Surah Ghashiyah (Arabic: الغاشية) is the 88th Surah of the Qur’an. It is a Meccan Surah meaning it’s revelation was before Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) and his followers migrated to Medinah. The English meaning is “The Overwhelming” or “The Pall” it composed of 26 ayat (verses).
It was narrated that Ubaidullah bin Abdullah said: “Dahhak bin Qais wrote to Nu’man bin Bashir, saying: ‘Tell us what the Messenger of Allah (saws) used to recite on Friday along with Surah Al-Jumu’ah.’ He said: ‘He used to recite: “Has there come to you the narration of the overwhelming (i.e., the Day of Resurrection)?’” Sahih (Darussalam) Hadith Sunan Ibn Majah Vol. 1, Book 5, Hadith 1119
The main theme or subject of this Surah can be divided into 3 topics. The first being resurrection and contrasting between the good and evil. Allah describes in details what it would like to be in Jahanam and compares this to those who would be in heaven. The second theme, is about Allah’s oneness with reference to his beautiful creations of the sky, earth and mountains. The last subject is prophecy and the duties the prophets, Allah mentions that he is not a controller but a reminder for non-believers.
One of the goals of the My Islam site is to make it easy to read and understand the Qur’an. Below you can read the Surah Ghashiyah, below every ayah is transliteration and Sahih International English translation. At the end Surah we’ve also included four different tafseer.
Surah Al-Ghashiyah Translation, Arabic and Transliteration
Bismillah Hir Rahman Nir Raheem
In the name of Allah, The Most Gracious and The Most Merciful
Hal ataaka hadeesul ghaashiyah
1. Has there reached you the report of the Overwhelming [event]?
Wujoohuny yawma ‘izin khaashi’ah
2. [Some] faces, that Day, will be humbled,
3. Working [hard] and exhausted.
Tasla naran hamiya
4. They will [enter to] burn in an intensely hot Fire.
Tusqaa min ‘aynin aaniyah
5. They will be given drink from a boiling spring.
Laisa lahum ta’aamun illaa min daree’
6. For them there will be no food except from a poisonous, thorny plant
Laa yusminu wa laa yughnee min joo’
7. Which neither nourishes nor avails against hunger.
Wujoohuny yawma ‘izin naa’imah
8. [Other] faces, that Day, will show pleasure.
9. With their effort [they are] satisfied
Fee jannatin ‘aaliyah
10. In an elevated garden,
Laa tasma’u feehaa laaghiyah
11. In an elevated garden,
Feehaa ‘aynun jaariyah
12. Within it is a flowing spring.
Feehaa sururum marfoo’ah
13. Within it are couches raised high
Wa akwaabum mawzoo’ah
14. And cups put in place
Wa namaariqu masfoofah
15. And cushions lined up
Wa zaraabiyyu mabsoosaha
16. And carpets spread around.
Afalaa yanzuroona ilalibili kaifa khuliqat
17. Then do they not look at the camels – how they are created?
Wa ilas samaaa’i kaifa rufi’at
18. And at the sky – how it is raised?
Wa ilal jibaali kaifa nusibat
19. And at the mountains – how they are erected?
Wa ilal ardi kaifa sutihat
20. And at the earth – how it is spread out?
Fazakkir innama anta Muzakkir
21. So remind, [O Muhammad]; you are only a reminder.
Lasta ‘alaihim bimusaitir
22. You are not over them a controller.
Illaa man tawallaa wa kafar
23. However, he who turns away and disbelieves –
Fa yu’azzibuhul laahul ‘azaabal akbar
24. Then Allah will punish him with the greatest punishment.
Innaa ilainaaa iyaabahum
25. Indeed, to Us is their return.
Summa inna ‘alainaa hisaabahum
26. Then indeed, upon Us is their account.
Tafsir of Surah Ghashiyah
It’s one thing to read the Qur’an in Arabic, it’s a different experience to make it a study. We provided four different tafseers of Surah Al Ghashiyah for those looking to learn the significance, benefits, historical context, purpose of revelation, or the connection this Surah has to others. By reading the works of different Qur’an commentators you can gain understanding and find a deeper appreciation for this Surah.
Surah Ghashiyah Tafsir by Ibn Kathir
It has already been mentioned on the authority of An-Nu`man bin Bashir that the Messenger of Allah used to recite Surat Al-A`la (87) and Al-Ghashiyah in the `Id and Friday prayers. Imam Malik recorded that Ad-Dahhak bin Qays asked An-Nu`man bin Bashir, “What else did the Messenger of Allah recite on Friday along with Surat Al-Jumu`ah” An-Nu`man replied, “Al-Ghashiyah (88).” This narration has been recorded by Abu Dawud, An-Nasa’i, Muslim and Ibn Majah.
In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
This was said by Ibn `Abbas, Qatadah and Ibn Zayd. It has been called this because it will overwhelm the people and overcome them. Allah then says,
(Some faces that Day will be Khashi`ah.) meaning, humiliated. This was said by Qatadah. Ibn `Abbas said, “They will be humble but this action will be of no benefit to them.” Then Allah says,
(Laboring, weary.) meaning, they did many deeds and became weary in their performance, yet they will be cast into a blazing Fire on the Day of Judgement. Al-Hafiz Abu Bakr Al-Burqani narrated from Abu `Imran Al-Jawni that he said, ” `Umar bin Al-Khattab passed by the monastery of a monk and he said: `O monk!’ Then the monk came out, and `Umar looked at him and began to weep. Then it was said to him: `O Commander of the faithful! Why are you weeping’ He replied: `I remembered the statement of Allah, the Mighty and Majestic, in His Book,
(Laboring, weary. They will enter into Fire, Hamiyah.) So that is what has made me cry. ”’ Al-Bukhari recorded that Ibn `Abbas said,
(Laboring, weary.) “The Christians.” It is narrated that `Ikrimah and As-Suddi both said, “Laboring in the worldly life with disobedience, and weariness in the Fire from torment and perdition.” Ibn `Abbas, Al-Hasan, and Qatadah all said,
(They will enter into Fire, Hamiyah) meaning, hot with intense heat.
(They will be given to drink from a boiling (Aniyah) spring.) meaning, its heat has reached its maximum limit and boiling point. This was said by Ibn `Abbas, Mujahid, Al-Hasan and As-Suddi. Concerning Allah’s statement,
(No food will there be for them but from Dari`,) `Ali bin Abi Talhah reported from Ibn `Abbas that he said, “A tree from the Hellfire.” Ibn `Abbas, Mujahid, `Ikrimah, Abu Al-Jawza’ and Qatadah, all said, “It is Ash-Shibriq (a type of plant).” Qatadah said, “The Quraysh called it Ash-Shabraq in the spring and Ad-Dari` in the summer.” `Ikrimah said, “It is a thorny tree which reaches down to the ground.” Al-Bukhari related that Mujahid said, “Ad-Dari` is a plant that is called Ash-Shibriq. The people of the Hijaz call it Ad-Dari` when it dries, and it is poisonous.” Ma`mar narrated that Qatadah said,
(No food will there be for them but from Dari`,) “This is Ash-Shibriq. When it dries it is called Ad-Dari`.” Sa`id narrated from Qatadah that he said,
(No food will there be for them but Dari`,) “This is of the worst, most disgusting and loathsome of foods.” Concerning Allah’s statement,
(Which will neither nourish nor avail against hunger.) This means that the intent in eating it will not be achieved, and nothing harmful will be repelled by it.
After mentioning the situation of the wretched people, Allah changes the discussion to mention those who will be happy. He says,
(Faces that Day.) meaning, on the Day of Judgement.
(will be joyful,) meaning, pleasure will be noticeable in them (those faces). This will only occur due to their striving. Sufyan said,
(Glad with their endeavor.) “They will be pleased with their deeds.” Then Allah says,
(In a lofty Paradise.) meaning, elevated and brilliant, secure in their dwellings.
(Where they shall neither hear harmful speech nor falsehood.) meaning, they will not hear in the Paradise that they will be in, any foolish word. This is as Allah says,
(They shall not hear therein any Laghw, but only Salam.) (19:62) Allah also says,
(Free from any Laghw, and free from sin.) (52:23) and He says,
(No Laghw will they hear therein, nor any sinful speech. But only the saying of: “Salam! Salam!” ) (56:25-26) Then Allah continues,
(Therein will be a running spring.) meaning, flowing freely. This is mentioned with the intent of emphasizing affirmation. It is not intended to mean that there is only one spring. So here it refers to springs collectively. Thus, the meaning is that in it (Paradise) are flowing springs. Ibn Abi Hatim recorded from Abu Hurayrah that the Messenger of Allah said,
(The rivers of Paradise spring forth from beneath hills — or mountains — of musk.)
(Therein will be thrones raised high.) meaning, lofty, delightful, numerous couches, with elevated ceilings. Upon which will be seated wide-eyed, beautiful maidens. They have mentioned that whenever the friend of Allah wishes to sit on these lofty thrones, they (the thrones) will lower themselves for him.
(And cups set at hand.) meaning, drinking containers that are prepared and presented for whoever among their masters (i.e., the people of Paradise) wants them.
(And Namariq set in rows.) Ibn `Abbas said, “An-Namariq are pillows.” This was also said by `Ikrimah, Qatadah, Ad-Dahhak, As-Suddi, Ath-Thawri and others. Concerning Allah’s statement,
(And Zarabi, spread out (Mabthuthah).) Ibn `Abbas said, “Az-Zarabi are carpets.” This was also said by Ad-Dahhak and others. Here the word Mabthuthah means placed here and there for whoever would like to sit upon them.
Allah commands His servants to look at His creations that prove His power and greatness. He says,
(Do they not look at the camels, how they are created) Indeed it is an amazing creation, and the way it has been fashioned is strange. For it is extremely powerful and strong, yet gentle, carrying heavy loads. It allows itself to be guided by a weak rider. It is eaten, benefit is derived from its hair, and its milk is drunk. They are reminded of this because the most common domestic animal of the Arabs was the camel. Shurayh Al-Qadi used to say, “Come out with us so that we may look at the camels and how they were created, and at the sky and how it has been raised.” Meaning, how Allah raised it in such magnificence above the ground. This is as Allah says,
(Have they not looked at the heaven above them, how we have made it and adorned it and there are no rifts on it) (50:6) Then Allah says,
(And at the mountains, how they are rooted) meaning, how they have been erected. For indeed they are firmly affixed so that the earth does not sway with its dwellers. And He made them with the benefits and minerals they contain.
