The ninth sūra in the order of ‘revelation’ is the Sūrat al-Layl in which the Lord of the Qur’ān swears an oath, saying: I swear by the night when it draws a veil,and the day when it shines in brightness, and the creating of the male and the female, Lo! your effort is dispersed (toward divers ends).[1] 


THE QUR’ĀN IS MOSTLY dependent on natural phenomena that were not understood by the pre-Islamic Arabs. It thus swears by the night and the day as it manifests or appears, and then swears by the creation of the male and the female, and assumes that as long as these things exist, then He is their Creator.

Of course, this assumption may have been acceptable to contemporaries of Muḥammad in the seventh century, but now that science has provided us the wherewithal to help understand the origins of man, the Qur’ān’s claim – which lacks evidence – fails to convince us.

All of these oaths in the three verses must be responded to, and the response offered us is:  Lo! your effort is dispersed (toward divers ends), that is, that your your deeds are varied, and include both the good and the bad. Does the God who created this world need to swear to us in three verses to tell us that our actions are varied? The fact that our actions are varied is something humanity has known since it drew breath, If anyone had told us that our deeds were varied, they would have believed it without the need for swearing to it. So why did the God who created the world need to swear this to us? And instead of swearing by His gloriousness, He chooses to swear simply by the day and the night.

The sūra goes on: 

Then as for him who gives away and guards (against evil), and believes in goodness; we will smooth his path towards an end of ease. But as for him who hoards up and deems himself independent, and repudiates goodness; surely We will smooth his path into adversity.

The author of the Qur’ān here reverses the sense of the words and puts the cart before the horse when he says, Then as for him who gives away and guards (against evil), and believes in goodness; we will smooth his path towards an end of ease. The person who gave and believed in goodness and piety, does not need to have his path smoothed to an end of ease because his nature was one of giving charity and doing everything that is desirable. Why does he need to be eased to an easy end when he was doing all this by his nature? And the same goes vice versa. A person who hoards up and deems himself independent, and repudiates goodness does not need God to smooth his path to adversity.

Muḥammad right from the outset aimed to spread his Message by means of the sword and raiding expeditions, so as to provide him with money and captives

Then it says: 

Lo! Ours it is (to give) the guidance and lo! unto Us belong the latter portion and the former. Therefor have I warned you of the flaming Fire which only the most wretched must endure, he who denies and turns away.

We understand from these verses that the Lord of the Qur’ān obligated Himself to giving guidance, and therefore we expect him to guide all people so that they would believe in him and be righteous. But the truth is quite the opposite: four-fifths of the people of the earth do not believe in the God of the Qur’ān.

Therefor have I warned you of the flaming Fire which only the most wretched must endure, he who denies and turns away.

The God of the Qur’ān always resorts to threats and intimidation. Although He said that He obligated Himself to give guidance – and and if He wanted anything He need but say ‘be’ and it shall be – He knew here that He would fail to guide all people and therefore warned them of a burning fire. This fire only the ‘most wretched’ must endure, he who denies and turns away.  The merely ‘wretched’ one may not have to endure it.

It goes on to say: 

Far removed from it will be the most righteous, who gives away his wealth, purifying himself.  And no one has with him any boon for which he should be rewarded, except the seeking of the pleasure of his Lord, the Most High. He verily will be content.

Since the saj‘ rhyme was forced the hand of the author of the Qur’ān here, we find him using superlatives in several verses in this sūra. The Fire that He prepared for the most wretched will be avoided by the most righteous. The merely righteous will not avoid the Fire unless he becomes the most righteous and who gives away his wealth, purifying himself. The God of the Qur’ān moreover contradicts Himself in a later sūra when He spoke of Hell saying: There is not one of you but shall approach it. That is a fixed ordinance of thy Lord.[2]

Every man will end up in the Fire, so how can the most righteous avoid it? The reason why Muḥammad said that the one who gives away his wealth will avoid the Fire is because he was poor in his youth and therefore his entire concern was to amass money. This is why he spoke a lot about zakāh in the Makkan verses before imposing zakāh on his followers during his last days in Madina. 

