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Holy Quran Section > English Translation and Commentary of the Holy Quran by Maulana Muhammad Ali (Table of Contents) > Chapter 2 (Al-Baqarah - The Cow) > Section 1 (Verses 1 to 7)


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Chapter Introduction and
Section/Ruku 1 [Verses 1 to 7]: Fundamental Principles of Islam:
Chapter 2: (Al-Baqarah - The Cow)
(Revealed at Madinah: 40 sections; 286 verses)

1. Introduction:

The name of this chapter is taken from the story narrated in vv. 67-71, regarding the slaughter of a cow. As this chapter deals chiefly with the Jews, and as cow-worship, as shown in footnotes 51b and 67a, was the particular form of idolatry which took a hold among the Jews, the importance of that incident seems to have been rightly estimated in giving this chapter the name that it bears.

This chapter deals mainly with the Jews and their contentions against Islam, and hence it is that much of the legislation, details of which necessarily differ from the Jewish law, and most of the Jewish objections to the prophethood of Muhammad -- peace and blessings of Allah be on him! -- are dealt with in this chapter. The chapter opens with a brief statement of the fundamental principles of Islam, and, after mentioning the consequences of their acceptance or rejection in the first section, and dealing with lip-profession in the second, draws an inference of the truth of those principles, and more particularly of Divine Unity, by referring to the work of God in nature, in the third. The fourth section proceeds to show that man is endowed with vast capabilities but needs Divine revelation for his perfection, and this is illustrated in the story of Adam. The fifth section speaks of the Israelites, who are told how the Quran fulfils the prophecies met with in their books, and the next two sections are devoted to Divine favours to them and their stubbornness, being followed by three others which speak of their degeneration, their tendency to cow-worship, their hard-heartedness and their violation of covenants. The eleventh section speaks of their objections to the Holy Prophet, and the twelfth refers to their great enmity and to their plans against him. The thirteenth states that former scriptures are abrogated and a better and more advanced code is given in Islam, the religion of entire submission. The next section points out that partial good is met with in all religions, but it is only in Islam that religion attains to perfection. The fifteenth reminds the Israelites of the covenant with Abraham, which required the raising of a prophet from among the Ishmaelites, being followed by another dealing with the religion of the great patriarch. The subject of the Kabah, the house built by Abraham, as the new qiblah, is thus introduced, and the next two sections, while declaring the Kabah to be the new centre of spiritual activity, also give reasons for the change. The nineteenth warns the Muslims that they must undergo hard trials to establish the Truth; and that it will ultimately triumph, is made clear in the twentieth section. Certain minor differences with the Jewish law are then introduced as against the common principle of the doctrine of Unity, and thus the laws relating to foods, retaliation, bequests, fasting, fighting, pilgrimage, wine, gambling, orphans, marital obligations, divorce and widowhood are discussed in the eleven sections that follow. The next two, the 32nd and the 33rd, make a reversion to the subject of fighting, which was necessary if the Muslims would escape national death, and illustrations are given from Israelite history. We are then told in the thirty-fourth section of the mighty power of Allah to give life to the dead, and the Muslims are told that they should not use compulsion in the matter of religion, as their opponents had done. Two instances are then quoted in the following section, one from the history of Abraham and the other from Israelite history, showing how dead nations are raised to life. But national growth and prosperity, we are immediately told in the thirty-sixth and thirty-seventh sections, depend on acts of sacrifice, and every penny spent in the cause of truth yields seven hundredfold, and even much more, fruit. The Muslims, being thus promised abundance of wealth as the result of their sacrifices, are warned in the following section against usurious dealings which breed an inordinate love of wealth, for the amassing of wealth was not the goal of a Muslim's life. They are at the same time told, in the thirty-ninth section, to guard their property rights by the employment of writing in their transactions and securing evidence. In conclusion, they are taught a prayer for the ultimate triumph of the Truth. Thus we find no break in the continuity of the subject, and the change, whenever necessary, is introduced quite naturally.

There is a clear connection between this chapter and the last one. There in the concluding words is a prayer for being guided on the right path (1:5), while here that guidance is afforded in the opening words: "This book, there is no doubt in it, is a guide" (v. 2). But though this chapter follows the Fatihah, it is really the first chapter, because the Fatihah is placed at the head, being the essence of the whole of the Quran. This affords very clear evidence of the wisdom displayed in the arrangement of the chapters of the Holy Book. For this chapter fittingly opens with a prelude as to the object which is aimed at in the revelation of the Holy Quran, and contains in its very opening verses the fundamental principles of the Islamic religion, which are also in fact the fundamental principles which can form the basis of the natural religion of man. These principles are five in number, three of them containing theoretical ordinances or articles of belief and two containing practical ordinances or principles of action. The theoretical ordinances are a belief in the Unseen, i.e., Allah, in Divine revelation to the Holy Prophet as well as to the prophets before him, and in the life to come, while on the practical side is mentioned prayer, which is the source from which springs true Divine love, and charity in its broadest sense. The result of the acceptance of these fundamental principles is mentioned in v. 5, being guidance in the right direction and success. Similarly, it is with a reiteration of the broad principles of the Islamic faith and with a prayer for the triumph of the Truth that the chapter ends, and the whole of the chapter is really an illustration of the truth of the principles enunciated in its beginning.

This chapter was revealed in Madinah, and belongs to the earliest Madinah revelations. The main portion of it belongs to the 1st and 2nd years of the Hijrah, but it also contains verses which were revealed later, some of them towards the close of the Prophet's life.

2. Translation:

[PART / Paaraa I]

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.

1 I, Allah, am the best Knower.a

2 Thisa Book,b there is no doubt in it, is a guide to those who keep their duty,c

3 Who believe in the Unseena and keep up prayer and spend out of what We have given them,b

4 And who believe in that which has been revealed to thee and that which was revealed before thee,a and of the Hereafterb they are sure.

5 These are on a right course from their Lord and these it is that are successful.a

6 Those who disbelieve -- it being alike to them whether thou warn them or warn them nota -- they will not believe.

7 Allah has sealed their hearts and their hearing' -- and there is a covering on their eyes, and for them is a grievous chastisement.a

3. Commentary:

1a. The original words are alif, lam, mim. Translations of the Holy Quran generally leave abbreviations, like the one occurring here, untranslated. The combinations of letters or single letters occurring at the commencement of several chapters, 29 in all, are called muqatta'at, and according to the best received opinion these letters are abbreviations standing for words. The Arabs used similar letters in their verses. Abbreviations are known to all languages, the only peculiarity of their use in Arabic literature being that the letters carry different meanings in different places, and the meaning is decided in each case by the context. Such is the opinion of I'Ab (AH). Both he and IMsd agree in interpreting alif, lam, mim, occurring here as well as at the commencement of the 3rd, 29th, 30th, 31st and 32nd chapters of the Holy Quran as meaning I, Allah, am the best Knower, alif standing for ana, lam for Allah, and mim for a'lam (AH, IJ), being respectively the first, the middle and the last letters of the words for which they stand. Others regard them as contractions for some Divine attribute. That they may also serve as the names of chapters is no ground for supposing that they carry no significance. The strange suggestion of Golius that alif, lam, mim stands for amr-li-Muhammad, which is said to mean at the command of Muhammad, is not only devoid of authority but is also grammatically incorrect. Rodwell's statement, made in his comment, on the significance of the letter nun, occurring in the beginning of chapter 68, that "the meaning of this, and of the similar symbols throughout the Quran, was unknown to the Muhammadans themselves even in the first century", is equally devoid of truth. The significance of these letters can in most cases be traced to the Companions of the Holy Prophet, and hence the suggestion that these were "private marks" or initial letters attached by their proprietor to the copies furnished to Zaid, when effecting his recension of the text under `Uthman, is not even worthy of consideration. It is further opposed to the surest historical testimony, which proves beyond all doubt that these letters were recited as parts of the chapters in the time of the Prophet himself. [Back to verse 1]

2a. Palmer translates the word dhalika as that, and thinks that its rendering as this is an error, but as LL says: "Like as a person held in mean estimation is indicated by hadha which denotes a thing that is near, so, on account of its high degree of estimation a thing that is approved is indicated by dhalika, whereby one indicates a thing that is remote." [Back to verse 2]

2b. The Quran is here called al-Kitab, or the Book. The root word kataba means he wrote and also he brought together (LL) and kitab, or book, is a writing which is complete in itself. Thus a letter may also be called a kitab, and in this sense the word occurs in 27:28, 29. The application of the word kitab to the Holy Quran occurs in very early revelations, and the use of the word shows clearly that the Quran was from the first meant to be a complete book and one that existed not only in the memory of men but also in visible characters on writing material, for otherwise it could not be called al-Kitab. [Back to verse 2]

2c. I make a departure here from the rendering of the word muttaqi, which English translators generally render into God-fearing or pious. The root is waqa, and conveys the sense of saving, guarding, or preserving (LL). According to R, wiqayah signifies the guarding of a thing from that which harms or injures it. The verb of which muttaqi is the nominative form is ittaqa, which means, he preserved or guarded himself exceedingly. "In the conventional language of the law", according to LL, "he preserved or guarded himself exceedingly from sin or what would harm him in the world to come." Hence the word muttaqi may properly be translated only as one who guards himself against evil, or one who is careful of, or has regard for, or keeps his duty. The Quran is here described as affording guidance to those who keep their duty, because the sense of keeping his duty is innate in man, and everyone who has regard for duty is true to nature and true to himself. No guidance would benefit a man who has no regard for his duty. Adopting the alternative meaning, those who guard against evil, the significance is that guarding against evil or being saved from sin is the first stage in man's spiritual advancement, and the Quran lays down the principles by following which the higher stages of that advancement are attained. [Back to verse 2]

