Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)

Verses 181 & 182

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Session 182

Chapter 2

Verses 181 & 182

And should anyone alter the will after hearing it, its sin shall indeed lie on those who alter it. Surely God is All-Hearing, All-Knowing.  (Chapter 2: Verse 181)

At the time of the revelation of the Quran, final wills and testaments were often made verbally because literacy and documentation were uncommon.  Modern legal tools such as recordings, authenticated legal papers, or notarized statements were not available at the time.  Speech was often the way to communicate one’s last wishes, and that placed the burden of preserving the dying person’s wishes almost exclusively on the heirs.  Thus, and in order to protect the rights of all, Allah declared it a sin for the heirs to change the will of the dead.  More importantly, Allah wants to remind the heirs that even if no one else heard the will, they should keep in mind that our Lord is the ‘All-Hearing, All-Knowing’.  He says:

He has the keys to the unseen: no one knows them but Him. He knows all that is in the land and sea. No leaf falls without His knowledge, nor is there a single grain in the darkness of the earth, or anything, fresh or withered, that is not written in a clear Record. (6:59)

Let’s move to the next verse in ‘The Cow’.  God says:

But if someone fears bias or wrongdoing on the part of the person making the will, and puts things right between the people involved, in that case he has not committed any sin. Allah is Ever-Forgiving, Most Merciful. (Chapter 2: Verse 182)

Allah wants to protect the rights of all.  In the previous verse, the rights of the dying person were protected; changing his or her will by the heirs was declared a sin.  In this verse, it is the rights of the heirs that are considered and protected from possible errors or malicious actions by the dying person.  A will should not be a tool to deprive the poor while increasing the wealth of the rich, nor should it be used to settle scores and leave some close-relatives out.  Doing so tears the social fabric that God intends to strengthen.  Thus, Allah gives the heirs room to help correct what is wrong.

An unjust will can come from two sources.  First, a dying person may have some biases and preferences that he or she is not aware of.  In this case, the heirs are encouraged to give advice and make the person aware of the bias that he or she may have.  This will not only protect the rights of the heirs, but it will also protect the dying person from unintentionally making an error.  Second, the dying person may intentionally use his or her will to discriminate.  In this case, the heirs have a duty to make the necessary corrections and protect the family from injustice. 

Note that Allah always takes our humanity into consideration when legislating.  In the issue of murder and legal retribution, Allah appealed to the inherent qualities of goodness within us.  He said: “But if the perpetrator is pardoned by his aggrieved brother, this shall be adhered to fairly, and the perpetrator shall pay what is due in good will.” It is not a strict and dry legislation that demands punishment or minimum sentencing like the legislations made by lawyers and politicians; rather, it is legislation from the Creator, the All-Merciful.  He appeals to our sense of justice and our sense of humanity and decency. 

If an heir interferes with a just will and changes it for his or her own benefit, then the violation is a sin that will be punished.  If on the other hand, an heir makes an effort to advise the dying person against a bias, then it is mercy and salvation for both the dying and the living.  Similar is the case of an heir that interferes to prevent a deliberate injustice done by the dying.   

From all this, we learn that it is the duty of every person when reading or listening to a will to measure it against what is just and what is right.  And if he or she notices a violation, then it is better to bring it to the attention of the dying person.  God says:

But if someone fears bias or wrongdoing on the part of the person making the will, and puts things right between the people involved, in that case he has not committed any sin. Allah is Ever-Forgiving, Most Merciful. (Chapter 2: Verse 182)

Allah also teaches us that when we choose to write our will, it is best to consult knowledgeable people in order to avoid bias and injustice.  In this manner, problems are addressed before they occur and the social fabric is preserved and strengthened.  You also get a sense of God’s care for the social fabric when you read the phrase: ‘But if someone fears bias or wrongdoing.’  This phrase encourages unity between the believers, because the person who comes forward to suggest corrections in the will may not be an heir at all.  God uses the generic term ‘someone’ because this person could be a witness or a guest who heard the will; what drives this person to give advice is the love and concern he or she has for fellow believers.  Any issue that benefits one believer, benefits the entire Muslim community.  Likewise, an injustice affecting one believer is an injustice affecting the community as a whole.  Prophet Muhammad –peace be upon him said-:  "The example of the persons abiding by God's orders and restrictions in comparison to those who violate them is like the example of passengers who drew lots for their seats in a boat.  Some of them got seats in the upper deck while the others sat in the lower.  When the lower deck passengers needed water, they had to go up to bring water and that troubled them, so they said: 'Let us make a hole in our share of the ship to get water and save ourselves and those above us from all this trouble’.  If the people in the upper deck left the others to do as they wish, then all would drown, but if they prevent them, all would be safe."

The prophet’s narration teaches us the importance of mutual care between the believers and the need for advising one another to preserve the health of the society.  In this example, had the passengers on the upper deck not stopped the person who was planning to get water by drilling a hole in the ship, they would have all drowned.  Likewise, the believers have the duty to advise one another if some are violating or planning to violate God’s limits.  Allah gives us an example in the Quran from the experience of the Israelites.  He says:

Ask them about the town which was by the sea when they broke the Sabbath – when their fish came to them near the surface on their Sabbath day but did not come on the days which were not their Sabbath. In this way We put them to the test because they were deviators. When a group of them said, ‘Why do you advise a people whom Allah will destroy or punish with a severe punishment?’ They said, ‘As an excuse before your Lord, and hopefully they may be Godwary.’  When they ignored the warning they were given, We saved those who forbade evil, and punished the wrongdoers severely because of their disobedience. (Chapter 7:163-165)

If we let each person or group do as they wish, the entire Muslim society may perish.  Abu Bakr -one of the prophet’s companions (may God be pleased with him)- said: there is a verse that often read but misunderstood, and that verse is:

And beware and guard yourselves against an affliction that will surely not harm exclusively those among you who are engaged in wrongdoing; and know that God is severe in retribution. (08:25)

Allah is warning all of us against harms that may befall you whether you are a sinner or not; disasters that affect the entire society such as drought, soaring prices, wars and corrupt tyrants.  These hardships are the results of sins that -if ignored- cause widespread corruption.  Sins such as prevalent adultery, adoption of evils, alteration in religion, public violations of God’s limits and so on.  Our beloved prophet said warning his companions: ‘Woe to the Arabs on account of an approaching evil!’ They asked: ‘Will we be destroyed even if some of us are righteous?’ He said: ‘yes, if wickedness is prevalent in society.’

Thus, it is the duty of every believer to address corruption rather than ignore it.  In the previous verses, we saw the example of God imposing payment of blood-money on the family of the murderer.  Why the family, you may ask? It is because they either saw warning signs in the murderer’s behaviour and did not stop him, or they were absent from his or her life.  Had they stopped the murderer when he or she showed the early signs of violence, anger, or inappropriate behaviour, then an innocent life may have been saved and they would not be asked to pay.

This brings us back to the verse.  When you hear the phrase: “But if someone fears bias or wrongdoing on the part of the person making the will, and puts things right between the people involved’ it should serve as a reminder that you bear some responsibility for the corruption around you.  You have a duty to give good advice out of sincerity.  Allah further promises you that you will not be considered amongst those who alter the wishes of others; rather, you will be rewarded for your efforts and concern.