Sunday 8 December 2019

Surah Al Baqarah - The Cow: 2nd Chapter of Quran (Exegesis - Section 1 / Part I)

Sūrah Al Baqarah "البقرة" is the longest Sūrah of the Qurān with 286 verses and forty ruku, spanned over Juz' 1-3. 

Please read the Summary and the Overview of the Surah before reading its detailed exegesis so as to have a fair idea how this Surah has been compartmentalized into various sections and parts to emphasize on the important subject matter of the surah:

  • Introduction
  • Section 1: [verses 40 to 121 (Ruku 5-14)] and has been further divided into two parts as under:
  • Part I:  (Verses 40-61) 
  • Part II: (Verses 62-121) 
Section 2: [verse 122-163 (ruku 15-19)]
  • Section 3: [Verses 164 - 242 (Ruku 20-40)]  It has been further sub divided into three parts as under:
  • Part I: (verses 164-188) 
  • Part II: (Verses 189-216) 
  • Part III: (Verses 217-242) 
  • Section 4: (Verses 243-286) 
We have already presented the Introduction. We now begin with Section-1 / Part I. The translation and exegesis / tafseer is in English. For Arabic Text, please refer to the references given at the end and may also listen to its recitation in Arabic with English subtitles.

بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْمِ 
"In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful"

Ruku / Section 5 [Verses 40-46]
Verses 40-43 Allah's covenants with the Children of Israel
( 40 )   O Children of Israel, remember My favor which I have bestowed upon you and fulfill My covenant [upon you] that I will fulfill your covenant [from Me], and be afraid of [only] Me.
'Israel' means the slave of God. This was the title conferred on Jacob (Ya'qub) by God Himself. He was the son of Isaac and the grandson of Abraham. His progeny are styled the 'Children of Israel'.

Turning to the Qur'anic text itself, it is noteworthy that the foregoing verses have been in the nature of introductory remarks addressed to all mankind. From the present section up to and including the fourteenth (verses 40 discourse, the reader should be particularly aware of the following purposes:

(1) The first purpose of this discourse is to invite those followers of the earlier Prophets who still had some element of righteousness and goodness to believe in the Truth preached by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) and to join hands in promoting the mission he championed. In these sections they are told that the Qur'an and the Prophet are bearers of the same message and mission preached by the earlier Prophets and Scriptures.

The earlier communities were entrusted with the Truth in order that, as well as following it themselves, they might call others towards it and try to persuade them to follow it. But instead of directing the world in the light of this truth, they themselves failed to follow the Divine Guidance and sank into degeneracy. Their history and their contemporary religious and moral condition bore out this degeneration.

They are also told that God has once again entrusted the same Truth to one of His servants and has appointed him to carry out the same mission as that of the earlier Prophets and their followers. What the Prophet has brought is, therefore, neither new nor foreign; it is their very own and they are asked to accept it as such. A fresh group of people has now arisen with the same mission they had, but which they failed to carry out. It is clearly their duty to support these people.

(2) The second purpose of this discourse is to leave no reasonable justification for the negative Jewish attitude towards Islam, and to expose fully the true state of the religious and moral life of the Jews. This discourse makes it clear that the religion preached by the Prophet was the same as that preached by the Prophets of Israel. So far as the fundamentals are concerned, nothing in the Qur'an differs from the teachings of the Torah. It is also established that the Jews failed glaringly to follow the guidance entrusted to them, even as they had failed to live up to the position of leadership in which they had been placed. This point is established by reference to events of irrefutable authenticity.

Moreover, the way in which the Jews resorted to conspiracies and underhand machinations designed to create doubts and misgivings, the mischievous manner in which they engaged in discussions, the acts of trickery in which they indulged in willful opposition to the Truth, and the vile tactics which they employed in order to frustrate the mission of the Prophet, were all brought into sharp relief so as to establish that their formal, legalistic piety was a sham. What lay behind it was bigotry, chauvinism and self-aggrandizement rather than an honest search for and commitment to the Truth. The plain fact was that they did not want goodness to flourish.

This candid criticism of the Jews had several salutary effects. On the one hand, it made the situation clear to the good elements among the Jews. On the other, it destroyed the religious and moral standing of the Jews among the people of Madina, and among the pagans of Arabia as a whole. Moreover, it undermined the morale of the Jews to such an extent that from then on they could not oppose Islam with a firmness born of strong inner conviction.

(3) Third, the message addressed in the earlier sections to mankind as a whole is here elucidated with reference to a particular people. The example of the Jews is cited to show the tragic end that overtakes a people when it spurns Divine Guidance. The reason for choosing the Children of Israel as an example is that they alone, out of all the nations, constituted for four thousand years the continual embodiment of a tragedy from which many lessons could be learnt. The vicissitudes of fortune which visit a people, depending on whether they follow or refrain from following Divine Guidance, were all conspicuous in the history of this nation.

(4) Fourth, this discourse is designed to warn the followers of Muhammad (peace be on him) to avoid the same pitfalls as the followers of the earlier Prophets. While explaining the requirements of the true faith, it clearly specifies the moral weaknesses, the false concepts of religion, and the numerous errors in religious belief and practice which had made inroads among the Jews. The purpose is to enable Muslims to see their true path clearly and to avoid false ones. While studying the Qur'anic criticism of the Jews and Christians, Muslims should remember the Tradition from the Prophet in which he warned them that they would so closely follow the ways of the earlier religious communities that if the latter had entered a lizard's burrow, so would the Muslims. The Prophet was asked: 'Do you mean the Christians and Jews, O Messenger of God?' The Prophet replied: 'Who else?' (See Bukhari, 'Itisam', 14; Muslim, "Ilm', 6 - Ed.) This was not merely an expression of reproof. Thanks to the peculiar discernment and insight with which the Prophet was endowed, he knew the ways in which corruption encroaches upon the lives of the followers of the Prophets, and the different forms it assumes.

Yusuf Ali Explanation:
The appeal is made to Israel subjectively in terms of their own tradition. You claim to be a favoured nation; have you forgotten My favours? You claim a special Covenant with Me: I have fulfilled My part of the Covenant by bringing you out of the land of bondage and giving you Canaan, the land "flowing with milk and honey" how have you fulfilled your part of the Covenant? Do you fear for your national existence? If you fear Me, nothing else will matter.
( 41 )   And believe in what I have sent down confirming that which is [already] with you, and be not the first to disbelieve in it. And do not exchange My signs for a small price, and fear [only] Me.
'Trifling gain' refers to the worldly benefits for the sake of which they were rejecting God's directives. Whatever one may gain in exchange for the Truth, be it all the treasure in the world, is trifling; the Truth is of supreme value.

Yusuf Ali Explanation:
You receive revelations before: now comes one confirming it: its first appeal should be to you: are you to be the first to reject it? And reject it for what? God's Signs are worth more than all your paltry considerations. And the standard of duty and righteousness is to be taken from God, and not from priests and customs.
( 42 )   And do not mix the truth with falsehood or conceal the truth while you know [it].
For the proper understanding of this verse we need to recall that in the time of the Prophet the Jews of Arabia were more learned than the Arabs. In fact, there were some Jewish scholars of Arabia whose fame had spread even beyond the confines of that land. For this reason the Arabs tended to be intellectually overawed by them. In addition, the influence of the Jews had become pervasive and profound by virtue of the pomp and pageantry of their religious rites, and the magical crafts and feats of exorcism for which they were famous. The people of Madina, in particular, were greatly under the spell of the Jews. These Jews made on them the sort of impression generally created on ignorant neighbours by a better educated, more refined and more conspicuously religious group.

It was natural in such circumstances that, when the Prophet began to preach his message, the ignorant Arabs should approach the Jews and ask their opinion of the Prophet and his teachings, particularly as the Jews also believed in Prophets and Scriptures. We find that this inquiry was often made by the Makkans, and continued to he addressed to the Jews after the Prophet arrived in Madina.

In reply to this query, however, the Jewish religious scholars never told the candid truth. It was impossible for them to say that the doctrine of monotheism preached by Muhammad was incorrect, that there was any error in his teachings regarding the Prophets, the Divine Scriptures, the angels and the Next Life and that there was any error in the principles of moral conduct which the Prophet propounded. At the same time, however, they were not prepared to make a straightforward affirmation of the truth of his teachings. In short, they neither categorically denied the Truth nor were prepared to accept it with open hearts.

Instead, they tried to plant insidious doubts in the minds of everybody who inquired about the Prophet and his mission. They sought to create one misgiving after another, disseminated new slanders, and tried to engage people's minds in all kinds of hypothetical problems so as to keep them in a state of doubt and uncertainty. They also tried to raise controversial issues which might keep people, including the followers of the Prophet, entangled in sterile debate. It is this attitude of the Jews to which the Qur'an alludes when it asks them not to overlay the truth with falsehood, not to suppress and conceal it by resorting to false propaganda and mischievous campaigns of slander, and not to attempt to deceive the world by mixing truth with falsehood.

