Tafseer of Aal ‘Imraan 3:144 and 149

Could you please explain the meaning of above in verses 144 and 149 of surah Al Imran.

Praise be to Allah.

The verses referred to in the question are (interpretation of the meaning):

“Muhammad (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) is no more than a Messenger, and indeed (many) Messengers have passed away before him. If he dies or is killed, will you then turn back on your heels (as disbelievers)? And he who turns back on his heels, not the least harm will he do to Allah, and Allah will give reward to those who are grateful”

[Aal ‘Imraan 3:144] 

And

“O you who believe! If you obey those who disbelieve, they will send you back on your heels, and you will turn back (from Faith) as losers”

[Aal ‘Imraan 3:149]

With regard to the former, we have discussed its tafseer in detail in fatwa no. 125877

With regard to the latter verse, we may sum up the tafseer thereon, bearing in mind the following points: 

1.     The context of the verse: 

Sayyid Qutb (may Allah have mercy on him) said: 

The unbelievers, the hypocrites and the Jews in Madinah seized the opportunity created by the defeat of the Muslims to warn them against following Muhammad. They painted to them in dark colours the gloomy prospects of going to war and fighting the idolaters of the Quraysh and its allies. In the aftermath of defeat, the social climate provides easy opportunities to spread confusion and to weaken the trust of soldiers in their leaders. By the same token the idea of establishing a peaceful accord with the victors was painted in tempting colours. Personal grief was being exploited as part of the wicked design aiming to destroy the Muslim community and Islam altogether. 

Hence, Allah warns the believers against giving heed to those who have rejected the faith, because that obedience will inevitably result in utter loss. Nothing good can come from it. It represents a complete about-turn from a state of disbelief. A believer either continues to fight those who cling to falsehood and reject faith, or turns on his heels — Allah forbid — thus becoming an unbeliever. It is not possible for a believer to take an in-between attitude, trying to maintain neutrality while at the same time hanging on to his faith. He may harbour some such thoughts in the wake of defeat and under the influence of calamity. He may even imagine that he can withdraw from battle against a mightier power, and establish peace with that enemy, and, at the same time, retain his faith. This, however, is a great delusion. In the whole question of faith, a person who does not move forward can only go backwards. If one does not fight disbelief, evil, falsehood and tyranny, one must beat retreat and turn back on one’s heels to embrace all this evil. A person whose faith does not stop him from obeying unbelievers and having trust in them sacrifices, in fact, his very faith for their sake. He is spiritually defeated when he befriends the enemies of his faith and follows their directives. As he starts with defeat, he cannot escape from it at the end. He is bound to revert to rejection of the faith, although he may not imagine that such would be his end. A believer is satisfied with his faith and leadership to such an extent that he has no need to consult the enemies of his faith. If he listens to them once, he actually begins the process of turning back on his heels. This is an elementary and honest truism to which Allah draws the attentions of the believers, warning them against it as He addresses in the name of faith. 

2.     Scholarly views concerning this verse: 

Ibn al-Jawzi (may Allah have mercy on him) said: 

There are three views concerning “those who disbelieve” 

1.     That this refers to the hypocrites, according to the view of Ibn ‘Abbaas and Muqaatil.

2.     That it refers to the Jews and Christians, as was the view of Ibn Jurayj

3.     That it refers to the idol worshippers, as was the view of as-Suddi. 

They said: they ordered the Muslims to recant their religion. 

End quote from Zaad al-Maseer fi ‘Ilm at-Tafseer (1/333) 

Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen (may Allah have mercy on him): 

The words “If you obey those who disbelieve” are general in meaning and include the Jews, Christians, mushrikeen, and atheists who have no religion and do not worship anything. What is meant is: if one of the disbelievers tells you to do something and you obey him, then he will turn you back on your heels and you will be the loser.

End quote from Tafseer Soorah Aal ‘Imraan (2/280) 

Shaykh Ibn Sa di (may Allah have mercy on him) said:

Here Allah forbids the believers to obey the disbelievers, whether they be hypocrites or polytheists, for if they do so, they intend only to do them harm; their goal is to bring them back to disbelief, which leads only to doom and loss. 

Then Allah states that He is their protector and helper; this is glad tidings that He will take care of them by His kindness and protect them from all kinds of evil. 

This provides encouragement for them to take Him alone as protector and helper, to the exclusion of all others. One aspect of His protection and help is that He promised them that He would cast dread into the hearts of their enemies among the disbelievers; this refers to great fear that would prevent them from achieving many of their goals. And He, may He be glorified and exalted, did indeed do that. 

End quote from Tafseer as-Sa‘di (151) 

4.     The scholars differed as to what is meant by “obedience to the disbelievers” which is discouraged 

There are several opinions, as follows: 

It says in Mafaateeh al-Ghayb (9/383): 

If you obey those who disbelieve” cannot be interpreted as referring to obeying them in everything that they say; rather it must refer to something specific: 

It was said (that what is meant is): if you obey them in that which they tell you to do on the day of Uhud, namely leaving Islam;

Or if you obey them with regard to everything that they tell you to do of misguidance;

Or if you follow their advice;

or by not fighting them, which is when they said, “If they had stayed with us, they would not have died or been killed” [Aal ‘imraan 3:156 – interpretation of the meaning]

Al-‘Allaamah at-Taahir ibn ‘Ashoor (may Allah have mercy on him) said: 

What is meant here is to warn the believers against entertaining any notion of entering into a treaty with the mushrikeen and accepting their promise of safety safety, because that would be showing weakness before them and expressing a need for them. Moreover, if they inclined towards them, they would gradually lead them astray, by pretending that they had no resentment towards their religion, until they made them turn back from their religion, because they would never be pleased with them until they went back to their former religion, and turning back on their heels in this manner would be the ultimate result. This is applicable to the way in which the Muslims of Andalusia obeyed the tyrants of Jalaaliqah. It is also applicable to the foolish opinion of the one who said “If we speak to ‘Abdullah ibn Ubayy he will get a promise of safety for us from Abu Sufyaan”, as is indicated by the words “Nay, Allah is your Maula (Patron, Lord, Helper and Protector, etc.)” [Aal ‘Imraan 3:150]

It may be that what is meant by obedience is obedience to words and gestures i.e. obeying commands, and this is what the hypocrites said to them: “If Muhammad was a Prophet he would not have been killed [as there was a rumour to that effect]; go back to your brothers and your (former) religion.” What is meant by turning back on one’s heels in this context is that that would happen immediately if they did obey them.

End quote from at-Tahreer wa’t-Tanweer (4/122) 

And Allah knows best.

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