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Researcher’s Companion to Ghamidi’s Surah al-Baqarah (204-221)
Qur'anic Exegesis
Dr. Shehzad Saleem

I Meaning & Morphology (الصرف و اللغة)

1. ‘الْعِزَّةُ’ (al-‘Izzah)

The word ‘الْعِزَّةُ’ literally means ‘prestige’. It is used in the Qur’an in this meaning in many verses. See for example 4:139, 10:65 and 35:10.

Here, according to Ghamidi (notes 5), the word is used in another shade: it is used to connote a person’s over blown consciousness to prestige. This consciousness if confined to limits is indeed a quality. However, if it exceeds all bounds, it manifests itself in the form of pride and arrogance. Ibn Manzur refers to this very shade of meaning by citing ‘الرفعة و الامتناع’ as one of the entries under ‘izzah (عِزَّةُ). 1

In the following verse, the word is explicitly used in this shade:

بَلْ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا فِي عِزَّةٍ وَشِقَاقٍ (2:38)

In fact, the disbelievers are imbued with arrogance and dissension. (38:2)

2. ‘إِذُن’ (Idhn)

The Qur’an has introduced a new shade in the original meaning of this word. Originally, it means ‘permission’. However, when the permission of God is granted to believers to do good, then this opportunity is actually a reward from Him to the believers and as such, mere permission now encompasses His backing and support. The Arabic word ‘توفيق’ (tawfiq) is perhaps the best equivalent to it when used such.

The Qur’an has used the word in this sense in the following verse as well2:

وَاللَّهُ يَدْعُو إِلَى الْجَنَّةِ وَالْمَغْفِرَةِ بِإِذْنِهِ وَيُبَيِّنُ آيَاتِهِ لِلنَّاسِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَذَكَّرُونَ (2: 221)

And Allah beckons by His Grace to the Garden [of Bliss] and forgiveness, and makes His Signs clear to mankind that they may receive admonition. (2:221)

Consequently, Zamakhshari, while referring to this usage writes:

>بِإِذنِهِ< بتيسير الله وتوفيقه للعمل الذي تستحق به الجنة والمغفرة

بِإِذنِهِ’ means: with the facility and backing of the Almighty for deeds that make a person worthy of Paradise and [of His] forgiveness.3

3. The Particle ‘ب’ in ‘الْعِزَّةُ بِالْإِثْمِ أَخَذَتْهُ

According to Ghamidi (note 5), the particle ‘ب’ in ‘بِالْإِثْمِ’ is of ‘مصاحبة’ (musahabah: companionship). Accordingly the expression has been translated as: ‘with an inclination towards sin, their arrogance prevents them [from fearing Allah]’. This, of course, means that primarily the expression is ‘أَخَذَتْهُ الْعِزَّةُ’.

اخذه الشئ’ means: ‘ذالك  اعتراه’.

Most commentators regard the particle ‘ب’ in this expression as ‘تعديه’ (ta‘diyyah: transitivity) for the verb ‘اَخَذَ’. In this case, the meaning of the expression ‘الْعِزَّةُ بِالْإِثْمِ أَخَذَتْهُ’ would be: ‘arrogance impels him towards sin’. This latter interpretation, has not been preferred here for the following reasons:

a. The real thing that prevents a person from fearing Allah is arrogance. This is fully bought out if this interpretation is adopted.

b. The verb ‘اَخَذَ’ is already a transitive verb. Although transitive verbs can be made doubly transitive by a particle of transitivity (as the other interpretation suggests), yet in the presence of a better interpretation this seems needless.

4. ‘اَلمُشْرِكُوْن’ (al-Mushrikun)

As pointed out by Ghamidi (note 32), in the ‘عرف’ (‘urf: conventional usage) of the Qur’an, the word al-mushrikun (‘اَلمُشْرِكُوْن’) is specifically used for the polytheists of Arabia. These polytheists of Arabia subscribed to the creed of polytheism and worshipped other deities besides the Almighty and insisted that polytheism is the very religion revealed by the Almighty. Accordingly, they were called al-mushrikun (‘المشركون’) because of their declared adherence to polytheism.

