Quranic Reflection No. 508. Āyat 5:116 – Refraining from unbefitting words.
Mā yakūnu lī an aqūla mā laysa lī bihaqq
It does not befit me to say what I have no right to [say].
(Sūrat al-Mā’idah, No 5, Āyat 116)
When Prophet ‘Īsā/Jesus ‘alayhis-salām is asked by Allah ‘azza wajall if he had told his people to take himself and his mother as deities other than Allah. Jesus replies with utmost humility. The question, of course, is just for witnessing in front of the people on the Day of Judgement. The Almighty Allah already knows that Prophet Jesus did not say such a thing. But the conversation is an open declaration of the denial of such a falsity by the Prophet himself.
The etiquette shown in the Prophet’s reply is outstanding. He does not only deny having said it, rather he negates the very premise of the possibility of it. He says it would not befit him to say what is not his right. This shows an exaltation of Allah subhānahu wata‘ālā through the impossibility of him ever uttering such polytheistic statements. It conveys the high level of reverence for Allah and servitude to Him of Prophet Jesus (a).
‘Allāmah Tabātabā’ī brings out the God consciousness in this statement by explaining that if Prophet ‘Īsā (a) had said ‘I did not say such a thing’ it would have meant that it was possible for him to say such things, but he chose not to say this particularly. But when he negates the cause behind such a statement – the audacity of a human being to dare ask others to associate himself with God – he has negated the truth of the words as well as the right to say anything like it. ‘Allāmah gives the example of a master who asks his slave if he has committed a certain act. If the slave replies that he has not, he has denied responsibility for that particular action. But if he says it is not possible for him to do such an act of disobedience, he has negated both the action as well as the ability of him ever doing anything like that. He has conveyed the elevated status of the master in his eyes by his reply.
The conversations of Jesus (a) with Allah narrated in the Quran show a similar vein of servitude etiquette. When his people tell him to ask Allah (swt) for a table of food from the sky, he is horrified at their disrespectful language. He tells them to be more God conscious. When they persist and explain their demands, he turns to Allah ‘azza wajall with a request that shows much more decorum. He says: O Allah! Our Lord! Send down to us a table from the sky, to be a festival for us, for the first ones and the last ones among us and as a sign from You and provide for us; for You are the best of providers (Q5:114). Subhānallāh, what a reverence for the Lord!
As servants of Allah – the Exalted and Sublime, we have no right to say things that go against His expectations of us. Before saying anything, or writing anything, we should ask ourselves if we have the right to go ahead. Certain types of statements must be off limits as we cannot say things which have not come from Him or are not in line with His guidance. This includes offering people our own interpretations of His message which are not based on reliable and authentic teachings from His chosen guides. It also includes words that do not befit a servant of God, untruthful words, hurtful words, negative words, etc. Allah (swt) has set high standards for the speech of the human being. The words of Jesus in the Quran can be a good reminder for us to refrain from saying that which we have no right to say. May He keep us under His eternal guidance!
Sources: Allāmah Muhammad Husayn Tabātabā’ī, Tafsīr al-Mīzān; Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (Ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūneh