Surah al-Tawbah (38-60)

Surah al-Tawbah (38-60)


Qur'anic Exegesis

یٰۤاَیُّہَا الَّذِیۡنَ اٰمَنُوۡا مَا لَکُمۡ اِذَا قِیۡلَ لَکُمُ انۡفِرُوۡا فِیۡسَبِیۡلِ اللّٰہِ اثَّاقَلۡتُمۡ اِلَی الۡاَرۡضِؕ اَرَضِیۡتُمۡ بِالۡحَیٰوۃِ الدُّنۡیَا مِنَ الۡاٰخِرَۃِ ۚفَمَا مَتَاعُ الۡحَیٰوۃِ الدُّنۡیَا فِی الۡاٰخِرَۃِ اِلَّا قَلِیۡلٌ. اِلَّا تَنۡفِرُوۡا یُعَذِّبۡکُمۡ عَذَابًا اَلِیۡمًا۬ۙ وَّ یَسۡتَبۡدِلۡ قَوۡمًا غَیۡرَکُمۡ وَ لَا تَضُرُّوۡہُ شَیۡئًاؕ وَ اللّٰہُ عَلٰی کُلِّ شَیۡءٍ قَدِیۡرٌ. اِلَّا تَنۡصُرُوۡہُ فَقَدۡ نَصَرَہُ اللّٰہُ اِذۡ اَخۡرَجَہُ الَّذِیۡنَ کَفَرُوۡا ثَانِیَ اثۡنَیۡنِ اِذۡ ہُمَا فِی الۡغَارِ اِذۡ یَقُوۡلُ لِصَاحِبِہٖ لَا تَحۡزَنۡ اِنَّ اللّٰہَ مَعَنَاۚ فَاَنۡزَلَ اللّٰہُ سَکِیۡنَتَہٗ عَلَیۡہِ وَ اَیَّدَہٗ بِجُنُوۡدٍ لَّمۡ تَرَوۡہَا وَ جَعَلَ کَلِمَۃَ الَّذِیۡنَ کَفَرُوا السُّفۡلٰیؕ وَ کَلِمَۃُ اللّٰہِ ہِیَ الۡعُلۡیَاؕ وَ اللّٰہُ عَزِیۡزٌ حَکِیۡمٌ. (38۔40)

Believers![1] What is the matter with you that when it said is said to you: "Go out [to wage jihad] for the cause of God," you fall flat to the ground.[2] Are you content with the life of this world in contrast to the Hereafter? So, [in reality,] in the Hereafter, this provision of the world will turn out to be very little. [Thus, get up;] if you do not get up, then [remember that] God will give you a painful punishment and bring some other nation in your place and you will not be able to harm God the least.[3] God has power over everything.[4] If you do not help the Prophet, [it does not matter] because He was helped by God at the time when these disbelievers turned him out such that he was the second of the two[5] when both of them were in the cave when he was telling his companion: "Grieve not; God is with us."[6] At that time, God sent down His tranquillity on him and helped him with armies you could not see and He brought down the word of the disbelievers and only the word of God remained high. God is powerful; He is very wise.[7] (38-40)

اِنۡفِرُوۡا خِفَافًا وَّ ثِقَالًا وَّ جَاہِدُوۡا بِاَمۡوَالِکُمۡ وَ اَنۡفُسِکُمۡ فِیۡ سَبِیۡلِ اللّٰہِؕ ذٰلِکُمۡ خَیۡرٌ لَّکُمۡ اِنۡ کُنۡتُمۡ تَعۡلَمُوۡنَ. لَوۡ کَانَ عَرَضًا قَرِیۡبًا وَّ سَفَرًا قَاصِدًا لَّاتَّبَعُوۡکَ وَ لٰکِنۡۢ بَعُدَتۡ عَلَیۡہِمُ الشُّقَّۃُ ؕوَسَیَحۡلِفُوۡنَ بِاللّٰہِ لَوِ اسۡتَطَعۡنَا لَخَرَجۡنَا مَعَکُمۡۚ یُہۡلِکُوۡنَ اَنۡفُسَہُمۡۚ وَ اللّٰہُ یَعۡلَمُ اِنَّہُمۡ لَکٰذِبُوۡنَ. (41۔42)

Go out whether light or heavy, and wage jihad for the cause of God with your persons and wealth.[8] This is better for you if you know. [O Prophet!] Had the gain been immediate and the journey light, these people would have followed you; but this destination became harsh for them.[9] Now they will swear oaths by God: "If we could have come out we definitely would have come out with you." They are destroying themselves.[10] God knows that they are absolute liars. (41-42)

عَفَا اللّٰہُ عَنۡکَۚلِمَ اَذِنۡتَ لَہُمۡ حَتّٰی یَتَبَیَّنَ لَکَ الَّذِیۡنَ صَدَقُوۡا وَ تَعۡلَمَ الۡکٰذِبِیۡنَ. لَا یَسۡتَاۡذِنُکَ الَّذِیۡنَ یُؤۡمِنُوۡنَ بِاللّٰہِ وَ الۡیَوۡمِ الۡاٰخِرِ اَنۡ یُّجَاہِدُوۡا بِاَمۡوَالِہِمۡ وَ اَنۡفُسِہِمۡؕ وَ اللّٰہُ عَلِیۡمٌۢ بِالۡمُتَّقِیۡنَ. اِنَّمَا یَسۡتَاۡذِنُکَ الَّذِیۡنَ لَا یُؤۡمِنُوۡنَ بِاللّٰہِ وَ الۡیَوۡمِ الۡاٰخِرِ وَارۡتَابَتۡ قُلُوۡبُہُمۡ فَہُمۡ فِیۡ رَیۡبِہِمۡ یَتَرَدَّدُوۡنَ. وَ لَوۡ اَرَادُوا الۡخُرُوۡجَ لَاَعَدُّوۡا لَہٗ عُدَّۃً وَّ لٰکِنۡ کَرِہَ اللّٰہُ انۡۢبِعَاثَہُمۡ فَثَبَّطَہُمۡ وَ قِیۡلَ اقۡعُدُوۡا مَعَ الۡقٰعِدِیۡنَ. (43۔46)

May God forgive you [O Prophet!] Why did you excuse them [from this journey]? [You should not have done this] until it would have become evident to you who the truthful are and you would have known the liars also.[11] Those who truly believe in God and the Hereafter will never come to you to ask exemption from you to wage jihad with their persons and wealth. God knows full well [those who have genuine excuses and] those who fear Him. Only those come to you to ask for exemption who do not believe in God and the Hereafter and whose hearts are inflicted with doubts; so, they are wandering about in these doubts. If they wanted to go out they would definitely have made some preparation but God did not like their getting up. Therefore, He stopped them and it was said: "Sit with those who sit."[12] (43-46)

لَوۡ خَرَجُوۡا فِیۡکُمۡ مَّا زَادُوۡکُمۡ اِلَّا خَبَالًا وَّ لَا۠اَوۡضَعُوۡا خِلٰلَکُمۡ یَبۡغُوۡنَکُمُ الۡفِتۡنَۃَ ۚوَ فِیۡکُمۡ سَمّٰعُوۡنَ لَہُمۡؕ وَ اللّٰہُ عَلِیۡمٌۢ بِالظّٰلِمِیۡنَ. لَقَدِ ابۡتَغَوُا الۡفِتۡنَۃَ مِنۡ قَبۡلُ وَ قَلَّبُوۡا لَکَ الۡاُمُوۡرَ حَتّٰی جَآءَالۡحَقُّ وَ ظَہَرَ اَمۡرُ اللّٰہِ وَ ہُمۡ کٰرِہُوۡنَ. (47۔48)

[In reality,] if these people had joined you to march ahead, they would have only increased the harm to you and all their struggle would have been to incite mischief among you. There are those among you who do listen to them.[13] God is fully aware of these unjust people. They sought to work up mischief earlier as well and have been turning about matters for you[14] until [against their will] the truth appeared and God's directive manifested itself. (47-48)

وَ مِنۡہُمۡ مَّنۡ یَّقُوۡلُ ائۡذَنۡ لِّیۡ وَ لَا تَفۡتِنِّیۡ ؕاَلَا فِی الۡفِتۡنَۃِ سَقَطُوۡاؕ وَ اِنَّ جَہَنَّمَ لَمُحِیۡطَۃٌۢ بِالۡکٰفِرِیۡنَ. اِنۡ تُصِبۡکَ حَسَنَۃٌ تَسُؤۡہُمۡۚ وَاِنۡ تُصِبۡکَ مُصِیۡبَۃٌ یَّقُوۡلُوۡا قَدۡ اَخَذۡنَاۤ اَمۡرَنَا مِنۡ قَبۡلُ وَ یَتَوَلَّوۡا وَّ ہُمۡ فَرِحُوۡنَ. قُلۡ لَّنۡ یُّصِیۡبَنَاۤ اِلَّا مَا کَتَبَ اللّٰہُ لَنَاۚ ہُوَ مَوۡلٰىنَاۚ وَ عَلَی اللّٰہِ فَلۡیَتَوَکَّلِ الۡمُؤۡمِنُوۡنَ. قُلۡ ہَلۡ تَرَبَّصُوۡنَ بِنَاۤ اِلَّاۤ اِحۡدَی الۡحُسۡنَیَیۡنِؕ وَ نَحۡنُ نَتَرَبَّصُ بِکُمۡ اَنۡ یُّصِیۡبَکُمُ اللّٰہُ بِعَذَابٍ مِّنۡ عِنۡدِہٖۤ اَوۡ بِاَیۡدِیۡنَا۫ۖ فَتَرَبَّصُوۡۤا اِنَّا مَعَکُمۡ مُّتَرَبِّصُوۡنَ. (49۔52)

There are those among them also who say: "Grant me exemption and do not put me through a trial."[15] – Listen up! They are already passing through a trial[16] and [now] Hell is embracing these disbelievers.[17] If some good befalls you, they are grieved, and when some calamity befalls you, they say: ["Good that this happened."] We had already secured ourselves and they return joyous.[18] Tell them: "Only that will befall us what God has ordained for us. He is our guardian and believers should trust Him alone." Tell them: "What you await in our matter is nothing except one out of two virtues.[19] But what we await for you is that either God will send His torment to you from Himself or through our hands.[20] So wait, we also are among those who wait with you. (49-52)

قُلۡ اَنۡفِقُوۡا طَوۡعًا اَوۡ کَرۡہًا لَّنۡ یُّتَقَبَّلَ مِنۡکُمۡؕ اِنَّکُمۡ کُنۡتُمۡ قَوۡمًا فٰسِقِیۡنَ. وَ مَا مَنَعَہُمۡ اَنۡ تُقۡبَلَ مِنۡہُمۡ نَفَقٰتُہُمۡ اِلَّاۤ اَنَّہُمۡ کَفَرُوۡا بِاللّٰہِ وَ بِرَسُوۡلِہٖ وَ لَا یَاۡتُوۡنَ الصَّلٰوۃَ اِلَّا وَ ہُمۡ کُسَالٰی وَ لَا یُنۡفِقُوۡنَ اِلَّا وَ ہُمۡ کٰرِہُوۡنَ. فَلَا تُعۡجِبۡکَ اَمۡوَالُہُمۡ وَ لَاۤ اَوۡلَادُہُمۡؕ اِنَّمَا یُرِیۡدُ اللّٰہُ لِیُعَذِّبَہُمۡ بِہَا فِی الۡحَیٰوۃِ الدُّنۡیَا وَتَزۡہَقَ اَنۡفُسُہُمۡ وَ ہُمۡ کٰفِرُوۡنَ. (53۔55)

[In order to hide their hypocrisy, they get ready to spend some amount.] Tell them: "Whether you spend your wealth willingly or unwillingly, it will never be accepted from you because you are people who break promises." If their spending is not worth accepting, then the only reason is that they have showed disbelief in God and His Messenger.[21] And if they come for prayer, it is because of duress and if they spend, they spend out of compulsion. So, do not give any weight to their wealth and children.[22] God [now] only desires to punish them in the life of this world through them, and they lose their life such that they are in the state of disbelief.[23] (53-55)

