(And perform the Salah and give the Zakah, and whatever of good you send forth for yourselves before you, you shall find it with Allah).
Allah encouraged the believers to busy themselves in performing deeds that would bring them benefit and reward on the Day of Resurrection, such as prayer and paying Zakah. This way, they will gain Allah's aid in this life and on a Day when the witnesses testify,
(The Day when their excuses will be of no profit to the Zalimin (wrongdoers). Theirs will be the curse, and theirs will be the evil abode (i.e. painful torment in Hell-fire)) (40:52).
This is why Allah said,
(Certainly, Allah sees what you do), meaning, that He is never unaware of the deeds of any person, nor will these deeds be lost by Him. Whether deeds are righteous or evil, Allah will award each according to what he or she deserves based on their deeds.
(111. And they say, "None shall enter Paradise unless he be a Jew or a Christian.'' These are their own desires. Say (O Muhammad) , "Produce your Burhan if you are truthful.'') (112. Yes! But whoever submits his face (himself) to Allah (i.e. follows Allah's religion of Islamic Monotheism) and he is a Muhsin then his reward is with his Lord (Allah), on such shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.) (113. The Jews said that the Christians follow nothing (i.e. are not on the right religion); and the Christians said that the Jews follow nothing (i.e. are not on the right religion); though they both recite the Scripture. Like unto their word, said those (the pagans) who know not. Allah will judge between them on the Day of Resurrection about that wherein they have been differing.)
Allah made the confusion of the Jews and the Christians clear, since they claim that no one will enter Paradise, unless he is a Jew or a Christian. Similarly, Allah mentioned their claims in Surat Al-Ma'idah:
(We are the children of Allah and His loved ones) (5:18).
Allah refuted this false claim and informed them that they will be punished because of their sins. Previously we mentioned their claim that the Fire would not touch them for more than a few days, after which they would be put in Paradise. Allah rebuked this claim, and He said about this baseless claim, m
(These are their own desires). Abu Al-`Aliyah commented, "These are wishes that they wished Allah would answer, without basis.'' Similar was stated by Qatadah and Ar-Rabi` bin Anas. Allah then said,
(Say) meaning, "Say O Muhammad:''
("Produce your Burhan...'') meaning, "Your proof'', as Abu Al-`Aliyah, Mujahid, As-Suddi and Ar-Rabi` bin Anas stated. Qatadah said that the Ayah means, "Bring the evidence that supports your statement,
(if you are truthful) in your claim. ''
Allah then said,
(Yes! But whoever submits his face (himself) to Allah (i.e. follows Allah's religion of Islamic Monotheism) and he is a Muhsin) meaning, "Whoever performs deeds in sincerity, for Allah alone without partners.'' In a similar statement, Allah said,
(So if they dispute with you (Muhammad) say: "I have submitted myself to Allah (in Islam), and (so have) those who follow me.'') (3:20)
Abu Al-`Aliyah and Ar-Rabi` said that,
(Yes! But whoever submits his face (himself) to Allah) means, "Whoever is sincere with Allah.''
Also, Sa`id bin Jubayr said that,
(Yes! But whoever submits) means, he is sincere,
(his face (himself)) meaning, in his religion.
(and he is a Muhsin) following the Messenger . For there are two conditions for deeds to be accepted; the deed must be performed for Allah's sake alone and conform to the Shari`ah. When the deed is sincere, but does not conform to the Shari`ah, then it will not be accepted. The Messenger of Allah said,
(Whoever performs a deed that does not conform with our matter (religion), then it will be rejected.)
This Hadith was recorded by Muslim. Therefore, the good deeds of the priests and rabbis will not be accepted, even if they are sincerely for Allah alone, because these deeds do not conform with the method of the Messenger, who was sent for all mankind. Allah said regarding such cases,
(And We shall turn to whatever deeds they (disbelievers, polytheists, sinners) did, and We shall make such deeds as scattered floating particles of dust.) (25:23)
(As for those who disbelieved, their deeds are like a mirage in a desert. The thirsty one thinks it to be water, until he comes up to it, he finds it to be nothing.) (24:39) and,
(Some faces, that Day will be humiliated. Laboring, weary. They will enter in the hot blazing Fire. They will be given to drink from a boiling spring) (88:2-5).
When the deed conforms to the Shari`ah outwardly, but the person did not perform it sincerely for Allah alone, the deed will also be rejected, as in the case of the hypocrites and those who do their deeds to show off. Similarly, Allah said,
(Verily, the hypocrites seek to deceive Allah, but it is He Who deceives them. And when they stand up for As-Salah (the prayer), they stand with laziness to be seen by people, and they do not remember Allah but little.) (4:142) and,
(So woe unto those performers of Salah (prayers) (hypocrites). Those who delay their Salah (from their stated fixed times). Those who do good deeds only to be seen (of men). And withhold Al-Ma`un (small kindnesses)) (107:4-7).
This is why Allah said,
(So whoever hopes for the meeting with his Lord, let him work righteousness and associate none as a partner in the worship of his Lord) (18: 110).
He also said in this Ayah,
(Yes, but whoever submits his face (himself) to Allah (follows Allah's religion of Islamic Monotheism) and he is a Muhsin).
(Shall have their reward with their Lord, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve) guaranteed them the rewards and safety from what they fear and should avoid.
(There shall be no fear on them) in the future,
(nor shall they grieve) about what they abandoned in the past. Moreover, Sa`id bin Jubayr said,
"(There shall be no fear on them) in the Hereafter, and
(nor shall they grieve) about their imminent death.''
(The Jews said that the Christians follow nothing (i.e. are not on the right religion); and the Christians said that the Jews follow nothing (i.e. are not on the right religion); though they both recite the Scripture.)
Allah explained the disputes, hatred and stubbornness that the People of the Book have towards each other. Muhammad bin Ishaq reported that Ibn `Abbas said, "When a delegation of Christians from Najran came to the Messenger of Allah , the Jewish rabbis came and began arguing with them before the Messenger of Allah . Rafi` bin Huraymilah said, `You do not follow anything,' and he reiterated his disbelief in Jesus and the Injil. Then a Christian man from Najran's delegation said to the Jews, `Rather, you do not follow anything,' and he reiterated his rejection of Musa's prophethood and his disbelief in the Torah. So Allah revealed the Ayah,
(The Jews said that the Christians follow nothing (i.e. are not on the right religion); and the Christians said that the Jews follow nothing (i.e. are not on the right religion); though they both recite the Scripture. )''
Allah made it clear that each party read the affirmation of what they claimed to reject in their Book. Consequently, the Jews disbelieve in Jesus, even though they have the Torah in which Allah took their Covenant by the tongue of Moses to believe in Jesus. Also, the Gospel contains Jesus' assertion that Moses' prophethood and the Torah came from Allah. Yet, each party disbelieved in what the other party had.
(Like unto their word, said those who know not) thus exposing the ignorance displayed by the Jews and the Christians concerning their statements that we mentioned. There is a difference of opinion regarding the meaning of Allah's statement,
(who know not)
For instance, Ar-Rabi` bin Anas and Qatadah said that,
(Like unto their word, said those said those who know not) means, "The Christians said similar statements to the Jews.'' Ibn Jurayj asked `Ata' "Who are those `who know not''' `Ata' said, "Nations that existed before the Jews and the Christians and before the Torah and the Gospel.'' Also, As-Suddi said that,
(said those who know not) is in reference to the Arabs who said that Muhammad was not following anything (i. e. did not follow a true or existing religion). Abu Ja`far bin Jarir chose the view that this Ayah is general and that there is no evidence that specifically supports any of these explanations. So interpreting the Ayah in a general way is better. Allah knows best.
(Allah will judge between them on the Day of Resurrection about that wherein they have been differing.) meaning, that Allah will gather them all on the Day of Return. On that Day, Allah will justly judge between them, for He is never unjust with anyone, even as little as the weight of an atom. This Ayah is similar to Allah's statement in Surat Al-Hajj (22:17),
(Verily, those who believe (in Allah and in His Messenger Muhammad), and those who are Jews, and the Sabians, and the Christians, and the Majus, and those who associate partners with Allah; truly, Allah will judge between them on the Day of Resurrection. Verily, Allah is over all things a Witness).
