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In the Shade of the Qur'an - Surah # 82

In the Shade of the Qur'an - Surah # 82
Syed Qutb
Surah # 82
                              Cleaving Asunder
                                al Infitar
           In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful!

When the heaven is left asunder,
when the stars are scattered,
when the oceans are made to explode,
when the graves are hurled about,
each soul shall know its earlier actions and its later ones.
O man, what has lured you away from your gracious Lord,
Who created and moulded you and gave you an upright shape?
He can give you whatever form He wills.
Shun it ! but you deny the Last Judgement.
Yet there are guardians watching over you,
noble recorders,
who know all your actions.
Surely the righteous shall be in bliss,
while the wicked shall be in Hell,
where they shall be thrown on the Day of Judgement;
nor shall they ever be absent from it.
Would that you knew what the Day of Judgement is !
Oh, would that you knew what the Day of Judgement is!
It is the day when no soul can be of any help to any other soul and when
Allah reigns supreme.

                         In the Shade of the Qur'an

  This short surah refers to the great upheaval discussed in the previous
  surah "The Darkening", but gives it a special colour. It has a different
  rhythm, deep and calm. It adds a touch of expostulation coupled with an
  implicit threat. Hence, it does not detail the scenes of the great upheaval
  as in the previous surah, where these scenes are dominant. The scenes here
  are shorter, in order to suit its quieter atmosphere and slower rhythm.

  At the opening the surah mentions the cleaving of the sky, the scattering
  of the stars, the bursting of the oceans and the hurling of the graves as
  simultaneous with every soul's knowledge of its earlier and later actions,
  on that solemn day.
  The second part starts with the remonstrance combined with an implicit
  threat to man who is the recipient of abundant grace; yet he does not show
  any gratitude for Allah's grace. "O man what has lured you away from your
  gracious Lord, Who created and moulded you and gave you an upright shape.
  Ale can give you whatever form He wills." The third part provides the
  reason for such an ungrateful attitude. The denial of reckoning and
  judgement, the surah tells us, is the source of every evil. The reality
  of the meting out of reward and punishment at the Last Judgement is re
    Shun it! but you deny the Last Judgement. Yet there are guardians
    watching over you. Noble recorders, who know all your actions. Surely
    the righteous shall be in bliss, while the wicked shall be in Hell,
    where they shall be thrown on the Day of Judgement, nor shall they
    ever be absent from it.

  The final part gives an idea of how fearful the Day of Judgement is, how
  everyone is absolutely helpless and all power belongs to Allah:
    Would that you knew what the Day of Judgement is! Oh, would that you
    knew what the Day of Judgement is! It is the day when no soul can
    be of any help to any other soul and  Allah reigns supreme.

  So the surah represents yet another way of portraying the same basic
  principles stressed in this thirtieth part of the Qur'an in various
  methods and styles.
    When the heaven is cleft asunder, when the stars are scattered when
    the oceans are made to explode, when the graves are hurled about,
    each soul shall know its earlier actions and its later ones.
  In the commentary on the previous surah we described the feelings
  generated in people when they visualise the universe undergoing a change
  so violent that it leaves nothing in its familiar shape and condition. We
  also said that such feelings tend to pull man away from anything which
  gives him a sense of security, with the exception of Allah, the Creator
  of the universe, the One Who lives on after everything has died and
  withered away. Man's heart is thus made to turn to the only true being
  Who neither changes nor dies, to seek His support and security in the
  face of the general upheaval which destroys everything that seemed once
  to be permanent. For nothing lives for ever except the Creator Who is
  the only one worthy of being worshipped.

  The first aspect mentioned here of the universal upheaval is the cleaving
  or rending of the sky, which is mentioned in other surahs:
    When the sky is split asunder and becomes rose red, like stained
    leather. (55:37) When sky will be rent asunder, for on that day it
    is frail and tottering. (69:16) When the sky is rent asunder. (84:1)
  That the sky will be split or rent asunder on that hectic day is certain.
  What is meant exactly by such rending, and how the sky will look after it
  has been rent are difficult to say. All that we are left with is a feeling
  of violent change which overwhelms the universe, as we see it, and a
  realisation that its perfect system will no longer be in operation.

