Tuesday 12 September 2023

Man laments: I'm overburdened - Allah replies: Allah will not burden a soul more than it can bear

Today we share one of the best verses from Qur'an, which in fact is the last verse of Surah 2. AL Baqarah (The Cow) which ends with a very favourable promise for the man and a well-meaning supplication which is taught to man. This verse in fact is the crux of the very lengthy of the Qur'an comprising 286 verses, spanned over two and half chapters of the Qur'an.

This verse is in the form of a supplication, which begins with a premise of Divine promise that "Allah does not lay a responsibility on anyone beyond his capacity." So whatever good deeds man does is for his own benefit and anything otherwise if for his own harm for which he alone will be answerable. And then Allah teaches His servants a beautiful supplication so that they seek Allah's pardon for the wrongs they have done and to seek Allah's help not to burden them more than their capacity.

We first hear of the Divine promise "No soul shall have a burden laid on it greater than it can bear." in 233rd verse of Surah Al Baqarah. There the burden was in terms of material wealth: here it is in terms of spiritual duty. Assured by God that He will accept from each soul just such duty as it has the ability to offer, we pray further on for the fulfilment of that promise.

In between the prayer, this parenthetical sentence is to assure and give glad tidings to the Muslims that the new responsibility which is being imposed on the ummah is not beyond its capacity and every person will be held accountable for it as regards the extent of his faith and deeds. Neither will a person be held accountable for something which was beyond his control nor will the faith and deeds of a person be of any benefit or harm for others. Whatever a person will sow, it will reap. Whatever bad deed he does, he alone will pay for it.

لَا يُكَلِّفُ اللّٰهُ نَفۡسًا اِلَّا وُسۡعَهَا ​ؕ لَهَا مَا كَسَبَتۡ وَعَلَيۡهَا مَا اكۡتَسَبَتۡ​ؕ رَبَّنَا لَا تُؤَاخِذۡنَاۤ اِنۡ نَّسِيۡنَاۤ اَوۡ اَخۡطَاۡنَا ​ۚ رَبَّنَا وَلَا تَحۡمِلۡ عَلَيۡنَاۤ اِصۡرًا كَمَا حَمَلۡتَهٗ عَلَى الَّذِيۡنَ مِنۡ قَبۡلِنَا ​​ۚرَبَّنَا وَلَا تُحَمِّلۡنَا مَا لَا طَاقَةَ لَنَا بِهٖ​ ۚ وَاعۡفُ عَنَّا وَاغۡفِرۡ لَنَا وَارۡحَمۡنَا اَنۡتَ مَوۡلٰٮنَا فَانۡصُرۡنَا عَلَى الۡقَوۡمِ الۡكٰفِرِيۡنَ  
(2:286) Allah does not lay a responsibility on anyone beyond his capacity. In his favour shall be whatever good each one does, and against him whatever evil he does. (Believers! Pray thus to your Lord): “Our Lord! Take us not to task if we forget or commit mistakes.

Our Lord! Lay not on us a burden such as You laid on those gone before us. Our Lord! Lay not on us burdens which we do not have the power to bear. And overlook our faults, and forgive us, and have mercy upon us. You are our Guardian; so, grant us victory against the unbelieving folk.”

(Allah does not lay a responsibility on anyone beyond his capacity.) That is, "Allah will not call to account anyone for not doing something which he could not possibly do: nor will He punish him because he did not abstain from a thing, when he could not possibly abstain from it." It must, however, be clearly understood that an individual himself is not his own judge to decide what he can do and what he cannot do. It is Allah, Who will decide what a certain person could do and what he could not do. 

(In his favour shall be whatever good each one does, and against him whatever evil he does) This is the other general principle of the law. Both the rewards and the punishments are really the results and consequences of the acts and deeds of every individual. One will get a reward only for the good deed one has himself done and not for the good acts of someone else. It must, however, be noted that if 'someone has done some good act which goes on producing good results long after his death, all those acts will also be put to his credit in his balance sheet as long as they last. In the same way, if someone has done some evil, which goes on producing evil results long after one's death, all those also will be put against one's account as long as they fast. But all these results, both good and bad, will be the consequences of one's own deeds. In short, a person shall be rewarded or punished only. for that thing to which he himself contributed intentionally and actually. There is no transfer of accounts in the Divine Law of Retribution. 

(Our Lord! Lay not on us a burden such as You laid on those gone before us) That is, "O Lord, save and protect us from such trials, persecutions and obstacles as were encountered by those who went Your way before us." Although it is the law of Allah that those, who make up their minds to follow the way of Truth, must undergo hard trials and suffer from cruel persecutions, a Believer should pray to Allah to make the way easy for him and should face them with courage when he actually meets with them. 

(And overlook our faults, and forgive us, and have mercy upon us. You are our Guardian; so, grant us victory against the unbelieving folk) In order to understand the true spirit of this prayer, it should be kept in view that these verses were revealed on the occasion of the Mi'raj (Ascension to Heaven) of the Holy Prophet about a year before his migration to Madinah. At that time the struggle between Islam and kufr had reached its climax and the persecution of the Believers was at its worst. And this was not confined to Makkah alone: there was no place in the whole of Arabia where a Muslim was allowed to live in peace. It was to cope with these circumstances that the Muslims were taught to utter this prayer to Allah. It is self-evident that when the Master Himself teaches the servat the way of begging from Him, the servant gets the conviction that his request will be granted. That is why this prayer tilled the Muslims with extraordinary courage and brought peace of mind to them in the hour of their worst persecution. Moreover, this prayer taught theta to keep their passions under control and within the limits contained in this prayer and not to allow them to turn into wrong channels. That is why it is free from any kind of bitterness against its enemies, and there is not any tinge in it of revenge or of worldliness. This was urgently needed at that time because the Muslims were undergoing greater hardships and monetary losses and suffering untold cruelties and were pressed hard both physically and economically. Incidentally, the contrast between the high ideals contained in their prayer and the persecution which the Believers were suffering at that time brings out clearly the high standard of the spiritual and moral training they were receiving even at that critical time. And that is the high standard of morality that has been laid down for every true believer to attain.

Explanation Qur'an Wiki:
The sūrah continues: “God does not charge a soul with more than it can bear. In its favour shall be whatever good it does, and against it whatever evil it does.” It is within this framework of divine mercy and justice that a Muslim views, with total confidence and satisfaction, his obligations as God’s vicegerent on earth, the challenges he faces in fulfilling those obligations, and the ultimate reward he receives. He is content in the belief that God is fully aware of his abilities and limitations, and will not overburden him or subject him to any duress or coercion. Not only does this fill a believer’s heart with contentment and peace of mind, but it also inspires him to discharge his duties to the best of his ability. He is fully aware that any weakness he may experience is not because the task is excessive, but due to his own shortcomings, and this, in turn, motivates him to strengthen his resolve and strive for excellence in his actions.

The second part of the statement emphasizes individual responsibility for action: “... In its favour shall be whatever good it does, and against it whatever evil it does.” Every individual is accountable for his own actions. No responsibility can be transferred from one person to another, nor can any person come to the aid of another in the matter of accountability. Once people appreciate this principle, each and every one of them becomes a positive and active force in society. They become responsible human beings ready to defend God’s right over them, unwilling to concede it to anyone else. They will resist submission to temptation, tyranny, transgression and corruption, and submit their whole physical and spiritual being to God Almighty. Those who give in to powers other than God’s, except those people subjected to duress or coercion, have only themselves to blame and shall have to face the full consequences of their actions.

On the Day of Judgement, no one shall intercede on behalf of anyone else, and everyone shall stand alone to face God’s judgement. This inspires healthy individualism, spurring every member of society to fulfil his or her obligations towards the community, which derive from their obligations towards God. Individuals are obliged to share their wealth, labour and wisdom, and the responsibility to bring about good and fight evil and falsehood, and earn their respective reward individually and directly from God Almighty.

As the believers understand and appreciate the significance and implications of these principles, they make their earnest plea to God. The Qur’ān, in its fine and highly expressive style, quotes their moving, passionate prayer. The reader can almost see the multitudes of believers reciting in unison throughout the generations this prayer, evoked by a dual feeling of hope and fear: “Our Lord, do not take us to task if we forget or unwittingly do wrong. Our Lord, do not lay on us a burden such as that You laid on those before us. Our Lord, do not burden us with what we do not have the strength to bear. Pardon us, and forgive us our sins, and bestow Your mercy on us. You are our Lord Supreme; grant us victory against the unbelievers.”

It is a prayer that clearly defines the relationship between the believers and their Lord. In its soft tone and poignant rhythm it implies an admission of weakness and helplessness, and a recognition of the need for God’s aid, support, forgiveness and grace.

Our Lord, do not take us to task if we forget or unwittingly do wrong.” Error and forgetfulness are two defining characteristics of human behaviour. In recognition of this, a Muslim never boasts of his faults, nor deliberately exploits them, nor places himself above God’s will, but always seeks God’s help and turns to Him in repentance. The answer to this prayer is given by the Prophet who says: “God has pardoned my followers anything they do through a genuine mistake, forgetfulness or by compulsion.” [Related by al-Ţabarānī and others]

Our Lord, do not lay on us a burden such as that You laid on those before us.” This plea stems from an appreciation of the gravity of the responsibility placed upon the Muslim community as heirs and custodians of God’s message to mankind. It also reflects full absorption of the lessons and experiences of earlier nations who had received God’s revelations, as related in the Qur’ān. We have seen, for example, earlier in this Sūrah that the Israelites were castigated and penalized on several occasions, and in various ways, for their stubbornness and intransigence. Elsewhere in the Qur’ān, we read that, for similar reasons, they were forbidden certain foods: “To those who followed the Jewish faith did We forbid all animals that have claws; and We forbade them the fat of both oxen and sheep, except that which is in their backs and entrails and what is mixed with their bones. Thus, did We requite them for their wrongdoing.” (6:146) On a certain occasion, they were ordered to kill one another in atonement for their worship of the calf, as stated in Verse 54 of this sūrah. They were also forbidden to conduct any business or to hunt on the Sabbath.

