Surah al-Ma'idah (The Table) 5 : 78

لُعِنَ ٱلَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا۟ مِنۢ بَنِىٓ إِسْرَٰٓءِيلَ عَلَىٰ لِسَانِ دَاوُۥدَ وَعِيسَى ٱبْنِ مَرْيَمَ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ بِمَا عَصَوا۟ وَّكَانُوا۟ يَعْتَدُونَ

Translations

 
 Muhsin Khan
 Pickthall
 Yusuf Ali
Quran Project
Cursed were those who disbelieved among the Children of Israel by the tongue of David and of Jesus, the son of Mary. That was because they disobeyed and [habitually] transgressed.

1. Lessons/Guidance/Reflections/Gems

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Explanatory Note

These verses make a definitive statement of the Jewish Prophets’ attitude towards the unbelievers from among the Children of Israel. It is represented by the attitude of the Prophets David and Jesus (peace be upon them). Both of them cursed the unbelievers among the Children of Israel and their prayers were answered because of the aggression of those unbelievers, the spread of immorality among them, their turning a blind eye to the spread of evil among themselves, and their patronising of other unbelievers. The outcome of all this was that they incurred God’s displeasure and were cursed. Their punishment will be everlasting.

When we remember that it was Jesus and David who cursed the Children of Israel, we realise that theirs is a long history of unbelief, disobedience and rejection of the truth. Prophets who were sent to guide and save them were the ones who eventually condemned them so that they might not be guided to the truth. God answered their prayers and destined the Israelites to a perpetual curse. The unbelievers among the Children of Israel were the ones who distorted their revealed Scriptures and refused to abide by the rulings of the Divine Code. They violated their covenant with God in which they pledged themselves to support and follow every messenger He sent: “That was because they rebelled and persisted in their transgression.”

 

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

 

Overview (Verses 78- 79)

When Wrongdoing is Condoned
 
These verses make a definitive statement of the Jewish Prophets’ attitude towards the unbelievers from among the Children of Israel. It is represented by the attitude of the Prophets David and Jesus (peace be upon them). Both of them cursed the unbelievers among the Children of Israel and their prayers were answered because of the aggression of those unbelievers, the spread of immorality among them, their turning a blind eye to the spread of evil among themselves, and their patronising of other unbelievers. The outcome of all this was that they incurred God’s displeasure and were cursed. Their punishment will be everlasting.
 
Those of the Children of Israel who disbelieved were cursed by David and Jesus, son of Mary. That was because they rebelled and persisted in their transgression. They would never restrain one another from wrongdoing. Vile indeed were the things they did. Now you can see many of them allying themselves with unbelievers. So evil is that which their souls make them do. They have incurred God’s wrath and in suffering they shall abide. Had they truly believed in God and the Prophet and all that which was revealed to them, they would not have taken them for allies, but many of them are evildoers. (Verses 78-81)
 

When we remember that it was Jesus and David who cursed the Children of Israel, we realise that theirs is a long history of unbelief, disobedience and rejection of the truth. Prophets who were sent to guide and save them were the ones who eventually condemned them so that they might not be guided to the truth. God answered their prayers and destined the Israelites to a perpetual curse.
 
The unbelievers among the Children of Israel were the ones who distorted their revealed Scriptures and refused to abide by the rulings of the Divine Code, as we are told in several Qur’ānic sūrahs. They violated their covenant with God in which they pledged themselves to support and follow every messenger He sent: “That was because they rebelled and persisted in their transgression.” (Verse 78)
 
Jewish history is full of examples of such rebellion and aggression. These were not mere individual actions in the Jewish community. Indeed, they were so frequent they became characteristic of the whole community, and even those who did not perpetrate such crimes either turned a blind eye to them or did not speak out against them: “They would never restrain one another from wrongdoing. Vile indeed were the things they did.” (Verse 79)
 
Rebellion and transgression can occur in any community by those who are corrupt and deviant. The world is never free from evil and communities will always contain people who transgress. But a good community, by nature, does not allow evil and transgression to become commonplace. When wrongdoing becomes more difficult than doing good in a community, and when deterrent punishments are prescribed and the whole community stands against evil and enforces such punishments, then evil shrinks and the motivation to commit it weakens. This gives the community stronger ties so that it is more closely knit together. Corruption becomes confined to a few individuals or groups who are rejected by the rest of the community and, hence, they hold no sway over it.
 
As the Qur’ān depicts this phenomenon of Israelite society, condemning it and showing it in a bad light, it wants for the Muslim community a solid structure which repels every aspect of rebellion and transgression. It wants the Muslim community to solidly defend the truth and to be sensitive to any aggression against it. It wants those who advocate the implementation of faith to discharge their responsibility by standing firm against evil, corruption, tyranny and transgression. The Muslims should pay no heed to anyone who blames them for their attitude. They maintain their opposition to evil whether it is practised by powerful rulers, influential men of wealth, evil people with physical power or the masses swayed by vain desires. God’s system remains the true system and those who deviate from it are all alike, be they people of high or low position. Islam strongly emphasises the need to fulfil God’s trust, and threatens a common punishment to the whole community if it allows evil to spread within it. The responsibility is shared by every individual and by the community as a whole.
 
`Abdullāh ibn Mas`ūd quotes the Prophet as saying: “When the Children of Israel began to commit sin, their scholars counselled them to desist, but they continued in their erring ways. Their scholars, nevertheless, continued to mix socially with them, and to eat and drink with them. God caused one group of them to stand against another and they were cursed by David and Jesus, son of Mary.” “That was because they rebelled and persisted in their transgression.” (Verse 78) The Prophet was reclining when he said this and at this point he sat up and said: “No! By Him who holds my soul in His hand, you must push them to follow the truth.” (Related by Ahmad.)
 
`Abdullāh ibn Mas`ūd quotes the following statement by the Prophet :
 
The first defect which occurred in the community of the Israelites was that a man would see another and say to him: “Fear God and abandon what you have been doing because it is not permissible for you.” However, he meets him the following day but still the man persists in his erring ways, but this does not prevent the other from eating and mixing socially with him. When they did this, God caused division and conflict to occur among them.
 
The Prophet then read the Qur’ānic verses: “Those of the Children of Israel who disbelieved were cursed by David and Jesus, son of Mary. That was because they rebelled and persisted in their transgression. They would never restrain one another from wrongdoing. Vile indeed were the things they did. Now you can see many of them allying themselves with unbelievers. So evil is that which their souls make them do. They have incurred Gods wrath and in suffering they shall abide. Had they truly believed in God and the Prophet and all that which was revealed to them, they would not have taken them for allies, but many of them are evildoers.” (Verses 78-81)
 
The Prophet then said: “No! By God, you shall enjoin what is right, forbid what is wrong, stand up to those who are unjust and force them to follow the truth.” ‘(Related by Abū Dāwūd.)
 
The matter is not then one of mere words which enjoin good actions and speak against bad ones. It cannot stop at this. It must hammer the point home, boycott the evildoer and check evil, corruption, and transgression, with force if need be. The Prophet is quoted as saying: “He of you who sees an evil action being committed should change it with his own hands. If he cannot, then with his tongue. If he still cannot, then with his heart. This last one is the weakest degree of faith.” (Related by Muslim.)
 
Ahmad relates a ĥadīth which quotes the Prophet as saying: “God does not punish the whole community for the actions of a section of it, until the community sees evil committed within its ranks and does not speak out against it when its people are able to do so. If the case reaches that stage, God punishes the whole community and the evildoers as well.”
 
The Prophet is also quoted as saying: “The best type of jihād is to say a word of truth in front of a despotic ruler.” (Related by Abū Dāwūd and al-Tirmidhī.)
 
There are plenty of Qur’ānic verses and aĥādīth which confirm this concept. It is necessary to establish a sense of common responsibility within the community so that none of its members turn a blind eye when they see evil being committed. No one just sits idle knowing that society is becoming corrupt and justifies their inaction by trying to avoid what may happen. Within the Muslim community, everyone is responsible for protecting and maintaining the bonds established by God.
 
All this requires the formulation of a proper concept of faith and knowledge of what believing entails. It also requires that we know the Divine system we are called upon to implement and that it encompasses all aspects of life. We further need to take our faith seriously and work hard to establish the Divine system in the life of our community. It is only a Muslim community which conducts its affairs on the basis of the Divine system and implements God’s law that allows a Muslim individual to put into proper practice the principle of enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong. This principle no longer remains the action of an individual which has little impact, as is the case in all jāhiliyyah societies we see today. These societies have established social traditions of their own which condemn interference in other people’s business and consider transgression and disobedience as personal matters. They further allow injustice and tyranny to suppress all opinions and voices and punish very severely everyone who declares the word of truth in the presence of a tyrant.
 
All efforts and sacrifices should be directed first of all to the establishment of a good and noble society which implements God’s system. Efforts must not be wasted in attempting marginal improvements, which are largely individual in outlook, through enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong.
 
A Change That Must Be Total
 
Partial reforms are not sufficient when the whole of society has gone wrong and ignorance has prevailed. When society has adopted a law other than that of God, efforts must strike at the roots and jihād campaigns must have the clear aim to establish God’s authority in society. When this is accomplished, there is a solid basis for the fulfilment of the all-important principle which is characteristic of the Muslim community: to enjoin what is right and to forbid what is wrong.
 
All this requires having strong faith and knowing the true nature of faith and the scope of its work in peoples’ lives. It is through such understanding that advocates of the truth come to rely totally on God, confident in His support, hoping to receive reward from Him only. They do not look to have reward or appreciation from a society that has gone astray or to receive support from those people who choose to live in darkness.
 
