1. The word 'Book', in this context, signifies this very surah, al-A'raf.
2. The Prophet (peace be on him) is directed to preach his Message without
fear and hesitation, and to disregard his opponents' response. Such opponents
may well be offended by his preaching of the Message, or may, hold it to ridicule,
or go about maliciously twisting it, or acting with greater hostility.All this
notwithstanding, the Message of Islam must be preached.
The Arabic word haraj (which we have translated as straitness), signifies an intractable bush. (See Ibn Manzur. Lisan al 'Arab and Firuzabadi, al-qamus, q.v. 'Harajah'.) 'Straitness or constriction in the breast' refers to the reluctance of a person to go ahead in the face of opposition. The following Qur'anic verse would seem to allude to this mental state of the Prophet (peace he on him): 'We do indeed know how your heart feels distressed at what they say' (al-Hijr 15: 97). What painfully concerned the Prophet (peace be on him) was to find out how he could direct a people, whose adamance and opposition to truth had reached such high proportions, to the Right Way. The same state of mind is again reflected in the Qur'anic verse: 'Perhaps you might feel inclined to part with a portion of what has been revealed to you, and your heart feels straitened lest they, say: "Why is a treasure not sent down unto him; or why does an angel not come with him?" ' (Hud 11:12).
3. The main purpose of this surah is to jolt the people out of their heedlessness and to warn them of the dire consequences that will follow if they reject the call of the Prophet (peace be on him). Additionally , this surah also seeks to serve as a reminder to the belivers - a purpose which is achieved, incidentally, by the warning made to the unbelievers.
4. The central theme of the whole surah, and of the present discourse, is the guidance which man needs in order to live a wholesome life, the knowledge which he requires in order to understand the reality of the universe and his own being and the purpose of his existence; the principles which he needs to serve as the basis for morality and social life as well as culture and civilization. In this regard man should look to God alone and follow exclusively, the Guidance which He has communicated to mankind through His Messenger. To look to anyone other than God is dangerous for it has always spelled disaster in the past, and will always spell disaster in the future. In this verse the word awliya' (masters) refers to those whom one follows, regardless of whether one idolizes or curses them, and whether one acknowledges their patronship or strongly, denies it. For further explanation see Tafhim al-Qur'an,( al-Shurai 42, n.6).
5. People can learn a lesson from the tragic fate of those nations that spurned
God's Guidance. and instead followed the guidance of others; and they became
so degenerate that their very existence became an intolerable burden on the
earth. Eventually, God's scourge seized them. and the earth was cleansed of
their filthy existence.
The words uttered by, the evil-doers: 'We are indeed transgressors', emphasizes two points, First, that it is pointless for one to realize and repent of one's wrong-doing after the time for such repentance is past. Individuals and communities who allow the term granted to them to be wasted in heedlesness and frivolity, who turn a deaf car to those who invite them to the truth, have so often been overtaken in the past by God's punishmet. Second, there are numerous instances of individuals as well as communities which incontrovertibly prove that when the wrong-doings of a nation exceed a certain limit, the term granted to it expires and God's punishment suddenly overtakes it. And once a nation is subjected to God's punishment, there is no escape from it. Since human history abounds in such instances, there is no reason why people should persist in the same iniquity, and repent only when the time for repentance has passed.
6. The words 'call to account' refers to the questioning people will be subjected
to on the Day of Judgement. For it is the reckoning on the Day, of Judgement
that really matters. Punishment dealt upon corrupt individuals and communities
in this world does not constitute their true punishment. Punishment in this
world is no more than what happens when a criminal, who has been strutting scot-free,
is suddenly arrested. The arrest constitutes no more than depriving the criminal
of the opportunity to perpetrate further crimes. The annals of history are filled
with instances where corrupt nations have been punished, proving that man has
not been granted absolute licence to go about doing whatever he pleases. Rather,
there is a Power above all that allows man to act freely but only to a certain
extent, no more. And when man exceeds those limits, that Power administers a
series of warnings in order that he might heed the warnings and give up his
wickedness. But when man fails totally to respond to such warnings, he is punished.
Anyone who considers the events of history, will conclude that the Lord of the universe must have certainly appointed a Day of Judgement in order to hold the wrong-doers to account for their actions and to punish them. That the Qur'an refers to the recurrent punishment of wicked nations as an argument in support of the establishment of the final judgement in the Hereafter is evidenced by the fact that the present (verse- 6 )- opens with the word so'.
7. This shows that on the Day of Judgement Prophethood will be the main basis of reckoning. On the one hand, the Prophets will be questioned about the efforts they made to convey God's Message to mankind. On the other hand, the people to whom the Prophets were sent will be questioned about their response to the message. The Qur'an is not explicit about how judgements will be made with regard to individuals and communities who did not receive God's Message. It seems that God has left judgement - to borrow a contemporary judicial expression - reserved. However, with regard to individuals and communities who did receive God's Message through the Prophets, the Qur'an states explicitly, that they will have no justification whatsoever to put forward a defence of their disbelief and denial, of their transgression and disobedience. They are doomed to be east into Hell in utter helplessness and dejection.
8. This means that when the Balance is fixed on the Day of Judgement, 'truth' and weight will be identical. The more truth one has to one's credit, the more truth one has to one's credit, the more the weight in one's scale; and vice versa. One will be judged solely on the basis of this weight. In other words, no consideration other than truth will enter into the calculation. A life of falsehood, however long it lasted, and however full of worldly achievements, will carry no weight at all. Weighed in the Balance, the devotees of falsehood will discover that their life-long deeds do not even weigh so much as a birds feather. The same point has been expatiated upon in (al-Kahf 18:103-5) : 'Shall We tell you of those who are greatest losers in respect of their deeds? It is those whose efforts have been wasted in this life while they kept believing that they were acquiring good by their deeds. they are those who deny the Signs of their Lord and the fact of their having to meet Him (in the Hereafter). So their works are in vain and we shall attach no weight to them on the Day of Judgement.'
9. For a full appreciation of this point it is necessary, to remember that
man's deeds will be classified into positive and negative categorics. The positive
category will consist of knowing the truth, believing in it, acting upon it,
and striving to make it prevail. It is such acts alone which will have weight
in the Hereafter. Conversely, whenever someone follows and goes after lusts
or blindly follows other humans or satans, his acts will be reckoned as 'negative'.
Such acts will not only be of no value at all, but will also have the effect
of reducing the total weight of one's positive acts.
Thus, a man's success in the Hereafter requires that his good acts outweigh his evil ones to such an extent that even if his evil acts cause the effacement of some of his good acts, he should still have enough left in his credit to ensure his scale is inclined towards the positive. As for the man whose evil acts outweigh his good acts, he will be like the bankrupt businessman who, even after spending all his assets, remains under the burden of debt.