Alpino

Please wait...

  • filter_vintage

    Period of Revelation:        Though it is a Madani Surah (revealed at Madinah), it follows naturally a Makki Surah (revealed at Makkah) Al-Fatiha, which ended with the prayer: “Guide us to the Right Way.” This Surah begins with the answer to that prayer, “This is the guidance that you have asked for.” The greater part of Al-Baqarah was revealed during the first two years of the Prophet’s life at Madinah. Major Issues, Divine Laws and Guidance:

    • Claim of the Quran: “This is the Book which contains no doubt.”
    • Creation of Adam, man’s nature, and his destiny.
    • The Children of Israel and the People of the Book (Jews and Christians).
    • Israelites’ sin of worshipping the statue of a calf.
    • Punishment of Israelites violation of Sabbath.
    • Nature of Jews’ belief.
    • Allah orders not to prevent the people from coming to Masajid.
    • Ibraheem and his sons were neither Jews nor Christians but were Muslims.
    • Abraham (Ibraheem), Ishmael (Isma’il), and their building of Ka’bah.
    • Change of Qiblah (direction in prayers) towards Ka’bah in Makkah.
    • Allah orders not to profess any faith blindly.
    • The moon is created to determine the time periods, that is, months and years.
    • Hypocrisy vs. True faith.
    • Ayat-ul-Kursyyi (Verse of the Throne of Allah).
    • Allah orders the believers to enter into Islam completely.
    • Punishment of a murtad (a Muslim who becomes a Non-Muslim).
    • It is unlawful to marry a mushrik (who worship someone else besides Allah).
    • Victory is not by numbers but by Allah’s help.
    • Confrontation of Ibraheem and Namrud (the king of his time).
    • What makes charity worthless.
    • Taking usury is like declaring war against Allah and His Rasool.
    • All business dealings relating to deferred payments must be in writing.
    • Retaliation against oppression.
    • Non compulsion in religion.
    • Divine Laws are promulgated relating to the following categories:
    Food Retribution Wills
    Fasting Bribery Jihad
    Self-defense Evidence Pilgrimage
    Charity Drinking Bloodwit
    Gambling Marriage Orphans
    Menstruation Oaths Divorce
    Alimony Nursing Widows
    Usury Buying on credit Debts
    Loans Pledge/Mortgage
     
    • Believers supplication to Allah.
    Guidance is also provided concerning social, cultural, economic, political and legal issues through addressing the Jews who were acquainted with the Unity of Allah, Prophethood, Revelation, the Hereafter and Angels. The Jews professed to believe in the law which was revaled by Allah to their Prophet Moses (pbuh). In principle, their religion was the same (Islam) that was being taught by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Although they were originally Muslims, they had swerved from the real Islam and made innovations and alterations to their religion. As a result, they had fallen victims to hair splitting and sectarianism, so much so that they had even given up their original name “Muslim” and adopted the name “Jew” instead, and made religion a monopoly of the children of Israel. This was Jews religious condition when the Prophet went to Madinah and invited them to the True Religion. More than one third of this Surah (Chapter) addresses the Children of Israel. A critical review of their history, moral degeneration and religious perversions has been made, to draw clear lines of demarcation between the essentials and nonessentials of the True Religion. The Jews are warned not to mix up the Truth with Falsehood. During this period, a new type of Muslims called “Munafiqun” (hypocrites), had emerged. There were some who had entered the fold of Islam merely to harm it from within. There were others who were surrounded by Muslims, and become “Muslims” to safeguard their worldly interests. They, therefore, continued to have relations with the unbelievers so that if they became successful, their interests would remain secure. Allah has, therefore, briefly pointed out the characteristics of the hypocrites in this Surah. Later on when their mischievous deeds became manifest, detailed instructions were given in Surah At-Tauba. In brief, this Surah is an invitation towards the Divine Guidance. All stories, examples and incidents mentioned in this Surah revolve around this central theme. This Surah particularly addresses the Jews and cites many incidents from their history to admonish and advise them that accepting the Guidance revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is in their best interest. They should, therefore, be the first to accept it, because this Message is basically the same as was revealed to the Prophet Musa (Moses), peace be upon him.    

  • filter_vintage
    Note: Please note that, we have used PDF OCR technology to scan and convert text from scanned docuement. Expect few broken words in this section. We are trying our level best to fix these errors Insha Allah. If you want to volunteer in this task, please contact us at engage @ kdakw.com.

    following the muslims’ emigration from Makkah and their settlement in Madinah around 622 ac, all attention was focused on building the first Muslim autonomous community there. By embracing the new religion, members of that community had, each in his/her own right, succeeded in breaking away from idolatry, polytheism, and other forms of pagan traditions and practices of Arabia. They had now found security and safety in their new sanctu- ary where they could group together and set up a state of their own. Nevertheless, they were to face fresh hostilities from a rather unexpected source. The Jewish rabbis had always believed that reli- gion was the prerogative of their own people and a monopoly of their ‘Chosen Race.’ Predictably, they were somewhat ruffled and unhappy at the arrival in Madinah of Prophet Muhammad and his followers preaching Islam. They quickly embarked on preparations for how to react to that threat and for the best way to deal with it. Scheming, overt as well as covert, began. The Hebrew tribes who had settled in Madinah, or Yathrib as it was known then, in the fertile northwestern part of the Hijaz, had gone there as refugees to escape the oppression and persecution of Byzantine, the Eastern Roman Empire whose capital was Cons- tantinople. Although welcome to live among the illiterate Arab tribes, they rather looked down upon them. The Jews made no effort to combat idol worship, which was widespread in the area; nor did they feel the need to pass on the teachings of their religion to their native hosts. They recognized no obligation to propagate surah 2 • Al-Baqarah God’s message or establish His order to replace the existing man- made one. Their view of the Arabs was wholly sanctimonious, adopting the proverbial condescending ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude, holding jealously onto their religious heritage, and totally beholden to the erroneous belief that religion was their privilege and theirs alone. What, then, was their (or, more specifically, their elders’) reac- tion to Islam? They rejected it. They began to distort, conceal and otherwise obliterate religious and historical facts in order to pre- empt the spread of the new religion. In contrast, Prophet Muhammad, the last of God’s prophets and the benefactor of the new religion, spared no effort in appealing to them and soliciting their understanding and cooperation. However, their malaise was deep and irrepressible, and increasingly their hos- tile intentions began to be reflected in their behavior. In view of this the Muslims found themselves, in their new sanctuary, building their community on the one hand and defending it on the other. They were laying the foundations of their nascent state, under the guidance and direction of the divine Revelation being received by Muhammad, while at the same time having to ward off the impend- ing threat posed by enemies living in their midst, who were intent on undermining their existence and everything they were building. It was in this atmosphere that al-Baqarah, the longest and most wide-ranging chapter in the Qur’an, was received. The surah obliquely cited the fallacy of Jewish claims of exclusivity by descri- bing the Qur’an as “the Book over which there is no doubt, a guidance to those who fear God” (2), thereby highlighting the view that other ‘Books’ or scriptures were less viable as sources of gui- dance and law, and less authoritative as references for or expressions of the divine will. In over thirty different places, the surah elaborates extensively on the features and merits of the God-fearing category of human beings. This aspect is unique to the surah. Fear (alternatively, A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an awareness) of God is a quality required of human beings by all reli- gions. God says in the Qur’an: “To God belongs all that is in the heavens and on the earth; and We have recommended to those who had received the Book before you, as We have recommended to you, that you should all fear God” (al-Nis¥’: 131). The surah is also remarkable for referring to all the five principles of the religion of Islam in the following verses: Taw^Ïd: “People; worship your Lord who had created you and those before you” (21); Salah:     “Observe salah, especially the middle one, and submit to God” (238); Zakah:    “Believers; spend of what We have given you before a day comes when there will be no trade and no friendship and no intercession” (254); Sawm:    “Believers, sawm has been prescribed for you as it had been for your predecessors” (183); and Hajj:      “Complete the Hajj and the ¢umrah for God’s sake”(196). The revelation of the surah was completed over a period, with the Prophet adding verses and passages that related to its subject matter when he was directed to do so through revelation. According to established sources, the last Qur’anic verse revealed to Muhammad was number 281 of this surah, which says, “Fear the day when you shall return to God; when each soul shall be requited according to its deserts and none shall be wronged.” The Prophet instructed the scribes to include it with the verses dealing with usury, which appear towards the end of the surah. Reading through the early part of the surah, we find that it des- cribes God-fearing people in three verses, the unbelievers in two, and the hypocrites in thirteen, an indication of the last’s wickedness and the threat they pose to the whole Muslim community. Following a general call for belief in God and the Day of Judgment, and a brief surah 2 • Al-Baqarah account of the miraculous aspects of the Qur’an itself, the veracity of Muhammad, its proponent, and the ill-fate awaiting his opponents, the surah returns to the description of the various human groups: the believers, the rejectionists, and the renegades, and how each reacted to God’s message. The surah then inquires whether God deserves to be understood and addressed in such an improper and ungrateful manner by the unbelievers and the skeptics who fail to acknowledge His grace and benevolence. It asks them pointedly: How can you deny God when He gave you life, after you were dead, and He will cause you again to die and then restore you to life so that you eventually return unto Him? (28) Having dealt with that subject, it would follow naturally to address the issue of creation and how humans came to be charged with their role in this world, and the perennial confrontation between Adam, father of the human race, and Satan, humankind’s archetypal enemy, along with his supporters. This confrontation was reenacted in a bitter conflict between Muhammad, the last of God’s prophets to humankind, and some descendants of Israel who in that instance chose to take Satan’s side in a crucial battle between truth and falsehood. Being the first surah revealed in Madinah, it was imperative that it should deal with the issue of the Jews; their elders’ negative atti- tude towards the message of Islam, and their history, both ancient and recent. This begins in the surah with: Children of Israel, remember the favors I have bestowed upon you, keep your covenant and I shall keep Mine and fear Me. Believe in what I have revealed, confirming that which you had received [the scriptures], and do not be the first to deny it. (40–41) The confirmation in the Qur’an of the scriptures of which the A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an Jews had possession was a confirmation in general terms and not in all details. The People of the Book, Jews and Christians, were seen as different from other religious groups because they believed in the One and only God. Unlike the idolaters and the pagans, they did not deny the existence of God and divine Revelation. The Qur’an endorsed the claims of the Jews with regard to their belief in the One God, revelation, and the responsibility and accountability of human- kind. But it did not endorse, among other things, the allegation in their scriptures that God regretted bringing about the Great Flood or His needing to be reminded not to do it again. Likewise, the Qur’an does not endorse the Old Testament tale of God walking on earth, leaning towards Abraham, and eating with him. Nor does it accept the story of God’s wrestling with Jacob one long night, and not being released until He promised Jacob the name ‘Israel.’ The Qur’an’s endorsement of the Jewish scriptural legacy was general and not specific nor total. Furthermore, the Qur’an cites those parts of Jewish scriptures it endorses mainly to hold their elders accountable for their faithfulness to and respect for those scriptures and their teachings. All in all, this surah cites sixteen different issues concerning Jewish dissent all through the people’s long and checkered history as docu- mented in the Torah. In all these cases, the dissenters prove disap- pointing even to their own prophets, and wanting in their obser- vance of God’s commands and their gratitude to and reverence for Him. The account begins with the verse: “Remember how We deli- vered you from Pharaoh’s people, who had inflicted upon you the worst type of torture” (49). Did the rebellious among the Jews appreciate that favor? Although God went on to drown their enemy before their eyes, did they recognize God’s justice or acknowledge His grace as He destroyed their oppressors? These issues are debated over several passages, always inquiring whether the Jewish con- science had been aroused or the Jewish faith in God rekindled. Would the Jews of Arabia, after such a detailed interrogation and surah 2 • Al-Baqarah analysis of their ancestors’ record, persist with their obduracy and rejection of Prophet Muhammad, to whom the Qur’an was being revealed? The outcome of this discussion of the long history of the Jews is an assertion of the veracity and efficacy of the concept of reli- gious unity as expounded in the Qur’an. In the face of narrow-minded religious fanaticism, Islam emerged to promote a tolerant religious unity, addressed to and embracing all of humankind, built on pristine human nature and sound common sense. The Jewish and the Christian establishments had grown accus- tomed to seeing truth as their own monopoly, and salvation as theirs alone. Islam questioned that judgment and the attitudes underlying it. We read in the surah: They [the Jewish and the Christian elders] declared, “Only Jews and Christians shall enter Paradise!” Such are their wishful fancies. Say, “Bring forth your proof, if you were really truthful.” (111) There are other people in the world who have come to know God truly, and who have submitted themselves to Him and dedicated their lives and energies to His service, and whose efforts should not be allowed to go to waste. The surah thus affirms: Indeed, those who surrender themselves to God and do good works shall be rewarded by their Lord; they shall have nothing to fear or to regret. (112) It was on this basis that the Qur’an called upon the People of the Book to believe in God and all His messengers, and to cast aside their religio-centricity which led each group to claim a monopoly on truth. The surah cites their spokesmen’s allegations: A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an They said, “Accept the faith of the Jews or the Christians and you shall be rightly guided.” Say, “By no means! We shall accept the religion of Abraham, the pious one, who was never an idolater.” (135) It also advised them to believe in all the prophets sent by God to guide humanity, since there would be no meaning in excluding any one of them. The surah says: Say, “We believe in God and in that which is revealed to us, and that which was revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, and in what Moses, Jesus, and the prophets received from their Lord. We make no distinction among any of them, and to God we have surrendered ourselves.” (136) These are the basic principles of the unity of religion as expoun- ded in this surah and presented to the Jews and the Christians, for them to adopt and share with the Muslims. At the beginning of this exposition, the Qur’an makes it clear that Islam, as such, is not a new religion but the same religion preached by all preceding messengers. Jews have always taken pride in the fact that they are the sons of Jacob, known also as Israel, after whom the modern Jewish state is named. But who was Jacob? He was a pious man who acknow- ledged God and surrendered to Him, and who taught his children to do likewise. Before he passed away, he made sure that his legacy continued intact in his descendants. The surah relates: Were you present when death came to Jacob, and he said to his chil- dren: “What will you worship after I die?” They said: “We shall worship your God and the God of your forefathers Abraham, Ishmael, and Isaac; the One God to whom we all surrender.” (133) surah 2 • Al-Baqarah Surrender to God or, to use the Arabic term, Isl¥m, is the only natu- ral and logical position creation can assume in relation to the Creator, the definitive bond between humankind and God. It is only natural for creation to surrender to its Creator and yearn for His mercy and pleasure. This is the essence of true religion rather than rebellion against God; it is neither transgression nor adherence to manmade religions. Muhammad restored for religion its true and proper place in the world and chartered a unique and sure way towards God, as the surah states: So if they accept what you have believed in, they shall be rightly guided; but if they reject it, they shall be in schism. God will defend you against them; He hears all and knows all. (137) The verse advances two morals, the first being to offer the Jews of Madinah the choice of accepting the new faith, and the second being neither to condemn nor scold them for their rejection of it. They were merely left to their own devices, and if they were to initiate hos- tilities, God would help and protect the Muslims against them. Thus was the overall framework of religious unity as presented in this surah. However, one possible misunderstanding remains to be clarified: this concerns the statement that all messengers were Muslims, although we know that Islam was the message that Muhammad, the last Prophet and Messenger, had established. The answer lies in the fact that religion has always been one. It entails faith in God and a righteous life of good deeds, which are the very essence of the religion of Islam. For faith to be complete, mere or abstract knowledge is not sufficient. A believer has to attest to his or her belief and indicate to God that he or she has received the message and is ready and willing to obey Him; or as the Qur’an puts it: “We hear and we obey, grant us Your forgiveness, Lord; to You we shall all return” (285). Satan’s knowledge of the fact that one God was the A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an Creator of all things did not spare him, because knowledge has to be supported by submission to God’s commands and followed by exer- tions to please Him. Having refused to do so, Satan was ostracized and banished from God’s grace. All messengers have declared their knowledge of the true God and demonstrated their obedience to Him. This