Say: “Shall I point out to you something much worse than this, (as judged) by the treatment it received from Allah? those who incurred the curse of Allah and His wrath, those of whom some He transformed into apes and swine, those who worshipped evil;- these are (many times) worse in rank, and far more astray from the even path!”2:65
And well ye knew those amongst you who transgressed in the matter of the Sabbath: We said to them: “Be ye apes, despised and rejected.”7:166
When in their insolence they transgressed (all) prohibitions, We said to them: “Be ye apes, despised and rejected.”Eteraz goes on to justify this with the following:
I started with verse 5:60 in his translation. Say: “Shall I tell you who, in the sight of God, deserves a yet worse retribution than these? They whom God has rejected and whom He has condemned, and whom He has turned into apes and swine because they worshipped the powers of evil:” these are yet worse in station, and farther astray from the right path [than the mockers]. The first thing I noted, that I had missed the first time around when looking at this verse, was the fact that there was no mention of Jews. “They whom God has rejected and whom He has condemned” were the ones turned into apes and swine “because they worshipped the powers of evil.” Of course, that did not mean this verse didn’t refer to Jews; oh no, it did refer to them. Except, it turned out, that this verse not only referred to Jews, but also to Christians. A subsequent pharse refers to “Men of God” and “Rabbis” - with the Men of God being a reference to Christians (especially in light of the fact that in verse 66 the Gospel is mentioned explicitly). My headache wasn’t gone, but I felt a little better. A book that did not discriminate in its epithets seemed a lot more palatable than a book that seemed to single out the most persecuted group in the history of mankind. Of course, it was not exactly a relief because now I was confronted with the fact that even more people were being referred to as descendants of apes and swine! The other two ape and swine verses were limited to Jews, but thankfully they offered a way of resolving the issue. Here is how Asad had rendered the two verses: 7:166To this I wrote the following: I think that to say that any group either ‘acts like apes’ or ‘becomes apes’ because they do not adhere to imaginery commandments given from en high is highly offensive. There is no excuse for Mohammed’s words. None. Zero. I see how you are making excuses, but I read the Koran and was gagging throughout at his moral pronouncements he made against others without even knowing Judaic or Christian law. How does he know what a good Jew is to do or a good Christian to do? And yet he says they are horrible for not being good Jews or good Christians. I would never proclaim a Muslim who does not keep Halal or who does not pray five times a day a bad Muslim. It is not for me to say. What gave Mohammed or anyone the right to make a pronouncement on the laws of another group, when he was a self professed illiterate who had only a base understanding of Judaism and Christianity? This is intolerance personified. It is not excusable. And it is rife throughout the Koran. You know this to be true. On page three of the Koran, he spoke of the Infidels. It is one of the most intolerant documents I have read. And where is the tolerance for other faiths? Through the ‘dhimmi’ laws? That is hardly tolerance. Maybe seventh century tolerance, but hardly 21st century tolerance. That does not mean that Islam cannot be reformed, but it will require excising or ignoring whole sections of the Koran. This is just a fact. This is a very difficult task for any reformer to make. Now, I know you are a tolerant person who clearly does not view Jews as apes or pigs. So how can you justify these words? ---------------- What do you think? Do Ali Eteraz's words make sense to you all, or are you not persuaded by his justification to the 'apes and pigs' quote in the Qu'ran?and then, when they disdainfully persisted in doing what they had been forbidden to do, We said unto them: “Be as apes despicable!”2:65for you are well aware of those from among you who profaned the Sabbath, whereupon We said unto them, “Be as apes despicable!”That “as” I knew quite well: “So am I as the rich, whose blessed key can bring him to his sweet locked up treasure” said Shakespeare. It was the “as” — the blessed “as” — of metaphor! I rejoiced a hundred times over. A metaphor means that the finality of language is absent. Being “as” something is not the same as being something. Could it be that the Quran was engaged in metaphor-making? If references to apes and swines were metaphors, it meant that the people being referred to had expressed the qualities of an “ape” and the qualities of a “pig.” Given the fact that in classical Arabic an ape was someone impulsive and a pig was someone stubborn, the metaphors seemed almost innocous (Especially since in all languages animals are used as referrants for certain qualities. Once we could learn what qualities classical Arabic invoked when referring to those animals, we could understand what the metaphor was referring to. Before I got too excited I wanted to be certain this “as” was not a mere blip on the radar. I had too many feelings hurt to risk hurting them again. So I went and consulted another translation, this one by Shakir. 