Name and Introduction

Al-Ĥujuraat (the apartments) is a symbolic name taken from verse 4 indicating “the Soorah in which Al-Ĥujuraat has been mentioned”.

This Soorah is made up of various instructions and commands that Allaah SWT revealed around 9 AH and put in this Soorah to serve as a supplement to Soorah Al-Fatĥ.

Soorah Al-Fatĥ ended with describing the attributes of the Islamic society; one of the outstanding attributes of Islamic society is that the believers comprising that society are kind, merciful, gentle and gracious to each other. Naturally all Muslims are not at the same level of excellence as is desired of them. This Soorah identifies the behavioural traits that are not in keeping with the personality of a believer. Muslims have been commanded to eliminate all such attitudes and behaviours that are inimical to the attributes of the Islamic society mentioned above.

As has been evident throughout the Qur-aan, Allaah SWT gives His commands at the right time when the situation requires them and the believers can appreciate their relevance, role and significance. The instructions contained in this Soorah were revealed when some tribes had newly accepted Islam but their behaviour indicated that they did not comprehend or appreciate the status and role of the Messenger, nor were they clear about their responsibilities within the Muslim brotherhood and the standards of social behaviour expected of them. This Soorah addresses those guidance needs.


During the time of persecution, hardships and weakness, people were entering into Islam only after giving careful consideration to its ideology, its demands and its implications on their lives. Thus, as soon as they accepted Islam, an immediate change in their attitude would occur and they would adopt and implement the Islamic lifestyle that would drive them to pursue excellence in their behaviour. They would also spend time in the company of the Prophet and his companions to benefit from the personal coaching of the Prophet and from the Islamic environment in Madeenah. However, at the time of the revelation of this Soorah, many tribes had accepted Islam because they were influenced by its growing power, rather than fully adopting its paradigms. Living far from Madeenah, they also did not have the benefit of the education and training provided by the environment in Madeenah in which the Prophet and his companions lived. When they would come to Madeenah to visit the Prophet, they would behave as if they had done a big favour to the Prophet by becoming Muslim; they would expect him to attend to them immediately leaving everything aside; they would go to his apartments and start calling him to come out without any consideration or waiting; they would present unsolicited and unwarranted opinions and suggestions and pressure him to follow them; and they would raise their voices to dominate the discussion and to establish their authority. In addition, due to their old inter-tribal rivalries, they would try to win the favour of the Prophet for their tribe and create misunderstandings about a rival tribe. This Soorah addresses these issues as well as the attitude and factors behind such behavioural traits. It does so in a manner that all believers until the Day of Judgment can benefit from this guidance. These instructions apply to believers’ interactions among themselves as well as with their leadership.

Teachings and Commentary

بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ

In the name of Allaah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.

Believing in Islam means that the believer has accepted Allaah as his Lord and Master to whom he has submitted in complete obedience as His slave. This relationship makes it absolutely improper for a Muslim to act in any matter without knowing Allaah’s commands in that respect, develop views on an issue without caring for what views Allaah wants him to have, or prefer his personal views over what Allaah has said about that matter; especially when the Muslims know that whatever Allaah SWT says is based on His perfect knowledge and ultimate wisdom. The Prophet, being the Messenger of Allaah, has the full backing of His knowledge and power and thus the same protocol applies to the Prophet. In fact, for this reason, the opinions and decisions of the Prophet in the matters of Deen should be treated as if Allaah Himself has given them. Hence, the first verse of the Soorah mentions Allaah and His Messenger together, underscoring the status of the pronouncements, decisions and opinions of the Prophet in the matters related to Deen and the process of establishing Deen.

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا تُقَدِّمُوا بَيْنَ يَدَيِ اللَّـهِ وَرَسُولِهِ ۖ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّـهَ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ سَمِيعٌ عَلِيمٌ ﴿١﴾ يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا تَرْفَعُوا أَصْوَاتَكُمْ فَوْقَ صَوْتِ النَّبِيِّ وَلَا تَجْهَرُوا لَهُ بِالْقَوْلِ كَجَهْرِ بَعْضِكُمْ لِبَعْضٍ أَن تَحْبَطَ أَعْمَالُكُمْ وَأَنتُمْ لَا تَشْعُرُونَ ﴿٢﴾ إِنَّ الَّذِينَ يَغُضُّونَ أَصْوَاتَهُمْ عِندَ رَسُولِ اللَّـهِ أُولَـٰئِكَ الَّذِينَ امْتَحَنَ اللَّـهُ قُلُوبَهُمْ لِلتَّقْوَىٰ ۚ لَهُم مَّغْفِرَةٌ وَأَجْرٌ عَظِيمٌ ﴿٣﴾ إِنَّ الَّذِينَ يُنَادُونَكَ مِن وَرَاءِ الْحُجُرَاتِ أَكْثَرُهُمْ لَا يَعْقِلُونَ ﴿٤﴾ وَلَوْ أَنَّهُمْ صَبَرُوا حَتَّىٰ تَخْرُجَ إِلَيْهِمْ لَكَانَ خَيْرًا لَّهُمْ ۚ وَاللَّـهُ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ ﴿٥﴾

1 O you who believe! Do not put yourselves before Allaah and His Messenger; and adopt Taqwa of Allaah; verily Allaah is Hearing, Knowing. 2 O you who believe! Do not raise your voices above the voice of the Prophet, and do not be loud while speaking to him, like the loudness of some of you to others, lest your deeds become null without you realizing it. 3 Surely those who subdue their voices before Allaah's Messenger are they whose minds Allaah has assessed for Taqwa, for them is forgiveness and a great reward. 4 On the other hand, most of those who call out to you from outside of your apartments do not have common sense. 5 If they would wait patiently until you come out to them, it would certainly be better for them; and Allaah is Forgiving, Merciful.

The message of the first verse is that Muslims should not act without first finding out what Allaah and His Messenger want, nor should they try to lead the Prophet; rather, they should be the followers. It is incumbent upon them not to put forth their views or opinions to the Prophet, unless asked; not to press their views forward or insist on them; and not to maintain an opinion different from the views presented by the Qur-aan or the Prophet. This is the general protocol for believers to follow, which did not apply to those situations when, to train his companions in the practice of Shoora (consultative decision making), the Prophet used to seek advice and opinions from his companions. Obviously, presenting opinion(s) to the Prophet in that situation did not violate this protocol. Similarly, if it was clarified that a certain opinion of the Prophet was only his personal, human opinion and not from Allaah, people could give him suggestions even without solicitation. But insistence on one’s opinion would not be justified in any event. And Allaah hears and knows what people say and what their intentions and motives behind those words are.

The second verse points out that the protocol of respect for Allaah’s Messenger, such as speaking in a subdued voice in his presence, is so critical that any kind of disrespect costs a person his good deeds -- they become valueless because the disrespect of the Messenger is tantamount to disbelief in his status and authority and any kind of disbelief nullifies any reward that could have been expected in the Hereafter. Raising one’s voice above his voice is also tantamount to considering oneself superior to the Prophet in some respect, which also is a manifestation of disbelief in his being the Messenger of Allaah. A believer’s humbling of himself in the presence of the Prophet is a sign that he has sincerely accepted the Prophet as the Messenger of Allaah and has genuinely adopted the attitude of Taqwa – continuously watching oneself to purposefully say or do only what will avoid Allaah’s displeasure and maximize His pleasure, thus ensuring success in the Hereafter.   

After the death of the Prophet, the same protocols must be observed when his properly validated Sunnah and Ĥadeeth are quoted or presented. This applies to individuals as well as social and governmental institutions.

The Prophet was in the fulltime service of Allaah’s Deen, working day and night except for some very brief periods when he was resting or attending to his personal human needs. The companions of the Prophet knew about his total dedication to his extremely demanding mission. Hence, when he retired to his apartment, they would respect that. If they needed his attention on any matter, they would wait until he came out on his own. But there were also those inconsiderate Bedouins who would barge into the Masjid and start calling him out of his apartment as if they were the centre of the universe who must be attended to immediately regardless of anything else. The Prophet being extremely gentle and accommodating would not react in a manner that would show the inconvenience their rudeness and inconsideration was causing. That is why Allaah is teaching them manners to get His Messenger out of this dilemma. The message is clear that this kind of behaviour is sinful, displeasing to Allaah SWT; but Allaah SWT will mercifully forgive those who repent and reform their mannerism.

The instructions given in these verses to address the problematic behaviour traits in relation to the Prophet have other implications as well. Allaah-fearing leadership of the Muslims dedicated to the attainment of the objective of Deen and the establishment of Allaah’s Deen on earth also face similar problems. Many people inundate them with opinions, advice and suggestions telling them what to do and how to do it, as if the righteous leadership has no mind to think, no defined goals to achieve or no strategy with which to achieve them. And many of those ‘advisors’ assume that his/her ideas are just a bit below the word of God in status, even though the person may have never done any missionary work or may have no clue what the Islamic work is about. The irony is that if asked to help implement their own idea, they are the first one to back away, usually using the excuse of being too busy. Similarly, people expect the leadership to be available 100% of the time, 24 hours a day; otherwise they turn away and condemn the leadership. Now, because the leadership cannot have Allaah respond on their behalf, when they dare to disagree with someone’s views or they excuse themselves from being available, they are accused of being arrogant, overconfident of their knowledge, tactless, non-accommodating, inflexible, etc. The point is: although the most righteous of our leadership has no comparison whatsoever to the status of the Prophet, they are victims of similar attitudes of people. The Muslims should fashion their interactions with the righteous leadership, in the light of guidelines provided here. Although violations against them will not cause anyone to lose their good deeds, Allaah SWT will hold people accountable for misbehaviour shown to them, nonetheless.   

The next verse provides instruction about performing due diligence and verification before taking any action based upon some important news brought by a Faasiq. A Faasiq is a person who does not take the Deen seriously, violates its provisions as he feels convenient and thus, disobeys Allaah frequently or defiantly. A true believer{footnote}This is about a true believer, not the kind of many Muslims of the world today who have no compunction in telling a lie or twisting a truth, and thus are Faasiqs.

{/footnote} will not lie or embellish or exaggerate a matter, thus, he can be relied upon regarding news of importance; a Faasiq, however, can fabricate or twist the news to serve his purpose, thus, cannot be relied upon.

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِن جَاءَكُمْ فَاسِقٌ بِنَبَإٍ فَتَبَيَّنُوا أَن تُصِيبُوا قَوْمًا بِجَهَالَةٍ فَتُصْبِحُوا عَلَىٰ مَا فَعَلْتُمْ نَادِمِينَ ﴿٦﴾

6 O you who believe! If a Faasiq{footnote}A person who disobeys Allaah defiantly or transgresses frequently, whether in terms of views, beliefs or actions.

{/footnote} brings you some important news, validate it, lest you harm a people in ignorance then be sorry for what you have done.     

The word used in the text of the verse is “Nabaa” which is used for “news of significant importance”. As mentioned in the background section, some new Muslims who had not attained proper Islamic character as yet would come to Madeenah with some bad news about a rival tribe, accusing them of a serious crime such as rebellion against the Islamic government in order to incite Muslims to take military action against them. Their motive would have been to use the Islamic forces against one of their traditional rivals to punish them for an old rivalry. If an action was taken based on the fabricated news, it would have been totally unfair and would cause untold difficulties for the Islamic state. The command in verse six was given to prevent such an accident from happening. However, the verse applies to all cases of important news whether it is about a person or group of people and whether it is related to matters of state, law and order, or any other significant matter. It gives a general rule for the betterment of the society that unless the Taqwa and character of a person is known and established, news of importance should not be accepted from such a person without due verification of the validity of news by other means. It was under this general rule that the scholars of Ĥadeeth developed the science of assessing the reliability of the reporters of Ĥadeeth.

Also, it was based on this rule that the testimony of a Faasiq (a person known to practice an act or acts of Fisq) is not accepted about any important matter of Deen or any material deliberations of the Islamic court. However, it should be remembered that this rule applies only to the news of material nature, not to the day to day affairs of routine life or innocuous matters.

Many Mufassireen (exegetes) mention an incident involving Waleed bin ‘Uqbah in this regard; others strongly dispute that matter and regard it as a fabricated story. As the message of the verse is clear and categorical as a general rule, there is no need to argue about the validity or invalidity of that story for the purposes of understanding the message of this verse.

Those people who brought unreliable news and their supporter(s) would insist that the Prophet should take action quickly before it was too late. The next verse addresses that attitude:

وَاعْلَمُوا أَنَّ فِيكُمْ رَسُولَ اللَّـهِ ۚ لَوْ يُطِيعُكُمْ فِي كَثِيرٍ مِّنَ الْأَمْرِ لَعَنِتُّمْ وَلَـٰكِنَّ اللَّـهَ حَبَّبَ إِلَيْكُمُ الْإِيمَانَ وَزَيَّنَهُ فِي قُلُوبِكُمْ وَكَرَّهَ إِلَيْكُمُ الْكُفْرَ وَالْفُسُوقَ وَالْعِصْيَانَ ۚ أُولَـٰئِكَ هُمُ الرَّاشِدُونَ ﴿٧﴾ فَضْلًا مِّنَ اللَّـهِ وَنِعْمَةً ۚ وَاللَّـهُ عَلِيمٌ حَكِيمٌ ﴿٨﴾

7 And know that among you is Allaah's Messenger; should he follow your opinions in most of the matters, you would surely fall into distress; but Allaah has endeared the faith to you, and has beautified it in your minds, and He has made disbelief, transgression (against Allaah) and disobedience{footnote}‘Iŝyaan is used frequently in the Qur-aan for disobedience to the Messenger; in this verse, disobedience to Allaah is already mentioned by “Fisq” (transgression against or defiant/frequent disobedience to Allaah), so ‘Iŝyaan refers to disobedience to the Messenger.

{/footnote}; (to the Messenger) hateful to you. Such are they who are the rightly guided -- 8 a bounty and a favour from Allaah; and Allaah is Knowing, Wise.    

