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Last Updated: 2013/12/08
Summary of question
Does verse 159 of Surah al-An\'am make reference to disunity and discord in the religion of Islam or to all divine religions?
Salamun alaikum, what is the interpretation of verse 159 of Chapter al-An\'am assuming that it refers to dispute and disunity in the religion of Islam?
Concise answer
The Holy Quran says in verses 159 of Chapter al-An'am:
«إِنَّ الَّذِينَ فَرَّقُوا دِينَهُمْ وَ كانُوا شِيَعاً لَسْتَ مِنْهُمْ فِي شَيْ‏ءٍ إِنَّما أَمْرُهُمْ إِلَى اللَّهِ ثُمَّ يُنَبِّئُهُمْ بِما كانُوا يَفْعَلُونَ‏»
"Surely they who divided their religion into parts and became sects, you have no concern with them; their affair is only with Allah, then He will inform them of what they did."
A number of exegetes believe that the verse has been revealed about Jews and Christians who were divided into groups and sects out of envy and hostility against one another. However, some others are of the view that the verse refers to those who tried to sow seeds of discord and disunity among the people. They are the ones who feigned conversion to Islam and did not truly embrace it due to prejudice, spite and hypocrisy.  It seems that the verse includes a universal instruction about all those who create disunity and seek to create innovations including those who lived before this Ummah or those who are in the Ummah for the time being.[1]
In other words, the verse means that those who created division in religion as the Quran says, "and those to whom the Book had been given did not show opposition but after knowledge had come to them, out of envy among themselves"[2] are not in the way of Islam which is based squarely on unity and they will be judged by their Lord.  Nothing from their misdeeds will stick to you. God, the Exalted, will make them aware of their deeds on the Day of Judgment. He will reveal to them the reality of their behavior. Therefore, the verse is general showing also the Prophet's disavowal to the Jews and Christians as well as to those who created divisions and innovations in the Islamic Ummah.[3]
Although the verse refers to those who were misled and created disunity but reference to such people actually is to make mention of the manifestations as stated by Ali bin Ibrahim Qummi in interpretation of this verse: [4]«قال فارقوا أمير المؤمنين (ع) و صاروا أحزابا» That is to say, those who separated from Imam Ali (AS) and were divided into groups and sects.  It reiterates by saying to the Holy Prophet (S) that your program and actions are in no way in harmony with what the hypocrites want to do. God, the Avenger, will take revenge from them and will show them the aftermath of their evil deeds.

[1] See, Makarem Shirazi, Naser, Tafsir Numuneh, vol.6, p. 49, Dar al-Kotob al-Islamiyyah, Tehran, 1374 (Persian calendar).
[2] Aal-e Imran, 19 وَ مَا اخْتَلَفَ الَّذينَ أُوتُوا الْكِتابَ إِلاَّ مِنْ بَعْدِ ما جاءَهُمُ الْعِلْمُ بَغْياً بَيْنَهُم
[3] Tabatabai, Sayyid Muhammad Hussein, Al-Mizan fi Tasir al-Qur'an, vol.7, p. 389 – 390, Islamic Publications Office, Qom, 1417 A.H.
[4] Qummi, Ali bin Ibrahim, Tafsir al-Qummi, researched by Musavi Jazaeri, Sayid Tayyib, vol.1, p. 222, fourth edition, 1367 (Persian calendar).
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