And you had already known about those who transgressed among you concerning the Sabbath and We said to them, ” Be apes, despised.” And We made it a deterrent punishment for those who were present and those who succeeded (them) and a lesson for those who fear Allah. (2;65-66)
Bani Israel (Children of Israel) had requested a day for rest, and so Allah (swt) set Saturday as their day to rest. This day, also known as the Sabbath, is when the Bani Israel were prohibited from doing anything and would totally cut themselves off from work.
Keep in mind that they were quite business minded people, and some of them worked so much so that even taking one day off was hard for them. But Sabbath was designated as their day off. No work on this day was allowed.
A group of them lived by the sea and worked as fisherman. And it just so happened, that on the day of Sabbath, large amounts of the fish would come to the shore. This amount of fish would not come to shore the rest of the week. They would just appear shoreside at the beginning of the day and then swim deep out to sea by the end of the day. For some reason (Because Allah (swt) wanted it this way) Saturday was the one day these fish came abundantly. A clear test from Allah.
And because the Sabbath was appointed by Allah (swt) as the forbidden day to work, the fisherman by the sea were missing out on this surplus of fish showing up on shore. This became a dilemma for them. Do we obey Allah (swt) and not work and let this huge amount of fish getaway? Overwhelmed by greed and not wanting to let this surplus of fish get away on Saturdays, the fisherman would put a net out the day before, to catch the fish that would show up on Saturday. They would then wait until Saturday was over and collect the fish caught in the net.
The fisherman saw this as permissible, because they wouldn’t be physically “working” on Saturday and so “technically” they were not breaking any rules. They would claim that: we didn’t actually “work” on Saturday and thought they had found a loophole. They believed they had deceived the Deen. This, which was in actuality trickery and deceit, to them was like “having your cake and eating it too”. They thought they had outsmarted the Deen, and the prohibition set by Allah (swt). It was not in their nature to let such an opportunity go by, for the sake of such a “trivial” matter as the observance of a covenant made with Allah. As a lesson to them, those around them and for generations to come, Allah (swt) punished the fisherman by disfiguring them to look like apes.
Prophet Muhammad (saw) said :“Do not do what the Jews did that they made the things that Allah made haram upon them halal upon themselves”
These two verses of Surah Al-Baqarah (65 & 66) should really make us reflect and wonder if we too try to find loopholes in the Deen and in Allah’s commands.
I think one obvious example is the topic of Riba (Usury, Interest). Riba is prohibited. Not many know that it is one of the seven major sins in Islam. There are justified reasons and explanations as to why it is prohibited. Most importantly it is a prohibition set forth by Allah (swt). That itself should be enough of a reason for us to not deal with Riba. But today we look for loopholes (just like the fisherman did back then) and try to label Riba as “trade” or “profit”. Many of us look at Riba something minuscule, or “not a big a deal.” Some say that because we live in this country, “we have no other choice” and in this day in age we must deal with Riba in order to have a comfortable life, to survive. Some will say that the prohibition of Riba was meant for the people during Prophet Muhammad (saw)’s time, and is not applicable for us today. And then there are the rest who are simply either unaware, oblivious or ignorant to the prohibition of Riba.
These statements are basically us making excuses and looking for loopholes. Just like the Bani Israel did. And look what happened to them. Just like the fish were a huge temptation for the Bani Israel on Sabbath, dealing with Riba to get that house, car or education is a huge temptation for us as well. We are willing to do whatever we can to find a loophole in this prohibition just so that “dream house” doesn’t get away.
The point is that Allah’s book and His words are the Truth. They were applicable then and they are applicable now. There are reasons for His rules and regulations (the topic of Riba will come up in more detail later in the Quran). We cannot say that: we believe in certain parts of the Quran and that the rest doesn’t apply to us. That’s like saying: I believe in this Surah but the not these other Surahs. All of the Quran is applicable to us. The day of Sabbath and the abundance of fish was a huge test for fisherman of bani Israel. And just like that, perhaps Riba today is a huge test for us. Yes being able to deal with Riba would probably get you that gorgeous comfortable house you have always wanted, but is it really worth it if it makes Allah (swt) unhappy? Is it really worth displeasing our Creator? The real question we should be asking ourselves is: Are we willing to disobey Allah’s commands and sacrifice the Hereafter (Jannah), just to have a few temporarily comfortable days here in this world?