Allah states that the foremost of the close believers are a multitude, a crowd among the earlier generations and a few from the latter generations. There is a difference over the meaning of the first generations and the later generations. Some said that the former means earlier (believing) nations, while the later refers to this Ummah. This was reported from Mujahid and Al-Hasan Al-Basri, in the collection of Ibn Abi Hatim, and this is the preference of Ibn Jarir. He considered it supported by the saying of Allah's Messenger :
(We are the later nation, but the foremost on the Day of Resurrection.) Ibn Jarir did not mention any other interpretation nor did he attribute this view to anyone else. There is another Hadith that could support this meaning. Imam Abu Muhammad bin Abi Hatim recorded that Abu Hurayrah said that when these Ayat were revealed,
(I hope that you will comprise a quarter of the residents of Paradise, a third of the residents of Paradise. Rather, you are a half of the residents of Paradise, and will have a share in the other half.) Imam Ahmad also recorded this. However, this opinion that Ibn Jarir chose is questionable, rather it is a deficient interpretation. This is because this Ummah is the best of all nations, according to the text of the Qur'an. Therefore, it is not possible that the foremost believers from earlier nations are more numerous than those of in this Ummah; the opposite is true. The latter opinion is the correct one, that,
ثُلَّةٌ مِّنَ الاٌّوَّلِينَ
(A multitude of those will be from the first ones), refers to the earlier generations of this Ummah, while,
وَقَلِيلٌ مِّنَ الاٌّخِرِينَ
(And a few of those will be from the later ones.), refers to the latter people of this Ummah. Ibn Abi Hatim recorded that As-Sari bin Yahya said that Al-Hasan recited this Ayah,
(And those foremost will be foremost. These will be the nearest (to Allah). In the Gardens of Delight. A multitude of those will be from the first ones.), Then he commented, "A multitude from the earlier generation of this Ummah.'' Ibn Abi Hatim also recorded that Muhammad bin Sirin commented:
(A multitude of those will be from the first ones. And a few of those will be from the later ones.), "They stated, or hoped that they will all be from this Ummah.'' Therefore, these are the statements of Al-Hasan and Ibn Sirin that those foremost in faith are all from this Ummah. There is no doubt that the earlier generations of each nation were better than the latter generations. In this pretext, this Ayah might include all previous believing nations. In this regard, it is confirmed in the authentic Hadith compilations, from more than one route, that the Messenger of Allah said;
(..until Allah's command comes while they are like this.) This Ummah is more honored than any other Ummah. The foremost believers of this Ummah are more numerous and hold a higher rank than those of other nations, due to the status of their religion and Prophet. In a Mutawatir Hadith, the Prophet mentioned that seventy thousand of this Ummah will enter Paradise without reckoning. In another narration of this Hadith, the Prophet added,
«مَعَ كُلِّ أَلْفٍ سَبْعُونَ أَلْفًا»
(With each thousand, another seventy thousand.) In yet another narration, he said,
«مَعَ كُلِّ وَاحِدٍ سَبْعُونَ أَلْفًا»
(With every one of them is another seventy thousand.) Allah's statement,
عَلَى سُرُرٍ مَّوْضُونَةٍ
(on Thrones, Mawdunah.) Ibn `Abbas said, "Woven with gold.'' Similar was reported from Mujahid, `Ikrimah, Sa`id bin Jubayr, Zayd bin Aslam, Qatadah, Ad-Dahhak and others. Allah said,
مُّتَّكِئِينَ عَلَيْهَا مُتَقَـبِلِينَ
(Reclining thereon, face to face.) indicating that they will face each other, and none of them will be in the back lines,
يَطُوفُ عَلَيْهِمْ وِلْدَنٌ مُّخَلَّدُونَ
(Immortal boys will go around them), who will never grow up, get old or change in shape,
بِأَكْوَابٍ وَأَبَارِيقَ وَكَأْسٍ مِّن مَّعِينٍ
(With cups, and jugs, and a glass of flowing wine) these cups do not have handles or spouts, while the jugs sometimes do and sometimes do not. All of them, including the glasses, will contain wine drawn from a flowing spring, not from containers that might get empty. Rather, this spring of wine flows freely,
لاَّ يُصَدَّعُونَ عَنْهَا وَلاَ يُنزِفُونَ
(Wherefrom neither Yusadda`un nor Yunzifun.) meaning, they will never get headaches from this wine nor intoxicated. Rather, this wine does not affect their minds, even though it has a strong and tremendously delightful taste. Ad-Dahhak reported from Ibn `Abbas: "The wine (of this life) has four side-effects, it intoxicates, gives headaches, induces vomiting and causes excessive urine. So Allah mentioned the wine of Paradise free of these characteristics.'' Mujahid, `Ikrimah, Sa`id bin Jubayr, `Atiyah Al-`Awfi, Qatadah and As-Suddi said that Allah's statement,
لاَّ يُصَدَّعُونَ عَنْهَا
(Wherefrom neither Yusadda`un) means, "It does not give them a headache.'' While they said that
(nor will they Yunzifun. ) means that "It does not change their sense of reasoning.'' Allah's statement,
(And with fruit that they may choose. And with the flesh of fowls that they desire.) meaning, whatever fruits they wish for will be distributed among them. This Ayah is a proof that we are allowed to choose the fruits that we prefer and wish to eat. Imam Ahmad recorded that Thabit said that Anas said that the Messenger of Allah liked dreams. A man might have a dream, so he would ask about him if he did not know him, and would like to hear the dream if that man was praised for his good qualities. Once a woman came to him and said, "O Allah's Messenger! I had a dream that I was taken out of Al-Madinah and entered Paradise. I heard noise because of which Paradise wept. I looked and found so-and-so, so-and-so,' and she mentioned the names of twelve men whom the Prophet had sent with a military expedition. They were later brought on (in Paradise, in the dream) with their wounds still bleeding. It was said, `Take them to the river Baydakh or -- Baydhakh.' They were taken to that river and submerged in it and their faces turned as radiant as the full moon. They were brought a plate made of gold containing green dates. They ate as much of the green dates they wanted to and whenever they turned that plate around, they would eat from the fruit it contained, as much as they wanted, and I (the woman said) ate with them.'' Later on, that army sent an emissary to convey the news (of the battle) and he said that so-and-so and so-and-so died, mentioning the names of the twelve men who were mentioned in the dream. So, Allah's Messenger called the woman and again asked her to mention her story, and she did. This is the narration that Abu Ya`la collected, and Al-Hafiz Ad-Diya' said, "This Hadith meets the criteria of Muslim.'' Allah said,
وَلَحْمِ طَيْرٍ مِّمَّا يَشْتَهُونَ
(And with the flesh of fowls that they desire.) Imam Ahmad recorded that Anas said that the Messenger of Allah said,
(No Laghw (evil vain talk) will they hear therein, nor any sinful speech. But only the saying of: "Salaman (peace,)! Salaman (peace.)!'') meaning they will not hear foul or unnecessary speech in Paradise.
لاَّ تَسْمَعُ فِيهَا لَـغِيَةً
(Where they shall neither hear harmful speech nor falsehood.) (88:11), meaning, no foul words are uttered therein. Allah said,
(nor any sinful speech.) meaning, nor speech that contains foul words,
إِلاَّ قِيلاً سَلَـماً سَلَـماً
(But only the saying of: "Salaman (peace!), Salaman (peace!).''), they will greet each other with Salam, just as Allah said in another Ayah,
تَحِيَّتُهُمْ فِيهَا سَلَـمٌ
(Their greeting therin will be: "Salaman (peace!).'') (14:23) And, as we mentioned, their words will be free from impure and needless speech.
Maududi - Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi - Tafhim al-Qur'an
Opening the discourse with this sentence by itself signifies that this is an answer to the objections that were than being raised in the disbelievers conferences against Resurrection. This was the time when the people of Makkah had just begun to hear the invitation to Islam from the Holy Prophet Muhammad (upon be Allah's peace and blessing). In it what seemed most astonishing and remote from reason to them was that the entire system of the earth and heavens would one day be overturned and then another world would be set up in which all the dead, of the former and the latter generations, would be resurrected. Bewildered they would ask: `This is just impossible ! Where will this earth, these oceans, these mountains, this moon and sun go? How will the centuries-old dead bodies rise up to life ? How can one in his senses believe that there will be another life after death and there will be gardens of Paradise and the fire of Hell ?" Such were the misgivings that were being expressed at that time everywhere in Makkah. It was against this background that it was said: "When the inevitable event happens, there shall be no one to belie it. "
In this verse the word "wagi ah " (event) has been used for Resurrection, which nearly means the same thing as the English word 'inevitable', signifying thereby that it is something that must come to pass. Then, its happening has been described by the word "waqi ah, " which is used for the sudden occurrence of a disaster. Laisa li-waq'at-i-ha kadhibat-un can have two meanings:
(1) That it will not be possible that its occurrence be averted, or stopped, or turned back; or, in other words, there will be no power to make it appear as an unreal event; and
(2) that there will be no living being to tell the lie that the event has not taken place.
Literally: "that which causes (something or somebody j to rise and to Fall. " Its one meaning can be that it will upset every order: it will turn things up-side-down. Another meaning also can be that it will exalt the lowly and bring low the high and mighty; that is, on its advent the decision as to who is noble and who is ignoble among the people will be made on quite a different basis. Those who posed as honorable people in the world, would become contemptible and those who were considered contemptible would become honorable.
That is, it will not be a local earthquake that may occur in a restricted area, but it will shake the whole earth to its depths all of a sudden, and it will experience a tremendous jolt and tremors all through.
Although the address apparently is directed to the people to whom this discourse was being recited, or who may read it or hear it read now, in fact the entire mankind is its addressee. All human beings who have been born since the first day of creation and will be born till the Day of Resurrection, will ultimately he divided into three classes.
The word maintanah in ashab al-maimanah, in the original, stay have been derived from Yamin, which means the right hand, and also from yumn, which means good omen. If it is taken to be derived from yamin, ashab almaimanah would mean: `those of the right hand." This, however, does not imply its lexical meaning, but it signifies the people of exalted rank and position. The Arabs regarded the right hand as a symbol of strength and eminence and honor, and therefore would seat a person whom they wished to do honor, on the right hand, in the assemblies. And if it is taken as derived from yumn, ashab almaimanah would mean fortunate and blessed people.
The word mash 'amah in ashab al-mash'amah, in the original, is from shu'm which means misfortune, ill-luck and bad omen; in Arabic the left hand also is called shuma. The Arabs regarded shimal (the left hand) and shu'm (bad omen) as synonyms, the left hand being a symbol of weakness and indignity. If a bird flew left on the commencement of a journey, they would take it as a bad omen; if they made a person sit on their left, it meant they regarded him as a weak man. Therefore, ashab al-mash'amah implies ill-omened people, or those who would suffer disgrace and ignominy, and would be made to stand on the left side in the Court of Allah.
Sabiqin (the Foremost) implies the people who excelled others in virtue and love of the truth and in good works and responded to the call of Allah and His Messenger before others. They were also in the forefront in their response to the call for Jihad, for expending their wealth for the sake of the needy and for public services, or for inviting others to virtue and truth, in short, for spreading the good and wiping out evil and making sacrifices and exerting themselves whenever there was need for it. On this very basis, in the Hereafter too, they will be placed in the forefront.
Thus, mankind, so to say, will be ranged in Allah's Court like this: On the right hand, there will be the righteous, on the left the wicked, and in the forefront (nearest in Divine Presence) the Sabiqin (the Foremost in Faith and good deeds). According to a Hadith reported by,Hadrat `A'ishah the Holy Prophet (upon whom be Allah's peace) asked the people: "Do you know who, on the Day of Resurrection, will he the first to be accommodated under the Divine Shade ?" The people said Allah and His Messenger only had the best knowledge. Thereupon the Holy Prophet replied: "Those who were such that when the Truth was presented before them, they accepted it forthwith; when a right was asked of them, they discharged it gracefully; and their decision in respect of others was the same as in respect of their own selves." (Musnad Ahmad).
The commentators have differed as to who are implied by the former And the latter people '`
One group of them has expressed the view that the "former people" were the communities that passed away since the time of the Prophet Adam (peace be upon him) till the time of the Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be Allah's peace and blessings), and the ¦people of the latter day" those who will have lived in the world since the advent of the Holy Prophet till the Day of Resurrection. Accordingly the verse would mean: "The number of the Sabqin (the Foremost in Faith and good deeds) among the people who passed away during the thousands of years before the advent of the Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be Allah's peace and blessings) would be greater, and the number of those who would attain to the rank of the Sabiqin among those people who have been born since the advent of the Holy Prophet, or will be born till the Day of Resurrection, will be less. "
The second group says that the former and the latter in this verse imply the former and the latter people of the Holy Prophet's own Ummah itself. That is, in his Ummah the people belonging to the earliest period were the former among whom the number of the Sabiqin will be greater, and the people of the later periods are the latter among whom the number of the Sabiqin will be smaller.
The third group holds the view that this- implies the former and the latter people of every Prophet's own Ummah. That is, there will be numerous Sabiqin among the earliest followers of every Prophet, but among his later followers their number will decrease. The words of the verse bear all the three meanings, and possibly all three ate implied, for there is no contradiction between them. Besides, they give another meaning also and that too is cornet: every early period of a Prophet's following the proportion of the Sabiqin in human population would be greater and in the later period less, for the number of the workers of good and right does not increase at the rate of increase of the human populations. They may be more numerous as against the Sabiqin of the earliest period. but on the whole their number as against the world population goes on becoming less and less.