In the Shade of the Qur'an - Surah # 84
In the Shade of the Qur'an - Surah # 84
Sura # 84
In the name of Allah, the
Beneficent, the Merciful.
When the sky is rent asunder, obeying her Lord in true submission; When
the earth is stretched out and casts forth all that is within her and
empty, obeying her Lord in true submission ! O man! You labor
hard unto your Lord, and you shall meet
Him. He who is given his book
in his right hand shall have a lenient reckoning and return rejoicing
to his people. But he who is given his book behind his back shall call
destruction upon himself and shall roast in the fire of Hell. He
lived among his family joyfully. He
surely thought he would never
return. Yes, indeed; his Lord was watching over him. I swear by the
twilight, and by the night and what it envelops, and by the moon in her
full perfection, that you shall
certainly ride, that you shall certainly
ride, stage after stage. Why then do they not accept the faith,
kneel in prayer when the Qur'an is read to them? But the disbelievers
crying lies, and Allah knows very well what they are hiding. So
give them the tidings of a woeful doom,
save those who embrace the
true faith and do good deeds; for theirs is an unfailing recompense.
In the Shade of the Qur'an
The surah opens by sketching some of the scenes of universal upheaval
which were dealt with in greater detail in surahs 81, 82 and earlier in
surah 78; "The Darkening", "The Cleaving
Asunder" and "The Tiding",
respectively. These scenes, however, are now given a special tone arising
from emphasis on the complete submission by heaven and earth to Allah:
When the sky is rent
asunder, obeying her Lord in true submission;
when the earth is stretched out and castsforth all that
her and becomes empty, obeying her Lord in true submission.
This powerful opening with its emphasis on submission to Allah is a
foreword to the subsequent address to man.
to make him feel his
humbleness in front of his Lord. Man is reminded of his position and
destiny when he returns to Allah:
O man! You labour hard unto your Lord, and you shall meet
He who is given his book in his right hand shall have a lenient
and return rejoicing to his people. But he who is given
his book behind his back shall call down destruction
and shall roast in the fire of hell. He lived among his family
joyfully. He surely thought he would never return. Yes, indeed;
his Lord was watching over him .
The third part of the surah sketches certain scenes of life on earth
which are well known to man. These
have their significance as they point
to Allah's planning, which is elaborate, and faultless. An oath is made
to assert that men must live through deliberately planned stages which
they cannot escape journeying through and
I swear by the twilight, and by the night and what it envelops, and
by the moon in her full perfection, that you shall certainly ride,
stage after stage.
The last part of the surah wonders at those who deny the faith when
their position is as described in
the previous two parts, and the
end of their world is as described in the beginning of the surah:
Why then do they not accept the faith, or kneel in prayer when
the Qur'an is
read to them?
Then follows an assertion that Allah knows what they conceal within
themselves and an ultimatum is given on their inevitable end:
But the disbelievers are crying
lies, and Allah knows very well
what they are hiding, so give them the tiding of woeful doom,
save those who embrace the true faith and do good deeds, for
theirs is an unfailing recompense.
Two main qualities are evident in this surah: its quiet rhythm and its
earnest message. Both are evident even in
the images of the universal
upheaval the surah contains, which are portrayed with much more violence
elsewhere (Surah 81, "The Darkening"). Here the attitude of sympathetic
and compassionate cautioning is adopted.
The cautioning is gradual, easy
and presented in a quiet, inspiring statement beginning with the words
"O man". This awakens the conscience.
The various parts of the surah are ordered according to a special plan.
It carries the reader through a variety of scenes, some relating to the
universe, others to man himself.
The scenes are sketched one after the
other in a thoughtful order starting with the scene of universal
submission to Allah, which leaves a gentle but real impression on the
reader's heart. Then we have the scene of
the reckoning, reward and
retribution, followed by a contemporary scene of life on earth and its
Then follows a statement of wonder at those who, after all
this, still refuse to accept the faith. The statement
is combined with
a warning of severe punishment, and a promise of unfailing reward to
All this is embodied in the few lines which compose this short surah.
Succinctness of style
is just one aspect of the miraculous nature of
the Qur'an . The ideas the surah sets out to explain could not normally
be tackled with such power and to such effect, even if entire books
were devoted to the task. But the
Qur'an achieves its purpose because
it addresses hearts directly. No wonder! It is the word of the Lord
Who knows all.
When the sky is rent asunder, obeying her Lord in true submission;
when the earth is stretched out and castsforth all that is within
her and becomes empty, obeying her
Lord in true submission.
The splitting of the sky has been dwelt upon in the commentary
surahs. One new element here is the submission by the sky to her Lord
and her complete obedience:
"obeying her Lord in true submission."
Another new element is the stretching of the earth: "when the earth
is stretched out." This means perhaps an expansion of her size or shape
as a result of a disruption of the laws
of nature which govern her and
preserve her in her present shape. The statement, made in the passive,
suggests that this will be carried out through the intervention of an
outside force, "and castsforth all that is
within her and becomes empty."
This image portrays the earth as a living entity casting out what is
her and getting rid of it.
There are indeed a great many things within her, countless types of
that have lived, died and were buried over a long period of
time, the span of which is known to no one but Allah
. It also includes
abundant resources of metals, water and other secrets unknown except to
The earth carries all this load one generation after another
until that final day when it casts forth all that
is within her and gets
rid of it. "Obeying her Lord in true submission". She follows the sky's
and declares total obedience and complete submission to Allah.
These short verses with their vivid description
show both the sky and
the earth as living, receiving their orders and instantly complying with
Their obedience is a manifestation of their conscious and dutiful
scene sketched here is one of universal upheaval which takes
place on the Day of Judgment, its shades of humility
tranquillity are brought out in full relief. The impression it leaves,
therefore, is one
of humble and obedient submission to Allah.
In such an atmosphere of conscious obedience, man is addressed from
"O man! You labour hard unto your Lord, and you shall meet Him."
"O man!" your Lord has made
you in a perfect way. He has given you your
humanity which distinguishes you from the rest of creation. Your humanity
endows you with certain characteristics which should have made you more
conscious of your Lord, and
more obedient and submissive to Him than both
the sky and the earth. He has given man of His own spirit and endowed
with the ability to communicate with Him, receive His light, ennoble him
self with Allah's grace
in order to achieve the highest degree of
perfection attainable by man. This is no little distinction. "O man!
You labour hard unto your Lord and you shall meet Him." Man certainly
labors hard in this life, shouldering
his responsibilities and exerting
himself. All this he does in order to return, in the end, like all the
rest of creation, to Allah. Man labors even for what he enjoys! Nothing
in this life comes easily or without effort:
if sometimes no physical
labour is needed, then surely some mental and emotional effort will be
In this the rich and poor are alike, although the labour
exerted may differ in kind and form. This address reminds
laboring hard, in a variety of ways, is the lot of all in this life on
earth. But when men meet
their Lord, they will fall into two groups:
one will suffer hardship incomparable to that suffered on earth; another
consisting of those who have demonstrated their obedience and true
submission, will enjoy the blessings
of a rest in which the suffering of
this life will be forgotten.
He who is given
his book in his right hand shall have a lenient
reckoning and return rejoicing to his people
He who is given his book in his right hand is the happy one who was
true to his faith Allah is
pleased with him and rewards him well. He
will have a lenient reckoning, that is to say that he will not be called
to account for what he did in his life. This is abundantly clear in the
traditions of the Prophet. "Aisha
(may Allah be pleased with her)
related that the Messenger said, 'He who is called to account will
affliction.' I pointed out, she said, that Allah says, 'He ...
shall have a lenient reckoning'. The Messenger
answered, 'That is not
what is meant by reckoning and accountability. Lenient reckoning
more than showing his record. He who is called to account
on the Day of Judgement will suffer affliction."
(al Bukhari, Muslim,
at Tirmidhi, an Nasai).
Aisha also related: "I heard Allah's messenger
(peace be upon him) saying
in his prayers 'My Lord, make my reckoning a lenient one'. When he had
his prayers I asked him, 'What is the lenient reckoning?' He
answered: 'He who receives lenient reckoning will
have his record looked
into and will be forgiven, but he who is called to account on that day
This is, then the lenient reckoning accorded to him who receives his
book in his right hand. He shall win "and
return rejoicing m his people",
who will also have won and arrived in heaven ahead of him. We deduce from
this statement that those who accept the faith in this life and adhere
to the right path will gather together in
heaven. Everyone ends up with
those whom he loves and enjoys their company. We also have an image of
the winner's all-important test: he returns with his face overflowing
image is the extreme opposite of what happens to the afflicted who
has to account for his evil deeds and receives
his book with reluctance.
But he who is given his book behind his back shall call down
destruction upon himself and shall roast in the fire of Hell.
The Qur'an usually makes a
distinction between receiving the book with
one's right hand or left hand. Here we have a new image: the book is
given from behind the back. There is no reason to prevent the combination
of anyone being given the
book in his left hand and from behind his back
at the same time. It is an image of one who feels great shame and
to be confronted with what he has done. We have no real knowledge of
the nature of this book or
how it is given in one's right or left hand
or behind one's back. But we comprehend from the first expression the
reality of escape, and from the second the reality of doom.
This is indeed what we are meant to appreciate.
The various forms of
expression are used mainly to drive the point to us and to enhance
The exact knowledge of what will happen and how it will
happen belongs to Allah.
unfortunate one who lived his life on earth laboring hard but
disobeying Allah and indulging in what is forbidden
will know his
destiny. He realizes that what lies in front of him is more suffering
and hard labour with
the only difference that this time the suffering
is greater, uninterrupted and endless. So, he shall call destruction
upon himself, for he will see his own destruction as his only means of
salvation from what will befall
him. When man seeks refuge in his own
destruction, then he is certainly in a helpless position. His own non
existence becomes his strongest desire. His helplessness is beyond
description. This is the meaning implied by
the Arab poet Al-Mutanabbi,
in his poem which starts with what may be rendered in English as:
Suffice it a malady that you should think death a cure. It says
much that doom should be desired.
It is certainly a case of indescribable distress and misery. "And (he)
shall roast in the fire of Hell."
This is the end from which he wishes
to escape by means of his own destruction; but there is no way out.
Having portrayed this miserable scene, the surah gives us a glimpse
of the sufferer's past which led him to this
endless misery: "He
lived among his family joyfully. He surely thought he would never
return." The past
tense is used here because we feel that we are on
the Day of Judgement, after this life has ended. The indulgence
the joy had taken place in this life. "He lived among his family
joyfully." He cared for nothing
beyond the moment he was in, and made
no preparation for the hereafter. "He surely thought he would never
return" to his Lord. Had he thought about the return at the end of his
Journey through life, he would have carried
with him some provisions to
sustain him. "Yes, indeed; his Lord was watching over him". Indeed Allah
has always been aware of man's thoughts, actions and feelings. Allah
knows that, contrary to what man had thought,
there would be a return to
Him to receive the reward merited by actions on earth. This is indeed
happens when all return to Allah to meet their appointed destiny,
when what Allah has ordained would take place.
The image of the miserable
one when he was joyful among his family in his short life on earth,
by its hard labour, in one form or another, has a counter
part in the image of the happy one who returns rejoicing
to his people
to live with them an eternal happy life, free from all hardship.
The surah then refers
briefly to some scenes of the world which man
inhabits. Men, however, continue to overlook the evidence such scenes
provide of the deliberate planning that has gone into the making of this
world. Indeed, this planning
includes the creation of man himself, and
his phases and transitions through life:
I swear by the twilight, and by the night and what it envelops, and
by the moon in her full perfection,
that you shall certainly journey
on, stage after stage.
which is indirect in the Arabic text, serves to draw man's
attention to these scenes of the universe. The connotations
in perfect harmony with those of the opening of the surah and the scenes
portrayed there. The
twilight refers to that period of stillness after
sunset when the soul is overwhelmed by a deep feeling of awe.
feels, at such a time, the significance of parting with a beloved
companion, and the feelings
of quiet sadness and deep melancholy this
involves. It also experiences a feeling of fear of the approaching
"And by the night and what it envelops." What the night envelops is left
to enhance the effect. Imagination can travel far and wide
as one thinks of what the nigh may conceal of events
and feelings. But
the travels of the imagination cannot capture all the images generated
by the short
Qur'anic verse: "And by the night and what it envelops."
Man is left with an overwhelming feeling and reverence
which is in perfect
harmony with the stillness and awe associated with the twilight.
"And by the
moon in her full perfection". This is another quiet and
splendid scene, describing the full moon as her light descends
the earth. The full moon is always associated with tranquillity. The
general impression implied
here is closely associated with the twilight,
and the dark night as it conceals everything. There is here a
complementary feeling of stillness and reverence.
"That you shall certainly ride, stage after stage,"
that is to say, you
will pass from one stage of suffering to another to what has been
you. The Qur'an uses the term "ride" to denote the
undergoing of various stages of suffering. "Ride" is frequently
Arabic to signify the passage through risk and difficulty. This usage
suggests that difficulties
and risks are like horses or mules to be
ridden. Each one will take the riders the stage predestined for it and
for them. Thus each one will deliver them to a new stage which is again
predetermined, in the same way as the universal
stages, i.e. the twilight,
the night and the perfect moon, are predetermined. They eventually end
their meeting with Allah, which bas been mentioned in the preceding
part. This coherent ordering of the parts of
the surah and the smooth
movement from one point to another is a characteristic of the superb
Following on from these sketches portrayed in the surah there comes an
of wonder at those who persist in their denial of the faith
when they have all these signs and all this abundant
themselves and in the world at large which indicates the truth: "Why
then do. they not
accept the faith, or kneel in prayer when the Qur'an
is read to them?" Indeed, why do they not accept the faith?
numerous indications in the universe and within the soul which point
out that the path of
faith is the right path. They are at once numerous,
deep and powerful, so they besiege the heart if it tries to
from facing them. But if a man listens to them, then they address him
in a manner which is
friendly and affectionate.
Why then do they not accept the faith, or kneel in prayer when
Qur'an is read to them?.
The Qur'an addresses them in the language
of pure human nature. It opens
the heart to the truth and points out its evidence both within themselves
and over the horizon. It kindles in the hearts the feelings of God
consciousness, humbleness, obedience and submission
to the Creator of
the universe. The expressions "kneel in prayer" refers to these feelings.
is splendid and inspiring: it offers a multitude of signs,
mental stimuli and moments of purity which combine to
arouse in the human
heart a ready response and a willing submission. The Qur'an is also superb
it links the heart with the splendid universe and,
consequently, with the Creator who made the universe. It gives
a feeling of the truth about the universe which also demonstrates the
truth of creation and
the Creator. Hence the wonder:
Why then do they not accept the faith, or kneel in prayer
Qur'an is read to them?
It is indeed amazing, but the Qur'an does not dwell
on it for long. It
proceeds to describe the behavior of the disbelievers and the end which
"But the disbelievers are crying lies, and Allah knows very
well what they are hiding, so give them the tiding
of a woeful doom."
The disbelievers cry lies, but the object of their denunciation as lies
is unspecified. In Arabic, omission of the object serves to widen the
scope of references of the verb. Thus, here
we understand that "crying
lies" is an entrenched habit and a characteristic of the disbelievers.
Allah is fully aware of the evil they conceal in their hearts and
He knows perfectly well their motives for belying
The surah leaves off to address the Messenger (peace be on him): "So
give them the tiding
of a woeful doom, " an unpleasant tiding for anyone
who is awaiting any news of his future. At the same time the
describes what awaits the believers who prepare for their future by
their good deeds. The description
is made in the form of an exception
from what awaits the disbelievers: "save those who embrace the faith
and do good deeds; for theirs is an unfailing recompense." This type of
exception is known in Arabic linguistics
as "unrelated exception". The
believers, not originally among the recipients of the black tidings, are
then excepted from it. This form of expression serves to draw attention
to what follows. The unfailing recompense
is one which is continuous and
unceasing, and will be given in the hereafter, where men are immortal.
On this decisive note the surah ends. It is a surah of short verses and