In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Beneficent
Those to whom We sent the book before this believe in it, and when it is recited to them, they say: “We believe in it, for it is the truth from our Lord. Indeed even before this have we submitted ourselves to Him.
These are the ones who shall be given their reward twice for having been patient in adversity, having repelled evil with good, and having spent in charity out of what We have provided for them.
And whenever they hear frivolous talk they turn away from it and say: “To us our deeds and to you yours. Peace be to you! We will have nothing to do with ignorant folk.”
(The Story, Al-Qasas: 28: 52-55)
The surah now begins to present the case of those who sincerely look for the truth and abide by it. They have clear minds, sound approach and sincere intentions. These are a group from the people of earlier revelations who came to know of the Qur’an. The Qur’an thus tells of how they approached it once they had heard it.
“Those to whom We sent the book before this believe in it, and when it is recited to them, they say: ‘We believe in it, for it is the truth from our Lord. Indeed even before this have we submitted ourselves to Him. These are the ones who shall be given their reward twice for having been patient in adversity, having repelled evil with good, and having spent in charity out of what We have provided for them. And whenever they hear frivolous talk they turn away from it and say: ‘To us our deeds and to you yours. Peace be to you! We will have nothing to do with ignorant folk.’” (Verses 52-55)
Said ibn Jubayr mentions that these verses speak about 70 priests sent by Negus. When they met the Prophet (peace be upon him) he recited to them Surah 36, Ya Sin, from start to finish. They were in tears as they listened to it and then immediately declared their belief in Islam. These verses confirm what they did.
Muhammad ibn Ishaq reports in his biography of the Prophet:
When the Prophet was still in Makkah, some 20 Christians came to him after they had heard about him in Abyssinia. They found him in the Mosque, and they sat with him asking him about his faith. A number of unbelievers from the Quraysh were sitting in their normal gathering places around the Ka'bah. When the Christians finished their questions, the Prophet called on them to believe in Islam and read some of the Qur’an to them. When they listened to the Qur’an, they were in tears. They immediately responded to the Prophet’s call, declared their belief in God and that Muhammad was truly God’s Messenger. They confirmed that he met the description they had of him in their Scriptures. When they rose to leave him, Abu Jahl and a number of the Quraysh unbelievers intercepted them, and reproached them saying: “How ill-advised you are! Your people sent you here to get information about this man; yet you hardly sat with him before you abandoned your faith and accepted his claims. We have never seen a more stupid delegation than yours.” Members of the delegation replied: “We wish you peace, and we will not engage in futile argument with you. We follow what we choose and you follow what you choose. We have not been slow to take advantage of the good that has been offered us.”
It is reported that this Christian delegation was from the people of Najran. God knows best which report is more accurate. It is also stated that it is they that are referred to in the Qur’anic verses starting with “Those to whom We sent the book before this believe in it...” (Verse 52) However, I asked Al-Zuhri about these verses and of whom they speak. He said to me: “I have often heard from our scholars that they speak of Negus (may God be pleased with him) and his men, as also the verses in Surah 5, The Repast, which read: “You will certainly find that, of all people, the most hostile to those who believe are the Jews, and those who associate partners with God; and you will certainly find that the nearest of them in affection to the believers are those who say, ‘We are Christians’.” This is so because there are priests and monks among them and because they are not given to arrogance.
When they listen to what has been revealed to God’s Messenger, you see their eyes overflow with tears because of the Truth they recognize. They say: ‘Our Lord, we do believe; so enroll us among those who bear witness to the truth. How could we fail to believe in God and the truth that has come to us when we dearly hope that our Lord will admit us among the righteous?’ And for this God will reward them with gardens through which running waters flow, where they will abide. Such is the reward of those who do good; while those who disbelieve and deny Our revelations are destined for the blazing fire.” (5: 82-86)
Whichever group of people these verses speak about, the Qur’an is referring to a particular event that they knew about. It, thus, presents to them an example of how people with clear vision receive the Qur’an. How they respond to it, recognize its truth and how it accords with their own Scriptures. They do not allow any impediment, whether desire or pride, to stand between them and its truth. Furthermore, they are prepared to put up with any difficulty the ignorant put in their way.
“Those to whom We sent the book before this believe in it.” (Verse 52) This is one of the signs confirming its truth. All divine revelations are consistent. People who have been familiar with earlier revelations recognize the truth of the latest ones and are ready to believe in them, knowing that they all stem from God.
“And when it is recited to them, they say: ‘We believe in it, for it is the truth from our Lord. Indeed even before this have we submitted ourselves to Him.” (Verse 53) The Qur’an is so clear that it needs only to be read out and these people who have had some experience of the truth know for certain that it comes from the same source. Thus, they are reassured, knowing that it comes from none other than God: “It is truth from our Lord. Indeed, even before this have we submitted ourselves to Him.” Such submission to God is the central issue of every faith.