The Message Of The Quran
1.Al Fatiha (The Opening Chapter) ………......................................................................................................................................22
2.Al Baqara (The Heifer) ..................................................................................................................................................24
3.Al 'Imran (The Family of 'Imran) ............................................................................................................................................108
4.Al Nisa' (The Women) ..............................................................................................................................................154
5.Al Ma'idah (The Repast) ………....................................................................................................................................204
6.Al An'am (The Cattle) ..............................................................................................................................................245
7.Al A'raf (The Faculty of Discernment) ..............................................................................................................................................284
8.Al Anfal (The Spoils of War) ..............................................................................................................................................327
9.Al Tawbah (The Repentance) ............................................................................................................................................351
The Noble Qur'an The Noble Qur'an
42.Al Shura (Consultation) ............................................................................................................................................1003
43.Al Zukhruf (The Gold Adornments) ............................................................................................................................................1017
READ in the name of thy Sustainer, who has created - created man out of a germ-cell! Read - for thy Sustainer is the Most Bountiful One who has taught [man] the use of the pen - taught man what he did not know.
With these opening verses of the ninety-sixth surah - with an allusion to man's humble biological origin as well as to his consciousness and intellect - began, early in the seventh century of the Chnstian era, the revelation of the Qur'an to the Prophet Muhammad, destined to continue during the twenty-three years of his ministry and to end, shortly before his death, with verse 281 of the second surah:
And be conscious of the Day on which you shall be brought back unto God, whereupon every human being shall be repaid in full for what he has earned, and none shall be wronged;
Between these first and last verses (the first and the last in the chronological order of their revelation)1 unfolds a book which, more than any other single phenomenon known to us, has fundamentally affected the religious, social and political history of the world. No other sacred scripture has ever had a similarly immediate impact upon the lives of the people who first heard its message and, through them and the generations that followed them, on the entire course of civilization. It shook Arabia, and made a nation out of its perennially warring tribes; within a few decades, it spread its world-view far beyond the confines of Arabia and produced the first ideological society known to man; through its insistence on consciousness and knowledge, it engendered among its followers a spirit of intellectual curiosity and independent inquiry, ultimately resulting in that splendid era of learning and scientific research which distinguished the world of Islam at the height of its cultural vigour; and the culture thus fostered by the Qur'an penetrated in countless ways and by-ways into the mind of medieval Europe and gave rise to that revival of Western culture which we call the Renaissance, and thus became in the course of time largely responsible for the birth of what is described as the "age of science": the age in which we are now living.
1 It is to be borne in mind that, in its final compilation, the Qur'an is arranged in
accordance with the inner requirements of its message as a whole, and not in the
chronological order in which the individual surahs or passages were revealed.
All this was, in the final analysis, brought about by the message of the Qur'an: and it was brought about through the medium of the people whom it inspired and to whom it supplied a basis for all their ethical valuations and a direction for all their worldly endeavours: for, never has any book - not excluding the Bible - been read by so many with a comparable intensity and veneration; and never has any other book supplied to so many, and over so long a span of time, a similarly comprehensive answer to the question, "How shall I behave in order to achieve the good life in this world and happiness in the life to come?" However often individual Muslims may have misread this answer, and however far many of them may have departed from the spirit of its message, the fact remains that to all who believed and believe in it, the Qur'an represents the ultimate manifestation of God's grace to man, the ultimate wisdom, and the ultimate beauty of expression: in short, the true Word of God.
This attitude of the Muslims towards the Qur'an perplexes, as a rule, the Westerner who approaches it through one or another of the many existing translations. Where the believer, reading the Qur'an in Arabic, sees beauty, the non-Muslim reader often claims to discern "crudeness"; the coherence of the Qur'anic world-view and its relevance to the human condition escape him altogether and assume the guise of what, in Europe's and America's orientalist literature, is frequently described as "incoherent rambling";2 and passages which, to a Muslim, are expressive of sublime wisdom, often sound "flat" and "uninspiring" to the Western ear. And yet, not even the most unfriendly critics of the Qur'an have ever denied that it did, in fact, provide the supreme source of inspiration - in both the religious and cultural senses of this word
- to innumerable millions of people who, in their aggregate, have made an outstanding contribution to man's knowledge, civilization and social achievement. How can this paradox be explained?
2. Thus, for instance, Western critics of the Qur'an frequently point to the allegedly "incoherent" references to God - often in one and the same phrase - as "He", "God", "We" or "I", with the corresponding changes of the pronoun from "His" to "Ours" or "My", or from "Him" to "Us" or "Me". They seem to be unaware of the fact that these changes are not accidental, and not even what one might describe as "poetic licence", but are obviously deliberate, a linguistic device meant to stress the idea that God is not a "person" and cannot, therefore, be really circumscribed by the pronouns applicable to finite beings.
It cannot be explained by the too-facile argument, so readily accepted by many modern Muslims, that the Qur'an has been "deliberately misrepresented" by its Western translators. For, although it cannot be denied that among the existing translations in almost all of the major European languages there is many a one that has been inspired by malicious prejudice and especially in earlier times - by misguided "missionary" zeal, there is hardly any doubt that some of the more recent translations are the work of earnest scholars who, without being actuated by any conscious bias, have honestly endeavoured to render the meaning of the Arabic original into this or that European language; and, in addition, there exist a number of modern translations by Muslims who, by virtue of their being Muslims, cannot by any stretch of the imagination be supposed to have "misrepresented" what, to them, was a sacred revelation. Still, none of these translations - whether done by Muslims or by non-Muslims - has so far brought the Qur'an nearer to the hearts or minds of people raised in a different religious and psychological climate and revealed something, however little, of its real depth and wisdom. To some extent this may be due to the conscious and unconscious prejudice against Islam which has pervaded Western cultural notions ever since the time of the Crusades - an intangible heritage of thought and feeling which has left its mark on the attitude towards all things Islamic on the part not only of the Western "man in the street" but also, in a more subtle manner, on the part of scholars bent on objective research. But even this psychological factor does not sufficiently explain the complete lack of appreciation of the Qur'an in the Western world, and this in spite of its undeniable and ever-increasing interest in all that concerns the world of Islam.
It is more than probable that one of the main reasons for this lack of appreciation is to be found in that aspect of the Qur'an which differentiates it fundamentally from all other sacred scriptures: its stress on reason as a valid way to faith as well as its insistence on the inseparability of the spiritual and the physical (and, therefore, also social) spheres of human existence: the inseparability of man's daily actions and behaviour, however "mundane", from his spirltual life and destiny. This absence of any division of reality into "physical" and "spiritual" compartments makes it difficult for people brought up in the orbit of other religions, with their accent on the "supernatural" element allegedly inherent in every true religious experience, to appreciate the predominantly rational approach of the Qur'an to all religious questions. Consequently, its constant interweaving of spiritual teachings with practical legislation perplexes the Western reader, who has become accustomed to identifying "religious experience" with a thrill of numinous awe before things hidden and beyond all intellectual comprehension, and is suddenly confronted with the claim of the Qur'an to being a guidance not only towards the spiritual good of the hereafter but also towards the good life - spiritual, physical and social - attainable in this world. In short, the Westerner cannot readily accept the Qur'anic thesis that all life, being God-given, is a unity, and that problems of the flesh and of the mind, of sex and economics, of individual righteousness and social equity are intimately connected with the hopes which man may legitimately entertain with regard to his life after death. This, in my opinion, is one of the reasons for the negative, uncomprehending attitude of most Westerners towards the Qur'an and its teachings. But still another - and perhaps even more decisive - reason may be found in the fact that the Qur'an itself has never yet been presented in any European language in a manner which would make it truly comprehensible.
When we look at the long list of translations - beginning with the Latin works of the high Middle Ages and continuing up to the present in almost every European tongue - we find one common denominator between their authors, whether Muslims or non-Muslims: all of them were - or are - people who acquired their knowledge of Arabic through academic study alone: that is, from books. None of them, however great his scholarship, has ever been familiar with the Arabic language as a person is familiar with his own, having absorbed the nuances of its idiom and its phraseology with an active, associative response within himself, and hearing it with an ear spontaneously attuned to the intent underlying the acoustic symbolism of its words and sentences. For, the words and sentences of a language - any language - are but symbols for meanings conventionally, and subconsciously, agreed upon by those who express their perception of reality by means of that particular tongue. Unless the translator is able to reproduce within himself the conceptual symbolism of the language in question - that is, unless he hears it "sing" in his ear in all its naturalness and immediacy - his translation will convey no more than the outer shell of the literary matter to which his work is devoted, and will miss, to a higher or lesser degree, the inner meaning of the original: and the greater the depth of the original, the farther must such a translation deviate from its spirit.
No doubt, some of the translators of the Qur'an whose works are accessible to the Western public can be described as outstanding scholars in the sense of having mastered the Arabic grammar and achieved a considerable knowledge of Arabic literature; but this mastery of grammar and this acquaintance with literature cannot by itself, in the case of a translation from Arabic (and especially the Arabic of the Qur'an), render the translator independent of that intangible communion with the spirit of the language which can be achieved only by living with and in it.
Arabic is a Semitic tongue: in fact, it is the only Semitic tongue which has remained uninterruptedly alive for thousands of years; and it is the only living language which has remained entirely unchanged for the last fourteen centuries. These two factors are extremely relevant to the problem which we are considering. Since every language is a framework of symbols expressing its people's particular sense of life-values and their particular way of conveying their perception of reality, it is obvious that the language of the Arabs - a Semitic language which has remained unchanged for so many centuries - must differ widely from anything to which the Western mind is accustomed. The difference of the Arabic idiom from any European idiom is not merely a matter of its syntactic cast and the mode in which it conveys ideas; nor is it exclusively due to the well-known, extreme flexibility of the Arabic grammar arising from its peculiar system of verbal "roots" and the numerous stem-forms which can be derived from these roots; nor even to the extraordinary richness of the Arabic vocabulary: it is a difference of spirit and life-sense. And since the Arabic of the Qur'an is a language which attained to its full maturity in the Arabia of fourteen centuries ago, it follows that in order to grasp its spirit correctly, one must be able to feel and hear this language as the Arabs felt and heard it at the time when the Qur'an was being revealed, and to understand the meaning which they gave to the linguistic symbols in which it is expressed.
We Muslims believe that the Qur'an is the Word of God, revealed to the Prophet Muhammad through the medium of a human language. It was the language of the Arabian Peninsula: the language of a people endowed with that peculiar quick-wittedness which the desert and its - feel of wide, timeless expanses bestows upon its children: the language of people whose mental images, flowing without effort from association to association, succeed one another in rapid progression and often vault elliptically over intermediate - as it were, "self-understood" sequences of thought towards the idea which they aim, conceive or express. This ellipticism (called ijaz by the Arab philologists) is an integral characteristic of the Arabic idiom and, therefore, of the language of the Qur'an - so much so that it is impossible to understand its method and inner purport without being able to reproduce within oneself, instinctively, something of the same quality of elliptical, associative thought. Now this ability comes to the educated Arab almost automatically, by a process of mental osmosis, from his early childhood: for, when he learns to speak his tongue properly, he subconsciously acquires the mould of thought within which it has evolved and, thus, imperceptibly grows into the conceptual environment from which the Arabic language derives its peculiar form and mode of expression. Not so, however, the non-Arab who becomes acquainted with Arabic only at a mature age, in result of a conscious effort, that is, through study: for, what he acquires is but a ready-made, outward structure devoid of that intangible quality of ellipticism which gives to the Arabic idiom its inner life and reality.
This does not, however, mean that a non-Arab can never understand Arabic in its true spirit: it means no more and no less than that he cannot really master it through academic study alone, but needs, in addition to philological learning, an instinctive "feel" of the language. Now it so happens that such a "feel" cannot be achieved by merely living among the modern Arabs of the cities. Although many of them, especially the educated ones, may have subconsciously absorbed the spirit of their language, they can only rarely communicate it to an outsider - for the simple reason that, however high their linguistic education, their daily speech has become, in the course of centuries, largely corrupted and estranged from pristine Arabic. Thus, in order to obtain the requisite "feel" of the Arabic language, a non-Arab must have lived in long and intimate association with people whose daily speech mirrors the genuine spirit of their language, and whose mental processes are similar to those of the Arabs who lived at the time when the Arabic tongue received its final colouring and inner form. In our day, such people are only the bedouin of the Arabian Peninsula, and particularly those of Central and Eastern Arabia. For, notwithstanding the many dialectical peculiarities in which their speech may differ from the classical Arabic of the Qur'an, it has remained - so far - very close to the idiom of the Prophet's time and has preserved all its intrinsic characteristics.3 In other words, familiarity with the bedouin speech of Central and Eastern Arabia - in addition, of course, to academic knowledge of classical Arabic - is the only way for a non-Arab of our time to achieve an intimate understanding of the diction of the Qur'an. And because none of the scholars who have previously translated the Qur'an into European languages has ever fulfilled this prerequisite, their translations have remained but distant, and faulty, echoes of its meaning and spirit.
3 It is to be noted that under the impact of modern economic circumstances, which have
radically changed the time-honoured way of life of the bedouin and brought them, by means
of school education and the radio, into direct contact with the Levantine culture of the
cities, the purity of their language is rapidly disappearing and may soon cease to be a
living guide to students of the Arabic tongue.
THE WORK which I am now placing before the public is based on a lifetime of study and of many years spent in Arabia. It is an attempt - perhaps the first attempt - at a really idiomatic, explanatory rendition of the Qur'anic message into a European language.
None the less, I do not claim to have "translated" the Qur'an in the sense in which, say, Plato or Shakespeare can be translated. Unlike any other book, its meaning and its linguistic presentation form one unbreakable whole. The position of individual words in a sentence; the rhythm and sound of its phrases and their syntactic construction, the manner in which a metaphor flows almost imperceptibly into a pragmatic statement, the use of acoustic stress not merely in the service of rhetoric but as a means of alluding to unspoken but clearly implied ideas: all this makes the Qur'an, in the last resort, unique and untranslatable - a fact that has been pointed out by many earlier translators and by all Arab scholars. But although it is impossible to "reproduce" the Qur'an as such in any other language, it is none the less possible to render its message comprehensible to people who, like most Westerners, do not know Arabic at all or - as is the case with most of the educated non-Arab Muslims - not well enough to find their way through it unaided.
To this end, the translator must be guided throughout by the linguistic usage prevalent at the time of the revelation of the Qur'an, and must always bear in mind that some of its expressions especially such as relate to abstract concepts - have in the course of time undergone a subtle change in the popular mind and should not, therefore, be translated in accordance with the sense given to them by post-classical usage. As has been pointed out by that great Islamic scholar, Muhammad 'Abduh,4 even some of the renowned, otherwise linguistically reliable Qur'an -commentators have occasionally erred in this respect; and their errors, magnified by the inadequacy of modern translators, have led to many a distortion, and sometimes to a total incomprehensibility, of individual Qur'anic passages in their European renditions.
4 The reader will find in my explanatory notes frequent references to views held by Muhammad
'Abduh (1849-1905). His imporiance in the context of the modern world of Islam - can never
be sufficiently stressed. It may be stated without exaggeration that every single trend
in contemporary Islamic thought can be traced back to the influence, direct or indirect,
of this most outstanding of all modern Islamic thinkers. The Qur'an-commentary planned and begun by him was interrupted by his death in 1905; it was continued (but unfortunately also left incomplete) by his pupil Rashid Rida under the title Tafsir al-Manar, and has been extensively used by me. See also Rashid Rida, Ta'rikh al-Ustadh al-Imam ash-Shaykh Muhammad 'Abduh (Cairo l35~l367 H.), the most authoritative biography of 'Abduh hitherto published, as well as C. C. Adams, Islam and Modernism in Egypt (London 1933).
Another (and no less important) point which the translator must take fully into account is the ijaz of the Qur'an: that inimitable ellipticism which often deliberately omits intermediate thought-clauses in order to express the final stage of an idea as pithily and concisely as is possible within the limitations of a human language. This method of ijaz is, as I have explained, a peculiar, integral aspect of the Arabic language, and has reached its utmost perfection in the Qur'an. In order to render its meaning into a language which does not function in a similarly elliptical manner, the thought-links which are missing - that is, deliberately omitted - in the original must be supplied by the translator in the form of frequent interpolations between brackets; for, unless this is done, the Arabic phrase concerned loses all its life in the translation and often becomes a meaningless jumble.
Furthermore, one must beware of rendering, in each and every case, the religious terms used in the Qur'an in the sense which they have acquired after Islam had become "institutionalized" into a definite set of laws, tenets and practices. However legitimate this "institutionalization" may be in the context of Islamic religious history, it is obvious that the Qur'an cannot be correctly understood if we read it merely in the light of later ideological developments, losing sight of its original purport and the meaning which it had - and was intended to have - for the people who first heard it from the lips of the Prophet himself. For instance, when his contemporaries heard the words islam and muslim, they understood them as denoting man's "self-surrender to God" and "one who surrenders himself to God", without limiting these terms to any specific community or denomination - e.g., in 3:67, where Abraham is spoken of as having "surrendered himself unto God" (kana musliman), or in 3:52, where the disciples of Jesus say, "Bear thou witness that we have surrendered ourselves unto God (bi-anna muslimun)". In Arabic, this original meaning has remained unimpaired, and no Arab scholar has ever become oblivious of the wide connotation of these terms. Not so, however, the non-Arab of our day, believer and non-believer alike: to him, islam and muslim usually bear a restricted, historically circumscribed significance, and apply exclusively to the followers of the Prophet Muhammad. Similarly, the terms kufr ("denial of the truth") and kafir ("one who denies the truth") have become, in the conventional translations of the Qur'an, unwarrantably simplified into "unbelief" and "unbeliever" or "infidel", respectively, and have thus been deprived of the wide spiritual meaning which the Qur'an gives to these terms; Another example is to be found in the conventional rendering of the word kitab, when applied to the Qur'an, as "book": for, when the Qur'an was being revealed (and we must not forget that this process took twenty-three years), those who listened to its recitation did not conceive of it as a "book" - since it was compiled into one only some decades after the Prophet's death but rather, in view of the derivation of the noun kitab from the verb kataba ("he wrote" or, tropically, "he as a "divine writ" or a "revelation". The same holds true with regard to the Qur'anic use of this term in its connotation of earlier revealed scriptures: for the Qur'an often stresses the fact that those earlier instances of divine writ have largely been corrupted in the course of time, and that the extant holy "books" do not really represent the original revelations. Consequently, the translation of ahl al-kitab as "people of the book" is not very meaningful; in my opinion, the term should be rendered as "followers of earlier revelation".
In short, if it is to be truly comprehensible in another language, the message of the Qur'an must be rendered in such a way as to reproduce, as closely as possible, the sense which it had for the people who were as yet unburdened by the conceptual images of later Islamic developments: and this has been the overriding principle which has guided me throughout my work.
With the exception of two terms, I have endeavoured to circumscribe every Qur'anic concept in appropriate English expressions - an endeavour which has sometimes necessitated the use of whole sentences to convey the meaning of a single Arabic word. The two exceptions from this rule are the terms al-qur'an and surah, since neither of the two has ever been used in Arabic to denote anything but the title of this particular divine writ and each of its sections or "chapters", respectively: with the result that it would have been of no benefit whatsoever to the reader to be presented with "translations" of these two terms.5
5 Etymologically, the word al-qur'an is derived from the verb qara'a ("he read" or "recited"),
and is to be understood as "the reading [par excellence]", while the noun surah might be
rendered as "a step [leading to another step]" and - tropically - as "eminence in degree"
(cf. Lane IV, 1465). It should be noted, however, that when the noun qur'an appears without
the definite article al, it usually has its primary meaning of "recitation" or "discourse",
and may be rendered accordingly.
Apart from these linguistic considerations, I have tried to observe consistently two fundamental rules of interpretation.
Firstly, the Qur'an must not be viewed as a compilation of individual injunctions and exhortations but as one integral whole: that is, as an exposition of an ethical doctrine in which every verse and sentence has an intimate bearing on other verses and sentences, all of them clarifying and amplifying one another. Consequently, its real meaning can be grasped only if we correlate every one of its statements with what has been stated elsewhere in its pages, and try to explain its ideas by means of frequent cross-references, always subordinating the particular to the general and the incidental to the intrinsic. Whenever this rule is faithfully followed, we realize that the Qur'an is - in the words of Muhammad 'Abduh - "its own best commentary"
Secondly, no part of the Qur'an should be viewed from a purely historical point of view: that is to say, all its references to historical circumstances and events - both at the time of the Prophet and in earlier times - must be regarded as illustrations of the human condition and not as ends in themselves. Hence, the consideration of the historical occasion on which a particular verse was revealed - a pursuit so dear, and legitimately so, to the hearts of the classical commentators must never be allowed to obscure the underlying purport of that verse and its inner relevance to the ethical teaching which the Qur'an, taken as a whole, propounds.
In order to bring out, to the best of my ability, the many facets of the Qur'anic message, I have found it necessary to add to my translation a considerable number of explanatory notes. Certain observations relating to the symbolism of the Qur'an as well as to its eschatology are separately dealt with in Appendix I at the end of this work. In both the notes and the appendices I have tried no more than to elucidate the message of the Qur'an and have, to this end, drawn amply on the works of the great Arab philologists and of the classical commentators. If, on occasion, I have found myself constrained to differ from the interpretations offered by the latter, let the reader remember that the very uniqueness of the Qur'an consists in the fact that the more our worldly knowledge and historical experience increase, the more meanings, hitherto unsuspected, reveal themselves in its pages.
The great thinkers of our past understood this problem fully well. In their commentaries, they approached the Qur'an with their reason: that is to say, they tried to explain the purport of each Qur'anic statement in the light of their superb knowledge of the Arabic language and of the Prophet's teachings - forthcoming from his sunnah - as well as by the store of general knowledge available to them and by the historical and cultural experiences which had shaped human society until their time. Hence, it was only natural that the way in which one commentator understood a particular Qur'anic statement or expression differed occasionally - and sometimes very incisively - from the meaning attributed to it by this or that of his predecessors. In other words, they often contradicted one another in their interpretations: but they did this without any animosity, being fully aware of the element of relativity inherent in all human reasoning, and of each other's integrity. And they were fully aware, too, of the Prophet's profound saying, "The differences of opinion (ikhtilaf) among the learned men of my community are [an outcome of] divine grace (rahmah)" - which clearly implies that such differences of opinion are the basis of all progress in human thinking and, therefore, a most potent factor in man's acquisition of knowledge.
But although none of the truly original, classical Qur'an-commentators ever made any claim to "finality" concerning his own interpretations, it cannot be often enough stressed that without the work of those incomparably great scholars of past centuries, no modern translation of the Qur'an
-my own included - could ever be undertaken with any hope of success; and so, even where I differ from their interpretations, I am immeasurably indebted to their learning for the impetus it has given to my own search after truth.
AS REGARDS the style of my translation, I have consciously avoided using unnecessary archaisms, which would only tend to obscure the meaning of the Qur'an to the contemporary reader. On the other hand, I did not see any necessity of rendering the Qur'anic phrases into a deliberately "modern" idiom, which would conflict with the spirit of the Arabic original and jar upon any ear attuned to the solemnity inherent in the concept of revelation. With all this, however, I make no claim to having reproduced anything of the indescribable rhythm and rhetoric of the Qur'an. No one who has truly experienced its majestic beauty could ever be presumptuous enough to make such a claim or even to embark upon such an attempt.
And I am fully aware that my rendering does not and could not really "do justice" to the Qur'an and the layers upon layers of its meaning: for,
if all the sea were ink for my Sustainer's words, the sea would indeed be exhausted ere my Sustainer's words are exhausted. (Qur'an 18:109).
THIS SURAH is also called Fatihat al-Kitab ("The Opening of the Divine Writ"), Umm al-Kitab ("The Essence of the Divine Writ"), Surat al-Hamd ("The Surah of Praise"), Asas al-Qur'an ("The Foundation of the Qur'an"), and is known by several other names as well. It is mentioned elsewhere in the Qur'an as As-Sab' al-Mathani ("The Seven Oft-Repeated [Verses]") because it is repeated several times in the course of each of the five daily prayers. According to Bukhari, the designation Umm al-Kitab was given to it by the Prophet himself, and this in view of the fact that it contains, in a condensed form, all the fundamental principles laid down in the Qur'an: the principle of God's oneness and uniqueness, of His being the originator and fosterer of the universe, the fount of all life-giving grace, the One to whom man is ultimately responsible, the only power that can really guide and help; the call to righteous action in the life of this world ("guide us the straight way"); the principle of life after death and of the organic consequences of man's actions and behaviour (expressed in the term "Day of Judgment"); the principle of guidance through God's message-bearers (evident in the reference to "those upon whom God has bestowed His blessings") and, flowing from it, the principle of the continuity of all true religions (implied in the allusion to people who have lived - and erred - in the past); and, finally, the need for voluntary self-surrender to the will of the Supreme Being and, thus, for worshipping Him alone. It is for this reason that this surah has been formulated as a prayer, to be constantly repeated and reflected upon by the believer. "The Opening" was one of the earliest revelations bestowed upon the Prophet. Some authorities (for instance, 'Ali ibn Abi Talib) were even of the opinion that it was the very first revelation; but this view is contradicted by authentic Traditions quoted by both Bukhari and Muslim, which unmistakably show that the first five verses of surah 96 ("The Germ-Cell") constituted the beginning of revelation. It is probable, however, that whereas the earlier revelations consisted of only a few verses each, "The Opening" was the first surah revealed to the Prophet in its entirety at one time: and this would explain the view held by 'Ali.
ALL PRAISE is due to God alone, the Sustainer of all the worlds,2 (1:3) the Most Gracious, the Dispenser of Grace, (1:4) Lord of the Day of Judgment!
1:5 Thee alone do we worship; and unto Thee alone do we turn for aid.
Guide us the straight way (1:7) the way of those upon whom Thou hast bestowed Thy blessings,3 not of those who have been condemned [by Thee], nor of those who go astray!4
1 According to most of the authorities, this invocation (which occurs at the beginning of every surah with the exception of surah 9) constitutes an integral part of "The Opening" and is, therefore, numbered as verse 1. In all other instances, the invocation "in the name of God" precedes the surah as such, and is not counted among its verses. - Both the divine epithets rahman and rahim are derived from the noun rahmah, which signifies "mercy", "compassion", "loving tenderness" and, more comprehensively, "grace". From the very earliest times, Islamic scholars have endeavoured to define the exact shades of meaning which differentiate the two terms. The best and simplest of these explanations is undoubtedly the one advanced by Ibn al-Qayyim (as quoted in Manar I,48): the term rahman circumscribes the quality of abounding grace inherent in, and inseparable from, the concept of God's Being, whereas rahim expresses the manifestation of that grace in, and its effect upon, His creation - in other words, an aspect of His activity.
2 In this instance, the term "worlds" denotes all categories of existence both in the physical and the spiritual sense. The Arabic expression rabb - rendered by me as "Sustainer" - embraces a wide complex of meanings not easily expressed by a single term in another language. It comprises the ideas of having a just claim to the possession of anything and, consequently, authority over it, as well as of rearing, sustaining and fostering anything from its inception to its final completion. Thus, the head of a family is called rabb ad-dar ("master of the house") because he has authority over it and is responsible for its maintenance; similarly, his wife is called rabbat ad-dar ("mistress of the house"). Preceded by the definite article al, the designation rabb is applied, in the Qur'an, exclusively to God as the sole fosterer and sustainer of all creation - objective as well as conceptual - and therefore the ultimate source of all authority.
3 i.e., by vouchsafing to them prophetic guidance and enabling them to avail themselves thereof.
4 According to almost all the commentators, God's "condemnation" (ghadab, lit., "wrath") is synonymous with the evil consequences which man brings upon himself by wilfully rejecting God's guidance and acting contrary to His injunctions. Some commentators (e.g., Zamakhshari) interpret this passage as follows: "... the way of those upon whom Thou hast bestowed Thy blessings - those who have not been condemned [by Thee], and who do not go astray": in other words, they regard the last two expressions as defining "those upon whom Thou hast bestowed Thy blessings". Other commentators (e.g., Baghawi and Ibn Kathir) do not subscribe to this interpretation - which would imply the use of negative definitions - and understand the last verse of the surah in the manner rendered by me above. As regards the two categories of people following a wrong course, some of the greatest Islamic thinkers (e.g., Al-Ghazali or, in recent times, Muhammad 'Abduh) held the view that the people described as having incurred "God's condemnation" - that is, having deprived themselves of His grace - are those who have become fully cognizant of God's message and, having understood it, have rejected it; while by "those who go astray" are meant people whom the truth has either not reached at all, or to whom it has come in so garbled and corrupted a form as to make it difficult for them to recognize it as the truth (see 'Abduh in Manar 1,68 ff.).
THE TITLE of this surah is derived from the story narrated in verses 67-73. It is the first surah revealed in its entirety after the Prophet's exodus to Medina, and most of it during the first two years of that period; verses 275-281, however, belong to the last months before the Prophet's death (verse 281 is considered to be the very last revelation which he received).
Starting with a declaration of the purpose underlying the revelation of the Qur'an as a whole - namely, man's guidance in all his spiritual and worldly affairs - Al-Baqarah contains, side by side with its constant stress on the necessity of God-consciousness, frequent allusions to the errors committed by people who followed the earlier revelations, in particular the children of Israel. The reference, in verse 106, to the abrogation of all earlier messages by that granted to the Prophet Muhammad is of the greatest importance for a correct understanding of this surah and indeed of the entire Qur'an. Much of the legal ordinances provided here (especially in the later part of the surah) - touching upon questions of ethics, social relations, warfare, etc.- are a direct consequence of that pivotal statement. Again and again it is pointed out that the legislation of the Qur'an corresponds to the true requirements of man's nature, and as such is but a continuation of the ethical guidance offered by God to man ever since the beginning of human history. Particular attention is drawn to Abraham, the prophet-patriarch whose intense preoccupation with the idea of God's oneness lies at the root of the three great monotheistic religions; and the establishment of Abraham's Temple, the Ka'bah, as the direction of prayer for "those who surrender themselves to God" (which is the meaning of the word musliman, sing. muslim), sets a seal, as it were, on the conscious self-identification of all true believers with the faith of Abraham.
Throughout this surah runs the five-fold Qur'anic doctrine that God is the self-sufficient fount of all being (al-qayyum); that the fact of His existence, reiterated by prophet after prophet, is accessible to man's intellect; that righteous living - and not merely believing - is a necessary corollary of this intellectual perception; that bodily death will be followed by resurrection and judgment; and that all who are truly conscious of their responsibility to God "need have no fear, and neither shall they grieve".
Alif. Lam. Mim.1
HIS DIVINE WRIT - let there be no doubt about it is [meant to be] a guidance for all the Godconscious2 (2:3) who believe in [the existence of] that which is beyond the reach of human perception,3 and are constant in prayer, and spend on others out of what We provide for them as sustenance;4 (2:4) and who believe in that which has been bestowed from on high upon thee, [O Prophet,] as well as in that which was bestowed before thy time:5 for it is they who in their innermost are certain of the life to come!
1 Regarding the possible significance of the single letters called al-muqatta 'at, which occur at the beginning of some surahs of the Qur'an, see Appendix II, where the various theories bearing on this subject are discussed.
2 The conventional translation of muttaqi as "God-fearing" does not adequately render the positive content of this expression - namely, the awareness of His all-presence and the desire to mould one's existence in the light of this awareness; while the interpretation adopted by some translators, "one who guards himself against evil" or "one who is careful of his duty", does not give more than one particular aspect of the concept of God-consciousness.
3 Al-ghayb (commonly, and erroneously, translated as "the Unseen") is used in the Qur'an to denote all those sectors or phases of reality which lie beyond the range of human perception and cannot, therefore, be proved or disproved by scientific observation or even adequately comprised within the accepted categories of speculative thought: as, for instance, the existence of God and of a definite purpose underlying the universe, life after death, the real nature of time, the existence of spiritual forces and their interaction, and so forth. Only a person who is convinced that the ultimate reality comprises far more than our observable environment can attain to belief in God and, thus, to a belief that life has meaning and purpose. By pointing out that it is "a guidance for those who believe in the existence of that which is beyond human perception", the Qur'an says, in effect, that it will - of necessity - remain a closed book to all whose minds cannot accept this fundamental premise.
4 Ar-rizq ("provision of sustenance") applies to all that may be of benefit to man, whether it be concrete (like food, property, offspring, etc.) or abstract (like knowledge, piety, etc.). The "spending on others" is mentioned here in one breath with God-consciousness and prayer because it is precisely in such selfless acts that true piety comes to its full fruition. It should be borne in mind that the verb anfaqa (lit., "he spent") is always used in the Qur'an to denote spending freely on, or as a gift to, others, whatever the motive may be.
5 This is a reference to one of the fundamental doctrines of the Qur'an: the doctrine
of the historical continuity of divine revelation. Life - so the Qur'an teaches us - is
not a series of unconnected jumps but a continuous, organic process: and this law applies
also to the life of the mind, of which man's religious experience (in its cumulative sense)
is a part. Thus, the religion of the Qur'an can be properly understood only against the
background of the great monotheistic faiths which preceded it, and which, according to
Muslim belief, culminate and achieve their final formulation in the faith of Islam.
It is they who follow the guidance [which comes] from their Sustainer; and it is they, they who shall attain to a happy state!
BEHOLD, as for those who are bent on denying the truth6 - it is all one to them whether thou warnest them or dost not warn them: they will not believe. (2:7) God; has sealed their hearts and their hearing, and over their eyes is a veil;7 and awesome suffering awaits them.
And there are people who say, "We do believe in God and the Last Day," the while they do not [really] believe. (2:9) They would deceive God and those who have attained to faith - the while they deceive none but themselves, and perceive it not. (2:10) In their hearts is disease, and so God lets their disease increase; and grievous suffering awaits them because of their persistent lying.8
6 In contrast with the frequently occurring term al-kafirun ("those who deny the truth"),
the use of the past tense in alladhina kafaru indicates conscious intent, and is,
therefore, appropriately rendered as "those who are bent on denying the truth". This
interpretation is supported by many commentators, especially Zamakhshari (who, in his
commentary on this verse, uses the expression, "those who have deliberately resolved upon
their kufr"). Elsewhere in the Qur'an such people are spoken of as having "hearts with
which they fail to grasp the truth, and eyes with which they fail to see, and ears with which they fail to hear" (7:179). - For an explanation of the terms kufr ("denial of the truth"), kafir ("one who denies the truth"), etc., see note 4 on 74:10, where this concept appears for the first time in Qur'anic revelation.
7 A reference to the natural law instituted by God, whereby a person who persistently adheres to false beliefs and refuses to listen to the voice of truth gradually loses the ability to perceive the truth, "so that finally, as it were, a seal is set upon his heart" (Raghib). Since it is God who has instituted all laws of nature - which, in their aggregate, are called sunnat Allah ("the way of God") - this "sealing" is attributed to Him: but it is obviously a consequence of man's free choice and not an act of "predestination". Similarly, the suffering which, in the life to come, is in store for those who during their life in this world have wilfully remained deaf and blind to the truth, is a natural consequence of their free choice - just as happiness in the life to come is the natural consequence of man's endeavour to attain to righteousness and inner illumination. It is in this sense that the Qur'anic references to God's "reward" and "punishment" must be understood.
8 i.e., before God and man - and to themselves. It is generally assumed that the people to whom this passage alludes in the first instance are the hypocrites of Medina who, during the early years after the hijrah, outwardly professed their adherence to Islam while remaining inwardly unconvinced of the truth of Muhammad's message. However, as is always the case with Quranic allusions to contemporary or historical events, the above and the following verses have a general, timeless import inasmuch as they refer to all people who are prone to deceive themselves in order to evade a spiritual commitment.
And when they are told, "Do not spread corruption on earth," they answer, "We are but improving things!" (2:12) Oh, verily, it is they, they who are spreading corruption - but they perceive it not?9
And when they are told, "Believe as other people believe," they answer, "Shall we believe as the weak-minded believe?" Oh, verily, it is they, they who are weak-minded - but they know it not!
And when they meet those who have attained to faith, they assert, "We believe [as you believe]"; but when they find themselves alone with their evil impulses,10 they say, "Verily, we are with you; we were only mocking!"
9 It would seem that this is an allusion to people who oppose any "intrusion" of religious considerations into the realm of practical affairs, and thus - often unwittingly, thinking that they are "but improving things" - contribute to the moral and social confusion referred to in the subsequent verse.
10 Lit., "their satans" (shayatin, pl. of shaytan). In accordance with ancient Arabic usage, this term often denotes people "who, through their insolent persistence in evildoing (tamarrud), have become like satans" (Zamakhshari): an interpretation of the above verse accepted by most of the commentators. However, the term shaytan - which is derived from the verb shatana, "he was [or 'became'] remote [from all that is good and true]" (Lisan al-'Arab, Taj al-'Arus) - is often used in the Qur'an to describe the "satanic" (i.e., exceedingly evil) propensities in man's own soul, and especially all impulses which run counter to truth and morality (Raghib).
God will requite them for their mockery,11 and will leave them for a while in their overweening arrogance, blindly stumbling to and fro: (2:16) [for] it is they who have taken error in exchange for guidance; and neither has their bargain brought them gain, nor have they found guidance [elsewhere].
Their parable is that of people who kindle a fire: but as soon as it has illumined all around them, God takes away their light and leaves them in utter darkness, wherein they cannot see: (2:18) deaf, dumb, blind - and they cannot turn back.
Or [the parable] of a violent cloudburst in the sky, with utter darkness, thunder and lightning: they put their fingers into their ears to keep out the peals of thunder, in terror of death; but God encompasses [with His might] all who deny the truth. (2:20) The lightning well-nigh takes away their sight; whenever it gives them light, they advance therein, and whenever darkness falls around them, they stand still.
And if God so willed, He could indeed take away their hearing and their sight:12 for, verily, God has the power to will anything.
11 Lit., "God will mock at them". My rendering is in conformity with the generally accepted interpretation of this phrase.
12 The obvious implication is: "but He does not will this" - that is, He does not preclude the possibility that "those who have taken error in exchange for guidance" may one day perceive the truth and mend their ways. The expression "their hearing and their sight" is obviously a metonym for man's instinctive ability to discern between good and evil and, hence, for his moral responsibility. - In the parable of the "people who kindle a fire" we have, I believe, an allusion to some people's exclusive reliance on what is termed the "scientific approach" as a means to illumine and explain all the imponderables of life and faith, and the resulting arrogant refusal to admit that anything could be beyond the reach of man's intellect. This "overweening arrogance", as the Qur'an terms it, unavoidably exposes its devotees - and the society dominated by them - to the lightning of disillusion which "well-nigh takes away their sight", i.e., still further weakens their moral perception and deepens their "terror of death".
O MANKIND! Worship your Sustainer, who has created you and those who lived before you, so that you might remain conscious of Him (2:22) who has made the earth a resting-place for you and the sky a canopy, and has sent down water from the sky and thereby brought forth fruits for your sustenance: do not, then, claim that there is any power that could rival God,13 when you know [that He is One].
And if you doubt any part of what We have, bestowed from on high, step by step, upon Our servant [Muhammad],14 then produce a surah of similar merit, and call upon any other than God to bear witness for you15 - if what you say is true! (2:24) And if you cannot do it - and most certainly you cannot do it - then be conscious of the fire whose fuel is human beings and stones16 which awaits all who deny the truth!
13 Lit., "do not give God any compeers" (andad, pl. of nidd ). There is full agreement among all commentators that this term implies any object of adoration to which some or all of God's qualities are ascribed, whether it be conceived as a deity "in its own right" or a saint supposedly possessing certain divine or semi-divine powers. This meaning can be brought out only by a free rendering of the above phrase.
14 i.e., the message of which the doctrine of God's oneness and uniqueness is the focal point.
By the use of the word "doubt" (rayb), this passage is meant to recall the opening sentence of this surah : "This divine writ - let there be no doubt about it...", etc. The gradualness of revelation is implied in the grammatical form nazzalna - which is important in this context inasmuch as the opponents of the Prophet argued that the Qur'an could not be of divine origin because it was being revealed gradually, and not in one piece (Zamakhshari).
15 Lit., "come forward with a surah like it, and call upon your witnesses other than God" - namely, "to attest that your hypothetical literary effort could be deemed equal to any part of the Qur'an." This challenge occurs in two other places as well (10:38 and 11:13, in which latter case the unbelievers are called upon to produce ten chapters of comparable merit); see also 17:88.
16 This evidently denotes all objects of worship to which men turn instead of God - their powerlessness and inefficacy being symbolized by the lifelessness of stones - while the expression "human beings" stands here for human actions deviating from the way of truth (cf. Manar 1,197): the remembrance of all of which is bound to increase the sinner's suffering in the hereafter, referred to in the Qur'an as "hell".
But unto those who have attained to faith and do good works give the glad tiding that theirs shall be gardens through which running waters flow. Whenever they are granted fruits therefrom as their appointed sustenance, they will say, "It is this that in days of yore was granted to us as our sustenance!" - for they shall be given something that will recall that [past].17 And there shall they have spouses pure, and there shall they abide.
Behold, God does not disdain to propound a parable of a gnat, or of something [even] less than that.18 Now, as for those who have attained to faith, they know that it is the truth from their Sustainer - whereas those who are bent on denying the truth say, "What could God mean by this parable?"
In this way does He cause many a one to go astray, just as He guides many a one aright: but none does He cause thereby to go astray save the iniquitous, (2:27) who break their bond with God after it has been established [in their nature],19 and cut asunder what God has bidden to be joined, and spread corruption on earth: these it is that shall be the losers.
17 Lit., "something resembling it". Various interpretations, some of them of an esoteric and highly speculative nature, have been given to this passage. For the manner in which I have translated it, I am indebted to Muhammad 'Abduh (in Manar I,232 f.), who interprets the phrase, "It is this that in days of yore was granted to us as our sustenance" as meaning: "It is this that we have been promised during our life on earth as a requital for faith and righteous deeds." In other words, man's actions and attitudes in this world will be mirrored in their "fruits", or consequences, in the life to come - as has been expressed elsewhere in the Qur'an in the verses, "And he who shall have done an atom's weight of good, shall behold it; and he who shall have done an atom's weight of evil, shall behold it" (99:7-8). As regards the reference to "spouses" in the next sentence, it is to be noted that the term zawj (of which azwaj is
the plural) signifies either of the two components of a couple - that is, the male as well as the female.
18 Lit., "something above it", i.e., relating to the quality of smallness stressed here - as one would say, "such-and-such a person is the lowest of people, and even more than that" (Zamakhshari). The reference to "God's parables", following as it does immediately upon a mention of the gardens of paradise and the suffering through hell-fire in the life to come, is meant to bring out the allegorical nature of this imagery.
19 The "bond with God" (conventionally translated as "God's covenant") apparently refers here to man's moral obligation to use his inborn gifts - intellectual as well as physical - in the way intended for them by God. The "establishment" of this bond arises from the faculty of reason which, if properly used, must lead man to a realization of his own weakness and dependence on a causative power and, thus, to a gradual cognition of God's will with reference to his own behaviour. This interpretation of the "bond with God" seems to be indicated by the fact that there is no mention of any specific "covenant" in either the preceding or the subsequent verses of the passage under consideration. The deliberate omission of any explanatory reference in this connection suggests that the expression "bond with God" stands for something that is rooted in the human situation as such, and can, therefore, be perceived instinctively as well as through conscious experience: namely, that innate relationship with God which makes Him "closer to man than his neck-vein" (50:16). For an explanation of the subsequent reference to "what God has bidden to be joined", see surah 13, note 43.
How can you refuse to acknowledge God, seeing that you were lifeless and He gave you life, and that He will cause you to die and then will bring you again to life, whereupon unto Him you will be brought back?
He it is who has created for you all that is on earth, and has applied His design to the heavens and fashioned them into seven heavens;20 and He alone has full knowledge of everything.
AND LO!21 Thy Sustainer said unto the angels: "Behold, I am about to establish upon earth one who shall inherit it."22
They said: "Wilt Thou place on it such as will spread corruption thereon and shed blood - whereas it is we who extol Thy limitless glory, and praise Thee, and hallow Thy name?"
[God] answered: "Verily, I know that which you do not know."
20 The term sama' ("heaven" or "sky") is applied to anything that is spread like a canopy above any other thing. Thus, the visible skies which stretch like a vault above the earth and form, as it were, its canopy, are called sama: and this is the primary meaning of this term in the Qur'an; in a wider sense, it has the connotation of "cosmic system". As regards the "seven heavens", it is to be borne in mind that in Arabic usage - and apparently in other Semitic languages as well - the number "seven" is often synonymous with "several" (see Lisan al-'Arab), just as "seventy" or "seven hundred" often means "many" or "very many" (Taj al-'Arus). This, taken together with the accepted linguistic definition that "every sama' is a sama' with regard to what is below it" (Raghib), may explain the "seven heavens" as denoting the multiplicity of cosmic systems. - For my rendering of thumma, at the beginning of this sentence, as "and", see surah 7, first part of note 43.
21 The interjection "lo" seems to be the only adequate rendering, in this context, of the particle idh, which is usually - and without sufficient attention to its varying uses in Arabic construction - translated as "when". Although the latter rendering is often justified, idh is also used to indicate "the sudden, or unexpected, occurrence of a thing" (cf. Lane 1, 39), or a sudden turn in the discourse. The subsequent allegory, relating as it does to the faculty of reason implanted in man, is logically connected with the preceding passages.
22 Lit., "establish on earth a successor" or a "vice-gerent". The term khalffah - derived from the verb khalafa, "he succeeded [another] " - is used in this allegory to denote man's rightful supremacy on earth, which is most suitably rendered by the expression "he shall inherit the earth" (in the sense of being given possession of it). See also 6:165, 27:62 and 35:39, where all human beings are - spoken of as khala'if al-ard.
And He imparted unto Adam the names of all things;23 then He brought them within the ken of the angels and said: "Declare unto Me the names of these [things], if what you say is true."24
They replied: "Limitless art Thou in Thy glory! No knowledge have we save that which Thou hast imparted unto us. Verily, Thou alone art all-knowing, truly wise."
Said He: "O Adam, convey unto them the names of these [things]."
And as soon as [Adam] had conveyed unto them their names, [God] said: "Did I not say unto you, 'Verily, I alone know the hidden reality of the heavens and the earth, and know all that you bring into the open and all that you would conceal'?"
And when We told the angels, "Prostrate yourselves before Adam!"25 -they all prostrated themselves, save Iblis, who refused and gloried in his arrogance: and thus he became one of those who deny the truth.26
23 Lit., "all the names". The term ism ("name") implies, according to all philologists, an expression "conveying the knowledge [of a thing] ... applied to denote a substance or an accident or an attribute, for the purpose of distinction" (Lane IV, 1435): in philosophical terminology, a "concept". From this it may legitimately be inferred that the "knowledge of all the names" denotes here man's faculty of logical definition and, thus, of conceptual thinking. That by "Adam" the whole human race is meant here becomes obvious from the preceding reference, by the angels, to "such as will spread corruption on earth and will shed blood", as well as from 7:11.
24 Namely, that it was they who, by virtue of their purity, were better qualified to "inherit the earth".
25 To show that, by virtue of his ability to think conceptually, man is superior in this respect even to the angels.
26 For an explanation of the name of the Fallen Angel, see surah 7, note 10. The fact of this "rebellion", repeatedly stressed in the Qur'an, has led some of the commentators to the conclusion that he could not have been one of the angels, since these are incapable of sinning: "they do not bear themselves with false pride... and they do whatever they are bidden to do" (16:49-50). As against this, other commentators point to the Qur'anic phrasing of God's command to the angels and of Iblis' refusal to obey, which makes it absolutely clear that at the time of that command he was indeed one of the heavenly host. Hence, we must assume that his "rebellion" has a purely symbolic significance and is, in reality, the outcome of a specific function assigned to him by God (see note 31 on 15:41).
And We said: "O Adam, dwell thou and thy wife in this garden,27 and eat freely thereof, both of you, whatever you may wish; but do not approach this one tree, lest you become wrongdoers."28
2:36 But Satan caused them both to stumble therein, and thus brought about the loss of their erstwhile state.29 And so We said: "Down with you, [and be henceforth] enemies unto one another; and on earth you shall have your abode and your livelihood for a while!"30
27 Lit., "the garden". There is a considerable difference of opinion among the commentators as to what is meant here by "garden": a garden in the earthly sense, or the paradise that awaits the righteous in the life to come, or some special garden in the heavenly regions? According to some of the earliest commentators (see Manar I, 277), an earthly abode is here alluded to - namely, an environment of perfect ease, happiness and innocence. In any case, this story of Adam is obviously one of the allegories referred to in 3:7.
28 This tree is alluded to elsewhere in the Qur'an (20: 120) as "the tree of life eternal", and in the ...
29 Lit., "brought them out of what they had been in": i.e., by inducing them to eat the fruit of the forbidden tree.
30 With this sentence, the address changes from the hitherto-observed dual form to the plural: a further indication that the moral of the story relates to the human race as a whole. See also surah 7, note 16.
Thereupon Adam received words [of guidance] from his Sustainer, and He accepted his repentance: for, verily, He alone is the Acceptor of Repentance, the Dispenser of Grace. (2:38) [For although] We did say, "Down with you all from this [state]," there shall, none the less, most certainly come unto you guidance from Me: and those who follow My guidance need have no fear, and neither shall they grieve; (2:39) but those who are bent on denying the truth and giving the lie to Our messages - they are destined for the fire, and therein shall they abide.
O CHILDREN of Israel!31 Remember those blessings of Mine with which I graced you, and fulfil your promise unto Me, [whereupon] I shall fulfil My promise unto you; and of Me, of Me stand in awe!
31 This passage connects directly with the preceding passages in that it refers to the continuous guidance vouchsafed to man through divine revelation. The reference to the children of Israel at this point, as in so many other places in the Qur'an, arises from the fact that their religious beliefs represented an earlier phase of the monotheistic concept which culminates in the revelation of the Qur'an.
Believe in that which I have [now] bestowed from on high, confirming the truth already in your possession, and be not foremost among those who deny its truth; and do not barter away My messages for a trifling gain;32 and of Me, of Me be conscious!
And do not overlay the truth with falsehood, and do not knowingly suppress the truth;33 (2:43) and be constant in prayer, and spend in charity,34 and bow down in prayer with all who thus bow down.
32 A reference to the persistent Jewish belief that they alone among all nations have been graced by divine revelation. The "trifling gain" is their conviction that they are "God's chosen people" - a claim which the Qur'an consistently refutes.
33 By "overlaying the truth with falsehood" is meant the corrupting of the Biblical text, of which the Qur'an frequently accuses the Jews (and which has since been established by objective textual criticism), while the "suppression of the truth" refers to their disregard or deliberately false interpretation of the words of Moses in the Biblical passage, "The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken" (Deuteronomy xviii, 15), and the words attributed to God Himself, "I will raise them up a prophet from among thy brethren, like unto thee, and will put My words in his mouth" (Deuteronomy xviii, 18). The "brethren" of the children of Israel are obviously the Arabs, and particularly the musta'ribah ("Arabianized") group among them, which traces its descent to Ishmael and Abraham: and since it is to this group that the Arabian Prophet's own tribe, the Quraysh, belonged, the above Biblical passages must be taken as referring to his advent.
34 In Islamic Law, zakah denotes an obligatory tax, incumbent on Muslims, which is meant to purify a person's capital and income from the taint of selfishness (hence the name). The proceeds of this tax are to be spent mainly, but not exclusively, on the poor. Whenever, therefore, this term bears the above legal implication, I translate it as "the purifying dues". Since, however, in this verse it refers to the children of Israel and obviously implies only acts of charity towards the poor, it is more appropriate to translate it as "almsgiving" or "charity". I have also adopted this latter rendering in all instances where the term zakah, though relating to Muslims, does not apply specifically to the obligatory tax as such (e.g., in 73:20, where this term appears for the first time in the chronology of revelation).
2:44 Do you bid other people to be pious, the while you forget your own selves - and yet you recite the divine writ? Will you not, then, use your reason?
And seek aid in steadfast patience and prayer: and this, indeed, is a hard thing for all but the humble in spirit, (2:46) who know with certainty that they shall meet their Sustainer and that unto Him they shall return.
O children of Israel! Remember those blessings of Mine with which I graced you, and how I favoured you above all other people; (2:48) and remain conscious of [the coming of] a Day when no human being shall in the least avail another, nor shall intercession be accepted from any of them, nor ransom taken from them,35 and none shall be succoured.
And [remember the time] when We saved you from Pharaoh's people, who afflicted you with cruel suffering, slaughtering your sons and sparing [only] your women36 - which was an awesome trial from your Sustainer; (2:50) and when We cleft the sea before you, and thus saved you and caused Pharaoh's people to drown before your very eyes; (2:51) and when We appointed for Moses forty nights [on Mount Sinai], and in his absence you took to worshipping the [golden] calf, and thus became evildoers: (2:52) yet, even after that, We blotted out this your sin, so that you might have cause to be grateful.37
35 The "taking of ransom ('adl)" is an obvious allusion to the Christian doctrine of vicarious redemption as well as to the Jewish idea that "the chosen people" - as the Jews considered themselves - would be exempt from punishment on the Day of Judgment. Both these ideas are categorically refuted in the Qur'an.
36 See Exodus i, 15-16, 22.
37 The story of the golden calf is dealt with at greater length in 7:148 ff. and 20:85 ff. Regarding the crossing of the Red Sea, to which verse 50 above alludes, see 20:77-78 and 26:63-66, as well as the corresponding notes. The forty nights (and days) which Moses spent on Mount Sinai are mentioned again in 7:142.
And [remember the time] when We vouchsafed unto Moses the divine writ - and [thus] a standard by which to discern the true from the false38 - so that you might be guided aright; (2:54) and when Moses said unto his people: "O my people! Verily, you have sinned against yourselves by worshipping the calf; turn, then in repentance to your Maker and mortify yourselves;39 this will be the best for you in your Maker's sight."
And thereupon He accepted your repentance: for, behold, He alone is the Acceptor of Repentance, the Dispenser of Grace.
And [remember] when you said, "O Moses indeed we shall not believe thee unto we see God face to face!" - whereupon the thunderbolt of punishment40 overtook you before your very eyes.
But We raised you again after you had been as dead,41 so that you might have cause to be grateful.
38 Muhammad 'Abduh amplifies the above interpretation of al-furqan (adopted by Tabari, Zamakhshari and other great commentators) by maintaining that it applies also to "human reason, which enables us to distinguish the true from the false" (Manar 111, 160), apparently basing this wider interpretation on 8:41, where the battle of Badr is described as yawm al-furqan ("the day on which the true was distinguished from the false"). While the term furgdn is often used in the Qur'an to describe one or another of the revealed scriptures, and particularly the Qur'an itself, it has undoubtedly also the connotation pointed out by 'Abduh: for instance, in 8:29, where it clearly refers to the faculty of moral valuation which distinguishes every human being who is truly conscious of God.
39 Lit., "kill yourselves" or, according to some commentators, "kill one another". This literal interpretation (probably based on the Biblical account in Exodus xxxii, 26-28) is not, however, convincing in view of the immediately preceding call to repentance and the subsequent statement that this repentance was accepted by God. I incline, therefore, to the interpretation given by 'Abd al-Jabbar (quoted by Razi in his commentary on this verse) to the effect that the expression "kill yourselves" is used here in a metaphorical sense (majazan), i.e., "mortify yourselves".
40 The Qur'an does not state what form this "thunderbolt of punishment" (as-sa'iqah) took. The lexicographers give various interpretations to this word, but all agree on the element of vehemence and suddenness inherent in it (see Lane IV, 1690).
41 Lit., "after your death". The expression mawt does not always denote physical death. Arab philologists - e.g., Raghib - explain the verb mata (lit., "he died") as having, in certain contexts, the meaning of "he became deprived of sensation, dead as to the senses"; and occasionally as "deprived of the intellectual faculty, intellectually dead"; and sometimes even as "he slept" (see Lane VII, 2741).
And We caused the clouds to comfort you with their shade, and sent down unto you manna and quails. [saying,] "Partake of the good things which We have provided for you as sustenance."
And [by all their sinning] they did no harm unto Us - but [only] against their own selves did they sin.
And [remember the time] when We said: "Enter this land,42 and eat of its food as you may desire abundantly; but enter the gate humbly and say, 'Remove Thou from us the burden of our sins',43 [whereupon] We shall forgive you your sins, and shall amply reward the doers of good."
But those who were bent on evildoing substituted another saying for that which had been given them:44 and so We sent down upon those evildoers a plague from heaven in requital for all their iniquity.
42 The word qaryah primarily denotes a "village" or "town", but is also used in the sense of "land". Here it apparently refers to Palestine.
43 This interpretation of the word hittah is recorded by most of the lexicographers (cf. Lane II, 592) on the basis of what many Companions of the Prophet said about it (for the relevant quotations, see Ibn Kathir in his commentary on this verse). Thus, the children of Israel were admonished to take possession of the promised land ("enter the gate") in a spirit of humility (lit., "prostrating yourselves"), and not to regard it as something that was "due" to them.
44 According to several Traditions (extensively quoted by Ibn Kathir), they played, with a derisive intent, upon the word hittah, substituting for it something irrelevant or meaningless. Muhammad 'Abduh, however, is of the opinion that the "saying" referred to in verse 58 is merely a metaphor for an attitude of mind demanded of them, and that, correspondingly, the "substitution" signifies here a wilful display of arrogance in disregard of God's command (see Manar I, 324 f.).
2:60 And [remember] when Moses prayed for water for his people and We replied, "Strike the rock with thy staff!" - whereupon twelve springs gushed forth from it, so that all the people knew whence to drink.45 [And Moses said:] "Eat and drink the sustenance provided by God, and do not act wickedly on earth by spreading corruption."
And [remember] when you said: "O Moses, indeed we cannot endure but one kind of food; pray, then, to thy Sustainer that He bring forth for us aught of what grows from the earth - of its herbs, its cucumbers, its garlic, its lentils, its onions."
Said [Moses]: "Would you take a lesser thing in exchange for what is [so much] better?46 Go back in shame to Egypt, and then you can have what you are asking for!"47
And so, ignominy and humiliation overshadowed them, and they earned the burden of God's condemnation: all this, because they persisted in denying the truth of God's messages and in slaying the prophets against all right: all this, because they rebelled [against God], and persisted in transgressing the bounds of what is right.48
45 i.e., according to their tribal divisions.
46 i.e., "Would you exchange your freedom for the paltry comforts which you enjoyed in your Egyptian captivity?" In the course of their wanderings in the desert of Sinai, many Jews looked back with longing to the comparative security of their life in Egypt, as has been explicitly stated in the Bible (Numbers xi), and is, moreover, evident from Moses' allusion to it in the next sentence of the above Qur'anic passage.
47 The verb habata means, literally, "he went down a declivity"; it is also used figuratively in the sense of falling from dignity and becoming mean and abject (cf. Lane VIII, 2876). Since the bitter exclamation of Moses cannot be taken literally, both of the above meanings of the verb may be combined in this context and agreeably translated as "go back in shame to Egypt".
48 This passage obviously refers to a later phase of Jewish history. That the Jews actually did kill some of their prophets is evidenced, for instance, in the story of John the Baptist, as well as in the more general accusation uttered, according to the Gospel, by Jesus: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee" (Matthew xxiii, 37). See also Matthew xxiii, 34-35, Luke xi, 51 - both of which, refer to the murder of Zachariah - and I Thessalonians ii, 15. The implication of continuity in, or persistent repetition of, their wrongdoing transpires from the use of the auxiliary verb kanu in this context.
VERILY, those who have attained to faith [in this divine writ], as well as those who follow the Jewish faith, and the Christians, and the Sabians49 - all who believe in God and the Last Day and do righteous deeds - shall have their reward with their Sustainer; and no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve.50
AND LO! We accepted your solemn pledge, raising Mount Sinai high above you,51 [and saying;] "Hold fast with [all your] strength unto what We have vouchsafed you, and bear in mind all that is therein, so that you might remain conscious of God!"
49 The Sabians seem to have been a monotheistic religious group intermediate between Judaism and Christianity. Their name (probably derived from the Aramaic verb tsebha', "he immersed himself [in water]") would indicate that they were followers of John the Baptist - in which case they could be identified with the Mandaeans, a community which to this day is to be found in Iraq. They are not to be confused with the so-called "Sabians of Harran", a gnostic sect which still existed in the early centuries of Islam, and which may have deliberately adopted the name of the true Sabians in order to obtain the advantages accorded by the Muslims to the followers of every monotheistic faith.
50 The above passage - which recurs in the Qur'an several times - lays down a fundamental doctrine of Islam. With a breadth of vision unparalleled in any other religious faith, the idea of "salvation" is here made conditional upon three elements only: belief in God, belief in the Day of Judgment, and righteous action in life. The statement of this doctrine at this juncture - that is, in the midst of an appeal to the children of Israel - is warranted by the false Jewish belief that their descent from Abraham entitles them to be regarded as "God's chosen people".
51 Lit., "and We raised the mountain (at-tur) above you": i.e., letting the lofty mountain bear witness, as it were, to their solemn pledge, spelled out in verse 83 below. Throughout my translation of the Qur'an, I am rendering the expression at-tur as "Mount Sinai", since it is invariably used in this sense alone.
And you turned away after that! And had it not been for God's favour upon you and His grace, you would surely have found yourselves among the lost; (2:65) for you are well aware of those from among you who profaned the Sabbath, whereupon We said unto them, "Be as apes despicable!" - (2:66) and set them up as a warning example for their time and for all times to come, as well as an admonition to all who are conscious of God.52
AND LO! Moses said unto his people: "Behold, God bids you to sacrifice a cow."53 They said: "Dost thou mock at us?" He answered: "I seek refuge with God against being so ignorant!"54
Said they: "Pray on our behalf unto thy Sustainer that He make clear to us what she is to be like." [Moses] replied: "Behold, He says it is to be a cow neither old nor immature, but of an age in-between. Do, then, what you have been bidden!"
Said they: "Pray on our behalf unto thy Sustainer that He make clear to us what her colour should be." [Moses] answered: "Behold; He says it is to be a yellow cow, bright of hue, pleasing to the beholder."
Said' they: "Pray on our behalf unto thy Sustainer that He make clear to us what she is to be like, for to us all cows resemble one another; and then, if God so wills, we shall truly be guided aright!"
[Moses] answered: "Behold, He says it is to be a cow not broken-in to plough the earth or to water the crops, free of fault, without markings of any other colour."
Said they: "At last thou hast brought out the truth!" - and thereupon they sacrificed her, although they had almost left it undone.55
52 For the full story of the Sabbath-breakers, and the metaphorical allusion to "apes", see 7:163-166. The expression ma bayna yadayhd, rendered here as "their time", is explained in surah 3, note 3.
53 As is evident from verse 72, the story related in this and the subsequent passages almost certainly refers to the Mosaic law which ordains that in certain cases of unresolved murder a cow should be sacrificed, and the elders of the town or village nearest to the place of the murder should wash their hands over it and declare, "Our hands have not shed this blood, neither have our eyes seen it" - whereupon the community would be absolved of collective responsibility. For the details of this Old Testament ordinance, see Deuteronomy xxi, 1-9.
54 Lit., "lest I be one of the ignorant". The imputation of mockery was obviously due to the fact that Moses promulgated the above ordinance in very general terms, without specifying any details.
55 i.e., their obstinate desire to obtain closer and closer definitions of the simple commandment revealed to them through Moses had made it almost impossible for them to fulfil it. In his commentary on this passage; Tabari quotes the following remark of Ibn 'Abbas: "If [in the first instance] they had sacrificed any cow chosen by themselves, they would have fulfilled their duty; but they made it complicated for themselves, and so God made it complicated for them." A similar view has been expressed, in the same context, by Zamakhshari. It would appear that the moral of this story points to an important problem of all (and, therefore, also of Islamic) religious jurisprudence: namely, the inadvisability of trying to elicit additional details in respect of any religious law that had originally been given in general terms - for, the more numerous and multiform such details become, the more complicated and rigid becomes the law. This point has been acutely grasped by Rashid Rida, who says in his commentary on the above Qur'anic passage (see Manar I, 345 f.): "Its lesson is that one should not pursue one's [legal] inquiries in such a way as to make laws more complicated ... This was how the early generations [of Muslims] visualized the problem. They did not make things complicated for themselves - and so, for them, the religious law (din) was natural, simple and liberal in its straightforwardness. But those who came later added to it [certain other] injunctions which they had deduced by means of their own reasoning (ijtihad); and they multiplied those [additional] injunctions to such an extent that the religious law became a heavy burden on the community." For the sociological reason why the genuine ordinances of Islamic Law - that is, those which have been prima facie laid down as such in the Qur'an and the teachings of the Prophet - are almost always devoid of details, I would refer the reader to my book State and Government in Islam (pp. 11 ff. and passim). The importance of this problem, illustrated in the above story of the cow - and correctly grasped by the Prophet's Companions - explains why this surah has been entitled "The Cow". (See also 5 : 101 and the corresponding notes 120-123.)
For, O children of Israel, because you had slain a human being and then cast the blame for this [crime] upon one another - although God will bring to light what you would conceals56 - (73) We said: "Apply this [principle] to some of those [cases of unresolved murder]:57 in this way God saves lives from death and shows you His will, so that you might [learn to] use your reason."58
2:74 And yet, after all this, your hearts hardened and became like rocks, or even harder: for, behold, there are rocks from which streams gush forth; and, behold, there are some from which, when they are cleft, water issues; and, behold, there are some that fall down for awe of God59. And God is not unmindful of what you do!
56 See note 53 above. The use of the plural "you" implies the principle of collective, communal responsibility stipulated by Mosaic Law in cases of murder by a person or persons unknown. God's bringing the guilt to light obviously refers to the Day of Judgment.
57 The phrase idribuhu bi-ba'diha can be literally translated as "strike him [or "it"] with something of her [or "it"]" - and this possibility has given rise to the fanciful assertion by many commentators that the children of Israel were commanded to strike the corpse of the murdered man with some of the flesh of the sacrificed cow, whereupon he was miraculously restored to life and pointed out his murderer! Neither the Qur'an, nor any saying of the Prophet, nor even the Bible offers the slightest warrant for this highly imaginative explanation, which must, therefore, be rejected - quite apart from the fact that the pronoun hu in idribahu has a masculine gender, while the noun nafs (here translated as "human being") is feminine in gender: from which it follows that the imperative idribuhu cannot possibly refer to nafs. On the other hand, the verb daraba (lit., "he struck") is very often used in a figurative or metonymic sense, as, for instance, in the expression daraba fi'l-ard ("he journeyed on earth"), or daraba 'sh-shay' bi'sh-shay' ("he mixed one thing with another thing"), or daraba mathal ("he coined a similitude" or "propounded a parable" or "gave an illustration"), or 'ala darb wahid ("similarly applied" or "in the same manner"), or duribat 'alayhim adh-dhillah ("humiliation was imposed on them" or "applied to them"), and so forth. Taking all this into account, I am of the opinion that the imperative idribuhu occurring in the above Qur'anic passage must be translated as "apply it" or "this" (referring, in this context, to the principle of communal responsibility). As for the feminine pronoun ha in ba'diha ("some of it"), it must necessarily relate to the nearest preceding feminine noun - that is, to the nafs that has been murdered, or the act of murder itself about which (fiha) the community disagreed. Thus, the phrase idribuhu bi-ba'diha may be suitably rendered as "apply this [principle] to some of those [cases of unresolved murder]": for it is obvious that the principle of communal responsibility for murder by a person or persons unknown can be applied only to some and not to all such cases.
58 Lit., "God gives life to the dead and shows you His messages" (i.e., He shows His will by means of such messages or ordinances). The figurative expression "He gives life to the dead" denotes the saving of lives, and is analogous to that in 5:32. In this context it refers to the prevention of bloodshed and the killing of innocent persons (Manor 1, 351), be it through individual acts of revenge, or in result of an erroneous judicial process based on no more than vague suspicion and possibly misleading circumstantial evidence.
59 For an explanation of this allusion, see 7:143. The simile of "the rocks from which streams gush forth" or "from which water issues" serves to illustrate its opposite, namely, dryness and lack of life, and is thus an allusion to the spiritual barrenness with which the Qur'an charges the children of Israel.
CAN YOU, then, hope that they will believe in what you are preaching60 - seeing that a good many of them were wont to listen to the word of God and then, after having understood it, to pervert it knowingly?61 (2:76) For, when they meet those who have attained to faith. they say, "We believe [as you believe]" - but when they find themselves alone with one another, they say. "Do you inform them of what God has disclosed to you, so that they might use it in argument against you, quoting the words of your Sustainer?62 Will you not then, use your reason?"
Do they not know, then, that God is aware of all that they would conceal as well as of all that they bring into the open? (2:78) And there are among them unlettered people who have no real knowledge of the divine writ,63 [following] only wishful beliefs and depending on nothing but conjecture.
Woe, then, unto those who write down, with their own hands, [something which they claim to be] divine writ, and then say. "This is from God," in order to acquire a trifling gain thereby;64 woe, then, unto them for what their hands have written, and woe unto them for all that they may have gained!
60 Here the Muslims are addressed. In the early period of Islam - and especially after their exodus to Medina, where many Jews were then living - the Muslims expected that the Jews, with their monotheistic beliefs, would be the first to rally to the message of the Qur'an: a hope that was disappointed because the Jews regarded their own religion as a kind of national heritage reserved to the children of Israel alone, and did not believe in the necessity - or possibility - of a new revelation.
61 Cf. Jeremiah xxiii, 26 - "Ye have perverted the words of the living God".
62 Lit., "before [or "in the sight of"] your Sustainer". Most of the commentators '
(e.g , Zamakhshari, Baghawi, Razi) agree in that the expression "your Sustainer" stands here for "that which your Sustainer has revealed", namely, the Biblical prophecy relating to the: coming. of a prophet "from among the brethren" of the children of Israel, and that, therefore, the above phrase implies an argument on the basis of the Jews' own
scriptures. (See also note 3} above).
63 In this case, the Old Testament.
64 The reference here is to the scholars responsible for corrupting the text of the Bible and thus misleading their ignorant followers. The "trifling gain" is their feeling of pre-eminence as the alleged "chosen people".
And they say, "The fire will most certainly not touch us for more than a limited number of days."65 Say [unto them]: "Have you received a promise from God - for God never breaks His promise - or do you attribute to God something which you cannot know?"
Yea! Those who earn evil and by their sinfulness are engulfed - they are destined for the fire, therein to abide; (2:82) whereas those who attain to faith and do righteous deeds - they are destined for paradise, therein to abide.
AND LO! We accepted this solemn pledge from [you,] - the children of Israel:66 "You shall worship none but God; and you shall do good unto your parents and kinsfolk, and the orphans, and the poor; and you shall speak unto all people in a kindly way; and you shall be constant in prayer; and you shall spend in charity."
And yet, save for a few of you, you turned away: for you are obstinate folk!68
65 According to popular Jewish belief, even the sinners from among the children of Israel will suffer only very limited punishment in the life to come, and will be quickly reprieved by virtue of their belonging to "the chosen people": a belief which the Qur'an rejects.
66 In the preceding passages, the children of Israel have been reminded of the favours that were bestowed on them. Now, however, the Qur'an - reminds them of the fact that the way of righteousness has indeed been shown to them by means of explicit social and moral injunctions: and this reminder flows directly from the statement that the human condition in the life to come depends exclusively on the manner of one's life in this world, and not on one's descent.
67 see note 34 above.
68 The Old Testament contains many allusions to the waywardness and stubborn rebelliousness of the children of Israel - e.g., Exodus xxxii, 9, xxxii, 3, xxxiv, 9; Deuteronomy by, 6-8, 23-24, 27.
And lo! We accepted your solemn pledge that you would not shed one another's blood, and would not drive one another from your homelands - whereupon you acknowledged it; and thereto you bear witness [even now]. (2:85) And yet, it is you who slay one another and drive some of your own people from their homelands, aiding one another against them in sin and hatred; but if they come to you as captives, you ransom them - although the very [act of] driving them away has been made unlawful to you!69
Do you, then, believe in some parts of the divine writ and deny the truth of other parts? What, then, could be the reward of those among you who do such things but ignominy in the life of this world and, on the Day of Resurrection, commitment to most grievous suffering? For God is not unmindful of what you do.
All who buy the life of this world at the price of the life to come - their suffering shall not be lightened, nor shall they be succoured!
For, indeed, We vouchsafed unto Moses the divine writ and caused apostle after apostle to follow him;70 and We vouchsafed unto Jesus, the son of Mary, all evidence of the truth, and strengthened him with holy inspiration.71 [Yet] is it not so that every time an apostle came unto you with something that was not to your liking, you gloried in your arrogance, and to some of them you gave the lie, while others you would slay?72
But they say, "Our hearts are already full of knowledge."73 Nay, but God has rejected them because of their refusal to acknowledge the truth: for, few are the things in which they believe.74
69 This is a reference to the conditions prevailing at Medina at the time of the Prophet's hijrah. The two Arab tribes of Medina - Al-Aws and Khazraj - were, in pre-Islamic times permanently at war with one another; and out of the three Jewish tribes living there - the Banu Qaynuqa', Banu 'n-Nadir and Banu Qurayzah - the first-named two were allied with Khazraj, while the third was allied with Al-Aws. Thus, in the course of their warfare, Jew would kill Jew in alliance with pagans ("aiding one another in sin and
hatred"): a twofold crime from the viewpoint of Mosaic Law. Nevertheless, they would subsequently ransom their mutual captives in obedience to that very same Law - and it is this glaring inconsistency to which the Qur'an alludes in the next sentence.
70 Lit., "We caused him to be followed, after his time, by [all] the other apostles": a stress upon the continuous succession of prophets among the Jews (see Tabari, Zamakhshari, Razi, Ibn Kathir), which fact deprives them of any excuse of ignorance.
71 This rendering of ruh al-qudus (lit., "the spirit of holiness") is based on the recurring use in the Qur'an of the term ruh in the sense of "divine inspiration". It is also recorded that the Prophet invoked the blessing of the ruh al-qudus on his Companion, the poet Hassan ibn Thabit (Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Da'ud and Tirmidhi): just as the Qur'an (58: 22) speaks of all believers as being "strengthened by inspiration (rah) from Him".
72 Lit., "and some you are slaying". The change from the past tense observed throughout this sentence to the present tense in the verb taqtulun ("you are slaying") is meant to express a conscious intent in this respect and, thus, a persistent, ever-recurring trait in Jewish history (Manor I, 377), to which also the New Testament refers (Matthew xxiii, 34-35, 37), and I Thessalonians ii, 15).
73 Lit., "our hearts are repositories [of knowledge]"- an allusion to the boast of the Jews that in view of the religious knowledge which they already possess, they are in no need of any further preaching (Ibn Kathir, on the authority of Ibn 'Abbas; identical explanations are mentioned by Tabari and Zamakhshari).
74 i.e., all their beliefs are centred on themselves and their alleged "exceptional" status in the sight of God.
And whenever there came unto them a [new] revelation from God, confirming the truth already in their possession - and [bear in mind that] aforetime they used to pray for victory over those who were bent on denying the truth -: whenever there came unto them something which they recognized [as the truth], they would deny it. And God's rejection is the due of all who deny the truth.
Vile is that [false pride] for which they have sold their own selves by denying the truth of what God has bestowed from on high, out of envy that God should bestow aught of His favour upon whomsoever He wills of His servants:75 and thus have they earned the burden of God's condemnation, over and over. And for those who deny the truth there is shameful suffering in store.
For when they are told, "Believe in what God has bestowed from on high," they reply, "We believe [only] in what has been bestowed on us" - and they deny the truth of everything else, although it be a truth confirming the one already in their possession. Say "Why, then, did you slay God's prophets aforetime, if you were (truly] believers?"76
And indeed, there came unto you Moses with all evidence of the truth - and thereupon in his absence, you took to worshipping the (golden] calf, and acted wickedly.
And, lo, We accepted your solemn pledge, raising Mount Sinai high above you, [saying,] "Hold fast with [all your] strength unto what We have vouchsafed you, and hearken unto it!" [But] they say, "We have heard, but we disobey"77 - for their hearts are filled to overflowing with love of the [golden] calf because of their refusal to acknowledge the truth.78
Say: "Vile is what this [false] belief of yours enjoins upon you - if indeed you are believers!"
Say: "If an afterlife with God is to be for you alone, to the exclusion of all other people,79 then you should long for death - if what you say is true!"
But never will they long for it, because [they are aware] of what their hands have sent ahead in this world: and God has full knowledge of evildoers. (2:96) And thou wilt most certainly find that they cling to life more eagerly than any other people, even more than those who are bent on ascribing divinity to other beings beside God: every one of them would love to live a thousand years, although the grant of long life could not save him from suffering [in the hereafter]: for God sees all that they do.
SAY [O Prophet]: "Whosoever is an enemy of Gabriel" - who, verily, by God's leave, has brought down upon thy heart this [divine writ] which confirms the truth of whatever there still remains [of earlier revelations], and is a guidance and a glad tiding for the believers -: (2:98) "whosover is an enemy of God and His angels and His message-bearers, including Gabriel and Michael, [should know that,] verily, God is the enemy of all who deny the truth."80
75 i.e., out of envy that God should bestow revelation upon anyone but a descendant of Israel - in this particular instance, upon the Arabian Prophet, Muhammad.
76 A reference to their assertion that they believe in what has been revealed to them - i.e., the Law of Moses, which obviously prohibits the killing not only of prophets but of any innocent human being. See also the concluding sentences of verses 61 and 87, and the corresponding notes.
77 It is obvious that they did not actually utter these words; their subsequent behaviour, however, justifies the above metonymical expression.
78 Lit., "into their hearts has been instilled the calf because of their denial of the truth": i.e., as soon as they turned away from the genuine message propounded by Moses, they fell into worshipping material goods, symbolized by the "golden calf".
79 An allusion to the Jewish belief that paradise is reserved for the children of Israel alone (cf. verse III of this surah ).
