You have been distracted by the competition for more and more,Until you visit your gravesVery soon you will find out...
Quran Explanation Series
The purpose of this tafseer (explanation, commentary) series is to give the meaning and substance of the Quranic surahs (chapters) and ayas (verses) in a short, concise manner, within a contemporary context. We have drawn from various tafseers and lectures but have relied heavily on Brother Nouman Ali Khan’s tafseer (bayyinah.com), Muhammad Asad and used our own ijtihad to tie it to the contemporary context. Anything that is good in this is from Allah, anything that is wrong and false is from ourselves and we seek refuge with Allah and ask Him for guidance.
Quran 102: Surah At-Takathur
(Greed for More and More)
“This early Meccan surah is one of the most powerful, prophetic passages of the Qur'an,
illuminating man's unbounded greed in general, and, more particularly, the tendencies which
have come to dominate all human societies in our technological age.” (Muhammad Asad)
Rabbi sharli sadri…
· An early Makkan Surah
· Showing how the tendency of competing in this world for more and more is a key element of forgetting about the Hereafter.
This is the fourth of a quartet of surahs (chapters) – Az-Zalzalah, Al-Adiyat, Al-Qariah and At-Takathur, understood together by the Muffasirun (scholars of Islam, particularly related to tafseer (explanation) of the Quran)
There is an interesting sequence in this set of surahs:
1. Az-Zalzalah is about the Hereafter (Akhira)
2. Al-Adiyat about this world (Duniya)
3. Al-Qariah – Hereafter
4. At-Takathur – this world
This is interesting in a number of ways:
a) It shows how Islam is simultaneously about the Duniyah (this wordly life) and about the Akhira (Hereafter). We are supposed to be cognizant of both, not focused on one alone.
b) The sequence is Akhira-Duniya-Akhira-Duniya, not Akhira-Akhira-Duniya-Duniya. Some people think Islam is like a video game where you focus on yourself and on perfecting yourself, hoping to work for Akhira and once you “perfect yourself” then you move to working for the Duniya, this is against how Islam was lived by the Sahaba. See Abdullah Al-Andalusi.
c) The earlier surahs in this sequence talk in the third person, while the latter surahs talk in the second person, so there is a gradual increase in the intensity of the message, as commented by various Muffassirun such as Ash-Showkany
Bismi Allahi alr-Rahmani alr-Rahimi
In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.*
(red part is silent. i.e. al-hakumut-takathur)
Alha (past tense) from root l-h-w lahu
Lahu literally means entertainment. Alha means to be distracted, which is what essentially entertainment is, to be distracted from what is important…
So what distracted us? We are distracted with at-takathur.
At-takathur comes from the word kathara – plenty, katheer meaning a lot.
There are four aspects of takathur according to the classical Muffasirun:
1. Desire to have a lot.
2. Competing with others to get a lot
3. Pride in having more.
4. An aspect of takathur is that it is common to everyone – everyone, Muslim, non-Muslim wants more, wants to compete for more.
This is interesting that Sergei Tchakhotine talked about four major impulses in man, putting the competitive or combative impulse as the most powerful impulse in man.
Serge Tchakhotine was a WWII propagandist
1. The combative / competitive / defensive impulse
2. Nutritive impulse
3. Reproductive impulse, and
4. Protective parental or maternal impulse
We saw it in Surah Kahf how the two farmers disputed, and at-takathur led one of them astray – his pride in competing lead to his downfall: Surah Al-Kahf (the Cave, Chapter 18 of Al-Quran, Pickthall translation):
Coin for them a similitude: Two men, one, of whom We had assigned two gardens of grapes, and We had surrounded both with date palms and had put between them tillage. Each of the gardens gave its fruit and withheld nothing thereof. And We caused a river to gush forth therein. And he had fruit. And he said to his comrade, when he spoke with him: I am more than you in wealth, and stronger in respect of men. And he went into his garden, while he (thus) wronged himself. He said: I think not that all this will ever perish. I think not that the Hour will ever come, and if indeed I am brought back to my Lord I surely shall find better than this as a resort. And his comrade, while he disputed with him, exclaimed: Disbelieve you in Him Who created you of dust, then of a drop (of seed), and then fashioned you a man? But He is God, my Lord, and I ascribe to my Lord no partner. If only, when you entered your garden, you had said: That which God wills (will come to pass)! There is no strength except in God! Though you see me as less than you in wealth and children, yet it may be that my Lord will give me better than your garden, and will send on it a bolt from heaven, and some morning it will be a smooth hillside, or some morning the water thereof will be lost in the earth so that you cannot make search for it. And his fruit was beset (with destruction). Then he began to wring his hands for all that he had spent upon it, when (now) it was all ruined on its trellises, and to say: Would that I had ascribed no partner to my Lord! And he had no troop of men to help him as against God, nor could he save himself. In this case is protection only from God, the True. He is best for reward, and best for consequence. (18:32-44)
Hatta zurtumu al-maqabira
Until you visit the graves
Ziarah is to go meet someone. In ancient Arabic, it has the additional meaning of hugging someone. When we meet the grave its temporary – it’s a visit, not a permanent place for us… SEE NOTE 1
Kalla sawfa ta-'lamuna
For sure! Very soon you will find out!
Kalla: For sure, no way, not at all
Soufa: Very soon you will find out
(Sa’talamun would have been “soon”, soufa is very soon)
Hazrat Ali (R.A) would say that people are asleep… when they wake up, they will find out…
Thumma kalla sawfa ta-'lamuna
Again, for sure! Very soon you will find out!
Thumma: Adds emphasis, comprehensiveness
Repetition is for emphasis.
Quran was not revealed in the form of a book, it was revealed first as speech. To revive the Quran as speech, rather than something to be read, is to revive a Sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him). See Note 2
Kalla law ta-’lamuna 'ilma al-yaqini
No, not at all! If you only knew with a knowledge of solid conviction, certainty.
law: is a word used to express regret. So Allah subhanahu’tala is expressing regret “if you only knew…”
‘ilmal-yakeen: the knowledge of certainty, solid conviction, not uncertain knowledge – like the probability based sciences.
This ayat is telling us that if we only had that knowledge of uncertainty, instead of how, for instance, non-believers, who live in a world of uncertainty and probability. Everything is a probability, they do not know what is true and what is not.
Yakeen is a word that is stronger than eman. Yakeen is used in three ways in the Quran:
1. ‘ilmal-yakeen: i.e. if you are driving, and see thick black smoke coming from somewhere, even if you don’t see the fire, you can deduce that there is a fire.
2. ayn al-yakeen: i.e. If you saw the fire with your own eyes
3. haqqal-yakeen i.e. If you touched and felt the fire with your own hand.
This surah uses two of these terms – ilmal-yakeen and aynal-yakeen.
We cannot see Allah, the angels and so forth in this world – so we have ilmal yakeen rather than ayn al yakeen. But ayn al yakeen is what people want! They want to “see” God,… But anything, including animals would know – if an animal saw a fire, of course it would run. Humans are expected to do better because we are endowed with knowledge, reason, understanding.
Ayn al yakeen can be skipped directly to haq-al-yakeen if we really live Islam and work towards it , we can spiritually reach a stage where we attain Ihsan, the perfection of faith, living as if in His Presence (see Hadith Jibril).
“For sure you will see Al-Jaheem”
La: jawabal qassam, stressing, emphasizing
In fact the stressing and emphasis here is emphasized not once, but multiple times, “La” emphasizes, noon emphasizes. So, in this ayat, Allah subhanahut’ala is stressing that for sure, definitely, very definitely you’ll see Al-Jahim.
So what is Al-Jahim?
Jahim comes from Joohum, which is like the stare of a lion before it is about to eat its prey; it looks in a way that pretrifies the prey…
So the Fire will be looking at us, and every one of us will have to pass it by, see Al-Jaheem. Some of us would escape it while others will be…
Thumma la-tarawunnaha 'ayna al-yaqini
Moreover, you shall see it with certainty of sight!
Thumma: (being used here as) Moreover
You will see it, be thoroughly convinced of it – as we saw earlier ayn al-yakeen. What people are asking for now “Where is your Allah?” “Where is this Paradise and Hell?” People will then see it.
Thumma latus-''alunna yawma-''idhin 'ani aln-na 'imi
And then, on that Day, you shall be asked about Al-Naeem!
The language is being used in a way to heavily emphasize on this statement, even more than when the Surah was discussing Al-Jahim (Hell Fire):
Thusaluna – you will definitely be asked
La thusalunna – you will definitely definitely be asked…
But Thumma, latussalunna - it is like emphasizing it four times.
So, Allah subhanahut’ala is indicating that the even more scary part than that Fire, looking at us like a lion petrifying its prey, will be the questioning that happens at that time.
Modern psychology talk about how Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and its deeply invasive effect. That is, if you suffer a traumatic event, it can leave a deep psychological impact that will continue to cause you to suffer, long after the initial shock. Questioning imbibes in our mind, the traumatic event, making us think about why it happened, and thus is more powerful in its long-term implication. The question WHY? Something happened is instilled in our mind, leading to a repetition of that – i.e. more potent in terms of its PTSD implications.
This perhaps explains how and why this Surah puts greater emphasis on the questioning than on the Al-Jaheem.
The other aspect is, what is it that we would be questioned about? – An-Naeem.
An-Naeem: comes from ne-ma, blessings, an-naeem – constant blessings.
Someone who lives a life of constant blessings, constant luxuries… everything we have, everything we get, is from Allah, but yet, these blessings that should have reminded us of Him, we see them as a tool to distract us… until we are too “busy” and lose sight of the ultimate reality…
What we should ask is – what did I do with this nayeem? Was I too busy running after the world? Or on the other hand, did I sit on the side and pray, ignoring the world around me? In either case, we would have been misusing An-Naeem… All this blessings, is meant to be utilized for a higher purpose.
