Reflection No. 272 on Q 61:2 – Harmony between speech and action

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لِمَ تَقُولُونَ مَا لَا تَفْعَلُونَ
O you who believe! Why do you say that which you do not do?
(Sūratus Saff, No.61, Āyat 2)

One of the qualities of a true believer is harmony between speech and action. When speech is sincere it is implemented and carried out. Speech conveys what is in the heart and to say something that is not meant seriously and hence not acted upon, is to be hypocritical or weak willed. This is harmful for the individual as well as society. Such a person cannot be relied upon and a group with such people cannot have strong bonds or healthy relationships.

The above verse asks believers why they says things they do not do. It shows that some believers, who have not reached a high level of faith, are capable of such contradiction between speech and action. They are being reprimanded in this verse so that they take heed and change. It is followed by a statement indicating the intense dislike of such an action. Allah says in the next verse: It is most hateful to Allah that you should say that which you do not do (Q 61:3). ‘Allāmah Tabātabā’ī in al-Mīzān says that when a person actually intends not to do an action he speaks about, it would be hypocrisy. But when he intends to do it when he speaks about it but later is unable to act, it is would be weakness.

This verse applies to the word a believer gives that he will do something. It is easy to speak, so many people will say much and claim they will do a lot. But it is much harder to follow it with real action. Amīrul Mu’minīn Imam Ali (a) condemns those who claim they will fight with him but do not follow it up with action. He says: Your talk softens the hard stones but your action gives your enemy hope in you. You claim in your sittings that you would do this and that but when fighting approaches you say ‘turn away’.  If one calls you for help the call receives no heed (Nahjul Balāgha, Sermon 29).

The verse also applies to promises that a person makes. Islam emphasizes the fulfillment of pledges and promises and abhors violating them. Imam Ali (a) in his letter to Malik al-Ashtar says: If you conclude an agreement between yourself and your enemy or enter into a pledge with him then fulfil your agreement and discharge your pledge faithfully. Place yourself as a shield against whatever you have pledged because among the obligations of Allah there is nothing on which people are more strongly united, despite the difference of their ideas and variation of their views, than respect for fulfilling pledges. Besides Muslims, even unbelievers have abided by agreements because they realized the dangers which would come in the wake of violation (thereof) (Nahjul Balāgha, Letter 53).

Imam Ja’far al-Sādiq (a) also refers to this verse when he talks about the importance of keeping a promise. He says: A promise of a believer is an oath, although it does not have a kaffāra (penalty) for breaking it. Whoever fails it has failed Allah and is the subject of dislike by Allah. Then Imam quoted the above verse and the verse after that (Al-Kāfī, v. 2, p. 363). Keeping of promise was important to the Holy Prophet (s), that he preferred giving the only slave he was left with to his companion over his daughter. When Sayyida Fātima al-Zahrā (a) requested fora helper saying, “O Messenger of Allah! Can you grant me a slave or an assistant? Do you not see the effects of hand-mill upon my hands?” Suddenly, the Holy Prophet (s) remembered his promise and said to himself, “Since I had previously promised Abū Haitham [Ibn Tayyahān], how can I grant my daughter precedence over him, even though my daughter turns the hand-mil with her weak and delicate hands?” (Mahajjah al-Baydhā, v. 5, p. 338 quoted in Anecdotes of Reflection, Part 3, p.134).

Recite this verse to remind yourself of the importance of keeping your word. Don’t take your word lightly. Say only what you mean, and what you can do. It will help you to avoid doing what Allah says He dislikes a lot.

Sources: Amīrul Mu’minīn Imam Ali bin Abu Talib, Nahjul Balāgha; Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūne.