A Study of Surah Balad (The City)
A Study of Surah Balad (The City)
This short surah touches on a large number of facts that are central to human life, even in today’s modern world.
It also draws the reader’s attention to powerful allusions that hit the right chords within the human heart. It takes the reader from one aspect of human existence to the next causing him to wonder, and reflect.
This surah takes us to a time in the Prophet’s life (PBUH) where he and his followers received the harshest persecution resulting in their migration to the city of Yathrib (later to be named Madinah) to escape death.
While relatively short in comparison to other surahs of the Qur’an, it lays in its meanings a method by which man can overcome the selfishness and arrogance of his own ego. Transforming him into an upright, compassionate positive, a force for good.
It opens with a vow referring to the Prophet (PBUH) and the city, which he was born in, as well as being for man’s own history.
“I swear by this city-
And you, ( O Muhammad) are free of restriction in this city-
And by the father and that which was born (of him), We have certainly created man to go through hardship.”
A man of Muhammad’s nobility should have been honored and loved. He was known for his truthfulness, humbleness, and kindness to everyone, to the extent he was well known as Al Amin (The Truthful). Yet, he was cast out of his native city, his followers were placed under a ban and his life was sought.
The reference of the oath relating to father and child (… that which was born (of him)..) is said to refer to Adam, and his offspring down to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) through Ishmael (PBUH). Which beautifully takes us back to the very city by which Allah first swears.
Allah then states a very basic fact of human existence. “We (Allah) have certainly created man to go through hardship.”.
From the first moment of life, through childhood, and seeking a livelihood in adulthood, and old age Man goes through cycles of hardship, trials, and losses. This is a fact of life even the non-Muslim will attest to.
“Does he think that no one will overcome him?
He says, ‘I have spent massive amounts of wealth.’
Does he think that no one has seen him?”
Allah takes us into the mind of a person who has become so in love with the wealth he has been given he forgets that Allah sees everything he does.
‘ I have spent massive amounts of wealth.’.
Human history has recorded for us that tyranny, oppression, victimization, and exploitation have taken place due to man’s own greed.
‘Does he think no one sees him?’ It’s a question, we must pause to reflect upon.
How many times have we misused not only our money but time in things that we shouldn’t have? Allah then lists certain blessings that are natural to man.
“Have We not given him two eyes, and a tongue and two lips, and showed him the two ways?” (HQ 90:8-10)
It’s said that everyone has a set of paths placed before them.
Each with its own set of trials, yet by what standard do judge? Allah has given us the blessing of sight by which we see, and by that, we are able to understand the world around us.
We are given our ability to speak and convey our thoughts and emotions, and we are given our conscious which gives us some guidance into what’s right and wrong.
Some choose the path of right, it is a narrow path yet straight and leads to the Mercy of Allah.
Others, led by their desires, choose the wrong path which is crooked and winding. It leads only to Allah’s displeasure.
Yet, despite these wonderful and natural abilities Allah says,
“Yet he did not make his way through the steep course. And what can make you understand what the steep course is?” (HQ 90:11-12)
Such a question causes us to pause, and reflect, “What is this steep course?” Allah answers so eloquently,
“It is freeing the slave or feeding on a day of severe hunger an orphan of near relationship or a needy person in misery… ” (HQ 90:13-16)
The concept of slavery takes on a wider sense for us in the 21rst century than when the physical slavery of people was an everyday fact of life.
People today are enslaved in a majority of other areas in life.
These forms of slavery are no more oppressive, and no less harmful to a person than physical bondage.
You have slavery to passions and desires, slavery to wealth and the material, slavery to drugs and other addictive substances, etc.
Along with that, the Muslim is told to look to those who are poor not only amongst his own kin but the poor and unfortunate in his community Muslim or not.
To bring our hearts closer to the importance of their need, Allah says that they are ‘… in misery’.
We can almost imagine a cousin, niece, or any member of our family being in a state of extreme hunger.
Wouldn’t we rush to provide for them? Likewise, Allah here is saying along with feeding our kin, we also feed and help ( in the wider sense) the poor in general to the best of our ability.
“And then being among those who believed and advised one another to patience and advised one another to compassion. Those are the companions of the right.” (HQ 90:17)
It’s not enough to just do outward acts of good. Without sincere faith in Allah, patience, and heart-felt compassion towards our fellow human beings, these actions are devoid of any virtue.
The word sabr carries a wider meaning than the English word patience. It is the combination of both patience and steadfastness.
A person who has sabr both withstands the hardships he faces while remaining steadfast to what is obligatory on him.
Allah says these people are the companions of the right hand. Those who have taken the initiative to take the steep course filled with high and noble principles. What about those who are of the left hand? Who are they?
“But they who disbelieved in Our signs- those are the companions of the left. Over them will be fire enclosed.”
How sad is the affair of the person who cannot see past his own selfish nature that this should be his end? He forgot Allah, and the many blessings he was given.
May Allah protect us, and guide us. Ameen.