Blogging the Qur’an: Sura 5, “The Table,” verses 1-60

posted at 9:00 am on September 16, 2007 by Robert Spencer

Sura 5, “The Table,” dates from the Medinan period (as do suras 2-4). Verses 1-11 exhort Muslims to obey Allah’s commands regarding food, religious observances, and sexual morality. V. 5 permits Muslim men to marry not only “chaste women who are believers, but chaste women among the People of the Book.” However, nothing is said of Muslim women being permitted to marry non-Muslim men, and indeed, this is prohibited in Islamic law. This is part of the subjugated status of the dhimmis, the “protected people,” in Islam: since traditionally a man takes his wife into his own household, but not vice versa, the prohibition of Muslim women marrying non-Muslim men, but the allowance of Muslim men marrying non-Muslim women, means that the Islamic community will be in a position always to grow, while the non-Muslim community declines.

Verses 12-26 return to castigating the Jews and Christians. Allah, we’re told, “did aforetime take a covenant from the Children of Israel” (v. 12), but the Jews broke it. And so they are now cursed by Allah, for they have altered the divine revelations they received, and also because they are deceitful; nonetheless, the Muslims are told here to “forgive them, and overlook (their misdeeds): for Allah loveth those who are kind” (v. 13). According to Allusi in his Ruhul Ma’ani, this forgiveness should be extended only to those Jews who become Muslims or agree to pay the jizya and accept subservient dhimmi status in accord with 9:29. Tabari, on the other hand, suggests that v. 13 was abrogated by the commands to wage jihad against the unbelievers that came later in Muhammad’s career.

The Christians, meanwhile, “forgot a part of that whereof they were admonished,” so Allah “stirred up enmity and hatred among them till the Day of Resurrection” (v. 14). Thus as far as the Qur’an is concerned, the divisions among Christians demonstrate the falsity of the religion – a proposition for which Jesus stated the obverse: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Says Ibn Kathir, “Indeed, the numerous Christian sects have always been enemies and adversaries of each other, accusing each other of heresy and cursing each other….Each sect among them will continue to accuse the other of disbelief and heresy in this life and on the Day when the Witnesses will come forth.” The Jews and Christians should accept Islam (v. 15).

The Qur’an in several places presents itself as the arbiter between these warring sects, clearing up disputed questions. Thus when asserting that Jesus was not crucified, but someone who looked like him was crucified in his stead (a position held by some Gnostic Christian sects), Allah says “those who disagree concerning it are in doubt thereof; they have no knowledge thereof save pursuit of a conjecture; they slew him not for certain” (4:157). And here the Qur’an declares that those Christians who believe that “Allah is the Messiah, son of Mary” are “unbelievers.” Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s translation says that those who believe this are “in blasphemy,” but the Arabic word used here is kafara, (كَفَرَ), is a form of kufr, unbelief. Of course, in Islam there is a fine line between unbelief and blasphemy in any case, but the passage does refer to unbelief, not blasphemy. It is noteworthy that Islamic spokesmen in the West frequently assert that the Qur’an never refers to Christians as infidels or unbelievers, when in fact this verse is quite clear that those who believe in the divinity of Christ are unbelievers indeed. To those Jews and Christians who claim to be God’s children, Muhammad is directed to retort, “Why then doth He punish you for your sins?” (v. 18).

Verses 27-34 retell the story of Cain and Abel, culminating in one of the most oft-quoted verses of the Qur’an, the one that President Bush refers to most frequently: v. 32, which contains the admonition that some who kills a human being, “unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land, it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.” Sa‘id bin Jubayr explains 5:32 this way: “He who allows himself to shed the blood of a Muslim, is like he who allows shedding the blood of all people. He who forbids shedding the blood of one Muslim, is like he who forbids shedding the blood of all people.”

Never mentioned by the President or any of the others who quote this verse as if it condemns Islamic jihadist violence are several important facts: it comes within the context of a warning to the Jews, and is not presented as a universal principle; it contains the important exception “unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land,” and it is followed by v. 33, which specifies the punishment for that mischief: “The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land: that is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter.”

