Blogging the Qur’an: Sura 2, “The Cow,” verses 40-75

posted at 9:00 am on June 17, 2007 by Robert Spencer

Verse 40 of Sura 2 addresses the “Children of Israel,” beginning an extended meditation on all that Allah did for the Jews, and the ingratitude with which they repaid him. Verse 41 warns them to “part not with My revelations for a trifling price,” which the Islamic commentators generally interpret as an exhortation to put the service of Allah before the concerns of this world. Sayyid Abul A’la Maududi, a renowned twentieth-century Islamic intellectual and exponent of political Islam, says in his massive Towards Understanding the Qur’an that this verse “refers to the worldly benefits for the sake of which [the Jews] were rejecting God’s directives.” However, many have speculated that this verse amounts to Muhammad’s rebuke of those who sold him material that they told him was divine revelation, but wasn’t – people who are raked over the coals again in 2:79.

Anyway, the Jews can get back into good graces with Allah by converting to Islam (v. 43). This might sail right by the English-speaking reader, since the translations exhort them to “steadfast in prayer” and to “practise regular charity” (as Abdullah Yusuf Ali has it), but in Arabic the word used here for prayer is salat (الصَّلاَة) and for charity zakat (الزَّكَاة); these refer specifically to Islamic prayer and almsgiving. Non-Muslims cannot pray salat or pay zakat. About the need for this conversion Ibn Kathir is forthright: “Allah commanded the Children of Israel to embrace Islam and to follow Muhammad.” Sayyid Qutb says that here Allah “invites the Israelites to join the Muslims in their religious practices, and to abandon their prejudices and ethnocentric tendencies.”

Starting with verse 47, says Maududi, “reference is made to the best-known episodes of Jewish history. As these episodes were known to every Jewish child, they are narrated briefly rather than in detail. The reference is intended to remind the Jews both of the favours with which the Israelites had been endowed by God and of the misdeeds with which they had responded to those favours.” These include the Israelites being rescued from Pharaoh (vv. 49-50); the golden calf episode (vv. 54-55), and the feeding of the people with manna and quails in the wilderness (v. 57, 61), culminating in the avowal that the Jews “were covered with humiliation and misery; they drew on themselves the wrath of Allah. This because they went on rejecting the Signs of Allah and slaying His Messengers without just cause. This because they rebelled and went on transgressing” (v. 61).

Ibn Kathir applies these words to all Jews: “This Ayah [verse] indicates that the Children of Israel were plagued with humiliation, and that this will continue, meaning that it will never cease. They will continue to suffer humiliation at the hands of all who interact with them, along with the disgrace that they feel inwardly.”

It may seem jarring that immediately following this comes one of the Qur’an’s “tolerance verses,” verse 62, which seems to promise a place in Paradise to “those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians and the Sabians.” Muhammad Asad exults: “With a breadth of vision unparalleled in any other religious faith, the idea of ‘salvation’ is here made conditional upon three elements only: belief in God, belief in the Day of Judgment, and righteous action in life.” Not, apparently, acceptance of Islam. But he contradicts himself by adding “in this divine writ” after the words “those who have attained to faith” in his translation of verse 62 – that is, to be saved, one must believe in the Qur’an as well as the earlier revelations. And indeed, Muslim commentators are not inclined to see this as an indication of divine pluralism. The translators Ali and Pickthall, as well as Asad, all feel it necessary to add parenthetical glosses that make the passage mean that Jews and Christians (as well as Sabians, whose identity is disputed) will be saved only if they become Muslims. And according to Ibn Abbas, this verse was abrogated by Qur’an 3:85: “If anyone desires a religion other than Islam (submission to Allah), never will it be accepted of him; and in the Hereafter he will be in the ranks of those who have lost (all spiritual good).” Qutb opines that 2:62 applied only before Muhammad brought Islam to the world, a view supported by a saying of Muhammad recorded by Tabari, in which the Prophet of Islam says that Christians who died before his coming will be saved, but those who have heard of him and yet rejected his prophetic claim will not be.

