The Overwhelming Event
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.
1. Has there come to thee the news of the Overwhelming Event?
2. Faces on that day will be downcast,
3. Labouring, toiling,
4. Entering burning Fire,
5. Made to drink from a boiling spring.
6. They will have no food but of thorns,
7. Neither nourishing nor satisfying hunger.
8. Faces that day will be happy,
9. Glad for their striving,
10. In a lofty Garden,
11. Wherein thou wilt hear no vain talk.
12. Therein is a fountain flowing.
13. Therein are thrones raised high,
14. And drinking-cups ready placed,
15. And cushions set in rows,
16. And carpets spread out.
17. See they not the camels, how they are created?
18. And the heaven, how it is raised high?
19. And the mountains, how they are fixed?
20. And the earth, how it is spread out?
21. So remind. Thou art only one to remind.
22. Thou art not a watcher over them -
23. But whoever turns back and disbelieves ,
24. Allah will chastise him with the greatest chastisement.
25. Surely to Us is their return.
26. Then it is for Us to call them to account.
This chapter was revealed in Makkah and such a strong connection
exists between this and the previous chapter, Al-'Ala (The
Most High), and so important are the topics with which they deal
that our Holy Prophet (sas) used to read them in many Friday
congregational prayers and many times he read them in the two 'Id
prayers. His idea was that when a large gathering of people was
assembled it was the opportune time to instil in their minds the
subject matter of these chapters. In the chapter, Al 'Ala
(The Most High), we are given the command to glorify Allah and it
further states that the perfection of this praise can be achieved
through this very chapter, so that we should act according to the
guidance given to us by Allah and thus fulfil the purpose for which
we were created. In this chapter (Al-Ghashiyah) we are told
that we have to account for our deeds and so we should try to fashion
our behaviour on the pattern of the guidance which Allah has given
us in the Holy Qur'an. Then if our deeds are good and are firmly
based on this Divine guidance, we will achieve the object of our
existence and our future life will be a happy one. If not, we will
The Day of Resurrection has been referred to by several different
names in the Holy Qur'an. For example, it is called As-Sa'ah
(The Hour), Al-Qari'ah (The Calamity), Al-Haqqah (The
Sure Truth), As-Sakkhah (The Deafening Cry) and Al-Akhirah
(The Hereafter). However, in every place where a particular name
has been given, it is done so because it contains a special significance
and refers to a peculiar condition which is in total conformity
with the occasion and the conditions. Here the name Al-Ghashiyah
(The Overwhelming Event) is given, so here, too, we should keep
in mind that special significance which it is intended for us to
examine. The Day of Resurrection is called the event that covers
everything. Why is this so? we may ask. To understand this we
must keep in mind an important principle of the Holy Qur'an. Whatever
theme or thesis it wants us to concentrate on in a particular chapter
it places in the beginning of the chapter. It then gives us different
kinds of evidence and all kinds of illustrations to support the
theme. Then the same subject is brought back in the end to close
off the chapter.
This analogy from the world of music will enlighten us. Music,
which is considered to be the most organised system in the world,
is composed on the same principle as that of the Holy Qur'an. When
a singer intends to sing a rag (a musical mode) he opens
with the tunes that are peculiar to this tune. Then he ascends and
descends accordingly and after all his fluctuations he finishes
off with the very tune with which he started the musical mode.
So, as regards order and system, music is unparalleled. But a person
who is ignorant of musical composition will not understand its delicate
system and will consider the various fluctuations of the singer's
song as a disorganised rendition and may even laugh at it. However,
an expert in music who understands the intricacies of the musical
arrangements will experience an ecstasy of the soul from the same
Similarly, a person who is deficient in knowledge and understanding
of the subtle order and system underlying the arrangement of the
Qur'anic verses may be misled and, Allah forbid! he may consider
it a jumbled mass. On the other hand, a person who has knowledge
of the Holy Qur'an and is aware of the strong connection that runs
through the verses of the Holy Qur'an, will appreciate the fact
that the superb composition of the Holy Qur'an greatly exceeds that
of the best musical arrangement and will derive the greatest pleasure
from the Holy Qur'an. In short, such is the affinity that exists
between the beginning and the end of each chapter that one can say
that either one serves as an explanation of the other.
