Tafseer Surah Al-A’la
Surah Al-A’la was one of the favourite surahs of the prophet (saw). There are a number of surahs in the Quran called Al-Musabbihaat; these are the surahs that begin with the declaration of the perfection of Allah (‘azza wa jal). They either begin with:
1) Sabbaha lillahi – The perfection of Allah is being declared by all creations in the past tense (e.g. Surah As-Saff, Al-Hadeed, Al-Hashr)
2) Yusabbihu lillahi – The perfection of Allah is being declared by all creations in the present and future tense (e.g. Surah Al-Jum’ah, At-Taghabun).
3) Subhaana – The perfection of Allah is declared in the infinitive form, a permanent and timeless perfection in noun form (e.g. Surah Al-Israa’).
4) Sabbihi – A command to declare Allah’s perfection (e.g. Surah Al-A’la).
Of all the musabbihaat, this is the most beloved to the prophet (saw), for a number of reasons. One of them is evident in the sunnah itself in that he (saw) would love to recite this specific surah in every Jum’ah prayer and in both of the Eid prayers. In the last verse of Surah At-Tariq, Allah (swt) gave consolation to His messenger (saw) and a commandment to give respite to the disbelievers for a while. This was in the imperative form, a command addressing the prophet (saw). This indicates that the messenger (saw) was concerned about the planning and the activities of the disbelievers, which is why Allah is saying, ‘Let it go, let them have loose rein for a while.’ But now there is a transition and Allah (‘azza wa jal) has turned the messenger’s (saw) attention towards a different direction. If you are not to worry about the disbelievers then what should you be worried about instead?
1) Glorify the name of your Lord, the Most High
The messenger (saw) has been commanded to declare the perfection of the name of his Lord, the Most High. There are many narrations of the companions, including Ali (ra) that whenever he heard this ayah, he would say: ‘Subhana rabbi al-A’la (Glory to my Lord, the Most High).’ When the ayah ‘So exalt the name of your Lord, the Most Great’ (56:96) was revealed, the messenger (saw) commanded, ‘Put it in your
rukuu’ (bowing).’ Similarly, when the first ayah of Surah Al-A’la was revealed, he (saw) said, ‘Put it in your sujood (prostration).’
In this ayah, Allah (swt) mentions the word ism here and this is in beautiful contrast to the previous surah in which the style was to omit the name of Allah (swt), He didn’t want to mention it next to those arrogant kuffar. For example, in Surah at-Tariq, Allah (swt) states: ‘So let man observe from what he was created. He is created from gushing water’ (86:5-6). Allah didn’t say, ‘He created,’ but using the passive form He (swt) asked the human being to look carefully how he was created or what he was created from. Similarly, Allah (swt) omits His name when He says ‘The Day when all secrets will be exposed’. Even when the name of Allah (azza wa jal) or His mention occurs in the previous Surah, it occurs in the form of pronouns, which by definition have a form of ambiguity. For example, if I say, ‘He is something, something…’ you will wonder who ‘He’ is, unless I mention and identify him by name. An example of the use of pronouns came at the end where Allah (swt) did not say ‘Allah is making a plan’ but rather used ‘I’ instead: ‘And I (too) am planning a plan’ (86:16). Thus, surah At-Tariq has almost in its entirety omitted the name of Allah and in contrast this surah begins with His name thereby filling the void that was there.
The first word of this verse, sabbih, is a fi’il amr, which is the imperative command form and comes from the word tasbeeh. Tasbeeh is to declare or remember Allah with a certain profound remembrance that Allah Himself has taught. Tasbeeh comes from the word sibaaha, which means to swim. In Arabic, there are different words used for swimming, but this word in particular refers to a type of swimming where you don’t go under water and maintain your level above the water and is close to the concept of floating. When something floats it retains its level and refuses to go down. Thus, Allah (azza wa jal) is beyond any imperfections and is perfect and we are to not say anything about Him that brings that level down. Tasbeeh is to acknowledge His perfection in the things we say about Him. In simple English, thus, the meaning of word is to declare the perfection of or to retain that declaration.
