Shafaqna – Commentary of the Quran (Chapter 2:65-66)
By: Mohammad Sobhanie
Human Face and Nature
بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ
وَلَقَدْ عَلِمْتُمُ الَّذِينَ اعْتَدَوْا مِنكُمْ فِي السَّبْتِ فَقُلْنَا لَهُمْ كُونُوا قِرَدَةً خَاسِئِينَ ﴿٦٥﴾ فَجَعَلْنَاهَا نَكَالًا لِّمَا بَيْنَ يَدَيْهَا وَمَا خَلْفَهَا وَمَوْعِظَةً لِّلْمُتَّقِينَ ﴿٦٦﴾
2:66 And certainly you know those of you who violated the Sabbath, whereupon We said to them, ‘Be you spurned apes.’
2:67 So We made them an example for the present and the succeeding [generations], and an a lesson for the righteous.
Commentary: The fourth commandment requires the Israelites to observe Sabbath as the day of rest, worship and spiritual enrichment. Economic activities are forbidden for the Children of Israel on Sabbath day, and those who breach the law are condemned to death, though the law is no longer enforced in the modern days.
A community of Israelites lived in a seaside town during the days of Prophet David (Dawood). They were prohibited from fishing, like any other economic activity, on Sabbath day. As this practice was observed, fish used to appear with a sense of security on the surface of the water within reach, but not on the other days of week. Therefore, this created a great temptation for fishing on Saturdays.
A group among the Israelites devised a plan to dig channels and pools and connect them to the sea. On Saturdays, they delightfully watched as the fishes swam from the sea toward the channels and pools. Just before sunset, they closed the channel gates so the fish could no longer swim back to sea. The next day, they caught fishes that were entrapped in the channels and pools. This was clearly a legal trick to bypass the Sabbath rulings.
Their fellow brethren of strong faith criticized them for defiling the sanctity of the Sabbath. Nevertheless, the deceitful Israelites disregarded the sincere advice and continued to desecrate God’s words. Their continuous transgression made them unfit for receiving God’s mercy and eventually, divine torment seized them. Indeed, this is a severe warning for those who try to get around religious laws and ordinances. The details of the event are narrated in verse 7:163-166 and 5:60.
Human Face and Human Nature: Man has a face and a nature. His nature enjoys righteousness and detests evil. Obeying God reflects divine attributes upon humankind’s nature. In contrast, following carnal desires, participating in sin and evil, and aiding injustice gradually changes man’s godly nature to that of a beast or even lower.
Therefore, one may argue that deeds shape our nature, and the nature of our deeds will be manifested in the hereafter. For instance, those who unjustly take the wealth of orphans indeed fill their bellies with fire. Although, they do not realize that now, they would witness it on the Day of Judgment.
إِنَّ الَّذِينَ يَأْكُلُونَ أَمْوَالَ الْيَتَامَىٰ ظُلْمًا إِنَّمَا يَأْكُلُونَ فِي بُطُونِهِمْ نَارًا ۖ وَسَيَصْلَوْنَ سَعِيرًا ﴿١٠﴾
4:10 Indeed those who consume the property of orphans wrongfully, only ingest fire into their bellies, and soon they will enter the Blaze.
Those who live outside of the bounds of humanity have the face of human beings but with the natures of beasts. In this temporary world, man can disguise his evil nature behind his human face; however, his true nature would manifest itself in the Hereafter.
[وَلَقَدْ] and indeed [عَلِمْتُمُ] you knew [الَّذِينَ] those who [اعْتَدَوْا] transgressed [مِنكُمْ] amongst you [فِي] in the matter of [السَّبْتِ] of the Sabbath (Saturday). [فَقُلْنَا] We said [لَهُمْ] to them [كُونُوا] be you [قِرَدَةً] apes [خَاسِئِينَ] despised (and rejected). [فَجَعَلْنَاهَا] And we made this [نَكَالًا] an example [لِّمَا] for those [بَيْنَ يَدَيْهَا] in front of them [وَمَا] and those [خَلْفَهَا] after them [وَمَوْعِظَةً] and a lesson [لِّلْمُتَّقِينَ] for the pious.