Monday 24 February 2020

Surah An Nisa: 4th Chapter of Quran (Part II)

Sürah An-Nisa' " ٱلنِّسَاء‎ " - The Women, is the fourth chapter of the Qur'an part of the Juz' 4-5 with 176 āyāt (verses) and 24 Ruku / sections. The title of the surah is mainly attributed to  numerous references to women throughout the chapter, including verses 4:34 and 4:127-130.

This Sürah closely connected chronologically with Sürah 3 Al i Imran  and the subject matter deals with social problems which Muslim community had to face immediately after Uhud.

The main object of this Sürah is to teach the Muslims the ways that unite a people and make them firm and strong. Introductions for the stability of family, which is the nucleus of community have been given. Then they have been urged to prepare themselves for defense. Side by side with these, they have been taught the importance of the propagation of Islam. Above all, the importance of the highest moral character in the scheme of consolidation of the Community has been impressed.

Owing to the length  of the Sürah and varied subjects discussed therein, the Sürah has been divided into six parts parts for better understanding, as already explained in the Overview.  We now begin with  the Part II which generally and specifically deals with subjects as mentioned herein under:

In Part II, we will cover exegesis of verses 43 - 56 which follow the moral preparations (Part I) contain instructions for defense. It commences with the ways of the purification of mind and body for the offering of Salat have been taught because it plays the most important part in every scheme of moral and social reform. Thereafter the Muslims have been warned to be on their guard against the cunning machinations and vile practices of the local Jews who were hostile to the New Movement. This caution was necessary for removing some possible misunderstanding that might have arisen on account of the pre-Islamic alliance between the people of Al-Madinah and the Jews. 
Let us now read the translation and exegesis / tafseer of Part I 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"

Ruku / Section 7 [Verses 43-50]
Verse 43 Prohibition of drinking liquor-2nd Order and Tayammum-a substitute for ablution:

يٰۤـاَيُّهَا الَّذِيۡنَ اٰمَنُوۡا لَا تَقۡرَبُوا الصَّلٰوةَ وَاَنۡـتُمۡ سُكَارٰى حَتّٰى تَعۡلَمُوۡا مَا تَقُوۡلُوۡنَ وَلَا جُنُبًا اِلَّا عَابِرِىۡ سَبِيۡلٍ حَتّٰى تَغۡتَسِلُوۡا​ ؕ وَاِنۡ كُنۡتُمۡ مَّرۡضٰۤى اَوۡ عَلٰى سَفَرٍ اَوۡ جَآءَ اَحَدٌ مِّنۡكُمۡ مِّنَ الۡغَآئِطِ اَوۡ لٰمَسۡتُمُ النِّسَآءَ فَلَمۡ تَجِدُوۡا مَآءً فَتَيَمَّمُوۡا صَعِيۡدًا طَيِّبًا فَامۡسَحُوۡا بِوُجُوۡهِكُمۡ وَاَيۡدِيۡكُمۡ​ ؕ اِنَّ اللّٰهَ كَانَ عَفُوًّا غَفُوۡرًا‏ 
( 43 )   O you who have believed, do not approach prayer while you are intoxicated until you know what you are saying or in a state of janabah, except those passing through [a place of prayer], until you have washed [your whole body]. And 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 find no water, then seek clean earth and wipe over your faces and your hands [with it]. Indeed, Allah is ever Pardoning and Forgiving.
This is the second in the chronological sequence of injunctions concerning intoxicants. We came across the first injunction in (Surah al-Baqarah 2: 219). In that verse God merely indicated that drinking wine was a great sin, making it clear that it was reprehensible in His sight. This was quite enough to make some Muslims give up liquor altogether, though many others still took intoxicating drinks: they sometimes stood up to pray while still under the influence of alcohol, so that they even made mistakes in their recitations. This second injunction was probably revealed at the beginning of 4 A.H., making it forbidden, thenceforth, to pray in a state of intoxication. This led people to alter their drinking times. They drank only at those hours when there was no fear of their remaining under the influence of intoxicants when the time for Prayer came. The injunction embodying unconditional prohibition of intoxicants was revealed not long afterwards. See (Surah al-Ma'idah 5: 90-1.)

It should also be borne in mind that the word used in the verse is derived from sukr, which embraces not merely intoxicating liquors but everything which causes intoxication. The injunction contained in the verse is valid even now, for though the use of intoxicants as such has been completely prohibited, praying in a state of intoxication is a graver sin.

It is on this basis that the Prophet (peace be on him) directed anyone who is under the influence of sleep, and dozes off again and again during the Prayer, to stop praying and go to bed. (Ibn Kathir, vol. 4, p. 494-Ed.) Some people argue, on the basis of this verse, that the Prayer of one who does not understand the Arabic text of the Qur'an will not be accepted. Apart from taking things too far such a conclusion is not supported by the words in the text. The expression used by the Qur'an is neither ( ) nor even ( ). On the contrary, the expression is ( ) (i.e. until you know what you are saying, rather than 'until you understand' what you are saying). What is required is that while praying one should at least be conscious enough to know what one is uttering in the Prayer.

