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 late Meccan surah, revealed shortly after the preceding one, takes its name from the word an-naziat in the first verse.
1. CONSIDER those [stars] that rise only to set, (1)

1 - For my rendering of the adjurative particle wa as "Consider", see first half of note 23 on 74:32. - The early commentators differ widely in their explanations of verses 1-5 of this surah. The most popular interpretation is based on the view that the descriptive participles an-naziat, an-nashitat, as-sabihat, as-sabiqat and al-mudabbirat refer to angels and their activities with regard to the souls of the dying: an interpretation categorically rejected by Abu Muslim al-Isfahani, who - as mentioned by Razi - points out that the angels are never referred to in the Qur'an in the female gender, as is the case in the above five participles, and that the present passage cannot be an exception. Almost equally unconvincing - because somewhat laboured - are the explanations which link those five participles to the souls of the dying, or to warriors engaged in holy war, or to war-mounts, and so forth. The clearest and simplest interpretation is that advanced by Qatadah (as quoted by Tabari and Baghawi) and Al-Hasan al-Basri (quoted by Baghawi and Razi), who maintain that what is meant in this passage are the stars - including the sun and the moon - and their movements in space: and this interpretation is fully in tune with many other passages in the Qur'an in which the harmony of those celestial bodies in their multiform orbits and graded speeds is cited as an evidence of God's planning and creativeness. In accordance with this interpretation, the participle an-naziat occurring in the first verse denotes the daily "ascending" or "rising" of the stars, while their subsequent "setting" is indicated by the expression gharqan, which comprises the two concepts of "drowning" (i.e., disappearing) and, tropically, of the "completeness" of this daily phenomenon (Zamakhshari).

2. and move [in their orbits] with steady motion, (2)

2 - I.e., passing from constellation to constellation (Zamakhshari).

3. and float [through space] with floating serene,
4. and yet overtake [one another] with swift overtaking: (3)

3 - This is apparently an allusion to the different speeds of the orbiting stars (Al-Hasan and Abu Ubaydah, as quoted by Razi), as well as to the extent of their orbits in relation to one another.

5. and thus they fulfil the [Creator's] behest!
6. [HENCE, (4) think of] the Day when a violent convulsion will convulse [the world],

4 - I.e., upon realizing the above-mentioned evidence of God's almightiness and, therefore, of man's subjection to His ultimate judgment.

7. to be followed by further [convulsions]!
8. On that Day will [men's] hearts be throbbing,
9. [and] their eyes downcast. . .
10. [And yet,] some say, "What! Are we indeed to be restored to our former state
11. even though we may have become [a heap of] crumbling bones?"
12. [And] they add, "That, then, would be a return with loss!" (5)

5 - Implying derisively (Zamakhshari) that in such a case they would be proved wrong in what they now consider a "reasonable" assumption.

13. [But,] then, that [Last Hour] will be [upon them of a sudden, as if it were] but a single accusing cry -
14. and then, lo, they will be fully awakened [to the truth]!
15. HAS THE STORY of Moses ever come within thy ken. (6)

6 - Connecting with the preceding passage, the story of Moses (which appears in much greater detail in 20:9-98) is cited here as an illustration of the fact that everyone will have to answer on Judgment Day for whatever he did in life, and that it is the main function of every prophet to make man aware of this responsibility.

16. Lo! His Sustainer called out to him in the twice-hallowed valley: (7)

7 - See note 9 on 20:12. - For the meaning of the particle idh at the beginning of this sentence, rendered by me as "Lo!", see surah 2, note 21.

17. "Go unto Pharaoh - for, verily, he has transgressed all bounds of what is right -
18. and say[unto him], 'Art thou desirous of attaining to purity?
19. [If so,] then I shall guide thee towards [a cognition of] thy Sustainer, so that [henceforth] thou wilt stand in awe [of Him]. (8)

8 - Implying that so long as man is not fully aware of the existence of God, he cannot really discern between what is morally right or wrong; and since God is just, He does not punish anyone who has not yet attained to such a discernment (or, as expressed in the preceding sentence, "to [moral] purity"): cf. 6: 31- "thy Sustainer would never destroy a community for its wrongdoing so long as its people are still unaware [of the meaning of right and wrong]".

