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.

MANY AUTHORITIES - among them Suyuti - regard this surah as the last Meccan revelation. However, a number of authentic Traditions make it clear that at least the first four verses were revealed shortly after the Prophet's arrival at Medina (cf. Tabari, Baghawi, Ibn Kathir): some commentators go even further and ascribe the whole of the surah to the Medina period. If we take all the available evidence into account and disregard all speculations based on no more than theme and style, we may assume that the main body of this surah indeed represents the very last Meccan revelation, while the opening passage (to which the above-mentioned Traditions explicitly refer) belongs to the earliest Medina period. Thus, the surah as a whole stands - like surah 29 (Al-Ankabut) - on the threshold between these two periods.
1. WOE UNTO THOSE who give short measure:
2. those who, when they are to receive their due from [other] people, demand that it be given in full
3. but when they have to measure or weigh whatever they owe to others, give less than what is due! (1)

1 - This passage (verses 1-3) does not, of course, refer only to commercial dealings but touches upon every aspect of social relations, both practical and moral, applying to every individual's rights and obligations no less than to his physical possessions.

4. Do they not know that they are bound to be raised from the dead
5. [and called to account] on an awesome Day
6. the Day when all men shall stand before the Sustainer of all the worlds?
7. NAY, VERILY, the record of the wicked is indeed [set down] in a mode inescapable! (2)

2 - According to some of the greatest philologists (e.g., Abu Ubaydah, as quoted in the Lisan al-Arab), the term sijjin is derived from - or even synonymous with - the noun sijn, which signifies "a prison". Proceeding from this derivation, some authorities attribute to sijjin the tropical meaning of da'im, i.e., "continuing" or "lasting" (ibid.). Thus, in its metaphorical application to a sinner's "record", it is evidently meant to stress the latter's inescapable quality, as if its contents were lastingly "imprisoned", i.e., set down indelibly, with no possibility of escaping from what they imply: hence my rendering of the phrase fi sijjin as "[set down] in a mode inescapable". This interpretation is, to my mind, fully confirmed by verse 9 below.

8. And what could make thee conceive what that that mode inescapable will be?
9. A record [indelibly] inscribed!
10. Woe on that Day unto those who give the lie to the truth
11. those who give the lie to the [coming of] Judgment Day:
12. for, none gives the lie to it but such as are wont to transgress against all that is [and are] immersed in sin: (3)

3 - Implying that a denial of ultimate responsibility before God and, hence, of His judgment - is invariably conducive to sinning and to transgression against all moral imperatives. (Although this and the next verse are formulated in the singular, I am rendering them in the plural inasmuch as this plurality is idiomatically indicated by the word kull before the descriptive participles mutad and athim, as well as by the use of a straight plural in verses 14 ff.)

13. [and so,] whenever Our messages are conveyed to them, they but say, "Fables of ancient times!"
14. Nay, but their hearts are corroded by all [the evil] that they were wont to do! (4)

4 - Lit., "that which they were earning has covered their hearts with rust": implying that their; persistence in wrongdoing has gradually deprived them of all consciousness of moral responsibility and, hence, of the ability to visualize the fact of God's ultimate judgment.

15. Nay, verily, from [the grace of] their Sustainer shall they on that Day be debarred;
16. and then, behold, they shall enter the blazing fire
17. and be told: "This is the [very thing] to which you were wont to give the lie!"
18. NAY, VERILY - the record of the truly virtuous is [set down] in a mode most lofty! (5)

5 - I.e., in contrast to the record of the wicked (see verse 7 above). As regards the term illiyyun, it is said to be the plural of illi or illiyyah ("loftiness") or, alternatively, a plural which has no singular (Qamus, Taj al-Arus); in either case it is derived from the verb ala, which signifies "[something] was [or "became"] high" or "lofty" or - tropically - "exalted": thus in the well-known idiomatic phrase, huwa min illiyyat qawmihi, "he is among the [most] exalted of his people". In view of this derivation, the plural illiyyun has evidently the intensive connotation of "loftiness upon loftiness" (Taj al-Arus) or "a mode most lofty".

19. And what could make thee conceive what that mode most lofty will be?
20. A record [indelibly] inscribed,
21. witnessed~ by all who have [ever] been drawn close unto God. (6)

6 - I.e., by the prophets and saints of all times as well as by the angels.

22. Behold, [in the life to come] the truly virtuous will indeed be in bliss:
23. [restingJ on couches, they will look up [to God]: (7)

7 - Cf. 7:23. As elsewhere in the Qur'an, the "couches" of the virtuous in paradise symbolize complete restfulness and inner fulfilment.

24. upon their faces thou wilt see the brightness of bliss.
25. They will be given a drink of pure wine whereon the seal [of God] will have been set,
26. pouring forth with a fragrance of musk. (8) To that [wine of paradise], then, let all such aspire as [are willing to] aspire to things of high account:

8 - Lit., "the end whereof (khitamuhu) will be musk". My rendering of the above phrase reflects the interpretation given to it by several authorities of the second generation of Islam, and by Abu Ubaydah ibn al-Muthanna (all of them quoted by Razi). The "pure wine" (rahiq) of the hereafter - which, contrary to the wine of this world, will carry "the seal" (i.e., the sanction) of God because "no headiness will be in it, and they will not get drunk thereon" (37:47) - is another symbol of paradise, alluding, by means of comparisons with sensations that can be experienced by man, to the otherworldly sensations of joy which, in a form intensified beyond all human imagination, are in store for the righteous. Some of the great Muslim mystics (e.g., Jalal ad-Din Rumi) see in that "pure wine" an allusion to a spiritual vision of God: an interpretation which, I believe, is fully justified by the sequence.

27. for it is composed of all that is most exalting (9)

9 - Whereas most of the classical commentators regard the infinitive noun tasnim as the proper name of one of the allegorical "fountains of paradise ", or, alternatively, refrain from any definition of it, it seems to me that the derivation of tasnim from the verb sannama - "he raised [something]" or "made [it] lofty" - points, rather, to the effect which the "wine" of divine knowledge will have on those who "drink" of it in paradise. Hence, the tabii Ikrimah (as quoted by Razi) equates tasnim with tashrif, "that which is ennobling" or "exalting".

28. a source [of bliss] whereof those who are drawn close unto God shall drink. (10)

10 - Cf. 76:5-6 and the corresponding notes.

29. BEHOLD, those who have abandoned themselves to sin are wont to laugh at such as have attained to faith (11)

11 - In the original, verses 29-33 are in the past tense, as if viewed from the time-level of Judgment Day. However, since the preceding and the following passages (i.e., verses 18-28 and 34-36) are formulated in the future tense, verses 29-33 (which relate to life in this world) maybe adequately rendered in the present tense.

30. and whenever they pass by them, they wink at one another [derisively];
31. and whenever they return to people of their own kind, (12) they return full of jests;

12 - Lit., "to their [own] people",

32. and whenever they see those [who believe,] they say, "Behold, these [people] have indeed gone astray!"
33. And, withal, they have no call to watch over [the beliefs of] others. . . (13)

13 - Lit., "they have not been sent as watchers over them" - implying that none who is devoid of faith has the right to criticize the faith of any of his fellow-men.

34. But on the Day [of Judgment], they who had attained to faith will [be able to] laugh at the [erstwhile] deniers of the truth: (14)

14 - Speaking of the righteous, the Quran repeatedly stresses that on the Day of Judgment God "shall have removed whatever unworthy thoughts or feelings (ghill) may have been [lingering] in their bosoms" (7:43 and 15:47). Since an expression of vengeful joy on the part of the blest at the calamity which in the hereafter will befall the erstwhile sinners would certainly fall within the category of "unworthy feelings", their "laughing" can only have a metaphorical meaning, denoting no more than a realization of their own good fortune.

35. [for, resting in paradise] on couches, they will look on [and say to themselves]:
36. "Are these deniers of the truth being [thus] requited for [aught but] what they were wont to do?"