In the Shade of the Quran (part 30)


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  • In the Shade of the Quran (part 30)


  • Surah 84 The Rending - al Inshiqaq

    In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.

     

    When the sky is rent asunder, obeying her Lord in true submission; When the earth is stretched out and casts forth all that is within her and becomes empty, obeying her Lord in true submission ! O man! You labor hard unto your Lord, and you shall meet Him. He who is given his book in his right hand shall have a lenient reckoning and return rejoicing to his people. But he who is given his book behind his back shall call down destruction upon himself and shall roast in the fire of Hell. He lived among his family joyfully. He surely thought he would never return. Yes, indeed; his Lord was watching over him. I swear by the twilight, and by the night and what it envelops, and by the moon in her full perfection, that you shall certainly ride, that you shall certainly ride, stage after stage. Why then do they not accept the faith, or kneel in prayer when the Qur'an is read to them? But the disbelievers are crying lies, and Allah knows very well what they are hiding. So give them the tidings of a woeful doom, save those who embrace the true faith and do good deeds; for theirs is an unfailing recompense.

     

    Commentary:

    The surah opens by sketching some of the scenes of universal upheaval which were dealt with in greater detail in surahs 81, 82 and earlier in surah 78; "The Darkening", "The Cleaving Asunder" and "The Tiding", respectively. These scenes, however, are now given a special tone arising from emphasis on the complete submission by heaven and earth to Allah:

    When the sky is rent asunder, obeying her Lord in true submission; when the earth is stretched out and castsforth all that is within her and becomes empty, obeying her Lord in true submission.

    This powerful opening with its emphasis on submission to Allah is a foreword to the subsequent address to man. to make him feel his humbleness in front of his Lord. Man is reminded of his position and his ultimate destiny when he returns to Allah:

    O man! You labour hard unto your Lord, and you shall meet him. He who is given his book in his right hand shall have a lenient reckoning and return rejoicing to his people. But he who is given his book behind his back shall call down destruction upon himself and shall roast in the fire of hell. He lived among his family joyfully. He surely thought he would never return. Yes, indeed; his Lord was watching over him .

    The third part of the surah sketches certain scenes of life on earth which are well known to man. These have their significance as they point to Allah's planning, which is elaborate, and faultless. An oath is made to assert that men must live through deliberately planned stages which they cannot escape journeying through and experiencing:

    I swear by the twilight, and by the night and what it envelops, and by the moon in her full perfection, that you shall certainly ride, stage after stage.

    The last part of the surah wonders at those who deny the faith when their position is as described in the previous two parts, and the end of their world is as described in the beginning of the surah: Why then do they not accept the faith, or kneel in prayer when the Qur'an is read to them?

    Then follows an assertion that Allah knows what they conceal within themselves and an ultimatum is given on their inevitable end: But the disbelievers are crying lies, and Allah knows very well what they are hiding, so give them the tiding of woeful doom, save those who embrace the true faith and do good deeds, for theirs is an unfailing recompense.

    Two main qualities are evident in this surah: its quiet rhythm and its earnest message. Both are evident even in the images of the universal upheaval the surah contains, which are portrayed with much more violence elsewhere (Surah 81, "The Darkening"). Here the attitude of sympathetic and compassionate cautioning is adopted. The cautioning is gradual, easy and presented in a quiet, inspiring statement beginning with the words "O man". This awakens the conscience.

    The various parts of the surah are ordered according to a special plan. It carries the reader through a variety of scenes, some relating to the universe, others to man himself. The scenes are sketched one after the other in a thoughtful order starting with the scene of universal submission to Allah, which leaves a gentle but real impression on the reader's heart. Then we have the scene of the reckoning, reward and retribution, followed by a contemporary scene of life on earth and its phenomena. Then follows a statement of wonder at those who, after all this, still refuse to accept the faith. The statement is combined with a warning of severe punishment, and a promise of unfailing reward to the believers.

