In the Name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

"worry only about your own necks"

Context & Abuse

[5:105] O you who believe, you should worry only about your own necks. If the others go astray, they cannot hurt you, as long as you are guided. To God is your ultimate destiny, all of you, then He will inform you of everything you had done. يَأيُّهَا الَّذِينَ ءامَنُوا عَلَيْكُمْ أَنفُسَكُمْ لَا يَضُرُّكُمْ مَنْ ضَلَّ إِذَا اهْتَدَيْتُمْ إِلَى اللَّهِ مَرْجِعُكُمْ جَمِيعًا فَيُنَبِّئُكُمْ بِمَا كُنتُمْ تَعْمَلُونَ

The above verse, 5:105, is one among many others that assure the hearts of believers. The Arabic statement translated as "you should worry only about your own necks" is: "alaykum anfusakum / عَلَيْكُمْ أَنفُسَكُمْ ", and it clearly and literally translates as : you are responsible for your own souls. The statement right after that is a further explanation and confirmation that any kind of concerns or fears we have in regard of the misguided ones are, in the sight of God, invalid and irrelevant to our souls (they cannot hurt you as long as you are guided). Therefore, our responsibility is only towards our own souls.

We thus understand that "you are responsible for your own souls" / "alaykum anfusakum or عَلَيْكُمْ أَنفُسَكُمْ " delivers the following two concepts:

  1. It implies what is already given in the divine messages of 53:38, 35:18, and 2:286; no soul bears the sins of another, we earn our own credits and are accountable for our own deeds and actions.

    [53:38] No soul bears the sins of another soul.

    [35:18] No soul can carry the sins of another soul. If a soul that is loaded with sins implores another to bear part of its load, no other soul can carry any part of it, even if they were related. The only people to heed your warnings are those who reverence their Lord, even when alone in their privacy, and observe the Contact Prayers (Salat). Whoever purifies his soul, does so for his own good. To God is the final destiny.

    [2:286] God never burdens a soul beyond its means: to its credit is what it earns, and against it is what it commits. ....

  2. In its right context, the statement "you are responsible for your own souls/ "alaykum anfusakum or عَلَيْكُمْ أَنفُسَكُمْ ", also represents a divine call to do what it takes to take the utmost and the ideal care of our own souls. In other words, that statement directs us to the crucial reminder in Quran that we are here to fulfill the responsibility of working as hard as we could worshiping our Lord and upholding His commands for the mere purpose of redeeming our souls:

    [90:4-17] We created the human being to work hard (to redeem himself).*Does he think that no one will ever call him to account? He boasts, "I spent so much money!"Does he think that no one sees him? Did we not give him two eyes? A tongue and two lips? Did we not show him the two paths? He should choose the difficult path. Which one is the difficult path? The freeing of slaves. Feeding, during the time of hardship. Orphans who are related. Or the poor who is in need. And being one of those who believe, and exhorting one another to be steadfast, and exhorting one another to be kind.

    [51:54] You may disregard them; you cannot be blamed.
    [51:55] And remind, for the reminder benefits the believers.
    [51:56] I did not create the jinns and the humans except to worship Me alone.
    [51:57] I need no provisions from them, nor do I need them to feed Me.

Despite the clarity of God's choice of wording, and the repetitive yet creative patterns He uses to teach us Quran, some choose to be misguided and abuse or misapply that statement, "you are responsible for your own souls/ you should worry only about your own necks" / "alaykum anfusakum or عَلَيْكُمْ أَنفُسَكُمْ ". They perceive the statement as an encouragement to stand still or neutral when it comes to issues and stands that would affect the group or the community they are part of (social, geographical, religious, etc..) . They interpret the verse, out of its context, as an invitation to passiveness as long as their personal interests are served. As a result, they do not get to be actively involved or present in their communities but rather dwell on their own affairs and become merely consumed by their own motives and plans. Such apathetic approach is not divine and is clearly discouraged by God in Quran.

Apathy Condemned [5:79] They did not enjoin one another from committing evil. Miserable indeed is what they did.

