Surah al-Ma'idah (The Table) 5 : 17

لَّقَدْ كَفَرَ ٱلَّذِينَ قَالُوٓا۟ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ هُوَ ٱلْمَسِيحُ ٱبْنُ مَرْيَمَ ۚ قُلْ فَمَن يَمْلِكُ مِنَ ٱللَّهِ شَيْـًٔا إِنْ أَرَادَ أَن يُهْلِكَ ٱلْمَسِيحَ ٱبْنَ مَرْيَمَ وَأُمَّهُۥ وَمَن فِى ٱلْأَرْضِ جَمِيعًا ۗ وَلِلَّهِ مُلْكُ ٱلسَّمَٰوَٰتِ وَٱلْأَرْضِ وَمَا بَيْنَهُمَا ۚ يَخْلُقُ مَا يَشَآءُ ۚ وَٱللَّهُ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَىْءٍ قَدِيرٌ


 Muhsin Khan
 Yusuf Ali
Quran Project
They have certainly disbelieved who say that Allāh is Christ, the son of Mary. Say, "Then who could prevent Allāh at all if He had intended to destroy Christ, the son of Mary, or his mother or everyone on the earth?" And to Allāh belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth and whatever is between them. He creates what He wills, and Allāh is over all things competent.

1. Lessons/Guidance/Reflections/Gems

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Explanatory Note

The message Jesus (peace be upon him) conveyed as given to him by his Lord was the message of God’s absolute oneness which has been given to every messenger. Total submission to God alone as the only God and the Lord of the universe was the attitude adopted by every messenger. This clear faith, however, later became distorted after pagans adopted Christianity, retaining some traces of their old pagan beliefs which they were keen to introduce into the faith based on God’s oneness. As time passed, these deviant beliefs became an integral part of the whole faith.

These deviant beliefs were not introduced all at the same time. Ecclesiastical councils introduced them at different intervals until they eventually produced this singularly confusing mixture of legends and concepts that defies even those of its advocates who try to give a logical interpretation of it.

The basic concept of God’s oneness was preached after Jesus (peace be upon him) by his disciples and their followers. The Gospel of Barnabas, one of many written at the time, speaks of Jesus Christ as a Messenger of God. Internal differences then broke out, with some maintaining that the Christ was not different from other messengers sent by God. Others acknowledged that he was a messenger but they claimed that he had a special relationship with God, while a third group said that he was the son of God because he was created without a father. Nevertheless, he was one of God’s creation. A different group claimed that he was God’s son, and that he was not created; he shared with the Father the quality of being eternal.

To settle their differences, a great synod met in 325 AD, attended by 48,000 patriarchs and bishops who were described by Ibn al-Baţrīq, a historian of Christianity, as follows:

They differed greatly in views and faiths. Some of them maintained that both the Christ and his mother were gods, while others, Sabilius and his followers, viewed the relationship between the Christ and the Father as a brand of fire separated from a torch, which continued to burn unaffected by this split. A third group, Ilyan and those who followed his lead, claimed that Mary did not bear Jesus for nine months, as mothers bear their children. He only passed through her belly as water runs through gutters. The Word went through her ear and came out instantly through the passage where a child is born. Another group claimed that the Christ was a human being created from the Divine with an essence similar to that of any one of us. The beginning of the son started with Mary, and he was chosen to maintain the human essence. Divine grace was bestowed on him with love and Divine will. It is for this reason that he was called the son of God. They maintained that God is an eternal, single essence and single hypostasis who had three names. They did not believe in the Word or in the Holy Spirit. This was the view advocated by Paul Shamshati, the patriarch of Antioch and his followers who were called the Bulikanians. Yet another group believed in a trinity consisting of three deities: good, evil and a middle one in between. This view was advanced by Markiun whom they claimed to be Jesus’s Chief Disciple, denying Peter. A further group maintained that Jesus Christ had a Divine nature. This was the belief advocated by St. Paul and 318 bishops who followed him.

The Roman Emperor Constantine, who embraced Christianity without understanding anything of it chose this last view and supported its advocates, giving them a chance to suppress all other beliefs and views, especially those who maintained that the Divine nature belonged only to the father and that Jesus, the Christ, was a human being.

