Verses from Surah al-Tawbah (83-92)

[83] If, then, should Allah return you to a faction of them,177 and they seek your permission to go forth (in a future expedition), say, ‘You will never go forth with me (to any expedition) nor will you ever fight an enemy together with me. You were well pleased to sit back on that first occasion.178 Sit back now with those who stay back.’179


177. At the time of the revelation of this verse, the Prophet (saws) was in Tabuk. It was possible that by the time he returned, some of the hypocrites in Madinah would be dead. Hence Allah (swt) said, “If, then, should Allah bring you face to face with some of them…” (Shabbir). Another possibility is that they would have absconded, avoiding to see him altogether (Au.)

178. That is, ‘since you were well pleased to stay back the first time, surely, even if you are allowed to accompany in any future expedition, you will again sit back on one pretext or another. You will never fight an enemy with us. Therefore, it is better that you sit back with those who sit back’ (Thanwi).

179. As noted by Ibn Jarir earlier, it is also reported of Ibn ‘Abbas as having said that when the Prophet (saws) ordered his Companions to participate in the Tabuk expedition, some people came to him to say that it was too hot and so he better postpone the journey. In reply Allah (swt) revealed, “Say, ‘The Fire of Hell is hotter.’” Nonetheless, some people preferred to stay back. Only three of them felt sorry and caught up with him as the Prophet (saws) was journeying. The rest remained behind to the end. Allah (swt) revealed this verse during the journey, “If, then, should Allah take you back to some of them,” … until, “those who stay back” (Ibn Jarir). Another opinion is that the allusion by the words “those who stay back” is to women, children, old men, the sick and handicapped who were not required to participate in Jihad. A third opinion is that the textual word khaalifin has been used in the sense of the pervert, the corrupt or the evil as, for example, the word “khaluf,” i.e., foul smell (of the fasting man’s mouth) – Alusi.


[84] And do not (O Muhammad) ever Pray over any of them that died, nor stand by his grave.180 They disbelieved in Allah and His Messenger and died while they were perversely rebellious.181



180. This is in reference to the Prophet’s participation in the burial of ‘Abdullah ibn Ubayy. However, after the revelation of this verse the Prophet (saws) gave up attending the burial of the hypocrites (Ibn Jarir). The report is of hasan sahih status and is in Tirmidhi, with similar versions in Bukhari and others (Ibn Kathir).

Alusi uses the occasion to discuss the issue of the Prophet’s visit to his mother’s grave. (How could he do it, knowing that apparently she died on Kufr)? Firstly, he points out that although the verse in question speaks of the hypocrites, by analogy it can be extended to the polytheists. Secondly, it might be said that the visit took place in the year of Hudaybiyyah (6 A.H.) whereas the prohibition came after the expedition of Tabuk (9 A.H.). But, hadn’t the Prophet sought Allah’s permission and was granted to visit his mother’s grave? So, what does the visit imply? Well, it implies that his mother died believing in the Oneness of Allah. Had she been a polytheist, Allah (swt) would not have allowed him to visit her grave at all. He also points out that although there is difference in opinion over visits to the graves of the unbelievers, he is inclined to believe that it is undesirable to do so. (With due respect to his mother, it might be pointed out however, that the Prophet was not given the permission to seek forgiveness for his mother. The text of the hadith is: “I sought my Lord’s permission to visit my mother’s grave and pray for her. He allowed me to visit but did not allow me to pray for her forgiveness”: Au.). Thanwi has another useful note. The Prophet’s action of standing near the grave and supplicating for the dead implies that such standing and supplication is profitable to the dead. This is confirmed by the condition added in the latter part of the verse, viz., “they disbelieved in Allah and His Messenger and died while they were perversely rebellious.” (That is, his standing would have profited them had they not been unbelievers who died on disbelief). The verse also implies that supplicating near the grave for the dead is not just the same as supplicating from anywhere else away from their graves. The former course is more beneficial to the dead. Thanwi also adds in another note that if visitation to the graves leads to a religious corruption, then such visitation should be disallowed.

181. It is reported that out of the great many hypocrites of the Prophet’s time, twelve were to die as hard core hypocrites. They did not repent as most others did. These were the same twelve who had attempted to push him down a cliff during the Tabuk return‑journey. The Prophet (saws) knew their identity and had shared the secret with Hudhayfah b. al‑Yaman. Accordingly, during his caliphate ‘Umar watched Hudhayfah if he would participate in the funeral Prayers of a dead person. If he careered away, ‘Umar too wouldn’t Pray on him (Au).

[85] Let not their wealth and offspring amaze you. Indeed, Allah wishes to punish them therewith in the life of this world and let their souls depart while they are unbelievers.

[86] When a chapter was revealed (enjoining) that ‘You should believe in Allah and fight along with His Messenger,’ the affluent ones among them sought your permission saying, ‘Leave us behind to be with those who sit (back). 

[87] They were well-pleased to be with those left behind.182 A seal was set upon their hearts, therefore, they do not understand.183



182. Ibn ‘Abbas, ‘Atiyyah, Dahhak and others have said that the reference by the textual word khawaalif is to women who are not required to participate in Jihad (Ibn Jarir).

183. Sayyid writes: “Had those people understood the benefits of Jihad, in terms of power, honour, and an honourable life, they would not have showed their backs to it out of weakness, so unmindful of humiliation, and a disgraceful destruction (that awaits them). Surely, there is a price to be paid for dishonour as there is a price to be paid for honour. But, most of the time the price of dishonour is more overburdening than that to be paid for honour. But weak personalities imagine that the price of honour is a back‑breaking one. They opt for dishonour and ignominy in their effort to escape from the burdensome requirements of honour. In consequence, they live a worthless, cheap life, always fearful, worrisome, scared of their own shadows and startled by their own echoes. (As the Qur’an said), “They believe every calamity is upon them; you will find them the most greedy of this life…” These dishonoured ones pay the price for their choice greater than what they would have paid for honour. They pay a whole lot of price for their choice. They pay them by way of their shrunk personalities, by way of the loss of values, by way of reputation, by way of peace, and, quite often by way of their lives and property, although they don’t realize. Who is it we are talking of? Well, none other than those ‘who were well‑pleased to be with those left behind. A seal is set upon their hearts; therefore, they don’t understand.’”

[88] But the Messenger and the believers with him struggled with their possessions and their lives. They – for them are the good (returns), and they are the ones that are prosperous.

[89] Allah has prepared for them gardens underneath which rivers flow, abiding therein forever. That is the great triumph.

[90] And those with excuses among the Bedouins184 came up to you to be permitted (to stay back);185 while those sat back (without even seeking leave) who were (altogether) false to Allah and His Messenger.186 A painful chastisement will soon strike those187 of them who disbelieved.


184. After speaking of the town hypocrites, Allah (swt) now takes up the case of the country hypocrites (Alusi).

185. The understanding of Ibn ‘Abbas, based on a variant reading, is that the reference by this part of the verse (“The excuse‑seeking Bedouins showed up asking for leave [to stay back”) is to a few Bedouins who had good reasons to be excused from participation in the Tabuk expedition. So, they were excused. The latter part of the verse (“and sat back those who were false to Allah and His Messenger”) – starting with an “and” is indicative of another meaning derived from the earlier part of the verse. This verse then, is speaking of two kinds of people. Those Bedouins who sought excuse on good grounds, and so were excused, and others who sat back being false to Allah (swt) and His Messenger. Another opinion is that the whole verse is speaking of one class of people. But the opinion of Ibn ‘Abbas seems to be more correct (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir). That happens to be the opinion of Zajjaj, Farra’ and Ibn al‑Anbari also (Shawkani).

Rashid Rida writes: Another possible reading of the term mu‘adhdhirun is mu‘dhirun (with single “dhaal”: those seeking forgiveness). The beauty in the choice of the word is that the two readings together allow for several meanings covering a wide range of Bedouin attitudes. Among them were some who had a good reason to stay back. Others thought they had a good reason, but actually didn’t, (they needed to look hard into their situation), since at heart they knew they didn’t have a honest reason to stay back. Then there were some who had weak reasons. They knew that investigation could expose the true cause for staying back. And there were others who had no reason whatsoever. They were liars. The readings cover all these kinds of people. This is the power of the Qur’an that no man can imitate. 

186. That is, this class of people never showed up. They didn’t bother to either seek exemption before the expedition, or offer an excuse after it (based on Rashid Rida).

187. Many of those who stayed back became true Muslim later. Hence the addition of the clause “of them” in the verse, viz., “A painful chastisement will strike those o them who remain unbelievers” (Au.).

[91] (However), there is no sin upon the weak,188 nor upon the sick, neither upon those who do not find anything to spend,189 so long as they are true to Allah and His Messenger.190 There is no ground (for punishment) of those who do (things) well;191 and Allah is very Forgiving, very Kind.


188. Men of advanced age, women, children and the handicapped are covered by the term “weak”.

189. Rashid Rida clarifies a point: The Mujahidin are required to bear their own expenses of Jihad. Therefore, those who do not find means for an expedition, or for the dependents they leave behind, will be excused. However, if the state provides the expenses, then there can be no excuse.

Ibn Kathir, Shawkani and others state a few ahadith about those who couldn’t participate because of a good reason. One in ibn Abi Hatim (and Abu Da’ud: Qurtubi) says, “You didn’t spend anything, didn’t cross a valley, nor did you meet with an enemy, but there are people in Madinah who shared the rewards with you.” Then the Prophet recited this verse, “There is no blame on the weak, nor on the sick.” The Sahihayn have a similar narration. It says, “You have left behind a people who, you didn’t travel (on plain ground), didn’t expend anything, nor did you cross a valley, but they were with you.” They asked, “How could they be with us, O Messenger of Allah, when they are in Madinah?” He replied, “A good reason held them back.” 

190. What is the meaning of the word Nasahu translated here as being true? Qurtubi notes that Nasihah implies a deed free from any deception. Hence Tawbatu al‑Nasuh of the Qur’an (66: 8). Naftawayh has said that Nasihah is sincerity. The Prophet said in a hadith of Muslim, “Religion is Nasihah,” repeating it three times. They asked, “Nasihah for whom, O Messenger of Allah?” He replied, “Nasihah for Allah, His Messenger, His Book, the leaders of the Ummah and the ordinary Muslims.” In this hadith, Nasihah has been used in the sense of sincerity. The scholars have explained that Nasihah for Allah (swt) would mean to believe in His Oneness, attributing to Him the Attributes of Lordship and declaring Him free of any defect. It would include hastening up to act according to His commands and eschewing those deeds that evoke His anger. Nasihah for the Messenger would mean belief in his Messengership, obeying him in all affairs, loving him and his kinsfolk, befriending his friends and antagonizing his enemies, respecting him and his Sunnah, and reviving them after his death. Nasihah for Allah’s Book would imply studying, understanding, and living in accordance with it. Nasihah for the leaders would mean not revolting against them, guiding them to what is right, obeying them, reminding them about their duties toward the Muslims. And Nasihah for the Muslims in general would mean to look after their interests, supplicate for them, and keep dear the pious ones among them. 

Imam Razi adds that in this context exercising Nasihah toward Allah (swt) and His Messenger meant that if they opted to stay in the town, in preference of going out to participate in a campaign, they were not to spread mischief, rather attend to the needs of the Mujahidin who had left for the front, and serving the families they left behind.

191. Ibn Kathir notes that once Bilal b. Sa‘d was leading the Prayers for rain (Salat al‑Istisqa). He turned to the people and asked, “People! Don’t you admit that you who have done evil?” They said, “By Allah, yes, we do.” He supplicated, “O Allah, we have heard You saying, ‘There is no ground (for punishment) of those who do well.’ Now, we admit that we have done evil. Therefore, forgive us, show us mercy and send rains.” He raised his hands, the people raised their hands and the rains came down.

[92] Nor is there (any blame) on such of those who came to you for you to mount them. You said to them, ‘I do not find anything to mount you,’192 they turned with their eyes overflowing with tears of grief, because they couldn’t find anything to spend.193


192. The beauty in not naming the kind of mount (in the words, “I do not find anything to mount you”), is that room is left for covering the means of conveyance that would be developed later by the humans (Rashid Rida). 

193. It is reported that a group of people, including ‘Irbaad b. Saariyyah and ‘Abdullah ibn Mughaffal (as well as Ma‘qal b. Yasaar: Shawkani) went up to the Prophet (saws) requesting him to provide them with mounts so that they could participate in the Tabuk expedition. The Prophet expressed his inability to do so. (To some, he did provide, as recorded by Bukhari and Muslim: Qurtubi). They returned disappointed with their eyes overflowing with tears of grief (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir).

The textual word haml (of ahmilukum) can also be understood as something that can carry the weight of a person on his feet, such as, a pair of shoes (Au.). Ibn al‑Mundhir has reported someone of Juhaynah tribe as saying, “We met some of those who had gone to the Prophet seeking something to mount. They told us, ‘We didn’t ask for camels. We had only asked for shoes that could carry us’” (Shawkani).