"…WaittabaAAoo ma tatloo alshshayateenu…"Saadia Malik(The essay below is supposed to be an objective presentation of three scholars’ interpretation of verses 2:101-102 of the Qur’an. An abrupt ending is somewhat inevitable given the author’s resolve not to bring in any subjectivity, and hence, any conclusion must be each reader’s own personal verdict.)Asad
translates verses 2:101-102 of the Qur’an as follows:
"And [even now,] when there has come unto them an apostle from God, confirming the truth already in their possession, some of those who were granted revelation aforetime cast the divine writ behind their backs as though unaware [of what it says], and follow [instead] that which the evil ones used to practice during Solomon's reign - for it was not Solomon who denied the truth, but those evil ones denied it by teaching people sorcery -; and [they follow] that which has come down through the two angels in Babylon, Harut and Marut - although these two never taught it to anyone without first declaring, "We are but a temptation to evil: do not, then, deny [God's] truth!" And they learn from these two how to create discord between a man and his wife; but whereas they can harm none thereby save by God's leave, they acquire a knowledge that only harms themselves and does not benefit them - although they know; indeed, that he who acquires this [knowledge] shall have no share in the good of the life to come. For, vile indeed is that [art] for which they have sold their own selves -had they but known it!"
He understands the ‘divine writ’ to be the Torah, revealed upon Moses, which contained prophecies of an Arabian Prophet. The Jews’ denial of this prophecy, and rejection of Muhammad, amounted to disregarding the Torah itself. Instead, they chose to follow ‘ash-shayatin’: both evil human beings as well as their own evil and immoral impulses. Verse 102 refutes the Biblical blame on Solomon himself, who had nothing to do with magic, sorcery and all things idolatrous.
He goes on to point out that scholars have been in disagreement as to whether Harut and Marut were actually ‘malakayn’ (“the two angels”) or ‘malikayn (“the two kings”). He himself is inclined towards the latter, but goes with the former, given that it is “more generally accepted”. Other commentators seek to reconcile differences, since they believe that Harut and Marut were persons, who may only be understood as per metaphorical implications of the word: either “two angelic persons” or “two kingly persons”. However you understand it, Asad says, the intent of the verse is to acknowledge the traditions of magic and sorcery in Babylon, perhaps, best symbolized by “the two kings”.
‘Having no share of good in the life to come’ is meant to convey that all attempts at influencing the course of events through anything “super-natural” in connotation, was a spiritual offence, rendering the actor of such arts, undeserving of even an ounce of good in the Afterlife.Mawdudi’s
translation (rendered into English by Zafar Ansari) reads:
"And when there came to them a Messenger from Allah, confirming what they already possessed, a party of those who had been given the Scriptures flung the Book of Allah behind their backs as if they knew nothing. And then followed what the evil ones falsely attributed to the Kingdom of Solomon even though Solomon had never disbelieved; it is the evil ones who had disbelieved, teaching people magic. And they followed what had been revealed to the two angels in Babylon - Harut and Marut - although these two (angels) never taught it to anyone without first declaring: ‘We are merely a means of testing people; so, do not disbelieve.’ And yet they learned from them what might cause division between a man and his wife. They could not cause harm to anyone except by the leave of Allah, and yet they leaned what harmed rather than profited them, knowing well that he who went for it will have no share in the World to Come. Evil indeed is what they sold themselves for - had they but known!"
He begins with historical connotations of the verses under discussion. The material and ethical decay, plaguing Bani Israel was abruptly and miserly dealt by its people, through magic and sorcery. The satans, among both jinn and men, lured people into believing and attributing the might and splendour of Solomon’s empire to the very same things. They stumbled into the pit of assuming “short-cuts” as means for achieving their materialistic ends. Mystery-mongering and exorcism became the order of the day, for their satanic impulses of the people, justifying their acts, by attributing the same to have been the practice of Solomon.
These were the times of enslavement for the Bani Israel. As they found themselves confined in Babylon, the two angels, Harut and Marut, descended upon them in the shape of mendicants, just as angels stood as beautiful men before Lot’s nation. On the one hand, they enacted themselves as magicians and wizards, and on the other, offered admonition against indulgence in the evil ways. Such was the task the Almighty put the people to.
That angels would approach men on earth, has been one way in which they have been delegated to carry out their Lord’s orders. That they should come and yet, invite people to evil is also understandable. Just as policemen go under cover as criminals, in order to catch the law-breakers red-handed, the angels, in this case (and many others) did the same in order to help justifying the fate of individuals in the Hereafter. Do the mortals concede to evil, or do they steer clear?
‘Causing division between a man and his wife’ holds direct and obvious implications. A society’s balance and harmony depends upon the institution of marriage vis-à-vis the amicability between a man and his wife, and its decadence is directly relevant to disharmony between the two. Deep levels of discord and obnoxious overtones to marriages in a society, depict the debauchery and immorality equipping it. Bani Israel, at this time, fell direct preys to these lures. Their lewdness knew no bounds. Harut and Marut were ordered to offer talismans to create splits in marriages, in hope of ensnaring other men’s wives towards the plaintiff, and thus, destroying the very pre-requisites that lay the foundations of any ethical and thus, prosperous society. So sacred is family life, that a hadith reads:
Jabir reported that Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) said: Iblis places his throne upon water; he then sends detachments (for creating dissension); the nearer to him in tank are those who are most notorious in creating dissension. One of them comes and says: I did so and so. And he says: You have done nothing. Then one amongst them comes and says: I did not spare so and so until I sowed the seed of discord between a husband and a wife. The Satan goes near him and says: 'You have done well. A'mash said: He then embraces him. [Sahih Muslim, Book 039, Number 6755]Islahi
understands rusul in verse 2:101 as intending Prophet Muhammad, sws, just like the other two scholars. Although the word itself is a common noun, he clarifies that the context of this and following verses, as well as the attributes awarded to this word, clarify and highlight it to mean only the last prophet of Allah. Going on, he believes that Kitab-Allah can mean either the Torah or the Qur’an. Torah could be derived, given that it contained clear-cut prophecies for the coming of Muhammad, and the Jews had no doubts about him; yet, they hid their scriptures in arrogance and in fear of being subdued. Then again, Kitab-Allah could also be construed here as the Qur’an, for the Jews had already been recipients of Divine scriptures and were, therefore, well aware of the authority and validity of the Qur’an. Stubbornly, they chose to ignore it by not paying any attention.
AAala mulki sulaymana would be better read as AAala aahdi mulki sulaymana, connoting the occult sciences that were in vogue during the reign of Solomon, although the servant of God himself, had nothing to do with these nefarious activities. What went on during Solomon’s times is extrapolated in a similar fashion to Mawdudi’s, and therefore, need not be re-written here. Even today, people who engage in evils of the super-natural kind, justify themselves by attributing the same to Solomon. It seems, these tendencies have made room for themselves among Muslims through such Jewish undertakings of yesteryears.
Wama kafara sulaymanu walakinna alshshayateena kafaroo yuAAallimoona alnnasa alssihra ([They attribute such chants and recitals to Solomon] – whereas Solomon never was guilty of disbelief; it is the devils who were guilty of disbelief – they would teach people witchcraft) holds the prominence of a parenthetical sentence, and a very enforcing one at that. Although, the context of the verse is to elucidate on the occult sciences adopted by the Bani Israel, this clarification shows how dearly the Almighty holds Solomon, and how He immediately is prompted to vindicate his prophet of such crimes of magic and sorcery, before completely elaborating on ‘ma tatloo alshshayateenu’ (what the satanic ones would chant and recite). The Almighty, thus, clearly receives the allegation on Solomon, with absolute condemnation. Also then, it would follow, that occultism is considered an act of profanity.
Not withstanding the above-mentioned sentence of parenthetical disposition, one can read the statement as follows: WaittabaAAoo ma tatloo alshshayateenu AAala mulki sulaymana wama onzila AAala almalakayni bibabila haroota wamaroota (They went after what the devils would recite and chant in the age of Solomon’s kingdom. And [they went after] that which was revealed to the angels Harut and Marut in Babylon). Islahi does not agree that Harut and Marut were revealed ways of magic. He offers several reasons for his difference of opinion.
Firstly, ma tatloo alshshayateenu already refers to the magic that was chanted and recited by the Bani Israel. If what was revealed on Harut and Marut is understood as magic as well, then repetition was not a requisite.
Secondly, the word unzila here refers to revelation from the Almighty. It carries with it the inference of blessings and favour. To understand revelation of something as uncouth and satanic as magic and witchcraft as coming from Allah, is in very bad taste. It is certainly true that wrath on the disbelievers comes from Allah too, but that holds with it, special relief and good news for those who believe.
Thirdly, the knowledge was revealed on two angels (Harut and Marut). By their very identity, they are the sincerest upholders of Allah’s Unity, and His ever-unflinching servants. No traces of anything close to disbelief, profanity or paganism could ever run by angels. They are the purest of creeds. They have always descended on man’s earth with teachings of the right and just, with admonition for those who pay heed, and as upholders of faith and salvation. How can angels be expected to do, what is understandably, the mission of Iblis!
Fourthly, Harut and Marut have referred to the knowledge bestowed upon them as ‘fitna’, which is simply a test and a trial for man by the Almighty. On the other hand, what essentially constitutes the knowledge of satan, is referred to, in the Qur’an, as ‘kufr’ and not ‘fitna’. Fitna, in itself, does not necessarily mean something bad. The Qur’an has attributed the quality of fitna to man’s children and wealth. Both are blessings from the Almighty, but if their love and want takes one to the extremes, there is the threat of falling prey to absolutely materialistic desires, worshipping them, and thus, denying Allah, the acceptance and worship that is rightly His. So are they fitna; so are they trials in the form of blessings.
What then were Harut and Marut revealed by their Lord?
They were taught the spiritual connotations and effects emanating from certain words and utterances. This knowledge was employed in prominence among the sufis from within the Jews, in the usage of amulets and talismans for purposes as diverse as cures of illnesses, refuge from black magic, or to counter-attack those that used the same knowledge to achieve evil ends. Neither did these practices tread near polytheism, nor did satan and jinns have any role therefrom. The effects of such acts is very similar to magic, and yet, their nature is very different from witchcraft.
It is quite possible that this discipline was transmitted by Harut and Marut to the Bani Israel, during the latter’s days of captivity in Babylon, to serve as exorcism, especially to protect the simple, layman from harm’s way. Firstly, the mention of such practices being in vogue back in those days, comes in the Torah. Prophet Isaiah, addresses Bani Israel in Babylon:
You said, "I shall be mistress for ever," so that you did not lay these things to heart or remember their end. Now therefore hear this, you lover of pleasures, who sit securely, who say in your heart, "I am, and there is no one besides me; I shall not sit as a widow or know the loss of children": These two things shall come to you in a moment, in one day; the loss of children and widowhood shall come upon you in full measure, in spite of your many sorceries and the great power of your enchantments. You felt secure in your wickedness, you said, "No one sees me"; your wisdom and your knowledge led you astray, and you said in your heart, "I am, and there is no one besides me." But evil shall come upon you, for which you cannot atone; disaster shall fall upon you, which you will not be able to expiate; and ruin shall come on you suddenly, of which you know nothing. Stand fast in your enchantments and your many sorceries, with which you have labored from your youth; perhaps you may be able to succeed, perhaps you may inspire terror. You are wearied with your many counsels; let them stand forth and save you, those who divide the heavens, who gaze at the stars, who at the new moons predict what shall befall you. Behold, they are like stubble, the fire consumes them; they cannot deliver themselves from the power of the flame. No coal for warming oneself is this, no fire to sit before! [Isaiah 47:8-15]
Secondly, it is the Sunnah of Allah that wherever evil knowledge is of high import, and harms innocents, He reveals knowledge of use to counter the ill-effects desired by the lewd and sinister.
Sinful pursuits, like the ones mentioned above, do hold prominence, but it is important to note the words, wama hum bidarreena bihi min ahadin illa biithni Allahi: that ‘they can harm none with what they learnt except by God’s permission’. It would be pleasant then to seek refuge with the Almighty under all circumstances, rather than resorting to charms and amulets. When His Revealed Word – the Qur’an – is there to guide us, why must we harbour dreams of magic and all things with superstitious extentions. The Jews were also very well aware of the implications of walaqad AAalimoo lamani ishtarahu ma lahu fee alakhirati min khalaqin: ‘[They knew that full well] and [still] they would learn that which would not profit them but what would harm them; yet they knew that anyone who buys such things has no share in the life to come’. The Torah too was very clear on this:
When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD, and because of these detestable practices the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you. [Deuteronomy 18:9-12]