Overview - Surah 2: al-Baqarah (The Cow)

Surah Introduction

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Surah al-Baqarah is the longest Surah of the Qur'an with 286 Ayat, has the longest Ayat of the Qur'an (2:282), the greatest Ayat of the Qur'an (2:255), and reportedly the last Ayat of the Qur'an revealed (2:281). The Surah, revealed in Madinah, deals with a number of issues related to Guidance, Allah’s Governance on Earth, history of previous Muslim Ummah and instructions for the new Muslim Ummah.

The Surah begins with the statement that it is Allah who revealed this book (the Qur'an) for the guidance of those who are conscious of Allah. Only those who seek guidance can benefit from the guidance of this Book. There are three types of human beings:

  1. Those who believe in the unseen realities, perform prayers, give part of their wealth in charity, believe in what is revealed in this scripture and what was revealed before to other prophets and messengers of Allah. These are the true believers. They shall benefit from this book and they shall be eternally successful.
  2. Second group consists of those who have decided to reject Allah's message. They are the Kafirs. Since they have made up their minds to reject Islam, no preaching will help them.  Allah will punish them on the Day of Judgment because of their rejection.
  3. Third is the group of people who say that they have believed, but actually they have not believed. They try to be on both sides: sometimes at the side of faith and sometimes at the side of unfaith. They are the hypocrites. They may think that in this way they will gain both sides, but in reality they are also the losers.

Sections:

  1. The Book of Guidance for those who want to be righteous. The difference between the believers and the non-believers.
  2. The hypocrites: their sickness, mischief and self-deception.
  3. Mankind, worship Allah alone. Make no partners in Allah's divinity. The challenge of the Qur’an. This Book will guide many but many will remain in error. The character of those who shall remain in error.
  4. The story of the creation of Adam. Allah’s plan and promise to send His guidance from time to time through His prophets.
  5. Address to Bani Israel to accept this message. Allah’s covenant must be fulfilled.
  6. Warnings to those who stray from the covenant of God. How some from among the Children of Israel turned away from God’s teachings.
  7. God’s blessings on the Children of Israel and their transgressions.
  8. The real recipients of Divine salvation. The hesitation of Bani Israel in sacrificing the cow.
  9. Some perversions of those who were supposed to follow the law of God.
  10. Basic principles of God’s Covenant with the Children of Israel.
  11. Some of them were arrogant to follow the teachings of their prophets, some rejected the prophets or tried to kill them, some worshipped the calf, disobeyed God’s commands and became too greedy for the life of this world.
  12. Opposition and enmity towards the Prophets, following devils and magic.
  13. Reminders to the Believers to follow these examples. Stay firm on your principles. Some among the People of the Book will try to mislead you with false claims and assertions.
  14. The true guidance of Allah is here. Read the Book of Allah and follow it.
  15. The great example of Prophet Ibrahim. He and his son built the Ka’bah and prayed for a Prophet to come.
  16. Prophet Ibrahim –peace be upon him- submitted to Allah and this is the message that he and his sons gave to their progeny. 
  17. The change of Qiblah and the response of the hypocrites and fools.  Those who have knowledge know that this is the true Qiblah of all the Prophets.
  18. Follow this direction wherever you are. This is the universal Qiblah for all.
  19. Believers will be tried but they should be firm and steadfast and must face the trials with patience and prayers.
  20. Allah’s signs and His bounties are everywhere. The polytheists and idolaters are misplacing their loyalties.
  21. Believers should eat good and permissible food and should never follow the steps of the devil.
  22. The true piety and righteousness. Some rules related to the punishment of murderers. The rules of bequests.
  23. Fasting and Ramadan: the objective of fasting and some rules.
  24. Rules of Hajj, fighting those who expelled Muslims from their homes.
  25. No fighting during Hajj,  rather seek God’s  bounty when you return from Hajj.
  26. Appreciate God’s bounties. All human beings were originally one community. Divisions came later. Be generous and defend your self and your faith.
  27. Some important questions answered: War in the sacred months, wine and gambling, charity, orphans’ money, divorced women and their situation.
  28. The laws of divorce
  29. Continuation of the laws of divorce.
  30. Rules on the remarriage of the divorced women or the widowers.
  31. Further rules of divorce
  32. Fighting in the cause of God: Israelites
  33. Under the leadership of Prophet David the victory came over the forces of Goliath.
  34. Emphasis on charity. To Allah belong everything. His Throne extends to heaven and earth. No compulsion in religion. Allah brings out people from darkness unto light.
  35. Allah’s power over life and death, some examples: Prophet Ibrahim’s dialogue with Namrood, a man in the valley of dead (probably Prophet Ezekiel’s vision of Jerusalem), Prophet Ibrahim asks Allah how will He raise the dead to life. Allah’s answer to Prophet Ibrahim.
  36. Allah blesses charity: some examples of how Allah blesses charity
  37. Emphasis on charity: spend good things, give openly and secretly to the poor and needy.
  38. Prohibition of usuary (riba) and its bad effects on individuals and society
  39. Some rules on loan transactions
  40. Conclusion and prayer: Everything in the heaven and earth belong to Allah, the prayer of the believers.