After correcting those who tried to impose their opinion, the second part of verse seven highlights the qualities of the true companions of the Prophet so that everyone can grow further in those qualities in their efforts to pursue Islamic excellence. The verse puts Eeman (faith or belief) on one side and three items on the other side -- Kufr (Disbelief) Fusooq (same as Fisq – transgression against or defiant/frequent disobedience to Allaah in beliefs, views or actions) and ‘Iŝyaan (disobedience to the Messenger). This indicates that all three behaviours in the second set are incompatible and incongruous with and opposite to a true faith in Islam. A true believer cherishes his faith in Islam and his attitude and mental disposition is beautified and adorned by it, manifesting itself in his enthusiastic obedience to Allaah and His Messenger and his pursuit of excellence in conduct; while he hates and abhors doing anything that falls in the other three categories. If a person exhibits any characteristics of Kufr (Disbelief) Fusooq (transgression against or defiant/frequent disobedience to Allaah) or ‘Iŝyaan (disobedience to the Messenger), his faith in Islam is deficient and needs to be corrected. Those who disregard or violate the instructions being given in this Soorah will fall in one of those categories depending on the nature or frequency of disobedience and the attitude behind those infractions.

The previous command was to prevent an inappropriate action by the central government against a segment of the Islamic state. The next verse deals with a situation if a fight breaks out between two factions of the Islamic society.

وَإِن طَائِفَتَانِ مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ اقْتَتَلُوا فَأَصْلِحُوا بَيْنَهُمَا ۖ فَإِن بَغَتْ إِحْدَاهُمَا عَلَى الْأُخْرَىٰ فَقَاتِلُوا الَّتِي تَبْغِي حَتَّىٰ تَفِيءَ إِلَىٰ أَمْرِ اللَّـهِ ۚ فَإِن فَاءَتْ فَأَصْلِحُوا بَيْنَهُمَا بِالْعَدْلِ وَأَقْسِطُوا ۖ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُقْسِطِينَ ﴿٩﴾ إِنَّمَا الْمُؤْمِنُونَ إِخْوَةٌ فَأَصْلِحُوا بَيْنَ أَخَوَيْكُمْ ۚ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّـهَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُرْحَمُونَ ﴿١٠﴾

9 And if two factions of the believers happen to fight, then make peace between them. However, if one of them transgresses the bounds against the other, then fight with the transgressor until it returns to Allaah's command; then if it returns, make peace between them with justice and act equitably; certainly Allaah loves those who act equitably. 10 The believers are all brothers, therefore, mend relations between your brothers and keep Taqwa of Allaah so that you are shown mercy.    

First of all, these verses make it clear that all Muslims are one brotherhood, kind and loving to each other and imbued with the spirit of sacrificing self interest for the benefit of others. Thus, it is neither expected of Muslims to fight among themselves, nor is it an acceptable behaviour on their part. However, if two factions happen to fight each other, other Muslims must interfere immediately and put an end to the conflict. The word “Ŧaaifah” used in the verse stands for a small faction in a community. The responsibilities of the larger community in this respect are:

  • Strife among its factions should not be tolerated. The neutral elements of the community cannot sit on the sidelines and watch Muslims fight. They must immediately step in, resolve the conflict and mend the relations between fighting factions.
  • To mend relations, matters should be looked into carefully to identify the factors and errors that led to the conflict so they can be addressed equitably to resolve the conflict. Lasting peace cannot happen without justice. If one of the factions refuses to cooperate, behaves unreasonably and aggressively or continues to insist on the wrong behaviour, the rest of the community and their central authority must side with the wronged party and, using appropriate means called for by the circumstances, force the transgressing party to accept peace on equitable terms. The pressure and even fighting against the aggressor must continue until it agrees to accept a just and fair settlement.  
  • When both parties are willing to cooperate, the settlement between the parties must be made on fair and equitable terms. Neither should any party be forced to accept unreasonable terms, nor should the solution be limited to exhorting both to forgive and forget the past, without addressing the root cause with justice and fairness. If the solution is not just and fair, peace will not return and the whole Muslim community will be in violation of Allaah’s command. On the other hand, if the settlement is done justly and fairly according to the commands of Allaah, it must be obeyed as a command of Allaah by both parties and it must be enforced by the central authority as such.

Verse 10 then reminds Muslims that they all are one brotherhood who must love, care for and be kind to each other. They should not let this feeling of brotherhood negatively affected by any problematic behaviour among themselves without addressing it and correcting it immediately. The Prophet inculcated this sense of brotherhood by exhortations such as the following:

“The Messenger of Allaah asked me to pledge on three matters: I will establish Ŝalaah, pay Zakaah and wish well for every Muslim.” (Bukhari from Jareer bin ‘Abdullaah)

“A Muslim must treat the life, property and honour of every Muslim as inviolable (Ĥaraam).” (Muslim and Tirmidzi from Aboo Hurairah).

“A believer’s relationship with the Ummah of believers is like that of a head with the rest of human body. He feels the pain of other Muslims just as the head feels the pain of any part of the body.” (Musnad Aĥmad from Sahl bin Sa‘d Saa‘ idi)

“You will see Muslims in their mutual kindness, love and closeness like a human body; when one part is in distress, the whole body joins it with sleeplessness and fever.” (Bukhari and Muslim from Nu‘maan bin Basheer)

“Believers are like the bricks of a wall supporting each other.” Then he merged the fingers of one hand into the fingers of the other to demonstrate the closeness and interconnection. (Bukhari, Muslim and Tirmidzi from Aboo Moosa)

“Each Muslim is a brother of the other Muslim: he does not deal unjustly with him, nor does he abandon him (at the time of need):  whoever helps his brother in need, Allaah will help him in his needs; whoever removes an affliction from a Muslim, Allaah will remove one of his afflictions from the afflictions of the Day of Resurrection; and whoever covers up a Muslim, Allaah will cover him up on the Day of Resurrection.” (Bukhari and Muslm from Ibn ‘Umar)

“There are some people from the slaves of Allaah who are neither prophets nor martyrs, yet the prophets and martyrs will covet their status with Allaah on the Day of Resurrection.” When asked who they are, the Prophet explained: “They are those who love each other just for the sake of the Deen of Allaah, without being relatives or having any financial relationship. By Allaah, their faces will be shining and they will be surrounded by Noor (cool light); they will have no fear when people will be scared; and they will have no grief when people will be full of grief. Then he recited the verse: Behold! The friends of Allaah shall have no fear nor shall they grieve{footnote}10:62

{/footnote}.” (Aboo Dawood from ‘Umar)

“Allaah SWT said, ‘It is incumbent on Me to love those who love each other only for My sake, socialize with each other only for My sake, visit each other only for My sake, and spend on each other only for My sake.’” (Maalik from Ma‘aadz bin Jabal)

“Whoever loves a slave of Allaah, honours his Lord, the Exalted and the Glorified.” (Aĥmad from Aboo Umaamah)

“A believer is a mirror for another believer and a brother of every other believer: he saves him from a problem and protects him in his absence.” (Aboo Dawood and Tirmidzi from Aboo Hurairah)

“By the One in Whose hand is my life, a person is not a believer until he likes for his brother what he likes for himself.” (Bukhari and Muslim from Anas)

“Each Muslim is a brother of the other Muslim: It is not allowed for a Muslim to sell his brother something with a defect, without describing the defect to him.”  (Ibn Maajah from ‘Uqbah bin ‘Aamir)

After giving instructions to reform the dealings of people with their leadership, those of leadership with a section of the community and those between two factions of the community, the instructions about reforming individual relationships are provided next. The behaviour traits mentioned in the ensuing verses are acts of Fisq – serious disobedience of Allaah SWT -- that must be abhorred by a believer.