(Say: "Our Lord will assemble us all together (on the Day of Resurrection), then He will judge between us with truth. And He is the Just Judge, the Knower of the true state of affairs.'') (34:26).
(114. And who are more unjust than those who forbid that Allah's Name be mentioned (i.e. prayers and invocations) in Allah's Masjids and strive for their ruin It was not fitting that such should themselves enter them (Allah's Masjids) except in fear. For them there is disgrace in this world, and they will have a great torment in the Hereafter.)
The Quraysh idolaters are those who hindered the people from the Masjids of Allah and wanted to destroy them. Ibn Jarir reported that Ibn Zayd said that Allah's statement,
(And who are more unjust than those who forbid that Allah's Name be mentioned (i.e. prayers and invocations) in Allah's Masjids and strive for their ruin) is about the Quraysh idolaters who prevented the Prophet from entering Makkah from Al-Hudaybiyyah, until he slaughtered the Hadi (animal for sacrifice) at Dhi-Tuwa. He then agreed to a peace treaty with the idolaters and said to them, (No one before has ever prevented people from entering the House. One would even see the killer of his father and brother, but would not prevent him (from entering the House of Allah).) They said, "Whoever killed our fathers at Badr, shall never enter it while there is one of us alive.'' Allah's statement,
(and strive for their ruin) means those who prevent whoever maintain the Masjids with Allah's remembrance and who visit Allah's House to perform Hajj and `Umrah. Ibn Abi Hatim recorded that Ibn `Abbas said that the Quraysh prevented the Prophet from praying at the Ka`bah in Al-Masjid Al-Haram, so Allah revealed,
(And who are more unjust than those who forbid that Allah's Name be mentioned (i.e. prayers and invocations) in Allah's Masjids)''
After Allah chastised the Jews and Christians, He also criticized the idolaters who expelled the Messenger of Allah and his Companions from Makkah, preventing them from praying in Al-Masjid Al-Haram, which they kept exclusively for their idols and polytheism. Allah said,
(And why should not Allah punish them while they hinder (men) from Al-Masjid Al-Haram, and they are not its guardians. None can be its guardians except Al-Muttaqun (the pious), but most of them know not.) (8:34)
(It is not for the Mushrikin (polytheists), to maintain the Masjids of Allah while they witness against their own selves of disbelief. The works of such are in vain and in Fire shall they abide. The Masjids of Allah shall be maintained only by those who believe in Allah and the Last Day; perform the Salah, and give the Zakah and fear none but Allah. It is they who are on true guidance.) (9:17-18)
(They are the ones who disbelieved and hindered you from Al-Masjid-Al-Haram (at Makkah) and detained the sacrificial animals, from reaching their place of sacrifice. Had there not been believing men and believing women whom you did not know, that you may kill them and on whose account a sin would have been committed by you without (your) knowledge, that Allah might bring into His mercy whom He wills ـ if they (the believers and the disbelievers) had been apart, We verily, would have punished those of them who disbelieved with painful torment) (48:25). Therefore, Allah said here,
(The Masjids of Allah shall be maintained only by those who believe in Allah and the Last Day; perform the Salah, and give the Zakah and fear none but Allah). Therefore, if those believers who follow the virtues mentioned in the Ayah were prevented from attending the Masjid, then what cause for destruction is worse than this Maintaining the Masjids not only means beautifying them, but it involves remembering Allah, establishing His Shari`ah in the Masjids and purifying them from the filth of Shirk.
Allah said next,
(It was not fitting that such should themselves enter them (Allah's Masjids) except in fear).
This Ayah means, "Do not allow them - the disbelievers - to enter the Masjids, except to satisfy the terms of an armistice or a treaty.'' When the Messenger of Allah conquered Makkah in 9 H, he commanded that someone announce at Mina, "After the current year, no idolaters shall perform Hajj, and no naked persons shall perform Tawaf around the House, except for those who have a treaty. In this case, the treaty will be carried to the end of its term.'' This Ayah supports the Ayah,
(O you who believe! (in Allah's Oneness and in His Messenger Muhammad )! Verily, the Mushrikun (idolaters) are Najasun (impure). So let them not come near Al-Masjid-Al-Haram (at Makkah) after this year) (9:28).
