The 54th Call: Fearing Allah and Being with the Truthful
Almighty Allah says (what can be translated as): “O you who have believed, fear Allah and be with those who are true. It was not [proper] for the people of Madinah and those surrounding them of the bedouins that they remain behind after [the departure of] the Messenger of Allah or that they prefer themselves over his self. That is because they are not afflicted by thirst or fatigue or hunger in the cause of Allah, nor do they tread on any ground that enrages the disbelievers, nor do they inflict upon an enemy any infliction but that is registered for them as a righteous deed. Indeed, Allah does not allow to be lost the reward of the doers of good. Nor do they spend expenditure, small or large, or cross a valley but that it is registered for them that Allah may reward them for the best of what they were doing. And it is not for the believers to go forth [to battle] all at once. For there should separate from every division of them a group [remaining] to obtain understanding in the religion and warn their people when they return to them that they might be cautious.” (At-Tawbah: 119-122)
O Believers! Fear Allah and remain steadfast by fulfilling His obligations and duties and avoiding His prohibitions. Be truthful and commit to truthfulness to be among the truthful people and survive any destruction. Also Allah will facilitate your affairs and grant you relief out of any problem if you fear Him and commit to truthfulness.
Almighty Allah admonishes those who did not join Allah’s Messenger (Peace Be upon Him) in the military expedition and stayed behind in Madinah. They favored themselves over the kind Messenger (PBUH). Almighty Allah blames the people of Madinah and the bedouins surrounding it in specific. They denied themselves the reward of marching with the Messenger (PBUH) that is because they are not afflicted by thirst, fatigue or hunger in the cause of Allah, nor do they step on any ground that enrages disbelievers, nor do they achieve any victory or beat their enemies but that is registered for them as a righteous and rewarded deed. Almighty Allah does not disregard or waste the reward of the doers of good.
Those fighters do not spend any small or big expenditure in the cause of Allah Almighty, or cross a valley while marching to face their enemies but that it is registered for them and written in their good deeds. They would be rewarded by Allah Almighty with the highest reward because fighting in His cause is better than any other good deed they do. The small expenditure in Jihad is regarded and rewarded by Allah Almighty as a big expenditure in other kinds of good deeds.
Jihad is a legal obligation that must be discharged by the Muslim community as a whole; if enough members in the Muslim community discharge the obligation, the remaining Muslims are freed from the responsibility before Allah Almighty. Yet, if Allah’s Messenger (Peace Be upon Him) leads a military campaign and calls people to march with him, no one should linger behind except those who have proper excuses. When the previous verses were revealed to emphasize the prohibition of staying behind and not joining military campaigns, they said none of us would linger behind from an army or expedition from now on. They all went to Jihad and the Messenger (PBUH) sometimes remained alone, then Almighty Allah sent down this verse in which He clarifies to the believers that they should not go forth to battle all at once so that a group of people would remain near Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) to obtain understanding of the religion and teach their family members and fellow believers the Qur’anic revelations that were sent down while they were fighting. They also should teach them the new religious matters and instructions of the Messenger (PBUH) given in their absence. This way, all Muslims would remain knowledgeable of their religion.
The people of Madinah were the ones who rushed to support the Islamic message, which meant that they were truly its basic core of supporters. They had given shelter to Allah’s Messenger (PBUH), pledged their total loyalty to him and constituted the hard nucleus of the Islamic faith in the Arabian Peninsula. The bedouin Arabs in the surrounding area, having also adopted Islam as a faith and a way of life, formed the outer belt of defense. Hence those two groups could not refrain from joining the Prophet (PBUH) or spare themselves from any risk to which they might be exposed. When Allah’s Messenger set out to attend to a certain task that served Islamic interests, then the people of Madinah, the vanguard of the Islamic message, and those of the surrounding area could not but join him. Whether this happened to be in the burning summer heat or the extreme winter cold, in times of strict hardship or easy affluence, it does not behoove them, being so close to the Prophet, to try to spare themselves a difficulty that Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) is undertaking. They could not excuse themselves by protesting ignorance or lack of awareness of the real task in hand.
The surah appeals to them to fear Allah and to join the truthful believers who have never entertained any thoughts of staying behind and who have maintained their strong commitment to their faith at times of hardship. Those were the cream among the early believers and those who followed in their footsteps: “O you who have believed, fear Allah and be with those who are true.” (Verse 119) The surah follows this appeal by a strong censure of the very thought of staying behind when Allah’s Messenger is setting out: “It was not [proper] for the people of Madinah and those surrounding them of the bedouins that they remain behind after [the departure of] the Messenger of Allah or that they prefer themselves over his self.” (Verse 120) The statement implies a strong reproach. No Companion of Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) can be reproached in a stronger way than by saying that he puts his own safety ahead of the Prophet’s. How could he when he is the Prophet’s Companion and follower? The same applies to the advocates of Islam in all generations and periods. It does not behoove a believer to try to spare himself a risk that the Prophet (PBUH) himself was willing to undertake for the cause of Islam. How could he when he claims that he is an advocate of the cause of Islam, and a follower of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be upon Him)?
Taking up such a responsibility is a duty imposed by Allah’s order and emphasized by our love of the Prophet (PBUH) that makes any believer too ashamed to put himself ahead of him. At the same time it earns a very generous reward indeed: “That is because they are not afflicted by thirst or fatigue or hunger in the cause of Allah, nor do they tread on any ground that enrages the disbelievers, nor do they inflict upon an enemy any infliction but that is registered for them as a righteous deed. Indeed, Allah does not allow to be lost the reward of the doers of good. Nor do they spend expenditure, small or large, or cross a valley but that it is registered for them that Allah may reward them for the best of what they were doing.” (Verses 120- 121)
Every feeling is rewarded, be it thirst, hunger or mere stress and tiredness. Taking up a position which irritates the unbelievers and inflicting any loss or damage on them is credited as a good deed. When a believer goes out on a jihad campaign, he is included among those who do good. Allah will not let the reward of such servants of His to be lost. Furthermore, any financial contribution, be it little or much, and the mere walking across a valley are also rewarded as Allah rewards the best of His servants. By Allah, this is a rich reward indeed. It is a reward by Allah whose generosity is beyond any limit. How embarrassing to us all that such a great reward is given for something that is much less than the hardship suffered by the Prophet (PBUH) himself for the cause of Islam. It is the advocacy of this cause that we should now assume. Most certainly, we must be true to our trust.
As we have seen in this surah, the Qur’an repeatedly denounces, in very clear terms, those who stay behind at the time when a jihad campaign is announced, particularly those from Madinah and the bedouins in the surrounding area. This denunciation made people come to Madinah in large numbers, particularly from the tribes living nearby, so that they would be ready to join the Prophet at any moment. Hence it was necessary to spell out the limits of all-out mobilization at the appropriate time.
The Muslim area had expanded. With the whole of Arabia practically adopting Islam, large numbers were ready to fight. At Tabuk, there were about 30,000 of them, which was a much larger number than at any earlier battle the Muslims had fought. It was time that different people should attend to different tasks, so that no area, such as agriculture or trade or social concerns, was neglected. All these are necessary for an emerging nation, whose needs are far more sophisticated than those of a tribal community. Hence the present verse was revealed to set out certain limits: “And it is not for the believers to go forth [to battle] all at once. For there should separate from every division of them a group [remaining] to obtain understanding in the religion and warn their people when they return to them that they might be cautious.” (Verse 122)
Several reports have been mentioned in explaining the meaning of this verse, giving different views on which group is to acquire deeper knowledge in faith so as to warn their people when they return. The view which we find to be soundest suggests that a section from each group in the Muslim community should go out to fight, with a system that allows alternation between the fighters and those who stay behind to attend to other tasks. The group of fighters acquires a more profound understanding of this faith as they take practical action seeking to consolidate its base. Hence these fighters are the ones who, on their return, warn their people against any complacency in attending to their duties. This interpretation is based on views expressed by such leading commentators as Ibn Abbas, al-Hasan al-Başri and Ibn Kathir. It is also the view of Ibn Jarir al-Ţabari. Its central point is that this faith has its own method of action, and it cannot be properly understood except by those who actively implement it. Hence those who go out to fight for its cause are the ones most likely to understand it best. Its underlying meanings, its implications, its practical implementation and its main features unfold to them as they move under its banner. Those who stay behind are the ones who need to be informed by those who take practical action, because the latter are the ones who witness and learn all these aspects. They are the ones who probe its secrets. This is particularly so, if the campaign they join is one led by the Prophet himself. However, every jihad campaign is a means to acquire a better understanding of this faith.
