Surah al-Baqarah (The Cow) 2 : 154
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(They are) dead
(they are) alive
1. Lessons/Guidance/Reflections/Gems[ edit ]
The Qur’ān continues with its spiritual mobilisation of the pioneering Muslim community of Madinah, as the latter braces itself for the crucial and momentous task of leading mankind back to God. It outlines the major demands and consequences of its hard and long struggle, or jihād, with its attendant sacrifices. It identifies the proper and correct criteria for the evaluation and appraisal of its outcome: “Do not say of those who are killed in God’s cause ‘They are dead.’ They are alive, although you do not perceive that.”
The sūrah tells the Muslims that, in the fight to uphold God’s universal truth, lives will have to be sacrificed. Those who risk their lives and go out to fight, and who are prepared to lay down their lives for the cause of God are honourable people, pure of heart and blessed of soul. But the great surprise is that those among them who are killed in the struggle must not be considered or described as dead. They continue to live, as God Himself clearly states
To all intents and purposes, those people may very well appear lifeless, but life and death are not judged by superficial physical means alone. Life is chiefly characterised by activity, growth, and persistence, while death is a state of total loss of function, of complete inertia and lifelessness. But the death of those who are killed for the cause of God gives more impetus to the cause, which continues to thrive on their blood. Their influence on those they leave behind also grows and spreads. Thus, after their death they remain an active force in shaping the life of their community and giving it direction. It is in this sense that such people, having sacrificed their lives for the sake of God, retain their active existence in everyday life. They might, on the other hand, be alive in another level or mode of existence which we here cannot see or conceive of.
According to Islamic tradition, people who are killed “for the cause of God” are not washed or prepared for burial in the conventional way, but buried in the clothes they happen to be wearing, because they are considered clean and pure, and because in reality they are not dead.
Because they are alive, those who die for the cause of God should not be missed or grieved over by their relatives, friends and loved ones. There is no real sense of loss in their death, since they continue to live, enjoying the hospitality of their Lord, relishing His company and boundless rewards.
There are copious reports in the ĥadīth literature extolling the spirit of sacrifice and the status of martyrs. Muslim records a ĥadīth which says: “The souls of martyrs are carried in the bellies of green birds which fly at leisure in Paradise. They roost on lamps, placed near God’s Throne. God casts a glance at them and says, ‘What is your wish?’ They would reply, ‘Lord, what more can we wish for, when You have given us what You have not given any of Your creation.’ God would ask them again and again until they realise they have to make a request, and they would say, ‘We wish to be returned to live on earth so that we fight for Your cause and be killed a second time.’ They say this since they have seen how great God’s rewards are to those who attain martyrdom for God’s cause. But God says, ‘I have already decreed that people would not return to worldly life.”
The Prophet’s Companion, Anas ibn Mālik, reports that the Prophet said: “No one enters Paradise and wishes to return to worldly life, even if he was given everything on earth, except a martyr. He wishes to return to life and be killed in the cause of God ten times over, for the honour and privilege he receives.” [Related by Mālik, al- Bukhārī and Muslim]
But who are the living martyrs? They are those killed in God’s cause, and in God’s cause alone. It is they who lay down their lives in defence of God’s universal truth, rather than in the name of a king, nation or military honour. The sole objective of their struggle and sacrifice is to uphold God’s world order and establish it as a social reality. The Qur’ān and the ĥadīth lay strong emphasis on this point, so as to leave no doubt about its meaning.
The Prophet’s Companion, Abū Mūsā, reports that the Prophet was asked whether fighting out of bravery, or to support one’s own ethnic group, or in pursuit of fame and glory, might be considered as fighting “for the cause of God.” He replied: “Only the one who fights to keep God’s word supreme fights for God’s cause!” [Related by Mālik, al-Bukhārī and Muslim]
Another Companion of the Prophet, Abū Hurayrah, reported that a man asked God’s Messenger three times about the fate of someone who fights ‘in the cause of God,’ but is also seeking worldly gain. Every time the Messenger replied: “He would receive no reward!” [Related by Abū Dāwūd]
Abū Hurayrah reports that God’s Messenger said that God gives a guarantee to anyone who goes to battle for God’s cause: “If he has set out for no purpose other than to fight for My cause, totally motivated by faith in Me and to confirm the veracity of My messengers, then I guarantee that he will either enter Paradise or return safely home, enjoying whatever reward or booty he might have gained.” The Prophet continues this ĥadīth, saying: “By Him who holds Muĥammad’s soul in His hand, any wound he may have sustained in battle will look on the Day of Resurrection in the same way as on the day it happened, with the colour of blood, but with the smell of pure musk. By Him who holds Muĥammad’s soul in His hand, were it not for fear of making things too hard for Muslims I would have joined every single expedition going out in God’s cause. However, I do not have the means to give them transport, nor do they have such means to follow me. In addition, it is trying for them to stay behind. By Him who holds Muĥammad’s soul in His hand, I would love to have fought and been killed for God’s cause again and again.” [Related by Mālik, al-Bukhārī and Muslim]
Martyrs, then, are those who set out to fight solely and purely for God’s cause, out of faith in Him and an unshakeable belief in His messengers.
The Prophet Muĥammad expressed disapproval when he heard a Persian youth extolling his ancestry in the battlefield. `Abd al-Raĥmān ibn Abī `Uqbah reported that his father, a Persian ‘ally’ of the Anşār, relates that he took part with the Prophet in the Battle of Uĥud. “As I struck an unbeliever, I shouted, ‘Take it from me; I, a Persian youth!’ The Prophet turned to me and said, ‘Would it not have been better for you to say, I, the Anşārī youth. The nephew and the ally of any group of people belong to them.’“ [Related by Abū Dāwūd]
The Prophet disliked the fact that the young man had chosen to express pride in anything other than being a supporter of God’s Messenger and to fight under any banner other than that of the religion of Islam. That is the true meaning of jihād, for which men can give up their lives, earn martyrdom and ensure permanent life.
- إشارة إلى أن كون الله معهم لا يمنع أن يستشهد منهم شهداء, بل ذلك من ثمرات كون الله معهم؛ حيث يظفر من استشهد منهم بسعادة الأخرى، ومن بقي بسعادة الدارين. البقاعي: 1/279 [Be the first to translate....]
- ومن المعلوم أن المحبوب لا يتركه العاقل إلا لمحبوب أعلى منه وأعظم؛ فأخبر تعالى أن من قتل في سبيله -بأن قاتل في سبيل الله لتكون كلمة الله هي العليا، ودينه الظاهر، لا لغير ذلك من الأغراض- فإنه لم تفته الحياة المحبوبة، بل حصل له حياة أعظم، وأكمل مما تظنون وتحسبون. السعدي: 75 [Be the first to translate....]
- اسأل الله تعالى الشهادة صادقاً من قلبك، ﴿ وَلَا تَقُولُوا۟ لِمَن يُقْتَلُ فِى سَبِيلِ ٱللَّهِ أَمْوَٰتٌۢ ۚ بَلْ أَحْيَآءٌ وَلَٰكِن لَّا تَشْعُرُونَ [Be the first to translate....]
2. Linguistic Analysis[ edit ]
4. Miscellaneous Information[ edit ]
5. Connected/Related Ayat[ edit ]
- In Surah Ale-Imran there is a similar worded Ayat:
وَلَا تَحْسَبَنَّ ٱلَّذِينَ قُتِلُوا۟ فِى سَبِيلِ ٱللَّهِ أَمْوَٰتًۢا ۚ بَلْ أَحْيَآءٌ عِندَ رَبِّهِمْ يُرْزَقُونَ "And never think of those who have been killed in the cause of Allah as dead. Rather, they are alive with their Lord, receiving provision," (3:169)
6. Frequency of the word[ edit ]
7. Period of Revelation[ edit ]
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[ edit ]
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, Islam 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 Quran 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[ edit ]
- Imam Ahmad reported that `Abdur-Rahman bin Ka`b bin Malik narrated from his father that Allah's Messenger said, 'The believer's soul is a bird that feeds on the trees of Paradise until Allah sends it back to its body when the person is resurrected'.