The Quran

Commentaries for 2.17

Al Baqara (The cow) - البقرة

2.17 Abbas - Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs
(Their likeness), the likeness of the hypocrites vis-à-vis Muhammad (pbuh) (is as the likeness of one who kindleth fire), lights a fire in the darkness in order to provide safety for his family, property and person, (and when it sheddeth its light around him), when it sheds its light and he sees what is around him and feels secure, at that very moment the Fire is put out. Likewise, the hypocrites believed openly in Muhammad (pbuh) as well as in the Qur'an and by doing so they felt their persons, families and properties were safe, avoiding in the process imprisonment or death. But when they die (Allah taketh away their light), the benefit of their [outward] faith, (and leaveth them in darkness) facing the hardships of the grave, (where they cannot see) any comfort. It is also said this simile refers to the Jews. In this respect, the likeness of the Jews vis-à-vis Muhammad (pbuh) is like a man who raises a flag in a lost battle and by doing so attracts other defeated fighters. But when they gather they put their flag down and, consequently, their benefit and safety immediately vanish. Similarly, the Jews used to say that Muhammad (pbuh) and the Qur'an, prior to its revelation, would support them. When it was revealed however they denied it and Allah took away their light, i.e. their desire to believe and the benefit of such belief. This is because although they wanted to believe in Muhammad (pbuh) they did not do so, and consequently they were left them in the error of Judaism, unable to see guidance.
2.17 Jalal - Al-Jalalayn
Their likeness, the way they are in their hypocrisy, is as the likeness of one who kindled, that is, [one who] lit a fire in darkness, and when it illumined all about him, so that he is able to see, and to feel warm and secure from those he feared, God took away their light, extinguishing it (the plural pronoun [in nūrihim] takes into account the [plural] import of alladhī); and left them in darkness, unable to see, what is around them, confused as to the way, in fear; likewise are those who have found [temporary] security by professing faith, but who will meet with terror and punishment upon death; these [last] are:
2.17 Kashani - Kashani
Their likeness, that is, to describe them in terms of their hypocrisy is like describing the one seeking to kindle [a fire] and the resultant light which no sooner than it illumines things nearby around him his fire subsides, leaving him bewildered. For the light of their preparedness can be compared to a kindled fire and its illumining of things around them is their being guided to what is in their best interest in terms of their livelihood in the here and now, as opposed to what is in their best interest in terms of the final return that is [seemingly] far away for them, and [their being guided to] companionship of the believers and being in accord with them outwardly; its [his fire's] being extinguished swiftly is the dying out of their light of preparedness and the rapid evanescence of what they had been content with of their world and its imminent termination; [is as the likeness of one who kindled a fire, and when it illumined all about him]
God took away their light, of preparedness by reinforcing them in insolence, leaving them veiled from success, in the darknesses of the soul's attributes [and left them in darkness]; unable to see, with the eye of the heart the way out, nor what might benefit them in the way of spiritual knowledge, like the one whose fire is extinguished while he is wandering about between his work and his means of subsistence;
2.17-18 Kathir - Ibn Al Kathir
The Example of the Hypocrites
Allah likened the hypocrites when they bought deviation with guidance, thus acquiring utter blindness, to the example of a person who started a fire. When the fire was lit, and illumnitated the surrounding area, the person benefited from it and felt safe. Then the fire was suddenly extinguished. Therefore, total darkness covered this person, and he became unable to see anything or find his way out of it. Further, this person could not hear or speak and became so blind that even if there were light, he would not be able to see. This is why he cannot return to the state that he was in before this happened to him. Such is the case with the hypocrites who preferred misguidance over guidance, deviation over righteousness. This parable indicates that the hypocrites first believed, then disbelieved, just as Allah stated in other parts of the Qur'an.
Allah's statement,
ذَهَبَ اللَّهُ بِنُورِهِمْ
(Allah removed their light) means, Allah removed what benefits them, and this is the light, and He left them with what harms them, that is, the darkness and smoke. Allah said,
وَتَرَكَهُمْ فِي ظُلُمَـتٍ
(And left them in darkness), that is their doubts, disbelief and hypocrisy.
لاَّ يُبْصِرُونَ
((So) they could not see) meaning, they are unable to find the correct path or find its direction. In addition, they are,
(deaf) and thus cannot hear the guidance,
