Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
Say ‘How can you argue with us about God when He is our Lord and your Lord? Our deeds belong to us, and yours to you. We devote ourselves entirely to Him. (Chapter 2: Verse 139)
You may have noticed that many verses of the Quran begin with word ‘say.’ This has many indications; let’s look into a few. When God commands His Messenger with ‘say’ followed by a statement, it would have been sufficient for Muhammad to convey the message to us without repeating the word ‘say.’ Take an example from our daily conversations: if you tell a child: go to your mother and say ‘when will dinner be ready?’ the child would go and ask his mother about dinner without repeating the word ‘say’. But our beloved prophet made sure to convey to us every single word that came from our Lord exactly as it was revealed to him. He wanted to deliver God’s message in its original and pure form even the command ‘say’. Moreover, the word ‘say’ informs us that the commands are from God, and not from the prophet. In other words, the repetition of ‘say’ in many verses attributes the words to God, and not to the prophet, and thus preserves the majesty of each command.
Say ‘How can you argue with us about God when He is our Lord and your Lord? An argument or a dispute is a conversation where each side brings forward proofs to support its case as the following verse illustrates:
have you not thought about the man who argued with Abraham about his Lord, because God had given him power to rule? When Abraham said, ‘It is my Lord who gives life and death,’ he said, ‘I too give life and death.’ So Abraham said, ‘God brings the sun from the east; so bring it from the west.’ The disbeliever was dumbfounded: God does not guide those who do evil. (02:258)
As you see, the views of each side oppose one another, and then each side attempts to prove their argument by presenting evidence. In the verse under study, when God asks: ‘How can you argue with us about God when He is our Lord and your Lord?’ He is telling us that rather than being in a dispute, we should all be in agreement because we share the belief in God as our Lord. However, since there is an argument, then one of us must be wrong. God says:
As for those who argue about God after He has been acknowledged, their argument has no weight with their Lord: anger will fall upon them and agonizing torment awaits them. (42:16)
Keep in mind that a dispute is never between two true arguments; it is either between a false argument and a true one, or between two false arguments. The truth never collides with itself, because there is only one truth while there are hundreds of lies and false accounts.
When it comes to God, the reality is that our position is correct, which means that the other side is wrong. However, these disputes are to no avail, because one side is interested in arguing for the sake of argument, not for the sake of finding the truth. Thus, and in order to put an end to useless chatter, God teaches us to answer with ‘Our deeds belong to us, and yours to you’ meaning that each person will be accountable for his or her deeds and sincerity to God. We are sincere to Allah in worship, while you are pursing your desires. Our Lord does not regard one person above another except by their righteous deeds and sincerity. We prioritize sincerity in our deeds because Allah alone knows the true intentions within our hearts. Two people might do the exact same deed: one gets rewarded and the other does not. Take the example of one person taking care of an orphan, helping the child in school work and buying supplies purely for God’s pleasure, and another helping an orphan in school work and buying supplies because he is interested in the child’s mother. To you and me, both men may look like they are doing an honourable deed, but God knows what is within their hearts.
Some people try to abuse this concept by saying: ‘if sincerity is the most important thing, and since I am sincere in dealing with others and in my belief in God, then there is no need for prayer or other good deeds. As long I do not harm anyone or commit sin, I should be fine.’ We answer that you cannot separate deed from intention. You cannot pick and choose between your actions and what is within your heart. Allah wants you to do good deeds with sincerity. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: ‘deeds are judged on intention.’ Hence, an intention must be followed by deed. This is because sincerity only benefits you, while your deeds benefit all those around you. Say for example that you want to give to charity. Whether your intention is to help the needy for God’s sake, or to show off and be recognized by people, the poor will benefit from your wealth either way. It is you that stands to gain or lose if you do not have the right intention and sincerity in your heart. Thus, Allah always encourages you to do good with proper intention and sincerity. He says:
If you give charity openly, it is good, but if you keep it secret and give to the needy in private, that is better for you, and it will atone for some of your bad deeds: God is well aware of all that you do. (02:271)
The poor will benefit from your charity even if you intend to show off and be recognized by people. The reward from Allah, however, will be according to your intention. If, for example, you work as an engineer for BMW and you design a great new safety feature, would you expect to get a salary from Mercedes Benz or Pepsi? Of course not, because that is not who you worked for and support to begin with. Similarly, do not expect a reward from Allah if you did not seek and do your good deeds for him in the first place.
This answers a commonly asked question: How about a disbeliever who makes a great discovery that greatly benefits humanity? How can such a person who improves the lives of millions be thrown into hellfire for his or her disbelief? We answer that this great discoverer earns his reward from humanity, because that was the intention behind the great work. He or she is recognized, paid a large sum of money, and eternalized in textbooks, statues and street names. There is no reward from God, because this great discovery was done for humanity, science, or money, not for God and the hereafter. The same discovery, however, can earn both the recognition of humanity and the rewards of God and paradise if it was done with the proper intention.