78:11 And made the day [a symbol of] life.
See note 90 on 20:105-107, as well as note 63 on 14:48.
78:12 And We have built above you seven firmaments.
i.e., not forever, since the term huqb or hiqbah (of which ahqab is the plural) denotes no more than “a period of time” or “a long time” (Jawhari) – according to some authorities, “eighty years”, according to others, “a year” or simply “years” (Asas, Qamus, Lisan al-Arab, etc.). But however one defines this term, it is obvious that it signifies a limited period of time, and not eternity: and this is in tune with many indications in the Qur’an to the effect that the suffering described as “hell” is not eternal (see note 114 on the last paragraph of 6:128), as well as with several authentic sayings of the Prophet (e.g., the one quoted in note 10 on 40:12).
78:13 And have placed [therein the sun,] a lamp full of blazing splendor.
For my rendering of hamim as “burning despair”, see surah 6, note 62. The meaning of ghassaq is explained in note 47 on 38:57-58.
78:14 And from the wind-driven clouds We send down waters pouring in abundance.
Lit., “We shall not increase you in anything but suffering”: i.e., until the sins committed in this world are atoned for by commensurate suffering in the hereafter – for “whoever shall come [before God] with an evil deed will be required with no more than the like thereof, and none shall be wronged” (6:160).
78:15 So that We might bring forth thereby grain, and herbs.
i.e., the fulfillment of all that a human being may ever desire (Razi), symbolized by the “luxuriant gardens”, etc., of the sequence.
78:16 And gardens dense with follage.
For the above rendering of atrab, see surah 56, note 15. As regards my rendering of kawa’ib as “splendid companions”, it is to be remembered that the term ka’b – from which the participle ka’ib is derived – has many meanings and that one of these meanings is “prominence”, “eminence” or “glory” (Lisan al-Arab); thus, the verb ka’ba, when applied to a person, signifies “he made [another person] prominent”, “glorious” or “splendid” (ibid.) Based on this tropical meaning of both the verb ka’ba and the noun ka’b, the participle ka’ib has often been used, in popular parlance, to denote “a girl whose breasts are becoming prominent” or “are budding” hence, many commentators see in it an allusion to some sort of youthful “female companions’ who would entertain the (presumably male) inmates of paradise. But quite apart from the fact that all Qur’anic allegories of the joys of paradise invariably apply to men and women alike, this interpretation of kawa’ib overlooks the purely derivative origin of the above popular usage – which is based on the tropical connotation of “prominence” inherent in the noun ka’b – and substitutes for this obvious tropism the literal meaning of something that is physically prominent: and this, in my opinion, is utterly unjustified. If we bear in mind that the Qur’anic descriptions of the blessings of paradise are always allegorical, we realize that in the above context the term kawa’ib can have no other meaning than “glorious [or “splendid”] beings”, without any definition of sex; and that, in combination with the term atrab, it denotes, “splendid companions well-matched” – thus alluding to the relations of the blest with one another, and stressing the absolute mutual compatibility and equal dignity of all of them. See also note 13 on 56:34.
78:17 Verily, the Day of Distinction [between the true and the false] has indeed its appointed time.
i.e., not merely in accordance with their good deeds but far in excess of them, in accordance with God’s unlimited bounty.
78:18 The Day when the trumpet [of resurrection] is sounded and you all come forward in multitudes.
Lit., “the soul”, in the singular but implying a plural. This is, according to Ibn Abbas, Qatadah, and Al~Hasan (all of them quoted by Tabari), the meaning of ar-ruh in the above context.
78:19 And when the skies are opened and become [as wide-flung] gates.
This includes the symbolic right of the prophets to “intercede” for the sinners on Judgment Day (see 10:3 – “There is none that could intercede with Him unless He grants leave therefor”- and the corresponding note 7, which makes it clear that such “intercession” implies God’s a-priori acceptance of the sinner’s repentance). In a wider sense, the statement that he whom God will allow speaking “will say [only] what is right” implies the impossibility of anyone’s being untruthful on Judgment Day.
78:20 And when the mountains are made to vanish as if they had been a mirage.
Cf. 69:1 and the corresponding note 1. Objectively, it will be the moment when the ultimate reality of human life and its purpose will become fully accessible to man’s understanding.