Points of Benefit from the beginning verses of Chapter 96
al-ʿAlaq (Clinging Clots of Blood)
The year is 570AD, famous in the annals of Arab history as the Year of the Elephant, named for an army marching on Mecca led by the then viceroy of Yemen, Abraha, at the head of which was an elephant. A miracle occurred and the army was ignominiously defeated by a flock of birds pelting them with stones of hard baked clay. That year, however, was also marked by an event orders of magnitude greater in importance, one that would change the course of history itself: the birth of Muḥammad b. ʿAbdullāh (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) who, at the age of forty, began to experience dreams, each dream clear like the break of day, each dream coming true. This was the beginning of revelation.
Arab society was deeply troubled, plagued by savage barbarism and these troubles led Muḥammad to seek solitude and he would do so by making a spiritual retreat in the cave of Hirāʾ in the Meccan valley. These retreats quickly became the most beloved thing to him. During these times he would devote himself to the worship of Allāh alone, remaining there for a number of nights until he felt inclined to return to his family. He would go back to his wife, Khadījah, restock his provision and return.
Then, on the 17th Ramaḍān of the same year, while in retreat, he (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) was overwhelmed by an ineffable experience which he himself later explained to his wife, ʿĀʾishah. An Angel, Jibrīl, appeared before him, came to him and gave him the curt command to read. He replied, ‘But I cannot read.’ The Angel seized him and squeezed him until all his strength left him. When he had reached the limits of his endurance, he released him, saying, ‘Read!’ Again he replied, ‘But I cannot read.’ The Angel seized him a second time and squeezed him until all his strength left him and then released him, saying, ‘Read!’ Again he replied, ‘I cannot read.’ Then he seized him a third time, and upon releasing him said:
1) Recite in the name of your Lord who created, 2) created man from clinging clots of blood. 3) Recite! Your Lord is the Most Generous, 4) who taught by (means of) the pen; 5) taught man what he did not know.
After a break of more than five centuries, Allāh’s Word had been revealed and a Messenger chosen to convey His final revelation to the whole of mankind.
Shaken, heart trembling, Allāh’s Messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) returned home to his wife, Khadījah b. Khuwaylid (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanha) and said, ‘Wrap me up! Wrap me up!’ They wrapped him up until the state of terror had left him and then he told Khadījah what had happened and said, ‘I fear for myself.’ Khadījah exclaimed, ‘No, by Allāh, be of good cheer! Allāh would never disgrace you. You maintain ties of kinship, you speak the truth, bear people’s burdens, help the destitute, give hospitality to your guests and help those who have been afflicted by calamities.’
Khadījah then took him to her cousin, Waraqah b. Nawfal b. Asad b. ʿAbdu’l-ʿUzza who had become Christian during the Jāhiliyyah. He could write in Hebrew and wrote in Hebrew as much of the Gospel as Allāh willed. He was an old man who had gone blind. Khadījah said to him, ‘Cousin! Listen to your nephew.’ Waraqah asked, ‘Nephew, what have you seen?’ The Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) told him what he had seen and Waraqah remarked, ‘This is the same Nāmūs [Jibril] which Allāh sent to Mūsā. I wish that I were still young. I wish I might still be alive when your people drive you out!’ The Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) asked, ‘Will they drive me out?’ He said, ‘Yes, no man has brought anything similar to what you have brought without being treated with hostility. If I am still alive on that day, I will lend you my strong support.’ Shortly after that, however, Waraqah died and there was a pause in the revelation. This pause continued until Allāh’s Messenger became despondent, so much so that several times he wanted to throw himself off the tops of the mountains. Whenever he reached the peak of a mountain, Jibril would appear to him and say, ‘Muḥammad, you are truly the Messenger of Allāh.’ His agitation was stilled and at peace, he would then return home. When the gap in the revelation went on too long for him, he was moved to act as before. When he reached the peak of the mountain, Jibril would appear before him and say the same thing to him.
Points of Benefit from the first Revelation
اقْرَأْ بِاسْمِ رَبِّكَ الَّذِي خَلَقَ
1) Recite in the name of your Lord who created
1) This Sūrah is also called Sūrah Iqraʾ and Sūrah Qalam, although Suyūṭī does not mention this latter name in his Itqān
2) It was revealed in Mecca by consensus, before the Hijra.
3) It was revealed 40 years after the Year of the Elephant, on the 17th night of Ramaḍān
4) The number of verses is 18 in the recitation of Syria, 19 according to the recitation of Kūfah and Baṣrah, and 20 in the recitation of Mecca and Medina. The number of words is 92.
5) Allāh is introducing Himself, this is the start of revelation, the beginning of the Book of Islām and the religion of Tawḥīd
6) Qirāʾah or recitation is to read something written or from memory
7) The object to the verb iqraʾ is not mentioned either because it is clear, i.e. recite what is to be revealed to you, or it is being treated like a fiʿl lāzim, i.e. the goal is to bring recitation into existence
8) This first interaction is a command, not some information
9) Immediately the relationship has been defined from the onset: that of a Lord and Master to His servant
10) Allāh tells us, no one tells Him
11) The duty of the servant is to receive and submit, his duty is not to invent religion or religious tenants
12) He (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) is effectively being told: this is not your message, you are reading someone else’s composition on whose behalf you are reading and conveying.
13) The first command revealed was not a command to worship or prostrate. It is the command to read (and study), and later writing is also referenced.
14) In Islām knowledge precedes action and statement. We have to learn and know first, not make things up
15) Therefore, this introductory message is a message to read, write, learn and study
16) In a society that was largely illiterate and oblivious of the world around it, this represented a major paradigm shift
17) An amazing miracle: In response to this command, Muslims became the most educated and literate community of its time. It was only when they left religion that this stopped and Muslim society fell behind.
18) In response to this single word, this one Book gave birth to hundreds of thousands of volumes: works on commentary, hadith, fiqh, aqidah, even science.
19) In response to this one word, the Book went straight to the hands of the Muslim people, all of whom read it, memorised it and taught it. Unlike Christianity, the scripture did not go to a select few.
20) Why command an illiterate person to read? The command is not exclusive to him (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) but is directed to all
21) Read seeking His aid and blessings
22) You will not read because of your own ability, but only through Allāh’s help
23) Recite what has been revealed to you in the Name of your Lord. In the same sense as:
وَقَالَ ارْكَبُواْ فِيهَا بِسْمِ اللّهِ مَجْرَاهَا وَمُرْسَاهَا إِنَّ رَبِّي لَغَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ
“He (Noah) said: ‘Embark. In the Name of Allāh will be its course and berthing. Indeed, my Lord is Forgiving, the Most Merciful.’” [Hūd (11): 41]
24) This further emphasises that he (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) is not authoring this revelation but reading what he is ordered to do.
25) “In the Name of your Lord,” further highlights that these words are not his or Jibrīl’s.
وَمَا كُنتَ تَتْلُو مِن قَبْلِهِ مِن كِتَابٍ وَلَا تَخُطُّهُ بِيَمِينِكَ إِذًا لَّارْتَابَ الْمُبْطِلُونَ
“Never before did you recited any Book, or inscribe it with your right hand. If you had done so, those who follow falsehood would have doubted.” [al-ʿAnkabūt (29): 48]
26) The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) is being told that he is not making this up, it is not a fantasy or some wild flight of his imagination
27) This revelation and guidance is not about you or me. It is not about prestige, power, or gaining fame. You are reading and speaking in the name of someone else
28) The caller to Islām must beware of making the call about himself, he must be sincere to Allāh in his call.
29) Another opinion, is that this is a command to make dhikr of Allāh all the time. So your goal is to remember Him and worship Him.
30) Rabb: Linguistically: master, owner, one who grants grace, one who sets about correcting and purifying, and one who nurtures and cultivates. It is said that the latter meaning is the core meaning of the word and the other meanings stem from it.
31) Allāh has introduced Himself as al-Rabb, using this Name rather than another Name
32) By doing so He has highlighted the aspect of His nurturing, care and cultivation. As such it is a gentle address reminding man of the many favours that Allāh has lavished on them.
33) Also generally speaking, most people believe in the existence of a higher power. So we are beginning the introduction from a point that most agree on, and then proceeding from there. This is a method of giving daʿwah.
34) The direct address in the verse, “your Lord” shows the care and solicitude that Allāh has of His Messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam). It stresses the close relationship that Allāh’s Messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) has with his Lord.
35) The verse also stresses that he (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) and man in general has no lord besides Allāh.
36) Khalq: bringing into being in a planned and orderly fashion
37) The pagans would also refer to their idols as lords, so Allāh proceeds to qualify this Name in a way that leaves no doubt as to who is meant.
