Surah A'la

Surah A’la

Surah A‘la is the 87th chapter of the Holy Quran. One of the important Islamic discussions in this chapter is the Glorification of God and also God’s Lordship which comes under the discussion into one of the principles of Islam which is Unity or Oneness of God. God’s Lordship falls under Unity of Actions (توحید افعالی) and is one its levels.

Facts about Surah A’la

Surah A‘la is one of the chapters of the 30th juz’ of the Quran and speaks on topics like glorification and attributes of God, the Holy Prophet’s duties and how God helps the Prophet in preserving revelation as it is revealed to him, the Quran as a reminder and the fates of the evil-doers in the Hereafter. It also indicates how the Hereafter is better than this material world and life.

87 Surah no.

Juz’ 30 Place

Makki (Commonly believed) Makki/Madani

8 Order of revelation

19 No. of verses

72 No. of words

296 No. of letters


Arabic Text and Translation of Surah A’la


بِسْمِ ٱللَّهِ ٱلرَّحْمَٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيم

In the name of Allah, the most compassionate, most merciful

سَبِّحِ اسْمَ رَبِّكَ الْأَعْلَى ﴿1﴾

Celebrate the Name of your Lord, the Most Exalted,

الَّذِي خَلَقَ فَسَوَّىٰ ﴿2﴾

Who created and proportioned,

وَالَّذِي قَدَّرَ فَهَدَىٰ ﴿3﴾

Who determined and guided,

وَالَّذِي أَخْرَجَ الْمَرْعَىٰ ﴿4﴾

Who brought forth the pasture

فَجَعَلَهُ غُثَاءً أَحْوَىٰ ﴿5﴾

And then turned it into a black scum.

سَنُقْرِئُكَ فَلَا تَنسَىٰ ﴿6﴾

We shall have you recite [the Quran], then you will not forget [any of it]

إِلَّا مَا شَاءَ اللَّـهُ ۚ إِنَّهُ يَعْلَمُ الْجَهْرَ وَمَا يَخْفَىٰ ﴿7﴾

Except what Allah may wish. Indeed, He knows the open and what is hidden

وَنُيَسِّرُكَ لِلْيُسْرَىٰ ﴿8﴾

And We shall ease you into facility.

فَذَكِّرْ إِن نَّفَعَتِ الذِّكْرَىٰ ﴿9﴾

So admonish, for admonition is indeed beneficial:

سَيَذَّكَّرُ مَن يَخْشَىٰ ﴿10﴾

He who fears [God] will take admonition,

وَيَتَجَنَّبُهَا الْأَشْقَى ﴿11﴾

And the most wretched will shun it

الَّذِي يَصْلَى النَّارَ الْكُبْرَىٰ ﴿12﴾

He who will enter the Great Fire,

ثُمَّ لَا يَمُوتُ فِيهَا وَلَا يَحْيَىٰ ﴿13﴾

Then he will neither live in it, nor die.

قَدْ أَفْلَحَ مَن تَزَكَّىٰ ﴿14﴾

‘Felicitous is he who purifies himself

وَذَكَرَ اسْمَ رَبِّهِ فَصَلَّىٰ ﴿15﴾

Celebrates the Name of his Lord, and prays.

بَلْ تُؤْثِرُونَ الْحَيَاةَ الدُّنْيَا ﴿16﴾

But you prefer the life of this world,

وَالْآخِرَةُ خَيْرٌ وَأَبْقَىٰ ﴿17﴾

While the Hereafter is better and more lasting.’

إِنَّ هَـٰذَا لَفِي الصُّحُفِ الْأُولَىٰ ﴿18﴾

This is indeed in the former scriptures,

صُحُفِ إِبْرَاهِيمَ وَمُوسَىٰ ﴿19﴾

The scriptures of Abraham and Moses 1

The topics discussed in this article regarding this chapter are the following:

Benefits of Reciting Surah A’la

  • The Holy Prophet (peace be on him and his household) has said that whoever recites these verses, he will be rewarded ten good deeds for each character of God’s revelations to Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad (peace be upon them all).
  • Ja‘far bin Muhammad al-Sadiq (peace be on him) is narrated to have said that whoever recites this chapter in his obligatory or optional prayers, on Qiyamah he will be told: “Enter Paradise from whichever gate you wish. 2

