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Chapter 101: Al-Qari`ah (The Calamity)
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Chapter 101:

The Calamity

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

  1. The calamity!
  2. What is the calamity?
  3. And what will make thee know how terrible is the calamity?
  4. The day wherein men will be as scattered moths,
  5. And the mountains will be as carded wool.
  6. Then as for him whose measure (of good deeds) is heavy,
  7. He will live a pleasant life.
  8. And for him whose measure (of good deeds) is light,
  9. The abyss is a mother for him.
  10. And what will make thee know what it is?
  11. A burning Fire.

This chapter was revealed at Makkah.

The plight the non-believers was going to suffer after the triumph of the great revolution caused through Islam, a revolution that was mentioned in chapter 99, Al-Zilzal (The Shaking), and the directions for the struggle to attain which were given in chapter Al-'Adiyat, has been portrayed in this chapter, Al-Qari‘ah (The Calamity). What has been portrayed in this chapter is the sad debacle that would overtake the non-believers at that time: they would be like the moths who burnt their wings by attacking the torch of Islam, and who were then crawling on the ground because of their disgrace, weakness and helplessness. Says Allah, Most High:

1-3. The calamity!
What is the calamity?
And what will make thee know how terrible is the calamity?

This is a type of address that is intended to show great emphasis and to highlight the importance of an affair. The root meaning of Al-Qari‘ah is something that knocks, and idiomatically, it is used for a severe calamity, or is also applied to a battle. The Day of Resurrection is also called Al-Qari‘ah. It has also been stated earlier that there are many names that have been given to the Day of Resurrection. For instance, Al-Qiyamah (The Resurrection), Al-Akhirah (The End), As-Sa‘ah (The Hour), Al-Haqqah (The Sure Truth), At-Tammah (The Calamity), As-Sakhatah (The Sudden Cry), Al-Azifah (The Near Event), Al-Qari‘ah (The Calamity), etc. The name used in a particular situation carries a special significance of that name. The intention is to highlight a particular sign of the Day of Resurrection to which the dictionary meaning of the word used alludes. Here, also, the name Al Qari‘ah has been used for the Day of Resurrection, but here, there is a special significance to it, and that is, we should not consider that day, the Day of Resurrection, when a great upheaval shall overtake the world and the good shall be recompensed with goodness and the evil with evil, as being far off; the day is close by, knocking at our door. The fact is that when a thing is knocking at the door, no doubt remains about its existence and its nearness. The meaning is that a sample of such an upheaval is about to come before the people in the lifetime of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sas) when the virtuous will be honoured and the evil disgraced. Hence, the final Day of Resurrection is not far off. Nay, it is knocking at the door and a small picture of this major resurrection is about to be unfolded, an upheaval in which the opponents and the non-believers will be humiliated, and this abasement is portrayed thus:

4-5. The day wherein men will be as scattered moths,
And the mountains will be as carded wool.

Only Allah, Most High, has complete knowledge of the special glory in which the scenario of the final Day of Resurrection will unfold, but the minor upheaval that has been alluded to above was going to manifest itself shortly. Indeed, the grand manner in which this upheaval took place in the lifetime of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sas) leaves no room for any doubt and suspicion about the final Day of Resurrection.

Allah, Most High, says: The wings of those who are attacking the light of the torch of Islam will be burnt off by this Divine torch just as the wings of the moths are burnt by worldly lamps and they are seen crawling around on the ground in a state of great weakness, frailty, disgrace and helplessness.

Let those who are the subject of the verse: They desire to extinguish the Light of Allah with their mouths but Allah is going to perfect His light though the unbelievers might be averse (61:8), learn that by attacking this light nothing will happen to it. What will happen is that their wings — all means and powers by relying on which they are opposing Islam — will be burnt, and the outcome will be that they will reach such a state of disgrace, helplessness, weakness and forlornness, like the wingless moths crawling on the ground, that anyone who so desires can easily crush them under his feet. And let them know that all the mountains of difficulties that are obstacles in the path of Islam's progress will fly off like carded wool. The chieftains of Arabia used to refer to themselves as jibal (hills) and the idea was to proclaim their own greatness and importance. The meaning here, also, is that all the major personalities and leaders of the non-believers will be so completely destroyed and wiped out as if they were wool that has been scattered by carding.

In short, a very fine sketch of the disgrace, helplessness and destruction that was about to overtake the non-believers in the coming grand upheaval has been portrayed, an upheaval that was knocking at their doors. And the later events put a stamp on the truthfulness of this prophecy, word for word.

In fact, this sorry plight of the non-believers was displayed to the world exactly as prophesied in the very lifetime of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sas) and the virtuous were so clearly rewarded with a goodly reward, and the evil ones with an evil recompense, that no room for doubt or suspicion remained concerning the law of just returns for one's deeds.

6-11. Then as for him whose measure (of good deeds) is heavy,
He will live a pleasant life.
And for him whose measure (of good deeds) is light,
The abyss is a mother for him.
And what will make thee know what it is?
A burning Fire.

