In The Name of God, The Most Gracious, The Dispenser of Grace.
79:1 Consider those [stars] that rise only to set.
For my rendering of the adjurative particle wa as “Consider”, see first half of note 23 on 74:32. – The early commentators differ widely in their explanations of verses 1-5 of this surah. The most popular interpretation is based on the view that the descriptive participles an-nazi’at, an-nashitat, as-sabihat, as-sabiqat and al-mudabbirat refer to angels and their activities with regard to the souls of the dying: an interpretation categorically rejected by Abu Muslim al-Isfahani, who – as mentioned by Razi – points out that the angels are never referred to in the Qur’an in the female gender, as is the case in the above five participles, and that the present passage cannot be an exception. Almost equally unconvincing – because somewhat laboured – are the explanations which link those five participles to the souls of the dying, or to warriors engaged in holy war, or to war-mounts, and so forth. The clearest and simplest interpretation is that advanced by Qatadah (as quoted by Tabari and Baghawi) and Al-Hasan al-Basri (quoted by Baghawi and Razi), who maintain that what is meant in this passage are the stars – including the sun and the moon – and their movements in space: and this interpretation is fully in tune with many other passages in the Qur’an in which the harmony of those celestial bodies in their multiform orbits and graded speeds is cited as an evidence of God’s planning and creativeness. In accordance with this interpretation, the participle an-nazi’at occurring in the first verse denotes the daily “ascending” or “rising” of the stars, while their subsequent “setting” is indicated by the expression gharqan, which comprises the two concepts of “drowning” (i.e., disappearing) and, tropically, of the “completeness” of this daily phenomenon (Zamakhshari).
79:2 And move [in their orbits] with steady motion.
i.e., passing from constellation to constellation (Zamakhshari).
79:3 And float [through space] with floating serene.
This is apparently an allusion to the different speeds of the orbiting stars (Al-Hasan and Abu Ubaydah, as quoted by Razi), as well as to the extent of their orbits in relation to one another.
79:4 And yet overtake [one another] with swift overtaking.
i.e., upon realizing the above-mentioned evidence of God’s Almightiness and, therefore, of man’s subjection to His ultimate judgment.
79:5 And thus they fulfill the [Creator’s] behest!
Implying derisively (Zamakhshari) that in such a case they would be proved wrong in what they now consider a “reasonable” assumption.
79:6 [Hence, think of] the Day when a violent convulsion will convulse [the world].
Connecting with the preceding passage, the story of Moses (which appears in much greater detail in 20:9-98) is cited here as an illustration of the fact that everyone will have to answer on Judgment Day for whatever he did in life, and that it is the main function of every prophet to make man aware of this responsibility.
79:7 To be followed by further [convulsions]!
See note 9 on 20:12. – For the meaning of the particle idh at the beginning of this sentence, rendered by me as “Lo!”, see surah 2, note 21.
79:8 On that Day will [men’s] hearts be throbbing.
Implying that so long as man is not fully aware of the existence of God, he cannot really discern between what is morally right or wrong; and since God is just, He does not punish anyone who has not yet attained such a discernment (or, as expressed in the preceding sentence, “to [moral] purity”): cf. 6: 31 – “thy Sustainer would never destroy a community for its wrongdoing so long as its people are still unaware [of the meaning of right and wrong]”.
79:9 [And] their eyes downcast…
Lit., “showed him the great wonder”, i.e., of the guidance which God, in His measureless grace, offers even to the most recalcitrant sinner.
79:10 [And yet] some say, “What! Are we indeed to be restored to our former state.