This Surah's period of revelation could not be determined from any authentic tradition, but the internal evidence of the subject matter shows that this Surah was sent down in the same period in which Surah Zukhruf which is the middle stage of the Prophet's residence at Makkah when the whole land was overtaken by such a terrible famine that the people were sorely distressed. At last some of the Qureysh chiefs, including Abdullah bin Mas'ud and Abu Sufyan, came to the Prophet and requested him to pray to Allah to deliver his people from that calamity. This Surah was sent down at that occasion.
- Allah has revealed this Qur'an in the blessed night (Layl-tul-Qadr) in which all matters are decided wisely by His command.
- The Qur'an by itself bears the clear testimony that it is not the composition of a man but of Allah, Rabb of the worlds.
- Lessons to be learned from the story of the Prophet Musa and the people of Fir'on.
- Allah delivered the children of Israel and chose them over the nations of the world inspite of their weaknesses.
- The Day of sorting out is the time appointed for the Resurrection of mankind.
- Food and drink for the sinners in Hell compared to food and entertainment for the righteous in paradise.
This Surah was revealed for the admonition and warning of the people of Makkah stating: "The Hour when Allah, out of sheer mercy, decided to appoint a Rasool and send His Book to you was highly blessed. The fact is that a Rasool has been raised and the Book sent down in that particular Hour when Allah decides their destinies, and Allah's decisions are not weak that they may be changed to the people's liking. The only argument that you have given to practice shirk is that it had been the practice of you forefathers which is not any justification for such a heinous sin. If your forefathers had committed this folly, there is no reason for you to continue committing it blindly."
After this, the question of the famine, which was raging in Makkah at that time, is discussed. On the one hand, the Prophet is foretold that the people have not learned any lesson from this calamity, and on the other, the disbelievers are addressed so as to say : "You are lying when you say that you will believe as soon as the torment is removed from you. We shall remove it to see how sincere you are in your promise." In this connection, reference of Fir'on (Pharaoh) and his people is made that those people also met with the same trial, but after witnessing one sign after the other, they did not give up their stubbornness till at last they met their doom.
Then the theme of the Hereafter is stated which the disbelievers had denied saying: "We have never seen anyone rising back to life after death. Raise our forefathers back to life if you are true in your claim about the life hereafter." The response to this is provided in these words: "This cannot be done to meet the demand of individuals; Allah has appointed a time when He will resurrect all mankind simultaneously and will subject them to accountability in His Court. If one has to protect oneself there, one should think about it here. For no one will be able to save himself there by his own power, nor by the power of any one else."
In conclusion, a warning is given: "This Qur'an has been revealed in simple language in your own tongue so that you may understand it; yet if you do not understand it and insist on seeing your evil end, you may wait; Our Prophet too is waiting. Whatever is to happen, will happen at Allah's appointed time."