The Surah takes its name from the phrase wad-in-naml which
occurs in verse 18, implying that it is a Surah in which the
story of An-Naml (the Ant) has been related.
Period of Revelation
The subject matter and the style bear full resemblance with
the Surahs of the middle Makkan period and this is supported
by traditions as well. According to Ibn Abbas and Jabir bin
Zaid, "First the Surah Ash-Shu`araa' was sent down, then the
Surah An Naml and then Al-Qasas."
Theme and Topics
The Surah consists of two discourses, the first from the beginning
of the Surah to the end of verse 58, and the second from verse
59 to the end of the Surah.
The theme of the first discourse is that only those people
can benefit from the guidance of the Quran and become worthy
of the good promises made in it, who accept the realities which
this Book presents as the basic realities of the universe,
and then follow up their belief with obedience and submission
in their practical lives as well. But the greatest hindrance
for man to follow this way is the denial of the Hereafter.
For it makes him irresponsible, selfish and given to worldly
life, which in turn makes it impossible for him to submit himself
before God and to accept the moral restrictions on his lusts
and desires. After this introduction three types of character
have been presented.
The first type is characterized by Pharaoh and the chiefs of
Thamud and the rebels of the people of Lot, who were all heedless
of the accountability of the Hereafter and had consequently
become the slaves of the world. These people did not believe
even after seeing the miracles. Rather they turned against
those who invited them to goodness and piety. They persisted
in their evil ways which are held in abhorrence by every sensible
person. They did not heed the admonition even until a moment
before they were overtaken by the scourge of Allah.
The second type of character is of the Prophet Solomon (peace
be upon him), who had been blessed by God with wealth and kingdom
and grandeur to an extent undreamt of by the chiefs of the
disbelievers of Makkah. But, since he regarded himself as answerable
before God and had the feeling that whatever he had was only
due to Allah's bounty, he had adopted the attitude of obedience
before Him and there was no tinge of vanity in his character.
The third type is of the queen of Sheba, who ruled over a most
wealthy and well known people in the history of Arabia. She
possessed all those means of life, which could cause a person
to become vain and conceited. Her wealth and possessions far
exceeded the wealth and possessions of the Quraish. Then she
professed shirk, which was not only an ancestral way of life
with her, but she had to follow it in order to maintain her
position as a ruler. Therefore, it was much more difficult
for her to give up shirk and adopt the way of Tauhid than it
could be for a common mushrik. But when the Truth became evident
to her, nothing could stop her from accepting it. Her deviation
was, in fact, due to her being born and brought up in a polytheistic
environment and not because of her being a slave to her lusts
and desires. Her conscience was not devoid of the sense of
accountability before God.
In the second discourse, at the outset, attention has been
drawn to some of the most glaring and visible realities of
the universe, and the disbelievers of Makkah have been asked
one question after the other to the effect : "Do these realities
testify to the creed of shirk which you are following, or to
the truth of Tauhid to which the Qur'an invites you?" After
this the real malady of the disbelievers has been pointed out,
saying, "The thing which has blinded them and made them insensitive
to every glaring reality is their denial of the Hereafter.
This same thing has rendered every matter and affair of life
non-serious for them. For, when according to them, everything
has to become dust ultimately, and the whole struggle of life
is purposeless and without an object before it, the truth and
falsehood are equal and alike. Therefore, the question whether
one's system of life is based on the right or wrong foundations,
becomes meaningless for him."
But the discourse, as outlined above, is not meant to dissuade
the Prophet and the Muslims from calling the obdurate and heedless
people to the way of Tauhid; it is, in fact, intended to arouse
them from their slumber. That is why in vv. 67-93 certain things
have been said repeatedly in order to produce in the people
a sense of the Hereafter, to warn them of the consequences
of being heedless of it, and to convince them of its coining,
like an eye witness of something, who convinces the other person
of it, who has not seen it.
In conclusion, the real invitation of the Quran that is, the
invitation to serve One Allah alone, has been presented in
a concise but forceful manner, and the people warned that accepting
it would be to their own advantage and rejecting it to their
own disadvantage. For if they deferred their faith until they
saw those Signs of God after the appearance of which they would
be left with no choice but to believe and submit, they should
bear in mind the fact that that would be the time of judgment
and believing then would be of no avail.