وَ یَحۡلِفُوۡنَ بِاللّٰہِ اِنَّہُمۡ لَمِنۡکُمۡؕ وَ مَا ہُمۡ مِّنۡکُمۡ وَ لٰکِنَّہُمۡ قَوۡمٌ یَّفۡرَقُوۡنَ. لَوۡ یَجِدُوۡنَ مَلۡجَاً اَوۡ مَغٰرٰتٍ اَوۡ مُدَّخَلًا لَّوَلَّوۡا اِلَیۡہِ وَ ہُمۡ یَجۡمَحُوۡنَ. (56۔57)

They swear oaths by God to assure you that they are from among you even though they are not from among you. They are in fact a people who have fear.[24] Had they found an abode, a cave or a place to sit in, they would have broken their string and run frantically towards it.[25] (56-57)

وَ مِنۡہُمۡ مَّنۡ یَّلۡمِزُکَ فِی الصَّدَقٰتِۚ فَاِنۡ اُعۡطُوۡا مِنۡہَا رَضُوۡا وَاِنۡ لَّمۡ یُعۡطَوۡا مِنۡہَاۤ اِذَا ہُمۡ یَسۡخَطُوۡنَ. وَ لَوۡ اَنَّہُمۡ رَضُوۡا مَاۤ اٰتٰىہُمُ اللّٰہُ وَ رَسُوۡلُہٗ ۙوَ قَالُوۡا حَسۡبُنَا اللّٰہُ سَیُؤۡتِیۡنَا اللّٰہُ مِنۡ فَضۡلِہٖ وَ رَسُوۡلُہٗۤ ۙ اِنَّاۤ اِلَی اللّٰہِ رٰغِبُوۡنَ. اِنَّمَا الصَّدَقٰتُ لِلۡفُقَرَآءِ وَ الۡمَسٰکِیۡنِ وَ الۡعٰمِلِیۡنَ عَلَیۡہَا وَ الۡمُؤَلَّفَۃِ قُلُوۡبُہُمۡ وَفِی الرِّقَابِ وَ الۡغٰرِمِیۡنَ وَ فِیۡ سَبِیۡلِ اللّٰہِ وَ ابۡنِ السَّبِیۡلِؕ فَرِیۡضَۃً مِّنَ اللّٰہِؕ وَ اللّٰہُ عَلِیۡمٌ حَکِیۡمٌ. (58۔60)

Among them [O Prophet!] are those who censure you [in the distribution] of charity.[26] [These are the ones whom greed has joined with you.][27] Thus if they are given from this wealth, they remain happy and if they are not given, they become annoyed. [It was better for them] if they had remained content with what God and His Messenger had given them and said: "God is sufficient for us.[28] He will give us a lot in future out of His grace and His Messenger also; We only want God." [Tell them:] "Alms are only for the poor and the needy, and for those who in charge of it, and for those whose hearts are to be assured. Moreover, for the release of necks and to help those who have been inflicted with losses and for the way of God and for the welfare of the wayfarers. This is an obligation decreed by God and God is All-Knowing and Wise."[29] (58-60)

(Translated from Al-Bayan by Dr Shehzad Saleem)

[1]. This is the fourth episode of the surah that was revealed in 9 AH when the Prophet (sws) was preparing for the battle of Tabuk. After a declaration of war against the Jews, Christians and the Idolaters, from here the direction of address shifts to the Hypocrites and they are taken to task till the very end of the surah. Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi writes:

... Prior to this, whatever criticism was done on the Hypocrites was couched in soft words. However, since in this surah just as the final verdict was declaraed against the Idolaters and the People of the Book, in a similar way, an unchallengeable verdict was pronounced against the Hypocrites. The purpose was that those among them who have any potentional of repenting and reforming themselves are provided with this opportunity and they become healthy individuals of the Islamic society. On other hand, those who are spiritually dead should get included in the rotten mass of people wiping out which has been destined by God. (Amin Ahsan Islahi,Tadabbur-i Qur'an, vol. 3, 572)

[2]. The actual words are: إِثَّاقَلْتُمْ إلَی الأَرْض. Deliberation shows that this depicts the very picture which the Qur'an wants to portray.

[3]. This is the punishment of those who are appointed by God for a mission and they end up refusing to fulfill its requirements. The dealing of God with the progeny of Abraham (sws) has always been governed by this law.

