He taught us the meaning of good action, he is Allāh’s chosen one on earth, and His greatest Messenger. Hassan (raḍiy Allāhu ‘anhu) would say in his famous couplets: “My eye has never seen anything more perfect than you, and women have never conceived more beautiful than you. You have been created free of any defect, as if you were created as you willed.” Who were those who raised their voices behind the Prophet’s apartments, and how did the noble companions respond?
Reason for Revelation
Those who called out the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) were a tribe by the name of Banu Tameem. We know that they came to Madinah in the ninth year of the Hijrah, also known as the ‘Year of the Delegates’ (‘Ām al-Wufūd). The visiting group comprised around 70 or more individuals. It is said that they came to Madinah to ransom some of their captives who were taken by the Muslims, after they thwarted some of their tribesmen from paying the Zakāh duty to the Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam).
The group were therefore of varying degrees of devotion, and some of Banu Tameem’s clans had still not embraced Islam. The group entered the Masjid during the middle of the afternoon, during what is called ‘al-Qā’ilah’ (mid-afternoon nap). The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) was resting in one of his wives’ apartments. Below is an approximate representation of al-Masjid al-Nabawi in the Prophetic era and the arrangement of the Prophet’s apartments (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam). Notice how the majority of the Prophet’s apartments are clustered next to the purified Rawdah (garden), which is a section of Paradise as per the Hadith of the Messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam):
مَا بَيْنَ بَيْتِي وَمِنْبَرِي رَوْضَةٌ مِنْ رِيَاضِ الْجَنَّةِ
“Between my house and my pulpit there is a garden of the gardens of Paradise.”
Historical accounts mention that members of Banu Tameem had positioned themselves near to the Prophet’s apartments and in a raised voice demanded: “Mohammad! Bring out three of your men (to duel us) for we are worthy of being praised, and our offence is a disgrace.” The strange address was a notorious provocation to a verbal duel, something commonplace in Arabia at the time. The duel would involve the two parties mentioning each other’s traits and achievements before assessing who was the better of the two. They continued: “We came to outdo you in status.”
Some narrations specify that the individual who called out was al-Aqra’ ibn Hābis. In all likelihood, al-Aqra’ was their representative or leader. Since it is customary to attribute the actions of a leader to those who follow, the plural construct ‘yunādūnak’ (those who call out to you) was used. This is similar to attributing a crime to a ‘group’ saying ‘they’ did it, when it was probably only one person who physically carried out the crime. It is also possible that they all participated in calling out the noble Messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) in one way or another!
According to Ibn Kathīr, the second verse was revealed concerning the two great Shaykhs, Abu Bakr and ‘Umar (raḍiy Allāhu ‘anhumā). Contextually, this was likely after the event had elapsed and Banu Tameem had accepted Islam. Now, needing to elect a leader over their locality, the two Shaykhs counselled the Messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) as to who should be appointed. In a profound narration, Ibn Abi Mulaikah said:
كَادَ الخيِّران أَنْ يَهْلَكَا، أَبُو بَكْرٍ وَعُمَرُ، رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُمَا
“The two select, righteous men were about to be ruined: Abu Bakr and ‘Umar (raḍiy Allāhu ‘anhumā).”
