Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)

Verse 217..........Part 2

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Session 231

Chapter 2

Verse 217

a continuation

They ask you about the sacred month and fighting in it.  Say, ‘Fighting during the month is a great offense, but to bar others from God’s path, to disbelieve in Him, prevent access to the Sacred Mosque, and expel its people, are still greater offenses in God’s eyes: persecution is worse than killing.’ They will not stop fighting you until they make you revoke your faith, if they can. If any of you revoke your faith and die as disbelievers, your deeds will come to nothing in this world and the Hereafter, and you will be inhabitants of the Fire, there to remain. (Chapter 2: Verse 217)

In the previous session, we explained how the disbelievers –who had violated every sanctity in the book- wanted to attack the Muslims over an error during a sacred month.  Allah warns the Muslims that this type of behavior will not stop, and He exposes the true intentions of the disbelievers.  He says: “They will not stop fighting you until they make you revoke your faith, if they can.”  Don’t think that the disbelievers will respect sacred months or sacred places; rather their purpose is either to kill you or drive you away from your faith.  The phrase “If they can” is a challenge to the enemies of Islam that they will not be able to achieve their goal.  

God continues “If any of you revoke your faith and die as disbelievers, your deeds will come to nothing in this world and the Hereafter, and you will be inhabitants of the Fire, there to remain.”  This part of the verse is similar to another verse in chapter 5.  God says:

The deeds of anyone who rejects faith will come to nothing, and in the Hereafter he will be one of the losers. (from 5:05)

Note that the first verse mentions dying in the state of disbelief as a condition for losing one’s good deeds, while the second verse does not mention death.  Scholars agree that whoever leaves Islam, becomes a disbeliever, and dies in the state of disbelief will lose all of his or her good deeds on the Day of Judgement.  The scholars, however, differed regarding the deeds of a person who starts off as a Muslim, leaves Islam to become a disbeliever for a period of time, then returns to Islam.  This person does not die as a disbeliever, instead, he or she returns to God’s path after a period of disbelief.   Would this person’s good deeds before they disbelieved become worthless or not?  For example, if this person performed Hajj, then became a disbeliever, and later returned to Islam, would their Hajj be accepted, or would it have to be redone?  

Imam al-Shafe’i holds the view that the good deeds of the person who rebels against Islam become worthless if he or she dies in the state of disbelief.  But if this person returns back to Islam before death, then his or her previous good deeds will be restored.  Imam Abu Haneefa has a different opinion.  He says: the verse in chapter five is general and does not mention death.  Accordingly, whoever turns to disbelief after Islam would lose all his or her good deeds regardless if he o she returns to Islam afterward. 

Let’s go back to the example of a person who performed the obligatory Hajj then decided to leave Islam.  After some time, this person repents and comes back to faith.  Would he or she have to perform the obligatory Hajj again or would the previous hajj suffice? This is the point of contention.  According to Imam al-Shafe'i, this person’s Hajj is not wasted by the period of disbelief if he or she returns to faith before death because God had specified: “If any of you revoke your faith and die as disbelievers, your deeds will come to nothing.” But Imam Shafe'i argues that this person will not be rewarded for their Hajj.  How could this be, you may ask? We answer that Al-Shafe’i has turned our attention to something that many people overlook.  Hajj is a pillar of the pillars of Islam.  If you are able to perform the obligatory Hajj pilgrimage and choose not to, you will be punished for this shortcoming.  However, if you perform Hajj, you will be rewarded twice.  The first reward is that you will be spared the punishment of those who do not perform Hajj.  And the second reward is that you will earn good deeds for performing the rituals of the Hajj pilgrimage.  Al-Shafe'i said: if a person does a good deed –such as performing Hajj- then disbelieves, then returns to Islam, he or she will be spared the punishment of those who did not perform Hajj.  Yet at the same time, he or she will lose the rewards of performing the rituals of Hajj.  Imam Abu Haneefa is of the opinion that such person would not only lose the good deeds of performing the rituals of Hajj, but he or she would also be treated as a person who never performed Hajj. 

The phrase “will come to nothing” is translated from the Arabic origin Habittat .  Like many words of the Quran, has its origin in the desert environment.  It is used to describe a disease that befalls livestock and causes swelling of the abdomen and may sometimes lead to the death of the animal.  The cattle catch the disease by consuming particular plants.  Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “Some of the plants spring produces can cause death by swelling, or almost cause it.”  The Prophet is warning us that evil maybe mixed with good as in the example of some poisonous spring plants that attract grazing cattle.  People falsely assume that the cattle are healthy because it looks well fed with full stomach only to realize that it is a swelling caused by a disease.  Similar are the deeds of the disbelievers.  Their deeds may appear to be good but turn out to be worthless on the Day of Judgment.

Some people ask: is it conceivable that a person who comes up with an invention that saves thousands of lives would not benefit on the Day of Judgment?  Could great inventors and researches that helped humanity end up in hellfire if they are disbelievers?  We answer that you earn your reward from the one you worked for.  If, for example, you work as an engineer for BMW and you design a great new safety feature, would you expect to get a salary from Mercedes Benz or Pepsi? Of course not, that is not who you worked for.  Let’s apply this concept to great inventors who happen to be disbelievers.  Did they come up with all these inventions while keeping God in mind? Or was humanity, money, and fame their goal?  These inventors have received their reward.  They have university halls named after them; they have statues and books commemorating them, and some have earned great wealth.  They should not expect a reward from Allah if they did not seek and do their work with Him in mind.  God says:

But the actions of the disbelievers are like a mirage in the desert.  A thirsty man mistakes it for water but when he reaches it, he finds it to be nothing at all, and he finds God there. He will pay him his account in full.  God is swift at reckoning. (24:39)

Every believer must strive towards discovery, invention and the renaissance of the Muslim world.  Muslim scientists must be beacons energized by the light of faith, and should not let others beat them to discoveries while they lounge around.  Islam encompasses both moral values and worldly affairs.  It is a religion of science and progress, and it guarantees for those who practice its teachings, the happiness in this world and the rewards of the Hereafter.

This brings us back to the verse.  God says: ‘They will not stop fighting you until they make you revoke your faith, if they can. If any of you revoke your faith and die as disbelievers, your deeds will come to nothing in this world and the Hereafter, and you will be inhabitants of the Fire, there to remain.’  An upright person who strives for a fair and peaceful world is in harmony with Islamic principles.  On the other hand, the same principals of faith become an obstacle and a problem to those who want to steal the sweat and efforts of others.  They would do everything they can to turn people away from proper faith.