(And at the earth, how it is outspread) meaning, how it has been spread out, extended and made smooth. Thus, He directs the bedouin to consider what he himself witnesses. His camel that he rides upon, the sky that is above his head, the mountain that faces him, and the earth that is under him, all of this is proof of the power of the Creator and Maker of these things. These things should lead him to see that He is the Lord, the Most Great, the Creator, the Owner, and the Controller of everything. Therefore, He is the God other than Whom none deserves to be worshipped.
These are the things Dimam swore by after questioning the Messenger of Allah . This can be seen in what Imam Ahmad recorded from Thabit, who reported that Anas said, “We were prohibited from asking the Messenger of Allah anything. Thus, it used to amaze us when an intelligent man from the people of the desert (bedouin Arabs) would come and ask him about something while we were listening. So a man from the people of the desert came and said, `O Muhammad! Verily, your messenger has come to us and he claims that you claim that Allah sent you.’ He (the Prophet) said,
(He told the truth.) The man said, Who created the heaven؟ He (the Prophet ) replied,
,(Alla0h.) The man said, Who created the earth؟ He (the Prophet ) replied,
,(Alla0h). The man said, `Who erected these mountains and placed in them whatever is in them’ He (the Prophet ) replied, ا,(Allah). Then the man said, `By the One Who created the heaven, the earth, and erected these mountains, did Allah send you’ He (the Prophet ) said,
(Yes.) The man then said, `Your messenger claims that we are obligated to pray five prayers during our day and night.’ He (the Prophet ) said,
(He told the truth.) The man then said, `By He Who has sent you, did Allah command you with this’ He (the Prophet ) replied,
(Yes.) The man then said, `Your messenger also claims that we are obligated to give charity from our wealth.’ He (the Prophet ) said,
(He told the truth.) Then the man said, `By He Who has sent you, did Allah command you with this’ He (the Prophet ) replied,
(Yes.) The man then said, `Your messenger claims that we are obligated to perform pilgrimage (Hajj) to the House (the Ka`bah), for whoever is able to find a way there.’ He (the Prophet ) said,
(He told the truth.) Then the man turned away to leave while saying, `By He Who has sent you with the truth, I will not add anything to these things and I will not decrease anything from them.’ The Prophet then said,
(If he has spoken truthfully, he will certainly enter Paradise.) This Hadith was recorded by Al-Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud, At-Tirmidhi, An-Nasa’i and Ibn Majah.
(So remind them — you are only one who reminds. You are not a Musaytir over them) meaning, “O Muhammad! Remind the people with what you have been sent with to them.”
(your duty is only to convey (the Message) and on Us is the reckoning.) (13:40) Then Allah says,
(You are not a Musaytir over them.) Ibn `Abbas, Mujahid and others said, “You are not a dictator over them.” This means that you cannot create faith in their hearts. Ibn Zayd said, “You are not the one who can force them to have faith.” Imam Ahmad recorded from Jabir that the Messenger of Allah said,
(I have been commanded to fight the people until they say La ilaha illallah (none has the right to be worshipped except Allah). So if they say that, they have safeguarded their blood and wealth from me – except for what is rightfully due from it – and their reckoning is with Allah, the Mighty and Majestic.)” Then he recited,
(So remind them – you are only one who reminds. You are not a dictator over them -) This is how Muslim recorded this Hadith in his Book of Faith, and At-Tirmidhi and An-Nasa’i also recorded it in their Sunans in the Books of Tafsir. This Hadith can be found in both of the Two Sahihs.
Concerning Allah’s statement,
(Save the one who turns away and disbelieves.) meaning, he turns away from acting upon its pillars, and he disbelieves in the truth with his heart and his tongue. This is similar to Allah’s statement,
(So he neither believed nor prayed! But on the contrary, he belied and turn away!) (75:31-32) Thus, Allah says,
(Then Allah will punish him with the greatest punishment.) Allah then says,
(Verily, to Us will be their return;) meaning, their place of return and their resort.
(Then verily, for Us will be their reckoning.) meaning, `We will reckon their deeds for them and requite them for those deeds.’ If they did good, they will receive good, and if they did evil, they will receive evil. This is the end of the Tafsir of Surat Al-Ghashiyah.
[88:1] Has there come to you the description of the Overwhelming Event?
