Surah al-Baqarah (The Cow) 2 : 121

ٱلَّذِينَ ءَاتَيْنَٰهُمُ ٱلْكِتَٰبَ يَتْلُونَهُۥ حَقَّ تِلَاوَتِهِۦٓ أُو۟لَٰٓئِكَ يُؤْمِنُونَ بِهِۦ ۗ وَمَن يَكْفُرْ بِهِۦ فَأُو۟لَٰٓئِكَ هُمُ ٱلْخَٰسِرُونَ


 Muhsin Khan
 Yusuf Ali
Quran Project
Those to whom We have given the Book recite it with its true recital. They [are the ones who] believe in it. And whoever disbelieves in it - it is they who are the losers.

1. Lessons/Guidance/Reflections/Gems

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Explanatory Note 

It is a stern, uncompromising warning, addressed to none other than Muĥammad, God’s Messenger and beloved Prophet. His detractors are motivated by prejudice and narrow-minded self-interest, rather than by lack of proof or knowledge. Those of them who are able to rid themselves of such motives and who properly understand their own Scriptures will believe him. “Those to whom We have given the Book, and who recite it as it ought to be recited, truly believe in it; those who deny it are utter losers.

Having delivered this decisive warning, the sūrah now addresses the Israelites with an amicable and sympathetic appeal, as a fitting end to this extensive debate concerning their history and religious conduct. They are offered a last chance before they are totally discredited and deprived of the privilege and honour of being the trustees and custodians of God’s message to mankind.

  • وتلاوة الكتاب هي اتباعه؛ كما قال ابن مسعود في قوله تعالى: (الذين آتيناهم الكتاب يتلونه حق تلاوته) قال: يحللون حلاله، ويحرمون حرامه، ويؤمنون بمتشابهه ويعملون بمحكمهابن تيمية: 1/339 [Be the first to translate this...]
  • Ibn Taymiyya said, ما رأيت شيئا يغذّي العقل والروح ويحفظ الجسم ويضمن السعادة أكثر من إدامة النظر في كتاب الله تعالى  “I have never come across anything which nourishes the mind and soul, preserves the body and guarantees one’s happiness like that of perpetual looking into the Book of Allah."        
  • Ibn Mas`ud said, "By He in Whose Hand is my soul! The right Tilawah is allowing what it makes lawful, prohibiting what it makes unlawful, reciting it as it was revealed by Allah, not changing the words from their places, and not interpreting it with other than its actual interpretation.'' [Ibn Kathir]                       

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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  • The Prophet Muhammad [saw] said, “Allah listens more attentively to a man with a beautiful voice who recites Qur’ān out loud than the master of a singing slave-girl listens to his slave.” [Ibn Majah no. 1340, Ibn Hibban no. 754 - صحيح [Sahih – according to Ibn Hibban, Suyuti and Ibn Taymiyah]

  • The Prophet Muhammad [saw] said, حسِّنوا القرآنَ بأصواتِكم ؛ فإنَّ الصَّوتَ الحسنَ يزيدُ القرآنَ حُسنًا “Beautify the Qur’ān with your voices for indeed the nice voice increases the beauty of the Qur’ān” [Baihaqi – Shu’bul Iman no. 2/868 - صحيح [Sahih]

  • The Prophet Muhammad [saw] said, مَنْ قَرَأَ حَرْفًا مِنْ كِتَابِ اللَّهِ فَلَهُ بِهِ حَسَنَةٌ وَالْحَسَنَةُ بِعَشْرِ أَمْثَالِهَا لاَ أَقُولُ الم حَرْفٌ وَلَكِنْ أَلِفٌ حَرْفٌ وَلاَمٌ حَرْفٌ وَمِيمٌ حَرْفٌ “Whoever recites a letter from Allah’s Book, then he receives the reward from it, and the reward of ten the like of it. I do not say that Alif Lam Mim is a letter, but Alif is a letter, Lam is a letter and Mim is a letter.” [Tirmidhee no. 2910 -  حسن  [Hasan]

  • The Prophet Muhammad [saw] said, ليس منا من لم يتغنَّ بالقرآنِ “The one who does not recite the Qur’ān in a melodious manner is not from us”

