Surah al-Baqarah (The Cow) 2 : 93

وَإِذْ أَخَذْنَا مِيثَٰقَكُمْ وَرَفَعْنَا فَوْقَكُمُ ٱلطُّورَ خُذُوا۟ مَآ ءَاتَيْنَٰكُم بِقُوَّةٍ وَٱسْمَعُوا۟ ۖ قَالُوا۟ سَمِعْنَا وَعَصَيْنَا وَأُشْرِبُوا۟ فِى قُلُوبِهِمُ ٱلْعِجْلَ بِكُفْرِهِمْ ۚ قُلْ بِئْسَمَا يَأْمُرُكُم بِهِۦٓ إِيمَٰنُكُمْ إِن كُنتُم مُّؤْمِنِينَ

Translations

 
 Muhsin Khan
 Pickthall
 Yusuf Ali
Quran Project
And [recall] when We took your covenant and raised over you the mount, [saying], "Take what We have given you with strength and listen." They said [instead], "We hear and disobey." And their hearts absorbed [the worship of] the calf because of their disbelief. Say, "How wretched is that which your faith enjoins upon you, if you should be Believers."

1. Lessons/Guidance/Reflections/Gems

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Explanatory Note

The mode of expression changes from direct address to that of reporting past events. Thus, it confronts the Israelites with their past attitudes, and informs Muslims and mankind generally of these Jewish attitudes. It then instructs the Prophet Muĥammad to condemn utterly the bizarre faith they claimed to have if it would require them to flagrantly reject the truth: “Say, ‘Vile is that which your faith enjoins upon you, if indeed you are believers.’

Two fascinating expressions immediately draw our attention here. The first is: “They said: ‘We hear but we disobey.’“ Indeed, they did not utter the words, ‘but we disobey’. How is it then that these words are attributed to them? It is simply a question of portraying an attitude as though it is fully expressive. Thus, their actual words said that they had heard the message, but their actions said that they had disobeyed it. This reality was a much more authentic and accurate statement of their attitude than the words they uttered. The sūrah here is emphasizing one of the most fundamental Islamic principles: actions lend validity to words. Actions must be in harmony with words in order for the words to have any meaning or value whatsoever.

The second expression is: “For their unbelief they were made to drink the calf into their hearts.” The sarcasm and the severity of the image are unmistakable. They were forcibly made to drink something nasty; but what is it? It is nothing other than the calf, which is shown to be forced into their hearts. It is easy to get carried away by this image so as to almost overlook the real significance of the metaphor used here. It shows their love and adoration for the calf to be so strong that it runs in their veins. Such powerful imagery is but one tool of the inimitable Qur’ānic style.

  •  When Prophet Moses left for Mt. Sinai to converse with Allah, the Children of Israel became restless and sought out a new god to worship besides Allah. So, they ended up worshipping an artificial golden calf. Allah described their veneration of this calf using the word ‘ushribu’ [they drank up, or soaked, or absorbed], thus likening their deviance to the act of drinking or soaking up liquid. 
     
  •  Just like the body has its thirst quenched by fluid, the heart has its thirst quenched by knowledge and proper guidance. When seeking to quench the body's thirst, one will only drink what is pure and wholesome. If presented with a glass of water, however, that has been tainted with even the smallest drop of black ink, he will reject it and not quench his thirst from this polluted source. The thirst of the heart should likewise only be quenched from a pure, untouched source of knowledge and guidance. 
     
  •  The Companions only quenched their thirst from the Qur'an. “The Holy Qur’an was the only source from which they quenched their thirst, and this was the only mold in which they formed their lives. This was the only guidance for them, not because there was no civilisation or culture or science or books or schools. Indeed, there was Roman culture, its civilisation, its books, its laws, which even today are considered to be the foundation of European culture. There was the heritage of Greek culture – its logic, its philosophy, and its arts, which are still a source of inspiration for western thought. There was the Persian civilisation, its art, its poetry, and its legends, and its religion and system of government. There were many other civilisations, near or far, such as the Indian and Chinese cultures, and so on. The Roman and Persian cultures were established to the north and to the south of the Arabian Peninsula, while the Jews and Christians were settled in the heart of Arabia. Thus we believe that this generation did not place sole reliance on the Book of Allah for understanding of their religion because of any ignorance of any civilisation and culture. Rather, it was all according to a well thought-out plan and method… This generation, then, drank solely from this spring and thus attained a unique distinction in history. In later times, it so happened that other sources mingled with it…” [Ref: Qutb]
     
  • Qatadah said, "They absorbed its love, until its love resided in their hearts."

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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  • وَلَقَدْ أَخَذَ اللَّـهُ مِيثَاقَ بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ وَبَعَثْنَا مِنْهُمُ اثْنَيْ عَشَرَ نَقِيبًا ۖ وَقَالَ اللَّـهُ إِنِّي مَعَكُمْ ۖ لَئِنْ أَقَمْتُمُ الصَّلَاةَ وَآتَيْتُمُ الزَّكَاةَ وَآمَنتُم بِرُسُلِي وَعَزَّرْتُمُوهُمْ وَأَقْرَضْتُمُ اللَّـهَ قَرْضًا حَسَنًا لَّأُكَفِّرَنَّ عَنكُمْ سَيِّئَاتِكُمْ وَلَأُدْخِلَنَّكُمْ جَنَّاتٍ تَجْرِي مِن تَحْتِهَا الْأَنْهَارُ ۚ فَمَن كَفَرَ بَعْدَ ذَٰلِكَ مِنكُمْ فَقَدْ ضَلَّ سَوَاءَ السَّبِيلِ

    "And Allah had already taken a covenant from the Children of Israel, and We delegated from among them twelve leaders. And Allah said, "I am with you. If you establish prayer and give zakah and believe in My messengers and support them and loan Allah a goodly loan, I will surely remove from you your misdeeds and admit you to gardens beneath which rivers flow. But whoever of you disbelieves after that has certainly strayed from the soundness of the way." (5:12)
     
  • مِّنَ الَّذِينَ هَادُوا يُحَرِّفُونَ الْكَلِمَ عَن مَّوَاضِعِهِ وَيَقُولُونَ سَمِعْنَا وَعَصَيْنَا وَاسْمَعْ غَيْرَ مُسْمَعٍ وَرَاعِنَا لَيًّا بِأَلْسِنَتِهِمْ وَطَعْنًا فِي الدِّينِ ۚ وَلَوْ أَنَّهُمْ قَالُوا سَمِعْنَا وَأَطَعْنَا وَاسْمَعْ وَانظُرْنَا لَكَانَ خَيْرًا لَّهُمْ وَأَقْوَمَ وَلَـٰكِن لَّعَنَهُمُ اللَّـهُ بِكُفْرِهِمْ فَلَا يُؤْمِنُونَ إِلَّا قَلِيلًا

    "Among the Jews are those who distort words from their [proper] usages and say, "We hear and disobey" and "Hear but be not heard" and "Ra'ina," twisting their tongues and defaming the religion. And if they had said [instead], "We hear and obey" and "Wait for us [to understand]," it would have been better for them and more suitable. But Allah has cursed them for their disbelief, so they believe not, except for a few." (4:46)

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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  • Heart 'drinking'...

    وَحَدَّثَنَا مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ نُمَيْرٍ، حَدَّثَنَا أَبُو خَالِدٍ، - يَعْنِي سُلَيْمَانَ بْنَ حَيَّانَ - عَنْ سَعْدِ بْنِ طَارِقٍ، عَنْ رِبْعِيٍّ، عَنْ حُذَيْفَةَ، قَالَ كُنَّا عِنْدَ عُمَرَ فَقَالَ أَيُّكُمْ سَمِعَ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَذْكُرُ الْفِتَنَ فَقَالَ قَوْمٌ نَحْنُ سَمِعْنَاهُ ‏.‏ فَقَالَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَعْنُونَ فِتْنَةَ الرَّجُلِ فِي أَهْلِهِ وَجَارِهِ قَالُوا أَجَلْ ‏.‏ قَالَ تِلْكَ تُكَفِّرُهَا الصَّلاَةُ وَالصِّيَامُ وَالصَّدَقَةُ وَلَكِنْ أَيُّكُمْ سَمِعَ النَّبِيَّ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَذْكُرُ الْفِتَنَ الَّتِي تَمُوجُ مَوْجَ الْبَحْرِ قَالَ حُذَيْفَةُ فَأَسْكَتَ الْقَوْمُ فَقُلْتُ أَنَا ‏.‏ قَالَ أَنْتَ لِلَّهِ أَبُوكَ ‏.‏ قَالَ حُذَيْفَةُ سَمِعْتُ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَقُولُ ‏ "‏ تُعْرَضُ الْفِتَنُ عَلَى الْقُلُوبِ كَالْحَصِيرِ عُودًا عُودًا فَأَىُّ قَلْبٍ أُشْرِبَهَا نُكِتَ فِيهِ نُكْتَةٌ سَوْدَاءُ وَأَىُّ قَلْبٍ أَنْكَرَهَا نُكِتَ فِيهِ نُكْتَةٌ بَيْضَاءُ حَتَّى تَصِيرَ عَلَى قَلْبَيْنِ عَلَى أَبْيَضَ مِثْلِ الصَّفَا فَلاَ تَضُرُّهُ فِتْنَةٌ مَا دَامَتِ السَّمَوَاتُ وَالأَرْضُ وَالآخَرُ أَسْوَدُ مُرْبَادًّا كَالْكُوزِ مُجَخِّيًا لاَ يَعْرِفُ مَعْرُوفًا وَلاَ يُنْكِرُ مُنْكَرًا إِلاَّ مَا أُشْرِبَ مِنْ هَوَاهُ ‏"‏ ‏.‏ قَالَ حُذَيْفَةُ وَحَدَّثْتُهُ أَنَّ بَيْنَكَ وَبَيْنَهَا بَابًا مُغْلَقًا يُوشِكُ أَنْ يُكْسَرَ ‏.‏ قَالَ عُمَرُ أَكَسْرًا لاَ أَبَا لَكَ فَلَوْ أَنَّهُ فُتِحَ لَعَلَّهُ كَانَ يُعَادُ ‏.‏ قُلْتُ لاَ بَلْ يُكْسَرُ ‏.‏ وَحَدَّثْتُهُ أَنَّ ذَلِكَ الْبَابَ رَجُلٌ يُقْتَلُ أَوْ يَمُوتُ ‏.‏ حَدِيثًا لَيْسَ بِالأَغَالِيطِ ‏.‏ قَالَ أَبُو خَالِدٍ فَقُلْتُ لِسَعْدٍ يَا أَبَا مَالِكٍ مَا أَسْوَدُ مُرْبَادًّا قَالَ شِدَّةُ الْبَيَاضِ فِي سَوَادٍ ‏.‏ قَالَ قُلْتُ فَمَا الْكُوزُ مُجَخِّيًا قَالَ مَنْكُوسًا ‏.‏

    On the authority of Hudhaifa: We were sitting in the company of Umar and he said: Who amongst you has heard the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) talking about the turmoil? Some people said: It is we who heard it. Upon this be remarked: Perhaps by turmoil you presume the unrest of man in regard to his household or neighbour, they replied: Yes. He ('Umar) observed: Such (an unrest) would be done away with by prayer, fasting and charity. But who amongst you has heard from the Apostle (ﷺ) describing that turmoil which would come like the wave of the ocean. Hudhaifa said: The people hushed into silence, I replied: It is I. He ('Umar) said: Ye, well, your father was also very pious. Hudhaifa said: I heard the Messenger of Allah (may peace be, upon him ) observing: Temptations will be presented to men's hearts as reed mat is woven stick by stick and any heart which is impregnated [ فَأَىُّ قَلْبٍ أُشْرِبَهَا] by them will have a black mark put into it, but any heart which rejects them will have a white mark put in it. The result is that there will become two types of hearts: one white like a white stone which will not be harmed by any turmoil or temptation, so long as the heavens and the earth endure; and the other black and dust-coloured like a vessel which is upset, not recognizing what is good or rejecting what is abominable, but being impregnated with passion. Hudhaifa said: I narrated to him ('Umar): There is between you and that (turmoil) a closed door, but there is every likelihood of its being broken. 'Umar said: Would it be broken? You have, been rendered fatherless. Had it been opened, it would have been perhaps closed also. I said: No, it would be broken, and I narrated to him: Verily that door implies a person who would be killed or die. There is no mistake in this hadith. Abu Khalid narrated: I said to Sa'd, O Abu Malik, what do you mean by the term" Aswad Murbadda"? He replied: High degree of whiteness in blackness. I said: What is meant by" Alkoozu Mujakhiyyan"? He replied: A vessel turned upside down. Sahih Muslim 144 a

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