Who are the people of A'raf (Purgatory) that will know the People of Paradise and Hell by their faces mentioned in verse 46 of the chapter of al-A'raf?

Details of the Question
"Between them shall be a veil, and on the Heights will be men who would know everyone by his marks: they will call out to the companions of the Garden "peace on you" they will not have entered, but they will have an assurance (thereof)."(al-A'raf, 7/46) Who are meant by those who will know people by their faces in the verse?
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

"Between them shall be a veil, and on the Heights will be men who would know everyone by his marks: they will call out to the companions of the Garden "peace on you" they will not have entered, but they will have an assurance (thereof.)" (al-A'raf, 7/46)

A’raf (Purgatory) is the opposite of arf. Anything that is high is called arf. According to the famous view, a’raf means high hills of rampart between Paradise and Hell. Hasan al-Basri said, "A’raf is derived from the same root as ma'rifah (knowledge) and means the people who know the people of Paradise and Hell by their faces."

To sum up, there are two views about a’raf:

Firstly, according to what is reported from Abu Huzayfa and some other people, they are the people who did not do enough good deeds and whose good deeds and bad deeds were equal when they were weighed; they are the people who recognize Allah as one; they will stay between Paradise and Hell for a while. Then, Allah Almighty will decide about them. Secondly, They are people of high ranks like prophets, martyrs, good people and scholars.

According to the first view, the phrase "lam yadkhuluha" (they will not have entered) describes the people of a’raf: That is, the people of Paradise entered Paradise but the people of a'raf did not. However, they hope to enter and envy them. They say, “Peace on you!” According to the second view, it is the state of the people of Paradise at that time. That is, they did not enter Paradise but they hope to enter Paradise; at that time, the people of a'raf give them the glad tiding that they will attain peace.

Before explaining a'raf, let us give the meanings of the verses in the chapter of al-A'raf about “a'raf” and “people of a'raf”. After the verses in which the situation of the people of Paradise and Hell and the conversation between them are mentioned, the following verses about “a'raf” are included:

“Between them shall be a veil, and on the Heights will be men who would know everyone by his marks: they will call out to the companions of the Garden 'peace on you' they will not have entered, but they will have an assurance (thereof.)."

"When their eyes shall be turned towards the companions of the Fire, they will say: 'Our Lord! Send us not to the company of the wrong- doers.'"

"The men on the Heights will call to certain men whom they will know from their marks, saying: 'Of what profit to you were your hoards and your arrogant ways?'"

"Behold! Are these not the men whom you swore that Allah with his Mercy would never bless? Enter ye the Garden: no fear shall be on you nor shall ye grieve.” 1

Yes “a'raf” is the plural form of “arf”. The mane of the horse and the comb of the cock are called “arf”. There are several explanations about a'raf in tafsir books. However, the view that the majority of the tafsir scholars agree on is that “A'raf means a veil, a high rampart and hills between Paradise and Hell." Ibn Abbas says,“They are the balconies on Sirat Bridge.” Hasan Basri's view is as follows:  

Hasan Basri says, “There are some people who know the people of Paradise and Hell by their faces in the hereafter.”The people around him say, “They are the people whose thawabs and sins are equal.” Hasan Basri hits his knees with his hands and says, “They are the people that Allah appointed to distinguish between the people of Paradise and Hell. By Allah, I do not know but some of them are here with us.” 2

The reason why the people in A'raf are called “a'raf” is that they know people based on their deeds. According to what is explained in tafsir books, when Allah Almighty weigh thawabs and sins in Mizan (Scales) and divide people into two as the people of Paradise and the people of Hell, He will make those whose thawabs and sins are equal wait for a while. These people, who will wait near Sirat Bridge, will know the people of Paradise and the people of Hell. When they see the people of Paradise, they will say, “peace on you”  and when they look at the left side, they will see the people of Hell and pray as follows by taking refuge in Allah: “Our Lord! Send us not to the company of the wrong- doers!” After the people of Paradise and the people of Hell go, Allah Almighty will forgive them with His mercy and send them to Paradise. 3

As a matter of fact, when the Prophet was asked who the people of A'raf were, he said,

“After Allah Almighty divides His slaves, He will say to the remaining ones, ‘Your thawabs have saved you from Hell but you have not deserved Paradise. I free you from Hell with My mercy. Go to Paradise, which you desire.’4

Besides, it is stated in some narrations that the people of a'raf are not human beings but a group of angels. All of those explanations are in compliance with the concept and meaning of the verse.

However, Ibrahim Hakkı writes in page 21 of his book Marifetname that insane people who are exempt from religious responsibilities and the children of the unbelievers are people of a'raf; he adds that they feel sad when they see the people of Paradise because they cannot attain the boons that they have, that they feel thankful when they see the people of Hell and that they will stay in this state forever. The explanation of Ibrahim Hakkı, who is great man, is an explanation of the issue from a different viewpoint. However, all of the explanations about “a'raf” and the people of a'raf are interpretations of the verse. Allah knows the real meaning of the verse best.

As for the issue of the children of the unbelievers and those who have never heard of any religions, as it is stated in the last verse of the chapter of an-Naba, when the unbelievers see that animals have been transformed into soil, they will wish to have been created as animals and they will lament. One of the meanings of the phrase “youths of perpetual freshness” mentioned in verse 17 of the chapter of al-Waqia is the children of unbelievers who have no thawabs or sins and that they will serve the people of Paradise.5

In that case, it is understood that the children of unbelievers will not be transformed into soil and that only animals will be transformed into soil. We can accept the explanation of Ibrahim Hakkı regarding the issue as an explanation peculiar to him.  

Footnotes:

1. al-A'raf, 7/46-49.
2. at-Tafsirul-Kabir, XIV/87.
3- Tabari Tafsir, VIII/136-139.
4. ibid.
5. Tafsirun-Nishaburi (included in the marginal notes of Tabari Tafsir), XXVII/105.

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