The third sūra ‘revealed’ to Muḥammad was Sūrat al-Muzzammil. This sūra came while Muḥammad was still afraid of Jibrīl when he saw him in the cave and felt cold and asked Khadīja to wrap him in his garment, as they claim. In this atmosphere of fear, the Lord of the Qur’ān says to Muḥammad: Rise to pray in the night except a little, - Half of it, or lessen it a little, Or add to it, and recite the Qur’ān as it ought to be recited


AT FIRST GLANCE, it seems that whoever wrote these verses has a problem with arithmetic, as he says to him: Rise to pray in the night except a little. We understand from this that he is required to stay up all of the night except for a little of it, that is, until shortly before dawn. But he explains it by saying Half of it, or lessen it a little, that is, do half the night or less than half, maybe a third of the night. 

Then he adds: Or add to it. What is the hearer to make of these verses? Stay up the whole night except a little of it? Or stay up rise a third of the night? Or a half? Or a little more than half to become two-thirds? Would it not have been better if he had said to him:  Stay up as much as you can at night? But the saj‘ rhyme[1] forced him to say ‘a little’, and he had to increase and decrease. It is clear from these verses that the one who wrote them lacked the faculty of arranging his thoughts before uttering them, and this writer could therefore not be a god.

The one who wrote them lacked the faculty of arranging his thoughts before uttering them, and this writer could therefore not be a god

The purpose of staying up all night is to recite the Qur’ān. But we see here that only two short sūras of the Qur’ān had been revealed before this sūra. So did God ask his Messenger to stay up all night to recite two short sūras from the Qur’ān? Or did He hasten this verse and reveal it at the beginning of the Message, knowing that the Qur’ān would not be completed until more than twenty years later? Would it not have been better to delay this verse until the Qur’ān was complete so that Muḥammad could find enough verses to recite throughout the night? If the Qur’ān were recited all night long, he would inevitably sleep all day. So when would he be able to spread his Message

Surely We will make to light upon you a weighty Word. Surely the rising by night is the firmest way to tread and the best corrective of speech.

God tells Muḥammad that He will cast upon him a heavy word of verses, and that the rising by night is the firmest way to tread and the best corrective of speech. But the reader of the Qur’ān   does not find in it any weighty Word at all. Are verses such as: Surely We have given you Kawthar (‘abundance’)[2] or Say: O unbelievers! I do not worship that which you worship[3] – a weighty Word? And what is the rising by night? Al-Qurṭubī says on this:

The scholars have said the rising by night is its times, since it is its times that arise first and foremost. One says ‘something arises’ if it initiates and advances bit by bit. What is meant here is the emerging hours of the night, so it sufficed by describing the noun.

After much effort he explains that water is water. Do you think that daylight hours do not also arise little by little, like the hours of night? So why are the hours of the night the firmest way to tread and the best corrective of speech?

When they came to explain the best corrective of speech, al-Qurṭubī notes that, 

Reading at night is more certain and correct because voices are quiet and the world is still, and so the worshiper is not disturbed.

We can understand that the Qur’ān came at a time when the Arabs of the desert did not know the life of the nighttime, and so they slept shortly after sunset. But it seems that the writer of the Qur’ān did not consider the twentieth century and after. The night-time in New York is no different from the day in terms of noise and bustle, the sounds of planes and trains and rap music. Even in Muslim countries like Cairo and Jakarta, night is not much different from the day. In this country, the night will not be the firmest way to tread and the best corrective of speech. The word used here for speech – qīlā – is incomprehensible because the verbal noun of the verb ‘speak’, ‘say’ (qāl) is qawl, and the closest word to qīlā is qaylūla (‘siesta’), which is the fourth hour of the day, and certainly does not apply to the rising by night.

Surely you have in the day time a long occupation. And remember the name of your Lord and devote yourself to Him with (exclusive) devotion.

The Lord of the Qur’ān here asks Muḥammad to stay up at night – except a little – because he has a long occupation in the day. The commentators say that sabḥan (‘an occupation’) means space, that is, you have space for your needs during the day, so what was meant was a long space for your sleep (thus al-Qurṭubī). The word sabḥan is another word imposed on the writer by the rhyme needs, and Muḥammad did not have during the day either a sabḥ, a sibāḥa(‘swimming’) or a tasbīḥ (‘praise’) that required the introduction of this word into the verse. This verse came in a barren desert where there was no water and no swimming.

It seems that the writer of the Qur’ān did not consider the twentieth century and after

We understand from this that the Qur’ān came to people who never work, who rise only a little during the night, and then sleep during the day because the day has a long sabḥ. We see this picture clearly in the month of Ramadan when people stay up for half the night or more watching TV series and eating, and then go on to sleep most of the following day, as a result of which transactions are suspended. And yet after this they say that the Qur’ān is valid for all times and all places. 

The Lord of the East and the West – therefore take Him for a wakīl.

wakīl (‘agent’) is a person who acts on behalf of another person in the performance of a task. For example, there is the agent of the Bayt al-Māl (exchequer) who manages the affairs of the Bayt al-Māl on behalf of the caliph and is responsible to the caliph. There is also a legal agent (lawyer) who defends the accused, and who is responsible to the accused. There is the groom’s agent who acts on his behalf at the marriage ceremony, as the Negus[4] did when he became Muḥammad’s agent in his marriage to Umm Ḥabība, who was in Abyssinia at the time, and he entrusted (wakala) him with the affair, handing it over to him and leaving it to him. Tawākalū means ‘depend on one another’. How can Muḥammad take Allah as his agent? For it seems that Allah is acting on behalf of all people: They cried: Allah is Sufficient for us! Most Excellent is the protector (wakil)! [Qur’ān III (Āl ‘Imrān), 173] and He even acts on behalf of all things: and He is Guardian (wakil) over all things [Qur’ān XXXIX (al-An‘ām), 62]. Logic tells us that Muḥammad  is God’s wakīl on earth, doing what God tells him; so how can God become Muḥammad’s wakīl and responsible to him?

And bear patiently what they say and avoid them with a becoming avoidance. And leave Me to deal with the deniers, the possessors of ease and plenty, and respite them a little. Surely with Us are heavy fetters and a flaming fire, And food that chokes and a painful punishment,

When we avoid someone we do it because we are angry with them. How is avoidance something beautiful? And would it not have been more eloquent if he had said ‘a long avoidance? His Lord then resorts to threats and intimidation, and says:

Leave Me to deal with the deniers … lords of ease and comfort. Surely with Us are heavy fetters and a flaming fire.

Where is there any exhortation of mankind to use his mind to ponder the verses of the Qur’ān, so that they may be convinced or not of the existence of God or the prophethood of Muḥammad? No, in the place of pondering the Lord of the Qur’ān threatens those who deny him, the wealthy folk (the lords of ease and comfort), with hellfire and chains. This is because the rich merchants of Makka refused to believe Muḥammad’s message. The world’s poor may thus rest easy since no chains await them, for they are not lords of ease and comfort.

On the day when the earth and the mountains shall quake and the mountains shall become (as) heaps of sand let loose

The Lord of the Qur’ān here describes to the Arabs the Day of Resurrection, the day when the earth shall quake and the mountains shall become (as) heaps of sand let loose. But we now see how the earth trembles with the earthquakes that strike countries in the world, where all the houses and concrete buildings are destroyed – whereas the mountains remain the same and do not turn into sand. The mountains are deeply rooted in the ground, and the mountains will only be destroyed when the entire earth is destroyed, and then there will be no grave, no human being, no animal alive or dead, for God to hold accountable. The Qur’ān is relying on intimidation through drawing portentous images of the Day of Judgment, even if those images are unfeasible and contrary to the logic of reason. Yet even after all this the people of Islam will insist that Islam respects reason and encourages its use.

How can the Lord of the Qur’ān talk to them in the third ‘revealed’ sūraabout Pharaoh’s disobedience to Moses before he had told them about Pharaoh himself, someone they knew nothing about?

The Sūrat al-Muzzammil continues: 

Lo! We have sent unto you a messenger as witness against you, even as We sent unto Pharaoh a messenger. But Pharaoh rebelled against the messenger, so We laid on him a violent hold. How, then, will you guard yourselves, if you disbelieve, on the day which will turn children grey? The heaven shall rend asunder thereby; His promise is ever brought to fulfillment. Lo! This is a Reminder. Let him who will, then, choose a way unto his Lord.[5]

In a later sūra the Lord of the Qur’ān says that Muḥammad did not know the stories of the previous prophets until God mentioned these to him in the Qur’ān:   

Verily We sent messengers before thee, among them those of whom We have told thee, and some of whom We have not told thee.[6]

as well as

This is of the tidings of things hidden. We reveal it unto thee (Muhammad). Thou wast not present with them when they cast their pens (to know) which of them should be the guardian of Mary.[7]

If the stories of the prophets come from from the unseen which God is revealing to Muḥammad, then up to this point he had not yet been told about the story of Pharaoh and Moses in the two sūras that were revealed to him. So the Arabs of Makka at that time had to be ignorant of these stories, since Muḥammad did not know them. So how can the Lord of the Qur’ān talk to them in the third ‘revealed’ sūra about Pharaoh’s disobedience to Moses before he had told them about Pharaoh himself, someone they knew nothing about? Why did He not first explain to them the story of Pharaoh before threatening them with his fate? He tells them about the destruction of Pharaoh and about the day which will turn children grey, so that the Arabs of Makka will be afraid and follow Muḥammad so as to avoid the fate of Pharaoh. Yet he tells us Lo! This is a Reminder. Let him who will, then, choose a way unto his Lord and whoever does not wish to choose this way will not be fearing that day which will turn children grey. Here He is telling us: you are free not to believe in Allah, but if you use your freedom of choice, we will torment you severely. And how can heaven be on that day broken, that is, split up, for He says in other verses that he will fold the sky with his right hand,[8] and roll up heaven like the rolling up of the scroll for writings [9] Is the sky to be split or folded?

Following these verses we find this:

Lo! Your Lord knows how you keep vigil sometimes nearly two-thirds of the night, or (sometimes) half or a third thereof, as do a party of those with you. Allah measures the night and the day. He knows that you cannot count it so He has turned to you in mercy. Recite, then, of the Qur’ān that which is easy for you. 

Again, the writer of the Qur’ān returns to the night prayer and his problems with arithmetic, so he says that he knows that Muḥammad stays up less than two-thirds of the night, and this means that he stays up for a quarter, a third or half of the night. But he is satisfied here only with some useless repetition, for he tells him half or a third thereof, but as long as half and a third are less than two-thirds, there is no need to mention them at all, because he already said that he knows that Muḥammad stays up less than two-thirds of the night. He then goes on to inform us in a long and useless sentence:

Allah measures the night and the day. He knows that you cannot count it so He has turned to you in mercy.

We can well understand that He measures night and day (even though He has not given us any evidence of this), but we cannot understand His saying: He knows that you cannot count it. What is this something that we cannot count or calculate? And is the fact that we cannot count this thing a reason for him to have to repent of punishing a sin that we did not commit? 

Continuing with this sūra we find this:

Therefore read what is easy of the Qur’ān. He knows that there must be among you sick, and others who travel in the land seeking of the bounty of Allah, and others who fight in Allah’s way, therefore read as much of it as is easy (to you), and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate and lend unto Allah a goodly loan [10]

The author or transcriber of the Qur’ān has made a serious mistake in this verse, saying and others who fight in Allah’s wayand keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate. Either this verse is a Madinan sūra inserted here by mistake, or the author of the Qur’ān has made a mistake in history, because fighting was not prescribed for Muslims until after Muḥammad had migrated to Madina and bolstered his strength with supporters. Prayer was not imposed on Muslims until the tenth year following the initiation of the Message, while zakāh was imposed at the end of Muḥammad’s life in Madina. But this sūra is the third sūra revealed in the Qur’ān and it came at the beginning of Muḥammad’s propagation of his Message. How, then, can he ask of them to pray and give zakāh when these have not yet been imposed?

To get out of this predicament Ibn Kathīr maintains that  

this verse, indeed the whole sūra, is a Makkan sūra when fighting had not yet been legislated – this is one of the greatest signs of his prophethood since it is an example of how he informs of the Unseen.

For the Lord of the Qur’ān knows of that which is unseen, and knew that fighting and prayer would be imposed after ten years, and zakāh after twenty years, and He could not have keep this secret from Muḥammad. So in this third sūra He told him that they were to establish prayer and pay zakāh, and this is therefore one of the signs of his prophethood. The problem for a believer is that it is impossible for him to say that Muḥammad or the transcriber of the Qur’ān has erred, so they come up with all manner of acrobatics to convince themselves of the truth of the Qur’ān. The rational mind can go to Hell since there is no need for it, because to ponder on anything other than God’s creatures is forbidden: “Think about His creatures and do not think about Him”.[11]

This is what the Islamic jurists maintained, that Muḥammad did not actually forget to ask people to lend unto Allah a goodly loan. So imagine, then, a new prophet who comes with a Message supposed to be for the common people who, instead of explaining this Message to them, asks them in the third sūra to lend unto Allah a goodly loan. We know that Muḥammad was poor, so was the Lord of Heaven also poor enough to hasten to borrow from people before they had submitted to Islam? And if he is poor, why does he say,

Leave Me (to deal) with him whom I created alone, And then bestowed upon him ample means [12]

Where did he get this money from to bestow upon this person, if he was at the same time asking people to lend unto Him a goodly loan?


[1] Saj‘ was a form of rhymed prose which was employed by the kahana soothsayers in the pre-Islamic period for oracular sayings and more generally in contexts of dignified discourse, challenges and harangues. (Ed).

[2] Qur’ān CVIII (al-Kawthar), 1

[3] Qur’ān CIX (al-Kāfirūn), 1-2.

[4] Al-Najāshī (‘Negus’). The word is derived from the Ethiopic term for ‘king’. (Ed.)

[5] Qur’ān LXXIII (al-Muzzammil), 15-19.

[6] Qur’ān XL (al-Ghāfir), 78.

[7] Qur’ān III (Āl ‘Imrān), 44.

[8] Qur’ān XXXIX (al-Zumar), 67: And the whole earth shall be in His grip on the day of resurrection and the heavens rolled up in His right hand.

[9] Qur’ān XXI (al-Anbiyā’), 104.

[10] Qur’ān LXXIII (al-Muzzammil), 20.

[11] A hadith of Ibn ‘Umar recorded by several early hadith scholars such as Ibn Abī Ḥātim, Al-Ṭabarānī and al-Bayhaqī. (Ed.)

[12] Qur’ān LXXIV (al-Muddaththir), 11-12.

Read Part One of this essay here

Read Part Two of this essay here