Pondering Over the Quran, Volume Two By Amin Ahsan Islahi
PONDERING OVER THE QURAN
from the Book
Tafsir of Sūrah Āli ‘Imrān
1. The sūrah’s theme in relation to the previous sūrah
This surah is closely related to the previous surah, al- Baqarah in several ways:
i. They both have a common theme, affirming and attesting to the truth of the Prophet of Islam to all humankind in general and to the People of the Book in particular.
ii. Both elucidate the basic principles of the din (true religion) in detail.
iii. The name of both the surahs is the same: they are both named as Alif Lam Mim.
iv. In form, the two surahs appear to be like two large branches stemming from a common root. The Prophet, peace be upon him, likened them to the sun and the moon and said that on the Day of Judgement the two will appear as two clouds. Such similarity in description and their proximity point to a deeper affinity between the two surahs.
v. The two are like a pair. What is said briefly in one is discussed in detail in the other. The one fills any gap left in the other. Thus the two surahs together fully and most beautifully encapsulate and portray a most noble ideal.
2. Distinguishing features of Surah al-Baqarah and Surah Āli ‘Imrān
Notwithstanding their similarity, the two surahs have distinct characteristics that set them apart.
Reflect on Surah al-Baqarah and you realise that it must have been revealed at a time when the People of the Book had clearly realised that the new dispensation, Islam, as it steadily grew from strength to strength, was indeed the true religion. However, because of jealousy and stubbornness, they refused to accept it. This placed them in a difficult predicament.
Driven by emotion they were determined to fight the new religion but were yet not clear how precisely they should confront it. Consequently, they hurled at Islam whatever objections they could think of and which they found convenient. Some among them maintained that no prophets or messengers from Allah could arise from any people outside the descendants of Israel, as they alone were the people specially chosen for this purpose.
Others said that the Torah was more than enough for guidance and in its presence no new Divine guidance was needed. In their frenzy, they even cast aspersions against the angel Gabriel saying that he had always been their enemy. Some others tried to form a united Jewish-Christian front against Islam.
They said that Judaism and Christianity were the only two legitimate sources of guidance and so whoever wanted guidance should turn to one of these religions. There was no other – third way to guidance. Yet another group resorted to duplicity and deception. They tried to convince the Muslims that they too were believers and that faith was not the monopoly of Muslims only. Like the Muslims, they
too, they said, believed in God, the life hereafter and in their own prophets; so what difference did it make if they did not believe in Muhammad, peace be upon him, who claims that he is also a prophet from God.
These were the prevalent conditions when this surah was revealed. The surah addresses all the objections and questions raised by the People of the Book. At the same time, it draws their attention to their scriptures that contained strong evidence validating the position of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, as the final messenger of God.
Thirdly, it also explains how, with the advent of the unlettered Prophet, the true religion was revived and perfected. Thus this surah is an invitation to embrace belief, an affirmation of the position of the Prophet, and also a call for jihad to liberate the qiblah. The ensuing battle of Badr is thus closely associated with it.
As against this, when we look at Surah Ali ‘Imran we realise it must have been revealed at a time when the signs of truth and the dominance of Islam over the horizon were increasingly obvious and it was no longer possible for the People of the Book to oppose it openly. This situation divided them into two groups.
One group accepted Islam but only formally; their hearts remained untouched by their verbal professions. The second group did not accept Islam, but they tried to reach an understanding and a compromise with the Muslims. For this compromise, they asserted that every religion is true for its own followers.
Let the Muslims follow their religion and leave them to follow their own Jewish or Christian dispensations. Thus they all could follow their respective religions and still co- exist peacefully.
Thus, though the attitude of these two groups towards Islam changed, it was not the result of any change of heart, but of considerations of expediency. The first group
aligned itself with the Muslims and Islam in the hope of sharing in the future successes of the Muslims, while the other sought peace with them in order to protect themselves against possible harm.
In the meanwhile, when the battle of Uhud took place, the Muslims suffered a temporary setback due to the imprudence of a group among them. One effect of this on the above-mentioned two groups of the People of the Book was that they changed their policy toward Islam once again.
Those who had joined the Muslims in the hope of material gains, finding that in this path they could also suffer loss, reverted to their former state of kufr and refused to be part of what they now regarded as a losing deal.
The second group, on seeing that the rising tide of Islam could be checked and defeated, concluded that perhaps their policy of peaceful co-existence was a mistake. Why not, instead, join forces with others and jointly get rid of the Islamic threat once and for all. So they too openly declared their opposition to Islam.
These two groups were now openly hostile to Islam and Muslims. They tried hard to implant various doubts and suspicions in the minds and hearts of the Muslims in order to cause dissension among them, destroy their unity such as they themselves were afflicted with, and thus effectively neutralise their power.
Under these circumstances, it was therefore necessary to explain clearly the basic truth that Allah did not send down many religions for humans to follow but had revealed only one true religion – Islam – for their guidance.
There is no room in this religion for any division or option to accept a part and reject the rest. Rather, it must be accepted or rejected as a whole. This religion invites human beings to obey Allah and abide by His commandments under all circumstances and conditions, favourable or unfavourable,
harsh and difficult, or easy and smooth. Whether one is threatened with persecution, trials and tribulations at every step of the way, one must stand firm and follow the true path. For, truth is unique in that sometimes it is hidden just as a kernel is within a pod, but it never vanishes. Under such conditions, only those can remain steadfast whose knowledge and faith are strong and firm, while those who are ignorant of truth flounder and fall by the wayside.
The battle of Uhud was just another test for these groups. Whereas the battle of Badr was a criterion that clearly distinguished the truth from falsehood, the battle of Uhud was, in a way, an allegorical sign containing a profound wisdom within, but whose exterior proved a trial for the weaker people. It clearly sorted out the sincere and true believers from the seditious who still sought trouble.