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In the Shade of the Qur'an - Surah # 91

In the Shade of the Qur'an - Surah # 91
Syed Qutb
                                 ash Shams
          In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.

                         In the Shade of the Quran

  By the sun and his morning brightness, by the moon as she follows him,
  by the day which reveals its splendour, by the night when it enshrouds
  him, by the heaven and its construction, by the earth and its spreading,
  by the soul and its moulding and inspiration with knowledge of wickedness
  and piety. Successful is the one who keeps it pure, and ruined is the
  one who corrupts it. In their insolence the people of Thamoud denied
  the truth, when their most-wretched broke forth. The Messenger of Allah
  said to them: "The she-camel of Allah, let her have her drink". But
  they cried lies to him, and hamstrung her. For that sin their Lord
  let loose His scourge upon them, and razed their city to the ground.
  He fears not what may follow.
This surah, which maintains a single rhyme and keeps the same musi-
cal beat throughout, starts with several aesthetic touches which seem
to spring out from the surrounding universe and its phenomena.
These phenomena form the framework which encompasses the great
truth which is the subject matter of the surah, namely, the nature of
man, his inherent abilities, his choice of his line of action, and his re-
sponsibility in determining his own fate.

This surah also refers to the story of the tribe of Thamoud and their
negative attitude to the warnings of Allah's messenger to them, and
their killing of the she-camel; and finally the collapse of Thamoud
and their complete annihilation. This comes as an example of the
unpromising prospects which await those who corrupt their souls
instead of keeping them pure and do not confine themselves within
the limits of piety. "Successful is the one who keeps it pure, and ruined
is the one who corrupts it. "

  By the sun and his morning brightness, by the moon as she follows
  him, by the day which reveals its splendour, by the night when it ensh-
  rouds him, by the heaven and its construction. by the earth and its
  spreading, by the soul and its moulding and inspiration with knowledge
  of wickedness and piety. Successful is the one who keeps it pure, and
  ruined is the one who corrupts it.

Allah swears by these objects and universal phenomena as He
swears by the human soul, how it is fashioned and how it is inspired.
The oath gives these creatures an added significance and draws
man's attention to them. Man ought to contemplate these phenom-
ena and try to appreciate their value and the purpose of their

There exists in fact, some kind of a special language through which
the human heart communicates with the universe and its marvellous
scenes and phenomena. This language is part of human nature. It is a
language which does not use sounds and articulation. It is a com-
munication to the hearts and an inspiration to the souls which come
alive whenever man looks up to the universe for an inspiring touch or
a cheerful sight. Hence, the Qur'an frequently urges man to reflect
upon the surrounding universe. It does this in various ways, some-
times directly and sometimes with hints and incidental touches and
stimuli, as in this case where some phenomena of the universe are
made the subject of Allah's oath, in order to serve as a framework for
what follows in the surah. These explicit directives and indirect hints
are very frequent in this thirtieth part of the Qur'an. There is hardly
one surah in it which does not encourage man, in one way or another,
to communicate with the universe, in their secret language, so that he
may appreciate its signs and understand its address.

Here we have an inspiring oath by morning. The oath also specifies
the time when the sun rises above the horizon, when it is indeed at its
most beautiful. Indeed, mid-morning is, in winter, a time for refresh-
ing warmth. In summer, it is the time when the atmosphere is just
mild and fresh before the blazing heat of midday sets in, and the sun
is at its clearest.

The oath is also by the moon as she follows the sun and spreads her
beautiful and clear light. Between the moon and the human heart
there is an age-long fascination that is well established in men's
inmost souls. It is a fascination that is born anew everytime the two
meet. The moon issues her own special whispers and inspirations to
the human heart, and she sings her songs of praise to the Creator,
which a poet can almost hear through the tenderness of moonlight.
On a clear moonlit night, one can almost feel oneself sailing through
the moonlight, clearing off one's worries and enjoying a perfect bliss
as one feels the hand of the Maker beyond this perfect creation.

Allah also swears by the day as it exposes the sun. The Arabic
wording of this verse makes the pronoun preceding 'splendour'
ambiguous. Initially, one tends to take it as if it refers to the sun. The
general context, however, suggests that it refers to the earth as it is lit
by the sun. This method of changing referents is widely employed in
the Qur'an when the change is easily noticeable when the subject
matter is familiar. Here we have a discreet allusion to the fact that
sunlight does reveal the earth and has a great effect on human life, as
is well known. Our familiarity with the sun and his light makes us
tend to overlook his beauty and function. This Qur'anic hint
reawakens us to this magnificent daily spectacle.

