Surah al-Baqarah (The Cow) 2 : 124

۞ وَإِذِ ٱبْتَلَىٰٓ إِبْرَٰهِۦمَ رَبُّهُۥ بِكَلِمَٰتٍ فَأَتَمَّهُنَّ ۖ قَالَ إِنِّى جَاعِلُكَ لِلنَّاسِ إِمَامًا ۖ قَالَ وَمِن ذُرِّيَّتِى ۖ قَالَ لَا يَنَالُ عَهْدِى ٱلظَّٰلِمِينَ


 Muhsin Khan
 Yusuf Ali
Quran Project
And [mention, O Muhammad], when Abraham was tried by his Lord with words [i.e., commands] and he fulfilled them. [Allāh] said, "Indeed, I will make you a leader for the people." [Abraham] said, "And of my descendants?" [Allāh] said, "My covenant does not include the wrongdoers."

1. Lessons/Guidance/Reflections/Gems

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Explanatory Note

The Prophet is here reminded of how God had imparted certain commandments and obligations to Abraham in order to test his faith, loyalty and resolve. Elsewhere in the Qur’ān, he is described as “Abraham, who was faithful to his trust.” (53: 37) This is a recognition by God of Abraham’s faithful and complete fulfilment of those obligations, according him a very high rank in God’s estimation. Hence, God’s promise: “I have appointed you a leader of mankind” Thus, Abraham becomes the leader to be followed, the one who shows people the way to all goodness.

Being human, Abraham is immediately prompted to wish for that blessing and privilege to be extended to his offspring. What Abraham expressed was a natural instinctive human reaction, because man is always eager to multiply and perpetuate his achievements and attainments. By the passing of knowledge and experience from one generation to the next, the human lot is improved and life is preserved. This natural and necessary human process has been a target for criticism and attack, while Islam recognises its importance, and promotes it through its law of inheritance, so that it serves human society to the full.

The answer to Abraham’s question, “And what of my descendants?” reiterates an already stated major principle: that religious leadership and authority are granted purely on merit, in reward for sincere faith and diligent work. They are not inherited through ancestral lineage. God said: “My covenant does not apply to the wrongdoers.”

Wrongdoing” takes various forms: it might be directed at oneself, by associating partners with God, or it might be oppression directed at fellow human beings. The leadership denied to wrongdoers includes all the meanings covered by the Arabic term imām, which include prophethood, political authority, and the leading of congregational prayers. Equity and justice make up the foremost qualification for this lofty vocation, and no one who deviates from these qualities deserves any form of leadership, in its widest sense.

This is the clear essence of the covenant made with Abraham. According to it, the Jews, as a result of their repeated wrongdoing, self-indulgence and waywardness, could never have an exclusive monopoly of the leadership of mankind. Similarly, and for the same reasons, some so-called Muslims today would also be barred from that covenant.

Islam gives no credence to ties or relationships not based on faith and sincere action. It places a sharp distinction between one generation and another when the later one deviates from the faith, despite their common ancestry. Indeed, according to Islam, faith can separate father and son, and man and wife. Thus the Arabs who adopted Islam are distinguished from those who did not, just as Jews and Christians who believed in the religion of Abraham, Moses and Jesus are distinguished from those who deviated from them. Ancestors and offspring only become one family or nation when they are all believers united by the same faith, regardless of colour and geographic or ethnic origins.

  • This is the first time the name Ibrahim appears in the Qur’an. ‘Ibrahim’ is mentioned in the Qur’an 69 times. He is mentioned more times in Surah al-Baqarah than in any other Surah, totalling 15 times.  
  • Ibrahim was
    - He was Khalil of Allah
    - His people tried to burn him alive, but Allah Almighty saved him.
    - Allah blessed him with children in old age.
    - He was tested, by Allah to leave his newborn in the desert and rely upon Allah.
    - He was asked to then sacrifice his son – and this was a إِنَّ هَـٰذَا لَهُوَ الْبَلَاءُ الْمُبِينُ ‘clear trial’ (37:106)
  • بِكَلِمَٰتٍ [words] means, "Laws, commandments and prohibitions.'' – He was tested with small, large and great things with respect to his body, heart and others [children and family]. He was tested to see whether he is [and becomes] of those who submits themselves, truly believes, is always obedient, is charitable, is patient, is in awe of Allah, always speaks the truth, fasts, protects his chastity and whether he is of those who constantly remembering Allah.  

