Tafseer Surah An-Naziat
The name Naziat can be translated as the extractors or the soul pluckers who pluck out the souls of the believers and disbelievers. It is also sometimes translated as the forceful chargers, horses that race run another in war. One of the themes of this surah is to affirm the resurrection, discussed in An-Naba and to refute the claims of the mushrikeen that this day will not occur. Additionally a case study is provided indicating the cause of their rejection. The surah also touches on the terrors of that day.
By those (angels) who pull out (the souls of the disbelievers and wicked) with great violence having dived in
An-Naziat comes from the word naza‘a which means to yank out with great force. Here, Allah (swt) swears by the ones who yank out. Gharrqa means having dove in. The word Gharqan is used to emphasize the act of pulling out without using the same root i.e. wa’nazia’ti naza’a. Gharqa means to go deep (into the body) and comes from the verb aghraqa which means to make something drown or to force something to go deep down. The verse describes creatures that Allah (swt) swears by and that dive deep in and pull out whatever is inside. The majority of the mufasiroon agree that this verse is referring to angels that pluck out the souls of the disbelievers and wicked from the depths of the body. The mufasiroon comment that there will be nowhere for the soul to hide in the body and that it does not come out easily. It is like it will almost be ripped out from underneath every strand of hair and from under every nail.
The second opinion is that these are stars that Allah (swt) is speaking of as in stars that the Bedouin would see yanked out of the sky i.e. comets. The third opinion is that the verse refers to winds. It is important to note here that the Quran is sometimes ambiguous and that Allah (swt) did not make clear that the verses refer to Angels here. Furthermore, when there are a variety of opinions especially amongst the first generation that in itself is an indication that the verses are ambiguous and not something absolute. Another opinion amongst some scholars is that the pulling is equivalent to the archer who pulls his arrow back. The further the archer wants his arrow to travel the further back it is pulled in his bow. Perhaps these scholars mentioned archers to highlight the way the angels pull out the soul. In war archers would pull back their arrows quickly and sharply in succession which provides imagery of the angels pulling out the souls forcefully.
The opinion that the verse refers to angels is held to be the majority and most popular opinion. Nonetheless, later scholars have tried to critique previous opinions using existing evidence and other supporting evidence to determine which opinion is the strongest. One such opinion is that An-Naziat refers to winds. The alif and ta at the end have been used in other places in the Quran with strong linguistic evidence to suggest it refer to winds e.g. Al-Mursilaat. The first criticism of the view that this verse refers to angels is that An-Naziat is the feminine plural (alif ta at the end) and Allah in the Quran speaks against attributing femininity to angels. The second issue is that when Allah (swt) does speak of angels in the Quran the words are all masculine in nature when the plurality of angels is mentioned. So, the literary criticism here is when the Quran consistently refers to angels in the masculine why would the feminine plural be used here.
Furthermore, if you study the ahadith of the soul leaving the body it leaves from the toe and the depiction in the ahadith is such that the angels are not entering the body but pulling the soul out of the body. Additionally, it is not explicitly mentioned anywhere else that angels enter the body to pull out the soul. The final evidence that this An-Naziat refers to winds is that this same word has been used elsewhere in the Quran to refer to winds. So, we have the majority opinion that the verse refers to angels and also a strong position that it is not and refers to something else.
This has to do with the versatility of the Quran. First and foremost, Makkan Quran is talking in the vast majority to non-believers. It is important to question how the mushrik Arab might have understood these verses as they are likely to have understood them in a different way and on a different level to the believer. The believer may have interpreted the verses of this surah to be referring to angels whilst the disbeliever may understand it to be referring to winds. Furthermore, the disbeliever is not going to ask for the meaning of these verses as he rejects the message. For example, in another surah, Allah (swt) says that he knows what enters into the earth and what comes out of it. When the mushrik hears this he may think of the rain going into the earth and plants coming out of the earth as this is as far as his imagination goes. However, the believer may interpret this on a deeper level and views it as man going into the earth when he dies and then coming out on the day of resurrection. So the verse is the same but viewed differently and at different depths by different people. These are not contradictory statements just the different levels that different audiences are at. So, in summary when we say that An-Naziat refers to the winds we are saying this is maybe how the mushrik processed it in light of the rest of the surah.
It is important to appreciate that the Quran seeks to achieve its objective of awakening people’s hearts in different ways. If we aim to do this we should simply follow the example of `Umar ibn al-Khaţţāb. He once read Sūrah 80 Abasa, The Frowning. When he reached the verse which reads ‘wa fākihatan wa abba’, he wondered, “we know the fruit trees, fākihatan, but what is abba?” But then he reproached himself, saying: “You, Ibn al-Khaţţāb, are being really fussy today! What harm is there in your not knowing the meaning of a word used in God’s book?” He then said to the people around: “Follow what you understand of this book; what you do not understand you may leave alone.” His statement, aimed at discouraging people from trying to explain what may be equivocal to them, without the backing of perfectly sound authority, represents an attitude of veneration towards God’s words. Indeed, some words and phrases may deliberately have been left equivocal or ambiguous so as to fulfil a certain objective.
Furthermore, the benefit of not specifically mentioning what is being pulled out is that so that it could refer to everything that is possible so that people will reflect on it and it’s possible meanings causing the person to ponder deeply. Omitting words from the Quran is one way to achieve this. The mushrikeen were heedless of what came after death and one of the causes of this was their attachment to the dunya. Thus, one of the functions of this verse was to wake up the heart of this person by describing how the soul will be violently ripped out. In the last part of the previous surah Allah (swt) warns the disbelievers of a punishment that is close and that man will see what his hands have sent forth and this happens when a person is about to die and reflects upon his life. The first verse of this surah ties in with the previous surah as after contemplating ones deeds before death the next stage is death itself when the soul is taken out.
If this surah does indeed refer to winds then the understanding is that it refers to the winds that pull trees out from their roots out of the ground or buildings from their foundations. Contrarily, if it refers to angels it means the angels that dive deep into the body and pull and rip out the soul that wants to stay in the body.
By those (angels) who gently take out (the souls of the believers)
Nasht in the Arabic language refers to undoing a knot without making an effort or to free something from its shackles. Another usage of this word is when you have an animal tethered up and it frees itself with very little effort. If understood to be referring to angels the verses refers to angels that seamlessly enter the body and take out the soul in a very smooth process like the undoing of a knot with no force necessary. Almost like angels withdrawing the souls of the believers like water is poured from a vessel. If the water level in a well is high then the water can be withdrawn easily as opposed to a low level of water from which it is taken out with difficulty. Nasheet is someone who is energetic and has high spirits and does something quickly and we can see this connotation in this verse as the angels are able to withdraw the believing souls smoothly and quickly.
Another opinion is that nashitaat refers not to the angels but the believers as during the time of death, the soul of the believer is energetic as it wants to leave eagerly as it can see what Allah (swt) has prepared for him and we see this in accounts of the death of the righteous who were in a state of peace and serenity at the time of death. It is narrated that the messenger (saw) said that the one who loves to meet Allah, Allah will love to meet him and whoever dislikes to meet him Allah will dislike to meet him. When a person is about to die he is given the glad tidings of Allah’s pleasure over him and that is when the believer yearns to go forward as he realises he has a good ending. Contrarily, if this verse is referring to winds it is a reference to a smooth breeze which is a source of relief and comfort to the person experiencing it. So, these first two verses talk of a violent destructive wind and also a gentle wind which is a source of comfort especially in desert life.
And by those that swim along (i.e. angels or planets in their orbit)
Sabh means to swim quickly or in a rapid smooth fashion. If referring to angels it refers to the angel that swims seamlessly, gliding into the body. Swimming in Arabic does not only mean something that swims in water but can also refer to celestial bodies in orbit. The speed of the angels is emphasised here instilling fear in the hearts of both believers and disbelievers in the knowledge that the angels will not be delayed in fulfilling this task. Others have commentated that if these verses refer to winds then this verse is a reference to the clouds that swim in the air floating as a result of the winds that are pushing them.
And by those that press forward as in a race (i.e. angels or stars or winds)
The sabq is a reference to a race when one thing takes a lead over another. The fa here means that is connected to the previous verse. The first two verses are separate to each other both in meaning and with the letter waw. So, the angels here are racing back with the souls for their judgement. The ‘fa’ is used to indicate immediate succession. Thus, as a result of the gliding in the previous verse we can see that the angels are immediately now competing with one another to fulfil the commandments of Allah (swt). Another opinion is that these are referring to the believers that compete with the angels, as they are so eager to meet their lord, they try to race ahead. From the view of the Arab he would see the clouds as in a race with each other, some faster than others.
And by those (angels or winds) who arrange to do the Commands of their Lord
Mudabiraat comes from the word tadbeer which means thorough planning, thorough organisation or executing a matter diligently. So, Allah (swt) is swearing here by those that execute His command – amra in an organised and diligent manner. If this is referring to angels it is a reference to the angels that are assigned different tasks by Allah and they do a diligent organised job of executing those commands. If it is a reference to winds it means the winds that distribute clouds and pollen. Clouds bring rain by means of the winds which distribute it and plant life cannot be sustained without winds which deliver pollen and rain. So, Allah has an organised plan whereby some places get clouds and other don’t i.e. some places are lush and green, others experience flooding whilst other places are dry and experience drought and famine.
Allah (swt) uses other words for planning in the Quran. Kayd is one such word which means a secret plan, one which you don’t want anyone else to find out about as it would spoil the plan if it came out in the open. Makr is another word for plan which has to do with retaliation against an enemy. When Allah (swt) uses this in the Quran it is only used in the retaliatory sense. When Allah (swt) mentions he is planning against an opposing force it is always mentioned that they took the first step. Heela is a clever plan which maximises one’s benefit and minimize one’s harm without breaking the law but by bending the law. For example, accountants are really good at heela during tax season. Some scholars have spoken of heela in times of Islamic rule when a person would give all of his wealth to his wife before zakat season as a gift and then the wealth would be gifted back to the husband after tax season. Tadbeer means planning, execution, organisation, diligence and also means taking a step back before you make a decision as it comes from the word dubar which means the back of something and is to turn back from the affair, think about it and then come back and execute it.
Now that Allah (swt) has taken oaths, He (swt) moves onto another subject. When an oath is taken a statement is made i.e. I swear by ’x’ I am going to do ‘y’. That part is not explicitly mentioned here as due to the context of the surah the response is already known and as this is a part of a series of surahs where it has been mentioned. The oaths themselves confirm the resurrection by discussing how angels will remove the souls. All of the oaths that were taken were taken for the conclusion that whatever you were promised is bound to occur. The next thing to expect after these oaths is resurrection which the oaths sought to establish but Allah (swt) does not spell it out here. One benefit of this is that it forces you to look at other parts of the Quran. Also, the person who reads this wants to know what the oaths is about and is in anticipation of what is to come. Allah (swt) does not give them this so they keep reading to find out.
If we accept that these verses refer to archers and horses in battle then some scholars say that these verses warn of war and that Allah (swt) is swearing by these soldiers and horses that will rage war against the disbelievers. This surah was revealed in Makkah where the Muslims were small in number and so this was revealed to give them glad tidings of a time when they will have a great army. Muhammad (saw) would bear the oppression of the Quraysh with patience but sometimes the circumstance dictated that he needed to respond differently. On one occasion when he was performing tawaf and people were mocking him he said in a very powerful way ‘I have come to you with slaughter’ which silenced them and put fear into their hearts. This indicates that the messenger (saw) knew that Allah (swt) would one day give the Muslims an army that would eradicate the disbelievers. If these verses are to be accepted in this context of war then we need to appreciate that Muhammad (saw) was not only a giver of glad tidings but also as a warner and this is something which is lacking in our dawah today. We try to entice people in Islam by showing them the beautiful aspects of Islam but seldom give them the ultimatum of accepting the truth or suffering eternal punishment. Allah (swt) now speaks of the depiction of the Day of Resurrection.
