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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 15 (Verses 122 to 129)


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Section/Ruku 15 [Verses 122 to 129]: Covenant with Abraham:
Chapter 2: (Al-Baqarah - The Cow)
(Revealed at Madinah: 40 sections; 286 verses)

1. Translation:

122 O Children of Israel, call to mind My favour which I bestowed on you and that I made you excel the nations.
a

123 And be on your guard against a day when no soul will avail another in the least, neither will any compensation be accepted from it, nor will intercession profit it, nor will they be helped.

124 And when his Lord tried Abraham with certain commands he fulfilled them. He said: Surely I will make thee a leader of men. (Abraham) said: And of my offspring? My covenant does not include the wrongdoers, said He.a

125 And when We made the House a resort for men and a (place of) security.a And: Take ye the Place of Abraham for a place of prayer.b And We enjoined Abraham and Ishmael, saying: Purify My House for those who visit (it) and those who abide (in it) for devotion and those who bow down (and) those who prostrate themselves.c

126 And when Abraham said: My Lord, make this a secure town and provide its people with fruits, such of them as believe in Allah and the Last Day. He said: And whoever disbelieves, I shall grant him enjoyment for a short while, then I shall drive him to the chastisement of the Fire. And it is an evil destination.a

127 And when Abraham and Ishmael raised the foundations of the House: Our Lord, accept from us; surely Thou art the Hearing, the Knowing.a

128 Our Lord, and make us both submissive to Thee, and (raise) from our offspring, a nation submissive to Thee,a and show us our ways of devotion and turn to us (mercifully); surely Thou art the Oft-returning (to mercy), the Merciful.

129 Our Lord, and raise up in them a Messenger from among them who shall recite to them Thy messages and teach them the Book and the Wisdom, and purify them. Surely Thou art the Mighty, the Wise. a

 2. Commentary:

122a. The Israelites are thrice told in the Holy Quran that God had made them a great nation but that it was by their own evil deeds and forsaking the ways of righteousness that they were proving themselves unworthy of that greatness. They are first addressed in v. 40 and told that the Prophet Muhammad came in fulfilment of their own prophecies. They are again addressed in v. 47 and told how favours were shown to them in the time of Moses and after him. Now they are being addressed a third time and reminded of the covenant which was made with Abraham, the great patriarch in whom the Israelites and the Ishmaelites met. [Back to verse 122]

124a. The first part of the verse relates that Abraham was made spiritual leader of men because he was found perfect in fulfilling the Divine commandments. As a spiritual leader of three great nations of the world, that patriarch occupies a unique position among religious personalities. Having discussed at length that a prophet from the Ishmaelites had come in accordance with the prophecies of the Israelite prophets, the Holy Quran now proceeds to show that even the covenant with their great ancestor Abraham necessitated the appearance of a prophet in Arabia.

