Volume 2: Surah Baqarah, Verses 135-141
And they say: "Be Jews or Christians, you will be rightly guided" Say: "Nay! (we follow) the religion of Ibrahim, the upright one, and he was not of the polytheist" ( 135). Say: "We believe in Allah and (in) that which has been revealed to us, and (in) that which was revealed to Ibrahim and Isma'il and Ishaq and Ya'qub and the tribes, and (in) that which was given to Musa and 'Isa, and (in) that which was given to the prophets from their Lord, we do not make any distinction between any of them, and to Him do we submit" (136). If then they believe in like of what you believe in, they are indeed on the right course, and if they turn back, then they are only in great dissension; so Allah will suffice you against them, and He is the Hearing, the Knowing (137). (We have received) the dyeing of Allah, and who is better than Allah in dyeing? and Him do we worship (138). Say: "Do you dispute with us about Allah? and He is our Lord and your Lord; and for us our deeds and for you are your deeds; and we are sincere to Him (139). Or, do you say that Ibrahim and Isma'il and Ya'qub and the tribes were Jews or Christians?" Say: "Are you better knowing or Allah? And who is more unjust than he who conceals a testimony that he has from Allah? And Allah is not at all heedless of what you do" (140). This is a people that have passed away; they shall have what they earned and you shall have what you earn, and you shall not be called upon to answer for what they did (141)
*COMMENTARY * QUR'AN: And they say: "Be Jews and Christians, you will be rightly guided": The preceding verses made it clear that the true religion followed by the children of Ibrahim - Isma'il and Ishaq as well as Ya'qub and his descendants - was the same Islam which was -the religion of Ibrahim, the upright one. It means that the differences and divisions, the schisms and sects, which the proponents of Judaism and Christianity call to, have actually originated from their own desires; they are just a few toys manufactured by them. They are in great disputations, schisms and disagreements, they are divided into numerous sects and religious groups, they have dyed the religion of Allah - the religion of Unity, the religion of Oneness - with colors of their bias and prejudice, their desires and ambitions. But the religion is not divided; it is one, in the same way as God, Who is to be worshipped, is One; it is the religion of Ibrahim; the Muslims should firmly keep hold of this original religion, discarding the differences and dissensions of the People of the Book aside.
Although the life in this world looks like a constant phenomenon, in reality it is continuously changing. The same applies to the entire natural world. Even the rites, customs and manners of various nations and groups are not immune from this propensity to change. More often than not, it causes changes and deviations even in religious matters. Sometimes extraneous things are inserted in religion; at other times, an essential part is declared anathema; worldly goals and ideals replace the Divine and religious goals and aims. What a tragedy is it for religion! When it happens, the religion is dyed in national or tribal color, and starts calling to a goal other than the original one; it focuses its sight on innovations, forgetting its original purpose. In a short while, the evil (i.e., the innovation) becomes virtue. People support and defend it, because it agrees with their desires and cravings. And the virtue is treated as evil; it has no protector or defender to stand for it. Ultimately, the things deteriorate to unbelievable extent, as we are seeing with our own eyes today.
However, the sentence: "And they say: 'Be Jews or Christians' ", stands for the sentences, "The Jews say: 'Be Jews, you will be guided aright'; and the Christians say: 'Be Christians, you will be rightly guided.' " They make such divergent claims because of their divergences and differences.
QUR'AN: Say: "Nay! (we follow) the religion of Ibrahim, the uptight one, and he was not of the polytheists": It is the reply of their claims. The Prophet should tell them: Nay! we follow the religion of Ibrahim, the upright one; because it is the one religion which was followed by all your prophets - Ibrahim and all those who came after him. Ibrahim, who brought this religion, was not a polytheist. Had there been so many divisions in his religion - the divisions which were attached to it by the innovators - he would have become a polytheist: That which is not a part of Allah's religion cannot invite towards Allah, it will surely call to something other than Allah - and this is what polytheism means. The religion of Ibrahim is the religion of unity; it does not contain anything that is not from Allah.
QUR'AN: Say: "We believe in Allah and (in) that which has been revealed to us, and (in) that which was revealed to Ibrahim. . . ": After mentioning the claim of the Jews and the Christians, Allah describes the truth - and He always tells the truth. The truth consists of the testimony of belief in One God and belief in all that was brought by the prophets - without making any distinction between them. This is what is called the Islam. Belief in Allah was the fundamental part of that which was revealed to the prophets; yet it has been mentioned here separately. The reason is that the belief in the Creator is a natural instinct; it does not depend on prophetic proofs and arguments.
After that fundamental belief, Allah mentions "that which has been revealed to us", that is, the Qur'an or the knowledge contained in it. Then He mentions "that which was revealed to Ibrahim and Isma'il and Ishaq and Ya'qub". Thereafter is described "that which was given to Musa and 'Isa'; these two have been especially mentioned because the speech is addressed to the Jews and the Christians who call only to these two prophets, respectively. Finally the testimony includes "that which was given to the prophets". This sentence covers all the prophets and thus paves the way for the next declaration: "we do not make any distinction between any of them".
