In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.
- Read in the name of thy Lord who creates
- Creates man from a clot,
- Read and thy Lord is most Generous,
- Who taught by the pen,
- Taught man what he knew not.
- Nay, man is surely inordinate,
- Because he looks upon himself as self-sufficient.
- Surely to thy Lord is the return.
- Hast thou seen him who forbids
- A servant when he prays?
- Seest thou if he is on the right way,
- Or enjoins observance of duty?
- Seest thou if he denies and turns away?
- Knows he not that Allah sees?
- Nay, if he desist not, We will seize him by the forelock
- A lying, sinful forelock!
- Then let him summon his council,
- We will summon the braves of the army.
- Nay! Obey him not, but prostrate thyself, and draw nigh (to
It is unanimously accepted that the first five verses of the chapter
Al-Alaq (The Clot) were the first words of revelation
to the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sas). The remaining verses of the
chapter were revealed later on. The Holy Prophet was deeply engrossed
in devotion (meditation) in the Cave of Hira when the Angel Gabriel
descended and said to him, “Read!”
He replied, “I cannot read.”
The Angel then squeezed him in a tight embrace and repeated the
command: “Read!” Again the Holy Prophet answered: “I do not know
how to read.”
This happened three times. Then the Holy Prophet began to read
and the Angel read out these five verses to him. The Holy Prophet
then returned home, and so overcome was he by the majesty of the
revelation, that the flesh on his shoulders and throat began to
shiver so that he requested of Lady Khadija, “Cover me. Cover me.”
1. Read in the name of thy Lord Who creates.
That is, seek the assistance of your Lord and read. What must be
read? The meaning is, Read the Holy Qur'an.
When a book of guidance is being read, what are the things that
are needed that will help us to seek that guidance? The first thing
is that true knowledge of it may be acquired. The second thing is
that we may receive guidance in putting this knowledge to proper
use, for if we do not have true knowledge of a book, or if the knowledge
is there but the action does not correspond with it, then the reading
of the book becomes useless. Therefore, before reading the Holy
Qur'an, we are commanded to seek the help of our Rabb (Lord)
Who sent down this book in order that we may make greater and greater
progress in life. We are to do this so that, through Allah’s Providence,
we may acquire the correct knowledge and the blessings of acting
according to this guidance.
Thus, before beginning the Holy Qur'an, Almighty Allah has given
the command to seek His help so that He may bestow on us the right
knowledge of this book and the right ability to act upon it. It
is for this reason that we find in the beginning of the Holy Qur'an,
in Suratul Fatihah, the following words that are uttered
in the presence of the Almighty, the Lord of the worlds:
Thee alone do we serve and Thee alone do we beseech for help;
and the petition is made:
Guide us on the right path.
That is, grant us the knowledge and understanding of the Holy
Qur'an; let not our actions make us swerve from this straight path
nor let us stumble along it, and let us be among the group who have
inherited Thy favours. But more than this, we find in the beginning
of every chapter (except chapter 9, At-Taubah) and in the
beginning of Suratul Fatihah itself, the words: Bismillah-ir
Rahman-ir Rahim, which are placed there for that purpose.
In short, the words, Bismillah-ir Rahman-ir Rahim, are
placed at the beginning of every chapter and even at the beginning
of Suratul Fatihah, which itself contains a dua
(petition) for seeking the help of Allah. The object is that we
should seek the assistance of Allah when reading the Holy Qur'an.
There are two aspects of Allah’s Rububiyyat (Providence)
in relation to man. The first is His Rahmaniyyat and the
second is His Rahimiyyat. That is, Allah Most High, solely
through His favour and mercy and without any effort on the part
of man has made ample provisions beforehand for man to attain a
state of perfection. That is His Rahmaniyyat. When man makes
good use of those provisions, then Allah rewards his actions with
higher and higher and better and better results. That is His Rahimiyyat.
For example, only through His grace and mercy has Allah provided
man with the sun, the moon, air, water, rain, earth, seed,
hands, feet, eyes, brain, intellect etc. This aspect of Allah’s
Providence to man is called His Rahmaniyyat. Now, when man
makes efforts, for example, he ploughs the land, sows the seeds,
in short, when he makes use of his hands and feet and other provisions,
then in a short time he reaps mounds and mounds of grain from a
very small number of seeds that he sowed. This second aspect of
Allah’s Providence to man is called His Rahimiyyat.
Therefore the command Iqra bismi Rabbika (Read, by seeking
the assistance of thy Lord) finds its full compliance in the words
Bismillah-ir Rahman-ir Rahim (In the name of Allah, the Rahman
(Beneficent), the Rahim (Merciful). Here we find in Rahman
and Rahim the two aspects of Allah’s Providence. That is,
the Rahman, without any effort on the part of man, bestowed
the Holy Qur'an purely as a gift as is mentioned in 55:1-2. The
Rahman (Beneficent) taught the Qur'an so that man may attain
his perfection by understanding the Holy Qur'an and acting upon
it. The attribute of Rahim signifies that if man acts in
accordance with the teachings of the Holy Qur'an, he is given the
highest rewards through which he can achieve the purpose of his
So to say Bismillah-ir Rahman-ir Rahim before reading the
Holy Qur'an means that we are seeking Allah’s aid, that He Who blessed
us with the Holy Qur'an through his Rahmaniyyat may by that
very Rahmaniyyat now confer on us knowledge and the guidance
to act upon it and then through His attribute of Rahim He
may bring about such results that will enable us to attain the highest
perfection. And that is the reason for which the Holy Qur'an was
In short, together with the command to read the Holy Qur'an, the
instruction to seek the help of Allah’s Providence was also given
in order that guidance in knowledge and action may be acquired.
But it was important for us to know Who that Rabb (Lord)
was so it was said:
Al-ladhi khalaq (The One Who created you).
This is the testimony of man’s inner voice, for every man knows
that he is not his own creator but that someone else created him.
So we are commanded to read by seeking the help of our Rabb
(Lord) Whose Providence brought into being thousands upon thousands
of provisions with the express purpose of creating us. And this
we cannot deny. (When the whole heaven and the earth and the sun
and the moon, air, water, grain, in short, the result of all the
workings of the whole universe is solely for the creation and maintenance
of man, then it becomes evident that man has indeed been created
for a very high purpose.) Thus, we should always keep in mind Allah’s
Providence with which He has blessed us before our birth, and consider
well that if we forge a bond with that Rabb (Lord) and Creator,
to what great heights of advancement and perfection will His Providence
2. Creates man from a clot.
‘Alaq means attachment or clinging.
Today Science has discovered that when the male sperm and female
egg combine, first of all it clings to the womb and this clinging
or attachment is called ‘alaq. Allah says here: O man, ponder
over your former creation which was only your bodily or animal creation
that when the male sperm and female egg combined and formed
an attachment with the womb, then, through this Providence in the
mother’s womb it received such nourishment that a beautiful and
perfect human form was produced. That came about because of its
attachment to the mother’s womb. Now, a mother is only a minuscule
manifestation of your Rabb’s (Lord’s) Providence. So if you
form a strong connection with your real Rabb and if you fall
into the lap of His mercy and grace, then your spirituality or,
in other words, your humanity, will achieve such nourishment and
perfection that you will achieve the stature of akram (most
honourable). That is, you will obtain pre-eminence in honour and
rank over the whole of creation. Your being the best of creation
will be easily recognised by all and sundry. This is the reason
behind our Holy Prophet's saying that Allah’s rahm (mercy)
and the rihm (womb) of a mother resemble not only in pronunciation
and form but also in beneficence. Just as by clinging to the womb
of a mother a contemptible sperm is transformed into a beautiful
human being, in the same way by clinging to Allah’s mercy a lowly
human being can obtain the perfection of his humanity and become
the inheritor of the highest excellence.
3. Read and thy Lord is the Most Honourable.
Here, for the sake of emphasis, the command Iqra’ is repeated,
meaning, Indeed, read! Your Rabb is the Most Honourable of
those possessing honour. Whomsoever He gives knowledge is honoured
in this world and the next. His teaching contains in itself intrinsic
honour and excellence. It is impossible for anyone who acts according
to His teachings to be disgraced. Instead, his honour is assured
both in this life and in the Hereafter. Whoever acts upon His teachings
and stands under the umbrella of the Providence of this Most Honourable
Lord, and establishes a strong connection with Him, will definitely
verify the truth of the Qur'anic verse: We have honoured the Children
of Adam (17:70).
4. Who taught by the pen.
The word pen refers to that medium of teaching which is
so prevalent in the world today in the form of writing, and that,
too, is a gift from the Almighty.
Imagine the astonishment of people when medical science published
the finding of its research to the effect that in the human brain
there is a centre which has a potential power for writing! In other
words, when Allah, Most High, created man, He ordained that man
could pass on his knowledge to others by means of writing.
If man did not possess this capacity for writing, then whatever
a particular mind thought of and pondered over, and the fruit of
that natural exertion, would be confined to himself alone or to
a small circle of acquaintances. It would not reach those who lived
far away or those to come in later times.