7:166Therefore when they revoltingly persisted in what they had been forbidden, We said to them: Be (as) apes, despised and hated.2:65And certainly you have known those among you who exceeded the limits of the Sabbath, so We said to them: Be (as) apes, despised and hated.Granted that the other two famous English translations (Yusuf Ali and Pickthall), did not have the metaphorical “as” in them the presence of the “as” in two of the more famous translations was enough to get my mind churning, and this time I was not reliant upon any authority except that of my God given reason. Suddenly I started to see patterns in the Quran that further cast light on these questionable (and certainly questionably used) verses. First, I noticed that 2:65 was part of a flashback sequence beginning at 2:47 where the Quran was addressing the Jewish and Christian communities in the time of Muhammad and asking them to revisit their own theological histories and their relationship with God. In other words, the addressees were the Jews and Christians of that time (those alive in the life of Muhammad). This is an important distinction because the Quran treats the time during which Muhammad was alive, different than all other times. Things that were allowed, or done, during the life of Muhammad, were often not allowed, or done, after his passing. Consider: Muhammad was allowed to have nine wives, but all other Muslims can, at most, have up to four (and even there the Quran question whether one can act favorably). Muhammad was required to stay up and pray all night; all later Muslims are not so required. Muhammad was the one allowed to exact jizya from the dhimmis; after his passing the distinction was to be abolished (but sadly was not — more on this some other day). Thus, the fact that the Quran directly addressed only those Jews and Christians alive in Muhammad’s time, was significant. Then, far more astoundingly, I noticed that the sequence starting at 2:47 actually opened with the incredible assertion: “O children of Israel! Remember those blessings of Mine with which I graced you, and how I favoured you above all other people.” Pardon? This seemed to me like the clearest case of the Quran picking favorites, and the presence of verses that spoke favorably of Jews and Christians at the opening of the passage soothed me somewhat further. It more firmly established the conversational nature of the discussion in the Quran. I also recalled the hadith of the Prophet which stated that of all the Prophets, Moses was God’s favorite. At this point, I wondered whether there were other cases of “animalization” in the Quran. Whether one could truly conclude that the verses that bothered me were metaphors. While others may be aware of more, I found a couple of astounding ones. In Surah Fil, the Chapter of Elephant, in reference to an attack made upon Mecca before the birth of Muhammad, the Quran says, referring to those that fought the invading army from Yemen: 105:3let loose upon them great swarms of flying creatures
Some Muslim commentators, the same ones that thought that ape and pig were references to literal transformation, have interpreted this verse to mean that a swarm of flying creatures, literally, were let loose upon the invaders. However, when considered in light of classical Arabic, we realize that the idea of a “great swarm of flying creatures” was a metaphor popular among the poets in the day to refer to the state of utter decimation wrought by a group of brave warriors (the metaphor was likely popular because birds (kites and vultures) often hung out near battle-fields). Another metaphor about animals was popular among poets of pre-Islamic Arabia. Although not in the Quran, this was the notion of the hamstrung camel, which was a metaphor for exile and loneliness. While the hamstrung camel does not appear in the Quran, the pregnant, kneeling, camel does (in the thirtieth Juz), and refers to a feeling of alienation. In any case, in the Chapter of the Elephant, in a non-Jewish/Christian context, the Quran had animalized a group of people (namely, the Quraysh which included the Prophet’s grandfather). This gave me further proof that the reference to apes and swines was a metaphorical representation of the qualities that certain group of historical people exhibited which were like the qualities exhibited by certain animals familiar to the Arabs and was not a suggestion that Jews or Christians were the descendants of such animals, nor was it meant to read that they were animals to this day. Under classical Arabic, anyone could be an ape (if they were stubborn) just as anyone could be a hamstrung or pregnant camel (if they were lonely).