In the Shade of the Quran (part 30)
Surah 82 Cleaving Asunder - al Infitar
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful!
When the heaven is left asunder, when the stars are scattered, when the oceans are made to explode, when the graves are hurled about, each soul shall know its earlier actions and its later ones. O man, what has lured you away from your gracious Lord, Who created and moulded you and gave you an upright shape? He can give you whatever form He wills. Shun it ! but you deny the Last Judgement. Yet there are guardians watching over you, noble recorders, who know all your actions. Surely the righteous shall be in bliss, while the wicked shall be in Hell, where they shall be thrown on the Day of Judgement; nor shall they ever be absent from it. Would that you knew what the Day of Judgement is ! Oh, would that you knew what the Day of Judgement is! It is the day when no soul can be of any help to any other soul and when Allah reigns supreme.
This short surah refers to the great upheaval discussed in the previous surah "The Darkening", but gives it a special colour. It has a different rhythm, deep and calm. It adds a touch of expostulation coupled with an implicit threat. Hence, it does not detail the scenes of the great upheaval as in the previous surah, where these scenes are dominant. The scenes here are shorter, in order to suit its quieter atmosphere and slower rhythm.
At the opening the surah mentions the cleaving of the sky, the scattering of the stars, the bursting of the oceans and the hurling of the graves as simultaneous with every soul's knowledge of its earlier and later actions, on that solemn day. The second part starts with the remonstrance combined with an implicit threat to man who is the recipient of abundant grace; yet he does not show any gratitude for Allah's grace. "O man what has lured you away from your gracious Lord, Who created and moulded you and gave you an upright shape. Hle can give you whatever form He wills." The third part provides the reason for such an ungrateful attitude. The denial of reckoning and judgement, the surah tells us, is the source of every evil. The reality of the meting out of reward and punishment at the Last Judgement is re emphasised; Shun it! but you deny the Last Judgement. Yet there are guardians watching over you. Noble recorders, who know all your actions. Surely the righteous shall be in bliss, while the wicked shall be in Hell, where they shall be thrown on the Day of Judgement, nor shall they ever be absent from it.
The final part gives an idea of how fearful the Day of Judgement is, how everyone is absolutely helpless and all power belongs to Allah: Would that you knew what the Day of Judgement is! Oh, would that you knew what the Day of Judgement is! It is the day when no soul can be of any help to any other soul and Allah reigns supreme.
So the surah represents yet another way of portraying the same basic principles stressed in this thirtieth part of the Qur'an in various methods and styles. When the heaven is cleft asunder, when the stars are scattered when the oceans are made to explode, when the graves are hurled about, each soul shall know its earlier actions and its later ones. In the commentary on the previous surah we described the feelings generated in people when they visualise the universe undergoing a change so violent that it leaves nothing in its familiar shape and condition. We also said that such feelings tend to pull man away from anything which gives him a sense of security, with the exception of Allah, the Creator of the universe, the One Who lives on after everything has died and withered away. Man's heart is thus made to turn to the only true being Who neither changes nor dies, to seek His support and security in the face of the general upheaval which destroys everything that seemed once to be permanent. For nothing lives for ever except the Creator Who is the only one worthy of being worshipped.
The first aspect mentioned here of the universal upheaval is the cleaving or rending of the sky, which is mentioned in other surahs: When the sky is split asunder and becomes rose red, like stained leather. (Al-Qur'an 55:37) When sky will be rent asunder, for on that day it is frail and tottering. (Al-Qur'an 69:16) When the sky is rent asunder. (Al-Qur'an 84:1) That the sky will be split or rent asunder on that hectic day is certain. What is meant exactly by such rending, and how the sky will look after it has been rent are difficult to say. All that we are left with is a feeling of violent change which overwhelms the universe, as we see it, and a realisation that its perfect system will no longer be in operation.
The violent upheaval in the universe causes the stars to scatter after they have been held together by a system which makes every star keep to its orbit, along which it may move fearfully fast, without swerving out of it. If the system is broken at any time, as will happen when the life of the stars comes to its end, they will just disappear in the wide space, as does a particle of dust running loose. The explosion of the oceans may refer to their being overfull to the extent that they drown the dry land and swallow the rivers. It may, alternatively, mean an explosion which separates oxygen from hydrogen, the two gases which form water. Thus water returns to its original gas condition. The verse may also be taken to refer to a nuclear explosion of the atoms of the two gases. If this is the case, then the explosion would be so fearful that our nuclear devices of today would seem, in comparison, like children's toys. The explosion may also take a different form, totally unknown to us. One thing, however, we know for certain is that there will be horror far greater than any man could have ever experienced. The hurling about of the graves may be a result of one of the events mentioned above. It may also be a separate event which occurs on that eventful day. As the graves are hurled about people are resurrected and stand up again, back in life, to face the reckoning and receive their reward or punishment. This is complemented by the verse which follows the description of these events: Each soul shall know its earlier actions and its later ones. That is, each soul shall come face to face with what it has done and what it left behind of the consequences of its actions; or, what it has enjoyed in this present life and what it has saved for the hereafter. The knowledge, however, will accompany these horrific events. It will indeed be one of them, for it terrifies the soul no less than any of the other events mentioned earlier.
The Arabic expression used here may be translated literally as "a soul shall know ... " It is, however, in Arabic a neater and more effective denotation of "each soul shall know ... " Furthermore, the knowledge by every soul is not the end of the matter. It has consequences which are as violent as the scenes portrayed here of the great upheaval. The consequences are merely implied, not stated here, which is again more effective. After this opening which alerts men's senses and consciences, the surah, by means of gentle remonstrance coupled with an implicit threat, touches the hearts of men who busy themselves with trivialities. It reminds man of Allah's very first act of grace towards him, namely, his moulding in such an upright perfectly proportioned shape. Allah could have easily given him any form He wished. Yet man is ungrateful: O man, what has lured you away from your gracious Lord, Who created and moulded you and gave you an upright shape? He can give you what ever form He wills. The address appeals to man's most noble quality, his humanity, which distinguishes him from all creatures and assigns to him the highest position among them. This quality represents Allah's gracious blessing to man and His abundant generosity to him.
This appeal is immediately followed by a gentle remonstrance: "What has lured you away from your gracious Lord?" What makes you neglect your duties to your Lord and behave impudently towards Him when He has given you your humanity which raises you above all His creation and provides you with the ability to distinguish between right and wrong. A few details of Allah's generosity are then added: "O man, what has lured you away from your gracious Lord, Who created and moulded you and gave you an upright shape." It is an address which appeals straight to man's heart. He listens to the remonstrance of Allah when He reminds him of His grace while he continues with his erring ways and impudent behaviour towards Him.
Indeed, man should reflect deeply over his creation, his physically and physiologically perfect constitution. Reflection should prompt him to show his genuine gratitude, deep respect and real love to Allah, his gracious Lord, Who has blessed him with such constitution, perfect, upright and handsome. The miraculous aspects in man's constitution are far greater than what he sees all around him and what he can imagine. Perfection and the right balance are easily evident in man's physical, mental and spiritual constitution. Full volumes have been written on the perfection of creation as evidenced by man. It is perhaps useful to include here one or two quotations from such works.
The human body is composed of a number of specialised systems: the skeleton, the muscular system, the skin, the digestive system, the blood circulation system, the respiratory system, the procreative system, the lymphatic system, the nervous system, the urinal system and the senses of tasting, smelling, hearing and seeing. Everyone of these systems is miraculous and far more wonderful than any scientific achievement which makes man possessed with wonder. Yet man tends to overlook the wonders of his own constitution ! A contributor to the British Scientific Journal writes:
Man's hand is one of the most remarkable wonders of nature. It is extremely difficult, indeed impossible, to invent a device which can match the human hand for simplicity, efficiency, ability and instant adaptability. When you read a book you take it in your hand, then you hold it in the position most suitable for your reading. The same hand will automatically correct the position of your book whenever a correction of position is necessary. When you turn a page you place your finger underneath the paper and apply the amount of pressure needed for turning the page. When the page is turned no more pressure is applied. You also use your hand to hold a pen and to write. With your hand you use all the tools you need such as a spoon, a knife or a pen. You use it to open or close the window and to carry anything you wish to carry ... Man's hand has 27 pieces of bone in addition to 19 groups of muscles. [A. Nawfal, Allah and Modern Science, Cairo, 1957 Arabic]
A part of the human ear is a series of some four thousand minute but complex arches graduated with exquisite regularity in size and shape. These may be said to resemble a musical instrument, and they seem adjusted to catch, and transmit in some manner to the brain, every cadence of sound or noise, from the thunderclap to the whisper of the pines and the exquisite blending of the tones and harmonies of every instrument in the orchestra. If in forming the ear the cells were impelled to evolve strict efficiency only that man might survive, why did they not extend the range and develop a superacutness? Perhaps the power behind these cells' activities anticipated man's coming need of intellectual enjoyment, or did they by accident build better than they knew?' [A.C Morrison, Man Does Not Stand Alone, London, 1962, pp. 63-4]
The visual functions are carried out mainly by the eye with its 130 million retinal light receptors. The eyelids with the eyelashes at their tips protect the eyes day and night. Their movement, which is involuntary, keeps out dust particles and other alien bodies. The eye lashes throw their shades over the eye to lessen the intensity of light. Furthermore, by their movement the eyelids prevent the eyes from becoming dry. The fluid around the eye, which we call tears, is a highly effective, most powerful disinfectant ...
In human beings, the taste function is carried out by the tongue, through groups of the taste cells which are located in the taste buds of the mucosal surface of the tongue. These buds are of different shapes: some are filamentary, some mushroom-shaped and others are lenticular. They are supplied by fine branches of the glosso-pharangeal nerve as well as the nerve which carries the taste sense. When we eat, these fine branches of the taste nerve are stimulated and convey the impulses of the taste sensation to the brain. This system is located at the front of the tongue, so that we may reject what we sense to be harmful. It is this system which helps us sense whether what we eat is bitter or sweet, hot or cold, sour or salty, etc. The tongue contains nine thousand of these fine taste buds, each of which is linked with the brain by more than one nerve. Hence we may wonder: 'How many nerves have we? What are their sizes? How do they function individually and how do they combine to give the brain their various types of sensation? The nervous system, which effectively controls the body, is composed of fine neurons which cover every part of the body. The neurons are linked to larger nerves which are, in turn, linked to the central nervous system. Whenever any part of the body feels any sensation, even the slightest change of temperature, the neurons convey this sensation to the peripheral nerves which, in turn, convey it to the brain so that it may order the necessary action. The signals are carried through the nerves at the speed of 100 metres per second. [Allah and Modern Science, Cairo]
If we think of digestion as a process in a chemical laboratory and of the food that we eat as raw materials, we immediately discover that it is a wonderful process which will digest anything edible except the stomach itself. First into this laboratory we put a variety of food as a raw material without the slightest regard for the laboratory or how the chemistry of digestion will handle it. We eat steak, cabbage, corn and fried fish, wash it down with any quantity of water, and top it off with alcohol, bread, and beans. We may add sulfur and molasses as spring medicine. Out of this mixture the stomach selects those things which are useful by breaking down into its chemical molecules every item of food, discarding the waste, and reconstructs the residue into new proteins, which become the food of the various cells. The digestive tract selects calcium, sulfur, iodine, iron and any other substances which are necessary, takes care that the essential molecules are not lost, that the hormones can be produced and that all of the valid necessities of life are on hand in regulated quantities, ready to meet every necessity. It stores fat and other reserves to meet such an emergency as starvation, and does all this in spite of human thought or reason. We pour this infinite variety of substances into this chemical laboratory with almost total disregard of what we take in, depending on what we consider the automatic process to keep us alive. When these foods have been broken down and are again prepared, they are delivered constantly to each of our billions of cells, a greater number than all the human beings on earth. The delivery to each individual cell must be constant, and only those substances which the particular cell needs to transform them into bones, nails, flesh, hair, eyes, and teeth are taken up by the proper cell. Here is a chemical laboratory producing more substances than any laboratory which human ingenuity has devised. Here is a delivery system greater than any method of transportation or distribution the world has ever known, all being conducted in perfect order.' [Man Does Not Stand Alone, pp. 88-89]
A lot may be said about every other system of the human body. But wonderful as these systems are, man may have them in common with animals. He, however, is privileged to possess his unique mental and spiritual qualities which are regarded in this surah as a special favour from Allah. After the surah has dealt with the humanity of man, it mentions the perfection of his creation and the right proportioning of his mould: O man, what has lured you away from your gracious Lord Who created and moulded you and gave you an upright shape.
Let us reflect on our powers of comprehension, the nature of which is unknown to us. The mind is the medium of comprehension but the working of our minds and how they function remain to us incomprehensible. If we suppose that what we grasp is transmitted to the brain through the nerves, where and how does the brain store its information? If we compare the brain to a magnetic recording tape, every man needs in his average lifetime of sixty years a great many' billion metres on which to record such a huge multitude of pictures, words, meanings, feelings and responses so that he may, as he actually does, remember them several decades later. Furthermore, how does man sort out individual words, meanings, events and pictures to mould them together in a sort of coherent education? How does he transform information and experiences into knowledge? Yet this is by no means the most significant of man's distinctive qualities. There is that wonderful ray of Allah's spirit which provides a link between man and the beauty of the universe and its Creator. As this link is established, man can experience at clear, bright moments a sense of communion with the infinite, the absolute, which prepares him for a blissful eternal life in Allah's paradise. Yet man has no power to comprehend the nature of his spirit, which is Allah's greatest favour to him and which makes him a man. Hence Allah addresses him by this quality of his "O man! " then remonstrates with him directly: "What lures you away from your gracious Lord?" Thus man is reminded of Allah's greatest favour, but he stands impudent, negligent of his duties to Allah, unashamed and ungrateful. But man does not need more than to realise the source of this remonstrance and what attitude he adopts when he stands before his Lord to be absolutely overwhelmed by shame: "O man! what lures you away from your gracious Lord, Who created and moulded you and gave you an upright shape. He can give you what ever form He wills."
The surah moves on to explain the reason for man's impudence and negligence, namely, the denial of the Last Judgement. It emphatically confirms the reality of reckoning, reward and punishment: Shun it! but you deny the Last Judgement. Yet there are guardians watching over you, noble recorders, who know all your actions. Surely the righteous shall be in bliss, while the wicked shall be in Hell, where they shall be thrown on the Day of Judgement: nor they shall ever be absent from it. The English expression "shun it" is used here to render the meaning of the Arabic word "kalla" which is a command to desist and an indication of a change of subject and style. Hence the following verses are in the form of a statement. "Shun it! but you deny the Last Judgement." You think that reckoning and accountability are falsehoods, and this is precisely the cause of your impudence and negligence of your duties. How can any person disbelieve in the Judgement and still lead a life based on goodness and right guidance? Some people may achieve a higher degree of faith: they worship Allah because they love Him, not out of fear of punishment nor in hope of reward. But these people continue to believe in the Last Judgement. They fear it and look forward to it at the same time, because they hope to be with their beloved Lord. When man, however, flatly rejects the Day of Judgement he will be devoid of politeness and light; his heart and conscience are dead. You deny the Day of Judgement when you will certainly face it. Everything you do in this life will be counted for or against you. Nothing is lost, nothing forgotten: " Yet there are guardians watching over you, noble recorders, who know all your actions. " These recorders are the angels charged with accompanying men, watching them and recording all what they do and say. We do not know and are not required to know how this takes place. Allah knows that we are neither given the ability to understand it nor are we going to benefit by understanding it because it does not affect the purpose of our existence. Hence it is useless to attempt to explain by our means what Allah has chosen not to reveal to us of the world of the imperceptible. Sufficient it is to us to feel that we do not live in vain and that there are noble recorders who note what we do, in order to be alert and prudent.
Since the atmosphere of the surah is one of benevolence and nobility, the description of those recorders given here is that they are "noble", so that we may feel shy and try to be polite in the presence of these noble angels. It is natural for people to exercise extra care not to say or do anything impolite or disgraceful when they are in the presence of noble people. How careful would they be if they realised that they were all the time in the presence of angels. The surah indeed arouses the most noble feelings of our upright nature by portraying this fact in such a familiar way.
We are then told of the destinies of the righteous and the wicked, which are determined by the reckoning based on the recordings by the noble angels: Surely the righteous shall be in bliss, while the wicked shall be in Hell, where they shall be thrown on the Day of Judgement, nor shall they ever be absent from it. The end is certain. That the righteous shall dwell in blissful happiness and the wicked shall end up in Hell is already determined. A "righteous" person is the one who consistently does "right" actions, i.e. good deeds of all kinds, until doing them becomes an intrinsic quality of his. The adjective "righteous" has connotations which fit in well with nobility and humanity. The contrasting quality, "wickedness", carries connotations of insolence and impudence as the wicked indulge in their sinful actions. Hell is a proper recompense for wickedness. The surah emphasises the certainty of this punishment: "where they shall be thrown on the Day of Judgement. " Then it re-emphasises it: "nor they shall ever be absent from it." They cannot escape it in the first place, nor will they be allowed to leave it, not even for a short while Having stated what happens on the Day of Judgement, the surah emphasizes again the certainty of that day, since it is denied by some. The emphasis is provided here in the form of a rhetorical question which enhances the mystery surrounding the object of the question. The surah then states the complete helplessness of everyone, the absolute impossibility of giving or receiving support and that Allah is the absolute sovereign on that awesome day: Would that you knew what the Day of Judgement is! Oh, would that you knew what the Day of Judgement is! It is the day when no soul can be of any help to any other soul and Allah reigns supreme. The form "would that you knew ... " is in Arabic a form of rhetorical question often used in the Qur'an. It suggests that the matter under discussion is far beyond our imagining and understanding. This is stressed here by repetition of the question before details about conditions on the day concerned are given: "It is the day when no soul can be of any help to any other soul." It is total helplessness when everyone stands alone, busy with his own problems, unable to think of anyone else, relative or friend. "And Allah reigns supreme." He indeed reigns supreme in this life and the next. This fact, however, becomes so clear on that day that no one can overlook it, as the ignorant and the conceited do in this life. The surah closes with an air of fear and speechless expectation which contrasts with the air of violent horrors of the opening. In between the two man is addressed with that remonstrance which overwhelms him with a feeling of shame.