Quranic Reflection No. 326 Āyat 39:74 – Fulfilment of God’s promise

وَقَالُوالْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ الَّذِي صَدَقَنَا وَعْدَهُ وَأَوْرَثَنَا الْأَرْضَ
wa qālūl-hamdu lillāh-ladhī sadaqanā wa‘dahū wa-awrathanal-ardh
The [righteous] will say, ‘All praise be to Allah, who has fulfilled His promise to us
and made us inherit the earth’

(Sūratuz Zumar, No.39, Āyat 74)

This verse talks about the people who are led to Heaven and told to enter it, to abide in it forever. In their happiness they praise Allah for the fulfillment of His promise to make them inherit the earth. To understand this verse more and to look forward to being one of them, we need to ask some questions:
What promise are these people referring to?
What does it mean to inherit the earth?
What earth is this which they have inherited?

Almighty Allah promises many times in the Quran that the muttaqī will inherit Paradise. He says, for example: This is the Paradise that We will give as inheritance to those of our servants who are God-conscious (Q 19:63). In another place Allah ‘azza wa-jall says: It is they who will be the inheritors, who shall inherit Paradise, and will remain in it [forever] (Q 23:10-11). This is the promise repeated many times in the Quran and the believers were aware of it. Upon entering Heaven they see the fulfillment of the promise given to them earlier and immediately praise God for it.

To inherit the earth has been interpreted in various ways:
– inheriting it from others who should also have been there but lost out due to their sins and rejection of faith.
– Inheritance usually comes without much struggle on the part of the heir. The joys of Paradise are huge compared to the struggles of the human being and this everlasting happiness is an inheritance which will feel almost unearned.
– An heir has authority over what he inherits as is free to use it as he likes. People in Paradise will also have liberty to move around and enjoy its benefits as they like. This understanding can be derived from the statement following this part of the verse where they say; that we may settle in Paradise wherever we wish.

The earth referred to in this verse is the land of Paradise. The statement given earlier verifies this, where the word Jannah is substituted for ardh, both referring to the same land. Shahīd Mutahharī says that the Hereafter is just the other aspect of this world. He explains: This world and the next are not two wholly and entirely separate worlds; this world and the hereafter together are one unit, just as a sheet of paper has two pages and a coin has two sides. This same Earth that exists in this world will appear in the hereafter in its otherworldly form . . . Fundamentally, the hereafter is the celestial, or malakūt, form of the present world. (Religious Pluralism, p.85) So the land that the muttaqī inherit could be in reality the celestial form of this earth.

This verse is a reminder of what believers look forward to at the end of life in this world. Shaykh ‘Abbās Qummī in Mafatīhul Jinān advices the believers to say daily one hundred times wa-as’aluhul-jannah (And I ask Him for the Paradise) after fajr prayers. The above verse can be recited often to increase faith in and love for the Hereafter, to reduce fear of death, and to motivate effort in order to be part of this group. It is interesting to read in al-Qarashi’s work on the life of life Imam Zayn al-Ābidīn that the Imam recited this verse at the time of approach of his death. It shows his eagerness to see the fulfillment of God’s promise. This is how Quran lives in the heart of a believer, till the end of life.

Sources: ‘Allāmah Muhammad Husayn Tabātabā’ī, Tafsīr al-Mīzān; Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (Ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūneh; Shahīd Murtadhā Mutahharī, Religious Pluralism; Baqir Sharif al-Qarashi, The Life of Imam Zayn al-Ābidīn.