by Zafar Bangash
As this volume goes to press (late-1436AH), the combination of Wahhabism, Zionism, and imperialism has fertilized a fresh landscape of killing fields in the majority Muslim part of the world. How many of their own will the Muslims have to sacrifice before they return, en masse, to Allah (SWT) and His Prophet (SAW)?
Syria is now hemorrhaging refugees at an unprecedented clip, many of whom are now ending up as underclasses in the home territories of their colonial persecutors. What was Iraq for all practical purposes is now functioning as three separate countries, perhaps mission accomplished for the purveyors of the “new world order” (according to a version of events recorded by those who aim to figure prominently in their own history). Libya is, simply put, a minefield; recently a country with the highest standard of living in Africa, today its people fear to leave their own homes, and there is question if they are even safe at home. Egypt’s medieval crackdown — in full hi-definition view of those who bluster about the “responsibility to protect” — has incarcerated, sentenced to death, and prevented from political participation the only viable and representative political party in the country; its generals took down an elected government while the zealous (and opportunistic) champions of democracy applauded. Turkey, a member of NATO, is not only training and equipping the mercenaries responsible for creating the catastrophe in Syria, but it is simultaneously punishing the Kurds for participating and winning in a “democratic” process endorsed by the elected Turkish government. Distraught that their post-Sykes-Picot independent Kurdistan was becoming a pipe dream, the clever colonial-cum-imperial seditionists found the useful idiots they needed in Ankara (by war) and Riyadh (by “diplomacy”) to actively market an Israeli Kurdistan in the heartland of Islam.
In the Peninsula, Saudi ground troops are gearing up to march — in one of al-Ashhur al-Hurum, no less (!) — into the sovereign territory of their southern neighbor Yemen, after carpet bombing its major cities and population centers, and after depriving the poorest country in the Arab world of food and medicine. Yemen apparently had the temerity to choose (Zaydi) representatives who were not the handpicked sentinels of the local hegemon as well as its enabling superpower underwriter. The Holy land from al-Quds to al-Hijaz is still under the occupation of the most brutal, unscrupulous, “scriptural” tribal throwbacks the world has ever known. And the tragic cover-up of the rampant human rights violations in Bahrain, all with a view to prop up the imperialist military base there through the agency of a foreign monarchy rejected by the indigenous people, is nothing more than an afterthought.
Elsewhere, the ongoing rape by imperial and colonial acquisitiveness of the mostly Muslim Saharan and West African countries — who sport the dangerous and exploitable combination of Western-“educated” chief executives and “enterprising” ministers, a very low standard of living, and a treasure trove of resources — has been carefully sequestered from mainstream media coverage. Even though the imperial occupation of Afghanistan will apparently officially come to an end, there will be no end to the numerous night raids that terrorize innocent and mostly poor families in unsuspecting villages, and to the drone strikes that are supposed to target high-value insurgents but ultimately end up killing mostly civilians.
Pakistan, reeling from its endemic economic and political crises, has no strategic foreign policy to decide whether to send troops to Yemen on behalf of Saudi Arabia so as to keep pliant its oil relationship with the monarchy, or not to do so in order to preserve its precarious relationship with its own people. In Myanmar, the celebrated flag-bearers of “democracy” feel it is acceptable to put their political conscience on the shelf and exclude Muslim domestic participation from the new supposedly “representative” government. And it goes on, through all of which it was hardly noticed how quietly Muslim Bosnia practically ceased to exist.
And finally in this world of manufactured consent, smokescreens, and mixed messages, the Sunni Muslim world that was baited to attack and kill off the other half of its own social and spiritual conscience is now being given a clashing set of marching orders. The Saudi peddlers of sectarianism are now condemning the monsters they spent billions of riyals, hours, and “courses” creating. But they are not doing this because they are all of a sudden swayed by principle, by Qur’anic imperatives of justice, or by prophetic motivations to brotherhood; rather they are in break-and-fix mode because their prodigal son is now coming home to claim what’s his. And so the committed Muslims need to be more careful now than ever — and to cut through all the murkiness, Muslims of all stripes and colors need the clarity of this Qur’an now more than ever. Surah al-Mai’dah is the fifth in the order of sequence of surahs in the noble Qur’an and fourth in the set of opening surahs that together guide us in the long, drawn-out struggle toward constituting an Ummah, organizing a government, and consolidating a society. As with all surahs of the noble Qur’an, the period of revelation is significant because it sheds light on the context in which the divine commands were delivered. This is especially important for surahs revealed in Madinah because of the fast-paced transformational changes that were taking place as the Islamic socio-political and economic order was being consolidated in society within the framework of the Islamic state.
The surah takes its name — al-Mai’dah (the Table spread) — from reference to the narration of a table spread from heaven after the disciples of Jesus (AS) asked for it. It is also known as Surah al-‘Uqud (the Chapter on Contracts) and Surah al-Munqidhah (the Chapter on Deliverance). Thus, the surah includes legislative material such as injunctions relating to contracts, marriage to morally fortified and upright women belonging to people of previous scripture, and the “living will.” Also included are divine statutes on slaughtered and hunted animals, as well as on animal hunting during the state of ihram and its legal repercussions. There are guidelines touching on issues of ritual cleanliness (taharah): wudu’, ghusl, and tayammum (ablution, full bath, and surface soil as a substitute for water). There are also laws that prohibit the consumption of liquor (alcohol), intoxicating substances, and habit-forming drugs. These advance and refine the injunctions revealed in the previous surah where the intake of intoxicants, especially alcohol, was described as more harmful than beneficial. This surah puts an end to their intake altogether. Also outlined are punitive measures for theft and highway banditry as well as a penalty for taking a false oath or affidavit (kaffarah al-yamin).
If Surah al-Nisa’ dealt with the negative fallout resulting from the setback the Muslims suffered at the Battle of Uhud (3AH), which emboldened the mushriks, yahud, and munafiqs, this surah radiates a much more confident aura. In the three-year period between the Battle of Uhud and the Treaty of Hudaybiyah (6AH), the Muslims had emerged as the preeminent power in the Arabian Peninsula. The setback at Uhud had emboldened the enemies of Allah (SWT) and His Prophet(SAW) to launch a full-scale attack on the Islamic state in Madinah.
Referred to as the Battle of al-Ahzab (the Confederates) — also known as Ghazwah al-Khandaq (Battle of the Trench) — in which all the mushrik and Yahudi power centers of Arabia coalesced into more than 10,000 heavily-armed fighters, aided and abetted by the munafiqs inside of Madinah (a “coalition of the willing” of that day), it was an attempt to contain the expanding influence of Islam and its impeccable champion, Muhammad (SAW), by asphyxiating the nascent Islamic state located in what was then considered to be a backwater of Makkah. Occurring in the month of Shawwal (5AH), the Battle of al-Ahzab was not as much armed combat as it was a month-long siege of Madinah. The besieging confederates could not have failed more utterly; they were confounded in their plan of attack by the strategic trench the intrepid Muslims dug as a defense mechanism to bar access to the city-state of Islam. This unfamiliar war tactic was compounded by firstly, a massive nighttime storm that uprooted the invaders’ encampments, resulting in their desertion of the battlefield; and secondly, their diminishing supplies and resources that prevented them from continuing the siege beyond a month. This was the mushriks’ last military hurrah, as from here on, the Islamic state would be on the offensive, never allowing them to attack the committed Muslims’ base of operations again.
The mushriks’ and their allies’ failure in the Battle of al-Ahzab led to the Treaty of Hudaybiyah with the chiefs of Makkah near the end of 6AH. While initially viewed as a setback by many of the Muslim companions of the Prophet(SAW), the treaty in fact consolidated Muslim power in the Arabian Peninsula. Allah (SWT) declared it a “manifest victory” (48:01). The Muslims were now recognized as an independent power and not merely a breakaway faction of the Quraysh. This helped swell the ranks of the Muslims exponentially.
This new reality, in which the truth was now attended by its powerful advocates, needed a more refined set of injunctions so as to have the Muslims sidestep the pitfalls encountered by earlier power wielders, especially political Jews and political Christians (Zionists and imperialists), who had become inebriated with the power Allah (SWT) had bestowed upon them, and hence felt a sense of entitlement as “God’s children.” They violated their covenant with God when they assumed that their temporal power gave them the license to be oblivious of His interposing power presence as they moved about in the world in the manner of unaccountable kings, treating scripture as their personal property, changing it to the whim of their special interests, and deleting passages that would indict their pathological concentration of power. They wanted to have the power of their adversaries without having to be burdened by the sacrifices and responsibilities that accompany the exercise of power in the service of truth. On the one hand, their displaced fear of temporal authority inured them from the sacrifices that would have secured for them a homeland,
[Said Moses], “O my people! Enter the holy land that Allah has promised you — but do not turn back [on your faith], for then you will be lost!” They answered, “O Moses! Behold, ferocious people dwell in that land, and we will surely not enter it unless they depart therefrom; but if they depart therefrom, then, behold, we will enter it… never shall we enter that [land] so long as those others are in it. Go forth, then, you and your Sustainer, and fight, both of you! We, behold, shall remain here!” (5:21–24);
and on the other, their claim to a bloodline from God erased the humility of human nature, making the “hand of God” on earth into an irresponsible instrument of terror rather than a principled herald of peace and harmony,
O you who are committed [to Allah]! Be ever steadfast in your devotion to Allah, bearing witness to the truth in all equity; and never let hatred of anyone lead you into the sin of deviating from justice. Be just: this is closest to being conscious of Allah’s [corrective power]. And remain conscious of Allah’s [corrective power presence]: verily, Allah is aware of all that you do (5:8).
