The Day of Judgment
The Surah opens with a question followed by a story related to it. The scene of suffering and torture is given before the scene of joy, because the former is closer to the connotations of the name given to the event, the Enveloper.
We are being told that on that Day there will be faces which will look downcast and worn out. Why has the faced been mentioned here? It is because face is a reflection of one’s internal condition. People who are at peace and happy, they have radiant and glowing faces. On the other hand, unhappy people have visible signs of depression and stress on their face. Who will be these people with downcast and worn out faces? They belong to people who have labored and toiled without satisfactory results. In Surah al-Layl, we read about people’s diverse efforts in this world. One is toiling to accumulate the worldly pleasures of this temporary world while the other is exhausting himself to gain the pleasure of Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala. When the efforts are diverse then certainly the results will be different too. The one who is toiling for the pleasures of this world his efforts will be a total loss, and it will give him nothing more than disappointment, humiliation and exhaustion.
Moreover, man’s efforts not only differ on worldly matters but also on religious matters. There are people who have invented things in religion which were not followed or taught by Rasooullah salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. People are exhausting themselves over self-invented strenuous methods of worship such as reciting a certain dhikr 1000 times at a certain time, or staying awake all night on a special day of the week missing fard Salah the next day. They are laboring and wearing themselves out for something other than what Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala ordained.
Al-Hafiz Abu Bakr Al-Burqani narrated from Abu `Imran Al-Jawni that he said, “`Umar bin Al-Khattab passed by the monastery of a monk and he said, ‘O monk!’ Then the monk came out, and `Umar looked at him and began to weep. Then it was said to him, ‘O Commander of the faithful! Why are you weeping?’ He replied, `I remembered the statement of Allah, the Mighty and Majestic, in His Book,
عَامِلَةٌ نَّاصِبَةٌ – تَصْلَى نَاراً حَامِيَةً
[Laboring, weary. They will enter into Fire, Hamiyah.] So that is what has made me cry.’” [Tafseer ibn Katheer]
The work of these people was totally for themselves and their families, for their own ambitions in the life of this world. Then they come to reap the fruits of their toil, not having made any provision for their future life. Hence they face the end with a mixture of humiliation, exhaustion, misery and hopelessness. In addition to all this they roast “in an intensely hot Fire,” they will be given “drink from a boiling spring,” their food will be “poisonous thorny plant which will neither nourish nor satisfy their hunger.”
The Arabic term dari’, has been translated here as ‘poisonous, dry thorns’. Some commentators say that it refers to a tree of fire in hell. This explanation is based on what has been revealed about the tree of zaqqoom which grows at the centre of hell. It is also said to be a kind of cactus thorn, which when green is called shabraq and is eaten by camels. However, when it is fully grown it becomes poisonous and cannot be eaten. Whatever it is in reality, it is a kind of food which neither nourishes nor appeases hunger.
We cannot fully comprehend the nature of such suffering in the Hereafter; the description is made in order to give our perceptions the feeling of the greatest possible pain. It is a combination humiliation, failure, scorching fire, drinking and bathing in boiling water, and eating the most unacceptable food. This is extreme affliction. May Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala protect us all from such an end, aameen.