Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
As for those who conceal from the Scripture that God sent down and sell it for a small price, they eat nothing but fire in their bellies. God will not speak to them on the Day of Resurrection, nor will He purify them: an agonizing torment awaits them.
(Chapter 2:Verse 174)
God sent His heavenly messages and scriptures in order to protect our life and govern our dealings. God is our creator and He knows what is best for His creation. Just as an engineer who designed and oversaw the manufacturing of a car knows the best way to maintain and care for that car. The laws Allah set for mankind promote our wellbeing on one hand and deal with misuse and abuse on the other. This is similar to any governing laws where some laws state your rights and what you can do, while others set your limits and address violations. Thus, for every law that gives you a right or benefit there is a parallel one that protects the rights of others and sets punishment for those who violate them. Otherwise, justice would be lost and a civil society will no longer function.
It is the duty of messengers and prophets to deliver the heavenly curriculum and it is the duty of people of knowledge to implement it and teach it to people. Accordingly, those who conceal what God reveals are in reality opposing and fighting the divine guidance. Why would anyone do that, you may ask? It is often done for the purpose of devouring the rights of others and to accumulate wealth, power or both. In other words, people conceal and alter heavenly guidance when it becomes an obstacle standing in the way of their desires and benefit.
In this verse, God talks about these temporary gains –whether money, power or both- as insignificant and worthless. People who conceal the scriptures or alter God’s teachings clearly do not see any value in heavenly guidance, so they dump it at the first chance. Allah explains that no one can assign a price or value to something unless he or she is an expert in that field. No one has the right to put a price on God’s scripture except for God Himself. Regardless of the amount of money or power these people accumulate from concealing the scriptures, it is short lived and pales in comparison to the benefit humanity gains from implementing God’s teachings. It is a terrible deal for all and their loss will be tremendous.
What is the first luxury those people usually treat themselves to? Usually it is food; more expensive cuts of meat, fruits and sweets. All these indulgences are paid for with other people’s money, and other people’s rights. That is why God says: “they eat nothing but fire in their bellies” highlighting that their punishment will be of the same kind. Just as they had intended to fill their bellies and enjoy regardless of the cost and corruption they cause, so God will fill their bellies with fire. He says:
The tree of Zaqqum will be food for the sinners: Like molten brass; it will boil in their bellies, like seething water. (44:43-46)
Here, it is worth mentioning that our beloved prophet advises us not to over-indulge in food or turn food into an item of pleasure rather than fuel for sustenance. He, peace be upon him, says: “The worst vessel the son of Adam can overfill is his own stomach. Be content with a few bites that give you energy. But if you were to over-eat, then fill a third of your stomach with food, a third with drink, and leave a third for your breath”
This brings us back to the verse. The punishment of filling the stomach with fire will be followed by another torment: ‘God will not speak to them on the Day of Resurrection, nor will He purify them.” When you say “so and so will not speak to me,” it suggests that he or she is angry with you, because communication is a way of expressing affection and friendliness. A person’s refusal to speak to you reflects his or her contempt and disliking. Thus, ‘God will not speak to them’ means that He detests them. This abandonment by the creator is in and of itself a severe enough punishment.
As you read the Quran, you will come across the following verses:
They will say: "Our Lord! Our wretchedness prevailed over us, and we were people lost in error. "Our Lord! Take us out of this suffering. Then, if we ever revert to evil, we will indeed be wrongdoers." He will say: "Remain condemned in it, and do not speak to Me.” (23:106-108)
You may question: in the verse under study, God mentions that He will not speak to them, but in the verses of chapter 23 He does speak to them. We answer, yes, it is correct that God will say to them: "Remain condemned in it, and do not speak to Me.” But it should be understood that the speech they will be deprived of are the words of kindness and compassion.
When God talks to someone to show His love and affection, He prolongs the conversation. Here is an example of God speaking to Moses when Moses arrived for his appointed time. God asked:
‘Moses, what is that in your right hand?’ (20:17)
Does this question really mean that Allah is inquiring about what Moses is holding in his hand? Of course not, it is a question of intimacy and affection in conversation to make Moses feel relaxed and welcomed. This is similar to when you go to your friend’s place for a visit and see his or her young child carrying a toy. Often, you would greet the child and ask: What’s that toy in your hand? You would do that for affection and to make the child comfortable with your presence.
Likewise, it would have been sufficient for Moses to reply: a staff. But Moses wanted to show gratitude for God’s affection and to return the favour. He seized the opportunity to prolong the intimacy with God in conversation. He replied:
‘It is my staff,’ he said, ‘I lean on it; direct my sheep with it; I also have other uses for it.’ (20:18)
Talking with God and seeing Him are the greatest blessings the believers will experience in heaven. Thus, when God Almighty punishes the disbelievers He does not speak to them. He says: ‘God will not speak to them on the Day of Resurrection, nor will He purify them: an agonizing torment awaits them.” It will be a compound punishment for those who conceal and alter the heavenly guidance. Not only will God not speak to them, but He will also not purify them of the sins they committed, pushing them even further from His company. Thereafter, the severe punishment of hellfire awaits them to fill their bellies with fire. They deserve a compounded punishment because they concealed God teachings from His creation and became the reason behind misguiding humanity. They were the main source of corruption, injustice and even wars and death.
Let’s take a moment to study one of our beloved prophet Muhammad’s narrations. He, peace be upon him, said: “Three types of people with whom God would neither speak to nor absolve on the Day of Resurrection; there is grievous torment for them on that day: they are elderly adulterers, liar kings, and the arrogant destitute” Let’s take these types one by one. The first is an old man or woman who commits adultery. Why this type of person, you may ask? It is because this person is committing adultery at an age where he or she no longer suffers from rush of adolescence or the nag of sex hormones. The second type is a king or a ruler who lies to his or her people. We lie out of fear and to avoid the consequences of our actions. But who does a king or a president have to fear? Aren’t all the people under his or her rule? A person in a leadership position should be honest and not hide behind lies. The last type of those deprived of God’s speech is an arrogant poor person. Poverty should bring humility and bring a person closer to his or her Lord in prayer and need. An arrogant poor person chases would-be helpers away and narrows the path to prosperity and livelihood for the entire family. He or she draws further and further from the Lord at a time when the exact opposite should happen.