Commentary on Surah al-Nasr – Part 1

This is a transcript of the first lesson of the commentary on Sūrah al-Naṣr given by Shaykh Haider Hobbollah. Click here for part 2.

Names of the Surah

This chapter has been referred to by the following names:

  1. al-Naṣr is the most popular name and this is what you will find in the Qurānic codices today
  2. al-Fatḥ, in which case it has the same meaning as the other chapter al-Fatḥ which was revealed at the time of the treaty of Hudaybīyyah. However, this name is very rarely mentioned.
  3. In the traditions, it is referred to as Idhā Jā’a Naṣr Allah wa al-Fatḥ
  4. Sayyid Raḍi (a) has referred to it as the surah in which al-Fatḥ is mentioned or al-Naṣr
  5. Surah al-Tawdī’ (the farewell), and this meaning is derived from a narration that speaks of the end of the Prophet’s (p) life.

Place and Reasons for Revelation

There is a consensus that this is a Medani chapter, and as per a tradition attributed to Imam Riḍā (a) this is the last complete chapter that was revealed in the Qurān.

There is a difference of opinion on when this chapter was revealed exactly and in response to what event.

  1. Some say it was revealed after the treaty of Hudaybiyyah which and before Fatḥ al-Makkah – in other words between 6th and 9th hijrī. Many scholars went with this opinion, including ‘Allāmah Ṭabāṭabā’ī.
  2. Some say it was shortly before or shortly after the people of Yemen began entering Islam. Unlike other tribes that were converting a few people at a time, the people of Yemen converted into the religion of Islam in very large numbers at a time. In addition, there is no reported conflict between the people of Yemen and the Muslims of Medina preceding their conversion unlike the case with many other tribes. In any case, this would date the chapter between 6th and 10th hijrī.
  3. Some say it was shortly before and after the victory in the battle of Khaybar.
  4. Some say it was revealed right after Fatḥ al-Makkah.

Merits of the Chapter

We will mention just a few narrations, although as it is well known, many scholars place a big question mark on traditions that relate to the merits of the Qurānic chapters.

A tradition from Ubay who said, “Whoever recites the chapter, then he is like the one who was alongside the Prophet (p) during conquest of Makkah.”

In a tradition attributed to Imam Ṣādiq (a) he said, “Whoever recites Idhā Jā’a Naṣr Allah wa al-Fatḥ in his supererogatory prayers or the obligatory prayers, Allah (swt) will aid him against all his enemies…”

The Message of the Chapter and the Conquest of Makkah

The chapter is speaking about the etiquette of victory. Generally speaking, when people are victorious, especially after a war, there is a sense of pride and conceit. However, this chapter is a reminder to not forget Allah (swt) when one is victorious and remember Him by glorifying and praising Him.

Since most exegetes have considered this chapter to be revealed around the time of the conquest of Makkah, we will briefly describe the event for those unfamiliar. The conquest of Makkah took place in 8th hijrī, after the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah. The polytheists had broken the treaty with the Muslims and had betrayed their promises. In response to this, the Prophet (p) gathered a large army against the Makkans in order to fight them; and the event unfolded in the following three phases:

a) He kept the news of their attack on the Makkans a secret. In this context, there is a tradition that says a woman hid a letter in her hair-bun and tried to inform the Quryash in Makkah, but the Prophet (p) figured out and sent Imam ‘Alī (a) to stop this woman from reaching Makkah. This also shows us that war is not just mere chanting slogans, protesting and blind strategy, rather it requires serious planning and foresight.

b) The Prophet (p) took his army towards Makkah and camped at a location on the outskirts of Makkah called Marr al-Zahrān. Over here the Prophet (p) ordered his men to light up a very large fire so that the Makkans become curious as to the reason for this light coming from behind the mountains. Perhaps he wanted to instigate fear and intimidation so that the Makkans forfeit and submit without having to resort to actual war.

This is what happened. Abū Sufyān came with a group of other men and when they saw a large Muslim army camping on the outskirts of Makkah, they forfeit and converted to Islam.

c) The Muslims entered Makkah without having to spill the blood of anyone. Only around 6 people were executed and the reasons and details of that can be found in the works of history.

Verse 1 – Idhā Jā’ Naṣr Allah wa al-Fatḥ – إِذَا جَاءَ نَصْرُ اللَّهِ وَالْفَتْحُ

The coming of naṣr means the attainment of assistance and aid. The combination of idhā jā’ (when it comes) can mean two things:

a) It is speaking about the future: when the aid of Allah comes in the future, then glorify Allah (swt). This would also mean that victory and conquest would not have yet been attained at the time the chapter was revealed.

Some exegetes – perhaps due to the influence of a tradition – say that the response to the phrase “when aid comes” is not “then glorify Allah (swt)”, rather the response is omitted and that is, “then the time of your death will come.” This is a very far-fetched interpretation and nothing like it can be derived from the text of the verse. I believe it is simply trying to read those traditions that speak about this chapter being revealed near the end of the Prophet’s (p) life into the text, but those traditions are very weak to begin with.

In any case, the scholars have said this is one of the miracles of the Qurān since it is giving us a report about what will occur in the future. However, this is not completely accurate as the verse does not say aid will indeed come – it is not an informative statement – rather it is a conditional statement and can also be read as “when the aid of Allah happens to come, then glorify Allah.” Although, despite this, we say it is still possible to feel a sense of foreshadowing and a promise of victory for the Prophet (p), especially when it is combined a few other contextual indicators such as Allah (swt) telling the Prophet (p) in [48:3] that He (swt) will aid the Prophet (p) in a great victory.

b) Some exegetes have said idhā jā’a is referring to the past, meaning, “given that victory has come to you, so then glorify Allah”. Although we say this is against the apparent meaning and we do not have a strong textual reason to prefer this meaning over the first meaning.

