Saturday, February 2, 2019

Surah An Najm (The Star): Exegesis of 53rd Chapter of the Holy Quran

Surah An Najm is the fifty third surah with 62 ayahs with three rukus, part of the 27th Juzʼ  of the Holy Qur'an. This Surah was revealed in Ramadan of 5th year of Prophet's residence at Makkah.

The surah is also known for referencing the star Sirius in ayah 49 where it is given the name الشِّعْرَى (transliteration: aš-ši‘rā or ash-shira; the leader). The verse is: "وأنَّهُ هُوَ رَبُّ الشِّعْرَى", "That He is the Lord of Sirius (the Mighty Star)." Ibn Kathir said in his commentary "that it is the bright star, named Mirzam Al-Jawza' (Sirius), which a group of Arabs used to worship." The alternate name Aschere, used by Johann Bayer, is derived from this.

However, there are others who differ. Ibn Abbas, Mujahid and Sufyan Thauri opine that Najm implies the Pleiades (also known as the Seven Sisters). Ibn Jarir and Zamakhshari have held this same interpretation as preferable, for in Arabic when the word an-najm is used absolutely, it usually implies the Pleiades. Suddi says that it implies Venus; and Abu Ubaidah, the grammarian, holds that here the word an-najm has been used generically so as to express this idea: When the day dawned, and the stars set. 

The surah takes its name from its very first verse,  which mentions “the stars” (najm):
 وَٱلنَّجۡمِ إِذَا هَوَىٰ
Thus, Surah An Najm opens with the oath of the Allah swearing by every one of the stars, as they descend and disappear beneath the horizon, that Muhammad (peace be upon him) is indeed God’s awaited Messenger. It also refutes the claims of the disbelievers about the goddesses and the angels (ayah 9), and lists several truths about Allah’s power. It closes with a warning of the imminent Day of Judgement.

One of the most powerful attribute of this surah is that it is the first surah of the Holy Qur'an which the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) had publicly recited before an assembly in the Ka'bah in which both the believers and the disbelievers were present. At the end, when he recited the verse requiring the performance of a Sajdah (prostration) and fell down in prostration, the whole assembly also prostrated with him. Surprisingly even those chiefs of the polytheists who were in the forefront of the opposition to the Prophet (pbuh) could not resist falling down in prostration. Ibn Mas'ud (may Allah be pleased with him) says that he saw only one man, Umayyah bin Khalaf, from among the disbelievers, who did not  prostrate but took a little dust and rubbing it on his forehead said that it was enough for him. 

The theme of the discourse is to warn the disbelievers of Makkah about the error of the attitude that they had adopted towards the Qur'an and the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). The discourse starts by saying: "Muhammad is neither deluded nor gone astray, nor has he fabricated this teaching of Islam and its message, as you seem to think he has. In fact, whatever he is presenting is nothing but Revelation which is sent down to him. The verities that he presents before you, are not the product of his own surmise and speculation but realities of which he himself is an eye witness. He has himself seen the Angel through whom this knowledge is conveyed to him. He has been directly made to observe the great Signs of Allah during his trip of Ma'iraj; whatever he says is not what he has himself thought out but what he has seen with his own eyes." 

After this, following three convincing arguments are presented:
  • The religion that you are following is based on mere conjecture and invented ideas. You have set up a few goddesses like Lat and Manat and Uzza, whereas they have no share in divinity. You regard the angels as the daughters of Allah. You think that these deities of yours can influence Allah in your favor, whereas the fact is that all the angels together, who are stationed closest to Allah, cannot influence Him even in their own favor. None of beliefs that you have adopted is based on knowledge and reason, but are wishes and desires for the sake of which you have taken some whims as realities. This is a grave error.
  • The final judgement will not depend on what you consider yourself to be, and on the claims you make about your purity and chastity but on whether you are pious or impious, righteous or unrighteous in the sight of Allah. If you refrain from major sins, He in His mercy will overlook your minor errors.
  • A few basic principles of the true faith are reiterated which were stated in the Books of the Prophets Abraham and Moses, so that there remains no misunderstanding that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) has brought some new and novel religion. These are the same fundamental truths which the former Prophets of Allah have always been presenting in their respective ages. It is made clear that the destruction of the 'Ad, the Thamud and of the people of the Prophets Nuh (Noah) and Lut (Lot) was not the result of accidental calamities, but Allah has destroyed them in consequence of the same wickedness and rebellion from which the disbelievers of Makkah are not inclined to refrain and desist.
This was such an impressive discourse, by it even the most hardened deniers of the truth were completely overwhelmed, and when after reciting these verses of Divine Word the Prophet of Allah (pbuh) fell down in prostration, they too could not help falling down in prostration along with him.

Let us now read explanation of the Surah segmented into portions as per the subject matter:

بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْمِ 
"In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful"
The first eighteen verses of this surah are considered to be some of the earliest revelations of the Qur'an. These verses address the legitimacy of Muhammad’s prophetic visions and also explain the scene of the first Revelation, brought by angel Gabriel to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)

The passage evokes the process of vision by tracing the movement along the highest horizon and then coming down and drawing near to the distance of “two bows” length. The passage ends with the affirmation of the validity of the vision by stating that the heart of the prophet “did not lie in what it saw.”
1. By the star when it goes down, (or vanishes).
2. Your (the addressees are the Quraish) companion (implies the Messenger of Allah Prophet Muhammad ) has neither gone astray nor has erred.
3. Nor does he speak of (his own) desire.
4. It is only an Inspiration that is inspired.
5. He has been taught (this Qur'an) by one mighty in power [Jibrael (Gabriel)].
6. One endowed with immense wisdom. He came forth and stood poised.
7. While he [Jibrael (Gabriel)] was in the highest part of the horizon,
8. Then he [Jibrael (Gabriel)] approached and came closer,
9. And was at a distance of two bows' length or (even) nearer,
10. So did (Allah) convey the Inspiration to His slave [Muhammad  through Jibrael (Gabriel)].
11. The (Prophet's) heart lied not (in seeing) what he (Muhammad ) saw.
12. Will you then dispute with him (Muhammad ) about what he saw [during the Mi'raj: (Ascent of the Prophet  over the seven heavens)] .
13. And indeed he (Muhammad ) saw him [Jibrael (Gabriel)] at a second descent (i.e. another time).
14. Near Sidrat-ul-Muntaha [lote-tree of the utmost boundary (beyond which none can pass)],
15. Near it is the Paradise of Abode.
16. When that covered the lote-tree which did cover it!
17. The sight (of Prophet Muhammad ) turned not aside (right or left), nor it transgressed beyond (the) limit (ordained for it).
18. Indeed he (Muhammad ) did see, of the Greatest Signs, of his Lord (Allah).
Verses 19-25 are about the three major idols of the pagan; Lat, Uzza and Manat (goddesses of Arabs) saying that they are nothing but names in vented by pagan Arabs.

Verse number 19 begins with the mention of three gods and goddesses of the Arab pagans.
  • The shrine of Lat was in Ta'if and the Bani Thaqif were its devotees.
  • 'Uzza is the name of a female goddess, which enjoyed pagans' veneration and respect. This was the special goddess of the Quraish and her shrine was situated at Hurad in the valley of Nakhlah, between Makkah and Ta'if. The people of Bani Shaiban, who were the allies of the Bani Hashim, were its attendants. The Quraish and the people of other tribes paid visits to it and presented offerings and made sacrifices to it. As for the Ka`bah sacrificial animals were driven to it also and it was held in the highest esteem. 
  • The shrine of Manat was situated at Qudaid by the Red Sea between Makkah and Madinah, and the people of Khuza`ah and Aus and Khazraj were in particular its great devotees. People visited it as pilgrims, circumambulated it and made offerings and sacrifices before it.
19. Have you then considered Al-Lat, and Al-'Uzza (two idols of the pagan Arabs)
20. And Manat (another idol of the pagan Arabs), the other third?
21. Is it for you the males and for Him the females?
[Verse 21] That is, you held these goddesses as daughters of Allah, Lord of the worlds, and did not consider while inventing this absurd creed that as for yourselves you regarded the birth of a daughter as disgraceful, and desired to have only male children, but as for Allah you assign to Him only daughters.
22. That indeed is a division most unfair!
23. They are but names which you have named, you and your fathers, for which Allah has sent down no authority. They follow but a guess and that which they themselves desire, whereas there has surely come to them the Guidance from their Lord!
[Verse 23] That is, those whom you call gods and goddesses are neither gods nor goddesses, nor do they possess any attribute of divinity, nor any share whatever in the powers of Godhead. You have of your own whim made them children of God and deities and associates in Godhead. Allah has sent down no authority which you may produce as a proof in support of your presumptions. In other words, the basic causes of their deviation are two:
  • First, that they do not feel any need for the knowledge of reality for the purpose of adopting a creed and religion, but make a supposition on the basis of a mere conjecture and then put belief in it as though it were the reality, 
  • Second, that they have, in fact, adopted this attitude in order to follow the desires of their souls: they desire that they should have such a deity as should help them attain their aims and objects in the world, and if at all there is to be a Hereafter, it should take the responsibility to have them granted forgiveness there too, But it should not impose any restriction of the lawful and the unlawful on them nor should bind them in any discipline of morality. That is why they do not feel inclined to worship One God as taught by the Prophets, and only like to worship these invented gods and goddesses.
That is, in every age the Prophets appointed by Allah have been guiding these wicked people to the truth, and now Muhammad (peace be upon him) has come to tell them as to whom belongs Godhead in reality in the universe.
24. Does man imagine that whatever he wishes for is right for him?
The meaning of this verse [24] can be: Is man entitled to take anyone he pleases as his god? Still another meaning can be: Can the desire of man to have his prayers answered by these gods ever be fulfilled?
25. But to Allah belongs the last (Hereafter) and the first (the world).
In verses 26-32, it has been explained that Angels have no share in divinity, nor they can even intercede without the permission of Allah. Do not claim piety for yourselves, Allah knows who is God fearing and pious.
26. And there are many angels in the heavens, whose intercession will avail nothing except after Allah has given leave for whom He wills and pleases.
27. Verily, those who believe not in the Hereafter, name the angels with female names.
28. While they have no knowledge thereof. They follow but a guess, and verily, guess is no substitute for the truth.
29. Therefore withdraw (O Muhammad ) from him who turns away from Our Reminder (this Qur'an) and desires nothing but the life of this world.
30. That is what they could reach of knowledge. Verily, your Lord it is He Who knows best him who goes astray from His Path, and He knows best him who receives guidance.
31. And to Allah belongs all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth, that He may requite those who do evil with that which they have done (i.e. punish them in Hell), and reward those who do good, with what is best (i.e. Paradise).
32. Those who avoid great sins (see the Qur'an, Verses: 6:152,153) and Al-Fawahish (illegal sexual intercourse, etc.) except the small faults, verily, your Lord is of vast forgiveness. He knows you well when He created you from the earth (Adam), and when you were fetuses in your mothers' wombs. So ascribe not purity to yourselves. He knows best him who fears Allah and keep his duty to Him [i.e. those who are Al-Muttaqun (pious - see V.2:2)].
Verses 33-62 explain that No soul shall bear the burden of another, there shall be nothing for a person except what he strives for.
33. Did you (O Muhammad ) observe him who turned away (from Islam).
34. And gave a little, then stopped (giving)?
35. Is with him the knowledge of the unseen so that he sees?
36. Or is he not informed with what is in the Pages (Scripture) of Musa (Moses),
37. And of Ibrahim (Abraham) who fulfilled (or conveyed) all that (what Allah ordered him to do or convey),
38. That no burdened person (with sins) shall bear the burden (sins) of another.
[Verse 39] This verse is oft quoted when talking of punishments and rewards:
وَاَنۡ لَّيۡسَ لِلۡاِنۡسَانِ اِلَّا مَا سَعٰ
From this verse three important principles are derived: (1) That every person will get only the fruit of his own deeds. (2) That the fruit of one man’s deeds cannot be given to another unless he has a share in that deed. (3) That none can attain anything without striving for it.
39. And that man can have nothing but what he does (good or bad),
In this connection, however, four things should be understood:
  • First, that the reward of that act only can be transferred, which may have been performed purely for the sake of Allah and according to the Shariah injunctions; otherwise obviously an act which is performed for the sake of another than Allah, or in contravention of the Shari ah injunctions, cannot even entitle its doer himself to any reward, nothing to say of its transfer to another person.
  • Secondly, the gift of the rewards will certainly reach to those righteous persons who are staying as guests with Allah, but no rewards are expected to reach to those culprits who are placed in confinement there. The gift can reach the guests of Allah but the criminals of Allah cannot be expected to receive it. 
  • Thirdly, the transfer of the reward is possible but not the transfer of punishment. That is, it is possible that one may do a good deed and may willingly transfer its reward to the other and it reaches him, but it is not possible that one may commit a sin and transfer its punishment to the other and it reaches him.
  • The fourth thing is that a virtuous act is beneficial in two ways: First, on account of its those results which accrue to the soul and morality of the doer himself because of which he becomes worthy of a reward in the sight of Allah; Second, on account of the reward which Allah grants him as a gift and favor. The transfer of the spiritual reward does not concern the first but only the second. 
This can be understood by an example. A person tries to attain proficiency in the art of wrestling by constant practice. The strength and skill thus gained is in any way specially meant for his own self; it cannot be transferred to another. Similarly, if he is attached to a royal court, and there is a stipend fixed for him as a wrestler, he alone will receive it and no one else. However, in respect of the prizes and gifts that his patron may like to grant him as an appreciation for his creditable performance, he may request that they may be given to his coach, or parents, or some other benefactor, on his behalf. The same is the case with the virtuous deeds: their spiritual benefits are not transferable and their rewards also cannot be transferred to another, but as for their rewards and gifts he can pray to Allah that these may be granted to a near and dear one, or a benefactor of his. That is why it is termed as isal thawab (conveying of spiritual rewards) and not as isal jaza (conveying of material reward).
40. And that his deeds will be seen,
[Verse 40]  That is, in the Hereafter the people’s deeds shall be examined and judged in order to see what provisions they have brought with them. As this sentence occurs immediately after the preceding sentence, it by itself indicates that the preceding sentence relates to the rewards and punishments of the Hereafter, and the view of those who present it as an economic principle relating to this world is not correct. To interpret a verse of the Quran in a way as is irrelevant to the context as well as clashes with the other ordinances of the Quran cannot be right.
41. Then he will be recompensed with a full and the best recompense
42. And that to your Lord (Allah) is the End (Return of everything).
43. And that it is He (Allah) Who makes (whom He wills) laugh, and makes (whom He wills) weep;
44. And that it is He (Allah) Who causes death and gives life;
45. And that He (Allah) creates the pairs, male and female,
46. From Nutfah (drops of semen male and female discharges) when it is emitted;
47. And that upon Him (Allah) is another bringing forth (Resurrection);
48. And that it is He (Allah) Who gives much or a little (or gives wealth and contentment),
49.  And that He (Allah) is the Lord of Sirius (the star which the pagan Arabs used to worship);
50. And that it is He (Allah) Who destroyed the former 'Ad (people),
51. And Thamud (people). He spared none of them.
52. And the people of Nuh (Noah) aforetime, verily, they were more unjust and more rebellious and transgressing [in disobeying Allah and His Messenger Nuh (Noah)].
53. And He destroyed the overthrown cities [of Sodom to which Prophet Lout (Lot) was sent].
54. So there covered them that which did cover (i.e. torment with stones).
55. Then which of the Graces of your Lord (O man!) will you doubt.
56. This (Muhammad ) is a warner (Messenger) of the (series of) warners (Messengers) of old .
57. The Day of Resurrection draws near,
58. None besides Allah can avert it, (or advance it, or delay it).
59. Do you then wonder at this recital (the Qur'an)?
60. And you laugh at it and weep not,
61. Wasting your (precious) lifetime in pastime and amusements (singing, etc.).
62. So fall you down in prostration to Allah, and worship Him (Alone).
You may now like to listen to Arabic recitation of Surah An Najm with English subtitles:

You may refer to our post "114 Chapters (Sūrahs) of the Holy Qur'an" for translation, meaning and summary of other chapters (Though not complete but building up from 30th Part backwards for chapters in 30th Part are shorter and easier to understand). 

Photo | References: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 |
An effort has been made to gather explanation of the surahs of the Holy Qur'an from authentic souses and then present a least possible condensed explanation of the surah. However, those wanting detailed explanations and tafsir (exegesis), may refer to sites the references of which are given above.

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