An-Nisa · Juz 5 · Qur'an Tafseer

The Background of the Revelation of Surah an-Nisa Ayaat 60 – 64

There is a special incident behind the revelation of these ayaat, the details of which identify hypocrite by the name of Bishr. He got into a dispute with a Jew.

The Jews said, “Let us go to Muhammad and ask him to settle our dispute.” But, Bishr, the hypocrite, did not accept this proposal. Instead, he came up with a counter-proposal suggesting that they go to a Jew, Kaab ibn Ashraf and let him give a decision.

Kaab ibn Ashraf was a tribal chief among the Jews and was a sworn enemy of the Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam and his Muslim followers. It was a strange coincident that a Jew would leave his chief aside and elect to go by the judgment of the Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam, while Bishr, who called himself a Muslim, would bypass him and elect to go by the judgment of the Jewish chief. But, there was secret behind it. Both of them were certain that the Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam will give a judgment which is bound to be true and just. It will be free from apprehensions about any tilt or favor or misunderstanding.

Since the Jew was on the right in this dispute, so he had more confidence in the Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam as compared to his own chief, Kaab ibn Ashraf. Bishr, the hypocrite was in the wrong, therefore, he knew that the Prophet’s judgment will be against him – even though he claimed to be a Muslim while his adversary was a Jew.

However, after some mutual cross talk between them, both of them agreed upon the option of going to the Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam and requesting him to give a decision in their dispute. So, the case went to him. He made relevant investigation in the case which proved that the Jew was in the right. Consequently, he gave a decision in his favor. But, on the other side, there was Bishr, a pretending Muslim, who lost his case before him. He was not pleased with this judgment, so he hit upon a new plan – to persuade the Jew to somehow agree to go to Umar ibn al-Khattab radhiAllahu anhu and have him give a decision in their case. The Jew agreed. There was a secret here too. Bishr was under the impression that Umar is usually hard on disbelievers so he would, rather than decide in favor of the Jew, decide in his favor.Thus, they both reached Umar radhiAllahu anhu.

The Jew told him everything about the incident and also narrated to him how the Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam had already given his decision in this case and that ‘this man was not satisfied with it and had, therefore, brought his case before you’.

Umar radhiAllahu anhu asked Bishr, “Is this what really happened?” He confessed that this is how it was. Thereupon, Umar radhiAllahu anhu said, “All right, you wait here, I am coming.” He went into the house and came out with a sword which he swung to finish the hypocrite off, saying, “This is the decision for him who is dissatisfied with the decision of the Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam.” [This incident appears in Ruh al-Ma’ani from Abdullah ibn Abbas as narrated by Tha’labi and Ibn Abi Hatim]

Most commentators have also added that, following this incident, the heirs of the hypocrite thus killed filed a suit against Umar radhiAllahu anhu accusing him of having killed a Muslim without adequate legal authority as admitted by the Shariah of Islam. To strengthen their case, they submitted interpretations of his kufr (disbelief) in words and deeds in order to prove his being a Muslim. In the present ayah, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala has unfolded the reality behind the case, confirming that the person killed was a hypocrite, and thus it was that Umar radhiAllahu anhu was absolved.

Also reported are some other incidents of this nature where people had bypassed clear Islamic legal verdict to finally accept the decision of a soothsayer or astrologer. It is possible that the present ayah was revealed about all such incidents.

Point to Reflect on:

Umar radhiAllahu anhu killed a man because he was dissatisfied with the decision of the Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam (despite being wrong himself).

And we leave the Sunnah, stating it’s just a Sunnah!

Where do we stand? Will we be able to face Rasoolullah on the Day of Judgment? We all desire his shifa’at, but we refuse to follow his Sunnah? Do we “really deserve” his intercession for us?

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