Ayaat 18-28 – Faces Radiant with Joy
Then follows an account of the other group – the righteous. This is given in the customary Qur’anic manner of providing two elaborately contrasting images, so that a detailed comparison may be drawn.
This section of the Surah starts with the Arabic term, kalla, which connotes strong reproach and a firm command to the transgressors to desist from their rejection of the truth. It then proceeds to speak about the righteous. Since the record of the transgressors is in sijeen, that of the righteous is in ‘illiyyeen. The term ‘righteous’ refers to the obedient who do good. They are the exact opposite of the transgressors, who indulge in every excess.
Ibn ‘Abbas asked Ka’b about sijeen, and Ka’b said, “It is the seventh earth and in it are the souls of the disbelievers.” Then Ibn ‘Abbas asked him about ‘illiyyeen, so he said, “It is the seventh heaven and it contains the souls of the believers.” This statement — that it is the seventh heaven — has been said by others as well. ‘Ali bin Abi Talhah reported that Ibn ‘Abbas said concerning this ayah that this means Paradise. Others besides him have said that ‘illiyyeen is taken from the word ‘uluw which means highness. The more something ascends and rises, the more it becomes greater and increases. Thus, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala magnifies its status by saying, “And what can make you know what is ‘illiyyoon?” [83: 19].
The Surah then states that the book of the righteous is a record inscribed, witnessed by those who are closest to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. The angels closest to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala see this book and witness it. This statement gives the feeling that the record of the righteous is associated with nobility, purity and sublimity. The angels closest to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala look at it and enjoy its description of noble deeds and glorious characteristics. The whole image provides evidence of the honor the righteous receive.
Then follows an account of the situation in which the righteous find themselves, “Indeed, the righteous will be in pleasure,” [83: 22]. This contrasts with hell, in which the transgressors dwell. The righteous will be given a place of honor and will live in mental and physical comfort. They will be in eternal pleasure and gardens that contain comprehensive bounties. They will be gazing at their kingdom and what Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala has given them that will not end or perish. Ibn Katheer writes that this also means that the righteous will be allowed to look at Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala while they are upon their thrones and elevated couches.
Their faces will be radiant with unmistakable joy. This is a description of opulence, decorum, happiness, composure, and authority that they will be experiencing from this great delight.
They will be given drink from the wine of Paradise. The word, ar-Raheeq that appears in the ayah is one of the names of the wine in Paradise. The fact that this wine will be sealed with musk as denoted by khitamu-hu misk [خِتَـمُهُ مِسْكٌ] in itself increases the value of this drink. This will be the choicest kind of wine, superior to the wine flowing in the canals. It will be served by the attendants of Paradise to the dwellers of Paradise. This drink will be mixed with tasneem – a spring for those who are closest to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala.
To get all of this Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says, “So for this let the competitors compete,” [83: 26]. Everyone is competing for something in this world.
The defrauders, hardened by their sins and excesses, strive endlessly for the petty riches of this world. Each of them tries to outdo the others and gain as much as possible. Hence, he indulges in all types of injustice and vice for the sake of ephemeral luxuries. It is the other type of luxury and honor which deserves emulous striving – the treasures and comforts of Jannah.
Those who strive for an object of this world, no matter how superb, grand or honorable it is, are in reality striving for something hollow, cheap and temporary. This world, in its totality, is not worth, in Allah’s view, one mosquito’s wing. It is the Hereafter which carries real weight with Him. So, it should be the goal for strenuous competition and zealous striving.
It is remarkable that striving for the Hereafter elevates the souls of all strivers, while competition for worldly objects sinks the competitors’ souls to the lowest depths.
Striving for the hereafter does not turn the earth into a barren desert, as some imagine. Islam considers this world a farm, and the Hereafter its fruits. It defines the role of the true believer as the building of this world while following the path of piety and righteousness. Islam stipulates that man must look on his task as an act of worship which fulfils the purpose of his existence as defined by Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala, “I have not created the jinn and mankind to any end other than that they may worship Me.” [51: 56]
The statement, “So for this let the competitors compete,” inspires man to look far beyond this finite, little world, as he sets out to fulfill his mission as Allah’s vicegerent on earth.
Man’s life on earth is limited while his future life is of limitless duration. The luxuries of this world are also limited while the happiness of paradise is much too great for us to conceive. The elements of happiness in this life are well known to everyone, but in the next world they are on a level befitting a life everlasting. What comparison can then hold between the two spheres of competition or the two goals? It is, indeed, one race and a single competition: “So for this let the competitors compete,” [83: 26].
Ayaat 29-36 – Stark Contrast
The beatitude enjoyed by the righteous is discussed at length in order to give a detailed account of the hardships, humiliation and insolence they are made to suffer at the hands of the transgressors. The final comment of the Surah contains a subtle satire. It criticizes the unbelievers as they behold the righteous enjoying heavenly bliss.
The images portrayed by the Qur’an of the evildoers’ derision of the faithful, their rudeness and insolence, and their description of the faithful, as having ‘gone astray’ happen over and over again in all ages and places. Many people in our own age have witnessed similar actions. This proves that the attitude of the transgressors and the evildoers to the believers hardly ever changes.
“Indeed, those who committed crimes used to laugh at those who believed,” [83: 29]. The believers were made to suffer ridicule and derision by the transgressors, either because they were poor or weak or because their self-respect would not allow them to return the abuse of base evildoers. What a contrast: the evildoers persecute the believers and laugh at them shamelessly while the believers stick to dignified self-respect and perseverance.
“And when they passed by them, they would exchange derisive glances,” [83: 30]. They wink at one another or make certain actions intended as mockery and derision trying to embarrass the helpless believers.
“And when they returned to their people, they would return jesting,” [83: 31]. When they have nourished their evil minds with such mockery and injurious actions they go back to their own folk to continue their laughter and derision. They are satisfied with what they have done. Although they have sunk to the lowest depths, they cannot imagine how contemptible they are.
“And when they saw them, they would say, ‘Indeed, those are truly lost!’” [83: 32]. Nothing is more absurd than being told by the transgressors what is right and wrong. Transgression knows no limits. The transgressors never feel ashamed of what they do or say. Their description of the believers as having gone astray is a clear manifestation of this fact. The Qur’an does not try to defend the believers or refute the evil accusation leveled at them, because it is not worth refuting. It criticizes, however, those who involve themselves impudently in something which does not concern them, “…they had not been sent as guardians over them,” [83: 33]. No one has asked them to look after the believers, or to watch over them, or to assess their situation. So why do they give their unsolicited opinion?
As we read in ayaat 7-17, on the Judgment Day the tables will be turned. Those who are being made fun of because of their righteousness will be reclining of couches and will be served a drink sealed with musk while those who mocked would be burning in fire.
The Surah concludes with a satirical question, “Have the disbelievers [not] been rewarded [this Day] for what they used to do?” [83: 36]. Their requital is not a good one, as the term used here implies.
Who Laughs at Whom?
The Muslim minority in Makkah was facing a sustained, demoralizing onslaught by the unbelievers, but Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala did not leave the Muslims on their own: He comforted them and urged them to persevere.
They are comforted by the very fact that their sufferings are being noticed by Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. He sees what the believers suffer and does not ignore what He sees, although He may let the unbelievers do as they wish, if only for a while. He also sees how the transgressors laugh unrepentantly at the sufferings of the faithful. This, in itself, is enough consolation for the believers.
It must be noted that the only consolation offered by Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala to the believers who were subjected to harsh treatment and painful ridicule was Paradise for the believers and hell for the unbelievers. This, again, was the only promise the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam made to the believers when they pledged all their property as well as their lives for the cause of Islam. Victory in this life was never mentioned in the Makkan revelations as a consolation or as an incentive to persevere. The Qur’an was instead cultivating the hearts of the believers, and preparing them to fulfill the task with which they were entrusted. It was necessary that such hearts attain a high standard of strength and self-denial so that they would give everything and suffer all hardship without looking for anything in this life. They were to seek only the reward of the hereafter and to win Allah’s pleasure. They were prepared to go through life suffering all sorts of hardship and deprivation with no promise of reward in this life, not even victory for the cause of Islam.
Such a group of people must be first established. When this happens and Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala knows that they are sincere and determined in what they have pledged themselves to do, then He will give them victory in this life. Victory will not be theirs as a personal reward. They will be given power as trustees appointed for the implementation of the Islamic way of life. They will be worthy trustees because neither were they promised nor did they look for any worldly gain. They pledged themselves truly to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala at a time when they were unaware of any worldly benefit that may befall them except that they would win Allah’s pleasure.
All the Qur’anic verses which speak of victory were revealed later in Madina when this was no longer an issue. Victory was given because Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala willed that successive human generations should have an actual, definite and practical example of the Islamic way of life. It was not a reward for sacrifices made or hardships suffered.
DOWNLOAD PDF: Tafseer Surah al-Mutafifeen