Allah will Not Abandon His Believing Servants
Before making any reference to the pit event, the Surah opens with an oath by a heaven full of constellations: “By the sky containing great stars.” The commentators have interpreted the Arabic word buruj in several ways. First of all, we should know that the word buruj is the plural of burj which means fort or tower; something that can be seen from a distance. Ibn ‘Abbas, Mujahid, Ad-Dahhaj, Al-Hasan, Qatadah and As-Suddi said buruj means stars. Ibn Jareer chose the view that it means the positions of the sun and the moon, which are twelve buruj. The sun travels through each one of these burj in one month. The moon travels through each one of these burj in two-and-a-third days, which makes a total of twenty-eight positions, and it is hidden for two nights.
This reference to the constellations gives an impression of a huge creation. This is, indeed, the connotation intended at the outset.
“And [by] the promised Day,” meaning the Judgment Day when all the accounts of the world will be settled. It is a Day that Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala has promised will come, and is a greatly awaited and feared day. On that day all deeds and beings will be exposed. Everybody becomes a witness. Everything becomes known as there is no cover to hide anything from beholding eyes. How does everyone become a witness? On that Day the reality will be before our eyes. Our limbs and the earth on which sins were committed will speak for or against us. The Qur’an that we recite or abandon will be a witness for or against us. May Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala protect us, aameen.
Having grabbed our attention, the Surah then refers to the people of the pit: “Cursed were the companions of the trench. [Containing] the fire full of fuel.” The reference to the event begins with a declaration of anger with the tyrants. They were a group of people who were among the disbelievers. They went after those among them who believed in Allah and they attempted to force them to give up their religion. However, the believers refused to recant, so they dug a ditch, lit a fire and prepared some fuel for it in order to keep it ablaze. They then again tried to convince the believers to apostate from their religion, but they refused. As a result, they were thrown into the fire while the disbelievers sat aside in the vicinity to watch the ghastly scene of torture and human flesh burning.
The believers had not committed any crime or evil deed. Their only crime was believing in Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala Who deserves to be worshipped and praised. He does not treat unjustly those who desire to be with Him. He is the Most Mighty and Most Praiseworthy in all of His statements, actions, legislation, and decrees. As He witnesses all things He has witnessed what the tyrants did to the believers. This ayah reassures the believers and delivers a powerful threat to the tyrants. Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala has been a witness and He suffices for a witness. The narration of the event is completed in a few short ayaat which charge our hearts with a feeling of repugnance towards the terrible crime and its evil perpetrators. They also invite us to contemplate what lies beyond the event, its importance in the sight of Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala and what it has aroused of Allah’s wrath. It is a matter which is not yet completed. It will be concluded on the Day of Judgment.
As the narration of the event concludes we feel overwhelmed by the magnificence of faith as it exalts the believers and attains its triumph over all hardships, and indeed over life itself. We feel the elevation of the believers as they rid themselves of the handicaps of human desire and worldly temptation. The believers could easily have saved their lives by accepting the tyrants’ terms. But what a loss humanity as a whole would have incurred! How great the loss would have been had they killed that sublime concept of the worthlessness of life without faith, its ugliness without freedom and its baseness when tyrants are left free to exercise their tyranny over people’s souls after they have exercised it over their bodies. But they have won a noble and sublime concept while the fire burned their flesh. Their noble concept has triumphed as it was purified by the fire. They will, later on, have their reward from Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala and their tyrannical enemies will have their retribution.