The 67th verse of Surah Maaidah merits particular attention. This is because in his 23 years of propagation, the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) endured untold pain and ordeals to convey the divine message in the face of unprecedented hostility and opposition. He put his life at peril to venture in the midst of enemies at Mecca and Taif in the first half of his prophethood and was then challenged in battle after battle post-migration in the second half. Ironically, after practically the entire Arab world had submitted to the Holy Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) message and Islam became a dominant force, Allah promises to protect the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) from the evil designs of the people. The secret behind Allah’s promise of protection to the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) after the majority of the Arabs had accepted Islam remains to be seen.
The key to this secret is unfolded by the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) himself in the Sermon of Ghadeer when he proclaimed to all the Muslims (both present and absent):
Allah has warned me that if I fail to deliver the message that has been revealed to me concerning Ali (a.s.) then it is as if I have not delivered the message (of Islam) at all. He has promised to protect me from the evil of the people. Allah is the Most-Sufficient, the Noblest.
Allah has revealed to me: O Apostle! Deliver what has been revealed to you from your Lord; and if you do it not, then you have not delivered His message, and Allah will protect you from the people
O People, I have never fallen short of conveying the divine revelation to you. I will unravel for you the secret behind the revelation of this Quranic verse.
Jibrael (a.s.) descended thrice and conveyed the divine command to declare in front of all people, black and white that “Ali b. Abi Talib (a.s.) is my brother, my legatee, my successor and the Caliph of my nation and the Imam after me. He is to me as Haroon was to Moosa except that there is no prophet after me. Authority over you is vested in him from Allah and the Prophet (s.a.w.a.). Allah has revealed a verse in this regard in the Holy Quran:
Only Allah is your Wali and His Apostle and those who believe, those who keep up prayers and pay the poor-rate while they bow.â
Ali b. Abi Talib (a.s.) is the one who has established the prayer and has paid the poor-rate (Zakaat) while bowing in prayers and is always conscious of Allahâs presence.
O people, I requested Jibrael (a.s.) to plead my case in front of Allah so as to relieve me of the enormous task of conveying this message. This is because the pious and God-fearing are few and the hypocrites are aplenty. Those scheming for the destruction of Islam and ridiculing its tenets are evident to all. Allah has described them thus in the Quran: They say with their tongues what is not in their hearts. (Surah Hujuraat, Verse 11) and they deem this action facile.
Not surprisingly, the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) was always wary of the evil designs of the hypocrites. This fear was not rooted in safety for his own life; rather his biggest concern was the safety and security of Islam. He was aware that the number of those opposing Islam and secretly plotting its destruction was very significant and the caliphate of Ali b. Abi Talib (a.s.) was unacceptable in their eyes.
Their opposition to the caliphate of Ameerul Momineen (a.s.) was so intense that it was quite possible that extreme hostility would incite them to come out openly against Islam. They would then freely dissent against the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) and Ameerul Momineen (a.s.) and unsettle everything they had so painstakingly established.
It is noteworthy that Islam had been widely established in the whole of the Arabian Peninsula in its formative years. If the hypocrites, who were mingling freely with the companions, had abandoned their cover and rebelled openly against Islam, it would have proved very dangerous for Islam and the Muslims.
It was this eventuality that worried the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) and he was constantly on his guard. He was aware that an announcement of this nature (about the successorship of Ali b. Abi Talib) could trigger an irreversible course of events. However, the archangel Jibraeel (a.s.) descended with the promise of divine protection and in this way the divine plan was executed.
The gravity of the issue regarding the presence of hypocrites in the era of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) is lost on most people because of the clandestine nature of their activities. It was only because of the Holy Quran which has nearly 300 express and implied verses outlining their designs and conspiracies that the veil of secrecy shrouding the hypocrites was lifted.
The audacity of this group can be gauged from a single fact. During the Battle of Tabook (which was the last battle of the Prophet (s.a.w.a.)) the band of hypocrites mustered an independent army of 3,000 soldiers which was distinct from the army of the Muslims. In addition to this, they constructed a mosque and invited the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) to inaugurate it while he was on the way to Tabook. However, Allah revealed a verse describing it as a harmful mosque (Masjid-e-Dheraar) and for unbelief and to cause disunity among the believers.
This group has been described thus in Surah Tauba:
They swear by Allah that they did not speak, and certainly they did speak, the word of unbelief, and disbelieved after their Islam, and they had determined upon what they have not been able to effect
Ahle Sunnah and Shia exegetes of the Noble Quran have recorded traditions related to this verse that clearly underscore that the hypocrites were plotting to murder the Prophet (s.a.w.a.).
Books of history have recorded that the proposed place of murdering the Prophet (s.a.w.a.), a plot that was eventually foiled, was Harshi â” a mountain located on the way from Ghadeere Khum to Medina.
In the Battle of Uhud, rumors about the Prophetâs (s.a.w.a.) demise spread thick and fast among the Muslims. This was just the trigger some people needed to flee the battlefield. Quran condemned these people thus:
And Muhammad is no more than an apostle; the apostles have already passed away before him; if then he dies or is killed will you turn back upon your heels? And whoever turns back upon his heels, he will by no means do harm to Allah in the least
Clearly in this verse, the Holy Quran is discussing the possibility of Muslims abandoning Islam and reverting to their old ways of the era of ignorance.
In addition to this, books of both Shias and Sunnis have recorded traditions on this topic on the authority of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.). For instance the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) prophesies:
I swear by Allah who has raised me as a Prophet. My nation will tread the path of the previous nations to the extent that if a snake in Bani Israel had entered its burrow, then a snake from this nation will also enter a burrow.
It is evident from this tradition that the action of the Muslims will coincide with the actions of Bani Israel.
In another tradition the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) predicted:
‘(O Muslims) you will adhere to the Sunnat of the previous nations and tread their path and follow their footsteps.‘
The people asked: Like the Jews and Christians?
The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.): I am referring to none other.
Let’s analyze the path chosen by the Jews and the Christians.
For this, we must turn to the Majestic Quran which articulates the incidents of the past nations. Among other narrations, it recounts the incidents of the Bani Israel, their degradation, the various miracles witnessed by them like the transformation of the staff into a serpent and the splitting of the sea. Finally, Hazrat Moosa (a.s.) rescued them from Firaun. He was with them for a period, until he retired for 30 days to the mountain for worshipping Allah and extended his stay by another 10 days based on the divine command. The Bani Israel grew restless in his prolonged absence and it is agreed upon by most Muslims that a majority turned to apostasy by worshipping the calf. This deviation was wrought upon them on the instigation of just one person â” Saamiri who was apparently among the close companions of Hazrat Moosa (a.s.).
This incident proves that for a nation to oppose its Prophet and to embrace apostasy after receiving guidance is nothing new. In fact, this turn of events was witnessed in the lifetime of the Prophet and after he had manifested several miracles for the people.
On the same lines, after the demise of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) many of his companions fell prey to the stratagems of the hypocrites. They turned away from the Imamat of Ameerul Momineen (a.s.) and did not accept him as the divinely appointed Imam.
 Surah Maaidah, Verse 67
 Surah Maaidah, Verse 55
 Surah Tauba (9), Verse 74
 Tafseer al-Kashshaaf under Surah Tauba (9), Verses 74 and 26. Behaar al-Anwaar v 21 p 223
 Surah Ale Imran (3), Verse 144
 Kamaal al-Deen p 572, Majma al-Bayaan v 10 p 462
 Musnad Ahmad b. Hanbal 84/943, Saheeh Muslim v 16, p 219, Saheeh al-Bukhaari v 2, p 171