The Glorification of God in Surah A’la

سَبِّحِ اسْمَ رَبِّكَ الْأَعْلَى ﴿1﴾

Glorify the Name of your Lord, the Most High 3

In this verse the Prophet is being addressed and is asked to glorify and sanctify the name of his Lord. 4

Tasbih (تسبیح) or glorification of God’s essence is to consider Him to be above and pure of all evil, weaknesses, partners, needs, etc. 5

However, it must be noted here that this verse specifically says name of God and not God Himself. Since a name is a word that denotes that which it is named after and words are part of language; therefore, this glorification has a particular meaning. 6

Glorifying the Name of God in Surah A’la

This can have two possible meanings:

  • Whenever you mention God’s Name, do not mention other things that God is above and pure of like other Gods, partners and mediators and do not attribute Lordship to them, i.e. those things that are exclusive to Him and His Lordship like creation, Rizq, life and death, etc.
  • Do not attribute things that God is not worthy of to Him, like weakness, ignorance, oppression, etc. 7

Things that are Worthy of God

When speaking of God, our speech should be empty of that which is not worthy of God. This glorification is at the spoken level and must be in accordance with a person’s glorification in action.

The requirement of such glorification is complete belief in oneness of God and denying apparent polytheism.

Apparent polytheism is the opposite of oneness and a polytheist not only does not consider God to be pure of the above-mentioned faults; rather, he is also upset at hearing God’s Name alone. 8

Lordship in Surah A’la

In this verse, the word ‘name’ has been associated with Lordship. Therefore, the verse means: glorify the name of your Lord, whom you have taken as your Lord and to whose Lordship and Divinity you invite others; when you speak about Him you must not mention anyone else or speak in a way that would bring His Lordship into question. 9

The Most High

Another one of the attributes of God mentioned in this verse is A’la (اعلی), i.e. the Most High, which is also the name of this chapter.

This word refers to one who has risen to any height or elevation that can be imagined and applies to anything that is prevailing and dominant.

In this verse, it is an attribute of Lord and it is this characteristic that provides a reason for the command of the verse and helps us understand why we should glorify His Name: because He is higher than any height imaginable. 10

Manifestations of God’s Lordship in Surah A’la

The following verses are describing Divine management and this itself is an argument and proof for His absolute Lordship and nurturing.

I. Creator and One who Proportions in Surah A’la

الَّذِي خَلَقَ فَسَوَّىٰ ﴿2﴾

Who created and proportioned,

Creation is defined as bringing together parts of a thing and the word ‘taswiyah’ (تسویه) from which ‘sawwa’ (سوّی) in the verse is derived is to put those parts together in such a way that each part is put in a place where a better one cannot be imagined for it and it also gives the desires effect better than any other place. 11

II. Measured Creation

وَالَّذِي قَدَّرَ فَهَدَىٰ ﴿3﴾

Who determined and guided,

Whatever God has created, He did so with a specific measure and determined limits; in essence, attributes as well functions and also gave him an apparatus that is suitable with these measures.

It is through that apparatus that He guides every person to that which has been designated for him. Therefore, all creations are in a state of motion towards that which has been destined for him through Divine and existential guidance. 12

III. Bringing forth Pasture

وَالَّذِي أَخْرَجَ الْمَرْعَىٰ ﴿4﴾

Who brought forth the pasture

فَجَعَلَهُ غُثَاءً أَحْوَىٰ ﴿5﴾

And then turned it into a black scum.

Mar‘aa’ (مرعی) refers to the pasture where the herbivorous animals graze and God is the one who brings it forth from the ground and makes it grow. 13

Black scum in this verse refers to the dry plants and vegetation that a flood deposits by the desert.

