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Allah says: “Nay! I swear by this city. This city wherein you have been rendered violable, and I swear by the parent and his offspring” (90Al-Balad:1-3)
To begin a conversation, in Arabic with Nay, and an oath, means that the people were expressing something wrong and to refute it, it was said: Nay, the truth is not that which you assert, but I swear by such and such a thing that the truth is this and this.
As for the issue, which this conversation was sent down to refute is indicated by the theme, that follows. The disbelievers of Makkah said that, there was nothing wrong with the way of life they were following. As if to say: Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die is the natural process of time. Muhammad (pbuh), without any reason, is finding fault with this way of life, and warning us, that we would at some time in the future be called to account for it, and be rewarded and/or punished accordingly.
In this City, the city of Makkah, there was no need to explain why an oath was being sworn by this City. The people of Makkah were well aware of the background and importance of their city. They knew how, in the midst of desolate mountains, in an uncultivated, barren valley the Prophet Ibraham had brought his wife and suckling child, and left them there without any support. How he had built a House there and proclaimed to the people to visit it as pilgrims, when there was no soul for miles around to hear the proclamation. Then how this city had eventually become the commercial and religious centre of Arabia; and, for centuries was blessed with such sacredness that there was no other place of security beside it, in that lawless land.
Three meanings of the words in the text have been given by the commentators:
(1) That you are a resident of this city and your residence here has further enhanced the glory of this city.
(2) That although this city is a sanctuary, a time will come when for some time it will become lawful for you to fight, and kill the enemies of the true faith here.
(3) That in this city where even killing of animals, and cutting of trees is forbidden for the people of Arabia. Where everyone is living in perfect peace, you, O Prophet, have no peace, and persecuting you and devising plans to kill you has been made lawful.
Allah says: “Verily We have created man into toil and hardship.” (90Al-Balad:4)
As the words “father and his children” have been used in the previous verse, and is followed by the mention of man, father could only imply Adam and his children, the human beings who existed in the world, exist today and will exist in the future.
Man’s being created in toil means that man in this world has not been created to enjoy himself and live a life of ease and comfort, but the world for him is a place of enduring and undergoing toil, labor and hardship, and no man can be immune to this. This is why the oaths mentioned above have been sworn. The city of Makkah is a witness that a servant of Allah toiled and struggled hard, only then did it become a city, and the centre of Arabia. In this city of Makkah the condition of Muhammad (pbuh) is a witness, that he is enduring every kind of hardship for the sake of a mission. So much so, that there is full peace here for the wild animals, but no peace for him. Then, every man’s survival, from the time he is conceived in the mother’s womb. till his last breath of life, is a witness that he has to pass through trouble, toil, labor, dangers and hardships at every step.
The most fortunate of us is also exposed to grave dangers of death before birth, or of elimination by abortion while in the mother’s womb. At birth he is only a hair-breadth away from death. After birth he is so helpless, that had there not been somebody to look after him, he would perish uncared for and unnoticed. When he became able to walk he stumbled at every step. From childhood to youth, and old age he had to pass through such physical changes, that if any change had taken a wrong turn, his very life would have been at stake.
Even if he is a king or a dictator, at no time does he enjoy internal peace from the fear that a rebellion might arise against him somewhere. Even if he is a conqueror he is never at peace from the danger that one of his generals might rise in revolt against him. Thus, there is no one who may freely enjoy perfect peace, without hesitation. For man indeed has been created into a life of toil and trouble.
Allah says: “Does he think that no one can overpower him?” (90Al-Balad:5)
That is, is man, who is ever exposed to such hazards, involved in the delusion that he can do what he likes, and there is no superior power to seize and suppress him? The fact, however, is that, even before the occurrence of the Hereafter, in this world itself, he sees that every moment, his destiny is being ruled by some other Being against Whose decrees all his plans and designs prove ineffective. A single jolt of the earthquake, a blast of wind, a flood in the river and a sea-storm are enough to show how weak and feeble man is against the divine forces.
A sudden accident can reduce a strong and robust person to a cripple. One turn of the fortune deposes a mighty sovereign from the position of authority. When the fortunes of the nations, which have climbed to the very apex of glory and prosperity, change, they are humiliated and disgraced, even in the world where no one could dare look at them in the face. How then, has this man been deluded into thinking that no one else can have power over him.
Allah says: “He says: “I have squandered enormous wealth.” (90Al-Balad:6)
Literally squandered and wasted it. These words show how proud the speaker was of his wealth. The heaps of wealth, that he spent, was so insignificant as against his total wealth that he did not mind squandering it carelessly. Why did he squander it? Not for a genuine good cause, as becomes evident from the following verses, but for display of his wealth, and expression of his pride and glory. Bestowing rich awards on poetic admirers, inviting and feeding hundreds of thousands of people on marriage, and death ceremonies.
Gambling away heaps of wealth, attending festivals with large entourages, trying to excel others in displays of glory and grandeur, having heaps of food cooked on ceremonial occasions and throwing invitations to all and sundry to come and eat. Arranging and supplying running meals at the residence so as to impress the people around with one’s generosity and large heartedness; such were the expenditures of ostentation, which in the days of ignorance were regarded as a symbol of man’s munificence and magnanimity, and a sign of his greatness. For these they were praised and admired; on these their praises were sung; and on account of these they prided themselves against the less fortunate.
Allah says: “Does he believe that none has seen him?” (90Al-Balad:7)
This means, doesn’t this boaster understand, that there is also a God above him, Who sees how he obtained this wealth? How he spent it, and with what intention, motive, and purpose he did all this? Does he think that God will put any value on his extravagance, or his fame mongering and his boasting? Does he think that like the world, God too will be deluded by it.
Allah says: “Did We not grant him two eyes, and a tongue and two lips?” (90Al-Balad:8-9)
This means, have We not given him the means of obtaining knowledge and wisdom? Two eyes does not imply the eyes of the cow and buffalo, but human eyes, which if used intelligently can help man see all around himself, those signs, which lead to the reality and distinguish the right from the wrong. The tongue and lips do not merely imply the instruments of speech, but the rational mind behind these instruments, which perform the functions of thinking and understanding and then uses them for expressing its ideas, motives and designs.
Allah says: “And did We not show him the two high roads (of good and evil)?” (90Al-Balad:10)
This means, We have not left him alone after granting him the faculties of thinking and reasoning, so that he may have to search out his own way. But, We have also guided him, and opened up before him both the highways of good and evil, virtue and vice. So that he may consider them seriously, and choose and adopt one or the other way on his own responsibility.
Allah says: “But he did not venture to scale the difficult steep path.” (90Al-Balad:11)
The words in the original mean to apply oneself to a hard and toilsome task, and aqabah is the steep path that passes through mountains for ascending heights. Thus, the verse means: One of the two paths that We have shown him, leads to heights, but is toilsome and steep. Man has to tread it against the desires of his self, and the temptations of Satan. The other path is easy. It descends into chasms, but does not require any toil from man. One only needs to give free reins to himself, then he automatically goes on rolling down the abyss. Now, the man to whom We had shown both the paths, adopted the easy down-hill path and abandoned the toilsome path, which leads to the heights.
Allah says: “And what do you know what that difficult steep path is? It is freeing someone's neck from slavery; or giving food on a day of hunger to an orphan near of kin; or to a destitute lying in the dust; (90Al-Balad:12-16)
In the foregoing verses the extravagances of man, which he indulges in for ostentation and expression of superiority to others, have been mentioned. Here now, it is being stated as to what expenditure of wealth it is, which leads man up to moral heights instead of causing him to sink into moral depravity and perversion. However, in this there is no enjoyment for the self; on the contrary, man has to exercise self-restraint and make sacrifices.
The expenditure is that one should set a slave free, or render a slave monetary help, so as to enable him to win his freedom by paying the ransom. Freeing a debtor from his debt. Securing the release of a helpless person without means from penalties. Likewise, the expenditure is that, one should feed a nearly related orphan (i.e. an orphan who is either a relative or a neighbor) who is hungry, and a needy, helpless person who might have been reduced to extreme poverty, and might have none to support and help him.
Helping such people does not win a person fame and a good reputation. Nor feeding them, bring him the admiration for being wealthy and generous, which one usually wins by holding banquets for thousands of well-to-do people. But the path to moral and spiritual heights passes along steep uphill roads only.
Great merits of the acts of virtue mentioned in these verses have been described by the Prophet (pbuh). Many ahadith have been related in the traditions, one of which is a tradition from Abu Hurairah, to the effect, the Prophet (pbuh) said: “The person who set a believing slave free, Allah will save from the fire of Hell every limb of his body instead of every limb of the slave’s body, the hand instead of the hand, the foot in place of the foot, the private parts instead of the private parts.” (Musnad, Ahmad, Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmidhi, Nasai)
The Prophet (pbuh) has mentioned the merits of rendering help to the needy in many ahadith, one of which is this Hadith from Abu Hurairah: The Prophet (pbuh) said: “The one who strives in the cause of rendering help to the widow and the needy is like the one who endeavors and strives in the cause of jihad for the sake of Allah.”
As for the orphans, there are numerous sayings reported from the Prophet (pbuh). Abu Hurairah has reported this saying of the Prophet (pbuh): “The best among the Muslim homes is the home wherein an orphan is treated well and the worst the one wherein an orphan is mistreated.” (Ibn Majah, Bukhari)
Abu Umamah says that the Prophet (pbuh) said: “The one who passed his hand on the head of an orphan, only for the sake of Allah, will have as many acts of virtue recorded in his favor as the number of the hair on which his hand passed, and the one who treated an orphan boy or girl well, will stand in Paradise with me like this, saying this the Prophet (pbuh) joined his two fingers together.” (Musnad Ahmad, Tirmidhi)
Allah says: “and, then besides this, he be one of those who believed, and enjoined upon one another steadfastness and enjoined upon one another compassion.” (90Al-Balad:17)
This means, in addition to these qualities, it is essential that one should be a believer, for without faith no act is an act of virtue, nor acceptable in the sight of Allah. At numerous places in the Qur’an it is stated that only such an act of virtue is appreciable, and becomes a means of salvation, when it is accompanied by faith. In Surah An-Nisa, for example Allah says: “The one who does good deeds, whether man or woman, provided that the one is a believer, will enter Paradise” (4An-Nisa:124). In Surah An-Nahl, Allah says: “Whosoever does righteous deeds, whether male or female, provided that he is a believer, We shall surely grant him to live a pure life in this world, and We will reward such people (in the Hereafter) according to their best deeds (16An-Nahl:97).
Whoever studies the Qur’an will see that, wherever the good reward of a righteous act has been mentioned, it has always been made conditional upon the faith, a good act without faith has nowhere been regarded as acceptable to God, nor has any hope been given for a reward for it. The non-believer does not imply every non-Muslim, for a non-Muslim who disputes a point, in good faith for the sake of understanding Islam, and who tries to grasp thoroughly those things, which he finds hard to follow, although a non Muslim technically, yet that which has been condemned does not apply to him.
Here, the following important point should also not remain hidden from view: In this verse it has not been said: Then he believed, but: Then being among those who have believed. This means that mere believing as an individual and remaining content with it is not what is desired. What is desired is that every new believer should join those who have already believed, so as to form a party of the believers, to bring about a believing society, which should work to establish the virtues and wipe out the vices as demanded by the faith. These are two of the important characteristics of the believing society, which have been expressed in two brief sentences. The first characteristic is that its members should exhort one another to patience, and the second that they should exhort one another to compassion and mercy.
As for patience, in view of the extensive meaning in which the Qur’an has used this word, the entire life of a believer is a life of patience. As soon as a man steps on to the path of faith, tests of his patience start. Patience is required to be exercised in performing the acts of worship enjoined by Allah. Patience is needed to carry out the commands of Allah. Abstention from the things forbidden by Allah is not possible without patience. Patience is needed to abandon the moral evils and adopt pure morals. Temptations to sin faced at every step, can only be resisted by recourse to patience. On countless occasions in life, obedience to God’s law entails losses, troubles, hardships, and deprivations. While disobedience of the law seems to bring benefits and pleasures.
