“Tafsir of Surat al-Rad Verse 11 ‘Allah will not change a People’…”

Allah says in the holy Qur’an: {For him, there are mu`aqqibat in succession, before and behind him. They guard him by the command of Allah. Verily! Allah will not change the condition of a people unless there is a change of what is in themselves. But when Allah wills a people’s punishment, there can be no turning back of it and they will find besides Him no protector}.


Part One:

{For him, there are mu`aqqibat in succession, before and behind him. They guard him by the command of Allah}.

La-hu: for him; the pronoun (damir) –hu may refer back to [1] people, i.e. the referent in the previous verse (v.10) man asarra al-qawl (‘he who conceals or hides his words’), man jahara bi-hi (‘he who openly states it’), man huwa mustakhfin bi ’l-layl (‘he who is hidden by night’), etc. [2] it may refer to Allah’s name (vv.8-9) or description as Knower of the Unseen; [3] The Holy Prophet in the previous verse (v.7) innama anta mundhir (‘you are only a warner’).[1]

Mu`aqqibat: This can refer to: [1] protective angels (al-mala’ika) whether during the day or night or during the Fajr, `Asr and Maghrib prayers;[2] [2] the rulers (al-umara’) or their governors that govern in this world with justice halting oppression and wrongdoing against the people and [3] those who successively rule with the commands and judgments of Allah.[3] The form of the noun as mu`aqqib (i.e. sighat altaf`il [= 2nd form verbal pattern]) is in the exaggerated pattern (li’l-mubalagha) to denote assurance, certainty and effectiveness and the feminine plural form (jum` al-mu’annath) is interpreted to denote a masculine plethora, congregation, group and a number of entities.[4]

Yahfazuna-hu: protect, watch (muraqaba), guard; here the phrase is a description (sifa) of the mu`aqqibat; the interpretation revolves around what meaning of mu`aqqibat is taken.

[1] If it is taken to mean angels, then this protection of those angels applies to all states of a person. Cf. {indeed, they have guardians over them [Q. al-Infitar:10] } and {…and from the left and the right [Q. Qaf:17]}.

[2] If it is taken to mean the rulers then it refers to them protecting against harms.

[3] If the pronoun –hu is taken to refer to the Prophet, then the meaning of the verse “yahfazuna-hu min amr Allah” would be: ‘the Prophet has guardian angels from Allah that protect him from all sides from harmful non-physical entities like jinns as well any obstacles in his path whether at night or day’.[5]

min amr Allah: from the command of Allah; here the phrase is a description (sifa) of the mu`aqqibat; the preposition “min/من” can mean: [1] bi-/الباء ‘with/by the command of Allah’; [2] `an/عن, i.e. ‘from the command of Allah’ (cf. Q. Quraysh:4); [3] min ajli/من أجل i.e. ‘because of Allah’s commanded’ or [4] bi-idhn/ بإذن ‘by the permission of Allah’.[6] The word “amr” may refer to angels or jinn.[7]

 Part two:

 {Verily, Allah will not change the condition of a people unless there is a change of what is in themselves}.[8]

Imam al-Qurtubi (d. 671/1272) writes: “Allah’s statement: {Verily, Allah will not change the condition of a people unless there is a change of what is in themselves}: Here Allah Most High informs us in this verse that He will not change a qawm until change occurs in them whether from themselves or those in charge of them or those put over them for a reason […] However, the verse does not mean that punishment will be sent by Allah for someone who commits a sin, rather punishment and affliction maybe be sent down due to the sins of others based on what the Prophet replied to when asked [s: by his companions]: ‘are we going to be destroyed even when we have righteous people amongst us?’ where he said: ‘yes, when filth and corruption becomes prevalent’. And Allah knows best.”[9]

قوله تعالى: { إِنَّ اللَّهَ لاَ يُغَيِّرُ مَا بِقَوْمٍ حَتَّىٰ يُغَيِّرُواْ مَا بِأَنْفُسِهِمْ } أخبر الله تعالى في هذه الآية أنه لا يغيّر ما بقوم حتى يقع منهم تغيير، إما منهم أو من الناظر لهم، أو ممن هو منهم بسبب؛ كما غيّر الله بالمنهزمين يوم أُحُد بسبب تغيير الرّماة بأنفسهم، إلى غير هذا من أمثلة الشَّريعة؛ فليس معنى الآية أنه ليس ينزل بأحد عقوبة إلا بأن يتقدم منه ذنب، بل قد تنزل المصائب بذنوب الغير؛ كما قال صلى الله عليه وسلم ـ وقد سُئل أَنَهلِك وفينا الصّالحون؟ قال: «نعم إذا كَثُر الْخُبْثُ». والله أعلم

  • This is grammatically an informative verse (jumla ikhbariyya) that states how if a people change their viewpoints in life to single one and unify on that, then Allah will affect change in them – increase them in all things good.

