In The Name of Allaah, The Most Merciful, The Bestower of Mercy.
Allaah [The Exalted] said:
حَتَّىٰ زُرۡتُمُ ٱلۡمَقَابِرَ
كَلَّا سَوۡفَ تَعۡلَمُونَ
ثُمَّ كَلَّا سَوۡفَ تَعۡلَمُونَ
كَلَّا لَوۡ تَعۡلَمُونَ عِلۡمَ ٱلۡيَقِينِ
ثُمَّ لَتَرَوُنَّہَا عَيۡنَ ٱلۡيَقِينِ
ثُمَّ لَتُسۡـَٔلُنَّ يَوۡمَٮِٕذٍ عَنِ ٱلنَّعِيمِ
The mutual rivalry for piling up of worldly things diverts you, until you visit the graves (i.e. till you die). Nay! You shall come to know! Again, Nay! You shall come to know! Nay! If you knew with a sure knowledge (the end result of piling up, you would not have occupied yourselves in worldly things); verily, You shall see the blazing Fire (Hell)! And again, you shall see it with certainty of sight! Then, on that Day, you shall be asked about the delight (you indulged in, in this world)! [Surah At-Takaathur]
Imaam Ibnul Qayyim [may Allaah have mercy upon him] said: This Surah is specifically based on the mention of promise, punishment and threat, and it is enough as an admonition for the one who understands it.
Regarding the statement of Allaah: [أَلۡهَٮٰكُمُ – You are diverted] – meaning, they are preoccupied in a manner that is not free from blame, for indeed being diverted by something is to be preoccupied with it. So, if this occurs intentionally, then one is held accountable; but if it is not intentional, then one is excused, such as the statement of the Prophet [sallal laahu alayhi wasallam] regarding the Khameesah [square garment], “Indeed, it has distracted my attention from the prayer”. (a) A person is pardoned for this because it is a type of (unintentional) forgetfulness. It is also said, [Lahaa Bish Shay – distracted by something]- meaning, busied with it; and [Lahaa Anhu – distracted from it]- meaning, if he turns away from something. The heart is that which is diverted and the limbs engage in play, and this is why Allaah’s statement [أَلۡهَٮٰكُمُ ٱلتَّكَاثُر- The mutual rivalry for piling up of worldly things diverts you] is a stronger rebuke than the statement “they are preoccupied’, because the doer may preoccupy his limbs with what he is doing, but his heart is not diverted.
At-Takaathur means to compete one another in piling up something by way of mutual rivalry, but Allaah did not mention the thing that is piled up, therefore the meaning is general. Everything a person competes in – other than obedience to Allaah, obedience to the Messenger and that which benefits a person’s Afterlife – by way of mutual rivalry is included in this affair. It enters into every affair, such as wealth, status, leadership, women and speaking; or knowledge, especially when it is not utilised as proof; also collecting books, writing books, engaging in the discussion of numerous topics of the religion, categorising and initiating it. At-Takaathur occurs when a person seeks to amass more than others and this is blameworthy, except in that which earns a person Allaah’s love, Pleasure and Reward, because seeking more than others in this affair is competition in good and to excel one another.
In a hadeeth in Saheeh Muslim, Abdullaah Ibn Ash-Shikkheer [radiyallaahu-anhu] narrated that he went to the Prophet [sallal laahu alayhi wasallam] whilst he [i.e. Prophet] was reciting, [أَلۡهَٮٰكُمُ ٱلتَّكَاثُرُ]; then the Prophet [sallal laahu alayhi wasallam] said, “The son of Adam claims: My wealth, my wealth! O son of Adam! Is there anything as your belonging except that which you consumed, which you utilised, or which you wore and then it was worn out or you gave as charity and sent it forward?” (b) [An Excerpt from Al-Fawaa’id. Pages 58-59]
The basis of being diverted is due to heedlessness, then it affects every pursuit of the person. Rivalry in amassing abundant worldly things and boasting about it, such as two groups of people saying to one another, “We have more”. (1) Busied through turning away from obedience to Allaah and worship; gathering wealth and children by way of mutual rivalry, boasting about your tribes and families, busy with livelihoods and trade by way of mutual rivalry. (2)
You have become preoccupied until you are diverted from what is more important such as remembrance of Allaah and fulfilling acts of obedience to Him. This is an address to all the Ummah except those whose preoccupation with the affairs of the afterlife diverts them from the affairs of the worldly life and they are few. (3)
Allaah [The Exalted] reprimanded His servants due to them busying themselves by tuning away from the purpose for which they were created, which is to worship Him alone without ascribing partners to Him, to know Him (by way of the signs He has created in the universe and the revelation given to the Messenger), turning to Him sincerely in obedience and repentance and giving precedence to loving Him over everything else; but you are diverted from this by mutual rivalry in pilling up worldly things. And Allaah did not mention the thing that causes the mutual rivalry in pilling up worldly things so this Aayah includes all things, such as wealth, children, supporters, armies, servants, status and other than that through which a competitor intends to compete another competitor and the intent is not sincerity to Allaah [The Exalted]. (4)
The human being reaches old age and still hopes for things- to the extent that a man reaches ninety years of age and you find him hoping and having prolonged hope for worldly things more than a fifteen year old youth. This is the meaning of the noble Aayah- that you are diverted by mutual rivalry in amassing worldly things until you die. Umar Bin Abdil Azeez [rahimahullaah] used this Aayah as proof that a visitor has to return to his permanent place and that the grave is not a permanent place of residence. Likewise, it has been mentioned regarding a Bedouin that he heard a reciter reciting, “The mutual rivalry for piling up of worldly things diverts you, until you visit the graves”, so he said, “By Allaah! You will be resurrected”. (5)
[Ref a: Al-Bukhaari. Number 373]
[Ref b: Muslim 2958]
[Ref 1: An Excerpt from Roohul Ma’aanee 16/401. By Imaam Al-Aloosee (rahimahullaah)]
[Ref 2: Zaadul Maseer Fee Ilmit Tafseer by Imaam Ibn Jawzi (rahimahullaah)]
[Ref 3: Tafseer Juz Ammah by Imaam Muhammad Ibn Saaleh Al-Uthaymeen (rahimahullaah)]
[Ref 4: An Excerpt from Tafseer As-Sadi]
[Ref 5: An Excerpt from Tafseer Juz Ammah by Imaam Muhammad Bin Saaleh Al-Uthaymeen (rahimahullaah). Pages 300-301]