In the last three verses (40-42) and following four verses (43-46), Allah reminds the Israelites of the blessings He has bestowed upon them, and invites them to Islam and to good deeds. The earlier three verses were concerned with the true faith and doctrines; the present verses speak of good deeds, mentioning only the most important of them. It was usually the love of money and power that made it difficult for the Jews, specially for their scholars, to accept Islam. The verses prescribe the remedy for the twin diseases - they should fortify themselves with Sabr (patience) and Salah (prayer). 
( 43 )   And establish prayer and give zakah and bow with those who bow [in worship and obedience].
Prayer and Purifying Alms (Zakah) have always been among the most important pillars of the Islamic faith. Like other Prophets, the Prophets of Israel laid great stress upon them. The Jews had, however, become very negligent about these duties. Congregational Prayer had all but ceased among them; in fact, a great majority of the Jews did not perform Prayers even individually. They had also not only ceased to pay Purifying Alms, but some had even gone so far as to make their living out of interest.

Yusuf Ali Explanation:
The argument is still primarily addressed to the Jews, but is of universal application, as in all the teachings of the Quran. The chief feature of Jewish worship was and is the bowing of the head.

Mufti Muhammad Shaffi/Muhammad Taqi Usmani's Explanation:
paying Zakah, the prescribed alms. Now, lexically speaking, the Arabic word Zakah has two significations: (a) to purify (b) grow. Zakah is not a tax levied by the State or society, but, in the terminology of the shariah, means that portion of one's belongings which is set apart and spent in total accord with the injunctions of the Shariah.

This verse is addressed to the Israelites, and does not by itself show that offering prayers and paying alms was obligatory for them before the days of Islam. But the following verse:
Allah made a covenant with the Israelites and raised among them twelve chieftains. And Allah said, 'I am with you. Surely, if you perform Salah and pay Zakah'. (5:12) 
does show that the two things were obligatory for them, even if the external modes might have been different.

The verse proceeds to say: "Bow down with those who bow (in worship)." Lexically, the Arabic word Ruku' means "to bow down", and may hence be applied even to prostrating oneself (Sajdah), which is the ultimate form of bowing down. But in the terminology of the Shari'ah it pertains to the particular form of bowing down which has been prescribed for Salah.

One may well ask why this particular gesture has been chosen for a special mention from among the different gestures involved in the salah. We would reply that it is a metonymy for Salah, and a part has ,7 -19 been made to stand for the whole -just as in verse 17:78 : "the recitation of the Qur'an in the morning" refers to the morning prayers, and on several occasions in some Hadith narrations the use of the word Sajdah covers one set of movements (Ruku) in Salah or even to the whole of it. Thus, the verse actually means: "Offer Salah along with those who offer Salah."

Verse 44 Do you advise others and forget yourselves? 
( 44 )   Do you order righteousness of the people and forget yourselves while you recite the Scripture? Then will you not reason?
Verses 45-46 Allah's help come with patience and Salah 
( 45 )   And seek help through patience and prayer, and indeed, it is difficult except for the humbly submissive [to Allah]
That is, if they feel difficulty in keeping to righteousness, the remedy lies in resorting to Prayer and patience. From these two attributes they will derive the strength needed to follow their chosen course.

The literal meaning of 'sabr' is to exercise restraint, to keep oneself tied down. It denotes the will-power, the firm resolve and the control over animal desires which enables man to advance along the path of his choice - the path that satisfies his heart and conscience - in utter disregard of the temptations within, and of all obstacles and opposition without. The purpose of this directive is to urge man to develop this quality and to reinforce it from the outside by means of Prayer.

Yusuf Ali Explanation:
The Arabic word Sabr implies many shades of meaning, which it is impossible to comprehend in one English word. It implies (1) patience in the sense of being thorough, not hasty; (2) patient perseverance, constancy, steadfastness, firmness of purpose; (3) systematic as opposed to spasmodic or chance action; (4) a cheerful attitude of resignation and understanding in sorrow, defeat, or suffering, as opposed to murmuring or rebellion, but saved from mere passivity or listlessness, by the element of constancy or steadfastness.
( 46 )   Who are certain that they will meet their Lord and that they will return to Him.
This means that Prayer is an insufferable encumbrance and affliction for the man who tends not to want to obey, God and to believe in the After-life. For the man who, of his own violation, has to stand before God after death, it is failure to perform the Prayer, rather than its performance, that becomes intolerable.

