Tafsir of Surah al Buruj - The Constellations (Surah 85)

by 'Abdur-Rahmân ibn Nâsir as-Sa'dî

Translated by Abű Rumaysah

  1) By the heaven with its towering constellations,* 2) by the Promised Day, 3) and by the witness and the witnessed:[1] 4) Cursed be the people of the trench, 5) [kindlers of] that [searing] fire, well stocked with fuel. 6) They were seated around it, 7) witnessing what they were doing to the believers.  

“By the heaven with its towering constellation,” i.e. mansions holding the sun, the moon and the stars all running their courses in perfect harmony and regulation, all proving the perfect ability of Allah, His mercy, infinite knowledge and wisdom. “By the Promised Day,” the Day of Rising, the gathering of mankind which Allah has promised, wherein the first man will be raised with the last, the Day which cannot be altered or changed. “Allah never fails in His promise.”[2] “And by the witness and the witnessed,” this is general to all who meet this description: the one who sees and that which is seen, the one who is present and the one in whose company he is present etc. The point of the oath is to highlight what each object of oath shows: the clear Signs of Allah, His all-encompassing wisdom and vast mercy. It is also said that the point of the oath is to highlight, “cursed be the people of the trench,” this is a supplication against them for their destruction. The people of the trench were a disbelieving folk, living amongst whom were some believers. They tried to entice the believers into renegading into disbelief but they refused. In response to this the disbelievers dug trenches and lit a fire in them. Then they sat around these trenches and persecuted the believers, threatening to burn them in those trenches. Whoever renegaded was allowed to go free and whoever remained firm on his belief was thrown in. This is the extremes of fighting Allah and His party, the believers, and this is why Allah cursed them and destroyed them and threatened them by saying, “cursed be the people of the trench.” Then He proceeded to expound on these trenches by saying, “[kindlers of] that [searing] fire, well stocked with fuel. They were seated around it, witnessing what they were doing to the believers.” This represents the limits of coercion and hardness of heart for they combined obdurate rejection of the Signs of Allah with fighting those who believed in them and punishing them with a punishment that would have broken the hearts of normal people.

  8) Their only grievance against them was that they believed in Allah, the Almighty, the Praiseworthy, 9) to whom belongs the dominion of the heavens and earth. Allah is witness of all things.  

“Their only grievance against them was that they believed in Allah,” for them doing something praiseworthy, through which they would attain eternal felicity, “the Almighty,” whose might encompasses everything, “the Praiseworthy,” in speech, deed and attributes. “To whom belongs the dominion of the heavens and earth,” the inanimate and animate objects, directing them however He wills, “Allah is witness of all things,” in His knowledge, seeing and hearing. Knowing all this, should not those who rebel against Him fear Him, fear that they should be seized by “the Almighty, the Powerful,”[3]? Do they not know that they are His servants, owned by Him and that they have no authority over another except by the permission of the Master? Is it hidden to them that Allah ever-encompasses their deeds and will recompense them for them? Nay, rather the disbelievers live in a state of delusion, and the ignoramus is wandering blindly in misguidance far removed from the Straight Path.[4]

Then Allah threatened them, and promised them, and offered them the chance of repentance:

  10) Those who persecuted believing men and women without subsequently repenting will have the punishment of Hell, they will have the punishment of the Searing Blaze. 11) But those who believed and worked righteous deeds will have Gardens beneath which rivers flow. That is the supreme triumph.  

“Those who persecuted believing men and women without subsequently repenting will have the punishment of Hell, they will have the punishment of the Searing Blaze” al-Hasan said, ‘Look at His munificence and generosity: they killed His friends yet He invites them to repentance and forgiveness!’ After mentioning the recompense of the wrong-doers, Allah follows this with mention of the reward of the believers, “But those who believed” in their hearts “and worked righteous deeds,” with their limbs “will have Gardens beneath which rivers flow. That is the supreme triumph,” the pleasure of Allah and the Abode of His beneficence.

  12) Indeed, your Lord’s assault is very fierce. – 13) It is He who originates [creation] and repeats [it], 14) He is the Ever Forgiving, the Loving, 15) Owner of the Throne, the Glorious,** 16) always doing whatever He wishes. –  

“Indeed, your Lord’s assault is very fierce,” i.e. His punishment of the criminals and grave sinners is severe. He is ever-watching the wrongdoers. Allah says, “Such is the grasp of your Lord when He grasps the townships while they are doing wrong. His grasp is painful, very strong.”[5] “It is He who originates [creation] and repeats [it],” He alone is the One who originates creation and repeats it; none shares with Him in this. “He is the Ever-Forgiving,” the One who forgives all sins for the penitent, and overlooks evil deeds for the one who asks His forgiveness, “the Loving,” who is loved by the lovers with a love that is unique and resembles no other. Just as nothing resembles Him in any of His Attributes of beauty and Grandeur, or in any of His actions, so too this love of Him which is placed in the hearts of the elite of His creation does not resemble any other love. This is why loving Allah is the foundation of servitude and this love precedes, and overcomes, all other loves. If however, another love takes precedence over this love, it is in reality a punishment for that person. He, Most High, is the Loving, loving His lovers as Allah says, “He loves them and they love him.”[6] Mawaddah is pure love.

