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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 8 (Verses 62 to 71)


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Section/Ruku 8 [Verses 62 to 71]: Israelites’ Degeneration:
Chapter 2: (Al-Baqarah - The Cow)
(Revealed at Madinah: 40 sections; 286 verses)

1. Translation:

62 Surely those who believe, and those who are Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabians,
a whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day and does good, they have their reward with their Lord, and there is no fear for them, nor shall they grieve.b

63 And when We made a covenant with you and raised the mountain above you:a Hold fast that which We have given you, and bear in mind what is in it, so that you may guard against evil.

64 Then after that you turned back; and had it not been for the grace of Allah and His mercy on you, you had certainly been among the losers.

65 And indeed you know those among you who violated the Sabbath,a so We said to them: Be (as) apes, despised and hated.b

66 So We made them an example to those who witnessed it and those who came after it and an admonition to those who guard against evil.

67 And when Moses said to his people: Surely Allah commands you to sacrifice a cow.a They said: Dost thou ridicule us? He said: I seek refuge with Allah from being one of the ignorant.

68 They said: Call on thy Lord for our sake to make it plain to us what she is. (Moses) said: He says, Surely she is a cow neither advanced in age nor too young, of middle age between these (two); so do what you are commanded.

69 They said: Call on thy Lord for our sake to make it clear to us what her colour is. (Moses) said: He says, She is a yellow cow; her colour is intensely yellow delighting the beholders.

70 They said: Call on thy Lord for our sake to make it clear to us what she is, for surely to us the cows are all alike, and if Allah please we shall surely be guided aright.

71 (Moses) said: He says: She is a cow not made submissive to plough the land, nor does she water the tilth, sound, without a blemish in her. They said: Now thou hast brought the truth. So they slaughtered her, though they had not the mind to do (it).a

 2. Commentary:

62a. The Sabians are mentioned in the Holy Quran on three occasions only, here and in 5:69 along with the Jews and the Christians, and in 22:17 with these and the Magians. According to En. Br., the Sabians were a semi-Christian sect of Babylonia, closely resembling the so-called “Christians of St. John the Baptist”. The probable derivation of the name is traced to an Aramaic root, and the root meaning is said to be those who wash themselves, and this is said to be corroborated by Arab writers applying to them the name of al-Mughtasilah. The idea that the Sabians were star-worshippers is rejected; the error, it is said, being due to the pseudo-Sabians of Harrian, who chose to be known by that name in the reign of Al-Mamun, in 830 A.D., in order to be classed as the “People of the Book”. The commentators hold different opinions regarding them, most of them agreeing that they are representatives of a religion between Judaism and Christianity, based on the doctrine of unity, but also maintaining worship of angels. The majority do not include them in the Ahl al-Kitab (AH). [Back to verse 62]

62b. This verse strikes at the root of the idea of a favoured nation whose members alone may be entitled to salvation. The subject is introduced here to show that even the Jews, notwithstanding their transgressions which had made them deserving of Divine wrath, were entitled to a goodly reward if they believed and did good deeds. It should be borne in mind that, as shown in 4b, belief in Allah and the Last Day is equivalent to belief in Islam as the true religion. The statement made amounts to this, that salvation cannot be attained by mere lip-profession by any people, not even by the Muslims, unless they adhere to a true belief and do good deeds. As to those who stick to their own religions, we are told in 22:17 that “Allah will decide between them on the day of Resurrection”. The existence of good men in other religions is not denied by the Holy Quran, but perfect peace, or the state of absolute contentment which is indicated by freedom from fear and grief, is obtainable only in Islam, because Islam alone is the religion of absolute submission to the Divine Being. [Back to verse 62]

63a. “They stood at the nether part of the mount” (Exod. 19:17). There is nothing in the words of the Quran to support the baseless story that the mountain was suspended in mid-heaven over the heads of the Israelites to frighten them into submission (see 7:171a). The use of the word raf‘ is in accordance with the Arabic idiom, for it signifies the rearing or uprearing of a building, or making it high or lofty (R, LL). In this sense the word is used in v. 127. [Back to verse 63]

65a. The root meaning of sabt (from which Sabt, meaning Sabbath, is derived) is cutting off (R). The Sabt or the Sabbath is so called because the Jews ceased thereon from work (T). The Jews and the Christians observed a particular day for religious worship, and they were forbidden to do any work on that day. In this sense there is no Sabbath among the Muslims, because in Islam no particular day is set apart for Divine worship. On the other hand, the Muslim is required to pray in the very midst of his everyday work, and even the Jumu‘ah (Friday) prayers are no exception, for the Quran expressly allows the doing of work both before and after the Jumu‘ah prayers (see 62:9a).

