The 52nd Call: Prohibition of Imitating Rabbis and Monks
Almighty Allah says (what can be translated as): “O you who have believed, indeed many of the rabbis and the monks devour the wealth of people unjustly and avert [them] from the way of Allah. And those who hoard gold and silver and spend it not in the way of Allah - give them tidings of a painful punishment. The Day when it will be heated in the fire of Hell and seared therewith will be their foreheads, their flanks, and their backs, [it will be said], ‘This is what you hoarded for yourselves, so taste what you used to hoard.’” (At-Tawbah: 34-35)
Almighty Allah warns His believing servants against the bad rabbis and deluded monks. He says that many Jewish and Christian rabbis and monks devour the wealth of people unjustly in different ways and they misuse their religious authority in order to achieve their selfish aims. When Islam emerged they continued in their wrongdoing and stubbornness to keep their authority. They avert people from Islam, the religion of the truth, and they turn the truth into falsehood. They deceive their ignorant followers by telling them that they call them to goodness because if they admit the truthfulness of Muhammad and the validity of his call to Islam, they would have to follow him so their authority will cease to exist and their status will end and eventually their resources and massive earnings will stop.
In fact, they are callers to the Hellfire and on the Day of Judgment they will not be supported or rescued. Almighty Allah warns those who hoard gold and silver (i.e. pile them up). They do not spend it in the way of Allah and in Jihad to support the religion of Allah or helping His servants and fulfilling their needs. He gives them tidings of painful torment. Ibn Omar (May Allah be pleased with him) said: the meaning of hoarding here is the money for which the Zakah is not paid. Omar ibn al-Khatab (May Allah be pleased with him) said: any money for which Zakah is paid is not hoarded even if it was buried under the ground. Any money for which Zakah is not paid is considered hoarded wealth with which the owner of this wealth will be seared even if it was on the ground (i.e. not buried under the ground). Almighty Allah says that the owners of the money for which Zakah is not paid will be punished, it will be heated in the fire of Hell and seared therewith will be their foreheads, their flanks, and their backs. They will be scorned and blamed for what they did and it will be said to them ‘This is what you hoarded for yourselves, so taste what you used to hoard.’ This is what you hoarded for yourselves and you did not fulfill the right of Allah. This is what you kept for yourselves so taste the painful torment.
The first verse elaborates on the roles of the rabbis and monks whom those people of earlier revelations have made as lords, following their bidding in their day-to-day transactions, and also in their worship. Indeed the rabbis and monks enjoy being treated as lords whose orders are always the basis of false claims and they also turn people away from Allah’s path.
Devouring people’s property always takes various forms. One of these is the money they receive in return for issuing rulings that make lawful what is really forbidden and prohibiting what is permissible. Such rulings are always meant to serve the interests of those who possess wealth or power or both. Another way is what a priest might receive for listening to people’s confessions and his forgiveness of their sins, using the authority allegedly given to the Church. The worst and most common way of devouring people’s property without lawful basis is usury. There are, however, many other methods.
Another method of such wrongful devouring of people’s wealth is the raising of funds which they use to fight the religion of truth. Many were the priests, bishops, cardinals and popes who raised millions and millions to finance the successive Crusades. They continue to do so in order to finance missionary work and Orientalist research, all of which aim at turning people away from Allah’s path. It is important to note here the care exercised in giving an accurate and honest statement which is characteristic of divine justice. In this verse, Allah says: “Indeed, many of the rabbis and the monks...” This is to guard against making a generalization that would be unfair to the few who do not indulge in such wrongful practices. In any community there will always be good individuals who maintain virtuous and honest practices. Allah will never do any injustice to anyone.
Many of those rabbis and monks hoard up the wealth they acquire by wrongful means. The history of those communities has seen great wealth amassed by rabbis, clerics and churches. In certain periods of history they were wealthier than despotic kings and emperors. The Qur’an describes in detail how they will be punished in the hereafter and the suffering of all those who hoard up gold and silver and do not spend them to serve Allah’s cause. This is portrayed in a very vivid way that produces an awesome effect: “And those who hoard gold and silver and spend it not in the way of Allah - give them tidings of a painful punishment. The Day when it will be heated in the fire of Hell and seared therewith will be their foreheads, their flanks, and their backs, [it will be said], ‘This is what you hoarded for yourselves, so taste what you used to hoard.’” (Verses 34-35)
The scene is portrayed in full detail, with the whole operation described from its first step to its conclusion. Thus the scene is deliberately made to linger in our minds so that we contemplate it longer. The description starts with a general statement: “And those who hoard gold and silver and spend it not in the way of Allah - give them tidings of a painful punishment.” (Verse 34) The verse ends here with a general reference to the punishment of the hereafter. But then the full details are given: “The Day when it will be heated in the fire of Hell and seared therewith will be their foreheads, their flanks, and their backs.” (Verse: 35)
As we listen we wait for the heating up to be completed, then we see it red hot and gathered in readiness. Now the suffering starts with foreheads being branded with all that gold and silver. When all foreheads have been branded, those who are being punished are made to turn on their sides so that they can be branded there as well. With that over, they are made to turn yet again in order to brand them a third time with the red hot gold and silver on their backs. When this type of their punishment is completed, they are severely rebuked: “This is what you hoarded for yourselves, so taste what you used to hoard.” (Verse 35) It is the very thing you were keen to have and keep for your pleasure and enjoyment. It is now a means to inflict on you this grievous suffering “…so taste what you used to hoard.” (Verse 35) Taste it in reality, because it is the very thing which is branding your foreheads, sides and backs.
It is a horrifying scene, portrayed at length, in full detail, so as to bring the image it describes in sharp relief. The scene is portrayed here in order to explain first the destiny that awaits many of the rabbis and monks. It also describes in detail the destiny of those who hoard gold and silver without spending to serve Allah’s cause. Portraying it at this juncture also serves as a prelude to the ‘expedition of hardship’ which is the subject matter of the longer part of the surah. We need to pause a little here to comment on Allah’s statement which explains the true nature of the faith of the people of earlier revelations, the religion to which they adhere, the moral values they adopt and also their practices. We have referred to these previously, but we need to add more here. Making the reality of the people of earlier revelations clear is a more pressing need than showing the truth of the idolaters who openly admit their idolatry, and participate in rituals based on such beliefs. Exposing the reality that those people of earlier revelations are devoid of any true belief in Allah is necessary because the Muslims will not wholeheartedly confront jahiliyyah unless they are aware of its absolute reality. Such a reality is well known in the case of the idolaters, but it is not so commonly accepted in the case of the people of earlier revelations. (This also applies to people who similarly claim to follow the divine faith, as is the case with the majority of today’s Muslims.)
Setting out to confront the idolaters has required that a long portion of this surah be devoted to explaining their true situation and attitude. We have explained the reasons for this earlier. In the opening passage, Allah says to the believers: “How can there be for the polytheists a treaty in the sight of Allah and with His Messenger, except for those with whom you made a treaty at al-Masjid al-Haram? So as long as they are upright toward you, be upright toward them. Indeed, Allah loves the righteous [who fear Him]. How [can there be a treaty] while, if they gain dominance over you, they do not observe concerning you any pact of kinship or covenant of protection? They satisfy you with their mouths, but their hearts refuse [compliance], and most of them are defiantly disobedient. They have exchanged the signs of Allah for a small price and averted [people] from His way. Indeed, it was evil that they were doing. They do not observe toward a believer any pact of kinship or covenant of protection. And it is they who are the transgressors.” (Verses 7-10)
“Would you not fight a people who broke their oaths and determined to expel the Messenger, and they had begun [the attack upon] you the first time? Do you fear them? But Allah has more right that you should fear Him, if you are [truly] believers. Fight them; Allah will punish them by your hands and will disgrace them and give you victory over them and satisfy the breasts of a believing people and remove the fury in the believers' hearts. And Allah turns in forgiveness to whom He wills; and Allah is Knowing and Wise.” (Verses 13-15)
“It is not for the polytheists to maintain the mosques of Allah [while] witnessing against themselves with disbelief. [For] those, their deeds have become worthless, and in the Fire they will abide eternally.” (Verse 17)
“O you who have believed, do not take your fathers or your brothers as allies if they have preferred disbelief over belief. And whoever does so among you - then it is those who are the wrongdoers.” (Verse 23)
Although the reality of the idolaters was very clear, confronting them on the battlefield required a carefully prepared campaign by the Muslim community. By contrast, the confrontation with the people of earlier revelations required an even stronger and more profound campaign which aimed, at the outset, to expose the reality of those people. It also required the removal of their nameplate which no longer reflected their reality. They needed to appear as they truly were: unbelievers, associating partners with Allah, and at war with Allah and His message. Moreover, they were too far astray, devouring people’s wealth and property without justification and turning people away from Allah’s path. This exposure comes in statements like the following:
“Fight those who do not believe in Allah or in the Last Day and who do not consider unlawful what Allah and His Messenger have made unlawful and who do not adopt the religion of truth from those who were given the Scripture - [fight] until they give the jizyah willingly while they are humbled. The Jews say, "Ezra is the son of Allah "; and the Christians say, "The Messiah is the son of Allah." That is their statement from their mouths; they imitate the saying of those who disbelieved [before them]. May Allah destroy them; how are they deluded? They have taken their scholars and monks as lords besides Allah, and [also] the Messiah, the son of Mary. And they were not commanded except to worship one God; there is no deity except Him. Exalted is He above whatever they associate with Him. They want to extinguish the light of Allah with their mouths, but Allah refuses except to perfect His light, although the disbelievers dislike it. It is He who has sent His Messenger with guidance and the religion of truth to manifest it over all religion, although they who associate others with Allah dislike it. O you who have believed, indeed many of the rabbis and the monks devour the wealth of people unjustly and avert [them] from the way of Allah. And those who hoard gold and silver and spend it not in the way of Allah - give them tidings of a painful punishment.” (Verses 29-34)
To this should be added all the decisive statements in several surahs, some of which are of the Makkah period while others were revealed in Madinah. These explain the ultimate reality of the people of earlier revelations and that they no longer belong to the divine faith preached by their prophets. Added to this must be their attitude to Allah’s final message. It is on the basis of this attitude that it may be determined whether they are believers or not. Earlier surahs confronted them with the fact that they no longer had any solid foundation of divine faith to support their claims to be believers: “Say, "O People of the Scripture, you are [standing] on nothing until you uphold [the law of] the Torah, the Gospel, and what has been revealed to you from your Lord." And that which has been revealed to you from your Lord will surely increase many of them in transgression and disbelief. So do not grieve over the disbelieving people.” (Al-Ma’idah: 5: 68)
Other Qur’anic statements describe them, Jews or Christians or both, as having no belief in Allah and group them with the idolaters. As examples of these we may cite the following: “And the Jews say, "The hand of Allah is chained." Chained are their hands, and cursed are they for what they say. Rather, both His hands are extended; He spends however He wills. And that which has been revealed to you from your Lord will surely increase many of them in transgression and disbelief. And We have cast among them animosity and hatred until the Day of Resurrection. Every time they kindled the fire of war [against you], Allah extinguished it. And they strive throughout the land [causing] corruption, and Allah does not like corrupters.” (5: 64) “They have certainly disbelieved who say, ‘Allah is the Messiah, the son of Mary’” (5: 72) “They have certainly disbelieved who say, ‘Allah is the third of three.’” (5: 73) “Those who disbelieved among the People of the Scripture and the polytheists were not to be parted [from disbelief] until there came to them clear evidence.” (98: 1)
We have also cited other examples. Indeed statements of this nature are numerous in the Qur’an. It is true that the Qur’an also gives certain privileges to the people of earlier revelations which are not given to the idolaters, such as allowing the Muslims to eat of their food and to marry their chaste women. Such privileges are not based on any acknowledgement that the beliefs they profess have any basis in divine faith.
Most probably, they have been given such privileges because originally they had divine Scriptures and a true faith, although they no longer implemented that faith. It is then possible to deal with them on the basis of that original code they claim to follow. In this respect, they are different from the idolaters who have no scriptures and no original faith to be taken as a basis. As to the present beliefs and religion of the people of earlier revelations, the Qur’anic statements are very clear and decisive in maintaining that they have nothing to do with the faith revealed by Allah. They had indeed abandoned that in order to follow their rabbis, clerics, monks, synods and churches in what they had devised for them. What Allah says is the final verdict which may not be subject to any argument.
