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Commentary on Surat Al-Nzi't

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A COMMENTARY ON THE LAST SECTION QUR`AN 
Chapter 79: Surat Al-Nāzi't
Those Who Tear Out

By: Shaykh Fadhlalla Haeri

In the name of Allah,
the Beneficent, the Merciful

This is a late Meccan surah (chapter) concerning this life and the life after this existence and it also gives a description of the events that will take place on the Day of Judgment.

 

  1. By those who tear out violently.

The chapter begins by describing various forces of which every one is aware. One popular interpretation is that it refers to the angelic powers, those myriad forces which perform various functions throughout the creation.

Al-nzi`t comes from naza`a, which means to 'to take away, to strip off, to quarrel', implying two forces opposing each other. Ghariqa, the root verb of gharq, means 'to become immersed, to go under, to be drowned.' There is an ambiguity here, the explanation of which only Allah knows for certain. This could be a reference to the moment of death, when the angels of death forcefully strip life away from those people who do not want to depart from this life and who are not prepared for the next experience. Their souls have to be forcibly stripped out of their bodies in order for them to continue the course of destiny. This verse could also refer to the cosmos. The first five verses could equally refer to the different types of planets and stars since they are all energy centers which keep the cosmos in a state of perpetual motion.

 

  1. And by those who draw out gently,

What is translated here as 'gently' (nasht) could also be rendered as 'easily, vigorously or energetically'. This might refer to those souls which become nashit, vigorous and active, healthy and dynamic. `Al Zayn al-`Abidn once said, 'Death for the one who trusts Reality is like the stripping off of a foul-smelling and filthy garment'. Such a soul looks forward to the next experience because it knows that the next life does not contain the turmoil and tribulation of this world. Clearly, no interference can take place there. We cannot intervene or interject, for we shall be actionless, at peace.

This verse might also be a reference to distant starts whose light reaches us after hundreds and thousands of light years and which are forever speeding away in the cosmic expansion.

 

  1. And by those who float in space,

Al-sbiht, 'those who float', derives from the verbal root sabaha which means 'to swim, to float, to drift'. The soul flows with destiny and moves along its course with no resistance. 'Those who float' could also refer to those entities whose substance is similar to energy wavebands – the angels – who make it easier for souls willing to surrender. Once again this verse could apply to the planets spinning along their orbital paths.

 

  1. Then those who are foremost going ahead,

These verses can also be taken entirely on the level of the mulk (earthly dominion, having to do with worldly things). Sabaqa means 'to go ahead of, to outdistance'. Sibq, from this same root, refers to racing, especially of horses. Some commentaries say that this verse means 'to see the thoroughbred, to see the winning horse'. The horse that has been true to its breeding is a winning horse. If we read this verse in the light of the cosmic expansion, it may also refer to planets that move faster than other stars or galaxies which move further than others in their trajectory.

 

  1. Then those who regulate the affair.

This may refer to those forces, powers, planets and energies whose objective is tadbr (management), which comes from dabbara, meaning, 'to make arrangements, organize, regulate', that is, to perform actions which interconnect the various happenings in this world, actions that eventually become manifest as movements of wind, clouds, volcanoes, or human beings; in other words, a movement of the outward elements which hold all elements together. Anything which is included among mudabbirt is concerned with tadbr or the arranging of affairs.

This chapter cause us to begin to reflect on all the powers and forces from which we are not separate and which affect us outwardly and inwardly, such as the spirit within our bodies and the surrounding environment. These first verses are a prelude to the explanation of what will occur when this creation, expanding forth from the initial explosion, comes to an end, collapsing into its single point of origin.

 

  1. The Day when the quaking one will quake,

This is the first occurrence heralding the end of the expansion. When that expansion stops, a major disturbance in the entire cosmic system will take place. As far as the earth is concerned, there will be a violent quaking and trembling rajifah.

When a system follows its natural course, it moves smoothly. Once its course is changed and redirected, that break manifests itself in resistance which, in this instance, takes the form of trembling. This first occurrence is repeatedly mentioned in the Qur'an, which describes in detail how the world will come to an end. This verse indicates the stopping of the first system. Systems always interact with one another; thus, when one stops another begins. What holds these various and overlapping systems together is beyond our intellectual comprehension.

