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Qur'anic Imagery of Doomsday and Resurrection
Fauzia Tanveer Sheikh


The Holy Qur’an is very rich in imagery. Sent for the guidance of mankind, the Qur’an deals with many subjects belonging to the supersensory realm such as faith in one God, the angels, doomsday and resurrection, heaven and hell. To endow its followers with deep rooted conviction, it presents its message in a pictographic manner. This is the assertion of Qur’anic scholars like Sayyid Qutb and Muhammad Asad. In this article, as a student of English literature, this author will look at the definition of imagery in English literature and applies it to the imagery of Doomsday and Resurrection in the Qur’an.

1.1. Introduction

Consider the following Qur’anic verses:

When the sun [with its overwhelming light] is folded up; When the stars fall, losing their lustre; When the mountains vanish [like a mirage]; When the she-camels, ten months with young, are left untended; When the wild beasts are herded together [in human habitations];When the oceans boil over with a swell; When the souls are sorted out, [being joined, like with like];When the female [infant], buried alive, is questioned - For what crime was she killed; When the scrolls are laid open; When the world on High is unveiled; When the Blazing Fire is kindled to fierce heat; And when the Garden is brought near; [Then] shall each soul know what it has put forward. (81:1-14)1

These verses give a graphic description of Doomsday and Resurrection. A terrifying scene of cosmic upheaval is painted before man. Symbols of stability such as the sun, the stars, the mountains and oceans “fold up”, “lose their lustre”, “vanish” and “boil over”. Unprecedented events such as the herding together of wild beasts occur. A new order and world is unveiled where every soul is rewarded or punished according to its merit.

Doomsday is referred to by different names in the Qur’an such as يَوْمُ الْقِيَامَةِ (the day of resurrection) in 75:1, النَّبَإِ الْعَظِيمِ (the great news) in 78:2, الطَّامَّةُ الْكُبْرَى (the great, overwhelming [event]) in 79:34, الْغَاشِيَةِ (the overwhelming [event]) in 88:1, and الْقَارِعَةُ (the [day] of noise and clamour) in 101:1-3.

The last surahs of the Qur’an, which are mostly Makkan, abound in the images of Doomsday. According to Sayyid Abu al-A‘la Mawdudi, the earliest message of the Prophet (sws) comprised three elements: belief in one Allah, prophethood of Muhammad (sws), and Resurrection i.e. men will be raised up after death in bodily form and rewarded and punished in accordance with the deeds done by them in their earthly life. Though the Makkans objected to the first two parts of the Prophet’s message, it was the concept of Resurrection that was totally unacceptable to them. They ridiculed it. The disbelievers could not credit the idea that they would be raised again. Consequently, the theme of Resurrection recurs in Makkan surahs quite frequently. As Mawdudi says:

But in order to bring them to the way of Islam it was absolutely essential that the doctrine of the Hereafter should be instilled into their minds, for without belief in this doctrine, it was not at all possible that they could adopt a serious attitude with regard to the truth and falsehood, could change their standard of values in respect of good and evil, and giving up worship of the world, could be inclined to follow the way that Islam urged them to follow. (Tafhim, 6/221)

Consequently, the Qur’an presents the central concept of Doomsday and Resurrection emphatically and repeatedly. For this purpose, the Qur’an employs its characteristic pictographic style.

1.2. Qur’an’s Pictographic Style

The Qur’an is a book revealed by Allah through angel Gabriel to his last Prophet Muhammad (sws) for the guidance of mankind. Amongst its central concepts are faith in Allah, the prophet Muhammad (sws) and life after death. The opening verses of Baqarah state:

A.L.M. This is the Book; in it is guidance sure, without doubt, to those who fear Allah; Who believe in the Unseen, are steadfast in prayer, and spend out of what We have provided for them; And who believe in the Revelation sent to thee, and sent before thy time, and [in their hearts] have the assurance of the Hereafter. They are on [true] guidance, from their Lord, and it is these who will prosper. (2:1-5)

Faith in الْغَيْبِ i.e. “the Unseen” is of vital importance. According to Mawdudi:

Ghayb signifies the verities which are hidden from man’s senses and which are beyond the scope of man’s ordinary observation and experience, for example the existence and attributes of God, the angels, the process of revelation, Paradise, Hell and so on. [. . .] According to this verse, Qur’anic guidance can prove helpful only to those prepared to affirm the truths of the supersensory realm. (Tafhim, 46).

