Contextualist Interpretation Toward the Qur’an Shura al-Ma’idah: 51

Literally, Q.S. al-Ma'idah: 51 tells about the prohibition of appointing the Christians and Jews as awliya '. The question is what is the meaning of the word? What was its historical context? And what are the moral ideas that may be contained in the verse? Before answering these questions, it should firstly be noted that in order to understand Q.S. al-Ma'idah: 51, one must pay attention to the aspects of language, historical context and moral ideas contained therein. Related to language aspects, the verse actually bears some vocabularies that should be carefully analyzed. However, this brief article will not discuss all those aspects. It is only the word of awliya’ that will be discussed here. Some transliteration institutions in Indonesia translate the word as “leaders”, this can be seen for example in Tafsir Al-Azhar by HAMKA. However, if we examine classical books of tafsir, we will find quite different information from that of Indonesian translations. Muhammad Ibn Jarir al-Thabari, for example, interprets the word awliya’ with anshar wa hulafa’ (helpers and alliances or close friends) (al-Thabari, Jami‘ al-Bayan 8: 507). The translation that is close to that of al-Thabari is the translation of M. Quraish Shihab on that word of awliya’ (close friends and helpers) (Q. Shihab, al-Qur’an dan Maknanya, h. 117). Shortly, either al-Thabari or Quraish Shihab did not interpret the word as governmental leaders. From the historical context, scholars argue that the verse has sababun nuzul (causes of revelation). They mentioned various transmissions. Some explained that the verse related to the story of ‘Ubadah ibn al-Shamit who disbelieve to the Jews and Christians in Madinah as the alliances who could help Moslems in wars, while ‘Abdullah ibn Ubayy ibn Salul still believed in them as the alliance in wars. Other transmissions explained that the verse related to Abu Lubabah who was sent by the Prophet to Banu Quraizhah who have undermined the agreement for support and peace with the Prophet and his followers. Other transmissions explained that the verse correlated with the worried of Moslems community approaching to Uhud warfare (the 2nd year of Hijri); for that, some of them asked for help from the Jews fellow, and part of them were asking for assistance from the Christians in Medina; that verse revealed to advised Moslems to not asking their assistance. Apart from the variations of those transmissions, it can be shed light on that the verse was revealed within the context of warfare, where the carefulness in the war strategy should be maintained, thus it was forbidden to ask for help from the parties that have unclear commitment. In other words, the context of revelation was not correlated to friendship in peaceful conditions, as well as in the context of an election for governmental leaders. Considering the above explanation, the moral idea or the main message of that verse is, at least, as follow. Firstly, a command to have the alliance with trustworthy people, particularly in important things in societal life, and prohibition to take alliances with perfidious people. Justice behavior to everyone should be enforced while injustice should be abandoned. Secondly, shared commitment and maintaining mutual agreements / collective agreement should be enforced and should not be betrayed. If the commitment and agreement is destroyed by one party, the consequence would be the loss of trust from the betrayed party, as the loss of trust of the Moslem in Madinah in the era of the Prophet to the Jews and Christians who have violated The Medinan Charter that one of its points was helping and assisting each other inter-communities in Medina at that time. Thirdly, the verse was not related to the election for the head of the state as well as the district. Islam taught that head of the state or district should be elected from those who are able to maintain justice for all citizens under his control, disregard to different religious and tribe.

By: Dr. Phil. Sahiron Syamsuddin, MA,

Vice Rector II of Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University and Chair of Indonesian Asociation for Al-Qur’an and Tafsir Studies (AIAT)