Section II: Verses (16-38)
The succeeding verses are a comment on the attitude of the Hypocrites and this subject continues right to the end of the sūrah. They are mentioned here with the same reference as they are mentioned in Sūrah Nisā', Sūrah Mā'idah, Sūrah Anfāl and Sūrah Tawbah as well as other sūrahs of the Qur'ān. When Muslims were asked to undertake a big campaign, it became essential that a group lurking among them as their hidden enemy be exposed whose weaknesses as well as connivances could become a danger for the Muslims in the coming phases. This subject is divided into three parts.
First, the Prophet (sws) is informed that there is a group among the Muslims who does listen to what he says, yet understands nothing. These people are waiting for a sign of punishment in order to be convinced of what he is saying; they do not know that the advent of a messenger is a forerunner to punishment for people who do not profess faith in him.
Next, their cowardice is exposed: they zealously express from their tongues their readiness for jihād; however, now when they have been directed in explicit terms to undertake it, they are engulfed with the fear of death. These people have in fact turned away from religion and have their association with the enemies of God. God has now decided that He will reveal their weakness and hypocrisy through trials and tests.
Lastly, what is discussed at the beginning of the sūrah is brought up again and Muslims in general and Hypocrites in particular are told that they should not try to find support of people who are destined to be doomed; now instead of thinking of ways and means to strike a compromise with them, they should get ready to struggle for the supremacy of religion. God will grant them success. If they turn away from God by being caught in the love of this world, God has no concern for them. He will bring forth others in their place who will not be cowards and hypocrites like them.
Readers may now proceed to the read these verses.
Text and Translation
وَمِنْهُم مَّن يَسْتَمِعُ إِلَيْكَ حَتَّى إِذَا خَرَجُوا مِنْ عِندِكَ قَالُوا لِلَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْعِلْمَ مَاذَا قَالَ آنِفًا أُوْلَئِكَ الَّذِينَ طَبَعَ اللهُ عَلَى قُلُوبِهِمْ وَاتَّبَعُوا أَهْوَاءهُمْ (16) وَالَّذِينَ اهْتَدَوْا زَادَهُمْ هُدًى وَآتَاهُمْ تَقْواهُمْ (17) فَهَلْ يَنظُرُونَ إِلَّا السَّاعَةَ أَن تَأْتِيَهُم بَغْتَةً فَقَدْ جَاء أَشْرَاطُهَا فَأَنَّى لَهُمْ إِذَا جَاءتْهُمْ ذِكْرَاهُمْ (18) فَاعْلَمْ أَنَّهُ لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا اللهُ وَاسْتَغْفِرْ لِذَنبِكَ وَلِلْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَالْمُؤْمِنَاتِ وَاللهُ يَعْلَمُ مُتَقَلَّبَكُمْ وَمَثْوَاكُمْ (19) وَيَقُولُ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَوْلَا نُزِّلَتْ سُورَةٌ فَإِذَا أُنزِلَتْ سُورَةٌ مُّحْكَمَةٌ وَذُكِرَ فِيهَا الْقِتَالُ رَأَيْتَ الَّذِينَ فِي قُلُوبِهِم مَّرَضٌ يَنظُرُونَ إِلَيْكَ نَظَرَ الْمَغْشِيِّ عَلَيْهِ مِنَ الْمَوْتِ فَأَوْلَى لَهُمْ (20) طَاعَةٌ وَقَوْلٌ مَّعْرُوفٌ فَإِذَا عَزَمَ الْأَمْرُ فَلَوْ صَدَقُوا اللهَ لَكَانَ خَيْرًا لَّهُمْ (21) فَهَلْ عَسَيْتُمْ إِن تَوَلَّيْتُمْ أَن تُفْسِدُوا فِي الْأَرْضِ وَتُقَطِّعُوا أَرْحَامَكُمْ (22) أُوْلَئِكَ الَّذِينَ لَعَنَهُمُ اللهُ فَأَصَمَّهُمْ وَأَعْمَى أَبْصَارَهُمْ (23) أَفَلَا يَتَدَبَّرُونَ الْقُرْآنَ أَمْ عَلَى قُلُوبٍ أَقْفَالُهَا (24) إِنَّ الَّذِينَ ارْتَدُّوا عَلَى أَدْبَارِهِم مِّن بَعْدِ مَا تَبَيَّنَ لَهُمُ الْهُدَى الشَّيْطَانُ سَوَّلَ لَهُمْ وَأَمْلَى لَهُمْ (25) ذَلِكَ بِأَنَّهُمْ قَالُوا لِلَّذِينَ كَرِهُوا مَا نَزَّلَ اللهُ سَنُطِيعُكُمْ فِي بَعْضِ الْأَمْرِ وَاللهُ يَعْلَمُ إِسْرَارَهُمْ (26) فَكَيْفَ إِذَا تَوَفَّتْهُمْ الْمَلَائِكَةُ يَضْرِبُونَ وُجُوهَهُمْ وَأَدْبَارَهُمْ (27) ذَلِكَ بِأَنَّهُمُ اتَّبَعُوا مَا أَسْخَطَ اللهَ وَكَرِهُوا رِضْوَانَهُ فَأَحْبَطَ أَعْمَالَهُمْ (28) أَمْ حَسِبَ الَّذِينَ فِي قُلُوبِهِم مَّرَضٌ أَن لَّن يُخْرِجَ اللهُ أَضْغَانَهُمْ (29) وَلَوْ نَشَاء لَأَرَيْنَاكَهُمْ فَلَعَرَفْتَهُم بِسِيمَاهُمْ وَلَتَعْرِفَنَّهُمْ فِي لَحْنِ الْقَوْلِ وَاللهُ يَعْلَمُ أَعْمَالَكُمْ (30) وَلَنَبْلُوَنَّكُمْ حَتَّى نَعْلَمَ الْمُجَاهِدِينَ مِنكُمْ وَالصَّابِرِينَ وَنَبْلُوَ أَخْبَارَكُمْ (31) إِنَّ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا وَصَدُّوا عَن سَبِيلِ اللهِ وَشَاقُّوا الرَّسُولَ مِن بَعْدِ مَا تَبَيَّنَ لَهُمُ الهُدَى لَن