Story of Sabbath Breakers
The story depicts a small Bani Israel fishing village. Allah imposed numerous edicts against them at this time as a punishment for their continuous defiance and stubbornness, as well as a way for them to atone for their sins. Therefore, many of these prohibitions and regulations served as trials for the Bani Israel.
One of these commands related to the Sabbath (Saturday), when Bani Israel was totally forbidden from performing any work or starting a fire. It meant that they were not permitted to fish on Saturdays in this fishing community.
With Allah’s Power, the seas where they fished happened to be poor fishing grounds for 6 days of the week, but on Saturday of each week, every variety of fish would appear in the same sea and be so numerous and conspicuous that they might even be seen frolicking at the surface. Every other day, the same fish disappeared and the fisherman returned home empty-handed. The abundance of fish only on the day of Sabbath (Saturday) was an attempt by Allah to test the community’s patience, obedience, and faith.
The fisherman was really angry about this. They did not want to observe the Sabbath because they could not stand it any longer, but they also did not want to disobey Allah’s command unabashed. They, therefore, came up with a plan to get around Allah’s command. The fish that came on Saturdays were captured in the fishing traps that were set out by them on Fridays. The fishermen would gather the fish on Sundays. They were purposefully disobeying Allah by doing this since, despite the fact that they were technically not fishing on Saturdays, those fish were actually caught as a result of their deception and treachery. They were aware that they were fundamentally violating the Sabbath’s observance. As time went on, they grew bolder and brazenly disobeyed Allah’s decree. (Hence called the “Sabbath Breakers”).
The trial was actually intended to be a cleanser for their transgressions and disobedience, but they were unable to endure it.
Allah the Almighty says: “And ask them (O Muhammad) (SAW) 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 made a trial of them, for they used to rebel against Allah’s Command (disobey Allah).” (Al Qur’an 7:163)
The remaining villagers, who abstained from such sinful behavior, were split into two groups. The first explicitly disapproved of the behavior and admonished the wrongdoers to change their ways before suffering Allah’s wrath and retribution.
The second said nothing despite all of this misbehavior. They took no action to discipline the wrongdoers. Even if they did not directly take part in the wrongdoing, they permitted it to continue. Additionally, they criticized the acts of the first group (those who attempted to forbid the wrong), asking: “Why do you preach to people whom Allah is about to punish or destroy with a terrible punishment? “, which in modern parlance means: “Why bother correcting these individuals, when Allah is going to punish anyway?”
The first group understood that Allah would torture and punish the entire community, not just the wrongdoers if they did not aggressively endeavor to halt the wrongs that were being perpetrated in the open. They understood that remaining passive would not give them a strong enough defense against Allah, and they sought to clearly distance themselves from the disobedient conduct of others.
The disobedient fisherman persisted in disobeying Allah’s commands week after week, bringing a plentiful catch of fish with them. The first group kept warning them against this kind of behavior and tried to forbid evil and order the right out of fear of Allah’s punishment, but they were disregarded.
Despite numerous warnings, the disobedient ones kept breaking the law and going above their acceptable limits with Allah.
A Special Punishment
Finally, the community was subjected to Allah’s curse and anger. The community as a whole, including the passive spectators, suffered terrible punishment, while those who were enforcing the right and forbidding evil were spared from torture. It was an unusual and unprecedented kind of punishment for sabbath breakers that was equally terrible and humiliating:
So when they exceeded the limits of what they were prohibited, We said to them: “Be you monkeys, despised and rejected” (Al Quran 7:163 -7:166)
Some academics question whether they actually became physical monkeys or if this was merely a metaphor. We would rather follow the literal interpretation and avoid getting into specifics about things that Allah had chosen to withhold from people.