What Is Meant by the Verse, “˹those˺ Who Were Spoiled for So Long That Their Hearts Became Hardened. And Many of Them Are ˹still˺ Rebellious” [57:16]

Answered by Shaykh Anas al-Musa


What is meant by the verse, “˹those˺ who were spoiled for so long that their hearts became hardened. And many of them are ˹still˺ rebellious” [57:16]


In the name of Allah, Most Gracious and Merciful

This verse is in Surat al-Hadid. It reads, “Has the time not yet come for believers’ hearts to be humbled at the remembrance of Allah and what has been revealed of the truth, and not be like those given the Scripture before—˹those˺ who were spoiled for so long that their hearts became hardened. And many of them are ˹still˺ rebellious.” [Quran, 57:16]

There are many opinions regarding the occasion for which it was revealed, some which are valid and some which are not. [Suyuti, al-Durr al-Manthur; Zuhayli, al-Tafsir al-Munir]

The Meanings of the Verse

Allah says, “Has the time not yet come for believers’ hearts to be humbled at the remembrance of Allah and what has been revealed of the truth,” meaning: Is it not time that the hearts of the believers become soft and tender upon hearing Allah’s reminder and admonishment and the Quran?

These hearts should understand and submit, hear commands, obey them, and avoid prohibitions. Ibn Abbas (Allah be pleased with him) said, “Allah gave time to the believers’ hearts, only reprimanding them after thirteen years from the Quran’s revelation when He said, ‘Has the time not yet come…’” [Tafsir al-Baghawi; Tafsir Ibn Kathir]

“And not be like those given the Scripture before…” Allah, the Almighty, and Majestic, prohibits the believers from resembling and being in the company of the Quran while their hearts are hardened, like the Jews and Christians who carried the Scripture, but their hearts no longer soften to any promise or warning. When they had heard the Torah and the Gospel before, they used to be humble before Allah, and their hearts became tender. [Tafsir Ibn Kathir]

Abdullah ibn Mas‘ud (Allah be pleased with him) reports that the Children of Israel, as much time had passed, their hearts grew hard, and so they made up a scripture for themselves according to what their hearts desired and their tongues found palatable. The true scripture had prevented them from much of what they desired until they threw Allah’s book behind their backs, as if they did not know. [Sunan Sa‘id ibn Mansur; Tafsir Ibn Kathir; Ibn ‘Ajiba, Tafsir al-Bahr al-Madid]

These people were “spoiled for so long,” meaning so much time had passed between them and their prophets. Or it means that their waiting for the Day of Resurrection was lengthy. Muqatil said that this was a reference to their false hopes, meaning that when their false hopes extended too far, their hearts hardened. It is also said to mean that they spent much time of their lives in ignorance, and because of that, their hearts became hard. [Tafsir Ibn ‘Ajiba; Ibn ‘Adil, al-Lubab fi ‘Ulum al-Kitab; Tafsir al-Tha‘labi]

As a result, “their hearts became hardened,” meaning they no longer became soft with Allah’s remembrance because they followed their desires. The true divine scripture had prevented the Children of Israel from many of their desires. They used to become humble upon hearing the Torah and the Gospels, and their hearts would become soft.

But when much time passed, brashness and hardness overcame them, and they began to differ because of that. They then no longer were affected by admonishments, nor by promises or threats. They changed Allah’s scripture that they had with them, thereby receiving something very cheap in return and throwing it behind their backs. They followed variant opinions and corrupt positions, blindly following their rabbis and monks in Allah’s religion without any evidence or proof.

“And many of them are ˹still˺ rebellious”: Many of them transgress the boundaries of Allah, His commands, and His prohibitions. Their actions thereby became invalid and their hearts corrupt, as Allah says, “But for breaking their covenant, We condemned them and hardened their hearts. They distorted the words of the Scripture and neglected a portion of what they had been commanded to uphold.” [Quran, 5:13] This is why Allah prohibited the Muslims from resembling them. [al-Tafsir al-Munir]

Abdullah ibn Masud (Allah be pleased with him) said, “There was not but four years between our acceptance of Islam and Allah reprimanding us with the verse, ‘Has the time not yet come for believers’ hearts to be humbled at the remembrance of Allah….’” [Muslim]

It is also narrated that Ibn Masud (Allah be pleased with him) said, “When this verse came down, some of us came to others and said, ‘What have we done?! What have we committed?!’” [Shawkani, Fath al-Qadir; Qurtubi, al-Jami‘ li Ahkam al-Quran]

Hasan (Allah be pleased with him) narrates, “By Allah, He gave them much time, and they were reading less of the Quran than you do. Now look at how much you read and the corruption that has risen among you.” This means that Allah gave time for the hearts of the Companions (Allah be pleased with them all) to become humble, and reprimanded them for the lack of effect that the Quran had on them quickly, despite the humility that they had.

They recited less than those who came later, giving the later generation pause to think about their state and the corruption among them despite how much Quran they read. This was a testament that their hearts were hard as stone, or rather harder. [Hashiyat al-Tibi on al-Kashhaf]

Lessons from the Verse

Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali (Allah have mercy on him) points out that this verse contains a reprimand and reproachment for anyone who hears this revelation, and no righteousness, tenderness, or humility occurs in his heart.

This audible revelation encompasses the ultimate objective and the utmost with which hearts are rectified, and by which the souls, enclosed in the highest abode, are drawn to the presence of the Beloved; thus, the heart is enlivened after its death and unified after its dispersion, and its hardness is dispelled through contemplation of His address and listening to His verses. For when the heart is certain of the greatness of what it heard, and it perceives the nobility of the relation of this speech to its Speaker, it yields and submits. And when it contemplates what it contains of meanings and grasps it, it crumbles from the awe of Allah and His veneration, and it becomes humbled. [Nuzhat al-Asma’ fi Mas’alat al-Samaʿ]

Abu al-Darda (Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said: “The first thing to be lifted from this nation will be humility, until you will not see in it anyone who is humble.” [Haythami, Majmaʿ al-Zawaʾid]

Humility (khushuʿ) is a fear of Allah that penetrates the heart, causing its effects to appear on the limbs as subdued and calm, as is the condition of a person who is afraid. And some of the early generations used to say: “I seek refuge in Allah from the humility of hypocrisy.” It was asked, “What is the humility of hypocrisy?” They replied, “That the body appears humble while the heart is not.” [Fayruzabadi, Basaʾir Dhawi al-Tamyiz]

The first part of the verse indicates that the antidote to the hardness of the heart is the remembrance of Allah. Allah says, “The ˹true˺ believers are only those whose hearts tremble at the remembrance of Allah, whose faith increases when His revelations are recited to them, and who put their trust in their Lord.” [Quran, 8:2]

This verse also reminds us of when Allah says, “O believers! Respond to Allah and His Messenger when he calls you to that which gives you life.” [Quran 8:24] The term “gives you life” refers to the life of the heart.

It also reminds us of the verse: “So woe to those whose hearts are hardened at the remembrance of Allah! It is they who are clearly astray. ˹It is˺ Allah ˹Who˺ has sent down the best message—a Book of perfect consistency and repeated lessons—which causes the skin ˹and hearts˺ of those who fear their Lord to tremble, then their skin and hearts soften at the mention of ˹the mercy of˺ Allah.” [Quran, 39:22-3]

A person may know the verses, know the hadiths, know what is lawful and what is unlawful, but his heart is not moved by these verses and hadiths due to the passing of time, which brings about hardness in the heart.

Indeed, the passage of time may diminish the tenderness of feelings, the elongation of days may cause some values to be forgotten, and the antiquity of one’s practice may alter heartfelt emotions, unless one attends to oneself and polishes his heart, to remain present in thought, conscious in heart, and alert in sensation, because softness is a behavioral phenomenon that stems from a tender heart. [Muhammad Mahmud al-Khazandar, Hadhihi Akhlaquna Heena Nakuna Muʾminina Haqqan]

May Allah send His peace and blessings upon Muhammad, His family, and His companions.