  • One of the lessons we can learn from Allah Almighty mentioning  لَا يَنَالُ عَهْدِى ٱلظَّٰلِمِينَ "....My covenant does not include the wrongdoers." is that this dismisses any false notions the Jews had of being eternally favoured. Indeed, they were the chosen ones by God at one stage, however the contract between them and God was based on them being believers not by mere virtue of being the descendants of Ibrahim. 

  • استدل جماعة من العلماء بهذه الآية على أن الإمام يكون من أهل العدل والإحسان والفضل مع القوة على القيام بذلك ....فأما أهل الفسوق والجور والظلم فليسوا له بأهل؛ لقوله تعالى: (لا ينال عهدي الظالمين)القرطبي: 2/370 [Be the first to translate this...]
  • كان إبراهيمُ إماماً للمصلحين والمهتدين بسبب قيامه بشريعة الله أتم قيام، فمن أراد أن يكون إماماً فليعمل بعلمه، ﴿ وَإِذِ ٱبْتَلَىٰٓ إِبْرَٰهِۦمَ رَبُّهُۥ بِكَلِمَٰتٍ فَأَتَمَّهُنَّ ۖ قَالَ إِنِّى جَاعِلُكَ لِلنَّاسِ إِمَامًا  [Be the first to translate this...]

2. Linguistic Analysis

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Frequency of Root words in this Ayat used in this Surah *

3. Surah Overview

4. Miscellaneous Information

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5. Connected/Related Ayat

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  • وَإِبْرَاهِيمَ الَّذِي وَفَّىٰ
    "And [of] Abraham, who fulfilled [his obligations] -" (53:37)
  • إِنَّ إِبْرَهِيمَ كَانَ أُمَّةً قَـنِتًا لِلَّهِ حَنِيفًا وَلَمْ يَكُ مِنَ الْمُشْرِكِينَ - شَاكِراً لانْعُمِهِ اجْتَبَـهُ وَهَدَاهُ إِلَى صِرَطٍ مُّسْتَقِيمٍ
    "Verily, Ibrahim was an Ummah (or a nation), obedient to Allah, Hanif (i.e. to worship none but Allah), and he was not one of those who were Al-Mushrikin (polytheists), (He was) thankful for His (Allah's) favors. He (Allah) chose him and guided him to a straight path." (16:120-121)
  • The sacrificing of his son -  إِنَّ هَـٰذَا لَهُوَ الْبَلَاءُ الْمُبِينُ "Indeed, this was the clear trial." (37:106)
  • كُلُّ نَفْسٍ ذَائِقَةُ الْمَوْتِ ۗ وَنَبْلُوكُم بِالشَّرِّ وَالْخَيْرِ فِتْنَةً ۖ وَإِلَيْنَا تُرْجَعُونَ 
     "Every soul will taste death. And We test you with evil and with good as trial; and to Us you will be returned." (21:35)
  •  قَالَ هَـٰذَا مِن فَضْلِ رَبِّي لِيَبْلُوَنِي أَأَشْكُرُ أَمْ أَكْفُرُ ۖ وَمَن شَكَرَ فَإِنَّمَا يَشْكُرُ لِنَفْسِهِ ۖ وَمَن كَفَرَ فَإِنَّ رَبِّي غَنِيٌّ كَرِيمٌ
    "....this is from the favor of my Lord to test me whether I will be grateful or ungrateful. And whoever is grateful - his gratitude is only for [the benefit of] himself. And whoever is ungrateful - then indeed, my Lord is Free of need and Generous." (27:40)

6. Frequency of the word

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7. Period of Revelation

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The scholars are unanimous that Surah al-Baqarah is Madani and that it was the first Surah revealed in Madinah. [Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani in Fath al-Bari no. 160/8].

Despite it being the first Surah to be revealed in Madinah, it contains Ayaat from a later period also. In fact, according to Ibn Abbas [as mentioned in Ibn Kathir] the last Ayat revealed to the Prophet was Ayat no. 281 from Surah al-Baqarah and this occurred 8 days or so before his death [which corresponds to the year 11 Hijri].

8. Reasons for Revelation

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In order to understand the meaning of this Surah, we should know its historical background:

1. At Makkah, the Quran generally addressed the polytheist Quraysh who were ignorant of Islam, but at Madinah it was also concerned with the Jews who were acquainted with the creed of Monotheism, Prophethood, Revelation, the Hereafter and Angels. They also professed to believe in the law which was revealed by God to their Prophet Moses, and in principle, their way was the same (Islam) that was being taught by Prophet Muhammad. But they had strayed away from it during the centuries of degeneration and had adopted many un-Islamic creeds, rites and customs of which there was no mention and for which there was no sanction in the Torah. Not only this: they had tampered with the Torah by inserting their own explanations and interpretations into its text. They had distorted even that part of the Word of God which had remained intact in their Scriptures and taken out of it the real spirit of true religion and were now clinging to a lifeless frame of rituals. Consequently their beliefs, their morals and their conduct had gone to the lowest depths of degeneration. The pity is that they were not only satisfied with their condition but loved to cling to it. Besides this, they had no intention or inclination to accept any kind of reform. So they became bitter enemies of those who came to teach them the Right Way and did their utmost to defeat every such effort. Though they were originally Muslims, they had swerved from the real Islam and made innovations and alterations in it and had fallen victims to hair splitting and sectarianism. They had forgotten and forsaken God and begun to serve material wealth. So much so that they had even given up their original name “Muslim” and adopted the name “Jew” instead, and made religion the sole monopoly of the children of Israel. This was their religious condition when the Prophet went to Madinah and invited the Jews to the true religion. That is why more than one third of this Surah has been addressed to the children of Israel. A critical review of their history, their moral degeneration and their religious perversions has been made. Side by side with this, the high standard of morality and the fundamental principles of the pure religion have been put forward in order to bring out clearly the nature of the degeneration of the community of a prophet when it goes astray and to draw clear lines of demarcation between real piety and formalism, and the essentials and non-essentials of the true religion.

2. At Makkah, Islam was mainly concerned with the propagation of its fundamental principles and the moral training of its followers. But after the migration of the Prophet to Madinah, where Muslims had come to settle from all over Arabia and where a tiny Islamic State had been set up with the help of the ‘local supporters’ (Ansar), naturally the Quran had to turn its attention to the social, cultural, economic, political and legal problems as well. This accounts for the difference between the themes of the Surahs revealed at Makkah and those at Madinah. Accordingly about half of this Surah deals with those principles and regulations which are essential for the integration and solidarity of a community and for the solution of its problems.

After the migration to Madinah, the struggle between Islam and disbelief (Kufr) had also entered a new phase. Before this the Believers, who propagated Islam among their own clans and tribes, had to face its opponents at their own risk. But the conditions had changed at Madinah, where Muslims from all parts of Arabia had come and settled as one community, and had established an independent city state. Here it became a struggle for the survival of the Community itself, for the whole of non-Muslim Arabia was bent upon and united in crushing it totally. Hence the following instructions, upon which depended not only its success but its very survival, were revealed in this Surah:

a. The Community should work with the utmost zeal to propagate its ideology and win over to its side the greatest possible number of people.

b. It should so expose its opponents as to leave no room for doubt in the mind of any sensible person that they were adhering to an absolutely wrong position.

c. It should infuse in its members (the majority of whom were homeless and indigent and surrounded on all sides by enemies) that courage and fortitude which is so indispensable to their very existence in the adverse circumstances in which they were struggling and to prepare them to face these boldly.

d. It should also keep them ready and prepared to meet any armed menace, which might come from any side to suppress and crush their ideology, and to oppose it tooth and nail without minding the overwhelming numerical strength and the material resources of its enemies.

e. It should also create in them that courage which is needed for the eradication of evil ways and for the establishment of the Islamic Way instead. That is why God has revealed in this Surah such instructions as may help achieve all the above mentioned objects.

At the time of the revelation of Al-Baqarah, all sorts of hypocrites had begun to appear. God has, therefore, briefly pointed out their characteristics here. Afterwards when their evil characteristics and mischievous deeds became manifest, God sent detailed instructions about them. [REF: Mawdudi]

9. Relevant Hadith

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  • Imam Muslim narrated from `A'ishah who said that Allah's Messenger said, Ten are among the Fitrah (instinct, natural constitution): trimming the mustache, growing the beard, using Siwak, inhaling and then exhaling water in ablution, cutting the nails, washing between the fingers (in ablution), plucking the underarm hair, shaving the pubic hair, washing with water after answering the call of nature, (and I forgot the tenth, I think it was) rinsing the mouth (in ablution).)
  • The Two Sahihs recorded Abu Hurayrah saying that the Prophet said, Five are among the acts of Fitrah: circumcision, shaving the pubic hair, trimming the mustache, cutting the nails and plucking the underarm hair. This is the wording with *Saheeh Muslim.

10. Wiki Forum

Comments in this section are statements made by general users – these are not necessarily explanations of the Ayah – rather a place to share personal thoughts and stories…

11. Tafsir Zone


12. External Links

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