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Holy Quran Section > Commentary of the Holy Quran by Dr. Basharat Ahmad > Chapter 88 (Al-Ghashiyah - The Overwhelming Event)

Commentary of Chapter 88 (Al-Ghashiyah - The Overwhelming Event) of the Holy Quran:
by Dr. Basharat Ahmad
Translated by Imam Kalamazad Mohammed


In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.

Has there come to thee the news of the Overwhelming Event?
Faces on that day will be downcast,
Labouring, toiling,
Entering burning Fire,
Made to drink from a boiling spring.
They will have no food but of thorns,
Neither nourishing nor satisfying hunger.
Faces that day will be happy,
Glad for their striving,
In a lofty Garden,
Wherein thou wilt hear no vain talk.
Therein is a fountain flowing.
Therein are thrones raised high,
And drinking-cups ready placed,
And cushions set in rows,
And carpets spread out.
See they not the clouds, how they are created?
And the heaven, how it is raised high?
And the mountains, how they are fixed?
And the earth, how it is spread out?
So remind. Thou art only one to remind.
Thou art not a watcher over them --
But whoever turns back and disbelieves ,
Allah will chastise him with the greatest chastisement.
Surely to Us is their return.
Then it is for Us to call them to account.

This chapter was revealed in Makkah and such a strong connection exists between this and the previous chapter, Al-'Ala (The Most High), and so important are the topics with which they deal that our Holy Prophet (pbuh) used to read them in many Friday congregational prayers and many times he read them in the two 'Id prayers. His idea was that when a large gathering of people was assembled it was the opportune time to instil in their minds the subject matter of these chapters. In the chapter, Al 'Ala (The Most High), we are given the command to glorify Allah and it further states that the perfection of this praise can be achieved through this very chapter, so that we should act according to the guidance given to us by Allah and thus fulfil the purpose for which we were created. In this chapter (Al-Ghashiyah) we are told that we have to account for our deeds and so we should try to fashion our behaviour on the pattern of the guidance which Allah has given us in the Holy Quran. Then if our deeds are good and are firmly based on this Divine guidance, we will achieve the object of our existence and our future life will be a happy one. If not, we will be ruined.

The Day of Resurrection has been referred to by several different names in the Holy Quran. For example, it is called As-Sa'ah (The Hour), Al-Qari'ah (The Calamity), Al-Haqqah (The Sure Truth), As-Sakkhah (The Deafening Cry) and Al-Akhirah (The Hereafter). However, in every place where a particular name has been given, it is done so because it contains a special significance and refers to a peculiar condition which is in total conformity with the occasion and the conditions. Here the name Al-Ghashiyah (The Overwhelming Event) is given, so here, too, we should keep in mind that special significance which it is intended for us to examine. The Day of Resurrection is called the event that covers everything. Why is this so? we may ask. To understand this we must keep in mind an important principle of the Holy Quran. Whatever theme or thesis it wants us to concentrate on in a particular chapter it places in the beginning of the chapter. It then gives us different kinds of evidence and all kinds of illustrations to support the theme. Then the same subject is brought back in the end to close off the chapter.

This analogy from the world of music will enlighten us. Music, which is considered to be the most organised system in the world, is composed on the same principle as that of the Holy Quran. When a singer intends to sing a raag (a musical mode) he opens with the tunes that are peculiar to this tune. Then he ascends and descends accordingly and after all his fluctuations he finishes off with the very tune with which he started the musical mode.

So, as regards order and system, music is unparalleled. But a person who is ignorant of musical composition will not understand its delicate system and will consider the various fluctuations of the singer's song as a disorganised rendition and may even laugh at it. However, an expert in music who understands the intricacies of the musical arrangements will experience an ecstasy of the soul from the same rendition.

Similarly, a person who is deficient in knowledge and understanding of the subtle order and system underlying the arrangement of the Quranic verses may be misled and, Allah forbid! he may consider it a jumbled mass. On the other hand, a person who has knowledge of the Holy Quran and is aware of the strong connection that runs through the verses of the Holy Quran, will appreciate the fact that the superb composition of the Holy Quran greatly exceeds that of the best musical arrangement and will derive the greatest pleasure from the Holy Quran. In short, such is the affinity that exists between the beginning and the end of each chapter that one can say that either one serves as an explanation of the other.

