Surah an-Nisa' (Women ) 4 : 97

إِنَّ ٱلَّذِينَ تَوَفَّىٰهُمُ ٱلْمَلَٰٓئِكَةُ ظَالِمِىٓ أَنفُسِهِمْ قَالُوا۟ فِيمَ كُنتُمْ ۖ قَالُوا۟ كُنَّا مُسْتَضْعَفِينَ فِى ٱلْأَرْضِ ۚ قَالُوٓا۟ أَلَمْ تَكُنْ أَرْضُ ٱللَّهِ وَٰسِعَةً فَتُهَاجِرُوا۟ فِيهَا ۚ فَأُو۟لَٰٓئِكَ مَأْوَىٰهُمْ جَهَنَّمُ ۖ وَسَآءَتْ مَصِيرًا


 Muhsin Khan
 Yusuf Ali
Quran Project
Indeed, those whom the angels take [in death] while wronging themselves - [the angels] will say, "In what [condition] were you?" They will say, "We were oppressed in the land." They [the angels] will say, "Was not the earth of Allāh spacious [enough] for you to emigrate therein?" For those, their refuge is Hell - and evil it is as a destination.

1. Lessons/Guidance/Reflections/Gems

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Explanatory Note

These verses are speaking of a real situation that existed in Makkah and elsewhere in the Arabian peninsula after the Prophet’s migration and the establishment of the Islamic state. There were still some Muslims who stayed behind, unwilling to sacrifice their property and interests because the unbelievers did not allow those who migrated to take any possessions with them. Some of them might have feared the consequences of migration, because the unbelievers were ever watchful, trying to turn hack any Muslim who sought to leave for Madinah. Some, however, were too weak to migrate. Among them were the elderly, women, and children who could not find a way of escape.
Unable to seize the Prophet and his Companions when they migrated to Madinah and unable to prevent the establishment of the Muslim state, the unbelievers turned the screw on those Muslims who stayed behind, especially when the new Muslim state began to intercept the Quraysh’s trade caravans. When the Muslims were able to score their resounding victory at Badr, the unbelievers in Makkah escalated their torture of those Muslims who were left behind, trying to force them to return to idol worship. Some of them succumbed to the pressure, feeling compelled to at least pretend that they were no longer Muslims and taking part with the unbelievers in their idolatrous practices. This facade of having rejected Islam was permitted them when they had no state to which they could migrate. However, after the establishment of that state, such pretence was no longer acceptable and especially when the means to migrate were available. Migration enabled them to declare that they were Muslims and to live according to the principles of faith.
These verses were revealed to address that particular case. They describe the people unwilling to migrate for one of the above reasons as “wronging themselves”. They have indeed done themselves a great wrong by depriving themselves of the opportunity to live in the land of Islam where they could enjoy a clean, healthy, blessed life, free from all pressures. Instead, they chose to live in weakness and to suffer persecution. Moreover, these verses warn them that their abode will be Hell, and describe it as “a certainly evil end”. This suggests that this particular statement refers to those who actually turned back from Islam in Makkah.
In the inimitable fashion of the Qur’ān, this whole situation is portrayed very vividly: “To those whom the angels gather in death while they are still wronging themselves, the angels will say: ‘What were you doing?’ They will answer: `We were oppressed on earth.’ (The angels) will say: `Was not God’s earth so spacious that you might have migrated to settle elsewhere?’“ (Verse 97)
The Qur’ān is dealing here with human beings in whom it attempts to arouse the elements of goodness, courage, and dignity, and to eradicate the elements of weakness, miserliness and humility. It, therefore, gives us this portrait delineating a true situation. It makes use, however, of that true situation to treat human weaknesses. The scene of approaching death is one that sends a shiver into a man’s heart. Portraying the angels in the way in which the Qur’ān does makes it more vivid, and heightens our fear. Those people have wronged themselves, and the angels have arrived to gather them in that condition. This, again, makes one’s heart shudder. It is sufficient for anyone to imagine himself with the angels terminating his life while he is wronging himself. He has no other chance to redeem himself.
The angels, however, do not keep quiet as they cause these people to die. They review their past history and find a great deal wanting therein. Therefore, they ask them what they were preoccupied with during their days and nights. Their preoccupation has, after all, meant their utter loss. At the moment of death, they provide a humiliating reply, thinking this sufficient justification for their cowardice: “We were oppressed on earth.” We were humiliated by the people in power and we were unable to do anything about our situation.
Despite all the self-degradation inherent in this reply, which leads us to despise the person who takes such an attitude at the point of death, after having refused to migrate throughout his lifetime, the angels confront these people with the reality of their situation. They reproach them for not having tried when the chance was there: “Was not God’s earth so spacious that you might have migrated to settle elsewhere?” It was not helplessness that forced them to accept humility and oppression in preference to migrating to the land of Islam. There was something else, namely, their unwillingness to sacrifice their property and possessions and interests in the land of evil. Holding on to these, they remain in their homes when God’s earth is so spacious as to make migration possible if only they are willing to make the necessary sacrifice. This highly effective scene concludes with a fearful end: “Such will have their abode in Hell, a certainly evil end.” (Verse 97)


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 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

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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

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10. Wiki Forum

Comments in this section are statements made by general users – these are not necessarily explanations of the Ayah – rather a place to share personal thoughts and stories…

11. Tafsir Zone


12. External Links

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