Wednesday 28 August 2019

Surah Al Maidah - The Table Spread: The 5th Chapter of Holy Quran - Exegesis Part I

Surah Al Māʼidah is the fifth surah with 120 ayahs with 16 rukus, part of the 6th-7th Juzʼ  of the Holy Qur'an. The theme of this Surah indicates, and traditions support it, that it was revealed after the treaty of Hudaibiyah at the end of 6 A. H. or in the beginning of 7 A. H. That is why it deals with those problems that arose from this treaty.

This Sarah takes its' name from verse 112 in which the word "mai'dah" occurs. Like the names of many other surahs, this name has no special relation to the subject of the Surah but has been used merely as a symbol to distinguish it from other surahs.

Surah Al Māʼidah is one of the longest surahs of the Holy Qur'an with many a important subject discussed in this surah. Owing to its length, the exegesis / tafseer of the surah has been broken down in the following parts for better understanding:
  • The Overview of the surah (already published) gave an overall perspective of the surah, its back ground and the diverse and important subjects discussed therein. The central theme of the surah is the regulation of lawful and unlawful food, obedience to which is considered as part of the pledge between God and the believers.  It also talks about hunting for food during the pilgrimage.  God had also taken pledges from the Jews and Christians and the chapter deals with what they did to their pledges.  Some passages deal with the afterlife and the verdict of the messengers on the behavior of their communities.  Jesus is mentioned when his disciples asked him to pray to God and of his renouncing any claim to divinity.
Now we commence with the exegesis / tafseer of the surah divided into following four parts:
  • Part I    : Rukhu / Section 1-6 [Verses 1-43] - This Part 
  • Part II   : Rukhu / Section 7-8 [Verses 44-56]
  • Part III  : Rukhu / Section 9-11 [Verses 57-86]
  • Part IV  : Rukhu / Section 12-16 [Verses 87-120]
Let us now read the translation and exegesis / tafseer of Part I of the surah in English. For Arabic Text, please refer to the references given at the end and may also listen to its recitation in Arabic with English subtitles:

بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْمِ 
"In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful"

Rukhu / Section 1 [1-5]
The surah begins with legislation of contracts, offerings to God, pilgrims, and inviolable months, food, ritual bath, ablution, and dry ablution. The first Rukhu tells the believers that they are forbidden to hunt while on pilgrimage, but when they have completed the rites of pilgrimage they may hunt.  It is stressed "Do not let your hatred for some people make you to break the law.  Help one another to do what is right and do not help one another towards sin."

Believers are forbidden to eat carrion, blood, pig’s meat, any animal over which any name other than God’s has been taken, and anything sacrificed on altars.  Also, any permissible animal that is strangled, or is a victim of a violent blow or fall, or is gored or savaged by a beast of prey, is also forbidden unless you are able to slaughter it before its death.

Verses 1-2 Fulfill your obligations, promises and agreements and Cooperate in piety and not in transgression.

Since the following verses bear laws, these must be carefully read and interpreted:
( 1 )   O you who have believed, fulfill [all] contracts. Lawful for you are the animals of grazing livestock except for that which is recited to you [in this Qur'an] - hunting not being permitted while you are in the state of ihram. Indeed, Allah ordains what He intends.
"O ye who believe! fulfill (all) obligations" This line has been justly admired for its terseness and comprehensiveness. Obligations: 'uqud the Arabic word implies so many things that a whole chapter of Commentary can be written on it. First, there are the divine obligations that arise from our spiritual nature and our relation to Allah. He created us and implanted in us the faculty of knowledge and foresight: besides the intuition and reason which He gave us. He made Nature responsive to our needs, and His Signs in Nature are so many lessons to us in our own inner life; He further sent Messengers and Teachers, for the guidance of our conduct in individual, social, and public life. All these gifts create corresponding obligations which we must fulfill. But in our own human and material life we undertake mutual obligations express and implied. We make a promise: we enter into a commercial or social contract; we enter into a contract of marriage: we must faithfully fulfil all obligations in all these relationships. Our group or our State enters into a treaty; every individual in that group or State is bound to see that as far as lies in his power, such obligations are faithfully discharged. There are tacit obligations; living in civil society, we must respect its tacit conventions unless they are morally wrong, and in that case we must get out of such society. There are tacit obligations in the characters of host and guest, wayfarer of companion, employer or employed, etc., etc., which every man of Faith must discharge conscientiously. The man who deserts those who need him and goes to pray in a desert is a coward who disregards his obligations. All these obligations are inter-connected. Truth and fidelity are parts of religion in all relations of life. This verse is numbered separately from the succeeding verses.

The Arabic word "an'am" (cattle) used in the first verse denotes camels, oxen, sheep and goats, whereas the word bahimah means all grazing quadrupeds. Had God said that an'am had been made lawful for them, this permission would have included only those animals to which the term an'am is applicable. But the terms in which the injunction is conveyed are bahimat al-an'am (all grazing beasts of the flock). Hence the permission is of wider import and embraces all grazing quadrupeds of the cattle type, i.e. which do not possess canine teeth, which feed on plants rather than animals, and which resemble the cattle found in Arabia in other characteristics. This implies that the flesh of those animals which have canine teeth and are carnivorous is not permissible. This implication was elucidated by the Prophet (peace be on him) and is embodied in a tradition in which he prohibited those beasts which kill and eat other animals. Likewise, the Prophet (peace be on him) also prohibited birds with claws and those that feed on carrion. According to a tradition transmitted by Ibn 'Abbas: "The Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) prohibited all beasts with canine teeth and all birds with claws.' (Bukhari, 'Dhaba'ih', 28, 29; 'Tibb', 53; Abu Da'ud, 'At'imah', 32; Tirmidhi, 'At'imah', 9, 11; Muslim, 'Sayd', 11-16; Nasa'i, 'Sayd wa Dhaba'ih', 28, 30, 33; Ibn Majah, 'Sayd', 13; etc. - Ed.)

Ihram is the name of the simple apparel worn at the time of Pilgrimage. In every direction around the Ka'bah, there are certain fixed points beyond which no Pilgrim may proceed without donning this special Pilgrim's garment in place of his normal clothes. This apparel consists of two sheets of untailored cloth, one of which is wrapped around the lower part of the body while the other is thrown over the upper part. This manner of dressing is termed ihram because once a man has assumed it he must treat as prohibited a number of things which are ordinarily lawful, for example either shaving or trimming the hair, or using perfumes and other items of toiletry and the gratification of sexual desires. These restrictions also extend to both killing and hunting, and to leading anyone else to either kill or hunt an animal.

Allah is the absolute sovereign and has absolute authority to issue whatever command He might will. His creatures do not have the right to complain about any of these orders. Even though wisdom (hikmah) underlies the ordinances of God, a true believer does not obey them because he considers them either appropriate or conducive to his best interests. He obeys them simply because they are the ordinances of his Lord. He holds unlawful all that God has declared unlawful, because God has so decreed it; whatever He has declared lawful is regarded as such for no other reason than that God, the Lord of all, has allowed His servants the use of it. Hence the Qur'an establishes very firmly the principle that nothing except permission from the Lord - or lack of it - is to be taken into consideration in deciding what is lawful and what is not.
( 2 )   O you who have believed, do not violate the rites of Allah or [the sanctity of] the sacred month or [neglect the marking of] the sacrificial animals and garlanding [them] or [violate the safety of] those coming to the Sacred House seeking bounty from their Lord and [His] approval. But when you come out of ihram, then [you may] hunt. And do not let the hatred of a people for having obstructed you from al-Masjid al-Haram lead you to transgress. And cooperate in righteousness and piety, but do not cooperate in sin and aggression. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is severe in penalty.
Whatever characteristically represents either a particular doctrine, creed, way of thought or conduct is recognized as its symbol. For example, official flags, uniforms of the armed forces, coins, notes and stamps are symbols used by governments so that their subjects - in fact all those who live within their sphere of influence - treat them with proper respect. Cathedrals, altars and crosses are symbols of Christianity. A special bunch of hair on the head, a special kind of bead-rosary and the temple are symbols of Hinduism. A turban, bracelet and Kirpan (a special dagger kept by the Sikhs) are symbols of the Sikh religion. The hammer and sickle are the symbols of Communism. The swastika has been the symbol of Aryan racialism. The followers of these ideologies are required to treat these symbols with respect. If a man insults any symbol associated with a particular ideology it is regarded as an act of hostility; and if the person concerned is himself a follower of that ideology then that insult is considered tantamount to an abandonment of, and a revolt against it.

The expression 'sha'a'ir Allah' refers to all those rites which, in opposition to polytheism and outright disbelief and atheism, are the characteristic symbols of an exclusive devotion to God. Muslims are required to respect these symbols, regardless of the people among whom they are found, provided their underlying spirit is one of godliness and that they have not been tainted by either polytheistic or pagan associations. Hence, whenever a Muslim encounters something in either the creed or practice of a non-Muslim, which embodies any element of devotion and service to the One True God, he will identify himself with it and show respect to the symbols which represent it. For this true element in their religious life constitutes the point of agreement between them and the Muslims. The point of dispute is not that they serve God, but that they associate others in that service.

In Surah Al Baqarah ii. 158, Safa and Marwa are called "Symbols (sha'a'ir) of Allah". Here the Symbols are everything connected with the Pilgrimage, viz., (1) the places (like Safa and Marwa, or the Ka'bah or 'Arafat, etc.); (2) the rites and ceremonies prescribed; (3) prohibitions (such as that of hunting, etc.); (4) the times and seasons prescribed. There is spiritual and moral dimension in all these.

It should be recalled that this directive to treat the symbols of God with due respect was given at a time when a state of belligerency existed between the Muslims and the polytheists of Arabia, and Makka was under the occupation of the latter. Polytheistic tribes from all over Arabia used to visit the Ka'bah for Pilgrimage, and the routes of many of these tribes were within the reach-of the Muslims if they decided to attack. It was in such circumstances that the Muslims were told that, even though those people were polytheists, they should not be molested if they were proceeding towards the 'House of God'; that they should not be attacked during the months of Pilgrimage; and that the animals which they were carrying for sacrificial offering should not be touched. The element of godliness which persisted in their otherwise distorted religious life deserved to be respected.

Following a general directive that the symbols of God should be treated with proper respect a few such symbols are mentioned specifically lest war fever lead even to the desecration of religious rites and symbols. The enumeration of these particular symbols does not mean that respect is due to these alone.

Ihram is also one of the symbols of God and violation of any of the prohibitions which should be observed in that state is an act of sacrilege. The prohibition of hunting while in the state of ihram is mentioned in connection with the desecration of the symbols of God. When ihram is over, the prohibitions become void, and one is permitted to hunt.

"And do not let the hatred of a people for having obstructed you from al-Masjid al-Haram lead you to transgress. And cooperate in righteousness and piety, but do not cooperate in sin and aggression. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is severe in penalty." This part of the verses is related to the sixth year of the Hijra the Pagans, by way of hatred and persecution of the Muslims, had prevented them from access to the Sacred Mosque. When the Muslims were re-established in Makkah, some of them wanted to retaliate. Passing from the immediate event to the general principle, we must not retaliate or return evil for evil. The hatred of the wicked does not justify hostility on our part. We have to help each other in righteousness and piety, not in perpetuating feuds of hatred and enmity. We may have to fight and put down evil, but never in a spirit of malice or hatred, but always in a spirit of justice and righteousness.

Verse 3 is one of the most important verses of the Holy Quran. It is in this verse that Allah has given the glad tidings to the Muslims that Al-Islam is declared to be the complete and perfect Deen (way of life). 
( 3 )   Prohibited to you are Carrion (Carrion' signifies the animal which has died a natural death), blood, the flesh of swine, and that which has been dedicated to other than Allah, and [those animals] killed by strangling or by a violent blow or by a head-long fall or by the goring of horns, and those from which a wild animal has eaten, except what you [are able to] slaughter [before its death], and those which are sacrificed on stone altars, and [prohibited is] that you seek decision through divining arrows. That is grave disobedience. This day those who disbelieve have despaired of [defeating] your religion; so fear them not, but fear Me. This day I have perfected for you your religion and completed My favor upon you and have approved for you Islam as religion. But whoever is forced by severe hunger with no inclination to sin - then indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.
If an animal dies by strangling, or by a violent blow, or a headlong fall, or by being gored to death, or by being attacked by a wild animal, the presumption is that it becomes carrion, as the life-blood is congealed before being taken out of the body. But the presumption can be rebutted. If the life-blood still flows and the solemn mode of slaughter (zabh in the name of Allah is carried out, it becomes lawful as food.

This refers to the practice of pronouncing the name of anyone or anything other than God and dedicating the animal, as an offering, to either a holy personage, god or goddess before slaughtering. (For details see Towards Understanding the Qur'an, vol. I, (Surah 2, n. 171.)

It is lawful to eat the flesh of an animal which may have suffered from any of the above-mentioned accidents providing it was still alive until slaughtered. This verse also makes it clear that the flesh of an animal becomes lawful only by slaughtering ritually, and that no other method of killing is valid. The words dhabh and dhakah belong to the technical terminology of Islam and denote slitting the throat so that the blood is completely drained from the animal's body. The disadvantage of killing an animal by either guillotine or strangulation is that the greater part of the blood remains within the body, and at various places it sticks to the flesh and forms congealed lumps. If an animal is slaughtered by slitting the throat, on the other hand, the connection between mind and body remains intact for a short while, with the result that the blood is thoroughly drained out from all the veins and the flesh becomes fully cleansed of blood. We have just come across the injunction prohibiting the eating of blood. So only that flesh which has been purged of blood is declared lawful.

The prohibition of dead meat, blood, the flesh of swine, and that on which other names than that of Allah have been invoked, has also been explained in Surah al Baqarah ii. 173 and 174.

The word "nusub" used in this verse signifies all the places consecrated for offerings to others than the One True God, regardless of whether they are images of wood, stone or something else.

The division of objects of eating and drinking into lawful and unlawful is based on their moral rather than their medicinal properties. God has left matters relating to the physical world to be tackled by man's own effort and striving. It is for man himself to discover by his own efforts which items of food and drink provide him with healthy nourishment and which are useless and harmful. The Law (Shari'ah) does not take upon itself to guide man in such matters. Had it undertaken such a task, perhaps one of the first things for it to do would have been to pronounce the prohibition of arsenic oxide. But one will notice that the Qur'an and Hadith mention neither arsenic oxide nor other things which either singly or jointly are fatal for man. The underlying considerations of the Law with regard to the various items of eating and drinking are their possible effects on man's morals and on the purity of his soul. This is in addition to the judgments that the Law makes with regard to the various means adopted by man in his quest for food - whether they are appropriate according to Islamic standards or not. It is impossible for man to determine what is beneficial and what is harmful for his morals; he has not been endowed with the capacities needed to arrive at sound conclusions on these matters, and so he frequently stumbles into error. Hence the Law undertakes to guide him in these matters and these matters alone. Whatever has been prohibited by Islam has been prohibited because of its bad effects on human morals, because of its repugnance to spiritual purity, and because of its association with false beliefs. Things which have been declared lawful have been so declared because they are untainted by these evils.

It may be asked why God did not specify the considerations underlying the prohibition of various things for this would have afforded us very valuable insights. In reply, it must be pointed out that it is impossible for us to fully grasp such considerations. The kind of questions we face are for instance: What are the corrupting effects of the consumption of either blood or the flesh of swine and carrion on our morals? The extent to which this corruption affects our morals, and the way in which certain things affect our morals is a matter that we are incapable of investigating, for we do not possess the means of weighing and measuring the moral properties of various things. To mention some of these bad effects would carry little weight with the sceptic, for how could he test the soundness of statements on such questions? Hence, God considers faith rather than man's own judgement as the main basis for observing the standards of lawfulness and prohibition. Whoever is fully convinced that the Qur'an is the Book of God, that the Prophet (peace be on him) was designated by Him, and that God is All-Knowing and All-Wise, will necessarily commit himself to observe the restrictions enjoined by God regardless of whether he is able to grasp the wisdom underlying them or not. Whoever lacks this basic conviction will avoid only those evils which are fully evident to human beings, and will remain a prey to all those which have not yet become apparent but which in fact are intrinsically harmful.

The things which are prohibited in this verse fall into the following categories:
  • Polytheistic divination, which is a form of omen-seeking whereby knowledge either about one's future or about matters beyond human perception, is sought from gods and goddesses. The polytheists of Makkah had consecrated the idol Hubal in the Ka'bah for this purpose. Seven arrows had been placed at its altars and on each of them different words and sentences had been inscribed. Whenever people were faced with the question whether a certain course was wise or not, or they wanted to trace something lost, or sought a judgement in a murder case, or had other similar problems, they would approach the oracle of Hubal, present him with an offering as his fee, and pray to Hubal to issue a verdict on the question concerned. Then the oracle would draw arrows, and the inscription on the arrow which fell to a person's lot was deemed to represent the verdict of Hubal. 
  • Superstitious divination, which has also been prohibited, means that instead of deciding the problems of life in a rational way one should decide them on fanciful grounds. Or it could mean deciding matters by arbitrary interpretation of accidental events, or to have one's future prophesied by means which have not been reasonably established as adequate for obtaining knowledge about the future. This includes geomancy, astrology, fortune-telling and the numerous other methods adopted to determine omens. 
  • Games of chance are also prohibited and include all those transactions in which what one receives depends on chance and other purely accidental factors rather than on rational considerations such as either due payment or recompense for services rendered. This applies, for instance, to lotteries where the holder of an arbitrarily-drawn number receives a huge amount of money which has been obtained from thousands of other people. It also applies to crossword puzzles were the award of prizes does not depend on the actual correctness of the solution (since several correct solutions are possible) but on accidental conformity with the particular solution which is arbitrarily chosen as the only correct one by the sponsors of the puzzle. After prohibiting each of these three categories, the only kind of lot-drawing which Islam permits is that which one resorts to when obliged to make a decision either in favour of one of numerous permissible options or in favour of one out of two or more equally legitimate claimants. For instance, two persons have an equal claim over a thing which neither of them is prepared to relinquish, and at the same time there is no reasonable basis for preferring one to the other. In such a case, with the consent of the claimants, the matter may be settled by drawing lots. The Prophet (peace be on him) himself used to resort to drawing lots when he had to make a decision between two equal claimants, and when preferring one of them would cause distress and grievance to the other. (For such instances see Ahmad b. Hanbal, Musnad, vol. 4, p. 373; Bukhari, 'Nikah', 97 and 'Shahadat', 30; Muslim, 'Fada'il al-Sahabah', 88; Ibn Majah, 'Ahkam', 20, etc. - Ed.)
'This day', here, does not signify a particular day or specific date. It refers to that period of time when these verses were revealed. In our own usage, too, expressions like 'today' or 'this day' often have the sense of the 'present time'. 'This day the unbelievers have fully despaired of your religion' refers to the fact that the Muslims' religion had developed into a full-fledged system of life, reinforced by the authority and governmental power which it had acquired. The unbelievers who had hitherto resisted its establishment now despaired of destroying Islam and of forcing the believers back to their former state of Ignorance. The believers therefore no longer needed to fear men: they should fear God alone instead. Indeed, the Muslims were repeatedly asked to fear God, for they would not be treated lightly if they failed to carry out His commands, especially as there was no longer any justifiable excuse for such failure. If they still violated the law of God, there could be no basis for supposing that they did so under constraint: it must mean that they simply had no intention of obeying Him.

The 'perfection of religion' mentioned in this verse refers to making it a self-sufficient system of belief and conduct, and an order of social life providing its own answers to the questions with which man is confronted. This system contains all necessary guidance for man, either by expounding fundamental principles from which detailed directives can be deduced or by spelling out such directives explicitly so that in no circumstances would one need to look for guidance to any extraneous source.

The bounty referred to in the statement: 'I have bestowed upon you My bounty in full measure', is the bounty of true guidance.

The statement: 'I have been pleased to assign for you Islam as your religion' means that, since the Muslims had proved by their conduct and their striving that they were honest and sincere about the commitment they had made to God in embracing Islam - the commitment to serve and obey Him - He had accepted their sincerity and created conditions in which they were no longer yoked in bondage to anyone but Him. Thus the Muslims were not prevented from living in submission to God out of extraneous constraints just as there were no constraints preventing them from subscribing to true beliefs. Having recounted these favours, God does not point out what should be the proper response to those favours. But the implication is obvious: the only appropriate response on the part of the believers must be unstinting observance of the law of God out of gratitude to Him.

According to authentic traditions this verse was revealed in 10 A.H. on the occasion of the Prophet's Farewell Pilgrimage. The context however, seems to indicate that it was revealed soon after the conclusion of the Treaty of Hudaybiyah (i.e. in 6 A.H.). All parts of the discourse in which this verse occurs are so tightly interwoven and so closely inter-connected that it hardly seems conceivable that it should have been inserted here several years later. My own estimate - and true knowledge of this lies with God alone - is that this verse was originally revealed in its present context (i.e. commenting upon the conditions prevailing at the time of the Treaty of Hudaybiyah). It is conceivable that the true significance of the verse was not then fully appreciated. But later on, when Islam prevailed over the whole of Arabia and the power of Islam reached a high point, God once again revealed this sentence to His Messenger and ordered him to proclaim it.

As per another explanation, many scholars are of the view that part of verse 3 (shown in red) was the last verse revealed of the Holy Qur'an.  This verse was revealed at Arafat as reported in the authentic hadith:

"Narrated 'Umar bin Al-Khattab: Once a Jew said to me, "O the chief of believers! There is a verse in your Holy Book which is read by all of you (Muslims), and had it been revealed to us, we would have taken that day (on which it was revealed) as a day of celebration." 'Umar bin Al-Khattab asked, "Which is that verse?" The Jew replied, "This day I have perfected your religion for you, completed My favor upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion." (5:3) 'Umar replied,"No doubt, we know when and where this verse was revealed to the Prophet. It was Friday and the Prophet was standing at 'Arafat (i.e. the Day of Hajj). — Bukhari"

Verses 4-5 All good and clean things are made lawful and Food of the People of the Book is made lawful and marriage with their women is permitted
( 4 )   They ask you, [O Muhammad], what has been made lawful for them. Say, "Lawful for you are [all] good foods and [game caught by] what you have trained of hunting animals which you train as Allah has taught you. So eat of what they catch for you, and mention the name of Allah upon it, and fear Allah." Indeed, Allah is swift in account.
There is a certain subtlety in how the query is answered. Religious- minded people often fall into a prohibitionist mentality by tending to regard as unlawful everything not expressly declared as lawful. This makes them excessively fastidious and over-suspicious, and inclined to ask for a complete list of all that is lawful and permitted. The Qur'an's response to this question seems to be aimed, in the first place, at the reform of this mentality. The questioners want a list of what is lawful so they can treat everything else as prohibited, but the Qur'an provides them with a list of what is prohibited and then leaves them with the guiding principle that all 'clean things' are lawful. This means a complete reversal of the old religious outlook according to which everything that has not been declared lawful is considered prohibited. This was a great reform, and it liberated human life from many unnecessary constraints. Henceforth, except for a few prohibitions, the lawful domain embraced virtually everything.

The lawfulness of things has been tied, however, to the stipulation of their being clean so that no one can argue for the lawfulness of things which are unclean. The question which arises at this point is: How are we to determine which things are clean? The answer is that everything is clean apart from those things which can be reckoned unclean either according to any of the principles embodied in the Law or which are repellent to man's innate sense of good taste or which civilized human beings have generally found offensive to their natural feelings of cleanliness and decency.

The expression 'hunting animals' signifies hounds, cheetahs, hawks and all those beasts and birds which men use in hunting. It is a characteristic of animals which have been trained to hunt that they hold the prey for their masters rather than devour it. It is for this reason that while the catch of these trained animals is lawful, that of others is prohibited.

There is some disagreement among the jurists as to the hunting animals whose catch is lawful. Some jurists are of the opinion that if the hunting animal, whether bird or beast, eats any part of the game, it becomes prohibited since the act of eating signifies that the animal hunted for its own sake rather than for the sake of its master. This is the doctrine of Shafi'i. Other jurists hold that the prey is not rendered unlawful even if the hunting animal has eaten part of the game; even if it has devoured one-third of the animal, the consumption of the remaining two-thirds is lawful, irrespective of whether the hunting animal is a bird or a beast. This is the view of Malik. A third group of jurists is of the opinion that if the hunting animal which has eaten part of the game is a beast it becomes prohibited, but not so if the hunting animal is a bird. The reason for this distinction is that hunting beasts can be trained to hold the game for their master whereas experience shows that hunting birds are not fully capable of receiving such instruction. This is the opinion of Abu Hanifah and his disciples. 'Ali, however, is of the opinion that it is unlawful to eat the catch of hunting birds because they cannot be trained to refrain from eating the game and to hold it merely for the sake of their master. (See the commentaries of Ibn Kathir, Jassas, Ibn al-'Arabi and Qurtubi on this verse. See also Ibn Rushd, Bidayat al-Mujtahid, vol. 2, pp. 440 ff. -Ed.)

They should pronounce the name of God at the time of dispatching animals to the hunt. It is mentioned in a tradition that 'Adi b. Hatim asked the Prophet (peace be on him) whether he could use hounds for hunting. The Prophet (peace be on him) replied: 'If you have pronounced the name of God while dispatching your trained hound, eat what he has caught for, you. And if it has eaten from the game, then do not eat for I fear that the hound had caught the game for itself.' Then he inquired what should be done if one had pronounced the name of God while dispatching one's own hound, but later found another hound close to the prey. The Prophet (peace be on him) replied: 'Do not eat that, for you have pronounced the name of God on your own hound, but not on the other one.' (For relevant traditions see Bukhari, 'Dhaba'ih', 4, 10; Ibn Majah, 'Sayd', 3; Ahmad b. Hanbal, Musnad, vol. 1, p. 231 and vol. 4, p. 195 - Ed.) The verse under discussion makes it clear that it is necessary to pronounce the name of God while dispatching a hound to the hunt. If a man later finds the prey alive he should slaughter it. But if he does not find it alive it will still be lawful to eat it since the name of God has already been pronounced. The same rule applies with regard to shooting arrows in hunting.
( 5 )   This day [all] good foods have been made lawful, and the food of those who were given the Scripture is lawful for you and your food is lawful for them. And [lawful in marriage are] chaste women from among the believers and chaste women from among those who were given the Scripture before you, when you have given them their due compensation, desiring chastity, not unlawful sexual intercourse or taking [secret] lovers. And whoever denies the faith - his work has become worthless, and he, in the Hereafter, will be among the losers.
The food of the People of the Book includes the animals slaughtered by them. The rule that 'our food is lawful to them and theirs lawful to us' signifies that there need be no barriers between us and the People of the Book regarding food. We may eat with them and they with us. But this general proclamation of permission is preceded by a reiteration of the statement: 'All good things have been made lawful to you.' This indicates that if the People of the Book either do not observe those principles of cleanliness and purity which are considered obligatory by the Law or if their food includes prohibited items, then one should abstain from eating them. If, for instance, they either slaughter an animal without pronouncing the name of God or if they slaughter it in the name of anyone else but God it is not lawful for us to eat that animal. Likewise, if intoxicating drinks, the flesh of swine, and any other prohibited thing is found on their dining table we may not justify our partaking of such items on the ground that the persons concerned are People of the Book.

The same applies to those non-Muslims who are not People of the Book, except for one difference - that whereas the animals slaughtered by the People of the Book are lawful provided they have pronounced the name of God at the time of slaughtering them, we are not permitted to eat the animals killed by non-Muslims who are not People of the Book.

This expression signifies the Jews and the Christians. Of non-Muslim women, Muslims may marry only Christians and Jews, and of them only those who have been characterized as muhsanat (i.e. 'well-protected women').

There are differences among jurists as to the detailed application of this rule. The view of Ibn 'Abbas is that the expression 'People of the Book' here signifies only those People of the Book who are subjects of the Domain of Islam (Dar al-Islam). It is also unlawful to marry Jewish and Christian women who are either living in the Domain of War (Dar al-Harb) or in the Domain of Disbelief (Dar al-Kufr). The Hanafi jurists hold a slightly different opinion. Although they disapprove of marrying such women, it is not considered unlawful. Sa'id b. al-Musayyib and Hasan al-Basri are of the opinion that the verse warrants general application and hence there is no need to differentiate between those who are ahl al-Dhimmah (the non-Muslim subjects of the Islamic State) and those who are not.

There is also disagreement among the jurists about the connotation of the term muhsanat. 'Umar considered this word to signify only those women who are chaste and possess good moral character, and hence ahl al-Kitab women who are of loose character are excluded from this permission. This is also the opinion of Hasan al-Basri, Sha'bi and Ibrahim al-Nakha'i and of the Hanafi jurists. But Shafi'i considers this expression to have been used as an antonym of 'slave women', and hence it signifies all those ahl al-Kitab women who are not slaves. (Cf. the commentaries of Ibn Kathir, Ibn al-'Arabi and Qurtubi - Ed.)

The declaration that marriage to ahl al-Kitab women is permitted is immediately followed by this warning which, in effect, means that those who avail themselves of this permission ought to be mindful of their faith and morals. They are urged to beware of infatuation with disbelieving women lest they also become enamoured of the ideas and beliefs which they cherish, thereby allowing their faith to dissipate. They are warned against adopting social patterns and modes of conduct inconsistent with the true requirements of their faith.

Rukhu / Section 2 [6-11]
Verse 6 Order for making wudhu (ablution) and Permission of Tayammum
( 6 )   O you who have believed, when you rise to [perform] prayer, wash your faces and your forearms to the elbows and wipe over your heads and wash your feet to the ankles. And if you are in a state of janabah, then purify yourselves. But if you are ill or on a journey or one of you comes from the place of relieving himself or you have contacted women and do not find water, then seek clean earth and wipe over your faces and hands with it. Allah does not intend to make difficulty for you, but He intends to purify you and complete His favor upon you that you may be grateful.
The explanation of this injunction by the Prophet (peace be on him) indicates that washing of the face includes rinsing one's mouth and inhaling water into the nostrils. Unless this is done the washing of the face is not considered complete. Likewise, since the ears are part of the head, 'wiping the head' includes wiping one's hands over the external and internal parts of the ears as well. Moreover, before starting to wash the other parts one should first wash one's hands so that the instruments of washing are themselves clean.

Janabah (the state of major ritual impurity) - whether caused by the sexual act or merely by seminal discharge - renders it unlawful to perform the ritual Prayer and to touch the Qur'an.  The term janabah denotes the state of major ritual impurity, and is derived from the root meaning: 'to ward off'. The word ajnabi, meaning foreigner or stranger, is also derived from the same root. In Islamic terminology, janabah denotes the state of ritual impurity (in both male and female) which results from the act of intercourse or from seminal emission (either from sexual stimulation or from a wet dream).

Just as purity of the soul is a blessing, so is cleanliness of the body. God's favour to man can be completed only when he has received comprehensive direction in respect of both spiritual purity and physical cleanliness.