Then follows the first of the three notorious “apes and pigs” passages. Jihadists today routinely refer to Jews as apes and pigs; this idea is rooted in Qur’an 2:63-66; 5:59-60; and 7:166. The first of these depicts Allah telling the Jews who “profaned the Sabbath”: “Be as apes despicable!” It goes on to say that these accursed ones serve “as a warning example for their time and for all times to come.” Traditionally in Islamic theology these passages have not been considered to apply to all Jews. Ibn Abbas says that “those who violated the sanctity of the Sabbath were turned into monkeys, then they perished without offspring.” Others, however, such as the early Islamic scholar Ibn Qutaiba, held today’s apes are the descendants of the Sabbath-breaking Jews.

This is widely used today as a metaphor for the Jews’ corruption, even unto bestial status. Muhammad himself began this when he addressed the Jews of the Qurayzah tribe, which he was about to massacre, as “you brothers of monkeys.” Today, the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar, Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, called Jews “the enemies of Allah, descendants of apes and pigs.” The Saudi Sheikh Abd Al-Rahman Al-Sudayyis, imam of the principal mosque in Mecca, the Al-Haraam mosque, expanded on this, saying in a sermon that Jews are “the scum of the human race, the rats of the world, the violators of pacts and agreements, the murderers of the prophets, and the offspring of apes and pigs.” Another Saudi Sheikh, Ba’d bin Abdallah Al-Ajameh Al-Ghamidi, made the connection explicit: “The current behavior of the brothers of apes and pigs, their treachery, violation of agreements, and defiling of holy places… is connected with the deeds of their forefathers during the early period of Islam — which proves the great similarity between all the Jews living today and the Jews who lived at the dawn of Islam.” For more on this, see the excellent study by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).

Verse 67 takes up the reproaches again, with the Israelites reacting with haughty rebelliousness to Allah’s command, given through Moses, that they sacrifice a heifer (the “cow” of the sura’s title). We hear that the Jews’ hearts are hardened (v. 74) and ultimately that they are accursed of Allah (v. 89). To that curse and its implications, and other matters extending to verse 140 of sura 2, we will turn next week.

Here is a link to Bryan Preston’s introduction to the series, where you’ll find links to the earlier segments.

(Here is a good Arabic/English Qur’an, here are two popular Muslim translations, those of Abdullah Yusuf Ali and Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall, along with a third by M. H. Shakir. Here is another popular translation, that of Muhammad Asad. And here is an omnibus of ten Qur’an translations.)


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Comments

Thank you Robert Spencer.
And thanks to HotAir for disseminating the facts.

Stephen M on June 17, 2007 at 9:15 AM

Eye opening and thought provoking as always. Thanks.

TheBigOldDog on June 17, 2007 at 9:44 AM

Well, I’m back in town for awhile… I have some catching up to do.

Thanks Robert and Hot Air for taking the time to present these detailed lessons. I hope and pray that our elected officials take the time to read and absorb these lessons as well. Know thy enemy.

Zorro on June 17, 2007 at 10:27 AM

The hatred of Jews expressed in the Koran is so pervasive that it seems to be the primary reason for the founding of Islam. Question: Was this hatred prevalent in the Arab world prior to Muhammad’s revelations, or is it strictly Islamic?

RedWinged Blackbird on June 17, 2007 at 10:41 AM

If there is one thing that binds all of mankind down through the ages, it is hatred for the Joos.

Hard to understand why a group of individuals thast regard themselves as God’s chosen people would become such a target.

Oy Vey!

JayHaw Phrenzie on June 17, 2007 at 11:09 AM

JayHaw Phrenzie on June 17, 2007 at 11:09 AM

I’m reminded of the line in “Fiddler On The Roof.”

Tevye says, “I know, I know. We are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t You choose someone else?”

Thanks for this study Robert.

Mojave Mark on June 17, 2007 at 11:59 AM

Robert, does the fact that Jews are considered pigs have anything to do with Muslims thinking pork is bad? Maybe you addressed it and I missed it. Thanks!

amerpundit on June 17, 2007 at 12:41 PM

I am half-jew by birth, yet know very little of my own heritage.

