71. That is, “As far as conveying of the admonition is concerned, we have done full justice to it in the Quran in the best way. But guidance is attained only by him who gives up stubbornness and frees his heart from prejudices and is inclined to accept the truth willingly and sincerely.”
72. This does not mean that all the people of the Book (the Jews and the Christians) affirm faith in it. This, in fact, contains an allusion to the event that occurred during the period when this Surah was revealed, and was meant to put to shame the people of Makkah, as if to say, “You are denying and rejecting a blessing that has been sent in your own city, whereas the people from far off places, when they hear of it, come to recognize its worth and benefit from it.”
This event has been related by lbn Hisham, Baihaqi and others on the authority of Ibn Ishaq, thus: “After the migration to Habash when the news about the Prophet's (peace be upon him) advent and message spread in that land, a deputation of about twenty Christians came to Makkah to find out the truth, and they met the Prophet (peace be upon him) in the Masjid-al-Haram A crowd of the Quraish also gathered around them to watch what happened. The members of the deputation asked the Prophet (peace be upon him) some questions, which he answered. Then he invited them to accept Islam and recited some verses of the Quran before them. When they heard the Quran, tears came down from their eyes and they confirmed its being Allah’s Word and believed in the Prophet (peace be upon him). When the meeting was over and the people left, Abu Jahl and some of his men overtook them on the way, and rebuked them severely, saying, “Never has a more stupid company come here before: O foolish men you were sent here by your people with a view to inquiring about this man, but no sooner did you meet him, you gave up your own faith!” Those gentle people answered, “Peace be to you! We have no wish to enter an argument with you: you are responsible for your faith and we are for ours: we cannot afford to deprive ourselves knowingly of goodness.” See (E.N. 123: Surah Ash-Shuara).
73. That is, “Even before this we were believers in the Prophets and the divine Books. Therefore, we had no other faith than Islam and we have believed in that Book too, which this Prophet has brought from Allah. Thus, no change has occurred in our religion: we were Muslims before even as we are Muslims now.”
This saying clearly indicates that Islam is not the name of the faith brought by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the term Muslim is not only applicable to his followers, but Islam has been the faith of all the prophets since the very beginning and their followers were Muslims in every age. These Muslims became disbelievers only when they refused to acknowledge a true prophet who came afterwards. But no interruption occurred in the Islam of those people who believed in the former prophet and also affirmed faith in the prophet who succeeded him. They continued to be Muslims as they had been Muslims before.
It is strange that even some learned men also have failed to comprehend this fact, and this clear verse also could not satisfy them. Allama Suyuti wrote a treatise on the subject that the term Muslim was only reserved for the followers of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Then, as he further says, when this verse came before him, he was stunned: he prayed to God to guide him in the matter. At last, instead of revising his opinion he stuck to it even more firmly and gave several interpretations of the verse, each to which is more meaningless than the other. For example, one of his interpretations is: “We were Muslims even before this” means: We intended to become Muslims even before the revelation of the Quran, because we had been foretold by our Scriptures that it would come, and we had the intention that when it came we would accept Islam.” Another interpretation is: “In this sentence, the word bi-hi after muslimin is omitted, implying: We believed in the Quran beforehand, because we expected it would come, and had believed in it in anticipation. Therefore, we were Muslims, not because we believed in the Torah and the Gospels, but because we had believed in the Quran as Allah”s Word even before its revelation.” The third interpretation is: “It had been divinely destined for us that we would accept Islam on the advent of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and the revelation of the Quran; therefore, we were Muslims even before this.” None of these interpretations bears any impress that divine help had become available for the right understanding of this verse.
The fact is that the Quran has expressed this fundamental principle not only here, but also at scores of other places that the real way of life is only Islam (submission to Allah), and in God’s universe there can be no other way of life than this for His creatures. Since the beginning of the creation every Prophet who came for the guidance of mankind brought this very way of life: the Prophets themselves have always been Muslims, and they impressed upon their followers also to live as Muslims, and all their followers who submitted to the divine command brought by the Prophets, were also Muslims in every age. Consider the following few verses for instance:
(1) Indeed, Islam is the only right way of life in the sight of Allah. (Surah Aal-Imran: Ayat 19).
(2) Whoever adopts any other than this way of submission (Islam), it will not be accepted from him. (Surah Aal- Imran: Ayat 85).
