Surah Al-A'raf (7:99)
In this short article we look at a number of Muslim translations of Surah 7:99. First a transliteration of the Arabic:
Afaaminoo makra Allahi fala ya/manu makra Allahi illa alqawmu alkhasiroona
[This transliteration and most of the following translations are taken from this Muslim website.]
A (not very elegant) literal translation gives this rendering:
Did they secure God's scheme/deceit? So no (one) trusts God's scheme/deceit except the nation the losers.
There is no doubt that makr means deception, scheming, but in most Muslim translations this meaning is totally lost:
Pickthall: Are they then secure from Allah's scheme? None deemeth himself secure from Allah's scheme save folk that perish.
Yusuf Ali: Did they then feel secure against the plan of Allah? -but no one can feel secure from the Plan of Allah, except those (doomed) to ruin!
Shakir: What! do they then feel secure from Allah's plan? But none feels secure from Allah's plan except the people who shall perish.
Maulana M. Ali: Are they secure from Allah’s plan? But none feels secure from Allah’s plan except the people who perish.
Sher Ali: Are they then secure from the design of ALLAH? And none feels secure from the design of ALLAH save the people who are destined to perish
Al-Hilali & Khan: Did they then feel secure against the Plan of Allah.None feels secure from the Plan of Allah except the people who are the losers.
Muhammad Asad: Can they, then, ever feel secure from God's deep devising? But none feels secure from God's deep devising save people who are [already] lost
Free Minds: Have they become sure about God's scheming? None ares ure about God's scheming except the people who are losers.
QXP: Do they feel secure from the subtle progression of the Divine Laws? Do they think that the Divine Law grants them unconditional security? Only the losers feel secure from the subtle progression of Allah's Law of Requital.
Sarwar: Did they consider themselves secure from the retribution of God? No one can have such attitude except those who are lost.
It is quite obvious that most Muslim translators have a problem to honestly translate makr as deception. So, they chose formulations like "the plan of Allah", "the design of ALLAH", "God's deep devising", "the retribution of God", and even "the subtle progression of the Divine Laws", which is so far away from the true meaning of "makr" that it is a mystery how the translator got that idea. Only Pickthall and Free Minds are reasonably close to the actual meaning of the Arabic.
The meaning of this word, this verse and other similar verses is discussed indetail in these two articles
Allah: Truthful Or Deceiver?
Allah – The Greatest Deceiver of them All
which the reader may want to study in order to recognize how misleading and deceptive most Muslim translations of this verse are. We are dealing with a double deception since we are looking at Muslims trying to cover up the deception of Allah, deceiving Muslims and non-Muslims alike about the nature ofthe god of Islam.
Fearing the ‘deep devising’ of Allah
Having observed the ubiquitous mistranslations in this verse, let us now look at the actual contentand meaning. What does this "ayah" say? What are some of the implications?
This verse has enormous ramifications. The question arising from this verse (and other similar ones) is this: Is Allah trustworthy? Is he faithful to his promises? Can believers trust Allah?Or, to personalize the matter. Any Muslim taking the Qur'an seriously should ask: Can I trust Allah?
It is a huge theological problem that the Qur'an ascribes deception to Allah.This topic is discussed in-depth in the various articles linked on this page (above and below). But there is another existential and psychological problem caused by the second statement in this verse.
There are plenty of people who reject God and his message. They do what they want because they do not even believe that God exists or that he will hold judgment over the deeds done in their lives. They feel secure in their evil ways. This is the immediate context for this verse (and those around it). This verse speaks out against such a false security, the false confidence of unbelievers and transgressors, and that is certainly correct. Everyone will have to appear before God and give account for his life and God willjudge. However, the formulation chosen in this verse is absolute and affects not only the unbelievers but also the believers:
... None feels secure from the scheme/deceit/deception of Allah except the people who are the losers.
In the Qur'an, "the losers" are those who will eventually end up in Hell, i.e. theywill be the losers in God's final judgment. This expression being clarified,the meaning of this statement becomes clear: It is the unbelievers who feel to be secure from the judgments of God. But they do so wrongly and to their own peril because God will judge them despite their feelings. However, this verse says much more; it states that if somebody feels secure from the scheme of God then this feeling of security is already an indication that he is one of those who are lost.
That this is so, can be seen more clearly when we transform the negative formulation "none ... except ..." into direct positive statements:
If someone feels secure from the scheme of Allah then he is one of the people who are the losers.
Whoever feels secure from the scheme of Allah, he is one of the losers.
Only those who are (ultimately) lost feel secure (today) from the scheme ofAllah.
All these formulations are equivalent to the second statement of S. 7:99.
In other words, there are two sides to this verse. The certainly correct meaning is thatunbelievers are addressed and warned against a false feeling of security. If you feel secure from Allah's judgment, then you will bethe losers. But since the verse was formulated in such absolute terms (none... except ...), it also has the consequence that believers need to live in fear of Allah. Believers need to fear the makr (scheming/deception) of Allah, because if they would not fear it, i.e.if they think they are secure from it, then they (already) belong to th elosers.
