Most People Disobey What They Are Ordered
When the news of Bishr’s incident got around in the city of Madina, the Jews chided Muslims by saying, “What sort of people you really are? Here you are believing in a Messenger of Allah and claiming to follow him, yet you do not accept his decisions! Look, in order that their repentance be accepted, the Jews were commanded to kill each other. This was a severe command, but we obeyed it, so much so that seventy thousand of our people were killed. If you were given a command like that, what would you have done?”
Thereupon the ayah, “And if We had decreed for them….” was revealed.
In ayah 66, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says,
وَلَوْ أَنَّا كَتَبْنَا عَلَيْهِمْ أَنِ اقْتُلُواْ أَنفُسَكُمْ أَوِ اخْرُجُواْ مِن دِيَـرِكُمْ مَّا فَعَلُوهُ إِلاَّ قَلِيلٌ مِّنْهُمْ
“And if We had decreed on them, ‘Kill yourselves’ or ‘Leave your homes’, they would have not done it except a few of them.
It means, if these hypocrites, or all common people, disbelievers or believers, were charged with some severe command, such as that of self-killing or migration like the Bani Israel were ordered to do, very few of them would have, being what they are, obeyed this command.
On the one hand, there is a stern warning here for people who try to seek the solutions of their disputes, not from the Messenger of Allah, or not from the Law and Way of the Messenger of Allah, but take it elsewhere. On the other hand, it answers the chiding of the Jews because this state of affairs fits the hypocrites and certainly not those who are firm in their faith as true Muslims. This is proved by what happened when this ayah was revealed.
Someone from among the Companions radhiAllahu anhum said, “Allah did not put us through this trial.” When this statement was relayed to the Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam, he said, “There are people in my community in whose heart Faith is entrenched firm like mountains.” Ibn Wahab says that this statement was made by Abu Bakr radhiAllahu anhu.
According to another narration, when Abu Bakr radhiAllahu anhu heard this ayah, he said, “Had this command been prescribed by God, I would have been the first to sacrifice myself and my family to obey it.”
According to some other narrations, when this ayah was revealed, the Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam said, “If this command to self-kill or migrate had come from Allah, Umm Abd (meaning Abdullah ibn Masud) would have definitely acted accordingly.” As for migration, the Companions acted faithfully and selflessly when they left their homes in Makkah, left their properties and businesses, and migrated to Madina.
Towards the end of the ayah 66, it has been said that, difficult though it may seem, yet doing so in obedience to their Lord’s command would turn out to be better for them in the end. This will make their faith more firm, bringing a great reward from Allah, and the blessing of being guided to the straight path.
وَلَوْ أَنَّهُمْ فَعَلُواْ مَا يُوعَظُونَ بِهِ لَكَانَ خَيْراً لَّهُمْ وَأَشَدَّ تَثْبِيتاً
“But if they had done what they were advised, surely it would have been better for them and more strengthening (for their faith).”
That is, if they had given up doubt, hesitation and indecision and obeyed and followed the Messenger without any mental reservation, their position would have become firm and stable and their thoughts, their morals and their affairs would have secured a strong and permanent foundation. In short, they would have enjoyed all those blessings that are obtained by following steadfastly a straight royal road. On the contrary, the one who wavers in indecision and irresolution, and sometimes takes one road and then another, without faith in either, his whole life passes without any achievement and becomes an object lesson of failure.
In ayah 67 Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala then mentions the great reward promised for those who obey Allah and His Messenger.
وَإِذاً لاّتَيْنَـهُمْ مِّن لَّدُنَّـآ أَجْراً عَظِيماً
“And then We would have given them from Ourselves a great reward.”
He then says in ayah 68 that He would have guided them Here and in the Hereafter,
وَلَهَدَيْنَـهُمْ صِرَطاً مُّسْتَقِيماً
“And We would have guided them to the straight way.”