وُجُوهٌ يَوْمَئِذٍ نَاضِرَةٌ(22)إِلَى رَبِّهَا نَاظِرَةٌ(23)وَوُجُوهٌ يَوْمَئِذٍ بَاسِرَةٌ(24) تَظُنُّ أَنْ يُفْعَلَ بِهَا فَاقِرَةٌ(25)
The implication of these verses is that if for the sake of this world they are showing indifference to the Hereafter they should do so; but they should remember that the reality they are disregarding is certain to come, and on that Day the situation will be totally different. The faces of those who spent their life in its awareness will be fresh and bright. They will await the blessings and mercy of God. On the other hand, the faces of those who led their lives while being indifferent to it will be bleak and gloomy and they will apprehend a calamity which will break their backs.
Portrayed in these verses is actually the situation before people will enter Paradise or Hell. When those worthy of Paradise will see that at every step angels are welcoming them with words of peace and reverence, their faces will turn bright in imagination of the bright future which awaits them. They will be hopeful that the time is arriving when they will be the recipients of God's promised mercy in its ultimate form. On the contrary, the situation faced by the disbelievers at each step will make their faces glum and gloomy: they will anticipate the back-breaking punishment promised to them and to which they had paid no heed in the previous world.
The words إِلَى رَبِّهَا نَاظِرَةٌ mean that these people will await the blessings and favours of their Lord. When the preposition إِلَى is used with نَظَِرَjust as it means to look at something, it also means to await someone's blessings and favours. Lexicographers explain this thus: if someone says إِنَّمَا نَنْظُرُ إِلَى اللهِ ثُمّ إِلِيْكَ to someone from whom he is expecting blessings and favours, it would mean: "I await God's blessings and after them your favours".
The context also supports this interpretation. The mental state of those who would be going to Hell is depicted thus: تَظُنُّ أَنْ يُفْعَلَ بِهَا فَاقِرَةٌ (apprehending that there is going to befall them that which breaks their backs). Because of this apprehension, their faces will be gloomy and apprehensive. In contrast, the believers are described as those who will expect and await the manifestation of their Lord's greatest mercy and as a result their faces will be joyous and cheerful.
The expression أَنْ يُفْعَلَ بِهَا فَاقِرَةٌ is grammatically analyzed by Zamakhsharī thus: أي يفعل بها فعل هو في شدته و فطاعته فاقرة (they will be meted out such punishment whose intensity will break their backs). Although other grammatical analyses are also possible, I would prefer this. Examples of this will be coming in the succeeding sūrahs.
The word فَاقِرَةٌ refers to a calamity which shatters the bones of the spinal chord.
Some people derive man's observation of God by the verse إِلَى رَبِّهَا نَاظِرَةٌ. In my opinion, this verse does not refer to this if its context and occasion is understood. It is in fact a verse having an entirely different context and occasion. Similarly, those who oppose man's observation of God and in frenzy of this opposition alter the meaning of the preposition إِلَىhave erred in their interpretation. My view on this issue is that our belief in God in this world is not based on His observation. We believe in Him because certain signs and indications strongly point to His existence; however, in the Hereafter our belief in Him will be based on direct observation, and we will be able to directly witness every reality we profess faith in. As far as the nature of this observation is concerned, we cannot determine it in this world. It is from the category of mutashābihāt and one is not allowed to delve into the mutashābihāt. Only God, the Almighty knows the nature of this observation.
كَلَّا إِذَا بَلَغَتْ التَّرَاقِي(26)وَقِيلَ مَنْ رَاقٍ(27)وَظَنَّ أَنَّهُ الْفِرَاقُ(28)وَالْتَفَّتْ السَّاقُ بِالسَّاقِ(29)إِلَى رَبِّكَ يَوْمَئِذٍ الْمَسَاقُ(30)
The slaves of worldly pleasures are reminded of the agonies of death and of the state of helplessness a person will be at that time. They should not regard the Day of Judgement to be improbable. It shall definitely come and they will have to take the long journey back to their Lord. Their vigour and enthusiasm will end; so helpless will they be that the shank will embrace the shank. It is in their own interest to prepare for this journey and turn towards the Almighty before this happens and before their souls are stuck in the collar bone.
Whatever Imām Farāhī, my mentor, has written while explaining these verses is based on sound research. In the following paragraphs, I will summarize in his own words what he has written in his tafsīr. He writes:
The pronoun found in the phrase بَلَغَتْ التَّرَاقِي is for the soul which is not mentioned here. An example of such a suppression also occurs in the following verse of Sūrah Wāqi'ah: فَلَوْلَا إِذَا بَلَغَتِ الْحُلْقُومَ (83:56) (when under your very eyes a man's soul reaches the throat, (56:83)). Such a suppression is customary in Arabic. Hence it was not necessary to mention the antecedent of the pronoun. Examples of such a suppression are also found in classical Arabic.
Hātim Tā'ī says:
أ مادي ما يغني الثراء عن الفتى
إذا حشرجت يوما و ضاق بها الصدر
(O Mādiyah! What use will wealth be to a person when the soul will be trapped in the chest.)
In the above quoted couplet, the nomen agentis (fā'il) of the verb is the soul but has been suppressed as per the linguistic principle alluded to earlier. Examples of such a suppression are also found in the Qur'ān. In Sūrah Fatir, it is said:
مَا تَرَكَ عَلَى ظَهْرِهَا مِن دَابَّةٍ (35:45) (not one creature would be left alive on the earth's surface, (35:45)). Here one can see that the antecedent of the pronoun هَاwhich is "the earth" has been suppressed … The sentence وَقِيلَ مَنْ رَاقٍ (and it is said: "Who is it that can weave a spell now?")expresses the severity and sensitivity of the situation. The passive tense قِيلَhas great eloquence in it. In other words, such will be the severity of the situation that no one will be able to pay attention to the person who will speak these words. To put it another way, the importance of these words will make people totally indifferent to their speaker. Everyone will be rehearsing these words. When the word مَنْ comes before an undefined noun, it implies severity in demand or great despair. Tarfah says:
إذا القوم قالوا من فتى خلت أنني
عنيت فلم أكسل و لم أتبلد
(When the nation calls out: "Is there a young man?"I understand that they are referring to me; then I do not display laziness and weakness.)
… let us now see what the intentionality of the verse is and the purpose for which this style has been adopted here. In my opinion, the verse can be interpreted in two ways and there is in reality no difference between these two interpretations.
The first interpretation is that when a person will be close to death and will be in an unconscious state, the attendants will worriedly call out: "Is there some conjurer who can cure this dying person?"
The second interpretation is that the attendants will say: "The matter is now finished; who can cure this dying man?" This of course is an expression of hopelessness and when the sick person will hear it, he will become sure that the time for his departure had arrived. Khansā's following couplet portrays this situation:
لكن سهام المنايا من يصبن له
لم يشفه طب ذي طب و لا راق
(He who is stung by the arrows of death cannot be cured by the competence of a doctor nor the conjuring of a conjurer.)
Both these interpretations of the verse are possible and I have presented both of them for [the analysis of the readers]. They can adopt anyone of them. However, in my opinion, the second of these interpretations is closer to the context.
While explaining the expression وَالْتَفَّتْ السَّاقُ بِالسَّاقِ, Farāhī writes:
The meaning of the shank embracing the shank is that a person will not be able to walk. This will be because of intense weakness and helplessness. As long as a person is alive, he is vigorously active in all spheres of his life; however, when he dies, it seems that his shanks have mutually embraced themselves.
… "the shank embracing the shank" is a very apt expression of frailty and helplessness. The purport of the verse is: what will happen when a doctor loses hope in the sick person, relatives withdraw in frustration, the once obedient limbs are no longer under control and he has to go to his Lord with a heavy burden?
Some people have interpreted the word ساق to mean "severity of the situation". However, this view is of those people who have no knowledge of the Arabic language. These people do not understand the difference between the whole and the part. No doubt, the words كشف عن الساق when taken as a single expression is commonly used in Arabic to connote "vigour, liveliness and eagerness". However, when these words are used separately, then the word كشف means "to unveil" and الساق means "the shank". It is not that when used separately, then too they will connote the same meaning as they carry when used together in this expression.
A narrative ascribed to Ibn 'Abbās (rta) says that الساق means the last day of this world and the first day of the next. I think the narrators have not faithfully transmitted what he might have said. If the ascription is correct, it could be a reference to the situation which would arise at that time and not a delineation of the meaning of this word.
Once the correct meaning of the shank embracing the shank is understood, the occasion and context of the next sentence: إِلَى رَبِّكَ يَوْمَئِذٍ الْمَسَاقُ (on that Day, towards your Lord is the departure) can be grasped automatically. It is as if man is scolded for his indifference in preparing for this journey; he remained busy acquiring worldly pleasures and luxuries and a reached a stage when in this pursuit he lost all his strength and energy; now how will he be able to reach his Lord in such a state.
فَلَا صَدَّقَ وَلَا صَلَّى(31)وَلَكِنْ كَذَّبَ وَتَوَلَّى(32)ثُمَّ ذَهَبَ إِلَى أَهْلِهِ يَتَمَطَّى(33)أَوْلَى لَكَ فَأَوْلَى(34)ثُمَّ أَوْلَى لَكَ فَأَوْلَى(35)
Depicted in these verses is the state of deprivation of these disbelievers of the Hereafter: the journey is very exacting; yet they have no resources and provisions to take along. They neither offered the prayer to the Almighty nor spent in His way even though these were the two deeds which were to be of use to them in this journey.
An ellipsis of the word بِالْحُسْنى has occurred after صَدَّقَ because of strong linguistic indications. In Sūrah Layl, this suppression is expressed thus: فَسَنُيَسِّرُهُ لِلْيُسْرَىفَأَمَّا مَنْ أَعْطَى وَاتَّقَى وَصَدَّقَ بِالْحُسْنَى (92: 5-7) (so, he who gave in the way of Allah and was God-fearing and attested to the good fate of the Hereafter, We shall make him traverse an easy path, (92:5-7)). It needs to be kept in consideration that spending in the way of God is very difficult for people who do not believe in the Hereafter and the good fate encountered there. This abyss can only be crossed by those whose hearts are satisfied that whatever they will spend shall come before them in the form of an eternal treasure in the Hereafter. It is this belief in the reward of the Hereafter which motivates a person to spend in the way of God. Those who deny it are never induced to such spending. In Sūrah Layl, the verses succeeding to the ones quoted earlier portray this fact thus: وَكَذَّبَ بِالْحُسْنَىوَأَمَّا مَنْ بَخِلَ وَاسْتَغْنَىفَسَنُيَسِّرُهُ لِلْعُسْرَى(92: 8-10) (and he who showed miserliness and was indifferent and belied the good fate, We shall make him traverse an arduous path, (92: 8-10)).
In the light of these verses, the meaning of فَلَا صَدَّقَ will be that the person neither attested to the good fate of the Hereafter nor did he spend in the way of the Almighty. In other words, the meanings of both rejecting the Hereafter and stinginess are implied in this expression. After this, the words are: وَلَا صَلَّى (and he did not pray). In other words, the real motive for spending in the way of God and offering the prayer is belief in reward in the Hereafter. When this belief is non-existent in them, how can these deeds emanate from these people.
Here once again let us refresh what is so often expressed in this tafsīr: it is on the prayer and spending in the way of God – the two primary deeds – that the sharī'ah is based. It is evident from this verse that both of these are themselves dependent upon belief in the Hereafter. People in whom this belief is not strong, will not be able to undertake them.
In the verse: وَلَكِنْ كَذَّبَ وَتَوَلَّى, theword كَذَّبَ occurs in contrast to صَدَّقَ and the word تَوَلَّى occurs in contrast to صَلَّى. In other words, what was befitting for them was to testify to the Messenger and to the Hereafter and spend in the way of God and offer the prayer to Him; however, they belied the Hereafter and became indifferent.
The verse ثُمَّ ذَهَبَ إِلَى أَهْلِهِ يَتَمَطَّى portrays this indifference and a little deliberation will show that the reason for this indifference has also been referred to in it: If people whose wealth and children have made them arrogant are reminded to fear God and the Hereafter, then such reminders have no effect on them. They think that their affluence and abundance in family members is a sure sign of they being on the right path. For this reason, they do not entertain the reminders of people who try to point out their folly. Instead of being influenced by such reminders, they conceitedly take a walk to their family vainly contending their prosperity and riches to be a clear sign of their correctness. Moreover, they go as far as to think that the real fault lies in people themselves bereft of prosperity yet are sounding such reminders and admonitions.
Here one should keep in mind what the Qur'ān mentions very frequently in various styles: the believers live amongst their family members continuously fearing the Almighty lest they are not able to properly care for the family and in this way earn God's wrath in any way. This sense of responsibility on the part of the believers is expressed thus in the Qur'ān: قَالُوا إِنَّا كُنَّا قَبْلُ فِي أَهْلِنَا مُشْفِقِينَ (26:52) (they will say: "we have always remained fearful in the matter of our family," (52:26)). Exactly opposite is the attitude of people whose hearts are devoid of God's fear. They regard their family to be a source of pride and conceit and as a clear sign of their good fortune. For this reason, they are in the state of inebriation mentioned in the anecdote of the companion of an orchard in Sūrah Kahaf in these words: مَا أَظُنُّ أَن تَبِيدَ هَذِهِ أَبَدًا (35:18)(I don't reckon that this will ever perish! (18:35)). The mentality of such people is mentioned thus in Sūrah Mutaffifīn: وَإِذَا انقَلَبُوا إِلَى أَهْلِهِمْ انقَلَبُوا فَكِهِينَ (81: 31) (and when they would return to their people, they would return engrossed, (81:31).
In the verses: أَوْلَى لَكَ فَأَوْلَىثُمَّ أَوْلَى لَكَ فَأَوْلَى, the word أَوْلَى is from ويلwhich is used for expressing anger, reproach, and hatred. In classical Arabic, this word is used abundantly. For example, Khansā' says:
هممت بنفسي كل الهموم
فأولى لنفسي أولى لها
(I made many intentions about my soul; what a pity on my soul; what a pity)
Some Urdu translators have translated it as "befitting" which is against Arabic principles and also not in accordance with the context.
In the previous verses, the address was indirect. Here in these verses the address has become direct. This change in address is to express sorrow and hatred. I have alluded to this aspect at various places in this tafsīr.
أَيَحْسَبُ الْإِنسَانُ أَنْ يُتْرَكَ سُدًى(36)أَلَمْ يَكُ نُطْفَةً مِنْ مَنِيٍّ يُمْنَى(37)ثُمَّ كَانَ عَلَقَةً فَخَلَقَ فَسَوَّى(38) فَجَعَلَ مِنْهُ الزَّوْجَيْنِ الذَّكَرَ وَالْأُنثَى(39)أَلَيْسَ ذَلِكَ بِقَادِرٍ عَلَى أَنْ يُحْيِيَ الْمَوْتَى(40)
Here in these verses, the sūrah ends on the very subject with which it began. In the beginning it was said:أَيَحْسَبُ الْإِنسَانُ أَلَّنْ نَجْمَعَ عِظَامَهُبَلَى قَادِرِينَ عَلَى أَنْ نُسَوِّيَ بَنَانَهُ (75: 3-4)(does man think that We will not be able to bring together his bones? Why not? We can put him together even his very finger-sections, (75: 3-4)). After that, the discourse had shifted to man's arrogance and his deliberate concealment of the truth and to the portrayal of the horrific events of the Day of Judgement. Now, here at the end, this question is raised again and answered: do people who express their wonder on being raised to life again after death think that man will be left unaccountable? If leaving him unaccountable is against the justice and wisdom of the Almighty, how will re-creating him again be difficult for the Almighty? Does he not reflect on the various stages of his creation. His creation begins with a drop of fluid being poured forth in the mother's womb. The passive tense in the word يُمْنَى points to a lack of attention and any elaborate arrangement. The person who pours it forth has nothing more to do with it after this act; he has no knowledge of what happens to it and what it undergoes. All later changes and developments in it are done by providence and with remarkable creativity makes it pass through various stages encompassed in layers of darkness. The drop of fluid becomes a clot of blood. Then it is brought into shape and later perfected. Finally, it emerges in the form of a man or a woman. In all these stages, it is providence which fashions and moulds it; no one else has any role in this. Now man needs to realize that how can the God Whose signs of power, wisdom and creativity can be so abundantly seen in this way in a human being not be able to recreate him once he dies.
With the grace of God, with these lines, I come to the end of this sūrah's tafsīr. و له الحمد في الدنيا و الآخرة (gratitude be to Him in this world and in that to come)
19th January, 1979 AD
19Th Safr, 1399 AH