Muhammad Asad translates الْغَيْبِ as “that which is beyond the reach of human perception”. He investigates in Symbolism and Allegory in the Qur’an why the Qur’an adopts a pictographic style to convey its message, one of the appendices to his translation The Message of The Qur’an.

According to Asad, in order to understand the Qur’anic world, the allegorical and symbolic elements in it must be linked with “a realm which is beyond the reach of human perception” i.e. “al-ghayb” (Asad 989). Faith in Allah, the angels, Resurrection, Hell and Heaven are all linked with “al-ghayb”. Human mind, however, “cannot visualize, or form an idea of, something that lies entirely outside the realm of previously realized experiences”. Therefore, the idea of “a realm which is beyond the reach of human perception” i.e. “al-ghayb” could be given to man only “by means of loan-images derived from our actual – physical or mental – experiences” (Asad, 990). He observes:

This being so, it is not enough for man to be told, “If you behave righteously in this world, you will attain to happiness in the life to come”, or alternatively, “If you do wrong in this world, you will suffer for it in the hereafter”. Such statements would be far too general and abstract to appeal to man’s imagination and, thus, to influence his behaviour. What is needed is a more direct appeal to the intellect, resulting in a kind of “visualization” of the consequences of one’s conscious acts and omissions: and such an appeal can be effectively produced by means of metaphors, allegories and parables, each of them stressing, on the one hand, the absolute dissimilarity of all that man will experience after Resurrection from whatever he did or could experience in this world; and, on the other hand, establishing means of comparison between these two categories of experience. (Asad, 990)

What he says about the use of symbolism in the Qur’an is in accord with the approach Sayyid Qutb adopted in his book Taswir al-Fanni Fi al-Qur’an, translated into Urdu as Qur’an Majid Kay Fanni Mahasin by Ghulam Ahmed Hariri. According to Qutb, Qur’anic style is chiefly pictographic. Qutb starts with the assertion that the first people accepted Islam due to the magical impact of Qur’an which held the audience spellbound. He undertakes to investigate the causes behind such impact of the Qur’an on its first audience which was that of disbelievers.

According to Qutb, the chief characteristic of al-Qur’an – the essence of its magical impact on its audience is its pictographic style. The Qur’an unfolds its meaning through the use of images or mental pictures. Abstract meaning is presented in a concrete form that can be perceived by the senses. Simile and metaphor are used for this purpose. Personification is also employed. Thus meaning penetrates the depth of human psyche not just mentally but also visually and sensuously.

In the Qur’an, the hidden matters in the mind and man’s inner state are presented in a form that can be felt. Scenes, incidents, human forms all are presented as pictures. Then life appears in these pictures. If sound is added, they appear as live actors on the stage. The listeners are changed into the audience watching a live performance who feel that these scenes do not just represent life. Rather they are alive. This is managed through the medium of words and has a profound impact on human psyche. (Qutb 54-55)

Qutb’s approach is allied to the fine arts on one side (as he refers to pictures, tone colour, music, etc.) and literature on the other (as he finds elements of drama as well as story in the Qur’an).

Doomsday and Resurrection are also presented in the Qur’an in such a way that they seem to unfold before one’s very eyes. Visual, auditory, kinaesthetic images abound. Characters are not missing as well. The entire mankind falls into two groups: the believers who are successful, and the disbelievers covered with shame and humiliation. The technique of contrast is employed to highlight their plight.

This author, a student of English literature, intends to look at the Qur’anic verses regarding Doomsday and Resurrection in the light of the assertion by Qutb and Asad that Qur’anic style is pictographic. For this purpose, I intend to look at the concept of imagery in literature and apply it to the verses in the Qur’an pertaining to Doomsday and Resurrection.

1.3. Imagery Defined

Before entering a discussion on the imagery of Doomsday and Resurrection in the Qur’an, the term imagery needs to be defined.

The simplest definition of the term, given by J. A. Cuddon is:

Imagery as a general term covers the use of language to represent objects, actions, feelings, thoughts, ideas, states of mind and any sensory or extra-sensory experience. (442)

This definition is quite general. The definition by B. Bernard Cohen, in contrast, states:

The term imagery is vital to the study of poetic style, and should be used to include both images and figures of speech. An image is generally a sense impression created by a direct or recognizable sense appeal in words. Such an appeal should present a description so graphic or clear that the reader can relate it to his own senses or his own experience. (51)

The above statement by Cohen supports the foregoing description on Qur’an’s pictographic style. The Qur’an gives graphic descriptions of its central concepts such as Doomsady and Resurrection so that “the reader can relate it to his own senses or his own experience”.

