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Commentary on Surat Al-Baqarah

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COMMENTARY ON THE QUR`AN
Chapter 2: Surat Al-Baqarah
The Cow
(Selected Verses)

By: Shaykh Fadhlalla Haeri
  

  1. This is because Allah has revealed the Book with the Truth. And surely, those who disagree and dispute with the Book are in far-reaching opposition.

Allah's Book is one. The meaning and root cause of all creation is One, while creation itself manifests in duality. The nature of disagreement and dispute (ikhtilāf) causes a perception of diversity and opposites, but there can be no disagreement about the Book that contains and encompasses knowledge of the diversity and opposites of creation. Disputes and differences relate only to interaction within creation, not to the laws that govern the creational journey.

  1. It is not righteousness that you turn your faces toward the East and the West. Rather righteousness is that one believes in Allah, the Last Day, the angels, the Book and the prophets; and gives away wealth out of love for Him to the near of kin, orphans, the needy, the wayfarer, beggars and for the emancipation of captives. Righteousness is that one keeps up the prayer, pays the poor-tax, fulfills covenants, and has patience in distress and affliction and during times of conflicts. These are the people of true sincerity, people who safeguard themselves with fearful awareness.

Righteousness (birr) is a translation of a word derived from the Arabic verbal root barra, meaning to be dutiful, kind, beneficent, affectionate, virtuous and honest. Righteousness is the basic element of the character of the believer in Allah, the Last Day, the angels, the Book and the prophets. The action of the person who possesses this characteristic is generosity and adherence to the teachings of the Qur`an and the Prophet Muhammad. The devout one follows what is right. He abandons himself to what is correct, not merely turning his face to the East or the West (an allegory for ritualistic and ceremonial prayers).

The verse points out the importance of adhering to a true orientation of inner behavior, which is bound to be reflected in outer action. It implies that the mere ritual of praying toward the Kab`ah without abiding by its meaning is insufficient. The devotee's actions begin inwardly and manifest themselves outwardly, from inner trust to outward action. The first level of faith is trust in Allah, then in the Book the register of everything and in the prophet's light. Faith in the prophetic way is given an outer form by the establishment of prayer and the giving of charity. The patient ones (sābirīn) are alert and vigilant in every situation. The truthful ones (sādiqīn) do what they have promised to do when they have promised to do it, without procrastinating they unify meaning and intention with the outer action. To be among the fearfully aware (muttaqūn), one must live truth in every moment, in a state of spontaneous awareness.

  1. O you who believe, requital is prescribed for you in the matter of the slain: the free for the free, the slave for the slave, and the female for the female. But whoever is forgiven by his brother, then a repayment should be made according to custom in a good manner. This is an alleviation from your Lord and a mercy. So whoever exceeds the limit after this shall have a painful punishment.

Here the law of requital (qisās) is expounded. Every single thing has a measured opposite and an equal reaction. If we could only perceive it, we would see that our lives hang continually in the balance (mīzān), and that man must follow a straight middle path (sirāt al-mustaqīm), otherwise nature will overcome him: 'Whoever exceeds the limit after this shall have a painful punishment.' Allah is Forgiving, and therefore man is able to forgive. Forgiveness, magnanimity and clemency are high virtues.

  1. And there is life for you in the law of requital, O men of inner core, so that you may safeguard your selves with fearful awareness.

The verbal root of the Arabic word for requital (qisās) is qassa which means 'to cut, divide, or differentiate'. Life hinges on, and is balanced by, differentiation and discrimination, good and bad, light and dark, life and death. Without discrimination and the enforcement of Allah's law of balance, we would transgress. Safe conduct in this life is guarded by the justice of requital. This way the boundaries of transgression are recognized, marked and adhered to.

  1. Prescribed for you when death approaches one of you, if he leaves behind good, is a will, for parents and near relatives, according to custom. This is a duty upon those who safeguard themselves with fearful awareness.