Verses 7-11 Stand for true witness and establish justice and Plot of Jews to kill the Prophet and his eminent companions
( 7 )   And remember the favor of Allah upon you and His covenant with which He bound you when you said, "We hear and we obey"; and fear Allah. Indeed, Allah is Knowing of that within the breasts.
There is a particular and a general meaning. The particular meaning refers to the solemn Pledge and Covenant taken by two groups of people at 'Aqaba, a valley near Mina, the first about fourteen months before the Hijra, and the second a little later. These were Pledges of fealty to the Messenger of Allah, comparable to the Covenant under Mount Sinai taken in the time of Moses. The man is under a spiritual obligation under an implied Covenant with Allah: Allah has given man reason, judgment, the higher faculties of the soul, and even the position of vicegerent on earth (See Surah Baqarah ii. 30), and man is bound to serve Allah faithfully-and obey His Will. That obedience begins with cleanliness in bodily functions, food, etc. It goes on to cleanliness of mind and thought, and culminates in purity of motives in the inmost recesses of his heart and soul.
( 8 )   O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm for Allah, witnesses in justice, and do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just; that is nearer to righteousness. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is Acquainted with what you do.
To do justice and act righteously in a favourable or neutral atmosphere is meritorious enough, but the real test comes when you have to do justice to people who hate you or to whom you have an aversion. But no less is required of you by the higher moral law.
( 9 )   Allah has promised those who believe and do righteous deeds [that] for them there is forgiveness and great reward.( 10 )   But those who disbelieve and deny Our signs - those are the companions of Hellfire 
( 11 )   O you who have believed, remember the favor of Allah upon you when a people determined to extend their hands [in aggression] against you, but He withheld their hands from you; and fear Allah. And upon Allah let the believers rely.
Verse 11: This alludes to the incident reported by Ibn 'Abbas when a group of Jews invited the Prophet (peace be on him) and a number of his close Companions to dinner. They had in fact hatched a plot to pounce upon the guests and thus undermine the very foundation of Islam. But by the grace of God the Prophet (peace be on him) came to know of the plot at the eleventh hour and did not go. Since the following section is addressed to the Children of Israel, this incident is alluded to here in order to mark the transition to a new subject.

The discourse which begins here has two purposes. The first is to warn the Muslims against following the ways of their predecessors, the People of the Book. The Muslims are told, therefore, that the Israelites and the followers of Jesus had made a covenant with God in the past, in the manner that the Muslims had recently done so. The Muslims should, therefore, take heed lest they also break their covenant and fall a prey to error and misguidance as their predecessors had done.

The second is to sensitize the Jews and Christians to the errors they have committed and invite them to the true religion.

Rukhu / Section 3 [12-19]
Verses 12-13 Salah and Zakah were obligatory for Jews and Jews habit of being deceitful
( 12 )   And Allah had already taken a covenant from the Children of Israel, and We delegated from among them twelve leaders. And Allah said, "I am with you. If you establish prayer and give zakah and believe in My messengers and support them and loan Allah a goodly loan, I will surely remove from you your misdeeds and admit you to gardens beneath which rivers flow. But whoever of you disbelieves after that has certainly strayed from the soundness of the way."
The word "naqib" used in this verse in Arabic denotes supervisor and censor. There were twelve tribes among the Israelites and each tribe was required to appoint one of its members as a naqib, to look after their affairs and try to prevent them from becoming victims of irreligiousness and moral corruption. Although the Book of Numbers in the Bible does mention these twelve men, it does not seem to convey the sense of their being religious and moral mentors, as the term naqib employed by the Qur'an does. The Bible simply mentions them as the chiefs and dignitaries of their tribes.

The assurance of God's support was made conditional upon their continuous response to the call of God and for support of His Prophets.

Here in this verse "Giving of loan to Allah" signifies the benefits of spending one's wealth for the sake of God has been stressed. Since God has promised to return to man every penny that he spends in His way along with His reward, which will be several-fold, the Qur'an characterizes this spending as a loan to God. This spending is considered a loan provided it is a 'good loan', that is, provided the money spent in the cause of God has been acquired by legitimate means and has been spent in accordance with the laws of God and with sincerity and earnestness.

To efface someone's evil deeds signifies two things. (1) First, that if a man decides to follow the Straight Path and strives to follow God's directives in both thought and action his soul will be purged of many evils and his way of life will gradually become free of corruption. (2) Second, if, in spite of this reform, weaknesses still persist in a man's life he is assured that God will not punish him and will have his failing erased from his record. For God is not too exacting over trivial errors, providing a man has sincerely accepted the basic guidance and reformed his character.

It is mentioned that they once found the 'right way' and then allowed it to be lost and thus put themselves on the road to perdition. We have translated the Qur'anic expression 'sawa' al-sabil' as the 'right way' for the sake of brevity. A better rendering could be, 'the highroad of balance and moderation', but even this would fail to bring out the meaning fully.

In order to grasp the full significance of what is being said here one should bear in mind that in himself man constitutes a microcosm of society. He has innumerable powers and potentialities, myriad desires, feelings and inclinations, and a host of divergent urges. Social life consists of a huge network of complex relationships, and with the growth of civilization and culture the complexity of these relationships increases. There is also a rich fund of resources in the world and there are countless possibilities for their utilization; as a result, man is confronted with a plethora of choices and problems.

The fact that man has inherent limitations means that he is incapable of viewing in one sweep and in a balanced way the entire span of existence. Hence, man is in no position to prescribe for his kind a judicious way of life - a way of life wherein justice is done to all his powers and capacities; in which a wholesome balance is maintained between all his inherent potentialities; in which all his urges are given their due; in which his two-fold need for inner satisfaction and external self-realization is fully met; in which various aspects of human life are taken into proper consideration, giving birth to an integrated scheme with a built-in capacity to harmonize the multifarious strains and stresses of social life; in which material resources are fully exploited in the best interests of both the individual and society and within the framework of equity, justice and righteousness. When man takes upon himself the task of prescribing the guidelines for his life and becomes his own law-maker, his mind tends to become preoccupied with one specific aspect of human life, with one of the numerous demands of his nature, with one of the myriad problems calling for solution. His mental involvement is liable to be so intense that he adopts - consciously or otherwise - an unjust attitude towards all the other aspects, requirements and problems of human life. Consequently, when such opinions are imposed, the balance which ought to prevail in man's life is disrupted and he begins to swing either towards one extreme or the other. Gradually, this deviation assumes intolerable proportions. A reaction sets in, and justice is demanded for the neglected aspects of human life. Still, human life remains deprived of justice. The reason for this failure is that man's reaction to imbalance is itself devoid of balance. The new dispensation in turn persists in excessive preoccupation with either one specific aspect, problem or requirement of human life at the expense of all the others. Thus human life is denied judicious and balanced progress. Man continues to stumble hither and thither; from one form of self-destruction to another. All courses of life charted by man himself are winding and crooked. They move in the wrong direction, reach the wrong end and then turn back in another wrong direction.

Among these numerous ways - all false - there is just one way that lies exactly in the middle. This way alone does full justice to all of man's various potentialities and urges, to all his instincts and predispositions, to all the multifarious claims of both the body and the spirit; in short, to all aspects of his life. In this way there is no crookedness; it is the one course of life in which nothing is given either too much consideration or too little, and nothing suffers inequity and injustice. Man's very nature thirsts for such a way, and the succession of revolts against false ways of life is merely a manifestation of his constant quest for this right and straight way. Left to himself, man is incapable of charting this way. It is God alone Who can direct him to it; and indeed the Prophets were sent for this very purpose.

The Qur'an designates this way as sawa al-sabil ('the right way') in the present verse and elsewhere as al-sirat al-mustaqim ('the straight way'). This is the road which goes amidst the countless winding and crooked paths of life; the road which leads man, disregarding all the curved and crooked paths, straight on to his success, right from this world to the Hereafter. Whoever goes along it enjoys rectitude in this world and success and felicity in the Next, but whoever loses this road is bound to become a victim of false beliefs and false ways of conduct and thus comes to have a wrong orientation in life. This will lead him to Hell, where all bent and crooked paths end. The following illustrates man's dilemma.

In modern times some philosophers have been so impressed by this constant swinging in human life, from one extreme to another, as to have mistakenly argued that the dialectical process is the natural course of human life. They conclude, therefore, that the only way for human life to progress is that a thesis should first swing it in one direction, and then an antithesis swing it in the opposite direction, after which there will emerge a synthesis which constitutes the course of human progress. These curved lines from one extreme to the other do not indicate the correct course of human progress. Rather they represent the tragic stumblings which again and again obstruct the true progress of human life. Every extreme thesis sets life on a certain course and continues to pull it in that direction for some time. When human life is thus thrown off its 'right course' the result is that certain realities of life - which had not received their due - rise up in revolt, and this revolt often assumes the form of an antithesis. This revolt begins to pull life in the opposite direction. As the 'right way' is approached the conflicting ideas - the thesis and antithesis - begin to effect some kind of mutual compromise, leading to the emergence of a synthesis. This synthesis comprises many elements conducive to the good of mankind. But since societies which do not submit to the guidance of the Prophets are deprived both of the signposts that might indicate the 'right way' and of faith to help steady man's feet thereon this synthesis does not permit human life to maintain the golden mean. Its momentum is so powerful that it once more pushes life to the opposite extreme. At this point, certain realities are once again denied their due, with the result that another antithesis emerges in reaction to the iniquities of the earlier ideology. Had the light of the Qur'an been available to these short-sighted philosophers, and had they been able to perceive the 'right way' envisaged by the Qur'an, they would have realized that this was the true course of human progress.
( 13 )   So for their breaking of the covenant We cursed them and made their hearts hard. They distort words from their [proper] usages and have forgotten a portion of that of which they were reminded. And you will still observe deceit among them, except a few of them. But pardon them and overlook [their misdeeds]. Indeed, Allah loves the doers of good.
Cursed them: means that because of the breach of their Covenant, Allah withdrew His overflowing Grace from them. The withdrawal of Grace made their hearts grow hard in two ways: (1) they were no longer protected from the assaults of evil, and (2) they became impervious even to the message of forgiveness and mercy which is open to all Allah's creatures.

Israel, when it lost Allah's grace as above, began to sin against truth and religion in three ways: (1) they began to misuse Scripture itself, by either taking words out of their right meaning, or applying them to things for which they were never meant; (2) in doing so, they conveniently forgot a part of the Message and purpose of Allah; and (3) they invented new deceits to support the old ones.

Verses 14-16 Christians too have neglected most of their Book and Jews and Christians are asked to become Muslims
( 14 )   And from those who say, "We are Christians" We took their covenant; but they forgot a portion of that of which they were reminded. So We caused among them animosity and hatred until the Day of Resurrection. And Allah is going to inform them about what they used to do.
Some are of the opinion that the word Nasara (meaning Christians) is derived from Nasirah (Nazareth), the birthplace of the Messiah. In fact this word is not derived from Nasirah (Nazareth) but from the word nusrah, and the basis of this derivation is the question posed by the Messiah to his disciples: 'Who are my supporters (ansari) in the way of God?' In response to this they had said: 'We are the supporters (ansar) (in the way) of God.' Christian authors have been misled by the resemblance between the words Nasirah and Nasara into believing that the name of the sect founded in the early history of Christianity, and contemptuously characterized as either Nazarenes or Ebonites served as the basis of the Qur'anic designation of the Christians. But here the Qur'ijo categorically states that they had declared that they were 'Nasara' and it is obvious that the Christians never called themselves 'Nazarenes'.

