Qur’an 7:163-166 and 2:65:  What “Pigs And Monkeys”?

Dr. Hesham Hassaballa

Posted Dec 18, 2005      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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What “Pigs And Monkeys”?

In the Name of God, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful

The acquittal of Dr. Sami Al-Arian, former University of South Florida professor, on terrorism charges has brought back an issue that I feel I need to be addressed. The government had over 20,000 hours of conversations between Al-Arian and others taped, and prosecutors used these conversations as evidence. Among the many, many things he said was that the “sons of Israel” are “monkeys and pigs.”

According to a Tampa Tribune article, Dr. Al-Arian has said that “When he referred to “the sons of Israel” as “monkeys and pigs,” he said, he was quoting from a passage in the Koran about those who earn the wrath of God.”

That is very interesting. To which passage of the Qur’an does he refer? I can tell you that there is no statement in the Qur’an that says Jews are “monkeys and pigs.” None. I can tell you that there is also no passage in the Qur’an that says those that earn the wrath of God are “pigs and monkeys.” None.

Sure, there are verses in the Qur’an that speak about pigs:

“He has forbidden you dead meat, and blood, and the flesh of swine…” (2:173)

“Forbidden to you (for food) are: dead meat, blood, and the flesh of swine…” (5:3)

“Say [O Muhammad]: ‘I find not in the message received by me by inspiration any (meat) forbidden to be eaten by one who wishes to eat it, unless it be dead meat, or blood poured forth, or the flesh of swine…” (6:145)

“He has only forbidden you dead meat, and blood, and the flesh of swine…” (16:115)

Not one of them, however, has anything to do with Jews. They are no where to be found in these verses. So, about what passage was Dr. Al-Arian speaking?

Now, I must admit, there are two verses that speak of Jews and monkeys in the same sentence. But, before you yell “Gotcha!” at the computer screen, read the verses:

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

“And ask them about that town which stood by the sea: how its people would profane the Sabbath whenever their fish came to them, breaking the water’s surface, on a day on which they ought to have kept Sabbath - because they would not come to them on other than Sabbath-days!...And then, when they disdainfully persisted in doing what they had been forbidden to do, We said unto them: ‘Be as apes despicable!’‘’ (7:163-166)

What was the story of the Sabbath-breakers? Muhammad Asad explained:

“Under Mosaic Law, they were obliged to refrain from all work - and, therefore, also from fishing - on Sabbath-days, with the result that the fish were more plentiful and would come closer to the shore on those days: and the inhabitants of the town took this as an excuse to break the Sabbath-law.”

Despite being warned against transgressing against the Sabbath law, they fished on the Sabbath anyway, and thus God decreed that they become “apes despicable.” Now, many Muslims understand this in a literal sense, that God literally changed them into apes. That’s possible. There are other commentators, however, that have a different explanation, as Muhammad Asad explained:

“As for the substance of God’s decree, “Be as apes despicable”, the famous tabii [student of the Prophet’s (pbuh) Companions] Mujahid explains it thus: ‘(Only) their hearts were transformed, that is, they were not (really) transformed into apes: this is but a metaphor (mathal) coined by God with regard to them, similar to the metaphor of ‘the ass carrying books’ (62:5)”...A similar explanation is given by Raghib. It should be borne in mind that the expression “like an ape” is often used in classical Arabic to describe a person who is unable to restrain his gross appetites or passions.”

So, it is possible that these Sabbath-breakers were not even turned into apes, and it was just an expression by God. Whatever the case may be, the point remains: the Qur’an does not call Jews “pigs and monkeys.” It was talking about a specific ancient town in which Jews lived, and among them were people who broke the Sabbath law. And it was these specific people, after being repeatedly warned by God, who “became as apes despised.” Let me say it again: there is no verse in the Qur’an that says Jews are “pigs and monkeys.” Period.

Now, there are Muslims who say so and claim the Qur’an as their authority, but this does not make it the truth. It is the same as those who claimed slavery was authorized by the Bible: their saying so did not make it the truth.

Yet, this rhetoric saddens me deeply. Muslims and Jews were never meant to be enemies. In fact, the Prophet made us one nation under God. It is the conflict in the Holy Land, however, hat has clouded and strained the relationship between Muslims and Jews. The conflict has to end, and I pray it does.

Nevertheless, we can never allow the terrible tragedy of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict move us to put words in God’s mouth. He never said Jews are “pigs and monkeys.” What right do we have to say otherwise?

Visit Dr. Hassaballa’s website at http://drhassaballa.blogspot.com/