Surat Al-Tawba (Repentance)

Wahba Mahmoud Diyab

How can there be a covenant before God and His Messenger [PPBUH] with the Polytheistic Pagans; except those with whom you made a treaty near the Sacred Mosque? So as long as these stand true to you, you stand true to them. Verily, God loves the righteous/pious. (7) كَيْفَ يَكُونُ لِلْمُشْرِكِينَ عَهْدٌ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ وَعِنْدَ رَسُولِهِ إِلَّا الَّذِينَ عَاهَدْتُمْ عِنْدَ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ فَمَا اسْتَقَامُوا لَكُمْ فَاسْتَقِيمُوا لَهُمْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُتَّقِينَ (7)
How (can there be such a covenant with them), seeing that if they get an advantage over you, they do not respect in you the ties either of kinship, or covenant? With (fair words from) their mouths they entice you, but their hearts are averse from you; and most of them are rebellious/disobedient and wicked. (8) كَيْفَ وَإِنْ يَظْهَرُوا عَلَيْكُمْ لَا يَرْقُبُوا فِيكُمْ إِلًّا وَلَا ذِمَّةً يُرْضُونَكُمْ بِأَفْوَاهِهِمْ وَتَأْبَى قُلُوبُهُمْ وَأَكْثَرُهُمْ فَاسِقُونَ (8)
They have exchanged/purchased/sold the Signs of God for a miserable price, and (many) have they hindered from His Way; evil indeed are the deeds they have done. (9) اشْتَرَوْا بِآَيَاتِ اللَّهِ ثَمَنًا قَلِيلًا فَصَدُّوا عَنْ سَبِيلِهِ إِنَّهُمْ سَاءَ مَا كَانُوا يَعْمَلُونَ (9)
They do not observe or respect the ties, either the kinship or of covenant! It is they who have transgressed all bounds. (10) لَا يَرْقُبُونَ فِي مُؤْمِنٍ إِلًّا وَلَا ذِمَّةً وَأُولَئِكَ هُمُ الْمُعْتَدُونَ (10)
But (even so), if they repent, and establish regular prayers, and practice regular charity;- they are your brethren in Faith. (thus) We do explain the Signs in detail, for those who understand. (11) فَإِنْ تَابُوا وَأَقَامُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَآَتَوُا الزَّكَاةَ فَإِخْوَانُكُمْ فِي الدِّينِ وَنُفَصِّلُ الْآَيَاتِ لِقَوْمٍ يَعْلَمُونَ (11)
But if they violate their oaths after their covenant, and taunt you for Faith; then you fight the Chiefs of Unfaith; for their oaths are nothing to them; that thus they may be restrained (stop their evil actions). (12) وَإِنْ نَكَثُوا أَيْمَانَهُمْ مِنْ بَعْدِ عَهْدِهِمْ وَطَعَنُوا فِي دِينِكُمْ فَقَاتِلُوا أَئِمَّةَ الْكُفْرِ إِنَّهُمْ لَا أَيْمَانَ لَهُمْ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَنْتَهُونَ (12)
Would you not fight a people who violated their oaths, and plotted to expel the Apostle [PPBUH], and the aggressiveness by being the first (to assault) you? Nay! It is God Whom you should more justly fear, if you are Believers. (13) أَلَا تُقَاتِلُونَ قَوْمًا نَكَثُوا أَيْمَانَهُمْ وَهَمُّوا بِإِخْرَاجِ الرَّسُولِ وَهُمْ بَدَءُوكُمْ أَوَّلَ مَرَّةٍ أَتَخْشَوْنَهُمْ فَاللَّهُ أَحَقُّ أَنْ تَخْشَوْهُ إِنْ كُنْتُمْ مُؤْمِنِينَ (13)
Fight them, and God Will punish them by your hands, and cover them with shame and disgrace, and help (give) you victory over them, and heal the breasts of the believing people. (14) قَاتِلُوهُمْ يُعَذِّبْهُمُ اللَّهُ بِأَيْدِيكُمْ وَيُخْزِهِمْ وَيَنْصُرْكُمْ عَلَيْهِمْ وَيَشْفِ صُدُورَ قَوْمٍ مُؤْمِنِينَ (14)
And remove the indignation of anger of their hearts; for God will turn (in mercy), and accepts the repentance of whom He Wills, and God is All-Knowing, All-Wise. (15) وَيُذْهِبْ غَيْظَ قُلُوبِهِمْ وَيَتُوبُ اللَّهُ عَلَى مَنْ يَشَاءُ وَاللَّهُ عَلِيمٌ حَكِيمٌ (15)
Or do you think that you shall be abandoned, as though God did not know those among you who strive with might and main, and take none for friends and protectors except God, His Apostle [PPBUH], and the (community) of Believers? But God is Well-Acquainted with (all) that you do. (16) أَمْ حَسِبْتُمْ أَنْ تُتْرَكُوا وَلَمَّا يَعْلَمِ اللَّهُ الَّذِينَ جَاهَدُوا مِنْكُمْ وَلَمْ يَتَّخِذُوا مِنْ دُونِ اللَّهِ وَلَا رَسُولِهِ وَلَا الْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَلِيجَةً وَاللَّهُ خَبِيرٌ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ (16)