Thus this passage is explaining what must be done with Jews who reject Muhammad, not dictating lofty moral principles. Ibn Warraq sums it up: “The supposedly noble sentiments are in fact a warning to Jews. ‘Behave, or else’ is the message. Far from abjuring violence, these verses aggressively point out that anyone opposing the Prophet will be killed, crucified, mutilated, and banished!”

Verses 35-40 warn again of hellfire and prescribe amputation of a hand for theft (v. 38). Said Muhammad: “Let there be the curse of Allah upon the thief who steals an egg and his hand is cut off, and steals a rope and his hand is cut off.”

In verses 41-60, Allah consoles Muhammad for the Jews’ and Christians’ rejection of him, and he and his message are again presented as the crown and completion of the messages brought to them by their prophets. But the Christians are told to “judge by what Allah hath revealed therein” (v. 47), which seems to suggest that Muhammad was assuming that the Christian Scriptures were not corrupted in his day, although today it is common Islamic teaching that the New Testament as we have it is not the original, but has been altered by wicked Christians to reflect their false doctrines. Thus Muslims are not to befriend Jews and Christians (v. 51); Ibn Kathir explains: “Allah forbids His believing servants from having Jews and Christians as friends, because they are the enemies of Islam and its people, may Allah curse them.” Verses 52-60 continue in this vein, excoriating the hypocrites and the People of the Book (most of whom are “rebellious and disobedient” – v. 59), reminding them that some of “those who incurred the curse of Allah and His wrath” were “transformed into apes and swine” (v. 60).

Next week: The curse that came to the Jews for saying, “Allah’s hand is tied up.”

(Here you can find links to all the earlier “Blogging the Qur’an” 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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Robert, I saw you on BookTV (C-SPAN 2) last night. Outstanding! I wish you had a daily radio program, I’d be there everyday. Thanks for my free (less the cost of your books) education.

Tony737 on September 16, 2007 at 9:53 AM

“Behave, or else”

Depends on your definition of “behave”. Kinda like your definition of “innocent civilian”, right Achmed?

Thank you Robert, I’ve learned a lot from you.

Tony737 on September 16, 2007 at 10:04 AM

Thank you again Mr. Spencer for your very informative posts! This really caught my eye.

Thus as far as the Qur’an is concerned, the divisions among Christians demonstrate the falsity of the religion – a proposition for which Jesus stated the obverse: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35)

I have often thought that as the Body of Christ we don’t (as a whole) show the love that we could, and the love we do show isn’t recognized as such. I can see how Satan would use that as an excuse to keep people from believing in Jesus. The apparent lack of love by some Christians is apparently a sticking point for Mr. Hitchens too, for example. While I think we Christians can always do a better job of showing love to each other, and others, we also do a large part of the humanitarian aid around the planet and in our neighborhoods. Maybe Muslims, Atheists, Agnostics, and others will look a little deeper and see God’s love in Christians, even though we aren’t perfect!

Thanx again Mr. Spencer. These posts are very valuable!

Ordinary1 on September 16, 2007 at 10:20 AM

Mr. Spencer,

Thank you for doing something I dare not do. I have had critics imply to me that I should read the koran before I judge the islamic religion. I am honestly fearful of what kind of damage such a task could do to my thoughts and well being. I don’t need to know every detail of a false religion to know it is false. Thank you for exposing yourself to this nonsense for the good of the rest of us and fighting the good fight.

Kahuna on September 16, 2007 at 10:22 AM

Thanks Robert. Trenchant as always.

This Sura makes it very clear that Muslims may not have Christian or Jewish friends. So not only are they hostages of their own religion, living out their lives with a constant death threat hanging over them, but they can’t have any friends either. Horrible.

Mojave Mark on September 16, 2007 at 11:19 AM

Thus as far as the Qur’an is concerned, the divisions among Christians demonstrate the falsity of the religion

So wouldn’t this also mean the divisions between Sunnis and Shiites also demonstrates the falsity of Islam?

