Abbas - Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs
(And ye know) you indeed know and heard about the punishment (of those of you who broke) who have taken the covenant (the Sabbath) the day of Saturday and this at the time of David (pbuh) (how We said unto them: Be ye apes, despised and hated!) turned into humiliated and base apes.
And verily (wa-la-qad: the lām is for oaths) you know that there were those among you who transgressed, violated, the Sabbath, by fishing, when We had forbidden you to do so — these were the inhabitants of Eilat — and We said to them, ‘Be apes, despised!’, rejected, and they became so: they died three days later.
And verily you know [that there were those among you who transgressed the Sabbath]: know that if mankind were neglected, abandoned and left to their own natures, they would have delved into and ensconced themselves in carnal pleasures and coverings of darkness because of their voracious appetite for and their being accustomed to these since infancy and childhood, until finally their preparednesses would disappear and they descend from the level of humanity and are transfigured, as God has said: Those whom God has cursed and with whom He is wroth, and some of whom He has turned into apes and swine [Q. 5:60]. But if they are guarded and kept in check by means of rational and divine rules as well as wisdoms, manners, admonitions containing the promise of reward and the threat of punishment, they can progress and be illuminated. As the poet says:
Such is the soul: if neglected it clings to vileness, but if dispatched towards virtues it is resplendent.
That is why devotions have been instituted and [why] they are obligated to repeat them at specified times, in order to remove from them thereby the filth of [human] natures that accumulates during moments of forgetfulness and in the darkness of distractions that appear at times of engaging in pleasures and committing of lustful acts, so that then their inner being might become illumined by the light of the Presence and their hearts be revitalised in orienting themselves towards [God] the Truth instead of falling and stumbling into the abyss of the capricious soul; and that it might find rest in the refreshment of the spirit and the love of the Oneness from the estrangement of caprice and attachment of multiplicity, as he [the Prophet] said: 'Between the [obligatory] prayer and the next there is expiation for the minor sins committed as long as the grave sins are avoided'. Do you not see that he commanded them [believers] to perform the purificatory wash when in a state of greater impurity from indulging in lustful acts; ablutions when in a state of minor impurity; and upon engaging in the activities of this world during the hours of daylight and night [he commanded them] the five [ritual] prayers that remove the filth of the five senses that accumulates in the soul as a result.
For each is [commanded] that which corresponds to it and that is why in the face of the estrangement of being separated througout the week and the darkness of being solely concerned relentlessly with [their daily] activities and means of livelihood as well as [their] corporeal garments and ego-centric pleasures, one day has been assigned for congregational worship when the orientation is towards the shedding of the estrangement of separation by the intimacy of the coming together so that there occurs love and intimacy between them and the darkness of being distracted by the affairs of this world and the turning away from the Truth disappear by the light of worship and the turning towards [God] and they become illumined.
(And indeed you knew). This Ayah means, O Jews! Remember that Allah sent His torment on the village that disobeyed Him and broke their pledge and their covenant to observe the sanctity of the Sabbath. They began using deceitful means to avoid honoring the Sabbath by placing nets, ropes and artificial pools of water for the purpose of fishing before the Sabbath. When the fish came in abundance on Saturday as usual, they were caught in the ropes and nets for the rest of Saturday. During the night, the Jews collected the fish after the Sabbath ended. When they did that, Allah changed them from humans into monkeys, the animals having the form closest to humans. Their evil deeds and deceit appeared lawful on the surface, but they were in reality wicked. This is why their punishment was compatible with their crime. This story is explained in detail in Surat Al-A`raf, where Allah said (7:163),
(And ask them (O Muhammad ) about the town that was by the sea; when they transgressed in the matter of the Sabbath (i.e. Saturday): when their fish came to them openly on the Sabbath day, and did not come to them on the day they had no Sabbath. Thus We made a trial of them, for they used to rebel (disobey Allah).)(7:163)
In his Tafsir, Al-`Awfi reported from Ibn `Abbas that he said,
فَقُلْنَا لَهُمْ كُونُواْ قِرَدَةً خَـسِئِينَ
(We said to them: "Be you monkeys, despised and rejected'') means, "Allah changed their bodies into those of monkeys and swines. The young people turned into monkeys while the old people turned into swine.'' Shayban An-Nahwi reported that Qatadah commented on,
فَقُلْنَا لَهُمْ كُونُواْ قِرَدَةً خَـسِئِينَ
(We said to them: "Be you monkeys, despised and rejected''), "These people were turned into howling monkeys with tails, after being men and women.''