(3) My reward is with Allah, and I have been commanded to believe like a Muslim. (Surah Yunus: Ayat 72). About Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) and his descendants it has been said:
(4) When his Lord said to him, “Surrender”, he promptly responded, “I have surrendered to the Lord of the universe (and become a Muslim)”. He also enjoined on his children to follow the same way. Jacob (peace be upon him) also did the same and his last will to his sons was: “O my children, Allah has chosen the same way of life for you. Hence, remain Muslims up to your last breath.” Were you present at the time when Jacob (peace be upon him) was on the point of death? He asked his children, “Whom will you worship after me?” They all answered, “We will worship the same One Allah Whom you, your forefathers Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac (peace be upon them) acknowledged as their Allah and to Him we all surrender as Muslims.” (Surah Al-Baqarah: Ayat 133).
(5) Abraham (peace be upon him) was neither a Jew, nor a Christian, but he was a Muslim, sound in the Faith.” (Surah Aal-Imran: Ayat 67). Prophets Abraham and Ishmael (peace be upon them) prayed:
(6) Lord, make us Thy Muslims and raise from our offspring a community which should also be Muslim (submissive to Thy will). (Surah Al-Baqarah: Ayat 128). In connection with the story of the Prophet Lot (peace be upon him) it has been said:
(7) “We did not find in it any house of the Muslims except one.” (Surah Adh-Dhariyat: Ayat 36). The Prophet Joseph (peace be upon him) prayed to Allah:
(8) Let me die as a Muslim, and join me with the righteous in the end. (Surah Yusuf: Ayat 101). Prophet Moses (peace be upon him) said to his people:
(9) O my people, if you sincerely believe in Allah, put your trust in Him, if you are Muslims. (Surah Yunus: Ayat 84). The real religion of the Israelites was not Judaism but Islam as was known to their friends and foes alike. That is why the last words that Pharaoh said while drowning were:
(10) I have believed that there is no god but the real God in Whom the children of Israel have believed, and I am of the Muslims.” (Surah Yunus: Ayat 90). Islam was the Way of life of all the Israelite prophets:
(11) Indeed, We sent down the Torah wherein was uigdance and light: thereby all the prophets, who were Muslims, judged the cases of those who had become Jews.” (Surah Al-Maidah: Ayat 44). The same was the Prophet Solomon’s (peace be upon him) way of life. So when the queen of Sheba believed in him, she said.
(12) I submit myself (as a Muslim) with Solomon (peace be upon him) to Allah, Lord of the worlds.” (Surah An-Naml: Ayat 44). And the same was the religion of the disciples of the Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him):
(13) And when I inspired the disciples to believe in Me and My Messenger, they said: We believe and bear witness that we are Muslims.” (Sura Al-Maidah: Ayat 111).
In this connection, if somebody expresses the doubt that the Arabic words “lslam” and “Muslims” could not have been used in different languages and countries, it would not obviously be a justified objection. For the real thing is not the Arabic words but the meaning in which they are used in Arabic. In fact, what has been stressed in the above cited verses is that the real way of life sent by God was neither Christianity, nor Mosaicism, nor Muhammadanism, but to surrender to the divine commands taught by the prophets and the scriptures, and whoever adopted this way anywhere and at any time in the world, is the follower of the same universal, eternal and everlasting true way of life. For those who have adopted this way consciously and sincerely, it is no change of the faith to believe in Jesus after Moses and in Muhammad after Jesus(peace be upon them), but a natural and logical demand following the same real way of life (Islam). Contrary to this, those people who got into the Prophets’ communities without due understanding or were born in them, and for whom nationalistic and racial and tribal prejudices were the religion, became mere Jews or Christians, and on the advent of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) their ignorance was exposed. For by refusing to believe in the last Prophet of Allah, they not only refused to remain Muslims in the future but also proved that they were not “Muslims” even before: they had been charmed by the personality of a Prophet or Prophets, or had taken blind conformity to their forefathers for religion.
74. That is, one reward for affirming faith in the Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him) and the second for affirming faith in Muhammad (peace be upon him). The same thing has been expressed in the Hadith which Bukhari and Muslim have related on the authority of Abu Musa Ashari. He says that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “One of the three persons who will get a double reward is he who belonged to the people of the Book, had full faith in his Prophet and then affirmed faith in Muhammad (peace be upon him).”
