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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 22 (Verses 177 to 182)



Section/Ruku 22 [Verses 177 to 182]: Retaliation and bequests:
Chapter 2: (Al-Baqarah - The Cow)
(Revealed at Madinah: 40 sections; 286 verses)

1. Translation:

177 It is not righteousness that you turn your faces towards the East and the West,
a but righteous is the one who believes in Allah, and the Last Day, and the angelsb and the Bookc and the prophets, and gives away wealth out of love for Himd to the near of kin and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and to those who ask and to set slaves freee and keeps up prayer and pays the poor-rate; and the performers of their promise when they make a promise,f and the patient in distress and affliction and in the time of conflict.g These are they who are truthful; and these are they who keep their duty.

178 O you who believe, retaliation is prescribed for you in the matter of the slain: the free for the free, and the slave for the slave, and the female for the female.a But if remission is made to one by his (aggrieved) brother, prosecution (for blood-money) should be according to usage, and payment to him in a good manner.b This is an alleviation from your Lord and a mercy. Whoever exceeds the limit after this, will have a painful chastisement.

179 And there is life for you in retaliation, O men of understanding, that you may guard yourselves.a

180 It is prescribed for you, when death approaches one of you, if he leaves behind wealth for parents and near relatives, to make a bequest in a kindly manner; it is incumbent upon the dutiful.a

181 Then whoever changes it after he has heard it, the sin of it is only upon those who change it. Surely Allah is Hearing, Knowing.

182 But if one fears a wrong or a sinful course on the part of the testator, and effects an agreement between the parties, there is no blame on him. Surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.a

 2. Commentary:

177a. While discussing the subject of minor details of the law, a warning is given to the Muslims that they should not fall into the error into which the previous people fell, who sacrificed the spirit of religion for the outward ceremonial. The essence of religion, we are here told, is faith in God and benevolence towards men. The turning of the face to the East and the West refers to the outward act of facing a certain direction when saying prayers. This, though necessary, should not be taken as the real object of prayer, which is in fact meant to enable one to hold communion with the Divine Being and to imbue oneself with Divine morals as explained further on. But the words may also carry another significance. The Muslims were told again and again that all opposition to the Truth would ultimately fail and they would be masters of the land. But temporal greatness was not their real object. They may conquer Eastern and Western lands but their real aim was to attain righteousness and bring others to righteousness. [Back to verse 177]

177b. A belief in angels, while hinted at in the opening verses of this chapter, is clearly spoken of here as one of the basic principles of Islam. The belief in angels may not be as universal as a belief in the Divine Being, but it is accepted generally in all monotheistic religions. As in the case of all other principles of faith, Islam has pointed out a certain significance underlying the belief in angels. Just as our physical faculties are not by themselves sufficient to enable us to attain any object in the physical world without the assistance of other agents — as, for instance, the eye cannot see unless there is light — so our spiritual powers cannot by themselves lead us to good or evil deeds, but here, too, intermediaries which have an existence independent of our internal spiritual powers are necessary to enable us to do good or evil deeds. Now, there are two attractions placed in man — the attraction to good or to rise up to higher spheres of virtue, and the attraction to evil or to stoop down to a kind of low, bestial life; but to bring these attractions into operation, external agencies are needed, as they are needed in the case of the physical powers of man. The external agency which brings the attraction to good into work is called an angel, and that which assists in the working of the attraction to evil is called the devil. If we respond to the attraction for good we are following the angel or the Holy Spirit, and if we respond to the attraction for evil we are following Satan. Our belief in angels carries, therefore, the significance that whenever we feel a tendency to do good we should at once obey that call and follow the inviter to good. That it does not simply mean that we should admit that there are angels is clear from the fact that not only are we not required to believe in devils, whose existence is as certain as that of the angels, but we are plainly told that we should disbelieve in the devils (v. 256). As a disbelief in the devil means that we should repel the attraction for evil, so a belief in angels means that we should follow the inviter to good. [Back to verse 177]

177c. While a belief in all the prophets is stated to be necessary, the Book is spoken of in the singular. The Book therefore stands for Divine Revelation in general or the scriptures of all the prophets. Or, because the Qur’an is a Book “wherein are (all) right books” (98:3), the Book might mean the Qur’an. [Back to verse 177]

177d. The love of Allah is here, as in many other places in the Holy Qur’an, stated to be the true incentive to all deeds of righteousness. [Back to verse 177]

177e. Riqab is the plural of raqabah, which literally signifies a neck, and then comes to signify by a synecdoche, a slave, or a captive (T, LL). Hence fi-l-riqab means ransoming of slaves. The basis was thus laid down for the abolition of slavery. [Back to verse 177]

177f. The performance of promise on the part of individuals as well as of nations is one of the first essentials of the welfare of humanity, and hence the stress laid upon it by the Holy Qur’an. Faithlessness to treaties and pledges on the part of nations has wrought the greatest havoc on humanity. Just as no society can prosper until its individual members are true to their mutual agreements and promises to each other, so humanity at large can never have peace unless the nations are true to their agreements. [Back to verse 177]

177g. In the concluding words of the verse, the patient ... in the time of conflict, there is a clear reference to the coming conflicts with the opponents of Islam, ultimately leading to the triumph of Islam over those who were bent upon extirpating it. [Back to verse 177]

178a. The Jewish law of retaliation is greatly modified in Islam, being limited only to cases of murder, while among the Jews it extended to all cases of grievous hurt. The words retaliation is prescribed for you in the matter of the slain, mean that the murderer should be put to death. After promulgating that law in general terms, the Qur’an proceeds to describe a particular case, viz. that if a free man is the murderer, he himself is to be slain; if a slave is the murderer, that slave is to be executed; if a woman murdered a man, it was she that was to be put to death. The pre-Islamic Arabs used in certain cases to insist, when the person killed was of noble descent, upon the execution of others besides the murderer; they were not content with the execution of the slave or the woman, if one of them happened to be the murderer. The Holy Qur’an abolished this custom (AH, Rz). [Back to verse 178]

178b. There may be circumstances which alleviate the guilt. In such cases the murderer may be made to pay a fine to the relatives of the murdered person. Such money is called diyat or blood-money. The reference to the alleviation of the guilt is plainly contained in the concluding words of the verse: This is an alleviation from your Lord. A comparison with 4:92 makes it clear that when homicide is not intentional, blood-money may be paid. [Back to verse 178]

179a. Life cannot be safe, we are here told, unless those who are guilty of homicide are sentenced to capital punishment. [Back to verse 179]

180a. Some commentators hold the opinion that the direction to make a bequest, as contained in this verse, is abrogated by 4:11, which fixes the shares of the heirs of the deceased person. A perusal of that verse shows clearly that it recognizes the validity of any bequest that may have been made. As a further evidence that the law of making a bequest was not abrogated by 4:11, see 5:106 (the revelation of which is decidedly later than 4:11), where the calling of witnesses at the time of making a bequest is enjoined. In practice, however, traced to the Prophet himself, the right to make a will as regards one’s property has been subject to the condition that not more than a third of the property shall be bequeathed, and that those who take as heirs shall not be entitled to take under the bequest. This is made clear in a hadith related by Sa‘d ibn Abi Waqqas: “The Messenger of Allah used to visit me at Makkah, in the year of the Farewell Pilgrimage, on account of my illness which had become very severe. So I said: ‘My illness has become very severe and I have much wealth, and there is none to inherit from me but a daughter; shall I then bequeath two-thirds of my property as a charity?’ He said, ‘No’. I said, ‘Half?’ He said, ‘No’. Then he said: ‘bequeath one-third, and one-third is much, for if thou leave thy heirs free from want, it is better than that thou leave them in want, begging from people; and thou dost not spend anything seeking thereby the pleasure of Allah but thou art rewarded for it, even for that which thou puttest into the mouth of thy wife’ ” (B. 23:36). The mention of the year of the Farewell Pilgrimage shows clearly that the incident relates to the last year of the Prophet’s life, to a time when both the verse under discussion and 4:11 had long been revealed. Hence, the making of a bequest was not contrary to 4:11, and this verse really speaks of bequests made for charitable purposes and not of bequests to heirs. It should be further noted that the making of bequest is necessary only if a person leaves behind him khair which means abundant, or considerable, wealth.

There are two other incidents of a still later date which make it clear that the companions of the Prophet did not consider this verse to be abrogated. A man who intended to make a bequest came to ‘A’ishah. She asked him how much property he had, and being told that he had 3000 Dirhems and four heirs, told him not to make a bequest and to leave the amount to his heirs, and recited the words in taraka khaira occurring in this verse, as showing that the leaving of a large property was a condition for a bequest (Bd). A similar incident is reported in connection with ‘Ali, the fourth Caliph. He had a freedman possessing 700 Dirhems and he expressed a desire to make a bequest. ‘Ali told him not to do so, reciting the same words in taraka khaira in support of his contention (Bd). Both these incidents happening after the death of the Prophet, show conclusively: (1) that v. 180 was not regarded as abrogated, because people still made bequests under it; and (2) that the bequests spoken of in this verse were never meant for those who would inherit under 4:11, but for charitable purposes, or for those relatives who could not inherit under 4:11. [Back to verse 180]

182a. Proper advice may be tendered to the testator, not to show undue favour to anyone or not to exceed the limits of the law to the detriment of the legal heirs. This was what the Prophet himself, and ‘A’ishah and ‘Ali did in the three cases cited in the above note. [Back to verse 182]



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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 22 (Verses 177 to 182)

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