The Story of the Dead People – Tafseer Ibn Kathir
( Did you (O Muhammad ) not think of those who went forth from their homes in the thousands, fearing death Allah said to them, “Die”. And then He restored them to life. Truly, Allah is full of bounty to mankind, but most men thank not.) [Surah Baqarah Verse243]
Ibn Abu Hatim related that Ibn `Abbas said that these people mentioned herein, were the residents of a village called Dawardan. `Ali bin `Asim said that they were from Dawardan, a village several miles away from Wasit (in Iraq).
In his Tafsir, Waki` bin Jarrah said that Ibn `Abbas commented,
(Did you (O Muhammad ) not think of those who went forth from their homes in thousands, fearing death) that they were four thousand persons who escaped the plague (that broke out in their land). They said, “We should go to a land
that is free of death!” When they reached a certain area, Allah said to them:
(“Die.”) and they all died. Afterwards, one of the Prophets passed by them and supplicated to Allah to resurrect them and Allah brought them back to life. So, Allah stated:
(Did you (O Muhammad ) not think of those who went forth from their homes in the thousands, fearing death)
Furthermore, several scholars among the Salaf said that these people were the residents of a city during the time of the Children of Israel. The weather in their land did not suit them and an epidemic broke out. They fled their land fearing death and took refuge in the wilderness. They later arrived at a fertile valley and they filled what is between its two sides. Then Allah sent two angels to them, one from the lower side and the other from the upper side of the valley. The angels screamed once and all the people died instantly, just as the death of one man. They were later moved to a different place, where walls and graves were built around them. They all perished, and their bodies rotted and disintegrated. Long afterwards, one of the Prophets of the Children of Israel, whose name was Hizqil (Ezekiel), passed by them and asked Allah to bring them back to life by his hand. Allah accepted his supplication and commanded him to say, “O rotted bones, Allah commands you to come together.” The bones of every body were brought together. Allah then commanded him to say, “O bones, Allah commands you to be covered with flesh, nerves and skin.” That also happened while Hizqil was watching. Allah then commanded him to say, “O souls, Allah commands you to return, each to the body that it used to inhabit.” They all came back to life, looked around and proclaimed, “All praise is due to You (O Allah!) and there is no deity worthy of worship except You.” Allah brought them back to life after they had perished long ago.
We should state that bringing these people back to life is a clear proof that physical resurrection shall occur on the Day of Resurrection.
This is why Allah said:
(Truly, Allah is full of bounty to mankind,) meaning, in that He shows them His great signs, sound proofs and clear evidences.
Yet, (but most men thank not.) as they do not thank Allah for what He has given them with in their worldly life and religious affairs.
The story of the dead people (2:244 above) also indicates that no caution can ever avert destiny and that there is no refuge from Allah, but to Allah Himself. These people departed from their land fleeing the epidemic and seeking to enjoy a long life. What they earned was the opposite of what they sought, as death came quickly and instantaneously and seized them all.
There is an authentic Hadith that Imam Ahmad reported that `Abdullah bin `Abbas said that `Umar bin Al-Khattab once went to Ash-Sham (Syria). When he reached the area of Sargh, he was met by the commanders of the army: Abu `Ubaydah bin Jarrah and his companions. They told him that the plague had broken out in Ash-Sham. The Hadith then mentioned that `Abdur-Rahman bin `Awf, who was away attending to some of his affairs, came and said, “I have knowledge regarding this matter. I heard Allah’s Messenger (Peace be upon him) say:
(If it (the plague) breaks out in a land that you are in, do not leave that land to escape from it. If you hear about it in a land, do not enter it.)
`Umar then thanked Allah and went back. This Hadith is also reported in the Sahihayn.