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Commentary on Surat Al-Mutaffifin

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Chapter 83: Surat Al-Mutaffifin
Those Who Give Short Measure

By: Shaykh Fadhlalla Haeri

In the name of Allah,
the Beneficent, the Merciful

  1. Woe to those who give short measure!

The root of mutaffifīn is taffafa, which means 'to make deficient, give short measure, be stingy'. It implies imposing a deliberate injustice in a transaction. Tatfīf means 'niggardliness, stinting', and tafīf means 'deficient, small, little, insignificant'.

This is a description of the natural human tendency in trade and commerce to try to tip the balance to one's own advantage, often unfairly. The traders of Mecca and Medina were no different from any other businessmen at any time in history.

  1. Who, when they take the measure [of their due] from men, take it in full --

The form root of yastawfūn is istawfā, which means 'to receive in full, complete, bring to its full value, fulfill'. The root from which this form is derived is wafā, meaning 'to be perfect, fulfill, gratify, suffice'. Wafā`, from this same root means 'fulfillment, fidelity, loyalty'. In the story of the prophet Abraham (Ibrāhīm) who was sometimes called Ibrāhīm wafā` (wafā` meaning here his īmān, his faith), it is said that when he was being flung into the fire he cried out, 'Hasbī Allāh' (Allah is sufficient for me) and he remained unharmed by the fire. This is the meaning of wafā`.

  1. But when they measure or weigh out to others, they cause them loss.

Kāla means 'to measure', Yukhsirūn comes from the verb khasira, 'to incur a loss, lose, go astray, perish', When the mutaffifīn (those who give short measure) are in a balanced situation of give and take, they cause loss for the other party in the transaction and gain for themselves.

These three verses mean the same thing: mutaffifīn, yastawfūn, and yukhsirūn, reinforce each other with regard to man's tendency to want to win all the time, They describe how we try to be clever in our transactions. It is in our nature to want to win and gain in every situation, and it is in the nature of the mu`min (believer), or the Muslim, to recognize this tendency and to try to redress it when he finds himself in any transaction with other people who are potentially equal to him. Inflation occurs when one tries to get more and give less. This applies to any situation now, just as it did in Medina during the time of the revelation of the Qur`an. If we relate to a community or society, then we take cognizance of this human tendency to take more and give less, and if a person is aware of it while he is doing it, then the chances of his not being too greedy are greater, and he will remember to be fairer in his transaction. Awareness of the imbalance is likely to bring about justice. If we are aware of the injustice, then we may be aware of the innate, lower nature of man within us.

The first verse says: Wayl, meaning, 'Woe' to those defrauders. Any action that is not in balance is fraud. Imam Ghazali says that we must recognize that trade cannot occur unless there be imbalance, that is, there is always an element of profit present. Therefore, if we want to be honest traders, we must recognize at all times this inherent tendency and accept that one of the parties will have the upper hand. The best circumstance occurs when both of the parties feel they have concluded a satisfactory deal and that feeling does not change as soon as one of them leaves the shop. Honest trade must stand the test of time. It must strike the fairest balance possible, so that there is the least inflation.

To illustrate this point, let us remember the man among the Followers (al-Tābi'ūn, the second generation Muslims, the offspring of the Sahābah, Companions of the Prophet) who had a goldsmith's shop. One day he left it in order to go to the mosque to pray, entrusting his young nephew to mind the shop until he returned. As the shopkeeper was returning after the prayer, he saw a man, an obviously well-to-do trader, walking in the opposite direction carrying several gold bangles, which the man recognized as having come from his shop. He approached the man and asked, 'Are you pleased with what you bought?' The man replied, 'Yes, I am very, very pleased'. Then the shopkeeper asked him how much he had paid for them. The man answered, 'I paid 200 dirhams for this one, and 400 for that one. I can sell these in my home town for double what I bought them for, so I am very happy with them.' But the man said, 'No. I am not happy because this rascal of a nephew has cheated you. I told him the prices of these things. Please, I beg of you, come back to the shop with me.' So the shopkeeper dragged the man back, paid him some money to make up the difference, and dismissed his nephew. The shopkeeper had set his price on his wares and was satisfied with that price. The Prophet said, 'Sell, and make a profit, even if it is just a modest profit.' In this way there is dynamism and circulation, and people do not get attached to what they own.

