Tafseer Surah Al Fajr
The last two verses in the previous surah issued a threat from Allah (swt), ‘It is to us they will return, and it is upon us to judge them’. If anybody gets questioned on the Day of Judgement then it means they are destroyed and the people that are given their books in the right hand will be allowed to pass by the angels without their accounts being questioned and will be safe. This surah begins with an oath and there are a number of surahs in the Quran where oaths are taken. In English these oaths get translated as ‘by time’ or ‘by the early dawn’ etc. but we do not speak like this in English anymore and so this style of language can seem quite strange in contemporary times. This is an ancient mode of speech and to fully understand it, it is important to understand why the people of old used to take oaths. This will help understand its usage and function in the Quran. The ancient Arabs would get peoples attention by taking oaths. So whenever Allah (swt) takes an oath it is a means by which the attention of the audience is seized. Also, when Allah (swt) takes an oath by something, it is because He (swt) wants us to reflect on the things that he has taken an oath by so that we are prepared for the actual lessons of the surah. This verse is a continuation in the series of surahs that contain oaths and that talk about different parts of the day i.e. the stars, the sunrise, the red glow of the sun when it sets and the still night etc.
1) By the break of Day
The word fajr and other words related to it mean to rip and tear something completely. So, fajr can be described as something that tears the night open and allows light to come through. Thus, fajr begins at the earliest time that light tears through the darkness of the night. This may not be the brightest time of the morning but that single ray of light is enough to know that the event has begun. This time of the day is also the beginning of life. Most animals and humans go to sleep at night and as soon as fajr begins birds start chirping and animals come out of their shelters. When Allah (swt) describes the night in Surah Ad-Duha one of the attributes he gives it is stillness and death (wal layli idha saja – by the Night when it is Saja). Saja means stillness and is a symbol of death. So, here Allah (swt) begins the surah at a time that life begins and takes an oath by it.
Birds and animals do not need to be woken up at this time and it is commented that the sounds they make is all tasbeeh of Allah (swt). It is only the believer who wakes up willingly by choice at this time to worship Allah (swt) whereas animals wake up without choice. This makes the believing slave of Allah (swt) have a high rank in His sight. This time is also according to many mufassiroon a time at which the heart is at its closest and most fearful before the presence of his Lord. This is because the slave has woken up for no worldly reason. Not for work, or to cook or clean but purely to stand before Allah (swt), a time where no tasks have yet invaded the mind and a time when one’s mind is most cognisant and aware of the presence of Allah (swt). Other scholars say that when Allah (swt) swears by the morning he is alluding to life after death. Just like the night was dead and fajr is the beginning of life, with every new day Allah (swt) is reminding us that he has the ability to bring life after death.
This is further fortified by a prayer we make when we wake up from slumber: alhamdulillah aladhee ahyana ba’da ma amaatana wa ilayhin-nushoor (the praise is for Allah who brought us to life after our death, and to Him is our gathering). So, our sleep is compared to death and our awakening is compared to life and this is a reminder of the resurrection. Additionally, it is commented that this is the time that darkness is removed and is a reference to the fact that fajr is not just a reminder of the hereafter and the importance of the prayer but also a reminder of the dawn of Islam. Since this surah is a Makki surah the interpretation could be that although everything now is dark and the future appears uncertain, Islam will eventually be victorious. Allah (swt) gives a guarantee that just like fajr rips through the darkness, Islam will remove the darkness of shirk and oppression. Hence, the fajr morning light is a sign of the upcoming victory of Islam after all the hardships faced by the Muslims.
2) By the ten nights
The word fajr had the definite particle before it but in this verse Allah (swt) does not swear by the ten nights. The lack of the definite article means that the nights mentioned is not limited to just one set of ten nights. This is why there have been a variety of opinions in what these ten nights really mean. The majority of the mufassiroon, including the vast majority of companions, tabi’oon and later interpreters of the Quran, have fallen into two camps as to what this could mean. Note the fact that Allah (swt) is swearing by this means it is important and forms part of the lesson of this surah. One group says that this is a reference to the last ten nights of Ramadan and the other says this is the first ten nights of Dhul Hijjah (the month in which Hajj takes place).
A lot of the mufassiroon have commented on the blessing of the last ten nights of Ramadan and the first ten days of Dhul Hijjah. The last ten nights of Ramadan are the most blessed nights especially in earning Allah’s forgiveness and in earning the reward of paradise. Similarly it is encouraged to fast and sacrifice an animal in the first ten days of Dhul Hijjah in union with the incredible act of worship of the Hajj. This ties in with the end of this surah where Allah (swt) speaks about the people who earn His paradise and in the beginning of the surah the days are mentioned in which it is easiest to earn his paradise.
The last ten days of a month and the first ten days of a new month in a lunar calendar are significant as the changes in the moon are at its most visible. There is of course a change in the moon in the middle days but it is not as obvious to the naked eye and the variations are minor. This oath has continued the theme this surah began with by drawing attention to the sky, as just like one would not know whether it is Fajr without observing the sky, the change in the moon could not be seen without studying the sky. It is commented that the changing of nights is actually Allah (swt) teaching us of the inevitable. When the light of fajr appears you know the day is on its way. Similarly, when you see a partial moon on the first night of the month you know it is going to get thicker and thicker and when you see a full moon you know it is going to start to recede. This is connected to the previous oath in that if you want to be assured that the victory of Islam coming, just pay attention to the fajr transforming into the day and the moon as it becomes full because surely light doesn’t come except after the darkest part of the night.
The last ten nights of Ramadan features Laylat Al Qadr – the night in which the Quran was revealed and so the significance of these days from the perspective of the seerah is that it marks the beginning of the revelation and the mission of the messenger (saw). Additionally Hajj was the occasion that witnessed the conclusive victory of the messenger (saw) over the rebellious city of Mecca. So the entire life of Allah’s Messenger (saw) is captured by the symbolic representation of ten blessed nights, the nights marking the beginning of his mission and the end of it. Thus, the two oaths are connected as fajr represents both the dawn of Islam and also the resurrection and Muhammad (saw) is the greatest sign of the coming of the Last Day.
3) And by the even and the odd
The common translation of this verse is by the odd and the even. The word shaf’ literally means to be with someone, for example, whilst walking one walks with someone else in a pair. Similarly, the idea of shafa’ah is to declare that someone is with you. For example, if someone familiar to you is going for an interview and the manager is also well known to you, you would let the manager know that the candidate is with you. Allah (swt) in this verse takes an oath by the pair and by the singular (watr). The most popular interpretation of this verse is that ash-shaf’ alludes to all that Allah (swt) has created in pairs e.g. darkness and light, male and female, the sun and the moon, the ocean and land. So, everything He (swt) created, He (swt) created in pairs. The only thing that stands alone without a pair is Allah (swt), the One and there is none like or comparable to Him. So Allah (swt) swears by the creation and Himself.
Others have connected it to the previous oath. Of the last ten nights in a month some are odd and sometimes the months themselves are odd and sometimes they are even. Another interpretation is that it refers to every day of the month because every day is a pair containing both a day and a night except for the last day of the month, which contains no night as the night of that day fits into the new month. One may also argue that although Allah (swt) created everything in pairs the pair can only be appreciated by looking at the individual components of the pair and how it must work in harmony together. For example, the sun is a remarkable creation but you cannot fully appreciate its beauty and sophistication without appreciating what it does for the moon. Similarly, one may marvel at a landscape and terrain but to fully appreciate it must also consider the ocean. Also, consider that the night is an odd and the day is also an odd but combined the two are even. The day is a blessing for us from Allah (swt) allowing us to seek His bounty whilst the night also is a blessing allowing us to rest. The sky above the earth and the male and the female are other examples.
This verse can also be referring to the pairing of the dunya to the akhira. Allah (swt) refers to the creation and the uniqueness of Allah (swt) with this oath and also to this world and the next. In the previous surah Allah (swt) encouraged the messenger (saw) to remind people of the last day despite the lack of results. These people have only looked at one part of the pair, the dunya, and failed to appreciate that this life is paired to the next. Allah (swt) is absolutely, perfectly fair and just and the next life will redress the imbalances of this life through punishment and reward. If you refuse to believe in the next world then you cannot believe in justice and when you stop believing in justice the belief in Allah (swt) also disappears. Allah (swt) captures an enormous breadth of concepts in very few words, a true measure of the miracle of the Quran. Related to this view is that ash-shaf’ refers to all the days of the world because they are similar in pattern with the watr being the Final Day of Resurrection, a day which will be different to all the other days of this world.
4) By the night as it departs
Normally in the Arabic language we would expect the word yasr to have a ya at the end rendering the word yasree. Instead there is just a kasra at the end indicating an abnormality. Yasri means to take a stroll at night time. Al Akhfash, a scholar on Hadeeth (muhadith), was asked why Allah (swt) removed the ya from yasri. His answer is found in many classical books of tafseer. The night does not take a stroll; rather, people take a stroll in the night. This is an illustration of Allah’s power. People have control over themselves but not over time. Only Allah (swt) has control over time and makes even the night take a stroll whereas man is limited to time.
The first oath is connected to this verse and verses two and three are connected to each other. When the night starts to drift away it is known that fajr is on its way. Thus, chronologically in this surah you could say that this verse was expected before the first verse as fajr only appears once the night is coming to an end. However, Allah (swt) mentions fajr first and the departing of the night later. Thus, the major sign is mentioned before the minor. The major sign is the day of judgement (represented by fajr) however there are indications that the day of judgement is on its way and the world is ending (represented by the night coming to an end) even though the light of fajr has not appeared yet. The coming of the messenger and his victory is one of the greatest signs of the last day and is captured in the middle two oaths.
5) Is there (not) in such an oath (enough assurance) for those who possess understanding?
