The following is a study of the seventh-day Sabbath in the Qur’an. It begins with an examination of the several occurrences of the Arabic word sabt, and continues with some comments on how the Sabbath should be observed according to the Qur’an. Qur’anic quotations are from Pickthall unless otherwise noted.
There is a good deal of justification for examining the Sabbath in the Qur’an. The Qur’an is a Middle Eastern text, thus coming from the same cradle as the Torah. There is every reason to expect both sacred texts to refer to the same topics in a similar cultural context. Furthermore, the Qur’an sets itself in a certain relationship to the Bible on many occasions, as in the second Surah or chapter of the Qur’an (or Koran) referred to asThe Cow which is so named from the story of the golden heifer in vv. 67-71 (a poetic reference to the red heifer of Torah). The references are given thus as Q for the Qur’an (or Koran) followed by the traditional number of the Surah and then the verse, hence: Q2:42
“And believe in what I have sent which fulfills that which is with you.” (The Holy Qur’an, Islam International Publications Ltd., 1988.)
Pickthall takes the other meaning of the word sdq, in Q2:42
“And believe in that which I reveal, confirming that which ye possess already (of the Scripture), and be not first to disbelieve therein, and part not with My revelations for a trifling price, and keep your duty unto Me” (The Meaning of the Glorious Koran, An Explanatory Translation by Marmaduke Pickthall, Dorset Press, New York).
Undoubtedly, taking the scores of such references together, the Qur’an must see itself as both a confirmation and fulfillment of the Bible.
The authority of canon is always dependent on a religious establishment. When one is confronted with the question of canonical accuracy and inspiration there is an obvious confrontation with the question of the capacity to change the tenets of Bible revelation. Such changes have been effected by interpretation and also by the traditions of rabbinical Judaism based on the methods employed by the Pharisees and condemned by Jesus Christ. Other changes just as heretical have been introduced by the resolutions of the Councils in Christianity. The same process occurred from the Hadith (or record of tradition) in Islam. The question of canonical authority is a very real and serious question. The biblical requirement is as follows. The Law and the prophets were all revealed by God through an intermediary. The Angel of Yahovah delivered it to Moses who delivered the Law to Israel. God revealed His will through an intermediary to the prophets in the Holy Spirit. All revelation stands on the basis that it must be compared in relation to the Law and the Testimony. If a prophet does not speak according to the Law and the Testimony there is no light in him (Isa. 8:20). Thus the revelation of the NT must stand in relation to the Law and the Prophecy of the OT and must be interpretative of the OT, not contradictory to it. In the same way the Koran to be inspired must be interpretative of the Bible canon and not contradictory to it.
Thus each established Scripture becomes the criterion for evaluating the new one.
Most of the religious world, in total contradiction to the Bible, tends to see later Scripture as an abrogation of former Scripture. An examination of the Bible and the Qur’an from this God-given directive will show them to be consistent with themselves and with one another, and therefore valid. Later Scripture was revealed to comment and enlarge upon earlier Scripture, explaining in new situations what might have become obscure through linguistic and cultural change, and through the rise of apostasy. Thus we make evaluation in accordance with Isaiah 8:20 as to the Law and the Testimony. The prophet must speak according to the law and the testimony or there is no light in him. Therefore all Scripture and the Qur’an are evaluated and interpreted against the core of Torah, which are the Commandments.
The Qur’an, when it was revealed, bore witness to Jews of the authority of Jesus, which they had rejected by the time of the prophet. To Christians it bore witness that Jesus was not the third of three, that is, a person in a Trinity, a false doctrine that was well established but still new at the time of the revelation of the Qur’an. Both Christians and Jews might have done well to take the Qur’an more seriously.
On the other hand, as we shall see, it may well be that Muslims would do well to re-evaluate the Qur’anic injunctions in regard to the Sabbath. Sunni traditions report that the prophet had the habit of performing two prostrations of Duha prayer in the Quba mosque on Saturday mornings and only Saturday mornings. In other words, the Prophet kept the Sabbath. There are similar historical references to the rightly guided Caliphs as well. Sunni Muslims do not follow this sunna of the prophet, however. Shi’ite tradition regards the Sabbath as a mustahab fast (of which there is no punishment for breaking) during which time anything that is performed will be repeated sometime in the future. Therefore, weddings, funerals, and the cutting of nails are regularly avoided on the Sabbath by Shi’ites.
The first reference to the Sabbath is found in the second chapter.
“And ye know of those of you who broke the Sabbath, how We said unto them: Be ye apes, despised and hated! And We made it an example to their own and to succeeding generations, and an admonition to the Godfearing.” (Q2:65,66)
The text is addressed to Jews. The occasion mentioned here is generally thought to be the same one described later in Surah Seven (Q7:163). It was a transgression of food-getting, which is fishing on the Sabbath and thus parallels the transgression of gathering manna on the Sabbath as reported in Exodus 16.
The punishment for this disobedience was a curse in which the people were proclaimed apes. This curse is enlarged upon in Q5:60:
“Shall I tell thee of a worse (case) than theirs for retribution with Allah? Worse (is the case of him) whom Allah hath cursed, him on whom His wrath hath fallen! Worse is he of whose sort Allah hath turned some to apes and swine, and who serveth idols. Such are in worse plight and further astray from the plain road.”
Those turned into apes not only broke the Sabbath but also in so doing they served idols. The word for idol here is Taghut, which is one who exceeds the bounds; in this case the boundaries on the observance of the Sabbath. But the word is generalised to refer to the Devil, to people who turn others from the right path and to all idols in general. Sabbath-breaking is thus Devil-worship, the following of false guides, and idolatry.
Although the text is addressed to Jews, the next ayat tells us that the lesson was not only for them. It was also for those of succeeding generations. The succeeding generations are primarily the descendants of the Jews, but also for the Godfearing. The lesson is thus for everyone who fears God, that is, who strives in the right way. Most commentators suggest that it is the punishment for disobedience, which is the lesson, and not the punishment for Sabbath-breaking as such. Thus the command to keep the Sabbath was only for those Jews, and not for others. However, there can be no lesson in the punishment for disobedience if there is no valid command. There are two choices of interpretation: either the lesson involves punishment for Sabbath-breaking, or it involves punishment for disobeying some other command. But no other command is mentioned. Therefore it is the punishment for Sabbath-breaking that is the warning for the Godfearing of our generation. If we suppose that the command does not touch us, and the punishment does not touch us, then the categorization of Godfearing does not touch us either. Or, if we claim to be Godfearing, then both the command to keep the Sabbath touches us, and the punishment for disregarding it.
There is disagreement on whether the change into apes was literal or not. The result is the same, whether it is a physical change or a mental one. The Sabbath is provided for spiritual development through submission to the divine command and through the recitation, hearing, and studying of the sacred books in worship. To fail to submit oneself to God and neglect the revelatory blessings of the Sabbath is to make a monkey of oneself. That is, to make oneself capable of obedience only as mimicry and without spiritual understanding. There is no doubt that monkeys fulfill the Creator’s praise, nor does this verse deride them. From the human point of view, monkeys are characterized by the trait of mimicry. To be an ape means to carry out the forms of religion without spiritual discernment. This is the logical result of neglecting the Sabbath.
The next reference to the Sabbath is in chapter four.
“O ye unto whom the Scripture hath been given! Believe in what We have revealed confirming that which ye possess, before we destroy countenances so as to confound them, or curse them as We cursed the Sabbathbreakers (of old time), The commandment of Allah is always executed. Lo! Allah forgiveth not that a partner should be ascribed unto Him. He forgiveth (all) save that to whom He will. Whoso ascribeth partners to Allah, he hath indeed invented a tremendous sin.” (Q4:47,48)
This ayat also takes the same event as an illustration, and this is more carefully described in chapter seven to come. It differs from the preceding ayat in being addressed to Christians as well as Jews. We have already seen how the worship of false gods has been associated with the Sabbath, and here the association reappears most clearly. To this is added a third sin, the rejection of the Qur’an. That is, the Qur’an makes appeal to the unity of God and the universal obligation of the Sabbath as a witness that the Qur’an is true revelation. To reject the Qur’an is to call down upon oneself the curse of the Sabbath-breaker. By the same token, acceptance of the Qur’an implies acceptance of the witnesses to its truth: the obligation to observe the Sabbath and to ascribe no partners (in deity) to God in a Trinity.
The third mention of the Sabbath in the Qur’an is also found in chapter four.
“And we caused the Mount to tower above them at (the taking of) their covenant: and We bade them: Enter the gate, prostrate! And we bade them: Transgress not the Sabbath! And We took from them a firm covenant.” (Q4:154)
This text is also addressed to Christians, as the preceding ayat indicates. It is given as part of the response to Christians who made the demand on the Prophet that he should cause a book to descend from heaven in their sight. The answer is that God has already given the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. Since these are still valid, no other “book” is going to come down in the sight of humankind. This ayat summarizes the Ten Commandments in two commands. The first is the command of prayer in prostration, which is a commentary on the second commandment in the positive. The command not to make or bow down to images has its positive form, which is definitely to bow in prostration to God. The second command mentioned is in regard to Sabbath observance. The implication is that the whole Decalogue is summed up in these two commandments, and that they are in practical relationship to one another. That is, to bow in prostration before God on the Sabbath day is obligatory and is the essence not only of these two commandments, but also of all ten. This does not seek to change the term the Two Great Commandments, but explains the dual aspects of the First Great Commandment.
The fourth passage mentioning the Sabbath is in chapter 7:163.
“Ask them (O Muhammad) of the township that was by the sea, how they did break the sabbath, how their big fish came unto them visibly upon their sabbath day and on a day when they did not keep sabbath came they not unto them. Thus did We try them for that they were evil-livers.”
The Sabbath-breaking event is described in more detail here. According to tradition this took place in a seaside Jewish community during the time of David. Because of their injustice God gave them a trial. He caused fish to appear in their weirs on the Sabbath, but not on other days. If they had not set out their weirs on the Sabbath, this could not have occurred. In so doing they dared God to punish them. At the same time, God tested their Sabbath observance by bringing fish only on that day. He would not have done so had they been obedient.
Many people claim that Sabbath observance is impossible. It has become impossible for them precisely because they have refused to observe it. In failing to observe it, they have lost the spiritual capacity to appreciate it.
The last mention of the Sabbath is in chapter 16.
“The Sabbath was appointed only for those who differed concerning it, and lo! Thy Lord will judge between them on the Day of Resurrection concerning that wherein they used to differ.” (Q16:124)
Two other translations run thus:
“The punishment for profaning the Sabbath was imposed only on those who had differed about it and thy Lord will surely judge between them on the Day of Resurrection concerning that wherein they differed.” (The Holy Qur’an, Islam International Publications Ltd., 1988.)
The Quran, a new translation by Muhammad Zafrulla Khan, Curzon Press, 1971, gives the following:
“The penalty for profaning the Sabbath was imposed only on those who had differed about it, and thy Lord will surely judge between them on the day of Judgment concerning that wherein they differed.”
The words “penalty” and “punishment” at the beginning of the ayat are supplied by the translators because they are implied in the word ju’ila. The meaning of the verse is that there is a punishment for Sabbath-breaking, but it is to be carried out upon those who dispute the obligation to keep the Sabbath. Furthermore, it is concluded from this text that no punishment for Sabbath-breaking is to be carried out before the Day of Judgment.
This is an excellent illustration of how the Qur’an complements and completes the Bible. In the Bible we are faced with two problems. The first is that the punishment for Sabbath-breaking is death. In practice, this is not carried out in the current age.
The interpretation of Torah correctly shows that the Sabbath is ongoing and is enforceable by the death penalty. Christ showed by his example how the legislation of the OT was to be interpreted. He did not as Christianity claims abrogate it. More importantly the OT shows that the Sabbath will be enforced again in the millennial reign of Jesus Christ We know from Zechariah 14:16-21 that the feasts will be enforced during that time and that the punishment will be no rain in due season which carries with it the death penalty by starvation.
Isaiah 66:18-24 shows that at that time the New Moons will also be kept by all flesh on the planet as well as the Sabbaths. The Law does not change. To be part of Israel and part of the First Resurrection one has to keep the Sabbath in order to enter into judgment.
The time of Judgment of the household of God is now. It began with the Church from the time of the apostles (1Pet. 4:17).
The Qur’an provides an explanation, which explains the practice in the current age. It has been totally misunderstood and misrepresented by the Hadith and by both Jews and Christians. No visible punishment is meted out for Sabbath-breaking. It is nonetheless real and immediate. If an individual does not repent and be baptised and does not keep the Sabbath, as did the prophet and the Four Rightly Guided Caliphs they can not enter into judgment. Thus they are placed in the Second Resurrection at the end of the Millennium and not the First Resurrection at the beginning of the Millennium. The First Resurrection is the Koranic First Garden of Paradise. The Second Resurrection being the Second Garden. The two resurrections are separated by 1,000 years (Rev. 20:4-13).
The Hadith destroyed the intent of the Qur’an (or Koran) and the understanding given by the Prophet.
The Qur’an follows the scriptural precedence and teaching. Judgment is immediate. The obedient of the surrender who keep the Sabbath (and the Passover) enter judgment and thus the First Garden of Paradise. Those who do not are deferred to the Day of Judgment or the Second Resurrection, when they will have to go through the entire teaching process again and this time do it correctly. This understanding is the ancient and correct understanding of the church of God based on the texts in the NT which identify the saints of the First Resurrection as those who keep the commandments of God and the testimony of Jesus (Rev. 12:17; 14:12; 22:14, KJV); thus the commandments and the Sabbath determine which Resurrection one is given.
The second problem is that there is no provision for delaying the Sabbath. If there is something to prevent Sabbath observance on the seventh day, there is no provision in the Torah or any other Scripture for putting it off to the following day, as there is for the Passover, for example, which under certain conditions may be observed in the following month. This means that there are occasions when the intention to observe the Sabbath cannot always be carried out perfectly. If something arises which was unforeseen and unintended, the Sabbath cannot be delayed to the following day. It has to remain as it is, whether or not its observance turned out to be as was intended. Therefore, the punishment is meted out upon those who dispute the obligation. Those who made the proper intention to observe the Sabbath, but whose observance for unforeseen reasons did not match their intention, are not punished for Sabbath-breaking.
This completes the passages in the Qur’an where the Sabbath is mentioned outright. The Sabbath in the Torah, however, is closely related to practices relating to the sixth day. In the creation story, the sixth day is the day when humankind were created, blessed, given commandments to reproduce and to have dominion, which is defined as having a share in the food resources of the world. In the Qur’an, the sixth day is precisely what it was in the Torah, the day preceding the Sabbath. It is the preparation day. It has a special function, the most obvious of which, in the Qur’an, is the congregation for afternoon prayer. See also the paper The Juma'ah: Preparing for the Sabbath (No. 285).