In The Name of God, The Most Gracious, The Dispenser of Grace.
111:1 Doomed are the hands of him of the glowing countenance, and doomed is he!
The real name of this uncle of the Prophet was Abd al-Uzza. He was popularly nicknamed Abu Lahab (lit., “He of the Flame”) on account of his beauty, which was most notably expressed in his glowing countenance (Baghawi, on the authority of Muqatil; Zamakhshari and Razi passim in their comments on the above verse; Fath al-Bari VIII, 599), Since this nickname or kunyah appears to have been applied to him even before the advent of Islam, there is no reason to suppose that it had a pejorative significance. – The expression “hands” in the above clause is, in accordance with classical Arabic usage, a metonym for “power”, alluding to the great influence which Abu Lahab wielded.
111:2 What will his wealth avail him, and all that he has gained?
The expression nar dhat lahab is a subtle play upon the meaning of the nickname Abu Lahab.
111:3 [In the life to come] he shall have to endure a fire fiercely glowing.
Lit., “carrier of firewood”, a well-known idiomatic expression denoting one who surreptitiously carries evil tales and slander from one person to another “so as to kindle the flames of hatred between them” (Zamakhshari; see also Ikrimah, Mujahid and Qatadah, as quoted by Tabari). The woman’s name was Arwa umm Jamil bint Harb ibn Umayyah; she was a sister of Abu Sufyan and, hence, a paternal aunt of Muawiyah, the founder of the Umayyad dynasty. Her hatred of Muhammad and his followers was so intense that she would often, under the cover of darkness, scatter thorns before the Prophet’s house with a view to causing him to hurt; and she employed her great eloquence in persistently slandering him and his message,
111:4 Together with his wife, that carrier of evil tales.
The term masad signifies anything that consists of twisted strands, irrespective of the material (Qamus, Mughni, Lisan al-Arab). In the abstract sense in which it is evidently used here, the above phrase seems to have a double connotation: it alludes to the woman’s twisted, warped nature, as well as to the spiritual truth that “every human being’s destiny is tied to his neck” (see 17:13 and, in particular, the corresponding note 17) – which, together with verse 2, reveals the general, timeless purport of this surah.
111:5 [Who bears] around her neck a rope of twisted strands!