Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
Verse 173..........Part 2
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 previous session we discussed how some religious prohibitions are for our protection and health, while others maybe for different reasons such as for discipline or the development of self control. Either way, we follow what Allah commanded us to do even if the reasons are not entirely clear. As for the prohibition of swine, God revealed some of the reasons to His creation. Through science, we now know that consuming pork leads to diseases –such as Trichinosis from round worms- that are not known in other livestock.
The next prohibition specifies “And that which has been dedicated to other than God.” To dedicate means to raise your voice and say something out loud. More specifically, this verse it is referring to raising one’s voice in praise of God at the moment of slaughtering an animal. Slaughter is of two types: slaughtering for your benefit and the benefit of others, such as for eating and clothing, and slaughtering as a sacrifice for God. Usually, the slaughter for the purpose of sacrifice and gaining nearness to God is the slaughter that is dedicated to God, while all other slaughter is dedicated to other than God, and may even be done to gain nearness to idols.
Allah, however, wants to double the reward and benefit for the believer. He is the one who blessed us with the animals we eat and He subjected them to our will. Thus, we should always approach these animals with God in mind. As a believer, you can get double benefit from livestock: When you slaughter the animal in God’s name, you can enjoy its milk, leather, and meat, yet at the same time earn rewards and blessings from Allah. A disbeliever, on the other hand, only enjoys the products of the animal temporarily in this world while earning no reward or benefit in the hereafter.
Let’s take a few moments to look at legislation and setting laws. Even in the best run governments, the laws set by humans are often deficient and limited. That is why these laws are in constant need for changes and amendments. Whoever initially set the laws had either an incomplete knowledge of the present, a limited vision of the future, or was self-serving. God on the other hand, is all knowing and free from inclinations. He set laws that transcend time, place and situation. And because Islam was sent as the final religion -after which no heavenly scripture will be revealed- its laws cover all possibilities. In other words, Islamic heavenly laws were set so that changes will not be required at a later stage. Changing and altering religious rulings may have been logical when messengers and prophets were sent one after another; but when Allah concluded the heavenly revelations with Prophet Muhammad, it was necessary that Islamic legislations incorporate all possibilities.
Let’s look at an example from the verse under study. Suppose that extreme necessities came up, such as severe drought and famine that left no livestock available for slaughter. What if there was only a dead animal around, or a wild boar? Would God let us die because He commanded us not to eat dead animals or swine? We know that consuming the meat of a dead animal is harmful but famine and starvation are far more serious. Wouldn’t it make sense to go ahead and eat that which is harmful rather than face certain death? It is from the mercy and wisdom of our Lord that He said: “But whoever is forced by necessity, neither desiring nor transgressing, there is no sin upon him. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.” So, true necessity is a valid excuse to temporarily suspend some religious rulings. However, note that this temporary suspension is accompanied by two conditions: The first is ‘neither desiring’ meaning that you are allowed to eat from that which is prohibited only the amount that is required to sustain life and give you strength. You should not eat your fill or indulge just because you have an excuse. The second condition is ‘nor transgressing’ meaning that you have to always respect the rights of others regardless of your situation. Suppose, for example, that you are in the middle of a desert and your friend had a little bit of water which was only enough to quench his or her thirst. If you were in dire need of water to sustain your life and you happened to be stronger than your friend, can you just hit your friend and take his or her water to sustain your life? No. Do not transgress because other people’s rights and emergencies take priority over yours. If the water is sufficient for the two of you, then you have an excuse, but if the water is enough only for one, the owner of the water has the right. There is no excuse for you to snatch the water from your friend to save yourself and transfer the harm and risk to your friend.
God continues: “But whoever is forced by necessity, neither desiring nor transgressing, there is no sin upon him”. “There is no sin upon him” indicates that under normal circumstances, these actions are considered wrong and sinful. It is a warning to all of us not to make these unlawful matters lawful for mere convenience.
This brings us to the last part of the verse. God says: “Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.” Here, you may question the relevance of God being ‘forgiving and Merciful’ in a verse that specifically says that there is no sin? Doesn’t forgiveness and mercy both require the occurrence of sins first? We answer that this is a reminder of God’s immense mercy and love for humanity. If He, Almighty, forgives the sins you do on day-to- day basis when you do not have any excuse, then wouldn’t He be even more merciful and forgiving when an act is committed out of necessity. It is from our Lord’s mercy that He made such forgiveness incumbent upon Himself. Indeed, Allah is the most Forgiving, the most Merciful.