Rajaf means to rattle or to shake and is one of many words used in the Quran for this. When you come across a word which is synonymous to other words used in the Quran it is important to understand the differences between them as it gives clarity to one particular piece of text over another. Zalzala is used in the Quran and comes from the word zalla and means one someone’s feet slip. The repetition of the phonetics in the sounds alludes to feet which keep on slipping which happens during an earthquake. Ragg is an initial jerk where something which was originally stationery suddenly gets put into motion. The ulema have commentated that this is the first moment of the experience of an earthquake. Maara is used when you are riding a horse or a large animal runs past you, or you are running and it simulates the feeling of an earthquake as everything is shaking.
Allah (swt) in this verse does not mention the earth. Al-Raajifah means that which is meant to shake. This illustrates that the final destination and purpose of the heavens and the earth is the point where it is going to be shaken. Rajaf is a highly uncomfortable motion and depicts the motion and also the state of the person affected by the motion which is one of discomfort and disarray. In this context rajaf refers to the first blowing of the trumpet which will shake all of creation.
It will be followed by Ar-Raadifah. Radaf literally implies the person (Raadif) who sits behind you when you are riding a camel, horse or car for example. Wherever you go they will follow as they are on the same ride. Allah (swt) mentions that there will be another violent vibration and movement one successfully following another i.e. one meant to follow the other. The majority of ulema are in agreement that this verse refers to the second blowing of the trumpet and the previous verse refers to the first blowing of the trumpet.
Some hearts on that day will be beating with fear and anxiety
One of the words used for fear in the Quran is khawf which is used for a perceived danger. Khashiya (with a ‘yaa’) is used when you are afraid of the magnitude of something i.e. the magnitude of losing ones job or the day of judgement whereas khawf is more of a physical danger. Khashi’ah (with an ‘ayn) is a fear which is manifest in your heart but also shows in your face and limbs and is the type of fear which we should show in our salaah. In our salaah we stand, with humility, in fear and awe, in front of our Lord whom we have disobeyed. When we pray, we pray as if our sins are on our shoulders hoping that they will be forgiven. The eyes of these hearts should be in a state of humility just like the child that has misbehaved hangs his head in front of his parents in shame. Taqwa is to fear the consequences of one’s actions. Hadhr means to try to avoid or escape something out of fear. Ra’a is to startle someone and is a fear which subsides quickly. Awjasa is a fear when you hear something that scares you and also means to hide your fear within you and not let people see your fear. Wajal is to have a fear which penetrates deep into your heart and is mixed with love i.e. when you are afraid of disappointing the one you love. Ra’ab is to be overwhelmed with intense fear which makes you lose your reason. Ashfaka is to be afraid that some harm will come to someone you take care of. This illustrates that it is very difficult to translate the Quran as there is so much depth to the language. These words which describe different types of fear are used in the Quran where it is best situated in the Quran.
Wajaf used in this verse is a fear mixed with discomfort. One who feels wajaf is the one whose heart is pounding so hard they can feel it out of fear. It is also used when you strike your horse and its heart starts pounding and it races forward. This is the kind of fear that Allah depicts here when the second shaking occurs. Some hearts on that day will be beating out of their chest is the message here. The sentence structure illustrate that these hearts right now are at peace with no discomfort but these are the very same hearts especially on that day that will experience waajifah. The choice of this word illustrates that the heart will not come to rest on that day and will continue to beat.
Sometimes Allah (swt) depicts the terror of the Day of Resurrection in the Quran by describing things that are going to happen for example the collision of the Sun and the Moon. Sometimes He (swt) depicts it by looking at the person and how scared they are by looking at their reaction to the events. This is a surah which highlights more so the reaction to the events of that day. The word absaaruha refers to the sight and the interpretation is that the vision will be directly connected to the hearts. What you see and how you perceive what you see is directly connected to what you have in your hearts. The eyes that are connected to the hearts that are petrified from the previous verse will be khashiya – overcome, overpowered, humbled. The hearts will be overwhelmed by the fear which will be presented to them.
They say ‘Is it really the case that we are going to be returned to our former state?’
With this verse there is a transition which illustrates sarcasm. The word radd in mardood refers to a kind of return where you went somewhere and you were not accepted and returned. For example, you tried to cross a border and your paperwork was not accepted hence you returned. Here the disbelievers are saying ‘What! Our death was not acceptable and now we have to be brought back to life?’ This is a means of sarcasm from the disbeliever. Al-Hafirah literally means a ditch in the ground that you dig. They are saying ‘Look our ditch is already dug; we’re not going to come out of this now. Resurrection after death does not seem like it is a very possible prospect.
‘Even after we have become (no more than) hollow bones?’
Nakhira means the bone will be empty on the inside from decay and all that is left is a shell and air passes through it. ‘Maybe it might be possible if I had just died and in a couple of hours someone is able to revive me’. ‘But you are saying we will be raised again from this state?’
In classical Arabic the past and present tense had more than one function. In addition to being used with regards to timeline it is also used to describe an event which is a single occurrence and something which is a continual occurrence. If it a one-time thing the past tense is used and if it is a continuous thing the present tense is used.
In the Quran when Allah (swt) speaks of murder there is the person who kills someone by accident – manslaughter and the person who kills deliberately – homicide. When Allah (swt) talks of manslaughter, He (swt) says ‘Whoever killed (past tense) a believer by mistake’ and when He (swt) talks of killing on purpose He (swt) says whoever kills (present tense) a believer on purpose’. The diff is the one who kills on purpose may do it again and so there will be continuity and the one who did it my mistake is unlikely to do it again hence the past tense is used.