In contrast to them, the People of the Book of Arabia (the Jews and Christians) were basically monotheists though they had become incriminated with certain blatant forms of polytheism. The Qur’an points out their polytheistic practices in the following words:

وَقَالَتْ الْيَهُودُ عُزَيْرٌ ابْنُ اللَّهِ وَقَالَتْ النَّصَارَى الْمَسِيحُ ابْنُ اللَّهِ ذَلِكَ قَوْلُهُمْ بِأَفْوَاهِهِمْ يُضَاهِئُونَ قَوْلَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا مِنْ قَبْلُ قَاتَلَهُمْ اللَّهُ أَنَّى يُؤْفَكُونَ  اتَّخَذُوا أَحْبَارَهُمْ وَرُهْبَانَهُمْ أَرْبَابًا مِنْ دُونِ اللَّهِ وَالْمَسِيحَ ابْنَ مَرْيَمَ وَمَا أُمِرُوا إِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُوا إِلَهًا وَاحِدًا لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا هُوَ سُبْحَانَهُ عَمَّا يُشْرِكُونَ(9: 30-1)

The Jews call [of Arabia] ‘Uzayr son of God, and the Christians call Christ the son of God. That is a saying from their mouth; [in this] they but imitate what the disbelievers of old used to say. Allah’s curse be on them: how they are deluded away from the Truth! They take their priests and their anchorites to be their lords in derogation of Allah, and [they take as their Lord] Christ the son of Mary; yet they were commanded to worship but One God: there is no god but He. Praise and glory to Him: [far is He] from having the partners they associate with Him. (9:30-1)

However, the Qur’an nowhere in its entire text calls them as polytheists. A person becomes a polytheist when he openly admits that he is a polytheist. A person who claims to be a monotheist in spite of being involved in polytheistic practices, cannot be regarded as a polytheist. The reason is that such a person might be doing something wrong without realizing what he is doing.

Moreover, the distinction the Qur’an makes between declared adherents to polytheism (the Idolaters of Arabia) and those who were adverse to polytheism yet had become involved in it (the People of the Book of Arabia), can be appreciated in its subtle choice of words for both these religious denominations. While referring to the polytheistic practices of the People of the Book, it always employs a verb; never are they referred to in the form of an adjective. The reason for this distinction is that an adjective qualifies states of permanence and perpetuity while a verb qualifies a temporary or transient state4. In other words, the mention of the polytheistic practices of the People of the Book in the form of verbs shows that they at times indulged in polytheism (that too without realizing it) and were not its positive advocates.

5. ‘فِتْنَه’ (Fitnah)

The word ‘فِتْنَه’ (2:217) literally means ‘trial’ and ‘test’5. One form of this trial is that people are subjected to torture for following a particular ideology and thereby forced to give it up. Since at the time of revelation of the Qur’an this practice was rampant in the Arab society, the Qur’an used this word in the above sense. When used in this sense it becomes equivalent to the English word ‘persecution’. The following verses bear witness to this usage:

فَمَا آمَنَ لِمُوسَى إِلَّا ذُرِّيَّةٌ مِنْ قَوْمِهِ عَلَى خَوْفٍ مِنْ فِرْعَوْنَ وَمَلَئِهِمْ أَنْ يَفْتِنَهُمْ وَإِنَّ فِرْعَوْنَ لَعَالٍ فِي الْأَرْضِ وَإِنَّهُ لَمِنْ الْمُسْرِفِينَ (83:10)

But none believed in Moses except some children of his People; because of the fear of Pharaoh and his chiefs, lest they should persecute them; and certainly Pharaoh was mighty on the earth and one who transgressed all bounds. (10:83)

ثُمَّ إِنَّ رَبَّكَ لِلَّذِينَ هَاجَرُوا مِنْ بَعْدِ مَا فُتِنُوا ثُمَّ جَاهَدُوا وَصَبَرُوا إِنَّ رَبَّكَ مِنْ بَعْدِهَا لَغَفُورٌ رَحِيمٌ(110:16)

