85: Al Burooj

Tafseer Surah Al-Burooj

 

In Juzz Amma we have seen a number of surah’s which mention the sky in both the beginning of it and within it and in the main it has been mentioned in the context of the destruction of the sky. The theme of the previous surah was inevitability and included the inevitability of the destruction of the sky. This destruction occurs in the future and this is a consistent theme when discussing the sky in the majority of the preceding surahs. This surah however is the study of the present and of what has already occurred in the past.

 

85:1

1) By the sky/heaven that possesses large stars

Allah (swt) begins this surah by swearing by the sky. There are a number of reasons why oaths are taken in the Quran. One such reason is to highlight the importance of something so for example when Allah (swt) swears by the sun we are informed that this is no small creation. An oath is also an expression of anger and is additionally used to make something more believable. In classical Arabic there is a further function which is to take whatever Allah (swt) swears by and to make it a witness. For example, if I were to swear by someone it means that I have brought this person forward as a witness for what I am about to say. Thus, when Allah (swt) swears by the sky he has made it a witness. What the sky is a witness to will be determined later on.

The word dhaat in Arabic illustrates possession and so the sky possesses the Burooj. Burj is the plural of burooj and is a tower or a fort and is generally anything that is high and makes a person have to look up at it. Large stars in the night sky are also called burj. The ancient peoples had a field of knowledge called the ‘ulum an-nujoom – the knowledge of stars akin to horoscopes today. They believed that the sky was divided into twelve areas and each section was a burj (bear in mind this ‘knowledge’ was from jahilliya and not Islam). The majority opinion amongst the ulema is that these are large stars in the sky. In previous surahs we found the words nujoom and kawakib used to refer to stars but burooj is specifically mentioned here. By using the word burooj we are told that the sky is full of forts and forts typically have solders within them. In this case, the soldiers are angels that are positioned in military posts all over the universe. Through the depiction of these large stars Allah (swt) is helping us visualise the forts full of angels that are stationed in the sky. A day is coming when they will be called to duty and leave these forts and come down from the sky in rows upon rows (mentioned in Surah Al Fajr 89:22).

It has also been commented that this is a continuation of the discussion on the polytheists’ argument that alleged that the Quran was not the word of Allah (swt) but of shayateen who would receive this information from the sky and relay it to the Messenger (pbuh). Just as this was rebutted in Surah At-Takwir (verse 22) we are told in this surah of the forts in the sky holding angels that fire missiles at the shayateen preventing them from getting past and thus as the sky is protected the revelation too is protected.

In today’s age there is much to distract people from the stars in the sky from pollution to skyscrapers to background light from streetlights etc. The desert Arab surrounded by a wide expanse of desert however sees a stellar display of stars with nothing to distract his attention from them. Imagine the desert Arab therefore who is bombarded by the night stars, a key feature of his habitat and life, being reminded over and over in the verses of the Quran of the impending destruction of the sky.

These stars and verses become reminders for man letting him know that it’s destruction is due especially when they vanish from view in the day or when they twinkle and move between shining brightly and fading.

 

85:2
 2) And by the day which is promised

And by the Promised Day

Allah (swt) takes a second oath with this verse and swears by the promised day, the day that he has been promising over and over in the previous surahs. The previous surahs covered in Juzz Amma have had discussions on the crimes of the disbelievers. In Surah Naba it was ridiculing the concept of the hereafter. In Surah Takwir there was the crime of calling the Messenger (pbuh) insane, of declaring the Quran other than the revelation of Allah and of killing infants. There was also the crime of the businessmen in Mutaffifeen who cheated for small gains. This disbeliever does not mind when the discussion is focused on the sky or on past nations, as this does not affect him. However, when the verses expose the crimes and actions of the Quraysh they become incensed.

The response of the Quraysh was to engage in the character assassination of the Messenger (pbuh). They created a hate campaign, slandered him and lied against him, labeling him insane and a magician amongst other things. They also ridiculed him and the companions for their beliefs and mocked Islam and tried to project Islam as being a danger to society. However, the Muslims were not deterred and actually increased in their efforts to expose and denounce the evils ways of the disbelievers whose oppression had subdued society into accepting it. This resulted in the Quraysh themselves being discredited. When the Muslims did not relent and could not be silenced from striving for justice their anger grew and the disbelievers resorted to outright hysterical oppression and torture. This is what the Quraysh did and what Fir’aun did before them.

The Muslims of Mecca were weak and did not have an army as they did not have many people at their disposal and of the people they did have many were young children like Ali (ra), women, the elderly, non-Arabs who were immigrants in Mecca and slaves. All these people who were weak and not protected by tribal affiliations were subject to persecution. In this surah Allah (swt) announces his support to the believer. Allah (swt) announces that His military angels stationed in the Burooj are at the ready to support the Muslims. So the oppressed Muslim should not think he is alone and defenceless as Allah (swt) has arranged support for him in the sky and has sworn by it and made the angels a witness to it and to what is going on on Earth and they will descend whenever Allah (swt) wills it (like at Badr). This is also a threat to the disbeliever. There is another threat issued in this verse that is even more devastating than this – the promised day – the Day of Judgement.

 

85:3
 3) By the witness and that which is witnessed

The word shahida means to bear witness and also means to be present before something. Another meaning of shahid is to be a helper as the best helpers are those that you do not need to call or summon, as they are already available by your side. Thus, the one who witnesses something is called a shahid and whatever he witnessed is called mash-hood. So, Allah (swt) in this verse swears by the witness and by that which has been witnessed. These two words can be considered a summary of our whole deen and almost the entire Makkan Quran and the agreement we have with Allah (swt) as shown in the following examples.

1 – The Day of Resurrection

The Day of Judgement is a day to be witnessed and we are the witnesses. All the previous surahs and verses that described the occurrences on the Day of Judgement such as the sky being torn up, the stars falling, the seas being set alight, the mountains moving away etc. are all mash-hood and things to be witnessed whilst we are the shahid – the witnesses.

2 – Creation of Allah

All the creations of Allah (swt) declare that there is no god but Allah (swt). Every creation of Allah is shahid (a witness) and it is the testimony of faith – laa illaaha illAllah (there is no god but Allah) that is being witnessed.

3 – Ruins of old Nations

The Arabs would travel a lot and would often pass by the ruins of old nations and by passing by and observing this they become shahid to it and the ruins they observed were the mash-hood. The previous nations that rebelled and were destroyed are also shahid and the ruins are mash-hood. Alternatively, the ruins themselves can be considered a witness to Allah’s (swt) justice and the mash-hood is the power and justice of Allah (swt)

4 – Allah is the Witness

Some of the salaf would say that Allah (swt) is Shahid and witnessing everything that we do and thus we are the mash-hood and the ones being watched by Allah (swt).

5 – Our deeds

In surah Infitaar we learnt of the angels that document the deeds of man and in doing so they are witnesses of what we do and whatever we do in terms of our actions is mash-hood.

6 – The Angels are witnessed

On the day of judgement we will see the angels descend in rows (Surah Al-Fajr 89:22) and we will be witnesses of them and they will become the witnessed and this is a reverse of the present roles described in point five.

7 – The Messenger of Allah

In surah At-Takwir we found that Allah’s Messenger is shahid (witness) to Jibreel (mash-hood) when he appeared on the clear horizon.

8 – Time is witness

In Surah ‘Asr, time is shahid and bears witness that humans are in loss and born witness to the endless struggle of man from the point of his birth to his death and his ultimate loss.

9 – Our Bodies

Similarly in the Quran we learn that our bodies will be a witness to its own actions in this life and then bear witness against itself on Judgement Day.

Till, when they reach it (Hell-fire), their hearing (ears) and their eyes, and their skins will testify against them as to what they used to do. (Fussilat 41:20)

10 – The Messenger of Allah is a witness against his Own Ummah/Nation 

Abdullah bin Mas`ud said, “The Messenger of Allah said to me, `Recite to me.’ I said, `O Messenger of Allah! Should I recite (the Qur’an) to you, while it was revealed to you’ He said, `Yes, for I like to hear it from other people.’ I recited Surah An-Nisa’ until I reached this Ayah, So how (will it be) when We bring from every nation a witness and we bring you, (O Muhammad) against these (people) as a witness? (An-Nisa 4:41). He then said, ‘hasbuk’, `Stop now.’ I found that his eyes were filled with tears.”

The messenger (pbuh) is told that he has to be a witness against his ummah which saddened him to the point of tears. His testimony is of two kinds. The first is shafa’ah, which is his intercession for this ummah from the hellfire, and in the second the Messenger (pbuh) will say, My Lord, this nation of mine took hold of this Qur’an and then left it. (Furqan 25:30). These are two types of testimony and types of shahada of the messenger (pbuh) and we and our actions and legacy are the mash-hood. So the Messenger of Allah will be a witness on that Final Day.

Surely We have sent you as a Messenger, a witness, a giver of good news and a warner (Surah Ahzab 33:45).

11 – This ummah is a witness

This ummah is also a witness and what will we be a witness to? We will be witnesses to the truth of Islam and to the truthfulness of the conveyance of the message from the Messenger (pbuh).

12 – Jesus will be a witness

The true followers of Esa (Al-Hawariyoon) were weak and oppressed and when they made the commitment to follow him they asked him to be a witness before Allah (swt) that they were Muslims and that they had submitted to Allah (swt). However, the ummah of Esa (pbuh) over generations has ultimately gone astray because they started worshipping him instead of the One who created them. In the Quran we find that when the ummah of Muhammad (pbuh) speak to the people of the book they are told to say ‘wash-had bi anna muslimoon – Bear witness that we are Muslims’ (Al Imran 3:125). They told Esa (pbuh) to bear witness that they are Muslims and now we are told to tell them to testify on the Day of Judgement that we at least are Muslims and have submitted as they failed in their duty.

A beautiful dua for those who followed the messengers in tough times and in our times for those who remain on the missions of the messengers, may Allah make us from them, is fa-ktubna ma’ash-shahideenOh our Master, we believe what you have sent down, and we follow the Messenger, so write us down with those who bear witness (Al Imran 3:53). We want to be amongst those who bear witness from amongst humanity by having fulfilled our roles as Muslims and of living up to the mission of Islam.

13 – The Disbelievers bear witness against their own Disbelief

Throughout time the disbelievers testify against themselves with pride and through their disbelief.

It is not for the polytheists to maintain the mosques of Allah (while) witnessing against themselves with disbelief. (For) those, their deeds have become worthless, and in the Fire they will abide eternally (Tawba 9:17).

14 – Allah is a witness to the completion of the conveyance of the Message of His final Prophet

In his final address to the Muslims when on Hajj, the messenger (pbuh) was nervous as he was aware that he was the last messenger and that there is no one else to follow after him. The ummah of every messenger ultimately ended up practising shirk and was thus followed by another messenger to guide people back to the straight path once more. However, there was no one to follow the final messenger and so his is stricken with grief and concern for his ummah when giving this address that they may go astray after him. Thus, he made sure that he covered himself when he pointed to the sky and said Allahuma ash-had (Oh Allah bear witness), and he repeated this, beseeching that Allah (swt) bears witness that he did his job.

15 – The Day of Friday and ‘Arafah

In large the numbers the companions had an opinion (in a mursal hadeeth) that the day of Friday bears witness to our attendance and confirms our shahada. The day of Arafat happens once a year and just like Friday prayers can only be offered at the masjid, the day of Arafat can only be witnessed at Arafat. So, Friday is shahid and the Day of Arafat is mash-hood because it is not just a time but also a place. This is unlike the day of Friday which comes to you, but you have to go to and witness the Day of ‘Arafah yourself during Hajj.

Even the oaths mentioned in this surah are a shahid and mash-hood. In the context of this surah the first verse is shahid and the second is mash-hood. The sky with the stellar stars and full of the forts of angels is a witness to what is going on in the earth and that which will be witnessed is the day that has been promised. Shahid is a culmination of the first verse and mash-hood is a culmination of the second and they are tied together. Oaths in the Quran have to have a response but sometimes when you swear it is obvious what you are talking about, for example, if your children are making a lot of noise all you need to say is ‘I swear!’ and they get the message. Allah (swt) has already mentioned and promised the Day of Judgement several times throughout Juzz Amma and so when Allah (swt) swears in this surah it does not have to be mentioned again as it is obvious that the promised day is what Allah (swt) is swearing by. So, the oath is evidence in itself and does not need further elaboration.

Some have argued that the next verse is the response to the oath but that is not a strong opinion when you consider the language. To be considered a response to an oath ‘la’ meaning ‘surely’ is ordinarily mentioned at the beginning of the oath (e.g. verse nineteen in surah Inshiqaq). However, there is no ‘la’ at the beginning of this ayah, so it seems that ayah is not a response to the oath. Some grammarians have alternately argued that the response to the oath comes further down in the surah in verse twelve but this is also not a strong opinion as normally the response is next to the oath. This is also common in normal speech. You don’t swear and take an oath on something and then start talking about something else only to return to the discussion on the oath. Thus, the strongest opinion from a language point of view is that the response to the oath is implied and understood and that we will all have to present what we have earned on the Day of Judgement.

 

85:4
 4) May the people of the ditch be destroyed

Cursed are the companions of the ditch

Allah (swt) now changes the subject. The Muslims of our ummah are not the first to be tortured, oppressed, ridiculed or killed. Allah (swt) speaks of a people from the past. There is a hadeeth which details this story and in summary it speaks of a young boy (a Ghulam is a boy who has newly started to grow a slight moustache) who guided by another Muslim defied the ruler and his magician who had taught the boy magic and began to preach justice. Allah (swt) gave this boy many miracles (karamat) to prove his truthfulness. One miracle that he had was that he couldn’t be killed by anyone, unless he was killed by uttering the words ‘In the Name of the Lord of the boy’. So the king gathered the people together to show this boys ending. The king said; ‘In the Name of the Lord of the Boy’ and then shot an arrow at him, killing him. The people were amazed at the sacrifice of this boy and what they had witnessed. The king who claimed to be a god called on ‘the Lord of the Boy’ to kill him acknowledging there was a greater authority than him. The people realizing that the king was a fake god and that the boy used to invite people to the worship of the one true god declared their faith in Allah (swt). In doing so they went against what the king had expected as he assumed everyone would return to being subservient to him. The king became angry and so he and his men dug a ditch and threw all the believing men and women of the town into the trench and burnt them alive.

Qutila is a passive verb in the past tense which literally means he was killed but in Arabic language sometimes these words are not used to speak literally but to curse, for example, the phrase ‘Qutila fulan’ is to say ‘May that man be killed/I hope so and so gets killed’. In this verse Allah (swt) is sending a curse on a particular group of people called the people of Ukhdood. The word ukhdood describes a rectangular shaped ditch in the earth that is dug and is quite deep and large. Its commented that this verse is not just talking about the people of the ditch but this crime of genocide, mass murders and mass graves is also happening today so this is not ancient history but an ancient practice.

A sahib is a companion who accompanies you in space and time and has lived amongst you and is known to you. It implies closeness and affiliation and is why those closest to the Messenger (pbuh) and who accompanied him by his side are called thus. A sahib of the Quran is someone who is always reading and talking about the Quran. This verse refers to the companions of the ditch. A person is often remembered for a hideous crime they may have committed. For example, the name Nazi conjures the image of the Holocaust which in turn reminds one of their crimes. Thus, the people in this verse will be forever remembered by their crime. A parallel is drawn between the reality of this world and the next where the companions of the ditch will still be companions but this time in the hellfire. Allah (swt) says may the people of the ditch be destroyed not just for the ditch they have dug for the believers but for the ditch they have dug for themselves, not just the fire lit for the believers but for the fire they have lit for themselves.

The hadeeth mentioned here is connected to these verses for two reasons. Firstly, there is a narration where the Messenger (pbuh) narrated this hadeeth and at the end of it he recited these verses. The second reason is due to the fact that the wording of the hadeeth is similar to the wording in these verses ‘fa khada ukhdoodan’ (he had trenches dug), ‘fa ja’ala yulqeehim fee tilqil ukhdood’ (then he started placing them in those ditches). Thus, it’s believed that the hadeeth mentioned is related to the same events being described in surah al Burooj.

 

85:5

5) Of fire fed with fuel

These criminals have placed believers in a ditch filled with fire and it is fire that is possessive of fuel, things used to excite flames. The word waqood means to kindle so the fire was kindled with fuel to keep the flames alight. The same people who are destroying the believers in a ditch of fire, Allah (swt) will destroy in the fire of hell. They will become the fuel for that fire; thus, their crime of setting people alight with fuel will be their ultimate fate in the next life.

 

85:6
 6) When they sat by it (the fire)

It’s narrated that the last of those to enter the fire was a mother with her baby. When she was reluctant to enter the fire with her baby the baby was given the ability to speak and told her that she was on the truth and so she jumped in. It typically takes two types of soldiers to carry out brutal crimes like these. The first type is the reluctant soldier who would rather not but follows the orders of his superiors out of fear. The second soldier enjoys perpetrating this act. In this verse we learn that the latter are the worst and cruelest kinds of people. The word juloos in Arabic means to sit for a short while whereas qu’ood means to sit for a long period of time. At the very brink of the ditch they would find themselves a seat and watch these people being forced into the fire and set alight. In the previous surah we learnt of the people handed their book behind their back asking to be killed and then thrown into the fire so that their pain and torment can be limited. The pain they caused the believers pales in comparison to what Allah (swt) has planned for them.

