This surah is the counterpart of Surah 'Asr, the previous surah. Even a cursory look at both thesurahs reveals a clear similarity in their themes. In the previous surah, the character of persons who will be salvaged in the Hereafter is depicted. They are those who exhort one other to the right path and remain steadfast on this attitude. In this surah, people of the opposite character are referred to: They are miserly by nature and greedily accumulate wealth. Instead of urging one another to fulfil the rights of Allah and their own fellow beings, if they see someone doing so, they make his life miserable by hurling taunts and jeers at him. They try their utmost to discourage and demoralize him so much that he may surrender to their reproaches and adopt their evil ways. This attitude conceals their own miserliness and saves them from being conscience-stricken when others call them to the right path.
The Qur'an, at many instances has made references to this miserly character of people who greedily hoard money. To quote Surah Tawbah:
Those who censure the believers that give freely and who scoff at the poor that give according to their means, Allah will scoff at them, and theirs shall be a torment afflictive.(9:79)
While explaining the above verse, this writer has written:
The words mutatawwi`un and muttawi`un are the same words. Muttawi`un is a person who not only fulfils his obligations but also enjoys doing what is optional and over and above them with great enthusiasm and fervour.
Lamz means "to censure, to slander, to speak ill of".
In the above quoted verses, it is stated that the Munafiqun (hypocrites) do not spend in the cause of Allah and also cannot bear to see others doing so. Whenever they see someone spending in such a cause, they start reproaching and ridiculing him. When they see the affluent among the Muslims spending generously and sincerely, they regard it a pretentious display put up to bluff others and to give others a false impression of piety. If they see the poor, who have barely saved something to spend in this cause, they scorn and sneer at them to discourage them.
It is the psychology of misers to try to induce others to miserliness in order to hide their own, just as a person with an ugly nose wishes others to be like him so that no one remains to call him ugly. The hypocrites also would satisfy their emotions of rivalry with Islam by doing the same. They did not want to spend a penny for its cause nor did they want others to do so. They could not bear people spending generously on the poor. So, when they would see an ordinary labourer happily giving whatever dates he had saved, sacrificing the needs of his wife and children and buying the wealth of the two worlds in their place, they writhed and twisted with venom and satisfied their anger by scorning and taunting them. (Tadabbur-i-Qur'an, Vol 3, Pgs 202-3)
This character of the misers actually portrays their helplessness. Neither do they have the courage and spirit to outdo others in fulfilling the rights of their fellow beings nor can they stop others who call upon them to do so. The only course left for them to defend themselves is to gibe and mock at those who are actually exposing their weaknesses. Because they were trying to conceal their inner self, the surah has brought to light every aspect of both their inner and outer selves.
It should be clear that though in this surah the character of the stingy is actually depicted, yet the character of those having other moral weaknesses is no different. They also try to defend themselves by making fun of those having high moral character. The people of Lot (sws) too had adopted a similar attitude. When they observed that it was becoming difficult for them to counter the reformatory movement launched by the Prophet Lot (sws) and his companions, they, instead of mending their ways, started scoffing and leering at the Prophet Lot (sws) and his companions by saying: "These people pretend to be noble" (27:56). They even started exhorting their nation to banish "these nobles" from the country, lest they disgrace the whole nation.
Meaning of the Surah
Devastation to every slanderer, every person who makes evil gestures at others, and who amassed wealth and [remained busy] counting it, thinking that his wealth had rendered him immortal. (1-3)
By no means! he shall be flung into that which crushes. And what do you imagine that which crushes is? A fire kindled by Allah; which will rise up to their hearts. Verily, they will be enshrouded in it, fastened to columns very high. (4-9)
Explanation of the Surah
(Devastation to every slanderer, every person who makes evil gestures at others.) (1)
The word Hamz means "to make evil gestures at others", and Lamz means "to malign and slander someone". Humazah and Lumazah are intensive forms, as is H~utamah mentioned later in the surah. Humazah means "someone who makes evil gestures at others", while Lumazah means "one who finds faults in others". Making evil gestures and slandering others are the two aspects of the same character. The first relates to behavioural expressions, and the second one pertains to verbal expressions. Both are employed to degrade and ridicule others. At times, the first can prove the sharper of the two, and perhaps this is the reason for placing Humazah before Lumazah.
In every civilised society, Hamz and Lamz are always considered to be mean habits. All divine religions forbid them. The Qur'an also clearly prohibits a person to do so:
And do not defame one another nor revile each other by evil names. (49:11).
This "art" was patronized and promoted not only in ancient uncultured societies but is also in vogue in the "modern" uncultured societies. Today, humourous columns and cartoons published in newspapers and magazines do the job which was done by the mimics, imitators and jesters of yester years. In Surah Qalam, a comprehensive analysis of the leaders of Quraysh as well as their cohorts is made. It shows that they also wanted to thwart the attempts of the Muslims in spreading the Islamic Message by adopting tactics similar to those employed by the professional leaders of today to get the better of their opponents. The Prophet (sws), therefore, was advised to remain aware of this foul play in the following words by the Qur'an:
Pay no heed to any ignominous oath-monger, who makes evil gestures and who sows seeds of dissension, forbidder of good, transgressor and usurper of rights, cruel and moreover a flatterer -- only because he has been blessed with wealth and children. (68:10-14)
(Who greedily amassed wealth and [remained busy] counting it.) (2)
The verse vividly portrays the life of stingy people. On the one hand, they do all what they can to silence those who call upon them to fulfil the rights of Allah and their own fellow beings, and on the other are busy amassing riches and greedily hoarding them. They remain deeply engrossed in computing and calculating their wealth. Speculating about the prospects of success in business is their only food for thought. Issues like the profit that can be obtained from various business undertakings, the money they can gain from their investments, the measures needed to compensate the loss in a particular economic enterprise and the grand total of their money next year possess their minds. If someone mentions before them that a person has spent his money on orphans and poor, they make fun of him by saying that he is only showing off his wealth and assert: "Look at us, we have spent thousands and no one has the slightest knowledge of it".
(Thinking that his wealth has rendered him immortal.) (3)
This verse highlights the inner character of the hypocrites. They reckon that their wealth will also buy for them eternal life. Their complete involvement with wealth shows that they seek all pleasures of life in wealth. If they knew that both their wealth and life were ephemeral, they would have expended them in a way which would be profitable for them in the Hereafter. In fact, they would have tried to outdo one another in this dash.
In Surah Shu'ara, this mentality is depicted in the following words:
Will you build monuments of no use on every high place and build grand palaces as if you have to live here forever? (26:128-29)
It is a person's attitude towards life and not what he says which gives an indication of his inner self. The life of a person who considers this world as his final destination is totally different from that of a person for whom the next world is the ultimate destination, towards which this life leads. It is not possible that a person who believes in the Hereafter greedily hoard his wealth. Such a person, as the Prophet Jesus (sws) said, keeps his account with Allah:
Keep your wealth with Allah, because your heart is wherever your wealth is. (Matt, 6:21-22)
(By no means, he shall be flung into that which crushes.) (4)
The word kalla (By no means) is meant to negate the false notion of a miser stated in the previous verse: "thinking that his wealth has rendered him immortal". The Qur'an says that such a person and whatever he has gathered will be hurled into the raging fire of Hell which shall crush them to pieces.
The word H~utamahis from the root HTMwhich means "to crush to pieces". Like Humazah and Lumazah, it is also an intensive form.
(And what do you imagine that which crushes to pieces is?) (5)
The question in this verse is meant to express the dreadfulness of Hell; a fire kindled by the Almighty should not be considered something ordinary.
H~utamah(that which crushes to pieces) seems a very apt word to depict the total annihilation of wealth amassed in the form of bricks of gold and silver, jewellery, and valuable utensils. This is precisely how the rich of that period used to accumulate their wealth. All such people will see this fate of their wealth, which they reckoned would render them immortal.
(A fire kindled by Allah, which will rise up to their hearts.) (6-7)
This verse explains the word H~utamahstated in the previous one. The characteristic of this fire is that it will first of all seek those hearts that had remained so possessed by the love of wealth that the remembrance of Allah and the Final Day could find no space in them. We all know of certain devices which have been invented to track down specific targets. As soon as they sense their prey, they automatically follow and destroy it. The fire of Allah mentioned in this verse, it seems, will behave similarly and will grip all those hearts which were absorbed with the love of wealth and had remained indifferent to the needs of the poor.
(Verily, they shall be enshrouded in it.) (8)
The fire shall completely enwrap them so that no part of its heat is wasted. The phrase Aawsad al-Bab means "he closed the door". The fire will close over them as in a brick kiln, destroying them with all its force.
(Fastened to columns very high.) (9)
This verse depicts the helplessness of these criminals. Even within the fire they will be fastened to high columns with heavy chains. Here only columns are mentioned; Surah H~aqqahmentions the chaining of such criminals as well:
Seize him, and chain him with an iron collar and cast him into Hell, and then fasten him with a chain seventy cubits long. Verily, he did not believe in Allah, most High nor did he urge others to feed the poor. (69:30-34)
(Translated from "Tadabbur-i-Qur'an" by Shehzad Saleem)