In The Name of God, The Most Gracious, The Dispenser of Grace.
83:1 Woe unto those who give short measure.
This passage (verses 1-3) does not, of course, refer only to commercial dealings but touches upon every aspect of social relations, both practical and moral, applying to every individual’s rights and obligations no less than to his physical possessions.
83:2 Those who, when they are to receive their due from [other] people, demand that it be given in full.
According to some of the greatest philologists (e.g., Abu Ubaydah, as quoted in the Lisan alArab), the term sijjin is derived from – or even synonymous with – the noun sijn, which signifies “a prison”. Proceeding from this derivation, some authorities attribute to sijjin the tropical meaning of da’im, i.e., “continuing” or “lasting” (ibid.). Thus, in its metaphorical application to a sinner’s “record”, it is evidently meant to stress the latter’s inescapable quality, as if its contents were lastingly “imprisoned”, i.e., set down indelibly, with no possibility of escaping from what they imply: hence my rendering of the phrase fi sijjin as “[set down] in a mode inescapable”. This interpretation is, to my mind, fully confirmed
by verse 9 below.
83:3 But when they have to measure or weigh whatever they owe to others, give less than what is due!
Implying that a denial of ultimate responsibility before God and, hence, of His judgment – is invariably conducive to sinning and to transgression against all moral imperatives. (Although this and the next verse are formulated in the singular, I am rendering them in the plural inasmuch as this plurality is idiomatically indicated by the word kull before the descriptive participles mu’tad and athim, as well as by the use of a straight plural in verses 14 ff).
83: 4 Do they not know that they are bound to be raised from the dead.
Lit., “that which they were earning has covered their hearts with rust”: implying that their; persistence in wrongdoing has gradually deprived them of all consciousness of moral responsibility and, hence, of the ability to visualize the fact of God’s ultimate judgment.
83:5 [And called to account] on an awesome Day.
i.e., in contrast to the record of the wicked (see verse 7 above). As regards the term ‘illiyyun, it is said to be the plural of ‘illi or ‘illiyyah (“loftiness”) or, alternatively, a plural which has no singular (Qamus, Taj al-‘Arus); in either case it is derived from the verb ‘ala, which signifies “[something] was [or “became”] high” or “lofty” or – tropically – “exalted”: thus in the well-known idiomatic phrase, huwa min ‘illiyyat qawmihi, “he is among the [most] exalted of his people”. In view of this derivation, the plural ‘illiyyun has evidently the intensive connotation of “loftiness upon loftiness” (Taj al- ‘Arus) or “a mode most lofty”.
83:6 The Day when all men shall stand before the Sustainer of all the worlds?
i.e., by the prophets and saints of all times as well as by the angels.
83: 7 Nay, Verily, the record of the wicked is indeed [set down] in a mode inescapable!
Cf. 7:23. As elsewhere in the Qur’an, the “couches” of the virtuous in paradise symbolize complete restfulness and inner fulfilment.
83:8 And what could make thee conceive what that mode inescapable will be?
Lit., “the end whereof (khitamuhu) will be musk”. My rendering of the above phrase reflects the interpretation given to it by several authorities of the second generation of Islam, and by Abu Ubaydah ibn al-Muthanna (all of them quoted by Razi). The “pure wine” (rahiq) of the hereafter – which, contrary to the wine of this world, will carry “the seal” (i.e., the sanction) of God because “no headiness will be in it, and they will not get drunk thereon” (37:47) – is another symbol of paradise, alluding, by means of comparisons with sensations that can be experienced by man, to the otherworldly sensations of joy which, in a form intensified beyond all human imagination, are in store for the righteous. Some of the great Muslim mystics (e.g., Jalal ad-Din Rumi) see in that “pure wine” an allusion to a spiritual vision of God: an interpretation which, I believe, is fully justified by the sequence.
83:9 A record [indelibly] inscribed!
Whereas most of the classical commentators regard the infinitive noun tasnim as the proper name of one of the allegorical “fountains of paradise “, or, alternatively, refrain from any definition of it, it seems to me that the derivation of tasnim from the verb sannama – “he raised [something]” or “made [it] lofty” – points, rather, to the effect which the “wine” of divine knowledge will have on those who “drink” of it in paradise. Hence, the tabi’i ‘Ikrimah (as quoted by Razi) equates tasnim with tashrif, “that which is ennobling” or “exalting”.
83:10 Woe on that Day unto those who give the lie to the truth.
Cf. 76:5-6 and the corresponding notes.