There is yet more doom and judgment in these Meccan suras: in Sura 87, “The Most High,” Allah tells Muhammad to glorify Allah for his ordering of creation (vv. 1-5). Then Allah assures Muhammad that he will teach him the Qur’an in sections, so that he won’t forget “except as Allah wills” (vv. 6-7) – which recalls Allah’s later promise that he won’t cause any part of the Qur’an to be forgotten unless he replaces it with something better or just as good (2:106). Muhammad must warn the people; those who fear Allah will heed the warning (v. 10), while those who do not will be cast into the fire (vv. 12-13). This message, the Qur’an asserts, is the same as that which is contained in earlier revelations, specifically the books of Abraham and Moses (vv. 18-19). Islamic apologists take the fact that the Qur’anic message turns out not to be the same as that of the existing books of Moses as evidence that the Jews have corrupted their Scriptures.
Sura 88, “The Overwhelming Event,” offers a succinct recapitulation of the central themes of many of these suras: the unbelievers will suffer tortures in hell (vv. 1-7); the believers will enjoy the pleasures of the gardens of Paradise (vv. 8-16); the creation bears witness to Allah’s creating hand (vv. 17-20); Muhammad’s role is simply to warn of what is to take place, not to manage men’s affairs, and Allah will punish the unbelievers (vv. 21-26).
Maududi says that sura 89, “The Dawn,” “was revealed at the stage when persecution of the new converts to Islam had begun in Makkah.” Accordingly the sura rehearses the scourges that Allah brought upon those who had rejected the word of earlier prophets (vv. 6-14) and warns the unjust man who loves wealth and does not feed the poor that the Judgment and hell will inevitably come upon him (vv. 15-30).
In sura 90, “The City,” Allah calls Mecca to witness (v. 1), and Muhammad is a resident of Mecca (v. 2), and the bond between parent and child (v. 3), that he has created mankind for a life of labor (v. 4), and so therefore a man should not think that he is responsible to no greater power (vv. 5-10). But such a man has not tried to take the ascending path (vv. 11-12), which involves freeing the slave (v. 13), feeding the hungry (v. 14), and caring for the orphaned (v. 15) and poor (v. 16). Those who do these things will be blessed (vv. 17-18), while those who do not will suffer in hell (vv. 19-20).
In sura 91, “The Sun,” Allah swears by the sun (v. 1), the moon (v. 2), the day (v. 3), the night (v. 4), heaven (v. 5), earth (v. 6), and the soul (v. 7) that one who purifies the soul will succeed (v. 9) and one who corrupts it will fail (v. 10). Then follows (vv. 11-15) another reference to the prophet Salih and the story of the she-camel of Allah, which we have seen before in suras 11 and 26. Explains Ibn Kathir: “A crowd of them gathered and demanded that he immediately bring forth from the rock a she-camel that was ten months pregnant, and they pointed to a certain rock in their midst. Allah’s Prophet Salih made them promise that if he responded to their request, they would believe in him and follow him. So they agreed to that. The Prophet of Allah Salih, peace be upon him, stood and prayed, then he prayed to Allah to grant them their request. Then the rock to which they had pointed split open, revealing a she-camel that was ten months pregnant, exactly as they had requested. So some of them believed, but most of them disbelieved.” Indeed, some of them set upon the camel and hamstrung it (v. 14), for which they were duly punished.
Sura 92, “The Night,” is an exhortation to charitable giving. The one who “gives and is dutiful” (v. 5) will be rewarded with “Bliss” (v. 7), while the “greedy miser" who "thinks himself self-sufficient” (v. 8) will end up only in “misery” (v. 10).
Then the focus turns to Muhammad himself. Allah consoles Muhammad in sura 93, “The Morning Hours,” telling him he has not forsaken him, and is not displeased with him (v. 3). Allah told this to Muhammad in response to a woman who taunted Muhammad: according to a hadith, “The Prophet became ill, so he did not stand for prayer for a night or two. Then a woman came and said, ‘O Muhammad! I think that your devil has finally left you.’” Or, in another version that comes from Ibn Abbas, “When the Qur’an was revealed to the Messenger of Allah, Jibril [Gabriel] was delayed from coming to him for a number of days (on one occasion). Therefore, the Messenger of Allah was affected by this. Then the idolaters began to say, ‘His Lord has abandoned him and hates him.’”
Allah reminds Muhammad that he was an orphan, and that at that time Allah cared for him (v. 6) and that therefore he should be kind to orphans (v. 9). Ibn Kathir explains: “This refers to the fact that his father died while his mother was still pregnant with him, and his mother, Aminah bint Wahb died when he was only six years old. After this he was under the guardianship of his grandfather, `Abdul-Muttalib, until he died when Muhammad was eight years old. Then his uncle, Abu Talib took responsibility for him and continued to protect him, assist him, elevate his status, honor him, and even restrain his people from harming him when he was forty years of age and Allah commissioned him with the prophethood.” Of course, as we have seen, many of the Meccan suras involve replies to the objections and scorn of Muhammad’s own people, the pagan Quraysh of Mecca.
In sura 94, “Solace,” Allah consoles his prophet and once again reminds Muhammad of his favors to him. He has removed his burden (v. 2) and raised him to a position of esteem (v. 4). He has “expanded his breast” (v. 1) – which is akin to Allah’s promise that “those whom Allah wills to guide, He opens their breast to Islam” (6:125).
Allah warns in sura 95, “The Fig Tree,” that man, although created in the “best of moulds” (v. 4), will be utterly abased to become the “lowest of the low” (v. 5) – except those who do righteous deeds (v. 6). Here again is another basis for the contempt for unbelievers that marks so much of Islamic discourse to this day – those who disbelieve are in Allah’s own words the “lowest of the low.”
Next week: Sura 96, “Clots of Blood,” which contains the first revelation Muhammad received – and the strange story of that revelation.
(Here you can find links to all the earlier “Blogging the Qur’an” segments. Here is a good Arabic Qur’an, with English translations available; here are two popular Muslim translations, those of Abdullah Yusuf Ali and Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall, along with a third by M. H. Shakir. Here is another popular translation, that of Muhammad Asad. And here is an omnibus of ten Qur’an translations.)