All Qur’ānic statements and aĥādīth that speak of “enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong” actually refer to the duty of a Muslim individual in a Muslim community which acknowledges God’s authority and enforces His law. Such a society may at times fall under dictatorship or witness the spread of some sinful practices. Hence, the Prophet (peace be upon him) says: “The best type of jihād is to say a word of truth in front of a despotic ruler.” The Prophet uses the term “Imām” to refer to the ruler because, in the Islamic system, the ruler is the first Imām. No ruler can be described as Imām unless he acknowledges God’s authority and his own duty to enforce God’s law. A ruler who implements any other law is described in the Qur’ān differently: “Those who do not judge in accordance with what God has revealed are indeed unbelievers.” (Verse 44) In ignorant societies which refuse to enforce God’s law, the most important wrong which gives rise to all other wrongs is the rejection of God’s Divinity through rejecting His law. It is to the changing of this basic wrong that the efforts of the Muslim community should be directed before tackling secondary wrongs. It is useless for good people to try to resist or forbid such small wrongs when they, by nature, emanate from the first wrong of attempting to usurp God’s Divinity and which reject His authority by ignoring His law.
 
It is perhaps pertinent to ask here the following question: according to what measure do we describe people’s actions as wrong and tell them to refrain from doing them? You may, for example, declare that a particular action is wrong and then find ten people rising up against you from different quarters to tell you that it is not wrong. They claim that it might have been considered wrong in previous generations, but with progress and development, things have to be looked at in a different light. It is important, therefore, to have a proper standard and sound values by which to judge matters and identify what is right and what is wrong. From where though can we derive such values and how do we establish such a standard? If we were to rely on the ever- changing judgement of people and societies, or their traditions and prejudices, we would end up in a maze where there are no sign posts or road markings. Nevertheless, it is so important to establish such a standard and that this standard should remain constant, unaffected by people’s prejudices. The standard we require, then, is that which God lays down.
 
Now let us consider a situation where society does not recognise God’s authority in the first place and does not implement His law. Or let us consider a situation where society ridicules and persecutes those who advocate the implementation of God’s law. Would it not be a waste of our time and energy to try to correct certain details or side issues over which opinions, values and standards differ so widely? It is extremely important to reach an initial agreement on a basis, standard and authority to which we refer for arbitration over conflicting views.
 
We must begin with enjoining the most important “right” of all, namely, the acknowledgement of God’s authority and the adoption of the way of life He has laid down. It is equally important to forbid the most serious of wrongs which amounts to a rejection of God’s Divinity through the rejection of His way of life. When the foundation is established, the structure can be built. Let us, then, concentrate all our efforts on one front so that we can establish that foundation. It is sad to see good, well meaning people spending all their energy in a concerted attempt to correct certain details when the basic criterion for the establishment of an Islamic community is non-existent.
 
What use is it to try to persuade people not to accept or take earnings that are unlawful, in a society where the whole community is based on usury? In such a society, all money is unlawful and no one can make sure that what he earns is lawful, because the whole social and economic system is in conflict with God’s law.
 
What use is it to try to persuade people not to be promiscuous in a society which does not consider adultery an offence except in cases of rape? Even in such cases, it does not enforce the punishment prescribed by God, because it rejects God’s law and, consequently, rejects God as the Creator, Ruler and Legislator? It is futile to tell people not to drink when the law of the country permits drinking and punishes only those who go out in the street totally drunk. Even then, it administers a punishment other than that defined by God’s law, which it does not recognise.
 
You may try to tell people not to abuse religion, but what good does that achieve in a society which does not recognise God’s authority and in which God is not worshipped properly. Other deities are recognised and a different law and set of values, standards and systems are implemented. In such a situation, the whole society, including the person whose faith is abused, submits to those who enact laws and set values and standards for it.
 
We ask once again, what use is it to enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong in these situations? What benefit do we gain when we tell people to refrain from doing these grave sins, let alone small ones, when the most cardinal sin of all, i.e. the rejection of God and His law, is not forbidden? The matter is far greater and wider than the questions which consume the efforts and energies of well meaning people. Details, however important, including cardinal sins, should take a secondary position at this stage. Unless God’s authority to legislate is recognised and acted upon, all efforts directed to detail are wasted.
 
God’s Messenger, (peace be upon him), says: “Anyone of you who sees something wrong being done should change it with his hand. If he cannot, then with a word of mouth and if he still cannot, then in his heart. This last one is the weakest degree of faith.” Muslims may face a situation where they cannot change wrong physically with their own hands and cannot change it by speaking out against it. So what is left to them is the weakest degree of faith, which means that they should change it in their hearts. This is something that no one can prevent them from doing, if they are truly Muslims.
 
It should be explained that this is not a negative attitude to wrong, as may be thought. The fact that the Prophet describes it as “changing” what is wrong suggests that it is a positive action. To object to what is wrong, even in one’s thoughts, means maintaining a positive attitude towards that wrong. It suggests that the person concerned rejects that wrong and tries to eradicate it and replace it with what is right at the first opportunity. A Muslim is required to maintain at least the weakest degree of faith which is to object to wrong in private. To submit to wrong, on the other hand, simply because it can exert enormous pressure, is to abandon even the weakest degree of faith. In such a situation, the same curse that has been incurred by the Children of Israel applies.
 
Those of the Children of Israel who disbelieved were cursed by David and Jesus, son of Mary. That was because they rebelled and persisted in their transgression. They would never restrain one another from wrongdoing. Vile indeed were the things they did. (Verses 78-9)
 


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