MUST READ: Robert Spencer's Blogging the Qur’an: Sura 3, 'The Family of Imran'
Are you a non-Muslim? Then Allah hates you (Qur'an 3:32).
Are you Jewish or Christian? In the Qur'an's third chapter, Allah will tell you why you're following a false religion.
The Qur’an’s third chapter is entitled “The Family of Imran” -- that is, Amram, the father of Moses and Aaron (Exodus 6:20), who is mentioned in verses 33 and 35. Like most titles in the Qur’an, this title doesn’t denote the sura’s theme, but is just a word taken from within the chapter that is simply a means to distinguish it from other chapters.
According to Maududi, Sura 3, which is a Medinan sura, is “especially addressed” to Jews and Christians, as well as to Muslims.
It contains, he says, a “continuation of the invitation in Al-Baqarah [Sura 2], in which they have been admonished for their erroneous beliefs and evil morals and advised to accept, as a remedy, the Truth of the Quran.” Likewise Bulandshahri says that Sura 3 is a "talking proof" against the Jews, Christians, and idolaters, since it addresses them all. "It invites them towards the truth and refutes their false beliefs, which includes the blasphemous ideologies concerning Sayyidina [Masters] Isa and Ibrahim [Jesus and Abraham].”
That concern is evident from the beginning of the chapter. Allah proclaims that the Qur’an now revealed to Muhammad confirms what was written in the Torah and the Gospel (v. 3). Ibn Kathir explains that “these Books testify to the truth of the Qur’an, and the Qur’an also testifies to the truth these Books contained, including the news and glad tidings of Muhammad’s prophethood and the revelation of the Glorious Qur’an.”
Allah teaches that the Torah was originally Islamic, but was rewritten by the Jews.
This again explains why mainstream Islamic tradition regards the Jewish and Christian Scriptures as corrupted: they don’t, after all, confirm what is in the Qur’an, and so Jews and Christians must have dared to alter them -- and now, Allah says, “they were deluded in their religion by what they were inventing” (v. 24).
Asad therefore emphasizes:
It is to be borne in mind that the Gospel frequently mentioned in the Qur’an is not identical with what is known today as the Four Gospels, but refers to an original, since lost, revelation bestowed upon Jesus and known to his contemporaries under its Greek name of Evangelion ('Good Tiding'), on which the Arabicized form Injil is based. It was probably the source from which the Synoptic Gospels derived much of their material and some of the teachings attributed to Jesus. The fact of its having been lost and forgotten is alluded to in the Qur’an in 5:14.
In contrast to the Jews' and Christians' corrupted scriptures, Allah has now revealed the “Criterion” (Arabic فُرْقَانَ -- furqan, v. 4), which is, as Ibn Kathir puts it, “the distinction between misguidance, falsehood and deviation on one hand, and guidance, truth and piety on the other hand.” According to Qatada and many other Islamic authorities, this “criterion” is the Qur’an itself, although others say it refers to all the revealed scriptures -- in their uncorrupted form, of course.
The same verse also promises a “severe punishment” to those who "disbelieve in the verses of Allah." The 20th century Indian Muslim scholar Allama Shabbir Ahmed Usmani sees this as proof that Jesus cannot be divine, for while “God is powerful to venge [sic] and punish whenever He deems fit,” Jesus “cannot be a sovereign like God because he could not overcome the miscreants who were chasing him to kill.”
After saying that he has revealed this great Criterion of what is right and wrong, Allah cautions believers against getting carried away, explaining that some verses in the Qur’an are clear and some aren’t, “such as,” says the Tafsir al-Jalalayn, “the opening verses of some sūras,” including the opening verse of this sura.
These are not to be explored too deeply by the Muslims (although they have been): Allah warns that it is only “those in whose hearts is deviation” who “follow that of it which is unspecific, seeking discord and seeking an interpretation. And no one knows its interpretation except Allah” (v. 7).
Why would Allah include material in his "clear" revelation of guidance to human beings that only he knows the meaning of? He doesn't say.
Allah then exhorts the believers not to reject faith in him (vv. 8-27), and warns the unbelievers that grievous punishment awaits them in hell.
He refers to the Battle of Badr (v. 13), the first great victory for the Muslims, when a small force prevailed against a much larger army of pagan Arabs from Muhammad’s Quraysh tribe (they had rejected his prophetic claim). Maududi says that the first thirty-two verses of Sura 3 were “probably revealed soon after the Battle of Badr,” and this verse says that it was a “sign” when the two armies met; “one was fighting in the cause of Allah, the other resisting Allah.”
These armies “saw as twice their number,” which Ibn Kathir explains: “When the two camps saw each other, the Muslims thought that the idolaters were twice as many as they were, so that they would trust in Allah and seek His help. The idolaters thought that the believers were twice as many as they were, so that they would feel fear, horror, fright and despair.”
Allah, Maududi says, “gives victory to His believing servants in this life” -- that is, the Muslims' victory was due to their obedience to Allah. The reverse is also true: when Muslims suffer, all too often they ascribe their suffering to being insufficiently Islamic, and the remedy is always more Islam. There is no idea in Islam of the Biblical principle that the wicked may prosper because of the fallen nature of the world -- in Islam, if the wicked prosper, it is because the Muslims aren't Islamic enough.
Allah declares that “the religion in the sight of Allah is Islam” (إِنَّ الدِّينَ عِندَ اللّهِ الإِسْلاَم) (v. 19), and that the People of the Book reject it only “out of jealous animosity between themselves.” The Jews and Christians, says Bulandshahri, recognized Muhammad “to be the final Prophet but their obstinate nature prevented them from accepting.” Allah says that they will be saved if they submit to Allah (v. 20); Bulandshahri continues: “One cannot force these people to accept, but can merely advise them. Inviting them to accept Islam is the duty of the Muslim.”
After that, Allah warns of his judgment, and above all warns believers not to take unbelievers as “friends or helpers” (َأَوْلِيَا -- a word that means more than casual friendship, but something more like an alliance), “except when taking precaution against them in prudence” (v. 28). This is a foundation of the idea that believers may legitimately deceive unbelievers when under pressure.
The word used for “guard” in the Arabic is tuqātan (تُقَاةً), the verbal noun from taqiyyatan -- hence the increasingly familiar term taqiyya. Ibn Kathir says that the phrase “except when taking precaution against them in prudence” means that “believers who in some areas or times fear for their safety from the disbelievers” may “show friendship to the disbelievers outwardly, but never inwardly. For instance, Al-Bukhari recorded that Abu Ad-Darda' said, 'We smile in the face of some people although our hearts curse them.' Al-Bukhari said that Al-Hasan said, 'The Tuqyah [taqiyya] is allowed until the Day of Resurrection.'"