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).

One group of jurists and Qur'anic commentators interpret this verse to mean that one should not enter a mosque in the state of major ritual impurity (janabah), unless out of necessity. This is the opinion of 'Abd Allah b. Mas'ud, Anas b. Malik, Hasan al-Basri, Ibrahim al-Nakha'i and others. Another group thinks that the reference here is to travel. In the opinion of this group, if a traveller is in the state of major ritual impurity he may resort to tayammum (i.e. symbolic ablution attained through wiping the hands and face with clean earth). See (Surah al-Ma'idah 5: 6 and also n. 70 ) below - Ed.) This group considers it permissible to stay in the mosque in this state provided one has performed ablution. This is the view of 'Ali, Ibn 'Abbas, Sa'id b. Jubayr and some other authorities. The opinion that a traveller in the state of major impurity may perform ablution if he is unable to take a bath is supported by consensus, but while some authorities infer it from traditions others base it on the Qur'anic verse mentioned above. (See Jassas, vol. 2, pp. 201-6; and Ibn Kathir's commentary on this verse - Ed.)

There is disagreement as to what is meant here by the verb lamastum, which literally means 'you touched'. 'Ali, Ibn 'Abbas, Abu Musa al-Ash'ari, Ubayy b. Ka'b, Sa'id b. Jubayr, Hasan al-Basri and several other leading jurists are of the opinion that it signifies sexual intercourse. Abu Hanifah and his school, and Sufyan al-Thawri follow this view. But 'Abd Allah b. Mas'ud and 'Abd Allah b. 'Umar hold that it signifies the act of touching, the mere placing of one's hand on a woman's body. This is the opinion adopted by Shafi'i. Other jurists take an intermediate position. Malik, for instance, is of the opinion that if a man and a woman touch each other with sexual desire, their ablution is nullified, and if they want to perform the Prayer they are obliged to renew their ablution. He sees nothing objectionable, however, in the mere fact of a man touching a woman's body, or vice versa, provided the act is not motivated by sexual desire. (See Ibn Kathir's commentary on this verse - Ed.-)

The detailed rules of tayammum are as follows: A man who either needs to perform ablution or take a bath to attain the state of purity for ritual Prayer may resort to tayammum provided water is not available to him. Only then may he perform the Prayer. Permission to resort to tayammum, rather than make ablution with water or take a bath, is also extended to invalids whose health is likely to be harmed by the use of water. We have tried to convey both shades of meaning in the translation of the verse by using the expression 'have had contact with' instead of 'touched' - Ed.

Tayammum literally means 'to turn to, to aim at, to head for, to intend'. The relevance of the term in the Islamic religious context is that when water is either not available or when its use is likely to cause harm one should 'turn to' clean earth.

There is some disagreement among jurists about the manner of performing tayammum. According to some, one should strike one's palms on the clean earth, then gently wipe one's face, then strike one's hands again and gently wipe one's hands and arms up to the elbows. This is the view of Abu Hanifah, Shafi'i, Malik and the majority of jurists. Among the Companions and Successors, 'Ali, 'Abd Allah b. 'Umar, Hasan al-Basri, Sha'bi, Salim b. 'Abd Allah and many others are of the same opinion. Other jurists are of the view that it is sufficient to strike one's palms once on the clean earth, then wipe one's face and one's hands up to the wrist; it is not necessary to wipe the arms between the wrist and the elbow. This is the opinion of 'Ata', Makhul, Awza'i, and Ahmad b. Hanbal, and is generally followed by the Ahl al-Hadith. (Cf. Qurtubi, Ahkam al-Qur'an, vol. 5, pp. 239-41.)

Tayammum is not necessarily performed by striking one's palms on earth proper. It is sufficient to strike the palms on anything which either has dust over it or anything consisting of the dry elements of the earth. It may be asked how one attains purity by striking one's palms on the earth and then wiping one's hands and face with them. In fact tayammum is a useful psychological device to keep the sense of ritual purity and the sanctity of Prayer alive in man's mind even when water - the principal agent of purification - is not available. The value of tayammum is that even if a man is unable to use water - and no one knows how long this situation may persist - his sensitivity to cleanliness and purity will endure. He will continue to observe the regulation laid down by the Law in respect of cleanliness and purity, and the distinction between the states in which one may and may not perform the Prayer will not be erased.

Yusuf Ali explanation:
Those who reject Allah's message will wish, when their eyes are opened, that they were reduced to dust, for existence itself will be agony to them. They might like to hide in the dust, but nothing is hidden from Allah. All their past will stand out clear before Him.

The reference is either to a state of intoxication or to a dazed state of mind on account of drowsiness or some other cause. Or perhaps both are implied. Before the prohibition of intoxicants altogether was promulgated, it was at least unbecoming that people should come to prayers in such a state. For prayers it is only right that we should collect our whole minds and approach Allah in a spirit of reverence.

The strictest cleanliness and purity of mind and body are required, especially at the time of prayer. But there are circumstances when water for ablutions is not easily obtainable, especially in the dry conditions of Arabia, and then washing with dry sand or clean earth is recommended. Four such circumstances are mentioned: the two last when washing is specially required; the two first when washing may be necessary, but it may not be easy to get water. For a man, when he is ill, cannot walk out far to get water, and a man on a journey has no full control over his supplies. In all four cases, where water cannot be got, cleaning with dry sand or dry earth is recommended. This is called Tayammum.

Javed Ahmad Ghamidi explanation:
The actual words are: لَا تَقۡرَبُوا الصَّلٰوۃَ. There are two strong indications found in the verse which show that here “the prayer” actually refers to the prayer-place ie. the mosque. Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi writes:
… One of the things said is that people should not approach the prayer when they are intoxicated; if this had implied the prayer itself, it would have been enough to say: “Do not offer the prayer.” Using the words: لَا تَقۡرَبُوْا (do not go near) to convey this meaning is not very comprehensible. The second thing is that the words mentioned a little later state an exception: اِلَّا عَابِرِیۡ سَبِیۡلٍ. This means that if the purpose is to merely pass through the prayer-place, then this cannot be objected to. The meaning of “passing through” does not collocate with the prayer; in fact, its collocation with the place of prayer is much more evident. Some people in order to bypass this lack of collocation have regarded the expression عَابِرِیۡ سَبِیۡلٍ to refer to the state of being in a journey; however, this is mere artificiality. In the first place, this expression is inappropriate for this meaning; secondly, the concession given to a traveller is mentioned independently in this very verse by the words اَوۡ عَلٰی سَفَرٍ (or on a journey). So, why then should it be mentioned here? (Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tadabbur-i Qur’an, vol. 2, 302)
The actual words are: اَوۡ جَآءَ اَحَدٌ مِّنۡکُمۡ مِّنَ الۡغَآئِطِ. In Arabic, the word غَآئِطِ is used for a low-lying area. Here it is an allusion to relieving oneself because in rural areas people would generally go to low lying areas for this purpose.

Just as earlier on things like polytheism and showing-off were mentioned as those which totally destroy the purpose of worship, spending in charity and kindness, in the same manner, here at the end of this section the wrongdoings of the greatest manifestation of God’s worship, the prayer, are mentioned. A deliberation on the verse would reveal that the states of inebriation and janabah are equal as far as rendering the prayer void is concerned. The Almighty has directed Muslims not to go near the place of prayer in these states. It is evident from this that both are impure states. The only difference is that inebriation affects the mind and janabah the body. It is evident to every person that just as liquor arrests his intellectual power, the spiritual impediment caused by janabah in a person deprives him of the inner satisfaction and presence of mind that is a requirement of the prayer. The Almighty has however given one relief to a person who is in the state of janabah in that he can pass through a mosque in this state if the need arises. In order to come out of this state, the ceremonial bath has been prescribed. Without this bath, the prayer cannot be offered. The Qur’anic word used for this bath is تَغْتَسِلُوْا (taghtasilu). It entails that one should take this bath in a thorough and complete manner. However, it is allowed that in cases of a journey, sickness and non-availability of water, a person can do tayammum if taking the bath or doing wudu becomes difficult. Its methodology mentioned in the verse is that first hands should be rubbed on a pure surface and wiped over the face and hands. It has been further clarified that the tayammum suffices for all type of impurities. It can be done after things that terminate the wudu and also in place of the ceremonial bath after sexual intercourse. Writes Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi:
… In case of sickness, the ceremonial bath and wudu can cause harm and thus this concession was given. Similarly, in case of a person being on a journey, he may encounter circumstances in which he might have to limit himself to tayammum only. For example, water may not be available in large quantities. In such cases, using it for bathing etc might leave it scarce for drinking or there could be a chance that if a person starts preparing to have a bath he might be left behind by his fellow companions of the caravan or a situation may arise when taking a bath may become very difficult in a train, ship or aeroplane in which a person is travelling. (Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tadabbur-i Qur’an, vol. 2, 303)
Here, it needs to be kept in consideration that tayammum apparently does not clean a person; however, it serves as a reminder of the real way of achieving cleanliness and as such has special importance. The temperament of the shari‘ah is that if a directive cannot be followed in its original form or it becomes very difficult to follow it, then symbolic forms should be adopted to serve as a reminder. An advantage of this is that once circumstances return to normal, one becomes inclined to follow the directive in its original form.

Verses 44-46 Behavior of the People of the Book: 

اَلَمۡ تَرَ اِلَى الَّذِيۡنَ اُوۡتُوۡا نَصِيۡبًا مِّنَ الۡكِتٰبِ يَشۡتَرُوۡنَ الضَّلٰلَةَ وَيُرِيۡدُوۡنَ اَنۡ تَضِلُّوا السَّبِيۡلَ ؕ‏ 
(44 )   Have you not seen those who were given a portion of the Scripture, purchasing error [in exchange for it] and wishing you would lose the way?
The Qur'an often characterizes the scholars of the People of the Book as those who 'were given a portion of the Book'. The reason for the use of this expression, in the first place, is that they caused a part of the divine revelation to be lost. Moreover, they had detached themselves from the spirit and purpose of the divine revelation which was available to them. Their concern with the Scripture was confined to verbal discussions, arguments about legal minutiae, and speculation about subtle and involved philosophical and theological questions. This had so alienated even their religious leaders and scholars from the true concept of religion that they lost true religious devotion and piety.

Javed Ahmad Ghamidi explanation:
The actual words are: اَلَمۡ تَرَ. This style has been adopted to gain the attention of each individual of the group and to express wonder and sorrow at him.

The actual words are: الَّذِیۡنَ اُوۡتُوۡا نَصِیۡبًا مِّنَ الۡکِتٰبِ. The word مِنْ here is for explication ie. those people in whose share the Book of God was given, and were blessed with it leaving aside other nations of the world.

وَاللّٰهُ اَعۡلَمُ بِاَعۡدَآئِكُمۡ​ؕ وَكَفٰى بِاللّٰهِ وَلِيًّا وَّكَفٰى بِاللّٰهِ نَصِيۡرًا‏
( 45 )   And Allah is most knowing of your enemies; and sufficient is Allah as an ally, and sufficient is Allah as a helper.
مِنَ الَّذِيۡنَ هَادُوۡا يُحَرِّفُوۡنَ الۡـكَلِمَ عَنۡ مَّوَاضِعِهٖ وَ يَقُوۡلُوۡنَ سَمِعۡنَا وَعَصَيۡنَا وَاسۡمَعۡ غَيۡرَ مُسۡمَعٍ وَّرَاعِنَا لَـيًّۢا بِاَ لۡسِنَتِهِمۡ وَطَعۡنًا فِىۡ الدِّيۡنِ​ ؕ وَلَوۡ اَنَّهُمۡ قَالُوۡا سَمِعۡنَا وَاَطَعۡنَا وَاسۡمَعۡ وَانْظُرۡنَا لَـكَانَ خَيۡرًا لَّهُمۡ وَاَقۡوَمَ ۙ وَ لٰـكِنۡ لَّعَنَهُمُ اللّٰهُ بِكُفۡرِهِمۡ فَلَا يُؤۡمِنُوۡنَ اِلَّا قَلِيۡلًا‏ 
( 46 )   Among the Jews are those who distort words from their [proper] usages and say, "We hear and disobey" and "Hear but be not heard" and "Ra'ina," twisting their tongues and defaming the religion. And if they had said [instead], "We hear and obey" and "Wait for us [to understand]," it would have been better for them and more suitable. But Allah has cursed them for their disbelief, so they believe not, except for a few.
 It is to be noted that this expression means 'they became Jews', rather than 'they were Jews'. For, originally, they were nothing but Muslims, just as the followers of every Prophet are Muslims. Only later on did they become merely 'Jews'.

This signifies three things. First, that they tampered with the text of the Scripture. Second, that they misinterpreted the Scripture and thereby distorted the meanings of the verses of the Book. Third, that they came and stayed in the company of the Prophet (peace be on him) and his Companions and listened to the conversations which took place there, then went among other people and misreported what they had heard. They did this with the malicious intent of bringing the Muslims into disrepute and thereby preventing people from embracing Islam.

When the ordinances of God are announced to them, they loudly proclaim: 'Yes, we have heard', (sami'na), but then they whisper: 'And we disobeyed' ('asayna). Or else they pronounce ata'na ('we obey') with such a twist of the tongue that it becomes indistinguishable from 'asayna.

Whenever they wanted to say something to the Prophet (peace be on him) they would say, 'isma" (listen), but added to this the expression, 'ghayr musma" which had several meanings. It could either be a polite expression, meaning that he was worthy of such deep respect that one should say nothing to his dislike or it could have a malicious implication, meaning that he did not deserve to be addressed by anybody. It also meant the imprecation: 'May God turn you deaf.'

For an explanation of this see Towards Understanding the Qur'an, vol. I, (Surah 2, n. 108).

Yusuf Ali explanation:
See ii. 93. A trick of the Jews was to twist words and expressions, so as to ridicule the most solemn teachings of Faith. Where they should have said, "We hear and we obey," they said aloud, "We hear," and whispered, "We disobey." Where they should have said respectfully, "We hear," they added in a whisper, "May you not hear," by way of ridicule. Where they claimed the attention of the Prophet, they used an ambiguous word apparently harmless, but in their intention disrespectful.

