Abbas - Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs
(And among mankind is he who worshippeth Allah upon a narrow marge) and among people there is he who worships Allah on an experimental basis, in doubt and because of expectation of some benefit. This was revealed about the Banu'l-Hallaf, the hypocrites of the Banu Asad and Ghatafan, (so that if good) a bounty (befalleth him he is content therewith) he is pleased with the religion of Muhammad (pbuh) but just with his tongue, (but if a trial) hardship (befalleth him, he falleth away utterly) he reverts to his first religion: associating partners with Allah. (He loseth both the world) by missing the life of this world (and the Hereafter) by losing Paradise. (That is the sheer loss) the loss of both this worldly life and the Hereafter.
And among mankind there are those who worship God on a knife-edge: that is, with uncertainty in his worship — such [a person] has been likened the [knife-] edge of a mountain in his precariousness — if good [fortune] befalls him, [so that he enjoys] health and security with respect to his own self and his property, he is reassured by it; but if an ordeal befalls him, a trial or ill-health with regard to himself or his property, he makes a turnabout, that is, he reverts to disbelief, losing both this world, when what he had hoped for in it has eluded him, and the Hereafter, by [his] disbelief. That is the manifest loss.
The meaning of worshipping Allah as it were upon the edge
Mujahid, Qatadah and others said:
(upon the edge) means, in doubt. Others said that it meant on the edge, such as on the edge or side of a mountain, i.e., (this person) enters Islam on the edge, and if he finds what he likes he will continue, otherwise he will leave. Al-Bukhari recorded that Ibn `Abbas said:
وَمِنَ النَّاسِ مَن يَعْبُدُ اللَّهَ عَلَى حَرْفٍ
(And among mankind is he who worships Allah as it were upon the edge.) "People would come to Al-Madinah to declare their Islam and if their wives gave birth to sons and their mares gave birth to foals, they would say, `This is a good religion,' but if their wives and their mares did not give birth, they would say, `This is a bad religion.''' Al-`Awfi reported that Ibn `Abbas said, "One of them would come to Al-Madinah, which was a land that was infected with a contagious disease. If he remained healthy there, and his mare foaled and his wife gave birth to a boy, he would be content, and would say, `I have not experienced anything but good since I started to follow this religion.''
وَإِنْ أَصَابَتْهُ فِتْنَةٌ
(but if a Fitnah strikes him), Fitnah here means affliction, i.e., if the disease of Al-Madinah befalls him, and his wife gives birth to a babe girl and charity is delayed in coming to him, the Shaytan comes to him and says: `By Allah, since you started to follow this religion of yours, you have experienced nothing but bad things,' and this is the Fitnah.'' This was also mentioned by Qatadah, Ad-Dahhak, Ibn Jurayj and others among the Salaf when explaining this Ayah. Mujahid said, concerning the Ayah:
انْقَلَبَ عَلَى وَجْهِهِ
(he turns back on his face.) "(This means), he becomes an apostate and a disbeliever.''
خَسِرَ الدُّنْيَا وَالاٌّخِرَةَ
(He loses both this world and the Hereafter.) means, he does not gain anything in this world. As for the Hereafter, he has disbelieved in Allah the Almighty, so he will be utterly doomed and humiliated. So Allah says:
ذلِكَ هُوَ الْخُسْرَنُ الْمُبِينُ
(That is the evident loss.), i.e., the greatest loss and the losing deal.
(He calls besides Allah unto that which can neither harm him nor profit him.) means, the idols, rivals, and false gods which he calls upon for help, support and provision -- they can neither benefit him nor harm him.
ذلِكَ هُوَ الضَّلاَلُ الْبَعِيدُ
(That is a straying far away.)
يَدْعُو لَمَنْ ضَرُّهُ أَقْرَبُ مِن نَّفْعِهِ
(He calls unto him whose harm is nearer than his profit;) means, he is more likely to harm him than benefit him in this world, and in the Hereafter he will most certainly cause him harm.
لَبِئْسَ الْمَوْلَى وَلَبِئْسَ الْعَشِيرُ
(certainly an evil Mawla and certainly an evil `Ashir!) Mujahid said, "This means the idols.'' The meaning is: "How evil a friend is this one upon whom he calls instead of Allah as a helper and supporter.''
(and certainly an evil `Ashir!) means the one with whom one mixes and spends one's time.
Maududi - Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi - Tafhim al-Qur'an
This type of man is a time server, who stands on the boundary line between Islam and kufr so that he may join the winning side whether it be Islam or kufr.
As this type of man has a weak character and wavers between kufr and Islam he becomes the slave of his "self". He accepts Islam for the sake of self interest: he is faithful to it if all his wishes are fulfilled and he has a life of ease and comfort; he is well-pleased with his Allah and is "firm" in his faith. On the contrary, if his "faith" demands some sacrifice from him, or he is visited by some affliction, or encounters some hardship and loss in the way of Allah, or he does not have his way, he begins to waver about the Godhead of Allah and the Prophethood of the Messenger and becomes skeptical about everything of the "Faith". Then he is ready to bow down before any power from which he expects some benefit and security from loss.
This is a great moral proposition that has been stated concisely. The fact is that the wavering man remains a loser in this world as well as in the Next World, and fares worse even than an unbeliever. The unbeliever applies himself exclusively to the benefits of this world and becomes more or less successful in his object because he is not handicapped by the fear of Allah, accountability of the Hereafter and restrictions of Divine Law. Likewise a true believer follows the way of Allah with fortitude and perseverance and may as well become successful in this world, but even if he loses it altogether, he is assured of success in the Next Y World. But the "wavering Muslim" becomes a loser both in this world and in the Next World because he is handicapped by doubt and indecision and cannot make his choice between the two worlds. As he cannot decide whether there is Allah and the Hereafter, he cannot apply himself exclusively to the worldly affairs with that single-mindedness which the unbeliever enjoys. And when he thinks of Allah and the Hereafter, the allurements of this world and the fear of the disadvantages here and the abhorrence of observing the Divine restrictions do not let him apply himself exclusively to the demands of the Hereafter. This conflict between "God worship" and "World worship" makes him a loser in this world as well as in the next.
Vv. 12-13 clarify two things about the deities whom the mushriks invoke. Firstly, they can do a person neither any good nor any harm; nay, it is more probable that they do harm rather than good. For when the mushrik invokes other deities than Allah, he loses his faith forthwith. Secondly, the mushrik himself knows that there is no guarantee or probability of any good from his `god' who is utterly helpless and powerless. As regards the occasional grant of his request through his god, this is done by Allah merely to test his faith.
That is, the one, who leads a person to the way of shirk is the worst guardian and the worst comrade, whether he be a human being or a satan.
"Those who believed and did righteous deeds" are quite different from the wavering Muslims, for they have a firm belief in Allah, His Prophet and the Hereafter. Therefore they follow the way of Truth both in prosperity and in adversity.
That is, "Allah's powers are unlimited: He may bestow anything on anyone He wills in this world or in the Hereafter or in both, and bar anything from anyone. None has the power to interfere with what He wills and does.”
There is a great divergence of opinion about the exact meaning of this verse. Some of the interpretations are:
(1) One who presumes that Allah will not help him (Muhammad: Allah's peace be upon him), he should hang himself by a rope from the ceiling.
(2) One who presumes that Allah will not help him (Muhammad: Allah's peace be upon him), he should ascend the sky by a rope and try to stop Allah's help.
(3) One who presumes that Allah will not help him (Muhammad: Allah's peace be upon him), he should ascend the sky and stop the process of Revelations.
(4) One who presumes that Allah will not help him (Muhammad: Allah's peace be upon him), he should ascend the sky and stop his provisions.
(5) The one who presumes that Allah will not help him (the presumer himself), he should hang himself by a rope from the ceiling of his house.
(6) The one who presumes that Allah will not help him (the presumer himself), he should try to ascend the sky to seek help.
The first four interpretations are obviously irrelevant to the context, and the last two, though they might fit in with the context, do not explain the real meaning of the verse. If we consider this in the context, it becomes obvious that the one who presumes is "the one who serves Allah standing on the border". This is to rebuke him, as if to say, "You may do whatever you can to change the decrees of Allah, but you will see that no device of yours can succeed, whether these decrees are favorable to your designs or unfavorable to them. " Obviously, "he should ascend the sky...... cut a hole into it" has not been used in the literal but in the figurative sense.
And among mankind there is the one who worships God, as it were, on a knife edge…The believer has one face, without a reverse side; he makes repeated [advances] and never retreats. You will see him striving for the cause of God’s religion and His obedience, upholding God’s oneness and the emulation of His Prophet, constantly making humble entreaty (taḍarruʿ) of God and seeking refuge in Him in the hope of connecting to Him through following [exemplaryguidance]. Zayd b. Aslam related from the Prophet that he said: ‘Every person of my nation (umma) will enter Paradise, save the one who refuses.’ We said, ‘O Messenger of God who will refuse that?’ He said, ‘Whoever obeys me will enter Paradise, and whoever disobeys me has refused to enter Paradise.’ His words, Exalted is He:
…if good [fortune] befalls him, he is reassured by it…That is, whoever follows [his] desire, if his heart is satisfied and his lower self is happy in its worldly share, he will feel reassured by it. Otherwise he will return to the disbelief that his desire calls him to. His words:
(And among mankind is he who worshippeth Allah upon a narrow marge…) [22:11]. The commentators of the Qur'an said: “This verse was revealed about some Bedouins who used to travel from the desert to Medina to see the Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace. If one of them had, during such visits, good health, or his mare gave birth to seemly foals or his wife gave him a boy, such that his wealth and cattle multiplied - he would be pleased and well contended. He would say: 'Since I embraced this religion, I have not seen anything but good'. If, on the other hand, he fell ill, during such visits, or his wife gave birth to a girl, or his foals were stillborn, such that he lost his wealth, or such that the payment of alms to him was delayed - the devil would come to him and whisper: 'Since you embraced this religion, you have not gained anything but evil', and thus he would renounce his religion. Allah, exalted is, therefore, revealed (And among mankind is he who worshippeth Allah upon a narrow marge)”. 'Atiyyah reported that Abu Sa'id al-Khudri said: “A Jewish man who had embraced Islam lost his sight, wealth and children. He thought that Islam was ill-omened and so he went to the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, and said: 'Discharge me!' The Prophet said: 'you do not get discharged from Islam'. The man said: 'I did not gain any good from this religion of mine!' The Prophet said: 'O Jew, Islam smelts men as fire smelts the dross of iron, silver and gold'. Then the verse (And among mankind is he who worshippeth Allah upon a narrow marge) was revealed”.