Interpretation and Commentary
The Surah starts with 3 Oaths;
When Quran presents an Oath, There is a response (jawab) which is related to the Oath. That is the central message of the Surah. So without understanding the Oath and it's Response, the Message of the Surah cannot be fully understood.
Ayah 1: وَالتِّينِوَالزَّيْتُونِ
Transliteration: Watteeni wazzaytoon
Translation: I swear by the fig and the olive.
In Classical Arabic, a location would be called by what it was famous for. So fig and olive can refer to two locations. According to Mahmud al-Alusi in Ruh al-Ma'ani fig refers to Mount Judi where Prophet Nuh's Ark landed. While At-Teen possibly referring to Prophet Noah, the location where his Ark ship landed, az-Zaytoon possibly referring to Jesus who was born in Palestine where olives grow. According to Ibn Abbas az-Zaytoon refers to Al-Aqsa Mosque in Palestine.
According to Mujahid ibn Jabr, Ikrimah ibn Abi-Jahl, Hasan and Muhammad Ash-Shanqeeti: These Oaths are Referring to the 2 fruits and also their locations. So the idea that fog & olive refers to both fruit and location was a view of the Sahabah and their early students. According to Ruh al-Ma'ani by Mahmud al-Alusi: The intent by naming 2 fruits is to mention 2 mountains from the Holy land of Palestine.
Ayah 2: وَطُورِ سِينِينَ
Transliteration: wat-Toori Seeneen
Translation: And the Mount, Sinai,
Toor refers to a lush, full of trees, green kind of mountain. (According to Ibn Abbas and Qatadah).
After Sayna in Sura Al-Mu’minoon, Seeneen is the second version of the name of Mount Sinai which existed in the Hebrew Language among the Scholars. This mountain was not known amongst the Arabs generally. Moreover Muhammad was illiterate and he did not have any Jewish companions in the Makkan era when this surah was revealed. So without knowing the narrations of Moses or Hebrew language, Muhammad was describing the variations in language of Hebrew linguist scholars. This was a proof of the Quran being divine word of GOD for the people who had most classified & secret narratives of Moses.
Ayah 3: وَهَٰذَا الْبَلَدِ الْأَمِينِ
Transliteration: wa haadhal baladil ameen
Translation: i swear by this entrusted city.
According to several scholars including Dr.Israr Ahmed and Mahmud al-Alusi, "This entrusted city" primarily referring to Mekah also refers to Muhammad just as Noah, Moses and Jesus were referred by means of mentioning their relative locations in previous 2 ayaat. A contemporary scholar Nouman Ali Khan suggests that it also refers to Abraham as he was the person who established the city Mekah.
Ayah 4: لَقَدْ خَلَقْنَا الْإِنسَانَ فِي أَحْسَنِ تَقْوِيمٍ
Transliteration: Laqad khalaqna al-insana fee ahsanitaqweem
Translation: We have certainly created man in the best of stature;
This ayah is Jawab-ul-qasam (Response of the Oath).
Quran tells that the Messengers: Noah, Abraham/Ibraheem, Jesus, Moses, and Muhammad are the 'Uluw al 'azam (the most persevering of the Prophets) are the best examples for humanity in the perfect (taqweem) form, they are higher examples for humanity in contrast with the animals and low levels that philosophers/psychologists have put forward for mankind.
Hamiduddin Farahi says; at-Teen - Mount Judi. Noah/Nuh.
Az-Zaytoon - mount olive and Al-Aqsa Mosque. Jesus/'Eesa.
Toori seeneen - Mount Sinai. Moses/Musa.
Balad al ameen - Mekah. Ibraheem/Abraham and Muhammad. 5 created beings, 5 'Uluw al 'Azam [5 Most Persevering Messengers' of Allah] - taqweem - best human beings. Study these 5 great personalities.
Ayah 5: ثُمَّ رَدَدْنَاهُ أَسْفَلَ سَافِلِينَ
Transliteration: Thumma radadnahu asfala safileen
Translation: Then We return him to the lowest of the low,
The context of this Surah is the Ethical and Moral concept of the Soul:
Radad = to return / reject / lower. Rejected him and lower him.
Allah created him in the best form, but he did bad things - so Allah rejected him.
Asfal as-Safileen - The Lowest of the Low:
asfal - lowest a'la [the antonym] - highest
Animals will not do crimes like humans do; genocide, mass rape etc.
If the animal is low, then the human has become the lowest of the low.
Thumma also signifies a space of time. It signifies that ALLAH did not make people the lowest of the low when they did sins. Rather - GOD gave them time to repent and return to Him. Else-wise the culprit human is rejected to the lowest of the low.
ALLAH creates the human in a balance of body and spirit. When there is an imbalance i.e. Too much worldly affairs and too less spiritual connection with GOD - human gets weak/hasty/ungrateful etc. But when there is a balance of spiritual worship to ALLAH and permissible worldly matters - man gets strong and in the most upright position.
Lack of focus on keeping balance causes human to be reduced to the lowest thinking and actions. (Just like a car does not work if you don't take care of its outside AND inside).
Ayah 6: إِلَّا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ فَلَهُمْ أَجْرٌ غَيْرُ مَمْنُونٍ
Transliteration: Illa allazheena amanoowaAAamiloo assalihati falahum ajrun ghayrumamnoon
Translation: Except for those who believe and do righteous deeds, for they will have a reward uninterrupted.
Here the Sura presents the solution of human evilness.
Except those who believe (inside actions). And do good deeds. (outside actions)
It is to stay firm in belief and do good deeds for Allah's pleasure.
This is just being alluded to, in this surah, but the full explanation is given in surah Al-Asr.
