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Chapter 96: Al-‘Alaq (The Clot)
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Chapter 96:

The Clot

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

  1. Read in the name of thy Lord who creates —
  2. Creates man from a clot,
  3. Read and thy Lord is most Generous,
  4. Who taught by the pen,
  5. Taught man what he knew not.
  6. Nay, man is surely inordinate,
  7. Because he looks upon himself as self-sufficient.
  8. Surely to thy Lord is the return.
  9. Hast thou seen him who forbids
  10. A servant when he prays?
  11. Seest thou if he is on the right way,
  12. Or enjoins observance of duty?
  13. Seest thou if he denies and turns away?
  14. Knows he not that Allah sees?
  15. Nay, if he desist not, We will seize him by the forelock —
  16. A lying, sinful forelock!
  17. Then let him summon his council,
  18. We will summon the braves of the army.
  19. Nay! Obey him not, but prostrate thyself, and draw nigh (to Allah).

It is unanimously accepted that the first five verses of the chapter Al-‘Alaq (The Clot) were the first words of revelation to the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sas). The remaining verses of the chapter were revealed later on. The Holy Prophet was deeply engrossed in devotion (meditation) in the Cave of Hira when the Angel Gabriel descended and said to him, “Read!”

He replied, “I cannot read.”

The Angel then squeezed him in a tight embrace and repeated the command: “Read!” Again the Holy Prophet answered: “I do not know how to read.”

This happened three times. Then the Holy Prophet began to read and the Angel read out these five verses to him. The Holy Prophet then returned home, and so overcome was he by the majesty of the revelation, that the flesh on his shoulders and throat began to shiver so that he requested of Lady Khadija, “Cover me. Cover me.”

1. Read in the name of thy Lord Who creates.

That is, seek the assistance of your Lord and read. What must be read? The meaning is, Read the Holy Qur'an.

When a book of guidance is being read, what are the things that are needed that will help us to seek that guidance? The first thing is that true knowledge of it may be acquired. The second thing is that we may receive guidance in putting this knowledge to proper use, for if we do not have true knowledge of a book, or if the knowledge is there but the action does not correspond with it, then the reading of the book becomes useless. Therefore, before reading the Holy Qur'an, we are commanded to seek the help of our Rabb (Lord) Who sent down this book in order that we may make greater and greater progress in life. We are to do this so that, through Allah’s Providence, we may acquire the correct knowledge and the blessings of acting according to this guidance.

Thus, before beginning the Holy Qur'an, Almighty Allah has given the command to seek His help so that He may bestow on us the right knowledge of this book and the right ability to act upon it. It is for this reason that we find in the beginning of the Holy Qur'an, in Suratul Fatihah, the following words that are uttered in the presence of the Almighty, the Lord of the worlds:

Thee alone do we serve and Thee alone do we beseech for help;

and the petition is made:

Guide us on the right path.

That is, grant us the knowledge and understanding of the Holy Qur'an; let not our actions make us swerve from this straight path nor let us stumble along it, and let us be among the group who have inherited Thy favours. But more than this, we find in the beginning of every chapter (except chapter 9, At-Taubah) and in the beginning of Suratul Fatihah itself, the words: Bismillah-ir Rahman-ir Rahim, which are placed there for that purpose.

 In short, the words, Bismillah-ir Rahman-ir Rahim, are placed at the beginning of every chapter and even at the beginning of Suratul Fatihah, which itself contains a du‘a (petition) for seeking the help of Allah. The object is that we should seek the assistance of Allah when reading the Holy Qur'an.

There are two aspects of Allah’s Rububiyyat (Providence) in relation to man. The first is His Rahmaniyyat and the second is His Rahimiyyat. That is, Allah Most High, solely through His favour and mercy and without any effort on the part of man has made ample provisions beforehand for man to attain a state of perfection. That is His Rahmaniyyat. When man makes good use of those provisions, then Allah rewards his actions with higher and higher and better and better results. That is His Rahimiyyat. For example, only through His grace and mercy has Allah provided man with the sun, the moon, air, water, rain, earth, seed, hands, feet, eyes, brain, intellect etc. This aspect of Allah’s Providence to man is called His Rahmaniyyat. Now, when man makes efforts, for example, he ploughs the land, sows the seeds, in short, when he makes use of his hands and feet and other provisions, then in a short time he reaps mounds and mounds of grain from a very small number of seeds that he sowed. This second aspect of Allah’s Providence to man is called His Rahimiyyat.

Therefore the command Iqra bismi Rabbika (Read, by seeking the assistance of thy Lord) finds its full compliance in the words Bismillah-ir Rahman-ir Rahim (In the name of Allah, the Rahman (Beneficent), the Rahim (Merciful). Here we find in Rahman and Rahim the two aspects of Allah’s Providence. That is, the Rahman, without any effort on the part of man, bestowed the Holy Qur'an purely as a gift as is mentioned in 55:1-2. The Rahman (Beneficent) taught the Qur'an so that man may attain his perfection by understanding the Holy Qur'an and acting upon it. The attribute of Rahim signifies that if man acts in accordance with the teachings of the Holy Qur'an, he is given the highest rewards through which he can achieve the purpose of his creation.

So to say Bismillah-ir Rahman-ir Rahim before reading the Holy Qur'an means that we are seeking Allah’s aid, that He Who blessed us with the Holy Qur'an through his Rahmaniyyat may by that very Rahmaniyyat now confer on us knowledge and the guidance to act upon it and then through His attribute of Rahim He may bring about such results that will enable us to attain the highest perfection. And that is the reason for which the Holy Qur'an was sent down.

In short, together with the command to read the Holy Qur'an, the instruction to seek the help of Allah’s Providence was also given in order that guidance in knowledge and action may be acquired. But it was important for us to know Who that Rabb (Lord) was so it was said:

Al-ladhi khalaq (The One Who created you).

This is the testimony of man’s inner voice, for every man knows that he is not his own creator but that someone else created him. So we are commanded to read by seeking the help of our Rabb (Lord) Whose Providence brought into being thousands upon thousands of provisions with the express purpose of creating us. And this we cannot deny. (When the whole heaven and the earth and the sun and the moon, air, water, grain, in short, the result of all the workings of the whole universe is solely for the creation and maintenance of man, then it becomes evident that man has indeed been created for a very high purpose.) Thus, we should always keep in mind Allah’s Providence with which He has blessed us before our birth, and consider well that if we forge a bond with that Rabb (Lord) and Creator, to what great heights of advancement and perfection will His Providence lead us.

2. Creates  man from a clot.

‘Alaq means attachment or clinging.

Today Science has discovered that when the male sperm and female egg combine, first of all it clings to the womb and this clinging or attachment is called ‘alaq. Allah says here: O man, ponder over your former creation which was only your bodily or animal creation — that when the male sperm and female egg combined and formed an attachment with the womb, then, through this Providence in the mother’s womb it received such nourishment that a beautiful and perfect human form was produced. That came about because of its attachment to the mother’s womb. Now, a mother is only a minuscule manifestation of your Rabb’s (Lord’s) Providence. So if you form a strong connection with your real Rabb and if you fall into the lap of His mercy and grace, then your spirituality or, in other words, your humanity, will achieve such nourishment and perfection that you will achieve the stature of akram (most honourable). That is, you will obtain pre-eminence in honour and rank over the whole of creation. Your being the best of creation will be easily recognised by all and sundry. This is the reason behind our Holy Prophet's saying that Allah’s rahm (mercy) and the rihm (womb) of a mother resemble not only in pronunciation and form but also in beneficence. Just as by clinging to the womb of a mother a contemptible sperm is transformed into a beautiful human being, in the same way by clinging to Allah’s mercy a lowly human being can obtain the perfection of his humanity and become the inheritor of the highest excellence.

3. Read and thy Lord is the Most Honourable.

Here, for the sake of emphasis, the command Iqra’ is repeated, meaning, Indeed, read! Your Rabb is the Most Honourable of those possessing honour. Whomsoever He gives knowledge is honoured in this world and the next. His teaching contains in itself intrinsic honour and excellence. It is impossible for anyone who acts according to His teachings to be disgraced. Instead, his honour is assured both in this life and in the Hereafter. Whoever acts upon His teachings and stands under the umbrella of the Providence of this Most Honourable Lord, and establishes a strong connection with Him, will definitely verify the truth of the Qur'anic verse: We have honoured the Children of Adam (17:70).

4. Who taught by the pen.

The word pen refers to that medium of teaching which is so prevalent in the world today in the form of writing, and that, too, is a gift from the Almighty.

Imagine the astonishment of people when medical science published the finding of its research to the effect that in the human brain there is a centre which has a potential power for writing! In other words, when Allah, Most High, created man, He ordained that man could pass on his knowledge to others by means of writing.

If man did not possess this capacity for writing, then whatever a particular mind thought of and pondered over, and the fruit of that natural exertion, would be confined to himself alone or to a small circle of acquaintances.  It would not reach those who lived far away or those to come in later times.

Today, whatever benefit we derive from the hundreds of sages, philosophers, scientific experts, and the works of scholarly people, have only come about through the gift of writing. If this talent for writing and its centre in the human mind did not exist then all this progress in physical and spiritual knowledge would have been non-existent.

To profit from the minds of learned people who live in far-flung countries, to benefit from their wisdom and findings as well as from thousands of observations and experiments and other branches of human knowledge which the learned wise men of the past discovered, there is only one medium, and that is the pen.

The pen or the ability to write and its centre in the human mind have been deliberately established by Allah. Thus, it is indeed this very Rabb (Lord) Who, as part of His providence to man, has provided the pen as a means for him to acquire knowledge.

However, in spite of all these achievements of the pen, knowledge of the true object of man’s creation, his hidden capabilities and powers, knowledge of what the future holds and what stages of progress he has to traverse in the future, all these as far as man is concerned, have always remained a deep secret, and in these matters his knowledge is always in need of explanation and elucidation. Here, his knowledge and understanding have always had to admit, willingly or unwillingly, of ignorance.

It is for this reason, too, that in these matters, philosophers have always stumbled. Therefore, in order to educate man, Allah, Most High, has made use of another means, and that is the medium of Divine Revelation. In other words, out of His perfect knowledge, He has made up in this way for the deficiency in human knowledge just as a child whose intellect and understanding cannot plumb the depths of a particular matter seeks help from his more knowledgeable teacher who then fulfils the need.

So, because man in his limited intellectual capacity did not possess the ability to comprehend deep spiritual matters and to fathom the secrets of the unseen and to foretell future events, therefore, Allah has made up for this limitation from His Own perfect and superior knowledge.

Therefore, to demonstrate this need for revelation and the necessity for the Holy Qur'an, Allah says:

5. He taught man what he knew not.

This means: O man, read this Book and form a relationship with your Rabb and you will be honoured in this life and in the hereafter. This is the guidance which man, through his own knowledge, cannot comprehend. Without doubt Allah created the pen as a means of teaching, propagating and increasing knowledge. But if we read all the human writings and divine works which have been written and which exist in the world today, we will have to admit that whatever knowledge has been given to us through the Holy Qur'an is such that never existed in human knowledge, and more so, it is beyond the ability of man to discover by his own efforts. Furthermore, there does not exist any former heavenly book which contains such details and perfect teachings as can be found in the Holy Qur'an. Thus, it is not without good reason that we are exhorted to read the Holy Qur'an, for by means of it, Allah has given us such knowledge which man never had even up to this day. Thus, we should read the Holy Qur'an and follow its teachings. The result will be that we will form a close relationship with our most Honourable Lord and so we will attain honour and excellence in this life and the next.

Here we should bear in mind that these five verses which comprise the first words of revelation to the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sas) contain a powerful message and deep knowledge. The first command which is given to man in the Holy Qur'an is: Read and acquire knowledge and act according to it. Then attention has been drawn towards the pen and divine revelation which are two extraordinary means of acquiring knowledge. That is, through the pen, whatever good things we come across we should read and learn. This is why our Holy Prophet (sas) said: “Wisdom is the lost treasure of a believer. Wherever you find it, seize it.” Similarly, we are commanded to form a bond with Allah by reading the Holy Qur'an and acting in accordance with its teachings. Further, man, by reading the knowledge propagated by the pen together with the divine revelation of the Holy Qur'an and acting upon it will certainly be elevated to a position of honour and high rank.

6-7. Nay, man is surely inordinate, because he looks upon himself as self-sufficient.

Allah, Most High, has bestowed on man a most wonderful favour in the form of the Holy Qur'an with the express purpose that he may manifest the designation of being the best of creation and if he unites himself with his Rabb, the Most Honourable, he, too, will become honoured in this life and the next.

But a rebellious man feels himself above the need of such knowledge and guidance and increases in disobedience and transgression. It is a fact that when man possesses vast wealth and has abundant provisions together with worldly honour in society, then he does not feel the need of Allah nor does he care for His commandments. Rather, oblivious of his accountability for his actions, he becomes proud, impertinent and cruel and makes fun of Allah and obedience to His laws and accountability for his actions. Thus, his wealth and self-sufficiency make him more rebellious.

8. Surely to thy Lord is the return.

 In other words, how long will man continue with his negligence and strutting about in pride? He has to die one day and return to his Lord and give an account of his deeds. Wise is the man who, before returning to his Lord by force of death, inclines to Him willingly and cheerfully in this very life.

9-10. Hast thou seen him who forbids a servant when he prays?

Commentators of the Holy Qur'an say that the reference is to Abu Jahl who tried to prevent the Holy Prophet (sas) from performing salah (prayer). This is true, but one must remember that there will always be people who will perform salah (prayer) and you will always find, too, those who will try to prevent them. There is no doubt that originally the occasion for this revelation was a specific historical event. However, when this revelation came down, then every incident of this kind, or anything similar that may arise later on, comes under its rubric. For example, a decision may be given in the High Court and there is no doubt that this decision pertains to the case in question, but this judgement then becomes a standing precedent and assumes the status of law.

Similarly, a verse is revealed in reference to a particular incident, but it then becomes a permanent law and that incident becomes a precedent for all times so that if any event of this kind, or any similar condition comes up later on, this verse can be applied.

There is no doubt that Allah, Most High, has put before us the examples of two classes of men. The first kind engages in salah (prayer) in order to build a relationship with Allah and is a manifestation of ahsani taqwim (the best make) and the best example of this is, indeed, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sas).

The other kind feels that there is no need to form a connection with Allah and he eventually becomes asfala safilin (the lowest of the low) and the truest example of this class of man was Abu Jahl.

An evil man is so impertinent that not only does he, himself, refrain from building a relationship with Allah, but he goes further and tries to prevent and actually persecutes a servant who is striving to form a connection with his Creator. Thus, it is eminently fitting that such a one who is arrogant and insolent, and opposes the lovers of truth and molests and tries to destroy them, should be the recipient of punishment in this very life.

Consider well who is a greater satan than this person who tries to prevent a servant of Allah from worshipping Him, and persecutes one who is striving to form a relationship with his Lord. Thus, it is mandatory that such a person be punished and that he be abased. But the love of Allah is such that, before meting out punishment, He always gives advice and exhortation.

11-12. Seest thou if he is on the right way, or enjoins observance of duty?

Addressing the inordinate one who prevents others from praying, Allah asks: “You are preventing someone from performing salah (prayer) and opposing him but have you considered whether he is on the right path and whether he is enjoining others to be righteous? In other words, it is your duty that before opposing a person you should observe whether or not he is following the right guidance himself, and if he is engaged in teaching others, observe whether this teaching is one of righteousness and piety, or one that encourages wickedness and intrigue. In short, consider well his actions and condition and his advice to others. If that person is indeed a pious and righteous one who is on the right path, and if he teaches others also to be virtuous, then what is the purpose of standing in his way? Instead, one should always try to forbid evil and the teaching of evil. Which religion or which rule permits one to obstruct a person who is himself on the straight path and encourages others to goodness?”

13. Seest thou if he denies and turns away?

Addressing the Holy Prophet (sas) and all seekers of truth, Allah informs them that in His sight there are two kinds of persons. Firstly, one who is obedient to Allah and engages in salah (prayer) with the sole purpose of attaining union with Him, and the supreme manifestation of this kind is the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sas). Secondly, one who is a specimen of the lowest of the low who prevents others from praying and from establishing a connection with Allah, the most conspicuous testimony of this kind being Abu Jahl (the Holy Prophet's paternal uncle who was his most inveterate enemy).

Firstly, the one who obstructs others is addressed and spoken to thus: “Consider well the one whom you are preventing and see if he is rightly guided and if he exhorts others to virtue. Think where you will stand if this is so.”

Then the one who tries to form a relationship with Allah is addressed: “See, if you are on the path of truth and righteousness and you enjoin others to goodness, then why should you bother with the one who tries to prevent you, who belies the truth, who turns his face from righteousness and guidance and withdraws completely?” This is the best principle for a righteous person to adopt vis-à-vis his opposers.

Before opposing any person commissioned by Allah, it is the duty of every human being to ascertain whether or not the sent one is on the path of true guidance, that is, whether or not his principles and actions are founded on solid guidance. Secondly, one should observe whether his teachings and instructions are based on righteousness. And if they are, then no one has any right whatever to prevent and oppose him. On the other hand, since the commissioned one and his followers are on the path of guidance and righteousness, it is their duty to pay no heed whatever to anybody’s opposition.

Concerning the man who belies the truth, it is said:

14. Knows he not that Allah sees?

That is, his deeds are not hidden from Allah — Allah is observing his wickedness, his untruthfulness, his opposition to the truth and his rebellion.

15. Nay, if he desist not, We will seize him by the forelock —
16. A lying, sinful forelock.
17. Then let him summon his council,

That is, let him call to his assistance his friends to try to save him from Allah’s inevitable punishment of abasement and destruction.

