49. Al-Hujuraat (Private Apartments)
Revealed in Madīnah and consisting of 18 verses, this sūrah takes its name from the word Al Hujurat or Al-Hujuraat (Private Apartments or The Chambers) that occurs in verse 4. It is concerned with how the believers must behave toward the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, and among themselves. It lays down important principles concerning how to deal with any report we receive; internal fighting in a Muslim community; the assessment of individuals; and the avoidance of racism. It also focuses on the difference between true faith and submitting to a Muslim authority (or being Muslim outwardly or in the sight of law).
In the Name of God, the All-Merciful, the All-Compassionate.
1. O you who believe! Do not be forward in the Presence of God and His Messenger.1 Keep from disobedience to God in piety and reverence for Him, so that you may deserve His protection. Surely God is All-Hearing, All-Knowing.
2. O you who believe! Do not raise your voices above the voice of the Prophet, nor speak loudly when addressing him, as you would speak loudly to one another, lest your good deeds go in vain without your perceiving it.2
3. Those who lower their voices in the presence of God’s Messenger, those are they whose hearts God has tested and proven for piety and reverence for Him. For them there is forgiveness (to bring unforeseen rewards) and a tremendous reward.
4. Those who call out to you from behind the private apartments (which you share with your wives), most of them do not reason and understand (and are, therefore, lacking in good manners).
5. If (instead of shouting to you to come out to them) they had been patient until you came out to them, it would certainly have been better for them (in respect of the manners due to you from them). However, God is All-Forgiving, All-Compassionate (especially toward His believing servants, and may forgive ill-manners arising from ignorance).3
6. O you who believe! If some transgressor brings you news (that requires taking action), verify it carefully (before you believe and act upon it), lest you harm a people in ignorance and then become regretful for what you have done.4
7. Always bear in mind that God’s Messenger is among you (so that you have a duty to refer decisions to him).5 If he were to follow you in many affairs of public concern, you would surely be in trouble (and suffer loss).6 But God has endeared the faith to you (O believers) and made it appealing to your hearts, and He has made unbelief, transgression, and rebellion hateful to you. Those are they who are rightly guided (in belief, thought, and action),
8. As a grace from God and a favor. God is All-Knowing, All-Wise.
9. If two parties of believers fall to fighting, make peace between them (and act promptly). But if one of them aggressively encroaches the rights of the other, then fight you all against the aggressive side until they comply with God’s decree (concerning the matter). If they comply, then make peace between them with justice and be scrupulously equitable. Surely God loves the scrupulously equitable.
10. The believers are but brothers, so make peace between your brothers; and keep from disobedience to God in reverence for Him and piety (particularly in your duties toward one another as brothers), so that you may be shown mercy (granted a good, virtuous life in the world as individuals and as a community, and eternal happiness in the Hereafter).7
11. O you who believe! Let not some people among you deride another people; it may be that the latter are better than the former. Nor let some women deride other women; it may be that the latter are better than the former. Nor defame one another (and provoke the same for yourselves in retaliation); nor insult one another with nicknames (that your brothers and sisters dislike). Evil is using names with vile meaning after (those so addressed have accepted) the faith (doing so is like replacing a mark of faith with a mark of transgression). Whoever (does that and then) does not turn to God in repentance (giving up doing so), those are indeed wrongdoers.
12. O you who believe! Avoid much suspicion, for some suspicion is a grave sin (liable to God’s punishment);8 and do not spy (on one another),9 nor backbite (against one another). Would any of you love to eat the flesh of his dead brother?10 You would abhor it! Keep from disobedience to God in reverence for Him and piety. Surely God is One Who truly returns repentance with liberal forgiveness and additional reward, All-Compassionate (particularly towards His believing servants).
13. O humankind! Surely We have created you from a single (pair of) male and female, and made you into tribes and families so that you may know one another (and so build mutuality and co-operative relationships, not so that you may take pride in your differences of race or social rank, or breed enmities). Surely the noblest, most honorable of you in God’s sight is the one best in piety, righteousness, and reverence for God. Surely God is All-Knowing, All-Aware.11
14. (Some of) the dwellers of the desert say: “We believe.” Say (to them): “You have not believed. Rather, (you should) say, ‘We have submitted (to the rule of Islam),’ for faith has not yet entered into your hearts.”12 But, if you obey God and His Messenger, He will not hold back anything of the reward of your (good) deeds.13 Surely God is All-Forgiving, All-Compassionate.
15. Only those are the believers who have truly believed in God (as the Unique Deity, Lord, and Sovereign), and (believed in) His Messenger (including all that he has brought from God), then have never since doubted (the truth of what they have testified to), and who strive hard with their wealth and persons in God’s cause— those are they who are truthful and honest (in their profession of faith).
16. (If those desert dwellers still insist on thinking themselves true believers,) say: “What! would you teach God (how truly you are devoted to) your Religion, while God knows all that is in the heavens and all that is on the earth?” God has full knowledge of everything.
17. They impress it on you as their favor to you that they have submitted (to the rule of Islam and thereby put you under an obligation to them). Say: “Do not count your being Muslims as a favor to me (nor seek to put me under an obligation. The Religion does not belong to me, but to God only.) It is indeed God Who has conferred a favor upon you inasmuch as He has shown you the way to faith – if you are truthful (in your profession of being Muslims, those who have submitted to God).”
18. Surely God knows the unseen of the heavens and the earth (all that is beyond human sense-perception and knowledge in them). And God sees well all that you do.
1. Whatever God and His Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, will and decree on a matter, believers must accept and obey it. Believers must always take the Qur’ān and the Sunnah as the standard to which they must conform in their thoughts and actions. In addition, they must show utmost respect to God and His Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings.
2. Obedience to the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, in all his verdicts means obedience to God, and faith in and obedience to God require unconditional obedience to the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings. In addition, as any purposeful disrespect to him amounts to unbelief, it may cause one’s all good deeds to be in vain. This is so both during the Prophet’s life and after his death. There are some acts, though, that while they do not amount to unbelief in themselves, they carry the risk of causing unbelief. Raising one’s voice or any other action that does not arise from purposeful disrespect does not mean unbelief, yet it can cause the good deed done by way of speech or action to go in vain. (See also sūrah 24: 62–63 and the corresponding notes 33 and 34.)
3. The type of treatment toward God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, which is mentioned in the last two verses is different from the type condemned in the first three verses. The former is concerned with any ill manner arising from ignorance, while the latter is about disrespect to the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, and treating oneself as being at par with him, or holding one’s views as having equal value to his. While the latter may cause one’s good deeds to go in vain and to perish, the former is forgivable. However, such actions, so explicitly condemned by this verse, should not be repeated.
4. The principle laid down in this verse after the commands concerning behavior toward the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, requires attention in many respects, such as follows:
- In another verse (17: 36), God orders: Do not follow that of which you have no knowledge (whether it is good or bad), and refrain from groundless assertions and conjectures. Surely the hearing, the sight, and the heart – each of these is subject to questioning about it (you are answerable, and will be called to account, for each of these on the Day of Judgment). So a Muslim cannot judge anything without confirmed or true knowledge about it. Especially in matters requiring responsibility and concerning social relationships, Muslims must be very careful that they are acting on certain knowledge. This knowledge must be based either on eye-witness reports, or on true, verified reports and never arise from conjecture, individual opinions, or false reports. As will be decreed in verse 12 below, a Muslim cannot have an ill opinion of another Muslim.
- One who, even if a believer, lies, has been proven to be a slanderer, or has been witnessed committing any of the decisively prohibited actions cannot be listened to in a court; and the report of such a person is not acceptable.
- Based on this verse, the scholars of the Hadith developed a very important and significant science, called the Science of jarh and ta‘dīl – the science of establishing whether one who reports any of the Prophetic sayings, actions, and confirmations, is reliable or not. This must be true for all matters, especially those concerning social relationships and court trials.
- One is regarded as trustworthy until such a transgression as lying, slander, or the committing of any decisively prohibited action has been established.
5. Also, in particular, see 4: 59, 64-65, 83, note 13.
6. This does not mean that God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, should not consult with his Companions in the matters of government. Rather, consultation is essential to Islamic government and it was enjoined upon the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, (3: 159). If we consider that this command was reiterated just after the Battle of Uhud, and that one of the reasons for the temporary setback in that battle followed from the Messenger’s (reluctant) acceptance of the decision to go out to face the enemy, which itself arose from consultation but which was opposed to his view, then the importance of consultation will become clearer (See 3: 159, note 31). However, if there is something contrary to the basic principles of faith and action, it cannot be put forward for discussion; and if the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, has definitely decided on a subject, it should not be debated.
7. The last two verses mean that all the believers are brothers and sisters, who are dutiful to one another in this relationship. It hints that there may be quarrels, even fighting, among brothers, which may sometimes arise from rivalry and jealousy. Even if they quarrel and fight with one another, they are still brothers and sisters, and brotherhood and sisterhood require peace. If, despite the fact that there cannot be enmity among them, two parties of believers dispute or fight with each other, the other believers, who are brothers and sisters to them, must reconcile them immediately and make peace between them as required by such a relationship. When they are reconciled and have made peace, they must be meticulous in acting according to the precepts of justice. Since quarrels among brothers and sisters usually break out because of rivalry and jealousy, dispensing justice with great care is particularly important.
