Thursday 23 May 2019

Surah As Saffat - Those Who Set the Ranks: Exegesis of 37th chapter of the Holy Quran - Part I

Sūrah Aṣ-Ṣāffāt is the 37th chapter (sūrah) of the Qur'an with 182 verses (āyāt) and five rukhu, part of the 23rd Juz'.

In the Overview of the Sūrah, it was explained that the exegesis / tafseer of this Sūrah will be segmented owing to its length as under:
  • Part - I: Rukhu 1-2 (verses 1-74)
  • Part - II Rukhu 3-4 (Verses 75-138)
  • Part - III Rukhu 5 (Verses 139-182)
Here is Part I which comprise of the first two rukus covering verses 1-10 and 11-74. Let us now read the translation and exegesis / tafseer in English of the Surah. For Arabic Text, please refer to the references given at the end and may also listen to its recitation in Arabic with English subtitles:

بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْمِ 
"In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful"

وَالصّٰٓفّٰتِ صَفًّا ۙ‏ 
1. By those who range themselves in ranks,
The Sūrah draws its name from the very first verse.
2. And so are strong in repelling (evil),3. And thus proclaim the Message (of Allah)!
Most commentators agree that all these three groups imply the groups of the angels. The words “range in ranks” refer to the fact that all the angels who arc administering the affairs of the universe, are the humble servants of Allah, and are ever ready to carry out any service and implement any of His commands. This theme has been further repeated in verse 165, where the angels say with regard to themselves: “We are the ranged servants (of Allah).”
The Messenger of Allah has been quoted as saying: We have been favored over the rest of mankind in three ways: our ranks have been made like the ranks of the angels (They complete the rows nearer the front and they consolidate the rows); the entire earth has been made a Masjid for us; and its soil has been made a means of purification for us if we cannot find water.
As for “drive away with strength”, some commentators think that it refers to those angels who drive the clouds and arrange the rainfall. Although this meaning is not incorrect either, the meaning which is more relevant to the following context is that among these angels there is also a group of those, who scold and curse the disobedient people and the culprits, and this scolding and cursing is not merely verbal but it rains on human beings in the form of natural disasters and calamities.

“To recite the reminder” implies that among these angels there are also those, who perform the service of admonition in order to draw the people’s attention to the truth. This, they do by bringing about natural calamities from which the heedful take heed, and by bringing down the teachings to the Prophets, and in the form of revelations with which the pious men are blessed through them.

After the opening three verses, in verse 4-10 Allah testifies that your Allah is one Allah and that shaitans do not have and excess to the exalted assembly of angels

اِنَّ اِلٰهَكُمۡ لَوَاحِدٌ ؕ‏ 
4. Verily, your Allah is One!
This is the truth to impress which an oath has been taken by the angels bearing the above-mentioned qualities. In other words, what is meant to be said is: The whole system of the universe which is functioning in the service of Allah, and all those manifestations of this universe which bring the evil consequences of deviation from the service of Allah before men, testify that the “Deity” of men is One and only One.”

The word “Ilah” applies to two meanings. (1) The Deity who is actually being served and worshiped, (2) The Deity who, in reality, is worthy of being served and worshiped.

Here, the word “Ilah” has been used in the second meaning, for, as far as the first meaning is concerned, men have adopted many other deities. That is why we have translated Ilah as the Real Deity.
رَبُّ السَّمٰوٰتِ وَالۡاَرۡضِ وَمَا بَيۡنَهُمَا وَرَبُّ الۡمَشَارِقِ ؕ‏ 
5. Lord of the heavens and of the earth and all between them, and Lord of every point at the rising of the sun!
The truth that has been conveyed in these verses is: The Master and Ruler of the Universe is the Real Deity of men. He alone can be, and should be the Deity. It would be utterly irrational that the Rabb (i.e. Master, Ruler, Guardian and Sustainer) of the man should be one but his Ilah (Deity) another. The basic reason for worship is that man should naturally bow down before and acknowledge the superiority of him who can bring him harm and good, who can fulfill his needs and requirements, who can make or mar his destiny and has power over his life and survival itself. If man understands this, he will automatically understand that to worship the one who has no power and not to worship Him Who has All the powers are both against reason and nature. The One who alone is worthy of worship is He who possesses the powers. As far as the powerless beings are concerned, they are not worthy of worship, for it is not in their power to take any action whatsoever on man’s petitions and prayers. To bow before them humbly and to petition them would be as foolish and meaningless an act as to bow before and petition another one who has himself gone before a ruler to make obeisance and submit his petitions.