Naṣr and Fatḥ

In present-day Arabic we understand naṣr to mean victory, the opposite of loss and defeat. However, this is not what naṣr actually means in classical Arabic. Naṣr means to aid, assist, to provide a benefit to someone. For example, if someone was fighting and you assist them in this fight, this is an instance of naṣr, even if the person you were helping eventually loses. Thus in the Qurān it says:

[59:12] And [even] if they should aid them, they will surely turn their backs; then [thereafter] they will not be aided.

This verse says that despite the naṣr being provided to them, they will still run away. This means not every naṣr is necessary a fatḥ (victory), and when Allah (swt) says He provides naṣr to the believers, it means He aids them.

This is why the first verse of this chapter says, when naṣr and fatḥ come to you, implying that the fatḥ is a result of the naṣr, but also that fatḥ is different than naṣr. Naṣr is a preliminary and fatḥ is a consequence of that preliminary, although the two are not always necessarily together. Although the Qurānic verses generally emphasize that true naṣr is only from Allah (swt) and that this is the epitome of Tawḥīd.

The next question is, what does the alif-lām on the word fatḥ indicate? Elsewhere in the Qurān, Allah (swt) says: [48:1] Indeed, We have given you, [O Muhammad], a clear conquest (fatḥān mubīnan). Almost all exegetes have said the conquest in [48:1] is referring to the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah. However, what conquest is intended in this chapter? There are two trends amongst exegetes:

1) There is no specific conquest, and it is futile to even try to find an instance for it. This is speaking of the general idea of conquest and victory. The verse is simply giving a principle that when the aid of Allah (swt) and victory comes to you – regardless of what it is – then glorify Allah (swt). It is like the sentence which says, when the sun passes the zenith, then pray Ẓuhr; is this sentence referring to a specific day the sun passes the zenith or is it just a general rule? It is a general rule.

In this manner, we are able to preserve the universality of the Qurānic message as well, in response to someone who may say this was revealed for the conquest of Makkah and since the conquest has been attained there is no further reason to obey what this chapter is saying.

This explanation may sound reasonable on first glance, but this is opinion is actually rare and only held by a handful of exegetes.

2) A second trend says that the word fatḥ is speaking of a specific conquest, but this does not mean that the general point of glorifying Allah (swt) when one is victorious cannot still be derived and understood from this chapter. Many Qurānic verses speak about specific events and incidents at the time of the Prophet’s (p) life, but that does not prevent us from understanding the spirit of the verses and follow them.

This group of exegetes themselves disputed what specific conquest this verse is referring to.

i) The famous opinion is that it is referring to the conquest of Makah in 8th hijrī. They say we have many reasons to believe this is the case:

a) There was no victory in the Prophet’s (p) life as great as the conquest of Makkah.

b) The use of the word fatḥ is appropriate for the conquest of Makkah, particularly because Makkah as a city had doors and the word fatḥ also signifies the meaning of an “opening” of the doors. The fatḥ of Makkah means the opening of its doors, and entering into it as victorious.

c) The second verse which speaks about people entering into the religion of Islam in large groups. We do not find this occurring in the history of Islam except after the conquest of Makkah.

Of course, there are questions that someone could ask here. Why did people start entering Islam in such large numbers specifically after Makkah was conquered? Historians have tried to offer some reasons, though this is not our topic, I can mention as an example that some historians say the Makkans had a theological belief that only someone who is on the truth could ever gain control over Makkah. This is similar to what happened with the Asḥāb al-Fīl who were defeated and Allah (swt) did not allow them to take control over Makkah and destroy the Ka’ba. So when they saw the Prophet’s (p) victory and control over Makkah, they recognized the truth of the matter.

Some others have said that the Makkans and other people in the region did want to enter the folds of Islam, but the presence, dominance and strength of the Quraysh intimidated and scared them. When the control of the Quraysh was defeated, this allowed people to enter Islam in large numbers without any fear.

Some historians – usually the orientalists – have also said that people entered Islam because of the fear of the sword. Meaning, they had no choice but to come into Islam, or else their lives were in danger.

d) In [48:3] Allah (swt) says He (swt) will aid the Prophet (p) and that it will be a type of assistance that will be least expected and mighty. We do not know of any such mighty assistance after the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah except the Conquest of Makkah.

ii) Some have said it could be any of the specific victories the Prophet (p) enjoyed during his life, such as the Hijrah itself, or the battle of Badr or any other battle. We do not know which one specifically. Although if we say it is referring to the Hijrah then that would mean this chapter is Makkī and not Medanī.

iii) Some say it is referring to the people of Yemen entering the folds of Islam in large numbers around 6th hijrī.

iv) Some have said it is referring to the conquest of Khaybar.

v) Some have said it is referring to the Farewell Pilgrimage.

vi) In a tradition attributed to Ibn ‘Abbās, it is referring to the conquest of Madā’in, which means it is referring to an event after the demise of the Prophet (p). This is of course really far-fetched since the context of the chapter seems to be speaking about an event that will occur during the life of the Prophet (p).

vii) Some have said that this is referring to when Imam Mahdī (a) comes since al-nās (people) in this chapter is referring to all of humanity, and all of humanity will not enter Islam until the Imam (a) comes. This is also far-fetched since al-nās could most likely mean a large number of people, not all of humanity. The word al-nās is used in the former meaning, without intending all of humanity, in the Qurān multiple times.

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