Norms of Righteousness: Commentary of the Quran (Chapter 2:177) By: Mohammad Sobhanie

Commentary of the Quran (Chapter 2:177)

By: Mohammad Sobhanie

Norms of Righteousness

بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ

لَّيْسَ الْبِرَّ أَن تُوَلُّوا وُجُوهَكُمْ قِبَلَ الْمَشْرِقِ وَالْمَغْرِبِ وَلَـٰكِنَّ الْبِرَّ مَنْ آمَنَ بِاللَّـهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ وَالْمَلَائِكَةِ وَالْكِتَابِ وَالنَّبِيِّينَ وَآتَى الْمَالَ عَلَىٰ حُبِّهِ ذَوِي الْقُرْبَىٰ وَالْيَتَامَىٰ وَالْمَسَاكِينَ وَابْنَ السَّبِيلِ وَالسَّائِلِينَ وَفِي الرِّقَابِ وَأَقَامَ الصَّلَاةَ وَآتَى الزَّكَاةَ وَالْمُوفُونَ بِعَهْدِهِمْ إِذَا عَاهَدُوا ۖ وَالصَّابِرِينَ فِي الْبَأْسَاءِ وَالضَّرَّاءِ وَحِينَ الْبَأْسِ ۗ أُولَـٰئِكَ الَّذِينَ صَدَقُوا ۖ وَأُولَـٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُتَّقُونَ ﴿١٧٧

Translation:

2:174 Righteousness is not that you turn your faces toward the east or the west, but [true] righteousness is [in] one who believes in Allah, the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the prophets and gives away wealth out of love for Him to relatives, orphans, the needy, the travelers who are in urgent need of money to reach their destiny, those who ask [for help], and for freeing slaves; [and who] establish prayer and give zakah; [those who] fulfill their promise when they promise; and [those who] are patient in poverty and hardship (such as sickness) and during battle. Those are the ones who have been true, and it is those who guard against evil.

Commentary:  Muslims, similar to Jews, used to pray towards the Masjed of Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem. In the second year of Hijri, the divine command directed Muslims to change the direction of prayer towards the Kaaba in Mecca. This change prompted numerous quarrels between the Jews of Medina and the Muslims. The relevant verses and discussions on this topic can be found in the commentary of verses 2:142-150.

In general, it is known that prolonged arguments and endless quarrels creates discontent and rifts in society. In these circumstances, the Quran, after making its point clear, winds down the discussion without compromising on its principles. For instance, the Jews of Medina questioned: if the true Qiblah was the Masjed of Al-Aqsa, why did Muslim not pray to it before? Conversely, if the true direction of prayer was the Kaaba, why did Muslims pray for 15 years towards the Masjed of Al-Aqsa? In its response, the Quran states that Allah (SWT) is present everywhere and He sees and hears whichever direction you pray. This includes the Masjed of Al-Aqsa and the Kaaba. The point which was missing in the discussion is: which direction does God ask the Muslims to pray?

وَلِلَّـهِ الْمَشْرِقُ وَالْمَغْرِبُ ۚ فَأَيْنَمَا تُوَلُّوا فَثَمَّ وَجْهُ اللَّـهِ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ وَاسِعٌ عَلِيمٌ ﴿١١٥

2:115 To Allah belong the East and the West. Whichever way you turn, there is God’s presence. God is Omnipresent and Omniscient.

Similarly, the verse 2:148 states that every nation has its direction of prayer; this includes the Jews and the Muslims. Hence, the verse recommends to hasten towards doing good instead of spending precious time on quarreling over the direction of the Qiblah:

وَلِكُلٍّ وِجْهَةٌ هُوَ مُوَلِّيهَا ۖ فَاسْتَبِقُوا الْخَيْرَاتِ ۚ أَيْنَ مَا تَكُونُوا يَأْتِ بِكُمُ اللَّـهُ جَمِيعًا ۚ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ ﴿١٤٨﴾ وَمِنْ حَيْثُ خَرَجْتَ فَوَلِّ وَجْهَكَ شَطْرَ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ ۖ وَإِنَّهُ لَلْحَقُّ مِن رَّبِّكَ ۗ وَمَا اللَّـهُ بِغَافِلٍ عَمَّا تَعْمَلُونَ ﴿١٤٩

2:148 For every nation there is a direction to which they face (in their prayers). So, hasten towards all that is good. Wheresoever you may be, Allah will bring you together (on the Day of Resurrection). Truly, Allah is able to do all things.

2:149 And from whatever place you leave (and to whatever place you arrive), turn your face towards Masjid al-Haram (at prayer time). In fact, this is a Commandment of your Lord and Allah (SWT) is not oblivious of what you do.

The verse 2:177 follows the same theme of verses 2:148-149. It states that the direction of prayer is not a criterion of righteousness:

لَّيْسَ الْبِرَّ أَن تُوَلُّوا وُجُوهَكُمْ قِبَلَ الْمَشْرِقِ وَالْمَغْرِبِ …﴿١٧٧

2:174 Righteousness is not that you turn your faces toward the east or the west…

Rather, righteousness is in a person who believes truly in Allah (SWT), the Day of Judgement, the angels, the divine Books, and the prophets; including the last messengers:

.. وَلَـٰكِنَّ الْبِرَّ مَنْ آمَنَ بِاللَّـهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ وَالْمَلَائِكَةِ وَالْكِتَابِ وَالنَّبِيِّينَ….. ﴿١٧٧

2:174 Righteousness is not that you turn your faces toward the east or the west, but [true] righteousness is [in] one who believes in Allah, the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the prophets…

The belief in this verse [(آمَنَ بِاللَّـهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ وَالْمَلَائِكَةِ وَالْكِتَابِ وَالنَّبِيِّينَ)] is the perfect one, wherein difficulties and hardships never deter the faith of a perfect believer. This interpretation is further supported by the phrase which comes at the end of verse [Al-Mizan, Vol.1, Page 650]:

… أُولَـٰئِكَ الَّذِينَ صَدَقُوا ۖ وَأُولَـٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُتَّقُونَ ﴿١٧٧

2:174 ….those are the ones who have been true (in their faith), and it is those who guard against evil.

A true believer [(صادق)] says what he believes and does what he says [Al-Mizan, Vol.1, P.651].

The verse continues and mentions that righteous people

… وَآتَى الْمَالَ عَلَىٰ حُبِّهِ ذَوِي الْقُرْبَىٰ وَالْيَتَامَىٰ وَالْمَسَاكِينَ وَابْنَ السَّبِيلِ وَالسَّائِلِينَ وَفِي الرِّقَابِ ……. ﴿١٧٧

“…give away wealth out of love for Him to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveler, those who ask [for help], and for freeing slaves; [and who] establishes prayer and gives zakah; those who fulfill their promise when they promise…”

The righteous people maintain a strong bond and connection with their Lord by establishing prayer and promoting social and economic wellbeing in society by paying obligatory religious tax (zakat) [(وَأَقَامَ الصَّلَاةَ وَآتَى الزَّكَاةَ)]. Lastly, they fulfill their promises when they promise [(وَالْمُوفُونَ بِعَهْدِهِمْ إِذَا عَاهَدُوا)], and exercise patience in poverty [(الْبَأْسَاءِ)], during times of affliction such as sickness or the loss of a loved one or properties [(الضَّرَّاءِ)], and in times of war [(الْبَأْسِ)]:

…. وَأَقَامَ الصَّلَاةَ وَآتَى الزَّكَاةَ وَالْمُوفُونَ بِعَهْدِهِمْ إِذَا عَاهَدُوا ۖ وَالصَّابِرِينَ فِي الْبَأْسَاءِ وَالضَّرَّاءِ وَحِينَ الْبَأْسِ ۗ … ﴿١٧٧

2:174 …[those who] establishes prayer and gives zakah; [those who] fulfill their promise when they promise; and [those who] are patient in poverty and hardship and during battle. …

Two virtues of commitment to fulfill promises and exercising patience at the time of adversity do not necessary cover all virtues. However, if these two virtues are found in someone, the other virtues invariably follow suit [Al-Mizan, Vol.1, P.651].

In conclusion, the verse cites following six criteria for righteousness:

  • Belief in Allah, the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the prophets
  • Give away wealth out of love for Allah (SWT) to relatives, orphans, the needy, a traveler who is stranded, those who ask [for help], and for freeing slaves
  • Establishment of prayer
  • Paying zakah
  • Fulfilling promises
  • Exercising patient in poverty, hardship and during battle.

Those who possess these noble traits are true believers and pious individuals.

… أُولَـٰئِكَ الَّذِينَ صَدَقُوا ۖ وَأُولَـٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُتَّقُونَ ﴿١٧٧

Appendix

Levels of Faith:   The article of faith in Islam is believing in the Oneness of Allah (SWT) and the prophethood of the Prophet Mohammad (SAWA) as the last divine messenger. Thus, whoever announces the article of faith is Muslim, regardless of whether he believes in it wholeheartedly. This is the first level of faith in Islam.

The second level is sincere belief in Islam and submitting to Allah’s orders and prohibitions. Obviously, people fall in different categories on the spectrum of devotion to Islam.

At the entry level, a believer tries to do good deeds and avoids sin, although occasional slips may occur. As the believer’s faith matures through worship and earnest servitude of Allah (SWT), sublime virtues such as patience and perseverance, being pleased with Divine degrees, love and hate for the sake of Allah (SWT), piety and ascetism are being imbued to a degree in the character and the personality of believer. The Chapter of Al-Muminun verses 23:1-11 and Al-Ma’arij in verses 70:22-35 describes the characteristics of highly devoted believers to Islam.

The next level of faith happens when the relation of man with his Lord becomes like a relationship of a slave who is in love with his master. In this relationship, a slave will faithfully and with pleasure submit to the wills of his master; his will is the will of his master. This is a relationship where the slave continuously praises and admires his master. He is pleased and content with what his master is pleased with, and vice versa, he is displeased with what his master is displeased with.

Those who attain such a relationship with the Grace of Allah (SWT), witness with their inner vision the reality of the kingdom of God. The Quran says:

أَلَا إِنَّ أَوْلِيَاءَ اللَّـهِ لَا خَوْفٌ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا هُمْ يَحْزَنُونَ ﴿٦٢﴾ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَكَانُوا يَتَّقُونَ ﴿٦٣﴾ لَهُمُ الْبُشْرَىٰ فِي الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا وَفِي الْآخِرَةِ ۚ لَا تَبْدِيلَ لِكَلِمَاتِ اللَّـهِ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ هُوَ الْفَوْزُ الْعَظِيمُ ﴿٦٤﴾ وَلَا يَحْزُنكَ قَوْلُهُمْ ۘ إِنَّ الْعِزَّةَ لِلَّـهِ جَمِيعًا ۚ هُوَ السَّمِيعُ الْعَلِيمُ ﴿٦٥

10:62 Unquestionably, [for] the allies of Allah there will be no fear concerning them, nor will they grieve.

10:63 Those who believed and were fearing Allah

10:64 For them are good tidings in the worldly life and in the Hereafter. No change is there in the words of Allah. That is what is the great attainment.

10:65 And let not their speech grieve you. Indeed, honor [due to power] belongs to Allah entirely. He is the Hearing, the Knowing.

The allies of Allah (SWT) [(أَوْلِيَاءَ اللَّـهِ)] sincerely believe that Allah (SWT) is the true owner and absolute authority of the universe. The sovereignty of everything else in the realm of existence is vested in Allah (SWT), and no “cause” has any effect without the permission of Allah (SWT). It is this faith in Allah (SWT) that guards and shields them from fear and grief when a tragedy strikes them. It is only because of these characteristics they have been praised in the above verse.

Imam Ali (AS) mentioned that faith has four pillars [Tafseer-e-Namoona, Vol. 20, P. 119]:

  • Trust in Allah (SWT) [(التَّوَکُّلُ  عَلَى اللّهِ)]: That is to plan and work hard in execution of the plan but rely on Allah (SWT) to make it succeed.
  • Entrust the affairs to Allah (SWT) [(وَ تَفْوِیضُ الْاَمْرِ إِلَى اللّهِ)]: At the peak of difficulties and challenges, when one finds himself helpless in resolving issues and overcoming challenges, he does not lose hope in Allah (SWT), instead he entrusts his affair to Him and that He will open a door to him.
  • Be pleased with the divine decrees [(وَ الرِّضا بِقَضاءِ اللّهِ)
  • Surrender to divine commands [(وَ التَّسْلِیْمُ لِأَمْرِ اللّهِ)

