Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)

Verses 17 & 18

(This session is also available in audio and video)

Session 37

Chapter 2 Verses 17 and 18

Their example is that of one who kindled a fire, but when it illuminated what was around him, Allah took away their light and left them in darkness so they could not see. (2:17)

            In the last session, we discussed how God uses examples highlighting familiar everyday issues in order to clarify unfamiliar ones.  Whatever goes on in a person’s hearts is unknown to others, so God gave us an example to clarify what is hidden in the hearts of the hypocrites.  From this verse, we get the picture of a heart filled with confusion and indecisiveness in regards to dealing with God’s message. 

            Allah says: 'Their example is that of one who kindled a fire'.  When a person ignites a fire, he clearly has a goal in mind.  It could be to get warm, to cook something, or to see in the dark.  God Almighty continues: ‘but when it illuminated what was around him, Allah took away their light and left them in darkness so they could not see.'   Here we are presented with a picture of a group who ignited a fire to obtain the light that will guide them towards faith.  But when this light came to them through Prophet Muhammad and the message of Islam, they walked away from it.  At that point, God extinguished their light and left their hearts engulfed in darkness.  Keep in mind that these were the same people who requested guidance and faith to begin with.  When God granted their request, they walked away and abandoned it. 

            Let’s put this in a historic context.  A few years prior to the arrival of Islam and Prophet Muhammad, the residents of Medina heard the surrounding Jewish tribes say that the time for a new Prophet has come.  Furthermore, the Jewish tribes threatened that when the time comes, they will follow the prophet and use their new found power to control the city and bear arms against its infidel residents.  Some residents of Medina, especially the elites who feared for their status, weighed their options and decided to believe in the prophet.  They did not seek faith out of sincerity; rather they saw it as a tool to obtain security and protection.  When Prophet Muhammad arrived in medina and invited them to join the faith, they declared belief, not with their hearts, but only with their tongues, and thus became the hypocrites.  They had no interest in embracing or advancing Islam; they only wanted to use it for their personal gain.

            Here, we should take note of the precision of the Quran.  Allah said: ‘God took away the light.’ In the Arabic language there are two words that mean light.  ‘ÍŠ┴‘ refers to light that is coming from the source producing the light.  And ‘noor’ which indicates a lit object that is not the source of light.  To clarify the difference between ‘ÍŠ┴‘ and noor, let's look at the following verse:

He is Who made the sun radiate brilliant light and the moon noor reflecting a lustre, and fixed for it stages according to an estimated measure that you might know the counting of the years and the reckoning of time. Allah created all this only to suit the requirements of truth and wisdom. He explains in detail these signs for a people who would know. (10:5)

The sun is self-illuminating and was referred to in the verse as ‘ÍŠ┴‘, while the moon obtains light from the sun and then reflects it, thus, the word 'noor' was used.  

            In the verse we are studying, God said that he took away the noor of the hypocrites.  If God had said that he took away their light, it could mean that they may have noor or guidance reflecting from another source.  But the word ‘noor’ in the verse implies that God left them with nothing, no light source.....not even a reflection.  Their hearts are now engulfed in total darkness. 

God says: ‘and He left them in darknesses where they could see nothing’

The word that immediately stands out in this part of the verse is darknesses because it is used in the plural form, not the singular that we are all used to.  God used this word to indicate the accumulation of darkness, one piled upon the other that result from the love of this world and the complete disregard of the hereafter.  Perhaps this is best explained through a historical example.  Abdullah ibn Obay was the leader of the hypocrites at the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him).  Right before the prophet migrated to medina, the residents of the city were preparing to crown ibn Obay as their leader and king.  However, when the message of Islam reached Medina, followed shortly by the Prophet's migration, people walked away from crowning ibn Oday.  The arrival of Islam had literally cost him his kingship.  Here Ibn Oday had the choice of joining his people, accepting faith, and securing both a leadership role and an eternal kingdom in the hereafter.  But his heart was filled with hate, resentment, and the love of this world, so he chose to fight Islam from within.  Bitterness, jealousy, and hatred had overcome his heart.....Each of these dark feelings wraps the heart in its own veil of darkness; one piled over the other.

            Likewise, in the heart of every hypocrite there are many layers of darkness.  The darkness of malice towards the believers, the darkness of hatred towards faith, the darkness of ill-wish, and the darkness and pain of contradiction. 

As for the believers, God the most merciful also wraps their hearts......this time He wraps them in a veil of protection.  He says:

When you recite the Qur’an, We place an invisible veil between you and those who do not believe in the Hereafter (17:45)

            Let's turn our attention now to the following phrase.  God says: ‘He left them in darknesses seeing nothing.”   This phrase shows the scientific accuracy of the Quran.   When God took light away, He said that it resulted in the loss of sight.  We all know that if light disappears so does our ability to see.  However, this piece of common knowledge is fairly recent.  Up until the 11th century, one of the prevailing scientific theories about vision postulated that we see objectswhen our eyes shine a ray on them.  In other words many scientists used to believe that the eyes produce the rays that made vision possible.  This flawed theory was put to rest by a famous Muslim scientist (Ibn Al Haytham) in his book 'The Optics'.  The Quran was scientifically accurate hundreds of years prior. 

Allah says:

We made the night and the day two signs; and We make dark the sign of the night and make the sign of the day sight-giving, that you may seek the bounty of your Lord, and that you may calculate the years and the reckoning; and We have expounded everything in detail. (17:12)


Let's on to the next verse in 'The Cow'.  God says:

Deaf, mute, blind , so they do not return (2:18)

God took away the light of hope and faith from the hearts of the hypocrites because of their continuous rejection of God's guidance.  Sadly, it was not only insight that they lost, but the loss also extended to all their senses.  God Almighty says:

It is God who brought you out of your mothers’ wombs knowing nothing, and gave you hearing and sight and minds, so that you might be thankful. (16:78)

            When it comes to matters of faith, the hypocrites have lost the ability to hear and comprehend the truth, the ability to speak the truth, and even the ability to see God's signs and miracle of creation all around them.  They live as if they are deaf, mute and blind to the truth.  This loss is not temporary, rather, because of their continued transgression, they will never return to the right way.  When the heart is corrupt, it cannot appreciate the difference between the fleeting joy of this world and the immense perpetual reward of the hereafter.  That’s why while we should always do our duty of spreading God's message to all mankind; we should not insists or force guidance on anyone.  Some people simply choose another path.