In The Name of God, The Most Gracious, The Dispenser of Grace.
78:1 About what do they [most often] ask one another?
The question which preoccupies man above all others – the question as to whether there is life after death – has been variously answered throughout the ages. It is, of course, impossible to describe the innumerable variations of those answers; nevertheless, a few main lines of thought are clearly discernible, and their mention may be useful for a better understanding of the Qur’anic treatment of this problem. Some people – probably a minority – seem to be convinced that bodily death amounts to total and irreversible extinction, and that, therefore, all talk about a hereafter but an outcome of wishful thinking. Others are of the opinion that after individual death the human “life-essence” returns to the supposed source of its origin – conceived as the “universal soul” – and merges with it entirely. Some believe in successive transmigration of the individual soul, at the moment of death, into another body, human or animal, but without a continuation of individual consciousness. Others, again, think that only the soul, and not the entire human “personality”, continues to live after death – that is, in a purely spiritual, disembodied form. And, lastly, some believe in an undiminished survival of the individual personality and consciousness, and regard death and resurrection as the twin stages of a positive act of re-creation of the entire human personality, in whatever form this may necessarily involve: and this is the Qur’anic view of the life to come
78:2 About the awesome tiding [of resurrection].
For this rendering of the particle thumma, see surah 6, note 31.
78:3 On which they [so utterly] disagree.
See 16:15 – “He has placed firm mountains on earth, lest it sway with you” – and the corresponding note 11, which explains the reference to mountains as “pegs”. – The whole of this passage (verses 6-16) is meant to illustrate God’s almightiness and creativeness, as if to say, “Is not He who has created the universe equally able to resurrect and re-create man in whatever form He deems necessary?”
78:4 Nay, but in time they will come to understand [it]!
i.e., “with the same creative power, We have created the miraculous polarity of the two sexes in you and in other animated beings”. The phenomenon of polarity, evident throughout the universe (see 36:36 and the corresponding note 18), is further illustrated in verses 9-11.
78:5 And once again, Nay, but in time they will come to understand!
Thus Zamakhshari, stressing the primary significance of subat as “cutting-off” (qat), i.e., “death”; also the famous second-century philologist Abu Ubaydah Ma’mar ibn al-Muthanna, who (as quoted by Razi) explains the above Qur’anic phrase as an “analogue (shibh) of death”.
78:6 Have We Not made the earth a resting-place [for you]…
According to Zamakhshari, the term ma’ash (“that whereby one lives”) is here synonymous with “life”. In the polarity of sleep (or “death”) and wakefulness (or “life”) we see the allusion to bodily death and subsequent resurrection already touched upon in 6:60.
78:7 And the mountains [its] pegs?
Lit., “seven firm ones”, indicating the multiplicity of cosmic systems (see surah 2, note 20).
78:8 And We have created you in pairs.
Implying that the overwhelming evidence of purpose and plan in all observable nature points to the existence of a conscious Creator who has “not created [anything of] this without meaning and purpose” (3:191), and who – as is stressed in the sequence will one day pronounce His judgment on every human being’s willingness or unwillingness to live up to the standards of morality made clear to him through inborn instinct as well as through divine revelation
78:9 And We have made your sleep [a symbol of] death.
See note 6 on 78:13. This passage connects with verses 4-5.
78:10 And made the night [its] cloak.
Allegorically, “its mysteries will be opened to man’s understanding” – thus further amplifying the concept of “the Day of Distinction between the true and the false”.