Ayaat 1-6 – Dishonesty in Business a Cause of Regret in the Hereafter
Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala opens the Surah with a declaration of war. The Arabic term ‘woe’ implies destruction and ruin. The meaning of the word tatfeef from which mutafifeen is derived is ‘to be stingy with measurement and weight, either by increasing it if it is due from the others, or decreasing it if it is a debt’. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala explains that the mutafifeen are those who “when they take a measure from people take in full,” [83:2] but “if they give by measure or by weight to them, they cause loss,” [83:3] meaning they decrease. Verily Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala commanded that the measure and weight should be given in full, as we read in Surah al-Isra’ ayah 35, “And give full measure when you measure, and weigh with an even balance. That is the best [way] and best in result.”
The people of Shu’aib were destroyed and wiped out because of their cheating in weights and measurements. In spite of Prophet Shu’aib ‘alayhi salaam’s counsel and advice they did not refrain from it.
Mutafiffeen are those who want their merchandise complete and intact when they buy, but who do not give the right amount when they sell. The following three ayaat wonder at the defrauders, who behave as if they will not have to account for what they gain in this life: “Do they not think that they will be resurrected for a tremendous Day – the Day when mankind will stand before the Lord of the worlds?” [83: 4-6]
Do these people not fear the resurrection and standing before He Who knows the hidden matters and the innermost secrets, on a Day that contains great horror and tremendous fright? Their attitude is singularly strange.
The mere idea of being raised to life again on that great Day, when all mankind shall stand as ordinary individuals in front of the Lord of the universe, awaiting His just judgment, without support from any quarter, should be enough to make them change course. But they persist, as if the thought of being raised to life after death has never crossed their minds.
Ibn ‘Umar radhiAllahu ‘anhu narrated that the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said,
يَوْمَ يَقُومُ النَّاسُ لِرَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ، حَتْى يَغِيبَ أَحَدُهُمْ فِي رَشْحِهِ إِلَى أَنْصَافِ أُذُنَيْه
“This will be the Day that mankind will stand before the Lord of all that exists, until one of them will sink up to the middle of his ears in sweat.” [Bukhari recorded this hadeeth from Malik and ‘Abdullah bin ‘Awn, both of whom reported it from Nafi’. Muslim also recorded it] Sinking up in sweat is similar to how a person feels standing before someone who’s right he has ignored or someone that he had cheated. One is ashamed and knows his reality.
Imam Ahmad recorded that he heard the Messenger of Allah say,
إِذَا كَانَ يَوْمُ الْقِيَامَةِ أُدْنِيَتِ الشَّمْسُ مِنَ الْعِبَادِ حَتْى تَكُونَ قَدْرَ مِيلٍ أَوْ مِيلَيْنِ قال فَتَصْهَرُهُمُ الشَّمْسُ فَيَكُونُونَ فِي الْعَرَقِ كَقَدْرِ أَعْمَالِهِمْ، مِنْهُمْ مَنْ يَأْخُذُهُ إِلَى عَقِبَيْهِ، وَمِنْهُمْ مَنْ يَأْخُذُهُ إِلَى رُكْبَتَيْهِ، وَمِنْهُمْ مَنْ يَأْخُذُهُ إِلَى حَقْوَيْهِ، وَمِنْهُمْ مَنْ يُلْجِمُهُ إِلْجَامًا
“On the Day of Judgment, the sun will draw near the servants until it is a mile or two away from them. Then the sun will burn them, and they will be submersed in sweat based upon the amount of their deeds. From among them there will be those whose sweat will come up to their two heels. From among them there will be those whose sweat will come up to their two knees. From among them there will be those whose sweat will come up to their groins. From among them there will be those who will be bridled in sweat (up to their necks).” [Muslim, at-Tirmidhi]
In Sunan Abu Dawo’ud it is recorded that the Messenger of Allah used to seek refuge with Allah from the hardship of standing on the Day of Judgment. It has been reported from Ibn Mas’oud radhiAllahu ‘anhu that they will be standing for forty years with their heads raised toward the sky. No one will speak to them, and the righteous and wicked among them will all be bridled in sweat. It has been reported from Ibn ‘Umar radhiAllahu ‘anha that they will be standing for one hundred years. Both of these statements have been recorded by Ibn Jareer.
