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Surah Al Baqra Verses 61-70

61 And remember ye said: "O Moses! we cannot endure one kind of food (always); so beseech thy Lord for us to produce for us of what the earth groweth its pot-herbs and cucumbers its garlic lentils and onions." He said: "will ye exchange the better for the worse? Go ye down to any town and ye shall find what ye want!" They were covered with humiliation and misery; they drew on themselves the wrath of Allah. This because they went on rejecting the signs of Allah and slaying His messengers without just cause. This because They rebelled and went on transgressing. 74 75

62 Those who believe (in the Qur'an) and those who follow the Jewish (Scriptures) and the Christians and the Sabians and who believe in Allah and the last day and work righteousness shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear nor shall they grieve. 76 77

63 And remember We took your covenant and We raised above you (the towering height) of Mount (Sinai) (saying): "Hold firmly to what We have given you and bring (ever) to remembrance what is therein perchance ye may fear Allah." 78

64 But ye turned back thereafter had it not been for the Grace and Mercy of Allah to you ye had surely been among the lost.

65 And well ye knew those amongst you who transgressed in the matter of the Sabbath; We said to them: "Be ye apes despised and rejected." 79

66 So We made it an example to their own time and to their posterity and a lesson to those who fear Allah.

67 And remember Moses said to his people: "Allah commands that ye sacrifice a heifer." They said: "Makest thou a laughing-stock of us?" He said: "Allah save me from being an ignorant (fool)!" 80

68 They said: "Beseech on our behalf thy Lord to make plain to us what (heifer) it is! He said: "He says: The heifer should be neither too old nor too young but of middling age; now do what ye are commanded!.

69 They said: "Beseech on our behalf thy Lord to make plain to us her color." He said: " He says a fawn-colored heifer pure and rich in tone the admiration of beholders!"

70 They said "Beseech on our behalf thy Lord to make plain to us what she is to us are all heifers alike; we wish indeed for guidance if Allah wills."


Commentry:

74 The declension of the word Misr in the Arabic text here shows that it is treated as a common noun meaning any town, but this is not conclusive, and the reference may be to the Egypt of Pharoah. The Tanwin expressing indefiniteness may mean "any Egypt", i.e., any country as fertile as Egypt. There is here a subtle reminiscence as well as a severe reproach. The rebellious children of Israel murmured at the sameness of the food they got in the desert. They were evidently hankering after the delicacies of the Egypt which they had left, although they should have known that the only thing certain for them in Egypt was their bondage and harsh treatment. Moses's reproach to them was twofold: (1) Such variety of foods you can get in any town; would you, for their sake, sell your freedom? Is not freedom better than delicate food? (2) In front is the rich Promised Land, which you are reluctant to march to; behind is Egypt, the land of bondage. Which is better? Would you exchange the better for the worse? (2.61)

75 From here the argument becomes more general. They got the Promished Land. But they continued to rebel against God. And their humiliation and misery became a national disaster. They were carried in captivity to Assyria. They were restored under the Persians, but still remained under the Persian yoke, and they were under the yoke of the Greeks, the Romans, and Araba. They were scattered all over the earth, and have been a wandering people ever since, because they rejected faith, slew God's messengers and went on transgressing. (2.61)

76 Latest researches have revealed a small remnant of a religious community numbering about 2,000 souls in Lower Iraq, near Basra. In Arabic they are called Subbi (plural Subba). They are also called Sabians and Nasoraeans; or Mandaeans, or Christians of St. John. They claim to be Gnostics, of Knowers of the Great Life. They dress in white, and believe in frequent immersions in water. Their Book Ginza is in a dialect of Aramaic. They have theories of Darkness and Light as in Zoroastrianism. They use the name Uardan (Jordan) for any river. They live in peace and harmony among their Muslim neighbors. They resemble the Sabi-un mentioned in the Qur-an but are not probably identical with them. (2.62)

77 CF. ii. 38, where the same phrase occurs. And it recurs again and again afterwards. The point of the verse is that Islam does not teach an exclusive doctrine, and is not meant exclusively for one people. The Jews claimed this for themselves, and the Christians in their own origin were a sect of the Jews. Even the modern organized Christian churches, though they have been, consciously or unconsciously, influenced by the Time-spirit, including the historical fact of Islam, yet cling to the idea of Vicarious Atonement, which means that all who do not believe in it or who lived previously to the death of Christ are at a disadvantage spiritually before the Throne of God. The attitude of Islam is entirely different. Islam existed before the preaching of Muhammad on this earth: the Qur-an expressly calls Abraham a Muslim (iii. 67). Its teaching (submission to God's will) has been and will be the teaching of Religion for all time and for all peoples. (2.62)

78 The Mountain of Sinai (Tur-u-Sinin) a prominent mountain in the Arabian desert, in the peninsula between the two arms of the Red Sea. Here the Ten Commandments and the Law were given to Moses. Hence it is now called the Mountain of Moses (Jabal Musa). The Israelites encamped at the foot of it for nearly a year. The Covenant was taken from them under many portents (Exod. xix. 5,8,16,18), which are described in Jewish tradition in great detail. Under thunder and lightening the mountain must indeed have appeared an awe-inspiring sight above to the Camp at its foot. And the people solemnly entered into the Covenant: all the people answered together and said, "All that the Lord hath spoken we will do." (2.63)

79 The punishment for breach of the Sabbath under the Mosaic law was death. "Every one that defieth it (the Sabbath) shall surely be put to death; for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people." (Exod. xxxi. 14). There must have been a Jewish tradition about a whole fishing community in a seaside town, which persisted in breaking the Sabbath and were turned into apes; cf. vii. 163-166. Or should we translate in both these passages. "Be as apes", instead of "Be apes"? This is the suggestion of Maulvi Muhammad Ali on this passage, on the authority of Mujabid and Ibn Jarir Tabari. The punishment would be, not for the breach of the Sabbath in itself, but for their contumacious defiance of the Law. (2.65)

80 This story or parable of the heifer in ii. 67-71 should be read with the parable of the dead man brought to life in ii. 72-73. The stories were accepted in Jewish traditions, which are themselves based on certain sacrificial directions in the Old Testament. The heifer story of Jewish tradition is based on Num. xix. 1-10, in which Moses and Aaron ordered the Israelites to sacrifice a red heifer without spot or blemish; her body was to be burnt and the ashes were to be kept for the purification of the congregation from sin. The parable of the dead man we shall refer to later. The lesson of the heifer parable is plain. Moses announced the sacrifice the the Israelites, and they treated it as a jest. When Moses continued solemnly to ask fo the sacrifice, they put him off on one pretext and another, asking a number of questions which they could have answered themeselves if they had listened to Moses's directions. Their questions were carping criticisms rather than the result of a desire for information. It was a mere thin pretence that they were genuinely seeking for guidance. When at last they were driven into a corner, they made the sacrifice, but the will was wanting, which would have made the sacrifice efficacious for purification from sin. The real reason for their prevarications was their guilty conscience, as we see in the parable of the dead man (ii. 72-73). (2.67)

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