Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
And thus we have made you a middle nation that you will be witnesses over the people and the Messenger will be a witness over you. And We did not make the Qibla which you used to face except that We might make evident who would follow the Messenger from who would turn back on his heels. And indeed, it is difficult except for those whom God has guided. And never would God let your faith go to waste. Indeed God is, to the people, Kind and Merciful. (Chapter 2: Verse 143)
Allah wants you to understand the great blessing of making the Muslim nation a middle nation. But what does that mean? The middle can only be defined by the two sides it separates. Let’s look at the example of faith and creed: There are groups that refuse to believe in the existence of a God; and there are groups that believe in several deities. These groups define the two sides of creed; and they are on the wrong path. We as Muslims take the middle path and believe that there is one God who has no partners. God declared that He is the Creator of the universe and everything in it. And thus far, no one other than Him claimed to be the creator. And since no one else contested creation, then the matter is settled to Allah. He says:
God has never had a child. Nor is there any god beside Him- if there were, each god would have taken his creation aside and tried to overcome the others. May God be exalted above what they describe! (23:91)
If there were many Gods, then each would have claimed what it had created, and the universe would have been shaken to its foundation. Islam is a middle religion between atheism and multiplicity of gods.
Islam also offers you a middle ground between excessive materialism and neglect of spiritual values on one side, and excessive spiritualism and dismissal of the physical needs and pleasures on the other. Let’s examine this point further. There are those who have great wealth and power and claim that material possessions are the key to happiness. They make light of faith and even ridicule spiritual values. Then there are those who shun everything material, live an ascetic life ignoring their needs and the needs of those around them. Islam is a middle religion. It strikes a balance between materialism and spirituality. So do not fall into the trap of saying that spirituality is better than materialism, or materialism is better than spirituality.
Every element in the universe is subjected to God; it worships and exalts Him willingly. Similarly, each spirit belongs to God, worships and exalts Him willingly. It is when material and spirit join together that a conscious self comes into existence. This conscious self, which is a mix of physical matter and spirit, has the freedom of choice, the freedom of obeying or disobeying, and of believing or disbelieving. Allah wants you to have a balanced faith that does not encourage spirituality alone or materialism alone. This is the moderation of Islam. It is a middle religion where materialistic worldly pleasures are guarded by heavenly values.
People are often fooled by the values of rising powers and dominant nations. Take the example of communism in the 20th century. Half the world was following its principals, and some benefited greatly for a while. But how did it do in the long run? Communism carried the seeds of its own destruction because it was built on lies and fabrications. Members of the central committees of the communist parties grew rich, while the whole population suffered wearing cheap attire and living in small houses. Similarly, capitalism -which exploits people and natural resources for the benefit of the elites- caries the seeds of its own destruction. Both of these systems are on opposite sides of the governing spectrum. Allah wants the Muslim nation to strike a balance, and provide both prosperity and social justice for all. Islam is not a system that confiscates the wealth of the rich to give to the poor. What would you do if there are still poor people after you have taken everything from the rich? Similarly, Islam is not a system where the powerful exploit the poor and have exclusive access to resources.
Take the example of the obligatory alms -Zakat-. Allah encourages you to work hard to earn, grow, and enjoy your wealth. Yet, He set a system in place that allows the entire society to benefit from your wealth. By outlawing interest and usury, and legislating a 2.5% annual alms on saved money, Allah supports projects and investments. How is that, you may ask? If you just store your wealth, and pay the 2.5% annual Zakat, your wealth will disappear in 40 years. This discourages you from storing money and encourages you to invest in projects, start businesses, and build buildings. All these activities grow your wealth, yet at the same time they employ people and benefit the society as a whole. Moreover, when you pay Zakat and benefit the poor, you help remove the feelings of hatred and envy from society. This is the balance of a ‘middle nation.’
God continues: ‘that you will be witnesses over the people’ being a witness over people tells you that there will be a struggle between two sides. Allah made the Muslim nation a middle nation, and assigned us the duty and obligation to bear testimony to the truth. We, as Muslims, have the responsibility of informing others about the moderation of Islam, and the balance it strikes in all aspects of life. It is only through the message of our Lord that justice, peace and prosperity can be enjoyed by all mankind. Heavenly scriptures lay down the right balance for life because it is set by the creator of life. God Also informs us that Muhammad (peace be upon him) will be a witness over us. Were our actions in accordance with what God revealed to His Messenger? Or did we ignore His teachings and follow our desires? Did we act as a middle nation? Or did we distort religion and join those on the extreme? Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) will be a witness over us in these matters.
The verse continues: ‘And We did not make the Qibla which you used to face except that We might make evident who would follow the Messenger from who would turn back on his heels.’ The verse goes back to the issue of the change of the Qibla. Allah does not prefer one direction over the other. The Qibla was changed to test the faith of the believers, and to distinguish true believers from those who turn away from Islam when they face the first obstacle. At first glance, you may get the impression that God is testing us so he would gain the knowledge of who is corrupt and who is upright. But this could not be further from the truth; God is our creator and he is all knowledgeable, all aware of his creation. Then, you may ask, why does he test us? He tests us so that we may bear witness against ourselves. No one can come on the Day of Resurrection and say: Lord, if only you had given me a chance I would have followed the right path and implemented your guidelines. God says: “And We did not make the Qibla which you used to face except that We might make evident who would follow the Messenger from who would turn back on his heels.”
This was not an easy test. God described it as ‘indeed, it is difficult except for those whom God has guided.’ It is hard for you to follow a command when it causes you stress, difficulty, and may even bring ridicule from your enemies. This is especially true when you do not understand the purpose or the wisdom behind a command. Thus, only true believers who had absolute trust in the Lord found this change easy. They welcomed every obligation because they understood that faith means obedience, and that Allah intends what is best for them in this world and the next. Those who were opposing Islam -whether from the pagans or from the people of the book- took this opportunity to raise doubt about Islam and ridicule the believers. They said to the Muslims: ‘If the Ka’ba is the true Qibla, then your prayers to Jerusalem were worthless. And if Jerusalem was the actual Qibla then the prayers that you will offer from now on will go to waste.’ We answer that Jerusalem was the Qibla for its time, and then the Ka’ba became the Qibla when God commanded us to face towards it. God answers: ‘And never would God let your faith to go to waste. Indeed God is, to the people, Kind and Merciful.’