Quranic Reflection No. 384 Āyat 33:23 – Fulfilling the pledge

مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ رِجَالٌ صَدَقُوا مَا عَاهَدُوا اللَّهَ عَلَيْهِ ۖ فَمِنْهُمْ مَنْ قَضَىٰ نَحْبَهُ وَمِنْهُمْ مَنْ يَنْتَظِرُ ۖ وَمَا بَدَّلُوا تَبْدِيلًا
Minal-mu’minīna rijālun sadaqū mā ‘āhadul-lāhā ‘alayhi famimhum man qadhā nahbahu wa-minhum man yantaziru wamā baddalū tabdīlā
Among the faithful are men who fulfill what they have pledged to Allah: there are some among them who have fulfilled their pledge, and some of them who still wait, and they have not changed in the least.
(Sūrat al-Ahzāb, No.33, Āyat 23)

This verse refers to a special group of believers who were foremost in their support of the Holy Prophet (s). They stood by their pledge to give their lives in the way of the Almighty. This group is set apart from the hypocrites and those weak in faith who are swayed by the tides of time. The members of this group do not budge from what they believe in and from what they have committed to follow. They are like mountains, solid and firm.

The word ‘nahbahu’ refers to a pledge or vow that a person has made which becomes binding on him. To fulfill the pledge is to carry it out. The pledge here refers to the promise made by believers to the Prophet that they would not flee from the battlefront. The Quran says: though they had already pledged to Allah before that they would not turn their backs [to flee], and pledges given to Allah are accountable (Q 33:15).

There are various interpretations as to who this verse is referring to:
• Tafsīr Majma‘ul Bayān quotes a Hadith from Imam Ali (a) which says the verse was revealed about him. ‘By Allah, I am the person who is waiting [for martyrdom]. I have not changed my ways and have stood by my pledge.’
• Others say those who have fulfilled their pledge refers to the martyrs of the battles of Badr and ‘Uhud, while those who wait are true believers who awaited victory or martyrdom.
• It is also narrated from Ibn Abbās that those who have fulfilled the pledge refers to Hamza bin ‘Abdul Muttalib and other martyrs of the battle of ‘Uhud.

According to Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī the verse is comprehensive and could refer to all the martyrs before the battle of Ahzāb, and those who wait would be all the believers who awaited victory or martyrdom. Among them people like Hamza bin ‘Abdul Muttalib and Imam Ali (a) would be the foremost.

It is narrated that in Karbala whenever a companion of Imam Husayn (a) would come to bid farewell to the Imam he would say ‘Peace be on you, O son of the Messenger of Allah.’ Imam would reply: And peace be on you, we are following you. Then he would recite the above verse. Imam also recited this verse beside the body of some of the martyrs.

This verse is a poignant reminder of the resoluteness of the companions of Imam Husayn (a). They were the best companions anyone ever had. Their firmness to the pledge they had undertaken to defend Islam is a lesson for believers of all times to come.

Sources: ‘Allāmah Muhammad Husayn Tabātabā’ī, Tafsīr al-Mīzān; Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (Ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūneh