Verse 2

O those who believe, do not violate (the sanctity) of the Marks of Allah, nor of the sacred month, nor of the sacrificial animal, nor of the garlands, nor of those proceeding to the Sacred House, seeking the grace of their Lord, and Pleasure. When you are out of Ihram, you may hunt. And malice against a people for their having prevented you from al-Masjid al-Haram, should not cause you to cross the limits. Help each other in righteousness and piety, and do not help each other in sin and aggression. And fear Allah. Surely, Allah is severe at punishment. [2]

Linkage of Verses

The first verse of Surah al-Ma'idah emphasized the fulfillment of contracts. Included among these contracts is the contract or pledge to abide by the restrictions of the lawful and the unlawful as ordained by Allah Almighty. The second verse cited here describes two important articles of this contract. The first relates to the sanctity of the signs, symbols or hallmarks of Allah with the specific instruction to stay away from desecrating them. The second article recommends an even-handed dispension of justice to everyone, your own or not your own, friend or foe, which has been combined with a corresponding prohibition of any counter injustice inflicted in return for some injustice done.


There are some events which form the background of the revelation of these verses. Let us go to them first so that the subject of the verse becomes fully clear to us. One of these is the event of Hudaybiyah the details of which have been taken up by the Holy Qur'an elsewhere. This relates to the sixth year of Hijrah when the Holy Prophet and his noble Companions decided to perform 'Umrah.

The Holy Prophet entered into the Ihram of 'Umrah with more than one thousand of his Companions and left for Makkah al-Mu'azzamah. After having reached Hudaybiyah close to Makkah al-Mu'azzamah, he sent a message to the Makkans that he was coming in with his group to perform 'Umrah and not for any aggressive designs. He requested that they be allowed to perform 'Umrah. The disbelievers of Makkah, not only that they refused it, they put forward many hard conditions and challenged them to agree to a treaty which stipulated that all Muslims will undo their Ihram they were in at that time and go back. When they come next year to perform their 'Umrah, they would be required to come without any arms, stay for three days only, perform 'Umrah and leave. Besides these conditions, there were many others agreeing to which was obviously very much against the self-respect of Muslims. But, obeying the orders of the Holy Prophet , everyone returned in peace. After that, it was in the month of Dhu-al-Qa'dah of the Hijrah year 7 that this missed 'Umrah was performed again with full observance of the conditions imposed under the Treaty.

However, the events at Hudaybiyah and the insulting conditions imposed there had planted seeds of discord in the hearts of the Companions against the disbelievers of Makkah. Then there came up the other incident when Hatim ibn Hind, one of the disbelievers of Makkah, came to Madinah al-Tayyibah with his trading goods. After having sold his goods, he left his baggage and his attendant outside Madinah and came to visit the Holy Prophet and expressed his desire to enter the fold of Islam, in all hypocricy, so that Muslims are satisfied. But, the Holy Prophet had, well before he came to him, told his Companions on the strength of revelation that a man was coming to them who would talk in the words of the Satan. And when he went away, he said that the man came with disbelief and returned with deception and treason. Leaving the company of the Holy Prophet , this man went straight out of Madinah where the livestock of the people of Madinah were grazing. He drove them away with him. The noble Companions came to know about this somewhat late. When they went out after him, he was gone out of their reach. Then it was in the seventh year of Hijrah, when they were going with the Holy Prophet to perform the Qada' of 'Umrah they had missed at Hudaybiyah, they heard someone reciting Talbiyyah at some distance. When they looked, they discovered that the same Hatim ibn Hind who had decamped with the animals belonging to the people of Madinah was right there going for 'Umrah with the same animals going with him as sacrificial animals. At that time, the noble Companions thought of attacking him and taking their animals back by killing him off right there.

The third event came to pass in the eighth year of Hijrah when Makkah al-Mukarramah was conquered in Ramadan al-Mubarak and the entire Arabian peninsula came under Islamic rule. The disbelievers of Makkah were set free by the Holy Prophet '    without any revenge. They went about doing everything they used to do with complete freedom to the extent that they even kept observing their pagan customs of Hajj and 'Umrah too. At that time some noble Companions thought of taking their revenge for what had happened at Hudaybiyah. These people had stopped them from doing 'Umrah to which they were entitled on all counts, as permissible and justified. Why, they thought, should they now allow their Hajj and 'Umrah on any count which were all impermissible and unjustified? Why not attack them, take their animals and finish them off?

