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In this sura, God presents a concise but compelling argument: Man is a creature of wonder, beginning with its development from a biomass (or Alaq), who has been granted the gift of sentence by God. Then as a being Man divides into two distinct groups: those who recognize their cosmic condition, seek divine guidance (by 'reading' God's word), and bow to God's will (symbolized by 'prostration'); and those who even in the face of these apparent wonders of Man's condition, consider the Human to be an 'independent' entity, answerable to no transcendent authority, and even more contentiously, take it upon themselves to prevent the first class of Man from following God's Word and submitting to him.
God then states that the first type of Man, the believer, is the righteous one, and that the second class is both in error and is in fact a "lying and sinful" creature. The sura concludes with God's warning to the denier that the "guards of Hell" await, and that such men should cease from denying the believer the right to worship unmolested by them. The sura's last verse are words of encouragement to the believer to "not yield" to the threats of unbelievers but to continue in persistence in obeying God, and a promise of nearness to God for such a believer.
The First Revelation: Verses 1-5 Edit
The first five verses of this sura are believed by nearly all sources, both traditional and modern, to be the first verses of the Qur'an to be revealed to Muhammad. A few commentators disagree with this account, claiming that the first revelation was the beginning of surat Al-Muddaththir or surat Al-Fatiha, but theirs is a minority position.
Those verses state that God created man from a "clot of congealed Blood" and give him knowledge. The fetus in the womb in the primary stage before creation of a heart looks like a clot of blood. But al-‘Alaq also means leech-like form, which is similar to primary stage of an embryo and overall a fetus or a child in the womb which sucks its nutrition like a leech from its mother. Another meaning of ‘Alaq is sensitive drop of blood.
Muhammad is first commanded: Iqra!. The literal translation is "recite" or "read".
Verses 6-19 Edit
The remainder of the surah, revealed later, questions the morality and beliefs of mankind, who "thinks himself self-sufficient", unaware that all things will return to their Lord. The text continues, addressing the impiety of "the man who forbids Our servant to pray". These later lines are thought to date from the time when Muhammad began to pray the salat in the Kaaba. Abu Jahl attempted to interrupt the prayer by trampling on Muhammad's neck while he was prostrated. "Does he not realize that God sees all?"
The Qur'an commands Muhammad (and by inference all believers) to continue the prayer regardless, as those who persecute the faithful are unaware that God sees what they do.
- Embryology in the Qur'an: The 'Alaqah Stage at IslamPapers.com