It would be appropriate to give at the outset the details of the incident concerning which these verses were sent down so that the subject that follows is understood easily. The commentators are agreed, and Ibn 'Abbas, Mujahid, Qatadah, 'Urwah bin Zubair and others also have unanimously reported, that these verses were revealed at the time when a letter of Hadrat Hatib bin Abi Balta'a to the pagans of Makkah was intercepted.
It so happened that, when the Quraish broke the Treaty of Hudaibiyah, the Holy Prophet (upon whom be Allah's peace) started making preparations for an invasion of Makkah, but he did not tell anyone, except a few close Companions, what was the goal of the expedition. By chance at about the same time a woman arrived from Makkah, who had been a slave-girl of the Bani 'Abdul Muttalib, and then after her freedom had adopted singing as her profession. She complained of poverty to the Holy Prophet and requested for financial help. The Holy Prophet appealed to the Bani 'Abdul Muttalib and the Bani al-Muttalib and satisfied her need. When she was about to leave for Makkah, Hadrat Hatib bin Abi Balta'a met her and quietly gave her a letter addressed to some of the Makkah chiefs and paid her ten dinars so that she kept the secret and carried the letter to the addressees secretly. When she had just left Madinah, Allah informed the Holy Prophet (Upon whom be Allah's peace) of it. So the Holy Prophet immediately sent Hadrat 'AIi, Hadrat Zubair and Hadrat Miqdad bin Aswad after her with the instruction: "Make haste: At Raudah khaki (12 miles from Madinah on the road to Makkah) you will meet a woman, who carries a letter from Hatib to the pagans of Makkah Seize that letter by any means you like. If she delivers the letter willingly, let her go; if she refuses to deliver it, kill her." When these Companions reached the place, they found the woman there They demanded the letter from her. She replied that she had a letter. They searched her but could find no letter. At last, they told her to deliver the letter, otherwise they would strip her and search her. When she saw that there was no way of escape, she took out the letter from her hair-plait and delivered it to them, and they brought it to the Holy Prophet. When the letter was opened and read it was found to contain information to the Quraish that the Holy Prophet (upon whom be Allah's peace) was making preparations to attack them. (In different traditions different wordings of the letter have been reported but the purport of all is one and the same). The Holy Prophet asked Hadrat Hatib what induced him to act thus. He replied: "Sir, do not make haste in this matter of mine. I have not done this because I have become a disbeliever or an apostate, and have started preferring disbelief to Islam. But the truth is that my near and dear ones are still in Makkah. I do not belong to the tribe of the Quraish, but had settled there under the guardianship of some of them. The families of the Emigrants, which are still in Makkah, will be defended and protected by their tribes and clans, but 1 have no tribe, which could give protection to my family. Therefore, I sent this letter in order to keep the Quraish under obligation so that they did not harm my children. " (According to Hadrat Hatib's.son `Abdur Rahman, Hadrat Habit had his children and brother still in Makkah at that time, and according to Hadrat Hatib's own report his mother also was there). Hearing what Hatib had to say, the Holy Prophet (upon whom be Allah's peace) said to the people: "Hatib has told you the truth. " That is, the real motive of his action was this and not any treachery against Islam or any intention to support disbelief. Hadrat `Umar rose and said: "Permit me, O Messenger of Allah, that I should cut off this hypocrite's head: he has been treacherous to Allah and His Messenger and the Muslims." The Holy Prophet said: "This man has participated in the Battle of Badr: You may not know, O `Umar, Allah may have looked favorably at the people of Badr and said: "Do as you please, I have forgiven you. " (The words in the last sentence are different in different traditions. In some these are to the effect: "I have granted you forgiveness"; in some other: I am your Forgiver"; and in still an other: "I will forgive you.") Hearing this Hadrat 'Umar wept and said: "Allah and His Messenger have the best knowledge. " This is a resume of those many traditions which Bukhari, Muslim, Ahmad, Abu Da'ud, Timidhi Nasa'i, Ibn Jarir Tabari, Ibn Hisham, Ibn Hibban and Ibn Abi Hatim have related on the authority of several reliable transmitters. The most authentic of these is the tradition which Hadrat `Ali's secretary, 'Ubaidullah bin Abu Rafi', heard from Hadrat `Ali himself, and from him Hadrat 'Ali's grandson, Hasan bin Muhammad bin Hanafiyah, heard and conveyed to the later reporters. In none of these there is.any mention that Hadrat Hatib was pardoned when he presented this excuse. But there is no hint either to show that he was awarded some punishment. That is why the Muslim scholars have concluded that Hadrat Hatib's excuse was accepted and he was pardoned.
Although what has been said up to here, and what follows in this regard, was sent down in connection with the incident relating to Hadrat Hatib, Allah, instead of dwelling on his case only, has given the believers this lesson for ever and ever: "It is contrary to the profession of the Faith that a person should act, out of any motive or reason, in a way detrimental to the interests of Islam and subservient to the interests of disbelief when a conflict is going on between Islam and disbelief and some people have adopted a hostile attitude towards the Muslims only because they are Muslims. Even if a person be wholly free from any ill-will against Islam and acts thus not with an evil intention but for the sake of a dire personal need, the act anyhow is unbecoming of a believer, and whoever acts thus strays from the right way."
The allusion is to Hadrat Hatib. As he had acted thus only in order to ensure that his mother and brother and children remained safe in the event of a war, it is being said: "The relations for whose sake you have committed this grave error, will not save you on the Day of Resurrection. No one will dare come forward in the Court of Allah and say: `Our father, or our son, or our brother had committed this sin for ow sake; therefore, we may be punished instead of him. At that time everyone will be worried only about himself, and weighed down with the anxiety of somehow saving himself from the consequences of his own acts, not to speak of being ready to take the burden of another's sins on his head," This thing has been expressed in clearer words at several other places in the Qur'an. At one place it has boon said: "To save oneself froth the torment of that Day, the culprit will wish to give his children, his wife, his brother, his kinsfolk, who gave him shelter, and all the people of the earth, in ransom that this device might rescue him." (Al-Ma'arij -11-14). At another place: “On the Day man shall flee froth his brother and his mother and his father and his wife and his children. Each one of them, on that Day, shall have enough to occupy him so as to make him heedless of others." ('Abasa: 34-37).
That is, "All worldly relationships and bonds of lout and friendship shall be rendered void in the Hereafter. The people will not be judged as groups and parties and families, but every person will have to present himself as an individual and render his own account only. Therefore, no one in the world should commit a wrong for the sake of a relationship or friendship or fraternity, for he will himself have to face all its consequences, and no one else will become a partner in a matter of his personal responsibility."
The following conclusions arc deduced from the details of the cast of Hadrat Hatib, as mentioned above, and the verses which were sent down in this connection:
(1) Whatever the motive of the person, it was in itself an act of espionage, and a very dangerous kind of espionage on a critical occasion. The enemy, who was absolutely unaware, had been informed of the immanent attack from Madinah. Then it was not a case based on suspicion but a letter written by the concerned person himself had been intercepted, after which no other proof of the guilt was required. These were not peace but war time conditions; yet the Holy Prophet (upon whom be Allah's peace) did not place Hadrat Hatib in confinement without giving-him a chance of self-defense: This chance also was not given him in private but publicly before the people. This makes it manifest that there is no room in Islam for such, laws and regulations under which the ruler may have the right in any case to imprison a person only on the basis of his own knowledge or suspicion. Islam also does not recognize the method of trying a person secretly in secret.
(2) Hadrat Hatib was not only one of the Emigrants but also a participant in the Battle of Badr, and enjoyed a distinguished place among the Companions. But despite this a serious crime happened to be committed by him and Allah took him to task for this in the Qur'an as is evident from the above verses. In the Hadith too, his case has been narrated in detail and among the commentators also there may be none who has not made a reference to it. These arc some of the evidences which prove that the Companions were not innocent. They also could commit errors because of human weaknesses, and errors happened to be committed by them practically. The teaching of regarding them with respect and reverence that Allah and His Messenger have given, does not at all require that if one of them happened to commit an error, it should not be mentioned, for evidently, if this were their demand, neither would Allah have mentioned them in His Book, nor the Companions and their successors and the traditionists and the commentators would have related their details in their traditions and books.
(3) The view that Hadrat `Umar expressed in the case of Hadrat Hatib concerned the apparent aspect of the act. His reasoning was that the act was clearly in the nature of treachery to Allah and His Messenger and the Muslims; therefore, Hatib was a hypocrite and deserved to be put to death. But the Holy Prophet (upon whom be Allah's peace) rejected his viewpoint and explained the viewpoint of the Islamic Shari'ah, saying: "Decision should not be given only on the outward form of the act but it should also be seen what evidence is given by the past lift and general character of the person, who happens to commit the act and the circumstances under which he commits it. The act, no doubt, smacked of espionage, but did the attitude of the person concerned towards Islam and the followers of Islam until then indicate that he could do such a thing with the intention of treachery to Allah and His Messenger and the Muslims? He was one of those who had emigrated for the sake of the Faith. Could he have made such a sacrifice without sincerity? He fought in a critical battle like Badr for the sake of his Faith when the Muslims were facing an enemy much better equipped and three times their number, Could the sincerity of such a person be doubted? Or, could it be believed that he had the slightest inclination towards the Quraish? He was telling the plain truth that his family at Makkah did not enjoy the protection of any tribe or clan, which the families of the other Emigrants enjoyed; therefore, he acted thus during war time only in order to safeguard his children from the persecution of the disbelievers. The facts confirmed that he did not really belong to any tribe at Makkah and this too was known that his family members were still back at Makkah. Therefore, there was no reason why his statement should be taken as false and the opinion formed that his actual motive was not this but the intention of treachery. No doubt, for a sincere Muslim even with a good intention it was not lawful that he should inform the enemy of the military plans of the Muslims only for the sake of his personal interests, yet there is a great difference between the error of a sincere Muslim and the treachery of a hypocrite. Both cannot be awarded the same punishment only on the basis of the similarity between their acts. This was the Holy Prophet's decision in this case, and Allah confirmed it in the verses of Surah Al Mumtahinah. A careful study of the above three verses will show that in these Allah has certainly reprimanded Hatib, but it is a kind of a reprimand administered to a believer and not the one administered to a hypocrite. Moreover, no penalty, or physical punishment was awarded to him, but he was administered a severe rebuke publicly and lot off, which meant that in a Muslim society even a blot on the honor of a guilty believer and his falling into disrepute also was a very severe punishment.
(4) About the great merit of tile Companions who fought at Badr, the Holy Prophet (upon whom be Allah's peace) said: You may not know Allah might have looked favorably at tilt people of Badr and said: 'Do as you please, I have forgiven you'." This does not moan that the Companions of Badr were forgiven each and. every sin and they were at liberty to commit whatever sin and crime they pleased, for forgiveness had already been guaranteed to them This was neither meant by the Holy Prophet (upon whom be Allah's peace) nor the Companions ever understood it in this meaning, nor any Canpartion of Badr after hearing this good news ever thought that he was free to commit any sin, nor ever any rule was made on the basis of this in the Islamic Shari'ah that if a Companion of Badr happened to commit a sin, he should not be given ally punishment for it. As a matter of fact, if one considers the circumstances under which this was said and the words that the Holy Prophet used on this occasion carefully, one can clearly understand the meaning to be this: "It would not be anything impossible if in view of the great and meritorious services that the Companions rendered at Badr out of sincerity and devotion and at the very risk of their lives for the sake of Allah and His Religion, Allah might have forgiven all their former and latter sins mercifully. Therefore, you should not suspect such a Companion of treachery and hypocrisy, and should accept the excuse that he himself is presenting for his crime."
(5) From the Qur'an and the Holy Prophet's sayings it also becomes evident that a Muslim's being involved in espionage for the disbelievers by itself is not a sufficient basis for the conclusion that he has become an apostate, or is devoid of the Faith, or is a hypocrite. For reaching such a conclusion if there arc some other circumstances and evidences, it would be a different thing; otherwise by itself this act is only a crime, not a sign of disbelief.
(6) From these verses of the Qur'an it also becomes evident that for a Muslim it is in no case permissible that he should spy for the disbelievers, no matter how gravely his own life and property, or that of his near and dear ones, might be endangered.
(7) When Hadrat `Umar asked for the Holy Prophet's permission to put Hadrat Hatib to death for the crime of espionage, the Holy Prophet did not say that the crime was not punishable with -death, but declined permission on the ground that Hatib's being a Companion of Badr was an express proof of his being sincere, and the statement given by him was correct that be had acted thus not out of any good wishes for the enemies but for the sake of safeguarding his family from any possible persecution to death. From this one section of the jurists has argued that the general law in respect of a Muslim spy is that he should be put to death, unless there are very weighty-reasons for awarding him a lesser punishment or a mere reprimand. But the jurists have disputed this question. Imam Shafe'i and some other jurists hold the view that the Muslim spy is punishable, but not with death. Imam Abu Hanifah and Imam Auza'i maintain that he will be subjected to corporal punishment and long imprisonment. Imam Malik says that he will be put to death, but the Malik; jurists hold different views on this question. Ash'hab says that the Muslim ruler has vast powers in this matter. He can exercise his judgment keeping in view the circumstances of the crime and the culprit and award him any punishment. A saying of Imam Malik and Ibn al-Qasim also is to the same effect. Ibn al Majishun and `Abdul Malik bin Habib say that if the culprit is a habitual spy, he should be put to death. Ibn Wahb says that the punishment of the spy is death, but if he repents of spying, he may be pardoned. Sahnun says that one cannot know whether his repentance is genuine or deceptive; therefore, he should be put to death. There is a saying of Ibn al-Qasim also in support of this. And Asbagh says that the belligerent spy is punishable with death, but the Muslim or dhimmi spy should be given corporal punishment instead of the death sentence, unless he be helping the enemies openly as against the Muslims. (Ibn al-`Arabi, Ahkam al-Qur'an; 'Umdat al-Qari; Fath al-Bari.)
(8) The Hadith that has been cited above also permits that for the investigation of the crime not only the male but the female accused also can be stripped if so required. Although Hadrat `Ali, Hadrat Zubair and Hadrat Miqdad had not stripped the woman, yet they had threatened her that if she did not produce the letter, they would strip and search her.. Obviously, if it were not lawful, the three illustrious Companions could not have threatened her thus. And one can understand that they must have reported the story of their expedition on their return to the Holy Prophet (upon whom be Allah s peace). Had he expressed his displeasure, it must have been reported. That is why the jurists have held it as permissible. ('Umdat al-Qari).