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Chapter 104: Al-Humazah (The Slanderer)
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Chapter 104:

The Slanderer

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.

  1. Woe to every slanderer, defamer
  2. Who amasses wealth and counts it —
  3. He thinks that his wealth will make him abide.
  4. Nay, he will certainly be hurled into the crushing disaster;
  5. And what will make thee realize what the crushing disaster is?
  6. It is the Fire kindled by Allah,
  7. Which rises over the hearts.
  8. Surely it is closed in on them,
  9. In extended columns.

This chapter was revealed at Makkah.

In the chapter At-Takathur (102), Allah has forbidden us from becoming so engrossed in the competition for honour and abundance of wealth that we become indifferent to the consequences of our actions. The chapter Al-‘Asr reveals to us our purpose on earth, which is to establish our lives firmly on the footing of faith and good deeds and make efforts for others to follow the same path. It is only so that we can save ourselves from loss. We should not think that by amassing wealth and honour we can prevent ourselves from suffering degradation and loss.

By nature, man is desirous of rewards and honour and the only path open for him to achieve these is by inculcating faith and good deeds in himself and encouraging others to do the same. Further, whatever his condition in life, he must never abandon those high moral standards which come from faith and good deeds. In fact, the secret of true honour and wealth lies in developing high morals and showing sympathy to our fellow human beings.

But those people who in their competition for wealth are heedless of the consequences of their actions are on the wrong path for they consider the source of honour and benefit to be the amassing of wealth rather than the cultivation of high morals through faith and good actions. And in their lust for wealth they become so morally debased that, even though their souls are in the grip of greed and niggardliness, they care not a tittle, for in their opinion wealth is the ultimate proof of honour and greatness. They do not consider the reformation of others as the basis of moral and spiritual elevation. Instead, they feel that greatness lies in searching out people’s faults and having contempt for them. When they see the weaknesses of other people, instead of feeling sympathetic to them and trying to reform them, the base emotions of pride and contempt arise in their hearts. This is not the way to achieve real exaltation, eminence and reward but it is the certain path to an accursed and abasing existence.

Humazah means a backbiter, a fault-finder, a slanderer, a tale-bearer etc. Lumazah means a defamer or a calumniator who uses every means to degrade another person.

Backbiting is done solely to degrade another person. When a person increases in pride and self-exaltation, he does not think twice about defaming a person even to his face.

This chapter is explaining to us the characteristics of the person who does not concern himself with his own weaknesses and their reformation but instead fixes his gaze on the weaknesses of others, not to reform them, but to expose and dishonour them publicly. On the other hand, he wishes to increase his own honour, not by developing high morals, but by amassing wealth, with the result that he contracts the low morals of envy, greed and miserliness and so ends up debased and accursed.

Adadahu means he counts it with the wish that it should go on increasing and should not be spent. Wealth is a means by which a man can earn goodness, that is, he can earn blessings and good fortunes by spending his wealth in the service of his fellow human beings in accordance with the commands of Allah. But this unfortunate one is deprived of those blessings. Bear in mind that man loves wealth because it is a means of fulfilling his  needs and those of others.

Yahsabu anna malahu akhladah (He thinks that his wealth will make him immortal). There is no doubt that the desire to live forever is deeply embedded in man’s nature. So if he looks after his health and earns money to satisfy his needs and spends lavishly for the welfare of others, it is only because there is within him an innate yearning for prolonging his life and even making it everlasting. However, the Holy Quran teaches us that the real secret of attaining eternal life lies in faith and good actions. Or, in other words, it is through high morals that we can achieve that goal.  If we earn money and we wish to attain immortality, then we should spend it on ourselves and for the benefit of our fellow human beings in accordance with the wishes and commandments of Allah.

That person whose niggardliness prevents him from spending his wealth, but instead considers it a measure of his greatness, falls prey to the foolish belief that it is his wealth that will keep him living forever. However, if he realizes that he has to die one day and leave all his wealth behind, then certainly he will spend it in the way of Allah for his own necessities of life and also for the welfare of his fellow human beings. For indeed, this is the only avenue by which man can obtain everlasting life in this world and inherit an eternal heavenly life.

Once a rich miser passed away. Just before his death, he bequeathed all his wealth to the cause of Allah. A witty person said in jest that the miser’s love for wealth was not really extinguished even in the throes of death, for when he was alive he kept it close to his heart and when he was about to die and leave this world, he felt sad that he had to leave all his wealth in this world and there was no way to carry it with him to the next world except by spending in the way of Allah. So he spent all his riches in the cause of Allah in the hope that he would get it back in the next world.

The lesson is that if we wish to derive benefit from our wealth there is only one way — we should spend it on our own needs and the needs of others in accordance with the wishes of Allah. Thus, everlasting life can be achieved through wealth only if we spend it opportunely, either for the benefit of this world or that of the Hereafter. But the person who is reluctant to spend it, and day and night is engrossed in the thought of how to increase it, leaves us with no choice but to infer that he feels that he is not going to die and that all his wealth will remain with him and that those pieces of gold and silver will enable him to live forever.

Verses 4 to 9:

Kalla la yumbadhanna fil hutamah Nay, he will certainly be hurled into the crushing disaster;
Wa ma adraka mal hutamah And what will make thee realize what the crushing disaster is?
Narul-Lahil muqadah It is the Fire kindled by Allah,
Al-lati tat-tali’u ‘alal afidah Which rises over the hearts.
Innaha alaihim mu’sadah Surely it is closed in on them,
Fi‘amadim mumad-dadah In extended columns.

The dictionary meaning of hutamah is something that crushes, or breaks up into pieces and here, Allah, Most High, describes it as a blazing fire from Him. This has come about only because of our actions and is truly in accordance with the laws of retribution as ordained by Allah, Most High.

The description then goes on: tat-tali’u ‘alal af’idah (it rests over the hearts). In other words, it is felt in man’s heart, which is the centre of this burning and blazing. So the fire of Hell will really be a manifestation of this fire which burns in the heart of man during his stay here on earth. One reason for this is that actions originate from the heart by way of intentions and desires etc., for the heart is, as it were, the command centre of man. (That is why our Holy Prophet (sas) says that in the body of man there is an important piece of flesh, which is the heart. If man’s heart is sound, then says our Holy Prophet, man’s whole body will be in good condition, but if it is unclean, then his whole body will also be polluted.)

Another reason is that a person who is a slave of his desires and whose heart is engulfed in the flames of evil passions like envy, anger, lust, greed, miserliness etc. finds himself so deep in the fire that nothing on earth can provide a cooling for it.

Thus the person who is devoid of noble and beautiful morals and instead engages himself in finding fault with others, slandering them and publicly exposing their defects, definitely builds a fire of envy in his own heart, and because of this, he is blind to the beauty and honour of those people and wishes to “break” and destroy them by his evil tongue.

It is inevitable that Allah will punish him in retribution and “break” the foundation of his false boasting and illusory greatness, either in this world or in the Hereafter, for we must bear in mind that the name of this chastisement is hutamah, or the thing that breaks into pieces. It is also bound to happen that the fire of envy which consumes his heart in this life will assume the shape of fire and envelop him in the next life. But even in this life, if a person is obsessed with the passion for amassing wealth and is caught up in greed and niggardliness, a fire rises up in his heart and whatever he does he cannot find anything to cool it and in the Hereafter it turns into raging flames.

In other words, that fire which a man constantly experiences in his heart in this life because he is sunk in low morals like envy, greed, miserliness etc. will cover him in the next life. That is because in this life a stingy, envious person does not wish another person to receive anything good but would like to grab everything for himself and leave everyone else deprived. So the fire of these desires rises over his heart in extended columns because these desires are always increasing and spreading in all directions. Therefore, that fire which originates in the heart of man because of these ever-growing and expanding cravings which he carries within him for a lifetime, will, not surprisingly, engulf him in rising, blazing flames in the Hereafter.

When the late Hazrat Maulana Nuruddin was in the service of the Jammu and Kashmir Government, he used to give Quranic lessons privately. He lodged and fed many young men at his home and gave them lessons in the Holy Quran in the hope that, having received some knowledge of the Holy Quran, they would be of service to the religion in some way or the other. So it came about that once a young Punjabi student was being taught the Holy Quran by the Maulana in Kashmir, and all his expenses were absorbed by the Maulana. After studying the Quran for a short while, the student received the offer of a job from a firm in Ferozepur and he sought leave of the Maulana to accept the offer. The Maulana cautioned him that as time was precious he should continue his Quranic studies and postpone the acceptance of the job. The student demurred saying that the offer was too good to refuse. In any case, he promised that he would continue his lessons and would even consult the Maulana from time to time. On seeing how determined he was, Maulana Sahib reluctantly assented.

Some years later the Maulana Sahib visited Ferozepur, and having obtained the student’s address, he visited him in his store and was surprised at the splendid sight he observed — hundreds of parcels were being packed and despatched and money was flowing like water. The former student received the Maulana with great affection and told him that so successful was he in business that he had bought the entire firm and was its sole owner.

Maulana Sahib replied that indeed Allah was bounteous to him but he then asked him if he had bought a new copy of the Holy Quran to replace the old one which he had lost on his way to Ferozepur. The student became flustered and confessed that so engrossed was he in his work that the idea of buying a copy of the Holy Quran had flown out of his mind. Whereupon Maulana Sahib reminded him of what he had told him before: “Didn’t I tell you that the Holy Quran has deserted you?”

So, it is a fact that once a person is absorbed in worldly pursuits it becomes impossible to extricate himself from that obsession. Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi quotes a saying of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sas) in his Mathnavi to the effect that when the people who are destined for Paradise have crossed the bridge over Hell and have entered Heaven, they will say to the angels: “We were told that the inhabitants of Paradise would have to pass over Hell, but on our way here we saw nothing of it.”

The angels will ask them: “Did you see gardens on the way here?” They will reply that they did see four lush, green luxuriant gardens. The angels will then tell them that those four gardens were indeed the gardens of Hell. In amazement, the inhabitants will exclaim: “We heard that those gardens would be of fire! How is it that Hell looked like gardens to us?”

The angels will explain that for the inhabitants of Hell those gardens will take the form of fire for those whose burning beliefs and evil actions served as fuel to sustain fiery passions when they were alive on earth. But to those who controlled their passions and walked along the straight path, these subjugated desires will become the source of gardens and orchards for them in the next life, and so for them the Hell fire was not visible. Instead, they looked like gardens to them so in this case the four gardens were really the result of four passions they had controlled, namely, greed, lust, anger and envy. These would be gardens for the people of Paradise but fire for the inhabitants of Hell.

In crossing the bridge there is a deeper meaning, and what is that we may ask. It refers to that very siratul-mustaqim (the straight path) which has been bestowed on mankind through the Holy Quran. And what is that straight path? It is the observance of the golden mean as regards human passions and the avoidance of extremes in our conduct. Whoever observes the principle of moderation in life will walk along the straight path and be saved from falling into the pit of Hell. An example of this is the tight-rope walker in a circus. The entire secret of his success lies in the fact that  he keeps his eyes rightly fixed on a particular object and strives strenuously to keep his body well-balanced.

Similarly, when a person is crossing the bridge which we understand is finer than a strand of hair and sharper than the edge of a sword, there is the constant fear that the slightest misbalance or swinging to an extreme will cause his fall from the bridge straight into the depths of Hell below. Thereupon, if a person really wants to cross this bridge which is finer than hair he should keep his eyes fully focussed on his Lord, Most High. In other words, he should never deviate from obedience to His laws and should shape his inner-self solely according to the pleasure of his Lord, that is, he should keep his passions under control by avoiding extremes in behaviour and sticking to the path of temperance. Such a person will certainly walk along the straight path with success and be among those upon whom Allah has bestowed His favours.

Next: Chapter 105: Al-Fil (The Elephant)
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