V. 104 of Sura 4 continues the martial theme of the previous section, telling Muslims not to weaken in pursuit of the enemy. Bulandshahri explains: “While the disbelievers (kuffar) will be subjected to the unending torment and distress in the abysses of Hell, the Muslims shall be rejoicing in the bliss and comforts of Heaven (Jannah), without the slightest worries and concerns. The disbelievers (kuffar) cannot aspire for these stages as these are promised exclusively to the Muslims. For this reason the Muslims have a much stronger incentive to fight and should do so with greater zest and zeal.”
Verses 105-116 direct Muslims to judge by the Qur’an (v. 105); excoriate hypocrites and warn against sin (vv. 107-112); and remind Muhammad of Allah’s protection, telling Muslims to obey him (vv. 113-116). In warning Muslims not to follow any path “other than the believer’s way,” v. 115 is a principal foundation for the Islamic legal concept of ijma, consensus. This is the idea that once the Islamic community has agreed on a matter, it can be sure that Allah has guided it to the truth. Ibn Kathir explains: “the Ummah [community] of Muhammad is immune from error when they all agree on something, a miracle that serves to increase their honor, due to the greatness of their Prophet.” Unfortunately, this idea can impede Islamic reform: when the community reaches consensus on an issue, the understanding of it becomes generally fixed. This is true, although few Islamic spokesmen in the U.S. will admit it, of the ideology of Islamic supremacism that mandates warfare against and the subjugation of unbelievers: because this is something that all the schools of Islamic jurisprudence agree on, it will be very hard to dislodge.
Verses 117-122 assail polytheists who “call but upon female deities” and Satan instead of Allah (v. 117). In another affirmation of Allah’s absolute control over everything, v. 119 has him leading astray these unbelievers: “I will mislead them, and I will create in them false desires; I will order them to slit the ears of cattle, and to deface the (fair) nature created by Allah.” The last clause, according to Al-Hasan bin Abi Al-Hasan Al-Basri, refers to tattooing. Said Muhammad, “Allah has cursed the lady who practices tattooing and that who gets it done for herself, and also the lady who lengthens hair artificially and that who gets her hair lengthened artificially.”
Verses 123-126 then promise Paradise to the true believers, both male and female (v. 124). (Paradise, filled with the virginal houris for men – cf. 44:54, etc. – is not described for women.) The statement “Not your desires, nor those of the People of the Book (can prevail)” was revealed, says the Tafsir al-Jalalayn, “when the Muslims and the People of the Scripture began to pride themselves [upon God’s promise].” Allah, of course, says Ibn Kathir, “then supported the argument of the Muslims against their opponents of the other religions.”
Verses 127-130 return to women. V. 128 speaks of agreements between a husband and a wife. Ibn Abbas recounted that one of Muhammad’s wives, Sawdah, “feared that the Messenger of Allah might divorce her.” So she said: “O Messenger of Allah! Do not divorce me; give my day to Aisha” – that is, take the night you are scheduled to spend in my bed and spend it instead with one of your other wives. V. 129 says that Muslims will not be able to treat all their wives equally, but Aisha asserts that Muhammad was an exception; he “used to treat his wives equally.”
Verses 131-151 emphasize Allah’s sovereignty, enjoin justice, criticize the unbelievers (who should not be taken as friends, say verses 139 and 144), and hypocrites, and warn that Allah will not forgive those who leave Islam twice (v. 137). Muhammad’s own statement is sharper: “If somebody (a Muslim) discards his religion, kill him.” Then Allah criticizes the hypocrites for ridiculing Islam (v. 140) and pretending to support the Muslims while actually opposing them (v. 141). Believers are not to befriend unbelievers (v. 144).
Verses 152-176 return to the enormities of the Jews and the Christians. Those who make no distinction between the prophets of Allah will be rewarded (v. 152). Says Ibn Kathir: “Allah threatens those who disbelieve in Him and in His Messengers, such as the Jews and Christians, who differentiate between Allah and His Messengers regarding faith….The Jews, may Allah curse them, believe in the Prophets, except ‘Isa [Jesus] and Muhammad, peace be upon them. The Christians believe in the Prophets but reject their Final and Seal, and the most honored among the prophets, Muhammad, peace be upon him….Therefore, whoever rejects only one of Allah’s Prophets, he will have disbelieved in all of them, because it is required from mankind to believe in every prophet whom Allah sent to the people of the earth.” After the Jews disobeyed Allah repeatedly, Allah “set the seal on their hearts for their blasphemy” (v. 155). The Jews who are “well-grounded in knowledge” believe in Muhammad and Islam (v. 162).
The Jews boast that they killed Jesus, but “they slew him not nor crucified him, but it appeared so unto them” (v. 157). Ibn Kathir explains: “When Allah sent ‘Isa [Jesus] with proofs and guidance, the Jews, may Allah’s curses, anger, torment and punishment be upon them, envied him because of his prophethood and obvious miracles…” They stirred up “the king of Damascus at that time, a Greek polytheist who worshipped the stars” to order his deputy in Jerusalem to arrest Jesus. Jesus, perceiving this, asked those with him, “Who volunteers to be made to look like me, for which he will be my companion in Paradise?” A young man volunteered, whereupon “Allah made the young man look exactly like ‘Isa, while a hole opened in the roof of the house, and ‘Isa was made to sleep and ascended to heaven while asleep.” Then “those surrounding the house saw the man who looked like ‘Isa, they thought that he was ‘Isa. So they took him at night, crucified him and placed a crown of thorns on his head. The Jews then boasted that they killed ‘Isa and some Christians accepted their false claim, due to their ignorance and lack of reason.” Other sources offer other theories: Wahb bin Munabbah, Qatadah, and Mujahid say that Jesus was with seventy of his disciples when the guards came to arrest him, and all seventy were made to look just like Jesus; one stepped forward and was crucified. The Ruhul Ma’ani identifies the one who was made to look like Jesus and crucified as the one who betrayed him for thirty dirhams — Judas. Allama Baghawi says it was a sentry who was guarding Jesus after his arrest.
The assertion that “there is none of the People of the Book but must believe in him before his death” has been taken to mean that Jesus will return to earth – and when he does, according to Muhammad, he will “break the Cross and kill the pig and abolish the Jizya (a tax taken from the non-Muslims, who are in the protection, of the Muslim government).” That is, he will abolish the subservient dhimmi status of the non-Muslims, and Islamize the world: “During his time, Allah will destroy all religions except Islam and Allah will destroy Al-Masih Ad-Dajjal (the False Messiah).”
Allah warns Christians to remember that Jesus was a created being and not to say “Three” (v. 171) – that is, not to say God is a Trinity. Ibn Kathir echoes the Qur’an itself (5:116) in saying that the Christians elevated Jesus “and his mother to be gods with Allah”; the actual Christian Trinity of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is not envisioned in the Qur’an.
Next week: Sura 5, “The Table”, including President Bush’s favorite Qur’an verse, in context.
(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.)