Surah an-Nisa' (Women ) 4 : 153

يَسْـَٔلُكَ أَهْلُ ٱلْكِتَٰبِ أَن تُنَزِّلَ عَلَيْهِمْ كِتَٰبًا مِّنَ ٱلسَّمَآءِ ۚ فَقَدْ سَأَلُوا۟ مُوسَىٰٓ أَكْبَرَ مِن ذَٰلِكَ فَقَالُوٓا۟ أَرِنَا ٱللَّهَ جَهْرَةً فَأَخَذَتْهُمُ ٱلصَّٰعِقَةُ بِظُلْمِهِمْ ۚ ثُمَّ ٱتَّخَذُوا۟ ٱلْعِجْلَ مِنۢ بَعْدِ مَا جَآءَتْهُمُ ٱلْبَيِّنَٰتُ فَعَفَوْنَا عَن ذَٰلِكَ ۚ وَءَاتَيْنَا مُوسَىٰ سُلْطَٰنًا مُّبِينًا


 Muhsin Khan
 Yusuf Ali
Quran Project
The People of the Book ask you to bring down to them a book from the heaven. But they had asked of Moses [even] greater than that and said, "Show us Allāh outright," so the thunderbolt struck them for their wrongdoing. Then they took the calf [for worship] after clear evidences had come to them, and We pardoned that. And We gave Moses a clear authority.

1. Lessons/Guidance/Reflections/Gems

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Explanatory Note

Having established this basic principle of Islamic faith with regard to the truth of faith and unfaith, God’s messengers and their messages, the sūrah now refers to the attitudes adopted by the Jews on a number of occasions and how they openly spoke evil. It denounces their attitude towards the Prophet and his message, particularly their pigheaded demands asking him to provide them with signs and evidence proving his message. It compares this attitude to the one they adopted towards their own messenger, Moses (peace be upon him), and to their attitude towards Jesus (peace be upon him) and his mother, Mary. Their stance reveals that the Jews have always had the same nature over many generations. The Qur’ān speaks of the Jewish generation which opposed the Prophet and that which opposed Jesus and the one which opposed Moses in the past as one group, in this way emphasising the fact that they all shared the same nature.
The people of earlier revelations ask you to have a book sent down to them from heaven. They asked Moses for something even greater than that, when they said: `Make us see God with our own eyes.” The thunderbolt smote them for this their wrongdoing. After that, they took to worshipping the calf even after clear evidence of the truth had come to them. Yet We pardoned them that, and We gave Moses clear authority. We raised Mount Sinai high above them in witness of their solemn pledge. And We said to them: `Enter the gate, prostrating yourselves”; and We also told them: `Do not break the Sabbath-law”; and We received from them a most solemn pledge. (Verses 153-154)
The Jews living in the Arabian Peninsula took an openly hostile and rigid attitude towards Islam and the Prophet. They continuously schemed against Islam to try to bring about its downfall. Their attitude and scheming have been described in detail in the Qur’ān. We have also discussed certain aspects of it in Volumes I and II as also earlier in this volume. Now we have an explanation of other aspects of this attitude.
Adopting an overbearing manner, they demanded of the Prophet that he should bring them a written book sent down from heaven which they could touch with their own hands: “The people of earlier revelations ask you to have a book sent down to them from heaven.” (Verse 153)

The clear evidence and clear signs God has given them through Moses, their Prophet, were not enough to touch their hearts and open their minds or to lead them to belief and submission. They wanted to see God directly, with their own eyes. This was a demand characterised by rudeness which could not have come from a person who knows or feels what faith means. Therefore, “the thunderbolt smote them for their wrongdoing”. (Verse 153) God, however, pardoned them, this in answer to the prayers of Moses who appealed to God to forgive them. This is explained in another sūrah: “When violent trembling seized them, he (Moses) prayed: My Lord, had You so willed, You would have destroyed them before this, and me with them. Will You destroy us for what the weak-minded among us have done? All this is but a trial from You, whereby You allow to go astray whom You will and guide aright whom You will. You are Our Master: grant us then, forgiveness and have mercy on us. You are the best of all forgivers.” (7: 155)
“After that, they took to worshipping the calf even after clear evidence of the truth had come to them.” The reference here is to the golden calf, made for them by the Sāmirī using the jewellery taken by trickery from Egyptian women as they left Egypt. They immediately took to worshipping that calf when Moses was called away from them, staying at a place appointed to him by His Lord where He gave him the tablets containing guidance for his people.
“Yet We pardoned them that.” But the Jews are always the same. They succumb by force only. “And We gave Moses clear authority.” (Verse 153) That authority is most probably the laws contained in the tablets. A law given by God provides direct authority from Him. God does not sanction any law other than that. It has no real effect on people’s hearts. Consequently, people do not show proper respect to laws and regulations that they themselves issue or promulgate. These are only heeded when people fear being caught when they break them. God’s laws, on the other hand, enjoy genuine respect and people observe them willingly.


