How was a group from Sons of Israel transformed into apes?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Those who were transformed into apes

فَقُلْنَا لَهُمْ كُونُوا قِرَدَةً خَاسِئ۪ينَۚ

"... We said to them: ‘Be ye apes, despised and rejected.’" (al-Baqara, 65; al-A'raf, 166)

The verse above is related to a group from Sons of Israel, whose story is narrated in the chapter of al-Araf. They violated the prohibition of Saturday; they did not heed the advice given to them and were consequently transformed into apes. Man’s being transformed into an animal like that is called mash in Arabic.

We see that the verse is explained both literally and metaphorically. Ibn Abbas, one of the Companions, regards it as something literal. He says that they lived as apes for three days and then were destroyed. Mujahid, a famous tafsir scholar of Tabiun, interprets it as spiritual mash. According to him, their hearts were transformed; that is, they assumed the characteristics of apes. (Razi, III, 109-111; Alusi, I, 283)

Since the incident is unknown by us, that is, since it took place in a period of history unknown by us, we cannot exactly say whether the statement in the Quran about them is literal or metaphorical. There is no drawback to its being literal in terms of divine power but we want to state that spiritual mash, that is, assuming the characteristics of an ape, pig, snake, etc., is seen a lot nowadays.

The following statement of Badiuzzaman Said Nursi expresses an aspect of the verse related to the present day:

“If the inside of most of these civilized people are turned out, they may seem to be wearing skins of wolves, bears, snakes, pigs and monkeys.” (Nursi, Sözler, p. 711)

That is, many people who are thought to be civilized in appearance will appear as monkeys, foxes, snakes, bears and pigs if the inside of them are turned out; their inner realms will appear in the form of those animals. A monkey is a symbol of characterlessness, a fox of slyness, a bear of boorishness, a snake of taking pleasure from poisoning others and a pig of not being jealous of one’s spouse.   

It seems that not everybody who is born as a human being might maintain their humanity.

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