Allah then excoriates the Hypocrites (vv. 50-80) — those who claim to be Muslims but aren’t really believers. In fact, they grieve at the Muslims’ good fortune and rejoice when they suffer (v. 50). But Allah tells the Muslims to ask them, “Do you await for us except one of the two best things while we await for you that Allah will afflict you with punishment from Himself or at our hands? So wait; indeed we, along with you, are waiting” (v. 52). The two best things are martyrdom or victory, according to Ibn Abbas, Mujahid, Qatadah, and others. In other words, the Muslims will either defeat the Hypocrites or be killed by them, in which case they will enter Paradise — a win/win situation.
The Hypocrites, meanwhile, may “spend willingly or unwillingly” (v. 53) for the cause of Islam; in either case, Allah will not accept it from them, “you have been a defiantly disobedient people.” According to the Ruhul Ma’ani, this verse was revealed in reference to one of the Hypocrites, Jadd bin Qais, who was willing to donate money to Muhammad’s expedition to Tabuk, but not to join the caravan and fight himself. His hypocrisy, and that of others like him, renders their contributions unacceptable (v. 54). But Muhammad should not be impressed with their wealth or the number of their sons, for “Allah’s plan is to punish them with these things in this life, and that their souls may perish in their (very) denial of Allah” (v. 55).
According to Al-Hasan Al-Basri, Allah will accomplish this plan “by taking the Zakah due on their money from them and spending it in Allah’s cause.” For these are not true Muslims, and they even dare to question Muhammad’s integrity over how he distributes alms (vv. 56-60). It was at this point that the incident to which I referred earlier is said to have taken place: one of the Hypocrites said to Muhammad, “Be fair, Muhammad! You have not been fair.” Muhammad replied: “Bother you! If I am not fair, who will be fair?”
According to the Tafsir al-Jalalayn, the Hypocrites should have been content with “what Allah and His Messenger gave them” (v. 59) “in respect of booty and the like.” Allah specifies those to whom the obligatory alms, zakat, can be distributed (v. 60). The verse says that it can be spent “in the cause of Allah.” Ibn Kathir explains: “In the cause of Allah is exclusive for the benefit of the fighters in Jihad, who do not receive compensation from the Muslim Treasury.” As-Suyuti adds: “Some say that it is spent on all that is connected to jihad: treaties with the enemy, building fortresses, digging ditches, providing weapons and provision, and paying spies, even if they are Christians.”
The Hypocrites also bother Muhammad by claiming that “he is an ear” (v. 61). Says Ibn Juzayy: “he hears all that is said and confirms it.” That is, he is too good-natured for his own good: the Tafsir al-Jalalayn quotes the Hypocrites saying that Muhammad “hears every little thing and accepts it. When we swear to him that we did not say it, he believes us.” Ibn Abbas, Mujahid and Qatadah agree: Muhammad listens “to those who say anything about us; he believes whoever talks to him. Therefore, if we went to him and swore, he would believe us.” But in fact, says Ibn Kathir, “he knows who’s saying the truth and who is lying.”
And that is just one reason why he is so important. He is so central that believers should not swear by Allah alone, but by Allah and His Messenger (v. 62), and whoever opposes Allah and Muhammad is headed for hell (v. 63). The Hypocrites, recognizing that Muhammad tends to receive revelations about his enemies (one notorious example is sura 111, which is entirely devoted to cursing his uncle, Abu Lahab, who didn’t accept his claim to be a prophet), are “apprehensive lest a surah be revealed about them, informing them of what is in their hearts” (v. 64). But Allah, according to Ibn Kathir, “will expose and explain your reality to His Messenger through revelation” — that is, the secrets of the Hypocrites. They say they were just joking when they mocked Allah and Muhammad (v. 65), but in reality they are apostates (v. 66). “Mocking the signs of Allah,” says As-Suyuti, “is tantamount to kufr [unbelief],” and of course, nothing is worse than unbelief. That may explain why cartoons of Muhammad strike such a nerve in the Islamic world. The Hypocrites will dwell in hellfire (v. 68) for ignoring the messages of the prophets (v. 70).
By contrast, however, the believers will dwell forever in the gardens of Paradise (vv. 71-2). Muhammad is depicted as saying: “Two gardens, their pots and whatever is in them are made of gold, and two gardens, their pots and whatever is in them are made of silver. Only the Veil of Pride of Allah’s Face separates the people from gazing at Him, in the garden of Eden.” But before they can enjoy all that, Muhammad and the Muslims must “strive hard [jahidi, جَاهِدِ] against the unbelievers and the Hypocrites, and be firm against them” (v. 73). Ibn Abbas explains: “Allah commanded the Prophet to fight the disbelievers with the sword, to strive against the hypocrites with the tongue and annulled lenient treatment of them.” Ad-Dahhak adds: “Perform Jihad against the disbelievers with the sword and be harsh with the hypocrites with words, and this is the Jihad performed against them.” And Ibn Juzayy: “Jihad against the rejecters is by the sword and jihad against the hypocrites is by the tongue as long as they do not openly display that which indicates their disbelief…Harshness is the opposite of mercy and compassion. It can be by word, action, etc.”
Significantly, Al-Hasan and Qatadah asserted that “striving against them includes establishing the (Islamic Penal) Law of equality against them.”
One of the Muslims who refused to accompany Muhammad on the Tabuk expedition was Julas bin Suwayd, along with his brother Harith. According to Ibn Ishaq, Julas said of Muhammad: “If this man is right we are worse than donkeys.”
One of Julas’s relatives, Umayr bin Sa’d, told Muhammad what Julas had said. Then he explained to Julas that he had done so because Islam is most important: “You are dearer to me than any man, the most generous to me, and it is most painful to me that anything should happen to upset you; but you have said words which if I repeat them I shall bring shame upon you, and if I keep silence I shall bring my religion into peril. One is preferable to the other.”
Julas and Harith, cornered, denied that Julas had spoken the offending words, whereupon Allah revealed: “They swear by Allah that they did not say while they had said the word of disbelief and disbelieved after their Islam and planned that which they were not to attain” (v. 74). Allah offered them a chance to repent, but warned that if he didn’t, “Allah will punish them with a painful punishment in this world and the Hereafter” (v. 74). They repented.
How would Allah have punished them with a painful punishment in this world? By the hands of the believers, as per vv. 14-15.
But the Hypocrites have turned back from Allah (v. 76), so Allah has cast “hypocrisy into their hearts” (v. 77), and now, even if Muhammad should “ask seventy times for their forgiveness, Allah will not forgive them: because they have rejected Allah and His Messenger” (v. 80) — shades, in reverse, of Matthew 18:21-22.
(Revised May 2015)