Surahs A‘la - Ghashiyah

Surahs A‘la - Ghashiyah


Qur'anic Exegesis

Introduction

These surahs form a pair with regard to their subject matter. The surahs address the Prophet (sws) as well as the leadership of the Quraysh, and it is evident from their content that like the previous surahs they were revealed in Makkah in the phase of Indhar-i 'am of the Prophet's mission.

The theme of both surahs is to warn their addressees about the Day of Judgement. However, besides this, assurance is also sounded to Muhammad (sws) and sorrow is expressed on the attitude of the addressees. The Prophet (sws) is assured that he has no responsibility beyond reminding and cautioning the disbelievers. It is up to them to take heed, and it is then up to God to seize them for their arrogance if He so intends. The Prophet (sws) should not fret over this.

In these surahs, though the assurance given to the Prophet (sws) and an expression of sorrow and regret on the attitude of his addressees are very distinct, yet a little deliberation shows that their central themes, like the previous surahs, is basically to warn the Quraysh of the Day of Judgement.

Surah A'la

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

سَبِّحِ اسْمَ رَبِّكَ الْأَعْلَى الَّذِي خَلَقَ فَسَوَّى وَالَّذِي قَدَّرَ فَهَدَى وَالَّذِي أَخْرَجَ الْمَرْعَى فَجَعَلَهُ غُثَاء أَحْوَى (1-5)

سَنُقْرِؤُكَ فَلَا تَنسَى إِلَّا مَا شَاء اللَّهُ إِنَّهُ يَعْلَمُ الْجَهْرَ وَمَا يَخْفَى وَنُيَسِّرُكَ

In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Ever Merciful.

Glorify[1] the name of your Lord, most high [O Prophet], Who[2] created, then perfected; Who set measure [for everything]; then showed them the way [in accordance with it]; Who brought forth vegetation, then made it lush green.[3] (1-5)

[In a similar manner,[4] this Qur'an will also gradually reach its culmination, then] soon We shall completely recite [it] to you so that you will not forget it except what Allah pleases.[5]He knows

لِلْيُسْرَى (6-8)

فَذَكِّرْ إِن نَّفَعَتِ الذِّكْرَى سَيَذَّكَّرُ مَن يَخْشَى وَيَتَجَنَّبُهَا الْأَشْقَى الَّذِي يَصْلَى النَّارَ الْكُبْرَى ثُمَّ لَا يَمُوتُ فِيهَا وَلَا يَحْيَى (9-13)

what is manifest before you [at this time] and also what is hidden [from you]. [In a similar way], We shall gradually lead you [from these difficulties] towards ease.[6] (6-8)

So, remind them, if reminding is beneficial. Soon he who fears God will take heed, and only that most wretched person will evade it,[7] who will enter the Great Fire.[8] Then he will neither die

قَدْ أَفْلَحَ مَن تَزَكَّى وَذَكَرَ اسْمَ رَبِّهِ فَصَلَّى (14-15)

بَلْ تُؤْثِرُونَ الْحَيَاةَ الدُّنْيَا وَالْآخِرَةُ خَيْرٌ وَأَبْقَى إِنَّ هَذَا لَفِي الصُّحُفِ الْأُولَى صُحُفِ إِبْرَاهِيمَ وَمُوسَى (16-19)

nor live in it. (9-13)

However, successful shall be he who purified [himself], and [for this] he remembered his Lord's name, then prayed.[9] (14-15)

[People! you do not have any argument against it] but give preference to this worldly life[10] in spite of the fact that the life to come is better and more lasting, [and then this is not something new]: it is written in the earlier scriptures as well – the scriptures of Abraham and Moses.[11] (16-19)

Surah Ghashiyah

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

هَلْ أَتَاكَ حَدِيثُ الْغَاشِيَةِ وُجُوهٌ يَوْمَئِذٍ خَاشِعَةٌ عَامِلَةٌ نَّاصِبَةٌ تَصْلَى نَارًا حَامِيَةً تُسْقَى مِنْ عَيْنٍ آنِيَةٍ لَّيْسَ لَهُمْ طَعَامٌ إِلَّا مِن ضَرِيعٍ لَا يُسْمِنُ وَلَا يُغْنِي مِن جُوعٍ (1-7)

وُجُوهٌ يَوْمَئِذٍ نَّاعِمَةٌ لِسَعْيِهَا رَاضِيَةٌ فِي جَنَّةٍ عَالِيَةٍ لَّا تَسْمَعُ فِيهَا لَاغِيَةً فِيهَا

In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Ever Merciful.

Has the news of the great calamity reached you[12] which will over spread [the whole world]? Many a face[13] on that day will be downcast, worn out, exhausted. They will enter the blazing fire. They will be given to drink from a seething spring.[14] Their only food will be thorny dry grass,[15] which will neither nourish them nor satisfy their hunger. (1-7)

[On the other hand], many a face on that day will be radiant,pleased with their endeavours in a lofty garden.[16] They will not hear any absurd talk there.[17] In it[18] will be a running spring.

عَيْنٌ جَارِيَةٌ فِيهَا سُرُرٌ مَّرْفُوعَةٌ وَأَكْوَابٌ مَّوْضُوعَةٌ وَنَمَارِقُ مَصْفُوفَةٌ وَزَرَابِيُّ مَبْثُوثَةٌ (8-16)

أَفَلَا يَنظُرُونَ إِلَى الْإِبِلِ كَيْفَ خُلِقَتْ وَإِلَى السَّمَاء كَيْفَ رُفِعَتْ وَإِلَى الْجِبَالِ كَيْفَ نُصِبَتْ وَإِلَى الْأَرْضِ كَيْفَ سُطِحَتْ (17-20)

In it there will be high thrones, and goblets set forth, and carpets arranged, and cushions spread all over.(8-16)

[If they do not believe], then do they not see the camels how they have been made?And do they not behold the sky how it has been raised high? And do they not look at the mountains how they have been set firm? And do they not see the earth how it has been spread out.[19] (17-20)

فَذَكِّرْ إِنَّمَا أَنتَ مُذَكِّرٌ لَّسْتَ عَلَيْهِم بِمُصَيْطِرٍ إِلَّا مَن تَوَلَّى وَكَفَرَ فَيُعَذِّبُهُ اللَّهُ الْعَذَابَ الْأَكْبَرَ إِنَّ إِلَيْنَا إِيَابَهُمْ ثُمَّ إِنَّ عَلَيْنَا حِسَابَهُمْ (21-26)

[If they do not believe in spite of this], then just go on reminding them [O Prophet!]. Your duty is only to remind them; you are not to force them.[20] [Those who take heed will definitely believe in it]. As for those who turn away and reject [it], Allah will inflict on them the great punishment.[21] Indeed, to Us they have to return. Then it is upon Us to call them to account.[22] (21-26)

Kuala Lumpur

02nd March 2010

(Translated by Dr Shehzad Saleem)

[1]. The dominant element in the word تسبيح is to absolve God from all attributes which are unbecoming of Him. The word thus directs the Prophet (sws) to renounce all attributes in God which are unworthy of Him, and to remember Him with a true comprehension of His attributes such that the Prophet's heart and soul is engaged in constant remembrance of Him. This is because only vigilant remembrance provides one with the patience and endurance to brave the storms of life.

[2]. From here to verse five God mentions His way of accomplishing things: there exists the principle of gradual progression and development in all His works. He makes everything reach its culmination gradually in deference to the requirements of His wisdom.

[3]. The actual words are: غُثَاء أَحْوَى. The arguments for the translation I have adopted can be looked up in Imam Hamid al-Din Farahi's Mufradat al-Qur'an and Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi's Tadabbur-i Qur'an.

[4]. Ie., the gradual, sequential and elaborate manner which we see in the creation of man, in the development of his abilities and potential, in his material and intellectual perfection, in his spiritual and moral advancement and in all the phases and stages of his life as well as in the growth of vegetation and it turning lush green. This is the law of God and He will deal with the Prophet (sws) as per this law. All the phases of the divine revelation given to him will proceed in this gradual manner and he will soon see that it will reach its culmination in this elaborate manner. The difficulties he is facing today are for his instruction so that God can make him worthy of the favours that He has ordained for him.

[5]. This is advice for the Prophet (sws) to wait and show patience with regard to the eagerness and anxiety shown by him to acquire the complete Qur'an, and also an assurance sounded to him on his worry about the fact that while at the time it is fresh in his mind, after its completion and with the passage of time he may forget something from it. It is thus said that the correct way of giving the Qur'an to him is the way it is being given to him ie. gradually; however, at the same time, he should not worry about its protection. After its ongoing chronological recitation, it will be recited again. At that time, if God wants to delete something according to His wisdom or wants to change it He will do so, and then will have the Prophet (sws) read it in such a manner that he will not forget it and it will be consigned to him preserved in its final form.

It is this reading of the Qur'an which is also termed as al-'ardah al-akhirah (the final presentation). It is evident from various narratives that each year Gabriel read out the Qur'an revealed in that year to the Prophet (sws) during the month of Ramadan. In the last year, in the al-'ardah al-akhirah, he read out the Qur'an to him twice. (al-Bukhari, no. 4998)

Our early scholars call it al-qira'at al-'ammah. Except for a few areas, a vast majority of the Muslim ummah is reading it. In Surah Qiyamah, the Almighty has directed that after the al-'ardah al-akhirah this reading should be adhered to till the Day of Judgement.

[6]. Ie., God is aware of the future and current circumstances of the Prophet (sws). Thus, while becoming anxious due to the magnitude of the opposition to him he should not be impatient; He should present the Qur'an the way it is being revealed, in instalments. This opposition shall soon end and He will have the in the comfort and ease ordained for him, as per the established practice of God.

For this last part, the actual words are: وَنُيَسِّرُكَ لِلْيُسْرَى. In them, the word يُسْرَى is an adjective and the noun which it qualifies is suppressed. This noun could be الطريقة or a word of similar meaning.

[7]. The reference is to the leaders of the Quraysh, in particular Abu Lahab, who did not duly value the light God had ordained in his nature. As a result, he was deprived of the light that was sent down from the heavens in the form of the Qur'an.

[8]. Ie., the fire of Hell which is bigger than every fire of the world. The actual words used for this are: النَّارَ الْكُبْرَى. In its counterpart, Surah Ghashiyah, the words used are: العّذَابَ الأَكْبْرَ.

[9]. It is this purification which is the objective of religion and whose reward will be given to man in the Hereafter in the form of Paradise. The Almighty has very concisely mentioned here the way to achieve this objective: one should adhere to God's remembrance with a true comprehension of His attributes and should submit to Him with all his being. The prayer is the greatest manifestation of this remembrance and this submission.

[10]. At the end, the real reason behind the denial of the arrogant leadership of the Quraysh isdelineated.

[11]. These scriptures are present even today in the Bible and these facts are mentioned in them in such a clear and effective way that they revive one's faith wherever they are read.

[12]. Though the Prophet (sws) is addressed here, it is evident from the subsequent verses that these verses are actually directed at the arrogant leadership of the Quraysh who had lost all fear of the Hereafter. The address begins with a question. Such questions are not meant to elicit an answer; it is meant to portray the horrific or grand nature of something.

[13]. Though the reference is to people, the word face is used to refer to them because whatever will happen to them on that day will be evident the most from their faces.

[14]. The actual word is آنِيَة. In other words, its heat will have reached its ultimate extent.

[15]. The actual words are: لَّيْسَ لَهُمْ طَعَامٌ إِلَّا مِن ضَرِيع. The exception in it is severed. In other words, there will be nothing edible at all for them. All that will be available to them will be thorny bushes and things similar to them and they will be forced to eat them in their helplessness.

[16]. The Arabian concept of a cherished garden was one in which it stood at a higher level than the ground and which was hemmed with date-palms so that it could attract the eye from far off and be safe and secure from the onslaught of floods and gusty scorching winds.

[17]. This is a reference to the purity of the atmosphere. Salutations and love and affection will abound there. Nothing nonsensical and foolish will be encountered there.

[18]. From here onwards there occurs a portrayal of Paradise and its various embellishments. Similar depictions have been made at several instances in the Qur'an. Since these depictions are veiled in similitudes, the apparent difference in details should not be regarded as contradictions. They rather present the variety and assortment in the blessings of the Almighty.

[19]. Here the events of the Day of Judgement mentioned earlier are substantiated by certain signs found in the world around man. The sequence adopted takes into consideration the unique aspect that first the attention of the addressees is directed to the most prominent thing found in their immediate environment: the camel. After that observation is directed to the heavens and then once the eyes come back to the earth, the mountains which they observe in between. After the mountains, only the earth could have been a source of attention for the addressees in the Arabian environment. Thus it is mentioned at the end. In the signs, two are very prominent with regard to God's providence and two are very prominent with regard to God's power and wisdom. The first two are the camel and the earth and the last two are the heavens and the mountains. The students of the Qur'an know that the whole foundation of its philosophy and wisdom stands on the attributes of God. Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi writes:

… Their attention is directed foremost to the camel. Why don't they reflect on something which is their everyday companion; it remains with them wherever they go and serves all their needs. It is completely obedient to them and even risks its life for them. It is the Almighty who has created it with all these wondrous qualities. The camel is an example of docility to man and in spite of being so huge and massive, people can lead it anywhere by a nose-string. It walks behind them in total compliance. It is their companion at home and during travels. It carries all their burdens and is like a ship for them in desert journeys. For weeks, it fights thirst and hunger and fills its stomach with thorny bushes and never disobeys its master however tough the errand assigned. Its flesh, hide and milk are of use to his master and even his faeces have their benefit. What needs to be reflected upon is: did the camel, with such multifarious benefits, come into existence of its own accord and was it mere coincidence that man tamed it into submission? Or was it that the Almighty created it through His profound power and wisdom and put it in the service of man? Obviously, sense and reason vouch for the second of these possibilities. If this second possibility is the only acceptable one, then is it not the responsibility of man to lead his life while remaining grateful to the Almighty. For it is the Almighty Who blessed him with these comforts of life even though it was not his right. If he does not show gratitude, he should get ready to face the Almighty and be held accountable before him and face punishment for denying all His favours.

… Once an animal as tall as the camel was mentioned, attention was immediately directed to the heavens: Why don't people reflect on how its roof was raised high? The implication is that such a limitless expanse was raised high without any pillars. Even stranger is the fact that the time which has elapsed on it is also unknown but the most competent of engineers with the most powerful of telescopes is unable to point to the minutest flaw in it. Even more weird is the fact that no one knows how far off it is from the earth; however, the sun, the moon, the planets and the stars suspended in it provide light and heat to the earth and are a means of sustaining life on it and are a source of its embellishment too.

Man should reflect that if such is the extent of the power and wisdom of the Creator that He can make the heavens, will it be difficult for Him to re-create man once he is reduced to dust? Consequently, at a number of places, the Qur'an has asked man whether re-creating him is more difficult or creating the heavens.

… After the eyes are urged to observe the sky and its majesty, they are exhorted to look at the earth and attention is directed at the most prominent sign of God's power and wisdom that lies between the sky and the earth: the mountains. They maintain the balance of the earth lest it should tilt on one side together with everyone. They also control the winds and the clouds so that they cause rain at certain places in accordance with the will and wisdom of God. Even though they are made of rocks, providence has made provisions of streams and rivulets of water to flow from them for the benefit of His creation. They contain countless treasures of priceless worth hidden within them. Man is constantly in the process of discovering these treasures and using them for the development of the society. Among them are mountains which are insurmountable; however, the Almighty has taken out passes and passages through them so that they do not cause hindrance in communication between people of various nations. Man should reflect whether all this is not a testimony to the great power and wisdom of the Creator and to His all-embracing providence. He should further deliberate that will the Creator Who has such attributes leave man unaccountable for all his deeds; will He not bring a Day on which He holds everyone accountable for his deeds and reward and punish people accordingly? Is not this reward and punishment an obvious requirement of His providence and wisdom? Can anyone claim that this is beyond His power?

… The eyes are now directed from the mountains to the earth. Man should see how it contains various things in each and every place to nurture and nourish him. They are able to make houses in its outspread lands. Its fields contain their crops and orchards. Its springs, wells and rivulets supply water to these crops and orchards. Its forests and valleys contain limitless resources to feed their animals and livestock. Man should reflect on all this and think that the Being Who has placed them in a house that He has built for them and which very efficiently caters for all their needs, will He become indifferent to the way these inhabitants lead their lives? Will He not differentiate between those among them who lead their lives according to His will and who show pride and vanity by considering all these favours as an inheritance received from their forefathers. Intellect, obviously, endorses the fact that He should deal differently with the two categories. If He does not do so, then this would, God forbid, mean that either He is insensitive and unintelligent and devoid of the awareness of good and evil or is absolutely helpless and feeble. (Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tadabbur-i Qur'an, vol. 9, 333)

[20]. A word of assurance is sounded to the Prophet (sws). He has delivered the warning and fulfilled his obligation. After this also he should continue in this fashion. His obligation is only to preach to and remind them. It is not his responsibility to forcibly make them accept faith. He will only be held accountable for preaching to and reminding them.

[21]. Ie., the punishment of Hell which is greater than every punishment of this world. In the previous surah, it was called: النَّارَ الكُبْرَى.

[22]. Ie., this is not merely a threat from God; it is incumbent upon Him to call him to account. In the words of Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi, if the Almighty does not do so, then this will mean that this world is merely a playground of children and a meaningless and purposeless creation whereas the fact of the matter is that its Creator does nothing which is bereft of wisdom.

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