I do call to witness this City 6130
And thou art a freeman of this City 6131
And (the mystic ties of) Parent and Child 6132
Verily We have created Man into toil and struggle. 6133
Thinketh he that none hath power over him? 6134
He may say (boastfully): "Wealth have I squandered in abundance!" 6135
Thinketh he that none beholdeth him? 6136
Have We not made for him a pair of eyes?
And a tongue and a pair of lips? 6137
And shown him the two highways? 6138
But he hath made no haste on the path that is steep. 6139
And what will explain to thee the path that is steep?
(It is:) freeing the bondman; 6140
Or the giving of food in a day of privation 6141
To the orphan with claims of relationship 6142
Or to the indigent (down) in the dust. 6143
Then will he be of those who believe and enjoin patience (constancy and self-restraint) and enjoin deeds of kindness and compassion. 6144
Such are the Companions of the Right Hand. 6145
But those who reject Our Signs they are the (unhappy) companions of the Left Hand. 6146
On them will be Fire Vaulted over (all round).
The appeal to the close ties between the holy Prophet and his parent City of Makkah has been explained in the Introduction to this Sura. It is a symbol of man's own history. Man is born for toil and struggle, and this is the substantive proposition in verse 4 below, which this appeal leads up to.
Hillun: an inhabitant, a man with lawful rights, a man freed from such obligations as would attach to a stranger to the city, a freeman in a wider sense than the technical sense to which the word is restricted in modern usage. The Prophet should have been honoured in his native city. He was actually being persecuted. He should have been loved, as a parent loves a child. Actually his life was being sought, and those who believed in him were under a ban. But time was to show that he was to come triumphant to his native city after having made Madinah sacred by his life and work.
A parent loves a child: ordinarily the father is proud and the mother, in spite of her birth-pains, experiences supreme joy when the child is born. But in abnormal circumstances there may be misunderstanding, even hatred between parent and child. So Makkah cast out her most glorious son, but it was only for a time. Makkah was sound at heart; only her power had been usurped by an ignorant autocracy which passed away, and Makkah was to receive back her glory at the hands of the son whom she had rejected but whom she welcomed back later. And Makkah retains for all time her sacred character as the centre of Islam.
Cf. "Man is born unto troubles as the sparks fly upward" (Job, v. 7); "For all his days are sorrows, and his travail grief" (Ecclesiastes, ii. 23). Man's life is full of sorrow and vexation; but our text has a different shade of meaning: man is born to strive and struggle; and if he suffers from hardships, he must exercise patience, for Allah will make his way smooth for him (lxv. 7; xciv. 5-6). On the other hand no man should boast of worldly goods or worldly prosperity (see verses 5-7 below).
See the end of last note. If a man has wealth, influence, or power, he should not behave as if it is to last for ever, or as if he has no responsibility for his acts and can do what he likes. All his gifts and advantages are given to him for trial. Allah, Who bestowed them on him, can take them away, and will do so if man fails in his trial.
The man who feels no responsibility and thinks that he can do what he likes in life forgets his responsibility to Allah. He boasts of his wealth and scatters it about, thinking that he can thus purchase the support of the world. For a time he may. But a rude awakening must come soon, for he bases his hopes on unsubstantial things. Or if he spends his substance on self-indulgence, he is weakening himself and putting himself into snares that must destroy him.
Allah watches him, and sees all his acts and motives, and all the secret springs of his follies. But lest he should think the higher forces too remote for him, let him look within himself and use the faculties which Allah has given him. See the next verses following.
The eyes give us the faculty of seeing, and may be taken in both the literal and the metaphorical sense. In the same way the tongue gives us the faculty of tasting in both senses. Along with the lips, it also enables us to speak, to ask for information and seek guidance, and to celebrate the praises of Allah.
The two highways of life are: (1) the steep and difficult path of virtue, which is further described in the verses following, and (2) the easy path of vice, and the rejection of Allah, referred to in verses 19-20 below. Allah has given us not only the faculties implied in the eyes, the tongue, and the lips, but has also given us the judgment by which we can choose our way; and He has sent us Teachers and Guides, with Revelation, to show us the right and difficult way.
In spite of the faculties with which Allah has endowed man and the guidance which He has given him, man has been remiss. By no means has he been eager to follow the steep and difficult path which is for his own spiritual good. Cf. Matt. vii. 14: "Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto live, and few there be that find it".
The difficult path of virtue is defined as the path of charity or unselfish love, and three specific instances are given for our understanding: viz. (1) freeing the bondman, (2) feeding the orphan, and (3) feeding the indigent down in the dust.
Feed those who need it, both literally and figuratively; but do so especially when there is privation or famine.
All orphans should be fed and helped. But ordinary orphans will come under the indigent in verse 16 below. The orphans related to us have a special claim on us. They should be near and dear to us, and if charity begins at home, they have the first claim on us.
Persons down in the dust can only be helped from motives of pure charity, because nothing can be expected of them-neither praise nor advertisement nor any other advantage to the helper. Such help is help indeed. But there may be various degrees, and the help will be suited to the needs.
Such practical charity and love will be the acid test of Faith and the teaching of all virtues. The virtues are summed up under the names of Patience (the Arabic word includes constancy and self-restraint) and compassionate kindness. Not only will they be the test by which the sincerity of their Faith will be judged; they will be the fruit which their Faith will constantly produce.
Cf. lvi. 27-40, also n. 5223. They will be those who achieve salvation.
Cf. lvi. 41-56, also n. 5223. They will be the unfortunate ones enveloped in the Fire of lasting Penalty, heaped over them and all round them.