 

  1. What comes after will follow.

The next quake will then come, the next sounding of the trumpet, which will herald the new course in the `alam al-arwah, the world of subtle energies as distinct from the world of gross energies. Radifah comes from radifa, meaning 'to follow, come next', and radif means 'the next one, what follows'. The first quake, or the first sounding, will be the rending-apart of the existing system, and the second quake will be the start of the next system.

 

  1. Hearts on that day will throb,

This statement implies that all that will remain of us at that time is what was implanted in our hearts, which is all that has been constructed by our actions and intentions in this life. The hearts of those who have denied this occurrence, who have denied the truth of the message that there is only one reality and one Creator and that we are never separate from our decreed destiny, those hearts will be completely at odds. When the Resurrection begins, they will then feel the separation sharply. They will feel that they are not flowing smoothly with the current but struggling against it.

 

  1. Their eyes cast down.

Man's sight, his faculty of perception, will no longer function as it did before. His vision and the expectations in his heart will be low, subdued, disconnected from events, and therefore cast aside.

 

  1. They say: Will we indeed be restored to [our] first state?

The state or situation of those hearts echoes a rebellion which is based on their doubt and questioning 'Are we going to return? Is there a return? Are we going to start all over again? Is there going to be a continuation, another cycle?'

 

  1. What! When we are rotten bones?

The questioning continues with a firmly voiced doubt, as if to say 'How can that be? We never expected it!' Being simplistically causal, they were only judging it from the clumsy attitude of a physical point of view. So they wonder how these bones can be restored after they, the hardest element of our bodies, have decayed. They must understand that this question is not concerned with flesh and bones but with the rh (spirit) and what it has done during its passage through this world.

 

  1. They say: This, then, would be a return with loss.

As soon as they realize that they must enter into a new phase, they conclude that they have returned to a situation of loss, because their rh is not ready for this next realm of existence. They already realize that in the next experience they will be completely bereft.

 

  1. But it will be only a single cry

Zajara, the verbal root of zajrah (cry), means 'to drive back, drive away, prevent, rebuke'. For those people who have been astray, the ones who have denied the truth of the message that there will be a return, an afterlife, there is but one shout, one major reminder. Instantaneously, the souls will realize that they are at a loss. They will recognize it and announce it openly, for it is embedded within the soul.

 

  1. When behold! They will be awakened!

The ordinary meaning of shirah is 'the surface of the earth'. The inner meaning is derived from the root of the word sahira, which means 'to be sleepless, to stay awake (in some activity)'. Sahar means 'insomania'. This implies that the surface of the earth is always alive. Here the meaning is that once these souls have been awakened, they will be awake to Reality forever. They were asleep to the truth before, but suddenly they will awaken. The outer meaning of this verse is that the dead bodies which had been previously hidden in their graves will be cast up to the surface of the earth as it heaves and quakes. The inner meaning is that those souls will suddenly be fully awakened. There will be no more sleepiness in our consciousness of the kind that we may experience in this life.

 

  1. Has the story of Moses [Musa] not come to you?

Now we are brought to an example in this world, to the story of the prophet Moses (Musa), when his Lord and Sustainer called him to action, to move along the path of reality in this life.

 

  1. When his Lord called upon him in the holy valley of Tuwa

Moses, peace be upon him, was brought into the sacred valley of Tuwa. His heart was held by al-rh al-qudus (the holy spirit). His heart was caught by the Rubbyyah (Lordship) of his Lord. He had no option but to serve his Lord, and he was inspired by Him to strike at the top of the pyramid of corruption.

 

  1. Go to Pharaoh [Fir'awn], he has certainly transgressed the bounds!

When someone is a slave of the Highest, then his task will be of the highest degree of difficulty, his responsibility will be the heaviest, and his rewards will be the greatest. Moses was commissioned to direct the message of unity to Pharaoh (Fir'awn) because the latter had transgressed and as a result of his transgression an entire nation had been misled into a state of loss.

 

  1. Then say: Will you purify yourself?

Allah commanded Moses to give Pharaoh the message and question him as to why he had not purified himself. 'Why have you not given up yourself in submission? Why do you not move along the path of self-abandonment? Why do you not shed this garb that you have taken on, in which you are hiding and playing at being God?'