يَضُرُّوا اللهَ شَيْئًا وَسَيُحْبِطُ أَعْمَالَهُمْ (32) يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا أَطِيعُوا اللهَ وَأَطِيعُوا الرَّسُولَ وَلَا تُبْطِلُوا أَعْمَالَكُمْ (33) إِنَّ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا وَصَدُّوا عَن سَبِيلِ اللهِ ثُمَّ مَاتُوا وَهُمْ كُفَّارٌ فَلَن يَغْفِرَ اللهُ لَهُمْ (34) فَلَا تَهِنُوا وَتَدْعُوا إِلَى السَّلْمِ وَأَنتُمُ الْأَعْلَوْنَ وَاللهُ مَعَكُمْ وَلَن يَتِرَكُمْ أَعْمَالَكُمْ (35) إِنَّمَا الحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا لَعِبٌ وَلَهْوٌ وَإِن تُؤْمِنُوا وَتَتَّقُوا يُؤْتِكُمْ أُجُورَكُمْ وَلَا يَسْأَلْكُمْ أَمْوَالَكُمْ (36) إِن يَسْأَلْكُمُوهَا فَيُحْفِكُمْ تَبْخَلُوا وَيُخْرِجْ أَضْغَانَكُمْ (37) هَاأَنتُمْ هَؤُلَاء تُدْعَوْنَ لِتُنفِقُوا فِي سَبِيلِ اللهِ فَمِنكُم مَّن يَبْخَلُ وَمَن يَبْخَلْ فَإِنَّمَا يَبْخَلُ عَن نَّفْسِهِ وَاللهُ الْغَنِيُّ وَأَنتُمُ الْفُقَرَاء وَإِن تَتَوَلَّوْا يَسْتَبْدِلْ قَوْمًا غَيْرَكُمْ ثُمَّ لَا يَكُونُوا أَمْثَالَكُمْ (38)
And some of them indeed listen to you, but as soon as they leave your presence, they ask those endowed with knowledge: "What did he just say?" It is these people whose hearts have been sealed by God, and who have followed their base desires. And as for those who follow the path of guidance, God increased their guidance and granted them their share of piety. (16-17)
These people are only waiting for the Hour of Doom to suddenly overtake them? So they should keep in mind that its portents have already come. So when that Hour will come, what chance will they have of being reminded? So you should know that there is no deity but God. And seek forgiveness for the blemishes of believing men and believing women. And God knows the places where you come and go and the places where you reside. (18-19)
And those who have professed faith say: "Why is not a sūrah [regarding jīhad] revealed!" But when a clear sūrah was revealed and jihād was also mentioned in it, you see those inflicted with a malady in their hearts staring at you as though they are fainting away for fear of death. So pity be on them! For them, the best attitude was obedience and the customary word. So when the matter had been decided with certainty, then if they had been true to God, it would have been better for them. Therefore, if you turned away, what else is expected from you than spreading disorder in the land and severing blood relationships. It is these people who have been cursed by God; thus He made their ears dumb and eyes blind. Do they not ponder on the Qur'ān or are there locks upon their hearts? Indeed, people who turned away once God's guidance was revealed to them were deceived by Satan and God gave them respite. This happened because they said to those who detested what was revealed by God. They said: "We shall follow you in some affairs." And God knows this secret of theirs. So what will happen when the angels will claim their souls, striking their faces and their backs? This will be because they followed what incurred the wrath of God and hated what pleased Him. So God brought their deeds to nothing. (20-28)
Do these people in whose hearts is a malady think that God will never reveal their malice? And if We pleased, We would have them pointed out to you and you would recognize them by their looks. And you will surely know them from the hesitation of their words. And God has knowledge of your deeds. (29-30)
And We shall definitely put you to test to distinguish the valiant and the resolute among you and test your circumstances. Those who disbelieved and debarred others from the path of God and opposed the Messenger after they had been clearly guided shall in no way harm God. And God will bring their deeds to nothing. (31-32)
Believers! Obey God and obey the Messenger, and do not let your labours come to nothing. Indeed, those who disbelieved and debarred others from the path of God and died in this state, God shall never forgive them. So do not be feeble and call for a compromise and you will remain dominant and God is on your side and will not show any dishonesty with you in your deeds. (33-35)
The life of this world is but a sport and entertainment. And if you profess faith and be pious, God will reward you and will not ask for all your wealth. And if He demands and demands all, you would show stinginess and this would reveal your malice. Listen up! You are those who when called to spend for the cause of God, there are some among you are stingy. And he who is stingy should remember that he is stingy to himself. God does not need you, but you need Him. And if you turn away, He will replace you by others; then they shall not be like yourselves. (36-38)
وَمِنْهُم مَّن يَسْتَمِعُ إِلَيْكَ حَتَّى إِذَا خَرَجُوا مِنْ عِندِكَ قَالُوا لِلَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْعِلْمَ مَاذَا قَالَ آنِفًا أُوْلَئِكَ الَّذِينَ طَبَعَ اللهُ عَلَى قُلُوبِهِمْ وَاتَّبَعُوا أَهْوَاءهُمْ (16)
The Prophet (sws) is asked to beware of people who apparently were with the Muslims, yet all their sympathies were with the enemies of Islam. The need for this arose because Muslims could be harmed the most by these people in the campaign they had been asked to undertake in the previous verses. The verse says that there is group among them who tries to hear what the Prophet (sws) says, yet understands nothing. For when these people disburse from his presence, they ask from other knowledgeable people of the gathering what the Prophet (sws) had said.
The antecedent of the pronoun in مِنْهُم are those referred to earlier by the words كَرِهُوا مَا أَنزَلَ اللهُ. The implication is that one group does not even come near the Prophet (sws) because of abhorrence for what has been revealed by God, and another one among them comes to him but not to listen and to understand; only to display its hypocrisy.
By the question مَاذَا قَالَ آنِفًا they want to give the impression to the people that as far as hearing the Prophet (sws) is concerned, they have fully heard what he has said and are also ready to follow it with the readiness of head and heart; however, as yet they have not been able to understand what the Prophet (sws) wants to convey to them. In this manner, they would try to hide their hypocrisy.
The second impression that they wanted to give was that what the Prophet (sws) was conversing about are not things which should be believed into without deliberation; they need deep deliberation and reflection. In other words, by this comment they would insinuate agony for the Muslims who would believe and show conviction in everything related to them by the Prophet (sws); their comment implied that Muslims were accepting what the Prophet (sws) is telling them because they are simpletons and that they in spite of listening very intently to him are unable to understand what he says. It may be kept in mind that this attitude is very effective in undermining the best of words said. For a similar objective, when a sūrah would be revealed and the Prophet (sws) would recite it to these Hypocrites, at times, they would sarcastically comment after leaving the Prophet's presence: Speak up! Whose faith has been revived by this sūrah? In Sūrah Tawbah, this prank of theirs is mentioned in the following words:
وَإِذَا مَا أُنزِلَتْ سُورَةٌ فَمِنْهُم مَّن يَقُولُ أَيُّكُمْ زَادَتْهُ هَـذِهِ إِيمَانًا فَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ فَزَادَتْهُمْ إِيمَانًا وَهُمْ يَسْتَبْشِرُونَ وَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ فِي قُلُوبِهِم مَّرَضٌ فَزَادَتْهُمْ رِجْسًا إِلَى رِجْسِهِمْ وَمَاتُواْ وَهُمْ كَافِرُونَ (9: 124-125)
And whenever a sūrah is revealed, some of them ask: "Whose faith will this increase?" It will surely increase the believers' faith and give them joy. As for those whose hearts are tainted, it will add uncleanness to their uncleanness, so that they shall die while still in disbelief. (9:124-125)
The words أُوْلَئِكَ الَّذِينَ طَبَعَ اللهُ عَلَى قُلُوبِهِمْ وَاتَّبَعُوا أَهْوَاءهُمْ say that it is these people whose hearts have been sealed by the Almighty and they have followed their base desires. This is a reference to verse fourteen كَمَن زُيِّنَ لَهُ سُوءُ عَمَلِهِ وَاتَّبَعُوا أَهْوَاءهُمْ that their misdeeds have been endeared to them and they have become the followers of their base desires; so they will now face the same fate as has been destined for such people. Such people deprive themselves of the light of vision which the Almighty has innately blessed man with and for this reason, they remain deprived of the light of divine revelation and their hearts are sealed because of their misdeeds.
