The Third Surah
Al-`Imran (The House of `Imran)
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 many-sided moral to be derived from it.
In the name of God, the most gracious, the dispenser of grace:
Alif. Lam. Mim.
*See Appendix II.
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,* setting forth the truth which confirms whatever there still remains [of earlier revelations]:** 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.***
Behold, as for those who are bent on denying God's messages - grievous suffering awaits them: for God is almighty, an avenger of evil.
*The gradualness of the Qur'anic revelation is stressed here by means of the grammatical form nazzala.
**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").
***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.* Now those whose hearts are given to swerving from the truth go after that part of the divine writ** which has been expressed in allegory, seeking out [what is bound to create] confusion,*** and seeking [to arrive at] its final meaning [in an arbitrary manner]; but none save God knows its final meaning.**** 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.
*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 at-'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.)
**Lit., "that of it".
***The "confusion" referred to here is a consequence of interpreting allegorical passages in an "arbitrary manner" (Zamakhshari).
****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.
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.*
*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 worldly power.
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" - :
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.*
*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", "t;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 evidence* - 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.
*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.
Behold, the only [true] religion in the sight of God is [man's] self-surrender unto Him; and those who were vouchsafed revelation aforetime* took, out of mutual jealousy, to divergent views [on this point] only after knowledge [thereof] had come unto them.** But as for him who denies the truth of God's messages - behold, God is swift in reckoning!
*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.
**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 exclusiveness.
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,* "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.
*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 equity* - 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.
*See surah 2, note 48.
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 law* - 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":** and thus the false beliefs which they invented have [in time] caused them to betray their faith.***
*Lit., "decide [all disputes] between them" - the reference being to the Torah.
**Cf. 2:80, and the corresponding note.
***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 believers* - since he who does this cuts himself off from God in everything - unless it be to protect yourselves against them in this way.** But God warns you to beware of Him: for with God is all journeys' end.
*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.
**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.
Say: "Whether you conceal what is in your hearts* 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."
*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.* And God was all-hearing, all-knowing** (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!"
*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.
**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).
But when she had given birth to the child,* 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 female** - "and I have named her Mary. And, verily, I seek Thy protection for her and her offspring against Satan, the accursed."
*Lit., "to her" - implying that it was a girl.
**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.
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.*
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."**
*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).
**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.
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,* and [shall be] outstanding among men, and utterly chaste, and a prophet from among the righteous."
*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).
[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.* And remember thy Sustainer unceasingly, and extol His limitless glory by night and by day."
*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.
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:* for thou wert not with them when they drew lots as to which of them should be Mary's guardian,** and thou wert not with them when they contended [about it] with one another.
*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.).
**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 Christ* 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,** and as a grown man, and shall be of the righteous."
*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
**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:* when He wills a thing to be, He but says unto it, 'Be' - and it is. (3:
48) And he will impart unto thy son** revelation, and wisdom, and the
Torah, and the Gospel, (3: 49) and [will make him] an apostle
unto the children of
"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;**** and I shall heal the blind and the leper, and bring the dead back to life by God's leave;***** and I shall let you know what you may eat and what you should store up in your houses.****** Behold, in all this there is indeed a message for you, if you are [truly] believers.
*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.
**Lit., "to him".
***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
****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
*****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.
******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 remains* 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.
*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."
And when Jesus became aware of their refusal to acknowledge the truth,* he asked: "Who will be my helpers in God's cause?"
The white-garbed ones** 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,*** then, with all who bear witness [to the truth]!"
*This relates to a later time, when Jesus was being opposed by the majority of his people, and particularly the Pharisees.
**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".
***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".
And the unbelievers schemed [against Jesus];* but God brought their scheming to nought: for God is above all schemers.
*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.*
*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.
"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:*
*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.
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.* (3: 60) [This is] the truth from thy Sustainer; be not, then, among the doubters!
*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.
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."*
*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:* 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."** And if they turn away, then say: "Bear witness that it is we who have surrendered ourselves unto Him."
*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".
**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).
O FOLLOWERS of earlier revelation! Why do you argue about Abraham,* 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?** 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.
*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.
**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?*
*Lit., "when you [yourselves] bear witness": an allusion to the Biblical prophecies relating to the coming of the Prophet Muhammad.
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,* so that they might go back [on their faith];
*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.
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."* 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:** for God is infinite, all-knowing, (3: 74) singling out for His grace whom He wills. And God is limitless in His great bounty."
*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.
**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,* "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]."**
*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.
**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.
Nay, but [God is aware of] those who keep their bond with Him,* and are conscious of Him: and, verily, God loves those who are conscious of Him.
*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].*
*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.
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,* "Worship me beside God"; but rather [did he exhort them], "Become men of God** 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:*** [for] would he bid you to deny the truth after you have surrendered yourselves unto God?
*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").
**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".
***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]:* "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.** (3: 82) And, henceforth, all who turn away [from this pledge] - it is they, they who are truly iniquitous!"
*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.
**Lit., "and I am with you among the witnesses".
Do they seek, perchance, a faith other than in God,* 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?**
*Lit., "[any] other than God's religion".
**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.* And unto Him do we surrender ourselves."
*See 2:136 and the corresponding note 112.
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?* 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.
*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:* for it is they who have truly gone astray.
*My interpolation, between brackets, of the words "of other sins" is based on Tabari's convincing explanation of this passage.
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.* It is they for whom grievous suffering is in store; and they shall have none to succour them.
*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.
[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.*
*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).
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.* Say: "Come forward, then, with the Torah and recite it, if what you say is true!"
