By Askia Toure
In my too infrequent study of the Qur’an, I often find that the particular passage I am reading relates to the situation I am experiencing at that moment. The Book of Allah is right on time even when I am not.
In April, I participated in a Christian–Muslim conference near the international headquarters of the Focolare Movement. The objective of the recurring conference and the decades-long relationship between our communities is not to convert or offer salvation to each other, but rather to practice the principles of love, unity and obedience to God. I spoke about this experience recently here.
I will not offer my own tafseer of any of Juzʾ 7 (5:82–6:110), but will instead share how I reacted to reading it and how the text relates to me at this point in my life.
The verses in Surah al-Māʿidah feel heavy and grave as they warn of the “enmity” (Yusuf Ali) shown to Muslims by Jews and people practicing shirk or polytheism. Verses like these are likely to make uncomfortable those, such as myself, who live in a cosmopolitan society. Because it makes us uncomfortable makes is it more important to strive to understand and apply in our lives. Are the Jews and polytheists referred to here those living in Madinah at the time of the Prophet Muhammad (S) or those living in the United States today? Are the self-proclaimed Christians that Allah has promised us to be warm and welcoming seventh century Arabians or 21st century Americans?
I have experienced a tiny amount of enmity towards myself from adherents of several religions, none of them Jewish. I have felt the love and warmth of a great many people of all religions and a good number of those who are irreligious (who are also addressed later in Juzʾ 7). I have witnessed many times everything that Allah has promised in these verses.
In reflecting on this apparent contrast, I suggest that the Qur’an is not revealed to one polity or nation but to the whole world and for all time. Knowing the occasion of revelation is central to understanding the meaning of each verse. However, each verse is included in this book of astounding breadth and brevity in order to guide all of humanity that comes after its revelation.
The verses of Juzʾ 7 that follow demonstrate the timelessness of the Qur’an by imparting guidance and wisdom that is becoming more apparent to modern people, both faithful and irreligious. The corrupting tendencies of intoxicants and gambling are forbidden by Allah in 5:90–91, perhaps not only as a test of faith (as is 5:94), but as mercy to guide us towards being “successful” (Yusuf Ali). That addiction is a serious threat to worldly success and an easy trap to fall into is taken as a given nowadays. In earlier times it might not have been as thoroughly understood. What has been understood since the time of Qur’an’s revelation and even before is that Allah is supreme in His wisdom and that we are most successful in a state of obedience to Him.
Surah al-Māʿidah concludes with admonishment and guidance for our ultimate meeting with our Lord and especially for the followers of Christ Jesus (AS). As the previous verses gave guidance to perhaps only the Companions of Prophet Muhammad (S) followed by guidance more easily understood to be universal, the verses of 5:109–120 are for a time when no more warnings or harbingers will be of use or even available. In addition to advice and direction, Allah permits us to actually know in advance what will take place when the messengers of Allah are questioned about their performance and the reception from their followers.
Of the afore-mentioned warnings in this portion of Juzʾ 7, the most important one is given the most attention in terms of the number and length of verses devoted to each topic. This is fitting due to, of course, the warning’s finality as well as the challenge it presents to (1) humanity, in general (2) Muslims, especially and (3) me, in particular. This is a thing I struggle with even as I engage in interfaith dialogue. That I give and receive love and hardly, if ever, give a warning to those I love eats at me. If I love my Christian brothers shouldn’t I want salvation for them? I am somewhat reassured by what Allah says in when informing Prophet Muhammad (S) that he is not “a keeper over them, nor . . . responsible for them” (Pickthall; 6:107).
I am encouraged to continue my interfaith efforts, especially with the Focolare Movement, because of the language used by Allah when He refers to Christians as being closest to believers “in love” (Yusuf Ali). The occasion of revelation did not include these people, specifically but surely, this message is meant for me to hear and share.
Askia Toure is a native of Houston, TX and resides in Columbus, OH with his wife.