The People of Saturday
One of Quran stories is about the punishment of Allah to a group of Jews who violated Allah’s prohibitions using deceitful tricks.
This story was first mentioned in surat al-bakararh in two ayahs (2:65 and 66)
[وَلَقَدْ عَلِمْتُمُ الَّذِينَ اعْتَدَوْا مِنْكُمْ فِي السَّبْتِ فَقُلْنَا لَهُمْ كُونُوا قِرَدَةً خَاسِئِينَ * فَجَعَلْنَاهَا نَكَالاً لِمَا بَيْنَ يَدَيْهَا وَمَا خَلْفَهَا وَمَوْعِظَةً لِلْمُتَّقِينَ ﴾ [البقرة: 65-66
Allah SWT said (وَلَقَدْ عَلِمْتُمُ) (And indeed you knew). (الَّذِينَ اعْتَدَوْا مِنكُمْ فِي السَّبْتِ) Ayah means, O Jews! Remember that Allah sent His torment on the village that disobeyed Him and broke their pledge and their covenant to observe the sanctity of the Saturday. ( فَقُلْنَا لَهُمْ كُونُوا قِرَدَةً خَاسِئِينَ) We said to them: “Be you monkeys, despised and rejected”, “These people were turned into howling monkeys with tails, after being men and women.”
(فَجَعَلْنَـهَا نَكَـالاً) (So We made this punishment an example) means, Allah made the people of this village, who violated the sanctity of the Saturday, (نَكَـالاً) (an example) via the way they were punished. (لِّمَا بَيْنَ يَدَيْهَا وَمَا خَلْفَهَا) (for those in front of it and those behind it) meaning, for the other villages. Ibn `Abbas commented, “Meaning, `We made this village an example for the villages around it by the manner in which we punished its people.’ Therefore, Allah made them an example for those who lived during their time as well as a reminder for those to come, by preserving their story. This is why Allah said, (وَمَوْعِظَةً لِّلْمُتَّقِينَ) (and a lesson for Al-Muttaqin (the pious)), meaning, a reminder.
This Ayah means, “The torment and punishment that this village suffered was a result of indulging in Allah’s prohibitions and their deceit. Hence, those who have Taqwa should be aware of their evil behavior, so that what occurred to this village does not befall them as well.”
Then, mentioned again in surat an-nisaa in one ayah (3:47) Allah SwT says:
( يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْكِتَابَ آمِنُوا بِمَا نَزَّلْنَا مُصَدِّقًا لِمَا مَعَكُمْ مِنْ قَبْلِ أَنْ نَطْمِسَ وُجُوهًا فَنَرُدَّهَا عَلَى أَدْبَارِهَا أَوْ نَلْعَنَهُمْ كَمَا لَعَنَّا أَصْحَابَ السَّبْتِ وَكَانَ أَمْرُ اللَّهِ مَفْعُولًا )
(يَـأَيُّهَآ الَّذِينَ أُوتُواْ الْكِتَـبَ ءَامِنُواْ بِمَا نَزَّلْنَا مُصَدِّقاً لِّمَا مَعَكُمْ مِّن قَبْلِ أَن نَّطْمِسَ وُجُوهاً فَنَرُدَّهَا عَلَى أَدْبَـرِهَآ) (O you who have been given the Scripture (Jews and Christians)! Believe in what We have revealed confirming what is with you before We efface faces and turn them backwards). (أَوْ نَلْعَنَهُمْ كَمَا لَعَنَّآ أَصْحَـبَ السَّبْتِ) (or curse them as We cursed the people of the Saturday.) refers to those who breached the sanctity of the Saturday, using deceit, for the purpose of doing more work. Allah changed these people into apes and swine. Allah’s statement, (وَكَانَ أَمْرُ اللَّهِ مَفْعُولاً) (And the commandment of Allah is always executed.) means, when He commands something, then no one can dispute or resist His command.
And explained in details in surat Al-A`raf (7 : 163 to 166) Allah SwT says:
وَاسْأَلْهُمْ عَنِ الْقَرْيَةِ الَّتِي كَانَتْ حَاضِرَةَ الْبَحْرِ إِذْ يَعْدُونَ فِي السَّبْتِ إِذْ تَأْتِيهِمْ حِيتَانُهُمْ يَوْمَ سَبْتِهِمْ شُرَّعا وَيَوْمَ لَا يَسْبِتُونَ لَا تَأْتِيهِمْ كَذَلِكَ نَبْلُوهُمْ بِمَا كَانُوا يَفْسُقُونَ (163) وَإِذْ قَالَتْ أُمَّةٌ مِنْهُمْ لِمَ تَعِظُونَ قَوْما اللَّهُ مُهْلِكُهُمْ أَوْ مُعَذِّبُهُمْ عَذَابا شَدِيدا قَالُوا مَعْذِرَةً إِلَى رَبِّكُمْ وَلَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَّقُونَ 164)) فَلَمَّا نَسُوا مَا ذُكِّرُوا بِهِ أَنْجَيْنَا الَّذِينَ يَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ السُّوءِ وَأَخَذْنَا الَّذِينَ ظَلَمُوا بِعَذَابٍ بَئِيسٍ بِمَا كَانُوا يَفْسُقُونَ 165)) فَلَمَّا عَتَوْا عَنْ مَا نُهُوا عَنْهُ قُلْنَا لَهُمْ كُونُوا قِرَدَةً خَاسِئِينَ ((166
Allah says to His Prophet (وَاسْأَلْهُمْ) (And ask them) ask the Jews who are with you, about the story of their fellow Jews who defied Allah’s command, so that His punishment overtook them of a sudden for their evil actions, transgression and defiance by way of deceit.
(وَاسْأَلْهُمْ عَنِ الْقَرْيَةِ الَّتِى كَانَتْ حَاضِرَةَ الْبَحْرِ) (And ask them about the village or the town that was by the sea…)
(إِذْ يَعْدُونَ فِى السَّبْتِ)(when they transgressed in the matter of the Saturday;) means, they transgressed in the Sabbath and defied Allah’s command to them to keep it sanctified. (إِذْ تَأْتِيهِمْ حِيتَانُهُمْ يَوْمَ سَبْتِهِمْ شُرَّعًا) (when their fish came to them visible on top of the water on the Saturday,) (وَيَوْمَ لاَ يَسْبِتُونَ لاَ تَأْتِيهِمْ ) (and did not come to them on the day they had no Sabbath,) (كَذَلِكَ نَبْلُوهُم) (Thus We made a trial for them,) means, this is how We tested them by making the fish swim close to the surface of the water, on the day which they were prohibited to fish. The fish would be hidden from them on the day when they were allowed to fish, (بِمَا كَانُواْ يَفْسُقُونَ) (for they used to rebel against Allah’s command) by defying His obedience and rebelling against it.” Therefore, these were people who used a trick to violate Allah’s prohibitions, taking an action that seemed legal on the surface. However, in reality, this action was meant to transgress the prohibition.
Allah SWT said that the people of this village were divided into three groups, a group that committed the prohibition, catching fish on Saturday. Another group prohibited them from transgression and avoided them. A third group neither prohibited them, nor participated in their action. The third group said to the preachers, (لِمَ تَعِظُونَ قَوْمًا اللَّهُ مُهْلِكُهُمْ أَوْ مُعَذِّبُهُمْ عَذَاباً شَدِيدًا) (“Why do you preach to a people whom Allah is about to destroy or to punish with a severe torment”). They said, `why do you forbid these people from evil, when you know that they are destroyed and have earned Allah’s punishment’ Therefore, they said, there is no benefit in forbidding them. The preachers replied, (مَعْذِرَةً إِلَى رَبِّكُمْ) (“In order to be free from guilt before your Lord (Allah),”) `for we were commanded to enjoin righteousness and forbid evil,’(وَلَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَّقُونَ) (“and perhaps they may fear Allah”) for on account of our advice, they might stop this evil and repent to Allah. Certainly, if they repent to Allah, Allah will accept their repentance and grant them His mercy.
Allah SWT said, (فَلَمَّا نَسُواْ مَا ذُكِّرُواْ بِهِ) (So when they forgot the reminder that had been given to them,) when the evil doers refused the advice, (أَنجَيْنَا الَّذِينَ يَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ السُّوءِ) (We rescued those who forbade evil, (وَأَخَذْنَا الَّذِينَ ظَلَمُواْ بِعَذَابٍ بَئِيسٍ) (and We seized those who did wrong with a severe torment)
Allah SWT stated that those who enjoined good were saved, while those who committed the transgression were destroyed, but He did not mention the end of those who were passive (the third group), for the compensation is comparable to the deed. This type did not do what would warrant praise, nor commit wrong so that they are admonished. Ikrimah said, “Ibn `Abbas said about the Ayah: `I do not know whether or not the people were saved So I continued discussing it with him until I convinced him that they were. Then he gave me the gift of a garment. Sayed Qutub said:” Probably Allah did not mention them – although they did not take by the severe torment- because they were negative so they deserved to be neglected”(In the shade of Quran)
(فَلَمَّا عَتَوْاْ عَن مَّا نُهُواْ عَنْهُ قُلْنَا لَهُمْ كُونُواْ قِرَدَةً خَـسِئِينَ) (So when they exceeded the limits of what they were prohibited, We said to them: “Be you monkeys, despised.”)
(وَإِذْ تَأَذَّنَ رَبُّكَ لَيَبْعَثَنَّ عَلَيْهِمْ إِلَى يَوْمِ الْقِيَـمَةِ مَن يَسُومُهُمْ سُوءَ الْعَذَابِ إِنَّ رَبَّكَ لَسَرِيعُ الْعِقَابِ وَإِنَّهُ لَغَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ ﴾ (your Lord declared that He would certainly keep on sending against them, till the Day of Resurrection, those who would afflict them with a humiliating torment. Verily, your Lord is quick in retribution and certainly, He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful).
Tafsir Ibn Kathir
Written by Shaykh Abou Abdel Rahman