Surah an-Nisa' (Women ) 4 : 77
1. Lessons/Guidance/Reflections/Gems[ edit ]
The sūrah continues to express surprise at the actions of some Muslims. There were people, said to be over-zealous Makkans, who, while facing persecution in Makkah, asked to be allowed to fight the unbelievers. For reasons known only to God Almighty, some of which we will discuss shortly, they had not been permitted to take up arms against their tormentors. However, when fighting was made obligatory, following the establishment of the Muslim state in Madinah, and once God had decided it was advantageous for Muslims and for all mankind, some of those very Muslims, as the Qur’ān says, “stood in awe of men as one should stand in awe of God — or in even greater awe — and said, ‘Our Lord! Why have you ordered us to fight? If only You had granted us a delay for a little while!’“ (Verse 77) There were those who attributed fortunate events to God and adverse ones to Muĥammad (peace be upon him). Others expressed obedience to the Prophet in his presence but agreed among themselves to something different once they left his company, and yet others who spread whatever rumours they heard regarding war and peace.
The Qur’ān vividly portrays the state of mind of all these groups. It corrects for them, as well as for others after them, the errors of their understanding of the realities of life and death, fate and destiny, good and evil, benefit and harm, gain and loss, standards and values. It elaborates all these basic facts in a clear and effective manner.
Are you not aware of those who have been told, “Hold back your hands [from fighting’, and attend regularly to prayer, and pay your zakāt [i.e. the purifying dues]’“? When, at length, the order for fighting was issued to them, some of them stood in awe of men as one should stand in awe of God — or in even greater awe — and said, “Our Lord! Why have You ordered us to fight? If only You had granted us a delay for a little while!” Say, ‘Brief is the enjoyment of this world, whereas the life to come is the best for all who are God- fearing. None of you shall be wronged by as much as a hair’s breadth. Wherever you may be death will overtake you, even though you be in towers built up strong and high. “Yet, when a good thing happens to them, some [people] say, “This is from God,” whereas when evil befalls them, they say, “This is from you!” Say, “All is from God.” What is amiss with these people that they are in no wise near to grasping the truth of what they are told? Whatever good happens to you is from God; and whatever evil befalls you is from yourself We have sent you as a Messenger to all mankind. Enough is God for a witness. He who obeys the Messenger obeys God thereby. As for those who turn away — We have not sent you to be their keeper. And they say, “We do obey you,” but when they leave you, some of them devise, in secret, something different from what you advocate. All the while God records what they thus devise in secret. Leave them, then, alone, and place your trust in God. Sufficient is God for a guardian. Will they not, then, try to understand the Qur’ān? Had it issued from any but God, they would surely have found in it many an inner contradiction! If any matter pertaining to peace or war comes to their knowledge, they make it known to all and sundry; whereas, if they would only refer it to the Messenger and to those from among them entrusted with authority, those of them who are engaged in obtaining intelligence would know it. Were it not for God’s bounty to you, and His grace, all but a few of you would certainly have followed Satan. (Verses 77-83)
These groups, described in the four sections above, may already have been referred to in earlier verses, beginning with verse 72. This would mean that they refer to that group of hypocrites who said and did whatever is described here. Initially, we were more inclined to go along with this interpretation because the hypocrites’ qualities are unmistakable in what these verses describe, and because such action and behaviour is closer to their nature and reputation. However, the first of these sections, dealing with “those who have been told, ‘Hold back your hands [from fighting], and attend regularly to prayer, and pay your zakāt [i.e. the purifying dues]’? When, at length, the order for fighting was issued to them... “, suggests that it refers to a group of Makkan Muslims whose faith was somewhat lacking. Although this is a quality of hypocrisy, they are not themselves hypocrites. Each of the other three passages describes a particular group of hypocrites who had infected the Muslim community at the time. Taken together, the passages describe the hypocrites in general, categorising their actions and behaviour.