Thank God I was born in this country.

unamused on June 17, 2007 at 1:49 PM

I think there is some important back-story missing from many people’s minds about the jews and the arabs.

Both come from the same lineage: Abraham, right? And there was a time when jews and arabs worked together and lived together in harmony. A story about a single city comes to mind where everything went to Hell all at once between jews and arabs but I can’t remember any more of it.

It’s interesting to note that jews and arabs are, quite literally, cousins. Nobody fights like family I guess. I didn’t find out I was half-jewish until I was an adult (my maternal grandmother’s family escaped Nazi’s and became Catholic to hide who they really were when they got to America), so most of my history is Christian history and dogma. What little I know about middle-east history is from college and the old testament.

What say ye Mr. Spencer? Can we do a little history refresher to show where the arab/jew relationship started and where it went bad?

unamused on June 17, 2007 at 1:54 PM

It must really suck to be humiliated in war by a bunch of apes and pigs. Especially when you have them outnumbered and surrounded! Hahaha! Go Israel!

Tony737 on June 17, 2007 at 1:58 PM

It may be a little off topic, maybe not. The abrogation verse (2:106), is not only interpreted to abrogate earlier verses for later ones, but also abrogating earlier versions of any faith? i.e. Judeism, Christianity, Hindi, etc. Would that make the verses elaborated today justification for the interpretation of 2:106

P. James Moriarty on June 17, 2007 at 2:13 PM

I didn’t find out I was half-jewish until I was an adult (my maternal grandmother’s family escaped Nazi’s and became Catholic to hide who they really were when they got to America),

Unamused, if your maternal grandmother was Jewish, according the halacha, Jewish law, you are a Jew, not a “half Jew”. Jewish status is matrilinial, if your mother is a Jew than you are a Jew. The fact that they converted to Catholicism is irrelevent to your status as a Jew.

If you’d like to learn more about that aspect of your heritage, post what city you live in and I’ll be happy to direct you to resources there. One place you might want to check out is Aish HaTorah.

rokemronnie on June 17, 2007 at 3:56 PM

The more bizarre facts I discover in the theology of Islam, the more hopeless it becomes to ever think one can peacefully resolve conflict with a religion based on developing the worse characteristics of the human being.

This is a religion that teaches self hatred and brutal violence towards everyone including other Muslims while presenting a god that wishes no interaction or love towards his creation other than punishment. A god with characteristics as shallow and destructive as the outcasts that follow it. It’s no wonder that Mohamed started Islam with the hundreds of gods from Mecca and then hijacked the one true God of Scripture in his own image after they ran him out of town.

All from the twisted mind of a total Arab loser and adopted by some of the most barbaric, merciless tribes to ever traverse this planet.

Hening on June 17, 2007 at 4:10 PM

I wonder if Islamic states have ever had their top scientist “confirm” that Jews are descendandst of pigs and apes? Kind of like Borat’s countries top scientist “Doctor Yamaka” proved that a woman’s brain “is the size of squirrel.”

Drtuddle on June 17, 2007 at 4:27 PM

RedWinged Blackbird:

Was this hatred prevalent in the Arab world prior to Muhammad’s revelations, or is it strictly Islamic?

There were three powerful Jewish tribes in Medina before Muhammad — the Banu Qaynuqa, Banu Qurayza, and Banu Nadir — but, while records are sketchy, I don’t think there was significant antisemitism in Arabia before Islam. It traces fairly strongly to Muhammad’s strained relations with those tribes, and the resulting invective that is enshrined forever in the Qur’an.

In any case, many people assume that Islamic antisemitism is an import from Christian Europe, and has no theological foundation within the Qur’an or Islam in general. That could not be farther from the truth.

Robert Spencer on June 17, 2007 at 4:41 PM

ameripundit:

Robert, does the fact that Jews are considered pigs have anything to do with Muslims thinking pork is bad? Maybe you addressed it and I missed it. Thanks!

Probably not. The prohibition was adopted from Jewish Law when Muhammad was trying to get the Jews or Arabia to accept him as a prophet. Probably the insult results from their rejection of him, and his knowledge that they considered pigs unclean.

