Q: Who are the people the Qur’anic verses 2:18 and 2:171 refer to?
“They are utterly deaf, dumb, and blind; they can no longer recover.” (Al-Baqarah, 2:18)
“They are deaf, dumb and blind, and so they have no understanding of (what is said to them).” (Al-Baqarah, 2:171)
One of the above verses is about hypocrites; and the other is about unbelievers. As clearly expressed in these verses, the state of hypocrites and unbelievers are considered as equal to being deaf, dumb, and blind in their difficulty to digest the truth, in the way they view events, and in their injustice. However, the two verses differ in their essence: one of them implies for these groups inability to find their original disposition (fitrat al-asliya) and former state of being, while in the other verse there is an emphasis on failure in using their reason. What joins these groups in their common deafness, dumbness, and blindness is the fact that both cannot evaluate truly the “book of the universe,” a book laid out before their very eyes in the form of an exhibition so that they can find out about the Almighty Creator; they cannot analyze the cosmos comprehensively, nor can they interpret events by reading between the lines. They do not give the slightest importance to the books, nor do they lend a listening ear to their conscience.
If they had made good use of the books and their conscience, then they would have been able to testify to the truth-as the believers do-by using their intelligence. This way they would also have returned to their original innate nature; as a result, they would have lived their lives according to God’s commands and prohibitions. Truly, they are deaf because, while every creature in the universe announces the existence of God in its unique tongue, they are incapable of hearing that. They are dumb because they are incapable of acknowledging what they feel in their inner consciousness. They are blind because they cannot see the ways which lead humans to the truth of God’s existence and His oneness.
To consider more deeply these verses, “La ya’qilun” is used for the unbelievers, meaning that they do not use their intelligence and they do not actually think. As a matter of fact, if they had taken time to think, then they could have found the ways leading to faith easily. Indeed, the obstinate unbelievers of the city of Mecca had persecuted the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, and his companions for long years. Yet, when they truly recognized how Muslims were and how they lived in an environment of peace after the Hudaybiya Treaty, the unbelievers turned their heads towards the right path saying, “We have been in great error!” For such a level of realization to be possible for unbelievers is largely dependent on their endeavor to think and to make a rational assessment of the situation; thus, the Qur’an concludes the verse about unbelievers with the expression “La ya’qilun.”
The Qur’an describes the hypocrites as follows: “Vacillating between (the believers) and (the unbelievers), neither with these, nor with those” (An-Nisa 4:143). In other words, they frequently go from one place to the other; they represent being deprived of light both in their vision and in their conscience. In addition, as they limit their lives to this world, they have been living in indifference and recklessness in this world. Belief and unbelief do not make any difference to them; they desire to live in a place where the living standards are high and where they become comfortable. Hence, they even go to the masjid and pray when necessary; nevertheless, they pray ostentatiously and lazily, as the Qur’an says: “When they rise to do the Prayer, they rise lazily, and to be seen by people (to show them that they are Muslims); and they do not remember God (within or outside the Prayer) save a little” (An-Nisa 4:142). This demonstrates that the hypocrites, in one sense, keep living in an Islamic way and they even follow the Prophet; nonetheless, they are still far from seeing the truth because their hearts are veiled and their thoughts are far from faith and sincerity.
Therefore, the biggest problem of the hypocrites is their insincerity. Accordingly, the Qur’an uses the expression, “La yarjiun” -“they cannot return to the truth and the purity that they originally had”-for the hypocrites as a characteristic. Also, the verses in chapter Al-Munafiqun (The Hypocrites) are concluded either as “La ya’lamun” -“They do not know”- or “La yafqahun” -“They do not understand.” Expressions like “La a’qilun, la yatafaqqarun” -“They do not consider, they do not think”-are not used for hypocrites because those expressions are the attributes of unbelievers.