The Reality of the Life of this World – Looking at Surah Yunus, Part II
This is the second part of a series of articles looking at Ayaat 22-25 of Surah Yunus, which describes the nature of the life of this world, where Allah swt, in His holy book, employs very powerful language and imagery. You can read the first part here. Written by Shafiul Huq.
In verse 22, we saw how people aboard a ship caught in extreme weather in the midst of the sea make a desperate plea to Allah (swt) to save them. Verse 23 tells us of Allah’s (swt) response, full of mercy, and in spite of it, the people’s relapse to ingratitude and transgression:
“But when He delivers them, they at once start rebelling on the earth wrongfully. O people, your rebellion is, in fact, against your own selves. It is only the worldly life that you are enjoying. Thereafter, it is to Us that you have to return; then We will tell you what you have been doing.” [Yunus:23]
The “fa” in “fa lamma anjaahum” (“But when He delivers them…”) indicates that Allah (swt) responds to their du’a straight away without delay. Such is the mercy of Allah (swt). But, again:
“They at once start rebelling on the earth wrongfully”
As soon as they are safe, the people immediately relapse to transgression.
“Fil ardi” (“on the earth”) – the rebellion obviously takes place on the earth, but this phrase indicates that their rebellion is not restricted to their needs and necessity but is extended as far as they can reach on the earth.
It is important to note that, as we have seen in the previous article, Verse 22 starts off by addressing the people in the 2nd person:
“He is the One who enables you to travel on land and at sea, until when you are aboard the boats…”
And then before recounting their ingratitude, the address shifts to the third person:
“…and they sail with those on board, under a favourable wind, and they are pleased with it…”
Such shifting of the narrative voice (from the second to the third person in this case) is known in Arabic as iltifat. In this instance, the iltifat highlights two things:
- The evil and wretchedness of their state necessitates turning away from them.
- As the address shifts from “you” to “they”, it is as if their state is being mentioned to other people in order to invoke shock and disgust at their wrongdoings, to draw criticism against such evil actions and to reveal the ugliness of their wretched condition.
However, after mentioning their ingratitude, as Allah (swt) warns the people about their wrongdoing the address shifts back to the second person:
“O people, your rebellion is, in fact, against your own selves. It is only worldly life that you are enjoying.” [Yunus: 23]
Reverting back to the second person creates severity in the warning. The harm of their rebellion will fall back on themselves. The short-term benefits are insignificant, will soon disappear and will leave behind a consequence of endless suffering.
“Thereafter, it is to Us that you have to return.” [Yunus:23]
Note that the verse says, “It is to Us that you have to return” (ilaynaa marji’ukum), as opposed to “You will return to Us” (tarji’oona ilaynaa). Bringing the “to Us” (ilaynaa) at the front creates the effect of confinement and restriction, that is, it is to Allah (swt) alone, and no one else, that they will return.
“Then We will tell you what you have been doing.” [Yunus:23]
There is a subtle message here in the verse when it says that Allah (swt) will inform us of our deeds, and that is – whatever appears in this world, the realm of physical bodies and attributes, has an appearance which is different to their true image.
For instance acts of disobedience, which are in fact like deadly poison, seem to appear in the world in an image that the nufoos (dispositions) of the disobedient people deem beautiful, just like acts of obedience, which even though are the most beautiful of the most beautiful things, appear in an ugly form to them.
Even according to a hadith of the Prophet ﷺ, paradise has been wrapped up in hardships and hellfire has been enveloped in luxuries (Sahih Muslim 2822). So the crimes that seem “good” to the oppressors because they enjoy them, like acquiring wealth or being vengefully violent, are in reality not true enjoyment. Rather they bring about harm in a manner that the oppressors are not aware of.
But they will only become aware of all of these things when everything they used to do will be made manifest to them in their true images, which would then contradict the way they used to perceive them in this world.
Shafiul Huq is a Melbourne-based activist. He is also a student of Classical Arabic and Cultural Studies.
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