Sūrah Hujurat (Part 2/2)

Sūrah Hujurat (Part 2/2)

Qur'ānic Exegesis

(Tr. by Dr Shehzad Saleem)

Section II: Verses (11-13)

In verse seven earlier, the Almighty has mentioned the elaborate arrangement He had made to save Muslims out of His grace from كُفْرَ (disbelief) and فُسُوقَ (defiance) and عِصْيَانَ (disobedience). In the succeeding verses, they are stopped from certain things which are contrary to faith and are of the category of fisq. They incite mischief in the hearts which poisons the whole society and which if not stopped, causes those who have been called رُحَمَآءُ بَيْنَهُمْ by God to become the enemies of one another.

Readers may proceed to study the succeeding verses.

Text and Translation

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا يَسْخَرْ قَومٌ مِّن قَوْمٍ عَسَى أَن يَكُونُوا خَيْرًا مِّنْهُمْ وَلَا نِسَاء مِّن نِّسَاء عَسَى أَن يَكُنَّ خَيْرًا مِّنْهُنَّ وَلَا تَلْمِزُوا أَنفُسَكُمْ وَلَا تَنَابَزُوا بِالْأَلْقَابِ بِئْسَ الاِسْمُ الْفُسُوقُ بَعْدَ الْإِيمَانِ وَمَن لَّمْ يَتُبْ فَأُوْلَئِكَ هُمُ الظَّالِمُونَ (11) يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اجْتَنِبُوا كَثِيرًا مِّنَ الظَّنِّ إِنَّ بَعْضَ الظَّنِّ إِثْمٌ وَلَا تَجَسَّسُوا وَلَا يَغْتَب بَّعْضُكُم بَعْضًا أَيُحِبُّ أَحَدُكُمْ أَن يَأْكُلَ لَحْمَ أَخِيهِ مَيْتًا فَكَرِهْتُمُوهُ وَاتَّقُوا اللهَ إِنَّ اللهَ تَوَّابٌ رَّحِيمٌ (12) يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُم مِّن ذَكَرٍ وَأُنثَى وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَائِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوا إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِندَ اللهِ أَتْقَاكُمْ إِنَّ اللهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِيرٌ (13)

Believers! Let not one group of men make fun of another; it is possible that they may fare better than them. And let not women make fun of other women who may perhaps turn out to be better than themselves. And do not defame one another, nor call one another by bad names. Even the name of defiance is bad after faith. And those who do not repent are the ones who wrong their souls. (11)

Believers! Avoid being overly speculative, for some speculations are a blatant sin and do not pry on one another. And no one among you should indulge in backbiting others. Would any of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? So you regarded this to be abhorrent. And keep fearing God. Indeed, God is ever inclined to accepting repentance and Ever-Merciful. (12)

People! We have created you from one man and one woman and divided you into tribes and clans that you might get to know one another. The noblest of you in God's sight is he who is the most God-conscious. Indeed, God is All-knowing and Wise. (13)


يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا يَسْخَرْ قَومٌ مِّن قَوْمٍ عَسَى أَن يَكُونُوا خَيْرًا مِّنْهُمْ وَلَا نِسَاء مِّن نِّسَاء عَسَى أَن يَكُنَّ خَيْرًا مِّنْهُنَّ وَلَا تَلْمِزُوا أَنفُسَكُمْ وَلَا تَنَابَزُوا بِالْأَلْقَابِ بِئْسَ الاِسْمُ الْفُسُوقُ بَعْدَ الْإِيمَانِ وَمَن لَّمْ يَتُبْ فَأُوْلَئِكَ هُمُ الظَّالِمُونَ (11)[1]

The words يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا are not merely meant for address; further down the evils are mentioned which are fisq and also contrary to faith. This address directs the attention of the Muslims to the fact that it is not befitting for those who have embraced faith to stain themselves with fisq.

It is neither befitting for men once they have accepted faith to make fun of other men by regarding them to be inferior to them nor is it permitted that women should ridicule other women. In the sight of God, it is faith and deeds which make a person noble or ignoble and true weight carried by faith and deeds will be known on the Day of Judgement through God's scale of justice. It is possible that a person regards himself to be superior but on the Day of Judgement the scale of God tells us that his faith and deeds carry no weight. It is similarly possible that he who was never given any importance by the people of the world is given a status in the kingdom of God which is way above given to those who regarded him to be lowly.

In the verse, women are emphatically mentioned with men even though apparently there was no need for it. The general words لَا يَسْخَرْ قَومٌ مِّن قَوْمٍ were enough for them as well. However, in the mention of both morality and immorality, the Almighty has specially mentioned women where they are emphatically urged to strive to gain high reward or to save them from some trial. Here it is this second case. The evil from which men are stopped here is found if not more in women then certainly not less than in men. Women who are conceited because they regard their family, lineage or financial situation or apparent looks to be superior, speak in very humiliating tones to women whom they regard inferior to themselves.

The things which have been forbidden here have a special inner aspect, and the purpose, in fact, is to uproot it. The verse which is coming up at the end of this section points to this inner aspect. Among the various evils invented by Satan to mislead man is the trial of superiority of one's race, creed, family and tribe. Those who are inflicted with this evil (and few are the fortunate who are able to safeguard themselves from it) obviously regard others to be inferior to themselves and when they do so, their words and attitude necessarily reflect this. A stage is reached when this air of superiority becomes a tradition in them and, in fact, wherever they can they even regard it to be part of religion. Thus the Brahmans in the Hindus, the Levites in the Israelites and the Quraysh in the Arabs had acquired a holy status for themselves which was difficult for others to challenge. This is what happened to every nation and in spite of its tall claims to human equality, this evil persists even today. So much so, Muslims who were supposed to uproot this evil have themselves succumbed to it and are now divided into countless tribes and clans and each regards itself to be superior to the other. An expression to this air of superiority can be witnessed every now and then in the statements and slogans of every race and tribe. As a natural result of this, hate and spite arise for one another which then assume the shape of enmity and envy and the stage is reached when they end up fighting and severing ties from one another.

