Quran Read-Along: Is Al’-Imran 181-189 Talking About the Jews?

Slay Them Prophets

Whenever I see talk of slaying prophets, I immediately think of the accusations leveled against the ancient Israelites and assume that we must be talking about them. This would also fit, in parts of the Bible, with, “God is poor while we are rich.” For instance, during the Conquest of Cana’an that happens in the book of Joshua (and only in the book of Joshua I might add as the rest of the Bible and history itself make it rather clear that none of this really occurred, but it was only a story to demonstrate a few lessons), the people take some of the riches that were meant to belong to God. There’s no prophet slaying, though (beyond disobedience of Joshua), and this seems a rather literal interpretation of the fact.

The history of the First Temple during the reign of the Kings of Judah (pre-Josiah) might also call attention to this, as this was the period during which the people (priests) grew wealthy, ignored God, and killed his prophets (supposedly). But again, this seems quite literal, when in fact I detect a spiritual element to this idea: the presumption that we know what God doesn’t and are rich in life (and spirit), and that we ignore the prophets who are sent to him (i.e. slaying prophets is perhaps less literal and more along the lines of ignoring them, like say, what the Jews of Medina are doing to Mohammed).

Can We Start the Sacrifices Again, or What?

As we move into verses 183 and 184 my suspicions feel both confirmed and belied.

That is, the Jews would want their apostles (or prophets) to come to them with news related to burnt offerings – that is, the reinstatement of sacrifice and presumably news of all this happening at the Temple in Jerusalem (that implies fresh autonomy and perhaps the arrival of the messiah).

The rabbis say that prophecy ended with Alexander the Great (c.332 BCE in Jerusalem) because with him came Hellenization, a process that the rabbis considered antithetical to their own tradition and culture. Thus, prophecy was long considered over (nearly 1000 years over) by the time of Mohammed (this disregards the fact that the book of Daniel was written in the 160s BCE because it was believed to be from the early 6th C. BCE) and therefore Jews would have been most disinclined to believe Mohammed unless, presumably, he told them what they wanted to hear: that the future held sacrifices and a reinstatement of their tradition. The Quran seems to be saying that even back in the day when prophets said what Jews claimed they wanted to hear, you killed them.

Spread a Little Revelation

By verse 187 it sounds as though we’re talking about the notion of chosenness. That is to say that the messages of revelation were meant to be shared and spread around the world but instead they were turned inward and used for trifling gain – to make the Jews special for themselves (this is my guess). Christianity was doing the opposite (as an early proselytizing religion) so this seems to be a reference to only the Jews (unless I’m totally missing someone else here). I’m not sure where the line to ‘make it known to mankind’ comes from though. Where was this said?

As basic advice (toned down a smidge-a-roo), I like this: “Think not that those who exult in what they have thus contrived, and who love to be praised for what they have not done – think not that they will escape suffering: for grievous suffering does await them [in the life to come]” When I say toned down, I mean, it doesn’t have to be about grievous suffering for it to tell us that we don’t have to love pretentious people, what Holden Cofield might call phonies. Don’t pay them any mind, it seems to say (without the suffering part…).

Please feel free to comment and critique!

Al’-Imran 181-189

181. God has indeed heard the saying of those who said, “Behold, God is poor while we are rich!”  We shall record what they have said, as well as their slaying of prophets against all right, and We shall say [unto them on Judgment Day]: “Taste suffering through fire 182. in return for what your own hands have wrought – for never does God do the least wrong to His creatures!” 183.  As for those who maintain, “Behold, God has bidden us not to believe in any apostle unless he comes unto us with burnt offerings”  – say [unto them, O Prophet]: “Even before me there came unto you apostles with all evidence of the truth, and with that whereof you speak: why, then, did you slay them, if what you say is true?” 184. And if they give thee the lie – even so, before thy time, have [other] apostles been given the lie when they came with all evidence of the truth, and with books of divine wisdom, and with light-giving revelation. 185. Every human being is bound to taste death: but only on the Day of Resurrection will you be requited in full [for whatever you have done] – whereupon he that shall be drawn away from the fire and brought into paradise will indeed have gained a triumph: for the life of this world is nothing but an enjoyment of self-delusion. 186. You shall most certainly be tried in your possessions and in your persons; and indeed you shall hear many hurtful things from those to whom revelation was granted before your time, as well as from those who have come to ascribe divinity to other beings beside God. But if you remain patient in adversity and conscious of Him – this, behold, is something to set one’s heart upon. 187. AND LO, God accepted a solemn pledge from those who were granted earlier revelation [when He bade them]: “Make it known unto mankind, and do not conceal it!” But they cast this [pledge] behind their backs, and bartered it away for a trifling gain: and how evil was their bargain! 188. Think not that those who exult in what they have thus contrived, and who love to be praised for what they have not done – think not that they will escape suffering: for grievous suffering does await them [in the life to come]. 189. AND UNTO GOD belongs the dominion over the heavens and the earth: and God has the power to will anything.

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4 Responses

  1. Very short comment (more later, insha’allah):

    Regarding the slaying of Prophets (pbut), this is actually the fourth verse that has discussed this topic in the Qur’an so far (see verses 2:61, 3:21 and 3:112). Muhammad Asad, in his footnote (#48) to 2:61, wrote:

    This passage obviously refers to a later phase of Jewish history. That the Jews actually did kill some of their prophets is evidenced, for instance, in the story of John the Baptist, as well as in the more general accusation uttered, according to the Gospel, by Jesus: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee” (Matthew xxiii, 37). See also Matthew xxiii, 34-35, Luke xi, 51 – both of which, refer to the murder of Zachariah – and I Thessalonians ii, 15. The implication of continuity in, or persistent repetition of, their wrongdoing transpires from the use of the auxiliary verb kanu in this context.

    Yusuf Ali also referenced Zacharias and John the Baptist in his footnote #364 to verse 3:21.

    There is also a parable in Surah Ya Sin (36:13-32) in which two nameless prophets (pbut) come to a city (which, according to Ibn Kathir may have been Antioch, although the town is not named in the Qur’an). The people in the town become hostile to the prophets (pbut), and even after a third man comes running to the defense of the first two (who, according to Ibn Kathir (see the link above), was also a prophet (pbuh)), the third man is killed in a very violent manner (stoning in one version, stamped upon in a second).

  2. hello everyone! Good to see this started again.

  3. A couple more quick comments, while I have the chance. 🙂

    This would also fit, in parts of the Bible, with, “God is poor while we are rich.” …the people take some of the riches that were meant to belong to God.”

    Actually, this statement in 3:181 has a non-Biblical background to it. Verse 2:245 had been revealed, which reads:

    Who is he that will loan to God a beautiful loan, which God will double unto his credit and multiply many times? It is God that giveth (you) Want or plenty, and to Him shall be your return.

    When the Jews of Madina heard this verse, they said, “O Muhammad! Has your Lord become poor so that He asks His servants to give Him a loan?” (Tafsir Ibn Kathir) (For my book, I’ve been doing some research on zakat recently. There are six verses in the Qur’an where Allah (swt) asks Muslims to “give a beautiful loan to Allah (swt)” or a phrase to that effect; verse 2:245 is one of the six.)

    That is, the Jews would want their apostles (or prophets) to come to them with news related to burnt offerings – that is, the reinstatement of sacrifice and presumably news of all this happening at the Temple in Jerusalem (that implies fresh autonomy and perhaps the arrival of the messiah).

    Ibn Kathir has a different take on the notion of “burnt offerings”:

    Allah said, (Those (Jews) who said: “Verily, Allah has taken our promise not to believe in any Messenger unless he brings to us an offering which the fire (from heaven) shall devour.”) Allah refuted their claim that in their Books, Allah took a covenant from them to only believe in the Messenger whose miracles include fire coming down from the sky that consumes the charity offered by a member of the Messenger’s nation, as Ibn `Abbas and Al-Hasan stated. Allah replied, (Say: “Verily, there came to you Messengers before me, with Al-Bayinat…”) with proofs and evidence, (and even with what you speak of) a fire that consumes the accepted charity, as you asked, (why then did you kill them) Why did you meet these Prophets with denial, defiance, stubbornness and even murder, (if you are truthful), if you follow the truth and obey the Messengers.[Same link as above.]

    Now I will say that I don’t know how true any of the above is, so I’ll hold off on any other commentary.

    Christianity was doing the opposite (as an early proselytizing religion) so this seems to be a reference to only the Jews (unless I’m totally missing someone else here).

    According to Ibn Kathir, he says that it refers to both the Jews and the Christians; essentially, that, while the Christians may have been a proselytizing religion, they didn’t provide all of the details necessary for their adherents to recognize the truth of Muhammad’s (pbuh) message when that message began to circulate through the Christian communities. (Given the amount of misinformation many Christians spread about Islam today, that charge is quite relevant today.)

    I’m not sure where the line to ‘make it known to mankind’ comes from though. Where was this said?

    I’m not following; where was this said where? In the Bible, the Qur’an? (Not that I’m sure I can answer! 🙂 )

    Don’t pay them any mind, it seems to say (without the suffering part…).

    This is another revelation based upon several historical events:

    Ibn `Abbas said, “The Prophet asked them [the Jews of Madina?] about something, and they hid its knowledge, giving him an incorrect answer. They parted after showing off and rejoicing in front of him because they answered him, so they pretended, and they were delighted that they hid the correct news about what he had asked them.” This was recorded by Al-Bukhari, Muslim, At-Tirmidhi and An-Nasa’i.

    Al-Bukhari recorded that Abu Sa`id Al-Khudri said, “During the time of the Messenger of Allah, when the Messenger would go to battle, some hypocrite men would remain behind and rejoice because they did not accompany the Prophet in battle. When the Messenger would come back, they would ask him to excuse them swearing to having some excuse, and wanting to be praised for that which they did not do.

    As for the “grievous suffering,” the Qur’an is saying that that will come in the Hereafter.

  4. The make it known unto mankind question was, where does it say this in the Bible, if that is indeed the people of earlier revelation that is being referred to.

    Don’t think I hit many of my conjectures quite right this time – I was groping a bit, but thank you for all of the references and the additional input. It makes a big difference in illuminating what is going on here.

    I’m traveling tomorrow morning back to the States and will be ready with my thoughts on the final verses of Al’-Imran when I land.

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