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Al-Mizan Tafseer

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


Volume 7: Surah Ale-Imran, Verses 165-171

What! When a misfortune befell you while you had certainly afflicted (the unbelievers) with twice as much, you began to say: "Whence is this?" Say: " It is from your own selves; surely Allah has power over all things" (165) And what befell you on the day when the two armies met (at Uhud) was with Allah's permission, and that He might know the believers (166), And that He might know the hypocrites; and it was said to them: "Come, fight in Allah's way, or (at least) defend yourselves." They said: "If we knew fighting, we would certainly have followed you. " They were on that day much nearer to unbelief than to belief. They say with their mouths what is not in their hearts; and Allah best knows what they conceal (167).  Those who said of their brethren whilst they (themselves) held back:  "Had they obeyed us, they would not have been killed." Say.  "Then ward off death from yourselves if you are truthful" (168).  And reckon not those who are killed in Allah's way as dead; nay, they are alive (and) are provided sustenance from their Lord (169), Rejoicing in what Allah has given them out of His grace, and they rejoice for the sake of those who, (being left) behind them, have not yet joined them, that they shall have no fear, nor shall they grieve (170).  They rejoice on account of favor from Allah and (His) grace, and that Allah will not waste the reward of the believers (171).


It is the conclusion of the verses about the battle of Uhud. These verses describe the position of some hypocrites who had deserted the believers when they were proceeding from Madina to Uhud, and refute what they were saying about those who were slain in the way of Allah; then the verses extol the condition of the martyrs saying that they were enjoying Allah's bounties in His presence and were happily waiting for their brothers who were left behind in this world.

QUR'AN: What! When a misfortune befell you . . . Allah has power over all things":

First they were told not to be like the unbelievers — grieving and feeling intense sorrow for their slain brethren.  It was explained to them that life and death were exclusively in the hands of Allah, they had no concern in this affair; and it would have made no difference whether the martyrs were near them or far from them, or whether they had gone forth to fight or sat behind.  After making all this clear, now Allah explains the immediate cause of that disaster according to the law of causality. He tells them that debacle was caused by their disobedience which they committed on that day: the disobedience of the archers when they left their position, and then the disobedience of all those who fled away from the battlefield. In short, the disaster took place because they disobeyed the Messenger, their Commander, and showed lack of courage and disputed among themselves. All this led to their retreat according to the law of nature and custom.

The verse's meaning is therefore as follows: Do you know how this misfortune befell you? Was it not a misfortune that you had previously inflicted twice as much on your enemies, the unbelievers? This time the disaster was brought on you by your own selves. It were you who undermined the means of victory with your own hands; it were you who did not follow the clear order of your Commander, fell into temptation and disputed one with the other.

The clause, "while you had certainly afflicted (the unbelievers) with twice as much", prompts them to compare their losses in Uhud (martyrdom of seventy believers) with those suffered by the unbelievers in Badr when they had suffered twice as many casualties — as seventy of the unbelievers were slain and seventy taken prisoners.

This description is intended to soothe the believers' feelings, making the calamity look less devastating. After all, they have suffered only half of that, which they had inflicted on their enemies; so they should not grieve, should not be distressed.

Some people have explained it differently. According to them the clause, "It is from your own selves", means that you yourselves had opted for this misfortune. It happened like this: They had chosen to release the prisoners of Badr in exchange for ransom. But the initial order was to kill them; and they were warned that if they accepted the ransom, a similar number from their side would be killed next year; but they said: "We agree to this condition. We shall take the ransom and enjoy its benefits; and if one of us is killed later on, he shall be a martyr. "

The ending clause of this verse (surely Allah has power over all things) supports, or rather proves, this latter explanation; as this clause does not connect properly with the former meaning. We shall quote in the next "Traditions" ahadith from the Imams of the Ahlu 'I-bayts (a.s.) regarding this topic.

QUR'AN:  And what befell you on the day …and Allah best knows what they conceal:

The first of these two verses supports the above theme that the clause, "Say: 'It is from you own selves' ", refers to their opting for the ransom in exchange of Badr's prisoners and agreeing to the attached condition. Only in this way, it can be said that the misfortune that befell them in Uhud was with Allah's permission. As for the former explanation, (that the immediate cause of this misfortune was your disobedience), it has no relevance with this verse; obviously, there is no sense in saying that their disobedience was by permission of Allah.

Accordingly, the statement that the misfortune that had befallen them was by Allah's permission explains the preceding declaration that it was from their own selves. It paves the way of the next clause, "and that He might know the believers", which in its turn opens the way to deal with the hypocrites, together with their talk and its refutation; and to unveil the reality of this especial death, i.e., martyrdom in the way of Allah.

The clause, "or (at least) defend yourselves", intends to persuade them to fight; if you do not fight in the way of Allah, then at least defend your families and your own selves. "They were on that day much nearer to unbelief than to belief." The preposition "li" in "li 'l-kufr" (to unbelief) and "li 'l-iman" (to belief) has been used in meaning of "to". It shows their position vis-à-vis open disbelief; as for hypocrisy, they had certainly fallen in it.

The word, "with their mouths", in the sentence, "They say with their mouths what is not in their hearts", has been put here for emphasis and as a counter-balance to the clause, "in their hearts".