[88:2] Many faces on that day will be humbled,
وُجُوهٌ يَوْمَئِذٍ خَاشِعَةٌ عَامِلَةٌ نَّاصِبَةٌ (Many faces on that day will be humbled, working hard, exhausted…88:3). On the Day of Judgment, there will be two separate groups of people, believers and unbelievers, and their faces will be different. This verse describes the faces of the unbelievers. They will be downcast. The word khashi` ah from the root word khusha’ means to humble, humiliate, cast down’. This is the meaning of casting oneself down before Allah in prayer. People who did not cast themselves down before Allah in this world, their faces on the Day of Judgement will be downcast with humiliation and disgrace. The other conditions of the unbelievers are amilah and nasibah. The word ` amilah from ` aural means ‘to work hard’ and ` amil or ` amilah in Arabic is used for ‘a person who works continuously, so as to become completely tired’. The word nasibah is derived from nasab. This word also refers to ‘one who toils unceasingly so as to become totally exhausted’. It seems that the latter two conditions of the unbelievers relate to this world, because Hereafter is not a realm in which one has to work to become so tired and exhausted. Therefore, Qurtubi and other commentators are of the view that the humbleness of their faces relates to the Hereafter, but their working hard and being exhausted refers to their work in this world. Given this interpretation, the sense is that many unbelievers exert themselves in their false rituals, and work hard in their presumed acts of worship in the world, as for instance the Hindu Yogis and many Christian monks do. They endure many difficulties in the devotional acts of worship sincerely in order to seek the good pleasure of Allah, but being on wrong and idolatrous ways, they are not acceptable to, or rewarded by, Allah. Thus their faces show signs of exhaustion in this world; and in the Hereafter they will show signs of disgrace and humiliation. Sayyidna Hasan Basri رحمۃ علیہ reports that when Sayyidna ` Umar ؓ went to Syria, a Christian monk came to him. He was an old man, and on account of his religious exercises and great endeavours, his face was exhausted, his body was dry and his dressing was miserable. When Sayyidna ` Umar ؓ looked at him, he began to weep. People asked him about the cause of his weeping. He replied: “I pity the condition of this old man. This poor soul worked so hard and showed such readiness to lay down his life to achieve a particular purpose (that is, to gain the pleasure of Allah) but, alas! He could not achieve it”. Then he recited the following verse: وُجُوهٌ يَوْمَئِذٍ خَاشِعَةٌ . عَامِلَةٌ نَّاصِبَةٌ Many faces on that day will be humbled, ‘working hard, exhausted. [ 88:2-3] ‘
[88:3] working hard, exhausted.
[88:4] They will enter into the scorching fire.
نَارًا حَامِيَةً (…[ the ] scorching fire…88:4). The word حَامِيَةً hamiyah literally means ‘hot’ and ‘scorching’. Although this is the natural property of fire that needed no mention, yet the specific reference to this quality of the fire brings out the point that the fire of Hell cannot be compared to the fire of this world. The heat of the fire of this world, some time or the other, is reduced or ends. But the fire of Hell is everlasting and eternal. Its heat will neither reduce nor end.
[88:5] They will be made to drink water from a boiling spring.
[88:6] There will be no food for them except from a thorny plant
لَّيْسَ لَهُمْ طَعَامٌ إِلَّا مِن ضَرِيعٍ (There will be no food for them except from a thorny plant…88:6) The only food available for the inmates of Hell would be dari`. In the world, this is a kind of thorny grass that spreads on the ground. No animal goes near it. It is foul-smelling, poisonous and thorny. [ As interpreted by ` Ikrimah, Mujahid, and quoted by Qurtubi ].
How will Grass or Tree Survive in Hell
One may ask the question that the grass or trees are among things
that burn in fire. How will they survive in Hellfire? The answer is that the Supreme Creator Who cherished and sustained them in this world with water and air, has the power and ability to make the fire itself the nutrient of these trees, so that they may flourish.
Another question may be raised here. The Qur’an mentions several things as the food of the inmates of Hell. Here it refers to their food as dart`. On another occasion, it refers to zaqqum, and on a third occasion it refers to ghislin. This verse restricts their food to dari’, thus: ‘There will be no food for them except from a thorny plant…88:6)
The answer is that the restriction in this verse is in contrast to a palatable food that may be fit for [ human ] consumption. Dari` is cited here as an example. The verse means that the inmates of Hell will not get any palatable food. They will get worst, most disgusting and loathsome food like Dari`. Thus the purpose of mentioning Dari` is not restriction. In fact, Dari` includes zaqqum and ghislin. Qurtubi says that it is possible there will be different levels in Hell, and on different levels there will be different kinds of food. On one level, there will be dart` and on another level, ghislin, and so on.
[88:7] that will neither nourish, nor satisfy hunger.
لَّا يُسْمِنُ وَلَا يُغْنِي مِن جُوعٍ (that will neither nourish, nor satisfy hunger…88:7). When the preceding verse was revealed in which it was stated that the inmates of Hell will get food like Dari`, some of the pagans of Makkah [ mockingly ] said that their camels eat Dari` and yet they are fat and healthy. In response to their statement, the following verse of the Qur’an was revealed which means that they should not compare the Dari` of this world with that of the Hereafter. The latter will neither provide nutrition, nor satisfy their hunger.
[88:8] Many faces on that day will be full of glamour,
[88:9] well pleased with their endeavour,
[88:10] in a lofty garden,
[88:11] in which they will not hear any absurd talk.
لَّا تَسْمَعُ فِيهَا لَاغِيَةً (in which they will not hear any absurd talk…88:11). It includes the words of disbelief, futile or idle talk, obscene language, calumny or false accusation, or any other talk that hurts people’s feelings. On another occasion, the Qur’an puts it thus:
لَا يَسْمَعُونَ فِيهَا لَغْوًا وَلَا تَأْثِيمًا
‘They will hear neither an absurd talk therein, nor something leading to sin, [ 56:25]
This shows that false accusation and absurd talks are hurtful. That is why the Holy Qur’an has described it as a blessing to the inmates of Paradise that no such foolish words will come across their ears that may pollute their hearts.
[88:12] In it there is a running spring.
[88:13] In it there are couches, elevated,
[88:14] and goblets, well placed
Etiquette of Living
وَأَكْوَابٌ مَّوْضُوعَةٌ (and goblets, well placed…88:14) The word akwab is the plural of kub and it refers to a ‘goblet’, a ‘glass’ or a cup for drinking water. It has been qualified by the adjective maudu’ ah and it means ‘well placed’. This signifies that the glasses or cups or containers will be set in their due places close to water. This description opens an important chapter in setting down some of the rules of correct behaviour in social situations. The drinking containers for water ought to be placed near the water in the designated place. They should not be misplaced so that the other members of the household will have to look for them when they wish to drink water. This situation is irritating. Other household items of daily use, such as cans, glasses, towels, and so on, should be arranged in their designated places, and after using them, they must be kept back in their respective places, so that the other members of the household do not face any difficulty in finding them out. A11 this is deducible from the word maudu’ah ‘well placed’, because Allah has arranged the goblets near the water for the comfort of the inmates of Paradise.
[88:15] and cushions, arrayed
[88:16] and carpets, spread around.
[88:17] So, do they not look at the camels how they are created,
أَفَلَا يَنظُرُونَ إِلَى الْإِبِلِ كَيْفَ خُلِقَتْ (So, do they not look at the camels how they are created…88:17) The Qur’an first described the conditions of the Hereafter; and it then went on to depict the reward of the believers and the retribution of the unbelievers. Now it turns attention to rebuff the obdurate unbelievers’ foolish denial of the Hereafter. They reject it on the ground that after death and decomposition of the body and bones it is inconceivable that they would be recomposed and resurrected. For their guidance, Allah invites their attention to reflect carefully on a few of His Signs. There are uncountable Signs of Allah in the universe. These verses refer to four of them specifically which suited the condition of the desert Arabs. They often travelled through the desert. In such a situation, all they saw were camels they travelled on. They mounted camels and covered long journeys. Above them was the sky and beneath them was the earth. All around them [ left, right, front and back ] they saw mountains. The Arabs are commanded to ponder over these four natural phenomena which make Allah’s might manifest.
Among animals, the camel has certain peculiar characteristics that can be a reflection of Divine wisdom and power. It is the largest, most robust and durable animal. Although elephant is a much larger animal than the camel, Allah has mentioned the camel rather than the elephant, because the Arabs knew camels and scarcely saw an elephant. Despite the fact that a camel is such a huge animal, a Bedouin Arab will not find it difficult to look after it even if he is poor. If he is unable to gather or afford food for it, it has to be let loose and will gather its own nutriment and live on leaves. It has a long neck to reach the tops of the high trees. The food of elephants and other animals work out expensive. In Arabian deserts, water is a scarce commodity. It is not available everywhere or anytime. Yet it can survive for about a week without water as Allah’s Power has provided it with a small narrow-mouthed pouch in its paunch in which it stores up extra water [ which it uses up gradually for seven to eight days ]. Thus it is a superb draught beast. Nature has created it uniquely, so that it is perfectly adapted to survive the hazards of the harsh climate of the desert.
There is no need to set up a ladder to climb up the high animal. Allah has divided its legs into three levels. Each leg has two knees that it manoeuvres to sit down so that it becomes easier for riders to climb up and down. It is the chief beast of burden in deserts, and as such, it is able to carry large loads. It is most difficult to travel in daytime in Arabia because of scorching sunlight. Allah has made it possible for the camel to keep on travelling the whole night. Camels are so obedient that that even a little child can lead them along anywhere. Camels are very valuable to them in many other ways that teach man that Allah is Omnipotent and has consummate wisdom.
In conclusion of the Chapter, the Messenger of Allah ﷺ is comforted thus:
لَّسْتَ عَلَيْهِم بِمُصَيْطِرٍ (You are not a taskmaster set up over them,….88:22) The Holy Prophet ﷺ is told that he is only a preacher, and as such he must keep on preaching. He should not worry beyond that. It is for Allah to call the unbelievers to Him to render account of their deeds and actions, and punish them accordingly.
[88:18] and at the sky, how it is raised high,
[88:19] and at the mountains, how they are installed,
[88:20] and at the earth, how it is spread out?
[88:21] So, keep on preaching; you are only a preacher.
[88:22] You are not a taskmaster set up over them,
[88:23] but whoever turns away and disbelieves,
[88:24] Allah will punish him with the greatest torment.
[88:25] Surely towards Us they have to return,
[88:26] then it is Our job to call them to account.
The Commentary on
This surah is a deep and calm melody which invites meditation, hope and fear. It warns man to be ready for the day of reckoning. It carries man’s heart into two vast spheres: the life hereafter with its limitless world and moving scenes; and the visible sphere of existence, with the signs God has spread in all the creatures sharing this existence held out for everyone to see. After these two great scenarios, the surah reminds man of the reckoning on the Day of Judgement, of God’s power, and of the inevitable return to Him. Throughout, the style is characterized by its depth of tone: it is calm but highly effective, powerful and awesome.
“Have you heard the story of the Enveloper?” (Verse 1) With this introduction, the surah wants to make hearts turn back to God, to remind men of His signs in the universe, His reckoning on the Day of Judgement, and His certain reward. It starts with this inquiry, which implies greatness and indicates a positive statement. It points out that the question of the hereafter had already been affirmed and earlier reminders had been given. The Day of Resurrection is here given a new name, “the Enveloper”, which suggests that a calamity will befall mankind and envelop them with its horrors. It is one of the many evocative names mentioned in the surahs included in this volume. Others are: The Overwhelming, The Deafening, The Stunning Event. They all suit the general tone and nature of these surahs.