This is perhaps the reverse of what may appear at first sight, with those who are not on a jihad campaign being the ones who devote time to studying and understanding this faith. But this is a delusion that does not fit with the nature of this faith, which makes action one of its basic requirements. Hence it is understood more profoundly by those who take action and strive to establish it as a code of living in spite of the opposition they encounter from the forces of jahiliyyah. Experience confirms that those who are not involved in the method of action to serve this faith do not understand it properly, no matter how much time they spend in studying it from books. That is a cold study, while real insight is acquired only by those who join the efforts aiming to establish it as a practical code of living. It is never acquired by those who only look at books and papers.
Proper understanding of this faith does not evolve except where action is taken to serve its cause. It cannot be taken from a scholar who stays idle when action is needed. Those who occupy their time with studying books to deduce rulings and ‘renew’ or ‘develop’ Islamic law, as the Orientalists say, do not really understand the nature of this faith. They take no part in the movement which aims to liberate humanity from different tyrannical authorities, and from submission to others, so that they may submit to Allah alone. With such lack of action, they cannot put its laws and concepts into their proper form.
Islamic law came about after Islamic action had moved ahead. First, submission to Allah was properly established when a community had determined to submit itself to Allah alone and to abandon the laws, customs and traditions of jahiliyyah. That community also decided that no aspect of its life could be governed by human law. The community then started to shape its life on the basis of the main Islamic laws, without neglecting the details outlined in the sources of this law. As the community continued to do so, new issues came up in its practical life that needed to be sorted out on the basis of Islamic law. At this point new rulings were deduced and Fiqh, or the formal study of Islamic law, started to develop. It is then the action itself which allowed Fiqh to develop and flourish. It did not develop as a cold academic study that had no bearing on active and practical life. Thus scholars were able to develop a profound insight into this faith based on interaction with a real community shaping its life on the basis of this religion and striving to make its cause triumphant.
What do we find today in place of that? No one can claim that a proper Islamic community, determined to submit to Allah alone and to live by His law, rejecting any laws and regulations that are not based on His guidance exists anywhere. Hence no true Muslim who has an insight into this religion of Islam, its method of action and its history would try to ‘develop’ or ‘renew’ Islamic law in communities that are unwilling to declare that they recognize no other law. Serious Islamic action should start by making submission to Allah alone the first step, followed by acknowledging that sovereignty belongs only to Him. Hence no legislation is acceptable unless it is based on His law. To do otherwise is no more than a silly joke. Moreover, to imagine that one can have a proper understanding of this faith looking only at books and papers, without being involved in real action to serve the Islamic cause betrays deep ignorance of this religion.
Submission to Allah alone gives rise to an Islamic community, which in turn helps Islamic scholarship to flourish. This is the proper order. There can be no situation where specially tailored Islamic laws are prepared in advance for an Islamic community that is expected to be established. The fact is that every ruling seeks to implement the Islamic law, and its basic principles, in a practical case that has its own clear shape, dimensions and circumstances. Such cases arise from practical life within the Islamic community which gives it its particular shape, dimensions and circumstances. Hence a ruling that addresses each particular case is deduced. The rulings that we find today in books of Fiqh addressed similar practical cases in the past, when Islamic law was implemented by an Islamic community. They were not ready made in advance. Today we need to have similar rulings that address our own issues, provided that the community decides first of all to submit to Allah alone and to accept no ruling unless based on Allah’s law.
When this happens, then our efforts will yield proper fruits. Striving for Allah’s cause, or jihad, will open people’s eyes and give them real knowledge and understanding of the faith. Unless we do this, then we are evading our real duty of jihad, seeking flimsy excuses of ‘developing’ or ‘renewing’ the study of Islamic Fiqh. It is far better to acknowledge our weakness and lack of effort, seeking Allah’s forgiveness, than to resort to such evasiveness.