Surah Ale-Imran (The Family Of Imran ) 3 : 144

وَمَا مُحَمَّدٌ إِلَّا رَسُولٌ قَدْ خَلَتْ مِن قَبْلِهِ ٱلرُّسُلُ ۚ أَفَإِي۟ن مَّاتَ أَوْ قُتِلَ ٱنقَلَبْتُمْ عَلَىٰٓ أَعْقَٰبِكُمْ ۚ وَمَن يَنقَلِبْ عَلَىٰ عَقِبَيْهِ فَلَن يَضُرَّ ٱللَّهَ شَيْـًٔا ۗ وَسَيَجْزِى ٱللَّهُ ٱلشَّٰكِرِينَ

Translations

 
 Muhsin Khan
 Pickthall
 Yusuf Ali
Quran Project
Muhammad is not but a messenger. [Other] messengers have passed on before him. So if he was to die or be killed, would you turn back on your heels [to unbelief]? And he who turns back on his heels will never harm Allāh at all; but Allāh will reward the grateful.

1. Lessons/Guidance/Reflections/Gems

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Explanatory Note

This verse refers to a particular incident which took place during the Battle of Uĥud. The Prophet had stationed a detachment of soldiers on top of the mountain behind the Muslim army. They were the rearguard, equipped with bows and arrows to repel any attack launched against the Muslim army from behind. When the battle appeared to be all over, most of them left their positions, against the express orders of the Prophet. A battalion of the enemy forces were thus able to go round the mountain and attack the Muslims from the rear. The Prophet himself was injured: his front teeth were broken, and his face was bleeding.
 
The situation became chaotic and the Muslim army was in disarray. At this moment, someone cried out: “Muĥammad is killed!” Such a great shock was this to the Muslims, that many of them turned round to return to Madinah. They went up into the mountain, shattered, defeated, in despair. However, the Prophet himself, with a small group of his Companions, stood firm. He called to his Companions as they began to retreat. When they heard him, they began to rally. God helped them regain their moral strength and allowed them to be overtaken by a momentary slumber so as to give them strength, security and reassurance, as will be explained later.
 
This sequence of events is used in the Qur’ān to drive home to the Muslims certain fundamental principles about life and death and the history of Divine faith: “Muĥammad is only a messenger: all messengers have passed away before him. If then, he dies or is slain, will you turn about on your heels?” Muĥammad (pbuh) is simply a messenger, having been preceded by all other messengers. He will die as other messengers have died before him. This is an elementary fact. How is it then that the Muslims show themselves to be oblivious of this fact when it stared them in the face during the battle?

Muĥammad (pbuh) is a messenger of God, entrusted with the task of conveying His message. God is Eternal and His word never dies. Believers should never turn on their heels if the messenger who has come to convey God’s word to them dies or is killed. This is also an elementary fact which the Muslims, in their great confusion, overlooked.
 
Human beings die and perish, while the faith survives. The way of life God has designed for mankind has its own entity; it is independent of those who convey it to people,  be  they   messengers  or  believers.  Every  Muslim  loves  God’s  Messenger (pbuh). His Companions loved him as no one had ever been loved before. They were ready to sacrifice their lives in order to spare him the slightest pain. One of his Companions, Abū Dujānah, stood as a shield to protect the Prophet, was hit by numerous arrows in the back and yet he never stirred. Only nine of his Companions were close to him when he was targeted by a determined attack by the unbelievers, and those nine defended him most courageously, until they were all killed. Many others in every generation and in all places continue to love him with all their hearts. Every Muslim who loves Muĥammad (pbuh) in such a way is required to distinguish between the Prophet as a person, and the faith he has conveyed to mankind and left intact for all people to accept and implement. It derives its continuity from God, Who never dies.
 
The message is much older than its advocates: “Muĥammad is only a messenger: all messengers have passed away before him.” They all preached the same message, the roots of which go back to the beginning of history. It starts with the beginning of human life, providing mankind with guidance and peace from the very first day of its existence.
 
The message is also greater than its advocates and lasts longer. Many of its advocates have come and gone, while it continues to serve as guidance to succeeding generations. Its followers maintain their link with God Almighty, its originator, Who has sent messengers to convey it to mankind. He is Everlasting and believers address their prayers to Him. None of them may turn about on their heels or turn their back on God’s guidance. This explains the stern warning implicit in this verse: “If then, he dies or is slain, will you turn about on your heels? He that turns about on his heels will not harm God in any way. God will reward those who are grateful [to Him].” 

The vivid description of turning back is here to be noted: “Will you turn about on your heels?” The physical movement depicted here brings alive the meaning of abandoning faith as if we see it with our own eyes. The verse does not refer to the physical turning away as a result of defeat in battle. It is more concerned with the psychological turning about when a voice cried out that Muĥammad was killed. Some Muslims felt that there was no point in continuing the fight against the idolaters, since the death of Muĥammad (pbuh) signalled the end of this faith and the end of combat against idolatry. This psychological effect is delineated in terms of turning about on one’s heels, which was a movement that actually took place during the battle. It is this very attitude which Al-Nađīr ibn Anas, a Companion of the Prophet, warned his fellow Muslims against when he saw that many of them had lain down their arms. His retort to their excuse that Muĥammad was dead, was: “What use is life to you after he has died? Get up and die for the cause God’s Messenger (pbuh) has sacrificed his life for.”

