96. Al-Alaq The Cloth)
This sūrah of 19 verses derives its name from the word Al-Alaq (The Cloth or Clinging Clot – the fertilized female ovum or zygote) that occurs in the second verse. Its initial five verses are the first part of the Qur’ān that was revealed to God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, while he was secluded in the Cave of Hirah on Mount Nūr. The Archangel Gabriel came and told him to read. When the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, answered that he did not know how to read, the angel squeezed him towards himself until the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, had almost lost all his strength. Then he repeated the order, “Read!” In fact, this was repeated three times, and after the third time, the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, asked: “What will I read?” Then the angel conveyed the initial five verses of the sūrah. This sūrah implies the importance of knowledge, reading, and writing, and warns that people go astray by regarding themselves as being self-sufficient. It also threatens against denying God’s Message.
In the Name of God, the All-Merciful, the All-Compassionate.
1. Read in and with the Name of your Lord, Who has created –
2. Created human from a clot clinging (to the wall of the womb).1
3. Read, and your Lord is the All-Munificent,
4. Who has taught (human) by the pen –
5. Taught human what he did not know.
6. No indeed, but (despite all His favors to him), human is unruly and rebels,
7. In that he sees himself as self-sufficient, independent (of his Lord).
8. But to your Lord, surely is the return (when everyone will account for their life).
9. Have you ever considered the one who would impede and forbid,
10. A servant (of God) when he prays?
11. Have you considered if he is (and surely he is) on the right way;
12. Or exhorts others to righteousness and piety?
13. Have you considered if he, himself, denies the truth and turns away (from it)?
14. Does he (who would impede the servant in his Prayer) not know that God sees (all that people do)?
15. No indeed! If he does not desist, We will certainly seize and drag him by the forelock,
16. A lying, sinful forelock!
17. Then let him summon (to his help his) council—
18. We will summon the guards of Hell.2
19. By no means! Pay no heed to him (in his attempt to prevent the Prayer), but prostrate and draw near (to God).
1. It is quite significant that the first command of God to His Messenger, the unlettered Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, was “read,” when there was, as yet, no Book to be read. Although this implies that the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, would have been revealed a Book to read from memory, the name of which derives from the verb “read,” in particular, it also meant that there is another book or, rather, there are two books, counterparts to the Book which was to be revealed. These two books are the universe and man himself. A believer should approach the study of the universe and humanity without prejudice. It is also significant that the verses of the Qur’ān and the phenomena in the universe, and those in human nature, both material and psychological, are both called āyah – a sign. The imperative “Read!” is followed, not by a direct object or an adverb, but by “in and with the Name of your Lord, Who has created.” This signifies:
- “Reading” the universe – studying it as a book that has chapters, paragraphs, sentences, words, and letters that are interrelated and interlinked – a study that has procedures peculiar to itself, like, for example, observation and experiment.
- The word translated as Lord is Rabb, and it has meanings such as “educator, upbringer, sustainer, giver of a certain pattern, and the giver of a particular nature to each entity.” Human nature includes free will, whereas every other entity acts according to the primordial nature assigned to it— what modern science refers to by using the words “nature” and the “laws of nature.” What humans are commanded to do is to discover these “laws.”
- Every act of a human being, including scientific studies, should be performed in the Name of God and, therefore, be an act of worship. That is, in fact, the only limit which the Qur’ān or Islam puts on science. Any act so performed cannot be against God’s commandments. For example, in the pursuit of scientific knowledge as worship, no one can cause harm to humankind, nor put that knowledge in the form of a deadly weapon in the hands of an irresponsible power. If performed only in the Name of God, by people conscious of always being supervised by God, and who always remember that they will be called to account before a Supreme Tribunal for all their actions in the world, science can change the world into a Garden of Eden.
As humans study the universe and perceive its meaning and content, they come to know more deeply the beauty and splendor of the Creator’s system and the infinitude of His Might. Thus, it is incumbent upon human beings to penetrate the manifold meanings of the universe, discover the Divine laws of “nature,” and establish a world where science and faith complement one another so that humanity will be able to attain true bliss in both worlds. Otherwise, as Bertrand Russell says, “Unless humans increase in wisdom (and faith) as much as in knowledge, the increase of knowledge will be an increase of sorrow” (Impact of Science on Society, 121). “Science teaches man to fly in the air like birds, and to swim in the water like fishes; but man, without faith, cannot know how to live on the earth.” (Quoted by Joad in Counter Attack from the East, 28).
Thus, as Seyyed Hossein Nasr emphasizes (Man and Nature, 1976, London, pp. 94–95), the revelation given to humankind is inseparable from the cosmic revelation, which is also a book of God. Islam, by refusing to separate humanity from nature, or to separate the study of nature from gnosis (metaphysical knowledge)— or its metaphysical dimension— has preserved an integral view of the universe and sees in the arteries of the cosmic and natural order the flow of Divine grace. From the bosom of nature human beings seek to transcend nature and nature can be an aid in this process, provided they learn to contemplate it as a mirror reflecting a higher reality. This is the reason why one finds an elaborate hierarchy of knowledge in Islam, integrated by the principle of Divine Unity – “natural,” juridical, social, theological sciences and metaphysical sciences – and why so many Muslim scientists, like Ibn Sinā (Avicenna), Nāsiru’d-Dīn at-Tūsī, Ak Shamsaddin, and Ibrāhim Haqqi, of Erzurum, in addition to being well-versed in religious sciences, were either practicing Sufis or were intellectually affiliated to the Sufi schools of Islam. A man like Ibn Sinā could be a physician and Peripatetic philosopher, and yet expound his Oriental philosophy in a manner that sought knowledge through illumination. Nāsiru’d-Dīn al-Tūsī was the leading mathematician and astronomer of his day, and also the author of an outstanding treatise on the metaphysical dimension of Islam. Ibn Jarir at–Tabarī, who is one of the outstanding figures in Islamic jurisprudence, history, and Qur’ānic interpretation, wrote eleven centuries ago about how the winds fertilize clouds to make rain fall.
2. Though God is the All-Powerful, in need of nothing, of no support, He has, out of His Wisdom, installed guards of Hell, who are many times more powerful than any council, and who will drag the people of Hell into their final resting place. The mention of the guards of Hell here is to answer, in their own language, the stubborn leaders of the polytheists, who perceived the council of the city as being on their side.