As a looking glass into the self-centered attitudes and egotistical dispositions that lead to condemnable behavior, the historic and enduring racism of political Jewry is highlighted as a case in point. Muslims are warned to avoid the conduct of earlier recipients of the divine message who abandoned or set aside these injunctions as they became engrossed in their own self-importance and the pursuit of worldly pleasures. Muslims are called upon to conform to Allah’s (SWT) divine guidance in all circumstances and not be swayed by worldly allures or grandeurs of power that might lead them to perpetrate injustice.
This requires adhering to clear concepts, adopting a well understood position, and implementing a well-rounded “religious doctrine.” And the entire program as such, with the objective of demonstrating Allah’s (SWT) will on earth, has been laid out (correlated) in this surah of the noble Book. What is entailed by this “covenant” with Allah (SWT) — in word and in deed — is the unequivocal commitment to His command, the acknowledgement of His divinity, the allegiance to His authority as lawmaker and lawgiver, the consent to His supremacy, and the fulfillment of His testament. In order to lead an organized existence in a well-structured society, human beings must, therefore, procure their value system and legal system, as well as their standards and criteria from Allah (SWT) — and from Him alone. No other man-made authority or power center can be allowed to intrude into this domain.
In the Israeli-imposed “system” of materialistic chaos in the world today, which is cleverly, but consistently, given the veneer of values, this is not easy. Injustice has been institutionalized: mass murder has made people oblivious to their own humanity and naked exploitation in the name of laissez-faire capitalism has been thoroughly socialized into the human appraisal of the way things are, or ought to be. The noble Qur’an repeatedly speaks against such injustices and it has drawn particular attention to the decomposition of the healthy relationship between man and God, especially insofar as the generational proponents of that disintegration — Banu Isra’il— thrive in this milieu of their own creation, symptomatic of which is the unrepentant and corporatized murder of innocents (5:32). The murder of even one innocent person is equated with the murder of all humanity; and yet today, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of lives, mostly of Muslims, are routinely snuffed out with nary a tear of remorse or a word of protest from the chief executives, presidents, prime ministers, kings, pundits, experts, intelligence analysts, risk assessors, media moguls, and military officers who authorize and enable genocide, crimes against humanity, and holocausts for the security of Zion.
The Qur’anic discourse is meant to build the Islamic personality. The opening ayat of this surah like many others in the noble Book emphasize this aspect forcefully. Only an Islamic personality can handle the imperative of dispensing and adjudicating justice impartially. This theme of exercising power in a just or abusive fashion is most clearly evident in the area of unnecessarily taking human life, which in our world today is not only institutional, but ideological: that is, people in power decide who lives and who dies based on cost/benefit analyses, and not on the moral and inalienable right that everyone has to life free from coercion and exploitation. This is all in line with the Israeli disposition of making a public show of championing human rights, but when called to make sacrifices for principle, they either withdraw or find comfort in league with tyranny (that is, they rationalize injustice), as they did by summarily refusing Musa (AS), their prophet, who had implored them to liberate the Holy land.
It seems little has changed over the many centuries despite a chain of prophets sent by Allah (SWT) to deliver the divine message and then the final Messenger (SAW) establishing it as a transcendental social pattern (sunnah)— a shining example for eternity. Today, the world is again in the grip of the Israeli covenant-breakers: killing is a business and breaking the covenant with God is more a strategy (to achieve other worldly objectives) than an outcome. Everyone, even the majority of Muslims, regardless of what they “believe,” ultimately behave this way. And all of them are doing that because they have been socialized to this end, as the characteristics of the consummate covenant crashers have become the world’s “values.”
It is clear that the struggle of the Islamic movement will not be easy; it never has been. It was not easy for the prophets of Allah (Å) and it will not be easy for the inheritors of their legacy, the committed Muslims of today. Confronting such institutional injustice will require adherence to clear precepts and steely determination. There will be strong opposition from those in positions of power and authority — the entrenched elite, the deep state, and the status quo cheerleaders. When they see their vested interests threatened, they will react and do so violently. This was true at the time of the noble Messenger of Allah (SAW) and his companions, and it is the case today. Bolstered by the popular will of the Muslim masses, only the committed Muslims can take on this challenge. Such a responsibility places them in a leading position to jointly realize their task even though initially they will have few friends or supporters. Numbers, however, have never determined the outcome of any struggle; commitment and the willingness to make sacrifices for cherished principles have always carried the day.