But surely your Lord – to those who leave their homes after they are subjected to persecution – and who thereafter strive and patiently persevere – your Lord, after all this, is Ever-Forgiving, Most Merciful. (16:110)

إِنَّ الَّذِينَ فَتَنُوا الْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَالْمُؤْمِنَاتِ ثُمَّ لَمْ يَتُوبُوا فَلَهُمْ عَذَابُ جَهَنَّمَ وَلَهُمْ عَذَابُ الْحَرِيقِ (10:85)

Those who persecute the believers, men and women, and do not turn in repentance, will face the torment of Hell and they will have [to endure] the torment of the Burning Fire. (85:10)

II Declensions & Syntax (النحو و الاعراب)

1. ‘أَلَدُّ الْخِصَامِ

The word ‘خِصَامِ’ is both a plural noun (singular: خَصْم) and a verbal noun (مَصْدَر). Since generally the annexure of the superlative form is towards a plural noun rather than towards a verbal noun, its former status is preferred here.

2. ‘كَافَّةً

كَافَّةً’ is in an accusative of state (‘حَال’) from the antecedent in ‘ادْخُلُوا’. Some exegetes have taken it to be an accusative form of state (‘حَال(from the abstract noun ‘السِّلْمِ’. Although the latter is not incorrect, yet conventionally like ‘جَميعا’ and ‘قَاطِبَة’, it expresses the ‘حَال’ of plural entities. Hence the preference.

III Eloquence & Style (الاساليب و البلاغة)

1. ‘ اللَّهُ … هَلْ يَنظُرُونَ إِلَّا أَنْ يَأْتِيَهُمْ

Just as the particle of exception ‘إِلَّا’ (illa) comes after particles of negation to encompass as well as to confine what is implied, it also comes after various particles of interrogation like ‘هَلْ’ (hal) for similar reasons. Thus if the expression ‘وَ مَا تُنْفِقُونَ ِالاّ ِابْتِغَاءَ وَجْهِ الله’ means: ‘You spend only to obtain the pleasure of Allah’6, the expression ‘هَلْ يَنظُرُونَ إِلَّا أَنْ يَأْتِيَهُمْ اللَّهُ …’ means: ‘Are they only waiting for Allah to appear…’.

Consequently, there is no need to say (as grammarians generally do7) that the particle ‘هَلْ’ (hal) in such cases denotes negation8. It denotes its own ma‘ruf (conventional) meaning of interrogation.

2. Ellipsis (حذف) after ‘كَانَ النَّاسُ أُمَّةً وَاحِدَةً

There is an ellipsis of the word ‘فَاخْتَلَفُوا’ (then they differed) after the words ‘كَانَ النَّاسُ أُمَّةً’ (mankind was once one community). The subsequent words ‘لِيَحْكُمَ بَيْنَ النَّاسِ فِيمَا اخْتَلَفُوا فِيهِ’ (so that it [—the Book—] may settle these differences of men) bear evidence to this suppression.

In the following verse, which is very similar to this one, this very word appears:

وَمَا كَانَ النَّاسُ إِلَّا أُمَّةً وَاحِدَةً فَاخْتَلَفُوا (10 :19)

Mankind was once one community. Then they differed. (10:19)

Here, obviously, it could not have been suppressed because it is not understood to be present.

3. The ‘يَسْأَلُونَكَ’ format of queries

It is essential to be aware of the fact that in the language and diction of the Qur’an the questions posed by the words  ‘…يَسْأَلُونَكَ’ format must always be understood by the answer given. The reason for this is that such questions are quoted in a very brief and concise manner and normally carry no details about what is actually being inquired. This can be observed in verses 215 and 220. Consequently, if the answer to the question in verse 215 is deliberated upon, it can be seen that it is not that the heads of infaq that required any explanation (as is contended by most commentators), rather it is the fact that mere spending in the way of Allah was a hard ask from these people. They are thus chided that their money is not going to fill the coffers of the Almighty, rather it will be spent on their own brethren and that they shall be duly rewarded for the smallest of amounts they spend since the Almighty has knowledge of everything they do. When in verse 219 the question is repeated, the answer this time focuses on what the ultimate limit of spending is.

