What we have in this passage is a scene of the Day of Judgment when the honor bestowed by God on His faithful servants and the humiliation suffered by the others are shown as though they are happening here and now. It is a violent scene with loud noises and bustling movement. The descriptive style imparts a sense of long duration, with ever renewing action raised before our imagination. We see garments being cut out and tailored, and fiercely boiling water being poured over the heads. Its temperature is so high that the moment it touches the heads of those at the receiving end, whatever is in their bellies is melted, as does their skin. We also see whips made of red-hot iron to flog those condemned to such punishment. The suffering is intensified and becomes unbearable. The unbelievers make a sudden move to try to escape all this torment, and try to get out of this endless distress, but they are fiercely returned into it. They are strongly rebuked and told: “Taste the torment of fire.”
Our imagination continues to repeat this scene from its first movement right up to the point where the unbelievers are repelled when they try to escape. It then starts all over again. The only way to turn away from this self-repeating scene is to look at the other destiny portrayed in the surah. The starting point is that there are two adversaries contending about their Lord. We have just seen the sad end of those who refuse to believe in Him.
The believers, on the other hand, are in gardens through which running waters flow. Their clothes are unlike those of the first group: they are made of silk. On top of these they have adornments and jewellery made of gold and pearls. God also guides them to the best of words and to the way leading to the One worthy of all praise. Thus, they encounter no difficulty either in word or in direction. Such guidance is a great blessing, because it gives them a sense of ease, comfort, and reassurance.
Such is the end of contention about God: people rank in two groups with two greatly different ends. Anyone who continues to argue about God, without knowledge, guidance, or a light-giving divine book — unsatisfied with the clear evidence of the truth God has given us — should reflect before he faces the inevitable end.
The surah moves on to speak about the unbelievers who turn people away from God’s path and from the Sacred Mosque in Makkah. The reference here is to those who opposed the message of Islam when it started in Makkah, trying hard to turn people away from it. They were also confronting the Prophet and his companions who believed in Islam to debar their entry into the Sacred Mosque at the Kabah.
It then speaks about the basis on which this mosque was founded when God assigned its building to Abraham (peace and blessings be upon him) and ordered him to call on all people to visit it for pilgrimage. Abraham’s instructions were very clear: that this mosque must be established on the clear basis of God’s oneness, so as to prevent any form of associating partners with God from being practiced in or near it. It was to be kept open to all people, whether they reside close to it or come from distant places. None is to be prevented entry, and none is to claim its ownership.
The surah then outlines some of the rituals of pilgrimage and how they enhance people’s consciousness and constant remembrance of God. It also stresses the need to protect the Sacred Mosque against any aggression by those who try to turn people away from it or change the basis on which it is founded. Those who fulfill their duties of protecting the purity of the faith are promised victory. [The unbelievers who debar others from the path of God and the Sacred Mosque which We have set up for all people alike, both those who dwell there and those who come from abroad… Anyone who seeks to profane it by evildoing, We shall cause to taste grievous suffering.]
Such was the Quraysh’s practice: they turned people away from the faith that He has established for mankind, providing a direct way to Him. They fought hard to prevent people from following the code He has chosen for human life. They also stopped Muslims from offering the pilgrimage and the Umrah, as was the case in the sixth year of the Islamic calendar when the events that started with such prevention led to the signing of a peace agreement at Al-Hudaybiyah. God made this mosque an area of peace and safety for all people, where they may have no fear of anyone.
This applies to everyone living in Makkah, and to all those who come over from distant areas to visit the Mosque. Thus, the Ka`bah and the Mosque around it form a house of God where all people are equal. None can claim any right of ownership or any distinction whatsoever: (The Sacred Mosque which We have set up for all people alike, both those who dwell there and those who come from abroad).
This law that God has established for His Sacred House preceded all attempts by human beings to establish a sanctuary where no arms are allowed, opponents are safe, bloodshed is ended and everyone enjoys peace and security. No one may claim any favor for observing these rules. They are a privilege equally extended to all people at all times.
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