What the Qur’an teachers :
Before the fire they are brought, morning and evening, and then on the Day when the Last Hour comes, it will be said: Cast Pharaoh’s people into the worst suffering. They will contend with one another in the fire: The weak will say to those who were arrogant, “We have been your followers, so can you relieve us of some share of the fire?” The arrogant will reply: “We are all in it together. For God has judged between His creatures.” Those in the fire will say to the keepers of hell: “Pray to your Lord that He lighten this suffering of ours, though it be for one day only.” They will ask: “Did your messengers not come to you with clear evidence of the truth?” They will say: “Yes, indeed.” (The keepers of hell) will say: “Pray, then!” But the prayers of the unbelievers will be all in vain.
(The Forgiving; 40: 46-50)
It describes the end suffered by Pharaoh and his people as a result of their arrogant rejection of Moses’ call on them to believe in God’s oneness. The way this verse is phrased suggests that they are brought before the fire during the time between their death and the Day of Judgment. This may be a reference to the torment suffered in the grave. The statement that follows reads: “and then on the Day when the Last Hour comes, it will be said: Cast Pharaoh’s people into the worst suffering.” This means that this suffering precedes the Day of Judgment. It is a terrible punishment involving exposure to the fire morning and evening, either to make them expect its burning and pain, which is a terrible suffering, or to experience it, which is even worse. Then, on the Day of Judgment, they will be cast into the worst suffering.
The verse that follows tells us of something that happens after resurrection. The unbelievers are shown arguing in hell: “The weak will say to those who were arrogant, ‘We have been your followers, so can you relieve us of some share of the fire?’” This means that the weak are together with the arrogant in the fire of hell. The weak have not been spared on account of their weakness, or their being driven like cattle, having no say or choice. God granted them a position of honor, which equipped them to exercise free choice and to be responsible for what they choose. They relinquished all this and followed their arrogant leaders instead. They did not object to anything the leaders said. In fact, it did not occur to them that they could object. They did not think about what their arrogant leaders said to them, or the errors they landed them in: “We have been your followers.” The fact of their relinquishing responsibility and what God granted them could never serve as extenuating circumstances in God’s sight. Therefore, they will be in hell, driven there by their leaders, just as they used to drive them like sheep in the life of this world. We see them asking their leaders: “Can you relieve us of some share of the fire?” This question is a reminder of what such leaders used to assert, pledging to protect their followers against evil and harm.
Such arrogant leaders, however, are soon fed up with their weak followers’ requests. Their answer betrays their boredom, but nonetheless they acknowledge what has happened: “We are all in it together. For God has judged between His creatures.”
“We are all in it together.” We are all weak, lacking all support and help. We are all alike. So why do you put such a question to us when you realize that the noble and the weaker elements are all the same? “God has judged between His creatures.” There can be no review or change to His judgment. The matter is settled. No creature can reduce or amend God’s judgment.
When all realize that no refuge can be sought from God’s punishment except with Him, they all humbly appeal to the guards of hell, in a way that makes them all equal: “Those in the fire will say to the keepers of hell: Pray to your Lord that He lighten this suffering of ours, though it be for one day only.”
They want the guards of hell to intercede on their behalf, hoping that their terrible ordeal can be lifted a little. They ask them to pray to God to reduce their punishment for one day, just to breathe and have a bit of rest. Even a day’s reduction is worth such appeals.
The guards of hell, however, do not respond to this humble and passionate appeal. They know their limits, and they are aware of God’s law and that the time is long passed. Therefore, they increase the suffering of the dwellers of hell by rebuking them and reminding them of the reasons for their suffering: “They will ask: ‘Did your messengers not come to you with clear evidence of the truth?’ They will say: ‘Yes, indeed.’”
The question and its answer suffice. There is no need for any more argument. The guards of hell leave them to their fate, allowing them to sink into despair. “(The keepers of hell) will say: Pray, then!” If any praying will change your situation even a bit, why do you not offer such prayers yourselves? The verse concludes with a comment on such prayers: “But the prayers of the unbelievers will be all in vain.” Such prayer is ignored, remains unanswered. Those who say it are forgotten, be they the leaders or their followers.
– By NAUSHAD SHAMIM AL-HAQ