Thursday 15 October 2020

Surah Al Balad -The City: Exegesis 90th Chapter of Quran

Sūrah Al Balad " البلد "  - The City, is the ninetieth  sürah with 20 āyāt, part of the 30th Juzʼ  of the Holy Qur'ān. The Sūrah has been so named after the word al balad  البلد " in the very first verse.

In this Surah a vast subject has been compressed into a few brief sentences, and it is a miracle of the Qur’an that a complete ideology of life which could hardly be explained in a thick volume has been abridged most effectively in brief sentences.

Its theme is to explain the true position of man in the world and of the world in relation to man and to tell that Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala has shown to man both the highways of good and evil, has also provided for him the means to judge and see and follow them, and now it rests upon man’s own effort and judgment whether he chooses the path of virtue and reaches felicity or adopts the path of vice and meets with doom.

We have already presented the overview / summary of the Sūrah Al Balad. Let us now read the verse by verse translation and exegesis / tafseer in English. You may also listen to its tafseer / exegesis by eminent Muslim scholar, exegete and linguist Nouman Ali Khan at the end of the post:

بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْمِ 
"In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful"

لَا أُقْسِمُ بِهَـٰذَا الْبَلَدِ 
( 1 )   Nay! I swear by this city

As it has been  explained in (verse 1 of Surah Al-Qiyamah), to begin a discourse with a Nay and resume it with an oath means that the people were asserting a wrong thing to refute which it was said: Nay, the truth is not that which you seem to assert, but I swear by such and such a thing that the truth is this and this. As for the question what it was to refute which this discourse was sent down, it is indicated by the theme that follows. The disbelievers of Makkah said that there was nothing wrong with the way of life that they were following, as if to say: Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die in the natural process of time. Muhammad (peace be upon him), without any reason, is finding fault with this way of life and warning us that we would at some time in the future be called to account for it and rewarded and punished accordingly.

This City: the city of Makkah. There was no need here to explain why an oath was being sworn by this City. The people of Makkah were well aware of the background and importance of their city and knew how in the midst of desolate mountains, in an un-cultivated, barren valley, the Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) had brought his wife and suckling child and left them there without any support; how he had built a House there and proclaimed to the people to visit it as pilgrims when there was no soul for miles around to hear the proclamation, and then how this city had eventually become the commercial and religious centre of Arabia and was blessed with such sacredness that there was no other place of security beside it in that lawless land for centuries.

Ibn Kathir Explanation:
Swearing by the Sanctity of Makkah and Other Things that Man was created in Hardship: Here Allah has sworn by Makkah, the Mother of the Towns, addressing its resident (during the non-sacred months,) free in this city in order to draw his attention to the significance of its sanctity when its people are in the state of sanctity. Khusayf reported from Mujahid; "The word "La'' (Nay) refers to the refutation against them (Quraish). I swear by this city.''

 وَأَنتَ حِلٌّ بِهَـٰذَا الْبَلَدِ 
( 2 )   And you, [O Muhammad], are free of restriction in this city -

Three meanings of the words in the text have been given by the commentators:
  • (1) That you are a resident of this city and your residence here has further enhanced the glory of this city.
  • (2) That although this city is a sanctuary; a time will come when for some time it will become lawful for you to fight and kill the enemies of the true faith here.
  • (3) That in this city where even killing of animals and cutting of trees is forbidden for the people of Arabia, and where everyone is living in perfect peace, you, O Prophet, have no peace, and persecuting you and devising plans to kill you has been made lawful.
Although the words are comprehensive enough to cover all the three meanings, yet when the theme that follows is considered, one feels that the first two meanings bear no relevance to it, and only the third meaning seems to be correct.

Ibn Kathir Explanation:
The meaning of this verse was mentioned in a Hadith that is agreed- upon as being authentic. In it the Prophet said: (Verily, Allah made this city sacred on the Day that He created the heavens and the earth. Therefore, it is sacred by the sanctity of Allah until the Day of Judgement. Its trees should not be uprooted, and its bushes and grasses should not be removed. And it was only made lawful for me (to fight in) for one hour of a day. Today its sanctity has been restored just as it was sacred yesterday. So, let the one who is present inform those who are absent.) 

Muhammad Asad Explanation:
Lit., "while thou art dwelling in this land". The classical commentators give to the term balad the connotation of "city", and maintain that the phrase hadha 'l-balad ("this city") signifies Mecca, and that the pronoun "thou" in the second verse refers to Muhammad ﷺ. Although this interpretation is plausible in view of the fact that the sacredness of Mecca is repeatedly stressed in the Qur'an, the sequence - as well as the tenor of the whole surah - seems to warrant a wider, more general interpretation. In my opinion, the words hadha 'l-balad denote "this land of man", i.e., the earth (which latter term is, according to all philologists, one of the primary meanings of balad). Consequently, the "thou" in verse {2} relates to man in general, and that which is metaphorically "called to witness" is his earthly environment.

Yusuf Ali Explanation:
Hillun حِلٌّ : an inhabitant, a man with lawful rights, a man freed from such obligations as would attach to a stranger to the city, a freeman in a wider sense than the technical sense to which the word is restricted in modern usage. The Prophet should have been honoured in his native city. He was actually being persecuted. He should have been loved, as a parent loves a child. Actually his life was being sought, and those who believed in him were under a ban. But time was to show that he was to come triumphant to his native city after having made Madinah sacred by his life and work.

 وَوَالِدٍ وَمَا وَلَدَ 
( 3 )   And [by] the father and that which was born [of him],

As the words “father and children he begot” have been used indefinitely, and this is followed by the mention of man, father could only imply Adam (peace be upon him) and children the human beings who existed in the world, exist today and will exist in the future.

Ibn Kathir Explanation:
Mujahid, Abu Salih, Qatadah, Ad-Dahhak, Sufyan Ath-Thawri, Sa`id bin Jubayr, As-Suddi, Al-Hasan Al-Basri, Khusayf, Shurahbil bin Sa`d and others have said, "Meaning, by the begetter, Adam, and that which he begot is his children.'' This view that Mujahid and his companions have chosen is good and strong. This is supported by the fact that Allah swears by the Mother of the Towns, which are dwellings. Then after it He swears by the dwellers therein, who is Adam, the father of mankind, and his children. Abu `Imran Al-Jawni said, "It refers to Ibrahim and his progeny.'' Ibn Jarir recorded this statement as did Ibn Abi Hatim. Ibn Jarir preferred the view that it is general and it refers to every father and his children. This meaning is also acceptable. 

Yusuf Ali Explanation:
A parent loves a child: ordinarily the father is proud and the mother, in spite of her birth-pains, experiences supreme joy when the child is born. But in abnormal circumstances there may be misunderstanding, even hatred between parent and child. So Makkah cast out her most glorious son, but it was only for a time. Makkah was sound at heart; only her power had been usurped by an ignorant autocracy which passed away, and Makkah was to receive back her glory at the hands of the son whom she had rejected but whom she welcomed back later. And Makkah retains for all time her sacred character as the centre of Islam.

 لَقَدْ خَلَقْنَا الْإِنسَانَ فِي كَبَدٍ
( 4 )   Verily We have created man into toil and hardship.

This is that for which the oaths as mentioned above have been sworn. Man’s being created in toil means that man in this world has not been created to enjoy himself and live a life of ease and comfort, but the world for him is a place of enduring and undergoing toil, labor and hardship, and no man can be immune from this. The city of Makkah is a witness that a servant of Allah toiled and struggled hard, then only did it become a city and the centre of Arabia. In this city of Makkah the condition of Muhammad (peace be upon him) is a witness that he is enduring every kind of hardship for the sake of a mission; so much so that there is full peace here for the wild animals but no peace for him. 

Then, every man’s survival, from the time he is conceived in the mother’s womb till the last breath of life, is a witness that he has to pass through trouble, toil, labor, dangers and hardships at every step. The most fortunate of us is also exposed to grave dangers of death before birth or of elimination by abortion while in the mother’s womb. At birth he is only a hair-breadth away from death. After birth he is so helpless that had there not been somebody to look after him, he would perish uncared for and unnoticed. When he became able to walk he stumbled at every step. From childhood to youth and old age he had to pass through such physical changes that if any change had taken a wrong turn, his very life would have been at stake. Even if he is a king or a dictator, at no time he enjoys internal peace from the fear that a rebellion might arise against him somewhere. Even if he is a conqueror he is never at peace from the danger that one of his generals might rise in revolt against him. Even if he is a Korah of his time, he is ever anxious to increase his wealth and to safeguard it. Thus, there is no one who may be enjoying perfect peace freely and without hesitation, for man indeed has been created into a life of toil and trouble.

Verse By Verse Quran Study Circle Explanation:
An oath that reaffirms an intrinsic fact of human life, “We have certainly created man into hardship.” Indeed, man’s life is a process of continued hardship that never ends, as stated in Surah Al-Inshiqaq Ayah 6, “O mankind! You are indeed laboring toward your Lord with [great] exertion and will meet it.”

Yusuf Ali Explanation:
Cf. "Man is born unto troubles as the sparks fly upward" (Job, v. 7); "For all his days are sorrows, and his travail grief" (Ecclesiastes, ii. 23). Man's life is full of sorrow and vexation; but our text has a different shade of meaning: man is born to strive and struggle; and if he suffers from hardships, he must exercise patience, for Allah will make his way smooth for him (lxv. 7; xciv. 5-6). On the other hand no man should boast of worldly goods or worldly prosperity (see verses 5-7 below).

أَيَحْسَبُ أَن لَّن يَقْدِرَ عَلَيْهِ أَحَدٌ 
( 5 )   Does he think that no one can overpower him?

That is, is man, who is ever exposed to such hazards, involved in the delusion that he can do what he likes, and there is no superior power to seize and suppress him? The fact, however, is that even before the occurrence of the Hereafter in this world itself, he sees that his destiny every moment is being ruled by some other Being against Whose decrees all his plans and designs prove ineffective. A single jolt of the earthquake, a blast of wind, a flood in the river and a sea-storm are enough to show how weak and feeble man is against the divine forces. A sudden accident can reduce a strong and robust person to a cripple; one turn of the fortune deposes a mighty sovereign from the position of authority. When the fortunes of the nations, which have climbed to the very apex of glory and prosperity, change, they are humiliated and disgraced even in the world where no one could dare look at them in the face. How has then this man been deluded into thinking that no one else can have power over him.

Yusuf Ali Explanation:
See the end of last note. If a man has wealth, influence, or power, he should not behave as if it is to last for ever, or as if he has no responsibility for his acts and can do what he likes. All his gifts and advantages are given to him for trial. Allah, Who bestowed them on him, can take them away, and will do so if man fails in his trial.

 يَقُولُ أَهْلَكْتُ مَالًا لُّبَدًا 
( 6 )   He says, "I have squandered wealth in abundance."

Literally: I have destroyed heaps of wealth, i.e. squandered and wasted it. These words show how proud the speaker was of his wealth. The heaps of wealth, that he spent was so insignificant as against his total wealth that he did not mind squandering it carelessly. And to what purpose did he squander it? Not for a genuine, good cause as becomes evident from the following verses, but for display of his wealth and expression of his pride and glory. Bestowing rich awards on poetic admirers, inviting and feeding hundreds of thousands of people on marriage and death ceremonies, gambling away heaps of wealth, attending festivals with large entourages, trying to excel others in display of glory and grandeur, having heaps of food cooked on ceremonial occasions and throwing invitations to all and sundry to come and eat, or arranging and supplying running meals at the residence so as to impress the people around with one’s generosity and large heartedness; such were the expenditures of ostentation, which in the days of ignorance were regarded as a symbol of man’s munificence and magnanimity, and a sign of his greatness. For these they were praised and admired; on these their praises were sung; and on account of these they prided themselves against the less fortunate.

Muhammad Asad Explanation:
Implying that his resources - and, therefore, his possibilities - are inexhaustible. We must remember that the term "man" is used here in the sense of "human race": hence, the above boast is a metonym for the widespread belief - characteristic of all periods of religious decadence - that there are no limits to the power to which man may aspire, and that, therefore, his worldly "interests" are the only criteria of right and wrong.

Yusuf Ali Explanation:
The man who feels no responsibility and thinks that he can do what he likes in life forgets his responsibility to Allah. He boasts of his wealth and scatters it about, thinking that he can thus purchase the support of the world. For a time he may. But a rude awakening must come soon, for he bases his hopes on unsubstantial things. Or if he spends his substance on self-indulgence, he is weakening himself and putting himself into snares that must destroy him.

 أَيَحْسَبُ أَن لَّمْ يَرَهُ أَحَدٌ 
( 7 )   Does he think that no one has seen him?

That is, doesn’t this boaster understand that there is also a God above him, Who sees by what means he obtained this wealth, in what ways he spent it, and with what intention, motive, and purpose he did all this? Does he think that God will put any value on his extravagance, his fame-mongering and his boasting. Does he think that like the world, God too will be deluded by it.

Yusuf Ali Explanation:
Allah watches him, and sees all his acts and motives, and all the secret springs of his follies. But lest he should think the higher forces too remote for him, let him look within himself and use the faculties which Allah has given him. See the next verses following.

أَلَمْ نَجْعَل لَّهُ عَيْنَيْنِ 
( 8 )   Have We not made for him two eyes?

Javed Ahmad Ghamidi Explanation:
The implication is that the only right benefit of the eyes was that they should have been used to learn and seek a lesson. 

Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi writes: "These verses prod them: they should reflect that the Almighty had blessed them with two eyes so that they could observe their surroundings and see that on the one hand the Almighty has blessed them with wealth and status and on the other they can see that right under their noses are orphans and the needy, poor and helpless, weak and sick, the physically handicapped and the deprived who have nothing to eat and nothing to wear. The reason that the Almighty has blessed them with eyes is so that they observe all this around them and learn a lesson and become grateful to the Almighty. He did not make them go through such trying circumstances merely as a favour to them. Hence, they owe this obligation to these favours to generously spend their money to fulfil the needs of the deprived lot – the money which was given in their custody by the Almighty with a share for such people." (Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tadabbur-i Qur’an, vol. 9, 373)

 وَلِسَانًا وَشَفَتَيْنِ 
( 9 )   And a tongue and two lips?

That is, have We not given him the means of obtaining knowledge and wisdom? Two eyes does not imply the eyes of the cow and buffalo, but human eyes, which if used intelligently can help man see all around himself those signs which lead to the reality and distinguish the right from the wrong. The tongue and lips do not merely imply the instruments of speech but the rational mind behind these instruments which performs the functions of thinking and understanding and then uses them for expressing its ideas, motives and designs.

Javed Ahmad Ghamidi Explanation:
The two lips are mentioned with the tongue because the tongue is only able to speak because of the lips. The implication of the verse is that the Almighty blessed him with a tongue and also two lips to speak carefully and cautiously; however, such is the misfortune of these people that they used their tongues to deny the truth and indulge in foolish talk, and kept it silent at instances when it was really needed. 

Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi writes: "Another thing which becomes evident from this verse is that the awareness of virtue in a person should entail that he should not only adopt that virtue himself but urge others to do so as well. This is included in his obligation; otherwise, his virtuous deed will in fact be incomplete. Urging others to adopt virtue is the responsibility of every individual of the society without which he will be held accountable before the Almighty." (Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tadabbur-i Qur’an, vol. 9, 374)

 وَهَدَيْنَاهُ النَّجْدَيْنِ 
( 10 )   And did We not show him the two highroads (of good and evil)?

That is, We have not left him alone after granting him the faculties of thinking and reasoning so that he may have to search out his own way, but We have also guided him and opened up before him both the highways of good and evil, virtue and vice, so that he may consider them seriously and choose and adopt one or the other way on his own responsibility. This same subject has been expressed in (Surah Ad-Dahr, Ayat 2-3), thus: Indeed We created man from a mixed sperm-drop, to try him, and so We made him capable of hearing and seeing. We showed him the way, whether to be grateful or disbelieving. 

Javed Ahmad Ghamidi Explanation:
After alluding to the faculties of sight, cognizance, speech and conversation, the faculty of distinguishing between good and evil is referred to here. The two ways here refers to the two ways mentioned in Surah al-Dahr and Surah al-Shams in the following words respectively: اِنَّا ہَدَیۡنٰہُ السَّبِیۡلَاِ مَّا شَاکِرًا وَّ اِمَّا کَفُوۡرًا (3:76) (We showed him the path. If he wants, he can be grateful or ungrateful. (76:3)) and وَ نَفۡسٍ وَّ مَا سَوّٰىہَا فَاَلۡہَمَہَا فُجُوۡرَہَا وَ تَقۡوٰىہَا (91: 7-8) (And the soul bears witness and the perfection given to it, then inspired it with its evil and its good. (91:7-8)).

Verse By Verse Quran Study Circle Explanation:
The roads diverge and the struggle takes different forms. One person struggles with his muscles, another with his mind and a third with his soul. One toils for a mouthful of food or a rag to dress himself with, another to double or triple his wealth. One person strives to achieve a position of power or influence and another for the sake of Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala. One struggles for the sake of satisfying lusts and desires, and another for the sake of his faith or ideology. One strives but achieves no more than hell and another strives for Paradise. Thus, there is no one who may be enjoying perfect peace freely and without hesitation, for man indeed has been created into a life of toil and trouble.

 فَلَا اقْتَحَمَ الْعَقَبَةَ 
( 11 )   But he did not venture to scale the difficult steep.

The words in the original are: fa-laqtaham-al-aqabah. Iqtiham " اقْتَحَمَ " means to apply oneself to a hard and toilsome task, and aqabah " الْعَقَبَةَ " is the steep path that passes through mountains for ascending heights. Thus, the verse means: One of the two paths that We have shown him, leads to heights but is toilsome and steep; man has to tread it against the desires of his self and the temptations of Satan. The other path is easy which descends into chasms, but does not require any toil from man; one only needs to give free reins to himself, then he automatically goes on rolling down the abyss. Now, the man to whom We had shown both the paths, adopted the easy down-hill path and abandoned the toilsome path, which leads to the heights.

