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

Tafsir Zone

Surah an-Nisa' 4:90

Overview (Verses 90 - 91)

Peace with Power 
Having thus given a clear verdict against those who side with the unbelievers despite their claims to be Muslims, the sūrah states an exception in the case of those who seek refuge with people who have a covenant or a treaty with the Muslim community. The attitude determined for such a community now also applies to them: “Except in the case of those of them who have ties with people to whom you yourselves are bound by a covenant.” (Verse 90)
We see here that Islam prefers peace whenever there is room for peace which does not impede its work of freely conveying its message to people and allowing them free choice. Nothing and no one should be in a position to use force against the effort to convey Islam to people. The security of the Muslims should be guaranteed. They must not be exposed to any danger of sedition or to threats to the Islamic message which may cause its efforts to be hampered. For this reason, those who seek refuge and live with any group of people who are bound by a treaty or a covenant with the Muslims enjoy the same treatment as the people with whom they live. The same state of peace applies to them. This is clear evidence of the peaceful nature of Islam.
Exception from imprisonment and execution is also made in the case of those individuals or tribes or communities who take a neutral position, those who do not join the fighting which takes place between their people and the Muslims. Their hearts shrink from thoughts of either fighting with their people against the Muslims or fighting with the Muslims against their own kin. These people stand aside, unwilling to enter into any hostilities: “Or those who come to you because their hearts shrink from the thought of fighting you or fighting their own people.” (Verse 90)
Again this ruling is evidence of the Islamic desire to avoid fighting others whenever they refrain from fighting the Muslims, choosing neutrality between them and their enemies. Those who did not fight on either side were present in Arabia and, indeed, within the Quraysh itself. Islam did not pressurise them to take sides for or against it. It was sufficient that they did not oppose Islam. At the same time, there was hope that they would eventually take the side of Islam, once the circumstances which caused their reluctance were removed. This was what actually happened in many cases.
God makes this line towards those neutrals beneficial to the Muslims when He reminds them of the other possibility that could have occurred. Those people could have sided with the hostile unbelievers and fought against the Muslims. The fact that they did not was far more preferable. “Had God so willed, He would have given them power over you, and they would have fought you. Therefore, if they leave you alone, and do not make war on you, and offer you peace, God has given you no way against them.” (Verse 90)
We note here the fine touch delivered by the Qur’ān which restrains those Muslims who were full of enthusiasm and who may not have liked these peoples’ neutrality. It is a reminder of God’s grace. He has restrained these people from taking a hostile attitude that could have increased the Muslims’ burden. The Muslims are instructed to accept whatever goodness is offered them and to avoid all evil that God has caused to stay away from them. This is, then, to be the attitude of the Muslim community, as long as it does not involve any relaxation of Islamic principles or complacency in matters of faith or humiliation to the Muslims through a sell out to their enemies. A cheap peace is unacceptable. The aim is not to avoid fighting at any price. The aim is to achieve a peace that does not encroach on any right of the Muslims, whether these rights are due to people or to Islam as a message and philosophy.
It is only right and proper that all impediments should be removed from the way of conveying the message of Islam to mankind. The point is that everyone who receives this message should feel free to accept it without being exposed to any harm, and this should apply everywhere in the world. It is also needed so that Islam acquires sufficient strength to deter anyone from taking a hostile attitude or inflicting harm of any sort on those who believe in it. Beyond that, peace is preferable and jihād continues.
There is another group of people to whom Islam extends no tolerance, because it is an evil group of hypocrites with whom Islam has no covenant or treaty. Hence, it is free to take the appropriate stance against them: “You will find others who would like to be safe from you as well as to be safe from their own people. Whenever they are called back to sedition they plunge headlong into it. If they do not leave you alone, and do not offer you peace and do not stay their hands, seize them and kill them wherever you come upon them. Over these We have given you a clear authority.” (Verse 91)
A report by Mujāhid suggests that this statement concerned a certain group of people from Makkah who came to the Prophet to declare that they were Muslims without actually being so. They then returned to Makkah where they reverted to idol worship. Their purpose was that they should feel safe and secure in both camps. Hence, Islam ruled that they be killed unless they stopped their erring ways. The verdict in this case is stated clearly: “If they do not leave you alone, and do not offer you peace and do not stay their hands, seize them and kill them wherever you come upon them. Over these we have given you a clear authority” (Verse 91)
We note here the clear balance in the Islamic attitude. It is serious and decisive but, at the same time, tolerant and forbearing. Each situation is faced with the most suitable of attitudes. When we consider both features, we realise that they provide every Muslim with a balanced attitude which becomes an essential feature of the Islamic system as a whole. When some people move towards extremism, adopting an uncompromising, violent attitude, then they do not represent Islam. On the other hand, Islam is not represented by those who take an apologetic attitude towards jihād, trying to defend Islam, which, in their view, stands indicted of violent extremism. They emphasise that Islam prefers peace in all situations and its permanent attitude is one of forbearance and forgiveness and that jihād is only allowed in the defence of Muslim land or the Muslim community. Thus, they narrow it down. Jihād is, indeed, a means of defending the Islamic message and its right to be conveyed freely to everyone, everywhere in the world. It is also the means to ensure that every individual, anywhere in the world is free to accept Islam. It guarantees the supremacy of a virtuous system, which extends security to all people, whether they accept Islam or not. As we have already said, neither the narrow extremist view, nor the complacent apologetic view is correct. Again, these provisions of Islamic international law convey a clear message to mankind.