The next segment of Sura 2, verses 75-105, continues the Qur’an’s criticism of the Jews. When you read statements by Hamas leaders or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about Israel, remember that they view Israel and Jews through a Qur’anic prism. They have learned, if they have studied the Qur’an at all, that the Jews are the most perverse and guilty – as well as the craftiest and most persistent – enemies of Allah, Muhammad and the Muslims.
In verse 75 Allah asks the Muslims how they can hope that the Jews will come to believe in Islam, since “a party of them used to listen to the word of Allah, then used to change it, after they had understood it, knowingly?” In his Tafsir Anwar al-Bayan, the twentieth-century Indian Mufti Muhammad Aashiq Ilahi Bulandshahri notes that some commentators “have mentioned that the verse refers to the adulteration of the Torah. The Jewish scholars used to accept bribes from people to alter certain injunctions to suit their desires.” Expanding on this in connection with verse 79, Bulandshahri says that the Jews “commit a dual sin by altering Allah’s scripture and by accepting bribery as well.” This is a traditional view: the Tafsir al-Jalalayn says that the Jews “altered the description of the Prophet in the Torah, as well as the ‘stoning’ verse, and other details, and rewrote them in a way different from that in which they were revealed.”
In their arrogance they also think they will only be in hell for a few days (verse 80). Bukhari recounts that after Muhammad conquered the Jews of Khaibar, an Arabian oasis, they roasted a sheep for the Prophet of Islam – and poisoned it. Sensing their stratagem, he summoned and questioned them. In the course of this, they told him, “We shall remain in the (Hell) Fire for a short period, and after that you [Muslims] will replace us.” Muhammad responded indignantly: “You may be cursed and humiliated in it! By Allah, we shall never replace you in it” and revealed that he knew of their plot to poison him.
Verses 81-105 remind the Jews again of Allah’s favors, favors from which most of them “turned back” (v. 83), and chastise them for their willfulness and disobedience. Verse 85 summarizes their various acts of disobedience, culminating in the assertion that the Jews believe in “only a part” of their sacred writings, and “reject the rest.” Ibn Kathir says that they rejected parts of the Torah, and also: “they should not be believed when it comes to the description of the Messenger of Allah, his coming, his expulsion from his land, and his Hijrah, and the rest of the information that the previous Prophets informed them about him, all of which they hid. The Jews, may they suffer the curse of Allah, hid all of these facts among themselves…” Verses 88 and 89 emphasize that they are accursed for rejecting Islam. (This is why most Muslims don’t accept the idea that the Jews have any right to the land of Israel, despite 5:21 and other verses: an accursed people doesn’t receive Allah’s gifts.) Verse 98 says that their enemy is Allah himself.
Verses 94-96 issue a challenge: if the Jews’ claim that Paradise is reserved for them alone, why don’t they seek death, instead of being the people “most greedy for life”? This is the foundation of a jihadist taunt, as an Al-Qaeda warrior in Afghanistan put it a few years ago: “The Americans love Pepsi-Cola, we love death.” The true believers long for Paradise and disdain this world.
Verse 106 interrupts the condemnations of the Jews to introduce the Islamic doctrine of abrogation, in which Allah replaces what he has previously revealed with “something better or similar.” The Tafsir al-Jalalayn says that this verse was revealed because “the disbelievers began to deride the matter of abrogation, saying that one day Muhammad enjoins his companions to one thing and then the next day he forbids it.” The Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs says that it refers to “what was abrogated of the Qur’an and that which was not abrogated.” Sayyid Qutb maintains that “partial amendment of rulings in response to changing circumstances during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad could only be in the interest of mankind as a whole.” The concept of naskh, abrogation, is the foundation of the widespread Islamic understanding that the violent verses of sura 9 take precedence over the more peaceful verses revealed earlier, since they come later in the lifetime of Muhammad – an idea we will return to later. (For a full discussion of the Islamic idea of abrogation, see Ahmad Von Denffer’s ‘Ulum al-Qur’an.)
Verses 107-121 warns the Muslims to keep up their religious duties and not to allow themselves to be led astray by the Jews and Christians, who will try to deceive the Muslims (v. 109) even as they fight among themselves (v. 113). Verses 111 and 120 (as well as v. 135) deride Jewish and Christian attempts to proselytize Muslims, and verse 116 marks the first appearance of the oft-repeated rejection of the Christian belief in Jesus as the Son of God. The idea that Allah could have a son is considered to compromise monotheism: “Nay, to Him belongs all that is in the heavens and on earth: everything renders worship to Him.”
Verses 122-140 return to the Jews, reminding them of the covenant Allah made at the Ka’ba in Mecca with Abraham and Ishmael (v. 125). The Jews are reminded that even as Abraham prayed that Mecca would become a “City of Peace,” Allah answered that “such as reject Faith” would soon taste his “torment of Fire” (v. 126). If you’re surprised to find a Jewish patriarch, Abraham, linked to an Islamic holy site, the Ka’ba, remember that only the perverse “say that Abraham, Isma’il, Isaac, Jacob and the Tribes were Jews or Christians” (v. 140). In fact, they were submitters to Allah – Muslims (v. 128). If they weren’t believers in Muhammad as a prophet, they were at least hanifs: pre-Islamic monotheists.
This underscores the recurring Qur’anic theme that the people we know of today as Jews and Christians are only renegades from the true religion actually taught by Abraham and Moses, as well as Jesus – and that true religion was Islam. As we have seen, much of sura 2 is devoted to addressing the renegade Jews who have rejected Muhammad and calling them back to the true faith, the faith of Abraham and Moses as well as Muhammad. Thus Islam challenges Judaism and Christianity by claiming that the true and original form of both religions is Islam. Today Islamic spokesmen in the West often present the status of Abraham, Moses, and Jesus as Muslim prophets as evidence of Islamic open-mindedness and ecumenical-mindedness. In fact, however, it is only a declaration of the supremacy of Islam and the illegitimacy of Judaism and Christianity.
Next week: sura 2, verses 140-210, containing instructions on Ramadan, the Hajj pilgrimage – and jihad.
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.)