وَاللَّـهُ يُرِيدُ أَن يَتُوبَ عَلَيْكُمْ وَيُرِيدُ الَّذِينَ يَتَّبِعُونَ الشَّهَوَاتِ أَن تَمِيلُوا مَيْلًا عَظِيمًا
Wallāhu yurīdu an yatūba ‘alaykum wayurīdul-ladhīna yattabi ‘ūnash-shahawāti an tamīlū maylan ‘azīmā
And Allah desires that He turns toward you, and those who follow their lusts desire that you should deviate, a great deviation.
(Sūrat al-Nisā, No 4, Āyat 27)
The verses before the above āyat explain laws of marriage and the categories of people who were forbidden in marriage. Some people protested at these laws. They were not pleased with the restrictions and wanted to have relationships with whoever they wished. According to them the restrictions impinged on their freedom and were obstacles to fulfillment of their desires.
The above verse reassures true believers that Allah ‘azza wajall wishes to turn towards them. The turning signifies a renewal of blessings and grace which may have lessened due to indulging in unlawful desires. With the revelation of these rules, it was now clear what should be avoided, and believers would be able to enjoy the mercy of Allah subhānahu wata‘ālā as well as healthy conjugal relationship, resulting in a balanced society.
Allah (swt) then warns believers that the people who follow their desires want the believers also to be like them, to turn away from Allah and deviate from the Straight Path. Tafsīr Majma‘ al-Bayān says these people who follow their desires could refer to:
a. People of falsehood for they reject truth and follow whatever they wish
b. People who commit adultery and fornication
c. The people who protested at the time this verse was revealed.
The Tafsīr says the first understanding is closer to the truth. According to Tafsīr-e Namūne it also applies to present day people who wish to follow their desires without any laws restricting them.
The deviation has been termed ‘great’ to signify that the wrongdoers encourage each other in sin and evil, advancing into greater levels of deviation. Together they increase the audacity of each other and go deeper into sin. They would like others to also join them in this deviation. This is because it validates their own deviation, and they can be free of being rebuked by others. Other verses of Quran also talk of how the wrongdoers would like people to join them: So do not obey the deniers; they wish that you should compromise (in religion out of courtesy) with them, so they (too) would compromise with you (Q 68:8-9) and They are eager that you should disbelieve like they have disbelieved, so that you all become alike (Q 4:89).
Deviating from God’s laws is harmful both for the individual as well as for society. In the context of these verses which talk about rules of marriage and sexuality, abandoning such boundaries results in corruption in society. Much of the virtue and peace that should pervade social structures is lost. In the name of freedom to fulfill desires, the human being loses his status and potential perfection. It is a great loss as attested to in Sūrat al-‘Asr.
It is important to remind oneself of this verse in modern society. A lot of people who wrong and disregard God’s laws are not content with just doing it themselves. They want others to do it too and go to great lengths to promote and justify their actions. Through the various platforms available to them they work to make their deviation creep into all corners of society. It becomes a norm that cannot be challenged. As believers we must understand that this is not a new tactic. It has always been the practice of those who want unrestrained satisfaction of desires.
Sources: Shaykh Tabarsī, Tafsīr Majma‘ al-Bayān; Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (Ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūneh