Ayaat 1-16 – Proof of Allah’s Power and Ability to Resurrect the Dead
The Surah opens by shunning the enquirers and the inquiry. It wonders that anyone should raise doubts about Resurrection and Judgment, which were central points of bitter controversy. For the unbelievers could hardly imagine that Resurrection was possible. The Surah asks what they are talking about, “About what are they asking one another?” [78: 1]. We are then given the answer, “About the great news – that over which they are in disagreement,” [78: 2-3] meaning what they are asking about is the Day of Judgment and it is a great matter. By adding ‘great’ to it an implicit threat has been given that it is dreadful, horrifying and overwhelming. The people are divided into two ideas about it. There are those who believe in it and those who disbelieve in it.
The Surah does not provide any more details about the event in question rather a threat is given, “No! They are going to know. Then, no! They are going to know,” [78: 4-5]. The Arabic term, kalla, denotes strong shunning. The repetition of the entire sentence adds force to the threat implied.
The Surah then puts aside, apparently, that great event only to pick it up later on. We are then taken on a quick round of the universe in which we see a multitude of scenes, creatures and phenomena. Contemplation of which strongly shakes any human heart.
In this round we traverse the vast universe, observing a great multitude of scenes and phenomena, which are sketched out with great economy of words. The form of questioning implying a statement is also used here deliberately. It draws attention to all the creatures which provide strong evidence of the deliberate planning and designing which go into their creation.
The first leg in this round takes us across the earth and the mountains, “Have We not made the earth a resting place and the mountains as stakes?” [78: 6-7] Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala made the earth, an established firm and peaceful resting place that is subservient to mankind. He made mountains as pegs for the earth to hold it in place, make it stable and firm. This is so that it may be suitable for dwelling and not quake with those who are in it.
Then Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala said, “And We created you in pairs,” [78: 8] meaning, male and female so that procreation is achieved.
“And made your sleep [a means for] rest,” [78: 9] meaning a cessation of movement in order to attain rest from the frequent repetition and going about in search of livelihood during the day. “And made the night as clothing,” [78: 10] meaning, its shade and darkness covers the people. Qatadah commented, “A tranquil residence.” The day, on the other hand has been made radiant, luminous, and shining so that the people would be able to move about in it. By it there are able to come and go for their livelihood, earning, business dealings and other than that as well.
“And constructed above you seven strong [heavens],” [78: 12] meaning, the seven heavens in their vastness, loftiness, perfection, precision, and adornment with both stable and moving stars. Sun is like a shining lamp [وَهَّاجًا] giving light and heat to the entire world. It also plays an important part in forming the clouds by evaporating sea water.
The use of the word ‘lamp’ to refer to the sun is very apt, for a lamp gives heat and light. It also shines as if it is ablaze. The heat and the light provided by the sun combine with the water flowing in abundance, time after time, from the clouds to help the seeds send out their shoots. This is how grains, vegetables, bushes and wide-branching trees grow. This harmony in the design of the universe could not have been achieved without Allah’s careful planning. Any man can appreciate this if his attention is drawn to it.
Ayaat 17-20 – Indeed, the Day of Judgment is an Appointed Time
Creation is not without purpose. The Creator, who has accurately measured human life and carefully provided perfect harmony between it and the universe, will not let people just live and die in vain. Reason cannot accept that those who do good and the evildoers should both end in dust. The rightly-guided and the straying folk, the just and the tyrants cannot all share the same fate. There must be a day when everything is judged and evaluated. The day is appointed by Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala, “Indeed, the Day of Judgment is an appointed time,” [78: 17]. It is a day when upheaval overtakes the universe and destroys its systems, “the Day the Horn is blown and you will come forth in multitudes,” [78: 18].
The ‘Trumpet’ is a kind of horn of which we know nothing except its name and that it will be blown. We need not waste our time trying to discover how, for such discovery will not strengthen our faith. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala has revealed to us what we need to know of the secrets of the universe so that we may not waste our energy in the futile pursuit of useless knowledge. We can imagine, however, a blast on a Trumpet which people answer by arriving in droves.
Mujahid said that “come forth in multitudes” means groups after groups. Ibn Jareer said, “This means that each nation will come with its Messenger.” Bukhari reported concerning the explanation of this ayah that Abu Huraira radhiAllahu ‘anhu said that the Messenger of Allah salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said,
مَا بَيْنَ النَّفْخَتَيْنِ أَرْبَعُون
“That which is between the two blowings is forty.” Someone asked, “Is it forty days, O Abu Huraira?” But he (Abu Huraira) refused to reply, saying, “No comment.” They then asked, “Is it forty months?” But he (Abu Huraira) refused to reply, saying, “No comment.” They asked again, “Is it forty years?” But he (Abu Huraira) refused to reply, saying, “No comment.” Abu Huraira added, then the Prophet went on to say,
ثُمَّ يُنْزِلُ اللهُ مِنَ السَّمَاءِ مَاءً فَيَنْبُتُونَ كَمَا يَنْبُتُ الْبَقْلُ، لَيْسَ مِنَ الْإنْسَانِ شَيْءٌ إِلَّا يَبْلَى، إِلَّا عَظْمًا وَاحِدًا، وَهُوَ عَجْبُ الذَّنَبِ، وَمِنْهُ يُرَكَّبُ الْخَلْقُ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَة
“Then Allah will send down a rain from the sky and the dead body will sprout just as a green plant sprouts. Every part of the last person will deteriorate except for one bone, and it is the coccyx bone (tailbone). From it the creation will be assembled on the Day of Judgment.”