“He who allows himself to shed the blood of a Muslim, is like he who allows shedding the blood of all people. He who forbids shedding the blood of one Muslim, is like he who forbids shedding the blood of all people.”

So if a Jew kills a muslim it’s bad, but if it’s muslims killing each other, it’s alright?

Tio on September 16, 2007 at 12:29 PM

Mr Spencer-

Can’t thank you enough for the work you’re doing on this project. Should be required reading…

oldleprechaun on September 16, 2007 at 1:00 PM

Thus as far as the Qur’an is concerned, the divisions among Christians demonstrate the falsity of the religion

Sunni (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i and Hanbali), Shiite (Twelvers (iṯnāʿašariyya), Ismaili, the Seveners, and Zaidiyyah), Sufi, Wahabbi, Deobandi, Kharijites, Almohades. And those are just off the top of my head.

From Wikipedia:

# 2 Sunnism

* 2.1 Schools of Fiqh
o 2.1.1 Hanafi
+ 2.1.1.1 Deobandi
+ 2.1.1.2 Barelwi
o 2.1.2 Hanbali
o 2.1.3 Maliki
o 2.1.4 Shafi’i
* 2.2 Schools of Kalam
o 2.2.1 Ash’ari
o 2.2.2 Maturidi
o 2.2.3 Murjite
o 2.2.4 Mu’tazili

# 3 Shi`ism

* 3.1 Twelvers
o 3.1.1 Usooli
o 3.1.2 Akhbari
o 3.1.3 Shaykhi
o 3.1.4 Alawi
o 3.1.5 Alevi
* 3.2 Ismailiyah
o 3.2.1 Nizari
o 3.2.2 Druze
o 3.2.3 Bohras
+ 3.2.3.1 Dawoodi Bohras
+ 3.2.3.2 Sulamaini Bohras
+ 3.2.3.3 Alavi Bohras
* 3.3 Zaiddiyah

# 4 Kharijite Sects

* 4.1 Ibadi
* 4.2 Sufri

# 5 Sufi Orders

* 5.1 Bektashi
* 5.2 Chishti
* 5.3 Naqshbandi
* 5.4 Oveyssi
* 5.5 Qadiri
* 5.6 Suhrawardiyya

# 6 Movements within sects

* 6.1 Salafism
* 6.2 Wahhabism
* 6.3 Liberal
* 6.4 Islamism
* 6.5 Tablighi Jama’at

# 7 Other sects

* 7.1 Zikri
* 7.2 Ahmadiyya
* 7.3 Nation of Islam
* 7.4 Moorish Science
* 7.5 Submitters
* 7.6 Qur’an Alone

Nope, no divisions among Muslims to demonstrate the falsity of Islam. Not at all.

rokemronnie on September 16, 2007 at 1:13 PM

The (dissonance) table. Another great lesson.
Thank you, Robert Spencer.

locomotivebreath1901 on September 16, 2007 at 8:40 PM

Mr Spencer,
Who is the ‘We’ in the following passages?

vs 13:

…We cursed them and made their hearts hard…

vs 14:

…We made a covenant, but they neglected a portion of what they were reminded of…

vs 14:

…We excited among them enmity …

The immediate context seems to point to ‘We’ as being Allah, but I just cannot imagine Muslims refer to their God in the plural. Is the ‘We’ referring to conspiring Muslims? Are they responsible for hardening the hearts of the Christian? vs 13-14 is a really confusing passage to me because of this ambiguity.

HeIsSailing on September 16, 2007 at 10:45 PM

Mr Spencer,
Who is the ‘We’ in the following passages?

vs 13:

…We cursed them and made their hearts hard…

vs 14:

…We made a covenant, but they neglected a portion of what they were reminded of…

vs 14:

…We excited among them enmity …

The immediate context seems to point to ‘We’ as being Allah, but I just cannot imagine Muslims refer to their God in the plural. Is the ‘We’ referring to conspiring Muslims? Are they responsible for hardening the hearts of the Christian? vs 13-14 is a really confusing passage to me because of this ambiguity.