 

85:7
 7) And they witnessed what they were doing against the believers

Watching what they did to the believers

The word ‘aml is to perform an action with intention like reading a book whereas fi’l is to perform an action without thinking such as blinking or breathing. By using the word yaf’aloon Allah (swt) informs us that these people did not think twice about perpetrating their evil crime on the believers. The normal Arabic construction of this verse would be rendered: ‘wa hum shuhoodun ‘ala ma yaf’aloona bil mu’mineen’ – ‘and they were witnesses over what they did with the believers’. By placing the words ”ala maa yaf’aloon’ – ‘over what they did’ earlier in the normal accepted sentence structure emphasis is given to the fact that they were especially aware of what they had done to the believers as they were present the whole time sitting and watching. For example, when you see something such as an accident out of the blue whilst walking you will be able to recall parts of it, as it was unexpected. Yet, when you select a seat and settle down to enjoy something then surely you become an excellent witnesses.

So, Allah (swt) has made them a most thorough witness of their own crime and needs the testimony of no one else. In many cases in court the accused will proclaim his innocence which means the prosecution has to find and summon witnesses who may have only seen some of the events and have only sketchy details. However, in this case Allah (swt) will make the criminals themselves testify. Shuhood is the plural of shahid and these disbelievers will bear witness against themselves and their crimes (the mash-hood).

 

85:8

8) They took vengeance on them for no reason other than that they believed in Allah, the Almighty, to whom all praise is due

The word niqma comes from the verb naqama and is something, whether it is good or bad, that one is personally disgusted by. Allah (swt) asks what it was that filled the disbelievers with such disgust and intolerance of the believers. Naqam also refers to the urge to want to hurt someone for an offence they’ve caused you; an offence that is trivial or was not intended to be offensive. Thus, before the disbelievers even got to the stage of genocide against the believers, the mere fact that they believed was enough for them to be disgusted and offended. Yet, it was not the belief in Allah (swt) alone that made them hated but also their acknowledgement of two powerful names of Allah (swt) in this verse – Al Aziz and Al Hameed.

The word aziz comes from ‘izzah which means authority, so the believers did not just believe in a God but a God with authority which means that they acknowledged that Allah (swt) alone has ultimate authority and legislates for His slaves. This made the king and the oppressors thoroughly angry because he wanted to establish his own authority over everyone. This is similar to Pharaoh proclaiming that he was the highest Lord in Surah Nazi’at.

Hamd consists of both gratitude (shukr) and praise (thanaa). So the believers recognised that Allah (swt) is their Master who bestowed innumerable favours upon them yet man has done nothing in return to show his gratitude. The least he can do is believe in Him, acknowledge His authority and out of hamd of Allah (swt) accept His authority. Hamd precedes Rabb in Surah Al-Fatiha stressing the importance of thanking Him and recognising and appreciating all His favours upon us without asking us to pay for them. Muslims oft recite ‘innaa lillah’ (we are Allah’s property),  ‘wa inna alayhi raji’un’ (and surely to Him we will return – Surah al Baqarah) acknowledging that Allah (swt) is our Master and has complete ownership and control of us. Thus, we say al-Hamdulillah as we appreciate His Authority.

The use of the word naqamu in the past tense and yu’minoo in the present highlights that when saying ‘believe’ in the present tense continuity is being implied and that the believers held onto their faith despite facing considerable hardship as a result. Furthermore, it was their firmness on this path that led to the disbelievers detest in them.

 

85:9

9) To whom belongs the dominion/kingdom of the heavens and the earth. And Allah is Witness over everything

Mulk means sovereignty and is different to milk which more often means ownership. The surah started with the mention of the sky and Allah’s army in the sky and then continued by mentioning the people of the ditch on earth. Allah (swt) is both the sovereign in the sky and in the earth and His authority over all is complete. By placing lahu earlier in the ayah exclusivity is implied in that the skies and the earth belongs only to Him. If it was placed at the end of the ayah and not at the beginning it would also imply that it belongs to Him but not only to Him and suggests ownership by others in addition.

When you are sovereign over something that means that no one can question what you do. A sovereign nation is one that has authority within its borders and no other nation can question its rule. Similarly, sovereign rulers from ancient times had absolute authority over their people.  Allah (swt) tells us here that sovereignty and absolute authority belongs to Him.

The real problem in iman for people is not merely belief in a creator that created the universe which is easy for many but is in giving sovereignty to Him and in giving complete rightful authority to Him. Allah (swt) makes the rules and man has to follow them without question. The root of this absolute authority is due to His milkiyyah (ownership) of the skies and the Earth and his complete sovereignty over it.

In the last part of this verse in a normal Arabic sentence it would be said ‘wallahu shaheedun ‘ala kulli shay’’
(and Allah is witness over everything). However, here it is said ‘wallahu ‘ala kulli shay’in shaheed’ which adds emphasis to the fact that Allah (swt) is witness to everything i.e. ‘over EVERYTHING! He is a witness’. ‘Everything’ (kulli shay’) being placed earlier in the sentence emphasises the fact that He really is a witness over everything and elevates its status in the speech. In regards to every single thing in our imagination that we can possibly contemplate, Allah (swt) has been witness to it all along.

We have seen a series of witnesses in this surah; the sky was a witness and then the angels were witnesses in their forts. Then the oppressors were witnesses and finally we learn that Allah (swt) is the perfect witness and shaheed over everything and everything being watched is mash-hood. Thus, It is not possible for anyone to commit sins and think they have got away with it. These people who are oppressing the innocent are not hidden from Allah’s sight. He will soon punish them for their evil. This theme of witnessing and being witnessed always reminds us of our actions and their consequences on Judgement Day.

 

85:10

10) Indeed those who persecuted the believing men and women and do not then repent, shall suffer the punishment of hell and the punishment of burning

Inna adds certainty to a statement and in classical Arabic removes doubt and in this verse is used to address two groups of people. The first are the sinners engaged in this crime, those that are skeptical of what is being promised, and the use of inna is to eliminate the doubt from their minds. The second group being addressed is the Muslims that are being oppressed. When people are oppressed they may begin to question why this is happening to them and where Allah’s help is. As a result doubt can start to creep into their minds and it is this doubt that Allah (swt) seeks to address by using inna.

The word fatana in Arabic literally means to place a metal such as gold into a furnace to extract the pure metal and can be considered a painful process of purification. Fitnah is a situation where you are tested and your feet are literally placed into fire to see how committed you are to iman. It is consistently used in the Quran when the test is something that will take you away from your mission in Islam through either oppression or fear, or a temptation or greed. In the case of this surah it is testing your commitment to deen through oppression and the use of fear tactics. Imagine how those who pass this test and become purified from evil and come out as pure gold.

The believers are mentioned here in the noun form to indicate that they were firm and committed in their belief even after their trials and so the permanent form of language is used to describe them. Allah (swt) calls those believers who are firm in belief even after fitnah, Mu’minoon. In the Quran when Allah (swt) speaks of al-mu’minoon it is completely different to how He speaks of aladheena aamanoo. The verbal form is used to indicate that these Muslims are committed but not at the same level and have not proven their firmness through facing such trials. Allah (swt) never criticises the former group but does criticise and scold the latter on some occasions in the Quran. When you see people going through oppression you feel sorry for them but Allah (swt) has given them the greatest gift of all by removing doubt and calling them mu’minoon. The women are mentioned separately to the men here as when a group is oppressed the easiest to be oppressed are women and so this has been highlighted to inform us that even they came under the scrutiny of oppression and remained firm.

The word thumma means not only thereafter but also means after a long period of time. So, the perpetrator of this crime lived for another forty years after it and lived it without making repentance. Jahannam is not originally an Arabic word and comes from the Faarsi word Jahnaam which means torture chamber. Jahannam is the word used for hellfire and is also the umbrella term for all of the punishments and torture in hellfire. Allah (swt) does not only say they have the punishment of jahannam but also of hareeq. Haraqa in Arabic is to set something on fire and hareeq is that which sets things on fire. There is a difference between something burning and something being set on fire. You could burn toast but that does not necessarily mean you set it on fire. Being set on fire is far worse than being burnt and these people are not just being burnt but they are being set on fire and this is an appropriate punishment for them as they set the believers on fire. Also, when something is set on fire it is done so by using fuel of some sort, however, these disbelievers in this case are themselves the fuel.

 

85:11
 11) Indeed, those who have believed and done righteous deeds will have gardens beneath which rivers flow. That is the great success

In simple English ‘fa’ means therefore or then as a result of, meaning that in the previous verse the punishment of the disbelievers is a result of the crimes they committed. Notice, in this verse that for those who believe and do righteous deeds there is no ‘fa’. This is because nobody gets jannah as a result of his or her good deeds but only through the mercy of Allah (swt). Allah (swt) is merciful by covering and forgiving our sins and multiplying our good deeds. Hence, it is a gift and mercy from Allah (swt).

The phrase ‘jannaatun tajree min tahtiha al anhaar’ appears over and over in the Quran and is commonly translated as ‘gardens underneath which rivers flow’ but so much is lost in translation. Jannaat is the plural of Jannah which is a lush garden dense and covered with plants and greenery to the extent that the soil cannot be seen.

People by nature work hard all their lives on a small salary with one simple goal in mind – to be able to own their own home. Almost all people admire amazing homes when they pass by them and long for the day they can afford one and especially one with a nice garden. A step further are homes that have a waterside view, that are a short walk away from the beach or overlook a river to the extent that the affluent will simulate flowing water by building a pool or Jacuzzi. This is the type of dream every person has. So Allah (swt) gives the believers what they really, truly desire but only if they sincerely strive for it. The preposition ‘min’ here illustrates origin in that the flowing (tajree) river does not just pass by one’s home but originates from there. Furthermore, there is not just one waterfall turning into a river but multiple rivers flowing from your garden as indicated from the plural.

In the Quran when fawz is used it is used with three adjectives: fawz ul-mubeen (clear success), 
fawz ul-kabeer (huge success) and fawz ul-azeem (great success). Out of all three fawz ul-azeem is the greatest and wherever this is mentioned in the Quran more detail about jannah is told. When slightly less is told such as in this verse it is fawz ul-kabeer but still huge success and when fawz ul-mubeen is mentioned it refers to the least out of the three and is in reference, for example, to the one who is turned away from jannah and earned Allah’s mercy and even this is clearly success. This shows us that there are many degrees of success (fawz) and in this surah we are discussing believers that went through a tougher trial than those in the previous surah.

 

85:12
 12) Surely the grip of your Master (O Muhammad) is severe

Stern indeed is your Master’s vengeance (O Muhammad)

Allah (swt) in the previous verses informs us that the believers who were oppressed will get justice and instructs those who continue to believe even though they are oppressed to focus on their reward of a beautiful garden with flowing rivers. Even though the Messenger (pbuh) who is the shepherd of this ummah is aware that the ultimate reward of his followers who are being tortured and oppressed is paradise, he still feels pain and concern. So, Allah (swt) turns away from the discourse of believers and disbelievers and turns to the messenger (pbuh) and gives him counsel. The word battsha means to seize and grip someone who is weaker than you and who is unable to break free and then to continue squeezing them tighter. The word shadeed comes from shidda which means to tie something up, to knot it over and over and then to finally pull it forcefully to tighten it. Allah (swt) informs the messenger (swt) that the seizing of his Master is extremely tight and intense and that He is extremely powerful when it comes to punishing the oppressors. Thus, the disbeliever in his state of authority and power would seize the believers and physically harm them but the Messenger (pbuh) is told to visualise the gripping and seizure of his Master (rabbi-ka) who is watching and has the power to exact revenge even now if He wants.

 

85:13
 13) Surely it is He Who begins and repeats (the creation)

Allah (swt) strongly emphasises that ‘He’ mentioned thrice will bring back to life the believers and disbelievers. It was Allah (swt) who brought the believers into this world the first time round and the disbelievers are mistaken in thinking that the believers will just die. The kuffar who think they have free rein on this world will also be brought back. Thus, the One who originated everyone will repeat the creation and bring all back to life on Judgement Day.

 

85:14

14) He is the Forgiving, the Loving

This surah is about recognising the next life through Allah’s names and through His power and in this verse Allah (swt) now addresses everybody and gives two further names. Many people who believe in a Creator sometimes wonder how He can let so much oppression and tyranny exist and doubt can creep into the believer’s mind. Yet, we learn that Allah (swt) is al Ghafoor, the forgiving, and perhaps that same oppression will provide the believers a path to paradise. Allah (swt) is also willing to forgive those who oppressed providing they repent and stop oppressing the Muslims. Al Wadood is the One who loves intensely and passionately. This word is important as the surah describes a lot of oppression and the first thing you can lose sight of when you are being oppressed and experiencing a bad time is Allah’s love. The believer may think that Allah (swt) does not love them. So, Allah (swt) reminds the believers that He forgives and loves intensely.

 

85:15

15) Owner of the Throne, Glorious, 

One can feel especially fortunate when he receives the love of someone who is of a higher rank than himself and Allah (swt) is the one with the highest possible nobility. The theme of possession runs through this surah. We have seen that the sky possesses the burooj and that the fire possesses fuel. In this verse we learn that our Rabb possesses the mighty throne, the ‘arsh. The word ‘arsh means roof and thus the roof of all creation is known as Allah’s throne. The word majeed means to be great in nobility and class.

