'ABASA (HE FROWNED)
THE EIGHTIETH SURAH
Total Verses: 42
REVEALED at a very early stage of the Prophet's mission, this surah has always been designated by the predicate with which its first sentence opens. The immediate cause of the revelation of the first ten verses was an incident witnessed by a number of the Prophet's contemporaries (see verses 1-2 and the corresponding note 1 below).
IN THE NAME OF GOD, THE MOST GRACIOUS, THE DISPENSER OF GRACE:
HE FROWNED and turned away
because the blind man approached him!*
*One day, as recorded in many well-authenticated Traditions, the Prophet was engrossed in a conversation with some of the most influential chieftains of pagan Mecca, hoping to convince them - and, through them, the Meccan community at large - of the truth of his message. At that point, he was approached by one of his followers, the blind Abd Allah ibn Shurayh - known after his grandmother's name as Ibn Umm Maktum - with the request for a repetition or elucidation of certain earlier passages of the Qur'an. Annoyed by this interruption of what he momentarily regarded as a more important endeavour, Muhammad "frowned and turned away" from the blind man - and was immediately, there and then, reproved by the revelation of the first ten verses of this surah. In later years he often greeted Ibn Umm Maktum with these words of humility: "Welcome unto him on whose account my Sustainer has rebuked me (atabani)!" Indirectly, the sharp Qur'anic rebuke (stressed, in particular, by the use of the third-person form in verses 1-2) implies, firstly, that what would have been a minor act of discourtesy on the part of an ordinary human being, assumed the aspect of a major sin, deserving a divine rebuke, when committed by a prophet; and, secondly, it illustrates the objective nature of the Qur'anic revelation: for, obviously, in conveying God's reproof of him to the world at large, the Prophet "does not speak out of his own desire" (cf. 53:3).
Yet for all thou didst know, [O Muhammad,] he might perhaps have grown in purity,
or have been reminded [of the truth], and helped by this reminder.
Now as for him who believes himself to be self-sufficient* –
* I.e., who does not feel the need of divine guidance: a reference to the arrogant pagan chieftains with whom the Prophet was conversing.
to him didst thou give thy whole attention,
although thou art not accountable for his failure to attain to purity;*
*Lit., "it is not upon thee (alayka) that he does not attain to purity".
but as for him who came unto thee full of eagerness
and in awe [of God]
him didst thou disregard!
NAY, VERILY, these [messages] are but a reminder:*
*Sc., of the existence and omnipotence of God. The Qur'an is described here, as in many other places, as "a reminder" because it is meant to bring man's instinctive - though sometimes hazy or unconscious - realization of God's existence into the full light of consciousness. (Cf. 7:172 and the corresponding note 139.)
and so, whoever is willing may remember Him
in [the light of His] revelations blest with dignity,
lofty and pure,
[borne] by the hands of messengers
noble and most virtuous.
[But only too often] man destroys himself:* how stubbornly does he deny the truth!
* For my rendering of qutila as "he destroys himself", see surah 74, note 9.
[Does man ever consider] out of what substance [God] creates him?
Out of a drop of sperm He creates him, and thereupon determines his nature,*
* I.e., in accordance with the organic functions which man's body and mind are to fulfil, and the natural conditions to which he will have to adapt himself. Verses 18-22, although formulated in the past tense, obviously describe a recurrent phenomenon.
and then makes it easy for him to go through life;*
* Lit., "He makes easy the way for him". This is an allusion to man's being endowed with the intellectual equipment enabling him to discern between good and evil and to make fruitful use of the opportunities offered to him by his earthly environment.
and in the end He causes him to die and brings him to the grave;
and then, if it be His will, He shall raise him again to life,
Nay, but [man] has never yet fulfilled what He has enjoined upon him!*
* In other words, man has failed to make adequate use of the intellectual and spiritual endowment referred to in verse 20. Whereas some commentators are of the opinion that this relates only to the type of man spoken of in verse 17 above, others maintain, with greater plausibility, that it is a reference to man in general - thus: "No human being has ever fulfilled all that was imposed on him as a [moral] duty" (Mujahid, as quoted by Tabari, with a similar statement attributed by Baghawi to Al-Hasan al-Basri); or "From the time of Adam to this time, no human being has ever been free of shortcomings" (Zamakhshari, Baydawi). This is in tune with the Qur'anic doctrine that perfection is an attribute of God alone.
Let man, then, consider [the sources of] his food:
[how it is] that We pour down water, pouring it down abundantly;
and then We cleave the earth [with new growth], cleaving it asunder,
and thereupon We cause grain to grow out of it,
and vines and edible plants,
and olive trees and date-palms,
and gardens dense with foliage,
and fruits and herbage,
for you and for your animals to enjoy.*
* The implication is that man ought to be grateful for all this God-given bounty, but as a rule is not: and this connects with the subsequent evocation of the Day of Resurrection, already hinted at in the reference to the recurring phenomenon of life-renewal.
AND SO,* when the piercing call [of resurrection] is heard
* I.e., as God is able to bring forth new life out of a seemingly dead earth, so is He able to resurrect the dead.
on a Day when everyone will [want to] flee from his brother,
and from his mother and father,
and from his spouse and his children:
on that Day, to every one of them will his own state be of sufficient concern.
Some faces will on that Day be bright with happiness,
laughing, rejoicing at glad tidings.
And some faces will on that Day with dust be covered,
with darkness overspread:
these, these will be the ones who denied the truth and were immersed in iniquity!