Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
Are these people waiting for God to come to them in the shadows of the clouds, together with the angels? But the matter would already have been decided by then: all matters are brought back to God. (Chapter 2: Verse 210)
What are the disbelievers waiting for? God asks. Are they waiting to be distracted by life until they find themselves in a universe that has entirely changed on the Day of Judgment? The worldly life they see around them with its luxuries will turn into dry remnants scattered by wind as man stands before God to be taken to account.
The phrase “waiting for” is translated from the Arabic origin ‘Yanzoroon.’ It holds two meanings: to wait for, and to look at. Interestingly, if you are waiting for something, you start to imagine it in your mind’s eye. In fact, people often ask “do you see?” when they are explaining something intangible. ‘Yanzoroon’ applies to both: tangible things through eye vision, and intangible things through understanding.
The verse starts with: “Are these people waiting for God to come to them?” Meaning, are they really waiting for the Day of Judgment to believe? Are they procrastinating until the hour comes and takes them by surprise? The Last Hour will not occur at a known time, but it does have minor and major signs warning about its approach. These signs are the pieces of evidence God lays before us so we can wake up and repent for our mistakes. The door of repentance will remain open until the sun rises from the west.
When you hear the words: “Are these people waiting for God to come to them?” you question: What is delaying their entry into Islam? What are they waiting for? Just as you say to a student who has been playing video games and watching TV all year: ‘What are you waiting for? The exam is just around the corner!’ Likewise, God –the All-Merciful- urges us to embrace faith before it is too late.
The verse continues: Are these people waiting for God to come to them in the shadows of the clouds, together with the angels?” When you hear phrases regarding God’s being such as “for God to come” or verses referring to God’s face and hand, do not try to understand such verses with what is familiar to you. Rather, remember the following: God says in the 11th verse of chapter 42:
There is nothing whatever like Him.
Always keep in mind that there is nothing whatsoever like Allah. God exists and you exist, but your existence is not like His. God is alive, and you are alive; is your life like His? Of course not. God hears, and you hear, but are His hearing and yours alike? No. God sees, and you see but is your vision like His? Again, the answer is No. So, always remember that all the attributes that are common to humans and God come under the principle:
There is nothing whatever like Him.
Some scholars explain phrases such as ‘God’s Face’ to mean God’s essence, and “the hand of God” to mean the power of God. We answer that we do not need to go into such explanations. If we believe that there is nothing whatsoever like Allah, then we would have protected ourselves from making an error in understanding Him because we do not equate God with His creation, neither do we strip the text from its literal meaning.
We believe in God and keep our faith in Him within the framework that: ‘There is nothing whatever like Him.’ If you happen to imagine God as something familiar to you, then rest assured that He is contrary to what you imagine. Man can only imagine known images or combinations of known images. God does not resemble His creation. He says:
There is nothing whatever like Him.
The moment when God Almighty will reveal Himself on the Day of Judgment, those who have painted images in their minds will be surprised because He will not resemble anything they had imagined. It is of God’s greatness that the mind cannot perceive Him in a material form. God explains that we have a hard enough time understanding what is within ourselves, let alone our Creator. He says:
In the earth are signs for those who have conviction And within yourselves. Can you not perceive? (51:20,21)
Allah is referring to the soul that exists within our body and gives us life. In fact, when the soul departs, the body turns into a decaying carcass. The soul that is within each one of us is something beyond our imagination and understanding. We cannot determine its place or form. So ask yourself: If I cannot imagine the soul created by God, then how can I even come close to imagining my Creator?
Thus, Allah is warning the non-believers not to wait until it is too late. He says: Are these people waiting for God to come to them in the shadows of the clouds, together with the angels? But the matter would already have been decided by then.’ Are they waiting to see the great universe scattered, the sun wrapped in darkness and the stars dispersed? More importantly, are they waiting to be standing before their Lord to be judged for their actions? Allah is advising us to seize the opportunity before that happens before the door of repentance is closed forever. Why do the non-believers procrastinate entering into Islam? If they are waiting for God to change or for God to change His commandments, they should know that it will never happen.
Here, we emphasize once again that there is nothing whatsoever like God. His coming does not imply leaving one place to go to another, rather He exists in all places and that is His greatness. Allah has the attributes of absolute perfection; His orders do not require specific time or place. He says “Be, ” and it becomes.
The verse continues “in the shadows of the clouds” to provide us with the grandeur and terror of that moment. When something overwhelming shadows you, you feel helpless. God says:
When the waves loom over those on board like giant shadows they call out to God, devout and sincere in their faith. But, when He has delivered them safely to land, some of them waver- only a treacherous, thankless person refuses to acknowledge Our signs. (31:32)
This is a description of the panic that hits those at sea when they are engulfed by a violent storm. Yet, far more terrifying to the non-believers is when the entire universe is scattered on the Day of Judgment. The believers would be prepared because God has repeatedly warned of these horrors.
The verse continues ‘But the matter would already have been decided by then,’ indicating that the opportunity for repentance is gone. So whoever did not return to God before that time would have missed his or her chance. This brings us back to the core question and message of this verse: What are you waiting for? Are you waiting for that day to come? You must seize the opportunity to return to your Lord, or all will be lost.
The verse ends with: ‘all matters are brought back to God.’ When you read the Quran, you will find that this phrase comes in two variations: The first is: ‘matters are brought back to God’ translated from the Arabic origin: Turjaoun; and the second is: ‘matters come back to God’ translated from the Arabic origin: Tarjeoun. Let’s explain the difference. In the first, ‘Turjaoun’ matters are taken to God against their will. This applies to the disbelievers who are terrified of the evil they have done and the punishment awaiting them. In the second, ‘Tarjeoun’ the matters are longing to be with God because of the good they have done, and the award awaiting them.