91. Ash-Shams (The Sun)
This sūrah of 15 verses was revealed in Makkah. It takes its name from the word ash-shams (the sun) in the first verse. It brings to our attention a basic feature of humankind, namely its being created with a disposition or capacity to do both good and evil. However, it calls them to faith and good deeds, and warns against evil deeds ending in destruction by giving the lucid example of the tribe of Thamūd.
In the Name of God, the All-Merciful, the All-Compassionate.
1. By the sun and its brightness;
2. And the moon as it follows it (reflecting its light);
3. And the day as it reveals it (the sun);
4. And the night as it enshrouds it;
5. And the heaven and that (All-Magnificent One) Who has built it;
6. And the earth and that (All-Magnificent One) Who has spread it;1
7. And the human selfhood and that (All-Knowing, All-Powerful, and All-Wise One) Who has formed it to perfection,
8. And Who has inspired it with the conscience of what is wrong and bad for it, and what is right and good for it—2
9. He is indeed prosperous who has grown it in purity (away from self-aggrandizing rebellion against God);
10. And he is indeed lost who has corrupted it (in self-aggrandizing rebellion against God).3
11. The (tribe of) Thamūd denied (the Divine Message and their Messenger, and displayed their denial) in their arrogant rebellion,
12. (Especially) when (finally) the most wicked among them (instigated by his people) rushed forward.
13. The Messenger of God (Sālih) said (warning them, and reminding them again of the terms of their pledge): “It is the she-camel of God, and observe her turn in drinking.”4
14. But they denied him and slaughtered her; and so their Lord crushed them for their sin, and leveled them (with the ground).
15. And He (being the All-Knowing and All-Powerful and All-Just) does not fear the outcome (of events).
1. Spreading the earth means making its surface suitable for settlement and life. The fact that it is spread out does not contradict the fact that it is spherical.
2. God has endowed the human self or ego with the necessary potential, and equipped it with a capacity to be able to realize the goal of its existence. He has also created it with a disposition to guarding against the Divine prohibitions, and taught it through Revelation how it should guard against them, appointing some (the Messengers) to guide it to that goal.
3. There are essential differences between humans and animals. The primary difference lies in the observable fact that when animals are born, it is as if they have been taught and trained in another world. They begin to walk almost as soon as they are born and quickly adapt to their surroundings, as if they had been acquainted with them beforehand. However, a human (on average) needs almost a whole year to learn how to walk, and then spends the rest of life learning how to live, and how to discriminate between what is beneficial and what is harmful. This shows that learning and progress are fundamental to human life.
Humans are very complicated beings. We resemble seeds, for in each of us is the potential to engender and attain perfection. A seed is endowed by the Divine Power with great potential and is destined to put this potential into effect. If that seed abuses its potential and attracts harmful substances, soon it will rot away in its confined space. If it uses its potential properly, however, it will emerge from these narrow confines and grow into a fruit-bearing tree. In addition, its tiny and particular nature will come to represent a great and universal truth.
Our essence is like a seed. If we use our potential and intellectual and spiritual faculties in this narrow world under the soil of the worldly life only to satisfy the fancies of our carnal, evil-commanding soul or selfhood, we will become corrupt, like a rotten seed, and merely enjoy fleeting pleasures during this short life. Thus, we will depart from this world with a heavy spiritual burden on our unfortunate souls.
But if we germinate the seed of our potential under the “soil of spirituality” with the “water of faith and worship,” and if we use our spiritual faculties for their true purposes, we will grow into an eternal, majestic tree, the branches of which extend into eternity. We will yield fruit of virtue in the world and eternal happiness in the next world. We will be favored in Paradise with infinite perfection and countless blessings.
All this means that we have been sent to the world to be perfected through knowledge and faith. And due to our special position among other beings, we have been entrusted with improving the earth through knowledge and faith and establishing justice on it. This imposes on us duties toward our Creator and other beings. (Also see Appendix 14.)
4. See sūrah 7: 73–77, note 17, sūrah 11: 61–68, and sūrah 26: 141–159.