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Tafseer Surah Saff: You who have iman! Why do you say what you do not do? It is deeply abhorrent to Allah that you should say what you do not do.

يا أَيُّهَا الَّذينَ آمَنوا لِمَ تَقولونَ ما لا تَفعَلونَ

كَبُرَ مَقتًا عِندَ اللَّهِ أَن تَقولوا ما لا تَفعَلونَ

You who have iman! Why do you say what you do not do? It is deeply abhorrent to Allah that you should say what you do not do.

(Surah Saff, 61:2-3)

The following is a translation of Dr Fadhel al Samarrai’s Tafseer of Surah Saff.

The saying: ‘why do you say what you do not do?’ لِمَ تَقولونَ ما لا تَفعَلونَ is general to all situations

This speech must be taken generally and should not be restricted by the specific circumstances of the cause of revelation (asbab an-nuzul). Allah (swt) did not say ‘why did you say such and such while you did not do it’. Instead He (swt) made it general by not mentioning specifically what was said while not doing it. Otherwise it may be understood that the rebuke is only for a particular thing that is said and not done. So if another thing was said and not done then they will be freed from the rebuke.

Therefore, the specific cause of the revelation does not specify the generality of the verse, so the verse will remain general.

The circumstances of the revelation have been disputed as there are several varying reports for the cause of its revelation. It was mentioned that a group of Muslims said, if we know what actions are beloved to Allah (swt) then we would rush to it, so when fighting was prescribed upon them, they disliked it and shirked away from it.

It was reported that some of them said ‘I fought while he did not, and I attacked while he did not’ and ‘I did such and such’ but he did not. So Allah (swt) revealed this verse reprimanding them in general without specifying the matter for which they were reprimanded. Therefore, the reprimand is for anyone who says something but does not do it.

كَبُرَ مَقتًا عِندَ اللَّهِ أَن تَقولوا ما لا تَفعَلونَ

‘It is deeply abhorrent to Allah that you should say what you do not do.’

What does the word كَبُرَ mean?

The word كَبُرَ (to become great or to increase) has a damma on the letter baa and there are two possible meanings for this expression.

Firstly, the Arabs would differentiate between الكبر المعنوي (to describe something non-physical) and الكبر المادي (to describe something physical).

So for الكبر المادي, they say it with a kasra on the baa. So it will be said كَبِرَ الرجل ‘the man became old’ and for الكبر المعنوي they would say it with a damma on the baa. So it will be said كَبُرَ الأمر ‘the matter became grave’. Al-Kibr (الكبر) here in the verse is not materialistic so it is said with a damma on the baa. Therefore, the expression is informative i.e. the sentence is informative where it is either true or false.

Secondly, the other possibility is that the verb changes toفَعُلَ  for the purpose of blame. This is because if changing the verb to praise or blame was intended i.e. it changes to the patterns ofنِعمَ  and بِئسَ (how wonderful or how awful), then it will come upon the pattern ofفَعُلَ  with a dammah on the ain (middle letter) with the condition of being known for astonishment, praise and blame.

Here the expression carries the meaning of blame and astonishment in addition to the first informative style.

What does the word مَقْتًا mean?

The word مَقْتًا (hatred) carries the meaning of clarifying التَّمْييز (removes the ambiguity or vagueness created by the previous noun) for the hidden doer i.e. كبُرالمقت مقتاً  and the interpretive verbal noun (المصدرالمؤول) will beبَدَل  (substitute) and this is for the purpose of clarity after vagueness. Then the loathed matter was explained by His (swt) saying: أَن تَقُولُوا مَا لَا تَفْعَلُونَ that you should say what you do not do’, and the concealment of the subject (فاعل) and its explanation changes the speech to a non-informative sentence (a sentence which implies requests or praise and blame) in addition to emphasis and magnification.

It’s possible that the subject is the interpretive verbal noun (المصدر المؤول) i.e. أَن تَقُولُوا مَا لَا تَفْعَلُونَ  and مَقْتًا is aالتَّمْييز  converted from the subject, and the origin isكبر مقتُ قولِكم ما لا تفعلون and the subject was converted for the purpose of hyperbole or exaggeration.

