Surah al-Baqarah (The Cow) 2 : 158

۞ إِنَّ ٱلصَّفَا وَٱلْمَرْوَةَ مِن شَعَآئِرِ ٱللَّهِ ۖ فَمَنْ حَجَّ ٱلْبَيْتَ أَوِ ٱعْتَمَرَ فَلَا جُنَاحَ عَلَيْهِ أَن يَطَّوَّفَ بِهِمَا ۚ وَمَن تَطَوَّعَ خَيْرًا فَإِنَّ ٱللَّهَ شَاكِرٌ عَلِيمٌ

Translations

 
 Muhsin Khan
 Pickthall
 Yusuf Ali
Quran Project
Indeed, as-Safā and al-Marwah are among the symbols of Allāh. So whoever makes hajj [pilgrimage] to the House or performs ‘umrah - there is no blame upon him for walking between them. And whoever volunteers good - then indeed, Allāh is Appreciative and Knowing.

1. Lessons/Guidance/Reflections/Gems

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Explanatory Note

Several reports suggest a specific cause for the revelation of this verse; the most logical account, which is also the closest to the way of thinking Islam had cultivated in the minds of the early Muslims, is the following:
 
Walking between the two small hills known as Şafā and Marwah had been part of the pilgrimage rituals practised by the Arabs before Islam. However, two idols, Isāf and Nā’ilah, were erected on top of them, respectively. Hence, some Muslims felt uneasy about this walk because of the two idols that had been there, associating the two hills with polytheism.

Al-Bukhārī relates that, in answer to a question about walking between Şafā and Marwah, Anas, a Companion of the Prophet, said: “We used to consider them part of pre-Islamic ignorant tradition. With the advent of Islam, people stopped walking there as part of religious ritual. God then revealed the verse starting: “Şafā and Marwah are among the symbols set up by God.

Al-Sha`bī says: “Isāf was placed on Şafā and Nā’ilah on the Marwah, and people used to revere these idols. Hence, after Islam they felt uneasy about walking in between the two hills. Hence this verse was revealed.

No specific date can be determined for the revelation of this verse, but it seems more probable that it was revealed later than the verses dealing with the change of the direction of prayer. Although Makkah was hostile territory for the Muslims for many years after their migration to Madinah, it was possible for some of them to visit it for pilgrimage or `Umrah. It is most probably such individual Muslim pilgrims who were reluctant to include Şafā and Marwah in their rituals. Their reluctance was the outcome of the long and rigorous process of education and purification they had undergone under their new faith. They developed a new sense of faith and religious understanding that made them question all the traditions and practices they had inherited from their pre-Islamic life, in case these were not sanctioned by Islam. Islam shook the hearts of the Arabs who adopted it and penetrated the deepest recesses of their souls. It brought about a complete change in their psyche, perceptions and attitude. They began to view their pre-Islamic past with different eyes, and were inclined to divorce themselves from it completely. They no longer felt any affinity towards it; rather, it became a hateful legacy.

A closer study of that radical change brought about in the life of that generation by Islamic beliefs, principles and arguments would reveal how total and complete was the transformation they had undergone. It was as if the Prophet had shaken those people with an electric shock that reshaped their character and personality in a completely new form. This is, in fact, the true essence of Islam: total departure from one’s previous jāhiliyyah convictions and outlook. One develops an acute sensitivity towards all that is un-Islamic, and all one’s inherited habits, customs, practices and traditions. Both heart and soul must be given up to the new religion. Once that stage was reached in the life of that pioneering Muslim society, Islam began to adopt and reform those traditions and practices it considered acceptable and in line with its own principles, objectives and outlook. The Muslims then readopted those traditions and practices as part of Islam, and not because they had inherited them from their forefathers.

The incorporation of Şafā and Marwah in the pilgrimage rituals is a good example of this process. Clarifying the issue, the Qur’ān begins by stating: “Şafā and Marwah are among the symbols set up by God” When a person walks now from one to the other in the prescribed manner, he is fulfilling an Islamic ritual, devoted to God alone. It has been purified and cleansed of all its pagan associations and significance. Muslims can perform the ritual with no fear of doing anything wrong or un-Islamic. “Whoever visits the Sacred House for pilgrimage or `Umrah, would do no wrong to walk to and fro between them."

This was the case with most rituals of the pilgrimage practised by the Arabs in pre-Islamic days. All aspects pertaining to idolatry were abolished. Now all the pilgrimage rituals have become linked to Islamic principles and restored to the original form practised by Abraham, as will be discussed in detail later in the sūrah. As for the `Umrah, its rituals are the same as the pilgrimage, except for attendance at Arafat and that it may be performed at all times. In both, walking between the two hills is a duty. The verse ends with a statement praising voluntary acts of worship in general: “He who does good of his own accord shall find that God is most thankful, All-Knowing.” This statement affirms that God would welcome and appreciate such acts and would reserve generous rewards for their doers. By its very wording, this verse implies that walking between the two hills is a good action which earns reward from God. The word shākir, which means “thankful”, used in the Arabic original to describe God’s response to voluntary acts, conveys a very friendly impression. It has the added connotation that God Almighty is very pleased with these acts and thanks His servants for doing them. This would surely demand respect and modesty towards God on the part of His human servants. If God describes Himself as thankful to His servant for any good action that servant does, how can we be sufficiently grateful to God in our praise of Him? The connotations of divine compassion and mercy implied here defy description in human language.

  • Ibn Kathir writes –Therefore, whoever performs Sa`i between As-Safa and Al-Marwah should remember his meekness, humbleness and need for Allah to guide his heart, lead his affairs to success and forgive his sins. He should also want Allah to eliminate his shortcomings and errors and to guide him to the straight path. He should ask Allah to keep him firm on this path until he meets death, and to change his situation from that of sin and errors to that of perfection and being forgiven, --- the same providence which was provided to Hajar.”

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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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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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…

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12. External Links

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