 

  1. And, I will guide you to your Lord so that you fear.

The implication here is that Pharaoh had no fear of anything and no respect for anything; he had no knowledge of the boundaries of behavior.  Guidance (hidyah; from had) here implies fear (khashyah; from khashiya, to fear or dread something). The door to guidance is the fear of transgression, the fear of making mistakes and the fear of displeasing Allah by breaking His laws which govern both this existence and the next. This was the message of Moses to Pharaoh. He was saying, 'If you are willing, if you want to purify yourself, if you want to live a life of pure existence in true preparation for the next world, I will show you the way, clearly indicating the boundaries, so that you will be fearful of overstepping them. Then you will be guided to the one and only Truth. If you do not have fear, then you cannot receive guidance.'

 

  1. So he showed him the great sign

Moses displayed many signs to Pharaoh, many of which were tangible: his staff which became a serpent; his white, shining hand, and many others. These were ordinary signs. The reference here is to al-yat al-kubr (the great sign), which is the knowledge of Allah. Moses said 'If you have fear, you will have guidance, and from that will come knowledge of the one and only Reality from Whom you are not separate!'

Moses' message to Pharaoh was not an ordinary one, because Pharaoh was not an ordinary king. He was involved in knowledges and sciences that were very sophisticated. He had innumerable powers but they were not being exercised in accordance with the Sunnah (way) of Allah. For example, he and his people used supernatural powers, such as harnessing the jinn, or unseen forces of power. For a true man of Allah, such powers mean nothing they are just insignificant gifts. The highest of all sings is the knowledge of Allah, while the lowest signs are outer ones, the so-called miracles. There is only Allah, and we have come into this world to be baffled, tested and afflicted in order to surrender and submit to Him. The way is through fear (khashyah) of transgression.

 

  1. But he denied and disobeyed.

Having invested all his life in his system of power-mongering and control, Pharaoh could not accept this message that he should be fearful of transgression. His powerful arrogance prevented him from receiving it. His reaction to the clear sign that there is only Allah, and that he was of no significance was to deny the spark of truth that was in his heart.

'As means 'to disobey, resist, defy, oppose'. After denying, he sought to be reconfirmed in his position. We all want confirmation in this life, for we all seek security. We seek confirmation that what we are doing is right. After all, we are lovers of the One Reality. If our thoughts are perverted, therefore, we shall want to be connected with a people who are also perverted in their thinking.

At all times we worship and adore the Divine Attributes. Everything in creation is in a state of perfection, and we are only witnesses of it. There is nothing we can add to it. Only those who have been chosen for a higher mission will have to come out and act, teach, and follow in the footsteps of the prophets, like Moses. Pharaoh quite naturally and understandably did not comprehend this message and veered off in his own perverted direction.

 

  1. Then he went back hastily,

He went in great haste to collect himself and to connect with his own system of denial (kufr, covering up), and of consolidating power for himself.

 

  1. So he gathered and proclaimed

He collected his supporters together because he felt vulnerable. Isolated by the illuminating beam of Moses' message, he gathered all his supporters together in order to gain reassurance.

 

  1. Then he said: I am the highest Lord!

Then he retreated into his old habits, safe and sound under the crown of leadership and lordship with which he had crowned himself. He was playing at being God, trying to set himself up in that most powerful and impossible position. This is a grave danger for all human beings. The higher we go, the more this danger becomes accentuated. People of insight and inward strength must especially be kept within the limits of the revealed code of conduct, shar'ah, the parameters of the outer law, for the danger of self-delusion lies within all of us. We have all seen it in this life, both among people of the outward (zhir), and the people of the inward (btin). There is always a tendency to fall prey to this danger unless we continue the journey on the path of knowledge within the shar'ah, through regular and constant performance of prayer and worship.

Pharaoh said, 'I am the highest Lord,' to his people. But no man can exist in isolation because he is either connected to the one and only Reality and can only act as its slave, or he is connected to a perverted and distorted version of the truth, as in this case.

  1. So Allah seized him with the punishment of the Hereafter and of this life.

The reaction of Reality to Pharaoh in his self-elevated position was punishment. Nakl means punishment. He received a rebuttal from Reality for both his early and his later deeds, both for those he had committed before Moses came to him and for those committed afterwards. This verse refers to the suffering with which he was afflicted in this life as well as later. As we know, Pharaoh and his people were drowned crossing the Red Sea. But 'last' and 'first' could also mean 'outer' and 'inner'; outwardly he was challenged, and inwardly he was tormented. Outwardly he could not do anything in the face of Moses' actions, nor did he inwardly know how to react to the message. His eventual physical destruction was a postscript to the ultimate prevalence of truth over self-delusion.

