Allah asserts that Jewish dietary laws were invented by the Jews (or Jacob — Israel — himself, 3:93-4), and in 3:95 calls the Jews to reject what Maududi calls “hair-splitting legalism” and return to the true monotheism of Abraham — i.e., Islam.
Allah says that the shrine at Mecca (Bakkah) was the world’s first house of worship (3:96). It was built, says Ibn Kathir, by Abraham, “whose religion the Jews and Christians claim they follow. However, they do not perform Hajj [Pilgrimage] to the house that Ibrahim built by Allah’s command, and to which he invited the people to perform Hajj.” The People of the Book “disbelieve in the verses of Allah” (3:98) and try to obstruct others on the path of Allah (3:99). If Muslims listen to these Jews and Christians who reject Islam, they will become apostates (3:100). On the Day of Judgment, the faces of the blessed will be white, and those of the damned will be black (3:106).
On earth, meanwhile, the Muslims are “the best nation produced,” while most Jews and Christians are “defiantly disobedient” (v. 110). However, the Muslims need not fear, for the Jews and Christians are also cowards: “And if they fight you, they will show you their backs” (v. 111). They are covered with shame — “except for a covenant from Allah and a rope from the Muslims” (v. 112). This, says Bulandshahri, refers to the non-Muslims’ agreeing “to pay the atonement (Jizya) to the Muslim state, in which case they will be accorded the rights of a Dhimmi.” These rights are not equal to the rights of Muslims: the dhimmis must accept subservience and second-class status (cf. 9:29) in exchange for a guarantee of protection — as long as they do not offend the Muslims.
Now, all of this is not to paint the People of the Book with a broad brush! Some “among the People of the Scripture is a community standing, reciting the verses of Allah during periods of the night and prostrating” (v. 113). According to Ibn Ishaq, Ibn Abbas and others, this refers to “the clergy of the People of the Scriptures who embraced the faith” of Islam. But steer clear of those who don’t accept Islam: v. 118, says Ibn Kathir, forbids Muslims from “taking followers of other religions as consultants and advisors,” for even those who are outwardly kind actually hate the Muslims (v. 119-120).
The lesson of the latter part of sura 3 is that if you obey Allah, you will be victorious. If you don’t, you will lose. It’s that simple.
Allah in verse 121 begins a discussion of lessons of the Battle of Uhud and the Battle of Badr. At Badr in 624, the Muslims overcame great odds to defeat the pagan Quraysh tribe of Mecca; in a return engagement at Uhud the following year, the pagans defeated the Muslims, and Muhammad was slightly wounded. Allah reminds Muhammad that when he and the Muslims set out for the battle at Uhud, two groups of Muslims almost deserted. They shouldn’t have been afraid, for “Allah was their protector,” and the believers should trust in him (v. 122). After all, when the Muslims were a “contemptible little force” (v. 123) at Badr, Allah granted them victory. According to Islamic tradition, 313 Muslims defeated a much larger force at Badr, because Allah sent down three thousand angels to fight alongside the Muslims” (v. 124). This is one reason why superior American military might doesn’t overawe jihadists today.
According to Ibn Ishaq, when the Quraysh arrived at Badr, nearly a thousand strong, Muhammad cried out to Allah: “O God, if this band perish today Thou wilt be worshipped no more.” But shortly later Muhammad told his follower Abu Bakr: “Be of good cheer, O Abu Bakr. God’s help is come to you. Here is Gabriel holding the rein of a horse and leading it. The dust is upon his front teeth.” Muhammad then strode among his troops and issued a momentous promise — one that has given heart to Muslim warriors throughout the ages: “By God in whose hand is the soul of Muhammad, no man will be slain this day fighting against them with steadfast courage advancing not retreating but God will cause him to enter Paradise.” One of the assembled Muslim warriors, Umayr bin al-Humam, exclaimed: “Fine, Fine! Is there nothing between me and my entering Paradise save to be killed by these men?” He flung away some dates that he had been eating, rushed into the thick of the battle, and fought until he was killed. Muslim warriors have fought with similar courage throughout history, knowing that if they are victorious they will enjoy the spoils of war (about which there is much discussion in sura 8), and if they are killed they will enjoy Paradise.
