Abbas - Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs
(And when it is recited unto them) and when the Qur'an is recited to them expositing the attributes and description of Muhammad (pbuh) (they say: We believe in it) we believe in Muhammad (pbuh) and in the Qur'an. (Lo! it is the Truth from our Lord. Lo! even before it) before the recitation of the Qur'an to us (we were of those who surrender (unto Him)) we were of those who believe in Muhammad (pbuh) and the Qur'an.
(And there are, certainly, among the People of the Scripture, those who believe in Allah and in that which has been revealed to you, and in that which has been revealed to them, humbling themselves before Allah) (3:199).
(Verily, those who were given knowledge before it, when it is recited to them, fall down on their faces in humble prostration. And they say: "Glory be to our Lord! Truly, the promise of our Lord must be fulfilled.'') (17:107-108)
(And you will find the nearest in love to the believers those who say: "We are Christians. '') until:
فَاكْتُبْنَا مَعَ الشَّـهِدِينَ
(so write us down among the witnesses) (5:82-83). Sa`id bin Jubayr said, "This was revealed concerning seventy priests who were sent by An-Najashi (ruler of Ethiopia). When they came to the Prophet, he recited to them:
يس - وَالْقُرْءَانِ الْحَكِيمِ
(Ya Sin. By the Qur'an, full of wisdom.) (36:1-2) until he completed the Surah. They began to weep, and they embraced Islam. These other Ayat were revealed concerning them:
(Those to whom We gave the Scripture before it, they believe in it. And when it is recited to them, they say: "We believe in it. Verily, it is the truth from our Lord. Indeed even before it we have been from Muslims.'') meaning, `even befor e the Qur'an came we were Muslims, i.e., we believed in One God and were sincerely responding to Allah's commands.'
(These will be given their reward twice over, because they are patient,) means, those who have this characteristic -- that they believed in the first Book and then in the second. Allah says:
(because they are patient,) meaning, in their adherence to the truth, for taking such thing upon oneself is not easy for people. It was reported in the Sahih from the Hadith of `Amir Ash-Sha`bi from Abu Burdah that Abu Musa Al-Ash`ari, may Allah be pleased with him, said that the Messenger of Allah said:
(There are three who will be given their reward twice: a man among the People of the Book who believed in his Prophet then believed in me; a slave who fulfills his duty towards Allah and towards his master; and a man who has a slave woman and educates her and teaches her good manners, then he frees her and marries her.) Imam Ahmad recorded that Abu Umamah said: "On the day of the Conquest of Makkah I was walking alongside the Messenger of Allah as he was riding, and he said some very beautiful words, including the following:
(Whoever among the people of the two Books becomes Muslim, he will have his reward twice, and he has the same rights and duties as we do. Whoever among the idolators becomes Muslim will have one reward, and he has the same rights and duties as we do.)'' Allah's saying:
وَيَدْرَءُونَ بِالْحَسَنَةِ السَّيِّئَةَ
(and repel evil with good,) means, they do not respond to evil in kind, rather they forgive and overlook.
وَمِمَّا رَزَقْنَـهُمْ يُنفِقُونَ
(and spend out of what We have provided for them.) meaning, `from the lawful provision that We have given them, they spend on their families and relatives as they are required to do, and they pay Zakah and give voluntary charity.'
وَإِذَا سَمِعُواْ اللَّغْوَ أَعْرَضُواْ عَنْهُ
(And when they hear evil vain talk, they withdraw from it) meaning, they do not mix with the people who indulge in such talk, rather they do as Allah says:
وَإِذَا مَرُّواْ بِاللَّغْوِ مَرُّواْ كِراماً
(and if they pass by some evil vain talk, they pass by it with dignity) (25:72).
(and they say: "To us our deeds, and to you your deeds. Peace be to you. We seek not (the way of) the ignorant.'') means, if some foolish person speaks to them in a foolish manner and says something to which it does not befit them to respond, they turn away from him and do not respond in kind with ugly speech. They never say anything but good words. Allah says of them that they say:
(To us our deeds, and to you your deeds. Peace be to you. We seek not (the way of) the ignorant.) meaning, `we do not seek the way of the ignorant and we do not like it.'
Maududi - Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi - Tafhim al-Qur'an
This does not mean that all the people of the Book (the Jews and the Christians) affirm faith in it. This, in fact, contains an allusion to the event that occurred during the period when this Surah was revealed, and was meant to put to shame the people of Makkah, as if to say, "You are denying and rejecting a blessing that has been sent in your own city, whereas the people from far off places, when they hear of it, come to recognize its worth and benefit from it."
This event has been related by lbn Hisham, Baihaqi and others on the authority of Ibn Ishaq, thus: "After the migration to Habash when the news about the Holy Prophet's advent and message spread in that land, a deputation of about twenty Christians came to Makkah to find out the truth, and they met the Holy Prophet in the Masjid-al-Haram A crowd of the Quraish also gathered around them to watch what happened. The members of the deputation asked the Holy Prophet some questions, which he answered. Then he invited them to accept Islam and recited some verses of the Qur'an before them. When they heard the Qur'an, tears came down from their eyes and they confirmed its being Allah's Word and believed in the Holy Prophet. When the meeting was over and the people left, Abu Jahl and some of his men overtook them on the way, and rebuked them severely, saying, "Never has a more stupid company come here before: O foolish men you were sent here by your people with a view to inquiring about this man. but no sooner did you meet him than you gave up your own faith! " Those gentle people answered, "Peace be to you! We have no wish to enter all argument with you: you are responsible for your faith and we are for ours: we cannot afford to deprive ourselves knowingly of goodness." (Ibn Hisham, Vol. II, p. 32; Al-Bidayah wan Nihayah, Vol. III, p. 82. For further details, see E.N. 123 of Ash-Shu`araa).
That is, "Even before this we were believers in the Prophets and the Divine Books. Therefore, we had no other Faith than Islam and we have believed in that Book too, which this Prophet has brought from Allah. Thus, no change has occurred in our religion: we were Muslims before even as we are Muslims now."
This saying clearly indicates that Islam is not the name of the Faith brought by the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the term "Muslim" is not only applicable to his. followers, but Islam has been the Faith of all the Prophets since the very beginning and their followers were Muslims in every age. These Muslims became disbelievers only when they refused to acknowledge a true Prophet who came afterwards. But no interruption occurred in the Islam of those people who believed in the former Prophet and also affirmed faith in the Prophet who succeeded him. They continued to be Muslims as they had been Muslims before.
It is strange that even some learned men also have failed to comprehend this fact, and this clear verse also could not satisfy them. `Allama Suyuti wrote a treatise on the subject that the term "Muslim" was only reserved for the followers of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (may Allah's peace be upon him). Then, as he himself says, when this verse came before him he was stunned: he prayed to God that He guide him in the matter. At last, instead of revising his opinion he stuck to it even more firmly and gave several interpretations of the verse, each to which is more meaningless than the other. For example, one of his interpretations is: "We were Muslims even before this" means: We intended to become Muslims even before the revelation of the Qur'an, because we had been foretold by our Scriptures that it would come, and we hadthe intention that when it came we would accept Islam." Another interpretation is: "In this sentence, the word bi-hi after muslimin is omitted, implying: We believed in the Qur'an beforehand, because we expected it would come, and had believed in it in anticipation. Therefore, we were Muslims, not because we believed in the Torah and the Gospels, but because we had believed in the Qur'an as Allah's Word even before its revelation." The third interpretation is: "It had been divinely destined for us that we would accept Islam on the advent of the Holy Prophet and the revelation of the Qur'an; therefore, we were Muslims even before this." None of these interpretations bears any impress that Divine help had become available for the right understanding of this verse.
The fact is that the Qur'an has expressed this fundamental principle not only here, but at scores of other places also that the real Way of life is only Islam (submission to Allah), and in God's universe there can be no other way of life than this for His creatures. Since the beginning of the creation every Prophet who came for the guidance of mankind brought this very Way of Life: the Prophets themselves have always been Muslims, and they impressed upon their followers also to live as Muslims, and all their followers who submitted to the Divine Command brought by the Prophets, were also Muslims in every age. Consider the following few verses for instance:
(1) Indeed, Islam is the only right way of life in the sight of Allah." (Al-'Imran: 19)
(2) "Whoever adopts any other than this way of submission (Islam), it will not be accepted from him." (Al-i-`imran: 85)
(3)"My reward is with Allah, and I have been commanded to believe like a Muslim." (Yunus: 72)
About Prophet Abraham and his descendants it has been said:
(4) "When his Lord said to him, 'Surrender', he promptly responded, 'I have surrendered to the Lord of the universe (and become a Muslim)'. He also enjoined on his children to follow the same way. Jacob also did the same and his last will to his sons was: 'O my children, Allah has chosen the same way of life for you. Hence, remain Muslims up to your last breath.' (Dare you deny this?) Were you present at the time when Jacob was on the point of death ? He asked his children, `Whom will you worship after me?' They all answered, `We will worship the same One Allah Whom you, your forefathers Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac acknowledged as their Allah and to Him we all surrender as Muslims'." (Al-Baqarah: 133) (5) "Abraham was neither a Jew nor a Christian, but he was a Muslim, sound in the Faith." (AI-i-`Imran: 67) Prophets Abraham and Ishmael themselves prayed:
(6) "Lord, make us Thy Muslims and raise from our offspring a community which should also be Muslim (submissive to Thy will)." (Al-Baqarah: 128). In connection with the story of the Prophet Lot it has been said:
(7) "We did not find in it any house of the Muslims except one." (Ad Dhariyat: 36) The Prophet Joseph prayed to Allah:
(8) "Let me die as a Muslim, and join me with the righteous in the end." (Yusuf: 101) Prophet Moses says to his people:
(9) "O my people, if you sincerely believe in Allah, put your trust in Him, if you are Muslims." (Yunus: 84)
The real religion of the Israelites was not Judaism but Islam as was known to their friends and foes alike. That is why the last words that Pharaoh said while drowning were:
(10) "I have believed that there is no god but the real God in Whom the children of Israel have believed, and I am of the Muslims." (Yunus:90)
Islam was the Way of life of all the Israelite Prophets:
(11) "Indeed, We sent down the Torah wherein was Guidance and Light: thereby all the Prophets, who were Muslims, judged the cases of those who had become Jews." (Al-Ma'idah: 44).
The same was the Prophet Solomon's way of life. So when the queen of Sheba believed in him, she said.
(12) "I submit myself (as a Muslim) with Solomon to Allah, Lord of the wands." (An-Naml: 44).
And the same was the religion of the disciples of the Prophet Jesus:
(13) "And when I inspired the disciples to believe in Me and My Messenger, they said: `We believe and bear witness that we are Muslims'." (AlMa'idah: 111).
In this connection, if somebody expresses the doubt that the Arabic words "lslam" and "Muslims" could not have been used in different languages and countries, it would obviously be a foolish objection. For the real thing is not the Arabic words but the meaning in which they are used in Arabic. In fact, what has been stressed in the above-cited verses is that the real Way of life sent by God was neither Christianity nor Mosaicism nor Muhammadanism, but to surrender to the Divine Commands taught by the Prophets and the Scriptures, and whoever adopted this Way anywhere and at any time in the world, is the follower of the same universal, eternal and everlasting true Way of Life. For those who have adopted this Way consciously and sincerely, it is no change of the faith to believe in Jesus after Moses and in Muhammad after Jesus(may Allah's peace be upon all of them), but a natural and logical demand following the same real Way of life (Islam). Contrary to this, those people who got into the Prophets' communities without due understanding or were born in them, and for whom nationalistic and racial and tribal prejudices were the religion, became mere Jews or Christians, and on the advent of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) their ignorance was exposed. For by refusing to believe in the Last Prophet of Allah, they not only refused to,remain Muslims in the future but also proved that they were not "Muslims" even before: they had been charmed by the personality of a Prophet or Prophets, or had taken blind conformity to their forefathers for religion.
That is, one reward for affirming faith in the Prophet Jesus (Allah's peace be upon him) and the second for affirming faith in Muhammad (may Allah's peace be upon him). The same thing has been expressed in the Hadith which Bukhari and Muslim have related on the authority of Hadrat Abu Musa Ash`ari. He says that the Holy Prophet said: "One of the three persons who will get a double reward is he who belonged to the people of the Book, had full faith in his Prophet and then affirmed faith in Muhammad (may Allah's peace be upon him)."
That is, "They will get a double reward for the reason that they avoided nationalistic, racial and tribal prejudices and remained steadfast on the way of true Faith. When, on the advent of the new Prophet, they were confronted by a hard test, they proved by their conduct that they were not Christ-worshipers but God worshipers: they were not charmed by Christ's personality but were followers of "Islam". That is why when the new Prophet after Christ brought the same Islam that Christ had brought, they adopted the way of Islam under his leadership; without any hesitation, and gave up the way of those who remained stuck to Christianity. "
That is, "They answer evil and falsehood with what is good and right: they repel injustice and mischief with what is just and noble; and they do not pay the other man back in the same coin."
That is, "They also make monetary sacrifices in the way of the truth. There might also be in it an allusion to this that those people had traveled from Habash to Makkah in search of the truth: they had no material gain in view when they undertook a toilsome journey involving a lot of expenses. When they heard that a man in Makkah had made a claim to be a Prophet, they thought it necessary to go and find out the truth, so that if a prophet had really been sent by God, they should not be deprived of affirming faith in him and being guided aright."
The reference is to the "vain talk" that Abu Jahl and his men had with the Christians from Habash, as mentioned in E.N. 72 above.
The context shows that the object of addressing this sentence to the Holy Prophet, after mentioning the affirmation of the Faith by this Christians from Habash, was to put the disbelievers of Makkah to shame, as if to say. "O unfortunate people, what wretches you are! People from far off places are coming to benefit from the fountainhead of blessings that has been made available in your own city, but you are willfully depriving yourselves of it." But the same thing has been said like this: "O Muhammad, you wish that your clansmen and your kinsfolk; and your near and dear ones should benefit from this life-giving nectar, but your willing alone cannot avail. To give guidance is in the power of Allah: He favours with it only those whom He finds inclined to accept guidance. If your kinsfolk lack this inclination, how can they be favored with this blessing?"
According to Bukhari and Muslim. this verse was sent down with regard to the Holy Prophet's uncle, Abu Talib. When he was about to breathe his last, the Holy Prophet tried his utmost that he should affirm faith in La ilaha illallah, so that he might die as a Muslim, but he preferred to die on the creed of `Abdul Muttalib; that is why Allah said: "You cannot give guidance to whom you please.." But this is a well-known method of the traditionalists and commentators that when they find that a particular verse applies to an event of the Prophet's time, they regard it as the occasion of the verse's revelation. Therefore, it cannot be necessarily concluded from this and the other similar traditions that have been related in Tirmidhi, Musnad Ahmad, etc. on the authority of Hadrat Abu Hurairah, Ibn `Abbas, Ibn `Umar, etc. that this verse of Surah Al-Qasas was revealed on the occasion of Abu Talib's death. This only shows that the truth of its meaning became most evident only on that occasion. Though the Holy Prophet sincerely wished that every man should be blessed with guidance, the person whose dying on disbelief could cause him the greatest anguish and of whose guidance he was most desirous on account of personal bonds of love and affection, was Abu Talib. But when he was helpless in affording guidance even to him, it became evident that it did not lie in the power of the Prophet to give guidance to one or withhold it from another, but it lay wholly in the power of Allah. And Allah bestows this favor on whom ever He wills not on account of a family or tribal relationship, but on the basis of one's sincerity, capability and inclination of the heart.