Tafsir Ibn Kathir: Surah Al-Baqarah Ayah 16-18
In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
16. These are they who have purchased error with guidance, so their commerce was profitless. And they were not guided.
These are they who have purchased error with guidance, In his Tafsir, As-Suddi reported that Ibn Abbas and Ibn Mas`ud commented saying it means,
"They pursued misguidance and abandoned guidance.''
"They believed and then disbelieved,''
while Qatadah said,
"They preferred deviation to guidance.''
This statement is similar in meaning to Allah's statement about Thamud,
And as for Thamud, We granted them guidance, but they preferred blindness to guidance. (41:17)
In summary, the statements that we have mentioned from the scholars of Tafsir indicate that the hypocrites deviate from the true guidance and prefer misguidance, substituting wickedness in place of righteousness.
This meaning explains Allah's statement, (These are they who have purchased error with guidance), meaning, they exchanged guidance to buy misguidance. This meaning includes those who first believed, then later disbelieved, whom Allah described,
That is because they believed, and then disbelieved; therefore their hearts are sealed. (63:3)
The Ayah also includes those who preferred deviation over guidance. The hypocrites fall into several categories.
This is why Allah said,
So their commerce was profitless. And they were not guided, meaning their trade did not succeed nor were they righteous or rightly guided throughout all this.
In addition, Ibn Jarir narrated that Qatadah commented on the Ayah,
"By Allah! I have seen them leaving guidance for deviation, leaving the Jama`ah (the community of the believers) for the sects, leaving safety for fear, and the Sunnah for innovation.''
Ibn Abi Hatim also reported other similar statements.
17. Their likeness is as the likeness of one who kindled a fire; then, when it illuminated all around him, Allah removed their light and left them in darkness. (So) they could not see.
18. They are deaf, dumb, and blind, so they return not (to the right path).
The Example of the Hypocrites
Their likeness is as the likeness of one who kindled a fire; then, when it illuminated all around him, Allah likened the hypocrites when they bought deviation with guidance, thus acquiring utter blindness, to the example of a person who started a fire. When the fire was lit, and illuminated the surrounding area, the person benefited from it and felt safe. Then the fire was suddenly extinguished. Therefore, total darkness covered this person, and he became unable to see anything or find his way out of it. Further, this person could not hear or speak and became so blind that even if there were light, he would not be able to see. This is why he cannot return to the state that he was in before this happened to him. Such is the case with the hypocrites who preferred misguidance over guidance, deviation over righteousness. This parable indicates that the hypocrites first believed, then disbelieved, just as Allah stated in other parts of the Qur'an.
Allah removed their light, means, Allah removed what benefits them, and this is the light, and He left them with what harms them, that is, the darkness and smoke.
And left them in darkness, that is their doubts, disbelief and hypocrisy. (So) they could not see.
meaning, they are unable to find the correct path or find its direction.
In addition, they are, They are deaf, dumb, and blind, so they return not (to the right path).
*(deaf), and thus cannot hear the guidance.
*(dumb), and cannot utter the words that might benefit them.
*(and blind), in total darkness and deviation.
Similarly, Allah said,
Verily, it is not the eyes that grow blind, but it is the hearts which are in the breasts that grow blind. (22:46), and this why they cannot get back to the state of guidance that they were in, since they sold it for misguidance.