Tafsir Zone - Surah 3: Ale-Imran (The Family Of Imran )

Tafsir Zone

Surah Ale-Imran 3:81

Overview (Verses 81 - 85)

A Pledge Binding on All Prophets 

God made a covenant with the Prophets: “If after what I have vouchsafed to you of the Scriptures and wisdom, there comes to you a messenger confirming the truth of what you have in your possession, you shall believe in him and you shall help him. Do you,” said He, “affirm this and accept the obligation I lay upon you in these terms?” They answered: “We do affirm it.” Said He: ‘Then bear witness, and I am also a witness with you.” Then those who turn away afterwards are indeed transgressors. Do they seek a religion other than God’s, when every soul in the heavens and the earth has submitted to Him, willingly or by compulsion, and to Him they shall all return? (Verses 81-83)

This passage explains the link between all the messengers and messages. It is based on the covenant made with God which judges as a transgressor anyone who declines to follow the last of the Divine messages. It shows that such a person would be guilty of violating his covenant with God and of disobeying the law which applies to the whole universe. God, limitless He is in His glory, has made a binding and solemn covenant with every prophet He sent. He Himself witnessed this covenant as did His prophets. The covenant states that if a prophet is followed by a messenger who confirms his own message, he is required to declare his belief in this messenger, give him his support and follow his religion, no matter what he himself has been given of Scriptures and wisdom. God has made this binding agreement with every prophet and messenger He has sent.

The Qur’ānic presentation overlooks the time intervals which separated God’s messengers, but instead groups them all in one scene with God, in His majesty, addressing them all at the same time. He asks whether they acknowledge this covenant and accept the obligation it places on them: “Do you affirm this and accept the obligation I lay upon you in these terms?’ They answered: ‘We do affirm it.’” (Verse 81) God, the Sublime, witnesses this covenant and asks them to witness it as well: “He said: ‘Then bear witness, and I am also a witness with you.’” (Verse 81)

As we replay this majestic scene in our minds, we are overawed with the image of all messengers assembled in the presence of God.

United in their submission to the sublime directive, they uphold the single truth, which God has willed should serve as the foundation of human life and remain pure of deviation, contradiction and conflict. God selects one of His servants to establish this truth on earth, before he passes it over to his successor, to whom he pledges his support, as the latter takes over the task of conveying God’s message. No prophet has any personal interest in this matter, nor does he seek any personal glory. He is simply a servant of God, chosen by Him to convey His message. It is God Who determines how this message is carried forward from one generation to another, and it is He Who controls the movement of its followers as He pleases.

With this covenant, Divine religion is assured of being free from any narrow prejudice, be it the prejudice of the messenger to himself or to his people, or the prejudice of his followers to their own faith, interests, or to their own people. This single faith remains, in this way, pure, as God wishes it to be.

In light of this fact, how do those among the people of earlier revelations justify their attitude, when their religions call upon them to believe in the last messenger and to help and support him? How do these people who reject the last messenger appear, when their own messengers have made such a solemn and binding covenant with their Lord in a grand, awesome scene? They appear, indeed, to be transgressors. They have moved away from the teachings of their own Prophets, violated God’s covenant and rebelled against this system which applies to the whole universe and which surrenders to its Creator. “Then those who turn away afterwards are indeed transgressors. Do they seek a religion other than God’s, when every soul in the heavens and earth has submitted to Him, willingly or by compulsion, and to Him they shall all return?” (Verses 82-83)

No one refuses to follow the last of the Prophets but a transgressor, and no one rejects God’s faith but a deviant who stands alone in rebellion against the whole universe, which submits to God.

God’s faith is one. All messengers preached the same faith and pledged their covenants to dedicate themselves to it. The covenant God has made with every messenger is the same. Hence, to believe in the new faith, to follow its messenger, and to help implement it so that it attains supremacy over all other creeds and methods is indeed to honour this covenant. Anyone who rejects Islam, therefore, rejects God’s faith as a whole, and violates his covenant with God.

Islam, or submission to God, is the constitution and religion which applies to everything in this universe. It becomes a reality when the way of life God has chosen for mankind is implemented to the exclusion of every other way. This is indeed a universal version of Islam and submission. It has a profound effect on our feelings and conscience. It speaks of an omnipotent rule which subjects all beings to the same constitution and the same destiny.

“To Him they shall all return.” There is no way out, for the end is the return to God, the Almighty, Who has created all and controls all.

If man’s aim is to be happy, to enjoy peace of mind and to have a good system for his life, then he must inevitably return to God’s constitution and implement it in his life both as an individual and in the life of his community. This ensures that man’s life is in perfect harmony with the system followed by the universe and devised by the Creator. Only when man achieves harmony between his own system, encompassing his feelings, motives, relations and practices and the system of the universe is he able to work in cooperation, rather than in conflict, with the great powers in the universe. If he finds himself in conflict with these powers, his world is left in tatters and he cannot fulfil the mission assigned to him by God. Conversely, when he achieves harmony with the laws of nature which operate in the universe and to which all living things are subject, he is able to fathom their secrets and to make use of them in a way which ensures his own happiness and peace of mind. He is then spared all worry, fear and conflict. When we say that man can make use of these powers, we mean that in the case of fire, for example, he will not burn himself by it, but will use it for cooking, heating, and lighting.

In its essence, human nature is in harmony with the laws governing the universe. Human nature submits to its Lord like the nature of every living thing. When man forces his own life out of the system laid down by God, he finds himself in conflict not only with the universe, but also with his own nature. This results in misery and worry. He suffers a great deal just as erring humanity now suffers, despite all its scientific achievements and all the facilities provided for man by this materialistic civilisation.

Man suffers a great deal because he finds himself in a terrible void. His soul is devoid of the truth which it desperately needs, the truth of faith. His life is devoid of the Divine method which achieves harmony of movement between man and the universe in which he lives. When man leaves the cool shade provided by God’s way of life, he finds himself in the blazing heat of the desert. 

Having left the straightforward path, man suffers a worrying type of corruption. This is indeed the reason for all the misery, worry and confusion suffered by humanity, and for all its hunger, thirst and deprivation. Man tries to escape from all this by resorting to drugs and drink, fast cars and aimless adventures, inventing a new craze every day, but to no avail. Material affluence, high levels of productivity, an easy life and a great deal of spare time do not help reduce his misery and worry. Indeed, the more he has of these, the greater his worry and confusion. This emptiness continues to chase man like a fearful ghost. Man tries to run away, but he can only run into an endless void. 

The first impression formed by anyone who visits rich countries is that their peoples are trying to escape. They want to escape even from their own souls. The thin veil of affluence and sensuous enjoyment which is carried too far is soon lifted to reveal all sorts of psychiatric complaints, crime, deviation, perversion, worry, madness, alcohol and drug addiction. There is nothing worthy of respect in such a material life.

 The people of these countries cannot determine the true purpose of their lives. They grope in the dark for that divine system which alone will ensure harmony of movement between themselves and the universe around them, and between their system and that of the universe. They cannot enjoy peace of mind because they do not know God, to Whom they shall all return. 

Since the Muslim nation — and by this we mean the truly Muslim nation, not that which lives in any particular geographical area or in any particular period of history — is the one which is aware of the true nature of the covenant between God and His messengers, it knows fully the truth of the single faith God has given man through the line of noble prophets and messengers. God instructs the Prophet to declare this truth in absolutely clear terms. He orders him to declare that his nation believes in all past messages, respects and honours all past messengers, and is fully aware of the true nature of the Divine faith which is the only faith acceptable to God: “Say: ‘We believe in God and in that which has been bestowed from on high upon us, and that which has been bestowed on Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob and their descendants, and that which has been vouchsafed by their Lord to Moses and Jesus and all the prophets. We make no distinction between them. To Him do we surrender ourselves.’ He who seeks a religion other than self-surrender to God, it will not be accepted from him, and in the life to come he will be among the lost.” (Verses 84-85) 

This is the reality of Islam: it encompasses all past messages, maintains loyalty to all past messengers. It shows that the Divine faith is one, and returns all religions to their common source. It implies believing in all these messages as a whole, as they have all been given by God.

 It is important to note here that the first of these two verses states first the belief in God and what has been revealed to the Muslims, i.e. the Qur’ān, and what has been revealed to all previous messengers. Its concluding comment on this encompassing belief is: “To Him do we surrender ourselves.” This acknowledgement of submission to God is very significant. It comes after it has been explained that Islam means total surrender, submission and obedience as well as the implementation of a certain system and a well-defined law. This is absolutely clear in the preceding verse: “Do they seek a religion other than Gods, when every soul in the heavens and the earth has submitted to Him, willingly or by compulsion, and to Him they shall all return?” It is clear that, in relation to all beings, “Islam” means surrender and submission, as well as obedience to the law and implementation of the system. It is for this that God deliberately explains the meaning of Islam and its true nature on every occasion, so that no one can mistake it for a word said verbally, or an acceptance made mentally, without it leaving its practical effects on life in the form of submission to God’s law and the implementation of that law in real life: “He who seeks a religion other than Islam, it will not be accepted from him, and in the life to come he will be among the lost.”