In the name of God, the Lord of Grace, the Most Merciful

It is God who creates you in a state of weakness, and then after weakness He brings about strength in you, and then after strength He brings about your weakness and old age. He creates what He wills; and He alone has all knowledge and power. When the Last Hour strikes, the evildoers will swear that they had not tarried on earth longer than an hour. Thus they used to delude themselves. But those who were endowed with knowledge and faith will say: “Indeed, you have tarried, in accordance with God’s decree, until the Day of Resurrection. This is, then, the Day of Resurrection, but you did not know it.” And so on that day their excuse will be of no avail to those wrongdoers, nor will they be allowed to make amends. (The Byzantines, Al-Room: 30: 54-57)

Having shown us numerous signs of God’s power and limitless range of His creation, the surah now takes us on a new round, requiring us to look within ourselves, contemplating the different stages of our life on earth. This is a prelude to a fresh reference to the next life and the close link between the two: “It is God who creates you in a state of weakness, and then after weakness He brings about strength in you, and then after strength He brings about your weakness and old age. He creates what He wills; and He alone has all knowledge and power.”

They see the beginnings in their own life, and they see the end brought to them in a vivid image as though it were happening before their very eyes. They only need to have a receptive mind to gather the inspiration behind these verses.

“It is God who creates you in a state of weakness.” Literally, this is given in Arabic as “it is God who creates you from weakness,” which suggests to the Arabic reader that weakness is the substance from which man is made. The weakness in man’s formation meant here has several aspects to it. It includes the physical weakness of the single, tiny cell that makes the foetus, which goes through several stages, remaining weak throughout all of them. This weakness continues during childhood, until the person reaches adolescence and the prime of youth. Another weakness is that of the substance from which man is made, which is clay. Had it not been for the breath of God’s spirit, man would have remained in the physical image of clay or in an animal image. Both of these are very weak compared to man. There is also the psychological weakness that makes man yield to desire, passion and lust. It is again the breathing of God’s spirit into him that gives him the ability and resolve to resist such emotions. Without this spirit man would have been weaker than animals that behave according to their natures.

“It is God who creates you in a state of weakness, and then after weakness He brings about strength in you.” The strength mentioned here covers all those aspects discussed under weakness: Strength in physical build, human potential, mental ability and psychological constitution. “And then after strength he brings about your weakness and old age.” Again this new weakness applies to the whole human constitution. Old age is a decline into childhood in all aspects. It may be accompanied with psychological decline due to weakness of will. An old person may have an urge similar to that of a child without having the willpower to resist it. The Arabic word shaybah, translated here as “old age” also connotes “gray hair.” It is specially selected here to give a tangible impression of old age.

No one escapes these stages. They never fail to affect anyone who survives; nor are they ever slow so as to come later than usual. These stages confirm that mankind is subject to a greater will that creates and determines as it pleases. That is the will of God who determines the age, life and stages of every creature in accordance with perfect knowledge and elaborate planning: “He creates what He wills; and He alone has all knowledge and power.”

This well-regulated creation must certainly have a well-regulated end. Indeed, this is shown in a scene from the Day of Judgment that is full of movement and dialogue to bring it alive before our eyes: “When the Last Hour strikes, the evildoers will swear that they had not tarried on earth longer than an hour.” Thus, all that has passed before that day shrinks into insignificance so as to make them swear that they had not lived on earth more than one hour. Their oaths may also be taken to mean that they did not stay in their graves for more than an hour, or that this duration of one hour applies to all their time on earth in both their conditions of life and death. “Thus they used to delude themselves.” They could not make a proper estimate of their time, until those who have true knowledge tell them the right duration: “But those who were endowed with knowledge and faith will say: Indeed, you have tarried, in accordance with God’s decree, until the Day of Resurrection. This is, then, the Day of Resurrection, but you did not know it.”

Most probably the ones described as “endowed with knowledge” are the believers who were certain of the coming of the Last Hour, recognizing what lies beyond the apparent aspects of the life of this world. These are the ones who have true knowledge and enlightened faith. In their answer, they refer the matter to God’s knowledge: “You have tarried, in accordance with God’s decree, until the Day of Resurrection.” This is the term appointed, and it does not matter whether it was of a long or short duration. The appointed time was met: “This is, then, the Day of Resurrection, but you did not know it.”

The scene is completed with a general statement of the overall result, referring to the fate of the wrongdoers who denied the Day of Judgment: “And so on that day their excuse will be of no avail to those wrongdoers, nor will they be allowed to make amends.” No justification will be accepted from them. In fact no acknowledgement of error or apology is sought from them. That is the Day of Judgment and punishment of the guilty, not a day of providing justification for wrong action.