Reflection No. 275 on Q 38:86 – Do not impose

وَمَا أَنَا مِنَ الْمُتَكَلِّفِينَ
Wamā anā minal-mutakallifīn
And I am not from those who impose
(Sūra Sad, No.38, Āyat 86)

In this verse the Holy prophet (s) tells people that he is not an imposter or pretender who has imposed his own views on the people. Rather he has received revelation and has conveyed the message from the Lord.

The word mutakallifīn is derived from the verb kallafa which means: to do or undertake what is beyond one’s might, to tax, to do something that is difficult and demanding. We find the word mutakallifīn, in the above verse, being rendered differently. Mir Ahmed Ali and Quli Qarai both translate it as, ‘imposter,’ while Nasr and Yusufali translate it as ‘pretenders.’ Abdullah Yusufali further explains in the footnote to the verse that a mutakallif is ‘a man who pretends to things that are not true, or declares as facts things that do not exist, one who takes upon himself tasks to which he is not equal. True prophets are not people of that kind.’ Furthermore, we find alternative translations of the above phrase: Nor am I one of those who impose themselves [upon others] by Quli Qarai and nor am I among those who impose [themselves] by Nasr.

The motive is to show off to others and pretend something that is not really true. When someone practices takalluf they perform in a manner designed to attract attention and in the process they impose hardship on themselves. Tafsīr-e Namūne quotes a Hadith from Imam al-Sādiq (a) in which he says: The outer appearance of a Mutakallif is riyā (showing off) and the inner motive is hypocrisy. He continuously flies with these two wings. Takalluf is not from the akhlāq of a believer nor from the slogans of the pious.

Abandoning takalluf is an honorable way of life that brings relief to the human being and destresses him. It makes life more pleasant and comfortable. Taking on something which creates a strain on the self, for the sake of putting on an appearance, is a hypocritical and foolish way to seek respect.

An interesting story from the life of Imam al-Sādiq (a) shows a practical application of this verse in our lives. One day a man walked in the bazaar with Imam and his son Ismael. They left the bazaar and walked till they reached Imam’s home. Imam bid farewell to him at the door and entered his home with his son. His son turned to him and said, ‘It would have been good if you had invited him in’. The Imam told him that the house was not prepared for receiving guests. The son still insisted that he could have invited the man to come inside, maybe he would not have accepted. Imam then recited this verse – I am not from those who impose – implying that inviting him in would be only for the sake of appearances and would have put them in hardship. (Yek sad mawdu’ panj sad dastan, V. 3, p. 118).

Recite this verse to remind yourself to refrain from actions done just to show others and which put you through difficulty. Avoid imposing on others and on yourself. Remember that takalluf is not part of the behavior of a believer. Do what you can and do it sincerely. That is all that is expected of you.

Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūneh;
Abdullah Yusufali, The Glorious Qur’an (MSA, 1977);
Ali Quli Qarai, The Qur’an: With a Phrase-by-Phrase English Translation (ICAS, 2009);
Seyyed Hossein Nasr (Ed.), The Study Quran (HarperOne, 2015);;