Tafseer Surah Al-Inshiqaq
This surah is almost a culmination of a small cluster of surahs that are banded together because of a very similar style and subject matter. The three surahs – At-Takwir, Al-Infitaar and this one have almost an identical format of beginning with one surah squeezed in the middle – Al-Mutaffifin which is also intricately connected. This surah has the theme of inevitability and is the conclusion of this series. There are a lot of themes in this surah that discusses moving through stages and then reaching a conclusion. Allah (swt) does not spell things out for the Muslim and expects us to fill in the blanks ourselves which keeps the reader and listener of the Qur’an alert.
The surah is divided into four parts with the first five verses talking about the events of the last day. Verses six to fifteen discuss the journey of the human before it reaches its conclusion whilst verses sixteen to twenty-one calls upon the human to reflect upon nature and of the gradual changes in nature. Finally, the last part is a warning that lessons should be learnt from these arguments presented.
In Arabic idha means ‘when’ and this is part of a conditional statement. For example, if I were to say ‘When I go to work I will get this done’, there is a ‘when’ statement and then a secondary ‘then’ statement. All of the surahs discussed have ‘idha’ in them which is the ‘when’ portion (i.e. ‘when the sun gets wrapped up’ but then there is the ‘then’ portion (i.e. every human will know what they sent forth of their deeds). In this surah we have a series of ‘when’ statements which are not followed by any ‘then’ statements. This is a departure from the previous surahs in that the conclusion has been omitted.
In the previous surah we find that at the end that Allah (swt) warns us that an enormous day is coming that people need to prepare for and now Allah (swt) is giving us a sign of this. When the sky is completely torn and this is different to infatarat, which is to be torn along the length of something, inshaqat however from shaq is to be torn completely and in Arabic is used when you tear something which you do not normally associate with tearing. In the Quran this word is used to describe the earth and the moon being cracked and torn open. You would associate tearing with something like cloth but not huge things like the earth or the sky.
Allah (swt) has used many words to describe the sky such as the sky being peeled like the skin of an animal or the sky being ripped. In some sense all of these words are reversible however inshiqaq is not reversible and so this represents the final conclusion and inevitability -the point of no return -when the sky we have above us is torn and will never return to its normal state after that.
2) And listens to and obeys its Lord – and it must do so
Obeying its Lord in true submission
The word adhinat can come from one of two nouns. The noun ‘idhn’ means permission and adhn means to listen carefully and to obey the one you’re listening to and in the Quran both of these words have been used. Allah (swt) tells us here that the sky listens intently to it’s lord and we would generally not associate the sky with listening as it is an inanimate object but Allah (swt) here is calling to attention the rebellious human and he is being told in a rhetorical manner that when the sky is told to cease to exist then it is as though it is waiting to listen to the commandment of its lord. This was its destiny and what it was meant to do. Thus, when you reach the final conclusion of something all of the stages you took were just steps to achieve that conclusion. For example, when you get your degree the first and second years were just steps to attain that degree. Its as though the sky which was created in all it’s beauty was created for this moment and was waiting intently for it’s lord to let it finally complete its purpose.
The word huqqat means that it is its duty and appropriate of it to do so. The ulema say that it is only befitting of the sky to listen to the commandment of its lord. We are being told that the creation around is like us in the sense that it listens to the commands of Allah (swt) and obeys. When Allah (swt) complains of the disobedience of the human he compares us to the rest of the universe where everything in the heaven and earth declares Allah’s (swt) perfection.
Whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is on the earth glorifies Allah, the King (of everything), the Holy, the All-Mighty, the All-Wise (Jumu’ah 62:1)
The seven heavens and the earth and whatever is in them exalt Him. And there is not a thing except that it exalts (Allah) by His praise, but you do not understand their (way of) exalting. Indeed, He is ever Forbearing and Forgiving (Israa’ 17:44)
Thus, everything from the blades of grass to the breeze we feel are praising Allah (swt) and are in obedience to him but we do not necessarily understand how. Mankind and the Jinn are the only ones of Allah’s (swt) creations that have a choice in whether they obey Him (swt) or not.
