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“O you who believe! Whoever of you turns away from his Religion...” (Al-Māedah 5:54)

by Fethullah Gülen on . Posted in Sūratu’l-Māedah (The Table)

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يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مَن يَرْتَدَّ مِنكُمْ عَن دِينِهِ فَسَوْفَ يَأْتِي اللَّهُ بِقَوْمٍ يُحِبُّهُمْ وَيُحِبُّونَهُ أَذِلَّةٍ عَلَى الْمُؤْمِنِينَ أَعِزَّةٍ عَلَى الْكَافِرِينَ يُجَاهِدُونَ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ وَلَا يَخَافُونَ لَوْمَةَ لَائِمٍ ۚ ذَ‌ٰلِكَ فَضْلُ اللَّهِ يُؤْتِيهِ مَن يَشَاءُ ۚ وَاللَّهُ وَاسِعٌ عَلِيمٌ

O you who believe! Whoever of you turns away from his Religion, (know that) in time God will raise up a people whom He loves, and who love Him, most humble towards the believers, dignified and commanding in the face of the unbelievers, striving (continuously and in solidarity) in God’s cause, and fearing not the censure of any who censure. That is God’s grace and bounty, which He grants to whom He wills. God is All-Embracing (with His profound grace), All-Knowing. (Al-Māedah 5:54)

This verse contains many significant points. Firstly, it warns that some among the believers turn away from Islam and those who have taken the responsibility to represent Islam and convey it to others will be, in time, unable to fulfill this sensitive task. For instance, this task was shouldered by the Umayyads after the first Four Rightly-Guided Caliphs, and when they were no longer able to bear this trust, it was transferred to the ‘Abbasids. Later on, this mission was inherited by the Seljuks and then by the Ottomans. The term “people” (who would be raised up to inherit this mission) is used indefinitely, that is without using the definite article “the” before it. This means that they were unknown to the Companions of the Prophet when this verse was revealed. Therefore, it may well be said that the verse refers to the Turks, who are not Arab like the Companions and to a community that will shoulder this task in almost the same way as the Companions shouldered it.

The Arabic future particle “sawfa” used in the verse before the verb “raise up” refers to the distant future. The most outstanding attribute of the community that the Qur’ān promises to come in far future to represent Islam and convey it to others is that “God loves them.” The love between God and people manifests itself in two ways: one is that a person loves God, and in return God loves him or her―this is the love between God and those who overflow with love of God and seek His pleasure―while the other is that first God loves a person and then He makes the person love Himself―this is the love between God and one whom He has particularly chosen. God uses some in particular so that they may exalt Islam and be exalted and honored by Islam. As all the Prophets were among those who were specially chosen, according to a hadīth related by ‘Abdullah ibn Mas‘ūd, the companions of all the Prophets were also among them.[1] As stated in the verse, this is “God’s grace and bounty which He grants to whom He wills,” and as stated in another verse, no one has the right to object to God’s “distribution of His mercy” (Az-Zukhruf 43:32).

Thus, just as God Almighty chose our Prophet and his Companions to represent Islam and convey it to others in a certain period of history, so will He definitely choose another community to exalt His religion at a time when serving the Religion is almost totally neglected and Islam’s castle is left defenseless. It may be said that this selection was done in the World of the Spirits. Even so, God never leaves His religion ownerless and exalts it by the hand of those whom He chooses, and He exalts and honors the chosen ones with His religion. Therefore, it is important for us to know the attributes of those chosen ones.

Those who are chosen by God Almighty to uplift His religion are such people that in return for God’s love for them, they love Him sincerely. They love Him so much and rationally that, as stated in verse 22 of Sūratu’l-Mujādilah, they feel no true love toward those who oppose God and His Messenger, even if they are their own parents, children, brothers and sisters, or people from their nation or ethnic group. They love, hate, take, and give only for God’s sake. Nothing can replace their love for God in their hearts, acts, and transactions. This is the primary characteristic of the community which God promises to raise to serve Islam in the footsteps of the Prophet’s Companions. They love God sincerely and consider the love for Him and His consent or His being pleased with them superior to everything else.

Secondly, these people are so “humble and modest towards the believers” that each of them is a hero of humbleness and modesty. Based on the idea of Said Nursi, “The victory over the uncivilized ones is through compulsion, while it is through persuasion over the civilized,”[2] we may approach this point from a different perspective as follows:

The vast majority of the enemy front in the face of the Companions consisted of the uncivilized people from among the Bedouins living the desert; therefore, victory over them required compulsion and dissuasion or the use of force to a great extent. Furthermore, the communication and spread of Islam caused divisions in families, and tribalism, which the Qur’ān calls “Jāhilīyatu’l-‘Asabīyah” (the fierce zealotry coming from ignorance) (Al-Fath 48:26), was a major factor in uniting people. Thus acting sternly and unyieldingly towards the relentless unbelievers in such a period of time was of great significance. It may be because of these conditions that due to his firmness and sternness against the unbelievers, ‘Umar was established on the seat of the second rank among the Companions of the Prophet right after Abu Bakr, who had the first rank because of his nearness to and constant company of God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings.[3]

Today, the world is much more civilized, at least partially, than before; therefore, the victory over unbelief will be by persuasion, knowledge, and words, rather than using force. On the other hand, since individualism is dominant and the uniting bonds among people are no longer strong, the collective sense and unity of action have gained great importance. Acting with humility and modesty towards the believers―a type of behavior and treatment much beyond compassion―and “being hand-less towards the one from among them who beats and tongue-less towards the one who swears” is much more appealing and important than approaching the unbelievers with a stern disposition. Because of this, the verse under discussion mentions the attribute of “humility towards the believers” just after God’s love for them and their love for Him, and before being “dignified and commanding in the face of the unbelievers.” As a matter of fact, the first condition of success in the service of the Qur’ān and belief after God’s good pleasure and love is the existence of an atmosphere of humbleness and modesty among us. There can be no limit to the promotion of this point. This shows us why Bediüzzaman Said Nursi gave so much importance to sincerity and brotherhood in faith and why he seriously advises us to read the section from the Risale-i Nur collection on Islamic Brotherhood and Sisterhood[4] frequently and especially the treatise on Sincerity[5] at least once in a fortnight. Probably, the hardest test to which we, believers, are subjected is our relations with our brothers and sisters in faith.

The verse continues: “Dignified and commanding in the face of the unbelievers.” This means that they are not stern as the Companions were against the uncivilized disbelievers of the desert. As stated above, since at the present the victory over hostile ideas is through persuasion rather than force, it will be enough for us to stand firm and dignified with the honor of Islam in the face of the unbelievers. Their “striving in God’s cause and fearing not the censure of any who censure,” as it is stated in the continuation of the verse, is related to this point. As it is well-known, believers used to be despised, and one’s saying “I am Muslim” was a reason to be despised for many years. Therefore, a Muslim’s honor and dignity always lie not in their social status or wealth or profession but in being a Muslim. Indeed, all might, dignity, and glory belong to God, to His Messenger, and to the believers as pointed out clearly in Sūratu’l-Munāfiqūn (63:8). Therefore, we should continue serving Islam everywhere―at home and in schools, in the streets and at the markets―feeling in ourselves the honor and glory of Islam without fearing the censure of anyone who will censure and without feeling any inferiority complex in the face of unbelievers. While stating the attributes of the dignified community which God will raise up to exalt Islam, the Qur’ān also miraculously points to certain characteristics of our time. When considered even only from this perspective, the verse under discussion is full of meanings and predictions, which have come true.

No matter when and in what circumstances this verse was revealed, it extends ropes of relations to all times and places after its revelation. With a quivering style, it warns the believers concerning an extremely important matter: the dispute and discord among the believers which is so common that it trembles Muslims in every age. Many peoples and tribes from the time of the Prophet and his rightly-guided successors, such as Banū Mudlij (Children of Mudlij) headed by Aswad al-Ansī and who apostatized after the Prophet, the apostates of Banū Hanifa led by Musaylima the Liar, the transgressors of Banū Asad provoked by Tulayha ibn Huwaylid, and many other tribes which revolted during the Caliphate of Abū Bakr such as Fazāra, Ghatafan, Banū Salim, Banū Yarbu‘, some from among the Tamim, and Kinda, Banū Bakr and Ghassan were the unfortunate groups included in the meaning of this. Moreover, even the Umayyads, the ‘Abbasids, the Seljuks, and the Ottomans also proved to be among those threatened by this verse, as they failed to be able to continue serving Islam to certain extent.

Hence, the verse warns all of those whom God chooses to serve Islam, meaning: “O people of faith! If you apostatize or abandon serving Islam either partly or totally, know that God will replace you with an honorable people whose characteristics are known, although it is not known to you who they exactly are and where and when they will appear. God loves them and they love Him deeply. They are extraordinarily humble and modest towards the believers, while they are firm, dignified, and commanding in the face of unbelievers, heretics, and aggressors. They persist to gain control of the balance of powers and always strive in God’s cause, aiming to obtain God’s good pleasure and exalt the Word of God. While doing this, they disregard the condemnation or disapproval of all people; they do not pay attention to others’ consideration. Instead, they try to accomplish their mission always with a high performance. This is a special favor of God for them.”

The style of the verse also indicates that this reality of human history is not particular to a certain period of time. It repeats itself, and those who appear in the arena of history one after the other depart only to be replaced by new ones. Thus, it is always God and His friends whom He loves and exalts to be remembered while those who abandon the Religion of God or serving It have been left to the dusty pages of history in the recurring course of events in human history.

[1] Abū Nuaym, Hilyatu’l-Awliyā’, 1:375; also for narrations by Uraym ibn Saida see Hākim, Mustadrak, 3:632; Haythamī, Majma’uz-Zawā’id, 10:17.
[2] Nursi, Risale-i Nur Külliyatı, 1996, Vol. II, pp. 1920, 1929–1930.
[3] See also Sūratu’l-Fath 48:29.
[4] Nursi, The Letters (Trans.), The Twenty-second Letter, 2007, pp. 281–294.
[5] Nursi, The Gleams (Trans.), The Twenty-first Gleam, 2008, pp. 225–235.