We have been discussing the historical stories of the Bani Israel over the past few verses, which have been captured in the Quran as revelations. From these narrations we learnt things that we can do to please Allah, and things that we should avoid that displease Allah. We will continue to go along this same theme.
Verse 75 reads, "Do you (faithful believers) desire that they will believe in your religion inspite of the fact that a party of them (Jewish rabbis) used to hear the Word of Allâh [the Torah], then they used to change it knowingly after they understood it?" In this verse, Allah (SWT) narrates a very important trait of the Prophet (SAW), that is, that he (SAW) had a deep desire that every person he came in contact with be guided with the gift of Islam. For each of us, we have so many different aspirations. Our efforts are divided. However, Rasul Allah (SAW) only had one hope and desire, and that was that every person be guided to the Straight Path. It was a very unified focus. Allah (SWT) therefore addresses him and asks about his desire to bring everyone to the right path. In fact, in Surah Al-Kahf, Allah (SWT) narrates how the Prophet (SAW) was on the verge of self-destruction by worrying about people being guided to this deen. This is how deeply it affected him.
However, in this ayah, the whole community of the Prophet (SAW) is addressed here as well, exemplifying that they all had the same desire. These days, we see people worrying about certain groups of people only. Some worry about only Muslims, and how they should be guided, other worry about People of the Books, meaning Christians and Jews, yet others worry about Atheists, since these are people who don't believe in God. Here, it is shown that regardless of the group of people, Rasul Allah (SAW) and his people tried to guide the people of the Bani Israel (Jews), even though they were so openly against him. Allah (SWT) narrates so many stories of how the Bani Israel have went astray, yet Muhammad (SAW) and his people do not give up on them.
So here, the Bani Israel are described as those who were given the Book of Allah, yet they changed the words, knowingly. Because of this, they were not moved by the powerful words of the Messenger. Even the kuffaar, who did not believe in Allah, converted to Islam, yet, the Bani Israel could not. This is because they were altering the message of Allah (SWT), which is an extremely dangerous thing to do. These people were scholars of the Bani Israel, and they would either interpret the verse wrongly, or even change the words of Allah to fit their own desires, and did what they themselves thought was good for the community. The common people also went astray by picking out what they wanted to follow from the book, and leaving what they found difficult to do. We should avoid these characteristics. This is what closed the doors of their guidance. Also, this is a mistake that the forefathers of the Bani Israel made, and not the current Jews of Rasul Allah's time. Yet, blame is being put on them because they are blindly following the wrongdoings of their forefathers. This is why a scholar has two duties. First, he should verify what earlier scholars have said by going back to the Quran and Hadith, and second, he should pass on this message.
In our day and age, none of us is going to stand up and openly say that we will change the words of the Quran. However, this can be done on different levels. For example, many of us know Islamic rulings but purposely avoid them in order to follow our own opinions. We make excuses based on our own knowledge. This is especially the case if someone has been disobeying Allah (SWT) for a large portion of his life, then suddenly turns to Islam. He still does not have the proper knowledge, and gives his opinion rather than what is said in the Quran. We must learn to be balanced in both our deen and duniya in order to have the correct approach. Even if someone is too focused on deen and ignores the worldly life entirely, it is problematic because he will not know how to approach people, and his stance on religion will be impractical, therefore pushing people away from the deen. The other extreme is those people who are focused on the worldly life, which gives them a high status, making them believe that they have some sort of authority to comment on the deen. They don't have enough knowledge of the deen because of lack of training in Islam. We should try to equalize the amount of secular knowledge we have with Islamic knowledge, in order to balance things out.
Verse 76 proceeds by talking about those in the Bani Israel who were hypocritical, and said to the Muslims that they believed, yet when amongst themselves they would disbelieve in the Messenger (SAW). Apart from this, there was a small group of the Bani Israel which sincerely did accept the Prophet (SAW), but this group was only a small handful. The group of people who were trying to fool the Muslims into believing that they were Muslims as well did so because they saw the Muslims were gaining power and there was business, political and social gain. These hypocrites would go to the people of Bani Israel who outwardly disbelieved, and those who openly rejected Islam questioned the hypocrites about why they told the Muslims what is in their Torah. In the original Torah, it gave a description of Prophet Muhammad (SAW), and how he would come in the future. The hypocrites would go to the Muslims and tell them that we believe in Islam because of these verses in the Torah. The people who openly disbelieved asked the hypocrites why they gave the Muslims this information, because now the Muslims can argue with the Bani Israel and tell them that the Torah itself says they should believe in Muhammad (SAW).
They thought they were discussing these things secretly, but Allah claims in ayah 77, "Know they (Jews) not that Allâh knows what they conceal and what they reveal?"
Verse 78 continues, "And there are among them (Jews) illiterate people, who know not the Book, but they trust upon false desires and they but guess." This refers back to the people who are not learned in religion, yet voice out their opinions on this matter. We think that we are all literate, but there is a degree of illiteracy within us because we don't know how to read or understand the Quran properly, and we will not be fully literate until we fully understand the Quran. Then the blame goes back to the scholars who changed the words of Allah in the Torah, "Then woe to those who write the Book with their own hands and then say, "This is from Allâh," to purchase with it a little price! Woe to them for what their hands have written and woe to them for that they earn thereby."
In verse 80, Allah (SWT) gives an example of one of the things the Bani Israel made up in the Torah due to their own desires, "And they (Jews) say, "The Fire (i.e. Hell-fire on the Day of Resurrection) shall not touch us but for a few numbered days." Say (O Muhammad Peace be upon him to them): "Have you taken a covenant from Allâh, so that Allâh will not break His Covenant? Or is it that you say of Allâh what you know not?" The Bani Israel were in a deep misunderstanding about this point. Every prophet has said that if you believe in Allah and His Messengers, yet you sin in this world more than doing good deeds, then you will be put into the Hellfire for a numbered days, then eventually to Heaven. However, what these people failed to understand was that all of the prophets are to be followed, and after Musa (AS)'s shariah/law, people will have to follow Muhammad (SAW)'s shariah. This had been revealed to them in the Torah earlier, but they chose to ignore it. The second point is that they themselves altered the deen of Musa (AS).
Alah (SWT) makes it clear in the next two ayahs that those who do evil and are surrounded by sin will dwell in the Hellfire, and those who believed in the Oneness of Allah and do righteous deeds are the dwellers of Paradise.
The next ayah then fits into the context of this situation, "And (remember) when We made a covenant with the Children of Israel, (saying): Worship none save Allah (only), and be good to parents and to kindred and to orphans and the needy, and speak kindly to mankind; and establish worship and pay the poor-due. Then, after that, you slid back, save a few of you, being averse." Allah (SWT) tells the Bani Israel not to make excuses that they are following the deen of Musa (AS), because they are not following the covenant. They fail to see that the same things Musa (AS) called his people to, Muhammad (SAW) is also telling his people to do.
An important point mentioned in this covenant is that we should speak kindly and gently to others. Unfortunately, we are lacking in this aspect at times. In a hadith the Prophet (SAW) said, "One should say good, or he should stay quiet". This is a very short hadith but summarizes it all. This is so emphasized in Islam, that when Allah (SWT) sent Musa (AS) to Pharaoh to guide him, he was told to do his preaching in a soft-spoken manner. Such an eminent enemy of Allah (SWT) is also being spoken gently to. So, even in the case of speaking to non-Muslims, we have been commanded to do so softly.
May Allah (SWT) give us the tawfiq to live by the Quran in a proper manner rather than by following our own desires.