Mutaffifīn (those who give short measure) refers to all of us, because the potential for fraud is in all of us. If the potential for being a criminal were not in us, we would not be able to understand criminality. If the potential for vulgarity were not in us, or the potential for fear, then we would not understand their meanings either. If divinity were not in us, how would we be able to talk about the Divine Ocean? All of these are in us, and so we should not say that the goldsmith's nephew was selfish. If this story were merely historical and referred only to the people of Medina, then we should not concern ourselves about it. The truth is, however, that we always contain this potential, for it is the story of humankind.

  1. Do they not think that they will be raised up again?

This verse shows the way out of being imprisoned and enchained by our tendency towards selfishness and greed.

Ba'atha means 'to resurrect, awaken, send, bring on'. Here it means that they shall be called to account for themselves. Who will be called to account to whom? We shall all be called to account for ourselves. This of course refers to the Afterlife, but it concerns this life as well. Either way, this accounting will take place whether we like it or not. If we turn on a tap, whatever is in the pipes gushes out; and the wider we open it, the more it flows out. Thus, we shall simply build up more greed, more hatred, or whatever is in us, because the system of creation lies in increase. That is why Allah says, 'My mercy encompasses all things' (7: 156).

Whether we like it or not, whether it is good or bad, Allah creates in man the biggest, most vulgar animal, but he also creates in man the most wonderful character. It is up to us to choose to follow one of these directions. We must not lose sight of the imprint of the sunnah (way) of the creational reality.

  1. On a Mighty Day --

Explicitly, this is a reference to the Day of the End, or the day when we are left with only our h (spirit, soul), on which has been imprinted our intentions and our actions. This Great Day can also be the day on which we are willing to completely take account of ourselves, the day of our utter surrender, the day of our islām. If we want to be freed from our own self-imposed chains, we should be able to settle accounts at any time. We should in fact be willing to settle our accounts even before we actually incur them. We can do this by questioning the intention. By knowing our intentions before performing an action, our accounts are always clear.

  1. The Day men will stand before the Lord of all the worlds.

Yawma yaqūmu is the Day on which we will stand up to the Lord of the worlds, to the Highest, and be willing to face our accounts. If we are truly in islām all the time, then we are always facing Rabbi'l-'ālamīn (the Lord of all the worlds). Qāma, amongst many other meanings, is "to stand up, to rise from the dead" and implies that the actor is prepared to interact with that thing for which he stood up.

This ayah refers to the end of time in order to jolt us out of our present lethargy. It means that there is an end, and that at the end we will be left with nothing but our intentions.

  1. Nay! Surely, the book of the wicked ones is in Sijjin.

The book of those who are off the path is in Sijjīn. Fujjār (degenerates, libertines) comes from fajara, which means "to cleave, break up, act immorally, indulge in debauchery." Dawn is called fajr, because it breaks up the night. A man is called fājir if he is off the path. This means that he is corrupt, decadent, out of line. All of us are pearls on the same string, and a pearl is only meaningful if it is connected on a string.

The root of sijjīn, the register of immoral actions, is sajana, which means, "to imprison." Thus, sijjīn is an exaggerated, more permanent and lasting imprisonment. In some commentaries of the Qur`an, it is explained as being another name for jahannam (Hell). It is a deep and long-lasting imprisonment. "The book," is what the culprit is writing with his life. He is the author of his own biography, through his actions, which are instigated by his intentions. The prisoner himself decides how many more chains and shackles he will have.

The book is what is written, and what is written is manifested by every one of us through our actions. If our biographies are full of greed and avarice, as mentioned in the second and third ayāt, and we act only for personal gain and to establish control over others, then we will be imprisoned by our actions. A man may desire to rule a whole kingdom thinking it will bring him happiness, but as soon as this desire is fulfilled, he will want to encroach upon the neighboring kingdom as well. Is this desire not a shackle? Being shackled has nothing to do with the object itself, but rather with our feeling towards it. Sijjīn, our imprisonment, refers to our mental situation and it concerns our happiness, our inner freedom, and our fulfillment, which are only by-products of the extent and sincerity of our islām and abandonment.

  1. And what will make you realize what Sijjin is?

The verb adraka is "to reach, overtake, grasp, perceive, realize, mature." It implies a knowledge that is deeper and more innate than acquired discernment such as fiqh (knowledge, understanding, or jurisprudence in Islam). One of the earlier meanings of faqīh (expert on Islamic jurisprudence) was an expert who could tell if a she-camel was pregnant or not. He had insight which could be translated into an outer use.

