by sullying it with evil, tarnishing it with defect and sin, leaving what would perfect and benefit it, and employing what would mar and stunt it “has failed.”

“Thamud denied (the truth) in their inordinacy,” i.e. because of their excessive tyranny, thinking themselves above the truth, and their haughtiness before their Messenger, “when the worst of them rose up,” i.e. the most wretched of them, Qaddar ibn Salif. He hamstrung the camel after they had all agreed to this course of action. “The Messenger of Allah,” Salih, “said,” warning them “This is Allah’s she-camel, let her drink!” i.e. beware of hamstringing her. He has appointed her as a great Sign for you, so do not repay Allah’s favour on you, your drinking her milk, by killing her. “But they denied him” their Prophet, Salih, “and hamstrung her; so their Lord crushed them for their sin,” He destroyed them, enveloping all of them with His punishment. He sent an awful cry from above them and an earthquake from beneath them, and the morning found them prostrate in their dwellings, “visiting all alike,” meaning equally afflicting all of them with His punishment. “Nor does He fear the consequences,” how can He fear when he is the Omnipotent, not a single object of His creation is outside His control and power. He is All-Wise in all that He decrees and legislates.


Endnotes

* Another interpretation is, “by the heaven and its construction, by the earth and its spreading, and by a soul and its proportioning…” [Abu Hayyan]

** or, “…crushed them for their sin, levelling them”, “...crushed them for their sin, razing (their city) to the ground.”


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