Tafsir Zone - Surah 77: al-Mursalat (Those Sent Forth)

Tafsir Zone

Surah al-Mursalat 77:0


(Verses 1 - 7)

Enigmatic Beginning

By those sent forth in swift succession; and those tempestuously storming on; and those scattering far and wide; and those separating [right and wrong] with all clarity; and those giving a reminder, with an excuse and a warning, what you have been promised shall be fulfilled. (Verses 1-7)

The question here is that of the resurrection which the unbelievers found very hard to accept, yet the Qur'an confirms it time after time, in many surahs, and in various ways. It was especially necessary that the Qur'an take such care in establishing the truth of resurrection, this so that the faith can be properly established in people's minds and hearts and further that their standards and values could then be redefined. Belief in the Day of Judgement is the corner-stone of both the divine faith and human life. It is the pivot around which everything in life turns, and the criterion that judges all values and standards. Hence, establishing the truth of resurrection and subsequent reckoning and judgement needed such a sustained effort.

The surah begins with an oath by God that this promise of a life to come is certainly true. The way the oath is phrased suggests that that by which God swears belongs to the realm beyond our perception. It mentions some hidden forces that have a definite effect on the universe and on human life. Early scholars differed as to what these were: some said that they all refer to winds, and some said they refer to angels, while a third group said that some refer to winds and some to angels. It is clear, then, that these terms are ambiguous, which makes them best suited for an oath by God confirming an event which only He knows about. Just as these ambiguous things exist and have an effect on human life, this event belonging to the world beyond our perception will certainly take place.

"By those sent forth in swift succession." (Verse 1) Abu Hurayrah says that this is a reference to the angels. The same is reported to have been said by Masruq, Abu al-Duha, Mujahid (in one report), al-Suddi, al-Rabi ibn Anas and Abu Salih. Thus the verse means an oath by the angels that are sent forth in successive waves, like running horses. Abu Salih says that the next four verses also refer to the angels.

Ibn Mas'ud is reported to have said that 'those sent firth' refers to the wind, which means that winds are sent in succession like horses running. He is reported to have said that those `storming on' and 'scattering far and wide' [mentioned in the next two verses] also refer to the wind. This view is shared by Ibn 'Abbas, Mujahid (in a second report), Qatadah and in another report by Abu Salih.

Ibn Jarir al-Tabari is uncertain whether 'those sent firth' mentioned in the first verse refers to the angels or to the wind, but he is certain that the stormers and scatterers are the winds. He explains that the winds scatter the clouds in the sky.

Ibn Mas'ud says that "those separating [right and wrong' with all clarity; and those giving a reminder, with an excuse and a warning," refer to the angels. This is also stated by Ibn `Abbas, Masruq, Mujahid, Qatadah, al-Rabi` ibn Anas, al-Suddi and al-Thawri. It is the angels that come down carrying God's orders to His messengers, separating right from wrong, and giving revelations to those messengers that contain justification and a warning to mankind.

We note that the ambiguity is intended to give these matters by which the oath is made a particularly awesome air. This is the same as in Surahs 51 and 79. The first of these begins with the oath: "By the winds that scatter far and wide." Surah 79 also starts with an ambiguous oath: "By those that pluck out vehemently." This ambiguity, evident in the differences of opinion about their meaning, is intended, because their very ambiguity combines with the quick rhythm employed in the opening of the sit- rah to produce a jolt or a shake in the listener or reader. This fits perfectly with the subject matter of the surah. In fact, every subsequent section delivers such a jolt. Thus the surah may be compared to someone in authority taking a person by the collar as he questions him about a misdeed or about his negation of something very obvious, then releasing him with a strong warning: "Woe on that day betide those who deny the truth."