Sura Al-Maidah (Tafseer-ul-Maariful Quran), Part-67

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For 'Ulama and Mashayikh a Note of Warning
Towards the end of the verse (63), it was said: لَبِئْسَ مَا كَانُوا يَصْنَعُونَ : "Evil is what they have been doing" which means that it is bad habit on the part of such religious leaders known as Mashayikh and 'Ulama that they have abandoned their cardinal duty of bidding the Fair and forbidding the Unfair. They see people ruining themselves and they do not stand up and stop them.

Commentators with knowledge and insight have pointed out that at the end of the first verse (62) which mentioned the errors made by common people, what was said is: لَبِئْسَ مَا كَانُوا يَفْعَلُونَ' (Evil is what they have been doing). But, in the second verse (63), where the Mashayikh and 'Ulama have been admonished for their failing, the concluding sentence used is: لَبِئْسَ مَا كَانُوا يَصْنَعُونَ evil is what they have been doing [by design]." The reason is that, according to the Arabic usage, the word, فعل :fi'l (that which is done) includes everything done, whether with intention, or without. But, the word, عمل :'Amal (that which is acted upon) is applied to what is done particularly with intention and volition. As for the words, صنع :Sana'a and صنعت : San' at (that which is done by design) are concerned, they are applied when something is done with intention, and volition or choice, and that it is done repeatedly as a matter of habit and considered purpose both. Therefore, as a result of the evil done by common people, the word chosen was 'Amal, that is: لَبِئْسَ مَا كَانُوا يَفْعَلُونَ' (Evil is what they have been doing). But, as a result of the wrong done by Mashayikh and 'Ulama particularly, the word selected was: صنع : Sana'a, as in: لَبِئْسَ مَا كَانُوا يَصْنَعُونَ' : "Evil is what they have been doing [by design]." In this arrangement here, there may be a hint that the attitude of such religious leaders was false because they knew that if they were to stop their people, they would listen to them and, it was likely, that they would abstain from evil deeds. Yet, such is their greed for whatever offerings they may get from them, or such is their fear of losing the faith of their clients, that their hearts are not moved enough to stand up to defend and uphold the truth. This failing of theirs is far too grave than the evil doings of those evil doers.

The outcome is : If the people of a country get involved in sins and crimes, and their religious leaders know that they will listen and abstain if asked to stop, then, under such a condition, if they do not try to stop the flood of sins and crimes because of temptation, fear or apathy, their crime is more grave than the crime of real criminals and sinners. Therefore, Sayyidna 'Abdullah ibn 'Abbas رضي الله عنه had said that a stronger warning for Mashayikh and 'Ulama does not appear anywhere in the entire Qur'an other than the one in this verse. The recognized authority in Tafsir, Dahhak has said: In my view, this is the most frightening Ayah for Mashayikh and 'Ulama. (Ibn Jarir & Ibn Kathir)

The reason is that in the light of this verse, the failing of religious leaders gets to be rated as far more serious than the actual crime committed by thiefs and robbers and sinners (Refuge with Allah). However, it should be borne in mind that this stern warning stands operative in the situation when the Mashayikh and 'Ulama are reasonably certain that their appeal will be heard and accepted. But, under other conditions when prevailing trends or corresponding experience create a stronger likelihood that nobody is going to listen to them, rather, they may even have to face harm or hurt in doing so, the command is that their responsibility, no doubt, stands dropped, but, the conduct which still remains better and higher is that they should whether heard or negated go on doing their duty without bothering about any blame thrown or pain caused. This approach was identified earlier as well in verse 54 which highlighted one of the qualities of the Mujahidin in the way of Allah by saying: وَلَا يَخَافُونَ لَوْمَةَ لَائِمٍ that is, they are not afraid of any blame thrown at them by those who would blame anyone who speaks the truth.

It is useful to sum up the main elements of our discussion before we part with it by saying that Mashayikh and 'Ulama, rather, all Muslims, once they know something to be sinful or against law, are duty-bound to check, stop or prohibit sin and crime, to the best of their ability - with their own hands or word of mouth or, at the least, with distaste of the heart or dislike of the attitude of course, subject to the condition that the occasion lends to the possibility and stronger probability that they will be heard and their call will be entertained. But, should there be an occasion where stronger probability exists that they will not be heard or they will be subjected to hostility against them, then, that will be a different condition in which it will no more be obligatory on them that they must prohibit and stop people but, it shall still remain the better and the higher form of conduct. All these details about the well known Qur'anic maxim of Bidding the Fair and Forbidding the Unfair have been deduced from Sahih Ahadith. We car say that, by placing the responsibility of personally doing what is right and good, avoiding what is not, and inviting others too to do good and shun evil, on Muslims at large, and on Mashsyikh and 'Ulama in particular, Islam has given to the world a priceless principle of peace which, if practiced, could help nations after nations become easily cleansed of all sorts of evils which afflict them.

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