In the Spirit of the Gracious and Compassionate
Creator of the Heavens and the Earth
The Overwhelming Catastrophe
فَإِذَا جَاءَتِ الطَّامَّةُ الْكُبْرَىٰ –
يَوْمَ يَتَذَكَّرُ الْإِنسَانُ مَا سَعَىٰ –
وَبُرِّزَتِ الْجَحِيمُ لِمَن يَرَىٰ –
فَأَمَّا مَن طَغَىٰ –
وَآثَرَ الْحَيَاةَ الدُّنْيَا –
فَإِنَّ الْجَحِيمَ هِيَ الْمَأْوَىٰ –
وَأَمَّا مَنْ خَافَ مَقَامَ رَبِّهِ وَنَهَى النَّفْسَ عَنِ الْهَوَىٰ –
فَإِنَّ الْجَنَّةَ هِيَ الْمَأْوَىٰ –
And so, when the overwhelming catastrophe comes, (34)
on that day the human being will remember what he struggled for, (35)
and hell-fire is brought forward for one to see — (36)
and so for the one who transgressed (37)
and preferred the life of the world, (38)
therefore, surely, hell-fire is the destination; (39)
and for the one who feared standing before his master and denied himself the desires, (40)
therefore, surely, the garden of paradise is the destination. (41)
Allah is telling us that “the overwhelming catastrophe” is coming.
This is not an “if” — it is a “when”.
And — it is a “when” that is delivered to us in gorgeous, symmetrical, poetic, symphonic, rhythmic language.
The mathematical symmetry of the Qur’an, the symphonic construction, the poetry, and the moral injunctions laid upon us by Allah are inseparable.
If you are not reading the “wa-” and “fa-” in this passage, you are missing the point.
Even more so: in the 37th soorah, aayaat 1-3; in the 51st soorah, aayaat 1-4; in the 77th soorah, aayaat 1-5; in the 79th soorah (source of the above passage), aayaat 1-5; and in the 100th soorah, aayaat 1-5 — there is a variation in the mathematical symmetry of “wa-” and “fa-” from the first of these five suwar (#37) to the last (#100).
Whatever the verbal meanings of these passages, they inculcate a sense of the mathematical symmetry in the moral workings of the society.
(And the rhythm of these passages is a rhythm fundamental to much African and African American music, and which was brought to Europe from the Moors, in the form of the sarabande, and from the African captives in Cuba, in the form of the chaconne.)
The particle “wa-” simply means “and”. (Going from Arabic to English is never so simple, but I will leave out the subtle differences.) If I say “you and me” using “wa-,” I could reverse it and say “me and you” without changing the basic meaning. “Wa-” does not imply order of occurrence. (The hyphen indicates that is it connected to the following word, in the same way that “re-” is connected to “write” in “rewrite”.)
The particle “fa-” also means “and” — but it indicates order of occurrence. If you say “you and me” using “fa-“, reversing the order to “me and you” would change the meaning. It is as if you said “you and then me”. This is not the same as saying “me and then you”. In addition, “fa-” implies consequence. In the above passage, aayaat 34, 37, 39, and 41 begin with “fa-” — which I have translated as “and so” (in 34 and 37) and “therefore” (39 and 41). (Aayaat 36, 38, and 40 begin with “wa-.”)
In the preceding passage — aayaat 27 to 33 — Allah reminds us of his awesome power and his blessings. The “fa-” at the beginning of ayat 36 implies not only sequence, but consequence. It is possible to interpret this otherwise — and translate it accordingly (for example, translating the initial “fa-” in ayat 34 as “but,” which I have seen, and with which I strongly disagree). What is important is that “fa-” definitely does not mean “if”.
“When” — not “if”
Allah is telling us that “the greatest catastrophe” — “al-kubraa” means “biggest” or “greatest” (which is the King James Bible word for “biggest”), being the feminine form of “al-akbar” — the greatest catastrophe is coming. This is not an “if” — it is a “when”.
The overwhelming catastrophe is coming. We will see hell-fire. For those who transgress, and prefer the life of this world, the hell-fire will be their destination. For those who fear standing before Allah, and restrain themselves from what they prefer, the garden of paradise will be their destination.
I live by this.
I have terrible desires. And I have suffered in this society and within myself from the extremely painful stigma of having desires that are condemned by people who consider themselves righteous.
But when I recite this passage, I feel — to use the Christian word — I feel redeemed. Allah has promised me that when I restrain myself from doing what I feel the desire to do — because I fear standing in the presence of Allah (not because I am afraid of what people think) — in ayat 41 of the 79th soorah, Allah himself has promised me paradise:
“al-jannah” (the garden of paradise)
“hiy-al-ma’waa” (that is the destination)
After a lifetime of living in shame because I have “bad desires”, this promise from Allah himself is an awesome blessing.