Al-An’am is an Arabic word ٱلْأَنْعَامْ that means “The Cattle” (or a grazing animal). Like many other Surahs of the Quran, the name of Surah Al-An’am is also derived from the verses contained therein. Verses 136, 138, and 139 describe the false traditions of the idolaters of Mecca about some of the cattle being sacred and others being not sacred. These verses refuted these false beliefs.

Translation

Likewise, the pagans’ evil associates have made it appealing to them to kill their own children—only leading to their destruction as well as confusion in their faith. Had it been Allah’s Will, they would not have done such a thing. So leave them and their falsehood.

They say, “These cattle and crops are reserved—none may eat them except those we permit,” so they claim. Some other cattle are exempted from labour and others are not slaughtered in Allah’s Name—falsely attributing lies to Him. He will repay them for their lies.

They ˹also˺ say, “The offspring of this cattle is reserved for our males and forbidden to our females; but if it is stillborn, they may all share it.” He will repay them for their falsehood. Surely He is All-Wise, All-Knowing.

Hence this Surah was given the name Al-An’am.

Statistics – Surah Al-An’am

No. of Ayats No. of Words No. of Letters No. of Rukus Type of Surah Situated in Para Tarteeb-e-Nazool Tarteeb-e-Tilawat
165 3049 12571 20 Makki 7 and 8 55 6

Period of Revelation

This Surah was revealed on the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ in the last year of his stay in Mecca, per the tradition of Hazrat Ibn Abbas رَضِيَ ٱللَّٰهُ عَنْهُ. It is also believed that Surah Al-An’am was revealed in one go as per some other traditions. The theme and the subject matter of this Surah also reflects that it must have been revealed at Mecca, as it refutes the polytheism and strongly preaches the true monotheism.

Another tradition about the revelation of this surah is from Hazrat Asma Bint-e-Yazid رَضِيَ ٱللَّٰهُ عَنْهَا, a first cousin of Hazrat Muaz Bin Jabl رَضِيَ ٱللَّٰهُ عَنْهُ and one of the women of Ansar. Per her tradition, when this surah was revealed, the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was riding a she-camel and she was holding the nose-string of the camel. Hazrat Asma رَضِيَ ٱللَّٰهُ عَنْهَا embraced Islam in Medina after the migration of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. So, her visit to Mecca to see the Prophet would only have been possible during the last days of his stay in Mecca, very close to his migration to Medina. The circumstances were not so conducive for a woman from Medina to come and see the Prophet in Mecca before that.

So, traditions support that Surah Al-An’am was revealed during the last days of the Prophet’s stay in Mecca and was revealed in one go.

Shaan-e-Nazool (Occasion of Revelation)

From the earlier days of Prophet-Hood of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ the Quraysh tribe of Mecca have been in strong opposition to his call to monotheism. With every passing day, their behavior becomes more and more oppressive towards the Prophet and his followers. The harassment towards them forced most of the new Muslims to migrate to Habshah.

Meanwhile, the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ lost his uncle Abu Talib and his wife Hazrat Khadeejah رَضِيَ ٱللَّٰهُ عَنْهَا, who were his strong supporters. After their death, the Prophet was deprived of this strong support. Despite that, he firmly stood along with his mission, and many of the people of Mecca and adjoining tribes kept embracing Islam.  This further added to the oppressiveness of the Quraysh tribe. On the other hand, Islam was being accepted freely in Medina (then Yasrab), without any internal or external opposition. This was facilitated by the two strong tribes of Medina, Bani Aus and Bani Khazraj.

So, that was the background when this Surah was revealed. It is directly addressed to the Mushrikeen-e-Mecca, inviting them to the true oneness of Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى and refuting the polytheism, being followed by them at that point of time.

7 Groups of Quranic Surahs – The Coherence and Placement

Based on the deep study of the placement of different Surahs in the Quran and their inter-relatedness with each other, the Islamic Scholars have found an amazing coherence between them. So, they have divided the entire Quran in seven different groups based on the subject matter and content of each surah:

  • Group 1 starts with Surah Al-Fatiha and goes up to Surah Al-Maida.
  • Group 2 comprises the surahs from Al-Ana’am to Al-Tawba.
  • Group 3 starts with Surah Yunus and ends with Surah Al-Nur.
  • Group 4 comprises of surahs Al-Frqan to Surah Al-Ahzab
  • Group 5 comprises of surah Saba to Surah Hujraat.
  • Group 6 starts at Surah Qaf and ends at Surah At-Tahrim.
  • Group 7 starts with Surah Al-Mulk and ends with the last surah of the Quran, Surah Al-Naas.

Accordingly, Surah Al-An’am falls in group two, and it is a Makki Surah. The basic theme of the Makki Surahs is primarily to refute polytheism and emphasize the importance of monotheism, the concept of the oneness of Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى.

