بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ
In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
Period of Revelation: Makkan
Order of Revelation: 7
Theme and Subject Matter:
This Surah may be divided into two parts, each of them treating one major principle of faith. The first is the principle of resurrection accompanied by a great upheaval in the universe, which affects the sun and the stars, the mountains and seas, heaven and earth, wild and domestic animals, as well as man. The second principle is that of revelation. The Surah has something to say about the angel carrying the divine revelation, the Prophet receiving it, the people addressed by it, and the Supreme Will which has shaped their nature and bestowed this revelation.
In the beginning ayaat the first stage of the Resurrection has been mentioned when the sun will lose its light, the stars will scatter, the mountains will be uprooted and will disperse, the people will become heedless of their dearest possessions, the beasts of the jungle will be stupefied and will gather together, and the seas will boil up. Then in the next ayaat the second stage has been described when the souls will be reunited with the bodies, the records will be laid open, the people will be called to account for their crimes, the heavens will be unveiled, and Hell and Heaven will be brought into full view. After depicting the Hereafter thus, man has been left to ponder his own self and deeds, saying, “A soul will [then] know what it has brought [with it],” [81: 14].
After this the theme of Prophethood has been taken up. In this the people of Makkah have been addressed, as if to say, whatever Muhammad salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam is presenting before you, is not the bragging of a madman, nor an evil suggestion inspired by Shaytan, but the word of a noble, exalted and trustworthy messenger sent by Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. “So where are you going?” [81: 26]
Tafseer Surah at-Takweer
Ayaat 1-14 – The Scenes of the Judgment Day
These ayaat sketch a scene of great upheaval which envelopes the whole universe. The Surah aims to get this idea of the inevitable upheaval well established in people’s hearts and minds so that they may attach little or no importance to the values and riches of this world, though these may seem to be of lasting consequence. People should establish a firm bond with the everlasting truth, i.e. the truth of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala, the Eternal, who never changes when everything else changes and disappears.
The word takweer means to fold up; hence takweer al’amamah is used for folding up the turban on the head. Here, the implication is that the light radiating from the sun will be folded up and sun’s radiation will fade. The Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said, “The sun and the moon will be rolled up on the Day of Judgment.” [Bukhari]
“And when the stars fall, dispersing,” [81: 2]. The word inkidar is derived from insibab which means “to be poured out”. Ubayy bin Ka’b said, “Six signs will take place before the Day of Judgment. The people will be in their marketplaces when the sun’s light will go away. When they are in that situation, the stars will be scattered. When they are in that situation, the mountains will fall down upon the face of the earth, and the earth will move, quake and be in a state of mixed up confusion. So the Jinns will then flee in fright to the humans and the humans will flee to the Jinns. The domestic beasts, birds and wild animals will mix together, and they will surge together in a wave (of chaos).” Here, the impression has been given that when the force that is keeping the stars in their orbits and positions is loosened and all the stars and planets will scatter in the universe.
The earth also will lose its force of gravity because of which the firmly rooted mountains will be uprooted from their places and become weightless; moving and flying as the clouds move in the atmosphere.
“And when full-term she-camels are neglected,” [81: 4]. This was by far the best way of giving an idea of the severities and horrors of Resurrection to the Arabs. Nothing was more precious to the Arabs than a she-camel just about to give birth. She was about to add to their wealth a highly valued young camel, and to give them a lot of milk. In this state she was most sedulously looked after and cared for, so that she is not lost, stolen, or harmed in any way. However, on that day, which will witness such overwhelming events, such priceless camels will be left without care, completely untended.
The wild beasts will forget their mutual enmities, and come together to move toward an unaware direction. They neither seek their homes nor chase their prey as they usually do. The overwhelming terror changes the character of even the wildest of beasts. What then will it do to man?
“And when the seas are filled with flame,” [81: 6]. The Arabic term, sujjirat, used in the ayah is from the root seen-jeem-ra which means “to fill (oven) with fuel, heat, burn, fill (with water), overflow, swell.” One might wonder how the sea will catch fire. When one reflects on the composition of water he learns that it is composed of hydrogen and oxygen. One element helps kindle the fire and the other gets kindled of itself. A simple manifestation of Allah’s power is enough to change this composition of water so that the two gases are separated and begin to burn and help cause a blaze, which is their basic characteristic. It could also be atomic explosions of some sort. If the explosion of a limited number of atoms in a hydrogen or atom bomb produces such dreadful consequences as we have seen, then the atomic explosion of the waters of the oceans, in whatever manner it may occur, will produce something much too fearful for our minds to visualize.
The pairing of souls may mean the reunion of body and soul at the time of resurrection. It may also mean their grouping, like with like. Ibn Abi Hatim recorded from An-Nu’man bin Bashir that the Messenger of Allah salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said, “Every man will be with every group of people who performed the same deeds that he did. This is because Allah says, ‘And you (all) will be in three groups. So those on the Right Hand – how (fortunate) will be those on Right Hand! And those on the Left Hand – how (unfortunate) will be those on the Left Hand!’ [56: 7-10]. They are those who are alike.”
Al-Maw’udah is the female infant that the people of the pre-Islamic time of ignorance would bury in the dirt due to their hatred of girls. Therefore, on the Day of Judgment, the female infant will be asked what sin she committed that caused her to be murdered. This will be a means of frightening her murderer.
Islam condemns the attitude of jahiliyyah and spurns all these practices. It forbids the murder of young girls and shows its abhorrent and horrifying nature. It is listed as one of the subjects of reckoning on the Day of Judgment. Here, the Surah mentions it as one of the great events which overwhelms the universe in total upheaval.