Today, whatever benefit we derive from the hundreds of sages, philosophers,
scientific experts, and the works of scholarly people, have only
come about through the gift of writing. If this talent for writing
and its centre in the human mind did not exist then all this progress
in physical and spiritual knowledge would have been non-existent.
To profit from the minds of learned people who live in far-flung
countries, to benefit from their wisdom and findings as well as
from thousands of observations and experiments and other branches
of human knowledge which the learned wise men of the past discovered,
there is only one medium, and that is the pen.
The pen or the ability to write and its centre in the human mind
have been deliberately established by Allah. Thus, it is indeed
this very Rabb (Lord) Who, as part of His providence to man,
has provided the pen as a means for him to acquire knowledge.
However, in spite of all these achievements of the pen, knowledge
of the true object of man’s creation, his hidden capabilities and
powers, knowledge of what the future holds and what stages of progress
he has to traverse in the future, all these as far as man is concerned,
have always remained a deep secret, and in these matters his knowledge
is always in need of explanation and elucidation. Here, his knowledge
and understanding have always had to admit, willingly or unwillingly,
It is for this reason, too, that in these matters, philosophers
have always stumbled. Therefore, in order to educate man, Allah,
Most High, has made use of another means, and that is the medium
of Divine Revelation. In other words, out of His perfect knowledge,
He has made up in this way for the deficiency in human knowledge
just as a child whose intellect and understanding cannot plumb the
depths of a particular matter seeks help from his more knowledgeable
teacher who then fulfils the need.
So, because man in his limited intellectual capacity did not possess
the ability to comprehend deep spiritual matters and to fathom the
secrets of the unseen and to foretell future events, therefore,
Allah has made up for this limitation from His Own perfect and superior
Therefore, to demonstrate this need for revelation and the necessity
for the Holy Qur'an, Allah says:
5. He taught man what he knew not.
This means: O man, read this Book and form a relationship with
your Rabb and you will be honoured in this life and in the
hereafter. This is the guidance which man, through his own knowledge,
cannot comprehend. Without doubt Allah created the pen as a means
of teaching, propagating and increasing knowledge. But if we read
all the human writings and divine works which have been written
and which exist in the world today, we will have to admit that whatever
knowledge has been given to us through the Holy Qur'an is such that
never existed in human knowledge, and more so, it is beyond the
ability of man to discover by his own efforts. Furthermore, there
does not exist any former heavenly book which contains such details
and perfect teachings as can be found in the Holy Qur'an. Thus,
it is not without good reason that we are exhorted to read the Holy
Qur'an, for by means of it, Allah has given us such knowledge which
man never had even up to this day. Thus, we should read the Holy
Qur'an and follow its teachings. The result will be that we will
form a close relationship with our most Honourable Lord and so we
will attain honour and excellence in this life and the next.
Here we should bear in mind that these five verses which comprise
the first words of revelation to the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sas)
contain a powerful message and deep knowledge. The first command
which is given to man in the Holy Qur'an is: Read and acquire knowledge
and act according to it. Then attention has been drawn towards the
pen and divine revelation which are two extraordinary means of acquiring
knowledge. That is, through the pen, whatever good things we come
across we should read and learn. This is why our Holy Prophet (sas)
said: “Wisdom is the lost treasure of a believer. Wherever you find
it, seize it.” Similarly, we are commanded to form a bond with Allah
by reading the Holy Qur'an and acting in accordance with its teachings.
Further, man, by reading the knowledge propagated by the pen together
with the divine revelation of the Holy Qur'an and acting upon it
will certainly be elevated to a position of honour and high rank.
6-7. Nay, man is surely inordinate, because he looks upon himself
Allah, Most High, has bestowed on man a most wonderful favour in
the form of the Holy Qur'an with the express purpose that he may
manifest the designation of being the best of creation and if he
unites himself with his Rabb, the Most Honourable, he, too,
will become honoured in this life and the next.
But a rebellious man feels himself above the need of such knowledge
and guidance and increases in disobedience and transgression. It
is a fact that when man possesses vast wealth and has abundant provisions
together with worldly honour in society, then he does not feel the
need of Allah nor does he care for His commandments. Rather, oblivious
of his accountability for his actions, he becomes proud, impertinent
and cruel and makes fun of Allah and obedience to His laws and accountability
for his actions. Thus, his wealth and self-sufficiency make him
8. Surely to thy Lord is the return.
In other words, how long will man continue with his negligence
and strutting about in pride? He has to die one day and return to
his Lord and give an account of his deeds. Wise is the man who,
before returning to his Lord by force of death, inclines to Him
willingly and cheerfully in this very life.
9-10. Hast thou seen him who forbids a servant when he prays?
Commentators of the Holy Qur'an say that the reference is to Abu
Jahl who tried to prevent the Holy Prophet (sas) from performing
salah (prayer). This is true, but one must remember that
there will always be people who will perform salah (prayer)
and you will always find, too, those who will try to prevent them.
There is no doubt that originally the occasion for this revelation
was a specific historical event. However, when this revelation came
down, then every incident of this kind, or anything similar that
may arise later on, comes under its rubric. For example, a decision
may be given in the High Court and there is no doubt that this decision
pertains to the case in question, but this judgement then becomes
a standing precedent and assumes the status of law.
Similarly, a verse is revealed in reference to a particular incident,
but it then becomes a permanent law and that incident becomes a
precedent for all times so that if any event of this kind, or any
similar condition comes up later on, this verse can be applied.
There is no doubt that Allah, Most High, has put before us the
examples of two classes of men. The first kind engages in salah
(prayer) in order to build a relationship with Allah and is a manifestation
of ahsani taqwim (the best make) and the best example of
this is, indeed, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sas).
The other kind feels that there is no need to form a connection
with Allah and he eventually becomes asfala safilin (the
lowest of the low) and the truest example of this class of man was
An evil man is so impertinent that not only does he, himself, refrain
from building a relationship with Allah, but he goes further and
tries to prevent and actually persecutes a servant who is striving
to form a connection with his Creator. Thus, it is eminently fitting
that such a one who is arrogant and insolent, and opposes the lovers
of truth and molests and tries to destroy them, should be the recipient
of punishment in this very life.
Consider well who is a greater satan than this person who tries
to prevent a servant of Allah from worshipping Him, and persecutes
one who is striving to form a relationship with his Lord. Thus,
it is mandatory that such a person be punished and that he be abased.
But the love of Allah is such that, before meting out punishment,
He always gives advice and exhortation.
11-12. Seest thou if he is on the right way, or enjoins observance
Addressing the inordinate one who prevents others from praying,
Allah asks: “You are preventing someone from performing salah
(prayer) and opposing him but have you considered whether he is
on the right path and whether he is enjoining others to be righteous?
In other words, it is your duty that before opposing a person you
should observe whether or not he is following the right guidance
himself, and if he is engaged in teaching others, observe whether
this teaching is one of righteousness and piety, or one that encourages
wickedness and intrigue. In short, consider well his actions and
condition and his advice to others. If that person is indeed a pious
and righteous one who is on the right path, and if he teaches others
also to be virtuous, then what is the purpose of standing in his
way? Instead, one should always try to forbid evil and the teaching
of evil. Which religion or which rule permits one to obstruct a
person who is himself on the straight path and encourages others
13. Seest thou if he denies and turns away?
Addressing the Holy Prophet (sas) and all seekers of truth, Allah
informs them that in His sight there are two kinds of persons. Firstly,
one who is obedient to Allah and engages in salah (prayer)
with the sole purpose of attaining union with Him, and the supreme
manifestation of this kind is the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sas). Secondly,
one who is a specimen of the lowest of the low who prevents others
from praying and from establishing a connection with Allah, the
most conspicuous testimony of this kind being Abu Jahl (the Holy
Prophet's paternal uncle who was his most inveterate enemy).
Firstly, the one who obstructs others is addressed and spoken to
thus: “Consider well the one whom you are preventing and see if
he is rightly guided and if he exhorts others to virtue. Think where
you will stand if this is so.”
Then the one who tries to form a relationship with Allah is addressed:
“See, if you are on the path of truth and righteousness and you
enjoin others to goodness, then why should you bother with the one
who tries to prevent you, who belies the truth, who turns his face
from righteousness and guidance and withdraws completely?” This
is the best principle for a righteous person to adopt vis-à-vis
Before opposing any person commissioned by Allah, it is the duty
of every human being to ascertain whether or not the sent one is
on the path of true guidance, that is, whether or not his principles
and actions are founded on solid guidance. Secondly, one should
observe whether his teachings and instructions are based on righteousness.
And if they are, then no one has any right whatever to prevent and
oppose him. On the other hand, since the commissioned one and his
followers are on the path of guidance and righteousness, it is their
duty to pay no heed whatever to anybody’s opposition.
Concerning the man who belies the truth, it is said:
14. Knows he not that Allah sees?
That is, his deeds are not hidden from Allah Allah is observing
his wickedness, his untruthfulness, his opposition to the truth
and his rebellion.
15. Nay, if he desist not, We will seize him by the forelock
16. A lying, sinful forelock.
17. Then let him summon his council,
That is, let him call to his assistance his friends to try to save
him from Allah’s inevitable punishment of abasement and destruction.