Allah (swt) ordered the skies and heavens when making them;
Then He directed Himself to the heaven while it was smoke and said to it and to the earth, “Come (into being), willingly or by compulsion” They said, “We have come willingly” (Fussilat 41:11)
The sky and earth in their own way responded to Allah (swt) and they obeyed Him in their forming and creation. And they will obey Him when He tells them to cause destruction to themselves. This is in contrast to the previous surah where we find the rebellious human that crosses the line and is constantly engaged in sin is compared to the sky; and what is man? Are you more difficult to create, or is the heaven that He constructed? (Nazi’at 79:27) Human beings should listen intently to their Master like the rest of creation and when Allah (swt) orders them to do something they should listen straightaway. But instead there are some people who do the total opposite.
Madda is used in Arabic to stretch something across its length. An example of its usage in the Quran is: Have you not considered your Lord – how He extends [madda] the shadow, and if He willed, He could have made it stationary? Then We made the sun for it an indication (Furqan 25:45)
Allah (swt) makes us reflect on our shadows and how they become longer and stretched as time passes by and this is a very picturesque way that Allah (swt) gets us to reflect on how time is passing by. The stretching of the earth is also described in the following hasan (good/fair) hadith: Abu Huraira reported, Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said; “When the Day of Resurrection happens, Allah will stretch the Earth like leather (flat). Until the point where there will be no place to move except the place where a persons two feet are. And I (Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah) will be the first to be called. And Jibreel will be on the right side of the Most Merciful (Allah). By Allah, this will be the first time Jibreel will see his Lord. (Allah’s Messenger will say to Allah) “This is the one (Angel Jibreel) that informed me that You (Allah) have sent him to me.” So Allah will reply; “Sadaqt -You have said the truth.”
The people who believed in a god at the time of Allah’s Messenger believed (and even today these beliefs are prevalent) that he was a distant god who created the Earth and left it to be. Or that He is above the sky and we are in charge of the Earth (like the Egyptian Pharaoh’s would think). That Allah (swt) is not concerned with this tiny small Earth when one considers all the different galaxies and the vastness of the entire Universe. However the One who can stretch the Earth has full power over it and this illustrates Allah’s (swt) power not only on the sky but the earth as well.
4) And has cast out all that was in it and become empty
Laqiyat in Arabic describes two things that come together face to face and alqa from ilqa means to take something and throw it in front of everyone. This word is used in the Quran to describe when Musa (pbuh) took his staff and threw it in front of Pharaoh and his magicians. Allah (swt) says the earth is going to do alqa and is going to spit and throw things out. Thus as the earth is stretched, everything that is within it (maa fee ha) will pop out and be thrown in front of people. The strongest interpretation of this verse suggests that this is referring to the bodies of those that have passed away although others have commented that it is the treasures and secrets of the earth that will be thrown out. Imagine a sheet of paper that is crumpled up and you then stretch it and it becomes straight to the extent that its creases becomes straight and level. Another interpretation is that Allah (swt) is saying that the whole earth will be a flat earth on that Day as it is stretched and its contents brought out.
The word khalat comes from the word khalwa which literally means solitude or seclusion and khala means to empty something out. From this we also get takhliyah which means to take someone somewhere and then walk away and leave them there. Here we have at-takhali which means too empty out entirely and this is also used to describe a pregnant woman who empties out her womb when she gives birth to a child, a burden on her body which she releases. This has been used to describe the earth here almost as if it is pregnant with all the graves and bodies of the righteous and the sinners and the time has finally come when it can let go and unleash what is inside of it.
5) And listens to and obeys its Lord – and it must do so
Obeying its Lord in true submission
Just like with the sky earlier, Allah (swt) says that the earth listened intently and complied with the command of its lord as if it was waiting for this moment and this was its destiny. The earth is eager to follow the instruction of its lord and cannot wait to receive the instruction and so this is more than just an act of obedience. This is the zeal that the earth shows and it is only rightful for it to do so.
The verses that say ‘when’ should typically lead to a ‘then’ statement but this has not been mentioned yet in this surah. In similar surahs though it has been mentioned and so by not mentioning it here Allah (swt) is saying that this conclusion does not have to be stated anymore as we already have experience of it i.e. Every soul will know what it has brought forward and left behind (of deeds) (Infitaar 82:5). Thus, the believer has already read this in the Quran and so he can fill in the blanks himself in these verses i.e. when the sky/heaven is split asunder, when the earth is stretched out – you will remember your deeds in this temporary worldly life.
6) O man! Verily, you have been toiling towards your Lord with your deeds and actions (good or bad), a sure returning, and you will meet (Him/the results of your deeds which you did)
This verse is the central message of this surah. One of the origins of the word insaan is nasiya which means to forget so one of the meanings of this beginning is ‘Oh forgetful human being’ – you’ve forgotten where you came from and your destiny and this addresses humanity not just Muslims. The earth and the sky did not forget.
The phrase inaka kaadihun means that you are actively engaged in toiling labour; Part of life is to struggle for things and certain milestones (for example a pay rise) and for every milestone we work hard. Kadh has been described as a struggle towards something, without any distinction as to whether it’s good or bad – you’re just engaged in striving for it and immersed in it to the extent that it exhausts you. Allah (swt) says that with all these milestones you forget where you’re heading. You’re actually on a motorway and these milestones are just small steps. Where will you end up? You will end up with your lord. Whatever you are engaged in, whether it’s good or bad, you are headed to your lord.
Allah (swt) then says, fa mulaqeeh, which means that you will meet Him for sure -(on Judgment Day) and stand in front of Him and be judged for your deeds. Another interpretation of this is that you’re going to meet your own labour. The fruits of your efforts in this life (i.e. your deeds whether good or bad), you will meet them with your Lord. There isn’t a moment that goes by except that it is taking you closer towards your Lord and Judgment Day whether you’re asleep or awake, sick or healthy. In real life you can take a break and stop but there is not a moment that goes by that we are not on this journey towards our Lord. This journey comes to a conclusion for the sky and earth when it cracks and stretches but for us what is the conclusion? This is answered in the coming verses.
7) Then, as for him who will be given his Record in his right hand
In Arabic the word ootiya is different to yu’ta which is the present tense. Had the word yu’ta been used the meaning of the verse would have been rendered ‘as for the one who will be given his book in his right hand’. However, here the past tense is used and in classical Arabic the past tense is a means by which you can deliver certainty, something not found in other languages, in that there is nothing more certain than the past itself. Thus, the meaning of the verse is rendered ‘the one who had been given the book in his right hand’. The book mentioned here is the one mentioned in surah Mutafiffeen and it is the book of Illiyeen that will be delivered to the right hand.
The word yameen does not just mean the right hand, in Arabic; it is also an expression of power and an expression of an agreement. For example in the days when contracts were not written, the right hands were shaken and this signified a done deal. Thus, on a day when many have been weakened this man has been empowered to the point that he can go around in a state of joy and ease, running around knowing he has passed, inviting others to read his book even though they are distracted by their own deeds. He knows that Allah (swt) by placing the book in his right hand, which also signifies honour, has made an agreement and given him honour and the promise of paradise at which point all the nervousness in him has gone, as he knows where he is headed.
So as for he who is given his record in his right hand, he will say, “Here, read my record! Indeed, I was certain that I would be meeting my account.” So he will be in a pleasant life – In an elevated garden (al Haaqah 69:19-22)
In the previous surah, in verse twenty-four Allah (swt) tells us that the righteous are in bliss and this is through the blessing of receiving their book in their right hand which lights up their face. The word hisaaban means a thorough and detailed accounting and checking. The believer’s face will light up when he receives his book in his right hand as he realises that he will not be tried for all the minute details of his deeds and will be dealt with an easy accounting and reckoning. Thus, even before entering paradise these people are in ease and bliss. Before this he didn’t know which hand his book (record containing his deeds) would land in.
Another blessing in verse twenty-four in the previous surah is that Allah (swt) says ta’rifu which means ‘You (O Muhammad) will recognise from their faces bliss and ease’. Allah (swt) is addressing the messenger (pbuh) and this tells us that those who receive their book in their right hand will be in the company of Allah’s messenger.
It’s important to appreciate the nervousness of the righteous that came before us. People in today’s day and age seem to think they have done enough to achieve this status but look at the nervousness of the companions who were guaranteed paradise. Abu Bakr (ra) said ‘If one of my feet was in Paradise, and the other was outside of it, I would not feel safe from Allah’s plan and what he has decided for me’. Umar (ra) said ‘I swear By Allah, if a caller was to call on the Day of Resurrection that every person from mankind will go to Paradise except one person, I would be convinced that he is (Umar) ibn al Khattab. This is the nervousness of the companions who have earned paradise for a reason. Thinking that you will get an easy accounting was not the mentality of the righteous before us. If you want this you have to work for this. The toiling mentioned in verse six must be focused on pleasing Allah (swt) to gain such a reward.
In the Quran two words for easy have been used, the word hayyin and the word yaseer. Yaseer means easy, lightweight and comfortable. There is a hadith where Muhammad (pbuh) explains this verse. Aisha (ra) saw Muhammad (pbuh) making dua asking Allah that when He takes an account of him and audits him that he is given an easy auditing and reckoning. When Aisha (ra) heard this she asked ‘What is an easy reckoning’ and he replied that the Lord looks into your sins and overlooks them. For example, if you are pulled over for an unpaid parking ticket the policeman may sometimes let you go with just a ticking off after seeing your record and insurance details as he was in a good mood. On the day of judgement no one thinks they will get away without punishment so this is a tremendous mercy from Allah (swt). Although the believer has been given his book in his right hand this does not mean he only has good deeds. This person also has bad deeds but Allah (swt) overlooks them and this is even though the angels have recorded everything including the minutest indiscretion. The hadith continues and Muhammad (pbuh) says that the one who is questioned about a particular sin has been destroyed and will be punished. The moment a person starts getting questioned over his deeds – he is done for. The mercy of Allah (swt) is on the one whose sins are overlooked. This means that those whose books Allah (swt) overlooks will go to paradise without punishment and may Allah make us one of them.
When the believer is handed his book without accounting and punishment, overjoyed he runs back inviting people to look at his book. Remember those times when a teacher is marking your work in front of you and how you nervously waited for your mark and to learn of any errors. Imagine Allah (swt) going through your account and then overlooking your mistakes when you know you’ve made them. Imagine how happy you would be when Allah (swt) keeps going through your book without questioning you. Surely you will be overjoyed and want to rush off to tell your friends and family.
In surah Abasa we learnt that on the day of judgement people will run away from their family yet here we learn that they will be running towards them. This is reconciled in tafseer by understanding that the word ahl means ‘your people’ and this includes those people who believed with you. Your love for your family on that day will be associated with those who believed with you. The shahada itself can be considered to make you part of a bigger and more significant family. For example, Nuh (pbuh) felt pain for his son when he was drowning and Ibrahim (pbuh) was concerned about his father – that concern will be gone on the day of judgement. The word masroora means delighted and comes from suroor, related to the word sirr which means secret. It’s the kind of joy you feel deep in your heart and is not apparent on your face. A deep lasting inner joy and not the superficial temporary joy that crosses your face.
Imagine that the person entered into jannah here is entered onto a higher level than his family. This verse implies that Allah (swt) will take the people on the lower levels of jannah and bring them up to the higher levels with his family rather than the believer on the higher level travelling down to visit them and this is an added mercy that Allah (swt) bestows. Encourage those in your family who excel and struggle for the deen rather than preventing them as their righteousness will be a benefit to you on the day of judgement and can help you onto a higher level in jannah if you are on the lower levels.
The language of the verse suggests that this is not the carefree joyous attitude that this person had with his family when they were in this world. In this world they are worried about their family thinking will they pray after I am gone, will they be righteous Muslims, how can I protect them from bad company and bad influences, where are they going to learn their deen from. Just like Yaqub (pbuh) worried on his deathbed:
Or were you witnesses when death approached Yaqub (Jacob)? When he said unto his sons, “What will you worship after me?” They said, “We shall worship your Ilah (God -Allah), the Ilah (God) of your fathers, Ibrahim (Abraham), Isma’il (Ishmael), Ishaque (Isaac), One Ilah (God), and to Him we submit (in Islam).” (Al Baqarah 2:133)
This world is not the time to be carefree; it is the time to be concerned whereas the next life is the time to be carefree and free of concern. This is why we make the dua in surah Furqaan:
And those who say, “Our Lord, grant us from among our wives and offspring comfort to our eyes and make us an example for the righteous.” (Furqaan 25:74).