Here the Qur'ān, in order to protect Muslims from this evil, has reminded them that the Almighty by His grace took them out from the darkness of ignorance and brought them forth into light. They should also remember that their society has been established on the principle of mutual brotherhood (إِنَّمَا الْمُؤْمِنُونَ إِخْوَةٌ) and that they have been made merciful for one another (رُحَمَآءُ بَيْنَهُمْ), so they must not consider some of their brothers to be inferior or ridicule and make fun of them and in this manner distort the whole set up of the society.

The words عَسَى أَن يَكُونُوا خَيْرًا مِّنْهُمْ state the real wisdom in this regard: the basis of honour and respect is not race, clan, family, tribe and nation or riches; the real basis is a person's faith and piety, and it is on the Day of Judgement that it will be decided as to who in the sight of God is more noble and who in spite of his tall claims to lineage and ancestry and vanity in his status has no significance before the Almighty.

Consider next the expression: وَلَا تَلْمِزُوا أَنفُسَكُمْ.The word لمزmeans to blame someone and to say something sarcastic to someone while gesturing towards him with the eye. Thus, for example, in Sūrah Tawbah, the words used for the Hypocrites are: (الَّذِينَ يَلْمِزُونَ الْمُطَّوِّعِينَ مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ (79:9 (as for those who taunt the believers, (9:79)) i.e. when poor and indigent Muslims would spend in the way of God from their hard-earned money, the Hypocrites in order to discourage them would ridicule them to demean them. They would typically remark: "Look at these! They are trying to become examples of generosity." Such statements not only reflect hate but also their arrogance. They are meant to dishearten others or to create envy for them – and both these things spread poison in the society.

The word أَنفُسَكُمْ is used in this verse the way it is in: وَلاَ تَقْتُلُواْ أَنفُسَكُمْ (29:4) (do not kill yourselves, (4:29)). It is evident from this usage that a Muslim who censures another Muslim in fact censures his own self because all Muslims on the principle of إِخْوَةٌإِنَّمَا الْمُؤْمِنُونَ are brothers to one another. In other words, a brother who ridiculed and censured another brother is as if he aimed his arrow at his own chest and thereby wounded it.

The words تَنَابَزُوا بِالْأَلْقَابِ mean "to call others with bad names." Just as calling a person or a nation with good names is to show respect and honour, calling someone with bad names is to demean and disrespect him. Derogatory names come to the tongue very easily and their effect is very far-reaching and permanent. The ill-will created by them remains for generations and a nation in which this tendency increases so much that poets, literary writers, editors and leaders spend all their intelligence in inventing bad names for their adversaries, should only pray for its well-being; its unity is bound to get divided. It needs to be kept in consideration that this tendency was at its peak among the Arabs. A poet and orator would be considered as the greatest in his nation if he was unrivalled in eulogizing the superiority of his nation and in censuring and humiliating others. If their satirical poetry is read, one can see how prominent a status they had in this regard. This proclivity of theirs never allowed them to unite as one nation. They would continue to try to overthrow and vanquish one another. For the first time in their history, Islam introduced unity and the brotherhood of faith in them as a result of which they became worthy of leading and guiding the world. The Qur'ān here has informed them of these evils of the age of jāhiliyyah: the Almighty has blessed them with faith and Islam and hence they should value and honour it and must not be lured away by Satan and not plunge into the abyss from which the Almighty has saved them.

Consider the next the part of the verse: بِئْسَ الاِسْمُ الْفُسُوقُ بَعْدَ الْإِيمَانِ. The wordsبِئْسَand نِعْمَare hyperbolic in nature. The exact meaningful translation of this sentence would be: "very evil is the name of fisq after faith." It is like saying: الشرير كأسمه (even the word naughty is bad what to speak of the badness of being naughty). Even in our language we say: "Sir! Even the name of it stinks."

The addition بَعْدَالْإِيمَانِ (after faith) is pointing to the fact that if a person had not been introduced to faith and committed something of the nature of fisq (defiance), then this was not something at all odd; however, once the Almighty has made someone aware of the fragrance of faith and as is evident from the wordsوَلَكِنَّ اللهَ حَبَّبَ إِلَيْكُمُ الْإِيمَانَ وَزَيَّنَهُ فِي قُلُوبِكُم ْ (but God has endeared faith to you and ingrained it in your hearts), then even the name of fisq should be abhorrent to him not to speak of fisq being committed by him.

It is evident from the above sentence of the verse that whatever things have been prohibited in the previous verses are of the category of fisq and the sensitivity of believers should be so sharp that they hate and detest the very name of fisq much less speak of committing something of the sort.

The words: وَمَن لَّمْ يَتُبْ فَأُوْلَئِكَ هُمُ الظَّالِمُونَ very sternly warn people who even after this explanation commit some fisq of the sort specified above. The verse means that people who do not repent on these things should remember that they are the wrong-doers. In other words, the Almighty has delineated the blessings of faith before them and also informed them of the consequences of disbelief and fisq. The responsibility is now on the people themselves. Those who, even after this conclusive communication of the truth, do not desist will definitely face the consequences and this will not be an act of injustice on the part of God; they themselves are the ones responsible for committing this injustice unto themselves.