"Raina" if used respectfully in the Arabic way, would have meant "Please attend to us." With a twist of their tongue, they suggested an insulting meaning, such as "O thou that takest us to pasture!" or in Hebrew, "Our bad one!"

Javed Ahmad Ghamidi explanation:
The pranks of the Jews mentioned ahead were meant to mock Muhammad (sws); however, the Qur’an has regarded them to be طَعۡنًا فِی الدِّیۡنِ (mockery of religion). This shows that religion and the person of Muhammad (sws) are two names of the same reality. Thus deriding him is deriding religion.

This is a succinct reference to the mockery which the mischief-mongers among the Jews would indulge in to show disrespect to Prophet Muhammad (sws) and to belittle and disparage before others the religion brought by him. One example of this was their distortion of the words spoken in the gatherings of the Arabs to praise and acknowledge the speaker and to express the enthusiasm and fervour of the listeners. Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi writes:
… These words are primarily meant to express praise and acknowledgement; however, if someone wants to mock or be insolent, he can very easily change praise to disrespect and acknowledgement to sarcasm and ridicule by slightly twisting his tongue or by distorting the pronunciation or by creating an artificial style in the tone. It may or may not harm the speaker but it does make the mischief monger happy because he is able to vent his emotions. (Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tadabbur-i Qur’an, vol. 2, 309)
Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi has explained these words thus:
The words سَمِعۡنَا وَ اَطَعۡنَا literally mean: “we listened and we obeyed.” The Arabs would utter these words when they wanted to express their readiness and inclination to comply with the directive of an elder, a big chief or a king. In Arabic, the word طَاعَة used in the Qur’an conveys this meaning as well. When the mischief-mongers among the Jews would go to the gatherings of the Prophet (sws), they would say the words سَمِعۡنَا وَ اَطَعۡنَا every now and then to show their obedience and docility, would change the pronunciation of these words such that they would utter اَطَعۡنَا as عَصَیۡنَا. Since the letters of both these words have a similar pronunciation and tone, they would be successful in this distortion. In this manner, they would convert a sentence expressing compliance and obedience to one expressing rebellion and disobedience and those who understood this play on words would not be able to check them because they would easily put forth the excuse that they had actually uttered the words: سَمِعۡنَا وَ اَطَعۡنَا. In this situation, a decent and honourable person would consider quietly ignoring these comments to be the best option.
The literal meaning of the words: اِسۡمَعۡ غَیۡرَ مُسۡمَعٍ is “listen to what has not been said as yet.” The positive sense of this expression is that when a listener, on hearing words of wisdom from a speaker, directs the attention of a fellow listener to the wise words of the speaker for they are hearing them for the first time and never before have they come across these words. Obviously, this is not only an expression of duly valuing and honouring the speaker, it is also an exhortation to others to do so. However, these words can also be used in the negative sense to hoot and make fun of the speaker. In this case the meaning would be: “listen to this unheard of talk; what baseless things is he saying; who must have heard such a thing?” Obviously, a mere change in style and tone transforms this positive expression of praise into one afflicted with the poison of mockery and contempt. However, this changed tone cannot be checked because if it is, the speaker can easily present the excuse that he has not said these words scornfully but uttered them to praise the speaker. Since the element of ridicule in this expression was created by the words غَیۡرَ مُسۡمَعٍ, the Qur’an broke its bite by directing people to only say: اِسۡمَعۡ.

The word رَاعِنَا means: “please give us allowance and concession.” The positive sense of this word is that if the listener has not properly heard or understood what has been said by a speaker or if what is said has so much wisdom and subtlety in it that the listener wants to hear it again from the speaker, then he requests him to repeat his words. In other words, رَاعِنَا means: “please say it again.” It reflects the enthusiasm and inclination of the listener towards knowledge. However, the mischief-makers among the Jews through ليّ لسان (distortion of pronunciation) would change this word to a word of ridicule. They would stress on the intonation of the letter ع in رَاعِنَا and make it sound like راعينا. This word means: “O Our Shepherd.” Owing to this distortion by the Jews, the Qur’an has excluded this world from the etiquette of a Muslim gathering and in its place asked them to use the word اُنۡظُرۡنَا which means: “please grant us some respite,” and “please give us attention again.” As per its meaning, this word is an exact substitute of رَاعِنَا and even if its pronunciation is distorted its meanings cannot be. (Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tadabbur-i Qur’an, vol. 2, 309)

Ie., rarely will anyone from them profess faith. There is no possibility of the complete group doing so. The reason is that once they denied the Messenger even after they were convinced of his status, God cursed them because of this crime and as a result they have been deprived of the urge to be guided.

