Welcome Friends: Ahlan wa sahlan!
Yusuf Ali’s explanation of this Chapter.
Muhammad Asad’s explanation of this Chapter.
NEW: Laleh Bakhtiar’s explanation of this Chapter.
‘The Ascensions/ The Paths of Ascent’
From Introduction of Yusuf Ali:
“This is another eschatological Surah closely connected in subject matter with the last one. Patience and the mystery of Time will show the ways that climb the Heaven. Sin and Goodness must each eventually come to its own.
Chronologically it belongs to the late early middle Makkan period, possibly soon after Surah 49.”
From Introduction of Muhammad Asad:
THUS CALLED after the word al-ma'arij appearing in verse 3, this surah belongs to the middle of the Mecca period. It is mainly devoted to the challenge which unbelief - or, rather, unwillingness to believe - offers to faith, both of them being conditioned by the restlessness inherent in human nature.”
The subject-matter of this Chapter is mostly in response to the first verse, a QUERY as to the inevitable suffering to befall the Deniers. Presenting the answer with dire Dissuasion, we are then given a statement of fact about human nature, after which comes beautiful Persuasion, as the verses describe characteristics we should all aspire to fulfill.
The title ‘The Ascensions/ The Paths of Ascent’ is derived from the third verse.
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1. The first verse directly addresses an important issue, informing us that an ‘inquirer’ had inquired as to Impending Suffering. Context helps us understand that this inquirer was a ‘skeptic’ who did NOT believe in what the Qur’an was warning of, which is that Suffering shall indeed befall. Actually, it seems that there were many skeptics who did not accept the concept of Final Justice being meted out to everyone, as we shall see when we arrive at Chapter 78 which begins with:
‘What are they inquiring about? About the tremendous News, regarding which they are in dispute.’
(Laleh Bakhtiar explains ‘athaab’ as ‘punishment,’ while most people think that ‘iqaab’ means ‘punishment’. Please put ‘ugly connotation’ in ‘Search’ to see why the Qur’an does NOT use the word ‘punishment’ at all).
Therefore, although these verses are timeless and speak to all skeptics, we understand that Qureish did in fact dispute the Messenger’s warning of resurrection for final judgment, and his assurances that it shall indeed befall.
The next verses then tell us that it (the Suffering) shall be unstoppable as it befalls Deniers, its being from God ‘Of the Paths of Ascent,’ to Whom the Custodians/ Angels and the Spirit ascend within a projected period/ term of 50 thousand years (we already spoke of the word ‘alf’ earlier, which is about something ‘composed/ put together,’ here referring to large numbers).
2. Verse 5 addresses the Messenger, telling him to show ‘Exemplary Forbearance.’ Here we think back to the story of Prophet Jacob, and his exemplary forbearance! Knowing that his sons had done something to his young child, he became blind with grief, yet he was patient, pouring out his sorrow only to God (HQ 12:86).
What a responsibility this must have been to Prophet Muhammad! Imagine being told -by God Himself- to show the highest ever level of human forbearance in face of everything which Qureish was putting him through… may God’s peace and blessings be upon all His Messengers!
Verses 6-7 show the difference between what the Deniers believed on one hand, and what was actually going to happen, as known by God. They see what is indeed ‘Impending’ as a ‘far off’ event, unlikely to ever take place!
Verses 8- 18 describe the Suffering which was mentioned in the first verse; in 8-10 we see the transformation which takes place then, when the Exalted Expanse /sky becomes like molten metal, and the mountains like tufts of wool… and people who once were intimates, now do not even ‘inquire after/ ask of’ each other!
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3. Verse 11 continues, beginning by saying: ‘They are made to see them…’ which appears in Arabic as one word: ‘yubaSSaroonahum,’ which helps us understand that nothing and no one is hidden from view that day. After that, we are shown how alone the ‘Mujrim/ the evil-Earner/ one who had Extracted Himself from faith ([i])’ feels, and indeed is. No one on earth matters to him anymore, and he is ready to ‘ransom’ himself, by exchanging his place with people who were dearest to him in life, beginning with his children, to his love-companion, his brother, his family (sheltering clan), and to EVERYONE else on earth, all put together… to save his own skin (put ‘Mujrim’ in ‘Search’).
When we read the next verses we realize why:
What awaits him is WORSE than the worst nightmare!
Verses 15- 18 tell us about it… it’s the Blaze, which rips-out peoples’ scalps, beckoning to any who (in life), was giving his back (to God’s Message), turning away (from it), and amassing and stashing (his fortune).
Verses 19- 21 tell us WHY a person would do that: It is inborn nature.
The Human (in his individual, base self) was created panicky -:([ii]-هلع)
He is naturally fearful when touched by misfortune, and tight-fisted when touched by good-fortune unless….. ! Unless ‘what?’ What is the exception?
The verses continue:… EXCEPT FOR ‘Those who Maintain CONSISTENT Relationship/ Prayer….!’
(Notice here how the singular reference to–insaan- became a plural reference to –muSalleen- so as to indicate the beautiful togetherness of this Relationship!)
When parents fail to raise children to become better individuals, and when adults fail to rise through a relationship with God and with each other, people end up remaining at the level of their base selves, and earning eternal regret.
Let us look at that list of persons who were able to rise above their base nature and earn to be in the Gardens, having been granted eminence in bounty and forgiveness (put ‘karam’ in ‘Search’). Verses 23- 35 tell us that:
-They were persons who had maintained CONSISTENT ‘Relationship/ Prayer/ Salaat’ (remember that the past tense verb ‘salla’ is the opposite of ‘tawalla.’ Put words in ‘Search’).
-And they were persons who had handed a portion of ‘their’ wealth as a defined Right (which indeed ‘belonged’) to the soliciting person (who asks for it) and to the deprived person (who does not ask).
-And they were persons who had believed in the ‘Day/Time’ of Accountability.
-And they were persons who had been so wary of the Suffering which their Lord metes out, that they’d become tender, gentle, mellow (put ‘shafaq’ in ‘Search’), seeing that no one is immune from it.
-And they were persons who had been protecting their ‘vulnerable parts’ - except from their spouses OR WHAT ‘their rightful pledges hold/ is held in their tenure,’ for which they shall not be faulted (‘maloom’-[iii]). But any exposure beyond that earns them the title of ‘Transgressors/ Aadoon.’
Their ‘vulnerability’ was explained earlier, where we found it NOT to be necessarily about the ‘sexual act.’
‘What is in their tenure’ was also explained earlier when we said that in Arabic, ‘maa’ما- -unlike ‘mannمن-’- is related to INcognizant Beings, so it is about ‘objects’ in our tenure (such as agreements/ contracts), and not about ‘persons.’
Although this verse may have been understood at one time to be a ‘ruling’ allowing men to have sexual relations with females in bondage to them/ ‘slaves’, it doesn’t seem to be about that (remember, bondage is odious and everyone is encouraged to eradicate it one way or the other). Rather, it does seem to be about the agreement itself (which could have been one of bondage at the time). This agreement binds people to take care of each other –males AND females- intimately enough that they become privy to each other’s ‘privates.’ This would include our relationships with all caretakers such as nurses, doctors, therapists, instructors, family members, etc. Neither society nor God would fault us for that kind of vital care and self-exposure.
Such an understanding also makes perfect sense when we reflect on the verse which tells women that they can ‘display their adornment to those in their tenure’ (HQ 24:31)- a ‘troublesome’ verse which has traditionally been explained by literally beating around the bush and then saying that this must refer to women’s FEMALE slaves/ servants!
The list of persons who were able to rise above their base nature and earn to be in the Gardens, being granted eminence in bounty and forgiveness continues:
-And they were persons who had Tended to their Trusts and their Commitment.
-And they were persons who were Upright in their Testimony.
-And they were persons who had SAFEGUARDED their ‘Relationship/ Prayer/ Salaat’ (Verse 23 spoke of the ‘when’ for ‘Salaat,’ while Verse 34 speaks of the ‘how.’ See ‘Hafithoon,’ for other instances of this word. Notice Chapter 23: 1-9.)
Verse 35 concludes, by mentioning their eminent abode in the Gardens.
4. Verses 36- 38 ask Prophet Muhammad:
‘Then, what is the matter with Those who have Denied, that they rush to and fro in front of you (defiantly), banding-up to your right and to your left?
Does each one of them hope to enter the Garden of Bliss?
5. The answer to that question appears in Verses 39- 44, beginning with a resounding: ‘No!..’ Then going on to state: ‘Indeed We have created them from what ‘they know…’ only to show in the next verses, that He Who created them in the first place, can easily replace them with others far better than they!
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6. In Verses 40- 41 God vows ‘By the Lord of all positions/ phases of Rising and Setting,’ that He is capable of replacing the Deniers with others better than they, and that none can thwart Him.
Oath= ‘qassam;’ see all.
The final three verses, 42- 44 begin by telling Prophet Muhammad to ‘leave them/ let them be,’ a command given to him eight times in the Qur’an (chronologically, this may be one of the earliest times he was so told, but for us, it is the last time we encounter it.) Here it is the same as HQ 43:83, leaving Those Who Deny to frolic their lives away, until they meet the day they’ve been promised of.
This awe-inspiring Chapter, which began by addressing the subject of the inevitable Suffering, now ends with two verses which should cause Deniers to shudder and quake as they listen to their own description on that inevitable ‘day/ time!’
On that day, they shall all emerge from their graves, rushing as if towards a goal, with eyes downcast, overwhelmed by humiliation, THAT IS THE DAY WHICH THEY HAVE BEEN PROMISED!
May our Deeds and God’s Mercy save us from that day!
Peace unto all!
Interestingly, this is the only time that the word ‘Mujrim’ (in a LONE singular), appears in the Qur’an. See it here and here in plural.
هلع: يدلُّ على سُرعةٍ وحِدَّة. وناقة هِلْوَاعٌ: حديدة سريعة. ونعامةٌ هالِعٌ كذلك. ومنه الهَلَعُ في الإنسان: شِبْه الحِرْص. ورجلٌ هَلِعٌ وهَلُوع.
فالأوَّل اللَّوْم، وهو العَذْل. تقول: لُمْتُه لَوْماً، والرّجلُ مَلوم. والمُلِيم: الذي يستحقُّ اللَّوْم. واللَّوْماء: الملامة، ورجل لُوَمة: يلُوم الناس. ولُومة يُلام.
والكلمة الأخرى التلوُّم، وهو التمكُّث. ويقال: إنَّ اللاَّمَةَ: الأمرُ يُلاَم عليه الإنسان.