Main Themes of Surah Al-An’am

With that background, Surah Al-An’am was revealed in Mecca. The pattern of Makki Surahs comprises the following main themes, which are explained in various verses of this Surah repeatedly:

  • Refuting the misguided concept of “shirk” and inviting the ‘mushrikeen’ to the concept of Tawheed (true belief in the oneness of Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى)
  • Introduction and emphasis on the “life hereafter” refuting the misconception of mushrikeen that life ends with their death on this earth.
  • Strong refutation of the superstitions of the then-Meccans.
  • Defining the basic principles of an Islamic Society.
  • Answering the questions raised about the Prophet-Hood of Muhammad ﷺ, by the Meccans.
  • Encouraging the Prophet and his followers amidst the difficult time and disappointing mission progress.
  • Warning for the disbelievers to end their arrogance and oppressive activities against the Prophet and his followers

Summary of Surah Al-An’am

For the purpose of understanding the subject matter of Surah Al-An’am, we can bifurcate its content into different sub-sections under

· Verse Number 1 to 12

This section is primarily an introduction to the upcoming subject in the surah. The nonbelievers are strictly warned that they will have to accept the message sent by Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى to them through His Messenger, the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. If they don’t accept the Islamic way of life, they will certainly face the same consequences as was done with the nonbelievers of the past. Going further, their arguments for rejecting the Prophet-Hood of Muhammad ﷺ and the message sent by Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى is strongly refuted, while giving them a strict warning that they should not take this period of relaxation, lightly.

· Verse Number 13 to 24

This part of the surah emphasizes the concept of monotheism (Oneness of Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى), known as Tawheed, in the Islamic teachings. It is also explained that to achieve the perfect faith in Tawheed, they will have to avoid shirk. Shirk is an Arabic word (شِركْ), which means ‘Associating something with Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى‘. In Islamic theology, it can be translated as Idolatry or Polytheism. So, it is emphasized in these verses that the biggest hurdle in understanding and implementing the concept of Tawheed is the Shirk.

· Verse Number 25 to 32

Moving forward, the disbelievers are shown a depiction of life after death in these verses. The nonbelievers did not trust the preaching of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ about the possible punishment they would have to face in the life hereafter. So, a glimpse of that life after death is presented in this part of the surah for those who will not accept the teachings of Islam.

· Verse Number 33 to 73

In this section, Prophet-Hood is discussed from the perspective of the disbelievers. They were arguing that the Prophet should exhibit miracles and show them the signs of Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى. It is explained in these verses that Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى has all the powers to do so, as He has done in the case of His previous messengers. But it was the Will of Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى not to show such miracles through the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. This topic is explained in detail in this section.

· Verse Number 74 to 90

Continuing with the theme of Prophet-Hood of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, the mission and teachings of Prophet Ibrahim عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ is explained in these verses, as the Quraysh tribe in particular and the Arabs, in general, claimed that they were the followers of the religion of the Prophet Ibrahim عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ. So, it is emphasized in this part of the Surah that the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ were the same as those of the Prophet Ibrahim عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ.

· Verse Number 91 to 108

In these verses, the divine Book, the Quran, is presented as the proof of Prophet-Hood of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, emphasizing that this is the Book that provides all the guidance towards an Islamic way of life.

· Verse Number 109 to 154

These verses negate the superstitious beliefs and restrictions in practice with the then Arabs, including the superstitious concept of sacred and non-sacred animals and crops, in comparison to the divine restrictions presented, which were more realistic. The comparison thus proves that the Quran is a divine Book that Prophet Muhammad revealed ﷺ.

· Verse Number 155 to 160

These verses compare the teachings of the previous heavenly book, Torah, with the teachings of the Quran, explaining the similarity between the both. The comparison is intended to invite the disbelievers not to criticize the Quran and instead adopt it for guidance so that they may be saved from the punishment by Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى on the Day of Judgment and Resurrection.

· Verse Number 161 to 165

This is a conclusive part of the Surah. Here the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ is advised by Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى to continue his mission without all sorts of fear and invite the disbelievers to adopt the Islamic Creed.

Virtues and Benefits of Surah Al-An’am

Reading this Surah has many benefits and virtues. Being revealed in the last phase of the Prophet’s stay in Mecca, it deals with the basic concepts of Islam. So, reciting it regularly and understanding its meanings and teachings is highly beneficial for everyone.

Here are some of them:

· The Concept of Monotheism – Tawheed

Reading and understanding the meanings of Surah Al-An’am provides us an opportunity to grasp the concept of Tawheed, the firm belief in the Oneness of Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى. Tawheed, which is one of the five basic elements of Islam, is explicitly narrated in this Surah. It also emphasizes that only Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى is worth our worship and that every supplication has to be directly made to Him.

Simultaneously, this Surah also negates the shirk (Polytheism).

· Guidance Towards Living an Islamic Way of Life

Surah Al-An’am provides the basic guidelines on how to adopt the Islamic way of life. It provides a complete code of ethics for a righteous path. It also guides us on how Muslims should uphold the values and teachings of Islam while interacting with others.

· Role of Prophets

By giving examples of different Prophets, this Surah also provides us an opportunity to understand the role of Prophets in preaching to the people and inviting them to the righteous path.

· Life After Death

The concept of life hereafter is also explained in detail in this Surah. So, while reading this surah, the reciter gets insight into this very important aspect. It also reminds us that if we fail to live a righteous life in this world, we will have to face the consequences on the Day of Resurrection.

· It Strengthens Our Faith

Surah Al-An’am is also a source of strengthening one’s faith. It increases the confidence of the Muslims in the mercy and blessings of Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى. It gives us the courage to face the challenges of life with resilience. Above all, it deepens our faith that everything is from and by will and Command of Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى

· It Gives Rewards

And finally, reading any of the surahs or verses of the Quran is rewarded by Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى, both in this world and the life hereafter. The same is true with this surah’s recitation, an important part of the Quran.