The Second Surah
Al-Baqarah (The Cow)
THE TITLE of this sarah is derived from the story narrated in verses 67-73. It is the first surah revealed in its entirety after the Prophet's exodus to Medina, and most of it during the first two years of that period; verses 275-281, however, belong to the last months before the Prophet's death (verse 281 is considered to be the very last revelation which he received).
Starting with a declaration of the purpose underlying the
revelation of the Qur'an as a whole -namely, man's guidance in all his
spiritual and worldly affairs - Al -Bagarah contains, side by side with its
constant stress on the necessity of God-consciousness, frequent allusions to
the errors committed by people who followed the earlier revelations, in
particular the children of
Throughout this surah runs the five-fold Qur'anic doctrine that God is the self-sufficient fount of all being (al-gayyam ); that the fact of His existence, reiterated by prophet after prophet, is accessible to man's intellect; that righteous living-and not merely believing-is a necessary corollary of this intellectual perception; that bodily death will be followed by resurrection and judgment; and that all who are truly conscious of their responsibility to God "need have no fear, and neither shall they grieve".
In the name of God, the most gracious, the dispenser of grace:
Alif. Lam. Mim.*
*Regarding the possible significance of the single letters called al -mugatta `dt, which occur at the beginning of some sarahs of the Quean, see Appendix II, where the various theories bearing on this subject are discussed.
HIS DIVINE WRIT - let there be no doubt about it – is [meant to be] a guidance for all the God-conscious* (2: 3) who believe in [the existence of] that which is beyond the reach of human perception,** and are constant in prayer, and spend on others out of
what We provide for them as sustenance;*** (2: 4) and who believe in that which has been bestowed from on high upon thee, [O Prophet,] as well as in that which was
bestowed before thy time:**** for it is they who in their innermost are certain of the life to come!
*The conventional translation of muttagf as "God-fearing" does not adequately render the positive content of this expression - namely, the awareness of His all-presence and the desire to mould one's existence in the light of this awareness; while the interpretation adopted by some translators, "one who guards himself against evil" or "one who is careful of his duty", does not give more than one particular aspect of the concept of God-consciousness.
**Al-ghayb (commonly, and erroneously, translated as "the Unseen") is used in the Qurlan to denote all those sectors or phases of reality which lie beyond the range of human perception and cannot, therefore, be proved or disproved by scientific observation or even adequately comprised within the accepted categories of speculative thought: as, for instance, the existence of God and of a definite purpose underlying the universe, life after death, the real nature of time, the existence of spiritual forces and their inter-action, and so forth. Only a person who is convinced that the ultimate reality comprises far more than our observable environment can attain to belief in God and, thus, to a belief that life has meaning and purpose. By pointing out that it is "a guidance for those who believe in the existence of that which is beyond human perception", the Qur'an says, in effect, that it will - of necessity - remain a closed book to all whose minds cannot accept this undamental premise.
***Ar-rizq ("provision of sustenance") applies to all that may be of benefit to man, whether it be concrete (like food, property, offspring, etc.) or abstract (like knowledge, piety, etc.). The "spending on others" is mentioned here in one breath with God-consciousness and prayer because it is precisely in such selfless acts that true piety comes to its full fruition. It should be borne in mind that the verb anfaqa (lit., "he spent") is always used in the Qur'an to denote spending freely on, or as a gift to, others, whatever the motive may be.
****This is a reference to one of the fundamental doctrines of the Qur'an: the doctrine of the historical continuity of divine revelation. Life - so the Qur'an teaches us - is not a series of unconnected jumps but a continuous, organic process: and this law applies also to the life of the mind, of which man's religious experience (in its cumulative sense) is a part. Thus, the religion of the Qur'an can be properly understood only against the background of the great monotheistic faiths which preceded it, and which, according to Muslim belief, culminate and achieve their final formulation in the faith of Islam.
It is they who follow the guidance [which comes from their Sustainer; and it is they, they who' shall attain to a happy state!
BEHOLD, as for those who are bent on denying the truth* - it is all one to them whether thou warnest them or dost not warn them: they will not believe. (2: 7) God; has sealed their hearts and their hearing, and over their eyes is a veil;** and awesome suffering awaits them.
*In contrast with the frequently occurring term al-kafiran ("those who deny the truth"), the use of the past tense in alladhina kafaru indicates conscious intent, and is, therefore, appropriately rendered as "those who are bent on denying the truth". This interpretation is supported by many commentators, especially Zamakhshari (who, in his commentary on this verse, uses the expression, "those who have deliberately resolved upon their kufr"). Elsewhere in the Qur'an such people are spoken of as having "hearts with which they fail to grasp the truth, and eyes with which they fail to see, and ears with which they fail to hear" (7 : 179). - For an explanation of the terms kufr ("denial of the truth"), kafir ("one who denies the truth"), etc., see note 4 on 74: 10, where this concept appears for the first time in Qur'anic revelation.
**A reference to the natural law instituted by God, whereby a person who persistently adheres to false beliefs and refuses to listen to the voice of truth gradually loses the ability to perceive the truth, "so that finally, as it were, a seal is set upon his heart" (Raghib). Since it is God who has instituted all laws of nature -which, in their aggregate, are called sunnnat Allah (“the way of God") -this "sealing" is attributed to Him: but it is obviously a consequence of man's free choice and not an act of "predestination". Similarly, the suffering which, in the life to come, is in store for those who during their life in this world have wilfully remained deaf and blind to the truth, is a natural consequence of their free choice -just as happiness in the life to come is the natural consequence of man's endeavour to attain to righteousness and inner illumination. It is in this sense . that the Quc'anic references to God's "reward" and "punishment" must be understood.
And there are people who say, "We do believe in God and the Last Day," the while they do not [really]. believe. (2: 9) They would deceive God and those who have attained to faith-the while they deceive none but themselves, and perceive it not. () In their hearts is disease, and so God lets their disease increase; and grievous suffering awaits them because of their persistent lying.*
*i.e., before God and man-and to
themselves. It is generally assumed that the people to whom this passage
alludes in the first instance are the hypocrites of
And when they are told, "Do not spread corruption on earth," they answer, "We are but improving things!" () Oh, verily, it is they, they who are spreading corruption = but they perceive it not?*
*It would seem that this is an allusion to people who oppose any "intrusion" of religious considerations into the realm of practical affairs, and thus-often unwittingly, thinking that they are "but improving things"-contribute to the moral and social confusion referred to in the subsequent verse.
And when they are told, "Believe as other people believe," they answer, "Shall we believe as the weak-minded believe?" Oh, verily, it is they, they who are weak-minded -but they know it not!
And when they meet those who have attained to faith, they assert, "We believe [as you believe]"; but when they find themselves alone with their- evil impulses,* they say, "Verily, we are with you; we were only mocking!"
*Lit., "their satans"
(shaydtin, pl. of shaytdn). In accordance with ancient Arabic usage, this term
often denotes people "who, through their insolent persistence in evildoing
(tamarrud), have become like satans" (Zamakhshari): an interpretation of
the above verse accepted by most of the commentators. However, the term shaytan
-which is derived from the verb shatana, &"he was for "became"]
remote [from all that is good and true]" (Lisdn al -Arab, Tai al=
God will requite them for their mockery,* and will leave them for a while in their overweening arrogance, blindly stumbling to and fro: () [for] it is they who have taken error in exchange for guidance; and neither has their bargain brought them gain, nor have they found guidance [elsewhere].
*Lit., "God will mock at them". My rendering is in conformity with the generally accepted interpretation of this phrase.
Their parable is that of people who kindle a fire: but as soon as it has illumined all around them, God takes away their light and leaves them in utter darkness, wherein they cannot see: (2: 18) deaf, dumb, blind - and they cannot turn back.
Or [the parable] of a violent cloudburst in the sky, with utter darkness, thunder and lightning: they put their fingers into their ears to keep out the peals of thunder, in terror of death; but God encompasses [with His might] all who deny the truth. () The lightning well-nigh takes away their sight; whenever it gives them light, they advance therein, and whenever darkness falls around them, they stand still.
And if God so willed, He could indeed take away their hearing and their sight:* for, verily, God has the power to will anything.
*The obvious implication is: "but He does not will this"-that is, He does not preclude the possibility that "those who have taken error in exchange for guidance" may one day perceive the truth and mend their ways. The expression "their hearing and their sight" is obviously a metonym for man's instinctive ability to discern between good and evil and, hence, for his moral responsibility. - In the parable of the "people who kindle a fire" we have, I believe, an allusion to some people's exclusive reliance on what is termed the "scientific approach" as a means to illumine and explain all the imponderables of life and faith, and the resulting arrogant refusal to admit that anything could be beyond the reach of man's intellect. This "overweening arrogance", as the Qur' an terms it, unavoidably exposes its devotees - and the society dominated by them - to the lightning of disillusion which "well-nigh takes away their sight", i.e., still further weakens their moral perception and deepens their "terror of death".
O MANKIND! Worship your Sustainer, who has created you and those who lived before you, so that you might remain conscious of Him (2: 22) who has made the earth a resting-place for you and the sky a canopy, and has sent down water from the sky and thereby brought forth fruits for your sustenance: do not, then, claim that there is any power that could rival God,* when you know [that He is One].
*Lit., "do not give God any compeers" (andad, pl. of nidd ). There is full agreement among all commentators that this term implies any object of adoration to which some or all of God's qualities are ascribed, whether it be conceived as a deity "in its own right" or a saint supposedly possessing certain divine or semi-divine powers. This meaning can be brought out only by a free rendering of the above phrase.
And if you doubt any part of what We have, bestowed from on high, step by step, upon Our servant [Muhammad],* then produce a surah of similar merit, and call upon any other than God to bear witness for you** -if what you say is true! (<) And if you cannot do it-and most certainly you cannot do it-then be conscious of the fire whose fuel is human beings and stones*** which awaits all who deny the truth!
*I.e., the message of which the doctrine of God's oneness and uniqueness is the focal point. By the use of the word "doubt" (rayb), this passage is meant to recall the opening sentence of this sarah : "This divine writ - let there be no doubt about it.. .", etc. The gradualness of revelation is implied in the grammatical form nazzalnd -which is important in this context inasmuch as the opponents of the Prophet argued that the Qur'an could not be of divine origin because it was being revealed gradually, and not in one piece (Zamakhshari).
**Lit., "come forward with a surah like it, and call upon your witnesses other than God" -namely, "to attest that your hypothetical literary effort could be deemed equal to any part of the Qui'an." This challenge occurs in two other places as well ( and , in which latter case the unbelievers are called upon to produce ten chapters of comparable merit); see also 17 : 88.
***This evidently denotes all objects of worship to which men turn instead of God-their powerlessness and inefficacy being symbolized by the lifelessness of stones-while the expression "human beings" stands here for human actions deviating from the way of truth (cf. Mandr 1, 197): the remembrance of all of which is bound to increase the sinner's suffering in the hereafter, referred to in the Qur'an as "hell".
But unto those who have attained to faith and do good works give the glad tiding that theirs shall be gardens through which running waters flow. Whenever they are granted fruits therefrom as their appointed sustenance, they will say, "It is this that in days of yore was granted to us as our sustenance!"-for they shall be given something that will recall that [past].* And there shall they have spouses pure, and there shall they abide.
*Lit., "something resembling it". Various interpretations, some of them of an esoteric and highly speculative nature, have been given to this passage. For the manner in which I have translated it I am indebted to Muhammad `Abduh (in Mandr I, 232 f.), who interprets the phrase, "It is this that in days of yore was granted to us as our sustenance" as meaning: "It is this that we have been promised during our life on earth as a requital for faith and righteous deeds." In other words, man's actions and attitudes in this world will be mirrored in their "fruits", or consequences, in the life to come - as has been expressed elsewhere in the Qur'an in the verses, "And he who shall have done an atom's weight of good, shall behold it; and he who shall have done an atom's weight of evil, shall behold it" (99 : 7.-8). As regards the reference to "spouses" in the next sentence, it is to be Aoted that the term zawi (of which azwdj is the plural) signifies either of the two components of a couple-that is, the male as well as the female.
Behold, God does not disdain to propound a parable of a gnat, or of something [even] less than that.* Now, as for those who have attained to faith, they know that it is the truth from their Sustainer - whereas those who are bent on denying the truth say, "What could God mean by this parable?"
In this way does He cause many a one to go astray, just as He guides many a one aright: but none does He cause thereby to go astray save the iniquitous, (2: 27) who break their bond with God after it has been established [in their nature],** and cut asunder what God has bidden to be joined, and spread corruption on earth: these it is that shall be the losers.
* Lit., "something above it", i.e., relating to the quality of smallness stressed here-as one would say, "such-and-such a person is the lowest of people, and even more than that" (Zamakhsharl). The reference to "God's parables", following as it does immediately upon a mention of the gardens of paradise and the suffering through hell-fire in the life to come, is meant to bring out the allegorical nature of this imagery.
** The "bond with God" (conventionally translated as "God's covenant") apparently refers here to man's moral obligation to use his inborn gifts-intellectual as well. as ohvsical-in the way intended for them by God. The "establishment" of this bond arises from the faculty of reason which, if properly used, must lead man to a realization of his own weakness and dependence on a causative power and, thus, to a gradual cognition of God's will with reference to his own behaviour. This interpretation of the "bond with God" seems to be indicated by the fact that there is no mention of any specific "covenant" in either the preceding or the subsequent verses of the passage under consideration. The deliberate omission of any explanatory reference in this connection suggests that the expression "bond with God" stands for something that is rooted in the human situation as such, and can, therefore, be perceived instinctively as well as through conscious experience: namely, that innate relationship with God which makes Him "closer to man than his neck-vein" (50: 16). For an explanation of the subsequent reference to "what God has bidden to be joined", see surah 13, note 43.
How can you refuse to acknowledge God, seeing that you were lifeless and He gave you life, and that He will cause you to die and then will bring you again to life, whereupon unto Him you will be brought back?
He it is who has created for you all that is on earth, and has applied His design to the heavens and fashioned them into seven heavens;* and He alone has full knowledge of everything.
*20 The term samd' ("heaven" or "sky") is applied to anything that is spread like a canopy above any other thing. Thus, the visible skies which stretch like a vault above the earth and form, as it were, its canopy, are called samd': and this is the primary meaning of this term in the Qur'an; in a wider sense, it has the connotation of "cosmic system". As regards the "seven heavens", it is to be borne in mind that in Arabic usage - and apparently in other Semitic languages as well - the number "seven" is often synonymous with "several" (see Lisan al=Arab), just as "seventy" or "seven hundred" often means "many" or "very many" (Tdj al= Arus). This, taken together with the accepted linguistic definition that "every samd' is a samd' with regard to what is below it" (Raghib), may explain the "seven heavens" as denoting the multiplicity of cosmic systems. - For my rendering of thumma, at the beginning of this sentence, as "and", see surah 7, first part of note 43.
AND LO!* Thy Sustainer said unto the angels: "Behold, I am about to establish upon earth one who shall inherit it."**
They said: "Wilt Thou place on it such as will spread corruption thereon and shed blood -whereas it is we who extol Thy limitless glory, and praise Thee, and hallow Thy name?"
[God] answered: "Verily, I know that which you do not know."
* The interjection "lo" seems to be the only adequate rendering, in this context, of the particle idh, which is usually -and without sufficient attention to its varying uses in Arabic construction - translated as "when". Although the latter rendering is often justified, idh is also used to indicate "the sudden, or unexpected, occurrence of a thing" (cf. Lane 1, 39), or a sudden turn in the discourse. The subsequent allegory, relating as it does to the faculty of reason implanted in man, is logically connected with the preceding passages.
*Lit., "establish on earth a successor" or a "vice-gerent". The term khalffah -derived from the verb khalafa, "he succeeded [another] " - is used in this allegory to denote man's rightful supremacy on earth, which is most suitably rendered by the expression "he shall inherit the earth" (in the sense of being given possession of it). See also 6: 165, 27: 62 and 35 :39, where all human beings are - spoken of as khald'if al-ard.
And He imparted unto Adam the names of all things;* then He brought them within the ken of the angels and said: "Declare unto Me the names of these [things], if what you say is true."**
*Lit., "all the names". The term ism ("name") implies, according to all philologists, an expression "conveying the knowledge [of a thing] ... applied to denote a substance or an accident or an attribute, for the purpose of distinction" (Lane IV, 1435): in philosophical terminology, a "concept". From this it may legitimately be inferred that the "knowledge of all the names" denotes here man's faculty of logical definition and, thus, of conceptual thinking. That by "Adam" the whole human race is meant here becomes obvious from the preceding reference, by the angels, to "such as will spread corruption on earth and will shed blood", as well as from .
**Namely, that it was they who, by virtue of their purity, were better qualified to "inherit the earth".
They replied: "Limitless art Thou in Thy glory! No knowledge have we save that which Thou hast imparted unto us. Verily, Thou alone art all-knowing, truly wise."
Said He: "O Adam, convey unto them the names of these [things]."
And as soon as [Adam] had conveyed unto them their names, [God] said: "Did I not say unto you, `Verily, I alone know the hidden reality of the heavens and the earth, and know all that you bring into the open and all. that you would conceal'?"
And when We told the angels, "Prostrate yourselves before Adam!"*-they all prostrated themselves, save Ibiis, who refused and gloried in his arrogance: and thus he became one of those who deny the truth.**
* To show that, by virtue of his ability to think conceptually, man is superior in this respect even to the angels.
** For an explanation of the name of the Fallen Angel, see surah 7, note 10. The fact of this "rebellion", repeatedly stressed in the Qur'an, has led some of the commentators to the conclusion that he could not have been one of the angels, since these are incapable of sinning: "they do not bear themselves with false pride. .. and they do whatever they are bidden to do" (-50). As against this, other commentators point to the Qur'anic phrasing of God's command to the angels and of Iblis' refusal to obey, which makes it absolutely clear that at the time of that command he was indeed one of the heavenly host. Hence, we must assume that his "rebellion" has a purely symbolic significance and is, in reality, the outcome of a specific function assigned to him by God (see note 31 on ).
