Inspired by Sister Raghad’s interpretation of verses 97-112
We completed the interpretation of Surat Al Anbiyaa and came to the realization that this surah is indeed a summary of the beginning and the end of our lives. Allah (SWT) the most powerful of writers, draws our attention at the onset of the Surah by describing the state of humankind—us included of course—in the face of the grave journey ahead of them:
“As the reckoning of humankind draws near, they turn their backs to it in heedlessness. There never comes to them a new reminder but that they listen to it while they are engrossed in play, their hearts preoccupied and distracted.” (21:1-3)
Each of us has a “departure date and time” on our tickets out of this “life” and the verse creates a sense of anxiety as that date and times creeps up on us. The anxieties that are precursors to a journey within the confines of this world are minuscule compared to the final journey of our life. So, right away we are drawn into this surah, by a reminder of our real “journey of a lifetime.” We are hooked from the very first verse of this chapter.
The closing verses of the Surah revisit the beginning verse but in an entirely different way—did I not mention that Allah (SWT) is the best of the writers. Nowadays, we are in awe of methods of the telling of events in books and movies—but by all standards Allah (SWT) is above all in this respect as well. This time He (SWT) presents us with a mental picture of the end of the” journey of a lifetime” for those whom Allah (SWT) described as heedless at the very beginning. They have reached their “final destination.” Here are their initial sentiments:
“And as the true promise of the Day of Resurrection is fulfilled, then you shall see the eyes of the disbelievers fixedly staring in horror. They will say, “Woe to us! We were indeed heedless of this. We were indeed the wrong-doers.” (21:97)
On reaching their final destination they absorb their new surroundings—the Hellfire. Their glassy eyes fixedly stare in horror. So unlike their jaw dropping and awe-striken gazes in this world. The breath-takings gasps at the sights and sounds, are now exchanged with self reproach. They will personally declare themselves “Losers” with an outstretched thumb and forefinger on their foreheads spelling the letter “L.” A fitting price for their heedlessness, for their hearts and minds being preoccupied with things other than their final destination–their return to the Creator (SWT). Of course, there is no doubt that we will all witness moments of heedlessness of the fact that we will return to Allah (SWT) for either reproach or praise, but the question is: for how long will we place preparation for the most crucial moment in our life’s journey in the back of our mind? On the back burner? On the top shelf behind scores of books? Or in a small box in the farthest corner up in the attic? In earnest, for how long are we going to push it further down on our list of things to do? For how long are we going to continue to commit this utter injustice to ourselves? Why don’t we reproach ourselves and return to Allah (SWT) today rather than tomorrow before it is too late? Every single one of us should have a “regretful self” that pulls the reins on us when we stray—a self that is constantly nagging us and reminding us of Allah (SWT) and our final return to Him (SWT). That reminds us of the final journey to the moment of truth.We will all develop a certain degree of “heedlessness” it is human, but our trips back to Allah (SWT) for repentance should be quick. For there are those who are heedless for a month, week, or day, but there are those who are heedless for merely hours, minutes or even seconds. You want to aspire to the latter, and you should be able to achieve it the closer you become to Allah (SWT).
To these losers beyond return, Allah (SWT) the All Merciful and Compassionate responds unsympathetically:
“Certainly, you, along with what you have worshipped besides Allâh, are fuel for Hell! Surely, you will enter it. Had these idols been gods, they would not have entered it. They will all abide therein. Therein they will be breathing out deep sighs and roaring in torment, and therein they will hear not.” (21:98-99)
Allah (SWT) has decreed their “final” place of arrival and settlement/residence is the city of “hellfire.” There is plenty of room therein for both them and their idols. They are likened to “hasab” which are literally “pieces of wood thrown in to sustain a roaring fire.” And indeed both they and their idols provide the fuel to sustain their own lives in their abode of Hell. In other words, their injustice to themselves make their eternal world in the hellfire go round. Note, this does not include the prophets (as), angels (as), and righteous who were taken as idols besides Allah (SWT)–but rather the idols made out of wood, metal, ivory and other material.
Then we hear them in the Hellfire. We hear their deep sighs of sadness and regret at the heedlessness of the certainty of this day. We hear them “roaring” with the pain of the physical and psychological torment. So absorbed are they in their own state of loss that they are oblivious to anything beyond it—they hear nothing but their own sighs and cries of regret and pain. Their sadness engulfs them, as did their heedlessness in this world.
In our books, this incident is one of the future but in Allah’s (SWT) it is of such certainty that it is a thing of the past. Indeed, who can give us a certain promise of the detailed events of the Hereafter except Allah (SWT)? Who has the right to talk about this part of the history of life? Indeed, no one but He (SWT). Although Allah (SWT) has provided us with a rundown of the events to come, we have not delved into the words of Allah (SWT) to internalize and boost our own certainty of the journey ahead of us prepare ourselves to the best of ability. Let not our case with Allah (SWT) be like that of this story:
A father travels abroad and writes back caringly to his family. Yet when he comes back he neither finds his family nor home –the former was destroyed and the latter sold. After investigation he finds out that his letters of guidance, counsel, and advice were never opened.
Let not the words of Allah (SWT) be more than words preserved in ink confined to pages imprisoned between two hard covers. If we are lost, it is not because He (SWT) misguided us, but we chose not to be guided. If we did not hear, it was because we chose not to listen. If we are lost, then it is because we chose not to follow.
Then Allah (SWT) the Merciful pacifies hearts that have trembled at the terror of these events:
“Verily those for whom the good has preceded from Us, they will be removed far there from. They shall not hear the slightest sound of it, while they abide in that which they desire. The greatest terror (on the Day of Resurrection) will not grieve them, and the angels will meet them: “This is your Day which you were promised.” (21:101-103)
This verse is a smile-in-the- making tugging at the corners of a believer’s lips. The goodness of the believers’ hearts fueled their good deeds in this world, and will in turn fuel their life in their final abode. In the Herafter, these believers are obviously saved from the fate of the heedless. So secure. Their hearing is sheltered from even the slightest sound of the hellfire (Arabic “hasees”)—yes fire has a sound listen. Their emotions are sheltered from the terror of that day–and the word for “terror” in the Qur’an is “Faz’a” which is a state of fear that is sudden and so intense that one fears for ones life, and is likely to cause unconscious or even loss of sanity. In comparison, the terrors of this world are transient and experienced by a select few–such as the ones we witness on TV in news reports of wars breaking out, mothers widowed, children orphaned, deserted and even killed, homes destroyed, and many slaughtered and massacred. But the terror of the Hereafter ALL will witness except those Allah (SWT) the Merciful has decreed them “exempt from terror.”
The angels will receive them and welcome saying “this is your big day”—the happiest moment in your life. The happiest moment in your entire life is not the day you got married, or had your first child these and many more of this word are all transient. Rather it is the day you are met with this greeting from the angels and you are shown into your final abode—Paradise. And when you enter, there is not even the slightest sense of anxiety one normally witnesses on arriving at a new destination. No getting lost before settling in. You know the address to your palace in Paradise like the back of your hand. You head home. Your worries in the world that were of the Hereafter are laid to rest forever. And you will achieve and continue to achieve in it, “that which they [you] desire.” In this world, luxuries are fulfilled at least through articulation or the simple push of button, but in Paradise they take on a new level. “Desire” it and it is yours—you don’t have to take the trouble of asking or pushing a button, just desire it and it appears in front of you.
Such are the two final destinations for the two kinds of passenger on the journey of life, and with that Allah (SWT) flips the final page on the book of this life. Like a teacher who closes the book at the completion of the curriculum. And with that He (SWT) , “. . . roll[s] up the sky like a scroll rolls up books, As We began the first creation, We shall renew it, (it is) a promise binding upon Us. Truly, We shall do it.” (21:104) (For a detailed account of this either read Qur’an: prior to science and civilization by Mlivo Mustafa , particularly “The Big Crunch” (p.59) and “The Contraction and Time Reversal” (p.60). Or I would highly recommend you listen to Dr. Zaghloul Al Najjar on this matter here). But in brief, here is the history of the earth as non-Muslim scientists have mapped it unaware of Allah’s (SWT) statement in the Qur’an, “As We began the first creation, We shall renew it, (it is) a promise binding upon Us. Truly, We shall do it” (21:104)
“The universe starts with a Big Bang, expands to a maximum dimension, then recontracts and collapses (to the Big Crunch); no more awe-inspiring prediction was ever made.” Quotation from Charles W. Misner, Kip S. Thorne and John A. Wheeler in “Gravitation”, W. H. Freeman, San Francisco, 1973, page 1196.
Scientists today are theorizing that the world will come to an end. Life as we know it will cease to exist. But Allah (SWT) the Creator of the universe confirmed this with certainty and not hypothetically or theoretically 1400 years ago. So, do you believe Allah (SWT)? If you do, then know that evidence of belief is manifested in ones actions—so your life should attest to this certainty from Allah (SWT).
Then Allah (SWT) says:
“And indeed We have written in Az-Zabûr [i.e. all the revealed Holy Books – the Taurât (Torah), the Injeel (Gospel), the Psalms, the Qur’ân] after (We have already written in) Al-Lauh Al-Mahfûz (the Book, that is in the heaven with Allâh), that My righteous slaves shall inherit the land (i.e. the land of Paradise). Verily, in this Qur’ân there is a plain Message for people who worship Allâh.” (21:106)
Allah (SWT) reiterates in this Qur’an His (SWT), as he did in previous books, His (SWT) one and only master plan for the purpose of life and that is so that: “. . . My righteous slaves shall inherit the land” (21:106) It never was top secret. It was not hidden behind closed doors. It was revealed to humankind in all the books that were ever revealed to them. It had no expiration date. The big question is: what land will the righteous inherit? Is it the earth? Or is it Paradise? We don’t know for sure! But we know that on this earth as in the Hereafter, Allah (SWT) establishes the believers. Being on the pure faith in this world—i.e. of balancing between the material and spiritual to generate contingent ideas more meaningful to our times– is essential for temporary as well as eternal establishment. Material establishment alone is transient. Faithless civilizations decline with the decline of their man-made morals—morals that go against those encoded in our “fitra” or “natural original state we were created by Allah.” Their morals metamorphose ever so often to accommodate human desires. This abandonment leads to a vacuum that eventually engulfs these civilizations into oblivion–into a point beyond return.
