In the name of god, the most gracious, The dispenser of grace: (1)

1 - According to most of the authorities, this invocation (which occurs at the beginning of every surah with the exception of surah 9) constitutes an integral part of "The Opening" and is, therefore, numbered as verse I. In all other instances, the invocation "in the name of God" precedes the surah as such, and is not counted among its verses. - Both the divine epithets rahman and rahrm are derived from the noun rahmah, which signifies "mercy", "compassion", "loving tenderness" and, more comprehensively, "grace". From the very earliest times, Islamic scholars have endeavoured to define the exact shades of meaning which differentiate the two terms. The best and simplest of these explanations is undoubtedly the one advanced by Ibn al-Qayyim (as quoted in Mandr I, 48): the term rahman circumscribes the quality of abounding grace inherent in, and inseparable from, the concept of God's Being, whereas rahrm expresses the manifestation of that grace in, and its effect upon, His creation-in other words, an aspect of His activity.

THUS CALLED after the word al-ma'arij appearing in verse 3, this surah belongs to the middle of the Mecca period. It is mainly devoted to the challenge which unbelief - or, rather, unwillingness to believe - offers to faith, both of them being conditioned by the restlessness inherent in human nature.
1. ONE who is minded to ask might ask (1) about the suffering which [in the hereafter] is bound to befall

1 - Lit.," An inquirer inquired" or "might inquire".

2. those who deny the truth. (2) [Know, then, that] nothing can ward it off,

2 - In view of the fact that many of "those who deny the truth" - and, by implication, do evil in consequence of that deliberate denial - prosper in this world, a doubter might well ask whether or when this state of affairs will really be reversed and the values adjusted in accord with divine justice. An answer to the "whether" is given in the second paragraph of verse 2; and to the "when", elliptically, at the end of verse 4.

3. [since it will come] from God, unto whom there are many ways of ascent: (3)

3 - Lit., "He of the [many] ascents": a metonymical phrase implying that there are many ways by which man can "ascend" to a comprehension of God's existence, 'and thus to spiritual "nearness" to Him - and that, therefore, it is up to each human being to avail himself of any of the ways leading towards Him (cf. 76:3).

4. all the angels and all the inspiration [ever granted to man] ascend unto Him (4) [daily,] in a day the length whereof is [like] fifty thousand years(5)

4 - For my rendering of ruh as "inspiration", see surah 16, note 2. The "ascent" of the angels and of all inspiration may be understood in the same sense as the frequently-occurring phrase "all things go back to God [as their source]" (Razi).

5 - The very concept of "time" is meaningless in relation to God, who is timeless and infinite: cf. note 63 on the last sentence of 22:47 - "in thy Sustainer's sight a day is like a thousand years of your reckoning": in other words, a day, or an aeon, or a thousand years, or fifty thousand years are alike to Him, having an apparent reality only within the created world and none with the Creator. And since in the hereafter time will cease to have a meaning for man as well, it is irrelevant to ask as to "when" the evildoers will be chastised and the righteous given their due.

5. Therefore, [O believer,] endure all adversity with goodly patience:
6. behold, men (6) look upon that [reckoning] as something far away

6 - Lit., "they".

7. but, We see it as near!
8. [It will take place] on a Day when the sky will be like molten lead,
9. and the mountains will be like tufts of wool,
10. and [when] no friend will ask about his friend,
11. though they may be in one another's sight: [for,] everyone who was lost in sin will on that Day but desire to ransom himself from suffering at the price of his own children,
12. and of his spouse, and of his brother,
13. and of all the kinsfolk who ever sheltered him,
14. and of whoever [else] lives on earth, all of them - so that he could but save himself.
15. But nay! Verily, all [that awaits him] is a raging flame,
16. tearing away his skin!
17. It will claim all such as turn their backs [on what is right], and turn away [from the truth],
18. and amass [wealth] and thereupon withhold [it from their fellow-men].
19. VERILY, man is born with a restless disposition. (7)

7 - Lit., "man has been created restless (haluan)" -that is, endowed with an inner restlessness which may equally well drive him to fruitful achievement or to chronic discontent and frustration. In other words, it is the manner in which man utilizes this God-will endowment that determines whether it shall have a positive or a negative character. The subsequent two verses (20 and 21) allude to the latter, while verses 22-25 show that only true spiritual and moral consciousness can mould that inborn restlessness into a positive force, and thus bring about inner stability and abiding contentment.

20. [As a rule,] whenever misfortune touches him, he is filled with self-pity; (8)

8 - The participle jazu - derived from the verb jazia - combines the concepts of "lacking patience" and "lamenting over one's misfortune", and is therefore the contrary of sabr (Jawhari).

21. and whenever good fortune comes to him, he selfishly withholds it [from others].
22. Not so, however, those who consciously turn towards God in prayer. (9)

9 - This, I believe, is the meaning of the expression al-musallin (lit., "the praying ones"), which evidently does not relate here to the mere ritual of prayer but, rather, as the next verse shows, to the attitude of mind and the spiritual need underlying it. In this sense it connects with the statement in verse 19 that "man is born with a restless disposition" which, when rightly used, leads him towards conscious spiritual growth, as well as to freedom from all self-pity and selfishness.

23. [and] who incessantly persevere in their prayer
24. and in whose possessions there is a due share, acknowledged [by them],
25. for such as ask [for help] and such as are deprived [of what is good in life]; (10)

10 - Sc., "but do not or cannot beg": see Razi's comments on a similar phrase in 51:19, quoted in my corresponding note 12.

26. and who accept as true the [coming of the] Day of Judgment;
27. and who stand in dread of their Sustainer's chastisement
28. for, behold, of their Sustainer's chastisement none may ever feel [wholly] secure; (11)

11 - This warning against pharisaic self-righteousness implies that however "good" a person may be, there is always a possibility of his or her having done a moral wrong (e.g., an injury to a fellow-being) and then conveniently "forgotten" this sin. Elliptically, this warning contains a call to increasing consciousness in all one's doings - for, "temptation to evil (fitnah) does not befall only those who are bent on denying the truth" (8:25), but may also befall people who are otherwise righteous.

29. and who are mindful of their chastity, (12)

12 - Lit., "who guard their private parts".

30. [not giving way to their desires] with any but their spouses - that is, those whom they rightfully possess [through wedlock] - : (13) for then, behold, they are free of all blame,

13 - See the identical passage in 23:5-7, as well as the corresponding note 3, in which I have fully explained the reasons for my rendering of the phrase aw ma malakat aymanuhum as "that is, those whom they rightfully possess [through wedlock]". As regards this interpretation, see al Razi's comments on 4:24, as well as one of the alternative interpretations of that verse advanced by Tabari on the authority of lbn Abbas and Mujahid.

31. whereas such as seek to go beyond that [limit] are truly transgressors;
32. and who are faithful to their trusts and to their pledges:
33. and who stand firm whenever they bear witness;
34. and who guard their prayers [from all worldly intent].
35. These it is who in the gardens [of paradise] shall be honoured!
36. WHAT, THEN, is amiss with such as are bent on denying the truth, that they run about confusedly to and fro before thee,
37. [coming upon thee] from the right and from the left, in crowds? (14)

14 - This, again, connects with the statement in verse 19, "man is born with a restless disposition (see note 7 above). People who do not want to see the truth of God's existence and have, therefore, no solid basis on which to build their world-view, are, by the same token, unable to conceive any definite standards of personal and social ethics. Hence, whenever they are confronted with anyone's positive assertion of faith, they "run about to and fro" in spiritual confusion, trying, in order to justify themselves intellectually, to demolish the premises of that faith by means of many-sided, contradictory arguments - an endeavour depicted in the metaphor, "coming upon thee from the right and from the left"; and since they derive all their strength from a conformity with shallow mass-opinions, they can do this only "in crowds".

38. Does every one of them hope to enter [by this means] a garden of bliss? (15)

15 - I.e., "Do they hope to achieve inner peace and fulfilment by 'disproving' another persons faith?"

39. Never! For, behold, We have created them out of something that they know [only too well]! (16)

16 - Namely, out of "dust" - i.e., out of the same primitive organic and inorganic substances as are found in and on the earth: the implication being that only spiritual consciousness and endeavour can raise man above the mere material form of his existence, and thus enable him achieve the inner fulfilment metaphorically described here as "a garden of bliss".

40. But nay! I call to witness [Our being] the Sustainer of all the points of sunrise and sunset: (17)verily, well able are We

17 - I.e., of all the variation, throughout the solar year, of the points at which the sun "rises" and "sets": thus stressing the fact that He is the Ultimate Cause of all orbital movement in the universe and, hence, its Creator (cf. 37:5 and 55:17).

41. to replace them with [people] better than they are; for there is nothing to prevent Us [from doing what We will]. (18)

18 - The implication is that it is not His will to replace "those who are bent on denying the truth", in this world, by believers, inasmuch as such a "replacement" would not be in accord with His design of multiform human existence, in which faith is always challenged and tested by unbelief, and vice versa.

42. Hence, leave them to indulge in idle talk and play [with words] (19) until they face that [Judgment] Day of theirs which they have been promised

19 - I.e., their philosophizing about a supposedly "uncreated" world and a hypothetical "self- generation" of life, as well as their blatant "denial", unsupported by any factual evidence, of a life after death or even of the existence of God.

43. the Day when they shall come forth in haste from their graves, as if racing towards a goal-post,
44. with downcast eyes, with ignominy overwhelming them: that Day which they were promised again and (20)

20 - The concept of "again and again" - i.e., by a succession, through the ages, of prophetic revelations - is implied in the auxiliary verb kanuu, which usually connotes repetition and/or duration.