Surat Al-Zalzala, “The Quake,” describes what will happen in the final approach of the Hour, the Finality, Al-Akhira, also known as the Day of Resurrection and Judgment Day. All these terms apply because then time as we know it ceases to be and we enter the realm of the Almighty, “timeless” in that all means of assessing “time” are broken down: the heavens and the earth and their complex orbits, interlocking relationships, and very composition, all is upended in an incomprehensible way, the ultimate unimaginable undoing. The sura itself, however, focuses on what is relevant for humankind: our fate, and the coming Judgment. To show how that Judgment is eminently balanced, just, and equitable, we shall closely examine the text. This includes the word and letter counts of the Arabic text to reveal how precisely this sura is put together, even though we cannot, of course, grasp every detail. Above is the sura in Arabic with a slightly different English translation for reference (“scattered groups” instead “separated into categories”), my translation of the Basmalah being “In the Name of Allah, the Almighty, the All-Merciful.” Also an audio link is above to hear the powerful sound of the original Arabic words.
Aya 99:1 – 4 words, 20 letters total 24
إِذَا زُلْزِلَتِ الْأَرْضُ زِلْزَالَهَا
When the earth is shaken with its [final] earthquake99:1
The word “earth” is surrounded by words meaning “earthquake” – the first is a verb zulzilat “quakes” that precedes the word alard “earth” and the second zilzalaha refers back to the earth as “its quaking.” The noun for earthquake is zilzal which I put in bold so you can see the similarity and even pronounce it for the sound effect. Putting it together zulzilat al-ard zilzalaha one visualizes and hears the earth as a planet surrounded by its own continuous “earthquaking,” as well as the sound of the “z” and “l” interacting like a huge buzzsaw and a liquid like molten rock jarring and overturning each other. The translation uses the passive tense “is shaken with” distancing us from this effect, but would be more accurate to use the direct noun “shakes/quakes” because the Arabic speaks directly that way. This aya recalls 39:67 (excerpt) “the earth entirely will be [within] His grip on the Day of Resurrection,” where the image here of the earthquake entirely surrounding the earth is further strengthened by the image of earth entirely in Allah’s “grip.” (Of course this is a metaphor.)
Regarding word counts, Allah’s commands are expressed as “words” in the Quran; for example, creation has a word kun or be, and 18:109 and 31:27 mention His unlimited words, of which many are certainly commands. Thus one could interpret the word counts as representing Allah’s commands or “input.” The letter counts, then, would be “something else.” Possibilities include the human input such as deeds, and other possible “input” (such as from earth) as we shall discuss.
Notice that Allah’s name has 4 letters (using 3 unique letters), and that the first 2 ayat have 4 words, as does the 5th aya, making three 4-word ayat, a 3,4 connection.
Also notice that the letter count in the first 4 ayat are all even numbers. Their total is, interestingly, 70, a number mentioned in the Quran 3 times: once in 7:155 where “Moses chose from his people 70 men for Our Appointment, and when the earthquake seized them, he said ‘My Lord…would you destroy us for what the foolish among them had done? This is not but your trial…’ Here significantly the same number 70 as letter counts – human input – is associated first with an aya mentioning the exact same number of humans (men) seized by an earthquake, no less, as a “trial”…Is this day not then “Our Appointment?” And is it not also in a sense the ultimate “trial?” The other two mentions of “70” are first in 9:80 saying to Prophet Mohammad “if you ask forgiveness for them 70 times, never will Allah forgive them” thus debunking the idea that the prophet has a power of intercession to override Allah’s decisions, here at the moment before Judgment; and second in 69:32, where is mentioned that the deniers/criminals will be inserted into a chain “whose length is 70 cubits” — giving a kind of finality to the destination of hellfire as inescapable. This entire reference then, like the earthquake surrounding earth, inspires terror. The first four ayat all relate to this quake and its relationship to Resurrection Day.
Aya 2: 4 words, 18 letters total 22
وَأَخْرَجَتِ الْأَرْضُ أَثْقَالَهَا
And the earth discharges its burdens/ heaviness.99:2
The earth’s “burdens” (the word is plural) or “weights” is traditionally interpreted to mean the bodies of the dead being resurrected, and that meaning certainly applies specifically to this sura, focused on humanity and its fate. It also brings to mind the earth losing gravity as a possible interpretation, which corresponds with the mountains being like “wool” (70:9, 101:5) and no longer heavy but crumbling, moving over the surface of earth as per 27:88, 52:10, and 81:3, like a mirage (78:20). This also jives with the word athqalaha for its “weights.” But the phrase could likely mean both, with an emphasis here on the resurrection of the dead. And now is His Day when creation is entirely undone and redone by His command and plan.
The letter count of 18=9•2, since the number 9 is the largest base-10 digit, represents those “weights” being discharged. The word+letter total number 22 is a repeated number (as a multiple of 11) that can symbolize completion (sura Al-Hajj is #22, Hajj being the fulfillment of a journey). Thus the earth’s “completion” of its “journey” as a planet comes to an end.
Aya 3: 5 words, 16 letters total 21 (3•7)
وَقَالَ الْإِنسَانُ مَا لَهَا
And man says, “What is wrong with it?” –99:3
Could people actually be alive at such a time? This suggests they could be. We must bear in mind that Allah’s realm is eternity or timelessness, and this earthquake might span a longer timespan than the immediacy of these ayat “feel” to be the case, but we seriously cannot know. Or could this human/insan be of those resurrected? And not yet gotten their bearings? Other ayat indicate there are people actually alive at the time this is happening. In 22:2, every nursing mother will forget her infant, every pregnant woman will abandon her pregnancy; in 73:17, babies’ hair turns white; in 81:4, full-term pregnant livestock can’t deliver. This suggests life is still producing until at that moment/blast (of the “horn” which is a sound we cannot now imagine), everything is stopped even at the last moment just before fulfillment. So those alive will wonder what is happening, it’s so very very wrong, and will be shocked if they did not previously believe in Resurrection Day.
This aya has 5 words expressing the question humanity asks. But if, as I suggested above, words represent Allah’s commands, why here do they express a human’s question? One can say Allah’s command has still allowed humanity to ask this question because they have not yet been ”gathered” as they will be in aya 6, and thus the two ayat that follow present the answer to this question, also by Allah’s command. This sort of exchange is how Allah the Exalted often presents His communications, as question-and-answer exchanges that show, again, a reciprocal relationship between human and Allah/Divine. This Q and A is highlighted by the two matching letter-counts of 16 that ”pair” ayat 3 and 4.
Also, the number five (this aya’s word count) is associated with hands (5 fingers each), uniquely associated with humans. For although monkeys have similar hands and even ”manipulate” things using them, “What makes the human hand unique in the animal kingdom is the ability of the small and ring fingers to rotate across the palm to meet the thumb” thus making hands a “signature” human feature. “This is referred to as ‘ulnar opposition’ and adds unparalleled grip, grasp, and torque capability to the human hand.” Another site claims what is unique to human hands is ”the human opposable thumb is longer, compared to finger length, than any other primate thumb.” Whatever the details, our hands are critical to writing, turning the pages of a book, performing tasks ranging from surgery to playing a complex musical instrument to heavy lifting and construction. Our hands are capable of both power and precision. They are for us a primary learning tool and means of self expression.
Here, the 16 letters as 4 squared could represent the “human deeds” now enclosed or “fixed” in the “square” grip of Allah’s command. And the total words+letters are 21 (3•7), equal to the letter-count in aya 8, perhaps showing that whatever we have done, good or bad, we ourselves cannot add an “atom’s weight” to our scale. All we have are our deeds from our earthly life.
Aya 4: 3 words, 16 letters total 19
يَوْمَئِذٍ تُحَدِّثُ أَخْبَارَهَا
That Day, it will report its news99:4
There’s so much more than meets the eye in this aya. Here, for the first time in this sura, the Day, understood as Judgment/Resurrection Day, is mentioned as the time when this is occurring. This information is reported to us here in the same aya that the earth reports “its news.” And what news/information could this be? Likely the first “news” is that the promised Day has arrived.
Also we must take into consideration that “report its news” translates from tuhadithu akhbaraha and the word akhbar generally refers to news of what’s happening, as even in modern usage is used for the daily news report/broadcast on TV or other sources. “Did you read the news?” However, the verb tuhadithu has the same root as “hadith” or “statement/narration” and thus such “news” likely also includes the earth’s testimony regarding not only Resurrection having arrived but as a witness in reference to the questioning of people on Judgment Day. Polluters and those whose greed made them upset/destroy the balance of ecosystems will face a severe reckoning, one imagines as earth testifies. But the Quran tells us that every single deed will be “weighed” and earth, as our place of habitation, is a witness to everything we did. People tend to think of earth as an inanimate object without its own consciousness, but the Quran portrays otherwise. And some scientists are beginning to acknowledge earth itself as a conscious being. (Which knowledge could lead to more people acting conscientiously, one hopes.)
This is the only aya in this sura containing only 3 words, perhaps because this aya is Allah’s command or permission to “give its news”, the number 3 associated with communication, literally “giving news.” The total words+letters is 19, a number signifying something of great import, specified in 74:31 as the number of angels guarding over hell, whose gates are 7, which would be highly relevant at this moment preceding Judgment. The number 19 itself is mentioned in 74:30 with these words: “Over it is 19.” The “it” refers (in context) to saqar, a word for hell mentioned prior to this aya. But its use as a single number within the aya allows for possible significance beyond this contextual reference. One such possible significance could certainly be Resurrection/Judgment Day whose arrival is “announced” in this aya. Remember these are only word/letter counts and not the meanings of the words themselves, therefore their significance is subtle. Still, the precision of such numbers in this specific sura and its ayat is worth noticing. Certainly this Day of all days is when measuring and the Balance come precisely and unequivocally into their full significance and application.
The 16 letters match the number of letters in the previous aya, showing a correspondence between them, as aya 4 responds to the question humanity asks in the preceding aya 3, stating “on that Day” it will report its news. Also 16 (letters)=4•4, as stated above, which could indicate that the commands for earth to quake and discharge its weight caused human deeds to “form” a “square” (comply in lockstep) in response to the certainty that this is the Finality. Thus as stated above, the words “over it is 19,” (74:30) the “it” here is the Finality itself. The words here are 3, This “communication” from earth is also by amr (the command) of Allah, using one word fewer, the total 19 then suggests bringing humans a “step” closer to the Judgment itself. In this moment of the sura, the “news” is of the Judgment Day, and the number 19 here subtly hints of Allah’s total implementation of that Judgment exactly as promised in His messages.
Aya 5: 4 words, 13 letters total 17
بِأَنَّ رَبَّكَ أَوْحَىٰ لَهَا
Because your Lord has inspired it.99:5
The word translated “inspired” is the same word used for the sending-down/revelation of the Quran to prophet Mohammad through Jibreel, often translated “inspired.” My objection to the translation “inspired” is that its English connotation relates to artists and poets being “inspired” whereas this is a distinctly different process. However the root “spirit” indeed relates to the root of the Arabic word used here “ow-ha” (a tough word to transliterate if you really want to pronounce it right), whose root is “ruh” where the “u” is long like “ooh” and the “h” is pronounced at the end, Ruh being the same word used to refer to Jibreel. So it is a very powerful and physical “inspiration”, not a passive/detached one, but one intimately connected to Allah’s words, commands, and Presence all at once. Nothing could be more powerful.
What is interesting here is that the earth is described as going to “report/testify” through Allah’s “dictation” in the sense of giving the words/means to express/“speak” that “news,” and the Quran also is described as giving “news” — even the Bible is often called “good news.” So here is the earth, our home, “inspired” to speak/give us a “message” in a way similar to Allah giving/”inspiring” the prophets to give us His message(s) and words. This however is Judgment Day when everything is “locked in place” and the time of repentance and doing better is over. At the same time, we are entirely in and of the earth whose testimony is now irrefutable . So its earthquake is also shaking us. Including the “us” in their graves.
The total words+letters here is 17, the same as the number of words in sura 112 Al-Ikhlas which focuses on tawheed or the fact of Allah the Exalted being One and also has a connection to the genetic code of all life. This number 17 is associated with the non-hydrophilic codons in genetic code, which also relates to polarity (positive and negative charges), highly significant to how life is functionally “put together.” Perhaps this relates to the fact that at that point we are in an altered or resurrected state, and our very DNA is somehow “presented,” perhaps preserved/“dried” or emptied of its life/water (hydrophobicity meaning “rejecting water”) within the process of resurrection. As we have read so far in this sura, we have now read three 4-word ayat and one 3-word aya, a 3,4 combination, noting the total 17 for this aya is a factor (2•17) of the number 34. The Quran often makes such connections between various numerical configurations of the same digits. The number 13 is a number whose chiastic center is 7, and it is the number of unique letters in sura Al-Ikhlas 112 referred to above. So we have here both this sura’s full letter and unique letter count whose difference is the number of words here: 4. These numbers subtly suggest that part of Allah the Exalted’s “input” here is the “resurrection” itself, where His knowledge encompasses the entire human genome and all its individual examples/humans. Numbers relating to the human genome come up elsewhere in this sura as well.
Aya 6: 6 words, 31 letters total 37 – total letters ayat 1-6 is 114
يَوْمَئِذٍ يَصْدُرُ النَّاسُ أَشْتَاتًا لِّيُرَوْا أَعْمَالَهُمْ
That Day, the people will depart separated [into categories] to be shown their deeds.99:6
Here the moment separating people to be shown their deeds has arrived. This is the longest aya in this sura. Note that this aya has the greatest number of letters, but not words, because here deeds are being gathered to be shown. The final aya wherein the evil deeds are weighed has the most words, and the aya before it wherein good deeds are weighed has the same number of words as this aya, 6. The people “depart” from their graves and even from the “known” earth to a place/time of unknown proportions but certainly a known inevitability, as described in (15:38) as a “time well-known” even before Adam’s creation.
Those who believed in the Hereafter, trusting Allah’s messages regarding its reality, will recognize what is happening and if indeed they prepared for it by acknowledging Allah’s sovereignty and categorical uniqueness, striving toward righteousness, charity and justice, they will be spared its unimaginable horrors/terror. So this separation is a final one. Judgment Day is the presentation of the Judgment itself although evidence will be presented as a part of that. And contrary to some hadiths, it is not a long, drawn-out process as such proceedings are in our time-bound dunya “lower world/realm,” but in a sense it occurs as if instantaneously, ie “in no time,” because time itself no longer exists as it was. We are at that point in Allah’s timeless realm. He refers to Himself as “swift in accounting,” with a swiftness now incomprehensible to us still stuck in time.
At this point, “separating (into categories) to be shown their deeds” is the defining moment of truth, and here is the fulfillment of the Quran itself, Allah’s final message in 114 suras. The total count of all letters to this point is precisely 114, equal to the number of suras in the Quran. Why the letter count? If this count represents the human input or deeds as suggested above, then the deed-count here is up until the balance scale itself, represented in the final two ayat of this sura, 99:7-8. The Quran is, however, represented in that count of 114. This suggests the Quran is here presented at this Hour as Al-Furqan, the criterion by which we will be judged. Our deeds will be judged according to the terms of the Quran: there will be mercy, total justice, no one will be oppressed and there will be no injustice but rather the Balance, the Law of Reciprocity, will be imposed, with the input of mercy which Allah decreed upon Himself, as the Most Merciful of the Merciful.
One could say this is the final step before the Judgment is presented, which is in the next two ayat 99:7-8, the “balance scale.” Here in aya 6 there are 6 words, the same as the number of words in the next aya 7, the presentation of good deeds. This indicates a match between Allah’s words/commands in the “separation” phase and the Judgment scale.
Aya 6 also has 31 letters, a reversal of digits from 13, the number of letters in aya 5 which preceded it, increasing that number by 18, the number of letters in aya 2, where the earth “discharged its burden”. This would support the idea that indeed the earth’s “burden” (symbolized by the number 18 as two 9’s) is the dead being resurrected/”discharged” from earth, presented here now in aya 6. The number of letters, 31, is also the number of words in Al-Fatiha, where Al-Fatiha is the “flagship” or “frontispiece” of the Quran, fulfilling its role as Al-Furqan the Criterion. Did those people coming to judgment heed the message presented to them? Do their deeds reflect the guidance given in the Furqan/ Quran? Here the Quran is musaytar or overarching as the Consummate Message of all Allah’s messages. So those who were sent other messages will have their books, which had been altered, “represented by” the Quran, containing the essence of all Allah’s messages. In addition, Allah’s mercy is highlighted and augmented in the Quran for those whose hearts Allah knows to be receptive, making it actually a preferred choice for criterion because it offers greater mercy. Not only that, but the Quran itself, interactive during this earthly life, leaves “traces” of its “influence” on the souls of human beings who read and engaged with it, thus no false claims or denials are possible.
We have accumulated up to this point 114 letters, correlating the “input” from the human side with the Quran, and that correlation is that the Quran is the Criterion by which those deeds are measured. At that point, the deeds and those to be judged have been gathered. Thus the final two ayat are devoted to the preparation of the Balance Scales of Justice. The word and letter counts show the perfectly equitable and merciful balance, as described above, with meaningful precision.
The total number of words+numbers for this aya then is 37, a prime number which is also the number of genes in mitochondrial DNA, which “encode 13 proteins, 22 tRNAs, and 2 rRNAs. The 13 mitochondrial gene-encoded proteins all instruct cells to produce protein subunits of the enzyme complexes of the oxidative phosphorylation system, which enables mitochondria to act as the powerhouses of our cells.” Because the process of resurrection and judgment “recreates” us from our “seeds/basis” which in other words would be “code”, these connections to DNA and its coding appears in the counts: 13 and 22 are both letter-counts here. As noted earlier, the 17-count relates to the genetic code’s hydrophobicity factor. There are also some amazing mathematical connections here, but it takes us further afield from a direct understanding of the meaning of this sura.
The two ayat below represent the Balance Scales.
Aya 7: 6 words, 22 letters total 28
فَمَن يَعْمَلْ مِثْقَالَ ذَرَّةٍ خَيْرًا يَرَهُ
So whoever does an atom’s weight of good will see it,99:7
The deed is compared to something physical, as being like “atoms” using the word “weight”. Numbers are given in the word and letter counts, and when added, the counts in both ayat 7 and 8 add equally to 28 (7•4). Thus the scales are set in Justice.
This equanimity is achieved with precision. The “good” deed, weighed as the word “good”/khairan, has one letter/“atom” more than the word “bad”/sharan, making it ”heavier,” but this is offset by a word of mercy from Allah giving an extra “word” to aya 8 in the single-letter word waw meaning “and,” making it 7 words to balance the deficit in letters (21 compared to aya 7’s 22 letters), so both weigh the same in the total words+letters of 28; note that here the letter “waw” actually doubles as a word and as a letter so is counted twice. This is a “balancing” of the scale showing Allah’s justice and mercy, augmenting where the actual deeds fall short. This is also consistent in that what is good is heavier (one more atom/letter) than what is bad, since the heavier the scale, the better the result, as per Al-‘Araf 7:8, “So those whose scales are heavy – it is they who will be the successful.” Its converse in 7:9 states “And those whose scales are light – they are the ones who will lose themselves for what injustice they were doing with our signs.”
This shows us that the justice being meted out here is perfectly equivalent. There is no injustice. In fact, Allah’s mercy is added to the bad deeds scale to give us an advantage, shown in the word/letter counts described above.
The differences between the good and bad deeds on the “scales” are:
1) the good is weighed first;
2) the good has fewer words (commands from Allah) than the bad, but
3) the good has more letters (weight of deeds) than the bad. The difference between them is one for each metric: words (6 good—7 bad) and letters (22 good—21 bad), in keeping with the numbers indicated in aya 6 where the 114 letters accumulated up to that point represent how the ”weight” of deeds is according to this very Quran (the Criterion or Furqan) whose purpose, guidance, has been fulfilled. For each “atom,” one for good and one for bad, the “atoms” are like digits (in this case symbolized by letters), or like the stones/weights one puts on a traditional balance scale.
Aya 8: 7 words, 21 letters total 28
وَمَن يَعْمَلْ مِثْقَالَ ذَرَّةٍ شَرًّا يَرَهُ
And whoever does an atom’s weight of evil will see it.99:8
The single word difference between the two ayat 7 and 8 of the balance scale, one ”good” and one ”evil,” balances out the single letter difference, making an equal count for both of 28. And if we think of the word count as representing Allah’s input, this would be from His mercy, to balance out the lesser letter/deed number, giving us in fact an advantage in our favor.
The balance scale here is an idea presented in sura Al-Rahman 55:7, where the 7th verse introduces Libra or Al-Mezan — which literally means “the balance scale.” “And He raised the heaven and imposed the Balance” — understood to mean balance in terms of justice and what has come to be understood as the “balance of nature.” It relates also directly to the Law of Reciprocity, similar to Newton’s second law but far more profound and applicable to what is beyond the empirical realm. Thus Allah has at last imposed this balance, has set up the scale, and Judgment Day is at hand, at which moment the sura ends. The entire sura reflects ”balancing” two opposites, even reflected in the word and letter counts that form equal or reciprocal “pairs” as listed below. So it is fitting that the sura ends on two suras accurate to the finest detail or ”atom” or ”particle,” the smallest thing. All that is left then is for the Judgment itself to begin.
SUMMARY AND MORE NUMBERS
This analysis shows how closely aligned the placement of words and letters are with the meaning in this important sura. It’s interesting that this sura does not have a known “reason for revelation,” which for other suras and ayat relate to such things are questions people asked the prophet, events such as battles or other actions/activities or historical moments. Its sole reason is to inform us about the last events of Resurrection Day and the preparation of the scales. It is my hope that the precision of Justice and equanimity have been shown on even the minute scale of these otherwise overlooked details.
The last two ayat, the balance scale, make a total of 28×2=56, which is 7×8 or 7×2³. The number 7 represents a “test/trial” here coming to fruition; 2³ pairs the numbers 2,3 – and 23 is the number of human chromosomes, hence this scale is specifically calibrated for humans. Further counts are below.
Total words: 39 (3•13) – these are Allah’s commands;
Total letters: 157 prime, sum-of-digits (sod) 13
Total words+letters: 196 = 2•2•7•7 or 2²•7² – a beautiful number, noting that the number 7 symbolizes a ”test” (among other things).
The number of verses, 8, is equal to the number of “carriers of the throne” (angels) “that Day” mentioned in 69:17, which is, of course, the Day this sura is about.
Total words plus sura number 99=138=2•3•23 – here again is the human chromosome number 23, in two different forms, the number itself as a factor, and the 2,3 pair as the remaining factors. Words as “Allah’s input” since the number of chromosomes is determined by Allah the Creator.
Total letters plus sura number 99=256=2^8 Note this reconfiguration of the digits 2,8 from the balance scale’s ”28” total count. Letters as ”deeds” represent what is being weighed on the scale.
Below, a chart of these counts .
|aya 1: 4 words||20 letters (4•5)||24 total (4•6)|
|aya 2: 4||18 (2•3², 2•9)||22 (2•11)|
|aya 3: 5 prime||16 (4•4)||21 (3•7)|
|aya 4: 3 prime||16 (4•4)||19 (prime)|
|aya 5: 4||13 (prime)||17 (prime)|
|aya 6: 6||31 (prime)||37 (prime)|
|aya 7: 6||22 (2•11)||28 (4•7)|
|aya 8: 7 prime||21 (3•7)||28 (4•7)|
Table 1 – Comparing word and letter counts in sura 99 – Since the balance scale is about pairs, a list of Pairs is below, noting that balanced pairs/scales are a central ”theme” here:
- ayat 1 and 2 same word count: pair of 4’s
- ayat 6 and 7 same word count: pair of 6’s
- word count sum of aya 1+2= word count sum of aya 3+4: pair of 8’s
- aya 3 and 4 have same letter count (16)
- aya 7 and 8 have same total count (28)
- aya 2 total count = aya 7 letter count (22)
- aya 3 total count = aya 8 letter count (21)
- aya 5 and 6 letter counts are mirror digits
- Sum of all 8 primes is 95=5•19, difference between sura number and sum-of-primes is 4
- Number of primes = number of verses – another pair of 8’s
- Ayat 1 and 2 totals’ sum=46 (human diploid chromosomes)
- Word and letter counts each have 5 even numbers and 3 odd numbers
- Total counts have 4 even and 4 odd numbers
- Numbers 17 and 13 mentioned above refer to the total (17) and unique (13) word counts in sura 112 Al-Iklhas, the sura which expresses most concisely and clearly tawheed, that Allah is One and the Sole Authority, which truth is central to this sura, that Allah is the sole Judge on Judgment Day, and on that Day all authority is utterly known by all creation without question as entirely His.