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Holy Quran Section > Commentary of the Holy Quran by Dr. Basharat Ahmad > Chapter 99 (Al-Zilzal - The Shaking)

Commentary of Chapter 99 (Al-Zilzal - The Shaking) of the Holy Quran:
by Dr. Basharat Ahmad
Translated by Imam Kalamazad Mohammed

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

When the earth is shaken with her shaking
And the earth brings forth her burdens
And man says: What has befallen her?
On that day she will tell her news,
As if thy Lord had revealed to her
On that day men will come forth in sundry bodies that they may be shown their works.
So he who does an atom's weight of good will see it,
And he who does an atom's weight of evil will see it.

This chapter is a Makkan revelation. The mighty revolution mentioned in the last chapter, The Clear Evidence, and which depended on the coming of the Holy Prophet (pbuh), could not have been effected without an earthquake. For, how can centuries of stagnation and inertia be eliminated unless a country is severely shaken by an earthquake of wars and calamities? This is the earthquake with which this chapter deals.

There is no doubt that this cataclysm refers to the Day of Resurrection, but as has been explained on many occasions, the lifetime of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was a representation on a smaller scale of the mighty upheaval that would take place on the Day of Resurrection, for the recompense for good and evil that took place in Makkah then, serves as a sure preview of the happenings in the Great Resurrection.

Therefore, the exemption pertains also to this life. Indeed, such was the power and intensity of this explosion on Arabia in the time of the Holy Prophet (pbuh), and so glorious were its repercussions, that people could clearly see unfolding before their eyes a smaller picture of the overwhelming earthquake promised in the Great Resurrection.

So, whatever descriptions of the earthquake are given in this chapter, concern the two resurrections, that is, the one which took place during the lifetime of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and also the one which has been fixed for the final Resurrection on the Day of Judgement. Therefore, the following commentary will encompass signs of both resurrections.

When the earth is shaken with her shaking
And the earth brings forth her burdens
And man says: What has befallen her?

Athqalaha (brings forth her burdens) means, according to Razi, the classical commentator of the Holy Quran, what is concealed in its interior, or a hidden secret.

Zilzalaha (shaken with her shaking) refers to an upheaval that is calculated to cause a great commotion in the hearts of men.

It is a well-known fact that if the effects of an earthquake that brings in its wake trials and tribulations cannot remove centuries of stagnation and instil life in those who were dead for generations, then it cannot be considered an eruption of cataclysmic proportions.

When a person is sound asleep in the languor of heedlessness it is necessary to shake him over and over in order to rouse him. Sometimes he does not get up at all and sometimes he wakes up for a while and then promptly falls back in sleep, so he has to be rudely shaken repeatedly in order to get him up. Similarly, a nation that has sunk into the pit of passivity and sloth has to be shaken over and over else it would not awake from its torpor.

So here, when reference is made to that wonderful material and spiritual revolution to which Islam gave birth when it came into the world, it is stated that it was necessary for Arabia to be thrown into convulsion and that the upheaval should be such as to cause a great awakening in the hearts of people.

And by Allah! look at how the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) and his Companions (rta) were afflicted by every imaginable kind of calamity; how many persecutions they had to endure; how the sentence of boycott was pronounced on them; how they were exiled and blockaded in a valley for three long years; how many were slaughtered like lambs. In short, there was no distress which they did not have to suffer.

But in using the word zilzalaha (shaken with her shaking) Allah was telling the Holy Prophet (pbuh) and his Companions (rta) that they had to get ready for more severe trials that were in store for them, for Arabia was deservedly going to experience an eruption of immense magnitude.

After the ordeals in Makkah came the Hijrah [Migration from Makkah to Madina] followed by wars which brought such tumult and hardship that not only was the whole of Arabia shaken to the core, but the people's hearts, which had become harder than stone, were also softened to such an extent that they were forced to bow their heads before the truth, and consternation reigned as to the reason for this unprecedented earthquake.

So, the Holy Quran tells us that if an earthquake does not take place, the earth cannot throw out its treasures. And indeed, how true a statement is this! For today, fourteen hundred years after the revelation of the Holy Quran, scientists have come to the conclusion that all the minerals and priceless treasures that lie hidden in the bowels of the earth may be brought to the surface of the earth only through the agency of an earthquake and, in fact, this is what really happens. If there is no earthquake, all these precious minerals and invaluable metals and chemicals will be lost to people. And it is to this spiritual truth that the Holy Quran draws our attention when it tells us that just as in the physical world if earthquakes do not occur, the hidden treasures beneath the earth cannot emerge, so, too, in the spiritual world, if earthquakes of trials and tribulations do not strike, then the hidden pearls in the nature of individuals or nations cannot come into actuality. In other words, without an earthquake of this severity, their innate talents cannot be discovered, nor receive nourishment, nor can their sublime morals be seen.

The Arab people were a hidden treasure, and because of their savagery and barbarity, their potential was concealed from the eyes of people. In other words, they were a treasure that lay buried under brutality and paganism. However, with the coming of Islam they had to undergo such severe convulsions and calamities that their hidden pearls flashed into view from under their concealed corner.

If the pious Companions of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) did not have to encounter such severe torments and upheavals how could we have witnessed these unparalleled examples of patience and perseverance, bravery and courage, personal and financial sacrifice and moral and spiritual excellence? If there were no Hijrah and no wars, how could the world have beheld those incomparable marvels of self-abnegation of which Muslims are so proud today?

Let us take a look for a moment at the lives of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) and his noble Companions (rta). Every trial that befell them and every torture they faced only served to burnish their high morals and their sublime but hitherto latent capabilities and make them so resplendent as to dazzle the eyes. If after the death of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) Arabia was not convulsed by apostasy and rebellion, how could the world have been apprised of the sterling qualities of Hazrat Abu Bakr's (rta) character? If the armies of Iran and Italy had not deliberately set out to trample the Muslims in the dust, could the world have known of Hazrat 'Umar's (rta) glory? Again, if the same nations and their numberless armies had not launched attack after attack against the small Muslim community, how could we have celebrated the heroic deeds of Khalid bin Walid (rta)? And if the whole Christian world, including the European nations, had not joined forces and advanced to capture the Holy Temple at Jerusalem, would the valour and chivalry of the Sultan, Salah-ud-din Ayyubi, been venerated both in the East and the West?

In the same way, if the combined forces of Christianity, the Arya Samaj, the atheistic communities and all false religions had not united to attack Islam, the glory of the great Mujaddid [Reformer/Renovator] of the fourteenth Islamic century, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, would not have been disclosed to us. And who would have heard of his departed companions like Maulana Nur-ud-Din, Maulana Muhammad Ali and Khwajah Kamal-ud-din, and their illustrious literary works and fervent missionary zeal in the cause of Islam?

So, we see that an earthquake is indispensable in unearthing the hidden capabilities of man. Maulana Nur-ud-Din, the first successor to Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, used to say that until a host of objections was not raised against a particular verse of the Holy Quran, the wealth of spiritual knowledge and insights contained in that verse could not be revealed.

In short, that revelation that Islam brought to the world needed a unique earthquake in order to bring out of the graves those who were buried under centuries of unbelief and misguidance. And when the time of that wonderful and glorious event would come to pass, man would cry in amazement: "What has come over the earth?"

History has recorded what a mighty transformation the land of Arabia underwent. In place of the darkness of savagery and barbarism, polytheism and misguidance, overnight there shone the light of civilisation and culture, righteousness and belief in one God and true moral and spiritual guidance. Those who were dead for centuries received life and became the standard-bearers of knowledge, guidance, culture and purity of life which they carried all over the known world and blessed every country with an unending legacy of divine knowledge and wisdom. This metamorphosis so astonished the Shah of Iran that he made certain derogatory remarks when he addressed the Muslim ambassadors in his court. A summary of those words was immortalised by the poet, Firdausi, in beautiful verses that captured the stupefaction of the Shah. The following is an interpretation in English of the Persian couplet:

Look at the audacity of these Arabs!
These drinkers of camels' milk and devourers of lizards' flesh.
Now they have dared to set their sights on the royal throne of Iran!
O Heaven, fie on Thee!

