1. When this thing was said, the conditions prevailing in Makkah were extremely trying. Whoever accepted Islam was made a target of tyranny and humiliation and persecution. If he was a slave or a poor person, he was beaten and subjected to unbearable tortures. If he was a shopkeeper or artisan, he was made to suffer economic hardships, even starvation. If he was a member of an influential family, his own people would tease and harass him in different ways and make life difficult for him. This had created an atmosphere of fear and fright in Makkah, due to which most people were afraid of believing in the Prophet (peace be upon him) although they acknowledged him to be a true Prophet (peace be upon him) in their hearts; and some others who believed would lose heart soon afterwards and would submit and yield to the disbelievers when they confronted dreadful persecutions. Though these trying circumstances could not shake the determination of the strong willed companions, naturally they also were sometimes overwhelmed by an intense feeling of anxiety and distraction. An instance of this is found in the tradition of Khabbab bin Arat (may Allah be pleased with him), which has been related by Bukhari, Abu Daud and Nasai. He says, “During the time when we had become tired of our persecution by the mushriks, one day I saw the Prophet (peace be upon him) sitting in the shade of the wall of the Kabah. I went up to him and said, O Messenger of Allah, don’t you pray for us. Hearing this, his face became red with feeling and emotion, and he said, The believers who have gone before you had been subjected to even greater persecutions. Some one of them was made to sit in a ditch in the earth and was sawed into two pieces from head to foot. Someone’s joints were rubbed with iron combs so as to withhold him from the faith. By God, this mission will be accomplished and the time is not far when a person will travel without apprehension from Sana to Hadramaut and there will be none but Allah Whom he will fear.”
In order to change this state of agitation into forbearance, Allah tells the believers, “No one can become worthy of Our promises of success in the world and the Hereafter merely by verbal profession of the faith, but every claimant to the faith will have to pass through trials and tribulations so as to furnish proof of the truth of his claim. Our Paradise is not so cheap, neither are Our special favors in the world so low priced that We should bless you with all these as soon as you proclaim verbal faith in Us. The trial is a prerequisite for them. You will have to undergo hardships for Our sake, suffer losses of life and property, face dangers, misfortunes and difficulties; you will be tried both with fear and with greed; you will have to sacrifice everything that you hold dear for Our pleasure, and bear every discomfort in Our way. Then only will it become manifest whether your claim to faith in Us was true or false. This thing has been said at every such place in the Quran where the Muslims have been found placed in hardships and difficulties and obsessed by fear and consternation. In the initial stage of life at Al-Madinah, after the migration, when the Muslims were in great trouble on account of economic hardships, external dangers and internal villainy of the Jews and the hypocrites, Allah said:
“Do you think that you will enter Paradise without undergoing such trials as were experienced by the believers before you? They met with adversity and affliction and were so shaken by trials that the Prophet of the time and his followers cried out, when will Allah’s help come? (Then only they were comforted with the good tidings:) “Yes, Allah’s help is near!” (Surah Al-Baqarah: Ayat 214).
Likewise, when after the battle of Uhud, the Muslims again confronted a period of afflictions, it was said: “Do you think that you will enter Paradise without undergoing any trial, whereas Allah has not yet tried you to see who among you are ready to lay down their lives in His way and who will show fortitude for His sake.” (Surah Aal-Imran: Ayat 142).
Almost the same thing has been said in (Surah Aal- Imran: Ayat 179), (Surah At-Taubah: Ayat 16) and (Surah Muhammad: Ayat 31). Allah in these verses has impressed on the Muslims that trial is the touchstone by which the pure and the impure are judged. The impure is turned aside by Allah and the pure is selected so that Allah may honor them with His favors which the only sincere believers deserve.
2. That is, this is not a new thing which you alone may be experiencing. The same has also been happening before you. Whoever made a claim to the faith, he was made to pass through trials and tribulations. And when the others were not given anything without the trial, you are in no way any special people that you should be favored and rewarded merely on verbal profession of the faith.
3. Literally, “It is necessary that Allah should find out.” A question may be asked: “When Allah already knows the truth of the truthful and the untruth of the liar, why should He put the people to the test for the sake of these” The answer is: Until a person has manifested his potential and capability to do a thing in practical terms, justice requires that he neither deserves any rewards nor any punishment. One man, for example, is capable of being trustworthy and another man of being un-trustworthy. Unless both are tried and one manifests trustworthiness and the other the lack of it practically, it will not be justice on the part of Allah that He should reward one for trustworthiness and punish the other for the lack of it only on the basis of His knowledge of the unseen. Therefore the knowledge Allah already possesses about the capabilities of the people and about their conduct in the future is not enough to satisfy the requirements of justice until the people have manifested their potentialities in practical ways. Justice with Allah is not based on the knowledge that a person possesses a tendency to steal and will commit a theft, but on the knowledge that he has actually committed a theft. Likewise, Allah does not bestow favors and rewards on the basis of the knowledge that a person has the potential and capability to become a great believer and fighter in His way, but on the basis of the knowledge that the person concerned has practically proved by deed and action that he is a sincere believer and a brave fighter in His way. That is why we have translated the words of the verse as: “Allah will surely make evident.”
