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Tuesday 21 May 2019

Surah As Saffat - Those Who Set the Ranks: Overview of 37th chapter (sūrah) of the Holy Quran

Surah Aṣ-Ṣāffāt is the 37th chapter (sūrah) of the Qur'an with 182 verses (āyāt) and five rukhu, part of the 23rd Juz'. In chronology, this Surah belongs to the early middle Makkan period.

Surah Aṣ-Ṣāffāt is the fourth Surah which is part of a series of six Surahs commencing from Surah Saba xxxiv. to Surah xxxix (Surah Az Zumar). These Surahs  recapitulate some of the features of the spiritual world.  Surah xxxiv leads off with emphasis on Allah's Mercy and Power and Truth. Then in Surah. xxxv (Surah Fatir) we are told how angels manifest the Power of Allah, and how different is Good from Evil and Truth from Falsehood. Surah xxxvi (Surah Ya Seen) is devoted to the holy Prophet and the Quran that came through him. In Surah xxxvii (this surah), the emphasis is on the snares of Satan, in Surah xxxviii (Surah Saad) on the conquest of evil by wisdom and power as in the case of David and Solomon, and by Patience and Constancy as in the case of Job; and in Surah xxix (Surah Az Zumar) on the Final Judgment, which will sort out Faith from Unfaithful and give to each its due.

In this surah, the defeat of evil is emphasised with Resurrection and the ranged flight is illustrated by a reference to the angels in heavens and to the earlier Prophets., from Nuh to Younis (Noah and Jonah, peace be upon them).

Surah As Saffat is a lengthy surah with 182 verses. Therefore its exegesis / tafseer will be presented in three parts other than this overview for better understanding. These three parts are:
  • Part - I: Rukhu 1-2 (verses 1-74)
  • Part - II Rukhu 3-4 (Verses 75-138)
  • Part - III Rukhu 5 (Verses 139-182)
Part - I (Verses 1-74)
In the first two rukhus, emphasis is laid on the oneness of Allah, the details of the disbelievers and the concept of Heaven and Hell. In that:
Verses 1 – 10 Oneness of Allah. In the introductory 10 verses, Three groups are mentioned in the form of an oath confirming God’s Oneness.  The first are angels standing in rows, the second are the angels that reprimand and thirdly those angels that recite God’s words.  God then mentions something about Himself that attests to His Oneness that He is the Lord of the heavens and the earth, and all that is in-between including every point from which the sun rises.  God has fortified the sky closest to the earth with celestial bodies that guard against the devils who try to eavesdrop on the conversations of the angels.  They are attacked from all sides with flaming meteors.
Verses 11 – 39: Talking of the disbelievers,  the Prophet of allah is instructed to question the disbelievers of Mecca about whether they considered their own creation to be more difficult or the creation of the heavens, earth and all creation in the universe.  The Prophet marvels that humankind was made from clay but the disbelievers mock and call him a sorcerer, once again denying the Resurrection.  It is an undeniable fact that after just one shout they will be resurrected on the Day of Judgment.
The angels are ordered to gather the disbelievers and wrongdoers together and drive them towards Hell.  Along the way they will be questioned about why they did not help each other towards the truth.  The disbelievers will accuse their deities who are also being ushered along but they will deny any power over the disbelievers.  It does not matter because on this day they will be partners in the punishment meted out.  They denied God and the message and will get what they deserve.
Verses 40 – 74: The last portion of the second ruku explains who will bag the Paradise or rot in Hell. The happiness and bliss that God’s true servants will experience in the gardens of delight is described, including flowing rivers of wine and beautiful companions.  The inhabitants of Paradise will converse with each other.  One person will ask about a friend who did not believe and will be able to see him in the midst of the Fire.  Then they will realize how blessed they are for they have achieved the supreme triumph.   This should be everyone’s goal.
To contrast the difference between Paradise and Hell, God asks what is better this (the Gardens of Delight) or the Zaqqum tree? This tree growing devils’ heads in the midst of the Fire will be the food of those in Hell together with scalding water to drink.  The disbelievers made fun of a tree growing in a fire but it will become their reality because they followed their forefathers into disbelief even though they were warned.  Listen to what happened to those before you.
Part - II (Verses 75-138)
The 3rd and fourth rukus paint a flashback from the past and mention a few prominent earlier Prophets. 

The most instructive of the historical narratives presented in this Surah is the important event of the pious life of the Prophet Abraham, who became ready to sacrifice his only son as soon as he received an inspiration from Allah. In this there was a lesson not only for the disbelieving Quraish, who waxed proud of their blood relationship with him, but also for the Muslims who had believed in Allah and His Messenger. By narrating this event they were told what is the essence and the real spirit of Islam, and how a true believer should be ready to sacrifice his all for the pleasure and approval of Allah after he has adopted it as his Faith and Creed.

Continuing with the mention of Prophets:
Prophet Noah is given as an example of how well Allah rewards the righteous.  Noah was a believer and Allah saved him and his people from great distress.  The non-believers were warned but they made the wrong choice, then they were drowned.  Prophet Abraham was also a man of faith, devoted to Allah.  He asked his father and his people why they worshipped false gods.  When his people were going for the festival, Abraham said he felt ill and stayed behind.  He went to their temple and asked the carved gods questions, why do you not eat why do you not speak.  They did not reply so he pushed them over.  Abraham’s people were angry and intended to burn him in fire but Allah had a different plan and kept him safe.
Prophet Abraham left trusting Allah to guide him to a better place.  He asked for more, a righteous son which Allah provided.  When the boy (Ishmael) was old enough to work with his father, Abraham had a troubling dream in which he was called upon to sacrifice Ishmael.  He told Ishmael and they both were willing to submit to Allah’s will.  Abraham put Ishmael upon the stone but Allah called out for him to stop.  It was a test and Abraham passed it due to his complete submission to Allah’s command.  Abraham is remembered by the following generations as a righteous man.  He was given news of another righteous son called Isaac.  Among their descendants were the righteous but also those who wronged themselves.
Allah also favoured and supported Prophet Moses and his brother Aaron.  They too were delivered from distress and guided on the straight path.  Allah gave them the Torah.  Prophet Elias was one of those devoted to Allah.  He questioned his people about the false god Ba’l but they ignored him and faced the consequences.  Lot was another Prophet who was delivered from harm along with his whole family, except his wife; she was left to face the punishment with the wrongdoers.  Their city is a constant reminder but many people do not take heed. 
The last Prophet mentioned is Prophet Jonah, who fled from his disbelieving people to an overloaded ship where they drew lots in order to stay on board. Being swallowed by a whale was his just punishment but he was delivered from harm because he had been one of Allah’s devoted believers.  He was cast ashore and Allah protected him from the elements and a serious illness.  Allah then provided him with a large nation who believed in him and they were permitted to live out their lives.
Part - III (Verses 139-182)
The last ruku of the surah dispel any notions about the superstitions of the pagans of Makkah, who claimed that the angels were the daughters of Allah.  Allah refutes this superstition.  Next they claim that Allah is kin to the jinn.  How could this be possible when the jinn themselves have to appear before Allah and account for their deeds?  Allah is far above these superstitions and only those destined for the Hellfire would believe such things.

The angels are ranged in ranks and glorify Allah.  Previously the disbelievers asked for a Messenger and said they would follow the guidance, yet when the best Messenger and the best revelation are sent to them they resort to disbelief.  But they will come to know and understand.  Allah assures Prophet Muhammad that he will see their downfall as sure as they will see his victory.  Allah is far above what they attribute to Him.  The chapter closes with a blessing on Allah’s Messengers and declares that all praise is for Allah.

The last verses of the Surah are not only a warning for the disbelievers but also a good news for the believers who were passing through highly unfavorable and discouraging conditions on account of their supporting and following the Holy Prophet. In these verses they were given the good news that they should not be disheartened at the hardships and difficulties they had to encounter in the beginning, for in the end they alone would attain dominance, and the standard bearers of falsehood, who appeared to be dominant at the time would be overwhelmed and vanquished at their hands. A few years later the turn the events took, proved that it was not an empty consolation but an inevitable reality of which they had been foretold in order to strengthen their hearts.

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 | 4 |
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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