In the Shade of the Quran (part 30)
Surah 79 The Pluckers anNazi'aat
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.
By those that pluck out vehemently and those that move forward rapidly; by those that swim vigorously and those that outstrip swiftly and those that conduct a certain affair. On the day when the earth shall quake, followed soon afterwards by the sky, all hearts shall be filled with terror, and all eyes shall be downcast. They say, "What, are we being restored as we were before? What, when we have been turned to old, hollow bones? They say, "That will be a losing return." But with just one blast they shall be alive on earth. Have you heard the history of Moses? His Lord called out to him in the holy valley of Towa, saying: "Go to Pharoah: he has tyrannised and transgressed bounds, and say to him: 'Would you like to reform yourself? I will guide you to your Lord, so that you may be in awe of Him.'" He showed Pharaoh the mightiest miracle, but Pharaoh cried lies and rebelled. He then turned away hastily. He summoned all his men and made a proclamation to them: "I am your supreme Lord", he said. Allah smote him with the scourge of the life to come and that of this life as well. Surely in this there is a lesson for the godfearing. Which is stronger in constitution: you or the heaven He has built? He raised it high and gave it its perfect shape, and gave darkness to its night, and brought out its daylight. After that He spread out the earth. He brought out water from it, and brought forth its pastures; and the mountains He set firm, for you and your cattle to delight in. Then, when the Greatest Catastrophe comes on the day when man shall call to mind what he has done, When Hell is brought in sight of all who are looking on; then, he who tyrannised and transgressed and chose this present life will have Hell for his dwelling place. But he who feared to stand before his Lord and forbade his soul its caprice will dwell in Paradise. They question you about the Hour of Doom, when will it come? But why should you be concerned with its exact timing? The final word concerning it belongs to your Lord. Your mission is merely to warn those who fear it. On the day when they see that hour, it will seem to them that their life on earth had spanned only one evening, or one morning.
This surah is just one example of many in this thirtieth part of the Qur'an which have one common objective, namely, to drive home to man the reality of the hereafter, its inevitability, and its awesome and serious nature, and to stress its importance to the Divine planning of man's life in this world. Such planning culminates in man's death and subsequent resurrection for the life to come. As it sets out to drive this idea home to man, the surah touches the emotions in different ways which are directly relevant to its central idea.
First we have an ambiguous opening which creates an air of fear and worried expectation. The rhythm here is quick and throbbing; it helps evoke feelings of fear, surprise and wonder: By those that pluck out vehemently, and those that move out rapidly, by those that swim vigorously, and those that outstrip swiftly, and those that conduct a certain affair.
This equivocal, shaking opening is followed by the first of the scenes of the hereafter. The scene shares style and tempo with the opening which thus serves as a framework for the scene: On the day when the earth shall quake, followed soon afterwards by the sky, all hearts shall be filled with terror, and all eyes shall be downcast. They say, 'What, are we being restored as we were before? What, when we have been turned to old, hollow bones?' They say, 'That will be a losing return.' But with just one blast they shall be alive on earth.'
Having spread an air of awe, the surah gives an account of the end met by some of the disbelievers in the story of Moses and Pharaoh. Here the rhythm is quieter and more relaxed to suit the narrative style:
Have you heard the history of Moses? His Lord called out to him in the holy valley of Towa, saying: 'Go to Pharaoh: He has transgressed all bounds, and say to him; "Would you like to reform yourself? I will guide you to your Lord, so that you may be in awe of Him.' He showed Pharaoh the mightiest miracle, but Pharaoh cried lies and rebelled. He then turned away hastily. He summoned all his men and made a proclamation to them: 'I am your supreme Lord,' he said. Allah smote him with the scourge of the life to come and that of this life as well. Surely in this there is a lesson for the godfearing.' This account serves as an introduction to the great principle the surah aims to establish.
Leaving history aside, the surah takes up the open book of the universe. It paints some of the great scenes of the universe which testify to the limitless power and careful planning of Allah, the Creator of the universe Who controls its destiny both in this life and in the life to come. These scenes are drawn here with powerful style and strong rhythm in harmony with the opening of the surah and its general cadence. Which is stronger in constitution: you or the heaven He has built? He raised it high and gave it its perfect shape, and gave darkness to its night, and brought out its daylight. After that He spread out the earth. He brought out water from it and brought forth its pastures; and the mountains He set firm, for you and your cattle to delight in.
