Surah Abasa (عَبَسَ), which means “He frowned,” is the eightieth chapter and third surah in the last juz’ of the Quran (i.e. juz’ 30). It has been given this name because it tells the story of a man who frowned and distanced himself from a poor, blind, yet pious man who sat next to him. By revealing this surah, God criticizes that person for this wrongful act.
Most importantly, this surah draws attention to (1) the tremendous value of the Quran, (2) the creation of the human being, (3) the blessings that God has given him and the ungratefulness of man toward them, (4) the horrifying events of Qiyamah, and (5) the fate of righteous and wicked people on that day. In this article, we will take a look at the (a) occasion of revelation, (b) the tafseer (تَفسير: interpretation), (c) the virtues, and (d) benefits of reciting this chapter.
Facts about Surah Abasa
Arabic Text and Translation of Surah Abasa
بِسْمِ ٱللَّهِ ٱلرَّحْمَٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيم
In the name of Allah, the most compassionate, most merciful
عَبَسَ وَتَوَلَّىٰٓ ﴿1﴾
He frowned and turned away
أَن جَآءَهُ ٱلْأَعْمَىٰ ﴿2﴾
when the blind man approached him.
وَمَا يُدْرِيكَ لَعَلَّهُۥ يَزَّكَّىٰٓ ﴿3﴾
And how do you know, maybe he would purify himself,
أَوْ يَذَّكَّرُ فَتَنفَعَهُ ٱلذِّكْرَىٰٓ ﴿4﴾
or take admonition, and the admonition would benefit him!
أَمَّا مَنِ ٱسْتَغْنَىٰ ﴿5﴾
But as for someone who is wealthy,
فَأَنتَ لَهُۥ تَصَدَّىٰ ﴿6﴾
you attend to him,
وَمَا عَلَيْكَ أَلَّا يَزَّكَّىٰ ﴿7﴾
though you are not liable if he does not purify himself.
وَأَمَّا مَن جَآءَكَ يَسْعَىٰ ﴿8﴾
But as for someone who comes hurrying to you,
وَهُوَ يَخْشَىٰ ﴿9﴾
while he fears [Allah],
فَأَنتَ عَنْهُ تَلَهَّىٰ ﴿10﴾
you are neglectful of him.
كَلَّآ إِنَّهَا تَذْكِرَةٌ ﴿11﴾
No indeed! These [verses of the Quran ] are a reminder
فَمَن شَآءَ ذَكَرَهُۥ ﴿12﴾
—so let anyone who wishes remember—
فِى صُحُفٍ مُّكَرَّمَةٍ ﴿13﴾
in honoured scriptures,
مَّرْفُوعَةٍ مُّطَهَّرَةٍۭ ﴿14﴾
exalted and purified,
بِأَيْدِى سَفَرَةٍ ﴿15﴾
in the hands of envoys,
كِرَامٍۭ بَرَرَةٍ ﴿16﴾
noble and pious.
قُتِلَ ٱلْإِنسَـٰنُ مَآ أَكْفَرَهُۥ ﴿17﴾
Perish man! How ungrateful is he!
مِنْ أَىِّ شَىْءٍ خَلَقَهُۥ ﴿18﴾
From what did He create him?
مِن نُّطْفَةٍ خَلَقَهُۥ فَقَدَّرَهُۥ ﴿19﴾
He created him from a drop of [seminal] fluid; then proportioned him.
ثُمَّ ٱلسَّبِيلَ يَسَّرَهُۥ ﴿20﴾
Then He made the way easy for him;
ثُمَّ أَمَاتَهُۥ فَأَقْبَرَهُۥ ﴿21﴾
then He made him die and buried him;
ثُمَّ إِذَا شَآءَ أَنشَرَهُۥ ﴿22﴾
and then, when He wished, resurrected him.
كَلَّا لَمَّا يَقْضِ مَآ أَمَرَهُۥ ﴿23﴾
No indeed! He has not yet carried out what He has commanded him.
فَلْيَنظُرِ ٱلْإِنسَـٰنُ إِلَىٰ طَعَامِهِ ﴿24﴾
Let man consider his food:
أَنَّا صَبَبْنَا ٱلْمَآءَ صَبًّا ﴿25﴾
We pour down plenteous water [from the sky],
ثُمَّ شَقَقْنَا ٱلْأَرْضَ شَقًّا ﴿26﴾
then We split the earth making fissures in it
فَأَنۢبَتْنَا فِيهَا حَبًّا ﴿27﴾
and make the grain grow in it,
وَعِنَبًا وَقَضْبًا ﴿28﴾
as well as vines and vegetables,
وَزَيْتُونًا وَنَخْلًا ﴿29﴾
olives and date palms,
وَحَدَآئِقَ غُلْبًا ﴿30﴾
and densely-planted gardens,
وَفَـٰكِهَةً وَأَبًّا ﴿31﴾
fruits and pastures,
مَّتَـٰعًا لَّكُمْ وَلِأَنْعَـٰمِكُمْ ﴿32﴾
as a sustenance for you and your livestock.
فَإِذَا جَآءَتِ ٱلصَّآخَّةُ ﴿33﴾
So when the deafening Cry comes—
يَوْمَ يَفِرُّ ٱلْمَرْءُ مِنْ أَخِيهِ ﴿34﴾
the day when a man will evade his brother,
وَأُمِّهِۦ وَأَبِيهِ ﴿35﴾
his mother and his father,
وَصَـٰحِبَتِهِۦ وَبَنِيهِ ﴿36﴾
his spouse and his sons—
لِكُلِّ ٱمْرِئٍ مِّنْهُمْ يَوْمَئِذٍ شَأْنٌ يُغْنِيهِ ﴿37﴾
each of them will have a task to keep him preoccupied on that day.
وُجُوهٌ يَوْمَئِذٍ مُّسْفِرَةٌ ﴿38﴾
Some faces will be bright on that day,
ضَاحِكَةٌ مُّسْتَبْشِرَةٌ ﴿39﴾
laughing and joyous,
وَوُجُوهٌ يَوْمَئِذٍ عَلَيْهَا غَبَرَةٌ ﴿40﴾
and some faces on that day will be covered with dust,
تَرْهَقُهَا قَتَرَةٌ ﴿41﴾
overcast with gloom.
أُو۟لَـٰٓئِكَ هُمُ ٱلْكَفَرَةُ ٱلْفَجَرَةُ ﴿42﴾
It is they who are the faithless, the vicious.
Occasion of Revelation
As for the occasion of revelation (أَسبابُ النُّزول) of surah Abasa, the eightieth chapter of the Quran, exegetes have a difference of opinion. To clarify, there are two viewpoints in this respect: (1) the person who frowned and turned away from the poor, blind, and righteous man was Prophet Muhammad (مُحَمَّد), peace be upon him and his progeny; (2) he was a man from the Umayyads (بَني أُمَيَّة).
From the viewpoint of the first group of people, once the Prophet was in the mosque while preaching the Muslims present there and answering their questions and convincing those who had not yet believed in Islam to do so. Meanwhile, a poor blind man whose name was ‘Abdullāh ibn Umm Maktūm (عَبدُاللهِ ابنِ أُمِّ مَکتوم) hurriedly entered and sat next to the Prophet and interrupted the Prophet’s speech several times.
As a result, the Prophet became upset, frowned at him, and turned away from him. Consequently, God revealed surah Abasa to the Noble Prophet in which He criticized him and told him that perhaps this blind man wants to purify himself.
On the other hand, there are some other exegetes of the Quran who totally reject such a notion because they believe that since the Prophet is “Mercy on the worlds” (رَحمَةً لِّلعالَمين) 1 as the Quran itself has stated, he could not have frowned at a person just because he was blind, poor, or had interrupted his speech. By the same token, it is very unlikely that the Prophet would attend to a wealthy man instead as mentioned in verse six of this chapter. Above all, they believe that the Prophet and his infallible household not only did not commit any sin or error, but also never committed an act that is known as tark al-awlā (تَرك الأَولیٰ).
Tark al-awlā is an act that is neither a sin nor mistake, but better avoided. Some hold the view that certain prophets such as Adam, Moses, and Jonah did such a thing. Contrarily, a group of Muslims believe that the prophets of God and the Infallibles did not even do tark al-awlā. At any rate, the person who frowned and turned away was not the Prophet from the viewpoint of the latter group.
The Prophet’s Noble Character
A chapter that God revealed before this, that is, chapter Qalam (68):4 emphatically asserts that the Prophet possesses a great character:
وَإِنَّكَ لَعَلَىٰ خُلُقٍ عَظِيمٍ
“And indeed you possess a great character.”
To put it differently, the Prophet had and has very good morals and even feels concern and sympathy for those who were not Muslims, let alone a poor blind Muslim. Evidently, this means that the person whom God describes at the beginning of chapter Abasa was not the Prophet.
The Prophet’s Concern for His Nation
The Quran says in this regard:
لَقَدْ جَآءَكُمْ رَسُولٌ مِّنْ أَنفُسِكُمْ عَزِيزٌ عَلَيْهِ مَا عَنِتُّمْ حَرِيصٌ عَلَيْكُم بِٱلْمُؤْمِنِينَ رَءُوفٌ رَّحِيمٌ
“There has certainly come to you an apostle from among yourselves. Grievous to him is your distress; he has deep concern for you, and is most kind and merciful to the faithful.” 2
This verse proves four points about the Prophet:
- The Prophet was and is from among the same tribe and ethnicity as the people to whom he was sent. As a result, he had a great deal of sympathy for them.
- The Prophet is deeply concerned if anything bad happens to his people.
- He had and has deep concern for his people, in that he wants all of them to be guided and for non-Muslim ones among them to become Muslim.
- He was and is very kind and merciful to believers.
Undoubtedly, this verse proves that the Prophet was not the person who frowned and turned away from a faithful poor blind man since he is the Prophet of mercy and kindness who also possesses a great character.
The Use of the Second Person Pronoun
One doubt that comes to mind is that why does God first use the third person pronoun in the first few verses of chapter Abasa and then uses the second person pronoun? For one thing, does not the use of the second person pronoun mean that God is addressing the Prophet like in many other verses of the Quran?
To explain, according to exegetes of the Quran, the reason verses three to ten use the second person pronoun is that when someone wants to criticize someone else, if it is done directly and by use of the second person pronoun such as ‘you,’ the criticism would be harsher and more severe. For this reason, God wants to show the severity of this criticism as well as the magnitude of such a despicable act. Besides, God has used the second person pronoun in various surahs and verses to address people other than the Prophet such as:
- The Children of Israel (Israelites) (يا بنی اسرائیل),
- the human being (يا أيُّها الإنسان),
- believers (يا أَيُّها الذین آمنوا),
- disbelievers (يا أيُّها الذین کَفَروا),
- people of the Book (يا أَهلَ الکِتاب), and
- women (i.e. wives) of the Prophet (يا نِساءَ النَّبيّ).
Now the question is: Who was the one who frowned and turned away from the poor blind man and instead attended to a wealthy man? Based on the second viewpoint as has been noted and according to some narrations and hadith such as one by one of our honorable Imams, 3 he was a man from the Umayyads (بَنو أُمَيَّة), that is, someone from the progeny of Umayyah and Abu Sufyan (أَبو سُفيان) who was sitting next to the Prophet.
When the poor blind man by the name of ‘Abdullāh ibn Umm Maktūm entered, that man frowned and drew his garment away from him so that he would not get dirty and instead, drew himself close to a wealthy person and attended to him. Shortly thereafter, surah Abasa was revealed to the Noble Prophet reproaching that man’s act.
Tafseer of Surah Abasa
Description of the Quran
Verse eleven of this chapter begins describing the Quran and its importance by saying that it is a reminder. What does the Quran remind us of? It reminds us of things such as:
- the oneness of God and how we should only worship Him, 4
- having faith in God by doing good deeds and refraining from sins, 5
- obeying God, His prophet, and those who have authority after him, 6
- the blessings God has given us in this world such as food, water, plants, fruits, and vegetables, 7
- the glad tidings and warnings given to us, 8 and
- Qiyamah (يَومُ القيامَة) when God will hold us accountable for our beliefs and deeds. 9
The Protection of the Quran From Corruption
Verse twelve of chapter Abasa states that the Quran is preserved in honored scriptures (في صُحُفٍ مُکَرَمَّة). For this purpose, it is written beforehand in Divine scriptures that are with God. Furthermore, it is a Divine and immensely valuable holy book that is sent to the Prophet for guiding mankind. Verse thirteen further describes the Quran stating that it is exalted and purified (مَرفوعَةٍ مُطَهَّرَة). Therefore, the Quran is the word of God that not only speaks the truth, but also can never be distorted unlike previous Holy Scriptures such as the Bible. In other words, it is pure, safeguarded, and uncorrupted. In addition, it contains valuable information for purifying the human being’s soul and heart.
The Envoys of Revelation
Verse fifteen and sixteen state:
بِأَيْدِى سَفَرَةٍ ﴿15﴾
in the hands of envoys,
كِرَامٍۭ بَرَرَةٍ ﴿16﴾
noble and pious.
In fact, these two verses are speaking about the angels of revelation who are the ones who have written these honored, exalted, and purified scriptures and it is they who are the trustworthy messengers of God Almighty, some of whom, specifically the archangel Gabriel (جِبرائيل), communicate the verses of the Quran intact to God’s Noble Prophet. That is to say, they are noble, pious, and infallible. To put it in another way, they always obey God’s commands and neither commit any sins nor make any mistakes. As a matter of fact, this is the nature of all of God’s angels, unlike the human being and jinn who are capable of sinning and transgressing.
Verse seventeen of this chapter talks about man’s ingratitude to his creator, meaning God Almighty. God says in verse seventeen, “Perish man! How ungrateful is he!” After that, in verses 18-22, He reminds the human being of the stages of his creation and how he has no ownership of himself, but rather whatever he has is from God Almighty and that God is the one who manages his affairs and causes him to live, die, be resurrected again on Qiyamah, and be rewarded or punished in due time.
To rephrase it, firstly, God says how the human being was created from just a little amount of a despised seminal fluid (i.e. sperm). Secondly, God states how He proportioned man in his mother’s womb. Thirdly, God made the way easy for man so that he may live in comfort. Fourthly, God made him die and buried him. Fifthly, God resurrected him on Qiyamah. Finally, verse 23 states that in spite of all this, man still does not obey God’s commands.
Are All Human Beings Ungrateful?
One might wonder, why is God saying in general that the human being is ungrateful of Him and does not obey His commands? Does this not mean that all human beings are like this? To answer this question one must refer to other verses in other surahs. For instance, there are three verses in the Quran where God explicitly states that the majority of people do not give thanks to Him for the favors He bestows on them:
وَلَـٰكِنَّ أَكْثَرَ ٱلنَّاسِ لَا يَشْكُرُونَ
“But most people do not give thanks.” 10
Nevertheless, there are also human beings who are grateful of God’s blessings and give thanks to Him. Such people include:
- the prophets,
- the Imams after them,
- the believers,
- the righteous, and
- the Godwary.
The Blessings and Bounties of God on Man
God Almighty in verses 24-32 of chapter Abasa mentions the blessings and bounties He has bestowed upon the human being. To this end, God says in verse 24, “Let man consider his food.” That is to say, man must see how God has provided him with so many blessings. Additionally, God mentions one by one how He provides man with sustenance:
- God causes a lot of rain to pour down from the sky.
- He splits the earth causing fissures in it so the ground is laid for seeds to sprout.
- He makes grain grow in it as well as
a. vines and vegetables,
b. olives and date palms,
c. densely-planted gardens, and
d. fruits and pastures as a sustenance for the human being and his livestock.
Analogous to verses 18-23, God is reminding the human being of the blessings and bounties He has provided for him, hence he must be grateful of them.
Verses 33-42 describe the events of the Day of Judgment. On that day, everyone will hear a deafening Cry (verse 33). In fact, this verse is a reference to the horn or trumpet of the archangel Isrāfīl (إِسرافيل) that is blown twice. When Qiyamah comes, Isrāfīl blows the trumpet once and all that is in the heavens and on earth die. 11 Afterward, he blows the trumpet for the second time and all beings are resurrected to be judged for their beliefs and deeds. 12
According to verses 34-42, that is, to the end of this chapter, on that day, people will run away from their (1) brothers, (2) mothers, (3) fathers, (4) spouses, and (5) children. Under those circumstances, they are so preoccupied with their own affairs that they could not care less about their family and relatives.
Inhabitants of Paradise
Verse 38 states that some faces on that day will brighten. Specifically, the faces of righteous individuals will glow with joy and happiness:
“Some faces will be bright on that day, laughing and joyous.”
Indeed, those who have believed in God and His prophets, have done good deeds, obeyed God’s commands, refrained from evil, vice, and sins, and have performed all the actions that God has made obligatory for them will enter paradise while being filled with joy.
Inmates of Hell
Verses 40-42, that is, until the end of surah Abasa talk about those who were sinful, did not believe in God, and disobeyed Him. Their faces will be covered with dust, that is, their faces darken and become full of shame and guilt on account of their transgression. Thereupon they will be very sad and gloomy, because they are the ones who had disbelieved, and they are indeed the vicious. Accordingly, they will enter hell to stay there forever.
Virtues of Reciting Surah Abasa
Narrations from the Noble Prophet and his successors have spoken about the virtues of reciting chapter Abasa. For example, Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him and his pure progeny, has said:
“Whoever recited surah Abasa will come forth on the Day of Judgment laughing and joyous. 13
In the same way, one of our noble Imams has said the following:
Whoever recites surah Abasa will enjoy God’s grace in paradise, and this is a very easy task for God Almighty.” 14
His holiness has also said:
“Whoever recites this surah while it is raining, God Almighty will forgive his sins by the number of the drops of rain that fall.” 15
Benefits of Surah Abasa
One of our holy Imams, peace be upon him, has said:
“If a traveler recites surah Abasa on the way, he will be safe from the dangers that he may face.”
Furthermore, he has said:
“Whoever writes this surah on a piece of paper or skin of an animal and carries it with himself wherever he goes, he will see nothing but good and benefit and will be safe from dangers by God’s leave.” 16
Lessons of Surah Abasa
To summarize, by reading surah Abasa, we learn many lessons such as:
- A person’s physical defect or financial status is not the criterion for his nobility, but rather his faith in God and purity of soul.
- The Quran is preserved in honored, exalted, and purified scriptures that are written down before they are communicated to God’s apostle by noble and pious angels.
- In essence the majority of human beings are ungrateful of God.
- The Quran is a reminder of many things such as:
- the stages of man’s creation and God’s power over him before, during, and after his existence,
- man’s death and mortality in this world,
- man’s resurrection on Qiyamah, and
- the fate of the righteous and wicked.
- We must look at our food and reflect on how it came into existence:
- God caused rain to fall.
- He then split the earth.
- Thereafter, He caused grain to grow in it.
- Lastly, He made vines, vegetables, olives, date palms, dense gardens, fruits, and pastures to grow as sustenance for man and his livestock.
- On Qiyamah, man will only care about himself and will evade all of his family members including:
- his brother,
- spouse, and
- The righteous ones will have glowing and radiant faces on that day and will enter paradise while laughing and being filled with joy due to obeying God’s commands.
- The faces of the vicious will be troubled on that day and full of sadness owing to their transgression. Hence they will enter hell.
- Cf. Quran 21:107.
- Quran 9:128 (Qarai).
- Ṭabarsī, Majma‘ al-Bayān, vol. 10, p.664.
- Quran 20:14.
- Quran 2:25.
- Quran 4:59.
- Quran 80:25-32.
- Quran 41:4.
- Quran 17:13.
- Quran 2:243; 12:38; 40:61
- Quran 39:68.
- Majma‘ al-Bayān, vol. 10, p. 263.
- Thawāb al-A‘māl, p. 121.
- Mustadrak al-Wasā’il, vol. 6, p. 210.
- Tafsīr al-Burhān, vol 5, p. 580.