In The Name of God, The Most Gracious, The Dispenser of Grace.
80:1 He Frowned and turned away.
One day, as recorded in many well-authenticated Traditions, the Prophet was engrossed in a conversation with some of the most influential chieftains of pagan Mecca, hoping to convince them – and, through them, the Meccan community at large – of the truth of his message. At that point, he was approached by one of his followers, the blind Abd Allah ibn Shurayh – known after his grandmother’s name as Ibn Umm Maktum – with the request for repetition or elucidation of certain earlier passages of the Qur’an. Annoyed by this interruption of what he momentarily regarded as a more important endeavor, Muhammad “frowned and turned away” from the blind man – and was immediately, there and then, reproved by the revelation of the first ten verses of this surah. In later years he often greeted Ibn Umm Maktum with these words of humility: “Welcome unto him on whose account my Sustainer has rebuked me (atabani)!” Indirectly, the sharp Qur’anic rebuke (stressed, in particular, by the use of the third-person form in verses 1-2) implies, firstly, that what would have been a minor act of discourtesy on the part of an ordinary human being, assumed the aspect of a major sin, deserving a divine rebuke, when committed by a prophet; and, secondly, it illustrates the objective nature of the Qur’anic revelation: for, obviously, in conveying God’s reproof of him to the world at large, the Prophet “does not speak out of his own desire” (cf.
80:2 Because the blind man approached him!
i.e., who does not feel the need of divine guidance: a reference to the arrogant pagan chieftains with whom the Prophet was conversing.
80:3 Yet for all thou didst know, [O Muhammad] he might perhaps have grown in purity.
Lit., “it is not upon thee (alayka) that he does not attain to purity”.
80:4 Or have been reminded [of the truth], and helped by this reminder.
Sc., of the existence and omnipotence of God. The Qur’an is described here, as in many other places, as “a reminder” because it is meant to bring man’s instinctive – though sometimes hazy or unconscious – realization of God’s existence into the full light of consciousness. (Cf. 7:172 and the corresponding note 139.)
80:5 Now as for him who believes himself to be self-sufficient.
For my rendering of qutila as “he destroys himself”, see surah 74, note 9.
80:6 To him didst thou give thy whole attention.
i.e., in accordance with the organic functions which man’s body and mind are to fulfill, and the natural conditions to which he will have to adapt himself. Verses 18-22, although formulated in the past tense, obviously describe a recurrent phenomenon.
80:7 Although thou art not accountable for his failure to attain to purity.
Lit., “He makes easy the way for him”. This is an allusion to man’s being endowed with the intellectual equipment enabling him to discern between good and evil and to make fruitful use of the opportunities offered to him by his earthly environment.
80:8 But as for him who came unto thee full of eagerness.
In other words, man has failed to make adequate use of the intellectual and spiritual endowment referred to in verse 20. Whereas some commentators are of the opinion that this relates only to the type of man spoken of in verse 17 above, others maintain, with greater plausibility, that it is a reference to man in general – thus: “No human being has ever fulfilled all that was imposed on him as a [moral] duty” (Mujahid, as quoted by Tabari, with a similar statement attributed by Baghawi to Al-Hasan al-Basri); or “From the time of Adam to this time, no human being has ever been free of shortcomings” (Zamakhshari, Baydawi). This is in tune with the Qur’anic doctrine that perfection is an attribute of God alone.
80:9 And in awe [of God]!
The implication is that man ought to be grateful for all this God-given bounty, but as a rule, is not: and this connects with the subsequent evocation of the Day of Resurrection, already hinted at in the reference to the recurring phenomenon of life-renewal.
80:10 Him didst thou disregard!
i.e., as God is able to bring forth new life out of a seemingly dead earth, so is He able to resurrect the dead.