181. One of the odd demands which the Jews of Madina made to the Prophet (peace be on him) was that if he wanted them to accept his claim to prophethood he should have them either witness a book descending from the heavens or that each one of them should receive a writ from on high, confirming Muhammad's prophethood and the absolute necessity of believing in him.
182. The purpose here is not to describe the details of any particular event, but merely to mention, in brief, the crimes of the Jews. Hence passing references are made to the main incidents in the national history of the Jews. The particular event referred to has been mentioned earlier in Surah al-Baqarah. (See Towards Understanding the Qur'an, vol. I, (Surah 2: 55; also n. 71.)
183. 'Clear signs' refer here to the signs which people had constantly witnessed from the time of Moses' appointment to his prophetic office, to the drowning of Pharaoh and the deliverance of the Israelites out of Egypt. It is clear that He Who had secured the deliverance of the Israelites from the clutches of the powerful Egyptian empire was not the calf, but God, the Lord of the Universe. One is simply staggered at the overpowering predisposition of the Jews to error, as evidenced by the fact that at that very juncture in their history when they had experienced the most illustrious signs of God's power and grace they bowed down before the image of the calf, rather than before God, their Benefactor.
184. This 'manifest commandment' refers to the commandments hichhad been handed over to Moses on tablets. (For a more detailed account of this incident see (Surah al-A'raf 7, verses 143 ff.).The covenant referred to here is that which had been entered into by the representatives of Israel in the valley of Mount Sinai. For this see (Surah al-Baqarah 2: 63 )and (Surah al-A'raf 7:171.)
185. See Towards Understanding the Qur'an. vol. I, (Surah 2: 58-9 and n. 75).
186. See ibid., ( Surah 2: 65 and nn. 82-3).
187. This statement of the Jews has already been mentioned in (Surah al-Baqarah 2: 88). In fact, like all ignorant worshippers of falsehood, these people also boasted that their faith in the ideas and prejudices, customs and usages of their forefathers was so firm that they could never be made to forsake them. Whenever the Messengers of God tried to admonish them, they have been told point-blank that no matter what argument or evidence the latter might adduce in support of their message, they would never be prepared to alter their viewpoint. (See Towards Understanding the Qur'an, vol. I, (Surah 2, n. 94.)
188. This is a parenthetical statement.
189. This marks the resumption of the main theme of the discourse.
190. The Jews had ho grounds for suspicion regarding the miraculous birth
of Jesus. The day he was born God made the entire Jewish people witness that
it was the birth of an extraordinary person, and that his birth had taken place
miraculously rather than as the result of an act of moral corruption. When this
unmarried girl, of a highly esteemed and pious Israelite family, produced a
new-born infant, thousands of people of all age groups thronged to her house
out of curiosity. Instead of replying to their queries verbally, Mary pointed
to the baby, indicating that he would himself reply. The wonder-struck crowd
inquired if they were expected to direct their questions to the infant child
who lay in the cradle. To their amazement the child addressed the crowd in a
clear and eloquent style: 'I am indeed a servant of God, and to me has He vouchsafed
Revelation, me has He made a Prophet'. (Surah Maryam 19: 30.)
Thus God demolished every basis for casting doubt on the birth of Jesus. When Jesus was young no one accused Mary of either unchastity or Jesus of being born illegitimately. When Jesus reached the age of thirty he launched his prophetic mission, censuring the Jews for their misdeeds and reproaching the rabbis and the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. He also called attention to the moral degeneration to which they had sunk, urging people to rise up and engage in the perilous struggle to establish the hegemony of God's religion. Such a struggle called for all kinds of sacrifices and involved confrontation with Satanic forces on all fronts. Once Jesus launched this mission these criminals decided to spare no weapon, however base, in their bid to silence this fearless voice of truth. It was at this point that they flung at Mary the accusation of unchastity and at Jesus that of illegitimate birth. They made these accusations despite full knowledge that both mother and child were absolutely chaste and innocent. That is why this accusation is not characterized as either a wrong or a falsehood. It is rather branded as disbelief (kufr) since the calumny was motivated chiefly by the desire to obstruct the path of true faith and not just to bring an innocent woman into disrepute.
