This Surah takes its name from vv. 136, 138 and 139 in which
some superstitious beliefs of the idolatrous Arabs concerning
the lawfulness of some cattle (an`am) and the unlawfulness
of some others have been refuted.
Period of Revelation
According to a tradition of Ibn Abbas, the whole of the Surah
was revealed at one sitting at Makkah. Asma, a daughter of
Yazid and a first cousin of Hadrat Mu'az-bin Jabl, says,. "During
the revelation of this Surah, the Holy Prophet was riding on
a she-camel and I was holding her nose-string. The she-camel
began to feel the weight so heavily that it seemed as if her
bones would break under it."We also learn from other traditions
that the Holy Prophet dictated the whole of the Surah the same
night that it was revealed.
Its subject-matter clearly shows that it must have been revealed
during the last year of the Holy Prophet's life at Makkah.
The tradition of Asma, daughter of Yazid, also confirms this.
As she belonged to the Ansar and embraced Islam after the migration
of the Holy Prophet to Yathrab, her visit to the Holy Prophet
at Makkah must have taken place during the last year of his
life there. For before this, his relations with those people
were not so intimate that a woman from there might have come
to visit him at Makkah.
Occasion of Revelation
After determining the period of its revelation, it is easier
to visualize the background of the Surah. Twelve years had
passed since the Holy Prophet had been inviting the people
The antagonism and persecution by the Quraish had become most
savage and brutal, and the majority of the Muslims had to leave
their homes and migrate to Habash (Abyssinia). Above all, the
two great supporters of the Holy Prophet. Abu Talib and Hadrat
Khadijah, were no more to help and give strength to him.
Thus he was deprived of all the worldly support. But in spite
of this, he carried on his mission in the teeth of opposition.
As a result of this, on the one hand, all the good people of
Makkah and the surrounding clans gradually began to accept
Islam ; on the other hand, the community as a whole, was bent
upon obduracy and rejection.
Therefore, if anyone showed any inclination towards Islam,
he was subjected to taunts and derision, physical violence
and social boycott. It was in these dark circumstances that
a ray of hope gleamed from Yathrab, where Islam began to spread
freely by the efforts of some influential people of Aus and
Khazraj, who had embraced Islam at Makkah.
This was a humble beginning in the march of Islam towards success
and none could foresee at that time the great potentialities
that lay hidden in it. For, to a casual observer, it appeared
at that time as if Islam was merely a weak movement it had
no material backing except the meager support of the Prophet's
own family and of the few poor adherents of the Movement. Obviously
the latter could not give much help because they themselves
had been cast out by their own people who had become their
enemies and were persecuting them.
These were the conditions, when this discourse was revealed.
The main topics dealt with in this discourse may be divided
under seven headings:
Refutation of shirk and invitation to the creed of Tauhid.
Enunciation of the doctrine of the "Life-after- death." and
refutation of the wrong notion that there was nothing beyond
this worldly life.
Refutation of the prevalent superstitions.
Enunciation of the fundamental moral principles for the building
up of the Islamic Society.
Answers to the objections raised against the person of the
Holy Prophet and his mission.
Comfort and encouragement to the Holy Prophet and his followers
who were at, that time in a state of anxiety and despondency
because of the apparent failure of the mission.
Admonition, warning and threats to the disbelievers and opponents
to give up their apathy and haughtiness. It must, however,
be noted that the above topics have not been dealt with one
by one under separate headings, but the discourse goes on as
a continuous whole and these topics come under discussion over
and over again in new and different ways.
The Background of Makki Surahs
As this is the first long Makki Surah in the order of the compilation
of the Quran, it will be useful to explain the historical background
of Makki Surahs in general, so that the reader may easily understand
the Makki Surahs and our references to its different stages
in connection with our commentary on them.
First of all, it should be noted that comparatively very little
material is available in regard to the background of the revelation
of Makki Surahs whereas the period of the revelation of all
the Madani Surahs is known or can be determined with a little
effort. There are authentic traditions even in regard to the
occasions of the revelation of the majority of the verses.
On the other hand, we do not have such detailed information
regarding the Makki Surahs. There are only a few Surahs and
verses which have authentic traditions concerning the time
and occasion of their revelation. This is because the history
of the Makki period had not been compiled in such detail as
that of the Madani period. Therefore we have to depend on the
internal evidence of these Surahs for determining the period
of their revelation: for example, the topics they discuss,
their subject. matter, their style and the direct or indirect
references to the events and the occasions of their revelation.
Thus it is obvious that with the help of such evidence as this,
we cannot say with precision that such and such Surah or verse
was revealed on such and such an occasion. The most we can
do is to compare the internal evidence of a Surah with the
events of the life of the Holy Prophet at Makkah, and then
come to a more or less correct conclusion as to what particular
stage a certain Surah belongs.