What does this exposure by Allah of the beliefs of the people of earlier revelations signify? The deceptive front they present acts as a check on the advocates of the Islamic message in their confrontation with the jahiliyyah. Hence, it must be removed, so that they can no longer present a false image. We must not overlook the importance of the prevailing circumstances of the Muslim community at the time, including the organic structure of that community and the fact that the Tabuk Expedition took place at a time of economic hardship which was not made any easier by the extreme heat of the Arabian summer. Moreover, the Muslims were reluctant to confront the Byzantines in open warfare, because the Arabs had always held them in awe. They were even more uneasy about the general order given to them to fight the people of earlier revelations, when they were following divine Scriptures revealed by Allah. The enemies of this faith who are watching carefully the Islamic revivalist movements of today are fully aware of what may influence human nature and of the history of Islam as well. Therefore, they are keen to give an outward ‘Islamic’ appearance to the regimes, movements, values, traditions and philosophies they nurture and support in order to crush the Islamic revivalist movements the world over. They do so, because this outward ‘Islamic’ appearance may prevent the true advocates of Islam from confronting the jahiliyyah reality that lies behind this false appearance.
They were forced, in certain instances, to reveal the reality of such regimes and movements and their hostility to Islam. The clearest example of these was in the case of Ataturk and his movement in Turkey which was uncompromising in its enmity to everything Islamic. They needed to reveal its reality because of the urgency they felt to bury the Caliphate system which was the last aspect of Muslim unity. Although it was merely a formal aspect, they needed to do away with it before they could attack more fundamental aspects such as worship and prayer. This reminds us of the Prophet’s statement: “This religion will be undermined, one aspect after another. The first aspect to be undermined is government and the last is prayer.” Once the need for open hostility was over, those atheists and self- proclaimed followers of earlier religions, who revive their alliance only when they fight Islam, reverted to their secret ways. They were now even keener to give an Islamic appearance to other regimes which were in reality of the same orientation in opposing Islam as Ataturk’s. They have become so inventive in hiding the reality of these regimes which they support politically, economically and culturally. Their intelligence services, wide-reaching media and other resources are all used to protect such regimes. Atheists and religious enemies of Islam alike cooperate in supporting such regimes which try to achieve for them the task left unfulfilled by the Crusades, old and new. Some Muslims, including many of those who advocate the need for an Islamic revival, are deceived by this ‘Islamic’ appearance which is portrayed by present-day jahiliyyah. Hence they are reluctant to unmask these hostile regimes and show them as they truly are. All this impedes an open confrontation with jahiliyyah. Thus the false ‘Islamic’ appearance exercises a sedative influence on the Islamic revivalist movements. It creates a barrier that prevents the launching of a determined effort to stand up to contemporary jahiliyyah which tries to pull out the last remaining roots of this faith.
In my view, those naïve advocates of Islam present a more serious threat to the Islamic revivalist movement than the sly enemies of Islam who give a false ‘Islamic’ appearance to regimes, set-ups, movements, values, traditions and social trends which they manipulate so that they can crush Islam for them. This religion of Islam will always be victorious when its advocates, in any generation and any place, achieve a certain degree of awareness of its reality and the reality of the jahiliyyah trying to suppress it. The real danger to this religion does not come from strong and skilful open enemies. The real danger is that posed by naïve friends who allow its enemies to wear an Islamic mask while they mount their unwavering efforts to uproot it. Indeed the first duty of the advocates of Islam is to remove these masks so that the reality of regimes and set-ups hostile to Islam and determined to crush it is laid bare. Indeed the starting point for every truly Islamic movement is to remove the false attire of jahiliyyah and expose it for what it is: unbelief and idolatry. It must describe people as they really are. Only then can the Islamic movement go onwards to achieve its goals. Indeed, these people themselves will only then be aware of their own situation, which is similar to that with which the people of earlier revelations ended up, as we are told by the One who is aware of all things and who knows the reality of all situations. Who knows but such a new awareness may provide such people with a motive to mend their ways hoping that Allah will then replace their misery and suffering with happiness and bliss. This unnecessary reluctance and unwise acceptance of false appearances can only delay the initial march of any Islamic movement.
Consequently, it serves the goals of the enemies of Islam for which they have given such regimes a false ‘Islamic’ appearance. Such enemies are well aware that when Ataturk and his movement were exposed and appeared for what they truly were, they could not serve any new purpose after they had ended the last forum to unite the Muslims of the world on the basis of faith. Indeed a very sly, shrewd and cunning Orientalist has tried to give Ataturk’s movement a cover to hide its reality. In his book, Islam in Modern History, Wilfred Cantwell Smith tries to deny that the Ataturk movement was of atheistic orientation. He describes it as the greatest and wisest movement of Islamic revival in modern history.