80 According to several authentic Traditions, some of the learned men from among the Jews of Medina described Gabriel as "the enemy of the Jews", and this for three reasons: firstly, all the prophecies of the misfortune which was to befall the Jews in the course of their early history were said to have been transmitted to them by Gabriel, who thus became in their eyes a "harbinger of evil" (in contrast to the angel Michael, whom they regarded as a bearer of happy predictions and, therefore, as their "friend"); secondly, because the Qur'an states repeatedly that it was Gabriel who conveyed its message to Muhammad, whereas the Jews were of the opinion that only a descendant of Israel could legitimately claim divine revelation; and, thirdly, because the Qur'an - revealed through Gabriel - abounds in criticism of certain Jewish beliefs and attitudes and describes them as opposed to the genuine message of Moses. (For details of these Traditions, see Tabari, Zamakhshari, Baghawi, Razi, Baydawi, Ibn Kathir.) As regards my rendering of ma bayna yadayhi in verse 97 as "whatever there still remains of earlier revelations", see surah 3, note 3.
For, clear messages indeed have We bestowed upon thee from on high; and none denies their truth save the iniquitous.
Is it not so that every time they made a promise [unto God], some of them cast it aside? Nay, indeed: most of them do not believe.
And [even now,] when there has come unto them an apostle from God, confirming the truth already in their possession, some of those who were granted revelation aforetime cast the divine writ behind their backs as though unaware [of what it says],81 (2:102) and follow [instead] that which the evil ones used to practice during Solomon's reign - for it was not Solomon who denied the truth, but those evil ones denied it by teaching people sorcery82 -; and [they follow] that which has come down through the two angels in Babylon, Harut and Mirut - although these two never taught it to anyone without first declaring, "We are but a temptation to evil: do not, then, deny [God's] truth!"83 And they learn from these two how to create discord between a man and his wife; but whereas they can harm none thereby save by God's leave, they acquire a knowledge that only harms themselves and does not benefit them - although they know; indeed, that he who acquires this [knowledge] shall have no share in the good of the life to come.84 For, vile indeed is that [art] for which they have sold their own selves - had they but known it!
81 The divine writ referred to here is the Torah. By disregarding the prophecies relating to the coming of the Arabian Prophet, contained in Deuteronomy xviii, 15, 18 (see note 33 above), the Jews rejected, as it were, the whole of the revelation granted to Moses (Zamakhshari; also 'Abduh in Manar I, 397).
82 The expression ash-shayatin, here rendered as "the evil ones", apparently refers to human beings, as has been pointed out by Tabari, Razi, etc., but may also allude to the evil, immoral impulses within man's heart (see note 10 on verse 14 of this surah). The above parenthetic sentence constitutes the Qur'anic refutation of the Biblical statement that Solomon had been guilty of idolatrous practices (see I Kings xi, 1-10), as well as of the legend that he was the originator of the magic arts popularly associated with his name.
83 This "declaration" circumscribes, metonymically, man's moral duty to reject every attempt at "sorcery" inasmuch as - irrespective of whether it succeeds or fails - it aims at subverting the order of nature as instituted by God. - As regards the designation of Harut and Marut, most of the readings of the Qur'an give the spelling malakayn ("the two angels"); but it is authentically recorded (see Tabari, Zamakhshari, Baghawi, Razi, etc.) that the great Companion of the Prophet, Ibn 'Abbas, as well as several learned men of the next generation - e.g., Al-Hasan al-Basri, Abu'l-Aswad and Ad-Dahhak - read it as malikayn ("the two kings"). I myself incline to the latter reading; but since the other is more generally accepted, I have adopted it here. Some of the commentators are of the opinion that, whichever of the two readings is followed, it ought to be taken in a metaphorical sense, namely, "the two kingly persons", or "the two angelic persons": in this they rely on a saying of Ibn 'Abbas to the effect that Harut and Marut were "two men who practiced sorcery in Babylon" (Baghawi; see also Manar I, 402). At any rate, it is certain that from very ancient times Babylon was reputed to be the home of magic arts, symbolized in the legendary persons - perhaps kings - Harut and Marut; and it is to this legend that the Qur'an refers with a view to condemning every attempt at magic and sorcery, as well as all preoccupation with occult sciences in general.
84 The above passage does not raise the question as to whether there is an objective truth in the occult phenomena loosely described as "magic", or whether they are based on self-deception: The intent here is no more and no less than to warn man that any attempt at influencing the course of events by means which - at least in the mind of the person responsible for it to have a "supernatural" connotation is a spiritual offence, and must inevitably result in a most serious damage to their author's spiritual status.
And had they but believed and been conscious of Him, reward from God would indeed have brought them good - had they but known it!
O YOU who have attained to faith! Do not say [to the Prophet], "Listen to us," but rather say, "Have patience with us," and hearken [unto him], since grievous suffering awaits those who deny the truth.85
Neither those from among the followers of earlier revelation who are bent on denying the truth, nor those who ascribe divinity to other beings beside God, would like to see any good86 ever bestowed upon you from on high by your Sustainer; but God singles out for His grace whom He wills - for God is limitless in His great bounty.
Any message which, We annul or consign to oblivion We replace with a better or a similar ones.87 Dost thou not know that God has the power to will anything? (2:107) Dost thou not know that God's is the dominion over the heavens and the earth, and that besides God you have none to protect you or bring you succour?
85 This admonition, addressed in the first instance to the contemporaries of the Prophet,
has - as so often in the Qur'an - a connotation that goes far beyond the historical circumstances that gave rise to it. The Companions were called upon to approach the Prophet with respect and to subordinate their personal desires and expectations to the commandments of the Faith revealed through him: and this injunction remains valid for every believer and for all times.
86 i.e., revelation - which is the highest good. The allusion here is to 1he unwillingness of the Jews and the Christians to admit that revelation could have been bestowed on any community but their own.
87 The principle laid down in this passage - relating to the supersession of the Biblical dispensation by that of the Qur'an - has given rise to an erroneous interpretation by many Muslim theologians. The word ayah ("message") occurring in this, context is also used to denote a "verse;" of the Qur'an (because every one of these verses contains a message). Taking this restricted meaning of the term ayah, some scholars conclude from the above passage that certain verses of the Qur'an have been "abrogated" by God's command before the revelation of the Qur'an was completed. Apart from the fancifulness of this assertion - which calls to mind the image of a human author correcting, on second thought, the proofs of his manuscript - deleting one passage and replacing it with another - there does not exist a single reliable Tradition to the effect that the Prophet ever, declared a verse of the Qur'an to have been "abrogated". At the root of the so-called "doctrine of abrogation" may lie the inability of some of the early commentators to reconcile one Qur'anic passage with another: a difficulty which was overcome by declaring that one of the verses in question had been "abrogated". This arbitrary procedure explains also why there is no unanimity whatsoever among the upholders of the "doctrine of abrogation" as to which, and how many, Qur'an verses have been affected by it; and, furthermore, as to whether this alleged abrogation implies a total elimination of the verse in question from the context of the Qur'an, or only a cancellation of the specific ordinance or statement contained in it. In short, the "doctrine of abrogation" has no basis whatever in historical fact, and must be rejected. On the other hand, the apparent difficulty in interpreting the above Qur'anic passage disappears immediately if the term ayah is understoood, correctly, as "message", and if we read this verse in conjunction with the preceding one, which states that the Jews and the Christians refuse to accept any revelation which might supersede that of the Bible: for, if read in this way, the abrogation relates to the earlier divine messages and not to any part of the Qur'an itself.
Would you, perchance, ask of the Apostle who has been sent unto you what was asked aforetime of Moses? But whoever chooses to deny the [evidence of the] truth, instead of believing in it,88 has already strayed from the right path.
Out of their selfish envy, many among the followers of earlier revelation would like to bring you back to denying the truth after you have attained to faith - [even] after the truth has become clear unto them. None the less, forgive and forbear, until God shall make manifest His will: behold, God has the power to will anything.
And be constant in prayer, and render the purifying dues; for, whatever good deed you send ahead for your own selves, you shall find it with God: behold, God sees all that you do.
AND THEY claim,89 "None shall ever enter paradise unless he be a Jew" - or, "a Christian". Such are their wishful beliefs! Say: "Produce an evidence for what you are claiming,90 if what you say is true!"
88 Lit.. "whoever takes a denial of the truth in exchange for belief" - i.e., whoever refuses to accept the internal evidence of the truth of the Qur'anic message and demands, instead, an "objective" proof of its divine origin (Manor I, 416 f.).- That which was "asked of Moses aforetime" was the demand of the children of Israel to "see God face to face" (cf. 2:55). The expression rendered by me as "the Apostle who has been sent unto you" reads literally, "your Apostle", and obviously refers to the Prophet Muhammad whose message supersedes the earlier revelations.
89 This connects with verse 109 above: "Many among the followers of earlier revelation would like to bring you back to denying the truth", etc.
90 Lit., "produce your evidence" - i.e.. "from your own scriptures".
Yea, indeed: everyone who surrenders his whole being unto God,91 and is a doer of good withal, shall have his reward with his Sustainer; and all such need have no fear, and neither shall they grieve.92
Furthermore, the Jews assert, "The Christians have no valid ground for their beliefs," while the Christians assert, "The Jews have no valid ground for their beliefs" - and both quote the divine writ! Even thus, like unto what they say, have [always] spoken those who were devoid of knowledge;"93 but it is God who will judge between them on Resurrection Day with regard to all on which they were wont to differ.94
91 Lit., "who surrenders his face unto God". Since the face of a person is the most expressive part of his body, it is used in classical Arabic to denote one's whole personality, or whole being. This expression, repeated in the Qur'an several times, provides a perfect definition of islam, which derived from the root-verb aslama, "he surrendered himself" means "self-surrender [to God]";: and it is in this sense that the terms islam and muslim are used throughout the Qur'an. (For a full discussion of this concept, see my note on 68:35, where the expression muslim occurs for the first time in the chronological order of revelation.)
92 Thus, according to the Qur'an, salvation is not reserved for any particular "denomination", but is open to everyone who consciously realizes the oneness of God, surrenders himself to His will and, by living righteously, gives practical effect to this spiritual attitude.
93 An allusion to all who assert that only the followers of their own denomination shall partake of God's grace in the hereafter.
94 In other words, "God will confirm the truth of what was true [in their respective beliefs] and show the falseness of what was false [therein]" (Muhammad 'Abduh in Manar I, 428). The Qur'an maintains throughout that there is a substantial element of truth in all faiths based on divine revelation, and that their subsequent divergencies are the result of "wishful beliefs" (2:111) and of a gradual corruption of the original teachings. (See also 22: 67-69.)
Hence, who could be more wicked than those who bar the mention of God's name from [any of] His houses of worship and strive for their ruin, [although] they have no right to enter them save in fear [of God]?95 For them, in this world, there is ignominy in store; and for them, in the life to come, awesome suffering.
And God's is the east and the west: and wherever you turn, there is God's countenance. Behold, God is infinite, all-knowing.
And yet some people assert, "God has taken unto Himself a son!" Limitless is He in His glory!96 Nay, but His is all that is in the heavens and on earth; all things devoutly obey His will. (2:117) The Originator is He of the heavens and the earth: and when He wills a thing to be, He but says unto it, "Be" - and it is.
AND [only] those who are devoid of knowledge say, "Why does God not speak unto us, nor is a [miraculous] sign shown to us?" Even thus, like unto what they say, spoke those who lived before their time97 their hearts are all alike. Indeed, We have made all the signs manifest unto people who are endowed with inner certainty.
Verily, We have sent thee [O Prophet] with the truth, as a bearer of glad tidings and a warner: and thou shalt not be held accountable for those who are destined for the blazing fire.
For, never will the Jews be pleased with thee nor yet the Christians, unless thou follow their own creeds. Say: "Behold, God's guidance is the only true guidance." And, indeed, if thou shouldst follow their errant views after all the knowledge that has come unto thee, thou wouldst have none to protect thee from God, and none to bring thee succour.
Those unto whom We have vouchsafed the divine writ [and who] follow it as it ought to be followed98- it is they who [truly] believe in it; whereas all who choose to deny its truth - it is they, they who are the losers!
95 It is one of the fundamental principles of Islam that every religion which has belief in God as its focal point must be accorded full respect, however much one may disagree with its particular tenets. Thus, the Muslims are under an obligation to honour and protect any house of worship dedicated to God, whether it be a mosque or a church or a synagogue (cf. the second paragraph of 22:40); and any attempt to prevent the followers of another faith from worshipping God according to their own lights is condemned by the Qur'an as a sacrilege. A striking illustration of this principle is forthcoming from the Prophet's treatment of the deputation from Christian hijran in the year 10 H. They were given free access to the Prophet's mosque, and with his full consent celebrated their religious rites there, although their adoration of Jesus as "the son of God" and of Mary as "the mother of God" was fundamentally at variance with Islamic beliefs (see Ibn Sa'd I/I, '84 f.).
96 I.e., far from any imperfection such as would be implied in the necessity (or logical possibility) of having "progeny" either in a literal or a metaphorical sense. The
expression subhana - applied exclusively to God - connotes His utter remoteness from any imperfection and any similarity, however tenuous, with any created being or thing.
97 I.e., people who were not able to perceive the intrinsic truth of the messages conveyed to them by the prophets, but rather insisted on a miraculous "demonstration" that those messages really came from God, and thus failed to benefit from them. - This verse obviously connects with verse 108 above and, thus, refers to the objections of the Jews and the Christians to the message of the Qur'an. (See also note 29 on 74:52.)
98 Or: "apply themselves to it with true application" - i.e. try to absorb its meaning and to understand its spiritual design.
O CHILDREN of Israel! Remember those blessings of Mine with which I graced you, and how I favoured you above all other people; (2:123) and remain conscious of [the coming of] a Day when no human being shall in the least avail another, nor shall ransom be accepted from any of them, nor shall intercession be of any use to them, and none shall be succoured.99
And [remember this:] when his Sustainer tried Abraham by [His] commandments and the latter fulfilled them,100 He said: "Behold, I shall make thee a leader of men." Abraham asked: "And [wilt Thou make leaders] of my offspring as well?" [God] answered: "My covenant does not embrace the evildoers."101
99 See 2:48. In the above context, this refers, specifically, to the belief of the Jews that their descent from Abraham would "ransom" them on the Day of Judgment - a belief which is refuted in the next verse.
100 The classical commentators have indulged in much speculation as to what these commandments (kalimat, lit., "words") were. Since, however, the Qur'an does not specify them, it must be presumed that what is meant here is simply Abraham's complete submission to whatever commandments he received from God.
101 This passage, read in conjunction with the two preceding verses, refutes the contention of the children of Israel that by virtue of their descent from Abraham, whom God made "a leader of men", they are "God's chosen people". The Qur'an makes it clear that the exalted status of Abraham was not something that would automatically confer a comparable status on his physical descendants, and certainly not on the sinners among them.
2:125 AND LO! We made the Temple a goal to which people might repair again and again, and a sanctuary:102 take then, the place whereon Abraham once stood as your place of prayer."103 And thus did We command Abraham and Ishmael: "Purify My Temple for those who will walk around it,104 and those who will abide near it in meditation, and those who will bow down and prostrate themselves [in prayer]."
And, lo, Abraham prayed: "O my Sustainer! Make this a land secure, and grant its people fruitful sustenance - such of them as believe in God and the Last Day." [God] answered: "And whoever shall deny the truth, him will I let enjoy himself for a short while - but in the end I shall drive him to suffering through fire: and how vile a journey's end!"
And when Abraham and Ishmael were raising the foundations of the Temple, [they prayed:] "O our Sustainer! Accept Thou this from us: for, verily, Thou alone art all-hearing, all-knowing!
"O our Sustainer! Make us surrender ourselves unto Thee, and make out of our offspring105 a community that shall surrender itself unto Thee, and show us our ways of worship, and accept our repentance: for, verily, Thou alone art the Acceptor of Repentance, the Dispenser of Grace!
102 The Temple (al-bayt)- lit., "the House [of Worship]"'- mentioned here is the Ka'bah in Mecca. In other places the Qur'an speaks of it as "the Ancient Temple" (al-bayt al-'atiq), and frequently also as "the Inviolable House of Worship" (al-masjid al-haram ). Its prototype is said to have been built by Abraham as the first temple ever dedicated to the One God (see 3:96), and which for this reason has been instituted as the direction of prayer (qiblah) for all Muslims, and as the goal of the annually recurring pilgrimage (hajj). It is to be noted that even in pre-Islamic times the Ka'bah was associated with the memory of Abraham, whose personality had always been in the foreground of Arabian thought. According to very ancient Arabian traditions, it was at the site of what later became Mecca that Abraham, in order to placate Sarah, abandoned his Egyptian bondwoman Hagar and their child Ishmael after he had brought them there from Canaan. This is by no means improbable if one bears in mind that for a camel-riding bedouin (and Abraham was certainly one) a journey of twenty or even thirty days has never been anything out of the ordinary. At first glance, the Biblical statement (Genesis xii, 14) that it was "in the wilderness of Beersheba" (i.e., in the southernmost tip of Palestine) that Abraham left Hagar and Ishmael would seem to conflict with the Qur'anic account. This seeming contradiction, however, disappears as soon as we remember that to the ancient, town-dwelling Hebrews the term "wilderness of Beersheba" comprised all the desert regions south of Palestine, including the Hijaz. It was at the place where they had been abandoned that Hagar and Ishmael, after having discovered the spring which is now called the Well of Zamzam, eventually settled; and it may have been that very spring which in time induced a wandering group of bedouin families belonging to the South-Arabian (Qahtani) tribe of Jurhum to settle there. Ishmael later married a girl of this tribe, and so became the progenitor of the musta'ribah ("Arabianized") tribes - thus called on account of their descent from a Hebrew father and a Qahtani mother. As for Abraham, he is said to have often visited Hagar and Ishmael; and it was on the occasion of one of these periodic visits that he, aided by Ishmael, erected the original structure of the Ka'bah. (For more detailed accounts of the Abrahamic tradition, see Bukhari's Sahih, Kitab al-'Ilm, Tabari's Ta'rikh al-Umam, Ibn Sad, Ibn Hisham, Mas'fidi's Murai adh-Dhahab, Yaqut's Mu'jam al-Buldan, and other early Muslim historians.)
103 This may refer to the immediate vicinity of the Ka'bah or, more probably (Manor I, 461 f.), to the sacred precincts (haram) surrounding it. The word amn (lit., "safety") denotes in this context a sanctuary for all living beings.
104 The seven-fold circumambulation (tawaf) of the Ka'bah is one of the rites of the pilgrimage, symbolically indicating that all human actions and endeavours ought to have the idea of God and His oneness for their centre.
105 The expression "our offspring" indicates Abraham's progeny through his first-born son, Ishmael, and is an indirect reference to the Prophet Muhammad, who descended from the latter.
"O our Sustainer! Raise up from the midst of our offspring106 an apostle from among themselves, who shall convey unto them Thy messages, and impart unto them revelation as well as wisdom, and cause them to grow in purity: for, verily, Thou alone art almighty, truly wise!"
And who, unless he be weak of mind, would want to abandon Abraham's creed, seeing that We have indeed raised him high in this world, and that, verily, in the life to come he shall be among the righteous?
When his Sustainer said to him, "Surrender thyself unto Me!" - he answered, "I have surrendered myself unto [Thee,] the Sustainer of all the worlds."
2:132 And this very thing did Abraham bequeath unto his children, and [so did] Jacob: "O my children! Behold, God has granted you the purest faith; so do not allow death to overtake you ere you have surrendered yourselves unto Him."
Nay, but you [yourselves, O children of Israel,] bear witness107 that when death was approaching Jacob, he said unto his sons: "Whom will you worship after I am gone?"
They answered: "We will worship thy God, the God of thy forefathers Abraham and Ishmael108 and Isaac, the One God; and unto Him will we surrender ourselves."
106 Lit., "within them".
107 I.e., "in the religious traditions to which you adhere". It is to be noted that the conjunction am which stands at the beginning of this sentence is not always used in the interrogative sense ("is it that ...?"): sometimes - and especially when it is syntactically unconnected with the preceding sentence, as in this case - it is an equivalent of bal ("rather", or "nay, but"), and has no interrogative connotation.
108 In classical Arabic, as in ancient Hebrew usage, the term ab ("father") was applied not only to the direct male parent but also to grandfathers and even more distant ancestors, as well as to paternal uncles: which explains why Ishmael, who was Jacob's uncle, is mentioned in this context. Since he was the first-born of Abraham's sons, his name precedes that of Isaac.
Now those people have passed away; unto them shall be accounted what they have earned, and unto you, what you have earned; and you will not be, judged on the strength of what they did.109
AND THEY say, "Be Jews" - or, "Christians" - "and you shall be on the right path." Say: "Nay, but [ours is] the creed of Abraham, who turned away from all that is false,110 and was not of those who ascribe divinity to aught beside God."
Say: "We believe in God, and in that which has been bestowed from on high upon us, and that which has been bestowed upon Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and their descendants,111 and that which has been vouchsafed to Moses and Jesus; and that which has been vouchsafed to all the [other] prophets by their Sustainer: we make no distinction between any of them.112 And it is unto Him that we surrender ourselves."
109 Lit., "you will not be asked about what they did". This verse, as well as verse 141 below, stresses the fundamental Islamic tenet of individual responsibility, and denies the Jewish idea of their being "the chosen people" by virtue of their descent, as well as - by implication - the Christian doctrine of an "original sin" with which all human beings are supposedly, burdened because of Adam's fall from grace.
110 The expression hanif is derived from the verb hanafa, which literally means "he inclined [towards a right state or tendency]" (cf. Lane II, 658). Already in pre-Islamic times, this term had a definitely monotheistic connotation, and was used to describe a man who turned away from sin and worldliness and from all dubious beliefs, especially idol-worship; and tahannuf denoted the ardent devotions, mainly consisting of long vigils and prayers, of the unitarian God-seekers of pre-Islamic times. Many instances of this use of the terms hanif and tahannuf occur in the verses of pre-Islamic poets, e.g., Umayyah ibn Abi's - Salt and Juan al-'Awd (cf. Lisan al-'Arab, art. hanafa).
111 Lit., "the grandchildren" (al-asbat, sing. sibt) - a term used in the Qur'an to describe, in the first instance, Abraham's, Isaac's and Jacob's immediate descendants, and, consequently, the twelve tribes which evolved from this ancestry.
112 Le., "we regard them all as true prophets of God".
And if [others] come to believe in the way you believe, they will indeed find themselves on the right path; and if they turn away, it is but they who will be deeply in the wrong, and God will protect thee from them: for He alone is all-hearing, all-knowing.
[Say: "Our life takes its] hue from God! And who could give a better hue [to life] than God, if we but truly worship Him?"
Say [to the Jews and the Christians]: "Do you argue with us about God?113 But He is our Sustainer as well as your Sustainer - and unto us shall be accounted our deeds, and unto you, your deeds; and it is unto Him alone that we devote ourselves.
2:140 "Do you claim that Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and their descendants were 'Jews' or 'Christians'?"114 Say: "Do you know more than God does? And who could be more wicked than he who suppresses a testimony given to him by God?115 Yet God is not unmindful of what you do.
113 I.e., about God's will regarding the succession of prophethood and man's ultimate salvation. The Jews believe that prophethood was a privilege granted to the children of Israel alone, while the Christians maintain that Jesus - who, too, descended from the children of Israel - was God's final manifestation on earth; and each of these two denominations claims that salvation is reserved to its followers alone (see 2:111 and 135). The Qur'an refutes these ideas by stressing, in the next sentence, that God is the Lord of all mankind, and that every individual will be judged on the basis of his own beliefs and his own behaviour alone.
114 Regarding the term asbat (rendered here as well as in verse 136 as "descendants"), see note I li above. In the above words the Qur'an alludes to the fact that the concept of "Jewry" came into being many centuries after the time of the Patriarchs, and even long after the time of Moses, while the concepts of "Christianity" and "Christians" were unknown in Jesus' time and represent later developments.
115 A reference to the Biblical prediction of the coming of the Prophet Muhammad (see note 33 on verse 42 of this surah), which effectively contradicts the Judaeo-Christian claim that all true prophets, after the Patriarchs, belonged to the children of Israel.
"Now those people have passed away; unto them shall be accounted what they have earned, and unto you, what you have earned; and you will not be judged on the strength of what they did."
THE WEAK-MINDED among people will say, "What has turned them away from the direction of prayer which they have hitherto observed?"116 Say: "God's is the east and the west; He guides whom He wills onto a straight way."117
And thus have We willed you to be a community of the middle way,118 so that [with your lives] you might bear witness to the truth before all mankind, and that the Apostle might bear witness to it before you.119
And it is only to the end that We might make a clear distinction between those who follow the Apostle and those who turn about on their heels that We have appointed [for this community] the direction of prayer which thou [O Prophet] hast formerly observed: for this was indeed a hard test for all but those whom God has guided aright.120 But God will surely not lose sight of your faith - for, behold, God is most compassionate towards man, a dispenser of grace.
116 Before his call to prophethood, and during the early Meccan period of his ministry, the Prophet - and his community with him - used to turn in prayer towards the Ka'bah. This was not prompted by any specific revelation, but was obviously due to the fact that the Ka'bah - although it had in the meantime been filled with various idols to which the pre-Islamic Arabs paid homage - was always regarded as the first temple ever dedicated to the One God (cf. 3:96). Since he was aware of the sanctity of Jerusalem - the other holy centre of the unitarian faith - the Prophet prayed, as a rule, before the southern wall of the Ka'bah, towards the north, so as to face both the Ka'bah and Jerusalem. After the exodus to Medina he continued to pray northwards, with only Jerusalem as his qiblah (direction of prayer). About sixteen months after his arrival at Medina, however, he received a revelation (verses 142-150 of this surah) which definitively established the Ka'bah as the qiblah of the followers of the Qur'an. This "abandonment" of Jerusalem obviously displeased the Jews of Medina, who must have felt gratified when they saw the Muslims praying towards their holy city; and it is to them that the opening sentence of this passage refers. If one considers the matter from the historical point of view, there had never been any change in the divine commandments relating to the qiblah: there had simply been no ordinance whatever in this respect before verses 142-150 were revealed. Their logical connection with the preceding passages, which deal, in the main, with Abraham and his creed, lies in the fact that it was Abraham who erected the earliest structure of the temple which later came to be known as the Ka'bah.
117 Or: "He guides onto a straight way him that wills [to be guided]".
118 Lit., "middlemost community" - i.e., a community that keeps an equitable balance between extremes and is realistic in its appreciation of man's nature and possibilities, rejecting both licentiousness and exaggerated asceticism. In tune with its oft-repeated call to moderation in every aspect of life, the Qur'an exhorts the believers not to place too great an emphasis on the physical and material aspects of their lives, but postulates, at the same time, that man's urges and desires relating to this "life of the flesh" are God-willed and, therefore, legitimate. On further analysis, the expression "a community of the middle way" might be said to summarize, as it were, the Islamic attitude towards the problem of man's existence as such: a denial of the view that there is an inherent conflict between the spirit and the flesh, and a bold affirmation of the natural, God-willed unity in this twofold aspect of human life. This balanced attitude, peculiar to Islam, flows directly from the concept of God's oneness and, hence, of the unity of purpose underlying all His creation: and thus, the mention of the "community of the middle way" at this place is a fitting introduction to the theme of the Ka'bah, a symbol of God's oneness.
119 I.e., "that your way of life be an example to all mankind, just as the Apostle is an example to you".
120 I.e., "whom He has given understanding" (Razi). The "hard test" (kabirah) consisted in the
fact that ever since their exodus to Medina the Muslims had become accustomed to praying
towards Jerusalem - associated in their minds with the teachings of most of the earlier
prophets mentioned in the Qur'an - and were now called upon to turn in their prayers towards
the Ka'bah, which at that time (in the second year after the hijrah) was still used by
the pagan Quraysh as a shrine dedicated to the worship of their numerous idols. As against
this, the Qur'an states that true believers would not find it difficult to adopt the Ka'bah
once again as their qiblah: they would instinctively realize the divine wisdom underlying
this commandment which established Abraham's Temple as a symbol of God's oneness and a
focal point of the ideological unity of Islam. (See also note 116 above.)
We have seen thee [O Prophet] often turn thy face towards heaven [for guidance]: and now We shall indeed make thee turn in prayer in a direction which will fulfil thy desire. Turn, then, thy face towards the Inviolable House of Worship; and wherever you all may be, turn your faces towards it [in prayer].
And, verily, those who have been vouchsafed revelation aforetime know well that this [commandment] comes in truth from their Sustainer; and God is not unaware of what they do.
And yet, even if thou wert to place all evidence121 before those who have been vouchsafed earlier revelation, they would not follow thy direction of prayer; and neither mayest thou follow their direction of prayer, nor even do they follow one another's direction. And if thou shouldst follow their errant views after all the knowledge that has come unto thee thou wouldst surely be among the evildoers.
They unto whom We have vouchsafed revelation aforetime know it as they know their own children: but, behold, some of them knowingly suppress the truth - (2:147) the truth from thy Sustainer!122 Be not, then, among the doubters: (2:148) for, every community faces a direction of its own, of which He is the focal point.123 Vie, therefore, with one another in doing good works. Wherever you may be, God will gather you all unto Himself: for, verily, God has the power to will anything.
Thus, from wherever thou mayest come forth, turn thy face [in prayer] towards the Inviolable House of Worship - for, behold, this [commandment] comes in truth from thy Sustainer; and God is not unaware of what you do. (2:150) Hence, from wherever thou mayest come forth, turn thy face [in prayer] towards the Inviolable House of Worship; and wherever you all may be, turn your faces towards it, so that people should have no argument against you unless they are bent upon wrongdoing.124 And hold not them in awe, but stand in awe of Me, and [obey Me,] so that I might bestow upon you the full measure of My blessings, and that you might follow the right path.
121 Lit., "every sign (ayah)", i.e., of its being a revealed commandment.
122 This refers, in the first instance, to the fact that the Ka'bah was Abraham's qiblah, as well as to the Biblical prophecies relating to Ishmael as the progenitor of a "great nation" (Genesis xxi, 13 and 18) from whom a prophet "like unto Moses" would one day arise: for it was through Ishamel's descendant, the Arabian Prophet, that the commandment relating to the qiblah was revealed. (Regarding the still more explicit predictions of the future advent of the Prophet Muhammad, forthcoming from the canonical Gospels, see 61:6 and the corresponding note.)
123 Lit., "everyone has a direction...", etc. Almost all of the classical commentators, from the Companions of the Prophet downwards, interpret this as a reference to the various religious communities and their different modes of "turning towards God" in worship. Ibn Kathir, in his commentary on this verse, stresses its inner resemblance to the phrase occurring in 5:48: "unto every one of you have We appointed a [different] law and way of life". The statement that "every community faces a direction of its own" in its endeavour to express its submission to God implies, firstly, that at various times and in various circumstances man's desire to approach God in prayer has taken different forms (e.g., Abraham's choice of the Ka'bah as his qiblah. the Jewish concentration on Jerusalem, the eastward orientation of the early Christian churches, and the Qur'anic commandment relating to the Ka'bah); and, secondly, that the direction of prayer however important its symbolic significance may be - does not represent the essence of faith as such: for, as the Qur'an says, "true piety does not consist in turning your faces towards the east or the west" (2:177), and, "God's is the east and the west" (2:115 and 142). Consequently, the revelation which established the Ka'bah as the qiblah of the Muslims should not be a matter of contention for people of other faiths, nor a cause of their disbelief in the truth of the Qur'anic revelation as such (Manor 11, 21 f.).
124 Lit., "except such among them as are bent upon wrongdoing" (regarding the intent implied in the use of the past tense in expressions like alladhrna zalama or alladhrna kafaru, see note 6 on verse 6 of this surah). The Qur'an stresses repeatedly that the Muslims are true followers of Abraham. This claim, however, might have been open to objection so long as they prayed in a direction other than Abraham's qiblah, the Ka'bah. The establishment of the latter as the qiblah of the followers of the Qur'an would invalidate any such argument and would leave it only to "those who are bent upon wrongdoing" (in this case, distorting the truth) to challenge the message of the Qur'an on these grounds.
Even as We have sent unto you an apostle from among yourselves to convey unto you Our messages, and to cause you to grow in purity, and to impart unto you revelation and wisdom, and to teach you that which you knew not: (2:152) so remember Me, and I shall remember you; and be grateful unto Me, and deny Me not.
O YOU who have attained to faith! Seek aid in steadfast patience and prayer: for, behold, God is with those who are patient in adversity.
And say not of those who are slain in God's cause, "They are dead": nay, they are alive, but you perceive it not.
And most certainly shall We try you by means125 of danger, and hunger, and loss of worldly goods, of lives and of [labour's] fruits. But give glad tidings unto those who are patient in adversity - (2:156) who, when calamity befalls them, say, "Verily, unto God do we belong and, verily, unto Him we shall return." (2:157) It is they upon whom their Sustainer's blessings and grace are bestowed, and it is they, they who are on the right path!
125 Lit., "with something".
[Hence,] behold, As-Safa and Al-Marwah are among the symbols set up by God;126 and thus, no wrong does he who, having come to the Temple on pilgrimage or on a pious visit, strides to and fro between these two:127 for, if one does more good than he is bound to do - behold, God is responsive to gratitude, all-knowing.128
2:159 BEHOLD, as for those who suppress aught of the evidence of the truth and of the guidance which We have bestowed from on high, after We have made it clear unto mankind through the divine writ - these it is whom God will reject, and whom all who can judge will reject.129 (2:160) Excepted, however, shall be they that repent, and put themselves to rights, and make known the truth: and it is they whose repentance I shall accept - for I alone am the Acceptor of Repentance, the Dispenser of Grace.
126 Lit., "God's symbols". The space between the two low outcrops of rock called As-Safa and Al-Marwah, situated in Mecca in the immediate vicinity of the Ka'bah, is said to have been the scene of Hagar's suffering when Abraham, following God's command, abandoned her and their infant son Ishmael in the desert (see note 102 above). Distraught with thirst and fearing for the life of her child, Hagar ran to and fro between the two rocks and fervently prayed to God for succour: and, finally, her reliance on God and her patience were rewarded by the discovery of a spring-existing to this day and known as the Well of Zamzam - which saved the two from death through thirst. It was in remembrance of Hagar's extreme trial, and of her trust in God, that As-Safa and Al-Marwah had come to be regarded, even in pre-Islamic times, as symbols of faith and patience in adversity: and this explains their mention in the context of the passages which deal with the virtues of patience and trust in God (Razi).
127 It is in commemoration of Hagar's running in distress between As-Safa and Al-Marwah that the Mecca pilgrims are expected to walk, at a fast pace, seven times between these two hillocks. Because of the fact that in pre-Islamic times certain idols had been standing there, some of the early Muslims were reluctant to perform a rite which seemed to them to be associated with recent idolatry (Razi, on the authority of Ibn 'Abbas). The above verse served to reassure them on this score by pointing out that this symbolic act of remembrance was much older than the idolatry practiced by the pagan Quraysh.
128 From the phrase "if one does more good than he is bound to do", read in conjunction with no wrong does he who..." (or, more literally, "there shall be no blame upon him who..."), some of the great Islamic scholars - e.g., Imam Abu Hanifah - conclude that the walking to and fro between As-Safa and Al-Marwah is not one of the obligatory rites of pilgrimage but rather a supererogatory act of piety (see Zamakhshari and Razi). Most scholars, however, hold the view that it is an integral part of the pilgrimage.
129 Lit., "whom all who reject will reject" - i.e., all righteous persons who are able to judge moral issues. God's rejection (la'nah) denotes "exclusion from His grace" (Manor II, 50). In classical Arabic usage, the primary meaning of la'nah is equivalent to ib'ad ("estrangement" or "banishment"); in the terminology of the Qur'an, it signifies "rejection from all that is good" (Lisan al-'Arab). According to Ibn 'Abbas and several outstanding scholars of the next generation, the divine writ mentioned here is the Bible; thus, the above verse refers to the Jews and the Christians.
Behold, as for those who are bent on denying the truth and die as deniers of the truth - their due is rejection by God, and by the angels, and by all [righteous] men. (2:162) In this state shall they abide; [and] neither will their suffering, be lightened, nor will they be granted respite.
AND YOUR GOD is the One God: there is no deity save Him, the Most Gracious, the Dispenser of Grace. (2:164) Verily, in the creation of the heavens and of the earth, and the succession of night and day: and in the ships that speed through the sea with what is useful to man: and in the waters which God sends down from the sky, giving life thereby to the earth after it had been lifeless, and causing all manner of living creatures to multiply thereon: and in the change of the winds, and the clouds that run their appointed courses between sky and earth: [in all this] there are messages indeed for people who use their reason.130
And yet there are people who choose to believe in beings that allegedly rival God,131 loving them as [only] God should be loved: whereas those who have attained to faith love God more than all else. If they who are bent on evildoing could but see - as see they will when they are made to suffer132 [on Resurrection Day] - that all might belongs to God alone, and that God is severe in [meting out] punishment!
[On that Day] it will come to pass that those who had been [falsely] adored133 shall disown their followers, and the latter shall see the suffering [that awaits them], with all their hopes134 cut to pieces! (2:167) And then those followers shall say: "Would that we had a second chance [in life],135 so that we could disown them as they have disowned us!"
Thus will God show them their works [in a manner that will cause them] bitter regrets; but they will not come out of the fire.136
130 This passage is one of the many in which the Qur'an appeals to "those who use their reason"
to observe the daily wonders of nature, including the evidence of man's own ingenuity
("the ships that speed through the sea"), as so many indications of a conscious, creative
Power pervading the universe.
131 Lit., "there are among the people such as take [to worshipping] compeers beside God".
Regarding the term andad, see note 13 on verse 22 of this surah.
132 Lit., "when they see the suffering" (or "chastisement").
133 Lit., "followed" - i.e., as saints or alleged "divine personalities".
134 Asbab (sing. sabab) denotes, in its primary meaning, "ties" or "attachments", and in a tropical sense, "means [towards any end]" (cf. Lisan al-'Arab, and Lane IV, 1285). In the above context, asbab obviously refers to means of salvation, and may thus be rendered as "hopes".
135 Lit., "Would that there were a return for us".
136 Sc., back to the life of this world, with a second chance before them (Manar 11, 81).
O MANKIND! Partake of what is lawful and good on earth, and follow not Satan's footsteps: for, verily, he is your open foe, (2:169) and bids you only to do evil, and to commit deeds of abomination, and to attribute unto God something of which you have no knowledge.137
But when they are told, "Follow what God has bestowed from on high," some answer, "Nay, we shall follow [only] that which we found our forefathers believing in and doing." Why, even if their forefathers did not use their reason at all, and were devoid of all guidance?
And so, the parable of those who are bent on denying the truth is that of the beast which hears the shepherd's cry, and hears in it nothing but the sound of a voice and a call.138 Deaf are they, and dumb, and blind: for they do not use their reason.
137 This refers to an arbitrary attribution to God of commandments or prohibitions in excess of what has been clearly ordained by Him (Zamakhshari). Some of the commentators (e.g., Muhammad 'Abduh in Manar 11, 89 f.) include within this expression the innumerable supposedly "legal" injunctions which, without being clearly warranted by the wording of the Qur'an or an authentic Tradition, have been obtained by individual Muslim scholars through subjective methods of deduction and then put forward as "God's ordinances". The connection between this passage and the preceding ones is obvious. In verses 165-167 the Qur'an speaks of those "who choose to believe in beings that supposedly rival God": and this implies also a false attribution, to those beings, of a right to issue quasi-religious ordinances of their own, as well as an attribution of religious validity to customs sanctioned by nothing but ancient usage (see next verse).
138 This is a very free rendering of the elliptic sentence which, literally, reads thus: "The parable of those who are bent on denying the truth is as that of him who cries unto what hears nothing but a cry and a call." The verb na'qa is mostly used to describe the inarticulate cry with which the shepherd drives his flock.
O you who have attained to faith! Partake of the good things which We have provided for you as sustenance, and render thanks unto God, if it is [truly] Him that you worship.
He has forbidden to you only carrion, and blood, and the flesh of swine, and that over which any name other than God's has been invoked;139 but if one is driven by necessity - neither coveting it nor exceeding his immediate need - no sin shall be upon him: for, behold, God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace.
VERILY, as for those who suppress aught of the revelation140 which God has bestowed from on high, and barter it away for a trifling gain - they but fill their bellies with fire. And God will not speak unto them on the Day of Resurrection, nor will He cleanse them [of their sins]; and grievous suffering awaits them.(2:175) It is they who take error in exchange for guidance, and suffering in exchange for forgiveness: yet how little do they seem to fear the fire!
139 I.e., all that has been dedicated or offered in sacrifice to an idol or a saint or a person considered to be "divine". For a more comprehensive enumeration of the forbidden kinds of flesh, see 5:3.
140 This term is used here in its generic sense, comprising both the Qur'an and the earlier revelations.
Thus it is: since it is God who bestows141 the divine writ from on high, setting forth the truth, all those who set their own views against the divine writ142 are, verily, most deeply in the wrong.
2:177 True piety does not consist in turning your faces towards the east or the west143 - but truly pious is he who believes in God, and the Last Day; and the angels, and revelation,144 and the prophets; and spends his substance - however much he himself may cherish it - upon his near of kin, and the orphans, and the needy, and the wayfarer,145 and the beggars, and for the freeing of human beings from bondage;146 and is constant in prayer, and renders the purifying dues; and [truly pious are] they who keep their promises whenever they promise, and are patient in misfortune and hardship and in time of peril: it is they that have proved themselves true, and it is they, they who are conscious of God.
141 Lit., "has been bestowing". Since the form nazzala implies gradualness and continuity in the process of revelation, it can best be rendered by the use of the present tense.
142 Lit., "who hold discordant views about the divine writ"- i.e., either suppressing or rejecting parts of it, or denying its divine origin altogether (Razi).
143 Thus, the Qur'an stresses the principle that mere compliance with outward forms does not fulfil the requirements of piety. The reference to the turning of one's face in prayer in this or that direction flows from the passages which dealt, a short while ago, with the question of the qiblah.
144 In this context, the term "revelation" (al-kitab) carries, according to most of the commentators, a generic significance: it refers to the fact of divine revelation as such. As regards belief in angels, it is postulated here because it is through these spiritual beings or force's (belonging to the realm of al-ghayb, i.e., the reality which is beyond the reach of human perception) that God reveals His will to the prophets and, thus, to mankind at large.
145 The expression ibn as-sabil (lit., "son of the road") denotes any person who is far from his home, and especially one who, because of this circumstance, does not have sufficient means of livelihood at his disposal (cf. Lane IV, 1302). In its wider sense it describes a person who, for any reason whatsoever, is unable to return home either temporarily or permanently: for instance, a political exile or refugee.
146 Ar-raqabah (of which ar-riqab is the plural) denotes, literally, "the neck", and signifies also the whole of a human person. Metonymically, the expression fi'r-riqab denotes "in the cause of freeing human beings from bondage", and applies to both the ransoming of captives and the freeing of slaves. By including this kind of expenditure within the essential acts of piety, the Qur'an implies that the freeing of people from bondage - and, thus, the abolition of slavery - is one of the social objectives of Islam. At the time of the revelation of the Qur'an, slavery was an established institution throughout the world, and its sudden abolition would have been economically impossible. In order to obviate this
difficulty, and at the same time to bring about an eventual abolition of all slavery, the Qur'an ordains in 8:67 that henceforth only captives taken in a just war (jihad) may be kept as slaves. But even with regard to persons enslaved in this or - before the revelation of 8:67 - in any other way, the Qur'an stresses the great merit inherent in the freeing of slaves, and stipulates it as a means of atonement for various transgressions (see, e.g., 4:92, 5:89, 58:3). In addition, the Prophet emphatically stated on many occasions that, in the sight of God, the unconditional freeing of a human being from bondage is among the most praiseworthy acts which a Muslim could perform. (For a critical discussion and analysis of all the authentic Traditions bearing on this problem, see Nayl al-Awtar VI, 199 ff.)
O YOU who have attained to faith! Just retribution is ordained for you in cases of killing: the free for the free, and the slave for the slave, and the woman for the woman.147 And if something [of his guilt] is remitted to a guilty person by his brother,148 this [remission] shall be adhered to with fairness, and restitution to his fellow-man shall be made in a goodly manner.149
This is an alleviation from your Sustainer, and an act of His grace. And for him who, none the less, 150 wilfully transgresses the bounds of what is right, there is grievous suffering in store:
(2:179) for, in [the law of] just retribution, O you who are endowed with insight, there is life for you, so that you might remain conscious of God!151
147 After having pointed out that true piety does not consist in mere adherence to outward forms and rites, - the Qur'an opens, as it were, a new chapter relating to the problem of man's behaviour. Just as piety cannot become effective without righteous action, individual righteousness cannot become really effective in the social sense unless there is agreement within the community as to the social rights and obligations of its members: in other words, as to the practical laws which should govern the behaviour of the individual within the society and the society's attitude towards the individual and his actions. This is the innermost reason why legislation plays so great a role within the ideology of Islam, and why the Qur'an consistently intertwines its moral and spiritual exhortation with ordinances relating to practical aspects of social life. Now one of the main problems facing any society is the safeguarding of the lives and the individual security of its members: and so it is understandable that laws relating to homicide and its punishment are dealt with prominently at this place. (It should be borne in mind that "The Cow" was the first surah revealed in Medina, that is, at the time when the Muslim community had just become established as an independent social entity.)
As for the term qisas occurring at the beginning of the above passage, it must be pointed out that - according to all the classical commentators - it is almost synonymous with musawah, i.e., "making a thing equal [to another thing]": in this instance, making the punishment
equal (or appropriate) to the crime - a meaning which is best rendered as "just retribution" and not (as has been often, and erroneously, done) as "retaliation". Seeing that the Qur'an speaks here of "cases of killing" (fi'l-qatla, lit., "in the matter of the killed") in general, and taking into account that this expression covers all possible cases of homicide premeditated murder, murder under extreme provocation, culpable homicide, accidental
manslaughter, and so forth - it is obvious that the taking of a life for a life (implied in the term "retaliation") would not in every case correspond to the demands of equity. (This has been made clear, for instance, in 4:92, where legal restitution for unintentional homicide is dealt with.) Read in conjunction with the term "just retribution" which introduces this passage, it is clear that the stipulation "the free for the free, the slave for the slave, the woman for the woman" cannot - and has not been intended to - be taken in its literal, restrictive sense: for this would preclude its application to many cases of homicide, e.g., the killing of a free man by a slave, or of a woman by a man, or vice-versa. Thus, the above stipulation must be regarded as an example of the elliptical mode of expression (ijaz) so frequently employed in the Qur'an, and can have but one meaning, namely: "if a free man has committed the crime, the free man must be punished; if a slave has commited the crime...", etc.- in other words, whatever the status of the guilty person, he or she (and he or she alone) is to be punished in a manner appropriate to the crime.
148 Lit., "and he to whom [something] is remitted by his brother". There is no linguistic justification whatever for attributing - as some of the commentators have done - the pronoun "his" to the victim and, thus, for assuming that the expression "brother" stands for the victim's "family" or "blood relations". The pronoun "his" refers, unquestionably, to the guilty person; and since there is no reason for assuming that by "his brother" a real brother is meant, we cannot escape the conclusion that it denotes here "his brother in faith" of "his fellow-man" - in either of which terms the whole community is included. Thus, the expression "if something is remitted to a guilty person by his brother" (i.e., by the community or its legal organs) may refer either to the establishment of mitigating circumstances in a case of murder, or to the finding that the case under trial falls within the categories of culpable homicide or manslaughter - in which cases no capital punishment is to be exacted and restitution is to be made by the payment of an indemnity called diyyah (see 4:92) to the relatives of the victim. In consonance with the oft-recurring Qur'anic exhortation to forgiveness and forbearance, the "remission" mentioned above may also (and especially in cases of accidental manslaughter) relate to a partial or even total waiving of any claim to indemnification.
149 Lit., "and restitution to him in a goodly manner", it being understood that the pronoun in ilayhi ("to him") refers to the "brother in faith" or "fellow-man" mentioned earlier in this sentence. The word ada (here translated as "restitution") denotes an act of acquitting oneself of a duty or a debt (cf. Lane I, 38), and stands here for the act of legal reparation
imposed on the guilty person. This reparation or restitution is to be made "in a goodly manner" - by taking into account the situation of the accused and, on the latter's part, by acquitting himself of his obligation willingly and sincerely (cf. Manar II, 129).
150 Lit., "after this" - i.e., after the meaning of what constitutes "just retribution" (qisas) has been made clear in the above ordinance (Razi).
151 I.e., "there is a safeguard for you, as a community, so that you might be able to live in security, as God wants you to live". Thus, the objective of qisds is the protection of the society, and not "revenge".
IT IS ordained for you, when death approaches any of you and he is leaving behind much wealth, to make bequests in favour of his parents and [other] near of kin in accordance with what is fair:152 this is binding on all who are conscious of God. (2:181) And if anyone alters such a provision after having come to know it, the sin of acting thus shall fall only upon those who have altered it.153 Verily, God is all-hearing, all-knowing.
If, however, one has reason to fear that the testator has committed a mistake or a [deliberate] wrong, and thereupon brings about a settlement between the heirs,154 he will incur no sin [thereby]. Verily, God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace.
O YOU who have attained to faith! Fasting is ordained for you as it was ordained for those before you, so that you might remain conscious of God: (2:184) [fasting] during a certain number of days.155 But whoever of you is ill, or on a journey, [shall fast instead for the same] number of other days; and [in such cases] it is incumbent upon those who can afford it to make sacrifice by feeding a needy person.156
And whoever does more good than he is bound to do157 does good unto himself thereby; for to fast is to do good unto yourselves - if you but knew it.
152 The word khayr occurring in this sentence denotes "much wealth" and not simply "property": and this explains the injunction that one who leaves much wealth behind should make bequests to particularly deserving members of his family in addition to - and preceding the distribution of - the legally - fixed shares mentioned in 4:11-12. This interpretation of khayr is supported by sayings of 'A'ishah and 'Ali ibn Abi Talib, both of them referring to this particular verse (cf. Zamakhshari and Baydawi).
153 Lit., "and as for him who alters it" - i.e., after the testator's death - "after having heard it, the sin thereof is only upon those who alter it": that is, not on anyone who may have unwittingly benefited by this alteration. It is to be noted that the verb sami'a (lit., "he heard") has also the connotation of "he came to know".
154 Lit., "between them" - i.e., a settlement overriding the testamentary provisions which, by common consent of the parties concerned, are considered unjust.
155 I.e., during the twenty-nine or thirty days of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar (see next verse). It consists of a total abstention from food, drink and sexual intercourse from dawn until sunset. As the Qur'an points out, fasting has been widely practiced at all times of man's religious history. The extreme rigour and the long duration of the Islamic fast - which is incumbent on every healthy adult, man or woman - fulfils, in addition to the general aim of spiritual purification, a threefold purpose: (1) to commemorate the beginning of the Qur'anic revelation, which took place in the month of Ramadan about thirteen years before the Prophet's exodus to Medina; (2) to provide an exacting exercise of self-discipline; and
(3) to make everyone realize, through his or her own experience, how it feels to be hungry and thirsty, and thus to gain a true appreciation of the needs of the poor.
156 This phrase has been subject to a number of conflicting and sometimes highly laboured interpretations. My rendering is based on the primary meaning of alladhina yutiqunahu ("those who are capable of it" or "are able to do it" or "can afford it"), with the pronoun hu relating to the act of "feeding a needy person".
157 Some commentators are of the opinion that this refers to a voluntary feeding of more than one needy person, or to feeding the needy for more than the number of days required by the above ordinance. Since, however, the remaining part of the sentence speaks of the benefits of fasting as such, it is more probable that "doing more good than one is bound to do" refers, in this context, to supererogatory fasting (such as the Prophet sometimes undertook) apart from the obligatory one during the month of Ramadan.
It was the month of Ramadan in which the Qur'an was [first] bestowed from on high as a guidance unto man and a self-evident proof of that guidance, and as the standard by which to discern the true from the false. Hence, whoever of you lives to see158 this month shall fast throughout it; but he that is ill, or on a journey, [shall fast instead for the same] number of other days. God wills that you shall have ease, and does not will you to suffer hardship; but [He desires] that you complete the number [of days required], and that you extol God for His having guided you aright, and that you render your thanks [unto Him].
AND IF My servants ask thee about Me - behold, I am near; I respond to the call of him who calls, whenever he calls unto Me: let them, then, respond unto Me, and believe in Me, so that they might follow the right way.
IT IS lawful for you to go in unto your wives during the night preceding the [day's] fast: they are as a garment for you, and you are as a garment for them. God is aware that you would have deprived yourselves of this right,159 and so He has turned unto you in His mercy and removed this hardship from you. Now, then, you may lie with them skin to skin, and avail yourselves of that which God has ordained for you,160 and eat and drink until you can discern the white streak of dawn against the blackness of night,161 and then resume fasting until nightfall; but do not lie with them skin to skin when you are about to abide in meditation in houses of worship.162
These are the bounds set by God: do not, then, offend against them -[for] it is thus that God makes clear His messages unto mankind, so that they might remain conscious of Him.
158 Lit., "witnesses" or "is present in".
159 Lit., "deceived" of "defrauded yourselves [in this respect]": an allusion to the idea prevalent among the early Muslims, before the revelation of this verse, that during the period of fasting all sexual intercourse should be avoided, even at night-time, when eating and drinking are allowed (Razi). The above verse removed this misconception.
160 Lit., "and seek that which God has ordained for you": an obvious stress on the God-willed nature of sexual life.
161 Lit., "the white line of dawn from the black line [of night]". According to all Arab philologists, the "black line" (al-khayt al'-aswad) signifies "the blackness of night" (Lane II, 831); and the expression al-khaytan ("the two lines" or "streaks") denotes "day and night" (Lisan al-'Arab).
162 It was the practice of the Prophet to spend several days and nights during Ramadan - and occasionally also at other times - in the mosque, devoting himself to prayer and meditation to the exclusion of all worldly activities; and since he advised his followers as well to do this from time to time, seclusion in a mosque for the sake of meditation, called i'tikaf, has become a recognized though optional - mode of devotion among Muslims, especially during the last ten days of Ramadan.
2:188 AND DEVOUR NOT one another's possessions wrongfully, and neither employ legal artifices163 with a view to devouring sinfully, and knowingly, anything that by right belongs to others.164
THEY WILL ASK thee about the new moons. Say: "They indicate the periods for [various doings of] mankind, including the pilgrimage."165
However, piety does not consist in your entering houses from the rear, [as it were,] but truly pious is he who is conscious of God.166 Hence, enter houses through their doors, and remain conscious of God, so that you might attain to a happy state.
163 Lit., "and do not throw it to the judges" - i.e., with a view to being decided by them contrary to what is right (Zamakhshari, Baydawi).
164 Lit., "a part of [other] people's possessions".
165 The reference, at this stage, to lunar months arises from the fact that the observance of several of the religious obligations instituted by Islam - like the fast of Ramadan, or the pilgrimage to Mecca (which is dealt with in verses 196-203)- is based on the lunar calendar, in which the months rotate through the seasons of the solar year. This fixation on the lunar calendar results in a continuous variation of the seasonal circumstances in which those religious observances are performed (e.g., the length of the fasting-period between dawn and sunset, heat or cold at the time of the fast or the pilgrimage), and thus in a corresponding, periodical increase or decrease of the hardship involved. In addition to this, reckoning by lunar months has a bearing on the tide and ebb of the oceans, as well as on human physiology (e.g., a woman's monthly courses - a subject dealt with later on in this surah).
166 I.e., true piety does not consist in approaching questions of faith through a "back door", as it were - that is,'through mere observance of the forms and periods set for the performance of various religious duties (cf. 2:177). However important these forms and time-limits may be in themselves, they do not fulfil their real purpose unless every act is approached through its spiritual "front door", that is, through God-consciousness. Since, metonymically, the word bab ("door") signifies "a means of access to, or of attainment of, a thing" (see Lane I, 272), the metaphor of "entering a house through its door" is often used in classical Arabic to denote a proper approach to a problem (Razi).
AND FIGHT in God's cause against those who wage war against you, but do not commit aggression - for, verily, God does not love aggressors.167 (2:191) And slay them wherever you may come upon them, and drive them away from wherever they drove you away - for oppression is even worse than killing.168 And fight not against them near the Inviolable House of Worship unless they fight against you there first;169 but if they fight against you, slay them: such shall be the recompense of those who deny the truth.
But if they desist - behold, God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace.
Hence, fight against them until there is no more oppression and all worship is devoted to God alone;170 but if they desist, then all hostility shall cease, save against those who [wilfully] do wrong.
167 This and the following verses lay down unequivocally that only self-defence (in the widest sense of the word) makes war permissible for Muslims. Most of the commentators agree in that the expression la ta'tadu signifies, in this context, "do not commit aggression"; while by al-mu'tadin "those who commit aggression" are meant. The defensive character of a fight "in God's cause" - that is, in the cause of the ethical principles ordained by God - is, moreover, self-evident in the reference to "those who wage war against you", and has been still further clarified in 22:39 - "permission [to fight] is given to those against whom war is being wrongfully waged" - which, according to all available Traditions, constitutes the earliest (and therefore fundamental) Qur'anic reference to the question of jihad, or holy war (see Tabari and Ibn Kathir in their commentaries on 22:39). That this early, fundamental principle of self-defence as the only possible justification of war has been maintained throughout the Qur'an is evident from 60:8, as well as from the concluding sentence of 4:91, both of which belong to a later period than the above verse.
168 In view of the preceding ordinance, the injunction "slay them wherever you may come upon them" is valid only within the context of hostilities already in progress (Razi), on the understanding that "those who wage war against you" are the aggressors or oppressors (a war of liberation being a war "in God's cause"). The translation, in this context, of fitnah as "oppression" is justified by the application of this term to any affliction which may cause man to go astray and to lose his faith in spiritual values (cf. Lisan al-'Arab).
169 This reference to warfare in the vicinity of Mecca is due to the fact that at the time of the revelation of this verse the Holy City was still in the possession of the pagan Quraysh, who were hostile to the Muslims. However - as is always the case with historical references in the Qur'an - the above injunction has a general import, and is valid for all times and circumstances.
170 Lit., "and religion belongs to God [alone]" - i.e., until God can be worshipped without fear of persecution, and none is compelled to bow down in awe before another human being. (See also 22:40.) The term din is in this context more suitably translated as "worship" inasmuch as it comprises here both the doctrinal and the moral aspects of religion: that is to say, man's faith as well as the obligations arising from that faith.
Fight during the sacred months if you are attacked:171 for a violation of sanctity is [subject to the law of] just retribution. Thus, if anyone commits aggression against you, attack him just as he has attacked you - but remain conscious of God, and know that God is with those who are conscious of Him.172
And spend [freely] in God's cause, and let not your own hands throw you into destruction;173 and persevere in doing good: behold, God loves the doers of good.
171 This is a free rendering of the phrase "the sacred month for the sacred month", which is interpreted by all commentators in the sense given above. The "sacred months" during which, according to ancient Arab custom, all fighting was deemed utterly wrong, were the first, seventh, eleventh and twelfth months of the lunar calendar.
172 Thus, although the believers are enjoined to fight back whenever they are attacked, the concluding words of the above verse make it clear that they must, when fighting, abstain from all atrocities, including the killing of non-combatants.
173 I.e., "you might bring about your own destruction by withholding your personal and material contribution to this common effort".
AND PERFORM the pilgrimage and the pious visit [to Mecca]174 in honour of God; and if you are held back, give instead whatever offering you can easily afford. And do not shave your heads until the offering has been sacrificed;175 but he from among you who is ill or suffers from an ailment of the head shall redeem himself by fasting, or alms, or [any other] act of worship. And if you are hale and secure,176 then he who takes advantage of a pious visit before the [time of] pilgrimage shall give whatever offering he can easily afford;177 whereas he who cannot afford it shall fast for three days during the pilgrimage and for seven days after your return: that is, ten full [days]. All this relates to him who does not live near the Inviolable House of Worship.178
And remain conscious of God, and know that God is severe in retribution.179
174 The Mecca pilgrimage (hajj) takes place once a year, in the month of Dhu'l-Hijjah, whereas a pious visit ('umrah) may be performed at any time. In both hajj and 'umrah, the pilgrims are required to walk seven times around the Ka'bah and seven times between As-Safa and Al-Marwah (see notes 127 and 128 above); in the course of the hajj, they must, in addition, attend the gathering on the plain of 'Arafat on the 9th of Dhu'l-Hijjah (see note 182 below) irrespective of whether they are performing a full hajj or only an 'umrah, the pilgrims must refrain from cutting or even trimming the hair on their heads from the time they enter the state of pilgrimage (ihram) until the end of the pilgrimage, respectively the pious visit. As mentioned in the sequence, persons who are ill or suffer from an ailment which necessitates the cutting or shaving of one's hair are exempted from this prohibition.
175 Lit., "until the offering has reached its destination" - i.e., in time or in place; according to Razi, the time of sacrifice is meant here, namely, the conclusion of the pilgrimage, when those who participate in the hajj are expected - provided they can afford it - to sacrifice a sheep, a goat, or the like; and to distribute most of its flesh in charity.
176 The expression idha amantum (lit., "when you are safe") refers here to safety both from external dangers (e.g., war) and from illness, and is, therefore, best rendered as "hale and secure" - the implication being that the person concerned is in a position, and intends,
to participate in the pilgrimage.
177 This relates to an interruption, for the sake of personal comfort, of the state of pilgrimage (ihram) during the time intervening between the completion of an 'umrah and the performance of the hajj (cf. Manar 11, 222). The pilgrim who takes advantage of this facility is obliged to sacrifice an animal (see note 175 above) at the termination of the pilgrimage or, alternatively, to fast for ten days.
178 Lit., "whose people are not present at the Inviolable House of Worship" - i.e., do not permanently reside there: for, obviously, the inhabitants of Mecca cannot remain permanently in the state of ihram.
179 This refers not merely to a possible violation of the sanctity of the pilgrimage but also, in a more general way, to all deliberate violations of God's ordinances.
The pilgrimage shall take place in the months appointed for it.180 And whoever undertakes the pilgrimage in those [months] shall, while on pilgrimage, abstain from lewd speech, from all wicked conduct, and from quarrelling; and whatever good you may do, God is aware of it.
And make provision for yourselves - but, verily, the best of all provisions is God-consciousness: remain, then, conscious of Me, O you who are endowed with insight! (2:198) [However,] you will be committing no sin if [during the pilgrimage] you seek to obtain any bounty from your Sustainer.181
And when you surge downward in multitudes from 'Arafat, 182 remember God at the holy place, and remember Him as the One who guided you after you had indeed been lost on your way;183
(2:199) and surge onward together with the multitude of all the other people who surge onward,184 and ask God to forgive you your sins: for, verily, God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace.
180 Lit., "in the well-known months". Since the hajj culminates in one particular month (namely, Dhu'l-Hijjah), the plural apparently refers to its annual recurrence. It should, however, be noted that some commentators understand it as referring to the last three months of the lunar year.
181 I.e., by trading while in the state of ihram. Muhammad 'Abduh points out (in Manar II, 231) that the endeavour "to obtain any bounty from your Sustainer" implies God-consciousness and, therefore, constitutes a kind of worship-provided, of course, that this endeavour does not conflict with any other, more prominent religious requirement.
182 The gathering of all pilgrims on the plain of 'Arafat, east of Mecca, takes place on the 9th of Dhu'l-Hijjah and constitutes the climax of the pilgrimage. The pilgrims are required to remain until sunset on that plain, below the hillock known as Jabal ar-Rahmah ("the Mount of Grace") - a symbolic act meant to bring to mind that ultimate gathering on Resurrection Day, when every soul will await God's judgment. Immediately after sunset, the multitudes of pilgrims move back in the direction of Mecca, stopping overnight at a place called Muzdalifah, the "holy place" referred to in the next clause of this sentence.
183 Lit., "and remember Him as He has guided you, although before that you had indeed been among those who go astray".
184 Lit., "surge onward in multitudes whence the people surge onward in multitudes": thus the pilgrims are called upon to submerge their individualities, at that supreme moment of the pilgrimage, in the consciousness of belonging to a community of people who are all equal before God, with no barrier of race or class or social status separating one person from another.
2:200 And when you have performed your acts of worship, [continue to] bear God in mind as you would bear your own fathers in mind - nay, with a yet keener remembrance!185 For there are people who [merely] pray, "O our Sustainer! Give us in this world" - and such shall not partake in the blessings of the life to come. (2:201) But there are among them such as pray, "O our Sustainer! Grant us good in this world and good in the life to come, and keep us safe from suffering through the fire": (2:202) it is these that shall have their portion [of happiness] in return for what they have earned. And God is swift in reckoning.
And bear God in mind during the appointed days;186 but he who hurries away within two days shall incur no sin, and he who tarries longer shall incur no sin, provided that he is conscious of God. Hence, remain conscious of God, and know that unto Him you shall be gathered.
NOW THERE IS a kind of man187 whose views on the life of this world may please thee greatly, and [the more so as] he cites God as witness to what is in his heart and is, moreover, exceedingly skillful in argument.188 (2:205) But whenever he prevails, he goes about the earth spreading corruption and destroying [man's] tilth and progeny:189 and God does not love corruption. (2:206) And whenever he is told, "Be conscious of God," his false pride drives him into sin: wherefore hell will be his allotted portion - and how vile a resting-place!
185 Most of the commentators see in this passage a reference to the custom of the pre-Islamic Arabs to extol, on the occasion of various gatherings, the greatness and the supposed virtues of their ancestors. Some of the earliest Islamic scholars, however - e.g., Ad-Dahhak, Ar-Rabi and Abu Muslim - are of the opinion that what is meant here are actual fathers (or, by implication, both parents), whom a child usually considers to be the embodiment of all that is good and powerful (see Razi's commentary on this verse).
186 These are the days following the "Festival of Sacrifices" ('id al-adha'), which takes place on the 10th of Dhu'l-Hijjah. The pilgrims are obliged to spend at least two of these days in the valley of Mina, about half-way between 'Arafat and Mecca.
187 Lit., "among the people there is he" (or "such as"). Since there is no valid reason to suppose, as some commentators do, that this refers to a particular person - a contemporary of the Prophet - the most reliable authorities hold that the above passage has a general meaning (cf. Razi). As the context shows, it is a further elaboration of the allusion, made in 2:200-201, to two contrasting attitudes: the attitude of people whose only real concern is the life of this world, and that of people who are mindful of the hereafter as well as, or even more than, their present life.
188 Lit., "the most contentious of adversaries in a dispute". According to Az-Zajjaj (quoted by Razi), this signifies a person who is always able to defeat his opponent in a controversy by the use of extremely adroit and often misleading arguments. It is obvious that this passage refers to people who hold plausible and even admirable views regarding a possible improvement of human society and of man's lot on earth, but at the same time refuse to be guided by what they regard as "esoteric" considerations - like belief in a life after death - and justify their exclusive preoccupation with the affairs of this world by seemingly sound arguments and a stress on their own ethical objectives ("they cite God as witness to what is in their hearts"). There is an inescapable affinity between the mental attitude described in the above passage and the one spoken of in 2:8-12.
189 Lit., "he hastens about the earth [or "strives on earth"] to spread corruption therein and to destroy tilth and progeny". Most of the commentators see in this sentence an indication of a conscious intent on the part of the person thus described; but it is also possible that the particle li in li-yufsida (generally taken to mean "in order that he might spread corruption") plays in this context the role of what the grammarians call a lam al-dqibah, "the [letter] lam used to denote a consequence"- i.e., regardless of the existence or non-existence of a conscious intent. (By rendering the sentence the way I do it, both possibilities are left open.) As regards the expression harth (rendered by me as "tilth"), its primary significance is "gain" or "acquisition" through labour; and thus it often signifies "worldly goods" (see Lane II, 542), and especially the crops obtained by tilling land, as well as the tilled land itself. If harth is understood in this context as "tilth", it would apply, metaphorically, to human endeavours in general, and to social endeavours in particular. However, some commentators - basing their opinion on the Qur'anic sentence, "your wives are your tilth" (2:223)- maintain that harth stands here for "wives" (cf. Razi, and the philologist Al-Azhari, as quoted in Manar II, 248): in which case the "destruction of tilth and progeny" would be synonymous with an upsetting of family life and, consequently, of the entire social fabric. According to either of these two interpretations, the passage has the following meaning: As soon as the mental attitude described above is generally accepted and made the basis of social behaviour, it unavoidably results in widespread moral decay and, consequently, social disintegration.
But there is [also] a kind of man who would willingly sell his own self in order to please God:190 and God is most compassionate towards His servants.
O you who have attained to faith! Surrender yourselves wholly unto God,191 and follow not Satan's footsteps, for, verily, he is your open foe. (2:209) And if you should stumble after all evidence of the truth has come unto you, then know that, verily, God is almighty, wise.
Are these people192 waiting, perchance, for God to reveal Himself unto them in the shadows of the clouds, together with the angels - although [by then] all will have been decided, and unto God all things will have been brought back?193
190 Lit., "there is such as would sell his own self out of a desire for God's pleasure": i.e., would give up all his personal interests if compliance with God's will were to demand it.
191 Lit., "enter wholly into self-surrender". Since self-surrender to God is the basis of all
true belief, some of the greatest commentators (e.g., Zamakhshari, Razi) hold that the
address, "O you who have attained to faith" cannot refer here to Muslims - a designation
which, throughout the Qur'an, literally means "those who have surrendered themselves to God" -
but must relate to people who have not yet achieved such complete self-surrender: that is,
to the Jews and the Christians, who do believe in most of the earlier revelations but do
not regard the message of the Qur'an as true. This interpretation would seem to be borne
out by the subsequent passages.
192 Lit., "they"- obviously referring to the people addressed in the preceding two verses.
193 I.e., it will be too late for repentance. All commentators agree in that the "decision"
relates to the unequivocal manifestation of God's will on the Day of Judgment, which is
alluded to in the words, "when unto God all things will have been brought back". Since,
in the next verse, the children of Israel are addressed, it is possible that this
rhetorical question is connected with their refusal, in the time of Moses, to believe
in the divine message unless they "see God face to face" (cf. 2:55).
Ask the children of Israel how many a clear message We have given them! And if one alters God's blessed message194 after it has reached him - verily, God is severe in retribution!
Unto those who are bent on denying the truth the life of this world [alone] seems goodly;195 hence, they scoff at those who have attained to faith: but they who are conscious of God shall be above them on Resurrection Day. And God grants sustenance unto whom He wills, beyond all reckoning.196
2:213 ALL MANKIND were once one single community; [then they began to differ - ] whereupon God raised up the prophets as heralds of glad tidings and as warners, and through them bestowed revelation from on high, setting forth the truth, so that it might decide between people with regard to all on which they had come to hold divergent views.197 Yet none other than the selfsame people who had been granted this [revelation] began, out of mutual jealousy, to disagree about its meaning after all evidence of the truth had come unto them. But God guided the believers unto the truth about which, by His leave, they had disagreed: for God guides onto a straight way him that wills [to be guided].198
194 Lit., "God's blessing".
195 Lit., "has been made beauteous".
196 I.e., He cannot be called to account for the way in which He distributes worldly benefits, sometimes granting them to the morally deserving and sometimes to sinners.
197 By using the expression ummah wahidah ("one single community") to describe the original state of mankind, the Qur'an does not propound, as might appear at first glance, the idea of a mythical "golden age" obtaining at the dawn of man's history. What is alluded to in this verse is no more than the relative homogeneity of instinctive perceptions and inclinations characteristic of man's primitive mentality and the primitive social order in which he lived in those early days. Since that homogeneity was based on a lack of intellectual and emotional differentiation rather than on a conscious agreement among the members of human society, it was bound to disintegrate in the measure of man's subsequent development. As his thought-life became more and more complex, his emotional capacity and his individual needs, too, became more differentiated, conflicts of views and interests came to the fore, and mankind ceased to be "one single community" as regards their outlook on life and their moral valuations: and it was at this stage that divine guidance became necessary. (It is to be borne in mind that the term al-kitab refers here - as in many other places in the Qur'an - not to any particular scripture but to divine revelation as such.) This interpretation of the above Qur'anic passage is supported by the fact that the famous Companion 'Abd Allah ibn Mas'ud used to read it thus: "All mankind were once one single community, and then they began to differ (fakhtalafu)- whereupon God raised up ...... etc. Although the word fakhtalafu interpolated here by Ibn Mas'ud does not appear in the generally-accepted text of the Qur'an, almost all of the authorities are of the opinion that it is implied in the context.
198 Or: "God guides whomever He wills onto a straight way." As is made clear in the second part of verse 253 of this surah, man's proneness to intellectual dissension is not an accident of history but an integral, God-willed aspect of human nature as such: and it is this natural circumstance to which the words "by His leave" allude. For an explanation of the phrase "out of mutual jealousy", see 23:53 and the corresponding note 30.
[But] do you think that you could enter paradise without having suffered like those [believers] who passed away before you?199 Misfortune and hardship befell them, and so shaken were they that the apostle, and the believers with him, would exclaim, "When will God's succour come?"200 Oh, verily, God's succour is [always] near!
THEY WILL ASK thee as to what they should spend on others. Say: "Whatever of your wealth you spend shall [first] be for your parents, and for the near of kin, and the orphans, and the needy, and the wayfarer; and whatever good you do, verily, God has full knowledge thereof."
FIGHTING is ordained for you, even though it be hateful to you; but it may well be that you hate a thing the while it is good for you, and it may well be that you love a thing the while it is bad for you: and God knows, whereas you do not know.201
199 Lit., "while yet there has not come to you the like of [what has come to] those who passed away before you". This passage connects with the words, "God guides onto a straight way him that wills [to be guided]", which occur at the end of the preceding verse. The meaning is that intellectual cognition of the truth cannot, by itself, be a means of attaining to ultimate bliss: it must be complemented by readiness to sacrifice and spiritual purification through suffering.
200 The preceding reference to "those who passed away before you" makes it obvious that the term "the apostle" is used here in a generic sense, applying to all the apostles (Manar II, 301).
201 Insofar as it relates to fighting, this verse must be read in conjunction with 2:190-193 and 22:39: but it expresses, in addition, a general truth applicable to many situations.
They will ask thee about fighting in the sacred month.202 Say: "Fighting in it is an awesome thing; but turning men away from the path of God and denying Him, and [turning them away from] the Inviolable House of Worship and expelling its people therefrom - [all this] is yet more awesome in the sight of God, since oppression is more awesome than killing."
[Your enemies] will not cease to fight against you till they have turned you away from your faith, if they can. But if any of you should turn away from his faith and die as a denier of the truth - these it is whose works will go for nought in this world and in the life to come; and these it is who are destined for the fire, therein to abide.
Verily, they who have attained to faith, and they who have forsaken the domain of evil203 and are striving hard in God's cause - these it is who may look forward to God's grace: for God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace.
202 For an explanation of the "sacred months", see note 171 above.
203 The expression alladhina hajaru (lit., "those who have forsaken their homelands") denotes,
primarily, the early Meccan Muslims who migrated at the Prophet's bidding to Medina - which
was then called Yathrib - in order to be able to live in freedom and in accordance with the
dictates of Islam. After the conquest of Mecca by the Muslims in the year 8 H., this exodus
(hijrah) from Mecca to Medina ceased to be a religious obligation. Ever since the earliest days
of Islam, however, the term hijrah has had a spiritual connotation as well-namely, a "forsaking
of the domain of evil" and turning towards God: and since this spiritual connotation applies
both to the historical muhajirun ("emigrants") of early Islam and to all believers of later
times who forsake all that is sinful and "migrate unto God", I am using this expression frequently.
THEY WILL ASK thee about intoxicants and games of chance. Say: "In both there is great evil204 as well as some benefit for man; but the evil which they cause is greater than the benefit which they bring."205
And they will ask thee as to what they should spend [in God's cause]. Say: "Whatever you can spare." In this way God makes clear unto you His messages, so that you might reflect (2:220) on this world and on the life to come.
And they will ask thee about [how to deal with] orphans. Say: "To improve their condition is best." And if you share their life, [remember that] they are your brethren:206 for God distinguishes between him who spoils things and him who improves. And had God so willed, He would indeed have imposed on you hardships which you would not have been able to bear:207 [but,] behold, God is almighty, wise!
2:221 AND DO NOT many women who ascribe divinity to aught beside God ere they attain to [true] belief: for any believing bondwoman [of God]208 is certainly better than a woman who ascribes divinity to aught beside God, even though she please you greatly. And do not give your women in marriage to men who ascribe divinity to aught beside God ere they attain to [true] belief: for any believing bondman [of God] is certainly better than a man who ascribes divinity to aught beside God, even though he please you greatly. [Such as] these invite unto the fire, whereas God invites unto paradise, and unto [the achievement of] forgiveness by His leave; and He makes clear His messages unto mankind, so that they might bear them in mind.
AND THEY will ask thee about [woman's] monthly courses. Say: "It is a vulnerable condition. Keep, therefore, aloof from women during their monthly courses, and do not draw near unto them until they are cleansed; and when they are cleansed, go in unto them as God has bidden you to do."209
Verily, God loves those who turn unto Him in repentance210 and He loves those who keep themselves pure.
204 Lit., "sin", or anything that is conducive to sinning. As some of the classical commentators (e.g., Razi) point out, the term ithm is used in this verse as the antithesis of manafi' ("benefits"); it can, therefore, be suitably rendered as "evil".
205 Lit., "their evil is greater than their benefit". For a clear-cut prohibition of intoxicants and games of chance, see 5:90-91 and the corresponding notes.
206 The implication is that if one shares the life of an orphan in his charge, one is permitted to benefit by such an association - for instance, through a business partnership - provided this does not damage the orphan's interests in any way.
207 I.e., "by putting you under an obligation to care for the orphans, and at the same time prohibiting you from sharing their life" (see preceding note).
208 Although the majority of the commentators attribute to the term amah, occurring in this context, its usual connotation of "slave-girl", some of them are of the opinion that it stands here for "God's bondwoman". Thus, Zamakhshari explains the words amah mu'minah (lit., "a believing bondwoman") as denoting "any believing woman, whether she be free or slave; and this applies to [the expression] 'believing bondman as well: for all human beings are God's bondmen and bondwoman". My rendering of the above passage is based on this eminently plausible interpretation.
209 This is one of the many references in the Qur'an to the positive, God-ordained nature of sexuality.
210 I.e., if they have transgressed against the above restriction.
Your wives are your tilth; go, then, unto your tilth as you may desire, but first provide something for your souls,211 and remain conscious of God, and know that you are destined to meet Him. And give glad tidings unto those who believe.
AND DO NOT allow your oaths in the name of God to become an obstacle to virtue and God-consciousness and the promotion of peace between men:212 for God is all-hearing, all-knowing.
(2:225) God will not take you to task for oaths which you may have uttered without thought, but will take you to task [only] for what your hearts have conceived [in earnest]: for God is much-forgiving, forbearing.
Those who take an oath that they will not approach their wives shall have four months of grace; and if they go back [on their oath]213 - behold, God is much-forgiving, a dispenseer of grace.
(2:227) But if they are resolved on divorce - behold, God is all-hearing, all-knowing.
211 In other words, a spiritual relationship between man and woman is postulated as the indispensable basis of sexual relations.
212 Lit., "do not make God, because of your oaths...", etc. As can be seen from verse 226, this injunction refers primarily to oaths relating to divorce but is, nevertheless, general in its import. Thus, there are several authentic Traditions to the effect that the Prophet Muhammad said: "If anyone takes a solemn oath [that he would do or refrain from doing such-and-such a thing], and thereupon realizes that something else would be a more righteous course, then let him do that which is more righteous, and let him break his oath and then atone for it" (Bukhari and Muslim; and other variants of the same Tradition in other compilations). As regards the method of atonement, see 5:89.
213 I.e., during this period of grace.
2:228 And the divorced women shall undergo, without remarrying,214 a waiting-period of three monthly courses: for it is not lawful for them to conceal what God may have created in their wombs,215 if they believe in God and the Last Day. And during this period their husbands are fully entitled to take them back, if they desire reconciliation; but, in accordance with justice, the rights of the wives [with regard to their husbands] are equal to the [husbands'] rights with regard to them, although men have precedence over them [in this respect].216 And God is almighty, wise.
214 Lit., "by themselves".
215 The primary purpose of this waiting-period is the ascertainment of possible pregnancy, and thus of the parentage of the as yet unborn child. In addition, the couple are to be given an opportunity to reconsider their decision and possibly to resume the marriage. See also
65:1 and the corresponding note 2.
216 A divorced wife has the right to refuse a resumption of marital relations even if the husband expresses, before the expiry of the waiting-period, his willingness to have the provisional divorce rescinded; but since it is the husband who is responsible for the maintenance of the family, the first option to rescind a provisional divorce rests with him.
A divorce may be [revoked] twice, whereupon the marriage must either be resumed in fairness or dissolved in a goodly manner.217
And it is not lawful for you to take back anything of what you have ever given to your wives unless both [partners] have cause to fear that they may not be able to keep within the bounds set by God: hence, if you have cause to fear that the two may not be able to keep within the bounds set by God, there shall be no sin upon either of them for what the wife may give up [to her husband] in order to free herself.218
These are the bounds set by God; do not, then, transgress them: for they who transgress the bounds set by God - it is they, they who are evildoers!
217 Lit., "whereupon either retention in fairness or release in a goodly manner". In other words, a third pronouncement of divorce makes it final and irrevocable.
218 All authorities agree in that this verse relates to the unconditional right on the part of the wife to obtain a divorce from her husband; such a dissolution of marriage at the wife's instance is called khul'. There exist a number of highly-authenticated Traditions to the effect that the wife of Thabit ibn Qays, Jamilah, came to the Prophet and demanded a divorce from her husband on the ground that, in spite of his irreproachable character and behaviour, she "disliked him as she would dislike falling into unbelief after having accepted Islam". Thereupon the Prophet ordained that she should return to Thabit the garden which he has given her as her dower (mahr) at the time of their wedding, and decreed that the marriage should be dissolved. (Several variants of this Tradition have been recorded by Bukhari, Nasa'i, Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah and Bayhaqi, on the authority of Ibn 'Abbas.) Similar Traditions, handed down on the authority of 'A'ishah and relating to a woman called Hubaybah bint Sahl, are to be found in the Muwaya' of Imam Malik, in the Musnad of Imam Ahmad, and in the compilations of Nasa'i and Abu Da'ud (in one variant, the latter gives the woman's name as Hafsah bint Sahl). In accordance with these Traditions, Islamic Law stipulates that whenever a marriage is dissolved at the wife's instance without any offence on the part of the husband against his marital obligations, the wife is the contract-breaking party and must, therefore, return the dower which she received from him at the time of concluding the marriage: and in this event "there shall be no sin upon either of them" if the husband takes back the dower which the wife gives up of her own free will. An exhaustive discussion of all these Traditions and their legal implications is found in Nayl al-Awtar VII, pp. 34-41. For a summary of the relevant views of the various schools of Islamic jurisprudence, see Biddyat al-Mujtahid 11, pp. 54-57.
And if he divorces her [finally], she shall thereafter not be lawful unto him unless she first takes another man for husband; then, if the latter divorces her, there shall be no sin upon either of the two if they return to one another - provided that both of them think that they will be able to keep within the bounds set by God: for these are the bounds of God which He makes clear unto people of [innate] knowledge.
And so, when you divorce women and they are about to reach the end of their waiting-term, then either retain them in a fair manner or let them go in a fair manner. But do not retain them against their will in order to hurt [them]: for he who does so sins indeed against himself.
And do not take [these] messages of God in a frivolous spirit; and remember the blessings with which God has graced you, and all the revelation and the wisdom which He has bestowed on you from on high in order to admonish you thereby; and remain conscious of God, and know that God has full knowledge of everything.
And when you divorce women, and they have come to the end of their waiting-term, hinder them not from marrying other men if they have agreed with each other in a fair manner. This is an admonition unto every one of you who believes in God and the Last Day; it is the most virtuous [way] for you, and the cleanest. And God knows, whereas you do not know.
And the [divorced] mothers may nurse their children for two whole years, if they wish to complete the period of nursing; and it is incumbent upon him who has begotten the child to provide in a fair manner for their sustenance and clothing. No human being shall be burdened with more than he is well able to bear: neither shall a mother be made to suffer because of her child, nor, because of his child, he who has begotten it. And the same duty rests upon the [father's] heir.
And if both [parents] decide, by mutual consent and counsel, upon separation [of mother and child],219 they will incur no sin [thereby]; and if you decide to entrust your children to foster-mothers, you will incur no sin provided you ensure, in a fair manner, the safety of the child which you are handing over.220 But remain conscious of God, and know that God sees all that you do.
And if any of you die and leave wives behind, they shall undergo, without remarrying,221 a waiting period of four months and ten days; whereupon, when they have reached the end of their waiting-term, there shall be no sin222 in whatever they may do with their persons in a lawful manner. And God is aware of all that you do.
219 Most of the commentators understand the word fisal as being synonymous with "weaning"
(i.e., before the end of the maximum period of two years). Abu Muslim, however, is of the
opinion that it stands here for "separation" - i.e., of the child from its mother (Razi).
It appears to me that this is the better of the two interpretations inasmuch as it provides
a solution for cases in which both parents agree that, for some reason or other, it would
not be fair to burden the divorced mother with the upbringing of the child despite the
father's obligation to support them materially, while, on the other hand. it would not be
feasible for the father to undertake this duty single-handed.
220 Lit., "provided you make safe [or "provided you surrender"] in a fair manner that which you
are handing over". While it cannot be denied that the verb sallamahu can mean "he surrendered
it" as well as "he made it safe", it seems to me that the latter meaning (which is the primary
one) is preferable in this context since it implies the necessity of assuring the child's
future safety and well-being. (The commentators who take the verb sallamtum in the sense
of "you surrender" interpret the phrase idha sallamtum ma ataytum bi'l-ma'ruf as meaning
"provided you hand over the agreed-upon [wages to the foster-mothers] in a fair manner" -
which, to my mind, unduly limits the purport of the above injunction.)
221 Lit., "by themselves".
222 Lit., "you will incur no sin'". Since, obviously, the whole community is addressed here (Zamakhshari), the rendering "there shall be no sin" would seem appropriate.
But you will incur no sin if you give a hint of [an intended] marriage-offer to [any of] these women, or if you conceive such an intention without making it obvious: [for] God knows that you intend to ask them in marriage.223 Do not, however, plight your troth with them in secret, but speak only in a decent manner; and do not proceed with tying the marriage-knot ere the ordained [term of waiting] has come to its end. And know that God knows what is in your minds, and therefore remain conscious of Him; and know, too, that God is much-forgiving, forbearing.
You will incur no sin if you divorce women while you have not yet touched them nor settled a dower upon them;224 but [even in such a case] make provision for them - the affluent according to his means, and the straitened according to his means - a provision in an equitable manner: this is a duty upon all who would do good.225
223 Lit., "if you conceal [such an intention] within yourselves: [for] God knows that you will mention [it] to them". In classical Arabic usage, the expression dhakaraha ("he mentioned [it] to her") is often idiomatically synonymous with "he demanded her in marriage" (see Lane III, 969). The above passage relates to a marriage-offer - or to an intention of making such an offer - to a newly-widowed or divorced woman before the expiry of the prescribed waiting-term.
224 The term faridah denotes the dower (often also called mahr) which must be agreed upon by bridegroom and bride before the conclusion of the marriage-tie. While the amount of this dower is left to the discretion of the two contracting parties (and may even consist of no more than a token gift), its stipulation is an essential part of an Islamic marriage contract. For exceptions from this rule, see 33:50 and the corresponding note 58.
225 Lit., "upon the doers of good" - i.e., all who are determined to act in accordance with God's will.
And if you divorce them before having touched them, but after having settled a dower upon them, then [give them] half of what you have settled - unless it be that they forgo their claim or he in whose hand is the marriage-tie226 forgoes his claim [to half of the dower]: and to forgo what is due to you is more in accord with God-consciousness. And forget not [that you are to act with] grace towards one another: verily, God sees all that you do.
BE EVER mindful of prayers, and of praying in the most excellent way;227 and stand before God in devout obedience. (2:239) But if you are in danger, [pray] walking or riding;228 and when you are again secure, bear God in mind - since it is He who taught you what you did not previously know.
226 According to some of the most prominent Companions of the Prophet (e.g., 'Ali) and their immediate successors (e.g., Said ibn al-Musayyab and Said ibn Jubayr), this term denotes the husband (cf. Tabari, Zamakhshari, Baghawi, Razi and Ibn Kathir).
227 Lit., "the midmost [or "the most excellent"] prayer". It is generally assumed that this refers to the mid-afternoon ('asr) prayer, although some authorities believe that it denotes the prayer at dawn (fajr). Muhammad 'Abduh, however, advances the view that it may mean "the noblest kind of prayer - that is, a prayer from the fullness of the heart, with the whole mind turned towards God, inspired by awe of Him, and reflecting upon His word" (Manor II, 438). - In accordance with the system prevailing throughout the Qur'an, any lengthy section dealing with social laws is almost invariably followed by a call to God-consciousness: and since God-consciousness comes most fully to its own in prayer, this and the next verse are interpolated here between injunctions relating to marital life and divorce.
228 This relates to any dangerous situation - for instance, in war - where remaining for any length of time at one place would only increase the peril: in such an event, the obligatory prayers may be offered in any way that is feasible, even without consideration of the qiblah.
AND IF any of you die and leave wives behind, they bequeath thereby to their widows [the right to] one year's maintenance without their being obliged to leave [the dead husband's home].229 If, however, they leave [of their own accord], there shall be no sin in whatever they may do with themselves in a lawful manner.230 And God is almighty, wise.
And the divorced women, too, shall have [a right to] maintenance in a goodly manner:231 this is a duty for all who are conscious of God.
229 Lit., "[it is] a bequest to their wives [of] one year's maintenance without being dislodged". (As regards the justification of the rendering adopted by me, see Manor II, 446 ff.). The question of a widow's residence in her dead husband's house arises, of course, only in the event that it has not been bequeathed to her outright under the provisions stipulated in 4:12.
230 For instance, by remarrying - in which case they forgo their claim to additional maintenance during the remainder of the year. Regarding the phrase "there shall be no sin", see note 222 above.
231 This obviously relates to women who are divorced without any legal fault on their part. The amount of alimony - payable unless and until they remarry - has been left unspecified since it must depend on the husband's financial circumstances and on the social conditions of the time.
In this way God makes clear unto you His messages, so that you might [learn to] use your reason.
ART THOU NOT aware of those who forsook their homelands in their thousands for fear of death whereupon God said unto them, "Die," and later brought them back to life?232 Behold, God is indeed limitless in His bounty unto man - but most people are ungrateful.
2:244 Fight, then, in God's cause,233 and know that God is all-hearing, all-knowing.
Who is it that will offer up unto God a goodly loan,234 which He will amply repay, with manifold increase? For, God takes away, and He gives abundantly; and it is unto Him that you shall be brought back.
Art thou not aware of those elders of the children of Israel, after the time of Moses, how they said unto a prophet of theirs,235 "Raise up a king for us, [and] we shall fight in God's cause"? Said he: "Would you, perchance, refrain from fighting if fighting is ordained for you?"
They answered: "And why should we not fight in God's cause when we and our children have been driven from our homelands?"236 Yet, when fighting was ordained for them, they did turn back, save for a few of them; but God had full knowledge of the evildoers.
232 After the conclusion of the injunctions relating to marital life, the Qur'an returns here to the problem of warfare in a just cause by alluding to people who - obviously under a hostile
attack -"forsook their homelands for fear of death". Now, neither the Qur'an nor any authentic Tradition offers any indication as to who the people referred to in this verse may have been. The "historical" explanations given by some of the commentators are most contradictory; they seem to have been derived from Talmudic stories current at the time, and cannot be used in this context with any justification. We must, therefore, assume (as Muhammad 'Abduh does in Manar II, 455 ff.) that the above allusion is parabolically connected with the subsequent call to the faithful to be ready to lay down their lives in God's cause: an illustration of the fact that fear of physical death leads to the moral death of nations and communities, just as their regeneration (or "coming back to life") depends on their regaining their moral status through overcoming the fear of death. This is undoubtedly the purport of the elliptic story of Samuel, Saul and David told in verses 246-251.
233 I.e., in a just war in self-defence against oppression or unprovoked aggression (cf. 2:190-194).
234 I.e., by sacrificing one's life in, or devoting it to, His cause.
235 The prophet referred to here is Samuel (cf. Old Testament, I Samuel viii ff.).
236 Obviously a reference to the many invasions of their homelands by their perennial enemies, the Philistines, Amorites, Amalekites and other Semitic and non-Semitic tribes living in and - around Palestine; and, by implication, a reminder to believers of all times that "fighting in God's cause" (as defined in the Qur'an) is an act of faith.
And their prophet said unto those elders:237 "Behold, now God has raised up Saul to be your king." They said: "How can he have dominion over us when we have a better claim to dominion than he, and he has not [even] been endowed with abundant wealth?"
[The prophet] replied: "Behold, God has exalted him above you, and endowed him abundantly with knowledge and bodily perfection. And God bestows His dominion238 upon whom He wills: for God is infinite, all-knowing."
And their prophet said unto them: "Behold, it shall be a sign of his [rightful] dominion that you will be granted a heart239 endowed by your Sustainer with inner peace and with all that is enduring in the angel-borne heritage left behind by the House of Moses and the House of Aaron.240 Herein, behold, there shall indeed be a sign for you if you are [truly] believers."
237 Lit., "to them" - but the next sentence shows that the elders were thus addressed by Samuel.
238 An allusion to the Qur'anic doctrine that all dominion and all that may be "owned" by man belongs to God alone, and that man holds it only in trust from Him.
239 Lit., "that there will come to you the heart". The word tabut - here rendered as "heart" - has been conventionally interpreted as denoting the Ark of the Covenant mentioned in the Old Testament, which is said to have been a highly-ornamented chest or box. The explanations offered by most of the commentators who adopt the latter meaning are very contradictory, and seem to be based on Talmudic legends woven around that "ark". However, several authorities of the highest standing attribute to tabut the meaning of "bosom" or "heart" as well: thus, Baydawi in one of the alternatives offered in his commentary on this verse, as well as Zamakhshari in his Asas (though not in the Kashshaf ), Ibn al-Athir in the Nihdyah, Raghib, and Taj al-'Arus (the latter four in the article tabata ); see also Lane I, 321, and IV, 1394 (art. sakfnah). If we take this to be the meaning of tabut in the above context, it would be an allusion to the Israelites' coming change of heart (a change already indicated, in general terms, in verse 243 above). In view of the subsequent mention of the "inner peace" in the tabut, its rendering as "heart" is definitely more appropriate than "ark".
240 Lit., "and the remainder of that which the House (al) of Moses and the House of Aaron left behind. borne by the angels". The expression "borne by the angels" or "angel-borne" is an allusion to the God-inspired nature of the spiritual heritage left by those two prophets; while the "remainder" (baqiyyah) denotes that which is "lasting" or "enduring" in that heritage.
And when Saul set out with his forces, he said: "Behold, God will now try you by a river: he who shall drink of it will not belong to me, whereas he who shall refrain from tasting it - he, indeed, will belong to me; but forgiven shall be he241 who shall scoop up but a single handful." However, save for a few of them, they all drank [their fill] of it.
And as soon as he and those who had kept faith with him had crossed the river, the others said: "No strength have we today [to stand up] against Goliath and his forces!"
[Yet] those who knew with certainty that they were destined to meet God, replied: "How often has a small host overcome a great host by God's leave! For God is with those who are patient in adversity."
And when they came face to face with Goliath and his forces, they prayed: "O our Sustainer! Shower us with patience in adversity, and make firm our steps, and succour us against the people who deny the truth!"
And thereupon, by God's leave, they routed them. And David slew Goliath; and God bestowed upon him dominion, and wisdom, and imparted to him the knowledge of whatever He willed. And if God had not enabled people to defend themselves against one another,242 corruption would surely overwhelm the earth: but God is limitless in His bounty unto all the worlds.
THESE are God's messages: We convey them unto thee, [O Prophet,] setting forth the truth for, verily, thou art among those who have been entrusted with a message. (2:253) Some of these apostles have We endowed more highly than others: among them were such as were spoken to by God [Himself], and some He has raised yet higher.'243 And We vouchsafed unto Jesus, the son of Mary, all evidence of the truth, and strengthened him with holy inspiration.244
And if God had so willed, they who succeeded those [apostles] would not have contended with one another after all evidence of the truth had come to them; but [as it was,] they did take to divergent views, and some of them attained to faith, while some of them came to deny the truth. Yet if God had so willed, they would not have contended with one another: but God does whatever He wills.245
241 Lit., "excepting him". The symbolic implication is that faith - and, thus, belief in the justice of one's cause - has no value unless it is accompanied by heightened self-discipline and disregard of one's material interests.
242 Lit., "were it not that God repels some people by means of others": an elliptic reference to God's enabling people to defend themselves against aggression or oppression. Exactly the same phrase occurs in 22:40, which deals with fighting in self-defence.
243 This appears to be an allusion to Muhammad inasmuch as he was the Last Prophet and the bearer of a universal message applicable to all people and to all times. By "such as were spoken to by God" Moses is meant (see the last sentence of 4: 164).
244 The mention, in this context, of Jesus by name is intended to stress the fact of his having been a prophet, and to refute the claims of those who deify him. For an explanation of the term ruh al-qudus (rendered by me as "holy inspiration"), see note 71 on verse 87 of this surah.
245 Once again - as in verse 213 above - the Qur'an alludes to the inevitability of dissension among human beings: in other words, it is the will of God that their way to the truth should be marked by conflicts and trial by error.
O YOU who have attained to faith! Spend [in Our way] out of what We have granted you as sustenance ere there come a Day246 when there will be no bargaining, and no friendship, and no intercession. And they who deny the truth - it is they who are evildoers!
246 Le., the Day of Judgment. With this exhortation the Qur'an returns to the subject of verse 245: "Who is it that will offer up unto God a goodly loan?" We may, therefore, infer that the "spending in God's way" relates here to every kind of sacrifice in God's cause, and not merely to the spending of one's possessions.
GOD - there is no deity save Him, the Ever-Living, the Self-Subsistent Fount of All Being. Neither slumber overtakes Him, nor sleep. His is all that is in the heavens and all that is on earth. Who is there that could intercede with Him, unless it be by His leave?
He knows all that lies open before men and all that is hidden from them,247 whereas they cannot attain to aught of His knowledge save that which He wills [them to attain].
His eternal power248 overspreads the heavens and the earth, and their upholding wearies Him not. And he alone is truly exalted, tremendous.
THERE SHALL BE no coercion in matters of faith.249 Distinct has now become the right way from [the way of] error: hence, he who rejects the powers of evil250 and believes in God has indeed taken hold of a support most unfailing, which shall never give way: for God is all-hearing, all-knowing.
247 Lit., "that which is between their hands and that which is behind them". The commentators give most conflicting interpretations to this phrase. Thus, for instance, Mujahid and 'Ata' assume that "that which is between their hands" means "that which has happened to them in this world", while "that which is behind them" is an allusion to "that which will happen to them in the next world"; Ad-Dahhak and Al-Kalbi, on the other hand, assume the exact opposite and say that "that which is between their hands" refers to the next world, "because they are going towards it", while "that which is behind them" means this world, "because they are leaving it behind" (Razi). Another explanation is "that which took place before them and that which will take place after them" (Zamakhshari). It would seem, however, that in all these interpretations the obvious meaning of the idiomatic expression ma bayna yadayhi ("that which lies open between one's hands") is lost sight of: namely, that which is evident or known, or perceivable; similarly, ma khalfahu means that which is beyond one's ken or perception. Since the whole tenor of the above Qur'an-verse relates to God's omnipotence and omniscience, the translation given by me seems to be the most appropriate.
248 Lit., "His seat [of power]". Some of the commentators (e.g., Zamakhshari) interpret this as "His sovereignty" or "His dominion", while others take it to mean "His knowledge" (see Muhammad 'Abduh in Manar III, 33); Razi inclines to the view that this word denotes God's majesty and indescribable eternal glory.
249 The term din denotes both the contents of and the compliance with a morally binding law; consequently, it signifies "religion" in the widest sense of this term, extending over all that pertains to its doctrinal contents and their practical implications, as well as to man's attitude towards the object of his worship, thus comprising also the concept of "faith". The rendering of din as "religion", "faith","religious law" or "moral law" (see note 3 on 109:6) depends on the context in which this term is used. - On the strength of the above categorical prohibition of coercion (ikrah) in anything that pertains to faith or religion, all Islamic jurists (fuqaha), without any exception, hold that forcible conversion is under all circumstances null and void, and that any attempt at coercing a non-believer to accept the faith of Islam is a grievous sin: a verdict which disposes of the widespread fallacy that Islam places before the unbelievers the alternative of "conversion or the sword".
250 At-taghut denotes, primarily, anything that is worshipped instead of God and, thus, all that may turn man away from God and lead him to evil. It has both a singular and a plural significance (Razi) and is, therefore, best rendered as "the powers of evil".
God is near unto those who have faith, taking them out of deep darkness into the light - whereas near unto those who are bent on denying the truth are the powers of evil that take them out of the light into darkness deep: it is they who are destined for the fire, therein to abide.
ART THOU NOT aware of that [king] who argued with Abraham about his Sustainer, [simply] because God had granted him kingship? Lo! Abraham said: "My Sustainer is He who grants life and deals death." [The king] replied: "I [too] grant life and deal death!"
Said Abraham: "Verily, God causes the sun to rise in the east; cause it, then, to rise in the west!" Thereupon he who was bent on denying the truth remained dumbfounded: for God does not guide people who [deliberately] do wrong.
2:259 Or [art thou, O man, of the same mind] as he who passed by a town deserted by its people, with its roofs caved in, [and] said, "How could God bring all this back to life after its death?"
Thereupon God caused him to be dead for a hundred years; whereafter He brought him back to life [and] said: "How long hast thou remained thus?" He answered: "I have remained thus a day, or part of a day."
Said [God]: "Nay, but thou hast remained thus for a hundred years! But look at thy food and thy drink - untouched is it by the passing of years - and look at thine ass! And [We did all this so that We might make thee a symbol unto men. And look at the bones [of animals and men] - how We put them together and then clothe them with flesh!"
And when [all this] became clear to him, he said: "I know [now] that God has the power to will anything!"
251 According to Muhammad 'Abduh, the wrong (zulm) referred to here consists in "one's deliberately turning away from the light [of guidance] provided by God" (Manor III, 47).
252 Lit., "Or like him". The words interpolated by me between brackets are based on Zamakhshari's interpretation of this passage, which connects with the opening of the preceding verse.
253 The story told in this verse is obviously a parable meant to illustrate God's power to bring the dead back to life: and, thus, it is significantly placed between Abraham's words in verse 258, "My Sustainer is He who grants life and deals death", and his subsequent request, in verse 260, to be shown how God resurrects the dead. The speculations of some of the earlier commentators as to the "identity" of the man and the town mentioned in this story are without any substance, and may have been influenced by Talmudic legends.
254 Sc., "and observe that it is alive": thus pointing out that God has the power to grant life indefinitely, as well as to resurrect the dead.
255 The Qur'an frequently points to the ever-recurring miracle of birth, preceded by the gradual evolution of the embryo in its mother's womb, as a visible sign of God's power to create - and therefore also to re-create life.
And, lo, Abraham said: "O my Sustainer! Show me how Thou givest life unto the dead!"
Said He: "Hast thou, then, no faith?" (Abraham) answered: "Yea, but [let me see it] so that my heart may be set fully at rest."
Said He: "Take, then, four birds and teach them to obey thee; then place them separately on every hill [around thee]; then summon them: they will come flying to thee. And know that God is almighty, wise."
256 Lit., "make them incline towards thee" (Zamakhshari; see also Lane IV, 1744).
257 My rendering of the above parable is based on the primary meaning of the imperative
surhunna ilayka ("make them incline towards thee", i.e., "teach them to obey thee"). The
moral of this story has been pointed out convincingly by the famous commentator Abu Muslim
(as quoted by Razi): "If man is able - as he undoubtedly is - to train birds in such a
way as to make them obey his call, then it is obvious that God, whose will all things obey,
can call life into being by simply decreeing, 'Be!'"
THE PARABLE of those who spend their possessions for the sake of God is that of a grain out of which grow seven ears, in every ear a hundred grains: for God grants manifold increase unto whom He wills; and God is infinite, all-knowing.
They who spend their possessions for the sake of God and do not thereafter mar their spending by stressing their own benevolence and hurting [the feelings of the needy] shall have their reward with their Sustainer, and no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve.
(2:263) A kind word and the veiling of another's want is better than a charitable deed followed by hurt; and God is self-sufficient, forbearing.
258 Lit., "do not follow up".
259 For the rendering of maghfarah (lit.; "forgiveness") in this context as "veiling another's want" I am indebted to Baghawi's explanation of this verse.
O you who have attained to faith! Do not deprive your charitable deeds of all worth by stressing your own benevolence and hurting [the feelings of the needy], as does he who spends his wealth only to be seen and praised by men, and believes not in God and the Last Day: for his parable is that of a smooth rock with [a little] earth upon it - and then a rainstorm smites it and leaves it hard and bare. Such as these shall have no gain whatever from all their [good] works: for God does not guide people who refuse to acknowledge the truth.
2:265 And the parable of those who spend their possessions out of a longing to please God, and out of their own inner certainty, is that of a garden on high, fertile ground: a rainstorm smites it, and thereupon it brings forth its fruit twofold; and if no rainstorm smites it, soft rain [falls upon it]. And God sees all that you do.
Would any of you like to have a garden of date-palms and vines, through which running waters flow, and have all manner of fruit therein - and then be overtaken by old age, with only weak children to [look after] him - and then [see] it smitten by a fiery whirlwind and utterly scorched? In this way God makes clear His messages unto you, so that you might take thought.
O you who have attained to faith! Spend on others out of the good things which you may have acquired, and out of that which We bring forth for you from the earth; and choose not for your spending the bad things which you yourselves would not accept without averting your eyes in disdain. And know that God is self-sufficient, ever to be praised.
Satan threatens you with the prospect of poverty and bids you to be niggardly, whereas God promises you His forgiveness and bounty; and God is infinite, all-knowing, (2:269) granting wisdom unto whom He wills: and whoever is granted wisdom has indeed been granted wealth abundant. But none bears this in mind save those who are endowed with insight.
For, whatever you may spend on others, or whatever you may vow [to spend], verily, God knows it; and those who do wrong [by withholding charity] shall have none to succour them.
If you do deeds of charity openly, it is well; but if you bestow it upon the needy in secret, it will be even better for you, and it will atone for some of your bad deeds. And God is aware of all that you do.
It is not for thee [O Prophet] to make people follow the right path, since it is God [alone] who guides whom He wills.
And whatever good you may spend on others is for your own good, provided that you spend only out of a longing for God's countenance: for, whatever good you may spend will be repaid unto you in full, and you shall not be wronged.
260 Lit., "their guidance is not upon thee" - i.e., "thou art responsible only for conveying God's message to them, and not for their reaction to it": the people referred to being the needy spoken of in the preceding verses. It appears that in the early days after his migration to Medina, the Prophet - faced by the great poverty prevalent among his own community - advised his Companions that "charity should be bestowed only on the followers of Islam" - a view that was immediately corrected by the revelation of the above verse (a number of Traditions to this effect are quoted by Tabari, Razi and Ibn Kathir, as well as in Manar III, 82 f.). According to several other Traditions (recorded, among others, by Nasa'i and Abu Da'ud and quoted by all the classical commentators), the Prophet thereupon explicitly enjoined upon his followers to disburse charities upon all who needed them, irrespective of the faith of the person concerned. Consequently, there is full agreement among all the commentators that the above verse of the Qur'an - although expressed in the singular and, on the face of it, addressed to the Prophet - lays down an injunction binding upon all Muslims. Razi, in particular, draws from it the additional conclusion that charity - or the threat to withhold it - must never become a means of attracting unbelievers to Islam: for, in order to be valid, faith must be an outcome of inner conviction and free choice. This is in consonance with verse 256 of this surah: "There shall be no coercion in matters of faith."
[And give] unto [such of] the needy who, being wholly wrapped up in God's cause, are unable to go about the earth [in search of livelihood]. He who is unaware [of their condition] might think that they are wealthy, because they abstain [from begging]; [but] thou canst recognize them by their special mark: they do not beg of men with importunity. And whatever good you may spend [on them], verily, God knows it all.
Those who spend their possessions [for the sake of God] by night and by day, secretly and openly, shall have their reward with their Sustainer; and no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve.
THOSE who gorge themselves on usury behave but as he might behave whom Satan has confounded with his touch; for they say, "Buying and selling is but a kind of usury" - the while God has made buying and selling lawful and usury unlawful. Hence, whoever becomes aware of his Sustainer's admonition, and thereupon desists [from usury], may keep his past gains, and it will be for God to judge him; but as for those who return to it - they are destined for the fire, therein to abide!
261 I.e., those who have devoted themselves entirely to working in the cause of the Faith - be it by spreading, elucidating or defending it physically or intellectually - or to any of the selfless pursuits extolled in God's message, such as search for knowledge, work for the betterment of man's lot, and so forth; and, finally, those who, having suffered personal or material hurt in such pursuits, are henceforth unable to fend for themselves.
262 For a discussion of the concept of riba ("usury"), see note 35 on 30: 39, where this term occurs for the first time in the chronological order of revelation. The passage dealing with the prohibition of riba, which follows here, is believed to have been among the last revelations received by the Prophet. The subject of usury connects logically with the preceding long passage on the subject of charity because the former is morally the exact opposite of the latter: true charity consists in giving without an expectation of material gain, whereas usury is based on an expectation of gain without any corresponding effort on the part of the lender.
263 Lit., "like".
264 Lit., "he to whom an admonition has come from his Sustainer".
God deprives usurious gains of all blessing, whereas He blesses charitable deeds with manifold increase. And God does not love anyone who is stubbornly ingrate and persists in sinful ways.
Verily, those who have attained to faith and do good works, and are constant in prayer, and dispense charity - they shall have their reward with their Sustainer, and no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve.
O you who have attained to faith! Remain conscious of God. and give up all outstanding gains from usury, if you are [truly] believers; (2:279) for if you do it not, then know that you are at war with God and His Apostle. But if you repent, then you shall be entitled to [the return of] your principal: you will do no wrong, and neither will you be wronged. (2:280) If, however, [the debtor] is in straitened circumstances, [grant him] a delay until a time of ease; and it would be for your own good - if you but knew it - to remit [the debt entirely] by way of charity.
And be conscious of the Day on which you shall be brought back unto God, whereupon every human being shall be repaid in full for what he has earned, and none shall be wronged.
265 Lit., "whereas He causes [the merit of] charitable deeds to increase with interest (yurbi)".
266 This refers not merely to the believers at the time when the prohibition of usury was
proclaimed, but also to people of later times who may come to believe in the Qur'anic
267 I.e., without interest.
268 According to the uncontested evidence of Ibn 'Abbas, the above verse was the last
revelation granted to the Prophet, who died shortly afterwards (Bukhari: see also
Fath al-Bari VIII. 164 f.).
O YOU who have attained to faith! Whenever you give or take credit for a stated term, set it down in writing. And let a scribe write it down equitably between you; and no scribe shall refuse to write as God has taught him: thus shall he write. And let him who contracts the debt dictate; and let him be conscious of God, his Sustainer, and not weaken anything of his undertaking. And if he who contracts the debt is weak of mind or body, or, is not able to dictate himself, then let him who watches over his interests dictate equitably. And call upon two of your men to act as witnesses; and if two men are not available, then a man and two women from among such as are acceptable to you as witnesses, so that if one of them should make a mistake, the other could remind her. And the witnesses must not refuse [to give evidence] whenever they are called upon.
And be not loath to write down every contractual provision, be it small or great, together with the time at which it falls due; this is more equitable in the sight of God, more reliable as evidence, and more likely to prevent you from having doubts [later]. If, however, [the transaction] concerns ready merchandise which you transfer directly unto one another, you will incur no sin if you do not write it down.
And have witnesses whenever you trade with one another, but neither scribe nor witness must suffer harm; for if you do [them harm], behold, it will be sinful conduct on your part. And remain conscious of God, since it is God who teaches you [herewith] -and God has full knowledge of everything.
269 The above phrase embraces any transaction on the basis of credit, be it an outright loan or a commercial deal. It relates (as the grammatical form tadayantum shows) to both the giver and taker of credit, and has been rendered accordingly.
270 I.e., in accordance with the laws promulgated in the Qur'an.
271 Lit., "and do not diminish anything thereof". Thus, the formulation of the undertaking is left to the weaker party, i.e., to the one who contracts the debt.
272 E.g., because he is physically handicapped, or does not fully understand the business terminology used in such contracts, or is not acquainted with the language in which the contract is to be written. The definition "weak of mind or body" (lit.. "lacking in understanding or weak") applies to minors as well as to very old persons who are no longer in full possession of their mental faculties.
273 The stipulation that two women may be substituted for one male witness does not imply any reflection on woman's moral or intellectual capabilities: it is obviously due to the fact that, as a rule, women are less familiar with business procedures than men and, therefore, more liable to commit mistakes in this respect (see 'Abduh in Manar 111, 124 f.).
274 Lit., "to write it down" - i.e., all rights and obligations arising from the contract.
275 E.g., by being held responsible for the eventual consequences of the contract as such, or for the non-fulfilment of any of its provisions by either of the contracting parties.
And if you are on a journey and cannot find a scribe, pledges [may be taken] in hand: but if you trust one another, then let him who is trusted fulfil his trust, and let him be conscious of God, his Sustainer. And do not conceal what you have witnessed - for, verily, he who conceals it is sinful at heart; and God has full knowledge of all that you do.
Unto God belongs all that is in the heavens and all that is on earth. And whether you bring into the open what is in your minds or conceal it, God will call you to account for it; and then He will forgive whom He wills, and will chastise whom He wills: for God has the power to will anything.
THE APOSTLE, and the believers with him, believe in what has been bestowed upon him from on high by his Sustainer: they all believe in God, and His angels, and His revelations, and His apostles, making no distinction between any of His apostles; and they say: "We have heard, and we pay heed. Grant us Thy forgiveness, O our Sustainer, for with Thee is all journeys' end!
276 Lit., "do not conceal testimony". This relates not only to those who have witnessed a
business transaction, but also to a debtor who has been given a loan on trust - without
a written agreement and without witnesses - and subsequently denies all knowledge of
277 Lit., "we make no distinction between any of His apostles": these words are put, as
it were, in the mouths of the believers. Inasmuch as all the apostles were true bearers
of God's messages, there is no distinction between them, albeit some of them have been
"endowed more highly than others" (see verse 253).
"God does not burden any human being with more than he is well able to bear: in his favour shall be whatever good he does, and against him whatever evil he does. "O our Sustainer! Take us not to task if we forget or unwittingly do wrong!
"O our Sustainer! Lay not upon us a burden such as Thou didst lay upon those who lived before us! O our Sustainer! Make us not bear burdens which we have no strength to bear!
"And efface Thou our sins, and grant us forgiveness, and bestow Thy mercy upon us! Thou art our Lord Supreme: succour us, then, against people who deny the truth!"
278 A reference to the heavy burden of rituals imposed by the Law of Moses upon the children
of Israel, as well as the world-renunciation recommended by Jesus to his followers.
THIS SURAH is the second or (according to some authorities) the third to have been revealed at Medina, apparently in the year 3 H.; some of its verses, however, belong to a much later period, namely, to the year preceding the Prophet's death (10 H.). The title "The House of 'Imran" has been derived from references, in verses 33 and 35, to this common origin of a long line of prophets.
Like the preceding surah, this one begins with the mention of divine revelation and men's reactions to it. In Al-Baqarah the main stress is laid on the contrasting attitudes of those who accept the truth revealed by God and those who reject it; the opening verses of Al-'Imran, on the other hand, refer to the inclination of many misguided believers to interpret the allegorical passages of the Qur'an - and, by implication, of the earlier revealed scriptures as well - in an arbitrary manner, and thus to arrive at esoteric propositions which conflict with the true nature and purpose of the divine message. Since the deification of Jesus by his later followers is one of the most outstanding instances of such an arbitrary interpretation of a prophet's original message, the surah relates the story of Mary and Jesus, as well as of Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist, all of whom belonged to the House of 'Imran. Here the Qur'an takes issue with the Christian doctrine of the divinity of Jesus: he himself is quoted as calling upon his followers to worship God alone; his purely human nature and mortality are stressed again and again; and it is described as "inconceivable that a human being unto whom God had granted revelation, and sound judgment, and prophethood, should thereafter have said unto people, 'Worship me beside God'" (verse 79).
The principle of God's oneness and uniqueness and of man's utter dependence on Him is illumined from many angles, and leads logically to the problem of man's faith and to the temptations, arising out of human frailty, to which that faith is continually exposed: and this brings the discourse to the subject of the battle of Uhud - that near-disaster which befell the small Muslim community in the year 3 H., and provided a wholesome, if bitter, lesson for all its future development. More than one-third of Al-'Imran deals with this experience and the manysided moral to be derived from it.
In the name of God, The Most Gracious, The Dispenser of Grace:
Alif. Lam. Mim.1
GOD - there is no deity save Him, the Ever-Living, the Self-Subsistent Fount of All Being!
Step by step has He bestowed upon thee from on high this divine writ,2 setting forth the truth which confirms whatever there still remains [of earlier revelations]:3 for it is He who has bestowed from on high the Torah and the Gospel (3:4) aforetime, as a guidance unto mankind, and it is He who has bestowed [upon man] the standard by which to discern the true from the false.4
Behold, as for those who are bent on denying God's messages - grievous suffering awaits them: for God is almighty, an avenger of evil.
1 see Appendix II
2 The gradualness of the Qur'anic revelation is stressed here by means of the grammatical form nazzala.
3 Most of the commentators are of the opinion that ma bayna yadayhi - lit., "that which is between its hands" - denotes here "the revelations which came before it", i.e., before the Qur'an. This interpretation is not, however, entirely convincing. Although there is not the least doubt that in this context the pronominal ma refers to earlier revelations, and particularly the Bible (as is evident from the parallel use of the above expression in other Qur'anic passages), the idiomatic phrase ma bayna yadayhi does not, in itself, mean "that which came before it" - i.e., in time - but, rather (as pointed out by me in surah 2, note 247), "that which lies open before it". Since, however, the pronoun "it" relates here to the Qur'an, the metaphorical expression "between its hands" or "before it" cannot possibly refer to "knowledge" (as it does in 2:255), but must obviously refer to an objective reality with which the Qur'an is "confronted": that is, something that was coexistent in time with the revelation of the Qur'an. Now this, taken together (a) with the fact - frequently stressed in the Qur'an and since established by objective scholarship - that in the course of the millennia the Bible has been subjected to considerable and often arbitrary alteration, and (b) with the fact that many of the laws enunciated in the Qur'an differ from the laws of the Bible, brings us forcibly to the conclusion that the "confirmation" of the latter by the Qur'an can refer only to the basic truths still discernible in the Bible, and not to its time-bound legislation or to its present text - in other words, a confirmation of whatever was extant of its basic teachings at the time of the revelation of the Qur'an: and it is this that the phrase ma bayna yadayhi expresses in this context as well as in 5:46 and 48 or in 61:6 (where it refers to Jesus' confirming the truth of "whatever there still remained [i.e., in his lifetime] of the Torah").
4 It is to be borne in mind that the Gospel frequently mentioned in the Qur'an is not identical with what is known today as the Four Gospels, but refers to an original, since lost, revelation bestowed upon Jesus and known to his contemporaries under its Greek name of Evangelion ("Good Tiding"), on which the Arabicized form Injil is based. It was probably the source from which the Synoptic Gospels derived much of their material and some of the teachings attributed to Jesus. The fact of its having been lost and forgotten is alluded to in the Qur'an in 5:14. - Regarding my rendering of al-furqan as "the standard
by which to discern the true from the false", see also note 38 on the identical phrase occurring in 2:53.
Verily, nothing on earth or in the heavens is hidden from God. (3:6) He it is who shapes you in the wombs as He wills. There is no deity save Him, the Almighty, the Truly Wise.
He it is who has bestowed upon thee from on high this divine writ, containing messages that are clear in and by themselves - and these are the essence of the divine writ - as well as others that are allegorical.5 Now those whose hearts are given to swerving from the truth go after that part of the divine writ6 which has been expressed in allegory, seeking out [what is bound to create] confusion,7 and seeking [to arrive at] its final meaning [in an arbitrary manner]; but none save God knows its final meaning.8 Hence, those who are deeply rooted in knowledge say:
"We believe in it; the whole [of the divine writ] is from our Sustainer - albeit none takes this to heart save those who are endowed with insight.
5 The above passage may be regarded as a key to the understanding of the Qur'an. Tabari identifies the ayat muhkamat ("messages that are clear in and by themselves") with what the philologists and jurists describe as nass - namely, ordinances or statements which are self-evident (zahir) by virtue of their wording (cf. Lisan al-'Arab, art. nass). Consequently, Tabari regards as ayat muhkamat only those statements or ordinances of the Qur'an which do not admit of more than one interpretation (which does not, of course, preclude differences of opinion regarding the implications of a particular ayah muhkamah). In my opinion, however, it would be too dogmatic to regard any passage of the Qur'an which does not conform to the above definition as mutashabih ("allegorical"): for there are many statements in the Qur'an which are liable to more than one interpretation but are, nevertheless, not allegorical - just as there are many expressions and passages which, despite their allegorical formulation, reveal to the searching intellect only one possible meaning. For this reason, the ayat mutashabihat may be defined as those passages of the Qur'an which are expressed in a figurative manner, with a meaning that is metaphorically implied but not directly, in so many words, stated. The ayat muhkamat are described as the "essence of the divine writ" (umm al-kitab) because they comprise the fundamental principles underlying its message and, in particular, its ethical and social teachings: and it is only on the basis of these clearly enunciated principles that the allegorical passages can be correctly interpreted. (For a more detailed discussion of symbolism and allegory in the Qur'an. see Appendix 1.)
6 Lit., "that of it".
7 The "confusion" referred to here is a consequence of interpreting allegorical passages in an "arbitrary manner" (Zamakhshari).
8 According to most of the early commentators, this refers to the interpretation of allegorical passages which deal with metaphysical subjects - for instance, God's attributes, the ultimate meaning of time and eternity, the resurrection of the dead, the Day of Judgment, paradise and hell, the nature of the beings or forces described as angels, and so forth - all of which fall within the category of al-ghayb, i.e., that sector of reality which is beyond the reach of human perception and imagination and cannot, therefore, be conveyed to man in other than allegorical terms. This view of the classical commentators, however, does not seem to take into account the many Qur'anic passages which do not deal with metaphysical subjects and yet are, undoubtedly, allegorical in intent and expression. To my mind, one cannot arrive at a correct understanding of the above passage without paying due attention to the nature and function of allegory as such. A true allegory - in contrast with a mere pictorial paraphrase of something that could equally well be stated in direct terms - is always meant to express in a figurative manner something which, because of its complexity, cannot be adequately expressed in direct terms or propositions and, because of this very complexity, can be grasped only intuitively, as a general mental image, and not as a series of detailed "statements": and this seems to be the meaning of the phrase, "none save God knows its final meaning".
"O our Sustainer! Let not our hearts swerve from the truth after Thou hast guided us; and bestow upon us the gift of Thy grace: verily, Thou art the [true] Giver of Gifts.
"O our Sustainer! Verily, Thou wilt gather mankind together to witness the Day about [the coming of] which there is no doubt: verily, God never fails to fulfil His promise."
BEHOLD, as for those who are bent on denying the truth - neither their worldly possessions nor their offspring will in the least avail them against God; and it is they, they who shall be the fuel of the fire! (3:11) [To them shall - happen] the like of what happened to Pharaoh's people and those who lived before them: they gave the lie to Our messages - and so God took them to task for their sins: for God is severe in retribution.
3:12 Say unto those who are bent on denying the truth: "You shall be overcome and gathered unto hell - and how evil a resting-place!"
You have already had a sign in the two hosts that met in battle, one host fighting in God's cause and the other denying Him; with their own eyes [the former] saw the others as twice their own number: but God strengthens with His succour whom He wills. In this, behold, there is indeed a lesson for all who have eyes to see.9
ALLURING unto man is the enjoyment of worldly desires through women, and children, and heaped-up treasures of gold and silver, and horses of high mark, and cattle, and lands. All this may be enjoyed in the life of this world - but the most beauteous of all goals is with God.
Say: "Shall I tell you of better things than those [earthly joys]? For the God-conscious there are, with their Sustainer, gardens through which running waters flow, therein to abide, and spouses pure, and God's goodly acceptance." And God sees all that is in [the hearts of] His servants
(3:16) those who say, "O our Sustainer! Behold, we believe [in Thee]; forgive us, then, our sins, and keep us safe from suffering through the fire" - : (3:17) those who are patient in adversity, and true to their word, and truly devout, and who spend [in God's way], and pray for forgiveness from their innermost hearts.10
9 It is generally assumed that this is an allusion to the battle of Badr, in the third
week of Ramadan, 2H., in which three hundred and odd poorly-equipped Muslims, led by
the Prophet, utterly routed a well-armed Meccan force numbering nearly one thousand men,
seven hundred camels and one hundred horses; it was the first open battle between the
pagan Quraysh and the young Muslim community of Medina. According to some commentators,
however (e.g., Manar III, 234), the above Qur'anic passage has a general import and alludes
to an occurrence often witnessed in history - namely, the victory of a numerically weak
and ill-equipped group of people, filled with a burning belief in the righteousness of
their cause, over a materially and numerically superior enemy lacking a similar conviction.
The fact that in this Qur'an-verse the believers are spoken of as being faced by an enemy
"twice their number" (while at the battle of Badr the pagan Quraysh were more than three
times the number of the Muslims) lends great plausibility to this explanation - and
particularly so in view of the allusion, in the next verse, to material riches and
10 The expression bi'l-ashar is usually taken to mean "at the times before daybreak", or simply "before daybreak". This is in agreement with the Prophet's recommendation to his followers (forthcoming from several authentic Traditions) to devote the latter part of the night, and particularly the time shortly before dawn, to intensive prayer. But while the word sahar (also spelled sahr and suhr), of which ashar is the plural, undoubtedly denotes "the time before daybreak", it also signifies - in the spellings sahar and suhr - "the core of the heart", "the inner part of the heart", or simply "heart" (cf. Lisan al-'Arab; also Lane IV, 1316). It seems to me that in the context of the above Qur'an-verse - as well as of 51:18 - this latter rendering is preferable to the conventional one: for, although the value of praying before daybreak has undoubtedly been stressed by the Prophet, it is not very plausible that the Qur'an should have tied the prayer for forgiveness to a particular time of day.
GOD [Himself] proffers evidence11 - and [so do] the angels and all who are endowed with knowledge - that there is no deity save Him, the Upholder of Equity: there is no deity save Him, the Almighty, the Truly Wise.
Behold, the only [true] religion in the sight of God is [man's] self-surrender unto Him; and those who were vouchsafed revelation aforetime12 took, out of mutual jealousy, to divergent views [on this point] only after knowledge [thereof] had come unto them.13 But as for him who denies the truth of God's messages - behold, God is swift in reckoning!
Thus, [O Prophet,] if they argue with thee, say, "I have surrendered my whole being unto God, and [so have] all who follow me!" - and ask those who have been vouchsafed revelation aforetime, as well as all unlettered people,14 "Have you [too] surrendered yourselves unto Him?"
And if they surrender themselves unto Him, they are on the right path; but if they turn away - behold, thy duty is no more than to deliver the message: for God sees all that is in [the hearts of] His creatures.
11 Lit., "bears witness" - i.e., through the nature of His creation, which shows plainly that it has been brought into being by a consciously planning Power.
12 Most of the classical commentators are of the opinion that the people referred to are the followers of the Bible, or of parts of it - i.e., the Jews and the Christians. It is, however, highly probable that this passage bears a wider import and relates to all communities which base their views on a revealed scripture, extant in a partially corrupted form, with parts
of it entirely lost.
13 I.e., all these communities at first subscribed to the doctrine of God's oneness and held
that man's self-surrender to Him (islam in its original connotation) is the essence of all
true religion. Their subsequent divergencies were an outcome of sectarian pride and mutual
14 According to Razi, this refers to people who have no revealed scripture of their own.
Verily, as for those who deny the truth of God's messages, and slay the prophets against all right, and slay people who enjoin equity15 - announce unto them a grievous chastisement. (3:22) It is they whose works shall come to nought both in this world and in the life to come; and they shall have none to succour them.
Art thou not aware of those who have been granted their share of revelation [aforetime]? They have been called upon to let God's writ be their law16 - and yet some of them turn away [from it] in their obstinacy, (3:24) simply because they claim, "The fire will most certainly not touch us for more than a limited number of days":17 and thus the false beliefs which they invented have [in time] caused them to betray their faith.18
15 See surah 2, note 48.
16 Lit., "decide [all disputes] between them" - the reference being to the Torah.
17 Cf. 2:80, and the corresponding note.
18 Lit., "that which they were wont to invent has deluded them in their faith".
How, then, [will they fare] when We shall gather them all together to witness the Day about [the coming of] which there is no doubt, and every human being shall be repaid in full for what he has done, and none shall be wronged?
SAY: "O God, Lord of all dominion! Thou grantest dominion unto whom Thou willest, and takest away dominion from whom Thou willest; and Thou exaltest whom Thou willest, and abasest whom Thou willest. In Thy hand is all good. Verily, Thou hast the power to will anything.
"Thou makest the night grow longer by shortening the day, and Thou makest the day grow longer by shortening the night. And Thou bringest forth the living out of that which is dead, and Thou bringest forth the dead out of that which is alive. And Thou grantest sustenance unto whom Thou willest, beyond all reckoning."
LET NOT the believers take those who deny the truth for their allies in preference to the believers19 - since he who does this cuts himself off from God in everything - unless it be to protect yourselves against them in this way.20 But God warns you to beware of Him: for with God is all journeys' end.
Say: "Whether you conceal what is in your hearts21 or bring it into the open, God knows it: for He knows all that is in the heavens and all that is on earth; and God has the power to will anything."
19 I.e., in cases where the interests of those "deniers of the truth" clash with the interests of believers (Manar 111, 278). Regarding the deeper implications of the term "allies" (awliya'), see 4:139 and the corresponding note.
20 Lit., "unless you fear from them something that is to be feared". Zamakhshari explains this phrase as meaning, "unless you have reason to fear that they might do something which ought to be guarded against" - obviously referring to situations in which "those who deny the truth" are more powerful than the Muslims, and are therefore in a position to damage the latter unless they become their "allies" in a political or moral sense.
21 Lit., "breasts", This is a reference to the real motives underlying the decision of a Muslim group or power to form an alliance with "those who deny the truth" in preference to, or against the legitimate interests of, other believers.
On the Day when every human being will find himself faced with all the good that he has done, and with all the evil that he has done, [many a one] will wish that there were a long span of time between himself and that [Day]. Hence, God warns you to beware of Him; but God is most compassionate towards His creatures.
Say [O Prophet]: "If you love God, follow me, [and] God will love you and forgive you your sins; for God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace."
Say: "Pay heed unto God and the Apostle."
BEHOLD, God raised Adam, and Noah, and the House of Abraham, and the House of 'Imran above all mankind, (3:34) in one line of descent.22 And God was all-hearing, all-knowing23 (3:35) when a woman of [the House of] 'Imran prayed: "O my Sustainer! Behold, unto Thee do I vow [the child] that is in, my womb, to be devoted to Thy service. Accept it, then, from me: verily, Thou alone art all-hearing, all-knowing!"
22 Lit., "offspring of one another" - an allusion not merely to the physical descent of those prophets but also to the fact that all of them were spiritually linked with one another and believed in one and the same fundamental truth (Tabari). Thus, the above passage is a logical sequence to verses 31-32, which make God's approval contingent upon obedience to His chosen message-bearers. The names which appear in this sentence circumscribe, by implication, all the prophets mentioned in the Qur'an inasmuch as most of them were descendants of two or more of these patriarchs. The House of 'Imran comprises Moses and Aaron, whose father was 'Imran (the Amram of the Bible), and Aaron's descendants, the priestly caste among the Israelites - thus including John the Baptist, both of whose parents were of the same descent (cf. the reference, in Luke i, 5, to John's mother Elisabeth as one "of the daughters of Aaron"), as well as Jesus, whose mother Mary - a close relation of John - is spoken of elsewhere in the Qur'an
(19:28) as a "sister of Aaron": in both cases embodying the ancient Semitic custom of linking a person's or a people's name with that of an illustrious forebear. The reference to the House of 'Imran serves as an introduction to the stories of Zachariah, John, Mary, and Jesus.
23 My joining of this phrase with the following passage is in agreement with the interpretation advanced by Muhammad 'Abduh and Rashid Rida' (Manar III, 289).
3:36 But when she had given birth to the child,24 she said: "O my Sustainer! Behold, I have given birth to a female" - the while God had been fully aware of what she would give birth to, and [fully aware] that no male child [she might have hoped for] could ever have been like this female25 - "and I have named her Mary. And, verily, I seek Thy protection for her and her offspring against Satan, the accursed."
And thereupon her Sustainer accepted the girl-child with goodly acceptance, and caused her to grow up in goodly growth, and placed her in the care of Zachariah.26 Whenever Zachariah visited her in the sanctuary, he found her provided with food. He would ask: "O Mary, whence came this unto thee?"
She would answer: "It is from God; behold, God grants sustenance unto whom He wills, beyond all reckoning."27
24 Lit., "to her" - implying that it was a girl.
25 Lit., "and the male is not [or "could not be"] like the female". Zamakhshari reads these words as forming part of the parenthetic sentence relating to God's knowledge, and explains them thus: "The male [child] which she had prayed for could not have been like the female which she was granted" - which implies that Mary's excellence would go far beyond any hopes which her mother had ever entertained.
26 As is evident from verse 44 of this surah, the guardianship of Mary was entrusted to Zachariah - who was not only her relative but also a priest attached to the Temple - after lots had been drawn to decide which of the priests should have the responsibility for this girl who, in consequence of her mother's vow, was to be dedicated to Temple service (Tabari).
27 In spite of all the legends quoted in this connection by most of the commentators, there is no indication whatsoever either in the Qur'an or in any authentic Tradition that these provisions were of a miraculous origin. On the other hand, Tabari quotes a story to the effect that when, in his old age, Zachariah became unable to support Mary by his own means, the community decided to assume this responsibility through another of its members, who thereupon provided her daily with food. Whether this story is authentic or not, Mary's answer to Zachariah reflects no more and no less than her deep consciousness of God as the ultimate Provider.
3:38 In that self-same place, Zachariah prayed unto his Sustainer, saying: "O my Sustainer! Bestow upon me [too], out of Thy grace, the gift of goodly offspring; for Thou, indeed, hearest all prayer."
Thereupon, as he stood praying in the sanctuary, the angels called out unto him: "God sends thee the glad tiding of [the birth of] John, who shall confirm the truth of a word from God,28 and [shall be] outstanding among men, and utterly chaste, and a prophet from among the righteous."
[Zachariah] exclaimed: "O my Sustainer! How can I have a son when old age has already overtaken me, and my wife is barren?" Answered [the angel]: "Thus it is: God does what He wills."
[Zachariah] prayed: "O my Sustainer! Appoint a sign for me!"
Said [the angel]: "Thy sign shall be that for three days thou wilt not speak unto men other than by gestures.29 And remember thy Sustainer unceasingly, and extol His limitless glory by night and by day."
AND LO! The angels said: "O Mary! Behold, God has elected thee and made thee pure, and raised thee above all the women of the world. (3:43) O Mary! Remain thou truly devout unto thy Sustainer, and prostrate thyself in worship, and bow down with those who bow down [before Him]."
This account of something that was beyond the reach of thy perception We [now] reveal unto thee:30 for thou wert not with them when they drew lots as to which of them should be Mary's guardian,31 and thou wert not with them when they contended [about it] with one another.
28 In view of the fact that the expression kalimah is often used in the Qur'an to denote an
announcement from God, or a statement of His will, or His promise (e.g., 4:171, 6:34 and
115, 10:64, 18:27, and so forth), we must conclude that in the above passage, too, the
"word from God" which would be confirmed by the birth of John (described in the Gospels as
"John the Baptist") refers to a divine promise given through revelation: and this, indeed, is the interpretation adopted by the famous philologist Abu 'Ubaydah Ma'mar ibn al-Muthanna, who lived in the second century H. and devoted most of his labours to the study of rare expressions in the Arabic language; his identification, in the context under discussion, of kalimah with kitab ("revelation" or "divine writ") has been quoted by Razi in his commentary on this verse and is, moreover, agreeable with a similar announcement conveyed to Mary regarding the birth of Jesus (see verse 45 of this surah).
29 According to Abu Muslim (quoted with approval by Razi), Zachariah was merely enjoined not to speak to anyone during the period of three days, and not struck dumb as in the New Testament narrative (Luke i, 20-22): thus the "sign" was purely spiritual, and was to consist in Zachariah's utter self-abandonment to prayer and contemplation.
30 This parenthetic passage, addressed to the Prophet, is meant to stress the fact that the story of Mary, as narrated in the Qur'an, is a direct outcome of revelation and, therefore, inherently true in spite of all the differences between this account and that given in the scriptures regarded by the Christians as authentic (Muhammad 'Abduh in Manar III, 301 f.).
31 See note 26 above. The phrase rendered above as "they drew lots" reads literally, "they cast their reeds" - obviously a reference to an ancient Semitic custom, perhaps similar to the divination by means of blunt arrows practiced by the pre-Islamic Arabs and comprehensively described in Lane III, 1247. The pronoun "they" relates to the priests, of whom Zachariah was one.
Lo! The angels said: "O Mary! Behold, God sends thee the glad tiding, through a word from Him, [of a son] who shall become known as the Christ32 Jesus, son of Mary, of great honour in this world and in the life to come, and [shall be] of those who are drawn near unto God. (3:46) And he shall speak unto men in his cradle,33 and as a grown man, and shall be of the righteous."
32 Lit., "whose name shall be 'the Anointed' (al-masih)". The designation al-masih is the Arabicized form of the Aramaic meshiha which, in turn, is derived from the Hebrew mahsiah, "the anointed" - a term frequently applied in the Bible to the Hebrew kings, whose accession to power used to be consecrated by a touch with holy oil taken from the Temple. This anointment appears to have been so important a rite among the Hebrews that the term "the anointed" became in the course of time more or less synonymous with "king". Its application to Jesus may have been due to the widespread conviction among his contemporaries (references to which are found in several places in the Synoptic Gospels) that he was descended in direct - and obviously legitimate - line from the royal House of David. (It is to be noted that this could not have related to his mother's side, because Mary belonged to the priestly class descending from Aaron, and thus to the tribe of Levi, while David descended from the tribe of Judah.) Whatever may have been the historical circumstances, it is evident that the honorific "the Anointed" was applied to Jesus in his own lifetime. In the Greek version of the Gospels - which is undoubtedly based on a now-lost Aramaic original - this designation is correctly translated as Christos (a noun derived from the Greek verb chriein, "to anoint"): and since it is in this form - "the Christ" - that the designation al-masih has achieved currency in all Western languages, I am using it throughout in my translation.
33 A metaphorical allusion to the prophetic wisdom which was to inspire Jesus from a very early age. As regards the expression min al-muqarrabin ("of those who are drawn near", i.e., unto God), see 56:11, where the most excellent among the inmates of paradise are thus described.
Said she: "O my Sustainer! How can I have a son when no man has ever touched me?"
[The angel] answered: "Thus it is: God creates what He wills:34 when He wills a thing to be, He but says unto it, 'Be' - and it is. (3:48) And he will impart unto thy son35 revelation, and wisdom, and the Torah, and the Gospel, (3:49) and [will make him] an apostle unto the children of Israel."36
"I HAVE COME unto you with a message from your Sustainer. I shall create for you out of clay, as it were, the shape of [your] destiny, and then breathe into it, so that it might become [your] destiny by God's leave;37 and I shall heal the blind and the leper, and bring the dead back to life by God's leave;38 and I shall let you know what you may eat and what you should store up in your houses.39 Behold, in all this there is indeed a message for you, if you are [truly] believers.
34 See 19:16-22 and the corresponding notes. In the context of the story of Mary in Al-'Imran, the announcement made to her, as well as the parallel one to Zachariah (verses 39-40 above), is meant to stress God's unlimited power of creation - specifically, in both cases, His power to create the circumstances in which His will is to manifest itself - and thus to bring about any event, however unexpected or even improbable it might seem at the time of the announcement.
35 Lit., "to him".
36 The passage which follows here - up to the end of verse 51 - may be understood in either of two ways: as part of the announcement made to Mary (implying that he would thus speak in the future) or, alternatively, as a statement of what, at a later time, he actually did say to the children of Israel. In view of the narrative form adopted in verses 52 ff., the second of these two alternatives seems preferable.
37 Lit., "[something] like the shape of a bird (tayr); and then I shall breathe into it, so that it might [or "whereupon it will"] become a bird...". The noun tayr is a plural of ta'ir ("flying creature" or "bird"), or an infinitive noun ("flying") derived from the verb tara ("he flew"). In pre-Islamic usage, as well as in the Qur'an, the words ta'ir and tayr often denote "fortune" or "destiny", whether good or evil (as, for instance, in 7:131, 27:47 or 36:19, and still more clearly in 17:13). Many instances of this idiomatic use of tayr and ta'ir are given in all the authoritative Arabic dictionaries; see also Lane V, 1904 f. Thus, in the parabolic manner so beloved by him, Jesus intimated to the children of Israel that out of the humble clay of their lives he would fashion for them the vision of a soaring destiny, and that this vision, brought to life by his God-given inspiration, would become their real destiny by God's leave and by the strength of their faith (as pointed out at the end of this verse).
38 It is probable that the "raising of the dead" by Jesus is a metaphorical description of his giving new life to people who were spiritually dead; cf. 6:122 - "Is then he who was dead [in spirit], and whom We thereupon gave life, and for whom We set up a light whereby he can see his way among men - [is then he] like unto one [who is lost] in darkness deep, out of which he cannot emerge?" If this interpretation is - as I believe - correct, then the "healing of the blind and the leper" has a similar significance: namely, an inner regeneration of people who were spiritually diseased and blind to the truth.
39 I.e., "what good things you may partake of in the life of this world, and what good deeds you should lay up as a treasure for the life to come".
"And [I have come] to confirm the truth of whatever there still remains40 of the Torah, and to make lawful unto you some of the things which [aforetime] were forbidden to you. And I have come unto you with a message from your Sustainer; remain, then, conscious of God, and pay heed unto me.
40 Lit., "whatever there is between my hands": for an explanation, see note 3 on verse 3 of this surah.
"Verily, God is my Sustainer as well as your Sustainer; so worship Him [alone]: this is a straight way."
3:52 And when Jesus became aware of their refusal to acknowledge the truth,41 he asked: "Who will be my helpers in God's cause?"
The white-garbed ones42 replied: "We shall be [thy] helpers [in the cause] of God! We believe in God: and bear thou witness that we have surrendered ourselves unto Him! (3:53) O our Sustainer! We believe in what Thou hast bestowed from on high, and we follow this Apostle; make us one,43 then, with all who bear witness [to the truth]!"
And the unbelievers schemed [against Jesus];44 but God brought their scheming to nought: for God is above all schemers.
41 This relates to a later time, when Jesus was being opposed by the majority of his people, and particularly the Pharisees.
42 Al-hawariyyun (sing. hawari) is the designation applied in the Qur'an to the disciples of Jesus. Many interpretations of this term (derived from hawar, "whiteness") are given by the commentators, ranging from "one who whitens clothes by washing them" (because this was allegedly the occupation of some of Jesus' disciples) to "one who wears white garments", or "one whose heart is white", i.e., pure (cf. Tabari, Razi, Ibn Kathir). It is, however, most probable - and the evidence provided by the recently discovered Dead Sea Scrolls strongly supports this view - that the term hawari was popularly used to denote a member of the Essene Brotherhood, a Jewish religious group which existed in Palestine at the time of Jesus, and to which, possibly, he himself belonged. The Essenes were distinguished by their strong insistence on moral purity and unselfish conduct, and always wore white garments as the outward mark of their convictions; and this would satisfactorily explain the name given to them. The fact that the Prophet once said, "Every prophet has his hawari " (Bukhari and Muslim) does not conflict with the above view, since he obviously used this term figuratively, recalling thereby Jesus' "helpers in God's cause".
43 Lit., "write us down" or "inscribe us". It must, however, be borne in mind that the verb kataba means also "he drew together" or "brought together": hence the noun katibah, "a body of men".
44 Lit., "they schemed" - here referring to those among the Jews who refused to acknowledge Jesus as a prophet and tried to destroy him.
Lo! God said: "O Jesus! Verily, I shall cause thee to die, and shall exalt thee unto Me, and cleanse thee of [the presence of] those who are bent on denying the truth; and I shall place those who follow thee [far] above those who are bent on denying the truth, unto the Day of Resurrection. In the end, unto Me you all must return, and I shall judge between you with regard to all on which you were wont to differ.45
"And as for those who are bent on denying the truth, I shall cause them to suffer a suffering severe in this world and in the life to come, and they shall have none to succour them; (3:57) whereas unto those who attain to faith and do good works He will grant their reward in full: for God does not love evildoers."
THIS MESSAGE do We convey unto thee, and this tiding full of wisdom:46
Verily, in the sight of God, the nature of Jesus is as the nature of Adam, whom He created out of dust and then said unto him, "Be" - and he is.47 (3:60) [This is] the truth from thy Sustainer; be not, then, among the doubters!
And if anyone should argue with thee about this [truth] after all the knowledge that has come unto thee, say: "Come! Let us summon our sons and your sons, and our women and your women, and ourselves and yourselves; and then let us pray [together] humbly and ardently, and let us invoke God's curse upon those [of us] who are telling a lie."48
45 This refers to all who revere Jesus (i.e., the Christians, who believe him to be "the son of God", and the Muslims, who regard him as a prophet) as well as to those who deny him altogether. Regarding God's promise to Jesus, "I shall exalt thee unto Me", see surah 4, note 172.
46 Lit., "This We convey unto thee of the messages and of the wise tiding." The expression "this of the messages" bears, to my mind, the connotation of one particular message - namely, the one which follows immediately after this sentence.
47 Lit., "The parable of Jesus is as the parable of Adam...", etc. The expression mathal (rendered above as "nature") is often metaphorically employed to denote the state or condition (of a person or a thing), and is in this sense - as the commentators have pointed out - synonymous with sifah (the "quality" or "nature" of a thing). As is evident from the sequence, the above passage is part of an argument against the Christian doctrine of the divinity of Jesus. The Qur'an stresses here, as in many other places, the fact that Jesus, like Adam - by which name, in this context, the whole human race is meant - was only a mortal "created out of dust", i.e., out of substances, both organic and inorganic, which are found in their elementary forms on and in the earth. Cf. also 18:37, 22:5, 30:20, 35:11, 40:67, where the Qur'an speaks of all human beings as "created out of dust". That "Adam" stands here for the human race is clearly implied in the use of the present tense in the last word of this sentence.
48 I.e., regarding the true nature of Jesus. According to all the reliable authorities, verses 59-63 of this surah were revealed in the year 10 H., on the occasion of a dispute between the Prophet and a deputation of the Christians of Najran who, like all other Christians, maintained that Jesus was "the son of God" and, therefore, God incarnate. Although they refused the "trial through prayer" (mubahalah) proposed to them by the Prophet, the latter accorded to them a treaty guaranteeing all their civic rights and the free exercise of their religion.
Behold, this is indeed the truth of the matter, and there is no deity whatever save God; and, verily, God - He alone - is almighty, truly wise. (3:63) And if they turn away [from this truth] behold, God has full knowledge of the spreaders of corruption.
Say: "O followers of earlier revelation! Come unto that tenet which we and you hold in common:49 that we shall worship none but God, and that we shall not ascribe divinity to aught beside Him, and that we shall not take human beings for our lords beside God."50 And if they turn away, then say: "Bear witness that it is we who have surrendered ourselves unto Him."
O FOLLOWERS of earlier revelation! Why do you argue about Abraham,51 seeing that the Torah and the Gospel were not revealed till [long] after him? Will you not, then, use your reason? (3:66) Lo! You are the ones who would argue about that which is known to you; but why do you argue about something which is unknown to you?52 Yet God knows [it], whereas you do not know: (3:67) Abraham was neither a "Jew" nor a "Christian", but was one who turned away from all that is false, having surrendered himself unto God; and he was not of those who ascribe divinity to aught beside Him.
49 Lit., "a word [that is] equitable between you and us". The term kalimah, primarily meaning "word" or "utterance", is often used in the philosophical sense of "proposition" or "tenet".
50 Lit., "that we shall not take one another for lords beside God". Since the personal pronoun "we" obviously applies to human beings, the expression "one another" necessarily bears the same connotation. In its wider implication, the above call is addressed not merely to
the Christians, who attribute divinity to Jesus and certain aspects of divinity to their saints, but also to the Jews, who assign a quasi-divine authority to Ezra and even to some of their great Talmudic scholars (cf. 9:30-31).
51 I.e., as to whether the principles he followed were those of the Jewish faith, according to which the Torah is considered to be the final Law of God, or of the Christian faith, which conflicts with the former in many respects.
52 I.e., as to what was the true creed of Abraham. "That which is known to you" is an allusion to their knowledge of the obvious fact that many of the teachings based on the extant versions of the Torah and the Gospels conflict with the teachings of the Qur'an (Razi).
Behold, the people who have the best claim to Abraham are surely those who follow him - as does this Prophet and all who believe [in him] - and God is near unto the believers.
Some of the followers of earlier revelation would love to lead you astray: yet none do they lead astray but themselves, and perceive it not.
O followers of earlier revelation! Why do you deny the truth of God's messages to which you yourselves bear witness?53
O followers of earlier revelation! Why do you cloak the truth with falsehood and conceal the truth of which you are [so well] aware?
And some of the followers of earlier revelation say [to one another]: "Declare your belief in what has been revealed unto those who believe [in Muhammad] at the beginning of the day, and deny the truth of what came later,54 so that they might go back [on their faith]; (3:73) but do not [really] believe anyone who does not follow your own faith."
Say: "Behold, all [true] guidance is God's guidance, consisting in one's being granted [revelation] such as you have been granted."55 Or would they contend against you before your Sustainer?
Say: "Behold, all bounty is in the hand of God; He grants it unto whom He wills:56 for God is infinite, all-knowing, (3:74) singling out for His grace whom He wills. And God is limitless in His great bounty."
53 Lit., "when you [yourselves] bear witness": an allusion to the Biblical prophecies relating to the coming of the Prophet Muhammad.
54 Most of the commentators, relying on views current among some of the tabi'un (i.e., the generation that came after the Companions of the Prophet), understand this passage thus: "Declare at the beginning of the day your belief in what has been revealed unto those who believe in Muhammad, and deny the truth [thereof] in its latter part." This rendering would imply that the Judaeo-Christian attempts at confusing the Muslims, to which the above verse refers, consisted in alternatingly declaring belief and disbelief in the Qur'anic message. On the other hand, the rendering adopted by me (and supported by Al-Asam, whose interpretation has been quoted by Razi in his commentary on this verse) implies that some Jews and Christians have been and are hoping to achieve this end by admitting, however reluctantly, that there may be "some truth" in the early Qur'anic revelations ("that which has been revealed at the beginning of the day"), while they categorically reject its later parts inasmuch as they clearly contradict certain Biblical teachings.
55 This refers to the Jews and the Christians, who are not prepared to accept the Qur'anic message on the ground that it conflicts with parts of their own scriptures.
56 In this context, the term fadl ("bounty") is synonymous with the bestowal of divine revelation.
AND AMONG the followers of earlier revelation there is many a one who, if thou entrust him with a treasure, will [faithfully] restore it to thee; and there is among them many a one who, if thou entrust him with a tiny gold coin, will not restore it to thee unless thou keep standing over him - which is an outcome of their assertion,57 "No blame can attach to us [for anything that we may do] with regard to these unlettered folk": and [so] they tell a lie about God, being well aware [that it is a lie]."58
Nay, but [God is aware of] those who keep their bond with Him,59 and are conscious of Him: and, verily, God loves those who are conscious of Him.
57 Lit., "this, because they say". In Arabic usage, the verb qala (lit., "he said") often signifies "he asserted" or "expressed an opinion". As is evident from many Traditions,
the people referred to are the Jews.
58 I.e., they falsely claim that God Himself has exempted them from all moral responsibility towards non-Jews (contemptuously described as "unlettered folk"), knowing well that their own scriptures provide no basis whatever for such a claim.
59 Some of the commentators relate the personal pronoun in 'ahdihi to the person or persons concerned, and therefore take 'ahd as meaning "promise" - thus: "[as for] him who fulfils his promise ...", etc. It is, however, obvious from the next verse that the pronoun in 'ahdihi refers to God; consequently, the phrase must be rendered either as "those who fulfil their duty towards Him", or "those who keep their bond with Him" - the latter being, in my opinion, preferable. (For the meaning of man's "bond with God", see surah 2, note 19.)
Behold, those who barter away their bond with God and their own pledges for a trifling gain they shall not partake in the blessings of the life to come; and God will neither speak unto them nor look upon them on the Day of Resurrection, nor will He cleanse them of their sins; and grievous suffering awaits them.
And, behold, there are indeed some among them who distort the Bible with their tongues, so as to make you think that [what they say] is from the Bible, the while it is not from the Bible; and who say, "This is from God," the while it is not from God: and thus do they tell a lie about God, being well aware [that it is a lie].60
It is not conceivable that a human being unto whom God had granted revelation, and sound judgment, and prophethood, should thereafter have said unto people,61 "Worship me beside God"; but rather [did he exhort them], "Become men of God62 by spreading the knowledge of the divine writ, and by your own deep study [thereof]." (3:80) And neither did he bid you to take the angels and the prophets for your lords:63 [for] would he bid you to deny the truth after you have surrendered yourselves unto God?
60 Most of the commentators assume that this refers specifically to the Jews, whom the Qur'an frequently accuses of having deliberately corrupted the Old Testament. However, since the next two verses clearly relate to Jesus and to the false beliefs of the Christians regarding his nature and mission, we must conclude that both Jews and Christians are referred to in this passage. For this reason, the term al-kitab, which occurs three times in this sentence, has been rendered here as "the Bible". - According to Muhammad 'Abduh (Manar III, 345), the above-mentioned distortion of the Bible does not necessarily presuppose a corruption of the text as such: it can also be brought about "by attributing to an expression a meaning other than the one which was originally intended". As an example, 'Abduh quotes the metaphorical use, in the Gospels, of the term "my Father" with reference to God - by which term, as is evident from the Lord's Prayer, was obviously meant the "Father" - i.e., the Originator and Sustainer - of all mankind. Subsequently, however, some of those who claimed to be followers of Jesus lifted this expression from the realm of metaphor and "transferred it to the realm of positive reality with reference to Jesus alone": and thus they gave currency to the idea that he was literally "the son of God", that is, God incarnate.
61 This obvious reference to Jesus reads, literally, "It is not [possible] for a human being that God should grant him... and that thereafter he should say ...". Zamakhshari regards the term hukm ("judgment" or "sound judgment") occurring in the above sentence as synonymous, in this context, with hikmah ("wisdom").
62 According to Sibawayh (as quoted by Razi), a rabbani is "one who devotes himself exclusively to the endeavour to know the Sustainer (ar-rabb) and to obey Him": a connotation fairly close to the English expression "a man of God".
63 I.e., to attribute divine or semi-divine powers to them: a categorical rejection of the adoration of saints and angelic beings.
AND, LO, God accepted, through the prophets, this solemn pledge [from the followers of earlier revelation]:64 "If, after all the revelation and the wisdom which I have vouchsafed unto you, there comes to you an apostle confirming the truth already in your possession, you must believe in him and succour him. Do you" - said He - "acknowledge and accept My bond on this condition?"
They answered: "We do acknowledge it." Said He: "Then bear witness [thereto], and I shall be your witness.65 (3:82) And, henceforth, all who turn away [from this pledge] - it is they, they who are truly iniquitous!"
Do they seek, perchance, a faith other than in God,66 although it is unto Him that whatever is in the heavens and on earth surrenders itself, willingly or unwillingly, since unto Him all must return?67
64 Lit., "the solemn pledge of the prophets". Zamakhshari holds that what is meant here is a pledge taken from the community as a whole: a pledge consisting in their acceptance
of the messages conveyed through the prophets.
65 Lit., "and I am with you among the witnesses".
66 Lit., "[any] other than God's religion".
67 Lit., "will be returned". For an explanation of this sentence, see 13:15 and the corresponding notes.
Say: "We believe in God, and in that which has been bestowed from on high upon us, and that which has been bestowed upon Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and their descendants, and that which has been vouchsafed by their Sustainer unto Moses and Jesus and all the [other] prophets: we make no distinction between any of them.68 And unto Him do we surrender ourselves."
For, if one goes in search of a religion other than self-surrender unto God, it will never be accepted from him, and in the life to come he shall be among the lost.
How would God bestow His guidance upon people who have resolved to deny the truth after having attained to faith, and having borne witness that this Apostle is true, and [after] all evidence of the truth has come unto them?69 For, God does not guide such evildoing folk. (3:87) Their requital shall be rejection by God, and by the angels, and by all [righteous] men. (3:88) In this state shall they abide; [and] neither will their suffering be lightened, nor will they be granted respite.
68 See 2:136 and the corresponding note 112.
69 The people referred to are the Jews and the Christians. Their acceptance of the Bible, which predicts the coming of the Prophet Muhammad, has made them "witnesses" to the truth of his prophethood. See also verses 70 and 81 above.
But excepted shall be they that afterwards repent and put themselves to rights: for, behold, God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace.
Verily, as for those who are bent on denying the truth after having attained to faith, and then grow [ever more stubborn] in their refusal to acknowledge the truth, their repentance [of other sins] shall not be accepted:70 for it is they who have truly gone astray.
Verily, as for those who are bent on denying the truth and die as deniers of the truth - not all the gold on earth could ever be their ransom.71 It is they for whom grievous suffering is in store; and they shall have none to succour them.
[But as for you, O believers,] never shall you attain to true piety unless you spend on others out of what you cherish yourselves; and whatever you spend - verily, God has full knowledge thereof.72
ALL FOOD was lawful unto the children of Israel, save what Israel had made unlawful unto itself [by its sinning] before the Torah was bestowed from on high.73 Say: "Come forward, then, with the Torah and recite it, if what you say is true!"
70 My interpolation, between brackets, of the words "of other sins" is based on Tabari's convincing explanation of this passage.
71 Lit., "there shall not be accepted from any of them the earth full of gold, were he to proffer it in ransom". The meaning of this sentence is obviously metaphorical; but in view of the mention of "ransom", some of the commentators are of the opinion that what is meant here are otherwise good actions in this world (and, in particular, efforts and possessions spent for the sake of helping one's fellow-men), on the strength of which such stubborn "deniers of the truth" might plead for God's clemency on the Day of Judgment - a plea that would be rejected on the ground of their deliberate denial of fundamental truths.
72 After telling those who deliberately deny the truth that even their benevolent spending of efforts and possessions during their lifetime will be of no avail to them on the Day of Judgment, the Qur'an reminds the believers that, on the other hand, their faith in God cannot be considered complete unless it makes them conscious of the material needs of their fellow-beings (cf. 2:177).
73 Up to this point, most of this surah dealt with the divine origin of the Qur'an and was meant to establish the true nature of the mission entrusted to the Prophet - namely, his call to an acknowledgement of God's oneness and uniqueness. Now, verses 93-97 are devoted to a refutation of two objections on the part of the Jews to what they consider to be an infringement, by the Qur'an, of Biblical laws, in spite of the oft-repeated Qur'anic claim that this revelation confirms the truth inherent in the teachings of the earlier prophets. These two objections relate to (a) the Qur'anic annulment of certain dietary injunctions and prohibitions laid down in the Torah, and (b) the alleged "substitution" of Mecca for Jerusalem as the direction of prayer (qiblah)- see surah 2, note 116. In order to answer the objection relating to Jewish food laws, the Qur'an calls to mind that originally all wholesome foods were lawful to the children of Israel, and that the severe restrictions subsequently imposed upon them in the Torah were but a punishment for their sins (cf. 6:146), and were, therefore, never intended for a community that truly surrenders itself to God. For an answer to the second objection, see verse 96.
And all who henceforth invent lies about God - it is they, they who are evildoers!74
Say: "God has spoken the truth: follow, then, the creed of Abraham, who turned away from all that is false, and was not of those who ascribe divinity to aught beside God."
Behold, the first Temple ever set up for mankind was indeed the one at Bakkah:75 rich in blessing, and a [source of] guidance unto all the worlds, (3:97) full of clear messages.76 [It is] the place whereon Abraham once stood; and whoever enters it finds inner peace.77 Hence, pilgrimage unto the Temple is a duty owed to God by all people who are able to undertake it. And as for those who deny the truth -verily, God does not stand in need of anything in all the worlds.
74 This is a reference to the unwarranted Jewish belief that the Mosaic food restrictions were an eternal law decreed by God. As against this claim, the Qur'an stresses that no food restrictions had been imposed before the time of Moses and, secondly, that the restrictions arising from the Mosaic Law were imposed on the children of Israel alone. To claim that they represent an eternal divine law is described here as "inventing lies about God".
75 All authorities agree that this name is synonymous with Mecca (which, correctly transliterated, is spelt Makkah). Various etymologies have been suggested for this very ancient designation; but the most plausible explanation is given by Zamakhshari (and supported by Razi): in some old Arabic dialects the labial consonants b and m, being phonetically close to one another, are occasionally interchangeable. The mention, in this context, of the Temple in Mecca - that is, the Ka'bah - arises from the fact that it is the direction of prayer (qiblah) stipulated in the Qur'an. Since the prototype of the Ka'bah was built by Abraham and Ishmael (see 2:125 ff.) - and is, therefore, much older than the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem - its establishment as the qiblah of the followers of the Qur'an does not only not imply any break with the Abrahamic tradition (on which, ultimately, the whole Bible rests), but, on the contrary, re-establishes the direct contact with that Patriarch: and herein lies the answer to the second of the two Jewish objections mentioned in note 73 above.
76 Lit., "in it [are] clear messages" - such as the messages relating to God's oneness and uniqueness (symbolized by the Ka'bah), to the continuity of mankind's religious experience ("the first Temple set up for mankind") and, finally, to the brotherhood of all believers (who, wherever they may be, turn their faces in prayer towards this one focal point).
77 Or: "is secure" - i.e., in the original sense of amn, which implies "ease of mind and freedom from fear" (cf. Lane I, 100 f.).
SAY: "O followers of earlier revelation! Why do you refuse to acknowledge the truth of God's messages, when God is witness to all that you do?"
Say: "O followers of earlier revelation! Why do you [endeavour to] bar those who have come to believe [in this divine writ] from the path of God by trying to make it appear crooked, when you yourselves bear witness78 [to its being straight]? For, God is not unaware of what you do."
O you who have attained to faith! If you pay heed to some of those to whom revelation was vouchsafed aforetime, they might cause you to renounce the truth after you have come to believe [in it]. (3:101) And how could you deny the truth when it is unto you that God's messages are being conveyed, and it is in your midst that His Apostle lives? But he who holds fast unto God has already been guided onto a straight way.
O you who have attained to faith! Be conscious of God with all the consciousness that is due to Him, and do not allow death to overtake you ere you have surrendered yourselves unto Him.
And hold fast, all together, unto the bond with God, and do not draw apart from one another. And remember the blessings which God has bestowed upon you: how, when you were enemies, He brought your hearts together, so that through His blessing you became brethren; and [how, when] you were on the brink of a fiery abyss.79 He saved you from it. In this way God makes clear His messages unto you, so that you might find guidance, (3:104) and that there might grow out of you a community [of people] who invite unto all that is good, and enjoin the doing of what is right and forbid the doing of what is wrong: and it is they, they who shall attain to a happy state!
78 I.e., "through your own scriptures" (see note 69 above, as well as note 33 on 2:42). This is an
allusion to the attempts of Jews and Christians to "prove" that Muhammad had "borrowed" the
ideas of the Qur'an from the Bible and twisted them out of context so as to suit his own alleged
79 Lit., "a pit of fire" - a metaphor of the sufferings which are the inescapable consequence of spiritual ignorance. The reminder of their one-time mutual enmity is an allusion to man's lot on earth (cf. 2:36 and 7:24), from which only God's guidance can save him (see 2:37-38).
And be not like those who have drawn apart from one another and have taken to conflicting views after all evidence of the truth has come unto them:80 for these it is for whom tremendous suffering is in store (3:106) on the Day [of Judgment] when some faces will shine [with happiness] and some faces will be dark [with grief]. And as for those with faces darkened, [they shall be told:] "Did you deny the truth after having attained to faith? Taste, then, this suffering for having denied the truth!" (3:107) But as for those with faces shining, they shall be within God's grace, therein to abide.
These are God's messages: We convey them unto thee, setting forth the truth, since God wills no wrong to His creation.81
And unto God belongs all that is in the heavens and all that is on earth; and all things go back to God [as their source].
3:110 YOU ARE indeed the best community that has ever been brought forth for [the good of] mankind: you enjoin the doing of what is right and forbid the doing of what is wrong, and you believe in God. Now if the followers of earlier revelation had attained to [this kind of] faith, it would have been for their own good; [but only few] among them are believers, while most of them are iniquitous: (3:111) [but] these can never inflict more than a passing hurt on you; and if they fight against you, they will turn their backs upon you [in flight], and will not be succoured.82
80 I.e., like the followers of the Bible, who became "Jews" and "Christians" in spite of the fact
that their beliefs have a common source and are based on the same spiritual truths
(see also 6:159 and the corresponding note).
81 Lit., "to the worlds". For an explanation of this sentence, see 6:131-132 and note 117.
82 As is obvious from the opening sentence of verse 110, this promise to the followers of the
Qur'an is conditional upon their being, or remaining, a community of people who "enjoin the
doing of what is right and forbid the doing of what is wrong, and [truly] believe in God";
and - as history has shown - this promise is bound to lapse whenever the Muslims fail to
live up to their faith.
Overshadowed by ignominy are they wherever they may be, save [when they bind themselves again] in a bond with God and a bond with men;83 for they have earned the burden of God's condemnation, and are overshadowed by humiliation: all this [has befallen them] because they persisted in denying the truth of God's messages and in slaying the prophets against all right: all this, because they rebelled [against God], and persisted in transgressing the bounds of what is right.84
[But] they are not all alike: among the followers of earlier revelation there are upright people,85 who recite God's messages throughout the night, and prostrate themselves [before Him]. (3:114) They believe in God and the Last Day, and enjoin the doing of what is right and forbid the doing of what is wrong, and vie with one another in doing good works: and these are among the righteous. (3:115) And whatever good they do, they shall never be denied the reward thereof: for, God has full knowledge of those who are conscious of Him.
3:116 [But,] behold, as for those who are bent on denying the truth - neither their worldly possessions nor their children will in the least avail them against God: and it is they who are destined for the fire, therein to abide.
The parable of what they spend on the life of this world is that of an icy wind which smites the tilth of people who have sinned against themselves, and destroys it: for, it is not God who does them wrong, but it is they who are wronging themselves.86
83 I.e., if they return to the concept of God as the Lord and Sustainer of all mankind, and give up the idea of being "God's chosen people" which creates a barrier between them and all other believers in the One God.
84 The above passage - as the very similar one in 2:61 - relates specifically to the children of Israel, although this section as a whole (verses 110-115) obviously refers to the followers of the Bible in general, that is, to both the Jews and the Christians.
85 Lit., "an upright community": a reference to those among the followers of the Bible who are truly believers (cf. the last sentence of verse 110 above) and observe the "bond with God and with men" (verse 112).
86 In a marginal note connected with hit commentary on this verse, Zamakhshari explains this parable thus: "If the 'tilth' [i.e., the gainful achievement] of those who deny the truth is lost, it is lost in its entirety, with nothing remaining to them in this world and in the life to come; while, on the other hand, the 'tilth' of a believer is never lost in its entirety: for even if it is seemingly lost, there remains to him the expectation of a reward, in the life to come, for his patience in adversity." In other words, the above Qur'anic phrase is meant to stress the completeness of loss of all efforts in the case of those who are bent on denying the truth.
O YOU who have attained to faith! Do not take for your bosom-friends people who are not of your kind.87 They spare no effort to corrupt you; they would love to see you in distress.88 Vehement hatred has already come into the open from out of their mouths, but what their hearts conceal is yet worse. We have indeed made the signs [thereof] clear unto you, if you would but use your reason.
3:119 Lo! It is you who [are prepared to] love them, but they will not love you, although you believe in all of the revelation.89 And when they meet you, they assert, "We believe [as you believe]"; but when they find themselves alone, they gnaw their fingers in rage against you.
Say: "Perish in your rage! Behold, God has full knowledge of what is in the hearts [of men]!"
87 Lit., "from among others than yourselves". Some of the commentators incline to the view that this expression comprises all non-Muslims: but this view obviously conflicts with 60:8-9, where the believers are expressly allowed to form friendships with such of the non-believers as are not hostile to them and to their faith. Moreover, the sequence makes it clear that by "those who are not of your kind" are meant only people whose enmity to Islam and its followers has become apparent from their behaviour and their utterances (Tabari). The rendering adopted by me, "people who are not of your kind", implies that their outlook on life is so fundamentally opposed to that of the Muslims that genuine friendship is entirely out of the question.
88 Lit., "they love that which causes you distress".
89 I.e., including the revelation of the Bible.
If good fortune comes to you, it grieves them; and if evil befalls you, they rejoice in it. But if you are patient in adversity and conscious of God, their guile cannot harm you at all: for, verily, God encompasses [with His might] all that they do.
AND [remember, O Prophet, the day] when thou didst set out from thy home at early morn to place the believers in battle array.90 And God was all-hearing, all-knowing (3:122) when two groups from among you were about to lose heart,91 although God was near unto them and it is in God that the believers must place their trust: (3:123) for, indeed, God did succour you at Badr, when you were utterly weak.92 Remain, then, conscious of God, so that you might have cause to be grateful.
90 This reference to the battle of Uhud, to which many verses of this surah are devoted, connects with the exhortation implied in the preceding verse, "if you are patient in adversity and conscious of God, their guile cannot harm you at all". Since this and the subsequent references cannot be fully understood without a knowledge of the historical background, a brief account of the battle would seem to be indicated.
In order to avenge their catastrophic defeat at Badr in the second year after the hijrah, the pagan Meccans - supported by several tribes hostile to the Muslims - mustered in the
following year an army comprising ten thousand men under the command of Abu Sufyan and marched against Medina. On hearing of their approach, in the month of Shawwal 3 H., the Prophet held a council of war at which the tactics to be adopted were discussed. In view of the overwhelming cavalry forces at the disposal of the enemy, the Prophet himself was of the opinion that the Muslims should give battle from behind the fortifications of Medina and, if need be, fight in its narrow streets and lanes; and his plan was supported by some of the most outstanding among his Companions. However, the majority of the Muslim leaders who participated in the council strongly insisted on going forth and meeting the enemy in the open field. In obedience to the Qur'anic principle that all communal affairs must be transacted on the basis of mutually-agreed decisions (see verse 159 of this surah, as well as 42:38), the Prophet sorrowfully gave way to the will of the majority and set out with his followers towards the plain below the mountain of Uhud, a little over three miles from Medina. His army consisted of less than one thousand men; but on the way to Mount Uhud this number was still further reduced by the defection of some three hundred men led by the hypocritical 'Abd Allah ibn Ubayy, who pretended to be convinced that the Muslims did not really intend to fight. Shortly before the battle, two other groups from among the Prophet's forces - namely, the clans of Banu Salamah (of the tribe of Al-Aws) and Banu Harithah (of the tribe of Khazraj) almost lost heart and were about to join the defectors (3:122) on the plea that because of their numerical weakness the Muslims must now avoid giving battle; but at the last moment they decided to follow the Prophet. Having less than seven hundred men with him, the Prophet arrayed the bulk of his forces with their backs to the mountain and posted all his archers - numbering fifty - on a nearby hill in order to provide cover against an outflanking manoeuvre by the enemy cavalry; these archers were ordered not to leave their post under any circumstances. In their subsequent, death-defying assault upon the greatly superior forces of the pagan Quraysh, the Muslims gained a decisive advantage over the former and almost routed them. At that moment, however, most of the archers, believing that the battle had been won and fearing lest they lose their share of the spoils, abandoned their covering position and joined the melee around the encampment of the Quraysh. Seizing this opportunity, the bulk of the Meccan cavalry under the command of Khalid ibn al-Walid (who shortly after this battle embraced Islam and later became one of the greatest Muslim generals of all times) veered round in a wide arc and attacked the Muslim forces from the rear. Deprived of the cover of the archers, and caught between two fires, the Muslims retreated in disorder, with the loss of many lives. The Prophet himself and a handful of his most stalwart Companions defended themselves desperately; and the Prophet was seriously injured and fell to the ground. The cry immediately arose, "The Apostle of God has been killed!" Many of the Muslims began to flee; some among them were even prepared to throw themselves upon the mercy of the enemy. But a few of the Companions - among them 'Umar ibn al-Khattab and Talhah - called out, "What good are your lives without him, O believers? Let us die as he has died!" - and threw themselves with the strength of despair against the Meccans. Their example at once found an echo among the rest of the Muslims, who in the meantime had learnt that the Prophet was alive: they rallied and counter-attacked the enemy, and thus saved the day. But the Muslims were now too exhausted to exploit their chances of victory, and the battle ended in a draw, with the enemy retreating in the direction of Mecca. On the next day the Prophet started in pursuit of them at the head of seventy of his Companions. But when the Muslims reached the place called Hamra' al-Asad, about eight miles south of Medina, it became obvious that the Meccans were in no mood to risk another encounter and were rapidly marching home; and thereupon the tiny Muslim army returned to Medina.
91 I.e., the clans of Banu Salamah and Banu Harithah, who had almost joined the deserters led by 'Abd Allah ibn Ubayy (see preceding note).
92 A reference to the battle of Badr, in 2 H., which is dealt with extensively in surah 8.
[And remember] when thou didst say unto the believers: "Is it not enough for you [to know] that your Sustainer will aid you with three thousand angels sent down [from on high]? (3:125) Nay, but if you are patient in adversity and conscious of Him, and the enemy should fall upon you of a sudden, your Sustainer will aid you with five thousand angels swooping down!"93
And God ordained this [to be said by His Apostle94] only as a glad tiding for you, and that your hearts should thereby be set at rest - since no succour can come from any save God, the Almighty, the Truly Wise - (3:127) [and] that [through you] He might destroy some of those who were bent on denying the truth, and so abase the others95 that they would withdraw in utter hopelessness.
93 As is evident from the next verse, the Prophet's allusion to God's aiding the believers with thousands of angels signifies, metaphorically, a strengthening of the believers' hearts through spiritual forces coming from God (Manar IV, 112 ff., and IX, 612 ff.). A very similar announcement - relating to the battle of Badr - occurs in 8:9-10, where "one thousaand" angels are mentioned. As regards these varying numbers (one, three and five thousand), they would seem to indicate the unlimited nature of God's aid to those who are "patient in adversity and conscious of Him". It is reasonable to assume that the Prophet thus exhorted his followers immediately before the battle of Uhud, that is, after three hundred men under the leadership of 'Abd Allah ibn Ubayy had deserted him and some of the others "almost lost heart" in the face of the greatly superior enemy forces.
94 According to many commentators (see Manar IV, 112), this interpolation is justified by the preceding two verses, which show that it was the Prophet who, under divine inspiration, made this promise to his followers. See also 8: 9, where a similar promise is voiced on the occasion of the battle of Badr.
95 Lit., "that He might destroy some ... or [so] abase them". It is obvious that the particle
aw ("or") does not, in this context, denote an alternative but, rather, a specification
(tanwi') - as, for instance, in the phrase "ten persons were killed or injured": meaning
that some of them were killed and others injured.
[And] it is in no wise for thee [O Prophet] to decide whether He shall accept their repentance or chastise them - for, behold, they are but wrongdoers, (3:129) whereas unto God belongs all that is in the heavens and all that is on earth: He forgives whom He wills, and He chastises whom He wills; and God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace.96
O YOU who have attained to faith! Do not gorge yourselves on usury, doubling and re-doubling it97 - but remain conscious of God, so that you might attain to a happy state; (3:131) and beware of the fire which awaits those who deny the truth!
And pay heed unto God and the Apostle, so that you might be graced with mercy. (3:133) And vie with one another to attain to your Sustainer's forgiveness and to a paradise as vast as the heavens and the earth, which has been readied for the God-conscious (3:134) who spend [in His way] in time of plenty and in time of hardship, and hold in check their anger, and pardon their fellow-men because God loves the doers of good; (3:135) and who, when they have committed a shameful deed or have [otherwise] sinned against themselves, remember God and pray that their sins be forgiven - for who but God could forgive sins? - and do not knowingly persist in doing whatever [wrong] they may have done.
These it is who shall have as their reward forgiveness from their Sustainer, and gardens through which running waters flow, therein to abide: and how excellent a reward for those who labour!
[MANY] WAYS of life have passed away before your time.98 Go, then, about the earth and behold what happened in the end to those who gave the lie to the truth: (3:138) this [should be] a clear lesson unto all men, and a guidance and an admonition unto the God-conscious.
96 As recorded in several authentic Traditions, the Prophet invoked, during the battle of Uhud, God's curse upon the leaders of the pagan Quraysh (Bukhari, Tirmidhi, Nasa'i and Ahmad ibn Hanbal); and when he lay on the ground severely injured, he exclaimed, "How could those people prosper after having done this to their prophet, who but invites them to [acknowledge] their Sustainer?" - whereupon the above two verses were revealed (Muslim and Ibn Hanbal).
97 For a definition of riba ("usury"), see note 35 on 30: 39, the earliest Qur'anic reference to this term. As for the connection of the above verse with the subject-matter dealt with in the foregoing, the best explanation is, to my mind, the one offered by Qiffal (as quoted by Razi): Since it was mainly through usurious gains that the pagan Meccans had acquired the wealth which enabled them to equip their powerful army and almost to defeat the poorly-armed Muslims at Uhud, the latter might have been tempted to emulate their enemies in this respect; and it was to remove this temptation - from them as well as from later generations of believers - that the prohibition of usury was once again stressed through revelation.
98 The word sunnah (of which sunan is the plural) denotes a "way of life" or "conduct" (hence its application, in Islamic terminology, to the way of life of the Prophet as an example for his followers). In the above passage, the term sunan refers to the "conditions (ahwal) characteristic of past centuries" (Razi), in which, despite all the continuous changes, an ever-recurring pattern can be discerned: a typically Qur'anic reference to the possibility, and necessity, of learning from man's past experiences.
Be not, then, faint of heart, and grieve not:99 for you are bound to rise high if you are [truly] believers.
If misfortune100 touches you, [know that] similar misfortune has touched [other] people as well; for it is by turns that We apportion unto men such days [of fortune and misfortune]: and [this] to the end that God might mark out those who have attained to faith, and choose from among you such as [with their lives] bear witness to the truth101 - since God does not love evildoers - (3:141) and that God might render pure of all dross those who have attained to faith, and bring to nought those who deny the truth.
Do you think that you could enter paradise unless God takes cognizance of your having striven hard [in His cause], and takes cognizance of your having been patient in adversity?102 (3:143) For, indeed, you did long for death [in God's cause] before you came face to face with it; and now you have seen it with your own eyes!103
99 A reference to the near-disaster at Uhud and the heavy loss of lives (about seventy men) which the Muslims had suffered.
100 Lit., "a wound" (qarh) or, according to some philologists, "pain caused by a wound".
101 I.e., "His decision to let some of you die as martyrs in His cause is not due to love of the sinful enemies who oppose you, but to His love for you." The term shuhada' (pl. of shahid) denotes "witnesses" as well as "martyrs". The rendering adopted by me comprises both the concepts of "bearing witness to the truth" and of "martyrdom" in God's cause.
102 Lit., "while God has not yet taken cognizance of those of you who have striven ... and those who are patient in adversity". Since God is all-knowing, His "not taking cognizance" implies, of course, that the thing or happening referred to has not come about or is non-existent (Zamakhshari).
103 In Zamakhshari's opinion, this is a twofold reproach addressed to the majority of the Companions who took part in the battle of Uhud: firstly, on account of their insistence, against the Prophet's advice, on giving battle to the enemy in the open field and thereby unnecessarily courting a deadly danger; and, secondly, on account of their failure to live up to their faith during the earlier part of the battle (see note 90 above). This passage may have yet another, more positive implication: namely, a reference to the lesson which the believers should draw from their near-defeat, and a reminder of the fact that their future depends on the strength of their faith in God (cf. verse 139 above) and not on a fleeting desire for self-sacrifice.
AND MUHAMMAD is only an apostle; all the [other] apostles have passed away before him: if, then, he dies or is slain, will you turn about on your heels?104 But he that turns about on his heels can in no wise harm God - whereas God will requite all who are grateful [to Him].
104 This stress on the mortality of the Prophet - and that of all the other prophets who preceded him in time - connects, in the first instance, with the battle of Uhud and the rumour of his death, which caused many Muslims to abandon the fight and even brought some of them close to apostasy (Tabari; see also note 90 above). In its wider implication, however, the above verse re-states the fundamental Islamic doctrine that adoration is due to God alone, and that no human being - not even a prophet - may have any share in it. It was this very passage of the Qur'an which Abu Bakr, the first Caliph, recited immediately after the Prophet's death, when many faint-hearted Muslims thought that Islam itself had come to an end; but as soon as Abu Bakr added, "Behold, whoever has worshipped Muhammad may know that Muhammad has died; but whoever worships God may know that God is ever-living, and never dies" (Bukhari), all confusion was stilled. - The expression "turning about on
one's heels" denotes - according to circumstances - either actual apostasy or a deliberate
withdrawal from efforts in the cause of God.
And no human being can die save by God's leave, at a term pre-ordained. And if one desires the rewards of this world, We shall grant him thereof; and if one desires the rewards of the life to come, We shall grant him thereof; and We shall requite those who are grateful [to Us].
And how many a prophet has had to fight [in God's cause], followed by many God-devoted men: and they did not become faint of heart for all that they had to suffer in God's cause, and neither did they weaken, nor did they abase themselves [before the enemy], since God loves those who are patient in adversity; (3:147) and all that they said was this: "O our Sustainer! Forgive us our sins and the lack of moderation in our doings! And make firm our steps, and succour us against people who deny the truth!" - (3:148) whereupon God granted them the rewards of this world, as well as the goodliest rewards of the life to come: for God loves the doers of good.
O YOU who have attained to faith! If you pay heed to those who are bent on denying the truth, they will cause you to turn back on your heels, and you will be the losers.
Nay, but God alone is your Lord Supreme, and His is the best succour.105
Into the hearts of those who are bent on denying the truth We shall cast dread in return for their ascribing divinity, side by side with God, to other beings - [something] for which He has never bestowed any warrant from on high;106 and their goal is the fire - and how evil that abode of evildoers!
105 Lit., "He is the best of all who bring succour".
106 I.e., something which He never permits. The use of the adverb "never" in my rendering is
based on the grammatical form lam yunazzil (lit., "He has not been sending down" or
"bestowing from on high"), which implies continuity in time.
AND, INDEED, God made good His promise unto you when, by His leave, you were about to destroy your foes107 - until the moment when you lost heart and acted contrary to the [Prophet's] command,108 and disobeyed after He had brought you within view of that [victory] for which you were longing. There were among you such as cared for this world [alone], just as there were among you such as cared for the life to come:109 whereupon, in order that He might put you to a test, He prevented you from defeating your foes.110 But now He has effaced your sin: for God is limitless in His bounty unto the believers.
[Remember the time] when you fled, paying no heed to anyone, while at your rear the Apostle was calling out to you - wherefore He requited you with woe in return for [the Apostle's] woe, so that you should not grieve [merely] over what had escaped you, nor over what had befallen you: for God is aware of all that you do.111
107 Lit., "when you were destroying them": a reference to the opening stages of the battle of Uhud. Regarding the promise alluded to, see verses 124-125 of this surah.
108 Lit., "you disagreed with one another regarding the [Prophet's] command" - an allusion to the abandonment of their post by most of the archers at the moment when it seemed that victory had been won (see note 90 above).
109 Out of the fifty Muslim archers less than ten remained at their post, and were killed by Khalid's cavalry. It is to them, as well as the few Companions who went on fighting after the bulk of the Muslims had fled, that the second part of the above sentence refers.
110 Lit., "He turned you away from them".
111 I.e., the realization of how shamefully they had behaved at Uhud (see note 90 above) would be, in the end, more painful to them than the loss of victory and the death of so many of their comrades: and this is the meaning of the "test" mentioned in the preceding verse.
Then, after this woe, He sent down upon you a sense of security, an inner calm which enfolded some of you,112 whereas the others, who cared mainly for themselves, entertained wrong thoughts about God - thoughts of pagan ignorance - saying, "Did we, then, have any power of decision [in this matter]?"113
Say: "Verily, all power of decision does rest with God"114 - [but as for them,] they are trying to conceal within themselves that [weakness of faith] which they would not reveal unto thee, [O Prophet, by] saying, "If we had any power of decision, we would not have left so many dead behind."115
Say [unto them]: "Even if you had remained in your homes, those [of you] whose death had been ordained would indeed have gone forth to the places where they were destined to lie down."
And [all this befell you] so that God might put to a test all that you harbour in your bosoms, and render your innermost hearts116 pure of all dross: for God is aware of what is in the hearts [of men].
Behold, as for those of you who turned away [from their duty] on the day when the two hosts met in battle - Satan caused them to stumble only by means of something that they [themselves] had done.117 But now God has effaced this sin of theirs: verily, God is much-forgiving, forbearing.
112 I.e., those who had remained steadfast throughout the battle. According to some commentators - in particular Raghib - the term nu'as (lit., "the drowsiness which precedes sleep") is used here metaphorically, and denotes "inner calm".
113 I.e., in the matter of victory or defeat. The "thoughts of pagan ignorance" is obviously an allusion to the initial reluctance of those faint-hearted people to admit their moral responsibility for what had happened, and to their excusing themselves by saying that their failure to live up to their faith had been "predestined". See also surah 5, note 71.
114 I.e., while it is for God alone to apportion actual success or failure to whomever He wills, "nought shall be accounted unto man but what he is [or "was"] striving for" (53:39).
115 Lit., "we would not have been killed here".
116 Lit., "all that is in your hearts".
117 This is an illustration of a significant Qur'anic doctrine, which can be thus summarized: "Satan's influence" on man is not the primary cause of sin but its first consequence: that is to say, a consequence of a person's own attitude of mind which in moments of moral crisis induces him to choose the easier, and seemingly more pleasant, of the alternatives open to him, and thus to become guilty of a sin, whether by commission or omission. Thus, God's "causing" a person to commit a sin is conditional upon the existence, in the individual concerned, of an attitude of mind which makes him prone to commit such a sin: which, in its turn, presupposes man's free will - that is, the ability to make, within cerrtain limitations, a conscious choice between two or more possible courses of action.
O you who have attained to faith! Be not like those who are bent on denying the truth and say of their brethren [who die] after having set out on a journey to faraway places118 or gone forth to war, "Had they but remained with us, they would not have died," or, "they would not have been slain" - for God will cause such thoughts to become119 a source of bitter regret in their hearts, since it is God who grants life and deals death. And God sees all that you do.
And if indeed you are slain or die in God's cause, then surely forgiveness from God and His grace are better than all that one120 could amass [in this world]: (3:158) for, indeed, if you die or are slain, it will surely be unto God that you shall be gathered.
And it was by God's grace that thou [O Prophet] didst deal gently with thy followers:121 for if thou hadst been harsh and hard of heart, they would indeed have broken away from thee. Pardon them, then, and pray that they be forgiven. And take counsel with them in all matters of public concern; then, when thou hast decided upon a course of action, place thy trust in God: for, verily, God loves those who place their trust in Him.122
118 Lit., "when they travel on earth".
119 Lit.; "so that God causes this to be": but since the particle li in li-yaj'al is obviously a lam al-aqibah (i.e., the letter lam denoting a causal sequence), it is best rendered in this context by the conjunctive particle "and", combined with the future tense.
120 Lit., "they".
121 Lit., "with them" - i.e., with those of his followers who had failed in their duty before and during the disaster at Uhud. According to all available accounts, the Prophet did not even reproach any of them for what they had done.
122 This injunction, implying government by consent and council, must be regarded as one of the fundamental clauses of all Qur'anic legislation relating to statecraft. The pronoun "them" relates to the believers, that is, to the whole community; while the word al-amr occurring in this context - as well as in the much earlier-revealed phrase amruhum shura baynahum in 42:38 - denotes all affairs of public concern, including state administration. All authorities agree in that the above ordinance, although addressed in the first instance to the Prophet, is binding on all Muslims and for all times. (For its wider implications see State and Government in Islam, pp. 44 ff.) Some Muslim scholars conclude from the wording of this ordinance that the leader of the community, although obliged to take counsel, is nevertheless free to accept or to reject it; but the arbitrariness of this conclusion becomes obvious as soon as we recall that even the Prophet considered himself bound by the decisions of his council (see note 90 above). Moreover, when he was asked - according to a Tradition on the authority of 'Ali ibn Abi Talib - to explain the implications of the word 'azm ("deciding upon a course of action") which occurs in the above verse, the Prophet replied, "[It means] taking counsel with knowledgeable people (ahl ar-ra'y) and thereupon following them [therein]" (see Ibn Kathir's commentary on this verse).
If God succours you, none can ever overcome you; but if He should forsake you, who could succour you thereafter? In God, then, let the believers place their trust!
AND IT IS not conceivable that a prophet should deceive123 - since he who deceives shall be faced with his deceit on the Day of Resurrection, when every human being shall be repaid in full for whatever he has done, and none shall be wronged.
Is then he124 who strives after God's goodly acceptance like unto him who has earned the burden of God's condemnation125 and whose goal is hell? - and how vile a journey's end! (3:163) They are on [entirely] different levels in the sight of God; for God sees all that they do.
Indeed, God bestowed a favour upon the believers when he raised up in their midst an apostle from among themselves, to convey His messages unto them, and to cause them to grow in purity, and to impart unto them the divine writ as well as wisdom - whereas before that they were indeed, most obviously, lost in error.
AND DO YOU, now that a calamity has befallen you after you had inflicted twice as much [on your foes],126 ask yourselves, "How has this come about?" Say: "It has come from your own selves."127
Verily, God has the power to will anything: (3:166) and all that befell you on the day when the two hosts met in battle happened by God's leave, so that He might mark out the [true] believers,
(3:167) and mark out those who were tainted with hypocrisy and, when they were told, "Come, fight in God's cause" - or, "Defend yourselves"128 -answered, "If we but knew [that it would come to a] fight, we would indeed follow you." Unto apostasy were they nearer on that day than unto faith, uttering with their mouths something which was not in their hearts,129 the while God knew fully well what they were trying to conceal: (3:168) they who, having themselves held back [from fighting, later] said of their [slain] brethren, "Had they but paid heed to us, they would not have been slain." Say: "Avert, then, death from yourselves, if what you say is true!"
123 I.e., by attributing his own opinions to God, and then appealing to the believers to place their trust in Him alone. However contrary to reason such deceit may be, it is a common view among non-believers that the Prophet himself "composed" the Qur'an and thereupon falsely attributed it to divine revelation.
124 An allusion, in this case, to the Prophet Muhammad as well as to prophets in general.
125 I.e., by falsely attributing his own views to God or distorting His messages by arbitrary interpolations and deliberate changes in the wording of a revelation - an accusation often levelled in the Qur'an (e.g., 2: 79 and 3:78) against the followers of earlier revelations.
126 I.e., at the battle of Badr, in the year 2 H.
127 Many of the followers of the Prophet had been convinced that, whatever the circumstances, God would grant them victory on account of their faith alone. The bitter experience at Uhud came as a shock to them; and so the Qur'an reminds them that this calamity was a consequence of their own doings.
128 Only a fight in self-defence - in the widest meaning of this term - can be considered a "fight in God's cause" (see 2: 190-194, and the corresponding notes); and, thus, the particle "or" between these two phrases is almost synonymous with the expression "in other words".
129 This is an allusion to the three hundred men who, on the way from Medina to Mount Uhud, forsook the Prophet on the specious plea that he did not really intend to give battle (see note 90 above). But since they knew in their hearts that it would come to a fight, their defection from God's cause almost amounted to a denial of Him (kufr, here rendered as "apostasy").
3:169 But do not think of those that have been slain in God's cause as dead. Nay, they are alive! With their Sustainer have they their sustenance, (3:170) exulting in that [martyrdom] which God has bestowed upon them out of His bounty. And they rejoice in the glad tiding given to those [of their brethren] who have been left behind and have not yet joined them, that no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve: (3:171) they rejoice in the glad tiding of God's blessings and bounty, and [in the promise] that God will not fail to requite the believers (3:172) who responded to the call of God and the Apostle after misfortune had befallen them.130 A magnificent requital awaits those of them who have persevered in doing good and remained conscious of God: (3:173) those who have been warned by other people,131 "Behold, a host has gathered against you; so beware of them!" - whereupon this only increased their faith, so that they answered, "God is enough for us; and how excellent a guardian is He!" (3:174) - and returned [from the battle] with God's blessings and bounty, without having been touched by evil:132 for they had been striving after God's goodly acceptance - and God is limitless in His great bounty.
It is but Satan who instils [into you] fear of his allies:133 so fear them not, but fear Me, if you are [truly] believers!
130 Lit., "after injury had afflicted them". Most of the commentators assume that this is an allusion to the losses sustained by the Muslims at the battle of Uhud. It is, however, probable that the implication is much wider, the more so since this passage connects directly with the preceding verses which speak, in general terms, of the martyrs who die in God's cause. There is a distinct tendency on the part of most of the classical commentators to read minute historical references into many Qur'anic passages which express ideas of a far wider import and apply to the human condition as such. Verses 172-175 are an instance of this. Some commentators are of the opinion that they refer to the fruitless expedition to Hamra' al-Asad on the day following the battle of Uhud, while others see in it an allusion to the Prophet's expedition, in the following year, known to history as the "Little Badr" (Badr as-Sughra ); others, again, think that verse 172 refers to the former and verses 173-174 to the latter. In view of this obvious lack of unanimity - due to the absence of a really authoritative support, either in the Qur'an itself or in authentic Traditions, for any of these speculative assumptions - there is every reason for concluding that the whole passage under consideration expresses a general moral, rounding off, as it were, the historical references to the battle of Uhud and the lessons to be drawn therefrom.
131 Lit., "those to whom people said".
132 I.e., the moral evil arising out of weakness of faith and loss of courage: an allusion to what happened to many Muslims at Uhud.
133 I.e., people who "ally themselves with Satan" by deliberately doing wrong.
And be not grieved by those who vie with one another in denying the truth: verily, they can in no wise harm God. It is God's will that they shall have no share134 in the [blessings of the] life to come; and tremendous suffering awaits them.
