This Surah was revealed during the middle stage of theProphet's residence in Makkah. According to thetraditions narrated by Sayyiduna Ibn Abbas and SayyidunaJabir bin Zaid, "First, Surah Ash-Shu'ara was sent down,then Surah An-Naml, and then Surah Al-Qasas".
This Surah consists of the following two discourses.
The theme of the first discourse is that the only peoplethat can benefit from the guidance of The Qur'an andbecome worthy of the good promises made in it, are thosewho accept the realities of the universe presented inthis Book, and then show obedience and submission intheir practical lives. But the greatest hindrance forman's following this way, is the denial of the Hereafter.For it makes him irresponsible, selfish, and greedy inthis worldly life, which in turn, makes it impossible forhim to submit himself to God and to accept the moralrestrictions on his lusts and desires.
After this introduction, three types of character havebeen presented: Examples of the first type are Fir'on(Pharaoh), his chiefs, the nation of Thamud and thepeople of Prophet Lut (pbuh) who were all heedless of theHereafter and consequently had become the slaves of theirdesires. That's why they did not believe even afterseeing miracles. Rather, they turned against those whoinvited them to goodness and piety. They persisted intheir evil ways, which were abhorred by every sensibleperson. They did not heed the admonition even momentsbefore they were overtaken by the scourge of Allah.
An example of the second type is Prophet Sulaiman(Solomon) (pbuh), who had been blessed by Allah withwealth, kingdom and grandeur far greater than the chiefsof the disbelievers of Makkah. But, since he regardedhimself answerable before Allah and recognized thatwhatever he had was only due to Allah's bounty, headopted righteousness and the attitude of obedience.
An example of the third type is the Queen of Sheba, whoruled over the most wealthy and well-known people in thehistory of Arabia. She possessed all those means of lifewhich could cause a person to become proud and arrogant.Her wealth and possessions far exceeded the wealth andpossessions of the Qureysh. She professed shirk, whichwas not only an ancestral way of life for her, but shehad to follow it in order to maintain her position as aruler. Therefore, it was much more difficult for her togive up shirk and adopt the way of Tawhid than it couldbe for a common mushrik. But when the Truth becameevident to her, nothing could stop her from accepting it.Her deviation was, in fact, due to her being born andbrought up in a polytheistic environment, not because ofher being a slave to her lusts and desires. Herconscience was not devoid of the sense of accountabilitybefore Allah.
The theme of the second discourse is to draw theattention of the people to some of the most glaring andvisible realities of the universe by asking questionssuch as: "Do the realities of the universe testify to thecreed of shirk which you are following, or to the truthof Tawhid to which the Qur'an invites you?" After thisthe real malady of the disbelievers is pointed out,saying, "The thing which has blinded them and made theminsensitive to every reality is their denial of theHereafter. This same thing has rendered every matter andaffair of life non-serious for them. For, according tothem, when ultimately everything has to become dust, andthe whole struggle of existence is to enjoy this worldlylife then the truth and falsehood are equal and alike.Therefore, the question of whether one's system of lifeis based on right or wrong foundations becomesmeaningless."
In conclusion, the invitation of the Qur'an to serve OneGod (Allah) is presented in a concise but forcefulmanner, and the people are admonished to accept thisinvitation as being to their advantage and rejection willbe to their disadvantage. For if they deferred theirfaith before they saw those signs of Allah, after theappearance of which they would be left with no choice butto believe and submit. Then they should know thatbelieving at that time will be of no avail.
The Surah takes its name from the phrase wadin-naml whichoccurs in verse 18, implying that it is a Surah in whichthe story of An-Naml (the Ant) has been related.
The subject matter and the style bear full resemblancewith the Surahs of the middle Makkan period and this issupported by traditions as well. According to Ibn Abbasand Jabir bin Zaid, "First the Surah Ash Shuaraa was sentdown, then the Surah An Naml and then Al-Qasas."
The Surah consists of two discourses, the first from thebeginning of the Surah to the end of verse 58, and thesecond from verse 59 to the end of the Surah. The themeof the first discourse is that only those people canbenefit from the guidance of the Quran and become worthyof the good promises made in it, who accept the realitieswhich this Book presents as the basic realities of theuniverse, and then follow up their belief with obedienceand submission in their practical lives as well. But thegreatest hindrance for man to follow this way is thedenial of the Hereafter. For it makes him irresponsible,selfish and given to worldly life, which in turn makes itimpossible for him to submit himself before God and toaccept the moral restrictions on his lusts and desires.After this introduction three types of character havebeen presented.
