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Surah Alam Nashrah
Qur'anic Exegesis
Amin Ahsan Islahi
(Tr. by:Dr. Shehzad Saleem)

Central Theme and Relation with Previous Sūrah

This sūrah along with Sūrah Dhuhaa, the previous sūrah, form a dual pair. It begins after Sūrah Dhuhaa without any prior introduction, and the subject raised in the verse ‘Did We not find you an orphan and gave you shelter’ and in the subsequent verses of the previous sūrah has been brought to a completion in this sūrah. The only difference it seems, is that in Sūrah Dhuhaa the bounties and blessings of the Almighty, cited as a means to comfort and assure the Prophet (sws), belonged to the period prior to his Prophethood and extending a little after it; whereas, in this sūrah the favours which were showered by the gracious Lord on him when the message of Islam had spread in other parts of the Arabian peninsula have been pointed out.

In the previous sūrah, the Prophet (sws) had been given the glad tidings of a bright future as far as the extent of the propagation of the Islamic thought was concerned which would overshadow the bleak present. The difficulties and hardships which he had been facing were, according to the law of providence, only meant to train and discipline him. He would soon be relieved of them. In this sūrah, by making a reference to some such predictions which by then had shown clear signs to materialize, an emphatic assurance is given to the Prophet that all his troubles and grievances will continue to give way to the happiness of success if he faces them with courage and determination.

An Analysis of the Sūrah’s Meanings

There is no ambiguity in the meanings of the sūrah. Initially a reference is made to the gift of sharh-i-sadr, (inner conviction) which the Almighty had blessed the Prophet (sws) with, in order to alleviate his mental worries. The Prophet(sws) is then consoled and solaced that just as before every hardship had been succeeded by ease and comfort, likewise, in the subsequent stages of this mission also the pattern would continue. After this an indication is made to the final phase of the completion of this mission with an assertion of how to benefit from its successes and triumphs.

Meaning of the Sūrah

Have we not opened your heart, and relieved you of the burden which weighed down heavily on your back, and raised your voice.

So, with every difficulty there is relief; verily with every difficulty there is relief.

So, when your task is over, prepare yourself and seek your Lord with all fervour.

Explanation of the Sūrah

Alam nashrah laka sadrak. Wa wadh’naa ‘an ka wizrak.

(Have We not opened your heart and relieved you of the burden.) (1-2)

In the explanation of the previous sūrah a detailed account of the mental worries and anxieties which the Prophet (sws) had been facing in the early period has been given. In the period just before Prophethood these worries were a result of his wanderings in quest for the truth while in the early period of Prophethood they were caused by a scarcity of followers and supporters of the religion he had started to preach. Also a bright future, better than the past and present, with regard to the acceptance of his message had been predicted with the assurance that the difficulties he had been encountering were only transient in nature and the Almighty would soon relieve him of their burden. Later on, when the truth had been unveiled to him and his apprehensions were allayed, to educate and further encourage him the Almighty revealed His unchanging law of trial which every inviter towards virtue will have to face if he is to succeed in his mission. The law is in fact the real subject of the sūrah and is stated near its end in verses five and six: ‘With every difficulty there is relief.’

To open someone’s heart means to create in him a correct recognition of the truth, which is the outcome of true belief. This also is a means to develop in a person trust and faith in God which is the fountain head of resolve and determination. With such a strong faith no impediment, however great it may be, can waver his stand and without it not even an impediment is needed to defeat his will.

The sentence Wa wa dha’naa ‘anka wizrak (and have We not relieved you of the burden) is coordinated in meaning with the first, and hence it has been translated keeping in view that the interrogative alam (is it not that...) of the first verse governs this second verse also. In Sūrah Nabaa also this style has been adopted.

Allazee anqadha zahrak.

(Which weighed down heavily on your back). (3)

This verse qualifies the word wizr (burden) stated in the previous verse. By wizr is implied the severe perplexity the Prophet (sws) was in when he was seeking the truth with no avail and later when the Almighty revealed it to him his troubles merely changed shape as all his people turned against him.

There is no overstatement in the fact that the Prophet’s troubles were breaking his back. The way the Almighty had provided him with Guidance quite naturally induced him to think that if one soul is able to appreciate and understand it why is that others are finding a difficulty in accepting it. Moreover, he saw that the more effort he made in calling them towards it the more they evaded his calls, he was driven into thinking that probably his efforts were lacking both in approach and intensity as the desired results were not being produced. This led him to double his efforts, but when the situation did not change his worries increased twofold. Furthermore, if in these circumstances a delay occurred in between revelations then, again such a deference multiplied his worries making him think that the delay’s real cause might be the Almighty’s displeasure. To remove all these fears and to comfort and encourage the Prophet (sws) the sūrah was revealed. In Sūrah Taahaa, also, the Prophet has been assured in a similar manner:

"This is Sūrah Taahaa. We have not revealed the Qur’ān upon you to distress you. It is only an admonition for the God fearing." (20:1-3)

Wa rafa’naa laka zikrak.