These events have been narrated by Ibn Jarir on the authority of 'Ikrimah and al-Suddi. It was on the basis of some of these events that the present verse was revealed. Through it, Muslims were told that holding the signs of Allah in esteem was their own bounden duty. Malice and hostility against an enemy was no reason to disturb this standing rule. This was absolutely impermissible. Even fighting during the sacred months was not permissible. Also not permissible was stopping sacrificial animals from reaching the Haram or taking them away forcibly. As for the disbelievers who have donned the Ihram garments and who, in their estimation, have embarked on their pilgrimage to seek the good pleasure of Allah Almighty (though, because of their disbelief, this is a mistaken notion, yet) the sanctity of the signs of Allah demands that they should not be confronted in any way. Then there was the case of people who had stopped Muslims from performing their 'Umrah. Any effort to avenge their past hostility against Muslims in the form of Muslims stopping them from entering into Makkah or from performing their rites of Hajj was not permissible. This is so because this amounts to Muslims doing an injustice in return for an injustice to them which was not permissible in Islam. We can now go to a detailed explanation of the verse.


The first sentence of the Verse says: (O those who believe, do not violate [the sanctity of] the Marks of Allah). Here the word, Sha'a'ir has been translated as 'Marks.' This is the plural form of Sha'irah which means mark, sign or symbol. Therefore, Sha'a'ir and Sha'irah signify things perceptible through the senses which symbolize something. As such the Marks (Sha'a'ir) of Islam would be deeds and actions recognized as symbolic of one's being Muslim in faith. These are quite common such as Salah, Adhan, Hajj, Circumcission and Beard in accordance with the Sunnah. The Tafsir or explanation of the Qur'anic expression (Sha'a'irullah: The Marks of Allah) as it appears in this verse has been reported in varying words. But, the clearest of them is what has been reported from Hasan al-Basri and 'Ata' on whom both be the mercy of Allah. Imam al-Jassas finds their statement as a compedium of all explanations. According to this statement, Sha'a'irullah means all obligations the limits of which have been set forth by the Shari'ah of Islam. In this verse, the essence of the meaning is that one should not violate the sanctity of the marks of Allah. One form of such violation could be a total dismissal of what one has been obligated with. Under the second form, one may act in accordance with these obligations by electing to obey some injunctions and leave out others ending up with a compliance which remains incomplete. A third form could be that one starts transgressing the appointed limits and keeps going farther beyond. The Qur'anic statement: (do not violate [the sanctity of] the Marks of Allah) forbids all these three forms.

The Holy Qur'an gives the same instruction elsewhere in a different mode as follows:

And whoever exalts the Marks of Allah, then this is from the fear of Allah in hearts. (22:32)

The part of the sentence which follows in the verse under study gives details of a particular kind of the Marks of Allah, that is, the Marks that concern the rites of Hajj.

The text says:

It means: Do not violate its sanctity by fighting and killing during the months in which it is prohibited. This refers to the four months during which mutual fighting was legally prohibited. They are Dhul-Qa'dah, Dhul-Hijjah, Muharram and Rajab. Later on, this injunction was abrogated as agreed under the overwhelming consensus of 'Ulama'. In addition to this, command was given that there should be no violation of the sanctity of sacrificial animals within the Haram of Makkah, specially of the band round their necks placed there as a symbol of sacrifice. One form of violating the sanctity of these animals could be that they are stopped from reaching the Haram or are snatched away. The second form could be that of using the animals for a purpose other than sacrifice, such as using them to ride or milk. The verse has declared all these form as impermissible.

The text then prohibits the violation of the sanctity of those who have left their homes to embark on a journey to al-Masjid al-Haram with the intention of performing Hajj - for their purpose on this journey is to seek the blessing and pleasure of their Lord. Not violating the sanctity of such people means that they should neither be stopped during their journey nor should any pain be caused to them.

After that it was said: It means: And when you get released from the Ihram, you may hunt. In other words, the limit of the prohibition of hunting during the state of Ihram appearing in the first verse has been declared by saying that your release from the Ihram neuteralizes the in-Ihram prohibition of hunting which has now become permissible.

