Tafsir Zone - Surah 4: an-Nisa' (Women )

Tafsir Zone

Surah an-Nisa' 4:159

Overview (Verses 159 - 162)

Actions Meriting Punishment
The Qur’ānic text has still more to say about Christ, the position of the people of earlier revelations towards him and what they believed about him: “There is not one of the people of earlier revelations but will, at the moment of his death, believe in him, and on the Day of Resurrection he will bear witness to the truth against them.” (Verse 159)
Early Muslim scholars interpret this verse in different ways, according to the referent, in their view, of the pronoun in the phrase “his death”. Some maintain that every single person of the people of earlier revelations will inevitably believe in Jesus before his, i.e. Jesus’s death, considering that he will be back on earth before the Day of Resurrection. Other scholars maintain that every single one of the people of earlier revelations will, before his own death, believe in Jesus. This means that when this person is in the throes of death, he will be made to see the truth, when his own knowledge will no longer avail him. We are more inclined to take this second view. It means that the Jews who have denied Jesus and continued to deny his status, claiming to have killed and crucified him, will have this experience which tells them that Jesus was truly a messenger from God and that his message was the truth. They will then believe in Jesus but it will be too late for their belief to be of any benefit to them. On the Day of Resurrection, Jesus will be a witness against them.
Having established the truth about the alleged crucifixion, the sūrah resumes its account of the evil deeds perpetrated by the Jews, the punishment they have endured in this life and that which they will endure in the life to come: “So, then, for their wrongdoing of the Jews did We forbid them some of the good things of life which had been formerly allowed to them; and, indeed for their turning away often from God’s path, and for their taking usury although it had been forbidden to them, and their wrongful devouring of other people’s property. We have prepared for the unbelievers among them grievous suffering.” (Verse 160-161)
This statement adds to the list of evil deeds perpetrated by the Jews some very serious ones which were not mentioned earlier. This includes wrongdoing, turning away from God’s path, which they do all the time, and their accepting usury, not because of lack of knowledge, for they have been forbidden all forms of usury, but because they pay no heed to the instruction. The list also includes the fact that they devour other people’s property wrongfully, through usury and other methods. For all these wrong deeds and the others mentioned earlier, many of the good things of this world, which they have been permitted to enjoy, have subsequently been forbidden them. God has also prepared grievous suffering for those who disbelieve.
Thus, the nature of the Jews and their history is revealed. Their thinly disguised excuses for not responding favourably to the Prophet are laid bare. If they were stubborn with the Prophet, they had been stiff and stubborn with their own Prophet, leader and saviour. It is so easy for them to violate God’s laws and to speak ill of prophets and righteous people and indeed to kill them and boast about their crimes. By bringing all this into the open, the Qur’ān renders futile all their schemes and plotting against the Muslims. The Muslim community learns about the nature of the Jews, their methods and their opposition to the truth whether its advocates are people from among them or from other nations. In all generations and with their friends and enemies alike, they oppose the truth and its followers just as they oppose Divine guidance and its advocates. Their hearts are hardened and they do not submit to the power of the truth unless the sword is held over their heads.
It was not only for the benefit of the first Muslim community in Madinah that the nature of this type of people was exposed. The Qur’ān is the book of the Muslim community, serving as its source of guidance for the rest of time. When this nation refers to the Qur’ān for advice and guidance about its enemies, it will certainly provide that. It has given the Muslim community the advice and guidance it needs concerning the Jews. Therefore, the Muslim community was able to bring them to submission. But when the Muslims abandoned the Qur’ān, they had to submit to the Jews. We have seen them gather together only to be defeated by a small force of Jews, simply because they neglected their book of guidance, the Qur’ān, preferring to follow different doctrines and creeds. They will continue to submit to the Jews and suffer from their scheming until they turn back to the Qur’ān.
The sūrah, however, does not neglect to give credit to those few Jews who believe and submit to the truth. It includes these among believers, states that they will be well rewarded, and testifies to their being well versed in knowledge. It states that it is their profound knowledge that led them to believe in the Divine faith as a whole, including what was revealed to the Prophet and what was revealed before him: “Yet those of them who are versed in knowledge, and the believers, do believe in what is bestowed upon you from on high and that which was bestowed from on high before you. These are the ones who attend to their prayers and spend in charity, and who believe in God and the Last Day. To these We shall give a great reward.” (Verse 162)
Firm knowledge and enlightened belief lead people to accepting faith in its entirety. They also lead to the acknowledgement that Divine faith, revealed by God, the only deity in the Universe, is essentially a single faith.
This firm and proper knowledge is described as a way leading to the truth, just the same as a belief which opens hearts to light is a most appropriate description of the relationship between knowledge and faith. Superficial knowledge and arrogant denial of the truth are the two factors that prevent a human being from learning the truth. This is true of all generations. Those who acquire profound knowledge and become well versed in it find themselves face to face with signs and phenomena all over the universe leading them to faith. Or, at least, they have in front of them many a question about the universe which can only be answered through believing that there is a single Deity who has created the universe and conducts all its affairs and who has a consistent will which has established a single and constant law for the universe. Similarly, those who genuinely aspire to receive guidance, i.e. believers, will undoubtedly have it.
On the other hand, those who receive scant knowledge, yet think themselves to be great scholars, are the ones whose lack of information prevents them from identifying the signs and indicators which lead to faith. These do not see any question marks that can only be answered through faith. They are in the same position as those whose hearts do not aspire to receive guidance. Therefore, neither of these types of people feel the need for reassurance generated by faith. Some of them equate being religious with ignorant fanaticism, making distinctions between the Divine religions which have been revealed by the same Deity through a long procession of noble messengers (peace be upon them all).
Commentators on the Qur’ān mention that this verse refers in the first place to those Jews whom we have named above and who responded to the Prophet’s call and accepted Islam. It applies, however, to every one of them who accepts the guidance represented by this religion of Islam, whether motivated by profound knowledge or enlightened faith. The sūrah includes these with the believers who are identified here as those who “attend to their prayers and spend in charity and who believe in God and the Last Day”. These are qualities which distinguish true Muslims. All such people have their reward in store for them with God: “To these We shall give a great reward.”
Finally, we should perhaps mention that the description of those believers as those “who attend to their prayers” is stated, from the linguistic point of view, in the objective case while all others are subjective in their case marking. According to the rules of Arabic grammar, it should normally have been stated in the subjective case, like the rest. However, the change denotes stronger emphasis as it signifies those “who particularly attend to their prayers”. This mode of expression is not uncommon in Arabic.