Fiqh is the knowledge of the application of haqīqah (truth), which is what the sharī'ah (Islamic code of conduct) is. Adraka is a bit more subtle. What the ayah is saying, in using that word, is that through profound reflection understanding will come. We all know what shackles are, what it is like to be under the weight of expectations and disappointment. We must question our own hearts. How did sijjīn, or our imprisonment, arise, and why is one person's different from someone else's? It is because we prescribe our particular situations for ourselves.

  1. An inscribed book.

The root of marqūm (written) is raqama, which means "to write, to mark with diacritical points, to imprint, number," but it also has the meaning of being "specifically prescribed." It is absolute. Raqam means "number." So the book, or what it refers to, is quantifiable, written with precision, and not just qualifiable.

  1. Woe on that Day to those who deny!

The implication here is that if someone denies the reality, or the story of existence and creation, then he is a mukadhdhib (a liar). Then woe to him on the day when he can no longer change himself and see the ultimate reality, which means the day of his death. The meaning here is that whoever denies haqq (the truth), which manifests itself as justice, has denied that Allah created everything by haqq, with justice and in balance. If a person acts out of balance, then he is lying. A man who says, "I don't deny truth, I uphold it," and yet acts to the contrary is in a state of kufr (covering up, denial). There is no point in his saying, "I am a muwahhid" (a unifier), since he acts as a mutaffif (cheater, defrauder) and does not question the justice of his own actions. Mukadhdhib means that someone's acts are contrary to his words; there is a split. That is kidhb (a lie, deceit, falsehood, untruth).

  1. Those who deny the Day of Judgment.

The Day of Judgment, of the dīn, is the day when we are willing to pay our debt. It is the Day of Reckoning, when our absolute form, which is the spirit, is laid bare. This form cannot be described now, because it is the subtle force which keeps us alive. Our understanding can only go so far and no further, because it comes about by the container of the so-called "I," which at that point will be dissolved entirely away.

  1. And none denies it except the sinful transgressor.

I'tada, the root of mu'tadin, is "to cross, exceed, act outrageously." Related to this word are both the word 'adūw, which means "enemy, foe," and 'adā`, which means "enmity, hostility, antagonism, aggression." One transgresses by not seeing the oneness within himself.

The word 'adūw (enemy) does not necessarily imply hostility between two parties but indicates that they are foreign to each other -- there is no unity between them. It does not mean that they hate each other, but rather that they do not know each other. Thus ignorance is also the enemy; we are enemies of that of which we are ignorant. From the word i'tada, we can infer that our transgression and denial is a result of our ignorance, and thus we see how we can become enemies of ourselves. And when we have done this, we are athīm (sinful). Athima means "to commit a sin or crime," and this is done by our ignorance and enmity which causes us our disconnectedness and lies. Athama involves doing what we are not permitted to do. Ithm means "gambling." Gambling, then, is considered ithm because by engaging in it we call upon injustice. We address a system other than what is prescribed by reality, which is mercy and justice and, therefore, we commit a crime. By addressing ourselves to a system of injustice we are making ourselves a part of it. When two people call out different numbers, and then one of them suddenly wins money, and the other loses, it is called "chance." In fact, there is nothing accidental. There is always action and reaction, which are equal and opposite.

  1. When our signs are recited to him, he says: tales of the ancients.

This refers to a situation that is repeated even now when modern people say that because this surah came down in Madinah hundreds of years ago, it cannot apply to our present condition; it is all just a tale of the past.

  1. Nay! What they earned is rust upon their hearts.

Rāna means, "to take possession -- of the heart," as well as, "to seize, overcome, descend, prevail." What they earned was made easy on their hearts. As was said earlier, whatever path we choose is made easy for us. If we are criminals, this way will be made easy for us because we will somehow always justify our own actions. If our hearts follow any direction whatsoever, then they have become possessed by that. That is why it is said that by keeping the company of certain people for forty days, a man will become like them, for people comprise an ecology. We must not think that we are different from anyone else, isolated and separate. For some very sensitive people, it might take only two hours to become like the people with whom they associate. In fact, in this culture, those who are in the profession of public relations are called "out-going," "extroverted," or gregarious," which means that they are like the chameleon, instantly taking on the color of the people with whom they seek to work.

  1. Nay! Surely, that day they are veiled from their Lord!

The meaning of this ayah is that in the next life they are veiled, and there is a barrier between them and the final, total recognition of Lordship, of Sustainership. This means that they have not acquired enough knowledge to prepare themselves sufficiently in this life in order to enter that other additional exposure and purification which will take place in the next life. They have not prepared the way for themselves to move on in the next experience; they have not acted in such a way as to purify their state and to be able to continue gaining knowledge. The Qur`an says, "Your next creation will be according to what you know," and what one knows is one's state here and now. So the people who have denied, the people who have been in kidhb (deceit, falsehood), the people who have been constantly unjust and out of balance here will be in a state of separation in the next life because they have been in that state here; they have lived in denial, hidden behind a veil.

  1. Then they will surely enter the burning fire.

Wasala means "to connect, join, enter, reach." Originally it meant "to call." The word is not related linguistically, but it echoes the word salā by a similarity of letters, which means "to barbecue," or "to grill."

The root of jahīm is jahama, which means "to light a fire" and it is used because the fire which they will enter is the one which they had originally ignited in this life. Jahīm means "fire," and here it refers to the hell with which we are threatened by doomsday-mongerers, as well as the hell that we understand as normal human beings. When our hearts are agitated, when we burn with anger, or when we seethe with desire, we experience aspects of hell on earth. Here it means that these people will reach the Fire by grilling themselves in their own self-ignited hell.

  1. Then it will be said: This is what you denied.

Then they will realize that this is the truth they denied, for if truth is not realized at the present moment, it will be realized at the moment of death. This means that it already existed, but they denied it. The fire of agitation, anger, and hate was already here, but they denied it. The truth exists at all times; it is not subject to time. It is only personal and individual greed, or hunger, or desires that change with time. Truth does not change with time, but what we desired as children is not what we desire now, for example. All worldly desires are relative, passing, cyclical, whimsical. The truth of desire is its whimsicality; the truth of its nature is its transience. The truth about man is that there is always the potential of lingering doubt in his heart. It is not to demean him: "I swear by Time; most surely, man is in a state of loss" (103:1-2). This is the truth of it, and we must become aware of that truth in order to move into the One and Only Truth that encompasses it.

  1. Nay! Surely, the book of the righteous is in 'IIIiyyin.

Kallā in this ayah is like a warning and means "Certainly!" The ordinary meaning of Kallā is "no." In each case in which this word appears, it intervenes between two ideas which normally clash. It is not the same as , which simply means "no."

Abrār means "righteous, just, kind" and comes from the same root as barr, which means "desert, expanse of land." Abrār then refers to "those who are in a state of expanse," "those who are correct." It also denotes loyalty. Not every barr is a desert, but every desert is a barr, a plain. Barr can be any open expanse which is not cultivated. Barr is a place in which there are no obstructions, nothing is hidden. The barr of the Arabs of the Arabian Peninsula is absolute empty space, whereas their sea (bahr) contains everything.

"Those who are correct are in 'Illīyyīn." 'Illīyyīn comes from the verb 'alā, meaning "to be high, elevated, tower up, to rise, excel," amongst other things. This means that the correct ones are so light and removed from the gross state that they are in 'Illīyyīn, elevated in lofty places. Allah is al-'Alī (the Most High); it is one of His Divine Names. The barrī is one who is truthful to his heritage, and since his heritage is Allah, he is with Allah, What has been written for him, or what he has written for himself, is exalted. Anything that is high, containing the attribute of greatness, is 'alī.

  1. And what will make you realize what 'IIIiyyun is?

This means, "Wonder about it, think about it!" We must think about that extremely subtle source from which we have come and not talk about the h (the spirit) unthinkingly, What is that subtle essence which said: Kun fa-yakūn ("Be! And it is.")?

  1. An inscribed book.

This refers to a written book, that is, a known, evident and clear situation, or a known and evident reality.

  1. Those who are close (to Allah) will witness it.

This refers to those who are close to reality. Reality, or Allah, is not found in one particular place where we have to go in order to be near. It says in the Qur`an: "I am closer to you than your jugular vein" (50:16). What is stopping us from knowing Allah is ourselves. We are far because of the so-called "I" which constantly asserts itself. We must kill our "self" first while still alive, through surrender. We must be willing to totally surrender, from our hearts, if even for one moment. All the practices of the people of Allah are nothing but techniques to enable us to reach that state, to sit still with no thoughts, and to be pure energy.

"Those who are close..." Why are we far? We are far because of all the things which we interpose between ourselves and our Creator. This is a very simple, easily understandable condition. It has to do with pure action; it is a leap we must make. For this reason, when people first entered into islām they quickly became very close to the Prophet, salla-Ilāhu 'alayhi wa āIIihi wa sallam. They did not have to go to a university for five years to get a higher degree in "Islamic Studies," because one is either living in islām or out of islām. How can people study islām from outside? It is not possible. It is for this reason that islām will never be understood by people except those who are totally and utterly in it.

People are curious, for example, about the "Islamic Resurgence," but they will never be able to understand its profound meaning. "Islamic Resurgence" lies in the fact that man is always seeking his Creator, so it will always "resurge." "Islamic Resurgence" means evolution and that has to come about because man wants to know. It is not enough for man to be pampered materially as he has been for the last fifty years in the West. He will not be satisfied with it. As one prominent Imam of the East says, "The West is the culture of the refrigerator," implying that the center, or heart, of the house is no longer the warm burning fire in the hearth, but rather, the refrigerator in the kitchen. His words also refer to the heart of the woman of the house. It is frozen. How can these people, therefore, possibly understand?

The Companion Salman al-Farsi, 'alayhi-s-salām, heard about the Prophet and said to himself, "This man will give me knowledge, he will teach me about Allah." On the way to see him, however, he was captured as a slave and Abu Bakr bought him. He became a Muslim and in almost no time at all the Prophet, salla-Ilāhu 'alayhi wa āIIihi wa sallam, was heard to say of him, "Salman is of my family." Others had similar experiences which are really a result of the condition of the heart. If the heart is in such condition as to be willing to give up what it does not own, the most sought-after and precious thing, life itself, then the heart is in its purest state. Now, the word condition, from the point of view of the people of Allah, means station, not a mood. A mood is a passing phase, something which we occasionally taste. If the heart is surrendered in submission, it can see the Book, because the Book is engraved therein.

  1. Certainly, the righteous are in bliss.

Those who are in that state of righteousness are in na'īm (happiness, delight, comfort, peacefulness). Now ni'mah (blessing, favor), which is related to na'īm, has a very subtle meaning, and the closest English equivalent is "grace," because grace is the subtlety of what comes to us later on in the creational cycle. All of us say na'am, which means "yes," to ni'mah. That is why the Prophet, salla-Ilāhu 'alayhi wa āIIihi wa sallam, said, "If I had known what was good for me, I would have chosen only those situations which would have been beneficial to me," revealing his two major attributes: he was a man both of humanity and of divine purity. These two aspects are what make us a barzakh (an interlink between realities).

  1. On couches gazing --

The state of reclining on couches means being in a neutral situation, implying that there is neither distraction nor any awareness of outer discomfort.

Yanzurūn means "they see," "they witness." In the Qur`an, the first thing that is said about the highest mission of humanity, which of course is the mission of all the prophets, is, "Surely We have sent you as a witness," (33:45). The ayah then continues "and as a bearer of good news and as a warner." In this one ayah is encapsulated the three basic missions of a prophet.

The witnesser is neutral. He is not going to step in and stop a fight because he is just an observer. Seeing, witnessing, implies that he has knowledge. When we exclaim, "Oh, I see!" we express insight and knowledge. In this ayah they are in knowledge, because they are muqarrabūn, they are close. They are the eye of witnessing itself. When Amir al-Mu`minin Sayyidna 'Ali, 'alayhi-s-salām, was asked, "Have you seen Allah?" he replied, "Have some respect! Be correct! How can I worship a Lord Whom I have not seen?" He meant that he had seen Him with his heart, in haqq al-yaqīn (truth of certainty), not with his eyes.

  1. You will recognize in their faces the brightness of bliss.

We will see the joy radiating from their faces. They will beam the joyfulness of tawhīd, because they have been connected all the time.

  1. They are given to drink a nectar that is sealed --

Saqā is "to water, give drink to." Rahīq means "nectar." The nectar that those who have reached the goal drink of is complete. This means that there is nothing more that can be added to it or subtracted from it. It is complete fulfillment.

Makhtūm means "sealed." One can only seal something that is complete. The Prophet Muhammad, salla-Ilāhu 'alayhi wa āIIihi wa sallam, was the "Seal of the prophets," meaning that with his advent everything that has come before has been perfected and sealed.

  1. The sealing of it is musk, and for that let the aspirers aspire.

Misk means "musk," and musk, apart from being an aromatic perfume in its own right, functions as a fixative. Thus here, the seal is a fixative. Musk is derived from the glands of the musk-deer whose natural properties are still a scientific puzzle to us. We still do not know how musk manages to fix a scent, but without it a perfume's smell would just disappear. When the ayah says, "its end is musk," it is a statement implying that it is fixed. The echo of this ayah is that the end of the journey, the end of the situation of recognizing ni'mah, lingers on, is fixed, and sealed. It evokes a permanent state of ni'mah.

"For that let the aspirers aspire." If we are in competition in this manner, then all we have is our nafs (self). We can win the race in this world only by exhausting our nafs. When we attain the highest degree of knowledge, we reach Allah, Who was the Beginning all along. We appear to ourselves as mobile biological entities who are gradually consumed and oxidized. The more we drop our nafs and surrender ourselves, however, the more we find that this surrender leads us to apparent infinity and nothingness, which existed at the time of creation. Zero and infinity, nothing and the infinite -- we can only go stepwise to a certain point beyond which we cannot reach. For at that point infinity is no longer approachable by steps or stages. At first we can get close to Allah step by step through our own efforts and awareness, but we reach a point where we need a quantum leap.

  1. And the admixture of it is from a water coming from above,

Tasnīm is translated as "a water coming from above" because it is the name of a river in the Garden which comes from the highest part of heaven. The root of tasnīm is sanima, "to be tall (a camel), to ascend, mount." Sanām, from the same root, is the camel's hump -- the highest part of a camel.

The Garden is often referred to as having rivers which are fed from under the ground. The reference here is to another river, or energy-stream, that comes from above, from on high. Thus, this ayah is saying, "Let them go fast toward that state..." That state is one of elevated closeness to Allah.

  1. A spring from which drink those who are close (to Allah).

The drink that issues from this spring is not an occasional one, but a continuous one. A spring implies something that always issues from a particular opening. When a person is close to the source from which all these things emanate, he is close to Allah, to the knowledge of the source, and to the essence from which all these attributes emanate.

'Ayn (spring, fountain) also means "eye, scout, important man, leader, property, capital asset." When it rains for more than five days, the Arabs call this period an 'ayn, because it is like a spring from heaven. 'Ayn is also used in connection with one's resources, funds or wealth. When Sayyidna 'Ali, 'alayhi-s-salām, advised his governor in Egypt, he said, "And you should appoint 'uyūn (plural of 'ayn)," meaning, "You should insure that those whom you have appointed, who are supposed to insure justice, have people to observe and inspect them." This does not imply spying, for spying is done secretly, whereas this statement implies open observation. When someone knows that inspectors are going to observe him, he behaves correctly and is thus stopped from acting wrongly. Sayyidna 'Ali told his governor to appoint 'uyūn in order to extend his field of vision.

  1. Surely, those who are guilty used to laugh at those who believe.

Ajramū comes from the verb ajrama, "to commit a crime, harm." The rise of the ego is the crime. The assertion that we are separate is the crime. This ayah refers to those who have committed a crime, and the crime is basically against themselves. Those who commit crimes against themselves are very capable of committing a crime against others. A crime committed against oneself may not be evident to the doer, while a crime against others is more obvious.

The kāfir (he who covers up the truth, either inwardly or outwardly) laughs at those who are in īmān (belief, trust). Those who have trust know that life is not meaningless, that there is justice and haqq (the truth, reality). Laughter is basically self-congratulation. When we laugh we are at peace within ourselves, we are at the source, and everybody wants to be at the source. Those guilty of causing harm laugh at those who believe to reassure themselves, sinking back into their self-satisfaction.

  1. And when they passed them by, they winked at one another.

Again, they do this to reassure each other, to be able to say, "Oh, we know they are the fools," Man always wants reassurance. People wink to communicate to one another that somebody has done something wrong, has gotten off the path, or has gone a bit mad. In this case the wink refers to someone who has become a Muslim. Winking is a more subtle reassurance than laughing, for laughter can be more easily confronted.