 

85:16

16) Doer of what He wills

Allah (swt) informs us that conditions cannot be put on Him and it is not up to man to determine when Allah helps and question why he does not. Allah (swt) does whatever He wants over and over again and as much as He loves man you cannot put conditions on Allah (swt) and determine what he can and cannot do. You can beg Him but He does what He wills without anyone controlling Him.

 

85:17
 17) Has the story of the armies come to you (O Muhammad)?

Allah’s Messenger is being addressed here and he is asked ‘Has news of the army come to you?’ The Quran addresses multiple perspectives simultaneously and it is important that to note that when the messenger recites these verses he knows that he is being spoken to, however, non-Muslims are also listening and this causes an alert. The Arabs were always concerned about attacks from other tribes. Asking whether news of an army had reached them would cause alarm and grab their attention. The word hadeeth is used to narrate something that is so old but when you are reminded of it, it sounds like it is new and you are hearing it for the first time such is its relevance. The word jaysh means an army that has ordinary civilians fighting amongst its ranks whereas jund is a well organised, trained and paid army and refers to a powerful army.

 

85:18
 18) Of Pharaoh and Thamood?

There have been two powerful armies mentioned in this surah thus far. The angels in their forts in the sky and the companions of the ditch who had power over the people they oppressed. There are a further two armies mentioned in this verse and these are two of the most oppressive nations highlighted the most in the Quran, the armies of Fir’aun and Thamood. Pharaoh was called the possessor of camps, as his massive army would be encamped in tents. Thamood had a powerful army with great competency in construction and Allah (swt) has described in the Quran how these two nations were destroyed. These two nations are important because the Arabs already knew about them and would literally pass by the ruins of Thamood. The ruins themselves were immense and gave an indication of the power this tribe once had. Similarly, the people of the book knew Fir’aun.

Allah (swt) puts the disbelievers in their place by comparing their power to that of the nations of Fir’aun and Thamood. Allah destroyed Pharaoh with water, and Thamood with a powerful sound/earthquake, both with no special arrangements or army required. The Quraysh did not have a great army or big homes and monuments but were in fact a cluster of Bedouin Arabs. Despite knowing how pathetic they are compared to the nations Allah (swt) has already destroyed they still did not take heed and settle down.

 

85:19
 19) Yet the disbelievers persist in their denial (of the truth)

Allah (swt) is amazed at the arrogance of the disbelievers and turns back to His Messenger. In the previous surah the disbelievers deliberately lied against the messenger and the truth but here Allah (swt) says that they are drowning and immersed in this state of lying. The fact that they reject the message is not because there is a deficiency in it or because you (the messenger) have not executed your job well but because they have already drowned and become stuck in their disbelief.

 

85:20

20) And Allah encompasses them on every side

The word waraa’ means in front of and behind and muheett means to encompass entirely. Thus, just like the disbelievers have engulfed themselves in lying against the truth, Allah (swt) has surrounded and engulfed them from all sides.

 

85:21

21) Nay, this is indeed a glorious Quran

Their rejection and ridicule of the Quran will never take away from its nobility. The Quran is glorified (majeed) just like the Creator who spoke it is glorified. Furthermore, the glorified words and pages of the Quran is enough to handle any criticism of the disbelievers.

 

85:22
 22) (Inscribed) In the preserved tablet

The believers are given the counsel that Allah (swt) has strength, but that the protection wasn’t given to them but to the Qur’an. The believers will never fail in their mission as the source of their belief is the Quran, the word of Allah (swt), protected in a tablet. Regardless of how much the believers are harmed the Quran can never be harmed. The crux of this surah is that the Quran is a means of strength and protection for an ummah that is oppressed when they believe in Allah (swt). If they hold onto the Quran they will find Allah’s help and support.

In Tajweed (the divinely inspired recital taught by the messenger) the recital style of the Qur’an and its content are preserved together. This is unique to the Qur’an and no other religious book has this. The recital style of this surah is Qalqalah up until the very last verse. Qalqalah affects the last letters of a word and includes letters like: ba, dal, qaf, and ttaa. When recited, they have an echo at the end of the word (almost as if an ‘a’ sound is bounced off the tongue at the end of the word making it sound like it continues). The qalqala theme continues throughout the surah, until it finally comes to an end on the last word of the surah (mahfoodh). So the style of pronunciation has come to an end just like the discourse of the surah has come to and end.

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