Abbas - Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs
(Those are a people) a group of people (who have passed away) perished; (theirs is that which they earned) of goodness (and yours is that which ye earn) of goodness. (And ye will not be asked) on the Day of Judgement (of what they used to do) in this world.
That is a community that has passed away; theirs is what they have earned, and yours is what you have earned; you shall not be asked about what they did: a similar [verse] has already been mentioned above.
Allah directed His Prophet to pre-empt the arguments with the idolators:
قُلْ أَتُحَآجُّونَنَا فِى اللَّهِ
(Say (O Muhammad to the Jews and Christians), "Dispute you with us about Allah) meaning, "Do you dispute with us regarding the Oneness of Allah, obedience and submission to Him and in avoiding His prohibitions,
وَهُوَ رَبُّنَا وَرَبُّكُمْ
(while He is our Lord and your Lord) meaning, He has full control over us and you, and deserves the worship alone without partners.
وَلَنَآ أَعْمَـلُنَا وَلَكُمْ أَعْمَـلُكُمْ
(And we are to be rewarded for our deeds and you for your deeds.) meaning, we disown you and what you worship, just as you disown us. Allah said in another Ayah,
And who is more unjust than he who conceals the testimony he has from Alla0h؟ )2:140(. Al-Hلasan Al-Basلri said, They used to recite the Book of Alla0h He sent to them that stated that the true religion is Isla0m and that Muhلammad is the Messenger of Alla0h. Their Book also stated that Ibra0h0m, Isma0 0l, Ishلa0q, Ya qu0b and the tribes were neither Jews, nor Christians. They testified to these facts, yet hid them from the people. Alla0h s statement,
وَمَا اللَّهُ بِغَـفِلٍ عَمَّا تَعْمَلُونَ
(And Allah is not unaware of what you do), is a threat and a warning that His knowledge encompasses every one's deeds, and He shall award each accordingly. Allah then said,
تِلْكَ أُمَّةٌ قَدْ خَلَتْ
(That was a nation who has passed away.) meaning, existed before you,
لَهَا مَا كَسَبَتْ وَلَكُم مَّا كَسَبْتُم
(They shall receive the reward of what they earned, and you of what you earn.) meaning, they bear their deeds while you bear yours,
وَلاَ تُسْـَلُونَ عَمَّا كَانُوا يَعْمَلُونَ
(And you will not be asked of what they used to do) meaning, the fact that you are their relatives will not suffice, unless you imitate their good deeds. Further, do not be deceived by the fact that you are their descendants, unless you imitate them in obeying Allah's orders and following His Messengers who were sent as warners and bearers of good news. Indeed, whoever disbelieves in even one Prophet, will have disbelieved in all the Messengers, especially if one disbelieves in the master and Final Messenger from Allah, the Lord of the worlds, to all mankind and the Jinns. May Allah's peace and blessings be on Muhammad and the rest of Allah's Prophets.
Maududi - Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi - Tafhim al-Qur'an
That is, "What we only say is that Allah is Lord of all of us, and we should all submit to Him. Why should you then have any dispute with us concerning Allah? Is it a thing concerning which you should have any dispute with us'? As a matter of fact, it is we who have a cause of dispute and not you, for it is you (and not we) who associate other objects of worship with Allah." The original Arabic words tray also mean: "Are you having a dispute with us for the sake of Allah....?" It would then mean: "If you really are having a dispute with us for the sake of Allah and not for the sake of prejudice or worldly interests, it can be settled amicably.
That is, "You are responsible for your deeds and we are for ours. If you have associated other partners with Allah in His Godhead and if you worship and obey them, you are free to do so but you yourselves will bear its consequences. As to the dispute between us, it can be ended if you allow us the same freedom of worship that we allow you. When we do not dispute with you about your associating other gods with Allah, you should at least concede us the right to worship the One Allah without associating any partner with Him, Whom we have chosen for exclusive worship and submission."
This question was addressed to the common people of the Jews and Christians, who in their ignorance sincerely believed that all these great Prophets were Jews or Christians.
This question was addressed to their scholars, who were not ignorant of the fact that Judaism and Christianity with their special rituals, etc., were the products of a later age. In spite of this they were under the delusion that the Truth was confined to their own sects, and they kept their common people under the delusion that salvation depended on those beliefs, ways and regulations, which had been invented, long after the Prophets, by their own rabbis and priests, spiritual leaders and interpreters. Whenever they were confronted with the question: "To which of these sects of yours did Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and other Prophets belong?", they would never answer this directly. For they could not claim that those Prophets belonged to their particular sect as they knew that history proved that claim to be absurd. But, in spite of this established fact, they could not admit it in clear words that the Prophets were neither Jews nor Christians, because this would have automatically refuted their claims.
That is a community that has passed away; theirs is what they have earned and yours is what you have earned; you will not be asked about what they did. The barriers of fate came between you and them for they built their structures on separation and heedlessness while you have pitched your tents on closeness and connection. The freedman of Our favor ʿatīq faḌlinā is not like the fugitive of Our force Ṭarīd qahrinā.