Sura Al-Maidah (Tafseer-ul-Maariful Quran), Part-37

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The saying of Sayyidna Musa عليه السلام in the first verse (20) was his introductory remark to the Divine command which appears in the following verse (21) in the words: يَا قَوْمِ ادْخُلُوا الْأَرْضَ الْمُقَدَّسَةَ الَّتِي كَتَبَ اللَّهُ لَكُمْ (O my people, enter the Holy Land which Allah has destined for you ...).

Which lard is the Holy Land?
Apparently, commentators differ about it. Some say that it means Baytus-Maqdis (Jerusalem). Some identify the city of Quds and Eliah as fitting the description of the Holy Land. Still others point out to the city of Ariha which was located between the Jordan river and Baytul-Maqdis and was reported to be one of the oldest cities of the world. In fact, it is still there. Unusual statements portraying its grandeur and vastness have been reported historically. Some narrations say that the city-was divided over one thousand wards or counties and every such section had some one thousand public gardens each. Then, there are other narrations which indicate that the Holy Land means Damascus and Palestine, or Jordan, according to some others. And Sayyidna Qatadah has said that the entire land of Syria is the Holy Land. Sayyidn a Ka'b al-Ahbar has said that he has seen in the Book of Allah (perhaps, the Torah) that the country of Syria is a special treasure of Allah on this entire earth and there are in it Allah's very special and very dear servants. This land has been called 'holy' because it has been home to the blessed prophets of Allah. According to some narrations, on a day when Sayyidna Ibrahim عليه السلام, climbed a mountain in Lebanon, Allah Ta'ala said: 0 Ibrahim, look from here and as far as you will see, that larid We have made the Holy Land. All narrations cited here have been taken from Tafsir Ibn Kathir and Tafsir Mazhari and the truth of the matter is that there is not much of a contradiction in these sayings. According to later narrations, the whole country of Syria is the Holy Land it is just that some narrators have described a certain part of the country of Syria while some others have identified the whole of it.

Looking at verse 22 which begins with the words: قَالُوا يَا مُوسَىٰ (They said, O Musa ...), it will be recalled that, in the verse previous to it (21), Allah Ta'ala had commanded the Bani Isra'il through Sayyidna Musa عليه السلام that they should wage a Jihad against the Amalkites and conquer Syria given along with it was the good news that the land of Syria has been destined for them, therefore, their victory is certain.

The present verse (22) tells us that, despite the Divine command and assurance, the Bani Isra'il, because of their well-known contumacy and crookedness, just did not obey that command as well. Instead of doing that, they said: 'O Musa, there is a nation of tyrants over there, and we shall never go in there until they get out of it. If they do get out of it, then, we are ready to go in.'

The actual event as reported from the masters of Tafsir (Exegesis), Sayyidna 'Abdullah ibn 'Abbas, 'Ikrimah, 'Ali ibn Abi Talhah and others is that it was a time when the Arnalkites ruled Syria and Baytul-Maqdis. They were an offshoot of the people of 'Ad, unusually big in height and size and very ferocious in looks and behavior. They were the people Sayyidna Musa عليه السلام, and his community were asked to fight against and go on to conquer Baytul-Maqdis.

To carry out the Divine command, Sayyidna Musa عليه السلام, marched towards Syria in the company of his people, the Bani Isra'i1. Baytul-Maqdis was their first destination. After crossing the Jordan river, when they reached Ariha, the oldest city of the world, they made a stopover. We have already read about the appointment of twelve chiefs to administer the affairs of Bani Isra'il in the previous verses of the Holy Qur'an. The same chiefs were asked to go on an advance factfinding mission into enemy territory. Their duty was to gather intelligence on local conditions, the battle front and about the people who control Baytul-Maqdis and against whom they have to wage the Jihad. When these chiefs reached Baytul-Maqdis, they were stopped by an Amalkite man right outside the gate of the city. He, all alone, put them under arrest and took them to his king reporting to him that these people had come to fight them. The king went into consultation with his courtiers. Their decision was that all of them should either be killed or punished in some other way. Finally, they agreed upon the proposal that they should be allowed to go free so that they could return to their people and become walking eye witnesses of the great power and grandeur of the Amalkites against which they would never dare to think of marching.

At this point in most books of Tafsir, reported there are tall tales from Isra'ilite narrations which give the name of the person who accosted these chiefs as 'Awj ibn 'Unuq. His extra-ordinary height and size and his power and strength has been described there with such exaggeration that a sensible person would find it too thick even to just pass it onwards.

Tafsir authority, Ibn Kathir has said: Tales reported in such Isra'ilite narrations can neither be accepted by reason nor do they have any justification in the Shari'ah. In fact, all this is a bundle of lies and imputations. The truth of the matter is no more than that there are the people called the Amalkites. Since they are the remnants of the people of 'Ad whose awesome height and size has been mentioned by the Holy Qur'an itself, so, their huge size and unusual strength were proverbial. One of their men proved strong enough to arrest and take away twelve men from the people of Bani Isra'il.

However, freed by the Amalkites, the twelve chiefs of Bani Isra'il returned to their people at Ariha. They told Sayyidna Musa عليه السلام about these unusual people and how unbelievable was their power and grandeur. Whatever they said to him left his heart unmoved because Allah Ta'ala had already given him the good news of victory over them through revelation.

So, despite having heard about the power of his enemy, he stood like a rock making preparations for the Jihad initiative. But, he had realized the danger that, should the Bani Isra'il come to hear about this unusual strength of their adversary, they would cringe and back out. Therefore, he instructed those twelve chiefs not to talk about the Amalkites before their people, in fact, he asked them to keep this as a guarded secret. But, what actually happened was that everyone from among them passed on the information to their respective friends privately. There were only two of them, Yusha' ibn Nun and Kalib ibn Yu'qina, who strictly followed the instructions of Sayyidna Musa عليه السلام and did not disclose the secret to anyone.

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