There is a subtle reason behind mentioning the Name 'the Loving' alongside 'the Ever-Forgiving.' This is: if the sinful repent and turn to Allah, He will forgive them their sins and love them; not as some of the wrong-doers claim, ‘He forgives them but does not return His love to them!’ Rather, Allah is more delighted at the repentance of His servants than a man who loses his mount, laden with his food and drink, in the middle of a vast desert. Giving up all hope of finding it again, he lays down in the shade of a tree waiting for death. While like this, he suddenly finds his mount standing by his head and takes hold of it by its reigns. Allah is more delighted at the repentance of His servant than this man is at finding his mount again: the delight and joy of this man being the greatest that one can imagine. So all praise is due to Allah as is unadulterated love. How great is His beneficence, how copious is His good, how amazing is His grace and how vast is His blessings! “Owner of the Throne, the Glorious” the Great Throne that encompasses the Heaven, the earth and theKursī. TheKursī, with respect to the Throne is like a ring thrown into a desert. The Throne has been specifically mentioned here because of its greatness and it is the closest of created objects to Him. The word 'Glorious' is either a description of the Throne according to one reading, or a description of Allah according to another. The word glory signifies vastness and greatness of descriptions and attributes. “Always doing whatever He wishes,” whenever and whatever He wishes, He does. He says to it, “Be! and it is.”[7] There is none who can do what he wants save Allah, this is because any creature, when it wants to do something, there will always something aiding its facilitation or preventing its occurrence, this is not so for Allah, for He stands in no need of aid and none can oppose Him.

Then Allah proceeds to mention some of His actions that prove the truth of what the Messengers brought:

  17) Has the story of the hosts reached you, 18) [those of] Pharaoh and Thamud? 19) Yet those who disbelieve persist in denial, 20) while Allah encompasses them from behind.*** 21) This, however, is a glorious Qur’an 22) [inscribed] on a Preserved Tablet.  

“Has the story of the hosts reached you, 18) [those of] Pharaoh and Thamud?” how they denied the Messengers and were destroyed. “Yet those who disbelieve persist in denial,” remaining in it, the Signs do not benefit them and they are not moved by exhortation. “While Allah encompasses them from behind,” in knowledge and power as He says, “Your Lord is ever watchful.”[8] This verse then contains a severe threat directed at the disbelievers who are in His grasp and under His regulation. “This, however, is a glorious Qur’an” vast in meaning, containing great import, vast in goodness and knowledge, “[inscribed] on a Preserved Tablet,” preserved from alteration, addition or subtraction, and preserved from the devils. The preserved tablet is the tablet in which Allah has written everything and this in turn shows us the greatness of this Qur’an and its standing with Allah, Most High.

Allah knows best.


Endnotes

* or: “By the heaven containing great stars,” or, “By the heaven and its cycling planets,” with the particular reference being to the moon’s lunar cycle of 28 days and the sun’s annual cycle of 12 months.

** another recitation has, “Owner of the Glorious Throne,” and both are correct. [Ibn Kathir]

*** ...from behind, employed to stress their heedlessness of Allah and the truth. The analogy being that of a person surrounded by his enemy, yet unaware of them; when they strike, he turns to run and finally realises that there is no escape.

1. A hadith in Ahmad and Tirmidhi mentions that the witness is the day of Friday and the witnessed is the Day of `Arafah. Ibn `Abbas and al-Hasan ibn `Ali said that the witness was Muhammad (SAW) and the witnessed was the Day of Rising, adducing Hud (11): 103 and al-Nisa’ (4): 41 as evidence. It is also reported that ibn `Abbas said that the witness was Allah and the witnessed was the Day of Rising. Others said that the witness was man and the witnessed was the Day of Rising. There is no reason why all cannot be meant here. [Abu Hayyan]

2. Ali `Imran (3): 9
3. al-Qamar (54): 42

4. Suhayb ibn Sinan, the Roman, reports that the Messenger of Allah (SAW) said,

  “There lived a king before you and he had a (court) magician. As the magician grew old, he said to the king, 'I have grown old, send some young boy to me so that I may teach him magic.' The king sent to him a young man so that he might train him (in magic). On his way (to the magician) the young man found a monk sitting there and listened to his talk and was impressed by it. It became his habit that on his way to the magician he met the monk set there so he was late in coming to the magician who beat him because of the delay.