Can we find a more graphic description of the verse, And man will ask: What has befallen her (that is, the earth) than this expostulation of the Shah of Iran?

European Christian historians also have been forced to admit that the phenomenal practical transfiguration wrought in Arabia by the Holy Quran in just a few years has not been matched in the history of the world. Indeed it is a most stupendous sight to the eyes of every intelligent person. It is to this miracle that the poet, Hali, refers in the following poetic composition:

Was it the flash of lightning or the clarion call of the spiritual guide?
He who shook all Arabia to its foundations
Inspired in the hearts of all a new zeal.
A single voice awakened a slumbering nation.
The thunder of this Messenger of Truth echoed in every corner
So desert and mountain alike reverberated with the name of the Almighty.

On that day she will tell her news,

Tuhaddithu (she will tell), that is, the existing state of things will speak for themselves and will need no further description (Abu Muslim in Tafsir Kabir).

As if thy Lord had revealed to her.

Here laha (to her) refers to the revelation of the Holy Quran, because the reformation that is to come about because of this Book is for the benefit of the whole world. Not only will it be a case of astonishment to the people of one country, but this startling progress, perfection, knowledge and civilisation of the servants of the Holy Quran will spread and flourish in every nook and cranny of the world so that men of their own accord will exclaim: "How wonderful indeed is the revelation of this Quran from Allah and how universal is its benefit!"

Even today in Arabia, Iraq, Italy, Syria, Egypt, Spain, Morocco, Algeria, Iran and India, in fact, wherever the light of Islam shone, the evidence of an advanced and enlightened culture, civilisation and government stands out conspicuously as a testimony of the legacy that the Quranic revelation bequeathed to the world. Indeed, half of the poet Hali's Musaddas is devoted to the explanation of the verse: On that day she will tell her news, of which the following lines are just a sample:

Visit the ruins of Cordoba,
And look at the niches and doors of the mosques.
Cast a glance at the palaces of the Arab princes,
Examine the desolate ruins of former glory and splendour
And notice the resplendence of their beauty even in their fallen state
How even in the dust they shine like gold.

But this is not all, for is it not a universally accepted fact that the foundation of European science and learning was built on that very Islamic culture and civilisation which flowed to Europe through Spain and Palestine? It is to this that the poet, Hali, refers in this couplet:

The seeds of flowers of this beautiful spring that now adorns the earth,
Were all sown by those servants of the Holy Prophet Muhammad.

In his book, The Civilisation of the Arabs, Gustali Ban, the famous French research scholar, has confirmed the fact that every branch of human knowledge, learning and culture existing in the world today owes its origin to the civilisation and culture of the Arab Muslims who disseminated their learning throughout Europe. In fact, does not every atom of the earth repeatedly celebrate the truth that the Quranic revelation encompasses the whole world in its merciful embrace? And did not this earthquake that shook Arabia in that era of ignorance initiate an unprecedented world revolution, the benefit of which will never be cut off till the Day of Resurrection?

On that day men will come forth in sundry bodies that they may be shown their works.
So he who does an atom's weight of good will see it,
And he who does an atom's weight of evil will see it.

The expression a'malahum (their works) means what they actually did or what they were engaged in, just as the words, its way of evil and its way of good (91:8) refer to the evil that the soul will commit (in the future) or the righteous deeds it will perform.

These verses inform us that when that mighty revolution takes place, then the consequences of deeds will also be exposed to view and in order to witness them people will have to come out of their respective places in sundry groups. However, each person will contemplate his own action all by himself as explained by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad in this memorable couplet:

When the prophecy reaches its term,
Some will be honoured and some will be disgraced.

Accordingly, when Makkah was conquered, the first results of the great revolution were observed. People found themselves into two opposing groups: the first group comprised those cruel unbelievers of Makkah who experienced a fate of great shame and humiliation. In the second group stood the formerly oppressed Companions (rta) who were relishing that day the fruits of honour and victory. So, those who chose the path of goodness received a good result which was plainly evident to all, and those who opted for a life of evil saw before their eyes the bitter consequences of that unfortunate choice. In the war between good and evil, each person perceived the result of his actions in direct proportion to the measure of his choice and was rewarded according to the degree of his actions.

The example of the consequences of deeds that became visible in this very life, provides strong proof that actions do produce results and that finally a day will come when the full manifestation of deeds will take place. On that day the consequence of the smallest deed will be laid bare -- even an atom's weight of good or evil will be disclosed.

In the Latter Age, a great material revolution will take place in which the whole world will be turned upside down and the foundation of a new world order will be laid because of an unprecedented explosion of knowledge which will encompass both earth and outer space. So stupendous will be this new knowledge that it will bewilder the minds of men.

It is a testimony to Allah's glory that today new scientific researches are confirming what the Holy Quran revealed to us fourteen hundred years ago -- that no word or deed of man is ever lost or destroyed but they are all preserved in the vast expanse of the universe, exactly as sounds are preserved in a gramophone record and actions and movements of actors are recorded in films.

So, scientists are deeply engaged in trying to decipher the records preserved in the book of nature. They affirm that if this attempt is successful there will be a tremendous revolution in the historical records of the world and the veracity or falsity of historians will come to light, as well as the words and actions of every character in history. Uspan, an English Muslim convert and former editor of the Outlook and the Light (two magazines), has made an incisive remark on this matter, boldly declaring that the day the records conserved in the book of nature are decoded the result would be the immediate collapse of Christianity, for the false stories relating to the Godhead of the Messiah, Prophet Jesus, and his being taken up to heaven alive will be exposed and consequently the doctrines of the Trinity and the Atonement will vanish from the face of the earth.

Of course, Allah, Most High, has promised us in this chapter that when the great revolution takes place on the Day of Judgement the resultant earthquakes and convulsions will be such that no secret will remain hidden in the world and a most bewildering change will take place in the Universe and this will leave man in utter consternation. On that day, this world's record that is preserved in the book of nature will be seen and heard and through Allah's command His sound-box will play its music and the film of man's actions will appear on the cinema screen. Then, man will realise how merciful to him was the revelation of Allah's Holy Book, the Quran, which came to warn him of this dreadful day and to urge him to walk along the straight path, for if he takes this path, no shame shall befall him on the day when all secrets will be exposed. On that day, men will be gathered together to witness their deeds, but the conditions will vary: for those who acted righteously, it will be a day of happiness when they will be heroes of their film, whilst for those who chose the way of opposition to the truth, it will be a day of terrible anxiety, confusion and perturbation. That is because their hidden sins which they kept concealed from the whole world will be played on a big screen for all to see. And what greater humiliation can there be than for supposedly cultured and noble people to have their foul and impure deeds exposed to public view?

The concern will naturally arise in the hearts of man: will every action of man, including those sins forgiven by Allah be shown to everybody on the Day of Resurrection? If that is so, then why make taubah and istighfar, that is, prayers for forgiveness and the suppression of sins? The answer to this is that every action will indeed be exposed, but those sins which have been forgiven by Allah will be seen only by the person who has been forgiven and not by everyone. This fulfils the promise of every deed being witnessed, yet at the same time it is in keeping with the Divine attributes of Ghaffaar and Sattaar, which mean the One Who forgives and covers up the wrong-doings of His servants (who beg for forgiveness and make amends). And for this favour of the Almighty, the servant should bow down in this life at the threshold of his Lord and thank Him for His unbounded mercy for concealing on the Day of Resurrection the sins which He has out of His bounty and grace forgiven him.


Holy Quran Section > Commentary of the Holy Quran by Dr. Basharat Ahmad > Chapter 99 (Al-Zilzal - The Shaking)


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