In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
Manners in Speech
Among other perversities, some of the Jews invented a new mischief. When they presented themselves before the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam they would address him with the word Ra’ina, which in Arabic means ‘be mindful of us,’ but in Hebrew it is a curse. The latter is what they intended, but the Arabs, not knowing Hebrew, could not see the point. With the Arabic sense of the word in mind, the Muslims too began to address the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam in the same manner. That did not only delight the Jews who had found a way of insulting the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam openly, but also had tricked the Muslims into joining them.
Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala revealed these ayaat and forbid the believers from imitating the Jews in their intentional disrespect for the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam.
The word Ra’ina [رَاعِنَا] is from the root letters ra-ayn-ya which has several meanings and one of them is ‘one who feeds flocks or a shepherd’. The word does not befit someone higher than you in status and position, such as a Prophet of Allah. It can be used among common people who are of equal standing because it means “We hear from you, and you hear from us.”
It was the habit of the Jews to mock the commands of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala, ridicule His prophets ‘alayhi salaam and change the words that they were instructed to say, as studied previously in Al-Baqarah ayaat 58 and 93.
This incident has also been mentioned in Surah An-Nisa, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says,
مِّنَ الَّذِينَ هَادُوا يُحَرِّفُونَ الْكَلِمَ عَن مَّوَاضِعِهِ وَيَقُولُونَ سَمِعْنَا وَعَصَيْنَا وَاسْمَعْ غَيْرَ مُسْمَعٍ وَرَاعِنَا لَيًّا بِأَلْسِنَتِهِمْ وَطَعْنًا فِي الدِّينِ ۚ وَلَوْ أَنَّهُمْ قَالُوا سَمِعْنَا وَأَطَعْنَا وَاسْمَعْ وَانظُرْنَا لَكَانَ خَيْرًا لَّهُمْ وَأَقْوَمَ وَلَٰكِن لَّعَنَهُمُ اللَّهُ بِكُفْرِهِمْ فَلَا يُؤْمِنُونَ إِلَّا قَلِيلًا
“Among those who are Jews, there are some who displace words from right places and say: ‘We hear your word (O Muhammad) and disobey,’ and ‘Hear and let you (O Muhammad) hear nothing.” And Ra’ina with a twist of their tongues and as a mockery of the religion (Islam). And if only they had said: “We hear and obey,” and “Do make us understand,” it would have been better for them, and more proper, but Allah has cursed them for their disbelief, so they believe not except a few.” (An-Nisa 4: 46)
As-Suddi said, “Rifa’ah bin Zayd, a Jewish man from the tribe of Qaynuqa’, used to come to the Prophet and say to him, ‘Hear, Ghayr Musma’in [let you hear nothing].’ The Muslims used to think that the Prophets are greeted and honored with this type of speech, and this is why some of them used to say, ‘Hear, let you hear nothing,’ and so on, as mentioned in Surah An-Nisa. Thereafter, Allah forbade the believers from uttering the word Ra`ina.”
Imam Ahmad narrated that Ibn ‘Umar radhiAllahu ‘anhu said that the Messenger of Allah said salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam,
بُعِثْتُ بَيْنَ يَدَيِ السَّاعَةِ بِالسَّيْفِ حَتَّى يُعْبَدَاللهُ وَحْدَهُ لَا شَرِيكَ لَهُ، وَجُعِلَ رِزْقِي تَحْتَ ظِلِّ رُمْحِي، وَجُعِلَتِ الذِّلَّةُ وَالصَّغَارُ عَلَى مَنْ خَالَفَ أَمْرِي، وَمَنْ تَشَبَّهَ بِقَومٍ فَهُوَ مِنْهُم
“I was sent with the sword just before the Last Hour, so that Allah is worshipped alone without partners. My sustenance was provided for me from under the shadow of my spear. Those who oppose my command were humiliated and made inferior, and whoever imitates a people, he is one of them.”
This indicates that we are not allowed to imitate the disbelievers in their statements, deeds, clothes, feasts, acts of worship, etc., whatever actions of the disbelievers that were not legislated for us.
As a replacement, the word that Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala chose for the believers to use was unzur’na [انظُرْنَا] from the root noon-za-ra which means ‘to see, to look at glance, to listen to, to be patient towards or to show kindness.’ Nazara is an affectionate look. This word was more befitting to be said to the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam than the one that the Jews had chosen.
The ayah also announces dire punishment for whoever claims to be a believer and does not watch his speech, especially in the assembly of the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam.
A question might arise why the Jews adopted such a behavior? It was, as we said previously, because of their jealousy and prejudice that the Last Messenger has been chosen from the Arabs and not them. Remember, they had hostile terms with the Arabs before the coming of the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. They were unwilling to accept that prophethood has descended into a lineage other than their own. They considered prophethood to be a legacy, which only belonged to them.
Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala responds to their prejudice, “Allah selects for His mercy whom He wills.” The word yakhtassu [يَخْتَصُّ] is from the root kha-saad-saad which means ‘to distinguish, particularize or specially characterize a person, choose a person, assign a person exclusively, favor one over others’. It is not our choice who is blessed and who is not. It is His will, and as His servants we should humbly submit.
► The first adab [etiquette] that Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala teaches us is that we must attentively listen to what is being said. If you do not understand something and there is a need to seek clarification, politely ask the speaker to clarify it for you. Do not humiliate or act over smart. A teacher is not at the same level as a student. Be careful of how you speak to your parents, teachers and anyone elder than you. Choose your words carefully.
► Our religion is not limited to what is lawful and what is not, but it also teaches us etiquette and conduct. A thing could be permissible in itself, but inappropriate. For example, the word ‘Rai’na’ meant ‘hear us’ in Arabic. Apparently there seemed no offence in using this term, but because of its dual meanings it was against the etiquette of a gathering especially when the assembly was of the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam.
► It also teaches us excellence. Work can be accomplished in any way, but when someone takes the trouble to do it properly or with excellence it is immensely noticed. One of the people that Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala loves are the Muhsin [those who work with excellence]. Therefore, we should raise our standards, drop mediocrity and embrace finesse. Let us begin by improving and bringing elegance in our prayers, our recitation of the Qur’an, and the people that we meet for the sake of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala.
► We also learn the need to study the Seerah of the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, and the lives of his Companions radhiAllahu ‘anhum, for these are the people with whom Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala was pleased. And this should be the main purpose of our life – seeking the pleasure of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. We should know how the Companions radhiAllahu ‘anhum sat in a gathering, how they worked collectively, how they asked questions; how they answered questions; how they sought and gave advice. The Companions radhiAllahu ‘anhum should be our role models.
► Another interesting fact is that Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala did not hand over a Book to us, but He also arranged for our tarbiyah [upbringing]. Therefore, when reading a book our aim should be to learn something beneficial from it and not whatever trash the book offers. Similarly, when we attend a gathering especially educational gathering we should groom ourselves and carry our tasks gracefully.
► Keep your heart free from prejudice. Do not envy others for what they have been favored with. Ask Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala to bless you with more and better, as He has blessed the person that you envy. Also if you are blessed, do not boast about your blessings. Share the good news with only those who are close to you and wish good for you. Evil eye and destructive envy can take the blessing away. The Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam advised: Be discreet in order to achieve what you want, for everyone who is blessed is envied.
► Become a better person yourself, and stop comparing yourself with others.
DOWNLOAD PDF: Al-Baqarah Ayaat 104 – 105