The name of the Surah has been mentioned in many authentic hadeeth as ‘al-Baqarah’ as is mentioned by the Prophet, ‘the last two Ayaat from the end of Surah al-Baqarah – whoever reads them at night it will suffice him.’ [Bukhari no. 4753]

Other names used for this Surah include;

  • az-Zahra - The Light
  • as-Sanaam - The Peak
  • al-Fustaat - The Tent/Pavilion

There are 286 Ayat of Surah al-Baqarah.

Overview

Total Ayat286
Total Words *6112
Root Words *600
Unique Root Words *18
Makki / MadaniMadani
Chronological Order* 87th (according to Ibn Abbas)
Year of Revelation* 14th year of Prophethood (1st Year Hijri)
Events during/before this Surah*
Migration from Makkah to Madinah - Building of Masjid Nabi in Madinah - Treaty with Jews of Madinah - Marriage of Prophet to Aishah, , 2nd Pledge of Aqabah, 1st Pledge of Aqabah, Death of Abu Talib - Death of Khadijah - Stoning at Ta'if - al-Isra wal Mi'raj - Night Journey, Boycott of Banu Hashim Yr 3, Boycott of Banu Hashim Yr 2, Boycott of Banu Hashim Yr 1, 2nd Migration to Abyssinia, Physical beating and torture of some Muslims - 1st Migration of Muslims to Abyssinia, Public Invitation to Islam - Persecution of Muslims; antagonism - ridicule - derision - accusation - abuse and false propaganda., Revelation begins - Private Invitation to Islam , Revelation begins - Private Invitation to Islam , Revelation begins - Private Invitation to Islam
Events during/after still to occur*
Change of Qiblah from Jerusalem to Makkah - Battle of Badr,Battle of Uhud,,Battle of Ahzab - Expedition of Banu Quraydhah,Treaty of Hudaiybiyah - Letters to Kings and Rulers,,Conquest of Makkah - Battle of Hunain,Hajj led by Abu Bakr - Expedition of Tabuk,Farewell Hajj by Prophet - Death of Prophet - End of Divine Revelation
Names of Prophets Mentioned
Adam, Ibrahim, Ismail, Ishaq, Yaqub, Musa, Harun, Dawud, Sulayman, Isa
Surah Index
Aaron (House of) , Abraham, Abrogation, Adam, Adam (angels to prostrate before) , Adam (tree of knowledge) , Adam (banishment from Garden (no blame to Eve)) , Adversity (not burdened beyond capability to withstand) , Adversity (patience during) , God (ability to do anything) , God (caused a man to sleep for a century) , God (enemy of those who deny the truth) , God (nature of) , Angels, Apes (despicable) , Apostasy (punishment in the hereafter) , Behaviour (community should be moderate) , Behaviour (each group given a law and way of life) , Belief (in all revelations) , Believers, Calendar (lunar) , Charity, Charity (precedence of spending) , Children (breast feed for two years) , Children (of Israel) , Children (wet nurses) , Christians (righteous will be rewarded) , Commandments (general religious) , Contract Law (contract must be in writing) , Contract Law (during journey a person’s word is acceptable) , Contract Law (when things go wrong don’t punish scribe or witness) , Contract Law (witnesses told to be truthful) , Contract Law (witnessing (two men--- or one man and two women)) , Customs, David (and Goliath) , Death, Death (those slain in God’s cause are alive) , Disbelievers, Disbelievers (God’s promise to) , Disbelievers (relationship to belivers) , Divorce (after waiting period--- dissolve or reconcile) , Divorce (alimony) , Divorce (alimony) (extends to ex-husband’s heir), Divorce (can be revoked twice) , Divorce (dowry status) , Divorce (Man) (four months to change his mind), Divorce (mother shouldn’t suffer because of her fatherless child) , Divorce (sinless if marriage unconsummated) , Divorce (sinless if marriage unconsummated) (bride entitled to half of the dowry), Divorce (Woman) (after third divorce (this