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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 17 (Verses 142 to 147)


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Section/Ruku 17 [Verses 142 to 147]: The Ka‘bah as the Spiritual Centre:
Chapter 2: (Al-Baqarah - The Cow)
(Revealed at Madinah: 40 sections; 286 verses)

1. Translation:

142 The fools among the people will say: “What has turned them from their qiblah which they had?”
a Say: The East and the West belong only to Allah; He guides whom He pleases to the right path.

143 And thus We have made you an exalteda nation that you may be the bearers of witness to the people and (that) the Messenger may be a bearer of witness to you.b And We did not make that which thou wouldst have to be the qiblah c but that We might distinguishd him who follows the Messenger from him who turns back upon his heels. And it was indeed a hard test except for those whom Allah has guided. Nor was Allah going to make your faith to be fruitless.e Surely Allah is Compassionate, Merciful, to the people.

144 Indeed We see the turning of thy face to heaven, so We shall surely make thee master of the qiblah which thou likest;a turn then thy face towards the Sacred Mosque. And wherever you are turn your faces towards it. And those who have been given the Book certainly know that it is the truth from their Lord.b And Allah is not heedless of what they do.

145 And even if thou shouldst bring to those who have been given the Book every sign they would not follow thy qiblah, nor canst thou be a follower of their qiblah, neither are they the followers of each other’s qiblah.a And if thou shouldst follow their desires after the knowledge that has come to thee, then thou wouldst indeed be of the wrongdoers.

146 Those whom We have given the Book recognise him as they recognise their sons.a And a party of them surely conceal the truth while they know.

147 The truth is from thy Lord, so be thou not of the doubters.a

 2. Commentary:

142a. Qiblah means the direction or point towards which one turns his face (LL). In its religious usage it means the direction towards which one turns his face when saying his prayers, and the qiblah is thus the Spiritual Centre of a people. The change here referred to is the change which took place at Madinah about sixteen months after the Prophet’s flight to that city (B. 2:29). It should be noted that while the Holy Prophet was at Makkah among the idolaters of Arabia, he used to pray with his face to the Holy Temple at Jerusalem, but when he came to Madinah, where the Jewish element was strong and powerful, he was directed by Divine Revelation to turn his face to the Ka‘bah as his qiblah. The Jews are here spoken of in particular, and the subject continues what is said in the last two sections. If Abraham’s seed was to be blessed in Ishmael’s progeny, it was necessary that the new Spiritual Centre should be the house purified by Abraham and Ishmael, the First House appointed for men, the temple at Jerusalem being only the spiritual centre of the Israelites. This change contained a clear indication that Makkah would be conquered by the Muslims, for, an idolatrous temple could not be the spiritual centre of a religion of pure monotheism. To this conquest of Makkah there is also a reference in the words, “The East and the West belong only to Allah”. [Back to verse 142]

143a. The word in the original is wasat, which signifies the middle part of anything; and therefore, as being removed from either extreme, it signifies the best part of a thing, according to LL, who translates ummat wasat as meaning a just, equitable or good nation; that is, one not inclining to either extreme. The commentators explain wasat as meaning equitable and exalted (Rz, AH, Kf), and this sense fits the context. By making the Ka‘bah their qiblah, Allah had made it known that they were the people, the Muslim nation, for whom Abraham had prayed (v. 128), and therefore they were the inheritors of all those Divine blessings which had been promised to the seed of Abraham. [Back to verse 143]

143b. One explanation of shahid, or bearer of witness, is given in the following words: “So that you may carry to them what you have learned of the revelation and the faith as Allah’s Messenger has brought to you” (AH, Rz). Therefore the bearers of witness are the persons who carry knowledge to others, bearing testimony to its truth in their own persons. Some commentators explain the word as meaning a purifier (AH). But shahid also signifies one possessing much knowledge (LL), and it means also an Imam or a leader, and the significance is that just as the Prophet delivered the message of truth to the Muslims and was their purifier and leader, the role of the Muslim community was to deliver the message of truth to the whole of humanity and to be its purifiers and leaders. [Back to verse 143]

