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By Sheikh Sayed Qutb
"...It is by Allah's grace that you have dealt gently with them. Had you been harsh and hard- hearted, they would surely have broken away from you. Therefore pardon them and pray for forgiveness for them and consult with them in the conduct of public affairs. When you have resolved about a course of action, put your trust in Allah. Allah loves those who put their trust in Him...."
Our examination of these verses show that fundamental facts are explained in a few words. We can appreciate the great aspect of divine grace that is represented by the powers of personality with which the Prophet has been equipped. He had an easy, gentle, lenient, and compassionate nature that attracted people and established real unity between them. We also find in this short passage, the basic principles that govern the life of the Muslim community, namely, consultative government. We have here a clear order to implement this principle of consultation. It is worth to note that this order is given at a time and place when consultation appears to have led to bitter consequences.
Coupled with the principle of consultative government is the principle of firm resolution and unhesitating implementation of discipline adopted after consultations. To these two principles is added the most important value of placing our trust in Allah. There is a distinct conceptual, practical, and organizational complementarity provided by all these three principles. Moreover, the essence of Allah's will and pre-destination is explained here. All matters start with Him and return to Him. His will is supreme in conducting events and determining results.
The passage also warns against treachery and greed, and it distinguishes between those who follow what pleases Allah and those who incur His wrath. That provides a criterion with which to evaluate winnings and losses. The passage is concluded by emphasizing the great bounty Allah has bestowed on this nation that has taken the form of the message conveyed by the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). Compared to this bounty, all material gains appear so small and all suffering appears to be easily tolerable.
"...All these points are discussed in six verses, the first of which is the subject of the commentary:
(It is by Allah's grace that you have dealt gently with them. Had you been harsh and hard-hearted, they would surely have broken away from you. Therefore pardon them and pray for forgiveness for them and consult with them in the conduct of public affairs. When you have resolved about a course of action, put your trust in Allah. Allah loves those who put their trust in Him....."
At this point, the surah addresses the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), who must have had an uneasy feeling towards his people. They were very enthusiastic to go out and meet their enemy outside Madinah. Shortly afterwards, confusion crept up in their ranks and one third of the army withdrew even before the battle started. Later, they disobeyed his express order, leaving their positions and yielding to the temptation of the loot. They weakened when they heard the rumor of his death. Defeated at heart, they turned back on their heels, leaving him with a handful of his Companions and allowed him to be wounded. He remained steadfast at their rear calling them to persevere, while they paid no heed to anyone.
The divine address provides consolation to the Prophet and tells Muslims of Allah's limitless grace, manifested in sending them the Prophet. It reminds them that Allah has shown them great mercy in giving the Prophet a compassionate nature that makes people's hearts turn towards him. The purpose of this address is to enhance the Prophet's leaning towards compassion so that he overcomes what he felt as a result of their actions. On their part, they would realize how important to them is the fact that the Prophet is so compassionate. The divine address tells the Prophet to pardon his Companions and to pray Allah to forgive them. He is also called upon to take counsel with them on how important matters should be dealt with, in the same way as he used to consult them. The consequences of that particular instance must not be allowed to suspend or cancel the principle of consultative government, fundamental to Islamic life.
(It is by Allah's grace that you deal gently with them. Had you been harsh and hard-hearted, they would surely have broken away from you. ) Allah's grace was indeed shown to the Prophet and his Companions. It is demonstrated in the fact that the Prophet himself (peace and blessings be upon him) had a compassionate nature that prompted him to take a lenient and gentle attitude towards them. Had he been hard-hearted, he neither would have won the hearts of people, nor would they have gathered around him.
People always need compassion, care, a cheerful face, and patient forbearance which is not exhausted by people's ignorance and weaknesses. People need someone with a big heart to give them all it can and ask them nothing, to share with them their worries, without burdening them with its own worries. They need someone whom they always expect to be caring, sympathetic, loving, content, and forbearing. Allah's Messenger had all these characteristics, and these were the distinctive aspects of his life among his Companions. He never took for himself anything of the enjoyments of this world; on the contrary, he gave them all that he possessed with a smile and a cheerful heart. His forbearance, compassion, care, and sympathy were extended to all. Everyone of those who came in contact with the Prophet was full of love to him, because of what the Prophet generously gave him of his love.
All that was by Allah's grace that He extended to the Prophet and his followers. Allah reminded them of this grace at that particular moment in order to build on it something that is essential to the life of the Muslim community. (Therefore, pardon them and pray for forgiveness for them and consult with them in the conduct of public affairs. )
We have here a distinctive order: (Consult with them on the conduct of public affairs. ) This principle — basic to the Islamic system of government — is established here, even when Muhammad, Allah's Messenger himself, is the one who conducts public affairs. This is then a definitive statement that leaves the Muslim community in no doubt that consultation is a central principle to the Islamic system of government. Without it, no system is truly Islamic. What form this consultation takes and how the principle is implemented are matters which can be adapted to the prevailing conditions of any particular society. Any form or mechanism which ensures that consultation is really, not superficially, practiced is acceptable in Islam.
* This article is based on the author's work Fi Zhilal Al-Qur'an (In the Shade of the Qur'an), here excerpted with kind permission and with slight modifications from www.islamicvoice.com.
Sayed Qutb (1906-1966) was a prominent and influential Muslim intellectual and writer. He wrote many books about Islam and its distinctive features as a comprehensive way of life. Among his most important works is his exegesis of the Qur'an In the Shade of the Qur'an , which was widely welcomed among Muslims and established itself as one of the best references in Qur'an exegesis.
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