Verses from Surah al-Nahl (104-113)

[104] Surely, those who do not believe in Allah’s signs, Allah does not guide them aright,166 rather, for them awaits a painful chastisement.

Commentary

166. That is, because of their refusal to believe. Allah (swt) does not guide such people to Paradise (Razi). Ibn Kathir comments: Allah tells us that He does not guide those who are heedless to that which He revealed to His Messenger. This class of people will never be guided to faith by any of Allah’s other signs either.

[105] It is only those who do not believe in the signs of Allah that forge lies. It is they who are the liars.167

Commentary

167. That is, those who impute a lie to the Prophet (saws), are themselves confirmed liars. This verse befits the Western scholars, writers and journalists, who float lies for the benefit of their laymen, who blindly believe in them in such matters of importance, while treating all else that they write, about worldly affairs, with extreme skepticism, if not disbelief. It is this class of people who are the subject of the next verse (Au.).

[106] Whoever disbelieved in Allah, after his faith, except for him who was compelled, while his heart was firm in faith,168 but he, who opened his heart for disbelief,169 it is upon them that Allah’s anger rests, and theirs shall be a mighty chastisement.170

Commentary

168. The words, “while his heart was firm in faith,” is the basis of the opinion held by some that faith (Iman) is the name of attestation of the heart and that its verbal pronunciation is not a condition. However, it will be more precise to say that although verbal assertion is not part of faith, it is necessary as a sign and confirmation of what is in the heart (Alusi).

169. Passing doubts, therefore, Thanwi points out, are not blameworthy (so long as not given permanent residence in the heart), since they are not the result of one’s free will.

170. Ibn ‘Abbas, Qatadah and Abu Malik have said that the immediate reference was to ‘Ammar b. Yasir. He was severely tortured by the pagans until he spelt the words of disbelief that they were demanding from him. Later, he reported to the Prophet (in tears: Zamakhshari). The Prophet asked him, “How do you find your heart?” He replied, “Firm in faith.” The Prophet told him, “If they repeat, you also repeat” (Ibn Jarir).

But, of course, Zamakhshari writes, the allusion could be to all those who suffered persecution, notably Bilal, Suhayb, Khabbab, Salim, Jabr al-Hadrami, ‘Ammar and his parents ‘Yasir and Sumayyah. The brutality of the tortures can be gauged from the fact that the last named Sumayyah was tied to two camels and then Abu Jahal thrust a spear in her vagina until she died. Yasir was also killed: the first two to die in the cause of Islam. In fact, under extreme torture delivered by his master, Jabr renounced Islam. However, his master himself later became a Muslim, and the two, master and slave, migrated to Madinah (Zamakhshari).

A narration in Bayhaqi says that unable to stand the tortures, ‘Ammar disowned the Prophet (saws) and praised their deities. Hence the scholars have ruled that whoever is put to severe tortures might opt for one of the two ways of escape: either outwardly renounce his religion, or, stay firm unmindful of what happens to him. Bilal opted for the latter and despite rocks on his chest, laid on hot desert sands, stuck to “Ahad, Ahad” (One, One) and refused to say one word that would please the torturers. Indeed, he said, “By Allah! If I knew another word that would madden them more, I would have said it.” That’s what Habib b. Zayd opted for when he and another Companion were caught (spying on Musaylimah the Liar: Shawkani). Musaylimah asked the other man if he testified that Muhammad was a Messenger of Allah. He said, “Yes.” Musaylimah next asked, “Do you testify that I am a messenger of Allah?” He said, “Yes.” So he freed him. But when he asked Habib, “Do you testify that Muhammad is a Messenger?” Habib replied, “I do.” He asked him next, “Do you testify that I am a messenger?” Habib said, “I do not hear you.” When Musaylimah ordered that his body be severed, limb by limb, if he replied that way to every fresh question, Habib still kept repeating those words. The severing went on with each question and answer, until he died. Thus, Habib opted for ‘azimah (firm resolve) [- Ibn Kathir]. But the Prophet did not censure the other person who escaped from Musaylimah the Liar (Zamakhshari). The report, however, is a “mursal” one coming through Hasan al-Busri (Shawkani).

