The Faithfull and the people of the Book
All food was lawful to the children of Israel except what Israel forbade himself, in days before the Torah was revealed. Say:Bring the Torah and read it, if what you say is true. Those who fabricate lies about Allah after this are indeed wrongdoers. Say:Allah speaks truth. Follow, then, the creed of Abraham, who turned away from all that is false and was not one of those who associate partners with Allah. (The House of Imran, “Aal Imran”: 3;93-95)
Commentary: Sayyid Qutub,
Translation: A.A.Salahi & S.A.Shamsi
These verses begin a passage in which the debate with people of earlier revelation reaches its climax. As reports indicate, this passage is not part of the debate with the Najran delegation. It is, however, in the same vein, discussing the same subject and complementing it. This passage speaks more exclusively of the Jews and repel their evil schemes against the Muslim community in Madinah.
It brings the debate to a decisive conclusion which defines the separate ways of the two communities. After a short round of debate, the Surah addresses the Muslim community, outlines its identity, duties and way of life, in the same way as the preceding Surah, The Cow, or Al-Baqarah has done after finishing its passage on the Israelites. In this, both surahs are similar.
This passage begins with a statement that all food was lawful to the children of Israel, with the exception of what Israel forbade himself before the Torah was revealed. It seems that this statement has been intended to answer the objection put by the Jews to the fact that the Qur’an makes lawful certain items of food which are forbidden to the Jews. Only Jews were forbidden from eating them, in punishment for certain offences they committed.
Following this, we have an answer to the objection of the Jews to the transfer of the Qiblah, or the direction Muslims face in prayer. This topic is discussed at length in the preceding surah, The Cow. Here, the Jews are told that the Kaabah is the House built by Abraham. It is indeed the first House devoted for worship ever built on earth for mankind. The objection to its being the Qiblah of the Muslims sounds singular when it comes from those who claim to be the descendants of Abraham.
This is followed by a denunciation of those of the people of earlier revelation who reject Allah’s new revelation and endeavour to turn people away from Allah’s way, refusing stubbornly to follow the straight path, preferring instead a crooked way which they try to impose on human life, when they have full knowledge of the truth.
The passage then addresses the Muslim community, warning it against obeying the people of earlier revelation, for such obedience leads to utter disbelief. It is certainly not right for the Muslim community to sink into disbelief when Allah’s revelation is being recited to them, and Allah’s messenger is among them, teaching them and calling on them to maintain the path of piety and to hold fast to their Islamic faith until they die and meet Allah, their Lord. He reminds them of the grace Allah has bestowed on them when He replaced their past enmities with mutual friendship and united them under the banner of Islam after they had been suffering deep divisions and long-lasting hostility. At the time, they were on the brink of a pit of fire, but Allah saved them from falling into it by guiding them to Islam. He commands them to be the nation which enjoins what is right and forbids what is wrong, in practical implementation of Allah’s constitution. He warns them against listening to the whisperings of the people of earlier revelation. That would ensure that they would be destroyed by division in the same way as those people were divided causing their ruin in this life and in the life to come. Some reports mention that their warning was revealed when the Jews were able to cause trouble to flare up between the Aws and the Khazraj, the two main tribes of the Ansar.
Allah then explains to the Muslims their true position on earth, and the nature of their role in human life: You are the best nation ever raised for mankind: you enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and believe in Allah. They are thus informed of their essential role in human life and they are given the mark of their society.
The Muslim community is then told that its enemies cannot achieve much. They will not be able to cause the Muslims any harm with regard to their faith. They will not be able to achieve total and continuing supremacy over them. They will, however, be able to cause them some harm when they clash with them in a battle of Jihad.
The Muslims will achieve victory as long as they remain faithful to their Islamic way of life. Allah has imposed on those enemies humiliation and submission and they have incurred Allah’s anger because of all the sins and crimes they have committed, culminating in their killing of prophets without any valid justification whatsoever.
An exception is made in the case of a group of people of earlier revelation who have accepted the truth and declared their belief in what Allah has revealed. These people have adopted the Islamic method of enjoining what is right, forbidding what is wrong and working for every good and beneficial cause. These people are described as belonging to “the righteous.” The destiny of those who persist with their disbelief is then outlined: they will be punished for their rejection of the truth; no money they may spend will be of any benefit to them, nor will their children be of any avail to them. They are absolutely doomed.
The passage is concluded with a warning to the believers against taking friends from among those who wish them trouble and speak out in hatred about the Muslims while their feelings toward them are even worse. Such people feel sorry when anything good comes to the believers, and feel overjoyed when harm befalls them. Allah promises the believers to foil the schemes and design of their enemies as long as they persevere on the right path and maintain their attitude based on fearing Allah.
This long directive with its varying slant, gives us a clear idea of what the Muslim community in Madinah faced of the wicked designs of the people of earlier revelation and their attempts to undermine it from within. It also gives us an idea of the confusion caused by these designs within the community. It indicates that Muslims need firm and detailed directives so that they may be able to emphasise their distinctive colour and sever finally all their ties with ignorance and its people.
Its directive remains valid for all Muslim generations. Every generation is required to guard against the schemes of the traditional enemies of Islam. They remain the same, although they may adopt different ways and weapons in their war against Islam. (to be continued)