Committing this form of apathy that is tinted with selfishness goes against the spirit of Quran as a divine manual for both self and community progress. No where in Quran we find even a hint to an invitation to be self-centered, or absorbed only by our individual interests. Additionally, no where in Quran we find that our redemption is attainable by limiting our selves to our own worlds or trying in a way to be self-sufficient by dissociating from our communities or from the material needs of this world under the disguise of "caring only about our own necks". Some followers of the scripture have fallen into that later trap (57:27).

To the contrary, as read in the above road map of the "difficult path/ 90:4-17" and in many other verses (3:187, 39:33, 5:119, 4:135, 4:48, 103:3, 13:22), it takes a lot of active social, moral and financial interaction with others within one community to truly strive in God's cause, progress our souls and be redeemed. In addition to our redemption, this positive interaction will always advance such community. Other advantages would be setting a good example, bringing in the spot light the beauty and effectiveness of group efforts to make a difference and spreading ties of compassion and kindness among the individuals of the same community. All the above are simple basic ethics that go with the spirit of Quran - and in a community of submitters, it would constitute the foundation for God's call for unity and would divinely define the " righteous community":

[3:103] You shall hold fast to the rope of God, all of you, and do not be divided....
[3:104] Let there be a community of you who invite to what is good, advocate righteousness, and forbid evil. These are the winners.
[3:105] Do not be like those who became divided and disputed, despite the clear proofs that were given to them. For these have incurred a terrible retribution.

[3:200] O you who believe, you shall be steadfast, you shall persevere, you shall be united, you shall observe God, that you may succeed.

[4:84] You shall fight for the cause of God; you are responsible only for your own soul, and exhort the believers to do the same. God will neutralize the power of those who disbelieve. God is much more powerful, and much more effective.

It is noteworthy that even when God commands us to disregard certain people, (which could easily be misinterpreted as stepping down to only worry about our own necks) , He commands us to stay involved, continue reminding with His words, put our trust in Him alone, and carry out our plans ; disregarding the misguided ones doesn't contradict with or disrupt our continued efforts to strive and redeem our souls which again is NOT achievable without active interaction with others in a given community as indicated in many basic commands and teachings in Quran (3:187, 39:33, 5:119, 4:135, 4:48, 103:3, 13:22).

[15:94] Therefore, carry out the orders given to you, and disregard the idol worshipers.

[33:48] Do not obey the disbelievers and the hypocrites, disregard their insults, and put your trust in God; God suffices as an advocate.

[73:10] And remain steadfast in the face of their utterances, and disregard them in a nice manner.
[73:11] And let Me deal with the rejectors, who have been generously blessed; just give them a little time.

[51:54] You may disregard them; you cannot be blamed.
[51:55] And remind, for the reminder benefits the believers.

[4:63] God is fully aware of their innermost intentions. You shall ignore them, enlighten them, and give them good advice that may save their souls.

In conclusion, the statement "you are responsible for your own souls/ you should worry only about your own necks" / "alaykum anfusakum or عَلَيْكُمْ أَنفُسَكُمْ " in 5:105 simply emphasizes that our accountability is limited to our own deeds. It also advocates the dynamic process of redeeming our souls which God described in an efficient and explicit manner in Quran through certain commands, teachings and ethics. To be engaged in this process, and to truly uphold all of these commands without selectivity, it is a must to put a continuous effort and perseverance in interacting with our own souls and with others in our communities. Such prescribed engagement leads to prosperous souls and righteous communities. The verse and the statement are often abused by some and taken out of context as a justification for a form of apathy only to be self-centered, selfish or dissociated from others and their interests. This simply goes against the spirit of Quran and would interfere with basic ethics and commands dictated by God to worship Him and redeem our souls such as in 90:4-17, 3:187, 39:33, 5:119, 4:135, 4:48, 103:3, 13:22, and many others. This misconception leads to nothing but muted souls and malfunctioning communities.

[2:128] "Our Lord, make us submitters to You, and from our descendants let there be a community of submitters to You. Teach us the rites of our religion, and redeem us. You are the Redeemer, Most Merciful.

Peaceful Friday, salaam, and God bless.