Surah al-Ma'idah (The Table) 5 : 31

فَبَعَثَ ٱللَّهُ غُرَابًا يَبْحَثُ فِى ٱلْأَرْضِ لِيُرِيَهُۥ كَيْفَ يُوَٰرِى سَوْءَةَ أَخِيهِ ۚ قَالَ يَٰوَيْلَتَىٰٓ أَعَجَزْتُ أَنْ أَكُونَ مِثْلَ هَٰذَا ٱلْغُرَابِ فَأُوَٰرِىَ سَوْءَةَ أَخِى ۖ فَأَصْبَحَ مِنَ ٱلنَّٰدِمِينَ

Translations

 
 Muhsin Khan
 Pickthall
 Yusuf Ali
Quran Project
Then Allāh sent a crow searching [i.e., scratching] in the ground to show him how to hide the disgrace of his brother. He said, "O woe to me! Have I failed to be like this crow and hide the disgrace [i.e., body] of my brother?" And he became of the regretful.

1. Lessons/Guidance/Reflections/Gems

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Explanatory Note

The ghastliness of his crime was made to appear to him in its most physical shape. The dead corpse of his brother started to rot and its nakedness became intolerable. Murderer as he was, he was soon made to realise his powerlessness, as he did not know how to conceal the nakedness of his brother’s corpse. He was weaker than a raven among birds.

Some reports suggest that there were two ravens and one of them killed the other. Other reports suggest that the raven found a dead raven or brought the dead one with him and started to scratch the earth and buried the dead one. The murderer expressed his feelings in the way reported in the Qur’ān and liked what he saw the raven do. It is clear that the murderer had never seen a dead man being buried. Otherwise, he would automatically have buried his brother. This may have been because the murdered brother was the first of Adam’s children to die on earth, or maybe because the killer was still young and had never seen a burial before. Either case is probable. It also appears that his remorse was not one of repentance: otherwise, God would have accepted it from him. It was the sort of remorse which comes with the realisation that one’s action is futile and leads to nothing but trouble.

It may be that the burial of the dead raven is something that ravens do, as some people suggest. It may also be a supernatural action God wanted to show to the killer at that particular time. To us, both cases are the same. The Creator who gives every species of His creation its nature and habits can accomplish whatever He wills through anyone of His creatures. His power is similarly indicated by either course.

 

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 (Verse 31)

A Lesson Provided by a Raven
 

After all this admonition and persuasion, in a perfectly peaceful and gentle approach, the evil soul prevailed and the crime was committed. His evil soul was able to override every hindrance and made him less resistant to the thought of killing. Thus, he killed his own brother, only to be doomed: “Thus he became one of the lost.” (Verse 30) He lost all as he brought himself into ruin, and lost his brother who should have been his friend and support. He also lost his world, since a murderer can never be happy in life. Most certainly, he lost his future life as he added his new sin to his earlier ones.
 
The ghastliness of his crime was made to appear to him in its most physical shape. The dead corpse of his brother started to rot and its nakedness became intolerable. Murderer as he was, he was soon made to realise his powerlessness, as he did not know how to conceal the nakedness of his brother’s corpse. He was weaker than a raven among birds: “God then sent forth a raven which scratched the earth, to show him how he might conceal the nakedness of his brother’s body. He cried out: ‘Woe to me! Am I then too weak to do what this raven has done, and to conceal the nakedness of my brother’s body?’ He was then overwhelmed by remorse.” (Verse 31)
 
Some reports suggest that there were two ravens and one of them killed the other. Other reports suggest that the raven found a dead raven or brought the dead one with him and started to scratch the earth and buried the dead one. The murderer expressed his feelings in the way reported in the Qur’ān and liked what he saw the raven do. It is clear that the murderer had never seen a dead man being buried. Otherwise, he would automatically have buried his brother. This may have been because the murdered brother was the first of Adam’s children to die on earth, or maybe because the killer was still young and had never seen a burial before. Either case is probable. It also appears that his remorse was not one of repentance: otherwise, God would have accepted it from him. It was the sort of remorse which comes with the realisation that one’s action is futile and leads to nothing but trouble.
 
It may be that the burial of the dead raven is something that ravens do, as some people suggest. It may also be a supernatural action God wanted to show to the killer at that particular time. To us, both cases are the same. The Creator who gives every species of His creation its nature and habits can accomplish whatever He wills through anyone of His creatures. His power is similarly indicated by either course.
 


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