Al-Baqarah · Juz 1 · Qur'an Tafseer

Tafseer Al-Baqarah Ayaat 65 – 66

The Children of Israel and the Sanctity of the Sabbath

In these ayaat Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala reminds the Jews of what their forefathers had done.


Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala had chosen one day of the week for the Children of Israel to do nothing other than worshiping Him. The Children of Israel, who were after the paltry gains of this world, however breached the sanctity of this day (Sabbath).

A small valley of the fishermen whose main source of livelihood was fishing would place nets, ropes and artificial pools of water the night before the Sabbath. On the Saturday, when they were pretending to be busy in their worship, the fish would come and get caught in the ropes and nets. The fishermen would collect the fish after the Sabbath ended. They thought they were deceiving Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala, but who can deceive the Creator?

As we mentioned in a previous post that Qur’an is to be understood by the Qur’an, we see the mention of this incident in Surah Al-A’raf ayah 163. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says,

وَسْئَلْهُمْ عَنِ الْقَرْيَةِ الَّتِى كَانَتْ حَاضِرَةَ الْبَحْرِ إِذْ يَعْدُونَ فِى السَّبْتِ إِذْ تَأْتِيهِمْ حِيتَانُهُمْ يَوْمَ سَبْتِهِمْ شُرَّعًا وَيَوْمَ لاَ يَسْبِتُونَ لاَ تَأْتِيهِمْ كَذَلِكَ نَبْلُوهُم بِمَا كَانُوا يَفْسُقُونَ

“And ask them (O Muhammad) about the town that was by the sea; when they transgressed in the matter of the Sabbath: when their fish came to them openly on the Sabbath day, and did not come to them on the day they had no Sabbath. Thus We made a trial of them, for they used to rebel (disobey Allah).” (7:163)

The Sabbath day was a test for them. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala had planned that fish would come in abundance. As a punishment for what they had done, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala changed them from humans into monkeys.


Because they changed the command of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala (or tried to play with it), Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala changed them from humans into monkeys. Therefore, we must be really carefully about our attitude towards the commands of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. We should be the ones who say, “We heard and we obeyed,” and not follow what our nafs inspires us to do.

We find more details of this incident in ayaat 163-167 of Surah Al-A’raf,

When this incident happened their nation was split into three groups.

Group One: Those who caught the fish;
Group Two: Those who stopped them and;
Group Three: Those who said: Why do you stop them? They are not going to listen.

When Allah’s punishment descended both group one and three were punished while group two was saved. Why? It is because they stopped their people from committing the wrong. They acted upon ‘forbid the evil’. Why did they stop them when group one was unwilling to listen? In ayah 164 of Surah Al-A’raf it appears:

مَعْذِرَةً إِلَىٰ رَبِّكُمْ وَلَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَّقُونَ

“In order to be free from guilt before your Lord.” (7: 164)

This tells us when we see a wrong act we must step up and stop it by our hands or tongues. If we don’t and transgression continues, then we too will taste the punishment. May Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala protect us from His punishment and allow us to become strong Muslims, ameen.

What is meant by ‘Be you monkeys’?

 Tradition narrates that they looked like monkeys on the surface but had the intellect of humans. It was done so, so that they could feel the pain of their punishment. They were to realize the intensity of their crime and where it had led them.

In his tafseer, Al-‘Awfi reported from Ibn ‘Abbas that he said, “‘Be you monkeys…’ means that Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) changed their bodies into those of monkeys and swine. The young people turned into monkeys while the old people turned into swine.” Shayban An-Nahwi reported that Qatadah commented that people were turned into howling monkeys with tails, after being men and women.”

The Monkeys and Swine that Exist today are not the Descendants of those that were transformed

Ibn Abi Hatim recorded that Ibn ‘Abbas radhiAllahu ‘anhu said, “Those who violated the sanctity of the Sabbath were turned into monkeys, then they perished without offspring.” Ad-Dahhak said that Ibn ‘Abbas said, “Allah turned them into monkeys because of their sins. They only lived on the earth for three days, for no transformed person ever lives more than three days. They did not eat, drink or have offspring. Allah transformed their shapes into monkeys, and He does what He wills, with whom He wills and He changes the shape of whomever He wills. On the other hand, Allah created the monkeys, swine and the rest of the creation in the six days (of creation) that He mentioned in His Book.”

Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says, “So We made this punishment an example…” meaning for the people of the village who violated the sanctity of the Sabbath and for the other villages. They were an example for those who lived during their time as well as a reminder for those to come, by preserving their story. Therefore, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says,

وَمَوْعِظَةً لِّلْمُتَّقِينَ

 “And a lesson for the Muttaqeen (the pious/Allah-conscious).” It means the torment and punishment that this village suffered was a result of indulging in Allah’s prohibitions and their deceit. Hence, those who have taqwa should be aware of their evil behavior, so that what occurred to this village does not befall them as well.

Imam Abu ‘Abdullah bin Battah reported that Abu Huraira radhiAllahu ‘anhu said that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said,

لَا تَرْتَكِبُوا مَا ارْتَكَبَتِ الْيَهُودُ فَتَسْتَحِلُّوا مَحَارِمَ اللهِ بِأَدْنَى الْحِيَل

“Do not commit what the Jews committed, breaching what Allah has forbidden, by resorting to the lowest types of deceit.”

This Hadith has a good (Jayid) chain of narration. Allah knows best.


■ Many people approach the Qur’an not to understand it but to find a loophole or conduct debates. A popular debate is about hijab. They argue: Where is the word hijab mentioned. If one studies Surah An-Nur and Surah Al-Ahzab, one can find how explicit Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala has been about hijab and free-mixing of men and women. He teaches us social etiquette, yet we choose to deny them. Some of the so-called progressive Muslims claim these commands were for a backward, barbaric society of Arabia and are no more applicable today. If that is the case, then why there is so much corruption in today’s world? Let us not talk about the ayaat of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala without proper knowledge. Let us study the Deen and ask Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala to humble our hearts, ameen.

■People alter the commands of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala as a way to escape its implementation. By not implementing, we are only doing wrong to ourselves. May Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala protect us, ameen.

■ Qur’an is a source of guidance for those who seek guidance. It is not a Book for conducting arguments. May He allow us to honor the Book as it should be honored, ameen.  

DOWNLOAD PDF: Tafseer Al-Baqarah Ayaat 65-66

رَبَّنَا تَقَبَّلْ مِنَّا ۖ إِنَّكَ أَنتَ السَّمِيعُ الْعَلِيم
“Our Lord, accept [this] from us. Indeed You are the Hearing, the Knowing.” [Al-Baqarah 2: 127]


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