And the key to earthly victory is obedience to Allah: “if ye persevere, and keep from evil, and (the enemy) attack you suddenly, your Lord will help you with five thousand angels sweeping on” (v. 125). Allah emphasizes (vv.126-129) that the decision of victory or defeat belong to Allah alone.
Then he turns to a condemnation of usury, and exhort the Muslims to piety, obedience, and generosity, telling them to ask Allah to forgive their sins (vv. 130-139). Allah invites the believers to “travel through the earth, and see what was the end of those who rejected Truth” (v. 137). This is one of the foundations of the Islamic idea that pre-Islamic civilizations, and non-Islamic civilizations, are all jahiliyya — the society of unbelievers, which is worthless. V. S. Naipaul encountered this attitude in his travels through the House of Islam. For many Muslims, he observed in Among the Believers, “The time before Islam is a time of blackness: that is part of Muslim theology. History has to serve theology.” Naipaul recounted that some Pakistani Muslims, far from valuing the nation’s renowned archaeological site at Mohenjo Daro, saw its ruins as a teaching opportunity for Islam, recommending that Qur’an 3:137 be posted there as a teaching tool. The Islamic State acts on this assumption, destroying ancient artifacts of pre-Islamic civilizations not just because of the danger of idolatry, but because the ruins reflect Allah’s judgment on the unbelievers.
Allah promises “mastery” to those who are “true in Faith” (v. 139) — as Ibn Kathir puts it, “surely, the ultimate victory and triumph will be yours, O believers.” However, according to Ibn Abbas, some of the Muslims at Uhud took this as meaning that the believers would be “elevated” over the unbelievers — whereupon they climbed a mountain and put a group of the Quraysh to flight.
Allah then take up the question: But why did the Muslims lose at Uhud (vv. 140-179)? It’s a test from Allah (v. 141) — a test for both the believers and the hypocrites (vv. 166-7). Did the believers really think they would enter Paradise without Allah testing those who “fought hard” — jahadoo (جَاهَدُو), waged jihad (v. 142)? Even if Muhammad himself were killed, the Muslims should fight on (v. 144), for no one can die except by Allah’s permission (v. 145). Look to the prophets, who didn’t waver even “if they met with disaster in Allah’s way” (v. 146). Muslims should not obey the unbelievers (v. 149), for Allah will soon cast terror into their hearts (v. 151).
And indeed, at Uhud the Muslims were about to “annihilate” their enemies when they were distracted: when the Muslim warriors “saw the women fleeing lifting up their clothes revealing their leg-bangles and their legs,” they began to cry out, “The booty! O people, the booty!” Disobeying Muhammad’s orders, they left their posts to pursue these women — and so Allah allowed the pagans to put the Muslims to flight, as a test (vv. 152-153). The Muslims brought defeat on themselves (v. 165). Allah speaks of the sorrow of these men after Uhud (vv. 154-155), and commends Muhammad for being lenient with them (v. 159). He restates the proposition that life and death, as well as victory and defeat, are in his hands alone, and thus no one should fear fighting (vv. 156-158, 160). For those killed in battle are not dead, but are enjoying themselves in the gardens of Paradise (vv. 169-72; see also 136, 163).
According to Ibn Kathir, v. 161 was revealed “in connection with a red robe that was missing from the spoils of war of Badr. Some people said that the Messenger of Allah might have taken it.” But this verse exonerated Muhammad: a prophet will not be untrustworthy, or embezzle. And his presence is a great favor from Allah (v. 164).
Allah praises those who brushed aside fear and went into battle; “they returned with Grace and bounty from Allah” — that is, spoils of war in this world, and Paradise in the next (vv. 173-175). He tells the believers in verses 176-179 not to be grieved over the unbelievers, who only prosper so that “that they may grow in sinfulness. And theirs will be a shameful doom” (v. 178).
Then Allah returns to one of his favorite themes, excoriating the unbelievers and promising rewards to the believers (vv. 180-200). Those who claim that “Allah is poor and we are rich” (v. 181) are, according to Ibn Kathir and the Tafsir al-Jalalayn, Asad, Daryabadi, Bulandshahri, and others, the Jews. But hell awaits them, for they killed the prophets (v. 183). The People of the Book threw Allah’s covenant away, and “purchased with it some miserable gain! And vile was the bargain they made!” (v. 187). The believers should not envy them, however, even if they prosper, for Allah will send them to hell (vv. 196-197) while the believers enjoy the gardens of Paradise (v. 198). The People of the Book who accept Muhammad as a prophet and do not “sell the Signs of Allah for a miserable gain” will also be rewarded (v. 199). “Signs” here again is ayat, the word used for the verses of the Qur’an. Allah promises that those who obey him will prosper (v. 200). This idea has led throughout Islamic history to disasters being ascribed to disobedience, with the prescribed remedy being a reassertion of Islamic strictness.
