This sūrah, which was revealed in Makkah, has 20 verses. It derives its name from the word al-balad (the city) in the first verse. Most interpreters hold that the city the verse is referring to is Makkah. Reminding us of God’s favors upon humankind and of His Power, the sūrah invites people to help one another and prepare for the next life.
- I swear by this (sacred) city (Makkah),
- – And you (O Messenger) are a dweller in this city. –
- And by him (Abraham) who begets, and him (Muhammad) whom he be- got;
- We have assuredly created human in (a life of ) trial and hardship.1
- verses 117–119 of Sūrah Tā. Hā say that by being expelled from the original Garden where Adam, upon him be peace, and eve had settled, humankind descended into a life full of afflictions, including hunger, thirst, cold, and heat. There are, of course, other hardships humans are bound to suffer in the world. Moreover, those who set their hearts on lofty ide- als usually suffer great hardships and persecutions. Those who are exposed the most to such hardships and persecutions are the Prophets, and then come other believers, each according to the relative strength of their faith and their degree of nearness to God. However, life is purified, perfected, and bears fruit through these afflictions and trials. Inertia, or an easy life, is a close equivalent to death.
- Does human think that no one has power over him?
- He says: “I have consumed abundant wealth!”
- Does he, then, think that no one ever sees him?2
2. Wealth may cause its owner to boast of it, and to see in himself or herself great power. There are many wealthy people who boast of spending wealth, but since they spend it on the fleeting enjoyments of the world, or for fame or show, it will contribute nothing to their account in God’s sight and be of no use to them in the Hereafter. However, as it is God Who determines the livelihood of everyone and endows people with the necessary capacity, power, and healthy organs to earn their livelihood, what humans should do is thank God and spend out of their wealth as God has commanded.
- Have We not made for him a pair of eyes,
- And a tongue and two lips,
- And shown him the two ways (one to follow and one to avoid)?
- Yet he makes no effort to make the ascent.
- What enables you to perceive what the ascent is?3
3. The ascent signifies the road to human perfection and, therefore, to God. The next five verses define some steps of this ascent.
- It is the freeing of a bondsman (a slave or a captive);
- Or feeding, on a day of privation,
- An orphan near of kin,
- Or a poor wretch in misery;
- And being, besides, of those who believe and exhort one another to patience and exhort one another to pity and compassion.
- Those are they who are the people of happiness and prosperity (who will be given their Records in their right hands on Judgment Day).
- But those who disbelieve in Our Revelations – they are the people of wretch- edness (who will be given their Records in their left hands),
- On them is Fire closed over.