Moreover, another aspect needs to be kept in mind with regard to the queries stated in this section of verses. While some of them are mentioned right after the particle of copulation ‘و’, others are not. The reason for this is that the former ones were asked one after the other without any time lapse and hence were placed right after one another while the latter ones belong to another time.

4. Contrast between ‘اِثْم’ and ‘نَفْع

As pointed out by Ghamidi  (note 26) the contrast between the words ‘اِثْم’ and ‘نَفْع’  (2:219) needs to be noted by the reader since it is this contrast which actually brings out the true connotation of ‘نَفْع’. As he has pointed out, here the contrast points to the fact that the word ‘نَفْع’ actually means the moral benefit and utility that liquor and gambling have. The reason is that the word ‘اِثْم’ used in contrast to it refers to moral ills. In other words, the way liquor and gambling were morally beneficial for the Arab society (note 25) is being referred to and therefore the real reason for the question. Some commentators9 have pointed out the fact that the Qur’an has acknowledged that gambling and liquor possess some utility for people like for example the former gives access to money earned without much effort and the latter to a temporary state of pleasure and relief. Whether this is true or not is not the concern of the Qur’an. Had this been the concern, the contrast explained above would have been made in different words. The word ‘ضَرَر’ (or some other word of similar connotation) would have been used since ‘ضَرَر’ means ‘worldly damage’ in contrast to ‘moral damage’ connoted by the word ‘اِثْم’.

5. Use of the Verb ‘آمَنُوا

In the Arabic language, a verb may be used in various degrees. For example, a verb may express intention, result or completeness depending upon the context in which it is used. The verb ‘آمَنُوا’ (2:218), as pointed by Ghamidi (note 23), expresses completeness. This means that the people who are being referred to by this word are not merely the ones who professed faith, rather they diligently adhered to in spite of the difficult circumstances they were put through. Consequently, the subsequent words ‘هَاجَرُوا وَجَاهَدُوا فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ’ (they migrated and waged war in the way of Allah) show how steadfast and diligent they were in their faith.

IV Names and Loci (الاعلام و الاماكن)

1. Bani Isra’il

The descendants the Prophet Abraham’s son, the Prophet Isaac (sws) are called the Bani Isra’il (literally: the Children of Israel)10. They have been named after the Isaac’s son, Prophet Jacob (sws), who was called ‘Israel’. While commenting upon their origins, Daryabadi writes:

‘Children of Israel’ is the national designation of the Jews. Israel was the name borne by their ancestor, Jacob, the father of ‘the twelve tribes,’ a son of Isaac, and a grandson of Abraham (on all of whom be peace!). This nation of priests, patriarchs and prophets, perhaps the most remarkable people in ancient history, blessed of their Lord, always great in the realm of religion and faith, and mighty and glorious for long periods in the affairs of the world, had migrated in their thousands, after the capture of Jerusalem by the Romans under Titus, into Arabia, and had settled in and around Madinah long before the advent of the holy Prophet (sws). The whole of the north-eastern Arabia was dotted over by their colonies, and many of the Arab pagans, in the course of time, had come to adopt their ways and their faith. In the third century of the Christian era an Arabian tribe, even so remote as in the south of the Peninsula, was led to adopt the Jewish faith. As proud possessors of the book and the Divine Law, and even more as adepts in crude occult sciences and magical crafts, these Arab Jews were in the early days of Islam, in effect, intellectually the dominating masters of the country. In matters religious and divine, they were the trusted advisers of the unlettered pagans and their acknowledged superiors. Jewish legends, Jewish tenets and Jewish feats of exorcism were by now popular knowledge throughout Arabia. The ‘idolatry of Arabia’, to use the words of Muir, had formed a compromise with Judaism, and had imbibed many of its legends and perhaps many of its tenets. It was the Jews, again, who had been long predicting a new redeemer, and had been keenly looking for him. This helps to explain the extent of attention they receive in the Qur’an, and the long series of admonitions, warning and exhortations addressed to them. In the domain of religion, they were always the foremost; in Arabia, contemporaneous with Islam, their importance stood specially high.11

