The Jews Alter and Change the Law, Such As Stoning the Adulterer : Tafseer ibn katheer

Source: Tafseer Ibn Katheer : Al-Ma’idah surah 5

(They change the words from their places:) by altering their meanings and knowingly distorting them after they comprehended them,

(they say, “If you are given this, take it, but if you are not given this, then beware!”) It was reported that this part of the Ayah was revealed about some Jews who committed murder and who said to each other, “Let us ask Muhammad to judge between us, and if he decides that we pay the Diyah, accept his judgement. If he decides on capital punishment, do not accept his judgement.” The correct opinion is that this Ayah was revealed about the two Jews who committed adultery. The Jews changed the law they had in their Book from Allah on the matter of punishment for adultery, from stoning to death, to a hundred flogs and making the offenders ride a donkey facing the back of the donkey. When this incident of adultery occurred after the Hijrah, they said to each other, “Let us go to Muhammad and seek his judgement. If he gives a ruling of flogging, then implement his decision and make it a proof for you with Allah. This way, one of Allah’s Prophets will have upheld this ruling amongst you. But if he decides that the punishment should be stoning to death, then do not accept his decision.” There are several Hadiths mentioning this story. Malik reported that Nafi` said that `Abdullah bin `Umar said, “The Jews came to Allah’s Messenger and mentioned that a man and a woman from them committed adultery. Allah’s Messenger said to them,

(What do find of the ruling about stoning in the Tawrah) They said, `We only find that they should be exposed and flogged.’ `Abdullah bin Salam said, `You lie. The Tawrah mentions stoning, so bring the Tawrah.’ They brought the Tawrah and opened it but one of them hid the verse about stoning with his hand and recited what is before and after that verse. `Abdullah bin Salam said to him, `Remove your hand,’ and he removed it, thus uncovering the verse about stoning. So they said, He (`Abdullah bin Salam) has said the truth, O Muhammad! It is the verse about stoning.’ The Messenger of Allah decided that the adulterers be stoned to death and his command was carried out. I saw that man shading the woman from the stones with his body.” Al-Bukhari and Muslim also collected this Hadith and this is the wording collected by Al-Bukhari. In another narration by Al-Bukhari, the Prophet said to the Jews,

(What would you do in this case) They said, “We would humiliate and expose them.” The Prophet recited,

(Bring here the Tawrah and recite it, if you are truthful.) So they brought a man who was blind in one eye and who was respected among them and said to him, “Read (from the Tawrah).” So he read until he reached a certain verse and then covered it with his hand. He was told, “Remove your hand,” and it was the verse about stoning. So that man said, “O Muhammad! This is the verse about stoning, and we had hid its knowledge among us.” So the Messenger ordered that the two adulterers be stoned, and they were stoned. Muslim recorded that a Jewish man and a Jewish woman were brought before Allah’s Messenger because they committed adultery. The Messenger of Allah went to the Jews and asked them,

(What is the ruling that you find in the Tawrah for adultery) hThey said, “We expose them, carry them (on donkeys) backwards and parade them in public.” The Prophet recited;

(Bring here the Tawrah and recite it, if you are truthful.) So they brought the Tawrah and read from it until the reader reached the verse about stoning. Then he placed his hand on that verse and read what was before and after it. `Abdullah bin Salam, who was with the Messenger of Allah , said, “Order him to remove his hand,” and he removed his hand and under it was the verse about stoning. So the Messenger of Allah commanded that the adulterers be stoned, and they were stoned. `Abdullah bin `Umar said, “I was among those who stoned them and I saw the man shading the woman from the stones with his body.” Abu Dawud recorded that Ibn `Umar said, “Some Jews came to the Messenger of Allah and invited him to go to the Quff area. So he went to the house of Al-Midras and they said, `O Abu Al-Qasim! A man from us committed adultery with a woman, so decide on their matter.’ They arranged a pillow for the Messenger of Allah and he sat on it and said,

(Bring the Tawrah to me.) He was brought the Tawrah and he removed the pillow from under him and placed the Tawrah on it, saying,

(I trust you and He Who revealed it to you.) He then said,

(Bring me your most knowledgeable person.) So he was brought a young man… ” and then he mentioned the rest of the story that Malik narrated from Nafi`. These Hadiths state that the Messenger of Allah issued a decision that conforms with the ruling in the Tawrah, not to honor the Jews in what they believe in, for the Jews were commanded to follow the Law of Muhammad only. Rather, the Prophet did this because Allah commanded him to do so. He asked them about the ruling of stoning in the Tawrah to make them admit to what the Tawrah contains and what they collaborated to hide, deny and exclude from implementing for all that time. They had to admit to what they did, although they did it while having knowledge of the correct ruling. What made them go to the Prophet for judgement in this matter was their lusts and desires, hoping that the Prophet would agree with their opinion, not that they believed in the correctness of his judgment. This is why they said,

(If you are given this,) referring to flogging, then take it,

(but if you are not given this, then beware!) and do not accept or implement it. Allah said next,

(And whomsoever Allah wants to put in Fitnah, you can do nothing for him against Allah. Those are the ones whose hearts Allah does not want to purify; for them there is a disgrace in this world, and in the Hereafter a great torment. They (like to) listen to falsehood, to devour Suht) `Suht’ refers to bribes, as Ibn Mas`ud and others stated. The Ayah states that if one is like this, how can Allah cleanse his heart and accept his supplication Allah said to His Prophet ,

(So if they come to you…) so that you judge between them,

(either judge between them, or turn away from them. If you turn away from them, they cannot hurt you in the least.) meaning, there is no harm if you do not judge between them. This is because when they came to you to judge between them, they did not seek to follow the truth, but only what conformed to their lusts. We should mention here that Ibn `Abbas, Mujahid, `Ikrimah, Al-Hasan, Qatadah, As-Suddi, Zayd bin Aslam, `Ata’ Al-Khurasani, and several others said that this part of the Ayah was abrogated by Allah’s statement,

(And so judge among them by what Allah has revealed.)

(And if you judge, judge with justice between them.) and with fairness, even if the Jews were unjust and outcasts from the path of fairness,

(Verily, Allah loves those who act justly.)