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Chapter 94: Al-Inshirah (The Expansion)
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Chapter 94:

The Expansion

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.

  1. Have We not expanded for thee thy breast,
  2. And removed from thee thy burden,
  3. Which weighed down thy back,
  4. And exalted for thee thy mention?
  5. Surely with difficulty is ease.
  6. With difficulty is surely ease.
  7. So when thou art free (from anxiety), work hard,
  8. And make thy Lord thy exclusive object.

This chapter is an early Makkan revelation. It serves as an appendix to the last chapter, Ad-Duha (The Dawn), for here the same theme is continued thus highlighting the Divine promise that every future period of the Holy Prophet’s life and mission will be superior to the past one, and that his religion will make headway and his name will be exalted. As a sign of future events he should consider his past life and reflect on the mighty favours of Allah which He had already miraculously bestowed on him.

The Holy Prophet therefore should be consoled with the promise that this flow of favours would not be cut off. That is, the past is proffered as strong proof of the continuation of Divine blessings in the future. Accordingly, the chapter begins thus:

1-4. Have We not expanded for thee thy breast,
And removed from thee thy burden,
Which weighed down thy back,
And exalted for thee thy mention?

As regards this inshirah sadr, that is, expansion of the heart, most of our Qur’anic commentators refer to an event that took place three times in the life of our Holy Prophet — in his childhood, after adolescence, and at the time of his mi‘raj (ascension), and that is the vision in which the Holy Prophet was shown that his chest was cut open and his heart was cleansed of every kind of impurity. From this, no one can deny that Allah, Most High, had cleansed the Prophet’s heart of all kinds of pollution. But that event does not seem to bear any relationship to the subject matter that is discussed here.

Contraction and expansion are two conditions of the human heart. When a man has to bear a burden greater than his strength will allow, and considers a task beyond his ability, then his heart becomes tight and that state is called inqibaz (contraction). However, when he begins to experience ease in consequence of the weight having been lifted, and he thinks that he will carry on the job and that it will be accomplished, then his heart expands and that is known as inshirah sadr  (expansion of the heart). The Holy Qur’an has made it clear that prophethood is an immense responsibility. To have the burden of reforming the whole world hanging around one’s neck is no joking matter. To mend and ameliorate one’s own conduct is in itself a gigantic task. So can one imagine the condition of this person on whose shoulders had fallen the weight of reforming the whole world?

When the Holy Prophet was given the Divine command in chapter Hud:

Continue then in the right way as thou art commanded, as also those who turn penitently (to Allah) with thee. And be not inordinate (O men!) - (11:112),

it had a very great effect on the Messenger of Allah. It is recorded in the Hadith that the heavy emphasis placed in this verse on reforming others besides himself increased the weight of the responsibility in the Holy Prophet’s mind so much so that part of his beard became white and he uttered the words: “Chapter Hud has made me old.”

When prophethood came to Prophet Moses (as), such was his consternation over this ponderous task that he first recommended his brother Aaron for the job saying: He is more eloquent in speech than I (28:34), attempting thus to avoid the responsibility. When his attempt at evasion was rejected, he pleaded with Allah thus:

My Lord, expand my breast for me, and ease my affair for me, and loose the knot from my tongue, that they may understand my word. And give to me an aider from my family: Aaron, my brother (20:25-30).

See how perturbed he was by this responsibility of prophethood, that he called it a weight or a burden for bearing which he requested an assistant in his brother, Aaron!

So, the matter here really relates to the great responsibility of prophethood on the Holy Prophet (sas) and his concern about reforming not only his own people but also the whole world which was deeply sunk in evil. The extent to which he would be able to fulfil that obligation in the eyes of Allah also formed part of his worries. When this burden of prophethood was placed on his back, he became greatly troubled and on returning home he told his noble wife, Lady Khadijah: “Cover me, cover me,” and having related the whole experience to her, he confessed: “I am afraid that I will not be able to bear this task.” Whereupon Lady Khatijah greatly consoled him and, recounting his noble qualities, she averred: “Allah will never destroy so beneficent a soul as you.”

He began to feel that this affair was beyond his capabilities. He could not perceive in what way he could rescue and transform that degenerate society, nor how he would be able to account for that responsibility in the presence of the Almighty. Nevertheless, the light of Allah, the tranquillity of mind, and the Divine revelation that began to descend on him uninterruptedly filled his blessed heart with peace. All kinds of knowledge and rational arguments were disclosed to him and the immeasurable help he received from Allah for the betterment of the world (which had put a great fear in his heart before), brought about so much ease and comfort, and so many doors were opened for him, that that burden became light and his heart began to expand. In other words, he had sought no helper for the burden that was placed on his back. However, his Lord embraced him with His help and favour and Himself assisted him to remove the burden thus causing his heart to become large with joy and so relief came to his prophetic mission.

Not only did Allah, Most High, lift his burden, but more than that, He elevated his name and caused a whole world to salute the honour of that formerly unknown and obscure person. If one should read about his early condition and ponder over his lonely, inconspicuous, helpless and forlorn circumstances and then direct one’s attention to the honour and glory which Allah conferred on him in just a few years, then one’s amazement will transcend all limits.

In Makkah, he was an uneducated, illiterate, helpless, destitute and unknown man. Yet Allah placed him on such a lofty pedestal of dignity and majesty that even mighty potentates considered it a privilege to show respect to him as this letter from the Caesar of Rome attests. It said in part: “I wish I were in your service and were given the task of unloosing the thongs of your sandal.”

In addition to this, so sublime a treasure of knowledge and wisdom was bestowed on this unlettered man, that even sages and philosophers of great knowledge and wisdom regarded it as a signal honour to acquire knowledge from him. Indeed, the truth is that he spread throughout the world the golden principles of knowledge and wisdom which have become a fountain from which all later seekers of truth can imbibe.

5-6. Surely with difficulty is ease, with difficulty is surely ease.

These verses contain golden principles of guidance that can lift the spirit of man and strengthen his fortitude and engender in him the spirit of patience, perseverance and hard labour. This Divine promise, that after every difficulty there will come a period of ease, prevents man from becoming despondent even in the face of the greatest trial. Hazrat Ali says that the alif lam (that is, the definite article) is placed on ‘usr (difficulty) in order to particularise and single it out, whilst yusr (ease) is used in a general sense. So, the repetition of this expression not only emphasises the assertion but also points out the fact that in both verses, ‘usr is singular because of the definite article that precedes it and yusr is dual. In other words, there is an implicit promise here that after each difficulty there will be two measures of ease. That is, the relief that follows every calamity will be two times greater than the hardship.

Besides these subtleties, there is another apparent promise in these verses that, just as the Holy Prophet experienced peace after his initial distress, that is, after the burden of prophethood and its consequent tribulations, Allah, Most High, lifted the weight and eased his distresses and there came the time when the Prophet’s honour was universally acknowledged and his teaching was accepted by people. Similarly, when hard times will come over the Prophet’s religion in future, and trials and tribulations will multiply, peace will descend after this storm, and difficulty will be changed into ease, and the renown of the Holy Prophet will rise higher than before.

Today, too, Islam has fallen on hard times and all kinds of filthy allegations and vicious slander have been heaped on the Holy Prophet by Christian priests and Arya Samajists and the foulest kinds of literature have been circulated against the religion. Muslim political power has been broken and no stone is left unturned in the attempt to humiliate Muslims. But Allah has promised that ease is bound to come after difficulty and that Prophet Muhammad’s dignity will definitely be more exalted. Signs of this are already evident. For example, the reason behind the appointment of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad as the Mujaddid of the Age was that ease may come after hardship and that our Holy Prophet’s name may become more illustrious. Therefore, one can clearly discern that through the literature of the Mujaddid and his disciples that that era of tranquillity is already beginning to take shape today in its own form. It is true that it is still only a seed but, Allah willing, the time will soon come when it will grow into a gigantic tree for all to behold.

This is what the Mujaddid meant when he spoke consolingly to Maulana Nur-ud-Din who was in a state of depression at the time (concerning the piteous state of Islam). He relieved his mind with the following words: “Maulvi Sahib,” he said, “when the moon is just born, only those gifted with excellent eye-sight can see it on the first night. No one else can. When it becomes a full moon, then the whole world sees it. In the same way, I have beheld the crescent moon of the resurgence of Islam. Allah willing, the time will come when it will shine in its full splendour for all the world to see.”

 It is this same idea that he expressed in poetic form in the following couplet:

A rahi hai ab to khusbu mere Yusuf ki mujhe

The scent of my Joseph is coming to me now.

Go kaho diwana lekin main karunga intezar

Even if you call me mad, I shall continue to look in expectation.

Here “Joseph” stands for the imminent rise and advance of Islam which the Mujaddid was eagerly awaiting just as the Prophet Jacob was longingly looking out for his son, Prophet Joseph.

Thus, Allah, Most High, is now gradually disclosing the signs of the progress of Islam and even in Europe itself, which energetically sought to destroy Islam, one can see that Islamic principles are slowly but surely beginning to captivate the hearts of people to such an extent that Bernard Shaw, the famous English playwright and a man of great insight and wisdom, predicted that the spiritual victory of Islam would be completed in a hundred years. And concerning the Holy Prophet, he made the pronouncement that if he should return to earth and assume the dictatorship of the world, then the world would be delivered from its present state of crisis.

In other words, the inevitability of ease and hardship and the exaltation of the Holy Prophet’s name are Divine promises which, Allah willing, shall be fulfilled.

7-8. So when thou art free (from anxiety), work hard,
And make thy Lord thy exclusive object

Look at how confidently the Holy Qur’an has stated the coming of relief after hardship when it says that when we are free from anxiety, that is, when difficulty is replaced by peace, then we should engage ourselves in productive work. In other words, the coming of ease after distress is a certainty. However, in this world, people’s condition change in consequence of their actions. Therefore, some mechanism is needed to ensure that when peace replaces hardship, it should remain permanent. Thus, this chapter has also taught us the formula for preventing the return of distress after a period of tranquillity.

It is common knowledge that when a man emerges from arduous and straitened circumstances and begins to enjoy comfort and leisure and acquires power, wealth and contentment after his distresses and discomforts, he tends to fall into indolence, easy living and inactivity and so becomes complacent and unproductive. Abandonment of work and falling into the trap of inertia and slothfulness always bring about the degradation of man and are the mother of pain and distress. This is what ‘Umar Faruq warned about when he said: “When we were tried by adversity, we exhibited patience and steadfastness, but when we were tested by ease and opulence, we lost the capacity for restraint.”

Those who lost that capacity were the later Muslims who, when blessed with dominion and riches, did not practise constancy in their endeavours and in their taqwa (God-fearingness and piety). As a result, they trod the path that led to national decadence and so created the causes for the return of hardship. Thus, there is one defect that contentment generates, and that is that man makes himself useless by forsaking creative work and falls into luxurious and voluptuous living which is the foundation of decline and travail.

Another defect which comes with easy circumstances is that man forgets the Almighty and, giving up himself to a life of luxury and pleasure, he becomes entangled in all kinds of vice and immorality which are the second foundation-stone of decadence and distress.

So, to save man from the danger of these two paths of destruction, the Holy Qur’an has laid down the following principles of guidance. Firstly, when ease comes after difficulty and there is more leisure-time at his disposal, man must not make himself unproductive, but instead he should make use of this free time to undertake more serious work so that he will make greater advancement and become the heir to serenity and comfort. Secondly, he should devote himself more and more to the remembrance of Allah so that temporal and spiritual progress may walk hand in hand. If he does these things, his condition of ease cannot decline nor vanish.

If there is a nation which does not shirk hard, purposeful work when it experiences easy circumstances and tranquil times, but instead puts its leisure time and its power to greater benefit and thus makes further advances in its pursuits, and avoiding the intoxication of power and dominion, it never forgets the Almighty but instead derives increased benefits from its power and opulence and devotes more attention to worship and to service and kindness to Allah’s creation, then such a nation can never suffer decline in its ease and contentment and difficulty can never show its face.  This holds good for any family or individual also.

Muslims lost their comfortable existence only when they abandoned hard work and, forgetting Allah, they fell into a life of sinfulness and impiety. The European nations followed only one aspect of this formula and today they are the embodiment of ease and luxury. In other words, their wealth and power did not make them lazy. In fact, the diligence of the European people and their consequent easy circumstances are plain as daylight.

But then let us look at the second side of the formula, which is never to forget the Almighty. Europe has already forgotten Him and so the wise and intelligent among them are of the opinion that although their diligent application to hard work is supporting their ease and luxury, however, their forgetfulness of Allah has brought about a state in which greed for worldly things, self-idolatry and vice and immorality will ultimately dominate their lives. The consequence of this can never be good and will bring lasting hardship.

Thus, if man wants to protect himself from distress, then when he is free from worries and enjoys peace, that is, in times of yusr (ease) he should not forsake productive work and sit idly, but instead he should devote more time and energy to beneficial work that comes through the blessings of wealth and power, and leisure and ease, so that he may walk along the road of greater and greater advancement. In addition, he should not forget Allah, but, benefiting from the gifts of freedom and peace, he should turn more to Allah and serve His creatures with more enthusiasm for this, too, is a way of showing gratitude to Allah for His favours, and without this thankfulness, a nation cannot achieve moral and spiritual excellence. Thus, ease cannot desert such a nation that follows this path for this is the genuine formula for both worldly and religious progress.

If Muslims had worked along these lines, their period of ease would never have vanished. But the situation is not irreversible, for if even today they embark upon the above principles of success, then as surely as the night gives way to the day, their present difficulties will be transformed into ease and peace.

Next: Chapter 95: Al-Tin (The Fig)
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