“He that turns about on his heels will not harm God in any way.” It is indeed he who is the loser. He who deviates from the path of faith harms himself and causes God no harm. God is in no need of mankind or their worship. It is out of His grace that He has given His servants this constitution for their own good and happiness. Everyone who turns his back on it suffers from confusion and misery. Everything is thus set on the wrong footing. Life itself becomes deviant. People suffer the evil consequences of turning away from the only constitution which provides harmony in life and which achieves harmony between man, his nature and the universe around him.
 
“God will reward those who are grateful to Him.” They know the great bounty God has given His servants by establishing for them this code of living. They show their gratitude to Him by following this code and praising Him. They reap the benefits of this way of life and achieve total happiness. This is good reward for their gratitude. But they also have an increase of happiness with the reward they receive from God in the hereafter. That is a much greater reward and, unlike everything enjoyed in this world, it is everlasting.

“God will reward those who are grateful to Him.” Those who appreciate God’s bounty and show their gratitude to Him by following His guidance and by glorifying Him find happiness in their lives. Thus are they rewarded for their gratitude, and they will receive an even better reward in the life to come.

2. Linguistic Analysis

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Frequency of Root words in this Ayat used in this Surah *


3. Surah Overview

4. Miscellaneous Information

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5. Connected/Related Ayat

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6. Frequency of the word

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7. Period of Revelation

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“This Surah consists of four discourses:

  • The first discourse (v. 1-32) was probably revealed soon after the Battle of Badr.
  • The second discourse (v. 33-63) was revealed in 9 A.H. (After Hijrah - migration from Makkah to Madinah) on the occasion of the visit of the deputation from the Christians of Najran.
  • The third discourse (v. 64-120) appears to have been revealed immediately after the first one.
  • The fourth discourse (v. 121-200) was revealed after the Battle of Uhud.” [Mawdudi]

8. Reasons for Revelation

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1. The Believers had met with all sorts of trials and hardships about which they had been forewarned in Al-Baqarah. Though they had come out victorious in the Battle of Badr they were not out of danger yet. Their victory had aroused the enmity of all those powers in Arabia which were opposed to the islamic Movement. Signs of threatening storms had begun to appear on all sides and the Muslims were in a perpetual state of fear and anxiety. It looked as if the whole Arabian world around the tiny state of Madinah - which was no more than a village state at that time - was bent upon blotting out its very existence. This state of war was also adversely affecting its economy which had already been badly disturbed by the influx of the Muslim refugees from Makkah.

2. Then there was the disturbing problem of the Jewish clans who lived in the suburbs of Madinah. They were discarding the treaties of alliance they had made with the Prophet after his migration from Makkah. So much so that on the occasion of the Battle of Badr these people of the Book sympathized with the evil aims of the idolaters in spite of the fact that their fundamental articles of Faith - Monotheism, Prophethood and Life-after-death - were the same as those of the Muslims. After the Battle of Badr they openly began to incite the Quraysh and other Arab clans to wreak their vengeance on the Muslims. Thus those Jewish clans set aside their centuries-old friendly and neighbourly relations with the people of Madinah. At last when their mischievous actions and breaches of treaties became unbearable the Prophet attacked the Bani-Qaynuqah, the most mischievous of all the other Jewish clans who had conspired with the hypocrites of Madinah and the idolatrous Arab clans to encircle the Believers on all sides. The magnitude of the peril might be judged from the fact that even the life of the Prophet himself was always in danger. Therefore his Companions slept in their armours during that period and kept watch at night to guard against any sudden attack and whenever the Prophet happened to be out of sight even for a short while they would at once set out in search of him.

3. This incitement by the Jews added fuel to the fire which was burning in the hearts of the Quraysh and they began to make preparations to avenge the defeat they had suffered at Badr. A year after this an army of 3000 strong marched out of Makkah to invade Madinah and a battle took place at the foot of Mount Uhud. The Prophet came out of Madinah with one thousand men to meet the enemy. While they were marching to the battlefield three hundred hypocrites deserted the army and returned to Madinah but there still remained a small band of hypocrites among the seven hundred who accompanied the Prophet. They played their part and did their utmost to create mischief and chaos in the ranks of the Believers during the Battle. This was the first clear indication of the fact that within the fold of the Muslim Community there was quite a large number of saboteurs who were always ready to conspire with the external enemies to harm their own brethren.

4. Though the devices of the hypocrites had played a great part in the set-back at Uhud, the weaknesses of the Muslims themselves contributed no less to it. And it was but natural that the Muslims should show signs of moral weakness for they were a new community which had only recently been formed on a new ideology and had not as yet got a thorough moral training. Naturally in this second hard test of their physical and moral strength some weaknesses came to the surface. That is why a detailed review of the Battle of Uhud was needed to warn the Muslims of their shortcomings and to issue instructions for their reform. It should also be noted that this review of the Battle is quite different from the reviews that are usually made by generals on similar occasions.

9. Relevant Hadith

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