Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)

Verses 172 & 173

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Session 171

Chapter 2

Verses 172 & 173

O you who have believed, eat from the good things which We have provided for you and be grateful to Allah if it is Him that you worship. (Chapter 2: Verse 172)

To really appreciate this verse, we should compare it to another verse we studied earlier.  God says in the 168th of ‘The Cow’:

O mankind, eat what is good and lawful from the earth, and do not follow Satan’s footsteps, for he is your sworn enemy. (2:168)

Take a moment to note the difference between these two verses.  In verse 168, God addresses all mankind, while in the 172nd verse He addresses the believers only.  It is from the mercy and kindness of our Lord that He addresses each group appropriately, respecting the choices each person made for him or herself.  When God addresses entire mankind –which includes the believers and disbelievers alike- He says: eat what is good and lawful from the earth.  This is because the disbelievers may not recognize that the food and crops they enjoy are bounties from God; rather they may attribute them to another deity or to mother nature.  On the other hand, when God addresses the believers –who recognize the bounty of their Lord- He says: ‘You who have believed, eat from the good things which We have provided for you and be grateful to Allah.’

Allah, the all merciful, does not issue orders or assign obligations to the disbelievers.  He only invites them to join the faith.  God’s justice demands that He does not require obligation except from those who believed in Him and sought His guidance.  Faith is a personal commitment you make to the Lord.  When you declare your faith, you are –in essence- declaring your trust in God and committing yourself to follow His teachings.  Only then does God issue you commands ‘to do’ and ‘not to do’.  This is made very clear in the Quran because all religious rulings can be found in verses that start with the phrase: “O you who believe”

Contrast that to human rulers whether dictators, kings, or democratically elected presidents.  Each imposes laws and obligations on everyone whether they chose them as their leaders or not.  Some leaders go as far as using force and coercion to implement their rules and laws on their opponents.  Allah -the all powerful, all capable- wants you to come to Him out of love and conviction, not through force and coercion.  Thus, He only issues commands to you if you came to Him first.  And if you choose to go elsewhere in this world, He leaves you to what you have chosen for yourself. 

In the verse under study, God addresses the believers with “eat from the good things which We have provided for you, and be grateful to Allah if it is Him that you worship.” Allah is our creator and He is best aware of what is good for us and what is appropriate for our body and soul.  We follow the guidance of our Lord, and abstain from what He has made unlawful for us.  God clarifies the matter of what is good for us further in the next verse of ‘The Cow’; He says:

He has only forbidden to you dead animals, blood, the flesh of swine, and that which has been dedicated to other than Allah. But whoever is forced by necessity, neither desiring nor transgressing, there is no sin upon him. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful. (Chapter 2: Verse 173)

In the Quran, we find that the English word ‘dead’ is translated from various Arabic words.  These words include: (()) ‘Mayyit’, and (()) ‘Mita’‘Mayyit’ -with emphasis on the middle letter- is used to refer to someone who will end up dying even though he or she is alive now.  In other words, it refers to the eventual destination of death.  God says addressing prophet Muhammad:

You will surely die, and surely they will die too (39:30)

But when the word ‘Mita’ (()) -with a no emphasis on the middle letter- is used, it implies that the person or animal is already dead.  This is the word Allah uses in the verse under study when He says: ‘He has only forbidden to you dead animals’ specifying animals we find already dead.  When an animal dies by natural causes and not through proper slaughtering, blood remains trapped within its tissues.  This blood often carries harmful substances and offers a fertile medium for bacterial growth.  In a live animal, these harmful substances are extracted by organs –such as the kidneys and liver- and then dumped out of the body.  When we properly slaughter the animal, we let the blood drain and protect ourselves from these harmful substances.  There is no such protection from an animal that dies naturally or was slaughtered improperly.  The blood stagnates in the body affecting the meat and exposing the person who eats it to possible harm and disease.  In fact, modern science - through experimentation and experience - has come to recognize the harm of the stagnant blood, and the safety of cleaner meat. 

Always keep in mind that God Almighty is the one who issued this ruling; thus, you and I should not question “Why is the consumption of the dead animal forbidden?” It is sufficient for you to know that Allah has made it unlawful.  It is really that simple.  Even if you are not aware of any harm from consuming such meat, you should simply refrain because God has commanded you not eat from it.

Here you may ask: what about fish?  We eat fish after it dies and it is not slaughtered? We answer that this is the Sunnah we learned from our beloved prophet Muhammad.  The Quran gives you the general rule that God ‘has only forbidden to you dead animals and blood’, and prophet Muhammad gives you the details and exceptions to the rule.  He (peace be upon him) said: "Two types of dead meat and two types of blood have been made lawful for your consumption: The two dead meats are: fish and locust, and the two types of blood are: liver and spleen."  The sunnah –which are the prophet’s actions and teachings- plays the role of explaining in detail what is prohibited and permissible.  

Allah is our Creator and He is the One who provides for us.  Even if we did not know the wisdom behind making this meat unlawful, nor did we understand the diseases that it could cause, we -as believers- should rush to practice God’s orders without hesitation.  We have complete faith that our Lord does not impose upon us anything unless it is beneficial for us in this world and the next.  If we delay the implementation of God’s commands until we find out the reason behind the prohibition, then we have more faith in the reason than in God.  Moreover, you should know that some prohibitions may not have clear scientific logic behind them; rather they may be done for different reasons.  Take the example of a child who fails a test at school.  The father may discipline his son by depriving him from his pocket money for the week.  Is the pocket money harmful? Of course not, but the father took it away to make his son stronger and to keep his focus on his studies.  Similarly, some of God’s prohibitions were done for the sake of discipline.  Here is an example of what God made unlawful for the children of Israel. He says:

For the wrongdoings done by the Jews, We forbade them certain good things that had been permitted to them before: for having frequently barred others from God’s path; (04:160)