“O you who have believed, look after your own souls”: Tafsir al-Sa’di & al-Shinqitee

In surah al-Maa’idah, Allah commands the believers by saying:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا عَلَيْكُمْ أَنفُسَكُمْ ۖ لَا يَضُرُّكُم مَّن ضَلَّ إِذَا اهْتَدَيْتُمْ ۚ إِلَى اللَّـهِ مَرْجِعُكُمْ جَمِيعًا فَيُنَبِّئُكُم بِمَا كُنتُمْ تَعْمَلُونَ

O you who have believed, look after your own souls. Those who have gone astray will not harm you when you have been guided. To Allah is you return all together; then He will inform you of what you used to do. [5:105]

In his book of tafsir, sheikh ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Sa’di commented on this ayah by writing:

يقول تعالى: { يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا عَلَيْكُمْ أَنْفُسَكُمْ } أي: اجتهدوا في إصلاحها وكمالها وإلزامها سلوك الصراط المستقيم، فإنكم إذا صلحتم لا يضركم من ضل عن الصراط المستقيم، ولم يهتد إلى الدين القويم، وإنما يضر نفسه. ـ

Allah says:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا عَلَيْكُمْ أَنفُسَكُمْ

O you who have believed, look after your own souls.

meaning: exert yourselves in their rectification, their perfection, and making them steadfast in traversing the Straight Path. For once you have rectified yourselves, then those who have strayed from the Straight Path and are not guided to the upright religion will not harm you; it is only themselves that they harm.

ولا يدل هذا على أن الأمر بالمعروف والنهي عن المنكر، لا يضر العبدَ تركُهما وإهمالُهما، فإنه لا يتم هداه, إلا بالإتيان بما يجب عليه من الأمر بالمعروف والنهي عن المنكر. نعم، إذا كان عاجزا عن إنكار المنكر بيده ولسانه وأنكره بقلبه، فإنه لا يضره ضلال غيره. ـ

However this does not mean that slacking off in commanding the good and forbidding the evil or abandoning it completely is something that does not negatively affect a slave. For the fact of the matter is that being guided is not complete unless one follows through with the commanding of good and forbidding of evil which that guidance demands of him. Yes, even if he is not able to take action against wrongdoing by means of his hands or his tongue and is only able to disapprove of them in his heart, then still the misguidance of others will not harm him.

وقوله: { إِلَى اللَّهِ مَرْجِعُكُمْ جَمِيعًا } أي: مآلكم يوم القيامة، واجتماعكم بين يدي الله تعالى. { فَيُنَبِّئُكُمْ بِمَا كُنْتُمْ تَعْمَلُونَ } من خير وشر. ـ

And Allah’s statement:

إِلَى اللَّهِ مَرْجِعُكُمْ جَمِيعًا

You shall all return to Allah …

referring to your ultimate destination on the Day of Judgement and your being gathered in front of Allah

فَيُنَبِّئُكُمْ بِمَا كُنْتُمْ تَعْمَلُونَ

… and He will inform you of what you have done

both the good and the bad.

[Taysir al-Kareem al-Rahman pg. 272-273]

The famous mufassir Sheikh Muhammad al-Ameen al-Shinqitee also devoted space in his tafsir to addressing the possible misconception that Imam al-Sa’di alluded to by writing:

قوله تعالى : يا أيها الذين آمنوا عليكم أنفسكم لا يضركم من ضل إذا اهتديتم ، قد يتوهم الجاهل من ظاهر هذه الآية الكريمة عدم وجوب الأمر بالمعروف والنهي عن المنكر ، ولكن نفس الآية فيها الإشارة إلى أن ذلك فيما إذا بلغ جهده فلم يقبل منه المأمور ، وذلك في قوله : إذا اهتديتم [ 5 \ 105 ] ; لأن من ترك الأمر بالمعروف لم يهتد ، وممن قال بهذا حذيفة ، وسعيد بن المسيب ، كما نقله عنهما الألوسي في ” تفسيره ” ، وابن جرير ، ونقله القرطبي عن سعيد بن المسيب ، وأبي عبيد القاسم بن سلام ، ونقل نحوه ابن جرير عن جماعة من الصحابة ، منهم ابن عمر ، وابن مسعود . ـ

Allah’s statement:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا عَلَيْكُمْ أَنفُسَكُمْ ۖ لَا يَضُرُّكُم مَّن ضَلَّ إِذَا اهْتَدَيْتُمْ

O you who have believed, look after your own souls. Those who have gone astray will not harm you when you have been guided.

An ignorant person might falsely understand this noble ayah to mean that there is not any obligation to command the good or forbid the evil. However, the ayah itself contains something which shows that it is referring to when one has already made an effort to enjoin the good which was not accepted from him. That comes in Allah’s saying:

إِذَا اهْتَدَيْتُمْ

when you have been guided

because whoever leaves off commanding the good is not rightly guided. Among those who have explained it this way are Hudhayfah and Sa’eed ibn al-Musayyib, as both al-Aloosi and ibn Jarir transmitted from then in their books of tafsir. And al-Qurtubi transmitted this meaning from Sa’eed ibn al-Musayyib and Abu ‘Ubayd al-Qaasim ibn Salaam. Ibn Jarir also transmitted similar statements from a number of the Sahabah including ibn ‘Umar and ibn Mas’ood.

فمن العلماء من قال : إذا اهتديتم ، أي : أمرتم فلم يسمع منكم ، ومنهم من قال : يدخل الأمر بالمعروف في المراد بالاهتداء في الآية ، وهو ظاهر جدا ولا ينبغي [ ص: 460 ] العدول عنه لمنصف . ـ

Some scholars explain the phrase:

إِذَا اهْتَدَيْتُمْ

when you have been guided

to mean: you have commanded them with good but they did not listen to you. Some scholars say that “commanding the good” falls under the meaning of being guided in this ayah. The meaning is clear as day, and it is not appropriate for any fair-minded person to turn away from this.

ومما يدل على أن تارك الأمر بالمعروف غير مهتد ، أن الله تعالى أقسم أنه في خسر في قوله تعالى : والعصر إن الإنسان لفي خسر إلا الذين آمنوا وعملوا الصالحات وتواصوا بالحق وتواصوا بالصبر [ 103 \ 1 ، 2 ، 3 ] ، فالحق وجوب الأمر بالمعروف والنهي عن المنكر ، وبعد أداء الواجب لا يضر الآمر ضلال من ضل ، وقد دلت الآيات كقوله تعالى : واتقوا فتنة لا تصيبن الذين ظلموا منكم خاصة [ 8 \ 25 ] ، والأحاديث على أن الناس إن لم يأمروا بالمعروف ، ولم ينهوا عن المنكر ، عمهم الله بعذاب من عنده . ـ

Among the things which show that one who abandons commanding the good is not rightly guided is that Allah has sworn that such a person is in a state of loss in His statement:

وَالْعَصْرِ * إِنَّ الْإِنْسَانَ لَفِي خُسْرٍ * إِلَّا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالْحَقِّ وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالصَّبْرِ

By time, * Indeed, mankind is in loss, * Except for those who have believed and done righteous deeds and advised each other to the truth and advised each other to patience. [103:1-3]

For “the truth” is an obligation to command the good and forbid the evil, and then after carrying out the obligations, the one who has commanded the good will not be harmed by the misguidance of those who have gone astray. And there are a number of ayaat which point to this as well, such as Allah’s statement:

وَاتَّقُوا فِتْنَةً لَّا تُصِيبَنَّ الَّذِينَ ظَلَمُوا مِنكُمْ خَاصَّةً

And fear a trial which will not strike those who have wronged among you exclusively [8:25]

and there are also numerous hadeeth narrations on this topic that if the people cease to command the good and forbid evil, then Allah will subsume them all with a punishment from Him.

فمن ذلك ما خرجه الشيخان في ” صحيحيهما ” عن أم المؤمنين أم الحكم زينب بنت جحش – رضي الله عنها : أن النبي – صلى الله عليه وسلم – دخل عليها فزعا مرعوبا يقول : ” لا إله إلا الله ، ويل للعرب من شر قد اقترب ، فتح اليوم من ردم يأجوج ومأجوج مثل هذه ، وحلق بإصبعيه الإبهام والتي تليها ، فقلت : يا رسول الله ! أنهلك وفينا الصالحون ؟ ، قال : نعم إذا كثر الخبث ” . ـ

One example of such a narration is relayed by both al-Bukhari and Muslim in their two Saheeh collection, from the Mother of the Believers, Umm al-Hakam Zaynab bin Jahsh (may Allah be pleased with her), who said:

The Prophet (ﷺ) came to me in a state of fear and said, “None has the right to be worshiped except Allah alone! Woe to the Arabs from a danger that has come near! An opening has been made in the wall of Ya’juj and Ma’juj like this,” making a circle with his thumb and index finger. So I said, “O Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ)! Shall we be destroyed even though there are pious persons among us?” He said, “Yes, when wickedness will increase.”

