Abbas - Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs
(And We made it) turning them into apes (an example) we subjected them to a chastisement (to their own) for the sins they had committed before, (and) made them a lesson (to succeeding generations) in order that they do not follow their example (and admonition to the God-fearing) and a counsel and warning to those who fear Allah, i.e. Muhammad (pbuh) and his Companions.
And We made it, this punishment, an exemplary punishment, a lesson to dissuade others from doing what they did; for all the former times and for the latter, that is, for the people of that time or those that came later; and an admonition to such as who fear, God: these are singled out for mention here because they, in contrast to others, are the ones who benefit thereby.
[And We made it an exemplary punishment for all the former times and for the latter, and an admonition to such as who fear.]
Thus for the Jews was assigned the first day of the week on account of their being the people of the origin and the manifest, and for the Christians the following [day] as they are the people of the final return, the spiritual and the hidden who relative to us come after the origin and the manifest; while for the Muslims [was assigned] the last [day of the week] which is Friday because at the end of time they would be the people of the sealing [final] prophethood and the all-comprehensive universal unity. If Saturday is taken to be the last day, according to what has been transmitted, that it is the seventh [day], then in relation to God the Truth, that is because it constitutes the world of the senses to which was made the call of the Jews, being the last of the worlds; then the world of the intellect to which was made the call of the Christians is the first [of these worlds], while Friday is the day of union and the sealing: whoever does not take into account these conventions and observances in the first place the light of his preparedness disappears and is transfigured in the way that the people of the Sabbath were transfigured because of the interdiction concerning fishing [symbolising], that is, the securing and acquisition of ego-centric shares on the Saturday. They connived regarding it by creating a pool on the seashore in which the fish would be trapped [on the Saturday] and they would fish them out on Sunday. In other words, throughout the days of the week they would store up from the waters of the sea of primordial matter (hayūla) physical mass in the pools of their homes gathering thereby a variety of foods and drinks, pleasures and distractions so that there accumulated for them ego-centric shares on the day of the Sabbath what sufficed them for the remaining days of the week during which they would be free to engage in livelihoods, artisanship and trades, as is the custom of the Jews and certain cunning Muslims to this day in some communities, so that most of their wicked dealings take place therein.
That was their practice with regard to the Sabbath and this proves that all of their moments of presence are directed towards the concerns of this world and the pursuit of the shares of the soul and desire. You see this today: a Muslim's physical form may be engaged in prayer in a mosque while his heart is in the middle of a transaction in the marketplace, so much so that some of them say: 'my accounts register is my prayer', in other words, as soon as I am finished with my this-worldly activities [ready] for prayer my heart begins to peruse my transactions, what I owe others and what others owe me. That necessarily results in a sliding down from the upper human world to the nether animal horizon, being the import of His words: and We said to them, 'Be apes, in other words, similar to human beings in form without being [humans] as such, despised!', removed and banished. Transfiguration in fact is undeniably true in this world and in the Hereafter. Several verses and reports mention it, such as His statement, exalted be He: And some of whom He has turned into apes and swine [Q. 5:60]. It has been reported from him [the Prophet] that he said, 'Transfiguration is of 13 kinds …', and proceeded to enumerate them and illustrated their [evil] deeds, their acts of disobedience and the reasons for their transfiguration. In sum, when the characteristic of a given animal predominates in a person and becomes deeply embedded in him so that it erases his preparedness and takes control of his natural disposition and becomes his essential form, like the water that issues from a sulphur spring, his nature becomes the nature of that animal, his soul the soul of that [animal] and so his spirit upon separation [from the body at death] is joined to a body that corresponds to his character whereupon his character becomes his [actual] form, but God knows best.
(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 We made it an exemplary punishment for all the former times and for the latter and an admonition to those who fear. Thus the states of those who were tried by abandonment muniya bi-l-hijrān and branded with disappointment wusima bi-l-khidhlān became a lesson-to look at what happened to them is to choke on grief. The one who is reduced to misery after having had status becomes an object of scorn before every ignoble person. This is what remains for those who have been brought low after [experiencing] the wrath of kings and [being] shunned by chieftains: The youths surrounded and ganged up on me. From behind they called the dogs on me.