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Surah at-Takathur (No. 102: 'Rivalry')

Verses 1-8

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ

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

أَلْهَاكُمُ التَّكَاثُرُ

Rivalry distracted you (102:1).

حَتَّىٰ زُرْتُمُ الْمَقَابِرَ

until you visited the graves. (102:2).

كَلَّا سَوْفَ تَعْلَمُونَ

No indeed! Soon you will know! (102:3).

ثُمَّ كَلَّا سَوْفَ تَعْلَمُونَ

Again, no indeed! Soon you will know! (102:4).

كَلَّا لَوْ تَعْلَمُونَ عِلْمَ الْيَقِينِ

No indeed! Were you to know with certain knowledge, (102:5).

لَتَرَوُنَّ الْجَحِيمَ

you would surely see hell (102:6).

ثُمَّ لَتَرَوُنَّهَا عَيْنَ الْيَقِينِ

Then you will surely see it with the eye of certainty. (102:7).

ثُمَّ لَتُسْأَلُنَّ يَوْمَئِذٍ عَنِ النَّعِيمِ

Then, that day, you will surely be questioned concerning the blessing. (102:8).

1. False Illusions

The Qur'an makes rivalry the cause of distraction, as if rivalry has taken control of human existence. So, instead of the man taking himself wherever he wants, it is matters of convention (umur i'tibariyyah) - which lack reality in themselves, such as delusions of status acquired by wealth and children – that drive him forward.

Therefore, the only complete solution to this problem is for the person to struggle with his self (nafs) to extricate it from the grip of the false illusions and take it to a state of temperance (zuhd) towards external things - something that engenders inner nobleness - rather than abandoning them altogether, for it has been narrated:

'No man becomes arrogant or tyrannical save for some weakness he finds in himself.'1

2. Rivalry

Pursuing gains and then feeling proud of what one has gathered in rivalry is usually with regards to wealth and children, but the low self (nafs), which is never satisfied, can also, attach its love of gain to other things, such as age –

“……each of them is eager to live a thousand years…...” (al-Baqarah, 2:96).

and houses –

“Do you futilely build a sign on every height?'” (ash-Shu'ara, 26:128).

and food –

“O Moses, 'We will not put up with one kind of food. So, invoke your Lord for us, that He may bring forth for us of that which the earth grows - its greens and its cucumbers, its garlic, its lentils, and its onions. (al-Baqarah, 2:61).

To sum up, the first verse

“Rivalry distracted you” (at-Takathur, 102:1).

leaves the object of rivalry ambiguous, so, as to encompass all forms of being distracted by this world; including those we have mentioned and others. And the second verse

“until you visited the graves” (at-Takathur, 102:2).

alludes particularly to rivalry in having sons.

3. Distractions

Someone who believes in the Day of Recompense must avoid anything that distracts him from preparing for the Hereafter, for the essence of a distraction is that which takes you away from that which is more important. The consequence of this definition is that being taken away from that which is most important by another important thing also, falls into the category of a distraction, even if a person is not aware of that because the latter is still important and is not clearly a distraction.

How many common worldly activities - that people engage in - that this definition applies to, even if they are not aware of it, because these efforts of theirs are not connected to eternity and everlasting life!

4. Rivalry

The kind of rivalry being reproached by this surah could be with regards to:

a. Rivalry in the accumulation of wealth and sons, in which it is the act of accumulating wealth that is blameworthy because it is an instance of being distracted by worldly enjoyments themselves. Of course, anyone for whom this does not distract him from the remembrance of Allah is excluded from this reproach in accordance with His words:

“by men whom neither trading nor bargaining distracts from the remembrance of Allah.” (an-Nur, 24:37).

b. Vainglory and boasting with claims of accumulation, even if these are not accurate, in which case the rebuke is directed towards that psychological state in which such deluded people lives, for this too distracts him from the Hereafter.

So, the criteria for distraction in both these cases are one and the same, whether the person has actually achieved something externally or not.

5. “Until You Visited The Graves”

One explanation2 offered for the verse 'until you visited the graves' is that the central concept of this divine address is that you were distracted by rivalry in this world until your time of death, when you visited the graves - i.e. when you were buried in them. But a better explanation is that some persons were so, preoccupied with rivalry and pride amongst men to the extent that they would even go to the graves, to add the numbers of the dead to those of the living, to augment their numbers when they were boasting to someone else!

How foolish it is for people to take something illusionary as the measure of one person's superiority over another! The excellence of one living person has nothing to do with the excellence of another, what more the excellence of a dead person! What more if there isn't really any excellence there to begin with, as was the case with people's boasting during the age of ignorance, as it has been suggested that this verse refers to.3

6. Recompense

By not explicitly mentioning the object of knowledge in the verse:

“No indeed! Soon you will know!” (at-Takathur, 102:3).

and leaving it ambiguous, Allah demonstrates the magnitude of the recompense awaiting those distracted by rivalry on the Day of Resurrection; this is a terrible threat to its audience, especially because Allah repeats the denunciation, 'No indeed!' more than once in this surah!

Take note that this verse mentions a recompense, but in a vague sense, saying:

“you would surely see hell” (at-Takathur, 102:6).

without detailing the different kinds of punishment awaiting therein, as we see in other surahs. This is a more eloquent form of threat, as we see in Allah's words:

“Were you to see when they are set before their Lord. He will say, 'Is this not the truth?” (al-An'am, 6:30).

Insofar as this verse does not mention what will happen to them as they stand before Allah.

7. Knowledge With Complete Certitude

This surah makes the knowledge - with complete certitude that is uncontaminated by doubt - a deterrence against being distracted by vainglory. It has been said on definition of this knowledge that it is: 'Firm, justified and unchanging conviction that cannot be lost; in truth it is a combination of two types of knowledge: Knowing something, and knowing that its opposite is utterly impossible.'4

Therefore, anything short of this type of knowledge is not sufficient to deter people from rivalry, such as worship during the age of ignorance, because this contains neither knowledge nor fear, and this is why the rank of the learned is above that of the worshippers and ascetics!

8. Missing The Opportunities For Performing Good Deeds

Knowledge, especially when it has attained a high level of certitude, is authoritative (hujjah) for its possessor, and this is one of the most important motivations for a person to free himself of spiritual impurities. This is why at the end of this surah, the Lord has counted it as a means of breaking out of this state of rivalry and vainglory that is mentioned at its beginning. If such knowledge does not produce an outcome like this, then it will become a cause for woe and regret on the morrow, which is why Allah describes the Day of Resurrection as

“ ....the Day of Regret....” (Maryam, 19:39).

And let it be known that one who strives in this world and one who does not are equal when it comes to regret. The similitude of this is that of those who entered a dark cave with Dhul-Qarnayn and found beads on the floor; some of those who were with him picked up these beads and when they came out of the darkness, they saw that they were gems. So, those who took them were grieved that they had not taken more of them, and those who did not take any were also, grieved that they had taken none at all! And this is exactly how people will be on the Day of Resurrection when they see all the opportunities they missed for good deeds during the days of their worldly lives!

9. “You Would Surely See Hell”

When Allah says

“you would surely see hell” (at-Takathur, 102:6).

we can say that this means seeing it with the heart, which is an ability to witness the realities of this existence:

a. Either in a general sense, as with the believers as a whole, who are described by the Commander of the Faithful (‘a) when talking about their certainty in Allah: 'The eyes do not see him with their sights, but the hearts apprehend him through the realities of faith.'5

b. Or in detail, as was the case with Abraham (‘a), about whom Allah says:

“Thus did We show Abraham the dominions of the heavens and the earth, that he might be of those who possess certitude.” (al-An'am, 6:75).

This interpretation is supported by the fact that Allah joins the act of seeing –

“you would surely see hell” (at-Takathur, 102:6).

to another act of seeing on the Day of Resurrection;

“then you will surely see it with the eye of certainty” (at-Takathur, 102:7).

and this means sighting it with one's eyes after having seen it with one's heart.

