A Commentary on Surat Al-Waqia
by Shaykh Dr. Abdalqadir as-Sufi
Given at Masjid al-Mahmoud, Constantia, Cape Town, South Africa, 2003
Surat al-Waqia – The Event ayat 27-57:
And the Companions of the Right:
what of the Companions of the Right?
Amid thornless lote-trees and fruit-laden acacias
and wide-spreading shade and outpouring water
and fruits in abundance never failing, unrestricted.
And on elevated couches.
We have brought maidens into being
and made them purest virgins,
devoted, passionate, of like age,
for the Companions of the Right.
A large group of the earlier people
and a large group of the later ones.
And the Companions of the Left:
what of the Companions of the Left?
Amid searing blasts and scalding water
and the murk of thick black smoke,
providing no coolness and no pleasure.
Before that they were living in luxury,
persisting in immense wrongdoing
and saying, ‘When we are dead
and turned to dust and bones,
shall we then be raised again,
or our forefathers, the earlier peoples?’
Say: ‘The earlier and the later peoples
will certainly all be gathered
to the appointment of a specified Day.
Then you, you misguided, you deniers
will eat from the tree of Zaqqum,
filling your stomachs with it
and drink scalding water on top of it,
slurping like thirst-crazed camels.
This will be their hospitality on the Day of Judgement!’
We created you so why do you not confirm the truth?
* * * * *
Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, has explained about the first group. These are the ‘Arifin, the Muqarabun, the ones who have drawn near. Remember that one of the names of Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, is Al-Qarib, He is the Near One, so to be Muqarabun is to be under this name of Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, which is the Qarib. Also He explains in the Qur’an that Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, “is nearer to you than your jugular vein.” That means it is a nearness which is nearer than nearness. It is not by distance, it does not have any distance in it, even miniscule distance. It is in fact presence, Hadhrat al-Rabbani—Presence of Lordship. Now Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, has explained of the Forerunners, the Muqarabun, “A lot of the earlier people and a few of the later people.”
Then He explains about the Companions of the Right, then He goes on to the Companions of the Left. Now, about the Companions of the Right, Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, says, “A large group of the earlier people and a large group of the later ones.” With the Companions of the Right they are, “A large group of the earlier people and a large group of the later people.” But of the Companions of the Left, Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, then says, “The earlier and the later peoples will certainly all be gathered to the appointment of a specified Day.” The distinction Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, makes about the Companions of the Left is that they have denied Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala. He calls them “the deniers”.
The evidence Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, puts down before them is, “We created you so why do you not confirm the truth?” In other words the Event of the creation, that is the ‘Kun’, is denied. In fact the denial is the denial of Existence itself. It means therefore that the confirmation of the truth is not based on an idea, that therefore da’wa is not calling people to the rational argument of Islam. It has a rational argument, but it is not the rational argument but the experiential denial that makes the deniers deny. They deny in the face of the event of existence.
There is the famous meeting of Thomas Carlyle, who was very close to Islam and the first person in western society to write in honour of Rasul, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, and some grand lady in London. She said, “Mr. Carlyle, I accept the universe.” And Carlyle is reported to have said, “By God madam, you had better!” That is really the voice of certainty, because there is in some way a rejection of existence involved in the act of kufr, which is why it is called kufr because it is covering up the evidentiary.
We are just about to come to the dimensions of how Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, explicates it.
Have you thought about the sperm you ejaculate?
Is it you who create it
or are We the Creator?
We have decreed death for you
and We will not be forestalled
in replacing you
with others the same as you
and re-forming you
in a way you know nothing about.
You have known the first formation,
So will you not pay heed?
(Surat al-Waqi’a ayat 58-62)
So now this astonishing Sura has four questions that Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, puts to the human creatures. The first one is about the sperm. We touched on this earlier, the matter of the dynamic of life. When Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, asks about reflection about the sperm it is that people knew that it was this that created life, and activated life, this factor, this element, this dimension has in it something that activates a process from which the child emerges. So that is a creational event, it is an event in itself.
We can go back and look in the dictionary of the Qur’an which defines every important root in the Qur’an and explains it. The root of Waw-Qaf-‘Ayn is given three aspects which are then backed up by ayats of Qur’an. The three aspects are very significant. The first one is the passing of intellect, the intellect of man which passes, which dies. The second aspect of Waqi‘a is towards the heavens because it refers to the Ayat where Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, tells about the death of Sayyidina ‘Isa and how he was raised up to Him. And the third dimension of the Waqi‘a is the death of the Arwah, the time of the death when the Arwah are released and freed from the body. To this it gives two references in Surat an-Nahl, which speak of those who died with good angels, and then those wrongdoers who died with other angels. In other words there were specific angels to take the people Allah was pleased with into the next world, and another set of angels to take those He was not pleased with.
So this division is an absolutely uncompromising division. But it puts together two completely distinct, opposite aspects of life, you could say life/death, and makes them the same from a point of view of spiritual unveiling. That is that the sperm contains this pulse, this dynamic from which unfolds what we now call the DNA and so on, that one part of this unfolding creates a liver and another part creates a kidney. It does not cross over, and if it does it is like an aborted foetus that has gone wrong in the sense that all the other foetuses have gone right. They obey this command. Now no-one nor any analysis can explain the process by which this happens. It is not a mystery, and we actually know the physical process, but that there should be such a process and the design of the process, and the nature of the design, are part of this astonishing reality, not in which we live but of which we are the product. And so Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, is placing the coming-into-being of the creature together with the reality of the going-out-of-existence of the creature. It is that both of these two opposites are encounters with the Divine. So that Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, says, “Is it you who created or are We the Creator?”
The illusion is that the parents created the child, but that is not the case, because this dynamic was in non-existence, came into existence, and a process took place from which this unfolding of the human creature happened. “Is it you who created or are We the Creator?” And then immediately having said that He says, “We have decreed death for you,”—so He has decreed that this process should take place, and also this other process which He has decreed, which is your death. The bringing-into-being of you is a Divine event and the taking-out-of-existence is the same Divine event, because there is One: la ilaha illallah, wahdahu la sharikalah, nothing associated with Him. It is one Divine power in both these situations. “And We will not be forestalled in replacing you with others the same as you and re-forming you in a way you know nothing about. You have known the first formation so will you not pay heed?” You have recognised the bringing into being of yourself, now are you not going to recognise that you are also going to be brought into being a second time? Just to get the perspective of this there is a very beautiful Sufic narration where a poor woman began to cry, and her husband said, “What is the matter?” And she said, “O, it is so awful. We have no food and I do not know how I am going to feed the family.” He replied, “Do not say such a thing, do not ever say such a thing!” He said, “Look here, when the child was in the womb did Allah not feed it? Was there not blood flowing to the child and the child was fed by your blood?” She said, “Yes.” “When the child came out did not milk start to flow from your breast? And you fed the child with the milk?” She said, “Yes.” And he said, “And when it reached a certain age, did not the teeth come out of its mouth and at that point you fed it solid food? Allah has been feeding the child all the time, is He going to stop now?” This is one continuous process. So when the peasants say, “You eat till you die,” or “Live old horse and you’ll get corn,” all of these sayings are confirming the reality that Allah is the provider, He is the Razzaq, with no secondary cause. The child is not the child of the parents in the spiritual sense. They are the instruments of it, but the creative act is the Divine act of life coming into being and creating the new creation.
But what we are being told here is that this the death and the decreed death are one phenomenon. This is the Waqi‘a al-Waqi‘a, it is the event of the Event, it is in fact post-mortem, the spiritual reality, in the sense that post-natal is the procedure from which the human creature acts what he acts in order that there is written for him what is written for him, which defines what will be waiting for him in the Next World. So the reality of this world is in fact that it is a reflective reality of what comes after it. This devastating opposite set of realities of the Companions of the Right and the Companions of the Left is the indication that that is what is being worked out in the human situation. The human situation has Companions of the Right and it has Companions of the Left. That is who we are, the humans. We are of these two groups.
Now we come to the second question Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, asks.
Have you thought about what you cultivate?
Is it you who make it germinate
or are We the Germinator?
If We wished We could have made it broken stubble.
You would then be left devoid of crops, distraught:
‘We are ruined, in fact we are destitute!’
(Surat al-Waqi’a ayat 63-67)
The first question is, “Have you thought of the sperm?” and the second question is, “Have you thought about what you cultivate?” So the reality of the creature is the reality of the creation, of the earth. The reality of the person is also the reality of the world. What you cultivate, again you do not do it, Allah does it. “Is it you who make it germinate?” This impulse, this pulse of life—this seed that looks dried, a husk, in your hand it looks absolutely dead—you put it in the earth, and the rain comes and the season comes. When the season is right and when the earth is right and the rain comes, when all of these things come together, suddenly there moves up this green shoot. This is the world in which we are standing, this is what Allah has put us on.
Allah says, “Did you make it germinate or are We the Germinator?” Once that is posited, that is the foundational reality upon which you must judge your own existence—you have to measure yourself at this level by this comprehension, which is why the People of the Right have a knowledge that the People of the Left do not have, because the latter have covered over the answer, and if they cover over the answer it is a licence for them to imagine that they are the masters of the universe and they can do what they like. But Allah says, “If We wished We could have made it broken stubble. You would then be left devoid of crops, distraught: ‘We are ruined, in fact we are destitute!’
Have you thought about the water that you drink?
Is it you who sent it down from the clouds
or are We the Sender?
If We wished We could have made it bitter,
so will you not give thanks?
(Surat al-Waqi’a ayat 68-70)
So then Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, asks about your life and asks about the earth, and then He asks about the water. Again the same question, “Are we the Sender?” This fecundating, life-giving water, is it yours or has is come from Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala? This is what has to be answered.
Then He takes another dimension, which is why they are the Companions of the Left, because they are not giving thanks. You see, He then takes it a step further, He says that if you think you have created the earth and then it does not yield, you say, “We are destitute.” So your first condition is a complaint. And about the water that brings it to life, He says, “We are the Sender,” you have not made this water come. Then He says, “So will you not give thanks?” The thing that is demanded of the Companions of the Left that would allow them to pass over to be Companions of the Right is that they give thanks. All through the Qur’an there is a repetition of two things, that the ‘hamd’ precedes the ‘shukr’. In the words of the ‘ulama, “Alhamdulillahi wa shukrulillah.” Why? Because hamd belongs to Allah. “Alhamdulillahi rabbil ‘alameen,” Praise belongs to the Lord of all the Worlds. Shukr belongs to us to give to Allah.
First you have to recognise that you are a created event, and in a spiritual sense you are one created event, you are the created event of the ‘Kun’, and you have been enthroned with knowledge. “So will you not give thanks?” After the ‘hamd’ comes thanks. Now thanks is from the slave to the Lord. Rasul, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, said, “The ‘ibadah that Allah loves most is the du‘a of the mumin.” Why? Because it is a recognition of helplessness and it is asking Allah for help, it is asking Allah to deal with, to solve, to take on, to encompass. Which is why these suicide people have insulted Allah and slandered Allah, because it is an abnegation of His solving the situation and thinking that there can be mercy. It is as if Allah had withheld his mercy to allow them to kill themselves. Allah says in the Qur’an, “Allah never puts on someone more than they can bear.” Therefore there cannot be a reason to kill yourself, because you have to stay alive and have your victory.
Connected to shukr we put the du‘a because thanks is thanking Allah for what you have received and really the du’a is asking for more. It is saying, “And this, and this,” it is recognising the ongoing, continuing Rahma of Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala.
Have you thought about the fire you light?
Is it you who make the trees that fuel it grow
or are We the Grower?
We have made it to be a reminder
and a comfort for travellers in the wild.
(Surat al-Waqi’a ayat 71-73)
So there we have the dimensions of the question from the sperm to what is cultivated to the water that you drink and then the fire that you light. In other words the elements of existence: air, earth, fire and water, the elements of existence are recognised as coming from Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala. Not only that, but there is another dimension here that Allah has indicated about the fire that you light, that the fire is not something that, as it were, just sparks into existence from nothing, rather it has a fuel. Everything prepared is there before. The fuel for the fire is there before you come to light the fire, or make the fire. This is the same with provision. “We have made it to be a reminder and a comfort for travellers in the wild,” and that is that when you light the fire it has been prepared for you by Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, over years. The tree has grown and has been growing for years. And then at a certain point you light that fire, but it has been waiting for you from when it was a seed, and it grew in the earth, and it became a tree, in order that you could come and break off the branch and gather it and set fire to it. The provision is a continuous process.
The same also with the food. As in the story I mentioned of the Sufi with his family, the matter of provision is not that the meal is put in front of you and you say this is provision from Allah, it is much more extraordinary. The food, as the Sufis say, has been coming to you for years. The farmer has his flock of sheep, the sheep have given birth to the lambs, the man has taken the lambs to the market, he has sold them in the market, and then the lamb has gone to the butcher, and the butcher has butchered it, and then you have bought the meat. So there is the whole process of the food, and then the food is taken to the kitchen and is prepared, and eventually it comes in front of you. All the vegetables have come from the garden, the sheep has come from the hill, and again in it is the lighting of the fire to cook it. All these processes have gone on over years to culminate in a moment of existence when you partake of all this that Allah has provided for you. So this giving thanks has not got any end.
So glorify the name of your Lord, the Magnificent!
(Surat al-Waqi’a ayat 74)
“Bismi-rabbika al-adheem,” and again the reason this is the Wird of the Alawiya Tariqa is because the Ism of Allah is the ‘Adheem, and the Ism al-‘Adhim as we know is the door of m‘arifat, it is, “Allaaah.” Shaykh al-Alawi would say, “And so you must recite the Supreme Name.” That is the message of the Sufis. And so you must recite the Ism al-‘Adhim because this knowledge is so tremendous that to grasp it is to set you above all people.
And I swear by the falling of the stars –
and that is a mighty oath if you only knew –
it truly is a Noble Qur’an in a well protected Book.
No-one may touch it except the purified.
(Surat al-Waqi’a ayat 75-79)
Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, says, “And I swear by the falling of the stars—and that is a mighty oath if you only knew—and I swear by the falling of the stars it truly is a Noble Qur’an in a well protected Book.” This is very significant because Allah puts Qur’an and Book together. Allah says, “Fala, uqsimu bi mawaaqi‘il nujum,” so He uses the same word: “I swear by the Waqi‘a of the stars.”
Allah says, “I swear by the Waqi‘a of the stars,” because the Waqi‘a as we have said is death, death of the person, but, “I swear by the Waqi‘a of the stars—and that is a mighty oath if you only knew—it truly is a noble Qur’an,” it is a noble recitation, “in a well protected Book.” So it is a recitation in a well protected Book. And that means it is in itself an event, it is in itself a reality encased in the phenomenon of descending on the heart of Rasul, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. The “well protected Book” is Rasul, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, and the Qur’an is what is in the heart of Rasul, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, which is why the Laylat al-Qadr is the night in which it descended into his heart. The Night of Qadr: again, we have been talking about Mulk and Malakut, and He swears by the blacking-out of existence that this is this noble event of the revelation of Qur’an on Rasul, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, and that is Qadr, that is Power, that is Majesty, that is neither Mulk nor Malakut but the Barzakh between the Mulk and the Malakut, because it comes from the Jabarut, and it emerges in the Malakut with Jibril and it descends from Malakut into the Mulk, into the heart of Rasul, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. That is why Allah says, “It is a noble Qur’an in a well protected Book,” and it is by a swearing, by an oath about the abolition of the stars.
Then He says, “No-one may touch it except the purified.” On the face of it, it is telling us that it is the adab that you do not touch the Qur’an except when in wudu—no-one may touch it except the purified. But we can take two dimensions from this. That is that no-one can really approach Rasul, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, unless they are purified, and if they are not, they get burned up. “Perish Abu Lahab!” because he did not recognise that this man was not the son of his father, but was the Rasul of Allah. So he could not approach, he could not touch, he could not get near to Rasul, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam.
Revelation sent down from the Lord of all the worlds.
(Surat al-Waqi’a ayat 80)
So what was sent down on Rasul, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, is from the Lord of all the Worlds. Now the modern kuffar are saying, “Well you know, you have got your god and we have got ours,” as if the Muslim god is some other god from the christian god, and so on and so on. But it is the revelation from the Lord of all the Worlds. It is the Lord, the Creator of the universe who is that One who has sent down the message on Rasul, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam.
Do you nonetheless regard this discourse with scorn
and think your provision depends on your denial of the truth?
(Surat al-Waqi’a ayat 81-82)
Again this is the addressing of the Companions of the Left, “Do you, despite all this, look on this discourse with scorn and think your provision depends on your denial of the truth?” An amazing unveiling of the nature of the kafir. They deem it necessary to avoid the Divine phenomenon and the worship of the Divine in order to get on with the business of acquiring their stuff and their provision. They cannot do it unless they make this cover-up. And Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, exposes it and He says, “You look with scorn on this,” in other words you are rejecting it. And then “You think your provision depends on your denial of the truth,” not your provision depends on your scientific analysis of how the earth yields and how you increase the yield by genetically modifying the crops. No, no! It is dependent on you denying the truth, because you could not go through all of these procedures unless they had as a foundation a denial of the truth. The whole technological project, the whole atheist programme is based on the denial of the truth. It is not based on some ongoing surfing along the benefits of technical advance.
Why then, when death reaches his throat
and you are at that moment looking on –
and We are nearer him than you but you cannot see –
why then, if you are not subject to Our command,
do you not send it back if you are telling the truth?
(Surat al-Waqi’a ayat 83-87)
In other words it comes back to this certainty, this ‘Yaqin’. Allah asks the question, “When death reaches the throat, and you are that moment looking on,” when you are at the death bed and Allah says, “We,” Allah, “are nearer him than you but you cannot see. Why then, if you are not subject to Our command, do you not send it back if you are telling the truth?” How is it that you then do not say, “Keep living! Keep living!” You cannot do it.
At that moment, there is a presence. There is the presence of the dying man, there is the presence of the kafir watching him, and there is Allah watching them, and watching them with a nearness to the dying man that is so near that the observer cannot see it. And the reality of that moment is hidden from them. Therefore, what Allah unveils for us from this is that death is not this terrible thing that is veiled, or this meaningless thing that the kuffar have to say in the end that it is. But it is the very secret of the Absolute Majesty of Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala. The non-existence of what we consider real is put in its non-place. Because what we are really coming to is an understanding about the nature of the individual death and the abolition of the stars, of the cosmos.
But the truth is that if he is one of the Those Brought Near,
there is solace and sweetness and a Garden of Delight.
And if he is one of the Companions of the Right,
‘Peace be upon you!’ from the Companions of the Right
And if he is one of the misguided deniers,
there is hospitality of scalding water
and roasting in the Blazing Fire.
(Surat al-Waqi’a ayat 88-94)
This is the contract offered to the human creature. If he is one of the Muqarabun there is solace and sweetness and a Garden of Delight. In other words the actions on this earth that have brought that person near to Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, transform into solace, sweetness and a Garden of Delight in the Unseen. If he is one of the Companions of the Right: peace be upon him, ‘Salam’, from the Companions of the Right. And if he is one of the misguided deniers then there is the fire and the terrible scalding water.
This is indeed the Truth of Certainty.
So glorify the Name of your Lord, the Magnificent!
(Surat al-Waqi’a ayat 95-96)
So Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, says, “This is indeed the Haqq al-Yaqin.” Now the ‘Haqq al-Yaqin’ becomes clear to us, while those people who cannot understand the Yawm al-Qiyama cannot even think about it, since it has not got any kind of meaning for them, such people even think in terms of how millions of people are going to rise up on the same day, what it is going to be like and so on.
What is interesting you see, what we now discover is that the thing is already predetermined to have meaning for us. And of course the physical recognition of it comes in the Hajj. The Hajj has not got any particular salat connected to it, like the stoning, or the Tawwaf. The thing that makes the Hajj is that, even if for an instant, you have to stand on ‘Arafat. And when you stand on ‘Arafat, what is the reality of standing on ‘Arafat? It is wherever you look you see two or three million people all standing in their shrouds, in their burial robes. It is like a dress rehearsal for the real thing. So you see the possibility, you see the reality of it.
What we discover is because of the nature of this event that we have seen, the Waqi‘a, which even in the definition of this term in the dictionary of the Qur’an is identified with Allah’s, subhanahu wa ta’ala, raising up Sayyidina ‘Isa on his death, is that when the human creature dies, he passes from the in-time to the non-time. Therefore, in that sense everyone dies at the same time, from the beginning, from Sayyidina Adam until the end of the world. The dying of the people is at the same instant, because it is beyond ‘instant’. The in-time of the Mulk stops before the non-time of the Malakut and the Barzakh of the Jabarut. There is no timeness in it, so if you pass from the in-time to the non-time then you all are there at the same time, or rather non-time. So the Yawm al-Qiyama is The Day. Rasul, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, said, “Ya Abu Bakr, Yawm al-Yawm!” He meant that Day of this day, that Day is the day there is no day. That is why Abu Bakr nearly collapsed, and this is the Waqi‘a, this is indeed the Haqq al-Yaqin. “So glorify the Name of your Lord, the Magnificent!” So recite the Ism al-‘Adhim to stay in this knowledge, to live in this knowledge and not to forget it in the business of the day, not to forget it in the enormous splendour of the creation that Allah has offered to us. So you must recite the name of Allah, the Ism al-‘Adhim.