وَ اٰمِنُوۡا بِمَاۤ اَنۡزَلۡتُ مُصَدِّقًا لِّمَا مَعَکُمۡ وَ لَا تَکُوۡنُوۡۤا اَوَّلَ کَافِرٍۭ بِہٖ ۪ وَ لَا تَشۡتَرُوۡا بِاٰیٰتِیۡ ثَمَنًا قَلِیۡلًا ۫ وَّ اِیَّایَ فَاتَّقُوۡنِ ﴿۴۲﴾
وَءَامِنُواْ بِمَآ أَنزَلۡتُ مُصَدِّقٗا لِّمَا مَعَكُمۡ وَلَا تَكُونُوٓاْ أَوَّلَ كَافِرِۭ بِهِۦۖ وَلَا تَشۡتَرُواْ بِـَٔايَٰتِي ثَمَنٗا قَلِيلٗا وَإِيَّـٰيَ فَٱتَّقُونِ
a. 2:90, 98, 102; 3:4, 82; 4:48; 5:49. (close)
77. Musaddiq is derived from Saddaqa which means, he held or declared him or it to be true (Lane). When the word is used in the sense of "holding a thing to be true," it is either followed by no preposition or by the preposition ba’. But when it is used in the sense of "fulfilling" as in the present verse, it is followed by the preposition lam (2:92 & 35:32). So here it means "fulfilling" and not "confirming" or "declaring to be true." The Qur’an fulfils the prophecies that were contained in the previous Scriptures regarding the advent of a Law-giving Prophet and a universal Scripture. Wherever the Qur’an speaks of itself as being Musaddiq of the previous Scriptures, it does not confirm their teachings but claims to have come in fulfilment of their prophecies. Nevertheless, it accepts the Divine origin of all the revealed Books before it. But it does not look upon all their present teachings to be true in their totality; for parts of them have been tampered with and much that was meant for a specific period has now become obsolete. (close)
b. 7:102; 10:75. (close)
c. 2:80, 175; 3:200; 5:45; 9:9; 16:96. (close)
a. 2:90, 98, 102; 3:4, 82; 4:48; 5:49. (close)
b. 7:102; 10:75. (close)
48. Important Words:
مصدقا (fulfilling) is derived from صدق meaning, he told the truth or he was true. صدقه (saddaqahu) means, he held or declared him or it to be true. صدق زید خالدا means, Zaid said or held that what Khalid had said was true (Aqrab & Lane). The word تصدیق when used about previous Prophets or previous Scriptures can possibly signify three things: (1) that the claim of the previous Prophets and the previous Books about their divine mission or Divine origin is true; (2) that the teachings which they gave were true; and (3) that the prophecies which they made about the coming of some future Prophet or future revelation, etc., were true. Now the Quran and the Holy Prophet were مصدق of the previous Books and the previous Prophets in all these three senses: (1) Islam declares that all previous Prophets and all previous Books that claimed divine mission or Divine origin and were believed in as such by a large number of people, were indeed from God (2:5; 2:286); (2) it admits that the teachings of the previous Prophets and the previous Books were true, not necessarily in the form in which they existed at the time of its advent but in the form in which they were originally given (98:4); (3) it claims that the prophecies made by previous Books and the previous Prophets about the coming of a Prophet and the coming of a Book of divine law were true and have been fulfilled in the Quran and the Holy Prophet of Islam. In the verse under comment the word مصدق is used in the last-mentioned sense, i.e. fulfilling the prophecies of the previous Scriptures.
Moreover, the word مصدق is here followed by the preposition لام and not با and there is a difference between simple مصدقand مصدق به and مصدق له. When the word is used in the sense of holding a thing to be true, it is either followed by no preposition or is followed by the preposition با. When, however, the Quran uses the word in the sense of fulfilling, it is followed by the preposition لام. Even in common parlance we say جئت تصدیقا لقول فلان i.e. I have come in accordance with, or to fulfil, the word of such a person.
The use of the word مصدق له in the Quran practically bears out this distinction. For instance, in 2:92 the Quran says: And when it is said to them, 'Believe in what Allah has sent down,' they say, 'We believe in what has been sent down to us'; and they disbelieve in what has been sent down after that, yet it is the truth, fulfilling that which is with them. This verse makes it absolutely clear what the word مصدق means when followed by the preposition لام. It undoubtedly means "fulfilling" and not "confirming" or "declaring to be true". The expression in the verse quoted above has been used as a proof of the truth of the Quran and this clearly proves that this expression (i.e. مصدق له) conveys the sense of "fulfilling", not that of "confirming"; for if a book declares the Bible to be true, that is no proof of the book being itself a revealed word of God; even an impostor can declare the previous Scriptures to be true. It is only the fulfilling of the prophecies contained in the Bible that can serve as an evidence of the truth of the Quran. Thus it is clear that when the Quran speaks of its being مصدق (used with the preposition لام) of the Christian and the Jewish scriptures, it uses the word in the sense of "fulfilling" and not in the sense of "declaring to be true".
Again in 35:32 we find the same expression definitely used in the sense of 'fulfilling'. The verse runs thus: And the Book which We have revealed to thee is the truth itself, fulfilling (مصدقا) that which is before it, i.e. fulfilling the Scriptures that have gone before it. Now in this verse مصدق cannot mean 'declaring to be true'; for in that case we shall have to admit that the Quran declares all the teachings contained in previous Scriptures to be true, whereas many of these Scriptures are contradictory of one another and all of them contain at least some teachings that are opposed to the teachings of the Quran. So if the expression مصدقا له means "declaring to be true", it would signify that the Quran declares not only all the mutually contradictory Scriptures to be true, but also such teachings as are opposed to its own teaching. From this it is clear that the expression مصد قاله can only signify that the Quran fulfils the prophecies that were contained in the previous Scriptures regarding the advent of a Law-giving Prophet and a universal Dispensation.
لا تشتروا (barter not). For the meaning of the word اشتری see note under 2:17.
The verse under comment is a fitting complement of what has been said in the previous verse. God, the Almighty, calls upon the Israelites to accept the Holy Prophet of Islam in whom the prophecies contained in their Scriptures have been fulfilled. In fact, all the previous Scriptures had prophesied about the advent of a great Prophet. The Quran itself refers to this fact where it says: And remember the time when Allah took a covenant from the people through the Prophets, saying, 'Whatever I give you of the Book and Wisdom, and then there comes to you a Messenger fulfilling what is with you, you shall believe in him, and help him'. And He said, 'Do you agree and do you accept the responsibility which I lay upon you in this matter?' They said, 'We agree;' He said, 'Then bear witness, and I am with you among the witnesses' (3:82). In this verse we have been told that every previous Prophet informed his people of the advent of a great Prophet and enjoined them to accept him when he made his appearance. As, before Islam, different Prophets were sent to different peoples, and it was only with the advent of Islam that there was to come a Prophet for all mankind, it was necessary that a covenant should have been taken from all the different peoples binding them to accept the World-Prophet when he appeared.
The advent of such a Prophet who was to gather together all nations was announced in Isaiah 42:1-4 in the following words:
"Behold my servant, whom I uphold; my chosen, in whom my soul delighteth: I have put my spirit upon him; he shall bring forth judgement to the nations. He shall not cry nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgement in truth. He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set judgement in the earth; and the isles shall wait for his law. Thus saith God the Lord, He that created the heavens, and stretched them forth" (Revised Version). Again, in Isaiah 55:4 we read: "Behold, I have given him for witness to the peoples, a leader and commander to the peoples" (Revised Version). Compare this with the Quran where God addresses the Holy Prophet, saying: And how will it fare with them when We shall bring a witness from every people, and shall bring thee as a witness against these (4:42). The above quoted prophecy mentioned in Isaiah cannot be supposed to refer to Jesus, for he did not claim to have been sent to all peoples. Says Jesus, "I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matt. 15:24).
