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Towards Understanding the Quran
With kind permission: Islamic Foundation UK
Introduction to Tafheem | Glossary | Verbs
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 Surah Al-Hujurat 49:11-18
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Verse Summary -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُواْO you who believe!
لَا(Let) not
يَسْخَرْridicule
قَوْمٌa people
مِّن[of]
قَوْمٍ(another) people,
عَسَىٰٓperhaps
أَنthat
يَكُونُواْthey may be
خَيْرًاbetter
مِّنْهُمْthan them;
وَلَاand (let) not
نِسَآءٌwomen
مِّن[of]
نِّسَآءٍ(other) women
عَسَىٰٓperhaps
أَنthat
يَكُنَّthey may be
خَيْرًاbetter
مِّنْهُنَّ‌ۖthan them.
وَلَاAnd (do) not
تَلْمِزُوٓاْinsult
أَنفُسَكُمْyourselves
وَلَاand (do) not
تَنَابَزُواْcall each other
بِٱلْأَلْقَـٰبِ‌ۖby nicknames.
بِئْسَWretched is
ٱلِٱسْمُthe name
ٱلْفُسُوقُ(of) disobedience
بَعْدَafter
ٱلْإِيمَـٰنِ‌ۚthe faith.
وَمَنAnd whoever
لَّمْ(does) not
يَتُبْrepent,
فَأُوْلَـٰٓئِكَthen those -
هُمُthey
ٱلظَّـٰلِمُونَ(are) the wrongdoers.
﴿١١﴾
يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُواْO you who believe!
ٱجْتَنِبُواْAvoid
كَثِيرًاmuch
مِّنَof
ٱلظَّنِّthe assumption.
إِنَّIndeed,
بَعْضَsome
ٱلظَّنِّassumption
إِثْمٌ‌ۖ(is) sin.
وَلَاAnd (do) not
تَجَسَّسُواْspy
وَلَاand (do) not
يَغْتَبbackbite
بَّعْضُكُمsome of you
بَعْضًا‌ۚ(to) others.
أَيُحِبُّWould like
أَحَدُكُمْone of you
أَنto
يَأْكُلَeat
لَحْمَ(the) flesh
أَخِيهِ(of) his brother,
مَيْتًاdead?
فَكَرِهْتُمُوهُ‌ۚNay, you would hate it.
وَٱتَّقُواْ ٱللَّهَ‌ۚAnd fear Allah;
إِنَّindeed,
ٱللَّهَAllah
تَوَّابٌ(is) Oft-Returning,
رَّحِيمٌMost Merciful.
﴿١٢﴾
يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلنَّاسُO mankind!
إِنَّاIndeed, We
خَلَقْنَـٰكُمcreated you
مِّنfrom
ذَكَرٍa male
وَأُنثَىٰand a female
وَجَعَلْنَـٰكُمْand We made you
شُعُوبًاnations
وَقَبَآئِلَand tribes
لِتَعَارَفُوٓاْ‌ۚthat you may know one another.
إِنَّIndeed,
أَكْرَمَكُمْ(the) most noble of you
عِندَnear
ٱللَّهِAllah
أَتْقَـٰكُمْ‌ۚ(is the) most righteous of you.
إِنَّIndeed,
ٱللَّهَAllah
عَلِيمٌ(is) All-Knower,
خَبِيرٌAll-Aware.
﴿١٣﴾
۞ قَالَتِSay
ٱلْأَعْرَابُthe Bedouins,
ءَامَنَّا‌ۖ`We believe.`
قُلSay,
لَّمْ`Not
تُؤْمِنُواْyou believe;
وَلَـٰكِنbut
قُولُوٓاْsay,
أَسْلَمْنَا`We have submitted,`
وَلَمَّاand has not yet
يَدْخُلِentered
ٱلْإِيمَـٰنُthe faith
فِىin
قُلُوبِكُمْ‌ۖyour hearts.
وَإِنBut if
تُطِيعُواْyou obey
ٱللَّهَAllah
وَرَسُولَهُۥand His Messenger,
لَاnot
يَلِتْكُمHe will deprive you
مِّنْof
أَعْمَـٰلِكُمْyour deeds
شَيْــًٔا‌ۚanything.
إِنَّIndeed,
ٱللَّهَAllah
غَفُورٌ(is) Oft-Forgiving,
رَّحِيمٌMost Merciful.
﴿١٤﴾
إِنَّمَاOnly
ٱلْمُؤْمِنُونَthe believers
ٱلَّذِينَ(are) those who
ءَامَنُواْbelieve
بِٱللَّهِin Allah
وَرَسُولِهِۦand His Messenger,
ثُمَّthen
لَمْ(do) not
يَرْتَابُواْdoubt
وَجَـٰهَدُواْbut strive
بِأَمْوَٲلِهِمْwith their wealth
وَأَنفُسِهِمْand their lives
فِىin
سَبِيلِ(the) way
ٱللَّهِ‌ۚ(of) Allah.
أُوْلَـٰٓئِكَThose
هُمُ[they]
ٱلصَّـٰدِقُونَ(are) the truthful.
﴿١٥﴾
قُلْSay,
أَتُعَلِّمُونَ`Will you acquaint
ٱللَّهَAllah
بِدِينِكُمْwith your religion
وَٱللَّهُwhile Allah
يَعْلَمُknows
مَاwhat
فِى(is) in
ٱلسَّمَـٰوَٲتِthe heavens
وَمَاand what
فِى(is) in
ٱلْأَرْضِ‌ۚthe earth.
وَٱللَّهُAnd Allah
بِكُلِّof every
شَىْءٍthing
عَلِيمٌ(is) All-Knower.`
﴿١٦﴾
يَمُنُّونَThey consider (it) a favor
عَلَيْكَto you
أَنْthat
أَسْلَمُواْ‌ۖthey have accepted Islam.
قُلSay,
لَّا`(Do) not
تَمُنُّواْconsider a favor
عَلَىَّto me -
إِسْلَـٰمَكُم‌ۖyour Islam.
بَلِNay,
ٱللَّهُAllah
يَمُنُّhas conferred a favor
عَلَيْكُمْupon you
أَنْthat
هَدَٮٰكُمْHe has guided you
لِلْإِيمَـٰنِto the faith,
إِنif
كُنتُمْyou are
صَـٰدِقِينَtruthful.
﴿١٧﴾
إِنَّIndeed,
ٱللَّهَAllah
يَعْلَمُknows
غَيْبَ(the) unseen
ٱلسَّمَـٰوَٲتِ(of) the heavens
وَٱلْأَرْضِ‌ۚand the earth.
وَٱللَّهُAnd Allah
بَصِيرُۢ(is) All-Seer
بِمَاof what
تَعْمَلُونَyou do.`
﴿١٨﴾


