Answered by Shaykh Irshaad Sedick
What is the mainstream and orthodox position on Al-Maskh (Metamorphosis), specifically related to Surah al-A’raf (7:163-166) and the transformation into apes and pigs? Did Allah physically transform them into apes and pigs for disobeying his command and fishing on the Sabbath?
In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate.
May Allah guide us to that which pleases Him, forgive us for our shortcomings, and alleviate our difficulties, Amin.
The overwhelming majority of Exegetes (Mufassirun) of Ahl Al-Sunna wa Al-Jama’a opine that the metamorphosis-punishment referred to in the Quran and Sunna is literal and refers to a physical transformation. A minority of Exegetes, namely Mujahid (Allah be pleased with him) from the Successors, are inclined to a metaphorical interpretation, and Allah knows best.
The Metamorphosis of Some of Bani Isra’il
Maskh (transformation) refers to changing a person’s exterior appearance. Allah refers to this punishment several times in the Quran. The Quran specifically refers to the punishment transformation of some of the Children of Israel (Bani Isra‘il) into monkeys and pigs, as a punishment for their disobedience towards Allah, regarding the prohibition of fishing on their Sabbath.
The following passages from the Quran narrate the incident:
“And indeed, you knew those amongst you who transgressed in the Sabbath (i.e. Saturday). We said to them: ‘Be you monkeys, despised and rejected.’ So We made this punishment an example to their own and to succeeding generations and a lesson to those who are Allah-Conscious (the muttaqin)” [Quran, 2:65-66]
The incident also appears in Surah Al-A’raf
“And ask them (O Muhammad) about the town that was by the sea; when they transgressed in the matter of the Sabbath (i.e. Saturday): when their fish came to them openly on the Sabbath day and did not come to them on the day they had no Sabbath. Thus, we trialed them, for they used to rebel against Allah’s Command. And when a community among them said: ‘Why do you preach to a people whom Allah is about to destroy or to punish with a severe torment?’ (The preachers) said: ‘To be free from guilt before your Lord, and perhaps they may fear Allah.’ So when they forgot the reminders given to them, We rescued those who forbade evil, but with a severe torment, We seized those who did wrong because they used to rebel against Allah’s Command. So when they exceeded the limits of what they were prohibited, We said to them: ‘Be you monkeys, despised and rejected.’” [Quran, 7:163-166]
Similarly, the incident also appears in Surah Al-Ma‘ida [Quran, 5:59-60]
Metamorphosis as a Form of Punishment Towards the Hour
The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) told us that the Hour would not begin until such transformation happens among this ummah too. He issued this warning to those who disbelieve in the divine decree (al-qadr) and those who drink alcohol and listen to singing – we seek refuge with Allah from that.
Ibn Maja narrated from ‘Abd-Allah Ibn Mas’ud that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said: “Shortly before the Hour begins, people will be transformed into monkeys and pigs, swallowed up in the earth, and pelted with stones.” [Ibn Maja]
Muslim narrated that ‘Abd-Allah ibn Mas’ud said: “A man said, ‘O Messenger of Allah, are the monkeys and pigs, those who have been transformed?’ The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said: ‘Allah does not enable those who have been transformed to have offspring or children. The monkeys and pigs existed before that.’” Imam Al-Nawawi (may Allah have mercy on him) said: “The Prophet’s words ‘The monkeys and pigs existed before that’ means that they existed before the Children of Isra‘il were transformed, which indicates that they are not from among those who were transformed.”
The Traditional Exegetes and the Quranic Metamorphosis
The apparent meaning of the above verses, juxtaposed with the above ahadith (among others), indicates that the metamorphosis-punishment was a physical transformation, and Allah knows best.
The majority of Exegetes listed in the traditional works of Quranic Exegesis, including Tabari, Ibn Kathir, Al-Jalalayn, and Ibn ‘Ashur (among others), indicate that the above texts should be understood literally (i.e. a physical transformation).
There remains a minority of Exegetes, most significantly, Mujahid Ibn Jabr, the Successor and student of Ibn ‘Abbas, who interpreted the verse metaphorically, and Allah knows best [Aṭ-Ṭabarī & Ibn Kathir]
I pray this is of benefit.
[Shaykh] Irshaad Sedick
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Shaykh Irshaad Sedick was raised in South Africa in a traditional Muslim family. He graduated from Dar al-Ulum al-Arabiyyah al-Islamiyyah in Strand, Western Cape, under the guidance of the late world-renowned scholar, Shaykh Taha Karaan.
Shaykh Irshaad received Ijaza from many luminaries of the Islamic world, including Shaykh Taha Karaan, Mawlana Yusuf Karaan, and Mawlana Abdul Hafeez Makki, among others.
He is the author of the text “The Musnad of Ahmad ibn Hanbal: A Hujjah or not?” He has served as the Director of the Discover Islam Centre and Al Jeem Foundation. For the last five years till present, he has served as the Khatib of Masjid Ar-Rashideen, Mowbray, Cape Town.
Shaykh Irshaad has thirteen years of teaching experience at some of the leading Islamic institutes in Cape Town). He is currently building an Islamic online learning and media platform called ‘Isnad Academy’ and pursuing his Master’s degree in the study of Islam at the University of Johannesburg. He has a keen interest in healthy living and fitness.