Yusuf Ali Explanation:
In spite of the faculties with which Allah has endowed man and the guidance which He has given him, man has been remiss. By no means has he been eager to follow the steep and difficult path which is for his own spiritual good. Cf. Matt. vii. 14: "Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto live, and few there be that find it".

Javed Ahmad Ghamidi Explanation:
Sympathizing with human beings and worshipping God requires that one give up the immediate gains and pleasures of life. Hence both these things weigh down heavily on man. This is the reason the Qur’an has called them tantamount to climbing a steep path.

 وَمَا أَدْرَاكَ مَا الْعَقَبَةُ 
( 12 )   And what do you know what that difficult steep is?

 أَوْ إِطْعَامٌ فِي يَوْمٍ ذِي مَسْغَبَةٍ 
( 13 )   It is freeing someone's neck from slavery;

Yusuf Ali Explanation:
The difficult path of virtue is defined as the path of charity or unselfish love, and three specific instances are given for our understanding: viz. (1) freeing the bondman, (2) feeding the orphan, and (3) feeding the indigent down in the dust.

Javed Ahmad Ghamidi Explanation:
Slaves should be liberated. The Qur’an has placed this at the top of the list of virtuous deeds. Every person can estimate the importance of this directive as a result. This is the first step by the Qur’an to eradicate this menace. Later, directives given in Surah Muhammad, Surah al-Nur and Surah al-Tawbah totally eradicated it. It is another matter that people still refused to follow this directive for centuries after the Qur’an was revealed. It was only at the beginning of the previous century that the directive of the Qur’an was finally fulfilled and this curse was abolished from this world.

 فَكُّ رَقَبَةٍ 
( 14 )   Or feeding on a day of severe hunger

Muhammad Asad Explanation:
Thus 'Ikrimah, as quoted by Baghawi; also Razi. Alternatively, the phrase fakk raqabah may be rendered as "the freeing of a human being from bondage" (cf. 2:177), with the latter term covering all those forms of subjugation and exploitation - social, economic or political which can be rightly described as "slavery".

Javed Ahmad Ghamidi Explanation:
Food obviously is one of their basic needs. However, this does not merely mean food; it refers to all needs that have to be fulfilled. The adjective فِیۡ یَوۡمٍ ذِیۡ مَسۡغَبَۃٍ is meant to make the appeal more effective. The adjectives ذَا مَقْرَبَةٍ and ذَا مَتْرَبَةٍ used with the orphans and the needy respectively also serve the same purpose.

 يَتِيمًا ذَا مَقْرَبَةٍ 
( 15 )   An orphan of near relationship

Yusuf Ali Explanation:
All orphans should be fed and helped. But ordinary orphans will come under the indigent in verse 16 below. The orphans related to us have a special claim on us. They should be near and dear to us, and if charity begins at home, they have the first claim on us.

 أَوْ مِسْكِينًا ذَا مَتْرَبَةٍ 
( 16 )   or to a destitute lying in dust;

Since in the foregoing verses the extravagances of man which he indulges in for ostentation and expression of superiority to others, have been mentioned, now here it is being stated as to what expenditure of wealth it is which leads man up to moral heights instead of causing him to sink into moral depravity and perversion. But in this there is no enjoyment for the self; on the contrary, man has to exercise self-restraints and make sacrifices. The expenditure is that one should set a slave free, or should render a slave monetary help so as to enable him to win his freedom by paying the ransom, or free a debtor from his debt, or secure release of a helpless person without means from penalties. Likewise, the expenditure is that one should feed a nearly related orphan (i.e. an orphan who is either a relative or a neighbor) who is hungry, and a needy, helpless person who might have been reduced to extreme poverty and might have none to support and help him. Helping such people does not win a person fame and reputation, nor feeding them brings him the admiration for being wealthy and generous which one usually wins by holding banquets to thousands of well-to-do people. But the path to moral and spiritual heights passes on steep uphill roads only.