وَالَّذِينَ اهْتَدَوْا زَادَهُمْ هُدًى وَآتَاهُمْ تَقْواهُمْ (17)
This is the same subject as is discussed in the afore-mentioned verse of Sūrah Tawbah: God, through His companionship of His Prophet (sws), increased such people in guidance as had kept intact the innate light found in their nature and also protected it. He blessed the quality of virtue found in them in accordance with their ability and desire to attain it. As far as those people are concerned who nurtured hypocrisy in them, whatever innate ability they had was also confiscated from them.
فَهَلْ يَنظُرُونَ إِلَّا السَّاعَةَ أَن تَأْتِيَهُم بَغْتَةً فَقَدْ جَاء أَشْرَاطُهَا فَأَنَّى لَهُمْ إِذَا جَاءتْهُمْ ذِكْرَاهُمْ (18)
The verse says that if they are not being able to understand what the Prophet (sws) is telling them, then this only means that these people are only waiting for the hour of judgement that it suddenly overtake them. The word "hour" can refer to both the Day of Judgement and as well as to the decisive punishment which necessarily visits a messenger's immediate addressees if they intentionally reject him. The messengers of God inform their people of both types of punishments and the one is related to the other as a prelude is to its culmination. The implication is that God was gracious enough to them to warn them of the danger by sending a messenger to them and also revealed His book to them so that when the hour of judgement arrives, they are not able to say that no warner came to them. However, they are deliberately trying to pose as unaware to this; if they are posing so, then let them be, for God sends His messenger to convey the truth to the extent that no one is left with an excuse to deny it. If they do not open their ears through his reminders, then the final thing is punishment and the Day of Judgement; now they will face them; if they are not duly honouring these beforehand reminders, then this only means that they want that it suddenly come upon them.
The words فَقَدْ جَاء أَشْرَاطُهَا imply that if they are waiting for the punishment to arrive, then they should know that its signs have already manifested themselves. This is a reference to the practice of God explained in the previous sūrahs: The Almighty does not send His decisive punishment to a people unless He sends His messenger to their central city. This has now happened. God is now observing what attitude people are adopting towards their messenger. Whatever these people have done till now deserves punishment; however, God is giving them respite; if anyone wants to mend his ways, he has this opportunity.
If even now people do not take heed, then the law of God will manifest itself: God will separate His pious people and will destroy those adamant on rebelliousness and anarchy. The signs of this fate are manifesting themselves now both in the world within men and that around them; in the time to come, they will become even more discernable. The time will come when the court of justice will be set up in this world for both the believers and the disbelievers; this lesser court of justice will become a prelude to the greater court of justice that will be set up in the Hereafter. This is what will happen after the advent of the last Messenger and his conclusive communication of the truth. Thus, in certain narratives, the Prophet (sws) has referred to this by raising his two fingers; he is reported to have said that just as these two fingers are adjacent to one another, in a similar manner his advent and the Day of Judgement are very close to one another.
In the sentence, فَأَنَّى لَهُمْ إِذَا جَاءتْهُمْ ذِكْرَاهُمْ the subject of the verb جَاءتْ is السَّاعَةَ which is mentioned earlier. In other words, if these people are waiting for the judgement hour to profess faith in the Messenger, then whether that hour manifests in the form of punishment or the Day of Judgement, in both cases what chance will they have to heed the reminder? The only time to benefit from this reminder is before their arrival. Once it arrives, their professing faith will be absolutely useless.
فَاعْلَمْ أَنَّهُ لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا اللهُ وَاسْتَغْفِرْ لِذَنبِكَ وَلِلْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَالْمُؤْمِنَاتِ وَاللهُ يَعْلَمُ مُتَقَلَّبَكُمْ وَمَثْوَاكُمْ (19)
This is a reference to the fact that now when the hour of judgement is about to arrive, they should fully comprehend that there is no god but God. People who have no fear of God on the basis of their alleged deities will come to fully realize by that time that no one is there to help them against God.
The words وَاسْتَغْفِرْ لِذَنبِكَ وَلِلْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَالْمُؤْمِنَاتِ direct the Prophet (sws) to prepare to protect himself from calamities of that day: people who have no fear of them should be left to themselves; he should keep asking the forgiveness of God for his blemishes and for that of the believers.
This address to the Prophet (sws) is in his capacity of the representative and intercessor of his people. The Messenger of God continuously while bearing the burden of all his associates whether men or women keeps asking for God's forgiveness for himself and for them. He was directed to do so with more diligence so that when the hour of judgement comes, the believers are protected from its calamities.
