Tafsir Zone - Surah 2: al-Baqarah (The Cow)

Tafsir Zone

Surah al-Baqarah 2:238

Overview (Verses 238 - 239)
A Question of Worship

Having evoked an atmosphere of submission to, and consciousness of, God, the sūrah interjects with a short passage on prayer, the main act of worship in Islam, before it deals with other aspects of divorce. The inference here, in the inimitable style of the Qur’ān, is that obedience to God in matters of marriage and divorce is an act of worship no less reverent or commendable than prayer itself. This is in total harmony with the comprehensive Islamic concept of worship (`ibādah) which encompasses all human activity and is seen as the central purpose of human existence, expressed in the Qur’ān: “I have not created the jinns and human beings to any end other than that they may worship Me.” (51: 56)

The sūrah says: “Attend regularly to your prayers, particularly the middle prayer, and stand up before God in devout obedience. If you are in fear, pray walking or riding. When you are again secure, remember God, since it is He who has taught you what you did not know.” (Verses 238-239)

This is a clear instruction to Muslims to attend regularly to the five daily prayers, offering them in the proper manner, in the correct form, and at their appointed times. The middle Prayer is generally taken to refer to `Aşr, or mid-afternoon prayer, on the basis of reports that on the day of the Battle of the Moat (627 CE), the Prophet Muĥammad was heard cursing the enemy forces for “causing us to miss the middle prayer of `Aşr. May God engulf their hearts and homes in fire.” The reason for a specific mention of the `Aşr prayer is perhaps because it falls during that part of the afternoon when people take a short rest and may easily miss it.
The sūrah also emphasizes total devotion during prayers, because in the early days, Muslims used to, if they felt the need, talk and break away from the prayer to attend to urgent business. When this verse was revealed, it became clear that nothing should distract one from prayer and that worshippers must stand before God in a state of complete submission and devotion.
The sūrah points out that even in times of danger and war, Muslims must not neglect the obligatory prayers. They may perform them in the most convenient way possible under the circumstances. They are permitted to perform the prayer in whatever posture they find themselves in, walking or riding, without having to face the qiblah, the direction of the Ka`bah, or follow the prescribed procedure. This is not to be confused with Şalāt al-khawf or ‘prayer while in a state of fear’, referred to in Sūrah 4, which relates specifically to the performance of prayer in the battlefield. If fighting actually breaks out, or an enemy attack is imminent, the ruling given in the present sūrah will apply.
The great importance God attaches to prayer is very clear. It is seen as a source of inspiration and moral support, and should not be neglected no matter how dangerous or threatening the situation may be. In times of war, it is another weapon a Muslim may use in facing the enemy. It is a supply line from God Almighty at a most crucial moment.
Islam is a religion founded upon the worship of God, in various forms and in all circumstances. Prayer is the foremost manifestation of man’s submission to God. Through the worship of God, man attains the highest level of purity, gains divine support and direction, and achieves total peace of mind. Hence, prayer must never be neglected, even if one is in the line of fire.
When safety and security prevail, prayer must be observed in the normal way, as taught to Muslims by God Almighty in the Qur’ān and through the sunnah of the Prophet Muĥammad. The sūrah stresses this fact: “When you are again secure, remember God, since it is He who has taught you what you did not know.” (Verse 239) Indeed, human beings would not have known anything if it were not for the fact that God teaches them in every minute of their lives.