The historical context
According tasfir al-Manar by Sheikh Muhammad Rashid Reda محمد رشيد رضا there are two sahih narrations related to this verse:
- A narration quoted in sahih al-Bukahri (here an othe version) and Muslim on the authority of ibn 'Omar.
- And an othe which you may find in sahih Muslim, sunan abi Dawod and ibn Majah on the authority of al-Braa' ibn 'Azib.
Ibn Achour in his tahrir wa-tanwir added a long hadith based on tafsir at-Tabari (here a similar version on the authority of abu Hurairah from sunan abi Dawod where he compiled the longest of two versions)
Al-Qurtoby in his tafsir added a narration on the authority of Jabir ibn Abdullah (sunan abi Dawod) and said there are three different reasons quoted for the revelation of this verse:
- it was revealed because of banu Quraidhah (Qurayzah) and banu an-Nadir apparently a Qurayzi has killed one of banu Nadir and it was usual that they (banu Qurayza in such cases) didn't chain them (in order to punish them) this and only pay the blood money. So the Prophet ordered to treat them equally. But the Jews disliked his arbitral verdict and rejected it.
Ibn Kathir quoted this saying:
(they say, "If you are given this, take it, but if you are not given this, then beware!") It was reported that this part of the Ayah was revealed about some Jews who committed murder and who said to each other, "Let us ask Muhammad to judge between us, and if he decides that we pay the Diyah (blood money), accept his judgement. If he decides on capital punishment, do not accept his judgement.''
- it was revealed on abu Lubabas betrayal when he told Banu Qurayzah what will happen to them when Muhammad sent him as an intermediate (or messenger between both parties) during the siege.
- it was revealed on a Jewish woman and Man who committed zina as quoted in the ahadith above! And this seems the strongest or most authentic reason.
At-Tabari in his tafsir of (5:41) quoted that those
... who hasten into disbelief of those who say, "We believe" with their mouths, but their hearts believe not,...
are the Hypocrites (al-Munafiqun) this was also the interpretation given by the other mufassireen. At-Tabari here added that it is possible that among those are ibn Lubabah and Abdullah ibn Soriya (?) عبد الله بن صوريا (who has apostatized from Islam) -who in some narration he quoted without details- was quoted instead of abu Lubabah as a reason for the revelation.
Does Qur'an 5:41 mean that all Jews "listen eagerly to lies", or that among the Jews there are some who "listen eagerly to lies"?
As stated above the Jews in this verse refers in first place and in the matter described above to those Jews who witnessed the incident and primarily to those who tried to hide the truth, the capital punishment clearly stated in the Torah (either for zina or murder), when Muhammad asked them to show with is in the Thorah.
So ibn Jarir at-Tabari and the other interpretors quoted that:
... and from among the Jews. [They are] avid listeners to falsehood,
means the Jews of Medina. At-Tabari interpreted it as follows Allah the Almighty says: "Those Jews (O Muhamamd) I described to you listen to falsehood and untruth".
... listening to another people who have not come to you. ...
refers to the Jews of Fadak فدك or Khaybar (which is quoted in the hadith in tafsir al-Qurtoby for instance, as both Jews who committed zina have been from their and the woman has been called Busrah بسرة according some narration). Some interpreters lika al-Baghawi said that an interpretation is that banu Qurayza were spies for the Jews of Khaybar and later were meant by (how have not come to you).
Ibn Achour pointed at the linguistic difference between " those who distort words from their [proper] usages" (4:46) and "They distort words beyond their [proper] usages" in this verse saying that the first verse (from surat an-Nisa') refers to all Jews and how they distort the Thorah, either by ignorance, error or intentionally, so that they changed the Thorah, while the later (from surat al-Ma'idah) refers to those Jews who hide given Verse affirmed by the Thorah
Read also in "qtafsir" and further pages