Reflections on Surah al-Wāqiʿah

Reflections on Surah al-Wāqiʿah

Surah al-Wāqiʿah is one of my favorite Surahs in the Quran. It is a beautiful poetic description of the Last Day and the final destinations of the various groups of humanity. This Surah is full of amazing lessons in theology and spirituality. I try to recite this Surah at least once a week and reflect on its meanings. I am always fascinated at how the Surah balances between creating a fear of Hellfire in our hearts while increasing our optimism that we can enter Paradise.

Background Information

Surah al-Wāqiʿah is a Makkan Surah, and this is clear from both its style and content. Its verses are short, powerful, and poetic. These are all indicative of the Makkan revelation. The content is purely focused on aspects of theology, namely the Last Day and the Afterlife. This is usually the theme of a Makkan Surah.

There are several narrations regarding the virtues of Surah al-Wāqiʿah. However, each of these narrations is of disputed authenticity, so scholars differ over its virtues. Nonetheless, it remains a powerful Surah that should be recited and reflected on often, regardless of whether we consider these narrations authentic or weak. The first narration is that the Prophet (peace be upon him) listed five Surahs that turned his hair gray, and included Surah al-Wāqiʿah in that list. (Ash-Shama’il Al-Muhammadiyah 41) The second narration is as follows.

“Whoever recites Surah al-Wāqiʿah every night, poverty will never affect him.”

Al-Tahrīr and al-Tanwīr, vol. 11, p. 279

Both of these narrations have disputed authenticity. Even among my own teachers, some regard them as weak while others regard them as authentic. I am inclined towards the opinion that they are Hasan, and Allah knows best.

A summary of its themes

Surah al-Wāqiʿah covers six core themes, all related to each other, in the following order:

  1. A description of the end of the world and commencement of the Last Day
  2. A description of the two types of people that will enter Paradise and the rewards that await them in Paradise
  3. A description of the punishment of Hellfire and what awaits the disbelievers in Hell.
  4. An explanation of the Power of Allah through various examples.
  5. An explanation of the status of the Quran.
  6. A description of death and how the soul leaves the body. (Al-Tahrīr and al-Tanwīr, vol. 11, p. 280)

The central theme of this Surah is theology, with a strong focus on eschatology. All six of these topics are fundamental aspects of Islamic theology, while four out of six are eschatological topics. Almost every core belief of Islam is described in detail in this Surah, making it a fundamental Surah for every believer to study and reflect on.

The Ones Who are Close to Allah

Surah al-Wāqiʿah, like Surah al-Rahmān, divides people into three groups; those who are close to God, the people of the right hand, and the people of the left hand. Two of these groups eventually enter Paradise, while the third is destined for eternal damnation. This division gives us hope of entering Paradise while making us wary of the paths to Hell.

The people of Paradise are divided into two types because not all believers are the same in their levels of piety. Yet Allah’s Infinite Mercy encompasses all believers, so even the biggest of sinners eventually enter Paradise, as long they truly believed. The divisions listed in this Surah are the close ones and the people of the right hand.

The close ones refer to the prophets, righteous, martyrs, and truthful people. (Al-Tahrīr and al-Tanwīr, vol. 11, p. 290) It includes the pious of the previous nations i.e. the true followers of Jesus, Moses, and all previous prophets, as well as the pious of this nation. In this Surah, the righteous are described as, “many from the previous generations, but a few from later generations.” (Quran 56:14) One interpretation of this is that as we get closer to the end of time, there will be less pious people on earth.

The fact that the pious will be fewer in the end times should give us something to think about. Are we trying to be among those few? It is true that it is a lot more difficult to be righteous today than it was during the time of the early Muslims, but the rewards are also proportional to the level of difficulty. These verses should inspire us to try our best to make it into those few of the later generations.

Many of the Later Generations

The good news that follows in the next set of verses is that the people of the right hand will be “Many of the early generations and many of the later generations.’ (Quran 56:39-40) The people of the right hand refer to those people who receive their book of deeds in their right hands on the Last Day. This means that their good deeds outweigh their sins by enough to get them into Paradise.

This is a level below the righteous. The righteous most likely will not have any reckoning on the Last Day at all, and will likely enter Paradise without accounting. The average believer, however, will have their good deeds and sins weighed. Whichever is heavier will decide whether they go directly to Paradise or require purification through Hellfire first.

This Surah does not discuss the fate of believers who receive their book of deeds in their left hand. The people of the left hand mentioned in this Surah are the disbelievers. Due to it being a Makkan Surah, the focus is primarily on the different destinations of those who believe in this message and those who reject it.

