Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
Verses 96 & 97
Chapter 2, Verses 96 & 97
You are sure to find them clinging to a life, more eagerly than any other people even the polytheists. Any of them would wish to be given a life of a thousand years, though even such a long life would not save them from the torment: God sees everything they do. (Chapter 2:Verse 96)
In the previous verse, God challenged the children of Israel against their claim that paradise and the hereafter belongs exclusively to them. He urged them to prove it by wishing for death, and informed us that none of them would. They are afraid of death because of the sins they committed. This verse completes the picture, showing the greed they have for this worldly life; Greed that surpasses that of the non-believers. Let's clarify this point further. A non-believer clings to life because it is the only objective; in his or her view there is nothing afterwards, and no reward or punishment to worry about. Why would the Israelites cling even more to life? because they are aware of the rewards and punishment, and fear death for the evil deeds they committed. Take note that God used the indefinite phrase 'clinging to a life,' rather than a specific expression such as 'the life,' or 'a good life' indicating their greed is for life under any circumstances even in humiliations and poverty.
The verse continues: ‘Any of them would wish to be given a life of a thousand years.’ If you have committed grave sin, you would be scarred about the punishment you may face after death; thus you would wish for long life. Suppose, however, that you lived for a thousand years or more, without repenting or avoiding sin, would that avert you punishment? Never! Long life does not alter the ending. Life, after all, is not in my hand or yours, it is in the hands of Allah. He is the one who grants life, and He is the one who takes it away. God says:
Think, if we let them enjoy this life for some years, And the punishment they were promised comes upon them after that, what good would their past enjoyment be to them? (26:205-207)
and in another verse:
Say: ‘Death, from which you are fleeing, will certainly catch up with you, then you will be returned to Him Who knows all the hidden and the visible - He will then inform you of what you did.' (62:8)
Here we should look at a historical detail. Why is the number 'thousand' specifically mentioned in this verse? because it was the highest numbers the Arabs knew at the time. When the sister of Khosrow, the Persian king, was taken captive in war, her captor was asked how much money he demand for her release? He replied: a thousand dirham. Later he was told that if he had demanded a larger sum, he would have got it. The man said: if I knew a larger number, I would have asked for it. That is why, the Arabs used to express a million by saying ‘a thousand thousand.’
The verse ends with the phrase 'God sees everything they do' meaning that regardless if you live a year or a hundred, God knows what you have done and He will hold your accountable for your actions.
Let's move to the next verse in 'The Cow.' God says:
Say, "Whoever is an enemy to Gabriel - it is he who has brought the Qur'an down upon your heart, by God's permission, confirming that which was before it and as guidance and good news to the believers (Chapter 2:Verse 97)
Ibn Jurya -a Jewish rabbi- sat down with prophet Muhammad and asked ‘Who comes down to you with the revelation? The Prophet replied: The archangel Gabriel. The rabbi said: ‘If it had been someone other than Gabriel, we would have believed in you. Gabriel is our enemy, because he always comes down with punishment and ruin. The angel Michael, on the other hand, descends down with mercy, rain and harvest'.
In this verse, Allah is informing us about another sin the Israelites faced the prophet with. They hated the angels, and showed special enmity towards one of the closest angels to God: Gabriel who comes down with God’s revelations.
There was also another historical reason behind the Israelites claim of hatred towards Gabriel. During the time of the Babylonians, the Jews had a prophecy that Nebuchadnezzar -a Babylonian King- will destroy the sacred temple in Jerusalem. Thus, they sent a man to kill him. On his way to the king, this Jewish man met a child. The child asked: where are you heading? The man replied: I am going to kill Nebuchadnezzar who will destroy Jerusalem according to our prophecy. The child said: if it has been decreed that Nebuchadnezzar will destroy the holy Temple, then it is God's will and you will not be able to kill him. And if God has not decreed for him to destroy the Temple, then why would you kill an innocent man? You cannot avert what God has destined, regardless if you like it or not. The man thought about what the child had said, and decided to turn back. When he arrived to his people and told them what happened, they told him it was the Angel Gabriel who posed before you in a child’s form and convinced you not to kill the king who will destroy our temple.
Umar ibn al-Khattab -one of the prophet's closest companions- owned land in the northern parts of Medina. When he went to check on his land, he would occasionally join some of the Jewish residents in their study of the Torah. They said to him once: we like you Umar, and would love you to be one of us. Umar replied: I do not sit with you because I want to join your faith, rather, it strengthens my faith when I find your study in perfect conformity with what my beloved prophet Muhammad had said. They asked: who informs Muhammad of our book and secrets? Umar replied: the Archangel Gabriel comes to him with the revelations from the heavens. They said: Gabriel is our enemy. Umar asked them: What is Gabriel's status in the sight of God. They said Gabriel sits on the right of God’s throne while Michael sits on the left. Umar paused, then said: If the matter is how you describe, then neither of them are enemies to each other because they hold the same high status in God’s sight. So if you hold a grudge against either of them, you are in fact an enemy of God. Your love for the angel Michael will not intercede for your hatred for the angel Gabriel, because both hold a lofty status in the sight of God. Umar told them that they are in clear contradiction with the truth, then left the gathering and headed back to see Muhammad (peace be upon him.) However, as he arrived and even before he had the chance to say a single word, the prophet said: ‘O Umar, your Lord agrees with you. He Almighty revealed the following verse: Say, "Whoever is an enemy to Gabriel - it is he who has brought the Qur'an down upon your heart, by God's permission, confirming that which was before it and as guidance and good news to the believers (2:97) Umar said that he felt his faith as strong as a mountain on that day.
The enmity the Israelites showed towards Gabriel demonstrates how they use worldly materialistic views to judge heavenly matters. They compared the angels to humans. In other words, they viewed the angels Gabriel and Michael as people sitting on the right and left of a king. Each one is competing for the king's attention and scheming to gain his favour. However, there is no such competition between angels. Allah elevates whoever He wills in status without decreasing the status of another. Moreover, Allah is the absolute truth, and whatever Gabriel and Michael descend with from God is the absolute truth. There is but a single truth, and there is never a conflict within it.
The arch angel Gabriel brought down scriptures from God that support what is written in Torah. The Quran is a beacon of light and guidance, and it brings glad tidings for the believers. How can anyone dislike the bearer of such priceless good?