V Coherence and Placement (النظم و النظام)

1. The Tabyin Verses

Verses 217 and 221 (‘كَذَلِكَ يُبَيِّنُ اللَّهُ’ and  ‘وَيُبَيِّنُ آيَاتِهِ لِلنَّاسِ’) are the tabyin verses which in accordance with the promise made by the Almighty in Surah Qiyamah (75:19) are actually an explanation of a previous directive. They were revealed later and placed adjacent to the directive(s) they explain. (For more examples of such verses see: 2:187, 2:219. 2:266, 3:103, 24:58, 24:61)

2. Placement and relationship of Verses 219, 220 and 221

Questions which pertain to jihad and infaq are primarily discussed in the section of verses given in the main text of the article (verses 215-221). While the relevance of the rest of the questions with these two topics is obvious, that of the questions regarding drinking and gambling (219), orphans (220) and marriage with idolaters (221) at first glance seem out of place. Ghamidi has tried to point out the relevance of all these questions to jihad and infaq in his translation: Gambling and drinking in pre-Islamic Arabia were a means of infaq. The issue of the orphans emerged from the fact that loss of lives during jihad could result in their increase in the society. Similarly, the issue of marriage with Idolaters is actually related to the directive of the orphans. As such, verses all these three questions bear a deep relation with the topics of jihad and infaq.

VI Scriptures and Testaments (العهود  و الصحف)

1. Marriage with Idolaters

Like the Qur’an (2:221), the Old and New Testaments prohibit marriage with Idolaters as well:

Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for their sons for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods and the Lord’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you. (Dt. 7:3-4)

Do not be yoked together with the unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? (2 Co. 6:14-16)






1.Ibn Manzur, Lisan al-‘Arab, 1st ed., vol. 5 (Beirut: Dar Sadir, 1400 AH), 374.

2. For more examples of this usage see: 5:16 & 14:1

3.Zamakhshari, Kashshaff, 1st ed., vol. 1 (Beirut: dar al-Ahya al-Turath al-‘Arabi, 1997), 292

4. See: Farahi, Hamid al-Din, Rasa’il fi ‘Ulum al-Qur’an, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (Azamgarh: Da’irah Hamidiyyah, 1991), 252

5. Says Ibn Manzur: ‘جماع معنى الفتنه الابتلاء و الامتحان والاختبار’. (Ibn Manzur, Lisan al-‘Arab, 1st ed., vol. 13 (Beirut: Dar Sadir, 1400 AH), 317

6. 2:272

7. Grammarians and exegetes in such cases would generally say: ‘هل بمعنى ماFor more details, see: Ibn Hisham, Mughni al-Labib, 5th ed., vol. 1 (Beirut: 1979), 459/ Abu Hayyan, al-Bahr al-Muhit, vol. 2,(Makkah: al-Maktabah al-Tijariyyah, n.d.), 342

8. Thus they would translate the expression هَلْ يَنظُرُونَ إِلَّا أَنْ يَأْتِيَهُمْ اللَّهُ …’ as ‘They are not waiting but for Allah to appear …’.

9. See for example: Qurtubi, al-Jami‘ al-Ahkam al-Qur’an, 1st ed., vol. 2 (Beirut: Dar Ahya al-Turath al-‘Arabi, 1952), 57

10. In contrast, the progeny of Abraham’s eldest son, the Prophet Isma’il (sws), are called the Bani Isma’il.

11. Daryabadi, ‘Abd al-Majid, Tafsir al-Qur’an, 1st ed., vol. 1 (Karachi: Dar al-Isha‘at, 1991), 26-7.

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