The fact that the people of the right hand are described as many of the later generations should fill our hearts with hope. It means that many Muslims will enter Paradise without going to Hellfire first, despite their sins. This gives hope to the average Muslim, as we commit sins every single day. Knowing that if we keep trying to be righteous, working on our good deeds, and repenting for our sins, then maybe we too could be among the people of the right hand.

The Reality of Death

Death is a reality that we too often choose to ignore. Death is scary, permanent, and a transition into the unknown. When we die, our souls leave this universe and move into the Barzakh, the dimension of souls. Thinking about this can be a very sobering experience.

In Islam, reflecting over death is a necessary part of spiritual development. We are advised to frequently remember death and to prepare for it. Our wills should always be updated, our family prepared, and our deeds in order. This world is just a temporary resting place for our souls on its journey to the Afterlife. Knowing this, the believer lives a life of purpose, focused on making it into Paradise, and to perhaps one day become one of the ‘close ones’.

When it (the soul) reaches the throat, while you are present and watching. But we are closer to him than you, even though you cannot perceive that. If you believe that you will not be taken into account, then return it (the soul to the body) if you are truthful.

Quran 56:83-87

To learn more tafsīr of the Quran, check out my book Themes of the Quran, available at the links below.

Tafsir Book
Available in PDF, Kindle and Paperback.

PDF Edition

Paperback Edition

Kindle Edition

Posted by Ismail Kamdar in Inner Peace

Deeds Of The Heart: Good and Evil

Deeds Of The Heart

Deeds Of The Heart

There are three fundamental aspects of Islam: Aqeedah (belief), Fiqh (Law), and Tazkiyyah (Internal Purification). The deeds of the heart fall under the third category.

Before we begin, here are a few important definitions:

Qalb: Heart – refers to the metaphysical spiritual heart, the center of emotion and beliefs.

Adab: Manners – refers to physical good behavior.

Akhlaq: Character – refers to internal good qualities that reside in the heart.

Tazkiyyah: Purification – also known as Tasawwuf. Refers to the science of polishing the heart.

What are deeds of the heart?

Most Muslims are aware of physical good deeds. We need to pray, fast, give charity, perform the pilgrimage and learn our religion. These are physical good deeds.

We are also aware of physical sins. These include stealing, lying, backbiting, fornication, drinking alcohol and eating pork.

However, there are also internal sins and internal good deeds. These are called the deeds of the heart. These are often more important that the external. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “The heaviest good deeds on the scale on the Last Day are good character” (Sunan At-Tirmidhi) This shows the crucial importance of internal good deeds.

The most important deeds of the heart are listed below.

Sins of the heart

  1. Riyaa – the sin of seeking fame and recognition from people for one’s good deeds. This is also called minor Shirk. It is very dangerous and can turn an external good deed into a sin.
  2. Hasad – the sin of being jealous of a gift that Allah has given someone else. Allah distributes the Rizq (sustenance) of His Creation. Our job is to use what Allah has given us to please Him. Wanting what others have is a form of ingratitude to Allah.
  3. Kibr – the sin of arrogance. It is prohibited for a Muslim to think he is better than others. In fact, this is one of the major sins. Muslims must continuously make efforts to humble themselves.
  4. Greed – Muslims must be focused on pleasing their Creator and building their Afterlife. Our worldly pursuits should be fueled by good intentions, not greed. Greed is never satisfied and can consume one’s life.
  5. Assuming the worst of others – A Muslim must give others the benefit of the doubt. Assuming the worst of others leads to physical sins like spying, invading privacy, accusations, backbiting and slander.
  6. Forgetting Allah – The remembrance of Allah keeps the spiritual heart alive. Forgetting Allah can lead to a dead heart and forsaking the religion.

Good Deeds Of The Heart

  1. Ikhlaas – sincere intentions. The opposite of Riyaa. To do good deeds for Allah alone. There are many levels of Ikhlaas. The minimum being to do good deeds to avoid Hellfire, the Highest being to do good deeds out of Love for Allah
  2. Contentent – The cure for greed and jealousy. To accept one’s destiny and live a happy life with whatever Allah has already blessed you with. A content Muslim still works hard, but does not worry about what is beyond his control.
  3. Tawakul – trusting Allah is an internal good deed. The heart must trust its Creator and trust that Allah knows what is best for it. We wrote a separate article on how to do this.
  4. Forgiveness – saying you forgive someone is a good deed. But the greater good deed is to truly forgive them with your heart. This purifies the heart and removes malice from it.
  5. Humility – The opposite of arrogance. A Muslim heart must be humble. Knowing it is only a sinful servant of Allah, it should never feel like it is someone special or better than others. It should stay grounded and focused on obeying Allah.
  6. Remembering Allah. Allah says, “It is only through the remembrance of Allah that hearts find inner peace,” (Surah Ra’d 13:28) This is the key to inner peace. The heart must remember Allah. Zikr can be physical (Salah), verbal (Tasbeeh) or internal (thinking about Allah). All three are equally important for truly remembering Allah and attaining inner peace.

This completes our short list of some of the deeds of the heart. May Allah assist us in polishing our hearts and removing the evil from it.

Posted by Ismail Kamdar in Inner Peace

Unedited Thoughts #2: Spirituality and Modern Movements

Spirituality and Modern Movements

Divorcing Islam From Spirituality

Divorcing Islam from spirituality is a strange new idea. There exist many modern Muslim groups that focus exclusively on other topics. Aqeedah, Fiqh, Politics or social activism  are the only focus without any spirituality.

The result is that members of these groups tend to enter and leave the group very quickly. They join the group looking for a solution to a problem they encountered. (wrong Aqeedah, political instability, social injustice) Yet they do not remain more than a few years because these groups are devoid of heart.

The lack of spirituality leads to many problems including the following:

1. Loss of Imaan

Perhaps the most important consequence. Loss of Iman is a common case in many of these groups. This is because Iman is constantly fluctuating and without spirituality, it is constantly decreasing.

Discussing Fiqh and Aqeedah issues without any spiritual element can even contribute to loss of Imaan. This is because our faith is largely dependent on how close we feel to Allah. So when Allah is reduced to a theory of beliefs, and his Shariah is reduced to rituals and laws only, there is a disconnection from Allah.

Aqeedah and Fiqh are crucial aspects of Islam, but so is Tazkiyyah (purification of the soul). The former without the latter cannot survive turbulent situations. Tazkiyyah is just as crucial as learning Aqeedah and Fiqh.

2. Doubts about the faith

The proofs of Islam are twofold: rational and spiritual. Both are required to maintain high levels of Imaan. We require rational proofs to understand why there is only One Creator. To prove the Quran is a miracle. And to proof the prophethood of Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Beyond that, we require a deep spiritual connection with Allah to trust Allah. as well as to accept His Laws, embrace our destiny, and fight our desires. All this while trying to submit to Allah. Without a spiritual connection, it is very difficult to grasp concepts like eternal Hellfire, Destiny and the existence of the soul.

Think about it. Without a connection to Allah, we are unlikely to experience miracles and accepted duas. Without miracles and accepted duas, life seems random and the Divine seems missing. This in turn leads to doubts and uncertainty.

3. A arrogant harsh form of religion

Spirituality is about softening the heart. Learning humility, embracing people, letting go of jealousy and hatred are all part of Islam. These are all elements of Islam’s spiritual teachings.

When these are separated from Islam, what remains is a religion of laws and beliefs enforced upon others by people who deem themselves better than others. Slogans like ‘we are the saved sect’ and ‘our group is guaranteed Paradise’ are signs of religious arrogance. Arrogance is itself a spiritual sin and is prohibited in Islam.

The result is that these arrogant Muslim movements alienate others from Islam. People look at them as role models of Islam and see only ugliness and harshness. This is extremely oft-putting. Furthermore, because the average person doesn’t understand what causes this harshness, they assume it is Islam and are chased away from Islam.

So the harshness has a double consequence. It distances the harsh individual from Allah through his arrogance, and it distances those who interact with him from Islam due to his bad manners.

A simple solution

Every Muslim must be taught basic Islamic spirituality. Putting aside all the areas that are open to differences of opinion, and all the practices that some groups consider bidah. There remain many agreed upon spiritual elements that should be universally taught.

These include, but are not limited to, praying Salah with Khushu, fasting with purpose, seeking forgiveness daily, remembering Allah throughout the day and consistently purifying one’s intentions.

These concepts must be taught to our children like how we teach them to pray and recite Quran. These concepts must be taught in our Islamic books, conferences, lectures and seminars. Similar to how we teach history and theology.

If every Muslims knows the basic means of protecting their spiritual heart from dying, then whatever group or movement they join, they will remain connected to Allah.

Never forget: spiritual development is a fundamental part of our religion. So do not neglect it for yourself, your family or your students.

Posted by Ismail Kamdar in Inner Peace

Salah: The Key to Inner Peace

Finding inner peace through Salah

The five daily Salah are the most important acts of worship to establish. This is the second pillar of Islam, our primary link to Allah and our daily reminder of the purpose of life. It is also our primary means of attaining inner peace.

