This Surah takes its name from vv. 46-47 in which mention of A'araf occurs.
Period of Revelation
A study of its contents clearly shows that the period of its revelation is about the same as that of al-An'am, i. e. the last year of the Holy Prophet's life at Makkah but it cannot be asserted with certainty which of these two was sent down earlier. Anyhow the manner of its admonition clearly indicates that it belongs to the same period. As both have the same historical background the reader should keep in view the preface to al-An'am.
Subject: Invitation to the Divine Message
The principal subject of this Surah is "invitation to the Divine Message sent down to Muhammad" (Allah's peace be upon him) which is couched in a warning. This is because the Messenger had spent a long time in admonishing the people of Makkah without any tangible effect on them. Nay they had turned a deaf ear to his message and become so obdurate and antagonistic that in accordance with the Divine Design the Messenger was going to be commanded to leave them and turn to other people. That is why they are being admonished to accept the Message but at the same time they are being warned in strong terms of the consequences that followed the wrong attitude of the former people towards their Messengers. (Now that the Holy Prophet was going to" migrate from Makkah the concluding portion of the address has been directed towards the people of the Book with whom he was going to come into contact. This meant that the time of migration was coming near and the "invitation" was going to be extended to mankind in general and was not to be confined to his own people in particular as before. During the course of the address to the Jews the consequences of their hypocritical conduct towards Prophethood have also been pointed out clearly for they professed to believe in Prophet Moses but in practice opposed his teachings disobeyed him and worshipped falsehood and consequently were afflicted with ignominy and disgrace.
At the end of the Surah some instructions have been given to the Holy Prophet and his followers for carrying out the work of the propagation of Islam with wisdom. The most important of these is that they should show patience and exercise restraint in answer to the provocations of their opponents. Above all they have been advised that under stress of the excitement of feeling they should not take any wrung step that might harm their cause.