Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
Verses 85 & 86
Verses 85 & 86
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)
God had legislated taking enemy soldiers as captives out of mercy to all humanity. It eases tensions and stops bloodshed on the battlefield. When you take your enemy as a prisoner of war, you satisfy the human desire for victory and revenge without shedding blood. Moreover, there is the added benefit of exchanging prisoners for ransom. Keep in mind that Allah set strict rules for war and all its consequences. Killing is allowed only out of necessity, and to protect one's life. The Jewish tribes of Medina had violated many of these rules.
In Medina, and before the arrival of Islam, they helped their respective allies from al-Aus and al-Khazraj against each other in war and aggression. Battles and skirmishes often resulted in some Jews losing their homes, being killed, or taken captive by the other side. Once the hostilities were over, the Jewish leaders would encourage their allies to take ransom in exchange for allowing their fellow Jews -that they fought against during battle- back into their homes and families. They ignored many of God's teachings in the Torah, while practicing only what suited their desires at the time. Thus God describes their actions in assisting their enemies against their own people as ‘helping one another in sin and aggression.' and asked them the logical question ' So do you believe in some parts of the Scripture and not in others?' Indicating that faith was not what guided their behaviour, rather, all their actions were based on the worldly benefits they would gain at the time.
What is the punishment for selectively using God's teachings out of convenience for one's own benefit? God answers: ' 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.' meaning that there would be consequences in this world and more dire ones in the next. In other words, God does not postpone the punishment until the hereafter because He wants people to see that making a mockery of God's word is a serious offence. Take the example of Medina's Jewish tribes at the time of prophet Muhammad. One tribe was driven out of their homes and forced into exile; while another was defeated after they betrayed a treaty made with the Muslims. So anyone who suffered injustice from those falsely claiming to follow God's word in the Torah, saw their oppressors being punished and humiliated. When justice is served publicly, balance is restored to life so people may know that their Lord exists.
Here you may wonder, wasn't humiliation in this world sufficient as a punishment? why would those who took God's words out of context for their own benefit be punished again in the hereafter? We answer that humiliation in this world is not enough because it was not the result of a due process (also known as Hadd.) Let's clarify this point with an example: Say for instance that you harmed your neighbour. If you undergo a proper trial and receive punishment as a Hadd, it would avert you punishment in the hereafter. If you commit adultery, and receive the punishment of stoning after a trial, this punishment would clear your sin, and you would not face any consequence in the hereafter. That’s why some people, who want to relieve themselves from the burden of sin and punishment, come forward voluntarily to confess their crimes to the court.
The case of the oppressors is different. They are humiliated in this world because Allah turns events against them. This, however, does not account for their crimes and for all the sufferings of people. That is why oppressors will be punished in the hereafter with a far greater punishment. A punishment more severe than any torment afflicted by people in this world.
The last phrase in the verse says: ‘And God is not unaware of what you do’ informing us that God Almighty has full knowledge of whatever happens in the world, including our deeds and the intentions behind those deeds.
Now, let's move to the next verse in 'The Cow'. God says:
Such are the ones who have bought the present, worldly life in exchange for the Hereafter. So their punishment will not be reduced, nor will they be helped (Chapter 2: Verse 86)
This verse explains the great loss of those who exchange the hereafter for the worldly life. Any person whose only concerns are the whims and desires in the world has made him or herself a bad deal. Take a moment to compare your life here and now, with that in the hereafter. Which is better? Your life in this world is short even if you lived to be a 110. Do not get deluded by the fact that the world has existed for millions of years, and may continue to exist for millions more. The only time that counts is your life from birth till death. The world comes to an end at the moment of death. Hence, Islam taught us not to consider this world as our objective, because it is ever changing and unpredictable. Death can occur in the womb, and hour after birth, during teen years, adulthood or old age. Life in the hereafter has everlasting bliss, security and predictability. So, which life is more valuable? which one deserves your attention, planning and sacrifice? God says:
The life of this world is merely an amusement and a diversion; the true life is in the Hereafter, if only they knew. (29:64)
Unfortunately, the Jewish tribes of Medina, despite their knowledge, failed make this comparison. They discarded the hereafter in exchange for worldly material gains and temporary authority. God Almighty says describing the consequences: ‘So their punishment will not be reduced, nor will they be helped’ meaning that their loss in the hereafter will be tremendous. Moreover, they will not be able to help themselves, nor will anyone come to their aid. When Allah decrees a matter, no one can change his command. The Quran quotes the words of the Prophet (peace be upon him):
Say, ‘I have no control over any benefit for myself nor any harm except what Allah may wish. Had I known the Unseen, I would have acquired much good, and no ill would have befallen me. I am only a warner and a bearer of good news to a people who have faith.’ (07:188)