Surah Munafiqun: The Hypocrites

63:1. When the hypocrites come to you (Muhammad), they say, ‘We bear witness that you are indeed the Messenger of Allah.’ And Allah knows that you are indeed His Messenger, but Allah bears witness that the hypocrites are surely liars.

إِذَا جَاءَكَ الْمُنَافِقُونَ قَالُوا نَشْهَدُ إِنَّكَ لَرَسُولُ اللَّـهِ ۗ وَاللَّـهُ يَعْلَمُ إِنَّكَ لَرَسُولُهُ وَاللَّـهُ يَشْهَدُ إِنَّ الْمُنَافِقِينَ لَكَاذِبُونَ 

63:2. They have made their oaths a cover; thus they turn men away from the way of Allah. Evil surely is that which they have been doing.

اتَّخَذُوا أَيْمَانَهُمْ جُنَّةً فَصَدُّوا عَن سَبِيلِ اللَّـهِ ۚ إِنَّهُمْ سَاءَ مَا كَانُوا يَعْمَلُونَ 

63:3. That is because they first believed, then disbelieved. So a seal was set upon their hearts and consequently they understand not.

ذَٰلِكَ بِأَنَّهُمْ آمَنُوا ثُمَّ كَفَرُوا فَطُبِعَ عَلَىٰ قُلُوبِهِمْ فَهُمْ لَا يَفْقَهُونَ 

63:4. And when you see them, their outward appearance please you; and if they speak, you listen to their speech. They are as though they were propped up timber. They think that every cry is against them. They are the enemy, so beware of them. May God thwart them! How devious they are!

وَإِذَا رَأَيْتَهُمْ تُعْجِبُكَ أَجْسَامُهُمْ ۖ وَإِن يَقُولُوا تَسْمَعْ لِقَوْلِهِمْ ۖ كَأَنَّهُمْ خُشُبٌ مُّسَنَّدَةٌ ۖ يَحْسَبُونَ كُلَّ صَيْحَةٍ عَلَيْهِمْ ۚ هُمُ الْعَدُوُّ فَاحْذَرْهُمْ ۚ قَاتَلَهُمُ اللَّـهُ ۖ أَنَّىٰ يُؤْفَكُونَ

63:5. And when it is said to them, ‘Come, that the Messenger of Allah may ask forgiveness for you,’ they turn their heads aside, and you see them keeping back while they are full of pride.

وَإِذَا قِيلَ لَهُمْ تَعَالَوْا يَسْتَغْفِرْ لَكُمْ رَسُولُ اللَّـهِ لَوَّوْا رُءُوسَهُمْ وَرَأَيْتَهُمْ يَصُدُّونَ وَهُم مُّسْتَكْبِرُونَ 

63:6. It is the same for them whether you ask forgiveness for them or ask not forgiveness for them, Allah will never forgive them. Surely Allah guides not the rebellious people.

سَوَاءٌ عَلَيْهِمْ أَسْتَغْفَرْتَ لَهُمْ أَمْ لَمْ تَسْتَغْفِرْ لَهُمْ لَن يَغْفِرَ اللَّـهُ لَهُمْ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ لَا يَهْدِي الْقَوْمَ الْفَاسِقِينَ

63:7. They are the ones who say, ‘Spend not on those who are with the Messenger of Allah that they may disperse and leave him;’ while to Allah belong the treasures of the heavens and the earth; but the hypocrites understand not.

هُمُ الَّذِينَ يَقُولُونَ لَا تُنفِقُوا عَلَىٰ مَنْ عِندَ رَسُولِ اللَّـهِ حَتَّىٰ يَنفَضُّوا ۗ وَلِلَّـهِ خَزَائِنُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَلَـٰكِنَّ الْمُنَافِقِينَ لَا يَفْقَهُونَ

63:8. They say, ‘If we return to Madinah, the one most honorable will surely drive out therefrom the one most mean;’ while true honor belongs to Allah and to His Messenger and the believers; but the hypocrites know not.

يَقُولُونَ لَئِن رَّجَعْنَا إِلَى الْمَدِينَةِ لَيُخْرِجَنَّ الْأَعَزُّ مِنْهَا الْأَذَلَّ ۚ وَلِلَّـهِ الْعِزَّةُ وَلِرَسُولِهِ وَلِلْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَلَـٰكِنَّ الْمُنَافِقِينَ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ

63:9. O ye who believe! let not your wealth and your children divert you from the remembrance of Allah. And whoever does so — it is they who are the losers.

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا تُلْهِكُمْ أَمْوَالُكُمْ وَلَا أَوْلَادُكُمْ عَن ذِكْرِ اللَّـهِ ۚ وَمَن يَفْعَلْ ذَٰلِكَ فَأُولَـٰئِكَ هُمُ الْخَاسِرُونَ 

63:10. And spend out of that with which We have provided you before death comes upon one of you and he says, ‘My Lord! if only You wouldst grant me respite for a little while, then I would give alms and be among the righteous.’

وَأَنفِقُوا مِن مَّا رَزَقْنَاكُم مِّن قَبْلِ أَن يَأْتِيَ أَحَدَكُمُ الْمَوْتُ فَيَقُولَ رَبِّ لَوْلَا أَخَّرْتَنِي إِلَىٰ أَجَلٍ قَرِيبٍ فَأَصَّدَّقَ وَأَكُن مِّنَ الصَّالِحِينَ

63:11. And Allah will not grant respite to a soul when its appointed time has come; and Allah is Well-Aware of what you do.

وَلَن يُؤَخِّرَ اللَّـهُ نَفْسًا إِذَا جَاءَ أَجَلُهَا ۚ وَاللَّـهُ خَبِيرٌ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ

Introduction

The date of revelation of this surah may be assigned to a time when the hypocrites became separate from the believers, which first took place in the battle of Uhud, and therefore it was probably in the third year of Hijrah or migration to Madinah, by the prophet Muhammad that it was revealed.

According to Seyyed Hossein Nasr:

A Madinan surah, al-Munafiqun takes its name from the discussion of the hypocrites who attested to the prophethood of Muhammad and swore fealty to him, but continued to ally themselves with his enemies. It can be seen as a contrast to the previous Surah al-Jumu’ah, which addresses the believers. During the Friday congregational prayer, the Prophet is reported to have frequently recited these two surahs together  — al-Jumu’ah all in the first cycle of the prayer as encouragement for the believers and al-Munafiqun in the second cycle as a rebuke to the hypocrites (Al). Most of the surah warns of the treachery of the hypocrites (vv. 1-8). Then, like the final verses of the previous surah (62:9-11), the final verses of this surah (vv. 9-11) enjoin the believers not to allow the responsibilities and desires of this world to distract them from remembering God. In this way, the placement of this surah also serves as a reminder of the more subtle forms of hypocrisy that can distract those who believe from the proper fulfillment of their religious obligations.

The subject of hypocrisy is discussed in the Quran in this surah and in 2:8-20, 3:149-181; 4:60-152, 9:38-127 and 29:10-13.

63:1

This verse defines and lays out the psychology and actions of the hypocrites. Whenever one claims something, even if the statements be perfectly true or even the highest truth, if he or she does not believe in them, he or she becomes a hypocrite. One cannot make statements that one does not believe in. In Surah Saff we read: O ye who believe! why do you say what you do not do? Most hateful is it in the sight of Allah that you say what you do not do. (62:2-3)

The Quran wants the believers to be true, just and compassionate. It also wanted the believers to completely and whole heartedly follow the prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him, whatever he was saying in the domain of religion and administration, in his life time. The believers cannot do both at the same time unless he is a perfect reflection of truth, justice and compassion. And indeed he was and that is the testimony of the Quran, history and his wife Ayesha. When she was asked about the character of the prophet, she replied that he was the Quran incarnate.  He also talked about his human limitations. Umm Salamah relates that the Holy Prophet said: I am but a human being. You bring your disputes to me for decision. It might happen that one party might be better versed in presenting his case than the other and I might decide in his favor according to what I hear. But, if I decide in favor of one contrary to the right of the other, I merely allot a brand of fire to him. (Bokhari and Muslim) We are quoting from the book Gardens of the Righteous, chapter 26.

So, he created a very clear narrative of how to follow him and yield to him, while also following the highest ideals taught in the holy Quran.

Many sects and groups among the Muslims, especially in the Shiite Islam, in the present day try to build their groups on the model of the prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him, among the believers in Madinah. Such plans are well intentioned, but have one gross limitation. When these groups substitute their current leaders for the prophet Muhammad, for the model to work, the leaders have to be appointed by God and will need to be infallible like Muhammad was (3:161) and a perfect reflection of truth, justice and compassion. Failing which it creates an unnecessary theocracy and a strange trial for the followers, damned if you follow and damned if you don’t, and it is better to have secular and frequently tried out models of leadership, as they exist in our present day world, rather than a theocracy wrongfully applied.

63:3

According to Seyyed Hossein Nasr:

This verse means either that the hypocrites first  believed and then came to disbelieve or that they affirmed with their tongues, although they disbelieved with their hearts (Q). A seal was set upon their hearts (cf. 2:7; 6:46; 7:100-101; 9:87, 93; 10:74; 16:108; 17:46; 18:57; 30:59; 40:35; 41:5; 42:24; 47:16) implies spiritual insensitivity and ignorance, as the heart is considered the principle faculty of knowledge and understanding (see 6:25; 22:46). That a seal has been placed upon the heart as a barrier to religious understanding may be understood either as an inherent insensitivity toward revelation or as a Divinely imposed punishment in response to moral transgression and disobedience (see, e.g., 10:74; 42:24; 2:7c).

The sealing of hearts is not something unique for the non-believers or the hypocrites. It is a psychological phenomenon that to some degree happens with every one and leads to biases and prejudices.

This leads to polarized and dogmatic thinking in politics or religion, as a result for example, those belonging to the Republican party in USA are unable to comprehend the reasoning or arguments of the Democratic party and vice versa.  Read a post: Kripkean Dogmatism: The Best Metaphor to Understand Religious and Political Debates.

Watch a video to realize that perspective is everything:

Those who don’t believe or don’t want to believe in Afterlife, have an emotional need to deny the truth of the Quran. It states, “And when you (Muhammad) recite the Quran, We place a hidden veil between you and those who believe not in the Hereafter.” (17:46)

Such polarized ways of thinking, whether in politics or in religion, lead to lack of wholesome understanding and wisdom.

63:4

If ones behavior is not consistent with ones thoughts then over time one loses one’s psychological foundation and becomes like hollow timber.

According to Seyyed Hossein Nasr:

And when thou seest them, their bodies impress thee, and if they speak, thou listenest to their speech. [Yet] they are like leaning timbers. They suppose that every cry is against them. They are the enemy; so be wary of them. May God curse them! How are they perverted?  This first sentence is usually understood to describe  ‘Abd Allah ibn Ubayy and some of his companions, who were said to be handsome and well spoken (Q). Like leaning timbers indicates that the hypocrites have no roots of their own to support them, but rely upon another structure for support. They are thus ‘like shapes without spirits, or bodies without minds’ or like wood that has been eaten from the inside, so that the exterior seems strong but the interior is hollow (Q).

63:7

According to Malik Ghulam Farid:

Insincere and dishonest himself, a hypocrite considers others to be like him. The Hypocrites of Medina had made an entirely foolish and wrong estimate of the sincerity of purpose of the Holy Prophet’s Companions in that they thought that they (his Companions) had gathered round him from considerations of their material interests, and that the moment they found that their expectations had not materialized, they would desert him. Time completely belied their fond and futile expectations.

63:8

According to Malik Ghulam Farid:

In the course of a campaign (probably the one against Banu Mustaliq) ‘Abd Allah bin Ubayy, leader of the Medina Hypocrites whose fond expectations to become the Chief of Medina were shattered by the Holy Prophet’s arrival on the scene is reported to have said that on his return to Medina he, ‘the most honorable of its inhabitants’ meaning himself, would drive out therefrom ‘the meanest of them,’ meaning the Holy Prophet. ‘Abd Allah’s son heard of this vile boast of his father, and as the party reached Medina, he drew his sword and barred his father’s entry into the town until he had confessed and declared that he himself was the  meanest of the citizens of Medina and the Holy Prophet the most honorable of them. Thus his boast recoiled on his head.

This verse also shows that even though blasphemy was committed against the honor of the prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him, he did not prescribe any worldly punishment for it. On the contrary he forgave ‘Abd Allah bin Ubayy and treated him magnanimously on several occasions.

Suggested Reading

Blasphemy law is against Quran, Sunnah: Ghamdi

Blasphemy in Islam: The Quran does not prescribe punishment for abusing the Prophet

This is what the Quran actually says about blasphemy

Believing in the Blasphemy Laws is ‘the Real Blasphemy’: But, There is No Worldly Punishment

63:9

The final verses of this surah (vv. 9-11) enjoin the believers not to allow the responsibilities and desires of this world to distract them from remembering God.