يٰۤاَيُّهَا الَّذِيۡنَ اٰمَنُوۡا لَا يَسۡخَرۡ قَوۡمٌ مِّنۡ قَوۡمٍ عَسٰٓى اَنۡ يَّكُوۡنُوۡا خَيۡرًا مِّنۡهُمۡ وَلَا نِسَآءٌ مِّنۡ نِّسَآءٍ عَسٰٓى اَنۡ يَّكُنَّ خَيۡرًا مِّنۡهُنَّ​ۚ وَلَا تَلۡمِزُوۡۤا اَنۡفُسَكُمۡ وَلَا تَنَابَزُوۡا بِالۡاَلۡقَابِ​ؕ بِئۡسَ الِاسۡمُ الۡفُسُوۡقُ بَعۡدَ الۡاِيۡمَانِ​ ۚ وَمَنۡ لَّمۡ يَتُبۡ فَاُولٰٓٮِٕكَ هُمُ الظّٰلِمُوۡنَ‏  يٰۤـاَيُّهَا الَّذِيۡنَ اٰمَنُوا اجۡتَنِبُوۡا كَثِيۡرًا مِّنَ الظَّنِّ اِنَّ بَعۡضَ الظَّنِّ اِثۡمٌ​ وَّلَا تَجَسَّسُوۡا وَلَا يَغۡتَبْ بَّعۡضُكُمۡ بَعۡضًا​ ؕ اَ يُحِبُّ اَحَدُكُمۡ اَنۡ يَّاۡكُلَ لَحۡمَ اَخِيۡهِ مَيۡتًا فَكَرِهۡتُمُوۡهُ​ ؕ وَاتَّقُوا اللّٰهَ​ ؕ اِنَّ اللّٰهَ تَوَّابٌ رَّحِيۡمٌ‏  يٰۤاَيُّهَا النَّاسُ اِنَّا خَلَقۡنٰكُمۡ مِّنۡ ذَكَرٍ وَّاُنۡثٰى وَجَعَلۡنٰكُمۡ شُعُوۡبًا وَّقَبَآٮِٕلَ لِتَعَارَفُوۡا​ ؕ اِنَّ اَكۡرَمَكُمۡ عِنۡدَ اللّٰهِ اَ تۡقٰٮكُمۡ​ ؕ اِنَّ اللّٰهَ عَلِيۡمٌ خَبِيۡرٌ‏  قَالَتِ الۡاَعۡرَابُ اٰمَنَّا​ ؕ قُلْ لَّمۡ تُؤۡمِنُوۡا وَلٰـكِنۡ قُوۡلُوۡۤا اَسۡلَمۡنَا وَلَمَّا يَدۡخُلِ الۡاِيۡمَانُ فِىۡ قُلُوۡبِكُمۡ​ ۚ وَاِنۡ تُطِيۡعُوا اللّٰهَ وَرَسُوۡلَهٗ لَا يَلِتۡكُمۡ مِّنۡ اَعۡمَالِكُمۡ شَيۡـًٔــا​ ؕ اِنَّ اللّٰهَ غَفُوۡرٌ رَّحِيۡمٌ‏  اِنَّمَا الۡمُؤۡمِنُوۡنَ الَّذِيۡنَ اٰمَنُوۡا بِاللّٰهِ وَرَسُوۡلِهٖ ثُمَّ لَمۡ يَرۡتَابُوۡا وَجَاهَدُوۡا بِاَمۡوَالِهِمۡ وَاَنۡفُسِهِمۡ فِىۡ سَبِيۡلِ اللّٰهِ​ ؕ اُولٰٓٮِٕكَ هُمُ الصّٰدِقُوۡنَ‏  قُلۡ اَ تُعَلِّمُوۡنَ اللّٰهَ بِدِيۡـنِكُمۡ ؕ وَاللّٰهُ يَعۡلَمُ مَا فِى السَّمٰوٰتِ وَمَا فِى الۡاَرۡضِ​ؕ وَاللّٰهُ بِكُلِّ شَىۡءٍ عَلِيۡمٌ‏  يَمُنُّوۡنَ عَلَيۡكَ اَنۡ اَسۡلَمُوۡا​ ؕ قُلْ لَّا تَمُنُّوۡا عَلَىَّ اِسۡلَامَكُمۡ​ ۚ بَلِ اللّٰهُ يَمُنُّ عَلَيۡكُمۡ اَنۡ هَدٰٮكُمۡ لِلۡاِيۡمَانِ اِنۡ كُنۡـتُمۡ صٰدِقِيۡنَ‏   اِنَّ اللّٰهَ يَعۡلَمُ غَيۡبَ السَّمٰوٰتِ وَالۡاَرۡضِ​ؕ وَاللّٰهُ بَصِيۡرٌۢ بِمَا تَعۡمَلُوۡنَ‏ 
(49:11) Believers,19 let not a group (of men) scoff at another group, it may well be that the latter (at whom they scoff) are better than they;20 nor let a group of women scoff at another group, it may well be that the latter are better than they.20 And do not taunt one another,21 nor revile one another by nicknames.22 It is an evil thing to gain notoriety for ungodliness after belief.23 Those who do not repent are indeed the wrong-doers. (49:12) Believers, avoid being excessively suspicious, for some suspicion is a sin.24 Do not spy,25 nor backbite one another.26 Would any of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother?27 You would surely detest it. Have fear of Allah. Surely Allah is much prone to accept repentance, is Most Compassionate. (49:13) Human beings, We created you all from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another. Verily the noblest of you in the sight of Allah is the most God-fearing of you.28 Surely Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware.29 (49:14) The Bedouins say: “We believe.”(O Prophet),30 say to them: “You do not believe; you should rather say: 'We have submitted'”;31 for belief has not yet entered your hearts. If you obey Allah and His Messenger, He will not diminish anything from the reward of any of your deeds. Surely Allah is Most Forgiving, Most Compassionate. (49:15) Indeed the ones possessed of true faith are those who believed in Allah and His Messenger and then they did not entertain any doubt and strove hard in the Way of Allah with their lives and their possessions. These are the truthful ones. (49:16) Say, (O Prophet), (to these pretenders to faith): “Are you apprising Allah of your faith? Allah knows all that is in the heavens and the earth. Allah has full knowledge of everything.” (49:17) They count it as a favour to you that they accepted Islam. Say: “Do not regard your (accepting) Islam as a favour to me; rather, Allah has bestowed a favour on you by guiding you to faith, if you are truthful (in your claim to be believers). (49:18) Surely Allah knows every hidden thing of the heavens and the earth. Allah sees all that you do.

