The Quran

Commentaries for 2.78

Al Baqara (The cow) - البقرة

2.78 Abbas - Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs
(Among them are unlettered folk who know not the scripture) they do not know how to read or write it (except from hearsay) except the unfounded things they hear. (They but guess) their talk is all surmise based on what they heard from their leaders.
2.78 Asrar - Kashf Al-Asrar
And among them are the unlettered.
In this verse the attribute of unletteredness is a censure of the estranged and a mark of their shortcoming. In the verse where He says, “Those who follow the Messenger, the unlettered prophet” [7:157], it is a praise of MuṣṬafā and a mark of his perfection. This alludes to the fact that having the same name does not mean being of the same kind. The congruence of names does not require the congruence of meanings. The position of the Folk of the Sunnah in affirming the attributes of the Real was established according to this rule: the agreement of one name with another does not bring about the agreement of meanings. God has attributes and descriptions fitting for Godhood, and creatures are far from that. Created things have created attributes, and God is pure of that. Do you not see that “exalted” is a name of God, and He called Joseph exalted [12:78]? God's exaltedness is worthy of Him and the created thing's exaltedness is worthy of it.
By the agreement of the Muslims and the attestation of most of the unbelievers, God is existent and the creatures are existent. But, the creatures exist by God's existence-giving, and God exists by His own abidance and His own being and subsistence. The Muslims agree that God is alive, and there are many living things among the created. The created thing is alive through breath and through appropriate and timely nourishment, but God is alive through His life and subsistence and through His firstness and lastness-without when, how many, or how. All the opponents of the Folk of the Sunnah say that God is maker and the created thing maker. But the created thing is maker through artifice, instrument, striving, and measure, and God is maker through power and wisdom-whatever He wants, as He wants, and whenever He wants.
There are many similar things in the Qur'an. In short, God knows how He is, and He is just as He said He is, but the servant is incapable of knowing His howness. What God said about Himself should be accepted from the eyeteeth and assented to from the depth of the spirit. When someone fancies that having the same meaning is to be of the same kind, that is to go by the road of the roadless, and it is nothing but rebellion. Hoping to grasp God by imagination and seeking is absurd, and everything gained in this way will be faulty. Safety in the religion lies in accepting the message, approving of him who conveyed it, bowing the head, and putting aside seeking. Anyone who has this as his belief has gone on the right path, and his outcome will be as the Exalted Lord says:
2.78 Jalal - Al-Jalalayn
And there are some of them, the Jews, that are illiterate, unlettered, not knowing the Scripture, the Torah, but only desires, lies which were handed down to them by their leaders and which they relied upon; and, in their rejection of the prophethood of the Prophet and fabrications of other matters, they have, mere conjectures, and no firm knowledge.
2.78 Kashani - Kashani
And there are some of them, namely, the non-perceiving natural powers and the external senses [that are illiterate], not knowing the Scripture, the Book of intelligible meanings, but only as desires, of their pleasures and lusts, uncertain of how the consequences of these will be sealed or their harmfulness for the path of perfection, nay indeed they conjecture that these will profit them and are good for them; [and mere conjectures].
2.78-79 Kathir - Ibn Al Kathir
The Meaning of `Ummi
Allah said,
وَمِنْهُمْ أُمِّيُّونَ
(And there are among them Ummyyun people) meaning, among the People of the Book, as Mujahid stated. Ummyyun, is plural for Ummi, that is, a person who does not write, as Abu Al-`Aliyah, Ar-Rabi`, Qatadah, Ibrahim An-Nakha`i and others said. This meaning is clarified by Allah's statement,
لاَ يَعْلَمُونَ الْكِتَـبَ
(Who know not the Book) meaning, are they not aware of what is in it.
Ummi was one of the descriptions of the Prophet because he was unlettered. For instance, Allah said,
وَمَا كُنتَ تَتْلُو مِن قَبْلِهِ مِن كِتَـبٍ وَلاَ تَخُطُّهُ بِيَمِينِكَ إِذاً لاَّرْتَـبَ الْمُبْطِلُونَ
(Neither did you (O Muhammad ) read any book before it (this Qur'an) nor did you write any book (whatsoever) with your right hand. In that case, indeed, the followers of falsehood might have doubted) (29:48).
Also, the Prophet said,
«إِنَّا أُمَّةٌ أُمِّيَّةٌ لَا نَكْتُبُ وَلَا نَحْسِبُ، الشَّهْرُ هكَذَا وَهكَذَا وَهكَذَا»
(We are an Ummi nation, neither writing nor calculating. The (lunar) month is like this, this and this (i.e. thirty or twenty-nine days.)
This Hadith stated that Muslims do not need to rely on books, or calculations to decide the timings of their acts of worship. Allah also said,
هُوَ الَّذِى بَعَثَ فِى الأُمِّيِّينَ رَسُولاً مِّنْهُمْ
(He it is Who sent among the Ummiyyin ones a Messenger (Muhammad ) from among themselves) (62:2).
The Explanation of Amani
Ad-Dahhak said that Ibn `Abbas said that Allah's statement,
إِلاَّ أَمَانِىَّ
(But they trust upon Amani) means, "It is just a false statement that they utter with their tongues.'' It was also said that Amani means `wishes and hopes'. Mujahid commented, "Allah described the Ummiyyin as not understanding any of the Book that Allah sent down to Musa, yet they create lies and falsehood.'' Therefore, the word Amani mentioned here refers to lying and falsehood. Mujahid said that Allah's statement,
وَإِنْ هُمْ إِلاَّ يَظُنُّونَ
(And they but guess) means, "They lie.'' Qatadah, Abu Al-`Aliyah and Ar-Rabi` said that it means, "They have evil false ideas about Allah.''
Woe unto Those Criminals among the Jews
Allah said,
فَوَيْلٌ لِّلَّذِينَ يَكْتُبُونَ الْكِتَـبَ بِأَيْدِيهِمْ ثُمَّ يَقُولُونَ هَـذَا مِنْ عِندِ اللَّهِ لِيَشْتَرُواْ بِهِ ثَمَنًا قَلِيلاً
(Then Waylun (woe) to those who write the book with their own hands and then say, "This is from Allah,'' to purchase with it a little price!).
This is another category of people among the Jews who called to misguidance with falsehood and lies about Allah, thriving on unjustly amassing people's property. `Waylun (woe)' carries meanings of destruction and perishing, and it is a well-known word in the Arabic language. Az-Zuhri said that `Ubadydullah bin `Abdullah narrated that Ibn `Abbas said, "O Muslims! How could you ask the People of the Book about anything, while the Book of Allah (Qur'an) that He revealed to His Prophet is the most recent Book from Him and you still read it fresh and young Allah told you that the People of the Book altered the Book of Allah, changed it and wrote another book with their own hands. They then said, `This book is from Allah,' so that they acquired a small profit by it. Hasn't the knowledge that came to you prohibited you from asking them By Allah! We have not seen any of them asking you about what was revealed to you.'' This Hadith was also collected by Al-Bukhari. Al-Hasan Al-Basri said, "The little amount here means this life and all that it contains.''
Allah's statement,
فَوَيْلٌ لَّهُمْ مِّمَّا كَتَبَتْ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَوَيْلٌ لَّهُمْ مِّمَّا يَكْسِبُونَ
(Woe to them for what their hands have written and woe to them for that they earn thereby) means, "Woe to them because of what they have written with their own hands, the lies, falsehood and alterations. Woe to them because of the property that they unjustly acquired.'' Ad-Dahhak said that Ibn `Abbas commented,
فَوَيْلٌ لَّهُمْ
(Woe to them), "Means the torment will be theirs because of the lies that they wrote with their own hands,
وَوَيْلٌ لَّهُمْ مِّمَّا يَكْسِبُونَ
(And woe to them for that they earn thereby), which they unjustly acquired from people, be they commoners or otherwise.''
2.75-82 Maududi - Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi - Tafhim al-Qur'an
Here the addressees are the new converts of Madinah, who had embraced Islam only recently. They had become interested in the Holy Prophet because they had often heard from the neighbouring Jews about Prophethood, Revelation, Angels, Divine Law, etc. They had also heard from them that they were expecting a new Prophet whose followers would prevail over the whole world. That is why the people of Madinah turned to the Holy Prophet when they heard of him and entered into the fold of Islam in large numbers. Naturally, they expected that the Jews, who possessed revealed Scriptures and who themselves had foretold the coming of a Prophet, would be the first to welcome Muhammad (Allah's peace be upon him) as a Prophet and would be in the forefront of his supporters. When, contrary to their expectations, the Jews did not come forward, the new Muslims themselves went to them and invited them to accept Islam, but they failed to persuade them. The hypocrites and the opponents of Islam used this rejection as an argument against Islam itself. They argued like this: there must be something suspicious about it: had Muhammad (Allah's peace be upon him) really been a Prophet, these pious and learned followes of the earlier scriptures, would nothave rejected him Knowingly, and ruined their Hereafter. In order to counteract the mischief caused by this fallacy, the past history of the Jews has been related to show that nothing better could be expected of them. This also cautioned the simple Muslims against cherishing any hope that the Jews of their city would in a body welcome Muhammad (Allah's peace be upon him) as the Prophet about whom prophecies has been made in their own Books. They have been warned that they should not entertain such expectations from the people whose history has been so and so. This was necessary because they were liable to become disheartened because of the rejection of Islam by them. As to the Jews, they had become so degenerate and hard-hearted that they were not moved even by those verses which melted the hearts of the pagans who formerly used to kill their own daughters. Not only this, these hard-hearted Jews made fun of those very verses also. Therefore, the zealous Muslims were warned that they should understand the real condition of the Jews, who had corrupted the Truth to suit their own desires and then had the audacity to have their hopes centred on the religion which they had themselves perverted. it was wrong to entertain any vain hopes that such people would accept the Truth as soon as it was presented before them.
"Some among them": their rabbis and jurists. "Word of God": the Torah, Psalms and other Books which they had received through their Prophets. The Jewish scholars not only twisted, distorted and misinterpreted the revealed scriptures, and read into them the meaning they wanted to read, but they also tampered with the actual words of the text.
When they met secretly, they warned each other not to disclose to the Muslims those passages of the Torah and other Scriptures which contained prophecies about the Holy Prophet. They also warned each other not to inform the Muslims about those verses and teachings of their holy books which, they feared, would expose to objection their own present condition and attitude for they were afraid that the Muslims would present these as arguments against them on the Day of Judgement. This is an instance of the kind of belief they held about Allah's knowledge. They were under the delusion that if they succeeded in hiding the Truth and their corruption of the Scriptures in this world, there would be no possibility of bringing a case against them in the Next World. That is why in the parenthetical clause that follows they have been asked whether they really believed Allah to be unaware of the affairs of the people.
This refers to the common people of the Jews, who were totally ignorant of the teachings of their own Scriptures. They had neither any knowledge of the fundamentals of religion, nor of the regulations concerning morality and rules of everyday life, nor of the principles leading to ultimate success or failure. And the pity is that they had formed their own notions about religion without this knowledge and were living on false hopes.
This refers to what their learned people did. They not only perverted their Scriptures to suit their desires and vanities, but also blended with the Text of the Bible their own interpretations, their national history, their superstitions, their self-made theories, philosophies and laws. Then they presented all this mixture before the people as if it were actually from God. Every historical fiction, every interpretation, every man-made creed, and every bye law that had somehow entered into the Holy Book, became the "Word of God," and it was absolutely obligatory for every Jew to believe in all these things and, if one did not, he was declared to be a renegade or a heretic.
There was a general belief among the common Jews and their religious leaders that they would not be seat to Hell in spite of their wrong beliefs and evil deeds just because they were Jews. They thought that even if any punishment was imposed on them, it would be for a few days only after which they would be sent to Paradise.
2.78-79 Qushairi - Al-Qushairi
And there are some of them that are illiterate not knowing the scripture but only desires and mere conjectures. So woe to those who write the scripture with their hands then say “This is from God” that they may sell it for a small price. He related that they differed in the shortcomings of their disbelief. One group is the most contemptible while the majority relied on blind following taqlīd out of ignorance. It was not that doubt seized them but rather that they were misled by conjecture and speculation. They have no share in their scriptures other than to recite them without knowledge of their meanings. Among this group are those who are mostly concerned with what they desire for themselves. There is no possibility of their being helped and no definitive way of finding the truth among their conjectures. Then He related the bad outcome for them in His words may His mention be exalted: So woe to them for what their hands have written and woe to them for their earnings. It means they have lost in the present and in the end. This verse alludes to those who lack sincerity ikhlāṣ in companionship ṣuḥba on the path of the Real. They associate with the friends awliyāÌ [of God] externally but they possess no true spiritual desire irāda so they are companions of the heedless with only a partial view of this path Ṭarīqa. Whenever the clamor of worldly fortunes call they rush to respond willingly but when the demands of the Real سبحانه direct them to some endeavor their situation is a bad one since they are not sincere. How intense will be their remorse for what they have hoarded from God! They will not prosper.
2.78 Tustari - Al-Tustari
…Who know not the Book, but only [see therein their own] desires…He said:This means that they rest their hopes in God based upon falsehood, inclining towards the desire (hawā) of their lower selves without following guidance from God. This is referring to the Jews. He was asked about His words: