I just read this ayat and am really confused. Why would Allah ask anyone to kill himself / herself? How can we understand this ayat perfectly please? (Please don't say that Allah used the kill yourself order without any intention, as Allah don't say anything uncalculated imho).
First you must read this verse in the full context!
The verse starts with "وَلَوْ" (And if) so it is a continuation of something that Allah stated before, the "لَو" or "if" shows that what will be quoted afterwards is not meant literally but it indicates something that might be speculative or in case of Allah () He shows what would happen under the described circumstances.
So lets put the verse in some more context:
- If we started at (4:59) we learn that Allah () describes the believers as those who follow and obey Allah () and his Messenger () and if they had any disagreements or misunderstanding they would refer to them.
- Now in (4:60) the context of our verse starts as here Allah starts describing those who pretended being believers (but they actually are/were hypocrites or disbelievers) as they want to refer their legislation to others than Allah and his Messenger.
- In (4:61) Allah describes the hypocrites as those who run away from the Prophet () once he asked them to follow Allah's revelation. So one could conclude that these are people who reject doing good deeds, following the orders of Allah and therefore reject the truth.
- In (4:62) Allah describes how they would seek refuge by the Messenger once they have faced a disaster which they "started" by themselves.
- In (4:63) Allah teaches the Prophet () how to handle with them.
- In (4:64) Allah repeats or reminds that a Prophet () is to be followed and that if these hypocrites really seek repentance they will find it.
- In (4:65) Allah swears that they won't believe unless they seek the judgement of the Prophet () in their issues and then they will find comfort in this judgement and only then they might believe.
- Now the first part of our verse (4:66) is showing us what their reaction would be if they were asked to do a bad deed (as an opposite of (4:61)). Allah ends up saying that even if they were asked to do a bad deed they won't obey and advises them to do what they have been asked or advised before in (4:61).
Ibn Kathir said in his tafsir (referring to 4:66-68):
Most People Disobey What They Are Ordered
Allah states that even if the people were commanded to commit what they were prohibited from doing, most of them would not submit to this command, for their wicked nature is such that they dispute orders. Allah has complete knowledge of what has not occured, and how it would be if and when it did occur. This is why Allah said,
(And if We had ordered them (saying), "Kill yourselves (i.e. the innnocent ones kill the guilty ones))
until the end of the Ayah. This is why Allah said,
(but if they had done what they were told,)
meaning, if they do what they were commanded and refrain from what they were prohibited,
(it would have been better for them,)
than disobeying the command and committing the prohibition,
(and would have strengthened their conviction), stronger Tasdiq "conviction of faith", according to As-Suddi.
(And indeed We should then have bestowed upon them from Ladunna) from Us, (A great reward), Paradise,
(And indeed We should have guided them to the straight way.)
in this life and the Hereafter. (Source: qtafsir)
Imam at-Tabari -in his tafsir (see here in Arabic)- when discussing this verse put it in context as follows:
This is my own translation take it carefully
Allah the almighty means by (And if We had decreed upon them, "Kill yourselves" or "Leave your homes,") And if We had ordered these people, who claim to have believed in what WE have revealed, but refer legislation to Taghut (false judges), to kill themselves or leave their homes to another home (*) they won't do it. And He says: they wouldn't kill themselves by their own hands nor would they leave their homes following the call of Allah and his messenger obeying Allah and his messenger. Except a few of them.
(*) As the believers actually have done.
Note that Allah ordered the Jews to kill themselves already in surat al-Baqara and they didn't (See (2:54)).
These verses show the main difference between believers and hypocrites, believers would follow the orders of Allah and his Messenger even if they might disagree or hate to do so, while hypocrites would only follow or obey what they like and disobey what they dislike, be it something good/easy or bad/hard.
Note that the verse we are discussing is not the end of the same context as Allah keeps on discussing what the wrongdoers would do if they had other options and only slightly moves to a different topic in the following verses. As the main discussion here is about the difference between the (true) believers) and the hypocrites.