Cohen takes imagery to mean images along with figures of speech where the figures of speech are defined by him as “images that are often intentionally indirect”. These include allusion, simile, personification, metaphor, and symbol. (51)

The Qur’an employs images i.e. sense impressions as well as figures of speech like allusion, simile, personification, metaphor, and symbol in its portrayal of Doomsday and Resurrection.

M. H. Abrams defines imagery as follows:

 “Imagery” [that is, “images” taken collectively] is used to signify all the objects and qualities of sense perception referred to in a poem or other work of literature, whether by literal description, by allusion, or in the analogues [the vehicles] used in its similes and metaphors. (78)

He further adds:

(. . .) imagery includes auditory, tactile (touch), thermal (heat and cold), olfactory (smell), gustatory (taste), or kinaesthetic (sensations of movement), as well as visual qualities. (79)

The study of the Qur’an reveals that it employs various kinds of images with regard to Doomsday and Resurrection. Visual, auditory and kinaesthetic images are the most frequently employed.

A Handbook to Literature defines an image as “a literal and concrete representation of a sensory experience or of an object that can be known by one or more of the senses”. It considers an image “a portion of the essence of the meaning of the literary work, never a mere decoration”. (Holman and Harmon, 248)

The following analysis bears out the truth of this statement. Though Qur’anic imagery beautifies discourse, it is not merely decorative. Rather, it is an integral part of the essence of the Book of Allah.

1.4. Qur’anic Imagery of Doomsday and Resurrection

The following are some of the images that occur in the Qur’an with reference to Doomsday and Resurrection:

1.4.1. Visual Images

Doomsday imagery is chiefly visual.

Verily the Day of Sorting out is a thing appointed, (. . .) And the heavens shall be opened as if there were doors, And the mountains shall vanish, as if they were a mirage. (78:17-20)

The above verses bring before the eye of imagination a visual image where on the Day of Judgement, doors appear on the sky and the apparently solid mountains disappear like a mirage. The following verse also contains a visual image:

The day that We roll up the heavens like a scroll rolled up for books [completed] – even as We produced the first Creation, so shall We produce a new one: a promise We have undertaken: truly shall We fulfil it. (21:104)

Amongst the visual images are images of:

a. Light and Darkness

Imagery of light and darkness occurs frequently in the Qur’an as when faith is likened to light and disbelief to darkness (2:257). The imagery of light and darkness generally occurs with reference to the faces of the two kinds of people on the Day of Judgement:

On the day when some faces will be [lit up with] white, and some faces will be [in the gloom of] black: To those whose faces will be black, [will be said]: “Did ye reject faith after accepting it? Taste then the penalty for rejecting faith.” (3:106)2

But those who have earned evil will have a reward of like evil: ignominy will cover their [faces]: No defender will they have from [the wrath of] Allah: Their faces will be covered, as it were, with pieces from the depth of the darkness of night: they are companions of the Fire: they will abide therein [forever]! (10:27)

The darkness covering the faces of the wrong-doers is made manifest by means of a simile here. Their faces would be so dark as if pieces of dark night were covering them.

Some faces that day will be beaming, laughing, rejoicing. And other faces that day will be dust-stained; blackness will cover them: Such will be the Rejecters of Allah, the doers of iniquity. (80:38-42)

Images showing light or darkness also occur with reference to the cosmic upheaval on Doomsday:

At length, when the sight is dazed, and the moon is buried in darkness. And the sun and moon are joined together, That day will man say: “Where is the refuge?” (75:7-10)

Resurrection employs similar imagery:

And the Earth will shine with the Glory of its Lord: the record [of deeds] will be placed [open]; the prophets and the witnesses will be brought forward; and a just decision pronounced between them; and they will not be wronged [in the least]. (39:69)

1.4.2. Kinaesthetic Images

According to the Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory, “Kinaesthesis denotes a sense of movement or muscular effort (from Gk kineein “to move” + aesthesis “sensation”). A sense of movement and effort is inherent in the rhythm, momentum and energy of words in such an image.” (Cuddon, 474).

Kinaesthesia is an important element of Qur’anic Doomsday imagery as there is abundance of passages exhibiting strong movement e.g.

When the Earth is shaken to its [utmost] convulsion and the Earth throws up its burdens [from within]. (99:1-2)

Here a sense of strong movement is conveyed through verbs such as “shaken” and “throws up”.

When the earth shall be shaken to its depths and the mountains shall be crumbled to atoms, becoming dust scattered abroad (56:4-6)

In the verse above pertaining to Doomsday, it is difficult to conceive the violent commotion when the mountains [ordinarily so stable and strong] will be reduced to dust. A scene of cosmic upheaval abounding in kinaesthetic images is painted in these verses:

When the sky is cleft asunder; When the stars are scattered; When the oceans are suffered to burst forth; And when the graves are turned upside down (82:1-4)

1.4.3. Gustatory Images

Such images generally occur with reference to reward in paradise or punishment in hell. They also occur metaphorically as “عَذَاب” is generally referred to by invoking the sense of taste, often in an ironic manner. For example:

But We will certainly give the unbelievers a taste of a severe penalty, and We will requite them for the worst of their deeds (41:27)

[Allah will say]: “Now have they proved you liars in what ye say: so ye cannot avert [your penalty] nor [get] help.” And whoever among you does wrong, him shall We cause to taste of a grievous penalty. (25:19)

Such images also occur in 3:106, 78:30 and 3:181.

1.4.4. Tactile Images

Many kinaesthetic images are also tactile i.e. they also evoke the sense of touch. For example:

And the earth is moved, and its mountains; and they are crushed to powder at one stroke. (69:14)

One day the earth and the mountains will be in violent commotion. And the mountains will be as a heap of sand poured out and flowing down. (73:14)

Nay! When the earth is pounded to powder (89:21)

1.4.5. Thermal Images

Doomsday would occur with the destruction of the natural order. Some thermal images occur in this context:

The day that the sky will be like molten brass. (70:8)

When the oceans boil over with a swell. (81:6)

1.4.6. Auditory Images

Auditory images and Doomsday go hand in hand. In fact, Doomsday is frequently alluded to by words that evoke auditory images. For example, زَجْرَةٌ وَاحِدَةٌ (a single [compelling] cry) in 36:53, الصَّاخَّةُ (the deafening noise) in 80:33, الْقَارِعَةُ (the [day] of noise and clamour) in 101:1-3, الصَّيْحَةَ (a [mighty] blast) in 50:42.

The day when they will hear a [mighty] blast in [very] truth: that will be the Day of Resurrection. (50:42)

At length, when there comes the deafening noise. (80:33)

An oft-repeated auditory image is the blowing of the trumpet:

The day that the trumpet shall be sounded, and ye shall come forth in crowds. (78:18)

Finally, when the trumpet is sounded, That will be – that day – a day of distress. (74:8-9)

Such images also occur in 69:13 and 27:87.

1.4.7. Synaesthetic Images

Synaesthesia (Gk “perceiving together”) is defined as “The mixing of sensations; the concurrent appeal to more than one sense (. . .)” (Cuddon, 943). Qur’anic nature imagery exhibits synaesthesia as a number of senses are invoked simultaneously, for example:

Then, when one blast is sounded on the trumpet, and the earth is moved, and its mountains, and they are crushed to powder at one stroke. (69:13-14)

A number of senses are invoked here. First is auditory, the sounding of the blast. Second is kinaesthetic as well as visual embodied in the movement of the earth and the mountains and their crushing to powder. Moreover, crushing to powder also evokes a tactile image. Last, but not the least, the whole picture is very powerful and full of movement. All this helps to cement the truth of the Doomsday in the mind of the listener or the reader.

1.4.8. Similes

Simile is a figure of speech in which a comparison is made between two unlike objects on the basis of some common quality. It makes a “direct comparison between two elements” (Cohen 195). In the Qur’an, similes are frequently employed with regard to Doomsday. How close the Doomsday might be is brought home to man by such verses:

To Allah belongeth the mastery of the heavens and the earth. And the decision of the hour [of Judgment] is as the twinkling of an eye, or even quicker (16:77)

The crumbling of the apparently solid mountains is brought home by some similes:

The day that the sky will be like molten brass; and the mountains will be like wool. (70:8-9)

[It is] a day whereon men will be like moths scattered about, and the mountains will be like carded wool. (101:4-5)

The sorry plight of men is described through this simile:

The day whereon they will issue from their sepulchres in sudden haste as if they were rushing to a goal-post [fixed for them]; Their eyes lowered in dejection; ignominy covering them [all over]! such is the day the which they are promised! (70:43-44)

1.4.9. Metaphors

Metaphors are frequently used in the Qur’an. They also occur with reference to Doomsday and Resurrection. In (81:11) a metaphor is employed with reference to the sky on the Day of Judgement. It reads:

وَإِذَا السَّمَاء كُشِطَتْ (١١:٨١)

This verse is translated differently by different translators. For example, Marmaduke Pickthall translates it as “When the sky is torn away”. ‘Abd al-Majid Daryabadi translates it as “and when the sky shall be stripped off”. According to him, it would be “as the skin is plucked off a slaughtered sheep”. Abdullah Yusuf ‘Ali translates this verse as “when the world on high is unveiled”. His interpretation is that “just as when an animal is skinned, its real flesh and blood and inner organs become visible, without any outer coating to hold them together, so the inmost state of the spiritual world will then become plain” (1607).

 With reference to the sky many expressions occur such as “rent asunder” in 77:9, “cleft asunder” in 82:1, “split asunder” in 84:1. Scenes pertaining to the end of the world e.g. the boiling of seas, turning of mountains to dust, etc. that appear to be metaphoric might actually be true as proved by modern scientific research:

When the sky is cleft asunder; When the stars are scattered; When the oceans are suffered to burst forth; And when the graves are turned upside down; [then] shall each soul know what it hath sent forward and [what it hath] kept back. (82:1-5)

One day the earth and the mountains will be in violent commotion. And the mountains will be as a heap of sand poured out and flowing down. (73:14)

S. Bashir al-Din Mahmud, in his book, Doomsday and Life after Death discusses the latest scientific theories pertaining to the end of the universe in the light of Qur’anic verses. He says that “many physicists believe that the ‘Big Crunch’ will represent the end of the physical universe. Just as they believe that the universe i.e. all space, time and matter, came into existence in a ‘Big Bang’ so they believe it will go out of existence in the ‘Big Crunch’. This will be total annihilation.” (53)

1.4.10. Allusions

An allusion is “a reference, explicit or indirect, to a person, place or event, or to another literary work or passage” (Abrams 8). It “seeks, by tapping the knowledge and memory of the reader, to secure a resonant emotional effect from the associations already existing in the reader’s mind” (Holman and Harmon 12).

Allusions are made to previous nations and prophets to make some point in the Qur’an. With regard to Doomsday as well, allusions are used:

And what will make thee realise what the sure reality is? The Thamud and the ‘A%d People [branded] as false the stunning calamity! But the Thamud – they were destroyed by a terrible storm of thunder and lightning! And the ‘Ad, they were destroyed by a furious wind, exceedingly violent; He made it rage against them seven nights and eight days in succession: so that thou couldst see the [whole] people lying prostrate in its [path], as if they had been roots of hollow palm-trees tumbled down! Then seest thou any of them left surviving? And Pharaoh, and those before him, and the cities overthrown, committed habitual sin, And disobeyed [each] the messenger of their Lord; so He punished them with an abundant penalty. We, when the water [of Noah’s flood] overflowed beyond its limits, carried you [mankind], in the floating [Ark], That We might make it a Message unto you, and that ears [that should hear the tale and] retain its memory should bear its [lessons] in remembrance. (69:3-12)

A number of allusions are made here to incidents narrated in varying detail else where in the Qur’an such as the punishments of Thamud and the ‘Ad People, the Pharaoh and Noah’s Flood. They are alluded to here in order to reinforce the truth of Doomsday referred to in this surah as الْحَاقَّة i.e. “the sure reality”. In fact, the surah itself is named الْحَاقَّة as its theme is Resurrection and Doomsday.

1.4.11. Personification

The Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory defines personification as “the impersonation or embodiment of some quality or abstraction; the attribution of human qualities to inanimate objects” (Cudden, 702).

Sayyid Qutb considers personification an important attribute of Qur’an’s dynamic style.

 The earth is generally personified in the Qur’an with regard to Doomsday. There are frequent references to the dead earth being brought to life as proof of Resurrection:

It is He Who brings out the living from the dead, and brings out the dead from the living, and Who gives life to the earth after it is dead: and thus shall ye be brought out [from the dead]. (30:19)

Yusuf ‘Ali comments on the above verse:

From dead matter, Allah’s creative act produces life and living matter, and even science has not yet been able to explain the mystery of life. Life and living matter again seem to reach maturity and again die, as we see every day. No material thing seems to have perpetual life. But again we see the creative process of Allah constantly at work, and the cycle of life and death seems to go on. (1012)

The personified earth appears as living and dead in these verses as well:

Then contemplate [O man!] the memorials of Allah’s Mercy! – how He gives life to the earth after its death: verily the same will give life to the men who are dead: for He has power over all things. (30:50)

The earth is barren but swells with life and “puts forth every kind of beautiful growth [in pairs]” when Allah pours rain on it:

And among His Signs in this: thou seest the earth barren and desolate; but when We send down rain to it, it is stirred to life and yields increase. Truly, He Who gives life to the [dead] earth can surely give life to [men] who are dead. For He has power over all things. (41:39)

Muhammad ‘Abdel Halim observes that “…the Qur’an uses the very same Arabic verb for ‘bringing forth’ people from their mothers’ wombs (16:78), ‘bringing forth’ plants from the earth (6:99) and ‘bringing forth’ people from the earth at the Resurrection (30:19)” (87). This heightens the personification of the earth as it lives, gives birth and dies. Similarly, in the verse above, the verb خَاشِعَةً used with reference to the earth is also used with reference to people e.g. in 88:2 which says that “some faces, that day, will be humiliated”.

The earth would talk when commanded by its Lord on the Day of Judgement:

When the earth is shaken to its [utmost] convulsion, And the earth throws up its burdens [from within], And man cries [distressed]: “What is the matter with it?” on that day will it declare its tidings: For that thy Lord will have given it inspiration. (99:1- 5)

In the verses of Surah Zilzal cited above, the earth has been personified. This personification of the earth is sustained throughout this short surah. The earth is “shaken” and “throws up its burdens”, it will “declare its tidings: For that thy Lord will have given it inspiration”. The word أَوْحَى used with reference to the earth here in (99:5) “ordinarily means inspiration, the message put into the mind or heart by Allah.” (‘Ali, 654). Thus the earth is presented as a living creature and the message is put into its “mind or heart by Allah”.

 It would be interesting to look at the comments of a scientist in this regard. Mahmud says:

As far as the record keeping function of inanimate things, this might have been incomprehensible to the man of the past, but it shall be no more a puzzle for the modern man. We know that each second trillions of neutrinos and cosmic radiations are showered from the outer space towards the earth. They are so powerful that some of these even penetrate across the body of the earth with as much ease as light passes through a clear sheet of glass. From our knowledge of photography, we also know that molecules of certain materials are sensitive to radiation. Moreover, in these days everyone knows about the computer memory chips made of silica, each one of which is able to store millions of information bits for ever (. . .) Therefore, the idea of records of human deeds by the atoms of our own bodies should not be a surprising idea any more. (177)

The earth as well as every other object of nature is obedient to Allah. It would also obey Allah on the Day of Judgement, emptying itself (84:3-5) as well as telling its tidings (99:4-5).

And when the earth is flattened out, and casts forth what is within it and becomes [clean] empty, And hearkens to [the command of] its Lord – and it must [do so] – [then will come home the full reality]. (84:3-5)

The earth, personified in this surah, is seen losing its round shape in obedience to Allah’s command and emptying itself. According to Qutb, “these short verses with their vivid description show both the sky and the earth as living, receiving their orders and instantly complying with them. Their obedience is a manifestation of their conscious and dutiful submission” (Fi Zilal, 104).

1.5. Attributes of Doomsday and Resurrection Imagery

Some attributes of this imagery are:

1.5.1. Abundant

The Hereafter is referred to repeatedly in the Qur’an. This is a testimony of its great importance. The Encyclopaedic Index of the Qur’an lists sixty-three different expressions that occur in this context. Many of them occur more than once. For example, يَوْمُ الْقِيَامَةِ (the Day of Resurrection) occurs 70 times.