In the beginning of this chapter, the word Al-Ghashiyah,
meaning "a fearful event", is employed, and this is explained
in the end by the sentence, Then it is for Us to call them to
account. In other words, accountability for our actions will
have to be given by everyone and no one shall escape its ambit.
Indeed, there is no greater difficulty or trial than having to give
account for our actions.
Civil servants in various government departments can bear witness
to the trying ordeal which they experience when government officers
or auditors come to inspect their work and their books. So heavy
does this burden of accountability rest on the heart and mind of
the workers that it is difficult for some to sleep during these
days even though the examination of these worldly auditors does
not encompass every single action of theirs for they examine a page
or two here and there and their knowledge is not total. In fact,
they can even be deceived. On the other hand, look at how searching
and complete will be Allah's examination of man's deeds nothing
will be hidden from Him and for every action an account will have
to be given together with the intention that motivated each deed,
even the secrets from the innermost recesses of the heart. If man
should avail himself of Allah's mercy and forgiveness, he can surmount
this hurdle, otherwise poor man has no resting-place except in Allah.
There can be no greater ghashiyah (all-encompassing event)
Someone once saw the Caliph 'Umar in a dream twelve years after
his ('Umar's) death. He was all drenched in perspiration and when
asked the reason for this he replied: "I have just finished
giving account." Thus, having to give account is a very frightful
Allah, Most High, asks us: What do you understand by the Overwhelming
Event? But He does not give us the definition of this word.
Instead, He presents to us the impact and the consequences of this
Event so that from these we can understand for ourselves what those
scenes will be like.
Let us now look closely at this description in the following verses:
2-3. Faces on that day will be downcast
This description tells us that Hell is also a jail in the Hereafter
and the description of the condition of the guilty ones can be clearly
seen in a small measure in the prisons of this world. The first
impression that any observer can see in the faces of the prisoners
is the sign of disgrace. However high or noble a man may be, as
soon as he enters prison to serve a sentence, one can discern the
stamp of humiliation writ large on his face. Furthermore, from dawn
to dusk he is forced into hard labour. However, his exertion bears
no fruit for him except that in the evening he collapses in utter
fatigue. In other words, in jail he labours and toils but he receives
no recompense but distress and fatigue whereas when he is out of
prison he does the same work but here he enjoys the fruits of his
Similarly, in the prison of the Hereafter the faces of the inmates
will be stamped with disgrace and humiliation. As a corrective measure,
a prisoner will be forced to labour there as a punishment but he
will obtain no reward for his hard work except great grief and fatigue.
If he were to do this work in this world of his own free will, then
he would receive his just due but in the prison of the Hereafter
he will have to do the same work by force but the difference is
that he will not benefit from it there.
The truth is that the Hereafter is a representation of this world.
Whatever condition man was invisibly fashioning for himself here
will be clearly visible there. All those who had placed their whole
life in the prison of their lusts and desires and had become their
slaves will find this hidden prison highly visible in the next life
in the form of a jail. Indeed, this humiliation of those who are
prisoners of their low desires and ambitions can be easily perceived
in this very life by those who have knowledge and possess insight
into human nature.
4. Entering burning fire
It is a fact that those who placed themselves in the prison of
their base passions and low desires will find that those very passions
were indeed a fire in their hearts. So, if in the Hereafter this
prison is not of fire, what else is it? It is evident, therefore,
that the fire of his prison on earth accompanies the wrongdoer into
the next life.
5. Made to drink from a boiling spring
The efforts to fulfil the lusts and desires of this world can never
bring coolness and contentment to the heart of man. For, whatever
object he seeks to acquire in order to bring him peace and happiness
and which he considers as a means of quenching the thirst of this
worldly life of his - that very thing, when he gets it, becomes
like boiling water which increases his restlessness and anguish
instead of becoming the much anticipated source of his peace and
tranquillity. Instead of giving peace it only stokes the fire of
the worldly-minded and this will appear to him in the Hereafter
like boiling water which neither quenches thirst nor brings coolness
6-7. They will have no food but of thorns
Neither nourishing nor satisfying hunger
Food benefits us in two ways. Firstly, it is digested in the stomach
and becomes part of the body and provides nourishment for it. Secondly,
when it fills the stomach, it assuages the pangs of hunger. If any
food is heavy or is inferior in quality and is not digested, or
if it is not very nutritious, then the result at least will be that
the burning pangs of hunger will be cooled.
