Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
The example of those who disbelieve is such as someone calling to an animal that hears nothing but a call and a cry. They are deaf, mute and blind, so they do not understand. (Chapter 2: Verse 171)
The verb ‘calls to’ is used to describe a shepherd gathering his livestock. He shouts and calls out so that his livestock would gather and follow him. The herdsman does not call out instructions; rather he only alerts the herd by shouting and making specific noises. Then, he walks in front of the herd and leads it towards the farm or the water spring. The call is only to seek the animal’s attention, because even if the shepherd yells specific instructions, the livestock would not understand anything. They only hear calls and cries.
Similarly, the Messengers of God are the shepherds. But who do they call to? They call to the people, and they call with specific instructions. They call with heavenly scriptures, and with God’s teachings. They call people towards justice, taking care of one another and they give us advice for our own protection and prosperity in this world and the next. God says:
We sent Noah to his people to say, ‘I have come to you to give a clear warning: worship no one but God. I fear for you the torment on a painful Day.’ (11:25,26)
That’s the difference between the caretaker of livestock and the caretaker of people. A messenger of God calls with purpose and wisdom, and invites towards the One God. He directs the mind and intellect to explore the heavens and earth, and guides people to their creator. The Messenger and the shepherd share in the act of calling, while the disbelievers and livestock share the fact that they do not understand nor hear anything but calls and cries. They ignore what they are being called for and act as if they are deaf, mute and blind. Sadly, the most profound difference between the disbelievers and livestock is that animals are not required, nor expected to understand the person calling them. They lack the tools and physical abilities to do so. God, on the other hand, has blessed the disbelievers with the great bounties of eyesight, hearing, speech and brains.
Deafness occurs when a person’s hearing ability is severely impaired. It is often the result of physical maladies of the ears or the nervous system. Deafness is often accompanied by the person being mute. This is because language is not inherited; rather it is the result of mimicry and imitation of what we hear. When a person is deaf, he or she cannot hear words and thus cannot mimic sounds, so he or she ends up being mute even though there is nothing physically wrong with the mouth or tongue. In this verse, God is not referring to physical disabilities: the disbelievers were not physically deaf or mute. God had blessed them with perfect ears, and they spoke fluently.
Allah gave you ears in order to listen to what is good and beneficial. However, when you do not use your hearing for that purpose, it is as if you are deaf. Likewise, God gave you the bounty of speech so you can testify that there is no God but Him, and Muhammad is His messenger. You are asked to invite people to what is good, and speak kindly to your family, neighbours, and co-workers. If you are rude, spread corruption, and invite people to sin, it is as if you are mute. God also gave you brains and intellect so you can logically and soundly explore the universe and evaluate the value of God’s teachings. When you direct all your mental energy towards play, entertainment, and chasing after money and worldly gains while ignoring the hereafter, it is as though you do not have intellect.
A person who is suffering from true deafness has an excuse; a person with a speaking impediment has an excuse; and a person who has mental disability has a valid excuse for not receiving or acting on God’s teachings. But what is the excuse of those who wilfully turn a blind eye? The disbelievers chose not to hear the words of their Lord and turned their eyes and minds away from all of God’s signs around them as the following verses illustrate:
Have they not travelled about the earth? Do they not have hearts to understand with or ears to hear with? It is not their eyes which are blind but the hearts within their chests which are blind. (22:46)
And in another chapter:
There truly are signs in the creation of the heavens and earth and in the alternation of night and day for those with intelligence (03:190)
If a person took time to look into the creation of the heavens and the earth, he or she would have been guided to a higher power. It is within our nature as humans to seek our creator. We instinctively understand that such intricate, beautiful, and precise creation –whether on earth or in space- must have a creator who brought it into existence. For this process of thinking and contemplating to start, a person needs to use his or her senses first. He or she would need to look at the creation, listen to the creation, pay attention and speak the truth.