Before in verse 10 we see the word yuqooloona – they say and they will say. Yuqooloona is the present tense and qaaloo is the past tense. This illustrates that this statement in this verse was only made once or twice and was not frequent.
The qaaloo in this verse illustrates that some of them actually gave this some thought. Even though they said this in a sarcastic tone some of them did reach the conclusion that if resurrection is the truth the qarra (return) will be full of khasira (loss). Qarra literally does not only mean to return but is also used for attack. The Arabs said that this would be an attack on them that will cause a lot of damage. They said this in a sarcastic tone but it illustrates that at least once someone entertained the idea that it if this happens they will be in big trouble hence the past tense is used.
But with only a single scolding (i.e. the second blowing of the trumpet)
Allah (swt) now ends this discourse. Zajrah means that Allah will scold them and this scolding will be all it takes (to achieve verse 14). Some scholars have commented that this zajrah is the blowing of the second trumpet.
They shall be alive on earth after their death
This verse is connected to the previous due to the letter fa which indicates that this verse is a consequence of the previous verse. Sahirah means that your sleep has disappeared and that you cannot sleep anymore. It is used in reference to an open field as far as the eye can see and where the travelling Arab has nowhere to rest. He will be worried that someone will be able to see him from a distance and try to rob him. As a result, he loses his sleep since he feels too exposed in the open. So now Allah (swt) says they will be in a place where they will lose their sleep. Some ulema have commentated that this word is used to illustrate a mirage. For example when you are in a desert and you think you see water which is a mirage you lose sleep as you now have a goal in sight. Sahr literally is a kind of ground that is pale and flat as far as the eye can see and some have commentated that this is the land where all will be gathered for resurrection with nothing to obstruct one’s view and with nothing to hide one from plain sight.. Another opinion is that this is like losing your sleep when coming out of the grave as once out you will lose your sleep forever.
Has the story of Musa come to you (O Muhammad)?
The beginning of this surah contains oaths which talk about winds. The Arabs talk about the unseen and are sceptical of it. The closest thing to the unseen in the seen world is the wind i.e. the closest thing that we can experience but cannot see is the wind. Allah (swt) illustrates His (swt) power of destruction and mercy by the wind. Some destroy entire towns and others sustain life on Earth. So the idea here is that Allah (swt) does not need to make any special arrangements for the kaffir to bring them their punishment. All Allah (swt) needs to do is unleash his wind – so who’s power are you questioning. That is the idea of the winds being used as an oath. Then Allah (swt) starts to talk about the day itself.
With this verse, there is now a complete shift in subject. Allah is saying that you are not the first ones to revolt, the first ones to be sceptical and poke fun at the truth and Allah (swt) now shifts his attention to the Messenger (saw). Even though the disbelievers are still listening they are no longer being addressed. The word hadith is used for something that is so old that when you are reminded of it, it sounds like it is new. We are being reminded here of Musa’s (saw) legacy and we will feel like we are hearing it for the first time. That is how relevant this story is to this discussion.
Scholars mention that Musa’s story is mentioned for two major reasons. Firstly, it was mentioned so that the disbelievers could take heed. Fir’aun was the main disbeliever at the time of Musa (as) and this is almost a threat to the Quraysh by saying that Fir’aun also disbelieved and look what happened to him. Fir’aun was far more powerful than the Quraysh and if Allah (swt) destroyed him for his rejection then surely Allah (swt) can destroy the Quraysh. Note that Fir’aun was not a person but a title so there were many Fir’auns. This is also mentioned to provide comfort to the messenger (saw) in saying that the Quraysh are not the first to disbeliever and ultimately Musa (as) was successful.
When his Lord called him in the sacred valley of Tuwa
Nida in Arabic means to call someone loudly. So when his Lord (swt) forcefully called him with a tremendous voice. Taqdees is to speak of Allah in a way which is appropriate and to remove any attribute from him which is not appropriate. Muqadis could be a place that is specially designed to exalt Allah i.e. a holy or sanctified place. There is a parallel here as the Messenger (saw) himself was called to the cave in Mount Hira and given revelation. Here the Messenger (saw) is reminded that Musa (saw) was called to the valley of Tuwa for revelation. The valley of Tuwa is currently in the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. This was a sacred place where Allah (swt) spoke directly to Musa (as) whereas all other prophets were addressed through an intermediary in the dunya.
Go to Fir’aun (Pharaoh); he has transgressed all bounds (he has engaged in an act of rebellion)
The word ila means to go, head in that direction, meaning get started on your mission. The messenger is to go to the Quraysh, the disbelievers, just like Musa had to go to Fir’aun. Tugyaan is used when a pot is filled with water to the extent that the water spills over the top. It’s also used for oceans when they start boiling over as in a flood. So, in this context there are limits set on a human on what they can do and say and when they cross this limit they have engaged in tugyaan. Fir’aun exceeded his limits and did tugyaan in two ways that we learn of in the Quran by declaring himself Rabb (lord) and by enslaving Banu Israel.
The message here is that Fir’aun rebelled just like you (the Quraysh) have. What this illustrates is the problem of the Quraysh is not that they do not believe in the hereafter or that they are sceptical of it but their love of rebellion and having limits imposed on their freedom. This is your crime (the Quraysh) and the crime of Fir’aun before you.
The mission of the messengers was tazkiya (purification) to take the elements of a person’s personality that are flawed and evil and cleanse oneself of them. The question that Musa asks Fir’aun is the same question that is asked of the people who do not fear the hereafter. Do you find any voice of reason inside you that tells you that you should become a better person? i.e. Is there anything clicking inside you with the message I am giving. If so there is hope. There is softness in Musa’s approach as Musa does not order Fir’aun to repent but asks if he would like to repent. The correct method in dawah is to start softly and then become harsh in your reminder.
The hal laka ila illustrates not just the presence of goodness but one’s desire to bring out that goodness. Musa is not questioning whether there is goodness inside Fir’aun as Allah (swt) put goodness in everyone. Musa is asking if there is any desire left in him to bring out the goodness or to let it flourish. This is the last resort as I have given all the dawah I could and you have rebelled beyond all reason but there is still hope if you let your own conscience be the better judge of the truth. The condition to being guided is to first become purified.
I will guide you towards your Lord and as a result you will be overwhelmed in fear”
One thing to note here is that in other places in the Quran you will find a lot more detail on what happened at Tuwa but not here. The reason is that in the Quran the purpose is not telling the story. Only the part of the story that fits in with the discourse that precedes and follows is cited. Musa is mentioned in over 70 different places in the Quran but only the part of his legacy that is relevant to the discourse is mentioned. None of the details of Musa’s trip to Tuwa that are irrelevant is mentioned here. This is to do with the brevity of the Quran and the meticulous organisation of the Quran.
The word hidayah is used in multiple ways in the Quran. In Surah Fatiha we find ihdinasiratal mustaqeem and not ihdina-ila-siratal mustaqeem. In this verse we find the preposition ila used which is not used in Al-Fatiha. In Al-Fatiha the absence of ila means, according to literary interpretation, guide us to and along the straight path. With ila it would mean guide us to the straight path. For example, if you were to ask someone to guide you to the airport you are essentially asking for knowledge and instructions. In contrast, saying guide me to and along to the airport is a request not just for instructions but also for support, for example requesting someone sit in the car with you.
In this verse Musa (saw) is saying I will guide you to your Lord meaning let me at least tell you and teach you which illustrates that Fir’aun does not even want to hear it. Also it is only appropriate for Musa (saw) to guide someone to or give knowledge of the path as ultimately guiding someone along the path is exclusively for Allah (swt) so it is appropriate in this case to use ila. The word rabbik is used here and not for example ila Allah (swt) or ila Ar-Rahman as we will see further on in this Surah that Fir’aun declares himself Rabb and this serves to bring the reality closer to Fir’aun.
Furthermore, it is the concept of Rabb which is at the heart of the belief in the akhira as belief and understanding of a Creator leads to fear of the last day. The word khashiya is used to describe a fear of something magnanimous, awe-inspiring and huge and appreciation of the knowledge of the existence of a Creator will put you in a state of khashiya. The specific word used here to describe a fear of something greater than yourself is perfectly relevant for Fir’aun as he does not think there is something grander than himself. Musa (saw) is saying here let me guide you to your lord and give you knowledge of Him (swt) so that as a result you will be overwhelmed by the fear of something greater than yourself. This indicates that true knowledge leads to fear and is why the people mature in knowledge are called ‘uloo al-baab’ (the people of pure intellect) by Allah (swt) in Surah Al-Imran where you find towards the end of the Surah these people are terrified.
It is important to bear that this story is being narrated in order to draw a parallel with Muhammad (saw) and the Quraysh.
Then he (Musa (as)) showed him (Fir’aun) the ultimate sign
The message here is that in order to help Fir’aun find that goodness inside him Allah (swt) showed him the ultimate sign (ayat ul-kubra). Kubra is the feminine equivalent of Akhbar (as in Allahu Akhbar) and is a superlative adjective in Arabic. Every prophet came with a miracle and that miracle was suited to that time. Musa’s miracle was related to what the people of that time excelled in which was magic. In the time of Eesa (as), Banu Israel excelled in medicine and so Eesa (as) was able to cure the leper and the blind and bring back the dead back to life with the permission of Allah (swt). We know that Musa (saw) was given many miracles but of all the miracles given to him, Fir’aun was most afraid of the staff turning into a snake. We know this because Fir’aun hired magicians to try to replicate only this act and not the other miracles of Musa (saw). The parallel drawn here between Muhammad (saw) and the Quraysh is that the Messenger (saw) also gave the people the ultimate sign – the miraculous eloquence of the Quran which the Quraysh held many discussions over as to what to brand it as i.e. magic, poetry, speech of soothsayer. The Quran is a miracle from the perspective of its language and the Arabs excelled in eloquence in their language, speech and poetry.
But (Fir’aun) denied and disobeyed
After seeing this miracle, as there was nothing inside of Fir’aun that wanted to return to good, he did kadzheeb as a result. In Arabic when kadzhaba is said it is usually followed by bii and an object i.e. the sign or Musa or his own conscience was lied against. In this verse kadzhaba is mentioned without being followed by bii which is a tool in Arabic to imply that everything was lied against.
Thus, in this verse ‘fa kadzhaba’ indicates that Fir’aun lied against Musa (saw), propagated against Musa (saw) and lied against the miracle that Musa (saw) showed him calling it a lie, magic and trickery and he also lied against or denied his own conscience which deep inside was telling him Musa’s (saw) message was the truth. This also relates back to the Quraysh who are doing the exact same thing with the ultimate sign of the Messenger Muhammad (saw) by lying against themselves and the Messenger (saw). Put another way they denied the message of the Messenger (saw) against their own better judgement even though deep inside they knew it to be true.
The second part of this verse ‘wa ‘asaa’ tells us that in addition to lying Fir’aun did ‘asaa which means to disobey. There are three types of disobedience mentioned in the Quran. The word ‘asaa is to deliberately refuse to do something that you know to be good and its use is perfectly appropriate in this verse for that reason. Fisq is another word used for disobedience and commonly translates as corruption. Literally it means to abandon a path that was good to begin with. So someone who has fisq is someone who was good but subsequently went down the wrong path. Also, in fiqh the person who keeps abandoning the right way and disobeying Allah despite knowing the right way is called a Fasiq. Fujoor which comes from the verb fajara literally means to tear something wide open. This is the kind of Fasiq who not only disobeys Allah (swt) but is open and proud of his disobedience and disobeys in the worst kind of ways.
In the context of this surah the kadzheeb of the Quraysh manifested itself earlier in the surah in verse 10, 11 and 12 when they were being sarcastic about the subject of resurrection.
What this means is that Fir’aun is pacing back and forth. Sa’i does not mean to run; it is a state faster than working but slower than running. The image here is that Fir’aun is up in his castle somewhere restless and pacing up and down thinking of what to do next. Musa’s (saw) dawah has awed even his ministers and is spreading far and wide. The more he tries to suppress it the worse the situation becomes for Fir’aun as Tadbeer as discussed is diligent planning. Here we have idbaar which is lesser than tadbeer and is when you try to put a plan together too quickly to that point that you have not been able to give it enough thought. An example of this is that Fir’aun first calls Musa possessed then he calls him a magician and when that did not work he tried to get people to believe that Musa was a threat to them. Fa indicates immediately after whereas thumma indicates there was a time gap. When something happens that you cannot comprehend and are unable to deal with, you do not walk away from it slowly you rush away.
Then he gathered (his people) and called out to them
Allah (swt) now illustrates Fir’aun’s desperation. Jama’a in Arabic means to gather and so does hashara in translation at least. The difference is that hashara means to herd and is used when referring to animals. It does not specifically mention who Fir’aun gathered. By missing out the object it implies that every type of person in Egypt was gathered from the slave to the noble. Gathered forcefully like animals so that he can re-iterate to them the belief they are supposed to have i.e. the official religion of the state. He called out to them and made a proclamation.
‘I am your supreme Lord’, he said
This claim was already know to his people but Fir’aun felt the desperate need to remind his people of this. The word supremacy illustrates that there is someone else claiming to be a Lord and Fir’aun realises he is in competition with that Lord and felt the need to tell his people that he was the higher Lord as the other Lord was beginning to be believed in by his people. This was Fir’aun’s shirk. The shirk of the Quraysh was allegiance to their traditions with the same net result. The Quraysh came out to remind people of their traditions.
If someone claims to be a god you would think he was crazy and prophets are not sent to crazy people. Therefore, some argue that Fir’aun did not truly believe he was the lord most high but rather that there was no god or creator and therefore he had the highest authority in the land and so was lord. However, Fir’aun saw the signs and knew it was the truth but did not accept it due to his pride and arrogance. In times of emergency people come out with absurd statements and when they know their end is about to come they take extreme measures. Fir’aun killed all the babies of Banu Israel in such desperation. Other scholars say that he did think he was in fact Rabb. When you are in such a high position with authority shaytaan can delude you into thinking that you have divine qualities.
Then Allah (swt) seized him and made a deterrent out of him for the first and last people
Then Allah (swt) seized him and made nakaal out of him. Nakaal in Arabic is used for an anklet or a bracelet which in ancient prisons was tied to a wall so that you cannot move. It is also the same chain today which binds prisoners so that when a guard moves them they are all forced to move. So a nakaal is an anklet or bracelet which either restricts your movement or forces your movement. This was used as a visible deterrent and to inject fear as people would see this and subsequently avoid crime to avoid ending up in chains. Allah (swt) took Fir’aun and made a nakaal out of him thereby using him as a deterrent i.e. don’t be like Fir’aun because he is the worst kind of example for the last of people to walk this earth and the first people to walk it.
Also, Fir’aun said to people that he would make an example out of them so Allah took him and make an example of him. So, Allah is delivering a message to the Quraysh that they should heed this warning as people more powerful than them have been dealt with. And by this the Messenger (saw) is being told don’t worry about it if they disbelieve as Allah has dealt with worse folk than this. Two messages are delivered at the same time – issuing a threat to the kaffir and issuing support to the Messenger (saw).
According to one interpretation, akhira refers to Fir’aun’s punishment in the hereafter and al ‘oola is his punishment in the dunya where he was drowned in the sea. Others say that akhira refers to his second statement where he declared himself lord most high and that his earlier statement refers to when he declared himself Rabb. The word akhadha is in the past tense which implies that the punishment of the hereafter has already begun. Surah Ghafir mentions that Fir’aun is exposed to fire day and night and as this never happened in this life it is a strong indication in the Quran of punishment of the grave and that this occurs before the punishment of the day of judgement.
Surely in this there is a lesson for whosoever fears Allah
Here, Allah (swt) says that in all of that there is ‘ibra. ‘Ibra is commonly translated as a lesson and a warning. It comes from ‘oboor which means to cross water for example a river. ‘Abra-tal-ayn is used when you shed a tear meaning the tear has crossed the lines of your eye and come out which indicates how the word is used. When you use it about a person it means he is so sad he is brought to a point of tears. Especially in the account of Fir’aun and Musa (saw) there is enough reason to shed tears out of sadness if you understand the story.
The analogy of crossing the water is used here to indicate that there is enough of a clue in these verses for you to cross the waters from falsehood into truth. But there is a condition, the only people who can cross this are the ones who feel sadness that they have been in the wrong and have some fear of consequence.
Are you more difficult to create or the sky that He constructed?
The previous verse ends the discourse on Fir’aun and Musa (saw). There are multiple paragraphs in the surah we need to be aware of. The first passage is Naziat, the second is when Allah (swt) starts speaking about the day of judgement and then there is the discourse of Musa (saw). The fourth paragraph now begins and you can see the style is different. Allah (swt) issues a rebuttal to refute the doubt of the disbelievers. Ordinarily when Allah (swt) addresses the doubts of the mushrikeen it is done in the third person (for example ‘they say’ or ‘they said’) but it when it comes to refutation of their claims here Allah (swt) addresses them directly as it is more powerful. Thus, the mushrikeen now know they are not being spoken about but being spoken to.
The question posed is rhetorical and to censure what the disbelievers have stated with regards to being resurrected. They do not believe that they can be resurrected so Allah (swt) is asking what is tougher to create the stars and universe or the creation of man. Undoubtedly the answer is known and that the heavens are harder to create than man but that does not mean it is difficult for Allah (swt). However, the question is posed in a manner for man to be able to comprehend this. If Allah (swt) can create the universe with solar systems and planets then of course it is very easy for Him (swt) to resurrect man from his decayed bones. Bina is to build something where one piece of it is connected to another. A building is called a Bina because one brick meshes into another. Allah (swt) illustrates that the sky is a seamless construction where one piece falls into the next. Furthermore, the nature of construction is to build based on pillars and a solid foundation but the heaven is unique as it is built without pillars and the earth is in orbit without any pillars holding it up. In Arabic sama not only means the sky but also everything that is above it which includes the planets and stars etc.
He elevated its roof and perfected it
Samk is to raise something in an open area like a canopy or the top of something for example the highest part of a camel’s hump is called a saamik. Allah (swt) says here that He (swt) elevated the highest part of the sky to the point that we cannot even see it and then he moulded it to perfection. These descriptions are given to convey to man how difficult it is to build the sky or build anything without a foundation.
And gave darkness to its night, and brought out its daylight
Allah (swt) speaks of the night and it’s darkness in many different ways each of which has its own connotation many of which are found in Juzz Amma. Allah (swt) here talks of darkness of the night highlighting the difficulty with which one can see and things become blurry where the night is made so dark that it becomes hard for you to see. And then out of this darkness He (swt) brought out the time of the morning that is the brightest and easiest in which to see (duha). Allah (swt) here contrasts two things. First, He (swt) made the night so dark you could not distinguish falsehood from truth, figuratively speaking, and then He (swt) brought a day so bright that there is absolute clarity of one thing over another. In between the lines, this is a reference to revelation in that there were nights so bad that the Quraysh were pitting idols against each other, discussing whether there is life after death and whether there is a heaven and hell i.e. the dark night where nothing is clear out of which Allah (swt) brought this clear day and revelation.
And after that He spread out the earth
Dahwa in Arabic can mean the egg of an ostrich. Some supporters of science in the Quran suggest that as the word dahwa indicates something oval or round that Allah (swt) is indicating that the earth is round. In the classical sense daha means to smoothen and to spread out and Allah (swt) is illustrating the powerful creation of the earth and how widely it is spread. And perhaps this is also a reminder to the kaffir of the verse (14) in which Allah (swt) said you are going to end up in that flat clear land.
The predominant view in the Quran is that the earth was created first and then the heavens however in the order given in these verses the sky is created first. Ibn Abbas interpreted that Allah (swt) created the earth in two days but the earth was in its primary stages and not spread out. Allah (swt) then turned to creating the heavens and after this then fashioned the earth more perfectly and spread it out and this is the preferred view.
He brought out water from it and its pasture
Mar’a is a noun used to allude a place and ra’ is used for pasturing where you grow produce for your cattle and for yourself. So Allah (swt) firstly says he made the earth flat, smooth and expanded and then he drew from it water and these pasture lands i.e. land covered with grass that your animals can graze and that grow plants that you and your animals can eat etc. Allah (swt) has moved on from creation to the benefits of creation. Sometimes when you really want to remind someone of your status to them you go beyond mentioning your formal relationship to them. For example, when parents reinforce their relationship to their child, they will mention their favours to them and they do this to awaken the child’s spirit and to make him realise his responsibility to his parents. So Allah (swt) reminds us of not only his creation but also what he has done and facilitated for us without any input from man.
And the mountains He has fixed firmly
Irsa means to put an anchor down on a large ship and marsa is a port where a ship docks. So Allah (swt) has created mountains like they are anchored into the ground. The idea being that they are not like other buildings that you can just remove. They are fixed and are very tough in their construction. Irsa is also used for pegging i.e. to peg something into the ground. Mentioning the mountains here is like putting a seal in the benefits that Allah (swt) has given man. Without the mountains the earth would not stay in place. It is mentioned in some hadiths is that when Allah (swt) created the earth it started to convulse until the mountains were created to prevent them from shaking.
(To be) a provision and benefit for you and your cattle
After speaking about the earth and the sky, Allah (swt) says that all of this is a provision for us to use. Tamatu’ means to use and to enjoy but Mata’ on its own means to use and in ancient Arabic was used for the scrub that you use to wash your dishes with. So, not something you enjoy but definitely something you use. Thus, dunya has been described here as something for us to use but not necessarily for us to indulge in its enjoyment. The word is appropriate here as the real problem of the person who denies akhira is that they are too addicted to enjoying dunya. This verse ends this section. Even when you recite this verse it comes to an almost immediate stop in the recitation, a pause, making heavy the impact on one that the enjoyment of this life will come to a sudden end before the overwhelming calamity comes.
Then when the greatest calamity comes
Jaa’ah means to come and is used for a grand arrival. Idha here means all of a sudden. Tam is used for something which is completely full. For example is someone fills a well full or dirt till it is full it is said to be tam. Taama is a calamity that is so complete and overwhelming from every direction there is no escape from it and where this is trouble every direction you turn to. So taamatul kubra is the ultimate calamity that all of a sudden arrives and makes its grand entrance. Scholars mention this is the second blowing of the trumpet which will overwhelm man as he may have seen people die before but never brought back to life. When the word idha is used it needs a jawaab – a response and this is given in the next verse.
On that day man will clearly remember what he strove for
Yatadhukurul insaan means that man will thoroughly remember everything he did. This word means that every last memory will be recollected and man will remember every last thing he did and rushed towards. In verse 22 you will recollect that we found Fir’aun rushing and pacing. Allah (swt) connects the two verses. Fir’aun was rushing towards keeping his rule while other humans were rushing towards keeping their wealth and were walking away from religion to pursue a life of pleasure. The crime of the kuffar mentioned in this surah is their speech and their scepticism of the hereafter. However, Allah (swt) has seen through their speech and highlighted that it is a result of the things they rushed towards and on the day of resurrection they will remember not only their speech but the efforts and motives behind their speech.