HeIsSailing on September 16, 2007 at 10:45 PM

Mr Spencer,
Who is the ‘We’ in the following passages?

vs 13:

…We cursed them and made their hearts hard…

vs 14:

…We made a covenant, but they neglected a portion of what they were reminded of…

vs 14:

…We excited among them enmity …

The immediate context seems to point to ‘We’ as being Allah, but I just cannot imagine Muslims refer to their God in the plural. Is the ‘We’ referring to conspiring Muslims? Are they responsible for hardening the hearts of the Christian? vs 13-14 is a really confusing passage to me because of this ambiguity.

HeIsSailing on September 16, 2007 at 10:45 PM

sorry for the trigger finger. I swear I am not padding out this comment section to improve the stats.

HeIsSailing on September 16, 2007 at 10:49 PM

Kahuna sez:

I have had critics imply to me that I should read the koran before I judge the islamic religion. I am honestly fearful of what kind of damage such a task could do to my thoughts and well being.

Kahuna, I am going to side with your critics and encourage you and everyone else to read along in the Quran. So far, I have read every word up through Sura 5, and I am really gaining an overall perspecive in the text of the Scripture, along with Mr Specer’s commentary. So far in the reading, Islam seems less like a religion, and more of just a violent polemic against Judaism and Christianity. With the exception of the violence against the rival religions, the moral stance of Islam is very similar to what is found in the Old Testament. True, it does not meet the moral high ground of the Sermon on the Mount for instance, but there is nothing really.. new.. to be found in the Quran, unlike what the New Testament provides.

For that reason alone, I find it fascinating reading. Even if the constant promises of violence and hellfire to the infidel have grown somewhat stale.

HeIsSailing on September 16, 2007 at 11:03 PM

Says Ibn Kathir, “Indeed, the numerous Christian sects have always been enemies and adversaries of each other, accusing each other of heresy and cursing each other

It is amazing that Ibn Kathir wrote this commentary centuries before the Protestant Reformation. One has to wonder what he would think of the modern schisms and denominations in the Christian Church.

HeIsSailing on September 16, 2007 at 11:18 PM

Robert

I was under the impression that 5:33 actually alluded to the incident between Mohammed and the apostates from the Ukil/Urainna tribe, who after killing a shepherd and stealing his camels received that amputation punishment – not because of murder, but because they abandoned Islam in the process.

Am I wrong?

infidelpride on September 17, 2007 at 12:03 AM

Infidel Pride:

No, you’re not wrong.

HeIsSailing:

Yes, Allah always refers to himself as “We” in the Qur’an, but Muslim exegetes insist it is just a royal “We,” consistent with the strictness of Islamic monotheism, and is no reflection of the Trinity.

Robert Spencer on September 17, 2007 at 12:20 AM

Robert Spencer:

…and is no reflection of the Trinity…

Oh no, I knew there was absolutely no way a Trinity was being implied. I just never thought of it being a royal fullness of power or being, thus my confusion.

HeIsSailing on September 17, 2007 at 12:29 AM

Why then don’t we use that fact against them? The fact that they are at least as divided as are the “Christian” religions should infer that Islam is as false as any religion according to their own infallible Qur’an. I can’t remember when was the last time I heard of a Methodist killing a Lutheran because the Lutherans are “infidels”

TruthToBeTold on September 17, 2007 at 12:51 AM

Mr Spencer,
After writing in my own blogsite (a groups site like HotAir, but much smaller), I got the following response from an anonymous commentor:

I see that you’re interested in learning about Islam through the Qur’an, I must say however Robert Spencer is a polemic who deliberately distorts everything about Islam in order to make it seem hateful and violent. its no wonder he interprets things wrongly in order to make it seem that way. keep in mind he has made a career out of bashing Muslims in any way he can and his a strong base of right ring christian evangelicals and ‘born agains’ who subscribe to his ideology. If you’re interested in learning about another religion, its important to learn it from a non-bias and neutral perspective. for start i would recommend

No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam by reza aslan and an accurate commentary of the Quran by Muhammad Asad.

I am sure you have heard this critique only about a million times, in fact this is probably the fifth time you have heard it just this morning. How do you respond to this, and can you recommend Asad’s book?

Note, that on our website I am not a Robert Spencer apologist, since I actually know very little about you, however I cannot think of a better way to learn about Islam than by reading their own Scriptures one word at a time. Thanks again for your effort.

HeIsSailing on September 17, 2007 at 6:34 AM

In reading the Koran you will find a man-made religion of man working himself into a state of “grace” before God. God has made it very clear to us through the Law in the Scriptures that this is not possible! That is why he gave us the Law…to show us our total inability to meet his perfect standard, throw up our hands and cast all our trust on the Gospel of the saving Grace of Jesus Christ. Islam is no different than any other false religion invented by man…

sabbott on September 17, 2007 at 8:08 AM

HeIsSailing:

How would I respond to that? By asking you to look at the segments of the Blogging the Qur’an series so far. Note that I am not offering my own interpretation of the various Qur’anic passages, but merely reporting on how various Muslim commentators, including on occasion Muhammad Asad, interpret them.

People like your letter-writer continually ignore this and try to give the impression that I am creating my own negative interpretations through selectivity. Well, every segment has contained multiple links, not only to the Qur’an but to online Islamic tafasir — Qur’an commentaries. Check the links and judge for yourself whether I am misusing the material.

That also is how the books by Asad and Reza Aslan should be judged: do they accurately and fully portray the reality of Islamic belief as Muslims themselves do in other contexts, particularly when they are speaking to other Muslims? I don’t think they do, but here again: judge for yourself.

All my work is transparent. About five times a day I get emails from Muslims and allies of the jihadists, telling me my work is full of errors, lies, etc. I always ask the letter writers to point out, please, even one error of fact, one misrepresentation of the Islamic texts, one lie. They never have. I invite anyone reading this to check the texts also and see for yourself whether or not what I am saying is true.

Robert Spencer on September 17, 2007 at 8:25 AM

Everyone:

The Qur’an does represent the divisions among Christians as a result of the divine displeasure, and I have spoken with Muslims who have insisted that the unity among Muslims is a manifestation of the divine favor — they brush aside the Sunni/Shi’ite split as minor and irrelevant. (This was, of course, 1980 or 1981, when that split was not in the daily headlines.)

Anyway, according to a hadith, Muhammad anticipated divisions among Muslims:

The Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) said: The Jews were split up into seventy-one or seventy-two sects; and the Christians were split up into seventy one or seventy-two sects; and my community will be split up into seventy-three sects.

Robert Spencer on September 17, 2007 at 8:29 AM

Robert, did you fly on Southwest on Monday? I swore I saw you and almost said something but didn’t really have time.

Tony737 on September 18, 2007 at 1:26 AM

Tony737:

Yes, I did, and I forgot to wear my dark glasses and red fright wig. Next time, say hello!

Yrs
R

Robert Spencer on September 18, 2007 at 3:05 PM

CRAP! I KNEW that was you! I was one of the oncoming F/A’s as you were deplaning. I wanted to stop you and ask if it was you but we were in a hurry to clean the plane, do a Crew change and get the plane loaded up and back out again. Had it been last week when I was still reading your book “Religion of Peace?” I would’ve asked you to sign it for me. Oh well, maybe next time. (Excellent book by the way).

Tony737 on September 18, 2007 at 5:07 PM

Robert,

Once again thank you. I am really learning a lot and I turn around and brief my husband who is learning too… He’s just not into reading blogs… Anyway, I do look forward to the time I can sit down and read Blogging the Q’ran uninterrupted. With two teenageers it’s kind of hard but I always get to it.

Take care of yourself.

CCRWM on September 18, 2007 at 10:40 PM