Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
What an evil thing they have sold themselves for in rejecting what Allah has sent down, outraged that Allah should send down His favour on whomever He wills of His servants. They have brought down anger upon anger on themselves; and there is a humiliating punishment for the faithless. (chapter 2: Verse 90)
When an oppressor is punished in this world, it helps to restore balance to life, and presents an opportunity for others to learn a lesson. God says:
There is life for you in retribution, O people of intellect, so that you may take heed. (02:179)
God applies His law and retribution to the wrongdoer whether he or she is a believer or a disbeliever. We see the example of how those who engage in interest and predatory lending often end up penniless or fearing for their safety. We see the example of how those who falsely imprison and torture people often end up tortured by a debilitating disease or by the loss of loved ones. The word about the demise of an oppressor is quick to spread through the news or social media. Each incident presents an important lesson for you and I. We supplicate Allah to guide all humanity to his path, and to seize those who make a habit of robbing people of their rights and spreading corruption in the land.
Let's look at an example that happened during the time of the prophet: Most of the eminent people and renowned businessmen of Medina were from its Jewish residents. However, because of the widespread corruption and the war conflicts they caused, they ended up forced out of their homes...........their wealth was taken from them and their families fell apart.
Allah sets limits and boundaries for everything in life. Whomever willingly and repeatedly transgresses over God's limits is bound to face consequences. The limits Allah laid out for our behaviour are His commandments. We ought to respect them and adhere to them. Sometimes these limits are commands to follow and sometimes they are prohibitions to avoid. Hence, God says in the 229th verse of the cow:
These are the bounds set by God: do not overstep them. It is those who overstep God’s bounds who are doing wrong. (02:229)
And in another verse:
You are permitted to lie with your wives during the night of the fast: they are as garments to you, as you are to them. God was aware that you were betraying yourselves, so He turned to you in mercy and pardoned you: now you can lie with them- seek what God has ordained for you- eat and drink until the white thread of dawn becomes distinct from the black. Then fast until nightfall. Do not lie with them during the nights of your devotional retreat in the mosques: these are the bounds set by God, so do not go near them. In this way God makes His messages clear to people, that they may guard themselves against doing wrong. (02:187)
Here we should ask: What was the limit set by God that the Israelites violated in Medina? Why did they transgress against the prophet and the book they were eagerly awaiting? God provides the answer: It is because they were 'outraged that Allah should send down His favour on whomever He wills of His servants. ' In other words, they were jealous of Muhammad because Allah chose him to be a prophet from amongst the Arabs. They always assumed that they -the Israelites- were the seed of God’s religion on earth. After all, there were countless Prophets sent from among the Israelites. Thus, when the Torah and the Gospel gave glad tidings of the last Prophet, they automatically assumed him to be from amongst themselves. They declared their belief and support even before his arrival. But then, they were taken by surprise when God sent Muhammad -an Arab- as His final messenger to humanity. The feelings of jealousy and arrogance overcame them...........they lost their faith to pride.
Allah is the most knowledgeable, the most wise. He knows best where to put His message. The Israelites were deprived from apostleship because they were no longer worthy of it. Allah says:
if He wills, He can do away with you and bring in a new creation, and that is not difficult for God. (35:16-17)
God tested the Jewish people several times. He gave them many chances, and blessed them with a precession of Prophets and Messengers. On many occasions, they faced their prophets with denial, mischief and, in some instances, murder. The result of repeatedly violating God's boundaries was that they were deprived of the great bounty of prophethood.
Similarly, you should always think about any talent you may have, any material possessions, any physical or mental gift as a great bounty from your Lord. None of these things are inherent to you. Everything is subjected to God's will. Take the example of great athletes or world champions who are on top of their game. Their talent and perfection is not going to last forever because an opponent will inevitably come to unseat them. On many occasions, top athletes get caught up in addictions, or get involved in an accident making them unfit to compete. You should always attribute any gift or accomplishment to your Lord first. It is a grant from Allah that you nourish through your effort and hard work. Just like anything in life, it is subject to God's will. Perfection and permanence belong to Allah alone.
Allah is presenting us with the story of the Children of Israel because they were the last people entrusted with the heavenly message prior to Islam. They lost this trust through repeated violations of God's commands. Are you taking time to learn the lessons of these verses of 'The Cow'? Are you learning from the mistakes of others? or are we -as Muslims- violating God's commands and repeating the same mistakes as those before us, and?
The Jews were jealous of Muhammad (peace be upon him). They were resentful that the Quran descended upon an Arab, so they fought against it although they had no issue with its message. Thus, God teaches us that they deserved His wrath.....He says: ' They have brought down anger upon anger on themselves' meaning they had earned God anger first for not practicing what was in the Torah, and second for questioning God's wisdom of granting prophethood to Muhammad.
What is the result of dispensing with God's teachings? Allah answers 'and there is a humiliating punishment for the faithless.' Punishment in the Quran is described using a few different adjectives such as: painful, great and humiliating. Let's look into the meaning of ' humiliating punishment.' When a person is punished, he or she tries to act tough and tries to show that he or she is not affected by the pain. In the hereafter, God Almighty will punish those without faith with a punishment so severe that it will be unbearable; so no one will be able to act as though he or she is not feeling any pain. God says:
We shall seize out of each group those who were most defiant against the Lord of Mercy. Indeed, We know best who deserves most to be thrown into Hell to roast. (19:69-70)
and in another chapter:
We were not playing a pointless game when We created the heavens and earth and everything in between; We created them for a true purpose, but most people do not comprehend. The Day of Judgment is the time appointed for all; The day when friend will help no friend in the least, nor will they be helped, except for those Allah has mercy on. He is the Almighty, the Most Merciful. The tree of Zaqqum will indeed be food for the sinners: seething in the belly like molten brass, like the boiling of hot water. ‘Take him! Drag him into the depths of Hell! then pour over his head the punishment of boiling water.’ ‘Taste this, you powerful, respected man! This is certainly what you had denied." (44:38-50)