78 - AN-NABA
In the name of god, the most gracious, The dispenser of grace: (1)

1 - According to most of the authorities, this invocation (which occurs at the beginning of every surah with the exception of surah 9) constitutes an integral part of "The Opening" and is, therefore, numbered as verse I. In all other instances, the invocation "in the name of God" precedes the surah as such, and is not counted among its verses. - Both the divine epithets rahman and rahrm are derived from the noun rahmah, which signifies "mercy", "compassion", "loving tenderness" and, more comprehensively, "grace". From the very earliest times, Islamic scholars have endeavoured to define the exact shades of meaning which differentiate the two terms. The best and simplest of these explanations is undoubtedly the one advanced by Ibn al-Qayyim (as quoted in Mandr I, 48): the term rahman circumscribes the quality of abounding grace inherent in, and inseparable from, the concept of God's Being, whereas rahrm expresses the manifestation of that grace in, and its effect upon, His creation-in other words, an aspect of His activity.

THE THEME of this undoubtedly late Meccan surah (Suyuti) is the continuation of human life after bodily death, i.e., resurrection and God's ultimate judgment. Its conventional title is derived from the word naba appearing in the second verse.
1. ABOUT WHAT do they [most often] ask one another?
2. About the awesome tiding [of resurrection],
3. on which they [so utterly] disagree. (1)

1 - The question which preoccupies man above all others - the question as to whether there is life after death - has been variously answered throughout the ages. It is, of course, impossible to describe the innumerable variations of those answers; nevertheless, a few main lines of thought are clearly discernible, and their mention may be useful for a better understanding of the Qur'anic treatment of this problem. Some people - probably a minority - seem to be convinced that bodily death amounts to total and irreversible extinction, and that, therefore, all talk about a hereafter but an outcome of wishful thinking. Others are of the opinion that after individual death the human "life-essence" returns to the supposed source of its origin - conceived as the "universal soul" - and merges with it entirely. Some believe in a successive transmigration of the individual soul, at the moment of death, into another body, human or animal, but without a continuation of individual consciousness. Others, again, think that only the soul, and not the entire human "personality", continues to live after death - that is, in a purely spiritual, disembodied form. And, lastly, some believe in an undiminished survival of the individual personality and consciousness, and regard death and resurrection as the twin stages of a positive act of re-creation of the entire human personality, in whatever form this may necessarily involve: and this is the Qur'anic view of the life to come.

4. Nay, but in time they will come to understand [it]!
5. And once again: (2) Nay, but in time they will come to understand!

2 - For this rendering of the particle thumma, see surah 6, note 31.

6. HAVE WE NOT made the earth a resting-place [for you],
7. and the mountains [its] pegs? (3)

3 - See 16:15 - "He has placed firm mountains on earth, lest it sway with you" - and the corresponding note 11, which explains the reference to mountains as "pegs". - The whole of this passage (verses 6-16) is meant to illustrate God's almightiness and creativeness, as if to say, "Is not He who has created the universe equally able to resurrect and re-create man in whatever form He deems necessary?"

8. And We have created you in pairs; (4)

4 - I.e., "with the same creative power We have created the miraculous polarity of the two sexes in you and in other animated beings". The phenomenon of polarity, evident throughout the universe (see 36:36 and the corresponding note 18), is further illustrated in verses 9-11.

9. and We have made your sleep [a symbol of] death (5)

5 - Thus Zamakhshari, stressing the primary significance of subat as "cutting-off" (qat), i.e., "death"; also the famous second-century philologist Abu Ubaydah Mamar ibn al-Muthanna, who (as quoted by Razi) explains the above Qur'anic phrase as an "analogue (shibh) of death".

10. and made the night [its] cloak
11. and made the day [a symbol of] life. (6)

6 - According to Zamakhshari, the term maash ("that whereby one lives") is here synonymous with "life". In the polarity of sleep (or "death") and wakefulness (or "life") we see the allusion to bodily death and subsequent resurrection already touched upon in 6:60.

12. And We have built above you seven firmaments, (7)

7 - Lit., "seven firm ones", indicating the multiplicity of cosmic systems (see surah 2, note 20).

13. and have placed [therein the sun,] a lamp full of blazing splendour.
14. And from the wind-driven clouds We send down waters pouring in abundance,
15. so that We might bring forth thereby grain, and herbs,
16. and gardens dense with follage. (8)

8 - Implying that the overwhelming evidence of purpose and plan in all observable nature points to the existence of a conscious Creator who has "not created [anything of] this without meaning and purpose" (3:191), and who - as is stressed in the sequence will one day pronounce His judgment on every human being's willingness or unwillingness to live up to the standards of morality made clear to him through inborn instinct as well as through divine revelation.

17. VERILY, the Day of Distinction [between the true and the false] (9) has indeed its appointed time:

9 - See note 6 on 78:13. This passage connects with verses 4-5.

18. the Day when the trumpet [of resurrection] is sounded and you all come forward in multitudes;
19. and when the skies are opened and become [as wide-flung] gates; (10)

10 - 10 Allegorically, "its mysteries will be opened to man's understanding" - thus further amplifying the concept of "the Day of Distinction between the true and the false".

20. and when the mountains are made to vanish as if they had been a mirage. (11)

11 - See note 90 on 20:105-107, as well as note 63 on 14:48.