was the case with Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad. To list the Qur’anic verses that confirm this would take much space, but suffice it to say that they were all advocates of surrender to the will and power of God, despite the minor variations in what they had taught and preached at various periods of human history. When people are born, they are given names which remain with them right through to their old age, although their personalities and spheres of activity widen quite extensively. Likewise, it would be naive to think that the scope and sphere of religion today can be com- pared to those during Noah’s time, for example. The focal point and the central theme may remain the same in both cases, but the outer limits can expand according to the needs and level of development of the period. In today’s technological terms, the national power grid in certain small towns can extend to only a few square kilometers, whereas in big cities it has to cover hundreds or perhaps thousands of times that area; however, the electric current flowing through both grid systems remains the same and performs the same function. Muhammad was preceded by the tumultuous experiences of Moses and Jesus, and it would not be unusual that his commission should introduce certain amendments and corrections, or make alterations and additions that had become necessary by the passage of time. It would also have been quite normal for him to throw a new light on, or reveal fresh aspects of, religion that may not have been dealt with by his predecessors. Thus his coming was a matter of urgency to correct the direction of human history and to alert the People of the Book to the malaise and confusion they had brought upon themselves and humankind as a whole. surah 2 • Al-Baqarah As far as Christians were concerned, it was necessary to reempha- size the concept of taw^Ïd, to reinstate the identity of Jesus as a human being, and to point out that he and his disciples were ordi- nary mortal advocates of the true religion of Islam. In the case of the Arabian Jews, there was a need to reprimand them for their arro- gance, to weaken their encroachment on authentic divine reve- lation, and to reaffirm the fact that God had no biased affinity towards any particular ethnic group of the human race. The surah stresses the fact that sincere and honest followers of Moses and Jesus are one with those of Muhammad in the beliefs they hold and the fate they are to receive: The believers, the Jews, the Christians, and the Sabaeans; whoever believes in God and the Last Day and does good deeds, shall be rewarded by their Lord; they have nothing to fear or to regret. (62) But those of the People of the Book who discarded revelation, neglected their obligations towards the Lord, and chose to pursue their capricious worldly desires, vying with idolaters, would have no claim to godliness. Their plight would be made worse by their envy and hostility towards the believers. The surah inquires: Who is more wicked than those who seek to destroy the mosques of God and forbid His name to be invoked in them? These perpetrators can only enter mosques in fear. They shall be held up to shame in this world and shall receive stern punishment in the hereafter. (114) Having been revealed immediately after the Prophet’s emigration from Makkah to Madinah, during the formative days of the new Muslim community, the surah lays down the fundamentals upon which relations among followers of various religions ought to be conducted. At the same time it calls for the unity of religion by advo- cating a return to the common basic teachings of all messengers. A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an When Islam first emerged, the elders of the Jewish community in Arabia received it with cynicism, denial, and disdain, since they believed in their God-given monopoly over religion, and in the notion that after their race, religion would never be revealed to another human group. When the Muslims emigrated from Makkah to Madinah, Islam became too close for comfort for some Jews who were already settled there. They resolved to fight it by all available means and to scheme against its followers. Prophet Muhammad offered them a charter as a code of conduct for their relationship with the Muslims and other inhabitants of the area. The agreement was based on peace and mutual cooperation. It seems that the local Jews accepted that agreement with reluctance, for they continued to deride the new religion, to lobby against it in a hostile manner, and to undermine its veracity and stability. Meanwhile, the Qur’anic revelations also continued with their relentless scolding and rebuke of certain Jewish attitudes in the past. However, this had little effect in subduing the more recent arro- gance or softening hardened hearts. The detractors persisted in their belief in the exclusivity of their religion and in the assertion that God could not and should not have chosen prophets from outside their race. The Qur’an rejects all their claims, querying their denial of the new religion which endorsed, supported, and blessed what had been revealed to their forefathers. We read in the surah: And when it is said to them, “Believe in what God had revealed,” they reply, “We [only] believe in what was revealed to us,” but they deny what had since been revealed, although it is the truth, corrob- orating what they had already received. Say, “Why did you then kill the prophets of God, if you were true believers?” (91) The surah lists over ten different reminders of this kind, in the hope that the Jews of Madinah would heed God’s advice and come surah 2 • Al-Baqarah to their senses. While those reminders might not have dissuaded Jewish zealots from pursuing their policy, they were extremely instructive for the Muslims themselves and served as a warning to them. God had said to the Jews, “Keep My covenant and I shall keep yours” (40), and He advised the Muslims saying, “Remember Me and then I shall remember you; be thankful to Me and do not deny Me. Believers, seek help in patience and prayer” (152–53). It is say- ing to the Muslims that whereas other groups had clung to the outward form of their religion but ignored its essence and true spirit, and drained it of its authentic universal meaning, they, the Muslims, should look into the heart and the essence of their religion and live it with sincerity and true faith. The surah puts it thus: “Righteousness does not come about by turning your faces towards the East or the West. It is belief in God and the Last Day” (177). The surah then gets down to the task of laying the solid ground on which the new community was to emerge and grow. It outlines the five basic foundations or pillars of Islam and turns to dealing with Muslim family affairs, giving many of the principles on which they should be established, strengthened, and preserved. From time to time references to narrow-minded or rebellious attitudes by previous groups and nations serve as a timely, if oblique, warning to the Muslims themselves: “To whoever tampers with God’s boon after it has been bestowed on him God would mete out a severe chastisement” (211). The surah also deals with the question of protecting the larger community by means of sacrifice and hard work (Arabic: jihad) as well as protecting the smaller one, the family unit, with a number of rules and provisions that ensure its health, safety, and welfare—two counts on which we, the Muslims, have unfortunately been so negligent. Let us for the time being leave the family issue aside and deal briefly with the subject