Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
Those who conceal the Clear Signs and Guidance We have sent down, after We have made it clear to people in the Book, Allah curses them, and the cursers curse them
(Chapter 2:Verse 159)
When God presents the issue of hiding the truth, He Almighty informs us of the punishment in store for those who do it. Some of the people of the scripture hid the clear proofs revealed in their holy books confirming the authenticity of Muhammad’s prophethood and message. This type of concealment breeds evil and mischief for generations; because every time a person or a group is misguided due to the omitted facts, and every time a conflict occurs as a result of what was concealed, God curses those who were behind this evil. What does it mean to be cursed, you may ask? It means to be expelled and banished from the mercy of God.
Keep in mind that the punishment of being expelled from God’s mercy is not limited to the people of the book or the non-believers who conceal and alter God’s message. It also includes any believer who hides what God has revealed of clear proofs. If a Muslim conceals or alters God message for personal gain, then he or she will face the same consequence faced by the people of scripture who acted similarly.
The word ‘curse’ occurred 41 times in the Quran. When ‘curse’ is mentioned in relation to punishment, it reflects expulsion from God’s mercy accompanied by God’s anger and wrath; in other words, it means eternal life in hell. When ‘curse’ is used in relation to discipline, then it is not accompanied by anger and wrath because the one who disciplines is does so out of love and care and for the future wellbeing of the person being reprimanded. Let’s explain these two uses of the word ‘curse’ one by one:
First: when a person is expelled from God’s mercy accompanied by God’s anger, then there will be no return to mercy and forgiveness whatsoever. This is because the curse comes from God and all His creation. No one will be left to sympathise with, help or intercede for the cursed wrongdoers. God says:
Such people will be rewarded with the curse of God, the angels, and all people (03:87)
The verse under discussion is even more inclusive, because God uses the general encompassing term: ‘Allah curses them, and the cursers curse them’ including humans and other creations. For example: if God Almighty held back rain from a nation for their disobedience and concealment of the truth, then the plants and animals who suffer from the lack of water curse them as well. Even the land and the bricks of their houses curse them for opposing God’s path. As for the hereafter, where animals and plants are not accountable, the curses come from God, the angels and entire mankind. This includes every person since the time of Adam until the last day whether a believer or not. Why, you may ask? We answer that in this world, many people may be deceived by those who hold power and conceal the truth. But on the Day of Judgment when everything is exposed for all to see, the deceivers will be brought before all humanity. They will be cursed by each and every person for the corruption they caused. And every time a group of the deceived enters hellfire they curse the people who deceived them as illustrated in the following verse:
When those who have been followed disown their followers, when they all see the punishment, when all bonds between them are severed (02:166)
And in another verse:
God will say, ‘Join the communities of jinn and humans who have gone before you into the Fire.’ Every community curses its fellow community as it enters, then, when they are all gathered inside, the last of them will say of the first, ‘Our Lord, it was they who led us astray: give them double punishment in the Fire’- God says, ‘Every one of you will have double punishment, though you do not know it’- (07:38)
Thus, those who disbelieve in God, alter religion, and those who are unjust are cursed by each other, by the believers, and by the ones who were oppressed; In this manner, entire mankind will curse them. It is a curse that is accompanied by anger, banishment, and eternal punishment.
Second: there is a type of curse that is done for the purpose of maintaining order and discipline. Perhaps this would be best explained with a historical example. The battle of Tabuk -also known as al-Usra or ‘the hardship’- was difficult from all aspects. There was a great distance to travel between Medina and Tabuk; this was further exacerbated because the number of mounts –such as horses and camels- was far less than the number of troops. So one animal was assigned for every 10 soldiers; they took turns riding and placing their load on it. Food was in short supply, limited to dates and rancid oil. Water was another issue. Towards the end of the march, the soldiers would slaughter a camel to drink water from its reserves. All this was suffered under the scorching desert sun. At the end of this trip, the only thing awaiting the Muslim army was a tough battle against a formidable enemy. Clearly, such a trip was not for the faint of heart. The whole expedition was a test of faith.
Knowing the challenges ahead, some of the Muslim men of Medina surrendered to temptation and stayed behind. Others were up to the challenge. One soldier came to those who decided to stay behind and said: “Do I remain in shade and comfort, while my Prophet walks under the scorching sun?! By God, never will this happen.” Another who was sitting in his garden with his beautiful wife surrounded by trees and fruits said: “How can I sit amongst shade, fruit, water and a beautiful woman while the Prophet is in hardship? By God, never will this happen.” He mounted his horse and rode to join the Muslim army.
When Muhammad (peace be upon him) returned victorious, those who did not participate in the battle approached him to give their excuses for staying behind. Some claimed that they did not own the means of battle such as mounts, shields, and swords. The prophet (peace be upon him) accepted what they said, and left what they concealed to God. There were three men who spoke the truth. They said to Muhammad: “Dear Messenger of God. We are wealthy and we had all the means to go to battle, yet we regretfully decided to stay behind.”
God commanded the Messenger and the believers to boycott these three men and not to talk to them. Two amongst them, Hilal ibn Umayyah and Mararah ibn al Rabee confined themselves to their homes. The third man, Ka’b ibn Malik, continued to go out and meet people; but no one would speak to him. He went to the mosque for prayers, and often tried to make eye contact with the Messenger; but he would receive no interaction. In fact, the prophet would often turn away from him. Why did this happen? Allah wanted this to be a means of explaining how one is punished for discipline.
The world closed before the three men. Ka’b went to his cousin’s home and climbed the wall into the yard because he knew that if he knocked the door no one will open for him. However, his cousin still chose to turn away from him. At last he cried “I urge you in the Name of Allah, I urge you in the Name of Allah, please talk to me”......still no reply. Then he said: “Aren’t you aware that I love God and His Messenger?” Finally, his cousin answered: ‘Allah and His Messenger know best.'
Forty days had passed, and matters got worse for the three men. Their isolation reached their own homes. The prophet (peace be upon him) commanded their wives to stay away from them. When the news reached Hilal’s wife, she said, 'By God, he has no such desire left in him.’ This is the key difference between the curse of anger and wrath where a person is banished from faith and from God’s mercy, and the curse of discipline where a person is still within Islam and God’s mercy. The three men were still well within the folds of Islam and still part of the Muslim community, otherwise the Prophet (peace be upon him) would not have issued any commands for them to do this and abstain from that, nor would he have disciplined them.
Finally, after ten days –making the isolation period total 50 days- the good news came through the revelation of the following verse: God says:
And to the three men who stayed behind: when the earth, for all its spaciousness, closed in around them, when their very souls closed in around them, when they realized that the only refuge from God was with Him, He turned to them in mercy in order for them to return. God is the Ever Forgiving, the Most Merciful. (09:118)