It was also said that this Ayah (2:114) carries the good news for the Muslims from Allah that He will allow them to take over Al-Masjid Al-Haram and all the Masjids and disgrace the idolaters. Soon after, the Ayah indicated, no idolater shall enter the House, except out of fear of being seized or killed, unless he embraces Islam. Allah fulfilled this promise and later decreed that idolaters not be allowed to enter Al-Masjid Al-Haram. The Messenger of Allah stated that no two religions should remain in the Arabian Peninsula, and the Jews and Christians should be expelled from it, all praise is due to Allah. All of these rulings ensure maintaining the honor of Al-Masjid Al-Haram and purifying the area where Allah sent His Messenger to warn and bring good news to all of mankind, may Allah's peace and blessings be on him.
This Ayah also described the disgrace that the disbelievers earn in this life, and that the punishment comes in a form comparable to the deed. Just as they prevented the believers from entering Al-Masjid Al-Haram, they were prevented from entering it in turn. Just as they expelled the believers from Makkah, they were in turn expelled from Makkah,
(and they will have a great torment in the Hereafter) because they breached the sanctity of the House and brought filth to it by erecting idols all around it, invoking other than Allah and performing Tawaf around it while naked, etc.
Here it is worth mentioning the Hadith about seeking refuge from disgrace in this life and the torment of the Hereafter. Imam Ahmad recorded that Busr bin Artah said that the Messenger of Allah used to supplicate,
(O Allah! Make our end better in all affairs, and save us from disgrace in this life and the torment of the Hereafter.)
This Hadith is Hasan.
(115. And to Allah belong the east and the west, so wherever you turn (yourselves or your faces) there is the Face of Allah (and He is High above, over His Throne). Surely, Allah is Sufficient (for His creatures' needs), Knowing.)
This ruling brought comfort to the Messenger of Allah and his Companions, who were driven out of Makkah and had to depart from the area of Al-Masjid Al-Haram. In Makkah, the Messenger of Allah used to pray in the direction of Bayt Al-Maqdis, while the Ka`bah was between him and the Qiblah. When the Messenger migrated to Al-Madinah, he faced Bayt Al-Maqdis for sixteen or seventeen months, and then Allah directed him to face Al-Ka`bah in prayer. This is why Allah said,
(And to Allah belong the east and the west, so wherever you turn (yourselves or your faces) there is the Face of Allah (and He is High above, over His Throne)).
`Ali bin Abi Talhah said that Ibn `Abbas said, "The first part of the Qur'an that was abrogated was about the Qiblah. When the Messenger of Allah migrated to Al-Madinah, which was inhabited by the Jews, he was at first commanded to face Bayt Al-Maqdis. The Jews were happy, and the Messenger of Allah faced Bayt Al-Maqdis for some ten months. However, the Messenger of Allah liked to face the Qiblah of Ibrahim (Al-Ka`bah at Makkah), and he used to look to the sky and supplicate. So Allah revealed,
(Verily, We have seen the turning of your (Muhammad's) face towards the heaven) until,
(turn your faces (in prayer) in that direction) (2:144).
The Jews were disturbed by this development and said, `What made them change the direction of the Qiblah that they used to face' Allah revealed,
(Say (O Muhammad): "To Allah belong both, east and the west'') and,
(So wherever you turn (yourselves or your faces) there is the Face of Allah (and He is High above, over His Throne)).''
`Ikrimah said that Ibn `Abbas said,
(So wherever you turn (yourselves or your faces) there is the Face of Allah (and He is High above, over His Throne)) means, "Allah's direction is wherever you face, east or west.'' Mujahid said that,
(So wherever you turn (yourselves or your faces) there is the Face of Allah (and He is High above, over His Throne))
means, "Wherever you may be, you have a Qiblah to face, that is, Al-Ka`bah.''
However, it was said that Allah sent down this Ayah before the order to face the Ka`bah. Ibn Jarir said, "Others said that this Ayah was revealed to the Messenger of Allah permitting the one praying voluntary prayers to face wherever they wish in the east or west, while traveling, when in fear and when facing the enemy.'' For instance, Ibn `Umar used to face whatever direction his animal was headed and proclaim that the Messenger of Allah did the same, explaining the Ayah,
(So wherever you turn (yourselves or your faces) there is the Face of Allah).''
That Hadith was also collected by Muslim, At-Tirmidhi, An-Nasa'i, Ibn Abi Hatim, Ibn Marduwyah, and its origin is in the Two Sahihs from Ibn `Umar and `Amr bin Rabi`ah without mentioning the Ayah. In his Sahih, Al-Bukhari recorded that Nafi` said that whenever Ibn `Umar was asked about the prayer during times of fear, he used to describe it and would then say, "When the sense of fear is worse than that, pray while standing, or while riding, whether facing the Qiblah or not.'' Nafi` then said, "I think Ibn `Umar mentioned that from the Prophet.'' It was also said that the Ayah was revealed about those who are unable to find the correct direction of the Qiblah in the dark or due to cloudy skies and, thus, prayed in a direction other than the Qiblah by mistake.
In his Tafsir of this Ayah (2:115), Al-Hafiz Ibn Marduwyah recorded that Abu Hurayrah said that the Messenger of Allah said,
(What is between the east and the west is the Qiblah for the people of Al-Madinah, Ash-Sham and `Iraq.)
At-Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah recorded this Hadith with the wording,
(What is between the east and the west is a Qiblah.)
Ibn Jarir said, "The meaning of Allah's statement;
(Surely, Allah is Sufficient (for His creatures' needs), Knowing) is that Allah encompasses all His Creation by providing them with sufficient needs and by His generosity and favor. His statement,
(Knowing) means He is knowledgeable of their deeds and nothing escapes His watch, nor is He unaware of anything. Rather, His knowledge encompasses everything.''
(116. And they (Jews, Christians and pagans) say: Allah has begotten a son (children or offspring). Glory is to Him (Exalted is He above all that they associate with Him). Nay, to Him belongs all that is in the heavens and on earth, and all are Qanitun to Him.) (117. The Originator of the heavens and the earth. When He decrees a matter, He only says to it: "Be! ـ and it is.)
This and the following Ayat refute the Christians, may Allah curse them, and their like among the Jews and the Arab idolaters, who claimed that the angels are Allah's daughters. Allah refuted all of them in their claim that He had begotten a son. Allah said,
(Glory is to Him.)
meaning, He is holier and more perfect than such claim;
(Nay, to Him belongs all that is in the heavens and on earth,) meaning, the truth is not as the disbelievers claimed, rather, Allah's is the kingdom of the heavens and earth and whatever and whoever is in, on and between them. Allah is the Supreme Authority in the heavens and earth, and He is the Creator, Provider and Sustainer Who decides all the affairs of the creation as He wills. All creatures are Allah's servants and are owned by Him. Therefore, how could one of them be His son The son of any being is born out of two comparable beings. Allah has no equal or rival sharing His grace and greatness, so how can He have a son when He has no wife Allah said,
(He is the Originator of the heavens and the earth. How can He have children when He has no wife He created all things and He is the Knower of everything) (6:101).
(And they say: "The Most Gracious (Allah) has begotten a son (offspring or children).'' Indeed you have brought forth (said) a terrible evil thing. Whereby the heavens are almost torn, and the earth is split asunder, and the mountains fall in ruins. That they ascribe a son (or offspring or children) to the Most Gracious (Allah). But it is not suitable for (the majesty of) the Most Gracious (Allah) that He should beget a son (or offspring or children). There is none in the heavens and the earth but comes unto the Most Gracious (Allah) as a servant. Verily, He knows each one of them, and has counted them a full counting. And everyone of them will come to Him alone on the Day of Resurrection (without any helper, or protector or defender)) (19:88-95), and,
(Say: "He is Allah (the) One, Allah the Samad (the Self- Sufficient, upon whom all depend), He begets not, nor was He begotten, and there is none comparable to Him.'') (112).