143c. Rz explains the words kunta ‘alai-ha as meaning on which thou hadst firmly set thy heart that it should be thy qiblah. It thus appears that the Prophet longed that the Ka‘bah should be his qiblah, yet he did not take any step until he had received the Divine Revelation. If his revelations had been the outcome of his own desires he would not have waited for sixteen months for a revelation from on high to change the qiblah. [Back to verse 143]

143d. Na‘lama means We might know; but I have followed AH in translating it as meaning We might distinguish, for ‘ilm is not followed by min except when it is used in the sense of distinguishing one thing from another. Taking the ordinary meaning, the significance would be that God might know how they act when confronted with the test. [Back to verse 143]

143e. By some the word iman, lit., faith, is explained as meaning prayer (I‘Ab-B). Adopting the ordinary significance, the words would mean that the faithful had no hesitation in accepting the change, and thus their faith bore fruit by keeping them on the right path. [Back to verse 143]

144a. The words fa-la-nuwalliyanna-ka qiblat-an are generally translated as We shall turn thee to a qiblah. But the order to make the Ka‘bah a qiblah had already been given, see v. 125; and this section deals with the objections arising from this change, as vv. 142 and 143 show. One of the objections the Jews advanced was that while the Prophet claimed that his religion was the religion of pure monotheism, he made the Ka‘bah, which was full of idols, his Spiritual Centre; see 142a. The Prophet turned his face to heaven, i.e., sought help from God in this matter, and the words that follow are an answer to this prayer, and could not mean We shall turn thee to a qiblah, because that had already been done. He is here told that the Ka‘bah will not remain an idol temple, as he will soon be master of it, and idolatry will forever be swept off from the new Spiritual Centre of the world. The words walla kadha mean he made him guardian or possessor of a thing (R), as wali means a guardian, and wilayat means government or management of a Province, and walla (inf.n. tauliyah) means he set anyone over, entrusted anyone with the government of a Province or management of an affair (R). Walla when followed by ‘an, as in v. 142, means he turned him back from a thing, but when followed by two objects, as here, it means he made him master of a thing. So the Prophet was told to have no anxiety on that account and to turn his face to the Ka‘bah. [Back to verse 144]

144b. The truth of the Prophet was manifest so far as the Jews and the Christians were concerned. There was a clear prophecy for the appearance of a Prophet who was to be the like of Moses; see Deut. 18:15–18. That Prophet was to appear from among the “brethren” of the Israelites, i.e., the Ishmaelites, and not a single prophet from among the Israelites, not even Jesus, claimed to be the promised prophet of Deut. They also knew that God had promised to bless Ishmael (see 124a), but that no prophet had up to this time appeared from among the Ishmaelites. They also knew that Ishmael was left in Arabia, and they identified his son, Kedar, with the Arabs. Isaiah 21:13 speaks in clear words of a prophecy about “Arabia” and of the Prophet’s Flight. The Bait Allah (Ka‘bah) was the only Beit-el that the world knew. [Back to verse 144]

145a. Every sign of the Prophet’s truth had been given to them already but their hearts were so hardened that they did not pay any attention to the clearest signs. But they were not agreed even among themselves. Notwithstanding that the Jews and Christians both looked to the temple at Jerusalem as their central temple, they were not agreed upon it as their qiblah or Spiritual Centre. The Christians turned towards the East (Muir). Moreover, there are differences among the Jews and the Samaritans, though both follow the law of Moses. [Back to verse 145]

146a. All the prophets of Abraham’s seed had hitherto appeared among the Children of Israel, and hence as they know their sons is equivalent to as they know the Israelite prophets, the significance of the whole passage being that the Israelites or the Jews recognized the Prophet who appeared among the Children of Ishmael, as they recognised the prophets who appeared among the Children of Israel. They knew this not only because blessings had equally been promised for both sons of Abraham, but also because of the clear prophecy of Moses that a prophet like him would be raised among the brethren of the Israelites, i.e., Ishmaelites, and because no prophet answering that description had appeared among the Israelites. [Back to verse 146]

147a. It is the reader who is addressed here. [Back to verse 147]

 

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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 17 (Verses 142 to 147)


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