In The Name of God, The Most Gracious, The Dispenser of Grace.
91:1 Consider the sun and its radiant brightness.
Lit., “as it follows it (talaha)”, i.e., the sun. According to the great philologist Al-Farra, who lived in the second century after the hijrah, “the meaning is that the moon derives its light from the sun” (quoted by Razi). This is also Raghib’s interpretation of the above phrase.
91:2 And the moon as it reflects the sun!
Lit., “it” – a pronoun apparently indicating “the world” or “the earth” (Zamakhshari). It is to be noted that verses 1-10 stress the polarity – both physical and spiritual – inherent in all creation and contrasting with the oneness and uniqueness of the Creator.
91:3 Consider the day as it reveals the world.
Lit., “and that which has built it” – i.e., the wondrous qualities which are responsible for the harmony and coherence of the visible cosmos (which is evidently the meaning of the term sama’ in this context). Similarly, the subsequent reference to the earth, which reads literally, “that which has spread it out”, is apparently an allusion to the qualities responsible for the beauty and variety of its expanse.
91:4 And the night as it veils it darkly!
As in so many other instances, the term nafs, which has a very wide range of meanings (see the first sentence of note 1 on 4:1), denotes here the human self or personality as a whole: that is, a being composed of a physical body and that inexplicable life-essence loosely described as “soul”.
91:5 Consider the sky and its wondrous make.
Lit., “and that which has made [or “formed”] it (sawwaha) in accordance with. . .”, etc. For this particular connotation of the verb sawwa, see note 1 on 87:2, which represents the oldest Qur’anic instance of its use in the above sense. The reference to man and that which constitutes the “human personality”, as well as the implied allusion to the extremely complex phenomenon of a life-entity in which bodily needs and urges, emotions and intellectual activities are so closely intertwined as to be indissoluble, follows organically upon a call to consider the inexplicable grandeur of the universe – so far as it is perceptible and comprehensible to man – as compelling evidence of God’s creative power.
91:6 And the earth and all its expanse!
Lit., “and [consider] that which has inspired it with its immoral doings (fujuraha) and its God-consciousness (taqwaha)” – i.e., the fact that man is equally liable to rise to great spiritual heights as to fall into utter immorality is an essential characteristic of human nature as such. In its deepest sense, man’s ability to act wrongly is a concomitant to his ability to act rightly: in other words, it is this inherent polarity of tendencies that gives to every “right” choice a value and, thus, endows man with moral free will (cf. in this connection note 16 on 7:24-25).
91:7 Consider the human self, and how it is formed in accordance with what it is meant to be.
For the story of the tribe of Thamud, given here as an illustration of man’s potential wickedness, see 7:73-79 and the corresponding notes.
91:8 And how it is imbued with moral failings as well as with consciousness of God!
Regarding this “she-camel belonging to God”, see surah 7, note 57. For the particular reference to the injunction, “Let her drink”, see 26:155 and the corresponding note 67. The formulation of this passage shows that the legend of the she-camel was well known in pre-Islamic Arabia.
91:9 To a happy state shall indeed attain he who causes this [self] to grow in purity.
For this rendering of aqaruha, see note 61 on 7:91.
91:10 And truly lost is he who buries it [in darkness].
Implying that their total lack of compassion for God’s creatures showed that they did not fear His retribution and, hence, did not really believe in Him.
91:11 To [This] Truth gave the lie, in their overweening arrogance, [the tribe of] Thamud.
91:12 When that most hapless wretch from among them rushed forward [to commit his evil deed].
91:13 Although God’s apostle had told them, “It is a she-camel belonging to God, so let her drink [and do her no harm]!”
91:14 But they gave him the lie, and cruelly slaughtered her – whereupon their Sustainer visited them with utter destruction for this their sin, destroying them all alike.
91:15 For none [of them] had any fear of what might befall them.