وَإِذَا لَقُوكُمْ قَالُوا آمَنَّا وَإِذَا خَلَوْا عَضُّوا عَلَيْكُمُ الْأَنَامِلَ مِنَ الْغَيْظِ ۚ قُلْ مُوتُوا بِغَيْظِكُمْ
Wa-idhā laqūkum qālū āmannā wa-idhā khalaw ‘addū ‘alaykumul-anāmila minal-ghayzi. Qul mūtū bighayzikum
When they meet you, they say, ‘We believe,’ but when they are alone, they bite their fingertips at you out of rage. Say, ‘Die of your rage!’
(Sūrat Āli Imrān, No 3, Āyat 119)
They hypocrites in Madīna harbored a lot of hatred for the believers. When they met them, they pretended they were with them but when they were alone and in their own groups, their rage was openly declared. Such was the intensity of their anger that this verse describes it as being expressed in the form of biting the fingers. According to Tafsīr Majma ‘al-Bayān, this is just an analogy. It may not mean they actually bit their fingers. But their rage was the same as a person who would do that.
It is necessary to understand some of the words used in this verse. The word ‘addu refers to biting with pressure. The word anāmila means the tips of the fingers. Ghayz is more than just ghadab. The latter means anger, but the former refers to a state that can have a mixture of anger, hatred, spite etc. Here it refers to an intense evil emotion which resides in a heart that is devoid of any good. It is a heart that is sealed from realizing the truth and hardened from feeling empathy for others. There is a desire to harm, a fury at seeing the other side progress. The picture that this analogy forms is of a person so overcome that he is capable of hurting himself. The root of this emotion is seeing the believers’ success. Allāmah Tabātabā’ī says that this analogy is used to convey the extreme regret and sorrow of a person that stems from rage.
The word ghayz is used a few times in the Quran to show different shades of this emotion:
1. And [those who] restrain their anger (Q 3:134). This verse describes the doers of good, one of their qualities being the ability to control rage.
2. And remove rage from their hearts (Q 9:15). This verse talks about victory in battle. Success against the enemies removed the pain and anger felt by those who suffered at their hands.
3. And Allah turned back the disbelievers in their rage (Q 33:25). The enemies in the battle of Ahzāb were forced to accept defeat and retreat. They did this with a mixture of anger and regret.
In the verse 3:119 the Prophet (s) is told to tell the hypocrites to: die of your rage. It is a message for believers. Instead of being intimidated by such rage the believers should belittle it. The strong statement of ‘keep on being enraged’ is only for people who fit that lowly evil capacity. It conveys that their rage will not stop the believers’ progress – if Allah ‘azza wajall wills so. They could hold on to their rage and be in that state till the end of their days, but this will not make a difference to the believers. Rather, it would only ruin the hypocrites.
This verse is an important indication of the intensity of rage that hypocrites have for believers. They have hatred and spite against them and are constantly plotting to weaken them. This is only true for a people who actively hate believers and their religion, not for all those who disbelieve. But it is a warning for believers not to be complacent. We need to be alert to this and recognize the signs so present in our society today. There is a lot of rage against believers and the strength and unity of the Ummah only increases it. Remember this analogy and be ready to counter the plots of the enemies.
Sources: Shaykh Tabarsī, Tafsīr Majma‘ al Bayān; Allāmah Muhammad Husayn Tabātabā’ī, Tafsīr al-Mīzān; Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (Ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūneh; Agha Muhsin Qarā’atī, Tafsīr-e Nūr