172. In the time of the Prophet (peace be on him) no one, unless he prayed regularly, could be reckoned as belonging to the Islamic community. We know that secular associations consider the absence of any member from their meetings, without a valid excuse, a sign of lack of interest, and that in the event of continued absence, they cancel his membership. The early Islamic community did the same with those who absented themselves from congregational Prayers. In those days a person's absence from congregational Prayers was considered a clear indication of his indifference towards Islam: if he absented himself from them repeatedly he was no longer held to be a Muslim. In those days, therefore, even the worst hypocrites had to attend the five daily Prayers in the mosque. What distinguished a true believer from the hypocrite was that the former came to the mosque with devotion, fervour and eagerness, came there well before the appointed time for the Prayer, and did not rush out of the mosque as soon as the Prayer was over. In short, everything about him indicated that his heart was in the Prayer. Whereas the call to the Prayer for the hypocrite seemed like the announcement of an unavoidable calamity. When such a person set off for the mosque, he seemed to do so in spite of himself. He walked as if he were dragging the entire weight of his being. No wonder, then, that as soon as the Prayer was over, he escaped like a prisoner released from jail. His entire demeanour testified that the remembrance of God was not what he really had his heart in.
173. Here an important fact has been stated about the person who remained
unguided to the Truth despite his acquaintance with the Book of God and with
the life of His Prophet (peace be on him). He was a person who was so disinclined
to the Truth and so infatuated with error that even God let him go forth along
the same erroneous direction that he had chosen for himself, a person on whom
the door of true guidance had been shut and the way towards error had been made
smooth by God. It is virtually beyond the power of human-beings to direct such
a person to the Truth.
We may be able to grasp this if we consider the case of man's livelihood. God controls all the sources of man's livelihood. Thus, anyone who receives any portion of livelihood receives it from God alone. At the same time, God grants every man livelihood through the means he has himself sought. If a man seeks his livelihood through lawful means and strives accordingly, God opens the door to honest living to him and closes the avenues of dishonest earnings in proportion to his earnestness. On the other hand, there is the person who is bent upon fattening himself on dishonest earnings and strives accordingly. God permits such a person to continue making an unlawful living, and no one has the power to help him secure an honest means of living.
The same applies to man's belief and conduct in this life. In this respect too, the ultimate control rests with God. No human being can proceed along any path, whether it be good or evil, unless God lets him proceed along it, and bestows upon him the means to do so. However, it is up to man himself to choose his own path, and after he has made the choice, God will let him proceed along it, and will even pave the way for him. If a person really cares about God, genuinely seeks the truth and earnestly tries to pursue the path charted by God, God permits him to follow his choice, and even provides the means necessary to proceed along his chosen path. On the other hand, God shuts the door of true guidance on the person who chooses error and strives to proceed only along wrong paths, and further enables him to follow the path of his choice. It is beyond the power of any human being to prevent such a person from thinking wrongly, acting wrongly and using up his energies in wrong directions. If a man loses the road to his success and is subsequently deprived of true guidance by God, in whose power does it lie, then, to restore to him his lost treasure?
174. To make one's faith exclusively to God means to concentrate one's loyalties, concerns, affections, and adorations on God, and not to allow any attachments to strike such deep roots in one's heart that one may cease to be capable of sacrificing them for His sake.
175. Shukr denotes an acknowledgement of benefaction and a feeling of gratitude.
This verse states if a person does not behave ungratefully towards God then
there is no reason why God should punish him.
The attitude of gratefulness to God consists of acknowledging His benefaction in one's heart, in confessing it in one's speech and by manifesting it in one's deeds. It is the sum-total of these which is termed shukr. This attitude requires:
(1) that a person should ascribe the benefaction to its real source, letting no one share in either the gratitude or the acknowledgement of benevolence;
(2) that his heart should be overflowing with love for, and loyalty to, the Benefactor, and that he should have no attachment to His opponents;
(3) that he should obey the Benefactor and should not use His bounties contrary to His directives.
176.The word used here is shakir which we have translated as 'All-Appreciative'. In the context of the God-man relationship, when the word shukr is used in respect of God, it denotes 'appreciation of services'. When it is used in respect of man, it denotes his acknowledgement of God's benefaction and his sense of gratitude to Him. To say that God 'thanks' His creatures stresses that God is fully appreciative of the services which His servants have rendered and will recompense them liberally. This contrasts sharply with the attitude of human beings, who are generally slow and uncharitable in appreciating the services rendered to them, and quick and severe in censuring people for their omissions. As for God, He is lenient and prone to overlook man's omissions. On the contrary, He rewards man manifold for his good deeds.
177. This verse embodies a moral directive of very high value to the Muslims. The hypocrites, the Jews and the polytheists were all bent on placing all kinds of obstacles in the way of the spread of Islam: They eagerly persecuted the Muslims and used all possible means, however malicious, against them. Such an attitude inevitably created anger and resentment. It was in the context of this storm of bitter feelings that God told the Muslims that He did not consider speaking ill of people as praiseworthy. No doubt the Muslims had been wronged, and if a wronged person speaks out against a wrong-doer, he is quite justified in doing so. Even though this is a person's right, it is more meritorious to continue to do good both in public and in private, and to ignore the misdeeds of others. For one's ideal should be to try to approximate to God's way as far as possible. God with whom one wants to be close is lenient and forbearing; He provides sustenance even to the worst criminals and seeks mitigating circumstances in even the most serious offences. In order to become close to God, one ought to be generous in spirit and full of tolerance.
178. Insofar as being an unbeliever is concerned, there is no difference
(1) those who believe neither in God nor in the Prophets,
(2) those who believe in God but not in the Prophets, and
(3) those whobelieve in some Prophets but reject others.
179. This means that only those who acknowledge God to be their sole object of worship and their only sovereign, and who commit themselves to follow all the Prophets, will merit reward for their acts in the Hereafter. What that reward will be depends on the nature and extent of their acts of goodness. Those who do not either acknowledge the exclusive sovereignty of God or who rebelliously reject some Messengers of God and believe only in those whom they choose to, will not be rewarded, for in God's sight their apparently good acts are essentially not valid.
180. God will be lenient and forgiving in judging the conduct of those who believe in Him and the Prophets.