These also refer to manifestations of God’s Lordship and management. 14

The Quran and Prophet-hood in Surah A’la

سَنُقْرِئُكَ فَلَا تَنسَىٰ ﴿6﴾

We shall have you recite [the Quran], then you will not forget [any of it]

The above-mentioned verse of Surah A’la is God’s promise to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his household) that He will give him knowledge and memorization of the Quran so that he would always have it memorized the way it was revealed and would never forget it. 15

God Knows Everything

إِلَّا مَا شَاءَ اللَّـهُ ۚ إِنَّهُ يَعْلَمُ الْجَهْرَ وَمَا يَخْفَىٰ ﴿7﴾

Except what Allah may wish. Indeed, He knows the open and what is hidden

The exception brought in the first part of this verse is only to show God’s continuing absolute power, i.e. it’s not that God does not have the power to make you forget after giving you such a gift; even after that He still remains absolutely powerful and can make you forget if He wishes. 16

Surah A’la: Peace of Mind for the Prophet

The next part of the verse is informing the Prophet that he will soon be given peace of mind regarding perceiving and protecting revelation, i.e. the Quran because God has knowledge of both the apparent and the hidden and therefore, He knows about the Prophet apparent and inner state and knows how much effort he puts in his heart in relation to revelation and how greedy he is in obeying God’s instructions. 17

Surah A’la Comforting the Prophet

وَنُيَسِّرُكَ لِلْيُسْرَىٰ ﴿8﴾

And We shall ease you into facility.

This is another one of God’s favors upon the Prophet; which is that God will make him successful in guiding the people through an easy path that is in keeping with man’s innate nature. It seems what is meant in this verse is that He will prepare the Prophet, bestow him with tolerance and the patience to bear difficulties. 18

Religion of Ease

It is also possible that this verse is referring to the content of the Prophet’s invitation and the Divinely assigned duties and responsibilities, i.e. the contents of religion and its laws are easy and there are no difficult or back-breaking duties in this Divine religion. 19

The Prophet’s Duty in Surah A’la

فَذَكِّرْ إِن نَّفَعَتِ الذِّكْرَىٰ ﴿9﴾

So remind men if they receive Admonition 20

The previous verses starting with the command to glorify Allah and the verses that came thereafter were all necessary conditions of religious invitation and without them a religious call would not be effective or fruitful.

Therefore, this verse states that now that God has provided all the provisions for the Prophet to execute His command, the Prophet should give reminder and admonishment where effective. 21

Conditional Admonishment in Surah A’la

Admonishment and reminding of others has been made conditional in this verse to those cases where the Prophet discerns it to be useful because if he discerns that it is ineffective, it would be vain to do so and God is greater than to ask His prophet to do something that is futile.

Therefore, reminding and admonishment is only used in cases where the person being admonished has the basis and acceptability for it. 22

People’s Reaction to the Reminder and Advice

The next two verses indicate the two groups of people who react to the admonishment and advice:

  1. Those who have the slightest fear of God in their hearts and fear His punishment; these people are the ones who are reminded and advised through the Quran. 23
  2. The second group is one which does not fear God and stay away from the advice and admonishment. 24

Ashqa’ (أشقی) Refers to the Enemies of Truth in Surah A’la

The word ‘ashqa’ (أشقی) refers to the most unfortunate of sinners because the sinner also are divided into levels in terms of adversity and ill-fate; therefore, the greatest of them in terms of levels is the one who disbelieves in God and His oneness and worships other than Him. 25

The Fate of the Evil-Doers in Surah A’la

الَّذِي يَصْلَى النَّارَ الْكُبْرَىٰ ﴿12﴾

He who will enter the Great Fire,

ثُمَّ لَا يَمُوتُ فِيهَا وَلَا يَحْيَىٰ ﴿13﴾

Then he will neither live in it, nor die.

The ‘Great Fire’ in this verse of Surah A‘la refers to the fire of Hell which is obviously greater and more scorching than worldly fire. 26

Neither Living nor Dead

What does it mean when the verse says they will neither live nor die?

The verse wants us to understand that these people will never find salvation from the fire; because salvation which is the cutting off of punishment can be in either of two forms:

  • Either the person being punished dies
  • Or his ill-fated and unfortunate life changes to one of happiness and his punishment to comfort.

