Blogging the Qur’an: Sura 9, “Repentance,” verses 30-49

No Jews have ever been found who match the Qur’an’s description of them, in v. 30 of sura 9, as proclaiming that Ezra is the Son of God. Ibn Juzayy explains that only a small group of Jews actually said this, but “it is ascribed to all of them because they followed those who said it.” The Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs attributes this belief to the Jews of Medina. In any case, this belief, asserted by the Qur’an and thereby confirmed as true in the minds of many Muslims, makes the Jews as well as the Christians guilty of shirk, the association of partners with Allah, which is the worst sin of all. Ibn Juzayy quotes another Islamic authority saying that the Christian belief is “atrocious disbelief.” Adds Ibn Kathir, “This is why Allah declared both groups to be liars,” for “they have no proof that supports their claim, other than lies and fabrications.”

Consequently, they are accursed of Allah. V. 30 goes on to say, “Allah fight them!,” which Ibn Juzayy explains as “May Allah curse them!” Their idolatry doesn’t stop there, either. They even go so far as to take “as lords beside Allah their rabbis and their monks and the Messiah son of Mary, when they were bidden to worship only One Allah” (v. 31). Do the Jews, then, worship rabbis and Christians worship monks? Not directly: Muhammad explained that the rabbis and monks prohibited what Allah had allowed for the Jews and Christians, and allowed what he had prohibited, “and they obeyed them. This is how they worshipped them.”

Muhammad also said: “Verily, the Jews have earned the anger (of Allah) and the Christians are misguided” – an echo of the Fatihah. The Jews and Christians are so perverse and rebellious that they would like to “put out the light of Allah” – that is, says the Tafsir al-Jalalayn, “His Shari’a and proofs” – “with their mouths” (v. 32), but Allah will thwart their plans. Ibn Juzayy explains v. 33 by saying that Allah will put Islam “above all other deens,” that is, religions, and will “make it strong so that it embraces the east and the west.” As Muhammad put it: “This matter (Islam) will keep spreading as far as the night and day reach, until Allah will not leave a house made of mud or hair, but will make this religion enter it, while bringing might to a mighty person (a Muslim) and humiliation to a disgraced person (who rejects Islam).”

Ibn Juzayy adds that “it is said” that Islam will embrace the east and the west “when ‘Isa [Jesus] descends and then only the deen [religion] of Islam will remain.” This refers to Muhammad’s statement that the “son of Mary (Jesus) will shortly descend amongst you people (Muslims) as a just ruler and 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, Jesus will abolish the dhimma, the contract of protection between Muslims and non-Muslims, and Islamize the world.

Allah warns the Muslims about Jewish rabbis and Christian monks who “devour the wealth of mankind wantonly and debar (men) from the way of Allah” – the tortures of hell await them (vv. 34-35). Says Ibn Kathir: “This Ayah warns against corrupt scholars and misguided worshippers. Sufyan bin `Uyaynah said, ‘Those among our scholars who become corrupt are similar to the Jews, while those among our worshippers who become misguided are like Christians.’… When Allah sent His Messenger [Muhammad], the Jews persisted in their misguidance, disbelief and rebellion, hoping to keep their status and position. However, Allah extinguished all this and took it away from them with the light of Prophethood and instead gave them disgrace and degradation, and they incurred the anger of Allah, the Exalted.” Accordingly, Muslims must “wage war on all of the idolaters as they are waging war on all of you” (v. 36). In v. 37, says Ibn Kathir, “Allah admonishes the idolaters for choosing their wicked opinions over Allah’s Law. They changed Allah’s legislation based upon their vain desires, allowing what Allah prohibited and prohibiting what Allah allowed.” The Muslims should not hesitate out of an attachment to this world (v. 38). The latter verse “is a rebuke,” explains Ibn Juzayy, “to those who stayed behind the expedition to Tabuk” that Muhammad led against the Byzantines. Those who do not fight – “i.e. go out with the Prophet on jihad,” says the Tafsir al-Jalalayn — will face divine punishment and replacement with another people (v. 39).

Not that Muhammad needed their help, for “Allah did indeed help him, when the Unbelievers drove him out” (v. 40). This refers, according to Ibn Kathir, to “the year of the Hijrah,” when “the idolaters tried to kill, imprison or expel the Prophet.” Muslims should fight “light or heavy,” that is, whatever their circumstances (v. 41) – although Ibn Kathir, Ibn Juzayy and the Tafsir al-Jalalayn all agree that that command was abrogated by 9:91: “There is no blame on those who are infirm, or ill, or who find no resources to spend (on the cause), if they are sincere (in duty) to Allah and His Messenger.”

Still, jihad for the sake of Allah (jihad fi sabil Allah, which denotes in Islamic theology armed struggle to establish the hegemony of the Islamic social order) is the best deed a Muslim can perform (v. 41). Muhammad also emphasized this on many occasions. Once a man asked him, “Guide me to such a deed as equals Jihad (in reward).”

Muhammad answered: “I do not find such a deed.”

Allah has more harsh words for the Muslims who did not accompany Muhammad to Tabuk, accusing them of preferring the easy life to a hard journey of jihad, and lying about having been willing to go if they could have (v. 42). Allah even rebuked his prophet for excusing Muslims from the Tabuk expedition (v. 43). He told Muhammad that true Muslims did not hesitate to wage jihad, even to the point of risking their property and their very lives. The ones who refused to do this weren’t believers (vv. 44-45). But actually, it was Allah who was “averse to their being sent forth; so He made them lag behind” (v. 46), because if they had come along, they would only have caused trouble for Muhammad (v. 47). After all, they have plotted sedition before (v. 48).

According to Ibn Ishaq, the unnamed slacker who begged Muhammad, “Grant me leave (to stay at home) and tempt me not” (v. 49) was referring to his weakness for women. He asked Muhammad: “Will you allow me to stay behind and not tempt me, for everyone knows that I am strongly addicted to women and I am afraid that if I see the Byzantine women I shall not be able to control myself.”

Muhammad granted him permission, but Allah is not happy, and tells his prophet that those who have asked to be excused have already fallen into temptation by doing so, and that hell awaits them also (v. 49).

Next week: How people were afraid that verses of the Qur’an might be revealed about them.

(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.)