The present verses expose another aspect of the crooked ways of
Bani Isra'il. So astray were they that they, not content with one extreme mentioned above, reached for another when they committed excess in showing reverence for messengers of Allah by making them nothing short of God: قَدْ كَفَرَ الَّذِينَ قَالُوا إِنَّ اللَّهَ هُوَ الْمَسِيحُ ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ . It means that the section of people from the Bani Isra'il who said that Allah is exactly Jesus the son of Mary had become disbelievers. Mentioned this far is the saying of the Christians only. Elsewhere, the Jews too have been censured for the same kind of excess and error: وَقَالَتِ الْيَهُودُ عُزَيْرٌ ابْنُ اللَّهِ وَقَالَتِ النَّصَارَى الْمَسِيحُ ابْنُ اللَّهِ And the Jews said, "Uzair (Ezra) is the son of Allah" and the Christians said, "Masih (the Christ) is the son of Allah."
The word "Ghuluww" used at the begining of verse 77: قُلْ يَا أَهْلَ الْكِتَابِ لَا تَغْلُوا فِي دِينِكُمْ غَيْرَ الْحَقِّ وَلَا تَتَّبِعُوا أَهْوَاءَ قَوْمٍ قَدْ ضَلُّوا مِن قَبْلُ وَأَضَلُّوا كَثِيرًا وَضَلُّوا عَن سَوَاءِ السَّبِيلِ (Say,"O people of the Book, be not excessive in faith") means to cross limits. "Ghuluww" or excess in religion refers to the crossing of limits drawn by religion in matters of belief and deed. For example, there is a limit to paying homage to prophets. The farthest one can go is to take them as the best among God's creation. That is the limit. Going over and beyond this limit, calling those very prophets God or son of God is excess in matters of belief.
Bani Isra'il : Their Cycle of Excess and Deficiency
The behaviour of the people of the Bani Isra'il towards prophets and messengers of Allah had been a mixture of opposites. They could become as neglectful and irreverent as to falsify or even kill them while it would be they themselves who would stretch the limits of their exaggerated reverence for them by calling them God or son of God. This syndrome of excess and deficiency in group behaviour is a sign of ingrained brutality. There is a well-known saying among Arabs: الجاهل اما مفرط او مفرط which means that an ignorant person never stays on moderation. He would either go for 'Ifrat (excess) or for 'Tafrit (deficiency). Ifrat means to cross the limit while Tafrit means to fall short in doing one's duty. These actions on two extremes may have come from two different groups of the Ban: Isra'il, or it is also possible that one single group acted in two different ways with different prophets whereby some were subjected to their falsification, even killing, while some others were equated with God.
Addressing the people of the Book in this verse, the guidance given to them and their generations to come right through the Last Day, has the status of a basic principle to be kept in sight while following a religion for the slightest deviation from it makes one be lost for ever. Therefore, let us first explain a few basic things about it.
The Method of Knowing and Reaching Allah
The most significant truth of our life is that Allah Jalla Sha'nuhu is the Creator and Master of all universes of existence and whatever they contain. He is One. To Him belongs all there is and for Him is to command. It is He alone man must obey. But man, the lump of clay come. alive, is still wrapped up in layers and layers of materialism. How can he reach out to the One so pure and pristine? Or, how could he get an access to sources of His will and guidance? For this, Allah Jalla Sha'nuhu has, in His grace, appointed two sources of knowledge through which man can get to know what is liked and disliked by Allah Almighty and what it is that man must do and what is it that man must avoid. The first source is that of the Books of Allah which have the status of Law and Guidance for all human beings. Then, as the second source, there are those special and welcome servants of Allah whom Allah Almighty has chosen from among human beings, and He has sent them to people as the practical models of His likes and dislikes and the practical keys to His Books. In religious terminology, they are called "Rasul" (messenger) or 'Nabiy (prophet).
This is because a book, no matter how exhaustive, can never be sufficient for the complete grooming of man. The fact is that it takes a man to be the natural groomer and nurturer of another man. Therefore, it has been the practice of Allah that He has allowed two orders to flourish in the mission of reforming and training men in the art of living. These are: (a) The Book of Allah, and (b) The Men of Allah included wherein are the blessed prophets, then their deputies, the 'Ulama and the Mashaikh. About this order of 'Rijalul-lah' (men of Allah), people have been victims of excess and deficiency since ancient times. Particularly, the different sects that mushroomed in religions were all products of this error of approach through which somewhere they were inflated beyond the required limit hitting the outer frontiers of the worship of such men. At other places, they were totally ignored and bypassed by saying: 'For us, the Book of Allah is enough' (حسبنا كتاب الله), apparently a true declaration, but by misinterpreting it to negate the importance of prophets they made it as their motto. At one extreme a Messenger of Allah, a Rasul even Pirs and Faqirs were taken to be the knowers of the unknown and seers of the unseen, as if they were (God forbid) the very possessors of God's own attributes. People started with worshipping live Pirs and landed into the worship of their graves as well. Then, there was that other extreme when even a Rasul of Allah was given the status of what would be a mere courier or postman. Thus, the essential message of the verses under reference is that the offenders against the honour of prophets are no less in their disbelief than are those who raise them far above the limits set for honouring them and go about saying that they were equal to Allah. Verse 77 which says, "do not be excessive in your faith," is a preface to this very subject. It makes it very clear that Din is, in reality, the name of a few limits and restrictions. The way it is a crime to remain deficient or negligent within those limits, so it is a crime to cross and exceed them. The way it is a grave sin to reject and insult the messengers of Allah and their deputies, in the same way, it is a much graver sin to take them to be the owners of Allah's own attributes or their equal sharers with Him.
Justified Intellectual Research is no Excess
In verse 77, the word: غَيْرَ الْحَقِّ (unjustly) appears along with the state ment: لَا تَغْلُوا فِي دِينِكُمْ (Do not be excessive in your faith). According to investigative scholars of Tafsir, this word has been used here for emphasis because an excess in religion is always unjust. The probability of its being just does not simply exist. 'Allamah al-Zamakhshar; and others have identified two kinds of Ghuluww or excess at this particular place: (1) The unjust and false which has been prohibited here; (2) The just and permissible, as an example of which, he has named deep intellectual research or as it has been the way of the scholastic theologians (Mutakallimin) of Islam in matters relating to articles of faith, or that of Muslim jurists in matters relating to juristic rulings. According to him, even this is, though, Ghuluww (excess) but, an excess which is just and permissible while, the considered position of the majority of scholars is that it simply does not fall within the definition of Ghuluww (excess). Finally, we can say that deep insight and detailed investigation in questions relating to the Qur'an and Sunnah should remain within the limits as proved from the Holy Prophet (SM) and from the sahabah and Tabi'in if so, that is not Ghuluww (excess). And what reaches the limits of Ghuluww is blameworthy here too.
Bani Isra'il Asked to Follow the Path of Moderation
Addressing the Bani Isra'il at the end of the verse (77),it was said: وَلَا تَتَّبِعُوا أَهْوَاءَ قَوْمٍ قَدْ ضَلُّوا مِن قَبْلُ وَأَضَلُّوا كَثِيرًا that is, they should not follow the desires and whims of a people who had themselves gone astray before them, and had made others go astray as well. The reason why they fell into that error was given immediately after by saying: وَضَلُّوا عَن سَوَاءِ السَّبِيلِ that is, these people, by moving away from the right path, had lost it. This straight path was the path of moderation between the two extremes of excess and deficiency. Thus, two things have been accomplished in this verse: It points out to the fatal error made by crossing over the norm, or lagging far behind it, and stresses upon the need to stay firm on the straight path, the ideal path of moderation.