The sun does not always rise at the same point but at a different point every day. Moreover, it does not rise at one and the same time for the whole world but rises at different times for the different parts of the earth. That is why the plural “mashariq” (Easts) has been used to indicate the different points at which the sun rises according to the season of the year. The corresponding word “magharib” (Wests) has not been used because Mashariq itself points to Magharib.

فَلَآ أُقْسِمُ بِرَبِّ ٱلْمَشَٰرِقِ وَٱلْمَغَٰرِبِ إِنَّا لَقَٰدِرُونَ 

However, in Surah Al-Maarij (verse 40 given above), the word magharib has also been used along with mashariq: "I swear by the Lord of the easts and the wests (Rabb-almashariqi wal-magharib) that We have the power ." 

اِنَّا زَيَّنَّا السَّمَآءَ الدُّنۡيَا بِزِيۡنَةِ اۨلۡكَوَاكِبِۙ‏ 
6. We have indeed decked the lower heaven with beauty (in) the stars,
“Lower heaven”: The nearest heaven which can be seen with the naked eye, without the help of a telescope. The worlds beyond which can be seen through the telescopes of different powers, and the worlds which have not so far been observed through any means, are the distant heavens. In this connection, one should also note that “sama” is not something definite and determined, but man generally has been using this word and its other synonyms for the heavens since the earliest times.
7. and have protected it from every rebellious satan.
That is, heaven is not merely empty space so that anyone who likes may enter it, but it has been fortified strongly, and its different regions have been bounded by such strong barriers that it is impossible for any rebel satan to exceed them.
8. These (satans) cannot listen to what transpires in the High Council for they are pelted away from every side, 9. Repulsed, for they are under a perpetual penalty,
10. Except such as snatch away something by stealth, and they are pursued by a flaming fire, of piercing brightness.
To understand this one should keep in view the fact that, in the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him), soothsaying was in great vogue in Arabia. The soothsayers used to make predictions and claimed that they had some jinns and satans under their control who brought them all sorts of news. In this environment when the Prophet (peace be upon him) was appointed to Prophethood, and he began to recite the verses of the Quran, which described the past history and contained news of the future, and also stated that an angel brought him these verses, his opponents immediately branded him a soothsayer and started telling others that, like the other soothsayers, he too was associated with a satan, who brought him news from the heavens, which he presented as revelations from Allah. To refute this accusation, Allah says: The satans have no access to heaven. They have no power to hear the conversations of the angels and bring its news for others. If by chance a little of it enters the ear of a satan, and he tries to bring it down, he is followed by a flashing flame. In other words, it means: The grand system of the universe, which is functioning under the agency of the angels has been firmly guarded and secured against any interference of the satans. Not to speak of interfering in it, they do not even have the power to obtain any kind of information about it. (For further explanation, see (Surah Al-Hijr, Ayats 17-18 )
11. Just ask their opinion: are they the more difficult to create, or the (other) beings We have created? Them have We created out of a sticky clay!
Verse 11 is an answer to the suspicions of the disbelievers of Makkah about the Hereafter. They thought that the Hereafter was not possible, for it is impossible that the dead men should be recreated. In answer to it, Allah presents arguments for the possibility of the Hereafter and asks: If you think that the recreation of the dead men is a very difficult task which We do not have the power to accomplish, do you think it is easy to create the earth and the heavens and the countless things that they contain? Do you think that Allah for Whom it was not at all difficult to create this great universe and Who has created you in the first instance, will not have the power to create you once again?

The man has been created from clay, and can again be created from the same clay. “Created them from sticky clay” means that the first man was created directly from the clay and then his race was perpetuated by means of the sperm drop. It also means that every man has been created from the sticky clay, for the whole substance of man’s body is obtained from the earth. The sperm drop of which he is created is a product of the food, and all the substances which make up his physical being, from the time he is conceived till his death, are also supplied by the food. The source of the food, whether animal flesh or vegetable, is ultimately the same earth which, in combination with water produces corn and vegetables and fruit to become food for man, and nourish the animals, which supply milk and flesh for the use of man.

Thus, the basis of the argument is: Man could not be living today if the earth and clay had not become the source of life for him. And if it is possible today to create life in it, as your own existence is a clear and definite pointer to this possibility, why should it be impossible to bring about your re-creation from the same earth tomorrow.

Verses 12-21 explain that life in the Hereafter and the Day of Judgement are real
12. Truly dost thou marvel, while they ridicule, 13. And, when they are admonished, pay no heed, 14. And, when they see a Sign, turn it to mockery, 15. And say, "This is nothing but evident sorcery! 16. "What! when we die, and become dust and bones, shall we (then) be raised up (again) 17. "And also our fathers of old?"
18. Tell them: “Yes; and you are utterly helpless (against Allah).
That is, Allah can make of you whatever He likes. When He willed, you came into being forthwith; when He wills, you will die at one command by Him; and then whenever He wills, His one command will raise you back to life.
19. There will be a single stern rebuff and lo, they will be observing with their own eyes (all that they had been warned against).
That is, when the time comes for this, it will not be difficult to reestablish the whole world. Just a single shout will be enough to make the people to wake up. Here, the word “shout” is very meaningful. It depicts the Resurrection as though the people who had died since the beginning of the creation till the last Day were lying asleep, and a sudden command to them to wake up will cause them to rise up all at once.
20. They will say, "Ah! Woe to us! This is the Day of Judgment!" 21. (A voice will say,) "This is the Day of Sorting Out, whose truth ye (once) denied!"
22-39 A scene from the Day of Judgement and a treatment for the wrongdoers and A dialogue between the followers and the leaders who mislead them

اُحۡشُرُوا الَّذِيۡنَ ظَلَمُوۡا وَاَزۡوَاجَهُمۡ وَمَا كَانُوۡا يَعۡبُدُوۡنَۙ‏   
22. "Bring ye up", it shall be said, "The wrong-doers and their wives, and the things they worshipped
“The unjust people” does not only imply those who committed injustices in the world, but as a Quranic term zalamo implies to every such person, who might have adopted the way of rebellion and disobedience against Allah.

The word “azwaja hum” in the original text might also imply their wives, who were their associates in this rebellion, and also all those people who were rebellious and disobedient like them. Moreover it may also mean that the culprits of different categories will be gathered together in separate groups.
23. apart from Allah, and direct them to the path of Hell
“gods” here implies two kinds of the gods:  (1) Those men and satans who themselves desired that the people should worship them instead of Allah. (2) Those idols and trees and stones, etc., which have actually been worshiped in the world.

The first kind of the gods will be included among the culprits themselves and will be led to Hell for punishment. The other kind of them will be thrown into Hell along with their worshipers so that they constantly feel ashamed of and continue to regret their follies. Besides, there is also a third kind of the gods, who have been worshiped in the world, but without their own consent and knowledge. They rather forbade the people to worship anyone but Allah, e.g. the angels, prophets and saints. Obviously, this kind of the gods will not be included among the gods who will be driven to Hell along with their worshipers.
24. and detain them there; they will be called to account.  25. "'What is the matter with you that ye help not each other?'"
26. Indeed, today they are surrendering themselves completely.;
Please read the tafseer of this verse again and again and correlate it with your surroundings and demagogues around and just wonder how they will be met with a fate they would have never dreamed of:

This verse tells of the general conditions at the time. It tells how the haughty and stubborn culprits of the world will be moving towards Hell meekly and without showing any resistance. Somewhere some kind will be seen being pushed about, and no one from among his courtiers will come forward to rescue “his majesty”. Somewhere some conqueror of the world and some dictator will be moving away in humiliation and disgrace, and his brave army itself will deliver him for the punishment. Somewhere some saint or some holy father will be seen being thrown into Hell, and no one of his disciples will bother to save him from disgrace. Somewhere some leader will be trudging helplessly towards Hell, and those who used to glorify and applaud him in the world will turn away their eyes from him. So much so that the one who was ever prepared to sacrifice everything for the beloved in the world, will feel least concerned to save him from his plight. By depicting this scene Allah wants to impress how the relationships of man with man, which are based on rebellion against Allah in the world, will break in the Hereafter, and how the pride of those who are involved in arrogance and conceit here will be ruined.
27. And they will turn to one another, and question one another.
قَالُوۡۤا اِنَّكُمۡ كُنۡتُمۡ تَاۡتُوۡنَنَا عَنِ الۡيَمِيۡنِ‏  
28. They will say: "It was ye who used to come to us from the right hand (of power and authority)!"
The word yameen in Arabic is used for several meanings. It may mean use of the force, or well-wishing, or swearing of an oath. Accordingly, the verse would mean: (1) You compelled us into following error and deviation. (2) You deceived us by posing as our well-wishers. (3) You swore oaths to satisfy us that what you were presenting was the very truth.
29. They will reply: "Nay, ye yourselves had no Faith! 30. "Nor had we any authority over you. Nay, it was ye who were a people in obstinate rebellion! 31. "So now has been proved true, against us, the word of our Lord that we shall indeed (have to) taste (the punishment of our sins). 32. "We led you astray: for truly we were ourselves astray." 
33. On that Day, they will all share the chastisement
 That is, the followers as well as the guides, misleaders as well as the misled, all shall suffer the same torment. Neither will the followers’ excuse be heeded that they did not go astray but had been led astray, nor the guides’ excuse accepted that the people themselves were not desirous of following the right way.
34. Verily that is how We shall deal with Sinners. 35. For they, when they were told that there is no god except Allah, would puff themselves up with Pride, 36. And say: "What! shall we give up our gods for the sake of a Poet possessed?"
37. (They say so although) he brought the Truth and confirmed the veracity of the Messengers.
Confirmation of the Messengers has three meanings and all the three are implied here: (1) That he had not opposed any former Messenger so that the believers of that Messenger could have a rational ground of prejudice against him; he had rather confirmed all the former Messengers sent by Allah, (2) That he had not brought any new or novel thing, but he had presented the same that the former Messengers of Allah had been presenting from the very beginning, and (3) That he truly fulfilled and corresponded to the predictions that the former Messengers had made concerning him.
38. Ye shall indeed taste of the Grievous Penalty;  39. But it will be no more than the retribution of (the Evil) that ye have wrought; 
Verses 40-61 paint scenes of Paradise and And example of conversation from a resident of Paradise:
40. But the sincere (and devoted) Servants of Allah,-
41. For them awaits a known provision,
“A provision determined”: A provision all of whose characteristics have been made known to them, which they are sure to receive, about which they have also the full satisfaction that they will continue to receive it forever, and about which there is no apprehension that they may or may not get it at some time.
42. Fruits (Delights); and they (shall enjoy) honour and dignity,   43. In Gardens of Felicity,  44. Facing each other on Thrones (of Dignity):
يُطَافُ عَلَيۡهِمۡ بِكَاۡسٍ مِّنۡ مَّعِيۡنٍۢ ۙ‏  
45. Round will be passed to them a Cup from a clear-flowing fountain,
Here it has not been mentioned as to who will take these cups of wine round to the dwellers of Paradise. This has been stated at other places. And there will go round to them young boys, exclusively appointed for their service, who will be as lovely as well-guarded pearls. (Surah At- Toor, Ayat 24). They will be attended by brisk-moving boys who will forever remain boys. If you saw them, you would think they were pearls, scattered. (Surah Ad-Dahr, Ayat 19).

Here the word kaas (cup) only has been used and there is no mention of the wine. But in Arabic the use of kass always implies wine. The cup which contains milk or water, instead of wine, or is empty, is not called kaas. The word kaas is used for a cup only when it contains wine.

