In The Name of God, The Most Gracious, The Dispenser of Grace.
85:1 Consider the sky full of great constellations.
i.e., the Day of Resurrection.
85:2 And [then bethink thyself of] the promised Day.
By creating the universe, God “bears witness”, as it were, to His Own Almightiness and uniqueness: cf. 3:18 – “God [Himself] bears witness that there is no deity save Him”- and the corresponding note 11.
85:3 And [of] Him who witnesses [all], and [of] that unto which witness is borne [by Him]!
For an explanation of this rendering of qutila, see note 9 on 74:19-20.
85:4 They destroy [but] themselves, they who would ready a pit.
Lit., “those responsible (ashab) for the pit of fire abounding in fuel”. In order to explain this parabolic passage, the commentators interpret it – quite unnecessarily – in the past tense, and advance the most contradictory legends meant to “identify” those evildoers in historical terms. The result is a medley of stories ranging from Abraham’s experiences with his idolatrous contemporaries (cf. 21:68-70) to the Biblical legend of Nebuchadnezzar’s attempt to burn three pious Israelites in a fiery furnace (The Book of Daniel iii, 19 ff.), or the persecution, in the sixth century, of the Christians of Najran by the King of Yemen, Dhu Nawas (who was a Jew by religion), or the entirely apocryphal story of a Zoroastrian king who burnt to death those of his subjects who refused to accept his dictum that a marriage of brother and sister was “permitted by God”; and so forth. None of these legends needs, of course, to be seriously considered in this context. As a matter of fact, the very anonymity of the evildoers referred to in the above Qur’anic passage shows that we have here a parable and not an allusion to “historical” or even legendary events. The persecutors are people who, having no faith whatsoever, hate to see faith in others (see verse 8 below); the “pit of fire” is a metaphor for the persecution of the latter by the former: a phenomenon not restricted to any particular time or to a particular people but recurring in many forms and in varying degrees of intensity throughout recorded history.
85:5 Of fire fiercely burning [for all who have attained to faith]!
Lit., “as they sit over it, the while they witness all that they are doing…”, etc.
85:6 Lo! [With glee do] they contemplate that [fire].
Lit., “through burning’.
85:7 Fully conscious of what they are doing to the believers.
This is almost certainly the earliest Qur’anic reference to “gardens through which running waters flow” as an allegory of the bliss which awaits the righteous in the hereafter.
85:8 Whom they hate for no other reason than that they believe in God, the Almighty, the One to whom all praise is due.
Lit., “He of the sublime throne of almightiness (al-‘arsh al-majid)”. For my rendering of al-‘arsh as “the throne of Almightiness”, see 7:54 and the corresponding note 43.
85:9 [And] to whom the dominion of the heavens and the earth belongs. But God is witness unto everything!
Sc., “both of which were destroyed because of their sins”. The story of Pharaoh and his forces, and their destruction by drowning, is referred to many times in the Qur’an; for the story of the Thamud see, in particular, 7:73 ff. and the corresponding notes 56-62.
85:10 Verily, as for those who persecute believing men and believing women, and thereafter do not repent, hell’s suffering awaits them, yeah, suffering through fire awaits them!
Lit., “from behind them”, is an idiomatic phrase denoting a happening imperceptible to those whom it closely concerns.
85:11 [But] Verily, they who attain to faith and do righteous deeds shall [in the life to come] have gardens through which running waters flow – that triumph most great!
Lit., “upon a well-guarded tablet (lawh mahfuz)” – a description of the Qur’an to be found only in this one instance. Although some commentators take it in its literal sense and understand by it an actual “heavenly tablet” upon which the Qur’an is inscribed since all eternity, too many others the phrase has always had a metaphorical meaning: namely, an allusion to the imperishable quality of this divine writ. This interpretation is pointedly mentioned as justified by, e.g., Tabari, Baghawi, Razi, or Ibn Kathir, all of whom agree that the phrase “upon a well-guarded tablet” relates to God’s promise that the Qur’an would never be corrupted, and would remain free of all arbitrary additions, diminutions, and textual changes. See in this connection also 15:9 and the corresponding note 10.
85:12 Verily, thy Sustainer’s grip is exceedingly strong!
85:13 Behold, it is He who creates [man] in the first instance, and He [it is who] will bring him forth anew.
85:14 And He alone is Truly-Forgiving, All-Embracing in His Love.
85:15 In sublime Almightiness enthroned…
85:16 A sovereign doer of whatever He wills.
85:17 Has it ever come within thy ken, the story of the [sinful] hosts…
85:18 Of Pharaoh, and of [the tribe of] Thamud?
85:19 And yet, they who are bent on denying the truth persist in giving it the lie.
85:20 But all the while God encompasses them [with His knowledge and might] without their being aware of it.
85:21 Nay, but this [divine writ which they reject] is a discourse sublime.
85:22 Upon an imperishable tablet [inscribed].