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Holy Quran Section > English Translation and Commentary of the Holy Quran by Maulana Muhammad Ali (Table of Contents) > Chapter 2 (Al-Baqarah - The Cow) > Section 27 (Verses 217 to 221)



Section/Ruku 27 [Verses 217 to 221]: Miscellaneous questions:
Chapter 2: (Al-Baqarah - The Cow)
(Revealed at Madinah: 40 sections; 286 verses)

1. Translation:

217 They ask thee about fighting in the sacred month. Say: Fighting in it is a grave (offence). And hindering (men) from Allah’s way and denying Him and the Sacred Mosque and turning its people out of it, are still graver with Allah; and persecution is graver than slaughter. And they will not cease fighting you until they turn you back from your religion, if they can.
a And whoever of you turns back from his religion, then he dies while an unbeliever — these it is whose works go for nothing in this world and the Hereafter. And they are the companions of the Fire: therein they will abide.b

218 Those who believed and those who fled (their homes) and strove hard in Allah’s way — these surely hope for the mercy of Allah. And Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.

219 They ask thee about intoxicantsa and games of chance.b Say: In both of them is a great sin and (some) advantage for men, and their sin is greater than their advantage. And they ask thee as to what they should spend. Say: What you can spare. Thus does Allah make clear to you the messages that you may ponder,

220 On this world and the Hereafter. And they ask thee concerning the orphans.a Say: To set right their (affairs) is good; and if you mix with them, they are your brethren. And Allah knows him who makes mischief from him who sets right. And if Allah pleased, He would have made matters difficult for you.b Surely Allah is Mighty, Wise.

221 And marry not the idolatresses until they believe; and certainly a believing maid is better than an idolatress even though she please you. Nor give (believing women) in marriage to idolaters until they believe, and certainly a believing slave is better than an idolater, even though he please you.a These invite to the Fire and Allah invites to the Garden and to forgiveness by His willb and He makes clear His messages to men that they may be mindful.

 2. Commentary:

217a. The opening words of this verse prohibit fighting in the sacred months (the reasons for which are given in v. 189), except by way of reprisal (see v. 194). But at the same time the unbelievers are told that the wrongs they inflicted on the Muslims, never caring for the sacred months and the sacred territory, were worse than slaughter. Then we are told that the unbelievers took up the sword to force the Muslims back into unbelief and that they were determined to carry on the war until they gained this end. Note the words they will not cease fighting you until they turn you back from your religion, if they can, which give the lie direct to the assertion that the Muslims started war to convert the unbelievers by force. [Back to verse 217]

217b. The persons spoken of in this passage are the apostates. A wrong impression exists among non-Muslims, and among many Muslims as well, that the Holy Qur’an requires those who apostatise from Islam to be put to death. This is not true. One Christian writer has gone so far as to misconstrue the word fa-yamut as meaning he shall be put to death, while even a beginner knows that the significance of these words is then he dies. What is stated here is that the opponents of Islam exerted themselves to their utmost to turn back the Muslims from their faith by their cruel persecutions, and therefore if a Muslim actually went back to unbelief he would be a loser in this life as well as in the next, because the desertion of Islam would not only deprive him of the spiritual advantages which he could obtain by remaining a Muslim, but also of the physical advantages which must accrue to the Muslims through the ultimate triumph of Islam. Neither here nor anywhere else in the Holy Qur’an is there even a hint at the infliction of capital or any other punishment on the apostate.

The only report which records a case of death being inflicted on apostates is that of the party of ‘Ukl, who, after professing Islam, feigned that the climate of Madinah was insalubrious, and, being told to go to the place where the herds of camels belonging to the

state were grazed, murdered the keepers and drove the herds along with them. The facts of the case clearly show that capital punishment in this case was not inflicted for change of faith, but on account of the crime of murder and dacoity. This case is generally cited by the commentators under 5:33, which speaks of the punishment of dacoits. There is no other case showing that the punishment of death was ever inflicted on apostasy from Islam.

It may, however, be added that after the first eighteen months of their residence at Madinah, the Muslims were in a state of constant warfare with the Quraish and the Arab tribes, and apostasy, under these circumstances, meant the desertion of the cause of the Muslims and joining their enemies. Even if death had been prescribed for the apostates, it would have been on the ground of their joining the enemy forces, not on the ground of change of religion. In the matter of religion, the Qur’an gives perfect freedom to everyone to adopt whatever religion he likes: “Say: The Truth is from your Lord; so let him who please believe, and let him who please disbelieve” (18:29). [Back to verse 217]

219a. “Khamr means wine or grape-wine. ... It has a common application to intoxicating expressed juice of anything (Q, T) or any intoxicating thing that clouds or obscures (lit., covers) the intellect, as some say ... and the general application is the more correct, because khamr was forbidden when there was not in El-Madinah any khamr of grapes” (LL). It will thus be seen that the word khamr includes all intoxicating substances, and therefore I make a departure in translating it as intoxicants, and not as wine or intoxicating liquors. The prohibition of intoxicants in connection with the mention of war shows that Islam wanted to inspire true courage into its followers and disliked the reckless daring which a man shows under the influence of intoxicating liquors and which has so often led to acts of butchery in wars. The prohibition spoken of here as regards both intoxicating liquors and games of chance is made plainer in 5:90: “O you who believe, intoxicants and games of chance ... are only an uncleanness, the devil’s work; so shun it that you may succeed”.

