How Many Groups of People will there be on the Day of Judgement?
Brief description of the dubiety
According to verses 7-10 of Surah al-Waqiah, people will be divided into the three groups on the Day of Judgement and they are: the People of the Right Hand (Ashab al-Maymanah), the People of the Left Hand (Ashab al-Mashamah) and the Foremost Ones (Sabiqoon). However, according to verses 17-19 of Surah al-Balad, people will only be divided into two groups, namely the People of the Right Hand, and the People of the Left Hand. Now, let us take a closer look as to why there is a difference between these verses.
Detailed description of the dubiety
Verses which state that on the Day of Judgement, people will be divided into three groups
In verses 7-10 of Surah al-Waqiah, it has been revealed that: “You will be three groups: The People of the Right Hand - and what are the People of the Right Hand?! And the People of the Left Hand - and what are the People of the Left Hand?! And the Foremost Ones are the foremost ones” According to these verses, on the Day of Judgement, people will be divided into three groups as mentioned.
Verses that state that on the Day of Judgement, people will be divided into two groups
In verses 17-19 of Surah al-Balad, it has been revealed: “While being one of those who have faith and enjoin one another to patience, and enjoin one another to compassion. They are the People of the Right Hand. But those who defy Our signs, they are the People of the Left Hand.” According to these verses, people will only be divided into the two groups.
Based on these verses, we wish to take a look at whether the people on the Day of Judgement will be divided into two or three groups, as there appears on the onset to be a contradiction in the Holy Quran.
A summarized response
When only one thing is divided up and this division takes place from one aspect, there is a possibility for the number of divisions to increase or decrease. However, this statement is only correct for true divisions, not false divisions. The verses of Surah al-Balad that divides the people on the Day of Judgement into two groups, namely those of the Right Hand and those of the Left Hand demonstrates a true division. But, the verses of Surah al-Waqiah that adds the Foremost Ones to the two initial groups, does not demonstrate a true division, because in reality the Foremost Ones fall under the category of the People of the Right Hand, but have been mentioned separately due to their special prominence and privilege that they possess which is not equivalent to the two initial groups. Therefore, to say that this is an entirely new group is a false division; and thus in order to claim that there is a contradiction it can only be proved in the instance that both divisions are true, but this is not the case here, so there is no contradiction.
A detailed response
There are two possibilities in regards to the meaning of the phrase ‘the People of the Right Hand’ in verse 8 of Surah al-Waqiah, and based on both of these possibilities, there is no contradiction present among the verses of Surah al-Waqiah and Surah al-Balad. Later on, this apparent contradiction will be analyzed based on these two meanings of the verse. After that, the lexical meanings of the three phrases ‘the People of the Right Hand,’ ‘the People of the Left Hand,’ and ‘the Foremost Ones’ will be clarified; of course, it may not be relevant to the indications of the literal meaning.
Who are the People of the Right Hand and the People of the Left Hand?
In its lexical definition, maymanah means blessing and comes from the word yumn. Likewise, maymanah which is the right side, is the opposite of mashamah, which is the left side.  In its lexical definition, mashamah has the opposite meaning to yumn and comes from the word shum. Likewise, it is used with the meaning of ‘left’ in opposition to maymanah. 
Based on the mentioned lexical definition of Ashab al-Maymanah, either they are people who are prosperous, happy and blessed; or they are those people who on the Day of Judgement will be given their scroll of deeds to them in their right hands, which in itself is a sign of prosperity, righteousness and being of those who attained salvation, and this meaning is not disconnected from the first meaning.
Ashab al-Mashamah are those who are inauspicious, unhappy and wrongdoers; or they are those who on the Day of Judgement will be given their scroll of deeds to them in their left hands, which in itself is a sign of adversity, perversion and being doomed to hell, and this is not disconnected from the first meaning. 
Who are the Foremost Ones?
Sabiqoon comes from the root word sabq which means to precede and be foremost.  Based on a narration that we have from Imam al-Sadiq, the Sabiqoon are the Prophets of Allah and the awliyah (the close ones) of Allah.   In reality, they are a distinguished group from among the People of the Right Hand who have been mentioned separately due to their special features.
Analyzing the contradiction based on the first definition of the phrase ‘the People of the Right Hand’ in verse 8 of Surah al-Waqiah
Surah al-Waqiah divides people on the Day of Judgement into three groups. One of these groups is the People of the Right Hand, and in regards to the meaning of ‘the People of the Right Hand’ in these verses, there are two possibilities. The first meaning is the lexical meaning of the phrase, which is the ‘absolute prosperous ones.’ In this instance, it also includes the Foremost Ones, because they too are from the prosperous ones, but have been mentioned separately due to their distinguished features. Now, the contradiction will be analyzed based on this meaning.
Premise: (Types of division)
In order for the response to be clarified, it is necessary that a premise be drafted in regards to the types of division, and their relationship with one another. Division and classification of every collection is possible in two ways: ‘true division’ and ‘false division.’
1. True division
A collection of people or objects are classified in such a way that no one class has any commonality with the other class; i.e. in reality, every object or person is placed in one separate class, not more. Idiomatically, when such a relation exists between the classes, this type of classification is called a ‘true division.’ For example, ‘words’ have been divided into three classes: ‘nouns,’ ‘verbs’ and ‘particles’ in grammar, and none of these three classes have any commonality to one another; meaning that every word will fall under only one of these classes.
2. False division
Sometimes the classification of people or objects is done in such a way that it is possible that the classes have a commonality with one another, such that one person or object falls under two classes. Idiomatically, when such a relationship exists between the classes, this type of classification is called ‘false division.’ The classification regarding fruits can be used as an example of a false division. For example, it can be said that a fruit field has been divided into three sections: a section for locally produced fruit, a section for outsourced fruits, and a section for luxurious fruits. If we are to say that this division is true, then we must say that the luxurious fruits are not grown locally and they are not outsourced, because they are a class separate from the first two classes, however such a thing is not possible, so this division is false. In addition, we know that luxurious fruits are predominantly locally sourced and outsourced, therefore in reality, luxurious fruits fall under and are considered part of the second class. Therefore, a true division in this example does not have more than two classes: local and foreign; however, due to the fact that luxurious fruits usually have their own specific customers, it has been mentioned in the form of a false division and in a separate section.
Division of people on the Day of Judgement into three groups is false, not true
In regards to the groups of people on the Day of Judgement, the places in which they have been divided into the two groups, namely the ‘People of the Right Hand’ and the ‘People of the Left Hand’ - this intent is a true division, because people will only be placed in one of these two groups. However, the places in which the people have been divided into three groups, namely the ‘People of the Right Hand,’ ‘People of the Left Hand’ and the ‘Foremost Ones’ - this is a false division. What it means is that the ‘Foremost Ones’ are an offshoot of the ‘People of the Right Hand,’ and every person who falls in the group of the ‘Foremost Ones’ also has a place in the group of the ‘People of the Right Hand.’
A contradiction can only be present when it is claimed that both scenarios are true divisions, but in the above examples such is not the case. Likewise, the only time that it can be said that the division of the people into three groups is a mistake is when mentioning the third group has no reason; but here the third group possess special Prophetic features, and for this reason it has been mentioned separately.
In a meeting, the minister of industry says: “Only a small portion of the clothes that are available in the market are produced locally, and the main portion is foreign apparel.” The week after in his speech, the minister of industry says: “The portion of locally produced apparel in the market is less than the amount desired, and the abundance of foreign goods has resulted in the disruption of the market. Contraband has also increased with difficulty.” In his first sentence, the minister divided the apparel available in the bazar into locally produced and foreign. Then in his second sentence, he divided the apparel available in the bazar into three sections: locally produced, foreign produce and contraband or illegal. Despite this, there is no contradiction between the two divisions because the first division is true and all of the apparel are either local or foreign. However, the second division is a false division because contraband clothing itself falls under the class of foreign produced clothes, however, due to its role in the disruption of the market, it has also been mentioned separately. In conclusion, the second kind of division is not a true one, and thus it referred to as a false division.
