Quranic Reflection No. 445. Āyat 5:41 – Combative Listening

سَمَّاعُونَ لِلْكَذِبِ سَمَّاعُونَ لِقَوْمٍ آخَرِينَ لَمْ يَأْتُوكَ
Sammā‘ūna lilkadhibi sammā‘ūna liqawmin ākharīna lam ya’tūka
They are listeners for the sake of a lie, listeners for another people who have not come to you
(Sūrat al-Mā’idah, No 5, Āyat 41)

The verse above talks about the qualities of the hypocrites, telling the Holy Prophet sallal-lāhu ‘alayhi wa-ālhi wasallam not to grieve for them. They are not deserving of his care and concern. Qualities that make them unworthy include the fact that they listen avidly to the Prophet but are not listening to learn and accept. Their goal in listening is twofold:
• to listen to combat, looking for flaws or weak points. This type of listening involves planning a rebuttal and thinking of ways to destroy the speaker’s argument.
• to listen for other people who have sent them to the Prophet but will not come to him themselves. It is listening for the enemies.

Listening can be of many types. Attentive listening or listening carefully to the words of guidance sent by Allah ‘azza wajall is how the heart gets affected. Many verses of the Quran talk about attentive listening as the quality of believers:
1. Listening as a way of getting admonition – There is indeed an admonition in that for one who has a heart, or gives ear, being attentive (Q 50:37).
2. Listening as a sign of submission – And they say, ‘We hear and obey. Our Lord, forgive us, and toward You is the return (Q 2:285).
3. Listening as searching for wisdom to follow – So give good news to My servants, who listen to the word and follow the best [interpretation] of it (Q 39:17-18)

Combative listening is when people seem to be listening, but they are looking for points to attack. The hypocrites would come to the Prophet and would listen attentively but there was an ulterior motive behind it. They were listening on behalf of those who wished to destroy Islam and its followers. According to Tafsir Majma’ al-Bayān they were acting as spies of the enemies. They were told to accept what the Prophet said if it was according to what they wanted to hear. If it wasn’t, they should reject it. Some Mufassirūn believe that this part of the verse is not about the hypocrites but refers to the other group mentioned in the verse.

It is important that a community distinguish between believers who listen to gain wisdom and those who listen to refute and attack. These are the people whose faith is weak or non-existent, who have subscribed to other contrary ideas.  They seek to strengthen their own rebellious opinions and align themselves with the enemies.

Let this verse remind you of the danger of those who practice combative listening as well as the need to refrain from that type of listening. A receptive heart always listens attentively and reflectively. That is the only way to progress.

Sources: Shaykh Tabarsī, Tafsīr Majma’ al-Bayān; Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (Ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūneh; Āghā Muhsin Qarā’atī, Tafsīr Nūr; Ali Quli Qarai, The Qur’an: With a Phrase-by-Phrase English Translation.