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Towards Understanding the Quran
With kind permission: Islamic Foundation UK
Introduction to Tafheem | Glossary | Verbs
Other resources: Maarif | Dawat 

 Surah An-Nahl 16:90-93 [13/16]
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Verse Summary -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
۞ إِنَّIndeed,
وَٱلْإِحْسَـٰنِand the good,
وَإِيتَآىِٕand giving
ذِى ٱلْقُرْبَىٰ(to) relatives,
وَيَنْهَىٰand forbids
ٱلْفَحْشَآءِthe immorality
وَٱلْمُنكَرِand the bad
وَٱلْبَغْىِ‌ۚand the oppression.
يَعِظُكُمْHe admonishes you
لَعَلَّكُمْso that you may
تَذَكَّرُونَtake heed.
وَأَوْفُواْAnd fulfil
بِعَهْدِthe covenant
ٱللَّهِ(of) Allah
عَـٰهَدتُّمْyou have taken a covenant,
وَلَاand (do) not
تَوْكِيدِهَاtheir confirmation
وَقَدْwhile verily
جَعَلْتُمُyou have made
عَلَيْكُمْover you
كَفِيلاً‌ۚa surety.
تَفْعَلُونَyou do.
وَلَاAnd (do) not
كَٱلَّتِىlike her who
غَزْلَهَاher spun yarn
مِنۢ بَعْدِafter
أَنكَـٰثًا(into) untwisted strands;
تَتَّخِذُونَyou take
أَيْمَـٰنَكُمْyour oaths
دَخَلاَۢ(as) a deception
بَيْنَكُمْbetween you,
أُمَّةٌa community
أَرْبَىٰmore numerous
أُمَّةٍ‌ۚ(another) community.
يَبْلُوكُمُ ٱللَّهُAllah tests you
بِهِۦ‌ۚby it.
وَلَيُبَيِّنَنَّAnd He will make clear
لَكُمْto you
يَوْمَ(on) the Day
ٱلْقِيَـٰمَةِ(of) the Resurrection,
كُنتُمْyou used (to)
فِيهِin it
وَلَوْAnd if
شَآءَ ٱللَّهُAllah (had) willed
لَجَعَلَكُمْsurely He (could) have made you
أُمَّةًa nation
يُضِلُّHe lets go astray
يَشَآءُHe wills
وَيَهْدِىand guides
يَشَآءُ‌ۚHe wills.
وَلَتُسْــَٔلُنَّAnd surely you will be questioned
عَمَّاabout what
كُنتُمْyou used (to)

