19. This is a sarcastic remark. Its purpose is to bring home to them that the misdeeds about which they are so jubilant, and which they regard as their proud achievements, will ultimately lead them to a painful end.
20. They have spent their efforts and energies in a manner leading to catastrophic results in this world and the Next.
21. No power can make these misdeeds either bear good fruit or prevent them bearing evil fruit. The powers upon which the wrong-doers rely for support in this world and in the World to Come will not be of any help to them.
22. They are asked to acknowledge the Book of God as the final arbiter in all matters, and to submit to its judgement, accepting as right whatever this Book holds to be right, and as wrong whatever it holds to be wrong. The Book of God referred to here is the Torah and the Injil, while the expression 'those who have been given a portion of the Book' refers to the Jewish and Christian religious scholars. (For the Quranic view of the Torah and the Injil see n. 2 above - Ed.)
23. These people considered themselves to be God's favourites and cherished the illusion that, regardless of what they did, they were bound to enter Paradise. They took the view that since they were believers, were descended from pious people, followed noble Prophets, and were disciples and admirers of holy men, Hell would not dare touch them. They also thought that even if they were thrown into Hell they would remain there for a few days only, to be purged of the impurity of the sins which had afflicted them, and would then be sent straight to Paradise. Such notions had made them so bold that even when they committed the most atrocious crimes and the most mortal of sins, and brazenly deviated from Truth and rectitude, their hearts remained utterly unmoved by the fear of God.
24. Those who disbelieved and disobeyed were seen to be prosperous, whereas the believers, with their devotion and loyalty to God, suffered all the deprivation, persecution and torment to which the Prophet and his followers were subjected around the year 3 A.H. The contrasting states of the two groups of men were the reverse of what would naturally be expected. This raised disturbing questions in people's minds about the underlying wisdom of this phenomenon. The verse conveys God's answer.
25. This means that it is lawful for a believer, helpless in the grip of the enemies of Islam and in imminent danger of severe wrong and persecution, to keep his faith concealed and to behave in such a manner as to create the impression that he is on the same side as his enemies. A person whose Muslim identity is discovered is permitted to adopt a friendly attitude owards the unbelievers in order to save his life. If he considers himself incapable of enduring the excesses to which he may be subjected, he may even state that he is not a believer.
26. One should not be overwhelmed by the fear of other human beings to the extent of losing the fear of God. Human beings can harm a man but the most they can do is to ruin his transient, earthly life. God, on the other hand, can subject him to everlasting torment. If one is constrained in extraordinary circumstances to resort to a prudent concealment of faith (taqiyah) in order to save one's life, this concealment should remain within reasonable limits. The most one is permitted to do is to protect one's life and property without jeopardizing either the interests of Islam or of the Muslim community as a whole, and without causing loss of life and property to other Muslims. One must never allow saving one's own life to lead to the propagation of unbelief at the expense of Islam and to the dominance of unbelievers over Muslims. Here the believers are warned that, no matter how dangerous the circumstances surrounding them, they cannot escape God's reproach if they give substantial aid to those rebelling against Him, and cause any harm to God's chosen religion, to the community of believers or to any individual believer. For, it is to God that one will ultimately return for reckoning.
27. It is out of sheer goodwill that God warns people against deeds likelyto have devastating consequences for them.