Abbas - Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs
(And be not) in terms of breaking pledges (like unto her) i.e. Ra'itah, the fool (who unravelleth the thread, after she has made it strong, to thin filaments, making your oaths) your pledges (a deceit) and treachery (between you because of a nation) a group (being more numerous than (another) nation) another group. (Allah only trieth you thereby) He tests you with your numerousness; and it is also said: He tests you with the breaking of pledges, (and He verily will explain to you on the Day of Resurrection that wherein ye differed) in the matter of religion.
And do not be like her who undoes, spoils, her yarn, that which she has spun, after having made it strong, [having] set and spun it, [breaking it up] into fibres (ankāthan is a circumstantial qualifier, [ankāth is] the plural of nikth, and means that which is undone [yunkathu]) — this was an imbecile Meccan woman who used to spin all day and then undo it — by making (tattakhidhūna is a circumstantial qualifier referring to the person of [the verb] takūnū, ‘[do not] be like’), in other words, [what is meant is] ‘do not be like her by making’, your oaths a [means of] deceit, (dakhal, is what enters [yadkhulu] into something but does not belong to it), in other words, as [a means of causing] mischief or as trickery, between you, by breaking these [oaths], so that one group may become more numerous than [another] group. They used to enter into an alliance with a given group, but if they encountered another more numerous and more powerful [group], they would renege on their alliance with the former and forge a [new] alliance with these [latter]. God only tries, tests, you thereby, in other words, by that which He enjoins, in the way of fulfilling the covenant, so that He may observe the obedient and the disobedient among you, or when [it is the case that] one group is more numerous [than another], that He may observe whether you fulfil [your obligation to them] or not; and certainly He will make clear to you on the Day of Resurrection that wherein you used to differ, during [the life of] this world, with regard to covenants and otherwise, by punishing he who reneged and rewarding he who was faithful [to his covenant].
(That is the expiation for oaths when you have sworn. And protect your oaths.) 5:89 meaning, do not forgo your oaths without offering the penance. There is also no conflict between this Ayah (16:91) and the Hadith reported in the Two Sahihs according to which the Prophet said:
(By Allah, if Allah wills, I will not swear an oath and then realize that something else is better, but I do that which is better and find a way to free myself from the oath. According to another report he said: "and I offer penance for my oath. '') There is no contradiction at all between all of these texts and the Ayah under discussion here, which is:
وَلاَ تَنقُضُواْ الاٌّيْمَـنَ بَعْدَ تَوْكِيدِهَا
(and do not break the oaths after you have confirmed them) because these are the kinds of oaths that have to do with covenants and promises, not the kind that have to do with urging oneself to do something or preventing him from doing something. Therefore Mujahid said concerning this Ayah:
وَلاَ تَنقُضُواْ الاٌّيْمَـنَ بَعْدَ تَوْكِيدِهَا
(and do not break the oaths after you have confirmed them) "The oath here refers to oaths made during Jahiliyyah.'' This supports the Hadith recorded by Imam Ahmad from Jubayr bin Mut`im, who said that the Messenger of Allah said:
(There is no oath in Islam, and any oath made during the Jahiliyyah is only reinforced by Islam.) This was also reported by Muslim. The meaning is that Islam does not need oaths as they were used by the people of the Jahiliyyah; adherence to Islam is sufficient to do away with any need for what they used to customarily give oaths for. In the Two Sahihs it was reported that Anas said: "The Messenger of Allah swore the treaty of allegiance between the Muhajirin (emigrants) and the Ansar (helpers) in our house. '' This means that he established brotherhood between them, and they used to inherit from one another, until Allah abrogated that. And Allah knows best.
إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَعْلَمُ مَا تَفْعَلُونَ
(Verily, Allah knows what you do.) This is a warning and a threat to those who break their oaths after confirming them.