Are you not aware of those who have been told, “Hold back your hands [from fighting], and attend regularly to prayer, and pay your zakāt [i.e. the purifying dues]”? When, at length, the order for fighting was issued to them, some of them stood in awe of men as one should stand in awe of God— or in even greater awe — and said, “Our Lord! Why have You ordered us to fight? If only You had granted us a delay for a little while!” Say, “Brief is the enjoyment of this world, whereas the life to come is the best for all who are God- fearing. None of you shall be wronged by as much as a hair’s breadth. Wherever you may be death will overtake you, even though you be in towers built up strong and high.” (Verses 77-78)
God Almighty expresses surprise at those Muslims who, while still in Makkah facing persecution and abuse and were restrained from fighting, for reasons known to God Almighty, were enthusiastically vying for confrontation. Yet when the appropriate time, appointed by God, and the right circumstances arrived, and fighting was duly prescribed, some of them were so alarmed and terrified to the point of fearing the enemy they were ordered to fight. Heart-broken, shocked and terrified, all they could say was: “Our Lord! Why have You ordered us to fight?...” A strange question to come from a believer, but an indication of the confusion regarding the obligations required by Islam and regarding its role in life. The enquiry is followed by a pathetic and plaintive wish: “If only You had granted us a delay for a little while!” They would rather have had more time before taking up such a heavy and terrifying burden.
The most zealous and reckless of people can also be the most frightened and most easily overpowered when the situation becomes critical. This may, in fact, be the rule rather than the exception, because over-enthusiasm, recklessness and fanatic fervour are often motivated by a lack of judgement of the task ahead, rather than courage, patience or determination. Inspired by impetuosity and a lack of stamina some people are forced to move and seek action and victory in any way and by any means, regardless of the cost. However, once such people come face to face with the task in hand, it looks greater than they had anticipated and more demanding than they had thought. Thus, they become the first to lose heart, to panic and crumple. It is only those who are persevering and restrained, who patiently prepare for battle and who fully appreciate the weight of the task ahead, that endure, remain steadfast and prepare properly for the mission. Reckless zealots may take such people to be weak and sneer at their deliberation and consideration. The battle, however, will decide which of the two groups is the stronger and the more far-sighted.
Most probably, the sūrah is referring to that group of Muslims whose dignity did not allow them to tolerate harassment and humiliation in Makkah and who, thus, requested that the Prophet grant them permission to fight. The Prophet, in such matters, was complying with God’s instructions of restraint, patience, careful preparation and education, awaiting the right moment. But once they were safely settled in Madinah and securely living out of harm’s way, they no longer saw any justification or, at least, no great urgency to fight the enemy.
When, at length, the order for fighting was issued to them, some of them stood in awe of men as one should stand in awe of God — or in even greater awe — and said, “Our Lord! Why have You ordered us to fight? If only You had granted us a delay for a little while!” (Verse 77)
These people may have been sincere believers, as seen from their plaintive appeals. No wonder that underdeveloped faith, confusion and a lack of clear understanding of Islam’s true mission in the world, should result in such a wavering attitude. Islam’s mission is more than the mere preservation of individuals, nations or countries. It is, first and foremost, the firm establishment of God’s order and just system all over the world. It is the institution of a supreme authority that allows no impediments to the spread of God’s faith and which refuses to deprive people from receiving God’s call wherever they may be. It ensures that no one is persecuted in their livelihood or freedom of action, or indeed in any other way, as a result of the religious belief they have freely chosen. Safety and security at Madinah, even if one accepts these were fully guaranteed, did not, however, mean the Muslims’ mission was fulfilled and that jihād was no longer required.
It is not surprising that weak faith should produce such an attitude. Weak faith prevents a person from viewing matters objectively, listening only to God’s commands, considering them both cause and effect, reason and result, providing the ultimate authority, whether one understands their purpose or not. Nor is it surprising that blurred understanding should result in a stance that the Qur’ān firmly rejects. It is only a clear understanding of Islam that enables a believer to identify Islam’s mission in the world and his own role as God’s instrument to be used for whatever purpose He may think fit.
When, at length, the order for fighting was issued to them, some of them stood in awe of men as one should stand in awe of God or in even greater awe — and said, “Our Lord! Why have You ordered us to fight? If only You had granted us a delay for a little while!” (Verse 77)
The mere existence of this group created disruption and discord within the Muslim community as some became fearful and dismayed at the prospect of having to fight their enemy, while others remained calm and confident. The latter received the imposition, of jihād duty with poise, serenity, determination and even enthusiasm. Their enthusiasm was well placed because it was necessary for the proper execution of their obligation. It was not mere recklessness that evaporated immediately on coming face to face with danger.
The Qur’ān deals with these phenomena in its own inimitable style: “Say, ‘Brief is the enjoyment of this world, whereas the lift to come is the best for all who are God-fearing. None of you small be wronged by as much as a hair’s breadth. Wherever you may be death will overtake you, even though you be in towers built up strong and high.’“ (Verses 77-78)
They fear death and love life, pathetically pressing their desire that God should give them more time and allow them more of this world’s enjoyments. Hence, the Qur’ān goes to the root of the problem, revealing the true understanding of life and death: “Say, ‘Brief is the enjoyment of this world....”
All worldly enjoyments, and the world as a whole, are ephemeral, let alone a period of days, weeks, months or years. What good is there, in granting a short while longer in life if all the pleasures of human life throughout the world and throughout all ages are worthless? What can these people hope to achieve in such a short time when, in reality all life in this world is short?
“Whereas the life to come is the best for all who are God-fearing.” (Verse 77) This life is not the be-all and end-all. It is merely a stage of existence beyond which there is a life hereafter full of boundless and endless delights that are “best for all who are God- fearing” The reference here to consciousness and fear of God is quite appropriate because it is God, not men, who should be respected and feared. Those whose hearts are filled with fear of God shall have no fear of anyone else; no one can harm them if God wishes them no harm.
“None of you shall be wronged by as much as a hair’s breadth.” (Verse 77) There shall be no injustice, prejudice or unfair treatment. Whatever is lost in this life shall be generously compensated for in the final account in the life to come with full justice and appreciation.
Nevertheless, some people wish for longer life, even though they believe in the life to come and look forward to its precious rewards. This is more so during the early days of one’s commitment to Islam, as was the case for those Muslims.
At this point, a final touch gives the true understanding of the nature of life, death, destiny and fate, and relates all this to the obligation to fight. “Wherever you may be death will overtake you, even though you be in towers built up strong and high.” Death is inevitable, and certain to come at its appointed moment. It is not affected by war or peace, or the security of one’s position, nor is its timing affected by whether Muslims are ordered to fight or not. The two events are separate and unrelated. Death is only dependent on its appointed time as determined by God Almighty. Any wish to defer jihād, as also fear of other people have no significance in this regard. With this, the Qur’ān takes care of all the suspicions that may linger on in our minds regarding this matter, and removes all the fear that results from misunderstanding this basic concept.
2. Linguistic Analysis[ edit ]
4. Miscellaneous Information[ edit ]
5. Connected/Related Ayat[ edit ]
6. Frequency of the word[ edit ]
7. Period of Revelation[ edit ]
This Surah comprises several discourses which were revealed on different occasions during the period ranging probably between the end of year 3 A.H. and the end of 4 A.H. or the beginning of 5 A.H. Although it is difficult to determine the exact dates of their revelations it is possible to assign to them a fairly correct period with the help of the Commandments and the events mentioned therein. A few instances are given below by way of illustration:
1. We know that the inheritance law for those martyred and protection for the rights of the orphans was sent down after the Battle of Uhud (in which 70 Muslims were martyred). From this we conclude that v. 1 -28 were revealed on that occasion.
2. We learn from the traditions that the ruling regarding the prayer (Salah) during war time was given on the occasion of the Zat-ur-Riqa’aan expedition. This took place in 4 A.H. From this we conclude that the discourse containing v. 102 was revealed on that occasion.
3. The last warning to the Jews was given before the Banu-Nadheer were exiled from Madinah in Rabi’-ulAwwal 4 A.H. It may therefore be assumed that the discourse containing v. 47 was revealed before that date.
4. The permission about performing ablution with dust in the event of no water (tayammum) verse 43, was given during the Bani-al-Mustaliq expedition which took place in 5 A.H. [REF: Mawdudi]
8. Reasons for Revelation[ edit ]
Let us now consider the social and historical considerations of the period in order to understand the Surah. All the discourses in this Surah deal with three main problems which confronted the Prophet at the time. First of all he was engaged in bringing about an all round development of the islamic Community that had been formed at the time of his migration to Madinah. For this purpose he was introducing new moral cultural social economic and political ways in place of the old ones of the pre-islamic period. The second thing that occupied his attention and efforts was the bitter struggle that was going on with the polytheist Arabs, the Jewish clans and the hypocrites who were opposing tooth and nail his mission of reform. Above all, he had to propagate Islam in the face of the bitter opposition of these powers of evil with a view to capturing more and more minds and hearts.
