Commentary on Surah al-Zalzalah – Part 2

This is a transcript of four lessons given by Shaykh Haider Hobbollah on the commentary on Sūrah al-Zalzalah. Click for Part 1.

Verse 3 – Wa Qāla al-Insān Mā Lahā

After the earth’s severe shaking, humans will say, “what is wrong with her? What is the matter with it?” This verse is speaking of the human condition, the confusion and shock at that time. Who are these humans that will say this? There are three opinions:

1) They say it is the Perfect Man, and some reports seem to indicate it was Imam ‘Alī (a) or one of the Imams (a).

2) They say it is the disbeliever, because the believers already know what will occur and they did not reject it. It is the disbelievers who reject the Day of Judgement and they will be the ones that will question the earth.

3) Majority of the Muslim scholars – and we believe this is the correct opinion – believe that it is referring to humans as a species. This includes believers and disbelievers. Even believers may ask this question, even if they know what will happen, it still takes a moment to realize and figure out what is happening and in the mean time they would wonder and question what is happening with the earth.

Verse 4 & 5 – Yawm idhin Tuḥaddith Akhbārahā Bi Anna Rabbaka Awḥa lahā

This verse is essentially a response to the previous verse which conveys the question humans will ask.

One can ask a question here and that is, how will the earth inform us about its report? The Qur’ān does not tell us how exactly it will tell us about its reports and we can say its knowledge is only with Allah (swt), perhaps Allah (swt) will allow it to speak and we will hear its sound, or we could say it is a figurative expression which is saying that the events that will occur will admonish humans and make them realize that the Day of Judgement is near.

What are the Akhbār of the Earth?

There are two possibilities:

1) The news of the earth is what is mentioned in the subsequent verse: “That Day, it will report its news, that your Lord has commanded it.”

2) The other possibility is that the subsequent verse is mentioning the reason for why the earth will report its news. The fact that Allah (swt) has commanded it to speak, for this reason it will report its news. But what will it report? Perhaps what is to occur in the near future, or what humans have done in the past. If we say it is what humans did in the past, then this connects very appropriately with the last two verses.


We know that waḥī linguistically means any type of message that is given with some degree of secrecy and silence. It is not loud nor apparent to everyone and it is only known by the one who receives it. In the Qur’ān the word is used for different creations, but its most popular use in the Qur’ān is for the Prophets (p).

It has been used for bees:

[16:68] And your Lord inspired to the bee, “Take for yourself among the mountains, houses, and among the trees and [in] that which they construct.

It has been used for some people who were not Prophets (p), like the Ḥawāriyūn:

[5:111] And when I inspired the disciples, (saying): Believe in Me and in My messenger, they said: We believe. Bear witness that we have surrendered (unto Thee).

It has been used for humans that are distinct, but they were not Prophets (p) and we do not know how great they were either, but there was definitely something that made them distinct, such as the mother of Musa (a):

[20:37-38] And We had already conferred favor upon you another time, when We inspired to your mother what We inspired,

[28:7] And We inspired to the mother of Moses, “Suckle him; but when you fear for him, cast him into the river and do not fear and do not grieve. Indeed, We will return him to you and will make him [one] of the messengers.”

It has been used for angels:

[8:12] [Remember] when your Lord inspired to the angels, “I am with you, so strengthen those who have believed. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieved, so strike [them] upon the necks and strike from them every fingertip.”

It has been used in a way where it is Satan who does the waḥī:

[6:112] And thus We have made for every prophet an enemy – devils from mankind and jinn, inspiring to one another decorative speech in delusion. But if your Lord had willed, they would not have done it, so leave them and that which they invent.

[6:121] And do not eat of that upon which the name of Allah has not been mentioned, for indeed, it is grave disobedience. And indeed do the devils inspire their allies [among men] to dispute with you. And if you were to obey them, indeed, you would be associators [of others with Him].

With this precedent, we come to the verse at hand which says that the earth will be given wahī. We know that Allah (swt) does wahī for creation that have an intellect and conscious such as humans, angels, or even Satan doing waḥī to one another – there is no disagreement here. However, how does Allah (swt) do waḥī for a non-intellect creation, such as the bees and the earth. Over here, two trends exist amongst Muslim scholars:

1) A large group of scholars believe when the word waḥī is used for animals and the earth, it is a figurative use indicating that the power of Allah (swt) and its Divine Will is facilitating change and movement in these creations. When things are not physically apparent for us and we cannot determine why a certain thing is happening, such as, how does a bee know how to make honey or how the earth is shaking and giving us its reports, then Allah (swt) uses figurative words to say I am doing waḥī to them. Meaning, I am the one causing these things.

2) Another group of scholars – generally the philosophers, particularly Sadrian philosophers and mystics – say who says inanimate objects and animals do not have intellect? You have come up with this division based on your understanding of creation, the classical logicians and natural scientists came up with such a division, whereas we believe that all of creation has a degree of soul and conscious and perception. In fact, the Qur’ānic verses are evidence for this:

[24:41] Do you not see that Allah is exalted by whomever is within the heavens and the earth and [by] the birds with wings spread [in flight]? Each [of them] has known his [means of] prayer and exalting [Him], and Allah is Knowing of what they do.

[17:44] The seven heavens and the earth and whatever is in them exalt Him. And there is not a thing except that it exalts [ Allah ] by His praise, but you do not understand their [way of] exalting. Indeed, He is ever Forbearing and Forgiving.

[33:72] Indeed, we offered the Trust to the heavens and the earth and the mountains, and they declined to bear it and feared it; but man [undertook to] bear it. Indeed, he was unjust and ignorant.

The fact that there was a decision that the earth and the mountains made shows there was some degree of perception, understanding, intellect and conscious.

[41:11] Then He directed Himself to the heaven while it was smoke and said to it and to the earth, “Come [into being], willingly or by compulsion.” They said, “We have come willingly.”

These verses all show that all of creation has some degree of life, intellect, and perception. We may not know the nature of it and to what extent, but these verses show that they do. If science is unable to prove such a matter then it is of no concern to us.

Verse 6 – Yawm idhin Yaṣduru al-Nās Ashtātā Li-yurau A‘mālahum

Ṣudūr means to depart, and it implies that humans will depart from one matter and get occupied with another matter. The imagery this verse paints for us is that after the earth is shaken violently, and people are brought out from the earth, they then depart towards another a new phase of their lives.

Ashtāt means to be dispersed and separated, they will be all over the place. The Qur’ān uses this word when it describes the efforts of humans in this world:

[92:4] Indeed, your efforts are diverse.

Or when it speaks about the growth of different types of vegetation:

[20:53] [It is He] who has made for you the earth as a bed [spread out] and inserted therein for you roadways and sent down from the sky, rain and produced thereby categories of various plants.

Or when it speaks about the hearts of people:

[59:14] They will not fight you all except within fortified cities or from behind walls. Their violence among themselves is severe. You think they are together, but their hearts are diverse. That is because they are a people who do not reason.

Or when it speaks about eating at the homes of your relatives:

[24:61] … There is no blame upon you whether you eat together or separately…

What does it mean for humans to depart in diverse groups? There are a number of possibilities:

1) The departure of humans in diverse groups could be a reference to their deeds – one group will go towards heaven and one towards hell, depending on their deeds.

2) When humans depart and are going in the presence of Allah (swt), they are not coming together, rather they will be coming in different categories. For example, people will be coming with their leaders, or those of a certain ethnicity will be coming together, or those who were back-biters will be coming together distinct from other groups – this is plausible.

3) The third possibility is that every single individual will be going on their own – they will not be accompanied with anyone else, no family members, no friends. All they will have with them are their deeds, each of them will be individually coming towards Allah (swt).

Showing of Deeds

The verse explains the reason why humans will depart and be coming in the presence of Allah (swt) in different categories. The reason is so that they can be shown their deeds. This verse has been a subject of intense debate amongst Muslim scholars, especially in relation to the topic of the embodiment of deeds (tajassum al-a‘māl). We will mention the different opinions on what this verse means:

1) Showing of deeds means that humans will be reminded of what they did in the past. This reminder will be so clear, apparent and explicit that the Qur’ān uses the verb “showing” because it indicates a sense of certainty for a person.

This meaning clearly is a little stretch since “showing” is not the same as “reminding”, although it is not linguistically impossible.

2) Showing of deeds means that humans will be presented their record and book of deeds and they will read them. Hence, we read in Surah al-Kahf:

[18:49] And the record [of deeds] will be placed [open], and you will see the criminals fearful of that within it, and they will say, “Oh, woe to us! What is this book that leaves nothing small or great except that it has enumerated it?” And they will find what they did present [before them]. And your Lord does injustice to no one.

We also find:

[17:13-14] And [for] every person We have imposed his fate upon his neck, and We will produce for him on the Day of Resurrection a record which he will encounter spread open. [It will be said], “Read your record. Sufficient is yourself against you this Day as accountant.”