  The violent upheaval in the universe causes the stars to scatter after
  they have been held together by a system which makes every star keep to
  its orbit, along which it may move fearfully fast, without swerving out
  of it. If the system is broken at any time, as will happen when the life
  of the stars comes to its end, they will just disappear in the wide space,
  as does a particle of dust running loose.
  The explosion of the oceans may refer to their being overfull to the
  extent that they drown the dry land and swallow the rivers. It may,
  alternatively, mean an explosion which separates oxygen from hydrogen,
  the two gases which form water. Thus water returns to its original gas
  condition. The verse may also be taken to refer to a nuclear explosion of
  the atoms of the two gases. If this is the case, then the explosion would
  be so fearful that our nuclear devices of today would seem, in comparison,
  like children's toys. The explosion may also take a different form,
  totally unknown to us. One thing, however, we know for certain is that
  there will be horror far greater than any man could have ever experienced.
  The hurling about of the graves may be a result of one of the events
  mentioned above. It may also be a separate event which occurs on that
  eventful day. As the graves are hurled about people are resurrected and
  stand up again, back in life, to face the reckoning and receive their
  reward or punishment. This is complemented by the verse which follows
  the description of these events:
       Each soul shall know its earlier actions and its later ones.
  That is, each soul shall come face to face with what it has done and what
  it left behind of the consequences of its actions; or, what it has enjoyed
  in this present life and what it has saved for the hereafter. The
  knowledge, however, will accompany these horrific events. It will indeed
  be one of them, for it terrifies the soul no less than any of the other
  events mentioned earlier.

  The Arabic expression used here may be translated literally as "a soul
  shall know ... " It is, however, in Arabic a neater and more effective
  denotation of "each soul shall know ... " Furthermore, the knowledge by
  every soul is not the end of the matter. It has consequences which are
  as violent as the scenes portrayed here of the great upheaval. The
  consequences are merely implied, not stated here, which is again more
  effective. After this opening which alerts men's senses and consciences,
  the surah, by means of gentle remonstrance coupled with an implicit
  threat, touches the hearts of men who busy themselves with trivialities.
  It reminds man of Allah's very first act of grace towards him, namely,
  his moulding in such an upright perfectly proportioned shape. Allah could
  have easily given him any form He wished. Yet man is ungrateful:
    O man, what has lured you away from your gracious Lord, Who created
    and moulded you and gave you an upright shape? He can give you what
    ever form He wills.
  The address appeals to man's most noble quality, his humanity, which
  distinguishes him from all creatures and assigns to him the highest
  position among them. This quality represents Allah's gracious blessing
  to man and His abundant generosity to him.

  This appeal is immediately followed by a gentle remonstrance: "What has
  lured you away from your gracious Lord?" What makes you neglect your
  duties to your Lord and behave impudently towards Him when He has given
  you your humanity which raises you above all His creation and provides
  you with the ability to distinguish between right and wrong. A few details
  of Allah's generosity are then added: "O man, what has lured you away from
  your gracious Lord, Who created and moulded you and gave you an upright
  shape." It is an address which appeals straight to man's heart. He listens
  to the remonstrance of Allah when He reminds him of His grace while he
  continues with his erring ways and impudent behaviour towards Him.

  Indeed, man should reflect deeply over his creation, his physically and
  physiologically perfect constitution. Reflection should prompt him to show
  his genuine gratitude, deep respect and real love to Allah, his gracious
  Lord, Who has blessed him with such constitution, perfect, upright and
  handsome. The miraculous aspects in man's constitution are far greater
  than what he sees all around him and what he can imagine. Perfection and
  the right balance are easily evident in man's physical, mental and
  spiritual constitution. Full volumes have been written on the perfection
  of creation as evidenced by man. It is perhaps useful to include here one
  or two quotations from such works.

