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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 6 (Verses 47 to 59)


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Section/Ruku 6 [Verses 47 to 59]: Divine Favours on Israel:
Chapter 2: (Al-Baqarah - The Cow)
(Revealed at Madinah: 40 sections; 286 verses)

1. Translation:

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

48 And guard yourselves against a day when no soul will avail another in the least,a neither will intercession be accepted on its behalf,b nor will compensation be taken from it, nor will they be helped.

49 And when We delivered you from Pharaoh’s people, who subjected you to severe torment,a killing your sons and sparing your women,b and in this there was a great trial from your Lord.

50 And when We parted the sea for you, so We saved you and drowned the people of Pharaoh while you saw.a

51 And when We appointed a time of forty nightsa with Moses, then you took the calf (for a god)b after him, and you were unjust.

52 Then We pardoned you after that so that you might give thanks.

53 And when We gave Moses the Book and the Discriminationa that you might walk aright.

54 And when Moses said to his people: O my people, you have surely wronged yourselves by taking the calf (for a god), so turn to your Creator (penitently), and kill your passions.a That is best for you with your Creator. So He turned to you (mercifully). Surely He is the Oft-returning (to mercy), the Merciful.

55 And when you said: O Moses, we will not believe in thee till we see Allah manifestly, so the punishment overtook you while you looked on.a

56 Then We raised you up after your stupor that you might give thanks.a

57 And We made the clouds to give shade over youa and We sent to you manna and quails.b Eat of the good things that We have given you. And they did not do Us any harm, but they wronged their own souls.

58 And when We said: Enter this city,a then eat from it a plenteous (food) whence you wish, and enter the gate submissively,b and make petition for forgiveness.c We will forgive you your wrongs and increase the reward of those who do good (to others).

59 But those who were unjust changed the word which had been spoken to them, for another saying,a so We sent upon the wrongdoers a pestilence from heaven, because they transgressed.b

 2. Commentary:

47a. By "the nations" are meant the people contemporaneous with the Israelites in their days of triumph, or large masses of people (AH). Numerous prophets were raised among them, and they were made to rule in the earth, and these are the favours of which Moses also reminds them (5:20). [Back to verse 47]

48a. The Jewish religious leaders are specially addressed in the previous section. The masses who followed them blindly are now told that their leaders will not avail them aught on the great day of Reckoning when every soul is held responsible for what it did. [Back to verse 48]

48b. Shafa‘at (meaning intercession) is derived from the root shaf‘, which signifies the making a thing to be one of a pair (T, LL) or the adjoining a thing to its like (R), and hence it comes to signify intercession. The doctrine of shafa‘at or intercession is a well-known doctrine, according to which the prophets and the righteous will intercede for the sinners on the day of Judgement. But intercession has another significance also, which is referred to in 4:85, viz., the institution of a way which another imitates, so that the latter, in fact, joins himself to his model, and this is really the primary significance of shafa‘at. Thus shafa‘at has a twofold significance, viz., firstly it enables a man to walk in the ways of righteousness by imitating his model, and, secondly, it affords him a shelter from the evil consequences of certain weaknesses which he is unable to overcome by himself.

The statement made here, that intercession shall not be accepted on a certain day, is in reference to those who have not made themselves deserving of intercession by joining themselves with a righteous servant of God, so as to take him for their model. It is only people who have done their best to follow a righteous servant of God and failed in some respects owing to mortal weaknesses that can benefit by intercession, not those who pay no regard at all to Divine commandments. [Back to verse 48]

49a. No details of the oppressions to which the Israelites were subjected are given in the Holy Quran. According to the Bible: "They did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens" (Exod. 1:11); "And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage, in mortar and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field: all their service, wherein they made them serve, was with rigour" (Exod. 1:14). [Back to verse 49]

49b. See Exod. 1:15 –18 and also 1:22: "And Pharaoh charged all his people, saying, Every son that is born ye shall cast into the river, and every daughter ye shall save alive". The object was to demoralise and extirpate the Israelites. [Back to verse 49]

50a. The Quran does not say how the Israelites were made to pass through the sea or in what manner the parting of the sea was brought about. The word bahr means a sea or a river. As the Bible says, it was the northern extremity of the Red sea; "the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night" (Exod. 14:21), thus enabling the Israelites to get through. Another explanation is that the Israelites passed when the sea receded on account of the ebb, and the Egyptians were drowned because the tide was on at the time, and in their zeal to overtake the Israelites they did not care for it. Elsewhere the Quran says: "And certainly We revealed to Moses: Travel by night with My servants, then strike for them a dry path in the sea" (20:77). See also 20:77a. [Back to verse 50]

51a. "And Moses went into the midst of the cloud, and got him up into the Mount: and Moses was in the Mount forty days and forty nights" (Exod. 24:18). [Back to verse 51]

51b. Details are contained in 20:86–97. The story of the making of the calf is contained in the Bible in the 32nd chapter of Exodus. The only important difference is that while the making of the calf is attributed to Aaron in the Bible, the Holy Quran declares that prophet to be innocent in the matter, and ascribes the leadership in the making of the calf and its worship to Samiri. The idea of calf, or bull-worship, seems to have been taken by the Israelites from the Egyptians. In the opinion of Renan, Maspero, and Konig, "bull-worship may have been an imitation of the worship of Apis at Memphis or of Mendis at Heliopolis" (En. Bib. col. 631). The writer of the article on the golden calf is, however, of opinion that "adoption from Egypt is unlikely", and his chief reason is that "the Egyptians worshipped only living animals". But the Israelites, too, seem to have been addicted to the worship of living animals in the time of Moses, as the incident narrated in vv. 67–71 shows, and the calf was only an image of a living animal, and at any rate four hundred years’ contact with the Egyptians could not have been without its influence, bull-worship dating from a very remote antiquity in Egypt. It was for this reason that the Mosaic law laid great stress upon the slaughter of cows, and the commandment mentioned in v. 67 seems to have been given for the same reason. Notwithstanding all that Moses did to uproot this form of idolatry from among the Israelites, the worshipping of the bull appears to have continued up to the time of Hosea, who rails at it in very strong terms (Hos. 8:5; 10:5). [Back to verse 51]

53a. The original word is furqan, an infinitive noun from the root farq, which signifies the making of distinction between two things, and furqan, according to LL, is anything that makes a separation or distinction between truth and falsity, and hence it signifies a proof or demonstration and also aid or victory. The furqan or discrimination which is here spoken of as being given to Moses was Pharaoh’s drowning in the sea and the deliverance of the Israelites. The battle of Badr afforded the furqan or discrimination in the case of the Holy Prophet, and hence the battle of Badr is called yaum al-furqan or the day of discrimination in 8:41. [Back to verse 53]

54a. According to the Bible, the children of Levi were commanded to slay the others, and three thousand men were killed on that day. On the basis of this Bible story, the words fa-qtulu anfusa-kum occurring here have been translated as meaning kill your people. The context does not allow this interpretation. In the first place, the words are preceded by an order to repent and it could not be followed by an order to kill. Secondly, the words that follow are, so He turned to you mercifully, and an order to kill three thousand people could not be called a merciful dealing. Thirdly, it has already been made clear in v. 52 that God pardoned them for the offence of taking the calf for a god: Then We pardoned you after that so that you might give thanks. They could not be asked to give thanks for being killed. The order to kill is inconsistent with the statement that they were pardoned. Fourthly, when the same incident is narrated elsewhere, there is a clear statement that they were granted a pardon and there is no mention of killing: "Then they took the calf for a god, after clear signs had come to them, but We pardoned this" (4:153). Fifthly, according to the Quran even Samiri, the leader of calf-worship, was not killed and was dismissed simply with the order: "Begone then! It is for thee in this life to say, Touch (me) not". (20:97).

Hence the Holy Quran rejects the Bible story of the Israelites being killed as a punishment for calf-worship. They were pardoned and were told simply to repent, and God accepted their repentance as clearly stated here. Therefore anfusa-kum does not mean here your people, but your desires or your passions, for the word nafs, of which anfus is the plural, means not only self or soul but also intention, desire or passion. In fact, it was an order not to kill but to mortify, and this is the only interpretation which can be given to these words consistent with the clear mention of God’s pardoning them and turning to them mercifully. I may add that no prophet or religion has ever taught that a man can be killed for the worship of an object other than God. [Back to verse 54]

55a. The reference to this story contained in the Bible is in Exod. 19:16, 17: "And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the Mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled. And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the nether part of the Mount". The Talmud gives the details.

Sa‘iqah originally signifies thunder or the sound of thunder, and hence any vehement cry (T, LL); it also means any destructive punishment (LL). The same incident is referred to in 7:155, in the following words: "And Moses chose of his people seventy men for Our appointment. So when the earthquake overtook them." Thus the sa‘iqah of this verse is the same as the earthquake in 7:155, and thus it here signifies the rumbling noise which precedes an earthquake. [Back to verse 55]

56a. The word maut does not always mean cessation of life. It also signifies loss of sensation, deprivation of intellectual faculties, experiencing great grief and sorrow, sleep, etc. (R, LL). The maut mentioned in this verse refers to temporary loss of sensation, because on the same occasion Moses is spoken of as having fallen down "in swoon" (7:143), and the statement is followed by the words "when he recovered ". A similar fate overtook his companions. [Back to verse 56]

57a. The Bible speaks of a cloud, clear and bright during the night, thick and gloomy in daytime (Exod. 13:21), a very unnatural phenomenon to continue for forty years. The Quran simply speaks of clouds having given them shade at some point in their journey in the wilderness, when probably the excessive heat of the Arabian Desert had become unbearable. [Back to verse 57]

57b. The mann and salwa are the manna and quails of Exodus, 16th chapter. Literally, mann is anything which comes to man without much effort (LL). In a saying of the Holy Prophet the truffle is spoken of as being mann. LL has the following explanation under the word turanjabin: "A kind of manna; the manna of the thorny plants called by the Arabs the haj, and hence by European botanists Alhagi; according to Dr. Royle it is a sweetish juice which exudes from the Alhagi maurorum, crystallises into small granular masses, and is usually distinguished by the name of Persian manna; a kind of dew that falls mostly in Khurasan and Ma-wara al-nahr and in our country, mostly upon the haj; the best thereof is that which is fresh or moist and white (Ibn Sina), the mann or manna mentioned in the Quran". Some say it was honey. Salwa means whatever renders one content in a case of privation. It is a certain bird resembling the quail (LL). The mann and the salwa formed the food of the Israelites in the wilderness. According to Zj, it includes all that Allah bestowed on them as a gift in the wilderness and granted to them freely without much exertion on their part (AH). [Back to verse 57]

58a. The city is probably Shittim: "And they pitched by Jordan, from Beth-Jesimoth even unto Abel-Shittim in the plains of Moab", or Jericho, which was nearby in the same plain (Num. 33:49, 50). Here it was that the worst features of the wickedness of the Israelites were displayed: "And Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab" (Num. 25:1). Or, the reference may be to the Holy Land, as stated elsewhere: "O my people, enter the Holy Land which Allah has ordained for you" (5:21). [Back to verse 58]

58b. They were told to remain submissive while abiding in a city where they would be able to enjoy the comforts of life. See 34a for the significance of sajdah. [Back to verse 58]

58c. Hittat-un (from hatta, meaning he put it down) is a prayer for the putting down of the heavy burden of sins from one. The Holy Prophet is reported to have said to his followers: "Say, We ask forgiveness of Allah and turn to Him penitently"; and to have added: "This is, to be sure, the hittat-un which the Israelites were commanded to say" (IH, ch. Hudaibiyah). By qaul the Arabs express all kinds of deeds (A). Qulu hittat-un therefore stands for a petition for forgiveness or for being repentant. [Back to verse 58]

59a. That is to say, they went against the Divine commandment. The Bible says: "The people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab. And they called the people unto the sacrifices of their gods: and the people did eat and bowed down to their gods. And Israel joined himself unto Baal-Peor, and the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel" (Num. 25:1–3). [Back to verse 59]

59b. When a punishment overtakes a people as a consequence of their wicked deeds it is spoken of as coming from heaven, the significance probably being that it cannot be averted. The pestilence spoken of here is referred to in the Bible in Num. 25:8, 9, according to which 24,000 men died of the plague. The same incident is again referred to in 7:161, 162. [Back to verse 59]

 

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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 6 (Verses 47 to 59)


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