And among men there are some who say, ‘We believe in Allah and in the Last Day”, Yet they are no believers. They try to deceive Allah and those who believe, when they are deceiving none but their ownselves, and they are not aware. In their hearts there is a malady, so Allah has made them grow in their malady; and for them there lies a grievous punishment, for they have been lying. And when it is said to them, ‘Do not spread disorder on the earth”, they say, ‘We are nothing but reformers!’ Beware, it is, in fact, they who spread disorder, but they are not aware. And when it is said to them, ‘Believe as people have believed,” they say, “Shall we believe as fools believe?” Beware, it is, in fact, they who are the fools, but they do not know. And when they meet those who believe, they say, ‘We have entered Faith;” but when they are alone with their Satans, they say, ‘Tndeed, we are with you; we were only mocking!’ It is Allah who mocks them, and lets them go on wandering blindly in their rebellion. These are the people who have bought error at the price of guidance; so their trade has brought no gain, nor have they found guidance. Their case is as if a man kindles a fire, and when it illuminates everything around him, Allah takes away their, lights and leaves them in layers of darkness — they see nothing. Deaf, dumb and blind, they shall not return. Or (it is) like a rainstorm from the sky carrying darkness, thunder and lightning; they thrust their fingers in their ears against thunderclaps for the fear of death, and Allah encompasses the disbelievers — and lightning (all but) snatches away their eyes; every time a flash gives them light, they walk by it; and when darkness grows upon them, they stand still. And if Allah willed, He would certainly take away their hearing and their eye: surely Allah is powerful over 120 everything. (Surah Baqarah 2: Verses 8 – 20)
As we have seen, the Surah Al-Baqarah opens with the declaration that the Holy Qur’an is beyond all doubt, a guidance for Mankind. The first twenty verses of the Surah delineate the features of those who believe in the Holy Qur’an
and of those who do not — the first five dealing with the former, under the title of Al-Muttaqun (the God-fearing); the next two with those disbelievers who were quite open and violent in their hostility — that is, Al-Kafirun (the disbelievers or the infidels), and the following thirteen with those crafty disbelievers who claimed to be Muslims but, in reality, were not so. This second variety of the disbelievers has received from the Holy Qur’an the name of Al-Munafiqun (the hypocrities). Of these thirteen verses, the first two define the characteristic behaviour of the hypocrites thus:
And among men there are some who say, ‘We believe in Allah and in the Last Day’, yet they are no believers. They try to deceive Allah and those who believe, when they are deceiving none but their ownselves, and they are not aware.
These verses expose their claim to be Muslims as false and deceitful, and show that they are only trying to be clever. Obviously, no one can deceive Allah – probably they themselves could not have had such a delusion. But the Holy Qur’an equates, in a way, their attempt to deceive the Holy Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) and the Muslims with the desire to deceive Allah Himself (Qurtubi)
Such a desire, the Holy Qur’an points out, can have only one consequence – they end up by deceiving no one but themselves, for Allah Himself cannot possibly be deceived, and Divine Revelation protects the Holy Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) from all trickery and deceit, so that the hypocrites themselves will have to bear, in the other world as well as in this, the punishment for their presumptuousness.
The third verse indicates why the hypocrites behave so foolishly and why they fail to see the folly of their course:
In their hearts there is a malady, so Allah has made them grow in their malady.
Now, illness or disease, in the general medical sense, is a state in which a man has lost the balanced proportion of the elements within him necessary to keep him healthy, so that his body can no longer function properly, which may finally lead to his total destruction. In the terminology of the Holy Qur’an and the hadith, the word ‘disease’ is also applied to certain mental or psychic states (we are using the two terms in the original and more comprehensive sense) which hinder man from attaining any degree of spiritual perfection, for they gradually deprive him of the ability to perform good deeds, and even of ordinary human decency, till he meets with his spiritual death. The great spiritual master, Junaid of Baghdad (rahimahullah), has said that just as the diseases of the body arise from an imbalance among the four humours, the diseases of the heart arise from a surrender to one’s physical desires. According to the present verse, the disease hidden in their hearts is unbelief and rejection of the truth, which is as much a physical sickness as a spiritual one. It is all too obvious that being ungrateful to one’s creator and nourisher and going against His commandments is to be spiritually sick. Moreover, to keep this disbelief concealed for the sake of petty worldly gains and not to have the courage to speak out one’s mind is no less a disease of the soul. Hypocrisy is a physical disease too in so far as the hypocrite is always shuddering for fear of being exposed. Jealousy being a necessary ingredient of hypocrisy, he cannot bear to see the Muslims growing stronger in the world, and yet the poor hypocrite cannot even have the satisfaction of unburdening his heart of the venom. No wonder that all this tension should express itself in physical ailment.
As for Allah making them grow in their malady, it means that they are jealous of the growing strength of the Muslims, but it is Allah’s will to make the position of the Muslims even stronger, as they can see for themselves, which feeds their bile and keeps the disease of their hearts growing.
The fourth and the fifth verses expose the sophistry of the hypocrites – their activities threatened to produce a general chaos and disorder, and yet, in their mealy-mouthed way, they pretended to be men of good will and to be serving the cause of peace and order. The Holy Qur’an makes it clear that oral claims alone do not decide the question whether one is working for order or disorder, for what thief would call himself a thief? It depends on what one does, not on what one says. If a man’s activities do result in mischief, he will be called a mischief-maker, even if he had no such intention.
These two verses, thus, describe the state of their insensitivity and ignorance – they regard their defects as merits. The sixth verse shows the other aspect of this depravity – the merit of others (that is, the unalloyed faith of the Muslims) changes into a defect, and even becomes contemptible in their eyes.
This verse also places before the hypocrites a criterion of true faith (‘Iman) :”Believe as people have believed”. According to the consensus of commentators, the Arabic word Naas (people) in this verse refers to the blessed Companions of the Holy Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) because it is just these ‘people’ who had embraced the Faith and had accepted the Holy Qur’an as the word of Allah while it was being revealed. So, the verse indicates that the only kind of ‘Iman (faith) acceptable to Allah is the one which should be similar to that of the blessed Companions, and that the ‘Iman of others would be worthy of the name only when they believe in the same things in the same way as the’ Companions did. In other words, the ‘Iman of the Companions is a touchstone for testing the ‘Iman of all the other Muslims; any belief or deed which departs from their faith and practice, however pleasing in its looks or good in its intention, is not valid according to the shariah. There is a consensus of commentators on this position. One should also notice that the hypocrites used to call the blessed Companions ‘fools’ (Sufaha‘). This has always been the way of those who go astray – anyone who tries to show them the right path is, in their eyes, ignorant and stupid. But who could, the Holy Qur’an points out, be more stupid than the man who refuses to see clear signs?
In the seventh verse, we see the double-facedness and trickery of the hypocrites. In the company of the Muslims, they would vociferously declare their faith in Islam; but, going back to their own people, would reassure them that they had never left the way of their ancestors, and had been meeting the Muslims only to make fun of them.
The eighth verse is a comment on this attitude of complacency and self-congratulation on the part of the hypocrites. They are mightily pleased with themselves in the belief that they can so easily make a fool of the Muslims and get away with it, while they are, in fact, only making a fool of themselves. For Allah has, in His forbearance and mercy, given them a long rope, but this is a provision for their being thrown into ridicule. It took place like this. Since the hypocrites saw no apparent signs of divine punishment descending on themselves, they were encouraged in their complacency and rebellion, so that the cup of their iniquity was full, and one day they were caught. Allah acted like this in response to their mockery; so, the Holy Qur’an describes this divine action too as a mockery on the part of Allah.
The ninth verse shows the basic denseness of the hypocrites – how they failed to make use of the ordinary sense of discrimination. They had grown up in a pagan society, and knew very well what the way of the infidels was. Now they had become familiar enough with Islam too, and could easily see the difference. But, in their greed, and for the sake of petty worldly profit, they still chose disbelief as against Islam, and bartered away something as invaluable as ‘iman (faith) for something as worthless, and even harmful as kufr (infidelity). In giving the name of ‘trade’ or ‘commerce’ to this action, the Holy Qur’an suggests that these worldly-wise men had no understanding even of the art of trading.
The last four verses bring out the miserable plight of the hypocrites with the help of two extended similes. The choice of two examples is meant to divide the hypocrites into two kinds of men. On the one hand were those in whom disbelief had taken deep roots, so that they had little inclination towards Islam, but pretended to be Muslims for worldly motives – the Holy Qur’an compares them to the man who, having found light, again loses it, and is left in darkness. On the other hand were those who did recognize the truth of Islam, and sometimes wished to be genuine Muslims, but worldly interests would not allow them to do so, and they remained in a perpetual state of hesitation and doubt – they have been likened to the men caught in a thunderstorm who move forward a step or two when there is a flash of lightning, but, when it is over, again get stuck. In the course of these parables, the hypocrites have also been warned that they are not beyond the power of Allah, and that He can, as and when He likes, take away their sight and hearing, and even destroy them.
Injunctions and related considerations
(1) It has sometimes been debated as to whether the distinction between Kufr (infidelity or disbelief) and Nifaq (hypocrisy) still holds good even after the days of the Holy Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam). The correct position with regard to this question is this. At that time, there were two ways of identifying a hypocrite and declaring him to be one – either Allah Himself informed the Holy Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) through revelation that such and such a man was not a Muslim at heart but a hypocrite, or a man through some word or deed overtly repugnant to the Islamic creed or practice showed himself up as a hypocrite, thus providing a clear evidence against himself. Divine revelation having ceased with the departure of the Holy Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) from this world, the first way of identifying a hypocrite is no longer available, but the second way is still valid. That is to say, if a man is found, on certain evidence, to be guilty, in word or deed, of rejecting or opposing or distorting or holding in scorn the basic doctrines of Islam undeniably established by the Holy Qur’an, the Hadith and ijma‘ (consensus), he would be regarded as a Munafiq (hypocrite) in spite of his claim to be a true Muslim. The Holy Qur’an gives such a hypocrite the name of a mulhid or heretic: “Those who distort Our verses”, 41:40, and the Hadith calls him a zindiq. One must also add that since the kufr (infidelity) of such a man has been proved by clear and definite evidence, the shari’ah will not put him in a separate category, but deal with him as it would deal with any other kafir (infidel). That is why the authentic scholars are unanimous in concluding that after the departure of the Holy Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) the question of hypocrites ceased to be a relevant one – now anyone who is not a genuine Muslim will be regarded as kafir. The famous author, Al-‘Aini, in his commentary on al-Bukhari, reports from Imam Malik (rahimahullah) that after the days of the Holy Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) this is the only available means of identifying ‘hypocrisy’, and that a man who carries this mark could be called a hypocrite.
(2) A little reflection on these verses would reveal the true nature of Islam and ‘Iman (faith) and also that of kufr (disbelief), for the Holy Qur’an reports the claim of the hypocrites to be Muslims: “we believe in Allah” (2:8), forthwith refutes this claim: ‘yet they are no believers”. In order to understand fully the implications of these verses, one should bear in one’s mind the fact that the hypocrites in question were actually Jews. Now, belief in Allah and in Hereafter is, no doubt, an essential part of their creed as well; what was not included in their creed, as defined by their religious scholars, was the belief in the prophethood of Muhammad (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam). In declaring their faith in Islam, the Jews very cleverly used to leave out the belief in the Holy Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) and mention only two elements: belief in Allah and belief in the Hereafter. So far as such a declaration goes, they cannot be called liars, and yet the Holy Qur’an refutes their claim to be Muslims, and regards them as liars.
Why?? The fact is that, for one to be a Muslim, it is not sufficient merely to declare one’s faith in Allah and the Hereafter in any form or manner which suits one’s individual or collective fancy. As for that, associators of all kinds do, in one way or another, believe in Allah and consider Him to be omnipotent6 but the Holy Qur’an does not allow any of these things to pass for ‘Iman (faith). ‘iman or faith in Allah must, in order to be valid and worthy of the name, conform to what the Holy Qur’an specifically lays down with regards to the divine names and attributes; similarly, belief in the Hereafter can be valid only when it is true to the specifications of the Holy Qur’an and the hadith.’