If we keep the above things in view, the history of the mission
of the Holy Prophet at Makkah can be divided into four stages.
The first stage began with his appointment as a Messenger and
ended with the proclamation of Prophethood three years later.
During this period the Message was given secretly to some selected
persons only, but the common people of Makkah were not aware
The second stage lasted for two years after the proclamation
of his Prophethood. It began with opposition by individuals:
then by and by, it took the shape of antagonism, ridicule,
derision,, accusation, abuse, and false propaganda then gangs
were formed to persecute those Muslims who were comparatively
poor, weak' and helpless.
The third stage lasted for about six years from the beginning
of the persecution to the death of Abu Talib and Hadrat Khadijah
in the tenth year of Prophethood. During this period, the persecution
of the Muslims became' so savage and brutal that many of them
were forced to migrate to Habash. Social and economic boycott
was applied against the Holy Prophet and the members of his
family, and those Muslims who continued to stay in Makkah were
forced to take refuge in Shi'b-i-A'bi Talib which was besieged.
The fourth stage lasted for about three years from the tenth
to the thirteenth year of Prophethood. This was a period of
hard trials and grievous sufferings for the Holy Prophet and
his followers. Life had become unendurable at Makkah and there
appeared to be no place of refuge even outside it. So much
so that when the Holy Prophet went to Ta'if, it offered no
shelter or protection. Besides this, on the occasion of Haj,
he would appeal to each and every Arab clan to accept his invitation
to Islam but met with blank refusal from every quarter. At
the same time, the people of Makkah were holding counsels'
to get rid of him by killing or imprisoning or banishing him
from their city. It was at that most critical time that Allah
opened for Islam the hearts of the Ansar of Yathrab where he
migrated at their invitation.
Now that we have divided the life of the Holy Prophet at Makkah
into four stages, it has become easier for us to tell, as far
as possible, the particular stage in which a certain Makki
Sarah was revealed. This is because the Surahs belonging to
a particular stage can be distinguished from those of the other
stages with the help of their subject matter and style. Besides
this, they also contain such references as throw light on the
circumstances and events that form the background of their
revelation. In the succeeding Makki Surahs, we will determine
on the basis of the distinctive features of each stage, and
point out in the Preface, the particular stage in which a certain
Makki Surah was revealed.
This Surah mainly discusses the different aspects of the
major articles of the Islamic Creed: Tauhid, Life-after- death,
Prophethood an' their practical application to human life.
Side by side with this, it refutes the erroneous beliefs of
the "opponents and answers their objections, warns and admonishes
them and comforts the Holy Prophet and his followers, who were
then suffering from persecution.
Of course, these themes have not been dealt with under separate
heads but have been blended in an excellent manner.
Topics and their Interconnection
These verses are of introductory and admonitory nature. The
disbelievers have been warned that if they do not accept the
Islamic Creed and follow the `Light' shown by the Revelation
from the All-Knowing and All-Powerful Allah, they would go
to the same doom as the former disbelievers did. Their arguments
for rejecting the Prophet and the Revelation sent down to him
have been refuted and a warning has been given to them that
they should not be deluded by the respite that is being granted
to them. 1 - 12
These verses inculcate Tauhid, and refute shirk which is the
greatest obstacle in the way of its acceptance. 13 - 24
In these verses, a graphic scene of the life in the Hereafter
has been depicted in order to warn the disbelievers of the
consequences of the rejection of the Articles of Faith. 25
Prophethood is the main theme which has been discussed from
the point of view of the Holy Prophet, his Mission, the limitations
of his powers, the attitude towards his followers and also
from the point of view of the disbelievers. 33 - 73
In continuation of the same theme, the story of Prophet Abraham
has been related to bring home to the pagan Arabs that the
Mission of Prophet Muhammad, which they were opposing, was
the same as that of Prophet Abraham (Allah's peace be upon
them). This line of argument was adopted because they considered
themselves to be his followers, especially the Quraish who
were proud of being his descendants as well. 74 - 90
Another proof of his Prophethood is the Book, which has been
sent down to him by Allah, for its teachings show the right
guidance in regard to creed and practice. 91 - 108
Divine restrictions have been contrasted with the superstitious
restrictions of the pagan Arabs in order to show the striking
differences between the two and thus prove the Quran to be
a Revealed Book. 109 - 154
The Jews, who were criticized in vv. 144 - 147 along with the
pagan Arabs, have been urged to compare the teachings of the
Quran with those of the Torah so that they might recognize
their similarity and give up their lame excuses against it,
and adopt its Guidance to escape the retribution on the Day
of Resurrection. 155 - 160
This is the conclusion of the discourse: the Holy Prophet has
been instructed in a beautiful and forceful manner to proclaim
fearlessly the articles of the Islamic Creed and their implications.
161 - 165