The explanation of this ayah by Sr Taimiyyah struck me such that I feel compelled to share it.
You will surely find the most intense of the people in animosity toward the believers [to be] the Jews and those who associate others with Allah ; and you will find the nearest of them in affection to the believers those who say, “We are Christians.” That is because among them are priests and monks and because they are not arrogant. [Al Maaidah 5:82]
The word analysis of قِسِّيسِينَ and رُهبَانَا reveals the reason why the Christians are generally the nearest in affection towards the Muslim.
Just to be clear, Sr. Taimiyyah made it clear that this ayah is referring to Jews and Christians in general, and we also have to keep in mind the context of the ayah. At the time, the Jews in Madinah were mostly opposed to the Muslims (they were waiting for THE prophet that they expected to come from them and not the Arabs) and the Christians were closer to the Muslims in religious affection (think Najashi and Waraqa Ibn Nawfal).
The root of the word قِسِّيسِينَ means to search for something, to try to get something, to be inquisitive, search for something especially at night. قُسُوس means an owner of camels, such an owner who doesn’t leave his camels, and always checking on them. The translation of this word is religious priests/scholars. So this word is used for a scholar who is always in search of and concerned with ilm. This is the proper term used for Christian priests.
The root of the word رُهبَانَا means fear. It is used for a monk, or person who abandons dunya and engages only in worship because of his extreme fear of Allah. Raahib(رَاهِب) is also used for such monks from among the Christians. This word can be translated as monks or devout worshipers.
An elaboration of these words is that when one has knowledge, he will have fear of Allah, and thus have compassion for others, even if the others are of a different religion. This fear that stays in the heart for a long time, this fear in which a person becomes very alert and careful is what is being talked about in this word رُهبَانَا which is translated as monks/devout worshippers.
Knowledge and worship benefits a person even if he is a non Muslim. They soften a person and makes a person humble even if it is incorrect, as long as he doesn’t seek it in order to argue and dispute, but seeks it in order to implement it. Furthermore, if knowledge is sought in order to debate, this will create harshness in a person. Now this is not to advocate wrong teachings (especially in the context of Islamic teaching where someone might understand this as being lax in doing acts of worship that has no basis in the religion), but it’s to explain why in this ayah, the Christians are said to be more affectionate to the Muslims than the Jews.
Another point that Sr Taimiyah made is giving an example of how knowledge and worship benefits a person. For example, a person might say,
“What’s the point of praying if I don’t have khushu?”
The thing is, it will benefit you in ways you may not expect or be aware of. It’s the same answer to
“What’s the point of reciting Quran if we don’t understand it?”
It reminds me of a story of this boy who was told by his grandfather to fill a filthy bucket with water. So, this boy fills it with water, but it has a hole at the bottom, so every time, by the time the boy got home, the bucket would be empty. After days of doing this, the boy starts to say to his grandpa,
“What’s the point of filling the bucket with water if the water keeps leaking out?”
The grandfather replied,
“Look at the bucket. Is it clean?”
After all, if knowledge and worship benefits the non Muslims, how about the Muslims? Subhaanallah.
It is this knowledge and devout worshiping that then leads to humility. And humility, in turn, leads one to tolerance and accepting the truth. That’s why in this ayah, Allah says towards the end, “And Indeed, they are not arrogant.”
The next ayah says,
And when they hear what has been revealed to the Messenger, you see their eyes overflowing with tears because of what they have recognized of the truth. They say, “Our Lord, we have believed, so register us among the witnesses. [Al Maaidah 5:83]
I love this ayah! King Negus had sent his delegation to Prophet saw and when Prophet saw recited to them, they broke down and cried and went back to King Negus and told him about it.
What caught my attention here in this ayah is the explanation of the word سَمِعُوا (they heard). It was when they heard the Quran being recited that they their eyes overflowed with tears. Subhanallah…it was the recitation of the Quran that impacted them. Crying when listening to Quran is beneficial and is a sign of a soft, accepting, believing, and humble heart.
From this, Sr Taimiyyah said that when we make dawah, we should recite the Quran. In order for this to happen, we should really work on learning to recite properly, improve and correct our recitation and overall just increase Quranic literacy among Muslims.
This is a topic that is very close and dear to my heart. I feel that we have a dearth of people who are qualified to help others with their recitation, or maybe there are a lot, but there is a lot more people who need help with it (myself included). To be able to recite it in the way it was revealed, is powerful. It really is subhanallah. May Allah help us help each other learn to recite and recite properly and bless our effort in this. May Allah bless the effort of those in this area and increase the Quranic literacy of our ummah so that our tongues are able to recite His speech that was revealed to His most beloved. Ameen!
Disclaimer: This is not tafseer, but rather, my own reflection and part of my notes on what was taught bySr Aisha Altaf and Sr Taimiyah Zubayr in AlHuda Taleem Quran course.