This sūrah of 59 verses was revealed in Makkah toward the end of the Makkan period. It derives its name from the word dukhān (smoke) in verse 10. It warns the obstinate enemies of the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, of the punishments that might come upon them, and reminds them of how and why the Pharaoh and his army were drowned in the sea. It also concentrates upon the Qur’ān’s Divine authorship, on God’s being the unique Creator and Lord of the whole universe and, therefore, the Only One to be worshipped. It concludes with mention of the final end of the believers and their enemies.
- Ha. Mim.
- By the Book clear in itself and clearly showing the truth.
- We sent it down on a night full of blessings; surely We have ever been warning (humankind since their creation).
- In that night every affair is identified and made distinct for wise purposes,
- As a command issued from Our Presence; surely We have ever been sending Messengers (from among the angels and human beings to convey Our decrees and guide),
- As a mercy from your Lord – urely He is the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing1
- When we consider these verses together with Sūrāt al-Qadr (no. 97), we can conclude that they mention God’s unchanging practice from the beginning of the universe. This practice has two aspects: one for the life of all creatures; and the other for the guidance of humankind and jinn. Although we do not, and cannot, know their exact nature, all things and affairs or events have, in God’s Knowledge, an eternal existence. This is the existence of things and events in their totality or universality. God wills an individual thing to come into existence or an individual event to take place, and He decrees for it its own particular identity. We can describe this process as each thing and event being identified with its particular nature by the Divine Destiny—as referred to in verse 15: 21: There is not a thing but the stores (for its life and sustenance) are with Us, and We do not send it down except in due, determined measure. Destiny transfers this event or thing to the realm of Divine Power, and Divine Power creates it according to the measures determined by Destiny. This creation is called fatr – origination according to, or on, a certain system, and the totality of the attributes given to a particular thing or being is called its fitrah.
As we can deduce from the verses discussed, each year has a particular identity and impor- tance in the total history of the universe in general, and that of humankind in particular, and there is a special night during each year in which every thing or being that God has willed to come into existence, and every event to that take place during that year, is identi- fied or particularized and transferred from Divine Knowledge to the disposal of the Divine Power. As can be understood from other relevant verses, such as 97: 1 and 2: 185, where it is stated that the Qur’ān was sent down on the Night of Destiny (or Power and Measure), and during the holy month of Ramadān, this night is the Night of Destiny (or Power and Measure). Since this night is in the Holy Month of Ramadān, according to the lunar year, which is 11 days shorter than the solar year, any night of the solar year will be this night once every 354 years. (We should always bear in mind that all of the explanations concern- ing God are in respect to us, or from our perspective, and according to our measures in our relation with Him. As for God Himself, He is beyond all restrictions and measures of time and space.)
What the verses mean as far as the warning and guidance of human beings is concerned is that throughout history, God sent Messengers and sent down or revealed Scriptures. The Qur’ān was sent down in two ways, one in its totality, and the other in parts. Interpreters of the Qur’ān say that the Qur’ān was sent in its totality from the Supreme Preserved Tablet to the heaven of the world, or Bayt al-Ma’mūr. We do not know the nature of this Bayt (House), and how the Qur’ān was sent down to it or to the heaven of the world. However, in the light of the verses discussed here (1–6 in this sūrah), it can be said that as every Di- vine Book was identified with its particular nature in its totality, or transferred in its totality from God’s Knowledge or the Supreme Preserved Tablet or the Mother Book (see sūrah 43: 4; sūrah 6: 59, note 13; sūrah 13: 39, note 13; sūrah 17: 14, note 10; sūrah 85: 22), the Qur’ān was also identified in its totality in, or transferred from, the same original source on the Night of Destiny (or Power and Measure).
As can be understood from verse 97: 4, the Messengers that are mentioned in verse 5 as be- ing sent are both the angels responsible for the events that occur in the universe and those events that occur in the life of all beings, including those angels charged with bringing the Divine Book to the Prophets (namely Gabriel and his aides), and the human Messengers sent for the guidance of humankind.
verse 6 states that whatever God decrees is a mercy for beings, including humankind. It is a manifestation of His being either ar-Rahmān (the All-Merciful) or ar-Rahīm (the All-compassionate). (For the meaning of these titles, and the difference between them, see sūrah 1, notes 4–5.)
- The Lord of the heavens and the earth and all that is between them, if you would but seek certainty (about the Messenger and the Book he brings).
- There is no deity but He, giving life and causing to die: your Lord and the Lord of your forefathers.2
2. The descriptions of God Almighty in verses 7 and 8 signify that there is nothing else in the universe that creates, maintains, and causes to die; and, therefore, there is no thing or being that deserves to be worshipped other than God, and there is no thing or being other
than God that can give orders by which one should absolutely obey to arrange one’s life.
- Yet (they do not desire certainty; instead) they are in an irrecoverable doubt, lost in the playthings of the worldly life.