Great merits of the acts of virtue mentioned in these verses have been described by the Prophet (peace be upon him). For instance, about fakku raqabah (freeing a neck from bondage) many ahadith have been related in the traditions, one of which is a tradition from Abu Hurairah, to the effect, The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: The person who set a believing slave free, Allah will save from fire of Hell every limb of his body in lieu of every limb of the slave’s body, the hand in lieu of the hand, the foot in lieu of the foot, the private parts in lieu of the private parts. (Musnad, Ahmad, Bukhari. Muslim, Tirmidhi, Nasai). Ali bin Husain (Zain al-Abedin) asked Saad bin Marjanah, the reporter of this Hadith: Did you hear it yourself from Abu Hurairah? When he replied in the affirmative, Zain al- Abedin called out his most valuable slave and set him free there and then. According to Muslim, he had an offer of ten thousand dirhams for the slave. On the basis of this verse, Imam Abu Hanifah and Imam Shafi have ruled: Setting a slave free is superior to giving away charity, for Allah has mentioned it before the mention of charity.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) has mentioned the merits of rendering help to the needy in many ahadith, one of which is this Hadith from Abu Hurairah: The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: The one who strives in the cause of rendering help to the widow and the needy is like the one who endeavors and strives in the cause of jihad for the sake of Allah. And Abu Hurairah says, I think that the Prophet (peace be upon him) also said: He is even like him who keeps standing up in the Prayer constantly, without ever taking rest, and like him who observes the fast continuously without ever breaking it: (Bukhari, Muslim).

As for the orphans, there are numerous sayings reported from the Prophet (peace be upon him). Sahl bin Saad has reported, The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: I and the one who supports a nearly related of un-related orphan, shall stand in Paradise like this, saying this he raised his index finger and the middle finger, keeping them a little apart. (Bukhari). Abu Hurairah has reported this saying of the Prophet (peace be upon him): The best among the Muslim homes is the home wherein an orphan is treated well and the worst the one wherein an orphan is mistreated. (Ibn Majah, Bukhari in Al-Adab al-Mufrad). Abu Umamah says that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: The one who passed his hand on the head of an orphan, only for the sake of Allah, will have as many acts of virtue recorded in his favor as the number of the hair on which his hand passed, and the one who treated an orphan boy or girl well, will stand in Paradise with me like this, saying this the Prophet (peace be upon him) joined his two fingers together. (Musnad Ahmad, Tirmidhi). Ibn Abbas says, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: The one who made an orphan join him in eating and drinking, Allah will make Paradise obligatory for him unless he commits a sin which cannot be forgiven. (Sharh as-Sunnah). Abu Hurairah says: A man complained before the Prophet (peace be upon him), saying: I am hard-hearted. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said to him: Treat the orphan with kindness and love and feed the needy one. (Musnad Ahmad).

 ثُمَّ كَانَ مِنَ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالصَّبْرِ وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالْمَرْحَمَةِ 
( 17 )   And then being among those who believed and advised one another to patience and advised one another to compassion.

That is, in addition to these qualities it is essential that one should be a believer, for without faith no act is an act of virtue, nor acceptable in the sight of Allah. At numerous places in the Quran it has been stated that only such an act of virtue is appreciable and becomes a means of salvation as is accompanied by faith. In Surah An-Nisa, for example, it has been said: The one who does good deeds, whether man or woman, provided that the one is a believer, will enter Paradise (verse 124). In Surah An-Nahl: Whosoever does righteous deeds, whether male or female, provided that he is a believer, We shall surely grant him to live a pure life in this world, and We will reward such people (in the Hereafter) according to their best deeds (verse 97). In Surah Al-Momin: Whoever does good, whether man or woman, provided that he is a believer, all such people shall enter Paradise wherein they shall be provided without measure. (verse 4). Whoever studies the Quran, will see that in this Book wherever the good reward of a righteous act has been mentioned, it has always been made conditional upon the faith, a good act without faith has nowhere been regarded as acceptable to God, nor has any hope been given for a reward for it.

Here, the following important point should also not remain hidden from view: In this verse it has not been said: Then he believed, but: Then being among those who have believed. This means that mere believing as an individual and remaining content with it is not what is desired; what is desired is that every new believer should join those who have already believed so as to form a party of the believers, to bring about a believing society, which should work for establishing the virtues and wiping out the vices as demanded by the faith.

These are two of the important characteristics of the believing society, which have been expressed in two brief sentences. The first characteristic is that its members should exhort one another to patience, and the second that they should exhort one another to compassion and mercy.

