This Sarah takes its' name from verse 112 in which the word mai'dahoccurs. Like the names of many other surahs, this name has no specialrelation to the subject of the Surah but has been used merely as asymbol to distinguish it from other surahs.
Period of Revelation
The theme of this Surah indicates, and traditions support it, that itwas revealed after the treaty of Hudaibiyah at the end of 6 A. H. orin the beginning of 7 A. H. That is why it deals with those problemsthat arose from this treaty.
The Holy Prophet with 1400 Muslims wentto Makkah in Zil-Qaadah 6 A. H. to perform `Umrah, but the Quraishspurred by their enmity, prevented him from its performance, though itwas utterly against all the ancient religious traditions of Arabia.After a good deal of hard and harsh negotiations, a treaty wasconcluded at Hudaibiyah according to which it was agreed that he couldperform `Umrah the following year. That was a very appropriate occasionfor teaching the Muslims the right way of performing a pilgrimage toMakkah with the true Islamic dignity, and enjoining that they shouldnot prevent the disbelievers from performing pilgrimage to Makkah as aretaliation for their misbehavior. This was not difficult at all asmany disbelievers had to pass through Muslim territory on their way toMakkah. This is why the introductory verses deal with the thingsconnected with pilgrimage to Makkah and the same theme has beenresumed in vv. 101-104. The other topics of this Surah also appear tobelong to the same period.
The continuity of the subject shows thatmost probably the whole of the surah was revealed as a single discourseat one and the same time. It is also possible that some of its verseswere revealed at a later period and inserted in this Surah at differentplaces where they fitted in. But there appears to be not the least gap anywhere in the surah to show that it might have comprised two or morediscourses.
Occasion of Revelation
This Surah was revealed to suit therequirements of the changed conditions which were now different fromthose prevailing at the time of the revelation of Al-i-'Imran and An-Nisa. Then the shock of the set-back at Uhd had made the verysurroundings of Al-Madinah dangerous for the Muslims, but now Islamhad become an invulnerable power and the Islamic State had extended toNajd on the east, to the Red Sea on the west, to Syria on the northand to Makkah on the south. This set-back which the Muslims hadsuffered at Uhd had not broken their determination. It had ratherspurred them to action. As a result of their continuous struggle andunparalleled sacrifices, the power of. the surrounding clans, within aradius of 200 miles or so, had been broken. The Jewish menace whichwas always threatening Al-Madinah had been totally removed and theJews in the other parts of Hijaz had-become tributaries of the Stateof Al-Madinah. The last effort of the Quraish to suppress Islam hadbeen thwarted in the Battle of the Ditch. After this, it had becomequite obvious to the Arabs that no power could suppress the Islamicmovement. Now Islam was not merely a creed which ruled over the mindsand hearts of the people but had also become a State which dominatedover every aspect of the life of the people who lived within itsboundaries. This had enabled the Muslims to live their lives withoutlet or hindrance, in accordance with their beliefs.
Anotherdevelopment had also taken place during this period. The Muslimcivilization had developed in accordance with the principles of Islamand the Islamic viewpoint. This civilization was quite distinct fromall other civilizations in all its' details, and distinguished theMuslims clearly from the non Muslims in their moral, social andcultural behavior. Mosques had been built in all territories, prayerhad been established and' Imam (leader) for every habitation and clanhad been appointed. The Islamic civil and criminal laws had beenformulated in detail and were being enforced through the Islamiccourts. New and reformed ways of trade and commerce had taken theplace of the old ones. The Islamic laws of marriage and divorce, ofthe segregation of the sexes, of the punishment for adultery andcalumny and the like had cast the social life of the Muslims in aspecial mould. Their social behavior, their conversation, their dress,their very mode of living, their culture etc., had taken a definiteshape of its own. As a result of all these changes, the non-Muslimscould not expect that the Muslims would ever return to their formerfold.
Before the treaty of Hudaibiyah, the Muslims were so engaged intheir struggle with the non-Muslim Quraish that they got no time topropagate their message. This hindrance was removed by what wasapparently a defeat but in reality a victory at Hudaibiyah. This gavethe Muslims not only peace in their own territory but also respite tospread their message in the surrounding territories. Accordingly theHoly Prophet addressed letters to the rulers of Iran, Egypt and theRoman Empire and the chiefs of Arabia, inviting them to Islam. At thesame time the missionaries of Islam spread among the clans and tribesand invited them to accept the Divine Way of Allah. These were thecircumstances at the time when Al-Ma'idah was revealed.
It deals with the following three main topics:
- Commandments andinstructions about the religious, cultural and political life of theMuslims.
In this connection, a code of ceremonial rules concerning thejourney for Haj has been prescribed; the observance of strict respectfor the emblems of Allah has been enjoined; and any kind ofobstruction or interference with the pilgrims to the Kaabah has beenprohibited. Definite rules and regulations have been laid down forwhat is lawful and unlawful in the matter of food, and self-imposedfoolish restrictions of the pre-Islamic age have been abolished.Permission has been given to. take food with the people of the Bookand to marry their women. Rules and regulations for the performance ofWudu (ablutions) and bath and purification and tayammum (ablutions withdust) have been prescribed. Punishment for rebellion, disturbance ofpeace and theft have been specified. Drinking and gambling haveabsolutely been made unlawful. Expiation for the breaking of oath hasbeen laid down and a few more things have been added to the law ofevidence.
- Admonition to the Muslims.
Now that the Muslims hadbecome a ruling body, it was feared that power might corrupt them. Atthis period of great trial, Allah had admonished them over and overagain to stick to justice and to guard against the wrong behavior oftheir predecessors, the people of the Book. They have been enjoined toremain steadfast to the Covenant of obedience to Allah and HisMessenger, and to observe strictly their commands and prohibitions inorder to save them- selves from the evil consequences which. befellthe Jews and the Christians who had violated them. They have beeninstructed to observe the dictates of the Holy Quran in the conduct ofall their affairs and warned against the attitude of hypocrisy.
- Admonition to the Jews and the Christians.
As the power of the Jewshad been totally weakened and almost all their habitations in northArabia had come under the rule of the Muslims, they have been warnedagain about their wrong attitude and invited to follow the Right Way.At the same time a detailed invitation has also been extended to theChristians. The errors of their creeds have been clearly pointed outand they have been admonished to accept the guidance of the HolyProphet. . Incidentally, it may be noted that no direct invitation hasbeen made to the Majusis and idolaters living in the adjoiningcountries, because there was no need for a separate address for themas their condition. had already been covered by the addresses to themushrik Arabs.
Subject:Consolidation of the Islamic Community
Incontinuation of the instructions about the consolidation of theIslamic Community given in Surah AN-NISA, the Muslims have beendirected to observe and fulfill all their obligations: furtherregulations have been prescribed to train the Muslims for that purpose.
They have also been particularly warned as rulers to guard against thecorruption, of power and directed to observe the Covenant of the Quran.They have also been exhorted to learn lessons from the failings oftheir predecessors, the Jews and the Christians, who in their turnhave been admonished to give up their wrong attitudes towards theRight Way and accept the guidance taught by Prophet Muhammad (God'speace be upon him).
Topics and their Interconnection
The Believers have been exhorted to fulfill scrupulously all of their obligations and follow the regulations prescribed by the Divine Law about food, sex, Salat, justice, etc. 1 - 10
The Muslims have been warned to guard against the errors of their predecessors; they should follow the Right Path and avoid the bad example of the Jews and the Christians, who broke their Covenants and went astray into evil ways. They, in their turn, have been admonished to give up their wrong ways and accept Islam. 11 - 26
The story of the two sons of Adam has been related to reproach the Jews for their plot to kill the Holy Prophet and his Companions. (v. 11 & E.N. 30). The story has also been used to emphasize the sanctity of human life. 27 - 32
To achieve this object, punishments have been prescribed for those who create chaos in the Islamic State, and the Believers have been urged to exert their utmost to establish the Right Way; the sanctity of property has also been emphasized. 33 - 40
The Holy Prophet (and through him the Muslims) has been reassured that he should not mind the enmity, the evil designs and the machinations of the Jews, but continue exerting his utmost to establish the Right Way in accordance with the Guidance of the Quran; for nothing better could be expected from those who had forsaken their own Torah. He should deal with the Christians likewise, for they, too, had forsaken their Gospel. 41 - 50
In view of the degenerate moral condition of the Jews and the Christians, the Believers have been warned not to make them their friends and confidants. Likewise they should be on their guard against the evil designs of the hypocrites, the disbelievers and the like and should rely on the true Believers alone. The people of the Book have, in their turn been exhorted to give up their enmity and adopt the right attitude, for they cannot get salvation without this. 51 - 69
The theme of the corruptions of the Jews and Christians has been resumed. The Christians especially have been reproved for their errors in regard to the doctrine of Tauhid. At the same time they have been preferred to the hard hearted Jews, for there are among them some who are more inclined towards the Truth. 70 - 86
In this portion of the Surah, further regulations about the lawful and the un-lawful, in addition to those contained in vv. 1 - 10, have been given. 87 - 108
At the end of the Surah, the mention of the conversation that will take place between Allah and His Prophets on the Day of Judgment, has been made for the benefit of the erring people to serve as a corrective to their creeds. The conversation with Prophet Christ has been cited as a specimen to warn particularly the Christians, who profess to believe in him, and generally all those people who put false hopes in their Prophets, etc. 109 - 119
Conclusion: "O man-kind! The Sovereignty of the heavens and the earth belongs to Allah: therefore you should become His true servants and fear Him, for He has full powers over everything." 120