In this connection it should be recalled that Jesus never called his followers 'Christians' for he had not come to found a new religion named after him. His mission was to revive the religion of Moses and of all the Prophets who preceded him as well as of the one who was to appear after him. Hence, he neither formed any cult divorced from the Israelites and the followers of the Mosaic Law nor designated his followers by any distinctive name. Likewise, his early followers neither considered themselves to be separate from the Israelite community nor developed into an independent group nor adopted any distinctive symbol and name. They worshipped in the temple of Jerusalem along with other Jews and considered themselves to be followers of the Mosaic Law (see Acts 3:1-10; 21: 14-15,21). Later on the process of alienation began to operate on both sides. On the one hand, Paul, one of the followers of Jesus, declared independence from the Mosaic Law holding that faith in Christ was all that one needed for salvation. On the other hand, the Jewish rabbis declared the followers of Christ to be heretics and excommunicated them. Despite this, for some time the new sect had no distinct appellation of its own. The followers of Christ variously described themselves as 'disciples', as 'brethren', as 'those who believed', and as 'saints' (see Acts 2: 44; 4: 32; 9: 26; 11: 29; 13: 52; 15: 1; 23: 1 and Romans 15: 25 and Colossians 1: 2). The Jews sometimes designated them as 'Galileans' and as 'the sect of Nazarenes' (see Acts 24: 5; Luke 13: 2). These nicknames, which were originally contrived in,.ojder to ridicule them, referred to Nazareth, the home town of Jesus in the district of Galilee. These names, however, did not gain sufficient popularity to become the permanent names of the followers of Christ. They were called 'Christians' for the first time by the people of Antioch in 43 A.D. or 44 A.D. when Paul and Barnabas went there and began to preach their religion (Acts 11: 26). This appellation was flung at them by the opponents of the followers of Christ precisely in order to tease them by using an appellation which was unacceptable to them. But when their enemies began to call them consistently by this name their leaders reacted by saying that if they were called Christians because of their allegiance to Christ they had no reason to be ashamed of it (1 Peter 4: 16). It was thus that the followers of Christ also gradually began to call themselves by the same name which had originally been conferred upon them sarcastically. In the course of time the Christians ceased to realize that theirs had originally been a derogatory appellation chosen for them by outsiders rather than by themselves.

The Qur'an, therefore, does not refer to the followers of Christ as Christians. It reminds them rather that they belong to those who responded to the query of Jesus: 'Who are my supporters (ansari) in the way of God?' by saying that they were his ansar (supporters) in God's cause.

In Surah As Saf, 61:14, the same word "Ansar" has been used: "Believers, become Allah's helpers, as Jesus, son of Mary, said to the disciples: “Who is my helper in (calling people) to Allah?” The disciples had responded by saying: “We are Allah's helpers.” Then a section of the Children of Israel believed and a section rejected the call. Thereafter We aided the believers against their enemies, and they prevailed."

It is an irony of fate that far from feeling grateful at being referred to by a dignified appellation Christian missionaries take offence at the fact that the Qur'an designates them as Nasara rather than as 'Christians'.
( 15 )   O People of the Scripture, there has come to you Our Messenger making clear to you much of what you used to conceal of the Scripture and overlooking much. There has come to you from Allah a light and a clear Book.
God discloses some of the dishonest and treacherous dealings of theirs where He deems it necessary in order to strengthen the cause of the true religion, and ignores the disclosure of those which are not truly indispensable.
( 16 )   By which Allah guides those who pursue His pleasure to the ways of safety and brings them out from darknesses into the light, by His permission, and guides them to a straight path.
The word 'safety' here denotes safety from false perception and outlook, safety from misdeeds and their consequences. Whoever seeks guidance from the Book of God and from the example of the Messenger (peace be on him) can find out how to keep himself safe from errors at each of life's crossroads.

Verse 17 Jesus son of Mary is not God or son of God
( 17 )   They have certainly disbelieved who say that Allah is Christ, the son of Mary. Say, "Then who could prevent Allah at all if He had intended to destroy Christ, the son of Mary, or his mother or everyone on the earth?" And to Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth and whatever is between them. He creates what He wills, and Allah is over all things competent.
The original mistake committed by the Christians in declaring Jesus to be a combination of human and divine essences turned Jesus into a mystery for them, and the more the Christian scholars tried to solve this mystery by resorting to conjecture and rhetorical extravagance the more involved the whole matter became. Those who were more impressed by the humanity of Jesus stressed his being the son of God and considered him to be one of the three gods. Those who were more impressed by the divinity of Jesus considered him to be none other than God, stressing that he was the human incarnation of God, and worshipped him as God. Those who tried to strike a middle path spent all their efforts hammering out subtle verbal formulations of the Trinity that would allow people to consider the Messiah to be God and man at one and the same time, to affirm that God and the Messiah are independent and simultaneously constitute an inseparable whole.

In Surah An Nisa 4:171 a similar message of Allah is addressed to the People of the Book (Christians):
"People of the Book! Do not exceed the limits in your religion, and attribute to Allah nothing except the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, was only a Messenger of Allah, and His command that He conveyed unto Mary, and a spirit from Him (which led to Mary's conception). So believe in Allah and in His Messengers, and do not say: (Allah is a) trinity. Give up this assertion; it would be better for you. Allah is indeed just one God. Far be it from His glory that He should have a son. To Him belongs all that is in the heavens and in the earth.217 Allah is sufficient for a guardian."
Explanation of Verse 4:171 above: What is meant by sending the 'command' to Mary is that God ordered Mary's womb to become impregnated without coming into contact with sperm. In the beginning the Christians were told that this was the secret of the fatherless birth of Jesus. Later on, under the misleading influence of Greek philosophy, they equated this with the 'Logos', which was subsequently interpreted as the Divine attribute of speech. The next step in this connection was the development of the notion that this Divine attribute entered into the womb of Mary and assumed the physical form of Jesus. Thus there developed among the Christians the false doctrine of the godhead of Jesus, and the false notion that out of His attributes God caused that of speech to appear in the form of Jesus.

This statement hints at the childishness of those who have been misled into believing that the Messiah himself is God either because of his miraculous birth or because of his flawless moral character or because of the miracles which he performed. The Messiah is merely a sign of the innumerable wonders of God's creation; a sign which somehow dazzled the eyes of those superficial people. Had their perception been wider they would have been able to see that there are even more inspiring examples of His creation and infinite power. If anything their attitude was indicative of the intellectual puerility of those who were so overawed by the excellence of a creature as to mistake him for the Creator. Those whose intelligence penetrates through the excellence of creatures, who look upon them merely as signs of the magnificent power of God, and who are led by such observations to a reinforcement of faith in the Creator are truly wise.

Verses 18-19 False claim of Jews and Christians to be the children of God and Invitation to Jews and Christians to become Muslims
( 18 )   But the Jews and the Christians say, "We are the children of Allah and His beloved." Say, "Then why does He punish you for your sins?" Rather, you are human beings from among those He has created. He forgives whom He wills, and He punishes whom He wills. And to Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth and whatever is between them, and to Him is the [final] destination.
This refrain in the last verse negatives the idea of sonship, and in this verse negatives the idea of an exclusive "Beloved". In both cases it means that Allah is independent of physical relationship or exclusive partiality. The six hundred years (in round figures) between Christ and Muhammad were truly the dark ages of the world. Religion was corrupted: the standard of morals fell low: many false systems and heresies arose; and there was a break in the succession of prophets until the advent of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
( 19 )   O People of the Scripture, there has come to you Our Messenger to make clear to you [the religion] after a period [of suspension] of messengers, lest you say, "There came not to us any bringer of good tidings or a warner." But there has come to you a bringer of good tidings and a warner. And Allah is over all things competent.
In the present context this sentence is extremely eloquent and subtle. It signifies that the same God who had sent warners and bearers of glad tidings to men in the past has now sent Muhammad (peace be on him) with the same task. At the same time it also means that they {should not treat the message of this warner and bearer of glad tidings lightly. They should bear in mind that if they disregard the injunctions of God, He can chastise them as He wills, for He is All-Powerful and All-Mighty.

Rukhu / Section 4 [20-26]
Verses 20-26 Behavior of Jews with their own Prophet Musa (Moses) and Curse of Allah on the Jews for 40 years
( 20 )   And [mention, O Muhammad], when Moses said to his people, "O my people, remember the favor of Allah upon you when He appointed among you prophets and made you possessors and gave you that which He had not given anyone among the worlds.
This refers to the glory the Israelites enjoyed before the time of Moses. There had appeared among them such great Prophets as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. Moreover, from the time of Joseph they were able to achieve very considerable power and authority in Egypt. For a considerable period they were the greatest rulers of the civilized world, reigning supreme in Egypt and the surrounding territories. People are generally inclined to regard the time of Moses as the starting point for the rise of the Israelites. The Qur'an, however, states categorically that the truly glorious period of their history had passed long before Moses, and that Moses himself drew the attention of his people to that period as their time of glory.

From the slavery of Egypt the Children of Israel were made free and independent, and thus each man became as it were a king, if only he had obeyed Allah and followed the lead of Moses.

"Exod. xix. 5: "Now, therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people." Israel was chosen to be the vehicle of Allah's message, the highest honour which any nation can receive."

We now come to the events detailed in the 13th and 1th chapters of the Book of Numbers in the Old Testament. Read these as a Commentary, and examine a good map of the Sinai Peninsula, showing its connections with Egypt on the west, North-West Arabia on the east, and Palestine on the north-east. We may suppose that Israel crossed from Egypt into the Peninsula somewhere near the northern extremity of the Gulf of Suez. Moses organised and numbered the people, and instituted the Priesthood. They went south about 200 miles to Mount Sinai where the Torah was received. Then, perhaps a hundred and fifty miles north, was the desert of Paran, close to the southern borders of Canaan. From the camp there twelve men were sent to spy out the land, and they penetrated as far as Hebron, say about 150 miles north of their camp, about 20 miles south of the future Jerusalem. They saw a rich country, and brought from it pomegranates and figs and a bunch of grapes so heavy that it had to be carried by two men on a staff. They came back and reported that the land was rich, but the men there were too strong for them. The people of Israel had no courage and no faith, and Moses remonstrated with them.
( 21 )   O my people, enter the Holy Land which Allah has assigned to you and do not turn back [from fighting in Allah's cause] and [thus] become losers."
This signifies Palestine which had been the homeland of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. After their exodus from Egypt, God ordered the Israelites to go forth to Egypt and conquer it.

This statement of Moses refers to the second year after they had come out of Egypt when he and his people lived in tents in the wilderness of Paran. This desert lies in the Sinai peninsula adjacent to the northern borders of Arabia and the southern borders of Palestine.
( 22 )   They said, "O Moses, indeed within it is a people of tyrannical strength, and indeed, we will never enter it until they leave it; but if they leave it, then we will enter."
Among those who returned after spying out the land were two men who had faith and courage. They were Joshua and Caleb. Joshua afterwards succeeded Moses in the leadership after 40 years. These two men pleaded for an immediate entry through the proper Gate, "after taking all due precautions and making all due preparations". But of course, they said, they must put their trust in Allah for victory.
( 23 )   Said two men from those who feared [to disobey] upon whom Allah had bestowed favor, "Enter upon them through the gate, for when you have entered it, you will be predominant. And upon Allah rely, if you should be believers."
This could have two meanings: either that two of those who feared the high-handed people of the Promised Land made that statement or that two of those who feared God did so. (However, most Qur'anic commentators subscribe to the latter meaning - Ed.)

The advice of Joshua and Caleb, and the proposals of Moses under divine instructions were unpalatable to the crowd, whose prejudices were further inflamed by the other ten men who had gone with Joshua and Caleb. They made an "evil report," and were frightened by the great stature of the Canaanites. The crowd was in open rebellion, was prepared to stone Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and Caleb, and return to Egypt. Their reply to Moses was full of irony, insolence, blasphemy, and cowardice. In effect they said: "You talk of your God and all that: go with your God and fight there if you like: we shall sit here and watch."
( 24 )   They said, "O Moses, indeed we will not enter it, ever, as long as they are within it; so go, you and your Lord, and fight. Indeed, we are remaining right here."
"Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation. "(Num. xiv. 5). According to the words in the Old Testament story, Allah said: "I will smite them with the pestilence, and disinherit them." (Num. xiv. 12). Moses prayed and interceded. But as we are told here, (a spiritual touch not found in the Jewish story). Moses was careful to separate himself and his brother from the rebellion.
( 25 )   [Moses] said, "My Lord, indeed I do not possess except myself and my brother, so part us from the defiantly disobedient people."
The punishment of the rebellion of these stiff-necked people, rebellion that was repeated "these ten times" (Num. xiv. 22) and more, was that they were left to wander distractedly hither and thither through the wilderness for forty years. That generation was not to see the Holy Land. All those that were twenty years old and upwards were to die in the wilderness: "your carcasses shall fail in this wilderness." (Num. xiv. 29). Only those who were then children would reach the Promised land. And so it happened. From the desert of Paran they wandered south, north, and east for forty years. From the head of what is now the Gulf of 'Aqaba, they travelled north, keeping to the east side of the depression of which the Dead Sea and the river Jordan are portions. Forty years afterwards they crossed the Jordan opposite what is now Jericho, but by that time Moses, Aaron, and the whole of the elder generation had died.
( 26 )   [Allah] said, "Then indeed, it is forbidden to them for forty years [in which] they will wander throughout the land. So do not grieve over the defiantly disobedient people."
The details of this incident are found in the Bible in Numbers, Deuteronomy and Joshua. The essence of the story is that Moses sent twelve heads of Israel to spy out Palestine. They returned after forty days and said: 'We came to the land to which you sent us; it flows with milk and honey. Yet the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large; and besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there . . . and all the people that we saw in it are men of great stature. And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim); and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.' Then all the congregation cried out: 'Would that we had died in the land of Egypt; or would that we had died in this wilderness; why does the Lord bring us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey; would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?' At this they were censured for cowardice by two of the twelve heads who had spied out Palestine, Joshua and Caleb. Caleb suggested that they should go and seize Palestine. Then both of them said: 'If the Lord delights in us, He will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land which flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the Lord; and do not fear the people of the land ... for the Lord is with us; do not fear them' (Numbers 14: 1-9). But the congregation responded to this by crying out that both ought to be stoned. This so provoked the wrath of God that He commanded that their bodies would fall dead in the wilderness and that of all their numbers numbered from twenty years old and upward, who had murmured against Him, none would come into the promised land except Caleb and Joshua; that only after an entire generation had passed away and a new generation had sprung up would they be enabled to conquer Palestine. Because of this divine decree, it took the people of Israel thirty-eight years to reach Transjordan from Paran. During this period all those who had left Egypt in their youth had perished. After the conquest of Transjordan Moses died (Ibid., 14: 10 ff.).

The Prophet Moses (peace be on him) led the Israelites out of Egypt and brought them to Mount Sinai by way of Marah, Elim and Rephaim in the Sinai Peninsula. Here he stayed for a little over a year and received most of the Commandments of the Torah. Then he was commanded to lead the Israelites towards Palestine and conquer it, for that land was to be given to them as an inheritance. So, he led them through Taberah and Nazareth and came to the desert of Paran from where he despatched a deputation of prominent Israelites to spy out Palestine. The deputation returned after forty days and made their report at Kadesh. Except for the encouraging picture presented by Joshua and Caleb, the report made by the other members was so disappointing that the Israelites cried out in disgust and refused to march on to Palestine. Thereupon God decreed that they would wander for forty years in the wilderness and none of their older generation except Joshua and Caleb would see Palestine. Thus, the Israelites wandered homeless in the wilderness of Paran, Shur and Zin, fighting and struggling against the Amalekites, the Amorites, the Edomites, the Midianites and the Moabites. When the forty years was about to end, the Prophet Aaron (peace be on him) died in Mount Hor, near the border of Edom. At about this time the Prophet Moses (peace be on him) entered Moab at the head of the Israelites, conquered the whole area and reached Heshbon and Shittim. After him Joshua, his first successor, crossed the River Jordan from the east and captured Jericho, the first Palestinian city to fall to the Israelites. Later on the whole of Palestine was conquered by them within a short period.

Ailah (present-day Aqaba) on this map is the place where probably the well-known incident of the Sabbath-breakers, as mentioned in (Surah al-Baqarah 2: 65) and (Surah al-A'raf 7: 166), took place.

Later on during the caliphate (sic) of Joshua the Israelites became capable of conquering Palestine.

In view of the fact that the followers of all the Prophets are Muslims, the author has used a peculiarly Islamic term - caliphate, rather than kingship, etc. - to signify the predominantly religious (or shall we say, Islamic) quality of his rule and to distinguish it from systems of government not animated by the religious spirit - Ed.

The purpose of referring to this event becomes clear if we reflect upon the context. It seems to be to bring home to the Israelites that the punishment to which they would be subjected if they adopted a rebellious attitude towards Muhammad (peace be on him) would be even more severe than the .one to which they had been subjected in the time of Moses.

Rukhu / Section 5 [27-34]
Verses 27-31 Story of Adam's two sons (Abel and Cain)
( 27 )   And recite to them the story of Adam's two sons, in truth, when they both offered a sacrifice [to Allah], and it was accepted from one of them but was not accepted from the other. Said [the latter], "I will surely kill you." Said [the former], "Indeed, Allah only accepts from the righteous [who fear Him].
The two sons of Adam were Habil (in the English Bible, Abel) and Qabil (in English, Cain). Cain was the elder, and Abel the younger,-the righteous and innocent one. Presuming on the right of the elder, Cain was puffed up with arrogance and jealousy, which led him to commit the crime of murder. Among the Christians, Cain was the type of the Jew as against Abel the Christian. The Jew tried to kill Jesus and exterminate the Christian. In the same way, as against Muhammad, the younger brother of the Semitic family, Cain was the type of the Old Testament and New Testament people, who tried to resist and kill Muhammad and put down his people.

My sin as well as thine. "My sin" has been interpreted as "the sin against me, in that thou slayest me": in that case thy "sin" may mean either "thy crime in committing a murder." or "thy sin against thyself, for the crime causes real loss to thyself in the Hereafter." See the last clause of the next verse.
( 28 )   If you should raise your hand against me to kill me - I shall not raise my hand against you to kill you. Indeed, I fear Allah, Lord of the worlds.
This does not mean, that his brother assured him that when the latter stepped forward to kill him he would keep his hands tied and stretch out his own neck to be cut down rather than defend himself. What this statement amounts to is an assurance on the part of the first brother that, even though the other was intent on killing him, he himself had no such intention. In other words, he assured his brother that even though the latter was busy planning his murder he would not take the initiative in killing him despite his knowledge of the latter's intent.

Righteousness does not demand at all that when a man is subjected to wrongful aggression he should surrender to the aggressor rather than defend himself. Righteousness, however, demands that a man should not take the initiative and try to kill someone even though he knows him to be bent on killing him. He should rather wait for the act of aggression to be initiated by the other person. And this is exactly what was intended by the statement of the righteous son of Adam.
( 29 )   Indeed I want you to obtain [thereby] my sin and your sin so you will be among the companions of the Fire. And that is the recompense of wrongdoers."
The righteous son of Adam told his brother that rather than both of them becoming sinners by trying to kill each other, he would prefer to see the entire sin fall on the lot of the one who was intent on the murder - the sin of the aggressor's attempt to murder, as well as the sin of any injury that might be inflicted on him in self-defence.

Abel's speech is full of meaning. He is innocent and God-fearing. To the threat of death held out by the other, he returns a calm reply, aimed at reforming the other. "Surely," he pleads, "if your sacrifice was not accepted, there was something wrong in you, for Allah is just and accepts the sacrifice of the righteous. If this does not deter you, I am not going to retaliate, though there is as much power in me against you as you have against me. I fear my Maker, for I know He cherishes all His Creation. Let me warn you that you are doing wrong. I do not intend even to resist, but do you know what the consequences will be to you? You will be in torment."

The innocent unselfish pleading of the younger brother had no effect, for the soul of the other was full of pride, selfishness and jealousy. He committed the murder, but in doing so, ruined his own self.
( 30 )   And his soul permitted to him the murder of his brother, so he killed him and became among the losers.
"Sau-at" may mean "corpse", with a suggestion of nakedness and shame in two senses: (1) the sense of being exposed without burial, and (2) the sense of being insulted by being violently deprived by the unwarranted murder, of the soul which inhabited it,- the soul, too, of a brother.
( 31 )   Then Allah sent a crow searching in the ground to show him how to hide the disgrace of his brother. He said, "O woe to me! Have I failed to be like this crow and hide the body of my brother?" And he became of the regretful.
In this way God made this errant son of Adam realize his ignorance and folly. Once his attention turned to self-appraisal, his regret was not confined to realizing that in his effort to hide his brother's corpse he proved to be even less efficient than the raven. He also began to feel how foolish he was to have killed his own brother. The later part of the sentence indicates this remorse.

The thought at last came home to the murderer. It was dreadful indeed to slay any one-the more so as he was a brother, and an innocent righteous brother! But worse still, the murderer had not even the decency to bury the corpse, and of this simple duty he was reminded by a raven-a black bird usually held in contempt! His regret was on that account. That was no true repentance.

The story of Cain is referred to in a few graphic details in order to tell the story of Israel. Israel rebelled against Allah, slew and insulted righteous men who did them no harm but on the contrary came in all humility. When Allah withdrew His favour from Israel because of its sins and bestowed it on brother nation, the jealousy of Israel plunged it deeper into sin. To kill or seek to kill an individual because he represents an ideal is to kill all who uphold the ideal. On the other hand, to save an individual life in the same circumstances is to save a whole community. What could be stronger condemnation of individual assassination and revenge?

