Ayaat 1-5 ― Be Patient with a Beautiful Patience
The Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam would frequently warn his people about the horrors and torment of the Judgment Day. His people, on the other hand, took these warnings in mockery. They would joke about the Day; ask when it would come and why it could not come right away. It was as if the terrors of that Day did not affect them. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says,
There are two opinions about the ayah, “A questioner asked…” (70: 1). Some commentators say that this refers to an unbeliever Nadr ibn al-Harith Kaladah who demanded hastening of the Judgment Day. He said, “O Allah! If this is indeed the truth from You, then rain down stones on us from the sky or bring on us a painful punishment,” [Surah an-Anfal: 32]. He was not the only one to put such a demand. Abu Jahl said, as it appears in Surah Ash Shu’ara ayah 187, “So, cause a piece of the heaven to fall on us, if you are of the truthful,” (26: 187).
Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says a questioner asked about an inevitable punishment about which there is no doubt. That Day will eventually come for real. There is absolutely no doubt about it. In Surah al-Hajj ayah 47 Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala said, “And they ask you to hasten on the torment! And Allah fails not His Promise. And verily, a day with your Lord is as a thousand years of what you reckon,” (22: 47). In Surah Ash-Shura ayah 18, “Those who believe not therein seek to hasten it, while those who believe are fearful of it, and know that it is the very truth,” (42: 18).
The other opinion is that it was the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam who requested Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala to bring the punishment on them. It was not that the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam was praying against his people but rather this was after the persecution intensified. His Companions, radhiAllahu ‘anhum, too would come to him and request to him to make du’a in their favor as they could no longer bear the torture of the unbelievers especially those who were still slaves.
Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala assures that the punishment will definitely come upon the unbelievers and no one can remove it from them. They can never escape it. If a believer does something that invokes the Wrath of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala he can repent and come out of that punishment. But for the unbelievers there is no escape.
The punishment is going to inevitably come soon, and this punishment is, “From Allah, the Lord of the ways of ascent,” (70: 3) or the Lord of loftiness and abundance as interpreted by ibn ‘Abbas radhiAllahu ‘anhu.
The word ma’arij [الْمَعَارِجِ] is the plural of the word mi’raj and it means “to rise or ascend slowly in stages”. Dheeal ma’arij [ذِي الْمَعَارِجِ] refers to Possessor of Great Heights. This word is used to honor someone of a high rank, and in this context is a praise of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. He is the Possessor of Great Heights, the Lofty, the All High and bestows many blessings and graces. The punishment that the unbelievers are so hastening for, it too will descend from Him. When Allah – the Possessor of Great Heights – sends something no can repel or avoid it.
Since He is seated at Great Heights, “The angels and Ruh ascend to Him,” (70: 4). Commonly translated as “soul”, the word ruh is from the root ra-wau-ha and it is used for a good or pleasant wind. It is also used to mean comfort. The human soul is called ruh because it gives comfort to the body. What happens once a person dies? His ruh leaves the body and the body stiffens up. When the soul was in the body, the body remained flexible.
Now let’s come to the meaning of Ruh in the context of this ayah. Abu Salih said, “They (Ruh) are creatures from the creation of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala that resemble humans but they are not humans.” Another opinion is that the Ruh referred is Angel Jibreel because due to his high and noble status among the angels he is often mentioned separately from other angels for example in Surah al-Qadr ayah 4, “Therein descend the angels and the Ruh by Allah’s Permission with all Decrees,” (97: 4).
This is known as ‘Atful khaas ‘ala al-‘Aam meaning placing the specific over the general masses. But the question arises why is Angel Jibreel called al-Ruh? It is because his main role was to bring down the Revelation from Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala to the human Messengers who have guided the people to the truth. And it is this truth which gives comfort, peace and tranquility to the hearts of the people. The word Ruh mentioned in the ayah could also refer to the name of the souls (arwah) of humans, for verily, when the human souls are taken at death, they are lifted up to the heavens.
The angels ascent to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala to receive and carry out His commands. Like in the case of Angel Jibreel who would go up to receive and deliver revelation. How long does it take them to reach the seven heavens? Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says, “…in a Day the measure whereof is fifty thousand years,” (70: 4). To us that might seem like a very long time and incomprehensible. The fact is that we can never comprehend this due to our narrow and restricted outlook. That which appears to us a lengthy period is insignificant near Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. He says in Surah al-Hajj ayah 47, “And verily, a day with your Lord is as a thousand years of what you reckon,” (22: 47. When Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says, “…in a Day the measure whereof is fifty thousand years,” (70: 4) it is implied that this is the distance that they have to cover to reach up to Him that is how exalted He is, subhanAllah! According to Ibn ‘Abbas radhiAllahu ‘anhu this refers to the Judgment Day that this will be the length of that Day. And so was the opinion of ‘Ikrimah, Ad-Dahhak, Ibn Zayd and others.
Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala tells His Messenger salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, “so be patient with a beautiful patience,” (70: 5) with his people’s rejection and their seeking to hasten the torment because of their denial of it. One kind of patience is where you are weak and helpless and have no other option but to be patient. The other kind is where you are capable and strong and in a position to take action but you choose to let go and not react. This is the ‘beautiful patience’.
Jamal is such beauty that is on the zahir (it is apparent). A person who is doing sabrun jameel will neither be scornful nor have resentment. He will neither complain to others nor talk about his pain or anger. He watches his tongue, is careful of his behavior and his heart is at rest. People might be criticizing, accusing or mocking at him but he does not react through words, actions or gestures. He remains calm and is filled with grace. This is a necessary condition for a da’ee.
It was this beautiful patience of the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam that some of the early opponents of Islam who fought against him in battles accepted Islam after a long of opposition. Abu Sufyan, Khalid ibn Waleed, Ikrimah ibn Abu Jahl and even Wahshee, the murderer of Prophet’s uncle Hamza radhiAllahu ‘anhu all became Muslims. It was the Prophet’s noble character and beautiful patience that made them give up their opposition.