Surah 5 al-Ma’idha(The Feast)
“Today all good things are made lawful for you.” Also, Surah al-Ma’idha states “today” their religion has been perfected for the new believers. In this Surah Allah blessed the new religion with laws regarding food consumption, especially not allowing the hunting of game during the holy time of pilgrimage, the instructions for proper wudu, and the permission to marry chaste women from among the People of the Book (Jews and Christians), “The food of the People of the Book is lawful for you as your food is lawful for them. So are chaste, believing women as well the chaste women of the people who were given the Scripture before you…” (ayat 4). The Jews had an innumerable number of food laws such that it was difficult for the Jews to follow every one of the restrictions, so the Prophet Isa or Jesus(SAW) clarified Allah’s teachings by introducing the new spiritual concept that ritual cleansing and following food prohibitions is secondary to purifying the heart. Because the risk of only adhering to an outward display of one’s religion, and not the transformation and purification of the heart caused hypocrisy, the Prophet Isa (SAW) taught that what defiles a person according to Allah, does not come from the outside, or from what a person puts in their mouth to eat, but from within — from an impure heart. This is the most important. (Bible: Mark 7:15)
Muslims have their own food laws, the Jews have similar but different food restrictions, and the Christians have interpreted their Scripture to understand all foods are now lawful. So what is the true meaning of ayat 4? Since, the following passage refers to pious, chaste women among the Jews and Christians as approved by Allah for marriage to a Muslim man, Allah is revealing the deeper truth that true piety from all the believers of the People of the Book is acceptable before Allah. Therefore, a Muslim man may intently follow the Islamic food restrictions, but may not have a purified heart, as is evident by the remainder of the ayat warning believing men not to take these women as lovers or secret mistresses, that they must pay their bride price and marry them as an act of true piety and in obeying Allah. They are to respect the chastity and piousness of the believing women among the Jews and Christians. In summary, ayat 4 is also revealing to us that all food is lawful relative to each religion’s laws, but we are not to allow our respective differences to create dissension between us.
Ayat 47–48, reiterates that Allah “assigned a law and a path” for each religion. The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) is told that the Prophet Isa (SAW) was given the Gospel as a “guidance, light, and confirmation of the Torah already revealed — a guide and lesson for those who take heed of God.” The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) is then warned not to “follow their whims” which is a deviation from the Truth, but to use the revealed Word of the Qur’an as a tool of discernment to clearly understand what is truth and what is falsehood. This does not mean the previous Scriptures were false, but that some of the interpretations and teachings of the Word were false as is still evident in the modern world. “If God had so willed, He would have made you one community [or nation], but He wanted to test you through that which He has given you, so race to do good: you will all return to God and He will make clear to you the matters you differed about.” Therefore, Allah expects us not to use our differences in dissension, arrogance and pride, or aggression, but to find the common bond between us which is our submission to the one True God and to behave accordingly in kindness and by the unified pursuit of piety.
This Surah repeatedly teaches to be mindful of Allah, and to fear Him only. Additionally, the new believers are told to not respond in anger or aggression to those who were blocking their way to the Sacred Mosque, but to “help one another to do what is right and good, do not help one another towards sin and hostility” (ayat 2). This is important not only in the treatment of our enemies, but to be mindful of our actions and words when interacting with other believers, whether Muslim, Jews, or Christians. It is not Allah’s will that we sin in anger by saying or behaving in such a way that causes pain and suffering for others.
In previous ayats (14–15), the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) is told that many of the Jews “distort the meaning of [revealed] word and have forgotten some of what they were told to remember…” but the Muslims are told to forgive them, as “God loves those who do good.” The covenant was also given to the Christians, but they too “forgot some of what they were told to remember” so because of the Truth of the Qur’an, “enmity and hatred” will be stirred up among some of them “until the Day of Resurrection” when God will reveal to them the error in beliefs. The People of the Book are told that the Prophet Muhammad (SAW), Allah’s Messenger, is sent to make things clear and to reveal what has been kept hidden in their Books, as “A light has now come to you from God, and a Scripture making things clear, from which God guides to the way of peace those who follow what pleases Him, bringing them from darkness out into light, by His will , and guiding them to a straight path” (ayat 15–16). The truth in the Qur’an addresses the false interpretations that God is Jesus, and the erroneous concept of the trinity that Jesus is at the same level as Allah. For, Jesus himself never placed himself at the same level as Allah, but taught he was a slave or servant of Allah just as the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) taught to the Muslims. Ayat 18 states that the Jews and Christians believe they are the chosen ones of Allah, but are admonished they are sinners too, and will be punished or rewarded according to Allah’s Will for “Control of the heavens and earth and all that is between them belongs to Him: all journeys lead to Him.” This is important for all the People of the Book to remember — all journeys lead to Him, we are all followers of the One True God, and not one religion is chosen over another. Most importantly, the Qur’an repeatedly teaches that those who are pious of the People of the Book will enter Paradise: “Say, ‘People of the Book, you have no true basis [for your religion] unless unless you uphold the Torah, the Gospel, and that which has been sent down to you from your Lord…For the Muslim believers, the Jews, the Sabians, and the Christians — those who believe in God and the Last Day and do good deeds — there is no fear: they will not grieve” (ayats 68-69).
The Surah concludes with the ayats that give this Surah its name, al-Ma’diha — the disciples ask Jesus to send down a feast from heaven so Jesus asks Allah “Lord, send down to us a feast from heaven so that we can have a festival — the first and last of us — and a sign from You” (ayat 114). God replies that He will send it down but after this occurs anyone who disbelieves will be punished. “God will say, ‘This is a Day when the truthful will benefit from their truthfulness. They will have Gardens graces with flowing streams, there to remain forever. God is pleased with them and they with Him: that is the supreme triumph.’ Control of the heavens and earth and everything in them belongs to God: He has power over all things.” The “Feast” is a metaphor for the abundant spiritual blessings of Allah that is provided for all true believers whether they are Muslims, Jews or Christians. This is also a reference to the Wedding of Cana in the gospels when Jesus mother, Mary, informs him during a wedding they were attending that the wedding hosts had not provided enough wine. Jesus requested six large stone jugs of water and turned the water into wine, with the guests excitedly remarking that the hosts saved the best wine for last (Bible:John 2:1–11). It must be noted, that the number 7 in the Torah signifies the completeness or fullness of, so in requesting six jugs of water, Jesus is signifying the completeness of Allah’s Purpose will not occur until the Day of Resurrection. Therefore the feast of the “first and last of us” is the final feast on the Day of Resurrection as this is referencing the first and the last of all believers.
Additionally, in the Gospel of Luke, the Prophet Isa (SAW) provides much deeper teaching by using parables relating to banquets and feasts which are very similar to stories told in some hadith which enhanced the meaning of the Qur’an.
“When he [Jesus] noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: ‘When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’
Then Jesus said to his host, ‘When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.
When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, ‘Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.’
Jesus replied: ‘A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’“
But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’
“Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’ Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’
The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’
Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’
Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.
Jesus is teaching through these parables that those who attempt to raise themselves up by only associating with those they consider worthy based on the world’s standards will be told to move down in rank at the Great Banquet on the Day of Resurrection. For it is the needy who are the most grateful, and the humbled who will be raised up.
Therefore, it is important during the time of Ramadan to remind ourselves of the importance of taking care of the needs of others and not putting ourselves first.