|Why the name AL-BAQARAH?
AL-BAQARAH (the Cow)
has been so named from the story of the Cow occurring
in this Surah (vv. 67-73). It has not, however, been
used as a title to indicate the subject of the Surah.
It will, therefore, be as wrong to translate the name
Al-Baqarah into "The Cow" or "The
Heifer" as to translate any English name, say Baker, Rice,
Wolf etc., into their equivalents in other languages or
vice versa, because this would imply that the Surah dealt
with the subject of "The Cow". Many more Surahs of the
Quran have been named in the same way because no comprehensive
words exist in Arabic (in spite of its richness) to denote
the wide scope of the subject discussed in them. As a matter
of fact all human languages suffer from the same limitation.
Though it is a Madani
Surah, it follows naturally a Makki Surah Al- Fatihah,
which ended with the prayer :"Show us the straight way".
It begins with the answer to that prayer, "This is the
Book (that) . . . is guidance. . ."
The greater part of Al-Baqarah was revealed during the
first two years of the Holy Prophet's life at Al-Madinah.
The smaller part which was revealed at a later period
has been included in this Surah because its contents
are closely related to those dealt with in this Surah.
For instance, the verses prohibiting interest were revealed
during the last period of the Holy prophet's life but
have been inserted in this Surah. For the same reason,
the last verses (284-286) of this Surah which were revealed
at Makkah before the migration of the Holy Prophet to
AI-Madinah have also been included in it.
In order to understand the meaning of this
Surah, we should know its historical background:
At Makkah the Quran generally addressed the mushrik Quraish
who were ignorant of Islam, but at Al- Madinah it was also
concerned with the Jews who were acquainted with the creed
of the Unity of Allah, Prophethood, Revelation, the Hereafter
and angels. They also professed to believe in the law which
was revealed by Allah to their Prophet Moses (Allah's peace
be upon him), and in principle, their way was the same (Islam)
that was being taught by Prophet Muhammad (Allah's peace be
upon him). But they had strayed away from it during the centuries
of degeneration and had adopted many un- Islamic creeds, rites
and customs of which there was no mention and for which there
was no sanction in the Torah.
Not only this : they had tampered with the Torah by inserting
their own explanations and interpretations into its text. They
had distorted even that part of the Word of God which had remained
intact in their Scriptures and taken out of it the real spirit
of true religion and were now clinging to a lifeless frame
of rituals. Consequently their beliefs, their morals and their
conduct had gone to the lowest depths of degeneration. The
pity is that they were not only satisfied with their condition
but loved to cling to it. Besides this, they had no intention
or inclination to accept any kind of reform.
So they became bitter enemies of those who came to teach them
the Right Way and did their worst to defeat every such effort.
Though they were originally Muslims, they had swerved from
the real Islam and made innovations and alterations in it and
had fallen victims to hair splitting and sectarianism. They
had forgotten and forsaken Allah and begun to serve mammon.
So much so that they had even given up their original name "Muslim" and
adopted the name "Jew" instead, and made religion the sole
monopoly of the children of Israel.
This was their religious condition when the Holy Prophet went
to Al-Madinah and invited the Jews to the true religion. That
is why more than one third of this Surah has been addressed
to the children of Israel. A critical review of their history,
their moral degeneration and their religious perversions has
been made; side by side with this the high standard of morality
and the fundamental principles of the pure religion have been
put forward in order to bring out clearly the nature of the
degeneration of the community of a prophet when it goes astray
and to draw clear lines of demarcation between real piety and
formalism, and the essentials and non-essentials of the true
At Makkah Islam was mainly concerned with the propagation of
its fundamental principles and the moral training of its followers.
But after the migration of the Holy Prophet to Al-Madinah,
where Muslims had come to settle from all over Arabia and where
a tiny Islamic State had been set up with the help of the Ansar
(local supporters), naturally the Quran had to turn its attention
to the social, cultural, economic, political and legal problems
as well. This accounts for the difference between the themes
of the surahs revealed at Makkah and those at Al- Madinah.
Accordingly about half of this Surah deals with those principles
and regulations which are essential for the integration and
solidarity of a community and for the solution of its problems.
After the migration to Al-Madinah, the struggle between Islam
and un-Islam had also entered a new phase. Before this the
Believers, who propagated Islam among their own clans and tribes,
had to face its opponents at their own risk. But the conditions
had changed at Al- Madinah, where Muslims from all parts of
Arabia had come and settled as one community, and had established
an independent city state. Here it became a struggle for the'
survival of the Community itself, for the whole of non- Muslim
Arabia was bent upon and united in crushing it totally. Hence
the following instructions, upon which depended not only its
success but its very survival, were revealed in this Surah
The Community should work with the utmost zeal to propagate
its ideology and win over to its side the greatest possible
number of people.
It should so expose its opponents as to leave no room for doubt
in the mind of any sensible person that they were adhering
to an absolutely wrong position.
It should infuse in it's members (the majority of whom were
homeless and indigent and surrounded on all sides by enemies)
that courage and fortitude which is so indispensable to their
very existence in the adverse circumstances in which they were
struggling and to prepare them to face these boldly.
It should also keep them ready and prepared to meet any armed
menace, which might come from any side to suppress and crush
their ideology, and to oppose it tooth and nail without minding
the overwhelming numerical strength and the material resources
of its enemies
It should also create in them that courage which is needed
for the eradication of evil ways and for the establishment
of the Islamic Way instead.
