Sunday 19 August 2018

The Holy Qur'an (Summary): Chapter 85 Sūrat al-Burūj (The Great Constellations)

Sūrat al-Burūj, the 85th chapter of 30th Part of the Holy Qur'an was revealed in Makkah and like many of the succeeding chapters, its theme is to warn the pagans of Makkah of painful denouncement for prosecuting and torturing the newly converted Makkans to Islam. The divine message that follows comes as a great solace to the Muslims subjected to extreme form of tyranny at the hands of the nonbelievers and gives them tiding of eternal rewards if they stood firm on their faith, reassuring them that Allah is the best avenger of prosecutors (by giving the fate of people of Ditch).

Burj in Arabic means a pillar or a tower supporting some structure or room. Buruj is plural of Burj, meaning by many pillars or towers. That is how Allah takes a vow in the very first verse of the Heavens or the Skies which are held from below by many pillars, referring to the stars and the constellations and the galaxies supporting the heavens:

بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْمِ 
"In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful"
  1. By the heaven with its impregnable castles;
  2. by the Promised Day,
  3. and by the witness and what is witnessed
Some interpreters refer to the buruj as the Zodiac signs, but most agree that here Allah takes a solemn pledge of the constellations, stars and galaxies that support the heavens and the skies - the wonderful world of astronomy that Allah has created for us to wonder how vast is His empire, unshared by none whatsoever. Then Allah also takes a solemn pledge of the Promised Day, the Day of Judgement, a day when everyone will be made accountable to one's deeds, good or bad, and will be rewarded and punished accordingly.

The third solemn pledge "by the witness (the seer) and what is witnessed (the seen)" needs some elaboration. Some interpreters are of the view that every living being will witness the Promised Day, and the Day itself will be what is being witnessed.

The next four verses relate to the People of Ditch (Ashaab al Akhdood):
  • the people of the pit were destroyed
  • with fire abounding in fuel,
  • while they sat around it,
  • and were witnessing what they did to the believers
Akhdood is a historical place located 5 km (3.1 mi) south of Najran city in Saudi Arabia. The event of Al-Akhdood occurred in 520 or 523 ACE, in the time of Dhu Nuwas, the last Himyarite King. There are many interpretations of the event related to people of AKhdood. One of the most common and accepted versions is as under: [3]
According to Christian sources, this event took place around 523 C.E. Dhu Nuwas converted to Judaism and chose Joseph as his new name. He went to Najran to force the Christian people there to convert to Judaism. When they refused, the King threw them alive into one or more burning ditches. It is said that about 20,000 or even more Christians perished into the fires of ditches.
In the next two verses, Allah mentions that those whoa re victims of oppression are the ones who belongs the dominion of heavens and earth and that Allah watches who are the transgressors:
  • Against these they had no grudge except that they believed in Allah, the Most Mighty, the Most Praiseworthy,
  • to Whom belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth. Allah witnesses everything.
The Akhdood later witnessed the wrath of Allah and the whole city was thrown upside down. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to see the remains of the city of Akhdood many years ago when I was posted in Najran, Saudi Arabia. The place is otherwise not allowed to be visited for it had been cursed by Allah for torturing the believers.

The revelation of this surah is timed when pagans of Makkah and the non believers were leaving no stone unturned to torture and humiliate the newly reverted Muslims and the narration of People of the Ditch meant as a caution to the Makkans, lest they faced a similar fate. And for those who stood fast and held their faith in Allah, there are tidings of rewards and bounties:
  • As for those who believed and acted righteously, theirs shall be Gardens beneath which rivers flow. That is the great triumph.
  • Stern indeed is your Lord's punishment.
  • He it is Who creates for the first time and He it is Who will create again,
  • and He is the Ever Forgiving, the Most Loving
Then yet again Allah reminds the nonbelievers about the fate of Pharaoh and Thamud:
  • Has the story of the armies reached you,
  • the armies of Pharaoh and Thamud?
  • The unbelievers are indeed engaged in denying it, calling it a lie,
  • Although Allah surrounds them.
People of Thamud are the same upon him Prophet Saleh (peace be upon him) was sent to show them the path of Allah and who refused and killed the she camel the prophet had forbade them not to harm and faced the wrath of Allah (we will deliberate on the incident when we present summary of Qur'an, Surah 7 Al-A'raf). The ruins of Petra in Jordan are said have been the abode of people of Thamud.

And of course the Pharaoh who refused to accept divine message brought to him by Prophet Musa (Moses, peace be upon him) and drowned along with his mighty army when people of Israel had reached safety across the sea. We will discuss in detail about Prophet Musa and fate of Pharaoh later.

The last two verses of the Surah are attributed to the glory of Holy Qur'an, which remains unpolluted since its revelation for its protection has been pledge none other than Allah Himself:
  • Nay; but this is a glorious Qur'an,
  • inscribed on a well-guarded Tablet.
Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi in his book "Tafhim al-Qur'an (The Meaning of the Qur'an)" explains these two verses as:
That is, "The writ of the Qur'an is unchangeable and imperishable. It is inscribed in the Preserved Tablet of God. which cannot he corrupted in any way Whatever is written in it, has to be fulfilled: even the whole world together cannot avert its fulfillment. 
Meaning by no matter how hard the nonbelievers try or make an effort they would never be able to alter the final words and commandments of Allah which are to stay unchanged till the Day of Judgement. Those who underscore the finality of Allah's commandments are the one to be the end losers, here in this world and in the hereafter.

You may now like to listen to Arabic recitation of Al-Balad with English subtitles:

You may refer to our post "114 Chapters (Sūrahs) of the Holy Qur'an" for translation, meaning and summary of other chapters (Though not complete but building up from 30th Part backwards for chapters in 30th Part are shorter and easier to understand)

Photo | References: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 |
An effort has been made to gather explanation of the surahs of the Holy Qur'an from authentic souses and then present a least possible condensed explanation of the surah. However, those wanting detailed explanations and tafsir (exegesis), may refer to sites the references of which are given above.

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