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.

REVEALED during the first third of the Mecca period, this surah is devoted almost entirely (with the exception of the parenthetic passage in verses 16-19) to the concept of resurrection, on which its traditional "title" is based.
1. NAY! I call to witness the Day of Resurrection! (1)

1 - By "calling it to witness", i.e., by speaking of the Day of Resurrection as if it had already occurred, the above phrase is meant to convey the certainty its coming.

2. But nay! I call to witness the accusing voice of man's own conscience! (2)

2 - Lit., "the [self-]reproaching soul": i.e., man's subconscious awareness of his own shortcomings and failings.

3. Does man think that We cannot [resurrect him and] bring his bones together again?
4. Yea indeed, We are able to make whole his very finger-tips!
5. None the less man chooses to deny what lies ahead of him,
6. asking [derisively], "When is that Resurrection Day to be?"
7. But [on that Day,] when the eyesight is by fear confounded,
8. and the moon is darkened,
9. and the sun and the moon are brought together (3)

3 - I.e., in their loss of light, or in the moon's colliding with the sun.

10. on that Day will man exclaim "Whither to flee?"
11. But nay: no refuge [for thee, O man]!
12. With thy Sustainer, on that Day, the journey's end will be!
13. Man will be apprised, on that Day, of what he has done and what he has left undone: (4)

4 - Lit., "what he has sent ahead and left behind", i.e., whatever good and bad deeds he committed or omitted (Zamakhshari).

14. nay, but man shall against himself be an eye-witness,
15. even though he may veil himself in excuses. (5)

5 - Cf. 24:24, 36:65 or 41:20-22.

16. MOVE NOT thy tongue in haste, [repeating the words of the revelation:] (6)

6 - Lit., "Move not thy tongue therewith so that thou might hasten if" - the pronoun undoubtedly referring to the contents of revelation. In order to understand this parenthetic passage (verses 16-19) more fully, one should read it side by side with the related passage in 20:114, together with the corresponding note 101. Both these passages are in the first instance addressed to the Prophet, who is said to have been afraid that he might forget some of the revealed words unless he repeated them at the very moment of revelation; but both have also a wider import inasmuch as they apply to every believer who reads, listens to or studies the Qur'an. In 20:114 we are told not to draw hasty - and therefore potentially erroneous - conclusions from isolated verses or statements of the Qur'an, since only the study of the whole of its message can give us a correct insight. The present passage, on the other hand, lays stress on the need to imbibe the divine writ slowly, patiently, to give full thought to the meaning of every word and phrase, and to avoid the kind of haste which is indistinguishable from mechanical glibness, and which, moreover, induces the person who reads, recites or listens to it to remain satisfied with the mere beautiful sound of the Qur'anic language without understanding - or even paying adequate attention to - its message.

17. for, behold, it is for Us to gather it [in thy heart,] and to cause it to be read [as it ought to be read]. (7)

7 - I.e., "it is for Us to make thee remember it and to cause it to be read with mind and heart". As pointed out in the preceding note, the Qur'an can be understood only if it is read thoughtfully, as one integral whole, and not as a mere collection of moral maxims, stories or disjointed laws.

18. Thus, when We recite it, follow thou its wording [with all thy mind]: (8)

8 - Lit., "follow thou its recitation", i.e., its message as expressed in words. Since it is God who reveals the Qur'an and bestows upon man the ability to understand it, He attributes its "recitation" to Himself.

19. and then, behold, it will be for Us to make its meaning clear. (9)

9 - I.e., if the Qur'an is read ''as it ought to be read" (see note 7 above), it becomes - as stressed by Muhammad Abduh - "its own best commentary".

20. NAY, but [most of] you love this fleeting life,
21. and give no thought to the life to come [and to Judgment Day]!
22. Some faces will on that Day be bright with happiness,
23. looking up to their Sustainer;
24. and some faces will on that Day be overcast with despair,
25. knowing that a crushing calamity is about to befall them.
26. NAY, but when [the last breath] comes up to the throat [of a dying man],
27. and people ask, "Is there any wizard [that could save him]?" (10)

10 - Lit., "Who is a wizard [or "a charmer"]?" A similar construction is found in 28:71 and 72.

28. the while he [himself] knows that this is the parting,
29. and is enwrapped in the pangs of death (11)- :

11 - Lit., "when shank is wrapped around shank" - an idiomatic phrase denoting "the affliction of the present state of existence. . . combined with that of the final state" (Lane IV, 1471. quoting both the Qamus and the Taj al-Arus). As pointed out by Zamakhshari, the noun saq (lit., "shank") is often used metaphorically in the sense of "difficulty", "hardship" or "vehemence" (shiddah); hence the well-known phrase, qamat al-harb ala saq, "the war broke out with vehemence" (Taj al-Arus).

30. at that time towards thy Sustainer does he feel impelled to turn! (12)

12 - Lit., "towards thy Sustainer will be the driving", i.e., with belated repentance (see next three verses). The phrase rendered above as "at the time" reads, literally, "on that day"; but the term yawm is often used idiomatically in the sense of "time" regardless of its duration.

31. [Useless, though, will be his repentance: (13)] for [as long as he was alive] he did not accept the truth, nor did he pray [for enlightenment],

13 - This interpolation, necessary for a full understanding of the sequence, is based on 4:17-18, which has a definite bearing on the above passage.

32. but, on the contrary, he gave the lie to the truth and turned away [from it],
33. and then went arrogantly back to what he had come from. (14)

14 - Lit., "to his people": i.e., to the arrogant belief, rooted in the materialism of his social environment, that man is "self-sufficient" and, therefore, not in need of any divine guidance (cf. 96:6).

34. [And yet, O man, thine end comes hourly] nearer unto thee, and nearer
35. and ever nearer unto thee, and nearer!
36. DOES MAN, then, think that he is to be left to himself to go about at will? (15)

15 - I.e., without being held morally responsible for his doings.

37. Was he not once a [mere] drop of sperm that had been spilt,
38. and thereafter became a germ-cell - whereupon He created and formed [it] in accordance with what [it] was meant to be, (16)

16 - For this rendering of sawwa, see note 1 on 87:2 and note 5 on 91:7. The stress on God's creating man after he had been a germ-cell is a metonym for His endowing the (originally) lowly organism with what is described as a "soul".

39. and fashioned out of it the two sexes, the male and the female?
40. Is not He, then; able to bring the dead back to life?