Surah al-Baqarah (The Cow) 2 : 177
1. Lessons/Guidance/Reflections/Gems[ edit ]
This passage concludes with a verse that outlines the principles of true faith together with the rules of proper Islamic conduct. The subject of this verse is clearly linked to the issue of the direction of prayer and the controversy surrounding it, as discussed earlier. It now establishes a comprehensive principle that covers this issue and all matters that the Jews of Madinah were wont to dispute. These mostly centred on new religious rituals and forms of worship introduced by Islam and which differed from their own.
The purpose behind the change of the place Muslims face in prayers, and indeed all aspects of worship and ritual, has never been the direction people face, or indeed any outward form. These are not what gives worship its value or meaning, nor what makes people good and righteous. Righteousness is the result of a total feeling, an attitude and a mode of behaviour which shape the individual’s conscience and the mind set of the community. It is a discipline whose effects are immediately and constantly apparent in one’s life and the life of society as a whole. Without these aspects, facing east or west, or turning one’s face to the right and to the left at the end of prayer or the performance of the various movements of prayer would have no effect or significance.
“Truly righteous is he who believes in God, the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the Prophets...“ Taken as a whole, the verse spells out the total sum of goodness, or righteousness. What, then, gives these beliefs and actions their value and meaning? What is the value of believing in God, the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the Prophets?
Belief in God marks a definite turning point in one’s life, at which one is freed from servitude and submission to all manner of powers, forces and desires, and submits to God alone. It is a transformation from chaos to order, from aimlessness to purpose, and from fragmentation to unity. It is a focal point around which all mankind stands equal in the eyes of God and which gives the whole of existence direction, balance, and coherence.
Belief in the Last Day is a belief in universal and divine justice. It is a testimony to the fact that human life on earth is not without purpose or value or order, and that good works that seem to go unrewarded shall certainly be rewarded.
Believing in the angels is an essential part of believing in a world that is beyond human perception. It is what distinguishes the way humans perceive the world and understand it from the way animals do. Animals perceive the world through their senses and instincts, while man believes in a world that lies beyond the reach of his perception.
To believe in the Books and the Prophets means to attest, without reservation, to the truth, honesty, and integrity of all the revealed Books and all the Prophets and messengers God commissioned to deliver them at various times of human history. This leads to a belief in the unity of the human race, serving God alone, abiding by one and the same religion and adhering to one universal divine order. This outlook has a profound effect on the personality of the believer, who is seen as custodian of the heritage of God’s messengers and divine messages.
The next clement of righteousness is to spend money, dear as it may be, on one’s near of kin, orphans, the needy, the stranded traveller, beggars, and for the freeing of slaves. The significance of this commendable act of charity and sacrifice is that it liberates man from stinginess, selfishness, greed and excessive love of wealth, which cripple one’s ability to give and help those who are in need. It is a highly spiritual act of altruism when someone of means has the courage and the generosity to give away his dearest and most precious possessions. It is an act of liberation for the human soul when man rises above worldly desires and materialistic instincts. It is an admirable achievement, which Islam commends and values very highly.
It is characteristic of the Islamic approach that it aims, first and foremost, at liberating man from his own internal prejudices, weaknesses and desires before going on to liberate him from the pressures and influences of the society around him. Unless one overcomes one’s own egotism, one is not likely to stand up to evil and temptation in the world outside.
Charity is also a social value that strengthens the bonds of love and trust within the family unit, the vital nucleus of society, and preserves the dignity of its members. Charity towards orphans in society achieves social justice and helps to save the young and the weak from homelessness, corruption and abuse. For the needy and the destitute, charity provides the care and security by which their dignity is preserved, their standing in society may be enhanced, and their contribution to society assured. It ensures that not a single person in the community is lost, or left uncared for. For travellers who, for one reason or another, find themselves stranded in foreign lands or in societies where they feel alienated, charity can be a lifeline. It is an emergency measure to alleviate an unexpected hardship, and by which they are made to feel that they belong to the global human family.
Begging is a practice Islam abhors. It is forbidden to those who can earn a minimum of sustenance or have jobs. Charity by those who have the means aims to stop this evil practice.
Charity has played a vital role in Islam’s fight against slavery. It provided the means to free those unfortunate enough to have been taken prisoner in wars against Islam. This is done by either buying slaves to set them free, or by giving a slave money to buy his own freedom, at a price he agrees with his master. Under Islam, slaves became entitled to their freedom as soon as they demanded it, and they were helped to regain their liberty and dignity by allocating them money from charity and zakāt. Slaves would then become wage earners, entitled to receive zakāt. Every effort would be made to speed up their total freedom.
