Eternal Security for Wrongdoers?

How Muhammad Corrupted the Qur'an

(Nearly) all religions emphasize two things: right belief and right action. In other words, doctrine and ethics, or believing the truth about God and acting good. There are many verses that could be cited in this regard. The following are just three examples:

Believers, Jews, Sabaeans and Christians - whoever believes in God and the Last Day and does what is right - shall have nothing to fear or regret. Sura 5:69

Those who believe (in the Qur'an), and those who follow the Jewish (Scriptures), and the Christians and the Sabians, - any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve. Sura 2:62

And We send not the Messengers but as givers of glad tidings and as warners. So whosoever believes and does righteous good deeds, upon such shall come no fear, nor shall they grieve. S. 6:48

The ethical side may be expressed either in the positive ("do good", "do what is right") or be formulated in the negative ("do not do what is bad or evil or unjust", "do not commit injustice against others").

These two elements of right faith and right action are also reflected in Sura 6:82 which uses the negative formulation for the ethical part. Most Qur'an versions give a similar translation of this verse:

Pickthall Yusuf Ali Shakir Maulana M. Ali Sher Ali
Those who believe and obscure not their belief by wrongdoing, theirs is safety; and they are rightly guided. It is those who believe and confuse not their beliefs with wrong - that are (truly) in security, for they are on (right) guidance. Those who believe and do not mix up their faith with iniquity, those are they who shall have the security and they are those who go aright. Those who believe and mix not up their faith with iniquity – for them is security and they go aright. Those who belief and mix not up their belief with injustice - it is they who shall have peace, and who are rightly guided.
Muhammad Asad Free Minds Arberry Palmer Sale
Those who have attained to faith, and who have not obscured their faith by wrongdoing - it is they who shall be secure, since it is they who have found the right path! Those who believe and do not dress their belief with wrongdoing; they will have security, and they are guided. Those who believe, and have not confounded their belief with evildoing -- to them belongs the true security; they are rightly guided. Those who believe and do not obscure their faith with wrong, they are those who shall have security, and they are guided. They who believe, and clothe not their faith with injustice, they shall enjoy security, and they [are rightly] directed.

However, there are (at least) two English versions which render one word quite differently from all the others, and make this verse say something else:

Khalifa Al-Hilali & Khan
Those who believe, and do not pollute their belief with idol worship, have deserved the perfect security, and they are truly guided. It is those who believe (in the Oneness of Allah and worship none but Him Alone) and confuse not their belief with Zulm (wrong i.e. by worshipping others besides Allah), for them (only) there is security and they are the guided.

There is no question that the translators Al-Hilali and Khan are correct in their interpretation which they inserted into the text with their first parenthetical comment. The phrase "those who believe" is used in the Qur'an over and over again to refer to the Muslims, the followers of Muhammad's message, i.e. "those who believe" (in the message of Islam). And at the core of this message is the belief in the existence of only one god, Allah, and the unity of this god (tawhid), and the rejection of any other things or beings as deities.

However, because that is so, their second parenthetical comment is utter nonsense. It is simply not possible to "worship none but Allah" (explanation of the first part of the verse) AND to "worship others besides Allah" (explanation of the second part of the verse) at the same time.

The second part of this verse does not refer to idolatry (that is already excluded in the first part), but to unethical behavior, to doing what is wrong.

Although it is true that idolatry is wrong, "doing wrong" encompasses much more than worshipping false gods. Why then are Al-Hilali & Khan and Rashad Khalifa interpreting the word here as meaning idolatry instead of translating the word in its the normal meaning as used by all other translators? In fact, Al-Hilali & Khan even admit in their commentary that zulm means "wrong", but then they give it a very restricted meaning in their explanation. And Khalifa goes even further by writing "idolatry" directly into the text.

The explanation for this strange translation/interpretation is found in the hadith. But before we look at that, we need to know how words based on the root z-l-m are used in other passages of the Qur'an. The following verses are just some of hundreds (*) that use words from this root in various forms:

The divorce is twice, after that, either you retain her on reasonable terms or release her with kindness. And it is not lawful for you (men) to take back (from your wives) any of your Mahr (bridal money given by the husband to his wife at the time of marriage) which you have given them, except when both parties fear that they would be unable to keep the limits ordained by Allah (e.g. to deal with each other on a fair basis). Then if you fear that they would not be able to keep the limits ordained by Allah, then there is no sin on either of them if she gives back (the Mahr or a part of it) for her Al-Khul' (divorce). These are the limits ordained by Allah, so do not transgress them. And whoever transgresses the limits ordained by Allah, then such are the Zalimun (wrong-doers, etc.). S. 2:229 Al-Hilali & Khan

When you divorce women, and they have reached their term, then retain them honourably or set them free honourably; do not retain them by force, to transgress; whoever does that has wronged himself. Take not God's signs in mockery, and remember God's blessing upon you, and the Book and the Wisdom He has sent down on you, to admonish you. And fear God, and know that God has knowledge of everything. S. 2:231 Arberry

Hast thou not regarded the Council of the Children of Israel, after Moses, when they said to a Prophet of theirs, 'Raise up for us a king, and we will fight in God's way.' He said, 'Might it be that, if fighting is prescribed for you, you will not fight?' They said, 'Why should we not fight in God's way, who have been expelled from our habitations and our children?' Yet when fighting was prescribed for them, they turned their backs except a few of them; and God has knowledge of the evildoers. S. 2:246 Arberry

God likes not the shouting of evil words unless a man has been wronged; God is All-hearing, All-knowing. S. 4:148 Arberry

Except him who has done wrong and afterwards has changed evil for good, then surely, I am Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful S. 27:11 Al-Hilali & Khan

This Day shall every person be recompensed for what he earned. No injustice (shall be done to anybody). Truly, Allah is Swift in reckoning. S. 40:17 Al-Hilali & Khan

O Prophet, when you divorce women, divorce them when they have reached their period. Count the period, and fear God your Lord. Do not expel them from their houses, nor let them go forth, except when they commit a flagrant indecency. Those are God's bounds; whosoever trespasses the bounds of God has done wrong to himself. Thou knowest not, perchance after that God will bring something new to pass. S. 65:1 Arberry

These are the signs of God We recite to thee in truth, and God desires not any injustice to living beings. S. 3:108 Arberry

Verily, those who unjustly eat up the property of orphans, they eat up only a fire into their bellies, and they will be burnt in the blazing Fire! S. 4:10 Al-Hilali & Khan

And faces shall be humbled unto the Living, the Eternal. He will have failed whose burden is of evildoing; S. 20:111 Arberry

And We said: "O Adam! Dwell you and your wife in the Paradise and eat both of you freely with pleasure and delight of things therein as wherever you will, but come not near this tree or you both will be of the Zalimun (wrong-doers)." S. 2:35 Al-Hilali & Khan

The unbelievers say, 'This is naught but a calumny he has forged, and other folk have helped him to it.' So they have committed wrong and falsehood. S. 25:4 Arberry

Like the fate of the people of Nuh (Noah), and 'Ad, and Thamud and those who came after them. And Allah wills no injustice for (His) slaves. S. 40:31 Al-Hilali & Khan

As one can see, iniquity, injustice, wrongdoing, etc. is the meaning in which this word is regularly used in the Qur'an, and often it has nothing to do with idolatry, but may be mistreatment of women, injustice done to orphans, etc. This word refers very generally to "wrongdoing" of many kinds, just as we can find it stated in Yusuf Ali's footnote on S. 2:35:

51. "Zulm" in Arabic implies harm, wrong, injustice, or transgression, and may have reference to oneself; when the wrong is done to others it implies tyranny and oppression; the idea of wrong naturally connects itself with darkness, which is another shade of meaning carried with the root word.