Hijr in Arabic is a boulder or large rock and in classical Arabic is used to refer to the intellect (‘aql). To the Arab the intellect was a means of control and restraint that prevented one from doing something harmful. For example, without an intellect one would touch fire and burn himself. In the same way that a boulder can prevent one from passing, one’s intellect can be the barrier that prevents him from causing himself harm. This does not necessarily only refer to people of intellect but also to people who with knowledge are able to control themselves from running after their desires and temptations. People who stop and think before embarking on a particular course of action almost like a barrier is in front of them. So Allah (swt) is asking whether there is enough of an oath and evidence in these verses for those people with a rock solid intellect and who can control their desires. Allah (swt) is essentially saying don’t just move on from these verses but rather reflect on them if you have good intellect and Allah (swt) does not normally do this. When He (swt) takes an oath He does not come back and say pay attention to those oaths that were mentioned earlier.
If these oaths on the unseen have no affect on the disbelievers and do not deter them from their disbelief then maybe they can be given a warning from something they can actually see. They can see the ruins of the nations that they pass by all the time.
The wording here indicates the messenger (saw) is being addressed but although the messenger is being addressed the audience is not limited to him as he is reciting these verses and thus the disbelievers also hear them. The word yandhur used in the previous surah means to think deeply about something as you are looking at it and its usage was to compel man to look at and consider the camel, the sky and mountains etc. However, a different word for seeing is used here, tara, and the difference is something that is not easily translated into English as both words would be translated as see. The word used in this verse is known as a verb of the heart as it is an action that takes place in the heart and mind (and not necessarily the eyes) and is used to convey understanding i.e. ‘I see what you mean’.
The people of ‘Aad were from Yemen and were from the third or fourth generation after Prophet Nuh. They were a very powerful nation and were known for construction using enormous beams and pillars. They were tall in stature and strong deterring anyone from wanting to fight them. They would arrogantly ask in a famous statement whether there was anyone that could fight them and take them on. Allah (swt) sent the Prophet Hud to them who they rejected and opposed. Allah (swt) then destroyed these people and in this verse asks not what their Lord did to them but rather how he did it to them. The Arabs would pass by the ruins of these people and wonder not at what happened to these people but at how a people so powerful could be destroyed and overcome.
Allah (swt) asks his messenger (saw) to reflect on how his Lord dealt with this people and in this there is both a consolation to the messenger (saw) and a threat to the disbelievers. How can the Quraysh possibly consider themselves powerful when Allah (swt) has dealt with people who possessed greater power? In the previous surah Allah (swt) commanded the messenger (saw) to remind others and now in this surah Allah (swt) is reminding his messenger of how He dealt with the oppressive people of ‘Aad. This is the last time in the Quran the people of ‘Aad is mentioned and this is indicated in the wording of the verse. Thus, the discussion on the people of ‘Aad is ended in a fitting way with the messenger (saw) being reassured that Allah (swt) can deal with all oppressors just like He (swt) dealt with the people of ‘Aad. In the previous surah, verse twenty-four, Allah (swt) told us that whoever turns away and disbelieves will be destroyed and with this verse an example is given of a people destroyed. So Allah (swt) tells us how He destroyed them and made them into nothing but a lesson and reminder for us.
Iram is considered by some to be the earlier generation of ‘Aad and are the forefathers of both ‘Aad and Thamood but are closer in lineage to the former. Others say that Iram is the man who established the tribe. Literally, iram means to make a sign or symbol out of rocks. The verse could be referring to the body strength the people possessed which was like pillars but also to their ability to construct large pillars and beams. The people of ‘Aad and Thamood were well known to the Arabs because their homes were adjacent to the ruins and remnants of these people. This is why Allah (swt) mentions these tribes as a reminder over and over in the Qur’an as the Arabs would be better able to take heed of the reminder. When other prophets would advise their people that destruction was on the way the people would respond dismissively by saying that they have not seen the like of this before. The Arabs would not be able to make the same argument due to their proximity to the ruins and their witness of them. Allah (swt) also mentions Fir’aun in the Quran alot as the Arabs would have been aware of him from their interactions with the people of the book. Thus, the Quraysh knew of these three nations and this explains why they are mentioned so often in the Quran.
The word bilaad is different from other words in Arabic used for city. Medina is a city with an established leader and Misr (with a tanween or noon at the end) is a city that has fortified walls on the perimeter that must be passed to get into the city. This is different to the Misr of Eygpt, which has no tanween or noon. Balad is a city whose borders are defined and is a city that is ready to defend its borders. From the perspective of the Arabs, these fortified cities through its construction, might and military strength formed part of a major civilisation the like of which had not been seen before.
9) And (how He dealt) with (the people of) Thamud who carved out the rocks in the Valley (of Qura)
Thamood were later descendants of ‘Aad and their lineage is traced to Nuh (as). Sakhrah is a large boulder and jaabu means to drill a hole through something with structure and finesse added to the final product. Allah (swt) is illustrating the power of Thamood who had the ability to break through large boulders with their strength alone at a time where there is no heavy machinery or sophisticated tools. The word waad means more than just a valley and was used for any place where water flowed and so we learn from this that they were at a place where there was irrigation, which in a desert was a sign of prosperity.
This verse has been interpreted in three main ways. Firstly, pegs are used to fasten tents to the ground and when armies travel and set camp they use pegs. Fir’aun had a huge army and thus is known as the Possessor of Pegs. Secondly, Fir’aun would torture people by crucifying them and peg their limbs into the wood. There are even some narrations that state this also happened to ‘Aasiya (ra), the believing wife of Fir’aun. Thirdly, in ancient Egyptian history it is apparent that the people prided themselves on their construction. One symbol for their constructions were their pegs, which is depicted in many of their hieroglyphics. Thus, the pegs might also refer to their powerful construction methods. It is apparent that all three nations mentioned in this surah were known in some way or another for their powerful construction and this is a telling warning to the Quraysh.
The Arabs were not builders and were not known for construction. The people that Allah (swt) has already destroyed therefore were far more capable than the Arabs. How can they think they will get away with rebelling against the messenger (saw) and his message? By mentioning these nations and this quality Allah (swt) has put the Arabs in their place and made known that they should not feel secure from His punishment as they were weaker than these previous nations in all ways. The Arabs would be awe-struck and frightened by the ruins of these people and even in our time the sight of the pyramids in Egypt can easily overawe one. The pyramids can put fear in our hearts due to the atmosphere within them and one can be easily deterred from venturing to deep inside one through fear. To this day there is huge interest and fascination in the ancient Egyptians and the power and might they had and to this day there is speculation on how the pyramids could have been built. Allah (swt) now answers another question without asking it – why did He destroy these people?
11) Who were rebellious (to Allah) in the lands
The word taghaw from tughyan means to go beyond and rebel against the limits set upon man. One can sometimes break the rules and later feel remorse. In this case the rules are broken in an act of defiance against an authority with no associated feeling of remorse. This is a rebellion against Allah (swt) and his messengers. It was easy to rebel against the messengers, as they had no armies. So, these people would not only rebel but also in addition make a mockery of the guidelines and instructions placed before them because they felt they had the power to do so and this ultimately led to their destruction.
Allah (swt) could have just said they rebelled but by saying in the lands it means that the evil consequences of the rebellion and corruption started at a societal level. This is a reference to the corruption that takes place in the land when you rebel against Allah (swt). There are some very basic core principles that all prophets were given and these are principles that all decent people can agree on regardless of their faith. Being just and fair, treating neighbours kindly, visiting the sick, protecting other people’s property and helping the poor are all some of the qualities you would expect to find in a decent society. These are basic morals that would keep a nation from rebelling and protect it from destruction. Muslims can sometimes be more concerned with following the intricate rules of fiqh to the letter pertaining to an act like Hajj for example but then ignore the larger principles of this deen like not backbiting and cheating, like being kind and truthful.
12) And so they increased in corruption
As a result of this rebellion they caused an increase in corruption. They built these beautiful buildings but at the same time there is huge tyranny. Even in our time we see this in societies that have great buildings and roads and look great aerially but when you get on ground level you see injustices like racism and homelessness. In a city like London there are places that attract tourists due to its history or cultural significance but a stones throw away from that place it would not be uncommon to find many societal problems like crime. When you rebel (tughyan) in the land injustice and corruption spreads.
13) So your Lord let loose on them the whip of punishment
At this point when the land becomes completely corrupt Allah (swt) unleashes his punishment. Allah (swt) is addressing the messenger here and telling him what He did to those nations that came before but of course the disbelievers are also listening. Sawt is a leather whip considered by some linguists to be the worse kind of torture as it does not cause bleeding but hurts the skin where the pain can be most severe due to the sensitive nerves there. The word sab literally means to pour a bucket over somebody and with this verse Allah (swt) is saying that He unleashed his whip or enormous pain with one powerful strike, drenching and overwhelming these people all at once. Allah (swt) did not just say He sent His punishment upon them but rather He says He threw it upon them. A whip will only hit one part of you but if a punishment is poured over you it will overwhelm you and they will be overwhelmed with this punishment.
When one is whipped he is normally lashed a number of times but here Allah (swt) says He whipped them very hard but only once. However, this is only the whip in this life. There is another one coming in the next life and the punishment of the next life is more severe. Some scholars say that this verse is tied with verse three whereby this whip is the odd (watr) and the one that is coming will make it the even one. This illustrates the overwhelming punishment (notice the word sab used to indicate pouring water) and the last nation to be mentioned in this sequence was Fir’aun who perished by being drowned. In that case, the whip of Allah (swt) came over him all at once.
14) No doubt, your Lord is waiting in ambush
Mirsaad is a place where someone lies in wait for an enemy, waiting for the perfect moment to ambush them. Allah (swt) is informing us that he is already in position and ready to attack the Quraysh. Allah (swt) does not make clear to the disbelievers who the target is by not saying for example, ‘rabbaka la bil mirsaad la hum (for them)’. By not specifying the target the one opposing the message is kept anxious through the suspense of knowing that Allah (swt) could attack and punish anyone at anytime.
15) (The nature of) man is that, when his Lord tries him through honour and blessings, he says (puffed up), ‘My Lord has honoured me’
There is a shift now in this surah from the collective to the individual, from Allah (swt) threatening the nation which happened at the beginning to Allah (swt) now commenting on the individual human being. When a group of people are warned against something the impact is not that great, as the individuals making up the group feel protected by the fact that they are in a large group and the responsibility gets diminished and distributed amongst them. By warning an individual however the affect is far greater.
In the previous surah Allah (swt) spoke of the ones that turned away (tawal-la) and disbelieved (kafara) and in this surah we have been told that the reason they turned away in disbelief was rebellion (tughyaan) and the consequence of that rebellion was corruption (fasaad). Allah (swt) now informs us of where this journey began and the ‘fa’ is an indication that the following verses are related to the previous discourse on rebellion and corruption. This process of corruption does not begin with nations but rather it begins with people, as nations do not become corrupt before people do. When enough individuals become corrupt, the nation becomes corrupt.
Normally in Arabic we would say idha abtalahu (when we test him) but here Allah (swt) says idha ma-btalahu which renders the meaning as when Allah (swt) thoroughly tests and the ma signifies each and every time man is tested. There are a number of words in the Quran used for testing. The word intahana means to test in a way that does not cause pain and the word balaw means to test someone with a test that has some difficulty. The word ibtilaa is to test someone with the toughest, harshest and most vigorous type of testing and this is the word used in this verse. This word was also used in Surah Al Baqarah to describe how Allah (swt) tested Ibrahim (as), as his tests were very hard.
Allah (swt) tests man by making him noble in society and worthy of prestige. The word ikram means to cause someone to be honoured and no one can be called kareem (noble) unless that nobility is recognised by others. One cannot call oneself honoured and can only be called thus once others begin to show you honour and resect. Allah (swt) then adds the description na’am-ma which implies that after giving prestige and honour Allah (swt) gives abundant gifts that make life easier and more comfortable for man. Everywhere he turns he has luxuries and amenities that are available to him. Thus Allah (swt) tests this person in two ways. The first tough test Allah (swt) gives man here is an honourable and distinctive position in society making him famously recognised. Outside the home he is given honour and prestige and inside the home he is given luxuries and amenities abundantly – a life of comfort and ease wherever he turns. This all sounds like a very odd test and not very testing at all but nonetheless Allah (swt) calls this a very difficult test.
Ordinarily when people go through job loss, or poverty, or sickness, life is considered tough but when finances are good and work is going well, the home is paid off, the business is going well, life is considered good. The corrupt mind would consider the more you have as being an indication of how much Allah (swt) loves you. This is a very poor way of thinking as Allah (swt) gave many evil people such as Fir’aun huge wealth and prestige. In fact some of the worst people in the sight of Allah (swt) were considered very noble by their people, for example, the Quraysh. It is easy to recognise that poverty or calamity is a test and people often fail it because they lack sabr. What makes the attainment of honour and wealth a test is realising that this it is a test in the first place.
As a result of the honour and luxuries (fa) that Allah (swt) has given, this man makes a remark and it is a remark that is made often as indicated by the use of the word ‘yaqool’. This word is in the present tense and implies that this was a statement that was made over and over. Had this word been in the past tense (qaala) it would have implied that the statement was made only once. This man says that Allah (swt) has honoured him. Normally in Arabic you would expect the verbal form of the sentence (akramanee rabbee) but here we have the nominal form and it again implies that it is a statement said often. This man acknowledges the honour and prestige he has been given but not the blessings. In the history of man it is often seen that the most powerful and corrupt men in history believed that God had honoured them with this power and authority and given divine help. For example, in Catholicism it was believed that the king was ordained by God and that the king was doing God’s work. As a consequence they believed they were above the people. Thus, essentially we learn here that when these people acknowledge their Lord it is not out of humility but rather it is out of arrogance. They believe that Allah (swt) has honoured them like He (swt) has not honoured others and chosen them over all others and as a consequence they must be special and deserving of and entitled to all these blessings and luxuries. At the individual level this is a very sick disease.
16) But when He tries him and restricts his provision, he says, ‘My Lord has humiliated me.’
This verse is a continuation of the description of the same person described in the previous verse as indicated by the ‘wa’. Qadara is to precisely calculate something and the implied meaning in this verse is that this same person is thoroughly tested again by having his future provisions restricted. Whatever this man possessed was written for him in his Qadr (destiny), both when it was plentiful and when it was scarce. Allah (swt) did not take anything away nor give anything that was not already written for this person. The word ahaanan means to make an effort to humiliate someone out of animosity towards them. This person is saying that Allah (swt) has humiliated him but in parenthesis he is saying that it is because Allah (swt) hates him or because Allah (swt) is angry with him.
In Arabic you can spell a word with a full and complete spelling but also with a partial spelling. For example, in the previous verse we found the word akraman although grammatically one would say akramanee. In this verse the word ahaananee is presented similarly with the ‘ya’ taken away. This is firstly a style of this surah as we also found this in verse four where ‘wal layl idha yasree’ became ‘wal layl idha yasr’. The function of it in that verse was to indicate that Allah (swt) makes the night stroll which is unusual and so the unusual spelling was used which is part of the eloquence of the Quran. In the previous verse this unusual feature was used to make an exclamation mark i.e. ‘My Lord has honoured me – and that is all there is to it and I won’t entertain anything to the contrary!’. We often meet people who are adamant in their belief on certain affairs and who are not open to reason or evidences let alone discussion. Similarly it is sometimes not possible to reason with and advise someone being tested to be patient as they are intent upon complaining out of sheer frustration or arrogance that Allah (swt) has humiliated them. So this is a person with a diseased mind who is not thankful to Allah (swt) for the good he receives but when Allah (swt) does limit his wealth, as was written for him in his destiny, he says, ‘My Lord has humiliated me (because He doesn’t like me, He is angry with me and I didn’t even do anything bad etc)’.
This verse talks about rizq and we learn that rizq is two things, the physical blessings that Allah (swt) gives us but also the honour. When this person has his wealth taken away he feels that as a result his honour has also been taken away as the people around him only ever respected him because of his wealth. The only way this person thinks he can get his honour back is by getting his wealth back. The believers can also be susceptible to this kind of thinking and be led into a life of materialism where honour and humiliation are tied into the things we own, the designer clothes we want, or the old car we’re ashamed to drive, the older games console we’re embarrassed to own. Sometimes we even feel ashamed to invite people to our homes because it’s not as grand as other people’s homes. This is not an abstract concept that only applies to the Quraysh or the disbelievers. These are things that the believers today say to one another all the time.
Allah (swt) is teaching us the nature of insaan and the usage of this word makes clear that Allah (swt) is addressing all of man and not necessarily just the Kuffar. The root origin of insaan is nasiya which means to forget i.e. man forgot where he came from and who his Master is and what his relationship with Him is. Insaan also comes from the word ins which is to have affection and so we can often develop affection for things other than Allah (swt) like wealth and honour which makes us forget our real purpose in life. It is also important to appreciate that we are not entitled to anything from Allah (swt). If you accept that Allah (swt) is your master you will understand that anything He (swt) gives is a gift, as He owns everything and we were born with nothing, and when He does not give we cannot complain, as it was never ours to begin with. When man does not understand this and finds he no longer possesses his wealth the first step he takes with shaytaan is to complain that Allah (swt) has humiliated him. The next step is open rebellion against Allah (swt) as this person will question why he should obey Allah (swt) after being humiliated. This person will try to justify making money through haram as he will say that Allah (swt) did not let him earn halal.
This rebellion began with a corrupt attitude that brought about corruption in the nations before us and their ultimate destruction. Allah (swt) says in the Quran that whosoever He (swt) humiliates none can honour which is why we find that some of the most wealthy people in this world are also the most humiliated whilst those people who have nothing are honoured in such a way that nothing negative can be said about them. Thus it is apparent how nations become corrupt through corrupt individuals who carry incorrect concepts about Allah (swt). May Allah (swt) change our attitudes about wealth and honour by means of these verses.
17) No indeed! You (people) do not honour orphans
Allah (swt) has been discussing the individual human being but the Quraysh have reached the point where when the individual is spoken of they do not think of themselves. It has to be spelled out for them and so there is another migration in the surah. Allah (swt) is essentially saying that the Quraysh do not deserve to be honoured and why should they be when they don’t respect and honour the orphan. As Muslims we should know who the orphans in our community are, where they live and what difficulties they have.
In the ancient Arab society yateem did not just mean orphan, it meant someone who does not have any support, a family to care for them, somebody to ask about them if they are ill, if they’ve eaten or not. It is those people with no backing or support. In Jahiliyya a women when widowed would go back to her family but sadly in today’s Muslim societies the widow is ostracised and disowned due to ‘respect’. How often do we hear of new Muslims who are disowned by their parents and become orphans overnight? We pass them Islamic literature and consider our duty to them discharged. Allah (swt) does not speak of feeding or helping the orphan but merely speaks of giving them due respect and honour. It is easy to honour someone above you like your teacher or manager or the imam at the masjid. These are people easily honoured whereas those considered below you, like the person who mows your lawn or cleans the street, are looked on as being less than human.