In Isaiah 60:5-7, we read:
"Then thou shalt see and be lightened, and thine heart shall tremble and be enlarged, because the abundance of the sea shall be turned unto thee, the wealth of the nations shall come unto thee. The multitude of camels shall cover thee, the dromedaries of Midian and Ephah; they all shalt come from Sheba: They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praises of the Lord. All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered together unto thee, the rams of Nebaioth shall minister unto thee: they shall come up with acceptance on My altar, and I will glorify the house of My glory" (Revised Version). On this point the Quran says regarding Pilgrimage to Mecca: And proclaim unto mankind the Pilgrimage; they shall come to thee on foot, and on every lean camel emaciated on account of coming through every deep and distant track(22:28).
Now is there any House, except the one at Mecca, to which people repair riding on camels and where they offer sacrifices?
Add to the above prophecies those already given under the previous verse e.g. the prophecy relating to the coming of a Prophet from among the "brethren" of the Israelites, etc., and the reader will at once realize that the Bible did contain prophecies about the advent of a great Prophet who was to gather together all nations, and that these prophecies have been fulfilled in the person of the Holy Prophet of Islam.
The words, and be not the first to disbelieve therein, occurring in the verse under comment call upon the Israelites to ponder over the claim of the Holy Prophet and not to be hasty in rejecting it. They have been cautioned against being hasty in rejecting the truth, for once a man rejects the truth without giving it calm and dispassionate consideration, it becomes very difficult for him to accept it afterwards. He becomes prejudiced against it. It is to this fact that the Quran refers when it says: And We shall confound their hearts and their eyes, as they believed not therein at the first time and We shall leave them in their transgression to wander in distraction (6:111).
These words also hint at the fact that the People of the Book, being in possession of divine prophecies bearing on the advent of a great Prophet from among the descendants of Ishmael, are better fitted than others to judge of the truth of the Holy Prophet of Islam and should therefore be the first to accept him; at least they should not go to the other extreme and be the first to reject him.
The words, and barter not My Signs for a paltry price, are explained in the Quran in 4:78: Say, The benefit of this world is little. Interpreted in this light the verse would mean "Do not forsake the truth for worldly gains," for worldly gains, however big, are but a small and passing thing when compared with the gains of the Hereafter. These words may also be interpreted to signify that people who reject the truth may secure only temporary gains, but eventually, even in this life, the tide very often turns, bringing the righteous ones in ascendance.
The concluding words, and take protection in Me alone, are similar in construction to those placed at the end of the preceding verse, the only difference being that here the word ترھبون has been replaced by the word تتقون which gives a much wider significance than the former. For an explanation of the word تقوی see under 2:3 above.
Before we pass on to the next verse, it is necessary to remove one possible misunderstanding. The Quran declares itself to be مصدق له of the Jewish scriptures and we have explained this expression as meaning that the Quran came in fulfilment of what was prophesied in the previous Scriptures—not that the Quran holds the previous Scriptures to be true. This should not give rise to the misunderstanding that the Quran does not accept the Divine origin of the previous Scriptures. As a matter of fact, the Quran itself says that God’s Messengers have appeared among all the different peoples of the world (35:25). It also calls upon its followers to believe in all the previous revelations but this belief should be through the Holy Prophet and not independently of him (2:5). At the same time, the Quran criticizes and denies several teachings ascribed to the previous Scriptures and claims that these teachings have been tampered with (19:89-92; 9:30; 4:47). Thus the position may be summed up as follows:
(1) Wherever the Quran speaks of itself as being مصدق له of the previous Scriptures, it does not mean that it confirms their teachings but that it claims to have come in fulfilment of their prophecies.
(2) Nevertheless the Quran accepts the Divine origin of all the revealed Books that were sent by God before Islam.
(3) But it does not look upon all their present teachings to be true; for much has been tampered with and much that was meant for a specific period has now become obsolete. (close)
وَ لَا تَلۡبِسُوا الۡحَقَّ بِالۡبَاطِلِ وَ تَکۡتُمُوا الۡحَقَّ وَ اَنۡتُمۡ تَعۡلَمُوۡنَ ﴿۴۳﴾
وَلَا تَلۡبِسُواْ ٱلۡحَقَّ بِٱلۡبَٰطِلِ وَتَكۡتُمُواْ ٱلۡحَقَّ وَأَنتُمۡ تَعۡلَمُونَ
a. 3:72. (close)
b. 2:147, 160; 6:92. (close)
78. Here the Jews are forbidden (1) to mix the true with the false by quoting verses from their Scriptures and putting wrong interpretations on them; and (2) to suppress or hide the truth, i.e. suppress such prophecies in their Scriptures as refer to the Holy Prophet. (close)
b. 2:147, 160; 6:92. (close)
49. Important Words:
لاتلبسوا (confound) is derived from لبس which means, he put on a clothing. And as a clothing serves to cover or hide the body of the person clothed, the word has also come to mean, to cover up or to hide or to confound or to make a thing mixed up or doubtful (Aqrab).
الباطل (falsehood) is derived from بطل which means: (1) it became corrupt, or (2) it became inoperative, or (3) it went waste and served no useful purpose. The Arabs use the expression بطل دمه of a murdered person whose blood is not avenged. The word باطل means: (1) anything opposed to حق (truth) i.e. falsehood; (2) anything that goes waste and serves no useful purpose; (3) an obsolete edict or commandment which is no longer operative (Aqrab & Mufradat).
Here the Jews are forbidden (1) to mingle the true with the false, by quoting verses from their Scriptures and putting wrong interpretations on them; and (2) to suppress or hide the truth i.e. suppress such prophecies in their Scriptures as refer to the Promised Prophet. (close)
وَ اَقِیۡمُوا الصَّلٰوۃَ وَ اٰتُوا الزَّکٰوۃَ وَ ارۡکَعُوۡا مَعَ الرّٰکِعِیۡنَ ﴿۴۴﴾
وَأَقِيمُواْ ٱلصَّلَوٰةَ وَءَاتُواْ ٱلزَّكَوٰةَ وَٱرۡكَعُواْ مَعَ ٱلرَّـٰكِعِينَ
c. See 2:4. (close)
d. 2:84, 111, 178; 4:163; 5:56; 9:11; 21:74; 23:5. (close)
79. Raki‘ means, one who bows down before God (Lisan). The Arabs used the word for one who worshipped God alone to the exclusion of idols (Asas). (close)
a. See 2:4. (close)
b. 2:84, 111, 178; 4:163; 5:56; 9:11; 21:74; 23:5. (close)
50. Important Words:
زکوة (Zakah)is derived from زکا i.e. he or it grew or increased or became good or purified, etc. So literally زکوة signifies: (1) increase or augmentation; (2) purification (Lane). Technically, it signifies the obligatory alms prescribed by Islam. (See note on 9:60). زکوة is so called because it results in the purification of the property from which it is given and also in its increase through God’s blessing (Mufradat).
ارکعوا (bow down) is derived from رکع which means, he bowed down. رکع الی الله means, he leaned towards God and found peace of mind in Him. رکع المصلی means, the worshipper performed the رکوع in his Prayer, i.e. assumed the bowing posture.راکع means, one who bows down before God or leans towards Him (Lisan & Aqrab). The Arabs used the word راکع for one who worshipped God alone to the exclusion of idols (Asas). A well-known pre-Islamic poet Nabighah says:
سیبلغ عذرا اونجا حا من امرء الی ربه رب البریة راكع
viz. He who is راكع i.e. who turns to God alone, the Creator of the world, will have a good argument in his favour and will obtain salvation.
In this verse the Jews are called upon to undergo a complete transformation and identify themselves with Islam not only in belief but also in practice. Only a perfect conversion can save them.
