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Surah al-Qari'ah (No. 101:'The Catastrophe')

Verses 1-11

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ

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

الْقَارِعَةُ

The Catastrophe! (101:1).

مَا الْقَارِعَةُ

What is the Catastrophe? (101:2).

وَمَا أَدْرَاكَ مَا الْقَارِعَةُ

What will show you what is the Catastrophe? (101:3).

يَوْمَ يَكُونُ النَّاسُ كَالْفَرَاشِ الْمَبْثُوثِ

The day mankind will be like scattered moths, (101:4).

وَتَكُونُ الْجِبَالُ كَالْعِهْنِ الْمَنْفُوشِ

and the mountains will be like carded wool. (101:5).

فَأَمَّا مَنْ ثَقُلَتْ مَوَازِينُهُ

As for him whose scales are heavy, (101:6).

فَهُوَ فِي عِيشَةٍ رَاضِيَةٍ

he will have a pleasing lift. (101:7).

وَأَمَّا مَنْ خَفَّتْ مَوَازِينُهُ

But as for him whose scales are light, (101:8).

فَأُمُّهُ هَاوِيَةٌ

his mother will be the Abyss. (101:9).

وَمَا أَدْرَاكَ مَا هِيَهْ

And what will show you what it is? (101:10).

نَارٌ حَامِيَةٌ

It is a burning fire! (101:11)

1. Catastrophe

The flow of the discussion about the Catastrophe (qari'ah) – that will shake the hearts and deafen the hearing on the Day of Resurrection - resembles that of the Besieger (Haqqah):

“The Besieger! What is the Besieger? What will show you what is the Besieger?” (al-Haqqah, 69:1-3).

In both these discourses there are two questions; one is simple in its form, it asks about the nature of the subject initially mentioned to grab the audience's attention, but the second question is more complete with the addition of the phrase '...show you ...' (adraka), meaning: 'What is there that could possibly convey to you the nature of this subject!' This is a very eloquent way of providing emphasis, as if the contents of this surah and others like it cannot possibly convey the real essence of the things they are discussing!

2. Rhetoric And Emotions

The phrase '...and what will show you ...?' (wa ma adraka) appears in more than ten locations throughout the Qur'an, while the phrase '...and what do you know...?' (wa mayudrika) appears in three. It is said the difference between these two phrases is that the first is used in contexts where Allah wants to show His Prophet (S) topics which raise questions for people, while the second is used in situations where Allah turns away and avoids answering the question, so, it states explicitly that this is something the audience do not know, and something which human minds are not capable of knowing, for example when discussing the Resurrection, Allah says:

“What do you know - maybe the Hour is near!” (ash-Shura, 42:17).

It is very interesting that throughout the Qur'an, Allah never addressed people's intellects in a way that is detached from rhetoric and emotions, and this is a lesson for us as well; that is we should never rely merely on speaking directly about an issue without using any device or style to rouse people's consciousness.

3. Like Moths

The verse

“The day mankind will be like scattered moths” (al-Qari’ah, 101:4).

describes people on the Day of Resurrection like moths or locusts for two reasons:

a. Either because these creatures, being insects, are weak and so, people are rarely concerned by them, even if they are widespread:

“as if they were scattered locusts” (al-Qamar, 54:7).

meaning they are in massive number, crawling over one another.

b. Or because these insects appear haphazard in their movements, just as moths become confused by flames, for when they fly towards it they do not intend to fly into it!

So, on the Day of Resurrection, people will be like a mass of locusts in their weakness, surging forward without a particular goal. The real disaster in this verse is that the humans are being compared in this verse to insects, which no one cares about. But the locusts are in a better condition than those people who do not attain the goal for which they were created!

4. Inconstancy

The verses, which describe people as scattered moths and mountains as wool of various colours which has been carded, allude to the fact that the things we see as constant and fixed in this life will lose their stability. But as well as a physical reality, this alludes to a social reality too:

a. The former is represented by the towering mountains of various hues;

“and in the mountains are stripes white and red, of diverse hues, and pitch black.” (Fatir, 35:27).

Their stability will vanish and they will become like carded wool.

b. The latter is represented by human society, which has settled and extended its dominion all over the earth, but there will come a catastrophe, which shatters this stability and scatters them like moths that have been disturbed.

There is a lesson in this for everyone; namely that they should not become attached to ephemeral things, but this is especially so, for believers, because they do not rely on anything except Allah, who will return it to such a state. This is summed up best in Allah's words:

“Everyone on it is ephemeral...” (ar-Rahman, 55:26).

5. Thinking Of The Resurrection

The Resurrection is discussed, both in the context of an oath and in other ways, in seventy different places in the Qur'an. This clearly shows that first, coming to believe in it is one of the fundamentals of the religion, and second, that paying detailed attention to it in one's day life constitutes a reminder of our meeting with Allah.