The author of the History of the Coptic Nation has this to say about this decision: “The holy community and the apostolic church excommunicated everyone who claimed that there was a time when the son of God did not exist, or that he did not exist before he was born, or that he was born of nothing or that he was made of a substance or an essence other than that of God, the Father. It also excommunicated everyone who said that Jesus Christ was created, or that he was liable to change or that his shadow differed in shape.”

By taking these decisions, the ecclesiastical council did not manage to win over the Unitarian followers of Aries who managed to gain power in Constantinople, Antioch, Babylon, Alexandria and Egypt.

A new disagreement erupted over the nature of the Holy Spirit, with some people maintaining that Jesus was Divine, while others rejected this. The first Synod of Constantinople met in 381 to settle these differences. The same historian of Christianity tells us of the decisions of this council as reported by the Bishop of Alexandria: “The Patriarch of Alexandria, Thimothius said: ‘To us the Holy Spirit does not have a meaning other than the spirit of God, and the spirit of God has no meaning other than His life. Therefore, if we were to say that the Holy Spirit was created, then we are saying that the spirit of God is created, and if we were to say that the spirit of God is created, then we are saying that His life is a creation. If we were to say that His life is a creation, then we allege that He is not the Living. If we were to allege that He is not the Living, then we disbelieve in Him. Whoever disbelieves in Him is to be cursed.”

Hence, the Divinity of the Holy Spirit was established in this ecclesiastical council as the Divinity of the Christ, Jesus, was established in the earlier council. Thus the Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit was finally established.

Yet another dispute broke out on the issue of the combination of the Divine and the human natures in the Christ. Nestor, the Patriarch of Constantinople, was of the view that there was a hypostasis and a nature. The hypostasis of Divinity was derived from the Father, while the humanity came through Mary. Therefore, Mary was the mother of man in Jesus, not the mother of God. Of the Christ who mixed with people and addressed them, he said, as quoted by the historian of Christianity: “This man who says he is the Christ is united with the son through love. It is said that he is God and the son of God, not in actuality but through grace.”

He also says: “Nestor has maintained that our Lord, Jesus Christ, was not God himself, but a man full of blessings and grace, or he was inspired by God. He was infallible and committed no sin.” His view was rejected by the Bishop of Rome, the Patriarch of Alexandria and the Bishops of Antioch. They agreed to hold a fourth summit, the Afsis Council. Held in 431, this Council concluded that “Mary the Virgin was the mother of God and that Jesus was a true God and a man at the same time, with two natures united in the hypostasis.” The Council cursed Nestor. The Church of Alexandria came out with yet another view which was discussed by the second synod, which concluded that “The Christ had one nature combining both Divinity and humanity.” This view was not universally accepted. Disagreement was rife and another ecclesiastical council met at Khalqidonia in 451 and determined that “The Christ had two natures, not one. Divinity was a nature sacred and different from Humanity. Both met in the Christ.” Thus, the second synod of Afsis was totally rejected.

The Egyptians declared that they did not recognise this decision. A bloody conflict erupted between the Egyptian Copts, the Monophysites and the Melkites of Syria whose views became the official ones of the Empire.

This note is sufficient to describe the great variety of deviant concepts about the Divinity of Jesus Christ and the enmity and hatred to which it led between various sects. These divisions and hatred continue even today.

The True Verdict

The final message gives the ultimate ruling on this whole issue, with the final Messenger declaring to the people who received revelations in former times the true nature of the Divine faith:

“Unbelievers indeed are they who say: ‘God is the Christ, son of Mary.‘“ (Verse 17)

“Unbelievers indeed are those who claim that God is one of a Trinity.” (Verse 73) An effort is made here to persuade them to listen to the voice of reason, upright nature and fact:

“Say: Who could have prevailed with God in any way had it been His will to destroy the Christ, son of Mary, and his mother, and everyone on earth?” (Verse 17)

This represents an absolute and undeniable distinction between God, His nature, will and dominion on the one hand and the nature of Jesus (peace be upon him); his mother and all beings on the other. The difference is clear and total. God is single; nothing is like Him; His will is absolute; His authority is total; no one can do anything to reverse His will should He desire to destroy the Christ, son of Mary, his mother and everyone on earth. He, the most glorious owns and creates everything, while all else are created:

“To God belongs the kingdom of the heavens and the earth and all that is between them. He creates what He wills and God has power over all things.” (Verse 17)

The Islamic faith thus appears to all in its true light: simple, clear, straightforward. Its clarity is even more enhanced in comparison to all erroneous concepts, legends and pagan beliefs which have crept into the faith of a section of those who were given earlier revelations. The first distinctive feature of the Islamic faith becomes prominent as it states without any trace of ambiguity the true nature of Godhead, as well as servitude and submission to God.  It separates the two positions most decisively.


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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The theme of this Surah indicates and traditions support it, that it was revealed after the treaty of Hudaibiyah at the end of 6 A.H. or in the beginning of 7 A.H.

The Prophet set out along with 1400 Muslims to Makkah in 6 A.H. to perform Umrah (the lesser pilgrimage). Even though it was against all the ancient religious traditions of Arabia – the Quraysh prevented them. After a fair amount of negotiation,  a treaty was concluded at Hudaibiyah according to which it was agreed that he would be allowed to perform Umrah the following year. This is why the introductory verses deal with with the pilgrimage to Makkah and the same theme has been resumed in v. 101-104. The other topics of this Surah also appear to belong to the same period. [REF: Mawdudi]

8. Reasons for Revelation

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The general attitude towards the Muslims had now changed since the revelation of the previous Surahs 3: Al-Imran (Family of Imran) and Surah 4: An-Nisa (The Women)

Islam had become a force and the Islamic State had extended to Najd on the east, to the Red Sea on the west, to Syria on the north, and to Makkah on the south. The set-back which the Muslims had suffered at Uhud had not broken their determination. It had rather spurred them to action. As a result of their continuous struggle and unparalleled sacrifices the power of the surrounding clans within a radius of 200 miles or so had been subdued. The conspiracies of the Jewish tribes -  which had always threatened Madinah -  were totally removed and the Jews in other parts of the Arabian Peninsula (Hijaz) had become tributaries of the State of Madinah. The last effort of the Quraysh to suppress Islam had been thwarted in the Battle of the Ditch. After this it had become quite obvious to the Arabs that no power could suppress the Islamic movement.

Islam was no longer merely a creed which ruled over the minds and hearts of the people but had also become a State which dominated over every aspect of the life of the people who lived within its boundaries. This had enabled the Muslims to live their lives without any hindrance in accordance with their beliefs.

Another development had also taken place during this period. The Muslim state had developed in accordance with the principles of Islam and this was quite distinct from all other civilisations in all its details. It identified the Muslims clearly from the non-Muslims in their moral, social and cultural behaviour. Mosques had been built in all territories, prayer had been established and a leader (Imam) for every habitation and clan had been appointed. The Islamic civil and criminal laws had been formulated in detail and were being enforced through the Islamic courts. New and reformed ways of trade and commerce had taken the place of the old ones. The Islamic laws of marriage and divorce, of the segregation of the sexes, of the punishment for adultery and slander and the like had cast the social life of the Muslims in a special mould. Their social behaviour, their conversation, their dress, their very mode of living, their culture etc., had taken a definite shape of its own. As a result of all these changes, the non-Muslims could not expect that the Muslims would ever return to their former ways. Before the treaty of Hudaibiyah, the Muslims were so engaged in their struggle with the non-Muslim Quraysh that had little time to propagate their message. This was resolved by what was apparently a defeat but in reality a victory at Hudaibiyah. This gave the Muslims not only peace in their own territory but also respite to spread their message in the surrounding territories. Accordingly, the Prophet addressed letters to the chiefs of Arabia, the rulers of Persia, Egypt and the Roman Empire inviting them to Islam. At the same time the missionaries of Islam spread among the clans and tribes and invited them to accept the Divine Way of God. These were the circumstances at the time when al- Ma’idah was revealed.

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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