وعن النعمان بن بشير – رضي الله عنهما : عن النبي – صلى الله عليه وسلم – قال : ” مثل القائم في حدود الله ، والواقع فيها ، كمثل قوم استهموا على سفينة ، فصار بعضهم أعلاها ، وبعضهم أسفلها ، وكان الذين في أسفلها إذا استقوا من الماء مروا على من فوقهم ، فقالوا : لو أنا خرقنا في نصيبنا خرقا ، ولم نؤذ من فوقنا ، فإن تركوهم وما أرادوا هلكوا ، وهلكوا جميعا ، وإن أخذوا على أيديهم نجوا ، ونجوا جميعا ” ، أخرجه البخاري والترمذي . ـ

Also, al-Nu’man ibn Bashir (may Allah be pleased with him), relayed that the Prophet (ﷺ) said:

The parable of the man who observes the limits prescribed by Allah and the man who transgresses them is like a people who get on board a ship after casting lots. Some of them are in its lower deck and some of them in its upper deck. Those who are in its lower deck, when they require water, go to the occupants of the upper deck. But then they said, “If we were to make a hole in the bottom of the ship, we would not have to bother you.” If those on the upper deck left them to carry out their design they all will be drowned. But if they do not let them go ahead, all of them will remain safe.

Both al-Bukhari and al-Tirmidhi reported this narration.

وعن أبي بكر الصديق – رضي الله عنه – قال : يا أيها الناس إنكم تقرءون هذه الآية : ياأيها الذين آمنوا عليكم أنفسكم لا يضركم من ضل إذا اهتديتم ، وإني سمعت رسول الله – صلى الله عليه وسلم – يقول : ” إن رأى الناس الظالم فلم يأخذوا على يده ، أوشك أن يعمهم الله بعقاب منه ” ، رواه أبو داود ، والترمذي ، والنسائي بأسانيد صحيحة ، وعن ابن مسعود – رضي الله عنه – قال : قال رسول الله – صلى الله عليه وسلم : ” إن أول ما دخل النقص على بني إسرائيل ، أنه كان الرجل يلقى الرجل فيقول : يا هذا اتق الله ، ودع ما تصنع ، فإنه لا يحل لك ، ثم يلقاه من الغد وهو على حاله ، فلا يمنعه ذلك أن يكون أكيله وشريبه وقعيده ، فلما فعلوا [ ص: 461 ] ذلك ضرب الله قلوب بعضهم ببعض ” ، ثم قال : لعن الذين كفروا من بني إسرائيل على لسان داود وعيسى ابن مريم ذلك بما عصوا وكانوا يعتدون كانوا لا يتناهون عن منكر فعلوه لبئس ما كانوا يفعلون ترى كثيرا منهم يتولون الذين كفروا لبئس ما قدمت لهم أنفسهم أن سخط الله عليهم وفي العذاب هم خالدون ولو كانوا يؤمنون بالله والنبي وما أنزل إليه ما اتخذوهم أولياء ولكن كثيرا منهم فاسقون [ 5 \ 79 ، 80 ، 81 ] ، ثم قال : ” كلا والله لتأمرن بالمعروف ، ولتنهون عن المنكر ، ولتأخذن على يد الظالم ، ولتأطرنه على الحق أطرا ، ولتقصرنه على الحق قصرا ، أو ليضربن الله قلوب بعضكم ببعض ، ثم ليلعننكم كما لعنهم ” . ـ

It is transmitted that Abu Bakr al-Siddeeq (may Allah be pleased with him) said:

O people! You recite this ayah:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا عَلَيْكُمْ أَنفُسَكُمْ ۖ لَا يَضُرُّكُم مَّن ضَلَّ إِذَا اهْتَدَيْتُمْ

O you who have believed, look after your own souls. Those who have gone astray will not harm you when you have been guided.

but I heard Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) say, “If a people see a wrong-doer but do not stop him, then Allah will soon envelop them with a punishment from Him.”

This was collected by Abu Dawud, al-Tirmidhi, and al-Nasaa’i with sound chains of narration.