[4]. This brief sentence points to many facts simultaneously. Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi, while explaining these, writes:

... Firstly, God has the power to punish them. Secondly, He also has the power to substitute them with another nation. Thirdly, He has the power to materialize every scheme of His and does not need any help in this regard. (Amin Ahsan Islahi,Tadabbur-i Qur'an, vol. 3, 576)

[5]. This is a reference to the journey of migration in which the Prophet's only companion was Abu Bakr (rta).

[6]. It is evident from historical narratives that on this journey the Prophet (sws), fearing that he would be followed, had come out of Makkah and taken refuge in the cave of Thawr for three days. This verse reflects that instance. Those who went after him reached the opening of the cave in which he was hiding. At this, Abu Bakr (rta) was overcome with great fear lest anyone should come forward and peep in. Yet the Prophet (sws) remained unshaken and he spoke these unparalleled words cited by the Qur'an to assure his companion. (Ibn Hisham, Al-Sirah al-nabawiyyah, vol. 2, 111)

[7]. This in concise terms is a reference to all those instances of divine help that had materialized.

[8]. Ie., whether the provisions are more or less, they should not make this a pretext of evading jihad. This is the instance when a call for jihad has been given by the Prophet (sws). No excuse of this sort is acceptable at this time.

[9]. Ie., the journey of Tabuk in which they were facing the might of the Byzantines. The distance was long, the weather very warm and the crops of the new year were ready for harvest. (Ibn Hisham, Al-Sirah al-nabawiyyah, vol. 4, 131)

[10]. This is the consequence – and should be so – if false excuses are presented before God and His Messenger.

[11]. At the time of the battle of Tabuk the purpose of a general call by the state to participate in this jihad was to unveil the real faces of the hypocrites in this phase of worldly reward and retribution. However, the graciousness and benevolence of the Prophet (sws) did not let this objective materialize and in spite of knowing that all these excuses being presented by them are baseless, he accepted them and gave them relief. In a very loving and affectionate way, the Almighty chided the Prophet (sws). Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi writes:

... At the very outset, a declaration of forgiveness is made so that it becomes evident that the purpose is not to actually scold the Prophet (sws) or to take him to task. The purpose is to direct his attention to the fact that the Hypocrites are taking a totally wrong advantage of his graciousness. In spite of knowing that they are presenting false excuses, he gives them reprieve become of his forgiving disposition. This makes them audacious enough to think that their cunningness has succeeded. Had he not given them this permission, they would have been exposed and the truthful and the liars among them would have been pinpointed. All those who sat at home without his permission would have been enough to show that they were Hypocrites. They have made his sanction a false pretext. (Amin Ahsan Islahi,Tadabbur-i Qur'an, vol. 3, 583)

[12]. This is a statement of God's established practice about providing the urge and the will to undertake a task and the style is sarcastic. This sarcasm is even more pronounced in some of the verses ahead. The implication is that when they did not want to take up this task, the Almighty also did not give them the urge to do so. On the contrary, God wanted that they go and sit in their homes with the old, the children and the women. Only this is apt for them.

[13]. This is a reference to those simpletons among Muslims who are readily deceived by the hypocrites in general because of their naive disposition and in this way they become a target of their mischief-mongering.

[14]. The addressees of the Qur'an knew all these pranks and hence a very passing reference is made. Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi has made explained this. He writes:

... It was precisely these people who in the battle of Badr ... tried to convince Muslims to attack the trade caravan in spite of knowing the intention of God and His Messenger. It was they who at the time of the battle of Uhud initially suggested that Muslims should fight while remaining stationed inside the city and later when their suggestion was not accepted, 'Abdullah ibn Ubayy defected from them with three hundred of his men right in the battlefield. Then after the battle, it was his type of people who started to spread this propaganda that, God forbid, the Prophet (sws) is an ill-wisher of his people since against their advice he had taken their brethren to a wrong battle site and had them killed and thus became the reason for their defeat. Moreover, it was these very people who at the time of the battle of Marisi' had spread mischief as a result of which the Muhajirun and the Ansar almost became involved in a scuffle. It was this grave mischievous nature of theirs which manifested itself in the incident of Ifk, an epic example of how a mountain is made from a mole hill. In the battle of Hunayn their evil disposition tried to create a lot of malice between people at the time of distribution of the spoils of war. In short, they left no stone unturned to spread a rift between Muslims in whatever oppportunity they could get hold of. (Amin Ahsan Islahi,Tadabbur-i Qur'an, vol. 3, 585)

[15]. Ie., they would say that the Prophet (sws) should not ask them to go to Byzantium lest they be afflicted with any trial. It is evident from historical narratives that they actually referred to the trial they would face because of the beauty of Byzantine women. (See: Ibn Kathir, Tafsir al-Qur'an al-'Azim, vol. 2, 475). This excuse is very similar to some individuals who lay claim to piety: they offer their prayers at their homes contending that going to the mosques would afflict them with the trial of pomposity from them. Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi writes:

... This excuse must have been presented by a few foolish people. However, since it was of the type in which an attempt was made to cover it with the false pretext of piety, the Qur'an has specially referred to it. The purpose was to inform Muslims of a special trick of Satan that at times he attacks in the garb of piety. (Amin Ahsan Islahi,Tadabbur-i Qur'an, vol. 3, 586)

[16]. This is a very subtle sentence: going to Tabuk is a later scenario; they are already caught up in a trial while sitting at their homes by covering their misdeeds with deception and presenting such lame excuses.

[17]. Two things are evident from this: firstly, all those who fabricate such excuses post themselves as Muslims; yet in reality, they are disbelievers; secondly, they can save themselves from the journey of Tabuk through such excuses but cannot save themselves from the Hell kindled by God; they can run wherever they want to; it has encircled them from all sides.

[18]. Here the same disbelief is exposed that was referred to earlier: their hearts are bereft of faith because they are filled with ill wishes for Muslims to such an extent.

[19]. Ie., success or failure in the journey they are departing for. They should know that both options are in fact good for Muslims. This is because if Muslims achieve success it will make them grateful and thereby expect an increase in favour from God and if they encounter failure, they will try to reform themselves through steadfastness and repentance, as a result of which they will achieve favours of God both in this world and in the Hereafter.

[20]. It has been mentioned in this exegesis a number of times that once the truth is conclusively communicated by messengers of God, punishment generally comes in these two ways. If the companions of a messenger are small in number and they also do not have a place to migrate to, then the disbelievers are destroyed by natural disasters. However, if these companions are substantive in number and a place is also available to them where they can live in freedom with politcal dominance, then their swords are unsheathed to destroy the disbelievers.

[21]. Ie., profess disbelief in reality. This is because they are not prepared to fulfill any of the requirements of their faith in God and His messenger.

[22]. Ie., the Prophet (sws) should not expect any true service of religion from them on this basis because this wealth and children are not a means for them to attain any high status in the Hereafter; on the contrary, it is a noose of slavery for them. They will now not be able to release their necks from this noose.

[23]. This desire of God is according to His established practice that He has prescribed for providing guidance. It has been explained earlier at several instances in this exegesis.

[24]. Ie., they fear that if they get separated from Muslims they will reach the same fate as the one mentioned earlier regarding the Idolaters and the People of the Book.

[25]. Ie., they know that there is no place to escape now, otherwise they would have run and taken refuge.

[26]. This word includes zakah as well, yet it it more general in its connotation. Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi writes:

... This includes all wealth that is given with the intention of reward regardless of the fact that it is zakah or infaq (spending for the cause of God). Since it is through this infaq that the strength and truthfulness of a person's faithbecomes evident, it is called sadaqah. This word originates from sidq whose essence is harmony between a person's words and deeds as well as depth and stability. (Amin Ahsan Islahi,Tadabbur-i Qur'an, vol. 3, 586)

[27]. Earlier wealthy hypocrites were mentioned. Thus it is said that fear has joined them with Muslims. Now those hypcrites are mentioned who are not wealthy.

[28]. This is a conditional sentence. Its second part (answer) is suppressed so that the emphasis of the speaker on the condition is highlighted. I have pointed out this suppression in the translation. In Arabic, this style is also adopted to point to aspects like rebuke, affection, sorrow and fondness.

[29]. The implication is that the charity which is collected in the public treasury is reserved for heads that arise from the needs and responsibilities of the collective system. They have been fixed by God according to His knowledge and wisdom and hence this charity can only be spent in these heads. It is not meant for the ignorant greedy and nor can be distributed in accordance with their wishes.

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