Surah al-Baqarah (The Cow) 2 : 216

كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ ٱلْقِتَالُ وَهُوَ كُرْهٌ لَّكُمْ ۖ وَعَسَىٰٓ أَن تَكْرَهُوا۟ شَيْـًٔا وَهُوَ خَيْرٌ لَّكُمْ ۖ وَعَسَىٰٓ أَن تُحِبُّوا۟ شَيْـًٔا وَهُوَ شَرٌّ لَّكُمْ ۗ وَٱللَّهُ يَعْلَمُ وَأَنتُمْ لَا تَعْلَمُونَ


 Muhsin Khan
 Yusuf Ali
Quran Project
Fighting has been enjoined upon you while it is hateful to you. But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allāh knows, while you know not.

1. Lessons/Guidance/Reflections/Gems

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Explanatory Note

The next verse deals with the duty of taking up arms for a legitimate cause. To take up arms in support of a cause blessed by God is a demanding duty, but is nevertheless necessary because it serves the good of Muslim individuals and communities as well as that of mankind as a whole. It also underpins what is good and right.

As with all the obligations it prescribes, Islam takes into account the limits of human nature. In the case of war, it does not only acknowledge the efforts and the sacrifices it demands, but also man’s instinctive reluctance to prosecute it. Islam does not deny, contradict or suppress human nature, but always seeks an appropriate approach to deal with the issues it proposes. It clearly allows for the fact that certain obligations in this life are demanding, unappealing or even detestable, but at the same time it indicates that there is a greater cause to be served by fulfilling them, which might not be readily obvious to the human mind, finite as it is. It opens up new avenues of hope and achievement. For, no one can tell for certain whether there is not some unforeseen good beyond an impending evil. Only God, the omniscient, knows the future outcome of present actions, and man cannot even pretend to have that privilege.

This comforting thought revives man’s hopes and optimism, drawing him closer to God with more self-confidence and reassurance.

By this effective educational approach, Islam nurtures in man a deeper sense of loyalty and readiness to sacrifice and to scale greater heights of excellence and achievement. It allows him to face his responsibilities with courage and enthusiasm, safe in the knowledge that God’s blessings and support are not far behind. This motivates him to persevere in the face of adversity, because a pleasant and favourable outcome might be waiting for him. It also restrains man’s cravings so that he is not carried away by his pleasures and desires, which could end in pain and sorrow.

It is a remarkably simple, but profound, approach that is in harmony with human nature and honest in addressing it. It is undeniable that man, weak and short-sighted as he is, would reject something which is in fact good for him, or covet something which is in fact evil and harmful. The fact is that God alone has knowledge of everything; people are often ignorant or hampered by prejudice and their own shortcomings.

This opens up a whole new world, hitherto unknown, and brings to light new factors of cause and effect, into which man’s fears, hopes and behaviour blend smoothly, under God’s benevolent and omniscient presence. By accepting the fact that whatever God ordains is always for the best, man enters a world of total serenity, security and faith. It is the world of peace which God has recommended to the believers even as He calls upon them to take up arms and fight, because real peace is that of the soul and the conscience that on experiences in. the heat of battle.

The implications of this Qur’ānic principle are not limited to fighting, which is only one example of a necessary evil that may ultimately result in something good, but extend to all aspects of a believer’s life. The Muslims who left Madinah, on the eve of the Battle of Badr in 624 CE, to intercept the Quraysh trade caravan travelling from Syria to Makkah, were hoping that they would take it over without having to fight. However, God willed it that the caravan would escape and the Muslims find themselves facing the Quraysh army which was intent on subduing them. The outcome was a resounding victory for Islam and the Muslims which was infinitely better than the trade caravan and its valuable commodities. What the Muslims aimed for was much inferior to what God had in store for them. God knows and people do not.

In an episode involving the Prophet Moses, the Qur’ān tells us how, as he embarked on a journey accompanied by his boy servant, the boy unwittingly left their provisions of fish behind and it found its way back into the sea. The narrative goes on, saying: “And after they had marched on for some distance, Moses said to his servant: ‘Bring us our mid-day meal; we are indeed worn out by this our journey’ Said [the servant]: Do you recall when we betook ourselves to that rock for rest. There I forgot the fish — and none but Satan made me thus forget to mention it! — and it took its way into the sea. How strange! [Moses] said: “That is [the place] we are seeking!’ So they turned back, retracing their footsteps, and found one of Our servants, on whom We had bestowed Our mercy and whom We had endowed with knowledge of Our own.” (18: 62-65) What seemed an oversight by the servant turned out to be a fortunate turn of events that brought Moses into contact with the learned man, which was the very purpose of the journey.

We could all recall instances, from personal experience, in which we dreaded certain situations that had turned out to be of great benefit, as well as others which looked appealing and lucrative but ended in disaster. Often, people bitterly regret missing out on certain things, but as time goes by they realise that God had spared them certain adverse consequences; while others undergo intense suffering that could drive them to the edge of despair, but would eventually bring opportunities of incredible happiness and prosperity.

Man simply cannot pretend to know where his good lies, but God knows for certain, a fact that man must accept and act upon by submitting himself to God alone. This is what the Qur’ān teaches, and this is the approach it adopts to convince people to submit to the will and judgement of God Almighty.

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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  • كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ 'has been enjoined upon you'

    يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الصِّيَامُ كَمَا كُتِبَ عَلَى الَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ  - "O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous." (2:183)

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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  • The Prophet said 'There is no Hijrah (migration from Makkah to Al-Madinah) after the victory, but only Jihad and good intention. If you were required to march forth, then march forth.' [Ibn Kathir]


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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