The purpose of mentioning this particular incident is to reproach the Jews subtly for the plot they had hatched to assassinate the Prophet (peace be on him) and some of his illustrious Companions. The resemblance between the two incidents is evident. God honoured some of the illiterate people of Arabia and disregarded the ancient People of the Book because the former were pious while the latter were not. But rather than reflect upon the causes of their rejection by God, and do something to overcome the failings which had led to that rejection, the Israelites were seized by the same fit of arrogant ignorance and folly which had once seized the criminal son of Adam, and resolved to kill those whose good deeds had been accepted by God. It was obvious that such acts would contribute nothing towards their acceptance by God. They would rather earn them an even greater degree of God's disapproval.

Verse 32 Decree of Allah regarding the killing of a human being:
( 32 )   Because of that, We decreed upon the Children of Israel that whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption [done] in the land - it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one - it is as if he had saved mankind entirely. And our messengers had certainly come to them with clear proofs. Then indeed many of them, [even] after that, throughout the land, were transgressors.
Since the same qualities which had been displayed by the wrong doing son of Adam were manifest in the Children of Israel, God strongly urged them not to kill human beings and couched His command in forceful terms. It is a pity that the precious words which embody God's ordinance are to be found nowhere in the Bible today. The Talmud, however, does mention this subject in the following words:

To him who kills a single individual of Israel, it shall be reckoned as if he had slain the whole race and he who preserves a single individual of Israel, it shall be reckoned in the Book of God as if he had preserved the whole world. The Talmud also mentions that in trials for murder, the Israelite judges used to address the witnesses as follows:
"Whoever kills one person, merits punishment as if he had slain all the men in the world."
This means that the survival of human life depends on everyone respecting other human beings and in contributing actively to the survival and protection of others. Whosoever kills unrighteously is thus not merely guilty of doing wrong to one single person, but proves by his act that his heart is devoid of respect for human life and of sympathy for the human species as such. Such a person, therefore, is an enemy of all mankind. This is so because he happens to be possessed of a quality which, were it to become common to all men, would lead to the destruction of the entire human race. The person who helps to preserve the life of even one person, on the other hand, is the protector of the whole of humanity, for he possesses a quality which is indispensable to the survival of mankind.

Verses 33-34 Punishment of waging war against Allah and His Rasool
( 33 ) Indeed, the penalty for those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive upon earth [to cause] corruption is none but that they be killed or crucified or that their hands and feet be cut off from opposite sides or that they be exiled from the land. That is for them a disgrace in this world; and for them in the Hereafter is a great punishment,
The 'land' signifies either the country or territory wherein the responsibility of establishing law and order has been undertaken by an Islamic state. The expression 'to wage war against Allah and His Messenger' denotes war against the righteous order established by the Islamic state. It is God's purpose, and it is for this very purpose that God sent His Messengers, that a righteous order of life be established on earth; an order that would provide peace and security to everything found on earth; an order under whose benign shadow humanity would be able to attain its perfection; an order under which the resources of the earth would be exploited in a manner conducive to man's progress and prosperity rather than to his ruin and destruction. If anyone tried to disrupt such an order, whether on a limited scale by committing murder and destruction and robbery and brigandry or on a large scale by attempting to overthrow that order and establish some unrighteous order instead, he would in fact be guilty of waging war against God and His Messenger. All this is not unlike the situation where someone tries to overthrow the established government in a country. Such a person will be convicted of 'waging war against the state' even though his actual action may have been directed against an ordinary policeman in some remote part of the country, and irrespective of how remote the sovereign himself is from him.

These penalties are mentioned here in brief merely to serve as guidelines to either judges or rulers so they may punish each criminal in accordance with the nature of his crime. The real purpose is to indicate that for any of those who live in the Islamic realm to attempt to overthrow the Islamic order is the worst kind of crime, for which any of the highly severe punishments may be imposed.
( 34 )   Except for those who return [repenting] before you apprehend them. And know that Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.
If they give up subversion and abandon their endeavour to disrupt or overthrow the righteous order, and their subsequent conduct shows that they have indeed become peace-loving, law-abiding citizens of good character, they need not be subjected to the punishments mentioned here even if any of their former crimes against the state should come to light. If their crime involves violation of the rights of other men they may not be absolved from their guilt. If, for instance, they have either killed a person, seized someone's property or committed any other crime against human life or property they will be tried according to the criminal law of Islam. They will not, however, be accused of either rebellion and high treason or of waging war against God and His Messenger.

Rukhu / Section 6 [35-43]
Verses 35-37 Jihad is the way to success and No ransom will save the unbelievers from the punishment:

يٰۤاَيُّهَا الَّذِيۡنَ اٰمَنُوا اتَّقُوا اللّٰهَ وَابۡتَغُوۡۤا اِلَيۡهِ الۡوَسِيۡلَةَ وَجَاهِدُوۡا فِىۡ سَبِيۡلِهٖ لَعَلَّـكُمۡ تُفۡلِحُوۡنَ‏
( 35 )   O you who have believed, fear Allah and seek the means [of nearness] to Him and strive in His cause that you may succeed.
People are urged to solicit all means which might bring them close to God and enable them to please Him.

The English imperative 'strive hard' does not do full justice to the actual word used in the Qur'an: jahidu. The verbal form mujahadah signifies and carries the nuance of doing something in defiance of, or in opposition to someone. The true sense of the Qur'anic injunction 'strive hard' in the way of Allah is that the Muslims ought to use all their strength and engage in vigorous struggle against those forces which either forcefully prevent them from living in obedience to God or force them to live in obedience to others than God. It is this struggle which is likely to lead man to his true success and bring him to a close relationship with God.

This verse directs the believer to engage in a ceaseless, multifrontal struggle. On one side is the accursed Satan with his horde. Then comes the animal spirit of man, with its defiant and refractory desires. Then there are many men who have turned away from God, but with whom one is linked by social, cultural and economic ties. Then there are false religious, cultural and social systems which rest on rebellion against God and which force man to worship falsehood rather than Truth. These rebellious forces use different means to achieve their end, but those ends are always the same - to make men serve them rather than God. But man's true progress and his attainment of close communion with God depends entirely on his total obedience to God, on his serving God unreservedly in the inner as well as in the external aspects of his life. He cannot achieve this objective without engaging in simultaneous combat with all the forces which are defiant and rebellious towards God, carrying on an unceasing struggle against them and trampling down all obstructions to his advancement along God's path.
( 36 )   Indeed, those who disbelieve - if they should have all that is in the earth and the like of it with it by which to ransom themselves from the punishment of the Day of Resurrection, it will not be accepted from them, and for them is a painful punishment
Men with wealth, though ill gotten, may boast of their fortunes and may think that they would get away without being questioned are utterly naive for when it comes to Allah, no one escapes from His wrath and all wrong doers will be put to a painful punishment, some of which may be tasted right here in this world and the rest of it in the hereafter, which will be unbearable forever. Only men could understand Allah's warnings !!
( 37 )   They will wish to get out of the Fire, but never are they to emerge therefrom, and for them is an enduring punishment.
ANd when the final decision will be announced, they will find no escape from the hell fire, no wordily deity would come forward nor their coffers which will become a source of their anguish and chastisement.

Verses 38-40 Punishment for theft:
( 38 ) [As for] the thief, the male and the female, amputate their hands in recompense for what they committed as a deterrent [punishment] from Allah. And Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise.
The injunction is to cut off one not both hands. There is consensus among jurists that in the event of the first theft the right hand should be cut off. This punishment has been laid down for theft alone. The Prophet (peace be on him) declared: "There is no cutting off of a hand for he who embezzles.' (Abu Da'ud, 'Hudud', 14; Tirmidhi, 'Hudud', 18; Ibn Majah, 'Hudud', 36; Nasa'i, 'Qat' al-Sariq', 13 - Ed.) This shows that the punishment prescribed for theft does not cover acts involving embezzlement and other dishonest practices. It is applicable only to acts involving the seizure, by stealth, of someone else's property.

The Prophet (peace be on him) also instructed that the punishment of cutting off a hand should not be applied in cases where the value of the article stolen is less than that of a shield. In the time of the Prophet (peace be on him) according to a tradition from Ibn 'Abbas, this was ten dirhams; according to a tradition from Ibn 'Umar, it was three dirhams; according to a tradition from Anas b. Malik, it was five dirhams; and according to another tradition from 'A'ishah, it was a quarter of a dinar. Owing to this discrepancy, there is disagreement among jurists regarding the minimum value of the goods stolen which merits the punishment of cutting off a hand. This value, according to Abu Hanifah, is ten dirhams whereas according to Malik, Shafi'i and Ahmad b. Hanbal, it is one quarter of a dinar (three dirhams). (For traditions on objects and amounts of things on which the hand of the thief is to be cut off, see Bukhari, 'Hudud', 13; Muslim, 'Hudud', 1-7; Abu Da'ud, 'Hudud', 12, 13; Tirmidhi, 'Hudud', 16; Nasa'i, 'Qat' al-Sariq', 5, 8-10 - Ed.)

Moreover, there are several things the theft of which would not necessitate cutting off a hand. The Prophet (peace be on him) directed, for instance, that no hand should be cut off if the stolen article was food. According to a tradition from 'A'ishah: '(The hand of) the thief was not cut off during the time of the Messenger of Allah for the theft of trivial things.' (Ahmad b. Hanbal, Musnad, vol. 3, p. 464; Darimi, 'Hudud', 4, 7 - Ed.) Furthermore, 'Ali and 'Uthman gave the judgement - and none of the Companions disagreed with it - that a person's hand should not be cut off for stealing birds. 'Umar and 'Ali did not cut off the hands of those who had stolen from the public treasury, and on this question no disagreement on the part of any Companion has been reported. On these grounds the founders of the schools of Islamic Law exempted certain things from the application of this penal injunction.

According to Abu Hanifah a man's hand should not be cut off for stealing vegetables, fruit, meat, cooked food, grain which is not stored in a barn, and instruments of music and play. Likewise, he is of the opinion that a hand should not be cut off for either stealing animals grazing in the forest or for stealing from the public treasury. The founders of the other schools of Islamic Law have also exempted the stealing of certain things from the punishment of cutting off a hand. But this exemption does not mean that the guilty parties should receive no punishment at all. (See the commentaries of Ibn Kathir, Ibn al-'Arabi, Qurtubi and Jassas on this verse. See also Ibn Rushd, Bidayat al-Mujtahid, vol. 2, pp. 441 ff. - Ed.)

