Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
Many of the People of the Scripture wish they could turn you back to disbelief after you have believed, out of envy from themselves after the truth has become clear to them. So pardon and overlook until God delivers His command. Indeed, God is over all things competent. (Chapter 2:Verse 109)
This verse relates events that took place after the battle of Uhud. During the preparations for battle, prophet Muhammad placed fifty archers on the slope of Mount Uhud, directing them to protect the flanks of the Muslims against the pagan cavalry -led by Khalid Ibn Al-Waleed-. He commanded them not to leave their position under any circumstances. However, during battle, when the archers saw Quraish in retreat, they left their posts and hurried to the battlefield to collect the war booty. Soon after, things turned against the Muslims as the cavalry of Quraish out flanked and surrounded them from behind. A group of the Muslim army neglected the prophet's command, so God neglected them.
While the disbelievers did not gain outright victory -as they did not occupy any land nor take any war prisoners-, it was a very hard lesson for the believers. The Jewish tribes of Medina took advantage of this event and said to Huthaifa, Tariq and other companions of the prophet: "If you were true believers, then why were you defeated?...........leave Muhammad’s religion and return to our faith." Huthaifah replied: 'What does your religion say about breaking promises?' He was referring to what the Torah narrated of the Israelites repeatedly breaking their oaths with God and Moses. Then he continued: "I will never break the promise I made to Muhammad as long as I live." When Ammar was faced with the same challenge, he replied: "I have accepted Allah as my Lord, and Muhammad as His Messenger; I believe in the Quran as my guide, and the Ka’ba as my Qibla; and I believe that the believers are my brothers and sisters. I will remain on this as long as I live." When these statements reached the Prophet, he was delighted.
This was not the first time the Jew's of Medina took advantage of events to disrupt the faith of the Muslims and arouse ill feelings in their hearts. They had tried earlier when God changed the direction of the prayer -Qibla- from Jerusalem to Ka’ba. They said to the companions: "if facing towards Jerusalem is not accepted any longer, then why did you face it in the first place? And if it was correct and valid, then why are you turning away from it now?" Upon this Allah revealed the following verse: 'Many of the People of the Scripture wish they could turn you back to disbelief after you have believed, out of envy from themselves after the truth has become clear to them.'
Take note of the beauty of expression in the Quran: ‘many of the people of the scripture’ suggests that not all of the Jews of Medina were trying to foster doubt and division within the Muslims. In fact there was a minority who were considering faith in Muhammad. If God had included all Jews in this verse, then He would have closed the doors of guidance for the minority.
Perhaps more telling of the ill feelings and malicious intent of those who were trying to spread division, is that they did not invite people out of Islam and into Judaism out of affection or for good and benefit, rather it was ‘out of envy from themselves.’ Not only does the Jewish faith prohibit envy, but it also demands them to believe in Muhammad (peace be upon him). In other words, even when inviting people into Judaism, they were violating what the Torah instructs them to do.
Envy is when you want what someone else has, and even desire to have that person lose this blessing. Some people of the scripture were envious of the Muslims because they have been blessed with prophethood and scriptures. They wanted the believers to lose this blessing, a blessing which united them as brothers loving one another, while, just a few years earlier, they were divided into groups and sects seeking the Jews for money and leverage.
Islam prohibits us from envy, and form wishing to have what someone else has except in two situations. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: "Do not wish to be like anyone, except in two cases: A man whom God has given wealth and he spends it righteously, and a man whom God has given wisdom and he acts according to it and teaches it to others."
Sadly, the Jews of Medina envied the Muslims because of their religion, despite the Torah's teachings advising against envy. God says: ‘after the truth has become clear to them’ informing us that they were certain that Muhammad is the Prophet described in the Torah as the seal of the Prophets sent to all mankind.
So how should you, as a Muslim, face these attempts to sway you away from your faith? God answers: ‘So pardon and overlook until God delivers His command’. Pardoning is translated from the Arabic 'Afu ÚÝæ'. The verb ‘affa ÚÝÇ’ is often used in the desert environment to describe how the wind sweeps away footsteps in the sand. When you walk on the beach, you leave your footprints behind, waves come in to erase all your traces. Similarly, to pardon means to remove any trace of ill feeling from yourself as if it never occurred. To 'overlook' is translated from the Arabic ‘isfah ÇÕÝÍ ’ which means to close the pages of a book, and forget its contents. We still use a similar expressions today such as 'let's turn over a new leaf.'
The verse continues with ‘until God delivers His command.’ Allah consoles the believers informing them that this will not go on forever, but a day will come when -with God's help- you will seize them for their crimes and that day is not far. We know this because ‘Indeed God is over all things competent.’ This is the essence of our faith. Allah's command will come without any doubt. He has absolute power and there is nothing greater than the power of God in this world.