The Sabbath-Breakers

In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

Allah the Almighty says:

“And ask them (O Muhammad SAW) about the town that was by the sea, when they transgressed in the matter of the Sabbath (i.e. Saturday): 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).

And when a community among them said: “Why do you preach to a people whom Allah is about to destroy or to punish with a severe torment?” (The preachers) said: “In order to be free from guilt before your Lord (Allah), and perhaps they may fear Allah.”

So when they forgot the remindings that had been given to them, We rescued those who forbade evil, but We seized those who did wrong with a severe torment because they used to rebel (disobey Allah).

So when they exceeded the limits of what they were prohibited, We said to them: “Be you monkeys, despised and rejected.” (It is a severe warning to the mankind that they should not disobey what Allah commands them to do, and be far away from what He prohibits them).” [Quran, Surah al-A’raf, 7:163-166]

And,

“And indeed you knew those amongst you who transgressed in the matter of the Sabbath (i.e. Saturday). We said to them: “Be you monkeys, despised and rejected.” So We made this punishment an example to their own and to succeeding generations and a lesson to those who are Al-Muttaqun (the pious).” [Quran, Surah al-Baqarah, 2:65-66]

And,

“…or curse them as We cursed the Sabbath-breakers….” [Quran, Surah an-Nisa’, 4:47]

‘Abdullah Ibn ‘Abbas, Mujahid, ‘Ikrimah, Qatadah, As-Sadiy and others said: “they were the people of Aylah.” Ibn ‘Abbas (May Allah be pleased with him) added: “it was located between Median and At-Tur.”

They said: “the people of Aylah were adhering attentively to the teachings of the Torah and the prohibition of the Sabbath at that time (the prohibition of fishing on Saturdays). Amazingly, the fish used to expose itself openly on Saturdays and disappear on the other days of the week, “when their fish came to them openly on the Sabbath day, and did not come to them on the day they had no Sabbath”. Almighty Allah says; “Thus We made a trial of them”, i.e. We test them through sending great numbers of fish on the Sabbath. “for they used to rebel against Allah’s Command (disobey Allah)”, i.e. because of their disobedience and rebellion.

When they saw this, they made a trick to catch the fish on the Sabbath. They fixed their fishing nets and ropes and excavated streams allowing the sea water to run through and the fish to get in but never go back to the sea. They made all this on Friday, in preparation for the coming of the fish on Saturday. And thus, the fish came on the supposedly-peaceful day (knowing not what has been prepared against them). They were caught in the nets, ropes and artificial streams.

When the Saturday came to an end, the people of Aylah were present to take their fat catch.Consequently, Allah the Almighty was angry with them and He cursed them because of their trickery and deception.

When this was done by a group thereof, the rest who did not participate in their sinful acting were divided into two sects:- a sect that rejected their acting and trickery against the Law and Command of Allah the Almighty at that time. The second sect did not reject or forbid them, rather they disapproved of the reaction of the sect that forbade the sinful ones saying: “Why do you preach to a people whom Allah is about to destroy or to punish with a severe torment?”, i.e. what is the gain in preaching to a people whom will inevitably be punished by Allah the Almighty? But, the second sect (the preachers) replied saying: “In order to be free from guilt before your Lord (Allah)”, i.e. as we are commanded by Him to enjoin what is good and forbid what is evil; thus, we observe this for our fear of His Torment. “And perhaps they may fear Allah”, i.e. perhaps those who made these sins may repent to Allah and regret what they have done and thus be saved from the punishment of Allah and that He forgives them all.

Allah the Almighty says: “So when they forgot the remindings that had been given to them”, i.e. were heedless towards the godly preachers, “We rescued those who forbade evil”, i.e. the preaching sect, but “We seized those who did wrong”, i.e. doers of the sinful deed, “with a severe torment”, i.e. a painful punishment, “because they used to rebel against Allah’s Command (disobey Allah)”.

Then, Allah explained the torment that befell them saying, “So when they exceeded the limits of what they were prohibited, We said to them: “Be you monkeys, despised and rejected”.

Here, the point is that Allah the Almighty informed us that He destroyed the wrong-doers, saved the preaching believers and left the believers who did not practice enjoining the good and forbidding the evil.

Scholars disputed regarding the third group. Some said they were granted salvation. And others said that they were destroyed with the wrong-doers. But, the first view is the accepted one by the well-versed scholars, including Ibn ‘Abbas head of the interpreters – who referred to this opinion on a debate with his master ‘lkrimah who upon the victory of Ibn ‘Abbas – granted him a valuable garment as a reward.

It should be noted here that the third group were not mentioned with those given salvation even though they despised the sinful deed, with their hearts, because they should have compelled their organs (hand or tongue) to act thereupon and declare their rejection of the wrong-doers’ act. So, they were saved with the preachers because they themselves did not commit the sinful deed, rather they rejected it with their hearts.

Narrated ‘Abdur Razzaq after Juraij after a man (whose name is not known) after ‘Ikrimah after Ibn ‘Abbas; and Malik transmitted from Ibn Ruman, Shaiban, Qatadah and ‘Ata ‘Al-Kharasani what means: Those who committed the sinful deed were abandoned by the rest of the people of the town. Some of them declared their rejection and denial of their deed. They did not listen to the preachers. Afterwards, they used to stay the night apart from the rest of the people of the town and there were doors or barriers between them and the rest of the people who were anticipating the befalling of punishment over them. One day, their doors did not open till the noon. The people got anxious and sent one of them to see what happened to them from above the barrier. When he looked he found them turned into monkeys with tails, shouting. They opened the doors (barrier) and the monkeys recognized their relatives while their relatives could not recognize them. Thereupon, the preachers said: Did not we forbid you from doing this? The monkeys made a sign with their heads denoting: Yes. Then, ‘Abdullah Ibn ‘Abbas (May Allah be pleased with him) wept and said: verily, we see many wrong-doings which we do not reject or deny or even make a comment!

Narrated Al-‘Ufi after Ibn ‘Abbas (May Allah be pleased with him) saying: the young men of the town were turned into monkeys, while the old men into pigs.

Moreover, Ibn Abu Hatim narrated from MujaQid after Ibn ‘Abbas his saying: they did not live long and they left no offspring.

Also, Adpahhaq narrated from Ibn ‘Abbas (May Allah be pleased with him): no monster has lived more than three days. In addition, they did not eat, drink or leave offspring.

Narrated Ibn Abu Hatim and Ibn Jarir after Ibn Abu Nujaih from Mujahid his saying: only their hearts and not their figures were turned into monkeys and pigs. This is just like His Statement that reads:

“The likeness of those who were entrusted with the (obligation of the) Taurat (Torah) (i.e. to obey its commandments and to practise its legal laws), but who subsequently failed in those (obligations), is as the likeness of a donkey who carries huge burdens of books (but understands nothing from them)…” [Quran, Surah al-Jumu’ah, 62:5]

But, this view seems to be very strange and it contradicts the apparent meaning of the Glorious Quran and the concession of the earlier scholars and those who followed them. Allah knows best!

From: “Stories in the Quran” by Imam Ibn kathir

Leave a Reply