Scholars with regards to this verse in surah Inshiqaaq say that real happiness with the family comes from the realisation that what we think we are doing for the good of one’s family in this world may actually be an act of animosity. This is because you may be doing actions that please your spouse and children and vice versa but the same actions may displease Allah (swt). Real happiness is when the family comes together through obedience to Allah (swt). In surah Taha, Allah (swt) says command your family to the prayer and be perseverant in that:
And enjoin prayer upon your family (and people) and be steadfast therein. We ask you not for provision; We provide for you, and the (best) outcome is for (those of) righteousness. (Taha 20:132)
Umar (ra) used to wake up his family for qiyaam which is not even mandatory and recite this verse and this is the attitude of real love. Sometimes the family may think that we are dragging them to Islam. We should make Islam beautiful to them so that they want to come to it and if they find it difficult and you find reluctance, be patient. Do not be lazy in making dawah to the family, as it is the hardest type of dawah as they may ridicule you. Its a lot easier to speak to someone outside the family about Islam whereas your family has known you for a long time but be persistent in it as being with your family in paradise is one of the great blessings of Allah (swt).
10) But whosoever is given his record behind his back
In another surah in the Quran, Allah (swt) talks about the one who is given his book in his left hand but here He does not say this He says the book is given behind his back. Studying the passages in different surahs of the Quran enables us to get a complete picture of something. You cannot look at one portion of the Quran in complete isolation from another. This is one of the conditions of properly understanding the Quran. According to many tabi’in and also some companions when the criminals are sent forward they are chained. Their right hand is chained to their neck and their left hand is tied behind their back. Here the criminal is given his book in his left hand which is behind his back, thus, clarifying and satisfying both passages. Others have commented that they would hide it behind their backs out of shame. This man cannot read his book as it is behind his back but he knows that its bad news as it is in his left hand.
11) He will call out (for his) destruction
The word sawfa means soon and thuboor means death. Soon after receiving his book the criminal sees the blazing hellfire and cries out for his death and destruction so that he can be spared from going there. Da’wa is different to nida in Arabic but both are used for calling. Nida is a call meant for anybody but addressing someone specifically is da’wa. So, this man is calling out and looking specifically towards the angels as he cannot see Allah (swt) and pleading for them to kill and destroy him. Thus far in these surahs the word used to describe the hellfire has been jaheem but we now see a switch to sa’eer. Wherever you find sa’eer in the Quran you also find thuboor as the two are connected and this exhibits the consistency of the Quran. In the previous surah these criminals would laugh at the believers and wink at each other in mockery when they would pass them and then return to their families saying these are the ones who are lost (See Mutafiffeen 83:29-32). Look at the change of tone now, these same people will cry out for their own destruction. This is the Quran’s way of making the criminal, if he has any good left in him, visualise the consequence of the evil that he is doing. If there is any desire in them left to do good they will take heed from this warning and stop what they are doing.
Sa’eer is the flame that is enraged until it reaches a towering height and becomes a high wall of fire in the hellfire that these people will cast themselves into. It is not even said here that they will be thrown into the fire rather they will enter it themselves. The limbs such as the hands and feet are given speech so that they can testify against the sinner on the day of judgement and the body will give up on the sinner and on its rebellion to Allah (swt) and cast itself into the fire.
When Allah (swt) spoke about the people of paradise he said that they would return to their family full of joy. The verbal form of ‘yanqalibu’ was used to describe this and the verbal form is naturally used in Arabic. The nominal (the noun) form of sentence implies an unnatural situation, for example, you would not say ‘huwa qaala’, you would just say ‘qaala’ although the former may be used in unnatural situations. In this verse the unnatural nominal sentence is used, as the people described naturally should have been the people of paradise. This was the path they were shown and the path that was made easy for them (see verse twenty in surah Abasa). This verse says ‘innahu kaana’ which is an indication of the nominal form. No doubt he used to be full of joy with his family. This scene was also described to us in the previous surah in verse 31. These people had an internal joy with their family that showed no concern for the future.
