This is a Medinan surah which speaks strongly against religious hypocrisy—that is, professing faith while acting contrary to that faith. The surah speaks against “using oaths as a cover,” and against “those whose outward appearance pleases you…but they are like propped up timbers.” The specific context of this surah was that people were outwardly pledging support for the community of Muslims in Medina, but were actually seeking to undermine it, financially and socially.
The prophet’s response to these hypocrites is to call them out, and to encourage believers to greater practical faith—giving to the needy and supporting one another, in word and deed. This surah’s disdain for hypocrisy is reminiscent of Jesus’ disdain for the hypocrisy of the religious leaders of his day. For example, in Mathew 23, Jesus really goes to town on the Pharisees: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces.” The point here is that both the Bible and the Qur’an share a concern for authenticity, as opposed to hypocrisy, when it comes to faith.
|16th cnetury Qur'an manuscript from North Africa.|