Verses from Surah Al-Tawbah (6-17)

[6] And, if one of the polytheists seeks your protection, give him protection until he has heard Allah’s words,14 and then deliver him to his place of safety.15 That is because, these people do not know.16


14. What if an individual Muslim offers someone protection? The majority answer is that the protection holds good. This opinion is based on a hadith. A variant opinion is that the ruler will have the discretion to either grant him or withdraw it (Qurtubi).

15. This verse is a clear proof that blind following is not the best course of action in religion. One’s religion should have its roots in knowledge and evidences (Razi, Manar). 

16. Rashid Rida comments on the benefit of escorting the man to safety: So that the man, once in the safety of his own land and people, might feel free to either choose Islam or not to.

Obviously, the rule would apply to those who come into the Islamic State from another country (Au.). And the period allowed is a maximum of one year before they should leave the country (Ibn Kathir).

Ibn Kathir also adds: Following this rule we see that when Musaylimah the Liar’s ambassador came to the Prophet (saws), he asked him, “Do you believe that Musaylimah is a Messenger of Allah?” The man replied, “Yes, I do.” The Prophet said, “If not for the rule that ambassadors should not be killed, I would have got you beheaded.” But, the Prophet’s words did come true. The man, identified as Ibn al-Nawahah, re-appeared in Kufa during the governorate of Ibn Mas`ud. He still believed in Musaylimah’s messengership. Ibn Mas`ud told him that he had lost his immunity since he was no more an ambassador and got him beheaded.

Imam Razi adds that the jurists have generally held the opinion that a Harbi unbeliever (of a party at war with Muslims), would be treated as a ghanimah in normal circumstances, unless he has obtained permission to enter into the Muslim lands. And, such permission can be granted to him both for religious reasons – “until he has heard Allah’s words” – or for worldly purposes such as, trade.

Alusi has stated the opinion of the scholars that the words “until he has heard Allah’s words” imply that until he has heard the whole of the Qur’an.

Taking cue from this verse, one might add that there is no reason why every university in the Islamic world – including those of Makkah and Madinah – should not offer special courses on Islam to non-Muslims? Such of them as interested, could come into the Islamic world, (for a year at a stretch) and learn about Islam in Islamic environment, rather than study, as they do now, courses designed and taught by Jews and Christian in secular institutions of Europe and America (Au.).

[7] How can there be a treaty for the polytheists with Allah and with His Messenger, save for those with whom you made a treaty near the Grand Mosque? Therefore, so long as they are upright with you, be upright with them.17 Surely, Allah approves of the pious. 


17. Accordingly, the Prophet (saws) completed the four-month term after which those that didn’t embrace Islam fled the country. Eventually, a few came back as Muslims such as `Ikrimah b. Abu Jahl and Safwan b. Umayyah (Ibn Kathir).

[8] How (can they be expected to honor a treaty when), if they overcome you, they will not regard any kinship18 or covenant of protection (as worthy of consideration)?! They please you with their mouths; but their hearts spurn (compliance). And most of them are ungodly.19


18. The textual word “Ill” has several connotations: (i) Kinship: this is the opinion of Ibn `Abbas. (ii) Allah: Mujahid has adopted this meaning. Hebrew and Syriac languages also use this word in this sense. (iii) Oath: Qatadah has opted for this, (iv) Pact: Ibn Zayd preferred this meaning. However, the same authorities have expressed other opinions at other times (Ibn Jarir).

19. Literally, the textual word “fasaqa” is used for something sprouting out, or emerging. For instance, when the date fruit emerges out of its skin, they say “fasaqa al-ratbatu.” The word then, as used in the Qur’an, has to be understood in accordance with the context in which it appears (Manar).

[9] They bartered Allah’s signs against a paltry gain20 and averted (people) from His path. Surely, evil was that which they were doing. 


20. It is reported that when Abu Sufyan decided to break the Hudaybiyyah pact, he invited the Quraysh to a sumptuous dinner and obtained their assent. The reference here is to that. Others have said that the reference is to the people of Ta’if who sent their contributions to the Quraysh to fight against the Prophet (saws). But the earlier one seems to be more correct (Manar).


[10] (In ordinary times too), they will not observe toward a believer kinship or covenant of protection. They are transgressors.

[11] However, if they repent, offer the Prayers (properly and regularly), and pay the Zakah, then they are your brothers in Faith.21 Thus We detail out the verses for a people who (wish to) believe.


21. In the light of this verse, faith in Allah and His Messenger Prayers and charity can be considered as the basis of brotherhood in Islam. Hence we have Ibn Zayd’s statement: “May Allah show mercy to Abu Bakr. How well he understood this verse when he said, `I shall not differentiate between the two that Allah placed together.’” That is, Salah and Zakah. As for the doubt as to how Zakah could be made a condition when there are always poor people in a society; the answer is, it is enough for such people that they should know and believe that paying out the Zakah is a condition for belonging to Islamic brotherhood and to actually do so whenever it becomes obligatory on them (Manar).

[12] But, if they break their oaths after their treaties and defame your religion22 then, fight the leaders of disbelief23 who care for no oaths,24 haply they will desist.


22. Majid comments: “(The word ta`n) conveys more than anything else the idea of defiance. Reviling God’s religion is blasphemy in its worst form and blasphemy, both in the Jewish and Christian religions, is punishable with death. `And he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him.’ (Le. 24: 16). It also stood, till recently, in the secular laws of Europe as an indictable offence punishable with the capital sentence. `By the law of Scotland, as it originally stood, the punishment of blasphemy was death, … In France … the punishment was death in various forms, burning alive, mutilation, torture, or corporeal punishment.’ (EBr. IV, p. 44, 11th Ed.).”

This verse is the basis of the rule that anybody who insults the Prophet (saws) deserves to be put to death. This was the opinion of Malik, Layth, Ahmed, Is-haq and of Shafe`i. It is said that someone quipped before `Ali, “Ka`b b. al-Ashraf wasn’t killed but by treachery.” `Ali ordered the man to be beheaded. Someone made a similar statement in the presence of Mu`awiyyah. Muhammad b. Maslamah was there. He said to Mu`awiyyah, “Is that uttered in your presence and you don’t act? By Allah, after this I shall never sit with you under the same roof. And, if I come across this man somewhere I shall kill him.” However, if a Dhimmi insults the Prophet, he might not be killed without given the opportunity to express regret. That is because Allah (swt) has added the words, “if they break their oath.” This is the opinion of Abu Hanifah. Another opinion is that he should be killed without respite since he already broke the oath. On the topic, it might be appropriate to mention that there was a woman in Madinah during the Prophet’s time who used to insult the Prophet (saws). She was the former slave of a blind man who had attained the free status by virtue of having given birth to two sons by her master. One night she began to insult the Prophet (saws) until the blind Muslim could not stand it anymore. He killed her with an axe and admitted his crime the next day. The Prophet (saws) didn’t punish him (Qurtubi). 

23. Ibn Abi Hatim has recorded that when Abu Bakr was sending his troops to the Syrian region (ruled by the Romans), he instructed Ibn Jubayr b. Nufayr: “When you run into a combat with the people there, slaughter them. For, to kill one of them is better unto me than fifty others. This is because Allah (swt) has said: ‘Fight the leaders of disbelief’” (Ibn Kathir). 

24. It is widely reported that the allusion is to the Quraysh tribes that had entered into a no-war treaty with the Prophet (saws) but soon crossed swords with Banu Khuza`ah, one of the Prophet’s ally, committing aggression in support of Banu Bakr, their ally. In fact, it is said that the battle was the result of a quarrel that started between two individuals. One of them, belonging to Banu Bakr, sang a panegyric against the Prophet (saws). Another, a Khuza`i told him, “If you repeat it before me, I’ll break your jaw.” The man repeated and he broke his jaw. Their quarrel led to the battle, and ultimately, when the Khuza`ah complained to the Prophet (saws), it led to the subjugation of Quraysh and fall of Makkah (Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir).

On the basis of this verse, the Hanafiyyah have said that the oath of an unbeliever is worthless (when he sets it against a believer: Au.) – Manar.

[13] Will you not fight against a people who broke their oaths and were determined to expel the Messenger, and they are the ones who were the first to begin (action) against you? Do you fear them? Allah is more deserving that He should be feared if you are believers.

[14] Make war on them, Allah will chastise them at your hands. (He will) humiliate them and help you against them, and (will thus) cure the hearts of a believing people.25


25. According to Ibn `Abbas, the allusion by the words, “and will cure the hearts of a believing people,” is to those of the Banu Khuza`ah (a tribe from the depths of Yemen and Saba’) who embraced Islam and visited the Grand Mosque. But they were treated badly in Makkah. They sent a complaint to the Prophet (saws). He said in reply, “Be of good cheer. Rescue is close” (Kashshaf, Alusi).

Ibn `Asakir has recorded that when `A’ishah got angry the Prophet (saws) would hold her by her nose and say, “O `Uwaysh. Say, i.e., “O Lord of Prophet Muhammad, forgive me my sin, remove the anger of my heart and save me from tribulations that lead to misguidance” (Ibn Kathir).

[15] He will also remove the fury in their hearts. And Allah turns in forgiveness to whomsoever He will. Allah is the All-knowing, the All-wise.

[16] Or, do you think you will be spared when Allah has not yet known those of you who fought in His cause26 and took not friends apart from Allah, His Messenger or the believers?27 And Allah is Aware of what you do.28


26. Verses of similar nature are aplenty. For e.g. (3: 142): “Do you think you will enter Paradise when Allah has not yet known those among you who fought.” And (2: 214): “Do you think you will enter Paradise when that has not yet come upon you which came upon those before you?” And (29: 2-4), “Alif. Lam. Mim. Do the people think that they will be left alone if they said, `We have believed,’ without being tried? Surely, we tried those before them. Surely Allah will find out those who are truthful and those who are liars” (Ibn Jarir). 

27. The words, “and took not friends apart from Allah, His Messenger or the believers,” have been added to check out the hypocrites who might fight along with the Muslims but with the unbelievers at heart (Razi). 

28. That is, Allah (swt) is aware of the intentions behind the deeds, nothing is hidden from Him and He will not accept, as Ibn `Abbas has said, a contradiction between the open and the secret (Razi).

Thanwi offers a fairly complicated explanation of the passage ending with verse 16 and says that he took several years to come to a conclusion, but is still not too sure if he is absolutely right. His commentary itself, although short, is pretty difficult to translate. A good amount of explanation will have to be added, which might give the commentary another coloring. We have merely intended to point out how diligent scholars have been with the Qur’an (Au.).

[17] And, it was not for the polytheists that they tend29 Allah’s Sanctuaries,30 while they bear witness against themselves of infidelity.31 They…their deeds have fallen to nothing and in Fire they shall abide forever. 


29. The textual word `imarah denotes construction (of a place), maintenance, habitation therein, as well as visit for purposes of worship, or, as Yusuf Ali has pointed out, “fill with light and life and activity.” Hence Bayt al-Ma`mur meaning, the House of worship, or, the House that is served. However, Zamakhshari has cautioned that it is not used in the sense of i`tamara, i.e., offering of an `Umrah. But, when it is said “`amara-Allaha”, it means he worshiped Allah, or “`ammara fulanan rakatayni” would mean, so and so offered two cycles of Prayer. Raghib has said that `imarah is the antonym of khirab, i.e., destruction. Raghib also disagrees with Zamakhshari when he says that one might not use `amara in the sense of i`tamara, i.e., he performed an `Umrah. According to Raghib, such usage is allowed. Deductively, the verse under discussion denies the unbelievers `imarah in all the above senses, that is, entry into the mosques for the purposes of worship, service, maintenance, building, custodianship, or pilgrimage (Manar).

In Yusuf Ali’s words: “Before the preaching of Islam the Pagans built, repaired, and maintained the Mosque, and celebrated Pagan ceremonies in it. They made an income out of it. Islam protested, and the Pagans ejected Muslims and their Leader from Makkah and shut them out from the Ka`bah itself. When the Muslims were strong enough to re-take Makkah (AH 8), they purified the Mosque and re-established the worship of the true God. If they became Muslims, it was a different matter. The further question arose: should they be allowed to visit it and practice their unseemly Pagan rites? Obviously this would be derogatory to the dignity and honour of the Mosque, and was forbidden. This was the particular occasion to which the verse refers. The general deduction is clear. A house of Allah is a place of sincere devotion, not a theater for vulgar rites nor a source of worldly income.”

Rashid Rida also expresses the opinion that if a non-Muslim donates money for the construction of a mosque, it could be used since mere donation does not entail a hold over the mosque. However, if that is feared, then it might not be accepted. Thanwi points out that that is also the ruling stated in the Hanafiyy work Hidayah (as also in Radd al-Muhtar, Shami and Maraghi: Shafi`). 

30. Earlier, Allah (swt) announced that He and His Prophet were quit of the polytheists. The polytheists, of course, disapproved of this, saying, `there should be cooperation and collaboration, especially when we are the ones who tend to the Grand Mosque.’ In answer, Allah (swt) pointed out that there could be no co-operation or collaboration with such glaring contradictions as disbelief in the One, for whom the Grand Mosque was built and themselves who believed in stone gods (Razi).

Rashid Rida writes: When Allah (swt) got His House cleared of the filth of idols and deities, now He gives orders that the House be cleansed of the filth of their worshippers: the polytheists. 

31. Suddi has said that the unbelievers bear witness to their unbelief. If you asked a Christian what his religion is, he will reply, “I am a Christian.” If you asked a Jew what his religion is, he will reply, “Judaism.” If you asked a pagan what his religion is, he will reply, “I am a polytheist” (Razi, Qurtubi). That is, none of them will say he is submitted to One Allah (Au.).

32. Allah (swt) thus bore witness to the faith of him who frequents Allah’s mosques. We have a hadith too on this topic. Preserved by Tirmidhi who declared it hasan gharib (a kind of weak report: Au.), [as well as in Ibn Marduwayh and Hakim: Ibn Kathir], it says, “When you see a man frequenting the mosques, bear witness to his faith.” Then the Prophet recited this verse: “Surely, those tend to Allah’s Sanctuaries who believe in Allah and the Hereafter.” Ibn al-`Arabiyy has cautioned that this frequenting the mosque, however, will not be considered enough for a man to be accepted as a witness (in the courts). For, to be a witness, one has to meet with other qualifications (Qurtubi). Another hadith preserved by Ahmed says: “Satan is man’s wolf, just like the wolf for sheep which seizes the stray one. Lo! Be with the people, be with the community and the common people and (frequent) the mosques” (Ibn Kathir). The hadith is also in Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah and Hakim, who rated it Sahih (Alusi).

On the topic of mosques, Majid has the following to quote: “After remarking the Islam `has preserved the character of pure monotheism much more faithfully than the Mosaic and Christian religions,’ he (Haeckel) proceeds: ‘When I visited the East for the first time in 1873, and admired the noble mosques in Cairo, Smyrna, Brussa, and Constantinople, I was inspired with a feeling of real devotion by the simple and tasteful decoration of the interior, and the lofty and beautiful work of the exterior. How noble and inspiring these mosques appear in comparison with the majority of Catholic churches, which are covered normally with gaudy pictures and gilt, and are outwardly disfigured by an immoderate crowd of human and animal figures’ (Haeckel, Riddle of the Universe, p. 233).”

[To be continued]


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