It is not for such as the polytheists who join gods with God, to visit or maintain the mosques of God while they witness against their own souls to infidelity. The works of such bear no fruit and in vain, and in Fire they shall dwell. (17) مَا كَانَ لِلْمُشْرِكِينَ أَنْ يَعْمُرُوا مَسَاجِدَ اللَّهِ شَاهِدِينَ عَلَى أَنْفُسِهِمْ بِالْكُفْرِ أُولَئِكَ حَبِطَتْ أَعْمَالُهُمْ وَفِي النَّارِ هُمْ خَالِدُونَ (17)
The mosques of God shall only be visited and maintained by those who believe in God and the Last Day; establish and perform regular prayers, and practice regular charity, and fear none (at all) except God. It is they who are expected to be on true guidance. (18) إِنَّمَا يَعْمُرُ مَسَاجِدَ اللَّهِ مَنْ آَمَنَ بِاللَّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآَخِرِ وَأَقَامَ الصَّلَاةَ وَآَتَى الزَّكَاةَ وَلَمْ يَخْشَ إِلَّا اللَّهَ فَعَسَى أُولَئِكَ أَنْ يَكُونُوا مِنَ الْمُهْتَدِينَ (18)
Do you consider the providing/giving of drinking water for the pilgrims, and the maintenance of the Sacred Mosque as equal to the (pious service of) those who believe in God, and the Last Day, and strive hard with might and main in the Cause of God? They are not equal (or comparable) in the sight of God: and God do not guides those who are polytheists and wrongdoers. (19) أَجَعَلْتُمْ سِقَايَةَ الْحَاجِّ وَعِمَارَةَ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ كَمَنْ آَمَنَ بِاللَّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآَخِرِ وَجَاهَدَ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ لَا يَسْتَوُونَ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ وَاللَّهُ لَا يَهْدِي الْقَوْمَ الظَّالِمِينَ (19)
Those who believe, and suffer the emigration and exile, and strive with might and main in God’s Cause, with their wealth and their persons, are far higher and have the highest rank in the sight of God; they are the people who will achieve successfulness (salvation). (20) الَّذِينَ آَمَنُوا وَهَاجَرُوا وَجَاهَدُوا فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ بِأَمْوَالِهِمْ وَأَنْفُسِهِمْ أَعْظَمُ دَرَجَةً عِنْدَ اللَّهِ وَأُولَئِكَ هُمُ الْفَائِزُونَ (20)
Their Lord do gives them glad tidings of a Mercy from Himself, of His good pleasure, and of Gardens (Paradise); for them wherein are everlasting and endurable delights. (21) يُبَشِّرُهُمْ رَبُّهُمْ بِرَحْمَةٍ مِنْهُ وَرِضْوَانٍ وَجَنَّاتٍ لَهُمْ فِيهَا نَعِيمٌ مُقِيمٌ (21)
They will dwell therein forever. Verily, in God’s presence is a reward, the greatest (of all). (22) خَالِدِينَ فِيهَا أَبَدًا إِنَّ اللَّهَ عِنْدَهُ أَجْرٌ عَظِيمٌ (22)
O’ you who believe! Do not take -as supporters and protectors- your fathers and your brothers, if they preferred and loved infidelity and disbelief above Faith. And whoever of you do so, then he is one of the wrongdoers. (23) يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آَمَنُوا لَا تَتَّخِذُوا آَبَاءَكُمْ وَإِخْوَانَكُمْ أَوْلِيَاءَ إِنِ اسْتَحَبُّوا الْكُفْرَ عَلَى الْإِيمَانِ وَمَنْ يَتَوَلَّهُمْ مِنْكُمْ فَأُولَئِكَ هُمُ الظَّالِمُونَ (23)
Say: if it be that your fathers, your sons, your brothers, your mates, or your kindred; the wealth that you have gained; the commerce in which you a decline, or the dwellings in which you delight, are dearer to you than God, or His Apostle [PPBUH], or the striving in His Cause;- then wait until God brings about His Decision (torment): and God guides not the rebellious/disobedient. (24) قُلْ إِنْ كَانَ آَبَاؤُكُمْ وَأَبْنَاؤُكُمْ وَإِخْوَانُكُمْ وَأَزْوَاجُكُمْ وَعَشِيرَتُكُمْ وَأَمْوَالٌ اقْتَرَفْتُمُوهَا وَتِجَارَةٌ تَخْشَوْنَ كَسَادَهَا وَمَسَاكِنُ تَرْضَوْنَهَا أَحَبَّ إِلَيْكُمْ مِنَ اللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ وَجِهَادٍ فِي سَبِيلِهِ فَتَرَبَّصُوا حَتَّى يَأْتِيَ اللَّهُ بِأَمْرِهِ وَاللَّهُ لَا يَهْدِي الْقَوْمَ الْفَاسِقِينَ (24)