Verses 47-50 Invitation of Iman to the People of the Book and Mushrikin will not be forgiven:

يٰۤـاَيُّهَا الَّذِيۡنَ اُوۡتُوا الۡكِتٰبَ اٰمِنُوۡا بِمَا نَزَّلۡنَا مُصَدِّقًا لِّمَا مَعَكُمۡ مِّنۡ قَبۡلِ اَنۡ نَّـطۡمِسَ وُجُوۡهًا فَنَرُدَّهَا عَلٰٓى اَدۡبَارِهَاۤ اَوۡ نَلۡعَنَهُمۡ كَمَا لَعَنَّاۤ اَصۡحٰبَ السَّبۡتِ​ؕ وَكَانَ اَمۡرُ اللّٰهِ مَفۡعُوۡلًا‏  
( 47 )   O you who were given the Scripture, believe in what We have sent down [to Muhammad], confirming that which is with you, before We obliterate faces and turn them toward their backs or curse them as We cursed the sabbath-breakers. And ever is the decree of Allah accomplished.
Sabbath, i.e., Saturday . It was laid down that the Israelite should consecrate that day for rest and worship. They were required to from abstain from all worldly acts, including cooking (which they might neither do themselves, nor have their servants do for them). The injunctions, in this connection were so strict that violation of the Sabbath was to be punished with death. (See Exodus 31:12-17. ) When religious and moral decadence, however, spread among the Israelites they indulged in open desecration of the Sabbath, so much so that in Jewish towns trade and commerce were carried out in broad daylight.

Yusuf Ali explanation:
Literally, "before We obliterate some features (or faces) and turn them front to back (or back to front)": an Arabic idiom, which must be translated freely to yield its proper meaning in English. The face is the chief expression of a man's own real essence; it is also the index of his fame and estimation. The People of the Book had been specially favoured by Allah with revelations. If they proved themselves unworthy, they lost their "face". Their eminence would, owing to their own conduct, be turned into degradation. Others would take their place. The first shall be last and the last shall be first: Matt. xix. 30.

Javed Ahmad Ghamidi explanation:
This verse sounds a threat and warning. The call it gives is merely to conclusively convey the truth.

The actual words are: نَطۡمِسَ وُجُوۡہًا: The expression طمس الشي means to obliterate the signs and marks of something. The implication is that He will flatten the faces by obliterating the features of eyes, ears, lips and nose. The reason is that since they are not using these faculties for the purpose they have been given to them there is no reason to keep them intact. After this attitude, it is only proper that their faces be leveled flat the way the backs of their heads are.

Here it also needs to be kept in mind that the word وُجُوۡہًا occurs as an undefined noun. This is to express hate and abhorrence and the purpose is that the speaker does not even like to mention these cursed faces by identifying them. Thus the word وُجُوْهَهُم was not used. Instead, the word uttered by turning away from them is: وُجُوۡہًا. After that, the non-present antecedent in نَلۡعَنَہُمۡ has also occurred keeping this aspect in consideration. Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi writes:

While constantly reading this verse, I am reminded of the fact that in the threat given to distort the faces there is a similarity between a deed and its punishment. In the previous verses, it is stated that in order to make fun of the Prophet (sws), they would make faces and distort their accent in order to totally change the pronunciation of certain words and they regarded this trait of theirs to be a skill. As a result of this, they deserved that their faces, in turn, be distorted. Similarly, those who had permanently adopted the attitude of turning away from the truth deserved that their faces be turned backwards. (Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tadabbur-i Qur’an, vol. 2, 312)
This is actually the detail of what is said above by the earlier Qur’anic words: نَطۡمِسَ وُجُوۡہًا.

Ie., those among the Jews who violated the sanctity of the Sabbath were cursed. This curse manifested itself in the form that they were made worthless monkeys. It is evident from the way this incident is mentioned in the Qur’an that first their characters underwent distortion and perversion, and then any apparent difference in resemblance too remained no more. In this manner, this curse embraced both their inner and outer selves.

اِنَّ اللّٰهَ لَا يَغۡفِرُ اَنۡ يُّشۡرَكَ بِهٖ وَيَغۡفِرُ مَا دُوۡنَ ذٰ لِكَ لِمَنۡ يَّشَآءُ​ ۚ وَمَنۡ يُّشۡرِكۡ بِاللّٰهِ فَقَدِ افۡتَـرٰۤى اِثۡمًا عَظِيۡمًا‏  
( 48 )   Indeed, Allah does not forgive association with Him, but He forgives what is less than that for whom He wills. And he who associates others with Allah has certainly fabricated a tremendous sin.
Although the People of the Book claimed to follow the Prophets and the Divine Books they had, in fact, fallen a prey to polytheism.

The purpose of this verse is not to tell man that he may commit any sin as long as he does not associate others with God in His divinity. The object is rather to impress upon those who had begun to regard polytheism as a trivial matter that it constitutes the most serious offence in God's sight, an offence so serious that while other sins may be pardoned this will not. Jewish religious scholars were meticulous about questions of subsidiary importance, and devoted all their time to pondering over legal subtleties which their jurists had painstakingly elaborated by far-fetched deductions. Yet they treated polytheism so lightly that they neither abstained from it themselves nor tried to prevent their people from falling a prey to polytheistic ideas and practices nor found anything objectionable in establishing cordial relations with the polytheists nor in supporting them.

Yusuf Ali explanation:
Just as in an earthly kingdom the worst crime is that of treason, as it cuts at the very existence of the State, so in the Divine Kingdom, the unforgivable sin is that of contumacious treason against Allah by putting up Allah's creatures in rivalry against Him. This is rebellion against the Creator. It is what Plato would call the "lie in the soul." But even here, if the rebellion is through ignorance, and is followed by sincere repentance and amendment, Allah's Mercy is always open (iv. 17).

The sanctimonious or self-sanctified people are the farthest from sanctity or purity, which can only proceed from Allah. They cannot play with Allah's Truth and yet go on claiming to be guided and purified or justified by Allah. Their falsehood in itself condemns them: no further proof is needed of their selfishness and evil.

اَلَمۡ تَرَ اِلَى الَّذِيۡنَ يُزَكُّوۡنَ اَنۡفُسَهُمۡ​ ؕ بَلِ اللّٰهُ يُزَكِّىۡ مَنۡ يَّشَآءُ وَلَا يُظۡلَمُوۡنَ فَتِيۡلًا‏ 
( 49 )   Have you not seen those who claim themselves to be pure? Rather, Allah purifies whom He wills, and injustice is not done to them, [even] as much as a thread [inside a date seed].
Yusuf Ali explanation:
The sanctimonious or self-sanctified people are the farthest from sanctity or purity, which can only proceed from Allah. They cannot play with Allah's Truth and yet go on claiming to be guided and purified or justified by Allah. Their falsehood in itself condemns them: no further proof is needed of their selfishness and evil.
 اُنْظُرۡ كَيۡفَ يَفۡتَرُوۡنَ عَلَى اللّٰهِ الۡـكَذِبَ​ؕ وَكَفٰى بِهٖۤ اِثۡمًا مُّبِيۡنًا‏ 
( 50 )   Look how they invent about Allah untruth, and sufficient is that as a manifest sin.
Ruku / Section 8 [Verses 51-56]

Verses 51-55 People of the Book tend to take side of Shaitan:

أَلَمْ تَرَ إِلَى الَّذِينَ أُوتُوا نَصِيبًا مِّنَ الْكِتَابِ يُؤْمِنُونَ بِالْجِبْتِ وَالطَّاغُوتِ وَيَقُولُونَ لِلَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا هَـٰؤُلَاءِ أَهْدَىٰ مِنَ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا سَبِيلً.
( 51 )   Have you not seen those who were given a portion of the Scripture, who believe in superstition and false objects of worship and say about the disbelievers, "These are better guided than the believers as to the way"?
 Jibt signifies 'a thing devoid of any true basis and bereft of all usefulness'. In Islamic terminology the various forms of sorcery, divination and soothsaying, in short all superstitions, are termed jibt. It is reported in a tradition that, 'to divine things from the cries of animals, or the traces of animals' paws, or the flight of birds, constitutes jibt. Thus, jibt may be roughly translated as 'superstition'. (See Abu Da'ud, Tibb', 23; Ahmad b. Hanbal, Musnad, vol. 3, p. 477 and vol. 5, p. 60 - Ed.)

For explanation see Towards Understanding the Qur'an, vol. I, (Surah 2, nn. 286 and 288).

The obstinacy of the Jewish religious scholars had, reached such a point that they brazenly declared the followers of Muhammad (peace be on him) to be in greater error than even the polytheists of Arabia. This was despite the fact that they knew that the Muslims stood for absolute monotheism while their opponents believed in that undisguised polytheism which has been so vehemently denounced throughout the Bible.

Yusuf Ali explanation:
The word I have translated Sorcery is jibt, which may mean divination, sorcery, magic, or any false object of belief or worship, such as an idol. The word I have translated Evil (here and in ii. 256) is Taguit, which means the evil one, the one who exceeds all bounds, Satan: or it may refer to some idol worshipped by the Pagan Arabs, with whom the Jews of Madinah were intriguing against the Holy Prophet. The Jews had taken much to sorcery, magic, divination, and such superstitions.

اُولٰٓـئِكَ الَّذِيۡنَ لَعَنَهُمُ اللّٰهُ​ ؕ وَمَنۡ يَّلۡعَنِ اللّٰهُ فَلَنۡ تَجِدَ لَهٗ نَصِيۡرًا ؕ‏ 
( 52 )   Those are the ones whom Allah has cursed; and he whom Allah curses - never will you find for him a helper.
اَمۡ لَهُمۡ نَصِيۡبٌ مِّنَ الۡمُلۡكِ فَاِذًا لَّا يُؤۡتُوۡنَ النَّاسَ نَقِيۡرًا ۙ‏  
( 53 )   Or have they a share of dominion? Then [if that were so], they would not give the people [even as much as] the speck on a date seed.
The Jews, who had judged the Muslims to be in error, are asked if they have some share in God's authority which entitles them to judge who is rightly guided and who is not. If the Jews really had any share in that authority, no one would receive so much as a penny from them, for their hearts are too small to even acknowledge the truth, let alone credit others with righteousness and goodness. This verse can also be understood somewhat differently so as to pose the following question to the Jews: 'Is it a matter of your possessing some dominion which you are reluctant to share with others?' Obviously, the question was merely one of acknowledging the Truth, and they were too grudging to credit others with it.

Yusuf Ali explanation:
The Jews were then seeking the aid of the Makkan Pagans against Muhammad, but far from getting any help from them, they and the Pagans were both overthrown. That was the immediate occasion, but the words have a perfectly general-a universal-meaning.

The word I have translated farthing is naqir, the groove in a date stone, a thing of no value whatever. Close-fistedness and envy are among the worst forms of selfishness, and appear specially incongruous in people of power, authority, or influence, from whom is expected generosity in giving and generosity in seeing other people's prosperity or happiness.

اَمۡ يَحۡسُدُوۡنَ النَّاسَ عَلٰى مَاۤ اٰتٰٮهُمُ اللّٰهُ مِنۡ فَضۡلِهٖ​ۚ فَقَدۡ اٰتَيۡنَاۤ اٰلَ اِبۡرٰهِيۡمَ الۡـكِتٰبَ وَالۡحِكۡمَةَ وَاٰتَيۡنٰهُمۡ مُّلۡكًا عَظِيۡمًا‏  
( 54 )   Or do they envy people for what Allah has given them of His bounty? But we had already given the family of Abraham the Scripture and wisdom and conferred upon them a great kingdom.
By implication, this query accurately portrays the state of mind of the Jews. They saw the Muslims being endowed with the grace and reward of God which they, notwithstanding their own unworthiness had expected to fall to their share. By virtue of the advent of a great Prophet among the ummis of Arabia, a spiritual, moral and intellectual revolution had taken place which totally changed their practical life and ultimately led them to greatness and glory. It is this which aroused their spite and envy, and which was reflected in their unjustifiable remarks about the Muslims.

This 'mighty dominion' refers to the position of world leadership and authority which a people attain by virtue of receiving the knowledge in the Book of God and acting according to its dictates.

فَمِنۡهُمۡ مَّنۡ اٰمَنَ بِهٖ وَمِنۡهُمۡ مَّنۡ صَدَّ عَنۡهُ​ ؕ وَكَفٰى بِجَهَـنَّمَ سَعِيۡرًا‏ 
( 55 )   And some among them believed in it, and some among them were averse to it. And sufficient is Hell as a blaze.
This is in response to the malicious remarks of the Israelites. What is being said is that they had no reason to feel jealous since both the Israelites and Ishmaelites were offspring of the same Abraham. Now, the leadership of the world had been promised only to those children of Abraham who followed the Book and Wisdom revealed by God. The Book and Wisdom had been sent down earlier to the Israelites, and to their discredit they had turned away from them. The same Book and Wisdom had now been made available to the Ishmaelites and they had decided to greet it with faith and gratitude.

اِنَّ الَّذِيۡنَ كَفَرُوۡا بِاٰيٰتِنَا سَوۡفَ نُصۡلِيۡهِمۡ نَارًا ؕ كُلَّمَا نَضِجَتۡ جُلُوۡدُهُمۡ بَدَّلۡنٰهُمۡ جُلُوۡدًا غَيۡرَهَا لِيَذُوۡقُوا الۡعَذَابَ​ؕ اِنَّ اللّٰهَ كَانَ عَزِيۡزًا حَكِيۡمًا‏  
( 56 )   Indeed, those who disbelieve in Our verses - We will drive them into a Fire. Every time their skins are roasted through We will replace them with other skins so they may taste the punishment. Indeed, Allah is ever Exalted in Might and Wise.
Here we come to the end of Part II of the exegesis of Sürah An-Nisa'.

In Part III, verses 57 - 72, the discourse is about believers who have been enjoined to place their trusts and offices of trust in the custody of honest and qualified persons, and to do what is just and right, and to obey Allah and His Messenger and those among themselves entrusted with the conduct of their affairs and to turn to Allah and His Messenger for the settlement of their disputes. As such an attitude and behavior alone can ensure consolidation, they have been strongly warned that any deviation from this path will lead to their disintegration.  

You may now like to listen to Arabic recitation of Sürah An-Nisa' 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). 

You may also refer to our Reference Pages for knowing more about Islam and Quran.
Photo | References: | 1 | 2 | 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 order to augment and add more explanation as already provided by [2], additional input has been interjected from following sources: 
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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