97. They had become so expert in the art of hiding their hypocrisy that even the Prophet (peace be upon him) could not recognize them, though he possessed immense sagacity and insight into human nature; so Allah informed him about them.
98. This double chastisement will be the loss of their worldly advantages and the victory of the Islamic mission in the teeth of their opposition. Thus one chastisement shall be the loss of their worldly benefits for which they practiced deceptions and adopted hypocritical attitudes, and instead of gaining wealth, honor and prestige they shall meet with disgrace and utter failure. The second chastisement will be in the shape of the victory of the Islamic mission to defeat which they exerted their utmost by their machinations and plots. But the Islamic mission will come out successful in the teeth of their evil wishes, desires, intentions and vicious efforts and they themselves shall witness its victory to their utter despair, regret, grief and sorrow.
99. In this passage a clear line of demarcation has been drawn between the hypocritical Muslims and the true Muslims, and instructions have been given regarding the treatment that should be meted out to the hypocrites. Therefore, the one who claims to be a Muslim but does not sincerely devote himself to Allah, His Way, and the Islamic community, should be severely dealt with. If there is a clear proof, from his conduct, that he lacks sincerity or if he offers anything in the Way of Allah, it should be rejected forthwith. And when he dies, the Muslims should neither join his funeral prayer nor beg God’s pardon for him, even though he be one’s father or brother. In contrast to this, if a believer is guilty of some sin and confesses it, he should be pardoned, and his offerings should be accepted and prayers should be said for his forgiveness.
As regards the criterion by which it will be judged whether one is or is not a hypocrite, though one might have been guilty of an act of insincerity, three things have been implied in this passage:
(1) A sincere follower will openly and clearly confess his sin without offering any lame excuses and giving false explanations and interpretations of his offense.
(2) It will be judged from his previous conduct whether he was a habitual offender or he committed the sin on the spur of the moment because of some weakness. If he had been behaving like a righteous Muslim and if his record showed sincere services, sacrifices and good deeds to his credit, it will be reasonably concluded that he was not a hypocrite.
(3) His future conduct will be watched to see whether his confession was verbal or there had really been a change of heart. If he sincerely feels sorry for his sins and is anxious to compensate for them and his whole conduct shows that he intends to eradicate the root cause of the weakness in his faith that misled him into the sins, it will be concluded that he sincerely feels sorry for his sins and that he was not a hypocrite but a sinful believer.
The event that is connected with the occasion on which this passage was sent down, makes this subject quite clear. It is related by the scholars of traditions that these verses were revealed in regard to Abu Lubabah bin Abdul Manzar and his companions. Abu Lubabah (may Allah be pleased with him) was one of those people who had embraced Islam on the occasion of the oath of allegiance at Aqabah before the migration of the Prophet (peace be upon him) to Al- Madinah. He had taken part in the battles of Badr, Uhd and other campaigns. But on the occasion of the Tabuk expedition, he succumbed to some inner weakness and stayed at home without any genuine and lawful excuse. The same was the case of the other six companions, who were sincere Muslims. When the Prophet (peace be upon him) returned from Tabuk and they came to know that Allah and His Messenger had a very bad opinion of those who had stayed behind, they were filled with shame and regret. Therefore they tied themselves to a pillar even before they were called upon to explain their conduct. Then they declared, “We will neither eat anything nor sleep unless we are pardoned or die in the same condition.” After some days they fell down in an unconscious condition because of hunger and sleeplessness. When at last they were informed that Allah and His Messenger had pardoned them, they went to see the Prophet (peace be upon him) and said: “We request that you accept from us as propitiatory offerings our houses and the whole of our possessions. As these were responsible for our sin of omission, we desire to give them away in the Way of Allah.” But the Prophet (peace be upon him) replied, “There is no need to give the whole of your property for only one third of it will suffice.”
A deep consideration of this event clearly brings out the kind of weaknesses that are pardonable. All of these people were not habitual offenders and defaulters. Their whole past conduct showed that they were sincere Muslims. None of them invented false explanations to excuse themselves but confessed their sins. By offering the whole of their properties as a propitiatory offerings, they proved that they were really sorry for their conduct and wanted to atone for their sins.
In this connection, another important lesson should also be learned from these verses. In order to atone for one’s sins, one should give a practical proof along with the verbal confession and heartfelt regret. One way of this is to give charity in the Way of Allah for this helps to cleanse the filth which was being nourished in the heart and which was responsible for the sins. This not only eradicates the hidden evil but also increases the capacity for good works. For the confession of one’s sin is like the feeling of one who has fallen into a pit. He at once realizes that he is in a critical situation in a pit, where he does not like to abide, and is troubled over it. Therefore he thinks out plans for getting out of it and makes practical efforts for this. Likewise the one who confesses his sins and feels ashamed of them and takes practical steps to atone for it by making offerings and doing other good works, intends to come out of the pit of sins.
100. “And you will be returned to the Knower,” Who is the ultimate judge of everything and from Whom nothing can be concealed. Therefore even if one succeeds in hiding one’s hypocrisy in this world or is judged to be up to the standard in one’s faith and sincerity, it does not mean in any way that such a one will succeed in escaping chastisement for hypocrisy in the Hereafter also.
101. The case of these people had been deferred because it could not yet be legally decided whether they were sinners or hypocrites, and not because their case was doubtful in the sight of Allah. This was because the symptoms of their diseases had not as yet come to the surface to indicate clearly which of the two they were. For Islam teaches the Muslims not to pass judgment on a person or a party unless they possess definite knowledge based on conscious reasoning and not on intuition and the like to support it.