  • The Prophet Muhammad [saw] said, من قرأ القرآنَ فقد استدرج النُّبوَّةَ بين جنبَيْه غيرَ أنَّه لا يُوحَى إليه لا ينبغي لصاحبِ القرآنِ أن يجِدَ مع من وجَد ولا يجهلَ مع من جهِل وفي جوفهِ كلامُ
    Whoever recites the Qur’ān secures knowledge of prophethood within his ribs [bosom], though Divine Revelation is not sent upon him. It does not befit one endowed with the Qur’ān that he should be indignant with those in anger, nor should he indulge in any act of ignorance with those who are ignorant, while the Speech of Allah is there in his chest.” [Hakim, Targhib wa Tarhib no. 2/301 - صحيح [Sahih]

  • The Prophet Muhammad [saw]  said, ليس منا من لم يتغنَّ بالقرآنِ “The one who does not recite the Qur’ān in a melodious manner is not from us” [Bukhari no. 7527 - صحيح [Sahih]

  • The Prophet Muhammad [saw] said, لَيُتْلَى فيهِ القرآنُ ، فيتراءَ لأهلِ السَّماءِ كما تَتَرَاءَى النُّجُومُ لأهلِ الأرضِ “…Recite the Qur’ān in [your houses]. For the inhabitants of the heavans see them like people on earth see the stars.” [Syar Alam an-Nubalah, Dhahabi no. 8/29, Silsilah Ahadeeth as-Saheehah no. 3112 - صحيح [Sahih]

  • The Prophet Muhammad [saw] said, طيبوا أفواهَكم بالسواكِ فإنها طرقُ القرآنِ “Purify [clean] your mouths with the siwak [toothstick] for indeed it [the mouth] is the pathway of the Qur’ān.” [Baihaqi – Shu’bul Iman no. 2/862 - صحيح [Sahih]

  • The Prophet Muhammad [saw] said, إِنَّ الَّذِي يَجْهَرُ بِالْقُرْآنِ كَالَّذِي يَجْهَرُ بِالصَّدَقَةِ وَالَّذِي يُسِرُّ بِالْقُرْآنِ كَالَّذِي يُسِرُّ بِالصَّدَقَةِ “The one who recites the Qur’ān loudly is like one who gives charity openly, and the one who recites the Qur’ān silently is like the one who gives charity in secret.” [an-Nisa’i no. 1663, -  حسن  [Hasan]

  • The Prophet Muhammad [saw] said, إنَّ أحسنَ الناسِ قراءةً من إذا سمعتَه يقرأُ رأيتُ أنه يخشى اللهَ“Indeed the best of people who recite is one whom when you hear his recitation you can see that he Fears Allah.” [Hiyatul Awliyah no. 4/21 - صحيح [Sahih]

  • The Prophet Muhammad [saw] said, إنَّ أحسنَ الناسِ قراءةً من إذا سمعتَه يقرأُ رأيتُ أنه يخشى اللهَ “Indeed the best of people who recite is one whom when you hear his recitation you can see that he Fears Allah.” [Hiyatul Awliyah no. 4/21 - صحيح [Sahih]

  • The Prophet Muhammad [saw] said, مَثَلُ الْمُؤْمِنِ الَّذِي يَقْرَأُ الْقُرْآنَ كَمَثَلِ الأُتْرُجَّةِ رِيحُهَا طَيِّبٌ وَطَعْمُهَا طَيِّبٌ وَمَثَلُ الْمُؤْمِنِ الَّذِي لاَ يَقْرَأُ الْقُرْآنَ كَمَثَلِ التَّمْرَةِ لاَ رِيحَ لَهَا وَطَعْمُهَا حُلْوٌ وَمَثَلُ الْمُنَافِقِ الَّذِي يَقْرَأُ الْقُرْآنَ كَمَثَلِ الرَّيْحَانَةِ رِيحُهَا طَيِّبٌ وَطَعْمُهَا مُرٌّ وَمَثَلُ الْمُنَافِقِ الَّذِي لاَ يَقْرَأُ الْقُرْآنَ كَمَثَلِ الْحَنْظَلَةِ رِيحُهَا مُرٌّ وَطَعْمُهَا مُرٌّ “The parable of the believer who recites the Qur’ān is that of a sweet citrus fruit, its fragrance is nice and its taste is nice. The parable of the believer who does not recite the Qur’ān is that of a date, it has no smell but its taste is sweet. The parable of the hypocrite who recites the Qur’ān is that of basil, its fragrance is nice but its taste is bitter. The parable of the hypocrite who does not recite the Qur’ān is that of the colocynth [bitter desert fruit], its smell is better and its taste is bitter.” [Tirmidhee no. 2865 - صحيح [Sahih]

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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