After all these introductory scenes and inspiring touches comes the statement concerning the "Greatest Catastrophe" accompanied by the distribution of rewards for actions alone in this life. The rewards are portrayed in scenes which fit in harmoniously with the Greatest Catastrophe: Then, when the Greatest Catastrophe comes, on the day when man will call to mind what he has done, when Hell is brought in sight of all who are looking on; then, he who has transgressed and chosen this present life will have Hell for his dwelling place. But he who feared to stand before His Lord and forbade his soul its caprice will dwell in Paradise.
At this point, when we are overwhelmed with the effects of the scenes of the Greatest Catastrophe, Hell brought near, the end of the transgressors who prefer this life to the next, and that of the godfearing who restrain themselves and do not give in to their own caprice, at this point, the surah turns to those who deny resurrection and ask the Prophet to fix its time. The rhythm here is superb: it adds to the feeling of awe produced by the account of the Hour of Doom. They question you about the Hour of Doom, when will it come? But why should you be concerned with its exact timing. The final word concerning it belongs to your Lord. Your duty is merely to warn those who fear it. On the day when they see that hour, it will seem to them that their life on earth had spanned only one evening, or one morning.
Perhaps we should note that these verses end with the sound 'aaha' which adds length to the meter, intensifying the effect of majesty and awe. By those that pluck vehemently and those that move forward rapidly; by those that swim vigorously and those that outstrip swiftly and those that conduct a certain affair. Some commentators say of these verses that they refer to the angels who pluck out the souls vehemently, move along actively with ease and speed, swim along as they move in the outer world, outstrip other creatures to embrace the faith and carry out Allah's commands and conduct whatever affairs they are charged with. Other commentators maintain that they refer to the stars who pluck out as they run in their orbits, move rapidly in phases, swim in space, outstrip others as they run fast and bring about certain phenomena and results which are entrusted to them by Allah and which affect life on earth. A third group of commentators are of the view that the pluckers, runners, swimmers and outstrippers refer to the stars while the conductors of affairs are the angels.
Another group believe that the pluckers, runners and swimmers are the stars while the outstrippers and conductors of affairs are the angels.
Whatever the referents of these terms are, we feel from the general Qur'anic sense that mentioning them in this particular manner produces a shock and a feeling of expectation of something fearful. Thus, they contribute, right at the outset, to preparing our minds for the fearful account of the first and second quakes and of the Greatest Catastrophe later on in the surah.
Perhaps it is better not to go into great detail in trying to explain and discuss these verses. It is perhaps more fruitful to let these verses produce their effect naturally. The Qur'an seeks to achieve its objective of awakening men's hearts in different ways. If we do this we simply follow the example of Umar ibn Al-Khattab. He once read the surah entitled "The Frowning" . When he reached the verse which reads "wafakihatan wa abba"' he wondered, "We know the fruit trees 'fakihatan', but what is 'abba'?" But then he reproached himself saying: "You Ibn Al-Khattab, are being really fussy today! What harm is there in your not knowing the meaning of a word used in Allah's book?" He then said to the people around: "Follow what you understand of this book; what you do not understand you may leave alone." His statement, aimed at discouraging people from trying to explain what may be equivocal to them without the backing of perfectly sound authority, represents an attitude of veneration towards Allah's words, some of which may have been deliberately left equivocal so that they may fulfil a certain objective.
The opening of the surah takes the form of an oath, to confirm the event related in the following few verses:
On the day when the earth shall quake followed soon afterwards by the sky, all hearts shall be filled with terror, and all eyes shall be downcast. They say, 'What are we being restored as we were before? What, when we have been turned to old, hollow bones?' They say. 'That will be a losing return. ' But with just one blast they shall be alive on earth. It has been suggested that the "quaker" is the earth. This is based on what the Qur'an says in another surah:
On the day when the earth and the mountains will quake (Al-Qur'an 73:14) It has also been suggested that the "follower" is the sky, as it follows the earth and witnesses its own upheaval which causes it to split and causes the stars to scatter. An alternative suggestion claims that the "quaker" refers to the first blast on the Trumpet which causes the earth, the mountains and all creation to quake and tremble and makes all who are in heaven and on earth fall down fainting except those who shall be spared by Allah. "The follower" it is claimed, refers to the second blow on the Trumpet which brings all creation back to life (as stated in surah 39, verse 68).
Whichever suggestion is the correct one, the very verses make men's hearts feel the quake and shake with fear and worry. They prepare them to realise what sort of terror will fill the hearts on the day of judgement:
All hearts shall be filled with terror and all eyes shall be downcast. Thus, it is a combination of worry, fear, humiliation and breakdown. This is what happens on that day, and it is the fact which the oath at the opening of the surah seeks to establish. In both sense and rhythm, the scene portrayed by these verses fits in perfectly with the opening.
The surah goes on to speak of their surprise and wonder when they are resurrected: They say, 'What, are we being restored as we were before? What, when we have been turned to old, hollow bones? They wonder whether they are being returned to life again. Amazed, they ask how this can be done after they have been dead for so long that their bones have become hollow. Then they realise that their awakening does not take them back to their life on earth, but to their second life. At this point they feel their great loss and cry:
They say, 'That will be a losing return.' They have not banked on such a return, and have not prepared for it, so they have everything to lose by it. The Qur'anic comment is to state what will actually happen. But with just one blast they shall be alive on earth.
The "blast" is a shout, but it is described here as a blast to emphasise its force, and to strike a note of perfect harmony between this scene and the other scenes of the surah. The term used for "the earth" here refers to a bright white earth which is the land of resurrection. We do not know its exact location. All we know of it is that which the Qur'an or the authentic traditions of the Prophet relate. We have no intention of adding anything unauthoritative to their account. Other Qur'anic statements lead us to the conclusion that this one blast is most probably the second blow on the Trumpet, i.e. the blow of resurrection. The expression used here gives a sense of speed. The blast itself is associated with speed, and the general rhythm of the surah is a rapid one. The terrified hearts also beat fast. Hence the perfect harmony between the sense, the rhythm, the scenes and the surah as a whole.
The rhythm then slows down a bit in order to suit the style of narration. For next we have an account of what had taken place between Moses and Pharaoh, and the end which Pharaoh met after he had tyrannised and transgressed all bounds: Have you heard the history of Moses? His Lord called out to him in the holy valley of Towa, saying: 'Go to Pharaoh: he has transgressed all bounds, and say to him: 'Would you like to reform yourself? I will guide you to your Lord, so that you may havefear of Him.' He showed Pharaoh the mightiest miracle, but he cried lies and rebelled. He then turned away hastily. He summoned all his men and made to them a proclamation: 'I am your supreme Lord, 'he said . Allah smote him with the scourge of the life to come and that of this life as well. Surely in this there is a lesson for the godfearing.'
The story of Moses is the most frequent and most detailed of the Qur'anic stories. It is mentioned in many other surahs, in different styles and with varying emphasis. At times, certain episodes are given greater prominence. This variation of style and emphasis aims at striking harmony between the historical account and the surah in which it occurs. Thus, the story helps to make the message of the surah clearer. This method is characteristic of the Qur'an. Here the historical account is given in quick successive scenes which open with the call Moses receives in the holy valley and end with the destruction of Pharaoh in this life and the life to come. Thus, it fits very well with the main theme of the surah, namely the hereafter. The part given here of Moses's history spans a long period, but it is covered by a few short verses, so that it may fit in well with the rhythm and message of the surah. These short verses include several stages and scenes of the story.
They start with an introductory question addressed to the Prophet, Have you heard the history of Moses?
The question serves to prepare us to listen to the history and contemplate its lessons. Moses's story is described here as history to emphasise that it has actually happened. It starts with the scene of Moses being called by Allah: His Lord called out to him in the holy valley of Towa.
Towa is probably the name of the valley which lies to the right of the Mount Toor, as one comes up from Madian in North Hijaz. The moment when this call was made was awesome. The call from Allah Himself to one of His servants, great beyond description, embodies a secret of Divinity, and a secret of how Allah has made man susceptible to receiving His call. No one can comprehend what is involved here without inspiration from Allah Himself.
The communication between Allah and Moses is discussed in more detail elsewhere in the Qur'an. In this surah, however, it is touched upon briefly, before Allah's command to Moses is stated: Go to Pharaoh. He has tyrannised and transgressed all bounds, and say to him ' Would you like to reform yourself? I will guide you to your Lord, so that you may be in awe of Him.' Go to Pharaoh, he has tyrannised and transgressed all bounds.