19. In the preceding two verses after giving necessary instructions about the Muslim people’s mutual fighting, the believers were made to realize that by virtue of the most sacred relationship of the faith they were brothers to one another, and they should fear God and try to keep their mutual relations right. Now, in the following two verses, they are being enjoined to avoid and shun those major evils which generally spoil the mutual relationships of the people in a society. Slandering and taunting the people and harboring suspicions and spying on others are, in fact, the evils that cause mutual enmities and then lead to grave mischief. In this connection, from the commandments that are being given in the following verses and the explanations of these found in the Hadith a detailed law of libel can be compiled. The western law pertaining to libel in this regard is so defective that a person who sues another under this law may well cause some loss to his own honor. The Islamic law, on the contrary recognizes a basic honor for every person and gives nobody the right to attack it, no matter whether the attack is based on reality or not, and whether the person who has been attacked has a reputation of his own or not. Only the fact that a person has debased and humiliated the other person is enough to declare him a criminal unless, of course, it is proved that the humiliation caused had a legal ground for it.

20. Mocking does not only imply mocking with the tongue but it also includes mimicking somebody, making pointed references to him, laughing at his words, or his works, or his appearance, or his dress, or calling the people’s attention to some defect or blemish in him so that others also may laugh at him. All this is included in mocking. What is actually forbidden is that one should make fun of and ridicule another, for under such ridiculing there always lie feelings of one’s own superiority and the other’s abasement and contempt, which are morally unworthy of a gentleman. Moreover, it hurts the other person, which causes mischief to spread in society. That is why it has been forbidden.

To make mention of the men and the women separately does not mean that it is lawful for the men to mock the women or the women to mock the men. The actual reason for making a separate mention of the two sexes is that Islam does not at all believe in mixed society. Ridiculing each other generally takes place in mixed gatherings and Islam does not permit that non-mahram males and females should meet in such gatherings and make fun of each other. Therefore, in a Muslim society it is inconceivable that the men would mock a woman, or the women would mock a man in an assembly.

21. The word lamz as used in the original is very comprehensive and applies to ridiculing, reviling, deriding, jeering, charging somebody or finding fault with him, and making him the target of reproach and blame by open or tacit references. As all such things also spoil mutual relationships and create bad blood in society, they have been forbidden. Instead of saying: Do not taunt one another, it has been said: Do not taunt yourselves, which by itself shows that the one who uses taunting words for others, in fact, taunts his own self. Obviously, a person does not use invectives against others unless he himself is filled with evil feelings and is almost in a state of bursting like a volcano. Thus, the one who nourishes such feelings has made his own self a nest of evils before he makes others a target, Then, when he taunts others, it means that he is inviting others to taunt him. It is a different matter that the other person may evade his attacks because of a gentle nature, but he himself has opened the door to mischief so that the other may treat him likewise.

22. This command requires that a person should not be called by a name or a title which may cause him humiliation, e.g. calling somebody a sinner or a hypocrite, or calling someone a lame or blind one, or one-eyed, or giving him a nickname containing a reference to some defect or blemish in him, or in his parents, or in his family, or calling a person a Jew or a Christian even after his conversion to Islam, or giving such a nickname to a person, or a family, or a community, or a group, which may bring condemnation or disgrace on it. Only those nicknames have been made an exception from this command, which though apparently offensive, are not intended to condemn the persons concerned, but they rather serve as a mark of recognition for them. That is why the traditionists have allowed as permissible names like Suleman al-Amash (the weak-eyed Suleman) and Wasil al-Ahdab (the hunchbacked Wasil) among the reporters of the Hadith. If there are several men of the same name and a particular man among them may be recognized only by a particular title or nickname of his, the title or nickname can be used, even though the title by itself may be offensive. For instance, if there are several men called Abdullah, and one of them is blind, he may be called Abdullah the blind, for his recognition. Likewise, those titles also are excluded from this command, which though apparently offensive, are in fact, given out of love and the people who are called by those titles themselves approve them, like Abu Hurairah (father of the kitten) and Abu Turab (father of the dust).

23. That is, it is very shameful for a believer that in spite of being a believer he should earn a name for using abusive language and for immodest behavior. If a disbeliever earns reputation for himself for mocking the people, or taunting them, or for proposing evil and offensive titles for others, it may not be a good reputation from the point of view of humanity, but it at least goes well with his disbelief. But if a person after affirming the faith in Allah and His Messenger and the Hereafter earns reputation on account of these base qualities, it is simply regrettable.

24. What is forbidden is not conjecture as such but excessive conjecture and following every kind of conjecture, and the reason given is that some conjectures are sins. In order to understand this command, we should analyze and see what are the kinds of conjecture and what is the moral position of each.

One kind of conjecture is that which is morally approved and laudable, and desirable and praiseworthy from religious point of view, e.g. a good conjecture in respect of Allah and His Messenger and the believers and those people with whom one comes in common contact daily and concerning whom there may be no rational ground for having an evil conjecture.

The second kind of conjecture is that which one cannot do without in practical life, e.g. in a law court a judge has to consider the evidence placed before him and give his decision on the basis of the most probable conjecture, for he cannot have direct knowledge of the facts of the matter, and the opinion that is based on evidence is mostly based on the most probable conjecture and not on certainty. Likewise, in most cases when one or the other decision has to be taken, and the knowledge of the reality cannot possibly be attained, there is no way out for men but to form an opinion on the basis of a conjecture.

The third kind of conjecture, which is although a suspicion, is permissible in nature, and it cannot be regarded as a sin. For instance, if there are clear signs and pointers in the character of a person (or persons), or in his dealings and conduct, on the basis of which he may not deserve to enjoy one’s good conjecture, and there are rational grounds for having suspicions against him, the Shariah does not demand that one should behave like a simpleton and continue to have a good conjecture about him. The last limit of this lawful conjecture, however, is that one should conduct himself cautiously in order to ward off any possible mischief from him; it is not right to take an action against him only on the basis of a conjecture.

The fourth kind of conjecture which is, in fact, a sin is that one should entertain a suspicion in respect of a person without any ground, or should start with suspicion in forming an opinion about others, or should entertain a suspicion about the people whose apparent conditions show that they are good and noble. Likewise, this also is a sin that when there is an equal chance of the evil and goodness in the word or deed of a person, one should regard it as only evil out of suspicion. For instance, if a gentleman while leaving a place of assembly picks up another one’s shoes, instead of his own, and we form the opinion that he has done so with the intention of stealing the shoes, whereas this could be possible because of oversight as well, there is no reason for adopting the evil opinion instead of the good opinion except the suspicion.

This analysis makes it plain that conjecture by itself is not anything forbidden; rather in some cases and situations it is commendable, in some situations inevitable, in some permissible up to a certain extent and un-permissible beyond it, and in some cases absolutely unlawful. That is why it has not been enjoined that one should refrain from conjecture or suspicion altogether but what is enjoined is that one should refrain from much suspicion. Then, to make the intention of the command explicit, it has been said that some conjectures are sinful. From this warning it follows automatically that whenever a person is forming an opinion on the basis of conjecture, or is about to take an action, he should examine the case and see whether the conjecture he is entertaining is not a sin, whether the conjecture is really necessary, whether there are sound reasons for the conjecture, and whether the conduct one is adopting on the basis of the conjecture is permissible. Everyone who fears God will certainly take these precautions. To make his conjecture free and independent of every such care and consideration is the pastime of only those people who are fearless of God and thoughtless of the accountability of the Hereafter.

24. What is forbidden is not conjecture as such but excessive conjecture and following every kind of conjecture, and the reason given is that some conjectures are sins. In order to understand this command, we should analyze and see what are the kinds of conjecture and what is the moral position of each.

One kind of conjecture is that which is morally approved and laudable, and desirable and praiseworthy from religious point of view, e.g. a good conjecture in respect of Allah and His Messenger and the believers and those people with whom one comes in common contact daily and concerning whom there may be no rational ground for having an evil conjecture.

The second kind of conjecture is that which one cannot do without in practical life, e.g. in a law court a judge has to consider the evidence placed before him and give his decision on the basis of the most probable conjecture, for he cannot have direct knowledge of the facts of the matter, and the opinion that is based on evidence is mostly based on the most probable conjecture and not on certainty. Likewise, in most cases when one or the other decision has to be taken, and the knowledge of the reality cannot possibly be attained, there is no way out for men but to form an opinion on the basis of a conjecture.

The third kind of conjecture, which is although a suspicion, is permissible in nature, and it cannot be regarded as a sin. For instance, if there are clear signs and pointers in the character of a person (or persons), or in his dealings and conduct, on the basis of which he may not deserve to enjoy one’s good conjecture, and there are rational grounds for having suspicions against him, the Shariah does not demand that one should behave like a simpleton and continue to have a good conjecture about him. The last limit of this lawful conjecture, however, is that one should conduct himself cautiously in order to ward off any possible mischief from him; it is not right to take an action against him only on the basis of a conjecture.

The fourth kind of conjecture which is, in fact, a sin is that one should entertain a suspicion in respect of a person without any ground, or should start with suspicion in forming an opinion about others, or should entertain a suspicion about the people whose apparent conditions show that they are good and noble. Likewise, this also is a sin that when there is an equal chance of the evil and goodness in the word or deed of a person, one should regard it as only evil out of suspicion. For instance, if a gentleman while leaving a place of assembly picks up another one’s shoes, instead of his own, and we form the opinion that he has done so with the intention of stealing the shoes, whereas this could be possible because of oversight as well, there is no reason for adopting the evil opinion instead of the good opinion except the suspicion.

This analysis makes it plain that conjecture by itself is not anything forbidden; rather in some cases and situations it is commendable, in some situations inevitable, in some permissible up to a certain extent and un-permissible beyond it, and in some cases absolutely unlawful. That is why it has not been enjoined that one should refrain from conjecture or suspicion altogether but what is enjoined is that one should refrain from much suspicion. Then, to make the intention of the command explicit, it has been said that some conjectures are sinful. From this warning it follows automatically that whenever a person is forming an opinion on the basis of conjecture, or is about to take an action, he should examine the case and see whether the conjecture he is entertaining is not a sin, whether the conjecture is really necessary, whether there are sound reasons for the conjecture, and whether the conduct one is adopting on the basis of the conjecture is permissible. Everyone who fears God will certainly take these precautions. To make his conjecture free and independent of every such care and consideration is the pastime of only those people who are fearless of God and thoughtless of the accountability of the Hereafter.

25. “Do not spy”: Do not grope after the secrets of the people: do not search for their defects and weaknesses: do not pry into their conditions and affairs. Whether this is done because of suspicion, or for causing harm to somebody with an evil intention, or for satisfying one’s own curiosity, it is forbidden by the Shariah in every case. It does not behoove a believer that he should spy on the hidden affairs of other people, and should try to peep at them from behind curtains to find out their defects and their weaknesses. This also includes reading other people’s private letters, listening secretly to private conversation, peeping into the neighbor's house, and trying to get information in different ways about the domestic life or private affairs of others. This is grave immorality which causes serious mischief in society. That is why the Prophet (peace be upon him) once said in an address about those who pry into other people’s affairs:

O people, who have professed belief verbally, but faith has not yet entered your hearts: Do not pry into the affairs of the Muslims, for he who will pry into the affairs of the Muslims, Allah will pry into his affairs, and he whom Allah follows inquisitively, is disgraced by Him in his own house. (Abu Daud).

Muawiyah says that he himself heard the Prophet (peace be upon him) say: If you start prying into the secret affairs of the people, you will pervert them, or at least drive them very near perversion. (Abu Daud). In another he said: When you happen to form an evil opinion about somebody, do not pry about it. (Al-Jassas, Ahkam al-Quran).

According to still another Hadith, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: The one who saw a secret affair of somebody and then concealed it is as though he saved a girl who had been buried alive. (Al-Jassas).

This prohibition of spying is not only applicable to the individuals but also to the Islamic government. The duty of forbidding the people to do evil that the Shariah has entrusted to the government does not require that it should establish a system of spying to inquire too curiously into the people’s secret evils and then punish them, but it should use force only against those evils which are manifested openly. As for the hidden evils spying is not the way to reform them but it is education, preaching and counseling, collective training of the people and trying to create a pure social environment. In this connection, an incident concerning Umar is very instructive. Once at night he heard the voice of a person who was singing in his house. He became curious and climbed the wall. There he saw wine as well as a woman present. He shouted at the man, saying: O enemy of God, do you think you will disobey Allah, and Allah will not expose your secret? The man replied: Do not make haste, O commander of the faithful: if I have committed one sin, you have committed three sins: Allah has forbidden spying, and you have spied; Allah has commanded that one should enter the houses by the doors, and you have entered it by climbing over the wall; Allah has commanded that one should avoid entering the other people’s houses without permission, and you have entered my house without my permission. Hearing this reply Umar confessed his error, and did not take any action against the man, but made him to promise that he would follow the right way in future. (Abi Bakr Muhammad bin Jafar al- Kharaiti, Makarim al-Akhlaq). This shows that it is not only forbidden for the individuals but also for the Islamic government itself to pry into the secrets of the people and discover their sins and errors and then seize them for punishment. The same thing has been said in a Hadith in which the Prophet (peace be upon him) has said: When the ruler starts searching for the causes of suspicions among the people he perverts them. (Abu Daud).

The only exception from this command are the special cases and situations in which spying is actually needed. For instance, if in the conduct of a person (or persons) some signs of corruption are visible and there is the apprehension that he is about to commit a crime, the government can inquire into his affairs; or, for instance, if somebody sends a proposal of marriage in the house of a person, or wants to enter into business with him, the other person can, inquire and investigate into his affairs for his own satisfaction.

26. Ghibat (back-biting) has been defined thus: It is saying on the back of a person something which would hurt him if he came to know of it. This definition has been reported from the Prophet (peace be upon him) himself. According to a tradition which Muslim, Abu Daud, Tirmidhi, Nasai and others have related on the authority of Abu Hurairah, the Prophet (peace be upon him) defined ghibat as follows:

It is talking of your brother in a way irksome to him. It was asked: What, if the defect being talked of is present in my brother? The Prophet (peace be upon him) replied: If it is present in him, it would be ghibat; if it is not there, it would be slandering him.

In another tradition which Imam Malik has related in Muwatta, on the authority of Muttalib bin Abdullah. A person asked the Prophet (peace be upon him): What is ghibat? The Prophet (peace be upon him) replied: It is talking of your brother in a way irksome to him. He asked: Even if it is true, O Messenger of Allah? He replied: If what you said was false, it would then be a calumny.

These traditions make it plain that uttering a false accusation against a person in his absence is calumny and describing a real defect in him ghibat; whether this is done in express words or by reference and allusion, in every case it is forbidden. Likewise, whether this is done in the lifetime of a person, or after his death, it is forbidden in both cases. According to Abu Daud, when Maiz bin Malik Aslami had been stoned to death for committing adultery, the Prophet (peace be upon him) on his way back heard a man saying to his companion: Look at this man: Allah had concealed his secret, but he did not leave himself alone till he was killed like a dog! A little further on the way there was the dead body of a donkey lying rotting. The Prophet (peace be upon him) stopped, called the two men and said: Come down and eat this dead donkey. They submitted: Who will eat it, O Messenger of Allah? The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: A little while ago you were attacking the honor of your brother: that was much worse than eating this dead donkey.

The only exceptions to this prohibition are the cases in which there may be a genuine need of speaking in of a person on his back, or after his death, and this may not be fulfilled without resort to backbiting, and if it was not resorted to, a greater evil might result than backbiting itself. The Prophet (peace be upon him) has described this exception as a principle, thus: The worst excess is to attack the honor of a Muslim unjustly. (Abu Daud). In this saying the condition of unjustly points out that doing so with justice is permissible. Then, in the practice of the Prophet (peace be upon him) himself we find some precedents which show what is implied by justice and in what conditions and cases backbiting may be lawful to the extent as necessary.

Once a desert Arab came and offered his Prayer under the leadership of the Prophet (peace be upon him), and as soon as the Prayer was concluded, walked away saying: O God, have mercy on me and on Muhammad, and make no one else a partner in this mercy beside the two of us. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said to the companions: What do you say: who is more ignorant, this person or his camel? Didn’t you hear what he said? (Abu Daud). The Prophet (peace be upon him) had to say this in his absence, for he had left soon after the Prayer was over. Since he had uttered a wrong thing in the presence of the Prophet (peace be upon him), his remaining quiet at it could cause the misunderstanding that saying such a thing might in some degree be lawful; therefore, it was necessary that he should contradict it.

Two of the companions, Muawiyah and Abu Jahm, sent the proposal of marriage to a lady, Fatimah bint Qais. She came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and asked for his advice. He said: Muawiyah is a poor man and Abu Jahm beats his wives much. (Bukhari, Muslim). In this case, as there was the question of the lady’s future and she had consulted the Prophet (peace be upon him) for his advice, he deemed it necessary to inform her of the two men’s weaknesses.