In the Sunans of Abu Dawud, An-Nasa’i, and Ibn Majah, it is recorded from ‘A’ishah radhiAllahu ‘anha that the Messenger of Allah used to begin his late night prayer by declaring Allah’s greatness [Allahu Akbar] ten times, praising Allah [Alhumdulillah] ten times, glorifying Allah [SubhanAllah] ten times, and seeking Allah’s forgiveness [Astaghfirullah] ten times. Then he would say,
اللْهُمَّ اغْفِرْ لِي وَاهْدِنِي وَارْزُقْنِي وَعَافِنِي
“O Allah! Forgive me, guide me, provide for me, and protect me.” Then he would seek refuge from the hardship of the standing on the Day of Judgment.
Ayaat 7-17 – The Inevitable Reckoning
The Surah proceeds to describe the standing of this group before Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala, their situation in this life, and what awaits them on the great day.
They think they will not be raised to life after death, so the Qur’an rebukes them and affirms that a record of their actions is kept. There is no possibility of addition or omission until it is thrown open on that great day. The location of that record is specified as an additional confirmation of the fact, albeit a location unknown to man. They are threatened with woe and ruin on that day when their record shall be reviewed: “No! Indeed, the record of the wicked is in sijeen. And what can you know what is sijeen? It is [their destination recorded in] a register inscribed,” [83: 7-9].
The wicked, as the Arabic term, fujjar, here connotes, are those who indulge excessively in sin. Their final destination and their abode will be in sijeen which is derived from the word prison (sijin), and here it means straitened circumstances. Thus, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala expresses the greatness of this matter, meaning it is a great matter, an eternal prison, and a painful torment.
In the next ayaat we are given information about the subject of unbelief, and the true character of the unbelievers who deny the Day of Judgment: “And denies it except every sinful transgressor. When Our ayaat are recited to him, he says, ‘Legends of the former people,’” [83: 11-12]. Aggression and bad deeds lead the perpetrators to deny the Day of Judgment and to take a rude and ill-mannered attitude towards the Qur’an, describing it as “Legends of the former people.” This description by the unbelievers is, of course, based on the fact that the Qur’an contains some historical accounts of former nations. These accounts are related as a lesson for later generations as they demonstrate with much clarity the working of the divine rules to which all nations and generations are subject.
They are strongly rebuked and reprobated for their rudeness and rejection of the truth. This is implied by the Arabic term kalla, translated here as ‘No! Indeed’, which is an assertion that their allegations are unfounded.
We are then given an insight into the motives of their insolent disbelief and the reasons for their inability to see the obvious truth or respond to it: “the sin has covered their hearts,” [83: 14] Indeed the hearts of those who indulge in sin become dull, as if they are veiled by a thick curtain which keeps them in total darkness, unable to see the light. Thus they gradually lose their sensitivity and become lifeless.
The Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said,
إِنَّ الْعَبْدَ إِذَا أَذْنَبَ ذَنْبًا كَانَتْ نُكْتَةٌ سَوْدَاءُ فِي قَلْبِهِ، فَإِنْ تَابَ مِنْهَا صُقِلَ قَلْبُهُ، قوَإِنْ زَادَ زَادَتْ
“Verily! When a man commits a sin, it throws a black spot over his heart. If he repents, his heart is polished; but if he persists in his practice, the stains increase.” [Ibn Jareer, at-Tirmidhī, al-Nasai and Ibn Majah.]
Explaining this ayah, Hasan Basri said, “It is a case of one sin on top of another until the heart is blinded and dies.”
Thus we have learnt the situation of transgressing unbelievers, as well as their motives for transgression and rejection of the truth. Then we are told what will happen to them on that great day, “No! Indeed from their Lord, that Day, they will be partitioned. Then indeed, they will [enter and] burn in Hellfire. Then it will be said [to them], ‘This is what you used to deny,’” [83: 15-17]. Because their sins have cast a thick veil over their hearts, they are unable in this life to feel Allah’s presence, and it is only appropriate that they not be allowed to see His glorious face. They will be deprived of this great happiness, which is bestowed only on those whose hearts and souls are so clean and transparent.
This separation from their Lord is the greatest and most agonizing punishment and deprivation. It is a miserable end of man. When man is torn away from this source of nobleness he loses all his humanity and sinks to a level which ensures hell is his reward. On top of this, there is something much worse and much more agonizing, the separation from one’s Lord.