Note the variation in style: That which is with us and that which was with Ibrahim, Isma'il, Ishaq and Ya'qub, is listed as "revealed" to us and them, respectively; while that which was with Musa, 'Isa and other prophets is referred to as "given" to them.
Probably the reason is this: The basic idea may be conveyed by the word, "giving", as Allah says after mentioning Ibrahim and other prophets who came before or after him: These are they to whom We gave the book and the wisdom and the prophethood (6:89). But this word does not clearly and necessarily mean "revelation"; for example, Allah says: And certainly We gave wisdom to Luqman (31:12); And certainly We gave the book and the wisdom and the prophecy to the Children of Israel... (45:16). Now both the Jews and the Christians counted Ibrahim, Isma'il, Ishaq, Ya'qub and the tribes as following their religions respectively - the Jews claimed that those prophets were Jews; the Christians claimed that they were Christians. They believed that the true religion was the Judaism or the Christianity that was given to Musa or 'Isa respectively. In this background, if Allah had said, 'that which was given to Ibrahim. . .', it would not have clearly shown that those prophets themselves had brought a religion, which was revealed to them by Allah; the Jews or the Christians could have claimed that what was given to them was the same thing which was given to Musa or 'Isa -peace be on them all - and that their names have been mentioned, like that of the Children of Israel, just because they followed the selfsame religion! It was to remove this possible misunderstanding that Ibrahim and those named prophets (peace be on them all) were separately mentioned and it was clearly said that they had got that religion by Divine revelation. As for the prophets who came before Ibrahim (a.s.), the Jews and the Christians did not lay claim on their religion, and there was no chance of any misunderstanding; therefore, their religion was referred to as "given" to them.
QUR'AN: and the tribes: "al-Asbat" of the Israelites has the same meaning as "al-qaba'il” of the Isma'ilites, and that is, the tribes. Sibt, like qabilah, refers to the descendants of one forefather. There were twelve tribes in the Israelites, each one descended from one of the twelve children of Ya'qub;thus each became a distinct group in itself.
If the word "tribes" refers to the whole groups, then it is used metaphorically, because the prophets who received the revelation were from those tribes. On the other hand, it may refer to the individuals, that is, the prophets themselves. In any case, it does not include the brothers of Yusuf (a.s.) because they were not prophets.
A similar verse is found in the Chapter of 'The Women': and We revealed to Ibrahim and Isma'il and Ishaq and Ya'qub and the tribes, and 'Isa and Ayyub and Yunus and Harun and Sulayman ... (4:163).
QUR'AN: If then they believe in like of what you believe in, they are indeed on the right course: What Allah actually means is this: If they believe in what you believe in, then they are on the right course. But He has added here the word "like" (If then they believe in like of what you believe in...), to cut the root of disputation and argumentation. Had they been invited to believe in what the Muslims believed in, they could have replied - as they used to say - No, we believe in that which has been revealed to us and we reject what is besides that. Therefore, this verse teaches the Muslims a different way of expressions: We believe in that which contains nothing but pristine truth; therefore, you too should believe in that which contains only pristine truth like it. Addressed in this way, they will not find any loophole, nor will they be able to resort to their obstinate wrangles. And then they will realize that what they have had is not the unadulterated truth.
QUR'AN: in great dissension: "ash-Shiqaq" means hypocricy, disputation, dissension.
QUR'AN: so Allah will suffice you against them: It was a promise to the Messenger of Allah to help him against them; and Allah fulfilled this promise. And the same favor shall be completed for the Muslim nation when Allah wills.
This verse is a parenthetic statement between the preceding and the following verses.
QUR'AN: the dyeing of Allah, and who is better than Allah in dyeing? "as-Sibghah” means a kind of dyeing. The verse means: The above-mentioned belief is a Divine color in which Allah has dyed us; and it is the best of the colors - it is not a dye of the Judaism nor of the Christianity, which emanate from dissensions in religion, when people fail to keep on the right track.
QUR'AN: and Him do we worship: Grammatically the sentence describes the condition; it gives the reason of the preceding phrase: "the dyeing of Allah. . ."
QUR'AN: Say: "Do you dispute with us about Allah?": It is a rebuke to the People of the Book regarding their disputation with the Muslims. The next sentences show how and why their argumentations were wrong and in vain: "and He is our Lord and your Lord; and for us are our deeds and for you are your deeds; and we are sincere to Him". When the followers dispute with each other concerning their leader, the dispute may emanate from one or more of the three causes:
First: They follow different leaders; and each wants to show the superiority of his leader over the other's, for example, a dispute between an idol - worshipper and a Muslim.
Second: They follow the same leader, but each claims a close relationship with the leader, denying a like privilege to the other.
Third: One party wants to show that the other party, because of his unbecoming behavior and immoral character, has lost the right to be counted among the followers of the leader; his claim of being a follower of the leader is an insult to the latter.