Accordingly detailed instructions have been given for the consolidation and strengthening of the islamic Community in continuation of those given in Surah 2: Al-Baqarah (The Cow). Principles for the smooth running of family life have been laid down and ways of settling family disputes have been taught. Rules have been prescribed for marriage and rights of wife and husband have been apportioned fairly and equitably. The status of women in the society has been determined and the declaration of the rights of orphans has been made. Laws and regulations have been laid down for the division of inheritance and instructions have been given to reform economic affairs. The foundation of the penal code has been laid down, drinking has been prohibited and instructions have been given for cleanliness and purity. The Muslims have been taught the kind of relations good men should have with their God and fellow men. Instructions have been given for the maintenance of discipline in the Muslim Community.
The moral and religious condition of The People of the Book (Jews and Christians) has been reviewed to teach lessons to the Muslims and to forewarn them to refrain from following in their footsteps. The conduct of the hypocrites has been criticized and the distinctive features of hypocrisy and true faith have been clearly marked off to enable the Muslims to distinguish between the two. In order to cope with the aftermath of the Battle of Uhud, Inspiring discourses were sent down to urge the Muslims to face the enemy bravely, for defeat in the Battle had so emboldened the polytheist Arab clans and the neighbouring Jews and the hypocrites at home, that they were threatening the Muslims on all sides. At this critical juncture God filled the Muslims with courage and gave them such instructions as were needed during that period of war clouds. In order to counteract the fearful rumours that were being spread by the hypocrites and the Muslims of weak faith they were asked to make a thorough enquiry into them and to inform the responsible people about them. Then they were experiencing some difficulties in offering their prayer during the expeditions to some places where no water was available for performing their ablutions etc. In such cases they were allowed to cleanse themselves with pure earth and to shorten the prayer or to offer the “Prayer of Fear” when they were faced with danger. Instructions were also given for the solution of the puzzling problem of those Muslims who were scattered among the unbelieving Arab clans and were often involved in war. They were asked to migrate to Madinah the abode of Islam.
This Surah also deals with the case of Banu nadir who were showing a hostile and menacing attitude in spite of the peace treaties they had made with the Muslims. They were openly siding with the enemies of Islam and hatching plots against the Prophet and the Muslim Community even at Madinah itself. They were taken to task for their inimical behaviour and given a final warning to change their attitude and were at last exiled from Madinah on account of their misconduct.
The problem of the hypocrites, who had become very troublesome at that time, was involving the Believers in difficulties. Therefore, they were divided into different categories to enable the Muslims to deal with them appropriately. Clear instructions were also given regarding the attitude they should adopt towards the non-belligerent clans. The most important thing needed at that time was to prepare the Muslims for the bitter struggle with the opponents of Islam. For this purpose greatest importance was attached to their character building, for it was obvious that the small Muslim Community could only come out successful, nay, survive, if the Muslims possessed high moral character. They were, therefore, enjoined to adopt the highest moral qualities and were severely criticized whenever any moral weakness was detected in them.
Though this Surah mainly deals with the moral and social reforms, yet due attention has been paid to propagation of Islam. On the one hand, the superiority of the islamic morality and culture has been established over that of the Jews, Christians and polytheists; on the other hand, their wrong religious conceptions, their wrong morality and their evil acts have been criticized to prepare the ground for inviting them to the way of the Truth.
9. Relevant Hadith[ edit ]
Ibn Abi Hatim recorded that Ibn `Abbas said that `Abdur-Rahman bin `Awf and several of his companions came to the Prophet while in Makkah and said, "O Allah's Prophet! We were mighty when we were pagans, but when we embraced the faith, we became weak.'' The Prophet said, «إِنِّي أُمِرْتُ بِالْعَفْوِ فَلَا تُقَاتِلُوا الْقَوْم» "I was commanded to pardon the people, so do not fight them." When Allah transferred the Prophet to Al-Madinah, He commanded him to fight (the idolators), but they (some Muslims) held back. So, Allah revealed the Ayah; أَلَمْ تَرَ إِلَى الَّذِينَ قِيلَ لَهُمْ كُفُّواْ أَيْدِيَكُمْ "Have you not seen those who were told to hold back their hands" (This Hadith was collected by Nasa'i and Hakim)