88: Al-Ghashiyah

Tafseer Surah Al-Ghashiyah

 

The previous surah discussed two types of people, those headed for hellfire and those headed for paradise. It ended with a criticism of those who preferred the worldly life to the hereafter and it is these people that are discussed at the very beginning of this surah.

 

88:1

1) Has news of the overwhelming event come to you (O Muhammad)?

This address is to the messenger (saw) and we know this due to the attached pronoun ‘ka’. Thus, Allah (swt) has turned away from the disbelievers he was addressing in the second person towards the end of the previous surah (No, but you give preference to the worldly life). Allah (swt) spoke to these disbelievers in the second person as they weren’t as stubborn in their disbelief as those who have firmly intended to disbelieve until death to whom Allah (swt) talks directly. The messenger (saw) is asked whether news of the overwhelming event has come to him. The word ataa means to come or to arrive and is used to refer to something easier and lighter than jaa’a. The word jaa’a has been used in other surahs (jaa’atis-saakhah, taama etc.) but it is a word typically used for something heavy and enormous and has more magnitude than ataa which is easier in comparison. Allah (swt) asks whether the news of the day of Judgement has come to you with the word ataa as the news of the event is far easier and lighter in comparison than the event itself in which is difficult.

There is a narration concerning this verse where the messenger (saw) passed by a woman reciting this surah. The messenger stopped walking and stood there and listened to her and then said ‘yes, it has come to me’ but in his wording the messenger did not use ataa but jaa’a. Thus, Allah (swt) used the light word but the messenger (saw) used the heavy word as even the news of this was heavy on him and had a big impact on him.

This verse appears in the format of a question, a format that appears elsewhere in the Quran also. Allah (swt) is angry at those who give preference to this worldly life and fail Him (swt) even after the message has came to them and even after they are encouraged to reflect upon their legacy that they claim to follow, the legacy of Ibrahim (as) and Musa (as). Now in threatening words Allah (swt) asks whether it is not enough that news of the covering event has come to them. By turning to His most righteous slave Allah (swt) is warning the disbelievers through speaking to His Messenger about the horror of that Day and that even if they don’t want to benefit from the warning, at least the one who wants to know has been informed. The format of this verse is not a criticism of the messenger (saw). For example, if a student fails a test and the school principal questions the pupil’s teacher by asking him, ‘Did you not teach him everything?’ This serves not as a criticism of the teacher who did his job but in fact a criticism of the student. By turning away from the student and by talking to the teacher, the principal reinforces the fact that he did indeed do his job and that there was no shortcoming in it.

The style of questioning used in this verse and in others has a number of benefits. Firstly, it confirms a matter and Allah (swt) is saying that he gave full depiction of this event. If a parent instructs his child to go to school and then questions him by asking ‘Did I not tell you to go to school? Didn’t I?!’ the parent is confirming that the child was indeed told to go to school and so this is a rhetorical function. This is also done to call the attention of the listener. When Allah (swt) asks the messenger this question it is in a threatening tone and putting a warning across, not to him but to those who are not listening to the messenger (saw). Thus, Allah (swt) is scolding the kuffar but also acknowledging his support of the messenger (saw).

The word hadeeth literally means something that becomes manifest like an event that occurs. The word hadith is also used for a known event or something that is so old that when you are reminded of it, it sounds like it is new. The mention of the Day of Judgement in the Quran happens over and over but in each surah it is described in a new way (as if it is a new event which you never knew of before) and so although it is not something new, the usage of this word signifies that the thought of it is almost a new thing, as though you had heard it before but never thought about it. It is used here to almost invite one to take a new look at this information. Ghashiyah is used in many places in the Quran and means to cover something entirely. It is used in this verse to describe the event of the next life and is an adjective of qiyamah. Allah (swt) wants us to know that this day and its events will overwhelm the entire earth leaving it in chaos. When the sky is torn and starts to peel we will be covered in the signs of the Ghashiyah. It is also a connection to the preference of man to worldly life mentioned in the previous surah. This day will overshadow every other concern man had and was running towards. In a split second all other plans and concerns will become irrelevant.

 

88:2

2) Some faces on that Day are in extreme fear (humbled)

Normally in Arabic you would have the definite article at the beginning of a sentence that commences with a noun (i.e. al wujooh). Its omission here means that wujooh can no longer be translated as ‘faces’ but rather as ‘some faces’. Others have said that the tanween at the end of this word renders the translation as ‘many faces’. If this verse is talking about some faces it must mean by extension that there is another group of faces not mentioned here that are not in extreme fear and indeed the second group of faces is mentioned later in the surah. Usually an object of time in classical Arabic sentence structure is expected at the end (i.e. wujoohun khashi’atun yawma idhin). It is brought earlier in this verse for emphasis, to highlight that especially or only on that day, many faces will be khashi’ah.

In the previous surah we had the word khashyah with the letter yaa at the end and in this verse the word khashi’ah is used which has an ‘ayn at the end. The former is to be afraid of something bigger than yourself and to be afraid of the magnitude of something. The latter, khashi’ah, is to be so afraid that your muscles become numb and you become paralysed through your fear, a fear that affects not only one’s heart but also one’s limbs and the believer should be in this state in his salaah. Khashi’ah is a greater fear than khashyah and used in this surah because the Judgement Day is specifically mentioned. Allah (swt) has described these faces as being in a greater state of fear than the lesser word used for fear in the previous surah. So, the faces that day will be overwhelmed to the extent that there will be a numbness and exhaustion on them. Allah (swt) mentions this idea of overwhelming fear that overcomes limbs for different parts of the body on the Day of Judgement.

The Eyes: ‘With their eyes lowered in fear and humility (khashi’ah), humiliation covering them (all over)! That is the Day which they were promised!’ (Ma’arij 70:44).

The Tongue: ‘…And (on that Day) all voices will be fearful for the Most Beneficent (Allah) and nothing shall you hear but the low voice of their footsteps (Taha 20:108).

The Faces: ‘Some faces on that Day are in extreme fear (humbled)’ (Ghashiyah 88:2)

The Believers however have fear of Allah (swt) only in their hearts:

Has the time not come for those who have believed that their hearts should become submissive at the remembrance of Allah and what has come down of the truth?… (Hadeed 57:16)

The heart is not mentioned for the disbeliever, as Allah (swt) does not grant them that honour. Fear on any part of the body is a sign of humiliation for the disbeliever. The believers however on that Day will have khushoo’ of Allah in their hearts and that is a sign of humility to Allah (swt) but not of humiliation. The ulema comment that khushoo’ on the face mentioned in this verse is the most extreme amount of humiliation that can be heaped on a person as it is visible. There is one occasion in the Quran where Allah (swt) mentions fear of the heart in reference to disbelievers: ‘Some hearts on that day will be beating with fear and anxiety’ (Nazi’at 79:8). The Arabs would strike their horse and as a result it would get startled and scared, its heart would start to pound and it would race forward. In other words Allah (swt) has used the same word to describe the fear of the Arab that the Arabs used to describe the fear in their animals (wajaf). This is an insult to the disbeliever meaning that his heart does not fear except like the fear of an animal. Instead of fearing Allah (swt), it fears the calamities that are occurring around him on the Day of Judgement, just like animals fear.

 

88:3

3) Labouring (hard in the worldly life by worshipping others besides Allah), exhausted (in the Hereafter with humility and disgrace)

The word ‘aml means work and ‘aamila refers to faces that have been put to work. It is often apparent from someone’s face when they have had a bad day and similarly you can tell from one’s face whether they are pleased or relaxed. For example, the face of someone who is on vacation is different from the one who is working and often when one comes back from vacation people comment on how refreshed that person looks. Allah (swt) uses this word to describe that on the Day of Judgement there is some work going on. People are busy trying to find a place to hide and seek refuge and they are exhausting themselves in doing so. Furthermore, we know that on the Day of Judgement people will have to stand for a really long time and answer a lot of questions.

Ibn Abbas commented that the word ‘aamila referred to those people who exerted and exhausted themselves in the dunya for things other than Islam and did not fulfil the actions that Allah (swt) demanded of them. So they will return in this exhausted state. Umar ibn al Khattab (ra) once came by a monk who had dedicated his life to Christian worship and began to cry. The companions when they saw him crying asked what had made him cry and Umar (ra) answered ‘aamilatu nasiba’. This monk had exhausted himself in worship and given up his youth in a labour and worship that Allah (swt) will not accept and this made Umar (ra) feel sad to the extent that he wept.

Another kind of ‘aml that people engage in which the messenger (saw) cursed was being a slave to the dime and the dollar. We dedicate our entire lives to work. We concentrate on expanding and developing our career, we bring our work home with us and even when we go on holiday we end up talking to people about work to the extent that some psychologists say that people are what they do. Our work should only be one facet of our lives, yet after years of work, marriages are often destroyed and fathers are not able to get close to their children. Having spent his life chasing the dunya this person will believe he will rest after death but rather he is raised exhausted when he sees what lies ahead of him. How sad is it that these people who dedicated themselves to this life did not even enjoy it? They exhausted themselves by working long hours and spent half their life commuting yet compared to what they will face on the Day of Judgement, which will be even more exhausting, it was a vacation. Naasib in the context of this verse means to be wobbly, meaning you are so tired and overwhelmed that you cannot even stand straight. This person who has exhausted himself in work and is expecting relaxation in death will find on the Day of Judgement that Allah (swt) has something else in mind for him and will face the consequences of his ungratefulness to Allah (swt).

 

88:4

4) They will enter into the scorching fire

They will be completely overrun and surrounded by fire and this illustrates the worst kind of humiliation as they are not being thrown in but rather they themselves are throwing themselves in. The word taslaa has a ta at the beginning which refers to the plural wujooh. When someone is confronted with fire or has something hurled in his face the natural instinct of a person is to always raise his arms in defence and protect his face first. Allah (swt) describes in this verse that they are throwing themselves face first into the fire! The word haamiyah is an adjective for the hellfire and comes from himayah which literally means to prevent something from you and to keep you from getting something, for example, preventing a heart patient from having an unhealthy diet. Thus, naarun haamiyah is some kind of preventative fire and haamiyah can also mean the scorching heat of the sun. So, this could be a scorching fire but also a fire that prevents something such as your skin from burning off or preventing you from getting any rest or breaks from the pain you are receiving.

 

88:5

5) They will be made to drink from a boiling spring

No other part of the human anatomy other than the face can portray emotions and expressions like fear and humility and once more in this verse faces and not people are being described. Those same faces that used to consume haram will now be given to drink. The word tusqa comes from siqayah which means to give someone something to drink by literally opening their mouth and pouring the liquid in. This word is usually used for animals but can also be used for humans. This illustrates that after entering themselves into the fire, they desperately want relief from it and relief naturally comes from water. Thus, Allah (swt) describes that they will be given to drink from a spring. In a different qir’aa’ah (recital), tusqa is pronounced tasqa which would change the tense from passive to active and imply that they are so desperate for relief from the fire that they themselves would go to drink this water even though it is bubbling through heat.

The word ‘ayn is a spring and in Arabic is only used for beautiful and good things. For the Arab living in the desert a dream for him would be to see a spring or a waterfall. This word is also used for the eye, as it is always moist especially when it cries. Furthermore, in Arabic poetry a horse has been called ‘ayn as it looks good to the eye. The Quran calls the women of paradise Hoor ul ‘Ayn as they are beautiful to look at. Thus, the word ‘ayn has a very positive meaning and when you see it in this verse you think that the disbelievers will get at least some relief from the hellfire. However, Allah (swt) adds an adjective to this word.

The word aaniyah refers to water that is heated up and is about to reach boiling point and then starts to bubble. So, this spring gushes out intensely hot water onto the faces of these people and they are made to consume it. As if throwing yourself into the scorching fire was not enough, these people are now made to open their mouths and drink this boiling water like animals. The word ghashiyah appears in the first verse of this surah and is that which covers up. Two things have already covered up these disbelievers, first their faces were covered with fire and now with boiling water. O Allah, protect us from the fire.

 

88:6
 6) For them their will be no food except a thorny plant

After talking about drink the next logical thing is to talk about food. Laysa usually appears with the present tense and is used for immediate situations. It is not used to refer to the past or the future. However, although the punishment of the hellfire will occur in the future, by mentioning it in the present tense it illustrates the anger of Allah (swt) and it is as if the disbelievers are already there. Almost as if they are being asked to imagine themselves in the hellfire with nothing to eat except thorny plants so that it might cause them to shift to preferring the life to come over this life.

By placing lahum (for them) earlier in the sentence it signifies that it is especially for those people that there will not be any food. Furthermore, the format of the verse implies that there will be food for others. Had lahum appeared at the end of the phrase, rendering it ‘laysa taamun lahum’ there would have been no implication of there being food for others. So, even by saying this, it is a threat and an illustration of Allah’s anger against the kuffar but at the same time it is a mercy to the believers who will have something to eat.

In Arabic literature daree’ can be used for two things. It can be used for raw seaweed; the kind that washes up on shore that not even animals will want to eat. The other is for a thorny type of plant in the terrain of some Arab lands called Shibrik. It has sharp long horns and even animals avoid grazing near it as it can cause them harm and can cause them to bleed. The only animal that can try and eat from it is a camel (this is important as we see in the upcoming parts of the Surah), which has thicker lips. This is part of the miracle of the creation of the camel that it can survive in a place like the desert independently compared to other types of animal. Even a poor man can own a camel and travel it with it in the desert and not have to provide it with much food as they can travel long distances without food and they can eat from shrubs and the Shibrik plant.

There are three types of food that Allah (swt) mentions as being in the hellfire;

Zaqqoom, Ghisleen and Daree’. Most scholars say that daree’ is the comprehensive term for all three types of food, therefore zaqqoom and ghisleen are types of daree’.

However, Allah (swt) did not say they would eat daree’. Rather, He (swt) said they will eat from daree’. This indicates that their stomachs will force them to go around looking for food. Then when they find this plant they will have to go into it to eat it and as they do they will be poked with thorns, whereas animals in this life wouldn’t even approach such a plant!

The previous surah ended with soft advice, with the disbeliever being advised gently that the hereafter is better for him than the present and longer lasting, imploring him to think about his legacy. However, if this advice failed to work the surah gives a harsher warning. The knowledge of the most horrible aspects of hellfire are a mercy for mankind as by thinking of the punishment to come it can make him correct his ways. So every time the kaafir now comes to eat food he’s going to think – ‘I’ve got nothing to eat except daree’ (because it is mentioned in the present tense). Some disbelievers, however, ignored this due to the hardness of their hearts. So they would sarcastically comment ‘Oh daree’? We’re going to get daree’ – that’s not so bad – our camels eat that and get fat and healthy with it.’ Allah (swt) responds to this sarcasm in the next verse.

 

88:7

7) Which will neither nourish nor satisfy their hunger

Allah (swt) responds by saying this food has nothing nutritional in it and further it will not relieve them of their hunger which means they will continue to eat this. The two essential functions of food is to benefit and nourish your body and also to satisfy your hunger. None of this is being provided by daree’ yet they keep on going despite this and the fact that it is probably tearing their insides. Ordinarily, when you eat something that makes you feel sick or something you do not like the taste of you stop eating it but the disbelievers will continue to eat and eat this food adding to their humiliation.

 

88:8
 8) (Other) faces on that Day will be happy

The surah now turns towards depicting other faces that on that Day will be in na’imah. The phrase ‘yawma idhin’ is taqdeem (placed earlier in the sentence structure) and its function is to emphasise that on that day especially these faces will be in softness, ease and relaxation which is the meaning of na’imah. There will be freshness on their faces and no sign of exhaustion and on that day we understand that those who are going to enjoy this bliss are the people who put in a lot of hard work in this life, giving their lives for Allah’s pleasure, and endured hardship from the disbelievers. Na’imah literally refers to the face you have when you are given a gift and in response to a ni’ma one’s face becomes na’imah. So you have a contrast between two sets of people that are exhausting themselves in two opposite directions. Some people are tiring themselves by striving for this temporary world whilst others are striving and struggling in Allah’s cause. The difference is that on the Day of Judgement the disbelievers will wake up exhausted whilst the believers will wake up fresh, bright faced and in relaxation. When someone is exhausted they are unable to work anymore, yet, the disbeliever will have to go through a lot of hard toil forever after their resurrection. Conversely, when you are relaxed and feel fresh, you are ready to work, however, the believers will no longer need to work after resurrection and they will experience ease in paradise. May Allah (swt) give us that joy on that Day.

 

88:9
9) Glad with their endeavour

The word sa’ee describes a fast paced walk but is also used to refer to when one is urgently busy working on a task and is concerned about its completion. This verse is telling us that these people will be content with the urgent efforts they had made in this dunya. The energy and efforts they put into this task is captured by the word sa’ee and it is only through these efforts that led to their contentment in the benefits of the hereafter. These are the efforts of prayer and purification, the remembrance of Allah (swt), the efforts they made to protect themselves and their family from haram, the efforts they made to spread the deen and to defend its integrity and the efforts they made to aid the weak and the oppressed. Due to all these efforts, amongst others, they will be pleased and satisfied (riddaa) on this Day. The other efforts people made with regards to their work or business will not even come into their mind on that day and people will wonder why they even wasted time on these things. It is commented that that when these people see the reward for what they did, they will wish that everything they did in this life was solely for seeking the pleasure of Allah (swt). They will wish that they had not occupied themselves with any other project in this life.

The reality for us is that often in this life we have to force ourselves to strive in doing actions for the hereafter whereas doing actions for the dunya comes easily. We don’t think twice about investing our money in cinema tickets or in going for expensive meals in restaurants yet we struggle to invest time and money in more rewarding enterprises like attending the masjid, attending lectures and fundraising events and spending money in charity. It is difficult to motivate ourselves to strive for the hereafter as man loves the immediate reward which comes in the dunya. Allah (swt) promises the man rich rewards in Jannah but as it feels far away it results in us delaying performing good deeds.

The word riddaa normally comes with a ‘ba’ but here Allah (swt) precedes the word with a laam. If ‘ba’ had been used, the meaning would have been rendered ‘with its efforts it is satisfied’ but laam in addition to this implies two other things. Firstly, when the believer sees his reward, he will be happy with himself for performing good deeds. Secondly, the believer will be happy at having been given the chance to work for Allah’s sake and for being given the opportunity to please Him (swt). Just being able to obey Allah (swt) is an honour and something we will thank Him (swt) for. A job is just a nine to five but when one gets a very senior position they want to thank the company through their pleasure at being given this elevated position and this will be the state of the believer on that Day. Bear in mind that this is a Makki surah and that when the companions are giving dawah they are being insulted. Allah (swt) advises them that even though they are being belittled it is in fact they that are honoured and they who will be relaxed in the hereafter where the tables will be turned on the disbelievers who in this world are relaxed.

 

88:10

10) In high gardens

The best views man tends to enjoy are the spectacular views that are found from high vantage points like hilltops. People pay a lot of money to scale viewing platforms in many cities and when staying in a hotel will always try to stay in a room that is as high up as possible so that they can get the best possible view of everything. Also, when purchasing a property, those homes with stunning views are often more expensive and homes high up are additionally free from the risk of flooding. After describing torture upon torture upon the disbelievers Allah (swt) is now describing blessing upon blessing for the believers. On top of the contentment the believers already have Allah (swt) gives another blessing. Jannah is a lush garden and the believer will be atop it amongst amazing fruits, flowers and vegetation.

 

88:11

11) Where they will hear no harmful speech

The preceding verses were just discussing faces that will be lit, overjoyed and in gardens and now Allah (swt) switches to addressing his messenger (saw), which is indicated by the verb being in the second person. The word laghiyah is worthless, obnoxious and useless speech and when things are said without thinking. Allah (swt) by addressing the messenger (saw) has guaranteed that he will be the first to be in Jannah and that he will not hear any useless talk there and this is a gift from Allah (swt). This is important to the messenger (saw) as when he gives dawah people in response say lewd, obnoxious and insulting things. Thus, one of the pleasures of Jannah is that there will be no words that hurt your feelings and make you feel bad. In life, no matter who you are, you can always be hurt by someone’s speech. You can be having the best day of your life but a few words can very easily take away all the pleasures and joys of that day. Consider also that when people seek to buy a property they will always want to live in an area where the neighbourhood is good, with no disturbances or rowdy behaviour from neighbours. Allah (swt) has told us that the believers will reside in lofty gardens in the very best of neighbourhoods.

 

88:12
 12) Within it is a flowing spring

A further description of the lofty garden is given and we learn that there will be flowing gardens. Jaariya means flowing and flowing water implies fresh clean water as when water stands it becomes stale and stagnant. Thus, the believers will reside in high gardens with flowing water which means that the believers will be atop waterfalls! The disbeliever in contrast will get boiling water forced upon him. Some of the most luxurious and expensive travel destinations in the world have hotels where water fountains are created to simulate flowing water designed to put the traveller at ease. Humans have a centuries old obsession with decorating places with water and to this day people spend significant time designing the perfect swimming pool or Jacuzzi.

 

88:13

13) Within it are couches raised high

In modern Arabic, sareer is a bed but in ancient Arabic it is a couch that you would sit and recline on. In Arabic culture, people have always traditionally sat on the floor. This stems from the nomadic lifestyle they originally had where people were always on the move. As a result of being a nomadic people they would sit on the floor as it was not feasible to carry a couch around with you. Even in today’s day and age, in many Arab countries people will still sit on the floor despite having couches as it is still a tradition and habit for them. However, those Arabs who were wealthy and lived in settled homes were able to have couches and this was an indication of stability. These were people who had become settled in a particular place and were no longer Bedouins. Thus, with this verse Allah (swt) is offering us stability in Jannah. A stay there forever without fear of loss unlike the life of this world. No matter how much time and money one dedicates to decorating his home and furnishing it, it will eventually go into disrepair and can in extreme situations even perish.

The word marfoo’ah is an objective noun (ism maf’ool) and implies that someone did it for you. The implication here is that this couch has been custom made and elevated for the believers. Allah (swt) Himself is engaged in designing the homes of the believers and what is within them. Why is it appealing to have a seat in a high position? It is opined that the seat is elevated so the believer can sit back and see everything he owns. People in executive positions normally have amazing offices with great views and people in positions of authority, like judges or people presiding over a ceremony, have seats slightly higher than everyone else. An elevated seat will give one an appreciation of space and of everything that he owns and the harder one works in this life the higher the garden you live in and the better the view. In this world people spend their whole lives beautifying their homes but never get the time to enjoy it. This is not the case in Jannah where everything is done and taken care of for you.

 

88:14

14) And glasses placed ready

Kawb is a cup in Arabic that does not have handles. They are large glasses that are thin and slender from the bottom and wide at the top and are perhaps like cocktail or champagne glasses that hold exotic drinks. Allah (swt) has arranged for these to be placed ready for the believer. In other words your dining table has already been set for you. This even happens in expensive restaurants today where glasses are displayed on the table. Mawddoo’ah (from wadd’ – to place down) means to be lowered and the implication is that someone has lowered and placed this glass down in front of you. Allah (swt) did not use the verbal form tudda’ as this could mean that the glass is only lowered once. By using the noun form the implication is that the glasses will be placed down continually for you to drink from.

 

88:15

15) And cushions set in rows

Namariq is a small pillow or cushion that you would place on your couch or bed to make it even more comfortable and masfoofah is row upon row upon row of pillows. Thus, everywhere you look you will find comfort and relaxation.

 

88:16

16) And carpets spread out

Zaraabiyu are expensive rugs made of delicate fibres and in Jannah they will be mabthoothah, spread out as far as the eye can see. Exotic rugs throughout history have been a luxury product that fetches large prices from people looking to decorate their homes. Allah (swt) is giving people that which to this day in this dunya we chase after. People have an innate desire to have an attractive home, with a beautiful garden and flowing water, decorated with soft, comfortable furnishings and homes which serve the best possible food and drink.

 

88:17

17) Do they not look at the camels, how they are created?

The subject now changes and Allah (swt) mentions the camel which the disbelievers brought up sarcastically. There are many words for camel in Arabic and perhaps the most general word for camel is Ibl. Allah (swt) asks in the passive tense have they not looked closely at the camel and considered how it was created. Allah (swt) does not expect the disbelievers to praise him or give Him credit for this creation but as they brought it up themselves Allah (swt) therefore asks them about it. In desert life a camel played a huge part in the survival of man. It is custom designed for life in the desert and out of all domesticated animals even a child can control one even though it can be crushed by its size. It can survive on very little water for days on end and can feed itself off shrubs which other animals cannot survive off. It is loyal to the human being and even when tired it continues to do its work. In addition to this it has incredible high seating which can be comfortable to sit on top of. It stores its own food (through the storage of fat in its hump) and has milk when there is no other liquid available elsewhere. Its meat can be eaten and when it becomes old and dies, its skin also benefits and can be used for clothing.

Allah (swt) is asking them to consider all the benefits of the camel and how every aspect of its creation fits in with the environment it is in. Its creation was precisely calculated and guided to its purpose. It is narrated that the Prophet (saw) said: The believers are gentle and soft like the obedient camel. If he is driven, he obeys and if he is ordered to sit on a scorching rock, he sits thereon (Tirmidhi: 5086). We have to learn from this massive creature. It is so huge and powerful but when his master tells him to sit down, he sits lowering and humbling himself from a great height, even if he has been told to sit on harsh rocks. This is how the believer should be with Allah (swt). Man should obey Allah (swt) even though Allah (swt) has given him the power to do many things and even if there is pain involved. Through the creation of the camel Allah (swt) has shown us His favours and has also shown us true obedience. Reflection on this gift that Allah (swt) has given should be enough for one to become a humble slave because Allah (swt) shows us what loyal and slavery mean by means of the camel and by the perfection of its creation.

 

88:18
 18) And at the sky, how it is raised?

There have been numerous surahs with incredible discourse on how the sky will come crashing down eventually. So Allah (swt) says reflect on the camel as you sit on it and look up at the sky and think how it is there and how it will be destroyed.

 

88:19

19) And at the mountains, how they are rooted (and fixed firm)?

Imagine sitting on a camel with a desert landscape looking first up at the sky and then around you. It is likely that you may see mountains in the distance. Nusiba means to be pegged into the ground and also means to be outward and apparent. The word therefore has a double meaning of being pegged in as well as being outward due to the mountains being in and out of the ground. Nasiba also means something that is wobbly and wavering. Thus, the mountains are firm now but they will eventually move on the Day of Judgment. The rigidity of the mountains and its ultimate wavering destruction has all been captured in this verse.

 

88:20

20) And at the earth, how it is spread out?

After looking up and ahead the earth is found below. Sataha means to spread something out and to smoothen it. The whole purpose of this surah is to remind people of the Ghashiyah (the ultimate covering) and where they are headed. The word sath is used for the sealing of a house by its roof but how is the earth similar to a roof? This is because ultimately one day the earth will be like a roof for all of us in our graves. Our graves will be dug and then the earth will be spread out over it and made smooth.