And the hellfire will be brought forward in full view for all who see
Burriza is used to pull something out and place in front of someone. Jahama is a word used when a lion is staring at you with hungry eyes. It is one of the names of the hellfire and is also used in a blaze that is so intense that it almost looks like it is staring at you. So, this enraged hellfire will be brought forward for anyone to look at meaning they will have to look at the rage of it. In this verse it will be brought out in front of the one who wishes to see. If you look at the statements of the sceptics in this surah they said they could not visualise bones being resurrected and brought back to life and their original state. So, Allah is now saying you will see eventually when the fire is brought out in front of you.
Then, he who transgressed all bounds
The message of Musa (saw) to Fir’aun in verse 17 was because – innahu tagha, he had rebelled. Now a parallel is brought to light that the message applies not just to Fir’aun but anyone who engages in rebellion
And preferred the life of this world (by following his desires)
Aathara means to give preference. And so the source of rebellion is mentioned here. It’s the preference of worldly life and of following one’s desires which can lead one to forget Allah (swt) and his hereafter. Ibn Qayyim says that the soul calls to transgression and calls to giving preference to this life whereas Allah (swt) calls to his servant to fear him and to prevent his nafs from following its desire. The heart therefore is called in two directions, by his nafs and by Allah (swt). Our nafs tells us to overeat and to oversleep and if we cannot resist our desires when it comes to eating nice food then how can we struggle to fulfil our acts of ibadah properly. This life is like jihad and we need to program ourselves into understanding that our life is to strive against our nafs. We can enjoy parts of this life as long as it does not distract us from our major purpose in life.
Will have hell for his refuge
Ma’wa comes from iywa in Arabic which means to find some place to hide and seek refuge from danger. But, we just said that jaheem is a blazing fire like a roaring lion staring at you and Allah (swt) is now saying that this jaheem will be a place to find refuge. This is Allah’s (swt) sarcasm. The surah begins with the Quraysh being sarcastic and now Allah (swt) is being sarcastic saying that this blazing fire will be their refuge.
But as for him who feared standing before his Lord and restrained himself from his desires
Musa (saw) was giving an offer to Fir’aun in this surah – Let me guide you to your Lord and you will gain some fear. The believer, however, not only fears his Lord but fears even standing in front of his Lord (maqaam means place and time). As a result of this fear of consequence the believer prevented the nafs inside of him from vain, pathetic and empty desires. Allah (swt) here does not talk of the soul in the possessive sense i.e. your soul or his soul or one’s soul. If it was in the possessive it would indicate that you are struggling with yourself but it is almost as if He (swt) wants you to consider your soul as a separate entity and an enemy within you that is calling you to the hellfire and evil and is a challenge that you have to defeat.
Ibn Qayyim says that maqaam rabbihi can be interpreted in two ways, one is the slave standing in front of Allah (swt) and the second is the status of Allah (swt) over his servant. The understanding that Allah (swt) is constantly looking over us and taking care of us. Whosoever fears that position of Allah (swt) will lead his heart to a state of awe and humility in front of his lord. Or whoever fears standing in front of his lord, fights against his nafs as a consequence. Empty hearts devoid of the remembrance of Allah (swt) and without an attachment to the hereafter will lead to man following his desires. Our hearts need to be full of the love of Allah (swt) and we need to make sure our free time does not cause us to fall into sin as we were not created to follow our desires and to enjoy ourselves.
Will have paradise for his refuge
Paradise will be the believer’s place of finding safety from danger. Bear in mind that this surah is not about belief and disbelief in the hereafter. This surah is about preference of the hereafter versus preference of this life which is one of the root causes of someone who disbelieves. This can also be a disease for the Muslim too who falls into dunya and forgets ahkira, talking about it casually.
They ask you (O Muhammad) about the Hour, when will it come to pass?
The same word is used here that was used in verse 32 to refer to the mountains being pegged. So, the Quraysh are asking when the Day is going to come to pass. The Quraysh are now being sarcastic asking when the Hour will be upon them as they are unable to respond to all that Allah (swt) has said. They are saying we can see the mountains and that they are pegged but this idea of the Hour coming when is this really going to come and situate and peg itself in. Allah (swt) quotes this to the messenger (saw) and then turns to him and asks a question in the next verse.
But why should you be concerned with its exact timing?
Allah (swt) asks the messenger (saw) in what capacity are you to make mention of the hour. The messenger (saw) does not have the capacity to mention when the Hour will come to pass only to mention that it is coming and get ready for it. Allah (swt) answers this question with a question. Once a man came up to the messenger (saw) and asked him when the hour would come to pass. The messenger (saw) responded by asking what he had done to prepare for it and this is a beautiful style of teaching.
To your Lord belongs the final and complete knowledge of it
So after posing the question to the messenger (saw), Allah (swt) says only to your Lord will the final and complete knowledge of it be returned. Muntaha comes from intiha which is the conclusion of something which also implies that the possession of the beginning of the events of akhira to the very end of the events of akhira belongs to your Lord.
You (O Muhammad) are only a warner for those who fear it
Allah (swt) now answers the question put in the previous verse and makes mention of his capacity only as a warner for those who will actually gain some fear out of his message.
The day they see it, it will seem too them that their life on earth had spanned only one morning or one afternoon
A’sheeya signifies the time when the sun starts setting i.e. from its peak at noon to Maghrib. Duha is the early morning i.e. from Fajr time to noon. Allah (swt) here is saying that their life will seem like one morning or afternoon in comparison to that hour.
The beginning of this surah after the oaths and at the end of this surah Allah (swt) talks about the hour. Thereby both starting and finishing with this subject making the surah a complete discussion.