In the early days of Islam, Mecca was a hub of trade on the Arabian peninsula (present-day Saudi Arabia). Before becoming the prophet, Muhammad made his living as a caravan trader, a business he shared with his wife Khadija. Apparently, a major problem in the trade city of Mecca was the practice of cheating others in business transactions. This surah condemns this practice: “Woe to those who give short measure, who demand of other people full measure for themselves, but when it is they who weigh or measure for others give less than they should.” Basically, this surah is a plea for business ethics and fair-dealing.
This surah goes on to say that those who deal unfairly will be punished on the Day of Judgment. Two key terms are introduced here which I have not encountered thus far in the Qur’an: Sijjin and Illiyyum. “Sijjin” is the written record of the unbelievers’ misdeeds, for which they will be judged. Its root word means “prison” — an appropriate metaphor for misdeeds. By contrast, “Illiyyun” is the written record of the believers’ good deeds, for which they will be rewarded. It’s root word relates to height or elevation.
Both the Bible and the Qur’an often use concrete imagery like this to help explain abstract/spiritual concepts. In the New Testament, for example, hell is often called “gehenna,” which was a burning trash dump outside Jerusalem. For flesh-and-blood humans, such metaphors are helpful.
|Pre-Islamic Arabian trade routes.|