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.

THIS SURAH is almost certainly the fourth in the order of revelation. Although some of its verses may have come at a slightly later date, the whole of it belongs to the earliest Mecca period. The contention of some authorities that verse 20 was revealed at Medina lacks all substance, as is pointed out in note 13 below.
1. O THOU enwrapped one! (1)

1 - The expression muzzammil has a meaning similar to that of muddaththir, which occurs at the beginning of the next surah: namely, "one who is covered [with anything]", "enwrapped" or "enfolded [in anything]"; and, like that other expression, it may be understood in a concrete, literal sense - i.e., "wrapped up in a cloak" or "blanket" - as well as metaphorically, i.e., "wrapped up in sleep" or even "wrapped up in oneself". Hence, the commentators differ widely in their interpretations of the above apostrophe, some of them preferring the literal connotation, others the metaphorical; but there is no doubt that irrespective of the linguistic sense in which the address "O thou enwrapped one" is understood, it implies a call to heightened consciousness and deeper spiritual awareness on the part of the Prophet.

2. Keep awake [in prayer] at night, all but a small part
3. of one-half thereof (2) - or make it a little less than that,

2 - Thus Zamakhshari, relating the phrase illa qalilan ("all but a small part") to the subsequent word nisfahu ("one-half thereof", i.e., of the night).

4. or add to it [at will]; and [during that time] recite the Qur'an calmly and distinctly, with thy mind attuned to its meaning. (3)

3 - This, I believe, is the closest possible rendering of the phrase rattil al-qur'ana tartilan. The term tartil primarily denotes "the putting [of something] together distinctly, in a well-arranged manner, and without any haste" (Jawhari, Baydawi; also Lisan al-Arab, Qamus). When applied to the recitation of a text, it signifies a calm, measured utterance with thoughtful consideration of the meaning to be brought out. A somewhat different significance attaches to a variant of this phrase in 25: 32, applying to the manner in which the Qur'an was revealed.

5. Behold, We shall bestow upon thee a weighty message
6. 6 [and,] verily, the hours of night the mind most strongly and speak with the clearest voice, (4)

4 - Lit., "are strongest of tread and most upright of speech".

7. whereas by day a long chain of doings is thy portion.
8. But [whether by night or by day,] remember thy Sustainer's name, and devote thyself unto Him with utter devotion.
9. The Sustainer of the east and the west [is He]: there is no deity save Him: hence, ascribe to Him alone the power to determine thy fate, (5)

5 - For this rendering of the term wakil, see surah 17, note 4.

10. and endure with patience whatever people may say [against thee], and avoid them with a comely avoidance.
11. And leave Me alone [to deal] with those who give the lie to the truth (6) - those who enjoy the blessings of life [without any thought of God] - and bear thou with them for a little while:

6 - Cf. 74:11 and the last sentence of the corresponding note 5.

12. for, behold, heavy fetters [await them] with Us, and a blazing fire,
13. and food that chokes, and grievous suffering (7)

7 - Explaining this symbolism of torment in the hereafter, Razi says: "These four conditions may well be understood as denoting the spiritual consequences [of one's doings in life]. As regards the 'heavy fetters', they are a symbol of the souls remaining shackled to its [erstwhile] physical attachments and bodily pleasures: and now that their realization has become impossible, those fetters and shackles prevent the [resurrected] human personality {an-nafs) from attaining to the realm of the spirit and of purity. Subsequently, those spiritual shackles generate spiritual 'fires' inasmuch as one's strong inclination towards bodily concerns, together with the impossibility of attaining to them, give rise, spiritually, to [a sensation of] severe burning...: and this is [the meaning of] 'the blazing fire' (al-jahim). Thereupon [the sinner] tries to swallow the choking agony of deprivation and the pain of separation [from the objects of his desire]: and this is the meaning of the words, 'and food that chokes', And, finally, because of these circumstances, he remains deprived of all illumination by the light of God, and of all communion with the blessed ones: and this is the meaning of the words 'and grievous suffering' . . . But [withal,] know that I do not claim to have exhausted the meaning of these [Qur'an-]verses by what I have stated [above]"

14. on the Day when the earth and the mountains will be convulsed and the mountains will [crumble and] become like a sand-dune on the move! (8)

8 - See the first part of 14:48, and the corresponding note 63, as well as note 90 on 20:105-107

15. BEHOLD, [O men,] We have sent unto you an apostle who shall bear witness to the truth before you, even as We sent an apostle unto Pharaoh: (9)

9 - This is probably the oldest Qur'anic reference to the earlier prophets, to the historic, continuity in mankind's religious experience, and, by implication, to the fact that the Qur'an doe not institute a "new" faith but represents only the final, most comprehensive statement of religious principle as old as mankind itself: namely, that "in the sight of God, the only [true] religion is [man's] self-surrender unto Him" (3:19), and that "if one goes in search of a religion other than self-surrender unto God, it will never be accepted from him" (3:85).

16. and Pharaoh rebelled against the apostle, whereupon We took him to task with a crushing grip.
17. How, then, if you refuse to acknowledge the truth, will you protect yourselves on that Day which shall turn the hair of children grey, (10)

10 - In ancient Arabian usage, a day full of terrifying events was described metaphorically as a day on which the locks of children turn grey"; hence the use of this phrase in the Qur'an. Its purely metaphorical character is obvious since, according to the teachings of the Qur'an, children are considered sinless - i.e., not accountable for their doings - and will, therefore, remain untouched by the ordeals and terrors of the Day of Judgment (Razi).

18. [the Day] on which the skies shall be rent asunder, [and] His promise [of resurrection] fulfilled?
19. This, verily, is a reminder: let him who wills, then set out on a way to his Sustainer!
20. BEHOLD, [O Prophet,] thy Sustainer knows that thou keepest awake [in prayer] nearly two-thirds of the night, or one-half of it, or a third of it, together with some of those who follow thee. (11) and God who determines the measure of night and day, is aware that you would never grudge it: (12) and therefore He turns towards you in His grace. Recite, then, as much of the Qur'an as you may do with ease. He knows that in time there will be among you sick people, and others who will go about the land in search of God's bounty, and others who will fight in Gods cause. (13) Recite, then, [only] as much of it as you may do with ease, and be constant in prayer, and spend in charity, (14) and [thus] lend unto God a goodly loan: for whatever good deed you may offer up in your own behalf, you shall truly find it with God - yea, better, and richer in reward. And [always] seek God's forgiveness: behold, God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace!

11 - Lit., "of those who are with thee". With this concluding passage, the discourse returns to the theme of the opening verses, namely, the great spiritual value of praying at night.

12 - Lit., "count it", i.e., the length of your vigil.

13 - This reference to "fighting in God's cause" has induced many commentators to assume that the whole of verse 20 was revealed at Medina; that is, years after the rest of the surah: for, the principle of "fighting in God's cause" (jihad) was introduced only after the Prophet's hijrah from Mecca to Medina. This assumption must, however, be dismissed as unwarranted. Although there is no doubt that jihad was first sanctioned during the Medina period, the sentence in question is clearly expressed in the future tense: "in time there will be" (sayakun) - and must, therefore, as Ibn Kathir points out, be understood as a prediction of future circumstances. With all this, the above passage stresses the necessity of avoiding all exaggeration even in ones devotions.

14 - For an explanation of the term zakah - of which the above is the earliest Qur'anic instance- see surah 2, note 34.