We can visualize the scene whereby all the generations of mankind rise up, walking in their multitudes, from all directions, to attend the great reckoning. We can imagine the fearful sight of people rising from their graves and the great, huge, endless crowd they form. We can feel the horror of the day, people’s helplessness and fear.
“And the heaven is opened and will become gateways,” [78: 19] heaven, the mighty heaven, is opened up so that it becomes gates for the angels to descend. “And the mountains are removed and will be [but] a mirage,” [78: 20] it is, as described elsewhere in the Qur’an,
وَتَرَى الْجِبَالَ تَحْسَبُهَا جَامِدَةً وَهِىَ تَمُرُّ مَرَّ السَّحَابِ
“And you will see the mountains and think them solid, but they shall pass away as the passing away of the clouds,” [27: 88].
He also says,
وَتَكُونُ الْجِبَالُ كَالْعِهْنِ الْمَنفُوشِ
“And the mountain will be like carded wool,” [101: 5]
The firmly dug-in pegs, i.e. the mountains, are made to move away. They are hammered, scattered, turned into dust, blown by the wind, as other Qur’anic ayaat describe. Hence, they become non-existent, like a mirage which has no reality. Or,probably, different rays are reflected against them after they have been turned into dust and they look like a mirage.
All in all, horror is apparent in the upheaval which envelops the universe as well as in men’s resurrection after the Trumpet is blown. Such is the Day of Decision carefully and wisely fixed.
Ayaat 21-36 – Reward and Reckoning
The Surah takes another step, beyond Resurrection, to describe the fate of the tyrant unbelievers and also that of the righteous. It begins with the former group who raise doubts about the fateful tiding, “Indeed, Hell has been lying in wait for the transgressors, a place of return, in which they will remain for ages [unending],” [78: 21-23].
Hell has been created so that it may watch the tyrants and transgressors and await their arrival. They find it well prepared to receive them, as if they are returning to their natural home after having sojourned on earth a while. It is a home in which they stay endlessly. But they taste “neither coolness nor any drink.” [78: 24] The next ayah provides an exception to this, but the exception is even worse: “except scalding water and [foul] purulence,” [78: 25]. Their throats and stomachs burn as they drink the scalding water. The Qur’an comments that this is ‘a fitting recompense’. It is in keeping with what they have done in their lives.
For they thought they would never return to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala, “Indeed, they were not expecting an account. And denied Our ayaat with [emphatic] denial.” [78: 27-28]. Their denial, as the Arabic text suggests, is strongly emphatic and stubbornly upheld. But Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala keeps a meticulous record which does not leave out anything they do or say, “But all things We have enumerated in writing,” [78: 29]. Then follows a reproach coupled with the tiding that they can hope for no change in their condition and no abatement of its intensity, “So taste [the penalty], and never will We increase you except in torment.” [78: 30]
We then have the corresponding scene of the righteous in complete bliss, “Indeed, for the righteous is attainment,” [78: 31]. If hell is a vigilant watch guard which the tyrants cannot escape, the righteous, the God-fearing will end in a place of security. What a place it is: “gardens and grapevines.” [78: 32] The vine tree is specifically mentioned because it is well known to the addressees. The God-fearing will also have companions who are described here as high-bosomed and of equal age. They also drink from a cup overflowing with refreshing beverage.
These luxuries are given a physical description so that we may better appreciate them. There they shall hear no idle talk, nor any falsehood. It is a pure life there, free of the idle chatting and falsehood which give rise to controversy. The reality is known to everyone, which means that there is no room for futile argument. Then follows the Qur’anic comment, “reward from your Lord,” [78: 36].
Ayaat 37-40 – Man will Wish He was Dust
The Surah closes with the final scene of the Day when all this happens. It is a scene in which we see the angel Jibreel ‘alayhi salaam and all the angels standing in ranks before Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala, their Most Merciful Lord. They stand in awe of Him; no one dares utter a word without prior permission from Him.
The recompense given to the righteous and to the tyrant transgressors is from Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala – the Supreme Lord of man, the heavens and earth, this life and the next, who metes out reward for righteousness and punishment for transgression and tyranny. But above all He is the Most Gracious. The reward He assigns to each group is a manifestation of His mercy. Even the torment endured by the transgressors originates from His mercy. For it is indeed part of mercy that evil should be punished and that it should not have the same end as good.
The other divine attribute implied here is majesty, “They possess not from Him [authority for] speech.” [78: 37] In this situation neither man nor angel can speak without permission from the Most Gracious. Whatever is said will be right because He does not permit anyone to speak whom He knows will not be saying what is right.
When we think that the angels stand silent in front of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala and dare not speak without His permission, we are bound to feel how the atmosphere is.
The Surah therefore delivers a warning to those who have chosen not to hear or see, “That is the True Day.” [78: 39] There is no room left for doubt and controversy. Yet there is time for mending one’s erring ways before the fearful watch guard, i.e. hell, becomes a permanent home, “so he who wills may take to his Lord a [way of] return.” [78: 39]
“Indeed, We have warned you of a near punishment,” meaning it will not be long coming, for man’s life is but a short period. The scourge is so fearful that the unbelievers, when faced with it, will send up that great cry expressing the wish that they had never lived, “on the Day when a man will observe what his hands have put forth and the disbeliever will say, ‘Oh, I wish that I were dust!’” [78: 40]
This is the cry of one who is in great distress, who feels ashamed for what he has been and what he has done. He feels that it is better not to be, or to be something as worthless as dust, than to witness such a fearful occasion.
All praise is for Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala the Giver of success and the Protector from evil, aameen.
DOWNLOAD PDF: Tafseer Surah an-Naba