One day when the Prophet (peace be upon him) was present in the apartment of Aishah, a man came and sought permission to see him. The Prophet (peace be upon him) remarked that he was a very bad man of his tribe. Then he went out and talked to him politely. When he came back into the house, Aishah asked: You have talked to him politely, whereas when you went out you said something different about him. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, On the day of Resurrection the worst abode in the sight of Allah will be of the person whom the people start avoiding because of his abusive language. (Bukhari, Muslim). A study of this incident will show that the Prophet (peace be upon him) in spite of having a bad opinion about the person talked to him politely because that was the demand of his morals; but he had the apprehension lest the people of his house should consider the person to be his friend when they would see him treating him kindly, and then the person might use this impression to his own advantage later. Therefore, the Prophet (peace be upon him) warned Aishah telling her that he was a bad man of his tribe. Once Hind bint Utbah, wife of Abu Sufyan, came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and said: Abu Sufyan is a miserly person: he does not provide enough for me and my children’s needs. (Bukhari, Muslim). Although this complaint from the wife in the absence of the husband was backbiting, the Prophet (peace be upon him) permitted it, for the oppressed one has a right that he or she may take the complaint of injustice to a person who has the power to get it removed.

From these precedents of the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him), the jurists and traditionalists have deduced this principle: Ghibat (backbiting) is permissible only in case it is needed for a real and genuine (genuine from the Shariah point of view) necessity, and the necessity may not be satisfied without having resort to it. Then on the basis of the same principle the scholars have declared that ghibat is permissible in the following cases:

(1) Complaining by an oppressed person against the oppressor before every such person who he thinks can do something to save him from the injustice.

(2) To make mention of the evils of a person (or persons) with the intention of reform before those who can be expected to help remove the evils.

(3) To state the facts of a case before a legal expert for the purpose of seeking a religious or legal ruling regarding an unlawful act committed by a person.

(4) To warn the people of the mischief of a person (or persons) so that they may ward off the evil, e.g. it is not only permissible but obligatory to mention the weaknesses of the reporters, witnesses and writers, for without it, it is not possible to safeguard the Shariah against the propagation of false reports, the courts against injustices and the common people or the students against errors and misunderstandings. Or, for instance, if a person wants to have the relationship of marriage with somebody, or wishes to rent a house in the neighborhood of somebody, or wants to give something into the custody of somebody, and consults another person, it is obligatory for him to apprise him of all aspects so that he is not deceived because of ignorance.

(5) To raise voice against and criticize the evils of the people who may be spreading sin and immorality and error or corrupting the people’s faith and persecuting them.

(6) To use nicknames for the people who may have become well known by those names, but this should be done for the purpose of their recognition and not with a view to condemn them. (For details, see Fathal-Bari, vol. X, p. 362; Sharh Muslim by An-Nawawi; Riyad us-Salihin; al-Jassas, Ahkam al-Quran; Ruh al-Maani commentary on verse wa la yaghtab ba-dukum badan).

Apart from these exceptions it is absolutely forbidden to speak ill of a person behind his back. If what is spoken is true, it is ghibat; if it is false, it is calumny. And if it is meant to make two persons quarrel, it is malicious. The Shariah has declared all these as forbidden. In the Islamic society it is incumbent on every Muslim to refute a false charge made against a person in his presence and not to listen to it quietly, and to tell those who are speaking ill of somebody, without a genuine religious need, to fear God and desist from the sin. The Prophet (peace be upon him) has said: If a person does not support and help a Muslim when he is being disgraced and his honor being attacked, Allah also does not support and help him when he stands in need of His help; and if a person helps and supports a Muslim when his honor is being attacked and he is being disgraced, Allah Almighty also helps him when he wants that Allah should help him. (Abu Daud).

As for the backbiter, as soon as he realizes that he is committing this sin, or has committed it, his first duty is to offer repentance before Allah and restrain himself from this forbidden act. His second duty is that he should compensate for it as far as possible. If he has backbitten a dead person, he should ask Allah’s forgiveness for the person as often as he can. If he has backbitten a living person, and what he said was also false, he should refute it before the people before whom he had made the calumny. And if what he said was true, he should never speak ill of him in future, and should ask pardon of the person whom he had backbitten. A section of the scholars has expressed the opinion that pardon should be asked only in case the other person has come to know of it; otherwise one should only offer repentance, for if the person concerned is unaware and the backbiter in order to ask pardon goes and tells him that he had backbitten him, he would certainly feel hurt.

27. In this sentence Allah by likening backbiting to eating the dead brother’s flesh has given the idea of its being an abomination. Eating the dead flesh is by itself abhorrent; and when the flesh is not of an animal, but of a man, and that too of one’s own dead brother, abomination would be added to abomination. Then, by presenting the simile in the interrogative tone it has been made all the more impressive, so that every person may ask his own conscience and decide whether he would like to eat the flesh of his dead brother. If he would not, and he abhors it by nature, how would he like that he should attack the honor of his brother-in-faith in his absence, when he cannot defend himself and when he is fully unaware that he is being disgraced. This shows that the basic reason of forbidding backbiting is not that the person being backbitten is being hurt but speaking ill of a person in his absence is by itself unlawful and forbidden whether he is aware of it, or not, and whether he feels hurt by it or not. Obviously, eating the flesh of a dead man is not forbidden because it hurts the dead man; the dead person is wholly unaware that somebody is eating of his body, but because this act by itself is an abomination. Likewise, if the person who is backbitten also does not come to know of it through any means, he will remain unaware throughout his life that somebody had attacked his honor at a particular time before some particular people and on that account he had stood disgraced in the eyes of those people. Because of this unawareness he will not feel at all hurt by this backbiting, but his honor would in any case be sullied. Therefore, this act in its nature is not any different from eating the flesh of a dead brother.

