|Alternate titles (Ar.)||سورة إقرا (Sūrat Iqrā)|
|Other names||The Embryo, The Clinging Form, The Clinging-Clot, The Clot, The Germ-Cell, Read|
|No. of verses||19|
Sūrat al-ʻAlaq (Arabic: سورة العلق, "The Clot" or “ the clinging thing” ), is the 96th Surah or chapter of the Qur'an. It is composed of 19 ayat (verses or "signs"), and is traditionally believed to have been the first revelation to Muhammad in Mecca at cave Hira located at the Mountain Jabal al-Nour. It is traditionally understood that first five ayats (1-5) of Surah Alaq where revealed, however this is not the first fully complete Surah to be revealed and was actually revealed in 3 parts. It is sometimes also known as Sūrat Iqrā (سورة إقرا, "Read").
The meaning of 'alaq
The linguistic definition of ʻalaq علق (singular ʻalaqah علقة) is "leech", "medicinal leech", "coagulated blood", "blood clot", or "the early stage of the embryo". ʻAlaq is also a derivative of ʻalaqa which means "attached and hanging to something." Professor Abdul Haleem mentions that "ʻalaq” can also mean anything that clings: a clot of blood, a leech, even a lump of mud. All these meanings involve the basic idea of clinging or sticking."
The term ʻalaqah is the second stage of human prenatal development (sura Al-Mu’minoon 23: 12-14) which "descriptively encompasses the primary external and internal features" of the early embryo. The term ʻalaqah also occurs in several languages related to Arabic. In Hebrew there is עֲלוּקָה alûqāh (or alukah), the generic name for any blood-sucking worm or leech, and in Aramaic and Syriac there are words with apparently similar meanings.
Period of revelation
This sura has two parts: the first part consists of vv. 1-5, and the second of vv. 6-19. The majority of Islamic scholars agreed that the first part forms the first revelation to be sent down to Muhammad in 610. In this regard, the Hadith from Aisha, which Ibn Hanbal, Bukhari, Muslim and other traditionists have related with several chains of authorities, is one of the most authentic Hadith on the subject. In it Aisha narrates the full story of the beginning of revelation as she herself heard it from Muhammad. Besides, Ibn Abbas, Abu Musa al-Ashari and a group of the Companions also are reported to have stated that these were the very first verses of the Quran to be revealed to Muhammad.
The first revelation: verses 1–5
The first five verses of this sura are believed by some to be the first verses of the Qur'an claimed to be related by Muhammad. He received them while on a retreat in mountain in cave Hira, just outside the city of Makkah in 610 CE. A few commentators disagree with this account, claiming that the first revelation was the beginning of surat al-Muddaththir or surat al-Fatiha, but theirs is a minority position. Moreover, the term ‘Insan’ which is translated to man or human appears 65 times in the Qur'an, applying to both sexes of mankind, a generic ‘man’.
The concept of a divinity telling a human to speak is found in many cultures, and parallels have been drawn between Muhammad's experience and that recounted by Beda Venerabilis in what is called "Caedmon's Hymn".
The remainder of the sura, claimed to have been revealed later, questions the morality and beliefs of mankind, who "thinks himself self-sufficient", unaware that all things will return to their Lord. Once man becomes self-satisfied, he has the tendency to transgress. These ayahs were revealed shortly after Muhammed began praying publicly, because many people questioned his actions. The text continues, addressing the impiety of "the man who forbids Our servant to pray". These later lines are thought to date from the time when Muhammad began to pray the salat in the Kaaba. Abu Jahl attempted to interrupt the prayer by trampling on Muhammad's neck while he was prostrated. "Does he not realize that God sees all?"
The Qur'an commands Muhammad (and by inference all believers) to continue the prayer regardless, as those who persecute the faithful are unaware that God sees what they do. After the first 8 ayahs were revealed, Muhammed left cave hira, and then surahs Ad-Duha, Nashra, and the second part of this surah were revealed after 6 months. More specifically, ayahs 9-14 were revealed when Muhammed first began praying publicly near the Ka’Bah because the Meccans didn’t know what he was doing. They were directed towards people who tried to stop others from making devotions toward Allah. Once Abu Jahl (an uncle of Muhammed and a member of the Quraish) saw Muhammed praying publicly, he thought that Muhammed had adapted a new religion and tried to drive him away from the Ka’Bah. He gathered a crowd and asked: “Is Muhammed setting his face on the ground in front of you (praying)?” When they replied in affirmative he said: “by the gods Al-Lat and Al-Uzza, if I ever catch him in that act of worship (salah), I will set my foot on his neck and rub his face in the dust.” Abu Jahl wanted to follow through on his threat, but when he saw Muhammed he stepped forward, motioned to put his foot on his neck, but then became frightened and left. When asked about it later, he said that he had seen a vision of a ditch right in front of Muhammed, filled with fire and a ghoul with fiery wings. After Muhammed heard about the remark, he said: “if he would have come near me, the angels would have struck him down and torn him into pieces.” More specifically, ayahs 15-19 were about when Abu Jahl saw Muhammed pray again near the Ka’Bah, and said “Didn’t I tell you not to do this!” The prophet scolded him and said that he had the right to pray here, because he was a born citizen of Makkah. Abu Jahl said “you dare to scold me! By God, with on call I can fill this valley with supporters!” This passage was revealed: “If (Abu Jahl) would have called upon his men, the angel of punishment would have seized him.” These ayahs are more about the punishment that Abu Jahl, if he would have interrupted Muhammed during prayer.
The translated words ‘bow down’ in verse 19 comes from the word ‘Sujud’ which refers to the position in Muslim prayer where the head, hands, knees, and toes are on the ground.
Specific Ayah Meanings
Ayahs 1-3: These ayahs are talking about how Allah created human beings from Alaq (clay). After this ayah was revealed, Muhammed responded by saying that he didn’t know how to read. After angel Jibraeel squeezed Muhammed’s chest a few times, and the 3rd ayah was revealed, Muhammed read even though he did not know how to read or write. Ayahs 4-5: These ayah stress the importance of an education for a Muslim. As time goes on, things progress and advance, and everything comes from Allah. Allah opens peoples brains to new things, and this ayah stresses the importance of furthering your education. This hadeeth in relation to this ayah was revealed which says: “a person who reads is handsome in the eyes of Allah.” Ayah 6-8: Even though Allah does so many things for us we still disobey him. Some people say that they do not need Allah. It does not matter because everyone will return to him on the Day of Judgement. Ayahs 9-10: In this ayah “the one who discourages” references Abu Jahl when he tried to stop Muhammed from making devotions towards Allah, and anyone else for that matter. Ayahs 11-14: These ayahs question whether the “one who discourages” is being “guided” or even “concerned” about god. They also emphasize that if someone is praying not to stop them because Allah is always watching. Ayahs 15-19: These ayahs explain why the person who interrupts someone in prayer is said that they will be draged from their “lying, sinful, forehead.” This phrase comes from Abu Jahl, who in the battle of Badr was killed by the hands of 2 child orphans of Medinah. His body was thrown into a well and they dragged him by his hair, which is specifically in reference to ayah 15.
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