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Quran 2:65:

وَلَقَدۡ عَلِمۡتُمُ الَّذِيۡنَ اعۡتَدَوۡا مِنۡكُمۡ فِىۡ السَّبۡتِ فَقُلۡنَا لَهُمۡ كُوۡنُوۡا قِرَدَةً خَاسِـِٔـيۡنَ ​ۚ‏

And you had already known about those who transgressed among you concerning the sabbath, and We said to them, "Be apes, despised."

What does this mean?

  • Tafsir Razi has some good comments about this verse. I am not sure if you could find that in English. Either way I'll try to add an answer about that later if someone doesn't include that in an answer before I do. – Kilise Jun 10 '17 at 15:17
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A group of the Bani Israel who transgressed the prohibitions of the Sabbath were punished by transformation into apes and pigs [for three days, after which they died].

Quran 5:60 Say, "Shall I inform you of [what is] worse than that as penalty from Allah ? [It is that of] those whom Allah has cursed and with whom He became angry and made of them apes and pigs and slaves of Taghut. Those are worse in position and further astray from the sound way."

Other verses related to the event include 7:163-166. Also see Tafsir Ibn Kathir.

Transformation \ Metamorphosis ( مسخ ) is a form of Divine punishment, and has been Prophesied for a group of Muslims as well (Sahih Bukhari, Book of Drinks):

Prophet (ﷺ) saying, "From among my followers there will be some people who will consider illegal sexual intercourse, the wearing of silk, the drinking of alcoholic drinks and the use of musical instruments, as lawful.

...

Allah will destroy them during the night and will let the mountain fall on them, and He will transform ( يَمْسَخُ ) the rest of them into monkeys and pigs and they will remain so till the Day of Resurrection."

Regarding the word "Be", its as explained:

Quran 2:117 Originator of the heavens and the earth. When He decrees a matter, He only says to it, "Be," and it is. ( كُن فَيَكُونُ )

Quran 16:40 Indeed, Our word to a thing when We intend it is but that We say to it, "Be," and it is. ( كُن فَيَكُونُ )

A selected narration of the event present in Tafsir Qurtubi on 7:163:

رُوي في قصص هذه الآية أنها كانت في زمن داود عليه السلام

It is narrated that this happened in the time of David.

فقال ابن عباس وعِكرمة والسُّدِّي: هي أيْلة. وعن ٱبن عباس أيضاً أنها مَدْين بين أيلة والطور. الزُّهْرِيّ: طَبَرِيّة. قتادة وزيد بن أسلم: هي ساحل من سواحل الشأم، بين مَدْين وعَيْنون، يقال لها: مقناة. .

Ibn Abbas and Akrimah said: It is said that it was in Ila. Narrated from Ibn Abbas: It was between Ila and Tur. Zuhri said: It was Tibriyah. Qatatah and Zayed bin Aslam said: It was on a coast on the coast of Sham (Greater Syria) and is between Aiwan and Midan.

وكان اليهود يكتمون هذه القصة لما فيها من السُّبّة عليهم

The Jews concealed this event because of shame.

Further while on 2:65:

زعم ٱبن رُومان أنهم كانوا يأخذ الرجل منهم خَيْطاً ويضع فيه وَهْقَة وألقاها في ذَنَب الحوت، وفي الطرف الآخر من الخيط وَتِد وتركه كذلك إلى الأحد؛ ثم تطرّق الناس حين رأوا مَن صَنَع لا يُبتلَى، حتى كثر صيد الحوت ومُشِيَ به في الأسواق، وأعلن الفَسَقة بصيده

They thought it permitted to catch fish on the Sabbath. ... One among them set a trap for the fish ... when the people saw that no calamity befell him the common people began to do it as well.Until fishing became common on the Sabbath, and fish was sold in the markets, and the rebellious ones made an announcement of hunting.

فقامت فرقة فنهت وجاهرت بالنّهي وٱعتزلت. ويقال: إن الناهين قالوا: لا نساكنكم؛ فقسموا القرية بجدار. فأصبح الناهون ذات يوم في مجالسهم ولم يخرج من المعتدين أحد؛ فقالوا: إنّ للناس لشأنا؛ فعلَوْا على الجدار فنظروا فإذا هم قِردة

A group arose, they advised the people to refrain from these transgressions and seperated themselves. They built a wall to divide the town.

One day, the ones who had forbidden the transgression were in a gathering and they noticed that none from the other group had not come out of their dwellings and they thought something might have happened to them.

They looked over the wall and saw that the people had been transformed into monkeys.

ففتحوا الباب ودخلوا عليهم، فعرفت القردة أنسابها من الإنس، ولا يعرف الإنس أنسابهم من القِردة؛ فجعلت القردة تأتي نسيبها من الإنس فتَشُمّ ثيابه وتبكي

They opened the gate and went to them ... the monkeys came to their (untransformed) family members and sniffed their clothes and started weeping.