The commandments regarding the observance of the Sabbath by the Jews are manifold, but we find the Jews so persistently violating them that the later prophets openly reproved them for it (see next note). [Back to verse 65]

65b. Mjd explains this in the following words: They were not transformed or metamorphosed; it is only a parable which Allah has set forth for them, the like of what He has set forth in likening them to asses (62:5), i.e., their hearts were transformed, not that they were metamorphosed into apes (IJ). The verse that follows lends support to this explanation as a monkey could not afford a lesson to the generations that came after the metamorphosis had taken place. R observes in explaining this verse: It is said that He rather made them morally like apes. Compare also 5:60: “they are those whom Allah has cursed and upon whom He brought His wrath and of whom He made apes and swine, and who serve the devil. These are in a worse plight and further astray from the straight path.” This description of the same people clearly shows that it is men who imitate apes and swine that are meant. See also 4:47: “Or (We shall) curse them as We cursed the Sabbath-breakers.” Now, in the case of the Holy Prophet’s opponents from among the Jews, who are referred to in the words, We shall curse them, there was no metamorphosis, but here it is stated that the same curse must overtake them as overtook the Sabbath-breakers. A reference to Deut. 28 will show that the curses which Moses prophesied for them meant their being scattered among the nations of the earth, and this was the fate which overtook the Prophet’s enemies from among the Jews. Qiradah is the plural of qird, meaning an ape, and among the Arabs the ape is a proverbially incontinent animal, they say more incontinent than an ape (LL).

Turning to the Bible, we find that the Israelites became apes, in all the senses in which that word is used in the Arabic language, by violating the Divine commandments: “Thou hast despised Mine holy things, and hast profaned My Sabbaths. In thee are men that carry tales to shed blood: and in thee they eat upon the mountains; in the midst of thee they commit lewdness. In thee have they discovered their father’s nakedness: in thee have they humbled her that was set apart for pollution. And one hath committed abomination with his neighbour’s wife; and another hath lewdly defiled his daughter-in-law; and another in thee hath humbled his sister, his father’s daughter ... And I will scatter thee among the heathen and disperse thee in the countries” (Ezek. 22:8–15). [Back to verse 65]

67a. The slaughter of the cow referred to in this verse has nothing in common with the slaying of a heifer as an expiation of an uncertain murder in Deut. 21:1–9, or the slaughter of a red heifer, the ashes of which purify one who has touched the dead body of any man (Num. 19:1–19), except the fact that as the Israelites held the cow in great honour, and even worshipped it, as is clear from their worship of the golden calf, they were ordered to slaughter such cows as were usually let abroad and worshipped as sacred objects — cows not wrought with, nor drawn in yoke, but let loose to wander abroad. The cow mentioned in these verses is a typical cow answering this description. This type of cow is still an object of special reverence in India, and the slaughter of this particular type was especially enjoined upon the Jews, according to the Bible as well as the Holy Quran, the object being to root out cow-worship from among them. But whereas the Biblical injunction to slaughter a heifer is a general injunction to be observed whenever an uncertain murder takes place or an unclean person is to be purified, the injunction as contained in the Quran points to the slaughter of one particular cow which was probably likely to become an object of worship. Indeed, there is a striking resemblance between the colour of the golden calf and the cow ordered to be slaughtered. The concluding words of the section show that, because of their reverence for that particular cow, the Jews were very averse to slaughter it. The red heifer “had a whole treatise to itself in the Mishna, where its qualifications were elaborated to such a point that at last R. Nisin said that no one since the days of Moses had been able to find one fit to be slain” (En. Bib., col. 846). This remark clearly suggests that in the time of Moses one fit to be slain and answering that description had been found. For the Israelites’ worship of cows, see 51b. [Back to verse 67]

71a. The concluding words of this verse, as well as those of the 69th, show that the cow which the Israelites were commanded to slaughter was one specially venerated by them. It was delightful in appearance, and the Israelites were averse to slaughter it. This shows that this particular cow was likely to become an object of worship among them, and hence Moses’ precaution. The directions contained in Deut. 21:1–9 and elsewhere in regard to the slaughter of this type of cow show further precautions against a similar tendency of the Israelite mind. [Back to verse 71]

 

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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 8 (Verses 62 to 71)


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