(dumb) and cannot utter the words that might benefit them,
(and blind) in total darkness and deviation. Similarly, Allah said,
فَإِنَّهَا لاَ تَعْمَى الاٌّبْصَـرُ وَلَـكِن تَعْمَى الْقُلُوبُ الَّتِى فِى الصُّدُورِ
(Verily, it is not the eyes that grow blind, but it is the hearts which are in the breasts that grow blind) (22:46) and this why they cannot get back to the state of guidance that they were in, since they sold it for misguidance.
2.17-20 Maududi - Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi - Tafhim al-Qur'an
The parable means that when a person, Muhammad (Allah's peace be upon him), spread the light of Truth that discriminated right from wrong and virtue from vice, those who used their faculties properly began to distinguish between these things. But the hypocrites, who were blinded by self-interest, could not see the right path even with the help of this light. "Allah took away the light from their eyes" should not cause one the misunderstanding that the responsibility of not seeing the truth did not lie on them. Allah deprives of the sight only him who is not himself a seeker after truth, who chooses error for himself instead of guidance, who shuts his eyes to the truth. When they themselves turned away from the light of truth and chose to wander only in the darkness of falsehood, Allah also let them go astray.
"Deaf" to hear the Truth, "dumb" to speak the Truth and "blind" to see the Truth.
By thrusting their fingers into their ears, they delude themselves for a while that they have escaped destruction. But they cannot, in fact, save themselves because Allah, with all His powers, is encircling them on all sides.
The first parable depicts those hypocrites who in their inmost hearts did not believe in Islam at all, but had become 'Muslims' for the sake of self-interest or expediency. The second parable gives a description of those hypocrites who were suffering from doubt, suspicion and lack of faith. Though they were not wholly unbelievers, they practised Islam only to the extent which might not involve them in trouble. In this parable rainfall stands for Islam which came as a blessing to humanity; pitch darkness, thunder and lightning stand for the impending obstacles, the threatening dangers and the glaring difficulties which were being experienced on account of the strong resistance from the opponents of Islam. When the situation eased a little, they began to move onward on the path of Islam, but when the clouds of difficulties began to appear, or when they were given such commands as were against their self-interest or their superstitious beliefs and prejudices, they again stood still in sheer perplexity.
That is, Allah could, if He so willed, totally deprive these hypocrites also of the power to see the Truth just as He deprived the hypocrites described in the tirst parable. But Allah does not do so because it is His will to give them respite to see the Truth and hear the Truth to the extent they want to see and hear it. That is why He left them with only as much power as they made use of in seeing and hearing the Truth.
2.17 Qushairi - Al-Qushairi
Their likeness is as the likeness of one who kindled a fire and when it illumined [the area] all about him God took away their light and left them in darkness unable to see The similitude God سبحانه strikes here for hypocrites is that of someone who kindles a fire in the beginning of the night then the fire is extinguished and he is left in the darkness. Similarly something of the benefits of this world appear to the hypocrites outwardly but then they are afflicted in the hereafter by the pain of the punishment. Or [it may be that] something of their affirmation iqrār flashes but then they remain in the darkness of their denial inkār. The allusion in this verse is to one who has a beautiful beginning traveling the path of spiritual desire Ṭarīq al-irāda. He toils for a time and endures one difficulty after another. He then returns to this world before having reached the truth and reverts to the darknesses of human nature within him. His stem sprouted but did not bear fruit. His branch blossomed but did not ripen. He hastened the eclipse of listlessness over the moons of His presence. The hand of subjugation rejected him after the tongue of kindness beckoned him. His heart moved away from closeness and his lower self became full of rancor toward the seekers. He is as it is said: When passion settled in and we said we were happy we thought we were secure from growing apart. Division sent its messengers in secret and destroyed what we had brought together in our union. The allusion in this verse also pertains to one who grasps [only] the lowest level of comprehension but makes claims far above what he [knows]. When the ongoing increase he possesses in his states is cut off he remains in the darkness of his claims. There is also [an allusion to] the one who relies on the rubble and glitter of this world. When [his] states become like a well-trodden road helped along by hope and rising expectation death appears as an ambush of the divine ruse. He leaves everything yatruk al-kull but carries the burden forth yaḥmil al-kall.