In these Ayat, Allah stated that He is the Supreme Master Whom there is no equal or rival, everything and everyone was created by Him, so how can He have a son from among them This is why, in the Tafsir of this Ayah, Al-Bukhari recorded that Ibn `Abbas said that the Prophet said,
(Allah said, `The son of Adam has denied Me, and that is not his right. He has insulted Me, and that is not his right. As for the denial of Me, he claimed that I am unable to bring him back as he used to be (resurrect him). As for his insulting Me, he claimed that I have a son. All praise is due to Me, it is unbefitting that I should have a wife or a son.')
This Hadith was recorded by Al-Bukhari.
It is recorded in the Two Sahihs that the Messenger of Allah said,
(No one is more patient when hearing an insult than Allah. They attribute a son to Him, yet He still gives them sustenance and health.)
(all are Qanitun to Him).
Ibn Abi Hatim said that Abu Sa`id Al-Ashaj informed them that Asbat informed them from Mutarrif, from `Atiyah, from Ibn `Abbas who said that,
(Qantin) (2:238) means, they pray to Him. `Ikrimah and Abu Malik also said that,
(and all are Qanitun to Him.) means, bound to Him in servitude to Him. Sa`id bin Jubayr said that Qanitun is sincerity. Ar-Rabi` bin Anas said that,
(all are Qanitun to Him.) means, "Standing up - before Him - on the Day of Resurrection.'' Also, As-Suddi said that,
(and all are Qanitun to Him.) means, "Obedient on the Day of Resurrection.'' Khasif said that Mujahid said that,
(and all are Qanitun to Him. ) means, "Obedient. He says, `Be a human' and he becomes a human.'' He also said, "(Allah says,) `Be a donkey' and it becomes a donkey.'' Also, Ibn Abi Najih said that Mujahid said that,
(and all are Qanitun to Him.) means, obedient. Mujahid also said, "The obedience of the disbeliever occurs when his shadow prostrates, while he hates that.'' Mujahid's statement, which Ibn Jarir preferred, combines all the meanings, and that is that Qunut means obedience and submission to Allah. There are two categories of Qunut: legislated and destined, for Allah said,
(And unto Allah (alone) falls in prostration whoever is in the heavens and the earth, willingly or unwillingly, and so do their shadows in the mornings and in the (late) afternoons) (13:15).
(The Badi` (Originator) of the heavens and the earth.) which means, He created them when nothing resembling them existed. Mujahid and As-Suddi said that this is the linguistic meaning, for all new matters are called Bid`ah. Muslim recorded the Messenger of Allah saying,
(...every innovation (in religion) is a Bid`ah.)
There are two types of Bid`ah, religious, as mentioned in the Hadith:
(...every innovation is a Bid`ah and every Bid`ah is heresy.)
And there is a linguistic Bid`ah, such as the statement of the Leader of the faithful `Umar bin Al-Khattab when he gathered the Muslims to pray the Tarawih prayer in congregation (which was also an earlier practice of the Prophet) and said, "What a good Bid`ah this is.''
Ibn Jarir said, "Thus the meaning of the Ayat (2:116-117) becomes, `Allah is far more glorious than to have had a son, for He is the Owner of everything that is in the heavens and earth. All testify to His Oneness and to their submissiveness to Him. He is their Creator and Maker. Without created precedence, He shaped the creatures in their current shapes. Allah also bears witness to His servants that Jesus, who some claimed to be Allah's son, is among those who testify to His Oneness. Allah stated that He created the heavens and earth out of nothing and without precedent. Likewise, He created Jesus, the Messiah, with His power and without a father.'' This explanation from Ibn Jarir, may Allah have mercy upon him, is very good and correct.
(When He decrees a matter, He only says to it : "Be! ـ and it is.) thus, demonstrating His perfectly complete ability and tremendous authority; if He decides a matter, He merely orders it to, `Be' and it comes into existence. Similarly, Allah said,
(Verily, His command, when He intends a thing, is only that He says to it, "Be! ـ and it is.) (36:82),
(Verily, Our Word unto a thing when We intend it, is only that We say unto it: "Be! ـ and it is.) (16:40) and,
(And Our commandment is but one as the twinkling of an eye) (54:50)
So Allah informed us that He created Jesus by merely saying, "Be!'' and he was, as Allah willed:
(Verily, the likeness of `Isa (Jesus) before Allah is the likeness of Adam. He created him from dust, then (He) said to him: "Be! ـ and he was) (3:59).
(118. And those who have no knowledge say: "Why does not Allah speak to us (face to face) or why does not a sign come to us'' So said the people before them words of similar import. Their hearts are alike, We have indeed made plain the signs for people who believe with certainty.)
Muhammad bin Ishaq reported that Ibn `Abbas said that Rafi` bin Huraymilah said to the Messenger of Allah, "O Muhammad! If you were truly a Messenger from Allah, as you claim, then ask Allah to speak to us directly, so that we hear His Speech.'' So Allah revealed,
(And those who have no knowledge say: "Why does not Allah speak to us (face to face) or why does not a sign come to us'')
Abu Al-`Aliyah, Ar-Rabi` bin Anas, Qatadah and As-Suddi said that it was actually the statement of the Arab disbelievers:
(So said the people before them words of similar import.) He said, "These are the Jews and the Christians.''
What further proves that the Arab idolaters said the statement mentioned in the Ayah is that Allah said,
(And when there comes to them a sign (from Allah) they say: "We shall not believe until we receive the like of that which the Messengers of Allah had received.'' Allah knows best with whom to place His Message. Humiliation and disgrace from Allah and a severe torment will overtake the criminals (polytheists and sinners) for that which they used to plot.) (6:124) and
(And they say: "We shall not believe in you (O Muhammad) , until you cause a spring to gush forth from the earth for us) until,
(Say (O Muhammad): "Glorified (and Exalted) be my Lord ﴿(Allah) above all that evil they (polytheists) associate with Him﴾! Am I anything but a man, sent as a Messenger'') (17:90-93) and,
(And those who expect not a meeting with Us (i. e. those who deny the Day of Resurrection and the life of the Hereafter) said: "Why are not the angels sent down to us, or why do we not see our Lord'') (25:21) and,
(Nay, everyone of them desires that he should be given pages spread out) (74:52).
There are many other Ayat that testify to the disbelief of the Arab idolaters, their transgression, stubbornness, and that they asked unnecessary questions out of disbelief and arrogance. The statements of the Arab idolaters followed the statements of the nations of the People of the Two Scriptures and other religions before them. Allah said,
(The People of the Scripture (Jews) ask you to cause a book to descend upon them from heaven. Indeed, they asked Musa (Moses) for even greater than that, when they said: "Show us Allah in public,'') (4:153) and,
(And (remember) when you said: "O Musa! We shall never believe in you until we see Allah plainly.'') (2:55).
(Their hearts are alike. ) means, the hearts of the Arab idolaters are just like the hearts of those before them, containing disbelief, stubbornness and injustice. Similarly, Allah said,
(Likewise, no Messenger came to those before them but they said: "A sorcerer or a madman!'' Have they (the people of the past) transmitted this saying to these (Quraysh pagans)) (51:52-53).
Allah said next,
(We have indeed made plain the signs for people who believe with certainty.) meaning, We made the arguments clear, proving the truth of the Messengers, with no need of more questions or proofs for those who believe, follow the Messengers and comprehend what Allah sent them with. As for those whose hearts and hearing Allah has stamped and whose eyes have been sealed, Allah described them:
(Truly, those, against whom the Word (wrath) of your Lord has been justified, will not believe. Even if every sign should come to them, until they see the painful torment) (10:96-97).
(119. Verily, We have sent you (O Muhammad) with the truth (Islam), a bringer of glad tidings (for those who believe in what you brought, that they will enter Paradise) and a warner (for those who disbelieve in what you brought, that they will enter the Hellfire). And you will not be asked about the dwellers of the blazing Fire.)
(And you will not be asked about the dwellers of the blazing Fire.) means, "We shall not ask you about the disbelief of those who rejected you.'' Similarly, Allah said,
(Your duty is only to convey (the Message) and on Us is the reckoning.) (13:40)
(So remind them (O Muhammad) ـ you are only one who reminds. You are not a dictator over them.)(88:21-22) and,
(We know best what they say. And you (O Muhammad) are not the one to force them (to belief). But warn by the Qur'an; him who fears My threat) (50:45).
There are many other similar Ayat.