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فَأَصْحَـٰبُ ٱلْمَيْمَنَةِ مَآ أَصْحَـٰبُ ٱلْمَيْمَنَةِ ٨
the people of the right, how ˹blessed˺ will they be;
وَأَصْحَـٰبُ ٱلْمَشْـَٔمَةِ مَآ أَصْحَـٰبُ ٱلْمَشْـَٔمَةِ ٩
And the people of the left, how ˹miserable˺ will they be;
وَٱلسَّـٰبِقُونَ ٱلسَّـٰبِقُونَ ١٠
and the foremost ˹in faith˺ will be the foremost ˹in Paradise˺.
When describing people on the day of judgement, Allah ﷻ divides them into 3 camps: the people of the right, the people of the left, and the foremost – or at least that’s how they are commonly translated! Delve deeper, and you find a much richer meaning to them:
- Of the three words, Al-Maymanah (ٱلْمَيْمَنَةِ) can be directly understood to be “the right”, stemming from the root word (يمن), but it also carries the meaning of success or fortune, alongside giving an oath of allegiance. These people made a pledge, stuck to it and came out victorious!
- Next, the people of the left, or Al-Mash’amah (ٱلْمَشْـَٔمَةِ) more closely translates to ill-fated or unfortunate, derived from the root word (شأم) which means bad luck
- The third, As-Sabiqoon (ٱلسَّـٰبِقُونَ), gives the meaning of competition or competitors. (سبق), its root word, literally means to race or compete
Notice how in each of these words, there is a sense of “luck” carried within them. Those on the left and right carry a direct meaning; either fortunate or ill-fated. The third (As-sabiqoon) is more nuanced; a competitor is more in control of their fate, but so much “luck” is left on the circumstances of the day. Whilst they are prepared, they have not succeeded.
In his famous “wager”, Pascal positions belief in God as a bet;
- If God exists and I believe in God, I’ll go to heaven, which is infinitely good.
- If God exists and I don’t believe in God, I will go to hell, which is infinitely bad.
- If God does not exist, then whether I believe in God or not, whatever I’d gain or lose would be finite.
- Therefore, to believe in God is the sensible bet to take as it carries the best outcome.
This “risk” is something Allah ﷻ uses and reframes elsewhere in the Quran, stating at the end of Surah Al-Mulk:
قُلْ أَرَءَيْتُمْ إِنْ أَهْلَكَنِىَ ٱللَّهُ وَمَن مَّعِىَ أَوْ رَحِمَنَا فَمَن يُجِيرُ ٱلْكَـٰفِرِينَ مِنْ عَذَابٍ أَلِيمٍۢ ٢٨
Say, ˹O Prophet,˺ “Consider this: If Allah causes me and those with me to die or shows us mercy, who will save the disbelievers from a painful punishment?”
Allah ﷻ asks the question to those who disbelieve; who will save you in the next life when you discover you are wrong? We have no doubt in Allah’s ﷻ existence nor His promise – how could you when you see countless proofs of His existence all around us – yet, Allah ﷻ uses the logic within Pascal’s argument to appeal to the same sentiment: choosing disbelief is a thoughtless gamble. When faced with an eternity of pleasure or punishment, why take the risk for a meagre benefit in this world? To this end, it is clear where the bad luck lies with those on the left; they took a gamble and chose not to believe in God, and their fate is sealed on that day.
As for those on the right, where does “luck” come into play, and how is it distinguished from the foremost group? Whilst those of the “right” are saved, their fortune is more pronounced as they participated less in good deeds. From adulterers to thieves to murderers, the “fortunate” ones are a broad group of people saved through their sincere faith in One God, however small. We’re taught that anyone with so much as an atoms weight of faith will enter paradise. What great fortune we have to be given such an immense reward despite the tremendous transgressions we showed. How else would you describe them other than “fortunate” to be so generously gifted through the mercy of Allah ﷻ. Their “luck” is left in the hands of the All-Merciful, and what a wonderful place to entrust their fate!
So what of the Sabiqoon – the third group who are competing for proximity to God? The Prophet ﷺ taught:
“ سَدِّدُوا وَقَارِبُوا، وَأَبْشِرُوا، فَإِنَّهُ لاَ يُدْخِلُ أَحَدًا الْجَنَّةَ عَمَلُهُ ”. قَالُوا وَلاَ، أَنْتَ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ قَالَ ” وَلاَ أَنَا إِلاَّ أَنْ يَتَغَمَّدَنِي اللَّهُ بِمَغْفِرَةٍ وَرَحْمَةٍ ”
“Do good deeds properly, sincerely and moderately, and receive good news because one’s good deeds will not enter them Paradise.” They asked, “Even you, O Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ)?” He said, “Even I, unless and until Allah envelops me in His forgiveness and Mercy.”
Each of us is at the Mercy of Allah ﷻ on that day, and none of our deeds will be enough to save us when compared to the bounty we owe Allah ﷻ. The Sabiqoon (Competitors) are different in that they are actively “competing” to please their Lord, but they are no less in need of His good fortune. Interestingly, the word competitor is blind to the outcome, skill or preparation of the person; it simply states the intent of the person involved. It’s not about winning the competition, but the effort and intent to take part in it. This category carries an active role, and with that, the need for luck is diminished but never gone. Too many variables fall outside of the control of any competitor: their health, their life circumstances, their competition. It is only by the benevolence of Allah ﷻ that we are even able to compete at all. Isn’t it He who bestowed us with our eyes, ears, health and wealth? All that we have is from Him, so how can we claim it our favour to Him and be rewarded? Our luck is to be afforded such proximity based on our effort to compete, and be rewarded for what we do using the gifts He gave us. This is all through God’s good fortune upon us.
So the luck that matters is the divine luck. Our fate, regardless of our deeds, will ultimately fall upon the providence of Allah ﷻ to accept them. Each group, no matter which you fall in, will depend on the fortune of Allah ﷻ that day.