Between them shall be a veil, and on the heights will be men who would know every one 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).
Who are the People of A’raf?
As a corrollary of the dialogue between those in Paradise and Hell,
there is something else pointed to in this verse – that there will be
some people who had their deliverance from Hell but had not yet found
entry into Paradise, though they did hope that they would. These people are called the people of A’raf.
What is A’raf? This is explained by the verses of Surah Al-Hadid
(58). They tell us that there will be three groups of people on the day of
Resurrection. (1) Declared disbelievers and polytheists who will never
make it to the Bridge of Sirat, to begin with, because they will be
thrown into the Hell through its doors before that stage comes; (2) believers who will have the light of Faith with them; and (3) hypocrites –
since they have been tailing Muslims in the physical world, they will
start behind them on the same trail. When they begin walking on the
Bridge of Sirat, a dense darkness will overtake all of them. The believers will still keep moving ahead with the help of their light of Faith
while the hypocrites will call and ask them to stop and wait for them
so that they could make use of the light they have. Thereupon, a caller
for the sake of Allah will call: Turn back. Find your light there. The
message given would be that the light they were seeking was the light
of Faith and Righteous Deeds which could only be acquired at a place
which they have left behind. Those who failed to acquire this light
there through Faith and Deed shall not enjoy the benefit of that light
here. In this state, a wall would be made to stand in between the hypocrites and the believers. The wall would have a gate. Beyond this gate, there will be nothing but punishment all over. Inside the gate there
will be believers and the atmosphere will be filled with the mercy of Allah and the view of Paradise. This is the subject of the following verse from Surah Al-Hadid:
The Day the hypocrites, the men and the women, will say to
those who had believed: “Wait for us. Let us have a share from
your light,” it will be said, “Return behind you, then seek
light.” So, put between them will be a wall with a gate in it.
Inside it, there will be mercy all over; and outside it, the Punishment face to face – 57:13.
In the verse quoted above, the wall which will be placed to separate the people of Paradise from the people of Hell has been called: (sir). This word is primarily used for a security wall built around a major city, usually made wide and fortified and posted where are army guards who stay in bunkers and remain vigilant against any enemies.
Verse 46 of Surah Al-A’raf says: (And between the two groups there will be a partition). According to
Ibn Jarir and other Tafsir authorities, in this verse, the word: (hijab) means the same wall which has been called: (sur) in Sirah Al Hadid. The top portion of the wall is known as Al-A’raf because it is
the plural form of ‘Urf and ‘Urf refers to the top portion of everything
as it is distinct and recognizable from a distance. From this explanation we know that the top portion of the partition wall between Paradise and Hell is the A’raf. Then, the verse of the Surah tells us that on
the day of Resurrection there will be some people at this place who
would be seeing the happenings in Paradise and Hell both and will be
talking to people on both sides.
As for who these people shall be and why would they be made to
stop here, it is something in which commentators differ and the narrations of Hadith vary. But, what is sound, weighty and acceptable with the majority of commentators is that these people will be the ones
whose good and bad deeds will come out equal in weight on the Scale of Deeds. So, because of their good deeds, they will have their deliverance from Hell, but – because of their sins – they would have not been admitted into the Paradise yet. Finally, they too will find entry into Paradise because of the grace and mercy of Allah Ta’ala.
This is what Sayyidna Hudhayfah, Ibn Mas’ud and Ibn ‘Abbas, from among the Sahabah, as well as other Sahabah and Tabi’in say. Then, in it converge narrations of Hadith reported variously. Ibn
Jarir reports from Sayyidna Hudhayfah that the Holy Prophet (SAW) was asked about the people of A’raf. He said: These are people whose good and bad deeds will be equal. Therefore, from Jahannam they stand delivered. But, in Jannah they have not entered yet. They were stopped at this place of the A’raf until the process of accounting of deeds and the judgement is over. Their fate would be decided after that and ultimately they will be forgiven and admitted into Jannah. (Ibn Kathir)
There is a narration from Sayyidna Jabir ibn ‘Abdullah reported by
Ibn Marduwayh in which it is said that the Holy Prophet (saw)
was asked as to who were the people of A’raf’? He said: They are people
who took part in Jihad without the pleasure and permission of their
parents and laid down their lives in the way of Allah. So, the disobedience to parents stopped them from entering into the Paradise and their shahadah in the way of Allah stopped them from entering into
The two hadith quoted above have no element of contradiction.
Instead of that, this Hadith is an example of those whose virtues and
vices are equal in the same degree as here – martyrdom in the way of
Allah on one side and disobedience to parents on the other. The scale
is equal. (Ibn Kathir)
Shafi, Muhammad (2008). Maariful Quran. (Vol .3 surah 7 verses 46). English-MaarifulQuran-MuftiShafiUsmaniRA-Vol-3.pdf (islamicweblibrary.com)