“Like a Donkey Carrying Books”: Tafsir al-Qurtubi

Allah strikes the following parable in surah al-Jumu’ah:

مَثَلُ الَّذِينَ حُمِّلُوا التَّوْرَاةَ ثُمَّ لَمْ يَحْمِلُوهَا كَمَثَلِ الْحِمَارِ يَحْمِلُ أَسْفَارًا ۚ بِئْسَ مَثَلُ الْقَوْمِ الَّذِينَ كَذَّبُوا بِآيَاتِ اللَّـهِ ۚ وَاللَّـهُ لَا يَهْدِي الْقَوْمَ الظَّالِمِينَ

The likeness of those who were made to carry the Tawrah and then did not carry it is like that of a donkey carrying volumes. How wretched is the likeness of a people who deny the signs of Allah. And Allah does not guide the wrong-doers. [62:5]

Commenting on this in his book of tafsir, Sheikh Muhammad al-Qurtubi wrote:

ضرب مثلا لليهود لما تركوا العمل بالتوراة ولم يؤمنوا بمحمد صلى الله عليه وسلم . حملوا التوراة أي كلفوا العمل بها ; عن ابن عباس . وقال الجرجاني : هو من الحمالة بمعنى الكفالة ; أي ضمنوا أحكام التوراة . ـ

Allah struck a parable of the Jews regarding how they stopped following the Tawrah and did not believe in Muhammad.

حُمِّلُوا التَّوْرَاةَ

… made to carry the Tawrah …

that is, charged with acting in accordance with it, according to the explanation of ibn ‘Abbaas. al-Jarjani said: “carrying” here takes the meaning of “entrusted with”, i.e. charged with legal rulings of the Tawrah.

كمثل الحمار يحمل أسفارا هي جمع سفر ، وهو الكتاب الكبير ; لأنه يسفر عن المعنى إذا قرئ . قال ميمون بن مهران : الحمار لا يدري أسفر على ظهره أم زنبيل ; فهكذا اليهود . وفي هذا تنبيه من الله تعالى لمن حمل الكتاب أن يتعلم معانيه ويعلم ما فيه ; لئلا يلحقه من الذم ما لحق هؤلاء . ـ

كَمَثَلِ الْحِمَارِ يَحْمِلُ أَسْفَارًا

… like that of a donkey carrying asfar.

asfar is the plural form of safar, which is a large book. It is called that because it usfir – emits – meanings when it is read.

Maymun ibn Mihran said: A donkey doesn’t know whether it has volumes of books or a basket on its back, likewise with the Jews.

This parable contains an alert from Allah to whoever has memorized the Qur’an that he should learn its meanings and put them into practice so that he is not subject to the same criticism that these people have merited.

ـ” ثم لم يحملوها ” ؛ أي لم يعملوا بها . شبههم – والتوراة في أيديهم وهم لا يعملون بها – بالحمار يحمل كتبا وليس له إلا ثقل الحمل من غير فائدة . ـ

ثُمَّ لَمْ يَحْمِلُوهَا

… and then did not carry it …

i.e., did not act according to it. Allah compared them – those who have the Tawrah with them but do not act according to its teachings – to a donkey carrying books which are nothing but a burden on his back without bringing him any benefit.

[Jaami’ Li-Ahkam al-Qur’an 18/86]

Read more similar article in our Parables of the Qur’an Article Index

See also: Responding to Three Claims of the Jews in Surah al-Jumu’ah: Sheikh Khalid al-Batili [forthcoming, inshaAllah]

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