The meaning of Surat al-Takwir

Imranali-PanjwaniThe writer, Sh Dr Imranali Panjwani (Chelmsford, UK) is a Senior Lecturer in Law, at Anglia Ruskin University, Chelmsford, UK and Head of Diverse Legal Consulting.

The meaning of Surat al-Takwir in light of Prophet Muhammad’s journey towards God and his responsibility of Prophethood:



he early revelations of the Qur’an tell us a lot about Prophet Muhammad’s (s.a.w) own spiritual journey and intimate relationship with God. They also demonstrate the struggles he had to undergo to communicate the message of the Oneness of God and moral beauty to the Makkan society in which he lived. Perhaps not often discussed is how Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) developed into his role not just as a Prophet for his society but humankind. One case study that I am sharing with you is from Surat al-Takwir (no.81) which tackles various themes from Allah (s.w.t) using nature and natural forces to awaken the attention of those who rejected the Prophet’s message as well as us today on the reality of the Day of Judgement and the Prophet’s message.

Takwir is on the verbal scale of ‘tafeel’ which means to coil up or roll up into a ball. This is the chapter on rolling or coiling something up into a round object. Indeed, the first 18 verses depict this action of rolling something up when God states with certainty that:

[Shakir 81:1] When the sun is covered,

[Shakir 81:2] And when the stars darken,

[Shakir 81:3] And when the mountains are made to pass away,

Even from the above verses, God Himself tells us that the very natural forces we think may remain or have a particular fixed nature can actually do the opposite – as if coiling up in themselves. For example, the sun is meant to shine and be bright but yet God states it will cover itself. Or the stars are meant to gleam yet darken or the mountains that are immovable pegs on the earth will begin to move and pass away. The tone of the Qur’an is to shock us into understanding God’s power. But you may ask – how is this connected to Prophet Muhammad?

According to Al-Mizan, Majma al-Bayan and Tafsir al-Safi, natural forces and their opposite actions are introduced to confirm the reality of Prophet Muhammad’s message to the disbelievers. God also swears by nature such as in Surat al-Shams to bring certainty to an event. This event is the “Word” of an honoured messenger, Muhammad (s.a.w):

[Shakir 81:19] Most surely it is the Word of an honoured messenger,

God, Himself defends what He reveals to the Prophet thereby strengthening the soul of the Prophet to withstand the physical and verbal abuse of his enemies. Interestingly, most of the Shi’a mufassirin state that whilst the Prophet is mentioned in these verses, the focus is on Jibrael, who transmits the “Word” i.e the Qur’an to the Prophet. Jibrael also has a distinct position near the throne of God and spans the horizon as per the following verses:

[Shakir 81:20] The processor of strength, having an honourable place with the Lord of the Dominion,

[Shakir 81:21] One (to be) obeyed, and faithful in trust.

[Shakir 81:22] And your companion is not gone mad.

[Shakir 81:23] And of a truth, he saw himself on the clear horizon.

Here, Shi’a mufassirin narrate a hadith about Jibrael and the Prophet Muhammad through the story of the people of Lut. In Majma al-Bayan, a hadith is quoted in which Jibrael was sent to carry out punishment to the people of Lut but was worried about carrying out this task. However, he was comforted by the fact that God told him a messenger would be sent who would be a ‘mercy unto the worlds.’ Jibrael also informed the Prophet of this as well as several other aspects about his position, Prophethood and character. In another narration, though not connected to Surat al-Takwir, Jibrael answers the Prophet’s questions. The Prophet was taught about the hierarchy of moral traits and spiritual submission to God. Here is the beginning of this narration:

“In his narration from Ahmad ibn Abi ‘Abdillah from his father in a hadith attributed to the Noble Prophet (S) that he said: Jibra’il (as) came and said: “O Prophet of Allah! Allah has sent me to you with a gift which He has not given to anyone before you.” The Holy Prophet (S) said: “What is it?” Jibra’il said: “It is patience, and something better than it.” He said: “And what is that?”

Jibra’il said: “It is a pleasure, and something better than it.” He asked: “And what is that?” Jibra’il said: “It is abstinence; and that which is better than it.” He said: “What is it?” Jibra’il said: “It is sincerity; and better than that.” He said: “And what is it?” Jibra’il said: “It is certainty; and better than it.” The Holy Prophet (S) said: I said: “What is that O Jibra’il!” He said: “The way to attain all of them is to trust in Allah (SwT)…” (Saduq, Ma’ani al-Akhbar: 260; also quoted in Sunan al-Nabi by Allamah Tabatabai).

Surat al-Takwir and the narrations above demonstrate that the Prophet’s role in delivering the message of God was a developing one. His soul was strengthened by God’s own confirmation about the realities of natural forces giving weight to the reality and truth of the Qur’an; the Prophet was informed about the task that would fall upon his shoulders (Indeed, We will cast upon you a heavy word – verse 5 of Surat al-Muzammil) and his intimate conversations with Angel Jibrael was a learning and education process for him. These aspects of Surat al-Takwir show that if we build an intimate relationship with God, we too can develop our souls in the way of the Prophet and trust God when we are in difficulty. However, this requires us to view Prophet Muhammad from the lens of the Qur’an as an honourable person that chose to trust God and open his heart to God’s communications as opposed to human ones. This is what makes the Prophet a unique and great individual – that despite the difficult and limiting circumstances of his own society, he was able to break free from its shackles and learn from the most knowledgeable and moral being, God.

May God bless Muhammad and his family.

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