Abbas - Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs
(But those who did wrong) to themselves, and these are the people who said: “Repentance” (changed the word which had been told them for another word) they disobeyed the command and said “Wheat!”, (and We sent down upon the evil-doers) who changed the word they were ordered to say (wrath) the plague (from Heaven for their evildoing) for changing the commands they were ordered to fulfil.
Then the evildoers, among them, substituted a saying other than that which had been said to them, and said instead, ‘A grain inside a hair’ and entered [the town] dragging themselves on their rears; so We sent down upon the evildoers (the replacement of the second person [of the previous verse] with the overt identification in the third person alladhīna zalamū, ‘the evildoers’, is intended to emphasise the depravity of their action) wrath, a punishment of plague, from the heaven for their wickedness, for deviating from obedience, and within a very short period of time just under seventy thousand of them were dead.
Then the evildoers substituted a saying other than that which had been said to them, that is, they demanded to be described by the attributes of the soul desiring its share instead of demanding to be described by the attributes of God and desiring spiritual shares, as is reported of them [that they would say]: ḥinṭan samqāthā, which means, 'we seek the nourishment of the soul'; so We sent down upon the evildoers, specifically, wrath [from the heaven for their wickedness], chastisement, straits, constraint and darkness by the imprisonment of the soul and in captivity with the shackles of desire, and through veiling within the bonds of caprice, and in privation and degradement through love of lower matter and its transformation and evanescence by the overwhelming power of the spirit heaven, and [by] the withholding of gentleness and rest from them on account of their wickedness, that is, their seceding from obedience of the heart to obedience of the soul. We have left out the second interpretation because it is very close to this one.
The Jews were Rebellious instead of Appreciative when They gained Victory
Allah admonished the Jews for avoiding Jihad and not entering the holy land as they had been ordered to do when they came from Egypt with Musa. They were also commanded to fight the disbelieving `Amaliq (Canaanites) dwelling in the holy land at that time. But they did not want to fight, because they were weak and exhausted. Allah punished them by causing them to become lost, and to continue wandering, as Allah has stated in Surat Al-Ma'idah (5). The correct opinion about the meaning of, `the holy land' mentioned here is that it was Bayt Al-Maqdis (Jerusalem), as As-Suddi, Ar-Rabi` bin Anas, Qatadah and Abu Muslim Al-Asfahani, as well as others have stated. Musa said,
(O people! Enter the holy land which Allah has assigned to you and turn not back (in flight).) (5:21)
However, some scholars said that the holy land is Jericho, (Ariha') and this opinion was mentioned from Ibn `Abbas and `Abdur-Rahman bin Zayd.
After the years of wandering ended forty years later, in the company of Yuwsha` (Joshua) bin Nun, Allah allowed the Children of Israel to conquer the holy land on the eve of a Friday. On that day, the sun was kept from setting for a little more time, until victory was achieved. When the Children of Israel conquered the holy land, they were commanded to enter its gate while,
(prostrating) in appreciation to Allah for making them victorious, triumphant, returning them to their land and saving them from being lost and wandering. Al-`Awfi said that Ibn `Abbas said that,
وَادْخُلُواْ الْبَابَ سُجَّدًا
(and enter the gate Sujjadan) means, "While bowing''. Ibn Jarir reported Ibn `Abbas saying,
وَادْخُلُواْ الْبَابَ سُجَّدًا
(and enter the gate in prostration) means, "Through a small door while bowing.'' Al-Hakim narrated it, and Ibn Abi Hatim added, "And they went through the door backwards!'' Al-Hasan Al-Basri said that they were ordered to prostrate on their faces when they entered the city, but Ar-Razi discounted this explanation. It was also said that the Sujud mentioned here means, `submissiveness', for actually entering while prostrating is not possible.
Khasif said that `Ikrimah said that Ibn `Abbas said, "The door mentioned here was facing the Qiblah.'' Ibn `Abbas, Mujahid, As-Suddi, Qatadah and Ad-Dahhak said that the door is the door of Hittah in Iylya', which is Jerusalem. Ar-Razi also reported that some of them said that it was a door in the direction of the Qiblah''. Khasif said that `Ikrimah said that Ibn `Abbas said that the Children of Israel entered the door sideways. As-Suddi said that Abu Sa`id Al-Azdy said that Abu Al-Kanud said that `Abdullah bin Mas`ud said that they were commanded to, u
وَادْخُلُواْ الْبَابَ سُجَّدًا
(enter the gate in prostration (or bowing with humility)) but instead, they entered while their heads were raised in defiance.