The change which these simple words brought about in Arabia will always remain a riddle to the social reformer. The constant fighting of Arab tribes, one against the other, had made the habit of drink second nature to the Arab, and wine was one of the very few objects which could furnish a topic to the mind of an Arab poet. Intoxicating liquors were the chief feature of their feasts, and the habit of drink was not looked upon as an evil, nor had there ever been a temperance movement among them, the Jews and the Christians being themselves addicted to this evil. Human experience with regard to the habit of drink is that of all evils it is the most difficult to be uprooted. Yet but one word of the Holy Qur’an was sufficient to blot out all traces of it from among a whole nation, and afterwards from the whole of the country as it came over to Islam. History cannot present another instance of a wonderful transformation of this magnitude brought about so easily, yet so thoroughly. It may also be added here that Sale’s remark that “the moderate use of wine is allowed” and that only drinking to excess is prohibited, according to some, is absolutely without foundation. The companions of the Prophet never made use of a drop of wine after the prohibition was made known, and the Prophet is reported to have said: “A small quantity of anything of which a large quantity is intoxicating is prohibited” (AD. 25:5). Nor does Kf say what Sale attributes to him, for the words which give rise to Sale’s misconception deal with, not wine, but another preparation regarding which there is a difference of opinion among the jurists. [Back to verse 219]

219b. The original word is maisir, derived from yasara, meaning he divided anything into parts or portions. Maisir was a game of hazard with the Arabs, and in the legal language of Islam includes all games of chance. Some derive it from yusr, meaning ease because of the ease with which wealth could be attained by it. Wine and gambling are both declared in 5:91 as causing “enmity and hatred among you”, and a society the members of which are imbued with feelings of hatred and enmity towards each other could never prosper. [Back to verse 219]

220a. In consequence of the fighting, it was inevitable that many children would be left orphans, so an injunction regarding the care of orphans is added here. But it may be added that the earliest revelations of the Holy Qur’an always speak of the orphans, the needy, and the slave in the kindest words, and lay special stress on helping and feeding them. See 90:11–16 and other places. [Back to verse 220]

220b. The word used here is tukhaliu-hum which carries a double significance: (1) Mix or associate with them, (2) Join with them in their affairs, i.e., become co-partners with them. So orphans are not to be treated as a separate class, and they should not be treated as living on the charity of others, which would develop an inferiority complex in them; they must be treated as brethren, as plainly stated here. And further, co-partnership with an orphan is expressly allowed here, because when strict injunctions were given regarding the safeguarding of orphans’ property, some men thought that it was a sin to have anything to do with it (Rz). The concluding words of the verse show that the object in allowing co-partnership with them is simply to facilitate matters. If a person aims at mischief, he cannot escape God’s punishment. [Back to verse 220]

221a. The questions dealt with in this section arose in connection with the war. The previous verse speaks of the orphans whose numbers were no doubt to be greatly increased by the wars. This verse deals with intermarriages with idolaters. The war with the idolaters, who were now not a people differing in religious views only but enemies bent upon the destruction of the Muslims, had brought new conditions into existence. Intermarriages with those who were warring upon the Muslims could have led to serious troubles and numerous complications. A reference to 60:10 will show that even the marital relations already existing with these people had to be ended on account of the war. Hence the prohibition of such intermarriages. The subject of intermarriages with non-Muslims generally is fully dealt with in 5:5b. [Back to verse 221]

221b. The reference in these words is not only to the religious beliefs of the two parties, the idolater and the believer in the Unity of God, but also to the constant struggle which would be going on in such a household. The outlook on life of the Muslim and the idolater are poles asunder and the harmony and the mutual love between husband and wife which marriage aims at can never be attained. Moreover such a union would mean ruination of the offspring which would have to be brought up in such an atmosphere. [Back to verse 221]



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Chapter 1: Al-Fatihah (The Opening)

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Holy Quran Section > English Translation and Commentary of the Holy Quran by Maulana Muhammad Ali (Table of Contents) > Chapter 2 (Al-Baqarah - The Cow) > Section 27 (Verses 217 to 221)

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