O you who have believed, Allah will surely test you through something of the game that your hands and spears [can] reach, that Allah may make evident those who fear Him unseen. And whoever transgresses after that - for him is a painful punishment.
Qur'an 5:94

I'm struggling to understand this. Judging from other translations, it seems the word game is used in the sense of animals hunted for food (and not in the sense of Monopoly). I don't own a spear, nor hunt for food.

Question: What does "test you through something of the game that your hands and spears [can] reach" mean?

I found this tafsir:

Then Allah revealed the unlawfulness of game in the year of al-Hudaybiyyah, saying: (O ye who believe) in Muhammad and the Qur'an! (Allah will surely try you somewhat (in the matter) of the game) He will test you regarding the game you pursue on land (which ye take) of their eggs and little ones (with your hands and your spears) to catch wild animals in the year of al-Hudaybiyyah, (that Allah may know) that Allah may see (him who feareth Him in secret) and thus leave the game. (Whoso transgresseth) intentionally (after this) after Allah has decreed the requital and ruling of this, (for him there is a painful doom) a painful beating which will extend to his back and belly.
Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs

This seems to be implying that hunting is haram, which I'm not sure is correct (e.g. Islam Q&A say "If you shoot the deer with the rifle and mention the name of Allaah, and hit the deer, and it dies from that shot, then it is halaal and it is permissible to eat it.").

up vote 7 down vote accepted

First let me address your last paragraph, hunting isn't per se haram, it is only haram to kill for people who wear Ihram (for any of both 'Omrah or hajj) which is quoted in the next verse:

O you who have believed, do not kill game while you are in the state of ihram. ... (5:95)

Therefore the test for the believers was that they had the opportunity to hunt, but they were wearing ihram, while Allah just told them it is forbidden to do so in that state.

an other verse which emphasize this prohibtion is the first vers of the same surah:

O you who have believed, fulfill [all] contracts. Lawful for you are the animals of grazing livestock except for that which is recited to you [in this Qur'an] - hunting not being permitted while you are in the state of ihram. ... (5:1)

Back to verse (5:94) here a quote from a summary of tafssir ibn Kathir:

Ali bin Abi Talhah﴾Al-Walibi) said that Ibn 'Abbas said that Allah's statement,
(Allah will certainly make a trial for you with something in (the matter of) the game that is well within reach of your hands and your lances,)﴿5:94﴾,

refers to, "The weak and young game. Allah tests His servants with such game during their Ihram, that if they wish, they would be able to catch it with their hands.
Allah has commanded them to avoid catching it.'' Mujahid said that,
(well within reach of your hands)

refers to the young game and chicks, while
(and your lances,)

refers to mature game.
Muqatil bin Hayyan said that this Ayah was revealed during the 'Umrah of Al-Hudaybiyyah, when wild game and birds were coming to the Muslim camping area, which they had never seen the likes of before. Allah prohibited them from hunting the game while in the state of Ihram. (source qtafsir)

Imam al-Qurtobi his tafssir said that the Arabs used to hunt and one could say they were addicted to hunt, so Allah tested them as he tested the children of Israel on Saturday (see 7:163 and 2:65, 4:154 which refer to the former verse) by the revelation of the above verse (5:95). This is said to have happened on the year of al-Hudaybiyah, so some of the companions were wearing ihram while others were not, so they were unclear about rulings once they had the opportunity to hunt and Allah lifted what was unclear by telling them.
In his at-tahrir wa-tanwir sheikh ibn 'Ashur after saying that in his opinion this verse was only meant as an explanation of the first verse of the surah. He then also quotes the story of al-Hudaibiyah:

وقد روي عن مقاتل : أن المسلمين في عمرة الحديبية غشيهم صيد كثير في طريقهم ، فصار يترامى على رحالهم وخيامهم ، فمنهم المحل ومنهم المحرم ، وكانوا يقدرون على أخذه بالأيدي ، وصيد بعضه بالرماح ، ولم يكونوا رأوا الصيد كذلك قط ، فاختلفت أحوالهم في الإقدام على إمساكه ، فمنهم من أخذ بيده وطعن برمحه . فنزلت هذه الآية اهـ

(My own -partial and free- translation take it carefully)
A it was narrated from Moqatil that the Muslims on the 'Omrah ('umrah) of al-Hudaibiyah have been literarily covered by hunting game ... so that some of them started to throw their spears and lances, -while some were wearing ihram and others not- and they were even able to catch by hands, and they never experienced such a situation, so that they were uncertain on the ruling and what to do, some caught by hand and killed with a lance and some were uncertain whether they should leave the game, then this verse was revealed ...

Ibn 'Ashur then added that it seems like this verse was added to this surah to remind them on the year of hajjat al-wad'a to not fall in the same mistake again. Because on that year there were a lot of Muslims and many new converts from Arabic tribes who would perform hajj.

  • This seems to be the right answer. – The Z Feb 27 at 20:29

To complement @Medi1Saif's answer, this verse was revealed for a specific occasion when on the Day of Hudaybiyyah, the Muslims were on their way to perform 'umra in a state of ihrām.

The test is that of obedience. As per Qur'an 5:1, hunting is not permitted while one is in the state of ihrām, which all the companions were in on that day. The animals and birds were to approach them, yet they were ordered not to hunt them as a test of their obedience.

Muqātil ibn Hayyān said:

أنزلت هذه الآية في عمرة الحديبية، فكانت الوحش والطير والصيد تغشاهم في رحالهم، لم يروا مثله قط فيما خلا فنهاهم الله عن قتله وهم محرمون

This verse was revealed on the day of the 'Umra of Hudaybiyyah. Animals and birds would approach them and drop by their belongings, in a manner that they had never seen before ... ever. Allah forbade them to hunt them while they were wearing ihrām.

The verse you quoted says "that your hands and spears can reach." Their hands could reach the young animals and birds that were not yet in a state to escape a predator. Their spears could reach the grown-up animals and birds. The verse then tells us that the purpose of the test was to "make evident those who fear Him unseen." This means to make evident to Muslims who among that group of people being tested feared Allah without seeing Him.

Such tests were common during the times of prophets. An example of such tests is the story of David, Saul, and Goliath. Allah tells us about the test that Banu Israel went through with Saul and his soldiers when they were on their way to fight Goliath:

فَلَمَّا فَصَلَ طَالُوتُ بِالْجُنُودِ قَالَ إِنَّ اللَّهَ مُبْتَلِيكُم بِنَهَرٍ فَمَن شَرِبَ مِنْهُ فَلَيْسَ مِنِّي وَمَن لَّمْ يَطْعَمْهُ فَإِنَّهُ مِنِّي إِلَّا مَنِ اغْتَرَفَ غُرْفَةً بِيَدِهِ ۚ فَشَرِبُوا مِنْهُ إِلَّا قَلِيلًا مِّنْهُمْ ۚ فَلَمَّا جَاوَزَهُ هُوَ وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مَعَهُ قَالُوا لَا طَاقَةَ لَنَا الْيَوْمَ بِجَالُوتَ وَجُنُودِهِ ۚ قَالَ الَّذِينَ يَظُنُّونَ أَنَّهُم مُّلَاقُو اللَّهِ كَم مِّن فِئَةٍ قَلِيلَةٍ غَلَبَتْ فِئَةً كَثِيرَةً بِإِذْنِ اللَّهِ ۗ وَاللَّهُ مَعَ الصَّابِرِينَ

And when Saul went forth with the soldiers, he said, "Indeed, Allah will be testing you with a river. So whoever drinks from it is not of me, and whoever does not taste it is indeed of me, excepting one who takes [from it] in the hollow of his hand." But they drank from it, except a [very] few of them. Then when he had crossed it along with those who believed with him, they said, "There is no power for us today against Goliath and his soldiers." But those who were certain that they would meet Allah said, "How many a small company has overcome a large company by permission of Allah. And Allah is with the patient."

Surat Al-Baqarah 2:249

It was a hot day, and they were ordered not to drink from a river that they were approaching at that time (except for a few sips by their hands). Most of them drank from the river and failed the test. Right after crossing the river, they were tested with their numbers. They saw that Goliath had a huge army, and they were far fewer in number. The majority decided to retreat, save for a mere slightly more than 300 soldiers. Those steadfast, who passed both tests, beat Goliath (who died) and his soldiers as a proof that victory comes only from Allah through the obedience of His orders and belief in Him.

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