Tafsir of Surah al Takwir – The Contracting (Surah 81)


  1) When the sun is contracted, losing its light, 2) when the stars scatter and fall, blinking out, 3) when the mountains are set in motion, 4) when camels ten months pregnant are abandoned,* 5) when wild beasts are all herded together, 6) when the seas boil over,** 7) when the souls are sorted in classes,*** 8) when the baby girl buried alive is asked 9) for what sin she was killed, 10) when the scrolls are spread open, 11) when the sky is stripped bare, 12) when Hellfire is stoked to a blaze, 13) and when Paradise is brought up close: 14) [each] soul will know what it has brought [with it].

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“When the sun is contracted, losing its light,” i.e. when the horrifying events mentioned in this chapter unfurl, mankind will be divided into groups and each person will know what he has made ready of good and evil for his Hereafter. On that Day the sun will be folded up, i.e. compacted and extinguished, the moon will eclipse, and both shall be hurled into the Fire. “When the stars scatter and fall, blinking out,” altered and strewn about, away from their heavenly zones. “When the mountains are set in motion,” becoming “a heap of running sand”[1] then becoming “like carded wool”[2] then changing into “scattered dust”[3] and destroyed. “When camels ten months pregnant are abandoned,” man on that Day shall ignore his most precious commodity, that item which he would keep a watchful eye on and carefully tend to on all occasions. However, such horror shall be unleashed upon him as would distract him from it. The camel mentioned here is the camel which is about to give birth, and at that time, to the Arabs, this was their most precious property. Therefore, the camel is used as an example to point to all that man holds dear and precious.

“When wild beasts are all herded together,” for the Day of Judgement so that Allah may retaliate for any injustices that some of them may have done to others, in this way His servants will see His perfect justice. He will even retaliate for a sheep that was battered by a ram, then He will say to them, ‘Be dust!’ “When the seas boil over,” meaning that they will be stoked up and become, despite their massive size and volume, a fuming blaze. “When the souls are sorted in classes,” every person will be paired with those who did like deeds, the righteous shall be gathered with the righteous and the iniquitous will be gathered with the iniquitous. The believers will be married to the Hur al-`Ayn whereas the disbelievers will be partnered with the devils. Allah says, “And those who disbelieve are driven to Hell in companies”[4], “And those who keep their duty to their Lord are driven to the Garden in companies”[5], “Assemble those who did wrong, together with their wives and what they used to worship.”[6]

“When the baby girl, buried alive, is asked,” this is a reference to a practice common in the Jahiliyyah where the ignorant would bury a female child alive for no reason other than the fear of poverty. She will be asked, “for what sin she was killed,” it is obvious that she is not guilty of any sin, but the question is asked rhetorically to censure and rebuke those who perpetrated this crime.

“When the scrolls” containing a record of man’s good and bad deeds “are spread open,” and distributed to their owners. The recipient will receive it with his right hand, or left hand or from behind his back. “When the sky is stripped bare,” and disappears as Allah says, “The Day when the heaven with the clouds will be rent asunder”[7], “The Day when We shall roll up the heavens as a recorder rolls up a written scroll”[8], “When the whole earth is His handful on the Day of Resurrection, and the heavens are rolled in His right hand.”[9] “When Hellfire is stoked to a blaze,” giving off a heat that it did not previously have. “And when Paradise is brought up close,” to those mindful of Allah. “Each soul will know what it has brought [with it],” the deeds it performed will be presented: “They will find all that they did placed before them.”[10]

The descriptions of these events that will occur on the Day of Judgement strike the heart with trepidation, increase ones anxieties concerning that Day, seize one with a violent fear, increase one’s apprehensions, encourage the astute to prepare for this Day, and prevent them from doing anything that would deserve rebuke. This is why one of the Salaf said, ‘Whoever wishes to see the Day of Judgement unfurling as if he is seeing it with his very eye, let him ponder Surah al-Takwir[11]

  15) No! I swear by the receding stars – 16) running [their courses], setting from sight – 17) and by the night as it draws in, 18) and by the dawn as it breathes out: 19) truly it is the speech of a noble Messenger, 20) mighty, securely placed with the Owner of the Throne, 21) obeyed there and trustworthy.

“No! I swear by the receding stars,” those planets that fall back from the normal course traversed by stars moving instead towards the east. These are the seven celestial planets: the sun, the moon, Venus, Jupiter, Mars, Saturn and Mercury. These stars map two courses of travel: a course towards the west in line with the rest of the stars and a course towards the east at odds to the rest of the stars. Allah takes on oath by these stars, by their tarrying behind, by their running their course, and by their being concealed by the day.

“Running [their course], setting from sight, and by the night as it draws in,” i.e. the close of the night and it is also said: the onset of the night, “and the dawn as it breathes out,” i.e. the first signs of the morn: the gradual increase of light dissipating the darkness until day dawns and the sun rises. Allah took an oath by these great signs to emphasise the source of the Qur’an, its magnificence and its preservation from every accursed devil: “truly it is the speech of a noble Messenger,” Jibril, peace be upon him, who conveyed it from Allah, Most High; “It is a revelation of the Lord of the worlds, which the Faithful Spirit has brought down upon your heart, that you may be (one) of the warners.”[12] Allah describes him as being noble due to his excellent morals and manners and his many praiseworthy traits, he is the best of the angels and enjoys the greatest standing with his Lord. “Mighty,” stringently enacting what Allah commands him. An example of his might is his raising the homes of the people of Lut, turning them upside down and destroying them. “Securely placed with the Owner of the Throne,” Jibril is close to Allah, holding a lofty standing and enjoying a special place above and beyond that which is given to the other angels. “Obeyed there,” in the Exalted Company because he is one of the angels brought close, implementing the command of his Lord amongst them, whose opinion is obeyed, “and trustworthy,” implementing what Allah orders him to do precisely, without adding, subtracting or overstepping the limits. All of this proves the excellence of the Qur’an in the sight of Allah, Most High, in that He sent this noble angel, with these perfect qualities, to convey it. It is known that kings only ever send their best and most noble envoys with the most important of tasks and most noble of messages.

Then, after mentioning the excellence of the heavenly messenger who conveyed the Qur’an, Allah proceeds to mention the excellence of the earthly Messenger to whom the Qur’an was revealed and who invited mankind to it:

  22) Your companion is not at all mad: 23) he certainly saw him on the clear horizon. 24) He is not grudging with the unseen, 25) and it is not the word of an accursed devil. 26) So where, then, are you going? 27) It is nothing but a reminder to the worlds, 28) to those of you who wish to take the right course. 29) But you do not will unless Allah wills, Lord of the worlds.

“Your companion” Muhammad ﷺ “is not at all mad,” as claimed by his enemies, the deniers of his message, falsely inventing enormities about him desiring thereby to extinguish the light he brought to the utmost of their ability. Rather, he ﷺ had the greatest of human intellects, the most perspicuous insight, and the most truthful speech. “He” Muhammad ﷺ “certainly saw him” Jibril (AS) “on the clear horizon,” the extremity of what is visible to the naked eye. “He is not grudging with the unseen,” neither is he of disreputable character such that he would conceal some of what is revealed to him, or add to it or detract from it. Indeed he is the Trusted One in the heaven and the earth; he completely conveyed the messages of his Lord with a “plain conveyance.”[13] He did not begrudgingly withhold any of the revelation; not from the rich or the poor, not from a leader or a subject, not from a male or a female, and not from a city dweller or a bedouin. It is for this reason that Allah sent him to an illiterate and ignorant nation, who, by the time he had passed away, had become sagacious scholars and perspicuous saints; knowledge found its heights in them and the ability to understand and derive the finest of details and wisdoms found its peak with them. They became the leaders in their respective disciplines and others were barely able to reach the rank of being their students!

After Allah mentions the greatness, the superiority and the excellence of His Book by pointing out the two noble Messengers through whose hands it reached mankind, and after having praised them, Allah proceeds to absolve it of any defect or deficiency that would impair its truth, “It is not the word of an accursed devil,” far removed from Allah, unworthy of His proximity. “So where, then, are you going,” how could such a thought cross your minds? Where have your minds wandered off to? You have thought the truth, reaching the limits of truthfulness, to be aught but lies, reaching the lowest of the low. What is this but a reversal of reality! “It is nothing but a reminder to the worlds,” through it are mankind reminded of their Lord, His Perfect Attributes, His being absolved of all defect, lowly traits and similitudes. Through it are they reminded of the injunctions and prohibitions and the wisdoms behind them. Through it are they reminded of the natural laws, the legal laws and the retributional laws. They are reminded of what is good for them in both abodes, and they attain felicity in both abodes by following it. “To those of you who wish to take the right course,” after clear direction has been made plain from idle wandering and guidance from misguidance. “But you do not will unless Allah wills, Lord of the worlds,” it is His will that is implemented and it is not possible to oppose it or contradict it. This verse, and its likes, contains a refutation of the sects of the Qadariyyah, those who denied the decree, and the Jabariyyah, those who held that man had no free will, as has been previously mentioned when commenting on similar verses.

And Allah knows best and all praise and thanks are due to Him.


* or: “When the clouds are left without water,” or “When homes are abandoned, left vacant.”

** or: “When the seas surge and swell.”

*** lit: “when the souls are paired,” which has been interpreted to mean, “sorted in classes,” as above, i.e. categorised as Forerunners, Companions of the Right or Companions of the Left. It has also been interpreted to mean, “When the souls are reunited with their bodies.”

1. al-Muzzammil(73): 14
2. al-Qari`ah(101): 5
3. al-Waqi`ah(56): 6
4. al-Zumar(39): 71
5. al-Zumar(39): 73
6. al-Saffat(37): 22
7. al-Furqan(25): 25
8. al-Anbiya’(21): 104
9. al-Zumar(39): 67
10. al-Kahf(18): 49

11. This statement is recorded as a hadith of the Prophet ﷺ by Tirmidhi and Ahmad and it is hasan.

12. al-Shu`ara’(26): 192-194
13. al-Taghabun(64): 12

(NOTE: If you want to build a strong and powerful relationship with Allah, check out Islamia TV, where you can watch Islamic speakers from across the globe deliver inspiring and motivational courses. Learn more at www.islamia.tv.)

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