Note: This is post #17 in our series on Tafseer of Juz ‘Amma (click the link to see all posts in this series).
Allah says, in Surah At-Takaathur:
حَتَّى زُرْتُمُ الْمَقَابِرَ
Translation: Competition in [worldly] increase diverts you, until you visit the graveyards. [Surah At-Takaathur, verses 1-2]
Subhanallah, even though these verses were revealed over 1400 years ago, we still see the exact same situation today. Al-Haakum means, it makes you compete with each other. At-Takaathur is rivalry, competition, in accumulating material things; thinking that life is about toys, and the one with the most (or most expensive) toys wins.
What is Takaathur?
Imagine you have two people, A and B. A buys a big house, so B buys a bigger house, so A starts looking for a bigger house … or car, or shoes, or clothes, or whatever you want. Dunya. Competing.
And it distracts you from your true purpose here–to prepare for the hereafter.
Verse two literally means, “until you visit” (zurtum) the graves. But it doesn’t mean “visit,” per-se; in this ayah, it means that final, one-way visit to the graves–until you die.
And if you don’t pay attention? If you just let the waterfall of life take you by … this is it, this is that moment when you hear the sound of the falls and you see the edge, right in front of you, sweeping you away. This is when most people wake up to the reality of life.
And these two verses, these are a shaming of the human being. That mutual rivalry for shiny things distracts you until you visit the graves.
Then Allah says:
كَلَّا سَوْفَ تَعْلَمُونَ
ثُمَّ كَلَّا سَوْفَ تَعْلَمُونَ
Translation: Kalla! You are going to know. Then kalla! You are going to know. [Verses 3-4]
Allah says, kalla–a very strong, emphatic, powerful negation. Kalla refers to a wrong belief, that’s mentioned before it–in this case, the takaathur. This is not what life is about.
And as for knowing? The first “sawfa ta’lamoon,” you will know, refers to when the angel of death comes–al-qiyaam as-sughraa, the minor resurrection. When he comes, you will know then, your fate–is it the angels of mercy, or the angels of punishment? Then, you will know the reality of life.
Thumma kalla, sawfa ta’lamoon–then, again, when al-qiyaam al-kubraa, the major resurrection (on the Day of Resurrection) occurs, you will know the reality of life.
Then Allah says:
كَلَّا لَوْ تَعْلَمُونَ عِلْمَ الْيَقِينِ
Translation: Kalla! If you only knew with knowledge of certainty… [verse 5]
Most people don’t glean this gem out of this ayah: that the law (if) makes it a statement without an answer. “Kalla, if you knew with certainty of knowledge (ilm-ul-yaqeen) …”
How would your life be if you were certain about the Day of Repayment? About the resurrection of the human race; about the accountability with Allah of every deed, big or small? How would you live your life? What deeds would you do? What sins would you avoid? Reflect on it!
Then Allah says:
ثُمَّ لَتَرَوُنَّهَا عَيْنَ الْيَقِينِ
Translation: You will surely see the Hellfire. Then you will surely see it with the eye of certainty. [verses 6-7]
In verse 6, La here is a particle of emphasis. So it could’ve been “tarawunna al-jaheem.” Even tarawunna–the default, normal form is tarawuwna (without a shadda on the noon). The shadda just emphasizes it further and makes it more certain–two forms of emphasis.
And Jaheem is one of the names of Hellfire. Jahama, the root verb, means to look at someone; in fact, it’s the look of a hungry lion right before it pounces on its prey. Subhanallah, this is the Hellfire–a beast, that will glare, roar, and pounce upon the hearts; the Crusher (Al-Hutama). May Allah protect us from it.
And Allah says in verse 7, again, to drive the point home further: you WILL see it. And subhanallah, in verse 5, Allah mentioned certainty of knowledge–we know for sure Hellfire exists, it’s real, and it’s there, even though we haven’t seen it; but on that day, the Day of Repayment, we will all see Hellfire–every single human being–even those who will be saved from it. And that day, our certainty will become ayn-ul-yaqeen, certainty of sight. Because seeing is not like knowing.
‘Ali (radiallahu ‘anhu) used to say, “if I saw Paradise (with my eyes) I wouldn’t desire it more, and if I saw Hellfire, I wouldn’t fear it more.” Ya’ne, that he reached that level of ayn-ul-yaqeen, certainty of sight, despite never seeing them. That’s the level of (some) sahaba over the rest of us.
Then Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) concludes the surah with:
ثُمَّ لَتُسْأَلُنَّ يَوْمَئِذٍ عَنِ النَّعِيمِ
Translation: Then you will surely be asked that Day about pleasure. [verse 8]
One reflection I had is that, the word for pleasure/bliss, na’eem, is described as a quality of Paradise. Check out other surahs in Juz ‘Amma.
Imam An-Nawawi (rahimahuallah) mentions that this questioning will not necessarily be a punishment–because there’s a hadith about the Prophet (salallahu alayhi wa sallam) going out with Abu Bakr and ‘Umar in search of food, all hungry, and someone feeding them meat (i.e. a very VIP meal), and the Prophet (salallahu alayhi wa sallam) quoted this ayah–saying, you will be asked. So it won’t necessarily be a punishment or shaming.
My personal reflections are that, really, this surah should make you stop and think about life. Are you caught up in the dunya? Are you just working hard for money, so you can be more well-off then that other guy? Subhanallah, people buy things they don’t want, with money they don’t have, to impress people they don’t even like! If this is you–and maybe you have a lot of this, or a little of it–remember the grave. That’s where it ends. At that point, none of this dunya stuff will matter.
One ‘alim/scholar, may Allah have mercy on him, said: “if you see people racing with you for the dunya, race with them for the akhirah.” Don’t compete for a bigger house here–compete for a better house in Jannah. Compete to beat your friends and family in salah, in sadaqah, in dhikr, in Qur’an memorization and recitation, in all these good deeds.
Because the ultimate pay-out comes in the Hereafter; this life is only a few days, a few years, and then it’s back to the akhirah.
May Allah make us from those who understand and live these ayaat, as the Messenger of Allah (salallahu alayhi wa sallam) did.
- Reflect on Life. Are you competing with people in dunya? Maybe a big house, or a good job, or a higher salary? Think, really truly, think hard about it. This is something Allah knows.
- Race to Success. Muhammad Alshareef said a true statement: “anything that measures, increases.” You want to increase in your Qur’an? Your visitations to the masjid? Your sadaqah? Start tracking how much of it you do each month, each week, each day. Wallahi, just opening that spreadsheet and staring at it will motivate you.
Wallahu ta’ala ‘alam.
- Touched by an Angel: Tafseer of Juz ‘Amma. By Muhammad Alshareef. 2009.