This is a sickness in the Muslim community. We are the people who have been given the revelation which tells us that all humans are created equally and that the only thing that gives one superiority over another is At-Taqwa which no one can see as it is in the heart. We dishonour and look down on people based on their wealth, the kind of job they have, their social class, their colour and race. Why would Allah (swt) honour such a person if they do not honour the one who needs support? A Muslim should honour and respect the orphan like he is royalty.
Allah (swt) first mentions honouring the needy and then mentions feeding them. How often does one give money to a homeless person without honouring him, almost afraid that he might speak to you or touch you? It is part of our deen to honour those in need and indeed there is no dawah in Islam better than this. It is easy to give a cheque to a charitable organisation who then throw water out of a truck like they are feeding animals in a zoo. What respect is shown to the one who has to pick that bottle up? The people discussed here have been given wealth, respect and blessings but all they can do is engage in useless and pathetic activities rather than encouraging one another to help others with what Allah (swt) has given them. So why then should this person be worthy of honour?
The word turaath means inherited wealth and also refers to wealth that came to you without you having to do any work. This is a person who is already wealthy but is constantly looking for ways to increase his wealth. For example, there may be a family member that is ill but all this person can think about is whether any part of the relative’s estate will come to him after he dies. A person who visits the sick not out of humanity but to investigate whether the will has been put together yet. This person has lost his humanity through his love of money. Lam means to pile something up and so this person consumes this wealth by gathering as much of it in as he can in his arms before eating it (akl – to eat). This indicates that this person not only wants to consume everything but also that he does not want to leave anything for anyone else and this is how a person takes the wealth of the orphan. These criticisms were levelled at the Kuffar but our ummah has reached the point where Muslims are also doing this in many different ways. For example by denying their sister her inheritance and justifying it by believing that they need it more.
20) And you love wealth with a passion
Not honouring the orphan, not encouraging one another to feed the orphan, hoarding and devouring the wealth you did not work for were all actions on the outside. After all these actions Allah (swt) mentions something on the inside and the last action is the worst of them all. The worst crime was their love of wealth as this is the root cause for all the other evils. Jamm in Arabic is when you fill something to the brim and so this person loves wealth that is metaphorically filled to the brim.
Dakka is to pound and beat a material until it becomes powder and dust so that you can then flatten it out. Allah (swt) says that the earth will be pounded and beaten until it turns into nothing but dust and is then spread and flattened out. The previous surah made us reflect on how the earth is so vast and the mountains so strong like pegs in the earth. Allah (swt) is now taking this same earth and completely destroying it. In the previous verses there was much mention of wealth on the earth and these people think that their wealth will be with them always or that it will stay within their families forever. The same wealth that is being saved and hoarded will be crushed and reduced to useless dust. It is in fact Allah (swt) Who will inherit the earth.
Previously the disbelievers were impressed with their power on earth and their armies huge in numbers but here Allah (swt) is showing them His power from the sky. Rows upon rows of angels will keep descending and it will seem like a never-ending army. In the previous surah we were told to reflect on the sky and how it has been raised. It is now a different kind of reflection on the sky from where angels are descending.
23) And when Hell is brought forward that day, it will be the day man will take heed, but what good will that be to him then?
According to some linguists the word jahannam comes from the Persian word jahnaam, which means torture chamber. In the same verse Allah (swt) says that the human being will remember thoroughly. The fact that these two statements have not been given the separation of an ayah means they will happen together. Thus, when the torture chamber that is hell is brought forward man will remember fully all that did in this world. The word yatadhakaru is spelt with the complete spelling of the word and the meaning therefore is also the most complete meaning, that man will fully and thoroughly remember what he has done. This is in contrast to the previous surahs where the messenger is told constantly to remind but the disbelievers chose not to pay any attention and take even a little heed as indicated by the idgham (merged/partial spelling) word yadh-dhakur. When he sees the hellfire though he himself will finally take heed and make an effort to remember every last detail. However, at that point the reminder and taking heed of it will be of no benefit to them and it will be too late.
When this person remembers all he did he will say over and over (as indicated by yaqool) ‘Oh what destruction has fallen on upon me!’ or ‘What have I done to myself!’. He will then wish that he had invested in his future life by sending forward some good. When this person was sinning it was for their life in the dunya but they will at that point realise that it was not real life. These are the people who in the dunya, when they see you investing in your akhira, tell you to concentrate on investing in your future, i.e. in your dunya, studies, home, work etc. However, their perspective soon changes when they get to their real future and life but at that point it will be too late.
On that day there will be no one to torture anyone the way Allah (swt) is going to and there will be no one who can imagine a more intense punishment than the one Allah (swt) has prepared for him.
26) And no one will bind as He will bind
If you are being punished in this world there is at least always the hope that you can escape and run away and that a window of opportunity will present itself when a door is left open for example or when one’s handcuffs are left loose. Wathaaq is to tie firmly and Allah (swt) says that nobody will tie the likes of His tying which will be a firm and strong binding.