As for patience, we have explained at many places that in view of the extensive meaning in which the Quran has used this word, the entire life of a believer is a life of patience. As soon as a man steps on to the path of the faith, test of his patience starts. Patience is required to be exercised in performing the acts of worship enjoined by Allah; patience is needed in carrying out the commands of Allah; abstention from the things forbidden by Allah is not possible without patience; patience is needed in abandoning the moral evils and in adopting the pure morals. Temptations to sin faced at every step can be resisted only by recourse to patience. On countless occasions in life obedience to God’s law entails losses, troubles, hardships and deprivations, and disobedience to the law seems to bring benefits and pleasures. Without patience no believer can fare well on such occasions. Then, as soon as a believer has adopted the way of the faith, he has to meet with resistance not only from his own self and personal desires but also from his children, family, society, country and nation, so much so that he is even required to abandon his country and undertake Jihad in the cause of God. Under all these conditions only the quality of patience can cause a man to remain steadfast to principles. Now, obviously, if every believer individually was put to such a hard test, he would be faced with the danger of defeat at every step and would hardly be able to pass through the test successfully. On the contrary, if there existed a believing society, every member of which was not only himself possessed of patience but all its members also were supporting one another mutually in the test of patience, successes would fall to its lot, a tremendous power would be generated to face the evil, a mighty force of good individuals would be ready to help bring the entire society on to the path of virtue and righteousness.

As for mercy and compassion, it is the distinctive feature of the society of believers that they are not a merciless and unjust people but a society whose members are merciful and compassionate to humanity at large and sympathetic and friendly among themselves. A believer as an individual is an embodiment of Allah’s quality of mercy and the group of the believers as a party also is a representative of Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him), who has been described thus: O Muhammad (peace be upon him), We have sent you to be a real blessing for the people of the world. (Surah Al-Anbiya, Ayat 107). The highest moral quality which the Messenger (peace be upon him) tried his utmost to inculcate among his followers was this very quality of mercy. Consider the following of his sayings, which show what importance he attached to it. Jarir bin Abdullah says that the Messenger (peace be upon him) said: Allah does not show mercy to him who does not show mercy to others. (Bukhari, Muslim).
  • Abdullah bin Amr bin al-aas says that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: The Rahman (Merciful) shows mercy to those who show mercy (to others). Show mercy to those who live on the earth, the One who is in heaven will show mercy to you. (Abu Daud, Tirmidhi).
  • Abu Saeed Khudri has reported that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: The one who does not show mercy, is not shown mercy. (Bukhari in Al-Adab al-Mufrad). Ibn Abbas says that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: The one who does not treat our young ones mercifully and does not treat our elderly ones respectfully, does not belong to us.(Tirmidhi).
  • Abu Daud has related this same saying of the Prophet (peace be upon him) on the authority of Abdullah bin Amr, thus: The one who did not feel pity on our young and did not respect our elderly does not belong to us.
  • Abu Hurairah says: I have heard Abul-Qasim, the truthful (peace be upon him), say: The heart of the wretched one is deprived of the quality of mercy altogether. (Musnad Ahmad, Tirmidhi).
  • Iyad bin Himad relates that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: Three kinds of men belong to Paradise, one of whom is the person who is kind and compassionate to every relative and every Muslim. (Muslim).
  • Numan bin Bashir has reported that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: You will find the believers like a body in the matter of mutual kindness, love and sympathy, so that if one part of the body suffers the whole body suffers and becomes restless because of it. (Bukhari, Muslim).
  • Abu Musa al-ashari says that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: The believer is for the other believer like a wall each part of which supports and strengthens the other part. (Bukhari, Muslim).
  • Abdullah bin Umar has reported that the Prophet said: A Muslim is a brother of the other Muslim: neither treats him unjustly, nor withholds his help from him. The person who works to fulfill a need of his brother, Allah will seek to fulfill his need; and the one who rescues a Muslim from an affliction, Allah will rescue him from an affliction of the afflictions of the Resurrection Day; and the one who conceals the fault of a Muslim, Allah will conceal his fault on the Resurrection Day. (Bukhari, Muslim).
These traditions indicate what kind of a society is envisaged by the Quranic instruction given in this verse, which exhorts the righteous people to join the group of the believers after they have affirmed the faith.

Javed Ahmad Ghamidi Explanation:
The actual words are: وَ تَوَاصَوۡا بِالصَّبۡرِوَ تَوَاصَوۡا بِالۡمَرۡحَمَۃِ. 

Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi writes: " Here the word مَرۡحَمَۃ (sympathy) is mentioned together with صَبْر (patience) the wayحَق(truth) is mentioned together with صَبْر (patience) in Surah al-‘Asr. The reason for this is the nature of the deeds of virtue which I have referred to while explaining the expression الْعَقَبَةَ اقْتَحَمَ in verse eleven: these deeds are generally against one’s inner desires and hence a person has to counter this obstacle while doing such deeds and it is like climbing a slope. Only those can climb this slope who have the quality of patience in them. In Arabic, the real meaning of صَبْر is “perseverance and steadfastness.” Those who are devoid of this quality lack valour and bravery; hence, it was deemed necessary that those who have been urged to do virtuous deeds should also be urged to be patient and steadfast." (Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tadabbur-i Qur’an, vol. 9, 377)