Hence, believers appeal to God not to burden them in the same way as He imposed on earlier communities. The Prophet Muhammad was sent with a tolerant and benevolent religion that is fully cognizant of human nature, and is aimed at relieving mankind of all the burdens and encumbrances placed upon them. The Prophet is told by God: “We shall smooth your way to perfect ease.” (87:8)

The heaviest, most arduous burden placed on mankind, which Islam came to lift, is man’s submission and subjugation to man. This is manifested in one man’s capitulation to the will or power of another, or to the power of clan or class. Submission to God alone is true emancipation and represents real freedom from this oppression.

Submission to God entails recognition of Him as the ultimate source of values, standards and laws. It liberates man from the hegemony and oppression of all political, social and religious institutions, and from the power of myth and superstition. It delivers him from the grip of his whims and desires and equips him to resist any ungodly power that seeks to subjugate him or control his life and destiny.

The plea reflects the believers’ gratitude for the freedom God has provided, as well as their fear of relapse.

Our Lord, do not burden us with what we do not have the strength to bear.” This is not an excuse for negligence or a justification for dereliction of duty, but a plea by the weak to the powerful, for consideration and forbearance. Ā conscientious believer does not wish to fail in serving his Lord and Creator, and so he asks for leniency and tolerance. While acknowledging his weakness, a true believer remains vigilant and tries to compensate for his shortcomings by seeking more of God’s grace and forgiveness.

Pardon us, and forgive us our sins, and bestow Your mercy on us.” This is the only true guarantee of success and deliverance. No matter how hard a man strives to live up to his obligations and responsibilities towards God, he will not fulfil them satisfactorily. God shows grace by treating man with mercy and forgiveness. `Ā’ishah, the Prophet’s wife, reported that the Prophet had said, “No man shall enter Paradise by virtue of his deeds alone.” When asked, “How about you?” he replied, “Not even I, unless God bestows mercy on me.” [Related by al-Bukhārī]

The essence of a believer’s attitude towards God revolves around an unflinching effort to strive to the best of his ability, tinged with a feeling of deficiency, of not doing enough, and with genuine hope and confidence in God’s mercy and benevolence.

The sūrah closes with a statement asserting that believers put their full trust in God to come to their help in establishing His order on earth and defending it against its foes. God is the source of their strength and their ultimate triumph.

You are our Lord Supreme; grant us victory against the unbelievers.” These words encapsulate the essence of the sūrah as well as the faith of Islam. They reflect the mind of true believers and define the eternal relationship between them and their Supreme Lord.

We do not have to add anything more to the explanation. We end the post with a belief that Allah will never abandon His servants nor would overburden them with any responsibilities to test physical and mental endurance, nor would He take His servants to account so long as they repent and seek forgiveness of what they should not have done and things that displease Allah.
May Allāh (سبحانه و تعالى‎) help us understand Qur'ān and follow the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, which is embodiment of commandments of Allah contained in the Qur'ān. May Allah help us to be like the ones He loves and let our lives be lived helping others and not making others' lives miserable or unlivable. May all our wrong doings, whether intentional or unintentional, be forgiven before the angel of death knocks on our door. 
وَمَا عَلَيۡنَاۤ اِلَّا الۡبَلٰغُ الۡمُبِيۡنُ‏ 
(36:17) and our duty is no more than to clearly convey the Message.”
That is Our duty is only to convey to you the message that Allah has entrusted us with. Then it is for you to accept it or reject it. We have not been made responsible for making you accept it forcibly, and if you do not accept it, we shall not be seized in consequence of your disbelief, you will yourselves be answerable for your actions on Day of Resurrection.

Reading the Qur'ān 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. It will also help the Muslims to have grasp over social issues and their answers discussed in the Qur'an and other matter related to inter faith so that they are able to discuss issues with non-Muslims with authority based on refences from Qur'an.

May Allah forgive me if my posts ever imply a piety far greater than I possess. I am most in need of guidance.

Note: When we mention God in our posts, we mean One True God, we call Allah in Islam, with no associates. Allah is the Sole Creator of all things, and that Allah is all-powerful and all-knowing. Allah has no offspring, no race, no gender, no body, and is unaffected by the characteristics of human life.

You may read more posts in our series of posts related to: Al Qur'an guides and helps those who sincerely seek Divine guidance and help.

For more Selected Verses, please refer to our reference page: Selected Verses from the Qur'anYou may also refer to our Reference Pages  and Understanding Al Qur'an for knowing more about Islam and Qur'ān.
Photo | Tafsir References: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 |

An effort has been made to gather explanation / exegesis of the surahs of the Qur'ān from authentic sources and then present a least possible condensed explanation of the surah. In that the exegesis of the chapters of the 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.  
In order to augment and add more explanation as already provided, additional input has been interjected from the following sources: 
  • Tafsir Ibn Khatir
  • Muhammad Asad Translation
  • Yusuf Ali Translation
  • Translation Javed Ahmad Ghamidi / Al Mawrid
  • Qur'an Wiki
  • Verse by Verse Qur'an Study Circle
  • Towards Understanding the Quran
In addition, 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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