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Commentary on Surat Al-Baqarah

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Chapter 2: Surat Al-Baqarah
The Cow
(Selected Verses)

By: Shaykh Fadhlalla Haeri

In the name of Allah,
the Beneficent, the Merciful

  1. Alīf Lām Mīm

  2. This Book, there is no doubt in it a guide to those who safeguard themselves with fearful awareness.

The first 5 verses (ayh) describe and define the believer (mu'min) who trusts in the mercy and justice of Allah and who carefully channels and guards his awareness. The next 2 verses are about those who cover up reality (kfirun, from kafara, to cover, hide), and the following 13 verses deal with hypocrisy.

There are numerous interpretations of Alif, Lm, Mm, the three Arabic letters that open this chapter. One interpretation is that they symbolize the fundamental modules which are basic to understanding and communicating the meaning of creation. Letters are the building blocks of language, which, when strung together intelligently, are means of communicating information to all humankind. Another example of fundamental modules is the genetic alphabet which contains and explains the entire biological story of each creature.

'This book'; Allah says: there is only the Book. Whenever one looks it is unfolding. The Book in its most expanded meaning is the decree of God, the full creational reality. There is 'no doubt in it'. It is absolute and all-encompassing, for it covers the physical material world as well as the world of the Unseen.

The one who safeguards himself with watchful awareness (muttaq) – for the way of Allah is uncompromising and decisive – avoids whatever is not conducive to positive development. He has been warned against it by experience. In a state of real awareness (taqw), of God, one becomes aware of the presence of the One overall Reality beyond time and space. 

  1. Those who believe in the Unseen and establish the prayer, and spend from what We have provided them.

The mercy of Allah encompasses the entire creation, both the Seen and Unseen (Ghayb). The meaning of the book is rooted in the Unseen (what is not felt or measured by human senses), and its unfoldment is in the Seen. For example, within each individual is the hidden Book, the genetic imprint of the chromosomes that will unfold as the body grows, exploding from one cell by the guidance and direction of that genetically coded message. Every cell in that body contains the entire code of the body. The hidden, biological book will manifest itself in the physical body.

This ayt (communication; verse) describes the seekers of reality, the believers who unfold and awaken through self-knowledge. They trust in the Unseen, which exists but not perceptible within the limited range of human senses. These sensory limitations allow man to know the meaning of Unlimited, for nothing can be known without its opposite. Life is meaningless unless there is death. Each attribute is balanced by its opposite, and contains the doorway to the knowledge of its opposite. Another name for the Qur'an is al-Mzn 'the Balance'. This name reflects the understanding of opposites in creation. Islam is the middle path.

Those who believe in the Unseen establish prayer (salt), because salt is the spiritual action that brings about transformation. It is an act which enables the believer to move along the path of knowledge of the laws that govern existence and go beyond. Salt represents the submission of all creation of God. It connects the seeker to the Truth (haqq). That connection brings about a certainty which dispels anxiety about future provision.

All that is needed by and beneficial to humankind, whether material or abstract, such as knowledge, is provision. When the spiritual seeker is fulfilled inwardly, and external worries are minimized, then both his gross and subtle provision flow easily to him. By spontaneous awareness, faith, prayer and correct action, the unfolding of self-knowledge will take place.

Essentially man is born without any outer wealth and leaves this world without taking anything with him. The Qur'anic teaching centers around giving: if one gives, one will also be replenished. So tap the reservoir of the Unseen and become an open conduit! 

  1. And those who believe in that which has been revealed to you, and that which was revealed before you, and they are sure of the Hereafter.

This refers to those who trust and follow what has come through the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the preceding messengers. They believe that they will be guided. They are certain of the Hereafter (khira), and that this physical realm of experience will come to an end, and that beyond death lies another realm of experience and consciousness. This certainty (yaqn) is a deep, unconscious and 'unprovable' (empirically) knowledge which is a higher aspect of belief (mn). It is innate and not connected to logic and deduction. 

  1. They are on a right course of guidance from their Lord, and they shall be successful.

With this we are cast back to the opening chapter, Surt al-Fatihah: 'Guide us to the straight path.' By avoiding what is harmful, one is able to follow the true life-transaction (dn). Success (falh) comes as a result. The failures and pitfalls are numerous. The unleashed self-ego (lower nafs), arrogance (kibry), and self-elevation are amongst the veils which enable our shaytn or lower negative tendencies to act. Shaytn is translated into English as 'satan', but the meaning is different and so too, therefore, is the image conjured up by it. We will use the term shaytn rather than replace it with the English term because shaytn comes from the verbal root which means to be cast off the path, to be far away. This shaytnic energy begets covetousness, jealousy, lust, love of power and other twisted traits. The way can be made straight only by removing these obstacles. 

  1. Surely those who disbelieve, it is the same to them whether you warn them or do not warn them, they will not believe.

  2. God has sealed their hearts and their hearing, and over their eyes there is a covering. For them is a great punishment.

These verses concern the disbelievers (kfrn). Their hearts are hardened, set and sealed by covering up the truth and denying reality, which is inherent within them. Their denial of the One, the All-Encompassing and All-Merciful Reality, condemns them to flounder in isolation. This condition is one of torment, agony, and great punishment. Our spirit emanates from an Essence which is limitless and most sublime; limitation is therefore a 'punishment'. Limitation is the result of man's perceived separation and isolation which arises out of a lack of true submission. 

  1. And among people are those who say: We believe in God and the Last Day while they are not believers.

Hypocrisy thrives on elusiveness. The Arabic word for hypocrisy, (nifq) is related to the word which means a tunnel or underground passageway (nafaq). If the lower aspect of the self is not contained and displaced by the higher aspect it will lurk in one tunnel after another in a desperate attempt to avoid purification. The lower self tries to preserve itself by avoiding being checked and uprooted by spontaneous awareness. The hypocrite (munfiq) always finds excuses and will never confront his vices and self-imposed shackles squarely. The main characteristic of the hypocrite is that he avoids facing the central issue of submission to God through faith and trust. To avoid this confrontation, he claims to believe in God and the Hereafter, but in truth does not, and mistakenly thinks that he has safely escaped the real confrontation.


Back Up Next

The Opening - A Commentary on Chapter 1: Surat Al-Fatiha ] The Cow - A Commentary on Chapter 2: Surat Al-Baqarah ] The Family of 'Imrān - A Commentary on Chapter 3: Surat Al-'Imrān ] The Spider - A Commentary on Chapter 29: Surat Al-'Ankabt ] The Heart of the Qur`an - A Commentary on Chapter 36: Surat Ya Sin ] The Beneficent - A Commentary on Chapter 55: Surat Al-Rahmn ] The Event - A Commentary on Chapter 56: Surat Al-Wqi'ah ] The Kingdom - A Commentary on Chapter 67: Surat Al-Mulk ] The Jinn - A Commentary on Chapter 72: Surat Al-Jinn ] The Unwrapped - A Commentary on Chapter 73: Surat Al-Muzzammil ] A Commentary on the Last Section of the Qur`an ]