This is similar to what ones says of an ill person, that he is neither alive for us to have hope in him and nor is he dead for us to cut off hope from him. 27

The Status of the Hereafter in Comparison to the World

قَدْ أَفْلَحَ مَن تَزَكَّىٰ ﴿14﴾

‘Felicitous is he who purifies himself

What Does Purification Mean?

Here, it refers to the following:

  1. Purifying oneself from attachment to the world and material things which turns a person away from the Hereafter and man becomes busy with it rather than the Hereafter.
  2. Another meaning of purification is turning to God and repentance as this is one of the things which protect a person from drowning in material things and concerns.
  3. It also refers to charity in the way of God as this also purifies one’s hearts from monetary attachments. 28

Remembering God’s Name and Praying

وَذَكَرَ اسْمَ رَبِّهِ فَصَلَّىٰ ﴿15﴾

And remembers the name of his Lord, and prays. 29

Apparently, remembering the name of the Lord in this verse refers to verbal remembering; while praying means the daily prayers which Islam commands us to. 30

The Hereafter is Better According to Surah A’la

بَلْ تُؤْثِرُونَ الْحَيَاةَ الدُّنْيَا ﴿16﴾

But you prefer the life of this world,

وَالْآخِرَةُ خَيْرٌ وَأَبْقَىٰ ﴿17﴾

While the Hereafter is better and more lasting.’

The Hereafter is not only more lasting than the worldly life; rather, it is eternal. Then why does God say in Surah A‘la that it is more lasting and better?

The answer is that the verse is giving preference to one of the two lives over the other and for this preference it is sufficient to say that the Hereafter is more lasting and better and there is no need even to say that the Hereafter is eternal as well; even though it is so. 31

The Books of Abraham and Moses

إِنَّ هَـٰذَا لَفِي الصُّحُفِ الْأُولَىٰ ﴿18﴾

This is indeed in the former scriptures,

صُحُفِ إِبْرَاهِيمَ وَمُوسَىٰ ﴿19﴾

The scriptures of Abraham and Moses

That which has been said in the past four verses from verses 14-17 has also been mentioned in previous books; i.e. those that were revealed before the Quran.

According to these verses, Ibrahim also had books revealed to him. 32

A Summary of the Chapter

Surah A‘la starts by a discussion regarding the Glorification of God and what it means as well as a couple of attributes of God. The verses then go on to give examples of manifestations of the attribute of Lordship in this chapter. The verses then go on to discuss the Quran and its preservation and how God helps the Prophet (peace be on him and his household) to do this, some of the Prophet’s duties of Prophet-hood and the Quran being a reminder. This is followed by a short look into the fate of the evil-doers in the Hereafter and the position of it in comparison to the world.


References

  1. Qarai translation
  2. Al-Islam
  3. Shakir translation
  4. Tabatabai, M. H. (1374 AP). Tafsir al-Mizan. (Transl. by Seyed Muhammad Baqir Musavi Hamedani). Jamiat al-Modarresin Publications. Vol. 20, p. 439
  5. Qarashi, A. A. (1377). Tafsir-i Ahsan al-Hadith. Bethat Publications. Vol. 12,
  6. Tabatabai, M.H. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid. p. 440
  10. Ibid
  11. Tabatabai, M. H. Ibid. p. 441
  12. Ibid.
  13. Tabatabai, M. H. Ibid. p. 442
  14. Ibid.
  15. Ibid. p. 443
  16. Ibid
  17. Ibid. p. 445
  18. Qarashi, A. A. Ibid. p. 191
  19. Ibid.
  20. Safarzadeh translation
  21. Tabatabai, M. H. Ibid. p. 446
  22. Ibid.
  23. Verse 10
  24. Verse 11; Tabatabai, M. H. Ibid. p. 448
  25. Tabarsi, F. (1360 AP). Majma‘ al-Bayan fi Tafsir al-Quran. Translated by a group of translators. Farahani Publications. Vol. 27, p. 27.
  26. Tabatabai, M. H. Ibid. p. 448
  27. Ibid. p. 449
  28. Ibid.
  29. Yusufali translation
  30. Tabatabai, M. H. Ibid. p. 449
  31. Ibid. 450
  32. Tabarsi, F. Ibid. p. 30

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