The Message of the Quran
AL-MA’ARIJ (THE WAYS OF ASCENT)
Total Verses: 44
THUS CALLED after the word al-ma'arij appearing in
verse 3, this surah belongs to the middle of the
IN THE NAME OF GOD, THE MOST GRACIOUS, THE DISPENSER OF GRACE:
(5) Therefore, [O believer,] endure all adversity with goodly patience:
(7) but, We see it as near!
(8) [It will take place] on a Day when the sky will be like molten lead,
(9) and the mountains will be like tufts of wool,
(10) and [when] no friend will ask about his friend,
(11) though they may be in one another's sight: [for,] everyone who was lost in sin will on that Day but desire to ransom himself from suffering at the price of his own children,
(12) and of his spouse, and of his brother,
(13) and of all the kinsfolk who ever sheltered him,
(14) and of whoever [else] lives on earth, all of them - so that he could but save himself.
(15) But nay! Verily, all [that awaits him] is a raging flame,
(16) tearing away his skin!
(17) It will claim all such as turn their backs [on what is right], and turn away [from the truth],
(18) and amass [wealth] and thereupon withhold [it from their fellow-men].
(21) and whenever good fortune comes to him, he selfishly withholds it [from others].
(23) [and] who incessantly persevere in their prayer
(24) and in whose possessions there is a due share, acknowledged [by them],
(26) and who accept as true the [coming of the] Day of Judgment;
(27) and who stand in dread of their Sustainer's chastisement –
(31) whereas such as seek to go beyond that [limit] are truly transgressors;
(32) and who are faithful to their trusts and to their pledges:
(33) and who stand firm whenever they bear witness;
(34) and who guard their prayers [from all worldly intent].
(35) These it is who in the gardens [of paradise] shall be honoured!
(36) WHAT, THEN, is amiss with such as are bent on denying the truth, that they run about confusedly to and fro before thee,
(43) the Day when they shall come forth in haste from their graves, as if racing towards a goal-post,
1 Lit.," An inquirer inquired" or "might inquire".
2 In view of the fact that many of "those who deny the truth" - and, by implication, do evil in consequence of that deliberate denial - prosper in this world, a doubter might well ask whether or when this state of affairs will really be reversed and the values adjusted in accord with divine justice. An answer to the "whether" is given in the second paragraph of verse 2; and to the "when", elliptically, at the end of verse 4.
3 Lit., "He of the [many] ascents": a metonymical phrase implying that there are many ways by which man can "ascend" to a comprehension of God's existence, 'and thus to spiritual "nearness" to Him - and that, therefore, it is up to each human being to avail himself of any of the ways leading towards Him (cf. 76:3).
4 For my rendering of ruh as "inspiration", see surah 16, note 2. The "ascent" of the angels and of all inspiration may be understood in the same sense as the frequently-occurring phrase "all things go back to God [as their source]" (Razi).
5 The very concept of "time" is meaningless in relation to God, who is timeless and infinite: cf. note 63 on the last sentence of 22:47 - "in thy Sustainer's sight a day is like a thousand years of your reckoning": in other words, a day, or an aeon, or a thousand years, or fifty thousand years are alike to Him, having an apparent reality only within the created world and none with the Creator. And since in the hereafter time will cease to have a meaning for man as well, it is irrelevant to ask as to "when" the evildoers will be chastised and the righteous given their due.
6 Lit., "they".
7 Lit., "man has been created restless (halu’an)" -that is, endowed with an inner restlessness which may equally well drive him to fruitful achievement or to chronic discontent and frustration. In other words, it is the manner in which man utilizes this God-will endowment that determines whether it shall have a positive or a negative character. The subsequent two verses (20 and 21) allude to the latter, while verses 22-25 show that only true spiritual and moral consciousness can mould that inborn restlessness into a positive force, and thus bring about inner stability and abiding contentment.
8 The participle jazu - derived from the verb jazi’a - combines the concepts of "lacking patience" and "lamenting over one's misfortune", and is therefore the contrary of sabr (Jawhari).
9 This, I believe, is the meaning of the expression al-musallin (lit., "the praying ones"), which evidently does not relate here to the mere ritual of prayer but, rather, as the next verse shows, to the attitude of mind and the spiritual need underlying it. In this sense it connects with the statement in verse 19 that "man is born with a restless disposition" which, when rightly used, leads him towards conscious spiritual growth, as well as to freedom from all self-pity and selfishness.
10 Sc., "but do not or cannot beg": see Razi's comments on a similar phrase in 51:19, quoted in my corresponding note 12.
11 This warning against pharisaic self-righteousness implies that however "good" a person may be, there is always a possibility of his or her having done a moral wrong (e.g., an injury to a fellow-being) and then conveniently "forgotten" this sin. Elliptically, this warning contains a call to increasing consciousness in all one's doings - for, "temptation to evil (fitnah) does not befall only those who are bent on denying the truth" (8:25), but may also befall people who are otherwise righteous.
12 Lit., "who guard their private parts". l3 See the identical passage in 23:5-7, as well as the corresponding note 3, in which I have fully explained the reasons for my rendering of the phrase aw ma malakat aymanuhum as "that is, those whom they rightfully possess [through wedlock]". As regards this interpretation, see al Razi's comments on 4:24, as well as one of the alternative interpretations of that verse advanced by Tabari on the authority of lbn Abbas and Mujahid.
14 This, again, connects with the statement in verse 19, "man is born with a restless disposition (see note 7 above). People who do not want to see the truth of God's existence and have, therefore, no solid basis on which to build their world-view, are, by the same token, unable to conceive any definite standards of personal and social ethics. Hence, whenever they are confronted with anyone's positive assertion of faith, they "run about to and fro" in spiritual confusion, trying, in order to justify themselves intellectually, to demolish the premises of that faith by means of many-sided, contradictory arguments - an endeavour depicted in the metaphor, "coming upon thee from the right and from the left"; and since they derive all their strength from a conformity with shallow mass-opinions, they can do this only "in crowds".
15 I.e., "Do they hope to achieve inner peace and fulfilment by 'disproving' another person’s faith?"
16 Namely, out of "dust" - i.e., out of the same primitive organic and inorganic substances as are found in and on the earth: the implication being that only spiritual consciousness and endeavour can raise man above the mere material form of his existence, and thus enable him achieve the inner fulfilment metaphorically described here as "a garden of bliss".
17 I.e., of all the variation, throughout the solar year, of the points at which the sun "rises" and "sets": thus stressing the fact that He is the Ultimate Cause of all orbital movement in the universe and, hence, its Creator (cf. 37:5 and 55:17).
18 The implication is that it is not His will to replace "those who are bent on denying the truth", in this world, by believers, inasmuch as such a "replacement" would not be in accord with His design of multiform human existence, in which faith is always challenged and tested by unbelief, and vice versa.
19 I.e., their philosophizing about a supposedly "uncreated" world and a hypothetical "self- generation" of life, as well as their blatant "denial", unsupported by any factual evidence, of a life after death or even of the existence of God.
20 The concept of "again and again" - i.e., by a succession, through the ages, of prophetic revelations - is implied in the auxiliary verb kanuu, which usually connotes repetition and/or duration.