And We said: "O Adam, dwell thou and thy wife in this garden, * and eat freely thereof, both of you, whatever you may wish; but do not approach this one tree, lest you become wrongdoers."**
* Lit., "the garden". There is a considerable difference of opinion among the commentators as to what is meant here by "garden": a garden in the earthly sense, or the paradise that awaits the righteous in the life to come, or some special garden in the heavenly regions? According to some of the earliest commentators (see Mandr I, 277), an earthly abode is here alluded to-namely, an environment of perfect ease, happiness and innocence. In any case, this story of Adam is obviously one of the allegories referred to in 3: 7.
** This tree is alluded to elsewhere in the Qur'an (20: 120) as "the tree of life eternal", and in the
But Satan caused them both to stumble therein, and thus brought about the loss of their erstwhile state.* And so We said: "Down with you, [and be henceforth] enemies unto one another; and on earth you shall have your abode and your livelihood for a while !"**
*Lit., "brought them out of what they had been in": i.e., by inducing them to eat the fruit of the forbidden tree.
**With this sentence, the address changes from the hitherto-observed dual form to the plural: a further indication that the moral of the story relates to the human race as a whole. See also surah 7, note 16.
Thereupon Adam received words [of guidance] from his Sustainer, and He accepted his repentance: for, verily, He alone is the-Acceptor of Repentance, the Dispenser of Grace. () [For although] We did say, "Down with you all from this [state]," there shall, none the less, most certainly come unto you guidance from Me: and those who follow My guidance need have no fear, and neither shall they grieve; (2: 39) but those who are bent on denying the truth and giving the lie to Our messages - they are destined for the fire, and therein shall they abide.
O CHILDREN of Israel!* Remember those blessings of Mine with which I graced you, and fulfil your promise unto Me, [whereupon] I shall fulfil My promise unto you; and of Me, of Me stand in awe!
*This passage connects directly with the preceding passages in that it refers to the continuous guidance vouchsafed to man through divine revelation. The reference to the children of Israel at this point, as in so many other places in the Quean, arises from the fact that their religious beliefs represented an earlier phase of the monotheistic concept which culminates in the revelation of the Qur' an.
Believe in that which I have [now] bestowed from on high, confirming the truth already in your possession, and be not foremost among those who deny its truth; and do not barter away My messages for a trifling gain;* and of Me, of Me be conscious!
*A reference to the persistent Jewish belief that they alone among all nations have been graced by divine revelation. The "trifling gain" is their conviction that they are "God's chosen people" - a claim which the Quran consistently refutes.
And do not overlay the truth with falsehood, and do not knowingly suppress the truth;* () and be constant in prayer, and spend in charity,** and bow down in prayer with all who thus bow down.
*By "overlaying the truth with falsehood" is meant the corrupting of the Biblical text, of which the Qur'an frequently accuses the Jews (and which has since been established by objective textual criticism), while the "suppression of the truth" refers to their disregard or deliberately false interpretation of the words of Moses in the Biblical passage, "The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren. like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken" (Deuteronomy xviii, 15), and the words attributed to God Himself, "I will raise them up a prophet from among thy brethren, like unto thee, and will put My words in his mouth" (Deuteronomy xviii, 18). The "brethren" of the children of Israel are obviously the Arabs, and particularly the musta `ribah ("Arabianized") group among them, which traces its descent to Ishmael and Abraham: and since it is to this group that the Arabian Prophet's own tribe, the Quraysh, belonged, the above Biblical passages must be taken as referring to his advent.
**In Islamic Law, zakah denotes an
obligatory tax, incumbent on Muslims, which is meant to purify a person's
capital and income from the taint of selfishness (hence the name). The proceeds
of this tax are to,be spent mainly, but not exclusively, on the poor. Whenever,
therefore, this term bears the above legal implication, I translate it as
"the purifying dues". Since, however, in this verse it refers to the
Do you bid other people to be pious, the while you forget your own selves -and yet you recite the divine writ? Will you not, then, use your reason? ;
And seek aid in steadfast patience and prayer: and this, indeed, is a hard thing for all but the humble in spirit, () who know with certainty that they shall meet their Sustainer and that unto Him they shall return.
O children of
*The "taking of ransom (`adl)" is an obvious allusion to the Christian doctrine of vicarious redemption as well ass to the Jewish idea that "the chosen people"-as the Jews considered themselves-would be exempt from punishment on the Day of Judgment. Both these ideas are categorically refuted in the Qur'an.
And [remember the time] when We saved you from Pharaoh's people, who afflicted you with cruel suffering, slaughtering your sons and sparing [only] your women* - which was an awesome trial from your Sustainer; (2: 50) and when We cleft the sea before you, and thus saved you and caused Pharaoh's people to drown before your very eyes; (2: 51) and when We appointed for Moses forty nights [on Mount Sinai], and in his absence you took to worshipping the [golden] calf, and thus became evildoers: (2: 52) yet, even after that, We blotted out this your sin, so that you might have cause to be grateful.**
*See Exodus i, 15-16, 22.
**The story of the golden calf is
dealt with at greater length in 7 : 148 ff. and 20: 85 ff. Regarding the
crossing of the
And [remember the time] when We vouchsafed unto Moses the divine writ-and [thus] a standard by which to discern the true from the false*-so that you might be guided aright; () and when Moses said unto his people: "O my people! Verily, you have sinned against yourselves by worshipping the calf; turn, then. in repentance to your Maker and mortify yourselves;** this will be the best for you in your Maker's sight."
And thereupon He accepted your repentance: for, behold, He alone is the Acceptor of Repentance, the Dispenser of Grace.
*Muhammad `Abduh amplifies the above interpretation of al-furgdn (adopted by Tabari, Zamakhshari and other great commentators) by maintaining that it applies also to "human reason, which enables us to distinguish the true from the false" (Mandr 111, 160), apparently basing this wider interpretation on 8 : 41, where the battle of Badr is described as yawm al-furgdn ("the day on which the true was distinguished from the false"). While the term furgdn is often used in the Qur'an to describe one or another of the revealed scriptures, and particularly the Qur'an itself, it has undoubtedly also the connotation pointed out by `Abduh: for instance, in 8 : 29, where it clearly refers to the faculty of moral valuation which distinguishes every human being who is truly conscious of God.
**Lit., "kill yourselves" or, according to some commentators, "kill one another". This literal interpretation (probably based on the Biblical account in Exodus xxxii, 26-28) is not, however, convincing in view of the immediately preceding call to repentance and the subsequent statement that this repentance was accepted by God. I incline, therefore, to the interpretation given by `Abd al-Jabbar (quoted by Razi in his commentary on this verse) to the effect that the expression "kill yourselves" is used here in a metaphorical sense (majazan), i.e., "mortify yourselves".
And [remember] when you said, "O Moses. indeed we shall not believe thee unto we see God face to face!" - whereupon the thunderbolt of punishment* overtook you before your very eyes.
*The Quc'an does not state what form this "thunderbolt of punishment" (as -sd `igah) took. The lexicographers give various interpretations to this word, but all agree on the element of vehemence and suddenness inherent in it (see Lane IV, 1690).
But We raised you again after you had been as dead,* so that you might have cause to be grateful.
*Lit., "after your death". The expression mawt does not always denote physical death. Arab philologists - e.g., Raghib - explain the verb mata (lit., "he died") as having, in certain contexts, the meaning of "he became deprived of sensation, dead as to the senses"; and occasionally as "deprived of the intellectual faculty, intellectually dead"; and sometimes even as "he slept" (see Lane VII, 2741).
And We caused the clouds to comfort you with their shade, and sent down unto you manna and quails. [saying,] "Partake of the good things which We have provided for you as sustenance."
And [by all their sinning] they did no harm unto Us-but [only] against their own selves did they sin.
And [remember the time] when We said: "Enter this land,* and eat of its food as you may desire. abundantly; but enter the gate humbly and say, `Remove Thou from us the burden of our sins',** [whereupon] We shall forgive you your sins, and shall amply reward the doers of good."
*The word qaryah primarily denotes
a "village" or "town", but is also used in the sense of
"land". Here it apparently refers to
**This interpretation of the word hittah is recorded by most of the lexicographers (cf. Lane II, 592) on the basis of what many Companions of the Prophet said about it (for the relevant quotations, see Ibn Kathir in his commentary on this verse). Thus, the children of Israel were admonished to take possession of the promised land ("enter the gate") in a spirit of humility (lit., "prostrating yourselves"), and not to regard it as something that was "due" to them.
But those who were bent on evildoing substituted another saying for that which had been given them:* and so We sent down upon those evildoers a plague from heaven in requital for all their iniquity.
*According to several Traditions (extensively quoted by Ibn Kathir), they played, with a derisive intent„ upon the word hittah, substituting for it something irrelevant or meaningless. Muhammad `Abduh, however, is of the opinion that the "saying" referred to in verse 58 is merely a metaphor for an attitude of mind demanded of them, and that, correspondingly, the "substitution" signifies here a wilful display of arrogance in disregard of God's command (see Manar I, 324 f.).
And [remember] when Moses prayed for water for his people and We replied, "Strike the rock with thy staff!"-whereupon twelve springs gushed forth from it, so that all the people knew whence to drink.* [And Moses said:] "Eat and drink the sustenance provided by God, and do not act wickedly on earth by spreading corruption."
*Le., according to their tribal divisions.
And [remember] when you said: "O Moses, indeed we cannot endure but one kind of food; pray, then, to thy Sustainer that He bring forth for us aught of what grows from the earth - of its herbs, its cucumbers, its garlic, its lentils, its onions."
Said [Moses]: "Would you take a lesser thing in
exchange for what is [so much] better?* Go back in shame to
And so, ignominy and humiliation overshadowed them, and they earned the burden of God's condemnation: all this, because they persisted in denying the truth of God's messages and in slaying the prophets against all right: all this, because they rebelled [against God], and persisted in transgressing the bounds of what is right.***
*Le., "Would you exchange your freedom for the paltry comforts which you enjoyed in your Egyptian captivity?" In the course of their wanderings in the desert of Sinai, many Jews looked back with longing to the comparative security of their life in Egypt, as has been explicitly stated in the Bible (Numbers xi), and is, moreover, evident from Moses' allusion to it in the next sentence of the above Qur'anic passage.
**The verb habata means, literally,
"he went down a declivity"; it is also used figuratively in the sense
of falling from dignity and becoming mean and abject (cf. Lane VIII, 2876).
Since the bitter exclamation of Moses cannot be taken literally, both of the
above meanings of the verb may be combined in this context and agreeably
translated as "go back in shame to
***This passage obviously refers to a later phase of Jewish history. That the Jews actually did kill some of their prophets is evidenced, for instance, in the story of John the Baptist, as well as in the more general accusation uttered, according to the Gospel, by Jesus: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee" (Matthew xxiii, 37). See also Matthew xxiii, 34-35, Luke xi, 51-both of which, refer to the murder of Zachariah -and I Thessalonians ii, 15. The implication of continuity in, or persistent repetition of, their wrongdoing transpires from the use of the auxiliary verb kdna in this context.
VERILY, those who have attained to faith [in this divine writ], as well as those who follow the Jewish faith, and the Christians, and the Sabians* -all who believe in God and the Last Day and do righteous deeds-shall have their reward with their Sustainer; and no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve.**
*The Sabians seem to have been a monotheistic religious groupeintermediate between Judaism and Christianity. Their name (probably derived from the Aramaic verb tsebha`, "he immersed himself [in water]") would indicate that they were followers of John the Baptist-in which case they could be identified with the Mandaeans, a community which to this day is to be found in `Iraq. They are not to be confused with the so-called "Sabians of Harran", a gnostic sect which still existed in the early centuries of Islam, and which may have deliberately adopted the name of the true Sabians in order to obtain the advantages accorded by the Muslims to the followers of every monotheistic f aith.
**The above passage - which recurs
in the Qur'an several times - lays down a fundamental doctrine of Islam. With a
breadth of vision unparalleled in any other religious faith, the idea of
"salvation" is here made conditional upon three elements only: belief
in God, belief in the Day of Judgment, and righteous action in life. The
statement of this doctrine at this juncture - that is, in the midst of an
appeal to the children of
AND LO! We accepted your solemn pledge, raising Mount Sinai high above you,* [and saying;] "Hold fast with [all your] strength unto what We have vouchsafed you, and bear in mind all that is therein, so that you might remain conscious of God!"
*Lit., "and We raised the
mountain (at-tar) above you": i.e., letting the lofty mountain bear
witness, as it were, to their solemn pledge, spelled out in verse 83 below.
Throughout my translation of the Qur'an, I am rendering the expression at-tar
And you turned away after that-! And had it not been for God's favour upon you and His grace, you would surely have found yourselves among the lost; (2: 65) for you are well aware of those from among you who profaned the Sabbath, whereupon We said_ unto them, "Be as apes despicable!" - (2: 66) and set them up as a warning example for their time and for all times to come, as well as an admonition to all who are conscious of God.*
*For the full story of the Sabbath-breakers, and the metaphorical allusion to "apes", see 7: 163-166. The expression ma bayna yadayhd, rendered here as "their time", is explained in sarah 3, note 3.
AND LO! Moses said unto his people: "Behold, God bids you to sacrifice a cow."*
They said: "Dost thou mock at us?"
He answered: "I seek refuge with God against being so ignorant!"**
*As is evident frpm verse 72, the story related in this and the subsequent passages almost certainly. refers toy the Mosaic law which ordains that in certain cases of unresolved murder a cow should be sacrificed, and the elders of the town or village nearest to the place of the murder should wash their hands over it and declare, "Our hands have not shed this blood, neither have our eyes seen it"--whereupon the community would be absolved of collective responsibility. For the details of this Old Testament ordinance, see Deuteronomy xxi, 1-9.
**Lit., "lest I be one of the ignorant". The imputation of mockery was obviously due to the fact that Moses promulgated the above ordinance in very general terms, without specifying any details.
Said they: "Pray on our behalf unto thy Sustainer that He make clear to us what she is to be like." [Moses] replied: "Behold, He says it is to be a cow neither old nor immature, but of art age in-between. Do, then, what you have been bidden!"
Said they: "Pray on our behalf unto thy Sustainer that He make clear to us what her colour should be." '
[Mopes] answered: "Behold; He says it is to be a yellow cow, bright of hue, pleasing to the beholder."
Said' they: "Pray on our behalf unto thy Sustainer that He make clear to us what she is to be like, for to us all cows resemble one another; and then, if God so wills, we shall truly be guided aright!"
[Moses] answered: "Behold, He says it is to be a cow not broken-in to plough the earth or to water the crops, free of fault, without markings of any other colour."
Said they: "At last thou hast brought out the truth!"-and thereupon they sacrificed her, although they had almost left it undone.*
*I.e., their obstinate desire to obtain closer and closer definitions of the simple commandment revealed to them through Moses had made it almost impossible for them to fulfil it. In his commentary on this passage; Tabari quotes the following remark of Ibn 'Abbas: "If [in the first instance] they had sacrificed any cow chosen by themselves, they would have fulfilled their duty; but they made it complicated for themselves, and so God made it complicated for them." A similar view has been'expressed, in the same context, by Zamakhshari. It would appear that the moral of this story points to an important-problem of all (and, therefore, also of Islamic) religious jurisprudence: namely, the inadvisability of trying to elicit additional details in respect of any religious law that had originally been given in general terms-for, the more numerous and multiform such details become, the more complicated and rigid becomes the law. This point has been acutely grasped by Rashid Rida', who says in his commentary on the above Qur'anic passage (see Mandr I, 345 f.): "Its lesson is that one should not pursue one's [legal] inquiries in such a way as to make laws more complicated .... This was how the early generations [of Muslims] visualized the problem. They did not make things complicated for themselves-and so, for them, the religious law (drn) was natural, simple and liberal in its straightforwardness. But those who came later added to it [certain other] injunctions which they had deduced by means of their own reasoning (iftihdd); and they multiplied those [additional] injunctions to such an extent that the religious law became a heavy burden on the community." For the sociological reason why the genuine ordinances of Islamic Law - that is, those which have been prima facie laid down as such in the Qur'an and the teachings of the Prophet-are
almost always devoid of details, I would refer the reader to my book State and Government in Islam (pp. 11 ff. and passim). The importance of this problem, illustrated in the above story of the cow-and correctly grasped by the Prophet's Companions-explains why this sarah has been entitled "The Cow". (See also 5 : 101 and the corresponding notes 120-123.)
For, O children of Israel, because you had slain a human being and then cast the blame for this [crime] upon one another -although God will bring to light what you would conceals* - (73) We said: "Apply this [principle] to some of those [cases of unresolved murder]:* in this way God saves lives from death and shows you His will, so that you might [learn to] use your reason."***
*See note 53 above. The use of the plural "you" implies the principle of collective, communal responsibility stipulated by Mosaic Law in cases of murder by a person or persons unknown. God's bringing the guilt to light obviously refers to the Day of Judgment.
**The phrase idribiihu bi-ba'dihd can be literally translated as "strike him [or "it"] with something of her [or "it"]" -and this possibility has given rise to the fanciful assertion by many commentators that the children of Israel were commanded to strike the corpse of the murdered man with some of the flesh of the sacrificed cow, whereupon he was miraculously restored to life and pointed out his murderer! Neither the Queen, nor any saying of the Prophet, nor even the Bible offers the slightest warrant for this highly imaginative explanation, which must, therefore, be rejected-quite apart from the fact that the pronoun hu in idribahu has a masculine gender, while the noun nafs (here translated as "human being") is feminine in gender: from which it follows that the imperative idribahu cannot possibly refer to nafs. On the other hand, the verb daraba (lit., "he struck") is very often used in a figurative or metonymic sense, as, for instance, in the expression daraba fi 'I-ard ("he journeyed on earth"), or daraba 'sh-shay' bi'sh-shay' ("he mixed one thing with another thing"), or daraba mathal ("he coined a similitude" or "propounded a parable" or "gave an illustration"), or `ald darb wdhid ("similarly applied" or "in the same manner"), or duribat `alayhim adh-dhillah ("humiliation was imposed on them" or "applied to them"), and so forth. Taking all this into account, I am of the opinion that the imperative idribuhu occurring in the above Qur'anic passage must be translated as "apply it" or "this" (referring, in this context, to the principle of communal responsibility). As for the feminine pronoun hd in ba'dihd ("some of it"), it must necessarily relate to the nearest preceding feminine noun-that is, to the nafs that has been murdered, or the act of murder itself about which (f tihd) the community disagreed. Thus, the phrase idribahu bi-ba'diha may be suitably rendered as "apply this [principle] to some of those [cases of unresolved murder]": for it is obvious that the principle of communal responsibility for murder by a person or persons unknown can be applied only to some and not to all such cases.
***Lit., "God gives life to the dead and shows you His messages" (i.e., He shows His will by means of such messages or ordinances). The figurative expression "He gives life to the dead" denotes the saving of lives, and is analogous to that in . In this context it refers to the prevention of bloodshed and the killing of innocent persons (Manor 1, 351), be it through individual acts of revenge, or in result of an erroneous judicial process based on no more than vague suspicion and possibly misleading circumstantial evidence.
And yet, after all this, your hearts hardened and became like rocks, or even harder: for, behold, there are rocks from which streams gush forth; and, behold, there are some from which, when they are cleft, water issues; and, behold, there are some that fall down for awe of God* And God is not unmindful of what you do!
* For an explanation of this
allusion, see 7: 143. The simile of "the rocks from which streams gush
forth" or "from which water issues" serves to illustrate its
opposite, namely, dryness and lack of life, and is thus an allusion to the
spiritual barrenness with which the Qur'an charges the children of
CAN YOU, then, hope that they will believe in what you are preaching* - seeing that a good many of them were wont to listen to the word of God and then, after having understood it, to pervert it knowingly?** (2: 76) For, when they meet those who have attained to faith. they say, "We believe [as you believe]" - but when they find themselves alone with one another, they say. "Do you inform them of what God has disclosed to you, so that they might use it in argument against you, quoting the words of your Sustainer?*** Will you not. then, use your reason?"
*Here the Muslims are addressed. In the early period of Islam-and especially after their exodus to Medina, where many Jews were then living-the Muslims expected that the Jews, with their monotheistic beliefs, would be the first to rally to the message of the Qur'an: a hope that was disappointed because the Jews regarded their own religion as a kind of national heritage reserved to the children of Israel alone, and did not believe in the necessity -or possibility -of anew revelation.
**Cf. Jeremiah xxiii, 26-"Ye have perverted the words of the living God".
***Lit., "before [or "in
the sight of"] your Sustainer". Most of the commentators '(e.g ,
Zamakhshari, Baghawl, Razi) agree in that the expression "your Sustainer"
stands here for "thAt which your Sustainer has revealed", namely, the
Biblical prophecy relating to the: coming. of a, , prophet "from among the
brethren" of the children of
Do they not know, then, that God is aware of all that they would conceal as well as of all that they bring into the open?
(2: 78) And there are among them unlettered people who have no real knowledge of the divine writ,* [following] only wishful beliefs and depending on nothing but conjecture.
(2: 79) Woe, then, unto those who write down, with their own hands, [something which they claim to be] divine writ, and then say. "This is from God," in order to acquire a trifling gain thereby;** woe, then, unto them for what their hands have written, and woe unto them for all that they may have gained!
*In this case, the Old Testament.
**The reference here is to the scholars responsible for corrupting the' text of the Bible and thus misleading their ignorant followers. The "trifling gain" is their feeling of=pre-eminence as the alleged "chosen people".
And they say, "The fire will most certainly not touch us for more than a limited number of days."* Say [unto them]: "Have you received a promise from God - for God never breaks His promise - or do you attribute to God something which you cannot know?"
*According to popular Jewish belief, even the sinners from among the children of Israel will suffer only very limited punishment in the life to come, and will be' quickly reprieved by virtue of their belonging to "the chosen people": a belief which the Quean rejects.
Yea! Those who earn evil and by their sinfulness are engulfed - they are destined for the fire. therein to abide; (2: 82) whereas those who attain to faith and do righteous deeds -they are destined for paradise, therein to abide.
AND LO! We accepted this solemn pledge from [you,] ' the children of Israel:* "You shall worship none but God; and you shall do good unto your parents and kinsfolk, and the orphans, and the poor; and you shall speak unto all people in a kindly way; and you shall be constant in prayer; and you shall spend in charity.**”
And yet, save for a few of you, you turned away: for you are obstinate folk!***
*In the preceding passages, the
**See note 34 above.
***The Old Testament contains many
allusions to the waywardness and stubborn rebelliousness of the children of
And lo! We accepted your solemn pledge that you would not shed one another's blood, and would not drive one another from your homelands - whereupon you acknowledged it; and thereto you bear witness [even now]. (2: 85) And yet, it is you who slay one another and drive some of your own people from their homelands, aiding one another against them in sin and hatred; but if they come to you as captives, you ransom them - although the very [act of] driving them away has been made unlawful to you!*
Do you, then, believe in some parts of the divine writ and deny the truth pf other parts? What, then, could be the reward of those among you who do such things but ignominy in the life of this world and, on the Day of Resurrection, commitment to most grievous suffering? For God is not unmindful of what you do.
*This is a reference to the
conditions prevailing at
All who buy the life of this world at the price of the life to come - their suffering shall not be lightened, nor shall they be succoured!
For, indeed, We vouchsafed unto Moses the divine writ and caused apostle after apostle to follow him;* and We vouchsafed unto Jesus, the son of Mary, all evidence of the truth, and strengthened him with holy inspiration.** [Yet] is it not so that every time an apostle came unto you with something that was not to your liking, you gloried in your arrogance, and to some of them you gave the lie, while others you would slay?***
*Lit., "We caused him to be followed, after his time, by [all] the other apostles": a stress upon
the continuous succession of prophets among the Jews (see Tabari, Zamakhshari, Razi, Ibn Kathir), which fact deprives them of any excuse of ignorance.
**This rendering of rah al-qudus (lit., "the spirit of holiness") is based on the recurring use in the Qui'an of the term rah in the sense of "divine inspiration". It is also recorded that the Prophet invoked the blessing of the rah al-qudus on his Companion, the poet Hassan ibn Thabit (Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dd'ud and Tirmidhi): just as the Qur'an (58: 22) speaks of all believers as being "strengthened by inspiration (rah) from Him".
***Lit., "and some you are slaying". The change from the past tense observed throughout this sentence to the present tense in the verb taqtulan ("you are slaying") is meant to express a conscious intent in this respect and, thus, a persistent, ever-recurring trait in Jewish history (Manor I, 377), to which also the New Testament refers (Matthew xxiii, 34-35, 37), and I Thessalonians ii, 15).
But they say, "Our hearts are already full of knowledge."* Nay, but God has rejected them because of their refusal to acknowledge the truth: for, few are the things in which they believe.**
*Lit., "our hearts are repositories [of knowledge]'-'- an allusion to the boast of the Jews that in view of the religious knowledge which they already possess, they are in no need of any further preaching (Ibn Kathir, on the authority of Ibn `Abbas; identical explanations are mentioned by Tabari and Zamakhshari).
**i.e., all their beliefs are centred on themselves and their alleged "exceptional" status in the sight of God.
And whenever there came unto them a [new] revelation from God, confirming the truth already in their possession-and [bear in mind that] aforetime they used to pray for victory over those who were bent on denying the truth -: whenever there came unto them something which they recognized [as the truth], they would deny it. And God's rejection is the due of all who deny the truth.
Vile is that [false pride] for which they have sold their own selves by denying the truth of what God has bestowed from on high, out of envy that God should bestow aught of His favour upon whomsoever He wills of His servants:* and thus have they earned the burden of God's condemnation, over and over. And for those who deny the truth there is shameful suffering in store.
* i.e.,`out of envy that God
should bestow revelation upon anyone but a descendant of
For when they are told, "Believe in what God has bestowed from on high," they reply, "We believe [only] in what has been bestowed on us"-and they deny the truth of everything else, although it be a truth confirming the one already in their possession.
Say "Why, then, did you slay God's prophets aforetime, if you were (truly] believers?"*
*A reference to their assertion that they believe in what has been revealed to them -i.e., the Law of Moses, which obviously prohibits the killing not only of prophets but of any innocent human being. See also the concluding sentences of verses 61 and 87, and the corresponding notes.
And indeed, there came unto you Moses with all evidence of the truth - and thereupon. in his absence, you took to worshipping the (golden] calf, and acted wickedly.
And, lo, We accepted your solemn pledge, raising
[But] they say, "We have heard, but we disobey"* - for their hearts are filled to overflowing with love of the [golden] calf because of their refusal to acknowledge the truth.**
Say: "Vile is what this [false] belief of yours enjoins upon you-if indeed you are believers!"
*It is obvious that they did not actually utter these words; their subsequent behaviour, however, justifies the above metonymical expression.
**Lit., "into their hearts has been instilled the calf because of their denial of the truth": i.e., as soon as they turned away from the genuine message propounded by Moses, they fell into worshipping material goods, symbolized by the "golden calf".
Say: "If an afterlife with God is to be for you alone, to the exclusion of all other people,* then. you should long for death-if what you say is true!"
*An allusion to the Jewish belief
that paradise is reserved for the children of
But never will they long for it, because [they are aware] of what their hands have sent ahead in this world: and God has full knowledge of evildoers. (2: 96) And thou wilt most certainly find that they cling to life more eagerly than any other people, even more than those who are bent on ascribing divinity to other beings beside God: every one of them would love to live a thousand years, although the grant of long life could not save him from suffering [in the hereafter]: for God sees all that they do.
SAY [O Prophet]: "Whosoever is an enemy of Gabriel" -who,, verily, by God's leave, has brought down upon thy heart this [divine writ] which confirms the truth of whatever there still remains [of earlier revelations], and is a guidance and a glad tiding for the believers-: (2: 98) "whosover is an enemy of God and His angels and His message-bearers, including Gabriel and Michael, [should know that,] verily, God is the enemy of all who deny the truth."*
*According to several authentic Traditions, some of the learned men from among the Jews of Medina described Gabriel as "the enemy of the Jews", and this for three reasons: firstly, all the prophecies of the misfortune which was to befall the Jews in the course of their early history were said to have been transmitted to them by Gabriel, who thus became in their eyes a "harbinger of evil" (in contrast to the angel Michael, whom they regarded as a bearer of happy predictions and, therefore, as their "friend"); secondly, because the Qur'an states repeatedly that it was Gabriel who conveyed its message to Muhammad, whereas the Jews were of the opinion that only a descendant of Israel could legitimately claim divine revelation; and, thirdly, because the Qur' an -revealed through Gabriel-abounds in critiicism of certain Jewish beliefs and attitudes and describes them as opposed to the genuine message of Moses. (For details of these Traditions, see Tabaf, Zamakhshari, Baghawi, Razi, Baydawf, Ibn Kathir.) As regards my rendering of and bayna yadayhi in verse 97 as "whatever there still remains of earlier revelations", see surah 3, note 3.
For, clear messages indeed have We bestowed upon thee from on high; and none denies their truth save the iniquitous.
Is it not so that every time they made a promise [unto God], some of them cast it aside? Nay, indeed: most of them do not believe.