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Surah al-Ghashiyah (No. 88, The Enveloper)

Verses 1-16

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ

In the Name of Allah, the All-beneficent, the All-merciful.

هَلْ أَتَاكَ حَدِيثُ الْغَاشِيَةِ

Did you receive the account of the Enveloper? (88:1).

وُجُوهٌ يَوْمَئِذٍ خَاشِعَةٌ

Some faces on that day will be humbled, (88:2).

عَامِلَةٌ نَاصِبَةٌ

toiling and weary: (88:3).

تَصْلَىٰ نَارًا حَامِيَةً

they will enter a scorching fire, (88:4).

تُسْقَىٰ مِنْ عَيْنٍ آنِيَةٍ

and made to drink from a boiling spring. (88:5).

لَيْسَ لَهُمْ طَعَامٌ إِلَّا مِنْ ضَرِيعٍ

They will have no food except cactus, (88:6).

لَا يُسْمِنُ وَلَا يُغْنِي مِنْ جُوعٍ

neither nourishing, nor availing against hunger. (88:7).

وُجُوهٌ يَوْمَئِذٍ نَاعِمَةٌ

Some faces on that day will be joyous, (88:8).

لِسَعْيِهَا رَاضِيَةٌ

pleased with their endeavour; (88:9).

فِي جَنَّةٍ عَالِيَةٍ

in a lofty paradise, (88:10).

لَا تَسْمَعُ فِيهَا لَاغِيَةً

wherein they will not hear any vain talk. (88:11).

فِيهَا عَيْنٌ جَارِيَةٌ

In it there is a flowing spring (88:12).

فِيهَا سُرُرٌ مَرْفُوعَةٌ

and in it there are raised couches, (88:13).

وَأَكْوَابٌ مَوْضُوعَةٌ

and goblets set, (88:14).

وَنَمَارِقُ مَصْفُوفَةٌ

and cushions laid out in an array, (88:15).

وَزَرَابِيُّ مَبْثُوثَةٌ

and carpets spread out. (88:16).

1. Rethorical Devices

When the Qur’an is preparing the minds of the people for deliberation on their ultimate destiny, it employs a number of methods to grab the attention of its audience. At times, it uses oaths:

“By the Dawn ...” (al-Fajr, 89:1).

At other times, it uses rhetorical questions:

“Did you receive ...?” (al-Ghasiyah, 88:1).

Sometimes, it uses expressions indicating ineffability that emphasizes the magnificence of something:

“And what will make you understand ...?” (al-Qari'ah, 101:3).

There is a lesson in this, for anyone who wishes to enhance the significance of his words with people; that he must use rhetorical tools to capture the attention of his audience to his speech, rather than immediately speaking about things which they give no importance to.

It is interesting to note that these questions, and others like it in the Qur’an, are first and foremost addressed to the Prophet (S). It is as though he is the very core of mankind and, as a result, he alone is worthy of being addressed by Allah before all others. We can also, say that addresses of this nature in the Qur'an are actually addressed to everyone, even if they appear to be directed specifically towards the Prophet (S).

2. The Enveloper

Referring to the Day of Resurrection as ‘the Enveloper’ (al­Ghashiyah) highlights the horror of the event because:

a. It is either taken from the Arabic word ghishyan, which means to envelop everyone, so, no one will escape the accounting, as Allah says:

“We shall muster them, and We will not leave out anyone of them.” (al-Kahf, 18:47).

b. Or it means that it will envelop people with different kinds of distress;

“on the day when the punishment envelopes them, from above them and from under their feet...” (al-'Ankabut, 29:55).

as Allah says in another verse:

“a day whose ill will be widespread.” (al-Insan, 76:7).

Of course, considering this terrifying fate should cause us to refrain from forbidden lusts in this world, and that is for someone who has reached the level where he has complete certainty about this divine account of the future that shall surely come to pass.

3. Facial Expressions

A person's innermost feelings are usually expressed by their facial expression, whether in this world or the Hereafter, and that is why we see a touch of darkness - which can be perceived by those able - on the face of wrongdoers in this world. In the Hereafter this will clearly be visible to all creatures, because the veil will have been removed from them.

And this is why the verse describes the faces of the sinners as being humbled; in other verses it describes them:

“Were you to see when the guilty hang their heads before their Lord ....” (as-Sajdah, 32:12).

“.... humbled by abasement, looking askance secretly …...” (ash-Shura, 42:45).

while the faces of the obedient are called 'joyous' and elsewhere 'fresh’1 and these reveal that there is a kind of public disgrace for some people, and a kind of ennobling of others in the mustering of the Resurrection.

4. Achieving Humility

Everyone is ultimately travelling to the realm of all-encompassing humility and fear that is the Day of Resurrection because, on that tremendous day, everyone will have the veil pulled from their eyes. So, we say that reason dictates that a person should strive to reach this position of their own volition before being forcibly brought to it; they can achieve this by observing those practices, which instill them with humility, foremost amongst which is prayer, which is the utmost expression of humility.

So, why is it, then, that a person will come in abasement on the Day of Resurrection without thinking how he can obtain the means of dignity therein while he is in this world?

5. Works

One of the greatest causes for regret on the Day of Resurrection is mentioned in two verses; one is:

“Then We shall attend to the works they have done and then turn them into scattered dust.” (al-Furqan, 25:23).

The other is in this surah, where Allah says:

“toiling and weary:” (al­Ghashiyah, 88:3).

for the sinners have spent their entire lives for the sake of this world which is filled with fatigue and suffering, as a confirmation of Allah's words:

'If you are suffering, they are also, suffering like you ...” (an-Nisa', 4:104).

In fact, they may have suffered more - for the sake of their falsehoods - than some of the faithful! But their true affliction begins when all their efforts are shown to have come to naught in the Abode of Recompense, and so, their toil and weariness continues, while the inhabitants of Paradise are described with Allah's words as being:

“pleased with their endeavour;” (al­Ghashiyah, 88:9).

6. Food And Drink Of The Hellfire

The life of the inmates of Hellfire cannot be conceived of by the inhabitants of this world; the verses merely give us a broad overview and details that everyone can understand, for the truth is more terrible than anything that can be put into words! For example, imagine someone pleading and asking for water, and then boiling water is his drink;

“If they cry out for help, they will be helped with a water like molten copper which will scald the faces. What an evil drink, and how ill a resting place!” (al-Kahf, 18:29).

And imagine, when they ask for food, they are fed thorns and fill their stomachs with them;

Its spathes are as if they were devils' heads.” (as-Saffat, 37:65).

“Indeed, they will eat from it and gorge with it their bellies.” (as-Saffat, 37:66).

And when his body is wounded and covered in sores, he will eat their fluids, which are called pus:

“nor any food except pus” (al-Haqqah (69:36).

This is all after these people have enjoyed all types of pleasure in this world.

This verse also, alludes to the food and drink of the inmates of Hellfire; their food is cactus (dari’), which is a plant in this world 2 and - according to some - the most detestable sort of food that even beasts will not eat. And there is no doubt that no matter how horrible cactus may be in this world, it cannot compared to what the Hereafter contains. As for the drink in the Hereafter, it is a spring of the utmost heat;

“made to drink from a boiling spring.” (al­Ghashiyah, 88:5).

And the expression 'made to drink' might allude to the fact that they are forced to drink it. This combines both elements of humiliation and punishment.

7. The Faces Of The Inhabitants Of Paradise

The faces of the inhabitants of Paradise are described as joyful and fresh

“Some faces on that day will be joyous” (al­Ghashiyah, 88:8).

“You will perceive in their faces the freshness of bliss” (al-Mutaffiffin, 83:24).

and this sign on their faces is similar to the light that will shine in the Hereafter because of what they did in this world, in that nothing enters the Hereafter save that it originated in this world, as can be understood from Allah's words:

“Go back and grope for light!” (al-Hadid, 57:13).

Going back in this verse is interpreted as returning to this world.

And there is no doubt that whoever is destined to receive such blessings in the Hereafter will attain a degree - however low - of freshness in this worldly life also, as the people of discernment (firasah) and insight (basirah) can attest.

8. The State Of Being Pleased

The condition of being pleased and at ease, which the believer experiences in Paradise, as Allah says

“Pleased with their endeavour” (al­Ghashiyah, 88:9).

is really in contrast to the anger the sinners feel towards themselves. So, the state of the faithful:

a. Is either with regards to the satisfaction they felt with their endeavours in this worldly life as a result of self-accounting (muhasibah) and vigilant self-observation (muraqabah).

b. Or with regards to the bliss they find themselves in, as the inner reality of this bliss is Allah's satisfaction with them; so, they are pleased with themselves because Allah is pleased with them.

And this form is the state of the contented soul (al-nafs al­mutma'innah), which Allah describes as:

“pleased, pleasing!” (al-Fajr, 89:28).

9. Blessings Of Paradise

In this surah, the Qur’an enumerates the particular blessings of Paradise in seven places, and all of them are in the indefinite article (nakirah) to convey their magnificence, for instance: a lofty paradise, a flowing spring, raised couches, goblets set, cushions laid out, and carpets spread. To these sensible (mahsus) blessings, Allah adds a blessing that cannot be directly sensed at the very beginning of this list, namely His saying:

“wherein they will not hear any vain talk.” (al­Ghashiyah, 88:11).

And in another verse, He says:

“They will not hear therein any vain talk or sinful speech.” (al-Waqi’ah, 56:25).

These verses indicate that vanity and unproductive speech are a form of punishment that contradicts the bliss of Paradise.

This is why a believer avoids those environments in this world, which are not compatible with Paradise, which is - as it has been described - the station of being Allah's neighbour.

Verses 17-26

أَفَلَا يَنْظُرُونَ إِلَى الْإِبِلِ كَيْفَ خُلِقَتْ

Do they not observe the camel, how she has been created? (88:17).

وَإِلَى السَّمَاءِ كَيْفَ رُفِعَتْ

and the sky, how it has been raised? (88:18).

وَإِلَى الْجِبَالِ كَيْفَ نُصِبَتْ

and the mountains, how they have been set? (88:19).

وَإِلَى الْأَرْضِ كَيْفَ سُطِحَتْ

and the earth, how it has been spread out? (88:20).

فَذَكِّرْ إِنَّمَا أَنْتَ مُذَكِّرٌ

So, admonish - for you are only an admonisher, (88:21).

لَسْتَ عَلَيْهِمْ بِمُصَيْطِرٍ

and not a taskmaster over them - (88:22).

إِلَّا مَنْ تَوَلَّىٰ وَكَفَرَ

except him who turns back and disbelieves. (88:23).

فَيُعَذِّبُهُ اللَّهُ الْعَذَابَ الْأَكْبَرَ

Him Allah will punish with the greatest punishment. (88:24).

إِنَّ إِلَيْنَا إِيَابَهُمْ

Indeed, to Us will be their return. (88:25).

ثُمَّ إِنَّ عَلَيْنَا حِسَابَهُمْ

Then, indeed, their reckoning will lie with Us. (88:26).

10. Styles Found In The Qur’an

One of the styles found in the Qur'an is shifting from the apparent goal that Allah desires to the hidden cause that occasions it. The previous verses called on their audience to remember the Resurrection and to the condition of the people blessed and punished therein. But this description by itself is not sufficient to constitute a call for the servant to do what Allah desires of him. So, it is accompanied by a call for a person to seek knowledge, which will inspire him with awe towards his Lord; observing the heavens and whatever manifestations of divine power that surround man. So, it is only natural that at the time the revelation was sent down that the inhabitants of the desert who lived then would look at the camel, because it was one of the main means of their subsistence, and if they raised their gaze they would see the beauty of the heavens, and if they looked in front of them, they would see the mountains spiking out of the earth.

All of these indications, taken together, cause our minds to conclude that first there is a Creator, and second, that He is powerful and wise. And from these three attributes, we must also, believe in the ‘Enveloper’ mentioned at the beginning of this surah.

11. Rousing The Hearts

It is only appropriate that those calling others towards Allah should rouse the hearts of their audience, and that is by asking them questions that motivate them to search for answers that will ultimately give them inner conviction.

So, these verses use the word 'how' (kayf) four times; beginning with something tangible and reachable - like the camel - then something that cannot be reached like the heavens. Then another distant object, like the mountains, and then the earth, that is visible to everyone, and which has been spread out so, that mankind may subsist on it. All of this is mentioned so, that the audience will ultimately arrive at an intelligible concept, which is that there must be someone there who created the camel, made the stars, placed the mountains and spread out the earth!

12. No Authority Over The Hearts Of The People

Many times, the Qur’an mentions that the Prophet (S), like the rest of the prophets, has no authority over the hearts of the people. Otherwise this would invalidate free will which is the reason for divine reward and punishment, and that is in Allah's sayings in the surah:

“So, admonish for you are only an admonisher,” (al­Ghashiyah, 88:21).

“and not a taskmaster over them.” (al­Ghashiyah, 88:22).

And in other verses of the Qur’an:

“Would you then force men until they become believers?’ (Yunus, 10:99).

“……and you are not one to compel them.....” (Qaf, 50:45).

“You are liable to imperil your life for their sake, if they should not believe this discourse, out of grief.” (al-Kahf, 18:6).

“…... so, do not fret yourself to death regretting for them.” (Fatir, 35:8).

This, in turn, curtails the expectations of those who call others towards Allah, lest they become discouraged when they see people turning away. In fact, the practice of the prophets was to constantly admonish others without trying to control their hearts, or else there would not have remained anyone who denied their teachings.

13. “Except Him Who Turns Back And Disbelieves”

Some scholars have understood the verse:

“except him who turns back and disbelieves.” (al­Ghashiyah, 88:23).

to indicate that Islam is both a religion of reality and compassion; its primary basis is simple admonition, but when faced with 'him who turns back and disbelieves' and who opposes the call to faith, then it becomes a matter of struggle against him in completely removing all pockets of persecution (fitnah) from the earth, as according to Allah's words:

“Fight them until persecution is no more.” (al-Baqarah, 2:193).

And this is completely different to the approach of someone who limits the scope of calling others towards Allah to only verbal exhortations in order to avoid a confrontation that requires people to sacrifice their lives and property.

14. Verses Describing The Hell

Everything is lowly compared to the magnificence of the Exalted Lord, so, if He describes something as great or severe, then the event thus described must be something truly grave. This is what we see when Allah describes the punishments of Hell variously as:

“a severe punishment,” (Ale 'Imran , 3:4); (al-An'am, 6:124); (Ibrahim, 14:2).

“a painful punishment,” (al-Baqarah, 2:10, 104, 174).

“a humiliating punishment,” (al-Baqarah, 2:90); (Ale 'Imran, 3:178); (an-Nisa', 4:14).

“an everlasting punishment,” (al-Ma'idah, 5:37); (at-Tawbah (9:68); (Hud, 11:39).

“the punishment of the blaze,” (al-Hajj, 22:4); (Luqman, 31:21); (Saba', 34:12).

“a grave punishment,” (al-Baqarah, 2:7,114); (Ale 'Imran, 3:105).

“the punishment of burning,” (Ale 'Imran, 3:171); (al-Anfal, 8:50).

“an eternal punishment,” (Yunus, 10:52); (as-Sajdah, 32:14).

“a harsh punishment,” (Hud, 11:58); (Ibrahim, 14:17).

“the punishment of Hell,” (az-Zukhruf, 43:74); al-Mulk, 67:6).

And

'more severe and more enduring.” (Ta Ha, 20:27).

In this surah, Allah threatens the unbelievers with a punishment called 'the greatest punishment.'

“Him Allah will punish with the greatest punishment.” (al-Ghashiyah 88:24).

So, someone who believes in his creation and resurrection - and is aware of these descriptions - must, without a doubt, renounce falsehood, unless there is some doubt in his faith or in his understanding of what is in his own best interests!

15. “Indeed, To Us Will Be Their Return”

There two dimensions of the verses:

Indeed, to Us will be their return.” (al-Ghashiyah 88:25).

“Then, indeed, their reckoning will lie with Us.” (al-Ghashiyah 88:26).

a. First, it consoles the heart of the Prophet (S) after mentioning at the beginning of this surah about the return the disbelievers to Allah. Their return in the position whereby Allah exacts retribution from them makes whatever dominance they enjoy or the persecution they perpetrate in this world seem trivial.

b. Second, it inspires terror in the hearts of the obstinate, for Allah makes the task of holding them to account for His personal business, and He is the one from whom nothing can be hidden. And whoever believes in the reality of going back to Allah will never so, inclined towards sinning in his heart, let alone actually committing a sin.

  • 1. See Surah al-Qiyamah:
    “Some faces, that Day, will beam (in brightness and beauty)”(75:22).
  • 2. See Mufradat alfaz al-Aur’an 1/506