Commentary by Syed Qutb
Published — Friday 30 October 2009
Last Update 30 October 2009 3:00 am
In the Name of God, the Lord of Grace, the Ever Merciful
How about one on whom God’s sentence of punishment has been passed? Can you rescue those who are already in the fire? (19)
As against this, those who are God-fearing will have lofty mansions raised upon mansions high, beneath which running waters flow. This is God’s promise. Never does God fail to fulfill His promise. (20)
Have you not considered how God sends down water from the skies, and then causes it to travel through the earth to form springs? He then brings with it vegetation of different colors; and then it withers and you can see it turning yellow. In the end He causes it to crumble to dust. In all this there is indeed a reminder for those endowed with insight.
(The Throngs; Al-Zumar: 19-21)
The surah is going to tell us shortly about the reward God’s true servants shall have. However, before showing us the blessings these people enjoy in the life to come, it states that those who worshipped false deities have already reached hell. Who can save them from its fire, then? “How about one on whom God’s sentence of punishment has been passed? Can you rescue those who are already in the fire?” This address is made to the Prophet (peace be upon him). If he cannot save them from the fire, who else can?
They are pictured here as if they are already in the fire, since the sentence of punishment has been passed on them. Juxtaposed with this is the image of those who truly feared God: “As against this, those who are God-fearing will have lofty mansions raised upon mansions high, beneath which running waters flow. This is God’s promise. Never does God fail to fulfill His promise.”
The scene depicts mansions raised upon high mansions, with streams flowing below. All this contrasts with the image of layers of fire engulfing the other group from above and below. Drawing such contrasts is a characteristic of the Qur’anic style. Such is God’s promise, which will always come true.
Those Muslims who were the first to receive the Qur’an interacted with these scenes in their practical lives. To them, they were not mere promises or threats issued from afar, speaking about a distant future; they were a reality they saw and felt. Hence, they were truly influenced by them. Their lives on earth reflected the reality of the Hereafter which they felt and almost experienced while still extant in this life. It is in this way that a Muslim should receive God’s promise.
The surah then draws attention to the life of plants after rainfall, and tells us how the water courses to its end. The Qur’an often draws a comparison between the life of plants and this present life of ours, highlighting the fact that it is of short duration. It urges people with insight to reflect on this comparison. In connection with the water being poured from the skies, the surah also refers to the Qur’an, the book sent down from heaven to breathe life into people’s hearts and souls. It gives an inspiring description of the response of those whose hearts are open to it, and how they experience a mixture of awe, fear, comfort and reassurance. It then describes the respective fates of those who respond to God’s message and those whose hearts are hardened. At the end of the passage, the surah cites examples of one who worships the One God, and the one who worships multiple deities. The two cannot be equal and cannot hold the same position, in the same way as two slaves one serving one master and the other having several masters, who are in dispute with one another cannot be considered the same.
“Have you not considered how God sends down water from the skies, and then causes it to travel through the earth to form springs? He then brings with it vegetation of different colors; and then it withers and you can see it turning yellow. In the end He causes it to crumble to dust. In all this there is indeed a reminder for those endowed with insight.”
The Qur’an draws attention to a phenomenon that takes place everywhere on earth. Its familiarity, however, tends to make people overlook it. Yet it is remarkable in every step. The Qur’an directs us to look at how God’s hand directs it step by step to produce its desired effects. The water that comes down from the sky: what is it, and how does it descend? This is a remarkable phenomenon, but we tend not to reflect on it because it is so familiar. The very creation of water is indeed a miracle. We know that it comes into existence when two hydrogen atoms combine with one oxygen atom under certain conditions. Our knowledge, however, should alert us to the fact that it is God’s hand that made the universe, allowing the hydrogen and the oxygen to be available and to provide the conditions that allow them to combine and produce water, which is essential for life to emerge. In fact, without water, no life could have emerged. Thus we see how a series of measures culminated in the existence of water and the emergence of life. All this is of God’s own making. Moreover, the very fall of rain, after the creation of water, is in itself a miraculous phenomenon, brought about by the system that operates the universe and the earth, allowing the formation of water and its fall by God’s will.