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Surat Al-Baqarah - Introduction

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

By: Shaykh Fadhlalla Haeri

Introduction

Surat al-Baqarah contains a great deal of the original primal blueprint of how a community can line -- how its members should behave among themselves as individuals, as families, and as social entities. It contains the laws that govern jihd, the struggle against inner and outer evil -- when, where and against what.

Surat al-Baqarah begins with the devastatingly deep simplicity of the letters Alf Lm Mm. From Unity, everything in the cosmos descends to you as a wave of mercy in tiny portions, and each portion contains the meaning of that Oneness. One drop of the ocean contains the secret of the entire ocean.

This surah (chapter) contains the history of humankind from the creation of Adam to the time of Prophet Muhammad, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him, his family and his righteous Companions.** A great portion deals specifically with Ban Isrl (the Tribe of Israel). It illustrates how they were given the message of Unity (Tawheed), of the One-and-Only Reality, and how they rejected it time after time. In spite of their rejection, God, in His infinite mercy, repeatedly gave them repentance.

Although this chapter deals historically with the Tribe of Israel, it also describes the state of rebelliousness in all peoples and individuals who attempt to assert themselves over the will of Allah (Allah in Arabic means God, or God Alone). On the level of haqiqah (essential Truth and Reality), the Ban Isrl represent the ever-present, ongoing struggle of the nafs (ego-self), to establish itself in authority and power, which in turn brings to it misery, sadness and disappointment. The way to inner joy and bliss is through the submission of the nafs and the will of the individual, which has no existence on its own, for there is no power and no might except from God Alone. This chapter gives us a road map of the course to follow to reach that stage of abandonment and knowledge of Allah.

Every chapter is a complete and contained unit, even though it may have been revealed in different places at different times. Surat al-Baqarah, except for the last few ayt (communications; verses), was revealed during the early years after the Hijrah (the Prophet's migration from Mecca to Medina in 622 AD). Historically, the 281st ayt is considered to be the last verse of the Qur`an to be revealed.

The present volume concerning, Surat al-Baqarah, is the first of five commentaries on the Qur`an which are intended specifically for serious students and seekers of Qur`anic knowledge. Since the richness of meaning is contained in the Arabic words themselves which God Alone has employed in His Book to transmit and confirm the absolute certainty of the clear revelation, much of our concern here is in elucidating the words and their roots. The commentary was made with special emphasis for its day-to-day use by the student of self-knowledge. Classical and traditional interpretations, which are readily available in English, have not been included here.

In this series of commentaries, the roots of the key Arabic words are examined and discussed, thus enabling the student to derive the full benefit of the original language of the Qur`an and its unparalleled ability to communicate what is most difficult to transmit by words. At their root level, Arabic words have many different meanings, and these meanings are sometimes the opposite of each other. This aspect of the Arabic language reflects a very important dimension of the ancient Arab culture, a dimension which enabled its people to be extremely sensitive to their fragile life and environment, and, therefore, susceptible to the message of tawhd (Divine Unity, or Unity). Although its people were worldly, the language and ecology were well suited to describing and communicating the subtle world of divine realities.

The source Book, the Qur`an, contains within it many levels of meanings, uses and remedies. We have taken an etymological route through this Garden, catching a glimpse of how the roots and sounds of words interconnect, pointing towards the Source of all letters, God Alone. The fountainhead of many Arabic words spring from tawhd; therefore the primary aim has been to follow the vein of tawhd when exploring the root form of the words and their derivatives. Certain points have been repeated and often over-emphasized to encourage the beginner on this most blessed path which is surrounded by pitfalls and dangers. The single-minded, determined and disciplined student no doubt will succeed, discovering that the thorns on the path are only stimuli delineating the boundary of the narrow passage. These afflictions only enhance his balance and sharpen his 'aql (reasoning ability) and awareness.

Our present age is such that denial of the One Reality is the prevailing disease. To awaken the heart of the seeker, the teacher attempts to tap the remedy drawn from the unity and timelessness of the Truth in the all-encompassing Book of Reality, the Qur`an. The absolute Truth appears in the form of the Book, reflected through the purified heart of the mu`min (believer) and sparkles with every visible atom in creation.

The Qur`anic revelations offer support and help for the true seeker in his or her passage through life. To remember these chapters and verses in times of difficulty, uncertainty, weakness, or doubt, is to gain spiritual as well as temporal strength, because one is reminded of the Ever-Witnessing, the All-Seeing, the Ever-Present -- the Creator, God.

From Allah we have all come by the grace and mercy and love of the One Creator and, by the eternal mercy, we are sustained and supported on a short lifeline through a flimsy and insecure existence, so that we seek refuge in the Ever-Sustaining, Ever-Living Reality Whose subtle Attributes and absolute Essence we shall come to know, insha'allah (if God wills).

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** It is customary invocation, whenever the name of the Prophet Muhammad is mentioned, to invoke the peace and blessings of Allah upon him, his family and his righteous Companions.

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 ]