Verses from Surah Al-Anfal (Verses 25-29)

[25] And, beware of a tribulation 47 that will not touch exclusively those among you who transgressed.48  And beware that Allah (swt) is severe in chastisement. 

Commentary

47.Fitnah has many meanings: (1) the root meaning is trial or temptation, as in ii. 102 and vii. 28; (2) an analogous meaning is trial or punishment, as in v. 71; (3) tumult or oppression, as in ii. 193, and here, and in viii. 39 (4) there is here (viii. 25) the further shade of meaning suggested: discord, sedition, civil war” (Yusuf Ali).

48. Majid explains: “The Divine chastisement visits not only those who are the actual perpetrators of crime but it falls on those also who keep indifferent to the sin and vice around them, and do not admonish the wicked. Islam does not expect of its followers to be passive spectators of guilt and crime; it requires them to be active opponents, so far as in their power, to all forms of irreligion and impiety.”

What exactly does “transgression” imply here? The answer is, several. It could be refusal to stand for the truth when falsehood is being perpetrated, neglect of the task of enjoining the truth and preventing vice, silence in the face of innovations, fighting shy of jihad, or other acts of this nature (Alusi).

Ibn `Abbas has said that Allah (swt) has warned the believers from being complacent with the wicked ones living among them (Ibn Jarir).

Qurtubi and Ibn Kathir support this latter meaning with several ahadith of the same content from Musnad Ahmed, Ibn Majah and Abu Da’ud. One of them says, “Allah (swt) does not punish a people for the sins of a few until they witness wicked acts committed around them but do nothing by way of prevention although they have the power to do so. When that happens often, He punishes all of them: the sinners as well as the non-sinners.” One report has it that `A’isha asked the Prophet, “Even if there are pious ones among them?” He replied, “Yes, (they would all be punished) but (the pious ones) will be raised on the Mercy of Allah.” Another hadith says: “By Him in whose hands is my soul, you will enjoin the virtuous and prohibit the vice or it is feared that Allah (swt) will send down one of His chastisement on you so that you supplicate to him but you will not be answered.” Bukhari has a very pertinent report. Nu`man b. Bashir reports the Prophet (saws) as once delivering a sermon in which he said: “The example of one who is mindful of Allah’s prohibitions and one who intends to disregard them or actually does that, is like a people in a boat. Some of them were in the upper deck while others in the lower. Now, whenever those at the bottom felt thirsty they went up to those in the upper deck inconveniencing them. So they said to themselves, `If we drilled a hole in the bottom, we will save those in the upper deck from annoyance.’ Now, if those of the upper deck let them do what they intend, they would all sink. But if they prevent them, they would all be rescued.” Another report in Musnad Ahmed says that Abu al-Riqad once chanced upon the assembly around Hudhayfah b. al-Yaman. He was saying: “A man could utter a single word during the Prophet’s life and be counted a hypocrite because of it. Today, I hear a man using the same word four times in a single sitting. It looks to me that very soon you will have the worst of you as your rulers, when the best of you will make supplications but will not be answered.” Accordingly, Qurtubi adds, Malik has ruled that one might not reside in an area in which vices are committed openly and people do nothing about their prevention. When they become too common, one might emigrate. Abu Darda’ for e.g., as in a Sahih report, left the lands ruled by Mu`awiyyah when he allowed the sale of a golden goblet in exchange of gold more than its weight, which Abu Darda’ considered a kind of riba’.

Alusi adds: Another hadith of Tirmidhi says, “When the Israelites fell into sins, initially their scholars tried to prevent them. But they continued to interact with them, sharing meals and drinks on the same table with them. Thereupon Allah  (swt) turned some of their hearts as similar to the hearts of the others and cursed them by the tongue of Da’ud and `Isa ibn Maryam. That is because they sinned and because they transgressed.”

Mawdudi elaborates: “What is true of unsanitary conditions in a physical sense, also holds true for filth and uncleanness in a moral sense. If immoral practices remain confined to a few people here and there but the overall moral concern of the society prevents those practices from becoming widespread and public, their harmful effects remain limited. But when the collective conscience of the society is weakened to a point whereby immoral practices are not suppressed, when people indulge in evils without any sense of shame and even go around vaunting their immoral deeds, when good people adopt a passive attitude and are content with being righteous merely in their own lives and are unconcerned with or silent about collective evils, then the entire society invites its doom. Such a society then becomes the victim of a scourge that does not distinguish between the grain and the chaff.”

Although the application is general, when Zubayr b. al-`Awwam was asked: “O Abu `Abdullah! You allowed a Khalifah (`Uthman) be killed! And now you have come seeking justice?!” He replied: “During the time of the Prophet and his three successors, we used to recite the verse, `And beware of a tribulation that will not touch exclusively those among you who transgressed,’ but it never occurred to us that it was we who could be meant until we fell in the trap of the battle of Jamal.” Suddi has said that the first to whom the verse would apply is the participants of the battle of Badr, many of whom later fell in the battle of Jamal” (Ibn Jarir, Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir, Alusi and others).

[26] Recall when you were few, oppressed in the land, fearful that people might abduct you.49  Then He sheltered you, supported you with His help and provided you with the good things, haply that you will give thanks. 

Commentary

49. Although Ibn Jarir disagrees that this is the right interpretation of the verse, we reproduce Qatadah’s words from him, Zamakhshari, Ibn Kathir and Manar, to merely portray the Arab situation before Islam. These words still have a meaning for those who think: “(Before the advent of Islam) The Arabs were the most wretched of people, toiling under the worst living conditions, the hungriest, dressed in tatters, most misguided. Whoever lived of them, lived a wretched life, and whoever died was sent to the Fire. They were eaten and not given to eat. By God, we don’t know of any other people as wretched as the Arabs were until Allah (swt) sent Islam to them. Then on, He established them in the land by its virtue, fed them thereby, and made them rulers over the people. It was by the grace of Islam that Allah (swt) bestowed on them what He bestowed. Therefore, be grateful to Allah (swt) for His bestowals, for your Lord is the Bestower who is pleased with the grateful and, remember, those who give thanks, receive more from their Lord.”

[27] Believers!50  Betray not Allah (swt) and the Messenger,51 and betray not your trusts, while you know (the seriousness of the crime). 

Commentary

50. The textual term in its root is “khawn” which is to give back less than the due. In contrast, “wafa” is to give back in full (Zamakhshari, Shawkani). 

51. Ibn `Abbas, Ibn Is-haq, Suddi and others expressed the same meaning differently, viz., “Do not fall short on the commandments of Islam, showing two faces, doing one thing before the Prophet (saws) and another behind him” (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir).

The Prophet (saws) has said: “There are three signs of a hypocrite: when he speaks, he lies; when he promises, he breaks the promise; and when trusted, he betrays.” According to another version the Prophet added the following words: “Even if he fasted, Prayed and assumed that he is a believer” (Manar).

Sayyid points out that the refusal on the part of the Muslims to bear the burden of Islam, bearing testimony to the Oneness of Allah (swt), and the refusal to work to establish His total sovereignty over every affairs of human life and activity, is to betray the trust. This ummah pledged its hand to the Prophet (saws) to defend and establish Islam. And Islam is not the name of testimony with the tongue, or of a few rituals, or the name of a few claims. It is the complete way of life that touches upon its every aspect. It is the way to build life on the principle embodied in the words, “there is no deity worthy of worship save Allah.” It is to turn the people to the worship of one Lord alone, to turn the society to accept the sovereignty of its Lord, to bend the tyrants to Allah’s Lordship and His Command. It is a promise to secure justice for all, to judge between the people by the standards of justice alone, and to construct and develop the earth acting by the requirements of the vicegerency of Allah (swt). All these are trusts. Whoever did not work on them, betrayed his trust. These things of course mean sacrifices and demand that one place the wealth and dear ones on the anvil. Hence Allah (swt) followed it up by saying, “know that your wealth and progeny are a (means of) trial.”

Apart from the general meaning, several incidents have been pointed out as the context of revelation of this verse. One is that of a hypocrite who sent a message to Abu Sufyan informing him of the likely attack by the Prophet. Another is that of Abu Lubaba. He was sent as a messenger to the Banu Qurayzah for negotiations. They asked him in apprehension what treatment could they expect (from Sa`d b. Mu`adh: Qurtubi), for their treachery. Abu Lubabah – a bit kind on them because his wife and children lived among them – pointed to his throat, but in seconds realized that he had betrayed the Prophet. In great remorse he went into the Prophet’s mosque and tied himself to a post saying he wouldn’t eat and drink until he was forgiven or died in that state. A week passed and he had all but fainted on the post before the news of the acceptance of his repentance was revealed to the Prophet. But he vowed that he would not untie himself. So the Prophet untied him. He declared that by way of expiation he would give away all his wealth in the way of Allah (swt). The Prophet prevented him, telling him to spend only one-third (Zamakhshari, Ibn Kathir, Alusi). It is said that (while Abu Lubabah was tied up in the mosque) the Prophet (saws) asked his wife: “Does the man Pray, fast and bathe himself after intercourse?” She replied, “He does Pray, fast and bathe himself after intercourse. And he loves Allah (swt) and His Messenger.” The Prophet perhaps make that enquiry to confirm that Abu Lubabah was not a hypocrite, leading different lives in private and public (Manar).

[28] And know that your wealth and your children are but a (means of) trial,52 and that, Allah (swt) – with Him is a great reward. 

Commentary

52. Majid comments: “I.e., a trial, a test, to find out who mishandles these gifts of God and who uses them in a proper legitimate way. Note that `temptation’ (or trial: au.) is not synonymous with sin, nor is love of children or fondness for wealth in itself sinful. Such emotions, appetites, instincts, etc., are part of man, as it has pleased God to make him. It is only the human will that can shape them into sins.”

Ibn Mas`ud has said: “There isn’t one amongst you but is to face trials. So whenever you seek refuge, seek refuge from a trial of faith” (Ibn Jarir). The report is also in Ibn Abi Hatim and Abu Al-Sheikh (Shawkani).

Ibn Kathir writes: Rather than the love of wealth and children, it is the love of the Messenger that should precede all loves. A hadith of Muslim says: “No one can be a true believer until I am dearer to him than himself, his family, his wealth and all mankind.”

[29] Believers! If you fear Allah (swt), He will grant you a Criterion,53 acquit you of your sins54 and forgive you.55  And Allah (swt) is the possessor of great bounty. 

Commentary

53.  Ibn `Abbas, Mujahid, `Ikrimah and Dahhak have all interpreted the textual word “furqan” as “a way out.” Ibn Is-haq however has interpreted it as “criterion” or the “power to discern between truth and untruth (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir).”

Rashid Rida writes: Since revelation helps distinguish between right and wrong, it has also been called furqan. Allah (swt) said (25: 1): “Blessed is the One who sent down the Furqan upon His slave so that he might be a warner unto the peoples of the world.”

Mawdudi explains: “`Criterion‘ signifies that which enables one to distinguish between true and false; between real and fake. This is the shade of meaning conveyed by the Qur’anic term ` furqan.’ If a man is God-fearing and tries his best to refrain from acts which displease God, God will create in him the ability to discern for himself at every step which actions are proper and which are not; which attitude conduces to God’s good pleasure and which is likely to incur His wrath. This inner light will serve as a pointer at every turn and crossing, at every up and down in life, guiding him as to when he should proceed and when he should refrain, telling him which is the path of truth and leads to God, and which is false and leads to Satan.”

54. One implication of “acquitting of the sins” is to cover them up in this world, conceal them from the people, and not expose them (Ibn Kathir, Alusi).

55. Sayyid remarks: “This then – taqwa – this is the provision (for those who take up the journey towards the fulfillment of the trust), and this then – furqan – is the equipment for the way. The provision of taqwa enlivens the heart mobilizing therein acts of alertness and precaution while the equipment (of furqan) helps him know the bends and curves. Doubts and skepticism do not block the vision of the path. The provision and the equipment come in handy especially when material provisions run short and one fails to come up with the right quantity and quality of deeds. But of course, this taqwa and this furqan are not something that can be described successfully in words. Only he understands the meaning who has tasted and experienced them.