One of the beauties of the Quran is its revelation in the Arabic language. Some of the gems that one can glean from its words, neither require one to know 13 Arabic sciences nor to have studied for 13 years. Knowing the effects of a single letter can change the story, the tapestry that the Quran creates for us. InshAllah examples like this will encourage us to drown ourselves in the ocean that is the Quran and to learn its language.
Allah says in Surah Zumar 39/71:
وَسِيقَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا إِلَى جَهَنَّمَ زُمَرًا حَتَّى إِذَا جَاؤُوهَا فُتِحَتْ أَبْوَابُهَا وَقَالَ لَهُمْ خَزَنَتُهَا أَلَمْ يَأْتِكُمْ رُسُلٌ مِّنكُمْ يَتْلُونَ عَلَيْكُمْ آيَاتِ رَبِّكُمْ وَيُنذِرُونَكُمْ لِقَاءَ يَوْمِكُمْ هَذَا قَالُوا بَلَى وَلَكِنْ حَقَّتْ كَلِمَةُ الْعَذَابِ عَلَى الْكَافِرِينَ – قِيلَ ادْخُلُوا أَبْوَابَ جَهَنَّمَ خَالِدِينَ فِيهَا فَبِئْسَ مَثْوَى الْمُتَكَبِّرِينَ
And those who disbelieved will be driven to Hell in groups till when they reach it, the gates thereof will be opened. And its keepers will say: “Did not the Messengers come to you from yourselves, reciting to you the Ayaat of your Lord, and warning you of the meeting of this Day of yours” They will say: “Yes,” but the Word of torment has been justified against the disbelievers!
Now let us take a look at the verse in the same Surah which talks about the people of Paradise 39/73-74:
وَسِيقَ الَّذِينَ اتَّقَوْا رَبَّهُمْ إِلَى الْجَنَّةِ زُمَرًا حَتَّى إِذَا جَاؤُوهَا وَفُتِحَتْ أَبْوَابُهَا وَقَالَ لَهُمْ خَزَنَتُهَا سَلَامٌ عَلَيْكُمْ طِبْتُمْ فَادْخُلُوهَا خَالِدِينَ – وَقَالُوا الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ الَّذِي صَدَقَنَا وَعْدَهُ وَأَوْرَثَنَا الْأَرْضَ نَتَبَوَّأُ مِنَ الْجَنَّةِ حَيْثُ نَشَاءُ فَنِعْمَ أَجْرُ الْعَامِلِينَ
And those who had Taqwa will be led to Paradise in groups till when they reach it, and its gates will be opened and its keepers will say: “Salam `Alaykum (peace be upon you)! You have done well, so enter here to abide therein forever.”) (74. And they will say: “All the praises and thanks be to Allah Who has fulfilled His promise to us and has made us inherit the land. We can dwell in Paradise where we will; how excellent a reward for the workers!”
These translations however, do no justice to a slight, beautiful, and amazing difference between these two which can only be made beautiful in the subtlety of Arabic. Let us take a look at these two again, focusing only on the first sentence of each verse – I have differentiated the parts that seem to be the only difference between the two:
وَسِيقَ الَّذِينَ كَـفَرُواْ إِلَى جَهَنَّمَ زُمَراً حَتَّى إِذَا جَاؤُوهَا فُتِحَتْ أَبْوَابُهَا
Glancing quickly we may think the only difference between these two is that the first group is الَّذِينَ كَـفَرُواْ (those who disbelieve) and are being driven إِلَى جَهَنَّمَ (to Hell), whereas the second group is الَّذِينَ اتَّقَوْاْ رَبَّهُمْ (those who feared and knew their Lord) and are being driven إِلَى الّجَنَّةِ (to Paradise).
However, we missed something. In the second verse… instead of saying فُتِحَتْ أَبْوَابُهَا (the Gates will be opened), Allah says وَفُتِحَتْ أَبْوَابُهَا (there is a letter و added) in front of the phrase. This letter و changes the image completely.
In the first group, the people who rejected belief in Allah and His Prophets, are being driven to hell in large groups. When they reach Hellfire…فُتِحَتْ أَبْوَابُهَا! Suddenly and with no warning, the massive gates of Hellfire ambush them and open before them. They were being driven somewhere by the angels, prodded like cattle, and brought before this structure, and these massive gates SUDDENLY OPEN. Imagine their sound as Surah Mulk says, that Hellfire will be shrieking and yelling. It will be calling out for fuel. And its fuel is men and stones. “Indeed, Hell is a place of ambush” as is written in Sura Naba. The gates slam open as their FIRST ambush and the people are shown the eternal fate that awaits them.
In the second group however, Allah says: وَفُتِحَتْ أَبْوَابُهَا. The people are being driven to the gates of Paradise. They are being taken there and they come upon Paradise….and وَفُتِحَتْ أَبْوَابُهَا – They find the gates ALREADY OPEN. They saw it while coming upon it, they saw it as they came upon it, they are able to gaze into the open doors. This SINGLE LETTER و causes the image of these gates to change by showing the state of the gates as the people come upon them. There is no surprise. There is no questioning. There is no wonder if this place is meant for them….it is meant for them. They are welcome. The gates are open already and it is why they have been taken there. Paradise is theirs and they are being called into it from these gates.
A single letter tells us that the gates of hellfire will ambush the people of Hell, but that the gates of paradise will be wide open waiting for its inhabitants to enter. May Allah make us of those people who will be taken to the gates of Paradise.
إِنَّآ أَنْزَلْنَاهُ قُرْآنًا عَرَبِيًّا لَّعَلَّكُمْ تَعْقِلُونَ
Indeed, we have sent it down as an Arabic Quran in order that you might understand.
And Allah knows best.