Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
Do you suppose that you will enter the Garden without first having suffered like those before you? They were afflicted by misfortune and hardship, and they were so shaken that even the messenger and the believers with him cried, ‘When will God’s help arrive?’ Truly, God’s help is near. (Chapter 2:Verse 214)
Do you think that the road leading to Paradise will be easy and comfortable? It will not. In fact, it is necessary for you to prove yourself and shoulder the burden of faith in order to earn the fabulous gift of paradise. If faith meant saying few words, then life would have been a breeze; but the difficulty is not in saying the words, it is in implementing of those words in everyday life.
The disbelievers at the time of the Prophet understood this concept. They were people of character who respected their words. They did not want to lie to themselves, to those around them, or to be hypocrites. They understood that saying ‘There is no deity but Allah, and Muhammad is His messenger’ meant that all their daily actions had to change, and they would have to act according to the requirements of faith. They chose not to say these words of belief. It was a terrible decision, but at least they were honest with themselves and respected their words.
God says: “Do you suppose that you will enter the Garden without first having suffered like those before you? They were afflicted by misfortune and hardship” Recall that the previous verses were addressing the children of Israel who thought that they would enter Paradise without being tested. They distorted the religion to match their whims and wishes. They did not respect the words of faith. Allah is warning the nation of Muhammad to be prepared for tests and trials and to hold firm to their faith and true to their words. Let’s take an example from the Quran. God says:
The Desert Arabs said: “We are believers.” Tell them: “You have not believed yet; you may simply claim that you are Muslims. It is a long way for faith to penetrate inside your heart. If you obey God and His Prophet, He will not diminish anything from the reward promised for your good deeds as God is the Most Forgiving, the Most Merciful. (49:14)
When the Bedouins heard this, they said: ‘we praise God, there is still hope that we will become believers.’ Allah wanted the Bedouins to be true to themselves. Some scholars say that this verse was revealed specifically for the tribe of Asad. They came to Medina during a year of famine and proclaimed before the Prophet (peace be upon him): "There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the Messenger." Then they asked for the zakat charity and reminded the Prophet of their kindness as they did not fight the Muslims like others did. Thus, this verse was revealed to clarify to them that faith is much more than saying “I am Muslim.” The verse does not mean that they were hypocrites; rather, it is a reminder that faith is the work of the heart that has to be reflected in every aspect of the believer's life.
This brings us back to the verse: “Do you suppose that you will enter the Garden without first having suffered like those before you?” Allah is informing you not to expect to enter heaven unless you have suffered trials like those who preceded you of nations. You and I must be tested and afflicted by adversity and tribulation, and whoever stays firm deserves God’s reward. We must not think that we are special over other nations when it comes to life’s tests and trials. To the contrary, because the nation of Muhammad has been granted the great blessings of Islam, their tests would be proportional to the bounties they enjoy. We have been blessed with the final message that was sent to entire humanity until the end of time, and we have to expect great tests to assure that each generation is worthy of this gift. The phrase: “…without first having suffered like those before you” signifies that afflictions similar to what struck the previous nations before will continue happening to each generation of believers.
Let’s study the phrase “and were so shaken.” It is translated from the Arabic origin “zulziloo” and it shows the beauty of the Arabic language where even the way a word sounds help express its meaning. “Zalzala زلزلة” means earthquake, and this word has two sections Zal, Zal “زل,زل”. The word “Zal” means to fall from one’s place. Thus, both sections of the word put together reflect a fallback and forth in opposite directions just as in an earthquake. It is a series of repeated jerks forwards and backward, left and right, that occur repeatedly.
The phrase “and were so shaken” expresses the great tribulations and succession of tragedies our beloved prophet and his companions endured. Harsh events tested their faith, their family ties, and their physical endurance. Such difficulties continued until the Prophet (peace be upon him), and those who believe with him said: ‘When will God’s help arrive?’ God –The All-Merciful- answers: “Truly, God’s help is near.”
Here we should ask: Did the believers ask first, and then return to their senses and respond to themselves with “truly, the help of God is near?” or did their feelings go back and forth between “when will God’s help arrive?” and “truly, the help of God is near”? Regardless of how difficult and stressful God’s trials were, regardless how badly they were shaken, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his followers continued to hold firm to faith. The question “when will God’s help arrive?” gives us insight that help was delayed at first, and then Allah gave them the good tidings of: “truly, the help of God is near.” There was no doubt or suspension of aid, rather, this delay was part of God’s trial. People had all sorts of thoughts, some of them would say “when will God’s help arrive?” while other voices from the community would answer “unquestionably, the help of God is near.” The context of the verse suggests that those who said: “when will God’s help arrive?” were the companions, and the reply “truly, the help of God is near” came from the Prophet (peace be upon him).