The believer does not have suroor in this life; he has it in the next regardless of the fact that we have moments of joy in this life that in itself is not free of toil and concern. The disbeliever however has not concerned himself with the next life. Ibn Katheer comments that this is the person who used to be happy with his family and never thought deeply about the consequences of his actions and never feared what was in front of him thus Allah (swt) replaced his careless joy with lasting grief.
The word yahoor means to bring back and comes from the word haara which means to stroll around somewhere and then return to where you started. In a similar usage of this word the poet Lubayd said; ‘the coal returned back to dust (its original state) after it had been enflamed’. Another meaning of this word is to have uncertainty over a matter and so you return back to it. Allah (swt) is telling us that this man was convinced his actions would never come back to haunt him to the extent that he never felt any doubt in what he was doing nor fear of consequence. The word dhan means thinking.
No, rather there is no doubt his Lord used to be in full view of someone
In this surah we are told that ultimately Allah (swt) knows what we are even thinking. Angels are mentioned in all the precious surahs in Juzz Amma.
In Naba’ all the angels are mentioned standing in rows on Judgment Day.
In Nazi’at we heard of the angels who take the souls upon death.
In Abasa we had the angels that record and guard the revelation.
In At-Takwir we hear of the angel that brings down the revelation with his security entourage
In Al-Infitaar we learn of the angels that document one’s deeds.
In Al-Mutaffifeen we learn that this recording of deeds goes into the book of the righteous and the book of the rebellious.
Thus, we can see a progression through the surahs culminating in this surah where we learn from Allah (swt) that if none of what came previously fazed you, know that your Lord ultimately has been in full view of you both internally and externally. The knowledge that Allah (swt) knows fully what is in the hearts and minds of man and was constantly watching them.
When we were created Allah (swt) took a covenant from us recorded in surah A’raf:
And (mention) when your Lord took from the children of Adam -from their loins -their descendants and made them testify of themselves, (saying to them), “Am I not your Lord?” They said, “Yes, we have testified.” (This) -lest you should say on the day of Resurrection, “Indeed, we were of this unaware.” (A’raf 7:172)
Similarly, when disaster strikes we say ‘Indeed we belong to Allah and indeed to Him we will return’. (Al Baqarah 2:156)
Thus, we understand that we will return to our Lord. This person assumed there was no going back. The final evidence this person can be given is that your Lord has been watching you.
It’s important to realise that the Quran is not trying to prove it is a miracle. The Quran’s line of argument in it’s entirely is psychological and spiritual calling on man to look inside of himself and even Pharaoh was told this. Thus, the Quran guides us to different ways of reflecting and of thinking about things.
So I swear by the afterglow (of sunset)
Fa is used as a consequence of a preceding discussion and so this is now a concluding remark. Furthermore, la is a negation of all the false ideas that may precede the truths about to be presented. So, the la is an exclamation inviting man to forget about his previous false ideas and assumptions. Shafaqq is when the sky starts turning red at maghrib time.
Additionally, fa (then), laa (negates the ideas of the others) and uqsimu (I swear by) appears a few times in the Quran and whenever it occurs there is mention of the Quran with one exception in Surah Ma’arij where Allah (swt) swears by himself. For example in Surah Takwir see verses fifteen through to nineteen. So when we see it in this surah we expect the Quran to be mentioned and it eventually is in the verse of sajdah. This ties in with the style of this surah which is one of inevitability, if the Quran is not mentioned straight away, it eventually will be.
17) And by the night and whatever it gathers in its darkness
The word wasaq is that which gathers and envelops everything inside of it. This is a progression from the previous verse as you know that when the red of sunset appears, the night is on its way and it is unavoidable and will envelop everything.
18) And by the moon when it becomes full
The word tasaqq means to become full and complete. This verse also continues the theme of gradual inevitability as the moon also goes through phases until it becomes full. This is Allah (swt) letting us know that the clock is ticking and that time is passing by. Just like the previous verses describe how man is inevitably heading towards his Lord, these verses describes the sky inevitably becoming darker and red, turning into the night and the moon inevitably becoming full.
