Commentary of the Quran (Chapter 2:87-88)
By: Mohammad Sobhanie
Following Carnal Desires
بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ
وَلَقَدْ آتَيْنَا مُوسَى الْكِتَابَ وَقَفَّيْنَا مِن بَعْدِهِ بِالرُّسُلِ ۖ وَآتَيْنَا عِيسَى ابْنَ مَرْيَمَ الْبَيِّنَاتِ وَأَيَّدْنَاهُ بِرُوحِ الْقُدُسِ ۗ أَفَكُلَّمَا جَاءَكُمْ رَسُولٌ بِمَا لَا تَهْوَىٰ أَنفُسُكُمُ اسْتَكْبَرْتُمْ فَفَرِيقًا كَذَّبْتُمْ وَفَرِيقًا تَقْتُلُونَ ﴿٨٧﴾ وَقَالُوا قُلُوبُنَا غُلْفٌ ۚ بَل لَّعَنَهُمُ اللَّـهُ بِكُفْرِهِمْ فَقَلِيلًا مَّا يُؤْمِنُونَ ﴿٨٨﴾
2:87 Certainly, We gave Moses the Book (Torah) and followed him with the apostles, and We gave Jesus, the son of Mary, manifest proofs (miracles) and confirmed him with the Holy Spirit. Is it not that whenever an apostle brought you that which was not to your liking, you would act arrogantly; so you would impugn a group [of them], and slay [another] group?
2:88 And they say, ‘Our hearts are sealed.’ Rather, Allah has cursed them for their unfaith, so few of them [like Abdullah ibn Salam [Arabic: (عبدالله بن سلام)] and his companion] have faith.
Commentary: Whenever a divine message conflicted with people’s worldly interests and carnal desires, the elites of a nation very often denied, harassed, persecuted and fought the messenger. This is unequivocally true as seen in the lives and legacies of many prophets, and still arguably holds true even today.
In some instances, some excused themselves from following the divine message, with the pretext that they could not grasp the essence of the message. Is this a legitimate excuse? Not so, the Qur’an says.
How could this be a legitimate excuse when the divine message is always in harmony with human nature [Chapter Ar-Rum 30:30]; and how could this be true when the religion of God was created to appeal to human hearts and minds [Chapter Al-Hujurat 49:7]? It is carnal desires [Arabic: (النَّفْسَ لَأَمَّارَةٌ)] which dissuade humans from adhering to the religion of God. The Qur’an states:
وَمَا أُبَرِّئُ نَفْسِي ۚ إِنَّ النَّفْسَ لَأَمَّارَةٌ بِالسُّوءِ إِلَّا مَا رَحِمَ رَبِّي ۚ إِنَّ رَبِّي غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ ﴿٥٣﴾
12:53 “Yet I do not claim to be innocent. The soul commands evil, except those on whom my Lord has mercy. Truly my Lord is Forgiving and Merciful.”
Prophet Musa (AS) freed the Children of Israel from Firon’s oppression and planned their exodus from Egypt towards the Holy Land [Arabic: (الْأَرْضَ الْمُقَدَّسَةَ)]. Despite Prophet Musa’s great service in protecting the wellbeing of the Israelites, they disobeyed him on many occasions and had little love and respect for him.
After the passing away of Prophet Musa (AS), many messengers came after him such as Prophet Joseph (Yusuf), David (Dawood), Solomon (Sulaiman), John (Yahya), Zechariah and Prophet Jesus (Isa). The verses of the Qur’an imply that many of those prophets were slain, such as Prophets John and Zechariah. Also, Prophet Isa was planned to be crucified but instead was saved by Allah (SWT).
Within this context, the verse 2:87 begins with the following phrase:
وَلَقَدْ آتَيْنَا مُوسَى الْكِتَابَ وَقَفَّيْنَا مِن بَعْدِهِ بِالرُّسُلِ ۖ وَآتَيْنَا عِيسَى ابْنَ مَرْيَمَ الْبَيِّنَاتِ وَأَيَّدْنَاهُ بِرُوحِ الْقُدُسِ
2:87 Certainly, We gave Moses the Book (Torah) and after him We send one apostle after another. We also gave Jesus, son of Mary, clear signs (Miracles) and strengthened him with the Holy Spirit.
When the Prophet (SAW) arrived from Mecca to Medina, the offspring of the ancient Israelites recognized the truthfulness of the Prophet from his traits and characteristics, which matched the prophesied traits and characteristics of the prophet in the Taurat (Torah) and Injeel (Gospel). Despite these clear facts, they denied the Prophet’s credentials.
The verse continues and poses a general argument: Is not that true, whenever an apostle brought the Children of Israel a message that was not to their liking, they grew in arrogance [the Quran: (اسْتَكْبَرْتُمْ)] and chose their desire instead the commands of their Lord.
Desire was sovereign in the worldview of the Israelites, and in their opinion, they could do what they wanted to do. Hence, whenever one challenged sovereignty of their desire, they tried to annihilate him first by accusing him lying. If this was not effective, then they tried to slay him.
…….أَفَكُلَّمَا جَاءَكُمْ رَسُولٌ بِمَا لَا تَهْوَىٰ أَنفُسُكُمُ اسْتَكْبَرْتُمْ فَفَرِيقًا كَذَّبْتُمْ وَفَرِيقًا تَقْتُلُونَ ﴿٨٧﴾
2:87 Is it not that whenever an apostal comes to you with anything your souls do not desire, you would act arrogantly; accusing a group [of them] of lying and slaying [another] group?
Notice that the descendent of the Israelites were not involved in impugning and killing of the Israelites prophets. Nevertheless, the verse addresses them as such, since they had ideological empathy for their ancestor and shared their worldview.
Also notice the sudden transition from the past tense [the Quran: (فَفَرِيقًا كَذَّبْتُمْ)] “some you impugned” to the present tense [the Quran: (وَفَرِيقًا تَقْتُلُونَ)] in “others you slay”. This perhaps portrays the horrifying consequences of killing divine messengers, which echoes until present time. [Jawami al-Jami, Tabarsi, commentary of verse 2:88].
The offspring of the Israelites claimed that they could not grasp the message of the Prophet (S.A.W) [Arabic: (وَقَالُوا قُلُوبُنَا غُلْفٌ)]. That is not so, the Qur’an says. The truth is that following excess carnal desires had shielded them from perceiving the mercy and compassion of Allah (SWT) [Arabic: (لَّعَنَ)]. Therefore, they were not able to benefit from the divine teachings, whereas very few open-minded Israelites like Abdullah ibn Salam [Arabic: (عبدالله بن سلام)] (Al-Ahqaf 46:10] and his companion understood the message and believed in the Prophet:
وَقَالُوا قُلُوبُنَا غُلْفٌ ۚ بَل لَّعَنَهُمُ اللَّـهُ بِكُفْرِهِمْ فَقَلِيلًا مَّا يُؤْمِنُونَ ﴿٨٨﴾
2:88 And they say, ‘Our hearts are sealed. Rather, Allah has denied His mercy and compassion from them on account of their unbelief. There are a very few of them who have faith.
Note: In the Arabic language, the word “مَّا” could be a negative word meaning “not” or could be either interrogative pronoun meaning “what?” or relative pronoun meaning “what…”. In the phrase “فَقَلِيلًا مَّا يُؤْمِنُونَ”, the word “مَّا” is relative pronoun; and it means few of them who had faith. This interpretation is consistent with verse An-Nisa 4:46, Al-Baqara 2:83 (see the appendix) [Tasnim, Vol. 5, page 462]
Support of Holy Spirit [Arabic: (وَأَيَّدْنَاهُ بِرُوحِ الْقُدُسِ)]: The name of the Holy Spirit is mentioned four times in the Qur’an. Some commentators hold the opinion that the Holy Spirit, as mentioned in the Chapter An-Nahl 16:102, is the Angel Gabriel (Jibrail) who revealed the Qur’an to the heart of Prophet (SAW);
قُلْ نَزَّلَهُ رُوحُ الْقُدُسِ مِن رَّبِّكَ بِالْحَقِّ ……﴿١٠٢﴾
16:102 Say, the Holy Spirit has brought it down (the Quran) duly from your Lord …….
Hence, the phrase [Arabic: (وَأَيَّدْنَاهُ بِرُوحِ الْقُدُسِ)] in the above verses, or similar to that, means we supported and helped Isa (AS) with the Angel Gabriel.
There is also the opinion that the Holy Spirit is a divine power unknown to humans, which supports prophets and helps believers to a lesser degree, depending on the level of their faith. For instance, the Prophet (SAW) said to Hassan ibn Thabit [Arabic: (حسان بن ثابت)] “O Hassan! As long as you defend us with your poems, the Holy Spirit will be with you.”
لَنْ یَزالَ مَعَکَ رُوحُ الْقُدُسِ ما ذَبَبْتَ عَنّا
Appendix-1: As-Saaf 61:5
وَإِذْ قَالَ مُوسَىٰ لِقَوْمِهِ يَا قَوْمِ لِمَ تُؤْذُونَنِي وَقَد تَّعْلَمُونَ أَنِّي رَسُولُ اللَّـهِ إِلَيْكُمْ ۖ …… ﴿٥﴾
61:5 When Musa said to his people, ‘O my people! Why do you torment me, when you certainly know that I am Allah’s apostle to you?’
Appendix_2: An-Nisa 4:155
فَبِمَا نَقْضِهِم مِّيثَاقَهُمْ وَكُفْرِهِم بِآيَاتِ اللَّـهِ وَقَتْلِهِمُ الْأَنبِيَاءَ بِغَيْرِ حَقٍّ وَقَوْلِهِمْ قُلُوبُنَا غُلْفٌ ۚ بَلْ طَبَعَ اللَّـهُ عَلَيْهَا بِكُفْرِهِمْ فَلَا يُؤْمِنُونَ إِلَّا قَلِيلًا ﴿١٥٥﴾
4:155 Then because of their breaking their covenant, their defiance of Allah’s signs, their killing of the prophets unjustly and for their saying, ‘Our hearts are sealed… Indeed, Allah has set a seal on them for their unbelief, so they do not have faith except a few.
وَإِذْ أَخَذْنَا مِيثَاقَ بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ لَا تَعْبُدُونَ إِلَّا اللَّـهَ وَبِالْوَالِدَيْنِ إِحْسَانًا وَذِي الْقُرْبَىٰ وَالْيَتَامَىٰ وَالْمَسَاكِينِ وَقُولُوا لِلنَّاسِ حُسْنًا وَأَقِيمُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَآتُوا الزَّكَاةَ ثُمَّ تَوَلَّيْتُمْ إِلَّا قَلِيلًا مِّنكُمْ وَأَنتُم مُّعْرِضُونَ ﴿٨٣﴾
2:83 When We took a pledge from the Children of Israel, [saying]: ‘Worship no one but Allah, do good to your parents, relatives, orphans, and the needy, speak kindly to people, maintain the prayer, and give the zakat,’ you turned away, except a few of you, and you were disregardful.
2:87 [وَلَقَدْ] and indeed [آتَيْنَا] we gave [مُوسَى] Musa [الْكِتَابَ] the Book [وَقَفَّيْنَا] and we followed him up [مِن بَعْدِهِ] after him [بِالرُّسُلِ] by Prophets [وَآتَيْنَا] and we gave [عِيسَى] Isa [ابْنَ] the son of [مَرْيَمَ] Marium [وَأَيَّدْنَاهُ] and supported him[بِرُوحِ الْقُدُسِ] with the Holy Spirit.
[أَفَكُلَّمَا] Then whenever [جَاءَكُمْ] came to you [رَسُولٌ] a messenger [بِمَا] with that [ لَا] not [تَهْوَىٰ] desired [أَنفُسُكُمُ] yourselves [اسْتَكْبَرْتُمْ] you grow arrogant [فَفَرِيقًا] and some [كَذَّبْتُمْ] you disbelieved [وَفَرِيقًا] and some you killed [تَقْتُلُونَ].
2:88 [وَقَالُوا] and they say [قُلُوبُنَا] their hearts [غُلْفٌ] are sealed [بَل] nay [لَّعَنَهُمُ اللَّـهُ] removed Allah from His mercy [بِكُفْرِهِمْ] for their disbelief [فَقَلِيلًا] so little [مَّا] is that which [يُؤْمِنُونَ] the believe.