Observations on the coherence and structure of Sūrat al-Maʿārij
Sūrat al-Maʿārij (The Ways of Ascent) is a Makkan sūrah which addresses the disbelievers who were quick to mock and challenge the Messenger ﷺ and his suggestion that they would be resurrected and held to account.
When the contents are summarized, it appears the subject matter can be arranged into a mirror structure as shown below.
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[A]/[A’] - Allah ﷻ begins the sūrah by mentioning a challenge issued by a disbeliever. He demanded an immediate punishment strike him if the Messenger ﷺ was telling the truth, while not knowing that his punishment was inevitably coming. The sūrah concludes with Allah ﷻ describing disbelievers on the Day of Judgement as humbled and humiliated. The inevitable day Allah ﷻ described in the opening is referenced again, but this time it is called “the Day that they were constantly promised.”
[B]/[B’] - The sūrah continues and relates how the angels will ascend to Allah ﷻ at a such a pace that one day (yawm) for them would equate to 50,000 years for us1. In contrast to this is the description of the disbelievers towards the end of the sūrah wherein they are described as coming out of their graves on the Day (yawm) so quickly that it is as if they are hastening towards their idols as they did in this life.
[C]/[C’] - The next section is a lengthy passage describing the Day of Judgment and the punishments therein. The disbelievers erroneously perceive death and judgment to be far away, but Allah ﷻ assures us that it is near. Allah ﷻ uses illustrative language to help us visualize the events of that day while we are still alive. The sky will be like molten brass, the mountains will be like tufts of wool, and no one will ask about anyone else, not even their close friends. The criminal on that day would go as far as attempting to ransom everyone he ever knew to avoid his place in the Flame of Hell.
The delusion of the disbeliever is contrasted nicely with the linked āyah where Allah ﷻ tells the Messenger ﷺ to leave the disbelievers “conversing vainly and amusing themselves until they meet their Day which they are promised.”
[D]/[D’] - After describing the disbelievers as arrogant and deluded in the previous āyāt, Allah ﷻ informs us that mankind was created impatient and anxious. We are easily distressed when touched with evil and we just as easily withhold our blessings from others when khayr (good) touches us.
To complement this, Allah ﷻ reminds us that He created us in the first place, and that He can replace us with khayran min (better than) us.
[E]/[E’] - The sūrah appears to center on a topic which has been touched on in many, many suwar we have explored thus far; believers versus disbelievers. This time, the righteous actions and reward of the believer is juxtaposed with the false claims and fantasy of the disbeliever.
The believer prays consistently, gives to charity, affirms Judgment Day, fears the Punishment, guards their private parts, fulfills their promises and is honest in their testimony. Through all that, and Allah’s mercy, they will be in Gardens, honored. On the other hand, the disbeliever mocks the Messenger ﷺ and still expects to enter a garden of bliss based on their worldly material status. Allah ﷻ shuts down their delusions with a simple, emphatic, “No!”
And Allah ﷻ knows best.
Maybe thinking of lightspeed would help illustrate the point. What takes light a second to travel would take us years. Likewise, what takes angels a day to travel, would take us 50,000 years.