The Monkeys and Swine that exist now are not the Descendants of Those that were transformed
Ibn Abi Hatim recorded that Ibn `Abbas said, "Those who violated the sanctity of the Sabbath were turned into monkeys, then they perished without offspring.'' Ad-Dahhak said that Ibn `Abbas said, "Allah turned them into monkeys because of their sins. They only lived on the earth for three days, for no transformed person ever lives more than three days. They did not eat, drink or have offspring. Allah transformed their shapes into monkeys, and He does what He wills, with whom He wills and He changes the shape of whomever He wills. On the other hand, Allah created the monkeys, swines and the rest of the creation in the six days (of creation) that He mentioned in His Book.''
(So We made this punishment an example) means, Allah made the people of this village, who violated the sanctity of the Sabbath,
(an example) via the way they were punished. Similarly, Allah said about Pharaoh,
(So Allah, seized him with punishing example for his last and first transgression) (79:25). nAllah's statement,
لِّمَا بَيْنَ يَدَيْهَا وَمَا خَلْفَهَا
(for those in front of it and those behind it) meaning, for the other villages. Ibn `Abbas commented, "Meaning, `We made this village an example for the villages around it by the manner in which We punished its people.''' Similarly, Allah said,
(And indeed We have destroyed towns (populations) round about you, and We have (repeatedly) shown (them) the Ayat (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.) in various ways that they might return (to the truth and believe in the Oneness of Allah ـ Islamic Monotheism)).(46:27)
Therefore, Allah made them an example for those who lived during their time as well as a reminder for those to come, by preserving their story. This is why Allah said,
(and a lesson for Al-Muttaqin (the pious)), meaning, a reminder. This Ayah means, "The torment and punishment that this village suffered was a result of indulging in Allah's prohibitions and their deceit. Hence, those who have Taqwa should be aware of their evil behavior, so that what occurred to this village does not befall them as well.'' Also, Imam Abu `Abdullah bin Battah reported that Abu Hurayrah said that the Messenger of Allah said,
(Do not commit what the Jews committed, breaching what Allah has forbidden, by resorting to the lowest types of deceit.)
This Hadith has a good (Jayid) chain of narration. Allah knows best.
Maududi - Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi - Tafhim al-Qur'an
Sabbath: Saturday. The Israelites were enjoined to keep the Sabbath as "a sign between me and you throughout your generations" for a perpetual covenant. "Six days tray work be done; but in the seventh is the Sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord: whosoever death any work in the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death." (Exodus, 31: 12-17) But when the Israelites became corrupt morally and religiously. they began to desecrate it openly and began to do business without hesitation on the Sabbath.
This incident has been described in detail in Al-A'raf, VII: There is a difference of opinion as to what actually happened. Some are of the opinion that they were physically transformed into apes, while others hold the view that from that time onward they began to behave like apes. The words of the Qur'an, however, indicate that it was not a moral but a physical metamorphosis. In my opinion their bodies were transformed into those of apes, but their human minds were left intact in order to subject them to extreme torture.
And verily you know that there were those among you who transgressed the Sabbath and We said to them “Be apes despised!” The metamorphosis maskh of this community occurred in their hearts. When [the children of Israel] abandoned [God's] command and disdained the laws that were imposed on them the punishments came quickly in their disgrace metamorphosis and in the other things which are included in the [QurÌānic text]. Because of their violation of the covenant and rejection of the limit [imposed by God] the community was punished through the metamorphosis of their hearts and the alteration of their states. [God] most high said “And We shall confound their hearts and their eyes; just as they did not believe the first time” [6:110]. The punishments of hearts are far worse than the punishments of the bodily selves. About this they have recited: O you who ask me “How have you been after himḍ” I suffered that which tormented me while it made him happy. I kept strutting about in our togetherness and felt safe from the ruses of time. But the turning away from me went on until not a bit of what I had experienced remained.