Surah Alaq

Surah Alaq

Surah ‘Alaq (سورَةُ العَلَق) meaning clinging mass or substance, also known as Iqra’ (read), is the 96th surah in the 30th juz’ of the Quran. This surah contains five verses of the Quran that God revealed to Prophet Muhammad in Mecca in the cave of Hira’ (حِراء). God through His angel Gabriel (جِبرائيل) commands the Prophet to recite the Quran. This surah is one of the four surahs, known as ‘Azā’im (عَزائِم) that contains a verse that provokes a compulsory sajdah (سَجدَة: prostration). Surah ‘Alaq talks about subjects such as:

  1. Creation of man from a clinging mass
  2. God as the teacher of man by the pen
  3. Man’s ignorance before being taught by God
  4. Man’s rebellion against God and thinking himself of being needless
  5. Man’s return to God in the afterlife and hereafter
  6. The one who prevents the Prophet from worshipping God and God punishing him

Facts about Surah Alaq

Surah ‘Alaq, aka Iqra’, is the 96th surah of the Quran that God revealed to Prophet Muhammad in Mecca in the cave of Hira’. This surah speaks about God as the creator of man, the one who manages his affairs, and teaches him things he did not know. In reality, God teaches the Prophet to recite the Quran and reassures him not to worry because He will teach him the Quran through Divine revelation. Surah ‘Alaq also warns the one who forbade the Prophet from praying and promises him a severe punishment.

96 Surah no.

Juz’ 30 Place

Makki Makki/Madani

1 Order of revelation

19 No. of verses

72 No. of words

288 No. of letters


Arabic Text and Translation of Surah Alaq


بِسْمِ ٱللَّهِ ٱلرَّحْمَٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيم

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

اقْرَأْ بِاسْمِ رَبِّكَ الَّذِي خَلَقَ ﴿1﴾

Read in the Name of your Lord who created;

خَلَقَ الْإِنسَانَ مِنْ عَلَقٍ ﴿2﴾

created man from a clinging mass.

اقْرَأْ وَرَبُّكَ الْأَكْرَمُ ﴿3﴾

Read, and your Lord is the most generous,

الَّذِي عَلَّمَ بِالْقَلَمِ ﴿4﴾

who taught by the pen,

عَلَّمَ الْإِنسَانَ مَا لَمْ يَعْلَمْ ﴿5﴾

taught man what he did not know.

كَلَّا إِنَّ الْإِنسَانَ لَيَطْغَىٰ ﴿6﴾

Indeed man becomes rebellious

أَن رَّآهُ اسْتَغْنَىٰ ﴿7﴾

when he considers himself without need.

إِنَّ إِلَىٰ رَبِّكَ الرُّجْعَىٰ ﴿8﴾

Indeed to your Lord is the return.

أَرَأَيْتَ الَّذِي يَنْهَىٰ ﴿9﴾

Tell me, he who forbids

عَبْدًا إِذَا صَلَّىٰ ﴿10﴾

a servant when he prays,

أَرَأَيْتَ إِن كَانَ عَلَى الْهُدَىٰ ﴿11﴾

tell me, should he be on [true] guidance,

أَوْ أَمَرَ بِالتَّقْوَىٰ ﴿12﴾

or bid [others] to Godwariness,

أَرَأَيْتَ إِن كَذَّبَ وَتَوَلَّىٰ ﴿13﴾

tell me, should he call him a liar and turn away

أَلَمْ يَعْلَم بِأَنَّ اللَّـهَ يَرَىٰ ﴿14﴾

—does he not know that Allah sees [him]?

كَلَّا لَئِن لَّمْ يَنتَهِ لَنَسْفَعًا بِالنَّاصِيَةِ ﴿15﴾

No indeed! If he does not cease, We shall seize him by the forelock,

نَاصِيَةٍ كَاذِبَةٍ خَاطِئَةٍ ﴿16﴾

a lying, sinful forelock!

فَلْيَدْعُ نَادِيَهُ ﴿17﴾

Then let him call out his gang!

سَنَدْعُ الزَّبَانِيَةَ ﴿18﴾

We [too] shall call the keepers of hell.

لَّا لَا تُطِعْهُ وَاسْجُدْ وَاقْتَرِب ۩ ﴿19﴾

No indeed! Do not obey him, but prostrate and draw near [to Allah]!

In this article on Islam4u, we will delve into surah ‘Alaq’s:

Occasion and Context of Revelation of Surah Alaq

Most famous Quranic exegetes agree that God revealed the first five verses of this surah to Prophet Muhammad in the cave of Hira’ (حِراء). In fact, before the commencement of the Noble Prophet’s mission of prophethood (رِسالَة), his holiness would bring some food and water with himself to this cave in order to spend days and nights worshiping and praying to God. On one of those days, he heard an angel instructing him to read.

So, the Noble Prophet repeated what the angel read to him:

اقْرَأْ بِاسْمِ رَبِّكَ الَّذِي خَلَقَ ﴿1﴾

Read in the Name of your Lord who created;

خَلَقَ الْإِنسَانَ مِنْ عَلَقٍ ﴿2﴾

created man from a clinging mass.

اقْرَأْ وَرَبُّكَ الْأَكْرَمُ ﴿3﴾

Read, and your Lord is the most generous,

الَّذِي عَلَّمَ بِالْقَلَمِ ﴿4﴾

who taught by the pen,

عَلَّمَ الْإِنسَانَ مَا لَمْ يَعْلَمْ ﴿5﴾

taught man what he did not know.

Accordingly, God revealed the first five verses of surah Alaq to Prophet Muhammad. Some say that these were the very first verses of the Quran that God revealed to His prophet, while others believe that the first verses of surah Muddaththir (the Shrouded: المُدَّثِّر) or surah Fatihah (the Opening الفاتِحَة) were the first verses or surahs that God revealed to the Prophet. What’s more, exegetes say that God revealed verses six and onward of surah ‘Alaq to the Prophet at a separate place and time, and later the Prophet instructed the scribes of the Quran to add them to surah Alaq.

Tafseer of Surah Alaq

Surah ‘Alaq begins by ordering the Prophet to “read in the name of your Lord who created man from a clinging mass.” Without doubt, this shows the significance of reading and reciting the Quran through which one can learn many things. As a matter of fact, the word Quran itself comes from the root word qara’a (قَرَأَ) that means reading or recitation, or that which is recited. Therefore, when God commands the Prophet to read, He is in fact telling him to read and recite the Quran, both for himself so as to receive commands from God, and also to people so that they can learn the things they need to know about religion and the commandments of God.

Why Does God Command the Prophet to Read in Surah Alaq?

Perhaps everyone knows that the Noble Prophet of Islam was an ummiyy (أُميّ), meaning someone whom no one had taught to read and write, to say nothing of his truthfulness and honesty throughout his life, which caused his people to call him al-Ṣādiq al-Amīn (الصّادِقُ الأَمين), meaning a person who is truthful and trustworthy. However, a point often overlooked is that the reason God chose an untaught individual as a prophet and bearer of the Quran, is that this itself would be his miracle and proof of his prophethood.

To put it differently, when people see and hear a man whom no one has taught to read or write, recite words that are extremely eloquent and sophisticated, not to mention their well-proportioned, rhyming, and rhythmic style, they will realize that these words cannot possibly be the own words of such a truthful and trustworthy person.

As a result, they come to realize that they must be the words of God revealed to him as he (i.e. the Prophet) himself says them to be. To emphasize this fact, God in verse 48 of surah ‘Ankabut (the Spider: العَنکَبوت) tells the Prophet:

وَمَا كُنتَ تَتْلُو مِن قَبْلِهِ مِن كِتَابٍ وَلَا تَخُطُّهُ بِيَمِينِكَ ۖ إِذًا لَّارْتَابَ الْمُبْطِلُونَ ﴿48﴾

You did not use to recite any scripture before it, nor did you write it with your right hand, for then the impugners would have been skeptical. (48) [Translation by Qara’i]

In other words, no one had seen or heard the Prophet recite or write any scripture with such eloquence before the Quran was revealed to him. Otherwise, they would be doubtful of his truthfulness.

What is the Meaning of “Read” in Surah Alaq?

Then again, why does God through His angel ask the Prophet to read when He knows that he is not able to in the general sense? To clarify, firstly, in Arabic, one of the meanings of the word qara’a (to read), and correspondingly the word iqra’ , which is an imperative verb, is the act of joining the sound of several letters to form words and several words to form sentences. Secondly, qara’a means repeating something after hearing them or from memory, otherwise known as recitation (تِلاوَة). Both the former and especially the latter sense is intended in this specific context.

