Confidences
(najwā, tanājin al-tanājī)

Gibril Fouad Haddad

The noun najwā refers to (i) the confiding of private or secret matters to another (Q 4:114, 9:78, 20:62, 21:3, 43:80, 58:8-13 x4), or (ii) any group of two or more thus engaged (Q 4:114 also, 17:47, 58:7). Both senses imply exclusivism or an aside that takes place in plain view of non-participants, each member of a najwā (or all, collectively) being called a najīy, “confidant(s)” (Q 12:80, 19:52), two or more confiding in each other (reflexive verb tanājaw) (Q 58:8-9 x4), or one confiding to another (transitive verb nājā) (Q 58:12). The cognates najwānajīynājā and tanājaw occur in the Qurʾān a total of 18 times in two types of contexts: the positive contexts of the Prophet Mūsā’s colloquies with Allah (see Mūsa, upon him peace) (Q 19:52) and the Muslims’ consultations with the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace (Q 58:12-13 x3), and the negative contexts of scheming (see Secret Plot), as in the conferring of the brothers of Yūsuf (see Yūsuf, upon him peace) (Q 12:80) and, most importantly and frequently, the asides of hypocrites, including the Jews, as a disaffected group within the larger Medinan society of the Believers.

Definitions and Usage

Lexically, najwā is synonymous with the infinitive noun najw and derives from n-j-w, which yields the verb najā, yanjū and conveys the meanings of “salvation from harm” (najāt) and “haste” (najāʾ) as well as concealment, removal, secrecy, and constipation (Farāhīdī, ʿAyn, 6:186, sub j-n-w/y; Ibn Durayd, Jamhara, 2:117, sub j-n-w; Ibn Fāris, Maqāyīs, 5:397, sub n-j-w). The verb najā in the transitive sense means to overtake (a thing) and, more relevantly here, confide (in a person), as does its reciprocal form tānājā (hence its Form-VI noun munājāt, “intimate colloquy”); but in the intransitive, it means to go to stool (as in its Form-X noun istinjāʾ) (Saraqusṭī, Afʿāl, 3:170, nūn, al-muʿtall bil-wāw fī lām al-fiʿl). The verbal Forms II (najjā) and IV (anjā) denote salvation (najāt), the most frequent (66 times) Qurʾānic denotation of the stem (see Deliverance).


The prohibition of confidential asides as harmful and satanic

Confidential asides possess negative characteristics:

  • Much of their confidential asides are devoid of goodness… (Q 4:114). Verses Q 4:105-114 were revealed in reference to the Banū Ubayriq colluding to frame the Jewish convert Labīd (or Abū Labīd) b. Sahl al-Anṣārī (?-?) for theft (Ibn Abī Ḥātim, Tafsīr: Tirmidhī, Sunan, Tafsīr, rated gharīb; both sub Q 4:114; see Abū Nuʿaym, Maʿrifa, 5:2422 §5925; Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr, Istīʿāb, 3:1338-1339 §2234; Ibn Ḥajar, Iṣāba, 3:285 §4238, sub ṭ-ʿ and 6:5-6 §7536, sub l-b). The divine redirection that followed, …except for whoever enjoins giving alms, or goodness, or reconciliation between people; and whoever does that in pursuit of the good pleasure of Allah, We shall grant him an immense reward, applies to all humanity (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, sub Q 4:114).
  • They typify the unjust who were intent on disparaging the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, and accused him of witchcraft: And they conceal their asides—those who are unjust— “Is he but a human being just like you? Will you endorse witchcraft with your eyes wide open?” (Q 21:3) (see Injustice). The verb for “conceal,” asarrū, is of the auto-antonyms (aḍdād) and also means “to reveal” (Abū ʿUbayda, Majāz, 2:34, sub Q 21:3; Ibn al-Anbārī, Aḍdād, p. 45 §18) and this is how the verse is better understood: And they bring out the confidence among themselves (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr). The verse echoed the typical conciliabules of the Makkan chieftains Abū Jahl, al-Walīd b. al-Mughīra, and ʿUqba b. Abī Muʿayṭ (Muqātil, Tafsīr).
  • They constitute the inveterate sin and enmity of the Jews who (i) as a rule acted as if they were plotting against individual Muslims; (ii) would greet the Prophet—upon him blessings and peace—with the words, “al-sām [death] be upon you;” (iii) ignored the Prophet’s command not to do so; (iv) and challenged Allah to punish them: Do you not see those who were forbidden confidential asides, then they keep returning to what they were forbidden, and they scheme in secret to commit sin, enmity and disobedience of the Messenger? Then, when they come to you, they greet you with a greeting Allah never greeted you with; and then say to themselves: “Why does Allah not punish us for what we say?” (Q 58:8) (Tafsīrs of Muqātil, Mujāhid, Ṭabarī).
  • They originate with Satan, who uses them to distress the believers: Confidential asides are from none other than Satan (Q 58:10). The hypocrites would hold asides and this would infuriate and distress the believers (Ṭabarī). “Confidential asides are cast forth by the Enemy to the human psyche (nafs al-ṭabʿ), as the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, said, ‘The angel makes a call and the devil makes a call’ [Tirmidhī, Abwāb tafsīr al-Qurʾān, 3: wa-min Sūrat al-Baqara, rated ḥasan; Ibn Ḥibbān, 3:278 §997]” (Tustarī, Tafsīr). It is for this reason that the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, and the sacred Law in his wake, forbid it for two people to converse privately in the presence of a third, or for three to do so in the presence of a fourth, etc., unless the one left out has company or gives permission (Bukhārī, Istiʾdhān, lā yatanājā ithnān dūn al-thālith; Muslim, Salām, taḥrīm munājāt al-ithnayn dūn al-thālith bi-ghayri riḍāh; Nawawī, Sharḥ).