“And when the pages are made public,” [81: 10]. This is a reference to the records of people’s deeds. They are laid open in order that they may be known to everybody. This, in itself, is hard to bear. The hearts conceal secrets, the remembrance of which brings shame and a shudder to its owner. Yet all secrets are made public on that eventful day. Qatadah said, “O Son of Adam! It (your paper) is written in, then it is rolled up, then it will be distributed to you on the Day of Judgment. So let each man look at what he himself dictated to be written in his paper.”
When the word ‘sky’ is used, our first thoughts reach to the blue cover hoisted over our heads. Its stripping means the removal of that cover. How this happens remains a matter of conjecture. It is enough to say that when we look up we will no longer see our familiar blue dome.
The last scene of that fearful day is about heaven and hell. Where is hell? How does it burn? What fuel is used in lighting and feeding its fire? The only thing we know of it is that it “has the fuel of men and stones,” [66: 6]. Heaven, on the other hand, is brought near to those who have been promised admission. They see it to be of easy access.
“A soul will [then] know what it has brought [with it],” [81: 14]. This is the conclusive response of the previous statements, meaning at the time these matters occur, every soul will know what it has done, and that will be brought forth for it. No additions or deletions in the records can be made.
In these events of the Day of Judgment, people will find themselves completely separated from all that has been familiar to them, and from their world as a whole. Everything will have undergone a total change except Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. Therefore, if man turns his attention to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala in this life, he will find His support in the Hereafter.
Ayaat 15-29 – So where are you going?
The second part of the Surah opens with a form of oath using some beautiful scenes of the universe. Essentially, this oath is made to assert the nature of revelation, the angel carrying it, and the Messenger receiving and delivering it to us, as well as people’s attitudes to it, all in accordance with Allah’s will.
The stars referred to here are those which turn in their orbit, and are characterized by their swift movement and temporary disappearance. Ibn Jareer recorded from Khalid ibn ‘Ar’arah that he heard ‘Ali being asked about this ayah and he said, “These are the stars that withdraw (disappear) during the day and sweep across the sky (appear) at night.”
The expression, “and by the night as it closes in,” [81: 17] has two meanings. One of them refers to its advancing with its darkness as Mujahid stated. While Hasan al-Basri said that this means, “When it (night) covers the people.”
“And by the dawn when it breathes,” [81: 18] means when it rises or when it brightens and advances.
As the Qur’an makes this brief, full-of-life description it establishes a spiritual link between them and man, with the result that, as we read, we feel the power which created these phenomena, and the truth which we are called upon to believe. It says, “indeed, the Qur’an is a word [conveyed by] a noble messenger,” [81: 19]. It then goes on to describe this chosen messenger, “[who is] possessed of power and with the Owner of the Throne, secure [in position], obeyed there [in the heavens] and trustworthy,” [81: 20-21]. This Messenger is Jibreel Ameen ‘alayhi salaam.
What a great honor for Jibreel ‘alayhi salaam to enjoy such a position with the Lord of the universe. He is “obeyed in heaven” by the other angels. He is also “trustworthy” in carrying and discharging such an important message that is the Qur’an.
These qualities add up to a definite conclusion: that the Qur’an is a noble, mighty and exalted message and that Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala takes special care of man. It is a manifestation of this care that He has chosen an angel of Jibreel’s caliber to bring His revelations to the man He has chosen as His Messenger salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. As man reflects on this divine care he should feel humble. For he himself is worth very little in the kingdom of Allah, were it not for the care Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala takes of him and the honor He bestows on him.
Then follows a description of the Prophet who conveys this revelation to mankind, “And your companion is not [at all] mad,” [81: 22]. The Arabs knew the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam since his childhood. They knew that he was a man of upright character. But in spite of all this they claimed that he was mad, and that he received his revelations from the devil. The Surah seems to say: You have known Muhammad (salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) very well over a considerable length of time. He has been known for his honesty and trustworthiness. Why, then are you fabricating tales about him, when he has been telling you the simple truth which he has been entrusted to deliver to you?
“And he has already seen Jibreel in the clear horizon,” [81: 23] meaning that the Prophet is not making it all up. He did not saw Angel Jibreel in a dream rather he saw him with his own eyes, on a clear horizon where no confusion is possible. “And Muhammad is not a withholder of [knowledge of] the unseen,” [81: 24] meaning that he has not concealed anything. Whatever knowledge of the unseen he had such as the angels, life after death and Resurrection, and the heaven and hell, he has communicated everything without any change.
“And the Qur’an is not the word of a devil, expelled [from the heavens],” [81: 25] it is because the devils by nature cannot provide such a straightforward and consistent code of conduct. Hence, the Surah asks disapprovingly, “So where are you going?” [81: 26]. How far can you err in your judgment? And where can you go away from the truth?
“It is not except a reminder to the worlds for whoever wills among you to take a right course. And you do not will except that Allah wills – Lord of the worlds.” [81- 27-29]
It reminds us that it is up to every individual to choose whether to follow the right path or not. Since Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala has granted everyone his or her free will, then every human being is responsible for himself to follow Allah’s guidance. All doubts have been dispelled, all excuses answered by this clear statement of all the relevant facts. The right path has been indicated for everyone who wishes to be upright. Anyone who follows a different path shall, therefore, bear the responsibility for his actions.
It is, therefore, man’s own will which leads him away from Allah’s guidance. He has no other excuse or justification.
May Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala protect us from straying away from the guidance of Qur’an and the message that Rasoolullah salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam brought. May He give us the ability to be sincere in our commitment to and affirmation of His Deen, aameen.
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