Tyranny and transgression should not have taken place and must not go on. They lead to corruption and to what displeases Allah. So Allah (praised be He) selects one of His noble servants and charges him with the task of trying to put an end to them. They are indeed so hateful that Allah Himself commands one of His servants to go to the tyrant in an attempt to turn him away from his erring ways, so that he may have no excuse should Allah decide to exact His retribution. Go to Pharaoh: he has tyrannised and transgressed all bounds.
Allah then teaches Moses how to address the tyrant in the most persuasive manner, so that he may desist and try not to incur upon himself the dis pleasure of Allah: and say to him. 'Would you like to reform yourself?' The first question to be put to the tyrant is whether he would like to purify himself of the stains of tyranny and the filth of disobedience to Allah. Would he like to know the path of the pious, the blessed: I will guide you to your Lord, so that you may be in awe of Him. The offer made here to Pharaoh is to be shown the way acceptable to Allah. Once he knows it, he will feel the fear of Allah in his heart. Man does not transgress and tyrannise unless he loses his way and finds himself taking a road which does not lead to Allah. His heart hardens as a result, and he rebels and tyrannises.
Moses has been told this in the scene of Allah's call to him. He of course puts these questions to Pharaoh when he encounters him. The surah, however, does not repeat them when it describes the encounter. It skips over what happens after Allah's call to Moses and deletes what Moses says when he conveys his message. It is as if the curtain falls after the scene of the call. When it is lifted again, we are presented with the end of the encounter scene: He showed Pharaoh the mightiest miracle, but Pharaoh cried lies and rebelled.
Thus, Moses conveys the message with which he has been entrusted in the manner Allah has taught him. This warm, friendly attitude, however, cannot win over a heart that has been hardened by tyranny and ignorance of the Lord of the universe. So Moses shows him the great miracles of the stick turning into a snake and Moses's hand becoming brilliant white in colour, (as they are explained in other surahs), "but he cried lies and rebelled." The scene of Moses's encounter with Pharaoh and his conveying the message to him ends with Pharaoh's rejection and rebellion. It is then followed by a scene in which Pharaoh turns away to mobilise his forces and bring forward his magicians for an encounter between magic and the truth.
Pharaoh adopted this course of action because he was determined not to accept the truth or submit to right.
He then turned away hastily. He summoned all his men and made a proclamation to them: 'I am your supreme Lord, ' he said.
The surah does not give any details of Pharaoh's efforts to muster his magicians and sorcerers and summon all his men. It simply says that he went away to do that, and then boasted with his impertinent proclamation which betrays his infinite ignorance and conceit: I am your supreme Lord, he said.
Pharaoh's declaration betrays the fact that he was deceived by his people's ignorance and their submission to his authority. Nothing deceives tyrants more than the ignorance and the abject submission of the masses. A tyrant is in fact an individual who has no real power or authority. The ignorant, submissive masses simply bend their backs for him to ride, stretch out their necks for him to fit them with reins, hang down their heads to give him a chance to show his conceit, and forego their rights to be respected and honoured, thus giving him a chance to tyrannise. The masses do all this because they are deceived and afraid at the same time. Their fear has no real basis except in their imagination. The tyrant, an individual, can never be stronger than thousands or millions, should they attach the proper value to their humanity, dignity, self-respect and freedom. Every individual in the nation is a match for the tyrant in terms of power. No one could tyrannise in a nation which is sane, or which knows its true Lord, believes in Him and refuses to submit to any creature who has no power over its destiny.
Pharaoh, however, found his people so ignorant, submissive and devoid of faith that he was able to make his insolent, blasphemous declaration, 'I am your supreme Lord!' He would have never dared to make it had he found that his nation had the qualities of general awareness, self-respect and faith in Allah.
With such an intolerable insolence on Pharaoh's part coming on top of his grim tyranny, the Supreme Power moved in: Allah smote him with the scourge of the life to come and that of this life as well. The scourge of the life to come is mentioned first because it is much harsher and perpetual. It is indeed the real punishment for the tyrants and the transgressors because of its severity and endlessness. It is also more appropriate to give it prominence since the life to come is the main theme of the surah. Besides, it fits perfectly with the general rhythm of the surah.
The scourge of this life is fearful and severe, but that of the life to come is much more so. Pharaoh had power, authority and glory, yet none of that was of any use to him. One can only imagine what will be the fate of the disbelievers who do not have similar power, authority or glory but still resist the call of Islam and try to suppress it.