The verse adds that the regular observance of prayer is another important aspect of righteousness. Prayer is more than a sequence of bodily movements, and there is more to it than facing in a certain direction, east or west. It is more than a simple act of spiritual meditation. Prayer, an act of total submission and dedication to God, epitomises the entire Islamic outlook on life.
Islam recognises the human being as a complex entity comprising body, mind and soul, and perceives no contradiction or conflict among their respective roles or needs. It, therefore, sees no need for suppressing the functions or needs of any one of them in order to satisfy any of the others. From this perspective we can clearly see how prayer combines the activity of all three elements in an integrated act of worship dedicated completely to the adoration and glorification of God Almighty. The bodily movements of standing (qiyām), bowing (rukū`) and prostration (sujūd), and the recitation of Qur’ānic verses and other prescribed text and the deliberate reflection required on that, and exclusive devotion to God, coalesce beautifully during prayer in a unique and splendid combination. Maintaining this standard in the performance of prayer is a reminder and a fulfilment of the essence and purpose of Islam as a whole.
Paying the zakāt duty is another aspect of righteousness. This is a social tax instituted by God Almighty, the ultimate provider, as a token of the entitlement of the poor to a share in the wealth of the rich. It is clear from the text that zakāt is separate from, rather than a substitute for, the charitable spending mentioned earlier. While giving to those causes is voluntary, payment of zakāt is a religious duty in its own right, and both are essential factors in attaining righteousness. Unless this was the case, obviously there would be no meaning in giving zakāt a separate mention in the same verse.
Keeping one’s promises is another aspect of righteousness that the Qur’ān frequently highlights as a feature of true faith and humanity. It is a quality that stems from honesty to God and fulfilment of one’s promises to Him. Furthermore, it is an essential requirement for creating an environment of mutual trust and confidence among individuals, societies and nations. History will readily testify to the Muslims’ impeccable record in honouring agreements, promises and treaties with allies and enemies alike. Islam has given an unparalleled example of integrity that can never be surpassed.
Steadfastness and perseverance in times of adversity and hardship, and in the face of danger, are necessary qualities for the education and development of strong individuals with solid characters who will stand firm, come what may. Under such conditions the faithful never lose hope or confidence in God, nor will they seek help from any source other than Him.
For the Muslim community, or ummah, to fulfil its great role of universal leadership of mankind and its task of instituting justice and equality in the world, it is necessary to collectively acquire these qualities. All should have the resilience to withstand poverty, weakness, loss of friends and allies, shortage of manpower and resources, and the rigours and consequences of war and striving to serve God’s cause.
The construction of this part of the verse in the Arabic original indicates that this quality is singled out as especially significant in the context of the verse as a whole. This gives added importance and a higher status in the sight of God to those possessing this quality.
Thus we see how, in the inimitable style of the Qur’ān, a single short verse combines the essentials of faith and personal and financial Islamic obligations and presents them as a complete code under the all-embracing title of al-birr, which has been variously interpreted as ‘righteousness’, ‘ultimate goodness’ or, indeed, ‘faith’. It is essentially a concise and complete statement of the basic philosophy of Islam and the principles of the Islamic code of living that must be evident in any Muslim society.
The verse ends with the words: “Such are those who have proved themselves true, and such are the God fearing.” They will have been sincere in their faith and their commitment to God, and they will have proved themselves capable of translating that faith into a practical way of life. They are also God-fearing because they are conscious of God and of their bond with His power and grace, and they are conscientious in fulfilling their obligations towards Him.
In reflecting on the contents of this verse, one can clearly visualise the great heights to which God is aiming to raise human beings through Islam, His constitution. But as one looks at those who ignore Islam, or those who resist it and suppress or persecute its followers and supporters, and those who simply turn away from it, one cannot help being filled with sorrow.
Yet we must not despair. Our faith and trust in God fill our hearts with hope and confidence that the day is coming when humanity will come around to seeing the profound value, universal beauty and eternal qualities of Islam.
- اجمع بعض أعمال القلوب، ثم تعرف على كيفية تحقيقها في قلبك، ﴿ لَّيْسَ ٱلْبِرَّ أَن تُوَلُّوا۟ وُجُوهَكُمْ قِبَلَ ٱلْمَشْرِقِ وَٱلْمَغْرِبِ وَلَٰكِنَّ ٱلْبِرَّ مَنْ ءَامَنَ بِٱللَّهِ وَٱلْيَوْمِ ٱلْءَاخِرِ [Be the first to translate this....]
- الْبِرَّ – appears 32 times in the Quran, in three derived forms.
- The opposite of Birr is Ithm [confirmation needed]
- المؤمن وفي بالعهد لا يخلفه، بل هو أحرص شيء عليه، وإنما ينقض العهد المنافق، ﴿ وَٱلْمُوفُونَ بِعَهْدِهِمْ إِذَا عَٰهَدُوا۟ [Be the first to translate this....]
- ضع جدولاً زمنياً لتوزيع صدقاتك وهداياك مما تحب على الأصناف المذكورة في الآية، ﴿ وَءَاتَى ٱلْمَالَ عَلَىٰ حُبِّهِۦ ذَوِى ٱلْقُرْبَىٰ وَٱلْيَتَٰمَىٰ وَٱلْمَسَٰكِينَ وَٱبْنَ ٱلسَّبِيلِ وَٱلسَّآئِلِينَ [Be the first to translate this....]
2. Linguistic Analysis[ edit ]
4. Miscellaneous Information[ edit ]
5. Connected/Related Ayat[ edit ]
لَن يَنَالَ اللَّهَ لُحُومُهَا وَلاَ دِمَآؤُهَا وَلَـكِن يَنَالُهُ التَّقْوَى مِنكُمْ "It is neither their meat nor their blood that reaches Allah, but it is the piety from you that reaches Him." (22:37)
وَتَعَاوَنُوا عَلَى الْبِرِّ وَالتَّقْوَىٰ ۖ وَلَا تَعَاوَنُوا عَلَى الْإِثْمِ وَالْعُدْوَانِ “….and cooperate in righteousness and piety, but do not cooperate in sin and aggression…” (5:2)
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِذَا تَنَاجَيْتُمْ فَلَا تَتَنَاجَوْا بِالْإِثْمِ وَالْعُدْوَانِ وَمَعْصِيَتِ الرَّسُولِ وَتَنَاجَوْا بِالْبِرِّ وَالتَّقْوَىٰ ۖ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّـهَ الَّذِي إِلَيْهِ تُحْشَرُونَ “O you who have believed, when you converse privately, do not converse about sin and aggression and disobedience to the Messenger but converse about righteousness and piety. And fear Allah, to whom you will be gathered.” (58:9)
وَيُطْعِمُونَ الطَّعَامَ عَلَى حُبِّهِ مِسْكِيناً وَيَتِيماً وَأَسِيراً - إِنَّمَا نُطْعِمُكُمْ لِوَجْهِ اللَّهِ لاَ نُرِيدُ مِنكُمْ جَزَآءً وَلاَ شُكُوراً "And they give food, inspite of their love for it, to the Miskin (the poor), the orphan, and the captive (saying): "We feed you seeking Allah's Face only. We wish for no reward, nor thanks from you.''" (76:8, 9)
وَيُؤْثِرُونَ عَلَى أَنفُسِهِمْ وَلَوْ كَانَ بِهِمْ خَصَاصَةٌ "...and give them preference over themselves even though they were in need of that." (59:9)
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 ]
- Abu Hurayrah narrated that the Prophet said, أَفْضَلُ الصَّدَقةِ أَنْ تَصَدَّقَ وَأَنْتَ صَحِيحٌ شَحِيحٌ، تَأْمُلُ الْغِنَى وتَخْشَى الْفقْر “The best charity is when you give it away while still healthy and thrifty, hoping to get rich and fearing poverty”. [Bukhari and Muslim]
- Abu Hurayrah said that Allah's Messenger said لَيْسَ الْمِسْكِينُ بِهذَا الطَّوَّافِ الَّذِي تَرُدُّه التَّمْرَةُ والتَّمْرَتَانِ، واللُّقْمَةُ واللُّقْمَتَانِ، وَلكِنِ الْمِسْكِينُ الَّذِي لَا يَجِدُ غِنىً يُغْنِيه وَلَا يُفْطَنُ لَهُ فَيُتصَدَّقَ عَلَيْه “The Miskin is not the person who roams around, and whose need is met by one or two dates or one or two bites. Rather, the Miskin is he who does not have what is sufficient, and to whom the people do not pay attention and, thus, do not give him from the charity”. [Bukhari and Muslim]
وعن النواس بن سمعان رضي الله عنه قال: سألت رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم عن البر والإثم فقال: “البر حسن الخلق، والإثم: ما حاك في نفسك وكرهت أن يطلع عليه الناس”
Nawwas bin Sam'an (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: I asked Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) about virtue and sin, and he said, "Virtue is noble behaviour, and sin is that which creates doubt and you do not like people to know about it." [Muslim].
Ibn Mas'ud (ra) reported: The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, "Truth leads to piety and piety leads to Jannah. A man persists in speaking the truth till he is recorded with Allah as a truthful man. Falsehood leads to transgression and transgression leads to the Hell-fire. A man continues to speak falsehood till he is recorded with Allah as a great liar." [Bukhari and Muslim]