This expression combined that which is hated as the most hated and that is from many perspectives:

  1. It conveys the information upon the original expression without changing the verb, therefore it informs of Allah’s (swt) hate for action indicating upon ثبوت (permanency)
  2. The verb is changed to the verb which expresses astonishment of this act to Allah (swt)
  3. The verb is changed to a verb of censure, so that the purpose is to express censure and the sentence becomes non-informative
  4. The word الْمَقْتِ  was used because it is stronger thanبغض  and it is more eloquent
  5. The subject changed to التَّمْييز for the purpose of hyperbole
  6. The subject was concealed and it was explained by the tameez for clarification after vagueness and the informative sentence changed to non-informative
  7. It was described withالكبر المعنوي
  8. The description of ‘hate’ was increased by His saying ‘with Allah’ because the one who is loathed in the sight of Allah is worst of those who are hated

So this expression was made for loathing from every angle and upon the most eloquent manner by being informative and non-informative, showing astonishment, blame, hyperbole and clarification after vagueness. If it was said with another substitute such as: كبر المقت عند الله أن تقولوا ما أكبر المقت عند الله  orكبر عند الله مقت أن تقولوا  or other than this, then most of these meanings would have been lost.

The meaning of التعجب (astonishment) is magnification of the matter in the hearts of listeners, because astonishment only happens from something taken from its counterpart and its form, and it was attributed toأَنْ تَقُولُوا. Allah made مَقْتً  accusative for its explanation, indicating that their saying what they do not do is pure hatred which has no dilution in it by exaggerating the hatred from it.

The word الْمَقْتِ  was chosen because it is the strongest of hate and it is more eloquent. This word is used for the hated marriage, which is the contract of marriage to the step mother.

وَلا تَنكِحوا ما نَكَحَ آباؤُكُم مِنَ النِّساءِ إِلّا ما قَد سَلَفَ ۚ إِنَّهُ كانَ فاحِشَةً وَمَقتًا وَساءَ سَبيلًا

Do not marry any women your fathers married – except for what may have already taken place. That is an indecent act, a loathsome thing and an evil path.

(An-Nisaa, 4:22)

Allah did not just restrictالْمَقْتِ  by making the hatred great even though it is strong and eloquent, but also linked the hatred عِنْدَ اللَّهِ which is more eloquent because if the magnitude of the hate is established with Allah then the hatred’s enormity and intensity is clear and all doubts have been removed.

He (swt) said: أَن تَقُولُوا  as an interpretative verbal nounالمصدر المؤول  and He did not say قولكم using the direct verbal noun. This is because قولكم would mean that the act only happens once, and the deeply abhorrent hate happens even if it is once which is not intended. So it was intended to explain that this deeply abhorrent hate is when this occurrence happens repeatedly i.e. as a characteristic. Therefore, the verb was brought to indicate renewal and continuity.

Allah did not say: كبر مقتا عند الله أن قلتم ما لم تفعلوا  It is deeply abhorrent to Allah that you said what you did not do,’ for the same reason as above, because the occurrence of this great hatred will only happen once. And Allah knows best.

Indeed Allah (swt) is disgusted by this description and He exaggerated this censure because this matter is in the domain of lying and the Muslim does not lie.

Why was hatred attributed to the verb, but love attributed to the subject i.e. Allah?

You may say: why did Allah not say: ان الله يمقت الذين يقولون ما لا يفعلون ‘Indeed Allah hates those who say what they do not do’ So make the hatred attributed to the doer (Allah) as in the verse after it إِنَّ اللَّـهَ يُحِبُّ الَّذِينَ يُقَاتِلُونَ فِي سَبِيلِهِ صَفًّا so why attribute the hate to the verb and love to the subject?

The answer is that Allah addressed the companions with the description of what is hated with His saying, يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا  O you believe. So if after that He said, ان الله يمقت الذين يقولون مالا يفعلون   then that would connect hatred to those who believe and who were addressed because of it. However, Allah does not loathe those who believe. He loves them but He loathes this description. Therefore, they were spared from their lord hating them and Allah sufficed them by honoring the believers when He said:

إِنَّ اللَّـهَ يُحِبُّ الَّذِينَ يُقَاتِلُونَ فِي سَبِيلِهِ صَفًّا

Allah loves those who fight in His Way in ranks like well-built walls.

So love was made for the doers because of their action and so He loves the action and the doers. What an honor indicated for the believers by these two verses of hate and love!

Why did Allah not say, ‘Indeed Allah loves those who do what they say.’

You may say, indeed Allah said: كَبُرَ مَقْتًا عِندَ اللَّـهِ أَن تَقُولُوا مَا لَا تَفْعَلُونَIt is deeply abhorrent to Allah that you should say what you do not do,’ but why did He not say: إِنَّ الله يحب الذين يفعلون ما يقولون ؟  ‘Indeed Allah loves those who do what they say.’

This statement cannot be taken absolutely because someone may say something bad and then does not do it. For example, someone says that he will cut off relations then he refrains from doing it, or does something which is good contrary to what he intended. Therefore, this statement is not suitable.