The Fate of Deserters
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.
You are the best nation that has ever been raised for mankind: you enjoin the doing of what is right and forbid what is wrong, and you believe in Allah. Had the people of earlier revelation believed it would have been for their own good. Few of them are believers, while most of them are evildoers. They cannot harm you beyond causing you some trifling hurt; and if they fight against you they will turn their backs upon you in flight. Then they will receive no help. Ignominy shall be pitched over them wherever they may be, save when they have a bond with Allah and a bond with men. They have incurred the wrath of Allah and humiliation shall overshadow them. That is because they persisted in denying Allah's revelations and killing the prophets against all right. That is because they persisted in their disobedience and transgression. (The House of Imran, "Aal Imran": 3; 110-112)
Commentary by Sayyid Qutb,
Translation: A. A. Salahi & S. A. Shamsi.
THE subject of our earlier commentary was the qualities stated in the first half of the verse with which this passage begins. It is these qualities which make the Muslim community the best nation ever to be raised for mankind. Having outlined these qualities of enjoining the doing of what is right and forbidding what is wrong and believing in Allah, the verse goes on to explain that to have faith is better for people: Had the people of earlier revelation believed it will have been for their own good. Few of then are believers, while most of them are evildoers.
This serves as an encouragement to the people of earlier revelation to accept the faith of Islam, because such acceptance works for their own good in this life and in the life to come. By accepting the faith they overcome their division over their ideological concepts which has robbed them of any chance to establish their own distinctive character. Their concepts cannot serve as a basis for a social system which they may adopt. Hence, their social systems have no firm foundation. This is indeed true of any social system which is not based on an ideology which provides an overall view of existence and the purpose of human existence as well as the position of man in the universe. To believe in Allah works for their own good in the life to come, since it is the only means to spare them the fate of the unbelievers.
The verse describes their attitude giving the good ones among them their due credit: Few of them are believers, while most of them are evildoers. A number of the people of earlier revelation accepted Islam at the time of the Prophet and became good Muslims. Among them were Abdullah ibn Sallam, Assad ibn Ubaid, Tha’alabah ibn Shu’bah and Ka’ab ibn Malik. This verse gives a general reference to them here and a more detailed reference is given in a later verse. Most of them, however, chose the evil way of not fulfilling the covenant Allah has made with all prophets which stated that every one of them would believe in and support the prophet, Allah sent after him.
They also chose evil when they refused to submit to His will that the last of his messengers would not be from among the children of Israel. They rejected this messenger and declined to submit to Allah’s law embodied in His last message which He has made applicable to all mankind.
Since some Muslims retained various links with the Jews in Madinah at that time, and since the Jews still had military and economic power which some Muslims felt to be considerable, the Quran deliberately sets out to belittle those evildoers. The Quran shows their weakness which results from their disbelief, repeated crimes and disobedience, their division as well as that which Allah has pitched over them of ignominy and humiliation. It also states Allah’s guarantee to the believers to win victory and achieve a satisfactory outcome whenever they meet these enemies, provided that they themselves hold fast to their faith and believe in Allah.
They cannot harm you beyond causing you some trifling hurt; and if they fight against you they will turn their backs upon you in flight. Then they will receive no help.
The harm they will manage to inflict will never be great enough to shake the foundation of the Islamic message. It will never affect the basic structure of the Muslim community or wipe it out. The most they can inflict on the Muslims is the sort of trifling hurt which is bound to happen in any open conflict and a passing pain which disappears with time. When they engage in a fight against the Muslims, defeat is their ultimate outcome. They can never be triumphant over the believers. Moreover, they will have no help against them and they will have no protection from the believers. The reason is that ignominy has been imposed on them as their fate. They are humiliated everywhere in the world. The only protection they may have is that they receive when they seek refuge with Allah and with the Muslims. When they choose to come under the protection of Muslims their lives and their property become immune except under the normal working of the law and they enjoy peace and security. Since that time, the Jews have never enjoyed true security. But toward no people they have shown as much hostility as they have been showing toward Muslims. They have incurred the wrath of Allah, as if they have returned from their journey burdened with this wrath. And humiliation shall overshadow them, remaining forever in their hearts and showing itself in their feelings.
All this has taken place after this verse has been sent down. Whenever a battle flared up between the Muslims and people of earlier revelation, victory was always achieved by the Muslims provided that they held fast to their faith and implemented Allah’s law in their lives. Their enemies always suffered ignominy and humiliation except when they were able to establish a bond with the Muslims or when the Muslims abandoned their religion.
The Quran states the reason for this fate imposed on the Jews. It is a general reason the effect of which may be applicable to every nation, no matter how strongly it professes to be religious. The reason is simply their disobedience and transgression: That is because they persisted in denying Allah’s revelations and killing the Prophets against all right. That is because they persisted in their disobedience and transgression.
Denying Allah’s revelation, whether it is an attitude adopted outright or refusing to implement them in practical life, the killing of prophets and those people who enjoin fairness and justice (as mentioned in another verse of the surah) and persisting in disobedience and transgression - these are the reasons why a people incur Allah’s wrath and suffer defeat, ignominy and humiliation. We find that all these conditions obtain today among the lost offspring of the Muslims who call themselves, without justification, Muslims. They present these very qualifications to their Lord and they get their fair reward; they receive all that Allah has imposed on the Jews: defeat, ignominy and humiliation. Some of them may ask: why do we suffer defeat when we are Muslims? Let those who pose such a question reflect first: what is the true nature of Islam? And who are the true Muslims?