فَلَهُمْ أَجْرٌ غَيْرُ مَمْنُونٍ ..Then it is - only - them who get the 'ajr / reward - ghayru mamnoon.
ajrun - pay.
ghayru mamnoon - without discontinuation.
mann - Cut. manantu (that which is cut).
ghayru Mamnoon - that which will not be cut off.
maneen - in dictionary of lisan al 'arab - dust - that separates itself from the ground. Ghayru mamnoon - reward which does not be separated from.
mann = a favour.
Allah will give them a favour of Paradise, and the believers will not credit it to anyone except Allah.
So now you do good deeds for Allah's pleasure, and you will get a reward for them forever (in jannah/paradise)without limit.
Ibn Kathir: You have to climb a steep mountain (imagery from surah Al-Balad 90:11 and Al-Muddathir 74:17).
Either you have to either climb the steep path in this life, or the next life.
Which mountain would you rather climb? The one of this life (which requires effort but brings Allah's reward), or the one in hell?
فَمَا يُكَذِّبُكَ بَعْدُ بِالدِّينِ
Transliteration: Fama yukazhibuka baAAdu biddeen
Translation: So what yet causes you to deny the Recompense?
Now if we look at the placement of this ayah;
If you have realized that the human being is more higher than other animal species. If you know the human; has an intellect, can study the sciences, and live life more better than animals. Doesn't that then lead you to think that you might actually have a higher purpose?
Then what is going to make you lie against the religion?
Fa - (So) - after all that has just been mentioned..
Maa - (= what) - is of different types;
Maa masdariyyah - What? Maa bi ma'na man - What kind of person (= who)..
Maa masdariyyah - What will make you lie against the religion/deen. What is it that is 'so powerful' that is making you lie against the religion?
yukazib - takzeeb - you know it's true, but you're lying against it [the religion] anyway.
Some people recognise that the religion is true and it makes sense, but they don't want to submit to Allah so they criticize it to live with themselves.
They poke fun of aayaat and ahadith, not out of curiosity, but to try to prove to themselves that the Muslims are wrong and illogical, even though they themselves are illogical.
Maa bi ma'na man [Ma - with a meaning of 'who'] - What is it then, that is going to make you lie against the religion / deen?
It could also be;
yukaziBU KA - against you (O Muhammad).
What kind of person would it have to be, to lie against you (yukazibuka) with the religion / deen.
It could only be the lowest of the low who would lie against Allah's Messenger. This is a direct humiliation to those who reject Allah's Messenger.
Deen - precise Judgment (in this world and the next). The Messengers' brought the Deen - precise judgment - for wrong and right - for this life and the next.
أَلَيْسَ اللَّهُ بِأَحْكَمِ الْحَاكِمِينَ Alaysa Allahu bi-ahkami alhakimeen
Is not Allah the most just of judges?
A marvel of the Qur'an's beauty in speech.
Allah's Messenger would respond to this ayah - even in Salah/prayer - with;
"سبحانك الله و بلا أنا على ذلك من الشهيدين" subhanakAllah wa bal-laa ana 'ala dhalik min ash-shahideen
(Glory be to Allah, and no doubt I am on that from the witnesses).
The way this question is asked is to poke at someone who is ungrateful.
'Didn't I take care of you?'
This ayah is like scolding someone for them forgetting the most obvious. Don't you remember that it was Allah who created you in the best form?
ahkam and hakeem comes from hikmah - wisdom, and hukm - judgment.
So the word Ahkam could mean wisest (from hakeem), and it could also mean the most appropriate Judge/Ruler (from hukm = judgment)
Haakimeen - could refer to; rulers or wise ones.
Haakimeen could imply either of the below;
- The wisest of the wise - the most appropriate judge from those who claim wisdom. - The most appropriate judge of all judges. - The wisest of all rulers.
alaysaAllahu bi ahkam al hakimeen - isn't Allah the best of judges?
Allah does not use 1st person,rather He uses 3rd person speech because He cannot show closeness to His slave, since Justice comes first in the sight of the judge.
Beginning of the Surahs' Relation to its End:
The Surah in Summarised Form:
Allah begins the surah by mentioning the Legacies of the Great Messengers' ('Uluw al 'azam - the most perseverant from all the Messengers') with the best characteristics from humanity.
Then Allah discusses in the centre of the surah that He has made insan (man/humans) in the best perfect form.
Then the worst of the worst are mentioned (ayah 5) - those who rejected the best of the Messengers.
Then those who followed the best Messengers' are described after that (ayah 6) - those who believe and do good deeds.
Then finally; now that you have understood this basic message - what is preventing you from following the guidance? (ayah 7) Isn't Allah the Best of Judges / Wise Ones to give the commands - which you should be following? (ayah 8).
Legacies of the Messengers' -
In the beginnin ayah; The Messengers' mentioned in the beginning of the surah are the best examples for humanity, and Allah taught them wisdom and judgment as examples for humanity.
In the final ayah; The final judgment and wisdom will be Allah's in relation to what commands He gave His Messengers'.
The Messengers taught us;
We are more than just animals. We don't just want to fill our bellies and desires. We want to purify ourselves on the inside and the outside.
We have some Muslims nowadays who are good on the inside,but do some bad on the outside.
We have some Muslims who look good on the outer actions, but they are corrupt on the inside. You might have the most knowledge, but it does not mean you are pure - since your actions have to reflect your knowledge.
This surah is based on balance. We need to realise that Allah has chosen us above animals by giving us an intellect ('aql), and through that we understand we have higher morality.
Once we understand this - we need to believe internally, and show that good through our actions by following the best Messengers' [the 'Uluw al 'Azam]. If we don't, Allah will reject us, and make us the lowest of the low.