Surah al-A`raf (The Elevated Places) 7 : 163

وَسْـَٔلْهُمْ عَنِ ٱلْقَرْيَةِ ٱلَّتِى كَانَتْ حَاضِرَةَ ٱلْبَحْرِ إِذْ يَعْدُونَ فِى ٱلسَّبْتِ إِذْ تَأْتِيهِمْ حِيتَانُهُمْ يَوْمَ سَبْتِهِمْ شُرَّعًا وَيَوْمَ لَا يَسْبِتُونَ ۙ لَا تَأْتِيهِمْ ۚ كَذَٰلِكَ نَبْلُوهُم بِمَا كَانُوا۟ يَفْسُقُونَ

Translations

 
 Muhsin Khan
 Pickthall
 Yusuf Ali
Quran Project
And ask them about the town that was by the sea - when they transgressed in [the matter of] the Sabbath - when their fish came to them openly on their Sabbath day, and the day they had no Sabbath they did not come to them. Thus did We give them trial because they were defiantly disobedient.

1. Lessons/Guidance/Reflections/Gems

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Explanatory Note

There is a change of style here as the method of reporting historical events is dropped in preference for confronting the descendants of the Israelites who opposed the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in Madinah. The passage beginning with this verse up to verse 171 was revealed in Madinah to give answers to its Jewish population. However, it is incorporated in this Makkan sūrah to complete the history of the Israelites with their Prophet Moses. Here God orders His Messenger (peace be upon him) to ask the Jews about this well-known event in their former history. They are questioned about it here because they were keen to assert their ancestry and that they belonged to a nation with a history extending over many generations. It reminds them of their old disobedience and the fact that their disobedience doomed a group of them to a complete change of form in this life, and condemned them all to a long history of humiliation. The only exceptions are those ready to follow the last Prophet who would certainly relieve them of the burdens and the shackles that tied them down.
 
The name of the city by the sea is not mentioned, because it was well known to the addressees. The event itself was perpetrated by a group of Jews who were living in a coastal city. The Children of Israel had requested that a day should be assigned to them for rest and total devotion, so that none of them would need to work on that day. Hence the appointment of the Sabbath for them. They were then subjected to a test so that they would learn how to demonstrate their willpower and resist temptation. They certainly needed to learn how to fulfil their commitments, particularly in the case of a conflict between duty and desire. That was absolutely necessary for the Children of Israel whose characters were badly weakened as a result of the humiliation they had long suffered. Their will needed to be liberated after such a long history of subjugation, so that they could get used to facing challenges and resisting temptations.
 
Besides, this is needed by everyone who aspires to be an advocate of God’s message, and to fulfil the trust God has given to human beings on earth. Indeed, the test of willpower was the first to which Adam and Eve were subjected. They could not stand up to it, and were tempted by Satan to eat of the fruit of the tree, which he described to them as the tree of everlasting life and imperishable wealth. Every community of advocates of God’s cause must go successfully through this test before they can be trusted with the task assigned to mankind as they are placed in charge of the earth. The nature of the test remains the same, but its methods may vary.
 
A group of the Children of Israel were unable to face the challenge and pass the test this time. This was the result of their repeated disobedience. Fish of different types used to come very close to the shore on Sabbath days, appearing to be so easy to catch. Yet they could do nothing to catch them because of the sanctity of the Sabbath, which they needed to observe. When the Sabbath day ended the fish were no longer there. They had gone deep into the sea. This is the event which the Prophet Muhammad was ordered to remind them of, in addition to giving them a reminder of what they did and what happened to them as a result.

Be that as it may, the temptation was too strong for those people of the city facing the sea. A group of them found the temptation irresistible, and all their willpower collapsed. They forgot their covenant with their Lord and began, as is typical of the Jews, to try to find subtle ways of fishing on the Sabbath. When faith is weak in people’s hearts, many a deviant way can be found, since people start to deal with the law as a mere restriction which they need to evade. No law can be properly enforced by its mere statements, or by a police force. A law is safeguarded by God-fearing hearts who are keen to please God and to avoid His punishment. People will continue to try to evade the law when they have an interest in evading its provisions. Therefore, a law cannot be safeguarded by material power or a police force. No strong-handed tactics can give a government enough power to appoint a policeman to watch every individual to ensure observance of the law. That can only be achieved through faith, when people are God-fearing, keen to abide by God’s law in public and private.
 
In this particular case mentioned in the sūrah, the inhabitants of that city began to seek ways and means to get around the prohibition of fishing on the Sabbath day. It has been reported that they put up certain barriers on the Sabbath day so that the fish could not return to the sea, and on the Sunday they would be quick to take their catch. They claimed that they did not do the fishing on the Sabbath, because the fish remained in the water, behind the barriers. A second group recognized the deviousness in all this, and warned those people who perpetrated it against God’s punishment, dissociating themselves from their schemes.

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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A study of its contents clearly shows that the period of its revelation is about the same as that of Surah 6: al-An’am (The Grazing Livestock), i.e. the last year of the Prophet's life at Makkah, but it cannot be asserted with certainty which of these two were sent down earlier. The manner of its admonition clearly indicates that it belongs to the same period. [Ref: Mawdudi]

It is considered the longest surah revealed during the Makkan period. Some consider this surah to have been revealed after Surah 38: Sad. [Ref: Tafsir al-Maudheei, Dr. Mustafah Muslim, vol. 3, p. 2]

8. Reasons for Revelation

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9. Relevant Hadith

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12. External Links

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