Sura 4, “Women,” is another important Medinan sura containing laws for the conduct of women and Islamic family life, and a great deal more.
Allah starts by saying that he created men and women from a “single soul” (v. 1). Many Muslims in the West have pointed to this verse as evidence that Islam recognizes the full human dignity of women. Ayatollah Murtada Mutahhari says that “other religions also have referred to this question, but it is the Qur’an alone which in a number of verses expressly says that woman has been created of the species of man, and both man and woman have the same innate character.”
He then quotes 4:1. The “single soul” from which mankind was created was Adam’s, and while the Biblical story of Eve’s creation from Adam’s rib is not repeated here, Muhammad refers to it in a hadith that suggests that while men and women may have the same “innate character,” that doesn’t mean they are equal in dignity, for women are crooked.
The prophet of Islam is depicted as saying:
Woman has been created from a rib and will in no way be straightened for you; so if you wish to benefit by her, benefit by her while crookedness remains in her. And if you attempt to straighten her, you will break her, and breaking her is divorcing her. (Bukhari 8.3467)
Then comes the basis for Islamic polygamy (v. 3), allowing a man to take as many as four wives, as long as he believes he is able to “deal justly” with all of them.
According to the Mishkat Al-Masabih, Muhammad said:
The person who has two wives, but is not just between them, shall appear on the Day of Judgment in such a condition that one half of his body will be collapsing.
But of course, justice in these circumstances is in the eye of the beholder. Ibn Kathir says this the requirement to deal justly with one’s wives is no big deal, since treating them justly isn’t the same as treating them equally:
It is not obligatory to treat them equally, rather it is recommended. So if one does so, that is good, and if not, there is no harm on him.
And as for polygamy, why don’t women get to have four husbands? Muhammad Asad notes:
One might ask why the same latitude has not been given to women as well; but the answer is simple. Notwithstanding the spiritual factor of love which influences the relations between man and woman, the determinant biological reason for the sexual urge is, in both sexes, procreation: and whereas a woman can, at one time, conceive a child from one man only and has to carry it for nine months before she can conceive another, a man can beget a child every time he cohabits with a woman. Thus, while nature would have been merely wasteful if it had produced a polygamous instinct in woman, man’s polygamous inclination is biologically justified.
Allah goes on to say in v. 3 that if a man cannot deal justly with multiple wives, then he should marry only one, or resort to “the captives that your right hands possess” — that is, slave girls.
Slave girls, just like in the Islamic State, which everyone from John Kerry to Joe Biden to David Cameron — learned imams all — denounces today as “un-Islamic.”
Bulandshahri explains the wisdom of this practice, and longs for the good old days:
During Jihad (religion war), many men and women become war captives. The Amirul Mu’minin [leader of the believers, or caliph — an office now vacant, unless one accepts the claims of the Islamic State] has the choice of distributing them amongst the Mujahidin [warriors of jihad], in which event they will become the property of these Mujahidin. This enslavement is the penalty for disbelief (kufr).
He goes on to explain that this is not ancient history:
None of the injunctions pertaining to slavery have been abrogated in the Shari’ah. The reason that the Muslims of today do not have slaves is because they do not engage in Jihad (religion war). Their wars are fought by the instruction of the disbelievers (kuffar) and are halted by the same felons. The Muslim [sic] have been shackled by such treaties of the disbelievers (kuffar) whereby they cannot enslave anyone in the event of a war. Muslims have been denied a great boon whereby every home could have had a slave. May Allah grant the Muslims the ability to escape the tentacles of the enemy, remain steadfast upon the Din (religion) and engage in Jihad (religion war) according to the injunctions of Shari’ah. Amen!
Allah also directs Muslims to “marry women who seem good to you.” Ibn Majah records a tradition in which Muhammad details the qualities of a good wife, including that “she obeys when instructed” and “the husband is pleased to look at her.”