one from another husband) can return to original husband), Divorce (Woman) (entitled to maintenance), Divorce (Woman) , Divorce (Woman) (may keep what her husband gave her), Divorce (Woman) (three menstruation wait to disprove pregnancy), Earth, Fasting, Fasting (during the Hajj) , Fasting (during Ramadhan) , Fasting (exemptions) , Fasting (hours of) , Fighting (aggression) (forbidden), Fighting, Fighting (forbidden during the four sacred months) (unless attacked), Fighting (when ordained) , Food (forbidden) , Food (lawful) , Gabriel, Games of Chance (forbidden) , Geographic locations and History (As Safa and Al Marwah) , Golden Calf, Golden Calf (and thunderbolt of punishment) , Golden Calf (forgiven after destruction of) , Goliath, Goliath (and David) , Hagar (and Ishmael) , Hajj, Hajj (abstention from quarreling during) , Hajj (exemption from) , Hajj (fasting during) , Hajj (sacrifice during) , Harut and Marut, Health rules (children) (breast feed for two years), Health rules (food) , Health rules (menstruation) , Heaven, Heaven (pure spouses in) , Heaven (several) , Hell, Humankind (creation of) , Hypocrites, Iblis, Imposters (religious) , Imposters (punishment for) , Inheritance, Intoxicants (forbidden except in dire circumstances) , Isaac, Ishmael, Ishmael (and Hagar) , Jacob, Jesus (his holy inspiration) , Jews (and Christians) , Jews (and Christians) (fights between), Jews (and Christians) (heaven not only for them), Jews (claim that they alone are close to God) , Jews (good deeds of ancestors don’t count) , Jews (mistaken to believe in their own revelations only) , Jews (ransoming each other during the Prophet’s life) , Jews (religious commandments) , Jews (righteous will be rewarded) , Jews, Jews (slaying prophets) , Jihad, Jihad (striving hard in God’s cause) , Jinn, Judgement (Day) , Ka’bah, Ka’bah (creation of) , Killing, Killing (only during hostilities in progress) , Killing (oppression more awesome than) , Killing (retribution) , Knowledge, Knowledge (obligation upon man to obtain and impart) , Kufr, Marriage (forbidden) (to non-believers), Marriage (spouses are raiment for each other) , Makkah, Makkah (turn and pray toward) , Menstruation, Months (four sacred) (unless attacked), Moses (bringing forth water from the rock) , Moses (forty nights upon Mt. Sinai) , Moses (House of) , Native peoples (don’t drive them out) , Native peoples (don’t drive them out) (reject those who do), Oaths, Oppression, Oppression (more awesome than killing) , Orphans, Pharaoh (torture by and deliverance from) , Piety, Prayer, Prayer (content) , Prayer (of Abraham) , Prayer (style of) , Prayer (while in danger) , Prophet (purpose of) , Prophet (some superior) , Qur’an (guidance to humans) , Ramadhan, Red Sea (parting of) , Religion, Religion (no coercion in matters of faith) , Resurrection (Day) , Resurrection (of soul) , Revelation, Sabbath (breakers) , Sabians (righteous will be rewarded) , Saul, Sea, Sexual Relations, Sexes (equality of) (in divorce), Ships, Sin, Sinai Mt., Skin, Slaves (freeing) (is the act of a truly pious person), Solomon, Sorcery (is evil) , Stealing (is wrong even through the judiciary) , Ten Commandments, Torah, Usury (delay repayment (forgiving debt is better)) , Usury (forbidden) , Usury (forgive debt) , Weather (clouds) (and their patterns), Weather (rain) , Widows (provisions for one year) , Widows (provisions for one year) (year in husband’s home), Widows (wait four months and ten days before remarriage) , Widows (wait four months and ten days before remarriage) (ok to plan remarriage during waiting period), Wills, Wills (amending forbidden)

Central Theme

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  • Guidance. The Surah makes it clear what the Straight Path is – who are upon it, who are not, what are their attributes
    Allah’s Governance on Earth. The Surah was aptly revealed shortly after the establishment of the Islamic state in Madinah. Indeed, the first story of this Surah is about Adam, the very first Caliph of Allah on Earth. Various facets of the Shariah are explained and expounded for the newly established state, which will in turn only rule by the rulings and commands of Allah. Hence we find rulings/regulations on divorce, Hajj, Zakat, Ramadhan, Jihad, Financial transactions etc  
  • The Surah revolves around the theme of the methodology in application of the Khilafah of Allah on Earth
    As a lesson to the new Muslim Ummah, Surah al-Baqarah deals with the previous ‘Muslim Ummah’ the Children of Israel [and their remnants in Madinah] – the promise of Allah to them, their attributes, how they dealt with the Laws of Allah, and how they were punished. All this providing as a warning to the new Muslim ummah [nation] not to repeat these and the failure to do so will result in similar punishments  
  • The significance of ayat 143 as the Muslims being the middle nation  
  • In essence, the themes of the whole Qur'an can be linked back to Surah al-Baqarah.  
  • Surah al-Baqarah is about the building of a society. Makki Ayat are primary focused on the Individual and Madani Ayat address the Muslims as a community  
  • Just like the changing of the Qiblah from praying towards Jerusalem to praying towards Makkah, the transformation from the previous Muslim ummah, the Children of Israel to the final Muslim ummah now in Madinah  
  • "This Surah is an invitation to the Divine Guidance and all the stories, incidents etc., revolve around this central theme. As this Surah has particularly been addressed to the Jews, many historical events have been cited from their own traditions to admonish and advise them that their own good lies in accepting the Guidance revealed to the Prophet. They should, therefore, be the first to accept it because it was basically the same that was revealed to Prophet Moses." [Mawdudi, Tafhim]

 

Connection of the name of the Surah and its Ayaat

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There a number of names used for this Surah listed by the scholars:

al-Baqarah: This is in reference to the story of the Cow in the incident involving the murder amongst the Children of Israel. The story of the Cow contains the most important lessons for the Believer in relation to the commands of Allah. We learn how we should and how we should not behave with respect to the Shariah and urgency of acting upon the commands and not indulging in excessive questioning. In their implementation of the Law, their excessive questioning and hesitation in implementing the commands of Allah led to their situation only becoming more difficult upon themselves.

Sanaam: Linguistically means the peak or highest point on something or place, for example the sanaam of a camel is in reference to the hump being its highest point. The sanaam of a people are its leaders. Hence, Surah al-Baqarah is the peak with respect to the Qur'an as it contains the most important guidelines in establishing Islam as a system of life. The Prophet [saw] said, ‘Everything has a peak and the peak of the Qur’an is al-Baqarah.’ [Tirmidhee no. 2878].

Fustaat: Ibn Katheer mentions that Khalid bin Ma'dan would refer to this Surah as the fustat of the Qur'an. Fustat can be translated as 'tent' and just as the tent in the battlefield is the head quarters from which all the orders are issued, the Surah is the source/head of the remainder of the Qur'an.

Zahra:  Translated as light, this Surah is a light on the path of guidance in this world and the after-life. 

Connection between the beginning and the ending of the Surah

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  • The beginning of the Surah mentions the attributes of Iman [faith] that the Believer has – Ayah (2:3) and (2:4) mention Iman in:

                 a) al-Ghayb [unseen]
                 b) Belief in the Revelation sent upon Prophet Muhammad
                 c) Belief in the Revelations sent upon all the previous Messengers
                 d) Yaqeen [complete faith] in the Akhirah [afterlife]

  • The end of the Surah (2:285) the following aspects of Iman [faith] are mentioned:

                a) Belief in Allah
                b) Belief in the Angels
                c) Belief in the Books [of revelation]
                d) Belief in the Messengers – not differientating between any of them [their message was the same]

Combined together they form the first 5 aspects of Iman as mentioned in the Hadith of Jibril [Sahih Muslim – the only aspect of Iman not mentioned in these Ayat but said in the Hadith is Qadr [pre-destination]

Manuscripts / Inscriptions

Connection of the Surah to the Surah before/after it

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Surah al-Fatihah and al-Baqarah

  • Though it is a Madani Surah, it follows naturally a Makkan Surah, Surah 1: al-Fatihah (The Opening), which ended with the prayer: “Show us the straight way.” It begins with the answer to that prayer, “This is the Book (that) . . . is guidance.”
  • In Surah al-Fatihah, one asks to be guided on the way/path of those who have been favoured by Allah and not those who have earnt the anger of Allah nor those who are misguided. Hence, Surah al-Baqarah begins with describing the first category of people and then the second category of people. 
  • Based on the Hadith of the Prophet, the Maghdub [those whom have the anger of Allah] are the Jews and the Dhal [astray] are the Christians. Hence in the following two Surah’s both communities are addressed in same sequence, with al-Baqarah addressing the Jews and Al-Imran addressing the Christians.

Surah al-Baqarah and Ale-Imran 

  • They both begin with Alif-Lam-Meem.
  • Both end with profound Duas.
  • Both revealed in Madinah.
  • Al-Baqarah declares the Muslims as the ‘Middle Nation’ (2:143) and Ale-Imran declares the Muslims as the ‘Best nation’ (3:110) brought forth for the service of Mankind.
  • They both contain Ayaat on usury/interest. 
  • Both contain Ayaat which state the Martyrs are alive.
  • Surah al-Baqarah and Ale-Imran are the only Surahs of the Qur'an (2:96) (3:185) which have the root word زُحْزِحَ
  • The first mention of Jannah in both Surah al-Baqarah  and Ale-Imran mention Azwaj un Mutaharah 'Purified Spouses.' In (2:25) and (3:15).
  • The question, "Do you think you will enter Jannah (without)...." appears in both Surahs (not occuring anywhere else in the Qur'an)
    "Do you think that you will enter Paradise while such [trial] has not yet come to you as came to those who passed on before you?" (2:214)
    "Or do you think that you will enter Paradise while Allah has not yet made evident those of you who fight in His cause and made evident those who are steadfast?" (3:142)

The Virtues of the Surah

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  • The Prophet described the Surah al-Baqarah as the Sanaam [peak] of the Qur’an. He said, ‘Everything has a peak and the peak of the Qur’an is al-Baqarah.’ [Tirmidhee no. 2878 – Hasan Ghareeb].
  • The Prophet’s Companions had a slogan when they fought Musaylimah [the false prophet], ‘O companions of Surah al-Baqarah’ [Ibn Abi Shaybah no. 33572 and Abdur Razzaq in his Musanaf no. 9465].
  • The Shayateen [jinn] flee from a house that it is recited in.
  • The Prophet said, ‘Do not turn your households into graveyards. Indeed, the shayateen flee from a household that has Surah al-Baqarah read in it.’ [Sahih Muslim no. 780.]
  • The Prophet said, ‘....Surah al-Baqarah...whoever recites it in their home in the day the shayateen [devils] will not enter it for 3 nights.’ [Ibn Hibban no. 109/2 – Hasan].
  • Leadership chosen based on relationship to this Surah.
  • The Messenger of Allah sent an expedition force [comprised] of many, and he asked each what he could recite, so each one of them mentioned what he could recite - meaning what he had memorised of the Qur'an. He came to one of the youngest men among them and said: 'What have you memorised O so-and-so?' He said: 'I memorised this and that and Surat Al-Baqarah.' He said: 'You memorised Surat Al-Baqarah?' He said: "Yes.' He said: "Then go, for you are their commander.' [Tirmidhee no. 2876 – Hasan].
  • It contains the Greatest Name of Allah.
  • On the authority of Abu Ummamah that the Messenger of Allah said, ‘The Greatest Name of Allah by which if He is supplicated will be answered is in three Surahs, al-Baqarah, Al-Imran and Taha.....i.e. al-Hayyu al-Qayyum.’ [Mustradak al-Hakim no. 1867].
  • A Scholar is one who has understood the first seven Surahs of the Qur’an. The Prophet said, ‘Whoever takes from the first seven Surahs of the Qur’an is a Hibr [scholar]’ [Mustradak al-Hakim no. 2070].
  • The Prophet is reported to have said, "Whoever recites the last two Ayat of Surah al-Baqarah it would be sufficient for him." [Bukhari] 

Special Features of the Surah

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  • It is the longest Surah of the Qur'an with 286 Ayat.
  • It has the longest Ayat of the Qur'an (2:282).
  • It has the greatest Ayat of the Qur'an (2:255).
  • It has the last Ayat of the Qur'an revealed (2:281), according to some narrations.
  • Although Nifaq (Hypocrisy) is alluded to, the word Nifaq and Munafiqeen are not mentioned in this Surah by name. 

Important key and unique words of the Surah

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  • Taqwa - words derived from و ق ي occur with the frequency of 258 times in 237 ayat. Interestingly, the highest frequency of these words appear in Surah al-Baqarah compared to any other Surah. The Muslim nation's character is built upon Taqwa.
  • شطر - Shatr - direction/half etc - is a word only used in Surah al-Baqarah. It appears 5 times.
  • The word رَفَثَ [acts leading and including sexual intercouse] appears only in Surah al-Baqarah. Occuring twice in (2:187) and (2:197)
  • يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا​ "O you who Believe" - This is first time this phrase appears in the Qur’an,  and it does not appear in any Makki Surah. It is mentioned 11 Times  in Surah al-Baqarah. The phrase  'O you who Believe'  are the the opening words of  Surah al-Maidah and it appears more times in Surah al-Maidah than any other Surah, occuring 16 times  [confimation needed
  • 'Baqar' - 'adult cow' occurs 5 times in Surah al-Baqarah, which is the most amount compared to all other Surahs. In total, it occurs 9 times in the Qur'an. In Surah Yusuf (12) and Surah al-An'am (6) it occurs twice respectively. 7 out of the 9 times it occurs with respect to Children of Israel. 
  • ٱلْعِجْلَ - calf -  is the word used to describe the child of the Cow, usually from birth to 2 years old. This word occurs the most frequent in this Surah appearing 4 times. It occurs 10 times in the whole Qur'an.
  • Words derived from قتل  Q-T-L [to fight] occur 170 times in 122 Ayat in the Qur'an. It occurs 30 times in Surah al-Baqarah, which is the highest frequency compared to any other Surah. 
  • The word, رمضان Ramadhan only appears once in the Qur'an, appearing in this Surah. (2:185)
  • The word الْأَهِلَّةِ  - crescent moon - in the (2:189) the only mention of  this word in the Qur’an.
  • الْحَجِّ  The word 'Hajj' appears in the Qur’an 12 times – 8 times in Surah al-Baqarah – the most in the Qur’an.
  • رَفَثَ  - a word only used in Surah al-Baqarah - used twice (2:187) and (2:197). It is defined as to whatever might lead to sexual intercourse, such as embracing, kissing and talking to women about similar subjects.
  • The word يَسْأَلُونَكَ - 'They ask you [O Prophet]' appears in the Qur'an 15 times. It occurs in Surah al-Baqarah 7 times - this highest in any Surah.
  • إِلْحَافًا  - The triliteral root lām ḥā fā (ل ح ف) occurs only once in the Qur'an (2:273).
 
Total Word Count per Ayat (shows how many words per Ayat) *