وُجُوهٌ يَوْمَئِذٍ خَاشِعَةٌ عَامِلَةٌ نَّاصِبَةٌ (Many faces on that day will be humbled, working hard, exhausted...88:3). On the Day of Judgement, there will be two separate groups of people, believers and unbelievers, and their faces will be different. This verse describes the faces of the unbelievers. They will be downcast. The word khashi'ah from the root word khusha' means 'to humble, humiliate, cast down'. This is the meaning of casting oneself down before Allah in prayer. People who did not cast themselves down before Allah in this world, their faces on the Day of Judgement will be downcast with humiliation and disgrace.
The other conditions of the unbelievers are 'amilah and nasibah. The word 'amilah from 'amal means 'to work hard' and 'amil or 'amilah in Arabic is used for 'a person who works continuously, so as to become completely tired'. The word nasibah is derived from nasab. This word also refers to 'one who toils unceasingly so as to become totally exhausted'. It seems that the latter two conditions of the unbelievers relate to this world, because Hereafter is not a realm in which one has to work to become so tired and exhausted. Therefore, Qurtubi and other commentators are of the view that the humbleness of their faces relates to the Hereafter, but their working hard and being exhausted refers to their work in this world. Given this interpretation, the sense is that many unbelievers exert themselves in their false rituals, and work hard in their presumed acts of worship in the world, as for instance the Hindu Yogis and many Christian monks do. They endure many difficulties in the devotional acts of worship sincerely in order to seek the good pleasure of Allah, but being on wrong and idolatrous ways, they are not acceptable to, or rewarded by, Allah. Thus their faces show signs of exhaustion in this world; and in the Hereafter they will show signs of disgrace and humiliation.
Sayyidna Hasan Basri رحمة الله تعالى reports that when Sayyidna 'Umar رضي الله عنه went to Syria, a Christian monk came to him. He was an old man, and on account of his religious exercises and great endeavours, his face was exhausted, his body was dry and his dressing was miserable. When Sayyidna 'Umar رضي الله عنه looked at him, he began to weep. People asked him about the cause of his weeping. He replied: "I pity the condition of this old man. This poor soul worked so hard and showed such readiness to lay down his life to achieve a particular purpose (that is, to gain the pleasure of Allah) but, alas! He could not achieve it. Then he recited the following verse:
وُجُوهٌ يَوْمَئِذٍ خَاشِعَةٌ عَامِلَةٌ نَّاصِبَةٌ
Many faces on that day will be humbled, 'working hard, exhausted.[88:2-3]'
نَارًا حَامِيَةً (...[the] scorching fire...88:4). The word hamiyah literally means 'hot' and 'scorching'. Although this is the natural property of fire that needed no mention, yet the specific reference to this quality of the fire brings out the point that the fire of Hell cannot be compared to the fire of this world. The heat of the fire of this world, some time or the other, is reduced or ends. But the fire of Hell is everlasting and eternal. Its heat will neither reduce nor end.
لَّيْسَ لَهُمْ طَعَامٌ إِلَّا مِن ضَرِيعٍ (There will be no food for them except from a thorny plant...88:6) The only food available for the inmates of Hell would be dari'. In the world, this is a kind of thorny grass that spreads on the ground. No animal goes near it. It is foul-smelling,poisonous and thorny. [As interpreted by 'Ikrimah, Mujahid, and quoted by Qurtubi].
How will Grass or Tree Survive in Hell
One may ask the question that the grass or trees are among things that burn in fire. How will they survive in Hellfire? The answer is that the Supreme Creator Who cherished and sustained them in this world with water and air, has the power and ability to make the fire itself the nutrient of these trees, so that they may flourish.
Another question may be raised here. The Qur'an mentions several things as the food of the inmates of Hell. Here it refers to their food as dari'. On another occasion, it refers to zaqqum, and on a third occasion it refers to ghislin. This verse restricts their food to dari', thus: 'There will be no food for them except from a thorny plant.. .88:6)
The answer is that the restriction in this verse is in contrast to a palatable food that may be fit for [human] consumption. Dart' is cited here as an example. The verse means that the inmates of Hell will not get any palatable food. They will get worst, most disgusting and loathsome food like dart'. Thus the purpose of mentioning dart' is not restriction. In fact, dart' includes zaqqum and ghislin. Qurtubi says that it is possible there will be different levels in Hell, and on different levels there will be different kinds of food. On one level, there will be dart' and on another level, ghislin, and so on.
لَّا يُسْمِنُ وَلَا يُغْنِي مِن جُوعٍ (that will neither nourish, nor satisfy hunger...88:7). When the preceding verse was revealed in which it was stated that the inmates of Hell will get food like dart', some of the pagans of Makkah [mockingly] said that their camels eat dari' and yet they are fat and healthy. In response to their statement, the following verse of the Qur'an was revealed which means that they should not compare the dari' of this world with that of the Hereafter. The latter will neither provide nutrition, nor satisfy their hunger.