(Verse 7)- In this section we have the reasons why the treaties with the treacherous Polytheistic Pagan foes were denounced. The clause introducing the exception is a parenthetical clause. The word “Polytheistic Pagans” must be connected with the verse (8) which follows. In that verse the word (Kaifa= :كيفhow) resumes the clause introduced by the word kaifaكيف= at the beginning of this verse 7. The exceptional Polytheistic Pagan tribes which remained true to their word were the Banu Hamza and the Banu Kinana, who swore their treaty near the Sacred Mosque and faithfully observed it. They were to be given the full benefit of their fidelity even though their kindred tribes were treacherous.
(Verses 8-9)- A/The exceptions having been stated parenthetically in verse 7, the indictment of the general mass of the Polytheistic Pagan tribes is now set out briefly, but fully and convincingly. After that kind of behavior how can any treaty be possible with them? The counts are: (1) that whenever they got a slight advantage, they disregarded the ties both of kinship and of covenant as against the Muslims because of their Faith, thus proving doubly treacherous; (2) that they spoke fair words, but had venom in their hearts; (3) that their attitude was one of rebellion against their plighted word; (4) that they disregarded the solemn Signs of God for some miserable worldly gain; (5) that they tried to prevent other people from coming to the Way of God. The first clause is repeated again as the last clause, to emphasize their double treachery, and round off the argument. B/ Among the Arabs the ties of kinship were so strong as to be almost unbreakable. The Polytheistic Pagan Arabs went out of their way to break them in the case of the Muslims, who were kith and kin to them. Besides the bond of kinship there was the further bond of their plighted oath in the Treaty. They broke that oath because the other parties were Muslims!.
(Verse 10)- The catalogue of their sins being set out, it is clear that they were aggressors in the worst possible ways; and war became inevitable.
(Verse 11)- The chance of repentance and mercy to the worst enemies is again emphasized, in order that people with any understanding may not be misled into thinking that war was an easy or light matter. This emphasis is balanced by the emphasis in the next verse on the causes which made war inevitable for those with any self-respect.
(Verse 12)- Not only did the enemies break their oaths shamelessly, but they even taunted the Muslims on their Faith and the “simple minded” way in which they continued to respect their part of the treaty, as if they were afraid to fight!
(Verse 13)- The argument now takes new turn. An appeal is made to the Muslims on various grounds: (1)the shameless disregard of treaties by the enemies; (2) the under-hand plots to discredit the Holy Apostle [PPBUH], and turn him out of Al-Medina as he had been turned out of Mecca; (3) the aggressiveness taken by the Quraish and their confederates in Al-Medina after the treaty of Al-Hudaibiya (A.H. 6, Zul-qa’ida = February 628); (4) the manly attitude that fears God rather than men, and (5) the need to prove our sincere faith by test and trial and struggle and sacrifice, see verse 16.
(Verse 14)- Heal the breasts of believers, i.e. of wounds that they may have sustained from the assaults, taunts, and cruelty of the enemy.
(Verse 15)- A/When the victory comes and the wounds are healed, a great peace comes to the hearts of those who have suffered, striven, and struggled. The fighting was an abnormal necessity forced by injustice and oppression. When God’s Law is established, the fire of indignation is quelled, and the true Peace of Islam is attained. B/ God’s Mercy is unlimited. When evil is destroyed, many of those who were enticed by evil will come into the fold of truth and righteousness, and the cessation of war and conflict will bring peace –certainly to those who fought for the right- but also possibly to those whose eyes have been opened to the working of God’s Law and who in healing reconciliation becomes members of the Brotherhood of Peace in Islam.
(Verse 16)- Some translators have taken a different verbal construction of this passage, but the ultimate meaning is the same, that: we must all be tested and tried, but God knows our inmost hearts, and He Will support those who strive in His Way, out of sincere love for Him, His Apostle [PPBUH], and the body of the true men of faith.
(Verse 17)- ‘Amarat=عمارة: as applied to mosques implies the following ideas: (1) to build and repair; (2) to maintain in fitting dignity; (3) to visit for purposes of devotion, and (4) fill with light and life and activity. For brevity I have only used the two words “visit and maintain” in the translation. Before the preaching of Islam the Pagans built, repaired, and maintained the Mosque, and celebrated Pagan ceremonies in it, including naked dances round the Ka’aba. They made an income out of it. Islam protested, and the Polytheistic Pagans ejected Muslims and their Leader from Mecca, and shut them out from the Ka’aba itself. When the Muslims were strong enough to re-take Mecca (A.H.8), they purified the Mosque and re-established the worship of the true God. The families who previously held control could not after this be allowed in a state of Paganism to control the Mosque any longer. If they became Muslims, it was a different matter. The further question arose: should they be allowed to visit it and practice their unseemly Polytheistic Pagan rites? Obviously this would be derogatory to the dignity and honor of the Mosque, and was forbidden. This was the particular occasion to which the verse refers. The general deduction is clear. A House of God is a place of sincere devotion, not a theatre for vulgar rites, nor a source of worldly income. Only sincere Believers have a right of entry. Who the sincere Believers are; is explained in the next verse.
(verse 18)- A/See the previous note. Sincere Believers are those who have faith in God and the future, and have a spirit of devotion and charity;- a true and abiding spirit, not merely isolated acts now and again. Moreover they must not bow to worldly greed or ambition, which produces fear of worldly power. B/Others may call themselves by what names they like. True guidance is shown by the tests here indicated.
(Verse 19)- Giving drinks of cold water to thirsty pilgrims, and doing material services to a mosque are meritorious acts, but they are only external. If they do not touch the soul, their value is slight. Far greater –in the Sight of God- are Faith, Endeavour, and self-surrender to God. Men who practice these will obtain honor in the Sight of God. God’s Light and Guidance comes to them, and not to those self-sufficient beings who think that a little show of what the world considers piety is enough.
(Verses 20-21)- Here is a good description of Jihad=جهاد : It may require fighting in God’s Cause, as a form of self-sacrifice. But its essence consists in: (1) a true and sincere Faith, which so fixes its gaze on God, that all selfish or worldly motives seems paltry and fade away, and (2) an earnest and ceaseless activity, involving the sacrifice –if need be- of life, person, or property, in the service of God. Mere brutal fighting is opposed to the whole spirit of Jihad, while the sincere scholar’s pen or preacher’s voice or wealthy man’s contributions may be the most valuable forms of Jihad.
(Verses 22-23)- Those who strive and suffer in God’s Cause are promised: (1) a mercy specially from Himself; (2) His own good pleasure; (3) Gardens (Paradises) of perpetual delight; (4) the supreme reward, God’s own Presence or Nearness. These are in gradation; (1) is a special mercy, higher than flows out to all creatures; (2) is a consciousness of God’s good pleasure, which raises the soul above itself; (3) is that state of permanent spiritual assurance, which is typified by gardens of perpetual delight, and (4) is the final bliss, which is the Presence of God Himself, or –in Sufi language- Al-hadhra Al-Ilahiya= الحضرة الالهية : the Sight of God Himself.
(Verse 24)- A/Man’s heart clings to: (1) his own kith and kin-parents, children, brothers and sisters, husbands or wives, or other relatives; (2) wealth and prosperity; (3) commerce or means of profit and gain, or (4) noble buildings, for dignity or comfort. If these are hindrance in God’s cause, we have to choose which we love most. We must love God even if it involves the sacrifice of all else. B/ If we love our earthly ties and comforts, profits and pleasures, more than we love God, and therefore fail to respond to God’s Cause, it is not God’s Cause which will suffer. God’s purpose will be accomplished, with or without us. But our failure to respond to His Will must leave us spiritually poorer, bereft of grace and guidance: “for God’s guides not the rebellious”. This is of universal application. But it was strikingly illustrated in the case of those faithful ones who obeyed the Apostle’s [PPBUH] call, left the comfort of their homes in Mecca and suffered exile in Al-Medina, gave up their trade and their possessions, strove and fought for God’s Cause, sometimes against their own kith and kin or their own tribesmen who were enemies of Islam. They won through. Others were not prepared for such sacrifice, but their failure did not stop the accomplishment of God’s Plan and Purpose.

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