The same applies to the following verse, "by the night when it en-
shrouds him ", that is, the opposite of what happens in the day. Night
time is like a screen that covers and hides everything. It also has its
own impressions on everyone, and its impact on human life is not less
important than that of day time.

Allah then swears "by the heaven and its construction." When
heaven is rnentioned, our immediate thoughts go to the huge dome-
like sky above us in which we see the stars and the planets moving
each in its orbit. But we are in fact uncertain of the exact nature of
heaven. However, what we see above us does bear the idea of build-
ing and construction because it looks to us a firm and solid whole. As
to how it is built and what keeps it together as it floats in the infinite
space, we have no answer. All that has been advanced in this field is
only theory that is liable to be invalidated or modified. We are cer-
tain, however, that the hand of Allah is the one which holds this
structure together, as emphasised elsewhere in the Qur'an: "Allah
holds the heavens and the earth that they do not collapse. Should they
collapse none could hold them back but He." [1] This is the only definite
and absolute truth about the matter.

The oath then includes the earth and its spreading as preparatory
to the emergence of life. Indeed, human and animal life would not
have been possible had the earth not been spread. It is indeed the
special characteristics and the natural laws which Allah has in-
corporated in the making of this earth that make life on it possible,
according to His will and plan. It appears that if any of these laws
were to be violated or upset, life on earth would have been im-
possible or would have changed its course. The most important of
these is perhaps the spreading of the earth which is also mentioned in
surah 79 ("The Pluckers"): "After that He spread out the earth. He
brought out water from it, and brought forth its pastures. [2]

The surah moves on to state the basic truth about man, and relates
this truth to the various phenomena of the universe, for man is one of
the most remarkable wonders in this harmonious creation: "by the
soul and its moulding and inspiration with knowledge of wickedness and
plety. Successful is the one who keeps it pure, and ruined is the one who
corrupts it."

These four verses in conjunction with a verse in the preceding
surah, "The City": "And ( We have) shown him the two paths", and a
verse in surah 76, "Man", which says: " We (Allah) have shown him the
right path, be he grateful or ungrateful, " [3] constitute the basis of the
"Psychological Theory of Islam". They supplement the verses which
point out the duality in man's make-up in surah 38, "Sad", which
says: " Your Lord said to the angels, 'I am creating man from clay.
When I have fashioned him, and breathed of My spirit into him, kneel
down and prostrate yourselves before him. ' [4] These verses also sup-
plement and are related to the verses which define man's respon-
sibility and accountability for his actions, as the one in surah 74,
"The Cloaked One", which reads in translation: "Every soul is the
hostage of its own deeds," [5] and the verse in surah 13, "Thunder",
which states that Allah's attitude to man is directly related to man's
own behaviour: "Allah does not change a people 's lot until they change
what is in their hearts." [6] These and similar verses define the Islamic
view of man with perfect clarity.

Allah has created man with a duality of nature and ability. What
we mean by duality is that the two ingredients in his make-up, i.e.,
earth's clay and Allah' with, form within him two equal tendencies
to good and evil, to follow Divine guidance and to go astray. Man is
just as capable of recognising the good as he is of recognising the evil
in everything he encounters, and he is equally capable of directing
himself one way or the other. This dual ability is deeply ingrained
within him. All external factors like Divine messages only serve to
awaken his potential and help it take its chosen way. In other words,
these factors do not create this potential, which is innate; they only
help it develop.

In addition to his innate ability man is equipped with a conscious
faculty which determines his line of action and is, therefore, respon-
sible for his actions and decisions. He who uses this faculty to
strengthen his inclinations to what is good and to purify himself and
to weaken the evil drive within him will be prosperous and successful;
while he who uses this faculty to suppress the good tendency in him-
will ruin himself: "Successful is the one who keeps it pure and ruined is
the one who corrupts it."

