Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
If you slip after the clear proofs of the truth have come to you, then know that God is All-Mighty, All-Wise. (Chapter 2: Verse 209)
To slip means to sin. The word is derived from Arabic ‘Zala’ which means to move away from being upright. Everything has its balance, and moving away from that integrity is a slip. Similarly, sins and disobedience are moving away from God’s straight path.
The verse continues: “after the clear proofs of the truth have come to you.” God explains that we have no excuse to deviate from His path because He has made all matters clear to us. God gave each one of us a thoughtful mind to weigh truth and falsehood. Moreover, Allah did not leave us to our own devices; He, the All-Merciful, sent prophets and messengers just in case we slip from His path. He says:
Whoever accepts guidance does so for his own good; whoever strays does so at his own peril. No soul will bear another’s burden, nor do We punish until We have sent a messenger. (17:15)
It is from God’s mercy that He sent messengers to show us the right path. Allah also left some matters to us so we can exercise our minds to come up with rules and solutions. Islam came and approved some of the rulings and wisdom that prevailed at the time, and changed matters that were unwise. This shows that if you use your mind naturally and logically, it is often able to direct you towards the truth.
Take the example of Omar, one of the prophet’s companions. When problems faced the Muslims, he weighed the matters then suggested solutions, and the Prophet (peace be upon him) often agreed. Soon after, verses of the Quran would be revealed confirming the ruling Omar proposed in these cases. Here, you may ask: Shouldn’t these solutions come from the Prophet peace be upon him? We answer: if those views came from the Prophet, it would have been said that the prophet is infallible and he was receiving revelation. Allah wants to teach us that when the mind is pure and thoughtful, it will naturally lead to the right judgment, even if it is not receiving revelation from the heavens. Omar had such a mind, and many Islamic rulings came from him and were then approved by God and His messenger.
Some critics of Islam have asked: is there no one other than Omar? Why do you keep referring to him? We answer: Omar was raised in the school of the Prophet. Whatever he said was taken from the Prophet’s teachings. Omar acknowledged this and said: ‘what would Omar be without Islam?’ We give the example of Omar because he is a human and not a messenger; whatever applies to him, applies to each one of us. He did not receive revelations, nor was he infallible. Allah wants us to have the ability to think clearly, understand and deduce so we can all be like Omar. By tapping into our pure nature and sincere faith, we can find the right path.
Take note that Allah, the All-Merciful, did not burden us with unnecessary obligations. Rather, His obligations are in line with sound mind and clear judgment. God’s obligations protect us from the whims, desires, and material greed that often cloud our minds. It is important to note that the enemies of sound mind and good judgment are whims and desires. God said to Prophet David:
‘David, We have made you a trustee on earth. Judge fairly between people. Do not follow your desires, lest they divert you from God’s path: those who wander from His path will have a painful torment because they ignore the Day of Reckoning.’ (38:26)
So the opposite of fair and truthful judgment is to follow one’s whims and desires. Here a story that is told in the Egyptian culture comes to mind: a woman had her son and daughter both marry on the same night. They were all poor, so she and the newlyweds -her daughter and the new husband, and her son and the new wife- all stayed in one small house. After laying in bed for a little while, the mother got up, went to her daughter and said to her: “provide warmth for your husband and satisfy him for the night is cold.” Then she went to her son and said: "Stay away from your wife and leave space between you, for the weather is too hot." The place was the same, and the weather is one, but the mother let her jealousy get the best of her. She gathered summer and winter under one roof. God says:
If the truth were to follow their whims and desires, the heavens and the earth and everyone in them would have been brought to ruin. No indeed! We have given them their Reminder, but they have turned away from it. (23:71)
When God legislates, He protects us from ourselves. 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. People are fed up with conflicting governments and ever-changing laws. Interestingly, if you take a look at how laws change, they are often modified to comply with God’s rulings and move closer to Islamic law. Governments that allow the free use of Alcohol often come back again and again to restrict its use to a certain age, certain locations, and certain amounts.
Someone had asked me in America: why didn’t Islam prevail over all other religions as you claim in the Quran? He was implying that billions of people are not Muslim and referring to the following verse: God says:
He is the One Who has sent His Messenger with the guidance and the Religion of truth that He may make it prevail over all religions, however detested this may be to those who associate partners with God. (9:33)
I replied: “You have to pay attention to the entire verse, not just part of it. God says: ‘however detested this may be to those who associate partners with God.’ Islam is not meant to be the sole religion in the world. The phrase: “however detested this may be to those who associate partners with God” suggests that Islam will always be at a time when non-believers and polytheists exist. Had there not been any disbelievers, then the verse would be wrong. The true power of God’s teachings is often observed when non-Muslim legislators resort to Islamic rulings when their system fails. They resort to God’s teachings not as a religion but as a guide to set laws. Their application of Islamic disciplines further confirms the validity of Islam. Of course, if these rulings were adopted as religious teachings, the legislators would be accused of fanaticism. But despite their hatred for the religion of Islam, they were forced to mimic its teachings because it happens to be the best solution.
I’ll give you an example here. The Catholic Church did not allow divorce and considered it against a woman’s right. But the circumstances of life and marital problems forced them to rethink the rulings related to divorce. Did they become lenient towards divorce because Islam had permitted it? Of course not, they became lenient because they found it to be the best solution. Similar is the Alcohol issue I mentioned earlier. It was not Islam that forced changes and limitations in laws, rather it was the family, public health, and death related issues that compelled lawmakers to revisit the issue of Alcohol use over and over. Hence, the verse “He is the One Who has sent His Messenger with the guidance and the Religion of truth that He may make it prevail over all religions, however detested this may be to those who associate partners with God” means that non-Muslims will have to resort to the Islamic system to resolve their issues, even if they do not accept Islam as a religion.”
This brings us back to the verse. God says: “If you slip after the clear proofs of the truth have come to you, then know that God is All-Mighty, All-Wise.” Allah is informing you that if you decide to leave God’s path, don’t be under the illusion that you got away from God’s judgment; do not think that you have escaped your obligation to your Creator. Allah is the Almighty; His might prevails and is never prevailed over. He manages our affairs with mercy and wisdom, and to Him we are destined to return.