Introduction to Surat Al-An`am (The Cattle)
Names of the Surah
It is called Al-An`am (the Cattle) due to the numerous verses mentioned in the surah in which some superstitious beliefs of the idolaters Arabs concerning the lawfulness of some cattle (An`am) and the unlawfulness of some others have been refuted.
Period of Revelation
According to a tradition of Ibn `Abbas, the whole of the Surah was revealed at one sitting at Makkah. Asma’, a daughter of Yazid and a first cousin of Mu`az ibn Jabal, says, “During the revelation of this Surah, the Prophet (peace be upon him) was riding on a she-camel and I was holding her nose-string. The she-camel began to feel the weight so heavily that it seemed as if her bones would break under it.”
We also learn from other traditions that the Prophet (peace be upon him) dictated the whole of the Surah the same night that it was revealed.
Is it Makka or Madani Surah?
Its subject-matter clearly shows that it must have been revealed during the last year of the Prophet’s life at Makkah. The tradition of Asma’, daughter of Yazid, also confirms this. As she belonged to the Ansar and embraced Islam after the migration of the Prophet to Yathrib, her visit to the Prophet at Makkah must have taken place during the last year of his life there. For before this, his relations with those people were not so intimate that a woman from there might have come to visit him at Makkah.
Theme of the Surah
This Surah mainly discusses the different aspects of the major articles of the Islamic Creed: Tawhid, Life-after-death, Prophethood and their practical application to human life. Side by side with this, it refutes the erroneous beliefs of the “opponents and answers their objections, warns and admonishes them and comforts the Holy Prophet and his followers, who were then suffering from persecution.
Of course, these themes have not been dealt with under separate heads but have been blended in an excellent manner.
Subjects and topics of the Surah
1– The whole surah presents the truth of Godhead as it is reflected in life and the universe, human soul and conscience, the secrets of the world around us and the secrets of the world beyond the reach of our faculties of perception.
2- Enunciation of the fundamental moral principles for the building up of the Islamic Society.
3- Enunciation of the doctrine of the Life after death and refutation of the wrong notion that there was nothing beyond this worldly life.
4- Answers to the objections raised against the person of the Prophet and his mission.
5- It confirms the fact that Allah is the only one who provides for all creation, the one who feeds them and is fed by none.
6- The surah comments on the jahiliyyah (pre-Islamic Ignorance) rituals concerning animal and agricultural produce and the offerings made of these.
Sayyed Abu A`la Maududi’s Tafhim Al-Qur’an.
Sayyid Qutb’s Fi Zhilal Al-Qur’an.