21. [On that Day,] verily, hell will lie in wait [for those who deny the truth]
22. a goal for all who are wont to transgress the bounds of what is right!
23. In it shall they remain for a long time. (12)

12 - I.e., not forever, since the term huqb or hiqbah (of which ahqab is the plural) denotes no more than "a period of time" or "a long time" (Jawhari) - according to some authorities, "eigghty years", according to others, "a year" or simply "years" (Asas, Qamus, Lisan al-Arab, etc.). But however one defines this term, it is obvious that it signifies a limited period of time, and not eternity: and this is in tune with many indications in the Qur'an to the effect that the suffering described as "hell" is not eternal (see note 114 on the last paragraph of 6:128), as well as with several authentic sayings of the Prophet (e.g., the one quoted in note 10 on 40:12).

24. Neither coolness shall they taste therein nor any [thirst-quenching] drink
25. only burning despair and ice-cold darkness: (13)

13 - For my rendering of hamim as "burning despair", see surah 6, note 62. The meaning of ghassaq is explained in note 47 on 38:57-58.

26. a meet requital [for their sins]!
27. Behold, they were not expecting to be called to account,
28. having given the lie to Our messages one and all:
29. but We have placed on record every single thing [of what they did].
30. [And so We shall say:] "Taste, then, [the fruit of your evil doings,] for now We shall bestow on you nothing but more and more suffering!" (14)

14 - Lit., "We shall not increase you in anything but suffering": i.e., until the sins committed in this world are atoned for by commensurate suffering in the hereafter - for "whoever shall come [before God] with an evil deed will be requited with no more than the like thereof; and none shall be wronged" (6:160).

31. [But,] verily for the God-conscious there is supreme fulfilment in store: (15)

15 - I.e., the fulfilment of all that a human being may ever desire (Razi), symbolized by the "luxuriant gardens", etc., of the sequence.

32. luxuriant gardens and vinyards,
33. and splendid companions well matched, (16)

16 - For the above rendering of atrab, see surah 56, note 15. As regards my rendering of kawaib as "splendid companions", it is to be remembered that the term ka'b -from which the participle kaib is derived - has many meanings, and that one of these meanings is "prominence", "eminence" or "glory" (Lisan al-Arab); thus, the verb ka'ba, when applied to a person, signifies "he made [another person] prominent", "glorious" or "splendid" (ibid.) Based on this tropical meaning of both the verb ka'ba and the noun ka'b, the participle ka'ib has often been used, in popular parlance, to denote "a girl whose breasts are becoming prominent" or "are budding" hence, many commentators see in it an allusion to some sort of youthful "female companions' who would entertain the (presumably male) inmates of paradise. But quite apart from the fact that all Qur'anic allegories of the joys of paradise invariably apply to men and women alike, this interpretation of kawaib overlooks the purely derivative origin of the above popular usage - which is based on the tropical connotation of "prominence" inherent in the noun ka'b - and substitutes for this obvious tropism the literal meaning of something that is physically prominent: and this, in my opinion, is utterly unjustified. If we bear in mind that the Qur'anic descriptions of the blessings of paradise are always allegorical, we realize that in the above context the term kawaib can have no other meaning than "glorious [or "splendid"] beings", without any definition of sex; and that, in combination with the term atrab, it denotes, "splendid companions well matched" - thus alluding to the relations of the blest with one another, and stressing the absolute mutual compatibility and equal dignity of all of them. See also note 13 on 56:34.

34. and a cup [of happiness] overflowing.
35. No empty talk will they hear in that [paradise], nor any lie.
36. [All this will be] a reward from thy Sustainer, a gift in accordance with [His Own] reckoning (17)

17 - I.e., not merely in accordance with their good deeds but far in excess of them, in accordance with God's unlimited bounty.

37. [a reward from] the Sustainer of the heavens and the earth and all that is between them, the Most Gracious! [And] none shall have it in their power to raise their voices unto Him
38. on the Day when all [human] souls (18) and all the angels will stand up in ranks: none will speak but he to whom the Most Gracious will have given leave; and [everyone] will say [only] what is right. (19)

18 - Lit., "the soul", in the singular but implying a plural. This is, according to Ibn Abbas, Qatadah and Al~Hasan (all of them quoted by Tabari), the meaning of ar-ruh in the above context.

19 - This includes the symbolic right of the prophets to "intercede" for the sinners on Judgment Day (see 10:3 - "There is none that could intercede with Him unless He grants leave therefor"- and the corresponding note 7, which makes it clear that such "intercession" implies God's a-priori acceptance of the sinner's repentance). In a wider sense, the statement that he whom God will allow to speak "will say [only] what is right" implies the impossibility of anyone's being untruthful on Judgment Day.

39. That will be the Day of Ultimate Truth: (20) whoever wills, then, let him take the path that leads towards his Sustainer!

20 - Cf. 69:1 and the corresponding note 1. Objectively, it will be the moment when the ultimate reality of human life and its purpose will become fully accessible to man's understanding.

40. Verily, We have warned you of suffering near at hand - [suffering] on the Day when man shall [clearly] see what his hands have sent ahead, and when he who has denied the truth shall say, "Oh, would that I were mere dust... !"