“The Bedouins say: ‘We believe.’ Say: You believe not but you only say: ‘We have surrendered (in Islam)’, for faith has not yet entered Your hearts. But if you obey Allah and his Messenger (sa), He will not decrease anything in reward for your deeds. Verily, Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.”
A person can claim to be a Muslim but he cannot claim to be a believer.This Surah is a piece of legislation for a comprehensive system that will result in an ideal society. Verse 14 deals with the tribes that converted to Islam – those that had an arrogant attitude. They felt entitled to receive favours from the Prophet (sa) because they had not fought the Muslims but accepted Islam peacefully. They thought the Prophet (sa) ‘owed them’.
Scholars point to tribal groups, like Muzainah, Juhainah, Aslam, Ashja, Ghifar, and Bani Asad bin Khuzaimah in particular. We find in Sayyid Qutb’s “In the Shade of the Quran”: “The first of these verses is said to have been revealed in relation to the Bedouins of the Asad tribe who, as soon as they accepted Islam, boasted by saying: ‘We have attained faith.’ Allah (swt) wanted to show them the truth of what was in their hearts when they said this, stating that they only embraced Islam in submission, while true faith had not touched their hearts or souls.”
The previous verse informed us that the difference between people is Taqwa. The Bedouins said “we believed” when they entered Islam – they meant they were perfect in Iman and faith. Allah (swt) told the Prophet (sa) to inform them that they had not yet believed. Allah (swt) specified that they had not reached perfect faith yet. No one in life can say that he has attained perfect faith – in life we can only try. Only Allah (swt) knows the reality of what is in our hearts.
What the Bedouins needed to say was اسلمنا– we have surrendered or submitted. We can tell if a person is a Muslim (by his or her following of the five pillars – Shahadah, fasting, praying, Zakat, and Hajj) at least ritually. لما means not yet. It gives hope that eventually – if we keep trying – we will be able to attain perfect faith. Allah (swt) just says that we haven’t reached that level of faith; however, we can reach it, if we desire it, make Dua, and rely on Allah (swt) to help us become one of the Mumineen.
ان means ‘and if’; it is a condition. The verse continues to say that if you obey Allah (swt) and His Messenger (sa) – i.e. you follow the Quran and Sunnah, and you don’t question what they command you to do in life – your deeds will benefit you, and you will earn rewards from Allah (swt). Not all kinds of deeds will bring us rewards; some good deeds will benefit us even after we have passed away. Abu Hurairah (rtam) reported that the Prophet (sa) said: “When a man dies, his deeds come to an end, except for three things: Sadaqah Jariyah (ceaseless charity); knowledge that is beneficial, or a virtuous descendant who prays for him (for the deceased).” (Muslim)
Good Deeds Compared to Bad Deeds
Good deeds are not recorded as they are; Allah (swt) multiplies them. Sins (bad deeds) are recorded as they are (one for one), or they can decrease. So either the person will get punished only for the sin he committed or, if he repents, the sin will be erased. More righteous deeds increase Iman till you are close to perfecting it. If your actions do not reflect your Iman, then you have not reached that level of perfection. Actions should reflect your claim.
Allah (swt) will forgive previous mistakes; there is always a path to return to Him. These names of Allah (swt) are also mentioned in verse 5, because the Muslims raised their voices over the Prophet’s (sa). So Allah (swt) pointed out the mistake, and encouraged the Muslims to ask for forgiveness. In this verse, the Bedouins said something incorrect – they said they had believed. Allah (swt) rectified their mistake. His door is always open, and there is no barrier between us and His mercy. Forgiveness and mercy are always connected.
The lesson for us here is to treat people the way we want Allah (swt) to treat us with regard to our sins or mistakes. Tell people “what” the correct thing to do is, and provide them with the solution: “how” to do it. Do not just point out mistakes without being helpful. Do good deeds based on Allah’s (swt) and His Messenger’s (sa) model of encouragement and solution. Remind people about Allah’s (swt) favour towards them. His favour is that He has brought us to Islam, and given us a way to achieve Iman and Ihsan. Every time we do something good, we need to thank Allah (swt), and not be haughty and boastful.
Adapted (with permission) for Hiba by Tasneem Vali