Tafsir of Surah al Naba - The Tidings (Surah 78)
Translated by Abű Rumaysah
“What are they” those who deny the Signs of Allah “asking one another about?” The answer follows, “About the Grave Tidings,” the momentous news “concerning which they are in disagreement” about which they had lengthy debate, held widely disparate views and the discord of which had spread far and wide. This is because they denied the news and met it with incredulity. However, this news is not something that is subject to uncertainty and does not admit any doubt. Therefore, the reality is that those who deny the meeting with their Lord will never believe, even if every Sign comes to them, until they themselves see the Painful Punishment. “No indeed, but they will soon know! Again, no indeed, but they will soon know!” they will soon know what they used to deny when the punishment descends upon them, when they are “flung (disdainfully) into the Fire of Hell,” and they will be told, “This is the Fire which you used to deny!”
Then Allah, Most High, mentions His blessings and the evidences pointing to the truth of His Messengers. He says, “Have We not made the earth a level expanse,” have we not granted you magnificent blessings such as leveling the earth and making it subservient to you? Have we not subjected it to you that you may extract crops from it, build residences and roadways for your own benefit? “And the mountains as pegs,” making the earth firm so that it does not shake and sway under you. “We have created you in pairs,” male and female, of the same type, that one may find rest with the other, that love and mercy may ensue as a result of which offspring are born; the pleasure in the act of marital relations being yet another blessing. “We have appointed your sleep as a time of rest,” a cessation of your activities and a repose for you. “We have appointed night as a garment,” man would be harmed were his activity perpetual and unceasing, so Allah appointed the night and sleep as a means to cover him such that his motions, which would end up harming him, may find stillness and that he may find repose. “We have appointed day for livelihood. We built seven mighty [heavens] above you,” i.e. seven heavens, mighty, firm and unshakable. Allah holds them up by His power, making them like a roof for the earth. They contain many benefits, amongst which is the sun: “and We fixed a blazing lamp [there],” referring to it as “blazing” to highlight its quality of light which is necessary for the existence of man and as a “lamp” to highlight its heat which is also beneficial for man. “We sent down cascading water from the rain-laden clouds that We may bring forth grain” such as wheat, barley, rice and other edible produce, “and vegetation with it,” all types of plants which Allah has made fodder for animals. “And gardens thick with entwined growth,” intertwined growth containing every type of delicious fruit.
How can you disbelieve in the One who has granted these magnificent blessings, the extent of which none can hope to estimate let alone count? How can you deny what He informs you of with regards the Resurrection? How can you use His blessings to disobey Him and deny them?
Allah, Most High, proceeds to mention what will occur on the Day of Rising about which the deniers are asking each other and the obdurate are rejecting. It is a momentous Day, “Indeed, the Day of Decision is an appointed time,” for creation. “On the Day the Trumpet is blown, you will come forth in multitudes, and heaven is opened up, becoming apertures, and the mountains are set in motion, becoming a mirage,” during this Day such violent and terrifying events are set in motion as would turn the hair of a babe white and beset hearts with utter confusion and dismay. Mountains will be shaken until they become “scattered dust” and the heaven will be rent asunder such that it“becomes apertures”. On that Day, Allah will judge between all creatures with His judgment that cannot be wrong or unjust, and the Fire of Hell which Allah has made a place of ambush and a homecoming for the transgressors will be kindled to a blaze.
“Truly, Hell lies in ambush, for the transgressors, a final place of return: abiding in there for [countless] ages,” meaning many many ages, the meaning of age (haqb) here, in the view of many exegetes, is eighty years. When they enter it, “There they will not taste any coolness or drink,” not receiving what would cool their skins or quench their thirst. “Save boiling water” that would scald their faces and rip open their stomachs “and a scalding pus:” the pus of the denizens of Hell: a truly vile liquid with a foul taste. This atrocious punishment is “a fitting recompense” for what they worked. Allah will not wrong them in the slightest; rather it was they who wronged themselves. This is why Allah proceeds to mention their deeds which made them deserving of this recompense, “They were not expecting a reckoning,” they did not believe in the Resurrection or that Allah would recompense creation for the good and bad that they worked. For this reason they neglected to work for the Hereafter, “and they roundly denied Our Signs,” they clearly denied them, leaving no shadow of doubt that would indicate otherwise. The clear proofs came to them but they obstinately denied them. “But We have listed everything” small and large, insignificant and significant, good and evil, “in a Book,” i.e. We have recorded it in the Preserved Tablet. Therefore let not the sinners think that We have punished them for sins they did not commit, neither let them think that any of their deeds will be lost or forgotten – no, not even an atoms weight! “And the Book is placed, and you will see the guilty fearful of that which is therein, and they say, ‘What kind of a Book is this that leaves not a small thing nor a great thing but takes account thereof!’ And they find all that they did confronting them, and your Lord wrongs no-one.” “So,” you deniers “taste this,” painful punishment and perpetual anguish. “We will only ever increase you in torment,” each period of time brings with it an increase in punishment. This verse is one of the most severe verses depicting the punishment of the Fire, may Allah save us from it.
After having mentioned the state of the sinners, Allah mentions the end of those withtaqwa, “For those mindful of Allah there is salvation,” i.e. those who ward off the displeasure of their Lord by adhering firmly to His obedience and shunning disobedience, for them is success and victory, and distance from the Fire. Part of this victory is, “Gardens,” containing all types of luscious vegetation giving forth fruit, “and vineyards,” with rivers sprouting from them. Grapes have been specifically mentioned because of their excellence and because they are present in plenitude in those Gardens. “Maidens, nubile” full breasted women whose bosom never loses its firmness, eternally youthful and beautiful “and alike of age,” i.e. of one age. The norm for people who are atrab is that they are sociable and companionable, their age is thirty-three which is the pinnacle of youth. “And an overflowing cup,” with the choicest wine,“delicious to the drinkers”. “There they will hear no vain speech,” words that contain no benefit, “or falsehood” words calling to sin. Allah says, “There hear they no vain speaking or sinful discourse.”
Allah gave them this magnificent reward out of His beneficence and grace, “a reward from your Lord, a gift more than fitting,” by reason of their deeds which Allah guided them to and made to be a cause leading to His grace. He is their Lord, “Lord of the heavens and the earth, and everything between them,” who created them and regulated them, “the All-Merciful,” whose mercy extends to everything. Hence He nurtured them and extended His mercy to them until they attained this state of felicity. Then He mentioned His greatness and His Kingship on the Day of Judgment, “from whom they hold no [right] of address,” except “for the one the All-Merciful permits and says what is right.” Therefore none will be able to speak unless he meets these two pre-requisites: Allah grants him leave to speak and he speaks rightly. This is because “That is the Day of Truth,” the day when falsehood cannot be circulated and lying is of no benefit.
“On the Day when the Spirit,” Jibril, the best of the angels “and the angels will stand in ranks,” submissively before Allah. “They will not speak except for one who the All-Merciful permits and says what is right.” After having encouraged and discouraged, and given glad-tidings and warned, He says, “That is the Day of Truth; so whoever wants to should take a way back to his Lord,” with deeds and a truthful footing to which he can recourse on the Day of Judgement. “Indeed We have warned you of an imminent punishment,” because it is approaching and everything that is approaching isimminent, “on the Day when a man will observe what his own hands have sent before him,” being concerned with it and being terrified of it. So look in this abode to what you are preparing for the Eternal Abode! “O you who believe! Observe your duty to Allah and let every soul look to that which it sends on before for the morrow. And observe your duty to Allah, Allah is well-informed of what you do.” Then, whoever finds good, let him praise Allah; and whoever finds other than that, he has none to blame but himself. It is for this reason that the disbelievers will wish for death by reason of their extreme sorrow and anguish, “and the disbeliever will cry out, ‘Oh, if only I were dust!’”
We ask Allah to deliver us from disbelief and all evil. He is the Bestower of Good, the Kind.
* lit: “as a cessation.”
** Another interpretation is “and have sent down cascading water from wind (driven clouds).” [Abu Hayyan]
*** Another interpretation has “There they will find no sleep or rest or drink” [Abu Hayyan]
◊ Another interpretation has, “paralysing cold” [Qurtubi]
1. al-Tur (52): 13