Without patience no believer can fare well. Then, as soon as a believer has adopted the way of faith, he meets with resistance, not only from his own self, and personal desires, but also from his children, family, society, country and nation. So much so, that he is even required to abandon his country and undertake Jihad in the cause of God. Under all these conditions only patience can cause a man to remain steadfast to principles. If every individual believer was put to such a hard test, he would be faced with the danger of defeat at every step, and would hardly be able to successfully pass the test.
On the contrary, if there existed a believing society, every member, of which was not only himself possessed of patience, but all its members were also mutually supporting one another, in the test of patience, a tremendous power would be generated to face the evil. A mighty force, of good individuals, would be ready to help bring the entire society on to the path of virtue and righteousness.
As for mercy and compassion, it is the distinctive feature of the society of believers, that they are not a merciless and unjust people, but a society whose members are merciful and compassionate to humanity at large, and sympathetic and friendly among themselves. A believer, as an individual is an embodiment of Allah’s Mercy, and the believers, as a representative of Allah’s Messenger (pbuh), has been described thus: “We have sent you to be a mercy to the people of the world.” (Surah Al-Anbiya, Ayat 107) The highest moral quality which the Messenger (pbuh) tried his utmost to inculcate among his followers was this very quality of mercy. Consider the following of his sayings, which show what importance he attached to it. Jarir bin Abdullah says that the Messenger (pbuh) said: “Allah does not show mercy to him who does not show mercy to others.” (Bukhari, Muslim)
Abdullah bin Amr bin al-aas says that the Prophet (pbuh) said: “The Rahman (Merciful) shows mercy to those who show mercy (to others). Show mercy to those who live on the earth, the One who is in heaven will show mercy to you.” (Abu Daud, Tirmidhi)
Abu Saeed Khudri has reported that the Prophet (pbuh) said: “The one who does not show mercy, is not shown mercy.” (Bukhari in Al-Adab al-Mufrad)
Ibn Abbas says that the Prophet (pbuh) said: “The one who does not treat our young ones mercifully and does not treat our elderly ones respectfully, does not belong to us.” (Tirmidhi)
Abu Daud has related this same saying of the Prophet (pbuh) on the authority of Abdullah bin Amr, thus: “The one who did not feel pity on our young and did not respect our elderly does not belong to us.”
Abu Hurairah says: I have heard Abul-Qasim, the Truthful (pbuh) say: “The heart of the wretched one is deprived of the quality of mercy altogether.” (Musnad Ahmad, Tirmidhi).
Numan bin Bashir has reported that the Prophet (pbuh) said: “You will find the believers like a body in the matter of mutual kindness, love and sympathy, so that if one part of the body suffers the whole body suffers and becomes restless because of it.” (Bukhari, Muslim)
Abu Musa al-ashari says that the Prophet (pbuh) said: “The believer is for the other believer like a wall each part of which supports and strengthens the other part.” (Bukhari, Muslim)
Abdullah bin Umar has reported that the Prophet said: “A Muslim is a brother of the other Muslim. He neither treats him unjustly, nor withholds his help from him. The person who works to fulfill a need of his brother, Allah will seek to fulfill his need. The one who rescues a Muslim from an affliction, Allah will rescue him from an affliction of the afflictions on the Resurrection Day. The one who conceals the faults of a Muslim, Allah will conceal his faults on Resurrection Day.” (Bukhari, Muslim)
These traditions indicate the kind of society envisaged by Qur’anic instruction given in this verse, which exhorts the righteous people to join the group of the believers after they have affirmed the faith.
Allah says: “These are the People of the Right Hand. As for those who rejected Our Signs, they are the People of the Left Hand. Upon them shall be a Fire that will hem them in.” (90Al-Balad:18-20)
The Arabs regard the right hand as a symbol of strength, eminence and honor. Therefore, they seat a person whom they wish to honor on the right hand, in assemblies.