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How the Qur’an Depicts the Hypocrites

Surat Al-Munafiqun (The Hypocrites) begins with a description of the hypocrites’ attempt to disguise the truth of their unbelief. They declare themselves Muslim and testify that the Prophet is God’s Messenger.

They swear by God so as to convince Muslims, while they themselves know that they are lying. Their oaths are merely a shield behind which they hope to hide their true reality and deceive the Muslims:

When the hypocrites come to you, they say, ‘We bear witness that you are indeed God’s Messenger.’
God knows that you are truly His Messenger and He bears witness that the hypocrites are indeed liars.
They use their oaths as a cover [for their falseness], and they turn people away from the path of God. Evil indeed what they do
(Al-Munafiqun 63: 1-2)

They would go to the Prophet and state that they bore witness that he was God’s messenger, but theirs was only a verbal testimony lacking conviction. They were merely engaging in deception, hoping to hide their truth from the Muslim community and so protect themselves. Therefore, God states that they were lying while making clear the truth of His message to Prophet Muhammad:

{God knows that you are truly His Messenger and He bears witness that the hypocrites are indeed liars.}(Al-Munafiqun 63: 1)

The phraseology here is both precise and precautionary. We note that how the verse begins by confirming the truth of the Prophet’s message before it states that the hypocrites’ oaths were false. Without taking such care in its wording, the verse could suggest that denunciation of the hypocrites as liars applies to the subject matter of their statement, namely the Prophet’s message. The verse intends no such thing. What it aims to do is to state the truth, making it clear that they did not really believe that the Prophet’s message was true. In other words, they are not sincere in their statement.

{They use their oaths as a cover} This short statement suggests that they used to swear an oath every time they feared exposure, or whenever one of their schemes was uncovered, or some of what they said about Muslims was reported.

They hoped that such oaths would protect them from the consequences of their exposure. Thus they used their false faith as a shield to hide their reality and allow them a chance to go on with their plots and schemes against the Muslim community.

Thus, {they turn people away from the path of God.} They kept themselves and others away from God’s path, using their false oaths for that end. {Evil indeed is what they do.} Could there be anything worse than lying to mislead and deceive others?

The Surah explains the reasons behind their behavior, making it clear that they knowingly reverted to disbelief after having accepted Islam:

{That is because they professed to believe, then they renounced faith. So, a seal has been set on their hearts and therefore they are devoid of understanding.} (Al-Munafiqun 63:3)

Thus, whilst they have known what it means to accept faith, they nonetheless chose to revert to disbelief. No heart that has a sound understanding or appreciation of things, or indeed has life, would experience life under faith and then choose to return to disbelief.

How can anyone who understand, appreciate and experience the concept of Life that faith promotes, with its view of the universe, and also breathes the fresh air of faith and lets the light of faith shine over his world wish to revert to the miserable and suffocating darkness of unfaith?

None will make such a choice except he who is filled with grudges that blind his sight and blunt his senses. Hence, such people are in the miserable condition the verse describes:

{So, a seal has been set on their hearts and therefore they are devoid of understanding.} (Al-Munafiqun 63:3)

The Surah draws a unique picture of such people inviting ridicule and describing them as aimless, leading a futile existence, and nursing grudges. It presents an image of them that serves as an object of ridicule:

{When you see them, their outward appearance may please you; and when they speak, you listen to what they say. They are like propped-up timbers. They think that every shout is directed against them.

They are the real enemy : so beware of them. May God destroy them! How perverse they are!} (Al-Munafiqun 63:4)

Thus, they are merely an outward appearance, not real human beings who respond and interact. They may look pleasant to the eye as long as they remain silent, but when they speak they show themselves to be devoid of sense and feeling.

They are like timbers, but not just any kind of wood: they are propped up against a wall, unable to move.

This stone-cold picture shows the reaction of their souls, that is if they have souls at all. This is then complemented with a state of constant apprehension, perpetual fear and uncertainty: {They think that every shout is directed against them.}

They know themselves to be hypocrites, covered by a thin veil of pretense, false oaths and attempts to appease. Hence, they live under the constant dread that their reality will be exposed.

The Surah shows them as always turning around, dreading every move and every shout. They imagine that every cry is setting a chase after them. Thus, spiritually, they are like propped up pieces of wood, but when it is a question of fear for one’s life or property, they look like a trembling reed in a storm. In both cases, they are the main enemy of the Prophet and the Muslim community: {They are the real Enemy; so beware of them.}

They are the enemy within, hiding within the Muslim ranks. Hence, they represent greater danger than the external enemy. Therefore, the Prophet is instructed to beware of them. He is not, however, instructed to kill them. Instead, he was to pursue a different course of action, one that reflected much wisdom and confidence that their schemes would come to nothing.

{May God destroy them! How perverse they are!} God will indeed be their enemy wherever they turn. Such a prayer by God Almighty means a verdict that is certain to take place. It is their inevitable outcome, as history has clearly shown.


Taken with slight modifications from the Book: In the shade of the Qur’an


By Sayyid Qutb

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