Ordinarily when you say ‘sabbaha’ (the verb), you will find next to it the particle ‘bi’, for example, in Surah An-Nasr in verse three. In this Surah, however there is no ba and this is one of the few places in the Quran where tasbeeh is mentioned without the ‘ba’. By mentioning the ‘ba’, the meaning of the text becomes ‘Declare the perfection of Allah by using His names,’ and it refers to any of the authorized names of Allah. When you declare Allah’s perfection by calling Him, Al-Khaaliq or Al-Musawwir or Al-Hakeem, you are doing tasbeeh and dhikr with (bi) the name of your Lord. Linguistically, the implication of omitting the ‘with’ is to acknowledge the perfection of Allah and to maintain it. Furthermore, it is to not engage in any conversation or speech, to not entertain any thought that may bring down the status and level of Allah (swt). We live in a society that has established a culture of ridiculing God and religion and this has permeated itself into even cartoons watched by children and has fostered a culture of blasphemy. The idea that the message of Islam is not freedom but in fact slavery to Allah has been injected into popular entertainment culture and generations of people are subconsciously becoming affected and indoctrinated by these types of thoughts. We have to be that sensitive in our tawheed, so that when we hear something not befitting the perfection of Allah (swt), we do not accept or tolerate it. This is what is at the heart of this verse, making one sensitive to the perfection of Allah (swt).
Omitting the ‘ba’ also means to cleanse the name of your Master and the concept you have of Him, to only have a clean and pure thought of Him. Due to limitations in language we use the same words to describe man as we do to describe Allah (swt). For example, man sees and so does Allah (swt), however, what separates this quality from its application to Allah (swt) and any creation is understanding that any attribute given to Allah (swt) has no beginning or end. Allah’s sight has always been there and will always be there however the sight of man has not and is further limited by its inability to see within oneself or through walls, or see everything at once. Furthermore, our abilities are not owned by us but were in fact given to us and will be taken away from us. Be cognisant of the perfection of the name of your Lord, that when you mention Him, you are not found mentioning Him except that you are fearful of Him and acknowledge His grandeur with respect. Allah (swt) should only be named with and remembered by the names that He (swt) taught us as these have a beauty, nobility, and elevation to them, that Allah (swt) Himself has given.
Allah (swt) did not use his own name here but instead said rabbika and of course rabb is one of the names of Allah (swt). This is because at the heart of our relationship with Allah is the term rabb; He is Rabb and we are ‘abd. Rabb includes the one who has complete authority over you, the one who gives you gifts, the one who owns you, the one who has mastery over you. The opposite to master is slave and so there is a master/slave relationship here. Whenever you think of any of Allah’s names (e.g. The Creator, The Wise, The Knowledgeable, etc.), these are ultimately all names of our Master and describe a relationship with Him. For example, when you say Khaaliq (Creator), we are the makhlooq (that which has been created). Of all the relationships that Allah (swt) depicts in the Quran, the one that is constantly retained between Allah (swt) and us is Rabb. When people question why ill has happened to them it is because they have neglected the one fact that is at the heart of the matter. They have not accepted that He is their master and they are His slaves. The humility that comes with being a slave and the acknowledgement of a higher power must sink in when a believer makes dhikr of Allah (swt).
The word Al-A’la is placed at the end of this verse in a very picturesque manner and the majority say it is an adjective of Rabb and not of ism. In the previous Surah, we learnt of the piercing star very high in the sky and impressed as we are by it Allah (swt) directs us in this surah to someone that is even higher, something above all these things that man finds impressive. In the previous surah the disbelievers were actively engaged in making a plan to destroy and undermine the messenger of Allah’s (saw) mission (‘Indeed they are plotting a scheme’ 86:15). One of the benefits of mentioning this verse at the very beginning after the concluding remarks of the previous Surah is that Allah (swt) announces that he is Al A’la and far above anyone’s plan. Also in the previous Surah, the disbelievers alleged that the Quran was just casual talk and Allah (swt) refuted that allegation by saying: ‘And it is not a thing for amusement’ 86:14. To say the Quran is casual speech insults the speaker and reduces the perfection of Allah (swt) and so this surah commences with a refutation to declare the greatness of man’s supreme Lord the most High.
2) Who created and proportioned
In the previous Surah, the creation of man was mentioned but in the passive form. After beginning this surah in the active form and mentioning His name and his lordship the first thing we should know is that He created. Most of humanity acknowledge a divine being that created but refuse to accept that He is their Lord. They will refuse to make that leap and accept that they are enslaved to this higher power and that it has rights over them. Allah (swt) mentions first His name that establishes rights over us (rabbik) and then secondly His power to create is mentioned. There is no other rabb like Him and no other master has the power to create. All other masters at the most have the power to own and control but they themselves are created and are unable to create anything. Thus, Allah (swt) is unique because He created everything and then perfected and fashioned it.
Another two attributes of our Rabb are now given. It is said that the ‘waw’ connects this verse to the first verse, so, declare the perfection of your Lord who determined and then guided. Qaddara is to calculate and to have an exact and precise plan of action for something. For example, managing a successful building project requires exact calculation of how deep to dig, what materials to order, number of workers etc. We learn from a hadith that the taqdeer (planning) of the entire creation precedes the actual creation by fifty thousand years. Allah (swt) planned all of creation before its creation was executed. In human effort we know that the more you plan for something the better the end result when it comes out and when viewing the final product you are unable to see all the effort and planning that went into it. Allah (swt) planned everything out in its exact nature in advance from the point of creation to its cessation, from its qualities, implications and consequences and much more.
This ayah is general because Allah (swt) did not add a ‘ka’ (you) or any another object and thus it refers to everything in creation. The first thing that comes to mind is the human being and his creation and planning. Of all the human beings, the messenger of Allah (saw) was mentioned first in this surah (the ‘ka’ referred to the messenger). So, Allah (swt) created the messenger (pbuh) in intricate fashion planning every detail in his life. It was planned that he would live in Mecca for many years, would experience the sorrow and difficulty of being raised as an orphan until finally making contact with an angel. Allah (swt) perfectly created the prophet (saw) and planned for the day that he would receive the message. This ayah primarily refers to the prophet (saw) because we find his mention at the beginning of the surah and then it refers in general to everyone else.
Scholars say there are two types of hidaayah (guidance), the first being the guidance of creation and the second being the guidance of sharia. In terms of the guidance of creation this refers to the innate knowledge that the creation has with regards to what to do to perform the functions of its creation. For example, when a child comes out of his mother’s womb it knows exactly where to go for milk without any training from its mother. Similarly, the mother was not trained on how to produce milk for her child. This is all part of Allah’s infinite guidance that included planning the mechanisms of placing a child’s food in the chest of its mother and then preparing for it to come at the right time and then guiding the child to drink from her.
Now Allah (swt) gives an example of this creative process. In the previous surah Allah (swt) spoke of another type of khurooj (‘That comes out from between the loins and the ribs’ 86:7). In this verse Allah (swt) draws life out of the earth. Akhraja means to extract or pull out and mar’a comes from the verb ra’aa, which is to pasture in order to feed animals. Mar’a is a place of a lot of greenery where animals graze and is perfectly suited to sustain certain animals. Allah (swt) is referring to this as an example of his perfectly orchestrated and calculated plan where animals are provided for.
5) Then turns it to withered grass
And then makes it dark stubble
Ghuthaa’ comes from the word ghuthyaan, which literally means to be nauseous or to want to vomit. In general it has two meanings, either it is waste like dead, rotten leaves that naturally gather together or it is when plants that are not necessarily rubbish grow in a cluster next to each other. So, in an open field, ghuthaa’ would be parts of greenery clumped and clustered together. The verb hawaahu means to bring two things together and is also for something to become black and red at the same time. This has two implications, the first being the colour and texture that vegetables darken to when they mature. The second is when the vegetable becomes bad and turns from having merely some black colour to being overwhelmed by blackness.
There is a disagreement in the linguistics of this verse which has affected the interpretation of it. A great number of ulema consider this ayah to be talking about vegetation that switches from being ripe and wonderful to becoming rubbish. Allah (swt) is thus contrasting how He (swt) creates and then destroys that very same creation and creation in general; a few weeks ago it was mar’aa and now it is ghuthaa’an ahwaa. A lesser number of ulema disagree and say that this ayah is demonstrating the maturity of plants and how they bunch together. Depending on which of the two meanings you accept, the rest of the surah is impacted. If this ayah is talking about the best of the plantation subsequently being destroyed, then it is a comparison of the temporal, transient nature of this life and of how the joys of this life ultimately wither away. If it is referring to how plants mature, its implication in light of the following verse is that the messenger (saw) should not worry about forgetting the Quran and that its recitation will reach maturity and completion.
6) We will make you recite, (O Muhammad), and you shall not forget
The messenger (saw) is concerned that he might forget the Quran which was revealed to him and is also concerned that he will not live up to the demands of the revelation and the mission Allah (swt) has given him. The messenger (saw) was very conscious of the fact that he was carrying in his heart the message of salvation for the rest of humanity, for all generations to come. He (saw) had this enormous sense of responsibility and one of the things that was nerve-wrecking to him (saw) was the thought that he might forget even a piece of it. This concern occurs in three places of the Quran and this is the third of them.
Allah (azza wa jal) does not want the focus of His messenger (saw) to be on memorizing because that will distract him (saw) from what Allah deems more important. For example, when a student focuses on noting down everything his lecturer says he is not able to pay attention to the content of the lecture. Thus, Allah (swt) takes away the concern of the messenger (saw) and says, ‘We will make you recite’. The verb qara’a means to recite and aqra’a means to make someone else read. Part of the miracle of the messenger (saw) is that Allah (swt) gave him the ability to read. The ‘sa’ indicates the future so this refers to the surahs that are coming. If an alif makhsoora was not there the translation would have been rendered ‘do not forget’ and would forbid the messenger (saw) from forgetting and would become almost a concern and burden for him. With the alif makhsoora however the meaning is rendered a consolation. Allah (swt) is saying that the messenger (saw) will not forget and has taken on this responsibility Himself.
The Surah began with: ‘Declare the perfection of your Lord’. Many scholars commenting on the language of this ayah say that when the messenger of Allah (saw) acknowledges the beauty and perfection of Allah’s names, it starts to make his burden light. When he (saw) reflects on the creation in verses three to five and how everything has been created, precisely calculated and thoroughly planned it shows that Muhammad (saw) was no exception to this. Just like everything around him has been grown for a purpose and until it reaches it culmination so too will he be given the revelation until it reaches its completeness. Thus, the messenger (saw) has nothing to worry about as its planning is not in his hands but in the hands of Allah (swt).
Mashiya is a concrete decision and by using the word sha’a, Allah (swt) has let us know that even if the messenger (saw) forgets an ayah it is only because Allah (swt) willed it and planned for it to be forgotten. This was part of the plan all along and it’s not as others say inappropriately about Allah (swt) that, ‘He decided to change His mind.’ It would be inappropriate to say that about Allah (swt) and indeed this Surah begins with an instruction not to say inappropriate things about Allah (swt). So the surah began with this point and it is perfectly connected here. Some scholars are of the opinion that this verse is about abrogation in the Quran where certain instructions are in place for a specific time but not all times and when that verse’s purpose has been fulfilled it is lifted and removed from the memory of all people as maybe keeping that verse would be harmful for people. Thus, something better suited for the people is brought forth.
Most of the scholars agree this ayah is not about an ayah being forgotten altogether. Allah (swt) sometimes made His messenger (saw) forget verses from the Quran in salah and so the companions would remind him and ask him if the verse had been cancelled and the prophet (saw) would say, ‘No I forgot it.’ This illustrates that the messenger (saw) is in the end a human being. The messenger of Allah (swt) is far above us all in stature but still nowhere near Allah (swt) – ‘Glorify the name of your Lord the Most High’. Allah (swt) is beyond all imperfections and has no comparison and establishes His perfection and control over His messenger (saw). We dare not say anything inappropriate about the messenger (saw) but we need to understand that Allah (swt) is our Rabb and his Rabb. So just like Allah gave Muhammad (saw) the gift of the Quran, He shows that the power of this gift is His and it is Allah (swt) who guided Muhammad (saw) to it and might make him forget. This ayah also shows the innocence of the prophet (saw) and his purity. Those who claim to be free of sins, like saints in certain religions, in comparison to the messenger (saw) are never corrected. However, we know that the messenger (saw) is free of fault because if he errs Allah (swt) will correct him and that in itself is a guarantee that the messenger of Allah (saw) is on the correct path.
The particle ‘illa’ is used as an exception to something and the exception is normally minuscule and in this context implies that the forgetfulness will not be permanent and that what you forgot will come back to you and Allah (swt) will make you remember it again. So Allah (swt) is telling the messenger (saw) not to worry and let these thoughts that you might forget the Quran overwhelm you and that these exceptional cases will happen. This is why we don’t find thousands of narrations about the prophet (saw) forgetting the Quran and we literally find only a handful. In total there are 114 surahs and they were not all completed at once, verses from different surahs would come and the messenger (saw) would know which verse goes into which surah. For example, Surah Al-Baqarah was completed in twelve years beginning at the start of the Madinan period up until the end of it whilst in the meantime all of the Madani Quran is also being revealed. If you were to put this in perspective you would appreciate that finding only a few narrations about the prophet (saw) forgetting Quran is in itself a miracle. Indeed, when the prophet (saw) forgets an ayah, it is the fulfilment of the word of Allah, as He (swt) says in this verse ‘Except what Allah wills’.
Jahar is an activity that you do that everyone can see and the opposite of it is sirr, which is something secret. In the context of this verse Allah (swt) does not use the opposite of jahar (i.e. sirr) but instead uses khafiya. Khafiya is to hide something so well and for something to be so secretive that you don’t even know it exists whereas sirr, on the other hand, is a secret where the person may not know the secret but he at least knows that a secret exists. The word is perfectly appropriate here as when a verse has been made to be forgotten permanently from the messenger nobody will feel or have an inclination that there is something missing. Furthermore, jahr is a noun and yakhfa is a verb. Allah (swt) uses a noun to describe what is apparent and a verb for what is hidden as the verb is limited and the noun is unlimited. By describing what is hidden in this limited way means that only a few things will be hidden and forgotten and that Allah (swt) will eventually expose everything and will not remain hidden forever. The word innahu further emphasises that it is none other than Allah (swt) and no one else that truly has this knowledge. He (swt) knows what is declared and what is hidden and the parts of the Quran that are recited in the jahr, Allah (swt) knows, and that which has been hidden, He (swt) knew about them all along.
In Arabic, you would ordinarily say ‘nuyassirulaka’. The particle ‘la’ renders the meaning as ‘We will make easy for you’ which we also find in English. By omitting the ‘la’ the sentence is essentially rendered ‘We will make easy you’ which is not how this sentence would normally be structured. This is a rhetorical function of Arabic; you sometimes find prepositions used that are obvious in their placement and expected but if taken away, the meaning is nevertheless still clear. The function of taking the preposition away is to bring two words closer together (this is called taqreeb). The addition of a preposition effectively takes the words further apart. In the rhetoric of Arabic language using a preposition means that this ‘word’ demands to be farther away from that ‘word’, but when the words are close, so too are the concepts. Thus, Allah (swt) has brought Himself closer to His messenger (saw) out of love when He takes away the preposition. This is part of the beauty of the Quran and an expression of the love that Allah (swt) shows His messenger (saw).
In this verse Allah (swt) has guaranteed that the struggles of the messenger (saw) will be made miraculously easy for him by Allah’s intervention. Just as Allah (swt) took on the task of the Quran, which the messenger (saw) thought would be difficult for him to remember. The second struggle is his struggle in the dunya, the dawah and message he has to give. After consoling the messenger (saw) on the Quran, Allah (swt) guarantees that He will make ease for him (saw). When we look at the struggle of the prophet (saw), we see the most difficult struggle ever waged in human history but when you look at the relationship between Allah and His messenger (saw), Allah (swt) calls it ‘easy’. This is putting tawakkul (putting all one’s trust in Allah) in the messenger (saw), that no matter how tough things get, his refuge is this ayah.
One hadith used by mufassiroon as an explanation of this ayah is: ‘I have been sent with the hanifiyyah (legacy of Ibrahim (as), sole dedication to Allah) that has in it lots of relaxation, allowance, and very easy.’ In other words, the shariah (the regulations and commandments of Islam) will not be difficult and will be easy. Allah (swt) used the superlative yusra which means that when you start to live by the shariah, life will get easier and not harder. When a person starts following the ahkaam of Allah (swt), they may feel that life is getting harder, however, in actual fact Allah (swt) intends to make life easier for you, to ease your burden as the human being was created weak. The human being does not realize what will make life easy for him and may not appreciate the wisdom in shariah and that it leads to a state of ease. One other interpretation of the usage of the word yusra is that it is the path by which the memorization of revelation will become easier. When Allah (swt) intends to guide someone, He (swt) opens his chest for Islam (submission). When you submit to Allah’s commands you will find relaxation, and if you find relaxation that means Allah (swt) has intended for you to be guided. On the other hand, if you are from the unfortunate who when they obey Allah feel discomfort (their chest becomes tight as if he is losing his breath), then this is part of a curse upon those who don’t believe.
One of the core lessons of this Surah from the very beginning is the change in attitudes. Beginning with addressing one’s attitude of how they address Allah (swt) and subsequently removing the concern of the messenger (saw) in his ability to memorise the Quran and changing his attitude to his memorisation. In this verse Allah (swt) removes the concern the messenger (saw) had that the coming revelations would be difficult. Allah (swt) removes this concern too by saying it will be easy and that the path to it will be easy. When someone says that they will make something easy for you, the indication is that what came before was difficult and absence of divine guidance indeed does render one’s life difficult and unfulfilled. Islam and submission to Allah (swt) will facilitate for one to get to the ultimate ease.
After taking care of and removing the messenger’s private fears and concerns Allah (swt) instructs the messenger (swt) to, therefore after having heard this (fa), to get back to his mission and remind people (fadhakkir). Normally, you expect dhakkir to be followed by an object, for example, dhakkirni (remind me), dhakkirhu (remind him), dhakkir an-naas (remind the people) etc.; however here no object has been mentioned. In other words, the messenger (saw) is told that regardless of the situation and where he is, he should continuously engage in the act of reminding.
This is the second command and imperative form used in this Surah, the first one being sabbih, and in them both is a summary of the entire life of the messenger (saw). When he (saw) is not reminding the people, he is doing tasbeeh of Allah (swt) by for example standing in the middle of the night and declaring the perfection of His Lord, and then in the daytime he (saw) is out, delivering the reminder to the people.
In Arabic, this verse is a conditional statement. Had the word nafa’at been in the present tense the meaning would have been to remind, as maybe the reminder will have benefit and only Allah (swt) knows whether it will. By using the past tense the implication is to certainly remind, as there is definitely benefit in the reminder. When you give someone a reminder, their ego may prevent them from accepting what you are saying or maybe your message only sinks in once they have had time to process it. Thus, we should not judge people as they may accept what you are saying later and also their reluctance to accept your reminder should not deter one from talking to them. Allah (swt) has not given anyone the license to see inside anyone’s heart and so we cannot pick and choose who we spread Islam too. This reminder can benefit anyone, so much so that even Fir’aun is sent a reminder and no judgment is passed on him until he himself makes a decision.
Dhikran is the hyperbolised form of dhikr and is a powerful reminder. When a reminder is delivered it should be powerful and not weak and strong words that appeal to the audience should be used. Dhikran could be an alternative masdar (verbal noun) for three words and this word can carry the meaning of all three. Dhakara means to mention and if originating from this it means that just mentioning the reminder could be of benefit, if not to others than at least to you when you mention Allah’s name. Tadhakkara means to make an effort to remember and when you make an effort to remember Allah (swt) you will have benefit from it. Thirdly, dhakkara means to remind others and that activity itself will carry benefits whether you see the results of it or not. The messenger (saw) was told this, as he would get very upset when people would not listen to the message. In Surah Al Kahf Allah (swt) says ‘Then perhaps you would kill yourself through grief over them, (O Muhammad), if they do not believe in this message, (and) out of sorrow’ (18:6). However, Allah (swt) instructs him not to worry about anything else and to just remind.
10) He who fears (Allah) will be reminded
Tadhakkara means to make an effort to remember and the one who fears will make this effort. Allah (swt) said mun and not alladhi here and in English we do not really see the difference between the two words. The word mun could be anyone and in the context of this verse is anyone who has fear. Khashiya is to fear something greater than yourself or that has power to overcome you and Allah (swt) is saying that whosoever has fear will make an effort to remember. At times the reminders given by the messenger (saw) strike fear into the hearts of man and if one fears his destiny he will make an effort to remember the verses of the Quran. If alladhi were to be used then Allah (swt) would be talking about someone in particular but with mun the scope is open and anyone who has any fear in them can still make their way back and make an effort to remember.
11) But the most wretched one will avoid it
The word ashqaa comes from shaqiya and means to be unfortunate. It is the opposite of sa’eed which is to be happy and fortunate. Someone who is shaqii does not have good company or good counsel and advice in their life and are thus unfortunate and those people who are the most unfortunate and have no good whatsoever in their life when it comes to good advice and counsel are ashqaa. This most unfortunate person who surrounds himself with evil company and wastes his life away will make great efforts to avoid the message and reminders of Islam. He will think that the people who accept this message are unfortunate but, as Allah (swt) has described, the reality is that he is the most unfortunate. Tajannub comes from janb (side) and it means to avoid even your side from touching something, to distance yourself and to keep yourself far away from something just like this person tries to distance himself from this reminder. In the previous Surah, the plan of the disbelievers was mentioned, and here, the plan of al-ashqaa’ (the most unfortunate person) is mentioned, the plan to stay away from this reminder at a personal level.
Yaslaa means that this person will throw himself into hellfire; his limbs will rebel against him and cast themselves into the fire. In the previous Surah, Allah (swt) said: ‘And I (too) am planning a plan’ (86:16). Just like this this person made a plan to stay away from the reminder, Allah (swt) has made a plan for him to cast his ownself into the hellfire. The superlative form is used throughout this surah and in this verse even the fire that the most unfortunates cast themselves into is described using a superlative.
Allah (swt) did not mention in this Surah the name Jahannam or Sa’eer but specifically Naar thereby (out of all the many punishments of hellfire) highlighting the punishment of burning itself. If someone is getting burnt, the only thing on their mind is to get the fire off them. Even when we touch the smallest flame with our finger we find it unbearable and pull our hand away. When one is unable to withdraw from fire or remove it they want nothing less than death itself to give them a release from the pain. Allah (swt) says in Surah Ibrahim: ‘…and death will come to him from every side, yet he will not die…’ (14:17). This man will have every reason to die in this fire but he will never perish and exist within it forever. Would it ever be possible to call this existence life? This person will beg for death and even before he is thrown into it the mere sight of the fire will cause him to beg for death.
14) Indeed whosoever purifies himself shall achieve success
So far in this Surah there has been no mention of paradise nor of any good news. Now Allah (swt) speaks of the alternative and those that will be successful. The word aflaha comes from iflaah, which comes from fallaah (farmer). Arabs were obsessed with farming because most of the Arabian region was arid desert and very few areas had a farm and were suitable for agriculture. Therefore, those regions that had farms were extremely important. When a farmer plants his seed he is nervous, unsure of whether the season will be afflicted by drought, whether it will rain or not or whether there will be infestations or not. At the end of the season when the time to harvest is upon one he is called Fallaah as this is the happiest time of the year for him when he will earn the fruits of his labour. When it’s time to harvest in any agricultural culture it is a time of festivals and celebrations as a lot of hard labour and difficulty goes into farming and the path is long before you enjoy success.
When Allah (swt) says qad aflaha He (swt) highlights the work that goes into attaining success just like the farmer works hard to attain a successful harvest. The qad also indicates certainty, that this person has already attained success. Whosoever engages in the act of trying to cleanse themselves from within and tries to become a better person has already succeeded. Additionally, the particle ‘mun’ is open to anyone and means whoever engages in this effort. The scope of ‘tazakkaa’ is so open that Musa (as) even invites Fir’aun to look inside himself and offers to guide him to his Lord. The bottom line of this Surah is to look inside yourself and to find some good so that you can harvest it and let it flourish. The people who are concerned with purifying themselves have attained the ultimate success because right now they have the right concern and attitude and this surah is all about changing attitudes.
15) And mentions/remembers/glorifies the name of his Lord and prays
The one who attains success first tries to cleanse himself from within and to help cleanse himself; he is constantly engaged in remembering and mentioning the name of his Lord. Allah (swt) in this verse says rabbihi as opposed to ism Allah. This is because when the person remembers His name, he acknowledges that this is not just anyone’s name. It is not just the name of The Wise, The Creator and The Knowledgeable One but of the One who also happens to my Master and if Allah (swt) is our Master and we are His slaves then we need to act like one. One practical act of a slave is that he prays and so we see in this verse ‘fasallaa’ – then as a result he prayed.
For the messenger (saw), a higher thing was required, to be conscious of the perfection of the name of his Lord, the Supreme. For everyone else only the beginning is required, to just mention the name of your Lord, and the natural consequence of that is you will want to connect to that Lord by means of salaah. The root for yaslaa is sad, lam, and ya and the root for salaah (fasallaa) is sad, lam, and waw. This is an interesting play on words as both roots are very close but one of them will be in hellfire, and the other one will be saved and has attained ultimate success and the final practical manifestation of it is salaah. Consider verse seven where Allah (swt) says, ‘He knows what is apparent and what is hidden’. This also applies to our salaah where Allah (swt) knows the inside and the outside of it. In salaah we are all standing in a row together, praying in the same direction, making sajdah the same way and listening to the same qiraa’ah but one person is thinking about what’s for dinner, another person is thinking about work and one person is actually remembering Allah (swt), is connected to His Lord and has left the world around him.
Allah (swt) now tells us what keeps humanity from finding true success. If you ask anyone what they are running after, you’ll find it is success. A student is running after success by desiring graduation, he then seeks success by getting a job, a businessman is running after success by wanting to expand his business or by making it profitable. Everyone is running after success according to what they have defined it as and in doing so are distracted from the ultimate success. There is iltifaat in this verse, a transition from the third to the second person. When you think of someone in the third person, you don’t think of yourself and so Allah (swt) makes you realize when giving these lessons to think of no one but yourself. Allah (swt) has not said people (an-naas) have preferred worldly life but rather He has said YOU have given preference.
Atharaa’ is to compare two things and to decide that one is more valuable than the other and so you give it more time, preference and priority. The word dunya is the feminine form of the word adnaa’ which means closer and inferior to. Allah (swt) calls this worldly life inferior and closer to you (as you get things right away). Man prefers this closer worldly life as he thinks success is here. The things that Allah (swt) calls success, like Jannah and like being saved from the hellfire are in our point of view distant and far. The human being sees the house in Jannah very far but the house he can get with a haraam transaction seems very close. He sees the drinks of paradise as far but the haraam drink offered here is right here in front of us. The hoor ul ayn are seen as far but the haraam images on the Internet and on the television, the pleasing sights for our eyes in walking down the street or at work or at college are here right now. So man takes preference of the immediate pleasures in front of him over the distant pleasures that Allah (swt) has prepared.
The words better and longer lasting are comparative in nature. Comparative words are used because in the previous ayah we were also engaged in a comparison where one was preferred over the other (tu’thiruuna). Allah (swt) now gives His comparison. If one was given the option of living in a small, unfurnished home in a bad neighbourhood but had complete ownership over it and also the option of living in a five star hotel for two nights, the sane person would undoubtedly pick the home. We can’t see the akhirah and in a sense we thus think that it will be inferior as we don’t know what it looks like or how it will be furnished etc. We somehow pick this life over Jannah which will last forever! We may purchase a home in this life and are comforted in the knowledge that we will own it forever, even though we will not own ourselves forever. Just like someone who acquires permanent residency in a country is still nonetheless there temporarily as the only thing fixed is death. Thus, Allah (swt) gives two comparisons and convinces us of the better nature of the Akhirah by letting us know that anything we can get in this life will be better and everlasting in the next.
Human beings have this innate nature in them to want to get things right away, without having to wait. When a man wants to buy something, especially if it has a large price tag, he will want to see it first. Allah (swt) is asking us for our entire life and in return is giving us His word. For example, if someone offers to sell you a large house in a good neighbourhood and guarantees that it will be a waterfront property that you get to live in forever but you only get it and get to see it in twenty years and payment for it is required now. Most people will believe it to be a scam and will walk away. Allah (swt) offers us Jannah later without the benefit of brochures or pictures and when a believer sacrifices his wealth, assets and life for the sake of Allah (swt) his family will think him crazy. This is why the prophet (saw) called this deen strange as it requires believing in something that you cannot see and requires believing in the promise of something that you cannot see. You have to believe in it and your imaan in the akhirah is tested with your preference. We can say we prefer Allah (swt), the deen and that we live our lives for the sake of Allah (swt). However, Allah (swt) knows what is obvious and what is hidden and whether our preferences are headed in a different direction, how we spend our days and what we dedicate our time and effort to. We have to look deep in ourselves to find the answer to this question and ask ourselves if we are truly giving preference to the next life over this one.
18) Indeed, this is in (has been mentioned in) the former scriptures
Earlier scriptures have also declared that the next life is better and longer lasting than this one and have also called people to declare the greatness and acknowledge the perfection of the name of their Lord, the Most High. If one can understand this then they have got the gist of every messenger’s message.
19) The scriptures of Abraham and Moses
These two messengers are mentioned because the two primary audiences of the prophet (saw) were the polytheists of Quraysh who acknowledged Ibrahim (as) and the People of the Book whose legacy and concept of revelation begins with Musa (as). The two primary audiences are told that Muhammad (saw) is not saying anything new and that the ones that they follow had the same message and this is the power of dawah as maybe this reminder will click with someone. This Surah covers all three imaaniyyaat. Belief in Allah (swt) and His perfection is covered in the beginning of the Surah. The revelation is covered in the middle of the Surah where the messenger is told that he will not forget the revelation and lastly the Afterlife is covered at the end.