What is the meaning of the trust offered to the heavens and the earth, and the Mountains?
33:72 We have offered the trust to the heavens and the earth, and the mountains, but they refused to bear it, and were fearful of it. But man accepted it; he was transgressing, ignorant.
The Trust is something given to a person, over which he has a power of disposition: he is expected to use it as directed or expected, but he has the power to use it otherwise. There is no trust if the trustee has no power, and the trust implies that the giver of the trust believes and expects that the trustee would use it according to the wish of the creator of the trust, and not otherwise.
59:21 Had We sent down this Quran to a mountain, you would have seen it trembling, crumbling, out of concern from Allah. And such are the examples We put forth for the people, that they may reflect.
In verse 59:21 where the hypothetical sending down of the Qur’an to the Mountains is mentioned, and it is mentioned that such Parables are put forth in order to aid men to reflection. We may therefore take the Mountains, the Earth, and the Heavens as symbolical. The mountains stand for firmness and stability: they have been created for this quality, and they are always true to that quality. An earthquake or a volcano has to do with movements within the earth’s crust: it has nothing to do with the Mountain’s will. In fact it has no free will of any kind: there is no question of any Trust here. If we take the Earth as a whole, as a part of the solar system or a compendium of the terrestrial Nature we see around us, it obeys the fixed laws of Allah, and there is no Will or Trust. If we take the Heavens either as celestial space, or as symbolical of the Angels, they absolutely obey Allah’s Will and law: they have no will of their own.
The Heavens, the Earth, and the Mountains, i.e., other creatures of Allah, besides man, refused to undertake a Trust or a responsibility, and may be imagined as happy without a choice of good or evil being given through their will. In saying that they refused, we imply a will, but we limit it by the statement that they did not undertake to be given a choice between good and evil. They preferred to submit their will entirely to Allah’s Will, which is All-Wise and Perfect, and which would give them far more happiness than a faculty of choice, with their imperfect knowledge. Man was too audacious and ignorant to realize this, and the result has been that man as a race has been disrupted: the evil ones have betrayed the trust and brought Punishment on themselves, though the good have been able to rise far above other Creation, to be among the muqarrabin, the nearest ones to Allah: 56:11 and 56:88.
What can be higher than this for any creature? It follows incidentally from this that the Heavens and the Earth were created before man was created, and this is in accordance with what we know of the physical world in science: man came on the scene at a comparatively late stage.
Hamala in verse 33:72 means to undertake, bear, carry (the Trust or responsibility), to be equal to it. This is the ordinary meaning, and the majority of Commentators construe so. But some understand it to mean “to carry away, run away with, to embezzle (the thing entrusted); hence to be false to the Trust, to betray the Trust.” In that case the sense of verses 72-73 would be: “Allah offered the Trust to other creatures, but they refused, lest they should betray it, being afraid from that point of view: but man was less fair to himself: in his ignorance he accepted and betrayed the trust, with the result that some of his race became Hypocrites and Unbelievers and were punished, though others were faithful to the Trust and received Allah’s Mercy.” The resulting conclusion is the same under both interpretations.
Allah intended a very high destiny for man, and placed him in his uncorrupted state even above the angels as mentioned in 2:30-34, but in his corruption he made himself even lower than the beasts. What was it that made man so high and noble? The differentiating quality which Allah gave man was that Allah breathed something of His own spirit into man (32:9; 15:29 and n. 1968; and other passages). This meant that man was given a limited choice of good and evil, and that he was made capable of Forbearance, Love, and Mercy. And in himself man summed up Allah’s great world: man is in himself a microcosm.
That man should undertake the Allah-like attributes (in however small a degree) of Will, Forbearance, Love, and Mercy, brought him nearer to Allah than was possible for any other creature of Allah. This was part of Allah’s Will and Plan, but little did man realise then what a tremendous task he was undertaking or question himself whether he would be equal to it. Zalum (translated “unjust”) and Jahul (ignorant) are both in the Arabic intensive form; as much as to say, ‘man signally failed to measure his own powers or his own knowledge’. But Allah’s Grace came to his assistance. Where man did his best, he won through by Allah’s Grace, even though man’s Best was but a poor Good.
How did man generically undertake this great Responsibility, which made him Vicegerent of Allah (2:30)? Here comes in the mystic doctrine of a Covenant, expressed or implied, between Allah and Humanity. See 7:172-73.
7:172 And your Lord took for the children of Adam from their backs, their progeny; and He made them witness over themselves: “Am I not your Lord?” They said: “Yes, we bear witness.” Thus you cannot say on the Day of Resurrection that you were unaware of this.
7:173 Nor can you say: “It was our fathers who set up partners before and we were simply a progeny who came after them. Would You destroy us for what the innovators did?”
also 5:1. A Covenant (Mithaq) necessarily implies Trust, and its breach necessarily implies Punishment.
5:1 O you who believe, honor your contracts. Made lawful for you are the animals of the livestock, except that which is being recited to you. You are not permitted to hunt the game while you are under restriction. Allah decrees as He pleases.
PUNISHMENT FOR BREAKING THE TRUST THE HYPOCRITE MALES AND THE FEMALES AND THE POLYTHEIST MALES AND FEMALES WHILE REWARD FOR BELIEVING MALES AND FEMALE FOR KEEPING THE TRUST.
33:73 So that Allah may punish the hypocrite males and the hypocrite females, and the polytheist males and the polytheist females. And Allah redeems the believing males and the believing females. And Allah is Forgiver, Merciful.
(With the result) that Allah has to punish the Hypocrites, men and women, and the Unbelievers, men and women, and Allah turns in Mercy to the Believers, men and women: for Allah is Oft- Forgiving, Most Merciful. (Translation)
Man’s generic Covenant, which flowed from his exercising the option given him, choosing Will, Forbearance, Love, and Mercy, made it necessary that breach of it should carry its own punishment. Breach of it is here classed under two heads: those who betray their Trust act either as Hypocrites or as Unbelievers. Hypocrites are those who profess Faith but bring not forth the fruits of Faith. Unbelievers are those who openly defy Faith, and from whom therefore no fruits of Faith are to be expected.
Those who remain firm to their Faith and their Covenant will receive the aid of Allah’s Grace; their faults and weaknesses will be cured: and they will be made worthy of their exalted Destiny. For Allah is Oft- Returning and Most Merciful.