Unbelievers think they are secure but their feeling of security is misguided and they will have a horrible awakening from their false security. But the flip-side of the statement is: Believers cannot feel or be secure either. They necessarily need to live in fear of Allah. 
This is illustrated by Muslim traditions about Abu Bakr, one of Muhammad's closest friends, and his successor as leader of the Muslimc ommunity. Muhammad had informed him that he is guaranteed Paradise.  Despite this promise, the followingis reported about Abu Bakr:
Whenever he was reminded of his position in Allah’s sight, he would say: “By Allah! I would not rest assured and feel safe from the makr of Allah, even if I had one foot in paradise.” (Khalid Muhammad Khalid, Successors of the Messenger, translated by Muhammad Mahdi al-Sharif [Dar al-Kotob al-Ilmiyah, Beirut Lebanon, 2005], p.99; cf. this discussion; the relevant portion of the Arabic original is displayed here)
When we understand what S. 7:99 says, this seemingly strange reaction is actually natural and very understandable. Still, it reveals so mucha nxiety, and it is heart-breaking.
How different is the Gospel! How different is the character and message of the true God who speaks to us through the Bible:
He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God. (John 1:10-13)
How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God,and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.(1 John 3:1-2)
For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." (Romans 8:15)
Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father." (Galatians 4:6)
Instead of the fear and insecurity instilled by Islam, subjecting Muslims to a spirit that makes them slaves to fear (cf. Romans 8:15), the Gospel offers solid confidence: We can KNOW that we ARE children of God, and this security of the love of God brings freedom (Romans 8:21), joy and peace (Romans 14:17).
If you long to know God, just ask him to reveal to you who he is. God invites us to ask questions. The problem is not that God is not speaking. The issue is whether we are willing to hear answers that may turn our lives upside down. Godis willing to be questioned. Are we willing to question our previous beliefs and think anew so that we may become confident of the truth?
Related thoughts can befound in the article Allah: "Above all schemers" or"the best of schemers"?
The dictionary entry on DECEPTION lists a number of articles on the deceptiveness and/or trustworthiness of God.
1. There are two options. Either, this is intended, i.e. Allah/Muhammad formulated that verse deliberately in this way because he wanted that Muslims live in this kind of fear. And Abu Bakr correctly understood it, and reacted appropriately.
Without doubt, there will be some Muslims who will argue that this is not the intended meaning of this verse. It speaks only to the unbelievers. Believers, on the other hand, can feel confident and they can and should trust in the goodness of Allah.
Note that the negative implications for the believers (as described in this article) could easily have been avoided. For example, the author of the Qur'an could have said instead: "Unbelievers who feel secure from Allah's judgment will be the losers", or "only believers can feel secure from Allah's schemes" (implying that unbeliever scannot). There are many formulations that could have been chosen to convey the message to the unbelievers without the outlined dreadful implications for the believers. However, as it is, whether intentional or not, this verse can only instill fear into Muslims that Allah might deceive them in the end, and tha tall their pious efforts and sincere devotion will have been in vain.
A Muslim can never know whether or not Allah will, in the end, admit him into Paradise. A Muslim who takes the Qur'an seriously, cannot have any assurance of salvation.
As it is written, a feeling of security is a sign of one's lostness. Muslims who want to deny this, will have to contend with the implication that thea uthor of the Qur'an was not able to express himself clearly, and the Qur'anis not miracle of eloquence that it claims for itself. Moreover, they have to conclude that Abu Bakr did not understand the message of the Qur'an when he reacted as he did as reported in the Islamic traditions.
In fact, although being an important and troubling aspect, this insecurity and fear in regard to one's final destination does not really depend on the negative meaning of the word makr. Even if this verse would not speak about Allah's deceptive scheming, and the Arabic had instead used a neutral word that genuinely means "plan", the conclusion would not be very different since the "plan of Allah" for the individual believer remains hidden.
Islam teaches a rather rigid predestination (cf. the Index entry on PREDESTINATION). No Muslim can really know what Allah predetermined for him, whether Allah decided that he will ultimately go to Hell or to Paradise. This verse, S. 7:99,is actually consistent with the Islamic teaching that the eternal future of any person is already decided beforehand (but that we do not know which it is). Therefore, nobody can feel secure. In the end, all pious efforts and sincere devotion may have been in vain.
The issue here is not even so much whether the plan of Allah is actively deceptive or simply unkown; the issue is that this verse teaches that nobody can feel secure, that even believers will have to live in fear of what Allah's plan will be for them.
2. There are plenty of Muslim webpages online that discuss "the ten who were given glad tidings of Paradise". Since the promise of Paradise for Abu Bakr is not a controversial issue, here just a few links (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6).