I have chosen a single ayah from each of the next ten surahs and made a Wordle word cloud out of these.  I picked these ayah simply by which were most representative of the surah, not which were most interesting or striking.

Only after the fact, as I typed these into the Wordle word cloud generator, did I notice a common theme: the surety of judgment and a just afterlife based on one’s choices here and now.  No surprise there!

I think these passages from the next five surahs are worthy of extra consideration:

76: Al-Insan (Man) & 77: Al-Mursalat ([Winds] Sent Forth)

This [Paradise] is your reward.  Your endeavors are appreciated. (76:22)

[They will be told], “Eat and drink to your heart’s content as a reward for your deeds: this is how We reward those who do good.” (77:43-44)

We see in these two passages what is very much a reward-oriented perspective.  Paradise is very much a reward for how one has lived.  Allah responds to the actions of the human, not vice versa like the grace-oriented Christianity.  However, this passage did make me think of this line from Jesus: “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:21)

78: Al-Naba’ (The Announcement)

Did we not build seven strong [heavens] above you. (78:12)

I would like to hear more about these seven heavens.  Why the differing levels? Are they different degrees of reward?

79: Al-Nazi`at (The Forceful Chargers)

For anyone who feared the meeting with his Lord and restrained himself from base desires, Paradise will be home. (79:40-41)

This is a good baseline statement of the Islamic worldview.

80: `Abasa (He Frowned)

For the self-satisfied one you go out of your way — though it is not your responsibility if he does not attain purity — but from the one who has come to you full of eagerness and awe you are distracted. (80:5-10)

This can be so sadly true.  We desire certain kinds of people and miss those who are really receptive.  The man who can fund the new addition to the church or mosque too often gets more attention than the meth addict mother with problematic kids.  No wonder Allah frowned.

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you!” 

I imagine many of us have been told this more than a few times.  Still, we don’t always like to listen to warnings, do we? 

That was certainly true of Muhammad’s audience (54:5, 36).  They had been warned many times of the impending doom should they wish to ignore the words of Allah.  Nonetheless, they blew it off with unbelief. 

So there was only one thing left to say:

We [Allah] have made it easy to learn lessons from the Qur’an: will anyone take heed? (54:17)

This idea is so central to this surah that it recurs in whole or in part six times in fifty-five short ayahs (54:15, 17, 22, 32, 40, 51).  Listen up!  Take heed!  It is so easy!  Why can’t you see it?  Punishment for disbelief has come in the past and will come again.  Take heed! 

Everything they do is noted in their records: every action, great or small, is recorded.  The righteous will live securely among Gardens and rivers, secure in the presence of an all-powerful Sovereign. (54:52-55)

I grew up with the view that God was one big All-Seeing Eye.  There is nothing he did not see.  No action done in secret was hidden.  He was there always looking and weighing my every deed, writing them all down in His big book of deeds, the book He would use on Judgment Day to send me to Heaven if I had done enough good deeds or Hell if I had not.  I figured I was likely headed to Hell.  It was an image sufficient for evoking great fear in my life. 

I see now that this view is actually more Quranic than it is Biblical.

One might expect much more about the Prophet in this new surah named after him than actually occurs.  This surah derives its name from the mention of Muhammad in the second ayah:

God will overlook the faults of those who have faith, do good deeds, and believe in what has been sent down to Muhammad. (47:2)

Here again we see the way Islamic salvation is envisioned: God overlooks the sin of His followers.  This is fundamentally different from the atonement theology of Christianity.  And as we have hashed and rehashed on this blog already, that puts the triggering power of salvation squarely in the hands of the human, understanding of course that if Allah did not want to forgive there is nothing a human could do to cause it.  There is a sort of grace in the reality that Allah wants to save.

