The Prophet as Arbitrator of Scriptures
16:43 We have sent forth, before you, none but men to whom We have revealed. So ask those who have knowledge (the Christians and Jews who have knowledge of their scriptures) if you do not know.
16:44 [We sent them] with clear proofs and scriptures. And We revealed to you the Reminder, so that you may make clear to mankind what has been revealed to them, and that, perchance, they may reflect.
40:78 Indeed, We have sent Messengers before you. Of some We have told you the tale and of some We did not tell. It is not in any Messengers’ power to bring a sign, save by Allah’s Leave. Then, when Allah’s Decree comes, the issue shall be decided justly; and there and then the seekers of vanity shall perish.
Allah is no fool. He would not have chosen His Last and Greatest Messenger, in revelation 42:15, to arbitrate scriptural disagreements between Christians and Jews – being careful not to be led astray (“do not follow their fancies”) – if he had not been well-versed (no pun intended) in their respective beliefs and rituals.
42:13 He has enacted for you as a religion that which He charged Noah with and that which We revealed to you (Muhammad), and what We charged Abraham, Moses and Jesus with: “Perform the religion and do not diverge therein.” Outrageous in the sight of the idolaters is what you called them to. Allah elects onto Himself whomever He pleases and guides to Himself whoever repents.
42:14 They did not split up except after the Knowledge came to them out of contention among themselves. Yet, but for a Word which preceded from your Lord deferring them until an appointed term, judgement would have been pronounced upon them. Indeed, those to whom the Book was bequeathed, after them, are in disquieting doubt concerning it.
42:15 Therefore, summon and be upright as you were commanded, and do not follow their fancies, but say: “I believe in whatever Book Allah has sent down. I have been commanded to judge justly between you. Allah is our Lord and your Lord; we have our deeds and you have your deeds. There is no dispute between us and you; Allah will gather us together and unto Him is our ultimate return.”
42:16 Those who argue concerning Allah, after His call was answered, their argument is null and void in the sight of their Lord, and upon them is a scourge, and a terrible punishment awaits them.
In appointing Muhammad as arbitrator, Allah makes it clear, if there is any disagreement between the Torah and the Koran, or the Gospels and the Koran, the Koran “supersedes” them both, for the Koran is the ultimate “Truth.”
In the following revelations Allah acknowledges that He may have given consideration to making Jews and Arabs one nation, but He did not, because He wanted to see what Muhammad (or perhaps the Arabs) would do with His Revelations.
5:46 After them (the prophets) We sent Jesus, son of Mary, confirming what he had before him of the Torah, and We gave Him the Gospel, wherein is guidance and light, confirming what he had before him of the Torah and a guidance and admonition to the God-fearing.
5:47 And let the People of the Gospel judge in accordance with what Allah has revealed in it. He who does not judge according to what Allah has revealed those are the transgressors.
5:48 And We have revealed to you (Muhammad) the Book in truth, confirming the scriptures that preceded it and superseding it. Judge between them, then, according to what Allah has revealed, and do not follow their illusory desires, diverging from what came to you of the Truth. To each of you (Arabs and Jews), We have laid down an ordinance and a clear path; and had Allah pleased, He would have made you one nation, but [He wanted] to test you concerning what He gave to you. Be, then, forward in good deeds. To Allah is the ultimate return of all of you, that He may instruct you regarding that on which you differed.
More cautionary advice about following the fancies of Christians and Jews:
5:49 And judge between them in accordance with what Allah has revealed, and do not follow their fancies. Beware of them lest they lure you away from part of what God has revealed to you. Should they turn away, know that Allah only wishes to afflict them for some of their sins, and that many people are indeed grave sinners!
There will be no turning back; no returning to the “period of ignorance” when speculation about the Divine and our place in His Creation was a source of much discussion. The Koran had ushered in a new age where ignorance i.e. uncertainty, has been banished forever.
5:50 Now, is it the judgement of the “period of ignorance” that they desire? Yet who is a better judge than Allah for a people who believe with certainty?
Advice for the Arbitrator
3:19 The [true] religion with Allah is Islam. Those who were given the Book (the Jews and the Christians) did not disagree among themselves, except after certain knowledge came to them, out of envy among themselves. Whoever disbelieves in Allah’s Revelations will find Allah Swift in retribution!
3:20 So, if they dispute with you, say: “I have submitted myself to Allah and so have those who followed me”; and say also to those who have received the Book and to the unlearned (the Arab idolaters of Mecca): “Have you submitted?” If they have submitted, then they are rightly guided; but if they have turned their backs, then your duty is simply to deliver the Message. Allah perceives His servants well.
3:21 Those who disbelieve in Allah’s Revelations and kill the Prophets unjustly, and kill those people who enjoin fair dealing, announce to them a painful punishment.
3:22 Those are the people whose works have come to naught in this world and the next, and they will have no supporters whatsoever!
3:23 Have you not considered those who have received a portion of the Book (Jews the Torah and Christians the Gospel)? Upon being called to let the Book of Allah (the Koran) decide between them, some of them turn their backs, refusing to pay attention.
3:24 That is because they say: “The Fire will only touch us for a few days.” They have been deluded in their religion by their lies.
3:25 But how will they fare when We gather them together on a Day (Judgement Day) which is undoubted, and each soul shall be paid in full for whatever it has earned, and they shall not be dealt with unjustly?
3:26 Say: “O Allah, Master of the Kingdom, You give the kingship to whom You please and take away the kingship from whom You please. You exalt whom You please and humble whom You please. In Your Hand is all the good, and You have the power over everything!
3:27 “You cause the night to pass into the day, and the day to pass into the night. You bring forth the living from the dead and You bring forth the dead from the living, and You provide for whomever You please without measure.”
A similar phrase “brings the living out of the dead” is also found in revelation 30:19. Here, Allah appears to be referring to dead vegetation – which of course is not really dead – which He brings back to life.
30:19 He brings the living out of the dead and He brings the dead out of the living. He brings the earth to life after it was dead, and you shall be brought out likewise.
Deuteronomy 22:23-4 Upheld
The Jews of Medina were not required to have the Prophet arbitrate disputes and rule on issues of crime and punishment. These would continue to be decided by their community leaders e.g. rabbis. The Jews could, however, bring a dispute to the Prophet if they could not agree among themselves or, as revelations 5:41-44 exposed, to get a more favourable sentence for a crime from God’s Messenger than the Torah prescribed.
First, the story behind the story as told by Moududi from commentaries on the Koran by Ibn Kathir. The story has the ring of authenticity, although accounts of what the Jews said, such as admitting that “adultery became common among us”, should be taken with a large grain of salt.
The particular case referred to here was that of a woman belonging to a respectable family, who was found to be involved in an unlawful sexual relationship with a man. The punishment for this in the Torah was that both be stoned to death (see Deuteronomy 22:23-4). But the Jews did not want to enforce this punishment. Hence they deliberated among themselves and decided to put the case before the Prophet (peace be on him), with the reservation that his judgement be accepted only if it was other than stoning. The Prophet (peace be on him) decided that the punishment should, in fact, be stoning.
When the Jews declined to accept the judgement, the Prophet (peace be on him) asked their rabbis what punishment had been prescribed for such a case in their religion. They replied that it was to strike the culprit with lashes, to blacken the face and to make the person concerned ride on a donkey. The Prophet (peace be on him) asked them under oath if the Torah had indeed prescribed that as punishment for adultery committed by married men and women.
They repeated the same false reply. However, one of them called Ibn Sawriya who, according to the Jews themselves, was the greatest living scholar of the Torah at that time, kept silent. The Prophet (peace be on him) asked him to state on oath in the name of God, Who had emancipated them from Pharaoh and had given them the Law, whether the punishment for adultery provided for in the Torah was what they had mentioned.
He replied: 'Had you not put me under such a heavy oath, I would not have volunteered the correct information. The fact is that the prescribed punishment for adultery is indeed stoning, but when adultery became common among us our rulers adopted the rule that when respectable people committed adultery they were left unpunished, whereas when ordinary people were convicted they were punished by stoning. Later on when this caused resentment among the common people we altered the law of the Torah and adopted the rule that adulterers and adulteresses would be lashed, their faces would be blackened, and they would be made to ride on donkeys, seated in a backward-looking position.'
This left the Jews with nothing to say and the adulterer and adulteress were, in accordance with the order of the Prophet (peace be on him), stoned to death.
The Jews did not get the judgement they hoped for, prompting Allah’s revelation about their altering the words in the Torah, and about the Jews now being wary of His Arbitrator’s decisions.
5:41 O Messenger, do not grieve on account of those who hasten to unbelief, from among those who say with their mouths: “We believe”, while their hearts do not believe; or those Jews who listen to falsehood or listen to other people who did not come to you, and who alter the words (in the Torah). They say: “If you are given this (if you are given by Muhammad something similar to what we say), then take it, and if you are not given it, then beware!” Whoever Allah wishes to leave in error, you can do nothing to save him from Allah. Those whose hearts Allah does not wish to purify will have nothing but disgrace in this world, and a terrible punishment in the world to come.
Something Allah may have told His Messenger before he took on the case.
5:42 They are consistent listeners to falsehood, devourers of unlawful gain. Should they come to you, either judge between them or turn away from them. If you turn away from them, they will not harm you in the least; but if you judge, judge between them justly. Allah loves those who act justly!
Allah admits to being confused that they would ask His Messenger to judge when they have the Torah with His Instructions.
5:43 But how will they ask you to judge, when they are in possession of the Torah, which contains Allah's Judgement! Thus they soon turn away. Those people are not real believers!
The Jews wanted to exercise discretion in applying one of the more horrific punishment prescribed in the Torah. Allah would have none of it (and neither would His Messenger), those who would do that “are the unbelievers” in revelation 5:44 and “the evildoers” in 5:45
5:44 We have indeed revealed the Torah, wherein is guidance and light. By it the Prophets who submitted themselves [to Allah] did judge among the Jews, as did the rabbis and the masters, according to what they were made to guard of Allah’s Book and were witnesses thereof. So fear not men, but fear Me and do not sell my revelations for a small price. Whoever does not judge according to what Allah has revealed those are the unbelievers!
5:45 And We prescribed to them therein (the Torah) that a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a nose for a nose, an ear for an ear, a tooth for a tooth, and for wounds retaliation; but whoever forgoes it charitably, it will be an atonement for him. Whoever does not judge according to what Allah has revealed, those are the evildoers!