Robert Spencer on June 17, 2007 at 4:43 PM

unamused:

What say ye Mr. Spencer? Can we do a little history refresher to show where the arab/jew relationship started and where it went bad?

It starts with Muhammad’s relations with the Jews of Arabia, whom he initially courted and then turned against when they rejected his claim to be a prophet in the line of Abraham and Moses. Qur’anic antisemitism, which will be a recurring theme here, results from this, and subsequent poisoned relations from the suspicion exhorted in and reinforced by the Qur’an.

Robert Spencer on June 17, 2007 at 4:45 PM

Mohammad was the maniacal Savonarola of his dismal era.

And, like the later hysterical reformer, met a bad end.

Poisoned by a captured Jewish lady who resented him killing her family members.

The toxin used in his mutton took a long time to kill him, also.

Which may be why Mohammedans are stilled peeved at the Hebrew tribe.

That, and the fact the the Jews still won’t “revert” to Islam.

profitsbeard on June 17, 2007 at 7:03 PM

Thanks Robert Spencer. I am enjoying what I’m reading and learning. I missed last week’s post where can I find it?

Incredible that one man’s lunacy is responsible for so much murder, hatred and insanity. But then again why did the rest of the accepting muslims go along with this?

My lawyer who is Jewish told me one day after I’d mentioned that the Jews were lucky to be God’s chosen and he replied that he didn’t care about that . He said he didn’t have any hope for anything better than what he could make for himself and his family in this life. He knows I am Christian and this is probably why he didn’t end by saying he doesn’t belived in God. I felt bad for him. I think his thinking comes from years of seeing Jewish persecution.

CCRWM on June 17, 2007 at 8:26 PM

Robert Spencer on June 17, 2007 at 4:45 PM

Thanks Robert. Very enlightening.

Somebody above mentioned getting more and more pessimistic the more they learn. I have to second that feeling.

TheBigOldDog on June 17, 2007 at 9:07 PM

Thanks Robert Spencer. I am enjoying what I’m reading and learning. I missed last week’s post where can I find it?

CCRWM on June 17, 2007 at 8:26 PM

There are links to all of the previous posts here.

Gianni on June 17, 2007 at 10:57 PM

Actually a really great analysis. I view this section of the Qur’an as the “vengeful God/loving God” section where Allah tells everyone what he has done for the Jews in attempts to convince them to convert. When he sees that people refuse to convert (the remaining Jews) he claims that they shall “be as apes.”

I think 2:62 simply means that people who were once Jews or Christians or Sabians could convert to Islam (accepting Allah) without punishment.

Nonfactor on June 18, 2007 at 5:40 AM

profitsbeard on June 17, 2007 at 7:03 PM

Yeah, you have to keep in mind that what Muhammad was trying to do was simply alter the previously held belief in God. He wasn’t challenging the existence of God or the fact that this God did all these things for the Jewish people, he was simply saying that the God the Jews worshiped was slightly different than how they pictured him. To think that the split between Judaism and Islam is so prevalent because this one guy decided he liked a different story about God.

Nonfactor on June 18, 2007 at 5:45 AM

Again, THANK YOU Mr. Spencer for doing all the hard work. It’s obvious that you have studied this for years and, judging by the convoluted nonsense so far, it could not have been easy to subject yourself to studying such a misguided and soulless religion.

csdeven on June 18, 2007 at 8:18 AM

Robert, a question.

At that time in history, the Jews were neither an economic, nor military force to be reconned with. The Jewish people were merely a scattered shadow of their former greatness.

Is there any word on why mohammed wished to convert ‘the Jews of Arabia, whom he initially courted’? Was it simply because the Jews were another tribe decsended of Abraham, and therefore possibly open to his ‘revelation’?

locomotivebreath1901 on June 18, 2007 at 9:18 AM

Locomotivebreath:

Is there any word on why mohammed wished to convert ‘the Jews of Arabia, whom he initially courted’? Was it simply because the Jews were another tribe decsended of Abraham, and therefore possibly open to his ‘revelation’?