Surely in this there is a lesson for the god fearing. Only those who know their true Lord and fear Him will benefit from the lessons of Pharaoh's history. Those who do not fear Allah will continue in their erring ways until they reach their appointed end, when they shall suffer the scourge of both this life and the life to come.
Having mentioned the end met by the tyrants who thought themselves very powerful, the surah turns to the present disbelievers who also depend on their own power. It directs their attention to some manifestations of the work of the Supreme Power in the universe.
Their power does not stand any comparison with that of Allah: Which is stronger in constitution: you or the heaven He has built? He raised it high and gave it its perfect shape, and gave darkness to its night, and brought out its daylight. After that He spread out the earth. He brought out water from its depth, and brought forth its pastures; And the mountains He set firm, for you and your cattle to delight in.
The question these verses start with:
Which is stronger in constitution: you or the heaven He has built? admits of one answer only: Heaven. So the question seems to infer another:
Why should you think so highly of your own power when heaven is much stronger in constitution than you and the Lord Who created it is much stronger than it? The question may also be carried forward in a different direction: Why do you think resurrection impossible? He has created heaven, the creation of which requires more power than your own creation? Resurrection is merely a repetition of creation. It follows that He who has built heaven will find your resurrection an easier proposition.
"He has built" heaven. The term "build" suggests strength and firm constitution. Heaven is so indeed. Its planets are held together in a perfect system. They neither scatter, nor fall away from their orbits.
"He raised it high and gave it its perfect shape." A glance is enough to recognise the perfect coherence and harmony in the building of heaven. Knowledge of the laws which govern the existence of the creatures in the sky above us and provide a perfect balance between their movements and between their mutual effects enhances awareness of the significance of this verse. It intensifies the feeling of the limitlessness of their very real world, of which human knowledge has uncovered only a small part. This part, however, is enough to make man overwhelmed with wonder and astonishment. He stands speechless at the infinite beauty of the universe. He can give no explanation for it except that a superhuman power has planned it and governs it. This explanation is now accepted even by those who profess not to believe in any religion. And gave darkness to its night, and brought out its daylight.
The Arabic words used in this verse add to the strength of the general tone. They also have stronger connotations than the translation suggests. They are used here because they are more fitting with the general context. The succession of darkness at night and light in the morning is a phenomenon recognised by all, but it may be overlooked because of its being so familiar. Here, the Qur'an reminds us of its permanent novelty. For it is repeated anew every day, producing the same effects and reactions. The natural laws governing this phenomenon are so precise and miraculous that they continue to impress and astonish man as his knowledge increases. After that He spread out the earth. He brought out water from it, and brought forth its pastures, and the mountains He set firm.
Spreading out the earth is a reference to the levelling of its surface so that it becomes easy to walk on, and to the formation of a layer of soil suitable for cultivation. Setting the mountains firm is a result of the final shaping of the surface of the earth and its cooling down to a level suitable for the emergence of living organisms. Allah also brought out water from the earth. This applies to the springs that allow the deep waters to flow out on the surface of the earth. It applies also to the rain water, since it comes originally from the earth. He also brought forth the pastures, which is, in this context, a reference to all plants upon which man and animals feed, and which directly and indirectly sustain life.
All this happened after the heaven was built, the night darkened and the earth spread. The recent theories of astrology support this Qur'anic statement, for they assume that the earth was moving in its orbit, with day and night succeeding each other for hundreds of millions of years before it was levelled and spread out, became suitable for the growth of vegetation, and before its surface took its final, present shape of plains, valleys and mountains.
The Qur'an declares that all this is "for you and your cattle to delight in." This is a reminder for man of what Allah has made for him, and of His perfect and elaborate planning. It is not by chance that the heaven was built in this fashion and that the earth was spread out to take its present shape. Man's existence, as Allah's vicegerent, was taken into account. Man's existence and development depend on so many factors which operate in the universe generally, and in the solar system in particular, and more particularly in the earth itself. All these factors must be made to function in absolute harmony.
Following the Qur'anic approach of giving a short statement which embodies the basic fact, yet is rich with hints and inferences, the surah names just a few of these harmonised factors - the building of heaven, darkening of the night, bringing out the daylight, spreading out the earth, bringing out its waters and pastures and setting the mountains firm - for man and his cattle to delight in. This statement makes the idea of elaborate planning of the universe understood by everybody. It makes use of some of its manifestations which require no particular standard of education to appreciate. This enables the Qur'an to be a universal address, to all men, in all ages and societies, whether primitive or advanced. The reality of meticulous and elaborate planning of the whole universe, however, goes far beyond the level mentioned here. The very nature of this universe rules out any possibility of its formation by chance, for no chance could result in such perfect and absolute harmony on such an immeasurable scale.
The harmony starts with the fact that our solar system is unique among millions and millions of planetary systems, and our earth is also a unique planet with regard to its location in the solar system. It is this uniqueness which makes life on earth possible. We have not yet discovered among the many thousands of similar planets anyone which enjoys similar harmonisation of the essential factors which help the emergence and sustenance of life.
Life may appear on a certain planet if certain conditions are met: the planet must be of suitable size, at a medium distance from the sun, and it has to be of a composition which mixes the elements in the right proportion to permit the emergence of life. The suitable size is necessary because the atmosphere of the planet is conditioned by the force of its gravity. The medium distance is also a necessary condition because the planets which are near to the sun are so hot that nothing can solidify on them, and those that are far from the sun are so cold that nothing on them can have any measure of elasticity. The right composition of elements is necessary because such a composition in the right proportion is a must for the growth of vegetation which is, in turn, essential for the sustenance of life. The Earth has the ideal location to satisfy all these conditions which help the emergence of life in the only form which we now know.[A. M. Al Akkad, Beliefs of Twentieth Century Thinkers, p. 36]
The establishment of the fact of elaborate planning of the grand universe, and giving man a special place in it prepares man's heart and mind to receive and accept the statement of the realitv of the hereafter and its final judgement and rewards with a feeling of reassurance. If the origins of the universe and of man are so, then the cycle must be completed, and everyone must have his reward. It is inconceivable that the final end comes with the end of man's short life in this world, or that evil and tyranny can get away without retribution, or that good, justice and right can be left to suffer whatever hardship is visited on them in this life, without there being a chance to put matters right. Such an assumption is, its very essence, contrary to the fact of elaborate planning, so apparent everywhere in the universe. Hence the reality touched upon in this part of the surah serves as an introduction to the reality of the hereafter which is the main theme of the surah.
Then, when the Createst Catastrophe comes, on the day when man will call to mind what he has done, when Hell is brought in sight of all who are looking on; then, he who transgressed and chose this present life will have Hell for his dwelling place. But he who feared to stand before his Lord and for bade his soul its caprice will dwell in Paradise.
This present life is a period of comfort and enjoyment which are given in precise and accurate measure. Its duration is determined according to the overall planning relating to the universe and human life. Its comfort and enjoyment will end at the time appointed for their expiry. When the Greatest Catastrophe comes it ravages all and overwhelms all. The fleeting comfort of this life is extinguished, the whole universe, its built heaven, spread out earth, firm mountains are overturned and all living creatures are overwhelmed. At that moment "man will call to mind what he has done." He might have been distracted by the events and comforts of this life and he might have overlooked what he had done. But he will recall it all then, when remembrance brings to him nothing but sadness and grief as he realises what miserable end he is facing.
When Hell is brought in sight of all who are looking on. The term used here for "bringing in sight" is particularly powerful. It is rich in its connotations and makes the rhythm even stronger. The result is that the image is so vivid that we almost see the whole scene in front of us now.
Then, people will have different destinies and the aim of the earlier planning of the first life will be revealed:
Then, he who tyrannised and transgressed and chose this present life will have Hell for his dwelling place. The two verbs "tyrannise" and "transgress" are used here to render the meaning of one Arabic term, namely, "tyrannise" which is used here, as elsewhere in the Qur'an, in a much wider sense than strict despotism of rulers and dictators. "Tyranny" is used here as synonymous with exceeding the limits of right and truth. Hence these three verses refer to all those who transgress the boundaries of right, prefer this life to the future life, taking no heed of the latter.
Since consciousness of the hereafter defines the values and standards to be applied, he who prefers this present life will suffer a breakdown of values and standards which results in his adoption of faulty standards of behaviour. This puts him in the category of despots and transgressors. Thus, Hell which is brought in sight of everybody on the day of the Catastrophe will be "his dwelling place ". But he who feared to stand before his Lord and forbade his soul its caprice will dwell in Paradise.