The command to use asides for righteous objectives

Conversely, najwā can be used for good, as when one proceeds to privately consult the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, giving charity in the process: O Believers, when you converse privately with the Messenger, present a charity before your private conversation; that is better for you and purer; but if you find nothing to give, Allah is all-Forgiving, all-Merciful (Q 58:12). At first the order to remit alms was binding and the Companions were forbidden to converse privately until they did so, then it was subsequently abrogated with the following verse, Does it weigh too heavily on you to present alms before your private conversation? Since you did not, and Allah has relented towards you, then establish the prayer and remit the zakāt… (Q 58:13) (Mujāhid, Tafsīr; Qatāda, Nāsikh). Thereafter, “Even a slave-girl of Madīna could take hold of the hand of the Messenger of Allah, upon him blessings and peace, and go with him wherever she had need to” (Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ, Adab, kibr; Aḥmad, 19:9 §11941).

Other scenarios of the good type of confidential aside are for the believers to exhort each other to almsgiving, goodness (see Commanding Good), reconciliation between people, virtue and righteousness, all of which reaps immense reward (Q 4:114, 58:9).

The absolute and total nature of divine knowledge

The Qurʾān uses the subject of confidences and confidants to emphasize the absolute and all-encompassing nature of the divine attribute of knowledge:

  • Allah knows the secrets of people, their private conversations, and infinitely more than that: Do they not know that Allah knows their secrets and their private conversations, and that Allah is the All-Knower of all possible things unseen? (Q 9:78); the latter Name, ʿAllām al-ghuyūb, occurs in three other places (Q 5:109, 5:116, 34:48) and is formed of a double intensifier of His oft-reiterated Names of Knower of all things unseen (ʿālim al-ghayb) (Q 34:3, 72:26) and Knower of all things unseen and seen (ʿālim al-ghayb wal-shahāda) (Q 6:73, 9:94, 9:105, 13, 9, 23:92, 32:6, 39:46, 59:22, 62:8, 64:18) (see Beautiful Names).
  • The verse We know full well what they listen to when they listen to you and when they are all asides, when the oppressors say: “You follow nothing but a man bewitched” (Q 17:47) lays bare the hypocrites as they outwardly listen to the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, but then become identified with surreptitiousness in the phrase “when they are all asides” (wa-hum najwā). The setting for such exchanges was typically the assembly hall of the Quraysh (dār al-nadwa) next to the Kaʿba (Mujāhid, Tafsīr). It is only after hearing many such verses and being confronted many times by the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, with the exposure of their underhand chatter, that the Quraysh would no longer trust even inanimate objects around them not to report back their words to the Prophet:

The Messenger of Allah, upon him blessings and peace, entered the Kaʿba in the Year of the Conquest (Ramadan 8/January 630) together with Bilāl. He ordered him to raise the call to prayer as Abū Sufyān b. Ḥarb, ʿAttāb b. Asīd, and al-Ḥārith b. Hishām sat at the threshold of the Kaʿba. ʿAttāb said, “Allah has honored Asīd not to live to hear this; it would have infuriated him.” Al-Ḥārith said, “I do swear by Allah that if I knew for sure he is telling the truth, I would follow him.” Abū Sufyān said, “I will say nothing. If I say anything, even these pebbles would tell him what I said!” The Prophet then came out to talk to them. He said, “I know exactly what you all said.” He repeated it to them word for word. Al-Ḥārith and ʿAttāb said, “We bear witness that you are the Messenger of Allah. By Allah, not even those who were with us were aware of this for us to say they told you.” (Ibn Hishām, 2:413, dhikr al-asbāb al-mūjiba lil-masīr ilā Makka wa-dhikr fatḥ Makka, sabab islām ʿAttāb wal-Ḥārith b. Hishām).