According to Seyyed Hossein Nasr:

Elsewhere the Quran cautions: It is not your wealth or  your children that bring you nigh in nearness unto Us, save those who believe and work righteousness (34:37); and wealth and children are the adornment of the life of this world, but that which endures—righteous deeds—are better in reward with thy Lord (18:46). The Day of Judgment is thus described as the Day when neither wealth nor children avail, save for him who comes to God with a sound heart (26:88—89). Those who meet the challenge, dealing justly with their worldly possessions and responsibilities, shall be rewarded, but for those who disbelieve, neither their wealth nor their children will avail them aught against God (3:10, 116). In this vein, 9:55 and 9:85 caution: And let not their wealth or their children impress thee. God desires but to punish them thereby in the life of this world, and that their souls should depart while they are disbelievers (cf. 68:10-14); see also 2:212; 3:14; 8:28; 9:69; 26:88; 60:3; 64:14-15; 68:14; 71:21. As rendered, the remembrance of God refers to the practice of dhikr or remembrance of God (see 13:28c; 29:45c). It could also be rendered ‘the reminder of God,’ in which case it would refer to the Quran (Q), since the Reminder is one of the names of the Quran, as in 6:90; 12:104; and 38:87, which say of the Quran: It is naught but a reminder for the worlds (see, e.g., 11:114, 120; 15:9; 16:44; 20:3, 99; 2;:10, 24, 50; 36:69; 38:49; 43:44; 65210; 68:51-52; 69:48; 73:19.

63:10-11

The final verses of this surah (vv. 9-11) enjoin the believers not to allow the responsibilities and desires of this world to distract them from remembering God.

Please also read 3:88; 4:17-18; 14:42; 16:61; 16:85; 21:40 and 35:45 to know when repentance is acceptable and when it is too late.

The example of human sins is that of dirt which makes a clean clothe dirty and worthless. But, if you were to wash the clothe with effort and with different detergents and stain removers probably the dirtiest clothes can be made clean. True repentance serves as a soap, detergent and a stain remover, all in one.

The following Hadith which is a parable illustrates beautifully that it is usually not too late for true repentance. The prophet says:

An individual from among a people before you having killed as many as ninety nine persons inquired who was the most learned person on earth. He was directed to a monk. He went to the monk and said: I have killed ninety nine persons. Is there any chance of repentance left for me? The monk answered: No. Forthwith he dispatched the monk also and completed a full century of victims.

This is a parable and not a reality, but it is interesting to note that the monk in a way got punished for his intolerant and wrong ideas. From the perspective of the murderer, however, he committed another sin and completed a century of murders. From ordinary worldly wisdom it would seem that this person is rotten and is a serial killer and is beyond reformation and forgiveness. But the Hadith continues:

Then he inquired again: Who is the most learned person on earth? and was directed to a savant, to whom he said: I have killed a hundred persons. Is there a chance of repentance left for me? The savant said: Yes. What can stand between you and repentance? Proceed to such and such a land. In it there are people who worship God. Join them in the worship of God and do not return to your own land, for it is an evil place. So he set out. He had traversed only half the distance when he was overtaken by death, and a contention arose over him between the angels of mercy and the angels of torment. The angels of mercy pleaded that he had come a penitent turning towards God; and the angels of torment contended that he had never done a good deed. Then there arrived an angel in human form and the contending angels agreed that he should be the arbiter between them. He directed them: Measure the distance between the two lands. To whichever he is closer to that one he belongs. So they carried out the measurement and he was found to be closer to the land whither he was bound. The angels of mercy thus took charge of him (Bukhari and Muslim).

This Hadith is collected in the collection available online here: Gardens of the Righteous. It is Hadith number 20 in the chapter on repentance, which is the second chapter.

The message in this parable is a message of the forgiveness of God. It talks about the situation when one makes true repentance and death overtakes one before complete reformation is visible to the human eye. In such circumstances God will give credit for the possible continued process of reformation, that had been interrupted by death. In other words there is all the hope despite the severity of the sins provided we show true repentance. However, the repentance should be true and sincere. Reformation is an inherent component of true reformation. In other words at least some early signs of reformation are an essential component of true repentance. Such repentance has to, however, come before one is on the death bed.

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