*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!*
*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
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:* rich in blessing, and a [source of] guidance unto all the worlds, (3: 97) full of clear messages.** [It is] the place whereon Abraham once stood; and whoever enters it finds inner peace.*** 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 annything in all the worlds.
*All authorities agree that this
name is synonymous with
**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
***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 witness* [to its being straight]? For, God is not unaware of what you do."
*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 main ideas of the Qur'an from the Bible and twisted them out of context so as to suit his own alleged "ambitions".
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.* 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!
*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:* 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.
*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).
These are God's messages: We convey them unto thee, setting forth the truth, since God wills no wrong to His creation.*
*Lit., "to the worlds". For an explanation of this sentence, see 6:131-132 and note 117.
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].
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.*
*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;* 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.**
*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.
passage - as the very similar one in 2: 61 - relates specifically to the
[But] they are not all alike: among the followers of earlier revelation there are upright people,* 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.
*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).
[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.*
*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.* They spare no effort to corrupt you; they would love to see you in distress.** 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.
*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.
**Lit., "they love that which causes you distress".
Lo! It is you who [are prepared to] love them, but they will not love you, although you believe in all of the revelation.* 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]!"
* 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.* And God was all-hearing, all-knowing (3: 122) when two groups from among you were about to lose heart,** 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.*** Remain, then, conscious of God, so that you might have cause to be grateful.
* 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.
**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).
***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!"*
*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.
And God ordained this [to be said by His Apostle*] 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 others** that they would withdraw in utter hopelessness.
*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.
**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,
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.*
*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).
O YOU who have attained to faith! Do not gorge yourselves on usury, doubling and re-doubling it* - 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!
*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.
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
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.* 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.
*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:* for you are bound to rise high if you are [truly] believers.
*A reference to the near-disaster at Uhud and the heavy loss of lives (about seventy men) which the Muslims had suffered.
If misfortune* 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 truth** - 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.
*Lit., "a wound" (qarh) or, according to some philologists, "pain caused by a wound".
**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.
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?* (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!**
*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).
**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?* But he that turns about on his heels can in no wise harm God - whereas God will requite all who are grateful [to Him].
*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.*
*Lit., "He is the best of all who bring succour".
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;* and their goal is the fire - and how evil that abode of evildoers!
*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 foes* - until the moment when you lost heart and acted contrary to the [Prophet's] command,** 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:*** whereupon, in order that He might put you to a test, He prevented you from defeating your foes.**** But now He has effaced your sin: for God is limitless in His bounty unto the believers.
*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.
**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).
***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.
****Lit., "He turned you away from them".
[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.*
*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,* 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]?"**
Say: "Verily, all power of decision does rest with God"*** - [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."****
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 hearts***** pure of all dross: for God is aware of what is in the hearts [of men].
*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".
**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.
***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).
****Lit., "we would not have been killed here".
*****Lit., "all that is in your hearts".
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.* But now God has effaced this sin of theirs: verily, God is much-forgiving, forbearing.
*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 places* 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 become** 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.
*Lit., "when they travel on earth".
**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.
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 one* 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:* 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.**
*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.
**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 deceive* - 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.
*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.
Is then he* who strives after God's goodly acceptance like unto him who has earned the burden of God's condemnation** 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.
*An allusion, in this case, to the Prophet Muhammad as well as to prophets in general.
**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.
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],* ask yourselves, "How has this come about?" Say: "It has come from your own selves."**
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"*** - 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,**** 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!"
*I.e., at the battle of Badr, in the year 2 H.
**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.
***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".
****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").
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.* 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,** "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:*** for they had been striving after God's goodly acceptance - and God is limitless in His great bounty.
* 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.
**Lit., "those to whom people said".
***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.
It is but Satan who instils [into you] fear of his allies:* so fear them not, but fear Me, if you are [truly] believers!
*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 share* in the [blessings of the] life to come; and tremendous suffering awaits them.
*Lit., "that He will not assign to them a share".
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.*
*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.)
It is not God's will [O you who deny the truth] to abandon the believers to your way of life:* [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.** Believe, then, in God and His apostles; for if you believe and are conscious of Him, a magnificent requital awaits you.
* 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-Dahhdk, 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.
**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.* 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.
*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.
God has indeed heard the saying of those who said, "Behold, God is poor while we are rich!"* We shall record what they have said, as well as their slaying of prophets against all right,** 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!"
*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?"
**Regarding this accusation levelled against the Jews, see surah 2, note 48.
As for those who maintain, "Behold, God has bidden us not to believe in any apostle unless he comes unto us with burnt offerings"* - 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?"**
* 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.
** 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!"* But they cast this [pledge] behind their backs, and bartered it away for a trifling gain: and how evil was their bargain!**
*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.
**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.
Think not that those who exult in what they have thus contrived, and who love to be praised for what they have not done* - think not that they will escape suffering: for grievous suffering does await them [in the life to come].
*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,
[and] who remember God when they stand, and when they sit, and when they lie down to sleep,* 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.** Limitless art Thou in Thy glory! Keep us safe, then, from suffering through fire!
*Lit., "and [lying] on their sides".
**Lit., "in vain" (batilan): see note 11 on 10:5.
"O our Sustainer! Whomsoever Thou shalt commit to the fire, him, verily, wilt Thou have brought to disgrace [in this world];* and such evildoers will have none to succour them.
*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.
"O our Sustainer! Behold, we heard a voice* 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!
*Lit., "a caller".
"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.* Hence, as for those who forsake the domain of evil,** 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."
*I.e., "you all are members of one and the same human race, and therefore equal to one another".
**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!