The Meanings of the Word Fitnah in the Qur’an: Tafsir al-Shinqitee

Sheikh Muhammad al-Ameen al-Shinqitee wrote the following in part of his explanation of surah al-Nur:

قال مقيده – عفا الله عنه وغفر له – : قد دل استقراء القرآن العظيم أن الفتنة فيه أطلقت على أربعة معان : ـ

The author – may Allah pardon and forgive him – says: An investigation of the Qur’an shows that the word “fitnah” carries four different meanings within it.

الأول : أن يراد بها الإحراق بالنار ; كقوله تعالى : يوم هم على النار يفتنون [ 51 \ 13 ] ، وقوله تعالى : إن الذين فتنوا المؤمنين والمؤمنات الآية [ 85 \ 10 ] ، أي : أحرقوهم بنار الأخدود على القول بذلك . ـ

The first meaning: That it is used to refer to being burned by fire, such as in Allah’s statement:

يَوْمَ هُمْ عَلَى النَّارِ يُفْتَنُونَ

the Day they will be tormented over the Fire [51:13]

as well as His statement:

إِنَّ الَّذِينَ فَتَنُوا الْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَالْمُؤْمِنَاتِ ثُمَّ لَمْ يَتُوبُوا فَلَهُمْ عَذَابُ جَهَنَّمَ وَلَهُمْ عَذَابُ الْحَرِيقِ

Indeed, those who have tortured the believing men and believing women and then have not repented will have the punishment of Hell, and they will have the punishment of the Burning Fire. [85:10]

meaning: they burned them with the fire of the trench, according to this interpretation of the word.

الثاني وهو أشهرها : إطلاق الفتنة على الاختبار ; كقوله تعالى : ونبلوكم بالشر والخير فتنة الآية [ 21 \ 35 ] ، وقوله تعالى : وأن لو استقاموا على الطريقة لأسقيناهم ماء غدقا لنفتنهم فيه [ 72 \ 16 – 17 ] . ـ

The second meaning, which is the most well-known: Using the word “fitnah” to refer to a trial. This is like Allah’s statement:

وَنَبْلُوكُم بِالشَّرِّ وَالْخَيْرِ فِتْنَةً ۖ وَإِلَيْنَا تُرْجَعُونَ

… and We shall make a trial of you with evil and with good, and to Us you will be returned. [21:35]

and His statement:

وَأَن لَّوِ اسْتَقَامُوا عَلَى الطَّرِيقَةِ لَأَسْقَيْنَاهُم مَّاءً غَدَقًا * لِّنَفْتِنَهُمْ فِيهِ

If they had believed in Allah, and went on the Right Way We should surely have bestowed on them water in abundance. * That We might try them thereby. [72:16-17]

والثالث : إطلاق الفتنة على نتيجة الاختيار إن كانت سيئة ; كقوله تعالى : وقاتلوهم حتى لا تكون فتنة ويكون الدين لله [ 2 \ 193 ] ، وفي ” الأنفال ” : [ ص: 560 ] ويكون الدين كله لله [ 8 \ 39 ] ، فقوله : حتى لا تكون فتنة أي : حتى لا يبقى شرك على أصح التفسيرين ، ويدل على صحته قوله بعده : ويكون الدين لله ; لأن الدين لا يكون كله لله حتى لا يبقى شرك ، كما ترى . ويوضح ذلك قوله – صلى الله عليه وسلم – ” : أمرت أن أقاتل الناس حتى يقولوا لا إله إلا الله ” ، كما لا يخفى . ـ

The third meaning: using the word “fitnah” to refer to the outcome of a test if that outcome is bad. For instance, take Allah’s statement:

وَقَاتِلُوهُمْ حَتَّىٰ لَا تَكُونَ فِتْنَةٌ وَيَكُونَ الدِّينُ لِلَّـهِ

And fight them until there is no more fitnah and the worship is for Allah [2:193]

as well His statement in surah al-Anfal:

وَقَاتِلُوهُمْ حَتَّىٰ لَا تَكُونَ فِتْنَةٌ وَيَكُونَ الدِّينُ كُلُّهُ لِلَّـهِ

And fight them until there is no more fitnah and the religion will all be for Allah Alone [8:39]

Allah’s statement:

حَتَّىٰ لَا تَكُونَ فِتْنَةٌ

… until there is no more fitnah

means: until no shirk remains. This is according to the more sound of the two explanations, and Allah’s saying

وَيَكُونَ الدِّينُ لِلَّـهِ

… and the worship is for Allah.

immediately afterwards serves to support the strength of that explanation, because the worship cannot be entirely for Allah until there is no shirk remaining, as we shall see. And the Prophet’s statement

I have been commanded to fight the people until the say laa ilaaha illAllaah – there is no deity worthy of worship except Allah

makes that clear, as is plain to see.

والرابع : إطلاق الفتنة على الحجة في قوله تعالى : ثم لم تكن فتنتهم إلا أن قالوا والله ربنا ما كنا مشركين [ 6 \ 23 ] ، أي : لم تكن حجتهم ، كما قال به بعض أهل العلم . والأظهر عندي : أن الفتنة في قوله هنا : أن تصيبهم فتنة أنه من النوع الثالث من الأنواع المذكورة . وأن معناه أن يفتنهم الله ، أي : يزيدهم ضلالا بسبب مخالفتهم عن أمره ، وأمر رسوله – صلى الله عليه وسلم – . ـ

The forth meaning: Using the term “fitnah” to refer to an argument, as it comes in Allah’s statement:

ثُمَّ لَمْ تَكُن فِتْنَتُهُمْ إِلَّا أَن قَالُوا وَاللَّـهِ رَبِّنَا مَا كُنَّا مُشْرِكِينَ

There will then be no Fitnah left for them but to say: “By Allah, our Lord, we were not those who joined others in worship with Allah.” [6:23]

meaning: there will be no argument left for them, as some of the people of knowledge have said. However what seems more apparent to me is that the meaning of “fitnah” in this ayah is that a fitnah like the sort described in the third category above struck them. In that case, the meaning of this ayah would then be that Allah sent them a fitnah – meaning that He increased them in misguidance due to their divergence from His command and from the command of His Prophet.

وهذا المعنى تدل عليه آيات كثيرة من كتاب الله تعالى ; كقوله – جل وعلا – : كلا بل ران على قلوبهم ما كانوا يكسبون [ 83 \ 14 ] ، وقوله تعالى : فلما زاغوا أزاغ الله قلوبهم [ 61 \ 5 ] ، وقوله تعالى : في قلوبهم مرض فزادهم الله مرضا الآية [ 2 \ 10 ] ، وقوله تعالى : وأما الذين في قلوبهم مرض فزادتهم رجسا إلى رجسهم الآية [ 9 \ 125 ] ، والآيات بمثل ذلك كثيرة ، والعلم عند الله تعالى . ـ

And this meaning is present in many ayaat throughout the Qur’an, such as Allah’s statement:

كَلَّا ۖ بَلْ ۜ رَانَ عَلَىٰ قُلُوبِهِم مَّا كَانُوا يَكْسِبُونَ

Nay! But there is rust of what they used to do on their hearts. [83:14]

or His statement:

فَلَمَّا زَاغُوا أَزَاغَ اللَّـهُ قُلُوبَهُمْ

So when they turned away, Allah turned their hearts away [61:5]

or His statement:

فِي قُلُوبِهِم مَّرَضٌ فَزَادَهُمُ اللَّـهُ مَرَضًا ۖ وَلَهُمْ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ بِمَا كَانُوا يَكْذِبُونَ

In their hearts is a disease and Allah has increased their disease. A painful torment is theirs because they used to tell lies. [2:10]

or His statement:

وَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ فِي قُلُوبِهِم مَّرَضٌ فَزَادَتْهُمْ رِجْسًا إِلَىٰ رِجْسِهِمْ وَمَاتُوا وَهُمْ كَافِرُونَ

But as for those in whose hearts is a disease, it will add suspicion and doubt to their suspicion, disbelief and doubt, and they die while they are disbelievers. [9:125]

and there are many ayaat like this, and the knowledge is with Allah, the Most High.

[Adhwaa’ al-Bayaan 5/559-560]

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

See also: “O our Lord, do not make us a trial for the wrongdoing people”: Tafsir ibn Kathir

See also: Know that your wealth and your children are but a trial: Tafsir al-Tabari

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

See also: Whoever believes in Allah – He will guide his heart in times of trials: Tafsir al-Qurtubi

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4 thoughts on “The Meanings of the Word Fitnah in the Qur’an: Tafsir al-Shinqitee

  1. Pingback: “O our Lord, do not make us a trial for the wrongdoing people”: Tafsir ibn Kathir | Tulayhah

  2. Pingback: Know that your wealth and your children are but a trial: Tafsir al-Tabari | Tulayhah

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

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