The expression, bow down with those who bow, does not mean that the Jews should bow down as in daily Prayers; for that would be redundant, as the performance of the prescribed daily Prayers has already been mentioned in the words اقیموالصلوة. The expression therefore means that they should completely submit to God, severing all such connections as may lead them astray from Him.
The question here arises, why does not God say "bow down with the believers or the Muslims" which would have been a much simpler construction than bow down with those who bow. The answer is that this construction has been adopted to convince the Jews that this commandment of God is not an arbitrary one but is meant for their own good, because by obeying it they would be identifying themselves with a righteous people. The word الراکعین being an attributive word also supplies an argument which the use of a proper name could not do. Moreover, by the use of this word, God has bestowed well-merited praise on the Muslims. They are, as a community, a راکعpeople, wholly devoted to the service of the One God, having severed all connections with false deities. This extra significance could not have been secured by the use of the word Muslim or Mu’min which have come to be regarded as more or less proper names. (close)
اَتَاۡمُرُوۡنَ النَّاسَ بِالۡبِرِّ وَ تَنۡسَوۡنَ اَنۡفُسَکُمۡ وَ اَنۡتُمۡ تَتۡلُوۡنَ الۡکِتٰبَ ؕ اَفَلَا تَعۡقِلُوۡنَ ﴿۴۵﴾
۞أَتَأۡمُرُونَ ٱلنَّاسَ بِٱلۡبِرِّ وَتَنسَوۡنَ أَنفُسَكُمۡ وَأَنتُمۡ تَتۡلُونَ ٱلۡكِتَٰبَۚ أَفَلَا تَعۡقِلُونَ
e. 26:227; 61:3-4. (close)
80. Birr (good) means, behaving benevolently towards relations and others; truthfulness; fidelity; righteousness; obedience to God (Aqrab). The word also means extensive goodness or beneficence (Mufradat). (close)
81. 'Book' here refers to the Bible, but the clause, while you read the Book, does not imply that all the contents of the Bible have been accepted as true. (close)
a. 26:227; 61:3, 4. (close)
51. Important Words:
تنسون (forget) is derived from نسی meaning: (1) he forgot; (2) he ignored; (3) he left off a thing (Aqrab).
تعقلون (you understand) is derived from عقل meaning: (1) he understood; (2) he realized his mistake. عقل الغلام means, the boy reached the age of puberty. عقل البعیر means, he tied up the camel with a piece of rope. Thus عقل also embodies the sense of restraining (Aqrab).
بر (good) means, acting well towards relations and others; truthfulness; fidelity; righteousness; obedience; obedience to God (Aqrab). It also means, extensive goodness or beneficence (Mufradat).
The Quran questions the Jews, as if saying: Do you enjoin men to practise extensive beneficence, to deal kindly with one another, to be truthful, to act righteously and to serve and obey God, yet you neglect your own selves, while you claim to read the Book sent by God? Again, your Book contains prophecies concerning the Holy Prophet of Islam, yet you do not accept him. Thus you break a great commandment of the Lord but bid others to observe lesser commandments. Will you not then understand? The word 'Book' here refers to the Bible, but the clause, while you read the Book, does not imply that all the contents of the Bible have been admitted to be true and indisputable. The words have been used with the object of bringing home to the Jews the fact that while they think they are the People of the Book, they behave like ignorant men. Should the People of the Book behave as they behave?
The words, do you enjoin others to do what is good and forget your own selves, may be interpreted in another way also. As explained under Important Words, the word means, acting well towards relations. The Jews are thus invited to ponder over the fact whether they have acted well towards their brethren, the Ishmaelites? They went about enjoining others to act kindly towards relations but for more than two thousand years they themselves acted most shamefully towards their own kinsmen, and their rejection of the Holy Prophet was also due to the jealousy they bore towards the house of Ishmael. (close)
وَ اسۡتَعِیۡنُوۡا بِالصَّبۡرِ وَ الصَّلٰوۃِ ؕ وَ اِنَّہَا لَکَبِیۡرَۃٌ اِلَّا عَلَی الۡخٰشِعِیۡنَ ﴿ۙ۴۶﴾
وَٱسۡتَعِينُواْ بِٱلصَّبۡرِ وَٱلصَّلَوٰةِۚ وَإِنَّهَا لَكَبِيرَةٌ إِلَّا عَلَى ٱلۡخَٰشِعِينَ
f. 2:154; 7:129. (close)
82. Sabr means, to adhere steadily to what reason and law command and to restrain oneself from what reason and law forbid and from manifesting grief, agitation and impatience (Mufradat). (close)
83. This verse along with the one that follows may be taken to be addressed either to the Jews or to the Muslims. In the former case, it constitutes a continuation of the address to the Israelites, meaning that they should not be hasty in rejecting the Holy Prophet but should try to find out the truth with patience and prayer. As taken to be addressed to Muslims it gives them a message of hope and encouragement. If they acted with patience and prayer, they need have no fear. (close)
g. 4:143; 9:54. (close)
a. 2:154; 7:129. (close)
b. 4:143; 9:54. (close)
52. Important Words:
صبر (patience) means: (1) to steadily adhere to what reason and law command; (2) to restrain oneself from what reason and law forbid; and (3) to restrain oneself from manifesting grief, agitation and impatience, the word being the contrary of جزعi.e. manifestation of grief and agitation (Mufradat).
خاشعین (the humble) is the plural of خاشع which is derived from خشع which means, he became lowly, humble or submissive; he exercised restraint over himself; he confided in God only, throwing himself completely at His mercy (Aqrab, Mufradat & Lisan). The verse that follows explains what God here means by the word خاشعین.
This verse along with the one that follows may be taken to be addressed either to the Jews or to the Muslims. In the former case, it constitutes a continuation of the address to the Israelites, meaning that the Israelites should not be hasty in rejecting the Holy Prophet but should seek to find out the truth with patience and prayer. The verse, however, ends with an expression of the fear that, as seeking to find out the truth in the aforesaid manner is difficult, the Jews perhaps will not resort to the method which only the humble adopt. Or it may be taken to be addressed to Muslims. When the Quran recounted so many hostile activities of Jews against Muslims, it was natural that the weak-minded people among the latter should begin to entertain fear of the Jews. So, as necessitated by the psychological effect of the verses on the listeners, the Quran here turns to the Muslims and gives them a message of hope and encouragement. If Muslims acted with صبر and الصلوة (patience and prayer), they need have no fear. In other words, if they abstain from evils, and practise virtue and be steadfast and observe patience and constantly pray to God for help, He will certainly send them His help, and they will conquer all opposition.
The pronoun in the words, this indeed is hard except for the humble in spirit, refers either to الصلوة or to استعانة derived from the word استعینواmeaning, that the act of seeking God’s help through صبر and الصلوة is not an easy affair. It requires not only a righteous spirit but also one of complete restraint and trust. (close)
الَّذِیۡنَ یَظُنُّوۡنَ اَنَّہُمۡ مُّلٰقُوۡا رَبِّہِمۡ وَ اَنَّہُمۡ اِلَیۡہِ رٰجِعُوۡنَ ﴿٪۴۷﴾
ٱلَّذِينَ يَظُنُّونَ أَنَّهُم مُّلَٰقُواْ رَبِّهِمۡ وَأَنَّهُمۡ إِلَيۡهِ رَٰجِعُونَ
a. 2:224, 250; 11:30; 18:111; 29:6; 84:7. (close)
a. 2:224, 250; 11:30; 18:111: 29:6; 84:7. (close)
53. Important Words:
یظنون (know for certain) is derived from ظن which expresses two contrary meanings, sometimes implying doubt and uncertainty, and sometimes certainty and knowledge (Aqrab). Evidently, it is in the latter sense that the word has been used in this verse.
This verse explains the word خاشعین (the humble) occurring in the preceding verse. God says that in His sight خاشعین are those people who have complete faith in Him and are sure of meeting Him one day. Such people have the strength of their conviction and do not falter before opposition.