In the light of this explanation one can see that the Jews who pretended to be Muslims believed neither in Allah nor in the Hereafter according to these definite requirements. For, on the one hand, they regarded the Prophet ‘Uzair or Ezra (alayhissalaam) as the son of God, and, on the other, cherished the fond belief that the progeny of the prophets, no matter how it acted, would always remain ‘the chosen of God’, and would not be called to account on the Day of Judgment, or at the worst receive only a token punishment. These being their beliefs, the Holy Qur’an rightly rejects their claims to faith in Allah and the Hereafter.
(3) As we have already said, verse 13 defines what ‘Iman (faith) really is : “Believe as other men have believed”. In other words, the criterion for judging one’s claim to ‘Iman is the ‘Iman of the blessed Companions (Sahaaba Alayhim al ridhwan) of the Holy Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) and any claim to Iman which does not conform to it is not acceptable to Allah and to the Holy Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam). If a man has the presumption to interpret an Islamic doctrine or verse of the Holy Qur’an in a way which departs from the explicit and clear explanation provided by the Holy Qur’an itself or by the Holy Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam), his individual opinion and belief, no matter how much it titillates the palate of his contemporaries or feeds their fancy, will have no value or validity in’ the eyes of the shari’ah. For example, the Qadiyanis claim that like Muslims they too believe in the doctrine of the Finality of the Prophethood of Muhammad (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) but in this respect they deviate from what the Holy Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) has himself stated, and what the Companions believed in and distort the doctrine so as to make room for the prophethood of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian; so, according to the indication of the Holy Qur’an, they come under this indictment :“They are no believers.”
In short, if a man interprets an Islamic doctrine in a way which is repugnant to the ‘Iman of the blessed Companions, and yet claims to be a Muslim on the basis of his adherence to this doctrine and also performs ‘his religious duties exactly like Muslims, he will not be considered a Mu’min (true Muslim) until and unless he agrees to conform to the criterion of ‘Iman laid down by the Holy Qur’an.
Removal of a doubt
We may also dispel a misunderstanding which often arises – and is more often made to arise with an ulterior motive – with regard to the famous dictum in the hadith and Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence) that the ‘people of the Ka’bah’ (Ahl al-Qiblah), that is, those who turn towards the Ka’bah in offering prescribed Salah cannot be branded as infidels. The verse under discussion clearly defines the meaning of the phrase, Ahl al-Qiblah. The term pertains only to those who do not deny any of the basic essential doctrines and commandments of Islam which are called the Daruriat (essentials). For that matter even the hypocrites mentioned in the Holy Qur’an used to offer their prayers exactly as the Muslims did; but turning towards Ka’bah while praying was not taken to be sufficient to make them acceptable as true Muslims, simply because they did not have faith in all the essentials of Islam as the blessed Companions did.
Lying is contemptible
(4) The verse: “We believe in Allah and in the Last Day” shows us how disgusting it is to tell a lie – even the hypocrites, with all their hostility to Islam, tried to refrain from it as far as possible. In claiming to be Muslims, they used to mention only their faith in Allah and in the Day of Judgment, but left out the faith in the Holy Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) for fear of telling a lie.
Misbehaving Prophets is to misbehave with Allah
(5) These verses denounce the hypocrites for trying to be clever with Allah Himself and to deceive Him, although no one among them could probably have had such an intention or even thought of such a possibility. What they were actually doing was to try to deceive the Holy Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) and the Muslims. Allah has equated this effort with an attempt to deceive Him, and has thus indicated that a man who is in any way impertinent to a prophet or a man of Allah is ultimately guilty of being impertinent to Allah Himself – this should be true above all in the case of the Holy Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) who stands in his station at the head of all created beings.
The curse of telling lies
(6) There is another subtle and very significant point here. According to these verses, the hypocrites would meet with a grievous punishment for having told lies. Now, their greatest crime was disbelief and hypocrisy in matters of faith, and they had been committing other crimes as well, like nursing envy and malice against Muslims in their hearts and actually conspiring against them. And yet here the grievous punishment has been connected with their habit of telling lies. This is an indication that basically this nefarious habit was their real crime, which gradually led them to hypocrisy and disbelief. In other words, although hypocrisy and disbelief are much greater crimes, yet they arise from the habit of telling lies. That is why the Holy Qur’an combines the sin of lying with the sin of idol worship in the same phrase:
“Guard yourselves against the filth of idols and against telling lies” (Qur’an 22:30)
Who are reformers and mischief-makers
(7) As these verses report, when the hypocrites were asked not to spread disorder in the land through their prevarication and double dealing, they used to reply emphatically :”We are nothing but reformers.” The word Innuma (nothing but), used in the Arabic text, indicates not merely emphasis but exclusivity. So, their reply would mean that they were nothing but reformers, the servants of order, and that their activities could have nothing to do with disorder. Commenting on their reply, the Holy Qur’an says:
“Beware, it is, in fact, they who spread disorder, but they are not aware.”