Muhammad respected the Jews, and the Christians to a lesser extent, because they were monotheists with a written revelation. He believed, according to the traditions, that he has received revelations from the same One God whom they worshipped (cf. Qur’an 29:46), and thus expected them to recognize him as a prophet. When they didn’t, the denunciations began, and they still reverberate today in how many Muslims regard Jews.

Robert Spencer on June 18, 2007 at 9:21 AM

It sounds like, when the Israelis refused to join Muhammad’s campaign, the campaign was then directed against them. It was awfully bold and assuming of Muhammad to expect the people of a much older religion to just change their beliefs. It amazes me that the Jewish religion and traditions still continues on in spite of all that they’ve been through.

4shoes on June 18, 2007 at 10:08 AM

Robert–

Another excellent treatise on the matter. Thank you.

Nethicus on June 18, 2007 at 10:37 AM

Robert,

Muhammad’s behavior regarding the Jews of the Arabian peninsula was very similar to that of Martin Luther in Germany centuries later. Luther also believed that his religious beliefs would appeal to the Jews, and early in his career advocated tolerance towards Jews in the goal of spreading the gospel. He criticized the Church’s persecutions of the Jews and said it was an impediment to bringing Jews to Christ. Later, when the Jews rejected Luther, he turned on them and his preaching and writing became increasingly vitriolic and violent.

Some elements of Jew hatred seem to remain constant. I think the Muslim allegations that Jewish tribes betrayed Muhammad or tried to poison him parallel Christian accusations that Jews killed Jesus.

It’s clear that Muslim hostility to Jews dates to the earliest days of Islam. Muslims will never tolerate a Jewish state in Israel. It challenges Muslim manhood by not only asserting that reviled dhimmis are not second class citizens, but sovereign in land that Muslims generally regard as wakf. This is such an affront to the shame culture of Muslims that it cannot be tolerated. The irony of the jihad against Israel, though, is that the Quran explicitly says that Allah has promised the land to the Jews, as in sura 5:21 and others.

rokemronnie on June 18, 2007 at 11:29 AM

Robert,

Speaking of Sura 5:21, what is the history of Muslim exegesis of the suras that promise the land of Israel to the Jews? How do the Muslim historians and Quran commentators reconcile the Muslim conquest of Palestine and Jerusalem with these suras?

rokemronnie on June 18, 2007 at 11:35 AM

rokemronnie:

5:21 promises Israel to the Jews conditionally: “O my people! Enter the holy land which Allah hath assigned unto you, and turn not back ignominiously, for then will ye be overthrown, to your own ruin.”

But they did turn back ignominiously, and were thus overthrown, when they rejected Muhammad. 3:67 says that Abraham was a Muslim, not a Jew or a Christian, and the Qur’an exhorts the Jews to become Muslims not only in 2:43 but elsewhere also. By refusing to do so, they have earned Allah’s curse (2:89, 9:30) and the promises given to them belong to those who have not thus turned aside — i.e., the Muslims.

Robert Spencer on June 18, 2007 at 11:41 AM

his might sail right by the English-speaking reader, since the translations exhort them to “steadfast in prayer” and to “practise regular charity” (as Abdullah Yusuf Ali has it)

Robert,

It seems like most of the English Qur’ans that are popular with CAIR et al deliberately mis-translate certain uncomfortable passages. Was Yusuf Ali practicing quite a bit of taqiyya with his translation?

PRCalDude on June 18, 2007 at 11:44 AM

PRCalDude:

Was Yusuf Ali practicing quite a bit of taqiyya with his translation?

Probably.

Check out his rendering of 4:34, the notorious wife-beating verse. He has it “beat her (lightly),” but there is no “lightly” stated or implied in the Arabic.

Robert Spencer on June 18, 2007 at 11:55 AM

Thank you Robert.

sharinlite on June 18, 2007 at 3:09 PM

unamused on June 17, 2007 at 1:49 PM

Please, do yourself and your family a favor, and research your background. Your Jewish heritage should be embraced, it is a great history, and, I believe, a foretelling of the future.

right2bright on June 18, 2007 at 3:35 PM

“O my people! Enter the holy land which Allah hath assigned unto you, and turn not back ignominiously, for then will ye be overthrown, to your own ruin.”