Now, why should the Muslims and the People of the Book dispute with each other? The first reason does not apply, because both worship the same God. The same goes for the second reason, because one group's deeds do not clash with those of the other "for us are our deeds and for you are your deeds". Coming to the third cause, the Muslims are sincere in their devotion to Allah. So why should the People of the Book dispute with them, when they have got no reason at all.
In this way, Allah first rebuked them for their disputation with the Muslims, and then dismisses all three causes of disputation one by one.
QUR'AN: "Or, do you say that Ibrahim were Jews or Christians?": Both groups say that Ibrahim and the other prophets named in the verse were from them; implying that they were Jews or Christians. Or, they clearly claimed that they were Jews or Christians, as may be understood from the words of Allah: O People of the Book! why do you dispute about Ibrahim, when the Torah and the Injil were not revealed till after him? Do you not then understand? (3:65)
QUR'AN: Say: "Are you better knowing or Allah?": Because Allah has informed us and you in the Book that Musa and 'Isa and their books came after Ibrahim and the prophets mentioned in this verse.
QUR'AN: “And who is more unjust than he who conceals a testimony that he has from Allah?": That is, he who conceals a testimony, a fact known to him, that Allah has informed in His Books that the shari'ah of Judaism and Christianity were sent after Ibrahim and the other named prophets. The "testimony", thus, refers to a fact known to one.
The verse may alternatively refer to him who conceals the testimony of Allah that Ibrahim and those prophets had passed away long before the Torah and the Injil were revealed. In this case, the "testimony" would refer to giving evidence, to bearing witness.
But the first meaning is more appropriate in the context of this verse.
QUR'AN: This is a people that have passed away. It will do you no good to dispute about other people as to which group they belonged to; nor will silence on this matter do you any harm. You must spend your time in those things, which you will be asked about tomorrow.
This verse has been repeated here because the Jews and the Christians talked (and they still do) too much on this subject which would be of no avail to them on the Day of Judgment; especially when they knew very well that Ibrahim had passed away long before Judaism and Christianity came into being.
In other contexts, discussion about the prophets and messengers is a very beneficial thing; the Qur'an exhorts us to look into, and learn about, their teachings and their spiritual virtues; and it is with this aim that it repeatedly narrates their stories and orders us to meditate on them.
*TRADITIONS * as-Sadiq (a.s.) said about the verse: Say: Nay! (we follow) the religion of Ibrahim. "Verily, the upright religion is the Islam." (al-Ayyashi)
al-Baqir (a.s.) said: "The upright religion (of lbrahim, a.s.) did not leave anything (unguided), so much so that it includes the trimming of the moustache, and cutting of nails, and circumcision." (ibid.)
"Allah revealed the upright (religion) to Ibrahim, and it is cleanliness; and it is (made up of) ten (things), five (of them) in the head and (the other) five in the (rest of the) body. As for those, which are in the head, they are: Trimming of the moustache, and letting the beard grow, and dressing the hair, and brushing the teeth, and (using) the tooth-pick; and as for those which are in the (rest of the) body, they are: removing the hair from the body, and circumcision, and cutting the nails, and the bath of al-janabah (the ritual uncleanliness resulting from sexual intercourse or ejaculation), and cleansing (the body) with water. And this is the pure upright (religion) which Ibrahim (a.s.) brought; it was never abrogated, nor will it ever be abrogated until the Day of Resurrection." (at-Tafsir, alQummi)
The author says: Dressing the hair means to trim it and grow it. There are a lot of traditions of the same or similar meaning, narrated by both sects in their books.
al-Baqir (a.s.) said about the words of Allah: Say: We believe in Allah... : "Allah has meant 'Ali, and Fatimah and al-Hasan, and al-Husayn, in this verse; and after them it has continued in the Imams. . ." (al-Kafi; al'Ayyashi)
The author says: This theme may be inferred from the words, and (raise) from our offspring a group submitting to Thee (2:128), which were used in the invocation of Ibrahim (a.s.). There is no contradiction between this tradition and the fact that the verse is addressed to all the Muslims and obliges all of them to believe in the things mentioned therein; because the circle of such verses may be widened or shortened in different contexts, according to various stages of application - as we have explained with reference to various stages of the Islam and iman.
al-Qummi narrates in his at-Tafsir from al-Baqir or as-Sadiq (a.s.), and as-Saduq narrates in Ma'ani 'I-akhbar from as-Sadiq (a.s.) that he said explaining the words of Allah, the dyeing of Allah... : "The dyeing is the Islam."
The author says: It is clear from the context of the verses.
as-Sadiq (a.s.) said: "(Allah) dyed the believers with al-Wilayah (love and obedience of the Prophet and his Ahlu 'I-bayt) in (i.e., at the time of) al-mithaq (= the covenant taken from the souls)." (al-Kafi; Ma'ani 'I-akhbar)
The author says: It refers to the esoteric meaning of this verse, as we shall explain later on; we shall then also explain the meaning of al-wilayah and al-mithaq, Allah willing.