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A Day of Dire Distress for Unbelievers

Sayyid Qutb

Arab News, 6/20/04

In the name of God, the Merciful, the Beneficent

On the day when the skies shall be rent asunder with clouds, and the angels shall be sent down (in ranks).

On that day, true sovereignty belongs to the Most Gracious (alone). It will be a day of dire distress for the unbelievers. On that day the wrongdoer will bite his hands and say: “Would that I had followed the path shown to me by the Messenger.

“Oh, woe is me! Would that I had never taken so-and-so for a friend!

“He surely led me astray from the Reminder after it had come to me!” Satan is ever treacherous to man. (The Standard, Al-Furqan: 25: 25-29)

The first verse speaks of the universal upheaval that will take place, signaling the end of this world and the arrival of the Day of Judgment. Numerous verses in different surahs of the Qur’an speak of this upheaval, portraying images of what will take place then. We quoted last week some of these verses, and it is useful to quote some more now so that we have a full picture of what the first verse in the present passage signifies. “Wait, then, for the day when the skies shall bring forth a pall of smoke which will make obvious (the approach of the Last Hour), enveloping all mankind. “Grievous is this suffering!” (44: 10-11) “On the day when the earth and the mountains will be convulsed, and the mountains will become like a sand-dune on the move.” (73: 14) “On that day, the skies shall be rent asunder.” (73: 18) “When the earth is systematically leveled down.” (89: 21) “When every eye is dazzled, and the moon darkens, and the sun and the moon are brought together.” (75: 7-9) “When the stars are effaced, and when the sky is rent asunder, and when the mountains are scattered like dust.” (77: 8-10) “They ask you about the mountains. Say: ‘My Lord will scatter them far and wide, and leave the earth level and bare, with no curves or ruggedness to be seen.’” (20: 105-107) “You will see the mountains, which you deem so firm, pass away as clouds pass away.” (27: 88) “One day We shall cause the mountains to move and you will see the earth void and bare.” (18: 47) “On the day when the earth shall be changed into another earth, as shall be the heavens.” (14: 48) “On that Day We shall roll up the heavens like a scroll of parchment.” (21: 104)

All these verses indicate that our world will come to a fearful end characterized by a violent shake-up of the earth, while the mountains will be scattered away like dust. The seas will be set alight, or made to explode, either by being overfull as a result of the upheaval taking place or its molecules will explode and turn into a fire. The stars will be darkened, the sky rent asunder and the planets scattered. Distances will be confused so as the sun and the moon will be brought together. The sky will look like smoke at one time and all alight and red at another. It is a fearful event that leaves nothing in place. In this surah God threatens the unbelievers with the sky being rent asunder with clouds. This may be a reference to clouds being formed out of the vapors produced by the great explosions taking place. On that day, the angels will go to the unbelievers, as the latter have suggested, but their task will not be the confirmation of the message of the Prophet, but to administer punishment to those unbelievers as God orders them. “It will be a day of dire distress for the unbelievers.” Why would they suggest that the angels should come when their coming signals so much distress?

The surah then portrays an image showing the regret and remorse felt by the unbelievers. It is portrayed at length, with details, giving the impression that it is unending, with every wrongdoer biting his own hand in a gesture of regret: “On that day the wrongdoer will bite his hands and say: ‘Would that I had followed the path shown to me by the Messenger. Oh, woe is me! Would that I had never taken so-and-so for a friend! He surely led me astray from the Reminder after it had come to me!’ Satan is ever treacherous to man.”

Everything around the wrongdoing unbeliever is still, while he sends out expressions of regret, with sorrow clear in his voice. The rhythm here is deliberately long to add to the sound effects. As we read or hear these verses, we also seem to participate in expressing regret. “On that day the wrongdoer will bite his hands.” One hand is not enough. He bites both, alternating them time after time, because his sorrow and regret are so keen. The movement itself is very common, expressing what the person making it feels. Hence, it is shown in full clarity.

The wrongdoer will also say: “Would that I had followed the path shown to me by the Messenger!” Would that I followed his way and did not move a single step out of it! He says this about God’s Messenger whom he denied the very possibility that God might have entrusted him with a message.

“Oh, woe is me! Would that I had never taken so-and-so for a friend!” No name is mentioned here, but the friend is described as “so and so” to include every bad friend who encourages one to turn away from the path of God’s Messenger and follow the wrong way. “He surely led me astray from the Reminder after it had come to me!” He was indeed an aide of Satan, or was himself just another Satan. “Satan is ever treacherous to man,” leading him into situations of error and letting him down when he most needs help, in situations of utter distress.

We see how the Qur’an strongly shakes their hearts, painting these fearful scenes that show them their fate as though it is there before their eyes when they are still in this life, denying God and speaking of Him in a way that shows no respect. Indeed they make careless suggestions when what awaits them is certain to fill them with regret.

Perhaps we should add that some reports mention that these verses were revealed to the Prophet (peace be upon him) in comment on a certain incident involving Uqbah ibn Abi Mu’ayt. Uqbah used to come often to the Prophet and sit with him. One day he invited the Prophet for a meal. The Prophet said that he would not eat Uqbah’s food unless Uqbah says the declaration, “I bear witness that there is no deity other than God, and that Muhammad is God’s Messenger.” Uqbah said that. His friend, Ubayy ibn Khalaf, later remonstrated with him, saying: “You have abandoned your religion.” Uqbah said: “No, by God! It was only that he refused to eat my food when he was in my home, and I felt embarrassed, so I granted his wish.” Ubayy said: “I will not be satisfied unless you go and step over him and spit in his face.” Uqbah looked for the Prophet until he found him in prostration near Dar Al-Nadwah, and he did just that. The Prophet said to him: “Should I ever meet you outside Makkah, I will hit your head with my sword.” Uqbah was taken prisoner in the Battle of Badr, and the Prophet ordered Ali to kill him.



Earth, a planet hungry for peace


The Israeli apartheid (security) wall around Palestinian population centers (Ran Cohen, pmc, 5/24/03).


The Israeli apartheid (security) wall around Palestinian population centers in the West Bank, like a Python. (Alquds,10/25/03).

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