Thursday, 5 July 2018

Tawwabun (Penitents) Movement (Surah 2:54)


بسـم اللـه الرحمـن الرحيـم

والصلاـة والسلاـم علـى نبيـه الكريـم
When Prophet Moses ascended Mount Sinai to receive the Torah from Allahumma, the ungrateful Israelites fashioned an idol, the ‘golden calf’, and began to worship it in his absence. For such open rebellion and treacherous defiance of Heaven, the Holy Qur’an quotes Prophet Moses as saying:
يَا قَوْمِ إِنَّكُمْ ظَلَمْتُمْ أَنفُسَكُم بِاتِّخَاذِكُمُ الْعِجْلَ فَتُوبُوا إِلَىٰ بَارِئِكُمْ فَاقْتُلُوا أَنفُسَكُمْ ذَٰلِكُمْ خَيْرٌ لَّكُمْ عِندَ بَارِئِكُمْ فَتَابَ عَلَيْكُمْ ۚ إِنَّهُ هُوَ التَّوَّابُ الرَّحِيمُ
“O my people! Indeed, you have wronged yourselves by your taking the calf. So turn in repentance to your Creator and kill yourselves. That is better for you with your Creator.” Then He turned towards you. Indeed He! He is the-Returning, the Most Merciful.
(Surah 2:54)
Some of the mufassirin have wrongly understood this to mean that the Israelites who had worshipped the golden calf, in order for their repentance to be accepted, were commanded to commit suicide. This is based on a misunderstanding of the words Fa’qtaloo anfusakum “slay yourselves”. Elsewhere, the Holy Qur’an clearly forbids suicide:
وَلَا تَقْتُلُوا أَنفُسَكُمْ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ كَانَ بِكُمْ رَحِيمًا
And do not kill yourselves. Indeed, Allah is to you Most Merciful.
(Surah 4:29)
Likewise, Prophet Muhammad (sall Allaahu alayhi wasallam) described the punishment in hell of the one who committed suicide:
وَمَنْ قَتَلَ نَفْسَهُ بِشَىْءٍ عُذِّبَ بِهِ فِي نَارِ جَهَنَّمَ
“Whoever killed himself with something will be punished with it in the fire of Gehinnom” (Sahih al-Bukhari)
So if someone committed suicide by drinking poison, he will keep on drinking poison in Hell, and if he killed himself by with a sharp instrument, he will keep on cutting or stabbing himself with it in Gehinnom. Returning to Surah 2:54, anfusakum “yourselves” is a reference to the common genus of the Israelites and not the individual self. In other words, Prophet Moses, based on divine inspiration, commanded those of his people who had taken the golden calf in worship, but who wanted to repent, to kill those from among their own people who persisted in the rebellion and idolatry. And his command to “kill yourselves” also addressed to those of his people who had no personally partaken of the idolatry, but who shared a collective guilt with the nation, and in order to purify and separate themselves from their brethren who had become apostates, were instructed to slay them. This is what is mentioned in the Book of Exodus: Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies. So he stood at the entrance to the camp and said, “Whoever is for the Lord, come to me.” And all the Levites rallied to him. Then he said to them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.’” The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died. Then Moses said, “You have been set apart to the Lord today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has blessed you this day.” The next day Moses said to the people, “You have committed a great sin. But now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” So Moses went back to the Lord and said, “Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.” The Lord replied to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book. Now go, lead the people to the place I spoke of, and my angel will go before you. However, when the time comes for me to punish, I will punish them for their sin.” (Exodus 32:25-35)
That the command to “kill yourselves” meant that the innocent from among the nation should kill the guilty from among themselves who had partaken of the idolatry is mentioned in the books of tafsir, for example:
{ فَٱقْتُلُواْ أَنفُسَكُمْ } أي ليقتل البريءُ منكم المجرم
“slay one another that is let the innocent of you slay the guilty” (Tafsir al-Jalalayn) This is also the interpretation of Muqatil b. Sulayman, as Ibn al-Jawzi has mentioned:
أنه خطاب لمن لم يعبد ليقتل من عبد، قاله مقاتل
(Zad al-Masir)
Here I shall also quote the interpretation of the great sahabi, sayyidina Sulayman bin Surad al-Khuza’i (radi Allaahu anhu), who led the movement of Tawwabun (Penitents) in the aftermath of the martyrdom of Imam al-Husayn (radi Allahu anhu):
كونوا كالألى من بني إسرائيل إذ قَالَ لَهُمْ نبيهم : إِنَّكُمْ ظَلَمْتُمْ أَنْفُسَكُمْ بِاتِّخَاذِكُمُ الْعِجْلَ فَتُوبُوا إِلَى بَارِئِكُمْ فَاقْتُلُوا أَنْفُسَكُمْ ذَلِكُمْ خَيْرٌ لَكُمْ عِنْدَ بَارِئِكُمْ سورة البقرة آية 54 فما فعل القوم ، جثوا عَلَى الركب وَاللَّهِ ، ومدوا الأعناق ، ورضوا بالقضاء حَتَّى حين علموا أنه لا ينجيهم من عظيم الذنب إلا الصبر عَلَى القتل ، فكيف بكم لو قَدْ دعيتم إِلَى مثل مَا دعي القوم إِلَيْهِ ؟
Be like those Israelites when their prophet said to them, “You have done evil to yourselves by your adoption to the Calf. Turn in repentance to your Creator and kill yourselves. That will be best for you with your Creator.” And do what that people did. They fell on their knees and stretched out their necks and accepted the judgment, until they understood that nothing would save them from the magnitude of their offense except patient acceptance of the slaughter. How will it be with you, if you are summoned to something similar? (Tarikh al-Tabari)
Khalid b. Sa’d b. Nufayl said:
أما أنا فَوَاللَّهِ لو أعلم أن قتلي نفسي يخرجني من ذنبي ويرضي ربي لقتلتها ، ولكن هَذَا أمر بِهِ قوم كَانُوا قبلنا ونهينا عنه
“As for me, by God, if I knew that my killing of myself would release me from my sin and my Lord would be pleased with me, I would kill myself! But that is something which was ordered to a people who were before us while we have been prohibited from it.” (ibid)
But his view is incorrect that the Israelites were ordered with suicide, while suicide is now forbidden in the Shari’ah of Prophet Muhammad (sall Allaahu alayhi wasallam). As I have explained, the verse (2:54) under discussion was not a command from Prophet Moses to his people to commit suicide, but to kill those from among them who were guilty of idolatry or persisted in the rebellion, as a means of expiation. Simiarly, after the Prophet’s own grandson, al-Husayn (radi Allaahu anhu) was martyred in Karbala, those who felt guilty for having abandoned him, under the leadership of the Prophet’s eminent companion, Sulayman b. Surad (radi Allaahu anhu) formed the movement of Tawwabun or Penitents and resolved to expiate their sin by fighting against the actual killers of al-Husayn (radi Allaahu anhu). This they did, during the battle of Ayn al-Wardah in 685 CE, in which they attained their goal of martyrdom seeking the pleasure and forgiveness of Allahumma. They certainly did not commit suicide, meaning they did not kill themselves with their own hands. The Tawwabun were the real first blessed movement to arise from the Ummah of the Prophet in its history, with a truthful purpose. This movement was the greatest testament and commentary of the Ayah (2:54). It should be pointed out that although the Umayyads and Syrians were directly responsible for the killing of sayyidina al-Husayn (radi Allaahu anhu), under the leadership of Yazid bin Mu’awiyah and Ubaydullah bin Ziyad, many of the rank and file of the army under their command directly responsible were the people of Kufah. Hence, not only did the Shi’ah of Kufah largely abandon Imam al-Husayn (radi Allaahu anhu) in his hour of need, despite their previous invitations to him to come to them and lead them, some of them were directly involved in his murder.

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