رَفَعَا أَصْوَاتَهُمَا عِنْدَ النَّبِيِّ حِينَ قَدِمَ عَلَيْهِ رَكْبُ بَنِي تَمِيمٍ. فَأَشَارَ أَحَدُهُمَا بِالْأَقْرَعِ بْنِ حَابِسٍ أَخِي بَنِي مُجَاشِعٍ وَأَشَارَ الْآخَرُ بِرَجُلٍ آخَرَ -قَالَ نَافِعٌ: لَا أَحْفَظُ اسْمَهُ-فَقَالَ أَبُو بَكْرٍ لِعُمَرَ: مَا أَرَدْتَ إِلَّا خِلَافِي. قَالَ: مَا أَرَدْتُ خِلَافَكَ. فَارْتَفَعَتْ أَصْوَاتُهُمَا فِي ذَلِكَ فَأَنْزَلَ اللَّهُ: ﴿يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا تَرْفَعُوا أَصْوَاتَكُمْ فَوْقَ صَوْتِ النَّبِيِّ وَلا تَجْهَرُوا لَهُ بِالْقَوْلِ كَجَهْرِ بَعْضِكُمْ لِبَعْضٍ﴾ الْآيَةَ. قَالَ ابْنُ الزُّبَيْرِ: فَمَا كَانَ عُمَرُ يسمعُ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ بَعْدَ هَذِهِ الْآيَةِ حَتَّى يَسْتَفْهِمَهُ…
“They raised their voice in the presence of the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) when the delegate of Banu Tameem came to the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam). One of them recommended that al-Aqra’ ibn Hābis al-Tamimi al-Hanzali be appointed as their chief, while the other recommended another. Abu Bakr said to ‘Umar: ‘You have only intended to oppose me.’ `Umar said: ‘I did not intend to oppose you!’ Gradually, their voices grew louder in front of the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) whereupon there was revealed: ‘You who have Iman! Do not raise your voices above the voice of the Prophet.’”
Ibn al-Zubair said: “From then on, when `Umar talked to the Prophet, he would talk (so quietly) that the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) would ask him to repeat what he said.” In another Hadith, Abu Bakr (raḍiy Allāhu ‘anhu) said:
لَمَّا نَزَلَتْ هَذِهِ الْآيَةُ: ﴿يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا تَرْفَعُوا أَصْوَاتَكُمْ فَوْقَ صَوْتِ النَّبِيِّ﴾ ، قُلْتُ: يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ، وَاللَّهِ لَا أُكَلِّمُكَ إلا كأخي السّرار
“When the verse ‘You who have Iman! Do not raise your voices above the voice of the Prophet’ was revealed, I said ‘Messenger of Allāh, by Allāh I will not speak to you except as one telling a secret to another.’”
Allāh then revealed the third verse (“those who lower their voices”) as an interjectory statement. This addresses the impulse those who hear the admonition will have in wanting to discover the status of the opposite group; those who lower their voices in the presence of the Messenger of Allāh. It also comes to promptly allay the fears of those who may have thought they were intended by the first address.
Qur’anic exegetes agree that this distinct reward and praise is primarily directed at Abu Bakr and ‘Umar (raḍiy Allāhu ‘anhumā) because they both never spoke to the Messenger of Allāh after that except by whispering, rushing to apply the directive. By extension, this directive applies to each and every individual who lowers their voice in the Prophet’s revered presence.
The Companions Ready for any Occasion
When Banu Tameem sought to have a duel in both oration (Khitābah) and poetry (Shi’r), the companions of the Messenger of Allāh were active and ready to meet like for like. They collectively mastered every art, directing each to the service of Allāh and His Messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam). They were up for any challenge. Al-Aqra’ stepped forth, duelling the Messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) with poetic expression:
أتَيْناكَ كَيْما يَعْرِفُ النّاسُ فَضْلَنا إذا خالَفُونا عِنْدَ ذِكْرِ المَكارِمِ
وأنّا رُؤُوسُ النّاسِ مِن كُلِّ مَعْشَرٍ وأنْ لَيْسَ في أرْضِ الحِجازِ كَدارِمِ
وأنَّ لَنا المِرْباعَ في كُلِّ غارَةٍ تَكُونُ بِنَجْدٍ أوْ بِأرْضِ التَّهائِمِ
“We came to you and people are well aware of our nobility, particularly if we are opposed when nobility is mentioned. We are leaders, and in all of Hijaz there are none like Dārim. And to us belong the spoils in every assault in the land of Najd or Tihāmah.”