In the beginning of this chapter, the word Al-Ghashiyah, meaning "a fearful event", is employed and this is explained in the end by the sentence, Then it is for Us to call them to account. In other words, accountability for our actions will have to be given by everyone and no one shall escape its ambit. Indeed, there is no greater difficulty or trial than having to give account for our actions.

Civil servants in various government departments can bear witness to the trying ordeal which they experience when government officers or auditors come to inspect their work and their books. So heavy does this burden of accountability rest on the heart and mind of man that it is difficult for some to sleep during these days even though the examination of these worldly auditors does not encompass every single action of theirs for they examine a page or two here and there and their knowledge is not total. In fact, they can even be deceived. On the other hand, look at how searching and complete will be Allah's examination of man's deeds -- nothing will be hidden from Him and for every action an account will have to be given together with the intention that motivated each deed, even the secrets from the innermost recesses of the heart. If man should avail himself of Allah's mercy and forgiveness, he can surmount this hurdle, otherwise poor man has no resting-place excepting Allah. There can be no greater ghashiyah (all-encompassing event) than this.

Someone once saw the Caliph Umar in a dream twelve years after his (Umar's) death. He was all drenched in perspiration and when asked the reason for this he replied: "I have just finished giving account." Thus, having to give account is a very frightful affair.

Allah, Most High, asks us: What do you understand by the Overwhelming Event? But He does not give us the definition of this word. Instead, He presents to us the impact and the consequences of this Event so that from these we can understand for ourselves what those scenes will be like.

Let us now look closely at this description in the following verses:

Faces on that day will be downcast
Labouring, toiling

This description tells us that Hell is also a jail in the Hereafter and the description of the condition of the guilty ones can be clearly seen in a small measure in the prisons of this world. The first impression that any observer can see in the faces of the prisoners is the sign of disgrace. However high or noble a man may be, as soon as he enters prison to serve a sentence, one can discern the stamp of humiliation writ large on his face. Furthermore, from dawn to dusk he is forced into hard labour. However, his exertion bears no fruit for him except that in the evening he collapses in utter fatigue. In other words, in jail he labours and toils but he receives no recompense but distress and fatigue, whereas when he is out of prison he does the same work but here he enjoys the fruits of his labour.

Similarly, in the prison of the Hereafter the faces of the inmates will be stamped with disgrace and humiliation. As a corrective measure, a prisoner will be forced to labour there as a punishment but he will obtain no reward for his hard work except great grief and fatigue. If he were to do this work in this world of his own free will, then he would receive his just due but in the prison of the Hereafter, he will have to do the same work by force but the difference is that he will not benefit from it there.

The truth is that the Hereafter is a representation of this world. Whatever condition man was invisibly fashioning for himself here will be clearly visible there. All those who had placed their whole life in the prison of their lusts and desires and had become their slaves will find this hidden prison highly visible in the next life in the form of a jail. Indeed, this humiliation of those who are prisoners of their low desires and ambitions can be easily perceived in this very life by those who have knowledge and possess insight into human nature.

Entering burning fire

It is a fact that those who placed themselves in the prison of their base passions and low desires will find that those very passions were indeed a fire in their hearts. So if in the Hereafter this prison is not of fire, what else is it? It is evident, therefore, that the fire of this prison on earth accompanies the wrongdoer into the next life.

Made to drink from a boiling spring

The efforts to fulfil the lusts and desires of this world can never bring coolness and contentment to the heart of man. For, whatever object he seeks to acquire in order to bring him peace and happiness and which he considers as a means of quenching the thirst of this worldly life of his -- that very thing when he gets it becomes like boiling water which increases his restlessness and anguish instead of becoming the much anticipated source of his peace and tranquillity. Instead of giving peace it only stokes the fire of the worldly-minded and this will appear to him in the Hereafter like boiling water which neither quenches thirst nor brings coolness and contentment.

They will have no food but of thorns
Neither nourishing nor satisfying hunger

Food benefits us in two ways. Firstly, it is digested in the stomach and becomes part of the body and provides nourishment for it. Secondly, when it fills the stomach, it assuages the pangs of hunger. If any food is heavy or is inferior in quality and is not digested, or if it is not very nutritious, then the result at least will be that the burning pangs of hunger will be cooled.

However, the Holy Quran says that in the next life the sustenance that the guilty will receive will be like thorns which will not provide any nourishment for human growth, neither will it cool the fiery pangs of hunger. This indeed is a fitting description of the state of a seeker after this world's life, and this will be fully manifested in the next life.

Thus the prison of Hell is really a representation of the consequences of man's subservience to his low passions and base desires. And the fire of Hell is, in fact, a manifestation of that fire which rises in the hearts of the worldly-minded on account of these same vile passions. There, the boiling water and thorns are really the repercussions of the lust for this world's transient pleasures which can never extinguish the yearning of man's inner self nor provide tranquillity and coolness for his soul; neither can it satisfy man's hunger and so bring an end to his chasing after sensual pleasures nor can it bring comfort to the soul of man so that he may be happy in the Hereafter.

Faces that day will be happy
Glad for their striving

These are they who have passed the test. If you look at the face of a successful student you can see how happy and joyful he is. There is no one who can prevent the liveliness, joy and ecstasy from appearing on his face when he succeeds in his labour and begins to reap the reward of his harvest. This is a sight that all can readily behold even at a single glance. As these people did not become slaves of their passions and desires in this life, therefore, as befits free people, their deeds will bear their own fruits in the Hereafter. It is indeed an established fact that if the result of one's striving is success according to one's expectation, then joy and bliss will replace the fatigue of hard work, and just as such a person has pleased Allah in this world, so, too, will Allah please him in the next life. He will not enter Hell but will be an inhabitant of Paradise for Allah will reward him for his actions with a garden which he himself helped to create through his own good deeds.

In a lofty garden

Those who had transformed the fire of their passions and desires into a verdant garden in this life through the water of Allah's grace and the seeds of their own good works will see their garden in the form of a paradise in the next life, and the higher the heaven, the greater the evidence of their spiritual progress and their exalted position. In his Musnuvi, Maulana Rumi composed a poem from a saying of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) in which he wrote that when the inhabitants of paradise approach the door of Heaven they will say to the angels: "We were told that we would have to cross over Hell before we reached Heaven, but on our way here we didn't see any sign of Hell."

The angels will ask: "Did you see some gardens on your way here?"

On receiving the reply that they had seen four gardens, the angels will then explain: "Those gardens were indeed Hell, but for you who had converted your fiery passions and desires into a garden in your earthly life they appeared like gardens, but to the inmates of Hell those gardens are really fire."

Maulana Rumi then went on to explain the meaning of those gardens which he said represented four passions which a righteous person had overcome in this worldly life, namely: greed, sexual passions, anger and envy.

Wherein thou wilt hear no vain talk

There are some things which are harmful to us and others that are beneficial. But there is a certain thing which, while it brings no harm neither brings any benefit to us, and that thing is lughv (vain discourse or absurd talk). In the following verse, the Holy Quran tells us that success for the believer comes when he avoids absurdities:

And those who shun what is vain (23:3),

because the believer protects himself from those pursuits which bring no benefit to him.

In fact, everyone considers it a personal duty to avoid harmful things, but the believer goes further by shunning even those activities which do not profit him. In short, every second of his life sees him engaged in good works. Therefore, those who avoided vain discourse in this life will be kept far from it in the next life.

Therein is a fountain flowing

This spring contains the water which irrigates man's actions which are in accordance with the commands of Allah and it is so full of coolness and satisfaction that it is from this spring that the soul of man attains the noble position of nafs-ul-mutma'innah (soul that is at rest) and thus he inherits eternal happiness, for a new life -- a heavenly one -- is given to him.

Therein are thrones raised high
And drinking-cups ready placed
And cushions set in rows
And carpets spread out

These four verses portray a picture of the honour that will be granted to the inmates of Paradise by their Lord. When people occupy lofty thrones either in a court or in an assembly, it indicates the exalted status which the king or the host bestows on them in full view of his guests. The beautiful glasses and earthen tumblers and such-like eating and drinking utensils signify the love that the king or the host has for his guests, whilst the large pillows, etc., are symbols of the comfort and repose which the king or the host wishes to provide for his guests. The carpets are signs of the joy and happiness which the king or the host has in his heart for his guests who respond to his invitation.

Here the Holy Quran mentions four different things which the inhabitants of Paradise will receive in exchange for their high moral and spiritual qualities:

1. Lofty thrones - these signify honour in the court of Allah.

2. Earthen tumblers - these are symbols of Allah's love for His righteous servants.

3. Large pillows - these stand for the manifestation of Allah's happiness and pleasure when He contemplates His obedient servants.

4. Carpets - these stand for the manifestation of Allah's happiness and pleasure when He contemplates His obedient servants.

These four kinds of reward are, in fact, the result of upholding four great principles according to which the inmate of paradise spent his life in this earthly sojourn; and these four principles are the very essence of religion which is called Islam. These four essential principles of religion are explained in the following four verses.

See they not the clouds, how they are created?
And the heaven, how it is raised high?
And the mountains, how they are fixed?
And the earth, how it is spread out?

The Shari'ah (Law) of Islam is divided into two parts:

1. Kindness to the creation of Allah. That is, to be kind and sympathetic to Allah's creation and to make sacrifices for their sake.
2. Respect for the command of Allah. That is, to show such perfect obedience to Him and to develop so strong a connection with Him that it becomes easy for us to give up everything in the world besides Him.

Similarly, the decrees of Allah are divided into two parts:

1. Sadness
2. Happiness, which man experiences alternately from time to time.

Now the above four verses deal with these topics one by one. The first two verses address the two principles of the Shari'ah whilst in the next two verses the two conditions of man relating to the decrees of Allah are depicted in the book of nature, for Allah in this way wants us to understand and grant the essential nature of religion. For in these four scenes from nature He has given us guidance relating to the four topics given above so that we should learn from them because if these four principles do not permeate our inner selves we can never be regarded as perfect followers of our religion, Islam. The most effective way to explain the fundamentals of religion is through the observation of the book of nature from which the greatest of philosophers, or the most primitive of mankind can equally grasp the basic truths of religion.

Let us hold for a moment the following picture in our imagination. Arabia is a large desert which extends as far as the eye can see and on one side there stands a large barren chain of arid mountains. Now let us picture a primitive Arab standing in this bare sandy waste. He has just dismounted from his camel and is cut off from the whole world. No creature can he see, neither bird nor beast nor man nor even any vegetation. In front of him he can see just four things: his camel standing near him, the sky high above him, that great barren mountain range and that desert stretching as far as he can see. In these four things, the Holy Quran is teaching him the basic principles of his religion, for from the book of nature he is being taught the nature of his religion.

It is as if Allah is telling him (and by extension, all of us): "O man, the first principle of religion, that is, Islam, is kindness to the creation of Allah, and you can learn this from the example of this camel. Look at his hard work and sacrifice, how day and night he carries the loads of other people and never grows tired. He bears their burdens across remote deserts where it is impossible for either man or animal to enter alone. Those whose loads he carries enjoy the good things of life whilst he has to be contented with thorny bushes for sustenance; they drink water whilst for several days and sometimes weeks he has nothing to drink, but when his owners run out of food and drink, they slaughter him, and besides having his flesh to eat they find water in his abdomen in a water-bag which Allah in His infinite mercy has placed there and they refresh themselves with it thus saving their lives. Can you find a better model of silent sacrifice and hard work than in the example of this animal? Then from another point of view look at how hundreds of camels walk peacefully in a straight line over long distances without fighting among themselves. Thus, O man, learn from this animal standing in front of you the first principle of the religion of nature, Islam, that is, kindness to the creatures of Allah. Bear the burden of others with difficulty and pain to places where others do not have the strength to reach and with pain to yourself to give relief to others without tiring. Go hungry yourself but give others their fill to eat and if it should happen that you have to sacrifice your life in the service and welfare of people, do not hesitate even for a moment. When working in a group, like the camel, participate in silent determination and with strong resolution, mutual sympathy and unity. In other words, learn half of the religion of nature from this animal.

In order to learn the second half of religion, that is, union with Allah and reverential obedience to His commands, turn your eyes, O man, to the sky and see how high it is built above you. Therefore, in obedience to Allah's commands, cast your glance, O man, to the sky and see how high it is built above you. Therefore, in obedience to Allah's commands and in forming an unbreakable bond with Him, that is, cutting off yourself from everything else besides Him, try to excel in perfection and excellence in the same measure as the sky rises high above the earth and is free from all that it contains. Therefore, you, too, in your ascent towards Allah should rise high like the sky, above all low desires and passions and, far from being a creature of the earth, you should soar high in the sky. Always remember that a person who is more inclined to earthly pleasures can never achieve full belief in the Oneness of Allah nor effect a perfect union with Him.

After perfecting the teachings of the Law, Allah draws attention to the two conditions that emanate from His decrees: He deals firstly with sorrows and advises mankind thus: "If you have to face pain and difficulties, then stand up to them as firmly as the mountains. However tempestuous the winds and waves of hardships and calamities, never yield an inch but remain unshakeable as the mountains and never swerve from your position and principles. In other words, in times of sorrow, learn patience and steadfastness from the example of the mountains. Secondly, if happiness and luxuries and wealth should come your way, then become humble like the earth and instead of exhibiting pride and niggardliness try hard to cultivate the qualities of humility, meekness, forebearingness, generosity and munificence as is displayed by the earth which lies flat and low as far as the eye can see. Indeed, day and night, it is trampled by the feet of friend and foe, yet it never withholds its favours from any - rich or poor, friend or enemy all find rest in its bosom as they make use of its food grains, fruit, vegetation, water, air and everything else it has to offer. Therefore, in times of happiness and success learn the virtue of gratitude from the earth. Your humility and lowliness, your courtesy and generosity, your magnanimity and selflessness should be based on the pattern of the earth."

In short, these four above-mentioned principles which constitute the foundation of religion will be bestowed on the believer in the next life as rewards for his striving. The beauty of this is that these four principles of religion are so simple and so evident in the book of nature that even a primitive person in a desolate wilderness can learn them from his surroundings. Further, if someone does not profit from the teachings of the messenger of Allah, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), and in spite of being vouchsafed the subtle points of religion, he still remains heedless, then he has no one but himself to blame for his ill-fortune.

Therefore, the Holy Quran commands:

So remind. Thou art only one to remind.

That is, in spite of the fact that the Holy Prophet is reminding people of the religion of nature which, in fact, exists both in man's inner-self as well as in the book of nature, if they reject, then the Holy Quran says in the following verses:

Thou art not a watcher over them
But whoever turns back and disbelieves
Allah will chastise him with the greatest chastisement

The Holy Prophet (pbuh) is told that his duty is to warn people and convey the message of Allah to them; he is not to compel them. If any should turn away and deny the truth, Allah Himself will mete out punishment to him for his actions.

Surely to Us is their return
Then it is for Us to call them to account

These verses refer to the promise of accountability mentioned in the beginning of the chapter in the word Al-Ghashiyah, which means the event that covers everything from which no one can escape. Allah, Most High, tells the Holy Prophet (pbuh) to teach the religion to people and if they do not accept it, then there is no blame on him for ultimately they all have to return to Allah and He, Himself, will be the One Who will take account of their deeds. To those who believe or spread the propaganda that Islam was spread at the point of the sword, there is in these verses a clear refutation in this shattering reply.


This page was printed from the 'Official Website of the Ahmadiyya Anjuman Isha'at-e-Islam Lahore (Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement for the Propagation of Islam)'
located at
http://aaiil.org or http://www.aaiil.org

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