75. The purpose of this verse is to remove the misconception of the Jews
concerning 'righteousness'. The Jews had inherited an elaborate legal code which
had accumulated as a result of the casuistry and hair-splitting legalism of
their jurists. Their notion of 'righteousness' consisted of outward, formal
conformity to that code and they evaluated all day-to-day actions, especially
the trivial ones, in terms of conformity to that code. Narrow-mindedness, greed,
covetousness, meanness, concealment of the Truth and readiness to barter with
it lay beneath this veneer of formal piety. They were, nevertheless, considered
pious in the minds of the people; Jewish public opinion condoned their conduct
because it conformed to its concept of 'righteousness'.
In order to remove this misconception they are told that the things they considered fundamental to righteous conduct are of little consequence. The real spirit of righteousness consists in the love of God - a love which makes man value the good pleasure of God above all worldly acquisitions. If the love of anything seizes a man's mind to such an extent that he is unable to sacrifice it for the sake of the love of God, then that thing has virtually become an idol, and until he smashes it the door to righteousness will remain closed to him. If a man lacks this spirit, then his excessively formal and legalistic approach in religious matters can be considered no more than glossy paint over a piece of hollow, worm-eaten wood. It may be possible to deceive human beings by the sheer lustre of the outer paint, but not God.
76. When the Jewish rabbis found no grounds for criticizing the fundamental teachings of the Prophet (there was no difference between the teachings of the previous Prophets and that of the Arabian Prophet on matters which constitute the core of religion), they raised objections about the details of religious law. The first objection was that the Prophet (peace be on him) had declared lawful a number of things which had been reckoned as unlawful since the time of the ancient Prophets. What is said here is a refutation of that objection.
77. If 'Israel' is taken to mean the 'Children of Israel' then the interpretation of this verse must be that before the revelation of the Torah they treated a number of things as prohibited on the grounds of custom and usage alone. If, however, 'Israel' signifies Jacob (Ya'qub) then, the meaning is that he avoided the use of certain foods, which his descendants wrongly understood to be religiously prohibited, as a result of either a temperamental dislike or an ailment. This latter version is more commonly accepted. It becomes clear from the next verse that the Biblical injunction regarding the prohibition of the flesh of camels and rabbits was not part of the original Torah but an interpolation by Jewish doctors. (For a detailed discussion see ( Surah 6, n. 122 below.)
78. The Jews had enmeshed themselves in legalistic minutiae and these had become their major concern. They had abandoned service to the One True God and had allowed their religious life to become corrupted by polytheism. Instead of attending to the fundamentals of religion they indulged in discussions about questions that had only arisen because of the hair-splitting legalism of their scholars during their centuries of decadence.
79. The second objection raised by the Jews was that the direction for Prayer had been changed from Jerusalem to the Ka'bah. This objection is answered in (Surah 2 (see verses 142 ff. and nn. 142 and 147 above) The Bible, itself, testifies that Jerusalem was built by Solomon more than four and a half centuries after Moses (see 1 Kings 6: 1), and that it was during his time that the worshippers of the One God began to pray towards it (1 Kings 8: 29-30). It is established by traditions from numerous sources which are undisputed throughout Arabia, however, that the Ka'bah was constructed by Abraham who lived some eight or nine centuries before Moses. That the Ka'bah was older than the Temple of Jerusalem was beyond dispute.
80. Here it is stressed that there are several clear signs which prove that the Makkan sanctuary enjoys God's blessing and has been chosen by Him as His sanctuary. Even though it is located in the middle of wide expanses of desert God has seen to it that its inhabitants enjoy a satisfactory living. Although the rest of Arabia was plunged into chaos and disorder for about two and a half thousand years, peace and tranquillity reigned in both the precincts and the environs of the Ka'bah. Thanks to the Ka'bah the entire Arabian peninsula enjoyed four months of peace and order every year. These were the sacred months when people went on Pilgrimage. Moreover, barely a half century before the revelation of these verses, people had seen how Abrahah, the Abyssinian invader, fell prey to God's scourge when he attacked Makka with the intention of destroying the Ka'bah. At that time, this incident was known to everybody in Arabia. Its memory was fresh and many eye-witnesses were still alive at the time of the Prophet (peace be on him).
81. Even during the pre-Islamic era - the Age of Ignorance in Arabia - this sanctuary enjoyed such veneration that even those who thirsted for each other's blood saw their enemies in the sacred territory but dare not attack them.