of war and the manner in which the Qur’an has presented it, contending, in the process, with some persistent misconceptions about jihad. We Muslims abhor war, and dislike the destruction and loss of A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an life it causes. Our natural disposition and tendency favor peace, harmony, and stability among relatives, neighbors, and friends. However, while condoning and encouraging these tendencies, the Qur’an also says: Much as you dislike it, fighting has been prescribed for you. But you may despise something that is good for you, and you may love something that is bad for you. God knows, but you do not. (216) Peace is to be welcomed when rights are protected and beliefs are respected; but if peace means abject surrender and subjugation, it cannot be easily defended on moral or realistic grounds. This deli- cate balance is well presented in the verse: “They ask you whether fighting is permitted during the sacred month. Say, ‘fighting in it is a grave matter’” (217), meaning it is not permitted. However, what should be done if aggression is perpetrated, terrorizing peaceful communities and jeopardizing their rights of worship and belief? Should not aggression be repelled, in order to protect one’s rights? The verse continues: …but to deny God and debar people from His path and prevent them from worshiping in the Holy Mosque, and to drive its inhabi- tants away, is far more grave in the sight of God… (217) In short “sedition [Arabic: fitnah] is a greater threat than killing” (217), and fighting or armed resistance should be permitted in defense of one’s integrity and beliefs. However, in circumstances in which we are faced with enemies who will not be satisfied until we forsake our religion and way of life and adopt theirs, defensive action becomes obligatory and the blame for instigating the conflict will not fall on us but on those who were the cause of it. These introductory remarks enable us to appreciate fully the meaning of the following verse; “fight for the cause of God those surah 2 • Al-Baqarah who fight against you, but do not commit aggression because God does not love the aggressors” (190). This is an eternal principle, and everything else the Qur’an has to say on this subject agrees with it. Some commentators have been erroneously misled into believing that surah al-Tawbah contains injunctions that contradict this princi- ple. The command given in that surah to undertake to fight back does not, however, prescribe fighting against fair-minded, neutral, or reasonable people. It condones it against groups who have grudges against the Muslims and are actively undermining their peace and security and inflicting harm upon them. That is the reason for the Qur’an’s condemnation that: “Evil is what they [the unbe- lievers] have done; they respect no pacts or agreements with the believers and they are the aggressors” (al-Tawbah: 9–10). Further- more, the Qur’an emphasizes the need to confront those aggressors in a just and clean fight, by asking: Would you not fight against those who have broken their oaths and conspired to drive the Messenger out, and attacked you first? Do you fear them? Surely you should fear God instead, if you are true believers. (al-Tawbah: 13) It is difficult to see how this can be seen as prescribing waging war against those who do not commit aggression, or that it overrides the principle given in al-Baqarah which states clearly that fighting is undertaken only in response to aggression. This—when propoun- ded by some Muslims—is at best a misunderstanding, and at worst an objectionable undermining of eternal Islamic principles, inviting noxious charges against Islam, for which we have only ourselves to blame. Here it is worth stressing that the Qur’an prescribes legiti- mate defensive war on condition that it is undertaken for the cause of God and not for personal glory nor to gain a special advantage; nor should wars be prescribed for the sake of vainglorious and bigo- ted nationalist interests to prove that a particular country is supreme A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an and master of all! Wars conducted in recent times have been organ- ized to usurp the wealth and the resources of weaker nations, and to colonize and control their lands and destinies for the benefit of strong and mighty ones. Far from being “just wars,” fought in the name of God, they are true works of evil. Wars are said to be con- ducted for God’s cause when they are fought to uphold God’s supremacy and drive out godless powers. True believers have always undertaken such proper fighting in order to keep alive the belief in and worship of the One God. The surah asks: “Who is more wicked than those who forbid God’s name being invoked in His mosques and seek to destroy them?” (114). The Qur’an observes: And if God had not enabled people to defend themselves against one another, corruption would surely overwhelm the earth: but God is limitless in His bounty unto all the worlds. (251) Indeed, right can only triumph and become firmly established when those who defend it are selfless, brave, and totally devoted to uphold and preserve it. Al-Baqarah contains a long and detailed discussion of family affairs. Since it appears at the beginning of the Qur’an, some may be misled into thinking that what it has to say about this subject is the first to be presented in the Qur’an. However, about two thirds of the Qur’an had been revealed before this surah, and the subject was dealt with extensively. In studying what the surah says about family affairs, one has to refer to what has already been said elsewhere in the Qur’an. One of the topics under the family heading is equality between the sexes, expressed in al-Na^l in these words: “Those who do good, be they male or female, and are true believers, We shall certainly grant them a good life and give them their rewards according to surah 2 • Al-Baqarah their best deeds” (al-Na^l: 97). The same principle was advocated by a believer from Moses’ generation who defied Egypt’s Pharaoh and his henchmen, and is quoted elsewhere in the Qur’an to have said: Those who do evil shall be rewarded with like evil, but whoever do good, be they males or females, and are true believers, shall enter Paradise, and therein receive limitless blessings. (Gh¥fir: 40) In another surah, we read: “One of His signs is that He created for you spouses from among yourselves, that you may find peace and harmony with them, and induce among you love and kindness” (al-R‰m: 21). This was stressed again in surah al-Na^l, when listing God’s favors upon people, which included giving them “spouses from among yourselves, and through them He gave you children and grandchildren” (al-Na^l: 72). Since the status of women and the position of the family in soci- ety have already been dealt with in other parts of the Qur’an, it will not come as a surprise that al-Baqarah should deal with details relat- ing to family disputes or other aspects of family life that may arise for which God’s rulings and guidance have to be sought. Hence, we find the surah dealing with oaths, divorce, child-bearing, breast- feeding, and so on. However, family legislation cannot endure and be effective without a firm basis of morality, faith, and piety. The surah points out that divorcees, men and women, might have sec- ond thoughts and choose not to sever the relationship altogether. They should use reason and common sense, on which the surah gives eight successive guidelines, for it says: If you divorce women and they have reached [the end of] their waiting period,

    1. retain them with honor, or
    2. let them go with dignity.
    3. You shall not detain them to harm them or to do them wrong.
    A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an
    • Whoever does this will wrong his own soul.
    • Do not take God’s revelations in vain;
    • remember God’s favors upon you and what He had revealed to you of the Book and wisdom in order to enlighten you.
    • Fear God and
    • remember that He is aware of all things. (231)
    What more can any religious system offer for a more amicable and courteous separation, and a more equitable and responsible way of protecting the rights and the future of all concerned in the family? Nevertheless, divorce in some Muslim communities has become rife, and one still comes across some ludicrous situations that have led to tragic family breakups, with the blame being put on Islam as being unfair to women! I have referred on other occasions to the Qur’anic expression “the bounds [or terms] set by God,” which appears six times in verses 229 and 230 of this surah, dealing with the subject of divorce. Very few Muslims have a clear understanding of this expression or the emphasis placed on it in the Qur’an and the context in which it is used. Women have been badly treated in many societies, but the odd thing is that this maltreatment is often blamed on the teachings of Islam, which have shown utmost respect and justice towards women. God says in the Qur’an: “Wives shall with justice have rights equal to those exercised against them, although men have precedence [in terms of financial responsibilities] over them” (228), which is quite clear in setting out the mutual rights and liabilities of husbands and wives. Nevertheless one notices, in certain backward communities, that women tend to give more than what they have a right to receive, or that they are treated with undue harshness and disdain. It is difficult to believe that such an attitude can have any- thing to do with any religion, let alone the religion of Islam. Of course, the wife herself may sometimes instigate the quarrel, and such disputes cannot always be settled at the hands of the law. surah 2 • Al-Baqarah There has to be an environment of trust in, and respect for “the terms [bounds] set by God” on the part of both sides. Enlightenment, gen- erosity, moral integrity, as well as a sense of equity and fairness, and a God-fearing community are all essential requirements for strong, happy, and well-protected families. The treatment of women in certain Muslim societies has been a soft target for the enemies of Islam, and has proved a dangerous breach through which they have relentlessly attacked its teachings and laws. This issue has been the Trojan horse for those who want to undermine Islam and Muslim societies by calling for the “liberation of Muslim women from the injustice and cruelty of Islam!” This has led to a bandwagon of opinion among sections of the intelligentsia in some Muslim countries, especially amongst women, who have taken up this issue with great enthusiasm. But certainly, some of those who claim to speak for Islam and grossly misrepresent it or are ignorant of the spirit of its legislation, are partly to blame. I once described the wife’s right to divorce from her husband in return for a monetary compensation she pays to the husband (the khula¢ah) as being equivalent to the husband’s right to divorce her. Accordingly, I argued, when a woman can no longer bear to live with a man for whatever reasons that she may reveal or keep to her- self, and she offers to pay him back the dowry he has advanced to her, the legal authorities concerned should have no reason not to grant her wish. Someone in the audience commented that a judge could grant a wife divorce if she were threatened with real harm. I replied that even if she were not, but nevertheless were not able to live with her husband for some reason and were willing to compen- sate him for what he had spent on her, there should be no reason why she should be forced to stay with him. My opponent insisted it would not be permissible as long as the husband was not agreeable to the divorce. I replied that it would be permissible and it would be up to the judge either to bring about reconciliation between A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an them or rule that the husband accept compensation in return for a divorce. Some religious zealots tend to deny a woman her individual enti- ty, while in the Qur’an we read that the wives of Noah and Pharaoh, for example, were independent of their husbands and were under no obligation to share in their actions or liabilities. When it comes to having children and setting up a family, husbands and wives share responsibilities and advantages equally, as the Qur’an says: None should be charged with more than they can bear. A mother should not be allowed to suffer on account of her child, nor should a father…But if, after consultation, they decide by mutual consent to wean the child [or separate it from its mother], they shall incur no guilt. (233) One important aspect of divorce which has been neglected in our societies is that of providing maintenance for divorced women. Divorce normally follows a period of much disagreement, acrimo- ny, and bitter emotional tussles that could destroy hearts and wipe out the best goodwill in the world. However, once divorce is agreed upon, the emotional animosity it leaves behind has to be watered down with some gracious gestures. This is clearly stated in the verse that says: Divorced women, too, have a right to maintenance that is duly incumbent on God-fearing men. Thus God makes clear His requi- sitions that you may comprehend. (241–42). I earnestly call upon Muslims today to refer to the Qur’an and the example of the Messenger Muhammad and to learn properly the rules and principles governing family life in Islam, and the most honorable ways of promoting happiness and efficiency in Muslim homes. We must look around, examine and understand surah 2 • Al-Baqarah what is happening in the world today. It is incredible that we should ban women from driving cars, when other societies allow them to lead nations. In Madinah, and following their emigration from Makkah, the Muslims continued to receive Qur’anic revelation as they had done previously over a period of thirteen years. The environment and the circumstances, however, had changed. For, whereas episodes from Jewish history had hitherto been cited and related for information and education, the talk about Jews now took a much more relevant, topical, and contemporary significance, affecting the present as well as the future. At Makkah, Muslims used to perform prayers individually, but now the mosque became the focus of the community and they flocked to it to pray collectively. Only the hypocrites or the weak and infirm stayed behind in their houses during prayer times. The essential characteristics of the new state began to emerge slowly and a new society was gradually taking shape. Narrow-minded individ- ualism was slowly but surely giving way to collective consolidated allegiance to God’s laws, in defense of which the Muslims sought strength in unity and collective