اِنَّ اللّٰهَ يَاۡمُرُ بِالۡعَدۡلِ وَالۡاِحۡسَانِ وَاِيۡتَآىِٕ ذِى الۡقُرۡبٰى وَيَنۡهٰى عَنِ الۡفَحۡشَآءِ وَالۡمُنۡكَرِ وَالۡبَغۡىِ​ۚ يَعِظُكُمۡ لَعَلَّكُمۡ تَذَكَّرُوۡنَ‏  وَ اَوۡفُوۡا بِعَهۡدِ اللّٰهِ اِذَا عَاهَدتُّمۡ وَلَا تَنۡقُضُوا الۡاَيۡمَانَ بَعۡدَ تَوۡكِيۡدِهَا وَقَدۡ جَعَلۡتُمُ اللّٰهَ عَلَيۡكُمۡ كَفِيۡلًا​ ؕ اِنَّ اللّٰهَ يَعۡلَمُ مَا تَفۡعَلُوۡنَ‏  وَلَا تَكُوۡنُوۡا كَالَّتِىۡ نَقَضَتۡ غَزۡلَهَا مِنۡۢ بَعۡدِ قُوَّةٍ اَنۡكَاثًا ؕ تَتَّخِذُوۡنَ اَيۡمَانَكُمۡ دَخَلًاۢ بَيۡنَكُمۡ اَنۡ تَكُوۡنَ اُمَّةٌ هِىَ اَرۡبٰى مِنۡ اُمَّةٍ​ ؕ اِنَّمَا يَبۡلُوۡكُمُ اللّٰهُ بِهٖ ​ؕ وَلَيُبَيِّنَنَّ لَـكُمۡ يَوۡمَ الۡقِيٰمَةِ مَا كُنۡـتُمۡ فِيۡهِ تَخۡتَلِفُوۡنَ‏  وَلَوۡ شَآءَ اللّٰهُ لَجَـعَلَكُمۡ اُمَّةً وَّاحِدَةً وَّلٰـكِنۡ يُّضِلُّ مَنۡ يَّشَآءُ وَيَهۡدِىۡ مَنۡ يَّشَآءُ​ ؕ وَلَـتُسۡـــَٔلُنَّ عَمَّا كُنۡتُمۡ تَعۡمَلُوۡنَ‏ 
(16:90) Surely Allah enjoins justice, kindness and the doing of good to kith and kin,88 and forbids all that is shameful, evil and oppressive.89 He exhorts you so that you may be mindful. (16:91) And fulfil the covenant which you have made with Allah and do not break your oaths after having firmly made them, and after having made Allah your witness. Surely Allah knows all that you do. (16:92) And do not become like the woman who, after having painstakingly spun her yarn, caused it to disintegrate into pieces.90 You resort to oaths as instruments of mutual deceit so that one people might take greater advantage than another although Allah puts you to the test through this.91 Surely on the Day of Resurrection92 He will make clear the Truth concerning the matters over which you differed. (16:93) Had Allah so willed, He would have made you all one single community.93 However, He lets go astray whomsoever He wills and shows the Right Way to whomsoever He wills.94 Surely you shall be called to account regarding what you did.

88. In this brief sentence Allah has enjoined three most important things on which alone depends the establishment of a sound and healthy society:

The first of these is justice which has two aspects.

To make such arrangements as may enable everyone to get one’s due rights without stint. Justice does not, however, mean equal distribution of rights, for that would be absolutely unnatural. In fact, justice means equitable dispensation of rights which in certain cases may mean equality. For example, all citizens should have equal rights of citizenship but in other cases equality in rights would be injustice. For instance, equality in social status and rights between parents and their children will obviously be wrong. Likewise those who render services of superior and inferior types cannot be equal in regard to wages and salaries. What Allah enjoins is that the full rights of everyone should be honestly rendered whether those be moral, social, economic legal or political in accordance with what one justly deserves.

The second thing enjoined is ihsan which has no equivalent in English. This means to be good, generous, sympathetic, tolerant, forgiving, polite, cooperative, selfless, etc. In collective life this is even more important than justice; for justice is the foundation of a sound society but ihsan is its perfection. On the one hand, justice protects society from bitterness and violation of rights. On the other hand, ihsan makes it sweet and joyful and worth living. It is obvious that no society can flourish if every individual insists on exacting his pound of flesh. At best such a society might be free from conflict but there cannot be love, gratitude, generosity, sacrifice, sincerity, sympathy and such humane qualities as produce sweetness in life and develop high values.

The third thing which has been enjoined is good treatment towards one’s relatives which in fact is a specific form of ihsan. It means that one should not only treat his relatives well, share their sorrows and pleasures and help them within lawful limits but should also share his wealth with them according to his means and the need of each relative. This enjoins on everyone who possesses ample means to acknowledge the share of his deserving relatives along with the rights of his own person and family. The divine law holds every well to do person in a family to be responsible for fulfilling the needs of all his needy kith and kin. The law considers it a great evil that one person should enjoy the pleasures of life while his own kith and kin are starving. As it considers the family to be an important part of society, it lays down that the first right of needy individuals is on its well t -do members and then on the others. Likewise it is the first duty of the well to do members of the family to fulfill the needs of their own near relatives and then those of others. The Prophet (peace be upon him) has emphasized this fact in many traditions, according to which a person owes rights to his parents, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters, other relatives, etc. in accordance with the nearness of their relationships. On the basis of this fundamental principle, Umar made it obligatory on the first cousins of an orphan to support him. In the case of another orphan he declared that if he had no first cousins he would have made it obligatory on distant cousins to support him. Just imagine the happy condition of the society every unit of which supports its every needy individual in this way. Most surely that society will become high and pure economically, socially and morally.

89. In contrast to the above mentioned three virtues, Allah prohibits three vices which ruin individuals and the society as a whole:

(1) The Arabic word fahsha applies to all those things that are immodest, immoral or obscene or nasty or dirty or vulgar, not fit to be seen or heard, because they offend against recognized standards of propriety or good taste, e.g. adultery, fornication, homosexuality, nakedness, nudity, theft, robbery, drinking, gambling, begging, abusive language and the like. Likewise it is indecent to indulge in giving publicity to any of these evils and to spread them, e.g. false propaganda, calumny, publicity of crimes, indecent stories, dramas, films, naked pictures, public appearance of womenfolk with indecent makeup, free mixing of sexes, dancing and the like.

(2) Munkar applies to all those evils which have always been universally regarded as evils and have been forbidden by all divine systems of law.

(3) Baghy applies to those vices that transgress the proper limits of decency and violate the rights of others, whether those of the Creator or His creation.

90. In this verse, Allah has enjoined three kinds of covenants which have been mentioned in the order of their importance. The first of these covenants is the one between man and his Allah which is the most important of all. The second in importance is the covenant between one man or one group of men and another man or another group of men, which is taken with Allah as a witness or in which the name of God has been used. The third covenant is that which has been made without using Allah’s name. Though this is third in importance, its fulfillment is as important as that of the first two and the violation of any of these has been prohibited.

91. In this connection it should be noted that Allah has rebuked the people for the worst form of violation of treaties which has been creating the greatest disorder in the world. It is a pity that even big people consider it to be a virtue to violate treaties in order to gain advantages for their people in political, economic and religious conflicts. At one time the leader of one nation enters into a treaty with another nation for the interest of his own people but at another time the same leader publicly breaks the very same treaty for the interest of his people, or secretly violates it. It is an irony that such violations are made even by those people who are honest in their private lives. Moreover, it is regrettable that their own people do not protest against them; nay, they eulogize them for such shameful feats of diplomacy. Therefore, Allah warns that every such treaty is a test of the character of those who enter into it, and of their nations. They might gain some apparent advantage for their people in this way, but they will not escape their consequences on the Day of Judgment.

92. This is to warn that decision about differences and disputes that lead to conflict will be made on the Day of Judgment. Therefore, these should not be made an excuse to break agreements and treaties. Even if one is wholly in the right and the opponent is wholly in the wrong. It is not right for the former to break treaties or make false propaganda or employ other deceitful methods to defeat the other. If one does so, it will go against him on that Day because righteousness demands that one should not only be right in his theories and aims but should also use right methods and employ right means. This warning has especially been given to those religious groups and sects who always suffer from this misunderstanding that they have a right to defeat their opponents because they are on the side of God and their opponents are rebels against Allah. Therefore, there is no obligation on them to stick to their treaties with their opponents. This was what the Arab Jews practiced, declaring: There is no moral obligation on us in regard to the pagan Arabs, and we are rightly entitled to practice dishonesty and deceit that might be of advantage to us and harmful to the disbelievers.

93. This further supports the previous warning. It means that it would be wrong for any champion of Allah’s religion to arrogate to himself the use of every sort of method and means irrespective of whether they are right or wrong to propagate his own religion (considering it to be Allah’s religion) and try to destroy opposite religions. For this would be utterly against the will of Allah. If Allah had willed that there should be no religious differences, He could have deprived mankind of the freedom of choice. In that case, there would have been no need for Allah to get help of any such upholder of His religion, who uses disgraceful means for this purpose. Allah could have created all mankind to be inherent believers and obedient servants by depriving them of the power and option of disbelief and sin. Then there would have been none who could have dared to deviate from belief and obedience.

94. This is to show that Allah Himself has given man the power and freedom to follow any out of the many ways. That is why Allah makes arrangements for the guidance of the one who intends to follow the right way, and let go astray the one who desires to deviate.