External Errors Refutation of Qur'an Contradictions The Qur'an

What was Israel’s Response to the Covenant ?

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Asif Iqbal

In one of his recent arti­cles, Sam Shamoun con­tends that because the Qur’an cites the response of the Israelites to Yah­we­h’s covenant as :

We hear and we dis­obey” (2:93 ; 4:46)

where­as the Bible quotes the same as :

We will do every­thing the LORD has said ; we will obey” (Exo­dus 24:7)

We will serve the LORD our God and obey him.” (Joshua 24:24)

there­fore, the Qur’an, and I quote Shamoun, is in error, a point which can­not be debat­ed on his­tor­i­cal or log­i­cal grounds.”

This hubris­tic remark results from shut­ting one’s eyes from the con­text of the cit­ed Qur’an­ic remark in verse 2:93, as well as the com­ple­men­tary nature of 4:46 in its elab­o­ra­tion. The issue dis­cussed in the con­text of 2:93 was the mali­cious tongue-twist­ing of the Israelites, which, in prac­tice, was reflec­tive of their dis­re­spect­ful and defi­ant atti­tude vis-a-vis the impli­ca­tions of Yah­we­h’s covenant.

Thus we read in the vers­es 2:58?-59 :

When We said : Enter this town, and eat com­fort­ably from it wher­ev­er ye please ; enter the gate doing obei­sance, and say HiT­Ta’, and We shall for­give you your trans­gres­sions and increase those who do well.”

Then those of them who did wrong sub­sti­tut­ed a word dif­fer­ent from that which had been said to them ; so We sent down upon those who had done wrong wrath from the heav­en for their repro­bate conduct.”

In this episode, which is men­tioned again in 7:161 – 162, the Qur’an says that the Israelites were required to enter a cer­tain town in a sub­mis­sive and unos­ten­ta­tious man­ner. To bring home this mes­sage to each and every one of them, they were required to pro­nounce the word HiT­Tatun”, mean­ing : for­give­ness”, and per­form pros­tra­tions upon enter­ing the town.

How did they react to this com­mand ? The Qur’an says that in an attempt for seek­ing a divine license for their intend­ed spree of promis­cu­ity and dis­si­pa­tion, the arro­gant and uncouth ele­ments among them sub­sti­tut­ed a sim­i­lar-sound­ing but oppo­site in mean­ing word, (per­haps Kha­tiatun” mean­ing : Sin”), for the pre­scribed HiT­Tatun”, mean­ing : for­give­ness” — an action for which they were seized by God’s wrath.

In this con­nec­tion, anoth­er inci­dent is recount­ed in the imme­di­ate con­text of 2:93 by the Qur’an in the form of the fol­low­ing verse :

O ye who have believed, do not say : Ra‘ina but say Unzur­na and hear­ken” (2:104).

As-Suyu­tial-Itqan fi Ulum al-Quran, Lahore : Suhail Acadamy, 1974, Vol. i, p. 138 ; also al-Mutawakkili, ed. William Yan­cy Bell, Cairo : Nile Mis­sion Press, 1926, p. 59. cites the opin­ion of Ibn Abbas to the effect that the Ara­bi­an Jews, when address­ing Muham­mad, used to pro­nounce the word Ra‘ina” (mean­ing : look at us”) in such a way as to relate it with the Hebrew Ra” in the sense of the Evil One”. There­fore, the Qur’an advised the sin­cere believ­ers to use a dif­fer­ent word Unzur­na” (“behold us”) while address­ing the Prophet, which did not lend itself to this dis­con­cert­ing play on words.

Fur­ther in this regard, some nar­ra­tivesSuch as the hadith to be found here. assert that the Jews of Med­i­na, when meet­ing Muham­mad, mali­cious­ly changed the salu­ta­tion As-Sal?mu Alikim”, i.e., peace be upon you”, into As-Samu Alikum”, mean­ing : death be on you”.

This inci­dent is echoed in the Qur’an as :

And when they come to thee, they give thee a greet­ing which Allah has not giv­en thee” (58:8).

This is the con­text in which we can right­ly under­stand the verse in ques­tion : 2:93 (and 4:46).

The Qur’an says in 2:92 – 93 (A. J. Arber­ry’s translation):

And Moses came to you with clear signs, then you took to your­selves the Calf after him and you were evil­do­ers. And when We took com­pact with you, and raised over you the Mount. Take force­ful­ly what We have giv­en you and give ear.” They said, We hear, and rebel” [sami‘na wa-‘aSina]; and they were made to drink the Calf in their hearts for their unbe­lief. Say : Evil is the thing your faith bids you to, if you are believers.”