In the verses discussed above, the places in which people are divided into three groups is also a false division, because the Foremost Ones are most assuredly contained within the group of the ‘People of the Right Hand,’ but due to the fact that the Foremost Ones are the Prophets themselves and certain chosen individuals, and they have a distinguished rank and peculiarities in relation to the rest of the People of the Right Hand in paradise, they have been mentioned separately.
Analyzing the contradiction based on the second definition of the phrase the ‘People of the Right Hand’ in verse 8 of Surah al-Waqiah
Surah al-Waqiah has divided people on the Day of Judgement into three groups. In regards to the meaning of the ‘People of the Right Hand’ in these verses, two possibilities exist and the analysis of the contradiction based on the first possibility has ended. The second definition of this phrase in terms of inclusion, is more limited than the first definition, and only includes the prosperous one who are not the Foremost Ones. How this definition was deduced from the verse will become clear as we delve into it further and analyze the contradiction based on this definition.
Premise: The role of confronting context in understanding the meaning of a text
With due attention to the context present in the words or the text, sometimes the meanings of the texts are different to the first meanings that are understood from them. In order to understand the words of a speaker, it is necessary to pay close attention to the context. It is possible that different meanings can be understood from a text when they are put alongside other texts. For example, let us pay further attention to the following two sentences. The first sentence: “The Brazilian football team set off for the Olympics this morning.” The second sentence: “The Brazilian football team and the technical staff of this team allocated the title of the best team and the best technical staff to themselves.” The intention of the speaker through the text ‘The Brazilian football team’ in the second sentence were only the players of that team, because the ‘technical staff of that team’ in this sentence was separated from the team. But in the first sentence, the intention of the speaker from the text ‘The Brazilian football team’ were the players and the technical staff of the team all together. Therefore, it is possible that one text can have meanings other than its original meaning due to the presence of a specific text. These types of contexts are called confronting contexts; meaning that in order to discover the meaning of a text, it is necessary to observe what texts have been used in the adjacent and other texts.
Division of the people on the Day of Judgement into three groups is real and reconcilable with the division into two groups
The claim is that with due attention to the confronting context intended by the ‘People of the Right Hand’ in verse 8 of Surah al-Waqiah, the prosperous ones are not in an absolute sense - contrarily, only the prosperous ones other than the ‘Foremost Ones’ are included. The explanation is this: the first meaning of the phrase for the ‘People of the Right Hand’ is an extensive meaning and it also includes the ‘Foremost Ones.’ However, the same way as it has been explained, in order to gain an accurate understanding of the texts, it is necessary to observe other texts alongside those which the speaker has brought his text. In Surah al-Waqiah, the phrase ‘the People of the Right Hand’ has not come alongside ‘the People of the Left Hand’ alone, and a third group has also been mentioned with the title of the ‘Foremost Ones.’ With due attention to the fact that the ‘Foremost Ones’ has come alongside the ‘People of the Right Hand’ as one of the parts of the division, we find that the intent from the ‘People of the Right Hand’ is not its general and extensive meaning, but it only includes the ordinary prosperous people; because the speaker has placed the ‘Foremost Ones’ who are the distinct prosperous ones, separate from the other divisions. With this explanation, the division of people into three groups is also a logical one, but it does not negate dividing people into two groups. The reason for this is that the ‘People of the Right Hand’ in the division into two classes has a general meaning, and in the division into three classes, it has a meaning more general than the ‘People of the Right Hand,’ which again also splits into two parts - the first part are the prosperous ones other than the ‘Foremost Ones,’ and the second part are those who are the ‘Foremost Ones.’ Therefore, for the division into two classes, the overall division is presented; and for the division into three classes, the division has been done in a more specific and detailed manner, but this does not result in any kind of a contradiction.
- Sihah, Volume 6, Page 2220
- Ibid., Volume 5, Page 1957
- Tafseer Nemunah, Volume 23, Page 203
- Lisan al-Arab, Volume 1, Page 151
- The Foremost Ones are the Prophets of Allah, peace and blessings be upon them; and the chosen ones of Allah from amongst His creations.
- Al-Kafi, Volume 1, Page 677