Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)

An Introduction......Part 2

(This session is also available in audio and video)

Session 22

Chapter 2, an introduction part b

In addition to the name given to each chapter of the Quran, it is also assigned a designation of either Meccan (in relation to the holy city of Mecca), or Madani (in relation to the holy city of Medina).  Let’s look into the meaning of these designations. 

Mecca and Medina are two sacred places. The former witnessed the beginning of the Quran’s revelation, and the later was the destination of Prophet Muhammad’s migration.  Before we classify a chapter or a verse as Meccan or Madani we must consider some key issues.  First: the purpose of revelation; second, the place, and finally the time of revelation.  Let’s take them one by one:

The purpose of revelation is universal for all parts of the Quran.  The Quran is the means of guiding humanity onto God's path.  It encompasses His messages to mankind since the time of Prophet Adam.  In the Quran, all the previous messages have been perfected and the heavenly constitution completed until the day of resurrection.  Moreover, the Quran relates the story of the creation of the heavens, earth and humans, and narrates the stories of Messengers and Prophets who preceded Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon them).  More importantly, the Quran corrected what was falsified, altered or distorted of the previous Messages.  It addressed what people had tampered with, or concealed, and abolished all that was falsely assigned to God and his messengers. 

Next, we consider the time and place of revelation of the Quran’s verses.  Here, we find that the scholars differed regarding some verses whether they are Madani or Meccan.  Those who considered the element of time as the criterion say that every chapter that was revealed to the Prophet (peace be upon him)after his migration to Medina is considered Madani even if it was revealed while the prophet was visiting Mecca.  Those who consider the place as the criterion say that every chapter revealed in Mecca is Meccan, and every chapter revealed in Medina is Madani regardless whether it was revealed before or after the prophet’s migration. 

Some critics of Islam tried to portray this as a contradiction amongst Muslim scholars.  We answer that there is no contradiction since each party tackled the issue from a specific angle.  Some considered the place while others considered the time as the standard for classification.  The scholars never differed regarding the chapters or the verses of the Quran itself.

As a general observation, Meccan verses in the Quran focus on Islamic creed.  This is mainly because when these verses were revealed, Islam was in its beginnings, and the Prophet was facing idol worshippers, those who did not believe in any religion, and a few Christians and Jews whose connection with the heavens had weakened.  Due to these circumstances, it became necessary for the Quran to reintroduce the basics of faith, and to make clear to Meccans that they are on the wrong path; it reminded them there is resurrection after death, and an eternal destination either to paradise or to hellfire.     

Meccans needed to be reminded that there is no God but Allah and that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is His Messenger.  The Quran turned their attentions towards signs in the universe that prove that God is the Creator and sustainer.  The stones they carved with their hands and set as Gods did not create anything, and were not capable of protecting even themselves.  At the same time, Meccan verses assured the believers that God is supporting and rewarding them at a time when they were few in numbers, weak and abused.  As they faced daily harassment, torture and even death, the Quran reaffirmed that every hardship they endure on God’s path will be immensely rewarded in the hereafter.    

On the other hand, when we examine the Muslim society in Medina, a different picture emerges.  There, Islam grew stronger and Muslims formed a well respected civil society.  While Islam was still confronted by disbelievers, idol worshippers, and followers of other faiths -namely the Jewish tribes of Medina-, we note a new enemy emerging in the hypocrites.  In Mecca the hostility faced by Islam was mainly due to ignorance about its message, however, in Medina Islam faced animosity from the hypocrites that was based on maliciousness.  They understood Islam’s message and chose to fight it from within by pretending to be Muslims.  There was no hypocrisy in Mecca because Muslims were weak and oppressed.  Who would want to claim to be a believer and subject him or herself to harassment, punishment, and oppression? But in Medina, as Islam strengthened and became prevalent, hypocrisy appeared.  God Almighty says:   

Some of the desert Arabs around you are hypocrites and some of the people of Madina are adamant in their hypocrisy. You do not know them but We know them. We will punish them twice over and then they will be returned to a terrible punishment. (9:101)

In addition to addressing the issue of the hypocrites, Madani verses in the Quran set the rules for running a civil society, business dealings, and foreign policy.  God says:

You will find the Jews and idolaters most excessive in hatred of those who believe; and the closest in love to the faithful are the people who say: "We are the followers of Christ," because there are priests and monks among them, and they are not arrogant. (5:82)

Madani verses also introduced many rulings regarding personal conduct, acts of worship, inheritance, money, loans, and so on.   At the same time, Madani verses did not neglect Islamic creed rather they reaffirmed it.  Islam was starting to spread widely and it was essential for the new Muslims to know the rulings regarding their religion.

“The Cow”, which is the chapter of the Quran we are upon, is classified as a Madani chapter.  It embodies the strength of Islam, the wisdom of the Quran and the knowledge God gave His Messengers (peace be upon them).  It tells the story of creation of the first human -Adam (peace be upon him)-, the story of Prophet Abraham in his quest of faith and the construction of the Ka’bah.  This chapter also clarifies some of the obligations of faith such as fasting, pilgrimage, and rulings regarding marriage, divorce and nursing.  Likewise it teaches us many details regarding financial dealings, interest, and inheritance.