That is why Allah has revealed in this Surah such instructions
as may help achieve all the above mentioned objects.
During this period, a new type of "Muslims," munafiqin (hypocrites),
had begun to appear. Though signs of duplicity had been noticed
during the last days at Makkah, they took a different shape
at Al-Madinah. At Makkah there were some people who professed
Islam to be true but were not prepared to abide by the consequences
of this profession and to sacrifice their worldly interests
and relations and bear the afflictions which inevitably follow
the acceptance of this creed.
But at Al-Madinah different kinds of munafiqin (hypocrites)
began to appear. There were some who had entered the Islamic
fold merely to harm it from within. There were others who were
surrounded by Muslims and, therefore, had become "Muslims" to
safeguard their worldly interests. They, therefore, continued
to have relations with the enemies so that if the latter became
successful, their interests should remain secure.
There were still others who had no strong conviction of the
truth of Islam but had embraced it along with their clans.
Lastly, there were those who were intellectually convinced
of the truth of Islam but did not have enough moral courage
to give up their former traditions, superstitions and personal
ambitions and live up to the Islamic moral standards and make
sacrifice in its way.
At the time of the revelation of Al-Baqarah, all sorts of hypocrites
had begun to appear. Allah has, therefore, briefly pointed
out their characteristics here. Afterwards when their evil
characteristics and mischievous deeds became manifest, Allah
sent detailed instructions about them.
This Surah is an invitation to the Divine Guidance
and all the stories, incidents etc., revolve round this central
theme. As this Surah has particularly been addressed to the
Jews, many historical events have been cited from their own
traditions to admonish and advise them that their own good
lies in accepting the Guidance revealed to the Holy Prophet.
They should, therefore, be the first to accept it because it
was basically]y the same that was revealed to Prophet Moses
(Allah's peace be upon him).
Topics and their Interconnection
These introductory verses declare the Quran to be the Book
of Guidance : enunciate the articles of the Faith -- belief
in Allah, Prophethood and Life-after-death; divide mankind
into three main groups with regard to its acceptance or rejection
-- Believers, disbelievers and hypocrites. 1 - 20
Allah invites mankind to accept the Guidance voluntarily and
to submit to Him, the Lord and the Creator of the Universe
and to believe in the Quran, His Guidance, and in the Life-after-death.
21 - 29
The story of the appointment of Adam as Allah's Vicegerent
on Earth, of his life in the Garden, of his falling a prey
to the temptations of Satan, of his repentance and its acceptance,
has been related to show to mankind (Adam's offspring), that
the only right thing for them is to accept and follow the Guidance.
This story also shows that the Guidance of Islam is the same
that was given to Adam and that it is the original religion
of mankind. 30 - 39
In this portion invitation to the Guidance has particularly
been extended to the children of Israel and their past and
present attitude has been criticised to show that the cause
of their degradation was their deviation from the Guidance.
40 - 120
The Jews have been exhorted to follow Prophet Muhammad (Allah's
peace be upon him) who had come with the same Guidance and
who was a descendant and follower of Prophet Abraham whom they
highly honoured as their ancestor, and professed to follow
as a prophet. The story of the building of the Ka`abah by him
has been mentioned because it was going to be made the qiblah
of the Muslim Community. 121 - 141
In this portion, the declaration of the change of qiblah from
the Temple (Jerusalem) to the Ka`abah (Makkah) has been made
as a symbol of the change of leadership from the children of
Israel to the Muslim Community, which has also been fore-warned
to guard against those transgressions against the Guidance
that had led to the deposition of the Jews. 142 - 152
In this portion practical measures have been prescribed to
enable the Muslims to discharge the heavy responsibilities
of the leadership that had been entrusted to them for the promulgation
of Guidance. Salat, Fast, Zakat, Haj and Jihad have been prescribed
for the moral training of the Ummat. The Believers have been
exhorted to obey authority, to be just, to fulfill pledges,
to observe treaties, to spend wealth etc., in the way of Allah.
Laws, rules and regulations have been laid down for their organisation,
cohesion and conduct of day-to-day life and for the solution
of social, economic, political and international problems;
on the other hand, drinking, gambling, lending money on interest
etc., have been prohibited to keep the Ummat safe from disintegration.
In between these, the basic articles of the Faith have been
reiterated at suitable places, for these alone can enable and
support one to stick to the Guidance. 153 - 251
These verses serve as an introduction to the prohibition of
lending money on interest. The true conception of Allah, Revelation
and Life-after-death has been emphasised to keep alive the
sense of accountability. The stories of Prophet Abraham (Allah's
peace be upon him) and of the one who woke up after a sleep
of hundred years have been related to show that Allah is All-Powerful
and is able to raise the dead and call them to account. The
Believers, therefore, should keep this fact in view and refrain
from taking interest on money. 252 - 260
The theme of 153 - 251 has been resumed and the Believers have
been exhorted to spend in the way of Allah in order to please
Him alone. In contrast to this, they have been warned against
the evils of lending money on interest. Instructions have also
been given for the honest conduct of day-to-day business transactions.
261 - 283
The basic articles of the Faith have been recapitulated here
at the end of the Surah, just as they were enunciated at its
beginning. Then the Surah ends with a prayer which the Muslim
Community needed very much at that time when they were encountering
untold hardships in the propagation of the Guidance. 284 -