- Then watch (O Messenger) for the day when the sky will bring forth a vis- ible smoke,
- Which will engulf the people (causing them to exclaim): “This is a painful punishment.3
3. When the Makkan polytheists obstinately insisted on their polytheism and cruel treat- ment of God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, and the believers, he prayed to God to help him by sending something like the drought that had afflicted the egyptians during the time of the Prophet Joseph, upon him be peace, so that they might come to belief. God accepted his prayer, and a severe drought and hunger overtook the Makkans. Because of this, they felt as if the sky was full of smoke or mist.
As stated in certain Prophetic Traditions, the smoke also refers to another punishment of God that will afflict nearly all the unbelieving people and make the believers feel as if they have caught influenza toward the end of time, and this will be a sign of the approach of the Last Hour. So, too, it may indicate the “smoke” of philosophical and scientific materialism that has engulfed many people in the world and, to some extent, affected the believers also; or it may signify the “smoke” produced by modern weaponry and the side-effects of world wars; or similar punishments that will manifest themselves in the future.
- “Our Lord! Remove this punishment from us, for now we are true believ- ers.”
- How is a reminder possible for them (such that their profession of faith could be true), seeing that there has come to them a Messenger making the truth clear (and embodying it in every element of his life and character),
- But they turn away from him and say (of him): “One taught by others, a madman.”4
4. This and similar slanders were uttered against God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, by his severest opponents in Makkah, and they have been repeated by many orientalists and materialists in modern times.
- We will hold back the punishment for a little (while), but you will turn back (to your former ways of unbelief, whose outcome is a punishment everlasting)
- On the day when We will seize with the mightiest grasp,5 We will indeed take retribution.
5. The verses flow in such a way that the “smoke” is indicated in all the meanings men- tioned above in note 3. So the day mentioned in this verse and the seizure may well be referring to the Battle of Makkah, where almost all the leading enemies of the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, were killed; as well as to the greatest calamities and wars that will occur toward the end of time; and finally, to Judgment Day, when the unbelievers will be thrown into Hell.
- Before them, assuredly We tried the people of the Pharaoh, when there came to them a noble Messenger,
- Saying: “Deliver to me the servants of God!6 I am a trustworthy Messenger sent to you (by God).”
6. The Prophet Moses, upon him be peace, meant the children of Israel by, the servants of God, and reminded the Pharaoh and his people that they had wrongfully enslaved them, although they were only God’s servants, who, as all people are, were sent to the world with freedom by their creator – God.
- “And do not exalt yourself in proud defiance against God (by disobeying His order and so rejecting my Messengership). Surely I have come to you with an evident authority.
- “I have sought refuge in my Lord, Who is surely also your Lord, from your stoning me to death.
- “If you will not believe in me, then keep away from me (let me go)!”
- Then he called upon his Lord: “These are indeed a guilty people committed to accumulating sin.”
- Then (his Lord commanded him): “Set forth with My servants by night. You are sure to be pursued.
- “And now leave the sea in quiet (as it was when it divided for you), for they are a host destined to be drowned.”
- How many were the gardens and springs that they left behind;
- And cornfields, and excellent dwellings, and elevated, honored situations;
- And other comforts of life, in which they used to take delight!
- Just so! And We made another people heirs (to the bounties they enjoyed).7
7. For detailed account of Moses’ experiences with the Pharaoh and his men, see sūrah 20: 43–79; sūrah 26: 10–68; sūrah 28: 36–40.
- And neither the heaven nor the earth shed tears over them, nor were they
given a respite (when the punishment became due on them).
- And indeed We delivered the children of Israel from the humiliating per- secutions
- Of the Pharaoh. He was indeed a haughty tyrant committing excesses.
- And with knowledge (deliberately and for a purpose known to Us) We chose them (the children of Israel) over all other peoples (in their time).
- And (as a favor) We granted them many signs (miracles), in which there was a manifest trial.8
8. God’s treatment of a people is for their good and is directed toward their education. This sometimes requires rewards and sometimes punishment. Both reward and punish- ment contain favors and tribulations which require gratitude and patience. The children of Israel had been oppressed by the dynasty of the Pharaohs for many years, and this had caused them to develop many complexes and an attitude of slavery. So, in order that they should arouse themselves to freedom and evolve the character needed to live as a free people according to God’s commandments, God favored them with many miracles, both in egypt and after the exodus. However, as every favor and extraordinary blessing does, those miracles also contained a trial. Just as every miracle undeniably convinces people of the Divine truths proclaimed by the Prophets, denial of them brings ruinous punishment.
- Yet these (Makkan polytheist) people say with emphasis:
- “There is nothing beyond our first death,9 and we will not be raised again.
9. For the first death and whether there will be a second one, see Appendix 11, and sūrah 40: 11, note 5.
- “If you are truthful (in claiming that the dead will be raised to a new life), then bring back our forefathers.”
