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    Period of Revelation: This Surah appears to have been revealed after the treaty of Hudaibiyah at the end of 6 A.H. or the beginning of 7 A.H. It deals with problems that arose from this treaty. The continuity of the subject indicates that most probably the whole Surah was revealed as a single discourse at one and the same time. Major Issues, Divine Laws and Guidance:

    • Halal (Lawful) and Haram (unlawful) in the matters of food.
    • Permission to eat the food of Ahl-al-Kitab (Jews and Christians).
    • Permission to marry women of Ahl-al-Kitab (Jews and Christians).
    • Regulations about bath, wudhu and Tayammum.
    • Salah (Prayer) and Zakah (Obligatory Charity) were also obligatory for Jews and Christians.
    • Invitation to Jews and Christians to become Muslims.
    • Those who do not judge by the Laws which Allah has revealed are declared to be unbelievers, wrong doers and transgressors.
    • Warning to guard against corruption of power.
    • Punishment for rebellion, disturbing the peace and theft.
    • Absolute prohibition of drinking and gambling. (First commandment was in Surah Al-Baqarah 2:219 and Second in Surah An-Nisa’ 4:43)
    • Additional rules for the laws of evidence.
    • Miracles of Isa (Jesus) – and the fact that he did not claim divinity.
    • Testimony of Isa (Jesus) which he shall give on the Day of Judgement.
    Al- Ma’idah was revealed at the time when the last effort of the Quraish to suppress Islam had been defeated in the Battle of the Ditch, and it had become quite obvious to the Arabs that no power could suppress the Islamic movement. Now Islam was not merely a creed which ruled over the minds and hearts of the people, but had also become a State which was regulating the lives of its people. Therefore, there was a need to formulate Islamic civil and criminal laws in detail and enforce them through Islamic courts. New and reformed ways of trade and commerce were needed to replace the old. Likewise, Islamic laws of marriage and divorce, segregation of the sexes and punishment for adultery, were needed to mold the social life of Muslims. This Surah provided the guidelines to the believers in some of these aspects of their lives so that their social behavior, conversation, dress, way of life and culture could take a definite shape of the own. The treaty of Hudaibiyah was also signed in the same year which gave the Muslims not only peace in their own territory but also respite to spread the Message of Islam in the surrounding territories. The Prophet wrote letters to the rulers of Iran, Egypt, Rome and to the Chiefs of Arab tribes, inviting them to Islam. At the same time the missionaries of Islam spread among the clans and tribes and invited them to accept the Divine Message of Al-Islam. Now that the Muslims had become a ruling body, there was a danger that power might corrupt them. At this stage of great trial, Allah admonished them over and over again to stick to justice and to guard against the wrong behavior of their predecessors – Jews and Christians. Believers are enjoined to remain steadfast to the Covenant of Obedience to Allah and His Rasool. They should follow Allah’s commands and prohibitions in order to save themselves from the evil consequences which were faced by the Jews and the Christians who had violated them. They are instructed to avoid hypocrisy. In continuation of the instructions given in Surah An-Nisa’ about the consolidation of the Islamic Community, the Muslims were directed to observe and fulfill all of their obligations. The Jews and the Christians are also admonished to give up their wrong attitudes towards the Right Way and accept the guidance which is being presented by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

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    Note: Please note that, we have used PDF OCR technology to scan and convert text from scanned docuement. Expect few broken words in this section. We are trying our level best to fix these errors Insha Allah. If you want to volunteer in this task, please contact us at engage @ kdakw.com.

    this surah is known by two titles: al-M¥’idah, meaning “the table;” and al-¢Uq‰d, meaning “the covenants.” The second title reflects the surah’s wide-ranging subject matter much more accu- rately. The first title comes from the request made by the Christian disciples to the prophet Jesus to ask God to send them a meal from heaven for them to enjoy and celebrate, as evidence for his truthful- ness. However, the story of this meal receives only a very brief mention towards the end of the surah, whereas the subject of covenants and obligations occupies almost the rest of it. The main feature of this surah is the frequent use of declamatory, direct, and emphatic speech. Sixteen such statements are addressed specifically to Muslim believers: Believers, be true to your obligations…(1) Believers, do not violate the rites of God, or the sacred month…(2) Believers, when you rise to pray, wash your faces and your hands as far as the elbows (6) Believers, fulfill your duties to God and bear true witness over others…(8) Believers, remember the favor which God bestowed upon you… (11) Believers, have fear of God and seek the right path to Him…(35) surah 5 • Al-M¥’idah Believers, take neither Jews nor Christians as protectors…(51) Believers, whoever of you recants of his Faith, God will bring forth others who love Him and are loved by Him…(54) Believers, do not take as mentors the infidels and those who were given the Book before you, who have mocked your religion and taken it in vain…(57) Believers, do not forbid the wholesome things which God has made lawful to you (87) Believers, wine and games of chance, idols and divining arrows, are abominations devised by Satan (90) Believers, God will put you to the test…(94) Believers, kill no game while you are in the state of i^r¥m… (95) Believers, do not ask questions about matters which, if made known to you, would only cause you harm…(101) Believers, you are accountable for none but yourselves…(105) Believers, when death approaches you, let two just men from among you be witnesses as you make your testament…(106) In two instances, the orders are addressed to Prophet Muhammad himself: Messenger, do not grieve over those who plunge into unbelief… (41) Messenger, proclaim what is revealed to you from your Lord…(67) On five other occasions, the exhortations are addressed to the People of the Book: A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an People of the Book, Our Messenger has come to reveal to you much of what you have concealed of the Scriptures... (15) People of the Book, Our Messenger has come to you with reve- lations after an interval... (19) Say, “People of the Book, would you hate us only because we believe in God...” (59) Say, “People of the Book, you can claim no faith until you observe the Torah and the Gospel...” (68) Say, “People of the Book, do not transgress the bounds of truth in your religion...” (77) Throughout, the tone is stern and solemn, fully conveying the seriousness and weight of the issues being discussed, while the declarations and statements are usually followed by explanations, elaborations, instructions, or specific factual information, which are necessary to inspire Muslims to build and organize their community life in accordance with the laws and teachings of Islam. All the time it is quite clear that this set of rules and proclamations is being pre- sented by God in the form of binding obligations that must be fulfilled by Muslims. Among these, we find the call to wash in a certain manner before performing the prayers, as well as rules per- taining to prayer which is itself the first clause in God’s covenant with the Israelites. Having outlined a number of rules, duties, and responsibilities required for the establishment of a Muslim society, God says: And remember God’s favor to you [the believers], and the covenant with which He bound you when you said, “We hear and we obey.” Fear God, for God knows what is in people’s hearts. (7) surah 5 • Al-M¥’idah Doubtless, the relationship between God and humankind is a seri- ous and solemn one which calls for sincerity, tenacity, and diligence. An essential corollary of true faith in God is to take one’s obligations towards Him seriously and hold them in high regard, and discharge them fully to the best possible standard. God has taken an undertak- ing from the Muslims that they will believe in His oneness, submit to and serve Him alone. Having become Muslim, they have pledged to promote and spread His religion, to be a good and faithful exam- ple to others, and to teach and dispense virtue and goodness to all. Muslims are not the first group of humans to undertake such far- reaching and binding obligations towards God, for they had been preceded by others. The surah explains: God had made a covenant with the Israelites and raised among them twelve chieftains, and God said to them, “I shall be with you. If you observe prayer, and give alms, and believe in My apostles and sup- port them, and if you offer God a generous advance, I shall forgive you your sins and admit you to gardens with rivers running there- under. But any of you who thereafter renege shall stray from the right path.” (12) The Israelites’ responses to that covenant are well known, having been documented—along with God’s own reactions to them—in various sources, Jewish ones included. Elsewhere, there are people (nominal Muslims) who, no matter how much piety and sincerity they try to convey, or no matter how religious they might claim to be, are always betrayed by their attitudes and actions. Their contrived devotion to Islam leads some of them to censure and condemn more severely Muslim believers who commit minor mis- demeanors than they would unbelievers. In the minds of such people, the very concept of right and wrong is confused and turned upside down. They would show more tolerance towards the infi- del enemies of Islam than they would towards some Muslims. The A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an well-known sect of the Khaw¥rij, who emerged around 659 ac, some twenty-seven years after the death of Prophet Muhammad, and who were vehemently opposed to the Prophet’s cousin and fourth Caliph, ¢AlÏ ibn AbÏ >¥lib, whose blood they demanded, are the progenitors of this school of misguided religious behavior. The Khaw¥rij allowed the killing of Muslims whom they judged to be sinners or lacking in faith, but refused to fight unbelievers on the pretext that these were asylum seekers. In a way, one could under- stand the reaction of the eighth century ac Muslim scholar, W¥|il ibn ¢At¥’, founder of the Mu¢tazilah school of Islamic thought, and his followers who, when confronted by followers of the Khaw¥rij, feigned unbelief, because otherwise they would have been killed. They based their view on the literal interpretation of the Qur’anic verse: “If an idolater seeks asylum with you [Muhammad], give him protection so that he may come to know the words of God, and then deliver him to his place of safety” (al-Tawbah: 6). Such ruthlessness and insensitivity are totally alien to Islam. Jewish elders in Arabia displayed a strong sense of insincerity and artificial religious piety towards Islam and its followers, as the surah affirms: “You [Muhammad] will ever find them deceitful” (13). Nevertheless, the same verse ends with the directive to the Prophet to: “Pardon them and excuse their deeds, for God loves those who are benevolent” (13). As God had made a covenant with the Jews, so He made a similar one with the Christians. The way this is expressed in the surah mer- its reflection for it distinguishes between the later Christian generations and the one contemporary to Jesus and his disciples who were true representatives of his teachings. Accordingly, the surah says: And with those who claimed to be Christian We made a covenant, but they forgot much of what we had impressed on them. Therefore We allowed them to be drawn by their enmity and surah 5 • Al-M¥’idah hatred, which shall endure till the Day of Resurrection, when God shall inform them of all that they had done. (14) A cursory look at the history of Christianity would bear this out completely. Relations between the various Christian churches are replete with dissension, bloody feuding and schisms. Europe can never forget the interreligious wars that plagued it during the Middle Ages. Although they have abated somewhat in recent deca- des, they have left deep-rooted divisions and suspicion, temporarily overshadowed by the need to face up to the challenge of modern anti-religious secularism that is threatening the very existence of all the Christian sects and churches. This standoff can be only tempo- rary, for as long as the underlying causes of those divisions and schisms continue to exist, those ugly and bloody feuds are bound to rear their heads again, as the verse makes quite clear. Genuine peace, conciliation, and understanding among people can truly come about only under Islam. Bloodshed and conflict between various national, religious, ethnic, and other human groups can be avoided only when the hearts of people are filled with the love of the one and true God. Only God’s incontrovertible and unambiguous guidance can bring people to live in peace and har- mony with one another. This is what the surah affirms: A light has come to you from God and a perspicuous Book, with which God will guide to the paths of peace those who seek to please Him. He will lead them by His will out of darkness and into the light and onto the straight path. (15–16) The greatest and most irrevocable covenant humankind has made with God is to uphold His absolute oneness. Those who insist on the belief in the existence of other gods besides the one God are drifting rudderless in high seas, with no hope of rescue or redemption. All A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an followers of divinely revealed religions are assumed to affirm belief in monotheism. The Christian view of Jesus Christ, however, is shrouded in mystery and confusion. Since Christians also claim to believe in and worship the one God, there immediately arises the question of what is the true and proper status and position of Jesus Christ in Christianity. Under proper and calm scrutiny it is possible to see how contrived, disingenuous and unconvincing present Christian doctrines are. My own study of the subject has led me to take seriously the claim made by Dr. Muhammad Ma¢r‰f al- Daw¥lÏbÏ—though to my knowledge uncorroborated by other sources—that he is in possession of a Vatican document confirming the total humanity and non-divinity of Jesus. The document is the result of extensive studies carried out by competent authoritative scholars over a forty-year period. It is said to contain specific and unequivocal instructions to Christians that Jesus should never be referred to as divine. More interestingly, the document categori- cally accuses the Church of numerous injustices against Islam and Muslims, and recommends wider contact and more reconciliation with Islam in the future. The document also apologizes for the role of the Church in the twelfth to fifteenth centuries ac, when the Crusaders waged war against the world of Islam in the Middle Ages, and its implication in the European colonization of the Muslim world during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It reportedly regrets the plunder of Arab rights in Palestine and calls for direct dia- log with Arab and Muslim peoples to remedy