Ayaat 58 and 59 were revealed in the background of a particular event which related to the custodial service of the Ka’abah, an office of great honor even before the advent of Islam. Those who were appointed to serve the House of Allah in a particular area of responsibility were regarded as people of great prestige and distinction in the community. Therefore, different areas of services were distributed over different people. It was from the time of Jahiliyah that, during the days of Hajj, the service of providing drinking water to pilgrims from the well of Zamzam was entrusted to Abbas radhiAllahu anhu, the revered uncle of the Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam. This was known as Siqayah. Some other services similar to this were in the charge of Abu Talib, another uncle of the Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam. Likewise, the custodial duty of keeping the keys to the House of Allah and of opening and closing it during fixed days had been given to Uthman ibn Talhah.
According to personal statement of Uthman ibn Talhah, the Ka’abah was opened every Monday and Thursday during the period of Jahiliyah and people would use the occasion to have the honor of entering the sacred House. Once before Hijrah, the Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam came with some of his Companions in order to enter the Ka’abah. Uthman ibn Talhah had not embraced Islam until that time. He stopped the Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam from going in, displaying an attitude which was very rude.
The Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam showed great restraint, tolerated his harsh words, then said, “O Uthman, a day will come when you would perhaps see this key to the Baytullah in my hands when I shall have the power and choice to give it to anyone I choose”.
Uthman ibn Talhah said, “If this happens, the Quraysh will then be all uprooted and disgraced”.
He said, “No, the Quraysh will then be all established and very honorable indeed”.
Saying this, he went into the Baytullah. After that, says Talhah, “When I did a little soul-searching. I became convinced that whatever he has said is bound to happen. I made up my mind that I am going to embrace Islam then and there. But, my own people around me vehemently opposed the idea and everybody joined in to chide me on my decision. So, I was unable to convert to Islam. When came the conquest of Makkah, the Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam called for me and asked for the key to Baytullah, which I presented to him”.
In some narrations, it is said that Uthman ibn Talhah had climbed over the Baytullah with the key. It was Ali radhiAllahu anhu who, in deference to the order of the Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam, had forcibly taken the key from his hand and had given it to the Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam.
So he went into the Baytullah, offered his prayers there, and when he came out, he returned the key to Talhah saying, “Here take it. Now this key will always remain with your family right through the Last Day. Anyone who will take this key from you will be a tyrant”. (By this he meant that nobody has the right to take back this key from Talhah) He also instructed him to use whatever money or things he may get in return for this service to Baytullah in accordance with the rules set by the Shariah of Islam.
Uthman ibn Talhah says, “When I, with the key in my hand, started walking off all delighted, he climbed me again, and said: ‘Remember Uthman, did I not tell you something way back? Has it come to pass, has it not?’ Now, I remembered what he had said before Hijrah when he had said: ‘A day will come when you will see this key in my hand.’ I submitted: ‘Yes, there is no doubt about it. Your word has come true.’ And that was the time when I recited the Kalimah and entered the fold of Islam.” [Mazhari, from ibn Sa’d]
Umar ibn al-Khattab radhiAllahu says, “That day, when the Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam came out of the Baytullah, he was reciting this ayah, I had never heard him recite this ayah before this.” Obviously, this ayah was revealed to him inside the Ka’abah exactly at that time.
Obeying the Divine command in the ayah, the Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam called Uthman ibn Talhah again and made him the trustee of the key, because Uthman ibn Talhah when he had given the key to the Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam, had said, “I hand over this article of trust to you.”
Although, the remark he made was not technically correct as it was the sole right of the Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam to take whatever course of action he deemed fit. But, the Qur’an has, in this ayah, taken into consideration the nature of trust involved therein, and directed the Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam to return the key to none else but Uthman, although that was a time when Abbas and Ali radhiAllahu anhum had both requested that, since Baytullah’s offices of water supply and custodial services (Siqaya and Sidana) were in their respective charge, this service of the Key-Bearer of the Ka’abah may be entrusted to them. But, the Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam preferred to follow the instruction given in this ayah, bypassed their request and returned the key to Uthman ibn Talhah. [Tafseer Mazhari]
This was the background in which this ayah was revealed. At this point let us bear in mind an important rule on which there is a consensus. The rule is that even if a Qur’anic ayah is revealed in a particular background, the rule laid down by it in general terms must be taken as of universal application and must not be restricted to that particular event.