What one leaves behind should be clearly defined, according to both the outer law of inheritance and one's direct wishes. No vagueness is allowed in Islam, because the path is one of awareness, discrimination and knowledge. Notice that Allah speaks only of 'what is good' as part of the obligatory bequest. The path to Truth is paved with what is good and correct, and it verges and beset by boulders and dangers.

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  1. O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, that perhaps you may safeguard yourselves with fearful awareness.

Fasting is a means of containing and restraining the self, so that one may practice awareness and patience, and taste contentment (rida) and other benefits resulting from this spiritual discipline. The fasting of the ordinary man is to withhold from food, drink and sexual activity during the day. The fasting of the elect amongst the seekers is to curb all sensory desires, to fast from looking at the unlawful, hearing the injurious or thinking about the distasteful, or anything which inflames the lower nature. The fasting of the elite amongst the seekers is to seal the heart from giving any attention to other-than-Allah.

  1. For a certain number of days, but whoever among you is sick or on a journey, then a number of other days, and those who are not able to do it may effect a redemption by feeding the poor. So whoever does good spontaneously, it is better for him. And that your fast is better for you if you know.

The prescribed days of fasting are defined and known, and, as with most rites, there are exceptions. The deeper benefits of fasting are grained when one is in good physical health and mental equilibrium: the subtle and sensitive elements in man are then able to flourish. During sickness or travel, when outer distractions are numerous and demanding, the deeper benefits of fasting are more difficult to realize. In normal circumstances, the Muslim is encouraged to stay in his home town during Ramadan. Islam echoes life at Medina, being with one's own folk or community, protected from unusual environments or unfamiliar circumstances that are distracting and demand one's special and unusual attention. During this defined time of concentrated spiritual practice, outward mobility is decreased so that inward mobility, reflection and deep perception and awareness are increased.

  1. The month of Ramadan is that in which the Qur`an was revealed, a guidance to men, with clear proofs of guidance and discrimination. So, whoever among you witness the month shall fast it; and whoever is sick, or on a journey, then a number of other days. Allah desires ease for you, and He does not desire difficulty for you, that you may complete the number, and exalt the greatness of Allah for that which He has guided you to in order that you may be thankful.

It was during Ramadan, the month of fasting, that the revelation of the Qur`an occurred. From the constriction of fasting came the expansion of the knowledge of the Book, discrimination and wisdom. The discipline of Islam and the path of submission is well-delineated. It is a path of ease, wherein one does one's utmost to keep within the bounds. The ultimate fruit of guidance is contentment (rida), expressed as thankfulness to the Merciful.

  1. And when My servants ask you about Me, then surely I am near. I answer the call of the suppliant when he calls upon Me, so they should listen to Me and believe in Me that they may be rightly guided.

Fasting, as a discipline of restriction, is bound to enhance the awareness of being close to Allah, the Cause of all creation. Moving away from indulgence and dependence on other-than-Allah takes one closer to the taste of dependence on, and security in, Allah. This verse indicates the spiritual gift and purpose of fasting, which is correct guidance (rushd). the direct fruit and promised result of a call to Allah. Man was created in order to enquire and seek knowledge of his Creator. The response to the suppliant is according to the extent of his faith, trust and sincerity in the call to Allah.

  1. It is lawful for you to go into your wives of the night of the fast. They are a garment for you, and you are a garment for them. Allah knew that you acted unfaithfully to yourselves, so He has turned to you and removed this burden from you. So now be in contact with them, and seek what Allah has ordained for you, and eat and drink until the whiteness of the day becomes distinct from the blackness of the night at dawn. Then complete the fast until night. Have no contact with them while you withdraw to the mosques for a period of seclusion. These are the limits of Allah, so do not go near them! Thus does Allah make His signs clear for mankind, so that they may safeguard themselves with fearful awareness.

Everything has its place and its proper courtesy (adab) and limiting boundary (hadd). One's actions must follow certain directions and patterns, starting with the gross, and gradually ascending to the subtlest of the subtle.

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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 ]