When you meet the disbelievers in battle, strike them in the neck, and once they are defeated, bind any captives firmly — later you can release them as a grace or for ransom — until the toils of war have ended. (47:4)

This new surah in a Medinan one, hence the context of battle.  Islam has institutionalized and been marginalized by the pagans of Mecca.  This tension has grown to conflict and even death.  Therefore, if the unbelievers come against the Muslims, they have every right to fight back even to the point of killing.  As we have noticed almost every time violence is sanctioned in the Qur’an, there is a context to the admonitions of violent resistance.  In most cases it is one of battle and self-defense.  Translator Haleem notes that some commentators make much of the fact that in this ayah “grace” is mentioned before “ransom,” implying that grace is the preference.

Here is a picture of the Garden promised to the pious: rivers of water forever pure, rivers of milk forever fresh, rivers of wine, a delight for those who drink, rivers of honey clarified and pure, [all] flow in it; and they will find forgiveness from their Lord.  How can this be compared to the fate of those stuck in the Fire, given boiling water to drink that tears their bowels? (47:15)

What a picturesque image of the contrasting destinies!  I wasn’t expecting the win, given the Muslim’s well-known prohibition on alcohol.  Still, so vivid!  Do most Muslims take images like these of the Afterlife literally or do most simply realize these are cultural, time-bound ways to depict desirable and undesirable fates?

So [believers] do not lose heart and cry out for peace.  It is you who have the upper hand: God is with you.  He will not begrudge you the reward for your [good] deeds: the life of this world is only a game, a pastime, but if you believe and are mindful of God, He will recompense you.  He does not ask you to give up [all] your possessions . . . though now you are called upon to give [a little] for the sake of God, some of you are grudging. (47:35-38)

The context of battle come out in the ending of this surah as well.  We do long for peace, don’t we?  There are many reasons for that.  The one taken up here is that conflict demands much from us.  Few really want to fight for their faith, especially literally.  Some might be willing to, but those who want to fight are scary individuals.  In this passage God does four things.  First, he reminds them that this world and the possessions and achievements who can accumulate are little more than trophies in a game; our worldly accumulations are not the point, so be careful how firmly you hang on to them.  Second, he reminds them that they will not have to give it all up, though they would have to if they died, wouldn’t they?  Third, he reminds them they have the upper hand because He is with them and not with the pagans.  Last, he reminds them there is a reward for their willingness to fight.  Fighting aside, faith will take sacrifice.  There is an easy version of religion that requires little from you.  It also gives you little in return.

This short, new surah entitled “Smoke” gives us more of the same. 

The Qur’an, written in Arabic so that all of Muhammad’s audience can understand it (44:58), has given a clear warning.  Still, people dismissed the revelation and Muhammad as a mad man (44:14).  Because of his mercy, God has always given warnings before punishment comes (44:3, 5).  Pharaoh received warning before he and his armies drowned in the Sea (44:17-33).  The kings of Tubba` did as well (44:37).  There is a Day coming where the skies will be filled with smoke (44:10) — hence the name of the surah — and judgment will come (44:40).  Sure, people will come to believe then, but it will be too late (44:12-13). 

Here are a few points that came out as I read that I found interesting:

  • The Qur’an was first sent at night (44:3)
  • Literally, the phraseology in 44:9 says “in doubt [of judgment] they [unbelievers] play.”  What a perfect but sad way to describe the distractions unbelievers must put into their lives to bring meaning or at least to cope with the meaninglessness of a god-less life.
  • The drowning of Pharoah and the Egyptian army at the Sea is depicted like a set-up: “Leave the sea behind you parted and their army will be drowned” (44:24). 
  • The anti-Tree of Life — the tree of Zaqqum — appears again with its fruit like “molten metal” that “boils in their bellies” (44:43-46).
  • The “maidens” promised to those who make it to the Garden of Paradise are mentioned again, with their “beautiful eyes” (44:54). 

There is a whole lot of hellfire in the Quran.  A whole lot more than this slightly post-modern evangelical Christian is used to.  I have hashed and rehashed this topic many times on this blog, so I am not going back down this road here again today.  The question when you read a passage like today’s surah is whether Allah is forgiving. 

In the midst of rehearsing how Allah has always sent messengers to people (like Pharaoh), how inclined people are to reject, and how punishment is therefore merited and assured, is a resounding “YES!” 

This Scripture is sent down from God, the Almighty, the All Knowing, Forgiver of sins and Accepter of repentance. (40:2-3)

Three more times in the surah the word “forgive” appears in some form or another:

  • Angels “beg forgiveness for the believers” (40:7-8)
  • Later, Allah is called the “Forgiving One” (40:42)
  • Muhammad is encouraged to ask forgiveness for his sins as well (40:55)
  • Oh, and the very name of this surah is “The Forgiver.”

Is Allah forgiving?  For sure.  Those who ask for forgiveness, those who show great repentance, those who turn from their evil ways can be assured of Allah’s mercy. 

There is another interesting tidbit in this surah, in this ayah here:

They [dead disbelievers] will say, “Our Lord, twice You have caused us to be lifeless and twice you have brought us to life. . . .” (40:11)

It would appear this is a line that would be spoken by an unbeliever at the point of Judgment.  When are the two periods of lifelessness before Judgment?  Translator Haleem offers a “generally accepted view” that this is referring to the point before physical birth and after physical death.  Then the two points when a person is “brought to life” are physical birth and the resurrection of the soul for Judgment.  This certainly makes sense. 

This is an interesting question that many religions ask: what kinds of consciousness have/do/will we have and when?  If Haleem is correct in saying this is a commonly held Islamic belief, then it would appear many Muslims believe there is a period after physical death and before the future Last Judgment in which the soul is “dead” or at least unconscious.

Many Christians like the comfort of the thought that the moment grandma dies she is whisked by angels straight to the side of God.  So, we can say with confidence and joy at the funeral days later, “Today, Grandma is smiling down at us today from Heaven.” 

I am not so sure the Bible is as clear on that idea as we might like.  It certainly seems the timeline the Quranic passage sketches out makes more sense if one believes there is a future day of Judgment.  For Grandma to be with Jesus, wouldn’t she have had to have been judged already?  Of course, I hope dearly that Grandma will be in Heaven, but that would mean there has to be billions of individual Judgment Days each time a person dies.  That is possible, of course.  Or maybe there is a future Resurrection and a future Judgment, as the Quran talks about it (and maybe the Bible, too?). 

I’ll tell you when I get there.

Today this surah ends with a strong eschatological focus.  In fact, the name of the surah — “The Throngs” — comes from the throngs of people who will be led to the Garden (or to Hell) in the Hereafter (39:71, 73).

"The Day of Judgement," late 19th Century painting attributed to Mohammad Modabber

On the Day of Resurrection a trumpet will sound and people will fall down senseless.  Back on their feet again, all eyes will look for what is to happen next (39:68).  God appears as Light, the “Record of Deeds” is laid out, and judgment begins (39:69).  As people go off to reward or punishment, this world will be rolled up like a scroll one has finished reading (39:67).

Those who are sent off to Hell will offer up excuses:

I didn’t think it was important . . . I didn’t get enough guidance from God . . . I just need one more chance. (39:56-58, my paraphrase)

But in the end they will know they were warned by their own and know their punishment is deserved (39:71).  They would give anything — “the earth’s assets twice over” — to ransom themselves from Hell (39:47), but to no avail.

No harm will come to those who did believe (39:61).  Through gates opened wide, they will walk with comfort into the Garden while the “keepers” of the Garden (angels?) will greet them with this exhortation:

Peace be upon you.  You have been good.  Come in: you are here to stay. (39:73)

It is important to note how judgment of destiny is made:

The Record of Deeds will be laid open. (39:69)

Fair judgment will be given between them: they will not be wronged and every soul will be repaid in full for what it has done. He knows best what they do. (39:69-70)

You have been good.  Come in. (39:73)

How excellent is the reward of those who labor! (39:74)

One need not fear that judgment will be unfair. Everyone will get what they deserve, based upon their actions.  Once again we see that a person’s eternal destiny is determined by their own actions.

As a Christian, when I read through today’s section it sounds like the Christian description of Judgment, Heaven and Hell. Well, except for the absence of grace, at least grace in regards to sin.  What I read here is how the Bible would describe it if one’s destiny were determined by one’s own effort.  This is the Heaven of justice, not grace.