38) In this respect, the relative pronoun, mawṣūl indicates ʿilliyya
39) khalq and rubūbiyyah are closely interrelated. They accepted, for the most part, that Allāh was the Creator
وَلَئِن سَأَلْتَهُم مَّنْ خَلَقَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ لَيَقُولُنَّ اللَّـهُ ۚ قُلِ الْحَمْدُ لِلَّـهِ ۚ بَلْ أَكْثَرُهُمْ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ
“If you ask them: ‘Who has created the heavens and the earth?’ They will reply: ‘Allāh.’ Say: ‘Praise belongs to Allāh!’ But most of them do not have knowledge.” [Luqmān (31): 25]
40) Of his acts that establish His Rubūbiyyah most is that He is the Creator
41) This verse establishes the first stage of our relationship with Allāh: He is our Lord and Creator. Pondering this fact carefully will naturally lead us to the conclusion that we are His servants and that we should worship Him
ذَٰلِكُمُ اللَّـهُ رَبُّكُمْ ۖ لَا إِلَـٰهَ إِلَّا هُوَ ۖ خَالِقُ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ فَاعْبُدُوهُ ۚ وَهُوَ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ وَكِيلٌ
“That is Allāh, your Lord. There is none worthy of worship save Him, the Creator of all things. Therefore, worship Him. He is the Guardian of all things.” [al-Anʿām (6): 102]
42) In the context of what the pagans said, this verse proves that a lord who does not create is not deserving of divinity, neither should he be mentioned nor recited in the name of.
43) The object of the verb khalaq is left unmentioned to show that He is the Creator of all. A particular instance of His creation is mentioned in verse 2, by way of honouring this creation and highlighting how great it is.
44) An important lesson we learn from Allāh referring to himself as the Lord and pointing to His being the Creator: Allāh is not a creator who creates, turns away and forgets his creation. Instead, He interacts, watches, hears sees, nurtures and cultivates
45) Islām is not deistic, it is theistic
46) We should internalise the meaning of al-Rabb as much as humanly possible. Just as Allāh cultivates and nurtures, so too should we to all those under our care.
47) Mentioned here is the recipient of revelation, the One who sent the revelation, and the addressees of revelation in a succinct way.
48) The One who is able to create is also able to teach
49) An example of His teaching is mentioned next. He imparted some knowledge that was not known at that time, definitely not known to the Arabs.
خَلَقَ الْإِنسَانَ مِنْ عَلَقٍ
2) created man from clinging clots of blood.
50) After mentioning creation in general, a specific instance of creation is mention: our own
51) Specifically mentioning this instance highlights that it is special and honoured
52) This verse forces us to ponder ourselves: our composition, and the intricacy and finesse of our own bodies and lives
53) It is interesting to note that in order to prove the existence of a Lord and Creator to man, man himself is being used as the evidence
On earth there are signs for those with sure faith, and in yourselves as well, do you not see? [al-Dhāriyāt (51): 20-21]
سَنُرِيهِمْ آيَاتِنَا فِي الْآفَاقِ وَفِي أَنفُسِهِمْ حَتَّىٰ يَتَبَيَّنَ لَهُمْ أَنَّهُ الْحَقُّ
We will show them Our signs on the far horizons and in themselves until it becomes clear to them that this is the Truth. [Fuṣṣilat (41): 53]
54) ʿalaq, pl. of ʿalaqa, clotted blood which is moist and not dry, therefore clinging to what it passes over
55) The plural corresponds to the plural sense understood in the word al-insān
أَلَمْ يَكُ نُطْفَةً مِّن مَّنِيٍّ يُمْنَىٰ ﴿٣٧﴾ ثُمَّ كَانَ عَلَقَةً فَخَلَقَ فَسَوَّىٰ ﴿٣٨﴾ فَجَعَلَ مِنْهُ الزَّوْجَيْنِ الذَّكَرَ وَالْأُنثَىٰ ﴿٣٩﴾ أَلَيْسَ ذَٰلِكَ بِقَادِرٍ عَلَىٰ أَن يُحْيِيَ الْمَوْتَىٰ ﴿٤٠﴾
Was he not just a drop of spilt-out sperm, which became a clinging clot of blood, which He shaped in due proportion, fashioning from it the two sexes male and female. Does He who can do this not have the power to bring the dead back to life? [al-Qiyāmah (75): 37-40]
56) These āyāt establish another line of argument, that the first creation – our creation, is a proof that a second can occur, indeed will occur
Man says: What? Once I am dead, will I be brought back to life? But does man not remember that We created him when before he was nothing? [Maryam (19): 66-67]
He produces arguments against Us, forgetting his own creation. He says: Who can give life back to bones once they have decayed? Say: He who created them in the first place will give them life again: He has full knowledge of every act of creation. [Yā Sīn (36): 78-79]
57) Shows Allāh’s power, wisdom and knowledge in that He created a human, such a complex, intricate creature from that clot of blood.
58) Ādam’s creation from clay was not generally recognised by the direct addressees, hence the reason for mentioning creation from a clot of blood
59) Sālim said that man was not witness to the absolute first stage of creation which is from dust. The next stage, the nuṭfa or sperm may or may not result in pregnancy. It is the next ʿalaqa stage that is the observable beginning of a new life.
60) Ibn al-Qayyim said that this is the only place in the Qurʾān where Allāh describes the creation of man starting with the ʿalaqah, other places start with the nuṭfa or dust etc.
61) Something that is created with such amazing intricacy shows that it is created for a higher purpose, not just to follow base desires
62) Man has a tendency towards conceit and arrogance. Here, his humble beginnings are mentioned, and hence man is put in his place
63) The foolishness of the pagans is highlighted in that they believed in other gods when evidence of His Oneness is contained in themselves!
64) In the context of introduction, with revelation descending and the first verses talking about creation, we are being told that the descent of revelation is like a new act of creation of man, a spiritual awakening as it were
65) Appointing someone as a Prophet is not greater than creating man from a clot of blood
اقْرَأْ وَرَبُّكَ الْأَكْرَمُ ﴿٣﴾
3) Recite! Your Lord is the Most Generous
66) The verb recite is mentioned again to indicate that the skill of reading is only learned through repeated practise.
67) Or it is repeated for emphasis, because knowledge is increased through reading and more reading
68) Or the first instance instructs him (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) to recite himself, and the second instructs him to propagate this reading so that others can read it as well.
Wa rabbuka al-akram
69) Karam: nobility and generosity. These two go hand in hand: when one is generous, he is noble and when one is noble, he is also generous
70) al-Akram is an attribute indicating the pinnacle of generosity since His generosity and grace is incomparable to that of any other. He is forbearing to the criminal, accepts repentance, and overlooks sin
71) We need to internalise this message for ourselves: be generous, be people who give rather than take, be the noble ones, be the better person, be the well-mannered person
72) As we increase in knowledge, Allāh will bestow more of His generosity on us
73) Therefore, take the first step towards Allāh, and He will make it easy for you through His generosity.
74) There is an interesting contrast here: man, who is created from an ignoble, lowly piece of blood, is being contrasted to the nobility of Allāh
75) We are given another reason to follow Allāh’s injunctions: He is your Lord, a Lord unlike their lords because He is al-Karīm who has no deficiency whatsoever.
76) It is as if the Messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) is wondering how he can possible recite being illiterate as he is. The answer is: your Lord is most generous, He who taught by the pen can also teach you without it
الَّذِي عَلَّمَ بِالْقَلَمِ ﴿٤﴾
4) who taught by (means of) the pen
77) the two objects of ʿallama bi’l-qalam are omitted as context shows it: man and writing
78) This is an example of His great karam: taking man out of the darkness of ignorance and into the light of knowledge
79) The pen is the means of learning, mutual understanding and spreading knowledge
80) The pen is incredibly potent in preserving knowledge
81) The benefits of literacy, and its importance and excellence are highlighted here
82) Reading has already been mentioned. Writing is alluded to here. Implied, then, is language since that is required to read and write. Further implied is a rational, thinking mind and an intellect that is able to conceptualise and translate that onto paper. Allāh has graced man with all of these.
83) The main theme so far is learning and reading and writing
84) Education is the way forward: religious and secular
85) Bukhārī records on the authority of ʿAbdullāh b. ʿAmr, that the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said, “The Muslim is one from whose tongue and hand the Muslims are safe.” The wording of Muslim is: A man asked the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) ‘Who is the best Muslim?’ He replied, “The one from whose tongue and hand the Muslims are safe.”
86) The hand is not just a reference to physical harm, but also to harming through writing
87) Ibn ʿUmar said, ‘Allāh created four things with His hand: the Pen, the Throne, the Garden of Eden and Adam (ʿalayhima al-Salām). To the rest of rest of the animal kingdom, He said, “Be!” and it was [Lālikāʾī, Sharḥ Uṣūl #729-730]’
88) Qatādah said, ‘The pen is a huge favour from Allāh, without it livelihood would not stand.’ [Ṭabarī]
89) The verse alludes to the fact that Allāh wanted the revelation written down which is why the Messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) took scribes early on
90) The object of what has been taught by the pen is omitted to generalise, and then further aggrandised in the next verse to again highlight Allāh’s power and wisdom.
عَلَّمَ الْإِنسَانَ مَا لَمْ يَعْلَمْ ﴿٥﴾
5) taught man what he did not know
91) Knowledge is what differentiates man from beast
92) ʿUmar and Anas report: ‘Capture knowledge by writing,’ [Ḥākim] and ‘Whoever acts by what He knows, Allāh will furnish him with knowledge of what he did not know.’ [Ḥākim]
 cf. Qurʾān: Sūrah 105: al-Fīl
 Bukhārī #3-3392-4955-4956-4957, Muslim #160 from ʿĀʾishah
 Tirmidhī #3632
 Bukhārī #6982, Muslim #160 from ʿĀʾishah
 Bukhārī #4953-6982, Muslim #160 from ʿĀʾishah
 Bukhārī #3-3392-4955-4956-4957, Muslim #160 from ʿĀʾishah
 Bukhārī #4953-6982, Muslim #160 from ʿĀʾishah