It takes its name from v. 16.
Period of Revelation
It was revealed before the Migration to Habash. We learn from
authentic Traditions that Hadrat Ja'afar recited vv. 1-40 of
this Surah in the court of Negus when he called the migrants
to his court.
We have already briefly referred to the conditions of that
period in the introduction to Surah Al-Kahf. Here we shall
give rather fuller details of the same conditions, which will
be helpful in grasping the meaning of this Surah and the other
Surahs of the period.
When the chiefs of the Quraish felt that they had failed to
suppress the Islamic movement by ridicule, sarcasm, and by
holding out promises and threats and by making false accusations,
they resorted to persecution, beating and economic pressure.
They would catch hold of the new Muslims of their clans and
persecute them, starve them and would even inflict physical
torture on them in order to coerce them to give up Islam.
The most pitiful victims of their persecution were the poor
people and the slaves and the proteges of the Quraish. They
were beaten black and blue, were imprisoned and kept thirsty
and hungry and were dragged on the burning sands of Makkah.
The people would get work from the professional labourers but
would not pay them their wages. As an instance we give below
the story of Hadrat Khabbab bin Arat, which is given in Bukhari
"I used to work as a blacksmith in Makkah. Once I did some
work for As bin Wa'il. When I went to ask for my wages, he
said, 'I will not pay your wages unless you disown Muhammad'."
In the same connection Hadrat Khabbab says, "One day the Holy
Prophet was sitting in the shadow of the Ka'abah. I went to
him and said, '0 Messenger of Allah, now persecution has gone
to its extreme; why do you not pray to Allah (for relief)?'
At this the Holy Prophet was greatly moved. He said, 'The believers
before you were persecuted much more than you. Their bones
were scraped with combs of iron and their heads were cut with
saws, but still they did not give up their Faith. I assure
you that Allah will fulfill this Mission, and there will come
a period of such peace that one would travel from Sanna to
Hadramaut, and he will have no fear from anyone, save Allah.
But you people have already become impatient'." (Bukhari)
When the conditions became unbearable, the Holy Prophet, in
the month of Rajab of the fifth year of Prophethood, gave advice
to his Companions to this effect: "You may well migrate to
Habash, for there is a king, who does not allow any kind of
injustice to anyone, and there is good in his land. You should
remain there till the time that Allah provides a remedy for
Accordingly, at first, eleven men and four women left for Habash.
The Quraish pursued them up to the coast but fortunately they
got a timely boat for Habash at the sea-port of Shu'aibah,
and they escaped attest. Then after a few months, other people
migrated to Habash and their number rose to eighty-three men
and eleven women of the Quraish and seven non-Quraish. After
this, only forty persons were left with the Holy Prophet at
There was a great hue and cry in Makkah after this Migration,
for every family of the Quraish was adversely affected by this.
There was hardly a family of the Quraish which did not lose
a son, a son-in-law, a daughter, a brother or a sister. For
instance, there were among the Migrants the near relatives
of Abu Jahl, Abu Sufyan and other chief of the Quraish who
were notorious for their persecution of the Muslims.
As a result of this, some of them became even more bitter in
their enmity of Islam, while there were others who were so
moved by this that they embraced Islam. For instance, this
Migration left a deep mark on Hadrat Umar. One of his relatives,
Laila, daughter of Hathmah, says, "I was packing my luggage
for Migration, while my husband, Amr bin Rabiy'ah, had gone
out. In the meantime Umar came there and began to watch me,
while I was engaged in preparation for the journey. Then he
said, 'Are you also going to migrate?' I answered, 'Yes by
God, you people have persecuted us much. But the wide earth
of Allah is open for us. Now we are going to a place where
Allah will grant us peace'. At this, I noticed such signs of
emotion on the face of Umar as I had never seen before. He
simply said, 'May God be with you' and went away."
After the migration, the Quraish held consultations, and decided
to send Abdullah bin Abi Rabiy'ah, half brother of Abu Jahl,
and Amr bin As to Habash with precious gifts so as to persuade
Negus to send the migrants back to Makkah. Hadrat Umm Salmah
(a wife of the Holy Prophet), who was among the migrants, has
related this part of the story in detail. She says, "When these
two clever statesmen of the Quraish reached Habash, they distributed
the gifts among the courtiers of the King and persuaded them
to recommend strongly to him to send the migrants back.
Then they saw Negus himself and, presenting rich gifts to him,
said, "Some headstrong brats of our city have come to your
land and our chiefs have sent us to you with the request that
you may kindly send them back. These brats have forsaken our
faith and have not embraced your faith either, but have invented
a new faith". As soon as they had finished their speech, all
the courtiers recommended their case, saying, "We should send
such people back to their city for their people know them better.
It is not proper for us to keep them here". At this the King
was annoyed and said, "I am not going to give them back without
proper enquiry. As these people have put their trust in my
country rather than in any other country and have come here
to take shelter, I will not betray them. At first I will send
for them and investigate into the allegations these people
have made against them. Then I will make my final decision".
Accordingly, the King sent for the Companions of the Holy Prophet
and asked them to come to his court.
When the migrants received the message of the King, they assembled
and held consultations as to what they should say to the King.
At last they came to this unanimous decision: "We will present
before the King the teachings of the Holy Prophet without adding
anything to or withholding anything from them and leave it
to him whether he lets us remain here or turns us out of his
When they came to the court, the King put this problem abruptly
before them:"I understand that you have given up the faith
of your own people and have neither embraced my faith nor any
other existing faith. I would like to know what your new faith
is." At this, Jafar bin Abi Talib, on behalf of the migrants,
made an extempore speech to this effect: "O King! We were sunk
deep in ignorance and had become very corrupt; then Muhammad
(Allah's peace be upon him) came to us as a Messenger of God,
and did his best to reform us.
But the Quraish began to persecute his followers, so we have
come to your country in the hope that here we will be free
from persecution". After his speech, the King said, "Please
recite a piece of the Revelation which has been sent down by
God to your Prophet". In response, Hadrat Jafar recited that
portion of Surah Maryam which relates the story of Prophets
John and Jesus (Allah's peace be upon them). The King listened
to it and wept, so much so that his beard became wet with tears.
When Hadrat Jafar finished the recital, he said:"Most surely
this Revelation and the Message of Jesus have come from the
same source. By God I will not give you up into the hands of
Next day `Amr bin `As went to Negus and said, "Please send
for them again and ask them concerning the creed they hold
about Jesus, the son of Mary, for they say a horrible thing
about him". The King again sent for the migrants, who had already
learnt about the scheme of Amr. They again sat together and
held consultations in regard to the answer they should give
to the King, if he asked about the belief they held about Prophet
Though this was a very critical situation and all of them were
uneasy about it, they decided that they would say the same
thing that Allah and His Messenger had taught them. Accordingly,
when they went to the court, the King put them the question
that had been suggested by Amr bin As. So Jafar bin Abi Talib
stood up and answered without the least hesitation: "He was
a Servant of Allah and His Messenger. He was a Spirit and a
Word of Allah which had been sent to virgin Mary." At this
the King picked up a straw from the ground and said, 'Bye God,
Jesus was not worth this straw more than what you have said
about him." After this the King returned the gifts sent by
the Quraish, saying, "I do not take any bribe". Then he said
to the migrants, "You are allowed to stay here in perfect peace."
Theme and Subject
Keeping in view this historical background, it becomes quite
obvious that this Surah was sent down to serve the migrants
as a "provision" for their journey to Habash, as if to say, "Though
you are leaving your country as persecuted emigrants to a Christian
country, you should not in the least hide anything from the
teachings you have received. There- fore you should plainly
say to the Christians that Prophet Jesus was not the son of
After relating the story of Prophets John and Jesus in vv.
1-40, the story of Prophet Abraham has been related (vv. 41-50)
also for the benefit of the Migrants for he also had been forced
like them to leave his country by the persecution of his father,
his family and his country men. On the one hand, this meant
to console the Emigrants that they were following the footsteps
of Prophet Abraham and would attain the same good end as that
Prophet did. On the other hand, it meant to warn the disbeliever,
of Makkah that they should note it well that they were in the
position of the cruel people who had persecuted their forefather
and leader, Abraham, while the Muslim Emigrants were in the
position of Prophet Abraham himself.
Then the mention of the other Prophets has been made in vv.
51-65 with a view to impress that Muhammad (Allah's peace be
upon him) had brought the same way of Life that had been brought
by the former Prophets but their followers had become corrupt
and adopted wrong ways.
In the concluding passage (vv. 66-98), a strong criticism has
been made of the evil ways of the disbelievers of Makkah, while
the Believers have been given the good news that they would
come out successful and become the beloved of the people, in
spite of the worst efforts of the enemies of the Truth.