And that is because the main obstacle to seeking nearness to Allah is represented sometimes by heedlessness (ghafla) and sometimes in being overcome by one's desires. Both these conditions are removed or limited by remembering the ultimate end that awaits all mankind, whereat all transient pleasures will fade away and all that will remain will be their consequences, and the emphasis contained in this surah is one form that this remembrance can take.

6. Weight

It is not only scales and the things they weigh that can be described as heavy and light; in fact, anything that has importance or consequence can be given a measure in the realm of scales. One scale is that of truth (haqq), as Allah says:

“The weighing on that Day is a truth. As for those whose deeds weigh heavy on the scales - it is they who are the felicitous.” (al-A'raf, 7:8).

Whereby the truth becomes a unit by which deeds can be measured.

Therefore, when this surah mentions weight –

“As for him whose scales are heavy” (al-Qari’ah, 101:6).

this suggests that those people who have pleasing lives are those who expend their efforts in the arena of truth... so, a person should avoid anything that can be called 'falsehood' (batil), whether in his treatment of himself, such as singing for example, or in his interactions with others, such as wrongly consuming their wealth. In short, the truth is anything that is connected to Allah, and falsehood is whatever is connected to other things:

'That is because Allah is the Truth, and what they invoke besides Him is falsehood.” (al-Hajj, 22:62).

7. Sending Blessings On Muhammad (S) And His Household (As)

In the narrations by the Prophet's (S) Household (‘a), we are told that one of those things that weighs heavy in the scales on the Day of Resurrection is sending blessings on Muhammad (S) and his Household (‘a) (al-salat 'ala muhammad wa ale muhammad), which falls under the general rubric of loving the Prophet's (S) near relatives (mawaddat dzul al-qurba), but is also, an instance of a supplication guaranteed to receive an answer, for which supplication is nearer to being answered than asking Allah to send down blessing on the most noble of His creation?

And it should be known that the word 'scales' (mawazin) in this verse can refer to either the deeds themselves, i.e. the thing-weighed (sing. mawzun), rather than the measure, i.e. thing which does the weighing (sing. mizan), hence why it is appropriate to refer to them in the plural here.

8. Weighing Of Deeds

Islam is a religion of realism, not idealism, so, none of us are expected to dedicate all our actions purely to goodness, for this can only be achieved by an Infallible (‘a), for the fact that the human being is composed of a carnal soul (al-nafs al-ammarah), a reproaching soul (al-nafs al-lawwama) means it is only natural that he will sometimes be morally upright, and at other times suffer lapses. That is why the recompense on the Day of Resurrection is described as a measure (mizan), whether heavy or light –

“But as for him whose scales are light...” (al-Qari’ah, 101:8).

with two scales, one weighing down and lifting the other; what matters at the end of the day is that the scale of good deeds should outweigh the bad, as the verse says:

“But as for him whose scales are heavy,” (al-Qari’ah, 101:6).

9. Satisfaction With Life

A person's life is wholesome when he is truly satisfied with it, which is why Allah describes the inhabitants of Paradise as having 'a pleasing life' because a person's displeasure with himself or his life is one of the most difficult forms of punishment for them to endure, as it is an endless source of guilt and shame. And, of course, this condition in the Hereafter is the direct result of a person's behaviour in this world.

Therefore, the pleasing life enjoyed by the inhabitants of Paradise in the next world is what the believer is actually already living in this one, as he does not do anything to invite the displeasure of his Lord therein; hence he is truly living a 'pleasing life' in this world and the Hereafter.

10. “The Abyss”

The description of Hell in the verse

“his mother will be the Abyss” (al-Qari’ah, 101:11).

suggests that it will be like a mother to its inmates, insofar as:

a. The deep connection between Hell and its inmates, for it is as if they are the children of Hellfire, who came out of its womb and have now returned to it.

b. A child in times of hardship turns to his mother, and these people shall have no refuge left on that day save Hellfire.

This assumes that we interpret 'the Abyss' (al-hawiyah) to be a name of Hellfire, so-called because people tumble headfirst into it (yahwi fiha), but we can also, interpret it to be an adjective describing the top of a person's head as they are cast into Hellfire, in which case it means: that a person will fall with the crown of his head into the fires of Hell, and this is a powerful description of humiliation, because he will fall with the most noble part of his body. This is in addition to the fact that the Arabic word hawiyah can also, imply falling into ruin. We can also, draw a connection between the crown of the head and the lying forelock mentioned in a previous surah, meaning that lying and sinfulness are what cause someone to be hurled headlong into Hellfire.

11. Burning

The opening verses of this surah begin with the phrase

“...and what will show you...' (al-Qari’ah, 101:3).

about the horrors of the Resurrection, but this same expression is repeated again with particular regard to Hell:

“And what will show you what it is?” (al-Qari’ah, 101:10).

So, this is a terror upon terrors, because it magnifies the terror of Hell over and above all the other terrifying events of the Resurrection!

It is interesting that this verse describes Hellfire as burning (hamiyah); this would seem obvious to everyone, as that is what fire normally does. But it is as if the verse means to say that this is the real fire; compared to this otherworldly fire, you cannot say that the fires of this world truly burn!