28. In the preceding verses the Muslims were addressed and given necessary instructions to safeguard the Muslim community against social evils. In this verse the whole of mankind has been addressed to reform it of the great evil that has always been causing universal disruption in the world, that is, the prejudices due to race, color, language, country, and nationality. On account of these prejudices man in every age has generally been discarding humanity and drawing around himself some small circles and regarding those born within those circles as his own people and those outside them as others. These circles have been drawn on the basis of accidental birth and not on rational and moral grounds. In some cases their basis is the accident of being born in a particular family, tribe, or race, and in some particular geographical region, or in a nation having a particular color or speaking a particular language. Then the discrimination between one’s own people and others is not only confined to this that those who are looked upon as one’s own people are shown greater love and cooperation than others, but this discrimination has assumed the worst forms of hatred, enmity, contempt and tyranny. New philosophies have been propounded for it, new religions invented, new codes of law made and new moral principles framed; so much so that nations and empires have made this distinction a permanent way of life with them and practiced it for centuries. The Jews on this very basis regarded the children of Israel as the chosen people of God and even in the practice of their religious rites looked upon the non-Jews as inferior to the Jews in rights and rank. This very discrimination gave birth to class distinctions (varnashrama) among the Hindus according to which superiority of the Brahmins was established, all other human beings came to be regarded as inferior and unclean and the shudras cast into the depths of disgrace and degradation. Every person can see for himself even in this 20th century what atrocities have been committed against the colored people in Africa and America on account of the distinction between the white and the black. The treatment that the Europeans meted out to the Red Indian race in America and to the weak nations of Asia and Africa had the same concept underlying it. They thought that the rights and property and honor of all those who had been born outside the frontiers of their own land and nation were lawful for them and they had the right to plunder and take them as their slaves and exterminate them if need be. The worst examples of how the nationalism of the western nations has turned one nation against the others and made it their bloodthirsty enemy have been seen in the wars of the recent past and are being seen even in the present time. In particular, if what was manifested by the racism of the Nazi Germany and the concept of the superiority of the Nordic race in the last World War is kept in view. One can easily judge how stupendous and devastating is the error for whose reform this verse of the Quran was revealed.

In this brief verse, Allah has drawn the attention of all mankind to three cardinal truths:

(1) The origin of all of you is one and the same. Your whole species has sprung up from one man and one woman. All your races that are found in the world today are, in fact, the branches of one initial race that started with one mother and one father. In this process of creation there is no basis whatsoever for the divisions and distinctions in which you have involved yourselves because of your false notions. One God alone is your Creator. Different men have not been created by different gods. You have been made from one and the same substance. It is not so that some men have been made from some pure and superior substance and some other men from some impure and inferior substance. You have been created in one and the same way; it is not also so that different men have been created in different ways. And you are the offspring of the same parents; it is not so that in the beginning there were many human couples which gave birth to different populations in the different regions of the world.

(2) In spite of being one in origin, it was natural that you should be divided into nations and tribes. Obviously, all the men on the earth could not belong to one and the same family. With the spread of the race it was inevitable that countless families should arise, and then tribes and nations should emerge from the families. Similarly, it was inevitable that after settling in different regions of the earth, there should be differences of colors, features, languages and ways of living among the people, and it was also natural that those living in the same region should be closer in affinity and those living in remote regions not so close. But this natural difference never demanded that distinctions of inequality, of high and low, of noble and mean, should be established on its basis, that one race should claim superiority over the other, the people of one color should look down upon the people of other colors, and that one nation should take preference over the other without any reason. The Creator had divided the human communities into nations and tribes for that was a natural way of cooperation and distinction between them. In this way alone could a fraternity, a brotherhood, a tribe and a nation combine to give birth to a common way of life and to cooperate with each other in the affairs of the world. But it was all due to satanic ignorance that the differences among mankind created by Allah to be a means of recognition, were turned into a means of mutual boasting and hatred, which led mankind to every kind of injustice and tyranny.

(3) The only basis of superiority and excellence that there is, or can be, between man and man is that of moral excellence. As regards birth, all men are equal, for their Creator is One, their substance of creation is one, and their way of creation is one, and they are descended from the same parents. Moreover, a person’s being born in a particular country, nation, or clan is just accidental. Therefore, there is no rational ground on account of which one person may be regarded as superior to the other. The real thing that makes one person superior to others is that one should be more God-conscious, a greater avoider of evils, and a follower of the way of piety and righteousness. Such a man, whether he belongs to any race, any nation and any country, is valuable and worthy on account of his personal merit. And the one who is reverse of him in character is in any case an inferior person whether he is black or white, born in the east or the west.

These same truths that have been stated in this brief verse of the Quran have been explained in greater detail by the Prophet (peace be upon him) in his addresses and traditions. In the speech that he made on the conquest of Makkah, after going round the Kabah, he said:

Thank God Who has removed from you the blemish of ignorance and its arrogance. O people, men are divided into classes: the pious and righteous, who are honorable in the sight of Allah, and the sinful and vicious, who are contemptible in the sight of Allah, whereas all men are the children of Adam and Adam had been created by Allah from clay. (Baihaqi, Tirmidhi).

On the occasion of the Farewell Pilgrimage, in the midst of the Tashriq days, he addressed the people, and said:

O people, be aware: your God is One. No Arab has any superiority over a non-Arab, and no non-Arab any superiority over an Arab, and no white one has any superiority over a black one, and no black one any superiority over a white one, except on the basis of taqwa (piety). The most honorable among you in the sight of Allah is he who is the most pious and righteous of you. Say if I have conveyed the Message to you? And the great congregation of the people responded, saying: Yes, you have, O Messenger of Allah. Thereupon the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: Then let the one who is present convey it to those who are absent. (Baihaqi).

In a Hadith he has said: You are all the children of Adam, and Adam was created from the dust. Let the people give up boasting of their ancestors, otherwise they will stand more degraded than a mean insect in the sight of Allah. (Bazzar).

In another Hadith the Prophet(peace be upon him) said: Allah will not inquire about your lineage on the Day of Resurrection. The most honorable in the sight of Allah is he who is most pious. (Ibn Jarir). In still another Hadith he said: Allah does not see your outward appearances and your possessions but He sees your hearts and your deeds. (Muslim, lbn Majah).

These teachings have not remained confined to words only but Islam has practically established a universal brotherhood of the believers on the basis, which does not allow any distinction on account of color, race, language, country and nationality which is free from every concept of high and low, clean and unclean, mean and respectable, which admits all human beings with equal rights, whether they belong to any race and nation, any land or region. Even the opponents of Islam have to admit that no precedent is found in any religion and any system of the success with which the principle of human equality and unity has been given practical shape in the Muslim society, nor has it ever been found. Islam is the only religion which has welded and combined innumerable races and communities scattered in all corners of the earth into one universal ummah.