What is the nature of this book – is it a book with papers or something else, we do not know. However, this is a reasonable possibility, and in fact we can even combine it with the first possibility and say that the record of deeds will be shown, and humans will be reminded of their deeds.

3) They will be shown the recompense of their deeds. This possibility says that there is a word “recompense” that is taken into consideration between “showing” of “deeds”. This recompense is essentially their abode in heaven or hell. Since this possibility expects us to take something hidden into consideration, we need to bring forth evidence for it.

4) The fourth possibility is one that has a number of significant proponents and that is the view of embodiment of deeds. This view says that there is no difference between the recompense and deeds, in fact our deeds are the very recompense itself. The idea that our deeds are one thing, and heaven or hell are separate entities is flawed, rather what we call recompense in the form of heaven and hell are nothing but an embodiment of our very deeds.

This view is generally put forth by the philosophers, especially Sadrian philosophers, and mystics. In fact, this view in the Shī‘ī communities has become so widespread that it is considered to be accepted without any dispute. Proponents of this view believe this position also resolves the issue of khulūd – an eternal chastisement for someone who only committed a limited sin. They will say Allah (swt) will not eternally punish them, rather the chastisement is nothing but the very deed itself. It is like someone who cuts his fingers off – we do not ask why did Allah (swt) leave his fingers cut off for eternity, rather we say this individual him or herself cut their decapitated their fingers themselves for eternity.

Muslims all believe there is something called reward and punishment – what is the relationship between my act with heaven and hell? There are two fundamental positions in the Muslim world explaining this relationship:

a) The vast majority of Muslim scholars and also the laity believe that the relationship between the two is a construct. By construct we mean it is Allah (swt) who has legislated and constructed a relationship between one’s actions and the fact that it should deserve a reward or punishment. Similar to how governments legislate reward or punishment for their citizen’s actions, if someone steals from someone’s house the government says we have legislated a rule here that anyone who performs this act will be imprisoned for a few months. There is no ontological casual relationship between these two things, rather this relationship has to be created by a third-party.

It is on this view that the critique is laid: Is it just and fair for Allah (swt) to legislate and construct a relationship between an act, which was limited and temporary at least to this life, to the hereafter which is eternal? How is it fair that someone commits a sin in this world and dies, yet they could be punished for it for an eternity?

b) The second view is that the relationship between the two is ontological and very real – it is not a construct. Within this group there are two sub-groups:

i) It is ontological like a causal relationship between cause and effects. Your good act is a cause and the effect of it could be the construction of a palace, or garden for you in heaven. Your bad act is a cause and the effect of it is a flame of fire for you in hell.

ii) It is ontological like an essential relationship, without any duality. Human acts in this world appear in a certain way, but in a different realm appear in a different way – they are one and the same. For example, in this world the Ṣalāt looks a certain way, but these same prayers where one stands up and bows down, have an esoteric appearance. It is this group that believes in the view of embodiment of the deeds.

They have many arguments for their position, we will not engage and explain their philosophical arguments, nor the arguments they bring from the ḥadīth, but we will go over some of their arguments that they cite from the Qur’ān. They bring 7 verses:

[66:7] O you who have disbelieved, make no excuses that Day. You will only be recompensed for what you used to do.

[78:40] Indeed, We have warned you of a near punishment on the Day when a man will observe what his hands have put forth and the disbeliever will say, “Oh, I wish that I were dust!”

[3:161] It is not [attributable] to any prophet that he would act unfaithfully [in regard to war booty]. And whoever betrays, [taking unlawfully], will come with what he took on the Day of Resurrection. Then will every soul be [fully] compensated for what it earned, and they will not be wronged.

[3:30] The Day every soul will find what it has done of good present [before it] and what it has done of evil, it will wish that between itself and that [evil] was a great distance. And Allah warns you of Himself, and Allah is Kind to [His] servants.”

[2:174] Indeed, they who conceal what Allah has sent down of the Book and exchange it for a small price – those consume not into their bellies except the Fire. And Allah will not speak to them on the Day of Resurrection, nor will He purify them. And they will have a painful punishment

[11:111] And indeed, each [of the believers and disbelievers] – your Lord will fully compensate them for their deeds. Indeed, He is Acquainted with what they do.

Before we investigate any further, we should mention that this view even amongst the philosophers and mystics is not unanimously agreed upon even though some may make that claim, let alone being from the necessities of religion or clear and evident for all Muslims. In fact, there is even debate on whether this is a view that Muslim scholars came up with or is it a view existed even before Islam in philosophies that existed in other parts of the world. We are not going in depth on the history of this view, but it should suffice to say that even Mullā Ṣadrā acknowledges that this view can be seen in the works of certain Greek philosophers.

Before Ibn ‘Arabī (d. 1240) even though the view was known, it was severely rejected by most Muslim scholars. In fact, Muslim theologians even put forth rational arguments on the impossibility of such a view, although the weakness of their arguments became very over time. After Ibn ‘Arabī – who himself defended this view – the opinion became more readily accepted amongst some scholars, until Shaykh Bahā’ī defended this view with further arguments, and by the time Mullā Ṣadrā had also taken this position and defended it, it has became a very widespread belief at least amongst the Imami Shī‘a communities. It was after Mullā Ṣadrā that the Qur’ānic and ḥadīth texts were interpreted through this lens.

The three positions on this view are as follows:

1) Complete rejection – this view is generally held by the theologians, scholars of ḥadīth and exegetes before the 7th century hijri. In contemporary times, Sayyid Faḍlullah also rejected this view absolutely and as well as Shaykh Isḥāq Fayyāḍ.

2) Complete acceptance – all deeds, acts, personality traits are embodied and what we understand as reward and punishment or hell and heaven are these very deeds and qualities themselves. This is the view of many philosophers, mystics, especially after Ibn ‘Arabī.

3) Partial acceptance – some deeds are embodied, but some others are not. This is what is understood from the words of Shaykh Jawādī Āmulī and Shaykh Miṣbāḥ Yazdī both hold this opinion.

There are three contexts in which this discussion is held:

1) Rational and intellectual: Proponents and critics have both tried to bring rational arguments to prove or disprove this concept respectively. This is a very lengthy discussion in the books of theology and philosophy and does not concern us in our current discussion.

2) Ḥadīth: Proponents and critics both have tried to bring evidence from ḥadīth to prove or disprove this concept respectively. This context is also irrelevant for us in our current discussion.

3) Qur’ānic: We have already mentioned the verses proponents of this view cite to prove their claim. We will analyze their Qur’ānic claim in two stages: firstly we will analyze the verses they cite for their position and whether they prove their claim or not, and secondly we will analyze all the other verses of the Qur’ān that also speak of reward and punishment for one’s deeds.

First Stage

1) Some of the verses the proponents have mentioned are not even clearly known to be even speaking of the subject. For example:

[78:40] Indeed, We have warned you of a near punishment on the Day when a man will observe what his hands have put forth and the disbeliever will say, “Oh, I wish that I were dust!”

This verse says man will observe what his hands put forth, why does this observation have to mean that their deeds and recompense are one and the same? What we are trying to contest here is whether the recompense and deeds are one and the same. This verse simply says man will see that they did, they will see their deeds, but it does not say that this viewing of their deeds is also their recompense.

Another verse is:

[3:30] The Day every soul will find what it has done of good present [before it] and what it has done of evil, it will wish that between itself and that [evil] was a great distance. And Allah warns you of Himself, and Allah is Kind to [His] servants.”

All this verse says that people will find and see their deeds in front of them, but it does not say this is also their recompense. The fallacy of using these two verses to prove the view of embodiment of deeds is that there is a jump being made between “observing deeds” and “recompense”, even though there is no necessary relationship between the two. It is possible that humans will first observe and be shown their deeds, which will then be followed by a recompense.

2) One exegetical principle we need to discern for ourselves is how do we read the Qur’ānic text for interpretation? Do we take it in context of how the Arabs would generally speak, which includes heavy use of metaphors, figurative language, metonyms and so on, or do we interpret the Qur’ānic text in its literal way as much as we can? Both approaches are valid and used in the Qur’ān, but the dilemma occurs when some scholars believe that the first approach needs to be used on a certain verse while others believe the second approach needs to be used on a certain verse. This is the same dilemma we have here.

For example:

[2:174] Indeed, they who conceal what Allah has sent down of the Book and exchange it for a small price – those consume not into their bellies except the Fire. And Allah will not speak to them on the Day of Resurrection, nor will He purify them. And they will have a painful punishment.

Why do we have to presume that people are truly consuming fire into their bellies, and instead, not understand this to be figurative language being used to convey the severity of their sins? Such figurative language was very common amongst the Arabs, even until today. Imagine someone’s child fails an exam at school and the father says to them, “this is your own doing”, or “this is what you’ve been occupied with all day.” What does this really mean? Does this mean that the child’s activities before giving the exam are one and the same as the result he received or is this just a figurative way to condemn the child and tell them that this is the result of your deeds.

Or society might say to a criminal when they are sent to prison for stealing, that “this is your own doing.” What society means is that this is the result of what you yourself did, you committed certain acts and the consequences of those are imprisonment, not that the act of theft is one and the same as imprisonment.

Those who believe in the embodiment of deeds, they also rely on language to prove their claim and stick to the literal meaning of the verses, and this literal approach is not necessarily wrong per se. The question we have to ask here is why the literal approach is preferred over the metaphorical approach when we know the latter is also widely used in the Arabic language and as well as the Qur’ān? These sentence structures and compositions are not appearing in the Qur’ān for the first time, they already existed amongst the Arabs before the Prophet (p). If the first time we had come across these structures were in the Qur’ān itself, then we would have no choice but to stick to its literal meanings, but when we know such structure was so prevalent amongst the Arabs, there is more reason to read them as figurative, than literal.

As will be seen in the second stage, the rest of the Qur’ānic verses will actually assist us prefer a figurative reading of these aforementioned verses.

Second Stage

1) The first thing we need to define is the word jazā’ itself. What does the word mean linguistically, especially when it is used in context of an authority, a servant, and reward and punishment? When an authority – in our context being Allah (swt) – tells a servant that this is the jazā’ of your deeds, anyone will understand that it is something separate and distinct from deeds.

[6:160] Whoever comes [on the Day of Judgement] with a good deed will have ten times the like thereof [to his credit], and whoever comes with an evil deed will not be recompensed except the like thereof; and they will not be wronged.

This verse is very clear in that a person’s recompense for their deeds will be something different and distinct. Likewise, is the word ajr (remuneration) in the Qur’ān or the fact that Allah (swt) will be loyal to His (swt) promise on the Day of Judgement – what does it mean for Allah (swt) to be loyal to His (swt) promise?

In fact, even the word ‘iqāb (punishment) implies that it is something that is done by a higher authority. When someone says, they will punish a person for disobedience, this does not mean one’s disobedience is the very punishment, rather it implies a relationship of construct between the deed and punishment. When Allah (swt) says He (swt) will punish the disbelievers and sinners, this implies a retaliatory act on part of Allah (swt) for the deeds we do. We can add to this list many other words like thawāb, maghfirah, ‘adhāb, intiqām and so on – words that are used dozens of times in the Qur’ān.

We can do ta’wīl of all of these verses and words and interpret them through the lens of embodiment of actions, but the general implication of these words and concepts, especially for those who are familiar with the Arabic language, is that deeds are one thing and the recompense for it is something else, not that two are one and the same, that the deeds are what is apparent in this world while the recompense is simply an esoteric reality of those deeds.

This is the image that the Qur’ān paints for us in general, so for someone to bring 7 verses which can be explained away either way in the face of a general image the Qur’ān paints is very difficult.

2) We have verses that are very clear that the recompense is something that will be prepared and made for people due to their deeds.

[2:24] But if you do not – and you will never be able to – then fear the Fire, whose fuel is men and stones, prepared for the disbelievers.

[3:131] And fear the Fire, which has been prepared for the disbelievers.

[3:133] And hasten to forgiveness from your Lord and a garden as wide as the heavens and earth, prepared for the righteous

There are many other verses that speak about the preparation of fire or heaven. What do we understand from the word preparation? Are these verses more in line with the idea that a person’s deeds are themselves the hellfire or heaven, or do they indicate that the fire will be prepared for them by Allah (swt) and that it is a separate entity. What is even more strange is that some proponents of absolute embodiment of deeds cite this verse as evidence as well:

[9:34-35] O you who have believed, indeed many of the scholars and the monks devour the wealth of people unjustly and avert [them] from the way of Allah. And those who hoard gold and silver and spend it not in the way of Allah – give them tidings of a painful punishment. The Day when it will be heated in the fire of Hell and seared therewith will be their foreheads, their flanks, and their backs, [it will be said], “This is what you hoarded for yourselves, so taste what you used to hoard.”

These verses are saying that the very gold and silver which they hoarded will be melted and they would be punished with it, not that their very act of hoarding is one and the same as being seared with melted gold and silver. Our discussion is about their act being one and the same as the punishment, whereas this verse is clear that their act of hoarding was one thing, and the punishment is in fact a separate thing in the form of what they hoarded being melted and them being chastised with it. The act of hoarding and what was hoarded are not the same thing.

We conclude that in the Qur’ān there is no strong evidence for the view of absolute embodiment of deeds and in the best scenario one could say that the partial view of Shaykh Jawādī Āmulī and Shaykh Miṣbāḥ Yazdī is more appropriate where some acts may be embodied while others are not.

Verse 7 & 8 – Wa Man Ya‘mal Mithqāl Dharra Khayran Yarah – Wa Man Ya‘mal Mithqāl Dharra Sharran Yarah

Dharra in the Arabic language is used to refer to anything miniscule and tiny, such as a very small ant, or the very small particles in the air that can be seen from time to time. Mithqāl means something that has weight, so mithqāl dharra means the weight of a small entity.

It behooves to mention a point, which Imam Khomeinī and a few other scholars also bring up, and that is to ensure we do not understand words in their appropriate contexts. Some proponents of scientific exegesis have used this verse, specifically the word dharra, to argue that the Qur’ān was the first book to identify atoms. This is while atoms have no relationship to the word dharra, it is not even a scientific term, in fact it is an Arabic word and scientists later came and decided to use this Arabic word for when they discovered atoms.

I will mention a few more examples where this has occurred. The word ikmah which is used in the Qur’ān, in the Arabic language it simply means knowing something with mastery and carrying it out in the best of manners, but some philosophers use these verses to say the Qur’ān is speaking about philosophy – which is often referred to as ikmah.

The word fiqh when it is mentioned in the Qur’ān with its derivatives does not mean jurist or Islamic law. Fiqh simply means a deep understanding of any matter. To do tafaqquh fī al-dīn means to deeply understand religion as a whole, not just the laws of ḥarām and ḥalāl.

The word ‘ārif and its derivatives in the Qur’ān do not mean mystics and gnostics; or the word wilāyah which has a well known meaning in the Arabic language, we cannot cite [5:55] which says Allah (swt), the Prophet (p) and those who believe are your walī to prove the concept of wilāyah takwīnīyyah. You cannot create a jargon yourself and then find the same word in the Qur’ān and say this is the jargon the Qur’ān is speaking about. This is a great fallacy.

‘Ilm and yaqīn also do not mean certainty in the way it is understood in Aristotelian logic and philosophy, rather it is a degree of knowledge which gives tranquility to a person. Or some say ashhadu ‘ala anfusihim in [7:172] is a reference to the concept of shuhūd – a type of mystical vision. The word shuhūd in the meaning of mystical visions is a jargon that was constructed centuries after the Qur’ān, how can a later construct be used to say this is what the Qur’ān is speaking about?

These are errors that people and even scholars make unfortunately, and this is why Imam Khomeinī explicitly points this out in his work al-Ijtihād wa al-Taqlīd warning scholars to not conflate between technical jargon and colloquial usage of words.

Contradictory Verses

Some past and even contemporary critics of the Qur’ān believe these two verses are evidence of contradiction in the Qur’ān. They say the Qur’ān elsewhere rejects what is being said in these two verses and they bring the following examples:

1) Repentance (tawbah) – they say the Qur’ān asks us to repent and that Allah (swt) loves those who repent. If one repents, that means they would have done a deed, but will not have seen its recompense.

2) Intercession (shafā‘ah) – the Qur’ān speaks about forgiveness through intercession on the Day of Judgement. Those who receive this intercession hence will not see the recompense of some of their deeds.

3) Removal (takfīr) – We find the Qur’ān:

[4:31] If you avoid the major sins which you are forbidden, We will remove from you your lesser sins and admit you to a noble entrance [into Paradise].

This is very clearly implying that even if we commit minor sins, those sins and mistakes that are very trivial, Allah (swt) will remove them from us as long as we abandon the major sins. This means we will not see the recompense for those smaller mistakes in the hereafter.

4) Descent (ab) – The Qur’ān says in multiple places there will be certain good deeds that will be nullified and fall even after one has performed them due to later actions that a person performs.

All four cases indicate that there will be some deeds that a person will not see a recompense for them, and this is a clear contradiction. Muslim scholars have offered numerous answers. For example, some have said that these four set of verses above act as restrictors for the last 2 verses of Surah al-Zalzalah. Meaning, humans will see the recompense of all their deeds even if they are trivial, except if they are forgiven, or they are interceded for, or if their acts descent are nullified.

We will not expand on other responses the scholars gave, but rather, we say all of these explanations are unnecessary as long as we understand the concept of seeing of deeds (ru’ya al-a‘māl). Our argument is as follows:

We know that the Day of Judgement will be a lengthy day and that there will be a number of stages to it. Every stage is called a manzil, every single individual will go through each stage until they get to the doors of heaven or hell. In the Qur’ān we can pin-point at least three of these stages.

