The very early revealed Meccan Surah Ash-Shams (The Sun) opens with a fine nature passage that leads up to the need for man to realize his spiritual obligation and ends up with an admonition of the dreadful consequences for those who do not fear the Hereafter.
Nature around us together with her pageants as well as the soul of man within, assert the righteousness of Allah. In verses 1-6, six forms are taken in three pairs from the great works in nature of Allah as evidence of His divine intervention including the contrasts of His sublime creation which hitherto conduce to cosmic harmony.
“By the Sun and his (glorious) splendor; By the Moon as she follows him;” Verses 1-2
The first contrasted pair is the sun and the moon; the splendid sun is the source of our light and physical life whereas the moon acts as second to the sun for enlightening our world.
“By the Day as it shows up (the Sun’s) glory; By the Night as it conceals it;” Verses 3-4.
This second contrasted pair consists of periods of time, that is, Day and Night. The day reveals the grandeur of the sun while the night conceals it from our sight; just as there may be contrasts in our subjective reception of Divine light.
“By the Firmament and its (wonderful) structure; By the Earth and its (wide) expanse;” Verses 5-6
The third contrasted pair is the brilliant firmament far above the ground, while the earth below our feet stretches away to broad horizons. The sky for its part gives us rain, while the earth gives us food. Yet both the sky and earth team up, to provide rain which is moisture sucked up from the earth and food cannot grow without the heat and warmth of the sun from the sky.
Then, in verses 7-8, the soul of man as made by Allah according to varied proportions in capacities and faculties is appealed to, as having been gifted with the command of discerning between right and wrong.
“By the Soul, and the proportion and order given to it; and its enlightenment as to its wrong and its right;”Verses 7-8
Allah has made the soul and has given it order, proportion and relative perfection in order to adapt it for particular circumstances in which it has to live its life. He has breathed into it an understanding of both what is sin, impiety and wrong-doing, as well as what is piety and right conduct. Hence, the faculty of distinguishing between the right and the wrong is the most precious gift of all given by Allah to man.
“Truly he succeeds that purifies it, And he fails that corrupts it” Verses 9-10
By both external and internal evidences, that righteousness of Allah is the greatest of all. Man should learn that his success, prosperity and salvation depend on keeping his soul pure as Allah has made it while his failure and decline depend on his soiling his soul by choosing evil.
Hence, the central part of the Surah is illustrated by a reference to the story of the ancient Arabian tribe of Thamud and their prophet Salih (Pbuh). The prophet had to deal with a rich and arrogant people who used to oppress the poor and denied them their rights of watering and pasture for their cattle.
“The Thamud (people) rejected (their prophet) through their inordinate wrong-doing. Behold, the wicked man among them was deputed (for impiety).” Verses 11-12
As a test and punishment for their misconduct, Allah sent a special she-camel as a sign and test case to the people commanding them through prophet Salih (Pbuh) to allow the camel to graze the pasture without restraint and to drink from the well for one whole day without commotion.
“But the apostle of God said to them: ‘It is a She-camel of God! And (bar her not from) having her drink!’”Verse 13
Rebellious and disobedient, the Thamud people plotted to kill the she-camel and they sent a wicked man among them to hamstring her.
“Then they rejected him (As a false prophet), and they hamstrung her. So their Lord, on account of their crime, obliterated their traces and made them equal (in destruction, high and low)!” Verse 14.
“And for Him is no fear of its consequences.” Verse 15. Allah decreed the total destruction of the Thamud with an earthquake.
This doom could have been avoided if the Thamud people had learned to listen to the voices of their conscience.
The Holy Quran, translation by A. Yusuf Ali
The Quran in plain English by Iman Torres-Al Haneef