In The Name of God, The Most Gracious, The Dispenser of Grace.
90:1 Nay! I call to witness this land.
Lit., “while thou art dwelling in this land”. The classical commentators give to the term balad the connotation of “city”, and maintain that the phrase hadha ‘l-balad (“this city”) signifies Mecca, and that the pronoun “thou” in the second verse refers to Muhammad. Although this interpretation is plausible in view of the fact that the sacredness of Mecca is repeatedly stressed in the Qur’an, the sequence – as well as the tenor of the whole surah – seems to warrant a wider, more general interpretation. In my opinion, the words hadha ‘l-balad denote “this land of man”, i.e., the earth (which latter term is, according to all philologists, one of the primary meanings of balad). Consequently, the “thou” in verse 2 relates to man in general, and that which is metaphorically “called to witness” is his earthly environment.
90:2 This land in which thou art free to dwell.
Lit., “the begetter and that which he has begotten”. According to Tabari’s convincing explanation, this phrase signifies “every parent and all their offspring” – i.e., the human race from its beginning to its end. (The masculine form al-walid denotes, of course, both male and female parents.)
90:3 And [I call to witness] parent and offspring.
The term kabad, comprising the concepts of “pain”, “distress”, “hardship”, “toil”, “trial”‘, etc., can be rendered only by a compound expression like the one above.
90:4 Verily, We have created man into [a life of] pain, toil, and trial.
Implying that his resources – and, therefore, his possibilities – are inexhaustible. We must remember that the term “man” is used herein the sense of “human race”: hence, the above boast is a metonym for the widespread belief – characteristic of all periods of religious decadence – that there are no limits to the power to which man may aspire, and that, therefore, his worldly “interests” are the only criteria of right and wrong.
90:5 Does he, then, think that no one has power over him?
i.e., “Does he think that he is responsible to none but himself?”
90:6 He boasts, “I have spent wealth abundant!”
i.e., to recognize and to voice the truth of God’s existence or, at least to ask for guidance.
90:7 Does he, then, think that no one sees him?
Thus lkrimah, as quoted by Baghawi; also Razi. Alternatively, the phrase fakk raqabah may be rendered as “the freeing of a human being from bondage” (cf. note 146 on 2:190), with the latter term covering all those forms of subjugation and exploitation – social, economic or political – which can be rightly described as “; slavery”.
90:8 Have We not given him two eyes.
Lit., “people (ashab) of the right side”: see note 25 on 74:39.
90:9 And a tongue, and a pair of lips.
i.e., the fires of despair in the life to come “rising over the [sinners’) hearts” and “closing in upon them”: cf. 104:6-8 and the corresponding note 5. The phrase rendered by me as “such as have lost themselves in evil” reads, literally, “people of “the left side (al-mash’amah)”.
90:10 And shown him the two highways [of good and evil]?
90:11 But he would not try to ascend the steep uphill road…
90:12 And what could make thee conceive what it is, that steep uphill road?
90:13 [It is] the freeing of one’s neck [from the burden of sin].
90:14 Or the feeding, upon a day of [one’s own] hunger.
90:15 Of an orphan near of kin…
90:16 Or of a needy [stranger] lying in the dust…
90:17 And being, withal, of those who have attained to faith, and who enjoin upon one another patience in adversity, and enjoin upon one another compassion.
90:18 Such are they that have attained to righteousness.
90:19 Whereas those who are bent on denying the truth of Our messages they are such as have lost themselves in evil.
90:20 [With] fire closing in upon them.