Volume 4: Surah Baqarah, Verse 284
 

Whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth is Allah’s, and whether you manifest what is in your souls or hide it, Allah will call you to account for it; then He will forgive whom He pleases and chastise whom He pleases; and Allah is powerful over all things (284).

COMMENTARY

QUR’AN: Whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth is Allah’s:

Allah is the Owner of all creation, whether it is in the heavens or in the earth. This declaration paves the way for the next sentence, “and whether you manifest what is in your souls or hide it, Allah will call you to account for it”. To Him belongs all that is in the heavens and in the earth; and among those things are you as well as your actions, and all that your souls have earned. Therefore, Allah encompasses you and preserve your deeds; it makes no difference to Him whether your actions are manifest or hidden, He will call you to account for them.

It has been said that the heavens have an affinity with the mind’s faculties, psychological traits and spiritual characteristics. What is in our souls or minds is a part of what is in the heavens, and it belongs to Allah. When the hidden traits and characteristics manifest themselves through the actions of the body,, they become a part of what is in the earth, and that also belongs to Allah. Thus, whatever is found in our minds, whether it is manifested or remains hidden, belongs to Allah, and He will decide about it after calling us to account for it.

QUR’AN: and whether You manifest what is in your souls or hide it, Allah will call you to account for it:

“al-Ibda’ (to manifest) is opposite of “al- ikhfa’" (to hide). “What is in your souls” means “what is settled in your minds”; it is the meaning that is understood by scholars of the language as well as the general public. It refers to traits and characteristics, whether good or bad, like belief and disbelief, love and hate, strength or weakness of the will, and so on. These traits may be manifest or hidden. They are manifested through the actions of body, which may be perceived by others and which prove the existence of those traits in the doer. One knows that but for those particular traits, for example, love or hate, belief or disbelief, inclination or repulsion, those deeds could not be done. In this manner, actions manifest the motives that are fixed in the minds of the doers.

Conversely, these traits may remain hidden if one does not do any action that could prove their existence in one’s mind.

We have said above that “what is in your souls” means what is settled in your minds. It does not mean ineradicable and firmly rooted characteristics; rather it refers to the substantial existence of such characteristics from which actions may emanate.

The two alternatives, “whether you manifest..." and “hide it", show that those characteristics are capable of being shown or hidden; it may be a well-ingrained trait or some appropriate psychological state. But it does not, and cannot, mean passing notions and transient ideas that invade one’s mind without one’s intention; for example, the mental image of a sin when one has no intention or inclination to do it. The words of the verse do not include such involuntary notions, because they are not “settled” in the mind, nor does any action emanate from them.

The verse, in short, says that mental states, the characteristics and traits settled in mind, are the basis of a man’s actions, obedient as well as disobedient; and Allah will call man to account for them. In this respect, this verse has the same significance as the following verses:

Allah will not call you to account for what is vain in your oaths, but He will call you to account for what your hearts have earned (2:225).

. . . his heart is surely sinful (2:283).

. . . surely the hearing and the sight and the heart, all of these, shall be questioned about that (17:36).

These verses prove that there are some conditions and characteristics of hearts, that is, minds, for which man will be called to account. The following verse also proves it

Surely (as for) those who love that scandal should circulate respecting those who believe, they shall have a grievous chastisement in this world and the hereafter. . . (24:19).

It shows that the chastisement shall be because of the “love” of circulating scandal; and love is a state of mind.

This is the apparent and clear meaning of this verse. It proves that man shall be called to account for what is settled in his mind, whether he hides it or shows it. But the verse is silent on the questions as to whether the chastisement in all cases - manifesting it or hiding it, acting according to one’s intention or not doing so, succeeding in the intended transgression or not succeeding - will be the same or different.

Most of the commentators have misunderstood the significance of the verse. They have thought that it is said that man will be asked about even a passing notion that invades the mind, even if it has not settled therein and even when it is beyond the control of a man. Holding a man responsible for such fleeting notions is, without doubt, imposing a duty beyond the limit of one’s ability. From this point on, these commentators have differed among themselves.

a) Some have admitted that Allah might impose on a soul a duty beyond its furthest limit. Others have tried to escape from this difficulty in various ways.

b) Some have accepted that the verse ordained for man what was in fact a duty beyond his ability. But, they claimed, it was abrogated by the sentence in the next verse: “Allah does not impose upon any soul a duty but to the extent of its ability”.

Comment: It has been clearly shown that the verse does not include such transitory ideas and notions. Therefore, the whole argument and interpretation is out of place. Moreover, imposing a duty beyond one’s ability is, ab initio, against reason; Allah cannot do so even for a single moment. He has declared that He never ordained anything in religion beyond our ability:... and (He) did not lay upon you any hardship in religion (22:78).

c) Some others said that the verse was connected with the preceding one, and that it speaks particularly about the hiding of testimony.

Comment: This restriction of meaning is clearly against the general nature of the verse.

d) Still others have said that it was restricted to the unbelievers. Only they shall be called to account for their fleeting fantasies.

Comment: This restriction too is against the generality of the verse.

e) Someone else has interpreted the verse in this way : If you manifest your hidden evil by committing transgression openly, or if you keep it hidden by committing sins secretly, in both cases Allah will call you to account for it. According to this interpretation, the chastisement shall be, not for the ideas, but for the sins.

Comment: Such interpretation is totally against the apparent and clear meaning of the verse.

f) Yet others have said that “what is in your souls” means any kind of idea, whether fixed or otherwise. But “Allah will call you to account for it” means “Allah will inform you of it”. According to this interpretation, the verse is similar to the verse: . . . so He will inform you of what you did (5:105). Whether we manifest such ideas and notions or hide them, Allah will tell us about them on the Day of Resurrection.

Comment: This interpretation too, like the preceding one, is totally against the clear meaning of the verse.

QUR’AN: then He will forgive whom He pleases and chastise whom He pleases; and Allah is powerful over all things:

The alternatives of “forgiveness” and “chastisement” give a hint that “what is in your souls” refers especially to evil thoughts and characteristics. Although “forgiveness” has also been used in the Qur’an in a few such cases where no sin was involved, it is a very uncommon, indeed a rare, usage, and there should be some strong reason and clear association before the word “forgiveness” is being diverted to such meaning.

“And Allah is powerful over all things”: It gives the reason for the said forgiving and chastising; or it may show the reason for the whole verse.

TRADITIONS

It is narrated in as-Sahih of Muslim from Abu Hurayrah that he said: “When the verse: Whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth is Allah’s; and whether you manifest what is in your souls or hide it, Allah will call you to account for it was revealed to the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.), the companions of the Mess­enger of Allah (s.a.w.a.) were very much perturbed. They came to the Messenger of Allah and crouched down (before him) and said: ‘0 Messenger of Allah! we were ordered to do what we were able to do - prayer, fasting, fighting and charity; but (now) Allah has sent down this verse and it is beyond the extent of our ability.’ Thereupon, the Messenger of Allah said: ‘Do you want to say as the people of the book before you said, “We hear and we disobey “? Rather, you should say, “We hear and obey; our Lord! Thy forgiveness (do we crave) and to Thee is (our) march.” ‘ When they recited it, and their tongues had been subdued by it, Allah immediately revealed: The Apostle believes in what has been revealed to him from his Lord, and (so do) the believers..." and to Thee is (our) march. When they did so, Allah abrogated that (law) and revealed (the verse): Allah does not impose upon any soul a duty but to the extent of its ability..."

The author says: as-Suyuti has narrated in ad-Durru ‘l­manthur through Ahmad, Muslim, Abu Dawud (in his an-Nasikh wa ‘l-mansukh), Ibn Jarir, Ibnu ‘l-Mundhir and- Ibn Abi Hatim from Abu Hurayrah; and he has narrated another tradition with nearly the same meaning through several chains from Ibn ‘Abbas. And the abrogation has been narrated through several chains from other companions too, like Ibn Mas‘ud and ‘A’ishah.

And it has been narrated from ar-Rabi‘ ibn Anas that the verse is confirmed and unabrogated; and that “calling to account” means that Allah will inform the servant, on the Day of Resurrection, about his deeds which he did in this world.

And it has been narrated from Ibn ‘Abbas through several chains that the verse is restricted to hiding and giving testimony. Accordingly, it is a confirmed verse, not abrogated.

And it has been narrated from ‘A’ishah that calling to ac­count means the vexation and grief which a man feels when he intends to commit a sin and does not do it. This interpretation also treats the verse as confirmed and unabrogated.

And it has been narrated, through the chains of ‘Ali, from Ibn ‘Abbas about the words of Allah: and whether you manifest what is in your souls or hide it (i.e. all your hidden and manifest affairs) Allah will call you to account for it, that it is not abrogated. When Allah gathers the creatures on the Day of Resurrection, He shall say: “I shall inform you of what you had hidden in your souls which my angels were not aware of.” Then, as for the believers, He shall tell them what they had imagined in their souls, and will forgive them. It is the word of Allah: Allah will call you to account for it, that is, will inform you. And as for the people of doubt and suspicion, He shall inform them of the denial of truth which they had kept hidden; and it is the word of Allah: . . . but He will call you to account for what your hearts have earned.

The author says: All these traditions, in spite of their mutual differences have one thing in common: All are against the clear meaning of the Qur’an, as explained earlier. The verse clearly says that men will be called to account for what their hearts have earned either directly or through other limbs; and there is no “earning” in passing notions and fleeting images which invade the mind. And testimony does not differ in this from other affairs, nor is there any difference in this matter between a believer and an unbeliever; and “calling to account” evidently does not mean informing someone of his transitory thoughts; it obviously means calling one to account for reward or punishment. This is the clear meaning of this verse, and all other verses confirm this meaning.

So far as those traditions are concerned which say that this verse was abrogated, there are several defects in them.

First: They are against the evident meaning of the verse, as explained above.

Second: They claim that there is no injustice in imposing a duty on a soul beyond the limits of its ability. Such a thing is evidently invalid, and especially so if it is attributed to Allah. The subsequent abrogation cannot right this wrong, rather the incongruity will increase; the tradition says, “. . . when they recited it . . . Allah abrogated . . . “, in other words, the order was abrogated before it was acted upon. And such an abrogation is not acceptable in Islam.

Third: You will see in the commentary of the next verses that the sentence, “Allah does not impose upon any soul a duty’ but to the extent of its ability”, is not capable of abrogating any rule. That verse says that every soul is confronted by whatever it has earned, whether it finds it hard to bear or easy. If such a thing was imposed upon a soul which it did not have the strength to bear, or if such a burden was laid upon it as was laid upon those before us, it was all the result of what the soul had itself earned, because of its wrong choice; it should not blame anyone but itself. With this background, the sentence: Allah does not impose upon any soul a duty but to the extent of its ability: looks like a parenthetic sentence, written to remove any possible misunderstanding.

Fourth: The subject of the next two verses has nothing to do with fleeting thoughts and transitory ideas; nor do those verses stand face to face with this verse as an abrogating verse stands in relation to an abrogated one.

In short, the purpose of the next verses is quite different from the aim of this verse, as you will see.