Then Allah (SWT) addresses Prophet Muhammad (saw):
“And We have sent you O’ Muhammad (saw) but as a mercy for the universe. So, say O’ Muhammad (saw): “I am only one upon whom revelation descends. Your God is but One God. Will you submit to Him?” (21:107-108)
The Prophet of Islam (saw) is characterized by Allah (SWT) as “Mercy for the universe” and indeed he (saw) was to the whole universe. A study of his (saw) Seerah (biography) attests to a heart that accommodated everyone and everything in the universe. He was the first to call for kindness for animals, before any Animal Welfare Act. It was Narrated by Abdul Rahman bin Abdullah bin Mas’ud , “We were on a journey with the Messenger of Allah, and he left us for a while. During his absence, on seeing bird we took its young ones. The mother bird circled above us in the air, beating its wings in grief. When the Prophet came back he said: ‘Who has hurt the feelings of this bird by taking its young? Return them to her.’” (Muslim) In another narration, Aishah (raa) narrates: “I was riding a restive camel and turned it rather roughly. The Prophet(s) said to me: ‘does it behoove you to treat the animals gently’. (Muslim) It was also narrated by Yahya bin Said,” The Prophet(s) was seen wiping the face of his horse with his gown. When asked why he was doing that, he replied: ‘Last night I had a reprimand from Allah regarding my horse for having neglected him’” (Al-Muwatta) He consoled wood as narrated by Ibn ‘Umar (raa), that the Prophet (saw ) used to deliver his sermon while leaning against a trunk of a date-palm tree. When he (saw) had the pulpit made and used it instead, the trunk started crying and the Prophet (saw) went to it, rubbing his (blessed) hand over it (to stop its crying). (Sahih Al-Bukhari) He was the first to call for conserving nature: “Even when the world is coming to an end, if anyone has a palm-shoot in his hand, he should plant it.” (Musnad Ahmad) His heart accommodated those who lived during his time, and his ummah after him (saw):
“Abu Hurayra reported that the Messenger of Allah (saw) came to a graveyard and said, ‘Peace be upon you, abode of a believing people. Allah willing, we will join you. I wish that we could see our brothers.’ They [the companions] said, ‘Are we not your brothers, Messenger of Allah?’ He said, ‘You are my Companions. My brothers are those who have not yet come.’ They said, ‘How can you know someone of your community who has not yet come, Messenger of Allah?’ . . . ‘” (Muslim)
For a lecture by Bilal Assad on the Prophet’s mercy, click here. And as Surat Al-Anbiyaa points out, the religion conveyed through the Messenger of Allah (saw) is a mercy to humankind. It brought them from darkness to light, from the tightness and limitation of this world to the vastness of the universe and what is beyond it. It allowed them to achieve a balance within themselves, as opposed to perturbation. Achievable only when they draw the circle of their lives with Allah (SWT) as its center.
And to those who turn away from Prophet Muhammad (saw) and his news flash Allah (SWT) orders him to say, “If they turn away say,’I delivered the message to all alike. I know not if what you you are promised is near or far. Say [O’ Muhammad (saw)] Verily, He (Allâh) knows that which is spoken aloud (openly) and that which you conceal. I know not whether this is a temptation set before you, Or else enjoyment for a little while.’” (21:109-111)
“Mission accomplished,” the Prophet of Allah (saw) delivered the message for all to hear regardless of their race, color, or creed. It is a universal message, one that all of humankind can relate to and feel at home with. As for the question as to when the Hour of truth is, neither the Prophet (saw) nor the very angel Israfeel know (Israfeel is the blower of the horn signifying the onset of the Hour, and our Prophet (saw) says that he has raised the horn to his lips and pricked his ears in wait for the final order from Allah (SWT)). Then the Prophet (saw) reminds and warns those who turn away, that Allah (SWT) hates hypocrisy in faith—where ones appearance tells one story but their heart tells another. This state of affair of their hearts is in Allah’s full view (SWT). Then the Prophet (saw) claims no knowledge of the events that befall humankind in this world—whether calamities are tests to show ones true mettle or whether enjoyment is temporary before final subjugation to eternal torment. The certainty of it all is in Allah’s knowledge alone. And in the face of opposition, the Prophet (saw) is advised by Allah (SWT) to say, “My Lord, judge with the Truth. Our Lord, the All-Merciful, is our source of help against what you [disbelievers] recount.” (25:112)