20. And thereupon he [went to Pharaoh and] made him aware of the great wonder [of God's grace]. (9)

9 - Lit., "showed him the great wonder", i.e., of the guidance which God, in His measureless grace, offers even to the most recalcitrant sinner.

21. But [Pharaoh] gave him the lie and rebelliously rejected [all guidance],
22. and brusquely turned his back [on Moses];
23. and then he gathered [his great ones], and called [unto his people],
24. and said, "I am your Lord All-Highest!" (10)

10 - Cf. 28:38 and the corresponding note 36. Pharaoh's claim to divine status is the cardinal sin whereby "he has transgressed all bounds of what is right" (verse 17 above).

25. And thereupon God took him to task, [and made him] a warning example in the life to come as well as in this world. (11)

11 - Lit., "in the first [life]". See last sentence of 7:137 - "We utterly destroyed all that Pharaoh and his people had wrought, and all that they had built" - and the corresponding note 100.

26. In this, behold, there is a lesson indeed for all who stand in awe [of God].
27. [O MEN!] Are you more difficult to create than the heaven which He has built? (12)

12 - Lit., "or the heaven. . . ", etc. The "heaven" is here, as in many other places in the Qur'an, a metonym for "cosmic system" (cf. note 20 on 2:29). The above verse is an echo of an earlier, more explicit passage - namely, 40:56-57, which should be read together with the corresponding notes 40 and 41. Both these passages refute the "man-centred" view of the universe by pointing out man's insignificance as compared with the vastness and complexity of the whole God-created universe.

28. High has He reared its vault and formed it in accordance with what it was meant to be; (13)

13 - See 87:2, which is the earliest instance, in the chronology of Qur'anic revelation, of the use of the verb sawwa in the above sense.

29. and He has made dark its night and brought forth its light of day.
30. And after that, the earth: wide has He spread its expanse,
31. and has caused its waters to come out of it, and its pastures, (14)

14 - The term "pasture" (mara) connotes here, metonymically, all herbal produce suitable for consumption by man or animal (Razi).

32. and has made the mountains firm:
33. [all this] as a means of livelihood for you and your animals. (15)

15 - Implying (as in 80:24-32) that man ought to be grateful to God, and should always be conscious of His being the Provider: hence the subsequent return of the discourse to the theme of resurrection and ultimate judgment.

34. AND SO, when the great overwhelming event [of, resurrection] comes to pass
35. on that Day man will [clearly] remember all that he has ever wrought;
36. and the blazing fire [of hell] will be lad open before all who [are destined to] see it. (16)

16 - Cf. 26:91- "will be laid open before those who had been lost in grievous error": thus reminding man that suffering in the hereafter ("hell") is the inevitable consequence of spiritual self-destruction through deliberate wrongdoing.

37. For, unto him who shall have transgressed the bounds of what is right,
38. and preferred the life of this world [to the good of his soul],
39. that blazing fire will truly be the goal!
40. But unto him who shall have stood in fear of his Sustainer's Presence, and held back his inner self from base desires,
41. paradise will truly be the goal!
42. THEY WILL ASK thee [O Prophet] about the Last Hour: "When will it come to pass?"
43. [But] how couldst thou tell anything about it, (17)

17 - Lit., "wherein [or "whereon"] art thou with regard to stating it (min dhikraha)?"

44. [seeing that] with thy Sustainer alone rests the beginning and the end [of all knowledge] thereof? (18)

18 - Lit., "its utmost limit", i.e., the beginning and the end of all that can be known about it. Cf. 7:187 and the corresponding note 153.

45. Thou art but [sent] to warn those who stand in awe of it.
46. On the Day when they behold it, [it will seem to them] as if they had tarried [in this world] no longer than one evening or [one night, ending with] its morn! (19)

19 - As in many other places in the Qur'an (e.g., in 2:259, 17:52, 18:19, 20:103-104, 23:112-113, 30:55 etc.), this is a subtle indication of the illusory, earthbound nature of man's concept of "time" - a concept which, we are told, will lose all its meaning in the context of the ultimate reality comprised in the term "hereafter" (al-akhirah).