According to scholars, the first part of Surah Al- Ma’un (The Small Kindnesses) belongs to the early Makkan period and the other part is said to have been revealed in Madinah. In fact, the whole surah of seven short verses, as one interlinked entity, aims at the establishment of the fundamental aspects of faith or “Iman” in line with the true meaning of worship which should be motivated by faith, sincerity, practical and helpful love for those who are in need instead of showiness and superficiality in devotion and charity.
“Have you seen him who denies religion?”- The Surah opens with a question and targets the one who denies “din” or religion where the principles of right and wrong in spiritual matters are often in conflict with selfish desires and penchants. The answer to this question is straight away given in the next two verses.
“It is he who thrusts the orphan away” “and does not urge others to feed the needy”- Indeed men who deny faith are the ones who callously push away and humiliate the orphans. They treat the helpless with contempt untouched by their needs and welfare as they are so engrossed in leading their own conceited egocentric lives.
“Woe, then, to those who pray” “but are heedless of their prayers”- those two verses are a threat and warning from Almighty Allah against those who, though they call themselves Muslims, are careless in their prayers without rightly meeting the requirements. Though they meet the mere form of prayer, that is, the physical aspects and oral formulae of prayers, the true essence of faith is not resolutely embedded in their hearts and minds and they are far from profiting the spiritual nourishment that is gained by prayers.
But who are such people who are “heedless of their prayers”?
The answer is immediately given in the last two verses; they are those “who put on a show of piety” “but refuse simple acts of kindnesses”. Great show of hollow acts of decency, devotion, and charity are usually practiced by hypocrites. They signally fail if tested or asked to perform little acts of neighborly help, charity to those in need or provision of little courtesies and kindnesses of daily life. Those simple acts of kindnesses. though practically cost little and insignificant to people, weigh a lot to Almighty Allah.
Life is thus hollow to those who deny faith and responsibility, turn a deaf ear to the helpless and whose worship is vain without their heart and soul in it. Wretched are the worshippers who make a great show but alas fail to meet the simple needs of daily life, that is, “Al-Ma’un”.