Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)

Verse 186

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Session 188

Chapter 2

Verse 186

And when My servants ask you about Me, indeed I am near.  I answer the prayer of the supplicant when he prays to Me.  So let them respond to Me, and believe and trust in Me, so that they may be guided. (Chapter 2: Verse 186)

In the previous session, we explained how fasting –which may be perceived as hardship initially- will create within you a sense of peace and connection with the Lord.  Allah knows that when you feel the sweetness of faith and the serenity of the connection between you and your creator, you become confident that Allah does not obligate you with anything except that which holds great benefits and blessings for you.  When you have this trust in God and His teachings, you will find yourself turning to him in all matters of your life.  Thus, in the very next verse Allah, the all merciful, draws even closer to you.  He says:

And when My servants ask you about Me, indeed I am near.  I answer the prayer of the supplicant when he prays to Me.  So let them respond to Me, and believe and trust in Me, so that they may be guided. (Chapter 2: Verse 186)

Note that the verse starts with the pronoun ‘when’ not ‘if’ because Allah knows that once you taste the sweetness of God’s teachings, you will come to Him in prayer and gratitude.  God says in a sacred narration:  'Three men whose supplication I never reject; they are: the person who is fasting until he or she breaks the fast; a just ruler; and a person who is oppressed and treated unjustly.  The supplication of the person who is treated unjustly will rise up through the sky as the doors of the heavens open before it.  And I will answer: ‘By My Might and Pride, I shall come to your aid, even if it be after some time.’  From this narration, you learn that if you do not happen to be in the position of power, or in the position where you are oppressed and treated unjustly, then the only supplication door that is always open before you directly to God is the door of fasting. 

 Let’s take a moment to examine a few verses in the Quran where God answered questions asked by the believers and disbelievers alike.  God says in the 219th verse of ‘The Cow’:

They ask you about intoxicants and gambling: say, ‘There is great sin in both, and some benefit for people: the sin is greater than the benefit.’

And in the same verse:

And they ask you what they should give. Tell them: "The utmost you can spare." So does God reveal His signs so that you may re?ect

And in another verse:

They ask you what they should give. Say, ‘Whatever you give should be for parents, close relatives, orphans, the needy, and travellers. God is well aware of whatever good you do. (02:215)

And in another chapter:

They ask you about the mountains: say, my Lord will blast them into dust (20:105)

Take note of the precise language Allah uses in the Quran.  In each one of the verses above, a question had come to the prophet and the answer came from God through the prophet –peace be upon him-.  More specifically, God gave the answer and instructed the prophet to deliver it to people the people.  The answer starts with ‘say’, or ‘tell them.’  This is true for every question in the Quran except one.  The exception is the verse under study.  In verse 186 of ‘the Cow’, when the prophet was asked a question about God, the answer came from God directly.  Allah did not instruct the prophet by saying: ‘tell them I am near’ or ‘say that I am near’, rather Allah answered you directly with: ‘indeed I am near.’  This is because Allah wants you to feel his closeness to you, and He does not want any obstacles or intermediaries between you and Him, even if that intermediary is our beloved prophet –peace be upon him-.  

The companions had asked the prophet: Is our Lord near so we whisper to Him or far so that we cry out to Him? Allah answered with the verse ‘And when My servants ask you about Me, indeed I am near’.  What is the benefit of this nearness, you may ask? God says: ‘I answer the prayer of the supplicant when he prays to Me.’ In other words, God will help you in all your affairs and troubles.  But if you look closely at the verse, you will find that there is a condition for God being close to you; and that condition lies in the words ‘My servants’ which is translated from the Arabic origin Eibadi  عِبَادِي.    

Let’s look deeper into the meaning of this word.  Ebadi  عِبَادِي is the plural form of the word Abd  عبد which means ‘slave.’   Interestingly, in the Quran you find that this singular word ‘Abd’ or slave has two plural forms: Abeed(عبيد)  and Ibad (عباد);  And while Abd عبد  is translated into slave; we translate the plurals differently:  Abeed(عبيد)  is translated into the plural ‘slaves’, and Ibad (عباد) is translated into the plural ‘servants.’ 

Let’s clarify the difference.  Everyone on planet earth is a slave to God, but not everyone is a servant of God.  Why, you may ask?  We answer that God had divided mankind into two categories: slaves and servants.  The entire creations of God in the universe are His slaves in the sense that they are not capable of going against His will and desire.  You have no say of when you are born, when you die, nor do you have any control over when you get ill, or who your relatives are.  You are able to make your own decisions and choices in some matters, but this is only possible because God has given you the freedom to choose and act.  Even if you choose to do something that is against God teachings, you are only able to do so because God has granted you freedom of choice. 

              The servants of God are those who exercise this freedom of choice in accordance with God's teachings.  In other words, even when they have the desire and the ability to go against God teachings, they curb this desire and only do what God has recommended.  God holds these individuals -his servants- in very high regard.  This is why in the Quran, Allah refers to them in high honour in many verses. He says:

When My servants ask you about Me, I am indeed nearmost.  I answer the supplicant’s call when he calls Me.  So let them respond to Me, and let them have faith in Me, so that they may fare rightly. (2:186)

              The great privilege of being close to Allah at times of need and having His support and guidance is exclusive to his servants.  They do what God asks of them and abstain from what He prohibits, therefore, God responds to their prayers in the manner that is best suited for their condition.  Here is another example from the Quran:

Satan then said to God, ‘Because You have put me in the wrong, I will lure mankind on earth and put them in the wrong, all except Your devoted servants.’ God said, ‘Devotion is a straight path to Me: you will have no power over My servants, only over the ones who go astray and follow you. (15:39-42)

              Even satan acknowledged that he has no influence over God’s servants.  Why, you may ask?  Because satan tries to influence you at the moment when you are about to make a decision.  He exploits your freedom of choice to push you towards sin.  Thus, if say: ‘O my Lord, You have given me the choice, but I leave it to You O Granter of choice to direct me on your straight path.  My Lord, I will forgo my freedom of choice and follow whatever you have taught us to do, and avoid whatever you asked us not to do.’  At that moment, you become of God’s servants and satan loses all power to influence your life.  

In fact, God described the prophet (peace be upon him) as His Servant in many verses of the Quran as the following example illustrates:

Glory to Him who made His servant travel by night from the sacred place of worship to the furthest place of worship, whose surroundings We have blessed, to show him some of Our signs: He alone is the All Hearing, the All Seeing. (17:1)

              This greatest of miracles, the miracle of ascending to the seventh heaven in body and soul and being granted access to a level even beyond where the archangel Gabriel could reach, was bestowed on the prophet Muhammad; a man who achieved the perfect level of love and servitude to God.  When the prophet was given a choice between being an Angle messenger, or a servant-messenger, he (peace be upon him) chose the latter. 

              Some critics of the Quran argue that the word ‘servants’ has been used in the Quran to describe the disbelievers.  They point to the following verse:

On the day when the unbelievers and whatever they had been worshipping besides God will be resurrected, He will ask the idols, "Did you mislead My servants or did they themselves go astray from the right path? (25:17)

In order to answer the critics, we have to put this verse in context.  The events of the verse take place on the Day of Judgment.  And on that day everyone will be a servant of God because everyone will be compelled to obey God in all their actions.  There is no freedom of choice anymore.  Death puts an end to our ability to choose making us subject exclusively to God’s will.  The difference between God's slaves and servants is only in this world. 

So today, at this moment, you can make a choice to obtain this high status and enjoy great honours in this world and in the hereafter.  You can be one of God’s servants if you act according to His teachings.  Allah teaches you how to earn this high status.  He says:

The servants of the Lord of Mercy are those who walk humbly on the earth, and who, when the ignorant address them, reply, ‘Peace’; Those who spend the night for their Lord, prostrating and standing.  And those who supplicate: ‘Our Lord, turn away from us the suffering of Hell, for it is a dreadful torment to suffer! It is an evil home and a foul resting place!’’  Those who, when spending, are neither wasteful nor miserly, but keep to a just balance.  They are those who never invoke any other deity beside God, nor take a life, which God has made sacred, except in the pursuit of justice; nor commit adultery. And whoever does these things will face the due penalties: their torment will be doubled on the Day of Resurrection, and they will remain in torment, disgraced.  Except those who repent, believe, and do good deeds: God will change the evil deeds of such people into good ones. He is most forgiving, most merciful.  Whoever repents and does right would have turned back to God by way of repentance.  They are those who do not give false testimony, and if they happen to pass by anything vain and useless, they bypass it with dignity; and who, when they are reminded of the signs and revelations of their Lord, do not ignore them as though deaf and blind.  Those who pray: ‘Our Lord, give us joy in our spouses and offspring. Make us good examples to those who are aware of You’. These servants will be rewarded with the highest place in Paradise for their steadfastness. There they will be met with greetings and peace. There they will stay- a happy home and resting place! (25:63-76)