However, the Holy Qur'an says that in the next life the sustenance
that the guilty will receive will be like thorns which will not
provide any nourishment for human growth, neither will it cool the
fiery pangs of hunger. This, indeed, is a fitting description of
the state of a seeker after this world's life, and this will be
fully manifested in the next life.
Thus, the prison of Hell is really a representation of the consequences
of man's subservience to his low passions and base desires. And
the fire of Hell is, in fact, a manifestation of that fire which
rises in the hearts of the worldly-minded on account of these same
vile passions. There, the boiling water and thorns are really the
repercussions of the lust for this world's transient pleasures which
can never extinguish the yearning of man's inner self nor provide
tranquillity and coolness for his soul; neither can it satisfy man's
hunger and so bring an end to his chasing after sensual pleasures,
nor can it bring comfort to the soul of man so that he may be happy
in the Hereafter.
8-9. Faces that day will be happy
Glad for their striving
These are they who have passed the test. If you look at the face
of a successful student you can see how happy and joyful he is.
There is no one who can prevent the liveliness, joy and ecstasy
from appearing on his face when he succeeds in his labour and begins
to reap the reward of his harvest. This is a sight that all can
readily behold even at a single glance. As these people did not
become slaves of their passions and desires in this life, therefore,
as befits free people, their deeds will bear their own fruits in
the Hereafter. It is indeed an established fact that if the result
of one's striving is success according to one's expectation, then
joy and bliss will replace the fatigue of hard work, and just as
such a person has pleased Allah in this world, so, too, will Allah
please him in the next life. He will not enter Hell but will be
an inhabitant of Paradise for Allah will reward him for his actions
with a garden which he himself helped to create through his own
10. In a lofty garden
Those who had transformed the fire of their passions and desires
into a verdant garden in this life through the water of Allah's
grace and the seeds of their own good works will see their garden
in the form of a paradise in the next life, and the higher the heaven,
the greater the evidence of their spiritual progress and their exalted
position. In his Masnavi, Maulana Rumi composed a poem from
a saying of the Holy Prophet (sas) in which he wrote that
when the inhabitants of paradise approach the door of Heaven they
will say to the angels: "We were told that we would have to
cross over Hell before we reached Heaven, but on our way here we
didn't see any sign of Hell."
The angels will ask: "Did you see some gardens on your way
On receiving the reply that they had seen four gardens, the angels
will then explain: "Those gardens were indeed Hell, but for
you who had converted your fiery passions and desires into a garden
in your earthly life they appeared like gardens, but to the inmates
of Hell those gardens are really fire."
Maulana Rumi then went on to explain the meaning of those gardens
which he said represented four passions which a righteous person
had overcome in this worldly life, namely: greed, sexual passions,
anger and envy.
11. Wherein thou wilt hear no vain talk
There are some things which are harmful to us and others that are
beneficial. But there is a certain thing which, while it brings
no harm, neither brings any benefit to us, and that thing is lughv
(vain discourse or absurd talk). In the following verse, the Holy
Qur'an tells us that success for the believer comes when he avoids
absurdities: And those who shun what is vain (23:3), because
the believer protects himself from those pursuits which bring no
benefit to him.
In fact, everyone considers it a personal duty to avoid harmful
things, but the believer goes further by shunning even those activities
which do not profit him. In short, every second of his life sees
him engaged in good works. Therefore, those who avoided vain discourse
in this life will be kept far from it in the next life.
12. Therein is a fountain flowing
This spring contains the water which irrigates man's actions which
are in accordance with the commands of Allah and it is so full of
coolness and satisfaction that it is from this spring that the soul
of man attains the noble position of nafs-ul-mutma'innah
(soul that is at rest) and thus he inherits eternal happiness, for
a new life - a heavenly one - is given to him.
13-16. Therein are thrones raised high
And drinking-cups ready placed
And cushions set in rows
And carpets spread out
These four verses portray a picture of the honour that will be
granted to the inmates of Paradise by their Lord. When people occupy
lofty thrones either in a court or in an assembly, it indicates
the exalted status which the king or the host bestows on them in
full view of his guests. The beautiful glasses and earthen tumblers
and such-like eating and drinking utensils signify the love that
the king or the host has for his guests, whilst the large pillows,
etc. are symbols of the comfort and repose which the king or the
host wishes to provide for his guests. The carpets are signs of
the joy and happiness which the king or the host has in his heart
for his guests who respond to his invitation.
Here the Holy Qur'an mentions four different things which the inhabitants
of Paradise will receive in exchange for their high moral and spiritual
- Lofty thrones these signify honour in the court of Allah.
- Earthen tumblers these are symbols of Allah's love for
His righteous servants.
- Large pillows these signify that Allah will provide every
means of contentment for them.
- Carpets these signify that Allah will manifest to them
His happiness and His being pleased with them.
These four kinds of reward are, in fact, the result of upholding
four great principles according to which the inmate of paradise
spent his life in this earthly sojourn; and these four principles
are the very essence of religion which is called Islam. These
four essential principles of religion are explained in the following
17-20. See they not the camels, how they are created?
And the heaven, how it is raised high?
And the mountains, how they are fixed?
And the earth, how it is spread out?
The Shari'ah (Law) of Islam is divided into two parts:
- Kindness to the creation of Allah. That is, to be kind and sympathetic
to Allah's creation and to make sacrifices for their sake.
- Respect for the commands of Allah. That is, to show such perfect
obedience to Him and to develop so strong a connection with Him
that it becomes easy for us to give up everything in the world
Similarly, the decrees of Allah are divided into two parts:
- Happiness, which man experiences alternately from time to time.
Now the above four verses deal with these topics one by one. The
first two verses address the two principles of the Shari'ah
whilst in the next two verses the two conditions of man relating
to the decrees of Allah are depicted in the book of nature, for
Allah, in this way, wants us to understand and grasp the essential
nature of religion. For in these four scenes from nature He has
given us guidance relating to the four topics given above so that
we should learn from them because if these four principles do not
permeate our inner selves we can never be regarded as perfect followers
of our religion, Islam. The most effective way to explain the fundamentals
of religion is through the observation of the book of nature from
which the greatest of philosophers, or the most primitive of mankind,
can equally grasp the basic truths of religion.
Let us hold for a moment the following picture in our imagination.
Arabia is a large desert which extends as far as the eye can see
and on one side there stands a large barren chain of arid mountains.
Now let us picture a primitive Arab standing in this bare, sandy
waste. He has just dismounted from his camel and is cut off from
the whole world. No creature can he see, neither bird nor beast
nor man nor even any vegetation. In front of him he can see just
four things: his camel standing near him, the sky high above him,
that great barren mountain range and that desert stretching as far
as he can see. In these four things, the Holy Qur'an is teaching
him the basic principles of his religion, for, from the book of
nature, he is being taught the nature of his religion.
It is as if Allah is telling him (and by extension, all of us):
"O man, the first principle of religion, that is, Islam, is
kindness to the creation of Allah, and you can learn this from the
example of this camel. Look at his hard work and sacrifice, how
day and night he carries the loads of other people and never grows
tired. He bears their burdens across remote deserts where it is
impossible for either man or animal to enter alone. Those whose
loads he carries enjoy the good things of life whilst he has to
be contented with thorny bushes for sustenance; they drink water
whilst for several days and sometimes weeks he has nothing to drink,
but when his owners run out of food and drink, they slaughter him,
and besides having his flesh to eat they find water in his abdomen
in a water-bag which Allah in His infinite mercy has placed there
and they refresh themselves with it, thus saving their lives. Can
you find a better model of silent sacrifice and hard work than in
the example of this animal? Then, from another point of view, look
at how hundreds of camels walk peacefully in a straight line over
long distances without fighting among themselves. Thus, O man, learn
from this animal standing in front of you the first principle of
the religion of nature, Islam, that is, kindness to the creatures
of Allah. Bear the burden of others with difficulty and pain to
places where others do not have the strength to reach and with pain
to yourself give relief to others without tiring. Go hungry yourself
but give others their fill to eat and if it should happen that you
have to sacrifice your life in the service and welfare of people,
do not hesitate even for a moment. When working in a group, like
the camel, participate in silent determination and with strong resolution,
mutual sympathy and unity. In other words, learn half of the religion
of nature from this animal.
In order to learn the second half of religion, that is, union with
Allah and reverential obedience to His commands, turn your eyes,
O man, to the sky and see how high it is built above you. Therefore,
in obedience to Allah's commands and in forming an unbreakable bond
with Him, that is, cutting off yourself from everything else besides
Him, try to excel in perfection and excellence in the same measure
as the sky rises high above the earth and is free from all that
it contains. Therefore, you, too, in your ascent towards Allah should
rise high like the sky, above all low desires and passions and,
far from being a creature of the earth, you should soar high in
the sky. Always remember that a person who is more inclined to earthly
pleasures can never achieve full belief in the Oneness of Allah
nor effect a perfect union with Him.
After perfecting the teachings of the Law, Allah draws attention
to the two conditions that emanate from His decrees. He deals firstly
with sorrows and advises mankind thus:
1. If you have to face pain and difficulties,
then stand up to them as firmly as the mountains. However tempestuous
the winds and waves of hardships and calamities, never yield an
inch but remain unshakeable as the mountains and never swerve from
your position and principles. In other words, in times of sorrow,
learn patience and steadfastness from the example of the mountains.
2. Secondly, if happiness and luxuries
and wealth should come your way, then become humble like the earth
and instead of exhibiting pride and niggardliness try hard to cultivate
the qualities of humility, meekness, forebearingness, generosity
and munificence as is displayed by the earth which lies flat and
low as far as the eye can see. Indeed, day and night, it is trampled
by the feet of friend and foe, yet it never withholds its favours
from any - rich or poor, friend or enemy all find rest in its bosom
as they make use of its food grains, fruit, vegetation, water, air
and everything else it has to offer. Therefore, in times of happiness
and success learn the virtue of gratitude from the earth. Your humility
and lowliness, your courtesy and generosity, your magnanimity and
selflessness should be based on the pattern of the earth."
In short, these four above-mentioned principles which constitute
the foundation of religion will be bestowed on the believer in the
next life as rewards for his striving. The beauty of this is that
these four principles of religion are so simple and so evident in
the book of nature that even a primitive person in a desolate wilderness
can learn them from his surroundings. Further, if someone does not
profit from the teachings of the messenger of Allah, the Holy Prophet
Muhammad (sas), and in spite of being vouchsafed the subtle
points of religion, he still remains heedless, then he has no one
but himself to blame for his ill-fortune.
Therefore, the Holy Qur'an commands:
21. So remind. Thou art only one to remind.
That is, in spite of the fact that the Holy Prophet is reminding
people of the religion of nature which, in fact, exists both in
man's inner-self as well as in the book of nature, if they reject,
then the Holy Qur'an says in the following verses:
22-24. Thou art not a watcher over them
But whoever turns back and disbelieves
Allah will chastise him with the greatest chastisement
The Holy Prophet (sas) is told that his duty is to warn
people and convey the message of Allah to them; he is not to compel
them. If any should turn away and deny the truth, Allah Himself
will mete out punishment to him for his actions.
25-26. Surely to Us is their return
Then it is for Us to call them to account
These verses refer to the promise of accountability mentioned in
the beginning of the chapter in the word Al-Ghashiyah, which
means the event that covers everything from which no one
can escape. Allah, Most High, tells the Holy Prophet (sas)
to teach the religion to people and if they do not accept it, then
there is no blame on him for ultimately they all have to return
to Allah and He, Himself, will be the One Who will take account
of their deeds. To those who believe or spread the propaganda that
Islam was spread at the point of the sword, there is in these verses
a clear refutation in this shattering reply.