94. Ash-Sharh (The Expansion)
This sūrah of eight verses, Ash-Sharh (The Expansion), was revealed in Makkah after the previous sūrah. It takes its name from the verb nashrah (from the root, SHaRaHa, which means to expand) in the first verse. The sūrah mentions some of God’s favors upon the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, and exhorts him to carry out his sacred mission.
In the Name of God, the All-Merciful, the All-Compassionate.
1. Have We not expanded for you your breast,1
2. And eased you of the burden,
3. Which weighed so heavily on your back?2
4. And (have We not) exalted for you your renown?3
5. Then, surely, with hardship comes ease.
6. Surely, with hardship comes ease.
7. Therefore, when you are free (from one task), resume (another task);
8. And seek and strive to please your Lord.4
1. The Prophet Moses, upon him be peace, having received the Divine command to go to the Pharaoh to convey God’s Message, prayed to God; and the first thing for which he prayed was for the expansion of his breast (20: 25). He did this so that he would be able to show greater patience with whatever he would encounter from the Pharaoh and his clan, and so that he could fully understand God’s Religion and all that He would be pleased with (see sūrah 20, note 8).
So, literally meaning growing larger and deeper, spreading and expanding, the expansion of the breast (inbisat, in Islamic terminology) signifies the relaxing of one’s heart to the extent allowed by the Sharī‘ah, so that one can embrace everybody and make them pleased or contented with one’s gentle words and pleasant manners. In the context of one’s relationship with God Almighty, it denotes a spiritual state that is a combination of fear and hope for those who are at the beginning of journeying on the way to God; and for those near to God, like the Prophets, it signifies the exhilaration that comes from knowledge of God. Those who have attained this state are awed by being in the Presence of God, and feel exhilarated by the breezes of delight and joy blowing in His Presence. They are awed while inhaling, and feel delight when exhaling.
As pointed out in the description above, expansion can be dealt with in two categories: our relationship with the created, and our relationship with the Creator. With respect to our relationship with the Creator, expansion means that we feel both awe and exhilaration from being in God’s Presence; and with respect to our relationship with the created, it means that we live in a society as a member of it: that we are generous, sincere, and respectful to everyone, and that we treat people according to their level of understanding.
The noble Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, was sincere with those around him. He spoke according to his listeners’ level of understanding, and sometimes even made wise and meaningful jokes. Although he suffered inwardly from the unbelief, injustice, and sins that he witnessed, and even though he was anxious for the end and afterlife of all people, he always smiled and behaved pleasantly. So the verse means that despite the great inner suffering he felt because of the deviation of his people, and despite the harsh treatments he received from them, God enabled him to tolerate all this. The Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, always received solace from God and felt exhilaration because of His continuous Presence. (For further explanations, see Key Concepts, 1: 115–116.)
2. As pointed out in 33: 72, the supreme trust of selfhood (ego) is a great burden for each human being to carry; it is of such a weight that the heavens, the earth, and the mountains shrank from bearing it (see Appendix 14). It was God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, who felt this weight more than all other people. Moreover, as a Messenger of God, he had been sent a weighty word from God, i.e., the Qur’ān, Who charged him with conveying it to others (73: 5). This is such a weighty Word that, in the words of God, if by a Divine Discourse the mountains were to be set in motion, or the earth were to be cleft, or the dead be made to speak, all would do so by the Qur’ān— not by any other Divine or non-Divine word (13: 31). So, naturally, the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, should havenormally felt weighed down under such a burden. However, by expanding his breast and endowing him with the capacity to bear all hardships, and by helping him to carry out his mission, God eased him of this burden.
3. The name of the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, is mentioned along with God in the proclamation of faith: “There is no deity but God, and Muhammad is His Messenger. I bear witness that there is no deity but God, and I also bear witness that Muhammad is His servant and Messenger.” The Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, is the person most loved, and most correctly loved, by people. He is a person about whom thousands of poems, articles, and books have been written. God has sent His blessings and peace on him for 14 centuries; and His angels, as well as millions and millions of people, have been calling for the same for 14 centuries. And this will continue to happen until the Last Day. Even the enemies of the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, have admitted that he is the greatest of creation, the person who has influenced human history more than any other. Yet no one has ever deified him, and God has always purified him of the slanders of his biased foes. See Lamartine’s tribute to him quoted in sūrah 33, note 11. Moreover, the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, never misused the glory and fame he had won; he always lived as if he were an ordinary man among the people, and he remained the most modest of all during his entire life. So his glory and fame served his cause, not himself.
4. The last two verses teach us how time should be used. Changing one’s task provides a rest and refreshes one’s zeal and power. Especially when an intellectual task is followed by a bodily one, the mind feels relaxed. Daily Prayers refresh the mind and the spirit amidst one’s daily occupations. But whatever we do, we must do it to please God and, therefore, we should always be occupied with lawful deeds and refrain from doing that which has been forbidden by Him.