Question: What are the messages to be drawn from the verse (which means), “Those who were left behind in opposition to God’s Messenger rejoiced at staying at home, and abhorred striving with their wealth and persons in God’s cause. And they said: ‘Do not go forth to war in this heat.’ Say (O Messenger): ‘The fire of Hell is fiercer in heat.’ If only they had been able to ponder and penetrate the essence of matters to grasp the truth!” (at-Tawbah 9:81) by those devoted to serving humanity?
Answer: According to the books of Qur’anic exegesis that provide the context of the verses, this verse criticizes the hypocrites’ attitudes and behaviors against striving for the cause of God. This verse also holds a very significant warning and lessons for any believer who presents laziness in terms of serving in the Name of God and indulges in a life of ease. Relatively speaking, so many great figures—Aisha, Abu Dharr, Umar ibn Abdulaziz being the foremost—even saw the verses revealed about the hypocrites as somehow relating to themselves and drew so many lessons for themselves from the issues related in them. One must be careful, though, because with respect to religious belief, it is definitely not correct for believers to see themselves as hypocrites, since being a hypocrite in the real sense means unbelief. It is not possible for a Muslim to accept that. Therefore, as Bediüzzaman expresses in The Gleams, a believer must always say, “All praise and thanks are for God for every state, save unbelief and misguidance.”1 Thus, accepting unbelief makes a person an unbeliever. For this reason, a Muslim is supposed to keep away from hypocrisy and unbelief as if they were poisonous creatures.
Children of Adam Can Turn to Any Direction
Human beings, however, do have certain weaknesses and faults. Satan saw in Adam’s mold—not in his essence—many human weaknesses and faults, such as pursuing fancies of the carnal self, seeking fame, greed for laudation, seeking comfort, addiction to home, fearing beings other than God, and misappropriation. Then he said: “Now that You have allowed me to rebel and go astray, I will surely lie in wait for them on Your Straight Path (to lure them from it). Then I will come upon them from before them and from behind them, and from their right and from their left” (al-A’raf 7:16–17). All of these latent faults in human beings allow Satan to operate. In this respect, we can say that a human being is potentially susceptible to misguidance, hypocrisy, and unbelief. We can also paraphrase this fact as follows: Even if a person is a believer, he or she can possess some qualities associated with misguidance, hypocrisy, and unbelief. But as it is not correct to see that person as misguided, it is definitely wrong to label him as a “hypocrite” or “unbeliever.” What befalls on individuals is for them to continuously watch their inner worlds and to evaluate in themselves whether they possess contemptible qualities, as well as to try to rid themselves of these as soon as possible if they detect any.
The Misfortunate Ones Who Cheered at Their Own Loss
Returning back to the initial question, it is stated in the relevant verse that the hypocrites rejoiced at staying at home. Who knows, perhaps they thought themselves to be very smart and said to themselves: “Look at them! They are going to confront the great empire of Rome. They will not only be scorched in the desert heat, but also will be struck by a great power and come running back.” With similar expressions, they made fun of the Muslims who joined the expedition and rejoiced. As it is known, the Tabuk Expedition was made during July and August when the desert heat was as high as 50–60 °C (122–140 °F). At home in Medina, the trees yielded fruit in that season and their pleasant shade was a real temptation. Thus, it was extremely difficult to leave spring waters, the shade, and ripened fruits to set out under intense heat. Also, this expedition was against the powerful Romans, who had come as near as Jordan. By launching a campaign against the Romans in a period of adverse conditions, the Sultan of Prophets wanted to make everybody realize that there was an independent power centered in Medina and to maintain security and peace in the desert. Thus, against all odds the Pride of Humanity set out with his army in order to stop the Roman advance and parried the danger with the consent and grace of God. In such a situation, where the conditions were very hard, a few hundred hypocrites did not want to join the expedition, preferring to stay at home and using various pretexts to avoid going. In addition to the hypocrites, three people from the Muslims failed to show due sensitivity at responding to the order and did not join the expedition, remaining behind. Who knows, perhaps they misjudged the situation that not everybody was responsible for joining this expedition. However, God Almighty described their case as they well-nigh “swerved” (takhalluf). Since swerving was a behavior associated with the hypocrites, they also received a Divine punishment through a temporary boycott. However, those chivalrous souls passed their test in the best way and attained Divine forgiveness in the end. Concerning the verse in the question, God Almighty states that the hypocrites’ behavior was realized “in opposition to the Messenger of God.” It can then be inferred that straying from the way of the Prophet is a very serious mistake, which leads to destruction. For this reason, one needs to keep following his way no matter what happens.
Passing the Virus to Those Around
The hypocrites whose attributes are related in this verse not only stayed back from striving with their wealth and persons in God’s cause, but they also influenced other people by telling them, “Do not join an expedition under such heat!” There are certain people that their horizons always possess a potential for sedition and discord. They send arrows of discord all around. They continuously try to prevent righteous acts. So these people programmed to sedition and discord wondered among the Muslims and tried to change their mind about forming a counterforce against the Romans, by emphasizing the heat and likely troubles. In response to this verse, God Almighty revealed the words which mean, “Say (O Messenger): ‘The fire of Hell is fiercer in heat.’ If only they had been able to ponder and penetrate the essence of matters to grasp the truth!” The Arabic verb used in the verse is not a commonly used word like “ya’lamun” (they know) or “ya’qilun,” (they reason) but “yafqahun,” which denotes to ponder deeply, to approach the issue within a consideration of a cause-and-effect relationship, or to evaluate the issue on a priori and a posteriori grounds; thus, this word choice is very meaningful. The meaning sensed from this wording is: “If only they had some horizons of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence, penetrating to the essence of matters), so that they could grasp the relationship between the cause and effect. Unfortunately, they failed to do so despite all of the warnings.”
Would the Mistakes Ever Recur If They Had Learned a Lesson?
When we compare these past events with the events of today, we see that nothing has changed much. As the hypocrites of those times failed to recognize the importance and necessity of walking on the path of God, multitudes today do not comprehend this fact. As in the past, today as well, some people underestimate migrating for a lofty cause and serving for the sake of God, caring nothing at all about introducing the example of the Prophet and the essence of his message to others. Indeed, any place where the truth of his message has not germinated is no different than a prison. Hence, realizing that so many people are condemned to live in prisons in this sense and standing up against every kind of difficulty in order to take them to serene immensities are matters of deep insight—and not to be understood with a superficial view.
In conclusion, it is necessary in our time to undertake every kind of difficulty and troubles for the sake of helping people to remember and recognize their Creator and eliminating the obstacles between people’s hearts and God. For the sake of conveying the inspirations of our soul to others’ hearts and letting others know about a spiritual heritage of more than a thousand years, we must run incessantly and never fall into lethargy concerning this issue. Also, it should never be forgotten that the way to being saved from hellfire in the next world depends upon enduring the heat in this one. And the suffering experienced in this world is a means of attaining bliss in the next, just as the difficulties faced in this one are a means of attaining eternal ease in the next.