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اجْتَنِبُوا كَثِيرًا مِّنَ الظَّنِّ إِنَّ بَعْضَ الظَّنِّ إِثْمٌ وَلَا تَجَسَّسُوا وَلَا يَغْتَب بَّعْضُكُم بَعْضًا أَيُحِبُّ أَحَدُكُمْ أَن يَأْكُلَ لَحْمَ أَخِيهِ مَيْتًا فَكَرِهْتُمُوهُ وَاتَّقُوا اللهَ إِنَّ اللهَ تَوَّابٌ رَّحِيمٌ (12)[2]

Here the believers are addressed afresh and stopped from certain things which though apparently seem trivial, yet can potentially damage the heart of a person so much that it does not remain conducive to taqwā. Thus, people who hold faith dear must necessarily protect themselves from such evils. The first thing mentioned is that a person should not nurture ill-founded thoughts about others in his heart. He should not harbour whatever evil thoughts that arise in him or others. It is but natural for good or bad thoughts to arise in one's heart about people whom one encounters in life. It is these thoughts which establish or sever a person's relationship with another. Viewed thus, it is these thoughts which make and break relationships in a society. On the basis of this importance which thoughts occupy, a person should not carelessly accept or reject them; on the contrary, he should be very sharp and alive to them. In this regard, the guidance provided by Islam to its followers is that a Muslim must always think well of others unless it is proven to him that someone is not worthy of this. Thinking well of a person is an obvious requirement of the brotherhood of faith on which Islam has founded its society and which has been explained earlier. On the other hand, if a person adopts the attitude of entertaining and harbouring all sorts of ill-founded thoughts that come to his mind, then the example of such a person is that of a hunter who becomes so blind in his obsession for catching fish that he also catches snakes. Obviously, it is very possible that a person who becomes blind in his obsession for catching fish ends up losing his own life one day as a result. The Qur'ān has stopped Muslims from this very danger in that one must not start conjecturing too much because certain conjectures are blatant sins which may ruin a person. The guidance which emerges from this directive is that a person should not become so mentally sick as to think ill of others; on the contrary, he should always think well of others. If the deed or words of a person induce him to think ill of him, he should try as far as he can to make a good justification, if it can be made. He should only think to the contrary when he is unable to make any sound justification. It is better to think positively of a person who deserves to be thought of negatively than to think negatively of a person who deserves to be thought of positively. In Hadīth narratives, a believer is eulogized as: الْمُؤْمِنُ غِرٌّ كَرِيمٌ (a believer is noble and innocent).[3]In these times, the favourite principle of people is that they should harbour ill-thoughts for others except if they prove themselves to be thought of otherwise; people regard this attitude to be one reflecting political acumen and think that this cleverness is necessary to deal with enemies. I have already explained this under the previous sūrah's verse: أشِدَّآءُ عَلَى الكُفَّارِ. However, how can this political acumen be true for believers when they have been directed by the Qur'ān to be أذِلَّةٍ عَلَى المُؤْمِنِيْنَ (polite to the believers, (5:54)) and رُحَمَآءُ بَيْنَهُمْ (merciful to one another, (48:29)).

The second thing mentioned in the verse is وَلَا تَجَسَّسُوا (and do not be inquisitive). Just as in the above part it is not positive speculation that is forbidden but negative is, here also the prohibition actually relates to being inquisitive for an evil purpose. In other words, here the intention of a person is to try to find some fault or mistake in the private life of another person and have access to the secrets of his family and family life. Sometimes, the motive of this probing is jealousy for it soothes a person to find out such facts about someone he considers to be his rival. At other times, the motive is hatred and animosity: he wants to humiliate another person by informing others of his faults. This latter tendency has now become a profession to which newspaper journalism has given a great impetus. Some journalists are in perpetual search of scandals and the journalist who is considered to be the most successful is the one who is able to lay his hands on a scandal in the private life of a famous person which makes his newspaper or journal sell like hot cakes. Such spying and probing is counter to mutual sympathy and brotherhood which are the foundations of an Islamic society; for this reason, Muslims have been stopped from indulging in them. On the other hand, probing which a Muslim does to find out the circumstances of another person so that he can help him in his difficulties and needs or the spying and probing which an Islamic state does to be fully informed about the circumstances of its citizens, is neither implied here nor is it prohibited. On the contrary, such spying is a very virtuous act on the part of a neighbour so that he is aware of the circumstances and problems which his neighbour is encountering and is able to help him out. Similarly, for a state, this attitude is not just an act of virtue, it is in fact its responsibility to arrange to be informed of the good or bad circumstances of its citizens so that it is able to properly discharge its duties.

The third directive mentioned is وَلَا يَغْتَب بَّعْضُكُم بَعْضًا (and do not indulge in backbiting). Backbiting means speaking about the flaws of a person in his absence. The fact that this is done in his absence incorporates in the very meaning of backbiting the aspect that the targeted person does not get to know of it. In pursuance of keeping it secret, a backbiter gives his statements before people who hold the same opinion and are his confidants in sharing the objective with him or at least are people about whom he is sure that they are not the ones who sympathize with the person he is targeting and will not reveal this secret to him. It is this aspect of backbiting which makes it a detestable and despicable act because through it neither is the objective of supporting the cause of the truth is achieved nor is there any hope of reforming anyone through it. Through it, a coward is only able to vent his emotions.

There are some "positive-minded" people who think that every form of mentioning evil comes under backbiting. They think that the jarh of the Hadīth scholars on the narrators, bearing witness against someone in the court, censuring someone on an evil, reporting someone to the police, divulging a bad habit of a person to someone who wants to seek advice about him and other similar things all come under backbiting; however, they have been deemed permissible because of "strategy". From here, they enunciate a legal precept: all the prohibitions of the sharī'ah are not eternal; hence they have the right to make them permissible if their strategy deems so. In my opinion, this is a great evil against religion and can lead to several other evils. Thus I have written independent articles to refute this view,[4]and here in this tafsīr too, I will, in a succeeding section, throw light on some of its aspects.

The words أَيُحِبُّ أَحَدُكُمْ أَن يَأْكُلَ لَحْمَ أَخِيهِ مَيْتًا فَكَرِهْتُمُوهُ are meant to explain the horrific nature of backbiting with an example: a person who speaks ill of his brother in his absence is as if he is eating his meat whilst he is dead and is unable to defend himself in any way. No one will like this; so when no one can tolerate it, why do people indulge in a similar despicable act of backbiting? The word مَيْتًا is an accusative of state from the mudāf found in أَخِيهِ. This is a portrayal of his helplessness in defending himself.

