April 27, 2013

Swine and Monkeys

One of my Facebook friends asked me to comment on several verses in the Qur'an that refer to some Jews turning into swine and monkeys. The verses in question are 2:65, 5:60 and 7:166:

And well ye knew those amongst you who transgressed in the matter of the Sabbath: We said to them: "Be ye apes, despised and rejected." (2:65)

Say: "Shall I point out to you something much worse than this, (as judged) by the treatment it received from Allah? those who incurred the curse of Allah and His wrath, those of whom some He transformed into apes and swine, those who worshipped evil;- these are (many times) worse in rank, and far more astray from the even path!" (5:60)

When in their insolence they transgressed (all) prohibitions, We said to them: "Be ye apes, despised and rejected." (7:166)

Now, my friend had gotten the following comments about these verses on his Facebook wall:

Only one religion says that practitioners of the other two major religions are descendants of pigs and monkeys. Care to guess which one has that written in their holy.book?

The descendants of apes and pigs "comment" is a direct quote from the Koran. In three different verses of the Koran it is said Jews descended from pits and Christians from monkeys. The verses are 7:166, 2:65, 5:60...

So, my friend asked if I could shed some light on these verses. What follows is my reply:

The short answer is no, we do not believe that.

The long answer is that the Qur'an is referring to an incident where a village of Jews (the village of Aylah, on the shore of the Red Sea) broke their covenant of the sanctity of the Sabbath. Before the Sabbath would begin, the villagers would place nets, ropes and artificial pools of water for the purpose of fishing before the Sabbath. When the fish came in on Saturday as usual, they were caught in the ropes and nets. During the night, the Jews collected the fish after the Sabbath ended. In other words, although they were being "efficient," as we might think of it today, the Jews were still working on the Sabbath through the use of their nets, ropes, etc., when they should not have been. For that transgression they were punished by being turned into monkeys (the young) and swine (the old).

Now, several points:
* Not everyone in the village of Aylah suffered this fate, only those who had committed the transgression.
* Those who were transformed died three days later; during that brief time, they could not eat, drink or have offspring (so no modern Jews could possibly have descended from them).
* The Prophet Muhammad was asked if the current monkeys and swine were descended from those who were transformed. He said no, the animals had existed before then.
* The punishment was meant as an example to dissuade the neighboring villages from transgressing as those in Aylah had; thus, others outside the village would have known about the transformation.

The problem with people like your friend (and the other person) is that they rely solely upon a face-value "understanding" of the Qur'an when the real meaning is much, much deeper. There's a tremendous amount of context (historical, theological, linguistic) that most non-Muslims don't have the slightest clue exists as to explain the Qur'an. This is the trap your friend has fallen into. Now whether you or he agree with the above is up to you, but this is what orthodox Muslims believe.