  1. And when they turned back to their people, they turn back exulting.

Ahl, "family, people, followers," symbolize the security and comfort of familiarity, as in the earlier example when the Prophet, salla-Ilāhu 'alayhi wa āIIihi wa sallam, said, "Salman [al-Farsi] is of my family," He was not a blood relative of the Prophet's family but, as we know, some of us are closer to our friends than to our own brothers. When Arabs want to welcome someone, they say, Ahlan wa sahlan, "Welcome, you have come to your family," or in other words, "Be at ease, relax, belong!" If we cannot belong in an existential way, then how can we belong in a total, abstract way to our lord, to Allah? If one is at ease in a mosque, then one will be at ease when closer to Allah.

Fakihīn means "jesting, exalting, making merry." Again, this is an implication that at all times and in all circumstances we want to have reassurance. We are ecological beings; we want to be in the right environment. If we are liars, like those described in this ayah, we will return to our people in order to gain reassurance and tranquility.

  1. And when they saw them, they said: Surely, these are in error,

We are either moving toward the fossilization of our egos, or else we are freeing ourselves of them. We cannot be neutral and stationary because in reality there is no neutrality. We are either progressing or regressing. From the moment of our birth, we are continually regressing. Each moment we are biologically closer to the grave. Inwardly, spiritually, it is up to us to either regress or progress. Progress is made not only through struggle, but ultimately through true self-abandonment. The struggle, therefore, is one against the lower nature, The essence of Reality, however, is already within us.

  1. And they were not sent as guardians over them.

Who are these people in denial? The specific reference in this ayah is to those who are lost, those who deny the truth, the mutaffifīn. They only concern themselves with the existential situation, denying the ākhirah (next world), absolute judgment and justice. They cannot, however, keep the truth hidden. Although they are in darkness, it does not mean that they can control the truth.

  1. So this day those who believe will laugh at those who disbelieve.

This refers to the Day of Judgment, when everything will be open and revealed. On this day the people who were in īmān will be joyous, they will see tawhīd and will reunite with what they knew before. Those who are in a state of trust laugh at kufr. The time when we discover our īmān fully will be a minor day of resurrection for us. We will laugh so much that it will not even be visible on our faces. Our laughter will be so deep that it will be beyond laughter. It will be a moment when we reconnect with the glimpse of real tawhīd we had in this world. Laughter is the expression of reconnecting with something we have known before.

  1. On raised couches, gazing.

They will see the truth which they believed in when there are no more outer disturbances, when the truth is clear, when nothing stops them from seeing the truth. This sight will confirm their belief and will bring about a state of pure relaxation, which is the inner state of laughter. Laughing brings about contentment and is in turn an expression of contentment brought about by recognition.

  1. Surely the disbelievers are rewarded for what they used to do.

Thawwaba is "to reward." The first root form of thawwaba is thāba (to return) which, to the Arabic speaker's ear, sounds very similar to tāba (to repent, renounce, turn away from), which also connotes returning from ignorant, misguided ways to healthy knowledgeable ones. Thawāb is "a reward" for obedience and one way to that is through tawāb, "doing penance."

This ayah asks us to reflect deeply upon our intentions, to see why we did what we did, thus finding that we were rewarded one hundred percent according to our intentions. If our intentions are pure, then the reward cannot harm us. "Is the reward of goodness ought but goodness?" (55:60). How then can we hide our intentions? Everything in life is perfect because perfection is within us.

End of the Surah

Back Up Next

The Opening - A Commentary on Chapter 1: Surat Al-Fatiha ] The Cow - A Commentary on Chapter 2: Surat Al-Baqarah ] The Family of 'Imrān - A Commentary on Chapter 3: Surat Al-'Imrān ] The Spider - A Commentary on Chapter 29: Surat Al-'Ankabt ] The Heart of the Qur`an - A Commentary on Chapter 36: Surat Ya Sin ] The Beneficent - A Commentary on Chapter 55: Surat Al-Rahmn ] The Event - A Commentary on Chapter 56: Surat Al-Wqi'ah ] The Kingdom - A Commentary on Chapter 67: Surat Al-Mulk ] The Jinn - A Commentary on Chapter 72: Surat Al-Jinn ] The Unwrapped - A Commentary on Chapter 73: Surat Al-Muzzammil ] A Commentary on the Last Section of the Qur`an ]


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