94. That is, in Palestine after their exodus from Egypt.
95. This refers to the dissensions the Israelites had caused in the divine way and the new religions they had invented. This verse accuses them of falling into variances, even though they possessed the divine knowledge, which had provided them with the criterion of judging between the right way and the wrong ways. They did this because of mischief of their hearts in spite of the fact that the right way had been made clear to them, and its fundamental principles had been imparted to them and instructions had been given about its implications and demands and its boundaries had been distinctly demarcated from those of the ways of unbelief. Besides, they had been admonished to follow the path of obedience and guard against the paths of disobedience, and establish their lives entirely in accordance with the rules and regulations based on that knowledge, for they shall have to render an account of all they did in this life. But in spite of all the instructions that were given to them, they divided one original religion into many divergent sects and built different ways on foundations other than those laid down by Allah.
96. Though these words were addressed to the Prophet (peace be upon him), they were meant for those who expressed doubts about his message. As regards to the reference to the people of the Book, it is because they possessed the knowledge of the scriptures, whereas the common people of Arabia lacked this, and were, therefore, strangers to the voice of the Quran. It was also expected that their just and pious scholars would testify that its message was the same as that of the scriptures of the former Prophets.
97. Allah’s decree that had become applicable to them was this: Allah does not thrust the faith on those who do not seek after the truth: who obstinately and obdurately shut their hearts against it with prejudice: who are so lost in the love of this world that they do not care at all about the Hereafter.
98. Though Prophet Jonah (peace be upon him) 860-784 B.C. was an Israelite Prophet, he was sent to Iraq for the guidance of the Assyrians, who have been called the people of Jonah for this reason. At that time, Nineveh, a very ancient and famous city, was their capital. Its vast remains are scattered on the left bank of the Tigris, opposite to the city of Mosul, and one of the mounds bears the name of Prophet Jonah. In order to form an estimate of the glory of these people, suffice it to say that the circumference of their capital Nineveh was 60 miles or so.
99. As regards to the question why the threatened torment was warded off from the people of Jonah as an exception to the divine principle, “Why was there not a (single) township (among those We warned) that believed so its belief benefited it,” the Quran does not give any details of this, but merely refers to the story at three places. See (Surah Al-Anbia, Ayats 87, 88); (Surah As-Sajadah, Ayats 139-148); (Surah Al-Qalam, Ayats 48-50). Though the story contained in the Book of Jonah gives some details, these cannot be depended upon because it was neither composed by Prophet Jonah nor it is a revealed Book but was written by some unknown person and then inserted in the Bible. Besides this, it contains some apparently absurd things which cannot be accepted as true. Nevertheless if we consider this deeply in the light of the allusions made in the Quran and details in the Book of Jonah, the explanation given by various commentators of the Quran seems to be correct. Prophet Jonah left the place of his mission without divine permission after warning the people of the torment. Therefore Allah forgave the Assyrians when they repented after seeing some signs of the coming torment. This was in accordance with the divine principles as stated in the Quran. For, according to one of these, Allah does not inflict any torment on any people, till He has the message fully demonstrated to them. As the Prophet did not continue his admonition in accordance with the appointed term and left the place of his mission of his own accord, Allah’s justice did not inflict the chastisement because the legal argument against his people had not been fulfilled. For further explanation see ((((E.N. 85 of Surah Yaseen))).
100. When the Assyrians believed in the message, they were given a new lease of life. But after some time, they adopted the wrong ways of thought and deed. Prophet Nahum (720-698 B.C.) warned and admonished them but without any effect. Then Prophet Zephaniah (640-609 B.C.) gave them the last warning that “He .... will destroy Assyria and will make Nineveh a desolation”, but it also proved in vain. At last in about 612 B.C. Allah made the Medes dominant over them.
The Median king, with the help of the Babylonians, invaded Assyria, and their army was defeated and was besieged within the walls of Nineveh. They put up a stiff resistance for some time but then the floods in the Tigris swept away the city wall and the invaders swarmed into the city and burnt it to ashes along with the surrounding countryside. The Assyrian king set fire to his palace and was himself burnt to death. Thus the Assyrian Empire and its culture came to an end forever. The recent archaeological excavations reveal widespread effects of the fire.
101. This refers to the freedom that Allah has granted to mankind to believe or not to believe in Him. Otherwise He could have very easily created all the people as born believers and obedient servants and there would have been no disbelief and disobedience at all on the earth. Or He could have very easily inspired them to turn towards belief and obedience. But these methods would have defeated the wisdom that underlies the creation of mankind.
102. This does not at all mean that the Prophet (peace be upon him) desired to force people to become believers, and that Allah was forbidding him to do this. In fact, the Quran has here adopted the same method of admonishing the people that it has adopted at many other places, that is, though the words have apparently been addressed to the person of the Prophet (peace be upon him), in fact, these have been addressed to the people. The implication is this: “O people! Our Messenger has made the distinction between the guidance and deviation quite clear and plain by argument and pleading. Now, therefore, it is for you to believe or not to believe in the guidance. If you accept that someone should force you to adopt the right way, you should know that this duty has not been assigned to Our Prophet. Had Allah willed this, He could have done it Himself: then there would have been no need of sending any Prophet to you.
103. This is to emphasize the principle that the bestowal of all these blessings is in the power of Allah alone: therefore none can acquire or bestow on anyone any blessing without the permission of Allah. As faith and guidance are also blessings, they, too, can be acquired only with Allah’s permission; and no one can acquire these without His permission nor bestow these on anyone else even though one should desire to do so. That is why, even if the Prophet had sincerely desired to make people believers forcibly, he could not have done this, for this could be done only with Allah’s permission and help.
104. This points out clearly that the above principle is not applied blindly and irrationally so as to bestow the blessing of faith on or withhold it from anyone without any rhyme or reason, but it works according to a system which is based on wisdom. Allah bestows this on anyone who uses his common sense properly in search of the truth, for Allah provides for such a one the means of attaining it in proportion to the sincerity of his intention and the extent of his exertion and grants him its correct knowledge required for faith. But He throws the filth of ignorance, deviation, wrong thinking and wrong doing on the one who is not a seeker after the truth and does not use his common sense properly because of his prejudices, or does not use it at all in search of the truth. And this is what such people deserve.
105. This is the answer to the condition that they would believe him to be a true Prophet, if a sign would be shown to them. The Prophet (peace be upon him) has been asked to say to them: There are countless signs in the heaven and the earth, which confirm and testify the message I am giving you. You could have easily recognized them, had you observed and considered them with open eyes and open hearts. But if you lack this urge and desire for the truth, you will not accept and acknowledge it, however wonderful, miraculous and supernatural the sign may be, for you will declare that it was a piece of sorcery like Pharaoh and his chiefs. The fact is that the people, who suffer from this malady, see the truth only when the torment with all its horrors overtakes them, just as Pharaoh came to believe only when he was drowning. But you should note it well that the repentance at the time of punishment is of no avail.