 Inna: indeed, verily, no doubt; this is grammatically the emphatic particle (harf al-ta’kid) hence suggesting seriousness with regards to the entire clause or sentence.[10]

 La: will not, it is not the case that; la = grammatical negation (li ’l-nafy) but here not permanent negation; it is conditional negation in the context of the verse.

 yughayyiru: change, alter, substitute, replace or reverse; here in the grammatical singular form where Allah is the agent (fa`il). Hence, Allah will not effect any real change or reversal in a people whether in their relationships, blessings, bounties, forgiveness, good states and conditions, etc. Thus the suggestion is that:

 [a] Change is linked to direct Divine action, agency, plan and pattern of law (sunan).[11]

[b] Change must also be realisable in potentia (i.e. change that is actually possible) because Allah does not demand something or command something impossible.

[c] Change must also be proper, lasting and permanent and not mere change or replacement of something or merely temporarily leaving something.[12] This implies that the objects of change cannot be restricted to devotional attitudes (emotions), spiritual states or religious morals because (i) non-Muslims like atheists do not have this and (ii) they are non-permanent and fluctuate.

[d] Change must also be something that can occur in non-Muslims as well across time because the word “qawm” is unrestricted in its wording (see below) and hence this must be a universally applicable law or pattern for change.

[e] Change must be in what permanently binds human members as a qawm and from the study of the reality what builds a permanent and cohesive relationship between people is the viewpoint in life they carry, i.e. their beliefs and ideas about existence (what preceded this temporal life, what the purpose of the present life is and what succeeds it) and how they organise areas matters as social, economic and political relationships based on this viewpoint.

Ma: whatever, all that; can be read as either [1] a relative pronoun (mawsula), i.e. ‘that which’ or [2] generality (`umum), i.e. ‘all that of the people’, ‘everything in the people’ which would include their beliefs, thoughts, ideas, emotions, states, conditions, behaviour, actions, status, relationships, systems, etc – in other words, comprehensive and total change. Comprehensive and total change is only possible if one’s viewpoint, worldview is changed.

Qawm: [i] people (umma),[13] [ii] party (shi`a),[14] [iii] kinsfolk/tribe (`ashira),[15] [iv] a group of people (includes both male and female)[16] or [v] ethnic denomination and [vi] group.[17] The word (lafz) is unrestricted (mutlaq) and thus may refer to any “qawm” – Muslim or non-Muslim.[18] The word “qawm” also negates or precludes individuality. Thus, the verse is addressing a people collectively as a set not as individuals. The verse cannot be read as: ‘…and Allah will only change a qawm if and only if every member of that qawm changes h/herself first’

From the mere meaning of the term “qawm”, there is implicit the reality that the members are loosely bonded upon something, whether belief,[19] ethnicity,[20] common ancestry, territory or language otherwise they cannot be described as a qawm.

Hatta: unless, only if, until, as far as;[21] the preposition acts as the apodosis of a conditional clause. If the qawmchanges itself, then Allah will affect change in them. The opposite meaning of that will be unless the qawmchanges, Allah will not change them in anyway. Thus, the contrary reality will attain.[22]

Yughayyiru: change, alter, substitute, replace or reverse; here in the grammatical plural form meaning ‘until they change’ meaning until all members of that qawm change. The verb is also in the 2nd form fa“ala/فعل which generally denotes intensity of action or temporally extensive (i.e. something done for a long time).[23] The verb is also in the active form and not the passive form (sighat al-majhul) which suggests that change must be actively realised and not passively received thus undermining any form of apathy, procrastination or waiting for eschatological events like the descent of Prophet `Isa (as) and the appearance of Imam Mahdi (as). The masculine third person plural also includes women according to majority of the linguists.

Anfusi-him: themselves, their own selves; this is grammatically reflexive;[24] the plural form is suggesting a collective duty of change, not just each individual person but a community and people as a whole must engage in change; thus the idea that a few individuals to the exclusion of other people or each person in their individual capacity preoccupy themselves with comprehensive change would be incorrect; change therefore is linked to collective change in a people, i.e. what permanently bonds, binds and connects people into a homogeneous group. The plural “anfus” cannot, given the context of the verse, refer to inner mystical transformations and augmentations because the rule of change is universal in its applicability extending to non-Muslims and non-believers.

Part three:

 {But when Allah wills a people’s punishment, there can be no turning back of it and they will find besides Him no protector}.

Arada: desire, want, wish.

Su’an: evil, bad, punishment, trials, afflictions, difficulties; this is of any and all types (e.g. poverty, famine, natural disasters, tests, affliction, etc.).

Maradda: returning, turning back, turning away or deflecting. Thus, the mu`aqqibat cannot help anyone nor can they benefit anyone if Allah so wishes something to occur.

Walin: helper, benefactor; there will be no-one who can help against the punishment and affliction decided by Allah.


  • The important and wider point in understanding the verse and unpacking its meanings is that this verse is often used by many to argue for a pacifist position of non-activism as well as a disengagement from any work for change in the Muslim umma; instead arguing that spiritual reform and a preoccupation with a sustained augmentation of one’s internal states (ahwal) – to the exclusion of anything else – is the nature of change (al-taghyir) intended in the verse. What this leads to is:

[i] a failure to address the corruption of others which will bring the destruction of the whole people as mentioned in the hadith above by Imam al-Qurtubi;

[ii] a neglect to re-orient to the correct locus of change which is that which binds a people permanently together – namely their comprehensive viewpoint about existence, or their ideology. Thus, in our context as an umma, change in us means a change in our viewpoint in life to the Islamic one making it our reference for all ideas, thoughts, concepts as well as laws and systems. Thus, the change in the verse sought is that outcome from when we unify on a single viewpoint in life and proceed forward on that basis.

  • Therefore, the demand for change and the threat and warning by Allah in the noble verse is for the Muslim umma to unify around a common basis – the Islamic creed/total viewpoint in life/ideology making it the reference point for its orientation in life and the solutions for all its affairs and the essential entity that will allow it to administer and implement its solutions in life practically is the Caliphate.

And Allah knows best.

Abundant blessings and peace upon our Master Muhammad,

His Family, Companions, and all those who follow them

Until the Last Day – Amin.

s. z. chowdhury

[1] al-Tabarsi, Majma` al-Bayan, s.v. Q. 13:11. Some also state that the initial part of the verse “{For him, there are mu`aqqibat in succession, before and behind him}, is specific to the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace); cf. al-Suyuti, al-Durr al-Manthur, 4:611:

وأخرج ابن المنذر وابن أبي حاتم والطبراني وأبو الشيخ وابن مردوية, عن ابن عباس – رضي الله عنهما – في قوله { له معقبات من بين يديه ومن خلفه يحفظونه } قال: هذه للنبي صلى الله عليه وسلم خاصة

[2] al-Tabari, al-Jami` li-Bayan fi Tafsir al-Qur’an, 16:368-382. This is the preferred opinion of the great majority of the Mufassirun (‘exegetes’) which is corroborated by narrations from the Prophet, for example as cited by al-Suyuti in al-Durr al-Manthur, 4:614 “[…] the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said: ‘They congregate around you at the dawn Prayer and `Asr Prayer from all sides’…”:

وأخرج ابن المنذر من وجه آخر، عن مجاهد – رضي الله عنه – في قوله { له معقبات } قال: الملائكة تعقب الليل والنهار، تكتب على ابن آدم. وبلغني أن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم قال: “يجتمعون فيكم عند صلاة الصبح وصلاة العصر من بين يديه”

[3] al-Tabarsi, Majma` al-Bayan.

[4] Ibn al-Jawzi, Zad al-Masir, 4:310-313.

[5] al-Baghawi, Ma`alim al-Tanzil, 4:299-300.

[6] al-Shawkani, Fath al-Qadir, 3:69 and al-Tabari, al-Jami` li-Bayan, 3:379.

[7] al-Tabari, al-Jami` li-Bayan, 3:377-381.

[8] Cf. Q. al-Anfal:53: {…that is because Allah will not change the bounty he has bestowed on a people until they change all that is in themselves}. See al-Shinqiti, Adwa’ al-Bayan, 2:236-237.

[9] See al-Qurtubi, al-Jami` li-Ahkam al-Qur’an, 9:294.

[10] Classical Arab Grammarians discussed the particle “inna” at length and recognise it as emphasising the entire sentence it prefaces. See Sibawayh, Kitab, 2:319 and A. L. Broch, Studies in Arabic Syntax and Semantics, pp.102-135.

[11] Refer to al-Sabuni, Safwat al-Tafasir, 6:66-69.

[12] al-Alusi, Ruh al-Ma`ani, 13:116.

[13] E. W. Lane, Arabic-English Lexicon, suppl. 2:2996.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] See s.v.”Qawm”, q / wm in El-Badawi and Abdel Haleem (eds.), Arabic-English Dictionary of Qur’anic Usage, p.787; art. “Kawm” by A. J. Wensinck, EI2, 4:780 and G. C. Decasa, The Qur’anic Concept of Umma and its Function in Philippine Society, pp.159-162.

[18] Cf. Q. 23:44 referring to unbelievers in general.

[19] Cf. Q. 9:14 {He will heal the breasts of a believing qawm}.

[20] Cf. Q. 7:164.

[21] See Ibn Hisham, Mughni al-Labib, 1:123-128 and C. P. Caspari, A Grammar of the Arabic Language (ed. W. Wright), 2:94-93.

[22] For more on the concept of mafhum al-mukhalafa (the opposite meaning of a text) see Sh. `Ata’ Ibn Khalil, Taysir al-Wusul il al-Usul, pp.168-172.

[23] Caspari, A Grammar of the Arabic Language, 1:29-30.

[24] This is an expression in Arabic often using the word “nafs” (‘self’, ‘same’) + a pronoun suffix that refers back to the subject of the verb. Here in the verse the subject of the verb is “qawm”.


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