By Naiyerah Kolkailah
`Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) said: “Rasool Allah (peace be upon him) would fast until we’d say: ‘He does not wish to break his fast,’ and he’d break his fast until we’d say: ‘he does not wish to fast’; and every night he would recite [Surat] Bani Isra’il and [Surat] Azzumar” (Nasaa’i).
Surat Azzumar is a powerful Makkan surah that almost entirely revolves around the importance of sincere worship and pure devotion to Allah. It is replete with contrasts and parallels that bolster the noble traits of the true slave-worshippers above the repulsive traits of the disbelievers and those associating partners with Allah. The surah ends with a concise but vivid account of the hereafter from the resurrection to the entrance into Paradise or Hellfire in consecutive crowds (i.e. Zumar).
Throughout Surat Azzumur, we come across reverberating commands to devote our worship solely to Allah:
- “Indeed, We have sent down to you the Book [O Muhammad], in truth. So worship Allah, [being] sincere to Him in religion. Unquestionably, for Allah is the pure religion…” (2-3).
- “Say, ‘Allah [alone] do I worship, sincere to Him in my religion’” (14).
- Say, [O Muhammad], “Is it other than Allah that you order me to worship, O ignorant ones?!” (64)
Allah contrasts this devotion to those who associate partners with Allah – even if it’s just to “bring [them] nearer to him” (3) as they claim. Ibn Abbas narrates that Rasool Allah (peace be upon him) said: “…When you ask, ask (only) from Allah. When you seek refuge, seek refuge (only) in Allah…”. How different would our lives be if we put that into practice? It takes some deep trust in Allah, though, to recognize that He is the Only One Who can truly help us, relieve our worries, grant us outlets from the ruts we often end up in, and show us the truth as truth and falsehood as falsehood.
So, how do we gain this high-level sincerity that will lead us to Jannah insha’Allah?
Showing gratitude to Allah
- “Rather, worship [only] Allah and be among the grateful” (66).
- “If you disbelieve, indeed, Allah is free from need of you — and He does not approve disbelief for His servants, And if you are grateful, He approves it for you…” (7).
Being thankful and grateful to Allah is the opposite of kufr (hiding or denying His blessings – the greatest of which is Allah’s existence). So, when we remember Allah’s blessings – the ability to see, speak, love, forgive, forget, having compassionate parents, being Muslim!, and countless other blessings – we bring back true Praise to its rightful ownership and give Allah His due reverence as the Bestower and Sustainer of all creation.
- And when adversity touches man, he calls upon Us; then when We bestow on him a favor from Us, he says, “I have only been given it because of [my] knowledge.” Rather, it is a trial, but most of them do not know” (49).
With our accomplishments and achievements, sometimes our egos are inflated and we end up forgetting the source of our blessings. However, we need to remind ourselves that Allah has given us our skills and intelligence to utilize them in serving humanity and uplifting our Ummah. If we attribute our successes to ourselves, we lose our sincerity and the loans we were given may be stripped away because of our arrogance and ungratefulness.
- “Is one who is devoutly obedient during periods of the night, prostrating and standing [in prayer], fearing the Hereafter and hoping for the mercy of his Lord, [like one who does not]? Say, ‘Are those who know equal to those who do not know?’ Only they will remember [who are] people of understanding” (9).
This ayah eloquently shows that qiyaam and worshipping Allah in khalwa (alone, without others present) is an indication of sincerity. It also gives us the prerequisite factor (i.e. knowledge) that leads to such devout worship. Truly knowing Allah’s greatness, His purpose of our creation, and looking beyond this temporary world to the Hereafter fills one’s heart with fear of displeasing Allah and longing for His mercy – and this begets and sustains consistent, devout worship!
- “Allah has sent down the best statement: a consistent Book wherein is reiteration. The skins of those who fear their Lord shiver from it; then their skins and their hearts relax at the remembrance of Allah . That is the guidance of Allah by which He guides whom He wills. And one whom Allah leaves astray – for him there is no guide” (23).
Have you ever recited Qur’an or heard it being recited and get goose bumps or feel your entire body tingling? This is a profound ayah that shows us the psychological, emotional and even physiological effects the Words of Allah have on the hearts and bodies of the believers. If we can’t relate to this experience, it may be that our hearts are blocked with layers of sin. In that case, we need sincere repentance so the Qur’an can penetrate!
Allah gives us hope with one of the most beautiful, uplifting ayahs in this surah:
- “Say, ‘O My servants who have transgressed against themselves [by sinning], do not despair of the mercy of Allah. Indeed, Allah forgives all sins. Indeed, it is He who is the Forgiving, the Merciful’” (53).
Remember all those sins that were done when nobody was looking? Remember looking at those haram images or listening to something Allah and His messenger would not have been pleased with? Allah, the All-Seeing and All-Knowing saw and heard it all, and the angels were recording — but Allah is so merciful and he simply wants us to acknowledge His forgiveness and repent to Him! As Rasool Allah (asws) said, “By the One in Whose Hands is my soul, if you sinned until your sins expanded between the heaven and the earth, then you asked Allah for forgiveness, He would forgive you. By the One in Whose Hand is Muhammad’s soul, if you didn’t sin, Allah would replace you with a people who sinned and asked Allah for forgiveness, and Allah would forgive them” (Ahmad).
Other ayat in this surah also point to the significance of taqwa (God-consciousness), detachment from the dunya, remembering death and acknowledging Allah’s power and His creational blessings as a sign of belief.
The last portion of the surah gives a striking parallel between the people of Hellfire and Paradise:
- “And those who disbelieved will be driven to Hell in groups until, when they reach it, its gates are opened and its keepers will say, ‘Did there not come to you messengers from yourselves, reciting to you the verses of your Lord and warning you of the meeting of this Day of yours?’ They will say, ‘Yes, but the word of punishment has come into effect upon the disbelievers’” (71).
- “[To them] it will be said, ‘Enter the gates of Hell to abide eternally therein, and wretched is the residence of the arrogant’” (72).
After their pleas of regret and wishing to return to this world to do righteous deeds, Allah’s promise of punishment takes effect and restricts them to eternity in hellfire. The angels harshly drag them and pull them to the hellfire. The gates are abruptly opened to speed up their punishment, and the gatekeeper angels ask them rebuking questions that only increase their regret and hopelessness. May Allah write us of those who are freed from hellfire during the last 10 days of Ramadan!!
- “But those who feared their Lord will be driven to Paradise in groups until, when they reach it while its gates have been opened and its keepers say, ‘Peace be upon you; you have become pure; so enter it to abide eternally therein,’ [they will enter]” (73)
- “And they will say, ‘Praise to Allah, who has fulfilled for us His promise and made us inherit the earth [so] we may settle in Paradise wherever we will.’ And excellent is the reward of [righteous] workers” (74).
The Mu’mineen will arrive at the gates of jannah in groups – according to their ranks and commonalities; the martyrs will be with the martyrs, the scholars will be with the scholars, and each group will have its own defining characteristics. After the people of Jannah are purified, they are permitted to enter Paradise. Unlike the suddenness with which the gates of hellfire were opened, the gates of Paradise are opened calmly and without haste, and the angels greet the dwellers of Jannah with beautiful, respectful words. The people of Jennah will express praise to Allah for finally being granted eternal bliss!
The name of the Surah emphasizes the significance of the jama`ah, and the importance of solid friendships and brother/sisterhood bonds that will carry on to the akhirah. Allah reminds us in surat Alkahf: “And keep yourself patiently with those who call upon their Lord in the morning and the evening, seeking His countenance. And let not your eyes pass beyond them, desiring adornments of the worldly life, and do not obey one whose heart We have made heedless of Our remembrance and who follows his desire and whose affair is ever [in] neglect” (18:28). If we can maintain righteous friendships that will keep us focused on our goals for the hereafter, insha’Allah we will be of the foremost Zumar to enter Paradise!
The surah closes with splendid imagery reminding us of Allah’s grandeur and superiority:
- “And you will see the angels surrounding the Throne, exalting [Allah] with praise of their Lord. And it will be judged between them in truth, and it will be said, ‘[All] praise to Allah, Lord of the worlds’” (75).
Indeed, all praise is due to Allah!
- Sahih International
- Tafsir Ibn Kathir