أَلاِیمانُ لَهُ أَرْکانٌ أَرْبَعَةٌ التَّوَکُّلُ  عَلَى اللّهِ وَ تَفْوِیضُ الْاَمْرِ إِلَى اللّهِ وَ الرِّضا بِقَضاءِ اللّهِ وَ التَّسْلِیْمُ لِأَمْرِ اللّهِ

Characteristic of Strong Faith vs Weak One in the Chapter of Al-Ma’arij: Imam Ali (AS) in the sermon 189 of Nahjul Balagha states:

فَمِنَ الاْيمَانِ مَا يَكُونُ ثَابِتاً مُسْتَقِرّاً فِي الْقُلُوبِ، وَمِنْهُ مَا يَكُونُ عَوَارِىَ بَيْنَ الْقُلُوبِ وَالصُّدورِ، إِلَى أَجَل مَعْلُوم،

One belief is that which is firm and steadfast in hearts, and one is that which remains temporarily in the heart and the breast up to a certain time

The former group is strong while the latter group is weak and shaky in their faith. The Quran in the chapter of Al-Ma’arij in verses 70:19-35 describes some of the characteristics of these different groups.

Those with weak faith are impatient. They complain profusely during difficult times and hardships and are stingy at times of ease and comfort:

إِنَّ الْإِنسَانَ خُلِقَ هَلُوعًا ﴿١٩﴾ إِذَا مَسَّهُ الشَّرُّ جَزُوعًا ﴿٢٠﴾ وَإِذَا مَسَّهُ الْخَيْرُ مَنُوعًا ﴿٢١﴾ إِلَّا الْمُصَلِّينَ ﴿٢٢

70:19-22 Truly man was created very impatient; Being greatly grieved when evil afflicts him. And niggardly when good reaches him; except the observers of prayer (the people with strong faith).

The people with strong faith are identified as those who “observe prayer” [(إِلَّا الْمُصَلِّينَ)]. They maintain a strong connection with Allah (SWT) through remaining steadfast in their prayer:

إِلَّا الْمُصَلِّينَ ﴿٢٢﴾ الَّذِينَ هُمْ عَلَىٰ صَلَاتِهِمْ دَائِمُونَ ﴿٢٣﴾ …… وَالَّذِينَ هُمْ عَلَىٰ صَلَاتِهِمْ يُحَافِظُونَ ﴿٣٤﴾ أُولَـٰئِكَ فِي جَنَّاتٍ مُّكْرَمُونَ ﴿٣٥

70:22) Those who remain steadfast to their prayer

34) And those who guard their prayer

35) They will be in gardens, honored.

They are generous. For instance, they assign a certain share of their property for the needy and financially deprived people:

.. وَالَّذِينَ فِي أَمْوَالِهِمْ حَقٌّ مَّعْلُومٌ ﴿٢٤﴾ لِّلسَّائِلِ وَالْمَحْرُومِ ﴿٢٥

70:24 And those who assign a certain share of their property -25) For the needy and the deprived people:

They are morally upright. For instance, they keep their intimate relationship only for their wives. They are faithful to their trusts (protect the property that entrusted to them and return back to its owner), honor their covenants and are committed to only speaking and testifying to the truth:

…. وَالَّذِينَ هُمْ لِفُرُوجِهِمْ حَافِظُونَ ﴿٢٩﴾ إِلَّا عَلَىٰ أَزْوَاجِهِمْ أَوْ مَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَانُهُمْ فَإِنَّهُمْ غَيْرُ مَلُومِينَ ﴿٣٠﴾ فَمَنِ ابْتَغَىٰ وَرَاءَ ذَٰلِكَ فَأُولَـٰئِكَ هُمُ الْعَادُونَ ﴿٣١﴾ وَالَّذِينَ هُمْ لِأَمَانَاتِهِمْ وَعَهْدِهِمْ رَاعُونَ ﴿٣٢﴾ وَالَّذِينَ هُم بِشَهَادَاتِهِمْ قَائِمُونَ ﴿٣٣

70:29 And those who guard their private parts

30) Except from their wives or those their right hands possess, for indeed, they are not to be blamed

31) But whoever seeks beyond that, then they are the transgressors

32) And those who faithful to their trusts and covenants

33) And those who are committed to rise and testify the truth

Lastly, they have strong faith in the Day of Judgment and are fearful of their Lord’s punishment.

… وَالَّذِينَ يُصَدِّقُونَ بِيَوْمِ الدِّينِ ﴿٢٦﴾ وَالَّذِينَ هُم مِّنْ عَذَابِ رَبِّهِم مُّشْفِقُونَ ﴿٢٧﴾ إِنَّ عَذَابَ رَبِّهِمْ غَيْرُ مَأْمُونٍ ﴿٢٨

70:26) And those who firmly believe in the Day of Recompense

27) And those who are fearful of the punishment of their Lord

28) Indeed, the punishment of their Lord is not that from which one is safe

Characteristic of Strong Faith vs. Weak Faith in the Chapter of Al-Ahzab: In the battle of Al-Ahzab, which happened in the fifth year of Hijri, the Muslims of Medina were besieged by the infidels for more than a month. The food supply in the city was getting low and living conditions were deteriorating day by day.

The Muslims formed their opinion according to their faith. The weak in faith became suspicious of God’s promise of victory as He said in the Chapter of Muhammad 47:7:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِن تَنصُرُوا اللَّـهَ يَنصُرْكُمْ وَيُثَبِّتْ أَقْدَامَكُمْ ﴿٧

47:7 O you who have believed, if you support Allah, He will support you and plant firmly your feet.

In particular, the hypocrites and those who had diseases of hypocrisy in their heart said “Allah and His Messenger did not promise us except delusion”

هُنَالِكَ ابْتُلِيَ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ وَزُلْزِلُوا زِلْزَالًا شَدِيدًا ﴿١١﴾ وَإِذْ يَقُولُ الْمُنَافِقُونَ وَالَّذِينَ فِي قُلُوبِهِم مَّرَضٌ مَّا وَعَدَنَا اللَّـهُ وَرَسُولُهُ إِلَّا غُرُورًا ﴿١٢

33:11-12 There the believers were tested and shaken with a severe shaking. And [remember] when the hypocrites and those in whose hearts is disease said, “Allah and His Messenger did not promise us except delusion,”

However, when the believer with the strong faith saw the army of infidels, they said: “This is what Allah and His Messenger had promised us”:

وَلَمَّا رَأَى الْمُؤْمِنُونَ الْأَحْزَابَ قَالُوا هَـٰذَا مَا وَعَدَنَا اللَّـهُ وَرَسُولُهُ وَصَدَقَ اللَّـهُ وَرَسُولُهُ ۚ وَمَا زَادَهُمْ إِلَّا إِيمَانًا وَتَسْلِيمًا ﴿٢٢

33:22 As for the true believers, when they saw the invading confederates, they cried out: “This is what Allah and His Messenger had promised us, and what Allah and His Messenger said was absolutely true.” This only increased their faith and submission.

An interesting point is that people analyze daily events according to their faith.

Appendix: The first 9 verses of the chapter Al-Muminun

قَدْ أَفْلَحَ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ ﴿١﴾ الَّذِينَ هُمْ فِي صَلَاتِهِمْ خَاشِعُونَ ﴿٢﴾ وَالَّذِينَ هُمْ عَنِ اللَّغْوِ مُعْرِضُونَ ﴿٣﴾ وَالَّذِينَ هُمْ لِلزَّكَاةِ فَاعِلُونَ ﴿٤﴾ وَالَّذِينَ هُمْ لِفُرُوجِهِمْ حَافِظُونَ ﴿٥﴾ إِلَّا عَلَىٰ أَزْوَاجِهِمْ أَوْ مَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَانُهُمْ فَإِنَّهُمْ غَيْرُ مَلُومِينَ ﴿٦﴾ فَمَنِ ابْتَغَىٰ وَرَاءَ ذَٰلِكَ فَأُولَـٰئِكَ هُمُ الْعَادُونَ ﴿٧﴾ وَالَّذِينَ هُمْ لِأَمَانَاتِهِمْ وَعَهْدِهِمْ رَاعُونَ ﴿٨﴾ وَالَّذِينَ هُمْ عَلَىٰ صَلَوَاتِهِمْ يُحَافِظُونَ ﴿٩

 

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