O you who believe! When you travel in the way of Allah, investigate and do not say to someone who offers you peace: “You are not a believer,” seeking riches of this world, for with Allah there are abundant spoils. You too were such before, then Allah conferred favors on you. Therefore, investigate. Allah is aware of what you do (4.94).
Muslims who would travel inside or outside the Arabian Peninsula in the cause of Allah would come across non-Muslim people previously unknown to them. Some of these non-Muslims would be potential enemies who would raise their arms in the faces of Muslims once they realize that they were Muslims. Others would be interested in peaceful co-existence with Muslims.
Verse 4.94 urges Muslims to investigate whether the people they come across are potential enemies or not. It then goes on to warn against a particular evil temptation that some of those who embrace Islam may be susceptible to. Some of the strangers that Muslims would meet while traveling would offer peace. Some Muslims, however, may be tempted to reject that offer on the basis that it came from non-Muslims, treat them as enemies, kill them, and take their belongings as spoils of war. Those who would commit this aggression would portray it as something they did for the sake of Allah, which is the implication of their words to the victim: “You are not a believer.” Allah, however, exposes this claim as a false pretext and reveals that the real drive behind this act of aggression is “seeking riches of this world.” He reminds those Muslims that they should seek the eternal riches that He has prepared for the righteous people in the hereafter, not those wrongfully obtained worldly riches.
By saying to the non-Muslim “You are not a believer,” those Muslims imply that they are better. In rejecting this attitude, Allah reminds the Muslims that they also were disbelievers in the past and that it is due to His favor they are now Muslims: “You too were such before, then Allah conferred favors on you.” In other words, had Allah not guided the Muslims to Islam, they would have remained disbelievers.
Allah also implies in His reply that He did not give permission to anyone to kill the now Muslims before they embraced Islam, so how could they justify killing non-Muslims simply for not embracing Islam? Additionally, how can they ascertain that today’s disbelievers won’t become Muslims in the future, as happened with them?
To stress the message, Allah reminds the Muslims again near the end of the verse that they must investigate carefully the state of the strangers they come across before taking any action. Finally, there is a reminder that Allah knows everything that people do, meaning that Muslims must not forget that He is aware of the way they behave in any situation including that described in the verse. Trying to deceive Allah is not an option.
Note the fairness and impartiality of the Qur’an as it highlights a temptation that some Muslims may fall victim to. Qur’anic justice is based on well-defined standards which are applied equally. The Qur’an does not compromise on principles, regardless of the parties involved. It contains no form of favoritism. It criticizes errant Muslims as it does with the disbelievers.
In fact, the Book goes even further than that. While it calls those who don’t embrace Islam “disbelievers,” it describes Muslims who embrace Islam in name only “hypocrites,” where the latter are considered far worse than the disbelievers. The disbelievers are promised hell, whereas the hypocrites are destined to the lowest places in hell:
Surely the hypocrites will be in the lowest depth of the Fire, and you shall not find a helper for them (4.145).
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