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    Period of Revelation: This Surah is comprised of several discourses that were revealed on different occasions. Instructions about the division of inheritance and safeguarding the rights of the orphans were revealed after the Battle of Uhud in which 70 Muslims were martyred (vv. 1-28). By the end of 3rd year After Hijrah (A.H. – Islamic Calendar), a last warning to the Jews (v. 47) was given before the Jewish tribe of Banu Nadheer was expelled from Al-Madinah in A.H.4. Permission about Tayammum (ablution with clean earth when water is not available) was given during the expedition of Bani-Al-Mustaliq in early A.H.5. 

    Major Issues, Divine Laws and Guidance:

    • Restriction on number of wives.
    • Marriage and the rights of women.
    • Laws of inheritance, women are awarded the rights to inherit.
    • Acceptable and unacceptable repentance.
    • Mahram relations – relatives that are prohibited for marriage.
    • Commandment about ‘arbitration’ in family disputes.
    • Second commandment relating to the prohibition of drinking, (first commandment was in Surah Al-Baqarah 2:219).
    • The one who disputes the decision of the Prophet is not a believer.
    • Divine Law, that obedience of the Rasool is in fact the obedience of Allah.
    • Allah’s command to respond greetings with better greetings.
    • Laws about manslaughter, murder and bloodwit.
    • Salat-ul-Qasr: permission for short prayer in travelling.
    • Salat-ul-Khauf: performing prayer in a state of emergency (war).
    • Salah: (prayers) are made obligatory on prescribed timings.
    • Prohibition of ‘secret counsels’ and its exceptions.
    • Decree of Allah that He will never forgive a mushrik.
    • Allah’s commandment to be firm for justice and bear true witness.
    • Allah’s commandment to boycott un-Islamic meetings.
    • The fact that hypocrites will be in the lowest depth of hellfire.
    • Isa (Jesus) was neither killed nor crucified.
    • Isa (Jesus) was a Prophet of Allah (Almighty God) and His worshipper.
    • Stop saying “Trinity” – Allah is the One and Only God.
    • The Qur’an carries the same Message that was sent to Nuh (Noah), Ibraheem (Abraham), Musa (Moses) and Isa (Jesus).
    • Allah’s commandments relating to family life and community life.

             The main theme of this Surah is the building of a strong Islamic community. Guidelines are provided to the Muslims for uniting their ranks to be firm and strong. Instructions are given to stabilize the family structure, which is the nucleus of a strong community. Muslims are urged to prepare themselves for defense and to be the torchbearers of Islam. The importance of having a high moral character in building a strong community is emphasized.

            Guidelines for the smooth running of family life are provided and methods to settle family disputes are taught. Rules for marriage are prescribed and rights of wife and husband are assigned fairly and equitably. The status of women in the society is determined and the declaration about the rights of orphans is made. Laws and regulations are laid down for the distribution of inheritance. Instructions are given to reform the economic system. The foundation of criminal laws is laid down. Drinking is prohibited. Instructions are given for cleanliness and purification. The Muslims are taught what kind of relations they should have with their Rabb (Lord) and with their fellow human beings. Instructions are given for the maintenance of discipline in the Muslim community.

            The moral and religious condition of the People of the Book is reviewed to guide the Muslims, and a warning is given to refrain from following their footsteps. The distinctive features of hypocrisy and true faith are clearly marked for easy identification between the two. The set back in the Battle Uhud had enabled the pagan Arab tribes, the neighboring Jews, and the hypocrites in Madinah to threaten the Muslims from all sides. At this critical stage, Allah’s grace filled the Muslims with courage and gave them the necessary instructions. In order to counteract the rumors that were being spread by the hypocrites, Muslims were asked to make a thorough inquiry about their accuracy and then inform the appropriate leadership. Muslims were experiencing difficulties in offering their Salah during the expeditions when water was not available to perform ablution. In such circumstances Allah granted permission to make Tayammum (purification with clean earth), and to shorten the Salah (Prayer) or to offer the Salat-ul-Khauf,” when they were faced with danger. Instructions were also given to those Muslims who were living in the enemy camps that they should migrate to Madinah, the Islamic State.

             Clear instructions are also given regarding the hypocrites and nonbelligerent tribes. On one hand, the superiority of Islamic morality and culture is established over that of the Jews, Christians and Pagans; on the other hand, their incorrect religious concepts, immorality, and evil actions are criticized to prepare the ground for inviting them to the Right Way.

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    about a third of this surah deals with the nucleus of human society, the family, and issues related to it. The rest is a dis- cussion of wider issues pertaining to the larger human community, or to use the Arabic term, the Ummah. The subject of the surah overall then is human social relations and how they are to be con- ducted and regulated. This is made quite clear right at the outset, for the surah opens with the words: “People, fear your Lord who creat- ed you from a single soul, and from it He created its spouse, and from them both He brought forward multitudes of men and women” (1). Although we human beings may look and seem differ- ent, we are in fact all related, sharing the same origins and the same common ancestry. It is indeed important for everyone to remember this fact and strive to maintain good and constructive contact with other fellow humans, no matter how near or far. This is one of Islam’s major principles. The sense of belonging and togetherness should be extended beyond blood relations in order to encompass all human groups, races, and colors, and bring about cooperation and cohesion between people.

    In order to drive this home, the opening verse instructs humankind to fear God, and emphasizes His omnipotence and total control over the destiny of man. That notwithstanding, we can also find in the surah passages that encourage optimism and raise hope in God’s grace and mercy. Verse 31 says: “If you avoid the greater sins you are forbidden, We shall pardon your misdeeds;” while verse 110

    A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an

    says: “Whoever commits evil deeds or does his own self an injustice and then seeks God’s forgiveness, shall find God Forgiving and Mer- ciful.” Verse 48 states: “God will not forgive the act of taking other gods besides Him, but He will forgive whom He will for other sins;” and verse 17 says: “God forgives those who commit evil in igno- rance and then quickly regret it and repent;” while verses 26 to 28 read:

    God wishes to make matters clear to you and guide you along the paths of those who have gone before you, and to turn to you with forgiveness. God is All-Knowing and Wise. God wishes to forgive you, but those who follow their own base desires wish you to go completely astray. God wishes to lighten your burden, for man was created weak.

    God has no desire to overburden His servants with obligations and rituals that are beyond their human ability and scope. The efforts they are required to exert are those which are necessary but bearable and within their capabilities in order for them to gain knowledge, understanding, and experience, and achieve progress in life. A believer’s life is controlled by his or her fear of God and the promise of His mercy and compassion. These are the two strong forces guiding believers in this world and preparing them to account before their Lord sooner or later in the hereafter.

    The part of the surah dealing with family affairs begins with defining the rights of orphans in a Muslim society. Being a dyna- mic, expanding, and struggling society, it is not surprising that the Muslim community will always have an appreciable number of orphans living in it. Orphans, even today, are always easy prey for influence, domination, and exploitation by various individuals as well as groups with ideological or political interests—hence the concern in Islam for their position in society, their rights, and well- being.

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    At this point, the Qur’an refers in passing to marriage, pointing out that men are allowed to marry up to four wives. There is noth- ing abnormal or abhorrent about this, as Islam did not deviate from the laws of other religions preceding it, none of which has prohibi- ted polygamy. In fact, when we look at societies of contemporary Europe and America, we find that they are in many cases grossly unfair and demeaning in their treatment of women. In these soci- eties, polygamy is rife but under different guises, and promiscuous relationships between the sexes are considered normal and practised openly. What Islam permits is clearly defined and tightly regulated. Single men who cannot afford to marry and raise a family are encouraged to abstain from sexual contact until they are able to get married. Those who wish to take a second wife are not considered eligible unless they can show that they can afford to keep and be equally fair to both wives. Furthermore, marriage in Islam is never allowed without the consent of both parties, and any woman who does not wish to enter into a polygamous marriage has the right to refuse. Islamic law goes even further than that and grants the wife the right to incorporate her refusal of polygamy in the marriage con- tract. According to the renowned jurist A^mad ibn ¤anbal, the husband is obliged to abide by that condition or the wife can demand a divorce and be granted it.5

    The surah then turns to the rules governing inheritance of wealth and how it is to be dispensed and distributed among surviving family members and relatives. Women, hitherto completely deprived of inheritance, are specifically mentioned as having the right to inherit and their share is clearly defined. The poor and the needy are also entitled to a proportion of any wealth left behind. A man has the dis- cretion to bequeath one third of his wealth to whatever public or

    1. The fact that women in ‘Muslim’ societies are sometimes coerced into mar- riage or do not opt to practise their rights is mainly due to ignorance and should not belie the remarkable achievements of Muslim law. (Ed.)

    A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an

    private causes he may choose, a ruling subsequently reinforced by Prophet Muhammad. It is also established that, in the majority of cases, Islam entitles a man to twice the share of a woman; the reason being that men undertake more financial responsibilities, such as dowries, and bear the greater burden in supporting their wives and children. A woman is not obliged to work or earn an income and her male relative or relatives, if she has any, should support her financially; otherwise she is the responsibility of the state which should provide adequately for her. This is prescribed by Islamic law in order to preserve the dignity and honor of the female members of society, and save them the degradation, misery, and humiliation they have to endure in order to earn their living. One has only to look at the situation in today’s Western societies, the so-called bas- tions of women’s rights, to appreciate the wisdom and justice of Islam, when correctly and humanely applied.

    In saying this, we are not trying to be apologetic for an unrepre- sentative minority of inconsiderate and irresponsible Muslims who maltreat their women, whether wives, sisters, or daughters, and deprive them of their right to education and freedom. ¢®’ishah (RAA),6 the Prophet’s wife, is reported to have related that the Prophet said: “Believers with the most excellent faith are those with the best manners and those who are kindest to their wives.” Ibn

    ¢Abb¥s, a Companion of the Prophet, is also reported to have quoted the Prophet as saying: “The best among you are those who are kin- dest towards their wives, and I am the kindest among you towards mine.”7 It is indeed regrettable that some zealous Muslims today make the mistake of believing that the maltreatment of women and the undermining of their rights is a prerequisite of religious purity and righteousness. This has given Islam a negative image and caused

    • RAA—Ra\iya All¥hu ¢Anha/¢Anhu (May Allah be with her/him). Said whenever a Companion of the prophet is mentioned by name.
    • Narrated by al-TirmidhÏ.

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    women the world over to detest Islam and fear the promotion and spread of its teachings and beliefs.

    Prior to the advent of Islam, women had no rights to speak of. When a woman’s husband died, any of his male relatives would sim- ply appropriate her, as if she was an animal or a commodity. The norm in pagan Arab societies was similar to that of the ancient Hebrews in the sense that when a man died childless, his brother was obliged to marry his widow in order for her to have children to be called after their deceased father. What was this if not forced mar- riage and contrived lineage? Most certainly this practise was not based on revealed Jewish scriptures but one which some Jews had devised. God says in the Qur’an:

    Believers, it is unlawful for you to inherit the women of your deceased kinsmen against their will, or make life difficult for them in order that you may take back some of what you have given them, unless they are guilty of a proven shameful act. (19)

    The idea here is that a woman must not be under any pressure to leave her family home or pay a ransom for her freedom and dignity. The verses direct men to: “treat them with kindness; for even if you dislike them, it may well be that you dislike something which God has invested with abundant goodness” (19).

    In cases of impending separation or divorce, Islamic law forbids a husband from bargaining with his wife over the dowry he has paid her, no matter how high it is. A woman’s dowry is her indisputable right and cannot be taken away from her. Accordingly, if a man is not satisfied with his first wife and wishes to take a second one, he must meet all the expenses and cannot retrieve any money he has paid the first one. The following verses make this very clear:

    If you wish to replace a wife with another, do not take from her any of the dowry you have given her, even if it were a talent of gold.

    A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an

    Would you take it illegally and improperly? How can you take it back when you have been so intimate with each other and have entered into a firm contract with them? (20–21)

    We note the above before going on to talk about the need to set up happy and loving marital relations. The passage refers to two abhorrent social diseases: sodomy and lesbianism. This reference is not superfluous, since the fight against both these loathsome prac- tices is an essential protection for family life and the healthy enviro- nment it represents in society. About lesbianism, God says:

    And those women who commit unlawful sexual acts, call in four witnesses from among yourselves, and if they testify against them confine them to their homes until they either die or God provides another way out for them. (15)

    As for those guilty of committing homosexual acts, God says: “If any two of your men commit indecency, punish them both” (16). The West, having completely turned away from God and all but aban- doned religious guidance, has come to take these social crimes very lightly, as it has done with others, resulting in the tragic breakup of family life and the epidemic spread of deadly conditions such as AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. The foundations of Western civilization are, in fact, being eroded very fast. Its dominance can be guaranteed to continue only for so long as an alternative sane civili- zation, by which I mean a genuine Islamic one, remains absent.

    For family life to flourish and be productive, family members have to be disciplined and well behaved. Selfishness has to be firmly suppressed, while mutual kindness and cooperation have to be encouraged between all of them. A married woman once came to me complaining about her husband, and I could see from the way she was talking that she was badly affected and wished to leave him, were it not for some other compelling reasons. I advised her to

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    follow the example of the Pharaoh’s wife and put up with his inso- lence for a little longer. Reluctantly, she agreed.

    A pertinent question arises here: what is to be done when it is the woman who persecutes the husband or treats him with insolence? The family home is certain to turn into hell. Under these exceptional circumstances, Islam prescribes a gradual solution that allows, as a first step, for simple advice and gentle persuasion, followed by a tem- porary cessation of sexual contact, and then, and only then, permits resort to physical measures. The main condition attached to this last method is that physical punishment must be moderate and should not in any way touch the face or harm it. Looking closely into the sunnah of the Prophet, however, I cannot find a justification for this last measure except when the wife refuses her husband’s bed, or brings male outsiders into their home, both of which represent, as we can see, very serious problems indeed.

    Prior to presenting these directives concerning family life, the surah strongly emphasizes the unlawfulness of the appropriation of other people’s wealth or property. It also encourages acceptance of one’s lot in this life, and refraining from eyeing the fortunes of others. The passage then turns to address all humankind, saying: “Worship God and associate no one else with Him. Show kindness to parents and kindred, to orphans and to the helpless” (36). Though giving priority to the family, this directive applies also to society as a whole. The surah then turns to deal with spending, which should always be done in moderation, identifying two distinct types of people: the grudging miserly ones, and the overspending pretentious ones. It singles out one particular type of people who are uncharitable in certain ways, encouraging others also to be stingy and grudging, but who, in other ways, are pretentious and ostentatious with their wealth. Were they to use their wealth according to God’s teachings, they would reap a higher reward. “What harm could befall them if they believed in God and the Last Day, and spent charitably of what God had bestowed on them? God is aware of all their affairs” (39).

    A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an

    The surah continues for a while longer to touch upon the current and future state of the Muslim community, before turning to a dif- ferent theme. This other theme relates to the various religious communities existing within Arabian society at the time, and how the Muslims should deal with them. The striking similarity between those groups and the ones the Muslims are facing today is quite uncanny.

    Muslims of the Prophet’s generation were very keen to befriend the Jews. Recognizing their seniority as the first recipients of God’s rev- elations, they expected them to stand on their side if the Muslims were to enter into any conflicts with the unbelieving Arabs. How- ever, as noted in earlier chapters, the Jews in Arabia proved largely disappointing. Their elders had no respect for any treaties or neigh- borly relations, and they were to offend badly against Islam and cause it the worst damage. God addresses the Prophet, saying: “Look at how those who have received some revelation court error, and wish for you to go astray. But God best knows your enemies” (44–45). The verses state clearly that those people had lost most of the revelation sent to their ancestors. This had come about as a result of their failure to maintain the continuity of their faith and preserve the texts of their scriptures intact. Furthermore, they had failed to implement properly those parts that were still in their possession. Corrupted religious laws and practices could indeed cause more harm to society than no religion at all, and those who adulterate and misuse religion should expect a worse fate than those who have had no religion at all to follow.

    In this surah, Muslims are given a pledge that God will be on

    their side in this confrontation and will favor them with victory. It states: “sufficient is God as an ally and sufficient is God to bring vic- tory” (45). However, this divine intervention and support are not granted to those who sit and wait, nor are they ever won by those

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    who neglect the duty of preparing their own defenses and making the plans necessary to achieve victory. We read in Shaykh RashÏd Ri\¥’s commentary on the Qur’an, al-Man¥r:

    God Almighty does not alter the established laws of social change in favor of Muslims, Jews or Christians. These laws apply equally even to those select few, the prophets. At the battle of U^ud, Muhammad himself suffered physical injuries to the head, had a tooth broken and fell into a ditch, owing to negligence by his troops and shortcomings in preparing for war. How long, then, could Muslims continue arrogantly claiming identification with Islam, while discarding its teachings and refusing to abide by its laws or heed its warnings? Can Muslims not see how the tables have been turned against them? As other nations have armed themselves with science and hard work, and taken note of the dynamic forces of social change, they have come to sweep over most of the Muslim lands and dominate their people…Muslims are in need of turning back to the teachings of the Book of God, the Qur’an, and fully appreciating the laws of civilization and social change which He has laid down. They must cast aside all calls to abandon Islam or do away with the guidance that God has placed in their hands. They must break away from all superstitions and wake up to God’s eternal justice, and realize that their glory and dignity have been under- mined only as a result of their own negligence and deviation.

    Although today new and far more threatening social and moral diseases have infiltrated the fabric and body of the Muslim Ummah, the Shaykh’s diagnosis remains basically valid.

    The surah then goes on to explain what the rabbis had done with their own religion so that the Muslims could avoid it. Verse 46 begins by saying: “Some Jews take words out of their context.” Priests and scribes did this by seeking esoteric or ulterior, rather than the obvious, meanings to what was said to them, in order to satisfy

    A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an

    their own prejudices, serve certain interests, or justify stances or claims of their own. They had clear indications in their scriptures of, for example, the forthcoming Messenger of God, but they twisted those words and interpreted them in such a way so as not to commit them to accepting Muhammad or recognizing him as that promised messenger. Tampering with their scriptures also included adding words or phrases to the text. Shaykh Ra^mat Allah of India, in a monumental and most authoritative work on the subject entitled Izh¥r al-¤aqq, available in Arabic, lists a hundred such instances of deliberate and obvious adulterations that can be found in the Old Testament. Even so, the rabbis continued to claim, “‘This is from God,’ whereas it is not; and they ascribe falsehood to God, know- ingly” (®l ¢Imr¥n: 78). Their stubborn and disrespectful behavior also led them to say to Muhammad: “‘We hear, but disobey; may you [Muhammad] be bereft of hearing!’ and they say, ‘foolhardy!’, twisting words with their tongues and reviling the religion” (al-Nis¥’: 46). Although God warned them of severe punishment if they were to persist in their stubbornness, still they did not desist. However, glory and domination will be the reward of those who show greater sincerity in and make higher sacrifices for upholding God’s message and promoting His laws and teachings.

    The surah then turns to another topic, saying: “God shall not for-

    give those who take other gods besides Him; but He will forgive whom He will for other sins” (48). The concept of associating other gods with God is known in Arabic as shirk, and it is of two types. The first one is when one believes that in this world there are two or more creators, providers, or controllers. The second is when one turns to someone else other than God for legislation or guidance relating to what is lawful and what is unlawful, or to seek help and support from them without recognizing God’s role in providing that assistance. Both types of shirk are grave crimes against God and the rest of humanity, and their perpetrators must be exposed.

    There is yet another type of shirk, which has found a wider

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    following in modern times, and that is the complete denial of God’s existence, and His role and influence or control over the world. Thus, Muslims these days find themselves confronted with an unprecedented multitude of forms of shirk, which in turn makes their responsibility to explain, inform, and persuade that much greater. They must endeavor to avoid the “Chosen People of God” trap, into which others have fallen. To such arrogant people, reli- gion does not mean justice or benevolence or fear of God; it is a mere tool to enhance their racial aims and satisfy their selfish nation- alistic pride. Indeed such pretenders “have no share in [God’s] Kingdom; otherwise they would not give others so much as a speck of it” (53). A nation that is in charge of dispensing God’s favors must not be mean to other nations or groups.

    The surah continues: “Or do they envy other people what God has given them of His bounty? We gave Abraham’s descendants the scriptures and wisdom, and a glorious kingdom” (54). This is a sub- tle reference to some Jewish elders from Madinah who accorded the pagan Arabs in Makkah a higher status over the Muslims and gave them pledges of moral and material support. However, the surah has a more general application. People of faith are always obliged to give an honest and fair testimony, as the surah confirms:

    God commands you to hand back what you had been entrusted with to its rightful owners, and, when you sit in judgment among people, to judge with fairness. Noble is that which God exhorts you. (58)

    Trust, here, is both material and metaphorical, and refers to the preservation and protection of all kinds of commitments and obliga- tions towards God as well as towards fellow human beings. Those who do not fulfill their duty with regard to trusts cannot claim to possess true belief, and the religious faith of those who do not keep their word or fulfill their promises must always be in question.

    A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an

    Having related part of the past history and attitudes which impinged on contemporary events, God in this surah turns to the charac- teristics and behavior of a noxious group of human beings, the dou- ble-faced hypocrites who had posed a great threat to Islam and Muslims. These were the people who in public declared their belief and acceptance of Islam and the Prophet, but in private they rejected them and harbored deep-seated hatred and spite towards the Prophet and the Muslims. However, as their actions betrayed them, their sinister schemes were foiled. The surah continues:

    Have you seen those who profess to believe in what has been revealed to you and had been revealed before you? They seek judgment of someone else other than God, although they were commanded not to do that; and Satan would wish to lead them far astray. (60)

    The verse clearly affirms that they were lying. To believe truly in God, it is necessary and essential to abandon other deities or powers. God says elsewhere in the Qur’an:

    God is the Patron of the believers. He leads them out of darkness and into the light. As for the infidels, their patrons are false deities who lead them out of the light into darkness. (al-Baqarah: 257)

    In this surah, He says: “The believers fight for the cause of God, but the infidels fight for the cause of false deities” (76).

    False deities are bound to lead people away from God’s true path and turn them against Him and the way of life He ordained for humankind. Although the hypocrites pretend to listen to the exhor- tations of the Muslims, they go ahead with whatever they think

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    serves their interests. The more they do this, the more arrogant and proud they grow, and the more difficult it becomes for them to acknowledge their mistakes and reverse their actions. People with these characters can be very close to the believers physically, but their hearts and minds are far removed from them, and they can hardly appreciate or understand the guidance being offered to them. As the surah points out: “When it is said to them, ‘Come to what God has revealed and to the Messenger,’ you shall see the hypocrites turn away from you” (61). In another surah they are identified as those who, “when it is said to them, ‘Come, God’s Messenger will ask forgiveness for you,’ they turn their heads and you see them walk arrogantly away” (al-Mun¥fiq‰n: 5). Of course every unbeliever or hypocrite has his or her own point of view to uphold and argue. Many of these believe that they are right, but sooner or later they will realize the error of their stance. Many of them will then seek to apologize and justify their positions. The surah asks:

    But how would it be if some disaster befell them on account of what their hands committed, and then they came to you swearing by God that they desired nothing but amity and conciliation? (62)

    Many people are today prepared to defend man-made laws and systems, believing them to be the best and most beneficial to human- kind. However, when societies begin disintegrating and crime starts to eat into the fabric of society at all levels, they retreat from their positions and start to think again. Concerning these, the surah says: “God knows what is in their hearts. Ignore them, and admonish them, and speak to them about themselves with eloquence and force” (63).

    Two reactions can reveal a person’s hypocrisy: revulsion towards God’s revelation and refusal to defend the truth and fight for the cause of God. Hypocrites also feel ill at ease when it comes to per- forming religious obligations, such as prayers and alms-giving.

    A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an

    Although they might be able to disguise their reluctance to perform the latter, one would find them totally exposed when it comes to the former. Apostles, on the other hand, deliver God’s messages as com- prehensive guidance for a better life on earth. Their followers believe, listen, and obey without deviation. God says in the surah:

    By your Lord, they shall not be true believers until they resort to your judgment in what they disagree upon among themselves. They will not find any difficulty in accepting your judgment, and they will submit totally. (65)

    Indeed, there is nothing in religious teachings that is unfair or difficult for people to carry out. It is only those with weak hearts and lack of will that flinch from them and cower at performing their reli- gious duties, be they fighting for the cause of God or the observance of daily prayers.

    The surah then elaborates on the characteristics of the hypocrites, touching briefly on another social group that needs attention, those of weak faith. If not attended to, these are always in real danger of losing their faith altogether. This weakness of faith manifests itself in several forms. One of them is referred to in the surah as follows:

    There is among you he who is sure to lag behind, so that if a disas- ter befell you, he would say, “God has been gracious to me that I was not present with them.” But if God’s grace came your way, he would say, as though there was no amity between you and him, “Would that I had been with them, I might have gained immensely.” (72–73)

    This is a person motivated by sheer self-interest, and cares nothing for the faith or its future. He is dithering, wavering between satisfy- ing his own ego and the honest fulfillment of his duty towards others. Another type is the person who observes religious obliga-

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    tions, such as prayers and fasting, but when it comes to fighting for the cause of God, shudders and wavers and asks for time to think. The surah continues:

    Have you not seen those to whom it has been said, “lay down your arms and observe your prayers and give alms,” but when they were ordered to fight, some of them were as fearful of other people as they were of God, if not more so. (77)

    The surah offers considerable guidance and counsel to those of weak faith, and confirms that God is so gracious as not to leave them to their own fate or to drift away completely from their religion. To the first group, God advises that in deciding what direction to take, they should not be led by their personal narrow interests only. It is shameful, indeed despicable, that those who do not take part in fighting should lament their reluctance to participate in battle after victory has been achieved, or feel self-satisfaction and happiness when the outcome is defeat. They are told to devote their energies to God and be forthright in responding to the call to defend His religion:

    Let those who are ready to exchange life in this world for life in the hereafter, fight for the cause of God. Whoever fights for the cause of God, and is then killed or achieves victory, We shall richly reward him. (74)

    As for the second group, they are told that a person’s term of life and his or her moment of death are determined by God beforehand. This is confirmed in ®l ¢Imr¥n: “No soul will die without God’s permission, after a certain fixed term” (145). Indeed, some people come out alive from the most horrific accidents, such as airplane crashes, while others die for no apparent reason while relaxing in their own living rooms.

    The world is full of those who oscillate between hypocrisy and

    A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an

    weak faith, and the surah has mentioned some of them. God says: When they are blessed with good fortune, they say, “This is from God,” but when misfortune befalls them, they say, “This is from you [Muhammad].” Say to them, “It is all from God.” (78)

    This reminds us of the Pharaoh’s stance towards Moses, which is described in another surah as follows: “When good fortune came to them, they said, ‘This is our due,’ but when a misfortune befell them, they blamed Moses and his followers” (al-A¢r¥f: 131). This cynicism, which might have characterized the attitude of the People of the Book or some of the new converts to Islam at the time towards God’s revelations and messages, is a sign of a serious flaw and a lack of faith in God.

    As Muslims, we believe that God is the source of good fortune and He is the only power that can cause real harm. He is the creator of all, in whose hands lies the destiny of the whole world and every- thing that is in it. Despite their active free will, human beings can neither create things nor cause them to happen. However, within the context of this universe, about which we still know very little, a person’s will and power to do things is limited and constrained. This is the significance of the words: “Say, ‘It is all from God.’” The verses that follow elaborate on this theme further and place it in a proper perspective. They explain that most of the evil that befalls people can be attributed to their negligence or to certain undesirable actions or behavior on their part. Addressing the Prophet as well as every human being, the surah goes on to say: “Whatever good you [Muhammad] encounter is from God, and whatever misfortune befalls you is due to yourself” (79). God is the creator and the origin of everything, while people commit acts and acquire results, and they are the cause of most of what they suffer. Another type of people the surah mentions are those who:

    when they hear any news, whether good or bad, they broadcast it;

    surah 4 • Al-Nis¥’

    whereas if they had [first] referred it to the Messenger and to those in positions of responsibility, they would have verified it properly. (83)

    Indeed, one of the most unfortunate phenomena in society is when ignorant incompetents take charge of its affairs and begin to pontificate, give advice and direction to others, and control their lives and destinies. It is still possible today to find ignorant people who issue religious edicts, or fat¥w¥ (sing. fatwa), relating to funda- mental issues of Islamic law, or pronounce on the most important matters of war and peace. There are people who spend all their energy trying to change the world, whereas they are not capable of influencing their own closest family members or friends. It is impe- rative that we should spare our energies by leaving things to those properly qualified and competent to deal with them or carry them out. Ignorant people should not be spokespersons for God or Islam, and specialists in all fields ought to be accorded the highest respect and allowed to serve society in the best possible manner, without being denigrated or undermined. It is far healthier for people to make their contribution in areas that they know best, and allow others to contribute similarly. Prophet Muhammad is reported to have said: “He is not one of us who is not kind to our children, or does not respect our elders, or denies our learned people the esteem they deserve.”8

    God commanded the Prophet not to be disconcerted by those who were weak of heart or cowardly, and to stand up to the trouble- makers and the aggressors until they relented and would no longer pose a threat to the Muslim community. The surah expresses that

    • Narrated by Ab‰ D¥w‰d and al-TirmidhÏ.

    A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an

    as follows:

    fight you, then, in God’s cause—since you are but responsible for your own self—and inspire the believers to overcome all fear of death. God may well curb the might of those who are bent on denying the truth: for God is stronger in might, and stronger in abil- ity to deter. (84)

    It was up to individual people to decide whether they would join the Prophet and the Muslims and support them, or not. The surah continues:

    Whoever lends support for a good cause shall be a beneficiary of its goodness, but whoever gives support for a bad cause shall suffer part of its consequences. God controls and assigns all things. (85)

    God also commanded the Muslims to observe and assess the atti- tudes and stances of others towards them, and to reciprocate with them accordingly. The surah says: “When you are greeted, reply with a similar or better greeting...” (86). This would apply to normal everyday greetings exchanged between people. The Muslims in Madinah used to extend greetings to Muslims and non-Muslims alike until some People of the Book resorted to distorting the word al-sal¥mu, meaning peace, to al-s¥mu, meaning death; that is, in return for the greeting al-sal¥mu ¢alaykum (peace be upon you) used by the Muslims, they would reply al-s¥mu ¢alaykum (death be upon you). In this situation the Muslims were instructed to counter with the single word, wa ¢alaykum, that is, “upon you also”! This, it seems to me, was a specific instance. However, the general meaning of the verse is that it becomes Muslims to undertake social interaction with others, Muslims and non-Muslims, as that would be more con- ducive to creating amity, peace, and trust among all. Ibn JarÏr quotes Ibn ¢Abb¥s as saying: “Greet in return everyone who greets you, even if they are Magians, because God says, ‘When you are greeted,

    surah 4 • Al-Nis¥’

    reply with a similar or better greeting.’” Al-Sha¢bÏ once greeted a Christian person, saying: “Peace and God’s mercy be upon you.” When someone criticized him for doing that, he replied: “Does not he too live by the mercy of God?”9

    The surah then turns to talk about the hypocrites and how to deal with them. In this context, the hypocrites are not a particular group of Madinan residents, such as ¢Abd Allah ibn Ubayy and his coterie, but other tribes and communities, or in modern terminology, for- eign nations, who express support and solidarity with Muslims and Muslim causes in public, while behind the scenes they resort to scheming and intrigue against them. Some Muslims at the time were taken in by such people until the revelations from God alerted them to the facts, saying:

    Why should you split into two camps concerning the hypocrites, when God had thwarted them on account of their misdeeds? Would you guide those whom God had confounded? Those whom God confounds you can never guide. (88)

    Then the surah continues to provide more details on the nature and type of those enemy groups. Some of them wish hardship for the Muslims, connive against them, and are eager to see them aban- don Islam. However, the surah warns: “Do not take some of them as allies until they leave their homes for the cause of God and join you” (89). Those who are neutral should be offered peace. “If they leave you alone, do not fight you, and offer you peace, then God gives you no authority over them” (90).

    Nevertheless, the opportunists should be given firm and sharp treatment. The offer of peace extended to the genuine neutrals must not include them. Still, fighting these people would not be for

    • Narrated by al-Bukh¥rÏ and Muslim.

    A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an

    the purpose of forcing them to convert to Islam, but to persuade them to remain neutral in any war forced upon Muslims. However, if in fact it became clear that they reneged or showed hostility towards the Muslims, then there would be no justification in letting them off.

    The classification of these enemies given in the surah is extremely equitable. Muslims neither force others to convert to their religion, nor object to them taking a neutral stand in any conflict that deve- lops between Muslims and non-Muslims, as long as that neutrality remains true and effective. What Muslims object to and would resist is naked and open aggression.

    The surah then gives the Islamic ruling with respect to premedi- tated murder and unintentional killing or manslaughter. This came about in the wake of an incident, during one of the battles, when the Muslims captured people from the enemy side. As they were closing in on them, a man came forward to announce his conversion to Islam. Some Muslims immediately thought that he was only doing that to save his neck and could only be bluffing or trying to deceive them. He was killed by Us¥mah ibn Zayd.

    When the news reached the Prophet, he was deeply affected, and reprimanding Us¥mah, he said: “What have you to say to the fact that he had proclaimed the faith?” Us¥mah replied: “He only did so out of fear.” To which the Prophet responded, “How do you know? Had you cut open his heart and made certain whether he did so in fear or not?” After that, Us¥mah said, “The Messenger of God would continue to reproach me over that incident so that I wished I

    had not been a Muslim before that day.”10 On that occasion the

    following verse was revealed:

    Believers, show discernment when you go out to fight for the cause

    • Narrated by Imam A^mad and al-BayhaqÏ.

    surah 4 • Al-Nis¥’

    of God, and do not say to him who surrenders to you that he is not a believer, seeking worldly gain. God has abundant rewards. You had been in similar situations previously, but God was gracious towards you. Therefore, show discernment as God is cognizant of all you do. (94)

    As a matter of fact, it was inappropriate at that time for Muslims to continue to live among the infidels. There was a need for con- verts to emigrate and join their fellow Muslims in Madinah, in order to partake in setting up the new Muslim state and share in the effort of building the future of Islam. Hiding their belief made new con- verts to Islam open to persecution when discovered. The Qur’an was quite critical of such a stand when it said:

    Those who die sinning shall be asked by the angels, “What were you doing?” They would reply, “We were oppressed in the land.” The angels would say, “Was not God’s earth wide enough for you to emigrate?” (97)

    Emigration for the sake of preserving one’s own beliefs is one way of securing peace and security. There is nothing more degrading than having to live under suppression, humiliation, and duress when God has promised those who seek refuge for the sake of their religious belief a better and far more prosperous and happy life, now and in the hereafter. Indeed, human societies all over the world have always migrated and moved around, building and contributing, materially as well as spiritually, to human culture and civilization. As believers in God and custodians of the message of Islam, Muslims should be at the forefront of this vital human activity to dispense their duty of spreading God’s message.

    With travelling comes the concession of shortening some of the obligatory daily Muslim prayers, as indicated in the following verse: “When you travel, you incur no offense in shortening the prayers, if

    A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an

    you fear that the unbelievers might cause you harm” (101). It seems that this verse and the one following it apply to prayers when one is under the threat of enemy attack, but the ruling on prayers during normal travel are expounded elsewhere in the Qur’an. Further details on this subject can be found in numerous books on jurispru- dence.

    The next verse addresses Prophet Muhammad as the religious as well as military leader of the Muslims:

    When you [Muhammad] are with them [Muslims] and it is time to conduct the prayer, let a group of them rise up [to pray] with you, carrying their weapons. When these finish praying, let them stay behind you [to your back] and let another group who had not per- formed the prayer join you, and let them be on their guard and carry their weapons. (102)

    Most scholars tend to be of the view that this ruling applied when the Prophet was leading the prayer and groups of Muslims took turns in praying behind him. My personal interpretation of this statement is that it applies only in the case of the Prophet, as it would be inconceivable that someone else would lead the prayer in his presence. But today, prayers could be held in the battlefield by sev- eral groups, behind different a’immah (sing. imam), or leaders, and at various times, without fear of being taken unawares by the enemy. It would not be practical or necessary otherwise to tie up a whole army of several thousand people to a single imam or demand that they all pray together in one congregation at the same time.

    The surah continues with further description of people whose faith is weak and whose hearts are feeble or sick. It comments on one of the most intriguing incidents dealt with in the Qur’an, which con-

    surah 4 • Al-Nis¥’

    cerned one of those Muslims whose perception and understanding of Islam was, to say the least, lacking. A Muslim called >u¢mah com- mitted a theft, and to conceal the evidence, he entrusted the stolen goods to a Jew to keep them for him. Investigations focused suspi- cion on him and the Jew, and eventually the stolen goods were retrieved from the Jew’s house. The Jew said, quite rightly, that

    >u‘mah had placed them in his custody. >u¢mah, however, denied the offense and pointed to the Jew as the culprit. >u¢mah’s clan also entered the fray, defending their man and accusing the Jew, a soft target as a result of Jewish animosity towards Islam, of committing the crime.

    Prophet Muhammad showed a certain inclination to believe

    >u¢mah and his people, giving them, as Muslims, the benefit of the doubt. But God intervened to put the matter right. The surah goes on:

    We have revealed to you [Muhammad] the Book containing the truth, so that you may judge between people by that which God has shown you. You shall not plead for those who are perfi- dious. Implore God’s forgiveness; He is ever Forgiving and Mer- ciful. (105–6)

    God, therefore, had forbidden the Prophet to defend deceitful and untrustworthy Muslims, and directed him not to believe their claims. God says to the Prophet:

    But for God’s grace and mercy you would have been led astray by some of them. They would only mislead themselves, and could do you no harm. God has revealed to you the Book and the Wisdom and taught you what you did not know before. (113)

    Commenting on the >u¢mah case, the surah says: “Whoever com- mits a misdemeanor or an offense and accuses an innocent person of

    A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an

    it, shall bear the guilt of calumny and gross injustice” (112). As for the offender, the surah invites him to repent, saying: “Whoever pur- sues evil or wrongs his own soul and then seeks God’s forgiveness, will find God Forgiving and Merciful” (110). As for the collusion of the guilty man’s clan and their efforts to pervert the course of justice, the surah asserts:

    There is no virtue in much of their counsel, except for those who call for charity, kindness, or reconciliation among people. Whoever does this seeking the pleasure of God, We shall grant them a great reward. But he who disobeys the Messenger after the guidance is made clear to him and pursues a path other than that of the belie- vers, We will leave him to his choice, but will assign him to hell; a dismal abode. (114–15)

    Thus, once again, Islam’s fairness is made manifest! These arguments were put forward for the sake of establishing the rule of law, to grant justice to a person whose community were in the main antagonistic towards Islam, and to prove his innocence in a crime for which he was clearly being victimized.

    Having closed that chapter, the surah turns to another diminish- ing but significant community that was still to be found in Madinah, the idol-worshipping Arabs. The surah hits at them very hard:

    God will not forgive taking other gods besides Him, although He will forgive whom He will all other misdemeanors. He who takes other gods besides God has indeed strayed far away. (116)

    Certainly polytheism, or the belief in and worship of several gods, is a mental and spiritual aberration which totally negates human nature and values. True believers in God can neither submit their will to, nor place their trust in, nor seek guidance from anyone else but the one and only God, the Creator and Sustainer of all creation. This

    surah 4 • Al-Nis¥’

    belief generates in the believer’s heart total reassurance and peace of mind, so that he or she will not submit to anyone else, nor seek their support or reward. On the other hand, the recognition of several gods divides one’s loyalties, and causes one to be guided and moti- vated by several contradictory, delusive, and fallacious principles and ends. One’s life turns into a long, continuous delusion that ends in a mirage.

    Those who take Satan rather than God for an ally shall indeed suffer total and evident loss. He [Satan] promises them and raises false hopes for them, but he only does that to deceive them. (119–20)

    Boasting about one’s religion or beliefs is a hopeless pursuit. Sincere actions and sensible behavior shall be the final criterion. Today we meet people who are so eager to express their pride in Islam, bragging about its superiority, integrity, and justice. How- ever, when these same individuals are asked what contributions or sacrifices they have made for Islam, or what distinguishes them from followers of other religions in the world, they become dumbfound- ed. In response to these people, God says:

    It is not by your own wishful thinking, nor by the wishful thinking of the People of the Book. Whoever does evil shall be requited for it, and shall find none, other than God, to protect and support him. (123)

    Nowadays, although while we find Christian and Jewish leaders openly and proudly identifying with the ideals and traditions of their religions, we rarely find political leaders of Muslim countries observing or respecting even the simple daily prayers.

    The surah returns to the discussion of family relationships dealt with earlier. At the outset, it sets out the general principles of equity and reconciliation upon which these relationships must rest:

    A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an

    They consult you [Muhammad] concerning women. Say, “God provides you with answers about them, and so do those parts of the Book concerning orphan girls, whose rights you deny but whom you wish to marry, and concerning helpless children. God has also instructed you to treat orphans fairly.” (127)

    We have already seen how at the beginning the surah dealt exten- sively with the subject of orphans; here it concentrates on disputes and disagreements that might arise between married couples. In this context, the Qur’an strongly recommends the resort to reconcilia- tion, mutual kindness, and fairness, and urges resistance to securing selfish gains as much as it is humanly possible. Still, if that option fails and the relationship breaks down, each party is advised to seek redress, first and foremost, with God Himself; “But if they separate, God will compensate both out of His own abundance; God is Munificent and Wise” (130). Indeed, God’s grace and generosity are boundless. With deep and sincere faith in and obedience to God, one should not despair or become pessimistic:

    To God belongs all that the heavens and the earth contain. We have exhorted those who had received the Book before you, as well as yourselves, to fear God. For, if you deny Him, know well that to God belongs all that the heavens and earth contain. God is Self- Sufficient and Worthy of praise. (131)

    This last phrase is repeated in this part of the surah three times to stop people despairing and give both spouses encouragement and hope in a better future if they have to divorce and lead separate lives.

    The surah then goes on to emphasize that married life is based on fairness, and that society as a whole can in fact grow and survive only on foundations of equity and justice among its members. “Believers, uphold justice and bear true witness before God, even

    surah 4 • Al-Nis¥’

    if you have to attest against yourselves, your parents, or your kinsfolk” (135). Upholding justice has been the tradition and the motto of all the prophets who had received from God the gui- dance and the law, and were assigned to ensure its proper and fair implementation. This is what the next verse seems to affirm, when it says: “Believers, believe in God, His Messenger, the Book He revealed to His Messenger, and the Book He had revealed previ- ously” (136). Oppression and the absence of justice within a family home are a threat to both spouses and to all their children. Broken homes and dislocated families spread unhappiness through the rest of society and threaten its cohesion and the safety and quality of life within it.

    So far, we have seen how the surah has discussed the various groups of people in society and their respective roles, and has not limited the discussion to family affairs alone. We have also been given a taste of the Qur’an’s approach in dealing with the hypocrites or fifth columnists in society against whom it gives stern warnings. Before the surah is brought to a close, however, we are taken back to this subject to see the surah highlighting one very important aspect of this matter.

    True believers respect and revere God’s words. They take them seriously and never allow them to be ridiculed, reviled, distorted, or taken in vain. It is for this reason that outrage is always provoked in Muslims by others who take God’s words in vain. Nevertheless, there are always the weak-minded, dim-witted Muslims who are so lax in this regard and who are hardly ever moved by slanders or attacks against their religion or their holy Book. It is these who are addressed in the next verse:

    Inform the hypocrites that a stern chastisement awaits them; those who choose to take the infidels rather than the believers as allies. Are they seeking glory at their hands? Surely, all glory belongs to

    A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an

    God. (138–39)

    The point here is that no matter how powerful their enemy, Muslims should never appease or succumb to him at the expense of their religion and their honor. It is a characteristic of the hypocrites alone that they do not care about truth or principle, but sincere believers are told:

    He [God] has instructed you in the Book that whenever you hear God’s revelations being denied or ridiculed you must not remain in that company until they move on to another subject of conversa- tion; or else you would be like them. (140)

    All through Islamic history, Islam and Muslims have repeatedly suf- fered as a result of scheming and intrigues at the hands of such hypocrites, and it is no wonder that the Qur’an refers to the subject over and over again to stress its various aspects.

    Towards the end, the surah returns to the subject of the People of the Book, Jews and Christians, shedding some new but vital light on aspects of their history and official conduct. The Jewish elders reject both Jesus and Muhammad. They accuse Jesus of being an impostor and of being born out of wedlock by an adulterous mother, while Muhammad was a bedouin with a false claim to prophethood. To the Church, Muhammad was simply a charlatan and a pretender. The surah replies to all these allegations as fol- lows:

    Those who deny God and His messengers, and wish to draw a line between God and His messengers, saying, “We believe in some, but deny others,” and seek to find a way to justify this, are the real infidels, and for the infidels We have prepared a humiliating

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    punishment. But those who believe in God and His messengers and discriminate against none of them, God shall give them their reward; and God is Forgiving and Merciful. (150–52)

    Following a short debate with the People of the Book, God addresses Prophet Muhammad:

    We have sent you revelation as We sent it to Noah and to the prophets who came after him. We also sent revelation to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the [Hebrew] Tribes, and to Jesus, Job, Jonah, Aaron, Solomon and David, to whom We gave the Psalms. (163)

    The source of the revelation and guidance received by all of these messengers and that received by Muhammad is one. They are all envoys of God to humanity, assigned the same basic mission which they delivered with equal honesty, care, and diligence. Muhammad’s only merit over his fellow messengers was that the revelation he had received was more detailed, more profound and comprehensive in communicating with people’s basic nature and instincts as well as higher aspirations. His legacy is bound to endure and the mission of enlightenment, guidance, and service to God which he launched is set to continue and persist as long as humans are due to live in this world. God has endorsed Muhammad’s mis- sion by saying: “God bears witness to what He sent down to you [Muhammad], and He sent it down with His knowledge; and so do the angels, and God is a sufficient witness” (166). Indeed, any detached and fair examination of the Qur’an would in fact show that it is unique among all the divinely revealed Books of all the other prophets and messengers. A similar examination of Muhammad’s own character, life, and work would establish that he was ideally and uniquely suited for the mission he was chosen to undertake.

    As for the Qur’an’s debate with the People of the Book, the surah

    A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an

    tells us:

    The People of the Book ask you [Muhammad] to bring down for them a book from heaven. They demanded something greater than that from Moses, saying, “Show us God face to face.” (153)

    This could not be the attitude of a group seeking truth for its own sake. This demand could only be made by individuals with an arro- gant overreaching mentality, and so when it came from members of Moses’ party, who should have known better, they were repri- manded and punished severely. The surah portrays the group as people who had accepted God’s covenant only out of fear, and went on to renege on it and break it, to which God responded:

    That was a consequence of their breaking their covenant, their denial of God’s revelation, their killing of the prophets unjustly and their saying, “Our hearts are sealed.” It is God who sealed their hearts, on account of their denial, and only a few of them would truly believe. It was also a consequence of their denial and their utterance of monstrous falsehoods against Mary. (155–56)

    When Jesus became the target of slander and murderous intents, God saved him and confounded his enemies.

    They had neither killed him, nor crucified him, but it was made to seem to them that they did. Those who disagree about that are con- fused; they have no knowledge thereof, going by pure conjecture, since they had certainly not killed him. God lifted him up to Him; God is Mighty and Wise. (157–58)

    Nevertheless, for historical and other reasons, many people have come to believe in the crucifixion and salvation myths that have become a central part of Christian dogma and doctrine. This is due to ignorance, narrow-mindedness, and lack of enlightenment. God,

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    affirming the escape and eventual ascent of Jesus and his submission to Him, maintains in these verses that were the people more enligh- tened, they would have taken a more sensible attitude:

    But those of them who are deeply rooted in knowledge and the believers do believe in what has been sent down to you [Muhammad] and what was sent before you; and so do those who observe the prayer and give alms, and so do believers in God and the Last Day. We shall give all of these a great reward. (162)

    Here we come to the closing verses of this surah which give deci- sive judgment on all the human social and religious groups men- tioned earlier. The infidels and the hypocrites fare the worst, because they are bigoted and base their beliefs on myth and ignorance, and they try to mislead and confuse others. They in fact stand as obstacles to other people’s endeavor to know God and avail themselves of His guidance. “Those who disbelieved and debarred others from the path of God have gone far astray. God does not forgive those who disbelieve and act unjustly, nor will He guide them” (167–68). Looking at the history of modern colonialism and imperialism, one can see clearly that it quite distinctly bears these two features: disbe- lief in God and the oppression of humankind.

    Then, in such an intriguing manner, the verses address the Jews thus:

    O people, the Messenger has come to you with the truth from your Lord, and so believe for your own good. If, however, you disbe- lieve, know that to God belongs all that the heavens and the earth contain. God is All-Knowing and Wise. (170)

    This is followed by a statement directed at the Christians, who are seen as being overwhelmed by confusion and lack of direction, which have led to their highly outlandish, self-contradictory, and

    A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an

    paradoxical doctrines and beliefs. With respect to that, God says: People of the Book [Christians], do not exceed the proper bounds of your religion, and say nothing but the truth about God. The Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, is no more than the messenger of God and His word which He had bestowed on Mary, and a soul from Him. So believe in God and His messengers and do not say [God is] three. Desist for your own good. God is but One God; He is far too glorified to have a son of His own. To Him belongs all that the heavens and the earth contain. God is a sufficient Protector. (171)

    The truth is that honest inquiry into and the study of the mysteries of the universe and natural phenomena will only confirm the fact that there could only be one God. If other gods exist, then where are they? What have they created? What is their contribution to the world and what role do they play in its destiny? Where is this corpo- rate godhead that is running our world and deciding our future? No! There are not, nor could there be, more than one God; obedience and total submission are due to Him alone, and all are obliged to thank and worship Him and nobody else. God says:

    The Messiah would never feel too proud to be a servant of God, nor would the angels who are close [to God]. He [God] shall bring before Him all those who are arrogant and look down on those worshiping Him. (172)

    The surah ends with a verse setting out the rules for inheritance with respect to deceased childless couples and orphans. This takes us full circle to the subject of family affairs with which the surah had opened. Thus we can see that the subject matter of this surah revolves around the theme of social life and social relations in general and the various groups that make up society and its cultural and religious structure. The family unit is a miniature model for society as a whole, while society is a larger model of the family, and

    surah 4 • Al-Nis¥’

    God’s grace and guidance encompass them all. To those lacking in perception, however, the surah may appear to be made up of a col- lection of disjointed passages, which is a serious misunderstanding.

    I simply refuse to judge Qur’anic surahs by their titles, which are quite different from their subject matter. The titles are no more than restrictive tags or labels, while the content is often complex, elabo- rate, and intertwined. We may take al-Baqarah as an example; it extends over forty pages of normal size, out of which the story of the cow, which gives the surah its title, comprises no more than half a page. The rest of the surah extends into a vast ocean of subjects deal- ing with history, law, theology, morals, ethics, and other themes. The same applies to this surah. A few short passages of it are devoted to matters relating to women, such as the family and family affairs, but the rest deals with wider social and religious issues that are of interest and relevance to human groups throughout the world.

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    يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ اتَّقُوا رَبَّكُمُ الَّذِي خَلَقَكُم مِّن نَّفْسٍ وَاحِدَةٍ وَخَلَقَ مِنْهَا زَوْجَهَا وَبَثَّ مِنْهُمَا رِجَالًا كَثِيرًا وَنِسَاءً ۚ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ الَّذِي تَسَاءَلُونَ بِهِ وَالْأَرْحَامَ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ عَلَيْكُمْ رَقِيبًا

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    وَآتُوا الْيَتَامَىٰ أَمْوَالَهُمْ ۖ وَلَا تَتَبَدَّلُوا الْخَبِيثَ بِالطَّيِّبِ ۖ وَلَا تَأْكُلُوا أَمْوَالَهُمْ إِلَىٰ أَمْوَالِكُمْ ۚ إِنَّهُ كَانَ حُوبًا كَبِيرًا

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    وَإِنْ خِفْتُمْ أَلَّا تُقْسِطُوا فِي الْيَتَامَىٰ فَانكِحُوا مَا طَابَ لَكُم مِّنَ النِّسَاءِ مَثْنَىٰ وَثُلَاثَ وَرُبَاعَ ۖ فَإِنْ خِفْتُمْ أَلَّا تَعْدِلُوا فَوَاحِدَةً أَوْ مَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَانُكُمْ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ أَدْنَىٰ أَلَّا تَعُولُوا

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    وَآتُوا النِّسَاءَ صَدُقَاتِهِنَّ نِحْلَةً ۚ فَإِن طِبْنَ لَكُمْ عَن شَيْءٍ مِّنْهُ نَفْسًا فَكُلُوهُ هَنِيئًا مَّرِيئًا

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    وَلَا تُؤْتُوا السُّفَهَاءَ أَمْوَالَكُمُ الَّتِي جَعَلَ اللَّهُ لَكُمْ قِيَامًا وَارْزُقُوهُمْ فِيهَا وَاكْسُوهُمْ وَقُولُوا لَهُمْ قَوْلًا مَّعْرُوفًا

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    وَابْتَلُوا الْيَتَامَىٰ حَتَّىٰ إِذَا بَلَغُوا النِّكَاحَ فَإِنْ آنَسْتُم مِّنْهُمْ رُشْدًا فَادْفَعُوا إِلَيْهِمْ أَمْوَالَهُمْ ۖ وَلَا تَأْكُلُوهَا إِسْرَافًا وَبِدَارًا أَن يَكْبَرُوا ۚ وَمَن كَانَ غَنِيًّا فَلْيَسْتَعْفِفْ ۖ وَمَن كَانَ فَقِيرًا فَلْيَأْكُلْ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ ۚ فَإِذَا دَفَعْتُمْ إِلَيْهِمْ أَمْوَالَهُمْ فَأَشْهِدُوا عَلَيْهِمْ ۚ وَكَفَىٰ بِاللَّهِ حَسِيبًا

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    لِّلرِّجَالِ نَصِيبٌ مِّمَّا تَرَكَ الْوَالِدَانِ وَالْأَقْرَبُونَ وَلِلنِّسَاءِ نَصِيبٌ مِّمَّا تَرَكَ الْوَالِدَانِ وَالْأَقْرَبُونَ مِمَّا قَلَّ مِنْهُ أَوْ كَثُرَ ۚ نَصِيبًا مَّفْرُوضًا

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    وَإِذَا حَضَرَ الْقِسْمَةَ أُولُو الْقُرْبَىٰ وَالْيَتَامَىٰ وَالْمَسَاكِينُ فَارْزُقُوهُم مِّنْهُ وَقُولُوا لَهُمْ قَوْلًا مَّعْرُوفًا

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    وَلْيَخْشَ الَّذِينَ لَوْ تَرَكُوا مِنْ خَلْفِهِمْ ذُرِّيَّةً ضِعَافًا خَافُوا عَلَيْهِمْ فَلْيَتَّقُوا اللَّهَ وَلْيَقُولُوا قَوْلًا سَدِيدًا

Alpino

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