Tafsīr of Sūrah Al-Hujarāt: Verses 13 - 15

by Yahya Adel Ibrahīm

VERSE 13

  "O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another. Verily, the most honorable of you with Allāh is that (believer) who has Taqwa (God-consciousness, fearing Allāh ). Verily, Allāh is All-Knowing, All-Aware." [Sūrah al-Hujurat (49): 13]  

The beginning of human race: Allāh addresses all mankind and mentions that He created all humans from one soul; Adam. From him, He created his wife, Hawa (Eve), and through them the human race grew and spread. Therefore, all humans are of the same category, rank and status, everybody is alike in the Sight of Allāh .

Nations, tribes and groups are only for acquaintance and knowing family relations. Allāh 's Messenger (sallAllāh u alaihi wa-sallam) said:

  "Learn enough about your lineages to know about your blood relatives and treat them accordingly." [(Sahīh) Sahīh Sunan at-Tirmidhī (no. 1612)]

Division of man into nations and tribes is also an expression of Allāh 's unique Attribute; 'al-Khāliq' 'the Creator', that He created infinite number of people with distinct features extending from one soul. Allāh explained that these differences of color and language are a sign of His Greatness and Power, He said:

  "And among His Signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the difference of your languages and colors. Verily, in that are indeed signs for men of sound knowledge." [Sūrah al-Rūm (30): 22]  

The main concern of this verse is to demonstrate equality and brotherhood. Imām Ibn Kathīr (rahimahullah) says:

  "This is the wisdom behind revealing this verse after the verses, which prevent one from Ghībah (backbiting), Spying, Nicknaming, etc. so that everybody might contemplate that in regards to their lineage, they are all equal."

After explaining the wisdom behind the division of mankind into tribes and groups, the next verse diverts the readers attention to the only factor which can elevate man in the Sight of Allāh and that is 'Taqwa.' Those who fear Allāh and obey Him are far superior to those who are arrogant and disobedient. Allāh says:

  "Not equal are the blind and those who see, nor are (equal) those who believe (in the Oneness of Allāh ) and do righteous good deeds, and those who do evil! Little do you remember." [ (40): 58]  

Paradise and eternal bliss becomes the right of those who acquire Taqwa, Allāh says:

  "And whosoever believes in Allāh and performs righteous good deeds, He will admit him into Gardens under which rivers flow (Paradise) to dwell therein forever. Allāh has indeed granted for him an excellent provision" [al-Talāq 65:11]  

Kufr, arrogance and oppression all lead to Hell-Fire regardless of who performs them, Allāh says:

  "But those who disbelieved (in the Oneness of Allāh (Islamic Monotheism) and denied Our Ayāt (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.), they will be the dwellers of the Fire, to dwell therein forever. And worst indeed is that destination." [Sūrah al-Taghābun (64): 10]  

Allāh 's Messenger (sallAllāh u alaihi wa-sallam) exposed the insignificance of racism in his Khutbah (sermon) on the Day of 'Fath-e-Makkah' (victory of Makkah) and categorized humans into two, on the basis of righteousness and Taqwa, he (sallAllāh u alaihi wa-sallam) said:

  "Allāh has dispelled from you the effects of Jahiliyyah (ignorance) and the practice of Jahiliyyah to boast around with people upon one's lineage. (Know) Men are only of two types, either righteous, who have high ranks with Allāh , or the sinful, who are disgraced in the Sight of Allāh ."

And then he recited the above verse Sūrah al-Hujurat (49): 13) [Ibn Abi Hatim] Thus, pride in one's lineage is against the teachings of Islām , and Allāh 's Messenger (sallAllāh u alaihi wa-sallam) discouraged all such practices. Allāh 's Messenger (sallAllāh u alaihi wa-sallam) said:

  "All of you are the children of Adam (alaihi as-salām), and Adam himself was created from clay. Refrain from boasting upon one's lineage. (Otherwise) you will be lighter than the heap of dust and marine birds in the Sight of Allāh ."

It is mentioned in Musnad Ahmad that Allāh 's' Messenger (sallAllāh u alaihi wa-sallam) was never pleased by any person or any thing, except a man with Taqwa. He (sallAllāh u alaihi wa-sallam) said:

  "There is no superiority of an Arab over a non-Arab… except due to Taqwa." [al-Silsilat al-Sahīh, (2700) Musnad Ahmad, Ibn Asākir and Ibn Sa'd]

To enforce the effect of brotherhood in his Sahabah (radhi Allāh u anhu) (Companions of Allāh 's Messenger), he (sallAllāh u alaihi wa-sallam) would often address them saying, 'Ya Banī Adam!' 'O descendants of Adam' and likewise is the approach of the Qur'ān in several verses.

Allāh 's Messenger (sallAllāh u alaihi wa-sallam) strictly abhorred racial discrimination. Abu Dharr (radhi Allāh u anhu) said:

  "There was an argument between me and one of my brothers whose mother was non-Arab. I insulted him about his mother, and he complained about me to the Prophet (sallAllāh u alaihi wa-sallam). I met the Prophet (sallAllāh u alaihi wa-sallam) and he said, "O Abu Dharr, you are a man who still has Jahiliyyah (ignorance) in him." [Sahīh al-Bukharī and Sahīh Muslim (3139)]

It is related in a long Hadīth of Sahīh Muslim that Allāh 's Messenger (sallAllāh u alaihi wa-sallam) said: "Allāh does not look at your faces and wealth, rather He consider your hearts and deeds." And he (sallAllāh u alaihi wa-sallam) said to Abu Dharr:

  "Remember! You have no virtue over any brown or black (man) But yes! If you increase in Taqwa then you are a virtuous man." [Musnad Ahmad]

Thus, Islām gives equal rights to all, rich and poor, noble and ignoble and there is no superiority of anyone over anybody else in Islām , except in terms of Taqwa. And this is the basis of Islamic society.

In this world, there are other things, which may grant loftiness to a person or a group of people, like wealth, power, lineage, etc. But the true greatness, which counts, is the greatness in the Sight of Allāh and its basis is Taqwa.

Allāh then closes the verse with two of His Great Names, All Knowing, All Aware, which encourage the believers to do righteous deeds and fear Him, because He knows and is All-Aware about the true nature of man.

VERSE 14

  "The Bedouins say: "We have believed." Say to them: "You have not yet believe', say instead, 'We have accepted Islām ' for true belief has not yet entered into your hearts. But if you obey Allāh and His Messenger you will not lose any of your (good) deeds for verily, Allāh is Most Forgiving, and Most Merciful." [Sūrah al-Hujurat (49): 14]  

Allāh revealed this verse reprimanding a tribe of Bedouins, who had newly converted to Islām , for a dishonest action. They used to request charity from the people of Makkah while claiming to be Mu'mins (true believers) like the early Muslims, who fought and suffered along with Allāh 's Messenger (sallAllāh u alaihi wa-sallam) in Makkah. But Allāh mentions in this verse that Īmān had not truly established itself in their hearts, and therefore revealed to His Messenger to warn them saying, they were only Muslims who had merely accepted Islām , and not Mumins (true believers). They would have to work harder to prove their devotion and faithfulness to Islām , until then they should judge their actions genuinely and accept it with sincerity.

Islām and Īmān

This verse explains that Islām and Īmān are two distinct entities and Īmān is more exalted than Islām . Islām and Īmān are two synonyms if they are mentioned together, both have separate meanings, and when they are mentioned separate, each means the other. Allāh distinguished between Īmān and Islām , when he addressed the Bedouins. He, the Most Merciful, notified that they were Muslims and not unbelievers, but they had not completely comprehended the higher level of Īmān, as is clear from the last part of the verse.

  "But if you obey Allāh and His Messenger, He will not decrease anything in rewards for your deeds. Verily, Allāh is oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful."  

If the Bedouins were hypocrites or unbelievers, they would have not been rewarded for their obedience to Allāh and His Messenger (sallAllāh u alaihi wa-sallam). The case described here is that the complete and true Īmān is not yet present in their hearts. However, they are not outside of Islām .

The distinction between Islām and Īmān is also manifest from the Hadīth of Jibrīl (alaihi as-salām), when he asked Allāh 's Messenger (sallAllāh u alaihi wa-sallam), 'What is Islām ?' He (sallAllāh u alaihi wa-sallam) replied: "Al-Islām implies that you testify that there is no god but Allāh and that Muhammad is the messenger of Allāh , and you establish prayer, pay Zakāt, observe the fast of Ramadan, and perform pilgrimage to the (House) if you can (bear the expense of) the journey." Jibrīl (alaihi as-salām) further asked: "Inform me about Īmān (faith)." He (sallAllāh u alaihi wa-sallam) replied: "That you affirm your faith in Allāh , in His angels, in His Books, in His Apostles, in the Day of Judgment, and you affirm your faith in the Divine Decree about good and evil." Jibrīl (alaihi as-salām) asked: "Inform me about al-Ihsan (performance of good deeds)." He (sallAllāh u alaihi wa-sallam) said: "That you worship Allāh as if you are seeing Him, for though you don't see Him, He, surely sees you." [Sahīh al-Bukharī and Sahīh Muslim] Thus, Jibrīl (alaihi as-salām) started with the less exalted rank (Islām ) to the higher exalted position (Īmān) and then to the highest position (Ihsan). [Tafsīr Ibn Kathīr]

Also, in a Hadīth reported by Bukharī and Muslim, Sād (radhi Allāh u anhu) reported: 'The Messenger of Allāh (sallAllāh u alaihi wa-sallam) bestowed some gifts upon a group of people and I was sitting among them. The Messenger of Allāh (sallAllāh u alaihi wa-sallam) left out a person and did not give him anything.

I thought that he was the best of the group. So I stood up before the Prophet (sallAllāh u alaihi wa-sallam) and said: 'O Messenger of Allāh ! What about so and so? By Allāh , I find him to be a believer.’ The Messenger of Allāh (sallAllāh u alaihi wa-sallam) answered: "He may be (just) a Muslim." I kept quite for a short while but then I could not restrain myself and again said to him: 'O Messenger of Allāh ! What about so and so? By Allāh , I find him to be a believer.'He said: "He may be (just) a Muslim."I remained quite and what I knew about the man made me speak again: 'O Messenger of Allāh ! What about so and so? By Allāh , I find him to be a believer.' The Messenger of Allāh (sallAllāh u alaihi wa-sallam) answered: "He may be a Muslim. I often bestow something upon a person whereas someone else is dearer to me than he, because of the fear that he may fall headlong into the Fire." Thus, we find Allāh 's Messenger (sallAllāh u alaihi wa-sallam) differentiating between a Mu'min (true believer) and a Muslim.

What can be derived from the above is that for a person to be called a Mumin (believer), he must fulfill the conditions and obligations of Īmān. If he is lacking in them, then he does not deserve to be called a true believer (Mumin). But he has not left the fold of Islām . Instead, he has moved from the lofty level of being called a 'believer (Mumin)' to the level of being a 'Muslim.'

This point is to be kept in mind when one reads Ahādīth like: "None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself." [Sahīh al-Bukharī and Sahīh Muslim] In other words, no one is a true and complete believer (meeting all the requirements and necessary components of Īmān) until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.

Morals in Islām

This verse also teaches Islamic Morals of avoiding arrogance and false praise. The Bedouins claimed true faith while they were only new Muslims who had recently accepted Islām and it was not appropriate on their part to claim the status of those true believers who had struggled along with Allāh 's Messenger (sallAllāh u alaihi wa-sallam). The Messenger of Allāh (sallAllāh u alaihi wa-sallam) said: "He who claims for himself qualities which he does not have is not of us. Let him prepare his seat in Hell." [Sahīh al-Bukharī] Allāh hates false praise.

Islām encourages modesty and humbleness and considers it to be a necessary element of Īmān. On one occasion, Allāh 's Messenger passed by a man from the Ansār who was criticizing his brother of Haya (self respect, modesty). He (sallAllāh u alaihi wa-sallam) said to him: "Leave him alone because Haya is an integral part of Īmān." [Sahīh al-Bukharī 1/23] At another occasion he (sallAllāh u alaihi wa-sallam) said: "Modesty and Īmān are companions, when one is taken away, the other follows." [al-Bayhaqī] He (sallAllāh u alaihi wa-sallam) also explained: "Whoever is humble for Allāh 's sake will be honored by Allāh ." [al-Bayhaqī]

Even excessive praise for others, whether it be in their presence or absence is also detested in Islām because it produces a feeling of pride. Allāh 's Messenger (sallAllāh u alaihi wa-sallam) said:

  "When you see those who shower too much praise upon others throw dust on their faces." [Sahīh Muslim (vol: 4, no: 7143)]

Allāh 's Messenger (sallAllāh u alaihi wa-sallam), who is the best and most pious of all mankind did not like this even for himself, when some people said to him: "O Messenger of Allāh , you are the best and the son of the best among us, and our master and the son of our master." He (sallAllāh u alaihi wa-sallam) addressed him saying:

  "O people! Make your request straightforward and let not Shaytān lure you into saying the wrong things. I am only the slave of Allāh , and His Messenger. I do not like you to elevate me above my rank in which Allāh , the Exalted, has praised me." [Musnad Ahmad]

Therefore, excessively praising the Messenger of Allāh (sallAllāh u alaihi wa-sallam) is prohibited. What we hear today of unrestricted praise for Allāh 's Messenger (sallAllāh u alaihi wa-sallam) to the extent that he (sallAllāh u alaihi wa-sallam) is sometimes raised to a status which fits no one except Allāh , the Exalted, is unlawful. This includes believing Allāh 's Messenger (sallAllāh u alaihi wa-sallam) to be able to answer supplications or fulfill requests made to him (after his death), etc. These attributes are unique for Allāh , for He alone answers the supplications and He alone can fulfill needs. As Allāh 's Messenger (sallAllāh u alaihi wa-sallam) said in the previous Hadīth, such acts are lure and misguidance from the Shaytān, who is at a constant attempt to lead humans astray.

This prohibition however, does not forbid due praises for someone, it only rejects the excessive praise. When Allāh 's Messenger (sallAllāh u alaihi wa-sallam) was asked: "What is your opinion about one who has done good deeds and people praised him?" He replied: "It is glad tidings for a believer." [Sahīh Muslim (vol: 4, no: 6388)]

VERSE 15

  "But if you obey Allāh and His Messenger, you will not lose any of your (good) deeds for verily Allāh is Most Forgiving, and Most Merciful." [Sūrah al-Hujurat (49): 15]  

After warning them (the Bedouins) for their disliked actions, Allāh then explains to them a way to repentance and atonement. Allāh says if they rightfully obey Allāh and His Messenger (sallAllāh u alaihi wa-sallam), the reward of their previous good deed will be retained. Obedience here implies full submission to the orders of Allāh and His Messenger (sallAllāh u alaihi wa-sallam) mentioned in the Qur'ān and the Sunnah without negligence. And this is from the Great Mercy of Allāh , the Exalted.


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