4. This may refer to all those people who disobey Allah’s commands but here particularly it implies those wicked chiefs of the Quraish, who were in the forefront in their antagonism to Islam and persecution of the converts to Islam, e.g. Walid bin Mughirah, Abu Jahl, Utbah, Shaibah, Uqbah bin Abi Muait, Hanzalah bin Wail, etc. Here the context itself requires that after exhorting the Muslims to patience and fortitude against the trials and tests, those people also should be chided and scolded, who were persecuting the believers.
5. It may also mean: “that they will escape Our grasp.” The words yasbiquna in the original may have two meanings: (1) “Whatever we will (i.e. the success of the mission of Our Messenger) should meet with failure, and whatever they wish (i.e. to frustrate the mission of Our Messenger) should be accomplished;” and (2) “We may want to seize them for their excesses and they should be able to escape and get out of Our reach.”
6. That is, the case of the one who does not believe in the life Hereafter and thinks he is answerable to none for his deeds and there is no accountability whatever, is different. He may remain heedless and act as he likes, for he will himself see the consequences when they appear against his expectations. But those who expect that they have to meet their Lord one day and will be rewarded or punished according to their deeds, should not have the misunderstanding that the time of death is yet far off. They should rather think that it is near at hand and the respite for action is about to come to an end. Therefore, whatever they can do for their well being in the Hereafter, they should do. They should not delay self reform on account of the baseless belief that they have yet to live a long life.
7. That is, that God before Whom they will appear to render their accounts is not uninformed. He hears everything and knows every thing, and nothing about them is hidden from Him.
8. The word mujahadah means to struggle and exert one’s utmost against an opponent, and when the particular opponent force is not pointed out, the word implies an allout, many sided struggle. The struggle that a believer has to make in the world is of this very nature. He has to fight against Satan, who frightens him every moment of the possible losses that they have to incur for the sake of good and allures him with the benefits and pleasures of the evil. He has to fight his own self also, which exerts to make him the slave of its lusts. He has also to fight all those men, from home to the world outside, whose ideology, trends, morality, customs, way of life and social and economic principles may be in conflict with his faith. And he has to fight that state too, which enforces its laws independent of obedience to Allah, and employs its forces to promote evil instead of the good. This struggle is not of a day or two, but of a lifetime, of every moment of the day and night. And it is not a struggle in one field only but on every front of life. It is about this that Hasan Basri has said: “Man exerts in the way of Allah, even though he may not strike one sword at any time.”
9. That is, Allah is not asking you to exert your utmost because he stands in need of any help from you to establish His Godhead and keep it established and sustained. But He instructs you to enter this conflict because this opens the way to your own progress. Through this way only, you can get rid of the evil and follow the way of truth. Through this way alone you can develop the ability and power to rise as the standard bearers of goodness in the world and become worthy of Allah’s Paradise in the Hereafter. By waging this war you will not do any favor to Allah but will only be helping your own selves.
10. Iman means to believe in and accept sincerely all those things to which the Messenger of Allah and this Book invite; and As-salihat are those righteous deeds which are performed in accordance with the guidance of Allah and His Messenger. The righteous deed of the heart and mind is that man’s thinking and his ideas and his intentions should be right and pure. The righteous deed of the tongue is that man should refrain from talking evil things, and whatever he says should be just and right and true. And the righteous deed of the limbs is that man'’s entire life should be spent in Allah’s worship and in obedience to His commands and law. Two results of the belief and righteous deeds have been mentioned: (1) That man’s evils will be wiped off; and (2) that he will be rewarded for the best of his deeds better than what he will actually deserve.
Wiping off of evils means several things: (1) All kinds of sins that man might have committed before his affirmation of the faith will be pardoned as soon as he believes; (2) the errors that man might have committed after the affirmation of the faith due to human weakness, but not because of a rebellious attitude, will be overlooked in view of his good deeds; (3) man’s self reform will automatically take place when he adopts a life of belief and righteousness, and most of his weaknesses will be removed from him.
The sentence, “We shall reward them for the best of what they used to do” has two meanings: (1) Man will be given his rewards on the basis of the best of his deeds; and (2) he will be rewarded better and more handsomely than what he will actually deserve for his deeds. This thing has been stated at other places also in the Quran. For instance, in (Surah Al-Anaam: Ayat 160), it has been said: “He who will bring a good deed before Allah, will receive a tenfold reward for it”, and in (Surah Al-Qasas: Ayat 4): “Whoever brings a good deed, shall have a better reward than that”, and in (Surah An-Nisa: Ayat 40): “Indeed Allah does not wrong anyone even by a jot: if one does a good deed, He increases it manifold.”
11. According to Muslim, Tirmidhi, Ahmad, Abu Daud and Nasai, this verse was sent down in respect of Saad bin Abi Waqqas. He was 18 or 19 years old when he embraced Islam. When his mother, Hamnah, daughter of Sufyan bin Umayyah (neice of Abu Sufyan), came to know that her son had become a Muslim, she said, “I will neither eat nor drink nor sit in shade unless you disown Muhammad. The rights of the mother are superior even according to Allah’s command. Therefore if you disobey me, you will be disobeying Allah too.” Saad was perplexed and came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and told this entire story. At that, this verse was revealed. Possibly other young men who embraced Islam in the initial stage at Makkah were also confronted with similar situations. Therefore, the same theme has been repeated forcefully in (Surah Luqman: Ayat 15) also.
What the verse means to impress is this: The rights of the parents, among the creation of Allah, are to be held as the supreme, but even if the parents force a person to adopt shirk, they should not be obeyed. The words, “And if they strive with you to make you join with Me” imply that a lesser pressure, or a pressure by either of them, deserves to be set aside much more promptly. The next sentence, “Of which you have no knowledge (as such)” is also noteworthy. This gives a sound reason for not obeying the parents in this regard. The parents certainly have the right that the children should serve them, respect them, and obey them in lawful things. But they do not have the right that one should obey them blindly against one’s knowledge of the reality. Therefore, there is no reason why a person should go on following his parents’ religion just because it is their religion. If the children come to know that their parents are following a false religion, they should give it up and adopt the right religion, and should not follow the wrong way whose falsehood has become clear to them even if the parents use every kind of pressure for it. When this is so in the case of even the parents, it should be so with every other person, too. No one deserves to be followed and obeyed unless one is sure that the person being followed is on the right path.
12. That is, the relationships of this world and their obligations are confined to the world. At last, the parents as well as the children have to return to their Creator, and before Him everybody will be held answerable only on the basis of his personal responsibility. If the parents have misled the children, they will be called to account. If the children have accepted deviation for the sake of the parents, they will be punished. And if the children adopted the right way, and showed no slackness in rendering the parents’ lawful rights either, but the parents ill treated them only for the reason that they did not join them in their deviation, they will not be able to escape Allah’s punishment.
13. Though the speaker is a single person, he uses the plural pronoun and says, “We have believed,” Imam Razi has pointed out a subtle point in it. He says that the hypocrite always tries to be counted among the believers and mentions his faith as though he is also a true believer like others. His case is like that of a cowardly soldier who accompanies an army to the battlefield where the soldiers have fought well and put the enemy to rout. This cowardly person might have made no contribution at all, but when he returns home, he will say, “We put up a good fight and routed the enemy,” as if he was one of the heroes of the battlefield.
14. That is, just as one should desist from disbelief and sin due to fear of Allah’s punishment, so did this man desist from faith and goodness due to fear of persecution by the people. When after belief he was confronted with threats and imprisonment and harsh treatment from the disbelievers, he thought that Allah’s punishment in Hell which he will have to suffer after death in consequence of his disbelief, will be no severer than that. Therefore, he decided that he would suffer the torment of the next world at its own time, but should give up faith and rejoin the disbelievers so that he might save himself from the torment of this world and pass an easy life.
15. That is, today he has joined the disbelievers in order to save his skin, and has abandoned the believers for he is not prepared even to suffer a thorn prick in the cause of promoting Allah’s religion. But when Allah will favor with success and victory those who are struggling in His cause with their lives and wealth, this person will come forward to have his share of the fruits of the victory and will tell the Muslims, “Our hearts were with you, we used to pray for your success, we thought very highly of your devotion to duty and your sacrifices.”
Here, one should understand that in case of an unbearable persecution and loss and extreme fear, one is permitted to disown Islam and save one’s life, provided that he remains firm in his faith with a sincere heart. But there is a big difference between the sincere Muslim who disowns Islam under compulsion in order to save his life and the opportunist who ideologically believes in Islam as a true religion but joins the disbelievers when he sees the dangers and risks. Apparently, they do not seem to be much different from each other, but the thing which sets them apart is this: The sincere Muslim who utters disbelief under compulsion not only remains attached to Islam ideologically, but practically, his sympathies remain with Islam and the Muslims; he feels happy over their successes and unhappy at their defeat. Even under compulsion he tries to avail himself of every opportunity to cooperate with the Muslims, and remains on the lookout for a chance to join his brethren in faith as soon as the grip of the enemies loosens a little. Contrary to this, when the opportunist finds that the way of the faith is difficult to follow and calculates carefully that the disadvantages of siding with Islam outweigh the advantages of rejoining the disbelievers, he turns away from Islam and the Muslims for the sake of personal safety and worldly gains, establishes friendship with the disbelievers and is prepared to carry out for his own interests any service for them, which may be utterly opposed to the faith and harmful to the Muslims. But at the same time, he does not close his eyes to the possibility that Islam also might prosper some time in the future. Therefore, whenever he gets an opportunity to talk to the Muslims, he acknowledges their ideology and admits his faith and pays homage to their sacrifices most generously, so that his verbal admissions might be helpful as and when required. In( Surah An-Nisa: Ayat 141), this same bargaining mentality of the hypocrites has been described, thus: The hypocrites are watching you closely to see (how the wind blows). If victory comes to you from Allah, they will say to you, “Were we not with you?” And if the disbelievers gain the upper hand, they will say to them, “Were we not strong enough to fight against you? Yet we defended you from the Muslims.”
16. That is, Allah provides occasions for the trial again and again so that the faith of the believers and the hypocrisy of the hypocrites become manifest, and whatever is hidden in the hearts becomes exposed. The same thing has been said in (Surah Aal-Imran: Ayat 179): “Allah will not leave the believers in the state in which you happen to be at present: He will surely separate the pure from the impure people.”
17. What they meant to say was: “In the first place, the talk about life hereafter and Resurrection and accountability is all meaningless. But supposing there is another life in which the people will be called to account for their deeds, we take the responsibility that we shall take the punishment, etc. on our own selves. You should, therefore, listen to us and give up this new faith and return to your ancestral religion. According to the traditions several chiefs of the Quraish used to counsel thus the people who embraced Islam in the beginning. So, when Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) accepted Islam, Abu Sufyan and Harab bin Umayyah bin Khalaf met him and said these very things.
18. That is, it is not at all possible that a person should take the responsibility for another before Allah, and thus enable the actual sinner to escape the punishment of his sin, for every person will be responsible for his own deeds there. No bearer of a burden shall bear the burden of another (Sura An-Najm: Ayat 38). But if at all it be so, none will have the nerve, while the blazing Hell is ready to punish the disbelievers, to say to Allah, only for the sake of honoring his pledge in the world, “Lord, forgive this person and send him to Paradise, he had turned apostate on my counseling: I offer myself to suffer the punishment for my own disbelief as well as for his in Hell.”
19. That is, though they will not bear the burdens of others, they will neither escape bearing a double burden: one burden of their own selves going astray, and the burden of leading the others astray. This can be understood by an example. A person commits theft and also asks another person to join him. Now if the other person also commits theft, no judge will let him off only because he had committed the offense on someone else’s prompting. He will in any case be punished for the theft and it will not be fair according to any law of justice to let him off and punish instead of him the first thief who had prompted him to commit the theft. However, the first thief will suffer punishment for two offenses: the offense of committing theft himself and the offense of turning another person into a thief along with himself. This principle has been stated at another place in the Quran thus “So that they should bear the full brunt of their own burdens on the Day of Resurrection together with some of the burdens of those whom they are leading astray in their ignorance.” (Surah An-Nahl: Ayat 25) The same principle has been elucidated by the Prophet (peace be upon him) in this Hadith: “Whoever invited others to the right path will be granted a reward equal to the rewards of all those who listened to him and adopted the right path, without diminishing their rewards in any way. And whoever invited others to deviation will earn a sin equal to the sins of all those who followed him, without diminishing their sins in any way.”
20. “They used to invent” implies all those untruths which were hidden in this saying of the disbelievers: “Follow our way and we will bear the burden of your sins.” In fact, they said this on the basis of two presumptions: (1) The creed of shirk they are following is based on the truth and the Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) doctrine of Tauhid is false; therefore, there is nothing wrong if it is rejected; and (2) there is going to be no Resurrection, and the doctrine of the Hereafter which deters a Muslim from unbelief is baseless. With these presumptions they would counsel a Muslim, saying, “Well, if you think that disbelief is really a sin, and there is going to be Resurrection when you will be called to account for this sin, then we are ready to take this sin of yours on our selves. You leave it to us and give up the religion of Muhammad (peace be upon him) and return to your ancestral religion.” In this two other false things were also included: (a) Their belief that a person who commits an offense on someone else’s prompting can be exempted from its responsibility, and the whole responsibility can be assumed by the one who had prompted the commission of the offense; and (b) their false promise that on the Day of Resurrection they will certainly assume the responsibility for those who might have turned apostates on their counseling. For, when Resurrection will actually be established, and they will see Hell against their expectations, they will never be prepared to receive the punishment of their own disbelief as well as bear the whole burden of the sins of those others whom they had deceived and misled in the world.