Here the ascription of sin to the Prophet (sws) in the first place is as a representative of the whole ummah, as referred to earlier and not directly towards him. In the second place, the blemishes of the Prophets of God do not emanate from base desires; their blemishes emanate from being over zealous for the cause of truth. I have already explained this at an appropriate place in this tafsīr. Such excesses in themselves are not sins; however, since the prophets and messengers of God are standards of truth and falsehood, the Almighty checks them even for such blemishes and reforms them.
The word مُتَقَلَّبَكُمْ can be a verbal noun and can also be an adverb of place. I have interpreted it in the latter sense because it is used in contrast with مَثْوَى. It would thus refer to a place where people come and go.
This is an assurance of protection sounded to the Prophet (sws) and the Muslims: if they continue to seek forgiveness from God, He will protect them wherever they are; He knows full well the places they frequent and as well as their abodes. There is no fear for them to encounter torment.
وَيَقُولُ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَوْلَا نُزِّلَتْ سُورَةٌ فَإِذَا أُنزِلَتْ سُورَةٌ مُّحْكَمَةٌ وَذُكِرَ فِيهَا الْقِتَالُ رَأَيْتَ الَّذِينَ فِي قُلُوبِهِم مَّرَضٌ يَنظُرُونَ إِلَيْكَ نَظَرَ الْمَغْشِيِّ عَلَيْهِ مِنَ الْمَوْتِ فَأَوْلَى لَهُمْ (20)
This is a reference to the attitude adopted by the Hypocrites when they heard the clear directive of jīhad as mentioned in verse four of this sūrah. It is said that first these people who vehemently bluff their claim to faith would come forward and demand that why is not a clear directive about jīhad being revealed, but when a sūrah containing an explicit directive of jīhad was revealed then those in whose hearts is the malady of jealousy and hypocrisy look towards the Prophet (sws) as if they are facing the stupor of death.
There is an incomplete verb suppressed before يَقُولُ as per linguistic principles. Keeping this aspect in view, the translation of this verb would be: "they used to say".
The verb in الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا refers to a claim to what is expressed by the verb, and this usage is very common in Arabic. Consider, for example: يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ آمِنُواْ بِاللهِ وَرَسُولِهِ (136:4) (O People! Who lay claim to faith, profess faith in God and His Messenger, (4:136)).
The words فِي الجِهَاد (about jihad) or فِي القِتَال (about qital) are suppressed after لَوْلَا نُزِّلَتْ سُورَةٌ. It is very common in the Qur'ān that if something is to be mentioned in detail later, it is initially mentioned rather concisely. An example of this style can be seen in verse thirty six of this sūrah. This style is also adopted while citing questions posed by people. I have explained it under the following verse of SūrahBaqarah: يَسْأَلُونَكَ عَنِ الأهِلَّةِ (2:189). The implied meaning is that first these people fervently demanded that why is not a clear directive regarding jihād revealed; however, when such a directive was revealed and that too in explicit terms, these claimants to faith began hiding here and there.
The word سُورَةٌ like the word كِتَابٌ has been used in the Qur'ān for a sūrah of the Qur'ān as well as a directive. Here both meanings can be implied. The adjective مُّحْكَمَةٌ which qualifies it shows its certainty and such clarity that requires no explanation. In other words, neither is there any vagueness in it nor does it require any elucidation and nor is it from among the matters of the mutashābihāt so that only God knows its exact reality.
The word مَّرَضٌ in رَأَيْتَ الَّذِينَ فِي قُلُوبِهِم مَّرَضٌ refers to hypocrisy as well as the malice and envy these Hypocrites had for Islam and the Prophet (sws). In verses twenty nine and thirty seven, an explanation of this is coming up. I have presented my research on this word in the tafsīr of Sūrah Baqarah.
This portrayal of these Hypocrites is also found in Sūrah Nisā' in the following words:
أَلَمْ تَرَ إِلَى الَّذِينَ قِيلَ لَهُمْ كُفُّواْ أَيْدِيَكُمْ وَأَقِيمُواْ الصَّلاَةَ وَآتُواْ الزَّكَاةَ فَلَمَّا كُتِبَ عَلَيْهِمُ الْقِتَالُ إِذَا فَرِيقٌ مِّنْهُمْ يَخْشَوْنَ النَّاسَ كَخَشْيَةِ اللهِ أَوْ أَشَدَّ خَشْيَةً وَقَالُواْ رَبَّنَا لِمَ كَتَبْتَ عَلَيْنَا الْقِتَالَ لَوْلا أَخَّرْتَنَا إِلَى أَجَلٍ قَرِيبٍ قُلْ مَتَاعُ الدَّنْيَا قَلِيلٌ وَالآخِرَةُ خَيْرٌ لِّمَنِ اتَّقَى وَلاَ تُظْلَمُونَ فَتِيلاً (77:4)
Have you seen those who were told: "Lay down your arms; recite your prayers and pay zakāh." When they were ordered to fight, some of them feared people as much as they feared God or even more. "Lord," they said" "why do You bid us fight? Could you not give us a brief respite?" Say: "Trifling are the pleasures of this life. Better is the life to come for those who would keep from evil. You shall not be wronged by as much as the husk of a date-stone." (4:77)
In other words, until the time Muslims were not directed to wage jihād, these people would put up a show of sincerity and selflessness by expressing their great zeal to undertake it; however, once this directive was given, they began fearing people more than God and went about hiding themselves.
