The 35th Call: Prohibition of Reverting from the Religion
Almighty Allah says (what can be translated as): “O you who have believed, whoever of you should revert from his religion - Allah will bring forth [in place of them] a people He will love and who will love Him [who are] humble toward the believers, powerful against the disbelievers; they strive in the cause of Allah and do not fear the blame of a critic. That is the favor of Allah; He bestows it upon whom He wills. And Allah is all-Encompassing and Knowing. Your ally is none but Allah and [therefore] His Messenger and those who have believed - those who establish prayer and give zakah, and they bow [in worship]. And whoever is an ally of Allah and His Messenger and those who have believed - indeed, the party of Allah - they will be the predominant. O you who have believed, take not those who have taken your religion in ridicule and amusement among the ones who were given the Scripture before you nor the disbelievers as allies. And fear Allah, if you should [truly] be believers.” (Al-Ma’idah: 54-57)
Almighty Allah informs the believers about His great power and He says to those who revert from their religion, shift from belief to disbelief, stop supporting His religion and fulfilling His Sharia that He will replace them with a people who are better than them, stronger and more righteous. They are people whom Allah will love and they will love Him. They are people who have the traits of believers such as powerfulness against the disbelievers, mercy and humbleness towards their fellow believers. They will fight in the cause of Allah and nothing will stop them from the establishment of the rulings of Allah, application of His prescribed punishments and fight against His enemies. They would enjoin goodness and forbid evil. Whoever is characterized with these traits has a great bounty from Allah, The One with encompassing bounty, He is All-Knowing of the ones who deserve His grace so He gives them and He is also All-Knowing of the ones who do not deserve it so He deprives them.
(It is said that these verses were revealed regarding Abu Bakr, al-Muhajirin and al-Ansar (May Allah be pleased with all of them). Almighty Allah knows that some people will revert from Islam and that a group of believers from al-Muhajirin and al-Ansar will fight those apostates and they will remain steadfast in this war until Allah grants victory to the believers).
Almighty Allah encourages the believers to ally with Allah, His Messenger and the true believers who establish prayers, pay zakah and help the poor, weak and needy. They are always in constant bow to Allah, i.e. continuous obedience and humbleness.
(This verse was revealed regarding Ubadah ibn al-Samit when he dissociated himself from taking the Jews as allies and he was satisfied by taking Allah and His Messenger as his allies instead).
Anyone who is satisfied with having Allah and Hiss Messenger as his allies is successful in this life and the afterlife. He is victorious in this life and the afterlife because he will be in the party of Allah. Indeed, those in the party of Allah are the predominant. Those who take Allah as their ally will never be defeated.
This warning, coming in this fashion at this particular point to those who turn away from faith, is taken to refer, in the first instance, to an equation which places on one side the maintenance of an alliance with the Jews and Christians, and, on the other, turning away from Islam altogether. This is highlighted by what has been said earlier of classifying anyone who seeks to be in alliance with them as one of them, having broken away from the Muslim community: “O you who have believed, do not take the Jews and the Christians as allies. They are [in fact] allies of one another. And whoever is an ally to them among you - then indeed, he is [one] of them.” (Verse 51) In this light, this second address serves to emphasize the first one. This is further supported by another address which follows later in this surah. This third address forbids alliances with the people of earlier revelations and disbelievers, classifying them all in one group. This means that seeking an alliance with the Christians and Jews is the same as seeking it with disbelievers. Where Islam provides for extending different treatment to the people of earlier revelations from that extended to disbelievers does not relate to having an alliance with them. Rather, it concerns different matters altogether.
“O you who have believed, whoever of you should revert from his religion - Allah will bring forth [in place of them] a people He will love and who will love Him [who are] humble toward the believers, powerful against the disbelievers; they strive in the cause of Allah and do not fear the blame of a critic. That is the favor of Allah; He bestows it upon whom He wills. And Allah is all-Encompassing and Knowing.” (Verse 54) Allah has chosen the community of believers to be the tool of His will to establish the Divine faith on earth, enforce His rule in human life, and to implement His law in people’s affairs and disputes. Thus, they will mould human life on the basis of propriety, goodness and progress. The fact that He has chosen the Muslim community for this purpose is a manifestation of His grace. Whoever rejects this grace and deprives himself of this blessing does so at his own peril. Allah is in no need of him or anyone else. Allah chooses from among His servants those whom He knows to deserve this limitless grace.
The chosen people are here given a clear profile, described amidst a bright, evocative picture: “Allah will bring forth [in place of them] a people He will love and who will love Him...” (Verse 54) Mutual love is the relationship between them and their Lord. It is a love that gives an air of compassion, which is pleasant, gentle, bright, and friendly. It provides the basis of their relationship with their compassionate Lord. No one can appreciate the value of Allah’s love to any one of his servants except a person who knows Allah with all His attributes as He has described Himself and one who feels the effect of these attributes within himself. No one can appreciate the value of this bounty except one who truly knows Allah, the Giver who has created this vast universe and created man. Man, small creature as he is, sums up the creation of the whole universe. To appreciate the value of Allah’s love requires that one recognizes Allah’s greatness, ability and oneness as the only Lord of the universe. How great is the difference between Allah and man to whom He grants His love. It is He — limitless is He in His glory — who has made man, while He remains Majestic, Eternal, the First and the Last, the Lord of the Universe.
For a servant of Allah to love his Lord is also a great bounty bestowed on that servant himself. This is something that can be appreciated by those who have experienced it. If Allah’s love to any of His servants is something great and a clear manifestation of endless grace, then, for Allah to guide one of His servants to love Him and appreciate that unparalleled kind of love is also something great and a clear manifestation of His endless grace. Allah’s love to any of His servants remains beyond description. At the same time, a human being’s love of His Lord is something that is very rarely described adequately except, perhaps, in the occasional touch of excellence manifested in a true lover’s description. In this respect, a very small number from among a great multitude of Sufis have demonstrated their truthfulness and have been able to excel in describing their love of Allah. A few lines of poetry by Rabi’ah al-Adawiyah give us a sense of her appreciation of this unique type of love. Addressing her Lord, she says:
How tenderly I wish to feel that You are sweet when life is bitter!
How dearly I wish to feel that You are pleased when everyone else is angry.
When the relationship between You and me is sound, I do not care if my relationship with all the worlds is left in ruin.
If You truly grant me Your love, everything else is of no consequence. All those who are on earth are nothing but dust.
Allah’s love, Majestic as He is in His glory, for one of His servants and the love of Allah, who bestows all grace, by one of His servants spread in this wide universe puts its mark on every living creature and on every object. It imparts an air of love to the whole universe and to human existence. This does not refer to something that occurs once only or to a passing moment. It speaks of an essential truth and a basic Islamic concept: “Indeed, those who have believed and done righteous deeds - the Most Merciful will appoint for them affection.” (Maryam: 96) “Indeed, my Lord is Merciful and Affectionate.” (Hud: 90) “And He is the Forgiving, the Affectionate.” (Al-Buruj: 14) “And when My servants ask you, [O Muhammad], concerning Me - indeed I am near. I respond to the invocation of the supplicant when he calls upon Me…’’ (Al-Baqarah: 186) “But those who believe are stronger in love for Allah.” (Al-Baqarah: 165) “Say, [O Muhammad], ‘If you should love Allah, then follow me, [so] Allah will love you and forgive you your sins. And Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.’” (Al-Imran: 31) Many other verses speak in the same vein.
It is a great wonder that people may read all this and claim that Islamic philosophy is stringent and violent. They claim that it visualizes the relationship between Allah and man as one of compulsion, punishment, suffering and neglect. They compare it with the philosophy that makes of Jesus Christ a son of Allah and a manifestation of Him. Thus, they establish an arbitrary link of duality between Allah and human beings. The clarity of Islamic philosophy, as it separates between the nature of Divinity and that of servitude, detracts in no way from the pleasant relationship that exists between Allah and His servants. This is a relationship based on compassion, justice, love and purity. It is a complete concept which includes all the needs of human existence in man’s relationship with the Lord of all the worlds.
To Love Allah and Be Loved by Him is the description of the chosen community of believers which is remarkable: “He will love and who will love Him.” (Verse 54) This mutual love is indeed remarkable, generating as it does a feeling of strength the believer needs to fulfill his difficult task. He feels that it is a great honor to have been chosen for this task through which he earns his position of favor, close to Allah, the Beneficent, the Almighty. The surah gives further details of this community which is dedicated to the service of Allah’s cause: “…[who are] humble toward the believers...” (Verse 54) This humility means that they are affable, gentle, and tolerant. When they deal with other believers, they do not adopt a difficult attitude or show any stubbornness. They are approachable, responsive and friendly. To adopt such an attitude towards believers does not mean any self-humiliation. Indeed, it is an aspect of brotherhood which removes barriers and formalities. One does not feel that one has anything to withhold from one’s fellow brothers. It is self-consciousness that makes someone difficult and unamenable. On the other hand, when he feels himself belonging to the group of believers, he has nothing to withhold or begrudge. What can he retain for himself when they have all been united by faith, loving Allah and being loved by Him and feeling this sublime love spreading over them?
“…powerful against the disbelievers...” (Verse 54) When they have to deal with disbelievers, they show their dignity and high status. This is the attitude to adopt in such a situation. There is no trace of arrogance or conceit. It is being proud of the faith they have chosen and being honored to fight disbelievers under the banner of faith. It is their unshakable trust in what they have, which is goodness itself, and their knowledge that their role is to make others submit to this goodness. It is not a personal submission by one group of people to another. It is rather a matter of complete trust that the Divine faith, Allah’s party, will eventually triumph over all creeds based on personal prejudice and also over ignorance. It is they who will eventually triumph though they may be defeated in certain battles along the way.
“They strive in the cause of Allah and do not fear the blame of a critic.” (Verse 54) To strive hard in order to establish the Divine system and implement it in human life so as to achieve all that is good for mankind is a distinctive characteristic of the community of believers chosen by Allah to accomplish His will on earth. They strive hard for Allah’s cause not to serve their own interests, nor the interests of their people, country or race, but rather to establish Allah’s authority through the implementation of His law and to achieve all that is good for mankind. Personally, they gain nothing for themselves from such hard striving. It is all for Allah’s sake.
They strive in this way, fearing no criticism. Why should they worry about being blamed by people when they have been guaranteed that the Lord of all people loves them? Why should they bother about people’s values and traditions when they follow Allah’s own method and call on people to adopt the Divine way of life? It is the person who derives his values and judgment from others’ views and who seeks their support that fears to be blamed by them. The one who defers to Allah’s values and standards and tries to make them govern people’s values and inclinations, and who derives his power from Allah’s power, cares nothing for what people may say or do, regardless of their position, importance or standard of advancement and civilization.
We pay so much attention to what people may say, do, or accept, and to their values and standards, because we overlook the standard to which we should refer in evaluating matters. That standard is Allah’s law and system. It is only Allah’s law that is right and everything that is contrary to it is wrong, even though it may be accepted by millions and millions of people and endorsed by successive generations and centuries. The merit of any situation, tradition, or value does not derive from the fact that it exists or that millions of people believe in it or implement it in their lives. Such reasoning is unacceptable to Islam. No situation, custom or tradition has any value unless it is sanctioned by the system revealed by Allah. It is for these reasons that the community of believers strives hard for Allah’s cause without fearing to be criticized or censured by anyone.
This is the mark of the chosen believers. Moreover, that those believers are chosen by Allah, that there is mutual love between Him and them, that they have their own distinctive characteristic and the reassurance they have to conduct their affairs on the basis of Divine guidance are all favors bestowed on them by Allah: “That is the favor of Allah; He bestows it upon whom He wills. And Allah is all-Encompassing and Knowing.” (Verse 54) He gives in abundance and He chooses the ones to whom He grants His favors on the basis of perfect knowledge. His grace is abundant, limitless. Allah defines for the believers the only group with whom they may have a relationship of patronage and the ones to patronize: “Your ally is none but Allah and [therefore] His Messenger and those who have believed - those who establish prayer and give zakah, and they bow [in worship].” (Verse 55)
The definition is made here in a way which leaves no chance for liberal interpretation or confusion. Matters have to be so clearly defined because the central issue here is that of faith and its implementation through a movement. Hence, submission to Allah must be complete, trust in Him must be absolute, and self-surrender is the only religion. The question is, then, one of a complete distinction between the Muslim camp and all other camps which do not adopt submission to Allah as a faith and Islamic law as a way of life. The Islamic movement must be serious in its organization so that it admits no allegiance except to its own leadership. Thus, loyalty and support can exist only between members of the community of believers, because such loyalty and support are based on faith.
So that Islam does not become a mere title, slogan or verbal claim nor a hereditary relationship or a description of people who live in a certain area. The surah mentions here some essential characteristics of believers: “…those who establish prayer and give zakah, and they bow [in worship].” (Verse 55) The first characteristic is that of attending to prayers, not merely offering them. This means paying full attention to them so that prayers produce their effects as explained by Allah when He says: “Indeed, prayer prohibits immorality and wrongdoing, and the remembrance of Allah is greater...” (Al-Ankabut: 45) Those who pray but are not prevented by their prayer from such indulgence have not attended to it properly. Another characteristic is that they pay zakah, which means that they fulfill their financial obligation willingly, without hesitation and in obedience to Allah. Zakah is not a simple tax; it is an act of worship which may be described as financial worship. This is indicative of the Islamic system which achieves several objectives through the same duty. This distinguishes it from man-made systems which may achieve one goal and remain short of achieving the rest.
It is not possible for social welfare to be achieved through the mere imposition of civil taxes, or that financial contributions be levied from the rich for the benefit of the poor in the name of the state or the people or any other worldly authority. In such a pattern, only one goal is achieved, namely, the payment of money to the needy. Zakah, on the other hand, has a specific significance which is indicated by its very name, which means “purifying alms”. First and foremost, zakah is purification and growth. It purifies man’s conscience because it is an act of worship and it is paid willingly with a feeling of love towards those who need it, because as a worship its payer expects to be well rewarded for it in the life to come and hopes that his wealth in this life will increase through the implementation of the blessed economic system of Islam. There is also a healthy feeling generated by it among the poor who receive it because they feel that it is part of Allah’s grace that He has determined its payment to them by the rich. They entertain no grudge against the rich. (It is useful to remind ourselves here that under the Islamic system, the rich earn their money through legitimate means and do not usurp the right of anyone as they earn their income.) Needless to say, zakah also achieves the objective of financial taxes in a healthy and satisfactory atmosphere characterized by purity and growth.
The payment of zakah is a characteristic of the believers confirming that they implement Allah’s law in their lives. The payment of zakah is an acknowledgement that Allah has the authority over all their affairs. This is exactly what is meant by Islam, which is based on total submission to Allah. “and they bow [in worship].” (Verse 55) The way this phrase is expressed in the Arabic original indicates that bowing down in worship is their normal and essential condition. The Qur’anic verse has already stated that they attend to their prayer, but this second description is even more comprehensive because it makes it appear as if worship is the most prominent characteristic by which they are known. In such contexts, Qur’anic expressions are very powerful indeed. In return for having complete trust in Him, and seeking only His support and maintaining a tie of patronage with Him only and, in consequence, with His Messenger and the believers, and in return for a complete split between them and all other camps that do not submit to Him, Allah promises the believers victory: “And whoever is an ally of Allah and His Messenger and those who have believed - indeed, the party of Allah - they will be the predominant.” (Verse 56) This promise of victory comes only after the basic principle has been outlined. It is to be in alliance only with Allah, His Messenger and the believers. This follows a clear warning against having an alliance with the Jews or Christians since it is tantamount to leaving the Muslim camp and belonging to the Jews and Christians. In other words, it is a complete rejection of faith.
What we have here is a consistent Qur’anic point. Allah wants people to be Muslims because Islam is good, not because they will triumph or gain power in this world. These are fruits which come only at their appropriate time, and only as a means to accomplish Allah’s will, manifested in the practical implementation of His faith. They are never offered as a temptation to encourage people to accept Islam. Moreover, when Muslims triumph, they gain nothing out of their victory for themselves. They are simply the means through which Allah accomplishes His will. He grants them victory not as something they add to their personal credit, but to the advantage of their faith. As such, they earn the reward for having striven hard to achieve this victory and enjoy the results of the implementation of the Divine faith.
Similarly, Allah may promise Muslims victory in order to strengthen them and free them from the shackles of the present, which may be overwhelming at times. When they are assured that the ultimate result will be in their favor, they are more determined to overcome the present impediment. In other words, they entertain hopes that Allah will fulfill His promise to the Muslim nation through their own efforts. The fact that this statement occurs here tells us something about the Muslim community’s situation at that time and its need for such reassurance by reiterating the rule that Allah’s party will eventually triumph. This again confirms our view with regard to the timing of the revelation of this passage.
This rule, however, remains true regardless of time or place. We realize that it is one of Allah’s laws which never fail. If the community of believers experiences some reversals and loses some battles, the constant rule, which will always remain true, is that Allah’s party will remain victorious. Such a clear promise by Allah is truer than what may appear to be the case at any particular juncture. To maintain a relationship of patronage with Allah, His Messenger and the believers is the only way to eventually ensure the fulfillment of Allah’s promise.