QUR'AN: Those who said of their brethren. . . if you are truthful:

The word, "brethren" refers to those with whom they had family ties from among the martyrs. Allah has mentioned here their "brotherhood", side by side with the comment, "while they (themselves) held back"; it is meant to put them to shame in a most vivid and crushing way, showing that they held back from helping their own brothers who were meanwhile massacred by the enemy.  The sentence, "Say: 'Then ward off death from yourselves'", refutes their talk. ad-Dar' (to ward off; to avert) .

QUR'AN: And reckon not those who are killed in Allah's way. . . provided sustenance from their Lord:  

Again the speaker turns away from the Muslims and speaks with the Prophet alone; and its reason has been mentioned several times in Commentaries of the relevant verses.

Also, it is possible to treat this address as continuation of the preceding sentence where it addresses the Prophet, "Say:  Then ward off death. . .'.

Death in this verse means nullity of consciousness and action. That is why Allah explains the martyrs' life by showing that they receive sustenance (and it is action) and rejoice in Allah's grace (and it shows their feeling which proves consciousness).

QUR'AN: Rejoicing in what Allah has given them. . . nor shall they grieve: "al-Farah " is opposite of "al-huzn" (sorrow). al-Bisharah and al-bushra (good news); al-istibshar (to seek happiness through a good news).  The verse means: They rejoice in what they have received of Allah's grace and which is always present with them; they feel happy when they receive the good tidings regarding those who have not yet joined them - are still in this world - that they shall have no fear nor shall they grieve.

Two things are clear from the above:

First: Those who are killed in the way of Allah continue to receive the news about good believers whom they had left alive in this world.

Second: The good news concerns the reward of the believers' deeds —that they shall have no fear nor shall they grieve. It happens that they see this reward in the abode, which they abide in. It is because their knowledge of things emanates from observation, not from arguments.

The verse therefore proves that after death man's existence continues between his death and the Day of Resurrection. We have described it in detail under "The Life of al-Barzakh" under the verse, And do not speak of those who are slain in Allah's way as dead (2:154).

QUR'AN:  They rejoice on account of favor from Allah and (His) grace . . . the reward of the believers:

This rejoicing is more comprehensive and covers their joy for others as well as for themselves. It is proved from the clause, "and that Allah will not waste the reward of the believers", which being unrestricted covers all the believers. Perhaps this is the reason why the "rejoicing" and also "grace" have been repeated here. Meditate on this verse.

The words, "favor" and "grace", have been used as common nouns, and "sustenance" has been left unspecified. This style gives the hearer's imagination full rein; he is free to visualize whatever he likes. Likewise fear and grief are left vague, so that put in negative form they would signify comprehensiveness.

One finds on meditating on the verse that:

First: The verses intend to describe the believers' reward;

Second: That reward consists of their sustenance near Allah;

Third: That sustenance is a favor and grace from Allah;

Fourth: That favor and grace is mirrored in the fact that they shall have no fear nor shall they grieve.

The clause, "that they shall have no fear nor shall they grieve", is really wonderful; the more you meditate on it, the more expansive and extensive its meaning will be, with its subtlety, sublimity and graceful flow. The thing that comes before the eyes is that the fear and sorrow are removed from the martyrs. Fear takes shape when there is possibility of something occurring which would nullify an existing happiness of man; sorrow appears when that thing has already happened. Misfortune — or any undesirable phenomenon — is feared as long as it has not befallen; but once it has begun, the fear gives way to sorrow. There is no fear after a misfortune has taken shape, and no sorrow before that.

Fear, with all its aspects, may be removed from man only when there is no chance of deterioration or extinction for any bounty that he enjoys and possesses. Sorrow, with all its aspects, may be removed from him only when he is not deprived of any such bounty to begin with, nor has he lost it after finding it. When the Qur'an says that Allah has removed general fear and general sorrow from a man, it means that He has given him all possible bounties and favors for his enjoyment; and those bounties and favors will never deteriorate or be taken away from him. In other words, man will remain alive forever enjoying the everlasting happiness.

It is evident that removal of fear and sorrow means the same as man's receiving sustenance from Allah; He says: and that which is with Allah is best for the righteous (3:198); and what is with Allah is enduring (16:96).  These two verses show that what is with Allah is everlasting and enduring bounty, not tainted by any affliction, not liable to extinction.

Also, it is clear that negation of fear and sorrow is one with affirmation of favor and grace that is, divine bounty. But we have explained in the beginning of the book (and further details will be given under the verse, . . . with those upon whom Allah has bestowed favors...4:69) that "favor", whenever used in the Qur'an, means divine guardianship. Therefore, this verse means that Allah is their Guardian Who manages their affairs and bestows on them exclusive grace.

Some people have supposed that "grace" means a bounty given in excess of what a man's deeds have made him eligible to; and "favor" means the bounty equal to the deeds. But it does not enmesh with the end clause, "and that Allah will not waste the reward of the believers". The word, "reward", shows that they are "eligible " for grace and favor both; and you have seen that all these clauses, "are provided sustenance from their Lord", "Rejoicing in what Allah has given", "They rejoice on account of favor from Allah and (His) grace", "and Allah will not waste the reward of the believers", lead to one and the same reality.

There are other aspects of these verses, some of which were explained under the verse, And do not speak of those who are slain in Allah's way as dead (2:154); hopefully Allah will help us to complete, according to our capacity, other related matters in other appropriate places, God willing.

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