The words فَأَوْلَى لَهُمْ express curse and hate. They have the same meaning as وَيْلٌ لَّهُمْ. The implication is that when with their claim to faith they have also nurtured hypocrisy and cowardice in themselves, then the curse of God be on them.
طَاعَةٌ وَقَوْلٌ مَّعْرُوفٌ فَإِذَا عَزَمَ الْأَمْرُ فَلَوْ صَدَقُوا اللهَ لَكَانَ خَيْرًا لَّهُمْ (21)
The verse says that the right attitude for them was to welcome this directive of jihādby the conventional words "we have listened and we obeyed," and then when its time come proven from their actions that they were true to the promise they made with God. Had they done this, it would have been better for them yet they adopted for themselves the path to doom.
The words طَاعَةٌ وَقَوْلٌ مَّعْرُوفٌ are in the place of mubtadā' and the khabar is suppressed because of strong contextual indication and as a requisite of eloquence. I have been explaining at various places in this tafsīr that when the intention is to fully focus the attention of the addressee on the mubtadā', the khabar is suppressed. The words قَوْلٌ مَّعْرُوفٌ refer to the expression سَمِعْنَا وَ أَطَعْنَا (we listened and we obeyed). It is this expression which is what is conventional and customary for God from His sincere people. The sincere and faithful people of God have always welcomed every directive of God and His messengers with these words and this was only befitting for them since they had laid claim to faith; however, what actually happened was that they were inflicted with the stupor of death as soon as they were directed to wage jihād.
The expression فَإِذَا عَزَمَ الْأَمْرُ means that the matter has been decided, and that it has been resolved to undertake some practical measure for it.
In other words, it would have been befitting for them to utter the conventional acknowledgement of سَمِعْنَا وَ أَطَعْنَا (we listened and we obeyed) once they were directed to wage jihād, and when the final decision to launch it was communicated to them by God and His Prophet (sws), they should have substantiated their words through practice. It needs to be kept in consideration that the directive given in verse four of this sūrah is not to undertake jihād but to prepare for it and to encourage the believers. The practical step to launch it came later.
The words فَلَوْ صَدَقُوا اللهَ لَكَانَ خَيْرًا لَّهُمْ imply that till now whatever they have done for the Messenger of God is merely making claims. The time to test this claim has just come. If they now practically demonstrate their commitment to this claim, then this will open the door to a lot of good for them; however, instead of adopting this way, they chose for themselves the path of cowardice.
فَهَلْ عَسَيْتُمْ إِن تَوَلَّيْتُمْ أَن تُفْسِدُوا فِي الْأَرْضِ وَتُقَطِّعُوا أَرْحَامَكُمْ (22)
The Hypocrites are not directly addressed in the previous verse in the comment made on them; however, in this verse, they are directly addressed. This change in style is meant to reinforce the exhortation done to them. The verse says that if they evade the calls of this message, then they will not be able to benefit themselves or give any to their nation and end up in spreading anarchy in the society and severing blood relationships – something which they were deeply involved in the age of jāhiliyyah. In other words, if this is what they want, they are free to choose any path for themselves and then witness its fate; however, if instead of anarchy, they want real peace and justice and desire to strengthen their mutual relationships on the basis of brotherhood and affection, then the only way is to even go as far as to endanger their lives if needed to bolster and cement the cause of this religion – the religion which by uprooting polytheism and sectarian and tribal biases found in the age of jāhiliyyah is uniting all mankind on worshipping and showing obedience to God and on the ideology that all mankind is one family having a common ancestor.
Another reason for directly addressing these Hypocrites to counsel them was that among them was one group which wanted to strike a compromise with the disbelievers of the Quraysh. In Sūrah Baqarah, this group has been referred to and they are again mentioned in verse thirty five of this sūrah. These people would assure the Quraysh and the Jews that though they have joined the ranks of the Muslims, they will continue to follow them in some matters. In verse twenty six of this sūrah, this group is also mentioned. These people were successful to some extent in concealing this hypocritical policy of theirs till the phase of war had not arrived. However, once this phase arrived, the time for them to hide expired. They were not ready to wage war against the Quraysh and its allies and they could not remain among the Muslims if they tried to shun this war. Thus to conceal their hypocrisy they started to spread the notion that they do not desire bloodshed among brothers and that they wanted that the Muslims and the Quraysh and others make peace with one another and live amicably. This is the right way to live. If instead of adopting this path, war is waged then uncontrollable anarchy will ensue in the land. Because of this hypocritical policy of theirs, these people would call themselves reformers and peace-lovers. They tried their best that Muslims adopt this policy so that their own hypocrisy would remain hidden and the objective of the enemies of Islam is also achieved. While keeping this mentality of theirs in view, it is said in the verse under discussion that the path they have adopted for themselves and the path they want others to adopt as well is not the path of peace and reconciliation; it is like turning back to anarchy and killing one's fellow human beings –something which they had remained deeply engaged in.
The path of peace and brotherhood is that all should lead their lives as servants of one God and as the descendents of one Adam and adopt that way of life which is based on the ideology of oneness of God and oneness of the progenitor of mankind. It is this ideology which the Qur'ān is calling them to. This will not be achieved by keeping intact the ways of the jāhiliyyah period in which each tribe had a separate god and a separate ancestor. Here it needs to be kept in mind that the collective system of Islam is based on the ideology of oneness of God and on the oneness of the progenitor of mankind. I have discussed this issue in detail in Sūrah Nisā'.
أُوْلَئِكَ الَّذِينَ لَعَنَهُمُ اللهُ فَأَصَمَّهُمْ وَأَعْمَى أَبْصَارَهُمْ (23)
The verse says that such people have been cursed by God. As a result of this curse, their ears have become deaf and their eyes have become blind. God showed them light and they were fully convinced that this light has been revealed by Him but they keep turning back to see the darkness of their age of jāhiliyyah and are desirous of going back to it. As a result of this ungrateful attitude, God has cursed them and taken away His light from them. As a further consequence of this, their ears have lost the ability to hear the truth and their eyes have lost the real vision to see the truth.
أَفَلَا يَتَدَبَّرُونَ الْقُرْآنَ أَمْ عَلَى قُلُوبٍ أَقْفَالُهَا (24)
The verse says that it is the Qur'ān which revives the hearts provided that these people had reflected on it; however, these worthless people never deliberate on it; as a result the rust which comes on hearts has in fact inflicted their hearts; so just as locks close doors, their hearts too have been closed because of this rust.
The word قُلُوبٍ is used here as an indefinite noun to express hate and abhorrence. This usage can be seen in the following verse of Sūrah Nisā': مِّن قَبْلِ أَن نَّطْمِسَ وُجُوهًا فَنَرُدَّهَا عَلَى أَدْبَارِهَا (47:4) (before We obliterate your faces and turn them backward, (4:47)).Here the word وُجُوهاً has been similarly used to express hate and abhorrence. In other words, so horrible and hateful are these hearts that the speaker does not even want to refer to them by identifying them.
The word أَقْفَالُهَا refers to those things which inflict the heart with a malady or plague it like rust. Such maladies are mentioned in this sūrah (see verses twenty and twenty nine) and are also mentioned in detail at other places. Love of life, fear of death, stinginess, cowardice, jealousy, hypocrisy and other similar things are some of their prominent components. If a person has political authority, then this can also inflict him with arrogance and conceit and as a natural consequence of this he becomes stone-hearted and callous. The remedy to these maladies is to listen and to understand the Qur'ān, as has been explained under verses twenty three and twenty four of Sūrah Anfāl. However, it is the Qur'ān which such people evade and dread the most; hence their treatment becomes impossible.
إِنَّ الَّذِينَ ارْتَدُّوا عَلَى أَدْبَارِهِم مِّن بَعْدِ مَا تَبَيَّنَ لَهُمُ الْهُدَى الشَّيْطَانُ سَوَّلَ لَهُمْ وَأَمْلَى لَهُمْ (25)
The verse says that the attitude of these Hypocrites is akin to apostasy. They fully knew that what the Prophet (sws) was calling them to is the path of truth. Thus they came forward and accepted it but when they were faced with trials Satan deceived them and they were misled by him and God too gave them respite. The reason for this respite was that people who intentionally deviate from the path of truth to merely follow their base desires are given time and opportunity by God so that they can wander wherever they want to.
It is evident from other places of the Qur'ān also that hypocrisy is tantamount to apostasy. In Sūrah Mā'idah, while referring to these Hypocrites, it is said: يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ مَن يَرْتَدَّ مِنكُمْ عَن دِينِهِ فَسَوْفَ يَأْتِي اللهُ بِقَوْمٍ يُحِبُّهُمْ وَيُحِبُّونَهُ (54:5) (Believers! If any among you renounces his faith, God will soon replace them by others who love Him and are loved by Him, (5:54)).
The subject of the verb أَمْلَى is God. In the Qur'ān, this verb is used for Him only and its usage for Him only is appropriate. Its ascription towards Satan is not appropriate at all. If there is an indication present, the verb itself is sufficient to show who its subject is. There are numerous examples of this in the Qur'ān. Readers are advised to look up verse 110 of Sūrah Yūsuf.