O (you) the one in (complete) rest and satisfaction
There is another profound shift as we reach the end of this surah. In the previous verses we learnt about about the rebellious but it was as if these rebellious people were beyond hope to the extent that they did not even deserve to be spoken to and so Allah (swt) turns away from them and turns to those who He (swt) has hope in. By saying ‘Ya’ Allah (swt) is speaking to each individual directly and this marks a shift from the third to the second person and is a sign of Allah’s closeness to His believing tranquil slave. Understand also that this conversation is taking place in Paradise and through the use of ‘ya’ Allah (swt) is forcing the reciter and listener of the Quran to imagine himself as being the tranquil soul in Paradise that He (swt) is talking to.
The word ittminaan in Arabic means to be completely tranquil. This surah discussed a person earlier that was not tranquil, one who was only happy when he had wealth but when he lost it he became disturbed and said that his Lord has humiliated him. However, the real slave of Allah (swt) does not let his nafs be led astray by empty and false desires and is addressed as the satisfied and tranquil one. This illustrates one of the greatest gifts of jannah – a calmness and relaxation that one can never have in this dunya. Any relaxation we experience is temporary and is soon replaced by a stress or burden. Something or another keeps coming up and no matter what you have in this dunya there is always something you don’t have. Allah (swt) is saying that this person is finally satisfied and has no urge to acquire anything further anymore.
In the beginning of this surah there were four oaths that Allah (swt) took. It is commented that these oaths allude to those times that the tranquil nafs is closest to Allah (swt). The person who reaches this tranquillity is a real servant of Allah (swt) and one of the most blessed acts of slavery to Allah (swt) is the Fajr prayer which involves abandoning one’s sleep (verse one). The slave of Allah (swt) also takes most advantage of the last ten nights of Ramadan and the first ten days of Dhul Hijjah which are the best days and nights to do worship (verse two). Then as interpreted by some, the even and the odd prayers (verse three). Finally, there is the last third of the night when prayers are most answered by Allah (swt). This is the time when the night is about to disappear and the time to wrap up your qiyaam approaches and when it is time to finish your suhoor so that you can fast (verse four). These are the times that one is closest to Allah (swt) and these are the times that are alluded to in the beginning oaths. The one who was committed to these oaths is addressed as the satisfied nafs but what exactly has satisfied this nafs?
The first and most important gift Allah (swt) gives this person is the return to his Master. In this worldly material life everyone else was striving to achieve other forms of pleasure but this tranquil nafs was yearning to meet his Lord, Allah (swt). Surely with the remembrance of Allah (swt) do hearts find calmness and nothing satisfied this person more than remembering Allah (swt) and now Allah (swt) gives this person something beyond even the remembrance, a return to his Master in a state of tranquillity. There are two adjectives used in this verse. The word raadiyatan tells us that this person has truly returned to Allah (swt) and is pleased with Him (swt) in all situations. This is important because in this surah we find the person who is not pleased with Allah (swt) and does not show gratitude to Him (swt). The second adjective is the word mardiyatan which means that Allah (swt) is pleased with His slave in return.
There is a profound reality in this for anyone one who makes taubah or who enters the religion of Islam. When you return to Allah (swt) you face a lot of difficulties whether you are a Muslim in sin who decides to repent and become obedient to Allah (swt) or whether you are a non-Muslim who enters Islam. As soon as you become serious about this deen and serious about returning to your Master and living like a true slave, you face problems. Your family, friends, old habits, society, the way you earn your money can all get in the way and test you. Relationships can also suffer, relationships with the family, wife, children and all because you returned to your lord. All of these things are connected with being dissatisfied with life but when you are detached from all of theses things and return only to Allah (swt) you find a tranquility you have never found before. Returning to Allah (swt) after you have indulged in pleasure and enslaved yourself to your vices and habits is a high you cannot match and it leads to real satisfaction.
The first gift was the company of Allah (swt). The second gift is the company of the righteous slaves of Allah (swt). This person read about the righteous that came before him, of Ibrahim (as), of the Messenger (saw), of Abu Bakr (ra) and wants to meet them and be with them. Thus, after Allah (swt) meets the tranquil nafs, He (swt) allows it to meet His other righteous slaves.
30) And enter into My Paradise
After all these amazing gifts, Allah (swt) mentions Paradise last. Allah (swt) does not say enter Jannah, rather He (swt) says enter My Jannah almost as if Allah (swt) wants to show what special arrangements He (swt) has made for this one special individual. He (swt) is not even talking to the ummah but rather He (swt) is individually addressing each person that enters Jannah. This transition to the individual illustrates that Allah (swt) is forcing us to picture ourselves in that Paradise.
May Allah (swt) make us from amongst those slaves of Allah that reach tranquility in this life and makes us of those slaves that take advantage of the profound days and acts of worship that are highlighted in the beginning of this surah and may Allah forgive our shortcomings in our ibaadaat, the way our minds wonder in salaah, the way we skip our prayers through laziness, the way we waste our nights in entertaining ourselves and may He make us from amongst His beloved slaves that enter into His company and into the company of His special slaves and His special paradise.