Allah said next,
(and say: `Hittah'). Ibn `Abbas commented, "Seek Allah's forgiveness.'' Al-Hasan and Qatadah said that it means, "Say, `Relieve us from our errors.''
(and We shall forgive you your sins and shall increase (reward) for the good-doers) Here is the reward for fulfilling Allah's commandment. This Ayah means, "If you implement what We commanded you, We will forgive your sins and multiply your good deeds.'' In summary, upon achieving victory, the Children of Israel were commanded to submit to Allah in tongue and deed and, to admit to their sins and seek forgiveness for them, to be grateful to Allah for the blessings He gave them, hastening to do the deeds that Allah loves, as He said,
(When there comes the help of Allah (to you, O Muhammad against your enemies) and the conquest (of Makkah). And you see that the people enter Allah's religion (Islam) in crowds. So glorify the praises of your Lord, and ask His forgiveness. Verily, He is the One Who accepts the repentance.) (110).
(The Children of Israel were commanded to enter the door while bowing and to say `Hittah'. Yet, they entered the door on their behinds, distorting the words. They said; `Habbah (seed), in Sha`rah (a hair).')
An-Nasa'i recorded this part of it from Abu Hurayrah only, but he has a chain from the Prophet, explaining Allah's statement,
(`Hittah'), saying, "So they deviated and said `Habbah.'' Similar was recorded by `Abdur-Razzaq, and his route was also collected by Al-Bukhari. Muslim and At-Tirmidhi narrated similar versions of this Hadith, At-Tirmidhi said, "Hasan Sahih.''
The summary of what the scholars have said about this subject is that the Children of Israel distorted Allah's command to them to submit to Him in tongue and deed. They were commanded to enter the city while bowing down, but they entered while sliding on their rear ends and raising their heads! They were commanded to say, `Hittah' meaning, "Relieve us from our errors and sins.'' However, they mocked this command and said, "Hintah (grain seed) in Sha`irah (barley).'' This demonstrates the worst type of rebellion and disobedience, and it is why Allah released His anger and punishment upon them, all because of their sinning and defying His commands. Allah said,
(So We sent upon the wrongdoers Rijz (a punishment) from the heaven because of their rebellion.)
Ad-Dahhak said that Ibn `Abbas said, "Every word in Allah's Book that says Rijz means, `a punishment.''' Mujahid, Abu Malik, As-Suddi, Al-Hasan and Qatadah were reported to have said that Rijz means `Torment.' Ibn Abi Hatim narrated that Sa`d bin Malik, Usamah bin Zayd and Khuzaymah bin Thabit said that the Messenger of Allah said,
(This calamity and sickness (i.e. the plague) is a Rijz, a punishment with which some nations who were before you were punished.)
The basis of this Hadith was also collected in the Two Sahihs.
Maududi - Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi - Tafhim al-Qur'an
The identity of the town has not so far been determined. As this incident took place when the Israelites were still wandering in the Sinai Peninsula, most probably it was situated somewhere there. But it is also possible that it might have been Shittim which was situated on the eastern bank of the Jordan, opposite to Jericho. According to the Bible, the Israelites conquered this city during the last years of Moses and committed debaucheries. Consequently, Allah inflicted a terrible punishment on them in the form of an epidemic which killed twenty-four thousand of them. (Numbers, 25: 1-9).
They were told not to enter the town like cruel and ruthless tyrants but to go in meekly and with humility like God-fearing people, just as the Prophet Muhammad (Allah's peace be upon him) did at the conquest of Makkah. "Hittatun" can have two meanings: "You should enter the town, (1) begging Allah's forgiveness for sins, and (2) granting general amnesty and refraining from plundering and murdering the inhabitants."
Then the evildoers substituted a saying other than that which had been said to them; so We sent down upon the evildoers wrath from the heaven for their wickedness. They could neither ward off the opening of heaven above them with their stratagems nor avert the cords of affliction below them by relying on their usual states. They gnashed the teeth of remorse when the fangs of pain bit them. How could this have benefited them when the situation was hopelessḍ