This Surah was sent down either during the Prophet's return journey from his campaign against Bani Al-Mustaliq, or immediately after his arrival back at Madinah in Sh'aban A.H. 6.
- Hypocrisy is such a sin against Islam and Muslims that even the Rasool's prayer cannot obtain forgiveness for them from Allah.
- Let not your riches or children divert you from the remembrance of Allah, lest you become a real loser.
Before mentioning the particular incident about which this Surah was revealed, it is necessary to have a look at the history of the hypocrites of Madinah. The incident that occurred on this occasion was not a chance happening, but had a whole series of events behind it, all of which ultimately led up to it.
Before the Prophet's migration to Madinah the tribes of the Aus and the Khazraj, fed up with their mutual rivalries and civil wars, had almost agreed on the leadership of one man and were making preparations to crown him their king. This was Abdullah bin Ubayy bin Salul, the chief of the Khazraj. Muhammad bin Ishaq has stated that among the people of Khazraj his authority was never contested and never had the Aus and the Khazraj rallied to one man before this.
When the Prophet arrived in Madinah, Islam had so deeply penetrated every house of the Ansar that Abdullah bin Ubayy became helpless and did not see any other way to save his leadership than to become a Muslim himself. So, he entered Islam along with many of his followers from among the chiefs and leaders of both the tribes although their hearts were burning with rage from within. Ibn Ubayy in particular was filled with grief, for the Prophet (pbuh) had deprived him of his kingship. For several years his hypocritical faith and grief of being deprived of his kingdom manifested itself in different ways. On the one hand, when on Fridays the Prophet (pbuh) took his seat to deliver the Sermon, Abdullah bin Ubayy would stand up and say "O people, the Rasool of Allah is present among you, by whom Allah has honored you; therefore, you should support him, listen to what he says and obey him." (Ibn Hisham, vol. III, p. 111). On the other, his hypocrisy was being exposed day by day and the true Muslims were realizing that he and his followers bore great malice against Islam, the Prophet and the Muslims.
- Once when the Prophet was passing along the way, Abdullah bin Ubayy spoke to him in harsh words. When the Prophet complained of it to Sayyiduna Sa'd bin Ubadah, he said: "O Rasool of Allah, don't be hard on him, for when Allah sent you to us we were about to crown him, and, by God, he thinks that you have robbed him of his kingdom." (Ibn Hisham vol: II, pp. 237-238).
- After the Battle of Badr when the Prophet (pbuh) invaded the Jewish tribe of Bani Qainuqa for breaking their agreement and unprovoked revolt, this man stood up in support of them, and holding the Prophet by his armor, said: "These 700 fighters have been helping and protecting me against every enemy; would you cut them down in one morning? By God, I will not leave you until you pardon my clients." (Ibn Hisham, vol. III, pp. 5l-52)
- On the occasion of the Battle of Uhud this man committed open treachery and withdrew from the battlefield with 300 of his companions. One should note that at this critical moment when he so acted, the Qureysh had marched upon Madinah with 3,000 troops and the Prophet had marched out with only 1,000 men to resist them. Of these 1,000 this hypocrite broke away with 300 men and the Prophet was left with only 700 men to meet 3,000 troops of the enemy on the field. After this incident the common Muslims of Madinah came to realize that he was certainly a hypocrite and so were his companions. That is why when on the very first Friday, after the Battle of Uhud, this man stood up as usual to make a speech before the Prophet's Sermon, the people pulled at his garment, saying "Sit down you are not worthy to say any thing." That was the first occasion in Madinah when this man was publicly disgraced. Thereupon he was so filled with rage that he left the mosque jumping over the heads of the people. At the door of the Mosque some of the Ansar said to him, "What are you doing? Go back and ask the Prophet (upon whom be Allah's peace) to pray for your forgiveness." He retorted "I do not want him to pray for my forgiveness." (Ibn Hisham, vol. III, p. 111)
- In A. H. 4 the Battle of Bani an-Nadir took place. On this occasion he and his companions supported the enemies of Islam even more openly. On the one side, the Prophet (pbuh) and his devoted companions were preparing for war against their enemy, the Jews, and on the other, these hypocrites were secretly sending messages to the Jews to the effect: "Stand firm we are with you: if you are attacked, we will help you, and if you are driven out, we too will go out with you." The secret of this intrigue was exposed by Allah Himself, as has been explained in Surah Al-Hashr verses 11-17. Inspite of being so exposed the reason why the Prophet (pbuh) was still treating him kindly was that he had a large band of the hypocrites behind him. Many of the chiefs of both the Aus and the Khazraj were his supporters. At least a third of the population of Madinah consisted of his companions, as became manifest on the occasion of the Battle of Uhud. Under such conditions it was not prudent to wage a war with these internal and external enemies combined. On this very account, inspite of being fully aware of their hypocrisy, the Prophet for a long time continued to deal with them according to their apparent profession of faith.
- When Abdullah bin Ubayy, and like minded hypocrites, got an opportunity to accompany the Prophet (pbuh) in his campaign against the Bani Al- Mustaliq, they engineered two great mischiefs which could shatter the Muslim unity to pieces. However, by virtue of the wonderful training in discipline that the Muslims had received through the pure teaching of the Qur'an and the companionship of the Prophet (pbuh) both mischiefs were stopped in time, and the hypocrites themselves were disgraced instead. One of these was the mischief that is mentioned in Surah An-Nur, and the other in this Surah. These incidents are related by Bukhari, Muslim, Ahmed, Nasai, Tirmidhi, Baihaqi, Tabari, Ibn Marduyah, Abdur Razzaq, lbn Jarir Tabari, Ibn Sa'd and Muhammad bin Ishaq through many reliable channels.