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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 3 (Verses 21 to 29)


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Section/Ruku 3 [Verses 21 to 29]: Divine Unity:
Chapter 2: (Al-Baqarah - The Cow)
(Revealed at Madinah: 40 sections; 286 verses)

1. Translation:

21 O men, serve your Lord Who created you and those before you, so that you may guard against evil,

22 Who made the earth a resting-place for you and the heaven a structure,a and sends down rain from the clouds then brings forth with it fruits for your sustenance; so do not set up rivals to Allah while you know.

23 And if you are in doubt as to that which We have revealed to Our servant, then produce a chapter like ita and call on your helpers besides Allah if you are truthful.b

24 But if you do (it) not -- and you can never do (it) -- then be on your guard against the fire whose fuel is men and stones;a it is prepared for the disbelievers.

25 And give good news to those who believe and do good deeds, that for them are Gardens in which rivers flow.a Whenever they are given a portionb of the fruit thereof, they will say: This is what was given to us before; and they are given the like of it.c And for them therein are pure companionsd and therein they will abide.

26 Surely Allah disdains not to set forth any parablea -- a gnat or anything above that. Then as for those who believe, they know that it is the truth from their Lord; and as for those who disbelieve, they say: What is it that Allah means by this parable? Many He leaves in error by it and many He leads aright by it. And He leaves in error by it only the transgressors,b

27 Who break the covenant of Allah after its confirmationa and cut asunder what Allah has ordered to be joined, and make mischief in the land. These it is that are the losers.

28 How can you deny Allah and you were without life and He gave you life? Again, He will cause you to die and again bring you to life, then you shall be brought back to Him.a

29 He it is Who created for you all that is in the earth. Anda He directed Himself to the heaven, so He made them complete seven heavens;b and He is Knower of all things.

2. Commentary:

22a. The word bina' signifies a structure (LL) in its widest sense, viz., any production or piece of work consisting of parts joined together in some definite manner. The heaven is here called a structure in reference to the order which prevails in heavenly bodies. But bina' is also used to signify the roof or the ceiling of a house, and as such it is used figuratively to indicate the vast blue overhead. Attention is thus drawn to the oneness of humanity, as if it were a single family living in one resting-place under one roof. [Back to verse 22]

23a. A similar challenge is contained in 10:38, and in 11:13 doubters are challenged to produce ten chapters like it, while in 17:88, a very early revelation, the whole of mankind are declared to be unable to produce a book like the Quran. Is it a question of mere style and diction? The Quran itself does not say so, nor does any saying of the Holy Prophet. That the Quran is a unique production of Arabic literature and has ever been regarded as the standard of the purity of that literature, goes without saying, but the chief characteristic of the Holy Book, in which no other book can claim equality with it, is the wonderful transformation which it accomplished, and it is to this characteristic that it lays claim in the very commencement when it says that this Book is a guide (2:2). That the transformation wrought by it is unparalleled in the history of the world is admitted on all hands, for if the Holy Prophet was the "most successful of all prophets and religious personalities" (En. Br. 11th ed., Art. Koran), this success was due to no other cause than the Quran. Its injunctions swept off the most deep-rooted evils, like idolatry and drunkenness, so as to leave no trace of them in the Arabian peninsula, welded the warring elements of Arabian society into one nation, and made an ignorant people the foremost torchbearers of knowledge and science, and a politically down-trodden people the masters of the greatest empire of the world. Besides, every word of the Quran gives expression to Divine majesty and glory in a manner which is not approached by any other sacred book. The challenge remains unanswered to this day. [Back to verse 23]

23b. The word shuhada', translated as helpers or leaders, is the plural of shahid, meaning one who gives information of what he has witnessed, or one who knows and declares what he knows, or one possessing much knowledge (LL). Shahid also means an imam or a leader. [Back to verse 23]

24a. The word stones stands for al-hijarah, the plural of hajar, meaning stone, so called because it resists by reason of its hardness; the verb hajara signifies he prevented, hindered, forbade, etc. (LL). By stones are here generally understood the idols which the Arabs worshipped, even unhewn stones being sometimes the objects of worship among them. But the word hijarah may bear another significance. According to LA, you say: "Such an one was assailed with the hajar of the earth," when his assailant is a formidable man. And when Mu'awiyah named `Amr ibn `As as one of the two umpires to decide the quarrel between himself and 'Ali, Ahnaf said to 'Ali: "Thou hast had a hajar (exceedingly sagacious and crafty and politic man) made to be an assailant against thee" (LL). The reference in hijarah may, therefore, be to the leaders spoken of in the previous verse, while nas would stand for the common people. [Back to verse 24]

25a. Gardens with rivers flowing in them is the ever-recurring description of a future life of the righteous that occurs in the Holy Quran. Elsewhere, the pure word of faith is compared to a tree which gives its fruit in all seasons (14:24). Belief is thus like a seed cast into the ground, growing into a tree and bearing fruit when properly nurtured. The rivers represent the good deeds which are necessary to the growth of the seed. It should be borne in mind that the description of paradise as given in the Holy Quran is expressly stated to be a parable: "A parable of the Garden which is promised to those who keep their duty" (13:35; 47:15). The righteous are spoken of as having gardens in the next life to show that they have made the seed of faith to grow into extensive gardens, and this is in reference to the vast development of their inner self or of the faculties which God has given them. [Back to verse 25]

25b. Rizq (lit., sustenance) also signifies hazz or a portion (LL). The fruits of the life after death are the consequences of the deeds done in this life. [Back to verse 25]

25c. The meaning seems to be that whenever the faithful are made to taste of a portion of the fruits of their good deeds in the life to come, they will find those fruits so much resembling the fruits which they tasted spiritually in this life that they will think that the same fruits are given to them again. Or the words may signify: This is what was promised to us before. The like of it may signify that the fruits of their deeds will be similar to those deeds. [Back to verse 25]

25d. The pure mates or companions may be the believing wives of the faithful, as elsewhere we have: "They and their wives are in shades, reclining on raised couches" (36:56). But more probably these are among the blessings of the heavenly life to which men and women are equally entitled. The true nature of these blessings is pointed out elsewhere under the word hur in 52:20a, but it may be remarked here that all the blessings of heavenly life are according to a saying of the Holy Prophet "things which no eye has seen and no ear has heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man to conceive of them" (B. 59:8). The words in which these blessings are depicted in the Holy Quran, therefore, should not be taken literally. [Back to verse 25]

26a. The parables to which reference is contained in these words are the parables speaking of the weakness of the false deities; see 29:41: "The parable of those who take guardians besides Allah is as the parable of the spider that makes for itself a house, and surely the frailest of the houses is the spider's house"; and 22:73: "O people, a parable is set forth, so listen to it. Surely those whom you call upon besides Allah cannot create a fly though they should all gather for it. And if the fly carry off aught from them, they cannot take it back from it. Weak are (both) the invoker and the invoked."

Instead of the spider and the fly, however, the gnat is mentioned here because the ba'udah, or the gnat, is among the Arabs a proverbially weak creature, so that to express the utmost degree of weakness they say, weaker than the gnat. [Back to verse 26]

26b. According to R, idlal (ordinarily translated as leading astray) has a two-fold significance. It means leading one astray as well as finding one as erring; adlaltu ba'iri means I found that my camel had gone astray. Another significance of the word adalla is he adjudged or pronounced him to have gone astray, as adalla-ni sadiqi, occurring in a verse, is explained as meaning my friend pronounced me to be in error (LL). It is said of the Prophet in a hadith that he came to a people fa-adalla-hum, which does not mean that he led them astray but that he found them to have gone astray (N). The same authority quotes other instances of a similar use of the measure if'al, as ahmadtu-hu means, not I praised him but, I found him praiseworthy, and abkhaltu-hu means I found him parsimonious or avaricious. It is a plain fact that Allah guides people or shows them the right way by sending His messengers, and therefore He could not be spoken of as leading them astray. And the objects of idlal are always the transgressors as here, or the wrong-doers as in 14:27, or the prodigal as in 40:34. And again it is the devil that leads astray as in 28:15, or the transgressors as in 6:119, etc. Hence, when ascribed to God, the word adalla means He pronounced him to be erring or He left him in error. [Back to verse 26]

27a. The covenant of Allah referred to here is the evidence of His Unity to which human nature bears witness, as referred to in the next verse, and as stated in 7:172. The confirmation of this covenant is brought about by sending prophets. Cutting off what Allah has ordered to be joined is the disregard of others' rights. [Back to verse 27]

28a. The first part of the verse contains an argument of the existence of God Who gave life to man, and the second states that death on this earth is not the end of life but the beginning of another, an eternal and a far higher life. [Back to verse 28]

29a. Thumma generally denotes then or afterwards, and it is a particle denoting order and delay, but there are many examples of its use in which it implies neither order nor delay. According to Akh and other authorities, thumma has often the meaning of waw, i.e., and (LL). For the statement that the earth was made after the heavens, see 79:30. [Back to verse 29]

29b. It is impossible to deal with the subject of the Quranic cosmogony within the limits of a footnote. But a few suggestions may be made here. In the first place, it should be noted that the word sab'a, which signifies the number seven, is also used in a vague manner, as meaning seven, or more, several or many (LL). According to LA, the Arabic equivalents of the numbers seven, seventy, and seven hundred are all used to indicate a large number by the Arabs: "The mention of seven and seventy and seven hundred is frequent in the Quran and the sayings of the Holy Prophet, and the Arabs used them to signify a large number and multiplicity". Similarly Az explains the word sab'ina, meaning seventy, as occurring in 9:80, as being "used to signify a large number and multiplicity, not indicating exactness in number" (LA). Hence the seven heavens may signify a large number of heavens. Secondly, the significance of the word sama', which means only what we see above us, should not be lost sight of. R makes the meaning very clear when he says: "Every sama', i.e. heaven, is a heaven in relation to what is beneath it and an earth in relation to what is above it". Thirdly, in 65:12 it is affirmed that as there are seven heavens so there is a like number of earths, which corroborates the conclusion drawn above. Fourthly, the seven heavens are on one occasion called the seven ways (23:17), and in this sense the orbit of a planet may be called its heaven. In fact, this interpretation makes the significance of 65:12 very clear, for each of the seven earths will thus have a heaven for it. The seven earths together with our earth would thus make up the eight major primary planets of the solar system. Or, the seven heavens may be taken to apply to the whole starry creation, and the reference may in this case be to the seven magnitudes of the stars which may be seen by the naked eye.

One point more may be noted here. The sama' or the heaven is plainly called dukhan, i.e. smoke or vapour, in 41:11. [Back to verse 29]

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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 3 (Verses 21 to 29)


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