Tafsir Surat ash-Shams

Part 1

Shaykh Muhammad Hisham Kabbani

Audhu billah min ash-shaytan ir-rajeem
Bismillah ir-rahman ir-raheem
In this session we will begin the tafsir of Surat ash-Shams, the 91st Surah, revealed to the Prophet (s) in Makkat il-Mukarrama.
وَالشَّمْسِ وَضُحَاهَا(1) وَالْقَمَرِ إِذَا تَلَاهَا(2) وَالنَّهَارِ إِذَا جَلَّاهَا(3) وَاللَّيْلِ إِذَا يَغْشَاهَا(4) وَالسَّمَاء وَمَا بَنَاهَا(5) وَالْأَرْضِ وَمَا طَحَاهَا(6) وَنَفْسٍ وَمَا سَوَّاهَا
“Wash-shamsi wa duhaha. Wal-qamari idha talaaha, wan-nahaari idha jallaaha, wal-layli idha yaghshaaha, was-sama’i wa maa banaaha, wal-ardi wa maa tahaaha, wa nafsin wa maa sawwaaha.
Allah Almighty is swearing an oath by which He intends to show the greatness of His creation.
By the sun and His glorious splendor, and by the moon as she follows him, by the day as it shows up the sun’s glory, by the night as it conceals it; by the firmament and its wonderful structure. By the earth and its wide expanse. By the soul and the one who proportioned it and fashioned it.

Allah’s endless timeless Words

Those five short sentences are what we are able to understand from these verses. Yet you must realize that no one can understand Allah’s Words. However much scholars are able to interpret Allah’s Word, its meanings never end. If all the trees were pens and all the oceans ink, the knowledge contained in the Qur’an would never end.
Every word of the Holy Qur’an carries not one meaning, but in fact an infinite number of meanings. Allah’s Words never end. In Surat al-Kahf Allah swt says
قُل لَّوْ كَانَ الْبَحْرُ مِدَاداً لِّكَلِمَاتِ رَبِّي لَنَفِدَ الْبَحْرُ قَبْلَ أَن تَنفَدَ كَلِمَاتُ رَبِّي وَلَوْ جِئْنَا بِمِثْلِهِ مَدَداًqul law kaana al-bahru midaadan li-kalimaati rabbi.” La nafid al-bahru qabl an tanfadu kalimaatu rabbee wa law ji’na bi-mithlihi maddada.” - “Say: ‘If the ocean were ink (wherewith to write out) the words of my Lord, sooner would the ocean be exhausted than would the words of my Lord, even if we added another ocean like it, for its aid.’" [18:109]
That is tremendous. That is beyond the mind. Ponder on it a bit. “If all the trees were pens… Canada alone produces millions of cubic tons of timber. What about Africa? What about Indonesia and Malaysia? Not millions, billions of tons. In these countries it is always raining so trees are constantly growing. You cut them and make them into pens. How many pens can you make? You cannot count them. You might make ten trillion pens. Then take all the oceans and make them ink. Think about that only. Think about a pen - how many drops of ink does it contain? There might be 50 to 100 drops in it. How many pages will it write – it might be you can write 500 or 1000 pages before that ink finishes. What about the oceans. How many drops do they contain? If all that water was ink and all the trees were pens, Allah's swt Words would never end.
Allah swt is speaking here about the Holy Qur’an. The Holy Qur’an is kalaamullah. The mushaf consists of about 500 pages. Where is that knowledge that Allah swt mentioned? Al-bahru Midaadan means a continuous ocean of ink following the Words of Allah swt in order to write them. And the verse continues: sooner would the ocean be exhausted than would the words of my Lord, even if we added another ocean like it, for its aid." [18:109]
Allah swt said though it is being added upon yet again, even so the ocean will be exhausted before Allah’s Words will end. It reaches a limit, because it is created. The Holy Qur’an is not makhluq, created, it is qadeemiyyun, Ancient, timeless. Therefore it cannot be created. That verse tells us there is no way to write that knowledge even if you were to bring the another ocean to help. It would be brought for writing Allah’s Words and still Allah's Words would never end.

