|Volume 4: Surah Baqarah, Verses 253-254|
These apostles, We have made some of them to excel others; among them are some to whom Allah spoke, and some of them He exalted by degree (of rank); and We gave clear (evidence) to Isa, son of Maryam, and strengthened him with the holy spirit. And if Allah had pleased, those after them would not have fought one with another after clear arguments had come to them; but they differed; so there were some of them who believed and others who denied; and if Allah had so pleased they would not have fought one with another, but Allah does what He intends (253). 0 You who believe! Spend out of what We have given you, before the day comes in which there is no bargaining, neither any friendship nor intercession; and the unbelievers - they are unjust (254).
These two verses do not differ much in context from the preceding verses which ordained fighting and spending in the way of Allah. Then came the story of Talut, in this context, so that the believers might learn important lessons from it, and that story ended on the words, "and most surely you are one of the apostles" which are immediately followed by the opening sentence of this verse, "These apostles, We have made some of them to excel the others." Thereafter, it describes why those who came after those apostles fought one with another. (In the story of Talut also, there was a restrictive phrase, "after Musa" to describe "the chiefs of the children of Israel".) Then it reverts to the exhortation of spending in the way of Allah before the final day comes.
All these similarities in context strongly support the view that these two verses are connected with the previous ones, and that all of them were sent down together.
The verse purports to remove a common misunderstanding, which is as follows:
The apostleship, especially when it was accompanied by clear evidence, that is, arguments and miracles to prove its truth, should have ended the scourge of fighting. It could have happened in one of the two ways: (1) When Allah sent the apostles and gave them clear signs for the specific purpose of guiding people to their bliss in both worlds, it would have been proper if He had also prevented them from fighting among themselves and united them all in the truth. So, why is there so much fighting going on among the followers of those apostles? This objection becomes all the more telling after the advent of Islam which counts unity as one of the pillars of its shari 'ah and the basis of its laws. (2) The sending of the apostles and the giving to them of the clear signs was done for the specific purpose of creating faith in peoples' hearts. Belief and faith is a spiritual characteristic, which cannot be created by force and coercion. Then what the use of fighting once the prophets and the apostles had been sent.
We have explained this objection together with its reply in the commentary of the verses of fighting.
In this verse, Allah gives the following reply: The fighting among the followers of the apostles occurred because the said followers differed among themselves. Had they not differed, there would not have been any fighting among them. The cause of the fighting was, therefore, their difference. It is true that if Allah so wished, there would not have occurred any difference; and thus there would not have been any fighting. Alternatively, He could have disconnected the cause, that is, the difference, from its effect, that is, fighting; so that even if there was difference, there would not have occurred any fighting. But Allah does what He wishes; and He has decreed that the effect will follow its cause; also, that the people will have freedom of choice, and that there will not be any compulsion for them to follow a certain course.
And that is why they differed, and were not prevented from it, and that is why the said difference caused the fighting.
QUR'AN: These apostles, We have made some of them to excel the others:
It demonstrates the greatness of the apostles and the grandeur of their status. That is why the demonstrative pronoun "tilka" (those) has been used, which is meant to point to a distant object. The verse shows the excellence given by Allah to some of them over others - some of them have been given more excellence than the others. But all of them are great, as the apostleship in itself is an excellence, which all of them share. There is a difference among the apostles, of their grades and ranks; and there is a difference among their followers, as the verse describes. But the two types of differences have nothing in common: The difference among the apostles is only in their ranks and grades, but they all are one in the basic excellence of apostleship; and the conflict of the people of the apostles is the one which is found between belief and disbelief, between affirmation and negation. It goes without saying that the two differences are quite separate from each other. And that is why Allah has used separate words for each. The difference in the rank and grade of the apostles has been named excellence, and it has been attributed to Allah, "We have made some of them to excel others". The conflict of the followers of the apostles has been called a difference, and it has been attributed to the men themselves, "they differed".
The verse ends on the topic of fighting, and the preceding verses were also concerned with admonition to fight in the way of Allah, and with a story about it. It obviously means that the sentences under discussion, "These apostles . . . with the holy spirit", are a prologue to make the meaning of the next sentences clearer. It shows that the institution of apostleship, in spite of all its blessings and good, has not been able to end fighting among the people, because the said fighting is initiated by the people themselves.
The apostleship has a high, towering excellence; and its good and bliss have everlasting freshness; whenever you look at it you will see a new beauty, and whichever aspect you ponder upon, you will find a new virtue. This excellent institution. in spite of its brilliant splendor and awe-inspiring magnificence, in spite of its accompanying clear evidence and miracle, is not able to eradicate the differences of people in belief and disbelief. It is so, because this difference is caused by the people themselves. Allah has mentioned this fact in various verses: Surely the religion with Allah is Islam; and those to whom the book had been given did not differ, but after knowledge had come to them, out of envy among themselves (3:19). Mankind was but one nation.. . and none differed about it but the very people who were given it revolting among themselves (2:213).
The fact remains that if Allah had so wished He could have prevented this difference and the resulting fighting by His creative decree. But Allah has established a system of cause and effect in the universe, and difference is the established cause of conflict and fighting. Also, if He had so wished, He could have forbidden it by His legislative decree; or He could have refrained from giving the believers the order to fight in His way. But He gave this order; and made it a criterion of faith, "so that Allah may separate the impure from the pure”, “and most certainly Allah will know those who believe and most certainly He will know the hypocrites”.
In short, fighting among the people of the apostles cannot be avoided, as there is always the possibility of people differing because of envy and revolt. The apostleship and its clear evidence are sufficient to refute wrong beliefs and clear away doubts. But envy, revolt, obstinacy and other such moral defects cannot be removed and the earth cannot be purged of them except by fighting in the way of Allah, which will better the condition of humanity. Experience proves that in many cases arguments alone were not effective unless they were supported by the sword. That is why Allah ordered His apostles, whenever necessary, to stand in support of truth and fight in His way. He so ordered in the days of Ibrahim and the prophets of the children of Israel, and after the Apostle of Allah came. More details have already been given under the verses of fighting.
QUR’AN: Among them are some to whom Allah spoke, and some of them He exalted by degree (of rank):
In these sentences the pronouns and verbs have been changed from the first person of the preceding one (We have made some of them to excel) to the third person. The reason - and Allah knows better - may be as follows:
Meritorious epithets are of two kinds: First, that which in itself is enough to show the merit and honor of the person or thing so described; for example, the clear evidence and the miracle, and being strengthened with the holy spirit, which has been mentioned in respect of ‘Isa (a.s.). There is no doubt that these epithets are, per se, splendid and lofty. Second, that which in itself has no value unless it is related to a great subject, and its merit and honor depend upon the prestige of the doer; for example, being spoken to, per se, has no virtue, but if one is spoken to by a great personality it bestows an honor to the man who is spoken to. And it carries a very great splendor if one is spoken to by Allah. Likewise, being raised in rank, per se, has no virtue unless it is done for example, by Allah.
In this light, we may easily appreciate the great eloquence of the Qur’an in changing the pronouns in three sentences "among them are some to whom Allah spoke, and some of them He exalted by degree (of rank); and We gave clear (evidence) to ‘Isa..." When Allah described the virtues of being spoken to and being raised in rank, He changed the pronouns to the third person clearly mentioning the name, ‘Allah’, as the bestower of these merits. When the epithets reached clear evidence, etc., which were honored in themselves, the pronouns reverted to the first person of the starting sentence and said: “and We gave clear evidence to ‘Isa son of Maryam”.
The commentators advance various opinions as to who is meant by the two sentences. It is said that “some to whom Allah spoke” refers to Musa, as verse 164 of chap. 4 says: And We spoke to Musa (directly) speaking (to him), and as several other verses testify. Also, it is said that it means the Apostle of Allah, Muhammad (s.a.w.a.), because Allah spoke to him on the night of the ascension when Allah brought him near Himself to such a degree that all intermediate links vanished completely, and Allah addressed to him His revelation directly without any intermediary. He says: Then he (i.e., Muhammad) drew near, and he became pending (i.e., in between the Creator and His creatures) ; so he was the measure of two bows or closer still. And He revealed to His servant what He revealed (53:8-10). A third interpretation is that the speaking means revelation in general, because revelation is a secret speaking, and it has been termed speaking in the verse, And it is not for any man that Allah should speak to him except by revelation, or from behind a veil, or by sending a messenger so that he reveals by His permission what He pleases (42:51). But this last interpretation does not conform with the preposition “min” (from, among) which denotes that not all, but only “some”, of the apostles were given this distinction - and revelation was not confined to only a few of them, it was common to all.
The most appropriate interpretation is that it refers to Musa (a.s.), because Allah’s speaking with him was already mentioned in a chapter of Meccan period (which was revealed long before this chapter 2, which is a Medinite chapter) : And when Musa came at Our appointed time and his Lord spoke to him . . . He said: "O Musa! Surely I have chosen you above the people with My message and with my speech. . . " (7:143-144). Obviously the fact that Musa was spoken to by Allah had been well understood when the verse under discussion was revealed.
Likewise, various interpretations have been offered for the sentence, "and some of them He exalted by degree (of rank)".
It is said that it refers to Muhammad (s.a.w.a.), as Allah raised him in status and exalted over all the apostles, because He:
- sent him towards all the men -: And We have not sent you but to all the men... (34:28) ;
- made him a mercy to the worlds -: And We have not sent you but as a mercy to the worlds (21:107);
- made him the Last of the prophets -: ...but he is the apostle of Allah and the last of the prophets... (33:40);
- gave him the Qur'an, which is the guardian over all books and explains clearly everything, and is protected from the alterations of wrongdoers, and, in short, is a miracle which will last up to the end of the world - : And We have revealed to you the Book with the truth, verifying what is before it of the book and a guardian over it (5:48); And We have revealed the Book to you explaining clearly everything. . . (16:89); Surely We have revealed the Reminder and We will most surely be its guardian (15:9) ; Say: If men and jinn should combine together to bring the like of this Qur'an, they could not bring the like of it, even though some of them were aiders of the others (17:88).
- and gave him especially the established and upright religion which is responsible for all the good of this world and the next -: Then set thy face upright to the established religion (30:43).
Another interpretation is that it refers to various prophets who were raised in status in one way or the other. For example, the following prophets:
Nuh (a.s.) -: Peace be on Nub in all the worlds (37:79).
Ibrahim (a.s.) -: And (remember) when his Lord tried Ibrahim with certain words, then he fulfilled them. He said: "Surely I will make you Imam for mankind. . . " (2:124): And make for me a truthful tongue (i.e., goodly mention) among the posterity (26:84);
Idris (a.s.) -: And We raised him to a high station (19:57);
Yusuf (a.s.) -: We raise the degrees of whomsoever We please (12:76);
Dawud (a.s.) -: And We gave to Dawud Psalm (4:163); and likewise various other prophets.
A third interpretation is that the words, “These apostles”, in the beginning of the verse, refer to those apostles only who have been mentioned in this chapter of the Cow, like Ibrahim, Musa, ‘Isa, ‘Uzayr, Armiah, Ushmu’il, Dawud, and Muhammad, the peace of Allah be on them all. Out of them Musa and ‘Isa have especially been mentioned in this verse, and from among the rest it is Muhammad (s.a.w.a.) who has been raised in degrees of rank over the others.
A fourth interpretation: “These apostles” refers to only those who have been mentioned in the preceding story; and they are Musa, Dawud, Ushmu’il and Muhammad. Musa’s distinction has been mentioned, and that is his being spoken to. Then comes the topic of raising the degrees of rank, and from the above list, no one is more deserving for it than Muhammad (s.a.w.a.). Probably, that was the reason why ‘Isa had to be mentioned in this verse by name because in the preceding story he was not mentioned at all.
But a well balanced interpretation would be as follows:
There is no doubt that the exalted rank of the Prophet, Muhammad (s.a.w.a.), is included in the meaning of this sentence; but there is no reason to suppose that the sentence refers only to his excellence or only to those prophets who are mentioned in the story of Talut or in the chapter of the Cow, because all such view are arbitrary and without any justifiable reason. It is quite obvious that the verse is general; “these apostles” refer to all the apostles sent by Allah, and “some of them lie exalted by degrees of rank” covers all those apostles who were exalted by Him in any way.
Someone has said: The context shows that the sentence, “some of them He exalted . . . “, refers only to Muhammad (s.a.w.a.). The verse gives a lesson to those nations that fight among themselves, after their apostles, even though their religion is one - and only three such nations were present when the verse was revealed: the Jews, the Christians and the Muslims. Therefore, it was appropriate to mention their apostles especially; Musa and 'Isa have already been described in the verse, and it means that the remaining sentence, "some of them He exalted . .", specifically refers to Muhammad (s.a.w.a.).
Comment : The Qur'an decrees that all the apostle were sent to all of mankind, as Allah says:. . . We do not make any distinction between any of them . . . (2:136). The apostles brought them clear signs, arguments and miracles. This fact in itself should have been enough to cut at the root of mischief and disorder, and to prevent fighting among their followers. But those followers differed with one another because of their rebellion, envy and worldly desire. This was the basic cause which gave rise to the fighting. Therefore, Allah ordains fighting when the good of mankind depends upon it, so that He may manifest the truth of what was true by His words, and cut away the root of the wrongdoers.
This context shows that the verse is not particularly concerned with any nation; rather its import is general.
A Talk about the Speech of Allah
QUR'AN: And We gave clear (evidence) to Isa, son of Maryam, and strengthened him with the holy spirit:
In this sentence, the original "first person" pronouns have been used; and we have already explained the reason for this. A question arises as to why only 'Isa, and no other prophet, has been mentioned here by name. The reason is this: What has been mentioned in his excellence - giving clear evidence and strengthening with the holy spirit - are things common to all apostles. Allah says: Certainly We sent Our apostles with clear evidence (57:25); He sends down the angels with spirit by His commandments on whom He pleases of His servants, (saying) : Give the warning . . . (16:2).
But these otherwise common factors were found in 'Isa in a rather special way. All his miracles - raising the dead, creating the bird by breathing into it, giving sight to the blind, curing lepers and giving information of the unseen - had a very special relation with the life and the spirit. Therefore, those factors were mentioned as the special excellence of 'Isa, and his name was clearly mentioned. Had Allah only said, "and We gave clear evidence to some of them and strengthened him with the holy spirit", it would not have pointed especially to 'Isa, because, as you know, these two factors were common to all apostles. It was necessary to mention the name to show that these were given to 'Isa in a rather special way. Moreover, 'Isa himself was a clear evidence of the power of Allah, as he was born without a father. Allah says: and made her (Maryam) and her son a sign for the worlds (21:91). Thus, the son and his mother together were the signs of Allah, and it was their special distinction.
QUR'AN: And if Allah had pleased, those after them would not have fought one with another after clear arguments had come to them:
Here Allah again refers to Himself in the third person, because the context demands a clear declaration that the divine will cannot be obstructed and His power cannot be foiled. All happenings, in all their positive and negative aspects, are under divine control and authority. It is the attribute of godship which emanates unlimited power and unrestricted authority; and that is why the divine name, Allah, had to be clearly mentioned to emphasize the fact that if Allah had so willed, they would not have fought. This force could not be produced by saying, "if We had so willed . . ." And it is for the same reason that the divine name, and not the pronoun, has been repeated in the next sentences, "and if Allah had so pleased they would not have fought", and "Allah does what He intends".
QUR'AN: But they differed; so there were some of them who believed and others who denied: We have already described why
Allah attributed the difference to the people, and not to Himself. He has declared several times that the difference in belief and disbelief appeared among people because of their envy, rebellion and evil desire; and such things cannot be attributed to Allah.
QUR'AN: And if Allah had so pleased they would not have fought one with another, but Allah does what lie intends:
We have already explained this. If Allah had so wished, le could have disconnected the cause, the difference, from its effect, the fighting. But Allah does what He intends, and He has decided that the difference will cause the fighting, according to the system of cause and effect which He has decreed in this world.
In short, the verse says that the apostles sent by Allah are His servants, very near to Him, above mankind in their excellence: they have been exalted, some above others, in the degrees of their ranks but they all equally share the basic excellence of apostleship. They came to their peoples with clear, arguments and miracles: they clearly pronounced the truth and unmistakably showed the right path. It might have been expected that their followers, after them, would not have abandon the unity, love and mutual regard in the cause of the religion of Allah. But there was another factor, lurking about, and that was their envy and rebellion, which divided them up into believers and non-believers; and this difference spread and affected all aspects of their lives. If Allah had so wished, He could have taken away the causative power of this difference, and then it would not have led to fighting. But He did not wish so, and let the system of cause and effect take its course; and He brings out what He wishes.
QUR'AN: 0 you who believe! Spend . . . and the unbelievers - they are unjust:
The meaning is quite clear. The last sentence implies that not spending in the way of Allah is unbelief and injustice.
al-Baqir (a.s.) said about the words of Allah: These apostles “There is in this (verse) that which may be a proof that the companions of Muhammad did differ (among themselves) after him, so there were some of them who believed and others who disbelieved.” (al-Kafi )
Asbagh ibn Nubatah said: “I was standing with the Leader of the faithful, ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib (a.s.) on the day of the Camel.
There came a man and stood before him and said: '0 Leader of the faithfuls! These people (i.e., the enemies) said takbir (Allahu Akbar), and we said it ; and they said tahlil (la ilaha illa 'llah) and we said it ; and they prayed and we prayed. Then, on what (ground) are we fighting them?' He ('Ali - a.s.) replied: 'On (the basis of) this verse: These apostles, We have made some of them to excel others; among them are some to whom Allah spoke and some of them He exalted by degree (of rank) ; and We gave clear (evidence) to Isa, son of Maryam, and strengthened him with the holy spirit. And if Allah had pleased, those after them would riot have fought one with another - so we are those after them - but they differed; so there were some of them who believed and others who disbelieved; and if Allah had so pleased they would not have fought one with another, but Allah does what He intends. So we are those who believed and they are those who disbelieved.' 'Thereupon, the man said: 'These people are unbelievers, by the Lord of the Ka'bah!' Then he attacked and fought them until he was killed; may Allah have mercy on him!" (at-Tafsir, of al-'Ayyashi)
The author says: This event has been narrated by al-Mufid in his al-Amali, and by ash-Shaykh in his book of the same name, and by al-Qummi in his at-Tafsir. This tradition shows that 'Ali (a.s.) interpreted "disbelief" in this verse in a general sense, which includes hidden disbelief as well as open disbelief which is termed al-kufr (infidelity) in Islam and with which Islam deals in a special way. It is well-known from traditions and history that 'Ali (a.s.) did not treat his opponents (in the battles of the Camel, Siffin and Nahrawan) like any group of the unbelievers - they were not dealt with like unbelievers, whether from the people of the book or others, nor like the apostates. The only implication of this special treatment is that he thought them to be unbelievers in their hearts but not openly. And he (a.s.) used to say: "I fight against them on the interpretation (of the Qur'an), not on (its) revelation."
The verse clearly supports this meaning. It says that the clear evidence brought by the apostles did not prevent the fighting of their followers because they differed among themselves; and such a difference cannot be removed by those arguments and evidence because it is not based on reason but on envy and rebellion. The verse thus describes the phenomenon mentioned in the following verses: -
And people were naught but a single nation, then they disagreed; and had not a word already gone forth from your Lord, the matter would have certainly been decided between them in respect of that concerning which they disagree (10:19).
Mankind was but one people, so Allah sent the prophets ... And none differed about it but the very people who were given it after clear signs had come to them, revolting among themselves; whereupon Allah guided, by His will, those who believed to the truth about which they differed (2 :213). ...and they shall continue to differ, except those on whom your Lord has mercy... (11 :118-119).
All this shows that difference about the book, that is, about the religion, between the followers of the apostles, after the departure of those apostles, cannot be avoided. Allah says particularly about this ummah: Or do you think that you would enter the Garden while yet the like of those who have passed away before you has not come upon you? (2:214). And He informs us of the complaint of His Apostle on the Day of Resurrection: And the Apostle cried out: "0 my Lord! surely my people treated this Qur'an as a forsaken thing" (25:30). In these, and many other verses, this factor has been explicitly or implicitly mentioned.
And it is a fact that difference in the Muslim ummah started in the days of the companions. History and mutawatir and nearmutawatir traditions clearly show that, in the troubles and discords which started soon after the Apostle, the companions themselves dealt with each other in this same way. In their own eyes they were treading the path of the discord and difference mentioned in these verses. And none of them claimed that he was above any difference on account of 'ismah (sinlessness) or good tidings given to him by the Apostle, or ijtihad, nor did anyone say that he was not included in these verses. (We do not include Ahlu 'l-bayt of the Prophet in the term 'companion'.)
More details of this difference is beyond the scope of this book.
al-Mufid narrates in his al-Amali from Abu Basir that he said: "I heard Abu 'Abdillah (a.s,) say: 'Allah, Great is His name, was ever Omniscient in His person and there was nothing to be known; and He was ever Omnipotent in His person and there was nothing to be ordained.' I said: 'May I be your ransom! Was He then ever Speaking?' He said: 'Speech is created.' There was Allah and He was not speaking, then He created speech.' "
Safwan ibn Yahya said: "Abu Qurrah, the traditionalist, asked ar-Rida (a.s.) and said: 'Tell me, may I be your ransom! About Allah's speaking to Musa.' He (the Imam) said: 'Allah knows better in which language He spoke to him.' Abu Qurrah caught his own tongue and said: 'I am asking you about this tongue.' Thereupon Abu 'l-Hasan (a.s.) said: 'Glorified is Allah from what you say! And may Allah protect you (from thinking) that He might resemble His creatures or might speak like they speak; rather, He, Glorified be He, there is nothing like Him, nor there is any speaker or doer like Him.' (Abu Qurrah) said: 'How?' (The Imam) said: 'The speech of Allah with His creature is not like the speech of a creature with another creature; and He does not speak with a mouth and tongue; rather He says to it : 'Be' and it is. It was by His will He addressed (His) command and prohibition to Musa without any meditation in His Self.' " (al-Ihtijaj)
'Ali (a.s.) said in a sermon: "Speaking, not by meditation, Wishing, not by contemplation." (Nahju 'l-balaghah)
In the same book, he ('Ali - a.s.) says, inter alia, in another sermon: "He Who spoke to Musa (directly) speaking, and showed him of His great signs, without limbs and organs and without implements, sound or uvula."
The author says: The traditions narrated from the Imams of Ahlu 'l-bayt with this meaning are numerous, and all of them show that the speech of Allah (to use the terminology of the Qur'an and sunnah) is an attribute of action, and not an attribute of Person.