Here, the Qur’an first recalls to the Jews of Med­i­na a Tal­mu­dic tra­di­tion accord­ing to which Yah­weh had sus­pend­ed the Mount Sinai over the Israelites and giv­en them the option of either the accep­tance of the covenant or sud­den death :

…in com­ment­ing on the verse : And they stood at the nether­part of the moun­tain” (Exo­dus 19:17), R. Dimi b. Hama said : This teach­es us that the Holy One, blessed be He, sus­pend­ed the moun­tain over Israel like a vault, and said unto them : If ye accept the Torah, it will be well with you, but if not, there will ye find your grave.’ ” (Tal­mud, Avo­dah Zarah 2b)

And they stood under the mount” (Exo­dus 19:17): R. Abdi­mi b. Hama b. Hasa said : This teach­es that the Holy One, blessed be He, over­turned the moun­tain upon them like an [invert­ed] cask, and said to them,‘If ye accept the Torah, tis well ; if not, there shall be your bur­ial.’ ” (Tal­mud, Shab­bath 88a)

The Qur’an then says (which is con­firmed by the Old Tes­ta­ment as well), that even after watch­ing such an over­whelm­ing show of Yah­we­h’s might, the Israelites rebelled against the covenant of Yah­weh soon afterwards.

This rais­es the obvi­ous ques­tion in the mind of a hear­er that how the could Israelites have done such a thing ?

The key to a cor­rect under­stand­ing of this ques­tion is sup­plied by the Qur’an­ic verse 4:46 (Arber­ry’s translation):

Some of the Jews per­vert words from their mean­ings say­ing, We have heard and we dis­obey” [sami‘na wa-‘aSina] and Hear, and be thou not giv­en to hear” and Observe us” [Ra‘ina] twist­ing with their tongues and tra­duc­ing reli­gion. If they had said, We have heard and obey” [sami‘na wa-at‘ana] and Hear” and Regard us”, [Unzur­na] it would have been bet­ter for them, and more upright ; but God has cursed them for their unbe­lief, so they believe not except a few.

This verse says that some of the Jews of Med­i­na were used to play­ing on the resem­blance between words, there­by revers­ing the mean­ings of the com­mands either to suit them­selves or to make fun of the addressee.

In light of this state­ment when we look at the response of the Israelites to Yahweh?s covenant as giv­en in the Old Tes­ta­ment, we find the fol­low­ing words :

[The Israelites said to Moses] Go near and lis­ten to all that the LORD our God says. Then tell us what­ev­er the LORD our God tells you. We will lis­ten and obey[“we-Shama‘nu we-‘asinu”]” (Deuteron­o­my 5:27) (NIV translation).

The record­ed Hebrew for the expres­sion We will hear and obey” is also sup­plied in the above quote which, need­less to say, sounds very sim­i­lar to the Qur’an­ic We hear, and dis­obey” [“sami‘na wa-‘aSina”], but oppo­site in meaning.

There­fore, to answer the (above-cit­ed) ques­tion as to how the Israelites could have bro­ken Yah­we­h’s covenant, the Qur’an says that they did pre­cise­ly what the Jews of Med­i­na were used to doing when­ev­er they came to Muham­mad : i.e., play­ing on the resem­blance between words.

Address­ing the Jews of Med­i­na, the Qur’an says here that when it was time for the Israelites to say We will hear and obey” [“we-Shama‘nu we-‘asinu”], the more auda­cious ele­ments with­in them did what you do, i.e, played on the required We will hear and obey” to make it We will hear and dis­obey” — just as the Jews of Med­i­na used to pro­nounce in their meet­ings with Muham­mad this Hebrew expres­sion we-Shama‘nu we-‘asinu” à la the Ara­bic sami‘na wa-‘aSina”, to imply in real­i­ty the oppo­site of what they appar­ent­ly meant.

This ambi­gu­i­ty in pro­nun­ci­a­tion lat­er enabled them to ratio­nal­ize their dis­obe­di­ence of their promise made to Yah­weh, — a crime for which the Qur’an says they were lat­er made to drink the Calf in their hearts” (2:93), — some­thing which is also men­tioned, albeit in a lit­er­al sense, by Exo­dus 32:20 :

And he took the calf they had made and burned it in the fire ; then he ground it to pow­der, scat­tered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it.”

In light of these con­sid­er­a­tions, it becomes clear that a super­fi­cial and over-sim­pli­fied com­par­i­son, such as Shamoun’s, of the response of the Israelites to the covenant, as it occurs in the Qur’an, to the same in the Bible is liable of cre­at­ing con­fu­sion is the con­text of the Qur’an­ic expres­sion is not tak­en into account.

In any case, both the Old Tas­ta­ment and the Qur’an state in unequiv­o­cal terms that the Israelites did vio­late the covenant after promis­ing to abide by it. What was Israel's Response to the Covenant? 26Endmark

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