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.

THE OPINIONS of the earliest commentators are divided as to whether this surah - also called Ad-Dahr ("Time" or "Endless Time") after a word occurring in the first verse - belongs to the Mecca or the Medina period. Many authorities of the second generation - among them Mujahid, Qatadah, Al-Hasan al-Basri and 'Ikrimah (all of them quoted by Baghawi) - hold the view that it was revealed at Medina.
1. HAS THERE [not] been an endless span of time (1) before man [appeared - a time] when he was not yet a thing to be thought of? (2)

1 - Implying, according to all the classical commentators, "there has indeed been an immensely long [or "endless"] span of time" - the interrogative particle hal having here the positive meaning of qad. However, this meaning can be brought out equally well by interpolating the word "not".

2 - Lit., "a thing mentioned" or "mentionable" - i.e., non-existent even as a hypothetical concept. The purport of this statement is a refutation of the blasphemous "anthropocentric" world-view, which postulates man as he exists - and not any Supreme Being - as the centre and ultimate reality of all life.

2. Verily, it is We who have created man out of a drop of sperm intermingled, (3) so that We might try him [in his later life]: and therefore We made him a being endowed with hearing and sight.

3 - Sc., "with the female ovum"; cf. 86:6-7.

3. Verily, We have shown him the way: (4) [and it rests with him to prove himself] either grateful or ungrateful.

4 - I.e., God has not only endowed man with "hearing and sight", i.e., with reason and the instinctive ability to discern between right and wrong, good and evil (cf. 90:10), but He also actively guides him by means of the revelation bestowed on the prophets.

4. [Now,] behold, for those who deny the truth (5) We have readied chains and shackles, and a blazing flame (6)

5 - In this context, the "denial of the truth" (kufr) apparently relates to man's deliberate suppression of his inborn cognition of God's existence (cf. 7:172 and the corresponding note 139) as well as to his disregard of his own instinctive perceptions of good and evil.

6 - Sc., "of despair". For the metaphor of "shackles and chains" - i.e., the consequence of the sinners' blind surrender to their own passions and to false values, and the resulting enslavement of their spirit - see surah 34, note 44; also Razi's elaborate comments (quoted in note 7 on 73:12-13) on this allegory of suffering in the hereafter.

5. [whereas,] behold, the truly virtuous shall drink from a cup flavoured with the calyx of sweet-smelling flowers: (7)

7 - The Lisan al-Arab gives "the calyx (kimm) of the grape before its flowering" as the primary significance of kafur; according to other lexicologists (e.g" Taj al-Arus), it denotes "the calyx of any flower"; Jawhari applies it to the "spathe of a palm tree", Hence, this - and not "camphor" - is evidently the meaning of kafur in the above context: an allusion to the sweet, extremely delicate fragrance of the symbolic "drink" 'of divine knowledge (cf. 83:25-28 and the corresponding notes 8 and 9),

6. a source [of bliss] whereof God's servants shall drink, seeing it flow in a flow abundant. (8)

8 - Lit" "making [or "letting"] it flow", etc.: i.e., having it always at their disposal.

7. [The truly virtuous are] they [who] fulfil their vows, (9) and stand in awe of a Day the woe of which is bound to spread far and wide,

9 - I.e., the spiritual and social obligations arising from their faith.

8. and who give food - however great be their own want of it (10)unto the needy, and the orphan, and the captive, (11)

10 - Or, as in 2:176, "however much they themselves may cherish [i.e., "need"] it"; cf. also 90:14-16. It is to be noted that in this context the concept of "giving food" comprises every kind of help and care, both material and moral.

11 - The term asir denotes anyone who is a "captive" either literally (e.g. a prisoner) or figuratively, i.e., a captive of circumstances which render him helpless; thus, the Prophet said, "Thy debtor is thy captive; be, therefore, truly kind to thy captive" (Zamakhshari, Razi, et al.). The injunction of kindness towards all who are in need of help - and therefore "captive" in one sense or another - applies to believers and non-believers alike (Tabari, Zamakhshari), and apparently also to animals dependent on man.

9. [saying, in their hearts,] "We feed you for the sake of God alone: we desire no recompense from you, nor thanks:
10. behold, we stand in awe of our Sustainer's judgment (12) on a distressful, fateful Day!"

12 - Lit" "we fear our Sustainer".

11. And so, God will preserve them from the woes of that Day, and will bestow on them brightness and joy,
12. and will reward them for all their patience in adversity with a garden [of bliss] and with [garments of] silk. (13)

13 - For this allegory, see first half of note 41 on 18:31.

13. In that [garden] they will on couches recline, and will know therein neither [burning] sun nor cold severe,
14. since its [blissful] shades will come down low over them, (14) and low will hang down its clusters of fruit, most easy to reach. (15)

14 - Regarding the allegorical implication of the term "shades" (zilal), see note 74 on 4:57. It is to be noted that the existence of shade presupposes, the existence of light (Jawhari), which latter is one of the characteristics implicit in the concept of "paradise".

15 - Lit., "in all humility".

15. And they will be waited upon with vessels of silver and goblets that will [seem to] be crystal
16. crystal-like, [but] of silver - the measure whereof they alone will determine. (16)

16 - I.e., partaking of as much as they may desire.

17. And in that [paradise] they will be given to drink of a cup flavoured with ginger,
18. [derived from] a source [to be found] therein, whose name is "Seek Thy Way". (17)

17 - This is how Ali ibn Abi Talib - as quoted by Zamakhshari and Razi - explains the (obviously compound) word salsabilan, dividing it into its two components, sal sabilan ("ask [or "seek"] the way"): namely, "seek thy way to paradise by means of doing righteous deeds". Although Zamakhshari does not quite agree with this interpretation, it is, in my opinion, very convincing inasmuch as it contains an allusion to the highly allegorical character of the concept of "paradise" as a spiritual consequence of one's positive endeavours in this world, That its delights are not of a material nature is also evident from their varying descriptions - i.e., "a cup flavoured with ginger" in verse 17, and "flavoured with the calyx of sweet-smelling flowers" in verse 5; or "they will be waited upon with trays and goblets of gold" in 43:71, and "vessels of silver and goblets that will [seem to] be crystal crystal-like, [but] of silver", in verses 15-16 of this surah; and so forth.

19. ) And immortal youths will wait upon them: (18)when thou seest them, thou wouldst deem them to be scattered pearls;

18 - See note 6 on 56:17-18.

20. and when thou seest [anything that is] there thou wilt see [only] bliss and a realm transcendent
21. Upon those [blest] will be garments of green silk and brocade; and they will be adorned with bracelets of silver. (19) And their Sustainer will them to drink of a drink most pure. (20)

19 - See 18:31 (where "bracelets of gold" are mentioned) and the corresponding note 41.

20 - Implying that God Himself will slake their spiritual thirst by purifying their inner selves "of all envy, and rancour, and malice, and all that leads to harm, and all that is base in man's nature" (Ibn Kathir, quoting Ali ibn Abi Talib), and by allowing them to "drink" of His Own Light (Razi).

22. [And they will be told:] "Verily, all this is your reward since Your endeavour [in life] has met [God's] goodly acceptance!"
23. VERILY, [O believer,] it is We who have bestowed from on high this Qur'an upon thee, step by step (21) - truly a bestowal from on high!

21 - The gradualness of Qur'anic revelation is implied in the verbal form nazzalna..

24. Await, then, in all patience thy Sustainer's judgment, (22) and pay no heed to any of them, who is a wilful sinner or an ingrate;

22 - This connects with the preceding mention of the life to come, in which the righteous will meet with bliss, and the evildoers with suffering.

25. and bear in mind thy Sustainer's name(23)at morn and evening

23 - I.e., His "attributes" as they manifest themselves in His creation - since the human mind can grasp only the fact of His existence and the manifestation of those "attributes", but never the "how" of His Reality (Razi).

26. and during some of the night, (24) and prostrate thyself before Him, and extol His limitless glory throughout the long night. (25)

24 - I.e., at all times of wakefulness.

25 - I.e., "whenever unhappiness oppresses thee and all seems dark around thee".

27. Behold, they [who are unmindful of God] love this fleeting life, and leave behind them [all thought of] a grief-laden Day.
28. [They will not admit to themselves that] it We who have created them and strengthened their make (26) - and [that] if it be Our will We can replace them entirely with others of their kind. (27)

26 - I.e., endowed their bodies and minds with the ability to enjoy "this fleeting life".

27 - I.e., with other human beings who would have the same powers of body and mind, but would put them to better use.

29. VERILY, all this is an admonition: whoever, then, so wills, may unto his Sustainer find a way.
30. But you cannot will it unless God wills [to show you that way]: (28) for, behold, God is indeed all-seeing, wise.

28 - See note 11 on 81:28-29. The perplexity of some of the commentators at the apparent "contradiction" between those two verses - as well as between verses 29-30 of the present surah - has been caused by their elliptic formulation, which, I believe, is resolved in my rendering. In the present instance, in particular, there is a clear connection between the above two verses and verse 3 of this surah: "We have shown him the way: [and it rests with him to prove himself] either grateful or ungrateful". (Cf. also 74:56.)

31. He admits unto His grace everyone who wills [to be admitted]; (29) but as for the evildoers - for them has He readied grievous suffering [in the life to come].

29 - Or: "whomever He wills" - either of these two formulations being syntactically justified.