The words وَاتَّقُوا اللهَ إِنَّ اللهَ تَوَّابٌ رَّحِيمٌ sound a warning as well as urge people to repent and reform themselves. The verse says: Fear God; those who become used to consuming the meat of their brother without any cost start cherishing this so much that they end up losing their faith. God has sounded a timely warning to them that they should try to protect themselves from this danger through repentance and self-reformation. If they repent, God is very eager to forgive them and to show mercy to them.

There are six things from which a person is stopped in these two verses (11 and 12). A little deliberation shows that the first of these three: making fun, defaming others and calling others by bad names are evils which a person commits openly; the other three evils: making bad estimations, being inquisitive and backbiting relate to the private lives of people and are done in the absence of the discussed person among close associates. Both these types of evil are forbidden on the basis of the Islamic principle of tazkiyah (self-purification) which is mentioned in the Qur'ān by the words: وَذَرُواْ ظَاهِرَ الإِثْمِ وَبَاطِنَهُ (120:6) (and leave the hidden and the apparent aspect of a sin, (6:120)). Until a person cleanses himself of the evils which relate to his inner-self, the awareness of the fact that God knows what is hidden is not fully grounded in him. Without this, there is no responsibility of taqwā nurturing in a person's heart.

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُم مِّن ذَكَرٍ وَأُنثَى وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَائِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوا إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِندَ اللهِ أَتْقَاكُمْ إِنَّ اللهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِيرٌ (13)[5]

By means of this general address, the evil of showing pride and vanity on one's lineage, family and tribe is uprooted in one stroke! People are told to fully keep in mind the fact that they are the progeny of one man and woman: all mankind was created from Adam and Eve; for this reason, no one holds superiority to others as far as his species is concerned. People have been divided into families and tribes only for identification and introduction. The Almighty has not granted superior status to any special family so that those belonging to it become more respectful in His eyes and they start regarding themselves to be superior to others. Just as the Almighty has made people distinct as far as their looks, colour and physiques are concerned so that people can identify one another, in the same manner he has created the divisions of families and tribes so that people can recognize one another. It has no significance beyond this; so the people of a family and clan should not think, in conceit, that they are more respectful in the sight of God and that they have been granted superiority to others. The basis of respect in the sight of God is taqwā. The most respectful in the sight of God is he who fears him the most and is the most vigilant in abiding by the bounds and limits set by Him.

The words إِنَّ اللهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِيرٌ imply that the Almighty will not be bothered the slightest in judging people on the basis of this standard. He knows everything and has knowledge of each and every word and deed of every person. He who is worthy of respect shall certainly gain a place of respect however unknown and of lowly origin he may be. And he who is not worthy of it, will be flung by the Almighty into a pit he deserves even though he may belong to a family as noble as the Quraysh and the Hashimites.

Some Guidance provided by the Previous Section of Verses

The guidance provided by the previous section of verses has been explained below them as far as was required; however, the evils of inquisitiveness and backbiting need further explanation which follows.

Since in these times the concept of freedom of an individual is so prevalent, some people think that just as Islam has stopped people from prying into the affairs of others, it has also stopped governments from prying into the affairs of its citizens. It should hold them accountable only in matters which openly come to their notice. As far as household affairs are concerned, they are beyond its jurisdiction of accountability. In support of this view, some people have cited the incident of the caliph 'Umar (rta)[6]in which one night he heard a person who was singing in his house. Being suspicious, he climbed the wall; he saw that liquor as well as a woman was present. He called out: O Enemy of God! Do you think that you will disobey God and God will not reveal your secret? The person responded by saying: O Caliph of the Believers! Be not in haste; if I have sinned, you have committed three sins at the same time: God has forbidden inquisitiveness and you have done it; God has directed us to enter houses through their doors and you have entered by climbing the wall; God has directed not to enter a house without seeking permission and you have entered my house without my permission. At this, 'Umar (rta) acknowledged his mistake and did not proceed against that person; however, he did take a promise from him to adopt the way of righteousness.

Some people have recorded this narrative in books which relate to high morals and which urge and warn people to adopt good. However, neither is it reliable with regard to its chain of narration nor with regard to its content. As far as the weakness of the chain of narration is concerned, it suffices to say that many, especially the proponents of tasawwuf do not, in principle, give any importance to investigation of chain of narration in matters of morality and exhortation. If a story carries an effective message, they readily cite it in their books without assessing its content and chain of narration.

As far as the text of the narrative which reports this incident is concerned, deliberation on it will show that it makes little sense.

Firstly, it is quite improbable that a person in Madīnah and that too in the times of the caliph 'Umar (rta) indulge in such merry-making in such a loud manner that he was overheard by 'Umar (rta) who chanced by and who thus had to interfere in this indecency. If right in the centre of the empire Satan was so bold in his practices of luring people, then it has to be conceded that even 'Umar (rta) could not over-awe Satan even though the Prophet (sws) is reported to have said that Satan coils away from the path treaded by 'Umar (rta).

Secondly, if this incident is true, it will have to be conceded that 'Umar (rta) was not even aware of the directives of the Qur'ān and Hadīth as per which one was not allowed to enter houses by scaling walls and it was necessary to seek permission by offering salutations from outside; if permission was granted, one was to enter otherwise the person was to silently return after offering the salutations thrice. Can any sane person believe that a merry-maker for the first time informed 'Umar (rta) of these explicit directives of the Qur'ān and Hadīth. 'Umar (rta) never got a chance, God forbid, to recite Sūrah Nūr and Sūrah Hujurāt.