In the following verse, Allah requires a husband to give his wife a dowry. Ibn Kathir explains that “no person after the Prophet is allowed to marry a woman except with the required dowry.” However, the wife may choose to free the husband from this obligation: “If the wife gives him part or all of that dowry with a good heart, her husband is allowed to take it.”
Allah then gives rules for inheritance and related matters (vv. 5-14). He directs that when an estate is being parceled out, daughters are to receive half the share that sons receive (v. 11). Why not? They’re “crooked,” after all.
Following that, he lays down penalties for sexual immorality. He prescribes home imprisonment until death (unless “Allah ordain for them some (other) way”) for women found guilty of “lewdness” on the testimony of four witnesses (v. 15). According to Islamic law, these four witnesses must be male Muslims; women’s testimony is inadmissible in cases of a sexual nature, even in rape cases in which she is the victim.
If a woman is found guilty of adultery, she is to be stoned to death; if she is found guilty of fornication, she gets 100 lashes (cf. Qur’an 24:2).
The penalty of stoning does not appear in the Qur’an, but Umar, one of Muhammad’s early companions and the second caliph, or successor of Muhammad as leader of the Muslims, said that it was nevertheless the will of Allah.
“I am afraid,” he said, “that after a long time has passed, people may say, ‘We do not find the Verses of the Rajam (stoning to death) in the Holy Book,’ and consequently they may go astray by leaving an obligation that Allah has revealed.” Umar affirmed: “Lo! I confirm that the penalty of Rajam be inflicted on him who commits illegal sexual intercourse, if he is already married and the crime is proved by witnesses or pregnancy or confession.” And he added that Muhammad “carried out the penalty of Rajam, and so did we after him.”
Then Allah gives instructions for how to punish men who commit adultery or homosexual acts (v. 16).
The Tafsir Al-Jalalayn says that this verse refers to men who commit “a lewd act, adultery or homosexual intercourse.” They are to be punished “with insults and beatings with sandals; but if they repent, of this [lewd act], and make amends, through [good] action, then leave them be, and do not harm them.” However, it adds that this verse “is abrogated by the prescribed punishment if adultery is meant [by the lewd act],” that is, stoning. The Islamic jurist al-Shafi’i, it goes on, requires stoning of homosexuals also, but “according to him, the person who is the object of the [penetrative] act is not stoned, even if he be married; rather, he is flogged and banished.”
Allah continues in vv. 17-18 the call to repentance he began in v. 16 by warning that he will only accept repentance from those who sinned out of ignorance, and will not look kindly upon deathbed changes of heart. Then he forbids the inheriting of women against their will (v. 19), and enjoins men not to treat them harshly in order to get them to forfeit part or all of their dowry — “unless they be guilty of flagrant lewdness.” Aisha, Muhammad’s favorite wife, recounts according to Mishkat al-Masabih that Muhammad said: “The best of you is he who is best towards his wife, and I am the best towards my wives.”
Allah then continue with these exhortations toward just treatment (vv. 20-21), telling men that if they have decided to “exchange one wife for another,” they must not take back the dowry they have given to the wife who is to be discarded. He prohibits marriage with various women who are related by blood or marriage (vv. 22-25).
Allah refers to “foster mothers,” or more literally “mothers who suckled you,” as being among those with whom marriage is forbidden (v. 23). Men and women who are not related are forbidden by Islamic law to be alone together, but a man and a woman who are forbidden to marry each other — i.e., who are related in some way — can be alone together.
Once a woman came to Muhammad and told him that her husband, Abu Hadhaifa, was angry because a freed slave of his, a young man who had reached puberty, “enters our house freely.” Muhammad told her: “Suckle him and you would become unlawful for him, and (the rankling) which Abu Hudhaifa feels in his heart will disappear.” The woman later reported that it worked: “So I suckled him, and what (was there) in the heart of Abu Hudhaifa disappeared.”
This directive gained worldwide attention a few years ago when a cleric at Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, the most respected authority in Sunni Islam, recommended that this could solve a problem in the workplace: a man could be alone with, and work with, a woman with whom he was not related, if the woman suckled the man and thereby became his foster mother. After the story got out and Al-Azhar was subjected to international ridicule, the lecturer who recommended this was suspended. Left unaddressed, however, was the root of his recommendation in the words of Muhammad himself.