Using the Past Tense to Refer to the Future: Tafsir ibn ‘Uthaymeen

In part of surah al-Saffaat, Allah describes the events of the Day of Recompense by saying:

وَقَالُوا يَا وَيْلَنَا هَـٰذَا يَوْمُ الدِّينِ

This can be literally translated as:

And they said: Woe to us! This is the Day of Reckoning! (37:20)

In his explanation of this surah, sheikh Muhammad ibn Saalih al-‘Uthaymeen said:

وقوله تعالى (وَقَالُوا يَا وَيْلَنَا هَـٰذَا يَوْمُ الدِّينِ ) قالوا أتى بفعل الماضى مع أنه القول المستقبل ، لتحقق وقوعه ، وهذا كثير في اللغة العربية ، والقرآن الكريم يعبر عن المستقبل بالماضي لتحقق وقوعه ومثاله قوله تعالى(أتى أمر الله)فإن أمر الله لم يأت بدليل قوله تعالى(فلا تستعجلوه)لكن أتى هنا بمعنى يأتي وعبر عن المستقبل بالماضي لتحقق وقوعه

Allah’s statement:

وَقَالُوا يَا وَيْلَنَا هَـٰذَا يَوْمُ الدِّينِ

And they said: Woe to us! This is the Day of Reckoning!

the word “they said” comes as a past tense verb despite the fact that it is a future statement. This is done to affirm that this definitely will take place. This is a common practice in the Arabic language, and the Qur’an will refer to a future event by using the past tense in order to affirm that it certainly will come to pass. An example of this is Allah’s statement:

أَتَىٰ أَمْرُ اللَّـهِ

Allah’s decree (i.e. the Day of Recompense) has come… [16:1]

while Allah’s decree has not yet come, as is shown by Allah’s statement:

فَلَا تَسْتَعْجِلُوهُ

… so do not seek to hasten it [16:1]

However the word “has come” is used here with the meaning of “will come” and future actions are expressed through past tense verbs in order to affirm that they will certainly take place.

[Tafsir al-Thamin li’Allaamah al-‘Uthaymeen, Tafsir surah Fatir, surah Yasin, Surah al-Saffaat, pg 378]

al-Haafidh Ismaa’eel ibn Kathir also mentions this point in the beginning of his explanation of surah al-Anbiyaa’:

يخبر تعالى عن اقتراب الساعة ودنوها معبرا بصيغة الماضي الدال على التحقق والوقوع لا محالة [ كما قال تعالى ] : ( اقترب للناس حسابهم وهم في غفلة معرضون ) [ الأنبياء : 1 ] وقال : ( اقتربت الساعة وانشق القمر ) [ القمر : 1 ] . ـ

Allah informs us that the Final Hour is approaching and drawing near by using a past tense form which points to the definite nature of its occurrence without any way to avoid it. This is similar to where He said:

اقْتَرَبَ لِلنَّاسِ حِسَابُهُمْ وَهُمْ فِي غَفْلَةٍ مُّعْرِضُونَ

The people’s reckoning has drawn near to them while they are in a statement of heedlessness, turning away [21:1]

and His statement:

اقْتَرَبَتِ السَّاعَةُ وَانشَقَّ الْقَمَرُ

The Hour has come near and the Moon has split [54:1]

[Tafsir ibn Kathir 4/555]

See also: Precautionary Language in the Qur’an: ibn ‘Uthaymeen

See also: A Benefit of General Language in Surah al-Duhaa: Sheikh ibn ‘Uthaymeen

See also: Describing specific events with general wordings: Tafsir al-Sa’di

2 thoughts on “Using the Past Tense to Refer to the Future: Tafsir ibn ‘Uthaymeen

  1. Pingback: Precautionary Language in the Qur’an: ibn ‘Uthaymeen | Tulayhah

  2. Pingback: A Benefit of General Language in Surah al-Duhaa: Sheikh ibn ‘Uthaymeen | Tulayhah

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