The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) was ready to address their contest with what is better. He said, turning to his formidable poet Hassan ibn Thabit (raḍiy Allāhu ‘anhu): “Get up and reply to him.” Hassan stood and determinedly recited:
بَنِي دارِمٍ لا تَفْخَرُونَ إنَّ فَخْرَكم يَصِيرُ وبالًا عِنْدَ ذِكْرِ المَكارِمِ
هَبُلْتُمْ عَلَيْنا تَفْخَرُونَ وأنْتُمْ لَنا خَوَّلٌ مِن بَيْنِ ظِئْرٍ وخادِمِ
فَإنْ كُنْتُمْ جِئْتُمْ لِحَقْنِ دِمائِكم وأمْوالِكم أنْ يُقَسَّمُوا في المَقاسِمِ
فَلا تَجْعَلُوا لِلَّهِ نِدًّا وأسْلِمُوا . ولا تَفْخَرُوا عِنْدَ النَّبِيِّ بِدارِمِ
وإلّا ورَبِّ البَيْتِ قَدْ مالَتِ القَنا عَلى هامِكم بِالمُرْهِفاتِ الصَّوارِمِ
“Bani Dārim, do not boast, for it is a curse when (true) nobilities are mentioned. You have boasted despite being either our pitied maternal uncles, or servants. If you have come seeking to protect your blood and wealth from distribution, then embrace Islam and stop bragging about ‘Dārim’ in the presence of the Messenger. Otherwise, by the Lord of the House, our spears and swords will be directed at your feeble heads and bodies.”
Al-Aqra’ ibn Hābis stood taken aback and said: “What is this? Our orator spoke, but yours was better than ours. And our poet spoke but your poet was better than ours.” Then he approached the Messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) and declared: “I testify there is no Lord worthy of worship but Allāh, and that you are the Messenger of Allāh.” The Messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) replied: “Nothing you did before this will harm you.”
Notice how the Prophetic community was neither passive in the face of denigration, nor unprepared. Here, the noble Messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) ensured that he utilised the same modes and arts of communication known to the Arabs. The underlying message is that if you insist on poetry, we have more sublime poetry and are prepared to fight the battle you choose. In fact, the Prophet would say to Hassan (raḍiy Allāhu ‘anhu):
“Satirise (with poetry) against the Quraish, for it is more grievous to them than the hurt of an arrow.” Hassan replied: “You have called for this lion who strikes (the enemies) with his tail.” He then brought out his tongue and began to move it and said: “By Him Who has sent you with Truth, I shall tear them with my tongue as leather is torn.” ‘A’isha (the narrator) said: “I heard Allāh’s Messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) saying to Hassan: “Verily Rūḥ al-Qudus (Jibrīl ʿalayhi al-Salām) will continue to help you so long as you put up a defence on behalf of Allāh and His Messenger.”
Hassan (raḍiy Allāhu ‘anhu) would then join forces with Abu Bakr (raḍiy Allāhu ‘anhu), the latter a master of Arabian genealogy. Hassan would then ‘spice up’ his poetry with Abu Bakr’s immersed knowledge of some of the family controversies, infamies, and mortifying nuances that the Prophet’s detractors prayed would keep hidden. He would say:
ألا أبلغْ أبا سفيانَ عني، فأنتَ مجوفٌ نخبٌ هواءُ
وأن سيوفنا تركتك عبدا وعبد الدار سادتها الإماء
“Tell Abu Sufyan about me. Because you (Abu Sufyan) are in fact a hollow, gaseous coward. Our swords have left you a slave. As for Abdu al-Dār, its leaders are in fact its bondwomen…
هجوتَ محمداً، فأجبتُ عنهُ، وعندَ اللهِ في ذاكَ الجزاءُ
أتَهْجُوهُ، وَلَسْتَ لَهُ بكُفْءٍ، فَشَرُّكُما لِخَيْرِكُمَا الفِداءُ
“You satirised against Mohammad, but I answered on his behalf. And with Allāh, for this will be the reward. Do you satirise against him whilst you are not his equal? (After all), the worst of us is bound to ransom our best.”
In other words, the Noble Messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) was equipped to address the particular challenges of the time and did not shy away from using the media of the time proactively, if such were of impact. He ensured the companions excelled in those contemporary and recognised arts and crafts, directing their usage towards the service of the Message of Islam.
We do not need to forge ourselves or deform our skills simply to replicate those of another. Your contemporary education and skills are crucial to Da’wah, be it in medicine, the arts, poetry, or media, so long as it is directed to service Islam. As Muslims, why have our guards been constantly lowered and left us expectant of defamation? Is it not time we satirise and expose the many mortifications, corruptions, and controversies of media moguls, Islamophobic pawns, and populists using today’s techniques?
