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Tafsir at-Tabari
  Tafsir of Surah Ma`idah (5) Verse 114
Author: Ibn Jarir at-Tabari
Source: Tafsir at-Tabari
Article ID : TFS030002  

Said Jesus son of Mary: O Allaah, our Lord, send down upon us a table out of heaven which will be for us a festival, the first and last of us and a sign from Thee. And provide for us, for Thou art the best of providers.' Allaah said: 'Verily I do send it down on you. Whoever among you hereafter disbelieves, verily I will chastise him with a chastisement wherewith I chastise no other being. Quran (4:114)

Said Jesus son of Mary ... : Here Allaah states that his prophet Jesus fulfilled the request of his people when they asked him to request from his Lord a table which should come down upon them from heaven.

The exegetes (ahl at- ta'wil) disagree concerning the interpretation (ta'wil) of Allaah's words: which will be for us a festival ('id). Some maintain that the meaning is: (Send down upon us a table) so that we will take the day on which it comes down as a feast day (~7d), which we and our descendants will hold in high respect. ... Others maintain that the meaning is: (Send down upon us a table) from which we shall all eat together. . . . (Still) others say that when Allaah speaks (here) of an 'id, it is meant (not in the sense of a festival, but) in the sense of a benefit which Allaah grants to us, as well as an argument and proof.

(At.-Tabari concludes that) among these interpretations, that which comes nearest to being correct is the one which embraces the following meaning: (Send down upon us a table) which will be a festival ('id) for us, in that we will pray and worship our Lord on the day when it comes down, just as the people used to do on their feast days. Thus, the meaning which we affirm corresponds to the usual meaning that people associate with (the word) id in their speech, and not with the interpretation that accepts as the meaning: a benefit for us from Allaah. The meaning contained in the 'speech of Allaah' (kalaam Allaah) is to be interpreted as lying closer to the usual manner of speaking of the one who makes the request, than to something inaccessible and unknown to him.

Regarding Allaah's words the first and last of us, the interpretation that comes closest to being correct is the one that adopts the meaning: for those of us who are living today and for those who will come after us. This is based on the same (linguistic) argument we cited for Allaah's words 'that shall be for us an 'id', since the meaning adopted (in each case) is the predominant one.

Allaah's words and a sign (ayah) from Thee mean: and an indication or argument from you, Lord, for your servants, which affirms that you are the only Allaah and that I speak the truth when I present myself in the role of your messenger to them.

The exegetes disagree concerning whether or not the table was (actually) sent down (out of heaven) and concerning what was on it. Some say that it was sent down with fish and (other) food and that the people ate from it. Then, after its descent (the table) was lifted up because of (certain) innovations they introduced in their relationship to Allaah. ... Other exegetes maintain that it came down with fruit from paradise (Still) others say that on it lay every (kind of) food except meat. ... Other interpreters maintain that Allaah did not send down a table to the Children of Israel. Those who advocate this view disagree further among themselves. Many say that this may be only a simile that Allaah has offered to his creatures in order thereby to prohibit them from demanding (divine) signs from the prophets of Allaah. ... Others maintain that when (the words) whoever among you hereafter disbelieves, verily I will chastise him with a chastisement wherewith I chastise no other being were spoken to the people, they prayed for forgiveness but the table did not come down. ...

(At-Tabari concludes:) According to our view it is correct to say the following: Allaah (actually) sent down the table to those who asked Jesus to request it from his Lord. We maintain this in view of the information concerning this which we have related from the Messenger of Allaah, his Companions, and after them the exegetes, since these do not occupy any special position in the interpretation mentioned above. Furthermore, Allaah breaks no promise, and there will not be any contradiction in what he announces. Allaah proclaims in his Book that he will fulfil the request of his prophet Jesus, when he says: Verily I do send it down on you. It is impossible that Allaah would say 'verily I do send it down on you', and then not send it down. This verse deals with a proclamation of Allaah; thus nothing that contradicts it can ensure from him. Were it possible for Allaah to say 'verily I do send it down on you', and then not send it down, then he could also say: 'Whoever among you hereafter disbelieves, verily I will chastise him with a chastisement wherewith I chastise no other being', and someone thereafter could disbelieve without being punished by Allaah. In this case neither the promise nor the threat of Allaah would become true and valid; however, such things cannot be ascribed to Allaah.

Concerning what was on the table, some say correctly that there was food on it. It could have been fish and bread, or it could have been fruit from paradise. It is to no advantage if one knows what it was; neither is it any harm if one does not know, so long as the conclusions drawn from the verse correspond with the external wording of the revelation.

Allaah said: (At-Tabari says that) here Allaah gives to the people an answer to their demand which is addressed to his prophet Jesus, that he ask their Lord to send down to them a table. Allaah says: Verily I do send it down on you, you disciples, and you are to eat from it.

Whoever among you hereafter disbelieves: that is, whoever among you, after I have sent down the table to you and you have eaten from it, denies that I have sent Jesus as a messenger, and whoever does not acknowledge the Prophethood of my prophet Jesus, and whoever refuses obedience to me in my commands and prohibitions.

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