  The human body is composed of a number of specialised systems: the
  skeleton, the muscular system, the skin, the digestive system, the blood
  circulation system, the respiratory system, the procreative system, the
  lymphatic system, the nervous system, the urinal system and the senses of
  tasting, smelling, hearing and seeing. Everyone of these systems is
  miraculous and far more wonderful than any scientific achievement which
  makes man possessed with wonder. Yet man tends to overlook the wonders of
  his own constitution ! A contributor to the British Scientific Journal

    Man's hand is one of the most remarkable wonders of nature. It is
    extremely difficult, indeed impossible, to invent a device which
    can match the human hand for simplicity, efficiency, ability and
    instant adaptability. When you read a book you take it in your hand,
    then you hold it in the position most suitable for your reading. The
    same hand will automatically correct the position of your book whenever
    a correction of position is necessary. When you turn a page you place
    your finger underneath the paper and apply the amount of pressure needed
    for turning the page. When the page is turned no more pressure is
    applied. You also use your hand to hold a pen and to write. With your
    hand you use all the tools you need such as a spoon, a knife or a pen.
    You use it to open or close the window and to carry anything you wish
    to carry ... Man's hand has 27 pieces of bone in addition to 19 groups
    of muscles.
    A part of the human ear is a series of some four thousand minute but
    complex arches graduated with exquisite regularity in size and shape.
    These may be said to resemble a musical instrument, and they seem
    adjusted to catch, and transmit in some manner to the brain, every
    cadence of sound or noise, from the thunderclap to the whisper of the
    pines and the exquisite blending of the tones and harmonies of every
    instrument in the orchestra. If in forming the ear the cells were
    impelled to evolve strict efficiency only that man might survive, why
    did they not extend the range and develop a superacutness? Perhaps the
    power behind these cells' activities anticipated man's coming need of
    intellectual enjoyment, or did they by accident build better than they

    The visual functions are carried out mainly by the eye with its 130
    million retinal light receptors. The eyelids with the eyelashes at
    their tips protect the eyes day and night. Their movement, which is
    involuntary, keeps out dust particles and other alien bodies. The eye
    lashes throw their shades over the eye to lessen the intensity of light.
    Furthermore, by their movement the eyelids prevent the eyes from
    becoming dry. The fluid around the eye, which we call tears, is a
    highly effective, most powerful disinfectant ...

    In human beings, the taste function is carried out by the tongue,
    through groups of the taste cells which are located in the taste buds
    of the mucosal surface of the tongue. These buds are of different
    shapes: some are filamentary, some mushroom-shaped and others are
    lenticular. They are supplied by fine branches of the glosso-pharangeal
    nerve as well as the nerve which carries the taste sense. When we eat,
    these fine branches of the taste nerve are stimulated and convey the
    impulses of the taste sensation to the brain. This system is located
    at the front of the tongue, so that we may reject what we sense to be
    harmful. It is this system which helps us sense whether what we eat is
    bitter or sweet, hot or cold, sour or salty, etc. The tongue contains
    nine thousand of these fine taste buds, each of which is linked with
    the brain by more than one nerve. Hence we may wonder: 'How many nerves
    have we? What are their sizes? How do they function individually and
    how do they combine to give the brain their various types of sensation?
    The nervous system, which effectively controls the body, is composed of
    fine neurons which cover every part of the body. The neurons are linked
    to larger nerves which are, in turn, linked to the central nervous
    system. Whenever any part of the body feels any sensation, even the
    slightest change of temperature, the neurons convey this sensation to
    the peripheral nerves which, in turn, convey it to the brain so that it
    may order the necessary action. The signals are carried through the
    nerves at the speed of 100 metres per second.

