Tafsir Surah al-Baqarah, verses 17-20: The hypocrites lack of benefiting from Islam

The following is from the English translation of a section of the abridged tafsir based on the book ‘tayseer ila usul it-tafsir’ by Shaykh Ata bin Khalil Abu Rishta.

مَثَلُهُمْ كَمَثَلِ الَّذِي اسْتَوْقَدَ نَارًا فَلَمَّا أَضَاءَتْ مَا حَوْلَهُ ذَهَبَ اللَّهُ بِنُورِهِمْ وَتَرَكَهُمْ فِي ظُلُمَاتٍ لَا يُبْصِرُونَ
17. Their likeness is as the likeness of one who kindled a fire; then, when it lighted all around him, Allah took away their light and left them in darkness. They could not see.

صُمٌّ بُكْمٌ عُمْيٌ فَهُمْ لَا يَرْجِعُونَ

18. They are deaf, dumb, and blind, so they return not.

أَوْ كَصَيِّبٍ مِنَ السَّمَاءِ فِيهِ ظُلُمَاتٌ وَرَعْدٌ وَبَرْقٌ يَجْعَلُونَ أَصَابِعَهُمْ فِي آذَانِهِمْ مِنَ الصَّوَاعِقِ حَذَرَ الْمَوْتِ ۚ وَاللَّهُ مُحِيطٌ بِالْكَافِرِينَ

19. Or like a rainstorm from the sky, wherein is darkness, thunder, and lightning. They thrust their fingers in their ears to keep out the stunning thunderclap for fear of death. But Allah ever encompasses the disbelievers. 

يَكَادُ الْبَرْقُ يَخْطَفُ أَبْصَارَهُمْ ۖ كُلَّمَا أَضَاءَ لَهُمْ مَشَوْا فِيهِ وَإِذَا أَظْلَمَ عَلَيْهِمْ قَامُوا ۚ وَلَوْ شَاءَ اللَّهُ لَذَهَبَ بِسَمْعِهِمْ وَأَبْصَارِهِمْ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ

20. The lightning almost snatches away their sight, whenever it flashes for them, they walk therein, and when darkness covers them, they stand still. And if Allah willed, He could have taken away their hearing and their sight. Certainly, Allah has power over all things.

In these verses al-karimah Allah سبحانه وتعالى gives two examples for those hypocrites that pretend Islam and conceal kufr. Islam will not benefit them, since they do not believe in it. Rather they increase in their misguidance wandering around blindly, because misguidance is what runs in their blood and fills their hearts.

As for the first example (verse 17); it is a man who lights a very bright fire أَضَاءتْ مَا حَوْلَهُ “it lighted all around him”, so it did not only light his place, but it lit what was around it, indicating its brightness. Yet, they did not benefit from this very bright light. Instead Allah ends it completely ذَهَبَ اللّهُ بِنُورِهِمْ “Allah took away their light”. The light is weaker than the brightness. Allah سبحانه وتعالى says:

هُوَ الَّذِي جَعَلَ الشَّمْسَ ضِيَاء وَالْقَمَرَ نُورًا

“It is He Who made the sun a shining thing and the moon as a light”[Yunus, 10:5]

This means even its coals are extinguished. Not only its brightness went, but even its light. This extreme darkness enveloped them and they were left confused, wandering around blindly in the darkness (after the extreme brightness), that causes restlessness and confusion. It is an example of their lack of benefiting from Islam and their wandering blindly in kufr and misguidance. They are deaf, dumb and blind, despite the existence of their senses, yet they do not benefit from them, as they neglected them to leave the guidance and chose the clear misguidance.

Then Allah سبحانه وتعالى gives another example أَوْ كَصَيِّبٍ مِّنَ السَّمَاء “Or like a rainstorm from the sky” i.e. like strong rain falling from the sky. But instead of benefiting from it, they were blinded. It brought with it darkness, thunder and lightning from the intensity, such that they put their fingers, i.e. their fingertips – which is a metaphorical usage, by using the part to mean the whole – in their ears afraid that their hearing will go from the loudness of the thunder, and fearing for their life from the severity of the thunderclaps. They also fear the loss of their sight from the extreme brightness of the lightening. All of that is due to the terror of that falling rain that is darkness upon darkness. They go along in the brightness of the lightening, then they stop when it ceases, which incites in them confusion and restlessness. This example is also for the hypocrites’ lack of benefiting from Islam, despite its greatness, so they persist in error and misguidance.