Allah the Almighty says:
“Ask them (O Muhammad) of the township that was by the sea, how they did break the Sabbath, how their big fish came unto them visibly upon their Sabbath day and on a day when they did not keep Sabbath came they not unto them. Thus did We try them for that they were evil-livers. And when a community among them said: Why preach ye to a folk whom Allah is about to destroy or punish with an awful doom, they said: In order to be free from guilt before your Lord, and that haply they may ward off (evil). And when they forgot that whereof they had been reminded, We rescued those who forbade wrong, and visited those who did wrong with dreadful punishment because they were evil-livers. So when they took pride in that which they had been forbidden, We said unto them: Be ye apes despised and loathed!” (Al-Araf, 163-166)
And, “And indeed you knew those amongst you who transgressed in the matter of the Sabbath (i.e. Saturday). We said to them: “Be you monkeys, despised and rejected.” So We made this punishment an example to their own and to succeeding generations and a lesson to those who are Al-Muttaqun (the pious).”
(Al-Baarah, 65, 66)
And, “Or curse them as We cursed the Sabbath breakers.” (An-Nisa, 47)
Abdullah Ibn Abbas, Mujahid, Ikrimah, Qatadah, As-Sadiy and others said: they were the people of Aylah. Ibn Abbas (May Allah be pleased with him) added: it was located between Median and At-Tur. They said: the people of Aylah were adhering attentively to the teachings of the Torah and the prohibition of the Sabbath at that time (the prohibition of fishing on Saturdays). Amazingly, the fish used to expose itself openly on Saturdays and disappear on the other days of the week, “when their fish came to them openly on the Sabbath day, and did not come to them on the day they had no Sabbath.” Almighty Allah says “Thus We made a trial of them”, i.e. We test them through sending great numbers of fish on the Sabbath. “for they used to rebel against Allah’s Command (disobey Allah)”, i.e. because of their disobedience and rebellion. When they saw this, they made a trick to catch the fish on the Sabbath. They fixed their fishing nets and ropes and excavated streams allowing the sea water to run through and the fish to get in but never go back to the sea. They made all this on Friday, in preparation for the coming of the fish on Saturday. And thus, the fish came on the supposedly-peaceful day (knowing not what has been prepared against them). They were caught in the nets, ropes and artificial streams. When the Saturday came to an end, the people of Aylah were present to take their fat catch. Consequently, Allah the Almighty was angry with them and He cursed them because of their trickery and deception. When this was done by a group thereof, the rest who did not participate in their sinful acting were divided into two sects: a sect that rejected their acting and trickery against the Law and Command of Allah the Almighty at that time. The second sect did not reject or forbid them, rather they disapproved of the reaction of the sect that forbade the sinful ones saying: “Why do you preach to a people whom Allah is about to destroy or to punish with a severe torment?”, i.e. what is the gain in preaching to a people whom will inevitably be punished by Allah the Almighty? But, the second sect (the preachers) replied saying: “In order to be free from guilt before your Lord (Allah)”, i.e. as we are commanded by Him to enjoin what is good and forbid what is evil; thus, we observe this for our fear of His Torment. “And perhaps they may fear Allah”, i.e. perhaps those who made these sins may repent to Allah and regret what they have done and thus be saved from the punishment of Allah and that He forgives them all.
Allah the Almighty says: “So when they forgot the remindings that had been given to them”, i.e. were heedless towards the Godly preachers, “We rescued those who forbade evil”, i.e. the preaching sect, but “We seized those who did wrong”, i.e. doers of the sinful deed, “with a severe torment”, i.e. a painful punishment, “because they used to rebel against Allah’s Command (disobey Allah)”. Then, Allah explained the torment that befell them saying, “So when they exceeded the limits of what they were prohibited, We said to them: “Be you monkeys, despised and rejected”.
Here, the point is that Allah the Almighty informed us that He destroyed the wrong-doers, saved the preaching believers and left the believers who did not practice enjoining the good and forbidding the evil. Scholars disputed regarding the third group. Some said they were granted salvation. And others said that they were destroyed with the wrong-doers. But, the first view is the accepted. As Allah says “We rescued those who forbade wrong”
It should be noted here that the third group were not mentioned with those given salvation even though they despised the sinful deed, with their hearts, because they should have compelled their organs (hand or tongue) to act thereupon and declare their rejection of the wrong-doers act. So, they were saved with the preachers because they themselves did not commit the sinful deed, rather they rejected it with their hearts.
Narrated Abdur Razzaq after Juraij after a man (whose name is not known) after Ikrimah after Ibn Abbas; and Malik transmitted from Ibn Ruman, Shaiban, Qatadah and Ata Al-Kharasani what means: Those who committed the sinful deed were abandoned by the rest of the people of the town. Some of them declared their rejection and denial of their deed. They did not listen to the preachers. Afterwards, they used to stay the night apart from the rest of the people of the town and there were doors or barriers between them and the rest of the people who were anticipating the befalling of punishment over them. One day, their doors did not open till the noon. The people got anxious and sent one of them to see what happened to them from above the barrier. When he looked he found them turned into monkeys with tails, shouting. They opened the doors (barrier) and the monkeys recognized their relatives while their relatives could not recognize them. Thereupon, the preachers said: Did not we forbid you from doing this? The monkeys made a sign with their heads denoting: Yes. Then, Abdullah Ibn Abbas (May Allah be pleased with him) wept and said: verily, we see many wrong-doings which we do not reject or deny or even make a comment!
Narrated Al-Ufi after Ibn Abbas (May Allah be pleased with him) saying: the young men of the town were turned into monkeys, while the old men into pigs. Moreover, Ibn Abu Hatim narrated from Mujaqid after Ibn Abbas his saying: they did not live long and they left no offspring. Also, Adpahhaq narrated from Ibn Abbas (May Allah be pleased with him): no monster has lived more than three days. In addition, they did not eat, drink or leave offspring.
Narrated Ibn Abu Hatim and Ibn Jarir after Ibn Abu Nujaih from Mujahid his saying: only their hearts and not their figures were turned into monkeys and pigs. This is just like His Statement that reads: “The likeness of those who were entrusted with the (obligation of the) Taurat (Torah) (i.e. to obey its commandments and practice its laws), but who subsequently failed in those (obligations), is as the likeness of a donkey which carries huge burdens of books (but understands nothing from them)”. (Al-Jumuah, 5) But, this view seems to be very strange and it contradicts the apparent meaning of the Glorious Quran and the concession of the earlier scholars and those who followed them. Allah knows best!
Allah the Almighty says: