Sunday, August 12, 2012

A Tafsir of Surat al-Qadr: “Unveiling the Night of al-Qadr”

Tafsir of Surat al-Qadr:
Unveiling the Night of al-Qadr”
[1a] Snapshot:
  • Chapter 97 of the Qur’an.
  • Number of verses = 5.
  • Number of words = 30.
  • Number of letters = 115.
  • Meccan sura.
  • From the Mufassal part of the Qur’an.[1]
  • Assonance/end-rhyme (saj`): —r, —r —r, —r, —r.
[1b] Context and Consonance:
  1. The previous sura (al-`alaq) mentioned how the Qur’an came (v.1). Here in this sura the matter is the location of the revelation (v.1).
  2. The previous sura (al-`alaq) mentioned to prostrate and draw closer to Allah (v.19). Here the Night of Qadr is the means through which to gain Allah’s mercy and closeness.
[2] Occasion of the Revelation (sabab al-nuzul):
  • According to Imam al-Wahidi, the occasion of this revelation is:
{Lo! We revealed it on the Night of Predestination. Ah, what will convey unto thee what the Night of Power is! The Night of Power is better than a thousand months} [97:1-3]. Abu Bakr al-Tamimi informed us> `Abd Allah ibn Hibban> Abu Yahya al-Razi> Sahl al-`Askari> Yahya ibn Abi Za’ida> Muslim> Ibn Abi Najih> Mujahid who said: “The Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, mentioned an Israelite who carried weapons and fought for the sake of Allah for a thousand months. The Muslims were astonished to hear this, and so Allah, exalted is He, revealed (Lo! We revealed it on the Night of Predestination. Ah, what will convey unto thee what the Night of Power is! The Night of Power is better than a thousand months). He said: ‘This is better than the months in which that man carried his weapons and fought’…”[2]
[3] A Basic Tafsir:[3]
v.1: {Inna/إِنَّا}: ‘certainly’, ‘verily’, ‘indeed’; the particle of emphasis (harf al-ta’kid) which grounds the clause in order to remove any doubt regarding the Qur’an’s origins.[4]
v.1: {anzalna/أَنزَلْنَـٰهُ}: ‘we revealed’, ‘we sent down’; the 4th form verb which denotes a singular act and not a repetitive one; hence the implied meaning that Allah revealed the entire Qur’an at one time and then piecemeal via Jibril (as) to the Prophet according to the circumstances over 23 years. The reference to Allah (here in the first person plural for exaltation [‘we’/—na]) is in order to directly attribute the act of imparting revelation to Himself which thus eliminates any doubts over the Qur’an’s origins, authorship or actual source.
v.1: {hu/هُ}:‘it’; an attached pronoun (damir muttasil) which can refer to: [1] The Qur’an or [2] the Angel Jibril (as).[5] However, here in the context, the pronoun clearly refers to the Noble Qur’an. There is no direct reference to the Qur’an in word (lafzan) because the pronoun (damir) is away of indicating the lack of need to introduce the Qur’an which was already known to the Arabs and the believers so there is a contextual antecedent to its direct omission. The  absence of the Qur’an being explicitly mentioned may also be because Allah is already attributed as its originator and so this is sufficient than to name it.
Imam al-Mawardi states: “One of the meanings is: what was transmitted from Ibn `Abbas who said: the Qur’an was revealed all at once in Ramadan in the Night of al-Qadr, a blessed night, from the Lawh al-Mahfuz with Allah Most High to the ranks of the Angels in the lower heavens and then to Jibril on the twentieth night and then from Jibril to the Prophet (saw) over twenty [s: a period spanning] years [s: and more] according to the events and circumstances whether months or days. The second meaning is that Allah began revealing it in the night of al-Qadr. This was the opinion of al-Sha`bi…”[6]
أحدهما: ما روى ابن عباس قال: نزل القرآن في رمضان وفي ليلة القدر في ليلة مباركة جملة واحدة من عند الله تعالى في اللوح المحفوظ إلى السفرة الكرام الكاتبين في السماء الدنيا، فنجمته السفرة على جبريل في عشرين ليلة، ونجمه جبريل على النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم في عشرين سنة، وكان ينزل على مواقع النجوم أرسالاً في الشهور والأيامالقول الثاني: أن الله تعالى ابتدأ بإنزاله في ليلة القدر، قاله الشعبي.