The Prophet (peace be upon him), there were times when he was even starving, and yet he was concerned about those around him, working for Islam, for justice, for his society and community. We have so much more, what are we doing with it?
And what is more… the greater the Naeem, the greater our responsibility in its utilization…
The urge for competing in more and more, deluded us from our grave, from the certainty of our death. Had we only reflected on what we would face after our death – what we would soon see with certainty of sight – the Fire. Every one of us will see it. And we will be questioned of what we did in this life on earth, what we did with the constant blessings that should have reminded us but instead we let it distract us away from the reality of our existence.
*Arabic text and transliteration from http://www.quran4theworld.com/transliteration/102.html
In olden times people had another use for the graves – as a place for their history, almost like a museum. Ash=Showkani comments that people would go there also to compete with each other, in terms of their historical heroes and great men, and great achievements of their tribe.
So even in this we would compete, instead of reflecting on death and our mortality. The modern equivalent would be when we compete on historical figures. So, history, instead of making us reflect, becomes a point of competition (at-takathur), and a tool for the ever expanding “feel good brigade”, no matter of what political or theological shade.
Personal comment: Al-Quran is telling us to reflect on the past, a critical thought provoking approach to history. Instead today Muslims are stuck in a “me too” competition (at-takathur) with the West. The West has inventions: we have “1001 inventions”. The West is great: we were great in Al-Andalus (Spain), Baghdad… We use history as a defensive weapon to serve our deep inferiority complex, to pat ourselves in the back; Instead of history as a way to examine ourselves, our past, our mistakes. Anyone who gets up and talks about our mistakes immediately is treated as a heretic…
Today we tend to memorize without understanding or thoughtlessly recite, rocking back and forth, like we were a tape recorder. But the Quran constantly asks us to think, to reflect. When it was revealed, the Prophet (peace be upon him) wasn’t rocking back and forth and reciting it like a tape recorder. It was rather, direct speech, addressing issues. It was spoken, with great meaning and relevance.
Furthermore, the Quran wasn’t revealed from beginning to end. Rather, it was revealed in bits and pieces, the smallest piece being an ayat (verse) and the largest a Surah (chapter). Had the Quran been revealed from beginning to the end, and with every issue that came up, the Prophet (peace be upon him), looking up the specific chapter and verse, it would not have had the same effect, as a direct revelation dealing with a specific challenge that was affecting the Muslims.
To revive this Sunnah, would be to revive the Quran as solutions for present challenges the Muslims are facing. Yet, very few people are doing this task. A vast multitude of Muslims are busy memorizing the Quran and reciting it like a parrot, and arguing over petty things.
MPACUK in the UK is attempting to do this, as is, to some very limited extent, Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrike Insaf in Pakistan. Meanwhile, in Syria sadly for instance, some Muslim groups are going about with boom boxes playing Quranic recitation in battle… the Parrot Principle being taken to its nth conclusion. A vast multitude, under various groups such as the Tablighi jamat and traditional ulema are going about telling everyone NOT to try to reflect on the Quran; “in case we go astray”.
Translation and Tafseer of Muhammad Asad:
In The Name of God, The Most Gracious, The Dispenser of Grace:
YOU ARE OBSESSED by greed for more and more (2) until you go down to your graves.1 (3)
Nay, in time you will come to understand! (4) And once again:2 Nay, in time you will come to
understand! (5) Nay, if you could but understand [it] with an understanding [born] of certainty,
(6) you would indeed, most surely, behold the blazing fire [of hell]!3 (7) In the end you will
indeed, most surely, behold it with the eye of certainty:4 (8) and on that Day you will most
surely be called to account for [what you did with] the boon of life!
1 The term takathur bears the connotation of "greedily striving for an increase", i.e., in benefits, be
they tangible or intangible, real or illusory. In the above context it denotes man's obsessive striving
for more and more comforts, more material goods, greater power over his fellow-men or over
nature, and unceasing technological progress. A passionate pursuit of such endeavours, to the
exclusion of everything else, bars man from all spiritual insight and, hence, from the acceptance of
any restrictions and inhibitions based on purely moral values - with the result that not only
individuals but whole societies gradually lose all inner stability and, thus, all chance of happiness.
2 See surah 6, note 31.
3 Sc., "in which you find yourselves now" - i.e., the "hell on earth" brought about by a
fundamentally wrong mode of life: an allusion to the gradual destruction of man's natural
environment, as well as to the frustration, unhappiness and confusion which an overriding,
unrestrained pursuit of "economic growth" is bound to bring - and has, indeed, brought in our time -
upon a mankind that is about to lose the remnants of all spiritual religious orientation.
4 I.e., in the hereafter, through a direct, unequivocal insight into the real nature of one's past
doings, and into the inescapability of the suffering which man brings upon himself by a wrong,
wasteful use of the boon of life (an-naim).