Do the ‘People of the Book’ recognise Al-Ṣafā and al-Marwah (Q 2:158-159)?

158 Safa and Marwa are among the rites of God, so for those who make major or minor pilgrimage to the House it is no offence to circulate between the two. Anyone who does good of his own accord will be rewarded, for God rewards good deeds, and knows everything. 159 As for those who hide the proofs and guidance We send down, after We have made them clear to people in the Scripture, God rejects them, and so do others (Q 2:158-159, Abdel Haleem translation)

I believe that v. 159 is probably chastising the ‘People of the Book’ for not recognising the validity of Safa and Marwa, even though they are affirmed in their scriptures. A quick search on the excellent Qur’an Gateway confirms my previous experience in reading the Qur’an, that ‘hide’ (yaktumūna) when used of a human community is most frequently used of the ‘People of the Book’ (Q 2:42, 72, 140, 146; 3:71, 187; 5:61).

The usage of katama

Katama is used of the angels in Q 2:33, but in Q 2:159 we are concerned with humans. The verb is also used of indvidual actors who conceal pregnancies (Q 2:228), deposited items (Q 2:283), the truth about bequests (Q 5:106) and enter uninhabited houses (Q 24:29). A man in the time of Pharoah concealed his belief in Allah (Q 40:28). Q 2:174 could either be speaking of the ‘People of the Book’ or the pagans or hypocritical believers; it is not clear, though because of the general usage of ‘hide’ I think the ‘People of the Book’ are in view here again. Q 21:110 is also unclear, though it perhaps refers to the Jews who differ in what they say publicly and in private (cf. Q 2:76-77).

It is however clearly used of the ‘hypocrites’ in Q 3:167, who conceal that they shirk from fighting in God’s path. The hypocrites also appear, even if not by name, in Q 4:37 as concealing the blessings bestowed upon them by God. This may also be the theme in Q 4:42, or it could be any disbelievers whether hypocrite, Jew or Christian or idolater. It is not clear to whom Q 5:99 is addressed; it could be the believing community.

The usage of katama: conclusions

Despite the diversity of usage, some overall conclusions can be drawn. When it refers to groups of people rather than individuals, it most commonly refers to the ‘People of the Book’. This is especially so when the object of concealing is God’s revelation (the ‘People of the Book’ in Q 2:42, 140, 146, 159; 3:71, 187; the subjects of Q 4:42 and Q 5:99 are not clear). The usage of ‘to hide’ (ktm) in the Qur’an therefore leans in favour of Q 2:159 referring to the ‘People of the Book’.

Recognising Qur’anic teachings in the Bible

This linguistic interpretation is strengthened by the Qur’anic evidence that the Qur’an elsewhere expects Jews and Christians to recognise specific Qur’anic teachings as being in harmony with their Scriptures, as argued in my article ‘Nineteen angels in the Bible? (Q 74:30-31)’, under the heading ‘The Bible-Qurʾan overlap’. I believe that Q 2:146 also teaches that ‘those to whom we gave the Scripture’ should clearly recognise that the direction of prayer should be towards al-masjid al-ḥarām, suggesting that the previous scriptures confirm the Qur’an’s sacred geography. This strengthens our interpretation of Q 2:158-159, that Safa and Marwah can be found in the previous scriptures. In my article ‘The Qur’anic Paternity Test: Attempting to Recognise our own Sons’ I argue that the alternative interpretations of Q 2:146 also pose challenges to the Muslim interpreter. Whatever one’s interpretation of Q 2:146, Q 2:144 states:

Turn your face in the direction of the Sacred Mosque: wherever you [believers] may be, turn your faces to it. Those who were given the Scripture know with certainty that this [lit: hu, ‘it’] is the Truth from their Lord: God is not unaware of what they do. (Abdel Haleem)

Conclusion

In conclusion, our consideration of the usage of the word katama as well as a broader consideration of the teaching of the Qur’an, would seem to suggest that the ‘People of the Book’ should recognise both al-masjid al-ḥarām and al-Safa and al-Marwah. Dear Muslim reader, what do you make of the interpretation above? Do you think these Islamic holy sites can indeed be found in the Torah and the Gospel? Please do share your thoughts in the comments below.

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