فيقول: ألم نَنْهَكم! فتقول برأسها نعم

Then it was said to them: "Weren't you warned?" and they shook their heads.

قال قتادة: صار الشبان قِردة، والشيوخ خنازير؛ فما نجا إلا الذين نَهَوْا وهلك سائرهم

Qatadah said: The young ones were made into apes and the old ones into pigs, and the ones who refrained remained human and the ones who were transformed were destroyed.

...

. قال ٱبن عباس: لم يعش مَسْخٌ قطّ فوق ثلاثة أيام، ولم يأكل ولم يشرب ولم ينسل

Ibn Abbas said: Those transformed didn't live longer than three days. Neither did they eat, nor did they drink, nor did their generations continue.


There is an alternate opinion that they weren't physically transformed, but their hearts were sealed\hardened and "apes" is given as an example of their ignorance. From what I can gather, this is a very minority interpretation and based primarily on reasoning rather than narration.

From Tafsir Al Qurtubi:

ورُوِي عن مجاهد في تفسير هذه الآية أنه إنما مُسِختْ قلوبُهم فقط، ورُدّت أفهامهم كأفهام القِردة. ولم يقله غيره من المفسرين فيما أعلم. والله أعلم

Mujahid has narrated in his Tafsir that only their hearts were transformed and their intellect was made like that of monkeys. As far as I know this hasn't been said by any other Muffassir. And Allah knows best.

Fakhruddin Razi writes in Tafsir al Kabir:

المسألة الثالثة: المروي عن مجاهد أنه سبحانه وتعالى مسخ قلوبهم بمعنى الطبع والختم لا أنه مسخ صورهم وهو مثل قوله تعالى: { كَمَثَلِ ٱلْحِمَارِ يَحْمِلُ أَسْفَاراً } [الجمعة: 5] ونظيره أن يقول الأستاذ للمتعلم البليد الذي لا ينجح في تعليمه: كن حماراً

Third: Mujahid has narrated that Allah transformed their hearts, as in put a seal on them, and did not transform their physical bodies. The exmaple of this is 62:5

And the example of this is that when a teacher says to an extremely stupid and failing student: "Become a donkey".

Razi then presents the two logical arguments used by Mujahid and gives their counter-arguments and then the counter-counter arguments.

  • I recommend adding some of the different interpretations given in tafsir Razi. – Kilise Jun 10 '17 at 15:47
  • I. e for instance المسألة الثالثة المروي عن مجاهد أنه سبحانه وتعالى مسخ قلوبهم بمعنى الطبع والختم لا أنه مسخ صورهم وهو مثل قوله تعالى { كَمَثَلِ ٱلْحِمَارِ يَحْمِلُ أَسْفَاراً } الجمعة 5 ونظيره أن يقول الأستاذ للمتعلم البليد الذي لا ينجح في تعليمه كن حماراً. – Kilise Jun 10 '17 at 15:52
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Allah says in numerous places in the Quran that those who reject his gift of grace will be despised as a lower form of or lowest of creation. I will add more specific references below as I find them and sort them out.

Al Quran (95:4-5) Laqad Khalaqnā Al-'Insāna Fī 'Aĥsani Taqwīmin Thumma Radadnāhu 'Asfala Sāfilīna

We created man in the best design. Then reduced him to the lowest of the low.

My humble opinion is that a human turning into an ape is a metaphor rather than actual physical transformation. It would symbolize an animal who cannot make distinctions between right and wrong, can't reason beyond his immediate desires and needs, doesn't recognize rights of others, no moral or ethical considerations in his actions, no sense of gratitude or thankfulness for the providence of his creator, and no concept of worshiping his creator.

Actually, the animal is better than the kufar, because, an animal will only take what it needs from the dunya to satisfy his own hunger and that of its own immediate offspring. A lion will not kill another animal unless it or its pride is hungry. Likewise for apes and swine. Infinite greed is only found in the ignorant (Jahaliye), kufar, and munafikeen. A true believer will have his nefs on a leash. As this terbiye (discipline) can only be achieved though faith, salat, saum (fasting), and zekat.

Otherwise the person will be the slave of his/her desires. Like the animal but worse since the desire worship does not stop when the desire should be satisfied because it never can be satisfied when the satisfaction is not based on simple physical needs.

The Bani Israel being addressed were not an ignorant kufar who did not know better. The Bani Israel were given numerous prophets and some of them had scriptures. They were given so many benefits and clear signs from Allah that are too numerous to mention. It is one thing to stumble into darkness because of lack of light, quite another to go forth into darkness when you see that it is darkness from holy light provided. The seer is not equivalent to the blind, and the hearer is not equivalent to the deaf.

This applies not only to the Bani Israel but as a warning to muslims as well. Without the grace and guidance of Allah we are even lower than apes and swine.

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