This Surah takes its name from ayah 33 of Al-i-Imran, like the names of many other surahs, is merely a name to distinguish it from other surahs and does not imply that the family of Imran has been discussed in it.
This Surah consists of four discourses:
The first discourse (1-32) was probably revealed soon after the Battle of Badr.
The second discourse (33-63) was revealed in 9 A. H. on the occasion of the visit of the deputation from the Christians of Najran.
The third discourse (64-120) appears to have been revealed immediately after the first one.
The fourth discourse (121-200) was revealed after the Battle of Uhud.
Though these discourses were revealed at different periods and on different occasions, they are so inter-linked and so inter-connected with regard to their aim, object, and central theme that they make together one continuous whole. This Surah has been especially addressed to two groups--the people of the Book (the Jews and the Christians) and the followers of Muhammad (Allah's peace be upon him).
The message has been extended to the Jews and the Christians in continuation of the invitation in Al-Baqarah, in which they have been admonished for their erroneous beliefs and evil morals and advised to accept, as a remedy, the Truth of the Quran. They have been told here that Muhammad (Allah's peace be, upon him) taught the same right way of life that had been preached by their own Prophets; that it alone was the Right Way, the way of Allah; hence any deviation from it will be wrong even according to their own Scriptures.
The second group, the Muslims, who had been declared to be the best Community in Al-Baqarah and appointed torch-bearers of the Truth and entrusted with the responsibility of reforming the world, have been given additional instructions in continuation of those given in the preceding Surah. The Muslims have been warned to learn a lesson from the religious and moral degeneration of the former communities and to refrain from treading in their footsteps. Instructions have also been given about the reformative work they had to perform. Besides this, they have been taught how to deal with the people of the Book and the hypocrites who were putting different kinds of hindrances in the way of Allah. Above all, they have been warned to guard against those weaknesses which had come to the surface in the Battle Uhd.
The following is the background of the Surah:
This Surah is the sequel to Al-Baqarah and the invitation therein is continued to the people of the Book. In Al-Baqarah, the Jews were pointedly invited to accept the Guidance and in this Surah, the Christians have particularly been admonished to give up their erroneous beliefs and accept the Guidance of the Quran. At the same time, the Muslims have been instructed to nourish the virtues that may enable them to carry out their obligations and spread the Divine Guidance.
In these introductory verses, the fundamental truths about Allah, Revelation, and Life-after-death have been reiterated to serve as fitting preliminaries, leading to the main topics discussed in the Surah. 1 - 32
This discourse is particularly addressed to the Christians and invites them to accept Islam. It clears Jesus and his mother not only from the stigma maliciously set upon them by the Jews, but also refutes the erroneous Christian creed of the Divinity of Jesus which had been formulated because of his miraculous birth. For this purpose, the instances of John the Baptist to a barren woman and an extremely aged man, and that of Adam without father or mother have been cited to show that there is nothing in the birth of Jesus without a father to entitle him to Divinity. 33 - 65
In these verses, the people of the Book, the Jews, have been invited to give up their sinister ways and accept the divine Guidance. At the same time, the Muslims have been warned to be on their guard against their malicious intentions, erroneous ways, and absurd objections. 66 - 101
The Muslims have been instructed to learn lessons from the history of the people of the Book and also to guard themselves against their machinations, and prepare and train themselves to establish virtue and eradicate evil. 102 - 120
In this portion, a review of the Battle of Uhd has been made to teach and reassure the Muslims that the machinations of their enemies could do them no harm if they would practice restraint and fortitude and have fear of Allah. It has been pointed out that the set-back they had suffered was due to the lack of some moral qualities and the existence of some evils. As the main cause of the defeat was the greed of the archers guarding the pass, the taking of interest has been prohibited to eradicate part of this evil (greed). 121 - 175
This is the conclusion of the Surah and is not directly connected with the verses immediately preceding it but with the theme of the Surah as a whole. 190 - 200