102. “Who warred against Allah and His Messenger” was Abu Amir who belonged to the clan of Aus of Al-Madinah. He had become Christian monk during the period of ignorance before the migration of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and was well known as a scholar of the Scriptures and was held in great reverence as a pious monk. But his scholarship and asceticism, instead of leading him to the truth, became hindrance in the way. That was why he not only rejected Islam but also became a bitter enemy of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his mission, for he took the Prophet (peace be upon him) for a rival in the holy business of priesthood. At first he ignored the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his mission in the hope that the power of the Quraish would suffice to crush him and his mission. But when the Quraish suffered an utter defeat in the battle of Badr, he could no longer ignore it, so he started a vigorous vicious campaign against the Islamic movement. Accordingly, he left Al-Madinah and visited different clans, in order to incite them against Islam, and was one of those who brought about the battle of Uhd. It is said that he had gotten some pits dug in the battle field of Uhd, and that the Prophet (peace be upon him) fell into one of these and received injuries. Then he played an important role in organizing the armies which came to invade Al-Madinah in the battle of Al-Ahzab. Likewise this Christian monk took a very active part in giving support to the mushriks against Islam in all the subsequent battles up to the battle of Hunain. At last, when he realized that no power in Arabia could withstand the onslaught of Islam, he left Arabia and went to the Roman Caesar in order to warn him of the rising danger from AIMadinah. It was because of his efforts that the Caesar began to make preparations for invading Arabia, to counteract which the Prophet (peace be upon him) went forth on the expedition to Tabuk.
Now let us consider the background of the building of the mosque that was built to harm the righteous mission.
A section of the hypocrites of Al-Madinah collaborated wholeheartedly with Abu Amir in all the above mentioned hostile activities against Islam. They also fully agreed with him that he should use his spiritual influence to obtain military help from the Roman Caesar and the Christian states of northern Arabia. Accordingly, when he was preparing to go to the Roman Caesar to urge him to invade Arabia, they devised a plan of making a mosque of their own to serve as a safe meeting place for organizing themselves into a separate party because none would suspect that they were carrying on evil activities under the garb of religion. Moreover, this mosque would serve as an ambush for the agents of Abu Amir who could stay in it as travelers and mendicants without raising any suspicion that they were spies of the enemy.
As there were already two mosques in Al-Madinah, one at Quba and the other Masjid-i-Nabavi in the city. Obviously there was no need for a third one. The hypocrites themselves understood this: therefore they began to invent reasons to show that there was really a need for a third mosque. Accordingly, they went to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and said, “We need another mosque because it is very difficult for the people of this area, especially the old, the sick and the disabled, to offer the five prescribed prayers in either of the two mosques, during the winter season and the rainfall. Therefore we intend to build a new mosque only for the convenience of those who live at a distance from the two mosques but are desirous of saying their prayers in congregation.
With such professedly pure motives, these mischief makers built the mosque and then went to the Prophet (peace be upon him) with the request to stand in this new mosque and lead the congregation in one of the prescribed prayers so as to perform its opening ceremony. But the Prophet (peace be upon him) postponed the matter, saying, “At this time I am wholly engaged in making preparations for the expedition to Tabuk. I shall consider the matter on my return home.” After this he went forth to Tabuk, and they started their nefarious activities. They went on organizing themselves and conspiring against Islam in the mosque and decided to crown Abdullah bin Ubayy as their king, as soon as the Muslims would meet with reverses and be utterly crushed down by the Romans, as they had expected. But their expectations were all frustrated by what happened at Tabuk. Then on the revelation of these verses during the return journey at a place, Zi-Avan, near Al-Madinah, the Prophet (peace be upon him) dispatched some men to demolish the mosque before his entry into the city.
103. In order to comprehend fully the implications of this simile, let us first consider the significance of the Arabic word Juruf. This applies to the brink of that piece of land which has been undermined by a river or a stream, leaving its surface without any support. In this meaningful simile the construction of the structure of life on the Godless foundations has been compared to that building which is built on the river brink, which has been undermined by its water. It is obvious that the ignorant man who builds a structure on the surface of such a piece of land, merely because it is a piece of land, will not only lose the building but will also lose his own life, for it will inevitably fall down into the river along with him because it has nothing to support it. Likewise, the one who lays the foundation of the structure of the system of his life on the surface of worldly things, without any regard to God’s fear or His favor which are the only permanent supports of human life, is like the man who builds his structure on the surface undermined by the river. For such a man, he himself undermines the structure of his life by his wrong deeds which inevitably follow if there is no bedrock of God’s fear and His favor. Therefore the surface on which he had built his life would one day inevitably tumble down into the abyss of Hell along with the earnings of his whole life.
104. “Guide”, that leads to man’s real success.
105. That is, these hypocrites have deprived their hearts of the capability of receiving and accepting faith by the commission of the most heinous sin of building a mosque to do harm to that very Islam for the propagation of which mosques are built. This crime has set the desire of disbelief so deep in their hearts that it will remain there as long as they are alive and will leave them only at the time of death when their hearts will cease to beat in their breasts. Obviously, the case of such people is quite different from that of those unbelievers, who openly build idol-temples or openly make preparations for war against God. For it is possible that such a one may get guidance just because he is honest, sincere and bold. Moreover, his open antagonism shows that he has the courage of his convictions and may, therefore, accept Islam, when he would be convinced of its truth. But there is no hope for that cowardly lying and cunning man who builds a mosque for the service of kufr and puts on the garb of God’s worship for fighting against Allah’s Way. This is because a conduct like this kills all the noble sentiments within him and renders him utterly incapable of understanding and accepting Islam.