(٢١٤) أَمْ حَسِبْتُمْ أَن تَدْخُلُوا الْجَنَّةَ وَلَمَّا يَأْتِكُم مَّثَلُ الَّذِينَ خَلَوْا مِن قَبْلِكُم ۖ مَّسَّتْهُمُ الْبَأْسَاءُ وَالضَّرَّاءُ وَزُلْزِلُوا حَتَّىٰ يَقُولَ الرَّسُولُ وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مَعَهُ مَتَىٰ نَصْرُ اللَّهِ ۗ أَلَا إِنَّ نَصْرَ اللَّهِ قَرِيبٌ
Or do you think that you would enter the Garden while yet the like of those who have passed away before you has not come upon you; distress and affliction befell them and they were shaken violently, so that the apostle and those who believed with him said: When will the help of Allah come? Now, surely the help of Allah is nigh! (2:214)
It has already been mentioned that these verses (from 2:208 to 2:214) are in one context and related to each other.
Qur’an: Or do you think that you would enter the Garden:
It concludes what was described in the previous verse: Religion is a guidance from Allah to lead mankind to what contains their prosperity and happiness in this world and the hereafter; and it is a grace of Allah bestowed upon them.
Therefore, it is essential for them to submit themselves to this religion, without following in the footsteps of Satan. They should not create differences in it and should not turn the medicine itself into a disease; they should not change the bounty of Allah into disbelief and ingratitude, by following their lust and desire, and seeking the trinkets of this world and its decorations.
If they do so, they will incur the wrath of Allah, as happened in the case of the Israelites when they perverted the bounty of Allah given to them. They must remember that the trial is continuing and the test is in progress.
They also will be tested as the previous people were put to test; and no one will get the bliss of religion and nearness to Allah, the Lord of the worlds, except through fortitude and complete submission to His commands.
The first two verses were addressed directly to the believers, then the style was changed, treating them in the third person, finally in this verse they are again addressed in the second person, treating them as present.
The fact is that the whole talk is with them and they are the real audience. But the style was changed in the middle verses for some good reasons (for example, those verses contained the topics of chastisement and punishment.) When the purpose was served, once again a direct address was resumed.
The word am (or, أم) gives here the meaning of ‘‘but’’. It is made for ‘‘or’’, but the context of the verses gives it the following meaning: Do you intend to devote yourselves solely to what I have told you — to submit to Me, to believe in Me and to remain steadfast on the right path of religion, maintaining unity and cooperation — Or do you not; but think that you would enter the Garden ...
Qur’an: while yet the like of those who have passed away before you has not come to you.
mathal (المثل) and mithl (المثل) are used for that likeness which creates a picture of the thing for which it is used in the mind of the hearer.
Mathal (adage, المثل) is generally used for a saying or story which brings to mind the intended meaning in the shape of an illustrative metaphor, as Allah says:
The similitude [ mathal, المثل] of those who were placed under the Torah then they did not hold it, is as the similitude of the donkey bearing books … (62:5)
Also, mathal (المثل) is used in the meaning of adjectives, as Allah says:
See how they coin comparisons [ amthal, الأمثال] for you … (25:9)
They were using for him (s.a.w.a.) adjectives like insane, bewitching, lying, etc.
In this verse, the word mathal (المثل) is used in the first meaning, because the similitude is explained in the words, distress and affliction befell them …
Qur’an: distress and affliction befell them and they were shaken violently:
When a short reference was made to ‘‘the like of those who have passed away before you’’, the audience became anxious to know what had befallen them. Then Allah described it in detail in these words, distress and affliction befell them …
Distress (ba’sa’, الباسآء) is that hardship which befalls a man outside his person, like to property, prestige, family or in the general law and order of the society.
Affliction (dharr’, الضّرّاء) means that hardship which befalls him in his person, like a wound, murder, sickness, etc. Zalzalah (الزّلزلة) and zilzal (الزّلزال) means an earthquake. Its root is zalla (زلّ) which means ‘slipped up’, ‘stumbled’.
The root word is repeated in this verb to imply repeated stumbling and slipping up. Anyhow the word is metaphorically used for being agitated and disturbed, and that is why we have translated it ‘‘were shaken violently’’.
Qur’an: so that the apostle and those who believe with him said. When will the help of Allah come?
Apparently it was the saying of the apostle and the believers together. There can be no objection as to why the apostle should utter such words. He might have exclaimed so to seek the help of Allah which He had promised in these verses:
And certainly Our word has already gone forth in respect of Our servants, the apostles, most surely they shall be the assisted ones. (37:171—172)
Also He said,
Allah has written down: I will most certainly prevail, I and my apostles. (58:21)
Until when the apostles despaired and deemed they were indeed told a lie, Our help came to them … (12:110)
We may see that the tone of this verse is far harsher than the verse under discussion.
Qur’an: Now, surely the help of Allah is nigh:
Apparently this is Allah’s answer to the call of the apostle and the believers.
It has already been mentioned that the verse proves that the test and trial of the people will continue in this nation also as it did for the previous ones.
Also, it shows that if the same actions and attitudes appear again, the same consequences will follow. It is true in the religion also as historians say that the history repeats itself.