  • This majestic Qur’an was revealed by Allah to humankind for a reason. What was this reason? What was so momentous about this book? Indeed, the answer is given by Allah (swt) in many verses of the Qur’an itself: (1) it is revealed to rule the people with; (2) it is revealed to implement it in life practically; (3) it is revealed to be used to judge all human affairs; (4) it is revealed to be used as a Criterion (furqan) for all things.[7] Yet today this Book is absent from life practically on many levels, e.g. politics, economics, society and judiciary. Its laws are absent from the system that collectively enables the organisation of peoples’ lives – which is the Khilafah. This has led the Muslim umma to become weak, powerless, impoverished, disunited, exploited and occupied.
v.1: {Laylat al-qadr/لَيْلَةِ ٱلْقَدْرِ}: A unique night that falls in the blessed month of Ramadan. It is given a number of names as mentioned in the books of tafsir.[8] Imam al-Shawkani writes: “It has been called laylat al-qadr because Allah (glorified is He) will determine the matters of whatever He chooses for the entire successive year. It is also said that it has been named so because of its immense status and honour. The Arabs say: ‘so and so has qadar’ meaning ‘nobility’ (sharaf) and ‘high position’ (manzila). This was mentioned by al-Zuhri. It is also said that it has been named so because the worship of Allah in that night has huge significance and immense reward. al-Khalil has said: It has been called laylat al-qadr because of the earth being constricted by the Angels [s: due to their numbers]…”[9]
سميت ليلة القدر لأن الله سبحانه يقدّر فيها ما شاء من أمره إلى السنة القابلة. وقيل: إنها سميت بذلك لعظيم قدرها وشرفها، من قولهم: لفلان قدر، أي: شرف ومنزلة، كذا قال الزهري. وقيل: سميت بذلك لأن للطاعات فيها قدراً عظيماً، وثواباً جزيلاً. وقال الخليل: سميت ليلة القدر؛ لأن الأرض تضيق فيها بالملائكة
Another reason for its name is given by Imam Abu `Abd al-Rahman al-Sulami in Haqa’iq al-Tafsir: “And Sahl [al-Tustari] said: a night in which I have apportioned mercy for My servants…”[10]
قال سهل: ليلة قدرتُ فيها الرحمة على عبادى.
v.2: {and what will tell you what the Night of al-Qadr is?}. In other words, the magnificent, unparalleled and cosmic scale of this Night is beyond human comprehension and truly inexplicable. This being the case, the human mind ought to reflect on this significance and unparalleled importance as well as what has made this night so majestic – even if it is only a little mount of knowledge that can be gathered. [Refer also to points mentioned below under ‘Balagha Aspects’].
  • What also makes this night so cosmic and incomprehensibly majestic is the revelation of the Qur’an and what the Qur’an brought, i.e. a din/ideology or a comprehensive viewpoint about life that has a system for human governance emanating from it. This system if implemented in the manner Allah and His Messenger as well as the Sahaba (‘Companions’) have practically shown will bring about security, prosperity, balance and satisfaction of human needs. Thus, in a manner of speaking, the Qur’an was revealed in a Night that designates the destiny of all things and this Qur’an then altered the destiny of not only Quraysh and indeed the Arabian Peninsula but the entire world.
Imam al-Shawkani comments: “{and what will tell you what the Night of al-Qadr is?}; this is an interrogative clause implying exalting its status as though to say it is beyond human comprehension and Allah alone knowing its true reality. Sufyan said: every phrase of the Qur’an that is of the form ‘and do you know what such and such is?’ (wa ma adraka) is subsequently explained and answered by Allah. Whereas every phrase that is of the form ‘and what will make you know’ (wa ma yudrik) is not subsequently answered and explained. This was mentioned by al-Farra’…”[11]
}وَمَا أَدْرَاكَ مَا لَيْلَةُ ٱلْقَدْرِ } هذا الاستفهام فيه تفخيم لشأنها حتى كأنها خارجة عن دراية الخلق لا يدري بها إلاّ الله سبحانه. قال سفيان: كلّ ما في القرآن من قوله: وما أدراك، فقد أدراه، وكلّ ما فيه وما يدريك فلم يدره، وكذا قال الفراء
v.3: {…the Night of al-Qadr is better than a thousand months}: This verse is a clarification (bayan) of the immediately preceding verse (v.2). Imam Ibn al-Jawzi comments on the meaning of this verse: “Regarding the meaning of {the Night of al-Qadr is better than a thousand months}: Mujahid said: qiyam [s: standing up in Prayer] in this night as well as any action is better than qiyam or fasting for a thousand months that does not include laylat al-qadr. This is the opinion of Qatada and what al-Farra’, Ibn Qutayba and al-Zajjaj all preferred [...]”[12]
قوله تعالى: { ليلة القدر خير من ألف شهر } قال مجاهد: قيامها والعمل فيها خير من قيام ألف شهر وصيامها ليس فيها ليلة القدر، وهذا قول قتادة، واختيار الفراء، وابن قتيبة، والزجاج
            Imam al-Mawardi writes: “One meaning is that laylat al-qadr is better than living one thousand months. This was held by al-Rabi`; the second meaning is that any action in this night is better than a thousand months. This was Mujahid’s view; the third is that laylat al-qadr is better than a thousand months that does not include laylat al-qadr. This was Qatada’s view; the fourth view is that there was a man from the time of Banu Isra’il who wused to stand at night in prayer until the morning as well as fight against the enemy until the evening and did this for a thousand years. Allah Most High then informed that the Night of al-Qadr is better than the deeds of this man by a thousand months. This was related by Ibn Abi al-Najih and Mujahid and the fifth view is that Sulayman and Dhu ’l-Qarnayn both ruled for five hundred years amounting to a total of one thousand years. The deeds in the Night of al-Qadr were then made superior to the entire reign of both these rulers…”[13]
أحدها: ليلة القدر خير من عمر ألف شهر، قاله الربيع. الثاني: أن العمل في ليلة القدر خير من العمل في غيرها ألف شهر، قاله مجاهدالثالث: أن ليلة القدر خير من ألف شهر ليس فيها ليلة القدر، قاله قتادةالرابع: أنه كان رجل في بني إسرائيل يقوم الليل حتى يصبح ثم يجاهد العدوّ حتى يمسي، ففعل ذلك ألف شهر، فأخبر الله تعالى أن قيام ليلة القدر خير من عمل ذلك الرجل ألف شهر، رواه ابن أبي نجيح ومجاهدالخامس: أن ملك سليمان كان خمسمائة شهر،وملك ذي القرنين كان خمسمائة شهر، فصار ملكهما ألف شهر، فجعل العمل في ليلة القدر خيراً من زمان ملكهما.
            Other views state that the numerical quantification is insignificant as it is an expression meaning ‘innumerably better’, ‘incomparably better’, ‘unimaginably better’ and so is not to be taken literally.
  • The night reflects Allah’s mercy and beneficence. He has selected a night that allows a person to attain a lifetime’s worth of worship and more. He loves the umma of His beloved (saw) such that He is prepared to deliver them out of sin, inability and failure to properly worship Him as well as weakness within the span of one night. He is also choosing to make the umma of His beloved triumphant over previous nations and their religious feats, deeds and worship.
v.4: {Tatanazzalu/تَنَزَّلُ}: the 5th form verb (tafa“ala) here denotes a sense of continual descent and this is because the one of the connotations of the 5th form implies continuous action. In other words, swaths of Angels will descend continuously by the permission and grace of Allah. Imam al-Razi comments: “Hence, He mentioned the word {tatanazzalu}; which implies time after time and again and again [s: i.e. in abundance]…”[14]
 فلذلك ذكر بلفظ: { تُنَزَّلَ } الذي يفيد المرة بعد المرة.
v.4: {mala’ika}: Angels.
v.4: {al-ruh}: Which can refer to: [1] Jibril (as); [2] A senior Angel (malak `azim); [3]. A special and imperceptible party of Angels who appear especially in this Night;[15] [4] the army and soldiers of Allah from the terrestrial Angels.[16]
v.4: {fi-ha}: ‘in it’ meaning in the Night of al-Qadr.
v.4: {bi-idhn rabbihim}: meaning by the command of Allah in what He has decreed and decided and knows from eternity.
v.4: {min kull amr}: ‘of every matter’, ‘of every decree’; Imam Ibn al-Jawzi states: “{from every matter}. Ibn Qutayba said: every command. The Commentators hold that it means: ‘the Angels descend with every matter already decided and ordained by Allah for that year until the next’…”[17]
 }بإذن ربهم } أي: بما أمر به وقضاه { من كل أمر } قال ابن قتيبة: أي: بكل أمر. قال المفسرون: يتنزَّلون بكل أمر قضاه الله في تلك السنة إلى قابل.
v.5: {salam}: this can mean: [1] ‘peace’; [2] security; [3] tranquillity; [4] goodness; [5] blessings; [6] mercy. This means that there will be no shaytan, no devils, no evil and no harm.
v.5: {hatta matla` il-fajr}; meaning until the time of dawn enters, appears, emerges or occurs. Imam al-Shawkani comments: “{It is peace} meaning it is nothing but peace and total goodness without any evil in it. It is said that it means: it is the essence of peace where shaytan cannot influence or effect the believer. Mujahid said: It is a night of safety in which the shaytan is unable to do any evil or harm. al-Sha`bi said: it refers to Angels visiting those in the Mosques from when the Sun disappears until the dawn emerges passing by every believing man or woman saying, ‘peace be upon you o believer!’ It is also said: it means the Angels greeting each other. Al-`Ata’ said: It means the greetings of peace to the awliya’ of Allah and those in complete devotion to Him (ahl al-ta`atihi)…”[18]
سَلَـٰمٌ هِىَ } أي: ما هي إلاّ سلامة وخير كلها لا شرّ فيها. وقيل: هي ذات سلامة من أن يؤثر فيها شيطان في مؤمن أو مؤمنة. قال مجاهد: هي ليلة سالمة لا يستطيع الشيطان أن يعمل فيها سوءاً ولا أذى. وقال الشعبي: هو تسليم الملائكة على أهل المساجد من حين تغيب الشمس إلى أن يطلع الفجر يمرّون على كلّ مؤمن ويقولون السلام عليك أيها المؤمن. وقيل: يعني سلام الملائكة بعضهم على بعض. قال عطاء: يريد سلام على أولياء الله، وأهل طاعته: { حَتَّىٰ مَطْلَعِ ٱلْفَجْرِ } أي: حتى وقت طلوعه.
[4] Balagha aspects:
(4a) al-itnab [الإطناب/verbosity]: This is a rhetorical technique in Arabic that aims to inform the listener by multiplying lexical items (i.e. words, chains of words) than is usually required.[19] Pragmatic functions (i.e. where context and author’s intent provide meaning) ofitnab include:
  1. Building sympathy, appreciation and affection in the listener.[20]
  2. To build reverence, respect and loftiness for the addressee or some matter (li-tafkhim al-amr wa ta`zimuhu).[21]
  3. To achieve affirmation and emphasis (al-takrir/al-ta’kid).[22]
  4. To provide clarification to the listener (al-idah ba`d al-ibham).[23]
Here in the sura, repetition of ‘laylat al-qadr’ three times serves to raise its status and loftiness as a night unequaled and unparalleled in both merit and greatness.
(4b) al-istifham [الإستفهام/interrogative]: This is a perlocutionary act which is something aimed at generating a psychological impact such as persuading, rebuking, frightening, censuring, etc. or some other effect of impacting a listener’s attitude and inclination.[24]
Here in the verse, Allah asks a rhetorical question regarding the night of al-Qadr {and what will tell you what the Night of al-Qadr is?}. This is in order to build a desire in us to know it, love the immense good in it and to raise its status. This is to further cause us to increase our worship in the night. It is not asked in order to attain some item of knowledge Allah does not already possess.[25]
(4c) dhikr al-khass ba`d al-`amm [ذكر الخاص بعد العام/mention of the specific after the general]: Rhetorically, whenever a general clause is mentioned followed by a specific clause, it generally indicates the importance of the referents within that specific clause. Thus, in this verse, mentioning Jibril (as) after mentioning the host of Angels is in order to exalt his status before Allah.[26] Imam a-Razi states: “And specifically mentioning him is in order to increase his [s: i.e. Jibril’s] honour as though Allah is saying: the angels on one side and the Spirit (al-ruh) on the other…”[27]
وتخصيصه بالذكر لزيادة شرفه كأنه تعالى يقول الملائكة في كفة والروح في كفة.
[5] Summary Lessons:
  1. The Altering power of the Qur’an: The Night of al-Qadr was magnificent because in it the Mighty Qur’an was revealed and this Qur’an contained a comprehensive, complete and Divine message for humankind that altered the destiny of the entire world forever.
  2. Understanding Allah’s Majesty: Only an Omnipotent and All-Power Creator can providentially organise everyone’s destiny, fate, provision and allotment of mercy and organise the event of History to realise and unfold His Divine plan. This should make every believer bow and submit in utter resignation to the Will and commands of His Lord. He alone is Supreme and Sovereign King within His dominion.
  3. Understanding Allah’s Mercy: The Night of al-Qadr reflects the Mercy of Allah who loves His creatures and has afforded them a swift exit from sin, vice, wrong-doing and iniquity. A lifetime’s worth of worship and servitude to Allah is gained within a night. This should totally humble the believer into submission and instill complete gratitude for such a favour and opportunity.
  4. Understanding true worship: On the one hand there is the legal pronouncement that it is not mandatory (wajib) to remain in devotion this whole Night and hence avoiding it, strictly speaking, would not necessarily entail sin. However, failing to draw closer to Allah in this Night through deep devotion and acts of worship is one of the most reckless acts and the utmost degree and display of foolishness and ignorance. A true worshipper and his position before His Lord is shown and proven in this Night. Imam al-Qushayri comments: “In this night, Allah has apportioned His Mercy for His close friends. In this Night, the `abid finds whatever is in accordance to his own self whereas the `arif [s: one with intimate experiential knowledge of Allah] witnesses whatever is in accordance with the one Whom he worships [...]”[28]
في ليلةٍ قَدَّرَ فيها الرحمةَ لأوليائه، في ليلةٍ يجد فيها العابدون قَدْرَ نفوسِهم، ويشهد فيهَا العارفون قَدْرَ معبودهم.. وشتان بين وجودِ قَدْرٍ وشهودِ قَدْرٍ! فلهؤلاء وجودُ قَدْرٍ ولكن قدر أنفسهم، ولهؤلاء شهود قدرٍ ولكن قدر معبودهم.
  • Therefore, whoever misses this Magnificent Night only shows himself up.
  • Therefore, this Tremendous Night is not to be missed.
  • This Unique Night should be sought in the last 10 Days.
  • This Blessed Night is a unique opportunity to draw closer to Allah.
Abundant peace and blessing upon the Chosen One,
Upon whom the Majestic Qur’an was revealed;
His Family, his Companions
And all who follow them until the Last Day.
London 2010.

[1] See al-Tayalisi, al-Musnad (#1012) where the Prophet remarked “…and I was given superiority over all other Prophets with the Mufassal (wa fuddiltu bi’l-mufassal).” Thesesuras commencing from Qaf (50) and ending at al-Nas (114) are called ‘mufassal’ due to their being separated by many ‘basmalahs’ between each sura or due to the very small number of abrogated (mansukh) verses they contain. See al-Zarkashi, al-Burhani fi `Ulum al-Qur’an, 1:244 and al-Suyuti, al-Itqan fi `Ulum al-Qur’an, 1:62.
[2] See al-Wahidi, Asbab al-Nuzul, tr. M. Guezzou at
[3] For other explanations, refer to Mawdudi, Tafhim al-Qur’an, 6:401-408; S. Qutb, In the Shade of the Qur’an, 18:279-281; M. Ali, A Word for Word Meaning of the Qur’an, 3:2007; M. al-Ghazali, A Thematic Commentary of the Qur’an, pp.739-740; Ibn Kathir, Tafsir Ibn Kathir(Abridged), 10:541-548 and al-Suyuti, Tafsir al-Jalalayn (tr. A. Bewley), p.1344;
[4] A. A. Islahi, Tadabbur-i-Qur’an at
[5] al-Mawardi, al-Nukat wa ’l-`Uyun, 6:311-312.
[6] Ibid, 6:312.
[7] See “Tafsir of Surat al-Nisa’ Verse 58” at
[8] al-Shawkani, Fath al-Qadir, p.1641
[9] Ibid., p.1641.
[10] al-Sulami, Haqa’iq al-Tafsir, 2:409.
[11] al-Shawkani, Fath al-Qadir, p.1642.
[12] Ibn al-Jawzi, Zad al-Masir, 9:191.
[13] al-Mawardi, al-Nukat wa ’l-`Uyun, 6:313.
[14] al-Razi, Mafatih al-Ghayb, 23:42.
[15] Ibn al-Jawzi, Zad al-Masir, 9:143.
[16] al-Shawkani, Fath al-Qadir, p.1642.
[17] Ibid., p.1642.
[18] Ibid., p.1642.
[19] H. Abdul-Raof, Arabic Rhetoric: A Pragmatic Analysis, pp.190-192.
[20] al-Qazwini, al-Idah fi `Ulum al-Balagha, p.152.
[21] Ibid, p.152.
[22] Ibid, pp.152-153.
[23] Ibid, pp.151-152.
[24] Abdul-Raof, Arabic Rhetoric, pp.115-118.
[25] Ibn al-Jawzi, Zad al-Masir, 9:191 states:
قوله تعالى: { وما أدراك ما ليلة القدر } هذا على سبيل التعظيم والتشوق إلى خيرها.
“And His Almighty saying: {and what will tell you what the Night of al-Qadr is?}; this is by way of magnification as well as building a desire and love for its greatness and goodness…”
[26] Another example is in Q.98 where Allah (swt) says: {Whoever is an enemy to Allah, His Angels, His Messengers, Jibril and Mika’il, then verily, Allah is an enemy to the disbelievers}. Jibril and Mika’il are also angels but mentioned after the generality of Angels in order to identify their special status with Allah.
[27] al-Razi, Mafatih al-Ghayb, 23:43.
[28] al-Qushayri, Lata’if al-Isharat, 5:263f.

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