In this connection, a misunderstanding also needs to be removed. In the case of marriage, the importance that Islamic law gives to kufv (likeness of status) has been taken by some people in the sense that some brotherhoods are noble and some mean, and matrimonial relations between them are objectionable. But this, in fact, is a wrong idea. According to the Islamic law, every Muslim man can marry every Muslim woman, but the success of the matrimonial life depends on maximum harmony and conformity between the spouses as regards habits, characteristics and ways of life, family traditions and economic and social status, so that they may get on well with each other. This is the real object of being equal and alike. Where there is unusual difference and disparity between the man and the woman in this regard, lifelong companionship will be difficult. That is why the Islamic law disapproves of such intermarriages, and not for the reason that one of the spouses is noble and the other mean, but for the reason that in case there is a clear and apparent difference and distinction in status, there would be a greater possibility of the failure of the matrimonial life if the marriage relationship was established.

29. That is, this is only known to Allah as to who is really a man of high rank and who is inferior in respect of qualities and characteristics. The standards of high and low that the people have set up of their own accord, are not acceptable to and approved by Allah. May be that the one who has been regarded as a man of high rank in the world is declared as the lowest of the low in the final judgment of Allah, and maybe that the one who has been looked upon as a very low person here, attains to a very high rank there. The real importance is not of the honor and dishonor of the world but of the honor and dishonor that one will receive from Allah. Therefore, what man should be most concerned about is that he should create in himself those real qualities and characteristics which make him worthy of honor in the sight of Allah.

30. This does not imply all the desert Arabs but only a few particular groups of the Bedouins who had become Muslims, seeing the increasing power of Islam, thinking that they would not only remain safe from any attack by the Muslims but would also gain materially from the Islamic conquests. These people had not embraced Islam sincerely but had professed faith only verbally in order to be counted among the Muslims, and their inner state became exposed whenever they would come before the Prophet (peace be upon him) with different sorts of demands and would enumerate and mention their rights as if they had done him a great favor by accepting Islam. Traditions mention several of such tribal groups, e.g. Muzainah, Juhainah, Aslam, Ashja, Ghifar, etc. About the Bani Asad bin Khuzaimah in particular. Ibn Abbas and Saeed bin Jubair have stated that once during a drought they came to Madinah and making a demand for financial help, they said to the Prophet (peace be upon him) again and again: We became Muslims without any conflict, we did not fight against you as have such and such other tribes fought. By this they clearly meant to point out that their refraining from fighting against the Messenger (peace be upon him) of Allah and their accepting Islam was a favor for which they must be rewarded by the Messenger (peace be upon him) and the Muslims. It was this same attitude and conduct of the Bedouin group living around Al- Madinah, which has been commented upon in these verses. One can understand this appraisal better if one reads it together with verses( 90-110 of Surah At-Taubah )and (verses 11-17 of Surah Al-Fatha).

31. Another translation of the words qulu aslamna can be; Say: We have become Muslims. From these words some people have concluded that in the language of the Quran, Mumin and Muslim are two opposite terms. A Mumin is he who has believed sincerely and a Muslim he who might have accepted Islam only verbally without true faith. But, in fact, this is an absolutely wrong idea. No doubt the word iman here has been used for sincere affirmation by the heart and the word Islam for only outward and external submission but to understand them as two independent and mutually contradictory terms of the Quran is not correct. A study of the Quranic verses in which the words Islam and Muslim have been used, shows that in the Quranic terminology of Islam is the name of the Faith, which Allah has sent down for mankind. It comprehends the faith and obedience both, and a Muslim is he who believes with a sincere heart and obeys the commands practically. This is borne out by the following verses:

Indeed, Islam is the only right way of life in the sight of Allah. (Surah Aal-Imran, Ayat 19).

And whoever adopts any other than this way of submission (Islam), that way shall not be accepted from him. (Surah Aal-Imran, Ayat 85).

And I have approved Islam as the way of life for you. (Surah Al-Maidah, Ayat 3).

Whomever Allah wills to guide aright, He makes his breast wide open to Islam. (Surah Al-Anaam, Ayat 125).

Obviously, in these verses Islam does not imply obedience without the faith. Here are some other verses: Say (O Prophet): I have been enjoined to be the first one to affirm (faith in) Islam. (Surah Al-Anaam, Ayat 14).

If they have surrendered (to Islam), they are rightly guided. (Surah Aal-Imran, Ayat 20).

All the Prophets, who were Muslims, judged the cases according to the Torah. (Surah Al-Maidah, Ayat 44).

Here, and at scores of other places, acceptance of Islam cannot mean adopting obedience without the faith. Likewise, here are a few verses in which the word Muslim has occurred signifying the meaning in which it has been used repeatedly in the Quran: O you who have believed, fear Allah as He should truly be feared and see that you do not die save as true Muslim. (Surah Aal-Imran, Ayat 102).

Allah had called you Muslims before this and has called you (by the same name) in this Quran, too. (Surah Al-Hajj, Ayat 78).

Abraham was neither a Jew nor a Christian, but he was a Muslim, sound in the faith. (Surah Aal-Imran, Ayat 67).

And remember that when Abraham and Ishmael were raising the walls of this House, they prayed: Lord, make us Thy Muslims and also raise from our offspring a community which should be Muslim. (Surah Al-Baqarah, Ayat 128).

(The Prophet Jacob’s will for his children): O my children, Allah has chosen the same way of life for you, hence remain Muslims up to your last breath. (Surah Al-Baqarah, Ayat 132).

After a study of these verses who can say that in these the word Muslim implies a person who does not believe sincerely but has accepted Islam only outwardly? Therefore, to make the claim that in the Quranic terminology Islam implies obedience without the faith and the Muslim in the language of the Quran is he who accepts Islam only outwardly is absolutely wrong. Likewise, this claim also is wrong that the words iman and mumin have been used in the Quran necessarily in the sense of believing sincerely. No doubt, at most places these words have occurred to express the same meaning, but there are many places where these words have also been used for outward affirmation of the faith, and all those who might have entered the Muslim community with verbal profession have been addressed with, “O you who have believed”, no matter whether they are the true believers, or people with a weak faith, or mere hypocrites. For a few instances of this, see (Surah Aal-Imran, Ayat 156); (Surah An-Nisa, Ayat 135); (Surah Al-Maidah, Ayat 54); (Surah Al-Anfaal, Ayats 20-27); (Surah At-Taubah, Ayat 38), (Surah Al-Hadid, Ayat 28); (Surah As-Saff, Ayat 2).