Ibn Mas’ood (may Allah be pleased with him) relayed that Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said:

The first deficiency which occurred among Banu Israa’eel was that a man met another man and said, “O so-and-so, have taqwa of Allah! Stop what you are doing, for it is not permissible for you!” Then he met that same man the next day doing the same thing, but this didn’t stop him from eating with him, drinking with him, and spending his time with him. So because they did that, Allah darkened all their hearts. —Then he recited the ayah:

لُعِنَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا مِن بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ عَلَىٰ لِسَانِ دَاوُودَ وَعِيسَى ابْنِ مَرْيَمَ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ بِمَا عَصَوا وَّكَانُوا يَعْتَدُونَ * كَانُوا لَا يَتَنَاهَوْنَ عَن مُّنكَرٍ فَعَلُوهُ ۚ لَبِئْسَ مَا كَانُوا يَفْعَلُونَ * تَرَىٰ كَثِيرًا مِّنْهُمْ يَتَوَلَّوْنَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا ۚ لَبِئْسَ مَا قَدَّمَتْ لَهُمْ أَنفُسُهُمْ أَن سَخِطَ اللَّـهُ عَلَيْهِمْ وَفِي الْعَذَابِ هُمْ خَالِدُونَ * وَلَوْ كَانُوا يُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللَّـهِ وَالنَّبِيِّ وَمَا أُنزِلَ إِلَيْهِ مَا اتَّخَذُوهُمْ أَوْلِيَاءَ وَلَـٰكِنَّ كَثِيرًا مِّنْهُمْ فَاسِقُونَ

Cursed were those who disbelieved among the Banu Israa’eel by the tongue of Dawud and of ‘Eesaa, the son of Maryam. That was because they disobeyed and habitually transgressed. * They used not to prevent one another from wrongdoing that they did. How wretched was that which they were doing. * You see many of them becoming allies of those who disbelieved. How wretched is that which they have put forth for themselves in that Allah has become angry with them, and in the punishment they will abide eternally. * And if they had believed in Allah and the Prophet and in what was revealed to him, they would not have taken them as allies; but many of them are defiantly disobedient. [5:78-80]

— And then he said — Indeed, by Allah, you either enjoin good and forbid evil and catch hold of the hand of the wrongdoer and persuade him to accept the truth or force him, or Allah will darken the hearts of some of you due to the darkness of the others’ hearts, and then He will curse you as He had cursed them.

رواه أبو داود ، والترمذي وقال : حسن ، وهذا لفظ أبي داود ، ولفظ الترمذي : قال رسول الله – صلى الله عليه وسلم : ” لما وقعت بنو إسرائيل في المعاصي ، نهتهم علماؤهم فلم ينتهوا ، فجالسوهم وواكلوهم ، وشاربوهم ; فضرب الله قلوب بعضهم ببعض ، ولعنهم على لسان داود وعيسى ابن مريم ; ذلك بما عصوا وكانوا يعتدون ” ، فجلس رسول الله – صلى الله عليه وسلم – وكان متكئا ، فقال : ” لا والذي نفسي بيده ، حتى يأطروهم على الحق أطرا ” . ـ

This was reported by Abu Dawud as well as al-Tirmidhi, he graded it as hasan. Above was the wording of the narration from Abu Dawud. The wording in al-Tirmidhi is:

The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, “When the Banu Israa’eel fell into sins, their scholars would forbid them from those things, yet the people would not abstain. Yet the scholars continued to associate with the people and eat and drink with them. So Allah darkened all of their hearts because of the darkness of some of their hearts, and He cursed them upon the tongues of Dawud and ‘Eesaa ibn Maryam. That was because of how they disobeyed and used to transgress the limits.” Up until now Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) had been reclining but then he sat up and said, “By the One in whose hand is my soul, this situation will also occur unless you persuade the people to accept the truth.”

ومعنى تأطروهم أي : تعطفوهم ، ومعنى تقصرونه : تحبسونه ، والأحاديث في الباب كثيرة جدا ، وفيها الدلالة الواضحة على أن الأمر بالمعروف والنهي عن المنكر داخل في قوله : إذا اهتديتم ، ويؤيده كثرة الآيات الدالة على وجوب الأمر بالمعروف والنهي عن المنكر كقوله تعالى : ولتكن منكم أمة يدعون إلى الخير ويأمرون بالمعروف وينهون عن المنكر وأولئك هم المفلحون [ 3 \ 104 ] ، وقوله : كنتم خير أمة أخرجت للناس تأمرون بالمعروف وتنهون عن المنكر [ 3 \ 110 ] . وقوله : لعن الذين كفروا من بني إسرائيل على لسان داود وعيسى ابن مريم ذلك بما عصوا وكانوا يعتدون كانوا لا يتناهون عن منكر فعلوه لبئس ما كانوا يفعلون ، وقوله : وقل الحق من ربكم فمن شاء فليؤمن ومن شاء فليكفر [ 18 \ 29 ] ، وقوله : فاصدع بما تؤمر [ 15 \ 94 ] ، وقوله : أنجينا الذين ينهون عن السوء وأخذنا الذين ظلموا بعذاب بئيس بما كانوا يفسقون [ 7 \ 165 ] ، وقوله : واتقوا فتنة لا تصيبن الذين ظلموا منكم خاصة [ 8 \ 25 ] . ـ

