The 82nd Call: The Prohibition of Breaking One’s Word
Almighty Allah says (what can be translated as): "O you who have believed, why do you say what you do not do? Great is hatred in the sight of Allah that you say what you do not do.? " (Surat As-Saff: 2-3)
Almighty Allah admonishes those who give promises and do not keep them, He asks them why do you say that you will do good deeds then when you are asked to do them you hate it and you do not do them?!
It was narrated that Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be upon Him) said: "The three distinctive marks of a hypocrite are: he lies when he speaks, and breaks his promises, and he is untrue to his trust." [Related by al-Bukhari, Muslim, al-Tirmidhi and al-Nasa'i]
It is narrated that this verse was revealed when some Muslims hoped that Jihad would be declared a duty by Allah to fight in His cause, but when The Almighty obligated them with Jihad some resented it. Almighty Allah scolds those who say what they do not do. He said to them that not doing what they pledged to do is greatly hated by Him because fulfilling their promises and pledges cultivates trust among the individuals of the Muslim community while doing the opposite weakens the bond in the Muslim community.
The verse: "O you who have believed, why do you say what you do not do…" disapproves those who give promises and do not keep them, and this is why the preceding scholars said that is it obligatory to keep one’s promise whether the promised person depend on that promise or not. They took evidence from the Sunnah of the Prophet as it was proven in the two authentic books of Imam Muslim and Imam Bukhari that Allah’s Messenger, Peace Be upon Him, said: "The three distinctive marks of a hypocrite are: he lies when he speaks, and breaks his promises, and he is untrue to his trust."
In another authentic hadith the Prophet, PBUH, said: "If four characteristics are in a person he would be a complete hypocrite, but if he had only one of them then he has a characteristic of hypocrisy till he gives it up." In the hadith the Prophet, PBUH, mentions the breaking of the promise. Those two hadiths are taken from the explanation of the Book of Imam Bukhari.
Almighty Allah warns them and confirms that it is strongly hated for Him when they say what they do not do: "Great is hatred in the sight of Allah that you say what you do not do?"
Imam Ahmad and Abu Dawud relate this report by Abdullah ibn 'Amir ibn Rabi'ah: "Allah’s Messenger came to us when I was a young boy. I wanted to go out to play, but my mother said to me, 'Abdullah, come and I will give you something.' The Prophet said to her, 'What do you want to give him?' She replied, 'Dates.' He said, 'If you would not give him anything, it would have been recorded against you as a lie."
Imam Malik, may Allah have mercy on Him, said that if the promise is given to a person that depends on that promise then it has to be fulfilled, such as when someone says to another person ‘marry and I will give you such and such each day,’ that means the one who promises has to keep his word because it implies that the promised person has a right over the person who gave him the promise. On the other hand, Ibn Kathir says in his commentary that the majority of scholars agree that these verses were revealed when some Muslims turned away from Jihad when it was declared a duty. He adds that this is the same as other verses in the Qur’an: "Have you not seen those who were told, "Restrain your hands [from fighting] and establish prayer and give zakah"? But then when fighting was ordained for them, at once a party of them feared men as they fear Allah or with [even] greater fear. They said, "Our Lord, why have You decreed upon us fighting? If only You had postponed [it for] us for a short time." Say, The enjoyment of this world is little, and the Hereafter is better for he who fears Allah. And injustice will not be done to you, [even] as much as a thread [inside a date seed]." Wherever you may be, death will overtake you, even if you should be within towers of lofty construction." (An-Nisa: 77—78) Almighty Allah says: "Those who believe say, "Why has a surah not been sent down? But when a precise surah is revealed and fighting is mentioned therein, you see those in whose hearts is hypocrisy looking at you with a look of one overcome by death…" (Surat Muhammad: 20) The meaning of this verse agrees with what Ibn Abbas said that prior to making Jihad obligatory, some believers used to say; "We wish that Allah would tell us what action is most loved by Him, so that we could do it." Allah instructed His Messenger to say that what Allah loves most is a belief in Him that allows no room for doubt, and striving against deviant people who reject the faith. However, when Jihad made obligatory, a number of believers found it difficult, and they disliked it and found it distasteful. Hence the revelation of the verses saying: "O you who have believed, why do you say what you do not do? Great is hatred in the sight of Allah that you say what you do not do.?" (Verses: 2-3) Al-Tabari also confirmed this in his commentary on the surah.
Muqatil ibn Hayyan said that the believers said if we knew the most beloved deeds to Allah we would have done it, and Allah told them the most beloved deed for Him in the verse: "Indeed, Allah loves those who fight in His cause in a row as though they are a [single] structure joined firmly." (As-Saff: 4) So, Allah showed them that Jihad is the best deed and they were tested by that on the Battle of Uhud but they gave their back to the Prophet, Peace Be upon Him, and ran away from the battle out of fear so Almighty Allah sent down the verse "O you who have believed, why do you say what you do not do?" Almighty Allah told them that the most beloved one among them for Him is the one that fights in His cause. Some scholars say that the verse was revealed about fighting when some men claimed that they had fought, killed the enemy and remained steadfast in the battle when they had not done so.
Qatadah and al-Dahhaq say that this verse reproaches those who used to boast about their exploits claiming that they had fought and killed the enemy, when they had not done so. Ibn Zaid says it was revealed about some hypocrites who promised Muslims with their support but they did not fulfill it. Maliki relates from Zaid ibn Aslam that it is about Jihad.
Looking at these verses, their context and the mention of fighting, we feel that the occasion inviting their revelation was the one mentioned by the majority of scholars and by Ibn Jarir al-Tabari. However, Qur’anic texts always take dimensions that go beyond the individual events which they address. They also comment on many other events in addition to the immediate occasion. Therefore, we look at these verses according to their general important without forgetting the immediate events for which they were revealed.