18. We shall summon the braves of the army.

The reference is to those who will administer punishment. This can mean the strong and stern angels of chastisement and also the soldiers of Islam by whose hands Allah inflicts punishment on the opponents of truth. They are called the braves of Allah.

This spectacle was so clearly seen in the Battle of Badr and so vividly was this prophecy fulfilled that it can make a man dumbfounded in amazement. In spite of understanding the warning, Abu Jahl did not desist, and his opposition to the truth reached the utmost limit, so much so that even though the Holy Prophet (sas) fled from Makkah, yet he persisted in his hatred and, together with his friends, he marched on Madinah to destroy him. The battle took place on the field of Badr and such a chastisement of disgrace and destruction did Allah inflict on him that all that Allah had foretold came to pass in the exact manner as was prophesied. He was seized by the forehead and dragged, and in utter abasement, he was thrown into a pit with the others who were killed in the battlefield. Those who did the dragging and throwing were those soldiers of Allah among whom could be counted the old and even fifteen-year-old children who were strangers to the art of warfare. In fact, they did not even possess proper weapons. Instead of swords, they had with them just short daggers. Furthermore, their number was small — a rag-tag bunch of just three hundred and thirteen. However, Allah had honoured them with the stamp of valour so that they excelled in bravery, humiliated the enemies of truth, and made them taste the bitterness of destruction. To all those who ponder deeply, there is in this event a lucid example, and for the believers it provides a source of increase in their faith. Therefore, having warned His enemies and foretold their end, Allah addresses the Holy Prophet (sas) and through him, all the believers, and instructs them thus:

19. Nay! Obey him not, but prostrate thyself, and draw nigh to Allah.

Here the word sajdah (prostration) can mean prostration in the literal sense. It can also mean salah (formal prayer) and also obedience to Allah, Most High. In other words, we should pay no attention to the one who tries to prevent us from salah (prayer) or from getting close to Allah. Rather, we are told to perform salah (prayer), to try to draw near to Allah and remain ever in obedience to Him. Then we will be among those who are close to Him with the result that we will be honoured in this life and the next. In ordinary life, look how man does everything to gain favour with temporary officers of Government. Imagine for a moment the honour and peace that a person can obtain through closeness to Allah when he remains obedient in His service.

Prayer is a demonstration of submission and a means of seeking help. Emphasis is placed on seeking help in the beginning of the chapter, and in the end prayer is recommended as the perfect way to seek assistance. It is for this reason that there is no prayer without Suratul Fatihah, for this chapter is indeed in itself a prayer for help. In prayer, the posture of prostration is a manifestation of submission and the best manner of expressing willing obedience to Allah. Is there any better way to humility and meekness than to place one’s head at the threshold of the Divine Master? For indeed, it is through humility and obedience that one can attain closeness to Allah. Therefore, we are told in the Hadith that at the moment of prostration a servant is closer to Allah than at any other time, so we should make much petition for sajdah (prostration) is the time of closeness to and acceptance from Allah.

The Holy Prophet (sas) possessed deep understanding and insight. Therefore, when he received the command to make prostration, he immediately complied so that there should be no delay in expressing his obedience. This example we should all imitate.

One should bear in mind that every chapter of the Holy Qur'an deals with a particular theme and from the beginning to the end that chapter expounds that subject. Whatever other material comes within it all deal with that theme as they touch upon the essential and relevant aspects of it. Thus, all the verses of the Holy Qur'an are inter-connected and sequential and they possess a peculiar order and style. Firstly, the substantive theme is given and then the details come after. In other words, the premise will be mentioned first, then arguments will be given, after which examples and historical precedents will be furnished, and thus the theme is expanded.  This process of elucidation which we find in several places of the Holy Qur'an is called tasrif-e-ayat. This inter-connection between the verses contains another beautiful aspect in that the beginning and the end of the chapter are so closely linked that it can amaze the mind of a reader.

Accordingly, in the beginning of this chapter, after seeking the help of Allah’s attribute of Rububiyyat (Providence), the order to read the Qur'an is given and it is further pointed out that all man’s honour and dignity hinge on his having a close relationship with his Lord. In the end of the chapter the perfect manner of seeking that help is given to us in the form of salah (prayer). In addition, we are told that if we seek assistance through salah (prayer) and if we read the Holy Qur'an and act according to its commands, we will attain nearness to Allah and be the recipients of honour in this life and the next.

Next: Chapter 97: Al-Qadr (The Majesty)
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