Ruku / Section 6 [Verses 47-59]
Verses 47-48 Criminals will find no way out on the Day of Judgement
( 47 )   O Children of Israel, remember My favor that I have bestowed upon you and that I preferred you over the worlds.
This refers to that period of human history when, of all nations, only the Children of Israel possessed that knowledge of Truth which comes from God alone. At that time they were entrusted with the task of directing the nations of the world to righteousness; they were expected to serve God and to invite the rest of the world to do the same.

Yusuf Ali Explanation:
These words are recapitulated from ii. 40, which introduced a general account of God's favours to Israel; now we are introduced to a particular account of incidents in Israel's history. Each incident is introduced by the Arabic word "Iz", which is indicated in the translation by "Remember".
( 48 )   And fear a Day when no soul will suffice for another soul at all, nor will intercession be accepted from it, nor will compensation be taken from it, nor will they be aided.
A major reason for the degeneration of the Israelites was the corruption of their beliefs about the After that since they were related to those venerable saints and pious men who had dedicated themselves entirely to the service of God in the past, they would be forgiven by the grace of those great men. They believed that once they had bound themselves firmly to those men of God, it would become impossible for God to punish them. Such false reliance made them negligent of true religious piety and enmeshed them in a life of sin and wickedness. Hence, as well as reminding the Children of Israel of God's favour upon them, it was necessary to refute all the false ideas which they cherished.

Verses 49-50 Israelites deliverance from Pharaoh's persecution
( 49 )   And [recall] when We saved your forefathers from the people of Pharaoh, who afflicted you with the worst torment, slaughtering your [newborn] sons and keeping your females alive. And in that was a great trial from your Lord.
From here on, through the several sections that follow, reference is made to the best

We have rendered 'Al Fir'awn' as 'Pharaoh's people'. This includes the members of the Pharaonic family as well as the aristocracy of Egypt. The test was whether they would emerge from the crucible of persecution as pure gold, or as mere dross. The test also lay, in whether or not, after their miraculous deliverance from so great a calamity, they would become grateful servants of God.

Yusuf Ali Explanation:
The bondage of Egypt was indeed a tremendous trial. Even the Egyptians' wish to spare the lives of Israel's females when the males were slaughtered, added to the bitterness of Israel. Their hatred was cruel, but their "love" was still more cruel. About the hard tasks, see Exod. i. 14: "They made their lives bitter with hard bondage, in mortar and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field; all their service, wherein they made them serve, was with rigour." Pharaoh's taskmasters gave no straw, yet ordered the Israelites to make bricks without straw: Exod. v 5-19. Pharaoh's decree was: "Every son that is born ye shall cast into the river, and every daughter ye shall save alive": Exod. i. 22. It was in consequence of this decree that Moses was hidden three months after he was born, and when he could be hidden no longer, he was put into an ark of bulrushes and cast into the Nile, where he was found by Pharaoh's daughter and wife (xxviii. 9), and adopted into the family: Exod. ii. 2-10. Cf. xx. 37-40. Thus Moses was brought up by the enemies of his people. He was chosen by God to deliver his people, and God's wisdom made the learning and experience and even cruelties of the Egyptian enemies themselves to contribute to the salvation of his people.
( 50 )   And [recall] when We parted the sea for you and saved you and drowned the people of Pharaoh while you were looking on.
Yusuf Ali Explanation:
When the Israelites at last escaped from Egypt, they were pursued by Pharaoh and his host. By a miracle the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, but the host of Pharaoh was drowned: Exod. xiv. 5-31.

 Verses 51-52 Their sin of worshiping the Calf
( 51 )   And [recall] when We made an appointment with Moses for forty nights. Then you took [for worship] the calf after him, while you were wrongdoers.
When the Israelites reached the Sinai peninsula after their exodus from Egypt, God summoned Moses to the mountain for forty days and nights so that the nation which had now achieved independence could be taught law and morality. (See Exodus 24-3l.)

The cult of cow-worship was widespread among Israel's neighbours. It was particularly common in Egypt and Canaan. After the time of Joseph, when the Israelites fell prey to degeneracy and became the slaves of the Copts, they were contaminated by many of the corrupt practices prevalent among their rulers. Cow-worship was one of them. (There is a detailed account of the episode of calf-worship in Exodus 32.)

Yusuf Ali Explanation:
This was after the Ten Commandments and the Laws and Ordinances had been given on Mount Sinai: Moses was asked up into the Mount, and he was there forty days and forty nights: Exod. xxiv. 18. But the people got impatient of the delay, made a calf of melted gold, and offered worship and sacrifice to it: Exod. xxxii 1-8.
( 52 )   Then We forgave you after that so perhaps you would be grateful.
Yusuf Ali Explanation:
Moses prayed for his people, and God forgave them. This is the language of the Qur-an. The Old Testament version is rougher: "The Lord reprented of the evil which He thought to do unto His people": Exod. xxxii. 14. The Muslim position has always been that the Jewish (and Christian) scriptures as they stand cannot be traced direct to Moses or Jesus, but are later compilations. Modern scholarship and Higher Criticism has left no doubt on the subject. But the stories in these traditional books may be used in an appeal to those who use them: only they should be spiritualized, as they are here, and specially in ii.54 below.

Verses 53-54 Their repentance through slaying the culprits 
( 53 )   And [recall] when We gave Moses the Scripture and criterion that perhaps you would be guided.
'Criterion' here means that understanding of religion which differentiates truth from falsehood, making each stand out distinctly.

Yusuf Ali Explanation:
God's revelation, the expression of God's Will, is the true standard of right and wrong. It may be in a Book or in God's dealings in history. All these may be called His Signs or Miracles. In this passage some commentators take the Scripture and the Criterion (Furqan) to be identical. Others take them to be two distinct things: Scripture being the written Book and the Criterion being other Signs. I agree with the latter view. The word Furqan also occurs in xxi. 48 in connection with Moses and Aaron and in the first verse of Surah xxv, as well as in its title, in connection with Muhammad. As Aaron received no Book, Furqan must mean the other Signs. Al Mustafa had both the Book and the other Signs: perhaps here too we take the other Signs as supplementing the Book. Cf. Wordsworth's "Arbiter undisturbed of right and wrong." (Prelude, Book 4)
( 54 )   And [recall] when Moses said to his people, "O my people, indeed you have wronged yourselves by your taking of the calf [for worship]. So repent to your Creator and kill yourselves. That is best for [all of] you in the sight of your Creator." Then He accepted your repentance; indeed, He is the Accepting of repentance, the Merciful.
Yusuf Ali Explanation:
Moses's speech may be construed literally, as translated, in which case it reproduces Exod. xxxii 27-28 but in a much softened form, for the Old Testament says: "Go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother and every man his companion, and every man his neighbor... and there fell of the people that day 3,000 men." A more spiritualized version would be that the order for slaying was given by way of trial, but was withdrawn, for God turned to them in forgiveness. A still more spiritualized way of construing it would be to take "anfusakum" as meaning "souls" not "selves". Then the sense of Moses's speech (abbreviated) would be: "By the worship of the calf you have wronged your own souls; repent: mortify (=slay) your souls now: it will be better in the sight of God."

Verses 55-57 Those who wanted to see Allah face to face were put to death, then Allah gave them life again and provided them with heavenly food
( 55 )   And [recall] when you said, "O Moses, we will never believe you until we see Allah outright"; so the thunderbolt took you while you were looking on.
Yusuf Ali Explanation:
We have hitherto had instances from the Jewish traditional Taurat (or Pentateuch). Now we have some instances from Jewish traditions in the Talmud, or body of exposition in the Jewish theological schools. They are based on the Jewish scriptures, but add many marvelous details and homilies. As to seeing God, we have in Exod. xxxiii 20: "And He said, Thou canst not see My face: for there shall no man see Me and live." The punishment for insisting on seeing God was therefore death; but those who rejected faith were forgiven, and yet they were ungrateful.
( 56 )   Then We revived you after your death that perhaps you would be grateful.
The incident referred to here is the following. When Moses went to the mountain he had been ordered to bring with him seventy elders of Israel. Later, when God bestowed upon Moses the Book and the Criterion, he presented them to the people. Some mischief-makers, according to the Qur'an, began to complain that they could not believe in something just because Moses claimed that God had spoken to him. This invited the wrath of God and they were punished. The Old Testament, however, has the following account:
'And they saw the God of Israel and there was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank' (Exodus 24: 10-11),
Interestingly, it is stated later in the same book that when Moses requested God to show him His glory, God rejected the request and said: 'You cannot see my face; for man shall not see me and live'. (See Exodus 33: 18-23)
( 57 )   And We shaded you with clouds and sent down to you manna and quails, [saying], "Eat from the good things with which We have provided you." And they wronged Us not - but they were [only] wronging themselves.
That is, God provided them with shade from clouds in the Sinai peninsula where there was no shelter from the heat of the sun.