The words, they will meet their Lord, refer to the meeting with God which holy men enjoy in this life, while the words, to Him will they return, refer to the complete nearness to God which such men will attain in the life to come. (close)
یٰبَنِیۡۤ اِسۡرَآءِیۡلَ اذۡکُرُوۡا نِعۡمَتِیَ الَّتِیۡۤ اَنۡعَمۡتُ عَلَیۡکُمۡ وَ اَنِّیۡ فَضَّلۡتُکُمۡ عَلَی الۡعٰلَمِیۡنَ ﴿۴۸﴾
يَٰبَنِيٓ إِسۡرَـٰٓءِيلَ ٱذۡكُرُواْ نِعۡمَتِيَ ٱلَّتِيٓ أَنۡعَمۡتُ عَلَيۡكُمۡ وَأَنِّي فَضَّلۡتُكُمۡ عَلَى ٱلۡعَٰلَمِينَ
b. See 2:41. (close)
c. 2:123; 3:34; 5:31; 6:87; 7:141; 45:17. (close)
84. The verse signifies that the Israelites were superior to the peoples of only their own age. Where the Qur’an desires to convey the idea of permanent superiority of a people over all nations, it uses other expressions such as in (3:111), where Muslims have been mentioned as "the best people." (close)
b. See 2:41. (close)
c. 2:123; 3:34; 5:21; 6:87; 7:141; 45:17. (close)
This verse is clearly addressed to the Jews. God here introduces the previous subject with a repetition of the words, O children of Israel, remember My favours, occurring in verse 41 above. But the words are not truly a repetition; for they are followed by others which do not form part of verse 41. Thus the verse under comment serves to introduce a new point. In the earlier verse the reference in the word "favours" is to the covenant between God and the Jews, whereas the reference in the verse under comment is to the fact that God exalted the Israelites above other peoples.
In the verse under comment the Israelites are reminded that God had fulfilled His promise to them, but as they had, on their part, failed to fulfil their covenant, He had withheld from them the blessing which He had been conferring on them before. The Promised Prophet from among their brethren had come and God’s covenant had been transferred to a new people. So they had no ground for complaint.
The words, I exalted you above all peoples, do not mean that the Israelites are superior to all peoples who have ever dwelt or will ever dwell on this planet. Such a meaning is inconsistent with other passages of the Quran. For instance, in 3:34 it is said: Allah did choose Adam and Noah and the family of Abraham and the family of Imran above all peoples. As there can be only one people who can have superiority over all other peoples in the true sense of the term, evidently the word عالمین (peoples) here signifies peoples of that age only.
Where the Quran desires to convey the idea of real superiority over all nations, it uses other expressions. For instance, the Quran addresses the Muslims in the words: You are the best people raised for the good of mankind (3:111). Here the Muslims are definitely spoken of as the best nation that has ever been brought forth for the good of the world. (close)
وَ اتَّقُوۡا یَوۡمًا لَّا تَجۡزِیۡ نَفۡسٌ عَنۡ نَّفۡسٍ شَیۡئًا وَّ لَا یُقۡبَلُ مِنۡہَا شَفَاعَۃٌ وَّ لَا یُؤۡخَذُ مِنۡہَا عَدۡلٌ وَّ لَا ہُمۡ یُنۡصَرُوۡنَ ﴿۴۹﴾
وَٱتَّقُواْ يَوۡمٗا لَّا تَجۡزِي نَفۡسٌ عَن نَّفۡسٖ شَيۡـٔٗا وَلَا يُقۡبَلُ مِنۡهَا شَفَٰعَةٞ وَلَا يُؤۡخَذُ مِنۡهَا عَدۡلٞ وَلَا هُمۡ يُنصَرُونَ
d. 2:124; 31:34; 82:20. (close)
85. Shafa‘ah is derived from Shafa‘a which means, he provided a thing which was alone with another; joined a thing to its like (Mufradat). Thus the word has the significance of likeness or similarity; also it means, interceding or praying for a person that he may be shown favour and his sins may be passed over on the ground that he is connected with the intercessor, it being also implied that the petitioner is a person of higher position than the one for whom he pleads and also has deep connection with the person with whom he intercedes (Mufradat & Lisan). Shafa‘ah (intercession) is governed by the following conditions: (1) He who intercedes must have a special connection with the person with whom he wishes to intercede and enjoys his special favour, for without such connection he dare not intercede nor can intercession be fruitful. (2) The person for whom intercession is to be made must have a true and real connection with the intercessor, for none would think of interceding for a person unless the latter has real relationship with the former. (3) The person in whose favour intercession is sought must generally be a good person who has made an honest effort to win the pleasure of God (21:29), only he has fallen into sin in a moment of weakness. (4) Intercession can only be made with God’s express permission (2:256; 10:4). Shafa‘ah as conceived by Islam is, in fact, only another form of repentance, because Taubah (repentance) signifies reforming a broken connection or tightening up a loose one. So whereas the door of repentance becomes closed with death, the door of Shafa‘ah remains open. Moreover, Shafa‘ah is a means of the manifestation of God’s mercy, and because God is not a judge but Master, there is nothing to stop Him from extending His mercy to whomsoever He pleases. (close)
a. 2:124, 256; 19:88; 20:110; 21:29; 34:24; 39:45; 43:87; 53:27; 74:49. (close)
86. ‘Adl (ransom) means, equity or justice; equal compensation; fair and equitable ransom (Aqrab). (close)
55. Important Words:
تجزی (shall serve as a substitute) is derived from جزی which means, he or it sufficed; he rendered satisfaction; he paid; he requited or recompensed. The expression جزی ھذا من ھذا or جزی ھذا عن ھذا means, this stood in the place of that, or this served as a substitute for that (Lane & Aqrab).
شفاعة (intercession) is derived from شفع which means, he provided a thing, which was alone, with another, or he joined up a single thing with another, so as to make it one of a pair or couple. The Arabs say کان وترا فشفعته i.e. it was a single thing and I joined to it another and made it one of a couple. According to Ar-Raghib الشفع signifies the adjoining a thing to its like; thus the word has the significance of likeness or similarity also. Then the verb شفع has come to mean, he interceded, because the person who intercedes for another attaches, or, as it were, joins or links up the latter to himself and thus uses his influence in his favour. Thus شفع لفلان اوفی فلان الی الامیر means, he interceded for such a person with the prince; he requested or prayed the prince to help or show favour to such a person on the ground that he was attached to him as a relation or friend or follower, etc. شفاعة therefore means, interceding or praying for a person to the effect that he may be shown favour or that his sins may be passed over, on the ground that he is connected with the intercessor or is like or similar to him, it being also implied that the petitioner is a person of higher position than the one for whom he pleads and is also connected with him with whom he intercedes, (Aqrab, Mufradat, Lane & Lisan).
عدل (ransom) means: (1) equity or justice (2) equal compensation; (3) fair and equitable ransom (Aqrab).
The verse is important. God addresses the Israelites, who claimed to be the progeny of the Prophets, saying that though it was a fact that they were descended from holy personages and He had shown special favour to them inasmuch as He had exalted them above other peoples of the age, yet as they repeatedly broke His covenant and had begun to lead wicked lives and had finally rejected the Promised Prophet, who had made his appearance in fulfilment of the prophecies contained in the Bible, they no longer deserved His blessings, but had, on the contrary, become the object of His wrath and must be prepared to render an account of their deeds. The verse under comment calls upon the Jews to prepare themselves for the Day of Retribution when they would stand alone before God and there would be none to intercede for them or help them in any other way. The fact that they were descendants of holy persons would be of no avail, nor would any substitute or ransom be accepted from them. It would indeed be a dreadful day for those who reject God’s Messengers; for on that day nothing but one’s own deeds would count.