Therefore, when God tells His prophet to read, in reality He wants the Prophet to recite the things that are spoken to him by the angel of revelation. Given these points, one narration that states that the Prophet kept saying, I cannot read three times when Gabriel commanded the Prophet to read seems rather questionable, because the Prophet most probably knew what the angel meant by telling him to read, that is, to recite after him, to say nothing of the fact that there was no writing in front of the Prophet for him to read from for him to say I cannot read.

What Does ‘Alaq Mean?

Exegetes and translators of the Quran have translated the word ‘alaq differently. Most have said that it means a blood clot, while some have said that it means a clinging mass or substance. The former translation is incorrect in this context as scientifically speaking, the human being is not made from a blood clot. In reality, ‘alaq, ‘alaqah (عَلَقَة), and its derivatives such as ta‘līq (تَعليق) can also mean the act of attaching or hanging something, and also mu‘laq (مُعَلَّق) or mu‘alaqah (مُعَلَّقَة) mean something that is hung, attached, or clung to something, thus being suspended. To illustrate, the Quran itself has used the word mu‘alaqah to mean something that is suspended and hanging, to denote leaving someone in an unstable and undecided situation. Verse 129 of surah Nisa (النِساء) reads:

وَلَن تَسْتَطِيعُوا أَن تَعْدِلُوا بَيْنَ النِّسَاءِ وَلَوْ حَرَصْتُمْ ۖ فَلَا تَمِيلُوا كُلَّ الْمَيْلِ فَتَذَرُوهَا كَالْمُعَلَّقَةِ ۚ وَإِن تُصْلِحُوا وَتَتَّقُوا فَإِنَّ اللَّـهَ كَانَ غَفُورًا رَّحِيمًا ﴿129﴾

You will not be able to be fair between wives, even if you are eager to do so. Yet do not turn away from one altogether, leaving her as if in a suspense. But if you are conciliatory and Godwary, Allah is indeed all-forgiving, all-merciful.

As a result, the word ‘alaq in this context means a clinging mass or substance from which the human being is created. As a matter of fact, this itself proves the miraculous nature of the Quran, because one of the stages of the growth of the human being in the womb is the process of implantation. To explain, after the egg has been fertilized by the sperm, it clings itself to the womb, waiting to undergo the other stages of its development.

Just imagine it, how could have anyone known that such a thing takes place within the human body more than 1400 years ago when there were no advanced technological instruments to observe such a phenomenon?! Therefore, one cannot help but conclude that the Quran is undeniably the word of God.

God as the Teacher of Man

Verses three to four of surah ‘Alaq draw attention to the fact that it is God in essence who teaches man what he did not know:

اقْرَأْ وَرَبُّكَ الْأَكْرَمُ ﴿3﴾

Read, and your Lord is the most generous,

الَّذِي عَلَّمَ بِالْقَلَمِ ﴿4﴾

who taught by the pen,

عَلَّمَ الْإِنسَانَ مَا لَمْ يَعْلَمْ ﴿5﴾

taught man what he did not know.

Now the point here is that God is talking about the human being in general by saying He taught man by means of the pen, things that he did not know. However, was the Prophet also taught by the pen? These verses make at least three points:

  1. Just as God created man from a seemingly trivial clinging entity into an intricate and sophisticated human being, He also taught him things such as reading by means of a small instrument that anyone can have, meaning the pen.
  2. Though the human being is taught by a mere pen, God teaches His prophet who is a special and privileged human being through something much more valuable than a pen, that is, Divine revelation (waḥy: وَحي).
  3. By saying that God taught people what they did not know, He is providing a reassurance to the Prophet so that he is not anxious that God is teaching him something new, namely the Quran.

Man’s Rebellion

كَلَّا إِنَّ الْإِنسَانَ لَيَطْغَىٰ ﴿6﴾

Indeed man becomes rebellious

أَن رَّآهُ اسْتَغْنَىٰ ﴿7﴾

when he considers himself without need.

These two verses speak about man’s rebellion and arrogance when he thinks he is not in need of God and that he is totally independent. In reality, everything we have is from God. In other words, we have nothing from ourselves. That is:

  • We have been created by God.
  • He constantly gives us life.
  • provides for our needs
  • is our teacher
  • manages all our affairs
  • deserves to be worshipped
  • causes us to die and be resurrected again on Qiyamah
  • rewards or punishes us depending on our deeds

Therefore, the human being must never think that he is needless of God Almighty, his creator, sustainer, teacher, giver, and taker of his life. If he does, he will become rebellious and will not control his behavior. Afterward, God emphasizes the fact that man’s return is to God so as to remind him that he should be conscious of his actions:

إِنَّ إِلَىٰ رَبِّكَ الرُّجْعَىٰ ﴿8﴾

Indeed to your Lord is the return.

The One Who Forbade the Prophet From Praying

As for the tafseer and interpretation of verses 9-19 of surah ‘Alaq that talk about a person who forbids one of God’s servants, meaning the Prophet himself, from offering salat, a narration from the Quranic book of exegesis, Majma‘ al-Bayan (مَجمَعُ البَيان) states that once Abu Jahl (أَبو جَهل), who was one of the heads of the polytheists of Mecca asked, “Is it true that Muhammad puts his face on the ground while praying in your presence.” They told him, “Yes.” Then he said, “I swear that I will crush his neck if I see him doing that.” Therefore, a time came when the Prophet was praying and Abu Jahl was present. As he approached the Prophet to do what he had sworn to do, he took a few steps back and held his hands in front of him as if he was trying to protect himself from something.

People asked him, “What happened?” He said, “I saw that there was a pit of fire between me and Muhammad where there were winged creatures in them.” Therefore, God revealed verses 9-19 of surah ‘Alaq to the Prophet. The Noble Prophet once said to his companions, “Indeed, if Abu Jahl had come closer to me, I swear by God that the angels would have torn him into pieces.”

Verses of Compulsory Sajdah

After God talks about the man who tried to forbid the Prophet from praying and says how He will punish him, He orders Prophet Muhammad not to obey that man and instead prostrate to God and seek His proximity:

لَّا لَا تُطِعْهُ وَاسْجُدْ وَاقْتَرِب ۩ ﴿19﴾

No indeed! Do not obey him, but prostrate and draw near [to Allah]!

Certainly, this is a verse of a compulsory sajdah (سَجدَة الواجِبَة) as it orders the Prophet as well as the reader of the Quran to fall prostrate before God. In fact, there are four surahs in the Quran that contain a compulsory sajdah. That is, if they are recited or listened to, one must do sajdah. In fact, these surahs are called ‘Azā’im’ (عَزائِم), literally meaning firm decisions. The four surahs and verses containing a obligatory sajdah are as follows:

  1. Surah Sajdah (32), verse 15.
  2. Surah Fussilat (41), verse 37.
  3. Surah Najm (53), verse 62.
  4. Surah ‘Alaq (96), verse 19.

In addition, there also exist other verses of sajdah in the Quran. However, doing sajdah after they are recited is recommended and not obligatory.

Virtues of Reciting Surah Alaq

  1. Becoming a Martyr:
    One of our Imams has said, “Whoever recites surah ‘Alaq during the day or at night and dies, he will have died like a martyr, and God will resurrect him as a martyr on Qiyamah. It will be as if he drew his sword and fought against God’s enemies alongside the Noble Prophet.” 1
  2. Reciting all the Short Surahs:
    The Noble Prophet has said, “Whoever recites surah ‘Alaq, it is as though he has recited all the short surahs, or mufaṣṣalāt (مُفَصًّلات) in the Quran.” 2

Benefits of Reciting Surah Alaq

  1. Being Safe Journeys by Sea:
    The Noble Prophet of Islam has said, “Whoever goes on a journey by sea and recites surah ‘Alaq, he will be safe from drowning.” 3
  2. Safety of Reserves from Plagues
    Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him and his progeny, has said, “If surah ‘Alaq is recited to a storehouse or repository, God will protect it from spoiling or being stolen until its owner takes it out.” 4

References

  1. Tabarsi (طَبَرسي), Jawāmi‘ al-Jāmi‘ (جَوامِعُ الجامِع), 1999, vol. 4, p. 512.
  2. Abu al-Futuh Razi (ابوالفُتوح رازي), Rawḍ al-Jinān wa Rūḥ al-Jinān fī Tafsīr al-Qur’ān (رَوضُ الجِنان وَ روحُ الجِنان), vol. 20, p. 333.
  3. Tafsīr al-Burhān, vol. 5, p. 695.
  4. Ibid.

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Abu Mahdi
Abu Mahdi
I'm Abu Mahdi, one of the writers of this blog. I have a BA in English literature and an MA in English language teaching. I am also a teacher and reciter of the Quran in the field of reading the Quran, tajweed, and maqamat. Currently, we are working on a course for learning tajweed of the Quran here on Islam4u.

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