بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ
Like the preceding Chapter, the blessed Chapter in question, revealed in Medina, has eleven Verses. The hypocrites’ characteristics are not only treated in this Chapter, but some Qur’anic Chapters, particularly those revealed in Medina, make references to their psychological and behavioral qualities. Such characteristics are most comprehensively treated in Chapter nine (Surah al-Tawba) in which approximately one hundred Verses are devoted to such traits.
The recitation of the Chapter in the Friday prayer is enjoined. Such emphasis may be owing to the point that the Muslim community (umma) should at all times beware of the plots hatched by hypocrites.
According to jurisprudential sources, e.g. Jawahir al-Kalam, that if the leader of the Friday congregation prayer comes halfway to recite another Chapter following the recitation of the first Chapter (Surah al-Hamd), he may begin to recite Chapter 63 unless he began the recitation of Chapters 62 or 112.
According to a tradition narrated from the Noble Prophet of the Islamic faith (S), one who recites Surah al-Munafiqin will be absolved of any hypocrisy.1 It is narrated from Imam Sadiq (as) that it is incumbent upon all the believers following the Shi‘i Imams to recite Chapter 62 (Surah al-Jum‘a) and
on Friday night and Chapters 62 and 63 in the Friday noon prayer.
Then, he went further to say that when such believer acts upon the same, it is as if he has done the Noble Prophet's (S) deeds and Divine Rewards will be in store for him.2 It is worthy of note, however, that such Rewards will fall into the shares of those who act upon Qur’anic Injunctions, since the mere utterance devoid of reflection and action will be of no avail.
بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ
إِذَا جَاءَكَ الْمُنَافِقُونَ قَالُوا نَشْهَدُ إِنَّكَ لَرَسُولُ اللَّهِ ۗ وَاللَّهُ يَعْلَمُ إِنَّكَ لَرَسُولُهُ وَاللَّهُ يَشْهَدُ إِنَّ الْمُنَافِقِينَ لَكَاذِبُونَ
The Arabic word nifaq, derived from the root n-f-q, connotes the underground tunnels used for camouflage or flight. Some animals, like field mice and lizards dig nests with two holes. In like manner, hypocrites leave clandestine ways through which they may flee at the time of urgency. People may fall into four categories.
The first group consists of those who are devout believers and act upon their obligations. These are true believers. Those in the second group sincerely believe, but they fail to act. Such people are disobedient. The third group consists of those who do not believe in their hearts but pretend belief. These are hypocrites. The people in the fourth group neither sincerely believe nor act upon their obligations. They are disbelievers.
Imam ‘Ali (as) is quoted as saying that hypocrisy stems from inward inferiority.3 Hypocrites in the early days of Islam had found their way into decision making for society and even the Noble Prophet (S) was exposed to their conspiracies.
The exegesis of the blessed Verse in question requires a prelude regarding the point that the earliest instances of hypocrisy trace back to the Noble Prophet's (S) migration to Medina when the strong pillars of the Islamic faith and its triumph were reflected. There were almost no hypocrites in Mecca, since powerful opponents could utter and do whatever they liked against the Islamic faith without entertaining fear in their hearts. Thus, there was no need to act hypocritically.
The widespread of the Islamic faith in Medina weakened its enemies, since it was hard and at times impossible to explicitly deny the Islamic faith.
Consequently, the defeated enemies made attempts at destructive stratagems in a new guise and thereby pretended to join the Muslims, but they pursued their clandestine measures. It is natural that any revolution, following its manifest triumph, confronts the lines of hypocrites and the bitter enemies of yesterday appear in the guise of the infiltrators of today.
Therefore, the reason behind the revelation of numerous Qur’anic Verses in Medina rather than Mecca regarding the hypocrites is clarified.
It is, however, noteworthy that the question of hypocrisy and hypocrites is not particular to the time of the Noble Prophet (S) since any society, particularly the revolutionary society, confronts it.
Therefore, the Qur’anic analytical treatment of the subject, not only as a historical question but also as some current affair, requires precise scrutiny so that such treatment may inspire confrontation with the spirit of hypocrisy and hypocritical lines in the Islamic societies in modern times. The hypocrites tokens, extensively reflected in the Holy Qur’an, are to be accurately comprehended so that such tokens may lead Muslims to reveal their lines and stratagems.
Another point of significance is that the challenge posed to any society by hypocrites is worse than any enmity since it is not facile at all times to recognize them on the one hand and they are domestic enemies on the other such that they infiltrate within the innermost of the society such that it is quite hard to screen them.
Furthermore, their interrelations with the other members of the society pose a harder challenge in confronting them. Consequently, the Islamic society has received the worst blows by the hypocrites and it is for the same reason that the Holy Qur’an poses the harshest challenges to them and attacks them worse than any other foe. The Holy Qur’an herein opens with the hypocrites’ pretense to belief constituting the pivot of their hypocrisy.
The blessed Verse in question is saying that
Thus, the first token of hypocrisy is revealed which is the difference between inward intentions and outward conduct. Hypocrites emphatically claim to be believers but their hearts entertains no belief. Fabricating such lies falls into the two categories of true and untrue claims and doctrinal truth and untruth.
In other words, the criterion for the former is to assay whether or not the claims conform to truth. The latter, dealing with conformity or non-conformity to beliefs, reflects that if one reports something which conforms to truth but it is against his beliefs, it is termed as doctrinal untruth. Nonetheless, if it conforms to his beliefs, it is truth.
Thus, the hypocrites’ testimony to the Prophetic Call of the Noble Prophet of the Islamic faith (S) did not embody untruth, but it constituted the truth, but since they disbelieved in it, their testimony was regarded as untruth. It is in this vein that the Holy Qur’an is saying that he is Allah's Messenger (S), though they forge lies.
The Noble Prophet said:
"I fear neither believers nor disbelievers, though I fear hypocrites."4
اتَّخَذُوا أَيْمَانَهُمْ جُنَّةً فَصَدُّوا عَن سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ ۚ إِنَّهُمْ سَاءَ مَا كَانُوا يَعْمَلُونَ
ذَٰلِكَ بِأَنَّهُمْ آمَنُوا ثُمَّ كَفَرُوا فَطُبِعَ عَلَىٰ قُلُوبِهِمْ فَهُمْ لَا يَفْقَهُونَ
The word junna denotes "shield" which protects the body from arrows. The Holy Qur’an, many a time, treats of the false oaths taken by hypocrites saying that they pledge to satisfy you. Thus, the blessed Verse treats of the second token of the hypocrites saying that they use their oaths as a shield so that they may impede people from treading the Path of God Almighty.
They commit very evil deeds
since they pretend belief but inwardly, they disbelieve and make impediments on the path of Guidance. What is worse and more evil than taking oaths swearing by the Sacred Name of God Almighty in order to disguise one's real intentions and attract people's sentiments and deceive them by hindering them from Allah's Path.
It is worthy of note, however, that such expression reflects that they are at war with believers at all times and believers are supposed to be deceived by their hypocritical conduct and sweet words, since shields are opted in battlefields.
The blessed Verse 3 treats of the main cause behind such unworthy deeds, saying that
The blessed Verse may reflect that they hypocrites seemingly converted to the Islamic faith by uttering the formula
"There is no god but Allah and Muhammad (S) is Allah's Messenger (S)"
out of hypocrisy, fear, greed, or other mal intentions. Nonetheless, they reflected their disbelief later on as it was the case with ‘Abd Allah ibn Ubayy who converted to the Islamic faith but later expressed his disbelief.
The blessed Verse may also allude to the point that some of the hypocrites are likewise, since faith has not penetrated their hearts.
Upon hearing the inimitable Qur’anic Verses from the Noble Prophet of the Islamic faith (S), they expressed their belief, though upon meeting with their chiefs, they said unto them that they were in their line. God Almighty exposes their hypocrisy. Taking into account the contextual meaning and the occasion of the Revelation of the blessed Verse, the former interpretation is more manifest.
Human heart is originally of two dimensions, one turns toward the heavenly and angelic realm and the other turns toward the natural and satanic world. When the former dimension is strengthened and human heart entertains the remembrance of God Almighty, it may accommodate the Throne of the Most Gracious Allah and Divine Inspirations where angels may frequent. Au contraire, when the former dimension takes the upper hand, devils tempt him and lead man to corruption.
In this vein, it is narrated in traditions that human heart has two ears: one hears the angels and makes man commit righteous good deeds; the other ear hears the devils and thereby inclines toward committing evil. It is narrated from the Noble Prophet (S) that had the devils not encompassed the hearts of the children of Adam (as), he would have looked at the heavenly realm as well as the earth.5
Therefore, man may use his own heart to understand that at times he is inclined toward committing good righteous deeds as prescribed by God Almighty and thereby perceive that such committing such meritorious deeds is inspired by angels. Au contraire, he may understand that satanic temptations provoke him to commit evils deeds against Divine Injunctions. It goes without saying that human acts are not predestined, since they pave the path for their own acts.
وَإِذَا رَأَيْتَهُمْ تُعْجِبُكَ أَجْسَامُهُمْ ۖ وَإِن يَقُولُوا تَسْمَعْ لِقَوْلِهِمْ ۖ كَأَنَّهُمْ خُشُبٌ مُّسَنَّدَةٌ ۖ يَحْسَبُونَ كُلَّ صَيْحَةٍ عَلَيْهِمْ ۚ هُمُ الْعَدُوُّ فَاحْذَرْهُمْ ۚ قَاتَلَهُمُ اللَّهُ ۖ أَنَّىٰ يُؤْفَكُونَ
4. And when you look at them, they have such looks that they make you wonder and when they speak, their speech is so beauteous and attractive that you listen to their words. They are as blocks of wood, dry, brainless, futile, relying on one another. They think that every cry is against them. They are the enemies; therefore, beware of them. May Allah slay them! How are they deviating from the True Path?
In Chapter 9 (Surah al-Tawba), God Almighty addresses the Noble Prophet (S) saying unto him that the worldly possessions and the children of the hypocrites are not supposed to make you wonder.
The blessed Verse in question is saying that their looks and speech should not make you wonder. Although the blessed Verse is addressed to the Noble Prophet (S), but all Muslims are asked to beware of being impressed by the appearance and the speech of the hypocrites.
The Noble Prophet (S) in narrated as saying that believers are flexible like ears of corn; they bend against the wind, but they stand upright again. However, disbelievers are likened to black poplars, of hard wood, such that they are so inflexible that the harsh wind may eradicate them.6
The blessed Verse in question treats of further tokens of the hypocrites, saying that when one sees them, they wonder at their comely appearance and sweet words, and whenever they talk, you listen to them. Thus, even the Noble Prophet (S) may be impressed by their sweet words, let alone others.
Besides treating of their appearances, their inward states are also dealt with in the blessed Verse, saying that inwardly,
reflecting that they lack in spirit as their bodies are hollow and dependent. They lack sincerity, light, will, resolution, and faith, hence the similitude of blocks of wood relying on the wall.
In this vein, it is narrated by some Qur’an exegetes that ‘Abd Allah ibn Ubayy, the chief of the hypocrites, was a robust, good looking, and eloquent man. Upon entering the meetings of the Noble Prophet (S) and his Companions, the Companions wondered at the appearances of ‘Abd Allah ibn Ubayy and his followers and listened to their words.
However, owing to their arrogance, they went to the wall and relied on it, impressing the Companions by their appearances and words, hence the Revelation of the blessed Verse.7 The blessed Verse proceeds to say that they are so superficial. They neither trust God Almighty nor are they self-confident, such that they regard any cry to be against them.
Their hearts are encompassed by fear and their souls are enwrapped by suspicion and pessimism. As the saying goes "The traitor is fearful," they are even afraid of their own shadows. Thus, this is another token of the hypocrites.
The blessed Verse closes by warning the Noble Prophet (S) that they are your real enemies and he is asked to beware of them. The blessed Verse further says: May God Almighty slays them. How they deviate from the True Path.
It is clear that the sentence is not in the indicative mood, but it is a curse on them which reflects censure and degradation for the hypocrites, as similar expressions are used in daily speech. The point is that God Almighty uses the speech employed by people.
Thus, other tokens of the hypocrites are enumerated including their attractive appearances, their hollowness, fear, suspicion of everything and any event.
In this vein, it is narrated from the Noble Prophet (S) that believers have four kinds of enemies:
1. The Muslims envious of them
2. The hypocrites who hate them.
3. Satan who leads them astray.
4. The disbelievers who wage war against them.8
وَإِذَا قِيلَ لَهُمْ تَعَالَوْا يَسْتَغْفِرْ لَكُمْ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ لَوَّوْا رُءُوسَهُمْ وَرَأَيْتَهُمْ يَصُدُّونَ وَهُم مُّسْتَكْبِرُونَ
سَوَاءٌ عَلَيْهِمْ أَسْتَغْفَرْتَ لَهُمْ أَمْ لَمْ تَسْتَغْفِرْ لَهُمْ لَن يَغْفِرَ اللَّهُ لَهُمْ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يَهْدِي الْقَوْمَ الْفَاسِقِينَ
5. And whenever it is said unto them: "Come, so that Allah's Messenger may invoke Allah to forgive you," they twist their heads out of disbelief, arrogance, and derision and you would see them impeding out of arrogance the people from turning towards the Truth.
6. It is equal to them whether you ask forgiveness or ask not forgiveness for them. Indeed, Allah guides not the people who are disobedient.
The Prophetic Calls lead to growth and attaining to an exalted state. The invocations of Allah's friends will be answered. The Prophet's (S) prayers for one who denies the True Call may not be answered. Arrogance leads to deprivation from the Divine Boundless Graciousness.
The blessed Verse 5 treats of further tokens of the hypocrites and their misdeeds, saying when they are asked to come so that Allah's Messenger (S) may invoke God Almighty to forgive them, they twist their heads out of derision and arrogance and they turn away from the Prophet's (S) words in arrogance. The point is that their arrogance impedes them from taking the opportunity to repent from committing sins and being absolved of them.
An instance of such arrogant denial, according to Qur’an exegetes, was ‘Abd Allah ibn Ubayy who talked evil of the Noble Prophet (S) and emigrant believers saying that upon their return to Medina, the mighty would drive out the humbled out of the city.
It was on that occasion that the blessed Qur’anic Verses were revealed and thereby he was severely censured. It was suggested that he went to the Noble Prophet (S) so that he may invoke God Almighty to forgive him.
However, he uttered further unworthy words, saying:
"I was asked to convert to the Islamic faith and I did. I was asked to pay alms-tax and I did. Then, you will ask me to prostrate before Muhammad (S)."
It is clear that the spirit of the Islamic faith is submission to the Truth and arrogance impedes such submission.
Therefore, one of the tokens of the hypocrites which is one of the motives lying behind hypocrisy is arrogance, self-conceit, and megalomania.
The Arabic word
deriving from l-w-’, l-y-y, or l-w-y, originally denotes twisting ropes but it also connotes turning around or away one's head.
The Arabic verbal form yasudduna, as mentioned above, is used in two senses: "they impede" and "they turn away," though the contextual meanings of the blessed Verses 2 and 5 reflect the former and the latter senses respectively.
To disambiguate the intended meaning, the blessed Verse 6 adds that put the case that they come unto you and you ask for their forgiveness, they are not prepared for such forgiveness. Thus, it would make no difference to them whether you ask or not ask for forgiveness, since God Almighty will never forgive them, as God Almighty will not guide the disobedient.
It is also clear that by disobedient, any sinner is not intended, since the Noble Prophet (S) was Divinely appointed to save the sinners, but those who persist in committing sins and are obstinate and arrogant against the Truth may not be absolved of their sins.
هُمُ الَّذِينَ يَقُولُونَ لَا تُنفِقُوا عَلَىٰ مَنْ عِندَ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ حَتَّىٰ يَنفَضُّوا ۗ وَلِلَّهِ خَزَائِنُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَلَٰكِنَّ الْمُنَافِقِينَ لَا يَفْقَهُونَ
7. They are the ones who say: "Spend not on those who are with Allah's Messenger so that they desert him." And to Allah belong the treasures of the heavens and the earth, but the hypocrites comprehend not.
The Arabic word khaza’in is the plural form of khazina ("treasure"). One of the stratagems devised by enemies is to boycott the believers and lead them to dire straits. The blessed Verse is saying that the hypocrites asked each other not to render aid to the Noble Prophet (S) so that his followers may abandon him.
It was in this vein that Mu‘awiya issued a decree as per which the followers of Imam ‘Ali (as) were deprived of the public Muslim treasury (bayt al-mal)9 and the adherents of Imam Husayn (as) were denied of water at Karbala’. In modern times, superpowers employ economic sanctions and pressures to make the nations submit to their will.
يَقُولُونَ لَئِن رَّجَعْنَا إِلَى الْمَدِينَةِ لَيُخْرِجَنَّ الْأَعَزُّ مِنْهَا الْأَذَلَّ ۚ وَلِلَّهِ الْعِزَّةُ وَلِرَسُولِهِ وَلِلْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَلَٰكِنَّ الْمُنَافِقِينَ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ
8. They say: "If we return to Medina from this military expedition, the more honorable will expel therefrom the meaner." But honor, and power belong to Allah and to His Messenger and to the believers, but the hypocrites know not.
The hypocrites intend to overthrow the Islamic state. They regard themselves to be honorable and the Noble Prophet (S) and the believers to be lowly, whereas the honor and glory solely belong to God Almighty, the Noble Prophet (S), and the believers.
The blessed Verse makes reference to other detestable words uttered by them, saying that they say if we return to Median, the honorable will drive out the humbled from the city. Such words were uttered by ‘Abd Allah ibn Ubayy intending to say that they, as the inhabitants of Medina, will expel Allah's (S) Messenger and the emigrant believers from the city.
return from the military campaign of Bani Mustalaq is meant. It is true that one person uttered such words, but since the hypocrites had the same policy, the Holy Qur’an intends a collective sense out of the same. Thus, a harsh reply is provided for them by the Holy Qur’an to the effect that glory exclusively belongs to God Almighty, His Messenger (S), and the believers, though the hypocrites are not aware of it.
It is worthy of note, however, that such words against the emigrant believers were not solely uttered by the Medinan hypocrites, but such words were formerly uttered by the chiefs of Quraysh in Mecca, saying that if they pressured the poor Muslims who were few in number by economic sanctions or if they expel them from Mecca, everything would go smoothly.
The colonial powers in modern times imagine that the treasures of the heaven and the earth are available to them and they try to impose economic sanctions on the nations who fail to submit to their will. Such blind disobedient people have been unaware of the point that their possessions and riches will be scattered to the wind by the Divine Will and their baseless might will perish.
Such attitude, regarding oneself honorable and others humbled is hypocritical and stems from arrogance and self-conceit on the one hand and imaginary independence before God Almighty on the other. Had they been acquainted with the truth of total submission to God Almighty and His Absolute Ownership, they would have never erred in this respect.
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا تُلْهِكُمْ أَمْوَالُكُمْ وَلَا أَوْلَادُكُمْ عَن ذِكْرِ اللَّهِ ۚ وَمَن يَفْعَلْ ذَٰلِكَ فَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْخَاسِرُونَ
9. O you who believe! Let neither your properties nor your children divert you from the remembrance of Allah. And whoever does that is the loser.
Since worldly possessions and children constitute one of the most significant factors lying behind loving this worldly life, the blessed Verse warns the believers against such excessive affection, saying:
It is true that worldly possessions and children are Divine Bounties to the extent that one makes use of them in Allah's Cause and attaining to happiness. However, they are regarded as the worst afflictions when excessive affection for them impedes man from treading the Path to the Truth. It is mentioned above that the same affection led the hypocrites astray.
The same motif is most explicitly depicted in a tradition narrated from Imam Baqir (as) according to which two wolves on either sides of a cattle may not inflict so many harms that mammonism and greed may adversely affect the believers’ faith.10
Qur’an exegetes discuss different possibilities regarding the remembrance of God Almighty in this blessed Verse. Some maintain that the five daily prayers are hereby intended.
Some hold that it alludes to showing gratitude for Divine Bounties, patience at the time of affliction, contentment with Divine Decrees, pilgrimage to Mecca, paying alms tax (zakat), recitation of the Holy Qur’an, and all religious obligations. However, it is clear that remembrance of God Almighty is broad in its semantic range encompassing all the above. Thus, such interpretation makes a reference to the explicit instances of such remembrance.
وَأَنفِقُوا مِن مَّا رَزَقْنَاكُم مِّن قَبْلِ أَن يَأْتِيَ أَحَدَكُمُ الْمَوْتُ فَيَقُولَ رَبِّ لَوْلَا أَخَّرْتَنِي إِلَىٰ أَجَلٍ قَرِيبٍ فَأَصَّدَّقَ وَأَكُن مِّنَ الصَّالِحِينَ
10. And expend of that with which We have provided you before death comes to any of you when he says: "My Lord! If only You would give me respite for a little while, then I should give alms and be amongst the righteous.
Man expends alms in Allah's Cause and acts upon his religious obligations if he believes the he will die and there will be Resurrection in the Hereafter.
It is in this vein that the blessed Verse in question enjoins the believers to expend alms in Allah's Cause, saying:
Enjoining the believers to expend alms in Allah's Cause herein is interpreted by some Qur’an exegetes in the sense of the immediate requirement of expending the alms tax and other religious obligations, though the contextual meaning of the blessed Verse reflects that any kind of obligatory and supererogatory expending alms is hereby intended which may serve as a means of man's salvation in the Hereafter.
It would be of interest to note that the blessed Verse says:
Such expression demonstrates the profound impression made by expending in Allah's Cause on righteousness. However, some Qur’an exegetes hold that righteousness herein connotes performing the rituals for pilgrimage to Mecca and there are traditions explicitly substantiating such interpretation, though it may be regarded as one of the explicit instances of the same.
makes a reference to man's encounter with death and the reflection of its tokens, since one may not utter such words posthumously.
is not restricted to worldly possessions but connotes all Bounties reflecting that man has been granted such Bounties by God Almighty for a few days. Thus, niggardliness would be meaningless. Upon taking a glimpse at the purgatory in the last moments, many people find out that they are at the threshold of the Resurrection Day.
The veils of ignorance are cast asunder and they notice that they have to leave behind all their worldly possessions and regret that they have not made any provisions for such a long journey. Thus, they ask to return to this world even for a short while to compensate for their losses, but they are denied of such return, since Divine Decree makes it impossible to return.
وَلَن يُؤَخِّرَ اللَّهُ نَفْسًا إِذَا جَاءَ أَجَلُهَا ۚ وَاللَّهُ خَبِيرٌ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ
11. And Allah grants respite to none when his appointed time comes. And Allah is All-Aware of what you do.
The last blessed Verse most decisively adds that God Almighty grants respite to none when his appointed time of death comes, not even for one single moment.
The same motif is reflected elsewhere in the Holy Qur’an11:
Finally, the blessed Verse closes with
reflecting that there are records available for Reward and Chastisement and everyone shall receive Divine Retribution before others.
May God Almighty encompass us with His Graciousness and makes us the dwellers of Paradise. Amen.
- 1. Majma‘ al-Bayan.
- 2. Thawab al-A‘mal; Tafsir Nur al-Thiqalayn.
- 3. Ghurar al-Hikam.
- 4. ‘Awali al-La’ali, vol. 4, p. 39.
- 5. Tafsir Makhzan al-‘Irfan.
- 6. Tafsir Ruh al-Bayan, vol. 6, p. 53f3.
- 7. Tafsir Kashshaf, vol. 4, p. 540.
- 8. Nahj al-Fasaha, p. 481.
- 9. Ibn Hadid's commentary on the Nahj al-Balagha, vol. 11, p. 44.
- 10. Usul Kafi, vol. 2, the chapter on the love for this world, tradition 3.
- 11. 7:34