There can be no room for materialistic pursuits along this divinely-ordained path. Earthly priorities and mundane obsessions have to be spurned because the purpose is altogether different and far nobler: a world based and ordered on divine principles. When Muslims make such a commitment, they will earn the pleasure of Allah (SWT) who gave the glad tidings to the noble Messenger (SAW) during his lifetime — a promise that is available to committed Muslims today as well as in the future,
…today, those who are in denial of Allah have lost all hope of [your ever forsaking] your din: do not, then, hold them in awe, but stand in awe of me! Today have I perfected your din for you, and have bestowed upon you the full measure of my blessings, and willed that self-surrender unto me shall be your din (5:03).
The question that Muslims must ask is: how can we return to the principles of divine justice? This is not possible if people in general, and Muslims in particular, lead a schizophrenic existence, that is, they cannot have one master in the church, synagogue, or masjid, and another one in the classroom, boardroom, and deliberation chamber of the national assembly. There is a dichotomy between what they preach and what they practice. Many Muslims have lost themselves in “perfecting” their rituals, thinking that such attention will miraculously lead to their unity and deliverance from oppression, tyranny, dislocation, and humiliation. While important, rituals alone cannot substitute for the pristine principles that will lead to the building of taqwa and developing of an Islamic personality. social justice happens when its proponents deal with the unique problems and obstacles that attend the diminution of justice in society, not when they get together for Fajr and then routinely go and bury their heads in the ground, especially as it concerns, for instance, taking a stand against “Muslim” governments and their court clergy goading their citizens to murder their own in other countries for political objectives that are more consistent with expanding the imperialist and Zionist empire than with Islam liberating the oppressed.
In this surah, Allah (SWT) guides the discerning Muslim toward implementing divine justice by building the proper Islamic personality. It begins with proper nutrition (eating the right foods, meats, etc.), suitable marriage partners, and purification through wudu’ and salah. These lead to the kind of emotional, psychological, intellectual, physiological, and spiritual balance that is necessary to adjudicate justice in society. Allah (SWT) warns us that those who break their pledge with Him will have to endure diaspora as a punishment and that covenant responsibilities will be given to someone else. such punishments, even diaspora, are meant to preserve the sanctity of a just social order whose imperative is social justice, and regardless of how severe they may seem, they pale in comparison to the severity of having to adjust to the insecurity that attends the loss of such an order.
In this ninth volume of the multi-volume tafsir series, Imam Muhammad al-‘Asi has dealt with only the first 40 ayat of Surah al-Mai’dah. These ayat relate to important injunctions requiring detailed treatment, and hence the explanations here enable readers to understand the divine commands with the motivation to go out there and make some changes. Those readers that have followed the tafsir series thus far would appreciate the depth of treatment accorded to the Qur’anic ayat herein. Imam al-‘Asi has taken special care to link the divine commands to today’s reality and identify the present-day covenant violators and oppressors.
As with previous volumes, Br. Afeef Khan has been intimately involved with editing work to make the text more readily accessible to the average reader. Detailed endnotes have been provided to enable the more scholarly to satiate their thirst for knowledge and to pursue their research activities with ease. Many thanks are also due to Br. Imran Khan and sr. Marjan Asi in providing timely and expeditious proofreading of the many pages in this volume. As with the other volumes, an electronic version of this ninth volume is available for reading or download on the ICIT digital library (www.icit-digital.org); and a hard copy is available through ICIT directly or through various on-line book retailers.
We pray to Allah (SWT) to accept this humble effort and to make it a source of guidance and understanding so that Muslims can appreciate the noble Book of Allah (SWT) in the way it was intended. We recognize that the task we have embarked on is difficult, indeed monumental. The road ahead is full of hazards but we have set out with sincere intentions and a firm conviction, and are thereby confident and secure in the knowledge that Allah (SWT) in His infinite mercy will provide the means to enable us to take it to fruition. We thank the many readers who have given and continue to provide input and support for this tafsir. Similarly, we thank all those who have helped in whatever way to make this project a reality. Their reward is with Allah (SWT). May He, the Most Merciful lord and sustainer, multiply their contributions many times over. Ameen.
Director, Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought (ICIT)
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Dhu al-Qa‘dah 24, 1436AH (9-8-2015CE)