This sūrah, revealed in Makkah, has 30 verses. It takes its name from the word al-fajr (dawn) in the first verse. It draws attention to the painful end that befell some ancient peoples who denied God’s Messengers and the Message they brought. It also explains some basic traits of human nature and the wisdom of God’s testing His servants. It ends by reminding us of what kind of eternal life awaits the believers and unbelievers.
- By the dawn,
- And ten nights,1
- By ten nights, the verse is referring to the last ten nights of the holy Month of Ramadān, or the first ten nights of Dhu’l-Hijjah, the month of the Pilgrimage, or both. In each of these ten nights, the time during which God is worshipped has a special importance and reward; and this time period is followed by the religious festival. So the dawn in the first verse, in addition to referring to the dawn of every new day, may be implying, in particular, the dawn of these festivals. In addition to these meanings, the ten nights and the dawn also imply that no matter how long they may be, the dark periods in the life of an individual or in the life of a society usually end in a new, happy day. The verses also allude to the fact that, as pointed out in Sūrat al-Muzzammil (73: 2–6), devotions at night have a special efficacy in human spiritual endeavor, and give rise to a spiritual awakening (dawn).
- And the even and the odd,2
2. In addition to other possible meanings, such as the months in the (Muslim) lunar cal- endar that end in either an even or odd number, and the fact that the last third of the holy Month of Ramadan sometimes consists of ten days and sometimes nine days, this expres- sion also implies all of creation enshrouded by the night, over which the day breaks.
- And the night as it journeys on (towards an end) – 3
3. Night has its own characteristics and runs its own course. But however long it may be, it will certainly come to an end, and the sun will rise and spread its light, as God wills. So when God’s light (of complete submission to God in Islam) begins to show over the horizon of humankind, it means that the end of night is near for both individuals and communities.
- Is there not in that a solemn oath for one endowed with reason (to reflect upon, so that it may guide him to the truth and keep him away from evils)?
- Have you not considered how your Lord dealt with the (tribe of ) ‘Ad,
- (The people of ) Iram with many-columned (i.e. monumental) buildings,
- The like of which had not been created in the land?
- And with (the tribe of ) Thamūd, who hewed rocks in the valley (to make dwellings)?4
4. On the peoples of ‘Ād and Thamūd, see sūrah 7: 65–79, notes 16–17; sūrah 11: 50–68; sūrah 26: 123–58.
- And with the Pharaoh, who had formidable strongholds?
- (All of ) these rebelled (and transgressed all bounds) in the lands (where they lived);
- And increased manifold disorder and corruption therein.
- Therefore, your Lord let loose on them a scourge of punishment (coming in different forms).5
5. On the kinds of punishment that visited the tribe of ‘Ād, see sūrah 7: 72, sūrah 11: 58, sūrah 23: 27, sūrah 26: 120, sūrah 69: 77; for the tribe of Thamūd, see sūrah 7: 78, sūrah 11: 67, sūrah 15: 83, sūrah 69: 5; and for the Pharaoh, see sūrah 10: 90, sūrah 20: 77–78, sūrah 26: 65–66.
- Your Lord is ever on the watch (over human and tests him in the blessings with which He favors him).
- And so, human – when his Lord tries him by bestowing favors on him – says: “My Lord has honored me.”
- But whenever He tries him by straitening his means of livelihood, then he says, “My Lord has humiliated me.”6
6. That is, in the former case (verse 15), he deems himself worthy of the favors God bestows on him, and does not consider that he is tried to see whether he will be thankful. In the latter case (verse 16), he imputes to God injustice, and does not consider that he is being tried for patience, in preparation for the reward to be given in return.
- No indeed! You (O people) do not treat the orphan with kindness and gen- erosity;
- And do not urge one another to feed the destitute;7
7. Being rich or poor is not, and should not be, considered as a cause of honor or shame. God’s granting abundant or scant bounties is a means of testing for humans. In any case, what a human being should do is to admit that whatever he or she has is from God as a
bounty and, therefore ,thank Him; and especially in circumstances of poverty, he or she should show patience, without complaint. Honor or virtue lies in thanking the All-Munif- icent Lord, and helping the poor and needy.
- And you consume inheritance (belonging to you or others) with greed (with- out distinction of the lawful and unlawful);
- And you love wealth with a boundless ardor for it and for hoarding.
- No indeed! When the earth is pounded to dust with pounding after pound- ing;
- And your Lord comes (unveils His Power and Majesty), and the angels in row upon row;
- And on that Day Hell is brought (forward); on that Day human will come to understand (what being favored with bounties meant and how he should have responded), but what will that understanding (then) avail him?
- He will say: “Would that I had forwarded (some good deeds) for my life (to come)!”
- None can punish as He will punish on that Day;
- And none can bind as He will bind (on that Day).
- (But to the righteous God will say:) “O you soul at rest (content with the truths of faith and God’s commands and His treatment of His creatures)!
- “Return to your Lord, well-pleased (with Him and His treatment of you), and well-pleasing to Him.
- “enter, then, among My servants (fully content with servanthood to Me)!
- “And enter my Paradise!”