191. Their criminal boldness had reached such proportions that they attempted
to put an end to the life of the one they themselves knew to be a Prophet, and
subsequently went around boasting of this achievement. The least reflection
on the incident of Jesus talking in his cradle (see the preceding note) makes
it clear that there was no strong reason to doubt his prophethood. Moreover,
the miracles of Jesus which they themselves witnessed (see Surah Al 'Imran 3:
49) had firmly established his claim to prophethood. Thus, whatever treatment
they meted out to him was not based on any misconception, for they were fully
aware that the person whom they were subjecting to criminal treatment had been
appointed by God as the bearer of His message. It seems strange that a people
should recognize a man to be a Prophet in their hearts and still try to assassinate
him. The ways of degenerate nations are indeed strange. Such people are absolutely
unprepared to tolerate the existence of those who reproach them for their corruption
and seek to prevent them from evil. Hence the reformers, including Prophets,
who arise among corrupt nations are always persecuted; they are imprisoned and
even put to death. The Talmud mentions that:
Nebuchadnezzar laid waste the land of Israel. . . when the city had been captured, he marched with his princes and officers into the Temple ... on one of the walls he found the mark of an arrow's head, as though somebody had been killed or hit nearby, and he asked: 'Who was killed here?' 'Zachariah, the son of Yohoyadah, the high priest', answered the people. 'He rebuked us incessantly on account of our transgressions, and we tired of his words, and put him to death.' (The Talmud Selections by H. Polano, London, Frederick Warne & Co.)
The Bible also mentions that when the corrupt practices of Israel exceeded all limits, and Jeremiah warned them that God would have them overrun by other nations in punishment for their wickedness, his warning was greeted by the Jews with the accusation that he was a collaborator with the Chaldeans and hence a traitor. And under that pretext Jeremiah was sent to prison. In the same manner, about two and a half years before Jesus' crucifixion, John the Baptist suffered a cruel fate. On the whole the Jews knew him to be a Prophet, or at least acknowledged him to be one of the most religious people in the nation. But when he criticized the royal court of Herod, the King of Judah, he was first thrown into prison, and then, in response to the demand of a dancing girl, who was Herod's favourite 'mistress', his head was cut off.
If this record of the Jews is kept in mind, it does not seem surprising that, after having subjected Jesus - according to their belief - to crucifixion, they might have been overcome by jubilation and in a fit of self-congratulation might have boastfully exclaimed: 'Yes, we have put a Prophet of God to death!' (For similar incidents see Towards Understanding the Qur'an, vol. I, (Surah 2, n. 79 - Ed.)
192. This again is a parenthetical statement.
193. This verse categorically states that Jesus was raised on high before he could be crucified, and that the belief of both the Jews and the Christians that Jesus died on the cross is based on a misconception. As a result of a comparative study of the Qur'anic and Biblical versions we are persuaded that, so far as the trial at the court of Pilate is concerned, it was probably Jesus who was tried. Pilate sentenced him to death after the Jews showed their deep hostility to Truth and righteousness by openly declaring that, in their view, the life of a thief was of higher value than that of a man with such a pure soul as Jesus. It was then that God raised Jesus up to heaven. The person the Jews subsequently crucified was someone else who, for one reason or another, was mistaken for the person of Jesus. The fact that the person who had actually been crucified was someone other than Jesus does not in any way detract from the guilt of those Jews, for in their minds it was Jesus whose head they were crowning with thorns, in whose face they were spitting, and whom they were subjecting to crucifixion. We are not in a position now to find out how and why such a confusion arose. As no authentic source of information is available to us, it would be inappropriate to conjecture and speculate about the cause of the misapprehension which led the Jews to believe that they had crucified Jesus, the son of Mary, whereas he had already passed far beyond their grasp.
194. "Those who differed' refers to the Christians. The Christians have dozens of different versions, rather than one universally agreed view, regarding the crucifixion of the Messiah. This in itself is an eloquent testimony that the Christians were doubtful about the actual event. Some of them held the view that the one who was crucified was someone other than-Jesus and that Jesus himself in fact remained standing somewhere nearby, laughing at their folly. Others were of the opinion that the one who was crucified was certainly Jesus himself, but that he did not die on the cross and was still alive when brought down from it. Others asserted that though Jesus died on the cross, he later returned to life, met his disciples and conversed with them about ten times. Again, some believe that the human body of Jesus suffered death and was buried, while the spirit of godhead in him was taken up on high. Yet others believe that after his death the Messiah was resurrected physically and was subsequently taken up to heaven in physical form. Had the truth been fully known and well-established so many divergent views could not have gained currency.
