Surah al-Baqarah (The Cow) 2 : 253
1. Lessons/Guidance/Reflections/Gems[ edit ]
This verse summarises the essence of the mission of God’s messengers, whom it speaks of as a distinct group of human beings. It asserts that God has placed some of the messengers higher than others, pointing out some of the reasons for, and signs of, doing so. It refers to the dissension and disagreement among their followers and successors, which in some cases escalated to fighting, confirming that some of those successors believed while others did not. It points out that the fighting was part of God’s scheme in order to establish the truth and defeat evil.
“Those are the Messengers! We have exalted some of them above others” The relative elevation of God’s messengers is determined by the environment, the nature and the scope of their respective missions. Some messengers were sent to single tribes, some to larger nations, some to single generations, and some to all nations and all generations. It also relates to the various distinctions they had received or brought to their people.
The verse makes a general reference to all messengers, and mentions two of them: Moses and Jesus, saying: “... to some God spoke directly, and some He raised in rank. We gave Jesus, the son of Mary, clear signs and strengthened him with the Holy Spirit.”
When reference is made to a messenger to whom God spoke directly, the immediate conclusion is that the reference is made to Moses. Hence, he is not mentioned by name.
Most Qur’ānic references to Jesus describe him as the “son of Mary”, for obvious reasons. When the Qur’ān was being revealed, numerous myths surrounding the birth, sonship, and dual divine-human nature of Jesus had found their way into the culture and folklore of the time. Christian churches and councils of the Byzantine, and the Roman, empires were immersed in endless doctrinal disputes, some of which turned to bloody conflict, over the nature and status of Jesus. The Qur’ān often makes the point of emphasising the human nature of Jesus, underlining the fact by relating him to his mother, Mary. In the Qur’ān, the ‘holy spirit’ always refers to the Archangel Gabriel (Jibrīl), who conveyed God’s revelations to human messengers. He would inform them of their commissions and instructions, and act as aide and ally to the messengers in their demanding and arduous task of preaching God’s Message. He would, as in the case of Jesus, provide them with reassurances and encouragement.
The ‘clear signs’ given to Jesus include the revealed Gospel and the miracles he was able to perform, detailed elsewhere in the Qur’ān, as supporting evidence of his claim to be God’s Messenger to the obstinate Israelites with whom he had to deal.
Muĥammad is not mentioned here by name because these verses are addressed to him, as is clear from the preceding verse which says: “These are the revelations of God. We recite them to you in all truth, for you are indeed one of Our messengers.”
From whichever angle one looks at the merits of God’s messengers, Muĥammad always occupies the highest position by virtue of the universal and all-inclusive nature of his Message as well as its scope.
Islam offers by far the most perfect understanding of the greatest and most fundamental truth in the world: the oneness of God (tawĥīd). This oneness epitomises the unique nature of God and the divine will, which is done at the mere mention of the word: “be.’ That is indeed the cause of all existence. This existence, and all the laws governing it, form an integral whole.
This oneness is manifested in all aspects of existence: in human life which starts from a simple single cell; in the unity of humanity from Adam to the last human being on earth; in the synthesis of the system of beliefs revealed by God to mankind, in the unanimity of the messengers commissioned to champion and preach those beliefs; and in the integrity of the community of believers who uphold God’s message. It is reflected in the patterns of human behaviour that constitute worship and are aimed at the pleasure and glorification of God; in the complementarity of life in this world, as a period of activity, and life in the hereafter, as a time for accountability; in the integrity of the divine world order to which all human beings are bound; and in the single source from which all knowledge and wisdom flow.
Prophet Muhammad has shown full and complete response to the great universal truth of God’s oneness. He fully absorbed its meaning and significance and was able to interpret its principles in his daily life in full view of all his people.
He was the one Messenger sent with a message addressed to all mankind in his and all future generations. The advent of his mission marked the maturity of the human mind. Hence, it is addressed to the human intellect in a rational, persuasive manner without compulsion or the need for worldly and fantastic miracles.
For these reasons, Muĥammad was the last and final Prophet and his message, Islam, was the last and final message which brought divine revelations to an end. Islam became the greatest unifying Message for all mankind, encompassing the entire gamut of human activity and providing the framework within which the human intellect and potential could be exercised to the full, without need for further divine revelations.
God Almighty, the Creator who knows all, has willed that the final message of Islam, and the entire way of life based upon it, are the most competent to guarantee the growth, development and progress of human life. Anyone who presumes for himself a better knowledge of where the human good might lie, or alleges that Islam is no longer appropriate for the organisation of human life, or claims to have a better system than the one God has laid down — anyone making any or all of these assertions is undoubtedly and undeniably an unbeliever who wishes to bring the worst upon himself and the whole of mankind. He stands in open defiance to God Almighty and to humanity, towards whom God has shown great mercy and generosity by presenting it with a universal divine order that preserves and regulates life for all time to come.
Despite the unity of ‘those messengers’ and the continuity of their messages, their followers quarrelled and fought among themselves. “But they differed with one another: some of them accepted the faith and some rejected it. Yet had God so willed, they would not have fought one another. But God does whatever He wills.”
Conflict among human groups, evident throughout history, has not come about in spite of God’s will, for nothing in this whole world happens in spite of God’s will. Man is created with the dual ability to accept guidance or to reject it, and is given the freedom to go one way or the other. All actions resulting from this human disposition are, therefore, determined and governed by the will of God.
The variance in aptitudes and abilities from one individual human being to another is an essential feature of God’s scheme of creation. Despite the unity of human origin, such diversity is necessary to fulfil the requirements of the complex multifarious role man is destined to play as God’s representative on earth. God does not wish for human beings to be clones of one another, especially in view of the diversity of functions and roles required for the construction, development and growth of life. It is a complementary, self-fulfilling process, in which every individual is urged to seek his or her route to guidance and faith, fully applying their latent disposition in that direction and benefitting from all the facilities and evidence available throughout the universe, as well as from divine revelations received by God’s messengers all through the ages.
Nevertheless, people over the generations “... differed with one another: some of them accepted the faith and some rejected it.” Once disagreements among people develop into a dispute over faith and belief in God, use of force becomes inevitable in order that the struggle between good and evil can be settled, and the truth clearly established. There is no room for confusion, ambiguity or obfuscation, nor would it suffice for any group of people to plead their following of, or association with, one messenger or another.
When these verses were revealed, the pagan Arabs of Makkah claimed to be the true followers of the religion of Abraham, while the Jews of Madinah professed to practise the religion of Moses and the Christians that of Jesus. In fact, all three groups were far removed from the teachings and principles of the faiths they declared themselves to uphold. Some of them could be fairly said to have abandoned their declared faith altogether.
At that time also, the Muslims were already in conflict with the idolatrous Arabs. They were about to be ordered to confront the Jews and Christians. These Qur’ānic statements came to affirm that such conflict among proponents of various religious faiths was part and parcel of God’s will and scheme of life.
“Had God so willed, they would not have fought one another. But God does whatever He wills." It was God’s will, therefore, that good and evil should clash in order to reinforce the principles of true faith, preached and upheld by all messengers. God, in His infinite wisdom, knew that evil would not relent or stand idle, and that for His order to be established, evil had to be confronted and driven back.
God’s will is absolute and unconditional, and His power to make things happen is totally unrestricted. He has predetermined that human beings shall vary in their abilities and aptitudes; that they shall be free to decide their own destiny in life; that those who do not follow the right path shall deviate and fall; that evil will strive to prevail; that conflict between good and evil is inevitable; that faithful believers will have to struggle and make sacrifices in order to establish the truth and the integrity of their beliefs; that idle claims to following God’s messengers is of no consequence and will not prevent one’s faith being questioned and challenged.
These facts which God reasserted through revelations are timeless and universal, and not restricted to the Muslims of Madinah at that time. The use of a single incident to illustrate an absolute principle is a device used frequently in the Qur’ān.
- From amongst the differences in the ranks of the Prophets, is that Allah Almighty physically raised the Prophet Muhammad [saw] to the heavens on the Night of al-Isra wal-Mi'raj.
2. Linguistic Analysis[ edit ]
4. Miscellaneous Information[ edit ]
5. Connected/Related Ayat[ edit ]
- وَلَقَدْ فَضَّلْنَا بَعْضَ النَّبِيِّينَ عَلَى بَعْضٍ وَءَاتَيْنَا دَاوُودَ زَبُورًا "And indeed, We have preferred some of the Prophets above others, and to Dawud We gave the Zabur (Psalms)." (17:55)
- وَمَا كَانَ لِبَشَرٍ أَن يُكَلِّمَهُ اللَّـهُ إِلَّا وَحْيًا أَوْ مِن وَرَاءِ حِجَابٍ أَوْ يُرْسِلَ رَسُولًا فَيُوحِيَ بِإِذْنِهِ مَا يَشَاءُ ۚ إِنَّهُ عَلِيٌّ حَكِيمٌ "And it is not for any human being that Allah should speak to him except by revelation or from behind a partition or that He sends a messenger to reveal, by His permission, what He wills. Indeed, He is Most High and Wise." (42:51)
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 ]
- The Prophet said, "Don't give me superiority above the Prophets, for the people will become unconscious on the Day of Resurrection, and I will be the first to be resurrected to see Musa holding on to the pillar of Allah's Throne. I will not know whether the unconsciousness Musa suffered on the Day of the Trumpet sufficed for him, or if he got up before me. So, do not give me superiority above the Prophets". [Muslim & Bukhari]
- The Prophet said, "Do not give superiority to some Prophets above others". [Muslim & Bukhari]