Thirdly, if 'Umar (sws) so obediently accepted these three mistakes, why did he not direct his governors and administrators to stop prying in the houses of people by confessing that till then he was at fault and that now he had realized his mistake? His act at the same time contains three practices which are against the sharī'ah; they should let people create whatever rumpus they want to create in their houses; if they have any doubt, they should offer the ceremonial salutations at the door step and seek permission for entry and if they are given permission, only then they should enter otherwise they should return after thrice offering these salutations. As far as I know, not only did 'Umar (rta) not send such a directive, there are numerous incidents recorded in history which show that his administrators continued to pry and be inquisitive and 'Umar (rta) himself indulged in this to the extent that when infants would cry at night, he would try to find out the reason for this.

Fourthly, if this narrative is accepted, it will have to be conceded that if in an Islamic state some people consume liquor in the confines of their houses, indulge in lecherous activities with women of loose character and throw dance and music parties and even accumulate ammunition like bombs and Sten guns, even then the police has no right to enter their houses and disturb their merry-making. So much so, even the caliph of the time does not have the authority to dare enter the houses of people without permission and if ever by mistake he does so, he should only gently ask the inhabitants to abstain from such an activity.

Though this narrative did not deserve any attention, yet in these times since people who are trying to establish an Islamic government have very emphatically presented it, I was forced to write these afore-mentioned paragraphs. Nonetheless, this narrative, in my opinion, is absolutely unreliable. An Islamic government is not only responsible for the peace, justice and security of a country, it also looks after the character and conduct of its citizens. Thus it has the right to pry wherever there is a doubt; however, exercising each right has some moral and legal restrictions which a government must also keep in consideration. If a government does not abide by these restrictions and even if there is no one to stop it from this high-handedness it shall be regarded as a criminal act in the sight of God. This is because it has wrongly exercised a right given to it to protect the citizens and their peace and justice. Instead of doing so, they harassed innocent citizens through its means.

As far as general masses are concerned, it is essential that they keep in consideration the following things:

-- inquisitiveness and prying which is for the purpose of good, is based on pious intention and objective, is not only not forbidden, as has been explained earlier, it is in fact a very virtuous deed. The Qur'ān has directed believers to look for the self respecting poor and to try to take the initiative in reaching them; they should not be expected to ardently beg for their needs.

-- if there is a doubt about someone that his clandestine activities are a danger to the life, honour and wealth of innocent people or he wants to harm the peace, justice and security of the country, then people should not ignore him thinking that his activities are not their business. People should try to reform him and if it is not possible for them, then help should be sought from those who are in a position to do so or are able to stop him. This responsibility has been taught to the believers by giving the example of the passengers of a ship.[7]

-- If a personal mistake of a person which is confined to his own self comes to the notice of someone, he should try to counsel him if he is in a position to do so. If he is not, he should ignore his fault and conceal it. God also hides the flaws of people who hide the faults of others. However, if this fault is contagious in nature, then a person should follow the directive of the Prophet (sws) which relates to curbing evil.

The dominant reason in people not being able to understand the Qur'ān and Hadīth is because people do not reflect on the occasion and background of Qur'ānic verses and prophetic narratives. No doubt, there are narratives which mention concealing the sins of a Muslim brother; however, if a person, merely on the basis of these narratives, passes the verdict that one should not have any concern regarding the vice and virtue of others and that one must mind one's own business and that if some evil comes to one's notice, one should conceal it so that in the Hereafter God conceals our sins too, then though there is a narrative to support this verdict, it will cause great confusion in the minds of people. This is because there are narratives which explicitly state that if a person sees an evil he should curb it with his hands; if this is not possible, he should try to curb it through his tongue and if even this is not possible, he should regard it to be evil in his heart; there is no level of faith below it.[8]

This confusion obviously has arisen because enough effort has not been expended into determining the occasion and background of both these narratives. If this is ascertained, no confusion arises. If a person is urinating while standing, one can ignore him thinking that he might have some excuse; if the excuse is not evident, one can even earnestly counsel him that urinating in this manner is against the norms of decency as well as against Islamic etiquette. If one is not in a position to counsel him, then one should hide this ill-mannered behaviour of his and not advertise it. Inshallāh, God will reward this act. However, if it is known about a person that he has set up a liquor manufacturing plant in his house or has stacked hashish or has hidden arms and ammunition or is running a brothel and one who is in a position to report this to the authorities covers it up thinking that God will cover his sins on the Day of Judgement, then this, in my opinion, is mere wishful thinking. People who adopt this attitude might end up losing their faith not to speak of earning reward.

On the issue of backbiting as well, these people have created a similar confusion because of a lack of deliberation. They have forgotten that just as the Qur'ān and Hadīth mention the prohibition of backbiting they have similarly positively directed Muslims in a very explicit manner to assess reporting by investigating the narrators, to bear true witness, to curb evil and to be well-wishers of Muslims. When the question arose of reconciling these two types of directives and people could not understand how this could be done, they reconciled them by saying that all these things came under backbiting but they have been declared lawful because of strategy. This is in spite of the fact that investigation of narrators, bearing witness, curbing evil and well-wishing of Muslims are not merely allowed in religion; they have in fact been made obligatory by it. The grace and perfection of the Islamic system depend on them. The discipline of sharī'ah is based on investigation of narrators; bearing witness is the responsibility of this ummah for which it had been instituted in this world. The life and sustenance of this ummah has been made dependent by God on the responsibility of curbing evil; similarly, being well-wishers of Muslims is not only a requirement of being in the fraternity it is also a requirement of faith, as has been mentioned in this sūrah. As far as backbiting is concerned, it has a specific sphere which I have already explained while discussing the verse. Its prohibition in no away stops or interferes in religious obligations so that under a strategy it needs to be legalized to carry them out. Neither have the scholars of Hadīth allowed it nor revivalists nor reformers and nor can ever a need arise for a Muslim to allow it in order to fulfil certain religious obligations imposed on him. If ever this need can arise, it can only be for the people who have made the Islamic sharī'ah a playground for their strategy.

Section III: Verse (15-18)

Coming up are the closing verses of the sūrah in which the inner personalities of people whose attitude was condemned in the first five verses are revealed. I had indicated earlier that certain tribes which lived around Madīnah had entered the fold of the Muslims when they saw the rising might of Islam; however, since they were far off from the centre, they were lacking in training and instruction. For this reason, they harboured the conceited notion that they had done a great favour to the Prophet (sws) and to Islam as they had embraced faith without any war being waged against them. It is obvious that in such a state of mind how could they have displayed the manners and etiquette that their faith entailed? Thus they, at times, would do something against proper etiquette for which they were rebuked in the initial verses. However, the nature of address was general so that whichever ones were inflicted with these blemishes could reform themselves. Consequently, the guidance this situation demanded was given. Now, here at the end, they are addressed by name and their real malady has been exposed so that they turn towards its remedy. The reason is that in its presence, it is impossible for faith to blossom.

In the light of this background, readers may recite the succeeding verses:

Text and Translation

قَالَتِ الْأَعْرَابُ آمَنَّا قُل لَّمْ تُؤْمِنُوا وَلَكِن قُولُوا أَسْلَمْنَا وَلَمَّا يَدْخُلِ الْإِيمَانُ فِي قُلُوبِكُمْ وَإِن تُطِيعُوا اللهَ وَرَسُولَهُ لَا يَلِتْكُم مِّنْ أَعْمَالِكُمْ شَيْئًا إِنَّ اللهَ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ (14) إِنَّمَا الْمُؤْمِنُونَ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا بِاللهِ وَرَسُولِهِ ثُمَّ لَمْ يَرْتَابُوا وَجَاهَدُوا بِأَمْوَالِهِمْ وَأَنفُسِهِمْ فِي سَبِيلِ اللهِ أُوْلَئِكَ هُمُ الصَّادِقُونَ (15) قُلْ أَتُعَلِّمُونَ اللهَ بِدِينِكُمْ وَاللهُ يَعْلَمُ مَا فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَمَا فِي الْأَرْضِ وَاللهُ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عَلِيمٌ (16) يَمُنُّونَ عَلَيْكَ أَنْ أَسْلَمُوا قُل لَّا تَمُنُّوا عَلَيَّ إِسْلَامَكُم بَلِ اللهُ يَمُنُّ عَلَيْكُمْ أَنْ هَدَاكُمْ لِلْإِيمَانِ إِن كُنتُمْ صَادِقِينَ (17) إِنَّ اللهَ يَعْلَمُ غَيْبَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَاللهُ بَصِيرٌ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ (18)

The Bedouins declared: "We have embraced faith." Tell them: "You have not embraced faith; rather say: "We have shown obedience," and faith has not yet found its way into your hearts. And if you obey God and the Messenger, God will not reduce your deeds the slightest. God is Forgiving and Merciful. True believers are those who professed faith in God and His Messenger and then were never inflicted with any doubt, and who fought with their wealth and with their persons for the cause of God. Such are the truthful. (14-15)

Tell them: "Are you informing God of your religion, even though God knows what is in the heavens and in the earth and God has knowledge of all things?" (16)

They regard embracing Islam to be a favour to you: Tell them: "Do not regard embracing faith to be a favour to me; in fact, it is God's favour to you that He guided you to faith, if you are truthful. God knows all that is hidden in the heavens and the earth. And God is watching whatever you do." (17-18)


قَالَتِ الْأَعْرَابُ آمَنَّا قُل لَّمْ تُؤْمِنُوا وَلَكِن قُولُوا أَسْلَمْنَا وَلَمَّا يَدْخُلِ الْإِيمَانُ فِي قُلُوبِكُمْ وَإِن تُطِيعُوا اللهَ وَرَسُولَهُ لَا يَلِتْكُم مِّنْ أَعْمَالِكُمْ شَيْئًا إِنَّ اللهَ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ (14)[9]

The Bedouins alluded to in this verse refer to the villagers who lived in the environs of Madīnah and who have been mentioned earlier in the sūrah as the ones who, when they converse with the Prophet, (sws) address him in the manner they would address someone equal to them. When they would come to meet him, their wish would be that the Prophet (sws) meet them without any delay as soon they arrived. So much so, if he was in his house, they would not care to wait and would start calling his name from outside his house. This rudeness in their conduct was not only due to lack of training and instruction but also because they thought that they had done a favour to the Prophet (sws) by embracing faith without waging war. As a result, they reckoned that they should be rewarded by the Prophet (sws) considering they had done a favour to him and at all times pamper them. It is this mentality of theirs which is criticized here.

The words قَالَتِ الْأَعْرَابُ آمَنَّا mean: The Bedouins say: "We have embraced faith." By this statement of theirs, they did not merely lay claim to faith but as will become evident from later verses they would say this to express their favour to the Prophet (sws). At every instance, they would try to communicate to the Prophet (sws) that by embracing faith they had increased his respect and honour. They would also reckon that they were worthy as a result of this that the Prophet (sws) give them due consideration and whole-heartedly accept whatever suggestions they gave.

The words قُل لَّمْ تُؤْمِنُوا وَلَكِن قُولُوا أَسْلَمْنَا actually form an answer given to these people through the tongue of the Prophet (sws). They are told that their claim to faith is not true; the only claim they can make is that of obedience. The word إِسْلاََم is used here in its literal meaning: "outward obedience." The real meaning of إِسْلاََم is to submit totally to God. However, it is also used merely in the meaning of outward obedience. I have explained both these meanings at an appropriate place in this tafsīr. Here it is used in the second of these meanings. It has been mentioned earlier that these people had accepted Islam because they were over-awed with its rising political force and not because of the call itself. For this reason, the spirit of Islam had not yet found its way in their hearts; they had only come into subservience to the political sovereignty of Islam. It is while pointing to this reality that they are told that it is not befitting for them to lay claim to faith; all they can say is that they have become subservient to the political force of Islam. Concealed in this answer is the fact that since this is the case, they have done no favour and should not be presented thus; this too is a form of subservience; the only difference is that they have been made subservient without waging any war and this is not something which they can boast about as a favour.

The words وَلَمَّا يَدْخُلِ الْإِيمَانُ فِي قُلُوبِكُمْ express the fact that they should not make tall claims to faith. It has knocked at the doors of their hearts but has not yet entered them. Such faith is not acceptable to God. The faith acceptable to God is one which takes strong root and influences one so much that it becomes difficult for a person to think or do something while disregarding it.

The words وَإِن تُطِيعُوا اللهَ وَرَسُولَهُ لَا يَلِتْكُم مِّنْ أَعْمَالِكُمْ شَيْئًا sound a warning to them at their attitude of boastfulness under discussion. Why should they boast about accepting faith and doing some service to Islam? God is not going to reduce any of their deeds; in fact, he is going to reward every deed, big or small. They will be rewarded seventy times for a good deed. Each deed of theirs will be useful only to them and not to God. So when they are doing something to benefit their own selves, why should they express this as a favour to God and His Prophet (sws)?

The words إِنَّ اللهَ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ mean that God is forgiving and ever merciful. He will forgive their blemishes and faults and not reduce their reward to the slightest extent. There should not be the minutest fear that He will take the excuse of small faults to reduce the weight of their deeds.

Also implied here is that if till then they had wrongly felt that they had done a favour to God and His Prophet (sws) by doing some service, they should now reform themselves after this warning. They should seek forgiveness from God. He will forgive them. He is ever-forgiving and ever-merciful.

إِنَّمَا الْمُؤْمِنُونَ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا بِاللهِ وَرَسُولِهِ ثُمَّ لَمْ يَرْتَابُوا وَجَاهَدُوا بِأَمْوَالِهِمْ وَأَنفُسِهِمْ فِي سَبِيلِ اللهِ أُوْلَئِكَ هُمُ الصَّادِقُونَ (15)[10]

It is said that every claimant to faith cannot be regarded as a believer. True believers in the sight of God are only those who profess faith in God and His Prophet (sws) with their hearts and then are never inflicted with any doubt; they wage war in the cause of God through both their persons and their wealth. They spend their wealth for the support of religion and if the need arises to sacrifice their lives, they never desist from it. The verse says that it is these people who are true in their claim to faith. Those who make tall claims to faith but because of their hesitancy are neither ready to bear any loss for this cause nor have the courage to sacrifice their life and wealth for it are only boastful fanatics. They have no worth in the sight of God.

Deliberation will show that the words وَجَاهَدُوا بِأَمْوَالِهِمْ وَأَنفُسِهِمْ are mentioned to show their clarity and lack of hesitancy. If a person does not abstain from sacrificing his life and wealth to achieve his objective, then this is an irrefutable evidence of the fact that he is fully convinced of the veracity of his objective. If he is neither willing to sacrifice his wealth nor endanger his life, then however vehemently he declares his love for his objective, his practice shows that he is still not convinced of it.

قُلْ أَتُعَلِّمُونَ اللهَ بِدِينِكُمْ وَاللهُ يَعْلَمُ مَا فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَمَا فِي الْأَرْضِ وَاللهُ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عَلِيمٌ (16)[11]

These people very condescendingly say that they have embraced faith. The Prophet (sws) is told to ask them whether they are trying to inform God of their faith. If this is what they have in mind, then they he should tell them that He knows whatever is between the heavens and the earth and is aware of everything. He is both potentially and practically aware of everything. Nothing can remain hidden from Him. The implication is that if they are very proud of their faith, then they should boast it before someone who is unaware of it. What use is it of boasting it before someone who is aware of everything – open or hidden – in this universe? Would He Who knows everything not know the extent of their faith?

يَمُنُّونَ عَلَيْكَ أَنْ أَسْلَمُوا قُل لَّا تَمُنُّوا عَلَيَّ إِسْلَامَكُم بَلِ اللهُ يَمُنُّ عَلَيْكُمْ أَنْ هَدَاكُمْ لِلْإِيمَانِ إِن كُنتُمْ صَادِقِينَ (17)[12]

After revealing the reality behind their claim to faith, their claim to Islam is also brought to light. These people express their favour to the Prophet (sws) in that they have accepted Islam. In other words, it is their conceited claim that by accepting Islam they have increased his respect and increased the majesty of Islam. Thus they regard themselves to have done a favour to Islam and the Prophet (sws) and think that it is the duty of the Prophet (sws) to respect the favour they have done to him. The verse says that the Prophet (sws) should tell them to not boast of their favour to him. If they are really truthful in their claim, then they have not done a favour to the Prophet (sws) rather it is God Who has done them a favour in that He has guided them to faith. The words إِن كُنتُمْ صَادِقِينَ should be deliberated upon. They imply that in the very first place, their claim to faith is mere bragging and if there is some truth in their claim, then they should be grateful to God that He has given them the willingness to it. The preposition of لafter هداكمincorporates the meaning of "urge and willingness" (taufīq) in this sentence. I have already explained this style at an appropriate place in this tafsīr.

It is evident from this discussion that if a person does a small or great service to religion, he neither does a favour to God and His Messenger nor to religion; in fact, he does a favour to his own self because he sows seeds for his own future. It is God Who has actually done him a favour by giving him the urge and willingness to serve His religion and in this way opened up the way to eternal success for him. Here it needs to be kept in consideration that the answer has not been given by the tongue of the Prophet (sws) to these people viz. they should not say that they have done a favour to him; it is His favour to them that he has opened the way of guidance to them. Had his answer been given, there was a place for it; however, what best a prophet can do is to expend all his efforts in trying to bring people to the right path; he does not, however, have the authority to grant them the urge and willingness to accept faith. This is only the authority of God and the whole matter depends on this very urge and willingness.

إِنَّ اللهَ يَعْلَمُ غَيْبَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَاللهُ بَصِيرٌ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ (18)[13]

The subject discussed in verse sixteen is brought up here in a different style: they should not present their faith and religion as means of expressing their favour to the Prophet (sws) and to Islam. God is fully aware of all the secrets of the heavens and the earth and people should bear in mind that God is watching all their deeds. The implication is that the real thing is not the claim but to practice what they claim. If they practice thus, their claim will find weight with God even if they do not express it and if they do not, then it will have no weight before Him however much vociferously they make this claim.

With the blessing of God, I come to the end of the tafsīr of this group. فالحمد لله على ذالك (so gratitude be to God for this).


13th December, 1976 AD

20th Dhū al-hijjah, 1396 AH

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Essence of Polytheism (8)

Essence of Polytheism (7)

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Responsibilities of Muslim Youth

Mawlana Muhammad ‘Ali Jawhar

Mu’atta’ Imam Malik (6)

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Mu’atta’ Imam Malik (5)

Mu’atta’ Imam Malik (4)

Sir Syed Ahmad Khan

Mu’atta’ Imam Malik (3)

Mu’atta’ Imam Malik (2)

Mu’atta’ Imam Malik

Surah Hujurat (3/3)

Surah Hujurat (2/3)

Surah Hujurat (1/3)

Surah al-Qiyamah (2)

Surah al-Qiyamah (1)

Surah Muddaththir part (2)

Surah Muddaththir part (1)

Surah al-Muzzammil

Gleanings from Tadabbur-i Qur’an

Some Difficulties in Surah Rahman

Collection of the Qur’an: Amin Ahsan Islahi’s View

Sūrah Muhammad (Part 3/3)

Sūrah Muhammad (Part 2/3)

Sūrah Muhammad (Part 1/3)

Sūrah Dukhān (Part 2/2)

Sūrah Dukhān (Part 1/2)

Companions (rta) of the Prophet (sws)

Sūrah Hujurat (Part 2/2)

Sūrah Hujurat (Part 1/2)

Sūrah Tūr (Part 2/2)

Sūrah Tūr (Part 1/2)

Sūrah Najm (Part 2/2)

Sūrah Najm (Part 1/2)

Sūrah Qamar (Part 1/2)

Sūrah Qamar (Part 2/2)

Surah Waqi‘ah (Part 1/2)

Surah Waqi‘ah (Part 2/2)

Sūrah Rahmān (Part 2/2)

Sūrah Rahmān (Part 1/2)

Sūrah Mujādalah (Part 1/2)

Sūrah Mujādalah (Part 2/2)

Sūrah Tahrīm (Part 1/2)

Sūrah Tahrīm (Part 2/2)

Sūrah Qalam (Part 1/2)

Sūrah Qalam (Part 2/2)

Sūrah Jumu‘ah

Sūrah Ma‘ārij (Part 1/2)

Sūrah Ma‘ārij (Part 2/2)

Sūrah Taghābun

Sūrah Munāfiqūn

Sūrah Hāqqah

Interrelation between the Qur’ān,  the Sunnah and the Ḥadīth

Sūrah Nuh

Difference between Hadith and Sunnah

Sūrah Jinn

Authoritativeness of the Akhbar-i Ahad

Sūrah Muzzammil

Sūrah Qiyāmah (Part 2/2)

Sūrah Qiyāmah (Part 1/2)

Causes of Hadith Fabrication

Surah Balad

Riwayah bi al-Ma‘na (Transmission by Meaning)

Surah Mursalat (Part 2/2)

Surah Mursalat (Part 1/2)

Primary Sources of Hadith Study

Sūrah Dahr (Part 2/2)

Sūrah Dahr (Part 1/2)

Companions (rta) of the Prophet (sws)

Sūrah ‘Abas (Part 2/2)

Sūrah ‘Abas (Part 1/2)

Excellence and Inherent Limitations of the Isnād

Surah Takwir

Surah Infitar

Basic Criteria to Sift the Sound from the Unsound Ahadith

Sūrah Mutaffifīn

Sūrah Fajr

Fundamental Principles of Understanding Ahadīth

Sūrah Tāriq

Sūrah Burūj

Sūrah A‘lā

Sūrah Shams

Surah Duha

Surah Tin

Sūrah Bayyinah

Sūrah ‘Alaq

Surah ‘Asr

Surah ‘Adiyat

Surah Kafirun

Surah Nasr

Sūrah Lahab

Sūrah Falaq

Qurayshite Descent: A Condition for the Khalīfah

Conditions and Limits of Obedience to the Rulers

Principles of Interpreting the Qur’ān (Part 2/2)

Principles of Interpreting the Qur’ān (Part 1/2)

The Institution of Consultation during the Reign of Rightly Guided Caliphs

Heads for Zakah Spending

Surah Baqarah (1-39)

Surah Tariq

Purification of Deeds

Usage of some Qur’anic Terms (1)

Surah Qadr


Surah Kawthar

Understanding the Qur’an: Some Initial Conditions

Surah Fil

Surah Quraysh

Surah Alam Nashrah

Surah Humazah

Surah Ma‘un

Surah Nas

The Philosophy of Prayer Timings

Surah Ikhlas

Surah Zilzal

Good and Evil (Part 1/2)

Good and Evil (Part 2/2)

Difference Between Hadith and Sunnah

Errors in the Current Mode of Preaching

An Analysis of the Meanings of the Surahs of Group six (Part 2/2)

An Analysis of the Meanings of the Surahs of Group six (Part 1/2)

Surah Takathur

Surah Qariah

The Concept of Equality Between Man and Woman

Man’s Place in the Universe

Man’s Place in the Universe

A Summary and Analysis of The Meanings of Surah Takveer

A Summary and Analysis of The Meanings of Surah Muddaththir

A Summary and Analysis of The Meanings of Surah Muzzammil

A Summary and Analysis of The Meanings of Surah Ma‘arij

A Summary And Analysis Of The Meanings Of Surah Mulk