vigilance. The unitarian belief in the one God had its roots firmly estab- lished by Makkan revelation, and to expound it further in Madinah was necessary for a clearer and more enlightened understanding of its significance. The Qur’an, after all, is a self-explanatory and self- sustaining book; it resorts to a great deal of repetition and para- phrasing of ideas and concepts. This can be seen in the many verses in this surah that talk of the unity of God, such as verse 163 which says: “Your God is one God; there is no god but Him, the Compas- sionate, the Merciful,” and verse 164 which says: A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an In the creation of the heavens and the earth, the alternation of night and day, the ships that sail the ocean carrying goods that are useful to humanity…there are signs for people who understand. These are followed by verses explaining the common bases that underlie people’s emotions, feelings, and behavior. Believers who love their God more than anything else reflect the fruits of this love in their actions and expressions. God is deserving of this adoration, because He is the ultimate manifestation of all glory, and greatness belongs to Him alone. This is beautifully articulated in the most magnificent verse of the Qur’an, also known as the verse of the Throne, which begins with the words: “God: there is no god but Him, the Living, the Eternal. Neither slumber nor sleep overtakes Him. His is what the heavens and the earth contain” (255). Yet, in order to establish the faith, it may be necessary to debate and argue on its behalf with those who deny or suppress it. The surah cites the confrontation of the prophet Abraham with a king of his time. It says: “Have you not heard of him who argued with Abraham about his Lord, because He had granted him power and sovereignty?” (258). Abraham, with God’s guidance and support, using sincere and simple arguments, was able to confound the arrogant tyrant. Thus we find in this surah, which was revealed early on in Madinah, another Qur’anic approach in dealing with major issues of faith and belief, without deviation from the main objectives of divine revelation. The Qur’an is a Book, as the surah states, “about which there is no doubt” (2). Muhammad and his followers excelled in their response to the teachings and commands of this surah and the revelation that followed it. As the Qur’an was being revealed, they were acting on its instructions and advice, eagerly and will- ingly. The Qur’an was setting out the characteristics, the frame- work, and the principles, showing the Muslims the way forward for them as individuals, and as members of society and citizens of a state. surah 2 • Al-Baqarah They were building and implementing, turning the ideas and con- cepts into living realities. With the diligence and devotion of those early pioneers, Madinah was well on its way to becoming the great new capital of one of the most formidable and enduring religions the world has ever known; a citadel for what verse 143 describes as the “middle nation,” and the most righteous. It is a nation raised by divine revelation, and teachings containing guidance, sent by God to His Messenger, who in turn passed it on to his followers. The verse says: “Thus We have made you a middle nation, so that you may bear witness over all humanity, and the Messenger [Muham- mad] shall in turn bear witness over you” (143). In the last two verses of this surah, God Almighty states that Prophet Muhammad and his followers were true to their faith and diligent in their understanding and implementation of the com- mands and exhortations contained in this surah and in others after it, and had acted upon them faithfully and with enthusiasm, to the best of their abilities. For this reason, God had given them His support and His blessings. They excelled their predecessors who had recei- ved divine revelation but did not respect or act according to it. The Arabs were an illiterate people who, prior to receiving the Qur’anic revelations, had little influence on the course of human civilization. Since then, however, their reputation and standing in the world began to rise and spread until they became the leading nation of the world. For centuries they were world pioneers in all fields of religion, science, law, and social affairs. The contribution they made to human civilization, when untainted by worldly or divisive concerns, was free of racial ethnocentricity and materialistic aggrandizement. Their civilization was in essence devoted to God and looked on this world as a prelude to a more meaningful and fulfilled life hereafter. The penultimate verse says: The Messenger believes in what has been revealed to him by his Lord, and so do the believers. They all believe in God and His A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an angels, His books, and His messengers, making no distinction among any of His messengers. They say: “We have heard and we obey; grant us Your forgiveness, our Lord; to You we shall all return.” (285) Muslims have no race to be biased towards, nor a homeland to identify with, because their allegiance is to the universal God, the Creator and Lord of all. They have no advantage over other nations or human groups except by what they pass on to them of the reli- gion of Islam, and they are distinguished by their piety and sincere faith. The special reputation and place gained by the city of Madinah in the history of Islam are directly linked to the fact that it was the cradle of revelation and first city of the great Islamic nation that has since emerged. In it were created the first Muslim families, market- places, government cadres, centers of learning, trade enterprises, farms, and legislative councils; all under the guidance of divine reve- lation and the enlightened leadership of the exponent of that revelation, Muhammad. History tells us that the Prophet had once selected a very young man for a leadership post because he had memorized and learnt this surah well, indicating its distinguished and prestigious status in the Qur’an. Finally, as we look at the last verse in the surah, our attention is drawn to the historic phenomenon that nations which attain ascen- dancy and supremacy usually display arrogance and conceit, and look down upon other weaker nations. Today’s domineering vain- glorious civilization, which has encompassed both east and west, is a vivid living example—a culture of decadence and gross injustice thriving on the great achievements and glory of a genius elite who have split the atom and made inroads into outer space. When the Muslims were a leading nation, however, and at the height of their surah 2 • Al-Baqarah achievement, they were overwhelmed by a sense of submission to God and a need for His support and guidance. They have always sought God’s forgiveness and looked up to His grace, praying: Our Lord, do not take us to task if we forget or make mistakes, Our Lord, do not lay upon us a burden such as You had laid upon those before us, Our Lord, do not burden us with more than what we can bear. Pardon us, forgive us our sins, and have mercy upon us. You are our Lord, Grant us victory over the unbelievers. (286)

  • flag

    الم

  • flag

    ذَٰلِكَ الْكِتَابُ لَا رَيْبَ ۛ فِيهِ ۛ هُدًى لِّلْمُتَّقِينَ

  • flag

    الَّذِينَ يُؤْمِنُونَ بِالْغَيْبِ وَيُقِيمُونَ الصَّلَاةَ وَمِمَّا رَزَقْنَاهُمْ يُنفِقُونَ

  • flag

    وَالَّذِينَ يُؤْمِنُونَ بِمَا أُنزِلَ إِلَيْكَ وَمَا أُنزِلَ مِن قَبْلِكَ وَبِالْآخِرَةِ هُمْ يُوقِنُونَ

  • flag

    أُولَٰئِكَ عَلَىٰ هُدًى مِّن رَّبِّهِمْ ۖ وَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُونَ

  • flag

    إِنَّ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا سَوَاءٌ عَلَيْهِمْ أَأَنذَرْتَهُمْ أَمْ لَمْ تُنذِرْهُمْ لَا يُؤْمِنُونَ

  • flag

    خَتَمَ اللَّهُ عَلَىٰ قُلُوبِهِمْ وَعَلَىٰ سَمْعِهِمْ ۖ وَعَلَىٰ أَبْصَارِهِمْ غِشَاوَةٌ ۖ وَلَهُمْ عَذَابٌ عَظِيمٌ

  • flag

    وَمِنَ النَّاسِ مَن يَقُولُ آمَنَّا بِاللَّهِ وَبِالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ وَمَا هُم بِمُؤْمِنِينَ

  • flag

    يُخَادِعُونَ اللَّهَ وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَمَا يَخْدَعُونَ إِلَّا أَنفُسَهُمْ وَمَا يَشْعُرُونَ

Alpino

Please wait...