Ahl al-A’araf, the People of the Heights

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

Once, the Mu’tazilah claimed that the Ahl al-A’araf, the People of the Heights, were those whom Allah (s.w.t.) deemed to good for the Fire, but not good enough for the Garden.  A thousand years later, these ideas have resurfaced again.  The following are the verses in question:

سُوۡرَةُ الاٴعرَاف
وَبَيۡنَہُمَا حِجَابٌ۬‌ۚ وَعَلَى ٱلۡأَعۡرَافِ رِجَالٌ۬ يَعۡرِفُونَ كُلاَّۢ بِسِيمَٮٰهُمۡ‌ۚ وَنَادَوۡاْ أَصۡحَـٰبَ ٱلۡجَنَّةِ أَن سَلَـٰمٌ عَلَيۡكُمۡ‌ۚ لَمۡ يَدۡخُلُوهَا وَهُمۡ يَطۡمَعُونَ (٤٦) ۞ وَإِذَا صُرِفَتۡ أَبۡصَـٰرُهُمۡ تِلۡقَآءَ أَصۡحَـٰبِ ٱلنَّارِ قَالُواْ رَبَّنَا لَا تَجۡعَلۡنَا مَعَ ٱلۡقَوۡمِ ٱلظَّـٰلِمِينَ (٤٧) وَنَادَىٰٓ أَصۡحَـٰبُ ٱلۡأَعۡرَافِ رِجَالاً۬ يَعۡرِفُونَہُم بِسِيمَٮٰهُمۡ قَالُواْ مَآ أَغۡنَىٰ عَنكُمۡ جَمۡعُكُمۡ وَمَا كُنتُمۡ تَسۡتَكۡبِرُونَ (٤٨) أَهَـٰٓؤُلَآءِ ٱلَّذِينَ أَقۡسَمۡتُمۡ لَا يَنَالُهُمُ ٱللَّهُ بِرَحۡمَةٍ‌ۚ ٱدۡخُلُواْ ٱلۡجَنَّةَ لَا خَوۡفٌ عَلَيۡكُمۡ وَلَآ أَنتُمۡ تَحۡزَنُونَ (٤٩) وَنَادَىٰٓ أَصۡحَـٰبُ ٱلنَّارِ أَصۡحَـٰبَ ٱلۡجَنَّةِ أَنۡ أَفِيضُواْ عَلَيۡنَا مِنَ ٱلۡمَآءِ أَوۡ مِمَّا رَزَقَڪُمُ ٱللَّهُ‌ۚ قَالُوٓاْ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ حَرَّمَهُمَا عَلَى ٱلۡكَـٰفِرِينَ (٥٠) ٱلَّذِينَ ٱتَّخَذُواْ دِينَهُمۡ لَهۡوً۬ا وَلَعِبً۬ا وَغَرَّتۡهُمُ ٱلۡحَيَوٰةُ ٱلدُّنۡيَا‌ۚ فَٱلۡيَوۡمَ نَنسَٮٰهُمۡ ڪَمَا نَسُواْ لِقَآءَ يَوۡمِهِمۡ هَـٰذَا وَمَا ڪَانُواْ بِـَٔايَـٰتِنَا يَجۡحَدُونَ (٥١)

Between them shall be a veil, and on the heights, will be men who would know everyone by his marks: they will call out to the companions of the Garden, “Peace on you”; they will not have entered, but they will have an Assurance (thereof). When their eyes shall be turned towards the companions of the Fire, they will say, “Our Lord! Send us not to the company of the wrongdoers.” The men on the heights will call to certain men, whom they will know from their marks, saying, “Of what profit, to you, were your hoards, and your arrogant ways? Behold! Are these not the men whom you swore that Allah, with His Mercy, would never bless? Enter ye the Garden; no fear shall be on you, nor shall ye grieve.” The companions of the Fire will call the companions of the Garden, “Pour down to us water, or anything that Allah doth Provide for your sustenance.” They will say, “Both these things hath Allah Forbidden to those who rejected Him.― Such as took their religion to be mere amusement, and play and were deceived by the life of the world.” That day, shall We Forget them as they forgot the meeting of this day of theirs, and as they were wont to reject Our Signs. (Surah al-A’araf:46-51)

There is nothing in this verse about some third realm.  These are the people of Elevation, the heights of faith, and unveiling.  Because of their mukhashafat, unveiling, they were able to see the signs of faith, and infidelity, in others, and could address them as such.  They are awliya’, saints. This is Clear, because the verse States, “… they will not have entered, but they will have an Assurance (thereof).”  They are Assured their place in the Garden.

If so, why have they not entered it?  This is the Day of Judgement, where the souls meet their fate.  These are among the people Granted tawaswswul, intercession, for others, and that is their purpose.  They are not mere people of the Garden, but the people of the Divine Presence, where Heaven is a mere consolation.

From a theological perspective, the idea that there are people where Allah (s.w.t.) does not know whether to Place them in the Garden or the Fire, is itself problematic.  How can an Omniscient, Omnipotent Master of the Day of Judgement, be unsure of something as serious as this?  There is nothing that Allah (s.w.t.) does not know, and nothing He cannot do.  As such, we reject it.

Christianity is thought to have borrowed the concept of Limbo and Purgatory from this, because they have to account for Original Sin.  The idea is that those who are born with Original Sin, but die before baptism end up in Limbo, whereas those who are baptised, but commit mortal sins may end up in Purgatory, where they abide until Mary (a.s.) intercedes for them.  The latter is a Catholic theological concept.


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