(And do not be like the one who undoes the thread which she has spun, after it has become strong,) `Abdullah bin Kathir and As-Suddi said: "This was a foolish woman in Makkah. Everytime she spun thread and made it strong, she would undo it again.'' Mujahid, Qatadah and Ibn Zayd said: "This is like the one who breaks a covenant after confirming it.'' This view is more correct and more apparent, whether or not there was a woman in Makkah who undid her thread after spinning it. The word Ankathan could be referring back to the word translated as "undoes'', reinforcing the meaning, or it could be the predicate of the verb "to be'', meaning, do not be Ankathan, the plural of Nakth (breach, violation), from the word Nakith (perfidious). Hence after this, Allah says:
تَتَّخِذُونَ أَيْمَـنَكُمْ دَخَلاً بَيْنَكُمْ
(by taking your oaths as a means of deception among yourselves) meaning for the purposes of cheating and tricking one another.
أَن تَكُونَ أُمَّةٌ هِىَ أَرْبَى مِنْ أُمَّةٍ
(when one group is more numerous than another group. ) meaning, you swear an oath with some people if they are more in number than you, so that they can trust you, but when you are able to betray them you do so. Allah forbids that, by showing a case where treachery might be expected or excused, but He forbids it. If treachery is forbidden in such a case, then in cases where one is in a position of strength it is forbidden more emphatically. Mujahid said: "They used to enter into alliances and covenants, then find other parties who were more powerful and more numerous, so they would cancel the alliance with the first group and make an alliance with the second who were more powerful and more numerous. This is what they were forbidden to do.'' Ad-Dahhak, Qatadah and Ibn Zayd said something similar.
إِنَّمَا يَبْلُوكُمُ اللَّهُ بِهِ
(Allah only tests you by this) Sa`id bin Jubayr said: "This means (you are tested) by the large numbers.'' This was reported by Ibn Abi Hatim. Ibn Jarir said: "It means (you are being tested) by His command to you to adhere to your covenants.''
(And on the Day of Resurrection, He will certainly clarify that which you differed over.) Everyone will be rewarded or punished in accordance with his deeds, good or evil.
Maududi - Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi - Tafhim al-Qur'an
In this brief sentence Allah has enjoined three most important things on which alone depends the establishment of a sound and healthy society:
The first of these is justice which has two aspects.
To make such arrangements as may enable everyone to get one's due rights without stint. Justice does not, however, mean equal distribution of rights, for that would be absolutely unnatural. In fact, justice means equitable dispensation of rights which in certain cases may mean equality. For example, all citizens should have equal rights of citizenship but in other cases equality in rights would be injustice. For instance, equality in social status and rights between parents and their children will obviously be wrong. Likewise those who render services of superior and inferior types cannot be equal in regard to wages and salaries. What Allah enjoins is that the full rights of everyone should be honestly rendered whether those be moral, social, economic legal or political in accordance with what one justly deserves.
The second thing enjoined is "ihsan" which has no equivalent in English. This means to be good, generous, sympathetic, tolerant, forgiving, polite, cooperative, selfless, etc. In collective life this is even more important than justice; for justice is the foundation of a sound society but ihsan is its perfection. On the one hand, justice protects society from bitterness and violation of rights: on the other, ihsan makes it sweet and joyful and worth living. It is obvious that no society can flourish if every individual insists on exacting his pound of flesh. At best such a society might be free from conflict but there cannot be love, gratitude, generosity, sacrifice, sincerity, sympathy and such humane qualities as produce sweetness in life and develop high values.
The third thing which has been enjoined is good treatment towards one's relatives which in fact is a specific form of ihsan. It means that one should not only treat one's relatives well, share their sorrows and pleasures and help them within lawful limits but should also share one's wealth with them according to one's means and the need of each relative. This enjoins on everyone who possesses ample means to acknowledge the share of one's deserving relatives along with the rights of one's own person and family. The Divine Law holds every well-to-do person in a family to be responsible for fulfilling the needs of all his needy kith and kin. The Law considers it a great evil that one person should enjoy the pleasures of life while his own kith and kin are starving. As it considers the family to be an important part of society, it lays down that the first right of needy individuals is on its well-to-do members and then on the others. Likewise it is the first duty of the well-to-do members of the family to fulfill the needs of their own near relatives and then those of others. The Holy Prophet has emphasized this fact in many Traditions, according to which a person owes rights to his parents, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters, other relatives, etc., in accordance with the nearness of their relationships. On the basis of this fundamental principle, Caliph Umar made it obligatory on the first cousins of an orphan to support him. In the case of another orphan he declared that if he had no first cousins he would have made it obligatory on distant cousins to support him. Just imagine the happy condition of the society every unit of which supports its every needy individual in this way-most surely that society will become high and pure economically, socially, and morally.
In contrast to the above-mentioned three virtues, Allah prohibits three vices which ruin individuals and the society as a whole:
(1) The Arabic word fahsha applies to all those things that are immodest, immoral or obscene or nasty or dirty or vulgar, not fit to be seen or heard, because they offend against recognized standards of propriety or good taste, e.g., adultery, fornication, homo-sexuality, nakedness, nudity, theft, robbery, drinking, gambling, begging, abusive language and the like. Likewise it is indecent to indulge in giving publicity to any of these evils and to spread them, e.g., false propaganda, calumny, publicity of crimes, indecent stories, dramas, films, naked pictures, public appearance of womenfolk with indecent make-ups, free mixing of sexes, dancing and the like.
(2) Munkar applies to all those evils which have always been universally regarded as evils and have been forbidden by all divine systems of law.
(3) Baghy applies to those vices that transgress the proper limits of decency and violate the rights of others, whether those of the Creator or His Creation.
In this verse, Allah has enjoined three kinds of Covenants which have been mentioned in the order of their importance. The first of these Covenants is the one between man and his Allah which is the most important of all. The second in importance is the Covenant between one man or one group of men and another man or another group of men, which is taken with Allah as a witness or in which the name of God has been used. The third Covenant is that which has been made without using Allah's name. Though this is third in importance, its fulfillment is as important as that of the first two and the violation of any of these has been prohibited.
In this connection it should be noted that Allah has rebuked the people for the worst form of violation of treaties which has been creating the greatest disorder in the world. It is a pity that even "big" people consider it to be a virtue to violate treaties in order to gain advantages for their people in political, economic and religious conflicts. At one time the leader of one nation enters into a treaty with another nation for the interest of his own people but at another time the same leader publicly breaks the very same treaty for the interest of his people, or secretly violates it. It is an irony that such violations are made even by those people who are honest in their private lives. Moreover, it is regrettable that their own people do not protest against them; nay, they eulogize them for such shameful feats of diplomacy. Therefore, Allah warns that every such treaty is a test of the character of those who enter into it, and of their nations. They might gain some apparent advantage for their people in this way, but they will not escape their consequences on the Day of Judgment.
This is to warn that decision about differences and disputes that lead to conflict, will be made on the Day of Judgment. Therefore, these should not be made an excuse to break agreements and treaties. Even if one is wholly in the right and the opponent is wholly in the wrong, it is not right for the former to break treaties or make false propaganda or employ other deceitful methods to defeat the other. If one does so, it will go against him on that Day because righteousness demands that one should not only be right in one's theories and aims but should also use right methods and employ right means. This warning has especially been given to those religious groups and sects who always suffer from this misunderstanding that they have a right to defeat their opponents because they are on the side of God and their opponents are rebels against Allah: therefore, there is no obligation on them to stick to their treaties with their opponents. This was what the Arab Jews practiced, declaring, "There is no moral obligation on us in regard to the pagan Arabs, and we are rightly entitled to practice dishonesty and deceit that might be of advantage to us and harmful to the disbelievers."
This further supports the previous warning. It means that it would be wrong for any champion of Allah's religion to arrogate to himself the use of every sort of method and means irrespective of whether they are right or wrong to propagate his own religion (considering it to be Allah's Religion) and try to destroy opposite religions. For this would be utterly against the will of Allah: if Allah had willed that there should be no religious differences, He could have deprived mankind of the freedom of choice. In that case, there would have been no need for Allah to get help of any such up-holder of His Religion, who uses disgraceful means for this purpose. Allah could have created all mankind to be inherent believers and obedient servants by depriving them of the power and option of disbelief and sin. Then there would have been none who could have dared to deviate from belief and obedience.
This is to show that Allah Himself has given man the power and freedom to follow any out of the many ways. That is why Allah makes arrangements for the guidance of the one who intends to follow the right way, and lets go astray the one who desires to deviate.