The simple meaning of the text seems to be based on the biblical stories about the Jews. An illiterate, Muhammed hard partial knowledge of the Jewish and Christian bibles. He was clearly influenced by Judaism in terms of Muslim law regarding pork, a day of rest, obligation to pray multiple times a day, and other elements of Islam. Traditional Jewish exegesis of the Torah regards the dor hamidbar the generation of Jews in the Sinai desert, as not worthy of entry into the land of Israel, primarily because of the “sin of the spies”, how 10 of 12 spies sent by Moses to scout Canaan before invading came back with disheartening comments. Besides echoing this Jewish tradition, Muhammed also may be reflecting biblical verses of rebuke that talk of the land vomiting out the Jews.

I think the prevailing Muslim interpretation of “turned aside” is forced onto the text.

It would be interesting to see if the phrase “turned aside” is used elsewhere in the Quran and if it is does it take on the meaning of apostasy or rejection of Islam.

There are other suras that mention a tie between the Jews and the land of Israel. While Muslim exegetes may have explained them away, the fact that the Quran mentions it, without ever explicitly revoking Jewish inheritance of the land calls into question what Muhammed really meant.

rokemronnie on June 18, 2007 at 3:49 PM

Regarding hatred of Jews through history, I can recommend Thomas Sowell’s “Black Rednecks and White Liberals” as a tangentially related discussion – he devotes a section entitled “Are Jews Generic?” in which he argues that Jew hatred is a manifestation of a more general hatred of “middle-man” cultural minorities. It is an interesting discussion.

peski on June 18, 2007 at 6:43 PM

Several people mentioned that the more they learn about Islam the more hopeless or what not they get.

Second me on that motion. I been studying Islam for a few years now and even when I think there can’t be any more insanity to learn about it, I learn scabs more.

On a side note, there’s a few “secular” Muslim young women I work with , they are completely clueless about thier own religion.. when I attempt to have discussions about it, I swear it’s like discussing Presidential politics with Paris Hilton.

I guess these are the so-called “moderates”… there is no way these people can reform their religion or hold back the radicals.

VinceP1974 on June 19, 2007 at 12:09 PM

“Gianni on June 17, 2007 at 10:57 PM”

Thanks!

CCRWM on June 20, 2007 at 12:08 AM

rokemronnie:

I think the prevailing Muslim interpretation of “turned aside” is forced onto the text.

It would be interesting to see if the phrase “turned aside” is used elsewhere in the Quran and if it is does it take on the meaning of apostasy or rejection of Islam.

There are other suras that mention a tie between the Jews and the land of Israel. While Muslim exegetes may have explained them away, the fact that the Quran mentions it, without ever explicitly revoking Jewish inheritance of the land calls into question what Muhammed really meant.

Nothing hinges on the interpretation of “turned aside.” That verse, 5:21, refers in context not to Jews of all time anyway, but to the Israelites led by Moses, who were given the land but “turned aside,” rebelled, in the wilderness. That is not why Muslims don’t believe Jews have any right to rule Israel today. They believe they don’t have any right to rule Israel today because they have been cursed by Allah (2:89, 9:30), and an accursed people does not continue to enjoy Allah’s blessings, or remain as the recipient of his promises.

Robert Spencer on June 20, 2007 at 5:55 AM

I have to agree with the other posters who describe an ever increasing level of pessimism with respect to “reforming” Islam…or the more they learn, the worse it gets. I feel the same way.

This transformation of people into animals, once again, this strikes me as (what Freud termed) primary process thinking. It’s not “reality” oriented. (Personally, I keep wondering, why is Islam even considered a religion?)

I recall (some time ago) reading about the Apes and Pigs business — and Memri.org provided an explanation (explained the Koranic verses and Hadith). Today, I returned to that article (it’s “special report – no. 11”), and it’s as revolting (and laughable) as when I first read it in 2002. (Yeah, Islam’s dietary laws arise, in part, as a consequence of fearing that the “animal” has human ancestors! It’s just too stupid, too offensive…)

J.S. on June 25, 2007 at 12:51 PM