The final pair of Surahs in the Quran are Surat Al-Falaq (113) and Surat An-Nass (114), often called “Al-Mu’awwidhatan” or the “two of refuge,” are considered the best du’a or supplications to ask Allah for protection against any sort of harm or danger.
They are closely aligned in a number of ways: both begin with the same words “qul ‘authu b’rabb” which means “Say: I seek refuge with the Lord” and then diverge in the description of the Lord of —what— at which point Surah 113 uses the phrase “Lord of Al-Falaq” (often translated “daybreak” but can have the more general meaning of “separating/ cleaving”), and Surah 114 uses the expression “Lord of An-Nass” (people). They follow right after Surat Al-Ikhlas (112) discussed here, which named Allah One and Al-Samad or “Indivisible” (in the absolute sense). So here we have a connecting thread of meaning from Surah 112 in the sense of “separating”: Allah who is never “divided” or “separated” in any sense whatsoever here is invoked as the Lord of “dividing/ separating” in the Surah that immediately follows it! Thus it forms a connection between 112 and 113. Because Allah is the only One entirely Indivisible, He is therefore the only true “Lord of Dividing,” as He created everything, and in the process of creation, divides His creation into the unimaginable multiplicity of things from quasars and stars and planets to microscopic creatures.
The opening words shared between Surahs 113 and 114 obviously connect these Surahs plus their both being du’a asking Allah for protection, Surah 113 for protection from “outer” dangers and 114 from “inner” dangers. First we shall explain the details here in reference to 113, followed by a separate post for Surat Al-Nass (114), focusing on how these two Surahs relate to each other to form the greatest protection for humankind against the forces of evil and harm from without and within ourselves.
Surah 113 is shown in Arabic above whose English translation/ explanation is below:
- Say: I seek protection from the Lord of Al-Falaq (daybreak/ dividing)
- From the harm of what is created.
- And from the harm of darkness when it falls/ settles.
- And from the harm/ evil of those who blow in knots.
- And from the harm/ evil of the envier when he envies.
Regarding aya 1: Allah is the One who separates the day from the night and the night from the day. But in a sense all creation is a “separating” or “cleaving”. And it is the Creator, the Inseparable, who does this. In the example below,
Surat Al-Shu’ara’ 26:63
فَأَوْحَيْنَا إِلَىٰ مُوسَىٰ أَنِ اضْرِب بِّعَصَاكَ الْبَحْرَ ۖ فَانفَلَقَ فَكَانَ كُلُّ فِرْقٍ كَالطَّوْدِ الْعَظِيمِ
Then We inspired to Moses, “Strike with your staff the sea,” and it parted, and each portion was like a great towering mountain.
The word in bold is fa’anfalaq, which means “so it parted”, the verb “parted” in Arabic being written using exactly the same 3 letters as “falaq” in the name Surat Al-falaq; so the word means “separated” and indeed Allah the Almighty parted the sea into two parts like mountains by commanding His Prophet Musa (Moses) to use his staff as a means to accomplish this with the invocation of Allah’s great Name: the sea “separated” into parts “in the name of the Almighty”. Another example in the Quran illustrates how this relates to creation itself:
Surat Al-An’am 6:95
۞ إِنَّ اللَّهَ فَالِقُ الْحَبِّ وَالنَّوَىٰ ۖ يُخْرِجُ الْحَيَّ مِنَ الْمَيِّتِ وَمُخْرِجُ الْمَيِّتِ مِنَ الْحَيِّ ۚ ذَٰلِكُمُ اللَّهُ ۖ فَأَنَّىٰ تُؤْفَكُونَ
Indeed, Allah is the cleaver of grain and date seeds. He brings the living out of the dead and brings the dead out of the living. That is Allah; so how are you deluded?
Death and life are two entirely separate conditions, yet He brings one out of the other. Separating the kernel from its shell or covering is essential to its growth. And as if the connection to “daybreak” were not crystal clear yet, this aya is followed by another with that specific reference.
Surat Al-An’am 6:96
فَالِقُ الْإِصْبَاحِ وَجَعَلَ اللَّيْلَ سَكَنًا وَالشَّمْسَ وَالْقَمَرَ حُسْبَانًا ۚ ذَٰلِكَ تَقْدِيرُ الْعَزِيزِ الْعَلِيمِ
[He is] the cleaver of daybreak and has made the night for rest and the sun and moon for calculation. That is the determination of the Exalted in Might, the Knowing.
The words “cleaver of daybreak” in bold correspond to the Arabic “falaq al-asbah” which is the plural form of “morning” or “daybreak” where the word “break” in the English translation “daybreak” emphasizes the cleaving even more than “morning”. The rest of this aya shows us further the wisdom of this cleaving: as a blessing for creation, providing essential rest at night and light during day, and “separating” heavenly bodies (sun and planets, etc.) to teach humanity calculation. And indeed in the Quran is much to calculate. More specifically, calculation of time and its advancement has developed throughout history, giving human civilization more control over our most valuable, and limited, resource: the human lifetime. The greatest “parting” is for us the separating of life from death and vice versa, over which Allah the Exalted alone has authority. But He gives us ways to use our time more wisely with the guidance of the Quran.
Notice how each of the following ayat (verses) refer to a kind of “separation” which could be harmful or used for harmful or evil purposes, starting in aya 2 with the most general, and becoming more specific with each subsequent aya. Also I have used the word “evil” with “harms” in ayat 4 and 5 only, since “evil” is associated with human or jinn intent and emotion, specified in these ayat. The Arabic word sharr can mean either.
Regarding aya 2: this is the most general protection imaginable: protection from ma khalaq which means “that which is created,” in other words, all creation wholly and/or any part of it. The creation is indeed a marvel, but the complex relationships that comprise it mean harm could come from many sources. The specifics that follow alert us to the ways creation can harm us, that very awareness itself initiating protection.
Regarding aya 3: narrowing down from all of creation, the first specific is darkness; although it is a mercy in providing both a time to sleep and also an opening to view the majesty of the heavens only revealed at night, it also on earth hides creatures (such as wild animals or insects) and humans (such as criminals) who could harm us, as well as disabling a good portion of our ability to see, where we could stumble or fall into a sinkhole, or many other possible harms. “When it falls” indicates darkness literally covers everything around us. Even though we now have illuminated much of the earth with electric lighting, our visibility is still limited as compared with during the day, whose light penetrates far more extensively. Note also that this first “specific” is actually involved in the two harms that follow, whose danger occurs not only or necessarily in the darkness of night but in the darkness of being done underhandedly, in a way that seeks to be hidden, or in the final aya, coming from a specific emotion that cannot be seen but only felt, at which point it has already taken effect.
Regarding aya 4: This is the most challenging aya to interpret, because the phrase “blowers in knots” (which could perhaps more effectively be translated “blowers into knots”) is not associated in all cultures with sorcery, which is the most common interpretation of the phrase. But knowing that this message is for “all the worlds,” we must seek to include a more universal interpretation in addition to “sorcery” from the literal words themselves. That may have been commonly understood by the Arab culture at the time the Quran was sent, but “knots” is also a powerful and meaningful word that can expand that meaning; multiplicity of meaning is a feature of the Quran about which there is widespread agreement among scholars and Muslims generally. The first meaning relates to the “knots” of human relationships, especially of marriage and family, what in English is expressed as “the tie that binds,” often implying true and enduring love. “Blowing into knots” is clearly a kind of action which implies focusing negative attention/ remote action on such important ties with intent to disrupt or break such ties involving the target of this action. In sorcery, it is often used, in places where sorcery is still practiced, to destroy marriages or other relationships. As the Quran refers to it here:
Surat Al-Baqara 2:102
وَاتَّبَعُوا مَا تَتْلُو الشَّيَاطِينُ عَلَىٰ مُلْكِ سُلَيْمَانَ ۖ وَمَا كَفَرَ سُلَيْمَانُ وَلَٰكِنَّ الشَّيَاطِينَ كَفَرُوا يُعَلِّمُونَ النَّاسَ السِّحْرَ وَمَا أُنزِلَ عَلَى الْمَلَكَيْنِ بِبَابِلَ هَارُوتَ وَمَارُوتَ ۚ وَمَا يُعَلِّمَانِ مِنْ أَحَدٍ حَتَّىٰ يَقُولَا إِنَّمَا نَحْنُ فِتْنَةٌ فَلَا تَكْفُرْ ۖ فَيَتَعَلَّمُونَ مِنْهُمَا مَا يُفَرِّقُونَ بِهِ بَيْنَ الْمَرْءِ وَزَوْجِهِ ۚ وَمَا هُم بِضَارِّينَ بِهِ مِنْ أَحَدٍ إِلَّا بِإِذْنِ اللَّهِ ۚ وَيَتَعَلَّمُونَ مَا يَضُرُّهُمْ وَلَا يَنفَعُهُمْ ۚ وَلَقَدْ عَلِمُوا لَمَنِ اشْتَرَاهُ مَا لَهُ فِي الْآخِرَةِ مِنْ خَلَاقٍ ۚ وَلَبِئْسَ مَا شَرَوْا بِهِ أَنفُسَهُمْ ۚ لَوْ كَانُوا يَعْلَمُونَ
And they followed [instead] what the devils had recited during the reign of Solomon. It was not Solomon who disbelieved, but the devils disbelieved, teaching people magic and that which was revealed to the two angels at Babylon, Harut and Marut. But the two angels do not teach anyone unless they say, “We are a trial, so do not disbelieve [by practicing magic].” And [yet] they learn from them that by which they cause separation between a man and his wife. But they do not harm anyone through it except by permission of Allah. And the people learn what harms them and does not benefit them. But the Children of Israel certainly knew that whoever purchased the magic would not have in the Hereafter any share. And wretched is that for which they sold themselves, if they only knew.
This gives us a comprehensive idea about the history and aim of sorcery, here translated “magic” (in English, “magic” now usually refers to the relatively harmless entertainment business of illusion, whereby seemingly impossible acts are performed using tricks of illusion, therefore “sorcery” is the better translation). It was taught to humankind by devils/jinn who got it originally from angels as a test, and was used, among other things, to cause a breakup between spouses, and other means of harming a person without that person being aware of the sorcerer’s intervention. Regardless if the methodology used involved literally “blowing in knots” as a means to that end, the important point here is this is an act done “in the dark” without the victim’s knowledge, and that the purpose of the act is to harm a human “target” in their vulnerable “knots” without their knowledge. Thus, such acts fall under the category of “darkness,” in the sense that they leave their victims in the dark, at least until the ax falls, so to speak, and are done “remotely” or in secrecy.
There are also examples where technology and modern media have been used toward the same end, producing the same harm and results formerly achieved by sorcery, such as hacking someone’s personal phone to find evidence of dubiousness behavior they can then use against them. Rumor-mongering and conspiracies can also fall under this category.
Family ties are not the only interpretation of “knots;” in Arabic, the word for “knots” here also can mean “complexes” in the sense of “emotional complexes” (inferiority, hero, etc.), and is used this way in modern Arabic as well as in English and other languages. In fact, this expression was originated by the thinker Carl Jung, who describes it literally as a knot:
“Jung described a “complex” as a ‘node’ in the unconscious; it may be imagined as a knot of unconscious feelings and beliefs, detectable indirectly, through behavior that is puzzling or hard to account for.”
Although Jung developed a system of both good and bad complexes, the word in common usage, including in Arabic as well as English, has come to mean a problematic or sensitive issue for a person, which can be taken advantage of by others. It is this sense where a kind of pressure can be applied by speaking constantly and critically about such a complex or knot, in public to embarrass or in private to create self-doubt, to wear down a victim’s sense of self-worth or confidence. The “blowing” in this case is quite literal, by the “heavy breathing” of a barrage of words intended to harm a person’s very sense of self. This is also used to more extreme degrees as an interrogation technique, even called “psychological pressure/ torture.” That is certainly underhanded and usually applied by coercion, and like conspiracy, is strongly associated with darkness. The goal is also a kind of separation, in the sense of splitting the self like one might split the atom, ultimately creating a destructive force.
In reference to aya 5: the last interpretation above is similar to the subject of this aya, envy, which is also a destructive force. Here the focus has narrowed down to a single individual: the envier. The darkness here starts in the heart or emotions of the envious one, which he projects into the object of his envy, without the victim’s knowledge (thus in the dark), causing harm. This site gives an excellent description of the distinction between envy and jealousy, as the two are often used interchangeably without understanding the difference:
“Envy is the tendency to perceive with displeasure the good of others (definition by Immanuel Kant) while jealousy is the fear that something you have (be it a person or a possession) will be taken away from you by someone else. Envy, in other words, is a reaction to lacking something, whereas jealousy is a reaction to the threat of losing something.”
The article goes on to say that, according to many philosophers,
“envy is a destructive and diseased state of mind that acts like poison in the veins of not only the envier, but also the envied and, society as a whole.”
This certainly is in agreement with the Quran, which is likewise specific about envy as distinguished from jealousy. The same article also calls envy “evil,” as is implied in this Surah, explaining it is evil to the victim, of course, in such ways as harmful rumors, constant criticism of the slightest flaws, ending with sometimes “character assassination,” and more. It is also evil and destructive to the envious, who “believe that their own happiness will increase only if the happiness of those whom they envy decreases.” Add to “happiness” success, good health, whatever is being envied. By presuming good things only come to themselves when others are “put down” or harmed, and by their obsession with presumed victimhood, enviers create a situation where they will always be miserable, hence always seek to make others miserable as if this would improve their own situation. It’s a downward spiral that hinders prosperity and well-being generally, and when like-minded enviers act collectively, as can happen for example to famous people, of whose apparent happiness many are aware and some would envy, but also can similarly apply to politics, and thus can become a force for evil that could literally destroy a society.
The Quran tells of such an example in the conflict between the People of the Scripture and the newer Muslim community, which was triggered by envy on the part of the former:
Holy Quran 2:109
وَدَّ كَثِيرٌ مِّنْ أَهْلِ الْكِتَابِ لَوْ يَرُدُّونَكُم مِّن بَعْدِ إِيمَانِكُمْ كُفَّارًا حَسَدًا مِّنْ عِندِ أَنفُسِهِم مِّن بَعْدِ مَا تَبَيَّنَ لَهُمُ الْحَقُّ ۖ فَاعْفُوا وَاصْفَحُوا حَتَّىٰ يَأْتِيَ اللَّهُ بِأَمْرِهِ ۗ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ
Many of the People of the Scripture wish they could turn you back to disbelief after you have believed, out of envy from themselves [even] after the truth has become clear to them. So pardon and overlook until Allah delivers His command. Indeed, Allah is over all things competent.
Here the nascent Muslim community are being attacked by the “people of the scripture” even to the point of war, not because of simple disbelief, but because they felt the revelation should have come to them.
Another example of envy is the dispute between Cain and Abel, the sons of Adam, where Allah accepted Abel’s sacrifice but not that of Cain. Instead of trying to correct himself or see what was his shortcoming in offering the sacrifice and ask Allah for forgiveness, he decided to kill his own brother out of envy. Because envy blinds the envier and pushes him away from seeking truth or justice, Cain saw the solution as eliminating his brother and therefore he would be the only one left, so none could be better than him. This is the stupidity characteristic of envy: to see, instead of self-improvement, an obstacle to his success in the success of others, hence eliminating the obstacle would “solve” the problem. The same logic was applied to the case of Yusuf or Joseph the son of Jacob, whom his brothers envied because their father seemed to love him more. Their “solution” was to eliminate Yusuf by killing him or, as they ultimately decided, throwing him in a well so travelers would find him and take him away, which is what happened.