The First Stage: The Qur’ān refers to this stage as the stage of inbā’, ru’ya or ‘ar. In this stage our deeds will be shown to us, we will be told and reminded of everything single act we did in life. There is no appraisal (isāb) of our deeds in this stage.

[58:6] On the Day when Allah will resurrect them all and inform them of what they did. Allah had enumerated it, while they forgot it; and Allah is, over all things, Witness.

[5:14] …And Allah is going to inform them about what they used to do.

[53:40] And that his effort is going to be seen.

[41:50] …But We will surely inform those who disbelieved about what they did, and We will surely make them taste a massive punishment.

The last verse shows that there will be a stage where they will be informed, and then a stage where they will be punished – there are two different stages.

The Second Stage: The Qur’ān refers to this stage as the stage of appraisal and this is where the scale (mīzān) is mentioned. Our deeds are weighed and measured on this scale and it is here where aspects such as forgiveness, intercession, removal and descent are taken into consideration.

The Third Stage: The Qur’ān refers to this stage as the stage of recompense (jazā’) and each individual is rewarded and punished depending on the result of the previous stage.

This resolves the critique of contradiction from its very root as we say that the last two verses of Surah al-Zalzalah are speaking of a specific stage on the Day of Judgement and have nothing to do with the stage of appraisal. For those who are interested in further reading on the stages of the hereafter, perhaps one of the discussions is by Allāmah Ṭabāṭabā’ī in his al-Mīzān.

Importance of Deeds

The last discussion we want to address in this chapter is the importance of one’s actions. This chapter signifies the importance of all of our deeds, no matter how trivial we may think they are. Every single deed will be shown to us on the Day of Judgement.

Historically there were trends in the Muslim world who believed it is only faith which is important for our salvation and deeds are not too important, while another trend believed our deeds are important for our salvation and faith is not too important. A third trend reconciled both these views, and this is in accordance with the Qur’ān as well given it speaks about the importance of both faith and action. Doing a good deed without faith is not sufficient, and having faith without action is also not sufficient.

Though these debates existed in the earlier Islamic centuries, they have appeared once again in some of our Muslim communities. Some may believe it is enough to be a Muslim for salvation, or a Shī‘a and lover of the Ahl al-Bayt (a); while others may say just do good deeds while belief in some of the fundamental pillars of Islam is not too important.

I will end with a few narrations highlighting the importance of actions as well:

الرِّضَا ع قَالَ: صَعِدَ النَّبِيُّ ص الْمِنْبَرَ فَقَالَ مَنْ‏ تَرَكَ‏ دَيْناً أَوْ ضَيَاعاً فَعَلَيَّ وَ إِلَيَّ وَ مَنْ تَرَكَ مَالًا فَلِوَرَثَتِهِ فَصَارَ بِذَلِكَ أَوْلَى بِهِمْ مِنْ آبَائِهِمْ وَ أُمَّهَاتِهِمْ وَ صَارَ أَوْلَى بِهِمْ مِنْهُمْ بِأَنْفُسِهِمْ وَ كَذَلِكَ أَمِيرُ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ ع بَعْدَهُ جَرَى ذَلِكَ لَهُ مِثْلُ مَا جَرَى لِرَسُولِ اللَّهِ ص.

Imam Riḍā (a) said: The Prophet (p) climbed on the pulpit and said, “One who leaves behind a debt or dependents, then they are my responsibility, and one who leaves behind wealth, then they are for his inheritors.” He (p) thus became more entitled to them than even their fathers and mothers and more superior to them than their own selves. Likewise, was the case with Amīr al-Mu’minīn (a) after him as it was for the Messenger (p).

عَنْ خَيْثَمَةَ قَالَ: دَخَلْتُ عَلَى أَبِي جَعْفَرٍ ع أُوَدِّعُهُ فَقَالَ يَا خَيْثَمَةُ أَبْلِغْ‏ مَنْ‏ تَرَى مِنْ مَوَالِينَا السَّلَامَ وَ أَوْصِهِمْ بِتَقْوَى اللَّهِ الْعَظِيمِ وَ أَنْ يَعُودَ غَنِيُّهُمْ عَلَى فَقِيرِهِمْ وَ قَوِيُّهُمْ عَلَى ضَعِيفِهِمْ وَ أَنْ يَشْهَدَ حَيُّهُمْ جِنَازَةَ مَيِّتِهِمْ وَ أَنْ يَتَلَاقَوْا فِي بُيُوتِهِمْ فَإِنَّ لُقِيَّا بَعْضِهِمْ بَعْضاً حَيَاةٌ لِأَمْرِنَا رَحِمَ اللَّهُ عَبْداً أَحْيَا أَمْرَنَا يَا خَيْثَمَةُ أَبْلِغْ مَوَالِيَنَا أَنَّا لَا نُغْنِي عَنْهُمْ مِنَ اللَّهِ شَيْئاً إِلَّا بِعَمَلٍ وَ أَنَّهُمْ لَنْ يَنَالُوا وَلَايَتَنَا إِلَّا بِالْوَرَعِ وَ أَنَّ أَشَدَّ النَّاسِ حَسْرَةً يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ مَنْ وَصَفَ عَدْلًا ثُمَّ خَالَفَهُ إِلَى غَيْرِه‏

Khaythama said, I went to Abī Ja‘far (a) to bid him farewell. He (a) said: O Khaythamah, convey our greeting of peace to whoever of our followers you may see and advise them to be pious before Allah, the Most Great, that their rich ones look after their poor ones, the stronger ones look after their weaker ones, that the living attend the funeral of those who have just died, that they must meet each other in their homes; their meeting as such is life for our cause. May Allah bless the man who preserves our cause. O Khaythamah, inform our followers that we cannot make them independent of Allah in anything without good deeds and that they will not benefit from our Divine Authority without piety. Of the people who regret on the Day of Judgment, most intensely will be the ones who describe justice but do not practice it (explain the right belief but do not establish one).

أَبِي جَعْفَرٍ ع قَالَ: يَا مَعْشَرَ الشِّيعَةِ شِيعَةِ آلِ مُحَمَّدٍ كُونُوا النُّمْرُقَةَ الْوُسْطَى‏ يَرْجِعُ‏ إِلَيْكُمُ‏ الْغَالِي‏ وَ يَلْحَقُ بِكُمُ التَّالِي فَقَالَ لَهُ رَجُلٌ مِنَ الْأَنْصَارِ يُقَالُ لَهُ سَعْدٌ جُعِلْتُ فِدَاكَ مَا الْغَالِي قَالَ قَوْمٌ يَقُولُونَ فِينَا مَا لَا نَقُولُهُ فِي أَنْفُسِنَا فَلَيْسَ أُولَئِكَ مِنَّا وَ لَسْنَا مِنْهُمْ قَالَ فَمَا التَّالِي قَالَ الْمُرْتَادُ يُرِيدُ الْخَيْرَ يُبَلِّغُهُ الْخَيْرَ يُؤْجَرُ عَلَيْهِ‏ ثُمَّ أَقْبَلَ عَلَيْنَا فَقَالَ وَ اللَّهِ مَا مَعَنَا مِنَ اللَّهِ بَرَاءَةٌ وَ لَا بَيْنَنَا وَ بَيْنَ اللَّهِ قَرَابَةٌ وَ لَا لَنَا عَلَى اللَّهِ حُجَّةٌ وَ لَا نَتَقَرَّبُ إِلَى اللَّهِ إِلَّا بِالطَّاعَةِ فَمَنْ كَانَ مِنْكُمْ مُطِيعاً لِلَّهِ تَنْفَعُهُ‏ وَلَايَتُنَا وَ مَنْ كَانَ مِنْكُمْ عَاصِياً لِلَّهِ لَمْ تَنْفَعْهُ وَلَايَتُنَا وَيْحَكُمْ لَا تَغْتَرُّوا وَيْحَكُمْ لَا تَغْتَرُّوا.

Abu Ja‘far (a) has said, ‘O the community of Shi‘a, Shi‘a of Muhammad, be the central support so that both al-Ghālī and al-Tālī refer to you.’ A man from Ansar called Sa‘d, said, ‘May Allah keep my soul in service for your cause, what is the meaning of al-Ghālī?’ The Imam (a) said, ‘They are the people who say about us what we do not say about ourselves. Thus, they are not of our people and we are not of their people.’ The man then asked, ‘Who are al-Tālī?’ The Imam (a) said, ‘They are those who search for good. They receive good instructions and are rewarded for it.’ The Imam then turned to us and said, ‘I swear by Allah that we do not possess any amnesty from Allah and there is no family relation between Allah and us nor do we possess any authority over Allah. We do not seek nearness to Allah through any other means but obedience to Him. Whoever of you is obedient to Allah it will benefit him, and whoever of you is disobedient to Allah our guardianship, Walāyah, will not benefit him. What is the matter with you? Do not be misled! What is the matter with you? Do not be misled!”’