In The Name of God, The Most Gracious, The Dispenser of Grace.
74:1 O Thou [in thy solitude] enfolded!
The expression muddaththir (an abbreviated form of mutadaththir) signifies “one who is covered [with something]” or “enfolded [in something]”; and all philologists point out that the verb dathara, from which the above participial noun is derived, may equally well have a concrete or abstract connotation. Most of the commentators understand the phrase “O thou enfolded one” in its literal, concrete sense, and assume that it refers to the Prophet’s habit of covering himself with a cloak or blanket when he felt that a revelation was about to begin. Razi, however, notes that this apostrophe may well have been used metaphorically, as an allusion to Muhammad’s intense desire for solitude before the beginning of his prophetic mission (cf. introductory note to surah 96): and this, according to Razi, would explain his being thus addressed in connection with the subsequent call, “Arise and warn” – i.e., “Give now up thy solitude, and stand up before all the world as a preacher and warner.”
74:2 Arise and warn!
Lit., “thy garments (thiyab) purify”: but almost all the classical commentators point out that the noun thawb and its plural thiyab is often metonymically applied to that which a garment encloses, i.e., a person’s “body” or, in a wider sense, his “self’ or his “heart”, or even his “spiritual state” or “conduct” (Taj al-‘Arus). Thus, commenting on the above verse, Zamakhshari draws the reader’s attention to the well-known idiomatic phrases tahir ath-thiyab (lit., “one who is clean in his garments”) and danis ath-thiyab (“one who is filthy in his garments”), and stresses their tropical significance of “free from faults and vices” and “vicious and perfidious”, respectively. Razi states with approval that “according to most of the [earlier] commentators, the meaning [of this verse] is, ‘purify thy heart of all that is blameworthy’ “.
74:3 And thy Sustainer’s greatness glorify!
Lit., “and do not bestow favors to obtain increase”.
74:4 And thine inner self purify!
Since this is the earliest Qur’anic occurrence of the expression kafir (the above surah having been preceded only by the first five verses of surah 96), its use here – and, by implication, in the whole of the Qur’an – is obviously determined by the meaning which it had in the speech of the Arabs before the advent of the Prophet Muhammad: in other words, the term kafir cannot be simply equated, as many Muslim theologians of post-classical times and practically all Western translators of the Qur’an have done, with “unbeliever” or “infidel” in the specific, restricted sense of one who rejects the system of doctrine and law promulgated in the Qur’an and amplified by the teachings of the Prophet – but must have a wider, more general meaning. This meaning is easily grasped when we bear in mind that the root verb of the participial noun kafir (and of the infinitive noun kufr) is kafara, “he [or “it”] covered [a thing]”: thus, in 57:20 the tiller of the soil is called (without any pejorative implication) kafir, “one who covers”, i.e., the sown seed with earth, just as the night is spoken of as having “covered” (kafara) the earth with darkness. In their abstract sense, both the verb and the nouns derived from it have a connotation of “concealing” something that exists or “denying” something that is true. Hence, in the usage of the Qur’an – with the exception of the one instance (in 57:20) where this participial noun signifies a “tiller of the soil” – a kafir is “one who denies [or “refuses to acknowledge”] the truth” in the widest, spiritual sense of this latter term: that is, irrespective of whether it relates to a cognition of the supreme truth – namely, the existence of God – or to a doctrine or ordinance enunciated in the divine writ, or to a self-evident moral proposition, or to an acknowledgment of, and therefore gratitude for, favors received. (Regarding the expression alladhina kafaru, implying conscious intent, see surah 2, note 6.)
74:5 And all defilement shun!
Or: “…whom I alone have created”. The above sentence can be understood in either of these two senses, depending on whether one relates the expression “alone” (Wahid) to God – thus stressing His uniqueness as Creator – or to this particular object of His creation, man, who begins and ends his life in a state of utter loneliness (cf. 6:94 and 19:80 and 95). In either case, our attention is drawn to the fact of man’s inescapable dependence on God. Beyond that, the phrase in question carries a further meaning, namely, “Leave it to Me alone to decide what to do with him who forgets that I am his Creator and Sustainer” – thus forbidding any human punishment of “those who deny the truth”.
74:6 And do not through giving seek thyself to gain.
Lit., “for whom I have spread [all] out in a [wide] spread” – i.e., “whom I have endowed with potentialities far beyond those open to other living beings”.
75:7 But unto thy Sustainer turn in patience.
Lit., “he is wont (kana) to set himself”. The noun anid, derived from the verb anada, denotes “one who opposes or rejects something that is true, knowing it to be true” (Lisan al-‘Arab). The element of human contrariness and stubbornness is implied in the use of the auxiliary verb kana, which indicates here a permanently recurring phenomenon despite its past-tense formulation. I am, therefore of the opinion that verses 18-25, although ostensibly formulated in the past tense, must also be rendered in the present tense.
74:8 And [warn all men that] when the trumpet-call [of resurrection] is sounded.
In combination with the verb urhiquhu (“I shall constrain him to endure”‘) the term sa’ud (lit., “ascent” or “climb”‘) has the tropical connotation of something extremely difficult, painful or distressing. In the above context, it is an allusion to the loss of all instinctive innocence – and, hence, to the individual and social suffering – which unavoidably follows upon man’s wilful neglect of moral and spiritual truths (“God’s messages”) in this world, and bars his spiritual development in the life to come.
74:9 That very Day shall be a day of anguish.
The expression qutila reads, literally, “he has been killed” or, as an imprecation, “may he be killed”. Since a literal rendering of this expression – whether conceived as a statement of fact or an imprecation – would be meaningless here, many commentators (Tabari among them) understand it as signifying “he is rejected from God’s grace” (lu’ina), i.e., “killed” spiritually by his own action or attitude; hence my rendering, “he destroys himself”.
74:10 Not of ease, for all who [now] deny the truth!
i.e., he becomes emotionally involved because he suspects in his heart that his arguments are weak (Razi).