1.5.2. Cosmic

The Doomsday imagery in the Qur’an is of cosmic nature. Most of it pertains to the earth and various earthly phenomena. However, there are frequent references to the Heavens. The following verses illustrate the cosmic nature of Qur’anic nature imagery:

Then when the stars become dim; When the heaven is cleft asunder; When the mountains are scattered [to the winds] as dust; And when the messengers are [all] appointed a time [to collect]; For what day are these [portents] deferred? For the Day of Sorting out. (77:8-13)

1.5.3. Majestic And Sublime

Sublimity, a concept propounded by Longinus in his treatise On the Sublime connotes:

(. . .) surpassing excellence, an Everest of achievement, where great thoughts, noble feeling, lofty figures [i.e. figurative language], diction and arrangement [the five sources of sublimity established by Longinus] all coincided…The sublime also came to be associated with powerful emotions, with spiritual and religious awe, with vastness and immensity, with the natural order in its grander manifestations and with the concept of genius. (Cuddon, 929).

The depiction of Doomsday and Resurrection as well as the scenes from hell can be termed sublime as they are amongst the most terrible images envisaged by the human imagination.

When the sky is cleft asunder; When the stars are scattered; When the oceans are suffered to burst forth; And when the graves are turned upside down – [then] shall each soul know what it hath sent forward and [what it hath] kept back. (82:1-5)

1.5.4. Compact and Concise

Depending on the context, Qur’anic imagery can be very concise. It employs economy of words.

And among His signs in this: thou seest the earth barren and desolate; but when We send down rain to it, it is stirred to life and yields increase. Truly, He Who gives life to the [dead] earth can surely give life to [men] who are dead. For He has power over all things. (41:39)

Here, the entire panorama of life and death is presented before man through the analogy of the dead earth quickened by rain. The same style is adopted at many other places in the Qur’an where just in a few words a wealth of meaning is conveyed.

1.5.5. Sense of Immediacy

A sense of immediacy is present in many of nature scenes. As Qutb says, the listener feels that the scene is unfolding in front of his eyes and he himself partakes of it (Taswir, 47). In painting scenes of Doomsday, Resurrection, Heaven and Hell, such a style is adopted that the listener/reader feels that everything is taking place before his very eyes. This is achieved through invoking different senses such as those of hearing and sight as well as adopting a dramatic mode:

The Trumpet will [just] be sounded, when all that are in the heavens and on earth will swoon, except such as it will please Allah [to exempt]. Then will a second one be sounded, when, behold, they will be standing and looking on! (39:68)

One day We shall remove the mountains, and thou wilt see the earth as a level stretch, and We shall gather them, all together, nor shall We leave out any one of them. (18:47)

1.5.6. Employment of Nature Imagery

The Qur’an employs a wide variety of imagery with regard to Doomsday. Nature imagery is generally employed in this regard. This is chiefly with a view to persuade its audience. Various arguments are used in this context. The appeal to the senses is made with a view to appeal to reason. For example:

On high hath He raised its canopy, and He hath given it order and perfection. Its night doth He endow with darkness, and its splendour doth He bring out [with light]. And the earth, moreover, hath He extended [to a wide expanse]; He draweth out there from its moisture and its pasture; And the mountains hath He firmly fixed – for use and convenience to you and your cattle. Therefore, when there comes the great, overwhelming [event] – the day when man shall remember [all] that he strove for, (79:28-35)

1.5.7. Quick Succession of Images

In many Doomsday passages, image upon image follows in quick succession. The Qur’an abounds in such images. In Surah Naba, it is asked:

Have We not made the earth as a wide expanse, and the mountains as pegs? And [have We not] created you in pairs, and made your sleep for rest, and made the night as a covering, and made the day as a means of subsistence? And [have We not] built over you the seven firmaments, and placed [therein] a light of splendour? And do We not send down from the clouds water in abundance, that We may produce therewith corn and vegetables, and gardens of luxurious growth? Verily the Day of Sorting out is a thing appointed.  (78:6-17)

Here, reference is made to a number of Allah’s blessings one after the other. The fast rhythm of the Arabic original enhances the effect of the swift succession of scenes. The overall effect is overwhelming. The idea is to make man realize that the Power Who can do all this can also bring about Resurrection. Qutb says about these verses:

In this round we go across the vast universe, observing a great multitude of scenes and phenomena, which are sketched out with great economy of words and phrases. This helps make the rhythm sharp and penetrating, like incessant hammering. The form of question implying a statement is used here on purpose. It may be likened to a strong hand shaking those unaware, it draws their attention to all these creatures and phenomena which give strong evidence of the deliberate planning and designing which go into their creation, the ability to create and recreate, and the wisdom behind creation, which dictates that no creature will be left out of the great reckoning. Hence we come back to the fateful tiding, the subject of the argument. (Fi Zilal, 10)

1.5.8. Onomatopoeic

Alliteration as well as repetition adds to the onomatopoeic effect of the repeated pounding of the earth in the following verse:

كَلَّا إِذَا دُكَّتِ الْأَرْضُ دَكًّا دَكًّا (٢١:٨٩)

Nay! When the earth is pounded to powder (89:21)

 Man is repeatedly made to ponder over the fact that this earthly life is very short. To reinforce this feeling, doomsday is talked of as if it was already here. Very powerful language is used for this purpose. An important element in this regard is the employment of onomatopoeia. With swift, forceful rhythms, the shattering impact of the Doomsday is made to penetrate human psyche. Surah Zilzal (chapter 99) is a case in point. The alliteration of “z” and “l” in the first verse is responsible for creating the onomatopoeic effect of the earthquake. The effect of rapid movement is added to by the use of powerful verbs in every verse. Some of them are especially powerful like زُلْزِلَتِ and أَخْرَجَتِ.

 The opening verses of Surah Inshiqaq which deals with the Day of Judgement are all end-stopped. The alliteration in مُدَّتْ, َتَخَلَّتْ, حُقَّتْ at the end of every line along with the hard sounds of “q” and “kh” in َأَلْقَتْ, َتَخَلَّتْ, حُقَّتْ produce a sense of finality in their rhythm in consonance with their meaning:

وَإِذَا الْأَرْضُ مُدَّتْ وَأَلْقَتْ مَا فِيهَا وَتَخَلَّتْ وَأَذِنَتْ لِرَبِّهَا وَحُقَّتْ (84: 3-5)

 And when the earth is flattened out, and casts forth what is within it and becomes [clean] empty and hearkens to [the command of] its Lord – and it must [do so] – [then will come home the full reality] (84:3-5)

1.5.9. Psychological Impact on Man

While painting a vivid description of Doomsday, the Qur’an does not leave out the feelings and emotions of man. This pictographic and dramatic style makes its message more effective:

Warn them of the day that is [ever] drawing near, when the hearts will [come] right up to the throats to choke [them]; No intimate friend nor intercessor will the wrong-doers have, who could be listened to. (40:18)

On the day that the hour will be established, the guilty will be struck dumb with despair. (30:12)

And no friend will ask after a friend, though they will be put in sight of each other – the sinner’s desire will be: Would that he could redeem himself from the penalty of that day by [sacrificing] his children, His wife and his brother, His kindred who sheltered him, And all, all that is on earth – so it could deliver him: (70:10-14)

One day everything that can be in commotion will be in violent commotion, Followed by oft-repeated [commotions]: Hearts that day will be in agitation; cast down will be [their owners’] eyes. (79:6-9)

The technique of contrast is used in this context to highlight the sad plight of the disbelievers and the ecstatic joy of the believers:

Some faces that day will be beaming, laughing, rejoicing. And other faces that day will be dust-stained; blackness will cover them: Such will be the rejecters of Allah, the doers of iniquity. (80:38-42)

The Qur’an draws the picture of the delights of paradise and the torments of Hell to make a stronger impact on man:

Then, he whose balance [of good deeds] will be [found] heavy will be in a life of good pleasure and satisfaction. But he whose balance [of good deeds] will be [found] light – Will have his home in a [bottomless] Pit. And what will explain to thee what this is? [It is] a fire blazing fiercely! (101:6-11)

1.6. Conclusion

In the Qur’an, Doomsday and Resurrection, abstract concepts, are concretely presented through potent images that can be felt by the reader/listener. Consequently, the conviction of accountability can penetrate human psyche. This imagery fulfils a number of other functions as well. It makes man ponder and think, illustrates the close kinship between scientific findings and Qur’anic revelation regarding Doomsday and makes sense of an otherwise incomprehensible world where evil appears to abound and flourish. The Almighty says:

Verily the hour is coming – My design is to keep it hidden – for every soul to receive its reward by the measure of its endeavour. (20:15)

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1. Unless otherwise specified, the English translation of the Qur’anic verse is of ‘Abdullah Yusuf ‘Ali. 81:1-14 refers to the first fourteen verses of surah 81.

2. Depending on the context, certain words in the verses have been high-lighted to facilitate the reader.

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