Verily, they who have bought a denial of the truth at the price of faith can in no wise harm God, whereas grievous suffering awaits them. (3:178) And they should not think - they who are bent on denying the truth - that Our giving them rein is good for them: We give them rein only to let them grow in sinfulness; and shameful suffering awaits them.135
It is not God's will [O you who deny the truth] to abandon the believers to your way of life:136 [and] to that end He will set apart the bad from the good. And it is not God's will to give you insight into that which is beyond the reach of human perception: but [to that end] God elects whomsoever He wills from among His apostles.137 Believe, then, in God and His apostles; for if you believe and are conscious of Him, a magnificent requital awaits you.
134 Lit., "that He will not assign to them a share".
135 This is an allusion to the doctrine of natural law (in Qur'anic terminology, sunnat Allah, "God's way") to which man's inclinations and actions - as well as all other happenings in the universe - are subject. The above verse says, as it were, "Since these people are bent on denying the truth, Our giving them rein [that is, freedom of choice and time for a reconsideration of their attitude] will not work out for their benefit but will, on the contrary, cause them to grow in false self-confidence and, thus, in sinfulness." As in many similar passages in the Qur'an, God attributes here their "growing in sinfulness" to His own will because it is He who has imposed on all His creation the natural law of cause and effect. (See also note 4 on 14:4.)
136 Some commentators (e.g., Razi) assume that the expression ma antum 'alayhi (lit.. "that upon which you are") denotes here "the condition in which you are" - i.e., the state of weakness and confusion in which the Muslim community found itself after the battle of Uhud - and that, therefore, this passage is addressed to the believers. This interpretation, however, is not plausible. Apart from the fact that the believers are here referred to in the third person, while ma antum 'alayhi is in the second person plural, the latter expression denotes almost invariably, both in the Qur'an and in the Traditions, people's mode of life and beliefs. Moreover, we have reliable reports to the effect that Ibn 'Abbas, Qatadah, Ad-Dahhak, Muqatil and Al-Kalbi unhesitatingly declared that the people addressed here are "those who deny the truth" to whom the preceding passages refer (see Tabari's and Baghawi's commentaries on this verse). Read in this sense, the above passage implies that the believers would, in time, differ from the unbelievers not only in their convictions but also in their social aims and their manner of living.
137 I.e., it is through these apostles that God vouchsafes to man a partial glimpse of the reality of which He alone has full knowledge.
AND THEY should not think - they who niggardly cling to all that God has granted them out of His bounty - that this is good for them: nay, it is bad for them.138 That to which they [so] niggardly cling will, on the Day of Resurrection, be hung about their necks: for unto God [alone] belongs the heritage of the heavens and of the earth; and God is aware of all that you do.
God has indeed heard the saying of those who said, "Behold, God is poor while we are rich!"139 We shall record what they have said, as well as their slaying of prophets against all right,140 and We shall say [unto them on Judgment Day]: "Taste suffering through fire (3:182) in return for what your own hands have wrought - for never does God do the least wrong to His creatures!"
As for those who maintain, "Behold, God has bidden us not to believe in any apostle unless he comes unto us with burnt offerings"141 - say [unto them, O Prophet]: "Even before me there came unto you apostles with all evidence of the truth, and with that whereof you speak: why, then, did you slay them, if what you say is true?"142
138 This is an allusion to the way of life of the unbelievers mentioned in verse 179 above: a way of life characterized by extreme attachment to the material things of this world - a materialism based on a lack of belief in anything that transcends the practical problems of life.
139 According to several authentic Traditions, the Jews of Medina were given to satirizing the phraseology of the Qur'an, and especially 2:245 - "Who is it that will offer up unto God a goodly loan, which He will amply repay, with manifold increase?"
140 Regarding this accusation levelled against the Jews, see surah 2, note 48.
141 Lit., "with an offering which the fire consumes" - in other words, unless he conforms to Mosaic Law, which prescribes burnt offerings as an essential part of divine services. Although this aspect of the Law had been left in abeyance ever since the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, the Jews of post-Talmudic times were convinced that the Messiah promised to them would restore the Mosaic rites in their entirety; and so they refused to accept as a prophet anyone who did not conform to the Law of the Torah in every detail.
142 At the time of the martyrdom of John the Baptist and of Zachariah, of Jesus' exclamation, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets" (Matthew xxiii, 37), and of the reference of Paul of Tarsus to the Jews "who killed their own prophets" (I Thessalonians ii, 15), the Second Temple was still in existence, and burnt offerings were a daily practice: thus, the refusal of the Jews to accept the prophets alluded to, culminating in their killing, could not be attributed to those prophets' lack of conformity with Mosaic Law.
And if they give thee the lie - even so, before thy time, have [other] apostles been given the lie when they came with all evidence of the truth, and with books of divine wisdom, and with light-giving revelation.
Every human being is bound to taste death: but only on the Day of Resurrection will you be requited in full [for whatever you have done] - whereupon he that shall be drawn away from the fire and brought into paradise will indeed have gained a triumph: for the life of this world is nothing but an enjoyment of self-delusion.
You shall most certainly be tried in your possessions and in your persons; and indeed you shall hear many hurtful things from those to whom revelation was granted before your time, as well as from those who have come to ascribe divinity to other beings beside God. But if you remain patient in adversity and conscious of Him - this, behold, is something to set one's heart upon.
AND LO, God accepted a solemn pledge from those who were granted earlier revelation [when He bade them]: "Make it known unto mankind, and do not conceal it!"143 But they cast this [pledge] behind their backs, and bartered it away for a trifling gain: and how evil was their bargain!144
Think not that those who exult in what they have thus contrived, and who love to be praised for what they have not done145 - think not that they will escape suffering: for grievous suffering does await them [in the life to come].
143 This connects with verses 183-184, where the Jews are spoken of as refusing to accept the message of the Qur'an. The implication of verse 187 above is that the advent of the Prophet Muhammad was predicted in both the Old and New Testaments, and that the followers of the Bible had been called upon to spread this prophecy and not - as they actually have done - to suppress it.
144 Lit., "that which they are buying" - an allusion to the belief of the Jews that they are "God's chosen people", and to the conviction of the Christians that their belief in Jesus' "vicarious atonement" automatically assures to them salvation: the "bargain" being, in both cases, an illusion of immunity in the life to come.
145 I.e., they have not, in spite of all their claims, preserved the integrity of the Bible and of Abraham's faith (Razi).
AND UNTO GOD belongs the dominion over the heavens and the earth: and God has the power to will anything.
Verily, in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and in the succession of night and day, there are indeed messages for all who are endowed with insight, (3:191) [and] who remember God when they stand, and when they sit, and when they lie down to sleep,146 and [thus] reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth:
"O our Sustainer! Thou hast not created [aught of] this without meaning and purpose.147 Limitless art Thou in Thy glory! Keep us safe, then, from suffering through fire!
"O our Sustainer! Whomsoever Thou shalt commit to the fire, him, verily, wilt Thou have brought to disgrace [in this world];148 and such evildoers will have none to succour them.
3:193 "O our Sustainer! Behold, we heard a voice149 call [us] unto faith, 'Believe in your Sustainer!' - and so we came to believe. O our Sustainer! Forgive us, then, our sins, and efface our bad deeds; and let us die the death of the truly virtuous!
"And, O our Sustainer, grant us that which Thou hast promised us through Thy apostles, and disgrace us not on Resurrection Day! Verily, Thou never failest to fulfil Thy promise!"
And thus does their Sustainer answer their prayer:
"I shall not lose sight of the labour of any of you who labours [in My way], be it man or woman: each of you is an issue of the other.150 Hence, as for those who forsake the domain of evil,151 and are driven from their homelands, and suffer hurt in My cause, and fight [for it], and are slain - I shall most certainly efface their bad deeds, and shall most certainly bring them into gardens through which running waters flow, as a reward from God: for with God is the most beauteous of rewards."
146 Lit., "and [lying] on their sides".
147 Lit., "in vain" (batilan): see note 11 on 10:5.
148 I.e., the suffering which a sinner will have to undergo in the life to come will be a
consequence of the spiritual disgrace which he has already brought upon himself by his
actions in this world.
149 Lit., "a caller".
150 I.e., "you all are members of one and the same human race, and therefore equal to one another".
151 See surah 2, note 203, and surah 4, note 124.
LET IT NOT deceive thee that those who are bent on denying the truth seem to be able to do as they please on earth: (3:197) it is [but] a brief enjoyment, with hell thereafter as their goal - and how vile a resting-place! - (3:198) whereas those who remain conscious of their Sustainer shall have gardens through which running waters flow, therein to abide: a ready welcome from God. And that which is with God is best for the truly virtuous.
And, behold, among the followers of earlier revelation there are indeed such as [truly] believe in God, and in that which has been bestowed from on high upon you as well as in that which has been bestowed upon them. Standing in awe of God, they do not barter away God's messages for a trifling gain. They shall have their reward with their Sustainer - for, behold, God is swift in reckoning!
O you who have attained to faith! Be patient in adversity, and vie in patience with one another, and be ever ready [to do what is right], and remain conscious of God, so that you might attain to a happy state!
THE TITLE An-Nisa' has been given to this surah because many of its passages deal with the rights of women and with questions relating to family life in general, including laws of inheritance, prohibition of marriage within certain degrees of consanguinity, marital relations, and so forth. The opening verse stresses the essential unity of the human race and the mutual obligations, arising from this kinship, of men and women towards one another. A large part of the surah is devoted to practical legislation bearing on problems of peace and war, as well as to relations of believers with unbelievers, especially with hypocrites. Verses 150-152 refute the possibility of believing in God without believing in His prophets: and this, in turn, leads to the subject of the Jews, who deny the prophethood not only of Muhammad but also of Jesus, as well as of the Christians, who deny Muhammad and deify Jesus although he "never felt too proud to be God's servant" (verse 172). And, finally, as if to stress the inseparability of man's beliefs from his social behaviour, the last verse refers, again, to laws of inheritance.
There is no doubt that this surah belongs in its entirety to the Medina period. In the order of revelation it either follows immediately upon Al 'Imran or - according to some authorities - is separated from the latter, in point of time, by Al-Ahzab and Al-Mumtahanah. On the whole, however, it is most probable that it was revealed in the fourth year after the hijrah, although a few of its verses may belong to an earlier, and verse 58 to a later, period.
4:1 O MANKIND! Be conscious of your Sustainer, who has created you out of one living entity, and out of it created its mate, and out of the two spread abroad a multitude of men and women.1 And remain conscious of God, in whose name you demand [your rights] from one another, and of these ties of kinship. Verily, God is ever watchful over you!
Hence, render unto the orphans their possessions, and do not substitute bad things [of your own] for the good things [that belong to them], and do not consume their possessions together with your own:2 this, verily, is a great crime.
And if you have reason to fear that you might not act equitably towards orphans, then marry from among [other] women such as are lawful to you3 - [even] two, or three, or four: but if you have reason to fear that you might not be able to treat them with equal fairness, then [only] one or [from among] those whom you rightfully possess.4 This will make it more likely that you will not deviate from the right course.
1 Out of the many meanings attributable to the term nafs - soul, spirit, mind, animate being, living entity, human being, person, self (in the sense of a personal identity), humankind, life-essence, vital principle, and so forth - most of the classical commentators choose "human being", and assume that it refers here to Adam. Muhammad 'Abduh, however, rejects this interpretation (Manar IV, 323 ff.) and gives, instead, his preference to "humankind" inasmuch as this term stresses the common origin and brotherhood of the human race (which, undoubtedly, is the purport of the above verse), without, at the same time, unwarrantably tying it to the Biblical account of the creation of Adam and Eve. My rendering of nafs, in this context, as "living entity" follows the same reasoning - As regards the expression zawjaha ("its mate"), it is to be noted that, with reference to animate beings, the term zawj ("a pair", "one of a pair" or "a mate") applies to the male as well as to the female component of a pair or couple; hence, with reference to human beings, it signifies a woman's mate (husband) as well as a man's mate (wife). Abu Muslim - as quoted by Razi - interprets the phrase "He created out of it (minha) its mate" as meaning "He created its mate [i.e., its sexual counterpart] out of its own kind (min jinsiha)", thus supporting the view of Muhammad 'Abduh referred to above. The literal translation of minha as "out of it" clearly alludes, in conformity with the text, to the biological fact that both sexes have originated from "one living entity".
2 This relates to the legal guardians of orphans during the latter's minority.
3 Lit., "such as are good for you" - i.e., women outside the prohibited degrees enumerated in verses 22-23 of this surah (Zamakhshari, Razi). According to an interpretation suggested
by A'ishah, the Prophet's widow, this refers to the (hypothetical) case of orphan girls whom their guardians might wish to marry without, however, being prepared or able to give them an appropriate marriage-portion - the implication being that they should avoid the temptation of committing such an injustice and should marry other women instead (cf. Bukhari, Kitab at-Tafsir, as well as Muslim and Nasai). However, not all of A'ishah's contemporaries subscribed to her explanation of this verse. Thus, according to Said ibn Jubayr, Qatadah, and other successors of the Companions, the purport of the above passage is this: "Just as you are, rightly, fearful of offending against the interests of orphans, you must apply the same careful consideration to the interests and rights of the women whom you intend to marry." In his commentary on this passage, Tabari quotes several variants of the above interpretation and gives it his unequivocal approval.
4 Lit., "whom your right hands possess" - i.e., from among the captives taken in a war in God's cause (regarding which see notes on surah 2, notes 167 and 168, and surah 8, note 72). It is obvious that the phrase "two, or three, or four: but if you have reason to fear...", etc. is a parenthetic clause relating to both the free women mentioned in the first part of the sentence and to female slaves - for both these nouns are governed by the imperative verb "marry". Thus, the whole sentence has this meaning: "Marry from among [other] women such as are lawful to you, or [from among] those whom you rightfully possess - [even] two, or three, or four: but if you have reason to fear that you might not be able to treat them with equal fairness, then [only] one" - implying that, irrespective of whether they are free women or, originally, slaves, the number of wives must not exceed four. It was in this sense that Muhammad 'Abduh understood the above verse (see Manar IV, 350). This view is, moreover, supported by verse 25 of this surah as well as by 24:32, where marriage with female slaves is spoken of. Contrary to the popular view and the practice of many Muslims in the past centuries, neither the Qur'an nor the life-example of the Prophet provides any sanction for sexual intercourse without marriage.
As regards the permission to marry more than one wife (up to the maximum of four), it is so restricted by the condition, "if you have reason to fear that you might not be able to treat them with equal fairness, then [marry only] one", as to make such plural marriages possible only in quite exceptional cases and under exceptional circumstances (see also the first clause of 24:32 and the corresponding note). Still, one might ask why the same latitude has not been given to women as well; but the answer is simple. Notwithstanding the spiritual factor of love which influences the relations between man and woman, the determinant biological reason for the sexual urge is, in both sexes, procreation: and whereas a woman can, at one time, conceive a child from one man only and has to carry it for nine months before she can conceive another, a man can beget a child every time he cohabits with a woman. Thus, while nature would have been merely wasteful if it had produced a polygamous instinct in woman, man's polygamous inclination is biologically justified. It is, of course, obvious that the biological factor is only one - and by no means always the most important - of the aspects of marital love: none the less, it is a basic factor and, therefore, decisive in the institution of marriage as such. With the wisdom that always takes human nature fully into account, Islamic Law undertakes no more than the safeguarding of the socio-biological function of marriage (which includes also care of the progeny), allowing a man to have more than one wife and not allowing a woman to have more than one husband at one time; while the spiritual problem of marriage, being imponderable and therefore outside the scope of law, is left to the discretion of the partners. In any event - since marriage in Islam is a purely civil contract - recourse to divorce is always open to either of the two partners. (Regarding the dissolution of a marriage at the wife's instance, see note on surah 2, verse 229.)
And give unto women their marriage portions in the spirit of a gift;5 but if they, of their own accord, give up unto you aught thereof, then enjoy it with pleasure and good cheer.
And do not entrust to those who are weak of judgment the possessions which God has placed in your charge6 for [their] support; but let them have their sustenance therefrom, and clothe them, and speak unto them in a kindly way. (4:6) And test the orphans [in your charge] until they reach a marriageable age; then, if you find them to be mature of mind, hand over to them their possessions; and do not consume them by wasteful spending, and in haste, ere they grow up. And let him who is rich abstain entirely [from his ward's property]; and let him who is poor partake thereof in a fair manner. And when you hand over to them their possessions, let there be witnesses on their behalf - although none can take count as God does.
5 The expression nihlah signifies the giving of something willingly, of one's own accord, without expecting a return for it (Zamakhshari). It is to be noted that the amount of the marriage-portion, or dower which the bridegroom has to give to the bride has not been circumscribed by the Law: it depends entirely on the agreement of the two parties, and may consist of anything, even a mere token. According to several authentic Traditions recorded in most of the compilations, the Prophet made it clear that "even an iron ring" may be enough if the bride is willing to accept it, or, short of that, even "the imparting to thy bride of a verse of the Qur'an".
6 Lit., "your possessions which God has assigned to you". The context makes it obvious that this relates to the property of orphans who have not yet reached the age of discretion and are, therefore, "weak of judgment" (lit., "weak-minded").
4:7 MEN SHALL have a share in what parents and kinsfolk leave behind, and women shall have a share in what parents and kinsfolk leave behind, whether it be little or much - a share ordained [by God]. (4:8) And when [other] near of kin and orphans and needy persons7 are present at the distribution [of inheritance], give them something thereof for their sustenance, and speak unto them in a kindly way. (4:9) And let them stand in awe [of God], those [legal heirs] - who, if they [themselves] had to leave behind weak offspring, would feel fear on their account - and let them remain conscious of God, and let them speak [to the poor] in a just manner.
Behold, those who sinfully devour the possessions of orphans but fill their bellies with fire: for [in the life to come] they will have to endure a blazing flame!
CONCERNING [the inheritance of] your children, God enjoins [this] upon you:8 The male shall have the equal of two females' share; but if there are more than two females, they shall have two-thirds of what [their parents] leave behind; and if there is only one daughter, she shall have one-half thereof.
And as for the parents [of the deceased], each of them shall have one-sixth of what he leaves behind, in the event of his having [left] a child; but if he has left no child and his parents are his [only] heirs, then his mother shall have one-third; and if he has brothers and sisters, then his mother shall have one-sixth after [the deduction of] any bequest he may have made, or any debt [he may have incurred]. As for your parents and your children - you know not which of them is more deserving of benefit from you: [therefore this] ordinance from God. Verily, God is all-knowing, wise.
7 I.e., people who do not have any legal claim to the inheritance, but nevertheless deserve to be considered.
8 In my notes on verses 11-12, which spell out the legal shares of inheritance due to the next
of kin, no attempt has been made to analyze all the legal implications of this ordinance. The
laws of inheritance are the subject of a special, and very elaborate, branch of Islamic
jurisprudence, and their full elucidation would go far beyond the scope of explanatory notes
which aim at no more than making the text of the Qur'an accessible to the understanding of
the non-specialized reader.
And you shall inherit one-half of what your wives leave behind, provided they have left no child; but if they have left a child, then you shall have one-quarter of what they leave behind, after [the deduction of] any bequest they may have made, or any debt [they may have incurred]. And your widows9 shall have one-quarter of what you leave behind, provided you have left no child; but if you have left a child, then they shall have one-eighth of what you leave behind, after [the deduction of] any bequest you may have made, or any debt [you may have incurred].
And if a man or a woman has no heir in the direct line, but has a brother or a sister, then each of these two shall inherit one-sixth; but if there are more than two,10 then they shall share in one-third [of the inheritance], after [the deduction of] any bequest that may have been made, or any debt [that may have been incurred], neither of which having been intended to harm [the heirs].11
[This is] an injunction from God: and God is all-knowing, forbearing.
These are the bounds set by God. And whoever pays heed unto God and His Apostle, him will He bring into gardens through which running waters flow, therein to abide: and this is a triumph supreme. (4:14) And whoever rebels against God and His Apostle and transgresses His bounds, him will He commit unto fire, therein to abide; and shameful suffering awaits him.
AND AS FOR those of your women who become guilty of immoral conduct, call upon four from among you who have witnessed their guilt; and if these bear witness thereto, confine the guilty women12 to their houses until death takes them away or God opens for them a way [through repentance]. (4:16) And punish [thus] both of the guilty parties;13 but if they both repent and mend their ways, leave them alone: for, behold, God is an acceptor of repentance, a dispenser of grace.14
9 Lit., "they".
10 Lit., "more than that". According to most of the classical commentators, this passage refers to half-brothers and half-sisters. The inheritance of full brothers and sisters is dealt with at the end of this surah (verse 176).
11 This refers to bequests and fictitious debts meant to deprive the heirs of their legal shares. According to several authentic Traditions, the Prophet forbade, in cases where there are legal heirs, the making of bequests to other persons in excess of one-third of one's estate (Bukhari and Muslim). If, however, there are no near of kin legally entitled to a share of the inheritance, the testator is free to bequeath his fortune in any way he desires.
12 Lit., "them".
13 Lit., "and the two from among you who become guilty thereof, punish them both". According to most of the commentators, this refers to immoral conduct on the part of a man and a woman as well as to homosexual relations.
14 Some of the commentators attribute to the term fahishah (here rendered as "immoral conduct") the meaning of "adultery" or "fornication" and are, consequently, of the opinion that this verse has been "abrogated" by 24:2, which lays down the punishment of one hundred stripes for each of the guilty parties. This unwarranted assumption must, however, be rejected. Quite apart from the impossibility of admitting that any passage of the Qur'an could have been "abrogated" by another of its passages (see note on surah 2 verse 106), the expression fahishah does not, by itself, connote illicit sexual intercourse: it signifies anything that is grossly immodest, unseemly, lewd, indecent or abominable in word or in deed (cf. Lane VI, 2344 f.), and is by no means restricted to sexual transgressions. Read in this context, and in conjunction with 24:2, this expression obviously denotes here immoral conduct not necessarily amounting to what is termed zina (i.e., "adultery" or "fornication"), and therefore redeemable by sincere repentance (in contrast to a proven act of zina, which is punishable by flogging).- It is noteworthy that in all cases of alleged sexual transgressions or misbehaviour the Qur'an stipulates the direct evidence of four witnesses (instead of the two required in all other judicial cases) as a sine qua non of conviction. For the reasons underlying this injunction, as well as for its judicial implications, see note on 24:4.
Verily, God's acceptance of repentance relates only to those who do evil out of ignorance and then repent before their time runs out:15 and it is they unto whom God will turn again in His mercy - for God is all-knowing, wise; (4:18) whereas repentance shall not be accepted from those who do evil deeds until their dying hour and then say,16 "Behold, I now repent"; nor from those who die as deniers of the truth: it is these for whom We have readied grievous suffering.
O YOU who have attained to faith! It is not lawful for you to [try to] become heirs to your wives [by holding onto them] against their will;17 and neither shall you keep them under constraint with a view to taking away anything of what you may have given them, unless it be that they have become guilty, in an obvious manner, of immoral conduct.18
And consort with your wives19 in a goodly manner; for if you dislike them, it may well be that you dislike something which God might yet make a source of20 abundant good.
15 The expression min qarib, which here implies nearness in time, could also be rendered as "soon", i.e., soon after having committed the evil deed; most of the classical commentators, however, hold that in this context it denotes the time before the actual approach of death.
This interpretation is borne out by the next verse.
16 Lit., "until, when death approaches one of them, he says".
17 According to one of the interpretations advanced by Zamakhshari, this refers to a man's forcibly keeping an unloved wife - and thus preventing her from marrying another man - in the hope of inheriting her property under the provisions specified in the first sentence of verse 12 above. Some authorities, however, are of the opinion that the meaning is: "It is not lawful for you to inherit women against their will" - thus expressing a prohibition of the pre-Islamic custom of inheriting the wives of deceased near relatives. But in view of the fact that Islam does not permit the "inheriting" of women under any circumstances (and not only "against their will"), the former interpretation is infinitely more plausible.
18 In the event that a wife's immoral conduct has been proved by the direct evidence of four witnesses, as stipulated in verse 15 above, the husband has the right, on divorcing her, to demand the return of the whole or of part of the dower which he gave her at the time when the marriage was contracted. If - as is permissible under Islamic Law - the dower has not been actually handed over to the bride at the time of marriage but has taken the form of a legal obligation on the part of the husband, he is absolved of this obligation in the case of proven immoral conduct on the part of his wife.
19 Lit., "with them".
20 Lit., "and God might place in it".
But if you desire to give up a wife and to take another in her stead, do not take away anything of what you have given the first one, however much it may have been.21 Would you, perchance, take it away by slandering her and thus committing a manifest sin?22 (4:21) And how could you take it away after you have given yourselves to one another, and she has23 received a most solemn pledge from you?
AND DO NOT marry women whom your fathers have previously married - although what is past is past:24 this, verily, is a shameful deed, and a hateful thing, and an evil way.
21 Lit., "if you desire the exchange of a wife in place of a wife, and you have given one of them a treasure (qintar), do not take away anything thereof". The allusion to the "exchange" of one wife for another is a clear indication of the Qur'anic view that a monogamous marriage is the desirable norm.
22 I.e., by falsely accusing her of immoral conduct in the hope of regaining her dower (see note on verse 19 above).
23 Lit., "they have" - the reference being to all married women.
24 Lit., "except what has come to pass earlier" - i.e., forgiven shall be he who did it before the promulgation of this Qur'anic ordinance or (in the case of a conversion in later times) before one's acceptance of Islam.
Forbidden to you are your mothers, and your daughters, and your sisters, and your aunts paternal and maternal, and a brother's daughters, and a sister's daughters; and your milk-mothers, and your milk-sisters; and the mothers of your wives; and your step-daughters - who are your foster children - born of your wives with whom you have consummated your marriage; but if you have not consummated your marriage, you will incur no sin [by marrying their daughters]; and [forbidden to you are] the spouses of the sons who have sprung from your loins; and [you are forbidden] to have two sisters [as your wives] at one and the same time - but what is past is past:25 for, behold, God is indeed much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace.
And [forbidden to you are] all married women other than those whom you rightfully possess [through wedlock]:26 this is God's ordinance, binding upon you. But lawful to you are all [women] beyond these, for you to seek out, offering them of your possessions,27 taking them in honest wedlock, and not in fornication. And unto those with whom you desire to enjoy marriage, you shall give the dowers due to them; but you will incur no sin if, after [having agreed upon] this lawful due, you freely agree with one another upon anything [else]:28 behold, God is indeed all-knowing, wise.
25 See preceding note.
26 The term muhsanah signifies literally "a woman who is fortified [against unchastity]", and carries three senses: (1) "a married woman", (2) "a chaste woman", and (3) "a free woman". According to almost all the authorities, al-muhsanat denotes in the above context "married women". As for the expression ma malakat aymanukum ("those whom your right hands possess", i.e., "those whom you rightfully possess"), it is often taken to mean female slaves captured in a war in God's cause (see in this connection 8:67, and the corresponding note). The commentators who choose this meaning hold that such slave-girls can be taken in marriage irrespective of whether they have husbands in the country of their origin or not. However, quite apart from the fundamental differences of opinion, even among the Companions of the Prophet, regarding the legality of such a marriage, some of the most outstanding commentators hold the view that ma malakat aymanukum denotes here "women whom you rightfully possess
through wedlock"; thus Razi in his commentary on this verse, and Tabari in one of his alternative explanations (going back to 'Abd Allah ibn 'Abbas, Mujahid, and others). Razi, in particular, points out that the reference to "all married women" (al-muhsanat min an-nisa'), coming as it does after the enumeration of prohibited degrees of relationship, is meant to stress the prohibition of sexual relations with any woman other than one's lawful wife.
And as for those of you who, owing to circumstances, are not in a position29 to marry free believing women, [let them marry] believing maidens from among those whom you rightfully possess.30 And God knows all about your faith; each one of you is an issue of the other.31 Marry them, then, with their people's leave, and give them their dowers in an equitable manner - they being women who give themselves in honest wedlock, not in fornication, nor as secret lovecompanions.32 And when they are married, and thereafter become guilty of immoral conduct, they shall be liable to half the penalty to which free married women are liable.33 This [permission to marry slave-girls applies] to those of you who fear lest they stumble into evil.34 But it is for your own good to persevere in patience [and to abstain from such marriages]: and God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace.
27 Lit., "with your possessions" - i.e., offering them, as the Law demands, an appropriate dower.
28 Cf. verse 4 of this surah, and the corresponding note.
29 The phrase lam yastati tawlan is often taken to mean "he is not in a position to afford", i.e., in the financial sense; but Muhammad 'Abduh very convincingly expresses the view that it applies to all manner of preventive circumstances, be they of a material, personal or social nature (Manar V, 19).
30 In this context, ma malakat aymanukum (lit., "those whom your right hands possess") denotes women who were captured in a holy war and have subsequently embraced Islam. In the above phrase, the pronoun "you" refers to the community as a whole.
31 I.e., since all human beings - whatever their outward "social status" - are members of one and the same human family, and are therefore equal to one another in the sight of God (cf. 3:195), it is only the strength or weakness of faith which makes one person superior or inferior to another.
32 Lit., "and not taking unto themselves secret love-companions". This passage lays down in an unequivocal manner that sexual relations with female slaves are permitted only on the basis of marriage, and that in this respect there is no difference between them and free women; consequently, concubinage is ruled out.
33 The weaker social status of a slave makes her, obviously, more accessible to temptation than a free married woman is presumed to be.
34 I.e., to those who for one reason or another are unable to marry free women and are, at the same time, not equal to the temptations arising from celibacy. As is made clear in the next sentence, the Qur'an discourages such marriages - obviously with a view to removing a major attraction from the institution of slavery as such, and thus promoting its abolition.
God wants to make [all this] clear unto you, and to guide you onto the [righteous] ways of life of those who preceded you,35 and to turn unto you in His mercy: for God is all-knowing, wise.
(4:27) And God wants to turn unto you in His mercy, whereas those who follow [only] their own lusts want you to drift far away from the right path.36
God wants to lighten your burdens:37 for man has been created weak.
35 An allusion to the genuine religious teachings of the past, which aimed at bringing about a harmony between man's physical nature and the demands of his spirit - a harmony which is destroyed whenever asceticism is postulated as the only possible alternative to licentiousness (see also note on surah 2, verse 143). This allusion arises from the discussion of sexual morality in the preceding passages devoted to marital relations.
36 Lit., "want you to deviate with a tremendous deviation".
37 I.e., to remove, by means of His guidance, all possibility of conflict between man's spirit and his bodily urges, and to show him a way of life in which these two elements of human nature can be harmonized and brought to full fruition.
O YOU who have attained to faith! Do not devour one another's possessions wrongfully - not even by way of trade based on mutual agreement38 - and do not destroy one another: for, behold, God is indeed a dispenser of grace unto you! (4:30) And as for him who does this with malicious intent and a will to do wrong39 -him shall We, in time, cause to endure [suffering through] fire: for this is indeed easy for God.
If you avoid the great sins, which you have been enjoined to shun, We shall efface your [minor] bad deeds, and shall cause you to enter an abode of glory.40
Hence, do not covet the bounties which God has bestowed more abundantly on some of you than on others. Men shall have a benefit from what they earn, and women shall have a benefit from what they earn. Ask, therefore, God [to give you] out of His bounty: behold, God has indeed full knowledge of everything.
And unto everyone have We appointed heirs to what he may leave behind: parents, and near kinsfolk, and those to whom you have pledged your troth:41 give them, therefore, their share. Behold, God is indeed a witness unto everything.
38 If the particle illa preceding the above clause is given its usual meaning of "except" or "unless it be", the phrase ought to be rendered thus: "unless it be [an act of] trade based on mutual agreement". This formulation, however, has baffled many a commentator: for, if taken literally, it would imply that wrongful profits from trading based on mutual agreement are excepted from the general prohibition, "Devour not one another's possessions wrongfully"- a supposition impossible to maintain in view of the ethics postulated by the Qur'an. To obviate
this difficulty, most of the commentators express the opinion that the particle illa has in this context the meaning of "but", and that the clause ought to be understood as follows: "but it is lawful for you to profit from one another's possessions by way of legitimate trade based on mutual agreement". However, quite apart from the fact that this interpretation is highly laboured and artificial, it does not explain why "legitimate trade" should have been singled out here as a sole means of lawfully deriving economic benefits from one another - for, as Razi rightly points out in his commentary on this verse, "it is no less lawful to benefit economically through a gift, a bequest, a legal inheritance, alms, a dower, or an indemnity for injuries received: for there are, aside from trade, many ways of acquiring possessions [lawfully]". Why, then, should trade alone have been stressed? - and, moreover, stressed in a context not particularly devoted to matters of trade? A really satisfactory answer to this puzzle can, in my opinion, be obtained only through a linguistic consideration of the particle illa. Apart from its usual connotation of "except" or "unless it be", it has sometimes - as has been pointed out in both Qamus and Mughni - the meaning of the simple conjunction "and" (wa); similarly, if it is preceded by a negative clause, it can be synonymous with "nor" or "and neither" (wa-la): as, for instance, in 27:10-11, "no fear need the message-bearers have in My Presence, and neither (illa) need he who...", etc. Now if we apply this particular use of illa to the passage under consideration, we arrive at the reading, "nor [shall you do it] by means of trade based on mutual agreement", or simply, "not even by way of trade based on mutual agreement" - whereupon the meaning immediately becomes obvious: the believers are prohibited from devouring another person's possessions wrongfully even if that other person - being the weaker party - agrees to such a deprivation or exploitation under the stress of circumstances. The reading adopted by me logically connects, moreover, with verse 32, which admonishes the believers not to covet one another's possessions.
39 Lit., "by way of [deliberate] transgression and wrongdoing" ('udwanan wa-zulman).
40 I.e., paradise. However, according to some of the commentators, the expression mudkhal denotes not the place but the manner of "entering" (Razi) - in which case the above phrase may be rendered thus: "We shall cause you to enter [upon your afterlife] in a state of glory".
41 I.e., wives and husbands (Abu Muslim, as quoted by Razi).
MEN SHALL take full care of women with the bounties which God has bestowed more abundantly on the former than on the latter,42 and with what they may spend out of their possessions. And the righteous women are the truly devout ones, who guard the intimacy which God has [ordained to be] guarded.43
And as for those women whose ill-will44 you have reason to fear, admonish them [first]; then leave them alone in bed; then beat them;45 and if thereupon they pay you heed, do not seek to harm them. Behold, God is indeed most high, great!
42 Lit., "more on some of them than on the others".- The expression qawwam is an intensive form of qa'im ("one who is responsible for" or "takes care of" a thing or a person). Thus, qama 'ala l-mar'ah signifies "he undertook the maintenance of the woman" or "he maintained her" (see Lane VIII, 2995). The grammatical form qawwam is more comprehensive than qa'im, and combines the concepts of physical maintenance and protection as well as of moral responsibility: and it is because of the last-named factor that I have rendered this phrase as "men shall take full care of women".
43 Lit., "who guard that which cannot be perceived (al-ghayb) because God has [willed it to be] guarded".
44 The term nushuz (lit., "rebellion"- here rendered as "ill-will") comprises every kind of deliberate bad behaviour of a wife towards her husband or of a husband towards his wife, including what is nowadays described as "mental cruelty"; with reference to the husband, it also denotes "ill-treatment", in the physical sense, of his wife (cf. verse 128 of this surah). In this context, a wife's "ill-will" implies a deliberate, persistent breach of her marital obligations.
45 It is evident from many authentic Traditions that the Prophet himself intensely detested the idea of beating one's wife, and said on more than one occasion, "Could any of you beat his wife as he would beat a slave, and then lie with her in the evening?" (Bukhari and Muslim). According to another Tradition, he forbade the beating of any woman with the words, "Never beat God's handmaidens" (Abu Da'ud, Nasa'i, Ibn Majah, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Ibn Hibban and Hakim, on the authority of Iyas ibn 'Abd Allah; Ibn Hibban, on the authority of 'Abd Allah ibn 'Abbas; and Bayhaqi, on the authority of Umm Kulthum). When the above Qur'an-verse authorizing the beating of a refractory wife was revealed, the Prophet is reported to have said: "I wanted one thing, but God has willed another thing - and what God has willed must be best" (see Manar V, 74). With all this, he stipulated in his sermon on the occasion of the Farewell Pilgrimage, shortly before his death, that beating should be resorted to only if the wife "has become guilty, in an obvious manner, of immoral conduct", and that it should be done "in such a way as not to cause pain (ghayr mubarrih)"; authentic Traditions to this effect are found in Muslim, Tirmidhi, Abu Da'ud, Nasa'i and Ibn Majah. On the basis of these Traditions, all the authorities stress that this "beating", if resorted to at all, should be more or less symbolic - "with a toothbrush, or some such thing" (Tabari, quoting the views of scholars of the earliest times), or even "with a folded handkerchief" (Razi); and some of the greatest Muslim scholars (e.g., Ash-Shafi'i) are of the opinion that it is just barely permissible, and should preferably be avoided: and they justify this opinion by the Prophet's personal feelings with regard to this problem.
And if you have reason to fear that a breach might occur between a [married] couple, appoint an arbiter from among his people and an arbiter from among her people; if they both want to set things aright, God may bring about their reconciliation. Behold, God is indeed all-knowing, aware.
AND WORSHIP God [alone], and do not ascribe divinity, in any way, to aught beside Him.46
And do good unto your parents, and near of kin, and unto orphans, and the needy, and the neighbour from among your own people, and the neighbour who is a stranger,47 and the friend by your side, and the wayfarer, and those whom you rightfully possess.48 Verily, God does not love any of those who, full of self-conceit, act in a boastful manner; (4:37) [nor] those who are niggardly, and bid others to be niggardly, and conceal whatever God has bestowed upon them out of His bounty; and so We have readied shameful suffering for all who thus deny the truth.
And [God does not love] those who spend their possessions on others [only] to be seen and praised by men, the while they believe neither in God nor in the Last Day; and he who has Satan for a soul-mate, how evil a soul-mate has he!49
46 The expression shay'an (here rendered as "in any way") makes it clear that shirk ("the ascribing of divinity to anything beside God") is not confined to a worship of other "deities", but implies also the attribution of divine or quasi-divine powers to persons or objects not regarded as deities: in other words, it embraces also saint-worship, etc.
47 I.e., "whether he belongs to your own or to another community". That the expression "your own people" (dhu l-qurba) refers to the community and not to one's actual relatives is obvious from the fact that "the near of kin" have already been mentioned earlier in this sentence. The Prophet often stressed a believer's moral obligation towards his neighbours, whatever their faith; and his attitude has been summed up in his words, "Whoever believes in God and the Last Day, let him do good unto his neighbour" (Bukhari, Muslim, and other compilations).
48 According to 'Ali ibn Abi Talib, 'Abd Allah ibn Mas'ud and other Companions, "the friend by your side" (as-sahib bi'l-janb) is one's wife or husband (Tabari). By "those whom you rightfully possess" (lit., "whom your right hands possess") are meant, in this context, slaves of either sex. Since this verse enjoins the "doing of good" towards all people with whom one is in contact, and since the best that can be done to a slave is to free him, the above passage calls, elliptically, for the freeing of slaves (Manar V, 94). See also surah 2, verse 177, as well as 9:60, where the freeing of human beings from bondage is explicitly