Downfall of the Israelites — and water to come from rocks

Friday Khutba by Dr Zahid Aziz, for Lahore Ahmadiyya UK, 24 November 2023

“O Children of Israel, call to mind My favour which I (God) bestowed on you and that I made you excel the nations.” — ch. 2, Al-Baqarah, v. 47

یٰبَنِیۡۤ اِسۡرَآءِیۡلَ اذۡکُرُوۡا نِعۡمَتِیَ الَّتِیۡۤ اَنۡعَمۡتُ عَلَیۡکُمۡ وَ اَنِّیۡ فَضَّلۡتُکُمۡ عَلَی الۡعٰلَمِیۡنَ ﴿۴۷

“Then your hearts hardened after that, so that they were like rocks, in fact worse in hardness. And surely there are some rocks from which streams burst forth; and there are some of them which split apart so water flows from them; and there are some of them which fall down in awe of Allah. And Allah is not heedless of what you do.” — ch. 2, Al-Baqarah, v. 74

ثُمَّ قَسَتۡ قُلُوۡبُکُمۡ مِّنۡۢ بَعۡدِ ذٰلِکَ فَہِیَ کَالۡحِجَارَۃِ اَوۡ اَشَدُّ قَسۡوَۃً ؕ وَ اِنَّ مِنَ الۡحِجَارَۃِ لَمَا یَتَفَجَّرُ مِنۡہُ الۡاَنۡہٰرُ ؕ وَ اِنَّ مِنۡہَا لَمَا یَشَّقَّقُ فَیَخۡرُجُ مِنۡہُ الۡمَآءُ ؕ وَ اِنَّ مِنۡہَا لَمَا یَہۡبِطُ مِنۡ خَشۡیَۃِ اللّٰہِ ؕوَ مَا اللّٰہُ بِغَافِلٍ عَمَّا تَعۡمَلُوۡنَ ﴿۷۴

The Holy Quran, close to the beginning of its second chapter, deals with the history of the Israelites (Banī Isrāīl or the Jews). It begins it in v. 40 with the words: “O Children of Israel, call to mind My favour which I bestowed on you”. Then in v, 47, which I recited above, and later in v. 122, it adds to it these words: “and that I made you excel the nations”. A nation on whom Allah bestowed His own favour, or ni‘mat, and He made it to excel other nations, cannot be regarded as bad in its origin, no matter what wrong form its later deeds may have taken. The favour which God has mentioned begins with Him saving them from the Pharaoh, drowning this tyrant and his army, and bringing the Israelites to safety across the sea. This was then followed by the great favour of granting a scripture and a law to them through Moses. They were also granted rule in the land under David and Solomon, with Solomon ruling over an extensive territory. Prophets appeared among them one after another. In terms of these favours, God made them excel other nations.

The Arab idol-worshippers, who were opponents of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, said that the revelation received by Moses and that received by the Holy Prophet Muhammad were just two false books deceiving people, but supporting each other, and that they disbelieved in both revelations. The Quran directed the Holy Prophet to reply as follows: “Then bring some (other) Book from Allah which is a better guide than these two, I will follow it” (ch. 28, Al-Qaṣaṣ, v. 49). Although prophets appeared among all nations, yet it seems that they were more numerous among the Israelites up to the time of their last prophet, Jesus, than other nations, and that before the Quran came into the world the books of the Israelites were the best guide among the books of other scriptures.

The excelling of the Jews over other nations, as mentioned in the Quran, may also be interpreted in another way. In the past one thousand years or so, Jews have made a vast contribution in many fields of life, such as science, art, literature, philosophy, etc. First, they made these contributions while living and prospering under Muslim rule under the Khalifas in Baghdad and under Muslim rule in Spain. Later they made these contributions under modern Western civilisation. Their contributions were much more than would be expected from their small population as compared to other communi­ties. Thus the statement in the Quran is fulfilled in this way as well.

Then the Quran gives an account of the repeated deviation of the Israelites from the teachings of their prophets, even during the time of Moses, the founder of their law. They preached good but did not practise it, as the Quran says of them: “Do you tell people to be good and neglect your own souls while you read the Book?” (2:44). They turned to the worship of man-made gods and idols, they were reluctant to believe in God unless He appeared before their eyes, they complained about any hardship they were required to undergo for the sake of their religion, and they opposed and even tried to kill their own prophets.

These are not accusations made against them by the Quran but were already stated against them in their own scriptures by their own prophets. In fact, their own prophets used very strong language against their repeated turning to idol-worship. Some of their prophets told the Israelites that they were like God’s bride and He was a devoted and loving husband to them. But they, the bride, deserted Him repeatedly for one man after another. A Christian commentator of the Bible explains about the prophet Ezekiel that God revealed to him that the Israelites were originally like a helpless baby whom God rescued, then this baby girl was engaged and married to her rescuer, but then this prophet says that the wife turned into a prostitute and baby killer. (See: on Ezekiel, ch. 16). All this is of course a metaphorical description.

In the Bible, the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah and Hosea apply words such as the following to the people of Israel in their degenerate condition: sinful, evil doers, corrupters, they have forsaken the Lord and provoked His anger (Isaiah, 1:4). God said to the prophet Jeremiah: “Have you seen what backsliding Israel has done? She has gone up on every high mountain and under every green tree, and there played the harlot” (Jeremiah, 3:6). This refers to their worship of idols and performing the rituals of idol-worshipping nations, and this word ‘harlot’, meaning ‘prostitute’ is used numerous times in the Bible to condemn the Israelites for this misdeed. God revealed to the prophet Hosea to say to the children of Israel about their ills and evils: “There is no truth or mercy or knowledge of God in the land. By swearing and lying, killing and stealing and committing adultery, they break all restraint, with bloodshed upon bloodshed” (Hosea, 4:1-2).

As to killing their prophets, when Jesus arose among the Israelites he told their religious leaders that they were hypocrites because, he said:

“you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets’. Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. … O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to you…” (Matthew, 23:29-31, 37).

There is thus no justification for accusing the Quran of speaking badly about the Jews. The Quran is simply referring to the wrongs they committed against God as mentioned and denounced by their own scriptures in detail in very strong language.

It should also be remembered that many Muslim scholars of the Quran have expressed the view that the reason why the Quran recounts the moral downfall and degeneration of the Israelites is to warn the Muslims that they would suffer a similar downfall. Maulana Sayyid Abul Ala Maudoodi, the famous orthodox, Sunni religious leader, comments on these verses of the Quran which start at v. 40 of chapter 2, and he writes while it is the Jews who are mentioned and addressed here but this:

“is also meant to forewarn the Muslims against the pitfalls of degeneration into which the followers of the former Prophets had fallen. That is why, on the one hand, the moral weaknesses of the Jews, their wrong notions about religion, their wrong ways of thinking and living, have been pointed out, one by one, while, on the other, the demands of the true faith have been stated so that the Muslims are able to see the Right Way clearly and avoid wrong ways. The Holy Prophet knew by Divine inspira­tion that, by and by, the Muslims also would follow the same ways … Therefore, according to a hadith, he forewarned that they would discard the Guidance and follow, step by step, the communities of the former Prophets, that is, the Jews and the Christians, in their wrong ways.”

In the account given in the Quran at the beginning of chapter 2, it is stated that again and again God forgave the disobedience of the Jews. I may quote from it here: “Then We pardoned you after that so that you may give thanks” (2:52), “So He turned to you mercifully” (2:54), “make petition for forgiveness. We will forgive you your wrongs” (2:58). Then the Quran tells us what happened when they repeated their sins after being forgiven each time. This is in the second verse I recited at the beginning as follows:

“Then your hearts hardened after that, so that they were like rocks, in fact worse in hardness. And surely there are some rocks from which streams burst forth; and there are some of them which split apart so water flows from them; and there are some of them which fall down in awe of (or reverence for) Allah” (2:74).

Comment­ing on this verse, Maulana Muhammad Ali writes that the hearts “are metaphorically spoken of as bursting forth so that streams of water flow from them; others are spoken of as splitting apart so that water flows from them; others still as falling down for fear of Allah. The significance is clear; even hardened hearts would receive life — nay more, they would give life to others, be a source of spiritual life for others as water and streams are sources of life in the physical world.”

A famous scientific achievement of the modern state of Israel is that it has performed the amazing feat of creating farms in its desert and turned sand into green fields. Its desert agriculture is renowned in the world. Israel produces more fruit per year than the much bigger country of Pakistan, and its tomato yield for every acre planted is six times the average per acre for the world as a whole. All this is due to its water manage­ment and extensive, record-breaking recycling of waste water. And as a well-known international magazine put it: “the country has become one of the world’s leaders in how to wring the most out of parsimonious amounts of rainfall and turn a parched landscape into a productive garden” (The Christian Science Monitor, June 2015).

This is like the picture portrayed in the above verse of the Quran, of streams of water coming from hard rocks and water flowing from them. The Quran is clearly saying that just as this happens in the physical sense, it can happen also in the spiritual sense, so that hearts would also no longer remain hard and spiritual deserts. The hearts would open up, they would fall before Allah in awe and gratitude, the water of truth of the Quran would flow inside them and they would become the sources for spreading its truth to others in the world. Sounds impossible, doesn’t it? It is when such prophesied apparent impossibilities become reality that the Quran is proved to be the Word of God.

May Allah bring that day forward, Ameen.