And there are an abundance of other hadeeth narrations on this topic, and they all contain clear proofs that commanding the good and forbidding evil falls under the meaning of Allah’s statement:

إِذَا اهْتَدَيْتُمْ

when you have been guided

And this understanding is also supported and bolstered by a number of ayaat which show the obligatory nature of commanding the good and forbidding evil, such as Allah’s statement:

وَلْتَكُن مِّنكُمْ أُمَّةٌ يَدْعُونَ إِلَى الْخَيْرِ وَيَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَيَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنكَرِ ۚ وَأُولَـٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُونَ

And let there be from you a nation inviting to good, enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong, and those will be the successful. [3:104]

and His statement:

كُنتُمْ خَيْرَ أُمَّةٍ أُخْرِجَتْ لِلنَّاسِ تَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَتَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنكَرِ

You are the best nation produced for mankind. You enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong [3:110]

and His statement:

لُعِنَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا مِن بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ عَلَىٰ لِسَانِ دَاوُودَ وَعِيسَى ابْنِ مَرْيَمَ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ بِمَا عَصَوا وَّكَانُوا يَعْتَدُونَ * كَانُوا لَا يَتَنَاهَوْنَ عَن مُّنكَرٍ فَعَلُوهُ ۚ لَبِئْسَ مَا كَانُوا يَفْعَلُونَ

Cursed were those who disbelieved among the Banu Israa’eel by the tongue of Dawud and of ‘Eesaa, the son of Maryam. That was because they disobeyed and habitually transgressed. * They used not to prevent one another from wrongdoing that they did. How wretched was that which they were doing. [5:78-79]

and His statement:

وَقُلِ الْحَقُّ مِن رَّبِّكُمْ ۖ فَمَن شَاءَ فَلْيُؤْمِن وَمَن شَاءَ فَلْيَكْفُرْ

And say, “The truth is from your Lord, so whoever wills – let him believe; and whoever wills – let him disbelieve.” [18:29]

and His statement:

فَاصْدَعْ بِمَا تُؤْمَرُ

Then declare what you are commanded [15:94]

and His statement:

أَنجَيْنَا الَّذِينَ يَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ السُّوءِ وَأَخَذْنَا الَّذِينَ ظَلَمُوا بِعَذَابٍ بَئِيسٍ بِمَا كَانُوا يَفْسُقُونَ

We saved those who had forbidden evil and seized those who wronged, with a wretched punishment, because they were defiantly disobeying. [7:165]

and His statement:

وَاتَّقُوا فِتْنَةً لَّا تُصِيبَنَّ الَّذِينَ ظَلَمُوا مِنكُمْ خَاصَّةً

And fear a trial which will not strike those who have wronged among you exclusively [8:25]

والتحقيق في معناها : أن المراد بتلك الفتنة التي تعم الظالم وغيره هي أن الناس [ ص: 462 ] إذا رأوا المنكر فلم يغيروه عمهم الله بالعذاب ، صالحهم وطالحهم ، وبه فسرها جماعة من أهل العلم ، والأحاديث الصحيحة شاهدة لذلك ، كما قدمنا طرفا منها . ـ

And the correct understanding of this ayah is that the intended meaning of this trial which will afflict both the wrong-doers and others alike is that when the people see wrongdoing but do not make an effort to change it, Allah will subsume all of them with a punishment, both the righteous and the wicked. This is how a group of the scholars have explained it, and there are numerous authentic hadeeth narrations which affirm that meaning, as we have shown above.

[Adhwaa’ al-Bayaan 1/460-463]

See also: Fear a trial which will not only afflict the wrongdoers: Tafsir al-Qurtubi

See also: Fear a trial which will not only strike the wrongdoers: Tafsir al-Sa’di

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5 thoughts on ““O you who have believed, look after your own souls”: Tafsir al-Sa’di & al-Shinqitee

  1. Pingback: Fear a trial which will not only strike the wrongdoers: Tafsir al-Sa’di | Tulayhah

  2. Pingback: Fear a trial which will not only afflict the wrongdoers: Tafsir al-Qurtubi | Tulayhah

  3. as salaamu alaykum wa rahmatullah wa bsrakatuh;
    May Allah reward you well.
    The naseehah of this post is apropos and timely.
    Praise be to Allah

  4. Pingback: A Primer on Abrogation: al-Zarkashi | Tulayhah

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