Manipulation of 59:7

Whatever the messenger gives you, take it,
and whatever he withholds from you, do without it.


These Quranic words, which form part of verse 7 of Sura 59 have been badly manipulated by those who wish to find justification for granting prophet Muhammad authority as a lawmaker, when the Quran does not give such authority except to God (see, 6:114, 5:99 and 66:1). According to these scholars these words mean that we must uphold everything and every word spoken by the prophet as law, refraining from everything he prohibits.

One common method of corrupting the meaning of a Quranic truth is to isolate one verse, or part of a verse, from the verses that come before or after it. In doing so, a totally misleading meaning can be obtained. The following is such an

O you who believe, do not approach the Salat while you are intoxicated until you know what you are saying. 4:43

Now let us read the first few words of this verse without the remainder, we get:

O you who believe, do not approach the Salat

By isolating the sentence above from the rest of the verse, it may appear that God is instructing us not to observe the Salat!
Clearly, this is a manipulation made possible by isolating certain words from the remainder.

The same principle can also apply if we quote one Quranic verse in isolation without reading the verses immediately before or after it. This is exactly the case when applied to 59:7 in isolation.

It is true that the words used in 59:7 say that we should accept what the messenger gives us and refrain from what he withholds from us, but what exactly is God speaking about here? Do these words mean that the messenger has the authority to legislate and we must accept him as a lawmaker? What do the words before and after these words say? What is the context of this group of verses? To attain the answers we need to read verses 59:6 and 59:7:

What God bestowed on His messenger from them was not the result of any horses or camels that you mobilised for it, but God grants power to His messengers over whom He wills. God is Capable of all things.
What God bestowed on His messenger from the people of the villages belongs to God and the messenger, and the relatives, and the orphans, and the needy, and the homeless. This is so that it would not circulate merely around the rich among you. Whatever the messenger gives you, take it, and whatever he withholds from you, do without it. You shall reverence God. Indeed, God is severe in punishment. 59:6-7

The above Quranic words ascertain the following important issues:

These two verses (59:6-7) speak specifically about the spoils of war.
The words "What God bestowed on His messenger from the people of the villages" confirm that the subject is the spoils of war.

The source of what is given to the people by the messenger "whatever the messenger gives you" is God and not the messenger. This is confirmed with the words "what God bestowed on His messenger". This means that whatever is given to the believers, even though it is given by the messenger, the source is still God. The spoils of war were given to the messenger in order for him to distribute them in accordance to God's rules.

The messenger is to distribute the spoils of war, restored to him by God, to the following groups: "the relatives, the orphans, the needy and the homeless."

Following these words, God says that the believers should accept what the messenger gives them (of the spoils) and do without what is not given to them. In other words, God is telling the believers to accept the way the messenger distributes these spoils of war without expressing dissatisfaction.

The words "thus it will not revolve merely around the rich among you" is further conclusive proof that God is not speaking about the hadith or sunna of the messenger but is speaking about material gains, i.e. the spoils of war.

Despite the above assertions, we find a large number of interpreters guilty of the following:

1- Taking the sentence "whatever the messenger gives you" out of the context of the whole verse.
2- It was claimed that the words "whatever the messenger gives you" refer to the hadith of Muhammad, when in fact they refer to the spoils of war.
3- It was also claimed that the source of 'what is given' and 'what is withheld' is Muhammad when the Quranic words state clearly that the source is God "what God bestowed".
4- The duty assigned to the messenger in 59:7 was changed from distributing the spoils of war in accordance to the rules outlined in the same verse, to someone who is given authority to be a lawmaker besides God.
5- By doing so, disregard was shown to the Quranic assurance that God is the only lawmaker (6:114), that the sole duty of the messenger is to deliver God's message (5:99).

Finally, the Quran provides additional evidence for the correct context of the words: "whatever the messenger gives you, take it" in the following words:

Some of them criticise you (O Muhammad) regarding the charities. If they are given part of it they are content and if they are not given part of it, they become resentful.
If only they were content with what God and His messenger had given them, and had said, "God suffices us. God will provide for us from His favour as will His messenger. It is God whom we seek." 9:58-59