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Al-Mizan Tafseer

In The Name of Allah, the Beneficent and the Most Merciful


Volume 7: Surah Ale-Imran, Verses 139-148

And be not infirm, and be not grieving, and you shall have the upper hand if you are believers (139). If a wound has afflicted you (at Uhud), a wound like it has also afflicted the (unbelieving) people; and We bring these days to men by turns, and that Allah may know those who believe and take witnesses from among you; and Allah loves not the unjust (140). And that Allah may purge those who believe and eradicate the unbelievers (141).  Do you think that you will enter the Garden while Allah has not yet known those who strive hard from among you, and (He has not) known the patient? (142).  And certainly you desired death before you met it; so indeed you have seen it (even) while you look (at it) (143).  And Muhammad is no more than a messenger, the messengers have already passed away before him; if then he dies or is killed, will you turn back upon your heels? And whoever turns back upon his heels, he will by no means do harm to Allah in the least; and Allah will reward the grateful (144).  And it is not for a soul to die but with the permission of Allah (according to) the term that is fixed; and whoever desires the reward of this world, We shall give him of it, and whoever desires the reward of the hereafter, We shall give him of it, and We will reward the grateful (145).  And how many a prophet has fought with whom were myriads of Godly men; so they did not lose heart on account f what befell them in Allah's way, nor did they weaken, nor did they abase themselves; and Allah loves the patient (146). And their saying was no other than that they said: "Our Lord!  forgive us our faults and our extravagance in our affair, and make firm our feet and help us against the unbelieving people" (147). So Allah gave them the reward of this world and an excellent reward of the hereafter and Allah loves those who do good (to others) (148).


The verses, as you see, complete the talk which had begun with the words, O you who believe!. . . (3:130), while those verses with their orders and prohibitions had paved the way for these which contain the main purpose including command, prohibition, praise and stricture.

QUR'AN: And be not infirm, and be not grieving, and you shall have the upper hand if you are believers:

"al-Wahn", according to ar-Raghib (in mufradaatul Qur'an), is infirmity and weakness in body or character. Here it refers to their weakness of will-power, carelessness in establishing the religion and lack of courage in face of its enemies. al-Huzn (grief ) is opposite of al-farh (joy, happiness); it afflicts a man when he loses a favorite possession, or something which he thinks belongs to him.

The words, "and you shall have the upper hand if you are believers". If a wound has afflicted you (at Uhud), a wound like it has also afflicted the (unbelieving) people;', indicate that the believers had felt infirmity and grief because they had seen themselves afflicted by wounds and found the unbelievers gaining upper hand. Although the polytheists could not get total victory over the believers, nor the battle ultimately ended with the believers' decisive defeat, yet what had afflicted them was really hard and painful - martyrdom of seventy of their brave warriors. Add to it the humiliation that they had been overwhelmed on their own ground. All these factors together had caused extreme dejection and pessimism. The clause, "and you shall have the upper hand if you are believers" (which stands as the reason of these two prohibitions), shows that the prohibition was related to actual infirmity and grief, not to some expected behavior in future.

The promise, "you shall have the upper hand", is general and unrestricted, but it is followed by the proviso, "if you are believers". It therefore gives the following meaning: You should not be weak in your will-power, nor should you grieve for the lost victory, if you are true believers. It is because belief - is bound to give you upper hand over your enemies - belief is accompanied by piety and patience, and these two are the basis of victory and triumph. As for the wound, which has afflicted you in this battle, you are not alone in it; the unbelievers too had suffered similar casualties. If you think it over, they have not gained over you in any way. Therefore, you should not feel depressed or grieved.

The address had started with the words, O you who believe; yet their gaining upper hand has been made conditional on their being believers. It implies that although the masses were not devoid of faith and belief, they had not adhered to the concomitants and requirements of that belief, like patience and piety; otherwise it would have brought out the desired effects.

This phenomenon is found in every group which is composed of people having different grades of belief; while there are some true believers, there are some of weak faith and yet others of sick hearts. This type of talk creates enthusiasm in believing souls, admonishes and revives the weak ones and censures and reprimands the hearts ailing with hypocrisy.

QUR'AN: If a wound has afflicted you (at Uhud), a wound like it has also afflicted the (unbelieving) people:

"al-Qarh" is used for effect of an external wound, while al-qurh denotes the effect of an internal wound like pimple or pustule. This difference has been given by ar-Raghib. The word metaphorically refers to all the calamities that had befallen the Muslims on the day of Uhud; it looks at the whole Muslim community as a single body which had received a wound inflicted by the enemy - the wound referring to the martyrdom of the martyrs and injuries of the injured, and the tragedy that victory slipped through their fingers.

The sentence, "If a wound had afflicted you . . . and destroy the unbelievers", gives the reason of the command, "And be not infirm, and be not grieving"; as does the sentence, "and you shall have the upper hand if you are believers "

The difference between the two sets of reasons is as follows: The sentence, "and you shall have the upper hand if you are believers", corrects their misconception. They had become disheartened and pessimistic because they thought that the polytheists had gained upper hand. Allah points out to them that it is they, not the polytheists, who have got the essential prerequisite of victory 'if they are believers'; and Allah had already declared: and helping the believers is ever incumbent on Us (30:47).

The second reason describes the condition of the two parties — the believers and the polytheists - or explains the underlying rationale, that is, the inverting Divine practice to turn the fortunes among men.

QUR'AN: and We bring these days to men by turns:

"al-Yawm" (day) is a considerable span of time that is necessary for an occurrence - thus its duration would differ from occurrence to occurrence. Generally it is used for the period between sunrise and sunset. Often it is used for kingdom, reign, power, etc., putting the time in place of the thing covered by it. They say, 'day of this group', 'day of such and such dynasty', i.e., their precedence and rule over others; sometimes it denotes the period itself. It is this connotation which is meant in this verse al-Mudawalah (taking of a thing by many people one after another).

The sentence thus means: It is an invariable practice of Allah that He rotates these days among men by turns; these are not restricted to any one group nor prevented from another people; this system is based on common benefits only a part of which may be comprehended by your minds.

QUR'AN: and that Allah may know those who believe and take witnesses from among you...eradicate the unbelievers:

The conjunction "and" joins it to a deleted clause; it was deleted to imply that human understanding cannot comprehend all of its aspects, it may know only a few features of it. What the believers would benefit from is mentioned in these two verses: "that Allah may know those who believe and take witnesses from among you; . . . that Allah may purge those who believe and eradicate the unbelievers."

As for the words, "that Allah may know those who believe ", they imply manifestation of their belief after its being hidden. Allah's knowledge of events and things is the same as their existence. The things are known to Allah by their very existence. His knowledge is not like ours - because our knowledge and perception come through a form abstracted from the thing concerned. To say that Allah wills to know a thing, is the same as saying that Allah wills to bring it into being. In the verse under discussion, Allah says, "that Allah may know those who believe"; the clause shows that there were believers already in existence; therefore, it would mean that He wished to make their belief manifest. As every thing in this world is governed by the system of cause and effect, it was necessary that some things should happen which would make the belief of the believers manifest after it was hidden. (Try to understand it.)

It is followed by the clause, "and take witnesses from among you " ash-Shuhada' refers to the witnesses of deeds. The Qur'an has never used this word for "martyrs". Its use in the meaning of "those who are killed while fighting in the way of Allah" is a later usage, as we had explained under the verse, And thus We have made you a medium nation that you may be witnesses for the people . . .     (2:143) . Moreover, the word "take " which has been used here, is not very appropriate for the martyrs of the battlefield; it is not said' 'Allah has taken Zayd as a martyr in His way'. But it is said: 'Allah has taken Ibrahim as a friend'; or 'Allah has taken Musa as one spoken to; or 'Allah has taken the Prophet as a witness for giving evidence for his ummah on the Day of Resurrection'.

Significantly, Allah has said, "and take witnesses from among you ", instead of saying, take you as witnesses. Although verse 143 of the chapter of The Cow ascribes witnessing to the ummah (And thus We have made you a medium nation that you may be witnesses for the people...), but as we explained under that verse? it is a metaphorical use, ascribing to the whole nation what in fact belongs to a particular group of the nation—it is not the whole ummah but only a few of them who will bear witness for the nation. This interpretation may possibly be supported by the ending clause, "and Allah loves not the unjust. "

Then comes the verse, "And that Allah may purge those who believe and eradicate the unbelievers. "at-Tamhis" (to purge) denotes purifying something from extraneous pollutions. al-Mahq (to eradicate, to efface) signifies gradual depletion of a thing, eradicating it bit by bit. The said purification is one of the benefits of rotating the days among the people. It is separate from the above-mentioned benefit that Allah may know the believers. Distinguishing a believer from an unbeliever is one thing, and purifying his belief from pollutions of disbelief, hypocrisy and immorality is another. That is why it has been put side by side with eradication of the unbelievers. Allah removes the ingredients of disbelief from a believer's character little by little until nothing remains there but the belief, pure and unsullied; and likewise He eradicates ingredients of disbelief, polytheism and deceit from the unbeliever bit by bit, until all is destroyed.

These are some of the reasons why Allah brings the days to men by turn, and why power does not remain confined to a particular group forever; and all affairs belong exclusively to Allah, He does whatever He pleases; and He does not do except that which is most suitable and most beneficial (to His creatures); as He says: ...thus does Allah compare truth and falsehood; then as for the scum, it passes away as a worthless thing; and as for that which profits the people, it remains in the earth (13:17). Also, He has said shortly before the verses under discussion: That He may cut off a portion from among those who disbelieve, or abase them so that they should return disappointed of attaining what they desired. You have no concern in the affair whether He turns to them (mercifully) or chastises them, for surely they are unjust (3:127-8). Allah has denied here that His Prophet had any authority in the affair, reserving that power exclusively to Himself; He decides about His creatures as He pleases.

Look at the matters described in these verses: The days rotate among the people; it is done for the purpose of test and trial, in order that believers may be separated from unbelievers; believers may be purged and purified and unbelievers obliterated gradually. Add to it the declaration that the Prophet had no authority in this matter. All this together shows that a majority of the believers was under the impression that there being on the true religion was the complete cause of their victory — wherever they happened to fight. They thought that just because they were on truth, they must overpower the falsehood, no matter what their own condition; to them belonged all affairs, and they could not be deprived of it. They were further encouraged in this miscalculation when angels were sent to help them in Badr and they found themselves quite unexpectedly victorious over unbelievers.

But that was a misunderstanding, which could nullify the system of test and purification; and that in its turn would negate the underlying rationale of command and prohibition, reward and punishment. That would lead to destruction of the foundation of religion. After all, divine religion is a religion of nature; it is not based on nullification of the customary procedure or of divine practice permeating the universe — the system that victory and defeat result from their normal causes.

After explaining that the days rotate among the people for their test and trial, Allah now begins admonishing them for this serious misunderstanding of theirs, and explaining the real position to them.

QUR'AN: Do you think that you win enter the Garden . . . while you look (at it):

The misconception that they would enter the Garden without being tested, was an inseparable concomitant of the previously mentioned misunderstanding. They thought that because they were on truth and truth is not overwhelmed, they would always be victorious; that they would never be defeated, would never be vanquished. Obviously, if it were true, then every one who believed in the Prophet and entered into the believers' society, would find' felicity in this world through victory and booty, and felicity in the hereafter in the form of forgiveness and the Garden. Then there would be no difference between the felicity in the hereafter in the form of forgiveness and the Garden. Then there would be no difference between the appearance of belief and its reality, no distinction between various ranks (of belief and piety); the belief of a fighter and that of a patient fighter would be of the same value; a man who intended to do a good deed and actually did it when its time came, would be equal to him who intended but turned on his heels when faced with it.

Accordingly, the words, "Do you think that you will enter . . .", have metaphorically put the effect in place of the cause. The complete meaning therefore is as follows: You thought that power is reserved for you; you would not be put to test, rather you would enter the Garden without going through a trial to separate the deserving from undeserving, to distinguish believers of higher ranks from those of lower grades.

The next verse demonstrates that that thinking was wrong. The words, "And certainly you desired death before you met it, so indeed you have seen it (even) while you look (at it) ", show that they had desired death before arriving at the battlefield; but when the desired death came to them and they looked at it, they did not come forward to get what they longed for; instead they showed cowardice and fled away. How can it be possible for them to enter into the Garden merely because of that expressed desire without being tested, without any procedure of purification? Was it not necessary to test them (to separate the truth from the falsehood)?

It shows that there is a deleted clause near the end of the verse. The complete sentence would be as follows: So indeed you have seen it, yet you did not come forward to get it even while you looked at it. Another possible interpretation: You just looked at the death, i.e. without doing any thing to meet it.

Thus "looking" would metaphorically imply not grappling with the death.  It is a reproach and censure.

A Discourse on Test and its Realities (click here)

QUR'AN: And Muhammad is no more than a messenger; the messengers have already passed away before him; if then he dies or is killed, will you turn back upon your heels? And whoever turns back upon his heels, he will by no means do harm to Allah in the least; and Allah will reward the grateful:

Death is passing away, end of the body's life. Slaying or killing denotes death arising from extraneous cause - intentional or otherwise. When the words, 'death' and 'killing', are used separately, the 'death' signifies a general meaning which includes killing too; but when they are used side by side, then 'death' means natural death as opposed to killing. Turning back upon one's heels means returning. ar-Raghib has said: "They say, He turned back upon his heels, when he returns, 'he turns back upon his heels' is synonymous to 'it turns on its hooves'; also it is like the (Qur'anic) words: so they returned retracing their footsteps (18:64), or the idiom, 'he went back to his origin'."

Turning back on one's heels is dependent on the conditional clause, "if then he dies or is killed"; it implies their apostasy - going out of religion - not merely retreating from the fight; because fleeing from battle-ground has no connection with death or martyrdom of the Prophet, while there is a clear relation between his death or martyrdom and people's renouncement of Islam for disbelief. Moreover, it was not only in Uhud that they had fled away from the battlefield; they had done so in some other battles too like, Hunayn, Khaybar, etc.;  but Allah did not address them in such a severe tone, nor did He use such expression for their retreat. For example, He says regarding the battle of Hunayn: ...and on the day of Hunayn, when your great numbers made you vain, but they availed you nothing and the earth became strait to you notwithstanding its spaciousness, then you turned back retreating (9:25). Therefore, it is clear that 'turning back upon your heels' in this verse means 'returning to your previous disbelief '

The meaning of the verse - in its context of censure and stricture is as follows: Muhammad is but a messenger of God, like other messengers sent earlier by Him; his task is to convey the message of His Lord; he has no authority in the affairs; all the affairs are in the hand of Allah, and the religion is His religion; it will continue with Allah's authority because Allah is to preserve it. Why should then your belief depend on Muhammad' s life? Why should you behave as if your religion would not survive the Prophet? Why do you give rise to the assumption that if Muhammad were to die or be killed you would run away from Allah's religion, would return back on your heels to your previous disbelief? Will you go back to misguidance after finding the guidance?

This context provides a very strong proof that when the fighting became fierce on the day of Uhud, the Muslims thought that the Prophet was killed, and they fled away from the battlefield. It confirms the reports of the traditions and history. For example, Ibn Hisham narrates in his as-Sirah that Anas ibn an-Nadr (uncle of Anas ibn Malik) reached where 'Umar ibn al-Khattab and Talhah ibn 'Ubaydillah had gathered with other persons of the Emigrants and the Helpers — and they had given themselves up. He asked: "What is holding you back?"

They said: "The Messenger of Allah has been killed." He said: "Then what will you do with life after him? Die on what the Messenger of Allah has died on." Then he faced the (unbelieving) people, and fought them until he was martyred.

This retreat, this surrender, this giving themselves up, had only one meaning: Their belief depended on the Prophet; it would continue as long as he lived, and would disappear the moment he died. In other words, they wanted reward of this world for their belief, and it was this matter for which they were reprimanded by Allah. This connotation is supported by the concluding clause, "and Allah will reward the grateful ". Note that the same clause has been repeated in the next verse, after the words, "and whoever desires the reward of this world. We shall give him of it and whoever desires the reward of the hereafter, We shall give him of it." (Ponder on its significance.)

The clause, "and Allah will reward the grateful", is a sort of exception as the context shows; and it proves that among them there were a few who were grateful, who did not turn back on their heels nor did they retreat.

What is the reality of gratefulness? It is manifestation of the favor, display of the bounty. Its opposite is ungratefulness, which means hiding the bounty. How does one display a favor? It is done by using it in the place the donor had intended, in the way he would be pleased with, and to remember and mention the donor by tongue (and it is called praise) and heart (without forgetting him). For thanking Allah for any of His favors and bounties, you should remember Him at the time of using it, and should use it in the way He is pleased with without transgressing the limits. There is nothing in this world but it is a bounty from the bounties of Allah; and He does not want us to use any of His bounties but in the way of His worship, in His obedience. He says: And He gives you of all that you ask Him; and if you count Allah's bounties, you will not be able to compute them; most surely man is very unjust, very ungrateful (14:34).

Accordingly, His absolute thank — without any restriction — means to remember Him without forgetting Him, and to obey Him without disobeying Him. Allah says: . . . and be thankful to Me, and do not be ungrateful to Me (2:152). It means as follows: Remember Me without polluting the remembrance with forgetfulness; and obey My command without spoiling it with disobedience. (The reader should not listen to him who says that it would oblige us to do something beyond our power. Such comment arises from not paying attention to these divine realities, from being distant from the plane of servitude.)

We have explained in previous volumes the difference between verb and adjective. The verb shows the active agent (the doer) doing the work - no matter how temporary, how transitory, his relation with that work may be. But an adjective shows permanent relation between the agent and the attribute; it implies that the attribute has become an inseparable characteristic of the man. There is a word of difference between the phrases, 'those who worshipped idols', 'those who were patient', 'those who did injustice', and 'those who transgressed', on one hand, and the adjectives, 'the idol-worshippers', 'the patient ones', 'the unjust', and 'the transgressors', on the other. Herein the verse under discussion, Allah has used the adjective, "the grateful"; it refers to those in whom the attribute of gratefulness is firmly rooted, who have inseparable connection with this virtue. Also, we have described that absolute gratitude demands that man should never remember any thing — as every thing is a divine bounty without remembering Allah; and should not use anything the divine bounty except in His obedience. It is now clear that gratitude and thank cannot be complete except with total sincerity towards Allah, with purification in knowledge and action. The grateful ones are those who are purified, sincere servants of Allah—those in whom the Satan can have no hope, who are beyond the Satanic designs and plans.

This fact is clear from the words of the Satan quoted in the Qur'an: He (Satan) said: "Then by Thy Might I will surely beguile them all, except Thy servants from among them, the purified one" (38:82-83);He said: "My Lord! because Thou hast left me to stray, I will certainly make (evil) fair-seeming to them on earth, and I will certainly cause them all to go astray, except Thy servants from among them, the freed (purified) ones" (15:39-40). Note that Allah did not refute this claim of the Satan. Again Allah quotes him as saying: "He said: 'As Thou hast caused me to go astray, I will certainly lie in wait for them in Thy straight path. Then I will certainly come to them from before them and from behind them, and from their right-hand side and from their left-hand side; and Thou shalt not find most of them thankful'" (7:16-17). The last clause is an implied exception that some of them shall be thankful. Here the adjective, "purified " has been changed to "thankful". It can only mean that it is the purified ones who shall be grateful, and on whom the Satan has got no hold. The Satan's design is to make man forget his Lord and to call him to sin and disobedience; (but he cannot ensnare the purified and grateful servants in this trap).

This explanation is further supported by a verse, coming later, which was revealed about this very battle: (As for) those of you who turned back on the day when the two armies met only the Satan sought to cause them to make a slip on account of some deeds they had done, and certainly Allah has pardoned them; surely Allah is Forgiving, Forbearing (3:155). Read it in conjunction with the end of the verse under discussion, "and Allah win reward the grateful", and the end clause of the next verse, "and We will reward the grateful"; and keep in mind that these clauses are a sort of exceptions. Think over these verses together and you will discover sublime realities.

But someone has given a really astonishing explanation. He thinks that the verse just quoted, ((As for) those of you who turned back. . . only the Satan sought to cause them to slip . . .) refers to the story which says that the Satan cried aloud on the day of Uhud that Muhammad was killed; and this cry made the believers lose their hearts and flee from the battle ground. Looking at this explanation, in light of the one given by us, one is amazed as to how trivially they have treated the Book of Allah, bringing it down from that height of reality and knowledge to such a lowly level.

The verse shows that there were a few believers on the day of Uhud who did not show any weakness nor did they lose courage; nor did they give up the cause of Allah. It is they whom Allah calls "the grateful ones", and has confirmed that the Satan has got no power over them, nor has he any hope of ensnaring them. They have remained steadfast, grateful, not only in this battle; it is an inseparable characteristic of theirs, a deeply-rooted attribute. The Qur'an has nowhere used the adjective "the grateful" in appreciation except in these two verses, that is, "And Muhammad is no more than a messenger. . . and Allah will reward the grateful. And it is not for a soul to die. . . and We will reward the grateful." Yet, He has not mentioned in either place what their reward will be; this silence speaks a lot about its greatness and value.

QUR'AN: And it is not for a soul to die but with the permission of Allah (according to) the term that is fixed; . . . and We will reward the grateful:

It is an adverse allusion to their talk about their slain brethren which is referred to in a forthcoming verse: O you who believe! be not like those who disbelieve and say of their brethren when they travel in the earth or engage in fighting: Had they been with us, they would not have died and they would not have been slain . . . (3:156); also it refers to the talk of a group among them: "Had we any hand in the affair, we would not have been slain here " (3:154) . It should be noted here that these people were from among the believers, not the hypocrites who had already left the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.) and had not participated in the fighting at all.

This talk of theirs implies that a person's death was not dependent on Allah's permission, nor was it a decisive process emanating from firm divine decree. If such an idea were correct then it would negate the Kingdom of Allah, nullify the precise divine arrangements. (We shall explain, God willing, in the beginning of the chapter of The Cattle, what fixation of the term means.)

It necessarily follows that those who had spoken such words, had accepted Islam because they thought that all affairs were in the hands of the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.) and the believers.  In other words when they accepted Islam, their aim was to who desisted from such thoughts; their goal was the hereafter. That is why Allah says: "and whoever desires the reward of this world, We shall give him of it, and whoever desires the reward of the hereafter, We shall give him of it." Here Allah has said, "We shall give him of it", instead of saying, "We shall give him it." It points to a fine distinction: Often man has some desires, but fails to provide total causes leading to the total desires, and consequently is not given all that he had desired. Therefore, if the causes conform with all the desires, he shall be given all desires; and if the causes agree with some of the desires, he will get only some of it. Allah says: Whoever desires this present life, We hasten to him therein what We please for whomsoever We desire, then We assign to him the hell; he shall enter it despised, driven away And whoever desires the hereafter and strives for it as he ought to strive and he is a believer; (as for) these their striving shall surely be thanked (17:18-19).  Also He says: And that there is not for man (aught) except what he strives for (53:39).

Thereafter, He has specially mentioned the grateful ones, excluding them from both groups; saying, "and We will reward the grateful". It is because they work only for the sake of Allah, without looking at any thing of this world or the hereafter - as we have explained earlier.

QUR'AN: And how many a prophet has fought. . . and Allah loves those who do good (to others):

"Ka-ayyin " (how many), indicates great number; min (from), here is an explicative particle. ar-Ribbiyyun, plural of ar-ribbi, like ar-rabbani, denotes a divine person, someone who is exclusively attached to God. Also it is said that it is plural of raba (thousand) and thus means, thousands. al-Istikanah (to submit, to abase oneself).

The verse contains advice, sermon and lesson with a shade of admonition, together with some encouragement to the believers to follow in those Godly men's footsteps, so that Allah should give them the reward of this world and an excellent reward of the hereafter (as he had given those Godly men) and should love them for their good-doing, as He had loved them for it.

Allah has described some of their words and deeds in order that the believers may learn lessons from it, and adopt it as their motto.  Then they would not be afflicted with what had afflicted them on the day of Uhud (where they were involved in undesirable words and deeds, which Allah was not pleased with).  If they followed those Godly men, then Allah would join for them the rewards of both worlds and He had done for those Godly men.

Allah has characterized the rewards of the hereafter as "excellent"; it point to its sublimity and high prestige in comparison to this world' reward.

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