There are many verses in the Qur’ān that talk about money, putting it above all else in the verse. Examples are: 

Wealth and children are an adornment of the life of this world[3] ;  

And you love wealth with exceeding love[4] ; 

And their prophet said to them: Surely Allah has raised Talut to be a king over you. They said: How can he hold kingship over us while we have a greater right to kingship than he, and he has not been granted an abundance of wealth?[5]

This last verse reflects what was in Muḥammad’s mind when he announced his prophethood and the Arabs at that time asked how Allah could send Muḥammad as His messenger while among the Arabs there were men more famous and wealthier than him, such as Al-Walīd ibn al-Mughīra and ‘Urwa ibn Mas‘ūd al-Thaqafī. Muḥammad recalled this in the Qur’ān:

And they say: Why was not this Quran revealed to a man of importance in the two towns?[6]

The reason for the repeated giving of zakāh in the Meccan sūras is that Muhammad, as a poor orphan, intended to collect a tax from his followers which he called zakāh. However, at a time when only the poor and destitute such as Bilal, Ibn Mas‘ūd and Abū Dhar al-Qafarī were followers of him in Makka, he was forced to postpone the collection of zakāh, although he kept mentioning it in the Qur’ān which he had already consigned to memory. When he migrated to Madina and saw the relative wealth of the Anṣār,[7] he coveted anew a tax from them, and so came up with a verse that ran:

O you who believe! when you consult the Messenger, then offer an alms before your consultation.[8]

When the Anṣār refused to pay that tax, Muḥammad abrogated the verse. He then went on to replace the tax with the khums (‘fifth’) tithe that he collected from the raiding expeditions. And here we can understand the reason for the revelation of the next sūra, the Sūrat al-‘Ādiyāt in Makka. 

If we look at this Sūrat al-‘Ādiyāt – one of the earliest Makkan sūras and placed as No. 13 in the order of revelation by Imam al-Suyūṭī –we see how Muḥammad right from the outset aimed to spread his Message by means of the sword and raiding expeditions, so as to provide him with money and captives. In this sūra, which perhaps appeared in the second year of the Message, we find him saying: 

By the snorting courses, striking sparks of fire and scouring to the raid at dawn, then, therewith, with their trail of dust cleaving, as one, the centre (of the foe), most surely man is ungrateful to his Lord and most surely he is a witness of that. And lo! in the love of good he is tenacious. Does he not then know when what is in the graves is raised, and the secrets of the breasts are made known, on that day will their Lord be perfectly informed concerning them.

Muḥammad is here talking about horses in a fierce battle, where dust rises over everything, and the horses’ hooves strike sparks when they scrape on rocks or hard ground. Why did Muḥammad come up with this sūra at the beginning of his Message before explaining to people what the Message was and who was this god he wanted people to worship? Why does a prophet who came to convince people with logic about the existence of Allah describe battles in which horses are the main theme? The only conclusion that can be reached is that Muḥammad’s idea was that he would be a prophet king like David or Solomon. These he had  heard about from the Jews, he admired them and came up with long Qur’ānic sūras about them. His ambition was to have a kingdom that would extend over all the Arabian Peninsula and its neighbours. His his need for horses and money was therefore apparent.

Muḥammad’s idea was that he would be a prophet king like David or Solomon

After describing that battle with all its horses, he tell us: most surely man is ungrateful to his Lord, that isman is dismissing his Lord’s grace. And this dismissing, ungrateful man testifies to this against himself (and most surely he is a witness of that). Then Muḥammad mixes up his words saying, And lo! in the love of good he is tenacious.

The subject here refers to Mankind, but when the commentators found it difficult to reconcile this verse with the previous verse that says that Mankind is dismissive of the grace of Allah, they said that the subject of the sentence here is Allah, who loves good for humankind. Given that the Makkan Qur’ān is for the most part made up of threats and promises of painful torment for humans, we do not know how Allah loves good for humans. The reason for the confusion of the commentators is how this ungrateful man, who dismisses the grace of Allah, can have a tenacious love for good? If a man is very loving for good, and wishes to be good and beneficial to others, it is not reasonable that at the same time he should be dismissive, because others would be equally dismissive of his goodness. To get out of this dilemma some commentators have said that ‘good’ here means money, and thus Mankind is a lover of wealth.[9] Every human being, whether good or evil, must love wealth because it is the only way in which people interact.

After describing battles and accusing Mankind of being ungrateful and concupiscent of wealth, Muḥammad says in the Qur’ān: 

Does he not then know when what is in the graves is raised, and the secrets of the breasts are made known, on that day will their Lord be perfectly informed concerning them.

If He is their Lord who created them and they acknowledge this, then they must have known that this Lord is perfectly informed concerning them, and that there is no reason to have them wait until the Day of Resurrection, the day when what is in the graves is raised and the secrets of the breasts are made known, to teach them that their Lord is perfectly informed concerning them. The last three verses are just filler and inserted in order to complete the rhyme scheme and justify the length of the sūra.

If we reflect on the Makkan Qur’ān, we find that most of it is made up of sūras on natural phenomena such as the dawn, the afternoon, the night, sun, moon, the constellations and the morning star. All of these are names of Makkan sūras that the author of the Qur’ān claimed that Allah had produced. Then there are sūras about the earlier prophets taken from the Torah, with some distortion in their names: we find Mūsā (Moses), Ṭāhā, ‘Īsā (Jesus), Yāsīn, Mary, Yūnus (Jonas), Hūd, Yūsūf (Joseph), Luqmān, Nūḥ (Noah) and Ibrāhīm (Abraham). Then there is a Sūrat al-Anbiyā’ (‘the Prophets’) that repeats the names of those mentioned individually. There are sūras about Muḥammad himself, such as Al-Muzzammil, Al-Muddathir and Al-Kawthar, in which Muḥammad is defended: that “he is not without progeny – rather it is his enemy that is without progeny”.[10] There is also the Sūrat al-Masad, in which he insults Abū Lahab and his wife.[11]

The sūras were not really interested in guidance or expounding the Message so much as they were interested in threats, warnings, insults, saj‘ rhymes and amassing wealth

The picture is complemented by the Madinan Qur’ān which speaks at length about Muḥammad’s women and the maidservants who were permitted him, and the women who gave themselves to him.[12] It speaks of Muḥammad’s marriage to Zaynab bint Jaḥsh,[13] and about the conspiracy of his wives against him and how God can give him wives better than them if he divorces them.[14] The rest of the Qur’ān speaks of the Israelites and Moses. Did the Qur’ān then come to guide the bedouin of the Arabian peninsula or did it come merely to tell them stories about the sons of Israel and the sex life of Muḥammad? 

I think that these four episodes of the Makkan sūras, which came at the beginning of the Message to guide people to worship one God, prove to us that the sūras were not really interested in guidance or expounding the Message so much as they were interested in threats, warnings, insults, saj‘ rhymes and amassing wealth. There is even material that contradicts monotheism, as we mentioned. It is hardly surprising that most of the people of Makka did not believe in this Qur’ān, a work which did not explain anything to them about Islam, and while at the same time there were preachers and soothsayers among them who composed rhymes no less beautiful than those found in the Makkan verses.

[1] Qur’ān XCII (al-Layl), 1-4.

[2] Qur’ān XIX (Maryam), 71.

[3] Qur’ān XVIII (al-Kahf), 46.

[4] Qur’ān LXXXIX (al-Fajr), 20.

[5] Qur’ān II (al-Baqara), 247.

[6] Qur’ān XLIII (al-Zukhruf), 31.

[7] The ‘helpers’, members of the Banū Khazraj and Banū Aws at Madina who gave aid to the Prophet Muhammad after his flight from Makka.

[8] Qur’ān LVIII (al-Mujādila), 12.

[9] The ambiguity lies in the word khayr used here, which can mean ‘good’ or ‘goods’ in the sense of wealth. 

[10] Qur’ān CVIII (al-Kawthar), 3: Lo! it is thy insulter (and not thou) who is without posterity!

[11] The Qur’ānic sūra 111 is given over to an expression of personal rancour: Perdition overtake both hands of Abu Lahab, and he will perish. His wealth and what he earns will not avail him. He shall soon burn in fire that flames, And his wife, the wood-carrier, will have a twisted rope of palm-leaf fibre round her (own) neck! Abū Lahab’s wife incurred Muḥammad’s wrath by mocking him, saying: “O Allah’s Messenger, I see that your Satan has forsaken you, for I have not seen him with you for two or three nights!” In response there came the revelation: I swear by the morning hours, And by the night when it is stillest, Your Lord has not forsaken you, nor has He become displeased. (Qur’ān XCIII (al-Ḍuḥā), 1-3. (Ed.)

[12] ‘A privilege for thee only, not for the rest of the believers’ (Qur’ān XXXIII (al-Aḥzāb), 50). This verse gives a detailed list of Muḥammad’s privileges in this respect: O Prophet! surely We have made lawful to you your wives whom you have given their dowries, and those whom your right hand possesses out of those whom Allah has given to you as prisoners of war, and the daughters of your paternal uncles and the daughters of your paternal aunts, and the daughters of your maternal uncles and the daughters of your maternal aunts who fled with you; and a believing woman if she gave herself to the Prophet, if the Prophet desired to marry her– specially for you, not for the (rest of) believers; We know what We have ordained for them concerning their wives and those whom their right hands possess in order that no blame may attach to you; and Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. (Ed.)

[13] Zainab bint Jaḥsh was married to Muḥammad’s adopted son Zayd ibn Ḥāritha. But when visiting Zayd he saw her in a revealing garment and developed an infatuation with her. Zayd helpfully divorced her in order to allow Muḥammad to marry her, but the union was considered scandalous as something akin to incest. Whereupon the Qur’ānic verse was revealed: Thou didst fear the people, but it is more fitting that thou shouldst fear Allah. Then when Zaid had dissolved (his marriage) with her, with the necessary (formality), We joined her in marriage to thee: in order that (in future) there may be no difficulty to the Believers in (the matter of) marriage with the wives of their adopted sons, when the latter have dissolved with the necessary (formality) (their marriage) with them. And Allah’s command must be fulfilled. (Qur’ān XXXIII (al-Aḥzāb), 37. (Ed.)

[14] Muḥammad used to take turns among his wives. On one occasion his wife Ḥafṣa was not available on her night and so the Prophet had intimate relations with his Coptic slave girl, Mary. Ḥafṣa objected and refused to keep silent about his indiscretion and told the other wives. Their discontent was silenced by a Qur’ānic revelation: O Prophet! why do you forbid (yourself) that which Allah has made lawful for you; you seek to please your wives; and Allah is Forgiving, Merciful …  If you back up each other against him, truly Allah is his Protector, and Gabriel, and (every) righteous one among those who believe,- and furthermore, the angels – will back (him) up. Maybe, his Lord, if he divorce you, will give him in your place wives better than you, submissive, faithful, obedient, penitent, adorers, fasters, widows and virgins. (Qur’ān LXVI (al-Taḥrīm), 1, 4-5). (Ed.)

Read Part One of this essay here

Read Part Two  here

Read Part Three  here

Read Part Four  here

Read Part Five  here

Read Part Six  here

Read Part Seven  here