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

 Surah Al-Ahzab 33:21-27 [3/9]
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Verse Summary -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
لَكُمْfor you
رَسُولِ(the) Messenger
ٱللَّهِ(of) Allah
أُسْوَةٌ حَسَنَةٌan excellent example
لِّمَنfor (one) who
ٱللَّهَ(in) Allah
وَٱلْيَوْمَand the Day
ٱلْأَخِرَthe Last,
وَذَكَرَand remembers
وَلَمَّاAnd when
ٱلْمُؤْمِنُونَthe believers
ٱلْأَحْزَابَthe confederates,
قَالُواْthey said,
مَا(is) what
وَعَدَنَا ٱللَّهُAllah promised us
وَرَسُولُهُۥand His Messenger,
وَصَدَقَ ٱللَّهُand Allah spoke the truth
وَرَسُولُهُۥ‌ۚand His Messenger.`
وَمَاAnd not
زَادَهُمْit increased them
إِيمَـٰنًا(in) faith
وَتَسْلِيمًاand submission.
ٱلْمُؤْمِنِينَthe believers
رِجَالٌ(are) men
صَدَقُواْ(who) have been true
مَا(to) what
عَـٰهَدُواْ ٱللَّهَthey promised Allah
عَلَيْهِ‌ۖ[on it].
فَمِنْهُمAnd among them
مَّن(is he) who
قَضَىٰhas fulfilled
نَحْبَهُۥhis vow
وَمِنْهُمand among them
مَّن(is he) who
وَمَاAnd not
بَدَّلُواْthey alter
تَبْدِيلاً(by) any alteration -
لِّيَجْزِىَ ٱللَّهُThat Allah may reward
ٱلصَّـٰدِقِينَthe truthful
بِصِدْقِهِمْfor their truth
وَيُعَذِّبَand punish
ٱلْمُنَـٰفِقِينَthe hypocrites
شَآءَHe wills
يَتُوبَturn in mercy
عَلَيْهِمْ‌ۚto them.
رَّحِيمًاMost Merciful.
وَرَدَّ ٱللَّهُAnd Allah turned back
ٱلَّذِينَthose who
بِغَيْظِهِمْin their rage,
يَنَالُواْthey obtained
خَيْرًا‌ۚany good.
وَكَفَىAnd sufficient is
ٱلْمُؤْمِنِينَ(for) the believers
ٱلْقِتَالَ‌ۚ(in) the battle,
وَكَانَ ٱللَّهُand Allah is
وَأَنزَلَAnd He brought down
ٱلَّذِينَthose who
ظَـٰهَرُوهُمbacked them
أَهْلِ(the) People
ٱلْكِتَـٰبِ(of) the Scripture
صَيَاصِيهِمْtheir fortresses
وَقَذَفَand cast
قُلُوبِهِمُtheir hearts
ٱلرُّعْبَ[the] terror,
فَرِيقًاa group
تَقْتُلُونَyou killed
وَتَأْسِرُونَand you took captive
فَرِيقًاa group.
وَأَوْرَثَكُمْAnd He caused you to inherit
أَرْضَهُمْtheir land,
وَدِيَـٰرَهُمْand their houses,
وَأَمْوَٲلَهُمْand their properties
وَأَرْضًاand a land
تَطَــُٔوهَا‌ۚyou (had) trodden.
وَكَانَ ٱللَّهُAnd Allah is

