Tafseer of Surah Al-‘Ala

Note: This is post #9 in our series on Tafseer of Juz ‘Amma.

The Taj Mahal, a HUGE palace.

Surah Al-‘Ala is one recited quite often; the Messenger of Allah (salallahu alayhi wa sallam) used to recite it in Witr, and in Jumu’ah, and in ‘Eid; and on days when Jumuah and ‘Eid coincide, people would hear it in ‘Eid, then again a few hours later in Jumu’ah. This indicates the great importance of Surah Al-‘Ala.

One thing you probably didn’t know about this surah–when we say “Subhanna rabbiy al-‘alaa” in sujood, that comes from this verse–because the Prophet (salallahu alayhi wa sallam) commanded us to do so. This is where it comes from!

Let’s dive into some of the tafseer. In ayah 9, Allah says:

فَذَكِّرْ إِن نَّفَعَتِ الذِّكْرَى

Translation: So remind, if the reminder should benefit.

There’s a critical point here–remind at the time and place where it will be accepted. Ali (radiallahu anhu) used to say: you will never tell people something they don’t understand, except that it will become a fitnah for some of them. There was one shaykh who was explaining to some bedouins a concept, and he narrated a hadith, and he said, “and this hadith is da’eef.” The people said “No! The Prophet’s hadith cannot be da’eef! You’re da’eef!” and kicked him out and stuff. It became a fitnah for them.

So speak to people at a level they can understand. If they ask you basic questions, don’t go into 17 differences of opinion and the usool-ul-fiqh application to explain which one is the right ruling–just give them whatever they can digest. As Ali used to say, “explain to the people at a level they can understand; would you like Allah and His messenger to be denied?”

Then Allah goes on to describe who benefits from reminders, and who doesn’t. Allah says:

سَيَذَّكَّرُ مَن يَخْشَى
وَيَتَجَنَّبُهَا الْأَشْقَى
الَّذِي يَصْلَى النَّارَ الْكُبْرَى
ثُمَّ لَا يَمُوتُ فِيهَا وَلَا يَحْيَى

Translation: He who fears [ Allah ] will be reminded. But the wretched one will avoid it – [He] who will [enter and] burn in the greatest Fire, neither dying therein nor living.

It’s the people who fear Allah, those are the ones who benefit from the reminders. As for the wretched: they end up in Jahannam, may Allah protect us, “neither living nor dying.” What does this mean?

If someone studies Hellfire, they will find, among the attributes Allah describes:

  1. Blazing fire that incinerates human bodies
  2. Choking smoke that chokes and kills people
  3. Poisonous food from the tree of Zaqqum, that kills with even one drop
  4. Scalding water that burns and cuts open your bowels

Again and again and again, death coming at a person from every angle. Even one of these is enough to kill someone; but Allah does not let them die. “Laa yamuwtuw.” They will not die.

Yet, they won’t be living, either; what kind of life is Hellfire? More then this, being chained up, in the darkness; with punishment that only increases in torment over time. We ask Allah to protect us from that evil, wretched end (ameen!!)

Imagine yourself there. Think about it. You could, right now, be reading about your own destruction–wa iyyadubillah. How can people, knowing this, choose to sin and lead themselves to destruction? Why? What could possibly deter them from this path?

Allah says:

بَلْ تُؤْثِرُونَ الْحَيَاةَ الدُّنْيَا
وَالْآخِرَةُ خَيْرٌ وَأَبْقَى

Translation: But you prefer the worldly life, while the Hereafter is better and more enduring.

Dunya. It’s all dunya. This is the reason why people sin; why they reject the truth; why they don’t believe in God, or refuse to worship that one true God. Why people steal and kill and murder and everything in-between.

But the akhirah, really, truly is better.

But we just don’t understand.

Even with the biggest billionaire-mansion, the fanciest solid-gold car, and the best food and drink and clothes money can buy … how long will it last? 10, 20, 30 years; then you’re back to the hereafter with sins piled on sins and nothing to show for it.

Look at the Taj Mahal, one of the greatest palaces ever built in dunya–where are the owners now? Did it avail them anything? (If you don’t know, one of the things the owner did, was to get the hands of all his slaves cut off–so nothing like this could ever be built again.) But now, they are in their graves, and they have returned to Allah.

We ask Allah to help us understand and implement this great, great surah in our lives (ameen thumma ameen ya rabbi!)

Action Items:

  • Reflect. As usual, reflect. Reflect on Jannah and Jahannam. Most people don’t think about them; but Allah calls us to do so!
  • Post Your Reflections. What one thing about Jannah, or about Jahannam, hits you the most? Share it with us, insha’Allah.


  • Touched by an Angel: Tafseer of Juz ‘Amma. By Muhammad Alshareef. 2009.
  • Fiqh of Da’wa, by Muhammad Alshareef.

14 thoughts on “Tafseer of Surah Al-‘Ala

  1. Ilm Seeker Post author

    The thing that strikes me most about Jannah, subhanallah, after all these narrations of things we can relate to–food, drink, gold, silver, wine, jewelry, bracelets, beds, fruit, meat–the Messenger of Allah said: “And there are things no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has comprehended/thought of.” Subhanallah!

  2. Aysegul

    Assalamu alaykum,

    JazakAllah for the tafseer. I have a question: why is the letter ‘seen’ before some verbs in this surah (e.g. ‘sanuyassiruka, sayazzakkaru)?

    What strikes me most about jahannam is that the person who gets the lightest punishment will think that he’s being punished most severely, and that the hellfire is nothing compared to our fire while we can’t even touch it for a second..!

    And jannah… I think the ones that we’re going to see and be with is truly a great reward from Allah..

  3. Ilm Seeker Post author

    @Shaquib, wa iyyakum, hope you benefited from it.

    @Aysegul, wa’alikum as-salaam, in Arabic, present-tense and future-tense use the same verb form (mudaari’). You generally need to know the context to understand if it means present-tense or future tense.

    The seen here, and generally in front of a mudaari’ verb, makes it future tense.

    So “nuyassiruka” could mean, depending on the sentence, “we will make easier” or “we are making easier.” However, “sanuyassiruka” or “sawfa nuyassiruka” means “we will make easier,” and it CANNOT be in present-tense.

    Wallahu ‘alam.

  4. Aysegul

    JazakAllah khairan again.

    I already found it confusing because you only have one form for two different tenses.

  5. Ilm Seeker Post author

    @Aysegul wa iyyakum; it is confusing, just rely on translation insha’Allah. Saheeh International is one of the best, wallahu ‘alam.

  6. bint Muhammad


    JazakAllah for the post.

    My reflection on the Akhirah; is not as far as Jannah and Jahannam, moreso the Day of Judgement. My mind can barely comprehend what that Day will be like to endure, than to even think very deeply about the final abode.

  7. word nerd

    Also, the seen is for near future, very near future, whereas saufa is used for future but not as near.

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  9. Bassmeh

    Asalamu alaykoum! Ma shaa Allaah! Love this article, really made me think… One thing that strikes me when I think about Jannah is the meeting with Allaah subhana wa taala. In shaa Allaah the Muslim ummah as a whole gets that amazing opportunity. Everything about jahanam scares me!

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