10. Certainty

Certainty (yaqin) shifts between different levels; certain knowledge ('ilm al-yaqin), the eye of certainty (‘ayn al-yaqin), and true certainty (haqq al-yaqin). These are analogous to seeing the smoke, then seeing the fire, then touching it; a kind of certainty results in all three cases, but there is still a clear difference between them. These different degrees of certainty also, apply to certainty about the Hereafter; so, there is a difference between being certain of it in this world:

“No indeed! Were you to know with certain knowledge...” (at-Takathur, 102:5).

And certainty in the next:

“Then you will surely see it with the eye of certainty.” (at-Takathur, 102:7).

The people of certainty must elevate their certainty to a level close to the eye of certainty, and this is as the godwary (muttaqin) have been described by the Commander of the Faithful (‘a): 'So, they are to Paradise as one who hath seen it; they are [already] enjoying its blessings ... and they are to Hellfire as one who hath seen it; they are [already] suffering its punishments!'6

11. The Questioning

The address:

“Then, that day, you will surely be questioned concerning the blessing.” (at-Takathur, 102:8).

even though it appears in the midst of a discussion about people of rivalry and vainglory, it encompasses everything that Allah blesses His servants with. Although some scholars restrict its meaning to spiritual blessings, as Allah is too magnificent to question someone - for example - about food and drink, for this is something that even generous people in this world would not do. This is supported by a narration from Imam al-Sadiq (‘a), which reads: 'Allah is too generous and too magnificent to nourish you with food and allow you to consume it, only to then question you about it! Rather, He will ask you about the blessing He gave you in (the form of) Muhammad and the Household of Muhammad (S).7

We can find evidence for this in the question asked by the Keepers of Hellfire from its inmates on the Day of Resurrection, for it is only about a spiritual matter, namely being sent a warner:

“Whenever a group is thrown in it, its keepers will ask them, 'Did there not come to you any warner?” (al-Mulk , 67:8).

12. Giving Thanks

Some people look at the provisions they have been given as a pure blessing, without paying attention to the fact that a blessing is only truly blessed if it is used to obey Allah, or else it becomes a tribulation for its possessor, because this will be a cause of rebuke or punishment when they are questioned about it on the Day of Resurrection;

“Then, that day, you will surely be questioned concerning the blessing.” (at-Takathur, 102:8).

It is well known that the best way to give thanks for these blessings are laid down in the Shari'ah through its ordinances. For one's body it is by certain acts such as fasting. For one's wealth, with acts such as charity and for one's soul, with acts such as the prayers, which cause the believer to ascend (salat al-mi'rajiyyah) - or fulfilling the rights of people – for example with acts such as maintaining familial ties. Not paying attention to the laws enshrined in the Shari'ah could result in a person ending up doing the opposite of what is mentioned, which is why those who give thanks for Allah's blessings are in the minority;

“ …... little do you give thanks!” (al-A'raf , 7:10).

13. Proclaim Blessings

Some people erroneously suppose that there is some kind of contradiction between those verses which forbid vainglory in wealth, sons and the like thereof, and the verse which enjoins the Prophet (S) to proclaim the blessings of his Lord:

“and as for your Lord's blessing, proclaim it!” (ad-Duha, 93:11).

In fact, proclaiming Allah's blessings - whether by displaying them outwardly or speaking about them - should be done with a higher goal; either practically displaying gratitude for them, or encouraging others to imitate him in the things Allah has blessed him with; and this is completely different to pride and boasting, which ultimately stem from following one's lusts rather than obeying the guidance of one's Lord!

  • 1. Al-Kafi 2/312.
  • 2. See Tafsir al-Mizan, 20/351.
  • 3. See Tafsir al-Mizan, 20/153.
  • 4. Tafsir al-Mizan 20/351.
  • 5. Nahj al-Balagha, 258.
  • 6. Nahj al-Balagha, 303.
  • 7. Al-Kafi 6/270.