In fact, continues Ibn Kathir, we have another incident worth mentioning. This is from Ibn ‘Asakir who recorded it in the biography of `Abdullah b. Hudhafa Sahami, a Companion. Once he was captured by the Byzantines. They took him to the king. He proposed, “Become a Christian and I’ll declare a share for you in my kingdom and give you my daughter in marriage.” `Abdullah replied, “If you gave me the whole of your kingdom, and the whole of the Arab kingdom, on condition that I abandon my religion, just for a moment, I wouldn’t do it.” The king threatened to kill him, got him fixed to the cross and ordered his men to shoot arrows around his hands and feet. He again offered him Christianity and again he refused. So the king got a large copper vessel filled with oil and heated up. Then one of the captured Muslims was brought and cast into it. `Abdullah stood there watching him as he was fried to scorched bones. But `Abdullah wouldn’t budge. So the king ordered that `Abdullah be thrown into the vessel. ‘Abdullah wept. The king thought ‘Abdullah had softened. He called him and offered that he become a Christian. `Abdullah said, “I only cried because I have command over only a single life. I wish I had as many lives as the hair on my body and each of them taken away in the path of Allah.” Finally, the king suggested, “Kiss my forehead and I’ll let you go?” `Abdullah asked, “Will you free every Muslim prisoner?” The king said yes. `Abdullah kissed his forehead and was freed along with all the Muslim prisoners. When he came back, `Umar ibn al-Khattab said, “It is `Abdullah’s right that everyone should kiss his forehead. And let me be the first to do it” (slightly shortened).

Qurtubi also points out that the legal implication of the verse is that its principle is extendable to other affairs of lesser importance. (If someone is forced to do something wrong, on threat to his life, he cannot be blamed for his actions). In fact, there is a hadith to this effect, which although lacks a strong chain of narrators, is yet meaning-wise correct. It says, “Accountability is removed off my Ummah for things done by mistakes, forgetfulness or what they are forced to do.” In fact, Abu Muhammad `Abdul Haq has said that from the point of view of its chain of narration also, the report is trustworthy. In any case, the above does not apply to murder. Someone cannot murder another because his own life is under threat.

As a jurist, Qurtubi goes into many cases of law to explain as to when “being forced” is acceptable as an excuse and when not – with or without threats to one’s life. In today’s world where the Muslims are a target of repression, even in their own countries, a few examples given by Qurtubi could be used as guidelines. For instance, if someone knows that his words could harm an innocent Muslim, he can testify to a lie as did the Companion who, when asked by Musaylimah if he testified that he was a Messenger, said “Yes.” For example, in Tunis Abu Sa`id b. Ashras was asked by the ruler to swear that he had no idea where Malik was hiding. The king was, of course, after Malik’s life. The condition the ruler placed was that if ibn Ashras was lying, his wife would stand irrevocably divorced. Ibn Ashras readily swore, although he knew very well where Malik was hiding. When he went home, he asked his wife to go away to her parents. Then he journeyed to Qayrawan to meet with Buhlul and discuss the issue. Buhlul told him that although Malik himself had a different opinion, according to Hasan (al-Busri) he wasn’t required to honor the oath. That is, the divorce was not effective. Anas b. Malik expressed the same opinion when he was asked if a man could swear falsely to save another innocent man’s life. He answered, “As for me, I’d rather swear false oath seventy times than risk the life of a Muslim.” Similarly, it is reported that Walid b. `Abd al-Malik had a large force of secret servicemen spying on the people. Once, one of them participated in the lecture circle of the famous scholar, Raja’ b. Haywah. He heard one of the participants criticizing Walid and reported to him. Walid sent for Raja’ and said, “I am criticized in your circles and you do not prevent them.” Raja’ denied that he was ever criticized. Walid asked him to swear, and he swore. So Walid got the secret serviceman whipped. The man later came to Raja’ and complained, “O Raja’. You are used as the means of access (wasilah) for seeking rains, yet seventy stripes on my back?!” Raja’ answered, “That you should get whipped seventy times is better than that a Muslim be killed.”

And, Qurtubi adds, in all such cases, one need not even offer expiation for the false oaths. In the same vein, if one can escape from an ill-consequence of what he has said, he might say, as Ibrahim Nakha`i said, “By Allah! If I had said any such thing, Allah would have known it.” The listener presumes that the man didn’t say, while he might have, yet he did not lie by swearing by Allah. A condition however is that one’s intention should not be to deceive anyone. In fact, when Ibrahim Nakha`i himself didn’t wish to see someone, he would enter into his own little prayer-hall (masjid: place of prostration within the house) and tell his slave girl to say to the unwanted man, “By Allah! He is in the masjid.”

Nevertheless, (lest the permission be misused) Imam Abu Hanifah has warned, that the hadith quoted above, is in reference to the accountability in the Hereafter. That is, forgetfulness, acting by error, or being forced to do something, could all prove to be acceptable excuses in the Hereafter. But, in the affairs of this world, they might not be sufficient. For example, if someone murdered another person by mistake, his plead will not release him from blood-wit. Similarly, if someone claimed that he did something because he was forced, the jurists will look into the surrounding conditions to determine the nature of the crime and the nature of the forces acting on the man, and then pronounce their judgment (Shafi`).

[107] That is because they preferred the life of this world over the Next, and because Allah does not guide a disbelieving folk.

[108] These, Allah has set a seal upon their hearts, their hearing and their sight. They it is who are heedless.

[109] Without doubt, it is they who are the losers in the Hereafter.171

Commentary

171. The reference is to those people who made up their minds about what they wished to do vis-a-vis the new message. When they had made up their minds, Allah (swt) allowed that they act, in words and deeds, in accordance with their intentions. When He allowed them to act, and they had acted, in words and deeds, as they had wished, then, in consequence of this second wrong (first being their evil intention), they were barred from receiving any guidance. Subsequently, as they continued in their disbelief, totally blind to the call of reason and the truth that dawned upon them from time to time, Allah set a seal upon their senses. So, although materially pretty well off now, they will be total losers in the Hereafter (based on Thanwi).

[110] But, verily your Lord, unto those who migrated, after they were persecuted, yet struggled

[111] (And recall) the Day when every soul will come pleading for itself, when every soul shall be recompensed in full for what it did, and they shall not be wronged.173

Commentary

173. Tha`labi has said that the pleading will be of such order that even the body will argue for itself, against the soul, and the soul against the body. The body will say, “I acted on command of the soul, otherwise I had no power over my hands, feet, etc. So I am innocent.” The soul will plead, “I had no hands, feet, etc. of my own to commit sins.” It was the body which did everything. They will be told, “Your example is that of a disabled person unable to stand on his legs, and another, blind: both involved in theft. Each was unable to steal fruits by himself. So, the blind man lifted the disabled on his shoulders so that he could pluck the fruits. Which one of them deserves punishment? Obviously, both” (Qurtubi).

[112] And Allah strikes the parable of a town that was safe and secure, its provision coming to it in (ease and) abundance from every quarter. But it acted ungratefully for the favors of Allah.174 So, Allah made it taste the envelopment of hunger and fear,175 because of what they were doing.176 

Commentary

174. The obvious reference is to Makkah (Ibn Jarir). As custodians of the House of Allah, they enjoyed a privileged status among the Arabs. By virtue of that they moved about freely in a land where otherwise chaos reigned supreme. The economic advantage of free movement brought them ample wealth. They were, in fact, so rich that they offered a hundred camels, (equivalent of a hundred automobiles today) to anyone who could bring them the Prophet (in his migration journey to Madinah) dead or alive. Further, by virtue of Prophet Ibrahim’s supplication, Makkah was well-supplied with fruits of all variety originating from various parts of the world. Finally, Allah (swt) preferred them over the peoples of the world by raising a Messenger among them. But they denied him and proved themselves unworthy of the favors. In consequence, they lost the position of leadership in piety, which went to the Ansar (originally Yemenis), and the Muhajirun, many of whom were non-Makkans, and subsequently, to anyone who followed them in good stead (Au.).

175. That is, hunger and fear enveloped them as clothes envelope a man from every side (Razi and others). After the Prophet (saws) had migrated to Madinah, the Makkans were visited by drought and famine that lasted some seven years. During that period, they were reduced to eating carrion. And, on top of that, the peace that they had enjoyed in the land was lost when, (in retaliation to their raids: Au.) the Prophet responded with raiding parties of his own (Ibn Jarir).

176. This refers to total Makkan opposition to the Prophetic message, persecution of his followers, the denial to the Prophet to carry forward his message, and, finally, attempts at his life (Au.).

[113] There came to them a Messenger from among themselves, but they gave him the lie. So a chastisement seized them, while they were transgressors.