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Surah al-A’raf (152-162)
Qur'anic Exegesis
Javed Ahmad Ghamidi
(Tr. by:Dr. Shehzad Saleem)



إِنَّ الَّذِيْنَ اتَّخَذُوا الْعِجْلَ سَيَنَالُهُمْ غَضَبٌ مِّنْ رَّبِّهِمْ وَذِلَّةٌ فِي الْحَياةِ الدُّنْيَا وَكَذَلِكَ نَجْزِي الْمُفْتَرِيْنَ. وَالَّذِيْنَ عَمِلُوا السَّيِّئَاتِ ثُمَّ تَابُوْا مِنْ بَعْدِهَا وَآمَنُوْا إِنَّ رَبَّكَ مِنْ بَعْدِهَا لَغَفُوْرٌ رَّحِيْمٌ. (152۔153)

[God said:] “Those who regarded the calf as god, the wrath of God is bound to reach them and they will be afflicted with humiliation in this world. This is how We punish those who fabricate falsehoods.1 [On the contrary,] those who did evil deeds, then repented and then accepted faith,2 then after this your Lord is Forgiving and Ever-Merciful. (152-153)


وَلَمَّا سَكَتَ عَن مُّوسَى الْغَضَبُ أَخَذَ الْأَلْوَاحَ وَفِي نُسْخَتِهَا هُدًى وَرَحْمَةٌ لِّلَّذِيْنَ هُمْ لِرَبِّهِمْ يَرْهَبُوْنَ. وَاخْتَارَ مُوْسَى قَوْمَهُ سَبْعِيْنَ رَجُلاً لِّمِيْقَاتِنَا فَلَمَّآ أَخَذَتْهُمُ الرَّجْفَةُ قَالَ رَبِّ لَوْ شِئْتَ أَهْلَكْتَهُمْ مِّنْ قَبْلُ وَإِيَّايَ أَتُهْلِكُنَا بِمَا فَعَلَ السُّفَهَآءُ مِنَّا إِنْ هِيَ إِلَّا فِتْنَتُكَ تُضِلُّ بِهَا مَن تَشَآءُ وَتَهْدِیْ مَنْ تَشَآءُ أَنْتَ وَلِيُّنَا فَاغْفِرْ لَنَا وَارْحَمْنَا وَأَنْتَ خَيْرُ الْغَافِرِيْنَ. وَاكْتُبْ لَنَا فِيْ هَـذِهِ الدُّنْيَا حَسَنَةً وَّفِي الْآخِرَةِ إِنَّا هُدْنَآ إِلَيْكَ قَالَ عَذَابِیْ أُصِيْبُ بِهِ مَنْ أَشَآءُ وَرَحْمَتِیْ وَسِعَتْ كُلَّ شَيْءٍ فَسَأَكْتُبُهَا لِلَّذِيْنَ يَتَّقُوْنَ وَيُؤْتُوْنَ الزَّكَـاةَ وَالَّذِيْنَ هُمْ بِآيَاتِنَا يُؤْمِنُوْنَ. الَّذِيْنَ يَتَّبِعُوْنَ الرَّسُوْلَ النَّبِيَّ الْأُمِّيَّ الَّذِیْ يَجِدُوْنَهُ مَكْتُوْبًا عِنْدَهُمْ فِي التَّوْرَاةِ وَالْإِنْجِيلِ يَأْمُرُهُمْ بِالْمَعْرُوْفِ وَيَنْهَاهُمْ عَنِ الْمُنْكَرِ وَيُحِلُّ لَهُمُ الطَّيِّبَاتِ وَيُحَرِّمُ عَلَيْهِمُ الْخَبَآئِثَ وَيَضَعُ عَنْهُمْ إِصْرَهُمْ وَالْأَغْلاَلَ الَّتِي كَانَتْ عَلَيْهِمْ فَالَّذِيْنَ آمَنُوْا بِهِ وَعَزَّرُوْهُ وَنَصَرُوْهُ وَاتَّبَعُوا النُّوْرَ الَّذِیَ اُنْزِلَ مَعَهُ أُوْلَئِكَ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُوْنَ. (154۔157)

Then when Moses’ anger cooled down,3 he picked up the tablets.4 Whatever is cited from them5 had guidance and mercy6 for people who feared their Lord. And Moses selected seventy men from his people so that they may appear on the time appointed by Us.7 Then when they [came and] an earthquake seized them,8 Moses said: “Lord! Had you willed, You could have killed them and me earlier. Will you kill us for something which was done by the foolish among us? All this was but a trial from you. You can lead astray through this whomsoever You wish [according to your law] and guide whomsoever You wish.9 You alone are our guardian. So, pardon us and have mercy on us. You are the best of forgivers. [Lord!] Ordain what is good for us both in this world and in the Hereafter. We have turned towards You.” God said: “I will inflict with My torment only those whom I will and my mercy encompasses everything.10 So, [on the Day of Judgement,] I will ordain it for those who are pious and pay zakah and for those who will believe in Our revelations11 – [for those12] who [today] will follow this messenger unlettered prophet13 whose mention they see written in the Torah and the Gospel.14 He directs them to do good, forbids them from evil, regards pure things as lawful to them and impure things as unlawful to them15 and lifts the burdens and undoes the shackles which have remained with them till now.16 So, those who professed faith in him, honoured him, supported him and followed the light that was revealed to him, it is they who shall succeed. (154-157)



قُلْ يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنِّي رَسُوْلُ اللّهِ إِلَيْكُمْ جَمِيْعًا الَّذِي لَهُ مُلْكُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ لَا إِلَـهَ إِلَّا هُوَ يُحْيِـي وَيُمِيْتُ فَآمِنُوْا بِاللّهِ وَرَسُوْلِهِ النَّبِيِّ الْأُمِّيِّ الَّذِیْ يُؤْمِنُ بِاللّهِ وَكَلِمَاتِهِ وَاتَّبِعُوهُ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَهْتَدُوْنَ. (158)

Say17 [O Prophet!] People! I am sent to all of you18 as the messenger of the God to Whom belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth. There is no deity but Him. He alone gives life and death.19 So profess faith in God and in His unlettered prophet, His messenger who himself believes in God and His words20 and follows Him that you may be guided. (158).


وَمِنْ قَوْمِ مُوسَى أُمَّةٌ يَّهْدُوْنَ بِالْحَقِّ وَبِهِ يَعْدِلُوْنَ. وَقَطَّعْنَاهُمُ اثْنَتَيْ عَشْرَةَ أَسْبَاطًا أُمَمًا وَأَوْحَيْنَا إِلَى مُوسَى إِذِ اسْتَسْقَاهُ قَوْمُهُ أَنِ اضْرِب بِّعَصَاكَ الْحَجَرَ فَانبَجَسَتْ مِنْهُ اثْنَتَا عَشْرَةَ عَيْنًا قَدْ عَلِمَ كُلُّ أُنَاسٍ مَّشْرَبَهُمْ وَظَلَّلْنَا عَلَيْهِمُ الْغَمَامَ وَأَنزَلْنَا عَلَيْهِمُ الْمَنَّ وَالسَّلْوَى كُلُوْا مِنْ طَيِّبَاتِ مَا رَزَقْنَاكُمْ وَمَا ظَلَمُوْنَا وَلَكِنْ كَانُوْا أَنفُسَهُمْ يَظْلِمُوْنَ. (159۔160)


 [Some among the Israelites will definitely believe in him because] there has always remained a group among the nation of Moses who guides according to the truth and passes judgement according to it as well.21 [Yet the majority are insolent.] We22 divided them into twelve tribes to make separate groups.23 When his nation asked for water from him, We revealed to Moses: “Strike the rock with your staff.” [When he struck it,] twelve springs gushed forth such that each group appointed its place to acquire water. [Not only this,] We made the clouds cast a shadow over them and sent down mann and salwa to them.24 Eat these pure things We have given you.25 [Alas, those who were bestowed with these favours did not duly value them] and [in this way] did not harm us in any way; they were only unjust to their souls. (159-160)


وَإِذْ قِيْلَ لَهُمُ اسْكُنُوْا هَـذِهِ الْقَرْيَةَ وَكُلُوْا مِنْهَا حَيْثُ شِئْتُمْ وَقُولُوْا حِطَّةٌ وَادْخُلُوْا الْبَابَ سُجَّدًا نَّغْفِرْ لَكُمْ خَطِيئَاتِكُمْ سَنَزِيْدُ الْمُحْسِنِيْنَ. فَبَدَّلَ الَّذِيْنَ ظَلَمُوْا مِنْهُمْ قَوْلًا غَيْرَ الَّذِیْ قِيْلَ لَهُمْ فَأَرْسَلْنَا عَلَيْهِمْ رِجْزًا مِّنَ السَّمَآءِ بِمَا كَانُوْا يَظْلِمُوْنَ. (161۔162)

And [make them recall that incident] when they were told: “Dwell in this city26 and eat from wherever you are in it and pray to God: ‘Lord! Forgive our sins,’27 and enter the gate28 of the settlement while bowing your heads [in humility];29 We shall forgive your sins and those of you who will adopt a good attitude, We will bless them with more favours in future. Then their unjust changed what was said to them by other words.30 Thus We sent down a torment on them from the heavens31 because they were unjust [to themselves]. (161-162)


 (Translated by Dr Shehzad Saleem)




1. The Israelites had carved the calf as an idol after the truth had been conclusively communicated to them and in the presence of the messenger too. Moreover, the Almighty necessarily punishes in this world those who are bestowed the position for which the Israelites had been chosen. That is why it is said that they shall be punished for this fabrication at all cost so that the group that has been chosen for bearing witness to God’s religion is cleansed.

2. I.e., revived their faith because such was this sin of the Israelites that it took away faith. If this was not the nature of their sin,

3. The actual words are: سَكَتَ عَن مُّوسَى الْغَضَبُ. Here, the preposition عَنْ after the verb سَكَتَ evidences that the verb encompasses the meaning of زال or a word of similar meaning. The implication is that Moses (sws) became silent and his anger died.

4. This also secondarily refutes the statement of the Bible that the tablets broke when they were thrown down.

5. Ie., written in the Torah. The actual word is: نُسْخَة. It also means to copy something entirely. Here this meaning is implied.

6. When both these words are mentioned together, they mean that guidance will be received from it in this world and in the next, God’s mercy and blessing will be attained which is actually the consequence of following this guidance.

7. Since the sin of the Israelites was of a collective nature, seventy of their people were selected who would represent them in seeking collective repentance and at the same time also revive their pledge of obedience with God.

8. The earthquake was a manifestation of God’s majesty so that the Israelites kept in mind that the God they were dealing with had immense power and if they even perpetrated a crime how He could deal with them.

9. This is a reference to the established practice of God regarding guidance and also a very subtle allusion to the fact that it is not easy at all to succeed in the trials of God. A person can only make an intention and then make an effort to realize this intention. Its success is based on God’s blessings and favours and he can only pray for it.

10. I.e., He does not inflict everyone with torment; only those are inflicted with it who He wants to face the consequences of their deeds in accordance with His law of justice. However, as far as mercy is concerned, it is general for both a believer and a disbeliever and reaches everyone in this world.

11. The supplication of Moses (sws) was for the whole nation and was made in general words, but God in response states the real principle as per which His torment comes on which type of people and who are the ones who are blessed with His mercy in this world and in that to come. The last sentence of the answer needs special attention. Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi writes:  


... The words are not یَتَّقُونَ وَ یُؤتُونَ الزَّکٰوة وَ  یُؤمِنُُونَ بِاٰیٰتِنَا . They are in fact: وَالَّذِينَ هُم بِآيَاتِنَا. This change in style is meant to stress the mubtada’ ie. specially those people who will profess faith in the revelations God. Those who have knowledge of parallel verses of the Qur’an may well comprehend that this refers to the covenant made with the Israelites regarding professing faith in future prophets. (Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tadabbur-i Qur’an, vol. 3, 371)


For its explanation, readers can look up verse 12 of Surah al-Ma’idah and verses 81-82 of Surah Al-i ‘Imran which mention the details of this covenant.

12. The answer to Moses’ prayer ended in the previous sentence. From here onwards, the Almighty has added His own words to make the discourse relate to the circumstances of the times of the Prophet Muhammad (sws) that who in those times will be connoted by the words: وَالَّذِينَ هُم بِآيَاتِنَا يُؤْمِنُونَ.

13. All these three words are used here for Muhammad (sws). He was born among the Ishmaelites who were called unlettered by their brothers: the Israelites. In contrast to them, it became a distinctive label for the Ishmaelites as ones who were not recipients of a divine Book and shari‘ah the way the Israelites were. God blessed Muhammad (sws) with prophethood and went on to bestow him with the status of messengerhood. Thus it was through him that wordly reward and punishment took place on earth for the last time which is now a conclusive argument for the whole of mankind.

14. In the Torah, this is mentioned thus: 

The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow brethren. You must listen to him. For this is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.”  The Lord said to me: “What they say is good. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow brethren, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him. I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name. (Deuteronomy, 18:15-19)

Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi writes:

It is evident from this that Moses (sws) himself had made it evident to the Israelites that the coming prophet would be from among the Ishmaelites. The reason is that in this context the words “from your brothers” or “from their brothers” can only mean that he shall be from the Ishmaelites. This through the tongue of Moses (sws) was a reiteration of the glad tidings which Abraham (sws) gave of a prophet from the lineage of Ishmael (sws). (Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tadabbur-i Qur’an, vol. 3, 371)


After this he writes:


Also evident from this is that he will not merely be a prophet; he will also be a messenger because the words “like me” and “like you” means like Moses (sws) when he was sent as a messenger to the Pharaoh and the his nation. The Israelites were delivered and the Almighty destroyed the Pharaoh and his nation. On similar lines, Muhammad (sws) was sent as a messenger to the Quraysh and to the people of Arabia. (Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tadabbur-i Qur’an, vol. 3, 374)


At another place in the Torah, the words are:


The LORD came from Sinai and dawned over them from Seir; he shone forth from Mount Paran. He came with thousands of holy ones from the south and on his hand was a fiery shari’ah for them.(Deuteronomy, 33:2)


Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi writes:


In my opinion the expression fiery shari’ah refers to what Jesus (sws) had said: He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with never-ending fire, (Matthew, 3:12). This is precisely the feature stated that we referred to above: a messenger sets up a court of justice for his nation and through him judgement is passed regarding right and wrong. (Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tadabbur-i Qur’an, vol. 3, 374) 

In the Gospel, these glad tidings are mentioned by citing the name of Muhmmad (sws). Jesus (sws) is reported to have said: 

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. (John 14:16-17) 

But the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (John 14:26)

I will not speak with you much longer, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold on me. (John 14:30)

When the Counsellor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. (John 15:26)

But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counsellor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7)

I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. (John 16:12-13)

Jesus said to them, have you never read in the Scriptures: “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes? Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.” (Matthew, 21:42-44) 

In these statements, the word “helper” is obviously a translation of some word in the Aramaic or Syriac language. The Qur’an has informed us that it was a word synonymous to the Prophet’s (sw) name Ahmad which was distorted by the translators of the Gospel and they inserted such sentences before and after its mention that its meaning could become muffled.

Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi writes:

Reflect on these prophecies. Jesus (sws) was the last of the Israelite prophets. No one after him came to the Israelites as a prophet. Then who else except Muhammad (sws) can be the person predicted in them? Which is the stone that was broken by the builders but it ultimately became the stone placed in the corner? Whose majesty is being reflected in the statement that it will crush everything that falls on it and it will squash everything it falls on? Whose status is being referred to by the words as the chief of the world who will stay with them till eternity and will say to people what Jesus (sws) was not in a position to say. If a person reflects on these prophecies in a just and unbiased way without being obdurate and dismissive, he will cry out that if there is a person who these words predict, it can be none other than Muhammad (sws). Who else can be the person prophesied in them? (Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tadabbur-i Qur’an, vol. 3, 375) 

15. I.e., he regards as lawful the pure things they had regarded as unlawful and regards as unlawful the impure things they had regarded as lawful.

16. This is a reference to the self-imposed restrictions which the jurists of the Jews had adopted as result of their own hair-splitting and of the exaggerated bouts of piety of their monks and sufis. It also refers to the restrictions which were imposed on them by the Almighty because of their rebelliousness

17. Once the discourse reached the mention of the Prophet Muhammad (sws), his message to the Israelites was stated through his own tongue.

18. This has been said so that the Israelites do not resort to the excuse that the Prophet (sws) was not meant for them and that he was only sent to the Ishmaelites, and only they were supposed to believe in him. It is evident from this that the Prophet (sws) was sent to everyone whether the Ishmaelites or the Israelites, the Arabs or the non-Arabs – all have the obligation to profess faith in him if his message has reached them.