(And raised your voice.) (4)

This simply comforts the Prophet (sws) by asserting that is it not that his once feeble voice has now become a reverberating roar. The word laka, as in the first verse, expresses the exclusive nature of help provided by the Almighty to the Prophet (sws).

The verse also helps us in ascertaining the time of revelation of the sūrah as when the message of Islam had penetrated in the surrounding areas of Arabia. It should be borne in mind that the leaders of Quraish, who were the first invitees of this religion persisted to oppose it. However, during Haj the pilgrims who came to Ka’ba became a constant source of spreading its teachings in the whereabouts of Mecca, particularly among the Ansaar of Medina. Subsequently, it reached the far flung areas of Arabia and then infiltrated into other countries. Such was the extent of its tide that it was not difficult to imagine that very soon a hitherto feeble voice will become a defining uproar.

Fa inna ma’al ‘usri yusraa. Inna ma’al ‘usri yusraa.

(So, with every difficulty there is relief. Verily, with every difficulty there is relief.) (5-6)

This is the real lesson which is meant to be given in the light of the above mentioned references, and which actually is the central theme of the sūrah. The Prophet (sws) is being addressed and asked to ponder over how persistent the Almighty has been during the course of his mission. When he is witnessing that every hardship is being followed by relief then he should bear all afflictions with patience, for only after passing through such trying circumstances would he taste the fruit of success. In the previous sūrah, the consistency in application of this law of trial has been proven by citing examples from natural surroundings and some from the Prophet’s life, while in this sūrah the first element has been excluded and only some experiences of the Prophet’s life have been included to demonstrate the law and make the matter more effective.

An important aspect that should be kept in mind is that the sentence has not been repeated merely to emphasize the point, as most commentators contend. The repetition only stresses that difficulty and ease co-exist and follow each other in an eternally periodic sequence. After surmounting one peak no one should rest asure that his remaining life would be spent on a smooth terrain. In fact, a series of such peaks might have to be overcome if he has to succeed in life. He should always be prepared to scale every summit that comes his way---for life is the name of a relentless struggle. Every passenger of this journey must brave the storm of its vicissitudes if he has to reach his destination. The Almighty has decreed the same law for those who tread the path of truth. Those who intend to trudge through it will have to make their own way and struggle through every inch they trek. But the Almighty has guaranteed one thing: If inspite of all these obstacles and hindrances they remain steadfast, muster all their strength to combat every test they are put through, and hold on to the slogan ‘to seek, to strive to fight and never to yield’, He shall bring ease after every difficulty, and rejuvenate them to continue this remorseless journey till the ultimate destination is reached.

The philosophy behind this test has at many instances been stated in the Qur’ān. By its means the Almighty distinguishes the righteous from the hypocrites and believers from the disbelievers, so that everyone can be rewarded or punished according to his deeds, and that no one should be able to complain that he has been the victim of injustice. Without this test the good could not have been distinguished from the evil to the extent that no one would be able to refute the fate he deserves.

Fa izaa faraghta fansab. Wa ilaa rabbika farghab.

(So, when your task is over, prepare yourself and seek your Lord with all fervour.) (7-8)

This verse directs the Prophet (sws) to prepare for the ultimate destination. The verb nasaba means ‘to prepare’ and ‘work hard’. After successfully overcoming the obstacles which come in way of the mission, when the Almighty showers His help, and Mecca is conquered once again and the enemies are humbled once and for all and the people embrace Islam in large numbers, the Prophet(sws) is being directed to totally converge all his efforts and turn all his attentions to earnestly seek the Almighty. In other words, two aspects are being highlighted in these verses:

First, they bring glad tidings to the Prophet(sws) that he shall soon successfully complete his mission. Second, they assert that even after accomplishing the mission he should continue with even more fervour, and direct all his energies and efforts in seeking the Almighty and prepare for the final journey which will confront him with the Creator of the heavens and the earth.

In complying with this final directive the Prophet(sws) began to spend more and more time in worship. Such was the extent of his involvement that some people even inquired from him that when all his sins had been forgiven, why was he taking so much pains in worshop. The Prophet(sws) is said to have replied: ‘Should not I become a grateful servant of my Lord.’ In Sūrah Nasar an elaborate treatment has been given to this topic which has just been stated here :

"When comes the help of God and victory and you see men embrace the religion of God in multitudes, celebrate the praises of your Lord and seek His forgiveness. He is ever disposed to mercy." (110: 1-3)

(Translated from Islahi’s "Tadabbur-i-Qur’ān")

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