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3:118-120 Take not into your intimacy those outside your ranks

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O ye who believe! Take not into your intimacy those outside your ranks: They will not fail to corrupt you. They only desire your ruin: Rank hatred has already appeared from their mouths: What their hearts conceal is far worse. We have made plain to you the Signs, if ye have wisdom.

Ah! ye are those who love them, but they love you not,- though ye believe in the whole of the Book. When they meet you, they say, “We believe”: But when they are alone, they bite off the very tips of their fingers at you in their rage. Say: “Perish in you rage; Allah knoweth well all the secrets of the heart.”

If aught that is good befalls you, it grieves them; but if some misfortune overtakes you, they rejoice at it. But if ye are constant and do right, not the least harm will their cunning do to you; for Allah Compasseth round about all that they do.

These verses were revealed in a particular background. There were
Jewish settlements around Madinah. They had old friendly ties with
the tribes of Aws and Khazraj. Individuals from these tribes were also
on friendly terms with other individuals from the Jewish settlements.
In their tribal capacity too, Aws and Khazraj were to the Jews their
neighbors and allies. When these two tribes embraced Islam, they
continued to maintain their old ties with them. Individuals from these
tribes saw no problems in meeting their old Jewish friends with the
same love and sincerity. But, Jews were so hostile to the Holy Prophet
(S) and the religion brought by him that they were unwilling
to be sincere and loving to anyone who had said yes to the prophetic
call and had embraced Islam. So, they outwardly went along with the
same old relationships with’the Ansars of Madinah, but inwardly they
had turned into their enemies. The apparent friendship they had
allowed to remain became their cover which they utilized in their sinister efforts to foment trouble among Muslims so that their unity could be disintegrated. They even went to the limit of banking on this feigned friendship with Muslims to find out their organizational secrets and pass them on to the enemies.

It is this hypocritical behaviour of theirs which Allah Almighty has
asked Muslims to guard against. We have been given an important
rule of conduct when it was said:

O those who believe, do not take anyone as insider but from
your own selves.

The word, bitanah used here means a friend, confidant, one with
whom secrets are shared. The lining or inside part of a dress which
stays close to the body is also known as bitanah. Derived from batn
(inside), it is used in everything opposed to zahr (outside). That which
is outside is zahr and that which is inside is batn. In garments, the
outer part is ziharah and the inner part touching the body such as a
lining is called bitanah. [There is an expression in English ‘hand in love’- which
comes close to this sense, even if partly. It means ‘to be on very intimate terms’.]
Similarly, the expression, bitanatu-th’thawb lends the metaphor of friend, confidant, one who comes to know internal secrets and that is how the word, bitanah is used to carry that sense. The well known, and quite reliable lexicon of Arabic, Lisan al-‘Arab explains
bitanah as follows:

It means that a person’s bitanah is one who knows his secrets, has
access to his affairs in which he seeks his advice. Raghib al-Isfahani, in
his Mufradat and al-Qurtubi in his Tafsfr have given the same
meaning. (The word, ‘bitanah’, translated here as ‘insider’ is an effort
to cover some of these important shades of meaning.)

So, it has been enjoined upon Muslims through this verse that they
should not take persons other than those from their own community as
confidants and advisers, in a way that leads one into spilling the sensitive secrets of one’s own government, community or state. No doubt,
under the shade of its universal mercy, Islam has given unusual
instructions to Muslims in order that they treat non-Muslims with compassion, goodwill, beneficence, kindliness and tolerance, and not leaving it at that, the Holy Prophet (S) has put these in
actual practice in all affairs concerning non-Muslims. But, at the same
time, and in perfect wisdom, binding instructions were given so as to
make sure that the organized body of Muslims and its particular hall
marks stay protected. A Muslim cannot be permitted to go beyond a
certain limit when developing or promoting relations (unilateral, bilateral or multi-lateral) with those who disbelieve in or practice hostility against the Law of Islam. This is so because such an action
throws the doors of harm and danger open both for the individuals and
the community. This arrangement is clear, reasonable, appropriate,
and very necessary to give secure frontiers to the individuals as well
as to the Muslim state.

About non-Muslims resident in Islamic states or those tied with
Muslims through a treaty, the teachings of the Holy Prophet (S) and
his most emphatic instructions for their protection are all part of the
Islamic law. The Holy Prophet (S) has said:

Whoever harms dhimmi (protected non-Muslim), I shall be
his opponent on the Day of Judgement and I always defeat the
one whom I oppose. (Reported by Ibn Mas’ud)

In another hadith, he said:

My Lord has prohibited me to wrong the one protected by a
treaty, or anyone other than him. (narrated by Sayyidna ‘Ali)

Beware, whoever wrongs a non-Muslim protected by treaty, or
usurps his right, or obligates him to do what is beyond his
power, or takes from him something without his genuine
consent, then, I shall be the advocate for him (the said non-Muslim) on the day of Judgement.

Side by side with these concessions and considerations for non-Muslims, instructions were given to Muslims that they should protect their distinct group cohesion by not trusting enemies of Islam and Muslims with their secrets.

Ibn Abi Hatim narrates that Sayyidna
Umar ibn al-Khattab (RA) was asked to appoint a young non-muslim as the chief manager and scribe in his office since he was very good at that. Thereupon, he said:

If I were to take him In, in that case, I will be taking an
insider from among non-Muslims (which is against the
Qur’anic authority).

Imam al-Qurtubi, famous scholar and commentator of the fifth
century says, with marked pensive longing, that contravention of this
teaching of the Qur’an has produced evil results for Muslims:

Things have so changed these days that Jews and Christians
were trusted with secrets and considered trustworthy through
which they we’re able to prevail over the ignorant rich, the
rulers and the chiefs.

Even today, in a state established under a particular ideology, a
person who does not subscribe to this ideology cannot be admitted into
the inner echelons of power as a confidant. In Russia and China, a
person who does not believe in communism is not given any responsible office or, farther still, trusted with state secrets. A close study of the decline of Muslim states would reveal several reasons behind it.
One of the oft-repeated ones will be that Muslims had entrusted their
sensitive affairs in the hands of non-Muslim confidants. This policy
was an active factor in the decline of the Ottoman Caliphate as well.

The reason why this command has been given is explained soon after. Starting from (they would spare no effort to do you mischief) and ending at (provided that you understand), the
text warns Muslims that they should not take anyone other than their
own Muslim brothers as insiders on their affairs, for no other group,
be they Jews, Christians, hypocrites or other disbelievers, could be
their genuine well-wishers. Contrary to that, they are always on the look out for opportunities to hoodwink and hurt them materially and spiritually. They are always plotting to harm them in this worldly life as well as to take them away from the enjoined pursuits of their Faith. All this is what the Muslims can see for themselves, but the venom
that lies hidden in their hearts is far too fatal. However there are times when they are enraged with their deceptive cool front thrown off and the fangs of their deep hostility become clearly visible. Why would
an intelligent person take such people as his confidant? Allah Almighty has pointed out who they are and what has to be done about them. Now it is upto him who understands what is involved here.

The sentence (they want you to be in trouble) is a perfect
mirror of the mentality of disbelievers. Here, the in-depth teaching is
that no non-Muslim can ever be the real friend and well-wisher of
After that, in verse 119: Muslims have been told that
‘it is certainly strange that you go about loving them as friends, yet
they are no friends of yours. Indeed, they are your worst enemies. Still
more unusual is the situation because you believe in all Scriptures
without any reservations as to the people they address, the time when
they were sent down and the prophet they were revealed to. Contrary
to this, they do not accept your Book and your Prophet. Their belief in
their own Books is not correct either. Given this state of affairs it
would have been expected that they should have been affectionate
towards you and you should have been the ones to give them a cold
shoulder. But, what is happening here is just the reverse of what it
should have been.’

The mentality of disbelievers has been further clarified by saying: in the first part of verse 120 which has been translated as, ‘if something good happens to you, it annoys them and if something
evil befalls you, they are delighted with it.’

How can Muslims remain protected against the aftermath of
sinster moves of the hypocrites and the deadly hostility of opponents?
For this, a simple and effective prescription was suggested in:

And if you keep patience and fear Allah, their cunning shall not harm you at all. Surely, Allah is All-Encompassing of
what they do.

Sabr and Taqwa: Panacea for Muslims

The Holy Qur’an has prescribed sabr (patience, endurance) and
Taqwa (fear of Allah) as an effective measure against all hardships.
This elemental teaching has been conveyed to Muslims not only here
but also at many other places in the Qur’an. For instance, in the
section that follows immediately, it has been said:

Why not? If you stay patient and fear Allah and they come
upon you in this heat of theirs, your Lord will reinforce you
with five thousand of the angels having distinct marks. (3:125)

Here, the promise of divine help has been made conditional upon
Sabr and Taqwa

In Surah Yusuf, it has been said:

Whoever fears Allah and keeps patience … (12:90)

Here too, prosperity and success have been tied with Sabr and
Taqwa. Towards the end of this very Surah, Sabr is being proposed in
the following words:

O those who believe, be patient, be more patient than others,
and guard your frontiers, and fear Allah so that you may be
successful. (3:200)

Once again, prosperity and success have been made dependent on
Sabr and Taqwa.

The two words, Sabr and Taqwa though looking like a short title,
are nevertheless very comprehensive. They contain within themselves
a successful rule for all aspects of individual and collective life as well
as public, government and military affairs.

The Holy Prophet (S) has said, as narrated by Sayyidna Abu Dharr (RA):

I know a verse which, if people were to take to it, would
suffice them. And that is: ‘And whoever fears Allah, for him
He shall make a way out (of the difficulties) – 65:2

Also, see the post:

Relations of Muslims with Non-Muslims – Islamic Web Library


Shafi, Muhammad (2008). Maariful Quran. (Vol .2 surah 3 pg. 164-170). English-MaarifulQuran-MuftiShafiUsmaniRA-Vol-2.pdf (

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