3a. Al-ghaib is that which is unseen or unperceivable by the ordinary senses. According to R, the Unseen here stands for Allah, a belief in Whose existence is the cardinal principle of religion. A belief in God is thus the first duty of man, the first requisite of spiritual advancement. [Back to verse 3]

3b. Salat means supplication or prayer. In Islam prayer assumed a regularity and a form, and became an established institution of religion. The verb used to indicate the observance of salat is throughout the Holy Quran aqama, meaning he kept a thing or an affair in the right state (LL), and hence it is not the mere observance of the form that the Quran requires, but the keeping of it in a right state, i.e. being true to the spirit of the prayer. The object of prayer is elsewhere clearly stated to be the purification of the heart (29:45). Spending out of what one has been given stands for charity in its broadest sense, or the doing of good to all creatures. This verse lays down the two prime duties of man, the two principles of action which are necessary for spiritual advancement, and these are prayer to God and service to humanity. After speaking of the cardinal principle of faith, a belief in God, the Holy Quran now speaks of the two great principles of action to show how to translate faith into action. [Back to verse 3]

4a. Of all the religions of the world Islam is the only one that laid down the broad basis of faith in all the prophets of the world, and the recognition of truth in all religions is its distinctive characteristic. The words that which was revealed before thee include revelations to all the nations of the world, for we are elsewhere told that "there is not a people but a warner has gone among them" (35:24). The Quran does not, however, mention all the prophets by their names, for "of them are those We have mentioned to thee and of them are those We have not mentioned to thee" (40:78). It thus requires not only a belief in Divine revelation to the Prophet Muhammad but a belief in Divine revelation to the whole of humanity, to all nations of the world. A Muslim is therefore one who believes in all the prophets of God, sent to any nation, whether their names are mentioned in the Holy Quran or not. This is the fourth of the fundamental principles of Islam, the second among matters relating to faith. It shows that God has always been made known to man through Divine revelation, and that revelation is a universal fact. [Back to verse 4]

4b. A belief in a life after death is the last of the five fundamental principles of Islam that are stated here, the third of the principles of faith. It is only this belief that can make the generality of men conscious of the responsibility of human actions. A life after death, according to Islam, implies a state of existence which begins with death, but a complete manifestation of which takes place later, when the fruits of the actions done in this life take their final shape. It should be borne in mind that a belief in Allah and a belief in the Hereafter, being respectively the first and the last of the fundamental principles of Islam as mentioned here, often stand for a belief in all the fundamental principles of Islam, as in vv. 8, 62, etc. It is quite unwarranted to take al-Akhirat as meaning the message or revelation which is to come. The Quran knows of no message coming to humanity after it. It is the last message, religion having been made perfect by it (5:3). The Akhirat of this verse is plainly spoken of as the Last Day in v. 8. [Back to verse 4]

5a. Those who accept the three principles of faith, and the two principles of action, mentioned above, are declared to be successful. The word muflih is the nominative form of aflaha which means he attained to success, and includes both the good of this life and the good of the Hereafter (T). The next two verses speak of those who disbelieve. [Back to verse 5]

6a. The passage is parenthetical (AH), and should be translated as such. The ordinary rendering of the passage, which makes the parenthetical passage an enunciative one, makes the verse meaningless, for it would then run thus: "Those who disbelieve it is alike to them whether thou warn them or warn them not; they will not believe." Now this amounts to saying that no one who once disbelieves would ever believe, a statement which is absurd on the face of it. Treating the portion quoted above as parenthetical, the meaning is quite clear, viz., disbelievers of a particular type, i.e., those who pay no heed at all to the Prophet's warning, cannot benefit by his preaching. [Back to verse 6]

7a. It should be noted that only those disbelievers are spoken of here who so hardened their hearts as not to pay any heed to the Prophet's preaching and warning, as clearly indicated in the previous verse; compare 7:179: "They have hearts wherewith they understand not, and they have eyes wherewith they see not, and they have ears wherewith they hear not. They are as cattle." Allah is here spoken of as having sealed their hearts and ears because He made them taste the consequences of their heedlessness. [Back to verse 7]

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Section 2: Lip Profession


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Chapter 1: Al-Fatihah (The Opening)

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Holy Quran Section > English Translation and Commentary of the Holy Quran by Maulana Muhammad Ali (Table of Contents) > Chapter 2 (Al-Baqarah - The Cow) > Section 1 (Verses 1 to 7)


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