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November 2008
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Qur'an Speaks to You

An Appeal mixed with Worry
Commentary by Sayyid Qutb. / Translated by Adil Salahi

In the name of Allah the Merciful, the Beneficent
So Moses said to his people: “My people remember the favors which Allah has bestowed upon you when he raised up prophets among you, made you kings and granted you what he has granted to no other nation. My people, enter the holy land which Allah has assigned to you. Do not turn back, or you shall be ruined.”
(The Repast, “Al-Ma’idah”:5;20-21)

The position of the attitude of the children of Israel towards Allah’s Messenger sent to them, Moses (peace be on him), is given in this surah. Moses was their savior who led them out of Egypt towards the holy land Allah had assigned to them. The surah also exposes their attitude to the covenant they made with their Lord and how they violated it and were punished for that violation.

This is only one episode of the story of the children of Israel which is related in the Qur’an in extensive detail to serve several purposes. One purpose relates to the fact that the children of Israel were the first to confront the Islamic message with wicked designs, plots and open war in Madinah and the whole of Arabia. Their hostile attitude goes back to the very early days of the Islamic message. It was they who encouraged and nurtured hypocrisy and the hypocrites in Madinah, providing them with the means to scheme against Islam and Muslims. They also incited the polytheists to fight the Muslim community and gave them active support. It was they who started the war of false rumours against the Muslim community raising among them doubts and suspicion in the Muslim leadership and circulating distortions of the Islamic faith before they confronted the Muslim community in open warfare. It was necessary, therefore, to expose them to the Muslim community so that it knew its enemies, their nature, history, methods and means as well as the nature of the battle it had to fight against them.

Another purpose can be seen in the fact that the Israelites were followers of the last divine faith to be revealed before the final faith of Islam. They had a long history before Islam during which distortions crept into their faith ad they repeatedly violated their agreement and covenant with Allah. The practical consequences of these violations and deviations were seen in their lives, their moral values and their traditions. As the Muslim nation is the heir to all divine messages and the custodian of the monotheistic divine faith as a whole, it is necessary that it be made fully aware of the history of the Israelites with all its ups and downs. That gives the Muslim community an accurate knowledge of the way it should follow, what slips lie in it and the consequences as reflected in the history and morality of the Jews. This enables the Muslim community to add the experience of the Jews to the total sum of its own experience and to benefit by it in future. It can thus avoid the slips and deal effectively with deviation right at the start before it develops.

Yet another purpose relates to the fact that over their long history, the experience of the Jews was highly varies. Allah is aware that with the passage of time, people may change, and certain generations may deviate from the right path. As the Muslim nation will continue until the end of life, it is bound to go through certain periods which are not dissimilar to what the Jews have gone through. Allah has, therefore, chosen to make available to the leaders of the Muslim community and its reformers in different generations, clear examples of what could befall nations so that they may be able to diagnose the disease of their particular generation and administer the proper cure. It is a fact of life that those who deviate after having known the truth are the most resistant to calls and appeals to follow right guidance. Those without any prior knowledge of the truth are more responsive because they find something new which appeals to them and helps them shake off the burden of ignorance. They are highly impressed by what makes its appeal to them for the first time. Those with an earlier experience require a much strenuous effort and a great deal of perseverence on the part of advocates of the divine faith to win them over.

There are other purposes for relating the story of the Jews in such detail, but it is sufficient to make only these brief references here and go back to our commentary.

“So Moses said to his people : My people, remember the favour which Allah has bestowed upon you when he raised up prophets among you, made you kings and granted you what he has granted to no other Nation. My people, enter the holy land which Allah has assigned to you. Do not turn back, or you shall be ruined.”

The words of Moses (peace be on him) give us the impression that he may have worried lest his people disobey. He had tried them before on several occasions. He had led them out of Egypt, liberated them from subjugation with Allah’s help who parted the sea for them and caused Pharoah and his soldiers to drown. Nevertheless, when they came by a community engaged in pagan worship, they said to him; “Moses make a deity for us as those people have deities.” On another occasion, he had hardly left them for his appointment with his Lord, when the Samaritan used the jewellery stolen from Egyptian women to make them an effigy of the calf which made a lowing sound. They started to worship the calf and claimed that it was the god Moses went to meet. Another experience which Moses remembered well was when Allah made springs of water gush out for them in the desert and sent down to them Manna and quail, a very wholesome food to eat. Nevertheless, they wanted to have the types of food which were familiar to them in Egypt, the land where they were humiliated. They asked Moses to pray to Allah to bring forth for them herbs, cucumber, carrot, lentils and onion. They would not sacrifice their familiar food for a life of dignity and liberation and work for a noble code. He also tried them when he conveyed to them Allah’s order to slaughter a cow, but they kept postponing the implementation of the order. When they finally slaughtered it, they did it most reluctantly.

When he returned from his appointment with his Lord carrying the tablets which outlined the covenant they should make with Allah, they refused to make that covenant and fulfill their pledges to their Lord. Despite what Allah had bestowed on them and the forgiveness of their sins which he granted them, they did not give their pledges until they saw with their own eyes the mountains raised over their heads, and felt that it was about to fall over them.

Moses had tried them on several occasions and now they were close to the holy land which was their destination. Allah had promised them to be the rulers in this land and to raise up among them prophets so that they remain in Allah’s care. Moses however was worried lest they should disobey. He therefore, coupled his last appeal with a reminder of the happiest memories,best incentives and strongest warnings. Moses said to his people: “My people, remember the favors which Allah has bestowed upon you when he raised up prophets among you, made you kings and granted you what he has granted to no other nation. My people, enter the holy land which Allah has assigned to you. Do not turn back, or you shall be ruined.”

Allah’s promise never fails He promises them here to raise up prophets among them and to make them kings. The fulfillment of this promise brought them what Allah granted to no other nation until that period in time. The holy land which they were approaching was assigned to them by Allah’s promise which meant that they were certain to have it. They had already known from experience that Allah always fulfils His promises. Now, they were called upon to meet the conditions for yet another promise of His. To turn back was sure to bring them to ruin. But the Jews never change their characteristics of cowardice, arguments and breaching pledges were sure to surface.