Being deliniated in the verse under reference is a particular part of the contract which is operative between every human being and the Lord of all the worlds. Some of it has already been identified upto this point. The first out of these is the instruction to uphold the invoilable dignity of the Marks of Allah as sacrosanct and to guard against any chances of their being desecrated. Then come some details concerning the Marks of Allah which belong to Hajj. Here, the instruction given is that nothing should be done to stop them and that effort should be made to stay away from any action which desecrates them.

The statement which follows after that takes up the second part of the contract in the following words:          


It means: There were those people who had stopped you from entering Makkah and performing your 'Umrah and after that event at Hudaybiyah, you were returning all sad and angered. Now that you have power in your hands, let things not turn in a way that you start taking revenge for what happened in the past by stopping them from entering the House of Allah and the Sacred Mosque and performing their Hajj - because this is injustice and Islam does not favour avenging injustice by inflicting counter injustice. Instead of that, it teaches the doing of justice in return for injustice done and upholding it under all odds. It is true that those people, under the sway of their power and position at that time, had stopped Muslims from entering the Sacred Mosque and performing 'Umrah, quite unjustly indeed. But, the retaliation for this injustice can hardly be that Muslims now go about using their power to stop them from carrying out their Hajj rites.

The Qur'an teaches that friend and foe should be treated equally on the scale of justice. It commands Muslims to do nothing but justice as a matter of obligation, no matter how deadly the enemy and no matter how serious the pain inflicted. That Islam guards the rights of enemies is certainly one of the peculiar qualities of Islam which does not answer one injustice by another, rather elects to do justice in return.

The Qur'anic Principle of Mutual Cooperation and Assistance

And help each other in righteousness and piety, and do not help each other in sin and aggression. And fear Allah. Surely, Allah is severe at punishment.

This is the last sentence of the second verse of Surah al-Ma'idah. Here, the Holy Qur'an has given such a wise verdict on an elemental question of human life that it can be confidently taken as the moving spirit behind any reliable world order on which depends the prosperity and survival of all human beings. As such, acting in accordance with the Qur'anic principle of Mutual Cooperation and Assistance is the only way to the betterment of the human beings. Every sensible person already realizes that things get done in our world through the cooperative efforts of all human beings. This is how the system keeps running. A solitary person, no matter how smart, powerful or rich, cannot procure what he needs to sustain his life single-handedly. One lone person cannot go through all the stages of growing and processing his ready-to-eat food, nor can he cope up with the countless steps required in growing cotton, manufacturing cloth and having a dress prepared to fit his measurements, nor can he move his things from one place to the other. Thus, it is not difficult to see that every human being needs hundreds and thousands of others to run his life. This mutual cooperation of theirs is what keeps the whole system going. Incidentally, this cooperation is not limited to the life of the world of our experience, it is also needed in the stages from death to burial - even beyond, when one remains depending upon those he left behind and who may pray for his forgiveness and do things the reward of which keeps reaching him after his death.

Great is the majesty of Allah who, in His perfect wisdom and power, set up such a formidable system of this world, a system where every human being needs the other. The poor man needs the rich while the richest of the rich need the poor worker to handle jobs with labour and skill. The traders need consumers and consumers need traders. The home owner needs a team of technicians having expertise in many areas in order to build a house and they, in turn, need him. If this universal element of need was not there and mutual assistance remained dependant on moral superiority of persons and parties, just imagine who would have been working for whom. The whole thing would have fallen flat for we have been seeing what has happened to common moral virtues and ethical values in this world of ours. Even if this division of labour could have been enforced as some law made by some government or international organization, the fate it would have met would have been no different than the fate of all sorts of laws proliferating the many national and international forums of the world where the law rests at peace in acts while the bazars and offices are run by shadow laws of bribery, nepotism, neglect of duty and apathy of application. We have to salute the framework of doing things given to us by the wisest of the wise, the power of the powers, who placed in the hearts of people of different inclinations to have the ability and desire to run their lives with a particular line of work as its pivot. Had it been otherwise and some international organization or a government chose to assign fields of work among people making someone a carpenter, others iron-mongers or janitors or managers of water and food supplies, who would have become so obedient to such commands from governments and institutions as to sacrifice all personal considerations and jump right into the line of work chosen for them?