  • No three people hold a private conversation except He is the fourth [in attendance] with them… (Q 58:7). This verse is “metaphorical speech” (min majāz al-kalām: Jurjānī, Darj). Divine omniscience is represented in terms of omnipresence as if Allah were present “in person” with the conversants, whereas “He is the fourth with them with His knowledge, His encompassment, and His control” (Ibn ʿAṭiyya, Muḥarrar, sub Q 58:8). This concrete style is found in many other verses, such as Know that Allah steps in between a person and his own heart (Q 8:24); and you were not taking cover lest your own hearing, your own eyesights and your own skins should bear witness against you; rather, you thought that Allah has no knowledge of much of what you do (Q 41:22); We created man and We know exactly whatever His own soul whispers; and We are nearer to Him than his jugular vein (Q 50:16); and when it reaches his windpipe as you look on, and We are nearer to him than you, but you cannot see (Q 56:87).


The bestowal of divine confidences on Prophets and non-Prophets

The Qurʾān uses the noun najīyyan (participial-state accusative case of najī, confidant(s), regular pl. anjiya) as a descriptive title for the Prophet Mūsā, upon him blessings and peace, at the time of his intimate colloquy with Allah in the verse And We called him from the side of the mountain on [his] right, and We brought him near as a confidant (Q 19:52). The divine tryst spanned a total of forty nights (Q 2:51, 7:142)—the 30 of Dhū al-Qiʿda and the first ten of Dhū al-Ḥijja (Ṭabarī, Ibn Abī Ḥātim, etc., sub Q 2:51)—at which time “Mūsā re­mained for forty nights such that no one could look at him without falling dead due to the light from the Lord of the worlds” (Ibn Abī Ḥātim, sub Q 28:30). Asked to what he might compare the divine speech among created things he replied, “still thunder” (al-raʿd al-sākin) (Ṭabarī, sub Q 4:164).

Brought near as a confidant in Q 19:52 stands for the highest good and special proximity to Allah, which early Sufi texts (3rd-4th/9th-10th c.) also understood as including the non-Prophet friends of Allah and as concomitant with divine gifts of knowledge and spiritual disclosure:

And We brought him near as a confidant, that is, as a recipient of confidence for the patent unveiling of Truth to hearts by mutual communication and love (muḥādathatan wa-wuddan), as Allah most High said, the All-Merciful shall assign for them loving affection (Q 19:96), that is, an unveiling that obtains the secrets without intermediary. This is a station given by Allah to those who are true to Allah in secret and in public (Tustarī, Tafsīr, sub Q 19:52).

Friendship (wilāya) (see Clients and Patrons) is for those on whom Allah bestows His communication (ḥadīth) in a different way, connecting them with Him. Recipients receive communication that proceeds from Allah, spoken by Him (ʿalā lisān al-ḥaqq), accompanied with tranquility (sakīna).… Such communication only takes place because of the love Allah has for that particular servant.… Have you not heard the hadith of the Messenger of Allah, upon him blessings and peace, “Following a middle course (al-iqtiṣād), taking the right way (al-hudā), and keeping good demeanor (al-samt al-ṣāliḥ) are one in twenty-four parts of Prophethood”? [Abū Dāwūd, Sunan, Adab, fīl-waqār; Aḥmad, 4:431-432 §2698; Bukhārī, Adab, p. 276 §791, al-hudā wal-samt al-ḥasan] If those who follow a middle course (Q 35:32) possess the afore-mentioned portions of Prophethood, then what about those foremost in good deeds (Q 35:32)? (Ḥakīm al-Tirmidhī, Khatm, pp. 346-347).

Al-Junayd said: “And We brought him near as a confidant: We appointed him to be among the knowers of Us and those who tell others about Us with truthfulness and veracity.” Ruwaym said: “We unveil from his innermost whatever was overcovering it, with all sorts of nearness and intimacy; and We give him permission to tell about it (Sulamī, Tafsīr, sub Q 19:52).

In the same spirit, the Alexandrian master Tāj al-Dīn Aḥmad b. Muḥammad al-Judhāmī, known as Ibn ʿAṭāʾ Allāh al-Sakandarī (d. 709/1309) appended to his most famous text, the Ḥikam (Aphorisms), 35 invocations to Allah entitled Munājāt (Colloquy). 


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See also

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