 

88:21
 21) So remind, (O Muhammad); for you are only a reminder

Allah (swt) in the previous surah instructed the messenger (saw) to remind if the reminder serves to have any benefit and here He (swt) gives a tafseer of this. Notice that no object has been mentioned here, so whether anyone listens or not, the instruction is just to remind without any worry as to whether it has an effect on them or not. After all, Abu Sufyan became Muslim only after being warned for many years. Also, the magicians of Pharaoh became Muslims only when they saw the miracle of Moses’s stick despite hearing the message many times over. Allah (swt) says that the messenger (saw) is nothing but the deliverer of a reminder which summarises the whole career of the messenger (saw). The work of dawah boils down to the work of reminding people. Reminding them of the past failures of human beings and of nations that were destroyed. Of what Allah (swt) has told them of the future and of Judgement Day. Of the covenant they have made with Allah (swt) and of their inner conscience that tells them what is wrong and what is right and of the consequences of their actions.

 

88:22

22) You are not a watcher over them

Allah (swt) advises the messenger (saw) that he has not been placed over the people as a musayttir. A musayttir is someone who is placed in charge of someone so that he may monitor, control and record everything that he does. Thus, the messenger (saw) is being advised that he cannot force people or drag them into jannah. This is not Allah (swt) scolding the messenger (saw). Rather, it illustrates that the messenger (saw) is so worried about the disbelievers that he wants to drag them into paradise. The Quraysh are after all his people but he is not in a position of power over them and has only his words. However, Allah (swt) says that he has not been sent as a guardian over them and that he cannot force them. The reminder in itself is enough and they have to find the way themselves and recall in the previous surah Allah (swt) said that the only one to benefit from the reminder is the one who fears Allah (swt).

This is a perfect example of the principal that there is no compulsion in religion and even the messenger is told this. Reminders are powerful and humans are always in need of reminders. Even in the context of our deen when we come across a subject we have already studied, a reminder nevertheless still serves to reawaken the subject. In another example, one knows he needs to study for an exam but sometimes the reminder from a peer can help push the person to take that step.

 

88:23

23) Except the one who turns away and disbelieves

The interpretation of this verse is that eventually the messenger will be victorious and he will have power and authority over every one of their moves. This eventually did happen in Fath al Makkah (Opening of Makkah) when Allah’s Messenger had power over the Quraysh and those who had disbelieved. Yet, when he had this power over them, he said ‘La tathreeba alaykum ul yawm’ (there is no harm coming to you today) and this is what Yusuf (as) said to his brothers (12:92). However, it can also mean in the general sense that at this point for the one who still turns away and disbelieves…

 

88:24
 24) Then Allah will punish him with the greatest punishment

Then Allah (swt) will torture him with the greatest punishment. Allah (swt) has used the passive tense in this surah but now he uses His name as if to tell the messenger that at this point the case is hopeless and that there is no further point in reminding them. The messenger’s duty is complete and now Allah (swt) will punish them. The ‘fa’ indicates that it is a result of the previous verse and due to their turning away and their disbelief that they will be punished. Adhab is when a person leaves eating due to severe dehydration and eating causes immense pain as a result. From this word comes adhaab as dying of dehydration is one of the worst kinds of punishment and is like torture. So, adhaab literally means punishment but it is in fact a tortuous or painful type of punishment. Allah (swt) reinforces that this will be a painful punishment by mentioning adhaab again. Adhaab al Akbar is the greatest punishment for the one who turned away from the reminder and denied it. Allah (swt) is indicating the importance of not turning away from the reminder and this illustrates a long standing struggle of the messenger who kept inviting people to Islam, who kept turning away until it reaches this point.

 

88:25
 25) No doubt to Us they will (finally) return

The word rujoo’ means return but iyaab means the final return. For example, when you return home from outside you go out again and then you return and go out again and then return etc. Even when we go to our graves that is not a final return as we will be resurrected. But Allah (swt) says to Him is the final return.

 

88:26

26) Then indeed upon Us is their accounting

The word thumma means thereafter and the grammar of this verse suggests that these people should not just think that they have to return to Allah (swt) but also that there is no doubt that Allah (swt) has taken the task of their accounting and audit upon Himself. The mere fact that Allah (swt) has taken it upon Himself to do their accounting means they are destroyed as anyone who is questioned about his record will be punished. May Allah (swt) protect us from this destruction and make us from the people of paradise.


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