18. We shall summon the braves of the army.
The reference is to those who will administer punishment. This
can mean the strong and stern angels of chastisement and also the
soldiers of Islam by whose hands Allah inflicts punishment on the
opponents of truth. They are called the braves of Allah.
This spectacle was so clearly seen in the Battle of Badr and so
vividly was this prophecy fulfilled that it can make a man dumbfounded
in amazement. In spite of understanding the warning, Abu Jahl did
not desist, and his opposition to the truth reached the utmost limit,
so much so that even though the Holy Prophet (sas) fled from Makkah,
yet he persisted in his hatred and, together with his friends, he
marched on Madinah to destroy him. The battle took place on the
field of Badr and such a chastisement of disgrace and destruction
did Allah inflict on him that all that Allah had foretold came to
pass in the exact manner as was prophesied. He was seized by the
forehead and dragged, and in utter abasement, he was thrown into
a pit with the others who were killed in the battlefield. Those
who did the dragging and throwing were those soldiers of Allah among
whom could be counted the old and even fifteen-year-old children
who were strangers to the art of warfare. In fact, they did not
even possess proper weapons. Instead of swords, they had with them
just short daggers. Furthermore, their number was small a
rag-tag bunch of just three hundred and thirteen. However, Allah
had honoured them with the stamp of valour so that they excelled
in bravery, humiliated the enemies of truth, and made them taste
the bitterness of destruction. To all those who ponder deeply, there
is in this event a lucid example, and for the believers it provides
a source of increase in their faith. Therefore, having warned His
enemies and foretold their end, Allah addresses the Holy Prophet
(sas) and through him, all the believers, and instructs them thus:
19. Nay! Obey him not, but prostrate thyself, and draw nigh
Here the word sajdah (prostration) can mean prostration
in the literal sense. It can also mean salah (formal prayer) and
also obedience to Allah, Most High. In other words, we should pay
no attention to the one who tries to prevent us from salah
(prayer) or from getting close to Allah. Rather, we are told to
perform salah (prayer), to try to draw near to Allah and
remain ever in obedience to Him. Then we will be among those who
are close to Him with the result that we will be honoured in this
life and the next. In ordinary life, look how man does everything
to gain favour with temporary officers of Government. Imagine for
a moment the honour and peace that a person can obtain through closeness
to Allah when he remains obedient in His service.
Prayer is a demonstration of submission and a means of seeking
help. Emphasis is placed on seeking help in the beginning of the
chapter, and in the end prayer is recommended as the perfect way
to seek assistance. It is for this reason that there is no prayer
without Suratul Fatihah, for this chapter is indeed in itself
a prayer for help. In prayer, the posture of prostration is a manifestation
of submission and the best manner of expressing willing obedience
to Allah. Is there any better way to humility and meekness than
to place one’s head at the threshold of the Divine Master? For indeed,
it is through humility and obedience that one can attain closeness
to Allah. Therefore, we are told in the Hadith that at the moment
of prostration a servant is closer to Allah than at any other time,
so we should make much petition for sajdah (prostration) is the
time of closeness to and acceptance from Allah.
The Holy Prophet (sas) possessed deep understanding and insight.
Therefore, when he received the command to make prostration, he
immediately complied so that there should be no delay in expressing
his obedience. This example we should all imitate.
One should bear in mind that every chapter of the Holy Qur'an deals
with a particular theme and from the beginning to the end that chapter
expounds that subject. Whatever other material comes within it all
deal with that theme as they touch upon the essential and relevant
aspects of it. Thus, all the verses of the Holy Qur'an are inter-connected
and sequential and they possess a peculiar order and style. Firstly,
the substantive theme is given and then the details come after.
In other words, the premise will be mentioned first, then arguments
will be given, after which examples and historical precedents will
be furnished, and thus the theme is expanded. This process of elucidation
which we find in several places of the Holy Qur'an is called tasrif-e-ayat.
This inter-connection between the verses contains another beautiful
aspect in that the beginning and the end of the chapter are so closely
linked that it can amaze the mind of a reader.
Accordingly, in the beginning of this chapter, after seeking the
help of Allah’s attribute of Rububiyyat (Providence), the
order to read the Qur'an is given and it is further pointed out
that all man’s honour and dignity hinge on his having a close relationship
with his Lord. In the end of the chapter the perfect manner of seeking
that help is given to us in the form of salah (prayer). In
addition, we are told that if we seek assistance through salah
(prayer) and if we read the Holy Qur'an and act according to its
commands, we will attain nearness to Allah and be the recipients
of honour in this life and the next.