Verse 1

Let us proceed with some explanation of the verse, “Was-shamsi wa duhaaha” - By the sun and his glorious splendor.
Why did Allah swt choose to begin this surah by mentioning the sun? Because as everyone knows, the scientists say that if there was no sun there would be nothing living on earth. The sun is a major source of life. And Allah wants to show us His greatness through the foremost signs in the heavens, from which He then moves down to our life here on earth. Therefore He began with, “was-shamsi wa duhaaha” which He followed with an oath, “by the moon which follows him,” followed by an oath with the day and then one with the night. He described a complete picture of life in the first three verses of this surah. The sun, the moon, the day in which we live and the night in which we sleep. He then goes on to show the relationship between heaven and earth saying: “By the firmament and its wonderful structure, and by the earth and its expanse.Then He comes to us, human beings, swearing an oath by the soul and the proportion and order given to it.
So when Allah swt says, “By the sun and its splendor,” He is swearing by the sun. What do we understand from “the sun.
When we pray salaat al-Fajr, the sun is not visible. We don’t see the sun at that time, but we see its light. How is the sun known? By its light. He followed the mention of the sun by mention of its light. Ishraq is the time when the sun rises and becomes visible. That is the time in which one prays salat al-ishraq. You are praying to Allah at that time remembering His greatness in His creating that source of light for you. That is why awliya follow the Sunnah to pray ishraq. The dawn of the sun is one of Allah’s Signs for which you bow down, thanking Allah for the source of light and energy that made all life possible on earth.
And then He said, By the sun and its splendor.”  What does splendor mean? Duhaaha does not mean simply splendor. It comes from dahwa, which is the appearance in the sky of the light of the sun and its establishing its strength, as when a star appears in a meeting he grabs the interest of all the attendees who say, “You are the spotlight, the guest of honor”. It means the main attraction. The sun as it appears in the sky, dominates the whole sky becoming ‘Sultan of the sky.’ Nothing else appears there any longer. Do you see anything else there? That means through the strength of its light it becomes sultan. The appearance is for the sun. Do you see anything else? Look at the sun for two minutes, then turn away your eyes, you see nothing but darkness for your eyes have been blinded.
After we pray salaat al-ishraq, we then pray salaat ad-duha, which is when the sun has ascended higher in the sky, at mid-morning. Then, when the sun is at the zenith we pray salaat adh-dhuhr. In between we pray salaat ad-duha. The highest peak of the sun is at the zenith. At that time the sun is at the height of its strength in the sky, just as the moon is when it is full.
Ad-dahwa, and ad-duha, are two words that describe nur ash-shams, the light of the sun. When that light appears, every shadow disappears when the sun reaches duha, the zenith. That is why at the zenith, if you put up a stick, you see no shadow. The sun is in control of the day, dominating everything. Nothing remains outside its control.
You need to understand that this verse is not speaking of something ordinary. Who is putting that sun in its place with its tremendous light, coming into existence millions of years ago, as the source of light, giving life to everything without discrimination, and through its relationship with the earth causing the day and night to be two signs, ayataan, two miracles of Allah’s Greatness.
One sign is His making the earth turn around itself, making day and night. Why not the sun turning about the earth? Who made the sun fixed and the earth moving?  Is not there something behind this elegant design? That is Allah’s greatness, saying, “Take an example from My creation. Look at the sun and its strength and its domination.” Nothing can stand in front of the sun. If you look at it through a powerful telescope it burns everything. Even shining the sun’s light through a magnifying lens, will burn. Who made that source of energy?
How much oil are they producing to make energy here, and they are afraid that after 100 or perhaps even 20 years it will finish. Allah was not afraid that the sun will finish. That is the power of يَقُولَ لَهُ كُنْ فَيَكُونُ - “kun fa yakoon,” – “Be! And it is. [36:82] When He says, Be!" then it will be. When He says, “Stop,” it will stop. Tasbih ash-shams, the sun’s praising of Allah, is what keeps its light and its energy continuously emanating. That power comes from its praising Allah swt. We cannot hear that praise, but the Prophet (s) can hear it. Its praising it is its source of existence, of life. When Allah wants it to cease, He orders it to stop praising and when it stops, it goes out.

Verse 2

Then He said, By the moon which follows him. Follows? Follow what? It doesn’t walk. What does it follow? Talaha” in what? Follow the sun in what?
By the moon as she follows him,” – how do they explain the meaning of this verse in the English commentary? Allah is showing His greatness, that when the sun moves out of sight, the moon comes out. Who is moving it? Who is causing that change? وَكُلٌّ فِي فَلَكٍ يَسْبَحُونَ Wa kullun fee falakin yasbahoon.” – “Each (just) swims along in (its own) orbit (according to Law). [36:40] Who makes the sun to go and the moon to come? The moon is there but you cannot see it, until the earth turns on its axis and becomes on the side that is dark, then you can see the moon. Because at that time the sun does not show up, you can no longer see it as it is becoming dark. The moon is following the footsteps of the sun.