Verse By Verse Quran Study Circle Explanation:
“Advised one another to mercy and compassion,” mercy and compassion are distinctive features of a believing society where the members are merciful and compassionate to humanity at large and sympathetic and friendly among themselves. A believer as an individual is an embodiment of Allah’s quality of mercy and this is one moral quality that the Prophet really fought for. Jareer ibn ‘Abdullah reported that the Prophet said, “Allah does not show mercy to him who does not show mercy to others.” [Bukhari, Muslim]

Hence, the idea of ‘community’ is evident in these Ayaat, as it is emphasized elsewhere in the Qur’an and in the ahadeeth of the Prophet ﷺ. This idea is central to the concept of Islam. Nevertheless, the responsibility and accountability of the individual are clearly defined and strongly emphasized. Those who scale the ascent, as defined here in the Qur’an, shall have their dwelling place on the right hand, which indicates that they will enjoy a happy recompense for what they do in this life.

 أُولَـٰئِكَ أَصْحَابُ الْمَيْمَنَةِ 
( 18 )   Those are the companions of the right.

 وَالَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا بِآيَاتِنَا هُمْ أَصْحَابُ الْمَشْأَمَةِ 
( 19 )   But they who disbelieved in Our signs - those are the companions of the left.

The explanation of the people of the right hand and of the left hand, is given in verses 8-9 of Surah 56 Al-Waqiah) as under:
The word maintanah in ashab-al-maimanah " أَصْحَابُ الْمَيْمَنَةِ ", in the original, may have been derived from yamin, which means the right hand, and also from yumn, which means good omen. If it is taken to be derived from yamin, then ashab-al maimanah would mean: Those of the right hand. This, however, does not imply its lexical meaning, but it signifies the people of exalted rank and position. The Arabs regarded the right hand as a symbol of strength and eminence and honor, and therefore would seat a person whom they wished to do honor, on the right hand, in the assemblies. And if it is taken as derived from yumn, ashabal- maimanah would mean fortunate and blessed people.

The word mashamah in ashab-al-mashamah " أَصْحَابُ الْمَشْأَمَةِ ", in the original, is from shum which means misfortune, ill-luck and bad omen. In Arabic the left hand also is called shuma. The Arabs regarded shimal (the left hand) and shum (bad omen) as synonyms, the left hand being a symbol of weakness and indignity. If a bird flew left on the commencement of a journey, they would take it as a bad omen; if they made a person sit on their left, it meant they regarded him as a weak man. Therefore, ashab-al mashamah implies ill-omened people, or those who would suffer disgrace and ignominy, and would be made to stand on the left side in the court of Allah.

 عَلَيْهِمْ نَارٌ مُّؤْصَدَةٌ 
( 20 )   Over them will be fire closed in.

Muhammad Asad Explanation:
I.e., the fires of despair in the life to come "rising over the [sinners'] hearts" and "closing in upon them": cf. {104:6-8}. The phrase rendered by me as "such as have lost themselves in evil" reads, literally, "people of the left side (al-mash'amah)".

Verse By Verse Quran Study Circle Explanation:
And those who deny the revelations shall be on the left hand, with fire closing in upon them. Nothing can be good if coupled with unbelief. All evil is contained and encompassed by the denial of Allah. Their denial makes all their efforts worthless. Their dwelling on the left hand indicates their degradation and disgrace. These people cannot scale the ascent.

May Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala allow us to do take the steeper path and attain moral heights, Aameen.

You may now like to listen to tafseer / exegesis of Sūrah Al Balad by Nouman Ali Khan:

You may refer to our Reference Page "114 Chapters (Sūrahs) of the Holy Qur'an" for translation, explanation and exegesis of other chapters of the Qur'an.

You may also refer to our Reference Pages for knowing more about Islam and Quran.
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Reading the Holy Quran should be a daily obligation of a Muslim - Reading it with translation will make it meaningful. But reading its Exegesis / Tafsir will make you understand it fully.

An effort has been made to gather explanation / exegesis of the surahs of the Holy Qur'an from authentic sources and then present a least possible condensed explanation of the surah. In that:
  • The plain translation has been taken from the Holy Quran officially published by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. [1]
  • The exegesis of the chapters of the Holy Quran is mainly based on the "Tafhim al-Qur'an - The Meaning of the Qur'an" by one of the most enlightened scholars of the Muslim World Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi.  [2]
In order to augment and add more explanation as already provided by [2], additional input has been interjected from following sources: 
In addition the references of  other sources which have been explored have also been given above. Those desirous of detailed explanations and tafsir (exegesis), may refer to these sites.

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