Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
Never will the Jews nor the Christians be pleased with you unless you follow their ways. Say, ‘God’s guidance is the only true guidance.’ If you were to follow their desires after the knowledge that has come to you, you would find no one to protect you from God or help you. (Chapter 2: Verse 120)
The Jewish tribes of Medina used to come to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and say mockingly: 'guide us.' They asked him questions to test his knowledge of the Torah, and claimed that, based on the prophet's answers, they will decide whether to believe in him or not. Allah wanted to put an end to the games the people of the scripture played against the Prophet. Thus, He informed Muhammad that neither the Jews nor the Christians will ever be pleased with him. Their purpose was not to seek the truth; rather it was exactly the opposite. Allah comforts His prophet not to be so anxious over saving them from misguidance. He says: 'Never will the Jews nor the Christians be pleased with you unless you follow their ways.'
Note that Allah separated the negation of the Jews from that of the Christians. In other words, the verse did not say: 'The Jews and the Christians will never follow you', rather He separated the two so you can understand that the approval of the Jews is separate from that of the Christians. This also tells you that there is disagreement between the followers of the two faiths as illustrated in a verse we discussed earlier:
The Jews say, ‘The Christians have no ground whatsoever to stand on,’ and the Christians say, ‘The Jews have no ground whatsoever to stand on,’ though they both read the Scripture, and those who have no knowledge say the same; God will judge between them on the Day of Resurrection concerning their differences. (02:113)
So if you happen to chase after one group to gain their approval, the other group will not be pleased with you, and vice-versa.
God continues: ‘until you follow their ways’ The word 'ways' is translated from the Arabic origin 'millah ملة' It shares the same root as the verb ‘tameel تميل’ which means to sway or incline towards something, even if it is false and untrue. Keep in mind that even those who do not believe in God have a way and a religion. How can that be, you may ask? Listen to the following verses:
Say: "You, the disbelievers." I do not worship what you worship. Nor are you worshipping what I worship. Nor will I ever worship that which you worship. you have your religion and I have mine.’ (chapter 109)
The religion of those with no faith maybe to worship money, power, a celebrity or a politician......whatever they happen to devote themselves to at the time. God says:
Have you noticed the one who has taken his whims and desires to be his god! Do you think that you can be a guardian for such a person? (25:43)
So there are many forces, sects and clans pulling the believer in one direction or another. But what can you do to protect yourself and hold back from following the whims of this group or the next? God answers: ' Say, ‘God’s guidance is the only true guidance.’
The people of the book -be it Jews or Christians- have distorted their religion, and altered the scriptures. God -on the other hand- guaranteed the preservation of the Quran. Guidance -often referred to as the straight path- is what gets you to your goal the fastest and with the least amount of effort. God's guidance is the only one worth following because He has knowledge of everything and wisdom above all wisdom. We also understand from this verse that that there are many paths that can misguide you, but only one that leads you towards the truth: The guidance of Allah.
Take note of the accuracy of the Quranic expression ' If you were to follow their desires.' God did not say: ‘If you were to follow their religion’ rather He used the word 'desires' indicating that the people of the scriptures have, over the ages, altered their religion and books to match their desires and interest. The word desires is translated from the Arabic origin 'Ahwa'a أهواء' the plural of 'Hawa' هوى. 'Hawa' means wind, and is often used to express a freefall where the wind can push you in one way or another. Thus it is perfectly suited to express someone following their desires with no path or goal.
In fact, in this verse Allah contrasts desires with its opposite: knowledge. He says: ‘If you were to follow their desires after the knowledge that has come to you.’ highlighting the gap between whims and knowledge, between being aimless and walking on a clear path, between being completely on your own, and having God as the guardian of your affairs and your helper in the hour of need.
While this verse addresses the Prophet (peace be upon him), it is the duty of every Muslim to follow Muhammad's footsteps. These instruction apply to you, to me, and to every believer until the day of judgment. Allah wants you to know that what is forbidden for His Messenger is not acceptable from any of us regardless of the circumstances. So don't fall into the trap that says: times have changed and now we can leave our faith and follow the example of the people of the scriptures.