Another more dangerous envier, described in the 4th aya of the very next Surah, Al-Nass (114), is the one who envied Adam when Allah first created him, and whose envy threatens our very hearts, against whom we have been forewarned: Satan, Al-Shaytan in Arabic, who was in the company of the angels until he refused to prostrate to Adam with the angels.
Surat Al-A’raf 7:12
قَالَ مَا مَنَعَكَ أَلَّا تَسْجُدَ إِذْ أَمَرْتُكَ ۖ قَالَ أَنَا خَيْرٌ مِّنْهُ خَلَقْتَنِي مِن نَّارٍ وَخَلَقْتَهُ مِن طِينٍ
[Allah] said, “What prevented you from prostrating when I commanded you?” [Satan] said, “I am better than him. You created me from fire and created him from clay.”
Clearly a case of envy. But it doesn’t stop there. Allah the Exalted expelled Satan (and changed his name too; before his own “fall” he had been named Iblees) from Paradise, and Satan asked to be reprieved until Judgment Day, which request the Almighty granted (reciprocity even applies here!). But Satan’s envy knows no bounds:
Surat Al-A’raf 7:16
قَالَ فَبِمَا أَغْوَيْتَنِي لَأَقْعُدَنَّ لَهُمْ صِرَاطَكَ الْمُسْتَقِيمَ
[Satan] said, “Because You have put me in error, I will surely sit in wait for them on Your straight path.
ثُمَّ لَآتِيَنَّهُم مِّن بَيْنِ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَمِنْ خَلْفِهِمْ وَعَنْ أَيْمَانِهِمْ وَعَن شَمَائِلِهِمْ ۖ وَلَا تَجِدُ أَكْثَرَهُمْ شَاكِرِينَ
Then I will come to them from before them and from behind them and on their right and on their left, and You will not find most of them grateful [to You].”
The envier then deceived Adam and Eve (Hawa’) and caused them to also disobey Allah and thus be, like him, expelled from Paradise. His aim was and is to prove humanity to be unworthy and inferior, thinking this would elevate him, in the same faulty logic of all enviers.
Envy, then, is the cause even of humanity’s expulsion from Paradise, and not only does Satan’s envy continue until Judgment Day, but those who follow him rather than Allah’s guidance and mercy will go with Satan into Hell, whose guards are not devils or Satan’s minions, but “powerful and cruel” angels, under only Allah’s authority. Hell is not the devil’s playground but rather his torment along with that of all those he deceived. It should be noted Adam and Hawa’ (Eve) were both deceived simultaneously — the Quranic narrative does not have Eve first falling for the deception and then convincing Adam (as per the Biblical account) but rather both were equally culpable and acted together on this.
These harms and evils listed in Surah 113 are all outer harms. Their action comes from others outside ourselves: God’s creation, darkness, sorcery and conspiracies, and envy: these are all outside of us, things that happen to us, for which we are not responsible. We are not causing any of these harms nor will we held accountable for them. We are not responsible for those who envy us, for wolves or viruses or other creatures, nor are we responsible for the darkness or for those who conspire in the dark of secrecy to harm us. Rather these things can all cause harm to us in this life, even tear apart families, spouses, lifelong friends, careers, and ultimately might even kill us.
We ask the Almighty to protect us from all this, all of which can come from His creation. But Satan has one advantage over other enviers: his being allowed by Allah the Exalted to sneak and whisper directly into the hearts and souls of people, thus deceiving them and convincing them not to follow the straight path to Allah but rather the twisted path which leads to dead ends, nothing to hold onto, away from Allah—except those who choose the straight path to become Allah’s sincere servants. (Quran 15:40) That should remind us, before we proceed further, of Surah 112 “Al-Ikhlass,” Sincerity. Worship Allah as One, and you conquer Satan, by becoming the exception, the ones who don’t follow him, but find a way straight to Allah the Exalted, the path of those sincere to Him.
Which brings us directly to Surah 114, the final Surah of the Quran, entitled An-Nass: “People.” Yes, the title of the final Surah of the Quran is “People,” the intended audience of this book: us.