- What! are they better (in wealth and power), or were the people of Tubba‘10 and the others (that We destroyed) before them? We destroyed them, for they were disbelieving criminals committed to accumulating sins.11
- Tubba’ was the title used for the rulers of Himyar, who lived in Yemen. The people of Himyar were a tribe of the Sheba who ruled in south Arabia for almost 1,000 years from around 1100 bc to around 115 bc. (For the people of Sheba, see sūrah 27, note 9; sūrah 34, note 10.) The dynasty of Tubba’ came to power in 115 bc in Yemen and survived until 300 ce. Their story circulated among the Arabs as a legend.
- The verse means that it is highly likely that any people who do not believe in the Hereafter will lapse into all kinds of sins. This will happen because they are devoid of any spiritual sanctions that would keep them away from evil. Belief in the Hereafter or the Res- urrection is very important for individual and collective life for many reasons, as described
below by Said Nursi:
children are one-fourth of humanity. They cannot comprehend death, which must seem to them an awful tragedy, except via the idea of Paradise, which spiritually strengthens their weak, fragile natures. It gives them the hope to live joyfully, despite the vulnerability of their nature, which can so readily burst into tears. Keeping Paradise in mind, they may say: “My little sister or friend has died and has become a bird in Paradise. She is playing there and enjoying a better life.”
The elderly make up another one-fourth of humankind. They can endure death only by believing in the afterlife, which consoles them somewhat for the imminent extinction of this life to which they are so attached, for their exclusion from their lovely world. The hope of eternal life allows them to counter the pain and despair arising from the anticipation of death and separation, despite their fragile temperament and spirit.
Young people are the mainspring and foundation of social life. Only the thought of Hell enables them to control the stormy energy of feelings and passions and their tempestuous spirits from destructiveness and oppression by diverting them into serving the collective in- terest. Without this fear, and drunk on the energy of youth, they would follow the principle of “might makes right” and give free rein to their passions. This would turn the world into a hell for the weak and powerless, and lower human life to the level of beasts.
The family is the inclusive core of our worldly life, our most fundamental resource, and the paradise, home, and castle of our worldly happiness. every person’s home is their own miniature world. The vitality and happiness of our homes and families depend upon sincere and devoted respect, true kindness, and self-denying compassion. All of this, in turn, de- pends upon eternal friendship and companionship, an immortal bond, as well as the belief that feelings between parents and children, brothers and sisters, and husbands and wives, will be everlasting.
If the Resurrection’s reality and truth, and all the consequences thereof, are removed from the human state, the meaning of being human – so exalted, vital, and important within creation – is lowered to that of a carcass fed upon by microbes. Let those concerned with humanity’s orderly life, morals, and society focus on this matter. If the Resurrection is de- nied, with what will they fill the resulting void, and how will they cure the deep wounds? (See The Words, “The Tenth Word,” 109–110.)
- We have not created the heavens and the earth and all that is between them in play and fun.
- We have created them only with truth (for meaningful purposes, and on solid foundations of truth), but most people do not know.
- Surely the Day of Judgment and Distinction (between the truth and false- hood and the righteous and the sinful) is the time appointed for them all;
- The Day when no guardian will be of any avail to one supported and pro-
tected, and none will be helped;
- Save those on whom God will have mercy.12 Surely He is the All-Glorious with irresistible might (Whose punishment no one can escape), the All-com- passionate (especially toward His believing servants).
12. Such people are the God-revering, pious ones, who believe in all of God’s signs and Revelations, and have submitted to Him wholly (in Islam) (43: 67, 69).
- (Here is) the tree of Zaqqūm,13
13. For the tree of Zaqqūm, see: 17: 60, note 27.
- The food of him addicted to sinning,
- Like molten brass; it will boil in their bellies,
- Like the boiling of hot water.
- “(O angels of Hell!) Take him (the sinful one) and drag him into the midst of the Blazing Flame!
- “Then pour over his head boiling water as punishment.”
- “Taste! (Only in your own judgment) were you mighty, honorable, and no- ble.
- “And this (what you are suffering now) is that which you used to doubt!”
- Whereas the God-revering, pious ones will be in a position absolutely secure (from any evil),
- Amid gardens and springs (of Paradise);
- Dressed in fine silk and silk brocade, (seated) face to face.
- Just so it will be. And We will assign for them maidens pure, most beautiful of eye.
- There they call for every kind of fruit in security (from any harm).
- They will not taste death therein, except the first death (of leaving the world); and He has preserved them from the punishment of the Blazing Flame;
- As a grace from your Lord. That is the supreme triumph.
- So (to enable you for that triumph) We have made this Qur’an easy to understand by revealing it in your tongue, so that they may remember and be mindful (and order their lives according to it).
- Then wait (O Messenger, and watch (how they react and how they fare); they too are waiting (to see how your mission will fare).