There must be, then, an element of responsibility attached to
man's conscious faculty and freedom of choice. For if he is free to
choose between his tendencies, his freedom must be coupled with re-
sponsibility. He is assigned a definite task related to the power given
to him. But Allah, the Compassionate, does not leave man with no
guidance other than his natural impulses or his conscious,
decision-making faculty. Allah helps him by sending him messages
which lay down accurate and permanent criteria, and point out to
him the signs which should help him choose the right path and which
exist within him and in the world around him, and clear his way of
any obstructions so that he may see the truth. Thus, he recognises his
way easily and clearly and his conscious decision-making faculty
functions with full knowledge of the nature of the direction it
chooses and the implications of that choice.

This is what Allah has willed for man and whatever takes place
within this framework is a direct fulfilment of His will.

>From this very general outline of the Islamic concept of man
emerge a number of vital and valuable facts: firstly, that this concept
elevates man to the high position of being responsible for his actions
and allows him freedom of choice, (within the confines of Allah's will
that granted him this freedom). Responsibility and freedom of
choice, therefore, make man the honoured creature of this world, a
position worthy of the creature in whom Allah has blown something
of His own spirit and whom He has made with His own hand and
raised above most of His creation.

Secondly, it puts man's fate in his own hands (according to Allah's
will as explained earlier) and makes him responsible for it. This
stimulates in him an attitude of caution as well as the positive sense of
the fear of God. For he knows then that the will of Allah is fulfilled
through his own actions and decisions: "Allah does not change a
people's lot until they change what is in their hearts." This is in itself
a great responsibility which demands that one should be always alert.

Thirdly, it reminds man of his permanent need to refer to the cri-
teria fixed by Allah in order to ensure that his desires do not get the
better of him, lead him astray and destroy him. Thus man keeps near
to Allah, follows His guidance and illuminates his way by the Divine
light. Indeed, the standard of purity man can achieve is limitless.

The surah then gives an example of the failure which befalls those
who corrupt themselves, and erect a barrier between themselves and
Divine guidance: "In their insolence the people of Thamoud denied the
truth, when their most-wretched broke forth. The Messenger of Allah
said to them, 'The she-camel of A llah, let her have her drink' But they
cried lies to him, and hamstrung her. For that sin their Lord let loose
His scourge upon them and razed their city to the ground. He fears nor
what may follow."

The story of Thamoud and their Messenger, Salih, is mentioned
several times in the Qur'an. A discussion of it is given every time it
occurs. The reader may refer to it for further details in the commen-
tary on surah 89, "The Dawn", in this volume. The present surah,
however, states that the people of Thamoud rejected their Prophet
and accused him of Iying simply because they were arrogant and
insolent. Their transgression is represented here by their most-
wretched breaking forth to hamstring the she-camel. He is the
most-wretched as a result of his crime. Their Messenger had warned
them in advance, saying, "Beware! never harm Allah's she-camel
and never touch her drink." This was his condition when they asked
him for a sign. The sign was that she-camel who had the water for
herself one day and left it for the rest of the cattle one day. The she-
camel must have had something else peculiar to her, but we shall not
go into its details because Allah has not told us about it. Thamoud
however, did not heed their Messenger's warnings but hamstrung the
she-camel. The person who perpetrated the crime, the arch-sinner, is
the most-wretched, but they all were held responsible because they
did not take him to task. On the contrary, they applauded what he
did. A basic principle of Islam is that the society bears a collective re-
sponsibility in this life. This does not conflict with the principle of in-
dividual responsibility in the hereafter when everyone is answerable
for his own deeds. It is a sin, however, not to counsel and urge one
another to adhere to the good and not to punish evil and trans-

As a result of Thamoud's insolence and their outrageous crime, a
calamity befell them: "For that sin their Lord let loose His scourge
upon them and razed their city to the ground. ' ' The Arabic verse uses
the verb 'damdama' for 'let loose His scourge', which creates, by its
repetitiveness, an added feeling of horror, as we learn that the city
was completely razed to the ground.

"He fears not what may follow ". All praises and glorification be to
Him. Whom, what and why should He fear? The meaning aimed at
here is what the statement entails: he who does not fear the conse-
quences punishes most severely. This is true of Allah's punishment.

In conclusion, we say the surah provides a link between the human
soul, the basic facts of the universe, its constant and repetitive scenes
and Allah's unfailing law of punishing the tyrant transgressors. This
He does according to His own wise planning which sets a time for
everything and a purpose for every action. He is the Lord of man, the
universe and fate.

[1]. 35:41
[2]. 79:30
[3]. 76:3
[4]. 38:72-3
[5]. 74:38
[6]. 13:11





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