Tafsir Zone - Surah 17: Al-Isra (The Night Journey )

Tafsir Zone

Surah Al-Isra 17:78
 

Overview (Verses 78 - 81)

The Truth Will Triumph
 
At this point in the sūrah, the Prophet is directed to remain in contact with his Lord, seeking His support and following His directives, proclaiming the fact that the truth is certain to triumph, while falsehood will inevitably wither away.
 
Keep up prayer when the sun is on its decline, in the darkness of the night, and recite the Qur’ān at dawn, for the recitation of the Qur’ān at dawn is indeed witnessed. At night, rise from your sleep to recite it in prayer, as an additional offering from you. Your Lord may thus raise you to an honourable station. Say, My Lord, cause me to enter in a true and sincere manner and to leave in a true and sincere manner, and grant me, by Your grace, sustaining strength.’ And say, The truth has now come about while falsehood has withered away. For falsehood is always bound to wither away. We bestow of the Qur’ān from on high what serves as a healing and a blessing to true believers, while it only adds to the ruin of the evildoers. (Verses 78-82)
 
This directive applies to the Prophet in particular. It does not relate to the obligatory prayers which have their own timings, outlined in several authentic aĥādīth and numerous reports of the Prophet’s practical Sunnah. Some scholars suggest that the reference here to the sun’s decline means its beginning to move down from its zenith, while they take the reference to the ‘darkness of the night’ to mean the beginning of the night, and the ‘recitation at dawn’ to mean the obligatory prayer at dawn. They thus suggest that the Qur’ānic statement here groups together the times of all five obligatory prayers, Żuhr, `Aşr, Maghrib and `Ishā’, [when the sun is on its decline to the darkness of the night], and then Fajr at dawn. They consider that only recitation of the Qur’ān in prayer at night is obligatory on the Prophet as a bonus. For our part, we feel that the first view is more accurate, considering all else that these two verses mention as being applicable to the Prophet only. As for the timing of daily prayers, these are properly outlined in the Sunnah, both verbally and practically.
 
“Keep up prayer when the sun is on its decline, in the darkness of the night.” (Verse 78) This is an instruction to the Prophet to offer prayer at the time between the sun starting to set and the night creeping in to spread its darkness. He is also ordered to “recite the Qur’ān at dawn, for the recitation of the Qur’ān at dawn is indeed witnessed.” (Verse 78) These two periods when the day and night succeed each other in a continuous cycle have their special significance. Both times mark a change as the light dwindles to give way to the enveloping darkness, and then as the darkness is removed to allow the light to spread. Both times have their effect, softening hearts and inviting people to contemplate how the laws of nature operate without fail. Needless to say, the Qur’ān and prayer also have their effects on people’s hearts, particularly at dawn with its calm serenity, and approaching light, leading to another lively day.
 
“At night, rise from your sleep to recite it in prayer, as an additional offering from you.” (Verse 79) The instruction here is to the Prophet to rise after having had some sleep in the early part of the night. The Qur’ān is recited in night worship because it is the hard core of prayer and its most important part. “Your Lord may thus raise you to an honourable station.” (Verse 79) This is achieved through a constant link with God, manifested by prayer and recitation of the Qur’ān in night worship. Such a position is only achievable in this way. If God’s Messenger (peace be upon him), in his particular status, is instructed to maintain prayer and rise from his sleep at night to worship and recite the Qur’ān, so that he attains the honourable station that is allowed him, certainly other people need to follow suit so that they also may attain the good positions to which they aspire. This is the only way for them to travel. The equipment they need as they go along is thus outlined for them.
 
“Say: ‘My Lord, cause me to enter in a true and sincere manner and to leave in a true and sincere manner, and grant me, by Your grace, sustaining strength.’” (Verse 80) This is a supplication that God has taught to His Messenger so that his followers learn how to pray to God. It is a supplication for true and sincere entrance and exit. This implies a true and sincere journey, from start to finish and along the way. Truth and sincerity have their own connotations here in reference to the attempts made by the unbelievers to persuade the Prophet to invent something different from the Qur’ān. Moreover, truth and sincerity add an air of steadfastness, reassurance and total dedication. “And grant me, by Your grace, sustaining power.” (Verse 80) This is a supplication for strength that would enable the Prophet to look down on all earthly powers and all that the unbelievers could muster. The expression, ‘by Your grace,’ implies closeness to God and contact with Him, as well as seeking His help and support.
 
A true advocate of faith derives strength only from God, and acquires a position commanding respect only through God’s power. Such an advocate seeks no shelter or support from a ruler or a person of influence unless he first turns to God for help and protection. The divine message may touch the hearts of people in power, or those occupying positions of influence, and they then become its soldiers and servants. This ensures success for them in this life and in the life to come. But the message itself will not prosper if it ranks itself among the servants and soldiers of rulers. It is God’s message and, as such, it commands a position higher than that of any ruler.
 
“And say, ‘The truth has now come about while falsehood has withered away. For falsehood is always bound to wither away.” (Verse 81) With irrefutable authority derived from God Himself it is proclaimed that truth has come to be established with its overpowering might, while falsehood is totally defeated. For it is in the nature of truth to triumph and establish itself with vigour, while it is in the nature of falsehood to wither away and be vanquished.
 
“For falsehood is always bound to wither away.” (Verse 81) This is a basic truth that is stated here with emphasis. It may appear sometimes that falsehood is equipped with power and influence, but this is all hollow. Falsehood will always try to assume an air of strength, because it has no real strength at its command. It knows that it has to visually deceive, giving the appearance of large size and physical power. But in reality, it is fragile, easy to destroy. It is no more than the flames of dried straw that float into the air only to subside in no time at all. By contrast, live coal burns slowly and steadily to give sustained warmth and long lasting heat. Falsehood is like the scum that floats at the surface. It soon disappears while the real water stays.
 
Indeed falsehood ends in utter loss because it does not carry within itself the elements necessary for survival. It derives its life, which, by nature, is of short duration, from external elements and unnatural support. Should such elements and support weaken or become loose, it will collapse. Truth, by contrast, derives its power of survival from within itself. It may have to face determined opposition, particularly by those in ruling positions, but its inherent strength and reassurance guarantee its eventual triumph. How could it be otherwise when truth comes from the Eternal One who has made truth an attribute of His own?
 
“For falsehood is always bound to wither away.” (Verse 81) Falsehood may have all the might of Satan and those tyrannical forces which command power behind it, but God’s promise will definitely come true and His power is far superior. Every believer who is firm of faith is certain to experience the truth of this promise. “Who is more true to his promise than God?” (9: 111) “Whose word could be truer than God’s?” (4: 87)