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Commentary on Surat Al-Nas

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A COMMENTARY ON THE LAST SECTION QUR`AN 
Chapter 114: Surat Al-Nas
Mankind

By: Shaykh Fadhlalla Haeri

In the name of Allah,
the Beneficent, the Merciful

While the beginning of the Qur`an is concerned with the recognition that the only path to success is that of glorification, supplication and praise, the final part of the Qur`an is concerned with taking refuge in the Source of all manifestation.

 

  1. Say: I take refuge in the Lord of mankind,

Nās means 'people, mankind.' Its root word is anisa, which means 'to be familiar, sociable, intimate', thus denoting the underlying gregariousness of man's nature. We all naturally seek companionship.

Man's nature encompasses and reflects a broad spectrum of characteristics and potential behavior. If he aspires to know Allah, then his behavior will come to reflect that in its nobility. If he ignores the instinct to seek his Creator, or Source, he becomes reduced to the lowest of the low (as we are told in the Chapter of the Fig). Inevitably, his behavior will reflect the baser attributes, such as greed or selfishness, which can lead to treachery. Though his capacity for treachery is as boundless as his appetites, the Lord of all men is aware at all times of our states and intentions. Whatever we do, we remain under the Lordship of Allah. The ultimate refuge or protection from other people is with Allah, Who is closer to us than our jugular vein, as He revealed to us in a holy tradition (hadīth qudsī). The root of the verb a'ūdu (I seek refuge) reflects this closeness, for it comes from 'ādha which originally meant 'to be next to the bone or flesh'. 

  1. The King of mankind,

  2. The God of mankind,

We take refuge in the Lord, in the Creator of this entity called 'man', who contains within himself both the higher attributes and the lower attributes. We take refuge in Allah from the lower attributes, from the attributes which cause us loss. 

  1. From the evil whisperings of the elusive shayn,

There is a great deal written about the word waswās which are subtle whisperings in one's innermost that incite one to evil. In one reference ten meanings are given for al‑waswasah, denoting ten different attributes of the whisperer. If we overcome them we will understand the shirk (associating another with God) of waswās, and therefore we will be able to truly take refuge from it.

Waswās is an onomatopoeic word imitative of the sound of whispering. Whispering is one of the actions which, in our dīn and in our adab (courtesy), is very much repudiated, because something worth saying should be shared by saying it out loud.

Khannās is an epithet of shayn, and means 'slinking away', specifically, when the Name of Allah is mentioned.

There are sources or rivers which feed the waswās. Just as the Garden has underground rivers which feed it, so too has the waswās. One of these rivers is hirs (greed or covetousness). That river can be fought, blocked, and dammed by tawakkul wa qanā'h (trustful dependence [on Allah] and con­tentment).

Another river is amal, which means 'expectation.' This river, too, can be dammed by constant remembrance – dhikr. Our hope for things of this world can be stopped by remembering that each breath may be our last. This remembrance will cut the flow of that river which feeds the whisperer who pours distracting suggestions into our ears.

The third river is shahawāt ad‑dunyā or 'worldly desires'. These desires can be killed by remembering that the ni’am (favors, bounties) will all eventually leave us, and that the hisāb (account) will have to be rendered. We will have to account for the way in which we spent the bounty and goodness that was given to us. It will be a lengthy account – we are told 50,000 years – in which every minute detail will be reviewed and examined, and which, however minute, can be a witness for or against us.

The fourth river, or source, of waswās is tahsīl, meaning 'acquisition'. This river can be stopped by seeing the justice of each person's situation. What a person reaps arises from the justice of his own situation. We cannot alter it.

The fifth river is balā`, 'affliction'. The flow of this can be stemmed by not looking at the affliction in a situation, but rather by seeing the good in it.

The sixth river is kibr, or 'pride', which can be fought by humility. Whenever kibr rises up in us, we should immediately call upon the humility within ourselves, so that we break its effect on us.

The seventh river is tahqīr, that which entices us to belittle the honorable position of the believers, as well as anything that the believer possesses, anything that is in his domain, and that which is halāl (permitted) for him and harām (forbidden) for others. This river can be stopped by considering their honor to be great and by respecting it.

The eighth source of waswās is the love of dunyā (this world), including the desire to be acknowledged and admired by others. This love and desire can be undone by bringing oneself to the state of abasement.

The ninth source of waswās which encourages shayn is separation and stinginess (bukhl). This can be combatted by generosity. Sakhā` means 'giving according to what the occasion demands'; jūd means 'giving without being asked'; and karam is 'giving whatever has been asked'. These three are attributes of Allah. The fourth kind of giving is īthār, 'giving what one needs oneself', and this is an attribute which only man can have. This attribute cannot be ascribed to Allah, for Allah has no need whatsoever of anything. Thus we can take on this final attribute, which is a great aid for our inner, upward mobility toward that noble state which befits us as the khalīfah, or vicegerent, of Allah.

  1. Who whispers in the innermost hearts of mankind,

Sadr (plural of sudūr) is the 'chest or breast', that part of us which faces what confronts us. It is where the battles and dramas take place. It must be remembered that every drama is self‑created. Every imaginable human role stirs in the breast of man: the king, the despot, the afflicted, the jealous, the strong, the doubter, and the complainer. We have to take refuge from these, take refuge in the Lord Whose mercy brings us to the recognition that everything that occurs, visible and invisible, occurs according to a just system, according to perfect laws which govern this passage, this journey through the creation. The laws in this existence are self enforced; there is no need for wardens.

  1. From jinn and mankind.

Jinnah is synonymous with jinn, and means 'the unseen, hidden forces of power'. Jannah (the Garden) is derived from the same root and refers to the most desirable place to be, a garden, which, in the desert culture of the Arabs where temperatures averaged 100 degrees Fahrenheit, was a place of respite and ease from the harsh realities of the desert. The lushness and the shade of the Garden is so contrastingly rich that the ground cannot be seen for the thick foliage of the trees. In the same way that the ground is 'hidden' by the lush growth, thus referring to a hidden state, the jinn are also hidden, limited in their states just as men are.

Therefore, we are asking for refuge, for protection from any energies whose nature we do not understand, and whose creation is not visible or discernable by us.

End of the Surah

Back Up

The Opening - A Commentary on Chapter 1: Surat Al-Fatiha ] The Cow - A Commentary on Chapter 2: Surat Al-Baqarah ] The Family of 'Imrān - A Commentary on Chapter 3: Surat Al-'Imrān ] The Spider - A Commentary on Chapter 29: Surat Al-'Ankabût ] The Heart of the Qur`an - A Commentary on Chapter 36: Surat Ya Sin ] The Beneficent - A Commentary on Chapter 55: Surat Al-Rahmân ] The Event - A Commentary on Chapter 56: Surat Al-Wâqi'ah ] The Kingdom - A Commentary on Chapter 67: Surat Al-Mulk ] The Jinn - A Commentary on Chapter 72: Surat Al-Jinn ] The Unwrapped - A Commentary on Chapter 73: Surat Al-Muzzammil ] A Commentary on the Last Section of the Qur`an ]