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا يَسْخَرْ قَوْمٌ مِّن قَوْمٍ عَسَىٰ أَن يَكُونُوا خَيْرًا مِّنْهُمْ وَلَا نِسَاءٌ مِّن نِّسَاءٍ عَسَىٰ أَن يَكُنَّ خَيْرًا مِّنْهُنَّ ۖ وَلَا تَلْمِزُوا أَنفُسَكُمْ وَلَا تَنَابَزُوا بِالْأَلْقَابِ ۖ بِئْسَ الِاسْمُ الْفُسُوقُ بَعْدَ الْإِيمَانِ ۚ وَمَن لَّمْ يَتُبْ فَأُولَـٰئِكَ هُمُ الظَّالِمُونَ ﴿١١﴾

11 O you who believe! People must not deride other people, who may in reality be better than them; and women must not deride other women, who may also be in reality better than them. Similarly, do not taunt yourselves (your own people) nor call one another by offensive nicknames. How evil to have a name in Fisq{footnote}A transgression against or defiant/frequent disobedience to Allaah in beliefs, views or actions.

{/footnote} after belief! And whoever does not repent, they are the wrongdoers.   

According to this verse the following are acts of Fisq, unbecoming of believers:

  • Deriding, mocking or making fun of any Muslim whether by words, gestures or body language and whether in front of the person or behind his back.
  • Taunting, making insulting remarks and disrespectful comments or questioning with malicious intent. The verse uses the phraseology “Do not taunt yourselves”, indicating that taunting a Muslim is taunting the whole Muslim society including yourselves. Such attitudes do boomerang.
  • Calling people by abusive names or mentioning or labelling them with nicknames, titles or epithets that the subject person considers offensive or that are thought to be disrespectful in their society.
  • These teachings apply to individuals as well as groups, communities, tribes, nations, castes or any classification that people use to differentiate each other. They also apply to all stereotypes, jokes and preconceived notions they may have invented for each other.  

People adopt this kind of bad behaviour when they harbour a feeling that the victim is inferior to them in status, education, intelligence, appearance, sophistication, abilities, accent, or the like. That is why the verse reminds people that you may laugh at someone thinking yourself better than him or her in one aspect or the other, while he or she may be better than you in many other aspects. In addition, regardless of how you measure the value of a person, there is only one measure that Allaah uses and that really establishes the value of a person – the quality of his or her faith, Taqwa and actual performance in seeking Allaah’s pleasure. This subject is directly addressed in verse 13. Along with the command given in this verse, the Muslims should remember the following words of the Prophet:
“Every Muslim is a brother of every other Muslim; he does not do wrong to his brother, nor disgraces him, nor treats him as inferior. Taqwa (the only measure of goodness and honour) is inside (a mental attitude, not visible). (He repeated it three times gesturing towards the chest, indicating that you do not know how high an honour a person has with Allaah because of his Taqwa). If a person treats his Muslim brother as inferior, it is enough for that person to be considered evil.” (Muslim from Aboo Hurairah)

People may take such behaviour lightly but Allaah considers them serious matters, so serious that:

  • Although the first sentence about people, “Qowm”, covered everyone including women, even then the command has been repeated separately for women to draw their attention to the significance of this instruction. As per the style of the Qur-aan, women are mentioned separately only when a point needs to be strongly emphasized for both sexes.  
  • The phrase “How evil to have a name in Fisq after belief” characterizes a person known for such behaviour to be in a deplorable state of being totally out of line with his faith.  Another translation of this phrase is: “Abhorrent is the noun ‘Fisq’ after belief” implying that a believer would even abhor Fisq as a word, much less engaging in an act of Fisq.
  • If those who may have used such practices in the past do not repent, they will be categorized as “zhaalimeen” unjust / wrongdoers – a term used in the Qur-aan for grave sinners.    

Separate instruction for women also gives another message: Due to the segregated socialization of males and females in an Islamic society, an opportunity for persons of one gender deriding persons of another gender is inconceivable and impossible.

The next verse deals with three acts of Fisq that poison the society.

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اجْتَنِبُوا كَثِيرًا مِّنَ الظَّنِّ إِنَّ بَعْضَ الظَّنِّ إِثْمٌ ۖ وَلَا تَجَسَّسُوا وَلَا يَغْتَب بَّعْضُكُم بَعْضًا ۚ أَيُحِبُّ أَحَدُكُمْ أَن يَأْكُلَ لَحْمَ أَخِيهِ مَيْتًا فَكَرِهْتُمُوهُ ۚ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّـهَ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ تَوَّابٌ رَّحِيمٌ ﴿١٢﴾

12 O you who believe! Avoid many of the assumptions because some assumptions are crimes; and do not spy nor backbite one another. Would any of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? Rather, you would abhor it. So maintain Allaah’s Taqwa, He indeed is Accepting of repentance, Merciful.   

People make many assumptions in life about other people. A normal assumption on the basis of which the whole society works is that people are honest in what they say and sincere in what they do, unless there is a clear, direct and unequivocal proof refuting that assumption for a particular person or a particular instance. When it comes to true believers, they are a very special people in respect of their honesty and sincerity because of their consciousness of Allaah watching them and their fear of accountability to Him. This is why Muslims must give each other the benefit of the doubt even when some word or deed appears to be suspicious. This is called “presumption of goodness”. The Prophet said, “Presumption of goodness (assuming others have good intentions) is one form of excellence in Allaah’s ‘Ibaadah (slave-like obedience){footnote}Aboo Dawood and Ahmad from Aboo Hurairah

{/footnote} .” These are the normal assumptions which the Islamic society and the Muslims are supposed to live by.

However, there are other assumptions which the verse refers to as “many of the assumptions”, that must be avoided because they create serious problems in the society. Many people become so overtaken by scepticism and suspicion that they routinely doubt the integrity, and sincerity of others. They wrongly interpret others’ even honest and sincere words and deeds. They assume ulterior motives behind even innocent acts of others. What makes these bad assumptions serious crimes and sins is that the suspicious person not only suspects the worst but also reacts believing his suspicion to be a fact, encourages others to react the same way and creates doubts in others’ minds as well. This attitude destroys trust in the community and scuttles the support for and participation in good works and initiatives because people suspect the motives behind them. The suspicious reaction also kills volunteerism and the drive to take good initiatives in the members of a community infested with this disease.

This is a very serious crime for another reason as well. Normally, a person who suspects others for any ulterior motive does so because he himself harbours that kind of motives. People’s perception of others normally reflects their own mentality. A sincere, honest or innocent person usually assumes the same about other people. A crook always takes everyone else as a crook. Thus, a person’s frequent assumptions of bad motives for words or actions of others is indicative of insincerity, dishonesty and ulterior motives established in his own psyche, which is an unacceptable condition for a believer and is totally inconsistent with his claim of having faith in Islam.

A word of caution is also necessary in this respect. Although a sincere believer always makes good assumptions for other believers who are known for their Taqwa and their proper understanding and practice of Deen, he is also smart not to be duped by crooks or fooled by the same person twice. If a so-called Muslim’s words, deeds or recent behaviour clearly and solidly indicate his lack of fidelity to Allaah, Islam and/or Muslims, a believer must not be fooled by him until some clear signs of repentance and reformation are witnessed.  
The second exhortation of the verse is that people should not resort to spying to find faults in others. This is the next step which people may take to follow up on their bad assumptions. After making a bad assumption about someone, a malicious person snoops around to find the evidence to support his bad assumption. Unfortunately, human psychology is such that if a person starts with a supposition in mind, his mind will be biased to interpret things in favour of his proposition, although in reality the piece of information may be totally irrelevant to the proposition or it may have a totally different interpretation or background. But the sceptic is now convinced of his wrong assumption because of the “supporting evidence”. The verse exhorts that if you have taken the first step, get rid of your presumption and do not take the second step to “substantiate” it. The Prophet reminded people of this message in the following words:

“If you make an assumption about a person, do not start an investigation.” (Aĥkaamul Qur-aan by Jaŝŝaaŝ)

“Stay away from bad assumptions because such assumptions are the biggest lies; and do not be curious about other’s secrets, do not dig up dirt on others, do not outbid other Muslims in business or status, do not be jealous with each other, do not harbour malice for each other, and do not turn your backs to each other; and become brothers, O Allaah’s slaves”.  (Bukhari and Muslim from Aboo Hurairah)

People need to remember that, other than the messengers who were directly under the guidance and protection of Allaah SWT, absolutely no human being is perfect or can be perfect. This means everyone will falter sometime or another and make a mistake in some aspect of human behaviour. A good believer will immediately repent and reform himself at the incidence of a mistake. Allaah SWT wants to protect the privacy of such good people. Thus, Islam teaches its adherents that if they happen to come across such random mistakes of others, they must cover them up instead of publishing them and spreading them in the society. Public disclosure of such human slips is going to pollute the clean environment of the Islamic society with mention of bad behaviour, hard feelings, loss of respect for each other and demonstrative effect causing copy cat incidents and weakening of the general repugnance towards bad behaviour. This relates to situations when someone accidentally/incidentally finds out someone else’s moments of weaknesses or lapses of judgment. As for intentional spying, people usually spy on others for one of the two reasons: out of curiosity or out of spite for the victim. The evil of doing it out of spite is evident but doing it out of curiosity is also not without a variety of harms. At the very least, the curious person develops a bad perception about a fellow Muslim and wastes his time that should have been invested in constructive work. Just imagine the deplorable condition of society if Muslims spent their time spying to find out others’ faults for their curiosity, instead of investing that time in the pursuit of excellence. That is why Allaah SWT has prohibited it strictly and anyone who pursues such a curiosity will be displeasing Allaah SWT. At the time of the Prophet, some hypocrites would dig up and publicize pre-Islamic malfeasances of the sincere Muslims to tease them and to put them to shame. The Prophet ŝall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam was so annoyed with their behaviour that he addressed people in an unusually loud voice:

“O those who have believed with tongues but the faith has not descended into your hearts (fully assimilated into your psyche): do not trouble Muslims; and do not put them to shame; and do not go after their hidden weaknesses, because whoever goes after the hidden weakness (privacy) of his Muslim brother, Allaah goes after his privacy; and if Allaah goes after someone’s privacy, He will disgrace him even if he is inside his home.” (Tirmidzi from Ibn ‘Umar)

“O those who have believed by tongue but the faith has not entered their hearts, do not backbite; and do not chase the hidden weaknesses (privacy) of the Muslims, because whoever goes after their privacy, Allaah will go after his privacy; and when Allaah goes after anyone’s privacy, He will disgrace him in his own house.  (Aboo Dawood from Aboo Barzah Al-Aslami)

He also said:

“If you go chasing the secrets of people, you are going to corrupt them or take them closer to corruption.” (Aboo Dawood from Mu‘aawiyah)

Care should be taken in understanding the message of these teachings. What people are being stopped from is chasing their cynical assumptions or investigating old history of people before they repented or accepted Islam. What they are asked to cover up is occasional, random lapses of others or pre-Islamic or pre-repentance infractions. If Muslims come to know (know, not assume) of a continued, deliberate violation of Islamic teachings, they cannot look the other way or cover it up without doing their duty to stop it and help the person repent, using proper Islamic means and Islamic Ĥikmah; and if they are unable to stop it on their own, they must bring it to the attention of the appropriate authorities.
Also, any human activity can have good aspects and evil aspects, thus it should be remembered that the instructions given by this verse are only about their evil aspects. An activity with good intentions and noble objectives is not the subject matter of this verse. For example in case of spying, if someone suspects that a Muslim needs financial, social or psychological help and tries to find out the need for the purpose of fulfilling that need and providing help and support, that is not the subject of this verse. That is a part of a believer’s duty to go out of his way in helping fellow human beings. Similarly, if someone is engaged in a serious illegal or subversive activity that can be dangerous to the public’s life or property or general well being of the society, all possible information should be obtained and passed on to the authorities, without breaking any other Islamic rules.

In addition, the above discussion has been focussing on individual activities of people. However, the same rules apply to the government institutions: if spying is to help people in their needs and to ensure the security of people, their properties and the country, the government is doing its duty. Excellence in this respect was exemplified by the conduct of ‘Umar Al-Farooq RA. If the spying is to find people’s views or their vulnerabilities to exploit them for political purposes or to terrorize them against standing up for their rights or freedoms, then obviously it is a Ĥaraam activity.

The third exhortation made by the verse is: “Do not backbite one another”. Although telling others about the dirt a person finds from his spying on his victim is the third progressive evil step that started with bad assumptions, people may backbite others even if they discover something bad about them incidentally or hear from other backbiters.

Because people are usually confused about what “Gheebah” or backbiting is, let us clarify its definition first. The word Gheebah itself indicates that it occurs behind a person’s back and the cowards who engage in it do not want the victim to become aware of their backbiting. Backbiting means saying something true about a person in his absence which he dislikes to be mentioned, unless it is done for fulfilling an Islamic objective. Some people think that if what they are saying is true, they can mention it anywhere they like. But they are wrong; mentioning those true but unflattering things about a person in his absence is precisely what Gheebah is. If what is said is not true, it becomes an even more serious crime which is called Buhtaan -- libel or slander – which consists of two grave sins: lying and backbiting{footnote}In cases of fornication or adultery, it becomes a totally different issue that is the subject of a different set of Islamic laws.

{/footnote}. The Prophet clarified the difference between Gheebah and Buhtaan in the following manner:

When asked by a person about what is Gheebah, the Prophet said, “That you mention about a person in a manner that he would dislike if he heard it.” The person asked, “O Messenger of Allaah, what if it is true?” He responded, “If what you said was false, that would be slander.” (From Muŧŧalib bin ‘Abdullaah in Muaŧŧa)

In another instance, he said, “Your mention of your brother in a manner that he would dislike.” He was asked, “what about if what I say is really found in my brother?” He responded, “If what you say is found in him, you have committed his Gheebah; if it is not found in him, you have slandered him.” (Reported from Aboo Hurairah in Muslim, Aboo Dawood, Tirmidzi and Nasaai)

It is understood that to be characterized as Gheebah, the comments have to be made out of spite or without the need for serving any Islamic objectives. Examples of Islamic objectives are: providing reference for business, job or marriage; providing appropriate information to the voters at the time of an election campaign so that they can select the right candidate; seeking justice from authorities or help from those who are in a capacity to help; bringing matters to the attention of parents or such person(s)_ who can help the subject reform or correct his behaviour; reporting of a serious crime to authorities for their actions; etc. But even for these purposes, only the relevant, factual information should be provided without editorializing the facts. Any unnecessary or irrelevant information or added comments will still fall under the category of Gheebah or Buhtaan, as the case may be.

It should also be remembered that Gheebah or Buhtaan can be committed through various means of communication – in person to person conversations, group discussions or party chats; using words, gestures pictures, phone calls, emails, text messages, social media sites, etc. Some people think that because they have made the same statements to the face of the victim, they are free to repeat it elsewhere. This is not true. Whether it was said to the victim’s face or not, if he dislikes those comments, repeating them in his absence is backbiting. It also does not matter if the victim is living or dead.

Backbiting has spread in the Muslim community like an epidemic. In addition to the key reason – the overall deterioration of faith and practice -- Muslims have abandoned nahi ‘anil munkar or forbidding the evil because they have lost the courage to discuss with others face to face what they think is wrong and needs to be corrected. Thus, in the name of diplomacy, they remain quiet on the face; but then go behind the back of the person and criticize, make disparaging comments and vent. Islam had trained people to deal with issues face to face in a brotherly, tactful manner; but behind anyone’s back only talking about their good qualities, not mentioning anything bad whatsoever. That attitude effectively addressed the root causes of social problems and created a positive environment in the society. Muslims have now adopted the idea of praising people to their faces but criticizing them and finding faults with them behind their backs. The result is that those whom one considers his friends stab him in the back in his absence. The person does not get any help in addressing his behavioural problems, while he develops a bad reputation without knowing.

Many unscrupulous people use Gheebah and Buhtaan for character assassination of others. They keep saying bad things about their victims without them knowing or being able to defend themselves or set the record straight. Unfortunately, the listeners believe in what they hear without checking the facts or finding the other side of the story. They forget that the person who is backbiting is a Faasiq whose news should not be believed. Even if they do not fully believe what they are told, they still become cynical and untrusting towards the victim or withdraw from him. Then, many listeners in turn repeat what they hear to other people, spreading the gossip about the victim who does not even know that his character is being damaged. In addition to social problems it creates and the injustice that is done to the victim, there is another serious problem this habit causes. Many Islamic workers become victims of such gossip unknowingly and the Islamic work suffers as a result.

Those who repeat to others what they hear from someone else should remember the Prophet’s saying, “It is enough for a person to be treated as a liar that he transmits to others what he hears.” In this way, such person is also both a liar and a backbiter. Thus, anyone who wants to avoid the displeasure of Allaah SWT must stop the first hand Gheebah as well as the hearsay Gheebah.

People may call it diplomacy to talk behind others backs or take Gheebah lightly, but Allaah and His Messenger consider it as heinous and abhorrent as eating the flesh of one’s dead brother. In addition to indicating the abhorrence of that act, this allegory also highlights the point that just as the dead brother does not know what is being done to him nor can he defend himself, the victim of backbiting is in the same situation. Aboo Dawood reports that once a person was stoned to death for a serious sex crime, on the way back the Prophet overheard a person making a disparaging comment about the deceased to his friend. When they passed by a dump where a dead donkey’s corpse was rotting, the Prophet called both of those persons and asked them to eat of it. They responded that it is not something that anyone can eat. Then, the Prophet told them, “What you both just uttered disparaging the honour of your brother was worse than eating it.” It should be noted that although the comment was made by one person to the other, he considered both of them equally guilty.  

People need to understand that those who listen to backbiting without protesting against it or without defending the victim are partners in crime. They have a responsibility to do whatever is needed to stop the vicious act and to defend the victim. Those who do not speak up should reflect on the following Aĥaadeeth wherein the Prophet said:

“If a Muslim does not help his brother at a place where his honour is being attacked or his reputation is being hurt, Allaah will not help him on the occasions where he wants Allaah’s help. If a person defends a Muslim when his honour or reputation is being attacked, Allaah helps him at those occasions where he needs Allaah’s help.” (Aboo Dawood)

“If a person protects a believer from a hypocrite’s attacks (to the believer’s honour), Allaah will assign an angel to protect his body from the fire of Jahannam on the Day of Resurrection. But if a person accuses a Muslim to discredit or dishonour him, Allaah will imprison him on the bridge of Jahannam until he is burnt enough to purify from the accusation he made.” (Aboo Dawood from Mu‘aadz bin Anas)

“When a Muslim defends the honour of his brother, Allaah takes upon Himself to remove the fire of Jahannam from him on the Day of Resurrection.” Then he recited the verse: It is incumbent upon Us to help the believers.  (Baghvi from Aboo Dardaa)

“When someone defends and protects his Muslim brother from a backbiting attack on his flesh, it becomes incumbent upon Allaah to save him from Fire.” (Baihaqi{footnote}Also spelled as Bayhaqi.

{/footnote} from Asmaa bint Yazeed)

The verse ends with reminding people that Allaah is Accepting of repentance, Merciful, so that they can repent and reform their behaviour. In the matter of forgiveness of sins, the nature of sins should be kept in mind. Every sin is a violation of rights of one or more parties wherein one party is always Allaah SWT, while the other party usually is the person victimized by the sinful act. When people commit sins mentioned in verse 12-13, they are in disobedience of Allaah SWT and thus the sins are not only violations of His right as the Creator and Lord, but they are also violations of the honour of the victim. With repentance and seeking of forgiveness, Allaah SWT will forgive His claim, but He will not forgive the damage that was done to the victim’s honour or reputation, unless the victim himself forgives. The Prophet warned people about it in the following Ĥadeeth:

The Messenger of Allaah said, “Backbiting is worse than fornication”. The companions wondered, “How can backbiting be worse than fornication?” He replied, “If a person happens to fornicate, he repents and Allaah accepts his repentance; but the person who backbites is not forgiven until his victim forgives him.” (Baihaqi and Mishkaah from Aboo Sa‘eed and Jaabir).

“Whoever has behaved unjustly with his brother in the matter of his honour or any other matter, he should settle it now before the Day when there will be no money. If he will have good deeds, an amount equivalent to the injustice will be transferred to the victim. If he will not have good deeds, the equivalent bad deeds from the victim will be transferred to him.” (Bukhari from Aboo Hurairah)

If the victim does not forgive, then Allaah SWT will settle the matters with perfect justice by transferring equivalent credits from the perpetrator’s good deeds to the victim or transferring equivalent sins from the victim to the perpetrator. The point for people to reflect on is: who is willing to lose good deeds on the Day of Judgment or to carry the additional burden of sins of others? The Prophet once asked his companions who they think is destitute. They replied, “In our understanding, destitute is a person who has no money or belongings”. Then the Prophet described:

“In my Ummah, the destitute will be a person who will come on the Day of Judgment with Ŝalaah, Ŝiyaam and Zakaah, but will also bring along issues like he has abused this one, accused that one, cheated some, killed another, beaten so and so, etc. So, his credits for good deeds will be given to this and that to compensate for the harm caused to them. If his good deeds finish before a fair settlement with his victims is completed, their sins will be transferred to him. Then he will be thrown in the fire.” (Reported by Muslim from Aboo Hurairah).

So if Muslims do not want to be in that situation, they must seek the forgiveness from their victims in this world. If the victims are not available or cannot be faced, they must:

  • Pray for their forgiveness and Allaah’s mercy on them, along with praying for their own forgiveness;
  • Give some charity on their behalf as a compensation for the harm done to them;
  • Praise and mention good points of their personality in front of the same people who were present when they bad-mouthed them or derided them, etc;  
  • If a victim was slandered, the same people must be told of his innocence in that matter as well.

The next verse is a revolutionary verse that addresses the root cause of most of the behavioural problems commented upon in this Soorah; that smashes all the concepts of pride and superiority that people have devised for themselves; that demolishes all the foundations on which people erect walls of segregation, prejudices and discrimination between “classes” of people based upon family, race, lineage, ethnicity, colour, etc.; and that establishes only one legitimate standard to evaluate human beings – excellence of one’s mindset and of the resulting attitude and conduct.  

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُم مِّن ذَكَرٍ وَأُنثَىٰ وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَائِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوا ۚ إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِندَ اللَّـهِ أَتْقَاكُمْ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِيرٌ ﴿١٣﴾

13 O People! Surely We have created you from a male and a female, and developed you into clans and tribes so that you can identify each other. The most honourable of you definitely is only the one with the strongest Taqwa; Allaah is indeed Knowing, Aware.   

This verse reminds people that they all belong to the same human species that started with one pair. Thus, all human beings are essentially the same except for their appearances. Allaah SWT created the system of differentiating between people in physical appearance so that one person could be recognized from other persons. All differences in appearance such as colour, facial features and physical build were designed solely for the purpose that billions and trillions of people could be recognized distinctly from one another. In addition to identification of individuals from each other, segregation of people into families, clans, tribes, nationalities and races was a tool developed only to help identify groups of people on a macro level. Otherwise every human being has the same potential to be good, bad or excellent. That is the only difference that matters and that is the only difference people should be judged upon and will be judged upon on the Day of Judgment by Allaah SWT who has absolute knowledge of everything including the intents and motives of people behind their words and actions. Other than personal conduct (the degree of, lack of, or presence of Taqwa), all of humanity has the same status and every person must be considered equally important and respectable as every other human being.

Unfortunately, many religions, philosophers and nations have enshrined racism in their religious or political codes, philosophies and practices. Islam not only theoretically demolished the basis of racism, but also practically eradicated it from the Islamic society established by the Prophet. Before Islam, Arabs were a very racist society like every other society at that time, but the Prophet inculcated in the minds of his followers basic concepts of human dignity and equality and his efforts transformed them so completely that no other society in the world has yet reached that level ever. Here are some of the examples of his sayings:

“Every one of you is the progeny of Adam and Adam was created from earthly elements. People must stop taking pride in their forefathers; otherwise Allaah will treat them as more humble than an insect.” (Bazzaar, Tafheemul Qur-aan)

“Allaah will not ask you about your social status or lineage on the Day of Judgment. Indeed the most honourable of you will only be the one with the strongest Taqwa.” (Ibn Jareer, Tafheemul Qur-aan)

“Allaah definitely does not look at appearances or your possessions, rather he looks at your psyches (mindsets) and your actions.”  (Muslim and Ibn Maajah)

After the conquest of Makkah, he emphasized the following point in his victory speech:

“All praise and gratitude is for Allaah Who has removed from us the blemish of ignorance and its pride. O People! People can be categorized only in two classes: faithful, righteous, honourable with Allaah; and, disobedient, wicked, ignoble with Allaah. Other than that, all people are the progeny of Adam and Adam was created from earthly elements.” (Tirmidzi and Baihaqi)

In his historic address at the Last Pilgrimage where he announced the universal charter and policies of rights and freedoms, He declared:

“O People! Be warned! Indeed your Lord is One. No Arab has inherent superiority over a non-Arab, nor a non-Arab over an Arab, nor a black over a white, nor a white over a black – except on the basis of Taqwa. Indeed, the most honourable of you is only the one with the strongest Taqwa. Did I deliver to you the message? When the audience confirmed it, he told them: “Those present must convey it to those who are not here.” (Baihaqi)

Declaring the presence and strength of Taqwa as the sole standard of human honour instead of conduct or behaviour is very profound. Taqwa is the mindset or mental paradigm of decision making that causes a person to choose those options, alternatives and priorities that will avoid Allaah’s displeasure, maximize his pleasure and be easiest to account for on the Day of Judgment. Thus, Taqwa becomes the source of goodness in all human decisions regarding what to think, say or do. It becomes the impetus for a person to strive for excellence in attitude and conduct. However, conduct or behaviour on its own cannot be a criterion for honour with Allaah SWT because good conduct can be for ulterior motives other than pleasure of Allaah SWT.  Allaah SWT directly knows absence, presence or level of a person’s Taqwa to treat people accordingly; however, people can only guess the level of one’s Taqwa based on the overall attitude and conduct of a person and their congruence with the commands of Allaah and objectives of Deen.

Although we can only guess the relative Taqwa among people on the basis of their consistent attitude and conduct, we must make it one of the most important criteria for selecting one person over another in matters such as marriages, leadership (elections) and other decisions where one person needs to be chosen over others. If such a decision is based on something like race, colour, ethnicity, caste, lineage, nationality, etc., that will be in violation of this verse and will be treated by Allaah SWT as a serious sin.

Unfortunately, many Muslims claim to be believers but continue to violate the teachings of this verse and the earlier verses of this Soorah. Using the example of the Bedouins who had submitted to the power of Islam without adopting the faith sincerely, the following is what the Qur-aan has to say about such so-called Muslims:

قَالَتِ الْأَعْرَابُ آمَنَّا ۖ قُل لَّمْ تُؤْمِنُوا وَلَـٰكِن قُولُوا أَسْلَمْنَا وَلَمَّا يَدْخُلِ الْإِيمَانُ فِي قُلُوبِكُمْ ۖ وَإِن تُطِيعُوا اللَّـهَ وَرَسُولَهُ لَا يَلِتْكُم مِّنْ أَعْمَالِكُمْ شَيْئًا ۚ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ ﴿١٤﴾ إِنَّمَا الْمُؤْمِنُونَ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا بِاللَّـهِ وَرَسُولِهِ ثُمَّ لَمْ يَرْتَابُوا وَجَاهَدُوا بِأَمْوَالِهِمْ وَأَنفُسِهِمْ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّـهِ ۚ أُولَـٰئِكَ هُمُ الصَّادِقُونَ ﴿١٥﴾

14 The Bedouins say, “We believe.” Clarify to them, “You have not believed; rather, you can only say, ‘We have submitted’, because the faith has not yet entered into your psyches. However, if you obey Allaah and His Messenger, Allaah will not discount anything from your deeds. Indeed, Allaah is Forgiving, Merciful.” 15 The believers are only those who sincerely believe in Allaah and His Messenger, then they do not harbour any doubts and strive with their assets and their lives in Allaah’s way. They are the truthful ones.   

It is evident from these verses and the two Aĥadeeth quoted in the previous section that those who routinely or deliberately violate the teachings of this Soorah, are not blessed with the true faith. Their faith is deficient and they harbour some doubts somewhere that make their faith weak. When faith is solid and free of doubts, it evidences itself in that person’s committing his life and possessions in the obedience of Allaah and for the objective of Deen.

Some people are confused by the use of the word “aslamnaa” meaning “we have submitted” in verse 14. They translate this word as “We have become Muslims” and then conclude that a “Believer” or “Mo’min” is a person who believes truly, while a “Muslim” is one who has become Muslim without adopting the faith sincerely. Nothing can be farther from the truth than this interpretation. Such inaccurate conclusions are drawn when: people do not differentiate between the literal word of a meaning and the Islamic concepts; and they take only one verse in isolation of the rest of the Qur-aan. There were many words of Arabic language that had their general literal meanings before Islam but the Qur-aan used them as special Islamic concepts. When the Qur-aan adopted any of those words as distinct concepts, they did not lose their original literal meaning. Some examples are Rasool, Ŝalaah, Zakaah, Islam, Eeman, Kufr, Taqwa, etc. At most places in the Qur-aan, they are used as the Islamic terms with specific Islamic meanings; but sometimes the Qur-aan uses them in their original meaning as well. The word aslama literally means someone simply surrendered or submitted; but as an Islamic term it also means someone believed in Allaah sincerely and thus submitted to Him in complete obedience and accepted Islam as his way of life. Because some Bedouin had not accepted Islam but only surrendered to its power, in the verse under discussion, the word has been used in its original literal meaning. In many other places in the Qur-aan, the word aslama or Islam has been used to reflect the Islamic meaning of sincere belief in Allaah and complete surrender to Him in obedience. The following are examples:

Both Ibraheem and Isma‘eel prayed, “Our Lord! Make us your Muslims and from our progeny a Muslim Ummah”… When his Lord asked him (Ibraheem) to become Muslim, He said, ‘I become Muslim to the Lord of the universe’…  O My children! Indeed Allaah has chosen a Deen for you, so do not die except that you are Muslims. (Al-Baqarah 2:128-132)

If they accept Islam, they indeed received guidance. (Aali ‘Imraan 3:20)

Ibraheem was neither a Jew nor a Christian, but an upright Muslim.  (Aali ‘Imraan 3:67)

O you who believe! Maintain Allaah’s Taqwa as much as it is Allaah’s right, and do not die except that you are Muslims.  (Aali ‘Imraan 3:102)

Say (O Muĥammad), I have been commanded to be the first who accepts Islam. (Al-An‘aam 6:14)

He named you Muslims in this (Qur-aan) as well as before it. (Al-Ĥajj 22:78)

It is very clear that being Muslim has been used for believing truly in Allaah, surrendering completely to Him in obedience and accepting His Deen. Thus it cannot mean a claim without faith. On the other hand, the Qur-aan addresses people by words “O You who believe” but addressees include all kinds of believers and hypocrites, who are exhorted by the verses to believe truly and improve their performance, implying that their faith is not as sincere and solid as it is desired to be and that improvement in faith and actions is needed. Examples include 3:156, 4:136, 5:54, 8:20, 8:27, 9:38, 57:28 and 61:2. Even verse 102 of Aali ‘Imraan quoted above is exhorting the believers to attain Taqwa and die as Muslims, meaning they need to improve in their faith and Taqwa to become true Muslims. These examples prove that the terms Mo’min and Muslim have been used interchangeably for those who have truly believed in Allaah and earnestly submitted in obedience to Him. However, the word aslama or Muslim has never been used for a false claimant except in this one instance where it has been used in its literal meaning. But there are many instances where Mo’min has been used even for those who claim to be believers while they do not really believe.
Those who are not sincere in their faith were the ones who used to repeatedly mention their claim to believe as if they had done a big favour to the Prophet by accepting Islam; the last three verses respond to them.

قُلْ أَتُعَلِّمُونَ اللَّـهَ بِدِينِكُمْ وَاللَّـهُ يَعْلَمُ مَا فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَمَا فِي الْأَرْضِ ۚ وَاللَّـهُ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عَلِيمٌ ﴿١٦﴾ يَمُنُّونَ عَلَيْكَ أَنْ أَسْلَمُوا ۖ قُل لَّا تَمُنُّوا عَلَيَّ إِسْلَامَكُم ۖ بَلِ اللَّـهُ يَمُنُّ عَلَيْكُمْ أَنْ هَدَاكُمْ لِلْإِيمَانِ إِن كُنتُمْ صَادِقِينَ ﴿١٧﴾ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ يَعْلَمُ غَيْبَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ ۚ وَاللَّـهُ بَصِيرٌ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ ﴿١٨﴾

16 Say, “Are you informing Allaah about your Deen? And Allaah knows whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth; He is knower of everything.” 17 They want you to feel obliged that they have accepted Islam. Say, “Do not oblige me with your Islam; rather, it is Allaah Who has conferred a favour upon you that He has guided you to faith, if you are earnest.” 18 Verily Allaah knows the secrets of the heavens and the earth: and Allaah is Seer of all that you do.   

Now that the Prophet is not here and Islam is not being practised by the vast majority of the Muslims in the world, some noble souls dedicate their lives to bring the true faith, proper understanding of Deen and its actual practice back into Muslim societies. Such Muslim missionaries encounter the same kind of attitude from many people who claim to support their Islamic work. They also behave in a manner and even mention to the missionaries how big a favour they have done in supporting them or in listening to their message.

The truth is that the believers who understand the reality appreciate the value of their faith sincerely and deeply. Thus they profusely thank Allaah SWT for providing them with the circumstances that they could be Muslims. They appreciate the opportunity they have to worship Allaah SWT through Ŝalaah, Ŝawm, Zakaah, charity and excellence in character. They feel blessed if they are among those who have the true understanding of Deen and who make efforts and sacrifices for their Deen and the objectives of Deen. By striving hard and making sacrifices for the attainment of the objectives of Deen, they merely do their duty to Allaah as His slaves. They take hardships and failures in this world as their chances for improvement and corrections of their weaknesses that caused the failure. They know that they are not doing any favour to anyone or to Allaah by doing what Islam wants them to do, except to themselves. Thus they do not expect anything in return in this world; rather, they seek Allaah’s mercy in the form of rewards in the Hereafter where they would need them the most. But then there are those who think that they do a favour to Allaah SWT if they worship Him. They object when they do not get what they want in their Du’aas as if Allaah owes them for their being Muslims. They feel dejected by the current deplorable condition of the Ummah due to their own faults, bad behaviour and abandonment of Islam; and they protest and complain about Allaah not helping them, as if they deserve His help.

All such people need to reflect on their attitude in the light of these verses and correct their perceptions, performance and expectations.  


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