An-Nisa · Juz 5 · Qur'an Tafseer

Background of Surah an-Nisa Ayaat 105 – 113

Let us go to the event first, then consider the wisdom of related instructions which provide solutions to corresponding problems. The episode centers around the clan of Banu Ubayriq in Madina. A man from this clan – his name being Bashir as in the narration of Tirmidhi and Hakim or Tu’mah as in the narration of al-Baghawi and ibn Jareer – broke into the house of Rifa’ah, the uncle of Qatadah ibn al-Numan, and committed a theft.

In the narration of Tirmidhi, it is also mentioned that this man was, in reality, a hypocrite. He used to live in Madina yet was audacious enough to compose poetic satires insulting the Companions radhiAllahu anhum and used to publicize these in the name of others while keeping his identity concealed.

As for the actual theft it was committed during the early period of Hijrah when Muslims generally lived under straightened circumstances facing all sorts of need, hunger and deprivation. The common food they ate was bread from barely flour or dates, or wheat flour which was scarce and just not available in Madina. Once in a while, when it did come from Syria some people would buy it for guests or for some other special need. Thus, Rifa’ah bought some wheat flour for himself, put it in a bag, added some arms on top of it and stashed the bag in a small roomette of the house in all possible safety. But, this man – Ibn Ubayriq, Bashir or Tu’mah – somehow came to know, broke into the house and decamped with the bag. When Rifa’ah discovered the theft in the morning, he went to his nephew Qatadah and told him about it. Together they went out investigating in the locality. Some people said that they had seen the light of fire coming from the Banu Ubayriq house last night and that probably they were cooking what was stolen.

When Banu Ubayriq learned about their secret being out, they themselves came there and charged that the theft was committed by Labid ibn Sahl. Labid was well-known as a sincere and pious Muslim. When Labid himself came to know about this allegation, he came out of his house, sword in hand, saying, “You are blaming me for this theft, now that I am not going to put my sword back into the sheath until the truth of this theft becomes clear.”

Quietly, Banu Ubayriq confided to him, “Do not worry. Nobody is blaming you. Moreover, this is not the sort of thing you would do.” At this point, the narration in Al-Baghawi and ibn Jareer says that Banu Ubayriq charged a Jew with the theft and, very cleverly, made a track of seemingly falling flour from a slit in the bag, which was their own work, all the way from Rifa’ah’s house to the house of the Jew. When the traces of the flour were discovered and word went around, they carried the stolen arms and armors as well to the same Jew and left these with him for safe keeping. Following investigations, they were recovered from his house. The Jew declared on oath that these were given to him by ibn Ubayriq.

In order to bring the two narrations of Tirmidhi and al-Baghawi into harmony, it can be said that may be Banu Ubayriq had first charged Labid ibn Sahl with the theft, but once they realized that their ruse was not working, they targeted the Jew with the blame. Ultimately then, the case now rested between the Jew and Banu Ubayriq.

On the other side, Qatadah and Rifa’ah were overwhelmingly convinced on the basis of circumstantial evidence that this was the work of Banu Ubayriq. Qatadah went to the Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam and told him about the theft and also that he strongly suspected Banu Ubayriq. When Banu Ubayriq heard the news, they came to the Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam and complained against Qatadah and Rifa’ah that they were putting the blame for the theft on them without having any valid legal proof and despite the fact that stolen property was recovered from the house of the Jew. They appealed to the Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam to restrain Qatadah and Rifa’ah from blaming them for the theft and if they had to sue anyone, they should sue the Jew.

Things as they appeared on the outside made even the Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam incline towards the probability that the theft was committed by the Jew and that the accusation against Banu Ubayriq was not correct. So much so that, according to the narration of al-Baghawi, the Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam had the intention of inflicting the punishment for theft on the Jew and sever his hand.

Matters went worse when Qatadah appeared before the Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam who admonished him by saying that he was accusing a Muslim family of theft without any proof. Qatadah was grieved about the whole thing and wished that he had not spoken to the Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam about this matter even if he had to bear by the loss of his property. Similarly, when Rifa’ah learned about what the Prophet sallAllahu had said, he too exercised patience and said, “Allahul Mastaan” i.e. Allah is the one from whom all help is sought.

Not much time has passed when a whole section of the Qur’an was revealed about this episode through which the reality behind it was shown to the Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam and general instructions covering such cases were given. As the Qur’an exposed the theft committed by Banu Ubayriq and acquitted the Jew. Banu Ubayriq were left with no choice but to return the stolen property to the Prophet sallAllah aalyhi wa sallam who had it returned to the owner, Rifa’ah, who finally endowed all those arms for use in jihad. When Banu Ubayriq found their theft exposed, Bashir, the son of Ubayriq ran away from Madina landing in Makkah where he joined the disbelievers. Consequently, if he had been a hypocrite earlier, he became an acknowledged disbeliever; and if he was a Muslim earlier, he was an apostate now,

It appears in Tafseer al-Bahr al-Muhit that the curse of this antagonism to Allah and His Messenger did not allow Bashir ibn Ubayriq to live peacefully even in Makkah. When the woman at whose house he had taken up residence found out about this episode, she threw him out of her house. Thus, loitering on the streets came the day when he broke into somebody else’s house. The wall through which he went in collapsed on him and killed him right there.

After telling the Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam the reality behind the case of theft, it was said, “Allah has given you the Qur’an through revelations so that you can use the knowledge and insight gifted to you to decide matters accordingly, abstaining from taking sides with traitors, that is, Banu Ubayriq.” No doubt, the obvious circumstances and evidence were such that a tilt towards the probability of the Jew having committed the theft was not a sin, yet contrary to the actual fact it was.

Therefore, in ayah 106, the Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam was asked to seek forgiveness from Allah because the station of prophets is very high and Allah does not favor the issuance of even something so insignificant from them.

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