It should be remembered that the Israelites had left Egypt in their hundreds of thousands. In Sinai, there were not even any tents in which they could shelter, never mind proper houses. But for the fact that God by His grace kept the sky, overcast for a considerable period, these people would have been scorched to death by the heat of the sun.

Manna and quails constituted the natural food that was continually made available to them throughout the forty years of their wandering in the Sinai desert. Manna was like coriander seed. When the dew fell in the night, manna fell with it from above. By God's grace the quails were made available so plentifully that the entire nation was able to live on them alone and so escaped starvation. (For details regarding manna and quails see Exodus 16; Numbers 11: 7-9 and 31-2; Joshua 5: 12)

Yusuf Ali Explanation:
Manna=Hebrew, Manhu: Arabic Mahuwa? - What is it? In Exod. xvi. 14 it is described as "a small round thing as small as the hoar frost on the ground." It usually rotted if left over till next day; it melted in the hot sun; the amount necessary for each man was about an Omer, a Hebrew measure of capacity equal to about 2| quarts. This is the Hebrew account, probably distorted by traditional exaggeration. The actual Manna found to this day in the Sinai region is a gummy saccharine secretion found on a species of Tamarisk. It is produced by the puncture of a species of insect like the cochineal, just as lac is produced by the puncture of the lac insect on certain trees in India. As to quails, large flights of them are driven by winds in the Eastern Mediterranean in certain seasons of the year, as was witnessed during the Great War of 1914-1918 by many Indian officers who campaigned between Egypt and Palestine.

Verses 58-59 Their discontent and disbelief 
( 58 )   And [recall] when We said, "Enter this city and eat from it wherever you will in [ease and] abundance, and enter the gate bowing humbly and say, 'Relieve us of our burdens.' We will [then] forgive your sins for you, and We will increase the doers of good [in goodness and reward]."
It has not yet been possible to arrive at any conclusion about the identity of the locality mentioned here. The series of events in the context of which God's command to enter the city is mentioned belong to the period of the exodus of the Children of Israel in the Sinai peninsula. It is therefore probable that the place mentioned in this verse is some Sinaitic city. Another plausible suggestion is that it is Shattim, which was located opposite Jericho on the eastern bank of the river Jordan. According to the Bible the Israelites conquered this town during the last years of the life of Moses. After the conquest the Israelites became so decadent that God smote them with a plague from which twenty-four thousand died (Numbers 25: 1-9).

God's command was to enter the city not with the arrogance of tyrannical conquerors, but with the humility of men of God (in the manner in which the Prophet would later enter Makka at the time of its conquest).

As for 'hit ' tah', it could either mean that when they entered the town they should seek God's pardon for their sins or that instead of plundering and massacring people in the wake of their conquest, they should proclaim an amnesty.

Yusuf Ali Explanation:
This probably refers to Shittim. It was the "town of acacias," just east of the Jordan, where the Israelites were guilty of debauchery and the worship of and sacrifice to false gods (Num. xxv. 1-2, also 8-9); a terrible punishment ensued, including the plague of which 24,000 died. The word which the transgressors changed may have been a pass-word. In the Arabic text it is "Hittatun" which implies humility and a prayer of forgiveness, a fitting emblem to distinguish them from their enemies. From this particular incident a more general lesson may be drawn; in the hour of triumph we are to behave humbly as in God's sight, and our conduct should be exemplary according to God's word; otherwise our arrogance will draw its own punishment.
( 59 )   But those who wronged changed [those words] to a statement other than that which had been said to them, so We sent down upon those who wronged a punishment from the sky because they were defiantly disobeying.
Ruku / Section 7 [Verses 60-61]
Verse 60 Miracle of providing water in the desert from a rock
( 60 )   And [recall] when Moses prayed for water for his people, so We said, "Strike with your staff the stone." And there gushed forth from it twelve springs, and every people knew its watering place. "Eat and drink from the provision of Allah, and do not commit abuse on the earth, spreading corruption."
That rock can still be seen in the Sinai Peninsula with the twelve holes of the springs. Twelve springs were caused to flow for the Israelites in order to avoid water disputes among their twelve clans.

Yusuf Ali Explanation:
Here we have a reference to the tribal organization of the Jews, which played a great part in their forty years' march through the Arabian deserts (Num. i. and ii.) and their subsequent settlement in the land of Canaan (Josh. xxii. and xiv.). The twelve tribes were derived from the sons of Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel (soldier of God) after he had wrestled, says Jewish tradition, with God (Genesis xxxii. 28). Israel had twelve sons (Gen. xxxv. 22-26), including Levi and Joseph. The descendants of these twelve sons were the "Children of Israel." Levi's family got the priesthood and the care of the Tabernacle; they were exempted from military duties for which the census was taken (Nu. i. 47-53), and therefore from the distribution of Land in Canaan (Josh. xiv. 3); they were distributed among all the Tribes, and were really a privileged caste and not numbered among the Tribes; Moses and Aaron belonged to the house of Levi. On the other hand Joseph, on account of the high position to which he rose in Egypt as the Pharaoh's minister, was the progenitor of two tribes, one in the name of each of his two sons Ephraim and Manasseh. Thus there were twelve Tribes in all, as Levi was cut out and Joseph represented two tribes. Their having fixed stations and watering places in camp and fixed territorial areas later in the Promised Land prevented confusion and mutual jealousies and is pointed to as an evidence of the Providence of God acting through His prophet Moses. Cf. also vii. 160.

Verses 61 Israelites rejected the heavenly food and their disobedience and transgression
( 61 )   And [recall] when you said, "O Moses, we can never endure one [kind of] food. So call upon your Lord to bring forth for us from the earth its green herbs and its cucumbers and its garlic and its lentils and its onions." [Moses] said, "Would you exchange what is better for what is less? Go into [any] settlement and indeed, you will have what you have asked." And they were covered with humiliation and poverty and returned with anger from Allah [upon them]. That was because they [repeatedly] disbelieved in the signs of Allah and killed the prophets without right. That was because they disobeyed and were [habitually] transgressing.
This does not mean that their real fault lay in asking for things which entailed cultivation instead of availing themselves of manna and quails which they received without any toil. What is emphasized here is that rather than being concerned with the great purpose for which they had been brought to the Sinai they relished the foods which gratified their palates to such a degree that they could not forgo them even temporarily (cf. Numbers 11: 4-9).

There are several ways in which one might deny the signs of God. First, one might refuse to accept those teachings of God which one found contrary to one's fancies and desires. Second, one might know that something is from God and yet wilfully flout it. Third, one might know well the import of God's directives and yet distort them.

The Israelites recorded their crimes in detail in their own history. Here are just a few examples from the Bible:
(1) After the death of Solomon the state of the Israelites was split into two: the State of Judah with its capital in Jerusalem, and the State of Israel with its capital in Samaria. This was followed by a series of wars between the two States so that the State of Judah sought the assistance of the Aramacan State of Damascus against its own kinsmen. At this, Hamani the seer went under God's direction to Asa the king and rebuked him. Instead of rectifying his behaviour, Asa was so angry that he put the seer in the stocks. (See 2 Chronicles 16: 7-10.)
(2) When Elijah denounced the Jews for their worship of Baal and invited them to return to monotheism, Ahab, the king of Israel pursued him for the sake of his pagan wife so that he had to take refuge in the mountains of the Sinai peninsula. On this occasion, according to the Bible, he said: '. . . the people of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thy altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword., and 1, even 1 only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away' (1 Kings 19: 14).
(3) The same king Ahab imprisoned another Prophet, Micah, for no other reason than that of speaking the truth. King Ahab ordered that he should be given only bread and water. (See 1 Kings 22: 26-7)
(4) When idol-worship and moral corruption became prevalent in Judah and the Prophet Zechariah raised his voice against them, he was stoned to death in the very court of the house of the Lord. (See 2 Chronicles 24: 2l.)
(5) When the Israelite State of Samaria was wiped out by the State of Jerusalem, the Prophet Jeremiah deplored the condition of the Israelites. He warned them that it was time they set about mending their ways otherwise they would face an even more calamitous end than that of Samaria. The response to this sincere preaching was abuse and curses: he was beaten, imprisoned, put in the stocks and lowered by ropes into a cistern, where he was left to die of hunger and thirst. He was also accused of various crimes, including treason and conspiracy. (See Jeremiah 15: 10; 18: 20-3; 20: 1-18; 36-40)
(6) It is reported of another Prophet, Amos, that when he denounced the widespread errors and corruption in the State of Samaria and warned of the evil consequences that follow such misdeeds, he was condemned to exile and told to pursue his prophetic task somewhere beyond its frontiers. (See Amos 7: 10-13.)
(7) When John the Baptist protested against the acts of moral corruption that were brazenly practised in his court, Herod, the ruler of Judah, first put John into prison, then had him beheaded at the request of a dancing girl, and had his head set on a platter and presented to the girl. (See Mark 6: 17-29)
(8) The same hostility to Prophets is evident from the life of Jesus. The priests and political leaders of Israel ultimately became inflamed against Jesus, who criticized them for their impiety and hypocrisy and invited them to true faith and righteousness. It was this which prompted them to prepare a false case against him and persuade the Romans to sign a death sentence. Later, when the Roman governor, Pilate, asked them which of the two prisoners - Jesus or Barabbas, a notorious brigand - should be released on the occasion of the feast, they asked for the release of Barabbas and for the crucifixion of Jesus (Matthew 27: 20-6). This is a shameful chapter in the record of the Jewish nation, to which the Qur'an refers here in passing. It is evident that when a nation chooses its most notoriously criminal and wicked people for positions of leadership, and its righteous and holy men for gaol and the scaffold, God has no alternative but to lay His curse and damnation on that nation.
Yusuf Ali Explanation:
The declension of the word Misr ( اِهۡبِطُوۡا مِصۡرًا ) in the Arabic text here shows that it is treated as a common noun meaning any town, but this is not conclusive, and the reference may be to the Egypt of Pharaoh. The Tanwin expressing indefiniteness may mean "any Egypt", i.e., any country as fertile as Egypt. There is here a subtle reminiscence as well as a severe reproach. The rebellious children of Israel murmured at the sameness of the food they got in the desert. They were evidently hankering after the delicacies of the Egypt which they had left, although they should have known that the only thing certain for them in Egypt was their bondage and harsh treatment. Moses's reproach to them was twofold: (1) Such variety of foods you can get in any town; would you, for their sake, sell your freedom? Is not freedom better than delicate food? (2) In front is the rich Promised Land, which you are reluctant to march to; behind is Egypt, the land of bondage. Which is better? Would you exchange the better for the worse?

From here the argument becomes more general. They got the Promised Land. But they continued to rebel against God. And their humiliation and misery became a national disaster. They were carried in captivity to Assyria. They were restored under the Persians, but still remained under the Persian yoke, and they were under the yoke of the Greeks, the Romans, and Araba. They were scattered all over the earth, and have been a wandering people ever since, because they rejected faith, slew God's messengers and went on transgressing.

Here we come to the end of Part I of Section 1. The next post (Section 1 / Part II), covers a history of the breach of promises and the traitor-ship of the Jews as to how they disobeyed the commandments of Allah and how this criminal mentality had been nurtured in them since the very beginning. A mention has also been made of their superstitions and of other activities which were instrumental in debasing the Shariah and the Book of Allah in their eyes.

You may now like to listen to Arabic recitation of Surah al-Baqarah with English subtitles:

You may refer to our post "114 Chapters (Sūrahs) of the Holy Qur'an" for translation, meaning and summary / exegesis of other chapters (Though not complete but building up from 30th Juzʼ / Part backwards for chapters in 30th Juzʼ / Part are shorter and easier to understand). 

You may also refer to our Reference Pages for knowing more about Islam and Quran.
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Reading the Holy Quran should be a daily obligation of a Muslim - Reading it with translation will make it meaningful. But reading its Exegesis / Tafsir will make you understand it fully.

An effort has been made to gather explanation / exegesis of the surahs of the Holy Qur'an from authentic sources and then present a least possible condensed explanation of the surah. In that:
  • The plain translation has been taken from the Holy Quran officially published by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. [1]
  • The exegesis of the chapters of the Holy Quran is mainly based on the "Tafhim al-Qur'an - The Meaning of the Qur'an" by one of the most enlightened scholars of the Muslim World Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi. [2]
In order to augment and add more explanation as already provided by [2], additional input has been interjected from following sources: 
In addition the references of  other sources which have been explored have also been given above. Those desirous of detailed explanations and tafsir (exegesis), may refer to these sites.

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