Surat Al-Mā'idah (The Table Spread)
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.
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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
- Narrated by al-Bukh¥rÏ.
- Narrated by al-Nas¥’Ï, Ibn M¥jah and Imam A^mad.
- Narrated by Ibn M¥jah and al-Nas¥’Ï.
- Narrated by Muslim and al-TirmidhÏ.
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا أَوْفُوا بِالْعُقُودِ ۚ أُحِلَّتْ لَكُم بَهِيمَةُ الْأَنْعَامِ إِلَّا مَا يُتْلَىٰ عَلَيْكُمْ غَيْرَ مُحِلِّي الصَّيْدِ وَأَنتُمْ حُرُمٌ ۗ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَحْكُمُ مَا يُرِيدُ
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
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
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
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
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
وَاذْكُرُوا نِعْمَةَ اللَّهِ عَلَيْكُمْ وَمِيثَاقَهُ الَّذِي وَاثَقَكُم بِهِ إِذْ قُلْتُمْ سَمِعْنَا وَأَطَعْنَا ۖ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلِيمٌ بِذَاتِ الصُّدُورِ
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
وَعَدَ اللَّهُ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ ۙ لَهُم مَّغْفِرَةٌ وَأَجْرٌ عَظِيمٌ