 

  1. Most certainly there is in this a lesson for he who fears.

'Ibrah means 'admonition, example, lesson'. The root is 'abara, which means 'to cross, traverse, interpret (a dream), or shed tears'. This implies that a real lesson learnt makes us cross over from falsehood to truth. The word for 'Hebrew' (ibr) comes from the same root, because they crossed to the safety of the other shore. It also implies crossing to the shore of knowledge for he who is eager to know is concerned about not remaining in ignorance. Such a person wants to have safe conduct which is secured by correct behavior.

In these verses we have been given the example of a man of Reality, a man of Allah, in this case the Prophet Moses (Musa), and his polar opposite, a man of loss, preoccupied solely with his own power. We are told in the Qur`an that the two systems cannot meet 'To you your way and to me my way' (109:6). The system of denial will be destroyed, and the system of Truth will prevail.

 

  1. Are you harder to create, or the heaven? He erected it.

Reflecting on Pharaoh's power and what became of him and his people, we are now questioned, forcing us to reflect upon the power that created our cosmos. Sam` (sky, heaven) implies that which is holding our cosmos together. The verbal root of sam` means 'to be high', not just in the vertical sense, but also figuratively, to be elevated or lofty. It also means, therefore, 'to go beyond the understanding (of someone)'. Rajul smin means 'a man of high values, of high moral character'.

This verse refers to the nearer heavens of the planetary systems as well as the outer heavens beyond them. The Qur`an tells us that Allah created seven heavens (41:12). The heavens which we can perceive, which to us seem unfathomable, are in fact the lowest heavens. Above them are six other heavens. Just as there are seven heavens, so are there seven layers in the earth, the innermost being molten metal. There are also seven 'heavens' of energy levels of electrons around the nucleus of the atom.

In Arabic however, the numbers seven or seventy (or even multiples of seven) imply a very large number. In ordinary speech, if we say that someone has told us something seven times, it does not necessarily mean an actual seven times but could simply mean many times. The same is true of the number seventy. In many of the traditions of the Prophet, we find these numbers mentioned, as for example when he said, 'No day has passed without my seeking pardon of Allah seventy times.' This does not necessarily mean that he counted seventy beads on a tasbh (prayer beads) or that he sat with a pile of date-pits, as was common at that time, counting out the number of times he said, 'Astaghfir Allah' (I seek forgiveness of Allah). Rather, it means that he said this a great number of time, probably at least seventy.

 

  1. He raised high its height, then put it in order.

Samk means 'roof' or 'ceiling', sumk means 'thickness', while smik means 'thick'. Rafa'a samkaha, 'he raised up its height', means that the width of the heaven was increased to what in our perception is an unfathomable degree. In this verse the word implies that the heavens are exploding. It is possible to read into this verse the meaning of the Big Bang.

Fa-sawwh (then put it in order) is one of the earliest references to the word saw, meaning 'to be equivalent, even, level, to smooth, equalize, regulate, put in order'. Saw and its derivatives overlap in meaning with 'adala, which means 'to act justly, to be equal, to equalize, to set in order'. From sawa comes the word muswh, which means 'equality before the law', and taswyah, which means 'arrangement, equalization'. So after the great explosion, order was established.

 

  1. And He made dark its night and brought out the light of its morning.

This refers to the duality of existence, the night was rendered dark; the day, the early morning, was brought out and made more visible. Akhraja means 'to bring out, or bring forth'. Kharaja the root of akhraja means 'to go out, to come out'. Kharj is what we are supposed to pay from our wealth as our tax (zakt).

 

  1. And the earth, He expanded it after that.

The earth is part of the total creational balance. Here the earth was stretched out flat and made usable. Dah means 'to spread out, flatten, level, unroll', and dahyah means 'egg'. This refers to the fact that the earth was created flattened at the poles, a fact that modern man has only known for a few decades.

 

  1. He brought forth from it its water and its pasturage

In the early stages of creation, the earth solidified from molten or gaseous material. The fluid catalyst that was needed in order to transform solid matter into more usable, life-sustaining matter, and thence into plants, animals and human beings, was squeezed out of the earth.

Mar' means 'pasturage' or 'a place for grazing'. Ra' means 'to graze', and it also means 'to tend a flock of animals', or more generally 'to take care of someone or something'. R' is shepherd, while r'in means 'take care of me'. Thus from the earth comes a fluidity which both renders life possible and gives us the possibility to graze on it.

 

  1. And the mountains, He made them firm

Here again we have an example of how the earth came about, settling into a solid form. Arsh means that 'He has made them fast in a liquid medium, He anchored them', and it comes from ras, which means 'to be firm', and 'to anchor'. This firmness exists in order for us to settle and seek provision and to give us the stability we need to help us to go through life's journey. Thus the Qur`an told us over 1,400 years ago what modern geologists have only recently been able to describe about the original formation of the earth.

 

  1. A provision for you and for your cattle.

As the earth settles and evolves, provision for mankind and beast is given, providing a certain measure of ease on this journey of ours on this earth.

 

  1. But when the great calamity comes

Death is the great calamity for those who regard the experience of this world as the main objective of our existence, but it is only a prelude to the next.

 

  1. The Day on which man will recollect that for which he strove

It is on that day that man will remember all that had gone before, and all that he strove for will unfold for him, revealing his intentions, actions, and therefore his reality. You are who you are on that day, with no pretences or veneer.

 

  1. And Hell will be manifest to him who sees.

On that day our sight will be sharper than before and jahm, which is another name for Hell, will become vividly evident. Those who have been leading their lives in that direction of inner agitation will see it clearly.

 

  1. Then, as for him who has transgressed the bounds

  2. And prefers the life of this world

  3. Then certainly Hell, That is the abode!

Duny, meaning 'this world' as opposed to the next, derives from dan, which means 'to be low, near, close to', as well as 'to be or become base, mean, or despicable'. In preferring the life of this world one automatically moves towards grosser materialism, which by its very nature is base.

For those who transgressed in this world, preferring the life of this world to the next, that is, for those who have denied and been engulfed in their denial, a state of permanent agitation is their final resting place.

 

  1. And as for him who fears to stand before his Lord, and restrains the self from low desires

As for him who feared the overwhelming power and position of his Lord, who always stood as though he were in the hands of his Lord, and who always acted as though he were an extension of that Lordship, he is someone who forbade his soul low desires, who stayed in remembrance and did not transgress.

Whoever is always aware of the havoc of the nafs can play by its whims, by its haw (desire), always remains on the straight, and therefore safest, path.

 

  1. Then surely the Garden that is the abode!

For whoever maintains fearful awareness of Allah's presence, Jannah (the Garden) is his natural final abode, since he has been preparing for it here and now and has already learned its condition and its state. He has already entered into a state of the Garden in this world in preparation for his final and perpetual state in the next world.

 

  1. They ask you about the Hour when it will come.

This is a reference to the Hour of Reckoning (Day of Judgment), the hour of complete and total unfolding, the hour in which action and reaction meet and are united, in which man's intentions, deeds and spirit will be connected and unified. This is when man will see himself to be the result of his actions which are, in reality, the manifestations of his intentions. He will see nothing other than the subtle nature which was his all along, and it will be clear that he was always presented with the option of either polishing it or causing it to be increasingly covered by his lower nature.

 

  1. About what! You are of its reminder.

He who asks about the Hour is not seriously concerned, for if he believes in it he will always be prepared for his death and accountability. If one's condition is this, then there is no reason to be obsessed with the cosmic end of the world. Concern with one's own hour supersedes concern with the final cosmic or Absolute Hour.

 

  1. Toward your Lord is the goal of it.

How can you remind them of its goal, its end? All time stops with the Lord, for Allah is beyond time. That Hour, that stoppage of time, that end or resting place, is with the Lord.

 

  1. You are only a warner to him who fears it.

All we can do in this realm, which is subject to time, is to warn others, to make them aware that a situation will come about in which time will stop. At that moment all we shall have as our capital is what we have earned by our actions and the knowledge which we have brought forth from the source of knowledge within us, by our precautionary awareness that this experience will come to an end.

 

  1. On the Day that they see it, it will be as though they had not tarried except for the latter part of a day, or the early part of it.

The final hour can be tasted here, but in the absolute final hour, time will stop. When we experience that, the long years of this life will seem like just one day, or part of a day and a night. Life will seem short and insignificant. When time comes to an end and we look at it from the angle of that state of consciousness, our total existence in this world will seem completely distorted. We shall have left time and gone into timelessness, which is the essential backdrop to time; and Allah is the Timeless.

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 ]