(ENGLISH) COMMENTARY BY MUHAMMED ESED
( BY MUHAMMED ESED )
49 - AL-HUJURAT
In the name of god, the most gracious, The dispenser of grace: (1)

1 - According to most of the authorities, this invocation (which occurs at the beginning of every surah with the exception of surah 9) constitutes an integral part of "The Opening" and is, therefore, numbered as verse I. In all other instances, the invocation "in the name of God" precedes the surah as such, and is not counted among its verses. - Both the divine epithets rahman and rahrm are derived from the noun rahmah, which signifies "mercy", "compassion", "loving tenderness" and, more comprehensively, "grace". From the very earliest times, Islamic scholars have endeavoured to define the exact shades of meaning which differentiate the two terms. The best and simplest of these explanations is undoubtedly the one advanced by Ibn al-Qayyim (as quoted in Mandr I, 48): the term rahman circumscribes the quality of abounding grace inherent in, and inseparable from, the concept of God's Being, whereas rahrm expresses the manifestation of that grace in, and its effect upon, His creation-in other words, an aspect of His activity.

        
REVEALED, in the consensus of most of the authorities, in the year 9 H., this surah deals predominantly with social ethics. Beginning with the reverence due to the Prophet and - by implication - to the righteous leaders of the community after him, the discourse culminates in the principle of the brotherhood of all believers (verse 10) and, in its widest sense, the brotherhood of all mankind (verse 13). The concluding passage (verses 14ff.) points out the difference between true faith and a mere outward observance of religious formalities. The title is derived from the mention of the word al-hujurat in verse 4.
1. O YOU who have attained to faith! Do not put yourselves forward (1) in the presence of [what] God and His Apostle [may have ordained], but remain conscious of God: for, verily, God is all-hearing, all-knowing!

1 - I.e., do not allow your own desires to have precedence.

2. O you who have attained to faith! Do not raise your voices above the voice of the Prophet, (2) and neither speak loudly to him, as you would speak loudly to one another, (3) lest all your [good] deeds come to nought without your perceiving it.

2 - This has both a literal and a figurative meaning: literal in the case of the Prophets Companions, and figurative for them as well as for believers of later times - implying that ones personal opinions and predilections must not be allowed to overrule the clear-cut legal ordinances and/or moral stipulations promulgated by the Prophet (cf. 4: 65 and the corresponding note).

3 - I.e., address him, or (in later times) speak of him, with unbecoming familiarity.

3. Behold, they who lower their voices in the presence of Gods Apostle - it is they whose hearts God has tested [and opened] to consciousness of Himself; [and] theirs shall be forgiveness and a reward supreme.
4. Verily, [O Prophet,] as for those who call thee from without thy private apartments - most of them do not use their reason: (4)

4 - While this relates in the first instance to the Prophet, it may also be taken to apply to any supreme leader of the community (amir al-muminin) who acts as the Prophets successor (khalifah) and rules in his name, i.e., under the aegis of Islamic Law. (As regards the Prophet himself, the above exhortation to reverent behaviour implies, in the view of many outstanding Islamic thinkers, a prohibition to call out to him when visiting his tomb.)

5. for, if they had the patience [to wait] until thou come forth to them [of thine own accord], it would be for their own good. Still, God is much forgiving, a dispenser of grace.
6. O YOU who have attained to faith! If any iniquitous person comes to you with a [slanderous] tale, use your discernment, (5) lest you hurt people unwittingly and afterwards be filled with remorse for what you have done. (6)

5 - I.e., verify the truth before giving credence to any such report or rumour. The tale-bearer is characterized as iniquitous because the very act of spreading unsubstantiated rumours affecting the reputation of other persons constitutes a spiritual offence.

6 - Thus, after laying stress in the preceding verses on the reverence due to Gods message- bearer - and, by implication, to every righteous leader of the community - the discourse turns to the moral imperative of safeguarding the honour and reputation of every member of the community, man and woman alike. This principle is taken up, more explicitly, in verse 12.

7. And know that Gods Apostle is among you: (7) were he to comply with your inclinations in each and every case, (8) you would be bound to come to harm [as a community]. But as it is, God has caused [your] faith to be dear to you, and has given it beauty in your hearts, and has made hateful to you all denial of the truth, and all iniquity, and all rebellion [against what is good]. Such indeed are they who follow the right course

7 - Sc., and he ought to be an example for you as regards your behaviour towards one another: i.e., he would not accept rashly a hearsay tale affecting the honour of third persons, but would either refuse to listen to it altogether or, should a clarification become necessary in the interests of the community, would insist on ascertaining the truth objectively.

8 - Lit., in many a case (amr): the implication being that, more often than not, man is prone to give credence to malicious rumours devoid of any real evidence.

8. through Gods bounty and favour; and God is all-knowing, truly wise.
9. Hence, if two groups of believers fall to fighting, (9) make peace between them; but then, if one of the two [groups] goes on acting wrongfully towards the other, fight against the one that acts wrongfully until it reverts to Gods commandment; (10 ) and if they revert, make peace between them with justice, and deal equitably [with them]: for verily, God loves those who act equitably!

9 - The expression fighting comprises in this context all modes of discord and contention, both in word and deed, evidently as a consequence of the slanderous rumours spoken of in verse 6 above.

10 - I.e., that the believers should act as brethren (see next verse).

10. All believers are but brethren. (11) Hence, [whenever they are at odds,] make peace between your two brethren, and remain conscious of God, so that you might be graced with His mercy.

11 - The plural noun ikhwah (brethren or brotherhood) has here, of course, a purely ideological connotation, comprising men and women alike; the same applies to the subsequent mention of your two brethren.

11. O YOU who have attained to faith! No men shall deride [other] men: it may well be that those [whom they deride] are better than themselves; and no women [shall deride other] women: it may well be that those [whom they deride] are better than themselves. (12) And neither shall you defame one another, nor insult one another by [opprobrious] epithets: evil is all imputation of iniquity after [one has attained to] faith; (13) and they who [become guilty thereof and] do not repent - it is they, they who are evildoers!

12 - The implication is that believers, whether men or women, shall never deride one another (Zamakhshari, Baydawi).

13 - This applies no less to the faith of the one who insults than to that of the insulted (Razi): cf. 6: 82 - [those] who have not obscured their faith by wrongdoing.

12. O you who have attained to faith! Avoid most guesswork [about one another] (14) for, behold, some of [such] guesswork is [in itself] a sin; and do not spy upon one another, and neither allow yourselves to speak ill of one another behind your backs. Would any of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? Nay, you would loathe it! And be conscious of God. Verily, God is an acceptor of repentance, a dispenser of grace!

14 - I.e., guesswork that may lead to unfounded suspicion of another persons motives: see note on 24: 19.

13. O men! Behold, We have created you all out of a male and a female, (15) and have made you into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another. (16) Verily, the noblest of you in the sight of God is the one who is most deeply conscious of Him. Behold, God is all-knowing, all-aware.

15 - I.e., We have created every one of you out of a father and a mother (Zamakhshari, Razi, Baydawi) - implying that this equality of biological origin is reflected in the equality of the human dignity common to all.

16 - I.e., know that all belong to one human family, without any inherent superiority of one over another (Zamakhshari). This connects with the exhortation, in the preceding two verses, to respect and safeguard each others dignity. In other words, mens evolution into nations and tribes is meant to foster rather than to diminish their mutual desire to understand and appreciate the essential human oneness underlying their outward differentiations; and, correspondingly, all racial, national or tribal prejudice (asabiyyah) is condemned - implicitly in the Quran, and most explicitly by the Prophet (see second half of note on 28: 15). In addition, speaking of peoples boasting of their national or tribal past, the Prophet said: Behold, God has removed from you the arrogance of pagan ignorance (jahiliyyah) with its boast of ancestral glories. Man is but a God-conscious believer or an unfortunate sinner. All people are children of Adam, and Adam was created out of dust. (Fragment of a hadith quoted by Tirmidhi and Abu Daud, on the authority of Abu Hurayrah.)

14. THE BEDOUIN say, We have attained to faith. Say [unto them, O Muhammad]: You have not [yet] attained to faith; you should [rather] say, We have [outwardly] surrendered - for [true] faith has not yet entered your hearts. (17) But if you [truly] pay heed unto God and His Apostle, He will not let the least of your deeds go to waste: (18) for, behold, God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace.

17 - Inasmuch as this is evidently an allusion to the intense tribalism of the bedouin and their pride of descent (Razi), the above verse connects with the preceding condemnation of all tribal preferences and prejudices, and with the call for their abandonment as a prerequisite of true faith. Primarily, this relates to the bedouin contemporaries of the Prophet, but its import is general and timeless.

18 - I.e., your own deeds, in distinction from the supposed glorious deeds of your ancestors, which count for nothing in His sight.

15. [Know that true] believers are only those who have attained to faith in God and His Apostle and have left all doubt behind, (19) and who strive hard in Gods cause with their possessions and their lives: it is they, they who are true to their word!

19 - Lit., and thereafter have had no doubt.

16. Say: Do you, perchance, [want to] inform God of [the nature of] your faith (20) although God knows all that is in the heavens and all that is on earth? Indeed, God has full knowledge of everything!

20 - Like the preceding passage, this, too, is addressed in the first instance to certain contemporaries of the Prophet, but its meaning extends to all people, at all times, who think that their mere profession of faith and outward adherence to its formalities makes them believers.

17. Many people (21) think that they have bestowed a favour upon thee [O Prophet] by having surrendered [to thee]. (22) Say thou: Deem not your surrender a favour unto me: nay, but it is God who bestows a favour upon you by showing you the way to faith - if you are true to your word!
18. Verily, God knows the hidden reality of the heavens and the earth; and God sees all that you do.

21 - Lit., They (see preceding note).

22 - I.e., by professing to be thy followers.