Punishment really does not belong to mortals, but to Allah alone. Only, in order to keep civil society together, and protect innocent people from crime, certain principles are laid down on which people can build up their criminal law. But we must always remember that Allah not only punishes but forgives, and forgiveness is the attribute which is more prominently placed before us. It is not our wisdom that can really define the bounds of forgiveness or punishment, but His Will or Plan, which is the true standard of righteousness and justice.
( 39 )   But whoever repents after his wrongdoing and reforms, indeed, Allah will turn to him in forgiveness. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.
Forgiveness on the part of Allah does not mean that the hand of the thief should not be cut off. It means rather that one who repents and becomes righteous by purging his soul of the sin of stealing will be spared the wrath of God, Who will remove the stain of that sin from him. But if after his hand has been cut off the person concerned does not purge himself of evil intent and continues to nurture the same impure feelings which led to his stealing and thus to the cutting off of his hand, it is evident that even though his hand has been severed from his body, stealing remains ingrained in his soul. The result will be that he will continue to merit God's wrath as he did before his hand was cut off.

The Qur'an therefore directs the thief to seek pardon from God and to try to reform himself. For the hand of that thief was cut off for the sake of the judicious administration of human society and the cutting off of a hand did not automatically purify the soul of the person on whom the punishment was carried out. Purity of soul can be achieved only by repentance and turning oneself to God. Traditions mention that after the hand of a thief had been cut off in compliance with the Prophet's order, he was summoned by the Prophet (peace be on him) himself who said to him: 'Say: "I seek pardon from God, and to Him do I turn in repentance.'" The thief uttered these words as directed by the Prophet (peace be on him) who then prayed for the thief, saying: 'O God, accept his repentance.' (Abu Da'ud, 'Hudud', 8 - Ed.)
( 40 )   Do you not know that to Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth? He punishes whom He wills and forgives whom He wills, and Allah is over all things competent.
Two classes of men are meant, viz., the Hypocrites and the Jews. For both of them Al-Mustafa laboured earnestly and assiduously, and it must have been a cause of great grief and disappointment to him that some among them showed so much insincerity, cunning, and hardness of heart. These are types not yet extinct.

Verses 41-43 Do not provide lip-service; be true believers and If Allah intends to punish, the Rasool cannot save
( 41 )   O Messenger, let them not grieve you who hasten into disbelief of those who say, "We believe" with their mouths, but their hearts believe not, and from among the Jews. [They are] avid listeners to falsehood, listening to another people who have not come to you. They distort words beyond their [proper] usages, saying "If you are given this, take it; but if you are not given it, then beware." But he for whom Allah intends fitnah - never will you possess [power to do] for him a thing against Allah. Those are the ones for whom Allah does not intend to purify their hearts. For them in this world is disgrace, and for them in the Hereafter is a great punishment.
This verse refers to those who devoted all their capacities and efforts to ensure that the status quo ante of Jahiliyah remained intact, and that the reformative mission of Islam should fail to set right the corruption that had come down to them from the past. Disregarding all moral scruples, these people used the vilest methods against the Prophet (peace be on him). They deliberately suppressed the truth and resorted to lying, deceit, treachery and low cunning in order to frustrate the mission of the Prophet (peace be on him) who was engaged in a tireless struggle actuated by absolute selflessness and benevolence, and who sought the welfare of all human beings, including that of his opponents. All this naturally hurt the Prophet (peace be on him). A sincere person must feel heartbroken when he sees men of low moral character, driven by ignorance, blind selfishness and bigotry, resort to vile methods in opposition to his mission, which is actuated by charity and goodwill towards all men. Hence the purpose of God's directive here is not to ask the Prophet (peace be on him) to abstain from this natural feeling of grief but rather that he should not allow such feelings to undermine his morale and that he should persevere in his task. As for the opponents of the Prophet (peace be on him), in view of their low morals, their mean conduct was not at all contrary to expectations.

"or they be Jews who have their ears eagerly turned to falsehood" This has two meanings. First, that since such people are slaves to their desires they cannot have the least interest in the Truth, falsehood alone gratifies them. It is with falsehood alone that they like to fill their ears, for nothing else quenches the thirst of their souls. Second, it is the same love of falsehood which motivates them when they come and spend some time in the company of the Prophet (peace be on him) and the Muslims. They want to distort whatever they see or hear, to taint the facts with their fabrications, and then circulate them among those who have had no contact with the Prophet (peace be on him) and the Muslims in order to scandalize them.

"and spy for other people who did not chance to come to you" This also has two meanings. First, that they socialized with the Prophet (peace be on him) and the Muslims in order to pry into their affairs and communicate them to the enemy. Second, that they went about collecting information to try to slander them. Their objective was to create misgivings about the Prophet (peace be on him) and the Muslims among those who were unacquainted with them.

"who pervert the words of Allah, taking them out of their proper context in order to distort their meaning" mean They deliberately tamper with those injunctions of the Torah that do not accord with their desires, and by altering the meanings of the words occurring in the text they deduce laws that suit their interests.

"They say to people: 'If such and such teaching is given to you, accept it; if you are not given that, then beware!" This refers to the Jews who went about telling the ignorant masses that they should follow the teachings of the Prophet (peace be on him) only if they conformed to the teachings of the Jews.

"You can be of no avail to him whom Allah wills to fall into error:" God's will to put someone to the test means that God confronts one in whom He sees the growth of evil with the opportunities of doing just that, so that he experiences the struggle between good and evil. If the person is not yet fully inclined towards evil, his moral health improves and his latent potentialities for resisting evil are revived. But if he has become excessively inclined towards evil, and goodness has been totally crushed from within his being, then every such test is bound to entangle him still more tightly in evil. The well-wisher is now powerless to rescue him. It might be added that not only individuals but also nations are put to this kind of test.

"Those are the ones whose hearts Allah does not want to purify." God did not will that their hearts be purified for they themselves did not want them to be purified. It is not God's way to deprive of purity those who love it and strive for it; but God does not wish to purify those who do not seek their own purification.
( 42 )   [They are] avid listeners to falsehood, devourers of [what is] unlawful. So if they come to you, [O Muhammad], judge between them or turn away from them. And if you turn away from them - never will they harm you at all. And if you judge, judge between them with justice. Indeed, Allah loves those who act justly.
Here pointed reference is made to judges and jurisconsults who accept false evidence and invent reports in order to issue verdicts contrary to justice and in favour of either those who bribe them or with whom their illegitimate interests lie.

Until then the Jews had not become full-fledged subjects of the Islamic state. Their relations with that state were based on agreements according to which the Jews were to enjoy internal autonomy, and their disputes were to be decided by their own judges and in accordance with their own laws. They were not legally bound to place their disputes either before the Prophet (peace be on him) for adjudication or before the judges appointed by him. But in cases where it appeared against their interests to have their disputes judged according to their own religious law they approached the Prophet (peace be on him) in the hope that the Prophet might have a different ruling.

This is a searching question as to the motive of the Jews in bringing their cases for decision to the Prophet. They came either (1) to ridicule whatever he said, or (2) to deceive him as to facts and snatch a favourable decision which was against equity. If their own Law did not suit their selfish interests, they sometimes twisted it. But Muhammad was always inflexible in his justice.

The particular case referred to here was that of a woman belonging to a respectable family, who was found to be involved in an unlawful sexual relationship with a man. The punishment for this in the Torah was that both be stoned to death (see Deuteronomy 22: 23-4). But the Jews did not want to enforce this punishment. Hence they deliberated among themselves and decided to put the case before the Prophet (peace be on him), with the reservation that his judgement be accepted only if it was other than stoning. The Prophet (peace be on him) decided that the punishment should, in fact, be stoning. When the Jews declined to accept the judgement, the Prophet (peace be on him) asked their rabbis what punishment had been prescribed for such a case in their religion. They replied that it was to strike the culprit with lashes, to blacken the face and to make the person concerned ride on a donkey. The Prophet (peace be on him) asked them under oath if the Torah had indeed prescribed that as punishment for adultery committed by married men and women. They repeated the same false reply. However, one of them called Ibn Sawriya who, according to the Jews themselves, was the greatest living scholar of the Torah at that time, kept silent. The Prophet (peace be on him) asked him to state on oath in the name of God, Who had emancipated them from Pharaoh and had given them the Law, whether the punishment for adultery provided for in the Torah was what they had mentioned. He replied:
'Had you not put me under such a heavy oath, I would not have volunteered the correct information. The fact is that the prescribed punishment for adultery is indeed stoning, but when adultery became common among us our rulers adopted the rule that when respectable people committed adultery they were left unpunished, whereas when ordinary people were convicted they were punished by stoning. Later on when this caused resentment among the common people we altered the law of the Torah and adopted the rule that adulterers and adulteresses would be lashed, their faces would be blackened, and they would be made to ride on donkeys, seated in a backward-looking position.' This left the Jews with nothing to say and the adulterer and adulteress were, in accordance with the order of the Prophet (peace be on him), stoned to death. 
(Ibn Kathir, Tafsir, vol. 3, pp. 574-5 - Ed.)
( 43 )   But how is it that they come to you for judgement while they have the Torah, in which is the judgement of Allah? Then they turn away, [even] after that; but those are not [in fact] believers.
In this verse, God unmasks completely the dishonesty of these people. It shows how these so-called religious people who had cast the spell of their religious piety and knowledge of the Scriptures over the whole of Arabia had set aside a categorical injunction of the book which they themselves recognized to be the Book of God, and which they professed to believe in. They had referred that judicial case to the Prophet (peace be on him) for his decision even though they vehemently denied his prophethood. This made it quite clear that there was nothing to which they subscribed sincerely. Their true religion consisted merely of worshipping their interests and desires. They were ready to turn their backs upon the very book which they recognized as the Book of God merely because some of its injunctions were unpalatable to them, and in such cases they did not mind approaching one whom they regarded as an imposter (may God be our refuge from such a blasphemy) in the hope that they might be able to obtain a judgement to their liking.

Here we come to the end of Part I. Please continue reading the remaining parts to understand the entire Surah, when read in conjunction with the Overview.

You may now like to listen to Arabic recitation of Surah Al Māʼidah with English subtitles:

You may refer to our post "114 Chapters (Sūrahs) of the Holy Qur'an" for translation, meaning and summary / exegesis of other chapters (Though not complete but building up from 30th Juzʼ / Part backwards for chapters in 30th Juzʼ / Part are shorter and easier to understand). 

Photo | References| 12 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 |
Reading the Holy Quran should be a daily obligation of a Muslim - Reading it with translation will make it meaningful. But reading its Exegesis / Tafsir will make you understand it fully.

An effort has been made to gather explanation / exegesis of the surahs of the Holy Qur'an from authentic sources and then present a least possible condensed explanation of the surah. In that:
  • The plain translation has been taken from the Holy Quran officially published by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. [1]
  • The exegesis of the chapters of the Holy Quran is mainly based on the "Tafhim al-Qur'an - The Meaning of the Qur'an" by one of the most enlightened scholars of the Muslim World Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi. [2]
  • In addition the references of  other sources which have been explored have also been given above. Those desirous of detailed explanations and tafsir (exegesis), may refer to these sites. 
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