ذَلِكَ بِأَنَّهُمْ قَالُوا لِلَّذِينَ كَرِهُوا مَا نَزَّلَ اللهُ سَنُطِيعُكُمْ فِي بَعْضِ الْأَمْرِ وَاللهُ يَعْلَمُ إِسْرَارَهُمْ (26)
God consigned these Hypocrites to Satan because even after being fully convinced of the truth they connived with the enemies of Islam who intensely abhorred the Book revealed by God. These Hypocrites assured them that in some matters they will keep siding with them. The words لِلَّذِينَ كَرِهُوا مَا نَزَّلَ اللهُ refer to the leaders of the Quraysh and the Jews whose enmity with Islam was very evident but these Hypocrites would assure them that though they have joined the ranks of the Muslims yet this certainly does not mean that they have no relation left with these leaders; if hard times ensue, they will side with them and that in this matter they will not care about the happiness or sorrow of anyone. It is mentioned in Sūrah Hashr about these very Hypocrites that they would keep going to the Jews to assure them that if they are turned out, they too would go along with them and in this matter not care what anyone says:لَئِنْ أُخْرِجْتُمْ لَنَخْرُجَنَّ مَعَكُمْ وَلَا نُطِيعُ فِيكُمْ أَحَدًا أَبَدًا (59: 11) (if you are driven out, then we shall necessarily go out with you and we will not listen to anyone regarding you, (59:11)).
The word إِسْرَارَ in وَاللهُ يَعْلَمُ إِسْرَارَهُمْ refers to this very connivance of theirs and this sentence is not merely a piece of information; it reflects threat and warning. The implication is that God is fully aware of these clandestine activities and soon their fate will become evident.
فَكَيْفَ إِذَا تَوَفَّتْهُمْ الْمَلَائِكَةُ يَضْرِبُونَ وُجُوهَهُمْ وَأَدْبَارَهُمْ (27)
The verse depicts the fate of these people: The punishment of those who conspire against Islam begins right from the time angels claim their souls; so these people should think that what will they do when the stern angels of God claim their souls by striking them on their mouths and their backs and no one will be able to help them.
ذَلِكَ بِأَنَّهُمُ اتَّبَعُوا مَا أَسْخَطَ اللهَ وَكَرِهُوا رِضْوَانَهُ فَأَحْبَطَ أَعْمَالَهُمْ (28)
These people will reach this fate because all their efforts revolved around opposing God; they adopted all those ways which displeased God and stayed away from things that could please God. In retribution of this, angels will bring torment to them right from the time of their death and God will lay waste all their seemingly pious deeds they did while claiming to be adherents of Islam.
أَمْ حَسِبَ الَّذِينَ فِي قُلُوبِهِم مَّرَضٌ أَن لَّن يُخْرِجَ اللهُ أَضْغَانَهُمْ (29)
This is another threat sounded to them: if they are conspiring and conniving against Islam, do they think that these acts of theirs will always remain hidden and God will never expose them? If this is what they think, then they are totally wrong. Time has now come that they be exposed so that everyone fully recognizes them and no one is deceived by them.
The word مَّرَضٌ refers both to hypocrisy and to malice and jealousy which these Hypocrites had for Islam and the Muslims and because of which they were doing such evil things mentioned earlier. Hypocrisy in itself is a malady; however, this malady increases when jealousy and malice are added to it. The word أَضْغَان refers to this very jealousy and malice. The word أَضْغَان is a plural of ضِغْنٌ and means "malice".
وَلَوْ نَشَاء لَأَرَيْنَاكَهُمْ فَلَعَرَفْتَهُم بِسِيمَاهُمْ وَلَتَعْرِفَنَّهُمْ فِي لَحْنِ الْقَوْلِ وَاللهُ يَعْلَمُ أَعْمَالَكُمْ (30)
The word لَحْنٌ also means tawriyah ie a person states something in a manner that it has a specific connotation in his heart yet he communicates a different meaning to others. The Hypocrites were very adept in this art. They would converse in a dubious manner so as to convince both Muslims and the disbelievers at the same time that their sympathies are with them.
The Hypocrites are threatened by addressing the Prophet (sws): it is not at all difficult for God to expose them so that the Prophet (sws) is able to recognize them by their distinctive marks that they are in fact Hypocrites. If the Almighty is not doing this, then this is His magnanimity and graciousness that He is concealing their sins; however, it is not difficult at all for the Prophet (sws) to identify them. He can easily recognize them through their double-meaning words, hesitant talk and dubious conversation.
In this very context, the words وَاللهُ يَعْلَمُ أَعْمَالَكُمْ directly address the Hypocrites that if they are able to deceive Muslims through their dual and dubious words, then this is no success they should be proud of. God is fully aware of their deeds, and when He knows, what will be the benefit they gain from hiding it from others.