لَقَدۡ كَانَ لَكُمۡ فِىۡ رَسُوۡلِ اللّٰهِ اُسۡوَةٌ حَسَنَةٌ لِّمَنۡ كَانَ يَرۡجُوا اللّٰهَ وَالۡيَوۡمَ الۡاٰخِرَ وَذَكَرَ اللّٰهَ كَثِيۡرًا ؕ‏  وَلَمَّا رَاَ الۡمُؤۡمِنُوۡنَ الۡاَحۡزَابَ ۙ قَالُوۡا هٰذَا مَا وَعَدَنَا اللّٰهُ وَرَسُوۡلُهٗ وَ صَدَقَ اللّٰهُ وَرَسُوۡلُهٗ وَمَا زَادَهُمۡ اِلَّاۤ اِيۡمَانًـا وَّتَسۡلِيۡمًا ؕ‏  مِنَ الۡمُؤۡمِنِيۡنَ رِجَالٌ صَدَقُوۡا مَا عَاهَدُوا اللّٰهَ عَلَيۡهِ​ۚ فَمِنۡهُمۡ مَّنۡ قَضٰى نَحۡبَهٗ وَمِنۡهُمۡ مَّنۡ يَّنۡتَظِرُ​ ۖ  وَمَا بَدَّلُوۡا تَبۡدِيۡلًا ۙ‏  لِّيَجۡزِىَ اللّٰهُ الصّٰدِقِيۡنَ بِصِدۡقِهِمۡ وَيُعَذِّبَ الۡمُنٰفِقِيۡنَ اِنۡ شَآءَ اَوۡ يَتُوۡبَ عَلَيۡهِمۡ​ ؕ اِنَّ اللّٰهَ كَانَ غَفُوۡرًا رَّحِيۡمًا ۚ‏  وَرَدَّ اللّٰهُ الَّذِيۡنَ كَفَرُوۡا بِغَيۡظِهِمۡ لَمۡ يَنَالُوۡا خَيۡرًا​ ؕ وَكَفَى اللّٰهُ الۡمُؤۡمِنِيۡنَ الۡقِتَالَ​ ؕ وَكَانَ اللّٰهُ قَوِيًّا عَزِيۡزًا ۚ‏  وَاَنۡزَلَ الَّذِيۡنَ ظَاهَرُوۡهُمۡ مِّنۡ اَهۡلِ الۡكِتٰبِ مِنۡ صَيَاصِيۡهِمۡ وَقَذَفَ فِىۡ قُلُوۡبِهِمُ الرُّعۡبَ فَرِيۡقًا تَقۡتُلُوۡنَ وَتَاۡسِرُوۡنَ فَرِيۡقًا ۚ‏  وَاَوۡرَثَكُمۡ اَرۡضَهُمۡ وَدِيَارَهُمۡ وَ اَمۡوَالَهُمۡ وَاَرۡضًا لَّمۡ تَطَـُٔوۡهَا​ ؕ وَكَانَ اللّٰهُ عَلٰى كُلِّ شَىۡءٍ قَدِيۡرًا‏ 
(33:21) Surely there was a good example for you in the Messenger of Allah,34 for all those who look forward to Allah and the Last Day and remember Allah much.35 (33:22) As for the true believers,36 when they saw the invading confederates, they cried out: “This is what Allah and His Messenger had promised us, and what Allah and His Messenger said was absolutely true.”37 This only increased their faith and submission. 38 (33:23) Among the believers there are those who have remained true to the covenant they made with Allah. Among those some of them have fulfilled their vow and others await the appointed time.39 They have not changed in the least. (33:24) (All this is) in order that Allah may reward the truthful for their truthfulness, and either punish the hypocrites or, if He so wills, accept their repentance. Verily Allah is Most Pardoning, Most Compassionate. (33:25) Allah sent back the unbelievers empty-handed, their hearts seething with rage. Allah sufficed the believers in their fight. Allah is Most Powerful, Most Mighty. (33:26) Allah brought down from their fortresses those People of the Book who had supported the invading confederates40 and cast such terror into their hearts that some of them you kill and some of them you take captive. (33:27) Allah made you inherit their land, their dwellings, and their goods, and a piece of land on which you had not yet trodden. Verily Allah has power over all things.

34. In view of the context in which this verse occurs, the object of presenting the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) conduct and way of life as a model was to teach a lesson to the people, who had been motivated by considerations of selfish interests and personal safety on the occasion of the battle of the Trench. They are being addressed, as if to say: “You claimed to be the believers and Muslims and followers of the Messenger (peace be upon him). You should have seen how the Messenger (peace be upon him), whose followers you claimed to be, conducted himself on the occasion. If the leader of a group is himself a seeker of personal security, is lazy and indolent, gives preference to personal interests to everything else, and is ever ready to flee danger, it would be reasonable to expect manifestation of such weakness from his followers. But here the case was different. The Prophet (peace be upon him) endured along with others every toil and labor that he asked others to endure, and endured more than others; there was no trouble which others might have experienced and he himself did. not. He was among those who dug the trench, and endured hunger and other afflictions just as the common Muslims did. He did not leave the battlefront even for a moment during the siege nor retreated an inch. After the betrayal of the Bani Quraizah his own family had also been exposed to danger even as the families of the other Muslims were. He did not make any special arrangement for his own and his family’s protection, which did not exist for others. He was always in the forefront to offer maximum sacrifices for the great objectives for which he was constantly asking others to make sacrifices. Therefore, whoever made a claim of being his follower should have followed the practical example set by the leader.

This is the meaning of the verse in the context here. But its words are general and there is no reason why it should be confined to these meanings only. Allah does not say that only in this respect His Messenger’s (peace be upon him) life is a model for the Muslims to follow, but has regarded it as a model absolutely. Therefore, the verse demands that the Muslims should take the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) life as a model for themselves in every affair of life and should mold their character and personality according to it.

35. That is, the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) life is no model for the person who is forgetful of God, but it certainly is a model for him who remembers Allah much and consistently and not only occasionally just by chance. Likewise, this life is no model for him who has no hope from Allah and does not expect resurrection to take place, but it is most surely a model for the person who is hopeful of Allah’s grace and His favors, and who is also mindful that the Day of Judgment will come when his well-being will wholly depend on how closely his conduct resembled the conduct and character of the Messenger (peace be upon him) of Allah in this world.

36. After drawing attention to the model of the Prophet (peace be upon him), Allah now presents the model of his companions so that the character of the false claimants to faith and of the sincere followers of the Messenger (peace be upon him) is clearly contrasted.

Although both were alike apparently in the affirmation of the faith, both were counted as Muslims, and both attended at the Prayers, they were separated from each other as soon as the time of the trial approached, and it became clear who were loyal to Allah and His Messenger (peace be upon him) and who were Muslims only in name.

37. Here, one should keep( verse 12) in view. There it was said that when the hypocrites and the people with diseased hearts found themselves surrounded by a huge force of ten to twelve thousand men from the front and by the Bani Quraizah from behind, they openly started saying: “The promises that Allah and His Messenger had made with us were nothing but a delusion. We were promised that if we believed in Allah’s religion, His succor would be at our back and we would rule Arabia and the world outside and all the wealth of Caesar and Chosroes will be ours, but here we are that the whole of Arabia is bent upon exterminating us, and there is no sign yet of the armies of the angels in sight, who would save us and protect us against this grave calamity.” Now they are being told: “One meaning of the promise of Allah and His Messenger (peace be upon him) was that which was understood by these false claimants to faith. The other meaning is that which is understood by the sincere and true Muslims. When they saw the storms of danger gathering, they too remembered the promises of Allah, but these promises did not mean that as soon as they affirmed the faith they would overwhelm and subdue the whole world without the slightest effort, and the angels would come to perform their coronation, but the promises actually meant that they would have to pass through severe trials, endure extreme hardships and afflictions, offer supreme sacrifices; then only will Allah bless them with His grace and they will be granted successes of the world and the Hereafter, which Allah has promised to His believing servants.

“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 afflictions and were so shaken by trials that the Prophet of the time and his followers cried out: When will Allah’s help come?” “Yes, Allah’s help is near.” (Surah Al-Baqarah: Ayat 214).

“Do the people think that they will be left alone after they have once said, We have believed, and they will not be tested? The fact is that We have put to the test all those who have gone before them. Surely, Allah has to see who are the truthful and who the liars.” (Surah Al-Ankabut: Ayats 2-3).

38. That is, “On seeing the hard times of affliction approaching, they did not waver in their faith but were strengthened in it all the more, and instead of giving up Allah’s obedience, they became ready to resign and surrender to Him whatever they had with complete conviction and satisfaction of the heart.”

Here, one should fully understand that faith and resignation is indeed a quality of the self which is put to trial and test at every command and demand of the faith. At every step in life man comes across situations where the faith either enjoins something or forbids something, or requires one to make sacrifices of life and wealth and time and desires of the self. At every such occasion the faith and conviction of the person who deviates from obedience will suffer decline and the faith and conviction of him who submits to the command and demand will be strengthened and enhanced. Although in the beginning a man becomes a believer and Muslim only by embracing the fundamental creed (Kalimah) of Islam, yet his state of faith does not remain static but is open to both deterioration and development. Decline in sincerity and the spirit of obedience causes it to deteriorate; so much so that constant retrogression may cause the person to reach the last limits of the faith where the slightest move backward may turn him from a believer to a hypocrite. Contrary to this, the more sincere a person is, the more perfect his obedience and the greater his devotion and dedication to the cause of the true faith, the stronger and more sound will he grow in faith and may even attain the supreme rank of the truthful. But this increase and decrease in the faith has only the moral significance which can be judged and reckoned by none but Allah. As for the man, faith is simply the act of affirmation by which a Muslim enters Islam and is regarded as a Muslim as long as he remains steadfast to it. In this regard, we cannot say that so and so is half a Muslim, or one third a Muslim, and another one a double Muslim or a triple Muslim. Likewise, in legal rights the Muslims are equal and alike. It cannot be that one is regarded a greater believer and given more rights and another one a lesser believer and given less rights. In these aspects there can be no question of the increase and decrease in the faith, and in fact, in this very sense has Imam Abu Hanifah said: “faith in Islam neither increases nor decreases.”

39. That is, “Someone has already offered his life in the way of Allah, and someone is awaiting the time when he will offer it for the sake of his faith.”

40. That is, Jews of the Bani Quraizah.