Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
Verses 84 & 85
Chapter 2, Verses 84 & 85
And when We took a pledge from you: "Do not shed your blood and do not expel yourselves out from your homes, then you acknowledged it at the time, and you can testify to this. (Chapter 2: Verse 84)
In the 83rd verse of 'The Cow,' eight elements were mentioned which the Israelites pledged to do. This verse supplements the previous one, and talks about the other elements they were prohibited from doing.
‘Do not shed your blood' forbids the Children of Israel from killing each other. Note that the phrase 'your blood' refers to the entire community as a single unit. Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said: “The example of the believers in their affection, mercy, and compassion for each other is that of a body. When any limb aches, the whole body reacts with sleeplessness and fever.” We, as a Muslim community, are supposed to be one single unit. God says in the 61st verse of chapter 'Al Noor':
So when you enter houses, greet yourselves with a salutation from Allah, blessed and good. Thus does Allah clarify His signs for you so that you may apply reason.
You may think to yourself: how can a person enter a house and then greet him or herself? We answer that God addresses the believers as a single unit, when you greet any of your brothers and sisters, you are greeting yourself and the entire Muslim community. Similarly, your blood and the blood of the entire Muslim society is one. So when Allah commands: ‘Do not shed your blood,' it is meant to protect you and to protect each individual from bloodshed. And when Allah continues: ‘do not expel yourselves out from your homes’ it is meant to protect you and every individual from harassment and harm that leads a person to leave his or her home.
The verse ends with the phrase ' then you acknowledged it at the time, and you can testify to this.' indicating that the Children of Israel agreed to the pledge and witnessed each other committing to it. God is also reminding the Jews living at the time of Prophet Muhammad of their forefathers' covenant when He Almighty elevated mount Toor above them. It is an open invitation to return back to God's path because many of the Children of Israel had abandoned their pledge and followed their own desires. Moreover they altered the scriptures to cover and legitimize their actions. God says:
Yet here you are, killing one another and driving some of your own people from their homes, helping one another in sin and aggression against them. If they come to you as captives, you still pay to set them free, although you had no right to drive them out. So do you believe in some parts of the Scripture and not in others? The punishment for those of you who do this will be nothing but disgrace in this life, and on the Day of Resurrection they will be condemned to the harshest torment: God is not unaware of what you do. (Chapter 2: Verse 85)
This verse gives a clear account of how the Israelites broke the pledge they had willingly made. It is also a scolding for picking and choosing certain commands to follow from the Torah while rejecting others out of convenience.
This verse was revealed when a Jewish woman committed adultery in Medina. Rather than carrying out the punishment of stoning -clearly laid out in the Torah-, the Jewish leaders decided to go and seek prophet Muhammad for a ruling, hoping that it would be a lighter sentence. They were under the impression that he, peace be upon him, had no idea about the rulings found scriptures. When they presented the situation to him, he said 'you have this matter clearly laid out in the Torah.' They answered that the Torah says that we should shame the adulterers in public and throw our trash at them. They were distorting their book in front of the prophet. Prophet Muhammad answered that the Torah states that adulterers should be stoned, and advised them to carry out God's commands. The reality was: since the time of prophet Moses, the children of Israel often stalled and looked for any excuse not to follow God's orders.
The verse starts with 'Yet here you are' meaning that even after you accepted God's pledge and beared witness to it, you started fighting and killing each other. Allah continues 'and driving some of your own people from their homes.' Keep in mind that these two acts of killing and harassing people were clearly prohibited.
Moreover, the acts of promoting division and war were still on clear display at the time of the prophet Muhammad. When Islam began to reach Medina, and right before the Prophet's arrival from Mecca, the Arab residents of Medina were divided into two tribes: The Aus, and the Khazarj. They had constant disputes and often fought each other. There was another force driving hatred and war: it was the Jewish tribes of Medina, some aligned themselves with the Aus, while others took the side of the Khazraj. The Jews often provoked war and enmity between the two sides, as they benefited from selling both sides weapons and gained political power from the division. When they sensed that the Arab tribes may unite under the banner of the new faith of Islam, they doubled their efforts to create division.
When battles broke out between the Aus and Khazraj, many Jews lost their lives or ended up homeless in a clear violation of Allah's commands. Each supported their allies during war and fought against their Jewish brothers. However, when some of them became prisoners of war, the two Jewish groups would unite to persuade their respective Arab friends to accept a ransom and release the prisoners. Naturally, they were asked why they showed such solidarity behind the prisoners. They would say that it was obligatory in the Torah to get prisoners released. But when someone objected to their helping the non-Jews in slaughtering the Jews, they replied that it would be a real disgrace if they did not go to the aid of their friends, even if they were not Jews.
In this verse, Allah revealed their behaviour and motives, and called it what it truly is: ‘sin and aggression.’ It should serve as a reminder to all of us to take our pledges and our Lord's commands seriously and not make a mockery of them in the name of faith.