Sūrah al-Māʿūn and Sūrah al-Kawthar
Observations on the relationship between Sūrah al-Māʿūn and Sūrah al-Kawthar
Sūrah al-Māʿūn (Small Kindnesses) and Sūrah al-Kawthar (The Abundance) are two very short suwar that occur sequentially in the Quran’s compiled order. They also seem to form a complimentary pair.
Sūrah al-Māʿūn scolds the leaders of Quraysh (the ruling tribe of Mecca at the time of the Messenger ﷺ) for refusing to provide and protect the poor and needy under their authority, to the point that they would not give even the “smallest kindnesses.”
Sūrah al-Māʿūn appears to be a sūrah of two halves. The first half mentions one crime against Allah ﷻ (denying Judgment Day) and two crimes against society (rejecting orphans and poor people). The second half mentions the opposite number, with two crimes against Allah ﷻ (heedlessness in prayer and showing off in it) and one crime against society (refusing to do even the smallest acts of kindness).
Summarized another way:
It is also interesting that the first half refers to the wrongdoer in the singular, as if singling out the leader of the society. And the second half is in the plural, as if referring to the followers of that corrupt leader.
Sūrah al-Kawthar is the shortest sūrah of the Quran. Most scholars view it as a consolation to the Messenger ﷺ during the low point of his ministry, when he and his followers were weak, powerless, small in number, and faced with the powerful opposition of the Quraysh leadership.
Early commentators have further related that the Messenger’s infant son had died, leaving him without a male heir - a terrible humiliation in Arabian tribal society. As a result, his enemies - including none other than his own uncle Abu Lahab - made fun of his situation, boasting that the Messenger’s legacy was “cut off” and that his efforts to reform his society were doomed to failure.
Sūrah al-Kawthar is a small mirror structure, consisting of only three short āyāt:
In the first āyah, Allah ﷻ assures the Messenger ﷺ that He has already given him full success and victory in this world and the next: he just has to wait to see it. In the last āyah, Allah ﷻ also informs him that it is his enemies who are truly “cut off” from all good, for they will be defeated and will have to suffer the consequences for their actions in the next life.
In the center, the Messenger ﷺ is commanded to express his gratitude to Allah ﷻ through two actions; prayer and sacrifice.
Relationship Between Sūrah al-Māʿūn and Sūrah al-Kawthar
The great Quranic exegete, Fakhr ad-Dīn ar-Rāzī, observed that in Sūrah al-Māʿūn, four qualities are listed of “the one who denies the Recompense”:
He is exceedingly miserly: “That is the one who pushes away the orphan and does not urge the feeding of the poor.”
He prays inattentively: “So woe to those who pray and are heedless in their prayer.”
He only prays to show off: “Those who are all show.”
He is unwilling to give even the smallest amount from his wealth or food: “And refuse small kindnesses.”
Al-Kawthar mentions four exactly opposite qualities in the same order:
Allah ﷻ is extremely giving: “Truly We have given you the Abundance.”
The Messenger ﷺ is commanded to pray: “So pray”
He ﷺ is commanded to do it sincerely: “to your Master,” which can also be translated as “for your Master.”
He ﷺ is commanded to sacrifice an animal, which involves expending money and giving out the meat of the animal to others: “and sacrifice.”
The final āyah of Sūrah al-Kawthar, (“Truly your enemy is the one who is cut off”), which has no counterpart in al-Māʿūn, is a perfect transition to the next sūrah of the Quran, Sūrah al-Kāfirūn (The Disbelievers) - which we observed to be its own ring structure in a previous post. Summarized the two suwar discussed above appear as so:
والله أَعلم - And Allah knows best
These observations mostly owe to the commentaries of Shaykh Ḥamīd ad-Dīn Farahī and Shaykh Amīn Aḥsan Iṣlāḥī
Ali Khan, Nouman and Sharif Randhawa. Divine Speech: Exploring the Quran as Literature. Bayyinah Institute, 2016.