So, it is Allah Almighty who has put into man's heart the inclination towards and liking for whatever work or role for which He has created him. Now he takes the service he is doing as his lifework without any legal compulsion and it is through this that he earns his living. The end product of this firmly established system is that all human needs are easily satisfied at the cost of small cash. It may be ready-to-eat food or ready-to-wear clothes or ready-to-use furniture or a turn-key home - one can buy all this at some affordable price. Without the benefit of this system, even a billionare would have failed to acquire a single grain of wheat despite being ready to stake all his wealth. In order to visualize the outcome of this natural system, think of one of your stays in a hotel where you enjoy the benefit of so many things without blinking. Only if you were to analyse how this works, you will notice that the food you eat there is comprised of courses featuring eatables and seasonings from many countries, china and cutlery and furniture from many more, and managers, chefs and stewards from still others. The tiny morsel of food which reaches your mouth is the result of the combined contribution of millions of machines, animals and human beings - and it is only after that, that you have been able to pamper your palate. Take another example. You come out of the house to go to some place a few miles away. You may either cannot walk all that distance or you do not have the time to do so. You find a taxi cab or a bus nearby without realizing that these vehicles have been assembled with components from many parts of the world and with drivers and conductors from as many. What things and what people stand there to wait on you and serve you! Just pay the fare and be on your way! No government has forced them to provide these for you. Working behind this scheme of things is the natural law ingrained into the human heart as a creational imperative by none but the great master of all hearts Himself.

Not far is the example of what the socialist countries did when they did away with this natural arrangement by taking over the function of telling people what they will do in their lives. In order to do this, they had to, first of all, do away with human freedom through coercion and injustice resulting in the killing and imprisonment of thousands and thousands of people. Those who remained behind were coerced into working like the parts of a machine, as a result of which, it can be conceded that production did increase at some places, but it must also be granted at the same time that this increase came at the cost of a gross demolition of the free choice of human beings. Thus, the deal did not turn out to be economical. Look at the natural arrangement in contrast. Here, everyone is free and restricted at the same time - restricted in the sense of being devoted to particular jobs and roles on the basis of natural dispension of dispositions. Since this restriction or compulsion comes from nowhere but from natural disposition, nobody feels being coerced. People who would themselves come forward to do the toughest labour or the most menial job, people who would even make efforts to get such jobs, are found everywhere during all times. The same people would, if a government started forcing them to do these jobs, just start running away from it enmasse.

In a nutshell, the universal world order revolves round mutual cooperation. But, let us not forget the other side of the picture which is very much there. For example, if this mutual cooperation were to be seriously practiced to carry out activities of crime, theft, robbery, killing and vandalization resulting in big, powerful and organized associations of thieves and robbers, then, this very mutual cooperation can destroy the whole system. This tells us that mutual cooperation is a two-edged sword which cannot only hurt you but it can also knock out the universal order of things. Since the world we live in a mix of good and bad, it was not unlikely that people would start using the power of mutual cooperation to infest human society with crimes, killings, destruction and general loss. Incidentally, this is no more a matter of likelihood, instead, it is an open fact of life for the whole world to see. Thus, it was as a reaction to this situation that theorists of the world laid the foundation of groups and nations based on different ideologies in order to have security for themselves. The idea was to use the power of mutual cooperation in favour of a particular group or people by offering an allied defence against another group or people who attacked them.

The Formation of Separate Nations

According to 'Abd al-Karim al-Shahristani in Al-Milal-wa-al-Nihal, in the beginning when human population was not much, four nations came into being in terms of East, West, North and South. People living in each of these directions started taking themselves as one nation while taking others as other nations. And it was on this basis that they established their mutual cooperation. Later, when the population of the world became larger, the idea of nationalism and multilaterism on the basis of geneology, family ties and tribal affiliations became a working principle among peoples of all directions. The whole system of Arabia rested on the basis of such tribal and geneological affinities, so much so that these were sufficient grounds to go to wars against each other. Banu Hashim was one nation, Banu Tamim was another and Banu Khuza'ah still another. Among the Hindus in India, this division on the basis of the high caste and the low caste still persists unchanged.

The modern period of European nations did nothing to retain their geneological distinction, nor did they give any credence to the geneological peculiarities of the rest of the world. When they gained ascendency in the world, all geneological and tribal groupings were eliminated, separate nations were raised on the basis of regions, provinces, homelands and languages - almost by placing a piece of humanity on each such altar. The fact is that this is the form that prevails in most parts of the world. The limit is that Muslims too - of all the peoples the least likely - fell a victim to this modern voodoo of community organization. As if the division as Arabs, Turks, Iraqis and Sindhis were not enough, they went on dividing and sub-dividing themselves into Egyptians, Syrians, Hijazis, Najdis, Panjabis, Bangalis, and so many others who started identifying themselves as separate nations or nationalities or peoples. Since all affairs of their governments were run on this basis, regional or provincial prejudice went deep into their response patterns and peoples of all regions or provinces began relating to each other on this basis - that became their idea of mutual cooperation.

The Teaching of the Qur'an about Nationalism and Universalism

Then came the Holy Qur'an reminding human beings of the lesson they had forgotten. The initial verses of Surah al-Nisa' clearly declared that all human beings are the children of one father and mother. The noble Prophet, Sayyidna Muhammad made this all the more clear when he publicly announced during the famous address of his last Hajj that no Arab is superior to a non-Arab nor a white to a black. Superiority depends on nothing but Taqwa, on the fear of Allah and obedience to Him. It was this teaching of the Qur'an which gave the call of (Believers are brothers - 49:10) and it was in one stroke that the jet blacks of Ethiopea were related to the reds of Turkey and Byzantium and the lineally less endowed non-Arabs to the Qurayshi and Hashmi Arabs as brothers to each other. The concept of nation and brotherhood was established on the basis that those who believe in Allah and His Rasul are one nation and those who do not so believe are the other. It was this foundation which cut asunder the family ties of Abu Jahl and Abu Lahab from the noble Prophet while joining it with Sayyidna Bilal from Ethiopea and Sayyidna Suhayb from Byzantium. Finally, came the proclamation of the Qur'an: (64:2). It means that Allah created all human beings, then, they split in two groups - some became disbelievers and some others became believers. A practical demonstration of this Qur'anic classification was visible during the battles of Badr, Uhud, Ahzab and Hunayn when a blood brother who elected to stay away from the obedience of Allah and His Rasul found that his bond of mutual cooperation with his believing brother stood severed and he could no longer escape the stroke of his believing brother's sword.

Stated in the verse of the Qur'an cited above:

  is this very principle of mutual cooperation and assistance. Being so reasonable and correct, it exhorts people to cooperate in deeds which are righteous and matters which are motivated by the fear of Allah and forbids them from extending their cooperation to anything sinful and aggressive. Just consider that the noble Qur'an has not suggested here that one should cooperate with Muslim brothers and not with non-Muslims. Instead of that, it declares that righteousness and the fear of Allah are the bases on which cooperation is to be extended for this is the real foundation on which rests any cooperation among Muslims themselves. It clearly means that no help is to be extended even to a Muslim brother if he is acting contrary to truth or is advancing towards injustice and aggression. Rather than help him in what is false and unjust, effort should be made to hold his hands against indulging in the false and the unjust for this, in reality, is helping him at its best - so that his present life as well as his life in the Hereafter is not ruined.

According to a narration from Sayyidna Anas appearing in the Sahih of al-Bukhari and Muslim, the Holy Prophet has been reported to have said:

(That is: Help your brother, just or unjust). His Companions who were soaked in the teaching of the Qur'an were surprised. They asked: 'Ya Rasul Allah (O Messenger of Allah) as for helping the oppressed brother, that we understand. But, what does 'helping the oppressor' mean?' He said: 'Stop him from doing injustice - this is helping him.'

This teaching of the Qur'an helped establish that righteousness (birr) and the fear of Allah (Taqwa) are the real criterions on which it raised the edifice of Muslim nationalism and to which it invited the peoples of the world as the common denominator of mutual cooperation and assistance. Contrary to this were sin and aggression (ithm and 'udwan) which were declared to be serious crimes and cooperation in these was prohibited. To describe the positive criterions, two separate words of Birr and Taqwa were used. According to a consensus of commentators, the word, Birr at this place means the doing of deeds which are good. This has been translated here as righteousness. The word, Taqwa means abstinence from what is evil. The word, Ithm has been used here in an absolute sense meaning sin and disobedience, whether it relates to rights or acts of worship. As for 'Udwan, it lexically means the crossing of limits, that is, injustice and aggression.

About cooperating in what is righteousness and the fear of Allah, the Holy Prophet said:which means: The reward of the person who shows someone the path of righteousness is very much the same as if it was taken personally. Ibn Kathir has reported this hadith with reference to al-Bazzar. In addition to that, it appears in the Sahih of al-Bukhari that the Holy Prophet said that whoever invites people to true guidance and righteous conduct shall receive a reward equal to all those who would heed to the call and act right - without the least cut from the reward of such people. As for the one who invites people to the path of error or sin, he or she will be earning the same amount of sin fully equal to the sins of all those who got involved with the filth of sin because of the inviter to sin - without any decrease in the count of such sins.

Citing Tabarani, reports Ibn Kathir: The Holy Prophet said that anyone who joins up with an unjust person to assist him goes out of the fold of Islam. It is on the basis of this guidance that the righteous elders of the community have strictly abstained from accepting any office or service in the courts of unjust rulers - for this amounts to assisting them in their acts of injustice. Tafsir Ruh al-Ma'ani, while explaining the noble verse: : 'I will never be a helper for the criminals - 28:17', has reported a hadith in which the Holy Prophet has said that a call will go forth on the Day of Judgement citing the oppressors and the unjust and their helpers, so much so that all those who have handled chores even as insignificant as setting up the pens and inkpots of the unjust and the oppressive will all be rammed into a steel coffin and thrown into the Hell.

This is the teaching of the Qur'an and Sunnah which aimed at spreading the virtues of righteousness, justice, sympathy and goodmannerliness throughout the world by presenting every single individual of the community as a living herald and model of the truth. And conversely, in order to eradicate crimes, injustices and oppressions, the same teaching had converted every member of the community into a kind of soldier who was bound to do his duty under all circumstances, whether watched or unwatched - because of the fear of Allah in his heart. The whole world saw the outcome of this wise teaching and grooming during the blessed period of the noble Companions and their Successors. Even in our day, when war threatens a certain country, departments of civil defence are established which impart some level of training for all its citizens. But, nothing of the sort gets done when it comes to the eradication of crimes, to making people promoters of good and blockers of evil. It is obvious that an objective like this cannot be achieved by military parades or civil defence exercises. This is the ultimate art of living which can only be learnt and practiced in educational institutions which, unfortunately, seem to have become strangers to spiritual and social refinements. This is very much true about the great qualities of righteousness and the fear of Allah which seem to be all banned in modern day educational institutions while the admittance of sin and high-handedness is all too open. What can the police do when a whole people throw away the concerns of the lawful and the unlawful and the right and the wrong on their backs and turn crime-oriented? Today we see the graph of crime rising high - theft, robbery, sexual offences, killings and destructions are taking place everywhere. That the legal machinery can do nothing to root out these crimes is because of their failure to take advantage of the Qur'anic solution suggested above, that is, the governments are far removed from this Qur'anic system, and that they, particularly those who hold power into their hands, demur from adopting the principle of righteousness and the fear of Allah as the aim of their life - even though they have to face a thousand other hardships as a result of such avoidance. It may be interesting if such deviationists would swallow their pride at least for once, even if this be on a trial basis. Let them, then, witness the spectacle of the power of Allah and how it blesses them and their people with good life filled with the best of peace and comfort.

On the other side, there were the masses of people who took it for granted that the eradication of crimes is the exclusive responsibility of the government. In fact, they have become used to keeping crimes covered up. The idea of coming up with true witnesses to confirm truth and eliminate crime is no more a favoured practice among them. Such people must understand that covering up the crime of the criminal and avoiding to put their witness on record is an abetment of crime which, according to the Holy Qur'an, is Haram (unlawful) and a grave sin indeed. Furthermore, it is also a flagrant disobedience of the Divine command:

 (And help each other in righteousness and piety, and do not help each other in sin and aggression) (5:2).