قُلْ إِن كُنتُمْ تُحِبُّونَ اللّهَ فَاتَّبِعُونِي يُحْبِبْكُمُ اللّهُ  Qul in kuntum tuhibboona Allaha fat-tabi`oonee yuhbibkumullahu.”
Say: "If ye do love Allah, Follow me: Allah will love you and forgive you your sins: For Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful." [3:31]

The sun is telling the moon, “Follow me with love, for if you follow me you will become shining like me. If you don’t follow me, you will never shine.”
So what did the moon do? It is Allah’s Word, not our word. The moon followed. It means follow the footsteps, the path of the sun. So when she follows the footsteps of the sun, it begins to reflect that light of the sun onto the earth. There is no source of light on the moon. It has no light of its own. The moon has no activity on it. If we want to describe it in a scientific way, it generates no energy through explosions. But because the moon followed the one endowed with activity and energy, she inherit from it, is blessed by it and is dressed with its light. Although it has no light, it becomes shining. It means that a dead planet becomes shining because it has been blessed by following the footsteps of the sun – directing itself towards the sun and taking from it.
That is why to awliyaullah, there appears different and extraordinary explanations. The sun to awliya represents the ruh, the spirit. That ruh contains the activity, the energy, the power of a human being. Just as the moon without the sun doesn’t shine so too the body without the spirit doesn’t function. The spirit is the main source of life to an otherwise dead body.
From that the moon becomes sun-like, taking its light from the sun, thus becoming a representative of the sun at night. Like a calipha, a deputy for people , in darkness to be guided by his light. That is why Allah said,
From that the moon becomes sun-like, taking its light from the sun, thus becoming a representative of the sun at night. Like a calipha, a deputy for people , in darkness to be guided by his light. That is why Allah said, إِنِّي جَاعِلٌ فِي الأَرْضِ خَلِيفَةً  innee ja`ilun fil ardi khalipha” - "I will create a vicegerent on earth." [ 2:30]
That means, “I am sending him that life-source to make the earth alive.” And Allah is describing that process in Surat ash-Shams through the two verses. Wash-shamsi idha jallaha, wal-qamari idha talaha.”
These two verses describes the whole structure of life. There is one main source, and there is his representative. The representative takes from the main source and is then dressed with what the main source is sending it to humanity. He then disperses it to those around him. All night you look at the moon and you will have no problem, but look at the sun for two minutes and you will become blind. No one can take directly from the sun.

هُوَ الَّذِي جَعَلَ الشَّمْسَ ضِيَاء وَالْقَمَرَ نُوراً Huwa alladhee ja`ala ash-shamsi diya`an wal qamara nuran.
It is He Who made the sun to be a shining glory and the moon to be a light (of beauty)...” [10:5]

He said, “He made the sun a source of energy,” diya. That is a hidden energy through which the constant explosions taking place within the sun generate its tremendous light. They say, “diya ash-shams,” and “nur al-qamr.” “Diya ash-shams” means the source of light whereas the nur is the light. Nur means the reflection of the light. It represents a messenger giving you guidance.
قَدْ جَاءكُم مِّنَ اللّهِ نُورٌ وَكِتَابٌ مُّبِينٌ Qad ja’akum min Allahi nurun wa kitaabun mubeen.” – There hath come to you from Allah a (new) light and a perspicuous Book” [5:15] That nur is Muhammad (s); he is described as nur. All scholars agreed that “nur” here refers to Muhammad (s). s
So in the symbolism of a human being, what does the moon represent and what is the sun? The moon of each human being is the place of the heart. The body is a piece of flesh. So qamar is a piece of a planet with no life on it. The heart too, is a piece of flesh. What makes the heart function? It is the ruh. Thus the heart of the human being is described as the moon. The ruh is described as the sun, the source of its energy and life. When you are able to make the ruh dominate the heart, then you will become a reflector of light. At that time the heart begins to reflect light and knowledge. When you make the heart dominate the ruh by covering it with the worldly life, that ruh is compressed and is repressed so it can no longer appear. Under the pressure of bad desires the heart’s light fades. Thus the heart is the seat of good desires and bad desires. If one allows the bad desires to control the heart, the light of the heart is extinguished, the fountain of knowledge stops flowing and one become attached to dunya.
When you put the evil desires of the heart down and promote the ruh, then just as the sun dominates the entire sky when it appears, so too will every cell of your body begin reflecting light to humanity. That is how the Sahaba were able to attract people around the world in masses. Because they were speaking form ruh. That light which they reflect thru their bodies which they take form the main source of energy is enough to change the hearts of people immediately.