19. The implication is that they should be informed that they are not dealing with a common person. They are actually dealing with the  messenger of the God Who is the king of all the universe and has authority over their life and death.

20. I.e., he has professed faith the foremost in what is he inviting others to. Thus they should listen to him seriously. Neither can he show any compromise in his preaching nor can they save themselves from God’s accountability if they oppose him. This is how Moses (sws) had introduced him: “He will tell them everything I command him.” (Deuteronomy, 18:18)

21. The actual words are: أُمَّةٌ يَهْدُونَ بِالْحَقِّ وَبِهِ يَعْدِلُونَ. The word أُمَّةٌ is undefined so that it may point to the small number. Also, because of concomitant indications, there is an incomplete verb suppressed in يَهْدُوْنَ and يَعْدِلُونَ. This is a reference to their scholars and judges which always had among them a group of the righteous. Such people were present in the time of the revelation of these verses as well and viewed Islam with an open mind and proclaimed its veracity.

22.The insertion that began with the words الَّذِيْنَ يَتَّبِعُوْنَ الرَّسُوْلَ ended in the previous verse. From here onwards, the discourse connects to the anecdote that was being narrated earlier.

23. The actual word is: قَطَّعْنَاهُمْ. Here it occurs in its positive meaning. Amin Ahsan Islahi writes:  

... The progeny of one father grew and developed as twelve independent families and God made each family grow and develop in the form of nations and communities and in this respect blessed them with favours but they showed ingratitude to each favour. (Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tadabbur-i Qur’an, vol. 3, 377) 

24. What is mann and salwa? I have explained this under verse 57 of Surah al-Baqarah. Water for drinking, mann and salwa for eating, and making clouds cast shade on them to save them from the sun were great favours and miracles of God. If someone wants to get an idea of its extent, he should go and see the desert of Sinai where lacs of Israelites had stayed, specially when supplies and resources had been cut off from the Egyptian side and the tribes of ‘Amaliqah in the north and east were also inclined to resistance.

25. The implication is that these favours by their very existence would urge them to benefit from them and show gratitude to God.

26. The actual word used is: الْقَرْيَةَ. It is evident from its usage that just as it is used for small villages, it is also used for large cities. Here it refers to some city of Palestine because the words فَكُلُواْ مِنْهَا حَيْثُ شِئْتُمْ رَغَداً used in Surah al-Baqarah (2:58) can only be appropriate for this land.

27. The actual words are: قُولُوْا حِطَّةٌ. The word حِطَّةٌ has come in place of a whole sentence to the effect مَسْئَلَتُنَا حِطَّة. It is from the verb حَطَّ يَحُطُّ which means “to brush away.” Here it means “to brush away sins.” Since Arabic and Hebrew have similar sources, one can deduce analogously that in Hebrew also it would have meant brushing away and forgiving sins.

28. The actual words are: وَادْخُلُوْا الْبَابَ سُجَّدًا. The way the word الْبَاب occurs after الْقَرْيَة, linguistic considerations show that it refers to the door of the city and cannot be taken to mean the “door of the tabernacle.”

29. The word سُجَّدًا connotes the bowing down of the head. In fact, this verse contains conclusive evidence that the verb سَجَدَ also means “to bow the head.” This is in contrast to its general meaning of placing one’s forehead on the ground.

30. The implication being that some wretched people among the Israelites replaced حِطَّة, a word seeking forgiveness, by one which had an entirely different meaning. When the verb بَدَّلَ which is mentioned here is used such that it takes two objects, it means “to replace something with another.” If this aspect is kept in consideration, the word cannot be taken to mean a mere change in attitude. It can only mean that they had replaced this word by another.

31. This punishment has been called “a torment from the heavens” in the same manner as a great calamity is referred to as a “heavenly punishment.” Most probably, the Israelites faced this punishment in Shatim, a city of Palestine. The Bible says that the Israelites were guilty of sexual misconduct with Maobite women, became involved in polytheistic sacrifices and thus became indirectly incriminated with worshipping their deity Ba‘l. In retribution for these crimes, the Almighty sent upon them an epidemic which killed twenty four thousand of their men and women

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