Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
Verses 198 & 199
Verses 198 & 199
There is no blame on you for seeking bounty from your Lord. But when you depart from Arafa, remember God at the sacred landmark. And remember Him, as He has guided you, for indeed, you were before that among those astray. (Chapter 2: Verse 198)
The phrase “There is no blame on you for seeking bounty from your Lord” means it is neither a sin nor frowned upon to trade and earn money during the hajj pilgrimage. Traditionally, people gave the name ‘Hajji’ to a person who performed the Hajj pilgrimage and ‘Dajji’ to the person who went to Mecca exclusively to trade. We answer that you can do both. It is not objectionable to do some business while performing Hajj. The millions of people who perform the pilgrimage annually need plenty of services after all. Those who do Hajj and trade together facilitate the trip for others and fulfill a real need.
Take note of the precise words of the phrase: “for seeking bounty from your Lord.” God did not use the word ‘provision’ –translated from the Arabic ‘Rizq’-; rather He used the word bounty –translated from the Arabic ‘Faddl’-. Why, you may ask? We answer that God has already made it clear in the previous verse that it is your duty, before you leave for pilgrimage, to take enough provisions with you to meet your basic needs. Allah does not want you to set out on your trip empty handed hoping to earn money to survive. Whatever you make from trade should be an extra bounty above and beyond your needs. Hence, you should take with you all you need of provisions, and, if you choose to, you can make a reasonable profit from trade as a bounty. If every pilgrim brings his or her basic needs, there wouldn’t be any price gouging to exploit the needs of others.
Moreover, both the seeker of basic needs and the seeker of extra bounty must bear in mind that everything is from God. He says: “There is no blame on you for seeking bounty from your Lord.” Don’t say: ‘I earned lots of money because I am more intelligent and more disciplined than others.’ Or say: “I earned my money because I do great work and had an excellent education.” Everything you and I earn is the result of God’s favor upon us. We seek and credit our Lord -the Creator and the Sustainer- for everything we have. It is our duty to work hard, educate ourselves, and do the best that we can to earn money, but God is ultimately the One who grants and withholds.
The verse continues: ‘But when you depart from Arafa, remember God at the sacred landmark.’ The word ‘depart’ is translated from the Arabic origin ‘Afadtum.’ The root of this word is ‘Fa Da’ which means to overflow. For example, if you fill a glass with milk to the rim, then add just a little more it will start to spill over. God had decreed –even before this verse was revealed- that Arafa will be so crowded with pilgrims it will cause people to overflow from it.
If you have ever witnessed this scene –may God enable all Muslims to perform Hajj – you know exactly what is meant here. When the pilgrims leave Arafa and head to Muzdalifa, you wonder: where did all these people come from? You see valleys and roads filled with people moving like a river. You see buses moving as if they were a single train, and you won’t be able to distinguish between individuals as they all seem to become one.
The verse continues: ‘you depart from Arafa, remember God at the sacred landmark. And remember Him, as He has guided you.’ The sacred landmark –translated from ‘Mishar Al-haram’ in Arabic- is in the area of Muzdalifah.
Allah is the one who made this marvelous journey possible for you; He brought you to His Sacred House and all the sacred places around it; On top of all these great blessings, He –the All-Merciful- grants you the bounty of forgiveness for your efforts and sincerity. Shouldn’t you then, as a bare minimum, remember your Lord with appreciation and gratitude? He says: ‘remember God at the sacred landmark. And remember Him, as He has guided you.’ God’s guidance and teachings are the shortest path that will lead to success. It is a blessing from Allah to His creation, and blessings deserve proper appreciation and remembrance.
God concludes the verse with: ‘for indeed, you were before that among those astray.’ Before Islam, many Meccans and people from around the region performed pilgrimage in ignorance. There were idols in the Ka’ba, and rituals lost all meaning. Now, with God’s guidance, we perform Hajj as God intended.
Let’s move to the next verse in ‘The Cow.' God says:
Then stream out from where the people stream out, and plead to Allah for forgiveness; indeed Allah is All-forgiving, all-merciful. (Chapter 2: Verse 199)
The word ‘then’ implies that there should be a pause between the two events. In other words, there should be time spent in Arafa and Muzdalifa before heading out. This verse supports those who argue that it is necessary to stay overnight in Muzdalifa.
This verse was revealed because the people of Quraysh used to see themselves as the special people of the Sacred House. They assumed that they do not have to do what the rest of the pilgrims are commanded to do. For example, they saw no need to go and join the pilgrims in Arafa. Allah, however, wants equality between Muslims. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said in the Farewell Pilgrimage: “you are all the children of Adam, and Adam was created from dust; let people stop taking pride in their forefathers for God holds no weight to such trivial matters.” God says: ‘Then stream out from where the people stream out’ indicating to Quraysh and the residents of Mecca that they should follow the same guidelines all Muslims follow.
Some scholars believe that the phrase ‘Then stream out from where the people stream out’ means to follow the footsteps of Prophet Abraham in pilgrimage just as God taught him. Here you may ask: How could the scholars claim that Prophet Abraham is referred to in this verse, while the plural ‘people’ is used? We answer that the plural ‘People’ had been used in the Quran to speak about a single person when he or she embodies the best traits of many people. God has described Abraham as a ‘nation’ as the following verse illustrates:
Abraham was a community in himself, exemplary, obedient to Allah, a man of pure natural belief. He was not one of the idolaters. (16:120)
The verse ends with: ‘and plead to Allah for forgiveness; indeed Allah is All-forgiving, All-merciful.’ Allah is informing you that regardless of your best effort, you will not be able to fulfill God’s rights to perfection. Thus, you should always be in remembrance of God and asking him for forgiveness. Allah, after all, is the ‘All-forgiving, All-merciful.’