Revealed in Makkah, this sūrah of 62 verses derives its name from the word an-Najm (the star) in the first verse. God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, recited it in its entirety to both the believers and the Makkan polytheists at the Ka’bah. It warns the polytheists about their attitude towards the Qur’ān. It reminds them that all their beliefs are based on mere surmises, while those who follow the Straight Path are those who believe in and worship the One God, Who is the Owner of the whole universe. It also stresses that the Religion God’s Messenger communicates is not a new, invented one in human history; and it threatens the polytheists with Judgment Day, which is bound to come.
- By the star when it goes down,
- Your companion (the Messenger) has neither gone astray nor adopted a wrong way (in belief and action).
- He does not speak on his own, out of his own desire;
- That (which he conveys to you) is but a Revelation that is revealed to him.1
- As mentioned in the introductory words about this sūrah above, God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, recited it in its entirety to both the believers and the polytheists at the Ka’bah. The polytheists were trying to find excuses for their rejection of the Qur’ān and the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, and discussing how they should brand them. So the verses remove all the doubts and confusion that they were trying to form around the Divine origin of the Qur’ān and the Messengership of the Prophet Mu- hammad, upon him be peace and blessings.
In many verses God swears by objects in the universe. This sūrah begins with an oath by the star. This has many implications. By the star, it refers to all celestial objects and, by swearing by it when it goes down, it implies that no celestial object can be a deity to worship (See 6: 76, note 16). As is known, the Makkan polytheists also worshipped some celestial objects, including, in particular, the star of Sirius (verse 49 in this sūrah). It also implies that, since the time when the star goes down is the time when day breaks, the day or sun of truth (Is- lam) is about to rise. The Ascension of God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, some aspects of which are mentioned in this sūrah, may also be symbolized by this.
The word translated as star also means passage, and according to some, it also refers to the Qur’ān’s being revealed in passages. So the verse means, By the passage (of the Qur’ān) when it goes down (is sent down).
- One of forceful might (Gabriel) has taught it;
- One firm, with the ability to penetrate and perfect in spirit, rose with all his splendor2
2. The verses possibly refer to important phenomena that are connected to one another. The one described in the verse may be referring to both the Archangel Gabriel and the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings. The meaning given in the inter- pretation is referring to Gabriel. In its reference to the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, the meaning of the verse is: And by receiving the Qur’ān, the Messenger has attained full perfection and the greatest position.
- When he was in the highest part of the horizon.3
3. Gabriel used to come to God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, in dif- ferent forms. The Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, saw him in his original form twice: first when he descended from Mount Nūr after receiving the first Revelation; and then, as will be mentioned in verse 13 below, during the Messenger’s return from the Ascension. So this verse refers to his first sight of him. When it is taken to refer to the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, it implies his greatness.
- Then, he drew near and came close,
- So he was (so near that there was left only the distance between) the strings of two bows (put adjacent to each other) or even nearer (than that).
- And He revealed to His servant what He revealed.4
4. These verses, like the verses above, are about both Gabriel’s bringing the Revelation to the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, and the Messenger’s meeting with God during the Ascension, an event that happened beyond all concepts of modality. In the former case, verse 8 means that Gabriel “went down” from his position in the heaven and came close to the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, who was on the earth. In the latter case, it means that God manifested His nearness to the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, and attracted him toward Him, and the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, ascended toward Him, high enough to meet with Him. This meeting, which signifies the Messenger’s unparalleled nearness to God, is expressed in verse 9 as the “nearness between the strings of two bows put adjacent to each other.” This comparison points to the insurmountable boundary between the realm of contingency (creation) and the infinite “realm” of Absolute Necessity (the creator). God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, reached the highest point that a created being can. During the Ascen- sion, God prescribed the five daily Prayers, so these verses also suggest the importance of the Prescribed Prayer. For this reason, the Prayer contains the meaning of the Ascension and is regarded as the ascension of every believer who performs it. A believer can realize ascension according to their capacity in the Prayer, an occasion on which a believer is near- est to God.
- The heart did not contradict what he saw (with his eyes).5
5. The original of the word translated as “the heart” is fuād. It is the center or central sense of the (spiritual) heart. The heart has senses of hearing and seeing, and what perceives or comprehends any perception received by the heart through its senses of hearing and seeing is fuād.
- Will you then dispute with him concerning what he saw?
- Assuredly he saw him during a second descent,
- By the Lote-tree of the utmost boundary;6
6. This tree signifies the insurmountable infinite boundary between the “realm” of Absolute Necessity (Divinity), and the realm of contingency (the created).
- Near it is the Garden of Refuge and Dwelling.
- Meanwhile, that was covering the Lote-tree which was covering it.7
7. What covered the Lote-tree was God’s Light and His overflowing radiance.
- The sight (of the Messenger) did not swerve (so that he looked elsewhere and saw something different), nor did it go wrong (so that he might have seen an illusion).
- Indeed, he saw one among the greatest signs of His Lord.8
8. It is not certain what this greatest sign was. God had His Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, travel in the highest dimensions of creation during the Ascension so that he could see some of His signs (17: 1). It is understood that these signs are of the kind that they can only be perceived through seeing, and the greatest of creation, upon him be peace and blessings, was favored with their sight. Human language is simply inadequate to express these signs in such a way that we would be able to visualize them exactly.
- (As compared to that) have you considered al-Lat and al-‘Uzza?
- And the other, the third (idol), al-Manat: (what things are these that you concoct)?
- What? For you the males and for Him the females?
- That is an unfair division indeed!9
9. Al-Lāt, al-’Uzzā, and al-Manāt were three of the “greatest” idols of the Makkan polythe- ists. It is very interesting that these three idols were regarded as females and had female names. Since they were images or representations of some angels or angelic powers in the sight of the polytheists, and since the polytheists regarded the angels as females or daugh- ters of God, they called them by female names. Yet, they despised females and did not desire to have daughters, and they attributed females to God. As explained in note 25 to 4: 117, the reason why they chose their deities from among the females was because they did
not want these to have any authority over them; moreover, they tended to seek to dominate even their deities and to use them for the realization of their worldly ambitions.
- They (your false deities) are nothing but made-up names that you and your forefathers have invented; God sent no authority for them. They follow only conjecture and that which they themselves lust after. But now there has certainly come to them guidance from their Lord (Who has created them, and sustains them).
- Or will human attain whatever he craves?10
10. For example, will humans choose whomever or whatever they desire as deities? And would they want God to accept angels as intermediaries with Him on their part? And is this something that God would accede to?
- But (whatever human desires, be it to serve his higher good, or to serve his carnal appetites) to God belong the after(life) and the former (life).11
11. It is God Who has created the universe and humankind. No one has any choice about whether they come to the world or not; when and where they are born; in what family they will come to the world; when they will depart from the world; nor in the determination of their color, race, physical body, or sex. So, it is also God Who has established the conditions of life in the world and the law of causality (what happens to humans as a result of their actions); and it is also He Who has established what deed will bring reward or punishment in the Hereafter. In sum, human beings have not been given either absolute freedom or absolute autonomy.
- How many an angel there is in the heavens (even supposing they would intercede for a human) whose intercession does not avail at all except after God has given permission to whomever He wills (to intercede on behalf of whomever He wills) and is pleased with.
- It is those who do not believe in the Hereafter who name the angels (whom they regard as God’s daughters) with feminine names.
- They have no knowledge of this. They follow nothing other than conjecture, and conjecture can never substitute for anything of the truth.
- So withdraw from those who turn away from Our Book and remembrance, and desire nothing but the life of this world.
- Such is their sum of knowledge (limited by desires of the moment, and the falsehoods they have inherited unthinkingly and become used to, limited to the outer surface of things). Surely your Lord knows best him who has gone astray, and He knows best him who goes right (following the Straight Path of his Lord).
- To God belongs all that is in the heavens and all that is on the earth, and (since He knows best him who has gone astray and him who follows the right path) He will recompense those who do evil with what they have done, and recompense those who do good with the best reward.
- Those who avoid the major sins and indecent, shameful deeds (which are, in fact, included in the major sins), only falling into small faults,12 – surely your Lord is of extensive forgiveness. He knows you well when He originates you from (the particles of ) earth, and when you are hidden (fetuses) in the wombs of your mothers. So do not hold yourselves pure (sinless; it is vain self-justifi- cation). He knows best him who keeps from disobedience to God in reverence for Him and piety.
12. For the major sins, see sūrah 2: 194, note 140; sūrah 4: 31, note 11; and for the indecent, shameful deeds, see sūrah 4: 25, note 9. Indecent acts, such as illegal sexual intercourse and homosexuality are, in fact, included in the major sins. They are mentioned separately because God especially warns us against them. In order to better understand this verse and the meaning of small faults, it should be considered together or in the light of the verse: They are also the ones who, when they have committed a shameful deed or wronged them- selves (through any kind of sinful act to bring harm to themselves), immediately remember God and implore Him to forgive their sins – for who will forgive sins save God? – and do not persist knowingly in whatever (evil) they have committed (3: 135).
- Have you considered him who turns away (from your call)?
- He has given (the needy) a little, then he is stern (in not giving).
- Does he have knowledge of the Unseen, and so he sees (what is to happen in the future)?
- Or has he not been informed of all (that is to follow and) was in the Scrolls of Moses,
- And of Abraham who discharged his due (fulfilling all his duties to perfec- tion)?
- That no soul, as bearer of burden, is made to bear the burden of another.
- And that human has only that for which he labors,
- And his labor will be brought forth to be seen.13
13. The day when every soul will find whatever good it has done brought forward, and whatever evil it has done.… (3: 30).
- And afterward he will be repaid for it with fullest payment.
- And in your Lord everything ends.
- And He it is Who (by His Will, Power, and creation) enables to laugh and to weep.
- And He it is Who causes to die and gives life.
- And He creates the pairs, the male and the female,
- From a drop of (seminal) fluid when it is emitted.
- And He has taken on Himself the other bringing forth;
- And He it is Who grants abundant wealth and suffices (all need by His providing).
- And surely He it is Who is the Lord of Sirius.14
14. Sirius is the brightest star in the sky. Many Arabs worshipped it during the Time of Ignorance and attributed to it celestial events, such as rain. The Qur’ān categorically rejects this and states that it is God Who has created Sirius, Who makes it last, and gives it its light.
- And He destroyed the former (tribe of ) ‘Ād,15
15. The former tribe of ‘Ād were the people of the Prophet Hūd, upon him be peace. The latter ‘Ād were those descending from the believers who had survived the destruction.
- And the (tribe of ) Thamud; He spared no (disbelieving criminal) among them;
- And the people of Noah before; surely they were further in wrongdoing and further in rebellion.
- (He also destroyed) the overthrown cities (of Lot’s people);
- So that there covered them that which covered.
- Then which of the gifts of your Lord do you dispute about?16
16. Justice is indisputably good in itself and absolutely necessary for human life. So the destruction of several peoples who were obstinate in wrongdoing was their just due; it is a gift or bounty of God to humankind.56. And this (Messenger) is a warner like the warners of old.
- That (the Last Hour) which is bound to draw near has drawn near.
- None besides God can disclose it (or remove the dread and suffering it en- tails).
- Do you then deem this Discourse (which enables your eternal salvation) strange?
- And do you laugh and not weep (in consideration of your recalcitrance and sinfulness),
- Moreover entertain yourselves (with fun and games)?
- Rather: prostrate before God (in submission) and worship Him (so that He may protect you from the dread and suffering of the Last Hour).