Tafsir Zone - Surah 4: an-Nisa' (Women )

Tafsir Zone

Surah an-Nisa' 4:123
 

Overview (Verses 123 - 125)

Action and Reward
 
The sūrah follows this discussion with a statement of the basic Islamic rule that governs action and reward. What determines the type of requital a person receives is not wishful thinking. There is a basic principle, a rule to apply to all and a law that favours no one. The law applies equally to all communities. No one has any special relation of kinship with God. Hence, no one may claim special favour so as to have the rule violated or the law suspended for his own sake. Everyone will be requited according to his deeds, whether good or evil.
 
It may not accord with your wishful thinking, nor with the wishful thinking of the people of earlier revelations. He who does evil shall be requited for it, and shall find none to protect him from God, and none to bring him support. But anyone, be it man or woman, who does good deeds and is a believer, shall enter paradise and shall not suffer the least injustice. Who could be of better faith than he who surrenders himself completely to God, does what is good, and follows the creed of Abraham, who turned away from all that is false? For God has taken Abraham for a friend. (Verses 123-125)
 
Both the Jews and Christians claimed to be God’s children and beloved ones. Both also claimed: “The fire will not touch us except for a few days.” (2: 80) And the Jews continue to assert that they are “God’s chosen people.” It may have occurred to some Muslims that they are truly the “best community ever raised for mankind”, and that God is certain to forgive them whatever misdeeds they may have perpetrated, simply because they are Muslims.
 
These verses put the question right for all three communities. The only determining factor is a person’s own deeds. All are, thus, referred to the same standard and criterion: complete submission to God alone, doing what is good, and following Abraham’s creed. Indeed, the best faith is Islam, which is Abraham’s creed based on total submission and self-surrender to God. The best deeds are those which aim for perfection, defined by the Prophet as “to worship God as though you were seeing Him, and to know that if you cannot see Him, He certainly sees you”. Doing good, as the Prophet states, is required in all actions, even when we slaughter an animal for food. In such instances, we are required to place the animal comfortably and to sharpen our blades so that the animal does not suffer much at the point of death.
 
The Qur’ānic statement ensures equality between the two parts of the single soul from whom all mankind originate with regard to action and requital. It also makes acceptance of people’s deeds conditional on their believing in God. “But anyone, be it man or woman, who does good deeds and is a believer, shall enter paradise and shall not suffer the least injustice.” (Verse 124) This statement is a clearly extends the same treatment to men and women. Furthermore, faith is the prerequisite for accepting anyone’s deeds. Indeed, no action is of any value in God’s measure unless it is based on, and motivated by faith. This is both natural and logical. It is belief in God that gives a good deed a proper r concept and a clear purpose. It also makes such a good deed a natural and consistent line of action. It is no longer a response to a personal desire or a momentary impulse.
 
This clear statement is at variance with what Shaikh Muĥammad `Abdu (may God bless his soul) stated in his commentary on the verse: “Whoever does an atom’s weight of good will see it then.” (99: 7) He considers this statement to be applicable to Muslims and non- Muslims alike. The fact is that other clear statements make this totally incorrect. The same applies to what Shaikh al-Marāghī (may God bless his soul) also states. We have referred to this in the last volume of this work.
 
Requital of Believers’ Bad Deeds
 
“He who does evil shall be requited for it, and shall find none to protect him from God, and none to bring him support.” (Verse 123) This statement was tough on the Muslims, for in it they recognised their weaknesses and the fact that no matter how good a person is and how much good works he does, he will inevitably do some evil. They knew what it means in reality to be human. Hence, they knew themselves. They did not try to delude themselves or hide their own tendencies. Nor did they ignore or conceal the weakness they sometimes felt within themselves. Hence, they were very apprehensive when they were told that they would be requited for every bad deed they committed. They shuddered as though they were facing the results here and now. This was their distinctive characteristic: to feel the hereafter as though it were here now, and not merely as something that will eventually, without doubt, come. To them, it was close, not distant. Hence, their anguish at this most serious of warnings.
 
Imām Aĥmad relates: “I am told that Abū Bakr said to God’s Messenger: How is anyone to prosper now that this verse has been revealed: ‘It may not accord with your wishful thinking, nor with the wishful thinking of the people of earlier revelations. He who does evil shall be requited for it.’ We will be requited for every bad deed we commit. The Prophet said: `May God forgive you, Abū Bakr! Do you not fall ill? Do you not get tired? Do you not feel distress? Do you not experience hardship?’ Abū Bakr answered in the affirmative, and then the Prophet said: All that is part of your requital.’” (This ĥadīth is also related by al-Ĥākim.)
 
Another ĥadīth reports Abū Bakr as saying: “I was with the Prophet when a verse was revealed stating: ‘He who does evil shall be requited for it, and shall find none to protect him from God, and none to bring him support.’ The Prophet said to me, ‘Shall I teach you a verse that has been revealed to me.’ I requested him to teach it to me. I had never experienced terrible pain in my back until I had reflected on it. The Prophet said, ‘What is wrong with you, Abū Bakr?’ I said: ‘Who of us has not done bad deeds? Are we to be requited for every bad deed we perpetrate?’ God’s Messenger said: As for you, Abū Bakr, and your friends, the believers, you will be requited for all that in the life of this world, so that you will have no sin recorded against you when you meet God. As for the others, their deeds will be put together so that they will be requited for such deeds on the Day of Judgement.” (Related by al-Tirmidhī.)
 
`Ā’ishah, the Prophet’s wife, reports: “I said, `Messenger of God, I know the hardest verse in the Qur’ān.’ When he asked me to name it, I said, ‘He who does evil shall be requited for it.’ He replied: `That refers to what a believer suffers in this world, even every adverse experience.’” (Related by al-Ţabarī.)
 
Abū Hurayrah states: “When the verse, ‘He who does evil shall be requited for it,’ was revealed, the Muslims felt it too hard. God’s Messenger said to them: `Take it easy and do your best. Whatever happens to a Muslim counts as requital, even a thorn pricking his skin or an adverse experience. — (Related by Muslim, al-Tirmidhī and al-Nasā’ī.]

 
At any rate, this was one part of the process of developing a proper and accurate concept of the rule of action and reward in Islam. It was of paramount importance in making such a concept perfectly accurate and in helping to set believers’ practices on the right way. The verse shook them because they took all matters related to their faith very seriously. They realised that whatever God promises will come true, both in this life and in the life to come.