75. That is, “They will get a double reward for the reason that they avoided nationalistic, racial and tribal prejudices and remained steadfast on the way of true faith. When, on the advent of the new prophet, they were confronted by a hard test, they proved by their conduct that they were not Christ worshipers but God worshipers: they were not charmed by Christ's personality but were followers of “Islam”. That is why when the new Prophet after Christ brought the same Islam that Christ had brought, they adopted the way of Islam under his leadership; without any hesitation, and gave up the way of those who remained stuck to Christianity.”
76. That is, “They answer evil and falsehood with what is good and right: they repel injustice and mischief with what is just and noble; and they do not pay the other man back in the same coin.”
77. That is, “They also make monetary sacrifices in the way of the truth. There might also be in it an allusion to this that those people had traveled from Habash to Makkah in search of the truth: they had no material gain in view when they undertook a toilsome journey involving a lot of expenses. When they heard that a man in Makkah had made a claim to be a Prophet, they thought it necessary to go and find out the truth, so that if a prophet had really been sent by God, they should not be deprived of affirming faith in him and being guided aright.”
78. The reference is to the “vain talk” that Abu Jahl and his men had with the Christians from Habash, as mentioned in (E.N. 72) above.
79. The context shows that the object of addressing this sentence to the Prophet (peace be upon him), after mentioning the affirmation of the faith by this Christians from Habash, was to put the disbelievers of Makkah to shame, as if to say. “O unfortunate people, what wretches you are! People from far off places are coming to benefit from the fountainhead of blessings that has been made available in your own city, but you are willfully depriving yourselves of it.” But the same thing has been said like this: “O Muhammad, you wish that your clansmen and your kinsfolk; and your near and dear ones should benefit from this life-giving nectar, but your willing alone cannot avail. To give guidance is in the power of Allah: He favors with it only those whom He finds inclined to accept guidance. If your kinsfolk lack this inclination, how can they be favored with this blessing?”
According to Bukhari and Muslim, this verse was sent down with regard to the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) uncle, Abu Talib. When he was about to breathe his last, the Prophet (peace be upon him) tried his utmost that he should affirm faith in La ilaha illallah, so that he might die as a Muslim, but he preferred to die on the creed of Abdul Muttalib; that is why Allah said: “You cannot give guidance to whom you please.” But this is a well known method of the traditionalists and commentators that when they find that a particular verse applies to an event of the Prophet's time, they regard it as the occasion of the verse’s revelation. Therefore, it cannot be necessarily concluded from this and the other similar traditions that have been related in Tirmidhi, Musnad Ahmad, etc. on the authority of Abu Hurairah, Ibn Abbas, Ibn Umar, etc. that this verse of Surah Al-Qasas was revealed on the occasion of Abu Talib’s death. This only shows that the truth of its meaning became most evident only on that occasion. Though the Prophet (peace be upon him) sincerely wished that every man should be blessed with guidance, the person whose dying on disbelief could cause him the greatest anguish and of whose guidance he was most desirous on account of personal bonds of love and affection, was Abu Talib. But when he was helpless in affording guidance even to him, it became evident that it did not lie in the power of the Prophet to give guidance to one or withhold it from another, but it lay wholly in the power of Allah. And Allah bestows this favor on whomever He wills not on account of a family or tribal relationship, but on the basis of one’s sincerity, capability and inclination of the heart.
80. This was the most important excuse which the unbelieving Quraish made for not accepting Islam. To understand fully we shall have to see what was the position of the Quraish historically which they feared would be affected if they accepted Islam.
The importance that the Quraish gained initially in Arabia was due to them being genealogically the descendants of the Prophet Ishmael (peace be upon him), and therefore, the Arabs looked upon them as the children of the Prophets. Then, when they became the custodians of the Kaabah through Qusayy bin Kilab’s sagacity, and Makkah became their home, their importance grew, because they were the attendants of the most, sacred shrine of Arabia, and its priests too. Therefore, every Arab tribe had to have relations with them on account of the annual pilgrimage. Taking advantage of this central position the Quraish started gaining prominence as a commercial people, and to their great good fortune, the political conflict between the Eastern Roman Empire and Iran helped them to gain an important place in the international trade. Iran in those days had blocked entrance to all the trade routes between Rome, Greece, Egypt, and Syria in the north, and China, India, Indonesia and eastern Africa in the southeast. The only exception was the Red Sea route. This also was blocked when Yemen fell to Iran. After this, no way of the transit of trade goods remained except that the Arab merchants should transport merchandise of the Roman territories to the harbors of the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf, and then lift trade goods of the eastern countries from these harbors and transport them to the Roman territories. This sort of arrangement made Makkah an important center of the international trade, and the Quraish were its monopolists. But the chaotic conditions prevailing in Arabia did not allow smooth transit of the trade goods unless the Quraish had pleasant relations with the tribes through whose territories the trade caravans passed. For this the religious influence of the Quraish was not enough; they had to enter into treaties with the tribes concerned, pay them dividends from their profits, and make gifts to the tribal chiefs and other influential people. Besides, they also traded in money lending on a vast scale, which had ensnared the merchants and the chiefs of almost all the neighboring tribes.
Such were the conditions when the Prophet (peace be upon him) gave his message of Tauhid. More than the prejudice of ancestral religion what caused the Quraish the greatest provocation against it was that in it they saw their own interests in jeopardy. They thought that even if polytheism and idol worship were proved wrong and Tauhid right by rational arguments and reasoning, it was ruinous for them to accept Tauhid. For as soon as they did so the whole of Arabia would rise in revolt against them. Then, they would be ousted from the custodianship of the Kaabah, and all their bonds and pacts of friendship with the polytheistic tribes would be severed, which alone guaranteed the safe transit of their trade caravans through their territories. Thus, the new faith would not only put an end to their religious influence but also to their economic prosperity, and they might even be forced by the Arabs to quit Makkah.
This presents a strange phenomenon of the lack of insight on the part of the world worshipers. The Prophet (peace be upon him) tried his best to make them believe that if they accepted his Message, the whole world would yield and submit to them. But they saw their death in it. They thought that the change of the faith would not only deprive them of their wealth and prosperity and influence but would render them so completely helpless in the land. They could not foresee the time when a few years afterwards the whole of Arabia was going to be ruled by a central government under the Prophet (peace be upon him) himself. Then even during the lifetime of their own generation Iran and Iraq and Syria and Egypt were going to fall, one after the other, to the same central authority and within a century of this utterance by them Caliphs from the clan of the Quraish itself were to rule over vast territories, from Sind to Spain and from Caucasus to the coasts of Yemen.
81. This is the first reply to their excuse by Allah. It means this: It is all due to the sacredness and the central position of this Sanctuary that the merchandise of the entire world is being drawn and attracted to this barren and uncultivated valley, for your benefit and use. You should know that you are in no way responsible for giving it the central position it enjoys and for the state of security that prevails in the areas around it. 2,500 years ago a servant of Allah came to this barren valley in the bare mountains with his wife and suckling child. Here he built a small room with stone and mud, proclaimed that Allah had made it a Sanctuary, and that the people should come to visit it and go round it in worship and adoration. Now this is only due to Allah’s blessing that this Sanctuary has been the center of Arabia for the past 25 centuries. Peace reigns here even when there is chaos all around. It is held in the highest esteem by every Arab, and thousands of people are drawn to it every year for going round it in worship. It is only by virtue of this blessing that you are looked upon as the spiritual leaders of Arabia and a large part of the international trade is under your control. Now, do you think; that if you turned and revolted against that God Who has favored you with this blessing, you will prosper, but as soon as you followed His faith you would he ruined?
82. This is the second answer to their excuse. It means to imply this: The worldly wealth and prosperity of which you are so proud and whose probable danger of loss makes you stick to falsehood and turn away from the truth. This was also possessed once by Aad and Thamud and Saba and the people of Lot. Then, did it save them from destruction? After all, a high standard of living is not the only aim in life that man should endeavor to pursue it regardless of every consideration for truth and falsehood, and refuse to accept the right way only because there was a risk of losing it if one did so. Do you have any guarantee that if you persisted in the errors and evils that ruined the prosperous peoples of the past, you would remain safe and never meet the doom that they met?
83. This is the third answer to their excuse. It means: The nations which were destroyed before you had become wicked. To warn them Allah sent His messengers, but when they took no notice of their warnings and persisted in their evil ways, they were destroyed. The same is the case with you now. You have also become wicked, and a Messenger has come to you to warn you. Now if you persist in your disbelief and denial, you will not be safeguarding your prosperity and comforts of life but endangering them. The destruction that you are afraid of will overtake you not because of believing but on account of refusal to believe.