Surah al-Ma'idah (The Table) 5 : 4

يَسْـَٔلُونَكَ مَاذَآ أُحِلَّ لَهُمْ ۖ قُلْ أُحِلَّ لَكُمُ ٱلطَّيِّبَٰتُ ۙ وَمَا عَلَّمْتُم مِّنَ ٱلْجَوَارِحِ مُكَلِّبِينَ تُعَلِّمُونَهُنَّ مِمَّا عَلَّمَكُمُ ٱللَّهُ ۖ فَكُلُوا۟ مِمَّآ أَمْسَكْنَ عَلَيْكُمْ وَٱذْكُرُوا۟ ٱسْمَ ٱللَّهِ عَلَيْهِ ۖ وَٱتَّقُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ ۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ سَرِيعُ ٱلْحِسَابِ

Translations

 
 Muhsin Khan
 Pickthall
 Yusuf Ali
Quran Project
They ask you, [O Muhammad], what has been made lawful for them. Say, "Lawful for you are [all] good foods and [game caught by] what you have trained of hunting animals which you train as Allāh has taught you. So eat of what they catch for you, and mention the name of Allāh upon it, and fear Allāh." Indeed, Allāh is swift in account.

1. Lessons/Guidance/Reflections/Gems

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Explanatory Note

This question from the believers about what is lawful describes the frame of mind the chosen community adopted by virtue of the honour of being addressed by God Himself. It gives us an impression of the sort of reluctance they had in approaching anything that was practised in pre-Islamic days lest it be unacceptable to Islam. They felt that they needed to ask about everything to make sure that it fitted with their new way of life.

When we look into the history of that period we cannot fail to recognise the profound change Islam brought about in the Arabian mentality. Islam shook the Arabs into eradicating all traces of ignorance that might have been left behind. It gave the Muslims, whom it had picked up from the depths of darkness to elevate into light and a high level of humanity, a feeling that they were reborn and that they were living a completely new life. It imparted to them a profound sense of the great divide between their present and their past. They recognised the great bounty God had bestowed on them and, therefore, they were keen to adapt their lives to the new Divine method, the benefits of which they were able to discern in their own lives. They were conscious of God’s grace and keen not to violate His orders. The net result of all this was their constant reluctance to continue with their old practices, unless they made sure that they were acceptable to Islam.

It is in this context that we should read their question to the Prophet (peace be upon him) about lawful food, after they had heard the verses which outlined what was forbidden to them: “They ask you what is lawful to them.” The answer was especially significant: “Say: Lawful to you are all good things of life.” This imparts to them the true feeling that they have not been forbidden anything good or wholesome. Indeed, all the good things of life have been made lawful to them. Only bad or evil things are forbidden. Needless to say, everything that God forbids mankind is either something physically repugnant to uncorrupted human nature, such as carrion, blood and the flesh of swine, or something a believer’s heart finds nauseating, such as the flesh of animals on which the name of someone other than God has been invoked, or what has been slaughtered over idolatrous altars, or something that has been divided with the help of arrows, which is a type of gambling.

To the good things mentioned here in general, a special type is also added to emphasise that which is good. These are animals caught by beasts and birds of prey which have been trained for that very purpose, such as a hawk or a falcon, and hunting dogs and lions which have been trained to overpower game animals:

“As for those hunting animals which you train by imparting to them something of the knowledge God has imparted to you, you may eat of what they catch for you. But mention God’s name over it and have fear of God; indeed, God is swift in reckoning.” The condition which makes what is caught by such trained hunting animals lawful to eat is that they should leave their prey for their master. That is, the hunting beast or bird must not eat of the animal it has killed, except when the master has gone away. If they eat of their prey at the time of the catch, they have not been properly trained. They are simply killing other animals for themselves not for their masters. As such, the master may not eat of the game they kill, even if most of it is left, and even if they bring the prey back alive to him. Once they have eaten of it, it cannot be made lawful, not even by proper methods of slaughter.

God reminds the believers of this aspect of His grace, which, is manifested in their ability to train their beasts and birds of prey. It is He who has made these hunting animals subservient to them and given them the knowledge to train them. This is a fine touch, typical of the Qur’ānic method of cultivating believers’ minds. The Qur’ān makes use of every occasion and opportunity to impress on people’s hearts the fundamental truth that everything we have has been given to us by God. God has created us, given us all the knowledge we have and made everything on earth subservient to us. It is He whom we should thank for whatever we achieve, every gain we make and ability we develop. Thus, in every moment of his life, a believer is fully aware that everything within himself and around him is God’s gift to him. He does not allow himself to overlook, even for the briefest moment, the fact that he is indebted to God for everything he may enjoy, all that he possesses, every action he makes. This is what makes him a properly devout person.

God teaches the believers to mention His name over all game animals caught for them by their beasts and birds of prey. This should be done when the hunting animal or bird is set free. Since it may kill its prey with its claws or teeth, this killing is considered as the slaughter of the animal. As God’s name is mentioned at the time of slaughter, it is also mentioned when the beast or bird of prey is set on its hunting spree.

The believers are finally reminded to continue to fear God and that His reckoning is very swift. Hence, they should always be on their guard. The question of permissibility or prohibition is thus closely related to the more important feeling of being conscious of God and of fearing Him. It is the pivot round which every intention and every action in the life of a believer turns. Thus, it transforms human life into a relationship with God, a recognition of His greatness and a consciousness of His presence and power in all situations, whether we are alone or with others: “and have fear of God; indeed, God is swift in reckoning.”

 

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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