After having argued thus for the certainty of the Day of Resurrection, Allah, Most High, now admonishes us that we should be careful of the outcome of our deeds, for in this lies the bliss and happiness, or torment and grief, of the next life. The increase in the weight of the good deeds will bring about a life of bliss, and the increase in the weight of evil deeds will bring about a life of distress and torment. That is, if the good deeds of a person outweigh the evil deeds, in other words, if the good part dominates the evil part, his coming life will be a life of bliss which is called the Garden or Paradise. In other words, what is paradise but a life of happiness and bliss that will be vouchsafed to man in the Hereafter? And it will be the outcome of good deeds, but on the condition that the good deeds should outweigh the evil deeds and the good should dominate the evil part.

Unfortunately, our religious scholars have taken the weight of the deeds to be like the weight of something solid, like wood, and have painted a strange picture as if a big scale, like the one on which fuel-wood is weighed, will be set up on the Day of Resurrection, although it is plain common-sense that the type of balance used is always pertinent to the thing that is weighed: for weighing heavy things we use a scale; for gold and silver a balance; for finding out the weight of water a different method of calculation is used; for measuring air pressure we use a barometer, which is quite another type of measuring instrument, and for measuring the temperature there is another instrument called the thermometer. For electricity measurements we use the voltmeter etc. which, again, is a distinct type of instrument, and the reckoning and totalling of the sums in mathematics take on quite another form.

So, it is obvious that for deeds, which are not solid, the balance used for measuring these certainly cannot be like the balance used for material things. Rather, the method of assessing their worth will be quite distinct and appropriate, the detailed knowledge of which is no doubt with Allah, Most High. The weighing of deeds is something certain and essential because the bliss or grief of the next life depends upon it, but to consider it something akin to the weighing scale used for fuel-wood is a mistake. Only Allah, Most High, can know its specifics, but from the Hadith it seems to be something like a numerical and mathematical computation. As the Holy Prophet (sas) says: "Most unfortunate is the person whose units exceed his tens." In other words, the evil deeds a man does are written down in ones and his good deeds are written in tens. In fact, the Holy Quran says:

Whoever brings a good deed will have tenfold like it, and whoever brings an evil deed shall be recompensed only with a like of it (6:161).

So, a misdeed of a man is written down as one and his good deed is written down tenfold. Therefore, if someone's misdeeds should outnumber his good deeds, that is, the weight of the evil deeds outweighs the weight of the good deeds, who could be more unfortunate than such a person?

In the case of a person whose good deeds are lighter than the evil deeds, that is, the evil part dominating the good part, the abode of such a person shall be the hawiyah (abyss). The word hawiyah is applied to a fathomless pit and the significance here is hell. In naming it hawiyah, there is a special hint in view which is that the root word of hawiyah is hawa, which means carnal desires, or paying no heed to one's reasoning and intellectual faculties. Thus, the allusion here is to the fact that the abode of the hawiyah is the result of one's indulging in hawa-o-hawas (lust and sensuality). This abyss has no bottom as the lust and sensuality of man have no end, and his sense and reason desert him during an arousal of passion. For instance, a man may commit such indecent and disgusting things during a bout of covetousness or sexual arousal, or anger or jealousy, that afterwards, when he regains his senses he feels ashamed when he remembers them. This pit, so to say, has no bottom and one continues to fall into it endlessly.

Thus, as there is no end to the depth of the abyss called hawiyah, so, too, there is no end to the lust and covetousness of man. Calling it an umm (mother) is for the reason that just as a mother takes her baby in her arms, so will this abyss take the person into its embrace. In this world, a man is wont to play happily in the arms of lust and covetousness, day and night, like a baby in its mother's arms, so at the time of reckoning if the same pit of lust and covetousness is seen embracing the man like a mother, it will be entirely according to the demands of just requital for one's actions. On the Day of Resurrection, the actual reality of the lap of the so-called mother will become apparent.

What is the hawiyah, which a man considered as his mother's lap in his worldly life and kept on with his merrymaking? It is nothing but a flaming fire, a fire of desires and passions and sensuality and covetousness. Anyone who falls into this fire in this world keeps sinking down and down and never enjoys the coolness of tranquillity nor peace of mind and satisfaction, so, if in the Hereafter a man finds himself in the lap of fire, it is nothing to be surprised at. The only difference is one of perception: in the Hereafter the perception shall be very sharp and incisive.

The word ummuhu (his mother) contains the subtle allusion also that though it is a pit of fire, and the lap is a lap of fire, yet, just as a mother always remains a well-wisher of her baby, though for his reformation she may have to beat him at times, similarly, the purpose underlying the burning by fire is also the reformation of man. No doubt he will be undergoing burning by the fire of desires which he, himself, lit, but the purpose will be that the virus of sensuality and covetousness should be killed and the dirt of desires and passions be burnt to ashes, and so that this fire, lighted by the man, himself, should be extinguished forever after burning off all the evil emotional impulses, so that he might find deliverance from chastisement. If the firewood for lighting a fire is burnt out, then no fire can be lit. Similarly, when those passions and desires that have been the cause of intensifying the fire feel the burning pain of fire and undergo chastisement then they shall be extinguished forever.

In this world also, when a man gets punished for his wrongdoing, he often comes to his senses and regrets his misdeeds and repents. But since the various punishments of this world do not have the full reformation of the culprit in view, it is quite possible that a man may not be reformed by them. But the chastisement of the Hereafter, because of its comprehensive reforming character, will bring about a full reformation. Like fire, it will burn off every motive for evil and this is the purpose of hell, to burn off all motives for evil in man so that he will be thoroughly reformed.

 Next: Chapter 102: Al-Takathur (The Abundance of Wealth)