  If we think of digestion as a process in a chemical laboratory and of the
  food that we eat as raw materials, we immediately discover that it is a
  wonderful process which will digest anything edible except the stomach
  First into this laboratory we put a variety of food as a raw material
  without the slightest regard for the laboratory or how the chemistry of
  digestion will handle it. We eat steak, cabbage, corn and fried fish, wash
  it down with any quantity of water, and top it off with alcohol, bread,
  and beans. We may add sulfur and molasses as spring medicine. Out of this
  mixture the stomach selects those things which are useful by breaking down
  into its chemical molecules every item of food, discarding the waste, and
  reconstructs the residue into new proteins, which become the food of the
  various cells. The digestive tract selects calcium, sulfur, iodine, iron
  and any other substances which are necessary, takes care that the essential
  molecules are not lost, that the hormones can be produced and that all of
  the valid necessities of life are on hand in regulated quantities, ready
  to meet every necessity. It stores fat and other reserves to meet such an
  emergency as starvation, and does all this in spite of human thought or
  reason. We pour this infinite variety of substances into this chemical
  laboratory with almost total disregard of what we take in, depending on
  what we consider the automatic process to keep us alive. When these foods
  have been broken down and are again prepared, they are delivered constantly
  to each of our billions of cells, a greater number than all the human
  beings on earth. The delivery to each individual cell must be constant,
  and only those substances which the particular cell needs to transform
  them into bones, nails, flesh, hair, eyes, and teeth are taken up by the
  proper cell. Here is a chemical laboratory producing more substances than
  any laboratory which human ingenuity has devised. Here is a delivery
  system greater than any method of transportation or distribution the world
  has ever known, all being conducted in perfect order.'

  A lot may be said about every other system of the human body. But wonderful
  as these systems are, man may have them in common with animals. He, however,
  is privileged to possess his unique mental and spiritual qualities which
  are regarded in this surah as a special favour from Allah. After the surah
  has dealt with the humanity of man, it mentions the perfection of his
  creation and the right proportioning of his mould:
    O man, what has lured you away from your gracious Lord Who created
    and moulded you and gave you an upright shape.

  Let us reflect on our powers of comprehension, the nature of which is
  unknown to us. The mind is the medium of comprehension but the working of
  our minds and how they function remain to us incomprehensible. If we
  suppose that what we grasp is transmitted to the brain through the nerves,
  where and how does the brain store its information? If we compare the brain
  to a magnetic recording tape, every man needs in his average lifetime of
  sixty years a great many' billion metres on which to record such a huge
  multitude of pictures, words, meanings, feelings and responses so that he
  may, as he actually does, remember them several decades later. Furthermore,
  how does man sort out individual words, meanings, events and pictures to
  mould them together in a sort of coherent education? How does he transform
  information and experiences into knowledge?
  Yet this is by no means the most significant of man's distinctive
  qualities. There is that wonderful ray of Allah's spirit which provides
  a link between man and the beauty of the universe and its Creator. As
  this link is established, man can experience at clear, bright moments a
  sense of communion with the infinite, the absolute, which prepares him
  for a blissful eternal life in Allah's paradise. Yet man has no power to
  comprehend the nature of his spirit, which is Allah's greatest favour to
  him and which makes him a man. Hence Allah addresses him by this quality
  of his "O man! " then remonstrates with him directly: "What lures you away
  from your gracious Lord?" Thus man is reminded of Allah's greatest favour,
  but he stands impudent, negligent of his duties to Allah, unashamed and
  ungrateful. But man does not need more than to realise the source of this
  remonstrance and what attitude he adopts when he stands before his Lord to
  be absolutely overwhelmed by shame: "O man! what lures you away from your
  gracious Lord, Who created and moulded you and gave you an upright shape.
  He can give you what ever form He wills."

  The surah moves on to explain the reason for man's impudence and
  negligence, namely, the denial of the Last Judgement. It emphatically
  confirms the reality of reckoning, reward and punishment:
    Shun it! but you deny the Last Judgement. Yet there are guardians
    watching over you, noble recorders, who know all your actions. Surely
    the righteous shall be in bliss, while the wicked shall be in Hell,
    where they shall be thrown on the Day of Judgement: nor they shall
    ever be absent from it.
  The English expression "shun it" is used here to render the meaning of
  the Arabic word "kalla" which is a command to desist and an indication of
  a change of subject and style. Hence the following verses are in the form
  of a statement. "Shun it! but you deny the Last Judgement." You think that
  reckoning and accountability are falsehoods, and this is precisely the
  cause of your impudence and negligence of your duties. How can any person
  disbelieve in the Judgement and still lead a life based on goodness and
  right guidance? Some people may achieve a higher degree of faith: they
  worship Allah because they love Him, not out of fear of punishment nor
  in hope of reward. But these people continue to believe in the Last
  Judgement. They fear it and look forward to it at the same time, because
  they hope to be with their beloved Lord. When man, however, flatly rejects
  the Day of Judgement he will be devoid of politeness and light; his heart
  and conscience are dead.
  You deny the Day of Judgement when you will certainly face it. Everything
  you do in this life will be counted for or against you. Nothing is lost,
  nothing forgotten: " Yet there are guardians watching over you, noble
  recorders, who know all your actions. " These recorders are the angels
  charged with accompanying men, watching them and recording all what they
  do and say. We do not know and are not required to know how this takes
  place. Allah knows that we are neither given the ability to understand
  it nor are we going to benefit by understanding it because it does not
  affect the purpose of our existence. Hence it is useless to attempt to
  explain by our means what Allah has chosen not to reveal to us of the
  world of the imperceptible.
  Sufficient it is to us to feel that we do not live in vain and that there
  are noble recorders who note what we do, in order to be alert and

  Since the atmosphere of the surah is one of benevolence and nobility, the
  description of those recorders given here is that they are "noble", so that
  we may feel shy and try to be polite in the presence of these noble angels.
  It is natural for people to exercise extra care not to say or do anything
  impolite or disgraceful when they are in the presence of noble people. How
  careful would they be if they realised that they were all the time in the
  presence of angels. The surah indeed arouses the most noble feelings of
  our upright nature by portraying this fact in such a familiar way.

  We are then told of the destinies of the righteous and the wicked, which
  are determined by the reckoning based on the recordings by the noble
    Surely the righteous shall be in bliss, while the wicked shall be
    in Hell, where they shall be thrown on the Day of Judgement, nor
    shall  they ever be absent from it.
  The end is certain. That the righteous shall dwell in blissful happiness
  and the wicked shall  end up in Hell is already determined. A "righteous"
  person is the one who consistently does "right" actions, i.e. good deeds
  of all kinds, until doing them becomes an intrinsic quality of his. The
  adjective "righteous" has connotations which fit in well with nobility
  and humanity. The contrasting quality, "wickedness", carries connotations
  of insolence and impudence as the wicked indulge in their sinful actions.
  Hell is a proper recompense for wickedness. The surah emphasises the
  certainty of this punishment: "where they shall be thrown on the Day of
  Judgement. " Then it re-emphasises it: "nor they shall ever be absent from
  it." They cannot escape it in the first place, nor will they be allowed to
  leave it, not even for a short while Having stated what happens on the
  Day of Judgement, the surah emphasizes again the certainty of that day,
  since it is denied by some.
  The emphasis is provided here in the form of a rhetorical question which
  enhances the mystery surrounding the object of the question. The surah
  then states the complete helplessness of everyone, the absolute
  impossibility of giving or receiving support and that Allah is the
  absolute sovereign on that awesome day:
    Would that you knew what the Day of Judgement is! Oh, would that you
    knew what the Day of Judgement is! It is the day when no soul can be
    of any help to any other soul and Allah reigns supreme.
  The form "would that you knew ... " is in Arabic a form of rhetorical
  question often used in the Qur'an. It suggests that the matter under
  discussion is far beyond our imagining and understanding. This is
  stressed here by repetition of the question before details about
  conditions on the day concerned are given: "It is the day when no soul can
  be of any help to any other soul." It is total helplessness when everyone
  stands alone, busy with his own problems, unable to think of anyone else,
  relative or friend. "And Allah reigns supreme." He indeed reigns supreme
  in this life and the next. This fact, however, becomes so clear on that
  day that no one can overlook it, as the ignorant and the conceited do in
  this life. The surah closes with an air of fear and speechless expectation
  which contrasts with the air of violent horrors of the opening. In between
  the two man is addressed with that remonstrance which overwhelms him with
  a feeling of shame.





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