Abandoning the five daily Salah is likewise the primary cause of misguidance and leads to Kufr. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “The difference between us and them (disbelievers) is Salah, so whoever abandons it has disbelieved,” (Saheeh Muslim)inner peace

Many scholars have understood this Hadith to mean that the abandonment of Salah, is itself, an act of Kufr. This is something to reflect on, as it shows the importance of Salah.

It is important to note that when we are talking about the five daily Salah, we are referring primarily to the Fard (obligatory) Rakahs of each Salah.

These are:

  1. Two Rakah every morning before sunrise – Fajr
  2. Four Rakah every afternoon after the sun begins its decline – Dhuhr
  3. Four Rakah every mid-afternoon before sunset – Asr
  4. Three Rakah every evening after sunset – Maghrib
  5. Four Rakah every night after total darkness sets in – Esha

These are the obligatory Salah and our priority should be getting them in order. As for the additional prayers like two before Fajr, and two after Dhuhr, Maghirb or Esha, these are all optional and recommended. The priority should be on that which is obligatory. Once that is in order, we can add in these recommended Salahs.

The purpose of Salah is mentioned in two verses of the Qur’an. Both objectives are linked to the development of Inner Peace. Allah says, “Establish Salah to remember me,” (Surah Taha 20:14) and “And Establish the Salah! Definitely, Salah prevents immorality and sin, and the remembrance of Allah is greatest,” (Surah Al-Ankaboot 29:45)

Between these two verses, we can say that the primary purpose of Salah is to remind us of Allah and our duties towards Him five times every day. The result of that is that we will be protected from immorality and sin through the remembrance of Allah. This is why Allah refers to the remembrance of Allah as the greatest goal of Salah.

However, this goal can only be accomplished if we pray with concentration, sincerity and understanding. It is in this area that many of us have failed. For many Muslims today, Salah has been reduced to a ritual of movements and words which they do not understand or even care to understand. As a result, it has no impact on their hearts and lives and they do not experience the benefits of Salah.

In order to attain inner peace, Salah must be prayed with understanding, reflection, sincerity and concentration. Sincerity is the first obligation. We must pray Salah solely for the pleasure of Allah, not to please people or “just to get it over with”. Salah must be done consciously as a means of getting closer to the Creator.

After sincerity, the next condition is understanding. The best way to understand what we are reciting is to learn Arabic. Yet for many Muslims this is difficult and unlikely. The next best step then is to at least learn the translation and explanation of what you recite in your Salah.

Besides understanding, we also must pray Salah with concentration. Salah is in many ways an exercise in focus, concentration and developing inner peace. Allah has described the true believers as, “Those who pray their Salah with Khushoo (concentration and inner peace),” (Surah Al-Muminoon 23:2) as well as, “Those who guard their Salah” (Surah Al-Muminoon 23:9) by not missing a prayer on time.

Sincerity and understanding help us to concentrate in our Salah. Beyond that, it is a matter of self-discipline. Focus on being in the moment, do not think about what you are going to do after Salah, or where your keys are. Focus on Allah and developing a relationship with Him. This is your best training in developing inner peace. If you can experience inner peace during Salah, then you are on your way to righteousness.

The most important position in the Salah is the Sajdah. Many people look at the Sajdah as just another ritual aspect of the Salah, but in reality it is the ultimate sign of submission to the Creator of the Heavens and earth. The Sajdah is so important that we have two Sajdahs in every Rakah of Salah.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “The closest that a servant gets to Allah is during his Sajdah,” This means that our Sajdah is the time when we are closest to Allah and our duas are most likely to be accepted.

The Sajdah is supposed to be a time in which we make dua and pour our hearts out to Allah asking for His Assistance and Forgiveness in every aspect of our lives. I am of the opinion that the dua in Sajdah can be in any language as Allah hears and understands all languages and would not make this crucial moment of acceptance only for those who speak Arabic.

Following these steps will help transform our Salah into a beautiful experience which benefits us. It brings us closer to Allah and is a means through which we experience inner peace.

Once you have established the obligatory Salah as a regular part of your life, then build upon it by adding more Salah to your daily habits. Start with the two Rakah before Fajr and the Witr after Esha. These are recommended Salahs that the Prophet (peace be upon him) never missed.

Then add the other recommended prayers to your habits like the two after Dhuhr, Maghrib and Esha, and the Tahajjud (late night prayer). In this way, one builds a habit of praying Salah with Khushoo, this is essential for establishing inner peace on a daily basis.

Posted by Ismail Kamdar in Inner Peace