The first type is characterized by Pharaoh and the chiefsof Thamud and the rebels of the people of Lot, who wereall heedless of the accountability of the Hereafter andhad consequently become the slaves of the world. Thesepeople did not believe even after seeing the miracles.Rather they turned against those who invited them togoodness and piety. They persisted in their evil wayswhich are held in abhorrence by every sensible person.They did not heed the admonition even until a momentbefore they were overtaken by the scourge of Allah.
The second type of character is of the Prophet Solomon(peace be upon him), who had been blessed by God withwealth and kingdom and grandeur to an extent undreamt ofby the chiefs of the disbelievers of Makkah. But, sincehe regarded himself as answerable before God and had thefeeling that whatever he had was only due to Allah'sbounty, he had adopted the attitude of obedience beforeHim and there was no tinge of vanity in his character.
The third type is of the queen of Sheba, who ruled over amost wealthy and well known people in the history ofArabia. She possessed all those means of life, whichcould cause a person to become vain and conceited. Herwealth and possessions far exceeded the wealth andpossessions of the Quraish. Then she professed shirk,which was not only an ancestral way of life with her, butshe had to follow it in order to maintain her position asa ruler. Therefore, it was much more difficult for her togive up shirk and adopt the way of tauhid than it couldbe for a common mushrik. But when the Truth becameevident to her, nothing could stop her from accepting it.Her deviation was, in fact, due to her being born andbrought up in a polytheistic environment and not becauseof her being a slave to her lusts and desires. Herconscience was not devoid of the sense of accountabilitybefore God.
In the second discourse, at the outset, attention hasbeen drawn to some of the most glaring and visiblerealities of the universe, and the disbelievers of Makkahhave been asked one question after the other to theeffect: "Do these realities testify to the creed of shirkwhich you are following, or to the truth of tauhid towhich the Quran invites you?" After this the real maladyof the disbelievers has been pointed out, saying, "Thething which has blinded them and made them insensitive toevery glaring reality is their denial of the Hereafter.This same thing has rendered every matter and affair oflife non-serious for them. For, when according to them,everything has to become dust ultimately, and the wholestruggle of life is purposeless and without an objectbefore it, the truth and falsehood are equal and alike.Therefore, the question whether one's system of life isbased on the right or wrong foundations, becomesmeaningless for him."
But the discourse, as outlined above, is not meant todissuade the Prophet and the Muslims from calling theobdurate and heedless people to the way of tauhid; it is,in fact, intended to arouse them from their slumber. Thatis why in vv. 67-93 certain things have been saidrepeatedly in order to produce in the people a sense ofthe Hereafter, to warn them of the consequences of beingheedless of it, and to convince them of its coining, likean eye witness of something, who convinces the otherperson of it, who has not seen it.
In conclusion, the real invitation of the Quran, that is,the invitation to serve One Allah alone, has beenpresented in a concise but forceful manner, and thepeople warned that accepting it would be to their ownadvantage and rejecting it to their own disadvantage. Forif they deferred their faith until they saw those Signsof God after the appearance of which they would be leftwith no choice but to believe and submit, they shouldbear in mind the fact that that would be the time ofjudgment and believing then would be of no avail.
1 to 6 - Al-Quran is a Guide and Good News to the Believers
7 to 14 - Story of Prophet Musa's selection as a Rasool and Nine signs were shown to Fir'on but he still disbelieved and incurred Allah's punishment
15 to 19 - Story of Prophet Sulaiman, to whom Allah gave rule over jinns, men, birds and winds
20 to 31 - The hoopoe brought him the news about the Queen of Sheba and Letter from King Sulaiman to the Queen of Sheba
32 to 37 - Communications between Queen of Sheba and Sulaiman
38 to 44 - A man who had the 'Knowledge of the Book' brought Throne of the Queen to king Sulaiman in twinkling of and eye and Queen of Sheba and her people embraced Islam
45 to 53 - Story of Prophet Saleh and his address to his people and Saleh's people plotted to kill him but Allah saved him and destroyed the disbelievers
54 to 58 - Prophet Lut admonished his people but they paid no heed so they faced the scourge of Allah
59 to 59 - Praise to Allah and peace be on His Rasools
60 to 66 - Just think, is there any god besides Allah Who has created anything in the universe, answer the oppressed or guides to the Right Way?
67 to 82 - Disbelievers doubt Allah's power of creation and Al-Quran clarifies those matters in which the Israelites differ and A sign from the signs of doomsday
83 to 86 - Do not deny Allah's revelations without gaining their comprehensive knowledge
87 to 93 - A scene from the scenes of Doomsday and Those who accept guidance do so to their own good and those who go astray do so to their own peril