195. This is the truth revealed by God. What is categorically asserted here
is merely that the Jews did not succeed in killing the Messiah, but that God
raised him unto Himself. The Qur'an furnishes no detailed information about
the actual form of this 'raising'. It neither states categorically that God
raised him from the earthly sphere to some place in heaven in both body and
soul, nor that his body died on earth and his soul alone was raised to heaven.
Hence neither of the two alternatives can be definitely affirmed nor denied
on the basis of the Qur'an. If one reflects on the Qur'anic version of the event
one gets the impression that, whatever the actual form of this 'raising', the
event was of an extraordinary character. This extraordinariness is evident from
First, the Christians believed in the ascension of the Messiah in both body and soul, which was one of the reasons for large sections of people to believe in the godhead of Jesus. The Qur'an does not refute that idea but employs the same term, raf (i.e. 'ascension'), employed by the Christians. It is inconceivable that the Qur'an, which describes itself as the 'Clear Book', would employ an expression that might lend support to a misconception it seeks to repudiate.
Second, one might assume that either the ascension of the Messiah was of the kind that takes place at every person's death or that this 'ascension' meant merely the exaltation of a Prophet's position, like that of Idris: 'And We raised him to an exalted station' (Surah Maryam 19: 57). Had it been so, this idea would have been better expressed by a statement such as: And indeed they did not kill the Messiah; Allah delivered him from execution and caused him to die a natural death. The Jews had wanted to slight him but Allah granted him an exalted position.
Third, if this raf (exaltation, ascension) referred to in the verse: 'Allah raised him to Himself was of an ordinary kind, the statement which follows, namely that 'Allah is All-Mighty, All-Wise', would seem altogether out of context. Such a statement is pertinent only in the context of an event which manifested, in a highly extraordinary manner, by the overwhelming power and wisdom of God.
The only Qur'anic argument that can be adduced to controvert this view is the verse in which the expression mutawaffika see (Surah Al 'Imran 3: 55))is employed. But as we have pointed out (see Towards Understanding the Qur'an, vol. I, (Surah 3, n. 51), this word can denote either God's taking a man unto Himself in soul or taking him unto Himself in both body and soul. Arguments based on the mere use of this word are not enough to repudiate the arguments we have already adduced. Some of those who insist on the physical death of Jesus support their argument by pointing out that there is no other example of the use of the word tawaffa for God's taking unto Himself a man in body as well as in soul. But this argument is not tenable since the ascension of Jesus was a unique event in human history and, therefore, the quest for another example of the use of this term in the same context is meaningless. What is worth exploring is whether or not the use of the word in such a sense is valid according to Arabic usage. If it is, we will have to say that the choice of this particular word lends support to belief in the ascension of Jesus.
If we reflect on this verse in the light of the assumption that Jesus died physically, it appears strange that the Qur'an does not employ those terms which would exclude signifying the simultaneous physical and spiritual ascension of Jesus. On the contrary, the Qur'an prefers a term which, since it is liable to both interpretations (i.e. it can mean both spiritual and physical ascension), lends support to belief in the physical ascension of Jesus, even though that notion was used as a basis to support the false belief in the godhead of Jesus.
Belief in the physical ascension of Jesus is further reinforced by those numerous traditions which mention the return of Jesus, son of Mary, to the world and his struggle against the Anti-Christ before the end of time. (For these traditions see our appendix to Surah 33.) These traditions quite definitively establish the second coming of Jesus. Now it is for anybody to judge which is more reasonable: Jesus' return to this world after his death, or his being alive somewhere in God's universe, and returning to this world at some point in time?
196. The death mentioned here could refer either to the death of Jesus or to the death of each and every person among 'the People of the Book'. The text lends itself to both meanings. We have adopted the first in our translation. If we accept the alternative meaning, the verse would mean: "There is no one among the People of the Book who, before his death, will not believe in Jesus.' The expression, 'People of the Book' here refers to the Jews and possibly even to the Christians. In the light of this latter meaning, the purpose of the verse would be to affirm that at the time when the physical death of Jesus takes place, all the living 'People of the Book' would have come to believe in him (i.e. in his prophethood). Alternatively, the verse would mean that the prophethood of Jesus will become manifest to every person among the People of the Book just before he dies so that they will believe in him, but at a time when believing would be of no avail. Both these views have been supported by several Companions, Successors and outstanding scholars of Qur'anic exegesis. The truth of the matter is best known to God alone.
197. This means that on the Day of Judgement Jesus will stand in the court of the Almighty and testify to the treatment meted out to him and to the message he brought. (For the nature of this testimony see (Surah al-Ma'idah 5: 109 ff.) below.)
198. After this parenthetical statement, the main discourse is once again resumed.
199. This may refer to the regulation mentioned in (Surah al-An'am 6: 146), that all beasts with claws, and the fat of both oxen and sheep, were prohibited to the Jews. It might also refer, however, to the highly elaborate set of prohibitions found in Judaic Law. To restrict the choice of alternatives in their life is indeed a kind of punishment for a people. (For a fuller discussion see (Surah al-An'am 6, n. 122 )below.
200. The Jews, on the whole, are not satisfied with their own deviation from the path of God. They have become such inherent criminals that their brains and resources seem to be behind almost every movement which arises for the purpose of misleading and corrupting human beings. And whenever there arises a movement to call people to the Truth, the Jews are inclined to oppose it even though they are the bearers of the Scripture and inheritors of the message of the Prophets. Their latest contribution is Communism - an ideology which is the product of a Jewish brain and which has developed under Jewish leadership. It seems ironical that the professed followers of Moses and other Prophets should be prominent as the founders and promoters of an ideology which, for the first time in human history, is professedly based on a categorical denial of, and an undying hostility to God, and which openly strives to obliterate every form of godliness. The other movement which in modern times is second only to Communism in misleading people is the philosophy of Freud. It is a strange coincidence that Freud too was a Jew.
201. The Torah categorically lays down the injunction: 'And if you lend money to any of my people with you who is poor, you shall not be to him as a creditor, and you shall not exact interest from him. If ever you take your neighbour's garment in pledge, you shall restore it to him before the sun goes down; for that is his only covering, it is his mantle for his body; in what else shall he sleep? And if he cries to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate' (Exodus 22: 25-7). This is one of several passages of the Torah which embody the prohibition of interest. The followers of the Torah, however, are most conspicuously engaged in transactions involving interest and have become notorious the world over for their meanness and hard-heartedness in monetary matters.
202. God has kept in store a painful punishment both in this world and in the Next for those Jews who have deviated from the course of true faith and sincere obedience to God, and are steeped in rejection of faith and rebellion against God. The severe punishment which has befallen the Jews in this world is unique and should serve as a lesson for all. Two thousand years have gone by and they have remained scattered all over the world and have been treated everywhere as outcasts. There has been no period during the last two millennia when they have not been looked on ignominiously and there is no part of the world where they are respected despite their enormous riches. What is more, this nation has been left dangling between life and death, unlike other nations which once appeared on the stage of history and then vanished. Their condemnation to this state of suspension makes them a lesson for all nations till the end of time. It marks the tragic fate that meets a people who, despite enjoying the guidance of the Book of God, dare to defy God. It would seem that their punishment in the Hereafter must be even more severe than in the present world. (For the questions which arise about the validity of our view, in spite of the establishment of the state of Israel, see Towards Understanding the Qur'an, vol. I, (Surah 3: 112, n. 90.)
203. Those well acquainted with the true teachings of the Scriptures, and whose minds are free from prejudice, obduracy, blind imitation of their forefathers and bondage to animal desires, will be disposed to follow those teachings. Their attitude is bound to be altogether different from the general attitude of those Jews apparently immersed in unbelief and transgression. Such people realize, even at first glance, that the Qur'anic teaching is essentially the same as that of the previous Prophets, and hence feel no difficulty in affirming it.