Now, we learn two things from this comment. Firstly, the activities of the hypocrites did actually produce disorder in the land. Secondly, they did not indulge in these activities with the express intention or design of creating ‘disorder – they were not even aware of the possibility that their actions could be the cause of disorder. For, among the things which spread disorder in the world, there are some which are commonly recognized to be mischievous and disorderly activities, and hence every sensible and conscientious man refrains from them e.g., theft, robbery, murder, rape etc.; on the other hand, there are some which in their external aspect do not appear to be mischief or
disorder, but, working unseen, they have the necessary consequence of destroying the morals of men which, in its turn, opens the door to all kinds of disorder.
This is exactly what the hypocrites were doing. No doubt, they refrained from theft, robbery etc.; it was on this count that they denied their being mischievous, and emphatically asserted that they were serving the cause of order. But all this while they had been freely giving vent to their malice and envy by conspiring with the enemies of the Muslims. These are things which finally bring man down to the level of beasts. Once he has lost his awareness of ethical values and human decency, even an average man becomes an agent of social disorder – of a disorder much greater than that released by thieves or robbers, or even beasts are capable of producing. For, the mischief of robbers and beasts can be controlled by the physical power of law and government. But laws are made and enforced by men. What happens to laws, when man has ceased to be man, can easily be witnessed all around us in the world of today. Everyone takes it for granted that humanity is on the march and the modern man is so far. the ultimate in civilization; the network of educational institutions covers every hamlet on the face of the earth; legislative bodies keep buzzing night and day; organizations for the promulgation of laws spend billions, and circumlocution offices proliferate. And yet crime and disorder keep in step with the march of civilization. The reason is simple.
Law is not an automatic machine; it requires men to make it work. If man ceases to be man, neither laws nor bureaucratic agencies can provide a remedy for the all-pervading disorder. It is for this that the greatest benefactor of mankind, the Holy Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) concentrated all his attention on making men real men – in all the plenitude of the term. Once this has been achieved, crime or disorder comes to an end of itself without the help of enormous police forces and extensive system of law-courts. As long as people acted upon his teachings in certain parts of the world, man saw a kind of peace and order prevail the like of which had never been witnessed before nor is likely to be witnessed when these teachings are abandoned or disregarded.
In so far as actual practice is concerned, the essence of the
teachings of the Holy Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) is fear of Allah and solicitude for the assessment of one’s deeds on the Day of Judgment. If these are absent, no constitution or legal code, nor administrative body or university can force or induce man to keep away from crime. Those who run the world in our day invent ever-new administrative measures to prevent crime, but they not only neglect the very soul of administration, the fear of Allah, but even deploy the means of destroying it – all of which has the necessary consequence that the remedy only helps to feed the malady.
To another aspect of the question, it is easy enough to find a cure for thieves and robbers and for all those who create disorder openly. But the miscreants who have been described in these verses always appear in the garb of reformers, brandishing colourful schemes of social amelioration which are only a mask for personal interests, and for raising the slogan : “We are nothing but reformers.” Hence it is that Allah, while asking men not to spread disorder on the earth, has also said in another place:
“And Allah knows the one who makes mischief distinct from him who promotes good.” (Qur’an 2:220)
This is an indication that Allah alone knows the states of men’s hearts and their intentions, and He alone knows the nature and consequences of each human deed as to whether it would help the cause of order or of disorder. So, to serve the cause of order, it is not sufficient merely to possess such an intention; much more essential than that is to orient oneself in thought and deed in harmony with the Shari’ah, for an action may, in spite of the best intentions, sometimes result in mischief and disorder, if it is not guided by the shari’ah.