The Personal Impact of the Qur’ān on the Companions
Prior to Hassan (raḍiy Allāhu ‘anhu), the orator (Khatīb) who challenged Banu Tameem and defended the Messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) and the Muslims was a companion by the name of Thābit ibn Qais (raḍiy Allāhu ‘anhu). He was elected as the Khatīb of the Ansār because of his sound articulation and loud voice. Anas ibn Malik (raḍiy Allāhu ‘anhu) mentions that when the verse “do not raise your voices above the voice of the Prophet” was revealed, Thābit confined himself to his house and said, “I am from the people of Hell.” Thābit’s absence was felt and the Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) turned to Sa’d ibn Mu’āth (or ibn ‘Ubādah) asking: “Abu ‘Amr, how is Thābit? Has he fallen sick?” Sa’d replied: “He is my neighbour, but I have not heard of him falling sick.”
When Sa’d checked up on Thābit, Thābit said: “This verse (of al-Ḥujurāt) was revealed, and you are well aware that amongst all of you, my voice is louder than that of the Messenger of Allāh, and so I am amongst the people of hell.” When Sa’d informed the Messenger of Allāh, he said: “No, rather he is one of the people of Paradise.” Anas, the narrator comments:
“We used to see him (Thābit) walking between us whilst knowing that he is going to paradise.” Then on the day of Yamāmah, during the great battle against Musailamah the Liar, Thābit emerged wearing his death shroud, rebuking the soldiers who had retreated. He fought relentlessly until he fell as a martyr and the prophecy came to life.”
If the companion who dedicated his voice in the service of Allāh and His Messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) felt that this verse addressed him, how much more does it address us when we talk over a Hadith, or interrupt a verse being recited, or throw Hadiths at one another in our arguments? How does it affect our demeanour and respect of the scholars of Islam, the ‘inheritors of Prophets’ as our Messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) informed us? The companions not only applied the fullest extent of Allāh’s words, but often went to excesses in their erring on the side of caution when it was remotely possible that a verse specifically addressed them.
Admonishing the Best
We also learn from the verses that the elite of the Ummah are not free from admonition. In fact, in certain Qur’anic instances, even the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) was mildly reproved by Allāh and being His Messenger, none save Allāh can mildly reprove him. As representatives of the Messenger, Islam’s leaders are also in need of admonition if they fall short. Naturally, such admonition is closely associated with what the admonisher would have otherwise expected of the subject. Recall the discussion on reasons for revelation above. Compare the sterner style of address to the two Shaykhs of the Ummah (containing a threat of actions being rendered to null) to that directed to Islam’s new entrants.
“As for those who call out to you from outside your private quarters, most of them do not use their intellect.”
Intriguingly, their debate in the Messenger’s presence is incomparable as a misconduct to those who shouted and said they wanted to outdo the Messenger! But Abu Bakr and ‘Umar (raḍiy Allāhu ‘anhumā) are by no means your ordinary Muslims. As the front-runners of humanity, their reproach corresponds. Importantly, this reproach did not negative affect their Iman. Instead it perfected it. The same sternness with Islam’s new entrants, whose Iman had not taken a firm hold, could have been disconcerting and may have had the opposite effect, hence the almost excusatory statement.
Remember these techniques when addressing Muslims who are at different levels of devotion.
And Allāh knows best.
 Al-Jāmi’ li Ahkām al-Qur’ān, Imam Qurtubi
 Bukhari and Muslim
 See Tafsir al-Qur’ān al-‘Athīm, Ibn Kathīr and others
 Tafsir al-Qur’ān al-‘Athīm, Ibn Kathīr
 Tafsir Al-Taḥrīr wa al-Tanwīr, Ibn ʿĀshūr
 Tafsir Al-Taḥrīr wa al-Tanwīr, Ibn ʿĀshūr
 Dārim – a sub-tribe of Banu Tameem
 Tihāmah could be a reference to Makkah. See Lisān al-‘Arab
 Rūh al-Ma’āny, al-Alusi, who references Ibn Hishām’s Sīrah
 Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim
 This latter verse of poetry is known as the ‘most equitable poetic verse an Arab has ever said’ for its power and perfect revenge for the sake of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ
 Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim
 Al-Qur’ān 49:4