Surah al-Baqarah (The Cow) 2 : 18

صُمٌّۢ بُكْمٌ عُمْىٌ فَهُمْ لَا يَرْجِعُونَ


 Muhsin Khan
 Yusuf Ali
Quran Project
Deaf, dumb and blind - so they will not return [to the right path].

1. Lessons/Guidance/Reflections/Gems

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Explanatory Note

Man’s senses are meant to enable him to perceive and receive God’s Guidance, but the hypocrites wilfully closed off their senses, rendering themselves deaf, dumb and blind. Thus they are no longer able to see the light, nor can they find the right path again. They are lost.

  • قال تعالى [عنهم]: (صم) أي: عن سماع الخير، (بكم) [أي]: عن النطق به، (عمي): عن رؤية الحق، (فهم لا يرجعون): لأنهم تركوا الحق بعد أن عرفوه، فلا يرجعون إليه، بخلاف من ترك الحق عن جهل وضلال؛ فإنه لا يعقل، وهو أقرب رجوعا منهم. السعدي: 44  [Be first to translate this...]

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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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


Overview (Verses 17 - 22)

The Enemy Within

We note that more space is devoted to the delineation of the character of the third group, the hypocrites, than to either of the preceding ones. This is because each of the first two types is, in a sense, simple and straightforward. The first picture shows people with clear vision and honest purpose, while the second paints those moving aimlessly, devoid of guidance. In the third picture we see those with a devious, restless, complex and sick disposition. Its delineation requires more touches and finer detail to be clearly and fully defined.

A detailed description of this third group also suggests that the role played by the hypocrites in Madinah in undermining the Muslim community during those formative years was a very serious one, and that they instigated trouble and instability in that community. It is also an indication of how far-reaching a role hypocrites can play in any Muslim community, and that there is a need to expose their activities and maleficent scheming against the Muslims.

Further examples are given to add more clarification and expose the nature of hypocrisy: “They are like one who sought to kindle a fire, and as it lit up all around him God took away their light and left them in darkness, unable to see anything. Deaf, dumb and blind, they can never return to the right path.” (Verses 17-18)

Unlike the unbelievers, the hypocrites did not turn away from divine guidance in the first instance. They did not block their ears or refuse to listen or understand. They simply elected to turn away from God’s guidance, after having considered and understood it. They sought the light and saw it, but they did not benefit from it. It was for this reason that “God took away their light and left them in darkness, unable to see anything.” (Verse 17) This is a punishment for their deliberate rejection of God’s guidance.

Man’s senses are meant to enable him to perceive and receive God’s Guidance, but the hypocrites wilfully closed off their senses, rendering themselves deaf, dumb and blind. Thus they are no longer able to see the light, nor can they find the right path again. They are lost.

Another description of their wavering and loss of direction tells us that: “Or, when there is a storm-cloud, dark, charged with thunder and lightning, they thrust their fingers in their ears at every thunder-clap, for fear of death; but God encompasses the unbelievers. The lightning all but snatches away their sight; whenever it flashes over them they walk on, but when darkness overtakes them they stand still. Should God will it, He would take away their hearing and their sight, for God has power over all things.” (Verses 19-20)

It is a fascinating scene, full of life and movement, overshadowed by confusion. It is remarkable for the sense of loss, panic and perplexity it conveys. There is light and sound, dark stormy clouds bringing heavy rain, intermittent spells of light and darkness. People walking in all directions, not knowing where to go, and stopping abruptly in terror as the light disappears, covering their ears against the piercing sound of thunder that could well-nigh kill them.

The interaction between the various dynamic elements of this awesome scene perfectly reflects the confused and perplexed state of mind of the hypocrites, their double-faced way of life and their wavering and equivocating attitude towards others. It is a vivid picture of the psychological condition of those people, eloquently expressed in the rich inimitable style of the Qur’ān.

Having clearly defined these three types of people, the sūrah goes on to address mankind as a whole with an exhortation to seek to be of the pure, constructive and honest type in order to attain happiness and prosperity. “Mankind, worship your Lord who has created you and those who lived before you, so that you may become God-fearing. He made the earth a couch for you, and the heavens a ceiling. He sent down water from the sky to bring forth fruits for your sustenance. Do not, then, knowingly set up equals to God.” (Verses 21-22)

The call is addressed to all mankind to worship God, the sole Creator of all beings. He alone is the Creator, and He alone must be worshipped. Man’s worship of God fulfils a definite purpose, namely, to make man God-fearing. It is through worship that people can attain the honourable status of believing in, and fearing none other than God. Thus, they fulfil their obligations towards the One God, Lord of the living and the dead, past and present, and the sole sustainer and provider of all that is in the heavens and the earth.

“He made the earth a couch for you.” (Verse 22) The tone here emphasizes the element of ease in human life. Planet earth has been prepared as a suitable place for living, providing comfortable shelter for man. Long familiarity, however, tends to make people take this ease and comfort for granted and to overlook the meticulous care and balance involved in providing the means to sustain human life on earth. Should only one of the elements necessary for life on this planet fail or run short, life itself would disappear or become impossibly hard.

“And the heavens a ceiling”, solid and well coordinated. Man’s life on earth is strongly linked to the skies and what they provide: heat, light, gravity, stars and planets. The forces that preserve this delicate coherence and harmony between the earth and the rest of the universe are vital to enable and sustain man’s life. It is no surprise, therefore, that this should be mentioned within the context of God’s power and grace, emphasizing man’s duty to worship and submit to Him.

“He sent down water from the sky to bring forth fruits for your sustenance.” (Verse 22) This is a recurring theme in the Qur’ān, especially in the context of reminding man of God’s power and grace. Water is the essence of all life on earth. God says elsewhere in the Qur’ān: “We have made out of water every living thing.” (21: 30) Causing plants to grow, running into rivers, forming lakes, permeating the soil to form underground reservoirs then springing out or drilled up, water remains the most vital substance for life.

Water as a phenomenon, and its role on this earth, are wonders that no one can deny or overlook. To assert God’s power and grace, it is sufficient simply to point them out as an example.

Two fundamental Islamic principles emerge from this passage. The first is God’s oneness as the Creator of all beings; the other is the unity of the universe and its internal cohesion, and its fitness for man and for all life. The earth is stretched out for our ease and comfort and the skies support their marvellous systems above us, while water brings forth crops and fruits to sustain mankind. All this is by the grace of God, the sole Creator. Therefore the sūrah continues: “Do not, then, knowingly set up equals to God” (Verse 22)

Knowing that God has created us and those who came before us, and knowing that He prepared the earth for us to live on and built the skies above us, single- handedly and without a partner or helper, and provided us with water, the essence of life, how can we ever deny Him, set up equals to Him, or worship others as gods beside Him?

The concept of “setting up equals to God” which the Qur’ān frequently and strongly condemns need not necessarily refer to the worship of idols or figurines or statues, normally associated with pagan religious practice and observed by the Arab idolaters. It could very well take other forms, some of which are very subtle indeed. To pin one’s hopes on anyone other than God, to fear someone other than Him, to believe that others can bring fortune or cause harm, are all infringements of monotheistic belief and, therefore, forms of idolatry or, to use Islamic terminology, shirk.

The Prophet’s learned companion, `Abdullāh ibn `Abbās, said: “Setting up equals to God is a subtle form of idolatry, or shirk. It is more subtle than an ant stealthily walking on a smooth black surface in the thick of darkness. It is when someone swears by something other than the name of God or believes that dogs or ducks keep the thief away. It is when someone says, ‘By the will of God and the will of man’ or, ‘Were it not for God and you...’“ It is also reported that a man once came up to the Prophet and said: “Whatever you and God will.” The Prophet replied: “Do you take me as an equal to God?”

The early Muslims were extremely sensitive and alert to these subtle forms of idolatry. We today have to reflect on our own attitude towards this matter and determine how true and faithful we are to the pure and fundamental principle of God’s oneness.

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