The Ascending Stairways
|Other names (Eng.)||The Ladders, The Stairways, The Ways of Ascent|
|Structure||2 rukus, 44 verses|
Surat Al-Maarij (Arabic: سورة المعارج) (The Ascending Stairways) is the 70th sura of the Qur'an with 44 ayat. The Surah takes its name from the word dhil Ma'arij in 3rd ayah. The word appears 2 times in Quran. Abdullah Yusuf Ali an Indian Islamic scholar introduces the surah as "This is another Islamic eschatology Surah closely connected in subject matter with the last one. Patience and the mystery of Time will show the ways that climb the Heaven. Sin and Goodness must each eventually come to its own."
بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمنِ الرَّحِيمِِ
Beginning is with Allah's personal name Ar-Rahman Who is The Fountain of Infinite Mercy. [Note]It should be remembered that it is not the written text/part/Ayah of سُورة and hence it is never numbered. For convenience of those readers who are already believers, this is traditionally printed since it is commanded in the Qur'an to read/recite with the Name of Sustainer Lord, The Creator with the exception of the ninth Sura.
English Translation by Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall: A questioner questioned concerning the doom about to fall (1) Upon the disbelievers, which none can repel, (2) From Allah, Lord of the Ascending Stairways (3) (Whereby) the angels and the Spirit ascend unto Him in a Day whereof the span is fifty thousand years. (4) But be patient (O Muhammad) with a patience fair to see. (5) Lo! they behold it afar off (6) While we behold it nigh: (7) The day when the sky will become as molten copper, (8) And the hills become as flakes of wool, (9) And no familiar friend will ask a question of his friend (10) Though they will be given sight of them. The guilty man will long to be able to ransom himself from the punishment of that day at the price of his children (11) And his spouse and his brother (12) And his kin that harboured him (13) And all that are in the earth, if then it might deliver him. (14) But nay! for lo! it is the fire of hell (15) Eager to roast; (16) It calleth him who turned and fled (from truth), (17) And hoarded (wealth) and withheld it. (18) Lo! man was created anxious, (19) Fretful when evil befalleth him (20) And, when good befalleth him, grudging; (21) Save worshippers. (22) Who are constant at their worship (23) And in whose wealth there is a right acknowledged (24) For the beggar and the destitute; (25) And those who believe in the Day of Judgment, (26) And those who are fearful of their Lord's doom - (27) Lo! the doom of their Lord is that before which none can feel secure - (28) And those who preserve their chastity (29) Save with their wives and those whom their right hands possess, for thus they are not blameworthy; (30) But whoso seeketh more than that, those are they who are transgressors; (31) And those who keep their pledges and their covenant, (32) And those who stand by their testimony (33) And those who are attentive at their worship. (34) These will dwell in Gardens, honoured. (35) What aileth those who disbelieve, that they keep staring toward thee (O Muhammad), open-eyed, (36) On the right and on the left, in groups? (37) Doth every man among them hope to enter the Garden of Delight? (38) Nay, verily. Lo! We created them from what they know. (39) But nay! I swear by the Lord of the rising-places and the setting-places of the planets that We are Able (40) To replace them by (others) better than them. And we are not to be outrun. (41) So let them chat and play until they meet their Day which they are promised, (42) The day when they come forth from the graves in haste, as racing to a goal, (43) With eyes aghast, abasement stupefying them: Such is the Day which they are promised. (44)
Probable Date of the Revelation
Regarding the period of Revelation of this surah, first point one notes that this surah is Meccan. This defines the period of revealation of this surah before 622 AD the year of Hijra (Islam). In his translation of the Qur'an, one of the most widely known and used in the English-speaking world, Abdullah Yusuf Ali says "Chronologically it belongs to the late early middle Makkan period, possibly soon after Surah 49." Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi in his Tafsir work Tafhim al-Qur'an writes: "The subject matter bears evidence that this Surah too was sent down in conditions closely resembling those under which Surah Al Haaqqah was sent down.". And records a tradition by Musnad Ahmad ibn Hanbal when Umar ibn Khattab told that he heard prophet Muhammad reciting sura Al-Haaqqa Masjid al-Haram. Umar ibn Khattab accepted islam in 616 AD so the surah Al-Ma'arij thus appears to reveal before 616 AD. Dr.Israr Ahmed a prominent Pakistani Islamic theologian, philosopher, and one of the noted Islamic scholar also holds the opinion that this surah has been revealed in 5th or 6th year of revelation and cites Fakhr al-Din al-Razi and Abdul-Qadir Gilani in reference.Theodor Nöldeke places this chapter immediately after chaps. lvi. and liii., probably because of the allusion of the first verse of this chapter to the beginning of chap. lvi. Muir places it in about the same period of time. This would fix the date at about the fifth year of the call of Muhammad to preach.
Asbāb al-nuzūl, an Arabic term meaning "occasions/circumstances of revelation", is a secondary genre of Qur'anic exegesis (tafsir) directed at establishing the context in which specific verses of the Qur'an were revealed. Though of some use in reconstructing the Qur'an's historicity, asbāb is by nature an exegetical rather than a historiographical genre, and as such usually associates the verses it explicates with general situations rather than specific events. Nasa'i and other traditionists have related a tradition from Ibn 'Abbas, and Hakim hold it as authentic, that Nadr bin al-Harith Kaladah had said "O God, if it is really the Truth sent dawn by You, then rain down stones on us from the heavens, or send down any other painful torment on us." (AI-Anfal: 32). The person here meant is generally supposed to have been al Nudár Ibn al Hárith, who said, ‘O God, if what Muhammad preaches be the truth from thee, rain down upon us a shower of stones, or send some dreadful judgment to punish us.’ Others, however, think it was Abú Jahl, who challenged Muhammad to cause a fragment of heaven to fall on them.”—Sale, Baidawi.
Abdul-Qadir Gilani an influential Islamic Sufi religious figure, teacher, preacher and writer however holds the opinion that the demand for torment referred in the 1st ayah of this surah was made by Prophet Muhammad himself for the disbelievers due to the increasing Persecution of Muslims by the Meccans. And for example Dr.Israr Ahmed cites the demand of torment by prophet Nūḥ against his people in the next surah which is also the pair of surah Al-Ma'arij. For references Dr.Israr Ahmed cites the works of Fakhr al-Din al-Razi and Abdul-Qadir Gilani.
Theme and Subject Matter
Sayyid Qutb an Egyptian author, educator and Islamic theorist in his magnum opus, Fi Zilal al-Quran (In the shade of the Qur'an), a 30-volume commentary on the Qur'an summarizes the overview of surah Al-Ma'arij in these words."
We may say that this surah represents a round in the long, hard battle the Qur'an fights within the human soul, going deep inside it to eradicate all lingering traces of jahiliyyah. This battle is greater and longer lasting than the wars the Muslims later had to fight against their many enemies.". He further elaborates:
The major issue the surah focuses on is that of the hereafter and peoples requital for what they do during their lives on earth, particularly the punishment suffered by the unbelievers. In order to establish the truth of the hereafter, the surah speaks of how the human soul reacts to situations of hardship and comfort. Such reactions differ greatly between a believer and one who is devoid of faith. The surah also provides an outline of the believers' main features, their feelings and behaviour, and it states how they deserve to be honoured. It also shows that the unbelievers are held in disregard by God, and gives a picture of the humiliation prepared for them. It is a humiliation the arrogant thoroughly deserve. Furthermore, the surah establishes the fact that values, standards and scales applied by God are different from those which human beings uphold. " —Sayid Qutb, Fi Zilal al-Qur'an
Javed Ahmad Ghamidi (b. 1951), a well-known Pakistani Muslim theologian, Quran scholar and exegete, and educationist, classifies surah Al-Ma'arij as a pair with the last one with regard to the subject discussed in them. He also suggests that the primary audience of surah Al-Ma'arij is leadership of the Quraysh. Regarding the central theme of the surah Ghamidi summarizes:
The central theme of Surah Ma‘arij is to warn those among the Quraysh of their fate who are making fun of the consequences of denying the Inzar of the Qur’an about the Day of Judgement and are asking to hasten their advent, and to urge the Prophet (sws) to persevere in the cause of truth and to tell the unbelievers that Paradise is the reward of all good deeds; a person whose evil deeds outnumber his good ones even if he is from the high ups of the society shall never enter this everlasting kingdom. —Ghamidi
The major scholars of islam agree(Ijma) about the theme and subject matter of this surah. In fact the study of surah AL-Marij stated by various scholars overlaps each other. Just like the above mentioned exegetes, Muhammad Farooq-i-Azam Malik states his understanding of the Major Issues, Divine Laws and Guidance in surah Al-Ma'arij as:
"The whole Surah is meant to answer this question saying: "Resurrection, which they desire to be hastened out of jest and fun, is terrible, and when it comes, it will cause great distress to the culprits. At that time they will even be prepared to give away their wives and children and their nearest kinfolks in ransom to escape the punishment, but they will not be able to escape it. On that Day, the destinies of mankind will be decided strictly on the basis of their belief and their conduct. Those who turn away from the Truth in this world, amass wealth and withhold it from the needy, will be doomed to hell; and those who fear the punishment of Allah, believe in the Hereafter, establish Salah (keep up the prayers), discharge the rights of the needy out of their wealth, strictly avoid immoral and wicked deeds, practise honesty in all their dealings, fulfill their pledges and trust and bear true witness, will have a place of honor in paradise" - Muhammad Farooq-i-Azam Malik
The Quranic text has been divided into separate rukus in terms of thematically related Ayah. This surah contains 2 rukus. The contents of the 1st Ruku states that the day of judgement will be equal to fifty thousand years and disbelievers will wish to save themselves from the punishment at the expense of their children, wives, brothers and relatives, but it will not happen. 2nd Ruku starts from ayah 36 and continues uptill the end of the surah and it states that the Paradise is not for the disbelievers and Disbelievers will have downcast eyes and countenances distorted with shame.
Another noticeable fact about this surah needs to be addressed that passage 70:29 to 70:32 is completely identical to the passage Al-Mu'minoon 23:5 to 23:8. About this presence of repetition Michael Sells, citing the work of the critic Norman O. Brown, acknowledges Brown's observation that the seeming disorganization of Quranic literary expression – its scattered or fragmented mode of composition in Sells's phrase – is in fact a literary device capable of delivering profound effects as if the intensity of the prophetic message were shattering the vehicle of human language in which it was being communicated. Sells also addresses the much-discussed repetitiveness of the Quran, seeing this, too, as a literary device.
A text is self-referential when it speaks about itself and makes reference to itself. According to Stefan Wild the Quran demonstrates this meta-textuality by explaining, classifying, interpreting and justifying the words to be transmitted. Self-referentiality is evident in those passages when the Quran refers to itself as revelation (tanzil), remembrance (dhikr), news (naba'), criterion (furqan) in a self-designating manner (explicitly asserting its Divinity, "And this is a blessed Remembrance that We have sent down; so are you now denying it?" (21:50), or in the frequent appearance of the 'Say' tags, when Muhammad is commanded to speak (e.g. "Say: 'God's guidance is the true guidance' ", "Say: 'Would you then dispute with us concerning God?' "). According to Wild the Quran is highly self-referential. The feature is more evident in early Meccan chapters.
Abul A'la Maududi (September 25, 1903 – September 22, 1979) was a journalist, theologian, Muslim revivalist leader and political philosopher, and a 20th-century Islamist thinker in India, and later Pakistan. He was also a political figure in Pakistan and was the first recipient of King Faisal International Award for his services in 1979. He summarizes the contents of the surah in these words:
It admonishes and gives warning to the disbelievers who made fun of the news about Resurrection and the Hereafter, and Hell and Heaven, and challenged the Holy Prophet (upon whom be peace) to cause Resurrection with which he threatened them to take place if what he said was true and they had become worthy of the punishment in Hell by denying it. The whole Surah is meant to answer this denial.
The Surah opens with words to the effect:"A demander has demanded a torment, the torment which must befall the deniers; and when it takes place, there will be none to prevent it, but it will take place at its own appointed time. Allah has His own way of doing things, but He is not unjust. Therefore, have patience, O Prophet, at what they say. They think it is far off, but We see it as near at hand."
Then it is said:"Resurrection, which they desire to be hastened out of jest and fun, is terrible, and when it comes, it will cause great distress to the culprits. At that time they will even be prepared to give away their wives and children and their nearest kinsfolk in ransom to escape the punishment, but they will not be able to escape it.
Then the people have been warned to the effect; "On that Day the destinies of men will be decided strictly on the basis of their belief and their conduct. Those who turn away from the Truth in the world and amass wealth and withhold it from the needy, will be doomed to Hell; and those who fear the punishment of God here, believe in the Hereafter, keep up the Prayer, discharge the rights of the needy out of their wealth, strictly avoid immoral and wicked deeds, practice honesty in all their dealings, fulfill their pledges and trust and bear true witness, will have a place of honor in Paradise"In conclusion, the disbelievers of Makkah who rushed in upon the Holy Prophet (upon whom be peace) from every side as soon as they saw him, in order to make fun of him, have been warned to the effect: "If you do not believe, Allah will replace you by other people who will be better than you", and the Holy Prophet (upon whom be peace) has been consoled, so as to say: "Do not take to heart their mockery and jesting; leave them to indulge in their idle talk and foolish conduct if they are bent upon experiencing the disgrace and humiliation of the Resurrection; they will themselves see their evil end."'—Abul A'la Maududi, Tafhim-ul-Quran
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