19) You shall certainly travel from stage to stage
The word rakab means to literally ride something like taking a ride on a camel or in a car and so Allah (swt) is informing us that we will ride from one stage to another. Consider when you exited your mother’s womb after nine months and grew to learn to crawl and then walk, talk and then become independent and learnt to make your own decisions. Man then proceeds to a stage where he is more powerful than his parents but ultimately ending up at a stage where he cannot even stand up straight. Just like every evening eventually leads to night and every half moon leads to a full moon, man will face the journey of death and meet his Lord and face what he did in this life.
20) So, what is the matter with them that they believe not?
So, why then do they not believe?
At the end of all this discourse we reach the concluding verses. When Allah (swt) talks about people having lost their iman or becoming corrupt He (swt) mentions that the heart has become hard. Here, Allah (swt) is asking what is wrong with man that he does not believe. In the previous surah in verse fourteen Allah (swt) has answered this question by telling us that rust has been placed on their hearts because of the sins they accrued which leaves them with no faith. Thus, iman resides in our hearts and is affected by our actions. The sky obeys, the earth obeys, so why does man not believe and obey?
21) And when the Qur’an is recited to them, they do not prostrate?
The basic meaning of this verse which is a verse of sajdah is that when the Quran is read to the disbelievers they do not prostrate. In the tradition of the Arabs and the ancient Egyptians there was a tradition of prostrating when people were overwhelmed and in awe of something. There is a lot of evidence of this in the Quran and in the seerah of the messenger (pbuh), take for example, the prostration to Yusuf (pbuh). Also in ancient Arab history there was a talented poet called Lubayd who when he recited his work saw poets prostrate to him and hang his poetry on the wall of the Kaaba. Thus, there is an established tradition of prostrating when hearing something overwhelming and powerful.
From this perspective Allah (swt) is calling onto them and asking what is wrong with them that they do not fall into sajdah when they hear the Quran, meaning they know it is so powerful and that they have not heard anything like it before yet still they do not give in and fall into sajdah, rather they hold themselves back. Furthermore, the disbelievers would veil and cut themselves off from the Quran so that they would not have to hear it. The punishment for this is mentioned in the previous surah in verse fifteen where Allah (swt) veils himself from them on the day of judgement.
Rather those who disbelieve are lying viciously against the Allah (swt), the messenger (pbuh) and whatever he brought, and the verses of the Quran that they know to be the truth. This is a continuation and culmination of what we found in detail in the previous surah.
23) And Allah knows best what they gather (of good and bad deeds)
The phrase ‘bi ma yoo’oon’ literally means when you amass and bag something. Linguistically this means that they hide what they do and conceal their intent. Their deeds are like rocks and pebbles that they gather and this bag is getting bigger and bigger yet they don’t know it but Allah (swt) knows best what they are gathering. In the previous surah we got a glimpse of what they were gathering when they slice off a bit of profit for themselves but Allah (swt) knows best what they are gathering for themselves.
This is a continuation of the style of the previous surah which ended with sarcasm where Allah (swt) asks whether the disbelievers got a good compensation for what they used to do. Similarly, this verse instructs to give them good news of and congratulate them on a painful punishment. This is a warning to these criminals that if nothing has caused them to change after all these points for reflection have been given then punishment is the only suitable reward for them and the only thing left to give them is a sarcastic comment about the hereafter just like they have been sarcastic.
25) Except for those who believe and do righteous deeds, for them is a reward that will never end
The il-la here illustrates that as harsh as these words are there is still hope for those who correct themselves. The rough translation of ghayru mamnoon is that they will have an uninterrupted reward (ajr). In Arabic mann means to cut something and mamnoon means that which is cut, thus, ghayru mamnoon means that which will not be cut. Another offshoot from this is the word maneen which has been described as dust as it cuts and separates itself off from the ground. Thus, ghayru mamnoon is a reward which they will not be separated from. Another meaning of mann is to impose a favour on someone, for example, when someone does you a favour and then reminds you of it so that you can give him credit for it. Allah (swt) will give them this favour and not impose it on them and the believers will credit no one for it but Allah (swt) as it is from no one else but Him.
This final verse is the qualifying statement to the verses at the beginning of this surah i.e. when the sky is cracked open you can give them good news of a painful punishment. The central verse of this surah was verse six where man is told that he is working diligently towards his Lord and will get to meet him and the consequences of his deeds. These consequences are either the painful punishment or the reward that does not end.