وَقَيَّضْنَا لَهُمْ قُرَنَاءَ فَزَيَّنُوا لَهُم مَّا بَيْنَ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَمَا خَلْفَهُمْ
Waqayyadnā lahum quranā’ fazayyanū lahum mā bayna aydīhim wamā khalfahum
We have assigned them companions who make their present and future seem decorous to them.
(Sūrat Fussilat, No 41, Āyat 25)
One of the worldly consequences of sins is to have people in your close circles who mislead you and corrupt your thinking. The Almighty Allah lets those who reject faith be led astray by companions who mar their clarity of thought. They make them see evil as good and good as evil. This verse explains how such companions lead towards destruction.
The word ‘qayyahnā’ comes from ‘qayd’, a word that means exchanging or replacing something with something else. Here it refers to the replacing of good companions with evil ones. Those who reject faith had the potential to believe and do good. The result of this would have been the grace of being blessed with virtuous companions who would guide and encourage them in goodness. Rejecting faith meant that they were deprived of this grace and instead they had companions who led them further into evil.
Tafsīr-e Namūneh says that the word could also mean the membrane over an egg. It covers the inside of the egg from all sides and does not allow anything to affect it. Similarly, these companions surround the person from all sides, not allowing guidance and clear thinking to affect the mind. It is a form of imprisonment where the mind is totally under the control of the devious minds of the companions. The doors of escape to spiritual safety are closed for such a person. This is a grave consequence of moving away from the right path.
Another verse of the Quran also mentions a similar consequence for the one who rejects faith – We assign a devil to be his companion who turns a blind eye to the remembrance of the All-beneficent (Q 43:36). This is very evident in the lives of oppressors and transgressors. Those who work with them closely form a tight circle of self-serving people who do not let the tyrant see things clearly. They add to his misguidance and evil deeds.
The present and future mentioned in this verse have been interpreted to mean different things.
• the surrounding of the companions from all sides.
• the worldly pleasures that they already enjoy in the present as well as the ones they hope to achieve in the future are made fair seeming to them.
• the present could be making worldly attractions seem attractive and the future is rejecting and ignoring the Hereafter. The companions encourage them to enjoy the present life of the world and make them believe that there is no resurrection and accounting after death.
• the companions make the person look after the present worldly affairs as well as that of his future for his descendants.
• the person is encouraged to perform evil deeds in the present that are made to look beautiful and establish patterns of behavior that will be followed in the future by the generations after him.
Islam emphasizes having good companions who encourage a person to do good. The Prophet sallal-lāhu ‘alayhi wa-ālihi wasallam said: The most prosperous of people is he who mingles with honorable people. (Bihār al-Anwār, 74:112). A believer must be careful of who s/he befriends and must recognize and stay away from those who lead her/him to evil. Amirul Mu’minīn Imam Ali alayhis-salām says: Beware of befriending corrupt people, immoral people, and those who openly commit acts of disobedience to Allah. (Ghurar al-Hikam, H 9041)
Let this verse remind us that the wrong companions are a form of punishment in this world. We must seek refuge in Allah ‘azza wajall from it and pray that our deeds do not warrant a replacement of virtuous company with evil ones.
Sources: Shaykh Tabarsī, Tafsīr Majma‘ al-Bayān; Allāmah Muhammad Husayn Tabātabā’ī, Tafsīr al-Mīzān, Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (Ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūneh