Al-Tablīgh verse (Arabic: آیة التَّبليغ, propagation verse) is the 67th verse of Sura al-Ma'ida and one of the last verses revealed to the Prophet (s). According to this verse, the Prophet (s) was obliged to proclaim an important message to people. The verse explicitly denotes the importance of the message that if the Prophet (s) had not proclaimed it, he would not have performed his mission. According to Shi'a and some Sunnis, it is revealed in Hajjat al-Wida' (Hajj of farewell) just before the 18th Dhu l-Hijja 10/632. Shi'a believe that the subject of the message was succession of the Prophet (s) by 'Ali (a), so after the revelation of this verse the Prophet (s) announced 'Ali (a) as his vicegerent and successor in Ghadir Khumm. (See: The event of Ghadir)
يَا أَيُّهَا الرَّسُولُ بَلِّغْ مَا أُنزِلَ إِلَيْكَ مِن رَّبِّكَ وَإِن لَّمْ تَفْعَلْ فَمَا بَلَّغْتَ رِسَالَتَهُ وَاللَّـهُ يَعْصِمُكَ مِنَ النَّاسِ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ لَا يَهْدِي الْقَوْمَ الْكَافِرِينَ
O, Messenger! Proclaim that which has been sent down to you from your Lord, and if you do not you will not have proclaimed His message and Allah shall protect you from people, indeed Allah do not guide the faithless lot.
|— Q 4:59|
Occasion of Revelation
Shi'a exegetes and narrators believe that the al-Tabligh verse was revealed in Hajjat al-Wida' (Hajj of farewell) in Ghadir Khumm regarding the announcement of Imam 'Ali's (a) succession of the Prophet (s). Some Sunni exegetes have agreed with that as well. According to Shi'a sources, after that the Prophet (s) postponed the announcement of Imam 'Ali's succession because he was afraid of hypocrites's conspiracy, Gabriel delivered this verse to him in which God has emphasized on proclaiming of 'Ali's guardianship and protecting the Prophet (s) from hypocrites. Based on this, "Proclaim that which has been sent down to you from your Lord" means the guardianship and succession of 'Ali (a) which was revealed to the Prophet (s) earlier but he was worried about its announcement as people might have said he had chosen his cousin for his succession.
Other possible causes have been put forth for the revelation of this verse, however, these causes have been criticized by Muslim and Shi'a scholars.
Revelation in Mecca
Based on some hadiths, it is said that the al-Tabligh verse was sent down in Mecca obliging the Prophet (s) to propagate the truths of the religion among unbelievers and polytheists. According to these hadiths, some guards were appointed to protect him against his enemies, but after the revelation of this verse he discharged them and said that God will protect him from his enemies. Moreover, he was obliged to inform unbelievers and polytheists about the truths of the religion without any fear.
Exegetes unanimously believe that Surat al-Ma'ida was revealed in Medina and according to some hadiths narrated from 'Abd Allah b. 'Umar, it was the last revealed Sura. Therefore it is wrong to assume that the al-Tabligh verse was sent down in Mecca and that, for many years, it was recited alone without being joined to any Sura. Moreover, some scholars counted the hadiths about the guards protecting the Prophet (s) in Mecca as gharib (strange) and munkar (denied).
Proclamation among Ahl al-Kitab
As stated by some, al-Tabligh Verse was revealed in Medina with the purpose of obliging the Prophet (s) to convey the revealed truths to Ahl al-Kitab (the people of the book i.e. Jews and Christians) with no fear. According to Abu Hayyan, the message that the Prophet (s) was supposed to convey was the ruling of Rajm (stoning) and Qisas (death penalty), which was sent down in Torah and Gospel but were distorted and changed by Jews and Christians. He argues that verses before and after this verse are also about Ahl al-Kitab and that the topic of this verse should not differ from the subject of those verses.
According to historical sources, following the battles between Muslims and Jews including the Battle of Khaybar and Banu Qurayza, Jews lost their power and grandeur and by the occupation of their castles and expulsion of many of them, their influence waned. Christians also did not have power in Hijaz and especially in Medina. The only instance in which these Christians confronted Muslims was the event of Mubahala, which was canceled at the former's request. Considering the fact that Muslims were very powerful in the final years of the Prophet's life, there was no reason for the Prophet (a) to worry about propagating the truths of religion among Jews and Christians. Moreover, the al-Tabligh Verse is not alien to preceding and following verses. The context of the verses is about rebuking Jews and Christians and probably they thought that by the demise of the Prophet (s), Muslims will lose their power and domination and that they can return to power. But the al-Tabligh verse, which is about appointment of a leader for the Islamic Umma succeeding the Prophet (s), negated their assumptions. This interpretation is consistent with the al-Ikmal verse, which was revealed after the announcement of Imam 'Ali's guardianship.
Importance of this Mission
This verse explicitly denotes the importance and sensitivity of the message; for failure to deliver this message has been considered equal to not fulfilling the whole prophetic mission assigned by God. Therefore, the message can not be considered as a message about theological issues such as tawhid (monotheism), prophethood or the resurrection or jurisprudential issues such as the rulings on prayer, fasting and Hajj, because Surat al-Ma'ida is the last sura revealed to the Prophet (s) but those rulings have been sent down before the revelation of Surat al-Ma'ida. It can be said that it should be about an issue which is , in addition to importance and novelty, considered as a complement to the Prophet's (s) prophetic mission which is nothing but the leadership of the Muslim umma after the Prophet (s).
The Prophet's Worry
Due to the sensitivity of the issue, the Prophet (s) was worried about delivering the message, but God dispelled his worry by this phrase "Allah shall protect you from people." As it was demonstrated, the verse is not about the polytheists of Quraysh nor about Ahl al-Kitab, the referent of "people" is hypocrites within the Islamic society. The Prophet (s) was worried about their opposition and sabotage because:
- Imam 'Ali (s) was known as a serious and inflexible person in religious matters.
- Some new Muslim (specially from Quraysh) had grudge against 'Ali (a) as he had killed their relatives in the battles.
- 'Ali was young (when the Prophet (s) passed away he was 33). The Arab society was not going to easily accept him, since for them, age and senility was one of the most important requirements for leadership. This attitude towards leadership was reflected in objections which arose twice during the Prophet's (s) life: during the Battle of Tabuk when 'Ali (a) was appointed as the Prophet's successor in Medina, and appointment of Usama b. Zayd as the commander of the army in the last days of the Prophet's (s) life.
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- See: Suyūṭī, al-Durr al-manthūr, vol. 2, p. 298; Ālūsī, Rūḥ al-maʿānī. Vol. 6, p. 194.
- Ṭabrisī, Iʿlām al-warā, vol. 3, p. 344.
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