Tafseer Surah Al ‘Aadiyaat
Allah (swt) dedicated the previous surah Az-Zalzalah to one catastrophic event in which the earth is going to shake and reveal its content. This surah justifies the events of the previous surah and describes what led to this eventual consequence. We learn in this surah of the things that humans do when they do not fear the consequences of their actions.
The message of the Quran is actually very straightforward but it is the delivery of that message that is extremely powerful. This surah is a stellar example of how Allah (swt) presents an argument by setting up the mind of the listener in a powerful way. This is important because a powerful speech is not just about the message but also about the way it is delivered. This is one of the surahs in which Allah (swt) begins with an oath. In the Quran there are essentially two components when Allah (swt) takes an oath – the object and the subject of the oath. For example, in the statement, ‘I swear by my family, I will take revenge’, the object is ‘family’ and the subject is ‘revenge’. The basic principle in the Quran is that the object of the oath is preparing you for the subject of the oath. However, the mufassiroon did not always keep in line with this principle. Some said that the object and subject do not necessarily have to have anything to do with each other. The stronger argument though is that the object is always rhetorically related to the subject. One of the purposes in ancient Arabic for taking an oath is to indicate seriousness. Another function is to draw someone’s attention. A speaker needs to attract the audience’s attention before delivering his message so that he can be sure that the listener is interested. If the audience is not paying attention and the message being conveyed is important then the point will be lost. The point of delivering a message is to convey it in such a way that it affects you and that won’t happen until you pay attention. Thus, Allah (swt) uses oaths in this surah to grab the attention of the Kuffar who are not paying attention to the prophet (saw) and in order to get someone’s attention you first have to talk about something they want to hear. The first five ayaat of this surah are oaths and are dedicated to getting the attention of the Arab.
1) By the charging steeds that pant
The Arabs at the time of the Prophet (saw) lived in the desert. They were rough around the edges and broke into fights, which sometimes lasted generations, easily. The Arabs also had an entertainment industry. Their entertainment was poetry and it reflected their interests just like music reflects people’s interests today. The Arabs at that time were fascinated by stories and poetry to do with battles and warfare. They were also obsessed with horses just like people today are obsessed with cars. This surah begins with a series of oaths that are dedicated to two things – battle horses and the battlefield. Allah (swt) swears by ‘aadiyaat which comes from the word ‘aduw, which means to have animosity. The masculine form, ‘aadi, is used for someone who is running in battle against an enemy, moving at great speed because of animosity. In a battle when someone is running towards the enemy they do not look left or right and they care about nothing other than attacking. That is the form of the word that has been used here. The word ‘aadi can also be a group that is on standby for pillaging and warfare, ready and waiting to attack. All of the implications are of moving fast and being aggressive against an enemy. Allah (swt) is taking an oath by battle horses that are racing forward with animosity. This is something that would absolutely get the attention of the ancient Arab. For him it is almost like the equivalent of a movie trailer for an action movie in our time. In movie trailers you are shown a short clip of the movie which is intended to build your interest and then right when they get to the most interesting part of the trailer they cut it off. This scene is similarly being built up excitingly by Allah (swt). The feminine plural form has been used for the horses which indicates that Allah (swt) is not swearing by male horses but rather by females horses – mares. This is because mares are faster in battle and so were more preferred and coveted by the Arabs. In our times you would say that this is not just some ordinary car, rather, it is a super car. The word also refers to a small number of horses numbering less than ten. Thus, Allah (swt) is setting the tone as an action scene straight from the beginning of the surah.
Allah (swt) then adds the word dabhan. Dabh describes the breath or panting of the horse when it is galloping really fast. The use of this word indicates that the horse is travelling as fast as it can towards the enemy. The Arab who has a wild imagination is imagining this scene almost as if he can hear the panting of the horse. By using the word ‘aadiyaat in the active participle (ism faa’il), Allah (swt) is saying that these horses were designed to be used in battle and are finally doing what they were meant to. For example, a really fast car sitting in a parking lot or in traffic was not designed for that purpose. It is when it is driven at full throttle and using its full potential that you get to see it doing what it was meant for. This dabhan at the end emphasises that the horse’s panting is continuous and that the horse is not taking a break. The linguists have commented that the word dabh in Arabic is not originally used for horses. It was originally used for wolves. Wolves do not typically attack an enemy that it thinks is stronger that itself. Rather, they attack an enemy that is considered weaker and one that can be destroyed. We learn from this that Allah (swt) is comparing these battle horses to a pack of wolves. This comparison shows the confidence of these horses, which are going after their enemies like wolves go after their prey.
There is a difference of opinion amongst the mufassiroon over the interpretation of the word ‘aadiyaat. Some have actually said it refers to camels specifically in the season of Hajj when they have to work incredibly hard. There are two evidences that can be used to counter this. Firstly, the rest of the language does not support this argument. Secondly, the entire surah has nothing to do with Hajj and nor is it a Madani surah, which is the period in which the injunctions of Hajj came down. This surah is actually an early Makki surah and so this notion does not follow with the rhetoric of the rest of the surah. This opinion is found in some tafseers because the methodology of connecting the object with the subject is absent. Some people did not accept that methodology, which can result in many different opinions on what this could be because it becomes possible for this to be anything that pants and moves fast. However, if you can connect it with the rest of the surah it gives direction to the surah and it enables the mufassiroon to comment on it with precision.
2) And strike sparks with their hooves
The first thing to notice is that the ayah beings with fa whereas the first ayah began with wa. This is an important and subtle concept in understanding oaths in the Quran. There are certain letters that are called huroof al ‘adf. These are letters that connect one sentence to another. If this ayah had also begun with a wa then it would mean that it was a different scene to the first ayah (e.g. surah at-Teen begins like this). A wa followed by a fa, however, indicates a continuation of the previous scene. Thus, we are now receiving further details about the same scene. Notice that the third, fourth and fifth verses also commence with fa, which means that all of these beginning verses refer to one continuous scene. The word mooriyaat is another ism faa’il and feminine plural and further describes the same team of horses. The word mooriyaat comes from the word eeraa and is used to describe when sparks fly due to something being struck. There are numerous words used in the Quran for starting a fire and this is one of them. This word is used specifically when two things are rubbed against one another to encourage sparks in order to start a fire e.g. flints. So, Allah (swt) is saying that these horses are running so fast they are causing sparks when their hooves strike the ground. This is adding intensity to the scene by describing the horses as literally blazing a trail behind them. Qadh in Arabic is a violent strike that is very loud and this implies that the horses are making a loud thunderous noise every time their hooves hit the ground.
3) Who make dawn raids
The word ighara in Arabic means to ambush and the word mugheeraat means that these horses were taken right on top of the enemy. We learn from this that these horses after galloping towards the enemy have now reached them and are at the point of contact ready to ambush. The rider has been taken right on top of the enemy almost like the enemy is on the ground and the rider is above him with a spear. Some mufassiroon say that these verses are talking about the companions but this is wrong. Firstly, this is a Makki surah and at this period there was no battle. Secondly, the subject of the oath, which is coming, is about disbelievers and not believers. This opinion exists because amongst some mufassiroon there was an opinion that if Allah (swt) swears by something then it must be because that object is something sacred or noble. However, this is an opinion that is not based on any direct evidence. The counter argument is that Allah (swt) is swearing by the object but the point will be made in the subject of the oath and this overshadows the point that the object may or may not be sacred. Additionally, the word ighara is used when you go against an enemy with the intent to kill or to rob or pillage. These are all crimes and examples of criminal behaviour and the people being described here are bandits, which is another reason why we would not consider this to be referring to the companions. Allah attributed ighara as a noun to these people and when a noun is used it means that whatever you are talking about is known for that quality.
The word subhan tells us that the enemy was ambushed in the morning. This further adds intensity to the description of these raiders. In the morning there is a lot of moisture on the surface of the ground and things like rocks. Yet, the horses are galloping to the point that sparks fly off the moist ground. The word ighara linguistically means to go deep into something i.e. deep into the woods. By using this word for ambush we learn that these men don’t just attack but rather they go deep into the enemy lines, or into the heart of the town, in their ambush. Typically, when someone wants to attack an enemy they will prefer to attack secretly or at night when they have the element of surprise and can use the darkness to their advantage, as the enemy will not be able to see them coming. However, we learn here that these raiders are attacking in the morning in a brazen attack. If you are attacking an enemy in the morning it means you want them to know you are coming and that you don’t even care. Just like wolves do not fear their prey. This is the kind of confidence these raiders have.
4) Raising a cloud of dust
In this ayah from a linguistic perspective there is a transition from noun to verbs, which implies that the action is intensifying. The verb athara in Arabic is to cause something to rise and here it is naq’a that is being caused to rise. The word naq’a is one of three words used in the Quran for dust. Naq’a is used when something is travelling very fast, like a car or horse, to the extent that it causes a cloud of dust to rise behind it. Thus, the horses in this surah are galloping so fast they are causing a cloud of dust to rise up behind them. One of the implications of the pronoun bihi used here is that it could be referring to the scenario where there is so much dust flying around when the action commences that you cannot even see your enemy. You are completely engulfed in the dust and cannot see in front of you. It could also be referring to the morning and the fact that although it is morning and the ground is damp and moist and not conducive to being unsettled, the battle is so intense that the dust is rising anyway. This pronoun could also be referring to the dust being caused to rise because of the striking of the horses that is causing the dust to rise. Abu Ubaydah had an opinion that naq’ means to raise the voice and this is rhetorically connected because when you get lost in a cloud of dust you cannot be seen and can only be heard by raising your voice, which serves to further intensify the scene. The horses are charging forth and raising dust clouds that engulf people to the point that you lose sight of them and can only hear their screams.
Now we come to the final oath. The word wasat in Arabic means to penetrate right through the middle of something. The usage of the feminine plural tells us that all the horses penetrate right into the midst of their foes using the cloud of dust to their advantage as cover. It is worth bearing in mind that the people under attack here are prepared to meet their attackers. They have seen in the morning light the sparks flying and the cloud of dust rising from these horses. Thus, you can assume they are waiting in formation with their spears raised to defend themselves. Yet, despite this the attackers throw caution to the wind and fearlessly attack through the centre. Furthermore, when attacking you will normally send a first wave of attackers and then a second. However, here the attackers show no regard for military strategy and, despite their small number, send all their cavalry in at once with no fear of the consequences and with no backup support to come to their assistance. None of them stayed behind. The whole wolf pack attacked the enemy without betraying each other. The word jam’a means altogether and it could mean that all the horses penetrated into the very heart of the gathering by smashing their way in through the middle. It could also allude to the fact that previously the enemy was in front of them but now that they have burst through the middle, the enemy is all around them and they are surrounded in the heart of the battle.
6) Man is, indeed, very ungrateful to his Lord
For the first five verses of this surah there has been no religious instruction. There has been nothing pertaining to the stories of the prophets, or the day of judgement, or of halal and haram, or of Tawheed – nothing. The result of this is that by talking about what the Arab listener really wants to hear, the listener is gradually being drawn in and his attention is fully focused on the Quran. The Arab is listening in anticipation, wanting to know what happens next and it is at this point that Allah (swt) says what He wanted to say all along. The agenda is never the object. The agenda is the subject and now Allah (swt) will present it. If the subject were presented earlier the disadvantage would have been that no one would have paid any attention. At this point the Arab has stopped listening to everything else and you now have their undivided attention. The ancient Arab loved horses and would make poetry about them. They loved horses and obsessed over them the way people love cars today in our modern time. In particular the listener would have appreciated the loyalty of the horses in these verses to their master. Animals have a survival instinct which means that when they see danger they run away from it and in a battle the spear will normally strike the horse first but here but this horse is so loyal to its master that it is willing to give up its own survival and betray its survival instinct for its owner.
It is at this point that Allah (swt) says that there is no doubt that the human being is truly disloyal to His master. The Arab was amazed at and admired the horses’ loyalty to its master without realising that he himself is a slave and that Allah is His master and that in contrast to the horse he is a disloyal slave. How intricately this argument has been constructed. An unexpected curveball is thrown at the listener, which hits him in the heart and leaves him speechless. The listener just a few seconds ago was imagining himself riding the warhorse and admiring how loyal she was to him. Then suddenly he is given a wake up call – YOU are the slave, and YOU have a Master, to whom you are not loyal to at all. Most mufassiroon say that kanood means to be ungrateful to a favour. Allah (swt) has given man so much ability, intellect and favours so that they can use it to benefit them to the extent that even animals submit themselves to man. Allah (swt) gave man this ability so that he would obey Allah (swt) on this earth and be thankful to Him. Yet, people would rather disobey Allah (swt) to the extent that when robbery is spoken about they become excited, like the listener in this surah. People take corrupt ideas and elevate them. We do this in the modern world too where movies are made that glorify criminals and gangsters, where movies are made about bank robberies and heists. Allah (swt) uses this twisted sense of morality to entertain these people and then attacks them when they were least expecting it.
The word kanood also means to cut apart and to separate or to disassociate and so it could refer to how man separates himself from slavery to Allah (swt) unlike the horse that does not separate from his rider. The word kafoor also means to be ungrateful and appears a number of times in the Quran in contrast to kanood which is mentioned only once in the Quran. The difference is that kanood used here means to be extremely ungrateful and is comparable to the kind of person who only makes mentions of his problems but never his blessings. The kind of person who only complains when asked how they are. The kind of person who has a fridge full of different types of food but complains because the food they wanted is not there. Instead of showing gratitude for what we have people are ungrateful and moan about what they don’t have. The owner of the horse demands loyalty in return for the food, shelter and care it receives. Whenever we own something we expect something from it. Allah (swt) owns us and has complete mastery over us and this is unlike any other ownership because when we own something it comes with conditions. For example, you cannot extend your home without first seeking planning permission and you cannot drive your car without first making sure it is roadworthy according to the law. In contrast Allah (swt) owns us and has full authority over us. Furthermore, Allah (swt) gives and gives but does not punish us and in return we become ever more ungrateful and disloyal.
7) And He is witness to this
Allah (swt) is saying that man is a witness to his own disloyalty and ingratitude. In Arabic the word shahid means witness but in this verse the word shaheed is used. The difference is that the word shahid is used for something that is happening at one time and shaheed is used for something that happens all the time. So, the listener has come to the realisation that he is a witness to his disloyalty for all times. Normally in courts of law a witness is brought to testify against the defendant but on the day of judgement the defendant himself will testify against himself. This surah is not about intellectual or philosophical arguments or abstract discussion. This surah speaks to the deeply rooted nature of the human being. If you have any ounce of gratitude and loyalty in your heart you will feel this message and it will hit home. When a person sins they know in their heart that they have been ungrateful and disloyal. Some will try to ignore it but it still lingers in our hearts and minds.
8) He is truly excessive in his love of wealth
The word ‘li’ is a preposition that means ‘for’ and it is used to give purpose to something. Allah (swt) is saying that these people are excessive in their love for wealth. The word hub in Arabic is defined as being engaged in the relentless pursuit of something desirable. It is when one sees something that they think is good for them and so they do whatever they can to acquire it as a consequence. However, Allah (swt) did not use the word ‘wealth’. The word khayr means good but almost every mufassiroon has said that in this ayah it is referring to wealth. Allah (swt) is describing people who are intensely focused on the maintenance of their wealth. The word ashadda in Arabic means to tie a rope and shadeed is to be strongly tied to something just like the people being referred to in this ayah are tied up in pursuing wealth. Allah (swt) chose not to explicitly say ‘wealth’ and instead chose the word ‘good’ because wealth is something that can be good or bad. In this ayah Allah (swt) is translating the mindset of the kaafir because for him all wealth is good. Allah (swt) is being sarcastic here. This is what you have so much love for? This wealth that people chase comes from the earth and it will be to the earth it returns. In the previous surah of az-Zalzalah Allah (swt) told us that when man is resurrected the treasure he chased in this world will be unearthed with him and he will see the reality of what he chased after.
The verb ba’thara means to turn something inside out in order to find something. For example, if you have a box with things in it and you are delving into it and yanking things out in order to find a particular item. Allah (swt) uses this verb to describe what is going to happen in the graves. People will be hauled out from their graves like junk from a box. Allah (swt) says that whatever is in the graves will come out and He says this because people love wealth. In the beginning of this surah there were people who were willing to ambush, kill and pillage for wealth. On the day of judgement not only will the perpetrators of crimes like this come out of the ground but so too will the people they put into the ground. Throughout human history and until today people have been and are being killed for wealth. Nations go to war for wealth and to secure precious resources like oil and water. The innocent victims who were killed and placed into mass graves will also come out. The people who put them into these mass graves thought they were safe because there was no record of a mass grave and no one knew the names of the victims. No human rights group came after them. Yet, on that day everything in the graves will come out and no evidence will remain buried.
The verb hussila means to peel something in order to extract what is inside. For example, a banana is peeled to extract the fruit. Allah (swt) uses this word to describe how the chest will be peeled so that whatever is inside can be brought out. The previous surah mentioned how the smallest deeds people carried out would be shown to them and this surah goes even further by exposing what the human is hiding in his heart, his motives and his inner testimony. In this surah we learn that it is man’s disloyalty to Allah (swt) and his love of wealth. Therefore, Allah (swt) is showing that He has the full picture of what is on the outside and on the inside.
11) Their Lord, that day, will be fully aware of them all
This ayah is a continuation of the threats from the previous surah in which Allah (swt) said that man himself will see his actions. The word khabeer means to be fully aware of something inside and out. This surah began with the carefree Arab who pillaged and robbed without any concern of the consequences and who thinks that no one knows or will keep record. However, the surah ends with Allah (swt) informing us that He has full news and is fully aware of everything on the internal and external of what people do.