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Quranic Terminology: The Concept of Betrayal


Quranic Terminology: The Concept of Betrayal


Published in September 22, 2017

Translated by: Ahmed Fathy


 Within modern culture, the term betrayal is linked to either betraying one's spouse (by sexual infidelity) or to betray one's country/homeland by allying oneself to its enemies. Of course, there are penalties in each of the two cases within the penal codes of each country. All this has nothing to do with the Quranic concept of betrayal and the verb (to betray) and its derivations as used in the Quranic text. More details are found in the points below. 


Firstly: to betray one's homeland:

1-Within our modern culture, to betray one's homeland is to ally oneself to the enemies of one's country, helping them and taking their side within a conflict or a war; in times of war, this is high treason punishable by death in many countries. 

2- The Quranic text does not use betrayal in such a context; rather, it uses the term (allying oneself) regarding those who ally themselves to enemies who militarily attack the homeland. Such attackers are aggressors who are disbelieves in terms of aggressive, violent behavior. In the Quran, it is prohibited for believers within a peaceful Quran-based country to ally themselves to enemies who attack their homeland. When early believers immigrated to Yathreb and settled there, the Quranic Chapter 60 descended there to prohibit anyone of them allying themselves to the Meccan enemies attacking the Yathreb city-state, as the Qorayish tribe continued to attack them there after their immigration, before God's permission came in the Quran to allow believers to engage into self-defense fighting. The verses 60:1-7 mention this prohibition and rebuke those who committed this sin of allying oneself to the aggressive enemy. And then, we find in the two following verses the legislative rule concerning alliances: "As for those who have not fought against you for your religion, nor expelled you from your homes, God does not prohibit you from dealing with them kindly and equitably. God loves the equitable. But God prohibits you from befriending those who fought against you over your religion, and expelled you from your homes, and aided in your expulsion. Whoever takes them for friends-these are the unjust ones." (60:8-9). We refer readers to our article discussing the Quranic Chapter 60. Not all of the so-called 'companions' who were immigrants in Yathreb obeyed the commands of the Quranic Chapter 60 concerning alliance, and hypocrites (of Al-Aws and Al-Khazraj tribes there) readily allied themselves to the Meccan aggressors; this is proven by the recurrent mention of the prohibition of allying themselves to the enemies in 58:22, 59:11-12, 4:144, 5:51-56, and 9:23-24.         

3- In all these verses related to legislations of alliance, we notice the following.

3/1: Allying oneself to the aggressive enemies is NEVER called betrayal in the Quranic text, unlike the usage of the Arabic phrase (to betray one's homeland) in modern culture of today to indicate high treason.

3/2: There is no penalties in the Quran (exacted by human beings on other human beings) to those who allied themselves to enemies of their country in times of war.  


Secondly: to betray one's spouse:

1- The Quranic legislations regarding fornication/adultery includes those who are married and have illicit sex with someone other than their spouse, and this is called in modern culture as (sexual infidelity) or betraying one's spouse. The term ''betrayal'' is never used in all Quranic verses regarding these legislations; see, for instance, 24:6-9, 4:25, and 33:30.  

2- The same applies to Quranic stories; i.e., the concept of betrayal is NOT used to express sexual infidelity at all. For example, the Potiphar's wife tried to seduce useful to have sex with her; this means that she tried to betray her husband, but the verb (betray) is never used in this story: "She in whose house he was living tried to seduce him. She shut the doors, and said, "I am yours."..." (12:23). This is a sin of course, but the term (betrayal) is never used in the Quran in this respect, unlike modern Arabic of today. The Potiphar's wife falsely accused Joseph of seducing her once she saw her husband at the door: "As they raced towards the door, she tore his shirt from behind. At the door, they ran into her husband. She said, "What is the penalty for him who desired to dishonor your wife, except imprisonment or a painful torment?"" (12:25). When Joseph defended himself, he never used the word (betrayal): "He said, "It was she who tried to seduce me." A witness from her household suggested: "If his shirt is torn from the front: then she has told the truth, and he is the liar." (12:26). Investigations proved the innocence of Joseph and how the Potiphar's wife was the culprit, and again, the verb (to betray) is never used at all: "And when he saw that his shirt was torn from the back, he said, "This is a woman's scheme. Your scheming is serious indeed." "Joseph, turn away from this. And you, woman, ask forgiveness for your sin; you are indeed a sinner."" (12:28-29). Thus, she is described as a sinner not as an unfaithful wife who betrayed her husband. Notably, the concept of betrayal is used to refer to concealing the truth and not sexual seduction, as the Potiphar's wife declared before the king her sin of seduction and that Joseph was innocent: "He said, "What was the matter with you, women, when you tried to seduce Joseph?" They said, "God forbid! We knew of no evil committed by him." The Potiphar's wife then said, "Now the truth is out. It was I who tried to seduce him, and he is telling the truth." "This is that he may know that I did not betray him in secret, and that God does not guide the scheming of the betrayers."" (12:51-52). Her words about betrayal refers to her perjury and her accusing Joseph falsely of seducing her, and her confession is followed by her repentance, as she mentions God in 12:52.       


Secondly: betrayal is linked to disbelief in the Quranic stories of Lot and Noah:

1- We focus now on the use of the verb (to betray) in reference to the wives of the prophets Lot and Noah: "God illustrates an example of those who disbelieve: the wife of Noah and the wife of Lot. They were under two of Our righteous servants, but they betrayed them. They availed them nothing against God, and it was said, "Enter the Fire with those who are entering."" (66:10). Since the verb (to betray) is never used in the Quran to indicate illicit sexual relations with someone apart from one's spouse, we cannot assume that wives of Lot and Noah committed adultery; rather, it is obvious that both women are examples (to be avoided of course) of disbelief, in contrast to two women who exemplify belief: Mary and the wife of Moses' Pharaoh (see 66:11-12). Mary was living inside a society of belief, whereas Moses' Pharaoh's wife lived inside the palace of an evil, self-deified tyrant, and both women chose true belief. In contrast, the wives of Lot and Noah chose disbelief, and thus they betrayed the mission or ministry of their husbands/prophets. This does NOT imply that they committed adultery, but they chose to disbelieve and thus will enter into Hell as per 66:10.      

2- As a general rule in Quranic stories of smiting and destroying ancient nations, God has miraculously saved believers only and smitten disbelievers: "Before you, We sent messengers to their people. They came to them with clear proofs. Then We took revenge on those who sinned. It is incumbent on Us to help the believers." (30:47). Thus, the wife of Lot and the wife and son of Noah were disbelievers who were never saved when their people were smitten by God.  

3- God has commanded Noah not to implore for pardon for the sinners who will drown: ""And build the Ark, under Our eyes, and with Our inspiration, and do not address Me regarding those unjust ones; they are to be drowned."" (11:37). The disbelieving wife of Noah drowned with the unjust ones, and Noah as a father felt that he should try to save his son, who eventually drowned as he arrogantly and adamantly refused to believe to be saved: "And so it sailed with them amidst waves like hills. And Noah called to his son, who had kept away, "O my son! Embark with us, and do not be with the disbelievers." He said, "I will take refuge on a mountain-it will protect me from the water." He said, "There is no protection from God's decree today, except for him on whom He has mercy." And the waves surged between them, and he was among the drowned." (11:42-43). Noah as a father implored God to pardon his drowned son, but God has rebuked him for it: "And Noah called to his Lord. He said, "O My Lord, my son is of my family, and Your promise is true, and You are the Wisest of the wise." He said, "O Noah, he is not of your family. It is an unrighteous deed. So do not ask Me about something you know nothing about. I admonish you, lest you be one of the ignorant."" (11:45-46). God does not say here that this son was not Noah's but that he was no family because he was a disbeliever who performed bad deeds, as per the record of his lifetime deeds before he drowned. If this son were not Noah's biological son but were a believer, he would have embarked into the Ark to be saved from drowning. God never punished natural sons for the sins of their parents at all: "That no soul bears the burdens of another soul." (53:38).   

4- As for the wife of Lot, angels told Abraham that she will not be saved from the torment of being smitten because of her disbelief like the unjust criminals among her people: "They said, "We were sent to a criminal people." "Except for the family of Lot; we will save them all." "Except for his wife." We have determined that she will be of those who lag behind." (15:58-60); "But We saved him and his family, except for his wife; she was of those who lagged behind." (7:83). This is explained further by what the angels said to Lot: "They said, "O Lot, we are the envoys of your Lord; they will not reach you. So set out with your family during the cover of the night, and let none of you look back, except for your wife. She will be struck by what will strike them. Their appointed time is the morning. Is not the morning near?"" (11:81).


Fourthly: betrayal is linked to disbelief:

1- This link is shown in the first verse expressing the permission of engaging into self-defense fighting: "God defends those who believe. God does not love any disbelieving traitor." (22:38). Of course, the word (traitor) is stronger than mere betrayal, as disbelievers went to extremes in their aggressive attacks; not only did they drove Muhammad and early believers out of their home and money/possessions in Mecca, but they attacked the Yathreb city-state as well after they immigrated there: "Permission is given to those who are fought against, and God is Able to give them victory. Those who were unjustly evicted from their homes, merely for saying, "Our Lord is God." Were it not that God repels people by means of others: monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques-where the name of God is mentioned much-would have been demolished. God supports whoever supports Him. God is Strong and Mighty." (22:39-40).  

2- Muhammad and early believers have been rebuked by God for getting money in return for releasing captured persons, as God ordains releasing them for free or in return for other POWs: "...Then, either release them by grace, or in return for other captives of yours..." (47:4); "It is not for a prophet to take prisoners before he has fought in the land. You desire the materials of this world, but God desires the Hereafter. God is Strong and Wise. Were it not for a predetermined decree from God, a severe torment would have afflicted you for what you have taken." (8:67-68). God has said the following to captives who paid money to be released, telling them that God will compensate them if there was goodness in their hearts: "O prophet! Say to those you hold prisoners, "If God finds any good in your hearts, He will give you better than what was taken from you, and He will forgive you. God is Forgiving and Merciful."" (8:70), and then God has said to Muhammad that if their hearts contained betrayal and evil, as they militarily attacked innocent, peaceful ones, God will punish them. "But if they intend to betray you, they have already betrayed God, and He has overpowered them. God is Knowing and Wise." (8:71). This betrayal here in 8:71 refers to military aggression or disbelief in terms of violence and transgression.  


Fifthly: betraying covenants, agreements, and trusts:

1- God has made a covenant with the Israelites and some of them betrayed/breached it as they distorted the Torah and deserved to be cursed by God. Some of these Israelites lived in Arabia during Muhammad's lifetime, and God describes them as traitors: "God received a pledge from the Israelites, and We raised among them twelve chiefs. God said, "I am with you; if you perform the prayer, and pay the alms, and believe in My messengers and support them, and lend God a loan of righteousness; I will remit your sins, and admit you into Gardens beneath which rivers flow. But whoever among you disbelieves afterwards has strayed from the right way."Because of their breaking their pledge, We cursed them, and made their hearts hard. They twist the words out of their context, and they disregarded some of what they were reminded of. You will always witness traitors among them, except for a few of them. But pardon them, and overlook. God loves the doers of good." (5:12-13).

2- Muhammad used to make peace agreements and treaties, but some men betrayed Muhammad by breaching these agreements; God describes them as the worst creatures and allows believers to engage into self-defense fighting against them so as to deter other hypocrites and disbelievers: "The worst of creatures in God's view are those who disbelieve. They have no faith. Those of them with whom you made a treaty, but they violate their agreement every time. They are not righteous. If you confront them in battle, make of them a fearsome example for those who follow them, that they may take heed. If you fear betrayal on the part of a people, break off with them in a like manner. God does not like the treacherous." (8:55-58). God does not like traitors and treacherous ones who betray others, the unjust ones, and the disbelievers.  

3- Even within the last verses revealed of the Quran, within the Quranic Chapter 9, we read about those traitors who breach the treaties and how God has given them the chance of the 4-month period of pilgrimage to repent and stop their aggression: "They traded away God's verses for a cheap price, so they barred others from His Path. How evil is what they did. Towards a believer they respect neither kinship nor treaty. These are the transgressors.But if they repent, and perform the prayers, and give the obligatory charity, then they are your brethren in faith. We detail the verses for a people who know. But if they violate their oaths after their pledge, and attack your religion, then fight the leaders of disbelief - they have no faith - so that they may desist." (9:9-12).

4- God commands believers to honor their treaties and agreements, and this is repeated twice in verses revealed in Mecca to describe real believers who will be among the winners in the Hereafter: "Those who are faithful to their trusts and pledges." (23:8); "And those who honor their trusts and their pledges." (70:32). God links this breaching/betrayal to betraying Him and Muhammad in this verse addressing believers when they settled in Yathreb: "O you who believe! Do not betray God and the Messenger, nor betray your trusts, while you know." (8:27).  

5- When some of the so-called 'companions' framed an innocent person to deliver their son who was the real culprit, Muhammad believed them, assuming the culprit was innocent, but when God revealed the truth, He has said the following to Muhammad: "We have revealed to you the Scripture, with the truth, so that you judge between people in accordance with what God has shown you. And do not be an advocate for the traitors. And ask God for forgiveness. God is Forgiver and Merciful. And do not argue on behalf of those who betray themselves. God does not love the deceitful sinners. They hide from the people, but they cannot hide from God. He is with them, as they plot by night with words He does not approve. God comprehends what they do." (4:105-108). Those conspirators were traitors and God told Muhammad not defend them as arbiter, as they betray themselves by fearing people instead of fearing God the Omniscient: "He knows the deceptions of the eyes, and what the hearts conceal." (40:19).  

6- The Quranic expression (betray themselves) tells us that those traitors and deceitful ones are only harming themselves. When fasting within the Abraham's religion used to begin from the night prayers till sunset prayers of the next day, the time left as not enough for eating and having sex with one's spouse, and some men deceived/betrayed themselves by pretending not to notice the night prayers so that they have sex with their wives, and God alleviates this by making fasting in the Quran from dawn to sunset, apart from conditions when one is exempted from fasting (when ill) and amends to make: "Permitted for you is intercourse with your wives on the night of the fast. They are a garment for you, and you are a garment for them. God knows that you used to betray yourselves, but He turned to you and pardoned you. So approach them now, and seek what God has ordained for you, and eat and drink until the white streak of dawn can be distinguished from the black streak. Then complete the fast until nightfall..." (2:187).  


The concept of (betrayal) in the Quranic text has nothing to do with our modern terms of sexual infidelity which is betraying one's spouse by having sex with someone else.   

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