With this background, let's see what happened when S. 6:82 was "revealed":

Narrated 'Abdullah:
When the Verse:-- 'Those who believe and mix not their belief with wrong.' was revealed, the Muslims felt it very hard on them and said, "O Allah's Apostle! Who amongst us does not do wrong to himself?" He replied, "The Verse does not mean this. But that (wrong) means to associate others in worship to Allah: Don't you listen to what Luqman said to his son when he was advising him, "O my son! Join not others in worship with Allah. Verily joining others in worship with Allah is a great wrong indeed." (31.13) (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 55, Number 639)

Narrated Abdullah:
When there was revealed: 'It is those who believe and confuse not their beliefs with wrong.' (6.82) It was very hard for the companions of Allah's Apostle, so they said, "Which of us has not confused his belief with wrong?" Allah's Apostle said, "The Verse does not mean this. Don't you hear Luqman's statement to his son: 'Verily! Joining others in worship, with Allah is a great wrong indeed.' (31.13) (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 60, Number 299)

Why was hearing this verse so hard for the companions of Muhammad? Because it made a statement regarding their eternal security. The security promised in the last clause of the verse is a reference to their eternal destination, Paradise or Hell. Who will be secure from the punishment of Hell? The verse states the conditions for gaining this eternal security, i.e. entry into Paradise.

This verse was not unclear. On the contrary, these Muslims were so shocked when they heard it, because it was so clear. Based on the normal meaning of zulm, the meaning in which it is used many times in the Qur'an, they realized that this verse destroyed their hope to reach Paradise. "Which of us has not confused his belief with wrong?", i.e. who among us has not done any wrong (ethical) despite his right belief (doctrine)? In other words, the companions of Muhammad are saying: But none of us is without sin! This verse robs us of all hope to make it to Paradise!

The intention behind this verse is easy to comprehend. Muhammad wanted to communicate to his followers: You need to believe me and you need to obey me, and then you will be secure. Believe what I say, and do what I say. That was necessary for the Muslim society to function.

Another verse with a similar message is:

These are Allah's limits, and whoever obeys Allah AND His Messenger, He will cause him to enter gardens beneath which rivers flow, to abide in them; and this is the great achievement. And whoever disobeys Allah AND His Messenger and goes beyond His limits, He will cause him to enter fire to abide in it, and he shall have an abasing chastisement. S. 4:13-14

The problem only is that S. 6:82 is formulated much stronger. It speaks not only of the danger of direct disobedience to Muhammad, but doing anything wrong or unjust will destroy your hope of Paradise. That is the shocker.

The hope to gain eternal security was intended to inspire them to "believe and obey". But the formulation of 6:82 backfired because the people realized that they cannot always be perfectly obedient to the commands of God.

Instead of giving hope, it caused despair. And Muhammad realized that instead of drawing them into a closer loyalty to him and following him fully dedicated, they may abandon him for putting conditions on them that they cannot meet.

Therefore, after realizing this danger, he immediately reacted; he quickly abrogated the obvious meaning and substitute the clear actual meaning by something rather harmless, a condition that any Muslim would meet by definition. However, this new meaning is actually nonsense, as we have seen above.

Muhammad took out the ethics part, and only the doctrine is left. In consequence, his innovative (mis)interpretation endorses wrongdoing as long as there is right belief. This inspired the title of this article: Eternal Security for Wrongdoers? Yes, as long as you do not commit idolatry and hold to the right belief of Allah as the only god, then you will be secure. Because Muhammad explicitly deleted the ethical component from this verse and promised security for those who merely believe, acting with iniquity does not matter anymore.

To summarize: Taking the above narrations at face value, the verse was formulated in such an unclear way that the Muslims misunderstood it, and therefore Muhammad had to inform them of its actual meaning. That is how the hadiths portray it. However, that doesn't sound credible to me. There is nothing unclear about this verse. What really seems to have happened is that because the Muslims were shocked about the radical statement in S. 6:82, Muhammad tried to do damage control and greatly softened its statement to the extent that it became basically meaningless, even self-contradictory.

Muhammad "distorted the book with his tongue" (cf. S. 3:78) because the true meaning of the verse became inconvenient or undesirable for him. Muhammad corrupted the Qur'an by misinterpreting it according to the needs of the day. Is that not doing exactly what the Qur'an denounces as "clothing truth with falsehood, and concealing the truth while you know it" (S. 3:71, 2:42,146)?

Jochen Katz

Further reading:

Preferred for Hell?
Higher than angels?

Qur'an Versions
Answering Islam Home Page