Surah al-Ma'idah (The Table) 5 : 42

سَمَّٰعُونَ لِلْكَذِبِ أَكَّٰلُونَ لِلسُّحْتِ ۚ فَإِن جَآءُوكَ فَٱحْكُم بَيْنَهُمْ أَوْ أَعْرِضْ عَنْهُمْ ۖ وَإِن تُعْرِضْ عَنْهُمْ فَلَن يَضُرُّوكَ شَيْـًٔا ۖ وَإِنْ حَكَمْتَ فَٱحْكُم بَيْنَهُم بِٱلْقِسْطِ ۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ يُحِبُّ ٱلْمُقْسِطِينَ


 Muhsin Khan
 Yusuf Ali
Quran Project
[They are] avid listeners to falsehood, devourers of [what is] unlawful. So if they come to you, [O Muhammad], judge between them or turn away from them. And if you turn away from them - never will they harm you at all. And if you judge, judge between them with justice. Indeed, Allāh loves those who act justly.

1. Lessons/Guidance/Reflections/Gems

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Explanatory Note

Their listening to falsehood is repeated again, to suggest that this has become an established habit of theirs. They are pleased to listen to falsehood, and they are annoyed when they hear the voice of truth. This applies to all deviant hearts, corrupt souls and communities. To them, falsehood carries much appeal and the truth appears too hard. In these miserable days, falsehood sells like hot cakes, while the word of truth has no buyers.

Those people do not only listen to falsehood, but they greedily devour what is unlawful, prominent among which are usury, bribes and the price of false rulings and false testimony. Again, this evil quality spreads in all communities that deviate from God’s law. The term the Qur’ān uses here for “unlawful” also connotes lack of blessings. Indeed, blessings are the first thing to be obliterated in deviant communities, as we see with our own eyes nowadays.

God has given the Prophet the choice whether to judge between them or to turn away from them, if they ask him for judgement. If he chooses not to pay any attention to them, they can harm him in no way. But if he chooses to judge between them then his must be a fair judgement, unaffected by their prejudices or their rushing into disbelief or by their plots and schemes: “God loves those who deal justly.”
God’s Messenger (peace be upon him), Muslim rulers and judges deal directly with God in such matters and exert their efforts to establish justice in order to serve God because God loves those who deal justly. If people commit injustice or perjury or deviate from the truth, justice continues to carry its superior status. Fair judgement is not passed in order to please people but to please God. This is, indeed, the most effective guarantee provided by Islamic law everywhere and in all times.

A Baffling Attitude Towards God’s Judgement

The fact that the Prophet was given this choice with regard to those Jews who came to him for judgement further supports our view that this was in the early period after the Prophet’s settlement in Madinah. Later on, judgement according to Islamic law was compulsory, because the land of Islam does not enforce any law other than that of God. All people living there must refer their disputes to this law. This, however, does not contradict the Islamic rule which applies to people of earlier revelations living side by side with the Muslim community in the land of Islam. This principle makes only such laws as are endorsed by their faith or that relate to the general social order applicable to them. Permissible to them is what their religions permit them, such as owning and eating pork, the possession and drinking of intoxicants, but without their selling these Muslims. But they are forbidden all usurious transactions because these are also forbidden in their religions. The punishments prescribed for adultery and theft are applicable to them, because they are stated in their Scriptures. Also enforceable are the punishments prescribed for rebellion against the legitimate authority, and for spreading corruption in the land. Such enforcement is necessary to guarantee the safety and security of the land of Islam and all its inhabitants, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Such punishments cannot be waived in respect of anyone of those living in the land of Islam.

During that period in which the Prophet had the choice whether to judge between them or to ignore them, they used to come with some of their disputes to God’s Messenger (peace be upon him). An example of this is reported by `Abdullāh ibn `Umar: “Some Jews came to God’s Messenger (peace be upon him) and told him that a Jewish man and a Jewish woman committed adultery. The Prophet asked them: ‘What does the Torah say about stoning adulterers?’ They said: ‘We publicise their crime and punish them by flogging.’ `Abdullāh ibn Sallām (a Jewish rabbi who had embraced Islam) said, ‘This is a lie. The Torah prescribes stoning.’ They brought the Torah and opened it up. One of them put his hand over the verse that mentioned stoning and read the preceding and the following verses. `Abdullāh ibn Sallām told him to lift his hand off. When he did, the relevant verse on the death punishment by stoning was there. They said, ‘He (meaning `Abdullāh ibn Sallām) has told the truth. It specifies death by stoning.’

The Prophet gave his orders for the two adulterers to be stoned to death. I saw the man bending over the woman to shelter her from the stones.” (Related by al-Bukhārī and Muslim.)

Another example is given in a ĥadīth related by Imām Ahmad on the authority of `Abdullāh ibn `Abbās, the Prophet’s learned cousin, who says: “These verses were revealed in connection with two groups of Jews, one of which had triumphed over the others in pre-Islamic days. They later worked out a reconciliation agreement which stated that every victim of the defeated tribe killed by the victorious one would be compensated with blood money equal to fifty measures of agricultural produce, while every victim of the victorious tribe killed by the defeated one would have one hundred measures of agricultural produce as blood money. They operated this system until the Prophet (peace be upon him) migrated to Madinah. It so happened then that the defeated tribe killed a man of the victorious one. The latter sent them a message to prepare the full amount of blood money agreed, which was one hundred measures of agricultural produce. The defeated tribe said: ‘How is it that two tribes belonging to the same faith, having the same ancestry and living in the same land, have two tariffs of blood money with one tariff being double the other? We had agreed to this measure of injustice you had imposed on us because we feared you. Now that Muĥammad has arrived in Madinah, we will not give you that.’ War was about to flare up between the two tribes, before they agreed to refer the matter to God’s Messenger for arbitration. The victorious tribe then reflected on this matter. Some of them said: ‘Muĥammad will never give you twice the blood money you are prepared to give them. They indeed have told the truth when they said that they agreed to this as a matter of injustice imposed by us on them. Let us, then, sound out Muĥammad, to determine whether he will give us a favourable judgement. If so, we will refer the matter to him. If not, we will have been forewarned.’ They sent to the Prophet some of their hypocrite friends to sound him out. God informed His Messenger of the whole affair and revealed to him the passage starting with “Messenger, be not grieved by those who plunge headlong into unbelief such as those who say with their mouths, ‘We believe’, while their hearts do not believe. Among the Jews are some who eagerly listen to falsehood, eagerly listen to other people who have not come to you. They tamper with words out of their context, and say, If such-and-such la precept] is given you, accept it; but if you are not given it, then be on your guard’“ (Verse 41) (Related by Abū Dāwūd) Another version of this report names the victorious tribe as the al-Nađīr and the defeated one as the Qurayżah. This again supports our view that these verses were revealed in the early days of the Madinah period before these Jewish tribes were evacuated.

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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