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An Occasion of Revelation Narrative on Surah Mutaffifin
Hadith & Sunnah
Dr. Shehzad Saleem


بن بِشْرِ بن الْحَكَمِ وَمُحَمَّدُ بن عَقِيلِ بن خُوَيْلِدٍ قالا ثنا عَلِيُّ بن الْحُسَيْنِ بن وَاقِدٍ حدثني أبي حدثني يَزِيدُ النَّحْوِيُّ أَنَّ عِكْرِمَةَ حدثه عن بن عَبَّاسٍ قال لَمَّا قَدِمَ النبي  صلي اللّٰه عليه وسلم  الْمَدِينَةَ كَانُوا من أَخْبَثِ الناس كَيْلًا فَأَنْزَلَ اللّٰه سُبْحَانَهُ   وَيْلٌ لِلْمُطَفِّفِينَ   فَأَحْسَنُوا الْكَيْلَ بَعْدَ ذلك

‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas stated: “When the Prophet (sws) came to Madinah, he found that its people were the worst in measuring goods [while selling them]. At this, God, the glorious, revealed وَيْلٌ لِلْمُطَفِّفِينَ . After that, they became very adept in this measurement.”1

 Following is the schematic illustration of the isnad of this narrative’s variants:


Feb23Image.jpg (875×750)


Consider the initial verses of the Surah al-Mutaffifin:


وَیۡلٌ لِّلۡمُطَفِّفِیۡنَ الَّذِیۡنَ اِذَا اکۡتَالُوۡا عَلَی النَّاسِ یَسۡتَوۡفُوۡنَ وَ اِذَا کَالُوۡهُمۡ اَوۡ وَّزَنُوۡهُمۡ یُخۡسِرُوۡنَ (83: 1-3)  

Woe be to those who weigh and measure less! Who exact full measure when they take from others, and when they measure or weigh for others give less than what is due. (83:1-3)

 While explaining them, Amin Ahsan Islahi writes:

Mentioned here is a certain trait of people who weigh and measure less. It is evident from this mention that the objective is not merely to delineate this trait but to bring out a certain feature: a person is very sensitive and vigilant that others should weigh and measure correctly for him and would never like any dishonesty in this matter; however, when this very person weighs and measures for others he has no qualms about being dishonest. It is evident from this feature of a person that he is not devoid of the conception of justice and the fact that it must necessarily be administered; he knows full well that honesty should be observed in both cases at all costs; moreover, he fully knows that he should not like for others what he does not like for himself; when he becomes dishonest in such cases, then he in fact goes against his own nature purely being overwhelmed with selfishness. This of course is open injustice and a very mean thing.

It is evident from this discussion that the Creator has placed a barometer in a person to differentiate between oppression and justice and He has also put in him a dislike for the former and a liking for the latter. If even after this awareness, he commits oppression it is not because he is not able to distinguish between the two or because he is not aware whether oppression is in fact oppression; the real reason, as pointed out above, is because he is so overcome by some desire or emotion that he is unable to maintain a balance.

To elaborate the point discussed in these verses, one can say that when a thief steals something from someone’s house, he would never want anyone to steal from his own house; similarly, a murderer who kills someone would never want that someone be after his life or that of his near ones. Similarly, an adulterer who violates the honour of a lady will never be happy if someone attacks the honour of his own wife. In fact, if all these thieves, murderers and adulterers are inquired to express their impartial opinion, they will even confess that there should be no place in the society for thieves, murderers and adulterers and other such criminals. Only those people should be members of a society who protect the life, wealth and integrity of others the way they would desire the protection of their own life, wealth and integrity.

This attitude of a person and this aspect of his nature bear obvious evidence to the fact that neither does he regard good and evil to be alike nor is he satisfied with the equal treatment of the two. His impartial verdict is that both should be dealt with in a different manner. An obvious corollary of this is that the Almighty should bring about a day in which He deals with the righteous and the wrong-doers according to their deeds. If He does not do so, it would mean that the righteous and the wrong-doers are equal in spite of the fact that this would be against the nature endowed to human beings by the Creator. Here, in this verse, it is this human nature which is presented as evidence to prove the certitude of reward and punishment. By doing so, the Qur’an has actually borne witness against the rejecters of the Day of Judgement who are bent upon denying the warnings of the Qur’an regarding the Day of Judgement even though they are not able to deny this evidence of their own nature.

While explaining this verse, our exegetes have cited a narrative which says that the Ansar tribe was plagued with the evil habit of weighing and measuring dishonestly; it was this situation that occasioned the revelation of this verse. However, firstly, this surah is Makkan and not Madinan. Moreover, even if it is supposed that this bad habit was found in the Ansar, then it could only have been to the extent that it was found in the Makkans. In fact, there was a much greater chance of it to be found in the Makkans because they were generally traders by profession whereas the real profession of the Ansar was agriculture. The strongest point is that the purport of this verse is not meant to censure weighing and measuring less. It is, in fact, meant to state the fact that a person is fully capable of distinguishing justice from injustice, as is indicated earlier. If he does evil, he goes against the evidence borne by his nature to quench some base desire. This nature of a human being entails that a day come in which the righteous and the wicked are completely discriminated from one another. If a person denies such a day, then the only reason for this attitude is that he wants to evade facing reward and punishment even though this is a demand of his nature. (Tadabbur-i Qur’an, vol. 9, 254-255)




1. Al-Nasa’i, Al-Sunan al-kubra, vol. 6, 508, (no. 11654). See also: Ibn Majah, Sunan, vol. 2, 747, (no. 2223); Al-Bayhaqi, Al-Sunan al-kubra, vol. 6, 32, (no. 10948); Al-Bayhaqi, Shu‘ab al-iman, vol. 4, 327, (no. 5286); Al-Tabarani, Al-Mu‘jam al-kabir, vol. 11, 371, (no. 12041); Al-Tabari, Tafsir, vol. 30, 91; Al-Tha‘labi, Tafsir, vol. 10. 150; Ibn Hibban, Sahih, vol. 11, 286, (no. 4919).

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