وَقَالُوا الْحَمْدُ لِلَّـهِ الَّذِي صَدَقَنَا وَعْدَهُ وَأَوْرَثَنَا الْأَرْضَ نَتَبَوَّأُ مِنَ الْجَنَّةِ حَيْثُ نَشَاءُ ۖ فَنِعْمَ أَجْرُ الْعَامِلِينَ
Waqālūl-hamdu lillāhil-ladhī sadqanā wa‘dahū wa-awrathanāl-ardha natabawwa’u minal-jannati hathyu nashā, fani‘ma ajrul-‘āmilīn
They will say, ‘All praise belongs to Allah, who has fulfilled His promise to us and made us inheritors of the earth, that we may settle in paradise wherever we may wish! How excellent is the reward of the workers [of righteousness]’!
(Sūrat al-Zumar, No 39, Āyat 74)
When Imam Ali Zaynul Ābidīn ‘alayhis-salām was on his death bed he told his family, he was departing from this worldly abode and was looking forward to Paradise. He then recited the above verse, affirming his belief in the reward that awaits the righteous. Death is a separation from loved ones and all that is familiar. But it is also an entry to the next world where unimaginable bounties await those who have worked hard on the right path.
The verse is the statement made by those who will be brought to Paradise. In their happiness at attaining paradise they will describe four things that are the source of their happiness and for which they praise and thank Allah subhānahu wata‘ālā . Firstly, they thank Him for fulfilling His promise. According to ‘Allāmah Tabātabā’ī in Tafsīr al-Mīzān the promise referred to is of Paradise being given to the God conscious ones. Allah ‘azza wajall promises in the Quran: For those who are God conscious there will be gardens near their Lord (Q 3:15) and: Indeed for the God conscious there will be gardens of bliss near their Lord (Q 68:34). It could also refer to the general promise of the coming of the Day of Judgment and the attaining of reward (or punishment) on that day.
Secondly, the people of paradise thank Allah (swt) for making them inheritors of the earth. It could be an elaboration of the promise made for the righteous – inheriting the land of paradise. Inheriting paradise means it becomes their forever, with no-one else but believers to share in it. They are free to do with it what they like. It also means they will get to possess the places that would have belonged to others had they earned it by being righteous. Tafsīr Majma‘ al-Bayān narrates from the Prophet sallal-lāhu ‘alayhi wa-ālihi wasallam who said that every person has a place in Paradise and a place in Hell. When a person goes to hell his place in paradise is inherited by others. Tafsīr-e Namūneh also gives one more meaning of inheriting the earth of paradise. A person usually inherits something without putting much effort into it. People who will be righteous will work hard, but the reward they will receive will be abundantly more than what they deserve. Eternal happiness in exchange for some years of struggle will be like getting an inheritance – unexpected and undeserved. Such is the mercy of Allah for His servants. The idea of inheriting Paradise is also mentioned in Sūrat al-Mu’minūn: It is they who will be the inheritors, who shall inherit paradise and will remain in it [forever] (Q 23: 10 – 11)
Thirdly, the people thank Allah ‘azza wajall for being able to settle where they wish to in paradise. Because the land of paradise now belongs to them the righteous have the choice of going wherever they wish. Their movement on the level they have earned is not restricted. It does not however, mean they are free to ascend to higher levels when they are not worthy of them. Note that after using the word ‘land’ the verse now shifts to ‘paradise’. It could have been that we may settle in it (on the land) wherever we may wish. But the word paradise is used instead of the pronoun to emphasize the fact that the land is the land of paradise and not of the world.
Fourthly, they praise Allah for the excellent reward awaiting the righteous. They worked hard and struggled in the world. Their deeds were not overlooked, rather were rewarded in full. The same statement is also mentioned in another verse describing the people in paradise: Those who have faith and do righteous deeds, We will surely settle them in the lofty abodes of paradise, with streams running in them, to remain in them [forever]. How excellent is the reward of the workers! (Q 29:58)
This last sentence of the verse How excellent is the reward of the workers [of righteousness] could be a completion of the statement of the righteous who are pleased with their reward, or it could be God’s words.
As we mourn the martyrdom of Imam Zaynul ‘Ābidīn, Sayyidus-Sājidīn (a) and learn from his life of spirituality we must reflect on his final words. Using the Quran to convey his anticipation of meeting God and receiving his reward is a lesson for his followers. The entry into the other world is something to look forward to and work hard for.
Sources: Shaykh Fadhl b. Hasan Tabarsī, Tafsīr Majma‘ al-Bayān; Allāmah Muhammad Husayn Tabātabā’ī, Tafsīr al-Mīzān; Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (Ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūneh.