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Surah Zilzaal
Qur'anic Exegesis
Amin Ahsan Islahi
(Tr. by:Dr. Shehzad Saleem)

Central Theme:

In this sūrah the reality that a day will definitely come when every deed done by man shall be brought to light, has been highlighted. All his labours would be exposed and nothing would remain hidden. Whatever good or evil he had done even where no one could have seen him, shall be placed infront of him, and he would be rewarded or punished accordingly. On that day each man alone would stand answerable for his own deeds. No other person would in any way be able to help or support him nor would anyone be present to intercede for him.

After an explication of this fact, a graphic picture of the tremendous cataclysm which would take place on that day is drawn. As a result of this devastation everything buried in the earth shall be cast out. The earth will then narrate its story by the assent and indication of the Almighty, enabling its inhabitants to have a clear idea of all they had said or done upon its surface or had hidden beneath it. After this everyone would see the smallest good he had done as well as all his evils, however imperceptible they may be.

At the time of our Prophet (sws), those who were denying the Day of Judgement had basically three misconceptions. Firstly, they thought that how could this whole world be destroyed. In the second place, they were of the opinion that how was it possible to keep an account of all deeds of each and every person. Thirdly, they reckoned that even if the above two were true, there was no need for them to be fearful because the deities they had associated with God would intercede for them and save them from any punishment. They went as far as to believe that these intercessors would even win for them a high rank and status in the Hereafter. All the three misconceptions have been dealt with in this sūrah, and their hollowness has been categorically pointed out.

Meaning of the Sūrah:

When the earth shall be shaken the way it ought to be shaken, and the earth shall cast forth its burdens and man shall cry out `what is the matter with her'! On that Day she will narrate her story at the intimation of your Lord.

On that day men would appear alone, that their deeds could be shown to them. Then whoever has done the smallest bit of good shall see it, and whoever has done the smallest bit of evil, he also shall see it.

Explanation of the Sūrah:

Izaa zulzilatil ardhu zilzaalahaa .................(1)

(When the earth shall be shaken the way it ought to be shaken.)

When the word izaa is used in this way to state something, it is meant to be its reminder. One can unfold the concealed meaning in the translation as `keep that time in mind' or `beware when such and such a thing will happen'.

The word zilzaal is grammatically an absolute object (maf'ul-e-mutliq) which stresses the verb zulzilat. However, its annexation (edhaafat) towards the word ardh by means of a pronoun is adding a special meaning in the stress which must be borne in mind, otherwise the emphasis in the verse cannot be properly appreciated. Keeping in mind this technical delicacy, the correct meaning will be `when the earth shall be shaken the way it ought to be shaken' or when the earth shall be shaken the way it is destined to be shaken'. In other words, what is really being implied here is that the extent to which it would be shaken cannot be imagined today. The actual way in which it will reel, totter and stagger as pre-ordained by the Almighty is an event beyond imagination. But one thing which is absolutely certain is that all this is bound to happen. Therefore, it is in the well being of everyone to remain alert about its arrival and not spend his life remaining unmindful to it.

Wa akhrajatil ardhu athqaalahaa ................. (2)

(And the earth shall cast forth its burdens.)

The word thiqlun means `weight' or `burden'. Here, its foremost implication are the dead who have been burried in the earth, who would be thrown overboard by it on the Day of Judgement. But, since the word also denotes generality therefore, it can also imply the burried riches and treasures as well as any traces of the offences committed by criminals, which they had hidden beneath the earth. Some other Quranic verses also deal with this subject:

Whatever shall be inside, it will cast out and become empty. [84:4]

When the graves shall be spewed out. [100:9]

Wa Qaalal insanu maalahaa ......................(3)

(And man shall cry out `what is the matter with her.')

This is a description of how the terrible situation will effect man's senses. Struck with consternation they will cry out `what is happening to the earth, why is its wobbling about not coming to an end, and why is it throwing out everything within it?' This tension would also grip the evil doers when they would observe the record of their deeds. They would exclaim:

What a strange Book! No small or big deed has been left out from its grasp. [18:49]

Yaumaezin tuhaddithu akhbaarahaa. Bi anna rabbaka auhaalahaa ..................(4), (5)

(On that day she will narrate her story at the intimation of your Lord.)

On that day the earth would relate an account of all the good and evil deeds done upon it. It has been indicated in other places of the Quran that the limbs of criminals would be bestowed with the power of speech by the Almighty on the Day of Judgement. Their own limbs would testify against them, and even their skins and the hairs upon them shall bear witness against them:

And the criminals will inquire from their skins `why did you testify against us?' They will reply that the God who has given speech to everyone today, has given it to us as well. [41:21]

Whatever a person does in this world, is either done upon or beneath the earth. As such it must be regarded as the greatest witness to all his deeds. Just as the Almighty would endow man's limbs and organs with the faculty of speech to narrate his life's record and bear witness against him, so will the earth be made vocal by Him that it may, also, recount his history.

Bi anna rabbaka auhaalahaa. The word wahee here means ‘intimation’ or ‘assent’. It has been used in this meaning in other verses of the Quran as well, for example:

It will obey her God's directive, and only this is befitting for her. [84:5]

It is clear that the earth would rehearse everyone's record at the behest of God only. Whatever will happen will happen because the Almighty had ordered it and everything would be compelled to obey him. It can be seen that what has been stated in the above cited verses [41:25] has been asserted here in another way.

Yaumaizin yasdurunnasu ashtaatal liyurau a’amaalahum.......(6)

(On that day men would appear alone, that their deeds could be shown to them.)

The word ashtaatun means ‘in a separate or solitary manner.’

On that day people would emerge from their graves without having their family about them. No tribesmen or relatives, comrades or supporters would be present alongside them. Also, they would be without the pomp and show and the worldly riches they had amassed. Even the deities they had associated with God would not be present to intercede for them. Everyone  would stand alone to reckon with the results of his own deeds. This particular aspect has been highlighted in other places of the Quran as well:

And everyone would appear alone before his Lord. [19:95]

And you came to Us alone, the way We created you the first time. [6:94]

Liyurau a'amaalahum: This expresses the reason why they  would be brought before the Almighty i.e. so that their deeds could be shown to them. They would observe and experience the results of their labours. In grammatic terms the verb here has been used to denote its own final outcome.

Fa manyya'mal mithqaala zarratin khairanyyarah. wa manyya'mal mithqaala zarratin sharranyyarah............(7), (8)

These are the details which relate to the last part of the previous verse. A little explanation of this observation of deeds by a believer and a disbeliever would be in order. No doubt, everyone would see both his evil and good deeds but this would be according to the principle mentioned elsewhere in the Quran: A believer may not see some of his evil deeds because some of the good ones would have compensated for them. Similarly, a disbeliever will not find all his good deeds in his record because some of his misdeeds and heretical beliefs would have rendered them null and void, eluding him from their reward.

After being adjudged according to this principle, people would attain eternal salvation or would be doomed forever on the basis of the following Quranic verse:

Hence, whose scales are heavy shall dwell in bliss, and whose scales are light, the abyss of hell shall be his abode. [101:6-9]

(Translated from "Islahi's Tadabbur-e-Qur’an")


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