Brotherhood (and sisterhood) is very important for both the individual and social life of the believers. In particular, their prosperity in the world and superiority against their enemies depend on faith and this relationship. If they clash with one another and divide into rival groups, it is inevitable that they will weaken and be defeated by their enemies. For this reason, both the Qur’ān and God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, have greatly stressed the importance of brotherhood and sisterhood. God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, used to demand the allegiance of the believers on the conditions that they had to perform the Prescribed Prayers, paying the Prescribed Purifying Alms, and be well-wishers of the believers. He also said: “Cursing a Muslim is a transgression, and fighting with him amounts to unbelief” (al-Bukhārī, “Īmān,” 36). Again, he said: “A Muslim is a brother of another Muslim. He never wrongs him nor makes him devoid of his support. There is no greater offense for a Muslim than despising his Muslim brother” (al-Bukhārī, “Adab,” 57–58; Muslim, “Birr,” 28–34). He also said: “Believers are like a single body in loving and showing mercy to one another; (just as the whole body suffers from any suffering in any part of the body,) so too, will all believers suffer because of the suffering of a believer” (al-Bukhārī, “Adab,” 122; Muslim, “Birr,” 66). (For the importance of brotherhood and how it can be realized and preserved, see Said Nursi, Lem’alar, “20. Lem’a.”)
8. The sūrah, which has begun and continues with mention of the things injurious to the social relationships in a Muslim community, now mentions the most common ones among them, such as derision, defamation, calling others by offensive nicknames, and the ill-opinion or evil suspicion of Muslims. So the suspicion that the verse condemns as a grave sin and prohibits is the evil suspicion of Muslims. If we avoid suspicion as much as possible, we can preserve ourselves from that suspicion which is sinful. Ill-opinion or evil suspicion of a Muslim brother and sister means one’s evil suspicion of oneself. Muslims are mirrors to one another, so whoever has an evil suspicion of a Muslim is merely reflecting his or her own inner state. Verse 24: 12 states that a Muslim’s opinion of other Muslims is, in fact, their opinion of themselves.
Islam absolutely orders that we cherish the good opinion of God and His Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings,. God declares: “Toward My servant I am how My servant thinks of Me” (al-Bukhārī, “Tawhīd”, 15; Muslim, “Tawbah,” 1).
9. The Qur’ān decisively prohibits spying into, or disclosing, the secrets and private lives of people, and orders keeping secret any defect or sinful act which one has seen in a Muslim. Neither can a Muslim government spy on people to see whether they are committing a sin or crime, unless a decisive proof has been established that they are committing something against the public peace and others. Likewise, spying into houses, opening and reading letters that belong to others, and listening to the conversations of other people are all wrong.
10. Said Nursi writes on how this statement condemns backbiting and reprimands backbiters, as follows:
This statement reprimands the backbiter with six degrees of reprimand and restrains him or her from this sin with six degrees of severity:
- The hamzah, marking the interrogative (and here translated as would) at the beginning of the sentence reaches into all the words of the verse, so that each of them carries an interrogative accent.
- Thus, at the very beginning the hamzah in itself asks, “Do you have no intelligence with which you ask and answer, so that you fail to perceive how abominable this thing is?”
- The second word, love, asks through hamzah, “Is it that your heart, with which you love or hate, is so spoiled that you love a most repugnant thing like backbiting?”
- Third, the phrase, any of you, asks, “What has happened to your sense of the nature and responsibility of society and civilization that you dare to accept something so poisonous to social life?”
- Fourth, the phrase, to eat the flesh, asks, “What has happened to your sense of humanity that you are tearing your friend to pieces with your teeth like a wild animal?”
- Fifth, the phrase, of his brother, asks, “Do you have no human tenderness, no sense of kinship, that you sink your teeth into some innocent person to whom you are tied by numerous links of brotherhood? Do you have no intelligence that you bite into your own limbs with your teeth, in such a senseless fashion?”
- Sixth, the word, dead, asks, “Where is your conscience? Is your nature so corrupt that you commit such a disgusting act as eating the flesh of your dead brother who deserves much respect?”
According, then, to the total meaning of the verse and the indications of each of these words, slander and backbiting are repugnant to the intelligence, and to the heart, to humanity and conscience, to human nature, the Religion, and social brotherhood/sisterhood. You see, then, that the verse condemns backbiting in six degrees in a very concise and exact manner and restrains people from it in six miraculous ways.
Backbiting is a shameful weapon and most commonly used by people of enmity, envy, and obstinacy; no self-respecting, honorable human being would ever demean themselves by resorting to such a vile weapon.
Backbiting consists in speaking about an absent person in a way that would repel or annoy him or her if he or she were present and were to hear. If the words uttered are true, that is backbiting; if they are not, this is both backbiting and slander and, therefore, is a doubly loathsome sin.
Backbiting can be permissible in a very few, particular circumstances:
- A person who has been wronged can present a formal complaint to some officer, so that with their help, a wrong may be righted and justice restored.
- If a person contemplating co-operation or marriage with another comes to hold counsel with you, and you say to them, disinterestedly and purely for the sake of their benefit, and in order to counsel them properly, without any further motive, “Do not do that business with that person; it will be to your disadvantage.”
- If a person says only by way of factual description, not to expose to disgrace or notoriety, “That crippled one went to such and such a place.”
- If the person being criticized is an open and unashamed sinner; that is, far from being ashamed of it, they take pride in the sins they commit— if they take pleasure in their wrongdoing and commit sins openly.
In these particular cases, backbiting may be permissible, provided it is done disinterestedly and purely for the sake of truth and in the collective interest. Otherwise, backbiting is like a fire that consumes good deeds in the manner of a flame eating up wood.
If one has engaged in backbiting or listened to it willingly, one should seek God’s forgiveness, saying, “O God, forgive me and the one whom I backbit”, and when he meets the person about whom they spoke ill, they should say to them: “Forgive me!” (The Letters, “The 22nd Letter,” 2: 76–78).
11. Racism is one of the severest problems of our age. When God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, was raised as a Prophet, the attitudes behind racism were prevalent in Makkah in the guise of tribalism. The Quraysh considered themselves (in particular) and Arabs (in general) as being superior to all other people. God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, came with this Divine message and proclaimed it, explaining: No Arab is superior to a non-Arab, and no white person is superior to a black person (Ibn Hanbal, 5: 441); and, If a black Abyssinian Muslim is to rule over Muslims, he should be obeyed (Muslim, “‘Imārah,” 37).
God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, eradicated color-based racism and discrimination so successfully that, for example, ‘Umar once said of Bilāl, who was black: “Bilāl is our master, and was emancipated by our master Abū Bakr” (Ibn Hajar, 1: 165). Once Abū Dharr got so angry with Bilāl that he insulted him: “You son of a black woman!” Bilāl came to God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, and reported the incident in tears. The Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, reproached Abū Dharr: “Do you still have a sign of Jāhiliyyah?” Full of repentance, Abū Dharr lay on the ground and said: “I won’t raise my head (meaning he wouldn’t get up) unless Bilāl puts his foot on it to pass over it.” Bilāl forgave him, and they were reconciled (al-Bukhārī, “Īmān,” 22). Zayd ibn Hārithah, a black slave emancipated by God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, was his adopted son before the Revelation banned adoption as a legal procedure. The Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, married him to Zaynab bint Jahsh, one of the noblest (and non-black) among the Arab Muslim women. In addition, he chose Zayd as the commander of the Muslim army that was sent against the Byzantine Empire, even though it included such leading Companions as Abū Bakr, ‘Umar, Ja‘far ibn Abī Tālib (the cousin of God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings), and Khālid ibn Walīd (even then famed for his genius as a military commander) (Muslim, “Fadā’il as–Sahābah,” 63). Further, the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, appointed Zayd’s son Usāmah to command the army he formed just before his death. Included therein were such leading Companions as Abū Bakr, ‘Umar, Khālid, Abū ‘Ubaydah, Talhah, and Zubayr. This established in the Muslims’ hearts and minds that superiority is not by birth or color or blood, but by righteousness and devotion to God.
During his caliphate, ‘Umar paid Usāmah a higher salary than his own son, ‘Abdullāh. When his son asked why, ‘Umar replied: “My son, I do so because I know God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, loved Usāmah’s father more than your father, and Usāmah more than you” (Ibn Sa‘d, 4: 70).
12. Being a Muslim has three aspects. One is believing in all the essentials of the Islamic faith and submitting to God and His Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, wholeheartedly by carrying out the commandments of Islam. This is being a sincere Muslim. The second is accepting the sovereignty of the Islamic government or being a Muslim according to the law. This requires a verbal declaration of faith, joining the Muslim congregation in the Prayer, and paying the Prescribed Purifying Alms (az-Zakāh), and not doing openly anything that will invalidate the declaration of faith. Such a person may be a hypocrite, but is treated as a Muslim by law. The third is only submission to the Islamic government. The Bedouins mentioned in the verse were Muslims of the third type.
13. This has three meanings:
- If you truly believe and obey God and His Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, He will not diminish anything in the reward of your deeds both in the world and, especially, in the Hereafter.
- If you continue to obey God and His Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, in submission to the Muslim state, you will never be left unrewarded for your services in the world.
- If a virtuous non-believer who is not too prejudiced or arrogant to believe does good deeds pleasing to God and does not wrong others, God usually rewards or favors them with faith. A man asked God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings: “Will our good deeds in Jāhiliyyah be rewarded?” The Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, replied: “God bestowed Islam on you because of those deeds of yours” (al-Bukhārī, “Adab,” 16; Muslim, “Īmān,” 194).