That is, it will not be the kind of wine that is extracted from rotten fruit and corn in the world, but it will flow naturally from fountains like canals. In Surah Muhammad, the same thing has been described more clearly, thus: And canals will be flowing in it of wine which will be delightful for the drinkers. (verse 15).
46. Crystal-white, of a taste delicious to those who drink (thereof),
47. Free from headiness; nor will they suffer intoxication therefrom.
That is, the wine of Paradise will be free from both the evils which are found in the wine of the world. The wine of the world, first of all, afflicts man with its stink; then it embitters his taste, upsets his stomach, affects his mind and causes illusion; then it affects the liver and spoils the health generally. Then, when the intoxication is gone, it leaves behind other ill-effects on the body. Its other evil is that man gets drunk with it, talks nonsense and brawls. This is how the wine affects man’s mind and reason. Man suffers both these evil effects of the wine only for the sake of delight and pleasure. Allah says that the wine of Paradise will certainly afford and give full pleasure and delight, but it will be free from the kinds of the evils that go with the worldly wine.
48. And besides them will be chaste women, restraining their glances, with big eyes (of wonder and beauty). 49. As if they were (delicate) eggs closely guarded. 50. Then they will turn to one another and question one another. 51. One of them will start the talk and say: "I had an intimate companion (on the earth), 52. "Who used to say, 'what! art thou amongst those who bear witness to the Truth (of the Message)? 53. "'When we die and become dust and bones, shall we indeed receive rewards and punishments?'" 54. (A voice) said: "Would ye like to look down?" 55. He looked down and saw him in the midst of the Fire. 56. He said: "By Allah. thou wast little short of bringing me to perdition!
57. "Had it not been for the Grace of my Lord, I should certainly have been among those brought (there)!
This shows how powerful will be man’s hearing, seeing and speaking powers in the Hereafter. Sitting in Paradise he bends his head a little and is able to see a person, who is undergoing torment thousands of miles away in Hell, without the agency of a television set. Then, they not only just see each other, but also commune with each other directly without the medium of the telephone or radio and they speak and hear each other over vast distances.
58. "Is it (the case) that we shall not die,
59. "Except our first death, and that we shall not be punished?"
The style clearly shows that while speaking to his friend in Hell, the dweller of Paradise suddenly starts talking to himself. He speaks these three sentences in a way as if he found himself in a state much better than that he ever expected and imagined for himself, and now being beside himself with wonder and joy he is engaged in a sort of soliloquy. In such a state the speaker does not speak to an addressee, nor the questions he asks are meant to find out something from somebody, but in this state the man’s own feelings find expression through his tongue. The dweller of Paradise, while speaking to the dweller of Hell, suddenly starts feeling how he has been favored by good fortune: now there is neither death nor any torment: all troubles and distresses have come to an end and he has been blessed with immortality. Under this very feeling he exclaims: Well are we not to die any other than our first death? Are we not to be punished?
60. Verily this is the supreme achievement!
61. For the like of this let all strive, who wish to strive.
Verses 62-74 paints scenes of Hell:
62. Is that the better entertainment or the Tree of Zaqqum?
Zaqqum is a tree of the cactus species found in Tihamah. It is bitter in taste, obnoxious in smell and sheds a milk like juice when cut or broken.
63. For We have truly made it (as) a trial for the wrong-doers.
That is, on hearing this, the disbelievers get a new opportunity to taunt the Quran and mock the Prophet (peace be upon him). They ridicule it saying: Listen another strange thing: A tree will grow in the blazing fire of Hell.
64. For it is a tree that springs out of the bottom of Hell-Fire:
65. The shoots of its fruit-stalks are like the heads of devils:
Nobody should have the misunderstanding that since no one has seen the head of Satan, it was no use likening the buds of zaqqum to it. This is, in fact, an imaginative kind of the simile, and is employed in the literature of every language. For example, in order to give an idea of the rare beauty of a woman, it is said she is a fairy, and in order to describe her ugliness, it is said that she is a hag or a demon. Likewise, a pious-looking person is described as an angel and a dreadful-looking person as a devil.
66. Truly they will eat thereof and fill their bellies therewith.
67. Then on top of that they will be given a mixture made of boiling water.
68. Then shall their return be to the (Blazing) Fire.
This shows that when the dwellers of Hell will be in distress due to hunger and thirst, they will be driven to the side where there would be the zaqqum trees and the springs of boiling water. When they will have eaten and drunk, they will be brought back to Hell.
69. Truly they found their fathers on the wrong Path;
70. So they (too) were rushed down on their footsteps!
71. And truly before them, many of the ancients went astray;-
72. But We sent aforetime, among them, (apostles) to admonish them;-
73. Then see what was the end of those who were admonished (but heeded not),-
74. Except the sincere (and devoted) Servants of Allah.
That is, they never used their own common sense to see whether the way their forefathers had been following was right or wrong; they just blindly adopted the way that they found others following.

Here we come to the end of first part of the exegesis / tafseer of Sūrah Aṣ-Ṣāffāt  (verse4s 1-74, rukus 1-2). The second part will encompass details of rukus 3-4 (verses 75-138).

You may now like to listen to Arabic recitation of Sūrah Aṣ-Ṣāffāt  with English subtitles:

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

Photo | References: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 45 |
Reading the Holy Quran should be a daily obligation of a Muslim - Reading it with translation will make it meaningful. But reading its Exegesis / Tafsir will make you understand it fully.

An effort has been made to gather explanation / exegesis of the surahs of the Holy Qur'an from authentic sources and then present a least possible condensed explanation of the surah. However, the exegesis of the chapters of the Holy Quran are basically based on the "Tafhim al-Qur'an - The Meaning of the Qur'an" by one of the most enlightened scholars of the Muslim World Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi. In addition the references of  other sources which have been explored have also been given above. Those desirous of detailed explanations and tafsir (exegesis), may refer to these sites. 

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