    All this is embodied in the few lines which compose this short surah. Succinctness of style is just one aspect of the miraculous nature of the Qur'an . The ideas the surah sets out to explain could not normally be tackled with such power and to such effect, even if entire books were devoted to the task. But the Qur'an achieves its purpose because it addresses hearts directly. No wonder! It is the word of the Lord Who knows all. When the sky is rent asunder, obeying her Lord in true submission; when the earth is stretched out and castsforth all that is within her and becomes empty, obeying her Lord in true submission.

    The splitting of the sky has been dwelt upon in the commentary on other surahs. One new element here is the submission by the sky to her Lord and her complete obedience: "obeying her Lord in true submission." Another new element is the stretching of the earth: "when the earth is stretched out." This means perhaps an expansion of her size or shape as a result of a disruption of the laws of nature which govern her and preserve her in her present shape. The statement, made in the passive, suggests that this will be carried out through the intervention of an outside force, "and castsforth all that is within her and becomes empty." This image portrays the earth as a living entity casting out what is within her and getting rid of it.

    There are indeed a great many things within her, countless types of creation that have lived, died and were buried over a long period of time, the span of which is known to no one but Allah . It also includes abundant resources of metals, water and other secrets unknown except to the Creator. The earth carries all this load one generation after another until that final day when it casts forth all that is within her and gets rid of it. "Obeying her Lord in true submission". She follows the sky's suit and declares total obedience and complete submission to Allah.

    These short verses with their vivid description show both the sky and the earth as living, receiving their orders and instantly complying with them. Their obedience is a manifestation of their conscious and dutiful submission.

    Although the scene sketched here is one of universal upheaval which takes place on the Day of Judgment, its shades of humility solemnity and tranquillity are brought out in full relief. The impression it leaves, therefore, is one of humble and obedient submission to Allah.In such an atmosphere of conscious obedience, man is addressed from high: "O man! You labour hard unto your Lord, and you shall meet Him."

    "O man!" your Lord has made you in a perfect way. He has given you your humanity which distinguishes you from the rest of creation. Your humanity endows you with certain characteristics which should have made you more conscious of your Lord, and more obedient and submissive to Him than both the sky and the earth. He has given man of His own spirit and endowed him with the ability to communicate with Him, receive His light, ennoble him self with Allah's grace in order to achieve the highest degree of perfection attainable by man. This is no little distinction. "O man! You labour hard unto your Lord and you shall meet Him." Man certainly labors hard in this life, shouldering his responsibilities and exerting himself. All this he does in order to return, in the end, like all the rest of creation, to Allah. Man labors even for what he enjoys! Nothing in this life comes easily or without effort: if sometimes no physical labour is needed, then surely some mental and emotional effort will be required. In this the rich and poor are alike, although the labour exerted may differ in kind and form. This address reminds man that laboring hard, in a variety of ways, is the lot of all in this life on earth. But when men meet their Lord, they will fall into two groups: one will suffer hardship incomparable to that suffered on earth; another consisting of those who have demonstrated their obedience and true submission, will enjoy the blessings of a rest in which the suffering of this life will be forgotten. He who is given his book in his right hand shall have a lenient reckoning and return rejoicing to his people

    He who is given his book in his right hand is the happy one who was true to his faith Allah is pleased with him and rewards him well. He will have a lenient reckoning, that is to say that he will not be called to account for what he did in his life. This is abundantly clear in the traditions of the Prophet. "Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) related that the Messenger said, 'He who is called to account will suffer affliction.' I pointed out, she said, that Allah says, 'He ... shall have a lenient reckoning'. The Messenger answered, 'That is not what is meant by reckoning and accountability. Lenient reckoning signifies no more than showing his record. He who is called to account on the Day of Judgement will suffer affliction."(al Bukhari, Muslim, at Tirmidhi, an Nasai).

    Aisha also related: "I heard Allah's messenger (peace be upon him) saying in his prayers 'My Lord, make my reckoning a lenient one'. When he had finished his prayers I asked him, 'What is the lenient reckoning?' He answered: 'He who receives lenient reckoning will have his record looked into and will be forgiven, but he who is called to account on that day will perish."

    This is, then the lenient reckoning accorded to him who receives his book in his right hand. He shall win "and return rejoicing m his people", who will also have won and arrived in heaven ahead of him. We deduce from this statement that those who accept the faith in this life and adhere to the right path will gather together in heaven. Everyone ends up with those whom he loves and enjoys their company. We also have an image of the winner's all-important test: he returns with his face overflowing with happiness.

    This image is the extreme opposite of what happens to the afflicted who has to account for his evil deeds and receives his book with reluctance. But he who is given his book behind his back shall call down destruction upon himself and shall roast in the fire of Hell.

    The Qur'an usually makes a distinction between receiving the book with one's right hand or left hand. Here we have a new image: the book is given from behind the back. There is no reason to prevent the combination of anyone being given the book in his left hand and from behind his back at the same time. It is an image of one who feels great shame and hates to be confronted with what he has done. We have no real knowledge of the nature of this book or how it is given in one's right or left hand or behind one's back. But we comprehend from the first expression the reality of escape, and from the second the reality of doom.

    This is indeed what we are meant to appreciate. The various forms of expression are used mainly to drive the point to us and to enhance its effects. The exact knowledge of what will happen and how it will happen belongs to Allah.

    So, the unfortunate one who lived his life on earth laboring hard but disobeying Allah and indulging in what is forbidden will know his destiny. He realizes that what lies in front of him is more suffering and hard labour with the only difference that this time the suffering is greater, uninterrupted and endless. So, he shall call destruction upon himself, for he will see his own destruction as his only means of salvation from what will befall him. When man seeks refuge in his own destruction, then he is certainly in a helpless position. His own non existence becomes his strongest desire. His helplessness is beyond description. This is the meaning implied by the Arab poet Al-Mutanabbi, in his poem which starts with what may be rendered in English as: Suffice it a malady that you should think death a cure. It says much that doom should be desired.

    It is certainly a case of indescribable distress and misery. "And (he) shall roast in the fire of Hell." This is the end from which he wishes to escape by means of his own destruction; but there is no way out. Having portrayed this miserable scene, the surah gives us a glimpse of the sufferer's past which led him to this endless misery: "He lived among his family joyfully. He surely thought he would never return." The past tense is used here because we feel that we are on the Day of Judgement, after this life has ended. The indulgence and the joy had taken place in this life. "He lived among his family joyfully." He cared for nothing beyond the moment he was in, and made no preparation for the hereafter. "He surely thought he would never return" to his Lord. Had he thought about the return at the end of his Journey through life, he would have carried with him some provisions to sustain him. "Yes, indeed; his Lord was watching over him". Indeed Allah has always been aware of man's thoughts, actions and feelings. Allah knows that, contrary to what man had thought, there would be a return to Him to receive the reward merited by actions on earth. This is indeed what happens when all return to Allah to meet their appointed destiny, when what Allah has ordained would take place. The image of the miserable one when he was joyful among his family in his short life on earth, characterised by its hard labour, in one form or another, has a counter part in the image of the happy one who returns rejoicing to his people to live with them an eternal happy life, free from all hardship.

    The surah then refers briefly to some scenes of the world which man inhabits. Men, however, continue to overlook the evidence such scenes provide of the deliberate planning that has gone into the making of this world. Indeed, this planning includes the creation of man himself, and his phases and transitions through life: I swear by the twilight, and by the night and what it envelops, and by the moon in her full perfection, that you shall certainly journey on, stage after stage.

    The oath, which is indirect in the Arabic text, serves to draw man's attention to these scenes of the universe. The connotations here are in perfect harmony with those of the opening of the surah and the scenes portrayed there. The twilight refers to that period of stillness after sunset when the soul is overwhelmed by a deep feeling of awe. The heart feels, at such a time, the significance of parting with a beloved companion, and the feelings of quiet sadness and deep melancholy this involves. It also experiences a feeling of fear of the approaching darkness.

    "And by the night and what it envelops." What the night envelops is left unspecified to enhance the effect. Imagination can travel far and wide as one thinks of what the nigh may conceal of events and feelings. But the travels of the imagination cannot capture all the images generated by the short Qur'anic verse: "And by the night and what it envelops." Man is left with an overwhelming feeling and reverence which is in perfect harmony with the stillness and awe associated with the twilight.

    "And by the moon in her full perfection". This is another quiet and splendid scene, describing the full moon as her light descends over the earth. The full moon is always associated with tranquillity. The general impression implied here is closely associated with the twilight, and the dark night as it conceals everything. There is here a complementary feeling of stillness and reverence.

    "That you shall certainly ride, stage after stage," that is to say, you will pass from one stage of suffering to another to what has been predestined for you. The Qur'an uses the term "ride" to denote the undergoing of various stages of suffering. "Ride" is frequently used in Arabic to signify the passage through risk and difficulty. This usage suggests that difficulties and risks are like horses or mules to be ridden. Each one will take the riders the stage predestined for it and for them. Thus each one will deliver them to a new stage which is again predetermined, in the same way as the universal stages, i.e. the twilight, the night and the perfect moon, are predetermined. They eventually end with their meeting with Allah, which bas been mentioned in the preceding part. This coherent ordering of the parts of the surah and the smooth movement from one point to another is a characteristic of the superb Qur'anic style.

    Following on from these sketches portrayed in the surah there comes an expression of wonder at those who persist in their denial of the faith when they have all these signs and all this abundant evidence within themselves and in the world at large which indicates the truth: "Why then do. they not accept the faith, or kneel in prayer when the Qur'an is read to them?" Indeed, why do they not accept the faith? There are numerous indications in the universe and within the soul which point out that the path of faith is the right path. They are at once numerous, deep and powerful, so they besiege the heart if it tries to run away from facing them. But if a man listens to them, then they address him in a manner which is friendly and affectionate. Why then do they not accept the faith, or kneel in prayer when the Qur'an is read to them?.

    The Qur'an addresses them in the language of pure human nature. It opens the heart to the truth and points out its evidence both within themselves and over the horizon. It kindles in the hearts the feelings of God consciousness, humbleness, obedience and submission to the Creator of the universe. The expressions "kneel in prayer" refers to these feelings. The universe is splendid and inspiring: it offers a multitude of signs, mental stimuli and moments of purity which combine to arouse in the human heart a ready response and a willing submission. The Qur'an is also superb and inspiring; it links the heart with the splendid universe and, consequently, with the Creator who made the universe. It gives the heart a feeling of the truth about the universe which also demonstrates the truth of creation and the Creator. Hence the wonder: Why then do they not accept the faith, or kneel in prayer when the Qur'an is read to them?

    It is indeed amazing, but the Qur'an does not dwell on it for long. It proceeds to describe the behavior of the disbelievers and the end which awaits them. "But the disbelievers are crying lies, and Allah knows very well what they are hiding, so give them the tiding of a woeful doom."

    The disbelievers cry lies, but the object of their denunciation as lies is unspecified. In Arabic, omission of the object serves to widen the scope of references of the verb. Thus, here we understand that "crying lies" is an entrenched habit and a characteristic of the disbelievers. But Allah is fully aware of the evil they conceal in their hearts and He knows perfectly well their motives for belying the truth.

    The surah leaves off to address the Messenger (peace be on him): "So give them the tiding of a woeful doom, " an unpleasant tiding for anyone who is awaiting any news of his future. At the same time the surah describes what awaits the believers who prepare for their future by their good deeds. The description is made in the form of an exception from what awaits the disbelievers: "save those who embrace the faith and do good deeds; for theirs is an unfailing recompense." This type of exception is known in Arabic linguistics as "unrelated exception". The believers, not originally among the recipients of the black tidings, are then excepted from it. This form of expression serves to draw attention to what follows. The unfailing recompense is one which is continuous and unceasing, and will be given in the hereafter, where men are immortal.

    On this decisive note the surah ends. It is a surah of short verses and powerful effect.

     

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