2. Linguistic Analysis

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Frequency of Root words in this Ayat used in this Surah *

3. Surah Overview

4. Miscellaneous Information

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5. Connected/Related Ayat

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6. Frequency of the word

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7. Period of Revelation

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This Surah comprises several discourses which were revealed on different occasions during the period ranging probably between the end of year 3 A.H. and the end of 4 A.H. or the beginning of 5 A.H. Although it is difficult to determine the exact dates of their revelations it is possible to assign to them a fairly correct period with the help of the Commandments and the events mentioned therein. A few instances are given below by way of illustration:

1. We know that the inheritance law for those martyred and protection for the rights of the orphans was sent down after the Battle of Uhud (in which 70 Muslims were martyred). From this we conclude that v. 1 -28 were revealed on that occasion.

2. We learn from the traditions that the ruling regarding the prayer (Salah) during war time was given on the occasion of the Zat-ur-Riqa’aan expedition. This took place in 4 A.H. From this we conclude that the discourse containing v. 102 was revealed on that occasion.

3. The last warning to the Jews was given before the Banu-Nadheer were exiled from Madinah in Rabi’-ulAwwal 4 A.H. It may therefore be assumed that the discourse containing v. 47 was revealed before that date.

4. The permission about performing ablution with dust in the event of no water (tayammum) verse 43, was given during the Bani-al-Mustaliq expedition which took place in 5 A.H. [REF: Mawdudi]

8. Reasons for Revelation

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Let us now consider the social and historical considerations of the period in order to understand the Surah. All the discourses in this Surah deal with three main problems which confronted the Prophet at the time. First of all he was engaged in bringing about an all round development of the islamic Community that had been formed at the time of his migration to Madinah. For this purpose he was introducing new moral cultural social economic and political ways in place of the old ones of the pre-islamic period. The second thing that occupied his attention and efforts was the bitter struggle that was going on with the polytheist Arabs, the Jewish clans and the hypocrites who were opposing tooth and nail his mission of reform. Above all, he had to propagate Islam in the face of the bitter opposition of these powers of evil with a view to capturing more and more minds and hearts.

Accordingly detailed instructions have been given for the consolidation and strengthening of the islamic Community in continuation of those given in Surah 2: Al-Baqarah (The Cow). Principles for the smooth running of family life have been laid down and ways of settling family disputes have been taught. Rules have been prescribed for marriage and rights of wife and husband have been apportioned fairly and equitably. The status of women in the society has been determined and the declaration of the rights of orphans has been made. Laws and regulations have been laid down for the division of inheritance and instructions have been given to reform economic affairs. The foundation of the penal code has been laid down, drinking has been prohibited and instructions have been given for cleanliness and purity. The Muslims have been taught the kind of relations good men should have with their God and fellow men. Instructions have been given for the maintenance of discipline in the Muslim Community.

The moral and religious condition of The People of the Book (Jews and Christians) has been reviewed to teach lessons to the Muslims and to forewarn them to refrain from following in their footsteps. The conduct of the hypocrites has been criticized and the distinctive features of hypocrisy and true faith have been clearly marked off to enable the Muslims to distinguish between the two. In order to cope with the aftermath of the Battle of Uhud, Inspiring discourses were sent down to urge the Muslims to face the enemy bravely, for defeat in the Battle had so emboldened the polytheist Arab clans and the neighbouring Jews and the hypocrites at home, that they were threatening the Muslims on all sides. At this critical juncture God filled the Muslims with courage and gave them such instructions as were needed during that period of war clouds. In order to counteract the fearful rumours that were being spread by the hypocrites and the Muslims of weak faith they were asked to make a thorough enquiry into them and to inform the responsible people about them. Then they were experiencing some difficulties in offering their prayer during the expeditions to some places where no water was available for performing their ablutions etc. In such cases they were allowed to cleanse themselves with pure earth and to shorten the prayer or to offer the “Prayer of Fear” when they were faced with danger. Instructions were also given for the solution of the puzzling problem of those Muslims who were scattered among the unbelieving Arab clans and were often involved in war. They were asked to migrate to Madinah the abode of Islam.

This Surah also deals with the case of Banu nadir who were showing a hostile and menacing attitude in spite of the peace treaties they had made with the Muslims. They were openly siding with the enemies of Islam and hatching plots against the Prophet and the Muslim Community even at Madinah itself. They were taken to task for their inimical behaviour and given a final warning to change their attitude and were at last exiled from Madinah on account of their misconduct.

The problem of the hypocrites, who had become very troublesome at that time, was involving the Believers in difficulties. Therefore, they were divided into different categories to enable the Muslims to deal with them appropriately. Clear instructions were also given regarding the attitude they should adopt towards the non-belligerent clans. The most important thing needed at that time was to prepare the Muslims for the bitter struggle with the opponents of Islam. For this purpose greatest importance was attached to their character building, for it was obvious that the small Muslim Community could only come out successful, nay, survive, if the Muslims possessed high moral character. They were, therefore, enjoined to adopt the highest moral qualities and were severely criticized whenever any moral weakness was detected in them.

Though this Surah mainly deals with the moral and social reforms, yet due attention has been paid to propagation of Islam. On the one hand, the superiority of the islamic morality and culture has been established over that of the Jews, Christians and polytheists; on the other hand, their wrong religious conceptions, their wrong morality and their evil acts have been criticized to prepare the ground for inviting them to the way of the Truth. 

9. Relevant Hadith

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10. Wiki Forum

Comments in this section are statements made by general users – these are not necessarily explanations of the Ayah – rather a place to share personal thoughts and stories…

11. Tafsir Zone


12. External Links

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