As a criminal can count on four possible means of securing his release, God has mentioned all those means and has made it clear that none of them will avail him on the Day of Reckoning. The first idea that comes to the mind of a culprit is to prove that the offence alleged to have been committed by him was legally not committed by him at all. It was either committed by somebody else or, if it was in fact committed by him, it was committed at the instigation of another person, or another person undertook to shoulder his burden. Thus the culprit tries to secure his release by throwing the blame or the responsibility on somebody else. In view of this plea, the Quran says that (on the Day of Judgement) no soul shall serve as a substitute for another soul. If a person is really sinful, the blame will surely lie on his own head and will, by no means, be shifted to another person. Everyone will bear his own cross and there will be no atonement in the sense of one man serving as a substitute for another.
The second possible way of escape when a criminal fails to shift the responsibility to another person, is for him either to try to secure the intercession of an influential person in his favour or to enter a plea that he is related to some big personality and hence is entitled to special treatment. In reply to this, the Quran says, nor shall intercession be accepted for it. As explained above, the word شفاعة here has a twofold significance: (a) that no influential person shall be allowed to intercede for a culprit; and (b) that no culprit shall himself be allowed to put in the plea that he is related to an influential person.
The third possible means of release is for the culprit to try to secure his freedom by paying a ransom. With regard to this the Quran says, nor shall ransom be taken from it.
Finally, when a criminal sees that all other means of escape have failed, he thinks of using force and getting his release by violence. With regard to this, the Quran says: nor shall they be helped, i.e. they shall find no helpers against God.
The Quran mentions these things not by way of threat but to make the Jews realize that they should not entertain false hopes. The only way open to them was to accept the Holy Prophet whom God had raised for their own good.
Here arises a very important question. What is the teaching of Islam about شفاعة (intercession)? Does Islam hold it to be quite useless and unlawful, as would appear from the verse under comment, or does it hold certain forms of شفاعة to be useful and lawful and others to be useless and unlawful? From the teachings of the Quran and the Hadith it appears that the latter view is correct and we proceed to discuss it accordingly. It should be stated at once that the word "intercession" is a very imperfect rendering of the word شفاعة. It conveys only a part of the meaning of شفاعة and that too very imperfectly.
As explained under Important Words, the root meaning of the word شفاعة is to attach or connect or join a thing, or, for that matter, to connect or join oneself with another thing or person so as to form a pair or a couple on the basis of similarity. The Quran uses the different derivations of this word in no less than 29 different places and in all of them the root meaning of the word is retained in one form or another. The word is used in the sense of "intercession" because the person who intercedes for somebody must have a twofold connection:
Firstly, he must have a special connection with the being or person with whom he wishes to intercede, for without such connection none dare intercede nor can intercession be fruitful.
Secondly, he must also have a special connection with the person for whom he intercedes, because none can think of interceding for a person unless he is specially connected with the latter and is akin or similar to him.
In religious terminology شفاعة means intercession with God by a holy man for a sinful person. Here too the twofold connection referred to above is essential. The holy person who intercedes with God must have a special connection with Him, enjoying His special favour and being very near and dear to Him. On the other hand, he should also have real connection with the person on whose behalf he wishes to intercede; for without such connection he cannot be properly moved to intercede nor can his intercession carry much weight with God. In fact, the intercessor, on the essential basis of the aforementioned double connection, approaches God saying, as it were, "My God, I come to Thee with a special request, knowing that Thou art well pleased with me and that I enjoy Thy special favour. Here is an erring man who is sincerely connected with me but in moments of weakness he has stumbled and faltered. But as Thou art kind and good to me, O Lord, be Thou kind also to this sinful servant of Thine and pardon him his sins". This is what may be termed the essence of شفاعة as taught and, held lawful, by Islam.
From the above significance of the word it is apparent that true شفاعة is governed by the following conditions:
(1) He who intercedes must be very near and dear to God enjoying His special favour.
(2) The person for whom he wishes to intercede must have a true and real connection with him.
(3) The person in whose favour intercession is to be made must be a good person overall, only casually tempted to sin in moments of weakness; for it cannot be entertained for a moment that a habitually wicked one can enjoy a true connection with a holy person.
(4) Intercession must always be made with God’s permission; for it is God alone Who knows (a) whether a so-called holy person really stands near and dear to Him, and (b) whether the person for whom intercession is being made is truly and sincerely connected with the holy man making the intercession, for there is many a connection which looks sound and genuine from outside but is rotten from within.
(5) Each and every intercession is not necessarily lawful or fruitful. Only that intercession is lawful which fulfils all the requisite conditions.
The above view finds clear corroboration in the Islamic teachings. For instance, the Quran says: And fear the day when no soul shall serve as a substitute for another soul at all, nor shall any ransom be accepted from it, nor any شفاعة(intercession) avail it, nor shall they be helped (2:124). This verse is addressed to the Jews and signifies that, as they have rejected the Holy Prophet and thus failed to form the most important of spiritual connections, therefore no other connection or intercession will avail them on the Day of Judgement. This makes it clear that شفاعة can avail only those who accept the Messenger of the day. It cannot avail those who, by rejecting a Messenger of God, rebel against divineauthority. As such people fail to form the connection that they are called upon to form, no question of شفاعة arises.
Again the Quran says: On the Day of Judgement شفاعة (intercession) shall not avail any person except him for whom God grants permission and with whose word (i.e. with whose expression of faith) He is pleased (20:110). This verse throws light on three very important points:
(a) That if, on the one hand, there are some whom شفاعة (intercession) will not avail, on the other hand, there are others whom it will certainly avail.
(b) But it will avail only those for whom God grants special permission.
(c) That such permission will be granted only in the case of those sinners whose faith at least is sound, i.e. their ایمان(faith) is true and well-founded; only in اعمال (practice) they sometimes show weakness.
At another place the Quran says: Who is he that will intercede with God except by His permission? He knows what is before them and what is behind them; and they encompass nothing of His knowledge except what He pleases (2:256). This verse supplies the reason for the principle adduced in the verse quoted above. God’s permission is necessary because His knowledge alone is perfect and it is only He Who knows whether the twofold connection essential for شفاعةreally exists, i.e. (1) whether the holy person wishing to intercede really enjoys the special relation with God required for such intercession and, (2) whether the person for whom he wishes to intercede is truly and sincerely connected with him.
To illustrate the above point, we may well quote an incident in Noah’s life. At the time of the great Deluge, he saw that his son had been caught by the surging waves and was going to be drowned. Thereupon he turned to God, saying that the drowning boy was one of his family whom God had promised to save. Upon this God sharply reprimanded him, saying, He is surely not of thy family; he is indeed a man of unrighteous conduct. So ask not of Me that of which thou hast no knowledge. I advise thee lest thou become one of the ignorant (11:47). This verse beautifully illustrates the philosophy of شفاعة. In a moment of great uneasiness of mind Noah interceded for his son with God but forgot to ask for His permission, whereupon God reminded him that though the boy was his son in the physical sense, he was not one in the true spiritual sense and was therefore not entitled to شفاعة which has its basis in spiritual kinship.
Having briefly explained the nature and conditions of شفاعة, we now come to the question: How many forms of شفاعة are there? A study of the relevant Quranic verses and of the attendant facts reveals that شفاعة is of three kinds:
(1) Firstly, there is the verbal شفاعة which has been interpreted as "intercession". In this form of شفاعة a holy person actually prays to God on the basis of his special connection with Him that a sinful person who is truly connected with him may be granted forgiveness or that, for that matter, a person suffering from some disease or misfortune may be restored to health or saved from the attending misfortune. In this case "intercession" is really a form of prayer but it makes a stronger appeal and is much more efficacious. For, whereas a prayer is simply a request made to God, شفاعة(intercession) is a prayer reinforced by the twofold connection referred to above. The شفیع (intercessor) appeals to God in a special way because (a) he enjoys God’s special favour, and (b) the person for whom he intercedes is truly and sincerely connected with him. This twofold connection gives intercession a strength that is lacking in an ordinary prayer. The intercessor, so to speak, says to God "My God, if Thou holdest me dear, then be Thou kind also to this sufferer who is dear to me." Such a prayer, if offered with God’s permission, most forcefully moves the mercy of God and is sure of acceptance.
(2) Secondly, there is the form of شفاعة which, though verbal, yet is offered not in the form of a prayer but merely as a simple statement expressive of the relation between the intercessor and the person for whom he intercedes. Sometimes, it happens that through fear of God or through modesty the intercessor does not make an intercession in the form of a direct request or prayer but simply expresses the relation existing between him and the person for whom he wishes to intercede, leaving the conclusion to be drawn by God Himself. A case in point is that of Noah’s intercession for his son referred to above. Noah did not actually pray for his son but simply drew God’s attention to their relationship: My Lord, verily my son is of my family and surely Thy promise is true (11:46). These are Noah’s words. It is a clear case of شفاعةalthough the actual form of prayer is wanting.
(3) Thirdly, there is the شفاعة which is neither made in the form of a prayer nor expressed in words. It simply consists in the practical existence of the twofold relation necessary for شفاعة. In fact, in this case the relationship itself is spoken of as شفاعة. For instance, the Quran speaks of the Jews saying لا تنفعھا شفاعة i.e. on the Day of Judgement no شفاعة shall avail them (2:124). Here شفاعة is used simply in the sense of connection. God means to say that as the Jews have refused to connect themselves with the Holy Prophet of Islam, therefore no other connection will avail them. Their being counted among the followers of Abraham or Moses or David, etc., will be of no avail to them. In this sense a Prophet of God is a شفیع or intercessor for all his true followers without distinction. Everybody who establishes a true connection with him is saved while others perish. In this sense God also is a شفیع for those who connect themselves with Him are saved, while others who remain disconnected are ruined.
Now the question arises, Why has God instituted شفاعة at all? The answer is as follows:
Firstly, شفاعة in the sense of good association is the very essence of spirituality. All spiritual progress depends on a good spiritual contact. A soul not in contact with God is lost and, for that matter, a soul not in contact with the Prophet of the day, who represents God on earth, is also lost. The Quran says, he who forms a good connection will reap the benefit thereof and he who forms an evil connection will suffer the loss attached thereto (4:86). Thus the need and the usefulness of شفاعة in the sense of a good connection is self-evident and one need not say much about it. But when we come to شفاعة in the sense of intercession, an explanation seems called for. When all depends on true belief and right actions, why should the necessity of intercession arise at all? Even a cursory thought leads to the conviction that this question, which has misled many, arises from the misleading conception of the word "intercession" as ordinarily understood. Unprincipled men go about interceding for criminals with unprincipled judges, thus thwarting the very ends of justice. Islamic شفاعة is far from this. It is not a mere intercession but is an adjunct of the principle of true belief and right actions. According to Islam only that person is entitled to شفاعة who is sincerely connected with the Prophet of the day, is true in faith and earnestly tries to live a righteous life according to the teachings of Islam. But, being weak, he sometimes stumbles. There is nothing inherently wrong with his connection with the Prophet, which is pure and true; only an occasional stumbling in practice makes him fall short of the prescribed standard. God entitles such a one to شفاعة and that also by His special permission; and when the Knower of all things considers one to be deserving of forgiveness, who is there to object that the case is not deserving? The Islamic شفاعة is, in fact, only another form of repentance. For what is توبة (repentance) but reforming a broken connection or tightening up a loose one? But whereas the door of repentance is closed with death, the door of شفاعة remains open. Moreover, شفاعة is a means of the manifestation of God’s mercy and God says رحمتی سبقت غضبی i.e. "My mercy is stronger than My anger" (Bukhari). Thus شفاعة (intercession) is based on the manifestation of God’s mercy; and as God is not judge but مالك (Master), there is nothing to stop Him from extending His mercy to whomsoever He pleases.
Yet another reason why شفاعة has been allowed by Islam is that by this means God honours His Prophets. It is indeed a great honour that He should allow a person to intercede with Him.
It has been objected by some Christian critics of Islam that the doctrine of شفاعة is likely to encourage people to commit sins. Nothing can be farther from the truth. The شفاعة as allowed by Islam should encourage people to strengthen their connection with the Prophet rather than weaken it. As sin is nothing but a product of weakness in the spiritual connection, شفاعة and sin really stand poles apart and it is sheer ignorance to suggest that the doctrine of شفاعة, whose very conception rests on the soundness of man’s connection with God and His Prophet, encourages one to sin. On the contrary, it is the Christian doctrine of Atonement which throws open the floodgates of sin; for, unlike Islamic شفاعة the doctrine of Atonement is based on the unnatural conception that one man can bear the sins of another. But of this, more will be explained later when we come to the relevant verses.
Now we come to the last question in this connection, i.e. who will be شفیع (intercessor) on the Day of Judgement? This question has given rise to much controversy and consequently much misunderstanding. Let it be said up front that Islam does not confine شفاعة (intercession) to one person only; for, according to the Islamic conception of شفاعة every holy person whose connection can materially influence the spiritual condition of a man is virtually a شفیع for him. All Prophets are therefore شفیع but they are شفیع only in their own respective spheres. Abraham is a شفیع for those who followed him and Moses is a شفیع for those who followed him and so on. But with the advent of the Holy Prophet of Islam, all other connections have come to an end; for the message of the Holy Prophet is for all time and all mankind. Even the present-day followers of Moses or Jesus cannot turn to these Prophets for شفاعة, because spiritually they are now under the regime of the Holy Prophet of Islam, the regimes of the previous Prophets having come to an end. As a matter of fact, as explained by the Quran itself, the real شفیع is God alone. Says the Quran: There is no helper nor شفیع (intercessor) for you except Allah; will you not then ponder? (32:5) Now as God alone is the real شفیع i.e. He is the One connection with Whom really matters, the Prophets of God become شفیع in a secondary way only. Whosoever among the Prophets represents God on earth at a particular time and in a particular place becomes a شفیعfor the people of that time and that place. From this it follows that the Prophets of God who passed before Islam were شفیع for their own followers and in their own time only; with the advent of Islam the period of their شفاعة came to an end. Now the Prophet of Islam is the only شفیع for all times and all peoples. Being a perfect image of God he is (1) the perfect شفیع and, having a universal mission he is (2) the universal شفیع; and having cancelled all previous connections he is now (3) the only شفیع (peace and blessings of God be on him). For proof of the fact that the Holy Prophet has himself put forward the above claim, the reader is referred to a hadith where the aforesaid distinction of the Prophet on the Day of Judgement is most vividly set forth (Muslim ch. on Iman). (close)
وَ اِذۡ نَجَّیۡنٰکُمۡ مِّنۡ اٰلِ فِرۡعَوۡنَ یَسُوۡمُوۡنَکُمۡ سُوۡٓءَ الۡعَذَابِ یُذَبِّحُوۡنَ اَبۡنَآءَکُمۡ وَ یَسۡتَحۡیُوۡنَ نِسَآءَکُمۡ ؕ وَ فِیۡ ذٰلِکُمۡ بَلَآ ءٌ مِّنۡ رَّبِّکُمۡ عَظِیۡمٌ ﴿۵۰﴾
وَإِذۡ نَجَّيۡنَٰكُم مِّنۡ ءَالِ فِرۡعَوۡنَ يَسُومُونَكُمۡ سُوٓءَ ٱلۡعَذَابِ يُذَبِّحُونَ أَبۡنَآءَكُمۡ وَيَسۡتَحۡيُونَ نِسَآءَكُمۡۚ وَفِي ذَٰلِكُم بَلَآءٞ مِّن رَّبِّكُمۡ عَظِيمٞ
b. 14:7; 20:81; 44:31-32. (close)
87. Pharaoh was not the name of a particular monarch. The rulers of the Nile Valley and Alexandria were called Pharaohs. Moses was born in the reign of Pharaoh Rameses II, and had to leave Egypt with the Israelites in the reign of his son, Merenptah II. Rameses II, is called the Pharaoh of the Oppression and his successor Merenptah II, the Pharaoh of Exodus (Enc. Bib. & Peake’s Commentary on the Bible). (close)
88. Al (people) is derived from the verb Ala which gives the sense of returning or governing or exercising control. The word thus means, the family or party of a man, or followers of a leader, or subjects of a ruler to whom they constantly return or who governs or exercises control over them (Lane). (close)
88A. Pharaoh had inflicted upon the Israelites grievous torments by imposing upon them hard and disgraceful labour. He also had given orders that their sons be slain and their daughters spared. In this way he sought to destroy not only their manhood but to kill in them manly qualities. (close)
c. 7:128, 142; 28:5. (close)
a. 14:7; 20:81; 44:31, 32. (close)
b. 7:128, 142; 28:5. (close)
56. Important Words:
آل (people) is derived from the verb آل which gives the sense of returning or governing or exercising control or managing. The noun آل thus means the family or party of a man, or followers of a leader, or subjects of a ruler to whom they constantly return or who governs or exercises control over them. The word اھل is also sometimes taken to be another form of the word آل and means what the latter word means.
فرعون (Pharaoh) is not a personal name. It was the title held by the ancient kings of Egypt. Every Egyptian king is called فرعون in the Bible. The personal name of the Pharaoh with whom Moses came in contact was Rameses II (Enc. Bib.).
یذبحون (slaying) is derived from ذبح which originally means, he slaughtered or cut open the throat of an animal, or he strangled a person to death. Here the word is used in the intensified form dhabbaha to signify (1) that Pharaoh and his people treated the Israelites as mere beasts, and (2) that they killed them most mercilessly. It does not mean that they actually slaughtered them like animals, for elsewhere the Quran, speaking of the same torment, uses the word یقتلونinstead of یذبحون (7:142).
نساء (women) is the plural of مراة (a woman) from a different root. Though the word generally means "women" (Aqrab), it is also sometimes used about girls, as the Quran itself has used it (4:128). It is also used to signify "wives" (33:33).
بلاء (trial) means, anything by means of which a person may be tried; a trial whether through a blessing or an affliction (Aqrab).
In verses 41-48 God reminded the Israelites of His blessings in general, particularly the blessing of prophethood, which He had bestowed on them. He now calls their attention to such favours as exalted the Israelites above other peoples. The first of them to which God refers here is their deliverance from the hands of Pharaoh and his people, who inflicted on them grievous torments.
Some Christian critics have objected that whereas the Bible nowhere speaks of the sons of the Israelites being slaughtered like beasts, the Quran so speaks of them. We have shown under Important Words that the word ذبح used in the verse does not signify actual slaughtering by cutting the throat. It also means strangling to death. As Pharaoh first ordered the male children of the Israelites to be strangled at birth and later changed the decree to other methods of killing, the Quran uses a word which covers all such forms of killing. As already hinted, the word ذبح in the sense of slaughtering is used figuratively to denote that Pharaoh and his people treated the Israelites most mercilessly, killing them in whatever manner they liked. Elsewhere the Quran uses the word قتل i.e. killing in place of ذبح i.e. slaughtering (7:142).
In Exod. 1:8-22, we read: "Now there arose a new king over Egypt which knew not Joseph. And he said unto his people, Behold the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we: Come on, let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply. Therefore they (the Egyptians) did set over them taskmasters to afflict them (the Israelites) with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and Rameses. But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew. And they were grieved because of the children of Israel. And the Egyptians made the children of Israel to serve with rigour; and they made their lives bitter with hard bondage, in mortar and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field: all their service, wherein they made them serve, was with rigour. And the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives…When ye do the office of a midwife to the Hebrew women, and see them upon the stools, if it be a son, then ye shall kill him: but if it be a daughter, then she shall live. But the midwives feared God and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men children alive (putting up the excuse that Israelite women being healthier than Egyptians were generally delivered before the midwives arrived). And Pharaoh charged all his people, saying, Every son that is born ye shall cast into the river, and every daughter ye shall save alive."
The above quotation clearly shows that the Pharaoh whose name was Rameses II not only inflicted upon the Israelites grievous torments by imposing upon them hard and disgraceful labour, but also gave orders to kill their sons and spare their daughters who were thus allowed to grow to womanhood and became نساء as the Quran puts it. The Quran uses the word ذبح to signify that at first the order was to strangle the Israelite male children at birth and when that order failed in its purpose, another was issued to the effect that all male children should be thrown into the river—a most merciless form of killing in which all human feelings were laid aside and the Israelites were treated as mere beasts.
As the word بلاء (trial) may mean either a trial through a favour or blessing, or a trial through grief or affliction, the words "in that" occurring in the verse may either refer to the deliverance of the Israelites from Pharaoh’s people, in which case the word trial will mean a favour or a blessing; or they refer to the slaying of the male children, in which case it would mean grief or affliction.
God reminds the Israelites in the verse how He delivered them from grievous torments and afflictions and calls their attention to the magnitude of the Sign which He showed in their favour. He tells them that He had faithfully fulfilled the promises which He had made to Abraham and had left nothing undone, but when they transgressed and made an ill return for the favours that had been bestowed upon them, He withheld His favours from them and transferred the gift of prophecy to their brethren, the children of Ishmael.
God does not say that He delivered the children of Israel from Pharaoh, but that He delivered them from "Pharaoh’s people", for it was through his people that Pharaoh inflicted torments upon them, he himself remaining in the background. Moreover, the expression آل فرعونdoes not exclude Pharaoh, for it, according to Arabic idiom, may also mean, Pharaoh and his people. (close)
وَ اِذۡ فَرَقۡنَا بِکُمُ الۡبَحۡرَ فَاَنۡجَیۡنٰکُمۡ وَ اَغۡرَقۡنَاۤ اٰلَ فِرۡعَوۡنَ وَ اَنۡتُمۡ تَنۡظُرُوۡنَ ﴿۵۱﴾
وَإِذۡ فَرَقۡنَا بِكُمُ ٱلۡبَحۡرَ فَأَنجَيۡنَٰكُمۡ وَأَغۡرَقۡنَآ ءَالَ فِرۡعَوۡنَ وَأَنتُمۡ تَنظُرُونَ
89. The incident mentioned in this verse relates to the time when, under God’s command, Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt into Canaan. The Israelites left secretly by night and when Pharaoh learnt of their flight, he pursued them with his hosts and was drowned in the Red Sea. In order to appreciate fully the nature and significance of this incident which constituted a great Divine Sign, it is necessary to read the verse under comment along with other relevant verses such as vv. 20:78; 26:62-64; 44:25. The following facts emerge from these verses: (a) When Moses struck the sea with his rod as the Qur’an says, or stretched out his hand over the sea as the Bible says, it was the time of the ebb-tide and the sea was receding, leaving a dry bed. (b) Moses was commanded by God to cross quickly the dry bed to the opposite bank, which he did. (c) But when the hosts of Pharaoh reached the sea, it was the time of high-tide and in their zeal to overtake the Israelites they took no notice of it and at once jumped into the sea. (d) It seems that, being heavily equipped with big chariots and other heavy armaments the progress of the army of Pharaoh was greatly retarded so that while they were yet in the midst of the sea, the high tide returned and they were all drowned. The striking of the water of the sea with his rod by Moses had no cause and effect connection with the actual parting of the sea. It was merely a Sign or a Divine intimation for Moses that it was the time of the ebb-tide and that the Israelites should hasten to cross. God had so arranged that when Moses reached the sea the tide was about to recede, so that as soon as he struck the sea with his rod in obedience to Divine command, it began to recede and a dry path was made for the Israelites. The striking of the sea water with his rod by Moses and the recession of the sea coincided. This constituted a miracle because God alone knew when the sea would recede and He had commanded Moses to strike its waters at the time of recession.
Historians differ as to the exact place from where Moses crossed the Red Sea from Egypt into Canaan. Some are of the view that on his way from the territory of Goshen, which is also called the Valley of at-Tamthilat or Wadi Tumilat and where the capital of the Pharaohs was situated (Enc. Bib. vol.4, col. 4012, under "Rameses"), Moses passed by the Gulf of Timsah (Enc. Bib., cols. 1438 and 1439). Others think that he went much further to the north and going round Zoan crossed over to Canaan near the Mediterranean Sea (Enc. Bib., col. 1438). But what is most probable is the fact that from Tal Abi Sulaiman, which was the capital of the Pharaohs in Moses’s time, the Israelites at first went to north-east to the Gulf of Timsah but finding that a net of gulfs barred their way, they turned south and crossed the Red Sea near the town of Suez where it is hardly more than 2 to 3 miles wide, and started for Qadas (Enc. Bib., col. 1437). "The Israelites fled with him (Moses) across the Goshen marshes into the Sinaitic peninsula. The crossing of the "Red Sea" (yam suph, "sea" or "lake of reeds") was probably the crossing of the southern end of a lake a few miles N.W. of what is now called the Red Sea. A wind laid bare a wide stretch of shore, and when an Egyptian force pursued the fugitives, their chariot-wheels stuck fast in the wet soil, and the water returned upon them when the wind shifted. Writers differ as to the route taken by the Israelites. Some think that they moved southward to the mountainous range of (the modern) Sinai, and then along the eastern arm of the Red Sea, now known as the Gulf of ‘Akaba, to its northernmost point at Ezion-Geber. Others think that the evidence points to the route still taken by Mecca pilgrims, nearly due E. to Ezion-Geber, and that thence they moved N.W. to the region of Kadesh (Barnea), to Mt. Sinai or southward along the E. side of the Gulf of ‘Akaba to Mt. Horeb. The traditions differ and certainty is impossible" (Peake’s Commentary on the Bible). (close)
a. 7:137; 8:55; 20:78, 81; 26:64-67; 28:41; 44:25. (close)
a. 7:137; 8:55; 20:78-81; 26:64-67; 28:41; 44:25. (close)
57. Important Words:
فرقنا (We divided) is from فرق meaning, he divided or he split. فرق الشعر means, he made parting in the hair (Aqrab).
بکم (for you) may give a number of meanings: (1) for you; (2) with you, i.e. the sea divided or receded as you proceeded, as if you were the means of dividing it; (3) because of you, i.e. in order to save you; (4) in your presence, i.e. while you were present (Kashshaf).
The incident mentioned in this verse relates to the time when, under God’s command, Moses led the Israelites from Egypt to Palestine. The Israelites left secretly at night, and when Pharaoh learnt of their flight, he pursued them with his hosts in order to bring them back to bondage. The verse mentions the favour bestowed by God on the Israelites by dividing the sea for them and drowning the Egyptians. The incident is narrated in Exod. 14:21-30. The Bible says: "And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night and made the sea dry land and the waters were divided. And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand and on their left. And the Egyptians pursued and went in after them to the midst of the sea… And the waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen and all the host of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them; there remained not so much as one of them."
The بحر (sea) spoken of in the Quranic verse and mentioned in the Biblical quotation given above refers to the Red Sea through which or through an extremity of which the Israelites passed in their flight from Egypt to the Holy Land (Exod. 14).
Besides the verse under comment, the Quran also speaks of this incident in 20:78, 26:64 and 44:25. Says the Quran: And We sent a revelation to Moses, saying, 'Take away My servants by night and strike for them a dry path through the sea' (20:78). Again: Then We revealed to Moses, saying, 'Strike the sea with thy rod'. Whereupon it parted and every part was like a huge sandhill, i.e. on one side was the sea itself, and on the other (from which the sea had receded) there loomed large depressions filled with water (26:64). And again: Take My servants away by night; for you will surely be pursued. And leave the sea motionless (i.e. pass through quickly and leave it at a time when the tide has all receded but has not yet begun to flow back, so that, on the one hand, finding the sea-bed dry and, on the other, feeling secure in the thought that the high tide was not likely to overtake them, the Egyptians might be tempted to follow on); they are a host which is doomed to be drowned (44:24, 25).
In view of the above description, the facts appear to be as follows. When the Israelites were on their way to the Promised Land, they were pursued by the army of Pharaoh. When they reached the arm of the Red Sea which lay across their route, they were greatly dismayed, for Pharaoh was close behind with his hosts. But God cheered them through Moses, asking him to strike the water with his rod. This being the time of ebb-tide, the sea receded, exposing to view in the bed of the sea huge mounds of dry sand interspersed with depressions filled with water. Under the lead of Moses the Israelites quickly crossed the dry bed of the sea to the opposite bank. The army of Pharaoh came in pursuit, and while they were yet in the bed of the sea the high tide returned and drowned them all.
It should be remembered that, according to the Quran, a miracle is purely the work of God, and man has no hand in it. So, the striking of the sea by Moses was merely a symbol or a sign, having nothing to do with the actual parting of the sea which was exclusively the work of God, Who so arranged that it was the time of ebb-tide when Moses reached the sea so that just when He lifted his rod the sea began to recede. But when the army of Pharaoh began to cross the sea, they met with obstacles, just as heavily equipped armies generally do, and their progress was naturally retarded so that while they were yet in the midst of the sea, the high tide flowed and they were all drowned.
The words of the Quran do not lend themselves to the erroneous inference that there was an actual split in the sea to afford a passage for Moses and his followers. The two words used in the Quran in this connection are فرقنا (We divided) and انفلق (the sea parted); the root idea of both being "parting". These two words only corroborate the theory that when the Israelites reached the sea, the ebb-tide set in and the sea parted, exposing to view the sand dunes upon which the Israelites crossed over to the other side.
The fact that Pharaoh followed Moses through the bed of the sea also indicates that it was the time of the ebb-tide. If the sea had been actually split against all known laws of nature, Pharaoh would never have dared to follow in the wake of Moses. Nevertheless, it was a great miracle brought about by a subtle combination of the laws of nature which all united to save the Israelites and destroy Pharaoh and his people.
In this connection we may well quote an incident in Napoleon’s life which goes to illustrate how the tide helped Moses and destroyed Pharaoh in their journey across the Red Sea. In Abbott’s Life of Napoleon it is related that, "One day, with quite a retinue, he (Napoleon) made an excursion to that identical point of the Red Sea which, as tradition reports, the children of Israel crossed three thousand years ago. The tide was out, and he passed over the Asiatic shore upon extended flats. Various objects of interest engrossed his attention until late in the afternoon, when he commenced his return, the twilight faded away, and darkness came rapidly on. The party lost their path, and, as they were wandering bewildered among the sands, the rapidly returning tide surrounded them. The darkness of the night increased, and the horses floundered deeper and deeper in the rising waves. The water reached the girths of the saddles, and dashed upon the feet of the rider, and destruction seemed inevitable. From that perilous position Napoleon extricated himself by that presence of mind and promptness of decision which seemed never to fail him…The horses did not reach the shore until midnight, when they were wading breast deep in the swelling waves. The tide rises on that part of the coast to the height of 22 feet. 'Had I perished in that manner like Pharaoh', said Napoleon, 'it would have furnished all the preachers in Christendom with a magnificent text against me'." (Abbott’s Life of Napoleon, Chap. 12, p. 96).
The words, while you looked on, have been added in the verse to make the Israelites realize that though the above miracle was performed before their very eyes and their proud and haughty oppressor was brought to naught in their very sight, yet they proved ungrateful to their Lord and His Prophet. (close)