He made a complaint about it to the monk and he said, 'When you feel afraid of the magician, say, “Members of my family detained me.” And when you feel afraid of your family you should say, “The magician detained me.” It so happened that there came a huge beast (of prey) and it blocked the way of the people. The young boy said, 'I shall find out today whether the magician or the monk is superior.' He picked up a stone and said, 'O Allah, if the affairs of the monk are dearer to You than the affairs of the magician, bring death to this animal so that the people will be able to move about freely.' He threw that stone towards it and killed it and the people began to move about (on the path freely). The young man then came to that monk and informed him. The monk said, 'My son, today you are superior to me. Your affairs have reached a stage where I find that you will soon be put to the test, and in that case don't reveal my identity. The young man began to treat the blind and those suffering from leprosy and began to cure people of (all kinds) of illness.'

When a companion of the king, who had become blind, heard about him, he came to him with numerous gifts and said, 'If you cure me, all these things collected together here will be yours.' He said, 'I myself do not cure anyone; it is Allah Who cures. If you affirm faith in Allah, I shall also supplicate Allah to cure you.' He affirmed his faith in Allah and Allah cured him. He came to the king and sat by his side as he used to sit before. The king said to him, 'Who restored your eyesight?' He said, 'My Lord.' Thereupon he said, 'Is your Lord One besides me.' He said, 'My Lord and your Lord is Allah;' whereupon the king took hold of him and tormented him until he revealed the identity of boy.

The young man was thus summoned and the king said to him, 'O boy, it has been conveyed to me that you have become so proficient in your magic that you cure the blind and those suffering from leprosy and you do such-and-such things.' Thereupon he said, 'I do not cure anyone; it is Allah Who cures.' The king took hold of him and began to torment him. So he revealed the identity of the monk. The monk was thus summoned and it was said to him, 'Turn back from your religion.' He, however, refused to do so. He (ordered) a saw to be brought (and when it was done) the king placed it in the middle of his head and sawed it until it fell apart. Then the courtier of the king was brought and it was said to him, 'Turn back from your religion but he refused to do so.' Therefore the saw was placed in the middle of his head which was sawed until it fell apart.

Then the young boy was brought and it was said to him, 'Turn back from your religion.' He refused to do so and he was handed over to a group of his courtier. He said to them, 'Take him to such and such mountain; make him climb that mountain and when you reach its top (ask him to renounce his faith) but if he refuses to do so, throw him down the mountain.' So they took him and made him climb the mountain and he said, 'O Allah, save me from them (in any way) You will.' The mountain began to quake and they all fell down young man came walking back to the king. The king said to him, 'What has happened to your companions?' He said, 'Allah has saved me from them.'

He again handed him to some of his courtiers and said, 'Take him and carry him away in a small boat and when you reach the middle of the ocean (ask him to renounce) his religion, but if he does not renounce his religion throw him (into the water).' So they took him and he said, 'O Allah, save me from them and what they want to do.' It was not long before the boat overturned and they were drowned but he came walking back to the king. The king said to him, 'What has happened to your companions?' He said, 'Allah has saved me from them.' He also said to the king, 'You cannot kill me until you do what I ask you to do.' He said, 'What is that?' He said, 'You should gather people on a plain and hang me by the trunk (of a tree). Then take an arrow from the quiver and say, “In the name of Allah, the Lord of the worlds;” then shoot an arrow. If you do that, you would be able to kill me.' So the king called the people to an open plain and tied the boy to the trunk of a tree. Then he took an arrow from his quiver placed the arrow in the bow and then said, 'In the name of Allah, the Lord of the young boy;' he then shot an arrow and it hit his temple. The boy placed his hands upon the temple where the arrow had hit him and died. The people said, 'We affirm our faith in the Lord of this young man, we affirm our faith in the Lord of this young man, we affirm our faith in the Lord of this young man.' The courtiers came to the king and it was said to him, 'Do you see that their faith is in the Lord?'

The king commanded ditches to be dug at important points in the path. When these ditches were dug, and the fire was lit in them, it was said (to the people), 'He who does not turn back from the boy's religion will be thrown in the fire or they will be told to jump in it.' (The people courted death but did not renounce their religion) till a woman came with her child and she felt hesitant about jumping into the fire, the child said to her, 'O mother, endure (this ordeal) for it is the truth.'” [Muslim]

5. Hud (11): 102
6. al-Ma’idah (5): 54
7. (2): 117, (3): 47, (6): 73, (16): 40, (19): 35, (36): 82, (40): 68
8. al-Fajr (89): 14


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