the past and heal old wounds. The Vatican, according to Dr. al-Daw¥lÏbÏ, later suc- cumbed to various pressures and had this document “suppressed and eventually withdrawn.” Be that as it may, the Christian view of Jesus Christ is extremely ambiguous and self-contradictory, as pointed out in the Qur’an: They had neither killed him, nor crucified him, but it was made to seem to them that they did. Those who disagree about that are surah 5 • Al-M¥’idah confused; they have no knowledge thereof, going by pure conjec- ture, since they had certainly not killed him. God lifted him up to Him; God is Mighty and Wise. (al-Nis¥’: 157) The real and true God is but the one God, and that is the reason for this angry retort that: Those who held that God was the Messiah, the son of Mary, are infidels. Say, “Who could then ever prevent God if He wanted to annihilate the Messiah, the son of Mary, and his mother and every- one else on earth?” (17) Rabbinical teachings, on the other hand, though spurning the Trinity doctrine, are nonetheless guilty of insolence and of showing a lack of proper respect towards God Almighty. They are known to be less than forthright in their expression of devotion to or fear of God, whom they depict as the Jews’ own benefactor to the exclu- sion of almost all other beneficiaries. Both Jews and Christians, therefore, claim a special relationship with God and assume for themselves a privileged and unique status in the world order. But, in fact, God’s favor and grace may be earned only through sincere, unadulterated, and unshakable faith and real tangible actions to back up that faith. Nothing else can, in the sight of God, give people, whether individuals or groups, any particular advantage over others. This applies just as much to Muslims, who have to show the same required degree of humility and submission to God, and show the courage and fortitude necessary to uphold His laws and teachings and face up to His enemies and detractors. Mere verbal identification with Islam or the teachings of Prophet Muhammad is no substitute for real action and tangible endeavor. To illustrate this point, the surah relates two examples; one concerns some Israelites, and the other the two sons of Adam: Cain and Abel. In the first example, we are told about the group who refused to A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an carry out the order by Moses to enter the Promised Land and fight those who were in control of it at the time. Moses tried all manner of inducement to persuade them to do so: My people, remember God’s favor which He has bestowed upon you. He has appointed some of you as prophets, made you kings, and given you that which He has given no other nation. (20) For generations the Israelites had borne the great and honorable task of carrying God’s message. Compared with other human groups such as the Arabs, the Israelites received scores of prophets and mes- sengers. They enjoyed dominance and prosperity and were made secure in their own land. However, many failed to appreciate that privileged status, and as time went by they developed a strong sense of complacency and arrogance. They took God’s grace for granted and believed that God was more in need of them than they were of Him. At that point they were put to the test, with Moses telling them: “‘My people, enter the Holy Land which God has assigned for you and do not turn back, or you shall be the losers’” (21). They flinched and disobeyed, unashamedly telling Moses: “‘Go, you and your Lord, and fight, we shall be waiting here’” (24). As punish- ment, God caused them to spend forty long years lost in the wilderness of the Sinai desert, where, except for a few sincere believers, most of them perished. The second example is the episode concerning Adam’s two sons: Cain and Abel. Out of jealousy and spite, Cain murdered his bro- ther, Abel, in cold blood. Having killed him, the story goes, he was at a loss as to what to do with his body. The surah picks up the story: Then God sent a crow which started digging into the earth to show him how to inter his brother’s body. “Alas!” he cried, “Am I not as able as this crow that I can not inter my brother’s body?” He became full of remorse. (31) surah 5 • Al-M¥’idah Cain’s attitude proved to be symptomatic of human behavior. Killers are always under the illusion that they somehow benefit from the murder of their victims. However, the cold-blooded destruction of one soul can in no way be an enhancement for another. To build, promote, and reform human life is a positive deliberate act of virtue that is likely to invoke God’s pleasure and favor. God, in the verses that follow, deems the cold-blooded murder of one human being to be a crime against the whole of humanity: Whoever kills a human being, other than as punishment for murder or for the spreading of corruption on earth, it shall be considered as though he had killed the whole of mankind; and whoever spares a human life shall be deemed as though he has spared the whole of humankind. (32) These stories are related in the Qur’an for the benefit of the Muslims, to enable them to learn from the experience of earlier generations. They also contain specific rulings that are designed to guide the Muslims and protect their society from falling into the traps that caught their predecessors. In this instance, verses 33 and 34 specify the penalties for highway robbery, while verse 38 spe- cifies that for theft, stressing with respect to both penalties the need to be fearful and conscious of God; “Believers, have fear of God and seek what brings you closer to Him, and strive for His cause, so that you may be successful” (35). The means that take us closer to God and help us achieve success in life, are good deeds and pos- itive action, which in turn require strength of will and selfless dedication. Divine revelation is a unique source of legislation for religious mat- ters as well as issues relating to the inheritance of wealth and penal A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an codes. Once God has ruled on a certain issue, there is no longer room for human speculation or sophistry. This is a legacy that has been passed on by believers from one generation to another, although some have deviated from these traditions and neglected God’s laws and guidance. Crimes affecting life, property, or personal honor are vile, with far-reaching social consequences. It was God’s own decision not to leave legislation in these areas to the prejudices, whims, and vulnerability of ordinary mortals, for human legislation is bound to be biased and influenced by countless factors that would be prejudicial and impair judgment in one way or another. The whole process of justice would be in jeopardy. This is exactly what happened with earlier Jewish and Christian generations. Prophet Muhammad said: Those before you were condemned because when a nobleman committed theft they let him go, but when a hapless citizen did the same they punished him. By God! If F¥~imah, the daughter of Muhammad, herself were to be convicted of theft, I would have her hand cut off.11 Indeed, as those people became more lax, they dropped the punish- ment of cutting off a thief’s hand and replaced it with varying terms of imprisonment which encouraged more larceny and crime. How could this be considered more just than divine justice? The same happened with respect to other crimes and penalties. Having looked very closely at crime in various societies, it is clear to me how deeply serious and hugely costly this problem has become. In several modern cities today, personal safety and security are almost nonexistent. As frightening statistics have shown, women, children, and old people are raped, abused, and attacked every minute of the day and night, with the criminals enjoying immunity

    1. Narrated by al-Bukh¥rÏ.
    surah 5 • Al-M¥’idah from real and effective punishment. This only goes to prove the wis- dom of the Prophet’s comment: “The administration of God’s punishment in one case is better for humanity than thirty days of continuous rain.”12 He was also reported to have said, “Apply God’s punishment to near and far alike, and do not allow yourselves to be swayed in the way of justice by kinship or criticism.”13 The Islamic penal system, as defined by the Qur’an, continued to be in use all over the Muslim world until the thirteenth-century ac Mongol invasion, when some parts were replaced with legislation laid down by the rulers themselves. The Mongols ruled Iraq and Syria for almost a century (1256– 1336 ac), and their precedent was later to be emulated and taken even further forward by European colonialism, which ruled Muslim lands from the seventeenth century ac. This brought about radical transformations by replacing Islamic law with European laws and legislation, some of which permitted extramarital sex, prostitution, and homosexuality. In some Muslim countries, the Islamic penal code was pushed aside or completely condemned and rejected as brutal, inhumane, and retrogressive. When the Prophet arrived in Madinah, two Jews accused of adultery were brought to him for judgment. He asked them what was the punishment for their crime according to their own religion. They said it was flogging and blackening of the face, to which he replied that it was in fact stoning to death. They insisted that he was wrong, until reference was made to the Torah and the Prophet’s view was shown to be the correct one. To this effect the following verse was revealed: Messenger, do not be unduly worried by those who plunge head- long into disbelief, who say, “We believe,” only with their lips but
    • Narrated by al-Nas¥’Ï, Ibn M¥jah and Imam A^mad.
    • Narrated by Ibn M¥jah and al-Nas¥’Ï.
    A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an have no faith within their hearts, and those from among the Jews. They listen to lies and to other people who never come to you. They tamper with [God’s] words and take them out of their context and say [to one another], “If you are given such-and-such [judg- ment], take it, otherwise beware.” (41) The only course of action left for those exposed by God’s Messenger was to hurl abuse at God Almighty and the prophets. However, the Prophet refused to give in to them, and was supported by the words of God which said: You [Muhammad] can do nothing to help someone whom God wishes to confound. Those whose hearts God does not wish to cleanse shall be disgraced in this life, and an awesome torment awaits them in the hereafter. (41) This is a statement for all time concerning falsifiers and hypocrites and is an affirmation of the fact that whoever chooses to get on the evil bandwagon should expect only to be doomed and condemned. This is in tune with the words in the following verse: “Those who persist in the error of their own ways, the Merciful shall leave [them] to their own devices” (Maryam: 75). The law in any country applies to all who live under its jurisdic- tion, no matter what their religious beliefs are. The Jews in Madinah led an autonomous existence which had been guaranteed and pro- tected by the treaties concluded with the Prophet on his arrival to settle in Madinah. Accordingly, the Prophet did not force them to apply his judgment, but was rather instructed by the Qur’an thus: If they [the Jews] come to you, you can either give them your judgment or turn away from them. If you do turn away from them they can do you no harm, but if you judge between them, do so with justice. (42) surah 5 • Al-M¥’idah More generally, Muslims are required to respect and apply the statutes and ordinances of Islamic law in their own countries, and cannot be expected to do so everywhere else in the world. Followers of other religions living in Muslim countries are, with few exceptions, free to conduct their own religious ceremonies and ritu- als, and pursue their religious beliefs in peace and security, but in all other matters they are subject to the law of the land like everyone else. The Prophet’s judgment should not have surprised the Jews, since the “Book of Deuteronomy” in the Old Testament explicitly recommends stoning (22:20–21) as the punishment for the unmar- ried woman who commits illicit sex. It says: “If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die” (22:22). It fur- ther states, If there is a betrothed virgin, and a man meets her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbor’s wife; so you shall purge the evil from the midst of you. (Deuteronomy, 22:23–24) The next few verses in the surah briefly cover the attitude of the People of the Book towards legislation relating to capital pun- ishment and penalties for illicit and extramarital sex. They point out that these were first given in the Torah to the Jews and were later corroborated by the Christian Gospel. Those who ignored, avoided, or violated that legislation are condemned as unbelievers, transgressors, and sinners. The Torah, according to the Qur’anic outline, was in force until the arrival of the Gospel of Jesus which had come into effect after it. When the Qur’an was revealed, both Jews and Christians were expected to take heed of it and update whatever legislation they had already received. The surah is quite unequivocal about this: A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an And to you [Muhammad] We have revealed the Book with the truth. It confirms other books that have come before it and prevails over them. Therefore rule over them according to God’s revelations and do not follow their whims and fancies in devia- tion from the truth that has come to you. We have ordained for each [community] a system of laws and assigned them paths to follow. (48) Two important points emerge from this passage. The first one is that God’s religion and legislation for humankind have been per- fected and concluded with the message of Prophet Muhammad. This is true for matters of doctrine and belief, where the Qur’an and the Prophet endorsed and revitalized the essence of earlier revela- tions received by all the prophets and messengers who preceded him. As for divine legislation, God has sent down the basic and fun- damental principles, and left the interpretation and application of those principles to people’s mental and intellectual capability of deduction, rationalization, and wisdom. It is people’s responsibility to decide how to use God’s revelation to serve the needs and inter- ests of the human community. Religion is indeed one, but the details and scope of legislation in the different religions vary. This leads us to the second point, mainly that Muhammad’s mission is distinguished by containing within it the essential elements that make it universal and durable for as long as humankind continues to exist on this earth. The teachings of Islam are compatible with com- mon sense and are totally harmonious with the needs and limitations of human nature. It is also destined to remain valid and relevant for all stages of human material and intellectual development. Other monotheistic legacies were relevant to and applicable within partic- ular communities and for finite periods. In his commentary on the Qur’an, the renowned Muslim scho- lar, Shaykh Muhammad RashÏd Ri\¥, points out that Judaism was noted for being such a severe and stern religion because it was surah 5 • Al-M¥’idah addressed to people who had for generations lived in slavery and subjugation, and who had hardly any independent existence of their own. This had caused many of them to grow obstinate and unyield- ing. This is quite evident from even the most cursory reading of the first five books of the Old Testament, which take the reader into a cruel and claustrophobic authoritarian world. Christianity, when it came later, did not override earlier laws and teachings, and was more inclined towards conciliation. It steered well away from confronta- tion with the ruling Byzantine emperors, choosing instead to “turn the other cheek.” Under the Byzantines, though, Christianity was turned into a conquering, belligerent, and vindictive force. Islam, however, came to restore the balance between the material and the spiritual, between the rational and the intuitive, between this life and the life that is yet to come. It has accorded humans a special and unique status in the world and laid the solid foundations for their relationship with God and the relationships among human beings themselves. Shaykh Ri\¥ goes on to say: The essence of the universality of Islam and the mission of Prophet Muhammad, God’s peace and blessings be upon him, does not become evident until we live and establish Islam on the basis of rationalism, and understand its laws and imperatives through active and incisive interpretative work [ijtihad], and by taking a lead from bona fide and competent scholars and legislators. Those who oppose this rational free-thinking approach put themselves in opposition to God and completely undermine the essence of the Shari¢ah of Islam and its relevance and effect. Through their ignorance they do a great disservice to Islam. God then says in this surah: “Believers, do not take Jews or Christians as protectors” (51). The pertinent question here is: Does A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an this apply to all, or only some Jews and Christians? For a satisfactory answer, one has to read the foregoing and the following verses as one whole passage and put the various ideas in context. Looking at it this way, one can perceive three distinct categories of Jews and Christians. The first are those who are so extreme in their opposition to the Islamic Shari¢ah that they will accept any other system in its place, no matter how alien to their beliefs. Although they know that Islam guarantees them full religious freedom, they continue to harbor a fear of Islam and a hatred towards the Muslims. The way the Prophet was recommended to treat these was to: Judge among them according to God’s revelations and do not be led by their desires, and make sure they do not distract you from some of what God has revealed to you. If they reject your judgment, be sure that God wishes to punish them for some of their sins. A great many people are evil-doers. Is it un-Islamic laws they accept? Who is a better judge and law-giver than God for people with true faith? (49–50) This group is so blinded by hatred and jealousy, that there is no longer any hope in persuading them to see any sense or in winning their friendship. The second category comprises those who live among the Muslims but their hearts are with the enemies of Islam. It is of course vital for Muslims to ensure that their ranks are not infiltrated or weakened by people who may let them down at the crucial moment, were they to engage in a defensive war with an outside enemy. This did happen in the past, as the following verse relates: You see the faint-hearted hasten to woo them [the infidels], saying, “We fear lest fortune might turn against us.” But God may well bring about victory or some other event of His own making, surah 5 • Al-M¥’idah whereupon they would be smitten with remorse for what they had been hiding within their hearts. (52) In the early days of Islam, religious minorities were to be found all over Muslim lands. However, when Muslims had to fight against outside enemies, such as the Byzantines, non-Muslims were never recruited into the fighting force in order not to strain their con- sciences nor create any religious or moral dilemmas for them. The Muslim authorities were happy to receive their financial support, hoping that the least they could do was not to side with the enemy or betray the Muslims. The third group of Jews and Christians the Muslims were instructed not to take as protectors were those who ridiculed and belittled Islam and its teachings and practices, such as prayer or the call to prayer, the adh¥n. The surah refers to them in the following manner: Believers, do not take as protectors those who were given the Book before you or the infidels who mock your religion or tinker with it. Fear God, if you are true believers. When you raise the call to prayer they take it as a joke or a sport. It is because they do not understand. (57–58) Religion is a serious matter and has to be treated with dignity and respect. It is difficult to see how anyone who does not show such respect can be treated as a friend or an ally. Islam is a tolerant and accommodating religion, and when it comes to religious conviction and matters of belief it specifically for- bids coercion and compulsion. Muslims are permitted to go into business and trade partnerships with non-Muslims on the basis of mutual honesty and trust. Muslim men are permitted to marry non- Muslim women and raise families built on mutual love and affection. Positive and constructive interreligious dealings and cooperation in A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an all fields are to be encouraged to avoid intercommunal strife and pro- mote tolerance, trust, and respect among all people. Islam has clearly defined the circumstances in which Muslims can shun followers of other religions or boycott them, because differences between various religions are inevitable. Nevertheless, Muslims are also taught to respect their religion and reflect that respect in dealing with others on an equal basis. That should not be very difficult, except for some, such as those fanatics who consider other people inferior to them- selves, or bigoted agnostics and cynics who cannot tolerate people with convictions and strong beliefs different from their own. This is what the following verse refers to: “Say, ‘People of the Book, is it that you find fault with us only because we believe in God and in what has been revealed to us and in what was revealed earlier...?’” (59). These are the basic principles that decide a Muslim’s relations with and attitude towards followers of other religions. These are reasonable and sensible principles, free of hatred, prejudice, and vindictiveness. God comforts the Muslims in the following verse by assuring them that they are never short of friends and allies: Your allies are God, His Messenger and other believers who observe prayer and give the alms in humility. Those who ally them- selves with God, His Messenger, and the believers are of the party of God that are sure to triumph. (55–56) One of the basic teachings of Islam is to love or hate for God’s sake; love that is pure and unselfish and a rejection that is free of malice and injustice and bears no grudges towards those who are rejected. Islam also teaches forbearance and the need to overlook the minor mistakes of others and their shortcomings, while being firm and severe when the situation demands it. Reflecting on the case of M¥¢iz, who insisted to the Prophet that the punishment for adultery be administered to him, I found that the Prophet tried very hard to dissuade him and make him change his surah 5 • Al-M¥’idah mind, and was ready to forgive him since he had repented. How- ever, M¥¢iz was adamant in wanting to cleanse himself by dying and he was granted his wish.14 The attitude of Jesus when faced with a similar situation, was also to react in a similar way, as in the case of the adulteress who was brought to him for stoning. God has no grudges against anyone, nor is He wantonly waiting to take revenge on sinners and people who commit misdemeanors; nor are God’s prophets bloodthirsty hangmen but reformers and fair-minded leaders. No doubt there is a big difference between a casual unintentional error and a premeditated deliberate violation or rejection of God’s laws. All prophets were stalwart in their stand against all forms of crime, especially when it became a normal acceptable practise in society. The Jewish and Christian establishments, over the genera- tions, have grown lenient towards criminal and immoral behavior; so much so that they have been rendered totally helpless and ineffec- tive in fighting it. Evidence for this shameful state of affairs can be seen in today’s western societies, a by-product of the lapsed Judeo- Christian tradition, where most religious leaders are strangely indifferent to the deterioration of social and moral behavior in their midst. More shamefully, they have turned a blind eye to the abuse of human rights in many countries as well as to political, social, and economic exploitation of other races. This surah has devoted long passages to exposing the paradoxes and the contradictions in the thinking and behavior of Jewish and Christian spokesmen and leaders, calling for their actions to be con- demned: “Why do the rabbis and the elders not dissuade [their people] from saying what is evil and acquiring what is unlawful? Wicked indeed is what they do!” (63). How can Jews and Christians preserve their religions without adhering to the true teachings of their prophets and complementing them with the guidance that
    • Narrated by Muslim and al-TirmidhÏ.
    A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an Islam has come to offer them? God directs the Prophet thus: Say, “People of the Book, you shall achieve nothing until you implement the Torah and the Gospel and all that is revealed to you from your Lord.” What has been revealed to you [Muhammad] from your Lord will only increase the high-handedness and unbelief of many of them, but do not grieve for the unbelievers. (68) To defend the integrity and the truth of God’s teachings and guidance is an essential duty of all believers. This should become a central dimension of their consciousness and existence. It is ironic how the supposedly pious priests among Jews and Christians could afford more respect and support to agnostics or pagans or advocates of corruption rather than to believing Muslims, who shared with them a vast common ground of faith and belief. This attitude brought severe criticism: Those Israelites who disbelieved were cursed by David and Jesus, son of Mary, because of their disobedience and transgression. They never used to censure one another for any wrongdoing. (78–79) It was followed by instructions to the Muslims not to befriend or appease them: You [Muhammad] can see many of them making alliance with the unbelievers. What they lead themselves to do is condemned. They have incurred the wrath of God and shall endure eternal torment. Had they believed in God and the Prophet and what has been revealed to him, they would not have taken them [the unbelievers] as allies. But many of them are wrong-doers. (80-81) surah 5 • Al-M¥’idah When reprimanding such groups for their laxity and tolerance of evil and immorality in society, it was essential to emphasize and redefine some of the basic and fundamental principles of religion. People usually tolerate injustice or immorality for fear of the con- sequences of standing up to them. Some are even keen to appease tyrants and despots for purely materialistic reasons of worldly gain and privilege. Standing up for one’s principles can indeed be extremely costly. Nevertheless, it is the collective outcome of this brave and selfless stand that really counts in the end. Betraying the truth and abandoning the fight for what is right may bring short-term gains, but the consequences in the long run can be disastrous and humiliating. Real success and true happiness can be achieved only when God becomes the central criterion for one’s preferences and alliances. God says: If the People of the Book had believed and feared [God], We would have pardoned them their sins and admitted them to the gardens of delight. If they had observed the Torah and the Gospel and what has been revealed to them from their Lord, they would have enjoyed abundance from above and from beneath them. (65–66) This should not be taken as addressing Jewish and Christian savants only, for it applies equally to Muslim scholars and leaders who have taken custody of God’s word. Correct and proper behavior can only be a product of true belief, and that is the reason the discussion goes back again to fundamentals, the pure unadulterated belief in the oneness of God (taw^Ïd). The rabbis confess monotheism, but are their perception and understanding of that principle correct? Do they accord God the A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an unique and venerated status of perfection He deserves? Do they consider themselves above His will or subject to the same laws and standards as the rest of humanity? Such are the criteria by which they—as well as others—are to be measured. When in the past some of them chose to monopolize God’s religion for the sole advantage of their own positions or national goals and objectives, God’s dis- pleasure was evident enough. The surah expresses disapproval of their record and treatment of their prophets. It says: We [God] made a covenant with the Israelites and sent forth to them messengers. But whenever a messenger came to them with a message that did not suit their fancies, some of them