The second part of the verse states that the spiritual leadership of the world was still with Abraham’s descendants. They are told that the covenant was made, not with Israel but with Abraham, and that therefore the seed of Ishmael and Isaac were equally to be blessed. Nay, as stated further on in v. 125, the covenant was made with both Abraham and Ishmael. The Jewish and Christian contention that the covenant made with Ishmael was simply of a temporal nature is groundless. On the other hand, the following arguments show that the covenant included both Ishmael and Isaac. (1) The promise to bless Abraham and his seed was given long before either Ishmael or Isaac was born: “And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing. ... And in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 12:2, 3). (2) The promise given to Abraham regarding the multiplicity of his seed is the same as that given to Hagar regarding Ishmael when she conceived him: “And He brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and He said unto him, So shall thy seed be” (Gen. 15:5). “And the angel of the Lord said unto her (i.e. Hagar), I will multiply thy seed exceedingly, that it shall not be numbered for multitude” (Gen. 16:10). (3) The covenant was made again with Abraham after Ishmael was born, while Abraham had no hope of another son, nor was there a Divine promise that a son should be born to him from Sarah, the promise contained in Gen. 15:4, “but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir” having been fulfilled in the birth of Ishmael. This promise is contained in Gen. 17:2–6: “And I will make My covenant between Me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly. ... And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee”. (4) The covenant was renewed with Ishmael after Isaac was promised: “And as for Ishmael I have heard thee: Behold I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation” (Gen. 17:20). It should also be noted that God’s hearing Abraham with regard to Ishmael refers to Abraham’s prayer in Gen. 17:18: “O that Ishmael might live before thee!”, and shows that Ishmael was righteous in the sight of God. (5) The nature of the promise made to Ishmael does not differ materially from that made to Abraham: they are both to be blessed, both to be made fruitful, the seed of both is to be multiplied exceedingly, princes and kings are promised among the descendants of both of them, and both are promised to be made a great nation. Nothing is said regarding Abraham that is not said regarding Ishmael. (6) The covenant on the part of Abraham’s seed was kept by the children of Isaac as well as of Ishmael. According to Gen. 17:10: “This is My covenant which ye shall keep between Me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised”. Now, circumcision has been a characteristic of the Israelites as well as of the Ishmaelites. Hence God’s covenant was with both these nations. (7) The fulfilment of the covenant on the part of God has also been true with regard to both nations: “And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God” (Gen. 17:8). If the covenant was only with Isaac’s children, the promise of an everlasting possession failed with the advent of Islam, so that even God could not keep His promise. But the fact is that the land of Canaan continues to remain as an everlasting possession in the hands of the seed of Abraham, for as soon as the Israelites or their representatives, the Christians, were deemed unfit to have the Holy Land in their possession because of their unrighteousness, that Holy Land was given to the Arabs, who were Ishmaelites, and to this day it remains in the hands of the Muslims, who are the true representatives of the house of Ishmael. [Back to verse 124]

125a. Al-Bait or The House is the famous house known by this name to this day, the Ka‘bah. It is also known as Bait Allah or the House of Allah, and is the same as the Bethel of the Bible. In the Quran itself it is mentioned by the name al-Bait several times, as here and in vv. 127, 158; 3:97; 8:35; 22:26. It is also mentioned as al-Bait al-Haram or the Sacred House (5:2, 97), and al-Bait al-‘Atiq, or the Ancient House (22:29, 33), and al-Bait al-Ma‘mur or the Oft-visited House (52:4). It is also spoken of as awwala bait-in wudi‘a li-l-nasi, the First House appointed for men for Divine worship (3:96).

History bears out these three distinguishing characteristics of the Ka‘bah. It exists from the remotest antiquity; it was visited annually by people from the most distant corners of Arabia; and its sacredness was respected by the whole of Arabia. Thus writes Muir: “A very high antiquity must be assigned to the main features of the religion of Mecca. ... Diodorus Siculus, writing about half a century before our era, says of Arabia washed by the Red Sea: “There is in this country a temple greatly revered by the Arabs”. These words must refer to the Holy House of Mecca, for we know of no other which ever commanded such universal homage. ... Tradition represents the Ka‘bah as from time immemorial the scene of pilgrimage from all quarters of Arabia: from Yemen and Hadramaut, from the shores of the Persian Gulf, the deserts of Syria, and the distant environs of Hira and Mesopotamia, men yearly flocked to Mecca. So extensive a homage must have had its beginnings in an extremely remote age” (Life of Mahomet). [Back to verse 125]

125b. The previous verse speaks of Abraham, and there is apparently a change now introduced in resorting to the subject of the Ka‘bah. But really there is no change. This section deals with the covenant made with Abraham and this covenant included both the Israelites and the Ishmaelites. The Ka‘bah, the spiritual centre of Islam, it is now related, was connected with the name of Abraham, and pointed reference to this is made in the mention of Maqam Ibrahim or the Place of Abraham. It is true that a particular place, a small building supported by six pillars about eight feet high, situated in the Ka‘bah, is known by this name, and was so known in the time of the Prophet and even before him, and this is incontrovertible evidence of Abraham’s connection with Arabia and its spiritual centre. But here really Maqam Ibrahim stands for the House itself. It is The House that was made a resort for men and a place of security as stated in the opening words of the verse, and it is The House that was to be purified of idols by Abraham and Ishmael, as stated in the latter part. The injunction therefore to take the Place of Abraham for a place of prayer can carry no other significance than that The House or the Ka‘bah shall be the Central Mosque of the Muslims. It is called the Place of Abraham because it was Abraham who purified it of the idols and it was Abraham who rebuilt The House as stated further on. While some commentators take the words Maqam Ibrahim as referring to the particular place known by that name, many of them understand by it the Ka‘bah or the whole of the sanctuary. There is a hadith in Bukhari according to which ‘Umar is reported to have said to the Prophet: O Messenger of Allah, wert thou to take Maqam Ibrahim for a place of prayer. These words were spoken when the Prophet, after his flight to Madinah, turned his face to Jerusalem as the qiblah, because Jerusalem was the qiblah of the Israelite prophets that had gone before him. It was on receiving this Divine injunction that he made the Ka‘bah the qiblah of the Muslims. [Back to verse 125]