The one who fears to stand in front of Allah does not indulge in sin. If he slips and commits a sin, in a moment of human weakness, his fear of facing Allah will lead him to repent and pray for forgiveness. Thus he remains within the area of obedience, the central point of which is the control of one's caprice and desires. Indulgence of desire and caprice is essentially the cause of all forms of tyranny and transgression. It is the spring of evil. Man hardly ever falls for any reason other than succumbing to caprice and desire. Ignorance is easy to cure. Desire, after ignorance has been cured, is the plague which requires a long and hard struggle to overcome. The fear of Allah is the solid defence against the violent attacks of desire. Indeed, there is hardly any other defence which can withstand such attacks. Hence, the surah mentions the fear of Allah and the control of caprice together in one verse. This fact is here asserted by Allah, the Creator of man and the only one Who knows the human soul, its weaknesses and their effective cure.
Allah does not ask man to suppress his desires, because He knows that it is not possible for him to do so. He simply asks man to control his desires and not to let them control him. He tells him that fear of standing before his Lord, the Almighty, should be of great help to him. He has fixed his reward for this hard struggle: Paradise as a dwelling place. For Allah knows perfectly well the hardships involved in this struggle and the high standards to which man is elevated by it. This struggle, self-control and elevation help man fulfil his humanity. Such fulfillment cannot be achieved by giving way to all distress, and following caprice wherever it leads, on the pretext that desire and caprice are part of human nature. Allah, who made man sensitive to certain urges, also gave him the ability to control such urges by self discipline. He also gives him Paradise as a reward when he wins and elevates himself to the high standard of humanity.
There are two types of freedom. The first is the one achieved through scoring a victory over one's desires and releasing oneself from the chains of caprice. When man achieves such a victory he finds himself able to fulfil these desires and caprices in a controlled and balanced way which emphasises man's freedom of choice. This type of freedom is the human type, the one which suits the honour Allah has bestowed on man. The other type is the animal freedom, represented in man's defeat, his enslavement by his desires, and his loss of control over himself. This type of freedom is advocated only by those who have lost their humanity, so they try to cover their slavery with a dress of deceptive freedom.
The first type is enjoyed by those who elevate and prepare themselves for the sublime and free life in their future dwelling place of Paradise. The second is indulged in by those who sink into the cesspool of desire, thus preparing themselves for Hell where they are deprived of their humanity. The end is the natural one, in both cases, according to Islam which gives everything its true and proper value. The last part of the surah is expressed in a rhythm which evokes awe.
They question you about the Hour of Doom, when will it come? But why should you be concerned with its exact timing? The final word concerning it belongs to your Lord. Your mission is merely to warn those who fear it. On the day when they see that hour, it will seem to them that their life on earth had spanned only one evening, or one morning. Every time the die hards of thc polytheists heard a description of the fearful events of the Day of Judgement, and the reckoning which takes place then, they used to ask the Prophet (peace be on him) to specify its time: " When will it come?" The answer given here to such questions is a rhetorical question, "But why should you be concerned with its exact timing? " It is an answer which suggests that the Hour of Doom, or thc Day of Judgement, is so great and majestic that the questions put by the disbelievers concerning it sound stupid and pitiful. Moreover, such questions can be put forward only by the impudent. The great Prophet himself is asked, "Why should you be concerned with its exact timing?" It is so great that neither you nor anyone else should ask to be informed of its exact time. This knowledge belongs to Allah alone, not to anybody else. "The final word connecting it belongs to your Lord." He himself is the master of everything which relates to it. The Prophet's own duties, and the limits he should not, and need not exceed are well defined: "Your mission is merely to warn those who fear it." He is to warn those who will benefit by such warnings. Such people will feel that it is true and fear the out-come, so they conduct their lives according to their firm belief that it will arrive at the time appointed by Allah.
The majesty and awe of the Hour of Doom is explained through the description of its effects on men's feelings and the comparison they draw between its duration and the length of this present life.
On the day when they see that hour, it will seem to them that their life on earth had spanned only one evening, or one morning. It so grips the soul that our present life with all its epics, events and luxuries will seem to those who lived them shorter than a single day- just one evening or one morning. So, the whole world, its centuries and ages will shrink to nothing longer than one morning or one evening in the sight of the very people who quarrel and fight for it, preferring it to their share in the life to come, and who commit all sorts of sin, tyranny and transgression to achieve their ends in it, yielding to their desire and caprice. Yet for such a passing enjoyment they abandon the hereafter and forego the certain prospect of dwelling in Paradise. That is definitely the greatest stupidity of all, which no man who has ears and eyes to hear and see can ever perpetrate.