they branded as liars and others they put to death. (70) The Church, on the other hand, adheres to beliefs and doctrines that are paradoxical and totally self-contradictory. Jesus is God, and Mary is the mother of God. But God is the Eternal Father, who sent His son, Jesus, to save the human race, and Jesus is therefore the son of God. However, there is also the Holy Spirit who is also God. So, although there are three Gods, they are in fact one God, or rather God is three-in-one, a Trinity, and so on. The surah says: Unbelievers are those who say, “God is one of three,” for there is but one God. If they do not desist from what they are saying, those of them that disbelieve shall be severely chastened. (73) The great religious debate in the world today is in essence between Islam, which upholds the absolute oneness of God, the one and only creator and controller of the whole of life and the universe, on the one hand, and a brand of Christianity with illogical, inconsis- tent, and incomprehensible doctrines that are being modified and remodified by self-serving institutions, on the other. God advised surah 5 • Al-M¥’idah Prophet Muhammad to say to the People of the Book: “‘Do not transgress the bounds of your religion, do not yield to the desires of those who erred before and had led many astray and had themselves strayed from the right path’” (77). The Christian world is hopelessly divided, and this division has been the underlying cause of many religious wars in the world, some of which went on for decades, claiming millions of innocent victims. It was only when the powers of the Church were separated from those of the state that the infighting abated. However, the Church, with newly acquired allies, has now turned to fight Islam and the Muslims. It is Islam that is being branded retrogressive, fundamentalist, anti-modernist, and violent. Still, the conciliatory tone of the Qur’an should remain relevant for all time: The closest and most affectionate towards the believers are those who have said, “We are Christians.” That is because among the lat- ter there are priests and monks and because they are not conceited. When they listen to what has been revealed to the Messenger, you see their eyes fill with tears for recognizing the truth. They say, “Lord, we believe and so count us among the witnesses.” (82–83) History tells us that the early Muslims were hoping for the sup- port of the Christians of Abyssinia and Byzantium. They were looking forward to the triumph of the Byzantine Christians over the Persians, because they saw that as a victory for their own cause. Christian delegations began to converge first on Makkah and then on Madinah to listen to what Muhammad had to say, and many of them converted to Islam, believing it to be a fulfillment of the prophecies of their own books and prophets. Later, with the decline of Byzantine power, Islam spread widely over the whole of Asia Minor and North Africa, whose inhabitants, the overwhelming majority of whom had been Christian, adopted Islam. As the verse puts it, they were saying: “‘Why should we not believe in God and A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an in the truth that has come to us, and hope our Lord will admit us among the righteous?’” (84). However, this was brought to a halt by the vicious and relentless Crusades waged against the Muslims. They started over one thousand years ago, and do not seem to have come to an end yet. These wars have shaken the very foundations of the world of Islam and have done incalculable damage to the spirit and the unity of the Muslims. Still, there must definitely be people in Europe and America, the bastions of Christianity today, who are looking for the truth although they are discouraged from accepting Islam because of the pathetic and miserable state of the Muslims today. Nevertheless, only time will tell. In this brief discussion of the relationship between Islam and the People of the Book, we are informed about the bases and princi- ples upon which the Muslim community is built. Muslims are strongly warned about leaning too far towards either materialism or monasticism, and that they should not forbid themselves the good and wholesome things that God has provided and made law- ful for them. Believers, do not forbid the wholesome things which God made lawful to you. But do not transgress, because God does not love the transgressors (87). They are also warned against all forms of extremism in behavior and conduct. This is followed by verses giving clear-cut rulings for- bidding the taking of intoxicants, which today’s so-called Christians consume normally every day. There are also rulings on protecting the sacred Muslim lands in Makkah and Madinah, refraining from fruitless and abstract religious polemics, and on the need for Muslims to abide by the Qur’an and the Sunnah. They are also warned not to take the route of the unbelievers and bigots: When it is said to them, “Come to that which God has revealed and surah 5 • Al-M¥’idah to the Messenger,” they say, “Sufficient for us is the faith we have inherited from our fathers,” even though their fathers were so igno- rant and misguided. (104) The surah ends with two topics: a call to the Christians to be sin- cere in their faith and to clean up and purify their doctrines and beliefs, and a reminder to the Muslims of their covenant with God and their need to respect and fulfill that covenant. We read God’s solemn questioning of Jesus: “Did you say to people, ‘Take me and my mother as two gods besides God?’” (116), to which Jesus would naturally reply: I told them only what You ordered me to say. I said, “Worship God, my and your Lord.” I was their witness as long as I had stayed with them, and when you took me to You, You have been the one watching over them. (117) The truth of the matter is that there is only one God, to whom all else submit in total humility. The Christian Churches have over the years tampered with the teachings of Jesus and contrived alien doc- trines that do not reflect the spirit or objective of those teachings. Only pride and self-interest drive them to insist on adopting these erroneous and false doctrines as part of the original and authentic Christianity. As regards humankind’s covenants with God, it is made clear that no special relationship exists between God and any particular human group. On the Day of Judgment, everyone shall meet his or her Lord and Creator alone to account for his or her deeds and actions. This is the day when their truthfulness will benefit the truthful. They shall dwell forever in gardens with rivers running underneath. God shall be pleased with them and they with Him. That is the A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an supreme success. (119) No one else but God commands sovereignty over this world, for “God has sovereignty over the heavens and the earth and all that is in them, and He has power over all things” (120). Al-M¥’idah contains some of the very last statements of legisla- tion revealed to Prophet Muhammad.

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    يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا أَوْفُوا بِالْعُقُودِ ۚ أُحِلَّتْ لَكُم بَهِيمَةُ الْأَنْعَامِ إِلَّا مَا يُتْلَىٰ عَلَيْكُمْ غَيْرَ مُحِلِّي الصَّيْدِ وَأَنتُمْ حُرُمٌ ۗ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَحْكُمُ مَا يُرِيدُ

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    يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا تُحِلُّوا شَعَائِرَ اللَّهِ وَلَا الشَّهْرَ الْحَرَامَ وَلَا الْهَدْيَ وَلَا الْقَلَائِدَ وَلَا آمِّينَ الْبَيْتَ الْحَرَامَ يَبْتَغُونَ فَضْلًا مِّن رَّبِّهِمْ وَرِضْوَانًا ۚ وَإِذَا حَلَلْتُمْ فَاصْطَادُوا ۚ وَلَا يَجْرِمَنَّكُمْ شَنَآنُ قَوْمٍ أَن صَدُّوكُمْ عَنِ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ أَن تَعْتَدُوا ۘ وَتَعَاوَنُوا عَلَى الْبِرِّ وَالتَّقْوَىٰ ۖ وَلَا تَعَاوَنُوا عَلَى الْإِثْمِ وَالْعُدْوَانِ ۚ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ ۖ إِنَّ اللَّهَ شَدِيدُ الْعِقَابِ

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    حُرِّمَتْ عَلَيْكُمُ الْمَيْتَةُ وَالدَّمُ وَلَحْمُ الْخِنزِيرِ وَمَا أُهِلَّ لِغَيْرِ اللَّهِ بِهِ وَالْمُنْخَنِقَةُ وَالْمَوْقُوذَةُ وَالْمُتَرَدِّيَةُ وَالنَّطِيحَةُ وَمَا أَكَلَ السَّبُعُ إِلَّا مَا ذَكَّيْتُمْ وَمَا ذُبِحَ عَلَى النُّصُبِ وَأَن تَسْتَقْسِمُوا بِالْأَزْلَامِ ۚ ذَٰلِكُمْ فِسْقٌ ۗ الْيَوْمَ يَئِسَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا مِن دِينِكُمْ فَلَا تَخْشَوْهُمْ وَاخْشَوْنِ ۚ الْيَوْمَ أَكْمَلْتُ لَكُمْ دِينَكُمْ وَأَتْمَمْتُ عَلَيْكُمْ نِعْمَتِي وَرَضِيتُ لَكُمُ الْإِسْلَامَ دِينًا ۚ فَمَنِ اضْطُرَّ فِي مَخْمَصَةٍ غَيْرَ مُتَجَانِفٍ لِّإِثْمٍ ۙ فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ

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    يَسْأَلُونَكَ مَاذَا أُحِلَّ لَهُمْ ۖ قُلْ أُحِلَّ لَكُمُ الطَّيِّبَاتُ ۙ وَمَا عَلَّمْتُم مِّنَ الْجَوَارِحِ مُكَلِّبِينَ تُعَلِّمُونَهُنَّ مِمَّا عَلَّمَكُمُ اللَّهُ ۖ فَكُلُوا مِمَّا أَمْسَكْنَ عَلَيْكُمْ وَاذْكُرُوا اسْمَ اللَّهِ عَلَيْهِ ۖ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ سَرِيعُ الْحِسَابِ

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    الْيَوْمَ أُحِلَّ لَكُمُ الطَّيِّبَاتُ ۖ وَطَعَامُ الَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْكِتَابَ حِلٌّ لَّكُمْ وَطَعَامُكُمْ حِلٌّ لَّهُمْ ۖ وَالْمُحْصَنَاتُ مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنَاتِ وَالْمُحْصَنَاتُ مِنَ الَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْكِتَابَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ إِذَا آتَيْتُمُوهُنَّ أُجُورَهُنَّ مُحْصِنِينَ غَيْرَ مُسَافِحِينَ وَلَا مُتَّخِذِي أَخْدَانٍ ۗ وَمَن يَكْفُرْ بِالْإِيمَانِ فَقَدْ حَبِطَ عَمَلُهُ وَهُوَ فِي الْآخِرَةِ مِنَ الْخَاسِرِينَ

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    يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِذَا قُمْتُمْ إِلَى الصَّلَاةِ فَاغْسِلُوا وُجُوهَكُمْ وَأَيْدِيَكُمْ إِلَى الْمَرَافِقِ وَامْسَحُوا بِرُءُوسِكُمْ وَأَرْجُلَكُمْ إِلَى الْكَعْبَيْنِ ۚ وَإِن كُنتُمْ جُنُبًا فَاطَّهَّرُوا ۚ وَإِن كُنتُم مَّرْضَىٰ أَوْ عَلَىٰ سَفَرٍ أَوْ جَاءَ أَحَدٌ مِّنكُم مِّنَ الْغَائِطِ أَوْ لَامَسْتُمُ النِّسَاءَ فَلَمْ تَجِدُوا مَاءً فَتَيَمَّمُوا صَعِيدًا طَيِّبًا فَامْسَحُوا بِوُجُوهِكُمْ وَأَيْدِيكُم مِّنْهُ ۚ مَا يُرِيدُ اللَّهُ لِيَجْعَلَ عَلَيْكُم مِّنْ حَرَجٍ وَلَٰكِن يُرِيدُ لِيُطَهِّرَكُمْ وَلِيُتِمَّ نِعْمَتَهُ عَلَيْكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُونَ

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    وَاذْكُرُوا نِعْمَةَ اللَّهِ عَلَيْكُمْ وَمِيثَاقَهُ الَّذِي وَاثَقَكُم بِهِ إِذْ قُلْتُمْ سَمِعْنَا وَأَطَعْنَا ۖ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلِيمٌ بِذَاتِ الصُّدُورِ

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    يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُونُوا قَوَّامِينَ لِلَّهِ شُهَدَاءَ بِالْقِسْطِ ۖ وَلَا يَجْرِمَنَّكُمْ شَنَآنُ قَوْمٍ عَلَىٰ أَلَّا تَعْدِلُوا ۚ اعْدِلُوا هُوَ أَقْرَبُ لِلتَّقْوَىٰ ۖ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ خَبِيرٌ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ

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    وَعَدَ اللَّهُ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ ۙ لَهُم مَّغْفِرَةٌ وَأَجْرٌ عَظِيمٌ

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