Surat al-Baqara / Tafsir

‘Leaving part of the Book: A Tafsir of Surat al-Baqarah Verse 85’

 “A Tafsir of Surat al-Baqara Verse 85”


The noble shaykh, jurist and exegete `Ata’ Abu’ l-Rashta (may Allah protect him) comments on Q.2:85: {What, you believe in part of the Book and reject other parts?}:

“It is the interrogative (al-istifham) that denotes rejection (al-istinkari) as well as rebuke for the evil that they did…”[1]

فهو أستفهام إستنكاري مع التقريع لهم على سوء ما فعلوه…


The interrogative (something that has the force of a question) is employed in the Qur’an with over 20 meanings for different effects and outcomes depending on the context. Below are only half a dozen examples:

1]. For informing (al-ikhbar) as in 24:50: {أفي قلوبهم مرض أم ارتابوا أم يخافون أن يحيف الله عليهم ورسوله} where Allah discloses what is really in the hearts of the hypocrites in the form of a question.

2]. For emphasising something (al-taqrir) as in 7:172: {ألست بربكم} where Allah took a covenant from all disembodied souls and made them testify to His Lordship (‘Am I not your Lord’) for which they all replied in the affirmative.

3]. For rebuke (al-tawbikh) as in 37:125: {أتدعون بعلا وتذرون أحسن الخالقين} where Allah rhetorically questions their worshiping the idol they fashioned called ‘Ba`l’[2] to the exclusion of He Who is the perfect Creator of everything as a rebuke and scorn for such ignorance.

4]. For astonishment (al-ta`ajjub) as in 2:28: {كيف تكفرون بالله} where Allah alone gives existence or life when all things were non-existent or dead and enabled human beings to grow through a defined process from their lowly and helpless origins and yet people disbelieve when that should cause them to believe.[3]

5]. For reminding (al-tadhkir) as in 2:33:{ألم أقل لكم إني أعلم غيب السماوات والأرض} where Allah reminds of His knowledge of the unseen in the form of a rhetorical question to the Angels.

6]. For striking fear (al-takhwif) as in 69:1-3: { الحاقة * ما الحاقة * وما أدراك ما الحاقة } which is used here to evoke terror and dread in the listener for what is to come on that day.

  • Danger: Allah warns against imitating what the Jews from Bani Isra’il did which is to accept part of Allah’s revelation and reject other parts. Similarly, Muslims cannot accept aspects of Islam while rejecting other aspects. This is not only inconsistent, but a direct denial of Allah’s commandments. Deliberate and knowing rejection of any of Allah’s commandments is tantamount to disbelief (kufr). Examples: A person cannot say: ‘I accept Islam’s spiritual teachings but deny its political legislations’ or ‘I accept Islam’s teachings but cannot accept its hudud ordinances’ or ‘I accept this about Islam but not that’. The point is all the more pertinent due to the on-going attacks on specific Islamic articles of faith, injunctions, ordinances and rituals, e.g. headscarf, face-veil, jihad, segregation, polygamy, stoning the adulterer and apostasy laws to mention but a few. Muslims sometimes feel these are difficult aspects of Islam and hence their rejection of these aspects often are due to the following reasons:

1.] personal value criterion, i.e. a person decides what they think is credible or acceptable about Islam, picking and choosing some aspects and leaving or abandoning other aspects, e.g. some Muslim choose aspects of Islam that they feel agrees with their own personal experiences, their culture, society and environment (headscarf, jilbab, face-veil, laws of gender interaction, etc.).

2.] personal interpretation, i.e. a person accepts or rejects something of Islam based on their own interpretation and reasoning, e.g. aspects of Islam are either rejected or abandoned based on a personal mode of reasoning and research that does not use Islamic interpretative principles.

3.] misconstrued interpretation, i.e. where a person explains away or attempts to justify the non-existence of some aspect of Islam based on a tentative or even untenable logic or argumentation, e.g. aspects of Islamic practice and doctrines are interpreted as historically relevant and applicable but not currently so (jihad, hudud ordinances, apostasy laws, etc).

4.] secular framework, i.e. Islam is explained in a way that is based on a viewpoint that sees religion divorced from any civil or political sphere, e.g. living by Islamic ethical precepts but ignoring Islamic legislative or political principles.

Therefore, it is not permitted to be selective of what is accepted or rejected from Islam. The divine message must be accepted in its entirety.


[1] `Ata’ b. Khalil, al-Taysir fi Usul al-Tafsir, p.105. See also Ibn `Ashur, al-Tahwir wa ’l-Tanwir, 1:591:

وقوله أفتؤمنون ببعض الكتاب وتكفرون ببعض استفهام إنكاري توبيخي أي كيف تعمدتم مخالفة التوراة في قتال إخوانكم واتبعتموها في فداء أسراهم، وسمي الإتباع والإعراض إيمانا وكفرا على طريقة الاستعارة لتشويه المشبه وللإنذار بأن تعمد المخالفة للكتاب قد تفضي بصاحبها إلى الكفر به، وإنما وقع تؤمنون في حيز الإنكار تنبيها على أن الجمع بين الأمرين عجيب وهو مؤذن بأنهم كادوا أن يجحدوا تحريم إخراجهم أو لعلهم جحدوا ذلك وجحد ما هو قطعي من الدين مروق من الدين 

Abu Hayyan, al-Bahr al-Muhit, 1:292 comments: “…this is an interrogation that takes the meaning of rebuke and rejection…”

)أفتؤمنون ببعض الكتاب وتكفرون ببعض  (هذا استفهام معناه التوبيخ والإنكار . ولم يذمهم على الفداء، بل على المناقضة، إذ أتوا ببعض الواجب، وتركوا بعضا. وتكون المناقضة آكد في الذم

[2] See art. “ba`l” by C. Huart in E. J. Brill’s First Encyclopaedia of Islam 1913-1936, pp.610-611.

[3] `Ata’ b. Khalil, al-Taysir fi Usul al-Tafsir, p.66.

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