125c. It should be noted that Ishmael is very often mentioned along with Abraham in connection with the Ka‘bah. Ishmael’s connection with Arabia is established by the Bible itself, for Kedar (son of Ishmael, Gen. 25:13) stands throughout the writings of the Old Testament for Arabia (Ps. 120:5; Is. 42:11; 60:7). The Arab tradition on this point was so strong and of such old standing that the Holy Quran every now and then refers to it as a matter of undoubted history. As Muir says: “This was no Muslim fiction, but the popular opinion of the Meccans long before the era of Muhammad, otherwise it could not have been referred to in the Quran as an acknowledged fact, nor would the names of certain spots around the Ka‘bah have been connected, as we know them to have been, with Abraham and Ishmael” (Life of Mahomet). The Arab tradition representing Abraham as coming with Hagar and Ishmael to the place where now Makkah is, is quite independent of the Bible statement, and the two taken together justify us in drawing the conclusion as to the truth of the Quranic statement. Moreover, the situation of Makkah on a well-recognized ancient route from Syria to Yaman and the visits from the deserts of Syria to that “Ancient House” corroborate this conclusion. Thus there is not the least reason to reject the popular tradition as a fable, and the facts recorded in the Quran are borne out fully by Arab tradition and the Bible.

References to Ishmael, the eldest son of Abraham, are very frequent in the Holy Quran. For further references see 2:133, 136, 140; 3:84; 4:163; 6:86; 14:39; 19:54, 55; 21:85; 37:101–107 (where he is not mentioned by name); and 38:48.

For references to Isaac, Abraham’s younger son, which are always brief, see 2:133,136, 140; 3:84; 4:163; 6:84; 11:71; 12:6; 14:39; 19:49; 21:72; 29:27; 37:112, 113; and 38:45–47. [Back to verse 125]

126a. It was Abraham who, when settling Hagar and Ishmael near the Sacred House, which was already there, laid the foundations of a city there. Makkah is elsewhere spoken of as hadh-al-Balad (14:35; 90:1, 2) or this City. In 3:96, it is mentioned by the name Bakkah. It was built in a place which was unproductive of fruit (14:37) and therefore devoid of the primal necessities of life. Hence, Abraham’s prayer for the residents of the city that they might be provided with fruits. But while Abraham prayed for provisions of life for the righteous only, God’s acceptance of the prayer included the wicked as well. Elsewhere, the acceptance of this prayer is referred to thus: “Have We not settled them in a safe, sacred territory to which fruits of every kind are drawn — a sustenance from Us” (28:57). [Back to verse 126]

127a. Abraham and Ishmael rebuilt the Ka‘bah, which was already there; see 14:37. [Back to verse 127]

128a. The word translated as submissive is Muslim in the original. A Muslim is so called because he surrenders himself to the will of God or because he is secure from the slavery of the devil (R) or because he enters into peace. Though all prophets were Muslims but only the followers of the Prophet Muhammad are known as a Muslim nation. At the time when these verses were revealed, there existed only a few Muslims in Madinah, and reference to a Muslim nation was still prophetical. [Back to verse 128]

129a. The Messenger had appeared but the great task of teaching the Book and the Wisdom to the progeny of Ishmael, the Arabs, and the still greater task of purifying them of evil, had yet to be performed, and its mention at this time was therefore prophetical. The more one ponders on the unique transformation brought about by the Prophet in Arabia, and through Arabia in the world, the more his head bows before the grandeur of this prophecy. [Back to verse 129]

 

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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 15 (Verses 122 to 129)


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