Whenever the Prophet (peace be upon him) listened to this surah, he felt that the address “Have you heard…” was directed to him personally, as if he was receiving it from his Lord directly for the first time. He was extremely moved by this. The reality of this divine address was always present in his mind. A tradition related by `Umar ibn Maymun says that the Prophet once passed by a woman who was reading this surah. When she read “Have you heard the story of the Enveloper…?” he stopped to listen and said “Yes, I have heard it.”
The address is nevertheless a general one, directed at everyone who hears the Qur’an. The story of the Enveloper is an oft-repeated theme in the Qur’an, reminding men of the hereafter, warning them of its punishment, and promising its rewards. It is a story which aims to awaken people’s consciences, to arouse their fear and apprehension as well as their hope and expectancy.
The Story in Brief
The surah opens with a question: “Have you heard the story of the Enveloper?” (Verse 1) It follows this by relating part of its story: “Some faces on that day are downcast, labour weary, worn out, about to enter a scorching fire, made to drink from a boiling fountain. Their only food shall be nothing but dry thorns, which will neither nourish nor satisfy their hunger.” (Verses 2-7) The scene of suffering and torture is given before the scene of joy, because the former is closer to the connotations of the name given to the event, the Enveloper, and the impressions it generates.
Thus, we are told that there are on that day faces which look humble, downcast and worn out. They belong to people who have laboured and toiled without satisfactory results. Indeed, the results they get are a total loss, which increases their disappointment, and causes looks of humiliation and exhaustion on their faces. Hence, they are described as “labour weary, worn out”. (Verse 3) They had laboured and toiled for something other than God’s cause. Their work was totally for themselves and their families, for their own ambitions in the life of this world. Then they come to reap the fruits of their toil, not having made any provision for their future life. Hence they face the end with a mixture of humiliation, exhaustion, misery and hopelessness. In addition to all this they roast “at a scorching fire.” (Verse 4)
They are “made to drink from a boiling fountain. Their only food shall be nothing but dry thorns, which will neither nourish nor satisfy their hunger.” (Verses 5-7) The Arabic text uses the term đari`, which is translated here as ‘dry thorns’. However, some commentators say that it refers to a tree of fire in hell. This explanation is based on what has been revealed about the tree of zaqqum which grows at the centre of hell. It is also said to be a kind of cactus thorn, which when green is called shabraq and is eaten by camels. However, when it is fully grown it becomes poisonous and cannot be eaten. Whatever it is in reality, it is a kind of food like ghislin and ghassaq [names given in the Qur’an to refer to the food available in hell] which neither nourishes nor appeases hunger.
It is obvious that we, in this world, cannot fully comprehend the nature of such suffering in the hereafter. The description is made in order to give our perceptions the feeling of the greatest possible pain, which is produced by a combination of humiliation, weakness, failure, the scorching fire, drinking and bathing in boiling water, and eating food unacceptable even to camels, which are used to eating thorns when they travel in desert areas. This type of thorn, however, is dry and gives no nourishment. From all these aspects we get a sense of the ultimate affliction. But the affliction of the hereafter is, nevertheless, greater. Its true nature is incomprehensible except to those who will actually experience it. May God never count us among them.
On the other hand, we find “other faces on that day are jocund, well pleased with their striving, in a sublime garden, where they hear no babble. A running fountain shall be there, and raised couches, and goblets placed ready, and cushions laid in order, and carpets spread out.” (Verses 8-16) Here are faces bright with joy, animated with pleasure. They are well pleased with what they are given. They enjoy that splendid, spiritual feeling of satisfaction with what they have done, as they sense God’s pleasure with them. There is no better feeling for man than to be reassured of his own actions, and to see the results reflected in God being pleased with him. The Qur’an gives precedence to this kind of happiness over the joys of heaven. Then it describes heaven and the joys it affords to its happy dwellers: “in a sublime garden.” (Verse 10) It is glorious and sublime, with lofty positions and elevated gardens.
The description of height and elevation gives us a special feeling. “Where they hear no babble.” (Verse 11) This expression creates a sense of calmness, peace, reassurance, love, satisfaction and pleasant discourse between friends. It also provides a feeling of raising oneself above any vain conversation. This is in itself a kind of joy and happiness, which is better felt when one remembers the first life and its increasing polemics, disputes, contentions, quarrels, sin and uproar. When one remembers all this, one relaxes into complete calmness, total peace of mind and a pleasant happiness generated by the Qur’anic expression “where they hear no babble”. The very words are endowed with a pleasant fragrance. They flow with gratifying rhythm. It also implies that, as the believers turn away in this life from polemics and vain discourse, their way of life acquires a heavenly element.
As has been said earlier, of all the descriptions of heaven, God emphasizes first this sublime and brilliant element, before He mentions the joys which satisfy the senses. These are given in a form comprehensible to man, but in heaven they take the form which is suited for the elevated standards of the people there. Thus, they remain unknown except to those who actually experience them.
“A running fountain shall be there.” (Verse 12) The description combines a sense of quenching thirst, with beauty of movement and flow. Running water gives a sense of liveliness and youth. It is pleasant to the eye and the mind, and touches the depths of human feeling.
“And raised couches.” (Verse 13) The adjective, raised, gives an impression of cleanliness and purity. “And goblets placed ready,” (Verse 14) so they are ready for drinking — there is no need to order or prepare them. “And cushions laid in order.” (Verse 15) These are prepared for dwellers to recline and relax. “And carpets spread out.” They serve the dual purpose of decoration and comfort. All these luxuries are similar to the luxuries enjoyed in this life, but these are mentioned merely to make them comprehensible to us. Their true nature, and the nature of their enjoyment, are left for the experience of those whom God has rewarded.
It is useless to make comparisons or enquiries concerning the nature of the joys of the hereafter, or the nature of its afflictions. People gain their understanding by means that are limited to this world, and the nature of life in it. When they are in the next life all veils will be lifted and barriers removed. Souls and senses will be free from all restrictions, and the connotations of the very words will alter as a result of the change in the feelings to which they refer. These Qur’anic descriptions help us to imagine the ultimate of sweetness and joy. This is all that we can do while we live on earth, but when God honours us with His grace and pleasure, as we pray He will, we will know the reality to which the Qur’an refers.
Reflection on God’s Creation
When this account of the hereafter comes to its close, the surah refers to the present world, which is in itself a manifestation of the power and perfect planning of God, the Almighty: “Let them reflect on the camels, how they were created; and heaven, how it is raised aloft; and the mountains, how they are hoisted; and the earth, how it is spread out.” (Verses 17-20) These four short verses join the boundaries of the world of the Arabs — the first people to be addressed by the Qur’an. They also group together the prominent ends of creation in the universe as they speak of the sky, earth, mountains, and camels. The last of these stands for all animals, although the camel has its own distinctive features and a special value for Arabs.
All these aspects of creation — the sky, earth, mountains and animals — are always in front of man wherever he is. Whatever man’s level of civilization and scientific advancement, they remain within his world and within his sphere of consciousness. When he considers their roles, they suggest to him something of what lies beyond. In each of them there is a miracle of creation. The distinctive, incomparable work of the Creator is clear in them all, and this alone is sufficient to indicate the true faith. Hence the Qur’an directs to them the attention of every human being. “Let them reflect on the camels, how they were created.” (Verse 17) The camel was the most important animal for the Arab. It was his means of transport which also carried his belongings. It gave him food and drink. From its hair and skin he made his clothes and dwellings. Besides, the camel is unique among all animals. Despite its strength, size and firm build, it is tame: a young boy can manage it. It gives man great service, and at the same time, it is inexpensive to keep and its food is easy to find. Moreover, it is the only animal to endure hunger, thirst, hard work and poor conditions. Its shape has also a special characteristic which is in perfect harmony with the portrait drawn here, and this will be discussed later on.
So, the Qur’an, asks of its first audience to ponder on how the camel is made. This does not require them to undertake any difficult task or to discover any obscure field of science.
“Let them reflect on the camels, how they were created.” (Verse 17) Camels were a part of their world, and they only needed to look and consider how they were made most suitable for their role; how their shape and build fitted perfectly with their environment and function. Man did not create camels, nor did camels create themselves. o, they must have been made by the Supreme Maker whose work reflects His limitless ability and perfect planning and testifies to His existence.
“And heaven, how it is raised aloft.” (Verse 18) The Qur’an repeatedly directs man’s reflective faculties to the skies. The desert people should be the first to undertake this, because in the desert the sky is much richer and more inspiring — as if it has a unique existence. In the middle of the day, the sky is brilliant and beaming; at late afternoon, it is captivating and fascinating; at sunset, most charming and inspiring. Then as the night spreads its wings the sky shows its sparkling stars and makes its friendly whispers. At sunrise, the sky comes alive again and becomes animating. All this is certainly worth a good deal of reflection and contemplation. They should consider how it was raised up. Who placed it so high without pillars to support it? Who scattered those innumerable stars? Who endowed it with its beauty and inspiration? They certainly did not lift it up, and it could not have been lifted by itself. A power is responsible for its creation and erection, and intelligent thought is enough to indicate Him.
“And the mountains, how they are hoisted.” (Verse 19) For the Arab in particular, a mountain is a refuge and a friend. In general, it always looks majestic and awesome. Next to a mountain, a man appears small and humble. It is natural for a man on a mountain to think of God and feel himself nearer to Him. He feels a distinct detachment from the petty concerns of his worldly life. It was neither a vain whim nor a coincidence that Muhammad (peace be upon him) should go to the cave on Mount Hira’ for periods of worship and contemplation before he was given God’s message. It is also not surprising that those who want to spend a period in self purification should seek to do so on a mountain. The reference here to the mountains speaks of them being ‘hoisted’ because this fits in perfectly with the image portrayed, which we will discuss presently.
“And the earth, how it is spread out.” (Verse 20) The earth is obviously outstretched and made suitable for human life and its full and varied range of activities. Man could not have made it so, as its creation was completed long before his existence. o should not man consider who spread out the earth and made life feasible on it? Intelligent reflection on all these aspects will always inspire minds and excite souls into recognition of God, the Creator.
Perhaps we should pause a little to consider the perfection with which this image of the universe is portrayed. The Qur’an addresses man’s religious conscience in a language of artistic beauty, and both coalesce in the believer’s perception to bring the whole image into full relief. The scene portrayed here includes the elevated heaven and the spread-out earth. Across such a boundless horizon stand the mountains. They are not described as firmly rooted, but rather they are ‘hoisted’. The camels also stand with their upright humps. It is a majestic scene, vast and infinite, with merely two horizontal lines and two vertical ones. This manipulation of graphic description for the expression of ideas is a distinct characteristic of the Qur’anic style.
The Prophet’s Mission
Having dealt first with the hereafter, and pointed out some apparent aspects of the universe, the surah now addresses the Prophet, (peace be upon him), laying down the nature of his mission and limits of his role. It then concludes with a final reminder to mankind: “Therefore exhort them; your task is only to exhort. You are not their overseer. But he who turns his back and disbelieves, God shall inflict on him the greatest suffering. To Us they shall surely return, when We shall bring them to account.” (Verses 21-26)
Remind them, then, of the hereafter and the universe, and all there is in each of them. Your specific task is to remind people, and you have no other role. This is indeed your mission for which you have been suitably equipped.
“You are not their overseer.” (Verse 22) You have no control over their hearts, and you cannot compel them to adopt the faith. Men’s hearts are in the hands of God, the Merciful. Jihad, which means striving for God’s cause and which was later made a duty of the Prophet and all Muslims, did not aim at converting people to Islam by force. Its only aim was to remove all hindrances in the way of the Islamic message, so that it could be delivered freely, and people would not be prevented from listening to it or be persecuted for doing so. This is the role the Prophet can fulfil: to remove the obstacles which prevent him from delivering his message.
The notion that the Prophet’s mission is confined to reminding people and delivering God’s message is often repeated and stressed in the Qur’an. There are several reasons for this emphasis, the first of which is to relieve the Prophet of the heavy burden of directing the course of the Islamic message once he has conveyed it. He must leave it to God to decide its course. The urgency of the human yearning to win victory for the truth and to get people to benefit from its absolute goodness is so keen that such repetition is required to make the advocates of this message distinguish their own desires and ambitions from their mission. When this distinction is clear, they proceed in fulfilment of their duty, regardless of the response and consequence. Thus, advocates of Islam do not worry themselves over who has accepted the faith and who has not. They are not charged with this burden, which becomes particularly heavy at times of adversity when a favourable response becomes a rarity and enemies abound.
But the delivery of the message, which is the limit of the Prophet’s task, is not the end of the matter. The unbelievers are not to be left alone. They cannot deny God and be safe. “But he who turns his back and disbelieves, God shall inflict on him the greatest suffering.” (Verses 23-24) They will no doubt return to God, and He will inevitably administer their retribution. Such is the final and decisive note on which the surah ends: “To Us they shall surely return, when We shall bring them to account.” (Verses 25- 26)
The definition of the Prophet’s role and the role of every subsequent advocate of Islam is thus completed. They have only to remind and the reckoning will be made by God. It must be stressed, however, that the process of reminding includes the removal of hindrances so that people are free to listen to the divine message. This is the aim of jihad as it is understood from the Qur’an and the Prophet’s history. It is a process which neither admits negligence nor permits aggression.
Tafseer by Abul A’la Maududi
The Surah takes its name from the word al-ghishiyah in the first verse.
Period of Revelation
The whole subject matter of the Surah indicates that this too is one of the earliest Surahs to be revealed; but this was the period when the Holy Prophet (upon whom be peace) had started preaching his message publicly, and the people of Makkah were hearing it and ignoring it carelessly and thoughtlessly.
Theme and Subject Matter
To understand the subject matter well one should keep in view the fact that in the initial stage the preaching of the Holy Prophet (upon whom be peace) mostly centered around two points which he wanted to instill in the people’s minds: Tauhid and the Hereafter: and the people of Makkah were repudiating both. Let us now consider the subject matter and the style of this Surah.
At the outset, in order to arouse the people from their heedlessness, they have been plainly asked:”Do you have any knowledge of the time when an overwhelming calamity will descend?” Immediately after this details of the impending calamity are given as to how the people will be divided into two separate groups and will meet separate ends. One group of the people will go to Hell and they will suffer punishment; the second group will go to the sublime Paradise and will be provided with, blessings.
After thus arousing the people the theme suddenly changes and the question is asked: Do not these people, who frown and scorn the teaching of Tauhid and the news of the Hereafter being given by the Qur’an, observe the common things which they experience daily in their lives? Do they never consider how the camels, on whom their whole life activity in the Arabian desert depends, came into being, endowed precisely with the same characteristics as were required for the beast needed in their desert life? When they go on their journeys, they see the sky, the mountains, or the earth. Let them ponder over these three phenomena and consider as to how the sky was stretched above them, how the mountains were erected and how the earth was spread beneath them? Has all this come about without the skill and craftsmanship of an All- Powerful, All Wise Designer? If they acknowledge that a Creator has created all this with great wisdom and power and that no one else is an associate with Him in their creation, why then do they refuse to accept Him alone as their Lord and Sustainer? And if they acknowledge that that God had the power to create all this, then on what rational ground do they hesitate to acknowledge that that God also has the power to bring about Resurrection, to recreate man, and to make Hell and Heaven?
After making the truth plain by this concise and rational argument, the address turns from the disbelievers to the Holy Prophet (upon whom be peace) and he is told: “If these people do not acknowledge the truth, they may not; you have not been empowered to act with authority over them, so that you should coerce them into believing: your only task is to exhort, so exhort them. Ultimately they have to return to Us; then We shall call them to full account and shall inflict a heavy punishment on those who do not believe.”