“By the Witness and that Which is Witnessed…”
In times of calamity and hardship, when Muslims are massacred and Islam is attacked by old adversaries and new ones, we find solace through turning to the book of Allah ﷻ. Our beloved Prophet Muhammad ﷺ and his righteous companions, before us, were persecuted relentlessly in Makkah, not by a foreign aggressor, but at the hands of their family members, relatives, and neighbors. In addition, those who witnessed the persecutions did little to stop them.
We are reminded of the story of defenseless people who were burned to death, young and old, women and men, yet their lives are never forgotten and brought to life each time Surat Al-Buruj is recited. The crime of these people was solely their belief in the oneness of their Creator, and for it, they were punished appallingly. Ruthless rulers of their time dug a massive ditch and lit a great fire in which they threw all the believing men, women, children, and infants. Their burning was witnessed by masses who stood around simply watching the horrific scene, much like the masses today watch as innocent families are annihilated.
The Surah opens with an oath, “By the heaven with its constellations. By the promised day. By the witness and that which is witnessed” (Quran 85:1-3). Allah ﷻ calls our attention to critical matters: His vast creation, the Day of Accounting, and everyone and everything that shall be accounted for on that Day. His oath attests to the severity of the story which follows.
Allah ﷻ begins narrating the story with a declaration of anger with the oppressors, “Slain be the people of the pit” (Quran 85: 4). Allah illustrates images of what they had contrived in the verses, “…of the fire abounding in fuel, when they sat around it, watching what they did to the believers” (Quran 85:5-7).
Allah ﷻ describes them sitting around the fire and enjoying themselves as they watched the horror unfold. Tyranny, at its core, occurs when humans find pleasure in harming other human beings, as we witness today in Syria, Gaza, Egypt, China, Iraq, and Burma.
What was their crime? What evil deed did they commit against those who murder them? “They took vengeance on them for no reason other than they believed in Allah, the Almighty, to whom all praise is due” (Quran 85-8).
What did they do? They believed in Allah ﷻ who deserves to be worshiped. They rose above the ignorant masses to abandon falsehood and embrace truth as Muslims today look toward living a life of dignity over a life of oppression. They could have easily saved their lives by agreeing to the terms of their oppressors, but what worth would their lives have if they abandoned their faith? As their bodies burned, their souls elevated toward the constellations, toward their Creator, where they will no longer be harmed by those who oppress them and will be eternally rewarded.
As for their oppressors, Allah warns, “Those who persecute the believers, men, and women, and do not repent shall suffer the punishment of hell, and suffer the punishment of burning” (Quran 85:10). Indeed, oppressors will burn in an eternal flame for the injustices they incur.
“But those who believe and do righteous deeds shall have gardens through which running waters flow; that is the supreme triumph” (Quran 85:11). For those who choose a life of dignity over a life of oppression will be an eternal reward for elevating their souls over the worldly desires of their bodies.
May Allah ﷻ alleviate the suffering of the oppressed, may He provide comfort to those who grieve, and may He grant them peace in this life and His promised reward for patience in the hereafter.
By Sh. Jamal Said